The first thing Ken was aware of was a throbbing ache in his head. A soft groan escaped him and he shifted slightly, sliding one hand up in search of his face. Fingertips found his forehead and he lightly rubbed at his scalp, willing the headache to go away. He slowly cracked his eyes open and found himself staring straight into blue eyes. Startled, he tried to jerk back, only to set off a larger headache. Swearing softly at the pain, he tightened one hand against his head. Schuldich snickered from where he was sprawled on his side next to the athlete and Ken glared at him, all too willing to blame the headache on him.
"I believe the drink Mitsuke gave you was a bit strong," Schuldich commented, a faint smirk curving his lips. "You weren't exactly in the mood for dancing after drinking it. Then again, you did swallow it as if there was no tomorrow."
Ken gave a slight shrug; he did remember finishing it off pretty quickly, though he was not sure why he had downed it at such a fast pace. Schuldich propped himself up on an elbow and gestured to a small juice box and some aspirin that lay between them. Ken slowly sat up and looked at at the bed he was sitting on. He remembered being put here, but then where had Schuldich slept? A light frown tugged at his lips as he plucked up the medicine.
"Where did you spend the night?" Ken asked, a thread of suspicion in his voice.
Schuldich laughed softly. "The couch," he answered. "You think I wanted to be in here if you woke up and got sick all over the place?"
"You were in here before I woke up," Ken pointed out, poking the straw through the juice carton, "so was that really an explanation or just a lead line?"
Schuldich raised an eyebrow at him, amusement dancing in his eyes. "Yes."
Ken rolled his eyes and swallowed the painkillers. "So what happens today?" he asked.
"Saturday is laundry day," Schuldich answered. "I have to run a few errands. Besides that, it's free reign."
"Do the errands include bringing Mitsuke his portrait?" Ken asked.
Schuldich blinked, and Ken wondered what about the question had caught Schuldich off guard. The German recovered quickly though and nodded. The amusement had faded from his gaze, replaced by a calm look. "Ja...I'm going to drop it by his place while I'm out."
"What did he mean?" Ken asked. "He implied that there was a chance your show wouldn't happen."
"You remember the oddest things."
"Yes," Ken answered. "I _do_ remember it."
"And you're nosy."
"You're not?" Ken crossed his legs and sipped at his juice. "You stopped me from asking him about it last night, which means you didn't want me to hear it. And that, to me, means that you didn't tell the other Ken. If you had told him it would mean that you didn't care if someone else heard. But why don't you tell me? I'll be gone back to where I belong soon, right? So why can't I know?"
Schuldich blinked again. "Since when do you try analyzing everything I say or do?"
Ken shrugged. "Since I decided I cared?" He finished off his juice and set the empty box back on the sheet, oblivious to the odd look that flickered across Schuldich's face as he watched to make sure no remaining drops in the straw dripped onto the bed. "You're not the horrible person I thought you were; I admit that. You've really been..." He paused, uncomfortable, before making himself continue. "...a friend to me. I don't know what would have happened if I had found myself here and you hadn't been here to help me through this.
"It would be kind of hard, though," Ken continued, tilting his head to one side and offering a faint grin to Schuldich, "to hang out with you and not try figuring out what you mean. I don't even know if I'm right; I just know that everything you say has a mixed meaning. And since you understand me so well...Well, I just wanted to be able to do the same for you...or at least try to."
Schuldich shook his head and laughed softly, and Ken had the feeling he was laughing at himself. "I tell people you're more than just a cute face, but do they listen? No..."
Ken made a face. "Cute face?" he repeated.
Schuldich's grin solidified. "I figured it was the only physical feature I could talk about without you fussing at me."
"Schuldich!" Schuldich snickered, obviously pleased by embarrassing the younger man. Ken mock-glared at him. "So?" he asked.
"So?" Schuldich repeated, allowing himself to drop onto his stomach. He crossed his arms on the mattress and used them as a pillow for his cheek as he peered up at Ken.
"You're being difficult," Ken complained to the unremorseful telepath. "What did Mitsuke mean when he told me to keep you from backing out of the art show?"
Silence fell between them for a few moments, as if Schuldich was considering whether or not to tell him and what exactly to say. Finally the German gave a faint shrug. "Not everyone is of the mind that I should have an art show," he said simply. "It's been an off and on debate for a long time."
"But who wouldn't want you to have one?" Ken asked. "Jealous artists? No time to prepare? Why would this one cause a fuss? Do yours always cause a debate?"
"It would be my first."
"Your coming-out show?" Ken couldn't hide his surprise. "You paint that well," he stabbed a finger in the general direction of the studio, "and you've never had a show before? But what about those paintings you said you'd done for other people? Why haven't they insisted you have one? Are you a word-of-mouth artist like Mitsuke's club is?"
