Ken woke in a different bedroom than he'd found himself in earlier. The first thing he did was make sure he was alone on the immense bed he'd been placed in. Relief flooded through him as he realized he was indeed by himself. He tugged the covers tightly around him, trying to bury himself under them. He was shivering and couldn't stop. Was this a dream or was it real? It was too insane to be real, but the small things seemed too realistic- such as the soreness that still lingered in his body, and the very realistic-feeling nausea he'd woken up with on his first appearance in this distorted world.
He gave a bitter little laugh, twisting the sheets tighter. He was losing his mind. That must be it. Or perhaps he was hallucinating. Maybe he hit the mirror too hard. Or maybe he was dead, and this was hell.
There was a click as the doorknob turned. Ken went rigid, wanting to chance a peek and see who it was but terrified that it would be Schuldich. If only he had his bugnuks! He closed his eyes tightly. ~If I can't see you, you can't see me.~
~You're so fucking childish, Ken,~ he berated himself, mental voice scathing. ~You're an assassin, for crying out loud.~ Stirred on, he threw back the sheets and sat up, determined to face the new arrival boldly.
Crawford was not impressed by his show of defiance and sat down at the foot of the bed, perching himself on the end of the mattress. Ken's courage faltered. How did he deal with this? It was Crawford- but...it wasn't. He was in a baggy t-shirt and some old jeans. He didn't have glasses, and his hair wasn't as slicked back and tidy as Ken remembered. Ken tried to regain his mental footing. Well, it was just Crawford. He wasn't a telepath. He wasn't a telekinetic. He wasn't a psychopathic homicidal maniac. He was, in Ken's mind, the least dangerous to be around. And perhaps Crawford would explain something to him.
Or kill him, and that might be a blessing in itself.
The silence between him stretched. "Well?" Ken finally asked.
"Shouldn't I be the one asking that?" Crawford returned, lifting a thin brow at the younger man. "You seem to be a bit out of it this morning, Ken."
"Where am I?" Ken asked. Safer questions first.
Crawford gazed at him for a few moments assessingly. "You are currently in my house. You have been here many times before. I would have thought you would have recognized it by now."
"I have never been here before!" Ken exploded. It was too much. His brain couldn't handle it anymore. The trip to la-la land hadn't eased his confusion at all. And here Crawford was, speaking to him in a familiar way. Nothing was adding up. "The last thing I remember was going on that mission! The computer exploded, Omi went flying, and I went crashing into a mirror! I wake up and I'm _here_, in bed with-" he choked on the very name, unable to finish the sentence. "We're enemies, but my friends are eating breakfast with you? Omi's uninjured and cuddling with Aya? Yohji touches you going to get coffee? Why does everyone expect me to be taking this okay? Everyone's ranting about alcohol and some team winning, but Omi and I failed the mission because it was rigged. You did it, didn't you? Tell me how you brainwashed my friends! Tell me what the hell is going on here!"
Yelling had taken the energy from him and he allowed himself to flop backwards, struggling to control his erratic breathing. He pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes. He really was losing it, wasn't he?
Several minutes dragged by in silence before Crawford spoke. "I do not know what is wrong with you," Crawford told him. "You are not making sense."
"Then _you_ tell me what's going on!" Ken retorted without moving. "Explain to me how I got here, and stop calling me Ken! You don't know me that well! We've only clashed a few times!"
"I don't know you that well?" Crawford repeated, voice quiet but hard. "You and I have known each other for four years now, ever since I signed you on with the Snipers. I have been your manager and companion."
"Signed me on with what?" Ken repeated blankly.
"Your J-league team," Crawford said, a hint of impatience in his voice.
Ken couldn't resist the urge to giggle, though he found nothing amusing. "I haven't been on a J-league team since I got charged for illegal activities I never took place in," he said. "And just so you know, I wouldn't accept any offer of _yours_ to sign on with _anything_. I don't deal with Schwarz. So either kill me, tell me the truth, or leave me alone."
"I do not find you amusing."
"That response wasn't one of your choices," Ken bit out acidly, wondering where he got the gall to say such a thing.
The bed shifted, and Ken lifted his palm to see if Crawford was leaving. The man had stood and was gazing at him in silence. "You are unwell, Ken," the American said. "I will return when you are feeling better. I am going to go talk with Schuldich again."
"Good. Tell that sick fuck to stay away from me while you're at it." With that, Ken yanked the covers back over his head. After a pause, soft footsteps sounded. Ken heard the click of a knob and bit his lower lip savagely. The coppery taste of blood lingered on his tongue, the one thing he could recognize as being normal in this nightmare. He closed his eyes tightly, willing everything to return to how it was just a day ago.
The doorknob rattled again and Ken heard it creak as it swung open. He opened his eyes, gazing through the thin sheet pulled over him at the smudge moving towards him. He closed his eyes quickly when the person stopped beside him, relaxing his face as if asleep. Cool air washed against his face as the sheet was pulled away. "You're not asleep, Ken-kun," Omi's voice said. "I could hear you yelling." If anyone would understand and believe him, it would be Omi, right? After all, Omi had been on that mission last night. Ken obediently slid his eyes open. The younger boy crouched beside the mattress, folding his arms together on the edge and propping his head on them. The boy's blue eyes were concerned.
~They aren't the right blue...~ Ken mused as he met Omi's gaze, remembering thinking that when he was on the mission. He'd looked at Omi and felt some frustration that he wasn't meeting the right gaze, that the eyes looking back at him weren't the right ones. But the blue ones he'd seen...matched Schuldich's eyes. He fought back a shudder of revulsion. At least now he could tell exactly when Schwarz had started interfering in the mission. Schuldich had started scrambling his brains as soon as he'd touched the mirror.
