Part One


I'm not a perfect person, there are many things I wish I didn't do
but I continue learning. I never meant to do those things to you
and so I have to say before I go, that I just want you to know

I've found a reason for me, to change who I used to be
a reason to start over new, and the reason is you

I'm sorry that I hurt you, it's something I must live with everyday
and all the pain I put you through, I wish that I could take it all away
and be the one who catches all your tears, that's why I need you to hear

I'm not a perfect person, I never meant to do those things to you
and so I have to say before I go, that I just want you to know

I've found a reason for me, to change who I used to be
a reason to start over new, and the reason is you
I've found a reason to show a side of me you didn't know
a reason for all that I do, and that reason is you

            ~~"The Reason," Hoobastank~~


      The first time I killed someone, I spent the rest of the night locked in the bathroom of my apartment.

      There were just three of us there that night: my trainer, myself, and the counselor Kritiker had thought to send along for the ride. My trainer and I did the hunting and I did the killing, and the bleached-blonde was there to tidy up the resulting emotional trauma. If I were honest I'd say that I didn't think I was going to react so poorly. Books, video games, movies…they make death seem so simple. They turn it into some little thing, and when you grow up exposed to it in the media, it kind of deadens your ability to recognize death for what it is. I'd gone on that mission expecting to succeed, expecting it to be easy. Truthfully? Yeah, it was easy. The first half hour of the job had been nerve-wracking as hell, and I'd been a little nauseous on the trip over. Everything building up to the kill itself had been terrifying and I remember crouching behind a tall stack of crates in the warehouse, wondering what the hell I was doing there.

      Killing is easier than it should be, I'll tell you that.

      My trainer- his name was Ume-something- was keeping an eye on our target. He was the decoy, chasing the man straight to where I was waiting. I remember being huddled down in that room, listening to his steady voice through my earpiece and wondering how he could be so calm. I'd watched my life crumble around me as the teachings of my early childhood haunted me. I remembered the nuns' words and the crucified Jesus hanging at the front of the church, and I'd prayed that night like I never had before. Later I wondered how I could be so ballsy as to pray for some sort of guidance and courage when I was about to kill someone.

      Help me, Lord. Tell me that I'm doing the right thing, killing someone. Tell me that it's justified in the end, because throwing my soul to damnation is worth saving the lives of so many other innocents.

      It was the same prayer for the first six months, pleading and strained as it rocketed about my head. They were the same desperate words every time, uttered just a few minutes before it was my turn to kill. I wanted to believe in what I was saying, wanted to believe that what I was doing was right. I knew when I accepted a position within Kritiker that I was going straight to hell for my work, but at that point in my life, I couldn't really give a damn. I only had my soul left to lose, and if I could trade it out to keep others from falling into the same misfortunes I had, then it was something I was willing to do. That didn't stop me from being terrified that first night. The closer the target got to where I was, the more scared I became. By the time he threw open the door and fled into the warehouse where I was hiding, I was almost positive that I was going to lock up.

      I didn't.

      I still remember the look on his face when I flew out of my spot. I've killed hundreds of people between now and then. Most of my targets blur together in my memory, but there are a few that stand out. Sometimes it's because the mission was particularly hard. Other times it's because of little details that just make the dead hard to forget. They say that no one ever forgets their first, and that applies to everything: first kiss, first love, first car, first house, first kill. The look on his face is burned into the backs of my eyelids and I spent a good part of my first year on Weiss with his horrified features where my current target's were supposed to be.

      It was quicker than I'd thought it would be, and it was much too damn easy. I had perfect timing. He didn't have time to slow or dodge, and he helped impale himself on the 8 inch blades of my glove. I remember the feel of the metal slamming through his chest, of ribs giving way under the force of our impact. I remember the sound he made, and the feel of his blood as it splattered across me. He gurgled for a few moments and then died, a dead weight attached to my hand. I stood over him, oblivious to my trainer as he approached. If he said anything to me that night, I don't remember it. I was in a daze, staring down at a man I had just killed, my glove and my shirt soaked in his blood. I'd just taken a life, and it had been simple. The fear had been for nothing. He hadn't fought. He hadn't drawn a gun. He'd just… died.

