The Art of Cruelty

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by nekojita

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chapter one

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Aya shivered and instinctively inched toward his lover, craving wonderful body heat to offset the sudden chill he felt. For some reason, despite the heated mattress pad, flannel sheets and down comforter, he felt cold, but Yohji would warm him up. He wrapped his arms around his lover’s waist and nuzzled his face against a shoulder covered with thick, long hair.

<Aw, you’re so cute in the morning, mein Herz.>

Opening his eyes, Aya stared at reddish-orange hair as he tried to push away from Schuldig, only to have his escape hampered by the strong arms that held him close. "Dammit, Schu, I told you to stay out of my dreams!" This had *better* be a dream, since the last thing he remembered was falling asleep in Yohji’s arms.

Making a big production about pouting, Schu stuck out his bottom lip and sniffed as if hurt. "But I just wanted to talk to you today! Crawford has something he wants me to do in another ten minutes, so it was meet up in your dream or put off the update on your sister’s condition until tomorrow." His pout turned into a smug smile, no doubt because he knew that Aya would allow the dream visit if it meant that he would hear more about his sister.

"You better not be making this up," Aya muttered as he tried to push Schu away. "And let go of me."

"That hurt." Schu sniffed once more before he slowly removed his arms from around Aya’s waist. "Of course I wouldn’t make something like that up." He tried for a pained look, but Aya could sense his smugness at getting his way this morning. That smugness turned into desire and the hurt expression into a leer when Aya slid out from under the sheets, as naked in his dream as he was in reality. He hurried over to the couch to snatch up his sweatshirt, and pulled on his grey yukata as well.

Only two things kept him from ordering Schu from his dream – he wanted to know about Aya-chan and Schu didn’t make any attempt to act on that desire. There was no way Aya would allow the dreams to turn into the nightmares that Schu had used to try to make him leave Yohji, that he would give in to the bastard. There was a truce of sorts between them right now, yet he would never forget all the mind games Schu had played and all the hurt he’d suffered during their ‘relationship’.

<Dammit, Aya, you should trust me more.> Schu crawled out of bed, naked for a moment before he suddenly became dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a thick, white sweater. <You can’t block me from your dreams; I could do a hell of a lot more than curl up next to you in bed, you know.>

"Like make me think that Yohji is cheating on me to influence me to sleep with you." Aya let out a quick breath as he ran his fingers through his tousled hair. "I don’t want to talk about this right now. Show me my sister." He was so tired of having the same old argument with Schu; he already trusted the telepath more than he should, considering their past together, but he didn’t have much of a choice. This was the only way to find out how Aya-chan was doing.

<You know it’s more than that, mein Herz. You can be so stubborn.> Schu sounded just as tired as he felt and came to a stop in front of him. Reaching out with his right hand, Schu pulled one of Aya’s eartails free from being trapped beneath his sweatshirt. His touch lingered on Aya’s left cheek, a bit of wonderful warmth that made Aya close his eyes for the briefest of seconds as he savored it.

He refused to think about those nightmares and ignored the whisper of his power. As much as he hated the fact, he didn’t see Schu as the enemy any more. However, that didn’t mean he had to think of him as a friend, either. Right now, they were more along the lines of acquaintances or allies.

<Think that all you want, but you know it’s not true.> Schu’s lips brushed along his left cheek. <You won’t be able to run from your power forever, Aya, and the future will be here soon enough. The one where we’ll be together.>

Shoving the telepath away, Aya easily managed enough anger to glare ferociously at Schu. "I want to see Aya-chan, not listen to more lies from you."

Schu’s smile just then was too certain for Aya’s comfort. "I told you that I don’t lie, not to you. I’ll be proved right soon enough." Before Aya could argue with such nonsense, the scenery around them changed. They were no longer in Aya and Yohji’s bedroom but some large room with white walls and bright lights interspersed with darkness. Off to the side was Aya-chan, unconscious as always, and also two doctors who wore white robes and masks.

"Aya-chan." Aya stepped around Schu to approach his sister, and received no interference for once. He hurried to her side and stared intently for any signs of improvement or abuse. She looked the same, save for the fact that her hair obviously hadn’t been combed in the last few days. "Schu, what are they doing to her?"

Joining him by the bed, Schu slowly curled his left arm around Aya’s waist. "They’re giving her things to make her body stronger." He motioned to one of the doctors who was busy injecting something into one of Aya-chan’s many IVs. "I promise you, they want her as well as possible for the ceremony." <A ceremony that won’t work since they have the wrong Fujimiya.>

Aya shook his head at the last comment. He already felt enough guilt over the fact that his sister had been kidnapped because of him and didn’t need any new reminders. "She looks as if she might have gained a little weight, just a kilo or two." Her face had seemed a little thinner, right after she’d been taken from Schreient.

"They won’t let her get too fat. Like I said, they want her in the best condition possible." Schu fell quiet for a moment then gave Aya’s waist a squeeze. "They’re actually doing more for her than the doctors did at the hospital. They expect her – or her body, at least – to awaken soon."

"I know." There was a wave of anger and pain as Aya thought about all the years his sister had spent at the Magic Bus Hospital, how many times the doctors had advised him to allow them to stop the feedings so she could die ‘naturally’. His sister would wake up one day, he was certain of that, and he wouldn’t give up hope. He just had to get her back from Esset soon so she’d be safe when she woke up.

<I’m working on that. Trust me, Aya.> The arm around Aya’s waist tugged until he turned to face Schu. For once, there was no false emotion or smugness on Schu’s face. "I’ll get her back for you." He actually sounded perfectly sincere, as were the emotions that Aya felt over their link.

"Why?" Aya asked, still confused as to why Schu was helping him like this, rather than using Aya-chan against him.

"Because-" Schu never finished what he was about to say, interrupted after the first word by something that made him scowl and curse under his breath. "I don’t know if he has the worst or the best timing." Flashing a weak grin, Schu leaned forward for a very quick kiss. "I have to get going or he’s gonna shoot me, the anal bastard. I’ll be back tomorrow."

Just like that, Schu was gone and Aya found himself lying in his bed, his eyes open and staring up at Yohji, who leaned over him. His lover had a very disgruntled look on his face; at least there weren’t any shadows beneath his eyes this morning.

"Have a nice chat with the friendly psychopathic telepath, Aya?" There was a brittle edge to Yohji’s voice, one that made Aya scramble to try and sit up in bed.

"He… he showed me my sister today," Aya tried to explain. He sat hunched against the headboard and tugged the thick blankets closer, suffering from a chill much worse than the one in his dream. "How did you know?"

"That it was your quality time with The Bastard?" Yohji snorted loudly and reached for his cigarettes. "I woke up and went to give you a kiss, only to find you murmuring his name." He lit a cigarette and sat on the edge of the bed, seemingly unaffected by the cool air in the room or the fact that he was naked. "So much for waking you up for a nice, leisurely bout of sex, eh?" he asked, cigarette held in his right hand while his left scrubbed over his face. "I’m gonna get a shower." Not waiting for an answer, he left the bed and only paused to grab a pair of boxers that he held in front of his crotch before he left the room.

Aya sat on the bed as if frozen in place. He knew that Yohji hated the fact that he talked to Schu every day, but there was nothing he could do. He needed to know about his sister, that she wasn’t being harmed while in the hands of the enemy, and he could only get that information from Schu. While Yohji did have a point about not being able to really trust the telepath… Aya didn’t have any other options.

Shivering from the cold that seemed to settle in his bones, Aya decided that he wasn’t going to just sit here and let Yohji remain upset about the situation. Usually when his lover came across him when he was talking to Schu, Aya would leave Yohji alone for a few minutes to get over the anger and bitterness. Not this morning. Pulling on his grey yukata, he hurried to the bathroom.

The door was unlocked, thankfully, which meant that Yohji wasn’t too upset with him; Aya made sure to lock it after he entered the room. Letting his yukata drop to the floor, he took a deep breath, a small smile forming on his lips at how the bathroom was already filled with wonderfully hot steam, and slid into the shower. Yohji didn’t seem too surprised to see him, although he arched an eyebrow and paused in lathering up a wash cloth.

"What’s the matter, Ayan?" Yohji asked. "Couldn’t wait your turn?" He didn’t sound as upset as he had in the bedroom, but he wasn’t reaching out for Aya, either.

