Art of Cruelty

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chapter two

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Yohji sat on the bed and waited for Aya to return from the bathroom. His lover had spent the last half an hour in there, supposedly getting ready for the night – as if it really took Aya that long, unless he had a lot of blood to wash out of his hair. Leaning back against the bed’s headboard, Yohji grimaced in distaste at that thought and tried to practice his sense of patience. Naturally, he wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Five minutes later, Aya walked into the room dressed in his grey yukata with his hair damp and disheveled. There was a languidness to his movements from the long workout he’d done before the shower, and Yohji could only hope that his lover was in a better mood now. That hope weakened significantly when he noticed the way that Aya glared in his direction.

"If you’re going to try to talk me out of the mission, leave the room, Yohji." Aya pointed to the door before he sat on the couch next to the bed, his arms folded over his chest. He looked so damn gorgeous just then, face flushed from the hot shower and hair tousled, which only reminded Yohji of why he was so upset in the first place. However, before he could open his mouth and get into even more trouble, he took a deep breath and combed his left hand through his hair. Gods, how he wanted a cigarette – fuck, a joint would be better – but that would only piss off his lover even more.

"Give me a few minutes to speak, Aya," he almost pleaded, not wanting to get into a huge fight when all it would do was ensure that Aya started work as a nude model within the next few days. While Aya had been exercising and showering, Yohji had used the time to do his best to get his protective instincts under control and come up with something to say that wouldn’t end with him being gutted by a katana.

He was both surprised and encouraged when his lover nodded at the request. "Let me just say that I know you’re more than able to take care of yourself, that you’re an adult and a skilled assassin and not someone who needs to be told what to do." Well, outside of Kritiker and Omi ordering them around, that was. "I heard all that Teddy had to say about the assignment and why you were picked to be a nude model, and I’m sure you just want to finish this assignment and track down the killers." That out of the way, Yohji took a deep breath. "I don’t want you to do it. You’ll be freezing your ass off and miserable the entire time; there’s *no* way that you’ll be able to hide a weapon on yourself," there better not be, at the least, or Yohji would have to forego fucking his lover for a few days, "and it’s just overall dangerous."

Aya seemed to be taking things rather well and managed to stop glaring somewhat. "But it’s okay for you to be in danger? Or Ken?" he asked in a mostly civil tone of voice, which Yohji took as a good sign since he wasn’t being told to ‘die’.

Ken wasn’t half as gorgeous as Aya, though he’d probably have his fair share of admirers. Okay, maybe Yohji was a bit prejudiced there since one was his best friend and the other his lover, but he still felt that Ken wouldn’t have such a bad time of it. "At least Ken and I are used to other people seeing us naked," he pointed out, not sure if that was the right card to play or not; Aya could get really upset over him bringing up all his past lovers. "And it’s a hell of a lot easier to hide some wire than an entire katana when you’re not wearing clothes."

"I wouldn’t know - I’ve never tried to do that." Was it Yohji’s imagination or had Aya’s lips twitched ever so slightly? "Yohji, you’re not going to change my mind." Aya stood up from the couch and approached the bed. "I’ve already accepted the mission, and you heard Teddy explain our assignments. Continue to try to talk me out of it or do anything to jeopardize things and I won’t forgive you." His glare returned as he sat down on the bed, just out of Yohji’s reach.

"Kitten…." Yohji winced when it became clear that he could have used something other than Aya’s not so well received nickname just now. "Aya… I don’t like you being naked in front of a bunch of strangers when there’s a strong possibility that one or more of them may be the targets." There, he’d said it, and felt that he deserved some credit for not mentioning how Aya had been captured by targets before. Oh, all right, just the one time, but that one time had been too much for Yohji. Even if it had led to them becoming lovers, he would never forget the fear that had filled him when Aya had been taken by Aso. "I don’t want you to be hurt," he admitted in a hushed voice.

