Aya won't talk about the Aoba Flower Centre, though his hotel room looks over the memorial that bears his name. He won't talk about Shion although he named his sword for the man. He just lies there, in his bed, abdomen wrapped tight, and reads. He talks, but slowly. His hair is growing out. I hadn't realized just how long it is, falling about his collarbone. He just looks at me over his reading glasses- “don't need them but don't want to ruin my eyes”- like he's working out the best way to kill me, wounded as he is.
It's okay. I'm doing the same.
“I'm worried about Kudoh,” he says, slipping the silk bookmark between the pages with those long slim fingers.
“He wants to kill you,” she says. “He's working out the how. Only I will never leave you. Kill him, kill him now.”
I do my best to ignore her, but it's getting harder. She is always there. She's been there since the last battle with Schwarz. I'm half convinced she's something that Schuldig left me, a memento. She wears the form of Aya's sister, but that's not who she is. She has a soft smile framed by a pair of plaits and a sundress covered in blood. “Only I love you,” she wraps her little arms about my waist. “Only me.”
“He's going out more, he's not showing up for work in the van. There have been incidents.” Aya is confessing his doubts to me, because if he tells them to Omi, Kudoh is dead. Could Aya want to save him, or does he want to save face for the team. “I think he's using harder drugs than before.”
“Shall I” he pauses, “take care of it?”
Behind him, she claps her hands in girlish glee. “Oh yes,” she says, “yes please.”
“He's not a liability yet,” Aya says, long fingers splayed on the leather cover of the book, “just keep an eye on him for now, confirm our suspicions. We need to sort this out in house, as it were, the team can't survive another blow.”
“You don't need a team,” she says, “you have me.” She is whirling in the winter sunlight, twisting and turning like a dervish, her skirt flaring about her slim young thighs and there is such joy in her abandon – a pity she wants to turn the world to blood. “You'll always have me, only I love you, only I need you, only I will never leave you.”
Crawford came to visit me in the hospital after our last battle. It took till after he was gone until I remembered. I had been sedated, but I was aware of things, even if they came to me later like dreams. He was dressed like a doctor, his hair had gone white in the water, perhaps that was why the operatives didn't recognize him. He had looked at my chart and then pressed his hand to his head like he might fall down. “I'm sorry,” he said, “it was the only way.” Then he was gone, hanging the chart back on the bottom of the bed.
Perhaps I dreamt it.
Perhaps I didn't.
She appeared at the same time, sitting at the end of the bed, pressing her fingers to her little lips and going shush, not to tell the doctors she was there.
I'm still not sure she isn't.
She still sits there, at the edge of the bed, no matter what I do. If I sleep she's there. She's in my dreams. I almost want to tell Aya, I almost did, before Shion, your sister's haunting me, I begin, or maybe it's Sakura, they looked the same at the end didn't they? Did Kritiker kill them when we got out? Did Schwartz? Is that why she won't leave me alone? Why does she haunt me? Why doesn't she haunt you, Aya? But all she does is laugh and bat her hair and smile and I know I shouldn't grin back – but I do.
The new uniforms are white and grey, like those of Crashers, and are made of an expensive weave of kevlar and nomex coated with some sort of vinyl that means they just wipe clean. The new claws are double edged and have four blades instead of three, and god help me, but I get hard at the thought of them. She wants me to drag them over her skin, to peel apart that little yellow sundress on a bed of poppies like bloodstains. She wants me to wear the uniform, as she lies there in her little pink panties and run the tips over her small titties.
When I have the dream I wake vomiting.
She wants me to fuck her with the claws.
She wants me to hurt her.
She wants me to rip her apart whilst she laughs and laughs.
Instead she calls me weak, she berates me, calls me a fool, impotent, a little boy. She wants a man, she tells me in her little girl voice, with her mouth that looks just like Aya's. She wants a warrior, a soldier, an assassin, and what did she get, a weakling, a puppet, a fool.
I just hug the toilet bowl and try to wish her away. And if that night, on a mission, I am perhaps a little more violent than usual, I try to tell myself it's just the lingering bad mood, but there in the background, she laughs and laughs and laughs.
“yuki da!” she exults dancing in the Sendai alleyway, but it's not snow she's dancing in, it's the lingering pulses of arterial spray. She casts her head back and sweeps back her hair and then her little pink tongue flicks out and laps at the blood. “I love you.” She says, “only I love you. Only me.”
Somehow the bile doesn't rise again, even when I slip in the blood on the alley climbing to the roof to make my escape before the Cleaners appear. “I love you,” she says, “I love you so much.” And god help me, it warms my soul to hear it.
The memorial is a small statue, around it are many small bouquets of flowers. The centre has been rebuilt and new students attend. I book myself in for an afternoon of ikebana because I want to see the statue up close.
It is an obelisk carved with flowers and at the bottom is the bronze plaque with the names. Shion, I know, Kikyou and Tsubaki and Kuroyuki I don't, but there, smallest, the youngest, Fujimiya Ran and damn if she doesn't drag her fingers over the metal, smiling. Her fingers leave a bloody smear in their wake.
She has no patience for flower arranging and sits on the bench telling me about how I could be useful, how I could make her dance. All I have to do is kill for her.
She looks so pretty when she dances.
I long to see the air under her dancing feet. I long to coat her skin in blood. The missions don't come close enough any more. The vomit rises in my mouth but I swallow it down. For a moment I see Crawford in his white doctor's coat and the way he looks at me with his hard gold eyes, “I'm sorry,” he says again and I don't know why. For a moment the poppies look like bloodstains.
“Don't you worry about him,” she says, “I'm here for you, only for you, always for you. My Siberian, my love.”
Omi looks distant, separated from me by more than the desk. I'm not wearing my claws and I feel their lack. I suddenly feel naked without them. I should be wearing them. She wants me to. “Siberian,” he says, “I need you and Balinese to go to Germany, it will be a few months, and I am having Abyssinian train some new operatives.” He looks distant for a moment, and sips his coffee. “Can I trust you with this?”
“Oh yes,” she says, “yes please.” As if she knows what he's going to ask.
“Rosenkreuz has a large training facility here,” he points at the map, “it needs to be completely sanitised. It is a large task, all of the menial work is done, now it's the last ditch infiltration. There are to be no complications.” His voice is even, the words careful to convey what he means without saying it.
Germany is going to be a slaughter. Persia is sending me and Kudoh because we're expendable, because we might be compromised.
“He knows,” she laughs and it's such a sweet sound, “he knows and he doesn't care.” I want to laugh with her, but I'll save it for Germany. I'll save it for my Aya-chan, my little demon, even if I can't quite shake the image of Crawford saying “I'm sorry.”