Part Two

      Ken stopped by his apartment to drop his bags off and continued on to the Koneko no Sumu Ie, figuring he could help the other three out with the closing shift. It didn't need all four people to do, but it would be a good time to tell them about Schuldich. Besides, he had nothing better to do. He'd eaten, window-shopped, bought some long-sleeved shirts for the upcoming fall season, and then stopped by the bike shop to hear he couldn't pick his precious motorcycle up for another five days. He was either going to spend a lot of time around his apartment or he was going to memorize the bus schedules, because there was no way in hell he was going to take the subway again after today. Hours later, it took just the memory of being flattened between all of those bodies to send a shudder down his spine.

      But on top of that memory, there was Schuldich. Not just Schuldich of Schwarz… A Schuldich who had actually helped him out today, albeit in a rather careless fashion. A Schuldich with brown hair and no violence who had been more teasing than malicious.

      So that's what he's like outside of the job, Ken mused, and he was surprised to find the thought disappointed him. If he looked back on the encounter and told himself it wasn't Schuldich, the man's behavior had reminded him a little of Yohji. He hadn't been cruel today, and Ken regretted that their jobs had to show him the worse side of the telepath. Then again, he corrected himself briskly, maybe he's just drunk or having a really good day today. Or acting. There's nothing saying that he's like this all the time, and there's no point in thinking about it when you're not going to see him again. Today was a fluke; next time we'll be facing each other on the field and Yohji seems to favor fighting Schuldich. He's not worth thinking about.

      And then, unbidden: Nice ass, though.

      "Oh, Christ," he muttered.

      That was somewhere his thoughts did not need to go. Stupid asshole German. Ken pushed the thoughts aside forcefully and rammed his hands in his pockets. It wasn't Schuldich's business who Ken had dated in the past. Three on Ken's soccer team had been interested in him, but it had been Kase that had gotten the goalie in his bed. After that, there had been a few random guys and girls, including Yuriko. Ken never went looking for a bed partner, but he didn't turn down one that was offered unless the person was repulsive. Their gender didn't matter. Sex was sex, was pleasure and a release, and he'd take it from anyone that was willing. It was a nice way to distract himself from everything else in his life, though his whole "Come to me because I won't go to you" policy meant that he didn't get laid often. Ken didn't particularly care if people knew his sleeping habits, though he certainly didn't share this little tidbit of knowledge with anyone, as long as he wasn't mocked about it. It was good that he'd come to terms with his lifestyle years ago, considering Kritiker had told his teammates. Their reasoning had been something about preserving group harmony, deciding that the three should know beforehand rather than finding out later in some tricky fashion and feeling betrayed or stunned by it.

      Schuldich wasn't mocking me, a small part of his mind pointed out. He just sounded amused. As usual.

      Who'd want to stare at your ass anyway, you freak? he demanded, wishing that Schuldich was in hearing range to catch the thought.

      Maybe it wasn't a taunt. Maybe it was just a return on the invitation, only a few steps up from yours.

      And I care…why? This is Schuldich, after all. Schwarz. Telepath. Pest. He can lick my shoe if he ever thinks he'd get anything from me. Feh. He nodded once, satisfied with the outcome of the mental debate, but he couldn't help but think how different the German looked with brown hair. So that's how he really looks… Not bad at all. Too bad he's such a prick.

      He reached the shop just as Yohji was shooing the last girls out and returned their eager greetings with a smile and some vague comments about the weather. Yohji vanished back through the door and Ken got away as soon as he could to join his teammates inside. Omi looked up from the register as he entered and smiled. "Ken, welcome back," he greeted. "How's your bike?"

      "No good," Ken answered with a grimace. He locked the door, waggled his fingers at the lingering girls, and flipped the sign to closed. "They have to keep it for several days. I'm going to have to make friends with the public transportation system in the meantime. Where can I help at?" he wanted to know, glancing around. Aya was clearing the pots to the back of the shop and Yohji was sweeping. Omi looked up to check on the other two and Ken offered "I'll get the counters, I guess."

      "You know, if he's bored enough to volunteer for work, he can cover the rest of my shift," Yohji suggested.

