Part Four


      Ken was getting ready for the night when Yohji showed up at his door. He called a distracted welcome to his guest, not looking up from the mirror he was standing in front of. The clothes he was wearing annoyed him, and it bothered him that they did. While he didn't sleep with anyone with anywhere near the frequency Yohji did, he had had a fair amount, and yet... Only two of them so far had ever brought return dates. He didn't like seeing the same people because he didn't want either of them to get attached. With the work he did, it would be dangerous. Ken was used to trying to catch attention, not keep it. But how could he justify the interest in keeping Schuldich's attention? Schuldich was Schwarz, after all. There were safer people out there.

      Okay, so logic said that he shouldn't try to look good, and common sense said that just the fact he was Weiss could probably be enough on its own to keep Schuldich's attention. Hell, it wasn't like he wanted this to become a steady thing! He just wanted the sex. It had been good, and the fact that he could be killed if someone found out who he had slept with gave it a sort of thrill that he was starting to find only in the successful hunt of a particularly nasty and tricky target.

      So now I'm comparing my job to sex. That's fantastic. I'm going to end up in a ward one day.

      And yet...

      Schuldich just looked good these days, now that he seemed to actually be trying. Ken wondered what had changed with the other German that he would so completely revolutionize his looks. He didn't think Schuldich's airy reason for it had much truth in it. Schuldich had spent months looking the exact same, and all of a sudden, that had changed. Schuldich looked very, very good, and Ken? Ken looked so plain.

      He realized then that Yohji was in his room. He'd forgotten that someone had showed up, but now he spotted the man's reflection. "Hey," he said. "What's up?"

      Yohji grinned. "I'd been coming to see if you were willing to switch shifts with me tomorrow and work the morning, but something tells me you'll just laugh in my face if I ask." Ken laughed at that, gaze switching from Yohji's reflection to his own. Yohji watched him for a few moments as he considered the outfit again before moving towards him. "So, hot date tonight?" he guessed. "You're looking a little dressed up."

      "I'm looking a little ridiculous," Ken answered with a faint scowl, tugging at his shirt.

      "Hmm." Yohji eyed him for a few moments before walking over to the younger man's closet. "Mind?" he tossed over his shoulder, and Ken waved to tell him to go ahead. He turned to watch as Yohji rummaged around through the clothes, waiting for the other man's advice. At length Yohji pulled some things out and held them out to Ken. "Here," he said. "Try this instead. Keep the pants; lose the shirt." Ken tugged his shirt off and tossed it to one side before obediently reaching out for the selection. "You are sadly under stocked for ass-getting clothes," Yohji observed. "I'd loan you something of mine, but..."

      "Nah," Ken reassured him easily. "I think you'd be uncomfortable if I used your clothes to catch another man's attention."

      He knew that was right, but Yohji was too nice to agree. "Like I've said before," he said instead, "I'm fine with it. More cat for me, and all that." He waggled his eyebrows meaningfully, and the grin on his lips was easy. "As long as you can continue to resist my good looks and look elsewhere, then we're cool."

      "It's a desperate struggle," Ken answered dryly, turning to eye himself in the mirror. Yohji's choice was definitely much better. "Good," he said, pleased, and turned to get his teammate's approval. Yohji nodded and offered him a thumbs-up, and Ken wondered at the brief twist of nerves in his stomach. "Well, then, I'm off."

      "Taking the bike?" Yohji wanted to know, leading him to the door.

      "No, bus is better. I don't know when I'm getting back and I know you'd kill me if I woke you up with the sound of that engine."

      Yohji just laughed, stepping out of the way so Ken could lock the door behind them. The man waited at the railing as Ken headed down the stairs and Ken looked back just once to wave before setting off down the sidewalk for the nearest bus stop. He hummed to keep himself company as he sat on the bench, and three buses went by before the correct route came along. The bus was packed as people enjoyed their evening out and he winced at the sight of it, but it was better to be cramped in a bus than cramped in a subway train under the ground. He had bought a bus pass when his motorcycle had broken and he dug it out to check that it had enough money on it to get him to the stop he needed. The bus started forward and he planted his feet against the floor to keep from falling.

      It was a ten minute ride out to that part of the city and he kept checking his watch as they drew closer to make sure he was getting there on time.

