A/N: Finally, it has arrived! The last chapter of the Muse series. As addictive as this may be, I cannot continue, or I will shoot myself. XD Besides, sequels always seem to cheapen the impact of the original work. Most of the time. Anyway, thank you for staying with me for this fantastical year of fan fiction! Your kind words have encouraged me in times when I really needed it.
Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or any other copyrighted material.
By: Princess Kitty1
At around the crack of dawn, thirty-nine year old Orihime Schiffer was rudely awoken by a dramatic and deafening chord being struck on the piano in the hall of her Dupont, Washington home. This chord was soon followed by a rainstorm of notes, going, she imagined, from the top of the keyboard to the bottom, where more dramatic chords were hammered out. This was the life Christine would have had with the Phantom, she thought glumly, and turned her head into the pillow. "Ulquiorra…" she growled menacingly.
"What?" her husband, forty-two year old Ulquiorra Schiffer, answered groggily from beside her. He, too, had been yanked out of dreamland by the music.
"Please do something about your daughter." Yap, yap, yap! "…and the idiot dog."
"The dog is not an idiot, and she's your daughter from," he lifted his head enough to look at the clock on the nightstand, "two in the morning to ten in the morning. It's 6:32. We had an agreement."
Surprisingly, she didn't argue – he'd come to expect it, so at first he was alarmed when she didn't say anything. But then he felt one foot on his back and the other on his bottom, and had only time enough to choke out a "Wait!" before he was shoved off of the bed, blankets, comforter and all.
The sound of him hitting the floor brought the barking dog into the room to investigate. It left just as quickly when Orihime threw a slipper at it. "Too early…" she hissed, throwing her blankets over her head.
Ulquiorra untangled himself from the mess of sheets, stood, balled them up and chucked them at his unsuspecting wife. "You owe me."
He stifled a yawn as he wandered out of the bedroom and into the hallway, following the sound of the piano he knew so well. To think that he and Orihime had agreed, very early in Scarlet's life, that they wouldn't pressure her into taking up the instrument. Perhaps it had been her prenatal exposure to music that had done it. Ulquiorra had been playing something for her one afternoon when she was two or three years old, and when he had finished, she'd stretched out her small hand and had begun a clumsy attempt to replicate what she'd heard. More shocking still was the fact that she hadn't missed a single note of the basic melody.
She'd been playing the piano ever since.
Ulquiorra entered the upstairs living area and found his daughter Scarlet seated on the bench on which he and Orihime had shared their first kiss. She was out of her pajamas, but dressed in baggy, stay-at-home clothes that (thankfully) hid her figure. In that department, she took after her mother; though her chest was average-sized, she was as shapely as they came. She also had Orihime's eyes, which was part of the reason that Ulquiorra found it so difficult to say no to her at times. Her hair, however, was his, as were some of her sharper facial features.
"Good morning Scarlet," he greeted her in a deflated tone, making a point to show how tired he still was.
"It is?" Scarlet answered mournfully, striking a dissonant chord that made the Cocker Spaniel beside her let out a whining bark. She put on a tragic expression – which, taking into account how much she resembled her father, was downright pitiful – and slumped against the piano.
Ulquiorra hoped that whatever this theatrical display was about, it would have nothing to do with boys. "We're having company today. You get to see Misao and Klaus for the first time since…"
"That was, what, last year?"
"Try three years ago, Dad. Do you even know how old I am?"
"Of course I do. I just like to pretend that you're still in middle school." He sat down on the piano bench next to her, pushed her hands away, and opted for playing something that would rouse his sleeping beauty in a more pleasant way, lest she decide to spit in their breakfast later. "What's the problem, then? I thought you were excited about having your friends over."
"I am," Scarlet said with a huff that pushed her black bangs upwards. "But it's like, what do I say, you know? Misao's graduating this year and going off to college in the fall, and she's always been prettier and better dressed than me, so I feel intimidated… and as for Klaus,"
"He's a moron. Remember last time they were here, we went bike-riding in Steilacoom and he forced me to drag race him downhill to the ferry dock? I thought I was going to die!" She crossed her arms. "I don't trust him."
