Part Nine: A New Home

    I find myself staring up at the apartments Schwarz lives in. Schuldich really did plant the directions in my mind like he said he would; I had wondered if I would be able to find it, but as soon as I got behind the wheel of my car, I knew where to go. I had done what Schuldich had said and left right after work. Yohji had tried to stop me, asking if I wanted to grab coffee somewhere. I had answered that I had previous plans to go out. Yohji had responded “_Out_ out?”

    It was simpler to agree to that than to argue, so I had given a slight shrug and left for my car. Perhaps it is better that I slipped up and Yohji thinks I’ve taken some sort of a bedmate…At least it will be an excuse for me to not be in my apartment at night. I can just hope Yohji doesn’t start counting how many days I’m not there, as I’ll be sleeping here seven days of the week.

    I sigh, raking a hand through my bangs. I shut my car door and turn to go around the vehicle when another car slides into the slot beside mine. Instinct makes me glance that direction. It is Schuldich; the man offers me a smirk and wiggles his fingers in greeting before getting out of his own car. I turn my back on the man, heading around to the other side of the car. My fingers find the button to let the passenger seat fold forward and I press it before leaning in to tug my box free. It takes a couple pulls, as I wedged it there quite nicely, but I get it out and set it on the pavement by my feet.

    “How many?” Schuldich asks.

    “Four,” I answer, closing the car door. The boxes are small enough that they are light and easy to carry, but too big to stack. It will take four trips to get them upstairs, and I spare a moment to be grateful the building has elevators. I have just leaned down to pick up my box when I realize Schuldich is standing by the trunk of my car, drumming his fingers on it and gazing patiently at me. “What?”

    “Open it.”

    “I suppose _you’d_ carry one?” I ask, unable to keep the threads of sarcasm from my voice.

    To my surprise, Schuldich shrugs. I frown, unsure of what to make of that. Amethyst eyes study Schuldich, searching for an ulterior motive, trying to figure out the joke before I become the punch line. Schuldich says nothing, merely waiting for me to make up my mind. After several moments, I move around to the trunk and unlock it. The German opens it and gazes in, studying the boxes. Finally he selects one and closes the trunk before starting towards the front doors. I pick up my own box and follow. We take the elevator to the sixth floor and the door opens for us without anyone standing there to push it.

    I suppose that means the telekinetic is there. Schuldich heads down the hall without bothering to take his shoes off; I wonder if that means he is going back outside as soon as he drops this box off. As we pass the kitchen, Schuldich offers a greeting in its direction. I glance in to see the boy at the table, books and notebooks open around him. It is a strange sight, though I supposed it is natural for a boy his age to be in school…No doubt Schwarz could easily afford a good education for him.

    “He’s a student at the University of Tokyo,” Schuldich says over his shoulder. That surprises me more than seeing him with books…He looks too young to be attending college already; he’s smaller than Omi is. Perhaps Schwarz pulled strings to get him in.

    The bedroom door opens for us, again thanks to the youth in the kitchen, and Schuldich drops the box off at the foot of the bed. I set my box down beside it. We both go down to fetch the other boxes, the second trip made in silence. Schuldich straightens from setting the last box down and I think I see a grimace pass over his features. Perhaps I imagined it, because the telepath’s expression is clear just a moment later. The man stands with one hand pressing against the small of his back, surveying the boxes and then the room. It takes him a while before he seems to decide what he wants me to do with my things, and I wonder at it. If Schwarz had been planning for me to be here for a while like I thought yesterday, everything would already be set up for me to move in.

    “You’ll have the closet,” Schuldich finally decides. “It was never really used, anyway. The nightstand will be yours, too. Start with the clothes,” he says, moving towards the nightstand on “my” side of the bed. I drag a box towards the small door that I decide must be the closet. I open it, giving it a searching look, as Schuldich slowly empties the nightstand of its possessions. I glance back just once to see a worn bible and a knife in Schuldich’s hands. Then I return my attention to the closet, trying not to make a comment on how ridiculous it is to see a bible in that man’s hands.

    There are a few outfits hanging and a couple empty hangers. There aren’t enough hangers for my things, but the closet has some shelves built into the wall, and I end up folding my clothes and placing them there. I empty the boxes one by one, and by the time I am done with my clothes Schuldich has moved everything from one nightstand to the other. The German stands on the opposite side of the bed, watching in silence as I set up my pictures. I have five, all of them Aya back when she was cheerful and moving around. I managed to get the pictures from Aya’s friends- all of the Fujimiya family’s photo albums were destroyed in the explosion that leveled our house.

