Part Six

    Ken studied his reflection, frowning critically at the black suit. “Are you sure we have to wear such formal clothes?” he complained, glancing over his shoulder at Schuldich. The German was perched on the end of the bed, tying his shoes. He glanced up at Ken’s words, blue eyes raking over the teenager’s form.

    “Yes,” Schuldich answered. “Tokyo’s finest are coming out to hear him. People will recognize you. You have to keep up your appearance or you’ll get an earful about it, from both the guests and the magazines that cover this event.” He knotted the laces and adjusted the end of his pants leg, then pushed himself up from the mattress. He approached Ken, gesturing to the tie that was a jumbled knot around Ken's throat. “Do you need help with that or something?” He sounded amused.

    Ken made a face at him. “I’ve only worn them twice before, and I just got Ran to help me do it those times. He was good at it."

    “Was he.”

    He watched as Schuldich drew near, holding his breath as the German stopped right in front of him. Their eyes met and held for a moment before Schuldich lowered his gaze to his work and Ken averted his attention to the far wall. It took just a moment for Schuldich to get the tie done and tucked in neatly, and Ken stepped back as soon as he was done.


    Schuldich studied him for a moment more, checking to make sure everything was right. At length he gave a satisfied nod. “Shall we go, then?” he asked.

    “Yeah.” Ken fell in step behind him out of the room. The tickets were by the front door, tacked to the board that the key ring hung from. Schuldich grabbed both and the keys and they left the apartment together. Ken was careful to move out of the way so that the telepath could lock the door and followed him to the elevator. It came after just a few moments and they started the descent to the ground floor. Ken glanced towards his companion’s reflection on the metal walls before turning his gaze away, fixing his eyes on the buttons near him.

    Yesterday had been…awkward.

    Neither had known how to react to the heated kisses that had been shared, and by unspoken agreement had not discussed it. Ken didn’t think there was really anything to discuss. It had been a mistake, obviously. Schuldich had taken pity on him, or had seen his Ken in his place. He was used to being comfortable with his lover, and the relationship had caused him to cross the line between them.

    And yet…Ken drew his lower lip into his mouth and bit it lightly. He had never felt anything like that before. It had been something very different, very thrilling. It had struck him to the core like nothing ever had before. It had been incredible. It was hard to tell himself it had been a mistake, even though he knew that it had to have been a slip-up on Schuldich’s part. He refused to admit that it hurt to think of it as a mistake.

    They had said little to each other yesterday, and the same this morning. Schuldich had spent several hours holed up in his studio while Ken watched the latest taped soccer game for entertainment. They weren’t quite sure how to proceed now. Mistake or not, what Schuldich had done had shifted the relationship between them. The balance had changed.

    The elevator arrived at the bottom floor and they left the building, making their way towards Schuldich's car. The sun beat down on them and Ken was all too happy when Schuldich got the air conditioning going. The suit felt like it was going to suffocate him; he hated formal wear. Scowling a bit at how uncomfortable it was, he shifted several times in his seat before buckling up. As he clicked the buckle into place, he felt Schuldich's gaze on him. When he looked up, however, the German was twisted in his seat, checking to make no other vehicles were in the way as he backed out of their parking slot.

    It was a little weird to see Schuldich in a black suit. The times they had seen Schwarz in formal wear, the foursome had chosen to wear white. Other than that, Schuldich had always been in that tacky green jacket. He considered this, absently studying the dark material. At length he decided he liked the black better- perhaps because the German's other self hadn't worn it.

    "You're not buckled, Schuldich," Ken noted, exasperated.

    "Who cares?" Schuldich retorted.

    Ken grabbed hold of the wheel. "I care," he said simply. Their gazes met and locked. "It's idiotic to drive without a seatbelt. Buckle up."

    Schuldich merely raised an eyebrow at him. "No."

    Ken frowned, then leaned over more, releasing the wheel to grab hold of Schuldich's seatbelt. He tugged it across the telepath's lean form and clicked it into place. Satisfied, he resettled himself in his seat. "I don't know what's wrong with you," he grumbled. "You think you're immortal or something?"

    Schuldich offered a faint grin before turning his attention on the road. "I would never want to be immortal."

    "Really?" Ken tilted his head to one side. "That's what Schwarz tried to do, was gain eternal life. They wanted to use Ran's sister to do it."