"I’m cold, Yohji," Aya admitted and took a cautious step forward. When Yohji didn’t step back, he slowly wrapped his arms around his lover’s waist and moaned in delight at the feel of the hot water. "I’m… I’m sorry," he said, speaking so quietly that he wasn’t certain if Yohji could hear him over the running water.

He felt more than heard Yohji take a deep breath and then warm arms hugged him close to Yohji’s naked, wet body. "Nah, it’s okay." Yohji nuzzled his right ear then kissed him briefly on the lips. "I guess waking up and finding out The Bastard managed to be the first person you talked to today made me all grouchy. How is she?" He no longer sounded upset; instead he seemed truly concerned about Aya-chan.

Aya shuffled closer to his lover and turned slightly so the water wasn’t pouring down on his face. "She seems all right." He was happy that Yohji didn’t launch into a tirade against Schu, about how Aya couldn’t trust anything ‘The Bastard’ told or showed him about his sister. Aya didn’t want to have to try and explain that he *knew* when Schu was lying now, to explain that their bond went deeper than sharing injuries and dreams.

Grunting softly, Yohji hugged him closer. "We’ll get her back, love. I promise." He kissed Aya fervently on the lips and maneuvered him around until he stood beneath the hot water, delicious warmth falling onto his back and shoulders. "You’re all cold, kitten." Oh no, Yohji *definitely* didn’t sound upset any more, Aya thought with a pleased smile.

"Then warm me up, Yotan," he said, the disquiet he felt from his dream with Schu and the anxiety over his sister fading as he smiled at his lover. For once he was nice and warm and naked, standing in a shower with an equally naked Yohji, and it was their day off. They were supposed to sleep as long as they could this morning, not leaving their bed until forced to by hunger, and that had been ruined. No wonder Yohji had been so upset. However, now there seemed to be a very good way to get the day back on track. Aya smiled as wickedly as possible as he grabbed a handful of Yohji’s wet hair and dragged his lover’s head down for another kiss, this one more searing than before.

Yohji groaned when their lips touched and something fell to the bottom of the tub. Aya gave only a moment’s thought to the fear of stepping on a bar of soap before his attention focused entirely on the man who was currently kissing him breathless. Yohji’s lean, warm body pressed against him and urged him to turn slightly until his back touched wet tiles. Nudging between his legs, Yohji grabbed Aya’s right thigh and lifted it until it wrapped around Yohji’s waist. "Here’s hoping that Ken and Omi don’t need to take a shower in the next hour or two," Yohji said, amusement evident in his husky voice as he rocked his groin into Aya’s. They both were already becoming hard.

"You have until it starts to grow cold," Aya warned, not willing to stand beneath freezing water, even during sex with Yohji. Well, probably not. He really, *really* hoped it wouldn’t come to that, or he’d have to spend the rest of the day huddled in his bed. "I’ll kill them if they took their showers already." He wanted to savor this time with his lover, to enjoy the slow burn of pleasure that flowed through his body from wherever Yohji pressed against him.

"Nah, it’s too early for that so they’re safe and we have lots of time to play," Yohji laughed, the sound low and wanton and, as always, it did very peculiar things to Aya’s thoughts and emotions. He shivered, not from cold but in anticipation of the pleasure to come, the way that Yohji would dominate his thoughts and feelings and sensations until nothing else existed.

"I won’t let my widdle kitten get all cold." Yohji chuckled again when Aya glared at the nickname. "Hey, it’s our day off, no one else is around and you look like a drowned cat with all that hair in your face," he pointed out with a pleased smirk while he brushed Aya’s bangs aside.

"That from the man who reeks of smoke right now. Does that mean I can call you my adorable little ashtray?" Aya asked, not as upset as he pretended. What really mattered was that Yohji was smiling now and clearly wasn’t angry about his conversation with Schu any more.

"Just as long as you say ‘sexy, well-hung ashtray," Yohji remarked in a deep, lust-laden voice as he thrust his hips forward to prove his point. "Nothing little about me," he said with evident pride.

Well, there was no way to argue with that, Aya thought with great delight as Yohji’s cock rubbed against his own and made the ecstasy burn even hotter. He tightened his leg around Yohji’s waist and rocked his hips for more of the wonderful, addictive sensation. "I think you’re going to need to prove that to me, since I’m having a few doubts." He couldn’t help but grin at the offended look on his lover’s face at his comment, and the way Yohji pressed him even harder against the wall until he groaned with need.

"I think the steam is affecting your brain, Ayan," Yohji remarked before he nipped at Aya’s left earlobe. "But I’ll humor an obviously delusional man." His voice shook with laughter and Aya could feel his lover’s smile when Yohji pressed his lips against Aya’s neck. The next thing Aya knew, Yohji was sucking hard on the spot just below his ear, and the resulting pleasure was so intense his left leg grew unsteady.

"Yotan," he moaned and clung to his lover, almost unable to stand when Yohji’s right hand snaked between their bodies and began to stroke both of their cocks. Yohji’s hand was still a little slick from the soap, sliding along his skin with little friction but just the right amount of pressure. Aya had to close his eyes and struggle to breathe properly, his hands shaking as he clung to his lover.

"See how little you think it is when it’s in your tight, hot ass, Aya. I’m gonna bury it deep in you and fuck you until you can’t stand." Yohji’s voice was thick with desire and so sincere that Aya almost began to hyperventilate and his right leg pulled Yohji’s hips closer, as if to get that big cock inside his ass all the quicker. Although the room was filled with steam, he didn’t think that was what made him feel a bit dizzy. No, it was the way Yohji talked dirty, the feel of Yohji’s hand on his cock and Yohji’s hot body against his. The way Yohji was kissing him as if to put all the lust, passion and love he felt for Aya into a single gesture.

Aya clung to his lover, his arms wrapped tightly around Yohji’s shoulders to both hold him close and for support. If Yohji pulled away, he’d just slide to the bottom of the tub and lay in the hot water until he came to his senses. Fortunately, Yohji was there, so solid and hard and warm that he didn’t want to move, not even when Yohji urged him from the wall.

Breaking off the kiss, Yohji gasped a few times then moaned out his name. "Aya, need you to turn around, love." He repeated the request one more time, until Aya figured out that he had to move so things would get that much better.


His right leg shook when he lowered it and put his weight on it, and only Yohji’s reassuring hands on his hips kept him mostly steady on his feet as he turned around and faced the tiled wall. Without Yohji pressed against him, the hot water rained down on his skin, not feeling as warm to him as Yohji’s body heat had. "The hot water heater," he warned, the words slightly slurred since his lips were swollen from the fervent kiss.

Yohji chuckled as he pressed against Aya’s back. "I know, wouldn’t want you to catch a cold." Yohji fumbled for something, probably the container of KY that he kept mostly hidden behind all the shampoo bottles, and Aya spread his shaking legs apart. "I’ll keep you warm if it goes."

"Ah…." Aya’s head rested against the tiled wall when he felt Yohji’s slick fingers dip into the cleft of his ass. "You always do." No matter what had happened in the past year, Yohji was always there for him in the end. He was there in the middle of the night when Aya woke from feeling so cold, was there in the shop and on missions and anyplace else they happened to be, more than willing to pull Aya into a tight embrace and warm him.

Aya groaned with pleasure when one of Yohji’s fingers pushed into his body. There was a craving to be filled by Yohji’s cock so intense it made his vision blacken and his nerves tingle. "I really want you, Yotan. Make me warm." Only two things could really do that any more, his lover and his power, and Yohji was the only one of the two that he really trusted.

"Whatever you want, love." The desire was still evident in Yohji’s voice, but this time, love was the stronger emotion. "I’ll gladly give it to you." Yohji shifted closer as a second finger entered Aya and began to stretch him with a jerky, scissoring motion. "How do you want it, Ayan?"

Panting from the feel of Yohji’s fingers inside of him and in anticipation of something thicker and harder about to replace them, Aya groaned with frustrated need and forced his pleasure-addled brain to think. "Fast." They would have all afternoon to take the time to enjoy each other, right now the water was starting to cool off.

"Good, because I’m about ready to come." Yohji chuckled a few times then placed a lingering kiss against Aya’s right shoulder. "I’d be worried except you always do this to me; I just want you too much," he admitted, his voice quiet and shaking.

Feeling Yohji’s thick cock press against his ass, Aya braced his arms against the tiles and fought to take deep, slow breaths. He felt as on edge as Yohji did, already filled with so much pleasure that his nerves sizzled with it and his body trembled. Ecstasy shot through him as Yohji slowly entered, so hard and thick and utterly perfect. "Oh… gods…," Aya stammered and closed his eyes to better enjoy the wonderful sensation of almost being stretched too much, of being so perfectly filled.

