Chapter 6
"Friends of the Bride"

Schuldich glanced up expectantly as his partner exited the bathroom, still dabbing at his neck with a handtowel to dry it. The German's lips crept up in a grin as he took note of the many little nicks and cuts dotting the older man's otherwise smooth jaw with dabs of red.

"I was wondering what was with all the 'ouches'," he murmured.

Crawford ignored his mirth. "I must have packed an old razor on accident." He inspected the offending razor, noting the many chips on its blade.

"So it would seem," Schuldich agreed, fighting to keep his grin under control. No need to inform him that it had been Fujimiya's doing. He'd caught the thought floating through her head last night. She'd rubbed all of his razors along the gritty edge of the marble counter in the bathroom in a fit of rebellious spite. The results were amusing enough for him to keep her secret for the time being. Though Crawford would probably figure it out when he realized his entire pack of brand new razors was ruined.

He tossed it into the trashcan, gaze flickering briefly towards the bed.

"She's still passed out," Schuldich assured him, voice still in an undertone. He was seated at the desk, flipping idly through the folders and their contents. "Guess all the excitement wore her out yesterday. That and her little shit-fit." He rolled his eyes. "I only saw the aftermath, but she realllly doesn't like you."

Crawford seemed unconcerned. "She doesn't have to like me, she just has to do what she's told. It's best she learn her place early on."

"Git in the kitchen and make me a sammich, bitch," Schuldich drawled in English.

"You are not as funny as you seem to think you are." Crawford chose one of the folders and sat on the edge of his bed, pulling out a glossy photo and studying it for a long moment. "I didn't see Tanaka on the deck yesterday, but it was crowded. Did you have any luck?"

"I would've told you if I had," Schuldich pointed out, irritated. "It's not as easy as you think it is. I've got almost two hundred voices rattling around in my head at any given time on this floating bath toy."

"There are more than two hundred in Tokyo," Crawford said pointedly.

"I'm not digging through all of them at once," Schuldich shot back snidely. "How about this: you do your job, and let me do mine. Leave Tanaka to me. You just work on getting a leash and a muzzle on that little brat you brought onboard."

"I can't watch her twenty-four-seven, not that I think I'll have to. I shook some sense into her yesterday. But you'll have to check in on her when she's by herself, and make sure she isn't getting us into trouble."

"Fucking lovely."

"I am not in the mood for your bitching, Mastermind."

They'd forgotten to keep their voices down, and Aya stirred on the other bed. Crawford glanced towards her, but there was a barely-audible mumble from under the lump of blankets, then she was still again.

Schuldich stood and stretched, yawning so wide his jaw ached. "I'm gettin' some fucking sleep. I've spent most of the night picking at brains, and I've got a god damned headache. Don't bother me til we reach land."

Crawford didn't even look up from the papers in his hand. "I'll wake you at noon."

"You gotta work on your listening skills, Yankee," Schuldich observed. "And for god's sake, get some coffee in you before you bite someone's head off." Then he was gone through the door that connected the two rooms.

Roughly ten minutes later there was a loud rap at the door. Startled, Aya came awake with a small unladylike snort.

Crawford slipped the folder out of sight under his mattress and went to get the door.

A beaming orderly offered a cheerful good morning, and Crawford stepped aside to make room as he wheeled a cart inside.

"Here's your breakfast, sir." The young man quickly and efficiently began uncovering the dishes and setting out the silverware. "Did you had a pleasant night's rest?" He noticed Aya belatedly as she sat up, blinking owlishly at him. "Good morning, ma'am. I hope you like eggs."

"Hunh?" She stared at him blankly, then looked around in sleepy confusion. It took a moment for her to awaken fully and remember where she was. "Oh-- er, yes. Thank you."

Crawford tipped him and shut the door behind him. Aya had climbed out of bed and was tugging the desk chair over to the cart, eyeing the food hungrily. "I can't remember the last time I had a real breakfast," she admitted. "I usually don't have time to--" she glanced up at her partner, blinking when she noticed the many cuts on his jaw. She looked down quickly and didn't say anything more, dishing food onto her plate.