"Ken-kun, are you all right?" Omi asked softly.
"Omi, what is going on?" Ken asked. "I'm so confused..."
"It could be part of your hangover," Omi offered. Ken closed his eyes, sick to his stomach. Even Omi thought there was drinking involved. What reality was Omi living in? If he was in the same one as Yohji or Schuldich or Crawford, Ken wasn't going to get real answers about what had really happened last night. But perhaps he could figure out part of this reality Schwarz had crafted. To find its weaknesses and escape from it, he would have to understand it.
"We were drinking?" he asked.
"Aa," Omi agreed. Ken could hear the smile in his voice. "Crawford-san was pretty generous last night...The party was fantastic."
"What was the party for?"
Omi paused. Ken opened his eyes. Omi was looking a little puzzled. "Your team won last night thanks to your save. You were the man of the day." His smile returned and his eyes brightened in remembrance. "It was a fantastic game, Ken-kun. I was holding my breath the whole time." He laughed, eyes sparkling at Ken in joy. "I still can't believe Schuldich managed to get you to drink so much last night, Ken-kun...It's no wonder you're feeling ill." He hesitated, eyeing Ken. "Ken-kun...?" he asked, gentler. "Are you all right?" he reached out, lightly touching Ken's face. "Your eyes..."
Ken let out a sharp laugh, pulling away from Omi's touch. He yanked the covers over his head. "It's like some fucked up fairytale," he declared, more to himself than to Omi. "I don't believe it." He giggled again, a hysterical sound, and shivered. "It's just like a fairytale, like some sort of Through the Looking Glass where you wake up in a different world..." He trailed off.
No...That was stupid.
And yet...It was as insane a proposition as him waking up here. He bolted into a sitting position. Omi gaped at him but Ken didn't notice, staring straight ahead as he contemplated this new idea. Things had started getting distorted ever since he'd touched the mirror. That was when he'd first started seeing things, when he first started feeling ill. Was it Schwarz, or was it the mirror? And when the computer had exploded, Ken had been blown right into the mirror's surface. He didn't bear any injuries from the glass, but he'd hit it with enough impact that he should have been cut. He'd heard the glass shatter.
"It's stupid..." he muttered. Stupid, but...As stupid as one of the Takatori sons being able to mutate himself and others into monsters. As stupid as someone being able to use music to scramble people's brains. As stupid as people with paranormal powers.
Why couldn't the mirror be the source of the problem?
But what a fat lot of good it did him to have such a suspicion! What was he supposed to do now? How could he confirm his guess? More importantly, how could he figure out how to get things right? He raked a hand through his bangs, thinking wildly. The first thing he should do was find out everything he could about that mirror. But how? He knew nothing about it. He just knew what it looked like.
"Ken-kun...I think you should sleep some more," Omi said, rising to his feet. He reached out, pushing the unresisting man back to the mattress. Ken barely registered Omi's words. He was busy figuring out how the concept of the mirror applied to his teammates and Schwarz.
Crawford, for example, had mentioned that he was the manager of a soccer team- Ken's team. Ken was a J-leaguer here. "What does-" he almost choked on the name "-Schuldich do for a living?"
Omi gave him an odd look. "What do you mean?"
"What does he do?" Ken repeated.
"He's an artist, Ken-kun. You know that. You really need to sleep."
An _artist_? Ken burst into laughter at the ridiculous notion. Omi was starting to look frantic, confused over Ken's actions and words. Ken waved a hand at him. "I'll sleep," he said, closing his eyes. His mind was too busy to sleep, however. Schwarz held different positions here...They weren't assassins. That meant he didn't have to fear for his life here. That was some relief. It gave him more freedom to work without worrying about a knife in the back.
An artist and a J-league manager...Ken's lips twitched into a smirk. Did Farfarello own a toystore, then?
"What's so funny?" Omi asked. He hadn't left yet. "Ken-kun, are you really going to be okay? You're scaring me."
"Do you want to speak to Schuldich...?"
That killed Ken's amusement pretty quickly and his eyes popped open. He didn't want to know, but he had to ask. "Schuldich..." he said. "Is he...Do we...?" Omi wasn't following him. Ken felt his stomach twist in protest as he put the question into words. "Are we together?"
Omi went pale, and for a moment Ken lingered between hope that his suspicions were incorrect and fear that he'd said something wrong. "Ken..." Omi breathed, leaving off the honorific in his surprised disbelief. "Did you two have a fight?"
That confirmed it, and Ken groaned, letting his eyes slide shut. In this reality, he and Schuldich _were_ seeing each other. He felt sick. The only comfort was that, in this world, what had happened last night hadn't been rape. He paused, considering this new notion. He had stepped into an already existing world...A world where another Ken had lived, had played soccer, had never known what it was like to kill, and who had- oh, gross- willingly taken Schuldich for a lover.
Where was that other Ken?
That led to some uneasy thoughts. If this was all true, and he and the other Ken had switched places, his teammates were left with a man that had never killed and that viewed Schwarz as friends, a man who had seen all eight of them paired up into various relationships.
Geh...This could get complicated.
He only hoped the other Ken wouldn't get himself killed.
Ken spent most of the afternoon pacing back and forth, nearly wearing a path in the lush carpet that covered the floor. Finally he let himself sink to the ground and began tugging sharply at the threads. If things were indeed how he had guessed them to be and he was in this new reality, how was he supposed to go about this? Were there two Kens that had traded places or did the world just warp around him? How was he supposed to get to his own reality? What was he supposed to do while he was here?
He winced, fingers momentarily stilling in their jerks. That final question was the one that had been bothering him for most of the time he'd been hiding in here. He had debated whether or not to slip into the gap the other Ken had left. He wouldn't be able to figure things out on his own, but there was no way his teammates would believe him. He didn't know how he could reach them. And what if they decided he'd cracked and locked him away? He would never get home!