"Nah, just me, Aya." Yohji sounded very pleased with himself, and once partially inside Aya, snapped his hips forward. "Gonna… call me little now?" He didn’t wait for an answer before he pulled back and thrust forward again.

"Smug bastard," Aya swore, but he felt too good to mean anything by the insult. Instead, he moaned in appreciation of his lover’s actions and shifted his hips back to take Yohji’s cock deeper in his ass. It almost ached whenever Yohji pulled back, in stark contrast to the burst of pleasure whenever he was filled once more.

Yohji’s right hand stroked along his right hip and wrapped around his cock, while at the same time Yohji’s left arm curled around his chest. "’Why yes, Yotan, it’s *huge*’." Yohji deepened his voice as he spoke, such an awful imitation of Aya that Aya had to smile and shake his head. "I know that’s what you’re really thinking."

"Yohji, shut up-"

"And fuck, I know." Yohji’s pleased chuckle made Aya smile some more, and then he was gasping as his lover increased the pace. Every few thrusts hit against his sweet spot, and between the vivid bursts of ecstasy that exploded through his body at the impacts and Yohji’s slick hand creating blissful friction along his cock, Aya rapidly lost the ability to speak. He could only stand there, braced against the wall and supported by Yohji as he was expertly fucked, pleasure building so sharply that he was quickly becoming oblivious to anything else.

Feeling his body tighten, Aya tried to give some sort of warning to his lover but could only manage to choke out Yohji’s name. The orgasm hit him with full force, stealing away his breath and most of the control of his body as he was assaulted by too much sensation. He felt his muscles clamp around Yohji’s cock, felt Yohji grip his cock tighter in return and then lost himself in bliss. Far away, Yohji kept thrusting into his body, the motions forceful enough to push him almost entirely against the wall, then he yelled as he came inside of Aya.

As the bliss slowly faded away, Aya became aware of the cool water splashing onto his left side. "Yohji…."

"I know," Yohji sighed and shifted away, slowly at first until his cock slipped from Aya’s ass. "Let’s get you rinsed off and out of here." He did just that after adjusting the water until it was as warm as possible; his hands moved tenderly along Aya’s body to quickly clean him, then just as gently shoved him out of the shower. "Now dry off before you catch a cold."

"Okay." Aya’s legs felt wobbly but he managed to stand on his own and grab a towel once he was out of the shower. He had just dried his body when Yohji rushed out from behind the shower curtain.

"Dammit, we *really* need to get a new water heater," Yohji cursed, his anger disappearing when Aya handed him a clean towel. "Thanks, love." He quickly rubbed it over his body then wrapped it around his waist. "Need any help?" he asked and waggled his eyebrows in a lascivious manner.

"No, I’m almost done." Aya dried his hair a little more then looked around for his yukata, which he’d just dropped to the floor in his haste to join his lover in the shower. Once he was dressed and Yohji was hanging up their towels, he stepped closer to his lover and leaned against him. "There is absolutely nothing little about your cock," he admitted, just wanting to please the man he loved and make him smile.

"Damn right there isn’t." Yohji smiled with evident pride and hugged him close. "It’s a perfectly fine specimen, and the only other that comes close to it is yours." He waggled his eyebrows again and slid his hand beneath Aya’s yukata to give Aya’s cock a gentle squeeze.

"It’ll be my chance to prove how big it is later, hmmm?" Aya closely watched his lover, and felt something warm and tingling inside his chest when Yohji smiled and nodded.

"Oh yeah, I’m looking forward to that. Of course, maybe I’ll give you a few more pointers before then." Yohji leered as his hand moved around to squeeze Aya’s ass. "Just to make sure you know what you’re doing."

Aya rolled his eyes and whapped Yohji on his left side. "Ha, ha, Yotan." He didn’t really mind the teasing, not when it was so evident that Yohji was entirely willing to let him top as he had a few times in the past. They were both getting used to the change in their sex life, in shaking things up a bit. Most of the time, Aya was perfectly happy to let Yohji fuck him, saving the occasions when they reversed roles for days like this. He liked to take his time and make Yohji feel as much pleasure as possible in thanks for how good Yohji always made him feel.

Yohji merely smirked and pulled away enough so he could step into his boxers. "You’re a wonderful student, Aya, but there’s always something more to be learned from the great Yotan."

Grunting in response, Aya opened the bathroom door and stepped outside. He instantly began to shiver because of the colder air in the hallway, not stopping until Yohji slid his arms around Aya’s shoulders. "In all seriousness, how about we go back to bed for a bit, okay?" Yohji whispered into his ear.

"That sounds wonderful." All Aya wanted to do for a few more hours was lay next to his lover in their warm bed. "Too bad the ‘great Yotan’ can’t do anything about drafty old buildings and lousy furnaces."

"If I thought you’d go along with it, I’d rent us an apartment for the winter so you’d be nice and warm." Yohji was obviously concerned as he rubbed his hands up and down Aya’s arms, his chest pressed against Aya’s back.

Aya paused to lean against him for a moment before he continued to their bedroom. "It’s not so much if I would go along with it, as…." Both he and Yohji sighed as they entered their room.

"Yeah, Kritiker wouldn’t like it if we wandered off." Yohji sounded bitter, his handsome face marred by a frown while he shed his boxers and helped Aya undo the belt of his yukata. "Ah well, living here means I have lots of excuses to snuggle with you."

Unable to hold back a smile as he remembered something, Aya slid beneath the warm sheets and curled against his lover when Yohji joined him in bed. "And we all know how great you are at snuggling."

"Damn right, I’m not known as the great Yotan for nothing. Huge dick, amazing snuggler, and unmatchable sex expert." Once again, all seemed right in Yohji’s world. He grinned at Aya like a man who’d just won the lottery and hugged him close. "Not to mention my absolutely perfect taste in boyfriends."

"Hmmm," Aya replied as non-committally as possible; he didn’t want to stroke the idiot’s already over-sized ego, yet he couldn’t stop smiling. Closing his eyes, he rested his forehead against Yohji’s shoulder and sighed in pleasure when his lover combed fingers through his hair.

"I’ll take it that you agree," Yohji said, his voice quiet and amused. "Get some rest, love, we’ve got a busy day off ahead of us."

A trickle of heat made Aya open his eyes and frown. He didn’t know what it was, but he felt as if myriad strings were attached to his body and were slowly being pulled. "I think we better stop fooling around and get some rest, Yotan," he said, and shivered as the warmth vanished, leaving him feeling cold and unsettled and very much aware that their ‘day off’ wouldn’t last for much longer.

"Such a grouchy kitty," Yohji mumbled and pulled the covers up more, until they were tucked beneath Aya’s chin.

As his lover drifted off to sleep, Aya lay there and waited to see if his power would tell him anything else. After several frustrating minutes, he rubbed his left hand over his eyes and gave in to his sense of exhaustion, mentally cursing Schu and Cassandra for forcing a power onto him and leaving him no control over it.

*******

Omi turned on the kitchen’s radio and selected a station that played popular American music. He might as well practice his English while he enjoyed some music and made breakfast. Bouncing on his toes at a particularly upbeat song, he tried to decide what to make. Rice, of course, since Aya preferred to have it for breakfast, and some miso soup as well, perhaps with some mushrooms and tofu. There was a depressing lack of vegetables in the fridge, which signaled that he couldn’t put off going to the grocery store any longer, so that meant rolled eggs rather than omelets. That should be okay, since Yohji and Ken both liked that dish, and he was pretty fond of it himself. Some toast using the last of the bread, and a bit of orange juice left over and it would be a good breakfast.

Humming along to the music, Omi started cooking for his friends. He measured out enough rice to last through the day and got that going in the rice cooker, and made the miso soup. While he was cracking the eggs, Ken showed up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Good morning, Omi."

Mindful of his hands being covered with egg, Omi smiled and rested his head against Ken’s shoulder, rather than give him a hug. "Good morning." He laughed at the disgruntled look on Ken’s face. "Or maybe not."

Ken wrinkled his nose and shook his head. "Obviously, you didn’t try to take a shower yet."

"No, I figured it would be best to take one last night since it’s our day off today." Omi smirked at his boyfriend and laughed when Ken tousled his hair. "You should know by now that if Aya and Yohji wake up early, they always take a shower together."

