Part Six

      Tennis shoes pounded over the concrete; arms pumped in time to long strides as Ken ran down the sidewalk. The only lights were those of the street lights; cars were few and far between at this hour. He reached up, wiping at his forehead with a black wrist band, and ignored the red crosswalk light. The breeze cut through his t-shirt easily and whipped at the cotton material of his sweat pants. He breathed in time to his steps, forcing himself to focus on the feel of the ground beneath his feet, forcing himself to stare ahead into the darkness and just not think.

      It had been a while since he'd had nightmares; despite the work he did, he generally had a dreamless sleep. Over the years his nights had gotten easier until these days he took them for granted. The nightmares he'd had when he first signed on with Kritiker were waved goodbye cheerfully and he hadn't missed them a bit.

      Ken blamed this night's bad dreams on Schwarz.

      Up onto the side walk, breathe in breathe out breathe in. He wiped at his forehead again, turning the corner and starting off down a different road.

      Schwarz had finally started moving today, after so long of them being quiet. Although Kritiker had known they were still working, and now select people knew exactly who Schwarz was working for and in what industry, the other group had still been pretty invisible. They'd kept out of sight for the most part, outside of their sudden entrance into Ken's personal life. But something had happened tonight, and Omi had vanished to Kritiker to help them figure out just what the hell was going on.

      Three ships at the harbor had been burned and the harbor had taken some serious damage. The official guess was that there had been about a hundred and twenty people present, and the hospital had found only two survivors. One man saw nothing; the other gurgled about demons coming out of the fire. Demons without eyes, demons with hair like fire. He'd babbled on and on to the police in his shock, whining and wailing about watching his coworkers literally explode around him. Ken had no doubts that that survivor was going to be locked up in an asylum as insane by the same Kritiker-loyalist police officers that would then turn around and set to work finding Schwarz. There was no one else it could be.

      The explosions and fire had been all over the news for hours, and staring at the scenes of burning buildings before going to bed had set Ken up for nightmares. He'd dreamed of the day he'd thought he'd lost Kase, of being in that building when it all burned around him. He'd woken up in a cold sweat and hadn't been able to go back to sleep, and eventually had decided to take a run to let the cool air clear his mind.

      He hadn't been stupid enough to leave without the gun; it was tucked into the overly large pocket of his sweatpants, an odd weight against his leg as he ran. He had left his md player behind this time, not in the mood for music and not wanting that as a distraction. He doubted Schwarz would be up and about, though, after such a long night.

      Over a hundred people dead… Ken swore quietly, taking another corner. There were lights further up ahead as he neared a part of the city that hadn't yet gone to sleep. Bars and night clubs lined the streets and he wondered if he should take a different route before deciding he didn't want to slow to turn around.

      He had seen Schuldich twice in the past week since Morimoto had been killed; the German had shown up on his doorstop once and Ken had bumped into him in an alleyway another day. He felt responsible for the lives that had been lost tonight. He'd seen Schuldich. Surely he should have thought to discretely poke around. Surely Schuldich had said something that Ken could have used to save those lives. But no matter how many times he wracked his brain for missed clues, he couldn't remember Schuldich saying anything that had to do with the jobs. Most of what Schuldich had said those times hadn't necessarily been words.

      There's definitely something wrong with being turned on by such a memory when the man just went out and nuked over a hundred people tonight, Ken told himself sternly, but it didn't make the remembered meetings any less pleasant to dwell on. He gave an irritated sigh, giving himself up as a lost cause, and slowed his pace to weave through the groups on the sidewalk.

      Out here, it was as if the tragedy at the harbor hadn't happened. These people were too drunk to care that things had blown up; or at the very least, too drunk to be upset over it. They were laughing and calling slurred taunts to each other, almost unintelligible in their drunken state. One group took up most of the sidewalk, and Ken checked for cars before heading into the road to get around them. As long as he was in the road anyway he crossed to the other side of the street where the sidewalk was less inhabited. There was only one man over here, sitting on the curb a short distance down. Ken could get by him easily- or so he thought, except that the man slumped backwards when he was just a few yards away. The other had been leaning against a lamppost but lost his balance and fell.

      Ken slowed to a stop, sighing over the interruption of his workout routine. Someone needed to get the guy up and out of there, and the only other people in the vicinity were too smashed to be of any help. He stretched his legs out briefly before moving to crouch beside the other's prone form. He reached out, catching hold of the man's hat, and pulled it up and out of the way.

      "Sir," he started to say, but the rest died on his tongue.

