Ken woke to the sound of someone moving around. He cracked an eye open, fighting back fatigue and the urge to tell whoever was making the noise to shut up. It had taken a long time before he had been able to fall asleep last night. He wanted to go back to sleep. He paused at the sight before his eyes, however, waking up a bit when he noticed that he was sprawled on a mattress instead of the floor. He pushed himself to a sitting position, rubbing at his eyes and looking around. He was in bed. How had that happened? There was no way he would have climbed into bed with Schuldich. No matter how uncomfortable the floor or how tired, there was no way he could have made himself do that. But here he was, with his pillows around him and half-buried in the thick comforter.
It was Schuldich that was moving about, locating clothes. He was dressed in just a towel that hung low on his hips and threatened to slip with every movement he made. His hair stuck to his back and sent little trails of water down his skin to soak into the towel. He muttered something under his breath, plucking another towel from the dresser and rubbing his hair viciously to dry it. That towel was sent carelessly to the floor, and he shrugged out of the one around his waist, plucking up the clothes he'd chosen to wear.
"Gah..." Ken quickly hid his face, not wanting to watch the German get dressed.
He heard Schuldich snicker. "See anything you like?" he asked.
"Just the things nightmares are made out of," Ken shot back.
Schuldich laughed. There was a bit of rustling and the sound of a zipper before the mattress bounced. Ken lowered the blanket. Schuldich was sprawled at the foot of the bed, looking up towards him and dressed only in a pair of jeans. "Are you showering here or at home?" he asked.
"Home?" Ken asked blankly.
"I told you we're leaving today..." Schuldich reminded him. "I have a lot of work to do for my show. So are you showering here or there?"
Shower where he was alone with Schuldich or shower in a house with others...
"Figures." Schuldich rolled his eyes, tugging at the blankets. "Be quick. I want to get on the road soon. Bathroom is three doors down on the right. Towels are in the door right before the bathroom."
Ken crawled towards the edge of the bed and looked towards Schuldich as he got to his feet. "Why was I in bed?" he asked.
Schuldich arched a brow at him. "You think I wanted to listen to you whine all day about how you slept on your back wrong just because you're too shy to sleep in the same bed as your lover?"
"You're not my lover," Ken reminded him.
It was immature, but Ken stuck his tongue out at the German anyway. Schuldich rolled into a sitting position almost too quickly for Ken to follow and reached out to snag Ken's chin in his long fingers. He yanked the younger boy towards him and stopped with their mouths a breath apart. Ken was pretty sure his heart stopped beating. "Do not stick your tongue out at me, Ken," Schuldich said, slowly releasing the younger boy. "It might be taken as an invitation."
"A-aa..." was all Ken could think to answer as he stared at the German with wide brown eyes.
"Now go shower." Schuldich slid off of the bed and padded towards the dresser to find his shirt. After a long moment, Ken left the mattress and started towards the door. He paused with his hand on the knob and looked over at Schuldich. The telepath caught the gaze and rolled his eyes. "I know, I know, don't touch you. Spare me the rant and get your ass in the shower."
"Whatever," Ken muttered, pulling the door open and heading down the hall.
"Be quick," Schuldich called after him, sprawling against the doorframe and leering at Ken. "If I think you're taking too long I'll come and get you."
Ken shot him a Look over his shoulder. "If you come anywhere near the bathroom I'll kill you."
"Saa...Considering everything I've seen running around in your brain...I do believe you'd try." With that, Schuldich grinned and vanished back into the bedroom.
Even with his warning, Ken didn't really trust Schuldich to stay away. He showered as quickly as possible and wrapped his towel tightly around his waist. The hall was cool and he shivered, raking a hand through his wet bangs as he walked. He pushed the door to the bedroom open, wondering if Schuldich had gone down to breakfast. He paused in the doorway when he saw the other man digging around in the closet.
"What are you doing?" he asked, not really curious but wondering why Schuldich wasn't gone so he could dress in private.
"Looking for something," Schuldich answered. "I left a shirt here that I wanted to remember to bring back home..."
Ken eyed the stuffed closet. "You leave things here often?"
Schuldich tossed a grin over his shoulder at Ken. "I lived here until last year. I just haven't moved everything out yet. It doesn't really matter; we come here often enough that I can afford to leave my things scattered," he explained.
Ken looked around. None of the clothes appeared to be familiar. "Do I leave stuff here?" he asked.
"You don't want to go home like that?" Schuldich asked, raking his eyes down Ken's form. Ken's fingers tightened on the towel and he frowned, uneasy with the hungry look in those blue eyes. "I think you look fine that way."
"I want clothes, Schuldich."
"You are no fun at all."
"Keep in mind that I'm not your Ken."
"I don't need you to keep reminding me," Schuldich told him with a faint sigh. He yanked an outfit from its hangers and headed towards Ken. Ken watched as he tossed a pair of jeans and a black nylon shirt to the comforter. "You look like him, but that's just about it." He eyed Ken for a moment and the younger assassin returned the gaze boldly. "I don't even need telepathy to see the differences; they're plain in your eyes."
He raked a hand through his hair, frowning faintly as he continued to study Ken. Finally Ken had had enough of the scrutiny and shifted from one foot to the other. "Can I get dressed now?"
"You have to ask me?"
"In private," Ken clarified.