"Yeah, but I heard Yohji say something about them sleeping in today." Ken pouted for a few seconds then gave Omi’s shoulders a squeeze. "Ah well, at least I don’t have to be anywhere today and I can try to guilt-trip Yohji into buying dinner tonight. I know those two don’t have plans to go out." He seemed to recover from his bad mood and actually sang along with the chorus of a popular song. Omi continued to smile and thought that Ken really did need to take more English lessons.

"So, what’s for breakfast?" Ken asked as he moved to the coffee maker. "I smell miso soup."

"And rolled eggs," Omi said as he finished cracking open all the eggs. "Do you want them really sweet today?"

"Put a little extra sugar in there." Ken flashed him a grateful smile as he went to fetch the coffee. "I know we’re running out of a lot of things; do you want to go shopping with me?"

Feeling his chest fill with warmth and happiness, Omi nodded. "Thanks, I was gonna go myself later." Despite all that had happened in the past few months and what they did for a living, it was mornings like these that made it all worthwhile. Cooking a late breakfast for the three people he cared the most about in the world, having his boyfriend give him a kiss and being able to spend the day with Ken. The only bad thing about the day was that he had some homework to do, which he could stay up late to finish. "If Yohji won’t pay for dinner, maybe we could eat out."

"Sounds good to me." While the coffee was brewing, Ken had a bottle of water as he leaned against the counter near Omi. "Judging from the fact that the water was lukewarm, I’d say Yohji and Aya were up about an hour or two ago. If they’re not up in another hour, let’s go grocery shopping, bring the stuff back here and then catch a movie before dinner." Ken smiled as he spoke, obviously excited about the prospect of them spending the day together, then suddenly frowned. "Oh, wait, I don’t think the water will be hot by then, and I refuse to take a cold shower."

"We have all day, Ken-ken, don’t worry." Omi rinsed off his hands – and noted that the water had barely warmed up at all in the last half an hour – and patted his boyfriend’s left arm.

"I know," Ken sighed, and glared up at the ceiling in the direction of Yohji and Aya’s bedroom. "Wanna explain it to me again why we can’t just all pitch in for a new water heater?"

"Because it’s a security issue to have an outside contractor install it here, and I don’t trust any of us to work with electricity, gas lines and pipes." Omi shuddered in horror when he thought about the damage Yohji and Ken could do if they tried to install the water heater themselves, especially the tankless one that they needed. He felt reasonably sure that he and Aya might be able to figure things out, but their boyfriends would insist on helping and then things would go horribly wrong. "I’ll ask Manx or Birman about a new one the next time I talk to either of them."

The coffee having finished brewing, Ken went to pour himself a mug. "I think Kritiker knows we need a new one, and that’s why they haven’t sent Manx to see us for a while. They know she can’t resist the dreaded Omi chibi-eyes," he teased.

Omi stuck out his tongue and laughed. "She does usually listen to me. Oh well, I can tell Birman that it’s kind of difficult to wash out bloodstains if we don’t have enough hot water." His good mood faded slightly at that thought, and he regretted bringing up that topic when Ken grew quiet as well.

"Ah, Ken, would you mind making the toast while I cook the eggs?" he asked after a terse minute.

Shaking his head, Ken managed a weak smile. "Yeah, I should be able to manage that." He plugged in the toaster and hummed along with another song. "So, assuming that Yohji and Aya can’t be bothered to leave their bed today, what movie would you like to see?"

"I’m thinking a comedy." Omi poured some of the egg mixture in the skillet and gave it enough time to set before he began to roll it. "Uhm, I’m trying to remember the movie my friends were talking about…." There’d been one film, something with a season in the title, but he’d been so tired that day because of a late mission that he hadn’t paid enough attention. While he tried to recall the name, the song came to an end and the DJ began to report the day’s weather and a news update.

"…body found in Roppongi Hills this morning. Eye witnesses describe a dismembered body with its limbs deliberately stacked in a pile in the middle of the plaza in front of the Mori art museum. Paramedics had to be called to the scene as several of the eye witnesses, at first believing the corpse to be part of the museum’s exhibits, fainted upon realizing that the body was real."

Omi stared at the radio as he felt some of the warmth vanish. Suddenly, the day didn’t seem so bright and happy any more, not when there was a reminder of how much death and cruelty the world contained. While the DJ continued on about the body, Ken reached over and changed the station.

"Would you like some coffee, Omi?"

"Yeah, Ken, that would be nice." Omi rubbed his eyes before he poured more egg batter into the skillet. "That didn’t sound very good."

"What didn’t, Omittchi? Don’t tell me that Ken proposed in an offhand manner," Yohji teased as he and Aya strolled into the kitchen. Like Ken, Yohji was wearing a pair of sweats, and an old, faded blue sweater. Aya wore one of his yukata, the grey one with the iris print.

"Ha, ha, Yotan. If you’re going to be mean, go back to bed." Omi pouted at his friend, but soon smiled when Yohji’s expression turned to one of utter heartbreak.

"I’m sorry, chibi, I didn’t mean to be so bad." Yohji sniffed as if fighting to hold back tears then grinned in an utterly wicked manner. "So where’s the ring?"

"Yohji," Ken growled as he tossed a piece of toast at Yohji’s head, which the blond easily caught. "First you use up all the hot water and then you come down here and stir up shit, you bastard." There was a slight flush to his cheeks that Omi thought might have more to do with embarrassment than anger.

Yohji took a bite of the toast before he wandered over to the coffee maker. "Should have gotten a shower last night, like Omi did. I don’t bitch to you when you use all the hot water after one of your soccer practices with the brats, do I?"

"Yes, you do, incessantly at that." Ken glared at Yohji and appeared ready to fling another piece of toast – at least, until Aya stepped between the men to fetch the hot water kettle and gave him a warning look.

"What doesn’t sound very good?" Aya asked, as always focused on the issue at hand and not his teammates’ bickering.

Omi informed his friend of the news while Aya filled the kettle with water. "Something about a body found cut into pieces and left stacked in front of the Mori art museum. From what the DJ said, it sounded pretty horrible."

Yohji whistled once he finished taking a sip of coffee. "That’s in Roppongi Hills, right? You telling me someone left a body in that area? What about the private security?" He sounded more impressed than disgusted, but then again, it was an area known for its expensive shops and outrageously priced condominiums.

Ken set the plate of toast on the table and went to the cabinets by Omi to fetch the plates and bowls they’d need for their breakfast. "What, some poor guy ends up carved into pieces and you’re thinking about the shops there, or something?" he asked as he stared at Yohji with obvious distaste.

"Oh, don’t get your boxers all in a bunch, Hidaka," Yohji said as he poured himself more coffee. "I’m just pointing out that it’s not an area I’d expect them to find a body like that. I’d think it would have security and cameras out the wazoo, and that there are a lot better places to stash a corpse."

"Except that it doesn’t sound like they were hiding the body, Yotan," Omi mentioned as he finished rolling the last of the rolled eggs. "They said that people thought it was an exhibit, so that means it was out in the open."

"He has a point, Yohji." Aya nodded and gave Omi a slight smile as he ladled some soup into a bowl.

Sitting down at the table, Yohji turned his mug of coffee between the palms of his hand. "Okay, you’re right about that." He grimaced and took a sip of his drink. "Why are we talking about a dismembered corpse first thing in the morning on our day off, hmmm? Don’t we get enough of this shit any other day of the week?"

Omi hesitated before he joined his friends at the table. "I… I wonder if we might not hear more about the case. You know, for work." They had just finished a mission a few nights ago and had hoped for a bit of a break, but the murder did sound like something that Weiss usually had to investigate.

"It’s just one murder for now, right?" Ken asked as he buttered a piece of toast. "I doubt we’ll hear anything until they find a few more bodies. *If* there are a few more bodies. Like Yohji said, Roppongi Hills is a high class neighborhood, and it was in front of a museum as well. They probably caught the bastard who did it on film and will arrest him in another day or two."

What Ken said did make a lot of sense, so Omi began to feel better. At least until Aya frowned while he stared into his mug of tea and suddenly cleared his throat.

"Omi, you and Ken should leave early for the groceries and stay home tonight," he said, his deep voice quieter than normal.

"Why is that, Aya-kun?" Omi asked, his smile made nervous by a bad feeling. He did his best not to flinch when Aya looked up from his cup of tea, the violet of his eyes darkened to a deep purple.