      Pulling the hat free pulled hair free, and now it spilled wildly around a too-familiar face. Ken wasn't sure what was more shocking- the fact that he was staring down at Schuldich of Schwarz, or the fact that Schuldich's hair was orange again. He just stared down at the man's serene expression, wondering what to make of this. It had been weeks since he'd bumped into the telepath on the subway and he still hadn't been able to figure out all of the reasons behind the man's abrupt change- and continued changes- in appearance. He somehow didn't think a return to orange hair was that good of a sign.

      A man with flame colored hair, he belatedly remembered Omi reporting. The survivor had claimed there'd been a man with flame colored hair. Weiss hadn't stopped to question it; it fit Schuldich's description exactly- or at least, the Schuldich they were used to.

      Schwarz had gone out and destroyed the harbors tonight; Ken idly wondered if Schuldich had gone drinking to celebrate. He smelled of alcohol.

      Ken thought perhaps he should just leave him there, now that he'd realized who it was, but instead he took hold of the older man's coat and pulled him upright again. Schuldich's head lolled off to one side; his expression tightened and his mouth thinned as his drunken mind started to register that he was being moved around. Ken had to hold him up to keep him from falling back down again and crouched on the street in front of him, switching his grip to one hand so he could pat at Schuldich's face.

      "Hey, drunkard," he said. "Wake up. This isn't a good place to pass out."

      Blue eyes slowly cracked open, but it took a few moments for recognition to gleam there. When it clicked, the man offered him a toothy grin. "Weiss," he greeted, slurred.

      "All this time you've been claiming you're so smart," Ken mused, propping Schuldich against the lamp post. "How do you expect to get home now, wise guy? The buses and trains are stopped for the night. Congratulations."

      "He's going to take me," Schuldich assured him easily, gaze sliding off to one side.

      Ken looked that direction just in time to see Farfarello melt out of the shadows. The man did not look at all pleased to see Ken so close to his teammate. Ken couldn't say he was overly thrilled to see Farfarello either, especially because the man still had blood on him. His lip curled back in a silent snarl of defiance and disgust, and Farfarello bared his teeth at him in response. The lamp light glittered off of a blade that appeared in the foreigner's hand out of nowhere. Ken didn't remember moving; he just found himself pointing the handgun at Farfarello.

      That stopped Farfarello in his tracks, and the small rush of power Ken felt almost made up for his last horrible encounter with the madman.

      "Put that knife away before you poke your other eye out," Ken warned him.

      Farfarello didn't look impressed. Instead of putting the blade away, he lifted it to his mouth and began picking at his teeth with it. He took another few steps forward and Ken cocked the gun. The noise made Farfarello stop again and Ken chanced a glance towards Schuldich, wondering if the German was going to intervene. Schuldich was eyeing the gun in silence, but at last his stare went back to his teammate.

      "That's not yours," Farfarello said, pointing the knife at Ken. "Kitty cats use claws, not weapons such as those."

      "Well, finders keepers. It's mine now and I think I like it. Put the damn knife away."

      "Make me," Farfarello invited him, arching a thin brow at him and tilting the blade towards the crowds just a short ways away.

      "Your call," Ken said, starting to tighten his finger on the trigger. Idly he hoped he had good aim; he'd never fired a gun before but he only had one shot. It was kill Farfarello or have that knife sticking out of his throat and he would much prefer the first choice, to be honest.

      "No," Schuldich said, planting his hand over the end of the gun. "Cut the shit." Ken lifted his other hand to push Schuldich's away, and the German brought his other hand up to smack the back of Ken's head. "Cut the shit," he said again, looking back and forth between them. He seemed to realize just how close they were to actually going at each other, and it was enough to sober him up to a coherent state. "Farfarello, put the knife up. Now."

      Ken stared hard at Farfarello, who was glowering at Schuldich. Ken didn't expect the German's demand to actually be obeyed, considering the black eye Schuldich had been sporting a few weeks ago. But the Irishman tucked the blade back into a sheath on his forearm, hidden by the sleeves of the coat he was wearing. He lowered himself to a crouch where he was, folding his arms across his knees, and settled for glowering at Ken instead. Schuldich continued to stare hard at Farfarello for another minute more, but at last his hand relaxed and fell away from the gun.

      Ken wanted desperately to pull the trigger; everything in him was screaming to do it now. Instead he found himself lowering the weapon, though he wasn't stupid enough to put it away. Schuldich tilted his head back against the pole, staring up at the light that was shining down on all of them.

      "You're stupid," Farfarello decided. Ken wondered which one of them he was talking to. Schuldich didn't answer, so Ken ignored the comment as well. He waited for one of them to speak, because he didn't have anything to offer, and several minutes passed in silence. At last Schuldich sighed. That seemed to be what Farfarello was waiting for, because he said again, "You're stupid."

