Part Three

    Ken woke much earlier than he even wanted to be alive and remained where he was for several long moments. The sleep he had managed to get had been broken by dreams of home- of missions and of his friends. There had been a nightmare in there somewhere; the pain remained even though the images had faded too much for him to recognize. He wished he could just go back to sleep again, but something was keeping him awake. Giving a small moan of protest at the unfairness of life, he finally slid bleary eyes open.

    His eyes slowly focused on a clock sitting on the entertainment center across from him. Green numbers glowed back at him, claiming it to be 7:34. He draped an arm over his eyes, annoyed. It was _definitely_ too early.

    But his nose had caught scent of some rather delicious smells and there was nothing he could do to ignore them. Grumbling a bit, he gave up attempting to fall back asleep and slowly pushed himself into a sitting position. Now he could hear the clanking of some dishes and he rubbed a fist across his eyes in an attempt to clear the sleep from them. He managed to get to his feet and padded out of the room, heading towards the kitchen.

    "What are you doing? It's too early to be awake," he complained as he stepped into the doorway. He rested against the doorframe, gazing in at Schuldich with tired brown eyes. Judging by the wet sheen to the telepath's orange hair, the man had recently showered. He wore a sky blue shirt tucked into black jeans, and dark sunglasses were pushed up on his forehead to keep his bangs out of the way.

    Schuldich flicked him an amused glance and waved a spatula in the direction of the small table. "Pick a seat; it's almost done." Ken eyed the table. One seat had a black jacket draped over it and he sat himself across from it, pillowing his head in his arms on the table.

    After a few moments there was a small clatter as Schuldich began laying serving dishes on the table. Ken lifted his head just a bit to see what the German had been preparing. Schuldich was tugging a hot mitt from one hand and he waved it towards the food. "Eat," he said. "You have practice today. You'll need your energy."

    "Are you an artist or a cook?" Ken asked, rubbing his eyes again.

    Schuldich swat him with the mitt before carrying it away towards its hook. "I'd like to see _you_ try and make a real meal without burning this place down," he tossed over his shoulder. "If you're anywhere near as talented as my Ken you would probably break the stove." He paused. "Again."

    With that, Schuldich came to sit across from Ken. He took the dish closest to him and began to spoon some onto his plate. Ken watched. "What is that?" he asked. There was obviously rice in it, but he wasn't sure about the other colored bits.

    "Fried rice," the German answered, passing him the bowl and plucking up a piece of toast.

    Ken eyed it for a bit longer, still staring dubiously at the colored chunks. Finally he sighed and scooped a little onto his plate. There was silence between them as they finished serving themselves and started eating. Ken decided that fried rice was a good thing and helped himself to more. "When is the practice?" he asked.

    "Midafternoon." Schuldich paused to take a drink of milk before elaborating. "It generally runs from two to five-thirty. Before then, however, there is some serious grocery shopping that has to be done. We have nothing in these cabinets."

    "Mm..." Ken sipped at his coffee. It had been flavored just the way he liked it, with the perfect balance of cream and sugar. "Schwarz grocery shopping..." he mused.

    "What?" Schuldich asked blankly.

    Ken shook his head. "It just makes you seem human." He hurried to explain when he saw the affronted look on Schuldich's face. "You don't understand...You can see in my mind what I know of Schwarz, but you'll never really understand it...They aren't human. They're monsters. They play cruel games with people. They're evil."

    Schuldich chewed on the edge of his toast, considering this. There was a soft ripple through Ken's mind. "You don't know them."

    "I've seen enough. God, I've seen _more_ than enough...I could have nightmares about them for the rest of my life."

    "But you don't know them," Schuldich repeated stubbornly, sticking to defending his other self. "_Why_ are they like that? Do you know that?"

    "They were born that way, probably," Ken muttered, shoveling more rice in his mouth.

    "No one is born 'evil'," Schuldich corrected him, finishing up his toast in two bites. "What do the people you kill think of you as?" Ken hesitated, not quite comprehending. He frowned faintly at the older man. Schuldich gave a shake of his head, taking a gulp of his coffee. "You're an assassin too, Ken. Your targets...Do you think they see you as a happy-go-lucky soccer freak? Nein...They see you as death coming for them. They see you as the nightmare. They see one side of you."