Schuldich glanced towards the ceiling as if asking for patience. "How much longer am I going to keep humoring you?" he mused.
"Until I'm back where I belong, hopefully," Ken answered.
Schuldich turned to go and paused. Ken opened his mouth to hurry the German out, wanting to dry the freezing water from his skin, but Schuldich started forward. He padded towards the dresser and lifted two black strips of cloth. He carried them back to Ken and held them out in offering. Ken accepted them, letting one hang from his fingertips and eyeing it. It looked like a long glove, almost, one that would stretch from his elbow to his second knuckles. Realization dawned right as Schuldich spoke.
"They're your trademark," Schuldich said. Ken slowly looked up from them to meet Schuldich's gaze. Those blue eyes had gone expressionless again. "Only Crawford and the two of us know what hides beneath them."
Schuldich looked as if he might say something else but instead turned to leave the room. Ken gazed at the long gloves until the door clicked into place. At length he set the gloves down on the bed alongside the outfit Schuldich had chosen for him. He dried quickly, scrubbing his skin with hard strokes with the towel, telling himself over and over mentally that there was nothing he could do to erase the scars from his skin. It didn't help much; they still unsettled him. He yanked on the clothes and lifted the gloves, pulling them on slowly. He did feel better with the scars hidden.
Schuldich pushed open the door and headed towards the closet once more. Ken glared at his back. "Shouldn't you knock? I could have been naked."
"This room is used by both of us and I've seen you naked a bajillion times."
"I don't want you to see me naked!"
Schuldich rubbed at his temples, sending Ken an impatient look. "I knew you were dressed; I could tell from your thoughts. Will you just take a chill pill and knock yourself out somewhere so I don't have to listen to you?"
"How do I know you wouldn't try something when I was unconscious?"
"I was just joking!" Ken waved a hand at him, grinning at having riled Schuldich. The man was giving him a frustrated glare. "Maybe I can trust you enough to know that you wouldn't violate me when I'm out."
Schuldich sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "I'm not sure whether to be pleased over the progress or despair that it's so little..." he muttered. With one last rake of blue eyes across Ken's form, he turned back to the closet.
Ken grinned and perched on the edge of the bed. It was strange to realize that he would allow Schuldich that degree of trust. Maybe it was because he felt the German deserved something in exchange for putting up with Ken and helping work to get the Kens switched back. If Ken stopped to think about it, Schuldich was having the harder end of the deal with this screw-up. He gave a small sigh and a shrug, watching as Schuldich dug around. The older man seemed to be ignoring him and was muttering in German as he pushed stuff around on the hangers. Ken sprawled on his side on the mattress. He would be treading a dangerous line here...It was necessary to give some ground and trust to Schuldich, but he had to make sure he could keep the two Schuldichs separate. Any trust he gave Schuldich here could not carry through to the other Schuldich.
"Ah~!" Schuldich crowed in triumph, startling Ken from his thoughts. Ken could only stare as Schuldich spun, holding a white long-sleeved shirt at arm's length. "There you are."
"You spent all this time looking for a shirt?" Ken asked blankly. "It's not even clean...Look...It's like you were in the middle of a food fight or something." He flicked his fingers to indicate the splotches of color that stained what would have been a really nice shirt otherwise.
Schuldich gaped at Ken. "A food fight?" he said, sounding offended. He eyed the shirt critically. "Food fight?"
"It's a painting shirt," Schuldich said a bit huffily, striding towards the bed and draping the shirt over an arm. He looked as if he wanted to remind Ken that the brunette should know that but rethought his words. He frowned faintly, looking from Ken to the shirt. "I have a lot of them," he explained, "one for every piece I do. Now come on." He beckoned to Ken to follow. "I want to get going."
"Hai." Ken crawled off of the bed and followed him out of the room, tugging the door shut behind them. He yawned and stretched as they headed down the hall. His ears picked up on the sound of voices as they descended the stairwell, but it wasn't until they reached the first floor that he could separate the sounds from each other to figure out who was speaking. Omi and Nagi were watering the plants that lined the hall and talking. Omi noticed them first and waved cheerfully, setting his watering pot aside.
"Ah, Ken, are you two leaving now?"
"Yeah, we are."
"Wait just one moment. There's something I want to give you." Saying so, he bounded away. Ken and Schuldich remained obediently where they were until Omi returned, offering a tape. "Here."
"Ano...What is it?" Ken turned it over in his hands.
"The game," Omi answered easily, plucking up his pot again and peeking in the plant he'd abandoned. He poked the soil with a fingertip, gave a satisfied nod, and moved on. Nagi was watching Ken silently, his dark eyes calm as they studied Ken's face.
//He always records the games for you to see,// Schuldich explained.
"Thanks, Omittchi." Ken sent the boy a smile before flicking a nervous glance at Nagi. The boy's steady gaze made him uneasy.
//He thinks something about you is off.// Schuldich plucked at his shirt. //He's a bit more observant than the blue-eyed ball of spaz over there.// The German's lips quirked in an amused smirk as he watched Omi bounce down the hall.
Omi _was_ a bit hyper...
//He isn't this worked up at your place?//
Ken felt his mouth harden and glanced away. ~Omi has no reason to ever be so happy...He tries to be cheerful for us but he can never be as innocently happy as this.~
//Saa...I have to wonder if anything goes right in your world.//
Ken thought about it for a long moment, studying the tape in his hand. ~None of us have died yet,~ he offered up with a rueful grin towards the German.