    "It would get extremely boring to never die."

    "So if you're not worried about the concept of your own death, why do you hate talking about it so much?" Ken asked, the question out of his mouth before he remembered that they were already treading on fragile ground with each other. He clamped his mouth shut, wanting the answer as much as he wanted to take back the words. He watched Schuldich's face carefully, searching for a sign that the German was annoyed with him for bringing up the subject yet again.

    Schuldich was quiet for a long time. Right when Ken decided he wasn't going to get an answer of any sort, the older man gave a quiet sigh. Deciding that perhaps Schuldich was wearing down his resistance to the question, Ken was bold enough to add another comment. "From all actions, you shouldn't be so prickly about death. You refuse to use a seatbelt and you drive like a maniac. Do you want to get in a car crash or something?"

    Schuldich offered a sharp bark of laughter. "Enough people have gone that way. I don't need to add my body to the pile." He gave a small shake of his head, his blue eyes distant as he gazed at something only he could see. "I don't want to talk about it, Ken."

    "You don't want to talk about anything…" Ken returned, but he wasn't surprised by the rebuff. He reached out, fiddling with the air conditioning vents so he could feel more of the cool breeze it was creating inside of the car. He couldn't decide if he was disappointed or not. He hadn't expected Schuldich to just open up and suddenly spout out everything that he'd kept close to him so far, but part of him had still hoped for some information.

    Schuldich glanced over at him, considering him for a moment. Ken didn't meet his gaze. After a few moments the German faced forward again. "Ask me something else," he finally said.

    Ken looked up, startled by the words. Schuldich was willing to answer a question for him? Then perhaps his outburst yesterday had done some good after all. He couldn't stop the small smile of gratitude that curled his lips. He did hurt to know what Schuldich was keeping from him. What he had told the artist yesterday had been true. He ached for the other man's trust. Schuldich knew him almost as well as Ken knew himself thanks to his gift. He had an insight into who Ken was, and he responded to that person. He did not only see the person Ken had presented to his teammates. He knew more about Ken than anyone else, and Ken terribly wanted to be able to earn enough of Schuldich's trust that he would be given some insight into the older man as well. The person that Schuldich was, the man he walked around as- there were parts of him Ken recognized from the other Schuldich. Then there were the many things that were terribly different. He wanted to know what had crafted Schuldich into who he was. He wanted to know who he was inside his mind, behind his grins and his amused blue eyes.

    There was so much to ask…How could he just pick one? He thought about it, and thought hard. Finally he tucked all of his questions away, settling on one. He folded his hands together in his lap and gazed at the telepath, brown eyes thoughtful, wondering if he was going to get an answer to this question.

    "Why 'Schuldich'?"

    There was a flicker on Schuldich's face, but not of surprise. The German had heard the question Ken had decided on before the athlete got the courage to say it aloud. It was more like fleeting resignation, as if the telepath had hoped that Ken would change his mind, as if he had hoped Ken would pick something else. He did not refuse the question, however, and silence fell between them as Schuldich considered the question and what kind of answer to give to it.

    "You know that Schuldich is not a real name," Schuldich finally commented.

    "I only found out recently," Ken explained. "On the mission where we found out that Schwarz survived the battle by the sea. I realized then that Farfarello had never called Schuldich by his name. The other two spoke it, but Farfarello never did[1]. He called Schuldich the guilty one when referring to him, and then during our fight…" He traced one finger down his chest, following the path where Farfarello had left an impressive scar in that duel. "I don't know; I was angry and scared, and for some reason him just calling Schuldich 'the guilty one' really pissed me off. Somewhere I got the courage to snap at him to just call Schuldich by his name, and Farfarello said to me…'He has no name, just a brand to wear and boast of.'" There was a pause, and Ken lowered his hand back to his lap. "But Schuldich doesn't mean anything. I looked it up."

    Schuldich said nothing for a few minutes, and Ken waited patiently, turning the memory over in his mind. He _had_ looked for a definition or some significance for the name. He had had nothing else to do while healing from the fight. The wound Farfarello had given him had put him out of the next few missions and even gave him leave time from work. Being forbidden to do strenuous physical activity also meant he couldn't play soccer or exercise, so he had had nothing to entertain himself with. One night, when he was waiting for his teammates to return home from their assassination, he had recalled the odd conversation with Farfarello, and at length had turned to the computer to search online.

