The world vanished around him. The room had been replaced by an inky blackness. The mirror was still in front of him, his hand plastered to the surface as if it had been cemented there. Schuldich's reflection was gone. That scared him more than the sudden change in scenery. He looked around, searching the darkness, before looking back at the mirror. Wide brown eyes melt a calm gaze.
His reflection was- wrong. Its hand was out touching his against the glass, but its head was tilted to one side as it regarded him. He stared at it for a few moments. Was he seeing through the glass to the other side? Was he looking at the other Ken?
"There is no other Ken." It was a fluid voice that he could not identify as either gender.
"Who's there?" Ken asked. His reflection's mouth wasn't moving. It was creepy. He looked around, searching for the source of the voice. Even as he did, he recognized that it was coming from in front of him- from the mirror. But mirrors didn't _talk_. They didn't act as portals to other worlds, either.
"But you're talking…" Ken started uncertainly.
"The mirror is simply that: a mirror. It does not speak; we speak through it."
The swirls in the paint lit up like bright light bulbs, forcing Ken to lift his free hand and cover his face. He squinted at the mirror through the harsh light and saw that there were shadowy figures in the mirror. They were rising out of his reflection, which twisted as they pulled free. At last no more came forth, and his reflection matched him exactly as he gaped. Twelve pale faces stared back at him. He cast a wild glance over his shoulder, but the faces only existed in the glass. Slowly, he looked back. Their faces were deformed, stretched too long and so pale that their eyes seemed as if they were holes.
"Who are you?" he whispered, unable to raise his voice any louder.
"We are the Jury," came the simple response. They were speaking in unison, their slit mouths stretching to gaping holes as they spoke.
"The Jury?" Ken asked blankly. "This is your mirror?"
"Then…" There hadn't been faces the first time he had gone through. What was happening? Where was he? "Will you help me?"
"You have already been helped."
"But…I'm not home."
"I don't understand."
"The Condemned do not often understand." They were swaying side to side now, their wispy bodies fogging the mirror surface. Twelve pairs of eyes stared down at him, boring into him. He wanted nothing more than to pull away from the mirror, to get away from such intent gazes. They said nothing else, waiting for him to speak again.
"I need to get back through the mirror," he implored. "My friends are in trouble, and I need to return home. I used a mirror to get here. Now will you let me use one to get home?"
"What is incorrect?" Ken demanded.
"This is a mirror. This is not a door."
That was what Santez had said- "It is not a door in which to go through."
"Then how do you explain I got here?" He couldn't keep the frustration out of his voice. He _knew_ what had happened. Why wouldn't anyone believe him?
"You have always been here."
"That's not right," Ken contradicted. "Somehow I woke up here. This is your mirror- you should know that I've already come through. Now please, I have to get back. My friends are in danger. We live very dangerous lives. I need to go back and help them."
"Incorrect. They have help."
"But the other Ken that replaced me is _worthless_," Ken protested.
"There is no 'other Ken'." Before Ken could respond to that, twelve hands pointed at his reflection. "What do you see?"
He and his reflection studied each other. "I see myself."
"That is what a mirror does. It takes what it sees and reflects it back."
"You aren't making sense," Ken complained.
"What is on one side of the mirror must be repeated on the other," the Jury answered. They had stopped swaying and were leaning forward. Their hands brushed against the reflection of Ken. "This does not always happen. Sometimes what is on one side is skewed before it reaches the other. Sometimes they are close enough. Other times, the change is too great. The Jury exists to form a balance. What is presented must be judged, and the Condemned must be corrected."
Ken shook his head. He didn't understand. What were they saying?
"When the reflection does not match, the Jury will force it to."
"What is it that the Jury does?" Ken asked. There was a catch in his voice; an uneasy sickness was gnawing at his stomach. "How does the Jury make it match? What happens to the Condemned?"
"The reflections must match," the Jury answered. "We take from one side and put it on the other."
Ken's thoughts were racing; his mind was reeling. He felt nauseous. From what the Jury was saying, it sounded like they were moving. But if they wanted both sides to be equal, then… "You make a copy?" he asked hollowly.
He sank to his knees slowly. His hand was still stuck to the mirror and slid down with him. The Jury followed him as well, their hands still on his reflection. When he had touched the mirror the first time, he had given himself to the Jury to judge. And of the two Kens…The Ken that everyone knew in Schuldich's world was the one worse off. He had been different enough, dark enough, that the Jury had decided he had to be changed. And to change him…
There _were_ two Kens.