Schuldich considered this. Ken left him there, wandering down the hall. He could see a large door framed with windows that offered an outside view. Part of Yohji's Seven was showing through the glass, so he figured he had a good chance of this being the direction they wanted to go. He was almost there when he realized Schuldich still wasn't following. He turned back, questioning brown eyes meeting Schuldich's expressionless blue ones.
//Are your friends good assassins?// Schuldich asked at length, finally starting towards Ken. //Or are you careless enough that you end up with lucky victories?// Both of the young boys were watching them now. Omi was looking back and forth between them, wondering at Schuldich's sudden reluctance to follow Ken.
Ken bristled at the thought that he and his team were incompetent. ~We know what we're doing. The wounds we get are very rarely serious and they're not something we can control by being skilled...Things just happen.~
Schuldich had reached him by now and turned to face an open doorway to one side. Only then did Ken notice Crawford and Yohji seated in the den. The German offered a wave and smirk. "See you Thursday," he said.
"Aa," Crawford answered.
"Drive safely for once," Yohji quipped, sprawling out on the couch.
"And have Ken soccer kick my ass? Yeah right." Yohji turned his grin on Ken. Ken scrounged up a return grin before Schuldich had him by the elbow and was tugging him outside. He barely managed to pull the door shut before he was dragged down the stairs towards one of the cars.
"O-oi! I can walk, you know!"
Schuldich twisted Ken and shoved him. Ken yipped as his back banged into a car. Before he could come up with some sort of angry demand for Schuldich's rough behavior, he saw the look in Schuldich's eyes. His throat went dry and he could only stare up at the taller man. Schuldich lifted a finger, letting it hover in front of Ken's face.
"When we switch you back," he said, his calm voice a sharp contrast to the look that promised death to everyone involved, "Ken had better be alive and healthy, or I'll find some way to kill your friends. Understand?"
Ken nodded dumbly. He didn't think he'd be able to speak.
"Now get in the car."
Ken nodded again, but he was nodding at Schuldich's back as the German left him to climb into the driver's seat. He let out a shaky breath that he hadn't known he had been holding and slowly pulled his door open. Schuldich was telling the truth...He could feel it. He slid into his seat and tugged the door shut. As he fumbled for his buckle, he glanced out his window towards the cloudless sky. He would have to trust in his friends to protect the other Ken. There was no way Ken would be able to get hurt, really...If the people here could tell that Ken was acting off, his friends would notice it even more. They were a team; they learned to read what each other would not say. They would know something was wrong, and Aya would make the call and leave Ken out of any missions they would be given.
Ken jumped, looking towards Schuldich. "Aa...Ran."
"Why do you call him by his sister's name?"
Ken gave a small shrug, clicking his buckle into place. Schuldich didn't bother with his and settled for turning his key in the ignition. "Yohji was the first to call him that when he joined Weiß. Apparently Aya had said her name in his sleep. Aya accepted the nickname and decided to live for his sister because she couldn't." He tilted his head to rest it against the window as Schuldich drove them away from Yohji and Crawford's mansion. The driveway seemed to stretch on forever. "She was in a coma for two years...She was purposefully run down with a car." He frowned faintly, looking towards Schuldich. "What about her here?"
"She is in her first year as a university student about an hour from here. She lives near Ran and Omi. It's rare that she's with the group." He lifted one shoulder to say he wasn't bothered by her infrequent visiting.
They finally reached the end of the driveway and Schuldich turned onto the highway it emptied into without checking either direction for cars. There was one coming and Ken clawed at the door. "Schuldich!" he warned frantically.
"He's stopping," Schuldich said, flicking Ken a smirk. Apparently it amused him that he'd frightened Ken. "I suggested he yield to us."
Ken hit him, beating at his closer shoulder with both fists. It gave him a little satisfaction to see Schuldich wince. "That's not how you're supposed to drive! It's dangerous! What if they don't listen to your suggestion?"
"Hasn't failed yet," Schuldich said carelessly.
"Eh?" Schuldich blinked at him, not comprehending the order.
Ken glared at him. "Put your seat buckle on. If you're going to drive like a maniac, at least wear some sort of protection. I can't have you getting hurt or killed. I'll never make it back home if you die."
Schuldich rolled his eyes. "I'm not driving like a maniac; I'm driving like a telepath."
"Buckle," Ken repeated flatly.
"And take my hands off the wheel?" Schuldich raised an eyebrow at him. "Sure thing." Saying so, he lifted both hands and waved them around his head.
"Schuldich!!" Ken grabbed at the wheel. "You fucking moron! Don't play games when you're driving!"
"I'm not driving. You are." Schuldich gestured to Ken's hand before grinning at Ken. "I'll drive, you buckle me."
Ken glared. "I'll steer, you buckle."
Schuldich tugged his buckle into place and swatted Ken's hand away from the steering wheel. "You are no fun at all," he declared. Ken continued to glower at him and Schuldich cast a glance upwards, giving a tolerant sigh. "Ja, ja, whatever. I'll drive normal, mother hen." When Ken opened his mouth to offer an annoyed response Schuldich sent a grin at him and flicked on the car's CD player. Foreign music spilled from the speakers, loud enough to drown out anything Ken might have to say. It was loud enough that Ken could barely hear his own thoughts. He grumbled something about noisy, annoying Germans and buried himself further down in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest.