    "Are you trying to convince me that Schwarz has a normal side?" Ken asked, raising an eyebrow at Schuldich in amusement. "Hah."

    Schuldich shook his head. "You're ignorant."

    "Am not! You don't even come from the same world as I do, so how can you judge whether I'm right or wrong?"

    "I can judge you because I can see that you haven't tried to look at 'Schwarz' in more than one light," Schuldich answered simply, rising and carrying his dishes away.

    "Are you always this annoying?"

    "Do you always look at the world in such a black-and-white view?"

    Ken grumbled into his coffee and finished the rest of the mug quickly before toting his dishes to where Schuldich stood at the dishwasher. "I have to admit, though..." he said, handing over his plate and cup, "I much prefer that I only have to worry about you being annoying than you ruining everything I am."

    There was a pause and blue eyes that looked almost troubled met Ken's gaze while Schuldich digested those words. A faint frown tugged at his wide mouth and Ken frowned in return. "What?" he asked.

    There was a pause before Schuldich tilted his head to one side. "Nichts."

    "I don't know what that means."


    Ken made a face at him. "You can't just spout out a foreign word and not tell me what it means."

    "It means 'nothing'," Schuldich elaborated, frown dissolving into a grin.

    Ken blinked. "...Oh."

    Schuldich gave a slight shake of his head, murmuring something that sounded like "hopeless". He slid past Ken and began clearing the rest of the dishes from the table. Ken moved to help him automatically. As Schuldich began rinsing the serving dishes, he cast a thoughtful look towards the brunette. "I'll teach you," he said simply.

    "Teach me what?" Ken asked blankly.

    "How to shield."

    Ken thought about it for a moment. "My thoughts?" he guessed.

    "Ja. You said you don't know how. I'll teach you like I taught my Ken. Then you won't have to worry about the other Schuldich 'ruining' you." He added soap to the dishwasher and closed it, giving the knob a wrench to start it. That accomplished, he turned and leaned against the counter to see Ken's reaction. "Sound good?"

    Ken felt his heart give a hopeful skip. It had never before occured to him that it would be possible to protect himself from the other Schuldich's games. If he could learn, he could teach his teammates! Shielding from a telepath...He hadn't even known it could be done until Schuldich had showed him the ones the other Ken left in place. At the same time, he felt a little puzzled. Schuldich had just been defending his counterpart. Why would he give Ken some sort of defense against the other man? "Why?" he asked. "Why would you help me?"

    "Why?" Schuldich repeated, turning Ken to face the door of the kitchen.

    Ken looked over his shoulder at the older man. "Why would you offer to help me? I'm not your Ken."

    A funny expression that Ken couldn't identify flickered over Schuldich's face before the German laughed. "You most definitely are not," he agreed, giving Ken a small shove. "Now go take a shower so we can go shopping."

    Grumbling about Schuldich's inability to give a straight answer to his questions, Ken padded out of the room.


    Schuldich let Ken push the cart and wandered on ahead, humming to himself and studying the shelves they passed. Now and then he would pluck something up and chuck it towards the cart, and Ken would have to scramble to make sure it actually made it instead of hitting the floor. Ken had to pause every so often to rearrange the groceries so more could fit. He gave up trying to correct Schuldich's haphazard way of flinging the food around after being ignored for the fifth time and resigned himself to playing catch with the boxes and bags.

    "I'll be at your practice," Schuldich informed him as he rummaged around for a specific packet of marinade mix. He paid no attention to the mess he made of the shelf, caring only about finding what he wanted. "It'll be easier for you to interact with your team if I'm there as a medium."

    "Won't it be suspicious if you're there?" Ken asked.

    Schuldich lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "I come to at least half of the practices. It won't be any surprise to them to see me there."

    "Why do you go? Doesn't it get boring?"

    Schuldich shrugged again, finally locating his packet and tossing it towards Ken. Ken caught it and dropped it into the cart. As Schuldich moved on he stepped over to the shelf, attempting to return some sort of order to the ruined display. "I generally talk to Crawford to keep myself entertained."