    He had finally accepted that Schuldich was a made up name, but something inside of him had protested otherwise. Something inside of him had said there was something more to it.

    "'Schuldich' means nothing," the German said at last. "But the word it was taken from does have a meaning, and the definition is 'guilty'."

    Guilty…Just as Farfarello had said all along.

    "Why would you take a name like that for yourself?" Ken asked softly. "What are you guilty of?"

    Schuldich glanced over at him, offering a hollow smirk. There was a haunted gleam in his eyes that was covered up almost before Ken could recognize it for what it was. "One too many things," he said, equally quiet, and Ken did not dare to press the conversation any further than that. He wished he could offer some sort of comfort. He reached out, lightly touching his fingers to the back of one of Schuldich's hand to express his sorrow for whatever Schuldich had been through that could put such a look in his eyes.

    The rest of the trip passed in silence.


    Soft music flowed from the overhead speakers, a quiet backdrop to the murmuring of the gathered people. Ken followed Schuldich through the crowd, keeping close to his side and looking around at the crowd. Everyone was dressed in rich suits and elaborate finery. Schuldich kept up a mental commentary, telling Ken who the more important guests were. He explained that it was packed both because of Farfarello's skill and the fact that he had not performed in Tokyo for a couple of months.

    /Ah, and there's good old Takatori Reiji himself…You did want to see him, didn't you?/ Schuldich asked.

    Ken peered through the crowd, looking where his companion gestured. Dressed in a suit that matched his graying whiskers, Takatori stood by the refreshment's table as he chatted to some other guests. It was strange to see him alive; Ran had killed him months ago.

    /I'm sure Ran would love it if he were to fall off the face of the planet, for more reasons than one,/ Schuldich said, joining Ken in his study of the pudgy man. /Takatori thinks Ran corrupted Omi. He's a homophobe./

    Ah, that was right. Omi was Takatori's son. Ken had almost forgotten.

    /Nephew,/ Schuldich corrected him. /His father died years ago, though, so Takatori became his guardian./

    ~Huh.~ Ken considered this for a few moments. ~So Takatori discredits Ran's writings because Omi's dating him?~

    /That and just for the fun of pissing Ran off./ Schuldich gave a slight shrug.

    Ken grinned. ~Poor Ran.~

    Schuldich glanced at him. /Indeed./ He led Ken onwards. /The others are here already,/ he said, bringing the athlete towards the double doors that let the audience travel between the front room and the great auditorium. /They're in our seats. We've got the front middle row reserved. Pays to have connections, hm?/

    ~Sure does.~ Ken looked around the dim auditorium. The seats were covered with crimson velvet, their cushions thick enough to sink into. It was a huge room, and the seats were filling quickly. Ken trailed behind Schuldich as they descended the stairs towards the front row. The middle seven seats were marked with 'Specially Reserved' signs. Crawford, Yohji, and Ran were there, as Schuldich had said. The lanky model lifted a hand in greeting, grinning when he saw them approach.


    "Where are Nagi and Omi?" Ken asked.

    Yohji gestured over his shoulder. "They bumped into a friend from school and stayed up top to talk for a few minutes. They've got those two seats." He flicked to the seats on the other side of Ran. The two empty seats turned out being between Crawford and Ran. Ken had no wish to sit beside the American. He started forward, to take the seat beside the red-haired author, but Schuldich beat him to it.

    The German lowered himself into the chair without looking at Ken. Ken hesitated before sitting down between the artist and his manager. He folded his hands tightly together in his lap, fixing his gaze on the stage so he would not have to see Crawford. He wasn't sure why the precognitive bothered him so much, and wished that Schuldich had not picked the other chair.

    Ran glanced towards Schuldich. Purple eyes flicked briefly to Ken before the redhead turned his attention back on the stage. Schuldich leaned back in his chair, turning a smirk on the author. "We saw your archenemy in the reception area," he said, sounding amused. "Does he know you're here?"

    Ran offered a faint, careless shrug. His face was passive, the skin smooth. The hard lines and the darkness that had always lingered with him in Ken's world were gone, and Ken studied the redhead with interest. He had expected a negative reaction at the mention of Takatori, but there was none of the fierce hatred that had practically identified the redhead during half of his career with Weiß. He looked much younger when his face was clear of the dark glares and he didn't have the brooding air to him. "I doubt it."