Schuldich and the other Ken lived in an apartment inside Tokyo. As Ken wandered around in his own private tour of the place he couldn't help but wonder how much it must cost. It was a _nice_ apartment, very large and tastefully decorated. He took a peek out the window in the den to gaze down at the hustle and bustle of the city below before wandering through the kitchen and small dining room. There were four doors in the hall. The first led to a bathroom and the one across from it was a closet. The third door he opened was a bedroom. He could hear the sound of hangers on metal and guessed Schuldich was rummaging through the closet in there. Finally he pushed open the last door.
Finished paintings were standing against one wall, and the one opposite it supported blank canvases. There were three easels of varying sizes: one empty, one with a blank canvas, and one covered by a small sheet. At the back of the room was a window seat where the window curved out about a foot. Ken wandered towards the completed works to inspect them for his approval. A faint, curious frown curved his lips as he began moving the canvases around to study each one. A few looked familiar...He paused, trying to place them.
He blinked as recognition dawned. They looked like the paintings that had been up at Crawford and Yohji's place. Schuldich had painted those?
"I hear the doubt in that," Schuldich remarked, entering the room.
"Where did you learn to paint?" Ken wanted to know, looking over his shoulder. He hesitated and straightened, studying Schuldich for a few moments with some surprise. The German's hair was pulled back into a ponytail- he guessed it was an attempt to keep his hair out of the way- and he was wearing a white shirt over form-fitting jeans. The shirt had no buttons and had to be tied together at the bottom corners to close. It looked just like the one Schuldich had brought home, except it was clean. It was really nice. Why would the German want to paint in what had to be an expensive shirt?
"I went to school for it," Schuldich answered with a faint shrug, heading towards the window seat and tossing a small bag to one side. There was a stool there and he lifted it carefully, bringing it towards the easels. "Luckily I actually got into the school. It would really bite if Hitler had been telepathic, hm?" He flashed a grin at Ken.
Ken didn't get it. Schuldich gave a resigned sigh, setting the stool down. The seat had indents carved into it and the wood was streaked with paint. Hanging under the seat was a small bucket full of paintbrushes and tubes, and Schuldich was rummaging through it now to select the paints he wanted. Ken lingered, not really sure what to do, watching as the German began to mix his chosen paints in their individual engraved spots on top of the seat. Schuldich eyed the empty canvas for a long moment, idly swirling a thick-tipped brush in some orange. Finally he gave a slight nod and drew the tip across his shirt, ruining the pristine white material, before setting brush to canvas. Ken continued to watch, interested, as bold streaks appeared.
Schuldich glanced backed at him, switching the brush to his other hand and grabbing another one with a finer tip. "Did you need something?"
"No; I was just watching." Schuldich hesitated, a faint frown tugging at the corner of his mouth, before looking away and selecting his next color. Ken had the sudden feeling that he was invading on the other man's private time and felt guilty. He knew what it was like to need time for oneself, so he had no right to stay here. He could explore the house some more...maybe find some breakfast or something. It was late morning, after all, and he had not eaten yet. "Ano...Do you want me to leave so you can paint alone?" Ken asked, taking a step back towards the door. "I'm sorry; I don't know what rules the two of you had established here when it came to your painting..."
Schuldich glanced towards him again and Ken paused in the middle of his retreat. There was a curious look to Schuldich's eyes that Ken didn't understand. "Nein, you don't have to leave," Schuldich finally answered.
Ken turned those words over in his head. To him it sounded more like an invitation than a response. He offered a hesitant smile to Schuldich. The German did not return it and an edge of confusion still lingered in his eyes when he turned back to his work. White danced its way through orange before the pure shades of the two colors were stained with yellows, pinks, and reds. Gray and silver ran alongside each other as an outline and the colors spread outwards from Schuldich's brushes. Ken watched, fascinated, as Schuldich worked from the sky down, one brush streaking a faint line that would be water partway down the canvas. A sun appeared, blossoming to the left side of the side, low above the horizon. It had colors vibrant enough that it seemed to glow.
Here Schuldich left the painting, carrying his fistful of brushes with him.
"You can't stop _there_," Ken blurted without thinking.
Schuldich glanced over his shoulder, startled, and Ken wondered if the man had forgotten he had an audience. The German's lips twitched into a grin as he stopped by a small sink that protruded from the wall and began cleaning his brushes. "I'm almost out of brushes," he informed the younger boy, "and that paint has to dry before I can start shading the colors together properly."
He set the brushes down and moved back towards the easels, hesitating by the one covered in a sheet. After a moment's consideration he lifted it and carried it off to the side, setting it out of the way. That done, he plucked up a new canvas and set it on the third stand. He eyed the blank surface before looking back at Ken, fingers untying his shirt. It had been streaked with every color he had used so far. He laid it carefully down on the ground and pulled a clean one from the bag he had carried in with him, shrugging it on. "I'm going to be here most of the day," he informed the athlete. "There's a computer in the den, and a television too if you want to watch the tape Omi gave you. All of the games are out there, arranged by date."