      The counselor went back with me to my apartment. She sat on my bed and I stayed in the bathroom that night, throwing my insides up into the toilet. I remember crying. I was seventeen fucking years old. I had left high school before I graduated to join the J-league and I had been one of the most popular members of the team. I'd had dreams and hopes and I'd watched my castles fall from the sky when I was framed in that drug scandal. Six months after I supposedly watched my best friend and sometime lover be dragged away and barely surviving a burning building coming down on top of my head, I'd murdered someone. Seventeen years old, and I'd destroyed what little chance I had at reclaiming a life of my own.

      The first few months at Kritiker were marked by severe up and downs. They were patient with me; I think they would have been more concerned if I had adjusted easily. They walked me through it and I saw a lot of the counselor during that time. I saw the bottom of a bottle more. They paid my rent, they gave me food, and they gave me just enough alcohol to keep me happy without turning me into an alcoholic. I had one other contact within Kritiker during that time, a man who I only knew as Bombay the first two months of our relationship. I knew him through electronic correspondence only, and I was informed that he was going to be my field leader when I was ready. Three months and ten kills after Kritiker had moved my training up to field work and "practice" assassinations, I finally met him face to face.

      I walked out on him.

      He must have been expecting such a reaction. If it offended him in any way, he never showed it. Looking back, I can say I was a total ass to him the first several times I saw him. Then again, I was an ass to Yohji and Aya, too. Guess I'm just your regular asshole, then. Manx introduced me to Bombay in her office, and I took one look at him and stormed out of there. Tsukiyono Omi was fifteen at the time and he looked four, and the thought that they expected him to be any sort of competent field leader stunned me. Any faith I'd managed to have in Kritiker was crushed when I saw him and realized that we were all just a bunch of kids. Bombay alone followed me out of that office, but I managed to get into the elevator and get it heading down to the first floor before he could get his hands between the doors to stop it.

      Someone must have forgotten to tell him that I am not a happy person in enclosed spaces. I'd hardly gone down one floor when the elevator came to a dead halt, and as I was trying to figure out what had happened, the little door on the top opened and Omi let himself inside to have a little talk. He stayed level headed the whole time, which is more than I can say for myself. I suffer from minor claustrophobia, and that combined with being assigned to some kid who was barely old enough to be in high school made me lose it. It was an unpleasant conversation. He let me say whatever I wanted and easily turned away everything I said. I don't think he was overly impressed by me. There was a smile on his lips and his voice was light, but his words were cutting. I remember taking a swing at him- and getting a foot slammed into my jaw for the effort. I ended up in the corner of the elevator and he turned the lift back on with just a few presses of some buttons. When we arrived at the first floor, I got out and he stayed in.

      It was another week before I saw him again. He showed up at my apartment with pizza, a laptop, and some folders full of files. Manx called ahead to warn me, which is a good thing because I might have shut the door in his face otherwise. Now that I know him better, I know he would have just taken the knob off my door and invited himself in regardless. Don't ever let Omi's smile fool you. If you find yourself thinking that he's just the innocent kid next door, try and remember that he was raised by Kritiker and that he was given command of a field team of assassins at fifteen. In some ways he's more jaded than the rest of us. He's better at playing the role of a normal teenage boy, and sometimes I think he fools himself as well. He's not heartless, and Kritiker failed to make him into some sort of mindless drone, but Omi's the kind of person who won't take nonsense from anyone. He gives the rest of Weiss freedom to move and act but when it comes to missions, his word is law. It took me a while to accept that about him, but these days there probably isn't anyone else I can respect and trust quite like I do him.

      It took a few months to adjust to each other, but we got our kinks worked out. As soon as I accepted that he knew what he was doing, things got much easier. And I'd say things were fun, but that's not the best way to classify assassin work. It would be a while longer before I decided I could consider Omi a friend, but we were good together. Kritiker watched us as we readjusted and then sent us out on our own. I was moved further across town, leaving my temporary apartment for another one. I was given a room above Omi's on the third floor of an eight story building called the Prima Apartments. It was two blocks down from a place that would soon become a second home for me: the Koneko no Sumu Ie. It was a modest little flower shop that Kritiker had purchased just a month prior, and Omi and I were given a crash course in how to run the place. We spent a week memorizing plants and symbolism and all other sorts of things I never thought I would ever have to know. Joining us at the shop was an old lady named Yamaguchi Momoe. She was a full-time worker when we were just starting out, though as Weiss grew, she took less and less shifts. She was a retired Kritiker counselor, so she knew what we were up to and she was there if we needed her. I'm not sure what I would have done without her those first few months as an official Weiss assassin.