"Outside of this group of eight, only four others know that I paint. It’s been that way since I tagged on with Crawford." Schuldich shrugged.
"Why?" Ken demanded. "Why don't people know?" Schuldich had nothing to say to that. "I'm surprised your Ken hasn't shoved you into having one. He lives with you; he's seen what you can do."
"I told you," Schuldich reminded him, "that Ken doesn't care for my paintings. He has no interest in the arts. He only cares for physical things."
"Don't you dare tell me that Ken's disinterest has anything to do with the fact that you've never had an art show before." Schuldich said nothing, merely gazed back up at him calmly. Ken sighed heavily and rubbed at his forehead. "I didn't mean that literally, and you know that."
"If your friends hated soccer and told you countless times, would you still slip out of your flower shop to play?" Schuldich asked.
"When did we jump from 'not interested' to 'hate'?" Ken asked, turning narrowed eyes on Schuldich.
"I'm trying to make a point here, Ken. Don't glare at me."
"You're trying to make a point..." Ken muttered, disgusted. "So why do I feel like I'm missing something big?"
"Maybe you are," Schuldich said, grinning and sitting up. "But maybe I've already told you, and you just didn't want to hear it." He stretched and raked his bangs from his face. "Either way, I _am_ having the art show."
"And what's different now that finally convinced you to have one?"
Schuldich tilted his head to one side. "Last week, Crawford told me that I would have Ken's support this time." A rueful grin danced on his lips. "So close, yet so far," he said. "There was no way for him to know that it wasn't even the right Ken who would show a sudden interest in what I was doing. It's not often someone can trick Crawford's visions...you should be pleased."
"I'm not amused."
"You're in a sour mood this morning," Schuldich declared. "Perhaps breakfast will fix that. Come on; it's ready and I hate cold rice."
"Yes," Ken sighed, as if answering an oft-considered question, "you _are_ always this annoying."
Schuldich laughed and slid from the mattress. Ken followed him, tucking the morning's conversation aside to mull over later.
“Farfarello might stop by,” Schuldich announced as Ken carried his dirty clothes towards the basket the German was holding out for him. Ken deposited his armload on top of the German’s gathered laundry and peered up at Schuldich.
“You know, the one-eyed scarred boy,” Schuldich said, sounding amused. He shifted his grip to shove some dangling clothes further into the basket and nudged the detergent that sat on the ground by his foot with a shoe. “Get that, will you?”
Ken obediently plucked it up, following Schuldich towards the door with an uneasy frown on his face. “I know who he is.”
“Not really,” Schuldich corrected him easily, waving an elbow at the keyring that hung by the front door. Ken picked it up and they stepped out of the apartment. Schuldich waited while Ken shut and locked the door behind them, and they made their way towards the elevator. “You know who I’m talking about, you mean. You don’t know who he is- not here, anyway.”
“He still creeps me out! Why is he coming here?”
“Nagi and Omi are busy doing a school project today. Farfarello’s home by himself. I invited him, but I don’t know if he’ll come or not. His concert is tomorrow evening, so I’m going to drop by his place and at least get the tickets. Whether or not I can get him in the car with me to come back here I don’t know.”
The elevator arrived and Ken held the door open to make sure Schuldich got their load inside. He pressed the button for the basement, where the laundry room was located, and offered up a silent wish that Farfarello would find something else to do so he would not be interested in coming over. Schuldich rolled his eyes and leaned against the wall as they began to descend.
“You’re too easily intimidated, Ken…”
“Too easily…” Ken echoed. “Maybe you didn’t probe deep enough, Schuldich. Let me help you with that.” Before the German could respond, he called up memories of the Irishman’s violence in rapid succession: the acid-baptized priests, Sister Ruth, the gory death scenes, the battles with him that they had only survived because Schwarz wasn’t interested in their deaths… “He’s a nightmare, Schuldich,” Ken said in a low voice, gazing steadily at Schuldich’s unfocused eyes as the German went through the mental pictures. “He’s worse than a nightmare; he’s horrifying. Don’t expect me to come here and be fine with him just because you say he doesn’t bite.”
“I didn’t say he doesn’t bite; I said he wouldn’t bite _you_,” Schuldich answered absently, still tangled in the pictures he had been given. It wasn’t until they had reached the basement that his expression cleared. He looked a little sick; Ken had not warned him about some of the messier memories.
“I can’t forgive those actions,” Ken told him. “Do you understand?”
Schuldich said nothing but followed Ken out of the elevator towards the laundry room. It was pretty busy, but Schuldich had already done a sweep of the room to see how many people were down there. They found the empty washers they knew had to be there and began loading the clothes into them.
“I can try,” Ken said, measuring out the detergent, “to look at him as the pianist. I can try to look at him the way you see him. I can’t promise that it’ll work, and I can’t promise that I won’t flinch away from him. I can’t stop hateful or frightened thoughts about him. I’ll tell you that now so you won’t fuss at me later. Your fussing won’t hurt. I’ll try to see him the way you do- but give me the same respect and look at it from what I have.”