At any other time, he could enjoy how gracefully his lover moved as Aya bridged the distance between them and straddled his lap. "Don’t be such an idiot, Yotan." He combed his fingers through Yohji’s hair and brought their foreheads together. "I’m going to freeze half to death, be utterly embarrassed and plan to track down all of the students after the mission is over to destroy whatever artwork they do of me, but that’s it." For emphasis, he tugged on Yohji’s hair. "I’ll be fine, I promise." His eyes went unfocused all of a sudden, their color deepening, and Yohji did his best to not physically react to the sight.

He hated Aya’s power because of all the pain and grief it caused his lover, but at that moment, he was grateful for it because he couldn’t stand however long the mission took while he worried non-stop about Aya. He knew the risks of their job, that Fate seemed to have it out for anyone he loved and the twisted nature of their target… and still felt reassured. "You better not, love, or else I’m going to grab all of those painting and sketches of you first and sell them to the fangirls," he teased, doing his best to smile instead of scowl over the thought of anyone owning a picture of Aya naked. Oh yes, he would indeed beat his lover to the artwork – but he’d keep one or two of the really good paintings for himself.

Aya shook his head and gave Yohji’s hair another tug as he pulled back a little. "Yohji… in all seriousness, *do not* do anything to risk this mission. I don’t care how overprotective or jealous you get, if you act out on those impulses it will be a *very* long time before I forgive you." From the cold look on his face, he wasn’t kidding, either, Yohji thought with a sinking heart. Dammit, he was just trying to keep the man he loved safe! Why couldn’t Aya understand that?

Because Aya wasn’t someone who just let another person protect him, not when he felt that he did a pretty damn good job of that on his own. Yohji could argue about that – had argued about that, in fact – but it wouldn’t get him anywhere but sleeping in the spare bedroom for a few weeks while Aya took even more risks than usual. No, despite how much he hated the mission assignments and his earlier resolve to do anything to fuck things up if it meant that Aya didn’t have to strip naked, he’d have to come up with some other plan. Maybe he could spread a rumor or two that the new model had a few unsavory diseases or something…. "Just promise me this, Ayan. Take a really, *really* cold bath before you go to work, okay?"

He was laughing when Aya hit him for that comment, finally daring to let his hands wander beneath the silk yukata that his lover wore. "Some people aren’t obsessed with size like you are, Kudoh," Aya complained, his eyes narrowed in anger but his lips the tiniest bit curled into a smile.

"I’m not obsessed – there’s no need to worry about what you’ve got when it’s so big," Yohji joked. He had nothing to be ashamed of and wouldn’t be bothered by a bunch of strangers staring at him, but he knew that wasn’t true for his reticent boyfriend. That he’d have to stand there and let those strangers drool over Aya didn’t do good things to his blood pressure, but he refused to just take the classes where Ken was a model. First off, he didn’t want to see that much of a friend’s naked body and secondly, he would be there if anyone decided to do more than look at his lover.

Aya snorted in derision and settled a little further back on Yohji’s lap. "I refuse to be part of this ridiculous conversation or to feed your delusional nature." Yohji’s eyes widened at the verbal jabs and he sniffed for good measure, which made Aya’s faint smile grow a little stronger. "I’m doing this, Yotan. Act like a jealous lover and you’ll be sleeping in the spare bedroom for the foreseeable future." The smile faded into a frown. "The targets need to be stopped."

"I know," Yohji sighed, admitting defeat for the moment. Whenever he recalled the pictures of the crime scenes, he felt anger sizzle through his blood until he was ready to lash out at something. Since joining Weiss, he’d seen some pretty horrible and strange ways to die, but this latest mission was truly disturbing. There was something very sick in seeing people as something only of value once they were dead – it was even worse than that one doll mission he’d been part of soon after joining Weiss. "Okay, let’s look over the reports again," he said with a firm resolve as he pushed Aya off his lap.

His lover sat on the bed, mouth open and eyes blinking in strong surprise. "What?" Aya asked as if he wasn’t sure just what Yohji had said.