      It took time but things got easier. Momoe was there, I had a real home and a steady job, and I started getting along with Omi. Yohji showed up a year later and made things rough once more, but it was easier for me to get used to him and him to us than it had been when Omi and I first met. Yohji came to us a jaded and bitter man, haunted by demons and completely different than either of us. He did his required time with us and spent the rest of his hours out drinking or sleeping around. Seeing him during the daylight hours if we didn't need him present was a rarity, but things started working out. I think Yohji's whole problem was that he was still too raw from Asuka. He was stuck in his grief and it took him a while to be pulled out of it, and he resisted getting used to us out of subconscious fear that we would up and die on him. The fact that he was older than both of us by several years didn't help, as he didn't want to take us seriously and a part of him thought we would have to be looked after. After he finally accepted that we knew what we were doing and that we could work with each other well, he started loosening up. Momoe proved she was worth her weight in gold once more by becoming a stolid companion to the heartbroken ex-detective. To a casual observer, she was just one more lonely old lady who wanted to chat. To Yohji, she was his little savior. It was slow and careful work but he started smiling again, though his sunglasses were always close by if he needed to hide his eyes from the rest of us. I never asked him why he would often wear the glasses indoors. By then I knew that being able to have a shield between yourself and the world around you was a desperate necessity.

      Aya made a larger stir when he showed up. My first impression of him was that Kritiker had made a mistake. Omi agreed with me, though he never said it to Aya's face. Omi knew better than that. Me, on the other hand? I thought he was a putz and I let him know it, and we were careful around each other. I welcomed him to the team with a fight and it took a while for us to figure out where we stood in regards to one another. Yohji saw something in Aya before the rest of us. We'd all lost something valuable, but Yohji's and Aya's tragedies were the closest in nature. The team was split down the middle: us against them, the 'kids' against the 'big people', me and Omi facing Yohji and Aya. But the lines that divided us into two halves never stayed long enough to be truly noticeable, because by then Yohji had already decided his loyalties were with Weiss, and Omi left him in charge of subtly working our newest teammate into someone we could deal with. Yohji was for Aya what Momoe had been for him, though neither of the men would admit it if their lives depended on it.

      It took a bit of work to get Weiss functional and used to the quirks of its four members, but then things were going smoothly again. And while life couldn't be considered good, as we spent our free time hunting down and killing people, it could have been much worse than it was. We had each other, and though it took us some time, we learned to rely on that companionship. We were good and we trusted each other, and having others close by made it easier to accept what we were doing and why, made it easier to deal with the nightmares that had driven us together in the first place. I remember thinking back on my first kill sometime after Aya was new to our team and realizing that somewhere along the way, I had fully accepted who I was and what I did. The first time I had killed, I had thought it had been way too easy. Every mission just made it easier. Death was death, was a fact of life, and if I was going to burn in hell for an eternity, at least Yohji had boasted one night when he was drunk that we would all burn together.

      So things were fine again.

      And then I met Schuldich.

      Men like to joke that they want a marriage that comes without the baggage: more specifically, the in-laws. If my contract to Weiss could be compared to the sacrament of matrimony in its whole loyalty and 'in death do we part' shit, then Schwarz would be the in-laws we never asked for. They showed up in Tokyo one day and were destined to face us down on the battlefield the moment we realized their alliances were to Takatori Reiji. How we survived the battles against them that crazy year, none of us knew. Ever since Estet collapsed, we hadn't seen a great deal of them. They popped up now and then across the boards and Kritiker could keep a vague eye on them, but we weren't purposefully put in the position to take them on again. Considering how all of our other battles had gone and remembering their display of power when Estet fell, none of us were interested in seeing them anytime soon. We did our thing and let them do theirs for as long as it was possible. After all, there was no point in tempting fate.

      I've since decided that Fate either has a wicked sense of humor or just doesn't give a shit about what we want from life.