"I… I don’t think this was the first murder. Kritiker will be here later." Aya’s frown deepened, and as everyone at the table stared at him, he shivered and shook his head. When he opened his eyes and glanced at Omi, they were back to their normal color, but Aya seemed to be freezing, judging from the way he trembled.

Yohji draped his left arm over Aya’s shoulders and rubbed his arm in an attempt to warm him up. "If they were able to leave a corpse in a popular plaza like that and not attract any attention until they were gone, I think they might have done it before, too." He shared a significant look with Omi. "Time to stop searching for porn on the internet and see if you can’t find any rumors out there about dismembered bodies."

Omi sighed in exasperation and rolled his eyes at Yohji, grateful for the excuse that should cover Aya’s use of his power in front of Ken. "How many times do I have to tell you, Yohji-kun? You’re the one who’s obsessed with porn, not me."

"Great, another mission with weird shit and bodies." Ken pushed his half eaten rolled egg aside and glared at the table. "Why do we always get the sick stuff, eh? What happened to missions where we busted apart a nice drug or slavery ring? No, it’s always people getting their eyes gouged out and killing kids with music and guys turning into monsters and… and… fuck." He sounded so defeated as he slumped in his chair and covered his eyes with his hands. "Our lives are like some kind of horror manga. Psychopaths and people who read minds or can’t feel pain or come back from the dead-"

Yohji slammed his empty coffee mug onto the table. "Gee, thanks for bringing shit like that up while we’re eating breakfast, Ken. What’s next, telling us in graphic detail about some poor puppy that got run over right in front of the shop?"

"Yohji." Aya sounded really upset, and all it took was the one word to get Yohji to look at him. Aya shook his head and leaned against his boyfriend. "It’s not his fault." Yohji appeared guilty for a few seconds and sighed before he pressed a kiss against Aya’s right temple.

Omi stared in surprise, since it wasn’t often that Aya defended Ken like that, especially when Ken had referred to Neu. They were all quiet for a few minutes; Ken gradually began to eat again while Aya sipped his tea. Yohji gave his boyfriend another kiss and got up from the table with his and Aya’s mugs in his right hand. "Okay, more coffee." He paused to lightly rap the knuckles of his left hand against the top of Ken’s head. "Didn’t Aya say something about you grocery shopping?"

"Yeah, once I can take a shower." Ken glared at Yohji, but Omi could tell there was no real animosity behind the look. "Let me guess, you need a carton of cigarettes or something."

Yohji wrinkled his nose as he poured more coffee into his mug. "No, but there are a few other things I’d like you to pick up."

Seeing the perfect opportunity, Omi smiled sweetly at his friend and chirped, "Sure thing, Yohji-kun! And you can buy us dinner in thanks."

Laughing at the bargain, Yohji shook his head and rejoined them at the table. "Okay, that sounds a heck of a lot better than going to the store myself." There was no mention made of how Aya hadn’t done much grocery shopping in the last month or so, not after his run-in at the store with Mastermind. "What do you want?"

"Some Thai food," Ken said and smacked his lips. "From the restaurant by the video store. They have the best sweet potato and chicken curry. Yum."

Yohji glanced at Aya, who nodded in approval. "Some Pad Thai would be nice," Aya murmured before he finished his soup.

"Don’t forget lots and lots of spring rolls! Ken and I will get some ice cream so we can have a nice dessert." Omi felt his good mood become restored. More than likely their night would be cut short by Birman or Teddy, but for right now, he was determined to enjoy this rare time with his friends. The last few weeks had been pretty rough because of what Aya and Yohji had suffered, and things weren’t quite back to normal. Yohji was awfully tired lately, as if he wasn’t sleeping well, and Aya got so quiet at times. Well, quieter than normal. They all needed a day where they could just relax and have fun, especially if they would have another mission soon.

Yohji groaned and draped his arm over Aya’s shoulders again. "Greedy little buggers, aren’t you? How come you always want the extra stuff when I’m paying?" Although he sounded upset, he smiled at Omi and winked.

"Please, Yohji, as if you don’t spend that much money if not more on your cigarettes," Ken scoffed. "I think I’m gonna get a double portion tonight." A very pleased smile spread across his face.

While Ken and Yohji began to argue over what was going to be ordered for dinner, Omi couldn’t help but laugh. He glanced across the table and found Aya smiling as he looked back and forth between the two loud idiots. Noticing Omi’s attention, he raised his chopsticks as if in a salute and went back to eating his rice.

Despite Aya’s ominous proclamation of their next mission, the fact that he didn’t seem too upset cheered Omi some what. The mission couldn’t be too bad if Aya was sitting there and smiling.

*******

Yohji groaned and flopped down in the soft chair, his left hand draped over his distended belly. "I am soooo stuffed," he complained to no one in particular. Dinner had been delicious, and Omi had gotten him his favorite ice cream so of course he had to finish off the pint tonight. All he wanted to do was lay there and perhaps take a nap while his stomach digested all that food.

Well, perhaps not take a nap, he thought when Aya approached the chair, a faint smile on his lips. "Poor Yotan." The words were softly spoken with no hint of sympathy. In one smooth motion, Aya straddled Yohji’s legs and settled on his lap, facing him.

"I think I deserve some special attention to make sure I recover," Yohji said and gave his lover his most convincing pout. His arms slid around Aya’s waist, his hands slipping beneath the wine-colored cashmere sweater to stroke cool, smooth skin. "Wanna be my nurse?" he asked as he waggled his eyebrows.

Aya sighed and seemed to be biting his lower lip as if to keep from smiling. "You’re incorrigible." He leaned forward to place a kiss against the tip of Yohji’s nose.

"Was that a yes? Hmm?" Yohji hugged Aya closer and sighed in contentment. "I think I feel a little better already." Just having Aya near like this made everything okay. He didn’t feel as tired or haunted when his lover rested against him and stroked a hand through his hair.

"I think you were pretty silly to try to eat as much food as Ken and deserve an upset stomach," Aya replied, his smile strengthening when Yohji pouted in the face of his blatant cruelty. "No one made you do it."

Yohji sniffed and began to rub his right hand up and down Aya’s spine. "Hey, I paid for dinner so I think I should have had the most to eat. Next time Ken wants dinner, he can pay for it." Not that he minded treating for his friends and lover, especially now that he had a fair bit of money since he didn’t go to clubs or bars anymore. In fact, he and Aya had barely gone out at all in the past month. They were perfectly happy to stay at home, perhaps rent a movie and order takeout, and enjoy each other’s company. Yohji didn’t have to worry about losing his lover if Aya was curled up beside him on their bed.

"Maybe next time you’ll use your brain." Aya rolled his eyes and tapped Yohji on the left side of his head. "Are you going to do anything other than sleep in the chair all evening?" He didn’t sound upset about the prospect, merely curious.

Giving his lover a lascivious grin, Yohji patted Aya’s ass with his left hand. "I don’t know, maybe I’m up for a bit of exercise." He rocked his hips upward and fought not to laugh when Aya sighed in exasperation.

"Definitely incorrigible," Aya repeated before he leaned in close for a kiss. Only too happy to oblige, Yohji kissed him back, noting that Aya had brushed his teeth after dinner. His tongue flicked along his lover’s teeth and tasted mint while his right hand clenched around soft fabric.

There was some heat to the kiss – it was damn near impossible not to feel some when Aya was sitting on his lap like that – but it was more about love and appreciation. Yohji was more grateful than he’d ever be able to put into words to have Aya in his life, to chase away the nightmares and join him in the shower and a thousand other little things. He knew that it could have gone so wrong, after Neu’s death, that he could have driven the man he loved more than anything else away. Thankfully, that hadn’t happened and he still had Aya, and things… things were better than they’d been in a very long time. Maybe the best they’d ever been, really. All the secrets that they’d kept from each other had been revealed, willingly or not, and they were dealing with the truth and moving on.

He felt a spark of anger at the thought of Mastermind, and did his best to shove it away before it affected his mood. There was nothing he could do about Aya’s arrangement with The Bastard, and he understood why his lover had made it. Just like Aya didn’t seem hurt or upset when Yohji called out Asuka’s name during or after a nightmare.