"We’re going over the mission reports," Yohji repeated as he got off the bed so he could fetch the thick folders. The only chance he had of Aya not being molested by a bunch of freaky art students was if they settled this mission as quickly as possible. That meant it was time to put the famous Kudoh investigation skills to work, uncover whoever was responsible and kill them as soon as possible. Yohji’s jaw clenched as two very strong impulses – to protect Aya and stop the possibly multiple targets – melded together. "Why don’t you go downstairs and put on a pot of coffee, okay? And maybe put a sign in the window that we’ll be closed for the next two days." They’d have a lot of work to do to get things ready for the mission, after all.

Aya was silent for several seconds as he stared in disbelief. "Okay." He scooted off the bed and came to a stop in front of Yohji. "This better not be some act to lull me into thinking that you’re not going to sabotage things," he warned, deep voice even deeper with implied threat. Then Aya snorted again and rocked forward to brush his lips against Yohji’s. "I like it when you’re serious like this."

Yohji watched his lover leave the room, momentarily distracted by the sight of Aya’s damn fine ass. So much for spending the night in bed ‘cuddling’ he thought with some regret… then Aya’s words sunk in and made him smile. So his lover liked it when he was serious, eh? That could lead to some very fun role playing once the mission was finished, so he’d better do his best to wrap things up soon.

*******

Aya sighed when he was aware of the scent of flowers, the sound of a fountain and the feel of cool hands covering his eyes. "Geli."

"Such a wise guess!" the ‘girl’ giggled before removing her hands from Aya’s face. She moved from behind him and twirled around in a circle, the light blue skirt she wore fanning out around her slim, tanned legs. "How did you know it was me?" There was a teasing smile on her face as she motioned for Aya to sit down at the small, wrought iron and marble table set near the koi pond.

It was so easy for Aya to go along with the teasing; he didn’t think it was a deliberate affectation on Geli’s part, but she was so similar to Aya-chan. They had the same bright personality, the small streak of wickedness that came out in harmless pranks and jokes, the delight in being someone’s center of attention. However, Geli possessed an innate, deep sadness that made it clear that she wasn’t his sister or trying to be like her, and he didn’t feel any ‘falseness’ to the young woman. Oh, he was certain that she wasn’t mentally as young as she appeared, but he was growing accustomed to how things worked in the dream world now that Geli had explained a little about it to him.

He was also getting better at manipulating things in here, and he set about using that new talent to make a pot of the strong, black tea that Geli enjoyed to appear on the table. As its fragrant steam rose into the air, they both sat down across from each other. Geli’s impish smile returned when she made a plate of elaborately decorated petit-fours appear.

"Tea and cakes with a good friend, such a lovely way to spend a dream, na?" She said while Aya poured the tea.

"You’ve clearly learned Japanese from a man," he couldn’t help but point out, amused at how formal and masculine she spoke the language – until she was upset enough to swear up a storm. Even with all the languages his father had made him learn, there were several words that he couldn’t translate even if he guessed at their country of origin. Geli had taught him a few of the Arabic words, which he’d used to stun Schu a time or two.

Geli shook her head and switched back to German. "Seishirou will be pleased to learn that he’s left such an impression on me!" Her smile turned warm as she accepted the porcelain cup. "Although he’ll surely complain that it’s not a strong enough impression." She pouted over that thought for a few seconds before deciding to enjoy a petit-four instead.

"I look forward to meeting him." Aya watched her reaction and felt at ease when she didn’t seem upset about the suggestion. She’d been promising to introduce him to the other Japanese man for some time, although she said it would have to wait until ‘the time was right’. Unlike the many dreams in which Cassandra and Schu had put him off about explaining things, he had the impression that Geli wasn’t lying or trying to hide things from him, just that there was a proper time for all revelations. There was something decidedly ‘Zen’ to the girl’s way of thinking.

As long as he didn’t have to deal with Cassandra’s cryptic mutterings and threats, he went along with these dreams and had actually grown fond of Geli. And if visiting with her kept Cassandra at bay, then he was happy.