He relaxed. "You didn't have to say yes. And Misao is pretty, but you shouldn't let that intimidate you because she's your friend and… why am I the one who has to participate in girl talk? Go wake your mother. She's better equipped for these kinds of questions." Ulquiorra left the piano bench, scowling. For one terrifying second he'd thought that Scarlet was going to announce that she had feelings for Klaus.
Killing some random boy from school would be nothing. His best friend's son, however…
Scarlet was not the most social person in the world at school. In a room full of strangers she would make herself as invisible as possible – which was admittedly difficult, being the daughter of a local celebrity. She wasn't without friends, though. The small number of girls and guys that had approached the "unapproachable" Scarlet Schiffer were very protective of her, and always offered to pay for their own things when they went out, mindful of how self-conscious she was about her father's wealth.
But despite the fact that they lived thousands of miles from each other, she'd always considered Misao Ichimaru and Klaus Jaegerjaques to be her very best friends. She'd known them her entire life, after all. The fireplace even sported a picture featuring the three of them, still babies, with their parents and neighbors: Misao, a little over a year old; Klaus at almost eight months; and Scarlet herself, barely a month old. They were, as her mother called them, the babies of Las Noches.
"Oh, I can't wait to see Nel and Rangiku!" Scarlet sat primly on the sofa, watching her now wide-awake mother prance through the living room, pushing the dog aside with her foot when it sat in her way, expecting to be petted. "I promised I'd take the two of them shopping in Seattle, and your aunt Sarah's coming along too. Did you want to join us?"
"Maybe. Klaus is driving up in his own car so we can do whatever," Scarlet answered, playing with her beaded necklace. She'd changed into a soft pink, ruffled dress and a pair of flip-flops, along with the silver anklet inspired by her mother's favorite gold one, featuring her name etched into the thin plate. She'd wanted to look nice, but not over-dressed. Misao would outshine her either way.
Orihime grinned over the kitchen counter. "Couldn't fit the entire family into their car, could they?"
"He hit a growth spurt so, yeah, they can't squeeze him into the back with Heidi, Josie and Olive anymore," Scarlet laughed, thinking of Klaus's three little sisters. They were probably in junior high by now… two of them, anyway.
She'd find out soon enough. Her father had left a while ago to meet with their friends and direct them to the right house. Sure they'd visited often, but Grimmjow and Gin were bad with directions and getting to their place was a bit tricky. Scarlet's heart had been pounding for a straight hour, as it tended to do when she was expecting company.
What could they do together? Shopping would undoubtedly bore Klaus. She imagined he'd want to go to Mount Rainier, which would send her parents' anxiety levels through the roof for being sketchy mountain terrain, on top of being quite a distance away. There was a movie theater in nearby Lakewood, and things to do in Tacoma… or maybe they could tag along after their mothers and investigate Seattle after all.
The dog's long ears twitched and it took off for the front door, yapping up a storm. That could only mean that Ulquiorra was home, and Scarlet was out of time to think. "Shut up, Dexter!" Orihime yelled from the laundry, and the dog quieted immediately, its butt wiggling at full speed. "You take a dog to obedience school and expect it to learn something, but no, my husband just has to have an eye for ugly and stupid pets that nobody else wants."
Scarlet looked up at her, remembering the story of how her parents had gotten together. "So what does that say about you, then?"
Orihime's eyes narrowed. "You're grounded."
The front door opened, and there was an explosion of noise and movement. Dexter threw himself at Ulquiorra, yapping despite Orihime's orders. A multitude of voices filled the house as, one by one, familiar faces filed into the living room. Nel was first, and immediately ran to Orihime and engulfed her in an embrace. Grimmjow followed her, and seeing as Orihime had already been tackled by his wife – and now Rangiku – he turned his eyes instead on the sixteen-year-old standing from the sofa.
"Yo Batman," he said, looking at Ulquiorra, who had scooped up the dog and was treating it to a belly rub, "where the hell's your daughter?"
"Obviously, that would be her right there."