Schuldich eyed him for a few moments in silence, obviously still troubled by Ken’s Farfarello. Finally he inclined his head in agreement. Ken poured the liquid detergent into the washers and Schuldich started them. He beckoned to Ken to follow and carried the empty basket from the room. There was a side lounge and Schuldich sprawled out on his stomach on the couch in there. Ken sat on the coffee table, propping his hands by his sides and gazing at the telepath.
“So now I’ve seen your Farfarello. I will tell you about mine, so it’ll make dealing with him easier, ja?”
Ken nodded, and Schuldich folded his arms in front of him, propping his chin on them. “Farfarello was born and raised in Bray, Ireland. At sixteen he and his family traveled to the United States. Farfarello is very smart, and he was accepted into a prestigious fine arts university at the age of seventeen to pursue a career in music. At the age of eighteen his family got in an accident, and he spent the next three months in the hospital while the doctors tried to repair some of the damage he had taken. He managed to avoid being paralyzed, but the nerve damage was so extensive that he has trouble feeling physical sensations. It’s hard for him to even feel the keys he plays on…” Schuldich trailed off and was quiet for a moment, then continued his biography. “His school offered a study abroad to Nagoya University and he was accepted in the exchange program, so he ended up over here. Shortly after arriving, however, he dropped out.”
“He dropped out?” Ken asked. “Why?”
“He didn’t care for school anymore. He stopped caring for most everything after his family died. He’s still trying to come to terms with their loss.” Schuldich looked as if he had more to say but was keeping himself from saying too much. “He should have at least stayed in to take some more Japanese classes…He was part of an English-speaking program at the school, so it was a struggle when he dropped out. It wasn’t much of a fight to survive; he had lost interest in everything, and lived a rotten life for several months.”
Schuldich sighed and shifted slightly, blue gaze fixed to the opposite wall without really seeing it. “One night the weather was so terrible that he finally left the streets to find refuge in a café. There was a piano there, and a famed pianist was performing. As soon as the man went on break and left the piano to get a drink, Farfarello left the crowd and approached the piano. No one was really paying attention to him- until he started to play, of course. The security started forward to pull him off, but the pianist stopped them. He listened, and the crowd listened, and they were moved. The man took Farfarello in, and they migrated from Nagoya to Tokyo. Farfarello was under his tutelage for a year, and we met him during that time.”
He considered this for a moment before rolling on his side and looked towards Ken. “Well…Everyone else met him. I had known him before that. His mind has always been loud enough for me to catch. I was painting his past years before we met him face to face. After we met and I figured out whose nightmares had haunted me, I burned the portraits. I didn’t want him to see them and I didn’t want to have to look at them, either. They were all dark and fiery; there were too many memories of his family’s death and his desolate time on the streets of Nagoya.”
Silence fell between them; it took a while before Ken could speak. “He’s seen a lot of pain,” he murmured. “It must have been so hard for him when they died and when he got here…”
Schuldich gave a soft sigh of agreement. “That’s our Farfarello. That is who you should try to see when you look at him, not some crazed demon.”
“I will try,” Ken promised. After hearing Farfarello’s story, it would not be fair to fear him. He knew that he could never forgive the other Farfarello, could never drop his guard against the Berserker of Schwarz, but he would try very hard to separate the Farfarellos in his mind. He would just have to be equally careful to not let the images overlap, or it would cause problems when he went back through the mirror.
“I wonder what made the other Farfarello go crazy like that,” Schuldich mused, pushing himself into a sitting position.
Ken shrugged. “As far as I know, he’s always been crazy. Sister Ruth said it; you heard it in the memory. He killed his own family.”
Schuldich winced. “I can’t see him killing any of them, especially not Brianna.” He gave a quiet sigh. “I suppose I’ll never know.”
They were quiet again, and the dim sound of the washers and dryers filled in the silence. Ken scooted back further on the coffee table and crossed his legs Indian style, lacing his fingers together in his lap. Schuldich was actually being forthcoming with information, it seemed. Perhaps this was to make up for Ken’s complaints this morning? Ken didn’t know, but now he racked his brain, wondering what he could ask to take advantage of the German’s verbal generosity.
Schuldich gave a quiet laugh, obviously picking up on Ken’s thoughts, and stretched his arms to either side of him, draping them over the back of the couch. “Greedy for answers, are you?”
“There’s a lot to ask about here,” Ken answered. “It’s sort of the same, but really different, too. The reasons for the similarities between what each of us knows are very different. I’m just curious.”