      He was the only one getting off at that stop and Schuldich had been telling the truth when he said the restaurant was right across the street. Squashed between two taller buildings, it had bright red neon lights running up and down the front, and "Rock Rollers" was flashing. He shook his head at its tackiness but headed for it regardless, hurrying across the crosswalk while it was still blinking. There were stairs down from the sidewalk to the front door and Schuldich was down there, smoking and leaning against the glass.

      "Hey," he greeted.

      "Yo," was the easy response, and Schuldich let his cigarette fall to the ground. He crushed it beneath the heel of his shoe and led the way inside, finding them a table near the pool table and television. A waiter was at their side immediately to take their drink orders and pass out menus, and the two considered the wide variety of toppings available. There was so much to choose from that it was hard to finally come up with a final decision.

      "What are you having?" Ken asked at length, hoping for a few ideas.

      "Shrimp and pepperoni, same as always," the German answered, tapping his menu idly against the table.

      "On the same pizza?" Ken asked incredulously, and Schuldich arched an eyebrow at him. "That's disgusting."

      "No it's not. Shrimp's meat, pepperoni's meat. It works out."

      "Except that one's fishy."

      "Well, what would you suggest, Mr. Picky?"

      "I dunno. Uhc Corn and chicken."

      "Someone save me." Schuldich lifted the menu to bap it against his forehead. "You're whining about me having two meats but you're going to put a vegetable on a pizza? What's wrong with you?"

      "What?" Ken asked defensively.

      "It's just gross."

      "But I'm still supposed to kiss you when you taste like shrimp?" Ken wanted to know, arching an eyebrow at him.

      Schuldich offered him a lazy grin. "I'll chew some gum afterwards," he said, and Ken just rolled his eyes. They decided to agree to disagree and Schuldich beckoned the waiter over to take their orders, and the German ordered them a few alcoholic drinks to go with their waters. They nursed those as they waited for the pizzas to be finished cooking, and Ken was so caught up in Schuldich's random conversation topics from then on that he forgot any lingering bits of doubt and second thoughts. The man was a better companion than Ken could have imagined him to be and was in a very chatty mood, and while he switched topics at a rapid pace and focused on the strangest things, it was all enjoyable and moderately intelligent. It made Ken wonder how he'd ever seen the man as just another 2D villain and he was almost sorry when it was finally time to pay the bill and leave.

      Almost- until they stepped outside and he remembered that he wasn't going home yet.

      Schuldich had driven to the pizza shop and they found his car in a small lot a block away. Ken took a moment to admire it, giving a low whistle. "I don't remember this one," he said. "How often does Schwarz get to change out cars?"

      Schuldich shrugged, using a button on the key ring to pop the locks. "Usually a rental car is included in the contracts we have with our employers because we do too much moving around to worry about bringing cars with us. This one's mine, though. Bought it a month ago when I decided I didn't like having money in the bank."

      Ken gave a snort as he climbed into the passenger seat. "If you didn't want it, you could have given it to me."

      "Oh, so now I have to pay for your services?" Schuldich asked, climbing in and pulling the door closed behind him. Ken flipped him the bird and the German smirked, twisting the key in the ignition. "Mostly I bought it just to piss Crawford off," he admitted. "Schwarz needed to put together some funds for an upfront cost and I didn't want him to touch my money."

      "Was he mad?" Ken wanted to know.

      Schuldich's smirk was cold. "Furious," he affirmed.

      "Sounds like you have some great team dynamics there," Ken said. "Go Schwarz, and all that."

      Schuldich just shrugged. "Times change people. How much room is there on your side?"

      Ken looked out the window, judging the distance between Schuldich's car and the one parked beside it. "Plenty," he said, and Schuldich nodded and backed out of his spot. He had to deposit a few coins in a machine to get out of the lot and then the car was zooming down the road. He didn't seem bothered by the night traffic and wove effortlessly between the other cars, one hand on the wheel and the other raking his hair out of his face. Ken contented himself with the view, finding the silence between them to be relaxed. It didn't take long before they were at Schuldich's apartment and there was a parking garage underneath it. Schuldich led the way to the elevator and it took just a minute for it to reach the basement and pick them up.