But the Kens were identical.
"I'm that Ken?" he whispered, voice hoarse. "I'm that Ken that loved Kase, that tried to kill himself?" He stared down at the bands around his arms. "I'm that Ken that was so cruel to Jakob, that Crawford and Ran hate so?"
"Incorrect. That Ken is gone now."
"I am…a copy."
He was a _copy_. He was a bastard Ken who had been replaced. He wasn't _real_. The person he believed himself to be was someone he wasn't. The other Ken was the real Ken. He had struggled so hard to get back to the mirror. He had tried so hard, had hurt so much over the decision to leave Schuldich behind, then had felt so much pain when he had decided to take Schuldich with him and thus tear him away from his friends. A week of emotional rollercoasters, a week of pain and joy and sadness…It was all in vain, because he was never going home. His search for the mirror, to return to where he belonged, had fallen through.
His breath caught in his throat. Slowly he lifted his head, staring at his reflection. Brown eyes were wide, swirling with a million emotions at once.
He _was_ where he belonged.
This was his world…This place here.
He was a copy of someone else. That meant…
The real Ken was still there. He had never left.
The other Ken was still at home, with Ran, and Omi, and Yohji…With the Koneko no Sumu Ie.
The other Ken was...just like him. The other Ken- the real Ken- was an assassin. The real Ken was Weiß.
The friends he had been so desperate to return to, the friends he had so frantically wanted to help, the friends he had felt obliged to see again even though it ripped him from the one he loved…They did not need him. They still had Siberian.
A trembling hand raised to cover his mouth. This was his world. This was where he belonged; this was where he was going to stay. Here. With Schuldich. There was no need to return home- because this was home. There was no guilt to feel for abandoning his friends, because he had never left. He was a copy of someone else, but he could live with being a copy. It was as a copy that he had found love with Schuldich. He was allowed to stay here with soccer, with a peaceful life. He was allowed to stay here with Schuldich, so that Schuldich could remain with his friends and his art. He would not be tearing Schuldich away from his life.
Unlike those scientists that had come before him to this mirror, Ken had found this life worth holding onto. Those before him had lost everything. Ken had gained everything, and he would gleefully embrace being a clone of someone else if it gave him what he longed for.
The Jury slowly raised and faded, leaving just him and his reflection. The darkness was starting to gain color and light, and Ken drew his other hand back from the mirror's surface to press it over his other hand. He was shaking badly with a hysterical sort of joy, a maniacal sort of relief.
He saw Schuldich's reflection in the mirror; he was back in the facility. One of the scientists was holding onto his elbow, but the German wrenched free when Ken met his eyes in the mirror once more. He started forward. Ken turned around, struggling to get to his feet. He had just made it there when Schuldich swallowed him in his embrace. The German's telepathy told him that it was still his Ken, and Ken let him see why the mirror had not worked the way they thought it would. He was laughing and crying at the same time, wrapping his arms around Schuldich's neck. Schuldich was murmuring things in his ear that Ken could not understand, relieved and fervent German whispers in a ragged voice.
Everyone was watching them. Schuldich must have broadcast some sort of explanation to them, because Ken could see Aya was crying and clapping suddenly. Omi buried himself against Ran; Yohji sagged against Crawford. Farfarello slowly let himself fall backwards to lean against a wall, and Ken watched across the room as Nagi wrapped an arm tightly around one of the Irishman's.
He and Schuldich could stay. This was where they belonged, and that was all that mattered.
"Jakob, Jakob, Jakob…" Ken whispered, burying his face against Schuldich. "I want to go home. Can we go home now?"
Ten Days Earlier
Ken was dimly aware that someone was prodding him. The jabs were sharp enough to rouse him from unconsciousness, and he groaned in protest. He hurt all over; it felt like he had been run over by an eighteen wheeler. His head was pounding almost too loud to form a coherent thought. Fuck…what had happened?
"So you're not dead." The voice was amused.
He forced his eyes to open a crack, staring blearily up. Someone was crouched by his head. It took several moments for the image to focus, and he felt his heart lurch into his throat when he found himself staring up at the Berserker of Schwarz. Farfarello gazed back calmly, yellow eye locked with Ken's brown gaze. He was the one poking Ken- he was jabbing the handle of his knife into the white assassin's shoulder.