Schuldich made a show out of rolling his eyes, but a faint smirk curved his lips. Ken studied him for a few moments. He still couldn’t believe the differences between the two Schuldichs. Schuldich looked so much younger when he was relaxed like this…He looked like he couldn’t be much older than Ken himself. Speaking of which…
“Twenty-two,” Schuldich supplied before Ken could even voice the question.
“Twenty-_two_?” Ken repeated. “I thought you had to be at least twenty-six or something…I had always figured there was a bigger age gap.”
“Are you saying I look old?” Schuldich looked indignant.
Ken grinned, amused by the expression. “Your other self looks older. He always looks so arrogant and cold, and he has a dark presence that helps the impression.” He leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees. “I suppose it’s mildly reassuring,” he teased, “to know Ken won’t be supporting some crippled and degenerated grandfather in the future.”
“Oi!” Schuldich choked on the exclamation. “You impudent brat!”
Ken laughed, rocking backwards, pleased at having riled the other man. Schuldich leaned forward and reached out, planting a hand against Ken’s chest to push him backwards. Ken yelped as he went toppling over the other end of the coffee table. He landed on his back on the ground and immediately pushed himself up, making a face at Schuldich. “Hidoi!”
“Nyah~” Schuldich stuck his tongue out at him.
Ken rolled his eyes, getting to his feet. “Are you sure you’re twenty-two, or did you add the twenty there just to impress me?”
Schuldich smirked. “It’s easy to impress the simple minded.”
Ken pulled off his sandal and flung it at the German. Schuldich laughed and caught it easily, grinning up at the brunette. Any retort Ken might have made vanished and he gazed down at Schuldich’s open face, taking in the other man once more. Bright blue eyes sparkled with amusement and good-natured mischief. The smirk that curved his wide mouth was almost a grin. Orange hair hung around his face, wild and careless. He was wearing a black tee and jeans overalls, and a pair of woven straw sandals like the ones Ken had found in his closet.
Ken tilted his head to one side and lowered himself to sit on the coffee table. A thoughtful frown turned one side of his mouth slightly downwards, and Schuldich blinked in mild surprise at the sudden change in expression. “I think…” Ken said, “…I can see why he likes you.” Schuldich blinked again, and Ken wondered why the German was startled when he was a telepath. Surely he could follow Ken’s train of thought. “I’m glad for that…” Ken continued, though he was mildly embarrassed to be saying such a thing. “He’s lucky to have you.”
Schuldich opened his mouth, then shut it again. It was the first time Ken had seen the German at such a loss as to what to say, and he was torn between amusement and surprise. Finally Schuldich grinned and shrugged, rising to his feet. “I’ll go check on the washer.”
“Meaning the conversation’s getting too personal for you?” Ken called after him as he padded away, grinning at Schuldich’s back.
“Don’t make assumptions,” Schuldich retorted, and ducked out of the room.
Ken’s grin faded as soon as the German was gone. Schuldich’s eyes had turned a darker shade of blue when he had shrugged.
Ken sighed up at the ceiling from where he was sprawled on the carpet of the den. Schuldich had gone out on his errands when the clothes had been switched to the dryers. Ken had opted to stay here for two reasons: one, he had not been invited, and two, he had said something yet again that had bothered Schuldich. He had the niggling suspicion that he was missing something, but he couldn’t put the pieces together.
Schuldich’s words echoed in his mind: “Maybe I've already told you, and you just didn't want to hear it.”
Why wouldn’t he want to hear it? What could he be missing that he didn’t want to know? He frowned and rolled over onto his stomach, rolling the black glove up to his wrist. Did it have to do with his scars? He didn’t see how, but it was something Schuldich refused to talk about. When Schuldich got talking he would give detailed answers- such as Farfarello’s story- but there were some things he obviously did not want to talk about. Ken had decided that Schuldich had an unnatural aversion to death. No one he knew reacted so negatively to mentions of it, even when it was a joke. Perhaps Schuldich’s gift had something to do with it? No…If he thought about it, Ken would assume that Schuldich _liked_ it when peopled died…It would be one less voice to shout in his ears. But Schuldich hated it when Ken mentioned death, and Ken had to wonder if it was only his nerves about his Ken being stuck in an assassin-filled world.
And Schuldich’s art…Schuldich was as open about it as he was guarded. There was something missing about his art, and Ken was sure it was more than just the other Ken’s disapproval of the painting. Why didn’t Ken like the art? It was wonderful! How could it bother the other Ken so much that he would go so far as to discourage Schuldich from having an art show? Ken couldn’t understand. And Schuldich’s painting…
“That one is mine,” he had said.
What was behind that one?
Thinking of Schuldich’s art turned to the German’s promise, and Ken couldn’t keep himself from grinning. Anything he wanted! He sobered slightly when he realized that he would be unable to bring the portrait through the mirror with him. But it would exist here, painted for him specifically, and the memory of it would stay. What could he ask for? Schuldich had told him he would paint anything. He chewed absently on his lower lip. What happy memory would he like painted?