    "I could always catch his attention, you know. I'm sure he'd be furious to know that you made it to the front row when you're 'just a lowly author'."

    Ran considered it, studying his fingernails. "If you could convince him that he has somewhere else to be so that he misses the concert, that would be enough to leave him angry for a while."

    Schuldich laughed. "I take it he wasn't impressed with your latest book."

    Ken became aware of a heavy stare resting on him, and he quit cataloguing the nuances of Ran's speech and movements that separated him from his reflection to turn around. He found himself the object of a honey-gold gaze, and wanted to cringe away from Crawford. The American's face was calm, but there was a warning in his eyes- no, a threat. Ken didn't know where it came from, but he found himself freaked out by it.

    After a few moments, Crawford seemed satisfied that Ken had understood and turned to speak quietly with Yohji. Ken just stared at his turned head for a few moments before sinking lower in his chair. That was a Ran look. That was a look the man had given his teammates when they were straying too close to something that he didn't want them to know or bother with. It was a promise of a painful death.

    What the hell had brought that on?

    He almost jumped when fingers brushed over the back of his hand. Schuldich was still talking with Ran- it seemed the man was more of a conversationalist here- but his hand was resting lightly over one of Ken's. It was a reassuring touch. Ken was gratified by it and straightened in his chair.

    The lights dimmed even further just as Nagi and Omi appeared by the row. Omi offered cheerful greetings to Schuldich and Ken before plopping himself down beside Ran. He leaned up, pressing a quick kiss to Ran's cheek before threading his fingers through Ran's. Ken couldn't keep a small grin from his lips at the sight. If Omi tried that in the other world, he wondered how Ran would react. It was still a bit weird to see his two teammates as a couple, but he would accept it.

    "I saw my father," Omi said, "but he looked like he was in a hurry. He left without even looking at us."

    "Huh. That's odd. Perhaps he forgot something he was supposed to be doing today." Schuldich managed to sound politely confused.

    "Hn." Ran sounded amused, and Ken could see that his lips had twitched into the faintest of smirks at Omi's news.

    Omi looked from Ran to Schuldich before laughing and resting his head on Ran's shoulder. "You two are silly," he declared.

    The lights on stage came on at that moment, and the applause started before Farfarello even appeared through the curtains that decorated the back. The ebony piano in the middle of the stage shone under the glow of the bulbs. Farfarello did not look at the crowd; he did not acknowledge it in any way. His attention was focused on the piano only. He paused before it, sliding the fingers of one hand along the keys without pressing hard enough to play a note. He rubbed those fingertips together as he sat at the bench, and Ken remembered Schuldich's remark that Farfarello had difficulty feeling the keys.

    The applause continued on. Ken glanced at Schuldich when he noticed the German wasn't clapping. Instead, Schuldich was rubbing his own fingertips together, his eyes fixed on Farfarello's form. Ken leaned towards him.

    ~Schuldich?~ he asked, knowing it would be impossible for the German to hear him through the noise. He wondered absently why they were still carrying on. Farfarello had sat. He was ready to play.

    /He isn't,/ Schuldich countered. /He needs another moment./ He looked down at his hand and stilled the movement of his fingers. /He's having trouble with that hand, more than usual. I'm giving him what he needs./

    ~You're making them clap?~ Ken asked.

    Schuldich did not answer, but inclined his head slightly in agreement. When Farfarello's own fingers stilled, the applause died out. A finely dressed woman stepped on stage. "Thank you all for attending tonight," she announced with a bow. "It is the honor of the auditorium to have such guests here to witness the performance. We have the privilege tonight to have Farfarello-san playing for us." She bowed towards Farfarello this time, one arm out at her side to indicate the pianist. With that, she headed towards the edge of the stage. Ken glanced to either side, searching for a program that would give the names of Farfarello's pieces.

    /There are no programs,/ Schuldich said. /Farfarello decides what to play when he is on stage, not before. It is harder to play from the heart when you've already planned out what to do. The titles will be announced at the end./

    Ken considered this for a few moments before the first notes sounded. After that, it was hard to think. All he could do was listen and feel, riveted to his place as the music carried him along. It was the song he had heard Farfarello practicing the morning he had woken up here. He had thought that the song was perfect the first time through, but listening to it now proved that wrong. It was better this time. His heart ached, and all he wanted to do was reach out to Farfarello, to offer some sort of comfort for all that he had gone through. When the final notes faded away, there was a long moment of silence in the auditorium. The quiet was broken by the sound of a sob from a few rows back, where Farfarello's music had moved someone to tears. Then the applause started, a deafening roar.