The voice hadn't been his, however. It took Ken just a moment to locate Schuldich. The telepath was standing by his feet, hands planted on his hips as he leaned over Ken. "You look awful," the telepath informed him.
"Fuck off," Ken managed to get out. He almost choked on the words, and the German watched with no little amusement as he coughed.
The telepath poked Ken's shoe with one of his own, looking around the room. "What a mess…Someone's going to have to pay for that."
"Bill me." Ken sent a wary look up towards Farfarello. This was _not_ good. He struggled to remember what had happened. He and Omi had been on a mission, and then…That computer had exploded. He cast a quick glance around, trying to locate his teammate.
"He's bold, isn't he, liebe?" Schuldich asked. Farfarello propped an elbow on his knee, running the tip of his knife along his cheek. "Don't worry about your pipsqueak friend. He's still breathing…for now."
"What have you done to him?" Ken demanded.
"I didn't have to do anything to him. Weiß seems to be quite capable of destroying itself." The German gave a derisive laugh and straightened, flicking his head as he did so to toss his hair out of his face. "At least you save us the trouble of doing things ourselves…Sometimes it's handy to let you live." He beckoned, and the scarred Irishman rose to his feet. Ken watched as the psychopath crossed the room to stand by Schuldich. "Sometimes we bend the rules for you because you're entertaining enough to allow it. Sometimes you have to earn your fate yourself." He lifted his arm, letting the sleeve of his godawful green jacket slide down to reveal a watch. "Tonight happens to be one of those cases."
He turned his hand so the face of the watch was facing Ken, but the brunette was too far away to make out the numbers. "You have five minutes before the building blows, kitty cat. Whether you make it out or not depends on how badly you want to live. Ask yourself if you have any real reason to live through the night, and maybe you'll make it out on time."
With a small wave, the telepath turned on his heel and left. Farfarello followed. Ken forced himself to roll over, ignoring the wave of nausea such a movement produced. There was glass everywhere, and his face felt sticky. His eyes landed on Omi; the boy was crumpled just a few feet away.
"Omi!" He crawled painfully towards the boy, grateful that his gloves protected his hands. He could feel the shards biting into his knees, however, and cursed the mirror fluidly. He gave his teammate a gentle shake, but the younger teenager didn't stir. He didn't know if Omi had broken anything when the mirror had sent him flying across the room. The boy didn't stir, but at least Schuldich hadn't been lying- he was still breathing.
Ken forced himself to his feet and lifted his teammate with a grunt. For a moment he thought he was going to fall over again, but he fought back the dizziness that tried to consume him. He was not going to stay here and let the building explode around them. Schuldich had been mocking him when he asked Ken if the teenager had a reason to live. Ken had three very special reasons, and one of them was in his arms. The other two were back at the Koneko no Sumu Ie. Above and beyond them, there were the innocents he fought to save. He had many reasons to live. Why should he give up now?
He forced the dizziness away, heading towards the doors. His muscles protested moving but he ignored them, forcing himself into a run. His boots beat against the metal floor, echoing in the otherwise silent hall. His mind was keeping a countdown running. They would make it out. He would make sure they made it out.
He raced down the stairs, sprinted down the hall, and burst into the night air. He kept going, trying not to trip over the roots of the nearby trees in the darkness. His bike was just a short distance away. They would make it out of here. He found it right where he had left it, concealed in some bushes. Omi woke just enough to hang onto him when he was placed on the bike, and the motorcycle came to life with a roar. They were on the road before the building exploded, and Ken sent a glance over his shoulder to watch the fire that suddenly filled the night.
He faced forward again, lifting one hand to try and raise Aya on his headset. Since the redhead had been unable to accompany them, he had kept one headset with him in case of emergency. "Aya," Ken tried.
The older man responded almost instantly. "I've been trying to raise you for an hour," Aya said, voice flat. "What happened?"
"Something exploded- I guess it was a booby trap or something. I just managed to get Omi and me out of there. He's pretty banged up."
"And the target?" Aya asked.
"I don't know…The building just went boom. We bumped into Schwarz on our way out- I think they wired it. We're heading back to the Koneko now. Can you get the kit out for Omi?"
"Yes," came the response, and Ken heard the click of the other headset turning off. Ken sped up when he felt Omi's hands tighten on his jacket. Manx wouldn't be happy that the mission hadn't gone right, but at least they were both alive. His knees hurt; he hoped he would be able to get all of the glass out when he got home. He uttered a dark oath. "Bloody mirror."
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