She'd evidently remembered she was mad at him. Just as well; Crawford was not one for small talk, especially in the morning. He walked over, poured himself some coffee, retrieved the rolled-up complimentary newspaper and a bran muffin, and retreated to the armchair by the window.

There was blissful silence for the next half hour as Aya stuffed her face and Crawford perused the paper. He had just started on his second cup of coffee and was beginning to feel more alert, when Aya finally deigned to speak to him again.

"Aren't you hungry?" she muttered around the rim of her porcelain mug, staring at her own empty plate.

"I ate," Crawford said shortly, turning the page and glancing over the obituaries with vague but professional curiousity.

"A muffin? That's it?"

He ignored her.

Aya fell silent again. Crawford could practically feel the tension mounting from across the room, but still he refused to look up.

Finally she lost an internal battle and burst out, "Do you have to be such an ass?"

He raised his eyes briefly to favor her with a bored look that leaned dangerously close to grumpy. Crawford did not like dealing with people before his third cup of coffee if he could help it.

"I thought we were supposed to be partners," she rushed on, staring at her plate steadfastly. Two spots of color appeared in her cheeks as her temper mounted. "You need me to fit in, you said so yourself. If I mess up, all you have to do is say so, and I'll be more careful. You don't have to be such a jerk about it."

If this was her way of trying to smooth things out between them, she was showing the same miserable failure at the art of compromise that afflicted her brother, Crawford noted. He returned his gaze to his paper, signaling his complete lack of interest in the matter. "You will do as you're told, and you will not blow our cover. If you do your job well, there will be no need for further instruction."

"Instruction?" she repeated incredulously, glaring at him openly. "You--" She cut herself off, pressing her lips firmly together. After a long moment she finally took a deep breath and released it slowly in a visible attempt to control her temper. She got to her feet stiffly and marched over to the bathroom. She locked the door behind her, and a minute later the shower cut on.

Crawford set his paper aside and returned to the trolly with his empty cup. It was a good thing he took his coffee black, he thought absently as he caught sight of the bare sugar bowl.

He lifted the coffee pot and tilted it. A small stream trickled out, and then was gone. He stared into his cup, mind drawing a blank for a few moments. He gave the pot a little shake, unwilling to believe that the girl had gone through practically a whole pot by herself.

He'd only had two cups.

Neither one of them was in a particularly good mood when they left their room an hour later.


It was a pity she was stuck with two of the most detestable men she'd ever met, Aya lamented, watching the way the sun played off the pool's water. If she'd gone on such a trip with friends, she would have been living it up and enjoying herself to the fullest. Instead, here she was, sitting at a patio table by the pool, taking tiny sips of her virgin bloody mary and trying to keep an expression of vague interest stamped on her face. The drink had been Noriko's clever suggestion. She'd intercepted Aya early that morning on the deck, and Crawford had abandoned her in favor of seeking out Aigawa.

"But I don't drink," Aya insisted when the other woman led her to the bar. She was glad to see a somewhat friendly face, but too embarrassed to reveal her age.

"Oh, it doesn't matter if there's actually any alcohol in it," Noriko assured her. "It just has to look like a stiff drink."

"But why?"

Noriko hadn't needed to give an answer, because a moment later Aya followed her pointed gaze in the direction of the pool and saw with dismay where the rest of her morning would be spent. The same group of wives that she'd met the previous day were gathered together again, all of them looking picture perfect and artfully bored. Every single one of them was drinking, despite the early hour.

So a virgin Bloody Mary it was.

Aya had spent the next three hours staring wistfully at the pool and trying half-heartedly to keep at least part of her attention on the conversation. For the most part it was all so dull. The wives spoke of things that didn't interest her at all, and in the rare cases they steered towards a subject she was at least passably familiar with, she wasn't comfortable enough to voice her own opinions on the matter. It was obvious they were merely tolerating her presence, and didn't expect her input unless she was addressed directly, which was almost never. Noriko was not quite as excluded, but she also seemed a bit shy around the older women.