      Schuldich was kissing him before the elevator made it to his floor, and while Ken dimly remembered seeing a warning that the elevator was monitored by a security camera, he couldn't bring himself to care. So a few office ladies would get a small show if they randomly chose to check tonight's tapes- so what? That didn't matter because Schuldich was fucking him with his mouth and the hands that were tugging at his shirt were hot and impatient.

      Nothing mattered until the elevator doors opened and they realized someone was standing there waiting on the elevator car. Not just any someone, either, but the little telekinetic of Schwarz. The youth's dark eyes went wide when he saw the two tangled together in the elevator and Schuldich scowled at him.

      "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

      "You weren't answering your cell phone," Nagi sent back, giving Schuldich a flat look. He abruptly switched languages to exclude Ken from the argument and Schuldich stepped out of the elevator onto the landing, pulling Ken along by a hand in his pocket. Ken looked from one to the other as the argument grew more heated and Nagi ended it with a few vicious words and a sharp cutting motion with his hand. Schuldich's scowl deepened as Nagi pressed the elevator button and the doors opened immediately for the youth, but the telepath didn't stick around long enough fro the doors to close again before tugging Ken down the hall to his room.

      "Ummc Maybe this is a bad time?" Ken guessed.

      "Shut up," was the answer. "Just shut up."

      Ken decided to listen, watching silently as Schuldich shoved his key card into the lock almost hard enough to snap it in two. Ken wondered if he should rethink his visit here if the telepath was in a violent mood. He wasn't sure if Schuldich heard that or if that one brutal shove of the card was all the man needed to get his anger out of his system, but he regained control of himself and opened the door with a steady hand. His shoes were kicked off to one side carelessly and Ken toed his off a little more neatly before getting the door. Schuldich turned to him as he was tugging it closed and the door had just clicked into place when Schuldich pinned him against it.

      Ken decided to worry about getting caught out by another one of Schwarz later. Schuldich's mouth on his was demanding and the other man's fingers were already yanking at the buttons on his pants, and Nagi was going to have to take second seat to this.

*

      They had a second visitor later that night as Ken was getting dressed to leave again. Schuldich had been sitting at the end of the bed, smoking and dressed in just a pair of cotton sleeping pants. There wasn't a knock at the door but the German abruptly stood and went to the front door, pulling it open to reveal Farfarello. Ken froze where he was fixing his sleeves as the man stepped past Schuldich and stalked down the hall towards him, and Schuldich muttered something he couldn't quite catch as he pushed the door closed again.

      "Uhc" Ken started, twisting to follow Farfarello as the man circled around him once. The other assassin's pale face was set in a smooth expression, his yellow gaze cold as he studied Weiss's Siberian.

      "Why?" Farfarello finally demanded, turning to face Schuldich. The German had moved into the bedroom doorway and was propped against the doorframe, playing with his lighter. "You know what he's going to say about this."

      Schuldich offered Farfarello a slow smirk. "I know," he agreed.

      "Just kill him and throw him out the window," Farfarello said. Ken wasn't sure where the knife came from but the tip of it whisked across his cheek quickly, not quite hard enough to split the skin. He jerked back, wishing he'd thought to bring a weapon with him, and settled for giving the other man a fierce look. Farfarello was not impressed. "You gamble too much."

      "I like gambling," was Schuldich's easy answer, and Farfarello's lip curled faintly in scorn. "But the fact that you're here means Nagi's too scared to tell Crawford yet," Schuldich decided. "He sent you to fix the problem instead."

      "You didn't used to be so stupid," Farfarello sent at him.

      Schuldich just smiled, and it was a scary expression. Ken said nothing, looking from one to the other, and Farfarello left his side to approach Schuldich. He got right in the German's face, lifting his knife to point it at him. "You gamble too much," Farfarello insisted again, voice low. "Get rid of him."

      "I won't," Schuldich said, arching an eyebrow at his teammate. "See if I care what Crawford thinks. We still need Weiss for scapegoats and he's not going to handicap their team just because I'm fucking one of them."

      Farfarello turned and Ken realized belatedly that he was going to throw the knife at him. He saw his arm start to move and then Schuldich's hand was there, catching Farfarello's wrist to jerk him violently back. "No," Schuldich said fiercely. "No. It's my call, Farfarello. It's my call. This is my game to play, not yours, so get yourself your own fucking victim."