The only one who would be able to believe Ken...
As a telepath, the German should be able to figure out that Ken was telling the truth. That didn't mean Ken wanted to entrust the bastard with his hope of getting back to where he belonged. He bit his lower lip, looking towards the door. If he did try and pretend that he was the other Ken, though, the others would expect him to be- to be- Schuldich's-
If he wanted to play the part, he would have to let Schuldich in on what was going on. The older man had to know that this Ken was not the one he had somehow managed to get in his bed. Damn...Ken didn't want to see the man again, but any help would be good help. Maybe Schuldich would be eager to help him return to his place so he could get back the Ken he had lost. Even if Schuldich didn't help, at least that would get the German off his back for good, right?
He took a deep breath. ~Come on, Ken...You're an assassin...You're 19. You can face this guy.~
He pushed himself to his feet, padding towards the door. All right...So he'd find Schuldich and tell him. He could do this...He _had_ to do this. He pulled the door open and peered out, looking around. The harder of the two tasks ahead of him could quite possibly not be telling Schuldich, but acting as if he was this Ken. This Ken had no problems with Schwarz...This Ken had different memories- a different life. He had already confused the entire group by his actions and words this morning...They would already be suspicious of him. It would be best if he tried to not rock the boat any further, or when he and the other Ken returned to their proper places, there would be problems.
He frowned faintly, slipping from the room when he noted the hall was empty. The other Ken didn't know what it was to kill...Now he would find himself in an assassin's unit. Ken had to get back to where he belonged- _fast_. One Ken knowing what it felt to have blood running over metal claws was enough.
Such thoughts stirred him onwards and he set off down the hall. He was on a different floor than he had been on when he first woke up. How many floors did this place have? As if on cue, he noticed a window further ahead. His steps quickened and he peered out the glass. "Ah..." he breathed in surprise, brown eyes widening. He had to be four stories from the ground. He couldn't see any other houses nearby; the property this mansion stood on stretched into the distance. The flat grassland gave way to trees off to one side. The sky was a prettier blue than Ken had seen in a while, and the sun reflected off the swirling waters of a fountain surrounded by rose bushes. Compared to every place he had ever lived, this was magnificent. "Kirei..."
"Hidaka-san." Ken looked up to see Nagi standing a few feet away. The boy's mouth was pulled to a thin line. "Are you feeling better now?"
Ken fought back his initial desire to reach for his bugnuks- a useless instinct when he didn't have them. ~Play the part,~ he reminded himself firmly. But how could he play a part when he didn't know how the other Ken thought of these people? He managed to form an apologetic smile. "Aa," he said quietly. "I'm sorry for my behavior earlier."
"I am not the one that needs the apology," was Nagi's quiet answer. "I was coming to tell you that dinner will be ready in half an hour's time." With that, he inclined his head and turned back the way he had come.
Ken hesitated before calling after him. He wasn't sure what name to use- Nagi? Naoe? Schwarz? Prodigy?- so he opted for the neutral "Hey..." Nagi stopped and turned to face him, waiting silently. "Is- is Schuldich around?"
"He is in the sunroom," Nagi answered.
"Oh..." Obviously Ken was supposed to know where that was. "Thanks..." He watched as Nagi headed away again. The boy disappeared down a stairwell at the end of the hall and Ken offered a sigh to the hall, glancing towards the window once more. Now what? He couldn't just search this place room by room...That was kind of obvious and it would take too long. He tugged at his bangs, debating what to do. Dinner was in an hour...Schuldich would have to show up. Maybe he should wait until after dinner so he wouldn't have to go in search of the other man.
Could he afford to wait?
He sighed, heading towards the stairs Nagi had disappeared down. One hand trailed along the railing as he moved and he kept his eyes on his feet. He had very little to go off here...How was he supposed to know how to act? He couldn't exactly ask Omi if he was behaving normally. Great. It was looking like Schuldich was his best option.
Time to play trick or treat in the mansion.
He paused at the landing of the third floor, considering this. He and his teammates had been subjected to the German's mental rummaging many times, especially on missions. If this Ken and Schuldich were lovers, why wouldn't Schuldich know that Ken was looking for him? For once the man's gift had the opportunity to be useful, and the chance was being wasted. Ken signed again, raking a hand through his bangs in irritation as he started down the hall. As he approached the first door, one hand raised to knock, his ears picked up on the faint sound of music.
He tilted his head in an attempt to hear better, holding his breath. It was the sound of a piano and it was beautiful. His feet carried him down the hallway, drawing him towards the source of the music. Whoever was playing was very talented...His legs brought him to a door that was slightly ajar and he stood beside it. It was a sad piece; the very notes seemed to cry of inner pain and loss. Ken was helpless to do anything other than stand there and listen. He could feel his heart tightening in sympathy with the music's despair. When the piece faded to nothing he exhaled slowly, shakily.
His fingers slid along the crack of the doorway as his heart demanded to know who could wring such emotion out of an instrument. He poked the door open a bit further, taking in the room. The far wall was only glass and provided a view of a large pond. There was no furniture in sight- instead, huge pillows were gathered in clumps on the floor. The entire place was well lit and bright, a stark contrast to the music. The edge of the piano was showing, but most of it was out of sight. Curiosity making him bold, Ken pushed the door open more and stuck his head in, searching for the room's inhabitants.
Standing behind the bench at the piano was Schuldich.
Seated on the bench was Farfarello.