Ken glanced towards the doorway. It would be interesting to see the team he was playing with now...He looked back towards Schuldich- almost as if asking permission to leave, even though he didn't know why he would need it. The German gave a quiet laugh and a small jerk of his chin. Ken ducked out of the room, padding down towards the den. He had placed Omi's tape on top of the television for safekeeping when they'd first arrived at the apartment. Now he plucked it up, shaking the cassette from its case and turning the television on. He pushed the tape into the VCR and settled down on the floor to watch.
The screen came to life and the picture wobbled slightly as the person recording the field adjusted their grip on the camera. He could hear Omi's voice chattering away to Nagi about some of the souvenirs they had seen down on their way to the seats. Omi abruptly cut off the conversation with an "Oh! There!" The picture swayed again before focusing on the sidelines of the stadium. The announcer was saying something but it was garbled on the recording. Whatever the man said soon had the crowd on its feet, roaring and waving their arms enthusiastically. Ken realized the players were being announced and he leaned forward slightly, watching as each man ran towards the middle of the field. The camera zoomed in on the last one to run out, following his progress. When the player reached his spot and turned to lift a gloved hand to the crowd, Ken found himself staring at...well, himself.
The crowd was screaming again, the noise now separating itself enough that Ken could make out a name being chanted over and over: "Hidaka! Hidaka! Hidaka!"
He felt a strange tingle go up his spine and he rubbed at his arms as if warding off a chill. His fingers came in contact with his black gloves and he sent a half-startled glance down. He had almost forgotten about the arm bands. As he lifted his eyes to the screen, he saw the other Ken was wearing them there, too. He glanced away from the screen, raking his fingers through his hair as he forcefully pushed down the uneasy chill that twisted in his stomach. When he looked back the team was in a small huddle. They broke up then and the camera followed the other Ken towards the goal. The goalie gave the goal post nearest him a small punch before settling himself in the center of the net.
The camera zoomed back then, the trip accompanied by Omi's idle comments to Nagi. Finally Omi deemed the view to be far enough, and the camera dipped slightly, turning towards the sideline for a moment. There were two benches and eight players were resting there, clapping or talking to each other as they waited for the game to start. Crawford and Schuldich were both off to the side of the benches. "Say hi, Schuldich," the boy commented cheerfully, even though the German was much too far away for the man to pick up.
Distance was no trouble for a telepath, and the fiery haired artist glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the camera. He waggled his fingers in greeting before turning back to Crawford. The view moved once more, settling on the middle of the field this time, and the game began.
Ken inched closer, watching with interest as the game proceeded. Their forwards were fast, he noted with some satisfaction, watching as they easily wove their way through the other team's midfielders. Omi was making some comments on the game as well, sometimes for the camera and sometimes for Nagi. Omi knew every player by heart and had a good grasp of the game. Ken's Omi had never paid attention to the sport, so it was kind of strange for him to hear the boy's remarks.
One part of his mind was memorizing the names Omi said, tying them with the numbers on the jerseys. If he went to practice...and to the game...he would need to be able to call "his teammates" by their names.
Halftime came all too quickly with the score standing at 0-0. Ken realized he was hungry and he bounced to his feet, wandering into the kitchen to investigate. He felt like an intruder as he rummaged around the cabinets, but he did have to eat. He glanced at the clock that hung on the wall and was surprised to notice that it was noon. That would explain why his stomach was growling. He settled for grabbing a loaf of bread and went through the fridge for some meat. As he was putting a sandwich together he paused, debating. Was Schuldich still painting? He started making a second sandwich, this time for the older man. Part of him scolded him, telling him not to get used to doing the telepath favors. The rest of him calmly told that side to shut up- it was just lunch.
He put everything away and peeked into the living room to make sure the game wasn't back on. Assured that he still had time, he carried the sandwiches down to the artist's room. The door was open so he let himself in. Schuldich was washing his brushes again. The picture of the sunset at the beach had been worked on some more: now there was a person standing on the sand, back to the artist and holding a shell out towards the waves. The other canvas had a young girl sitting at a table, reading a book. The only light in the picture so far seemed to be a candle that had dripped wax all over the place. The expression on the person's face was that of someone totally absorbed in what they were doing, and Ken was startled by how real it was.
"How can you paint such a thing without a model?" Ken asked, stepping closer to the mostly completed picture. "How can you pull it off with no one to look at?"
Schuldich gave his brushes a shake before gently toweling the bristles dry, looking back towards Ken. "I can look at her," he answered simply, moving towards his stool. Ken held out the sandwich in offering. Schuldich hesitated, then set down his brushes and accepted the food. Ken nibbled at his own, waiting for Schuldich to explain. Schuldich eyed the painting for a moment in contemplative silence. "I can see her here," he finally said, gesturing to his head with his free hand, "because I can see her in someone else's mind."
Ken blinked, surprised, and studied the painting again. Schuldich gave a quiet laugh, running his fingers over the unpainted parts of the canvas. "She loved that book," he commented wryly. "She was always reading it."
"Who is she?"
Schuldich paused, but it was more like out of respect for the person in the picture than out of reluctance to tell Ken. "Farfarello's younger sister. He thinks about her all the time."
"So all of these..." Ken paused, turning to take in the rows of finished pictures with surprised brown eyes, "...are what you can see in other people's thoughts?"