    I am placing my books on the shelves of the small table when Schuldich climbs onto the bed and stretches out on his stomach, reaching out to pick up a picture of a laughing Aya. I still at Schuldich’s actions, and dark purple eyes fix a warning look on the telepath. Schuldich ignores my displeasure, studying the girl with a thoughtful look on his face. At length he shrugs and reaches out, putting it back. I reach up and adjust it back the way I want before going back to my books. Schuldich rolls off the bed and leaves the room.

    The pictures had been wrapped in my bath towel, and now I carry it to the closet. My toiletries are the last things to be put away, and I put them in the bathroom cabinet with the rest, bunching them together as far away from the others as I can.

    /Dinner time, Sieben,/ Schuldich sends.

    I am facing several months of this…I pause in the doorway to Schuldich’s bedroom, gazing in at where my pictures now decorate the nightstand. Her face will remind me why I’m doing this; her smiles will give me strength. I will make it through this, and Aya’s presence on my nightstand will help me. Temporarily content with these thoughts, I head down the hall. The kitchen is empty. I’m not complaining, but I wonder where the boy went.

    Then I hear an odd crack, and my curiosity drives me a few feet further down the hall to peek in the den. Schuldich is stretched out on the couch and his teammate is rubbing at his back. I remember the way he was touching his back in his bedroom, and wonder if carrying my boxes was too much for him.

    /Fuck you, Red. I’ve been moving stuff around all day./

    ~No pity here,~ I answer him candidly. He lifts his hand from the couch and flips me off. As he does so, there is another crack and he gives a satisfied groan. Nagi looks up at Schuldich’s gesture and spots me in the doorway; dark eyes narrow in distaste before he chooses to ignore me in favor of his teammate. I leave them there and head to the kitchen to decide what to make for dinner. As long as I’m cooking, I’ll make what I want. It won’t taste as good, considering the company I’ll have when I’m eating, but perhaps I can pretend they aren’t there.

    I pick something that takes half an hour to make, simply because if I am occupied for half an hour that’s thirty minutes I don’t have to be with them. I begin to mix the ingredients; halfway through I reach for the box and accidentally knock a stirring spoon to the ground. As I crouch to retrieve it, I find myself under close scrutiny by a cat. It’s the black one, sitting just a few inches away from me. When my fingers close over the spoon, it rises from its spot and moves over to sniff me. I allow it to do so, studying its sleek fur. It’s well taken care of, I note. It’s fleshed out nicely and its fur is clean.

    A rough tongue runs along my thumb. I suppose I have some juice from the meat ingredients on my hand, because the cat continues licking with great interest. Slowly, carefully, I lift my other hand to its head, running my fingernails lightly over its skull. It arches into the touch without slowing in its feeding; a tail brushes against my hand. My fingers run from its ears to the base of its tail and it abandons my other hand to turn fully into my attentions. I can hear it purring, a happy noise.

    /It’s a girl. That one’s Eins,/ Schuldich’s voice says. He sounds either drowsy or drunk. Either way, his voice snaps me from what I’m doing. I pick up my spoon and abandon the cat to rub her head uselessly against my ankle. I set the spoon in the sink and search for another one, ignoring the way the cat gives a mournful cry.

    “Eins,” Schuldich calls. The cat vanishes instantly. I can hear Schuldich; he keeps his voice raised for my benefit. “Poor kit, was he being mean to you? Was he ignoring you? What a mean person…”

    I roll my eyes and turn back to my work. There is something disturbing about Schuldich talking to his cats, even if he’s doing it just because of his audience. I finish mixing the food and tilt the bowl’s contents into a pan to start cooking. Nagi returns sometime while I’m watching the meal fry; he and I exchange glares before he sits down at the table and returns to his work. We each tend to our own business in silence, pretending that the other doesn’t exist even as we can’t ignore their presence. Finally Nagi starts packing up his things; he is almost done making little piles on the table when Schuldich enters.

    There is a lazy look on Schuldich’s face as he sprawls against the doorframe; a satisfied smile tugs at the corner of his lips and his eyelids are heavy as he gazes in the room at us.

    “Better?” Nagi asks.

    “Indeed,” Schuldich drawls, a yawn tailing the end of his word. “You’re a godsend, Nagi.”

    Not likely.

    Schuldich sends a grin my direction, slowly unpeeling himself from the doorframe and entering the kitchen. Nagi’s things float themselves out of the room and Schuldich sinks into a chair at the table. “How much longer?” he asks.

    “A bit,” I answer, because I don’t feel like narrowing it down any further than that.

