The most frustrating thing is probably the laundry.

Honestly. Worse than getting the helicopter into the most ridiculous places whenever he needs it, worse than finding the perfect wines, which I actually enjoy, worse even than disposing of the occasional body, it's getting the blood out of those white suits.

Sometimes it's really hopeless, and I have to do away with a jacket or pair of trousers. Even when there's no blood, he's managed ash of several descriptions, grass stains, all kinds of dirt ground into the knees, paint, ink, foodstuffs, and several substances I can't even name, and I can't use bleach or scrub too forcefully, because that would damage the material. Sometimes—this really annoys me—he takes his jacket off somewhere and leaves it behind. How does a person keep the necessary number of matched tailored suits ready for that man when he shows no regard for them? I'm always having to call his tailor. There's a running account open. They can do up his order from memory. Some months I have to call them three times. Once he was gone for a few weeks, involved in some project, and when he came back all his horizontal measurements had shrunk and I had to alter all his clothes in two nights, and let them out again a few weeks later. Really, he's the worst. All those clothes. Always white.

That's not true. Really, the worst is this.

Someone's at the door, and I have to keep them waiting while I come down the stairs. It's fine to do that to them on purpose, but I hate doing it by accident. "Mibu-san." I step back to allow him inside, and bow. "I was expecting you." He has not got his pipe. I take his coat and whisk it away into the long closet, then go up the back stairs. I'm already in the room again when Oriya arrives. He stands by the far side of the bed for a while. The room holds only the sound of three sets of lungs. Mine are almost silent. Oriya's are a little louder. Finally, Oriya takes my chair.

"It doesn't look good, does it?"

He's talking to me, which is unusual.

"No," I agree.

"Those burns…"

I have to change the dressings twice a day. It takes two and a half hours. "That person burned everything away."

He's not listening. "Oi…oi. Muraki, you bastard. Wake up. Lying there like a straw man is not even remotely funny." Of course there is nothing. Oriya makes a fist. "Come on, open those disgusting eyes of yours!"

"Mibu-san, there must be no disturbances."

He really isn't listening. I'm afraid he may disturb the dressings soon, though for now he still doesn't want to touch the burns. "It's not polite to sleep in front of guests, you know! Come on, Muraki. I had to fight a dead guy for you. Granted that I lost, this is still unacceptable."

"Mibu-san, please remove your hand."

He does, but goes on looking at the place where it was, as the white finger-prints in the gentler, un-bandaged burn there return to red. "His chin…do you think there'll be a scar?"

"It's unlikely."

There's someone else at the door. "Excuse me." I leave Oriya alone.

It's Ukyo. "Ojousama. This way."

"I know where," she says. I take her coat and the back stairs again. Again I am in the room before she is. She goes straight to the bed, like Oriya, and like Oriya stands there a long time looking.

"Looks pretty bad."

She glances down and sideways at him. They have never quite liked each other. But she nods. They are silent. At last Ukyou comes around the foot of the bed and takes the other chair. "Do you think he'll wake up?" Her voice is never this uncertain.

"He…He is Mura…I don't know." Oriya sounds almost as faded as Ukyo. His usual air of a chrysanthemum has been replaced by something like a wilting tiger lily. They aren't looking up at each other.

"I don't know," Ukyo repeats. The room is bleak.

At great length, "Damn you, Muraki." Ukyo looks up, rather reproachful. He looks back. "I knew he might not come back," Oriya explains. His voice is growing strangled. "But I never thought he might come back like this!"

"I didn't even know that! Until you relayed Sakaki's message, I had no idea he had been doing anything apart from the usual!" Her little knuckles are white on the bedspread. She looks down. "Why do you never tell me anything!"

"He can't hear us."

"Perfect time to talk to him, then."

The room is silent again. It grows dim, and I turn on the lamps.

"I hate him," mutters Oriya.

"Me too." A second later, she gasps. "He smiled!"


They lean close, with bated breath. His eyes open.

Ukyo seizes his hand, and I see him wince slightly, but repress it. "You're back!"

"You psychopath! Three days! Did you get a kick out of being unconscious or something?" They are both crying.

He raises his free hand carefully and catches one of Ukyo's tears as it rolls down her cheek. "So broken-hearted to have me back," he smiles. His voice is thin and rough and burned, but certainly his own.

"You jerk." She sniffles out the words, but she is smiling too. Her makeup has run all over her face. He and Oriya share a look. He shakes his head a little.

It all went to nothing. Worse than nothing. I know. But life will go on. His world goes on waiting for him.

He turns his eyes toward me, standing as I have been several metres behind Ukyo. "Sakaki," he says, "Coffee."

I bow. I leave the room like a ghost and shut the door behind me. Then, and only then, because I am not Ukyo or Oriya, I may cry.

One of the many things Tsuzuki and Muraki have in common is that incredible heap of charisma. Everybody loves Tsuzuki, sure, but just as many people really, really love Muraki.

What I actually liked best was the way I kept Sakaki from ever referring directly to Muraki the whole time he was unconscious. Butler 3, by the way. We only know about this guy because Muraki told the guy who drove his helicopter at the end of the Queen Camelia arc to take him home because he was craving a pot of Sakaki's coffee. I posted this a while ago as White, and then thought that maybe the totally lame title and secretive summary was why it got so few hits, so I'm putting it up again with a new title. Thanks to those who reviewed the first one! Special thanks to Veleda. Reviews to this version will be cradled with love.