"You used your talent today," Geli said once she’d finished the pastry and sipped her tea. "Just for a moment."

"It wasn’t intentional," Aya explained, the very fine porcelain cup held cradled in his right hand. He idly traced the petals of a painted chrysanthemum bud with the tip of his left index finger. "I was just trying to reassure Yohji." Forcing his attention from the cup, he gave his companion an assessing look. "Was it true? Will I be safe during this assignment?"

Geli waved her left hand about a few times before returning her attention to the plate of tiny cakes. "Your talent, so you tell me." When Aya sighed in annoyance, she looked up and with a smile put a white petit-four with pink flowers on his plate. "That should be white cake with butter cream frosting. You’ll like it."

"Geli…."

"Oh, don’t be like that," she said with a bit of heat to her high-pitched voice. "You have a brain, Aya, and the more you use it, the better the future will be for you. And if you don’t want the cake, I’ll eat it instead."

Feeling like a surly child, Aya glared at his companion as he snatched up the pastry and popped it into his mouth. His temper vanished, however, at the delicious taste. "I don’t know if I should hate you or fear you," he said once he swallowed the treat.

Laughing in delight, Geli clapped her hands together and made more of the white and pink pastries appear. "Oh, don’t do either!" She giggled for a few seconds before growing serious once again. "Aya, I’m not tormenting you, I promise." The look on her face just then was one of pure hatred. "Unlike *them*, I mean you no harm nor do I wish to keep you in ignorance. You just need to work out a few things on your own." She reached across the table to pat his left hand.

"I know." Mindful of the icing on his fingers, Aya wiped his hand on a napkin before combing his fingers through his hair. "I think my talent was telling me that I’d be safe." There had been a flash of threads, so many colors and strands, followed by a very strong certainty. He hadn’t felt as if he’d influenced anything, just sneaked a peek at the future. While his talent wasn’t like Crawford’s, Geli had told him that he could follow the threads to see the most likely outcome of an event or get a feel for what the future would hold.

As much as he hated his power and the grief it caused him, he had to admit it was fascinating. He was also beginning to see why Schu and Cassandra were so determined to control it or use it for themselves. If only Geli could show him a way to turn it ‘off’ forever, but when he’d asked the one time, she had become so sad and promised him that it was impossible.

Geli nodded twice and sipped her tea. "Then it should be as you said, unless something happens to greatly alter the future. Always keep in mind that what lies ahead is never stagnant; there are so many elements to the future that it can never be completely predicted. Some of the biggest changes may very well take you by surprise because their beginnings are always so small." She sounded as if she spoke from experience, her voice calm but a touch sad.

Aya barely resisted the urge to say that he didn’t really want to learn anything about his talent other than how to make it go away, but years of denial had gotten him nowhere. Now he would learn what he could and do his best to control it if he couldn’t be rid of the thing. A small voice inside his head murmured if there was a reason why Geli had shown up in his dreams, when he’d finally decided that ignoring the problem wasn’t enough. Almost losing Yohji had made him rethink many things.

"Do you know anything about the mission?" he asked after a minute of silence. He was just as disturbed as the rest of Weiss by what the targets had done to people, and one of the victims had looked like a good friend of his sister’s.

"I’m afraid I don’t pay that close attention to what’s going on in the world, and certainly not to something as gruesome as you usually end up involved in." Geli shuddered and huddled in her chair for a moment. "I can tell that there were many victims, many threads that were broken because of the people’s actions, and there’s a very strong possibility that the perpetrators’ threads will be broken as a result."

He thought about what she’d said and about all the times that his power had kicked in during a mission. "I could stop them so easily if my power wasn’t blocked, couldn’t I?" he asked in a very small voice, greatly discomforted at the thought of yielding his power that much.