    "You are too easily amused," Ken declared, giving up on the display and trailing behind Schuldich with the cart.

    "I could leave you to your own devices," Schuldich suggested.

    "I-iie," Ken answered quickly.

    "I _do_ have to wonder, though, why I keep doing you so many favors."

    "Because you want to?" Ken asked hopefully.

    Schuldich laughed at that, giving a shake of his head. "You owe me," he said simply, turning onto another aisle. "Now then...It's time to teach you how to shield. You'll have to practice it a lot. Ken's shields were strong because he'd had a year to practice. You don't have that long, so they'll be weak at first. That's what distractors are for."

    "Distractors?" Ken asked blankly, hurrying after him.

    "When your shields go down- and they will, until you've had enough work with them- you need another line of defense. You don't want the invader to see what they're after, so you give them something else. It's very hard to keep up a blank mind, I've heard, so you use an alternative: anything you can find." Schuldich gave a shrug, chucking some rice at Ken. Ken caught two bags but had to scoop the third off the floor. "You're a florist...Start reciting the names of flowers or something."

    "That'll stop him?"

    "It'll be very hard for him to find what he wants if you're battering him with such inane things." Schuldich paused here and frowned, studying the coffee.

    "Huh..." Ken considered this. "Where did you learn this, anyway?"

    Schuldich gave a slight shrug. "My father knew how," he answered absently. "The military knew there were people out there with gifts; they knew that there was a concentrated group in Germany...So they tried to teach themselves some defense should anything happen."

    "But how did they know?"

    "There were Gifted in the military." He finally picked a few different flavors of coffee beans and tossed them towards Ken. "There always have been. Hell, Hitler was a Possessor. How else would he get so many people to follow him?" It was obviously a rhetorical question, for Schuldich continued without waiting for an acknowledgement from Ken. "Anyway...To shield, you have to want me out. You have to..." he waved a hand, searching for the right word, "see a wall around your thoughts. You see them as being locked away, hidden. You have to focus on this wall or it'll fall. When you've had enough practice, it will be automatic and you can turn your thoughts on other things."

    Ken nodded, digesting this slowly. Distractors and walls...he could remember that. "So do you teach everyone to shield?" he asked.

    Schuldich hesitated. "Nein."

    "Just Ken?"

    "I taught Crawford because neither of us felt that what he Sees should be open to both of us. It's his gift; they're his to mess with. It's better for everyone if I don't see them."

    "Then why'd you teach Ken?" Ken tilted his head to one side, wondering about the reasons behind that decision.

    Schuldich actually carried the coffee filters over to the cart and dropped the box inside, rummaging around to straighten the mess a little. "The closer I am to a person, the louder their thoughts are. I am with Ken almost all of the time. Even I need a break from the world," he said simply, then beckoned for Ken to follow and padded away.

    "What's it like?" Ken asked. "To hear things, I mean."

    Schuldich paused midstep, considering the question. "It is like..." He fell quiet, as if searching for the right words. Finally he turned to gaze at Ken, though Ken had the feeling the German was looking through him. "It is like being in your soccer stadium right when a goal has been scored," he said simply. "It is like being in a club, where the bass beats louder than your own heartbeat and you have to scream to be heard. That is what it is like."

    Quiet fell between them for a long moment before Schuldich turned away. "Now...we need ice cream and then we'll be done."

    Ken followed after him slowly, turning Schuldich's words over in his mind. Part of him could not help but wonder if that was what it felt like to the other Schuldich, then he shoved that away, determined not to think about the other telepath. That Schuldich was a demon. He played cruel games. He was a complete monster and a bastard and he deserved whatver he was hearing.

    This Schuldich...

    ...was different.

    ~That,~ Ken mused, ~is probably a bad thing.~


    The first thing Schuldich took out of their shopping bags was the carton of ice cream. He set it on the table and popped the lid off, then peeled aside the protective wrapper. As he carried the wrapper to the garbage bag he snagged two spoons from a drawer. Tossing one at Ken, he returned to the table and scooped himself some of the cold treat from the carton. Popping the spoon in his mouth, he began digging around in their other bags, humming to himself. Ken looked from the spoon to Schuldich to the carton, then followed the German's example.