October, 1998

      Fall was welcomed to Tokyo with an eager embrace. The summer had been long and unbearably muggy, and everyone was happy to see it go. The days were finally settling into more reasonable temperatures, though the season would be short lived and quickly followed by a chilly winter. Until then, Tokyo's citizens were soaking up every bit of the cool weather they could. Fashion had already shifted from brighter colors to more subdued themes, and wool hats adorned several heads in preparation for what was coming. Fur purses replaced denim and canvas, and high heeled shoes were abandoned in favor of boots. Painted nails waved through the hair in quick gestures and styled hair bobbed to and fro as the girls chitchatted happily about classes and weekend fun.

      Ken, standing in the middle of the crowd of college students, stuck out like a sore thumb.

      He did his best to ignore the high pitched squealing that flew back and forth around him, keeping his gaze pointed across the street towards the crosswalk. A pair of headphones was hooked over his ears and a wire draped down across his shirt to the pocket of his dark jeans. It was hard to hear what tune was playing, but he'd learned from experience that the volume of his little md player was nothing against the noise of Japanese girls who had something to say. He stood with his hands in his pockets, eyes half lidded as he enjoyed the cool breeze. He had been given the afternoon off today and had plans to make it over to Ikebukuro for a late lunch. There was a conveyer-style Chinese restaurant that had opened just a week ago, and the girls at the shop had highly recommended it. Ken had been waiting for his chance to try it out, and if it really was worth something, maybe he'd take the boys there sometime.

      The light turned green then and the speakers above him jangled out a ragged tune to let the pedestrians know it was safe to cross. Ken took the first opening he could get to squeeze out of the clump of girls and set a pace brisk enough to keep ahead of them. His appetite had almost been spoiled; one of them had some heavy perfume on. He made it across the street and stepped up onto the sidewalk, easily moving out of the way of a hunched over old lady who was determined to get to the other side before the crosswalk turned red. He abandoned the early afternoon sun in favor of the cooler press of the air conditioned station and dug his wallet out of his pocket on his way over to the ticket counter.

      The shortest line was behind a tall man with long dark brown hair, so Ken stole a spot there. He shook some change out into his palm, making a mental note to get a new train pass on payday, and tilted his head back to study the subway map. It would be a short trip there; there were just two transfers but it was close by. He memorized the station names and the ticket cost, thumb moving idly over the coins in his hand. The man in front of him finished and turned around to leave, and Ken's gaze dropped instinctively to the other's face as he took a half-step back to make room.

      Ken's heart froze in his chest, and teal blue eyes flew open wide.

      Before he could say anything, the man was gone, slipping past him off into the crowd. Ken gaped after him until the woman behind him shoved past him to buy a ticket. The jolt knocked Ken out of his startled reverie. He took back his place in line and switched his bewildered gaze to the coins in his palm while the older lady took care of her ticket. As soon as she was gone, numb fingers pushed his change into the machine. As it processed his ticket he found himself glancing back, searching for a sign of the dark haired man that had been ahead of him.

      Had he been seeing things…?

      That had to be it. He snagged his ticket from the machine and wove through the crowd to find his platform. He had just been caught off guard, that was all. Foreigners looked the same; he hadn't seen enough of them to really start telling the difference. Besides, Schwarz's telepath had orange hair, not brown.

      But Jesus, that face and that expression screamed Schuldich. If it wasn't for the hair, Ken would have bet his next paycheck that that had been the bastard telepath. He sent another hurried glance around before starting down the stairs for his platform. One hand was clenched around his ticket and the other patted his pocket for his cell phone. He wished then that he was like Omi or Yohji, who could easily carry their weapons around in the middle of the day. Even Aya carried around a boot knife. He flexed his fingers as he found a spot to wait for his train, willing himself to relax. So he'd bumped into a foreigner that looked like someone he knew. That was all right. It hadn't been Schuldich. The man hadn't been amused to see Ken specifically; he had been amused by a Japanese person's reaction to his piercing blue eyes and foreign nationality. He was probably just a tourist or something. He certainly wasn't a businessmen, not with that dark blue shirt and those jeans with the fashionable rips down the front. Tourist, most likely- Tokyo was full of foreigners on vacation.