    Farfarello did not look out at them; he kept his gaze on his piano as he rubbed his fingers together again. Ken wondered if the Irishman even heard his fans or if he was completely absorbed in the instrument before him and the music singing in his bones and soul. The clapping died out eventually and Farfarello moved his fingers to the keys once more. The silence held for a moment as Farfarello took a quiet breath and started his next piece.

    This piece was a complete opposite to the first one, but no less a master at wringing emotions in the listeners. Where the other one spoke of tears and shattered souls, this one sang of devotion and love. It spoke of sunny days and laughter, happy memories and sunsets, and Ken felt a warmth curling his heart as he listened. If joy had a tune, this had to be it. It was over all too quickly, and several people leapt to their feet in ovation to a man who could stir the soul to both its highest and lowest depths.

    "That," Schuldich said, his voice barely audible over the thunderous applause, "was Brianna's song."

    The song of a brother and a sister, Ken mused, who adored each other. In that moment, looking at Farfarello as he sat bowed over his piano, visibly shaking, Ken sharply separated the Farfarellos in his mind. In that moment, he almost wanted to cry for what Farfarello had lost. In that moment, he forgave the Ran of his world of everything that had made him insufferable while his sister had been in a coma. Farfarello's song had showed him exactly what Ran had once had- and had lost. Farfarello's music had given him an insight into the tortured redhead's soul, a view he would never have been able to see otherwise, and Ken had the feeling that he would never be able to look at Ran's attitude quite the same again.

    It was only a shame that he hadn't been able to understand when Ran needed it the most- when Aya had still been in her coma. He wondered how things between their group would have been different if Ran had only had someone who understood just what he had lost.

    "That's how it always is," Schuldich remarked absently. "Far too much, far too late."


    Ken found himself at Crawford and Yohji's place once more. The eight of them had retired there at the end of the concert. Farfarello had left the stage right at the end of the last piece, ready to go immediately. There had been plenty of disappointed fans who had been hoping for his autograph, but Schuldich had aided him in making his way out of the building without being molested. Nagi had left them to guide the pianist out, meeting him as he left the stage. Farfarello hadn't even seemed to notice the telekinetic's hand on his arm; he had allowed himself to be brought up the stairs as he gazed blankly into space ahead of him. Schuldich had declared him to be emotionally drained.

    They had changed and sent the suits to be dry cleaned. Schuldich had provided himself and Ken clothes out of the closet in the bedroom they had stayed in last time. Ken couldn't help but be amused at how much clothes Schuldich actually kept there. Now the Irishman was sitting on the floor in front of a chair in the den of Crawford's mansion. Nagi sat on the chair, his legs crossed Indian style on the cushion. Yohji and Crawford sat side by side on the couch, and Ran and Omi had taken the loveseat. Schuldich had opted for the coffee table, and Ken had been content to sit on the carpet beside his legs.

    It was Schuldich who finally broke the silence they had been sitting in. He glanced around at the group and announced, "I'm hungry."

    Yohji grinned. "Who's surprised?" he asked.

    "We brought some pie over earlier!" Omi announced, beaming. He looked around to find approval in his friends' faces. "There's pecan and blueberry and apple and lemon! Aya made them for us because she was in a baking mood."

    "Sounds good to me," Yohji said, looking towards Crawford. The American gave a slight shake of his head. Yohji shrugged. "Blueberry for me, then."

    There was a quick vote, where both Crawford and Farfarello declined to eat. Ran rose from his spot. "I'll help," Ken offered, climbing to his feet as well. Ran hesitated for the barest of moments before giving him a slight nod of acceptance. Ken followed him out of the room. He wanted to see Ran more, wanted to see the man his teammate would have been if he had not lost his sister. Even though Aya had woken up, it was still hard on Ran. She knew what he was- Sakura had told her- but Ran still kept her at a distance for her own safety. He was thawing a bit now that she was awake, but he was still aggravatingly antisocial.

    Ran pulled down some saucers while Ken carried the pies from the fridge to the table. Ken peeled back the foil covering the pastries and sent a delighted grin towards Ran. "They look good," he offered. Ran merely glanced at him before gathering silverware from the drawers. Ken was used to his stoic behavior, so it didn't bother him. "How are Aya's classes going?"