      "Maybe," was the telepath's amused answer. His head lolled to one side and he offered his teammate a smirk that wasn't all there. "I just wanted to prove it… I just wanted to see." Farfarello made a cutting motion with his hand, either to tell him to shut up or to dismiss such words. Ken wasn't sure which, but Schuldich fell silent again for a little longer. "Man," he groaned at last. "I'm going to have a headache tomorrow."

      "It's your own fault," Ken pointed out. "What's the matter, thrill of victory go to your head?"

      Schuldich gave him an innocent look that was more amused than anything else in his drunk state. "I don't know what you're talking about."

      "And you're a filthy liar."

      "Out of practice," Schuldich assured him. "Farfarello? Go back. I'm going to stay here."

      "By yourself?" Ken asked, arching an eyebrow at him. "Because I never said I'd take you with me, you know. I could just leave you out here to fend for yourself in your drunk state. It's what you deserve."

      "I'm horny," Schuldich said, reaching out to tug at the collar of Ken's shirt. Ken could see Farfarello's expression close off and he pulled Schuldich's hand free, not wanting to take his eyes off of the other man. Schuldich scowled at him, annoyed by his distraction, and leaned forward to give his ear a hard bite. Ken snarled something unintelligible at him and pushed him away, and Schuldich just sneered. "Farfarello, go home," Schuldich said again. "Now."

      "He'll ask for you," Farfarello said.

      "He can call my cell."

      "Your cell is turned off."

      "Then I guess he's shit out of luck, isn't he?" Schuldich returned easily, tugging at Ken's shirt again. Farfarello was giving Schuldich a hard look but the German didn't bother to return the stare, and at last Farfarello pushed himself to his feet. Ken tensed instinctively but the other man made no move to pull out another weapon. He looked from Schuldich to Ken and his lip curled back over his teeth, a silent, hateful warning. And then without another word, he turned and stalked off down the sidewalk. Ken watched until he was out of sight, turning around a corner, but he still couldn't make himself relax. There was no guarantee that the man wouldn't come back around and heave a knife at his head. His fingers tightened on the gun and he reached up to pull at Schuldich's wrist. The German was almost choking off his air supply.

      "Let go, will you?" he said, irritated.

      "Oh, shut up," Schuldich sent back, grabbing his hair instead. This was more effective, and he yanked Ken's head towards his to kiss him. It was so hard it hurt, but Ken wasn't really expecting something nicer. They were Weiss and Schwarz- hunters, assassins, murderers. What the hell did they need niceties and tenderness for? Pain and blood were much more familiar. Schuldich bit his lower lip as Ken was pulling back and Ken gave orange hair a sharp tug to make him let go. The telepath swore, yanking his hair free from Ken's fingers, and scowled at him.

      "You're drunk," Ken told him, picking up his hand and sticking it back on his head.

      "I didn't notice," was the acid response.

      "You should have let that freak take you home."

      Schuldich jabbed a finger at him. "I was sleeping and you woke me up. Only three people in this world are allowed to wake me up, and you're not one of them, so I'd better get something in compensation."

      "You can get a nice view of my back as I continue my jog."

      Schuldich just gave him a cool look and Ken sighed, pushing himself to his feet and yanking at Schuldich's jacket. Common sense told him to leave the telepath there to fend for himself, but since he and common sense were rarely on speaking terms anymore, he helped the drunk man to his feet. Leaving Schuldich there was a choice, but it wasn't something he could do. Schuldich propped himself against Ken, one arm around his neck and the other holding his hair out of his face, and Ken looked around to try and figure out the best way to get back to the shop.

      It was going to be a long walk, especially since Schuldich didn't seem to want to walk in a straight line. The first ten minutes were silent as they each tended their own thoughts. Omi had given Ken his heavily reluctant approval to see Schuldich because Schuldich had inside information Kritiker needed, and Yohji would keep his mouth shut on the matter even if he was horribly against it, but bringing a drunk Schuldich home the very night Schwarz had caused such destruction was probably pushing things.

      "Nice hair," Ken said at last.

      "Figures you'd approve," was the German's response, and he yawned loudly into one hand. He started to slip against Ken's shoulder and the athlete had to adjust his grip to keep him from slumping towards the ground.

      "Never said I approved," Ken sent back.

      "Damn, you people are picky," Schuldich sighed, almost too low for Ken to hear. "Never happy, are you…?"