Grimmjow clapped Scarlet on the shoulder. "Who, her?" He grinned. "You were a munchkin last time, kid. What happened?"
"Puberty, I guess," Scarlet answered lamely.
"Scarlet!" She hadn't even time to look up before she was being squeezed to death by a slightly taller, much bustier, and hopelessly blond Misao Ichimaru. Just as Scarlet had predicted, her best friend had gotten even prettier in the last three years. She had her mother's wavy hair, her father's icy blue eyes and fox-like smile. And her clothes, in comparison to Scarlet's, somehow looked as if they had arrived straight from Paris, though they were probably a cheaper brand. She can make anything look good, Scarlet thought a bit sullenly, though she didn't let the tiny negative drown her happiness.
Misao finally broke away from her, talking a mile a minute. "Oh my God, look at you! You're so freaking pretty, Scarlet. I hate you! Only, not really, of course. Girl, we've got three days to paint the town red, you and me. We'll hit up the mall, get our hair and nails done, stuff our faces with donuts, shop for clothes, talk about boys – "
"What?" Ulquiorra and Gin said simultaneously, having heard the magic word over the rest of the commotion.
" – and school, and college, and your piano playing! You have to play something for me. I bet you've gotten, like, tons better since last time. But anyway, we'll go down to the bay and gossip like old ladies and…"
"No offense," a deep male voice cut through their one-sided conversation, "but that sounds boring as shit."
"Up yours, Klaus!" Misao barked, wrapping her arms around Scarlet again. "You can just stay home, then."
Scarlet had stopped paying attention right after the word "up", for standing in front of her was not the hell-raising kid that had forced her into a drag race three years prior. It had to be Klaus, sure: he had his mother's hair, short and combed-back, and his father's nose. Everything else, though… Where had the extra height come from? And that toned body? And that strong jaw, those thick arms?
Klaus arched an eyebrow. "You alright, Scarlet? You're staring."
God, even the way he arched his eyebrow was sexy. Scarlet's gray eyes swept the room for something more interesting to look at, but couldn't find anything, so they settled on Misao's boobs. "I'm fine…" she said dazedly.
Then suddenly, three more voices were clamoring for her attention: Klaus's little sisters, Heidi, Josephine and Olivia Jaegerjaques, who decided to cling to whatever part of her Misao wasn't touching, all of them squealing Scarlet's name and talking a mile a minute.
"Kind of noisy in here, isn't it?" Misao said, relinquishing her hold on her best friend as the dog ran past in a frenzy of delight.
"Oi, munchkins, let her breathe! She's pale enough without you cutting off her circulation. Back! Get back!" Klaus came in, waving his sisters away from Scarlet like insects. "One at a time, geez!"
"Scarlet," said the oldest, Josephine, "I'm in middle school now!"
"Me too!" Olivia piped.
"I'm not…" Heidi muttered glumly. "But I will be next year!"
"Scarlet, play something for us on the piano!"
"Say please!" Klaus ordered, whacking Heidi and Olivia upside the head. "And quit bothering the dog!" he added at Josephine, who was cradling a squirming and barking Dexter in her arms. "Mom!" Nel looked up and yelled something in French at the three girls and they scrambled for each other, huddling by the couch, chorusing an apology before cooing over the dog. Klaus sighed. "Definitely too noisy in here."
"We can go upstairs," Scarlet suggested, the blood rushing to her cheeks before she hastily added, "Misao's coming too!"
"Obviously…?" Klaus and Misao said uncertainly. "You sure you're feeling alright?" the latter added, though comprehension was beginning to dawn on her.
Grimmjow called out for his son, beckoning him to come to the adults. Klaus looked at the two girls and shrugged. "You go on ahead. I'll catch up."
"Good idea! Come on, Scarlet," Misao said, hooking her arm through Scarlet's and dragging her up the stairs before she could protest. Klaus paused to watch them depart, his gaze lingering on Scarlet until she disappeared behind the wall.
"Damn…" he muttered, and held a hand up to his chest, where his heart had taken off at a gallop.