“Happy memory? What’s that?” he asked himself dryly.
What about a picture of his team, then? The strongest memories of his team were always the post-mission ones, when they would gather to check on each other and tend to their wounds. They rarely spoke; words were not needed. That was when Ken felt they connected the best- when they had put their lives on the line and walked away safely from it. Could he ask Schuldich to paint that? Schuldich’s promise meant he had to paint it, if Ken asked, but considering how horribly Schuldich reacted to even a joke of death…He had the feeling it would make the German highly uncomfortable.
What else could he ask Schuldich for? His whole life revolved around Weiß and the flowershop. There was nothing else he knew that he could ask the German to paint for him. He sighed. The idea for the perfect picture would come in time, he was sure.
The front door swung open then, and Ken sat up, eager for company now that he had been alone with his thoughts for an hour and a half. The voice that he heard was Schuldich’s, but it wasn’t Japanese that the man was speaking- it was English. He had a much smaller accent when he spoke English, Ken noted absently, but why was he speaking…
“You understand, then,” another voice commented. It was a softer voice, and it had a lilting accent that he had never heard before. He recognized the voice, however, and he couldn’t stop himself from freezing when Farfarello followed Schuldich into the den. The two men paused when they saw him, and Ken found himself being studied with a cool amber gaze.
There was no hostility in that gaze. Of course, there was no warmth, either. It was a steady, unreadable stare.
Ken exhaled slowly, both his thoughts and Schuldich’s voice ordering him to remember that this was not the same Farfarello he hated and feared. “Ah…” He hadn’t spoken English in forever. ”Hi…”
“Afternoon,” Farfarello responded smoothly.
“Here.” Schuldich tossed a cassette to Ken. “Omi’s tape of yesterday’s game.”
/Don’t worry about the English,/ Schuldich reassured him. /Just talk; don’t think. You know this. You see Farfarello almost as much as you see Crawford. This Ken has had plenty of practice./
~Like that will keep me from worrying…~ Ken muttered, pushing himself to his feet. “Ano…Do you guys want a drink? I made some juice.”
“Sure,” Schuldich answered for both of them, and Ken was grateful for the excuse to leave the room.
It was one thing to tell himself that this Farfarello wasn’t dangerous, that this Farfarello really was a victim of fate. It was another thing entirely to look the man in the face and try to act friendly. He couldn’t stop himself from wanting his bugnuks- just in case. He lifted down three cups from the cabinet and fetched the juice pitcher from the fridge. He poured the drinks and returned the juice to its place. He stood at the counter for a moment more, taking a deep breath to calm his nerves. He could hear the other two talking, though he could not make out the words. It was an even conversation; there was none of the one-word contribution that had been present at the group dinner at Crawford and Yohji’s place. It seemed Schuldich had been right when he said it was just the language that was the barrier. Farfarello wasn’t exactly talking up a storm, but it was clear enough that he was giving better responses than he had at the dinner.
Though perhaps it was also the company, Ken mused as he carried the drinks out to the den, for Farfarello quieted when he entered. He hesitated, then set the three cups on the coffee table. He got the impression that the sudden silence on Farfarello’s part was because the Irishman wasn’t interested in including Ken in the conversation. It didn’t seem to be out of distaste for him, however, but more like respect to not talk about something that Ken obviously had nothing to do with. Or perhaps Farfarello just found it easier to talk to Schuldich. Farfarello’s expression was calm and patient, and there was still no warning sign in his sane gaze. Ken lifted a cup, extending it in offering.
“Thank you,” Farfarello said quietly, simply. Pale fingers slid around the glass, careful not to brush against his. Ken fought to keep from snatching his hand away, his brown eyes locked on those long fingers- fingers that had been drenched in blood so many times, his own included.
/If he bothers you so much, you don’t have to stay,/ Schuldich told him. /He might be here for a couple of hours, though…He does not like to be alone./
~You’re just going to talk for a few hours?~ Ken asked, extending the second cup to Schuldich. The German accepted it.
/He’ll read and I’ll paint. We usually don’t talk./
~Because you don’t have to…~ Ken mused, taking his own cup and retreating a few steps. Farfarello and Schuldich were both on the couch, with the third cushion separating them. Schuldich had his legs propped up on the coffee table and was slouched against the back cushions, while Farfarello sat more properly at his end. They had to be close friends if they would sit on the same piece of furniture- there were other chairs Farfarello could have selected. ~You’re a telepath; you don’t have to talk…Ne?~
Schuldich did not respond, but Ken didn’t really expect him to. He inclined his head to both of them, picked up his own cup, and exited the room. He found himself in the art studio. He would wait in here until they moved from the den, and then perhaps he would entertain himself by watching television or the game.