    "Fine," Ran answered curtly, bringing the dishes to the table.

    "That's good," Ken answered cheerfully, plucking up the cutting knife. "How big do you think the pieces should be?" he asked.

    Ran took the knife away from him. "I'll get it," he said simply.

    "All right." Ken plopped down in the nearest chair and yawned, tugging lightly at his arm bands. "Are you coming to Schuldich's art show tomorrow?" he asked. Ran lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "You should," Ken told him. "I think he'd appreciate having his friends around for his first show."

    Ran flicked him a calm look. "Plate," he said simply, and Ken held out a saucer for Ran to put a slice of pie on.

    "So-" Ken started, but Ran cut him off.

    "What do you want?"

    Ken blinked, startled. "What do I want?"

    "Why are you in here?" Ran clarified.

    Ken was confused, but answered anyway. "You wouldn't have been able to carry six plates back by yourself." That was the truth, even if it wasn't the reason, but he didn't want to say that he was studying the older man.

    Ran said nothing, but gazed at him in silence. After a few moments, he calmly picked up a saucer and tossed it over his shoulder to shatter loudly on the ground. Ken jumped at the sound, eyes darting from the mess to Ran's face.

    "Aw~ Ken!!" Yohji's voice called. "You didn't just break another plate of mine, did you?"

    Ran and Ken gazed at each other for a long moment. Ran's stare was flat, unrelenting. Ken got the distinct feeling that he was unwelcome and rose silently from his chair, padding out of the kitchen and making his way back to the den. Omi passed him in the hallway and grinned up at Ken as he passed. Ken stepped into the den, giving Yohji a sheepish grin.

    "Sorry, Yohji."

    "You're such a klutz in the kitchen..." Yohji declared.

    "He's dangerous, that's what he is," Schuldich added.

    "He hasn't blown up your stove again, has he?"

    "Not yet, probably because I don't let him touch it."

    "I _am_ in the room, you know," Ken said huffily, crossing the room. Something about Ran's gaze bothered him. Ran had been shutting him out, but it had been different from with Weiß. It was a different kind of lock. Needing some sort of comfort, Ken settled himself on the coffee table beside Schuldich, sitting close enough that their arms touched. Farfarello was gone from his spot and Ken absently wondered where he had disappeared to.

    "So tomorrow's the big day," Yohji declared, grinning at Schuldich. He had moved closer to Crawford so that their thighs were pressed together, and now he draped his arm along the back of the chair. Nagi glanced towards them, uttered a soft sigh, and shifted in his chair so that he couldn't see the pair. "You ready for it?"

    "Of course," Schuldich answered, a scornful edge in his voice.

    "A bit full of himself, isn't he?" Yohji asked Crawford.

    "He generally is," Crawford answered dryly.

    "Why do you think that is?"

    "Bite me," Schuldich retorted.

    Yohji grinned. "Not _you_," he said, with a meaningful wag of his eyebrows. Crawford didn't look at him. "So how many pieces are going up?"

    "Thirty-seven," Schuldich answered easily.

    "All of them will be for sale?" Yohji asked, and Schuldich gave a nod. Then the conversation went on hold when Ran and Omi appeared with the pies. They passed around the desserts and everyone save Crawford dug in. Farfarello wandered in on his own as they were finishing up and stood behind Nagi's chair, studying Ken and Schuldich in silence.

    "We cleaned up the sunroom today," Yohji said as he passed his empty saucer to Schuldich. The German set it down on the table beside him, then stacked his own plate on top of it. "What time do you want to bring the paintings over?"

    "I'll be up at eight tomorrow," Schuldich answered with a shrug.

    "I won't," Yohji said, "but Brad will be. I think there's something seriously wrong with you guys and all other morning people." Crawford flicked him a cool look and Yohji grinned. "Lord knows I've tried everything to make him sleep in, but it hasn't worked."

    "You don't have to tell us this, you know…" Nagi said, sounding exasperated. Omi, on the other hand, was snickering into Ran's shoulder. Crawford looked less than amused, but Schuldich smirked.

    ~Brad?~ Ken questioned.

    /Crawford's first name,/ Schuldich answered, before saying aloud, "I guess you're just not good enough to wear him out, hm?"