    "What ever happened to eating out of bowls?" he asked as he licked his spoon clean and began finding all of the refridgerator items.

    "Why get extra dishes dirty?" Schuldich wanted to know.

    "Is that your philosophy on life?" Ken asked, grinning. "Eat ice cream from the carton?"

    Schuldich laughed, digging into the ice cream again. "I just don't see the point of eating from bowls. You're going to want more than what a serving gives you anyway...Why conform and eat from bowls or cones? Cut to the chase and just eat what you want."

    Ken shook his head, scooping up more of the treat on his spoon. "Good deal."

    "We'll have to leave in an hour to get you to your practice on time..." Schuldich glanced towards the clock as he began gathering the empty bags. "I need to work a little more on Brianna's picture."

    "Are you going to show it to Farfarello?"

    "Probably not." The artist plucked a cotton bag off of the top of the fridge and crammed the plastic bags into it. Task completed, he chucked the bag back up to where it belong. It fell and he needed a second try for it to stay. "He won't want to see it, I think."

    Ken blinked. "Why not? It's his sister, you said..."

    Schuldich considered this, tapping his spoon lightly on the counter before setting it on the countertop. "Was," he said at last, voice quiet. "She was his sister."

    Ken stopped in the middle of closing the ice cream tub. "...Oh..." He finally said, for he felt he should say something but had no clue what was appropriate. He slowly clicked the lid into place. Schuldich took the carton from him and found a place for it in the freezer. "Um...what happened to her?"

    "The whole family was in a car accident." Schuldich's mouth was pulled in a thin line as he stared at the refridgerator. "Farfarello was the only survivor, but he lost his eye and took some damage to his nervous system. His music is all he has left, really."

    His music...The notes echoed in Ken's mind, the song he had heard just the other day playing in his thoughts. He had wondered about the pain that had been poured into the very essence of the music. It had been so beautiful in his sorrowful cries; it had been a sound that could only be made by someone who was one with the music enough to share his pain. Ken slowly lowered himself into one of the chairs by the table, feeling a bit taken aback by this news. Farfarello's whole family was gone?

    This was not a perfect world...Schuldich had even chided him two nights ago: "You speak as if everything's perfect here."

    Schuldich was right. It wasn't. Farfarello had lost his family in both worlds, even if the way he had lost them was different. Sister Ruth had tried to tell the other Farfarello about his murder of his family. Here it was not his fault, but they were still gone. And Ken...He slowly pushed one of the gloves up to his wrist, studying the scar. The skin under his bands was not tanned like the rest of him, so the scar hid easier against the flesh. He trailed a finger down it.

    Life was not perfect here.

    So which side had ended up with the better deal?

    He wasn't sure. Part of him said it was obvious: the assassin side.

    And yet...As bad as things ever got in his reality, Ken knew he would never stoop to slitting his wrists. For all that he and his friends had gone through, they had grown, in a way. They were strong; they had to be. Their darkness was both their damnation and their strength. Haunted as they were, they clung to hope, to the future, to each other. Here...they had never been truly challenged the same way. There was nothing Ken could think of that would be any excuse for an attempt at suicide.

    Ah, but what did he know?

    Nothing, anymore.


    Ken couldn't help but feel a little nervous as he climbed out of the car and gazed up at the large soccer stadium. He gave his door an absent push shut, slowly moving forward. Schuldich waited for him in front of the car, offering an amused grin as he took in Ken's state of mind. When Ken reached him they crossed the parking lot side by side. The gate was open and Schuldich slipped through first, bringing Ken along the empty concession stands to a smaller fence that surrounded the actual field. They paused there to let Ken study his team.

    He closed his fingers on the wire of the fence, swallowing hard. Roughly over a dozen men were already collected, laughing to each other as they stretched. They were dressed in the same practice shorts and shirts Schuldich had offered Ken. Crawford was speaking to another player off to one side, showing him something attached to a clipboard. He was dressed in loose pants and a dark tee. Ken's mind had some trouble processing that.