"Mm," Schuldich answered. "I edit a few of them that would be too obvious to the person it came from. Most of the images just come at night when I'm trying to sleep and I never know who they're from." He gave a faint shrug. "That is the reputation I have as an artist: people come and describe to me what they want painted and 'miraculously' I give them exactly what they were looking for."
"Because you can see what they want in their minds..." Ken digested this. He couldn't help but grin, finding the idea amusing. "Very clever."
Schuldich grinned. "I thought so, too." He finished off the rest of his sandwich. "I need to run to the store," he said when he was done. "I didn't know I was going to be painting Brianna, so I don't have enough of the right colors." He gave a quiet sigh and Ken followed him from the room and down the hall. "You think you can keep yourself entertained here?"
Ken peeked into the den. The teams were in huddles again on the television screen. "I think so."
Schuldich glanced towards the game. "You and that sport," he murmured, half amused and half exasperated. "Fine then. I shouldn't be out too long." With that, he scooped up his keys from a hook by the door and let himself out. Ken hurried back into the living room and sat down to watch.
The other team came out with a vengeance this time, but Ken and the players on the screen had both figured they would. The ferocity of their offense still managed to shake Ken's team, however, and Ken groaned when a ball narrowly missed the other Ken's outstretched fingers to sink into the back of the net just minutes into the second half. "Damn~!" he swore, scooting closer still to the screen.
For thirty minutes he gnawed on his lower lip anxiously, wishing his team would win. He knew they had won this game- that was what that party had been for- but still! It was nerve wracking. Just when he thought he wouldn't be able to take it anymore, his team scored. He let out a whoop, both arms flying into the air. It was a beautiful shot; there was nothing the other goalkeeper could have done to stop it. "Nicely done, number 16," Ken complimented the screen happily.
Five minutes passed as an almost vicious battle between the two teams. At least his team was in possession of the ball- no! Not anymore! He rocked forward, staring as the ball was intercepted from his side and sent flying down towards the goal were Ken-goalie waited. One of the opposing forwards burst through the line of defense, carrying the ball down towards the net. One of the defense players was hot on his heels, obviously struggling for the small burst of speed that would allow him a chance at deflecting the ball from the other man. Ken could hear Omi murmuring worriedly under his breath, "You can do it, Ken-kun, you can do it..."
Ken-goalie lunged, snatching the ball into his arms as it rolled along ride in front of the player's feet. The forward crashed into Ken's sprawled form and fell, taking Ken rolling with him with the force of impact. The defense player was too close to stop and went down like a rock on top of the two.
The crowd went dead silent.
After a long moment, the defense player stood and helped his opponent to unsteady feet. Ken-goalie remained on the ground, tucked in on himself around the ball. One of the players leaned down slightly, reaching out and lightly touching him.
"Ken-kun, Ken-kun, get up, get _up_," Omi hissed frantically.
"Jesus Christ, what a spill." That was Yohji's voice.
Suddenly there was a blur of orange as Schuldich, given permission by a wildly gesturing referee, dashed onto the field as fast as his feet could take him. The other players backed off a good distance, letting Schuldich take care of Ken. The telepath was crouching beside him, hands touching Ken's shoulders and face. Omi zoomed in quickly, trying to see them better. Nagi was questioning about how Ken looked and Omi was answering worriedly that he couldn't see because Schuldich was in the way.
Then Schuldich was falling backwards out of his crouch onto his rear. Ken-goalie had an arm outstretched and was sending the German a flat look. Schuldich rose to his feet and his lover slowly began to pick himself up. Schuldich extended a hand, an offering of help.
Ken-goalie slapped it away, irritation plain on his face. He said something and Schuldich took a step back, letting the younger man finish getting up on his own. They had a short conversation before Ken gave a jerk of his hand. After a moment, Schuldich turned and headed off the field. Ken tossed the ball back towards the center and returned to his goal. Omi was offering thanks to whichever kami was listening.
Ken let the words fall against deaf, uncaring ears. His eyes followed Schuldich as the man left the field. Right before his form left the view of the camera the German reached Crawford's side. The American reached out, touching his companion's shoulder as he passed. Schuldich shrugged off his touch in a short, jerky motion and vanished off the screen.
Omi did not notice; he was debating with Nagi over whether or not it was safe for Ken to play after taking such a hit.
The rest of the game did not matter; Ken's interest was gone. It was as if the game itself had faded and all of his attention had narrowed down to the goalpost that his look-alike was guarding. Ken lifted a finger and pushed the slow rewind button on the remote control. Brown eyes watched everything he had just seen- up through Schuldich and the other Ken's interaction- backwards. He pushed play as soon as he saw the two players collide with the other Ken and watched in silence. The adrenaline that had pounded in his veins, the excitement over watching such an upbeat and neck-to-neck game, had vanished. He watched as the players stood one by one to leave Ken-goalie still huddled against the ground. The referee beckoned towards the sideline and Schuldich was at the goalpost immediately, blurring his way across the field.
Ken watched the scene three more times, watched the other Ken shove Schuldich roughly away, watched Schuldich shrug off Crawford's touch. An uneasy feeling, a notion just out of recognition, was swirling back and forth in his mind. It irritated him that he couldn't unravel what his mind was beginning to suspect, but before he could get further bothered he heard the door open.