Both looked up when the door squeaked. Ken felt his heart leap in his throat when the single amber eye settled on him. The Irishman broke the gaze after just a moment, glancing up at the one behind him before setting about shuffling his music. Ken's eyes lingered on the psychopath for several moments as he digested the startling fact that it had been Farfarello whose music had cried so piteously. How could a monster like him ever produce something that beautiful? It couldn't be true. Maybe Ken had heard a recording...
He became aware of another, heavier gaze resting on him and he slowly lifted his eyes to meet Schuldich's. The German had a bored expression on, but his eyes were shielded as he studied Ken. Ken wasn't sure he could get his voice to work. He got the words out on the third try. "I need to talk to you."
"Oh?" Schuldich asked.
"Yes." Ken hesitated. Schuldich didn't look inclined to do him any favors. Ken wondered if that was because of his violent reaction to the other man's presence that morning. Well...That couldn't be helped. Schuldich shouldn't be so offended. It wasn't like he could feel anything for the other Ken- he wasn't capable of feeling. However, Ken couldn't afford to alienate his only possible ally. "Please."
Schuldich didn't respond for a long moment. Farfarello reached up without looking back, giving the German a swat on his chest with the back of his hand. "Leave me," he said simply. "You are bothering me."
Schuldich rolled his eyes. "Yes, your majesty," he answered, shoving his hands in his pockets and heading in Ken's direction. Ken retreated before him, backing further into the hall. Schuldich closed the door to block them from the Irishman. A soft melody rose in the air as soon as the door clicked into place. The two men stood in silence, gazing at each other for a long moment. It was obvious Schuldich was waiting for Ken to speak.
Now that he had Schuldich, how was he supposed to go about this? Ken crossed his arms over his chest so tightly it was as if he was hugging himself and looked away, debating. Finally he offered the only thing that came to mind. "I don't think we should talk in the hall where we might be heard..."
"Is that so." Not a question, just a calm statement. Schuldich moved past him, heading down the hall. Ken fell in step behind him. They stopped about halfway down for Schuldich to deliver a sharp rap to the door. He did not wait for an answer but pulled the door open. Ken followed him in to see Omi lounging on the floor, several books around him. "Take that to the library, chibi," Schuldich said.
Omi looked up, mouth curved in the beginnings of a pout. The expression vanished as soon as he saw Ken. He looked from one to the other before sitting up and scooping up his things. Ken stepped to one side as the smaller boy vanished. Schuldich closed the door and silence fell once more between them- an awkward silence. Ken glanced around, inspecting the room to try and give himself a moment to gather his thoughts. It had to be a small study room, for it was too simple to be an office. Schuldich moved towards the desk and perched himself on the edge of it, watching Ken through half-lidded blue eyes.
Ken said the first thing that came to mind. "I'm not who you think I am." There was no reaction. He took a deep breath, collecting every ounce of strength he had and launching into a hurried explanation. "Look, you're going to think I'm crazy, but I'm not. I'm really not. My name is Ken, but I'm not the Ken you know. I'm not supposed to be here. I'm on the wrong side of reality. I thought it was one of your traps but it's done too well. I thought it was a dream but it's too real. I have to get back. I don't belong here. I'm not a J-leaguer, I'm an assassin. We're all assassins and we're supposed to be enemies. I have to find a way to get back to my real reality, and I need your help because I can't do it alone."
The room seemed a bit too quiet when he had finished his rushed babbling. Schuldich stared at Ken for a long moment before giving a slow blink. "Say again?" he said blankly.
"I'm not the Ken you think I am. I'm someone different. I was on a mission last night with Omi and we were trying to get some information from a corporation we were trying to take down. The computer exploded and knocked us all out and I woke up here."
Schuldich blinked again, leaned forward and resting his arms on his knees. "Let me make sure I caught all of this..." Some of the dark look in his eyes had faded to a dry sort of amusement. "You're an assassin. We all are. Last night a computer went boom and you woke up here. Now you want to get back to the reality you remember."
Ken nodded quickly.
"I think we gave you acid instead of alcohol last night."
"You have to believe me!" Ken snapped, taking a step forward. He needed help or he would get nowhere. "No one else will!"
Schuldich slid from his desk, heading towards Ken. Ken held his ground valiantly. "You want me to believe that story? It isn't even very creative." He paused right before the younger man, studying his face. "You are the same Ken...but this is different." He reached up, tapping one of Ken's cheeks. Ken couldn't stop himself from flinching back at the touch. Schuldich's lips twitched into the beginnings of a frown. "This fear, this disgust...this hate...they are new."
"You have to believe me," Ken said again, pleading. "The others will think I'm crazy. You have to believe me. You're a telepath. You can look into my mind and know that I'm telling the truth."
"You have shields," Schuldich reminded him.
"How can I have shields? I didn't even know you could shield thoughts from a telepath."
"I taught you," Schuldich said simply. "They're still up." Ken scrunched his face up in thought. He didn't feel anything different about his mind. He jumped when he felt...something...a light brush against who he was, a brush that was rebounded away. Startled brown eyes shot to Schuldich's face. "There," Schuldich said by way of explanation. "You're so used to them that you do not notice them."
"But how do I take it down?"
"You have to want them down."
Well, he did want them down. Schuldich had to believe him. This would only work if Schuldich could hear his thoughts and confirm that Ken wasn't just a raving lunatic. He needed the German to see that he was dealing with a very different Ken so he didn't try anything funny.
//Anything funny?// Schuldich's voice echoed, only half-amused. Ken started at the sudden intrusion. //Don't seem so shocked...You're the one that invited me.//
"So now you're there. See? I'm telling the truth."