There weren’t any new paintings, Ken noted as he picked his way through the rows of completed works. Ken couldn’t help but wonder what Schuldich would paint today. The art shows was…when? Two more days. How many people would show up? Where would it be held? He hadn’t asked. He wondered how Schuldich was feeling about this show. If the other Ken had talked him out of it so many times and the bartender had warned Ken to watch Schuldich for a retreat, did that mean Schuldich held no faith in his talent or that he simply had gone along with Ken’s wishes? Was he nervous or confident? Ken couldn’t really see Schuldich as being nervous…Schuldich had always been the arrogant one.
He paused when his gaze fell on Brianna’s painting. It was so well done. He didn’t understand why Schuldich had said he wouldn’t show it to Farfarello. What else was he going to do with it? He had painted by letting free thoughts guide his hand, and her face had been what had turned up. That meant Farfarello had been thinking about her. Surely he would appreciate something more concrete than a memory? Why did Schuldich think the Irishman would not want to see it? If it were someone Ken had known and loved, he would want a picture to remember them by.
Schuldich’s voice sounded in the hall, growing louder as the German approached the room. Ken hesitated, warring between following Schuldich’s wishes and taking a chance on what he was sure of. Finally he grabbed hold of the portrait and tugged, lifting it from the back of the row and pushing it behind the front one. He pulled at one corner until the top half of the girl’s head was showing- enough, perhaps, that Farfarello might take notice of it.
He had just stepped back when the two men entered the room. Farfarello was carrying a book, holding it in both hands. He glanced towards Ken, gaze lingering just long enough to be an acknowledgement of the other teenager’s presence, before crossing the room towards the windowseat. Ken watched him go, holding his breath. Schuldich went to gather his bucket, but he froze, sending Ken a sharp glance and then looking towards the juggled row of portraits, alerted by Ken’s thoughts.
/I told you I didn’t want him to see it,/ Schuldich said flatly.
~Because you’re afraid of what he’ll feel when he sees it?~ Ken asked. ~Why can’t you take the chance that he might appreciate it?~
Schuldich set the bucket down and started across the room. Farfarello was turning to sit and he glanced towards Schuldich before flicking his gaze towards Schuldich’s goal. It seemed more an instinctive glance than a curious one. He paused in the middle of opening his book as he spotted the painting. Schuldich reached the row and gave the picture a firm shove, fully concealing it behind the one in front.
/It was my decision,/ Schuldich told Ken. /It was mine to make./
Schuldich almost sounded angry. Ken took a step back, retreating towards the doorway. Farfarello set his book down on the seat and approached Schuldich. The German turned to face him, mouth set in a flat line. Farfarello stopped right in front of him and they faced each other in silence, perhaps communicating telepathically, perhaps just facing off. Farfarello didn’t take his eye from Schuldich as he reached out, leaning over slightly so he could catch the edge of the canvas. Schuldich took hold of his wrist, stopping him. They stood that way for several moments before they moved again. At length Farfarello reached up with his other hand and pulled Schuldich’s fingers from his wrist. Schuldich allowed his hand to be taken away, and Farfarello pulled the portrait all the way out.
He gazed at it for a long time, frozen to the spot. Ken held his breath, hoping he had done the right thing. Schuldich’s back was rigid as he waited for a response.
“Bri…” Farfarello finally whispered. There was a raw edge to his voice, and he lowered himself to a crouch beside the painting. One hand reached out and fingers traced the curve of her face. The fingers ran down her form to the book. His mouth firmed as he pressed his lips tightly together.
“You were thinking of her…” Schuldich said quietly, and Ken had the feeling that his words were an apology to the pianist. “I didn’t realize who I was painting until I had started, and I don’t leave portraits unfinished…”
Farfarello reached out with his other hand, clenching his fingers in the baggy material of one of Schuldich’s pants legs. Schuldich slowly lowered himself so he was kneeling on the ground next to the Irishman. /Ken, I think now would be a good time to go watch television./
~Is he mad at you?~ Ken fretted.
/Nein, Ken…He is not./
Ken allowed himself to feel relieved and backed out of the room, moving slowly down the hall towards the living room. He sat down on the couch and lifted the remote, turning the television on even though he wasn’t interested. He gazed at the coffee table, ignoring the screen that had come to life. He did not notice the passage of time, lost in his own thoughts, and was mildly surprised to be shaken out of them to find Farfarello leaving. Schuldich was the one that drew Ken from his thoughts when he called to the goalie to tell him he would be back shortly, that Nagi was home from his research.
Ken looked up from his spot, wondering where the time had gone if Farfarello was leaving so soon. He was not sure what he had been thinking about, but the clock above the television informed him that he had lost an hour.
“Good day, Farfarello,” Ken said, feeling that Schuldich was waiting for a proper farewell from him.
He did not fail to notice that the other man left carrying a portrait in his hands, and he did not have to be psychic to know which painting it was. He allowed himself a small smile as the door closed behind the two men, grateful that Farfarello had appreciated the picture as much as Ken had hoped he would.