      "You wish, Yohji." Ken found the cleaning materials in one of the back cabinets and started at the counters near the register. When Yohji turned to say something to Aya, Ken took advantage of the distraction to catch Omi's attention. "I need to file a report with you later," he told the younger man.

      Omi's cheerful expression never changed, but Ken knew it was Bombay that processed those words and accepted them with a nod, not Tsukiyono Omi. "Of course," was the easy response, and Omi went right back to work. Ken turned to the counter, but even as his hands were working, his thoughts were straying back to the afternoon encounter with the telepath. It was hard to not think about it. It had been a while since any of them had been that close to Schwarz and then there was… the other things about it. Like fingers hooked through his belt loops and hands on his hips. Breath against his throat when they were pressed together and the pressure of two bodies touching when the German had first pinned him against the wall. Fucking bizarre; Ken was confused as all hell as to how to interpret any of that- and then he told himself he had no place trying to find meaning for it. It was a back and forth mental tug-o-war that kept him occupied

      He made a mental note to go out that night to a bar and hope to get lucky. Apparently it had been too long since the last time he'd gotten anything if he was trying to read into Schuldich's actions.

      That decided, he did his best to stuff the day far from mind and focused on his cleaning. With the four of them working, it only took twenty minutes to get the shop sparkling clean. Yohji tore out of there to see who he could woo. Aya was just a few moments longer in tying up his apron in the back and Ken suddenly remembered what Schuldich had said earlier.

      "Aya…?" Aya glanced back at his name, and Ken felt his mouth curve into a slight, confused frown. "Do you know Edgar Allan Poe?"

      "He was an author," Aya answered easily.

      "He wrote poems?"

      "Several." The redhead turned back to his apron, securing it in its place.

      "Interested in poetry?" Omi wanted to know, pausing beside Ken with his apron draped over his arm. Aya moved out of the way but didn't leave yet, lingering in case Ken had anything else to say about the matter. Omi took Aya's place by the closet, reaching in to hang his up. He spared a moment to check the contents of the little alcove, making sure everything was in its place.

      Ken shrugged, though only Aya could see it. "Someone mentioned him on the train earlier."

      Omi closed the closet door and leaned against it for a moment, arching an eyebrow at Ken in incredulous disbelief. "What were you doing on a train?" he asked.

      Ken made a face. "I ride the subway from our station now and then," he said. "Not often, but I do it. It's been a year now since I was stupid enough to get on at Tokyo Station, though…."

      "Should we check the headlines tonight?" Omi asked. "'Claustrophobic florist snaps on train: kills fifty'?"

      "I'm glad you think so highly of my homicidal skills," Ken said dryly, "but I don't carry my bugnuks with me everywhere. I would have only gotten twenty before they decided to clear a path to the door." Aya gave a quiet, amused snort at that and Omi just shook his head. Ken waved a hand at them both. "I actually made it three stops before I had to get off," he said, though it was a silly thing to boast about. "For the rest of the week I'll be taking the bus like a smart little mental patient."

      Omi grinned at that, and the three left the shop. Aya was off to wherever it was the redhead frequented and Ken and Omi headed down the street to one of the nearest food stops. Ken glanced over his shoulder once at Aya's retreating figure, wondering where he was heading. For the first two weeks each of Weiss was part of the unit, they had been followed around by agents. Kritiker wanted to get an idea of who they were and what they liked, so they catalogued the places they visited when they abandoned the shop and their brand new team. Ken knew because Omi had told him years after the fact. Whether or not the other two had noticed their shadows, the younger half didn't know. It was kind of strange to think just how much Kritiker knew about them. Ken couldn't even begin to imagine, especially with Omi making regular reports back to the organization, mission or no mission. He never asked and Omi would never tell what was said in those files. Once upon a time he'd felt it an invasion of his privacy. These days he couldn't be bothered to care, and he calmed himself by the simple fact that he trusted Omi as both a friend and Weiss's leader. He trusted Omi to know what was best for him and their unit, and if that meant that some things would or wouldn't be sent back to Kritiker as noteworthy, then so be it. It had been a very bumpy road to get to this point and level of trust, but they'd finally reached it and he was glad.