      Farfarello sneered at him but Schuldich didn't budge, his expression icy. At last the Irishman yanked his arm free and strode towards the front door. Schuldich moved into the bedroom doorway, either to watch him leave or to make a barrier between Farfarello and Ken. The door opened and shut loudly behind Farfarello, and silence fell over the apartment for several minutes. Ken was feeling tense in the wake of that short visit and he rubbed at his arms, trying to get the muscles to relax. It was a while longer before Schuldich turned to face him and the German considered him in silence.

      "Should I leave?" Ken asked at length.

      "Farfarello's not going very far," Schuldich said, moving over towards him. Two hands reached up to curl in Ken's brown hair and he arched an eyebrow at him. "Best not to leave yet. What a pity." His smirk returned, but it was fainter than usual. Ken let Schuldich kiss him but didn't reach up to touch him back yet.

      "What game?" he wanted to know as Schuldich leaned back.

      "This," Schuldich answered sensibly. "Fucking someone who you're going to have to kill eventually." Ken sent him a dubious look and Schuldich just laughed at his worries. "I told you I'd warn you first," he reminded Ken.

      "I'm starting to wonder if that warning will come more than a few seconds in advance," Ken said.

      "I think you're accusing me of being a backstabbing bastard," Schuldich said, sounding amused.

      Ken offered him an innocent look. "Now why would I think such things about you?" he asked. "Well, I'll forgive you for that for now, seeing as how you just stopped Farfarello from putting a knife between my eyes."

      "Lucky for you," Schuldich pointed out.

      "Yes, yes, you're my hero," Ken drawled, and Schuldich grinned at the mocking tone. "I guess that means you get a hero's reward?"

      "Oh?" Schuldich said, arching an eyebrow at him. "Now what would that be?"

      "Hmm," Ken hummed thoughtfully, reaching up to untangle Schuldich's fingers from his hair. He leaned forward to kiss him, tasting nicotine and smoke. Fingers worked at the hem of the German's pants and he pressed another kiss to the other man's throat before slowly lowering himself to his knees in front of him. "I wonder..."

      Schuldich offered him a slow smirk, blue eyes hooded. "Well, don't get too used to being rescued," he said. "It's not my job to watch out for your ass."

      Ken gave a quiet snort. "I don't need you watching out for me," he reminded the German. "I can take care of myself just fine."

      "Of course," Schuldich drawled.

      "A little less mockery, thanks, or I won't be blamed for biting you."

      Schuldich just grinned.

*

      Ken took advantage of the good weather the following evening to go for a run. He went straight from the shop upstairs to change into sweats and called a cheery farewell to Aya as he went back down the stairs behind the apartment. The redhead glanced up from where he was pulling bags out of his car and lifted his hand in a silent acknowledgement. Ken jogged past him, pulling his headphones up from around his neck to place them on his ears. A heavy beat kept time to his steps as he made his way down the sidewalk and he tuned out everything around him, concentrating on the music and the feel of his feet against the pavement.

      He'd ended up staying at Schuldich's apartment until half past three and had jogged home, a little wary that Farfarello might have still been in the area. Farfarello had made his opinion of Ken's presence at Schuldich's place painfully clear, and Ken hadn't wanted to bump into him. He'd made it back unscathed and grateful for such a fact, though he decided that that meant the lucky number with Schuldich was going to be two. With two teammates so strongly opposed to it and the implication that Crawford would be even less pleased, Ken severely doubted the telepath would come calling a third time. Schwarz was a team and they wouldn't work well if the members were at odds with each other.

      Ken considered this and shrugged, accepting it. It had been fun, but he could take it or leave it. Schuldich was an entertaining companion and a skilled lover, but he was still Schwarz and they both had their jobs to do. Ken had soccer games to watch and exercises to do in his evening hours, and he knew plenty of places where he could seek out companionship the next time he felt like touching another warm body. Maybe a girl next time, for variety.

      He sighed and shook his head. Definitely thinking too much about this, he mused. Come on, focus. Focus. Manx had shown up to the shop with a job earlier and Omi had been working on it all day. He had high hopes of getting it put together in time to run the first stage tonight, and Ken had volunteered for the slot. Omi would call him when he had the details worked out, but Ken needed to stop thinking so much about sex and start clearing his mind for what was coming. It was supposed to be just an information run, which made it safer than an assassination, but only marginally. There was still the chance of being found out.