“He knows about you, you know.”
Ken looked up from the magazine he’d been reading. “Eh?”
“I told Farfarello about you and the mirror.”
Schuldich frowned. “Don’t squawk at me.”
“Now he’s going to think we’re both crazy,” Ken lamented. “Why did you tell him? Why him? Out of everyone, why Farfarello?”
Schuldich plucked the magazine away from Ken. The younger man was too busy worrying about this new development to protest the theft. “Farfarello cannot feel much,” Schuldich said. “He has only one eye to see out of. But his ears are still sharp, and he can listen. He listens to the music he plays, and he listens to words just as well. He’s good at it.”
“So what is he, your walking diary?”
Schuldich frowned at him. “He’s my friend,” he corrected.
“A closer friend than Crawford?” Ken asked, and Schuldich just shrugged in response. Ken sighed and rubbed at his temples. “What if he tells Nagi and Nagi tells Omi and Omi tells Aya?”
“_Ran_,” Schuldich corrected, and there was a faint scowl on his face that he was obviously fighting to get rid of.
“Ran!” Ken snapped back.
Schuldich gazed at him for a moment under hooded eyes, studying him in silence. He managed to get a neutral expression on his face finally and spoke. “Farfarello won’t tell anyone. What you tell Farfarello stays with him. I just thought you should know that someone else knows the truth.” Schuldich shrugged and flipped idly through the magazine. “Which means that if you ever don’t feel like talking to me you can talk to him.”
“Even if I didn’t want to talk to you, you’d still know what I was thinking,” Ken replied, irritated without really knowing why. “You can hear everything that goes on in my mind, even things I don’t intend for you to hear.”
“And that bothers you?” Schuldich asked. “Put the shields back up, then.”
“Maybe I will.”
“Maybe you can’t.”
“Oh, go work on your paintings.” Ken rose from the table and left the room, rummaging around his mind for the shield he knew had to be there somewhere. It had been there when he had first arrived; he had wanted it lowered. Could he just pull that shield up again or did he have to start over? Part of him didn’t want the shield up; it was Schuldich’s telepathy that helped him here. The rest of him was annoyed at Schuldich’s calm statement that he couldn’t shield his thoughts. He had brought it down because he didn’t want it there. If he wanted it there so badly, could he get it back?
A wall to silence his thoughts…
He held onto the back of the couch, concentrating, gazing straight ahead. He focused everything he was on quieting his thoughts, hoping it would work. He mentally built a massive wall- concrete, plaster, brick, and insulation…
There was a brush against his mind. He felt it- and he felt it bounce off.
He allowed himself a few moments of triumph before two hands closed on his hips and he felt a forehead rest against the back of his neck. “Take it down,” Schuldich said in a low voice. “Take it back down.”
“You said I couldn’t do it,” Ken told him. “But I can, can’t I?”
“You can. Now take it down.”
“You can’t tear it down yourself?”
“If it’s weak enough, I can rip it down, but that will hurt whoever’s wearing the it.” Schuldich’s fingers tightened. “Take it down, Ken…”
Ken paused. It was a plea without being a plea. He tried to turn and look back at the older man, but Schuldich’s hands kept him in place. Silence fell between them, broken only by the quiet sounds of their breathing. Why did it bother Schuldich for him to have his thoughts shielded? He had been the one to teach both Kens how to shield. He had said that the thoughts of the closest person were the loudest. He had said he needed a break from the noise. So why did it bother him now to have this shield here?
Perhaps he could get an answer.
“You want the shield down,” Ken said. “I want to know why.” He lifted his hands. It was his intention to pry the German’s fingers free, but for some reason he changed his mind and let his hands rest on top of Schuldich’s. “Why does it bother you? Tell me and I’ll take it down. It is nice for you to hear my thoughts, but at the same time, I’m used to having a mind to myself. We’ve been ransacked by the other Schuldich, but we generally felt as if our thoughts were private the rest of the time. You can hear everything, and whether that’s because I’m so close to you or because you’re actively listening to everything I think, I don’t know. But I want to know why you don’t like this shield.”
There was silence again.
Finally Schuldich spoke, his voice low. “I can’t tell you that.”
“You mean you don’t want to,” Ken said. “But I want to know.” Schuldich didn’t answer. Ken gazed down at their hands, at his gloved fingers that were almost interlaced with Schuldich’s. “There’s so much I want to know that you won’t tell me. And I can’t tell myself ‘You’re being nosy,’ since you can know anything about me you want with the poke of your telepathic gift.” He sighed. “I get the feeling that all the things I want to know turn out to be the things you least want to tell me about.” He let the list of ‘Don’t Asks’ run through his mind. “But if you tell Farfarello everything, perhaps I could go talk to him.”