      Either way, that had been incredibly unsettling. Ken looked around the platform to see if the stranger was around, though there was nothing that said he was getting on the same line. There were a few foreigners in the crowd but not the one he was looking for, and he was saved from further speculation when his train arrived. It was packed like a can of sardines but most of the crowd got off, and he stood off to the side to wait on the car to finish emptying. As soon as he could he stepped in and wormed his way towards the back of the car, helped along by the impatient passengers at his back. He managed to get squished into the corner and wriggled until he could get his hand down to his pocket to stuff his ticket safely inside. The train's door alarm jangled and then there was the hiss of them sliding shut, and after a few more moments, the train lurched and started off. Ken watched the crowd around him sway and a woman rocked into him, offering her a faint smile in answer to her "Excuse me". He disliked having to get on at this station, as the trains were always crowded. It made him uptight, being smashed into such a tiny space, and he missed his bike something fierce. There was no breathing room in here and it grated against his claustrophobia, so he only rode the trains when he absolutely had to. The station closest to the flower shop was much better, but he'd had to get his bike checked out and the best shop was out here.

      He tilted his head back against the cool wall behind him and closed his eyes against the crowd, trying to hear his music over the noise of the train rushing through the subway. He had to will himself not to think about how stuffed it was and how many people were pressing up against him. There was another lurch as they reached the next stop and Ken could feel the crowd shifting without having to open his eyes. He had seven stops left to go and he was pretty sure the train would be mostly empty by the time they reached his station, but it wasn't emptying fast enough. Some men got on talking, and Ken reached down to find the volume for his md player. His hand had just brushed the button when someone plucked his headphones off his head. Ken's eyes flew open, startled, and he went rigid when he saw who was standing right in front of him. Not even 'right in front of him', but practically on top of him because of the crowd.

      It was that brown-haired foreigner again, and it had to be Schuldich. Ken had managed only a glimpse of him before, but up close… It couldn't be anyone else. Despite the hair color, that face, that expression, that was 100% Schwarz bastard material.

      Schuldich's smirk was slow when he took in the way Ken tensed and he lifted the headphones to his own head, holding them by his ear so he could hear. Ken reached up and snatched them back, nearly crushing them in his hands as he stared up at the taller man. Schuldich had the advantage of half a head on him, but Ken had never really noticed the height difference until now.

      "Schwarz," he said. "What are you doing here?"

      "Riding the train," Schuldich answered, lifting his hands to prop them on the wall to either side of Ken's head. The athlete tried to lean back, but there was nowhere to go. There was just a breath of space between them but there was nowhere for Schuldich to move, either, not with such a thick crowd at his back. "Funny coincidence, isn't it? And here you thought they only let law-abiding citizens use the subways. Then again, you're not so clean yourself."

      "Get out of my face."

      The telepath's smile was lazy. "Make me," he invited, and gave a flick of his fingers to indicate the businessmen laughing behind him. He relaxed against the wall once more, and it just brought them closer together. Their chests brushed and Ken could feel the air being squished out of him. He closed his eyes against the taller man, fingernails digging lines in his palms as he struggled to breathe and fought not to panic.

      "You're too close," he managed to get out. He hated saying it, but it was that or sit here and panic when it got to be too much. "Back off."

      "Oh? Is the slice-and-dicer claustrophobic?" There was surprise and amusement in those words, and Ken clenched his teeth against the mockery he was sure to come. To his surprise, though, there was just the smallest breeze and the pressure against him vanished. He opened his eyes again warily and found that Schuldich had forced the businessmen to move. They were glancing at him as he straightened and pushed back, but when they saw his nationality and the sharp smile on his lips, they decided not to question it. Instead they managed to make themselves more room by squishing those on their other side, and they exchanged a few rude words about Schuldich before returning to their conversation. The telepath feigned not to understand them and turned back to Ken.

      Ken eyed him in silence for a long moment and then offered up a reluctant "Thanks."

      Schuldich's blue eyes were dancing, mocking him. "Mental disorders are rarely amusing," he said, and Ken gave him a dirty look for that. The German ignored that and glanced towards the subway map hanging above the doors. The move caused some of his thick brown hair to spill over his shoulder, and Ken frowned at it.

      "What happened to the orange?" he wanted to know, though he didn't know if Schuldich would answer him.