    Yohji laughed, tilting his head towards Crawford's. "Defend me."

    "Not likely," Crawford answered.

    "Oi! So cruel…" Yohji gave a heavy sigh.

    Ken couldn't help but grin at the put-upon tone of Yohji's voice before rising from his spot. He excused himself and left the den in search of a restroom. It took a bit of searching before he finally managed to find it. As he left he found himself face to face with Farfarello, who studied him for a few moments before heading down the hall. He glanced over his shoulder once, and Ken took that to be a silent beckon to follow. He obediently turned his feet in the direction the other man was taking, letting Farfarello lead him to a small office.

    Neither said anything for a long moment, and in that quiet Farfarello kept his back to Ken. Ken waited for him to speak, glancing around the richly decorated room. There was a painting above the desk: a dog curled up in a wooden box with a soulful look upon its face. The realism and pure emotion of the scene practically screamed that Schuldich had painted it, and Ken felt an appreciative smile curve his lips. Tomorrow's show would be wonderful. He couldn't wait for Schuldich to finally have the public review his work. No one would be able to deny his skill, and the praise would do wonders for the German's ego. The artist would realize at last how silly he had been for catering to the other Ken's wishes and delaying a show.

    "You haven't found a way back." The sudden statement threw Ken- both for its words and the fact that it was in English- and he said nothing as Farfarello finally turned around to face him. "The mirror," the pianist elaborated.

    That was right; Schuldich had told Farfarello. "Not yet…"

    "Why not?"

    "We've been really busy," Ken answered.

    "Do it," the other teenager said. His gaze was calm, but Ken could hear a hardness under his simple words. "It isn't fair to him to have you here; it hurts him for you to be here. Find a way back, and go quickly."

    With those words, he moved past Ken and left the room. Ken remained where he was for several minutes more, gazing at the spot where Farfarello had just been. Farfarello's words were a harsh blow of reality, and for a moment he couldn’t breathe. The Irishman spoke the truth. How selfish of Ken, how truly and utterly selfish he had been. "Busy," he had said. Busy doing what? Going to soccer practice, going to a game, hanging out around the apartment with Schuldich…How "busy" was that? The other Ken was in _his_ world, a world he definitely didn't belong in. He was surrounded by death and corruption, and his lover's opposite was a cruel bastard. While that Ken was trapped in a nightmare, here Ken was enjoying himself!

    Guilt and shame twisted heavily within him, wrenching at his heart, and he let himself sink slowly to the ground. While he was enjoying himself, the other Ken and Schuldich were separated from each other. How could he be so selfish, to keep them separated just so he could have a break from his real life?

    He had to get back quickly; he had to salvage everything he could of the other Ken's sanity. He had to free him. He had to help Schuldich and the other Ken get reunited. He had no right to keep them apart from each other, not when it had been made clear to him how much Schuldich cared for his lover.

    He knew what he had to do. He knew why. He was going to do the right thing. He was going to return home, to the friends he knew. So why was there a sick feeling of despair mingling with the self-loathing in his heart?

    The sound of two voices snapping at each other broke him from his dark thoughts and he half-turned from his spot on the floor to gaze at the door. He couldn't understand the words, even though he knew the two speakers had to be close by the office. They weren't in Japanese, and they weren't in English, either. Before he could wonder just what tongue the two were speaking, the door was pushed open. Schuldich stepped in, one hand still on the knob. Blue eyes studied Ken for a moment, unreadable.

    "Come on," Schuldich said, beckoning to him with a free hand.

    Ken didn't respond for a long moment and remained where he was, trying to get his whirling thoughts under control. He knew Schuldich could hear the guilt in his thoughts. Perhaps that would be some solace to Schuldich. The German had not pressed him to rush back to where he belonged; Ken could only guess that the artist had been doing him the favor because he knew just how much the darkness of his world was eating him apart. How generous the older man had been to allow him that- but at such a cost.

    "He has to go." It was Farfarello's voice. Ken could see him past Schuldich. The Irishman had a hard gaze fixed on Schuldich's back.

    Schuldich ignored Farfarello, stepping into the room. "We're leaving," he said, directing the words at Ken.