If there was one thing that Scarlet hated about Misao, other than the raging inferiority complex she got standing next to her, it was that Misao was painfully observant. This shouldn't have been surprising, considering that her father was a detective, but somehow Scarlet was always whiplashed by the speed at which the girl reached conclusions. For example, the moment they entered Scarlet's bedroom and the door was closed, Misao turned on her with a devious smile. "You've got the hots for Klaus, don't you?"
"No!" Scarlet cried, her voice rising two octaves in a telltale sign of dishonesty. "Damn it!" she hissed.
"You do!" Misao skipped after her, both sitting on her bed. "Girl, I had a feeling it would happen, and I give every single one of my blessings. Really, I do. However, since you don't have the pleasure of going to school with him, I feel responsible for filling you in on things about Klaus that you may not know."
"He's a player," she declared unapologetically. "He's handsome, and he knows it, too. Practically gets off on all the attention the girls at school give him. Luckily, I know him well enough to be immune."
Scarlet frowned. "I thought you two had a thing in ninth grade?"
"And it was the stupidest idea I've ever had," Misao replied with a nod. "We're so wrong for each other, it's not even funny. But you're different, Scarlet. You've always been different… in a good way. Klaus would think more than twice before hurting you."
Scarlet fidgeted uncomfortably. She knew that Misao was right. Klaus was her childhood friend, an annoying kid with a bully streak. He'd never been her type before… what was so different about him now? A few inches of height and some muscle? She tried to fight back the excitement that had clambered up her stomach at the thought. What had mother said about guys like him?
Prince Charming types are always hiding something; more often than not, it's another damsel in distress.
There was a knock on the door, and then it creaked open and Klaus slipped inside, shutting them in to cut off the noise from downstairs. His eyes swept over the room, taking in its changes. There was a lot less pink than last time, though the trend of light colors remained in furniture and bedding. Hanging from Scarlet's wall were two framed compositions: one by her father, named after her; the second one the first she had ever written. There was no television, but a laptop sat on her desk, from which they'd had several webcam conversations.
It wasn't like he hadn't physically seen her in the last few years, so why was he suddenly feeling nervous just being in the same room with her?
"What did your parents want?" Misao asked, flopping over on Scarlet's bed as if it were her own.
"To brag about my so-called achievements," Klaus answered with a hint of embarrassment. He avoided Scarlet's gaze, and refused to move away from the door. "Soccer and all that."
Scarlet considered her own achievements. Recently she'd played alongside her father at a big charity concert and had gotten a standing ovation – which had made her turn as scarlet as her name – but she wasn't going to tell them that. She also played alongside her school's orchestra and jazz band. Other than those few things, she kept her grades up and stayed out of trouble. Not much to say. God, was she really that boring?
Misao eyed the two of them, mischief brewing behind her blue eyes. "So what are we going to do today? It's still early."
"I'm starving," Klaus said, patting his flat stomach and looking at Scarlet. "That pizza place in the town centre's open, right?"
"Y-Yeah…" She stared at her anklet, shaking her foot so that it'd turn around her ankle until her name was visible.
"You two go. I'm not hungry, since I didn't oversleep this morning and miss the hotel's breakfast hour." Misao turned onto her stomach and closed her eyes. "Besides, Scarlet's bed is so comfy… I really don't want to move."
Scarlet glared at her, knowing exactly what she was up to. But here she was, feeling sorry for herself because she was boring… so why not try something new and exciting? Why not go and get pizza with a cute French guy? Wasn't that the sort of fantasy that middle-aged housewives entertained? The more she thought about it, the better it sounded. So she had inherited some of her mother's adventurousness… it was just a little delayed. "Sounds good to me," she said, pushing herself up from the bed. "If you're going to nap, try not to drool on my comforter."
"If I do, consider it a gift," Misao said with a wink. As soon as they'd left the room, she brought out her phone and sent a text message to Josephine. Want to see your brother make a fool out of himself?
Downstairs, Orihime and Nel were already cracking up with laughter at one of Rangiku's stories from the Haineko Diner. Grimmjow and Ulquiorra were arguing about something completely trivial, as usual, leaving Gin to threaten putting them in holding – the garage and the backyard, in this case – until they calmed down. It didn't help that Josephine, Olivia and Heidi were taking sides.