      They took their time at the sushi place, debating on what to order. The meal was taken to go and Ken carried the bag as they made their way back to the apartments. When something happened that affected the unit as a whole, all of Weiss reported back to Omi, who would then decide what to do about it. It went through Omi before it was broadcast to the group. If it was something that happened to the assassins as individuals, it was their decision to make whether to keep it private or share with someone else. Ken had a feeling a lot of Yohji's and Aya's problems were kept sealed up, and Ken knew that some of his own issues never left his head, but he was still the most vocal of the group. He and Omi met once or twice a week to hang out and eat dinner, alternating apartments and getting takeout from one of the nearby restaurants. They'd talk about anything just for the sake of talking, for the sake of a companionship they couldn't really find anywhere else, even at the Koneko. Things had to be guarded everywhere they went, even at their own flower shop. Even if there weren't customers, some things were just better said without all four present. Here, with dinner and just their most trusted partner, they could weave life, dreams, and work together in one easy flow.

      Ken decided not to share his opinion of Schuldich's ass with Omi, though. The younger man would not be happy, and out of everyone in Ken's life, Omi was the one he wanted to piss off the least. It wasn't because Omi was his closest friend, though that was a good reason for it. A pissed off Omi was fucking scary, and Ken was really glad he'd only seen it once. He'd seen Omi aggravated, hurt, annoyed, frayed… Those, he could handle. It was the fury that made him want to run and hide. While making a comment that Schwarz's telepath was actually very nice to look at might not put Ken on the list of people Omi needed to completely and utterly destroy, it wasn't something Omi would appreciate hearing.

      Omi got the door open with a twist of his key and the knob and Ken followed him inside, toeing off his shoes and nudging them to one side. Ken went ahead to Omi's small sofa and the shorter man stopped for just a moment to grab paper plates and napkins from his walk-by kitchen. They ate together and Ken told Omi about his encounter with Schuldich, leaving out only the touches and invitations. There wasn't a point in being vague, because Omi would just ask him for clarifications, so he gave every detail he could. Omi listened without interruption, watching Ken carefully as he chewed away at his sushi. Ken covered everything from the brown hair to the poetry reference to Schuldich shoving him off the train when he was freaking out. When he was done he helped himself to his own plate of sushi and let Omi think it over.

      "Strange," Omi decided at last, "but it fits his behavioral patterns."

      Ken tilted his head to one side, curious. "How's that?" he wanted to know.

      "The lack of threats," Omi answered. "The lack of violence. Kritiker's analysts made a list of Schwarz from most dangerous to least. Schuldich ranks third. Farfarello and Nagi are obvious, and although Crawford can see the future, reviews of missions show that it is limited and not exactly a sure thing. The only reason Schuldich ranks as more dangerous than Crawford is because of his gift. But those two are always argued about by the panel." He set his plate on top of the empty sushi container and leaned back, lacing his fingers together in his lap and studying them. Ken listened avidly. Sometimes he forgot just how in Omi was with Kritiker, forgot about the meetings he went to and the time he'd spent with them. The rest of Weiss knew almost nothing about how Kritiker worked or what they did with all of the information sent their way. Now and then Omi would say something to Ken about Kritiker and it made him happy- both because he was learning about their employer and because he knew Omi told him out of trust. Ken never shared any of it with Yohji and Aya.

      "Schuldich is labeled as dangerous because he is a telepath. We've all experienced his gift at one point or another, but only enough that Kritiker can draw assumptions without conclusive results. It seems to us that his gift is more of an annoyance, a benign sort of power. He can read our thoughts, which is a security issue, but his gift has failings. Look at Sakura and Aya-chan," he pointed out. "He didn't hear her planning the exchange of bodies by the sea and Crawford didn't see it coming. And when Estet's Elders landed in Japan and Schuldich turned Sakura on Aya, he could force her to do it but he couldn't make her want to. Some say he succeeded because she is weak-willed. Others say that it could happen to anyone. Right now the majority of the analysts label Schuldich as more of a pest than a threat."

      Ken gave a disbelieving snort at that. "I can see him ranking lower than a psychopath and a boy who can flatten buildings, but he is a threat. He's an assassin."