    "The one he's talking to is the captain," Schuldich informed him.

    Ken searched his memory; Schuldich had quizzed him on the numbers and players on the ride over. If he got stuck, Schuldich would help, but both had figured it would be good for Ken to know. "18, Moriguchi Tanae?"

    "Right." Schuldich lifted an arm in greeting, catching Moriguchi's eye. The man gave a cheerful wave and Crawford glanced over to see who had just showed up. "They're still ecstatic after winning that last game...I think Aida's still hungover, in fact..." He sounded amused and beckoned for Ken to follow as he headed towards the gate that would let them onto the field. Ken followed obediently behind.

    "Yo~ Ken!!" 7 called a cheerful greeting.

    "Hey," 7...7..."Miho!"

    /Have fun.../ Schuldich flicked his fingers at Ken and padded towards Crawford. /Don't only have to play friendly for a little bit before you start running and will have some silence./

    ~How far do we usually run?~

    /Five, to start./

    ~Five?~ Ken repeated, hesitating. When was the last time he had ever run that far...?

    /That isn't your body,/ Schuldich reminded him, /and Ken takes his workouts very seriously./ The words were followed by a mental sigh. Ken watched him as he approached the American. Moriguchi bowed slightly as both a greeting and a farewell before jogging towards the group, calling to get their attention. Schuldich propped an elbow on Crawford's shoulder, leaning against the older man. Both looked in his direction and Ken tore his eyes away, heading towards the gathering clump of athletes.

    "Hey, Ken, how are you feeling?" Moriguchi asked as he joined the circle. "You healed up all right from the game?"

    Ken grinned back, fighting down his nervousness. "Of course!" he answered. "Healed and ready to go!"

    Someone gave him an encouraging thump on the shoulder and others grinned. Moriguchi gave a sharp nod and looked around the group with a smile. "Good! We're playing an easy team tomorrow, but that's no reason to slack off. Let's start off by running a fiver, all right? Let's go!"

    Two men fell in to either side of Ken as the group set off. One- whom Ken hoped he remembered correctly as Tawayaru Hide- gave a rueful shake of his head and gestured over his shoulder in Crawford and Schuldich's direction. "Damn, he does follow you everywhere, doesn't he?" he asked.

    Ken searched for an excuse. Lying was never his forte, but he didn't really know what to say. 'He's helping me because I have no clue what I'm doing'? "He needed a break from his painting," he offered as an explanation.

    "I still can't believe he got you to drink so much..." the one to his left- Kurikawa Kou?- said. There wasn't as much amusement in the statement as there had been in Ken's friends. In fact, his mouth was twisted into an unhappy frown.

    "Ah...Neither can I."

    "Yeah, I was a little shocked," Hide agreed with a nod. Ken wasn't sure what to say to that. Hide took his silence the wrong way and hastened to explain, "But it's your choice, Ken, we know. If you want to drink, hey, we'll all party." Ken looked from Hide to Kou. The latter's expression had not softened. The other Ken must have been seriously against drinking or something. "I wonder what we'll do after tomorrow's game."

    Kou gave a shrug. "Who knows...It's not like we'll be shocked if we win. It's not really something to celebrate like the last game was."

    "A win is still good!" Hide argued. "The more wins we can scrape up, the better chance we'll have at making it to the World Cup."

    The World Cup...Ken felt the breath get sucked from his lungs and couldn't help but experience a sharp stab of envy for the other Ken. What a chance! That was something he would never be able to feel, something he would never get to have for himself. It wasn't fair...He gave a wistful sigh before giving himself a shake. He didn't have time to linger on what he did or didn't think was fair. The other Ken was stuck with _assassins_, with a cruel and heartless Schuldich. Ken had to get them switched back before what the other man saw could hurt him.