The sensation that followed could not be described properly even though Ken had experienced it multiple times in Weiß's clashes with Schwarz...It was like his thoughts were a lake and a stone had just been dropped onto the surface to cast ripples everywhere. What had once been still and calm was now going in all directions. Ken reeled back under the sensation, fighting back the angry terror that always accompanied Schuldich's invasions. This Schuldich was doing it for a different reason- for a good reason. This Schuldich wasn't looking for something to twist against him and hurt him with.
Then Schuldich pulled back and everything settled into place once more. Ken realized the German's hands were cupping his elbows, steadying him from where he'd stumbled back. They gazed at each other for a long moment in silence. Schuldich was frowning now, eyes both thoughtful and confused. After a short pause, the rippling started again, slower this time. Ken concentrated on memories of the reality he was supposed to belong to, replaying interactions with his team, working in the flower shop, and clashing with Schwarz on the battle field. Schuldich did not tell him to stop, so Ken kept going, drawing up memory after memory. Kase's betrayal that sent him from the J-league. Joining Weiß. Aya's entrance. Their missions. Aya's sister. Schwarz's appearance in their lives. Masafumi's experiments. The truth of Omi's family. The way Schuldich had played so cruelly with the boy. Sister Ruth. The confrontation by the sea. Finding out that Schwarz had also survived the confrontation. The mission that had gone wrong. Waking up in the arms of the enemy. The confusion this new reality was to him.
//That is enough...// Ken's thoughts resettled and he refocused on the man before him. "That is insane..." Schuldich said.
"But it's the truth!"
Schuldich frowned. "Ja, it is in your mind. I would know if you were lying. But that's still crazy. You think you got here through a mirror?"
"I don't know what else to think." Ken shrugged. "It's all I can come up with right now. I can't tell the others...I think it would be better if I didn't. When I get back where I belong and the other Ken returns here, it would be better if they didn't know anything happened...I needed to tell you, though, because I need help and you have to believe me."
"And so I don't try anything funny," Schuldich quoted back blandly.
Ken scowled at him. "Don't mock me! There isn't anything funny about this!"
"There isn't," Schuldich conceded.
Ken did a mental stumble. Having an agreeable Schuldich around was going to take some getting used to. He peered up at the other assassin. "So will you help me?" he asked. "I want to get back where I belong. You want the other Ken back."
"You don't approve," Schuldich observed.
It took Ken a moment to realize the German was referring to the relationship. He shook his head. "I can't," he said simply. "I know you as a heartless bastard who loves to hurt everyone around him. You aren't capable of caring for anything." He noticed then that Schuldich's hands were still on his elbows and he pulled away. "If you want the other Ken back, you have to help me. But remember that I am _not_ the other Ken, and don't touch me."
Schuldich was silent for a long moment, mulling over this. There was a soft brush against Ken's thoughts before the other man sighed and reached up to rub at his forehead. "This doesn't make sense," he said, "but I'll go with you on it."
"Good." Ken couldn't stop an excited smile from spreading on his lips. Two heads were better than one, and having an ally who could count as multiple minds was even better. "Now...Tell me what I've stepped into here. Tell me what's going on and who the others are here so I don't make a fool out of myself."
"As if you haven't already?" Schuldich drawled. Ken glared. A smirk flickered on the telepath's mouth and he tucked errant locks of hair behind his ears. The smirk was gone just as quickly as it came and the older man padded away to perch on the desk once more. Ken sat indian-style on the ground, waiting. Schuldich was quiet, mentally debating where to start by going over what he had found out Ken's views to be.
"You are the goalie of the Snipers, one of the best teams in the league, and have been on it for four years. Crawford bought the team five years ago. Nagi is Crawford's step-cousin and Crawford is his guardian. Nagi met Farfarello at a performance Crawford brought us to and the Irishman has been staying here ever since. This is practically Omi's second home, since he and Nagi met through school and are always running around together. He met Ran at a book signing he and Nagi went to and started dating him soon after. Ran is a historian and author. We met Yohji when I was commissioned to do a portrait of him."
"You paint..." Omi had said that, but it still seemed so...so wrong- like hearing Farfarello play a piano was so wrong.
"He is one of the most hailed composers and pianists in Japan right now," Schuldich commented in respnse to Ken's doubting thoughts. "You heard him. That was only his second time looking at that piece."
"How do you tie into all of this?" Even in a different reality, all of Weiß and Schwarz was drawn together...Ties were woven through school and chance meetings. They could not escape the fate that was their meeting. Interesting.
Schuldich lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "I've known Nagi and Crawford for about eight years now. I came because my father was in the military. Crawford had arrived in Japan before me when his parents divorced and his father came over on business."
Ken considered this new information. Aya and Omi dating...It was strange to hear Schuldich call him Ran. Weiß hadn't been able to lose the habit of calling the redhead Aya. Nagi and Farfarello likely had something going on, if Ken went off the way Nagi had had his arm threaded through Farfarello's at breakfast. Then there was Yohji and Crawford...Who knew? Maybe he was being overly suspicious. All eight of them couldn't be gay.
~And I'm not gay,~ part of Ken's mind protested.
//You sure about that?// Schuldich asked, smirking again. //You could have fooled me.//
Ken winced. "Even if I was, I don't see why I would have picked to be gay with _you_."
"You wound me," Schuldich said dryly, covering his heart with a hand.
"I'm sure I did," Ken muttered, raking his bangs from his face. "So tell me...what happens now? The sooner we start looking for a way to get me back the better, but I'm not even sure where to start."
Schuldich tilted his head to one side, considering it. Ken knew the German still had some reservations on the matter, but the telepath couldn't question such a complete story and the conviction Ken's mind had of the other reality. He didn't quite understand, but he would give it the benefit of the doubt for now. "We're staying here another night and heading back to our place tomorrow morning. I have a show coming up so I'll be occupied a lot of tomorrow. The day after that we can look a little, but you have practice because the next day is a game day."