Geli was quiet again, her expression grave as she played with a pastry but didn’t eat it. "Aya… there are billions and billions of threads out there. Even if you separated the human ones from everything else, and those of the living from the dead and the unborn… *billions*. All tangled together and woven into a pattern that can twist on you in a heartbeat." She looked away from the petit-four and directly at him, her eyes shimmering with sadness and a terrible knowledge. "Catalysts are to protect the whole of that weaving, to make sure that one or a few threads don’t shred it apart or warp it into a thing of death and horror. You can *never* safeguard everyone or put a stop to all the evils in the world. That is something that every catalyst must learn or they will break themselves trying to force reality into a pattern it’s not meant to follow."

Oddly enough, her words gave him some reassurance. He’d been afraid that he would be responsible for all the suffering that occurred in the world, more blood on his already deeply stained hands. "Then is what I’m doing so wrong?"

"No, not really." Geli trembled for a few seconds and shook her head. "Catalysts are human, after all, and that means that they’ll never be able to focus solely on the whole. Loved ones, friends, acquaintances, all of them will demand some of your attention and that’s to be expected. Just never neglect the whole and accept that you can’t save everyone. Reality can only exist as a duality: life and death, good and evil, joy and sorrow, hope and fear." Her voice just then didn’t belong to a usually carefree young woman, but to someone much, much older. "When things go too far in one direction, then the whole is threatened with destruction."

"Even if it’s toward good, hope, life and joy?"

Geli once again trembled. "Oh no, that is just as bad as the other extreme." Her expression became so haunted that Aya felt a stab of guilt for turning the conversation in this direction. "So much pain and suffering have occurred because someone tried to bring about a ‘better future’." She seemed to speak from experience, her face pale and eyes wide with remembered horrors.

Not knowing what to say at that point, Aya poured them both more tea and had another petit-four. There was a part of him that wished for Cassandra and Schu to appear, to take control from his hands and force him along a chosen path. That way, he’d be free from the blame and could say that he’d no choice but to use his power. However, being a helpless pawn wasn’t something he could live with in the end. Even with Kritiker’s chains around him, he felt somewhat in control and responsible for his actions. Those actions may have left him with nightmares and a soul so steeped in blood and death that there was no redemption for him, but he’d done whatever he could to avenge and protect his loved ones.

Once more, Geli shook her head. "This is not the topic that one should discuss on such a lovely ‘day’." Her lips twitched slightly as she said the last word, which made it clear that she knew the limitations of their dream world. "Soon enough, dawn will come and you will have that pest of a visitor." Aya was amazed at how virulent a glare she could summon when mentioning Schu. He was even more amazed when all that hate and anger changed into amusement. "Oh, how he’ll be so unhappy when he hears about your latest mission!" She only stopped giggling to enjoy another cake.

Now Aya was the one left glaring. "I thought you said you didn’t pay much attention to the world or my missions," he said through gritted teeth.

Geli had the gall to giggle some more. "Well… anything that makes *him* upset draws my attention." She seemed to finally notice how unhappy he was and offered another pastry. "I didn’t look very much, honest, and I only paid attention to *his* reaction." Her smile took on an evil edge. "Hit him once for me, please? Very, *very* hard."

It was almost amusing how much hatred Schu brought out in the women Aya met in his dreams. Shaking his head in exasperation, Aya accepted the treat and enjoyed it, needing something to occupy his mouth so he didn’t have to answer that request. As much as he felt that Schu deserved being hit – along with repeatedly stabbed and shot – he needed to stay on the telepath’s good side to remain aware of what happened to his sister.

Feeling the urge to get up from the table, he left Geli to go over to the rosebush whose scent permeated every inch of the garden. Once close enough to it, he knelt so he could examine not the white and crimson flowers but the purple ones that were entwined with the bush. "You really shouldn’t be doing that," he told the orchid, which was behaving like a vine of all things.

"I would have thought that you of all people realized that things are sometimes contrary to their true nature," Geli said, her voice too sweet to not be mocking. However, the smile on her face as she joined him by the orchid and rosebush contained nothing but honest joy. "The flowers go very well together, don’t they?"