Shivering a little at the thought of his dead lover and how she still plagued his dreams, Yohji broke off the kiss so he could nibble his way to Aya’s neck. The way his lover suddenly inhaled and then moaned, so low and soft, made him smile and restored his happiness. As much as he’d only thought to fool around a little and make Aya smile, his cock was beginning to harden as lust rushed through his body, speeding up his heartbeat and slowly shutting down his brain.

"Yo-yohji," Aya stuttered, his hands clasping Yohji’s hair, either to push him away or pull him closer.

"Damn, what I wouldn’t give for it to be summer and you two to be wearing less clothes!"

Recognizing that voice, Yohji whimpered a few times and reluctantly pulled away. He looked at Teddy Stout over Aya’s shoulders and felt an intense longing to be somewhere else. "Why couldn’t it have been Birman?" he asked aloud. Or even Manx. Granted, Teddy wore a skirt like both of those ladies did, but his wasn’t as short and he didn’t shave his legs.

"Because she has a date tonight," Teddy responded tartly as he made his way across the living room. He was dressed in a black and blue plaid kilt, along with a matching black sweater and an unbuttoned dark grey winter coat. "I bet Red’s glad to see me, at least," he said, which proved how much an idiot the American was.

Right now, Aya looked as if he wanted to kill someone, but he carefully schooled his expression before he turned around and sat between Yohji’s legs. "No, I’m not." He frowned and folded his arms over his chest as if he was angry; Yohji noticed how he was minutely shivering and wrapped his arms around his lover. "You better be here for a mission briefing." There was a coldness to Aya’s voice that didn’t have anything to do with the lack of heat in the building.

Teddy pouted and clutched his right hand to his chest. "I can’t believe that my dear best friend isn’t happy to see me. What if I said that I brought a present from Koyu, hmmm?" A knowing smile spread across his face while he fetched a small, brightly wrapped package from his left coat pocket.

Looking over Aya’s shoulder, Yohji got to watch his lover’s face as Aya struggled with the fact that to accept Koyu’s gift, he had to allow Teddy to stay. "What is it?" Aya asked after several long seconds and held out his hand. "And don’t tell me you’re only here to drop this off," he snapped while he carefully unwrapped the present.

"Nah, I really do have a new mission for you guys, but Koyu’s been after me to drop that off ever since you invited us and Mickey to the Bonenkai party." Teddy shuffled his feet as if impatient while Aya was careful not to tear the pretty, bright red and gold paper. "I just hope the mission is finished before then."

Yohji thought about the party, a few more weeks off in the future, and grunted. "Don’t tell me it’s gonna be that long of a one." He rested his chin on Aya’s right shoulder and stared at what looked to be wrapped balls of leaves that Aya had been given as a present. "What the hell are those?"

"Artisan tea balls." Aya held up one of the dark greenish-grey balls that almost looked like a chrysanthemum bud. "Very fine tea leaves tied together that you can reuse several times." He placed the bit of leaves back into the package and looked at Teddy. "Please tell him ‘thank you,’ since I can’t send him a note."

Teddy waved his hand as if to dismiss the thanks, a pleased smile on his face. "Sure I will, but you can thank him in person soon enough. As for your question, Yohji, I’m not sure how long the mission will last." He puffed out his chest and tried for a serious look. "I suggest you join me in the mission room so I can give you an in-depth briefing." Somehow, he made the last few words sound rather obscene.

Having a terrible feeling about their newest mission, Yohji stifled a groan against his lover’s shoulder before he gave Aya’s waist a squeeze. "The sooner we find out what it is, the sooner he’ll leave," he whispered, and Aya immediately nodded. He let go of his lover so they could rise from the chair and follow a much too cheerful Teddy to the mission room. Oh no, it couldn’t be good if Teddy was so happy, Yohji thought with the realization of fast approaching doom.

He walked behind Aya, not even comforted by the sight of his boyfriend’s incredibly sexy ass wrapped in tight jeans, which was a sure sign that something bad was about to happen. Omi and Ken were already downstairs, seated next to each other on the couch. The evil look Omi gave Teddy while he scooted closer to Ken would have made Yohji smile under different circumstances.


Resigning himself to getting the briefing over with and finding out the bad stuff, Yohji sat down in the chair… and ended up actually smiling when Aya curled up between his legs once more. He hugged his lover close, both to warm up Aya and to provide some comfort for himself.

Teddy messed around with the VCR and the television for a few seconds. "Uhm, I hope you guys don’t have sensitive stomachs or anything." He hit the ‘play’ button and stepped away from the television, an unusually grim look on his face.

There was the usual spiel from ‘Persia’ calling Weiss to arms, and then the briefing turned serious. As the deep, emotionless voice droned on, various human corpses were flashed on the screen. Yohji barely paid attention to the locations mentioned, knowing that he’d go over the mission specs more in-depth later that night, because it was difficult to concentrate when faced with such horror and cruelty.

All of the crime scenes were the same – a location out in the open and around sculptures of some sort. Someplace where the stacked bodies, always arranged in a different design, could be ‘displayed’. Yohji winced when he realized the current body on the screen was that of a young woman, her head perched on top of the pile of her dismembered body, her long, black hair arranged over the limbs and festooned with bright, lacy ribbons. Even as hardened as he was to death and cruelty over the last few years, he felt his stomach threaten to rebel when he realized the ‘cap’ on top of her head was the skin from one of her breasts. Over on the couch, he heard Omi moan as if in pain.

The ‘artworks’ just got worse. How could someone think of such ways to carve up the human body like that? Skin was flayed, organs split open and exposed as if they were obscene Rorschach prints, some faces horribly disfigured and some painted up as if they were dolls. No corpse was treated or positioned in the exact same way, and from the amount of scarring and tattooing on the victims’ flesh, Yohji was willing to bet that some of them had been kept alive for while.

With each new body, he felt Aya grower tenser in his arms. He hugged his lover as close as possible, needing to feel something good and alive to help fight the horror. The thought of someone doing that to Aya made him utterly furious, made him want to tear the bastard apart with his own bare hands. He realized that this would be one kill that wouldn’t leave him with nightmares, doubts or guilt. Once Weiss tracked down whoever was responsible for this obscenity, he’d probably have to fight the others to take the bastard out. For once, he hoped there were enough targets for all of them. No one who did this deserved to live.

Persia wasn’t even done telling them to ‘deny the dark beasts their future’ when they began to ask Teddy questions.

"How the hell did Kritiker manage to hide all of the bodies?"

"Why didn’t we hear about this before now?"

Yohji and Omi spoke at the same time while Ken punched his right fist into the leather cushion of the couch. Feeling Aya nudge an elbow into his ribs, Yohji settled back in the chair and let Omi repeat his question.

"Teddy, why haven’t we heard about this before now? Today’s victim was the ninth one," Omi said, a deep frown on his face as he stared at the blank television screen.

Teddy ran his hand over his dark hair and tugged on one of his braids. "Kritiker has had a hell of a time keeping the lid on this. Until this morning, the victims were left in places where it was easy for us and the police to contain the scene. Yeah, they were left out in the open, but usually were discovered by patrolling security guards or police officers. Two were found by homeless people who were more than willing to be paid to keep quiet."

"Except for the latest victim." Omi’s frown grew stronger and he motioned for the stack of folders on top of the television. "Obviously, he was left in a very public place."

"Yeah," Teddy agreed as he handed out the information on the victims and mission that Kritiker had compiled. "We’re not exactly sure why that happened; maybe the person or persons responsible for the murders got upset with not receiving any attention."

"Then they would have left the victims where they would be certain to be found in the first place," Aya said, startling Yohji since it was the first time he’d spoken since the briefing had started. "They were practicing." He sounded a bit distant, as if lost in his thoughts, which made Yohji mentally curse and wish that the briefing was taking place during the day, when it wouldn’t seem so odd that Aya was wearing sunglasses to hide his eyes. However, when he leaned forward and risked a look at Aya’s face, he was relieved to see that his lover’s eyes were normal.

Omi made a small sound of agreement. "Yes, I think you’re right, Aya. The latest victim’s… arrangement is much more elaborate than the others."

Teddy nodded and folded his arms over his chest, as if unsure what to do with his hands. "That seems to be what a couple of the company shrinks believe; they’re definitely arguing like mad over this case."

Ken punched the couch again. "Nine people are dead, dammit! Why are we only hearing about this now?" He looked disgusted and ready to gut something, his dark eyes narrowed and his trembling hands clenched into fists.

"Because the police were doing their best to hang on to this case," Teddy explained in a quiet, tired voice.