Aya was seriously considering claiming an urgent health issue to escape, when they were joined by a woman who barely looked older than Aya herself..

The young woman's dress was designer, but simply cut, without any extra frills or fuss. She was lightly sunburned, proof that she hadn't obsessed over tending to her skin like the rest of the ladies, and was wearing a broad, open smile as she stood just behind Noriko's chair. "Hey, everyone, hope I didn't miss anything interesting!" She reached up automatically to rake shortly-cropped hair out of her eyes as the sea breeze played with it, eyes flickering around with interest, taking note of the occupants of the table. "I didn't mean to ignore anyone, but, well... Yuu really likes his beauty sleep." She giggled girlishly.

Aya liked her at once.

Some of the women were frowning, but the bespectacled one, Ishioka, smiled indulgently at the newcomer, though her smile did not reach her sharp eyes. "Good day, Hayashi-san. We were just discussing the recent fashions in Paris." She gestured with a bony but perfectly manicured hand towards Aya. "Have you two met?" Aya noticed the rude omission of an introduction.

"No, I don't think we have." The girl nodded towards Aya in a friendly manner. "Pleased to meet you. Hayashi Rei."

Aya smiled back. "Crawford Aya."

"Oh~ so you're Mister Crawford's wife. I met him yesterday afternoon; he spoke briefly with my husband." She winked roguishly. "He's handsome."

"Please, pull up a chair," Ishioka interrupted.

Aya glanced at each of them discreetly. They were trying hard to hide it, but she could tell by the tightness around their mouths that they were not happy at the girl's appearance. They seemed to dislike her, perhaps more than they did Aya.

Noriko scooted over, and Rei dragged a chair over to seat herself comfortably between her and Aya. The other women instantly ignored the three youngest wives, returning to their conversation.

"So your husband's American, right?" Rei guessed without preamble.

Aya blinked, slightly taken off-guard at the blunt question. "Er, yes. He's a lawyer. What does your husband do?" she asked politely.

Rei waved her hand dismissively, as if the topic was unimportant and boring. "Oh, he's just a stuffy old accountant. He just got lucky and started landing high-end clients, that's all. He uses his money to hide the fact that he's a complete math geek."

Noriko gasped quietly, but looked like she was also fighting not to smile.

Aya laughed, earning a couple displeased glances from the other wives.

Self-consciously, Aya muffled her laughter in her glass, but instead of seeming coldly indignant about the rude women holding on a separate conversation, they were trying to act as if they were not even at the same table.

"Rei-san and her husband act like newlyweds," Noriko teased, rolling her eyes.

"Well, we are!" Rei insisted.

"It's been over a year, hasn't it?"

"Until it's a few years, it's still new to me," Rei said firmly.

Noriko offered Aya a knowing look, and Aya laughed at them both.

Relaxing, she continued to chat happily with the two young women about nothing in particular. Time went by much faster, and she jumped when the cell phone Crawford had given her began to vibrate, buzzing along the tabletop.

It was a text message.

'Go wake up Schuldich'.

So Crawford was either trapped in a conversation or busy watching Aigawa's back. An hour ago she would have leapt at the excuse to leave the table, but now that she was actually enjoying herself, she was only irritated at the interruption. Besides, the foul-mouthed man made her uneasy.

But it was get up and do as she was told or risk dealing with an irate Crawford, which after yesterday's incident, she was not keen on doing.

She excused herself politely, promised to return, and hurried below-deck, eager to get the errand over with so she could get back in time to join her new friends for lunch. Surely Crawford wouldn't care if she didn't eat with him. She was expected to socialize with the other women onboard, wasn't she? Even if he recognized it as an excuse to stay as far away from him as possible, he shouldn't have any complaints.

Ignoring the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the doorknob, she knocked on Schuldich's door for five minutes before giving up in disgust. She went into the room she shared with Crawford and tried the door that connected the two rooms. Unlocked. Opening it halfway, she popped her head in and glanced around. It was almost an exact replica of her own room. The only difference seemed to be the color scheme, which was forest green rather than the soft yellow of hers.