"Yes, they do." Aya resisted the urge to ask her why Yohji’s code flower had appeared in the dream garden since he knew he wouldn’t get an answer other than a mysterious smile. When he’d asked before, Geli had only told him to take hope from the flower’s presence and never forget who it was that he truly loved.

"You should do your best – oh, *damn* him," Geli swore with a ferociousness that made Aya suddenly nervous. "He’s up early today." She shook her head before patting Aya twice on the back, her small hand lingering for a moment as if in comfort. "I’ll see you soon, Aya. Until then, be well."

She and the garden faded away, and the ‘world’ around Aya reformed into that of a very extravagantly decorated hotel room. He was sitting cross-legged in the middle of a king-sized bed with Schu lying stretched out beside him.

"For someone who plays with flowers all day, aren’t you tired of them by now?" the telepath asked, a slight sneer to his lips and roughness to his voice.

Aya shook his head, content with the knowledge that Schu didn’t seem able to read any thoughts that had to do with Geli or find out about his dream meetings with the girl. At least there was one part of his life that Schu couldn’t invade or mock.

"Hmph." Schu pouted for a few seconds before smiling and rolling closer to Aya. "Well, now you have something much more enjoyable to dream about." His right hand stroked along Aya’s leg, moving steadily up his thigh until Aya grabbed his thumb and gave it a savage twist. Maybe Geli would be happy to hear that he’d done that.

"I told you there would be no more molesting me in these dreams," he reminded Schu as the man cried out in pain. "Touch me like that again and I’ll break it off." Even if his own thumb currently ached from his actions, he’d do it, too. No more would Schu take advantage of him in these dreams.

"Dammit, Aya," Schu snarled as he sat up and cradled his injured hand against his chest. "*I* don’t have to take any abuse from you and *I* make the rules here!" He matched Aya’s ferocious glare, the two of them not speaking for almost a minute before Schu sighed and shook his head. "You’re so much trouble."

Aya almost told the telepath to leave him alone then, but he couldn’t risk losing the reports on his sister’s condition. Instead, he settled for lowering the intensity of his glare a notch or two and grunted.

Shaking his hand to dispel the pain, Schu chuckled as his good humor seemed completely restored. "As eloquent as always, my little tuberose." His smile took on a cruel edge as he used the hated nickname. "And you’re in a decidedly frisky mood this morning. I thought garden scenes were supposed to make one tranquil."

"They do, until that person is ripped from them," Aya pointed out, his voice as cold as he could make it. He knew the anger he felt toward the telepath wouldn’t last for long so he basked in it while he could.

Schu’s smile turned more amused. "Aw, and here I thought you’d enjoy this scenery better." His voice grew husky as he once again sprawled out on the bed, his eyes heavy-lidded and his back arched. To his dismay, Aya did feel a spark of lust seeing the telepath like that, and flashes of dreams he did his best to forget went through his mind.

"Stop it." He forced the words past clenched jaws and jumped off the bed to stalk over to the window. He *never* should have forgotten that Schu’s true intentions were to use him, both his body and his talent.

<That’s false and you know it,> Schu sent as he joined Aya by the window, a warm, undeniable presence at his back. <Yes, I want to use your talent, but you’re not something that I plan to use up and discard. I want *all* of you.> He stepped closer, his hands resting lightly on Aya’s shoulders as he briefly nuzzled Aya’s left temple.

"Tell me about my sister, Schu." Aya deliberately ignored what the telepath had just said. He wanted so desperately to lean back against the man’s warmth, to feel the comfort of being held close by someone who cared for him, but he wouldn’t let those other dreams affect him now. Once this dream was finished, he’d wake up in Yohji’s arms.

<For now you will, but the day will come when you’re mine.> Schu sounded so smug and certain that Aya turned to glare, but was stopped before he could move more than an inch or two. "Your sister is fine."