"A game day..." Ken echoed. If he wasn't returned to his place by then, would he be the one to play on the field? He felt his heart skip a beat and clenched his hands in his lap, staring down at his white knuckles. It had been so long since he'd been on a _real_ playing field with a _real_ crowd...so long since he had been playing to play instead of playing to teach. He could still hear the roar of the crowd ricocheting in his brain, could still feel the way his blood would race with fiery adrenaline. Life had been wonderful. Life had been a dream.
And then Kase had turned on him...
"Stop that," Schuldich said, drawing him from his memories. "You're going to draw blood."
Ken realized he had his teeth clamped savagely on his lower lip and slowly let go. He gave a quiet sigh, rubbing at his mouth. Part of him, the selfish part of him, wanted to stay through the game. He wanted to feel that glory- that sense of being _alive_- just once more. He sternly reminded himself that each day wasted here only endangered the other Ken. What got the other Ken in trouble would also hurt his teammates. He had to return, and quickly.
Schuldich tilted his head to one side. "Crawford says it's time for dinner."
"Eh?" Ken craned his neck, listening.
Schuldich gave an amused snort, stepping away from the desk. "He called me," he said, tone tolerant.
"Ah..." It had been a telepathic call...Of course. Before he could say anything else, Schuldich extended a hand to him in offering of a lift to his feet. Ken leaned away from the proffered grasp, peering up at Schuldich's face. "I'm not your Ken. I want your help, not any physical contact. You may be tolerable here but you're a bastard there and I don't want to touch you unless it's necessary."
Schuldich gave a slight, annoyed toss of his head. "Your counterpart is my lover," he reminded Ken somewhat impatiently. "If you want to act normal, cut the crap and play the part right."
Ken hesitated, debating this. He had hoped that telling Schuldich would mean he wouldn't have to act the man's lover. Of course it would still be part of the role...They would be around the others and it was part of who they expected him to be. He made a face. "Can we wait until we're actually around the others before you try to touch me?" he pleaded. Schuldich leaned over, snagging him by his upper arm and hauling him upwards. "O-oi!!"
Schuldich's eyes were unreadable as he pinned Ken in place with a heavy stare. Ken could only stare back, wide-eyed. "What are you going to do, lover mine?" the German asked, nasal voice a twisting mix of mockery and irritation. "Cringe every time I approach you?"
"Maybe," Ken answered truthfully.
Apparently that was the wrong answer, for Schuldich shoved him away. Ken stumbled backwards, struggling to regain his balance. "It's time for dinner," the telepath said, striding past him towards the door.
Ken sent a baleful look after the German before rubbing his arm and following.
The two of them were immediately put under intense scrutiny by a pair of wide blue eyes when they entered the dining room. Ken hesitated for a moment in the doorway, taking in the group. Yohji was at the kitchen end, rummaging through a drawer in search of something. Crawford was sitting at his place, calm eyes tracing Ken's face before looking towards Schuldich. Nagi's arm was linked with Farfarello's like it had been this morning. Omi was seated beside Aya, who didn't seem interested in Ken's entrance at all.
//Here,// Schuldich summoned him. The German was sliding into his seat. //You sit on my right.// Ken obeyed, aware of the explosion of a bright smile on Omi's face. Ken couldn't help but be curious at the boy's enthusiasm. Schuldich supplied the answer. //He was worried that we were having a spat,// the older man said dryly.
But the boy was acting as if they'd never had one before...
//We don't fight in front of the kids,// Schuldich said simply. //They don't need to see it.// He poured himself a drink and offered the pitcher to Ken. Ken accepted it, filled his own cup, and held the pitcher out to Nagi. It lifted itself from his hand and he grabbed at it reflexively, thinking for a moment that he had dropped it. Nagi just gazed at him and Ken realized what had happened. He slowly let go and the pitcher merrily floated away to fill the boy's cup. Ken watched, absently fascinated. He had never seen the boy use the power for anything other than mass destruction or as a giant invisible fly swatter. He had always assumed it was a rough power that could only be used on large scales. The boy obviously had a strong control of it if he could handle the small things well.
//You're staring,// Schuldich informed him.
Ken wanted to watch.
//You're staring,// Schuldich said again, more firmly. //Stop it.//
"So how is the man of the day?" Yohji's voice suddenly asked from right behind Ken. The athlete nearly jumped out of his skin and his hand started to jerk up in a reflexive blow. Luckily for everyone Schuldich caught the flash of startled thoughts the instant before Ken's fist started upwards and shot his own hand out to clap Ken's back down to his thigh. Yohji didn't even notice, reaching past Ken to set a serving spoon on the table. Ken tried to get his heart rate back to a normal speed. "Feeling any better?"
"Good." Yohji gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder before padding away to take his seat. "Maybe you're feeling well enough to clean up the mess in the bedroom?" he asked with a grin as he reached for the nearest serving dish.
"It's taken care of," Schuldich said before Ken could agree. He threw Yohji a lazy smirk. "I think I should have left it there as your Christmas present."
"It was your fault it was there anyway," Yohji retorted. "You're the one that made him drink so much."
Schuldich arched an eyebrow at the other man. "My fault?" he asked. "You're the one that said I wouldn't be able to get him to touch it. Never challenge someone and expect them to not take you up on it. The consequences are yours to take care of."
"Oh, go paint something."
"Later," Schuldich said airily, serving himself from the nearest dish. He offered it to Ken when he was through. As Ken tried to reach to accept it, he realized Schuldich's hand was still closed over his, pinning his palm to Ken's jeaned thigh. He wriggled his hand in a silent order to be released. Schuldich's fingers tightened instead for a brief moment and the telepath offered him a faint smirk before withdrawing. Ken wiped his hand off on his jeans, trying to erase the other man's touch and germs. Schuldich sent him a sideways Look to show his disapproval of the unflattering thoughts.