    Schuldich accepts it with an “Mm,” and folds his arms on the table before lowering his head to rest there. I turn back to my work. When it’s done the cabinet in front of me opens- coming a little _too_ close to hitting me full in the face- and the dishes fly out past me. I look back at Nagi to show him just how much I appreciated his attempt to hit me and notice that Schuldich hasn’t changed positions. Is he sleeping? Is he still tired from where I woke him this morning? Bastard deserves it; let him have some interrupted sleep for once. I wonder if nightmares are a foreign thing to people like them.

    “Schuldich,” Nagi calls softly.

    The telepath raises his head, blue eyes sliding open in question. Nagi scoots a place closer to his teammate and Schuldich looks over to where I’m moving dinner from the pans into the serving dishes. “Mm,” he says again, straightening and pushing his hair out of the way. I carry the dishes to the table and seat myself when I am through.

    Schuldich serves himself slowly before nudging the dishes towards me. He yawns loudly as he swirls his food together lazily with his chopsticks, blue eyes heavy lidded as he regards the meal. Nagi serves himself second and I wonder just how much of his food he’s going to throw away tonight. I serve myself very little, knowing that I just need enough that I won’t be hungry before Schuldich’s medication knocks me out. I’m cooking for them because they demand it…I don’t want to share meals with them, therefore I will have as little a meal as possible. I would skip it altogether but I don’t see the point. Schwarz wouldn’t care; I’d be the only one who suffered from ignoring the meal.

    We eat in silence, though halfway through the meal Schuldich gives a soft laugh. I glance up at him, wondering what he finds so amusing, and find Nagi giving Schuldich a Look. The telepath gives him an innocent expression in return, and I wonder if they’re communicating mentally. Let them; at least I don’t have to listen to them. Blue eyes flick to mine before I can lower my gaze again, and I take his stare to be a challenge. I gaze back, purple and blue, disapproving and amused.

    Nagi glances my direction, either because he’s noticed Schuldich is distracted or because his teammate said something. I ignore him, continuing to hold Schuldich’s stare. Suddenly Schuldich laughs and I see Nagi look back at his own plate, his expression fading from hostile to dry amusement. The telepath returns to eating with a grin on his face. I watch the food disappear from their plates and consider their appetites. From the looks of things, I’ll have to go shopping again when the rest of Schwarz get back. There aren’t enough ingredients for any of the meals to provide for four of them if either of the other two eats like Schuldich and if Nagi starts eating a little more. Seeing as how he’s eating more today than yesterday, I suppose he is still holding back and his full appetite will show itself soon.

    The grin fades from Schuldich’s face; the amusement leaves Nagi’s and the boy sends Schuldich a sharp look. Schuldich looks thoughtful as he considers his plate, toying with his chopsticks a moment longer before setting them down. He flicks Nagi a look as he reaches for his glass; from the serious glint to both of their eyes I can only imagine what hurried conversation is taking place between them. Nagi looks away; he’s lost whatever it is. Schuldich takes a deep swallow of his drink. As he sets his cup back down, he turns a calm face on me.

    “You’ll need to learn to edit your vocabulary, Red,” he says easily. “You’re incorrect in referring to us as Schwarz.”

    “How is that?” I demand.

    Schuldich gives me a grin; blue eyes have a cold glint to them. “Schwarz was the name of an assassin unit, a unit that supposedly perished the same day its employers did. We never intended to stay with them forever…That night was our night to free ourselves from their chains. Schwarz as a unit died; its members have moved on to other things. I would appreciate it,” and the way he says it is a warning if I choose to do so otherwise, “if you would stop referring to us as that.”

    I frown, looking from him to Nagi. Nagi is gazing at me with a blank face- that perfectly crafted stone face I saw on him when we faced down in the field. “You aren’t assassins anymore?”

    “His ears work,” Schuldich comments to Nagi, and I glare at him for that. “You heard me. We got out of that business.”

    I remember Schuldich telling me that Nagi is a student at the University of Tokyo. He gave up being an assassin to be a student? But what is the point for someone with demonic powers like his? There can be no future for assassins. Once a killer, always a killer; blood stains the souls of everyone who touches it. Weiß brushed blood; these men bathed in it- yet somehow they think they can leave it all behind?

    “I’m not saying I won’t kill again,” Schuldich says dryly. “I’m quite capable and willing to kill people who piss me off.”

    There’s a meaningful glint in his eyes; he’s talking about me.