Images flooded Aya’s mind, much the same as always but not entirely the same. Somehow, because of his or Schu’s talent, he knew they were real and that he was seeing his sister each day. The minute changes in her condition, the way she was steadily putting on weight, and her complexion improving convinced him of that. Yet he couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that something was still wrong, something that had to do with Aya-chan and not a trick of Schu’s. She seemed… so *empty*.

<Farfarello enjoys watching her, you know. No, not like *that*,> Schu quickly assured when Aya immediately thought of the Irishman wanting to hurt or molest his precious sister. <He says that she looks like a fallen angel.>

"Just as long as he leaves her alone," Aya spat, his hands clenching into fists at the thought of anyone taking advantage of Aya-chan’s helpless state.

<Don’t worry, he isn’t interested that way in anyone who won’t put up some sort of fight. No, it’s her stillness that intrigues him.> Schu once again nuzzled Aya’s temple. "Soon enough, it’ll be time to return her to you." His voice took on a crooning tone, his emotions so pleased that Aya shuddered to feel them. "We’ll have to start making plans, eventually."

Not knowing what to say, Aya grunted again and did his best to pull away. "All right, I’ve seen my sister. Let me go since I’ve a mission to prepare for today." He wanted so much to wake up and be with Yohji, to have someone he loved be right there and alive and well. The more time he spent with Schu, the more disturbed he felt, the stronger a feeling of guilt settled in his chest.

Schu’s smile just then was utterly satisfied as he turned Aya around to face him. "Deep down, you know the truth," he said, the cryptic words making Aya shiver. "So, what mission has Kritiker dished out now, eh? Fighting any more tentacle monsters?" he asked with a salacious leer.

"No." Aya managed one good hit to Schu’s shoulder before his right wrist was grabbed. "We’re stopping serial killers." He wasn’t surprised to feel Schuldig slip into his mind and didn’t try to fight the telepath’s intrusion. Some part of him found communication like this so much easier than speaking.

He expected Schu to mock him some more over the assignment, to laugh at how he and his teammates planned to make the world a better place through murder. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t heard before and expected to hear many times more, so he was mostly used to it. What he didn’t expect was Schu pulling away with a vicious curse, a fierce scowl on his face as he slashed his right hand through the air.

"You’re not doing that! Tell Kritiker to fuck off!" One didn’t need to feel Schu’s emotions to know that he was infuriated as hell.

"I’ve already accepted the mission," Aya stated as coldly as possible, all the while wishing that he could control *these* dreams. If that was the case, then he could call his katana to his hand rather than step away from Schu in self-defense.

"Like hell you’ll go through that!" Schu reached for Aya, his expression turning murderous when his hands were slapped aside. "There’s no way you’re going to be a nude model, dammit!"

Now, Aya knew better than to think that Schu was worried about him being hurt or Kritiker using him to do its dirty work, so he was a bit taken aback by the barked-out order. Then anger quickly overtook the surprise. "No." He stepped around Schu and headed for the door.

"Listen to me, dammit!" Schu grabbed him by the left shoulder and spun him around; when Aya tried to lash out at the telepath, Schu froze his body. "I refuse for all those people to see you naked!" Of all things, he sounded intensely jealous.

<You have no say in the matter,> Aya replied, doing his best to concentrate all his resolve and anger into something that even an idiot could sense from him. <The mission has been accepted and whoever’s responsible will be stopped.>

<What if I threaten to shred the minds of anyone who sees you naked, eh?> The level of seriousness to Schu’s thoughts was shocking – the man very rarely showed so much true emotion. <You’re *mine*.>

<I’m not your fucking toy, Schuldig.> Why couldn’t Aya’s power kick in now, when he wanted nothing more than to end this dream?

Something made Schu curse under his breath and let Aya go. "You’re… *dammit*." Schu raked his hands through his hair and reached for Aya, his hands falling down when Aya stepped back. "I don’t want you to do this. You’re not some piece of meat for Kritiker to order about."