"Now what are you in a tizzy about?" Schuldich asked as he entered the room. He was lazily swinging two small bags around that Ken guessed held the paints he had gone out for. Schuldich glanced towards the television.
"Betsuni..." Ken murmured in response, but it was a useless response to a telepath. He felt the brush of another mind against his and accepted the rummaging without protest. It wasn't as if he could stop the older man, after all. Instead he finally tried to voice what was bothering him to add to the questions growing inside, but it was difficult to pin down what exactly about the interaction was making him uneasy. "He didn't seem very happy..."
Schuldich raised an eyebrow at him, lifting something from one of the bags before dropping it to the carpet beside Ken. "Would you be happy if you'd just been on the bottom of a dogpile?"
"Iie...demo..." He frowned. "He shoved you."
Schuldich rolled his eyes. "Unhappy people don't usually shower those around them with affection."
"He shoved you," Ken repeated, thinking of the way Schuldich had shrugged off Crawford's touch and disappeared out of view. "You ignore it now, but something he said...It bothered you that he reacted that way."
Schuldich brandished an orange and gestured to the bag he had dropped. "Look- I went and bought some fruit."
"You're changing the subject."
"I'm dismissing it," Schuldich agreed, flopping on the arm of the couch. He set his second bag aside and began peeling his orange. He let the peels collect in his lap, working to get at the sweet fruit inside. Ken gazed at the bag beside him without interest. "I don't see why you're so bothered."
Ken frowned faintly, looking up from his bag to study Schuldich. "You care about him."
Schuldich paused in the middle of tearing the last piece of peeling free to send Ken a Look. "Don't say such things while I'm eating, Ken," he said, and promptly began tearing the slices of orange free to snack on.
"But you do," Ken said stubbornly. It was strange...At the beginning he'd figured it was just a mutual physical idea or a one-sided thing on the other Ken's end; his prejudice against the German had made it impossible to see it any other way. Even with Schuldich's reactions to Ken's initial rejection of his presence and the way he'd threatened death if the other ken was returned unharmed hadn't been enough for the notion to click in. Now, however, he was beginning to see it as a two-sided thing, and for some reason it made him uneasy.
"Ken." Schuldich was looking at him over the bag, blue eyes calm and mouth set in a fine line. "Find something else to think about and eat your fruit."
Ken obediently opened the bag and eyed the contents. For some reason, though, Schuldich's dismissal of the subject just made everything worse.
Ken gazed out at the city from where he was tucked in on himself on the window seat of Schuldich's studio. The sun was low on the horizon and orange rays were spilling through the streets, highlighting the buildings and the people that wandered around below. The city looked pretty much the same as Ken remembered it, but he could not help wondering how many of the people he could see were the same here. Was everyone different on this side of the mirror? Were they better or worse here? This was Weiß and Schwarz's utopia compared to the other side. How many people had a better life on this side of the glass? It wasn't fair to think about it, to sit and think that the side of a mirror could decide how someone's life played out.
He gave a quiet sigh, tightening his arms around his knees and lowering his face to bury it on his arms.
Ken glanced towards the German, startled by the soft word that had broken both his thoughts and the silence between them. Schuldich lifted his eyes from the canvas before him to meet Ken's gaze. "Don't move," he said again, just as quietly. "Go back to that pose."
Ken hesitated. "Are you..."
"Go back," Schuldich urged again.
Ken felt his cheeks color faintly, though he was not sure why. "A-aa..." He turned to gaze out the window again. "Like this?" he asked, glancing at the older man out of the corner of his eyes.
"Mm..." Schuldich answered.
Ken turned his attention back outside. The rest of the day had passed slowly. Ken had spent several hours watching the news and skimming old newspapers to catch up on what was going on here. He'd carried the newspapers into Schuldich's studio to read and they now were lying at his feet and on the ground: he'd stopped reading them about an hour ago to stare blankly outside. The news couldn't tell him what he wanted to know. He wanted to know about Kritiker- about Manx, Birman, Persia...He wanted to know about Takatori Reiji.
"Takatori Reiji?" Schuldich asked. Ken glanced towards him until Schuldich corrected him with a "Don't move." The German paused a few moments and Ken could hear him rummaging around. He focused on staring outside. "Takatori works for the newspaper...He critiques books." He made a disgusted sound low in his throat. "More importantly, he's made it his career to discredit Ran's writings."
Some things never changed...At least Aya didn't lose his family to the man here.
"Not likely," Schuldich agreed. "Not many people listen to Takatori anymore. Ran's proved his strength in writing time and time again. Those that read him do it mainly for amusement, I think. Ran takes them personally no matter what, though." He gave a small shrug. "All right." There was a small clatter and Ken looked over to see the man yawning loudly and stretching. "Done; you can move."
Ken slid from the seat and padded towards Schuldich, coming around behind the man and peering over his shoulder. "Ahh..." he breathed, unconsciously leaning closer, not noticing when his fingers closed on Schuldich's sleeve to move the German's shoulder out of the way. He didn't see the quick look Schuldich tossed him, as his entire attention was fixed on the painting. Vibrant shades of orange-yellow filtered through the window the Ken in the picture was resting his forehead against. The bright rays were the only light in the painting and the room was shaded where the orange glow did not fall directly. The expression on the boy in the picture was one of wistful longing, as if he was staring out at something he could not have but would die for.