    I consider this, wondering what to make of it. Schwarz is Schwarz. What they were once they’ll always be. If I’m not supposed to refer to them by that, then what is there for me to associate them with?

    “We do have names, Red,” Schuldich reminds me.

    “As do I,” I bite out, “but you don’t use it.”

    That cold smile stretches wider. “Think of it as an affectionate nickname.”

    An affectionate nickname without any affection behind it…

    Schuldich says nothing, and neither do I- that smile tells me it’s best that I just keep my mouth shut. The German stretches and yawns before gesturing over his shoulder at the cabinet. “Medicine,” he says simply. “Shower in the morning.”

    I glance at the clock. It’s only eight-thirty. While I’m not going to complain about extra hours of unconsciousness around Schwarz, it is a bit early to go to bed. I wonder if the medicine will be able to keep me out the whole night. It wasn’t strong enough to keep me asleep all through last night… I don’t say anything, however, but rise from my seat. I have enough drink in my glass to take my pill. I wonder what to do about my dishes- wonder what Schuldich wants me to do about them. I start to pick mine up and Schuldich reaches out, touching his fingertips to the rim of my plate. There’s no pressure behind his touch, but it’s a clear order. I set my things back down. The two say nothing to me, so I excuse myself from the room. I will sleep in my pajamas for the first time here tonight. It’s a shirt and pants set, and I usually stick to just the pants, but I have no desire to be only half-dressed when sharing a bed with Schuldich. My discarded clothes are folded neatly and set in the corner by the closet and I sit on the edge of the bed, thinking over the dinner conversation until my thoughts are too slurred to concentrate anymore.


    “He didn’t have to know,” Nagi says again. “It doesn’t make a difference if he knows or not; it won’t do anything for him to know.”

    “It doesn’t matter to you because you don’t have to hear it,” I tell Nagi, twirling my cup between my fingers. “He’s spending ninety percent of his waking time thinking about us and this thing he’s been pulled into, and he’s uttered ‘Schwarz’ probably as many times in these few days as I’ve heard in my life. So what if it means nothing to him, so what if he didn’t need to know? Schwarz _doesn’t_ exist, and there’s no point in me listening to him as if it does.”

    “You can’t change his mental wording just like that,” Nagi says. “You’ve given him something new to obsess about; it’ll still take a while for him to adjust to not having it in his vocabulary and then you can listen to him puzzle over how and why we ended our jobs.”

    “He doesn’t think it possible,” I tell Nagi, downing the rest of my drink, “for us to survive without killing anyone. Once a murderer, always a murderer, and all that.” Nagi doesn’t answer; he turns that over in his head. I refill my glass. “It is…In fact, it’s easier for us than it is for him. To us, it was a job. We cared nothing about the actual actions…We cared about our reputations and the effectiveness of our team. Farfarello…craved the killing. The rest of us, I think that might have just been the bonus. It was fun work and we were good at it. Weiß, on the other hand, is driven by their retarded idealistic dream of justice. They kill to protect the innocents and to cleanse the world, to atone for their sins and their pain even as they add to it. They’ve woven a web and stepped into it. Even if they were to disband, they’d find it hard to stay out of things when newscasters wailed about drug lords and kidnappings.”

    “Mm,” is all Nagi says, and he gives a slight shrug. He considers it a bit longer, then props his elbow on the table and perches his chin on his hand. A solemn expression is turned on me; dark eyes study my face. “Why are you so tired?” he asks. “You brought him here so you could sleep. If he’s not working, there’s no point in him being here. Just wipe his memory of the last couple days and move him back to his apartment. Sever his memory of that girl so you can keep her.”

    “You’re not that lucky, Nagi.” I grin at him as I rise from my seat. I push my chair back under the table and carry my dishes to the sink. Nagi floats the rest of them to the countertop to save me multiple trips, and I start rinsing them to put in the dishwasher. I have to raise my voice to be heard over the running water. “We woke early to take Ran back to his place so he could pack.”

    More specifically, we woke up an hour earlier than I intended to because of a nightmare. I remembered it during my lunch break; I was sitting at the edge of the loading dock with my feet dangling low enough that the soles of my boots touched the water and I remembered flickers of it. I know they had to do with the day the tower fell, and the nightmare had to be mine. Ran is attributing it to himself, but I know it was mine. It had to be, or it wouldn’t have woken Ran up through his medication. I must have lowered my shields in sleep, and he was close enough that he shared it. When I woke, it yanked him awake as well. It shouldn’t have spread to him; the shields probably dropped while I deluded myself that it was Farfarello in bed.