Also, though they'd been on the ship less than two days, Schuldich had already managed to leave the room in total disarray. His towel was thrown over the back of the chair, his suitcases were opened but mostly unpacked on the extra bed, and clothes was strewn about everywhere. And evidently even the servers and maids respected the sign on the door that begged for privacy, because the breakfast trolly was still there, the leftovers from breakfast cold and stale.

Wrinkling her nose, she turned her attention on the occupied bed. The man hadn't even bothered to get undressed or unmake the bed. He was sprawled on top of the comforter in the same outfit he'd worn the previous day, sans shoes, face buried in a pillow. If she hadn't seen him breathing, she would have thought him dead.

"Schuldich-san?" she called quietly. Then, louder when she got no response, "Schuldich-san?"

Nothing. Not even a twitch. The man slept like a rock.

Grumbling to cover up her nervousness, she left the door wide open to ensure an easy escape route and walked over to the bed. She leaned over and prodded him gently in the shoulder, unwilling to get too close. "Schuldich-san. Wake up, it's noon. Crawford wants you to get up."

She thought she heard him grunt a little bit, but otherwise there was no indication that she'd roused him out of his near-coma.

Irritation bubbled up, taking the edge off her uneasiness. She did not like being ignored, and the idiot was going to make her late for lunch. Already her stomach was beginning to complain, and her mouth was watering at the thought of what the fare might be; dinner last night had been delicious and like nothing she'd ever been able to afford before.

She leaned over further so that her mouth was inches away from his ear, barely visible under his tangled mass of hair. "SCHULDICH, GET THE HELL UP!!"

The reaction was immediate and violent.

It was only because she'd been tensed to run since she'd entered the room that she managed to jerk back in time to avoid the hand that swept past her face in a swift, hard blow that would have left her with a bloody nose otherwise.

The man rolled over quickly, sitting up, eyes wild and unfocused, his entire body poised for a fight. Finally his gaze settled on Aya, who had scrambled back out of reach, and the tension seeped out of his body. "Fuuuck," he groaned, flopping onto his back and rubbing roughly at his eyes. "What the hell are you doing in here?"

Aya's heart was still thudding in her chest, but she quickly wiped the fear from her face. "What was that all about?" she demanded a bit breathlessly. "Were you having a nightmare or something?"

Schuldich's smile was brief, and full of teeth. "You shouldn't kick a sleeping dog; you might get bitten." He sat up more slowly, shoving his mess of hair out of his face and squinting at his watch. "Damn, noon already? Where the hell is Crawford?"

"I'm assuming he's busy, since he sent me to get you," Aya said, edging towards the door. "Anyway, it's almost lunch time, so you should probably take a shower and get changed."

"What are you, my mother?" He flicked his fingers at her in an impatient shooing gesture. "Get out, pipsqueak, and don't ever pull a stunt like that again unless you feel like explaining a black eye to everyone on board."

"I'd blame it on Crawford anyway," Aya said without thinking, already turning away.

Schuldich's sharp bark of laughter gave her pause. "He'd make you regret it." He got to his feet and tugged his shirt over his head, tossing it carelessly aside. "You really don't want that bastard mad at you, chibi, so I suggest you make this easier on all of us and just do what the fuck you're told."

She turned to glare at him, then immediately glanced away, embarrassed despite herself at the glimpse of his bared torso. "I can take care of myself."

"Sure you can," Schuldich said with open mockery, nabbing his towel and heading for the bathroom. "Just don't expect me to feel sorry for you when he slaps you around a bit to get you to behave."

"I'm not a dog!" Aya shouted, but he'd already shut the bathroom door, ignoring her.

Seething, Aya stomped out, making sure to lock the door from her side, and returned to the deck.

She spent the rest of the day with Rei and Noriko, and neither man bothered her again until it was time to retire for bed that evening.

Author's Notes: I'm beginning to regret the pattern I've set for chapter titles, because thinking of something wedding or marriage related is hard sometimes. DX

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