    Silence fell between the three men as they ran. Ken's mood, temporarily ruined by thoughts of the other Ken's predicament, brightened a bit as they continued to keep pace together. This Ken's body _was_ in better shape than his...Much better. After he had gotten framed and sent from the J-league in total disgrace he had hidden in on himself for a while, spending several weeks hiding and wondering about what had just happened to him. He had ignored the outside world, trying to find a reason for his shame. He had known that someone had framed him, and had been desperate to find out who. After his aborted meeting with Kase that almost killed him, he had been brought into Kritiker's care. He had spent the last two and a half years as a member of Weiß, and he had practically quit the rigorous exercise he had taken up for J-league playing. This Ken had never quit.

    It felt good to run again...Ken made a note to himself to make time to boost his own workout back in his world.

    When they finished their twenty laps around the stadium they formed a large ring and stretched as a group. A few helped themselves to water from a cooler before joining the rest. Crawford and Schuldich had been deep in discussion about something Crawford was holding, but as the men stretched and got their breath back, the two men approached the group. Two athletes moved to one side to let them into the circle.

    Crawford looked around, sending a calm gaze over each face. His eyes lingered when they caught Ken's and Ken tried not to feel nervous under his cool scrutiny. Finally Crawford turned his attention elsewhere and Ken looked towards Schuldich. The German was also surveying the group while they stretched. He must have either heard Ken's unsettled thoughts over Crawford's calm stare or he could feel the teenager's gaze on him, for he turned blue eyes on the brunette and offered the beginnings of a reassuring grin. Ken felt his own mouth curve slightly in response and he found himself grateful that it was Schuldich who was his ally here. He didn't need words to communicate with the telepath; Schuldich knew when he needed his thoughts sorted out, or when he had a question, or when he needed some comfort. It was, Ken noted absently, a little less weird to think of Schuldich as a source of comfort. It was getting much easier to separate the artist and the assassin in his mind.

    Dimly he wondered why the other Schuldich never smiled. It was certainly a much more attractive look for the man than that condescending smirk. It made him look younger, softer.

    /That would probably be the reason,/ Schuldich commented. From the tone of his mental voice, Ken decided the German wasn't sure whether to feel amused or offended by the suggestion that he looked 'soft'.

    Ken couldn't stop himself from grinning. ~True.~ Who would be scared of Schuldich if he didn't look like a psychotic bastard?


    "The game against Red Winds," Crawford started suddenly, startling Ken enough that he jumped and earned himself a few surprised glances, "went well." Crawford's eyes returned to Ken; he had not missed the jerk. "It was a hard game, but the team won. Congratulations for that." The athletes beamed at the praise. Hide nudged Kou and flashed him a triumphant smile.

    "We do have some things to work on, however." There was mumbled assent. Crawford gave the clipboard he was holding a light tap before extending it towards Moriguchi. The captain accepted it, stepping forward slightly into the middle of the ring.

    Ken felt a faint frown tug at his mouth. Crawford was the manage; Moriguchi was the captain. Who was the coach?

    /Moriguchi and Crawford work together to see what the team needs, together sharing the responsibilities of an official coach,/ Schuldich explained, /but they only offer suggestions and a head to follow at practices. The nineteen of you coach each other; the team is better for that./


    "Okay, defense!" Moriguchi looked around, spotting each of the players he was speaking to. "We'll start with you. _Speed_, defense, speed. Up the level; try to prevent a repeat of what happened at the last game. I know their offense was bloody fast, but we have to keep up with them. Ken will guard the goal. We need to guard Ken, got it?"

    His words were met with emphatic nods and "Hai!"s. Moriguchi turned to Ken. "Speaking of you, Ken...We're all amazed and gratified for that incredible save you made," he was forced to stop for the one or two affirmative whoops, "but next time be a little more careful. I thought you weren't going to get back up. You scared us half to death with that stunt."

    "Especially Schuldich!" someone called from Ken's left. Schuldich calmly flipped off the speaker while everyone else laughed.

    "Right." Moriguchi flicked an amused glance towards the artist before looking back at Ken. "We care more about your safety."

    "Hai, hai," Ken agreed.