    Ken held out a hand; he didn't think he could get up on his own. Something flickered on Schuldich's face, something both dark and bright, and his mouth firmed to a hard line as he took Ken's hand and helped him up. He turned to face the doorway. Farfarello was leaning against the doorframe, still gazing at Schuldich's face. They said nothing, and Ken remained behind Schuldich, hiding from their stare-down. The air was thick with tension, and more guilt added itself to the heavy weight that was making his heart sink in his chest. The two friends were at odds with each other- because of him. Because of his presence here.

    He was screwing so much up, wasn't he?

    "He can't stay," Farfarello said at last. He was speaking softer now, but his gaze was no less intense. "He has no clue what he's in the middle of here; you're doing both of you a wrong by keeping it from him. This isn't fair to either of you."

    Schuldich said nothing, but his fingers tightened on Ken's. Ken realized then that the artist hadn't released his hand. Part of his mind ordered him to pull away; the touch was too welcome, too comfortable, too needed. Everything had been going so well, and now everything was falling apart. The harmony had shattered; the illusion he had allowed himself to see had to be replaced by reality. How foolish of Ken to have ever forgotten.

    Schuldich pulled him forward, passing Farfarello. The Irishman reached out, catching Ken's other wrist. When Ken was stopped by his firm hold, Schuldich stopped as well. He did not look back.

    "It's the truth," Farfarello said, and Ken wondered at the hint of pain that lined his words, "whether you want to listen to me or not."

    "Let go," Schuldich said flatly.

    After a pause, Farfarello released Ken. Schuldich started forward once more and Ken had to move quickly to keep up with him. Nagi looked up from where he was collecting the mail by the front door as they approached, and Ken saw him frown faintly as he looked at their faces and then past them, to where Farfarello was standing at the other end of the hall.

    "You're leaving?" Nagi asked.

    "We have to go," Schuldich replied, words sharp. Nagi retreated a step, holding the mail close. He glanced towards Ken again, but the confused frown had been replaced by a harder expression. Ken kept his eyes on Schuldich's back as they left. Schuldich was moving too quickly for him to shut the door behind them, and Ken didn't tell him to stop and wait. He just hurried along quietly behind the artist.

    Schuldich opened the car door for him and finally released his hand to make a sharp gesture towards the passenger seat. "Get in."

    Ken glanced towards him as the German started to move around the car and moved without thinking, reaching out to grab Schuldich's wrist. He felt his heart give a vicious wrench when Schuldich glanced over his shoulder towards Ken and the athlete caught the look on his face. The shields of his eyes were gone, replaced by something broken and haunted, something upset and defeated. Ken moved without thinking, tugging Schuldich back towards him and burying himself against the older man's back in a hug.

    "I'm sorry…" Ken whispered, arms tightening around Schuldich's middle. He wished that somehow he knew something to do that could take away that pain, wished that he knew what had put such a look in Schuldich's eyes so that he could brutally rip it apart. He wished he had not come here, so that he would not have made such a mess out of everything.

    "Don't say anything," Schuldich said, tugging Ken's hands free. "I need to paint, Ken. I need to get home and paint."

    Ken fought to control the pain lashing around inside of him, knowing that all of this was his own fault. He gave a small nod and climbed into the passenger seat. Schuldich closed the door behind him. For once, Ken didn't bother buckling. As Schuldich passed around the front of the car to get into the passenger seat, the athlete gazed out his window. He didn't want to look at Schuldich again, didn't want to look at his face and wonder just how much of the pain the German was feeling was his fault.

    The door to the house was still open, and Nagi and Farfarello stood in the doorway, watching them. Ken could not tear his eyes from Farfarello's face and the weary sadness that lingered there.

    The sound of Schuldich's door shutting jarred Ken's thoughts and he faced his eyes forward. Schuldich turned the key in the ignition and started down the driveway. Ken said nothing about the way he neglected to buckle himself in, and the tense silence between them lasted the entire way back. After Schuldich parked at their apartment building, however, and the two had climbed out of the car, Ken looked towards Schuldich.

    "I'm going to the library," he announced quietly. It was all he could offer to comfort the older man- an attempt to find a way to put things back how they belonged. It wasn't much, but it was something.

    Schuldich said nothing. Ken turned and started away. He looked back only once, just before he left the parking lot and lost a clear view of the artist, and saw that Schuldich had not budged from his spot beside his car.

Part 7

[1] I don't know if it's true that Farfarello never calls Schuldich "Schuldich". I doubt that it's true. Either way, it's true for Alice.