      "He's an assassin who hasn't killed," Omi pointed out, and there was a curious edge to his voice. Ken turned a blank look on him and Omi looked up from his hands to consider his friend. "Videos and reports show us that Schuldich carries a gun. We've all seen it up close. Sakura was using it against Aya. Schuldich was using it to shoot at us and keep us back when he had Ouka kidnapped." There was the briefest twitch at the youth's mouth at the mention of the murdered girl, but Omi continued. "He doesn't have horrendous aim, Ken. He was purposefully shooting the ground by our feet. In all of our missions against Schwarz and even in the few tapes we secured from Schwarz's victims, there is not one instance of him killing. He fights us with his fists, Ken. Your bugnuks, my darts, Aya's sword, and Yohji's wire- against his bare hands. In close range fights, the gun always wins, but he has only drawn it against us once and that was to fire at the dirt."

      "He likes playing with us," Ken offered up, but he was searching his memories intently. Was that really the truth, what Omi as saying? Come to think of it…

      "He does. Therefore he is a pest. Out of all of Schwarz, he is the one I think we'd be most lucky to run into on the street. There's nothing we know now that he couldn't have learned already, so while it's an invasion of privacy, it's not really a security breach anymore. The most he could do is find out about upcoming missions, but Kritiker has reason to believe Schwarz is kept busy these days, so the chances of them taking the time out to arrange a meeting with us is highly unlikely."

      Ken thought that over for a long moment. "A pest," he murmured at last. Omi just hmm-ed, and Ken studied him. "Your opinion?"

      Omi shrugged and tilted his head back to contemplate the ceiling. It had been many months since Ouka had died and the youth's adjustment to and acceptance of her death had been harsh. It had been a relationship Kritiker hadn't approved of. Ken didn't know until a few months after she'd died that Omi had been told to keep away from her if at all possible, and the support the Bombay had received from them in the wake of her death had been absolutely nonexistent. Her death had triggered Takatori to hunt them down and had thrown Kritiker's careful watching and planning for his murder out of whack. Caution had been thrown to the wind, some drastic measures were made, and they had paid for it. Tokyo had lost their chief of police and Kritiker had lost the head of their Tokyo division: Takatori Shuuichi. In a very short time Omi had learned Persia was his uncle, discovered Ouka was related to him by blood, and then lost both. Omi didn't talk about it a lot; he'd taken the hot ball of guilt and grief and buried it deep. Ken had caught a glimpse of it once and he worried about what it was doing to the younger man, but he couldn't force Omi to talk about it.

      Omi finally gave a sigh. "He screwed things up," he said, sounding tired, "but he's not the one that killed her. I'd rather see Farfarello dead, both for personal reasons and for what it would mean for Weiss."

      Ken reached over and gave Omi's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. He received a small smile in response for it, and then Omi gathered up the empty trash and carried it over to sort at his bags. "Any big plans for the night?" he asked.

      Ken lifted one shoulder in a shrug, though Omi couldn't see it. "Maybe hitting a few bars," he said. "Mourning the loss of my bike, and all."

      Omi laughed at that. "If you stay out so late that you need a ride back, let me know and I'll wake Aya up to go fetch you."

      "Oh, dear God, no." Ken grinned and pushed himself up from the couch. "I'm not suicidal enough to stay out that late. Aya wouldn't say anything to you for being woken up, but he'd sure as hell let me know how pissed he was to have to play chauffeur. I'll have my watch on and I don't think I'll be going far enough that I'll need a ride back."

      "All right, then." Omi nodded and followed Ken to the door. Ken waved in farewell and started towards the stairs to go up a floor, hands in his pockets as he turned the conversation over in his head. Something about it bothered him, but he wasn't sure what. Hearing Kritiker's opinion of the German was a surprise- what it was made it harder to swallow. He could see easily how Schuldich fell in the threat rankings when there was Farfarello and Nagi to consider, but to write him off as just a nuisance?

      He's never killed? Well, that can't be proved. Kritiker can't see everything Schwarz does. But then, they know a lot more about the group than they tell us. But still!

      He looked down at his hands, studying the lines on his palms that had been filled with blood too many times to count.

      If he has killed… he's killed less people than I have. And if he hasn't killed…

      Does that make me a worse person than him? How can I judge myself against him? Am I still right even though I kill, because I'm killing to protect the innocents? Or does Weiss go too far? No… We kill because it's impossible to put these men behind bars. Their reputations, their lawyers, their money… If we tried to do things the lawful way, we'd be buried in paperwork and return lawsuits. We're given our targets specifically because Kritiker couldn't find any other way to take care of them.