      Ken wasn't entirely sure the comment was meant for him, so he didn't answer. Schuldich was a heavy weight against him and Ken was starting to think he wouldn't be able to get them both back to Prima Apartments before the telepath fell asleep. With the hope that he had money in his wallet, he started keeping an eye out for hotels instead. He found one a block over and propped Schuldich against the wall to tuck his hair back under his coat. There was no telling how much Kritiker would release to the press about tonight's terrorists; better to be safe than sorry. With the German's fiery hair concealed under his dark hat and his coat, he eased the man off the wall and went inside to buy a room for the night.

      The elevator brought them to the third floor and theirs was the first room on the left. Ken managed to get the door open and set Schuldich down on the bed before going to shut the door. He went ahead and put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the outside knob and locked both locks before heading back over to Schuldich's side. He had been considering just leaving Schuldich here to sleep it off and going home, but considering what it had just cost, he was quite content to stay.

      Schuldich was already asleep. Ken took his shoes off and carried them to the door, setting them down neatly before toeing out of his own. The German didn't stir as Ken took his hat and coat, and he figured that was good enough. He made himself comfortable next to Schuldich, setting the gun and his cell phone under his pillow. He had the morning shift off at the Koneko, so he didn't bother setting an alarm on the phone. He wondered for a moment as he started to drift off if he would have nightmares, but he was too tired to worry about it. He was asleep just a few moments later.


      Ken woke before Schuldich and left the German there to head down to the nearest convenience store. He had enough left in his wallet to buy drinks and breakfast for them both and he headed back to find the telepath sitting up in bed. Leaving his shoes at the door, he invited himself to sit back to back with Schuldich and dropped the grocery bag off to one side. "You're welcome," he said, digging his own drink and pastry out.

      "Whatever," was the response, and Schuldich helped himself to what was left. They ate in a companionable silence, a quiet broken only by the brief crinkling of plastic. Schuldich was a warm weight at his back and Ken found himself thinking about it even though he told himself not to. Sometimes it just clicked how odd this relationship of theirs was. While he'd already gotten over the hurdle of it being Weiss-Schwarz, the fact that it was a steady relationship was odd. The only other person he'd dated regularly had been Yuriko, which was a rather pathetic revelation considering that she hadn't lasted very long. Other than her, everyone else had been one-time things when he'd wanted a friendly touch or release.

      "So we're dating now?" Schuldich asked, sounding highly amused.

      "Shouldn't your hangover encourage you to stick to your own thoughts?" Ken asked, but he couldn't work up any irritation over the pry. The rummaging around had been something to hate months ago, but after seeing Schuldich so often these days, he had gotten used to it. He'd probably be more disturbed if Schuldich respected his privacy and stayed away. Schuldich shrugged against him and Ken relaxed more into him. "I don't know what else to call this," he said, giving a wave of his drink. "It's not business."

      "It's not personal, either," Schuldich pointed out.

      "True," Ken agreed, considering that. He tilted his head to the side. "What would you call it?"

      Schuldich thought that over. "Hell if I know," he decided.

      "Yeah." Ken picked up the bag and shook it. "There's some painkillers in here. You find them?" Schuldich took the bag from him and dug through it. Ken finished off his drink and put the cap back on before tossing it to one side. "So, is Farfarello going to hunt me down now?"

      "Do you have to carry that gun with you everywhere, you mean?" Schuldich shrugged again. "Now that he's seen you have it, he'll think twice about it."

      Ken accepted this in silence, turning the previous night over in his head. "Does Farfarello like you?" he wanted to know.

      Schuldich choked on his drink he laughed so hard. Ken slipped and fell back to the sheets as the telepath leaned forward to laugh and cough in turns into his hand, and the younger man didn't bother to push himself up yet. When Schuldich finally managed to get his mirth under control he closed up his own drink and chucked it off the side of the bed. Blue eyes were shining when he turned on Ken. "What gave you that idea?" he wanted to know.

      "He's a little pissy about us seeing each other, which I thought was kind of strange for him considering that your telepathy means I'm not much of a real threat to you. I figured he was either a bigot who doesn't approve of you screwing another guy or he's gay himself and is mad that you're spending your time with me."

      Schuldich grinned down at him. "So I keep you around for the amusement factor," he told himself, reaching out to poke Ken's forehead. "For your information, he's neither a bigot nor homosexual. Don't worry your little brain about it."

      "Does he know that you're working for Kritiker?" Ken wanted to know.

      Schuldich arched an eyebrow at him. "I'm not working for Kritiker," he corrected the other assassin. "I'm doing them a favor because it's to my benefit."

      "What, selling out the ring your client's in?" Ken demanded. "Fantastic loyalty you have there. Are you trying to push a confrontation with Weiss so that you four can kill us off at last? Is it something Crawford wants you to do? Does Schwarz even know?"