Ken uttered a sharp laugh, surprising both himself and the artist. He realized his fingers were clenched tightly on Schuldich's shirt sleeve and he slowly uncurled his fingers. "You really do paint what you see, don't you?" he asked, taking a step back to let space fall between them. Schuldich turned to face him, blue eyes calm. "I want this, yes, but I don't want these people." He felt cold suddenly and he rubbed at his arms, turning away. For some reason Schuldich's gaze bothered him. "These are not- these are not my friends."
It hurt, suddenly- it hurt to be here. He wanted to see his friends, wanted to see them how they really were. He was really grateful now that he didn't have to stay at Yohji and Crawford's place where the others were. He did not want to see them right now. They weren't the same- they were shallow imitations. These friends were not the ones he remembered- they had not been shaped by the same nightmares. They shared nothing with him here that they shared at home. He and his friends would fight or die together. They were a team, they were friends, they were family.
And right now what he wanted more than anything else was to be sitting with them. He almost ached to be with them in the basement of the Koneko, where they sat still smelling faintly of blood. They had taken to sitting together after their missions; they would sit together in silence before they did anything else. Even Aya would wait to clean his sword until after they were ready to part each other for the night. On a mission they went out facing death; one never knew when their luck would run out. It was comforting to know that their team was still all right after a run, and that reassurance could help keep the worst of the nightmares away.
He wanted to see them so badly.
Two arms wrapped around his waist and Ken was pulled backwards, held tight in the German's embrace. "Must you always think such depressing thoughts?" Schuldich murmured near Ken's ear. Ken allowed his lips to twitch in a humorless smile and did not answer. After a few moments Schuldich released Ken and gave the boy's sleeve a small tug. "We'll find your mythical mirror," he assured the younger boy before leaving the room.
Ken remained behind a moment before following after the artist. He did not think he wanted to be alone right then, and the telepath's company was better than none at all.
Ken gazed blearily at his reflection, scrubbing his teeth with the other Ken's toothbrush. It made him a little uneasy to use a toothbrush that someone else had used, even if the other person had been himself, but there was nothing else. Finally he rinsed the bristles and his mouth, rubbing his lips with the sleeve of his pajamas shirt to dry them. He padded out of the bathroom and went to stand in the doorway to bedroom. Schuldich was folding his painting shirts and putting them in the drawers of one of the two dressers.
Ken glanced towards the single bed. "I'll be in the living room," he said, backing out of the doorway once more.
"Stop being ridiculous," Schuldich chided him. "There's no reason for you to sleep out there."
"I can't sleep with you." When he saw Schuldich's grin, Ken felt his cheeks heat and he snapped, "You know what I meant. I can't sleep in the same bed as you."
Schuldich flicked his hair over his shoulder and shoved his dresser drawer shut. "You're acting like you've never shared a bed with anyone else." Here he paused and looked back towards Ken, who looked steadily away. "Surprise, surprise...You really haven't?"
"I'll see you in the morning." Ken turned away.
"Nein," Schuldich said again. "It's your apartment; I'll take the living room. I don't care."
Ken looked back at him. "Mine?"
Schuldich raised an eyebrow at him. "Did you really think that I could afford a place like this? Nein...You pay for it with your lovely professional athlete's salary." He didn't bother to cover a loud yawn, padding towards the door where Ken stood.
Ken frowned faintly, eyeing the bed. "I don't know if I can sleep on that..."
Schuldich gave him an amused grin. "What? Don't want to sleep on a bed where the bastard Schuldich and your reflection have fucked?"
Ken made a face, rubbing the heels of his palms against his eyes in a desperate attempt to take that mental image away. "Gah~!! Don't say that! Now I definitely can't sleep on it! Oh, _gross_..."
Schuldich snickered, raking his fingers through Ken's hair. Ken lowered his hands to glare fiercely at the German. "What's the matter? Was that a bit too strong of imagery for poor little virgin Ken?"
"Not everyone likes thinking about sex," Ken told the man flatly.
"I haven't yet a person yet that doesn't," Schuldich said with a shrug and a faint smirk.
"Oh, go away." Ken gave him a small shove. "I'm going to sleep on the couch. And don't," he lifted a finger warningly, "say anything that will make me regret sleeping there. I'd like to think that _some_ of your furniture hasn't been ruined by you and the other Ken."
Schuldich laughed at that and shook his head. "You need to get laid." Ken glared, but before he could say anything Schuldich smirked and shook his head. "I know, I know, 'don't touch me,' 'don't get any ideas,' 'sicko'..." He tilted his head to one side. "Methinks the Hidaka doth protest too much..."
"Oh, shut up."
Schuldich gestured for Ken to back off and the athlete obeyed. He followed Schuldich down the hall to the linen closet, where the German retrieved some blankets. Ken accepted the offering and wandered into the living room. Schuldich watched him from the doorway as he tried to make a comfortable nest on the couch.
Ken looked up from surveying his handiwork to send the German a questioning look. "What?"
Schuldich's lips twitched in the beginnings of a grin as he turned away. "Nichts," he answered over his shoulder, turning off the light in the living room. With that, he disappeared down the hall in the direction of the bedroom. Ken gazed after him for a few moments before shrugging and crawling onto the couch.
He fell asleep with images of his friends' faces dancing in his mind.