      Ken had no clue what to think about all of this. The only thing that seemed to stick was that Kritiker didn't think Schuldich was a serious threat. It was a thought that followed him throughout the rest of the day and all of the next week. He toyed with the thought of a "harmless" Schuldich often throughout each day, though he couldn't explain why he was so obsessed over it. When he was finally able to get his bike back several days later, he climbed off the bus in front of Tokyo station and stood on the sidewalk for several minutes, hands shoved in his pockets as he studied the enormous building. At last he shook his head, telling himself to get over it, and turned around to find the crosswalk.

      There was someone right there when he turned and he took a quick step back. He was halfway through "Excuse me" when he trailed off to stare up at the man standing in front of him. Schuldich had a black bandanna wrapped around his head and wore a black sleeveless shirt under a larger black and white button one. A black rosary was around his neck and Ken recognized it as one of the new fashion trends. The jeans were the same as the last time, and Ken needed a moment to register that it really was Schwarz's telepath. Why the hell would the German go around in green jackets and other such nonsense for jobs when he could walk around looking like this? Jesus.

      Schuldich sounded amused. "I'm flattered, really, but my face is up here."

      Ken drew his eyes up from the tight black shirt to meet Schuldich's gaze. "I didn't think you had a sense of fashion," he admitted.

      Schuldich shrugged. "Nothing annoys a rich client more than a loud foreigner in really ugly clothes," he said. "Besides, why get the good ones dirty?"

      "Mm," was Ken's answer, but he only half heard the question. Teal eyes bounced up to the German's bandanna and trailed down the dark locks peeking out from underneath it. The wind had obviously been playing with the strands; there were a few pieces stuck to Schuldich's face and the rest curled around his neck, spilling down his chest and back. It was just all so fascinating, to see such a different look to the man. And considering the talk he'd had with Omi several days ago, it made this meeting even more important. Ken was still a little troubled by what Omi had had to say, but there was something almost… He wasn't sure. Could Kritiker really afford to write the telepath off in such a way? Were they right?

      "Can I talk to you?" The question was out of his mouth the moment it formed in his head, something he'd wanted this entire past week but not something he thought he'd be stupid enough to voice. He had established long ago that time spent around Schuldich was bad. It didn't matter that their last meeting had been civil. It didn't matter that Omi and Kritiker considered Schuldich harmless. Schuldich was bad.

      But just how bad?

      Schuldich's brows rose. "Feeling bold today?"

      "Curious," Ken answered, figuring honesty was best. "I don't want to fight. I just want to talk. Where are you going?"

      "To find something to eat."


      Schuldich laughed at that, and Ken felt stupid the moment he realized what he said. Schuldich's smirk curved into a grin that showed his white teeth and his blue gaze was thoroughly amused. "Yes, again. Some of us eat more than once a week. Is my gluttony finally showing around my waistline?" he drawled, and Ken glanced down at the tight shirt once more before resolutely fixing his eyes on Schuldich's face again. "You're here for your bike. Fetch it and go home, Weiss."

      "There's a Chinese place," Ken suggested. "I went to it the last time we bumped into each other. A girl from the shop said it was good and it wasn't half bad. I just figured it's dinner time and all and… I don't know, I just…" He trailed off and wanted to kick himself. He sounded so completely stupid. It wasn't like he should risk himself with Schuldich, no matter what Kritiker's official opinion was. This was retarded.

      "You suck at this, you know," Schuldich informed Ken. At the athlete's blank look, a smirk flitted across Schuldich's face. The German took a step around him, their arms brushing as he passed. "This courting thing."

      "Fuck you," Ken sent back, not bothering to turn and face him. Schuldich just laughed and Ken stuffed his hands deeper in his pockets. "You're the last person I'd want to court. Go take the fucking train and leave me alone."

      "Are you paying?"

      Ken looked over his shoulder at that, startled. "…What?"

      Schuldich's smirk was lazy; his blue eyes were half-lidded. His own hands were in his pockets now, and it forced the white over shirt to hang back from his sides. The shirt was only buttoned once near his collarbone, and the way he was standing showed easily how the black shirt clung to his skin. Ken reminded himself that Schuldich's head was quite a bit higher off the ground than his abdomen and readjusted his gaze to Schuldich's face. He had the distinct feeling that he was being mocked and that Schuldich was having a grand time playing around with him. What else was new?