      Schuldich pulled a hand back from the wall and lifted some of the stray locks, eyeing it. "You didn't think it was natural, did you?" he asked, arching an eyebrow at Ken. "I would love to see the messed up genetics behind that."

      "Take a blood sample," Ken muttered in response, and that got a grin. He gave Schuldich a suspicious look, wondering about the lack of death threats and violence. Granted, they were on a crowded subway, but the German had sought him out. They hadn't been on the first car at the beginning of the ride.

      "You were looking for me," Schuldich answered, and it took Ken a moment to realize the telepath was answering his thoughts. It was unnerving, and he scowled up at the foreigner. "Be careful what you wish for. People who want magic usually find it in the form of monsters under their bed."

      "How poetic."

      "Of course. I was Edgar Allan Poe in a past life, you know."


      Schuldich just looked at him as if trying to figure out whether or not he was joking. It only took him a moment to realize that Ken honestly had no clue who he was referring to. "Well," he said, arching an eyebrow at the shorter assassin, "that pretty much sums up Japanese educational standards." Ken frowned at him, confused, and made a mental note to ask Aya. The redhead was always reading stuff; maybe he'd know. Schuldich shook his head and Ken wondered if it was in response to that clueless thought. He offered the other man a rude gesture and wondered if he could just put his headphones on and ignore Schuldich.

      Two thousand yen says I can talk over your music and the subway noise.

      "Now that I've confirmed it's you, can you go the fuck away?" Ken wanted to know. "I've been lucky enough to never run into you on the subway before. Tell me why you had to pick today to ride my line and bother me."

      "I'm riding your line?" Schuldich asked, and it took Ken a moment to catch the amused innuendo in the words. He gave the German a dirty look and half turned away from him. Schuldich laughed, a quiet sound near his ear. Turning turned out to be a mistake, as the train had just reached the next station. Ken uttered up mental obscenities against the driver as he went stumbling right into the telepath. His weight against the German sent Schuldich back a half-step, but the crush of the crowd cushioned them both. Schuldich caught Ken's arms as the stumble pushed them back to chest, and Ken's headphones slipped from his hands. His first thought was to snatch them up before the boarding passengers could step on them, and he lost his window of opportunity to put distance between himself and the annoying telepath. When he straightened again, he was pressed firmly up against the taller man. The crowd that had gotten on was packed so tightly to his front that he couldn't lift his arms from his sides.

      The train started once more and Schuldich snagged the loops of his jeans when Ken stumbled again, pulling him back before he could trod all over the middle-school student to his left. He found his footing and planted his feet against the ground as best he could, light eyes roving over the crowd as he realized he was mashed in on all sides. His stomach gave a queasy lurch and he closed his eyes against them, taking a deep breath to calm himself. The breath didn't help; as his chest expanded on the inhale, he just brushed against both Schuldich and the man in front of him. He grit his teeth and forced his hands up through the crowd, offering an apology to those around him as he did so, and planted his headphones roughly on his head.

      You're not going to start panicking on me, are you?

      Shut up. You're messing up my beach meditation.

      Schuldich laughed; he felt the German's breath against his ear. Distractions are just distractions, the telepath informed him. Mind over matter, they say, but that's for the gifted. Can your mental pictures convince you that you're not really squished in between lots of people, tucked inside a metal car, and shooting through a tunnel beneath the earth's surface?

      Schuldich, fuck you. Die a slow and painful death.

      Not on a train. Beach. Beach, with empty sands and lots of room to breathe, not packed so tightly that elbows were digging into him. Beach. Cloudless sky and salty waves. Beach beach beach.

      Schuldich's hands settled on his hips, effectively fracturing his desperate concentration, and the train took a turn at that moment to send him flying back against the German. The man in front of him came falling back against him, effectively squishing him between them, and Ken felt his frayed grip on sanity crack. He was saved from completely humiliating himself when Schuldich's hand clamped down over his mouth and caught his strangled, desperate cry, but the telepath couldn't stop Ken's instinctive thrash. Schuldich's fingers tightened on his hip, keeping him close, and they were pushed tight enough together that his ear was pressed against Schuldich's jaw line.