Yohji snorted and tapped his folder against the arm of the chair. "You mean, now that the case has become public, they’re too afraid to look bad while they fumble about for clues and are finally willing to let someone else help." He felt as disgusted as Ken looked when he thought about how many lives could have been saved if the police hadn’t insisted on solving the murders on their own. Well, until it had became very important to catch the murderers as quickly as possible, before the police had their image tarnished.

"Give the blond gentleman a prize," Teddy said as he went to the couch and sat down on the arm nearest Yohji and Aya. "This has been going on for the last five months and they haven’t found much of anything. Needless to say, they’re hoping it’ll be solved before another murder occurs." He wrinkled his nose and muttered something in English too quickly for Yohji to completely understand, but he recognized a curse word or two.

Aya flipped through some of the autopsy reports. "It says here that the perpetrators had done a very good job of rendering the victims unidentifiable." He leaned against Yohji as he closed the folder and stared at Teddy.

"Well, mostly. The victims had any identifiable scars, moles or birthmarks removed, and they even messed with the victims’ teeth and fingerprints. However, we’re pros at Kritiker." Teddy puffed out his chest again and smiled for the first time since the briefing started. "We figured a few things out."

"That the victims were artist models," Omi said, completely stealing Teddy’s thunder. "Interesting. Must have taken a lot of time going through the missing person’s files to come up with the matches." He sounded more intrigued than disgusted now, the part of him well-trained by Kritiker all these years kicking in. Yohji felt a wave of sadness as he stared at his friend. Gone was the happy, teasing teenager from this morning, replaced by something much colder and ruthless. Omi appeared older than his relatively few years as he slowly examined each page in the folder, and Yohji knew the kid would spend most of his free time going over and over the information until the case was solved.

Teddy appeared crestfallen for a moment then quickly recovered. "Yeah. You can thank Mickey for that." His pleased air returned and he began to tap his fingers against his exposed knees. "He figured out the whole art angle thing and narrowed the search down to anyone missing who was somehow employed by or as an artist. Hell, he even predicted that sooner or later, the perpetrators would leave a body by an art museum."

Grunting again, Yohji rested his chin on Aya’s shoulder. "Yeah, it’s clear he got all the brains in the family." As much as he’d begun to doubt Kritiker in the last few months, he was glad that someone as intelligent and honorable as Mickey worked for the organization. There was a large sense of relief in knowing he could depend on someone if need be – more than one someone, if he counted Teddy and Koyu. He felt a little guilty that they’d been dragged into things because of him and Aya, but he was still glad.

"Ha, ha." Teddy glared for several seconds, then his gaze seemed to shift to Aya and for some reason he smiled in a not very nice manner. "So, do I even need to ask if you’re all in or what?" He sounded terribly smug about something.

All of Weiss nodded. "Hell, yes," Ken growled, his face twisted by a ferocious glower. "I don’t care what the hell I have to do, I want these guys." His right hand flexed as if he was wearing his bugnucks

"You don’t know how happy I am to hear you say that, Brown Eyes." Teddy, as suicidal as ever, batted his eyes at Ken before he went back to the television to pick up a new set of folders. Omi had noticed the look and, from what Yohji could tell, was fingering a dart that was tucked inside his left sleeve.

Shuffling the folders about, Teddy handed them out, a huge grin on his face. "We were hoping that all of you would take part, considering that this case will need a lot of work because of how little we know about the perpetrators. Mickey and I have been busy the last few days setting up identities and jobs for you." He sounded very pleased with himself.

Yohji felt the itching need for a cigarette, but did his best to ignore it as he accepted his folder. "Wait a second, Teddy – the murder just happened this morning. Er, last night." Sometime in the last twenty-four hours, at least.

"Yeah, but like I said, Mickey’s really been working on this case even though the police refused to let it go. He and several others knew that it would only be a matter of time before the police gave up or Kritiker took over, and you guys are the best team we have for stuff like this." A look of sorrow crossed over Teddy’s face. "From what I’ve read, you had just a little more information with… with David’s case and got it solved rather quickly." His gaze darted at Aya before he stared at the floor.

Feeling an urge to hold Aya close, Yohji swore that this time, the mission wouldn’t end with Aya as the victim. There was no way he’d allow the man he loved to be drugged, kidnapped and beaten again. "What can I say; we’re smarter than you think." That and they had Aya’s talent mostly working for them. Yohji felt the beginnings of a headache as he thought about how busy Omi and he would be making sure that Kritiker didn’t notice Aya using it for this mission.

Distracted by those thoughts, he was taken by surprise when Aya stiffened against him and Ken took to swearing like a really pissed off, drunken sailor, or something like that.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me!" Ken snapped as he glared at Teddy, his cheeks a furious red. "You want me to be a nude model?"

"What! Oh, no way in *hell*," Omi cried as he snatched Ken’s folder from the obviously infuriated and embarrassed man’s lap. He let out a very loud squawk and let out a string of curses that put Ken’s to shame.

Yohji couldn’t help it, he just had to laugh. "Ha ha! Oi, Kenken, now’s the time to show the world just how much of a man you really are." He winked at his still furiously blushing friend. "Guess we better get the problem with the hot water tank fixed before classes start, or you’ll leave them with a bad impression!"

"Yohji, shut the hell up," Ken muttered, his anger seeming to ebb away a little as embarrassment won out. "I don’t believe this," he said as he buried his face in his hands.

"Let’s hope you didn’t put on a few kilos after tonight’s dinner- ow!" Yohji stopped taunting his teammate to glower at his lover. "What was that for?" he asked as he rubbed his sore ribs, victims of Aya’s bony elbow, and turned amazed when he noticed the slight flush to Aya’s cheeks.

"It seems Ken isn’t the only one chosen to be an artist’s model." Aya held up his folder. "Any specific reasons why we were picked?" he asked, his voice so cold and filled with barely restrained anger that Yohji shivered, even as he opened his mouth to yell about the assignment.

"Yes! I think there’s been a mistake. Yohji would make a fine artist’s model and he wouldn’t have any problem being naked in front of strangers. He’s had lots of experience, at least," Omi commented as he put an arm around Ken’s shoulder and patted him in a consoling manner.

Yohji scowled at the brat. "Thanks a lot, chibi." Even if Omi had a point, he could have phrased things better than that. "There’s no way Aya’s gonna be naked in front of a bunch of perverts," he informed Teddy with the nastiest look he could manage.

"Thanks for being so concerned for me, Yohji," Ken mumbled and leaned against Omi.

Clearly amused by the entire situation, Teddy seemed to be struggling to pull off a serious expression and utterly failing. "Look, as much as I’m *sure* you want to blame the assignments on me, I didn’t have anything to do with it. You get to yell at Mickey and Birman for the choices." He carefully skirted around the chair to pick up Yohji’s neglected folder and whapped him over the head with it before quickly getting out of arm’s reach.

"Yohji, you’re the one with a talent for drawing, so that’s why you were picked to attend several classes. While I admit that you’re enough of an exhibitionist to get your jollies from showing the goods to a bunch of strangers, we need a convincing artist and that’s you." He smiled sweetly in the face of Yohji’s even dirtier look. "That leaves your other teammates for the very important roles of bait. Omi’s too young, so that leaves two people for a mission that really begs for more than that. As is, Ken and Aya are gonna spend most of their days standing around naked." For the first time since handing out their assignments, Teddy appeared upset. "Unfortunately, Koyu and I will be working in the shop to cover for their absence, so I can’t attend any of the classes." He glanced in Ken’s direction, a mournful expression on his face. "And I so wanted to attend one of yours, Brown Eyes."

"I have an idea," Omi said, his teeth very clearly gritted together and his right hand once more creeping toward his left sleeve. "Why don’t you switch jobs with Ken, Teddy? He can work in the shop while you stand around naked all day."

"Sorry, but I’m not cleared for that level of undercover assignment yet," was Teddy’s chipper reply. "Nope, the assignments are not changeable. If you don’t like it, then you can talk to Mickey and Birman."

Yohji was going to do just that, even if he had to go visit Mickey tomorrow. There was *no* way that someone was going to spend hours staring at his naked lover. *No one*. Aya was his, he alone got that pleasure. "Like it really matters how well anyone can draw. I’m gonna switch places with Aya."