    Moriguchi moved on then, but Ken was only half-listening as he contemplated the captain's words. Schuldich had been scared for the other Ken. He knew that; that had been obvious. Now he had to wonder, though. He knew what it was like to worry for a friend and have that friend be frantic for him in return; he and his teammates were always worried when running missions. There was a step between friends and lovers, however, as lovers achieved an intimacy that normal friends could not. Ken had never had the opportunity to fear for a lover's well-being, and he had never had that favor returned. He wondered now what it must feel like for the other Ken to know that someone was so fiercely worried for him.

    He could not help but envy the other Ken.


    The first thing Ken noticed when he stepped out of the bathroom was a very strange smell. Nose crinkling in distaste, he tightened his towel around his waist. It almost smelled like something was burning. He hurried towards the kitchen, following both the smell and some loud music that was definitely not Japanese. Was Schuldich burning the kitchen down? He came to a halt just a few feet in the kitchen, quickly taking in the room with sharp brown eyes.

    Schuldich was by the stove, bobbing his head faintly to the harsh beat that spilled from the speakers of the kitchen radio. He was calmly stirring a pot. Seeing there was no need to be alarmed, Ken edged closer to identify what the horrendous smell was.

    "Sauerkraut," Schuldich called over his shoulder as an answer, raising his voice to be heard over the music.

    "Sarukuratu?" Ken asked, reaching Schuldich's side. He reached out, giving the knob on the radio a twist to turn the volume down, as his eyes studied the pots and pans on the stove. One pan held fat looking sausages that were a grayish-brown tinge. A small pot held stringy looking white junk in liquid. He was willing to bet that that was what was causing the smell.

    "It smells good," Schuldich told him.

    "Does not," Ken retorted, then pointed at the sausages. "What's that?"

    "Bratwurst." Schuldich poked one with the tongs he held in one hand before waving them at Ken's nose. "We're having real food tonight. Thursday night is my night to make whatever I want."

    "I thought you always made what you wanted."

    "Hah. Ken generally wants to stick to American or Japanese. It gets old after a while." He paused, blinking, and turned sideways to give himself a better look at Ken. He raised his eyebrows, an appreciative grin curving his wide mouth. "Well...This is a nice view."

    Ken remembered that he was in his towel then and flushed, taking a step back from the hungry glint in Schuldich's blue eyes. Schuldich set the tongs down and moved towards him. Ken retreated and banged into a chair on the way. He yelped when his elbow made contact with the hard wood and grabbed it. Schuldich planted his hands to either side of Ken, closing his fingers on the back of the aforementioned chair. Ken leaned back as far as he could go, brown eyes wide.

    "Sch-Schuldich..." he stammered. "Get away from me..."

    "Did you have a nice shower, Ken?" Schuldich asked, grin twitching a little wider as blue eyes raked over Ken's body intently. "You're still wet..."

    "Schul-" Ken cut off abruptly with a gasp when Schuldich lowered his mouth to the smooth plane of his chest and lapped up a bit of water that was running down his skin. For a moment he froze, unsure of what to do, his wits scattered as his mind tried to register that Schuldich was licking him. He managed to pull himself together enough to shove the man away just as Schuldich's mouth brushed over his throat. Schuldich let himself be pushed and Ken bolted from the room.

    He shut and locked the bedroom door behind him and leaned against it, gasping for breath. His heart was pounding so hard he was sure it would burst out of his throat. He rubbed at the spot Schuldich's tongue had touched, trying to erase the tingling that plagued the spot. It wouldn't go away; neither would the tingling on his neck. He shivered, moving quickly towards the dresser and snatching up the pajamas he had put there this morning after his shower. He dressed hurriedly, needing to be reassured by being fully clothed.

    He hung his towel on its rod in the closet and paused in front of the bedroom door. Uneasiness twisted in his stomach as he slowly unlocked the door and stepped into the hall. Schuldich had forgotten himself; no, he had forgotten who he was looking at. The German needed to be more careful...

    He rubbed at his chest, fingers scrubbing hard at the spot Schuldich's mouth had been through the flimsy material of the shirt. Knowing that it had been a mistake on Schuldich's part did not make the prospect of approaching the German any easier, though. Schuldich had _licked_ him.