      "Would it be your business either way?" Schuldich asked, and Ken pushed himself up on his arms. "Like I said, don't worry your little brain about it. It's my game to play and I've got everything under control."

      "You sure looked it last night when you were passed out on the sidewalk."

      "Nobody's perfect," was the telepath's breezy response. "Farfarello was coming to get me anyway, so it didn't matter."

      "I'm surprised you didn't bring him with you in the first place to celebrate last night's fiasco."

      Was it Ken's imagination, or did Schuldich actually grimace? Something flickered across the German's expression almost too fast for Ken to follow, and the telepath reached up to rub at his temple. Ken guessed it was just pain from the hangover, but a part of him was hesitant to believe that despite Schuldich's amused drawl. "Last night was a blast, wasn't it? Did we make the news?"

      "I don't think the reporters have been talking about anything else since," Ken said. "Just so you know, you left some survivors, and Kritiker knows it was you four. They're going to assign us against you."

      Schuldich considered that for a long moment and then shrugged and looked around for a clock. "When does this room have to be abandoned?" he wanted to know.

      "Not until eleven," Ken answered, glancing towards the clock as well. He saw the numbers and did the math, and decided they were good enough. When Schuldich turned back towards him he was already leaning in, a hand on the back of the German's neck to pull their faces together.

      There was a sharp clack from the door that startled them both, and they looked that direction to see the door had slammed open and caught against the chain. Ken was trying to figure out how the dead bolt had come undone and why they were being bothered when there was a sign on the door when Schuldich pushed himself off the bed and started that direction. His first thought was that the German was going to slam the door in the intruder's face, but the telepath was only halfway across the room when the chain snapped in half.

      The door was pushed open the rest of the way and Ken was not at all pleased to see Nagi standing there. The boy invited himself in and the door slammed shut behind him with just a thought, and he and Schuldich stared each other down right inside the door. Schuldich said something to him that Ken couldn't understand; the only word he recognized was Nagi's name.

      Nagi shot something back. Ken listened closely to it, examining the funny sounds. It was the only way that he managed to catch Crawford's name in that throaty mess, and he saw Schuldich rock back slightly on his heels in reaction to it. The two argued in swift words and Ken envied their skill even as he wondered what they could possibly be fighting about. Crawford- did the American know about this now?

      Schuldich ended the argument with a slew of curse words, half in Japanese and half in that other language. He did an about face and stalked towards the dresser where Ken had set his coat and hat. He shrugged into the jacket, neatly tucking his hair under it, and yanked the hat down on top of his head. Ken looked from him to Nagi, who was watching his teammate with a closed off expression. The German came over to the bed next, plucking up the small packet of pain killers, and he waggled it at Ken. He offered a toothy smirk in farewell but there were shadows in his eyes.

      "Maybe next time," he said, and he headed for the door.

      "Maybe," Ken answered, watching as the two vanished out of the room. Schuldich tugged the door closed behind him and Ken shifted to make himself more comfortable in the middle of the bed. A glance towards the clock said he still had thirty minutes left before he had to check out. Since Schuldich wasn't going to be around for sex, his next thought was that he could at least shower. He crossed that idea off just a moment later. If Nagi knew where they'd been, then the rest of Schwarz most likely knew, and Ken didn't want to stick around to find out if Nagi was the only visitor. After pointing a gun at Farfarello last night, he didn't think their next meeting would go well.

      He dug the gun and his cell phone out from under the pillow and headed for the door. The sight of the chain made him wince and he toed into his shoes. He left his phone number with the front desk when he turned in his key so they could call him when they figured out replacement costs and then stepped out into a bright midmorning sun. There was a bus stop just down the street and he headed that direction, dialing Omi's number to get an update on the previous night's mess.

      He reached the younger boy's voice mail and decided Omi was either at a meeting or catching much needed sleep after a late night. He didn't try a second time and instead slipped his phone into his pocket and made himself comfortable on the bus stop bench to wait. He kept a discrete eye out for any others of Schwarz in the ten minutes it took the bus to get there and was relieved to catch no sight of them. He was the only one waiting at the stop and the bus was only half full when he climbed on. It was easy to find a seat and he let his head rest against the window as the bus pulled away from the curb.

      For some reason, he thought of Schuldich's words. "So we're dating now?"

      There had been only amusement in that question, no annoyance that Ken had thought of their relationship in such a way, no derision over such a concept.

      Ken wondered if that meant the telepath was okay with that, and wondered if he cared.

      We're not dating dating, he told himself. It's just… I don't know what we're doing. But we're not really dating.

      That didn't stop him from thinking about it, though.

Part Seven
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