    I could be grateful that I don’t remember the dream in details…or I could think what it was like waking up from a nightmare and feeling someone in my arms. My first thought was that the nightmare was just a nightmare; it was a piercing feeling of relief followed by crushing pain when reality set in. It’s probably what made me blank out this morning- my gift reacted in self-defense by scattering my mind all over the place.

    ~He doesn’t know about them, does he?~ Nagi asks. It’s half-demand, and he speaks mentally to make sure I can hear him over the noise I’m making.

    /I’m not going to tell him,/ I answer. /It isn’t his business./ Nagi agrees. /He’s waiting for them…He’s wondering what will happen when the rest of him show up. One day I’m going to have to tell him that they’re living elsewhere, or it’ll drive me mad./

    ~Are you implying that you would willingly tell a lie?~ Nagi asks, cocking an eyebrow at me. He knows my opinion of lying. Straight out lying disgusts me, mostly because of my gift that allows me to see through people. Falsehood can be a form of art; give someone the edited truth and you’re telling them nothing without lying. It’s more fun that way.

    /For this?/ I ask. /I just might./

    The dishes are done and the dishwasher started by nine, and I decide there’s no point in staying up later. I’m already tired and there’s the chance I’ll be able to fall asleep quickly due to the person sleeping in bed. I can only hope that I don’t dream again. I pluck Ran’s new medication down from the shelf and pop open the lid, dumping a couple pills into my palm and swallowing them dry. I don’t know if they’ll help any; I know one is useless, but perhaps three will do something. I should have enough time to take my shower before they kick in.

    “What was that for?” Nagi asks.

    I shrug. “It’s too early to go to bed; even though I’m tired I’ll end up either staying up or waking up early.”

    Nagi just sighs and shakes his head. “I’ll set my alarm to make sure you actually get up this time.”

    “Bite me, kid.”

    Nagi shrugs and rises from his seat. As he abandons the kitchen for the den and we part ways in the hall, he reminds me that his heart won’t be broken if Ran proves to be an ineffective teddy bear and has to go. I thunk him for that, catching him on his ear before he can duck away.

    I could say ‘It’s not like you were any better,’ but that’s something neither of us want to get into. So I allow myself to be satisfied with his small yip of pain and I stuff my hands in my pockets, whistling to myself as I head down the hall. The whistling fades as soon as I step into the room; the carefree mask drops as I find myself studying my bed and Ran’s prone form yet again.

    I wonder when this is going to get easier.

    Then I wonder if it will.


    Our alarm clocks go off at the same time the next morning. Schuldich finds the key from his nightstand and unlocks my wrists so I can get up. That accomplished, he sprawls back out on the bed and stretches with a yawn. I shove away the covers that are on top of me. Schuldich has both a light sheet and a thicker blanket. To avoid being under the blankets with him, I sleep on top of his sheet. Somehow I’m under both in the morning, and I’m not sure why.

    I perch on the edge of the bed for a moment, needing the pause to consider once again how strange it is to be waking up here. I glance over my shoulder at Schuldich, who is pushing himself up from the mattress and raking a hand through his hair. He spares me the briefest of looks before rising from the bed and heading towards the dresser. He takes his clothes from the same dresser he had me taking mine from previously, not even sparing the second one a glance. I can’t help but wonder what difference it makes. I rise and move towards the closet. I did not shower last night, so I need to now. I gather my towel and an outfit from the shelves and retreat from the room, leaving before I have to watch Schuldich get dressed.

    It’s a quick shower, lukewarm to help wash away the edges of sleep. Schuldich’s medicine is strong; I can feel its remains still lingering in my veins. The water washes away the last of fatigue and in its wake I can’t help but feel what good the rest does. I remain under the spray, considering the energy I feel. I wonder about it, wonder where it’s coming from when my life has turned upside down.

    When I think I figure it out, I turn the water off with a quick wrench. One hand touches the wall for balance as a frown curls my lips.

    Schwarz may have Aya, but her safety is in my hands. I cannot see her, but my actions can protect her. As long as I cooperate, she is in no danger. I have been eating and I have been sleeping. The cycle I was in previously has broken; the relentless trip from my room to the shop to the hospital. I can’t and won’t say it has changed in a better way, but it has changed. It’s something different, and whether I like it or not, my body and mind are reacting to that.

    ~Give it another day,~ I tell myself, ~and it’ll be back to what it used to be. It’s just another routine, and every day will be the same. Just survive them and everything will be all right.~

    Looking back, I find such thoughts laughable. Maybe if I’d realized then just how much they were hiding from me, I would have known better.

Part 10
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