Omi carried the weight of the conversation, babbling about this, that, and everything in between. He managed to include everyone in his talk at one point or another, from questioning his lover about his latest work, to checking with Nagi on the homework he had been trying to do, to asking the artists about their respective works. Apparently Farfarello had a performance coming up, and now Omi wanted to know what he was going to be performing and how much the tickets were going to be because he'd forgotten the last time he'd been told.
Schuldich and Nagi took turns answering for the Irishman, for the albino didn't seem to be into talking much. When he gave one or two word answers one of his companions would elaborate. They did it easily, trading off here and there and filling in each other's gaps. Ken guessed they'd had a good deal of practice, for no one commented on Farfarello's inability to give a complete answer. Ken, on the other hand, wasn't used to it, and was ready to beat Farfarello into speaking correctly by the time they were five minutes into the new topic. Since he wasn't feeling quite bold enough to turn the urging into reality- he wasn't that interested in dying- he settled for staring at his plate and twitching.
//Lay off, lover,// Schuldich told him firmly.
Although Ken longed to answer aloud so everyone could hear his frustration, he settled for thinking his irritated thoughts, knowing that Schuldich would be able to pick up on the heated words. ~What is he, retarded? Why can't he carry his own conversation?~
Fingernails dug into Ken's thigh in a warning and blue eyes flashed at him in anger as Schuldich leapt to his teammate's defense. //He is still learning Japanese,// he told Ken flatly. //It is very hard for him to learn. He is fluent enough and talkative in German or Gaelic or English, but Japanese gives him too much trouble.//
~So speak in another language and spare me the headache,~ Ken shot back, prying at Schuldich's fingers. The German released his leg only to pinch Ken's index finger sharply and the athlete winced, glaring at him. Schuldich glared back.
//He'll never learn if we don't help him.//
~So send him to a language class. It's annoying to listen to.~
//It's never bothered you before.//
~I've never had to put up with it before,~ Ken reminded him.
"We're all going, aren't we?" Omi asked, breaking through Ken's thoughts. He peered up at Aya first and didn't look towards anyone else until the older man gave a slight nod. "I want to go so badly...The music is so beautiful. I've only been able to go to one concert before because they're always too far away, but this one's close by. Can't we all go this time?"
"I'm going," Nagi said simply and quietly. His arm was threaded through Farfarello's again.
"We could all go out to eat afterwards," Yohji suggested, pouring himself more tea. He took a large swallow before grinning at Crawford. The foreigner gave a nod and all eyes save Farfarello's turned to Schuldich and Ken.
"Ch'." Schuldich smirked and stabbed some of his rice. "It's not like there's anything else to do around here." He gave a shrug and shoveled food into his mouth. "I suppose we'll go, hm, Ken?"
//I said, I suppose we'll go,// Schuldich repeated.
~If you are any help in getting me back where I belong, you'll be going with your Ken, so don't look at me to agree to any excursions that will put me near _him_,~ Ken retorted. ~That psycho freaks me out.~
Schuldich promptly crunched Ken's toes under his shoe. The athlete barely managed to bite back a yip of pain and shot a quick look at the older man. The coldness of Schuldich's blue eyes warned Ken that he had better keep his opinion of Farfarello to himself- and think it very, very quietly. He looked back towards Omi. "Hai, hai, we're going," he answered.
"Oyasumi~!" Omi called cheerfully.
"Oyasumi," Ken responded weakly, closing the door in the boy's face. He stared at the wooden surface for a long moment, listening to the cloth rustling behind him. Damn...He and Schuldich were expected to sleep in the same room tonight- the room he had woken up in this morning. He'd been hoping to sneak into a different one but Omi had followed them to this room, babbling away about a new movie that was in the theaters that he wanted them all to see. It seemed Omi's favorite thing to do was find activies for the entire group of eight to attend.
"Definitely is," Schuldich agreed.
Ken half-turned to eye Schuldich. The man had tossed his shirt aside carelessly and was digging around in a small dresser. He pulled out some flannel pants and began tugging at the zipper on the pants he was wearing. Ken turned away quickly, moving towards the window. He had no desire to see Schuldich undressing. He would have nightmares for weeks.
"I have had much more flattering company than you," Schuldich said dryly.
"So go hang out with them," Ken muttered, folding his arms over his chest and staring out the window. This room faced the front yard. There were several cars parked in the circle driveway. Ken recognized Yohji's Seven- even in a separate reality it seemed those two couldn't be separated- but didn't see Aya's white Porsche. The others were unfamiliar. He gave a quiet sigh, running a hand across his eyes. The mixed similarities and differences he could spot in the vehicles outside matched the conficts he had noticed in his companions' behaviors at dinner. A lot about them was the same, but at the same time, their nuances and inflections were different. He could not decide if it was reassuring that they were so much the same or if it was just creepy, as if he were interacting with imposters that were not skilled enough to play their roles right.
"You think too much, Ken," a nasal voice murmured beside his ear. Ken jolted, stumbling forward and whirling to face Schuldich. The German offered a faint smirk, amused by Ken's wide eyes, and held out a pair of pajama pants. "These are yours."
Ken accepted them and peered up at the other man. "No peeking."
"No peeking?" Schuldich laughed, reaching out and poking his fingers through the buttons on Ken's shirt. "How many times have I seen you naked before, Ken?"
Ken jerked away from his touch. "Don't touch me!"
"Yare yare..." Schuldich gave a heavy sigh and spun on his heels. "Better?"
"No peeking," Ken repeated stubbornly.