    Thoughts still in a mess and unsure of what else to do, Ken let himself into the older man's art studio instead. He flicked on the overhead light and looked around. The portraits from yesterday had been replaced on the easels with new canvases. One was a picture of a horse and its foal relaxing in a flowered meadow. Ken couldn't stop a small snort of amusement at the thought of the cocky German painting such a scene. The other canvas had the back of a girl's head and her hand stretched upwards, her fingers reaching desperately for the string of her balloon as it soared out of reach.

    He rummaged around through the completed paintings, finding the ones of the beach, Brianna, and himself on the windowseat amongst the rows. There was another new one of an old woman with a cat curled in her lap as she sat by a fireplace. Ken straightened, gazing down at the rows in quiet awe. He still couldn't believe the talent Schuldich had. Could the other Schuldich paint? Why would he be an assassin if he could create such masterpieces?

    He glanced towards the window and paused, eyes falling on the easel that was covered in a sheet. It was in a different position than he remembered; Schuldich had been working on it recently. He hesitated, respect warring with curiosity.

    "Curiosity killed the cat," he told himself, moving forward. He grasped the ends of the sheet and lifted it carefully.

    Ken was not at all prepared for what he saw when he had pulled the blanket free. He took a step back, inhaling sharply at the image that decorated the front of the large canvas. The blanket fell from numb fingers as he could only stare. It was a picture straight from a dream. It had to be. It was breathtakingly beautiful, heartbreakingly sad. Words could not do it justice. If Ken had wanted to tell another of it, he would have to emphasize the simple description with the emotions the painting created within its viewer. If it was still in its black and white stage, the picture would be nothing special- simply a boy sitting with his back pressed to a gaping portal that reflected the night sky. He was tangled in a yellow ribbon that disappeared through the gateway and wound upwards to the stars and was surrounded by shadows of deep blues and grays. The dark hues cried in anguish with the boy's hopelessness. His expression was that of one who was watching everything slip away from him.

    There was the soft sound of a shoe hitting tile floor and Ken realized he wasn't alone. He scrabbled for the blanket, acutely aware that he was looking at something that had been purposefully covered. He scrambled to cover it back up, glancing over his shoulder. Schuldich was right inside the doorway, his expression calm as he gazed at Ken.

    "Gomen," Ken apologized quickly. "I know I shouldn't have looked, but I just wanted to know what you were painting."

    Schuldich said nothing for a long moment, and Ken held his breath, hoping against hope that he had not offended the other man with his nosiness. Then Schuldich tilted his head to one side and lifted his shoulders in a slight shrug, approaching Ken. "It does not matter."

    "It was beautiful..." Ken breathed as the telepath drew even with him. He looked towards the covered canvas. "Whose mind did you take that one from?"

    There was a pause, then: "That one is mine."

    Ken turned startled brown eyes on the German. "Yours?"

    Schuldich ran his fingertips lightly over the sheet, blue gaze distant. "It is the only one I have painted for myself," he murmured.

    "Where's it from?" Ken asked. "What's behind it?" Schuldich gave a shake of his head. "Tell me?" Ken wheedled. "I bet you told the other Ken..."

    Schuldich laughed. "Told him?" he asked. "Ken has no interest in what goes on in this studio. This art is nothing special."

    Ken almost choked. "Nothing special??" he demanded. "Schuldich..." He waved an arm around. "Schuldich, these pieces...Don't you get it? No one else can paint like this! If I were him I think I'd probably watch you paint every day just to see what came next!"

    Schuldich cast Ken a rueful little smile. "You don't have to watch," he said. "You can tell me. I do take requests, you know."

    Ken thought about that, a smile spreading on his face. "You'd paint anything?" he asked.


    "I'll think about it!"

    "You do that. Now...dinner is ready." With that, Schuldich turned and padded out of the room.

    Ken watched him go before turning back to the painting and lifting the sheet for another peek. One of Schuldich's own...What could possibly be behind such a picture? Need and desire to know what had brought on such a picture warred with delight as he remembered Schuldich's offer. Anything he wanted...

    He lowered the sheet back into place and left the room, turning off the light as he went.

Part Four