      The theme, Ken told himself. Sparring with Schuldich was quite a bit different when it was this the man was playing with. Whether or not the German was actually serious didn't really matter. All that mattered was that Schuldich was doing this because he knew he'd get a reaction, and Ken wasn't sure if he wanted to hit him or reach out and touch him. The second thought made him want to hit himself. Stupid. Very stupid.

      "Are you paying?" Schuldich repeated patiently.

      Ken considered that. "For dinner?" Schuldich didn't answer, and Ken thought about the offer. Common sense told him to just walk away, to pick up his bike and go home. He lingered for a minute, wavering between intrigue and instinct. Schuldich said nothing else. He didn't leave and his expression never wavered. He just waited, and when Ken made up his mind at last and turned to face him fully, his smirk widened slightly. "Yeah," Ken said. "Whatever. Just got paid, and all. But, uh… Can we take the bus?"

      Schuldich gave a quiet snort at that. "You think I'm stupid enough to get on a train with you ever again?" he asked, and Ken scowled at him. They moved together to find the right bus stop and stood side by side in line. Neither spoke and the bus came within a few minutes. Schuldich got on first and Ken ended up pressed against him when everyone was crowded on. He held onto the bar at his side and closed his eyes against the crowd, telling himself that it was okay and that it was definitely much better than being on a train. The bus started and he swayed backwards slightly, feeling the telepath's unyielding chest behind him, and experienced a brief moment of fear. How stupid was he, really, to be dragging Schwarz's loud assassin with him to dinner? It would be too easy for the foreigner to kill him. Ken had nothing to use as weapons. He could see the carving on his headstone now: "Here lies Hidaka Ken. Stupidity killed him."

      There was a quiet laugh behind him. He felt breath over his neck more than he actually heard the sound, and there was a light tugging at Ken's belt loop. Fingernails scratched lightly across denim, tracing a few inches of the hem of Ken's pants, before Schuldich's hand fell free. The touch effectively killed Ken's train of thought and his fingers tightened around the pole before he could make them loosen again.

      You worry too much, Schuldich told him. You at least have to live long enough to pay the bill, after all.

      That's some reassurance, Ken sent back, but for some reason, he felt better.

      It took them fifteen minutes to reach their stop and Ken led Schuldich towards the restaurant. They were seated immediately at the counter and ordered some beers to start off with. Ken watched the food drift by in front of him, wondering what happened now. He'd finally bumped into Schuldich again after that strange conversation and he'd managed to get the German to come with him so he could try and figure it out. So where exactly was he supposed to start?

      'That conversation', Schuldich mused. Must have been important.

      Don't you know?

      Haven't I dug it out of your mind already, you mean?

      Well, yeah.

      Do you want me to?

      Ken thought about that, looking up as the waitress returned with their drinks. He glanced sideways at Schuldich. The German lifted his tall glass to his mouth and took a swallow from it, blue eyes on Ken's face as he drank. Not particularly, he said. Since when does what I want matter, anyway?

      It doesn't, was the easy answer, and Schuldich smirked as he put his cup down.

      Ken just shook his head and turned back to the food, lifting some spring rolls from the belt. Schuldich snagged the next salad that came along and they picked at their dishes. If Schuldich investigated into the talk Ken had had with Omi, he didn't comment on it, and Ken wasn't willing to give any of it away himself. The silence stretched on for another few dishes until Ken got restless with it and searched for a conversation topic. He could appreciate quiet as much as the next guy, but that was kind of null and void considering who his companion was.

      "How long have you lived in Japan?" Ken asked at last.

      "Year and a half now," came the answer without hesitation. Schuldich considered that, counted a few fingers, and nodded to confirm his estimate.

      "Really?" Ken was surprised. "Your Japanese is really good. I figured maybe you had just been elsewhere in Japan before Kritiker found you in Tokyo. How long did you study Japanese before you came here?"

      "A year." Schuldich made a face and took the last sip from his drink. "Bitch of a language."