      He pulled to mind everything he could think of that the Kritiker tape had said about the client they would be working with. Seiko Sasaki, age thirty-nine. Need to confirm whether or not she was really funding Sasajima's projects. Manx still had them working on the Sasajima case. While the man was dead, that didn't mean his empire had crumbled behind him, and it was up to Weiss to weed out as many of the others as they could catch. Kritiker was almost positive that Seiko was the one who had put the most money into the child pornography products, but not certain enough to sign her life off to Weiss to clean up. It was up to Ken to put the missing pieces in place.

      Idly he thought of his encounter with Schuldich in Sasajima's office and the disk the man had taken out of the desk. He'd said something about Schwarz's current client being involved, which meant Weiss was going to have to go up against Schwarz at some point when client and target were one and the same. At least he could be fairly confident that Schwarz had nothing to do with Seiko. After all, Schuldich had used the male pronoun when referring to his employer.

      He turned a corner and slowed to a stop as his cell phone went off. He felt it vibrating in his pocket and he pulled his headphones off, digging the phone out even as he looked around to try and get his bearings. He'd been running for longer than he'd thought he had, and he wasn't entirely sure where he'd ended up. It was rather empty on this part of town and it looked like he'd have to do some searching before he could find a way back.

      The number on the phone said it was Omi, and he had just clicked the answer button when a heavy hand grabbed the collar of his sweatshirt and threw him to the ground. He let go of the phone to protect his head, grunting as he hit the sidewalk hard. A black boot came down on his cell phone with a fierce crunch and Ken found himself staring up at Schwarz's Berserker.

      Ah, shit.

      He aimed a kick at the man that Farfarello sidestepped, and the second boot came down in his stomach to knock the air out of him. The world lurched before Ken's eyes and his mouth opened soundlessly as he tried to get his breath back, arms wrapped around his stomach. Farfarello pushed him back onto his back when he started to roll onto his side and seated himself heavily on Ken's middle. He had a short black stick in his hand and Ken fought back nausea and pain as two long blades slid free from either end. The Irishman tapped it thoughtfully against his face, staring down at Ken with a cold look on his face.

      "Siberian," he greeted.

      "Farfarello," Ken sent back warily, trying to wriggle his arms free. Farfarello was sitting on them with his legs to either side of Ken, and his knees were digging into his upper arms to keep them pinned to his sides. Farfarello poked one end of the blade against Ken's throat at the small struggle, pressing just hard enough to break the skin. "What do you want?"

      "The kitty cat is going where he doesn't belong," Farfarello told him, "trespassing into others' territory."

      "The kitty cat is going where he was damn invited," Ken sent back.

      "Schuldich doesn't have the right to invite you," Farfarello said, arching a brow at him. "Schuldich belongs to Schwarz and it is Schwarz's say what he can and cannot do. You are against the rules, and a very curious breach of them. Why you?"

      "How should I know?" Ken wanted to know. "I'm not the telepath." He saw Farfarello's fist coming but there wasn't anything he could do to avoid it. The force of it cracked his head back against the sidewalk and he felt warmth on his throat where the blade cut through the skin to find blood. He hissed in air through clenched teeth, struggling to open his eyes. One opened just fine, but the one Farfarello had hit hurt too much. Ken gave up trying and settled for glaring at Farfarello through his good one. "Get off of me, you fuck."

      "Stay away from him," Farfarello said, catching his chin in his hand and shoving his head down hard against the pavement. Ken felt his jaw bone creak as the Irishman's grip tightened. "Stay away from him, or I'll kill you. Do you understand me?" Ken didn't answer fast enough, and Farfarello used a hand in his hair to smash his head against the ground. He felt the skin tear and his vision sparkled black; he made a choked sound as he felt warmth of blood sliding down the back of his head. His mouth was open to say he understood but Farfarello did it a second time before he could get anything out.