Teddy shook his head. "Not gonna happen. Look, seriously, this isn’t about playing some sort of joke on you guys or messing with your heads. You need to be the student, Yohji, because the classes the victims modeled for were all advanced level. If Ken, Aya or Omi try to fake their way through the classes, they’re gonna be kicked out by the end of the first day." He crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head again. "Nah, nothing’s being changed. Ken and Aya are the models, you’re the student, and Omi will be chasing down any leads the three of you find while doing some searches of his own."

"But… but… I get pretty good grades in my art classes," Omi pointed out, his eyes going all wide as if he was trying to charm Teddy. "I can attend-"

"Nope." Teddy let out a quick breath and rubbed his eyes. "You wanna argue, like I said, take it up with Mickey and Birman, but don’t get your hopes up of changing anything."

Aya set his folder aside and gently nudged his right elbow into Yohji’s side. "While I am… rather displeased at the assignments, " he paused to give Teddy one of his shi-ne glares to show just how displeased, "the fact stands that if we hope to complete the mission, we’ll have to follow orders." The faint hint of color returned to his cheeks. "And if I ever find out that you played a part in setting up this mission, Stout, I won’t let my friendship with Koyu stay my hand in regards with you." He once more gave Teddy a shi-ne look, this time making the American audibly gulp.

Teddy plastered a nervous grin on his face and held up his left arm, which was clearly lacking a watch. "Well, would you look at the time? I think I should go now and leave you guys to work. You’ll have two days to prepare and buy any necessary items you need for class, and then the mission will start." He sidled to the stairwell, clearly reluctant to turn his back on them. Yohji thought that was a particularly good thing since *he* did have his watch and Omi seemed to have gotten his hands on the dart.

Watching Teddy flee up the stairs, Yohji tried to figure out when would be the best time to have a little talk with his lover. There was *no* *way* he’d let Aya go through with the mission, not when Aya froze while wearing thick sweaters and a jacket, but he had to bide his time. Rubbing his aching ribs, he knew that Aya would probably get all pissed off at him, yet he wasn’t going to give any ground on this. Let Ken be the bait; he wasn’t anywhere near as sexy as Aya and wouldn’t attract many perverts.

"Yohji, before you say anything, I’m going through with the mission," Aya practically growled as he pulled away from Yohji and got off the chair. "You heard all the reasons Teddy gave us, and I feel they’re justified. This is about stopping the murderers, not your foolish sense of pride." He gave Yohji a cold, stern look before he headed upstairs as well.

"But… but…." Yohji scrambled from the chair to follow his lover. "Aya, you’re going to be naked!" he yelled out as he hurried up the steps. "Think of how many perverts you attract with your clothes on!" He almost got sent falling backwards down the steps when Aya slammed the door in his face. "Well, fuck me," Yohji muttered as he sat down on the top step. "This is gonna require some thinking." Maybe he could secretly dose Aya with something that would make him sick before his first class.

Downstairs, he could hear Omi and Ken talking about something, but couldn’t make out the words. More than likely, they were discussing Ken’s assignment, and Yohji hoped that Omi figured out a way to get Aya and Ken out of this mess. Quite simply, if he had to attend a class where Aya was naked and a bunch of drooling perverts stared at his lover, there was going to be mass homicide.

*******

 

Schuldig stifled a wide yawn as he entered the apartment he shared with his teammates. He was exhausted from spending the day tracking down information for Crawford and just wanted to go to bed. He needed the rest and as soon as it was morning, he could talk to Aya again.

Smiling, he paused to lean against the wall for a moment and closed his eyes. This morning had been so pleasurable and rewarding; first, holding Aya in his arms, even if only in the dream world. Secondly, he’d approached Aya in a dream and had only been glared at, for the most part. Oh, Aya had protested… but there had been a heartening lack of hate and true anger, other than the one moment.

Aya still resisted him, that was certain, but not as strongly as before. Aya *needed* him now, if only to know about the sleeping vegetable, and that was an opening that Schuldig could put to good use. He was resolved to not lie at all to his heart for the next couple of months, to prove that he could be trusted and relied upon. The small opening that Aya had given him with both the kiss and accepting their morning conversations would be what he used to bring about that night among the cherry trees.

Amazing, what a bit of hope could do. Schuldig’s smile turned the slightest bit cruel as he pushed himself away from the wall and continued toward Crawford’s office. He knew his teammates were puzzled by his happy attitude lately, especially since he hadn’t gotten Aya, as he hoped. But in a way, he had… and so much better than if he’d taken the precious man by force.

That still wasn’t to say that he wouldn’t rip Cassandra’s mind to shreds if he saw her any time soon. Schuldig’s smile slipped a little as he thought about the madwoman. He really did need to pay her a visit, something he was loathe to do while his control was so chancy. While he was not displeased that her vision had proved false, he detested being lied to and played for a fool. Oh no, he wasn’t ready to pay her a visit just yet.

Knocking three times on Crawford’s door, he didn’t bother to wait for an answer before he pushed it open and entered. "Guten Tag, mein Furher." He even clicked his heels together and saluted.

Normally, such a greeting was good for a nasty glare at the least, yet tonight all Crawford did was smile. Granted, the expression was slightly strained and rather faint, but it was a smile none the less. "Good evening, Schuldig. Did you have a productive day?" Crawford asked as he leaned against his plush leather chair, the picture of a successful businessman with his expensive, dark grey suit and his hair perfectly combed back.

"As if there was ever a doubt; I even got all the information that you wanted." Schuldig reached for his leader’s mind and mentally sent all the information he’d spent the last twelve hours or so gathering. He hadn’t enjoyed wasting the day tracking down various Kritiker agents and let some of his displeasure be known. <Why are you having me do this shit now? We’re not gonna move against Kritiker for at least another month, more like two or three.>

"Patience, Schuldig, and you’ll have your answers." Crawford actually smiled in earnest as he folded his hands together. "I want as many of our plans in place as possible before the Elders issue the command to take out Kritiker. We’re going to be very busy then, and I’m not about to leave anything to chance." He shifted his head slightly, making the light from the small lamp on his desk reflect off his glasses. "I also expect you to be able to use Abyssinian’s power to our benefit then."

Schuldig waved his right hand about as if dismissing something of no importance. "Don’t worry, I’m working on that." He had loosened the chains binding Aya’s power the slightest bit, and had felt it flare to life twice today. That meant his heart had a mission, something that made him and his talent want to twist the threads about, and Schuldig would closely monitor the situation. Now that Aya was on his way to accepting Schuldig, he had to accept his power as well.

"Pardon me if I express some doubts over the matter. You are not entirely predictable when it comes to Abyssinian." Crawford lowered his chin, the light no longer reflecting from his glasses and his revealed expression was stern. "We’ve spent the last few years working toward this, Schuldig, and I will not accept failure on any of our parts."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it." Schuldig rolled his eyes and leaned against the doorframe, his arms folded across his chest. "I want to be free of the old bastards, too, don’t forget." Not to mention that Aya would be in danger from them as long as they were alive. "Is there anything else, or are you just gonna bitch me out some more, hmmm?"

Crawford slowly shook his head, the hint of a smile back on his lips. "No, that is all for today. I have a few more matters for you to attend to in the morning, but they can wait a little longer. Pleasant dreams, Schuldig." He actually sounded amused about something, which sent off warning bells in Schuldig’s head.

"You feeling all right, Crawford?" he asked, his sense of unease growing when Crawford shook his head again and increased his smile. Deciding it would be best to get out of here if Crawford had lost it, Schuldig mumbled something along the lines of ‘good night,’ and fled to his room.

Farfarello was out on some assignment for Crawford and Nagi was busy on the computer, so the rest of the apartment was quiet. Schuldig decided he’d have a shower before crawling into bed, to wash off the day’s sweat and blood. Now that he wasn’t focused on work, he could better sense Aya’s emotions and picked up some agitation and embarrassment. He assumed that Balinese had done something to piss off Aya tonight, and even caught a fleeting image of the asshole. While he wanted nothing more than to delve into Aya’s mind and find out what Balinese had done, he forced himself not to do so. Aya might notice his intrusion, and he didn’t want to lose the ground he’d gained today. No, he’d wait until tomorrow to find out what had upset his heart and see how he could twist Balinese’s actions to his benefit.

Grinning as he headed to the bathroom, Schuldig had a good feeling. Crawford was being a bit demanding, but not unreasonably so. Aya was talking to him on a daily basis. And now it seemed that Balinese had proven how much of an asshole he could be. Things were going well.

He couldn’t wait until morning, when he could talk to Aya again.

*******

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