      "A year?" Ken echoed, lifting his hand to call the waitress over for drink refills. He dimly remembered the two years of English he'd taken in high school before dropping out for soccer. He'd retained absolutely nothing from those classes, and he knew he hadn't been anywhere near conversational level when he'd finished. "I am suitably impressed."

      Schuldich lifted one shoulder in a shrug and snagged another salad, and the conversation ended for a few more minutes. Ken found some shrimp gyouza on the line and took it for himself, poking idly at the three pieces with his chopsticks as he searched for something else to say. "I asked Aya about Edgar Allan Poe," he said. Schuldich glanced at him but didn't answer through his mouthful of rice. "He loaned me a book of his stuff. It sucks."

      Schuldich just shook his head at that and set his empty bowl back down. "Uneducated," he declared after he'd swallowed, and Ken made a face at him. The German slouched backwards in his chair, holding his beer glass in both hands as he contemplated the conveyer belt with bored eyes. Ken studied him for several minutes, poking idly at the last of his gyouza as he held a fierce little mental debate. Schuldich noticed the attention and glanced his way, amusement written on his face. Ken was pretty sure the German was listening in on his thoughts but the telepath was playing dumb right now, content to watch and wait. At length Ken gave up and went back to his food, and Schuldich smirked and turned back to his own meal. The rest of the dinner passed in silence.

      Ken paid and the two moved outside, standing on the sidewalk as they stared out into a darkened city.

      Now what? Ken wondered, and he realized he didn't know. What did he expect? What did he want? Schuldich turned to face him and Ken felt a small trickle of wary anticipation curl in his stomach. He hesitated and then moved so he was facing Schuldich, hands shoved in his pockets. Schuldich considered him for a long moment and then the barest of smirks pulled at the corner of his mouth.

      "Go home, Weiss," the telepath told him.

      "Go home?" Ken echoed, and he wondered if he should feel disappointed.

      Schuldich laughed and took a half step forward to close the distance between them. Chests touched and cheeks brushed and he could feel Schuldich's breath on his ear. "Go home," Schuldich said again. "You're afraid of me."

      "I am not," Ken said.

      Liar, a tiny part of his mind sent back.

      The breeze sent strands of Schuldich's hair into Ken's face and the athlete could smell his cologne. The German said nothing else yet, but he didn't pull back, either. A passing businessman stared at them and Ken ignored him, concentrating on the feel of a warm body up against his own. He thought about Schuldich's words and he knew they were the truth, but what else did the telepath expect?

      Have you ever killed someone? he wanted to know, finally voicing the question that had been bugging him.

      Plenty of people, was the easy reassurance.

      Are you going to kill me?

      If I have to, Schuldich answered, and Ken felt a small frown pull at his mouth in thought. If Crawford decides Schwarz is better without Weiss around and he wants you four taken out for good, then yes, we will kill you. Whether it's me or Farfarello that gets to you depends on how good your luck is that night.

      Ken considered that for an endless minute. And if you're not given orders?

      Then there's no point. I kill people because I'm told to, Hidaka, same as you. Do you kill people just for sport? Ken shook his head, but he knew it was a rhetorical question. Sex is sex. Fucking you doesn't mean I can't still kill you if the order comes down.

      For some reason, that made him feel better. Ken thought he should be worried that he took comfort in such a thing, but decided to question it later. Would you at least have the courtesy to tell me? he asked.

      That you're going to die? Schuldich asked, and he shrugged. Doesn't matter to me.

      Ken nodded, accepting that in silence. Schuldich took a step back and Ken was cold where they'd been touching. The German studied him with calm blue eyes, probably checking to make sure he understood, and then took another step back. "Now," he said. "I'm going to walk away. And you?"

      He stepped past Ken, slipping his hands into the pockets of his jacket, and started off down the sidewalk at a lazy pace. Ken watched him go, rubbing his arms as he turned the conversation over in his head. He thought of every reason why this was a bad idea, of why he should just turn around and go home. There was nothing saying he could or should trust the telepath and plenty of reasons as to why he shouldn't. And yet… He lingered for just a moment longer, watching as Schuldich arrived at a crosswalk. It turned green and the telepath stepped out into the street, never looking back, never slowing.

      Ken glanced down the sidewalk in the other direction, towards the bus station, and then started after Schuldich.

      "Wait up…"

Part 3
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