      The Irishman pushed himself up and Ken drove his shoe up, slamming it into Farfarello's abdomen to send him stumbling back. He tried to force himself up to make a break for it, knowing better than to try and defend himself against a bladed weapon, but the world was spinning violently in front of him and he couldn't make it up fast enough. He saw a blur as Farfarello moved towards him; there was a splash of black and a boot caught him across the jaw, sending him flying. He hit the ground and skid. There was a scream as someone turned the corner and saw them and he heard heels pounding against the ground as the woman abruptly fled.

      He struggled to push himself up onto his hands and knees and pain flared up hot and bright down his back as Farfarello's blade ripped through cloth and skin. He hissed, flinching away from it, and another kick to his shoulder sent him rolling. He slammed into the base of a building and Farfarello moved over to him, pressing the tip of his blade into Ken's forehead.

      "You'll stay away from him," he said.

      "I'll stay away from him," Ken mumbled back, trying not to throw up. The world was still rocking violently and he was pretty sure he had a concussion.

      Farfarello took a step back. Ken realized the Irishman was leaving and his first dizzy thought was that Farfarello was going to let him live. This small bit of hysterical relief was immediately washed out when Farfarello drove his boot into his stomach one last time for good measure, and Ken found himself throwing up blood and bile onto the sidewalk. He was in too much pain to immediately comprehend that Farfarello had actually left until several minutes after the fact, and he flinched back from hands that came out of nowhere to grab at his shoulders.

      "It's okay," a feminine voice babbled. "It's okay. Oh no, oh no, you're bleeding all over the place..." She had her phone out and was punching in numbers frantically. "Just wait, you'll be just fine. I'm going to call the doctors, okay? Shh, shh..."

      Ken idly thought that she sounded more upset than he felt. If she was here Farfarello must be gone, and he allowed himself to relax and lie there. He knew better than to try and get up and instead listened to the girl's panicked conversation with the emergency room at the hospital. She stayed by his side until the ambulance came and they'd attracted a small crowd by the time the car pulled up to the curb. Someone had tried to give him water but he hadn't been able to stomach it, and another girl had dug Kleenex out of her purse to carefully wipe at his face. Ken wasn't sure whether to be embarrassed to be the center of attention in such a state or to just focus on being glad that he'd survived Farfarello's violence, and in the end he decided to go with the latter.

      He was loaded carefully onto a stretcher and the girl came with him to the hospital, not sure what else to do. She was holding his hand, patting it as she watched him with wide eyes. He tried to assure her that he was just fine but she didn't seem to believe him, and he made a mental reminder to get her name card before she left. He'd have to remember to send her a gift and a letter for taking care of him like this.

      "How many fingers am I holding up?" one of the doctors asked, holding a hand over him.

      "I'm not going to even try and guess," Ken said, eyeing the swirling blobs that were supposed to be the doctor's fingers.

      "Can you tell us what happened?" the man asked. "Do you remember? What's your name?"

      "My name is Hidaka Ken of the Koneko no Sumu Ie. I think he was after my wallet or something, figured I was distracted enough with my run that I wouldn't hear him coming."

      "Do you remember what he looked like?"

      "Uhhh... I hit my head first and it was a pretty hard whack. I don't think I got a good look at him."

      "He had dyed hair," the girl offered helpfully. "I didn't get a very good glimpse of him, though. I heard a woman scream and came to see what she was looking at. He was tall, with dyed white blonde hair."

      "Thank you," the medic said. "And your name, miss?"

      She bowed as low as she could from her seat on the bench. "Kusogawa High School's Takaki Hanae."

      Ken gave her hand a squeeze and smiled when she looked back his way. "Thank you, Takaki-san. You have been very kind to me."

      She smiled back, giving his hand a return squeeze. "I hate to intrude further," Ken said, hiding a wince as the medic cleaned and bandaged his throat, "but do you suppose I could borrow your cell phone? I have an important call to make." If Omi had been calling him, he'd been calling about the mission, and Ken would have to tell him to send someone else. He idly hoped neither of the others had anything better to do with their evening.

      "Of course," she said, digging it out of her purse.

      Ken squinted at the screen. "Uhh..."

      "Here," she said, taking it back from him. "Tell me the number and I'll dial it."

      He recited her Omi's number and she held it by his ear for him, waving off his attempt to take it from her. Omi answered on the second ring. "You've reached Tsukiyono Omi," was the greeting, and Ken could hear his fingers tapping against his keyboard.

      "Hey, Omi...?"


Part 5
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