Scarlet and Klaus descended into the mayhem, and would have remained unnoticed had Dexter not started barking at them. Orihime looked up, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. "Where are you two going?"
"Oh," Scarlet turned to face the adults, who were watching them curiously, "just getting lunch in town. Misao's tired and full from breakfast so she isn't coming."
Josephine and her sisters were staring at her cell phone screen with wicked grins.
Ulquiorra's eyes narrowed.
"Don't stay too long. We're all going out tonight, right?" Nel asked Orihime.
"We won't," Scarlet promised, grabbing her jacket and ushering Klaus out the door before her father could say something embarrassing. It was a nice spring day; temperatures in the fifties, near sixties, but sunny for once with a few passing clouds. The small cherry blossom tree in the lawn – an accessory given to most of the houses in Dupont – was in full bloom, its pink petals trembling in the breeze. "You up for a walk?" she asked. "Gas isn't cheap these days."
"You aren't cold?" he asked, swatting at the air in front of him as if he could generate heat that way.
"Please. I live here, remember? That'd be like expecting me to break out an umbrella whenever it rains." Scarlet smiled at him, slightly surprised by the courage she was extracting from some hidden inner reserve. Or, she thought, maybe she was finally remembering that no matter how attractive he was, this was still the same guy who'd shoved birthday cake up her nose in elementary school. Just another stupid guy… beneath the handsome exterior.
The house's front door opened. "Klaus, come here real quick!" Grimmjow yelled from inside.
Klaus sighed. "I'll catch up… again." Why was it that everyone always seemed to want his attention? Parents, sisters, girls… Misao gave him enough crap for it already. He went back to his father as Scarlet headed down the street. "Yeah?"
"Here," Grimmjow handed him a twenty dollar bill. "Be a gentleman."
"Just don't make it too obvious that you like her, or Ulquiorra will drug you tonight and bury you alive in the backyard." He clapped his son on the shoulder, then sent him on his way. The front door closed on the noise and laughter inside, leaving Klaus on the doorstep, annoyed and embarrassed. What the hell, first Misao was bailing on them, and now his dad was offering advice? Was everyone in that house – Ulquiorra excluded – placing bets on them already?
He started down the front walk again, but something half-hidden in the grass caught his eye. Scarlet was far ahead of him, staring off into the trees. Mount Rainier was hidden by clouds. The neighborhood was otherwise silent. Klaus walked closer and bent down to inspect the object.
Silver… thin… it was Scarlet's anklet. Had the clasp come loose after years of faithful use? He picked it up from the grass, wiping moisture off of the plate on which her name was carved. She'd freak out the moment she noticed it had gone missing. She'd beg him to come with her, to retrace her steps. She'd be so happy, so relieved, so grateful when he gave it back to her and shattered the illusion of it being lost.
Klaus looked towards her again, but she was still focused elsewhere, probably composing some festive springtime piece in her mind. The longer the anklet was gone, the happier she'd be when she found it, and the better it'd make him look, right?
He closed his hand around the silver chain and slipped it into his pocket, then walked over to meet her.
Cheap, dirty, perhaps a little cruel… but undoubtedly effective.
A/N: "Coda", of course, is a musical term with two different meanings. First, a coda is apparently the finale of a ballet (I didn't know that). But the coda I refer to is a section of music that brings a piece to its conclusion, usually after the whole piece – or the portion designated by the coda – is repeated. Think of Pomp and Circumstance. You know how it's repeated over and over and over until all of the graduates have come in? That's because it's marked with a coda.
What happens between Klaus and Scarlet now? I guess that's up to you guys, because it's about time this series ended, so I won't tell. With that said, Happy First Birthday, Muse! Thanks for coming out of my brain so nicely. And thanks to all of you who have stuck with this series from the beginning. It's been a pleasure writing it.
Feel free to join me for Tell Yourself and My Soul to Keep! Otherwise, until next time!