      Beach, remember? Schuldich sent at him, and Ken felt everything give out beneath his feet, replaced by thick sand and an abandoned coastline. He could still feel the heat of the German's hand on his mouth and felt more than heard the sound in his throat as his mind and body warred against the illusion Schuldich was forcing him into. His hand found Schuldich's on his hip and his fingernails dug in, and he could hear his harsh breathing echoing in his ears.

      Beach. Sea shells. Count the sea shells, one two three…

      The train came to another jarring stop and Ken was being shoved forward. His first thought was to push back, but then his brain registered that the space in front of him was empty. His eyes snapped open and he lunged through the crowd to stumble out onto the platform. He didn't stop moving until he reached the wall and he planted both hands against it, bending over and bowing his head as he sucked in deep, shaky breaths. He didn't realize Schuldich had followed him until the German spoke up.

      "You know, that's what buses are for," the telepath pointed out.

      "Shut up." The train was jingling to announce its imminent departure and he twisted enough to peer under his arm at it as the doors closed and it left. "Ah, fuck."

      "Yeah," Schuldich agreed, eyeing his hand. "You're welcome."

      "Fuck you," Ken snapped back. "You made it worse."

      That earned him a smirk. "If not me, just some other yuppie. Go home and trim your claws, kitten." The athlete caught a glimpse of pale lines and dark half-moon marks as Schuldich moved his hands to his pockets, but he didn't feel a bit sorry for the bastard. He'd been quite happy to meditate on his empty piece of land when Schuldich had disrupted everything, first with his words, and then with his touch. Schuldich just gave a shake of his head and turned around, intending on going back to the platform to wait on the next train. "Now, if you're done hyperventilating, I've got better places to be."

      So he's not following me, Ken mused. It made him feel a little better.

      Schuldich laughed, looking back over his shoulder at the other man. "Disappointed that my world doesn't revolve around you?" he inquired, arching a thin brow at the younger assassin. "I don't give two shits about where you're going. I'm just trying to find some food."

      "Oh," Ken said, and he wasn't really sure why he tacked a "Me too" on the end. He hesitated after that left his mouth and then slowly straightened, turning to face the telepath. Schuldich's second brow joined the first and his grin was amused, and he half-turned back towards Ken. The words hadn't been conversational, but Ken wasn't really sure of the reasons behind them. The encounter had been amazingly civil so far and Ken knew he shouldn't press his luck. He didn't like the telepath one bit. He was a nuisance every time Weiss and Schwarz crossed paths and Ken should be on his phone already, warning his teammates of a Schwarz sighting. Instead he's practically just invited Schuldich to come along for lunch. Maybe it was obligation, because bastard or not, Schuldich had still been smart enough to get him off the train- and make room for him the first time he started getting uptight.

      Schuldich studied him in silence for a long moment and Ken wondered what was going on behind those bright blue eyes and amused smirk. At last he gave a quiet laugh and his expression turned sly. With a shake of his head that tossed his dark hair everywhere, he answered, "Maybe next time, Hidaka. Go take the bus, and don't stare at my ass as I walk away."

      "W-what??" Ken choked.

      Schuldich had already turned away and was moving back towards the tracks. Ken stared at his back, confused and a little angry that the telepath had dug deep enough in his head to know that. Then again, Schwarz had been proven to have vague connections with Kase's ring, so the German could have found out way back then, but… He realized his eyes had instinctively flicked down to check Schuldich out when he heard Schuldich laughing. Fucking bastard, he sent at the telepath. Why don't you do the world a favor and dance on the tracks for a few minutes? I want to see who would win in a game of bumper cars between you and the next train.

      My, we're spiteful. Schuldich sounded entertained. He glanced back over his shoulder to send Ken a wolfish grin, and the Japanese man flicked him a rude gesture and a dirty look before storming towards the stairs. He took them three at a time with Schuldich's laughter ringing in his ears and was still scowling when he left the station. Some of his irritation faded when he reached the top step of the station exit and was finally aboveground again, and he stood in the middle of the sidewalk for a few moments to will himself to relax and breathe. Just the thought of going back down into the subway again made his skin crawl.

      Never again, he told himself sternly. Saving time is definitely not worth that.

      Not worth the crush, and not worth bumping into Schuldich again. He rubbed at his arms to comfort himself that he was free of the train and finally started off in search of the nearest bus stop.

Part Two
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