Ken decided that was the best answer he would be able to get out of the older man and quickly shrugged out of the slacks he was wearing, keeping his eyes on Schuldich's back the entire time. Schuldich snickered quietly, no doubt amused by Ken's suspicion. He yanked on the cotton pants and tied the strings tightly around his waist before collecting his discarded pants and looking around for a laundry bin. Schuldich turned and plucked them away, carrying them across the room. Ken watched him go for a moment before his eyes fell on the bed. The sheets had been changed so it was clean, but the fact remained that there was only one bed and two people.
It seemed he was sleeping on the floor tonight. At least it was carpeted. He fumbled with his shirt, undoing the buttons. He did not want to sleep shirtless with Schuldich around, but the one he had on was long-sleeved and too hot to leave fastened. "Does this pj set have a shirt?" he asked.
"Mmm..." Schuldich thought about it before rummaging around in the dresser. After a small search he lifted one triumphantly and headed towards Ken. Ken paused as he slid out of his shirt, eyes falling on his own front. A soft, almost awed breath hissed through his teeth as he lifted one hand to touch his skin.
There were no scars.
"Scars?" Schuldich questioned. Ken was too busy staring at the unmarred flesh to tell Schuldich to back away. The telepath was close enough that his breath tickled at Ken's bangs. "What scars would be on your abdomen, Ken?"
"Burns..." Ken whispered. In his mind he could see Kase being dragged away, could see everything going to flames around him. He could still feel the flames licking across his flesh as something exploded and pinned him beneath fallen support beams. How it had hurt...Manx had assured him that they would not interfere with his missions but he had still been able to feel them pull sometimes. He had hated them so much, had hated the reminder of Kase's betrayal, had hated the way they had looked. It had taken a long time- several years, actually- before he had felt comfortable enough to let them show. Yuriko, bless her heart, had said nothing about them when they had spent those days together and gone swimming.
He had no scars here.
He'd never been betrayed.
He'd never had to kill Kase.
He'd never killed anyone at all.
"Ken..." Fingers gently closed around Ken's and peeled his hand away. "Don't think about it."
"How can I not think about it?" Ken asked, pulling out of Schuldich's grip. "Everything's so _different_ here. It just doesn't seem fair when I compare what everyone I know has had to go through to this. You guys here know nothing...The most you have to worry about is whether or not you can all attend a concert together. My friends and I worry about our lives." He looked up at Schuldich. Expressionless blue eyes gazed back. "We worry about missions going wrong. We worry about letting the innocents down. We worry about you tearing our sanity apart or Farfarello tearing _us_ apart. We worry that we're going to lose each other when we're the only family we know. I mean, look at you guys...Talking over dinner about normal things like school and games and peaceful excursions. Why can't any of you be quiet and just look out the window at the beauty outside? This..." and he turned to gesture to where the sunset was spilling gold and burgundy rays into the room. "I have not seen sunsets like this in a long time, and it feels like the sun has not set when there is not blood to be shed in years."
Silence fell between them for a long while as Ken stared out at the horizon.
It was Schuldich that finally broke the silence. "You speak as if everything's perfect here," he mused.
"To someone who has seen such terrible things, this place _is_ perfect."
"Is it." It wasn't quite a question. Ken turned, frowning faintly. Schuldich's gaze was still unreadable. Ken took a step back, only then aware of how close they were. He reached out, taking the shirt from where it was bundled tightly in Schuldich's hands, and paused, eyes catching on a streak of white. Slowly he released the pajama shirt, turning his arm.
A hand closed over his wrist, pushing his arm down. "Do not look at it," Schuldich said, voice low, "if you want to continue thinking this place is perfect."
"Hanase," Ken said, jerking away. He spun to face the window, lifting his arm in front of his face. In exchange for the burn scars on his abdomen, a long white scar trailed from his wrist almost to his elbow. He choked on his breath. "M-masaka..."
"Stop looking at it, Ken," Schuldich said, a flat edge to his voice.
"I-iya..." Ken lifted his other hand to trail a fingertip down the line. A chill ran down his spine and he turned his other arm. An identical scar marred the flesh there. Impossible!! He whirled to face Schuldich, demanding an explanation. Schuldich turned sharply away, moving towards the bed. "Schuldich...I have...my wrists..." Life was such a precious thing. How could he bear such ugly marks? Suicide was the worst thing he could imagine. To throw away everything, especially in a place like this..."Schuldich, why do I have..."
Schuldich was lying in bed, his back to Ken. "Why are you asking me?" he asked without looking back. "They're not on my body."
Ken stared numbly at his arms. He didn't understand.
"Forget about it, Ken," Schuldich said, a flat edge to his voice. "Staring at your arms won't make them go away. They are not your scars to worry about. In a few days you'll be back where you belong, right?"
"Just go to sleep."
Silence fell once again. After a long moment, Schuldich turned to gaze in Ken's direction. Ken gave a shake of his head at the unspoken beckon to bed. "I'm sleeping on the floor," he said quietly.
After a long pause Schuldich shoved the pillows and thick blanket off the edge of the bed. Ken gathered them up and made himself a nest under the window. He stared at his wrists for a bit more, studying the old scars in the light the sunset provided. It took a long time before he could force himself to bury his arms under the blankets and accept the fact that staring at them would not help. In a few days he would be home and the haunting scars would be gone. Deep inside, however, he knew he would always wonder where the other Ken could have drawn up enough despair to make those marks. The burns that were currently missing had been put there by something he could not control. These scars had been self inflicted.
It was just one more question he would have to find the answer to before he went home.
Brown eyes moved towards the bed. Schuldich had buried himself under the smaller sheet that was still on the mattress. Despite Schuldich's words, he would bet his life the German knew the cause for such scars.
Somehow Ken would have to make him answer.