“You can talk to Farfarello about your own problems, not mine,” Schuldich said flatly.
“Now you say that, after you already told me I can talk to Farfarello when I can’t talk to you. Did you realize that you don’t want me to talk to Farfarello about these things?”
“Like what things?” Schuldich demanded.
“Like your unnatural aversion to death,” Ken answered, and winced at the way Schuldich’s fingers dug into him. He laced his fingers through the German’s, trying to pull Schuldich’s hands away or at least loosen the bruising grip. “You don’t like death to a unique degree. You can’t even appreciate jokes.”
“Why does death have to be funny?”
“Not always,” Ken replied, “but you can’t even handle a morbid joke. Does Farfarello know why? I can submit a list of questions to him and see which ones he can answer. He’d probably give a better answer than you. You dance around the truth too much; you give only partial answers and let the other half be misleading comments.”
“Fuck off, Ken.” Schuldich yanked his hands away and Ken released them obediently.
“Ah, so now you’re mad at me?” Ken turned to face him and leaned backwards, resting against the couch. He folded his arms over his chest and lifted his chin, meeting Schuldich’s gaze steadily. “Big shocker there, isn’t it? I say things you don’t want to hear; I ask things you don’t want to deal with. Every other comment that comes out of my mouth annoys you, it seems.”
Schuldich did not respond. His blue eyes were dark as he gazed down at Ken, and his mouth was set in a firm line. Ken studied the closed off expression for a few moments, then gave a quiet sigh and shook his head. The annoyance that had appeared so suddenly faded just as quickly, leaving him feeling very tired and out of sorts. “I don’t understand you,” he finally said. “I’m trying, I really am. I’m going out on a limb and trusting you even though I know it’ll be hard to readjust when I get back home. But you don’t trust me, and I doubt you’ll learn to while I’m here.”
His gaze dropped and he studied his arms, idly tracing the outline of the gloves. “In a way, I understand. My friends and I trust each other, but only so far. We have walls between us that are still crumbling, and we put our lives on the line for each other countless times. But it bothers me here, because you…You understand me, because you know me through and through. You know me like they never will, like no one ever has and no one ever will again. And I just…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “I envy you and the other Ken. I envy you for what you share. I envy Omi and Ran, and Crawford and Yohji, and Farfarello and Nagi, for anything they share together. My friends and I cannot share these sorts of things with anyone. We’ll probably never know what it feels like to love and be loved, and to trust someone so much. I guess I just wanted a piece of that trust, so I would know part of what it feels like.”
He looked up again, and for reasons he could not explain, his eyesight was slightly blurred. He gave a little laugh that sounded shaky even to himself. Schuldich’s expression changed when he caught sight of Ken’s face, his blue eyes lightening and widening slightly, the firm set to his lips softening. “I guess I’m just sentimental and foolish,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today. You can ignore me.” He let the shield drop then and stepped away from the couch, moving to pass Schuldich.
The German stepped to one side, neatly intercepting him, and Ken hesitated, looking up into the older man’s eyes. “Nothing’s wrong with you…” Schuldich told him, voice quiet. “You’re just very tired of being alone.”
Ken did not know what to say to that. Schuldich gazed at him for a few moments, searching his face. Then he reached up, threading his fingers through Ken’s hair to cup the back of his head. Ken’s breath caught in his throat and his eyes widened. He was dimly aware of a streak of a tear sliding down one cheek. Schuldich leaned in then, tilting Ken's head up so that he could kiss him. Ken knew he should pull away. He knew he should shove the German away. Neither of them could allow this to happen. Ken had a very different Schuldich to deal with, and Schuldich had a Ken of his own. His body chose to ignore his mind, however, and his eyes slid closed as he felt Schuldich's lips brush his. It was much like sticking his finger in a light socket...He felt a bolt of heat lace up his spine and he gave a quiet groan, opening his mouth willingly for Schuldich to plunder.
Ohhhhh _God_, could Schuldich kiss...
It was a good thing Schuldich wrapped his other arm around him then, for Ken was pretty sure his legs would have given out under him without such support. He felt like he was melting...
His fingers lifted to form a white-knuckled grip on the German’s overalls. Nothing existed except Schuldich. Ken's entire world had narrowed to everything about the German: the musky scent of his cologne, the feel of his strong arm around Ken, his taste...Each kiss ended to be picked up by another until Ken thought he was drowning. If he was indeed drowning- let him die!
Schuldich's mouth moved to Ken's throat and the athlete obligingly tilted his head back to expose more skin. Half-lidded brown eyes stared up at the ceiling without seeing it. His fingers found their way to Schuldich's hair and he threaded them through the orange locks, pulling Schuldich's face back towards his own to kiss once more.
The kiss was the sort of thing dreams were made of...
...and to someone who had long since lost dreams for nightmares, Ken was quite willing to indulge.