That statement almost made Aya laugh out loud as it was said by a man who was trying to use him for his talent. "Then find the killers in the next two days and give me enough proof to convince Weiss that we’ve located our targets." He folded his arms over his chest and stared coolly at the telepath.

A look of utter frustration settled on Schu’s expressive face. "I can’t find anyone that easily unless I’ve got more to go on," he grumbled. For a moment it appeared as if he was going to accept the offer before he shook his head. "I’ll just wipe all images of you naked from the students’ minds as soon as the class is over." His smile took on a cruel edge. "Or maybe I’ll just fry their minds so they won’t be able to attend the class."

"Then Kritiker will just come up with another way for us to track down the targets," Aya pointed out, furious that Schu would use innocents against him. If it wasn’t for his sister, he’d tell Schu to never contact him again after such a threat.


The one good thing about having a telepath muck about in your head was that they could pick up on thoughts like that. Schu’s expression instantly turned contrite. <Don’t even think along those lines.> Swearing under his breath, he stalked about the room, his hands lashing out to destroy anything breakable that was in reach. <I’ll think of something to stop you from taking off your clothes for strangers.>

"Interfere with my mission in the slightest way and I’ll never see of you as anything but the enemy." Aya let his iron resolve harden the words and his emotions. "I need those students to remember me in case one of them is a target." He wouldn’t let Schu’s jealousness cause another person to be murdered in such a horrid manner.

Schu smashed his fist into the window, forcing a spider web pattern to spread across the thick glass. "I’ll be in their minds, Aya. Your nature will attract people to you, including the killers. I’ll search their minds and shred those of anyone who want to do you harm." Moving too fast to be seen, he came to a stop right in front of Aya and stroked his fingers through Aya’s hair. "My heart, *mine*. I may be forced to share you with that bastard Kudoh for a little longer, but that’s it." He leaned forward for a quick kiss, right before the hotel room faded away and Aya woke up in his bed.

Scrubbing his hands over his face, Aya thought to himself that things had been so much simpler back when Schu had only wanted to drive him mad with guilt.

*******

Seeing Aya move, Yohji sat up in bed and did his best to smile at his lover. He wasn’t happy to wake up twice in a row to find Aya dreaming of The Bastard, but at least the damn visit would be out of the way and they could focus on more important things like the mission and maybe a bit of pleasure before going downstairs for breakfast. Waiting for Aya to lower his hands and open his eyes, Yohji reached out to brush back the crimson strands that covered his boyfriend’s forehead. "Morning."

"I’m beginning to hate them," Aya muttered while slowly sitting up in bed. He let out a weary sigh and leaned against Yohji, his head resting on Yohji’s left shoulder.


"Bad dreams, love?" Yohji wrapped his arm around Aya’s waist, doing his best to judge the amount of tension in his lover’s body to see how much Schuldig had fucked with Aya.

Aya let out another deep sigh and shook his head. "No, not really. Just… annoying as hell." He looked up at Yohji and managed a wan smile. "What about you?"

Somehow, Yohji dredged up a comforting smile of his own. "Not bad." That wasn’t quite a lie – he knew that he’d have trouble sleeping since they were about to start a mission where Aya could be in danger, but at least he hadn’t woken up screaming or anything. It had just been another horrible dream about Asuka, his dead lover turning into Aya before being killed before his eyes.

"Hmm." Aya didn’t look like he believed Yohji very much, but closed his eyes and let his head rest against Yohji’s shoulder again. "Maybe we should start taking sleeping pills at night."

Yohji laughed at the comment, it was so unexpected. "Right. We’d wake up one morning to find that Ken and Omi shaved us bald, put us in dresses and took lots of pictures that end up on the Internet. Oh, and some nude ones that they’ll sell to the girls instead of flowers." He stroked his fingers through Aya’s hair once more, loving the feel of the silky strands.

Aya snorted in amusement and nuzzled Yohji’s shoulder. "Never mind, then." He fell quiet, and the little that Yohji could see of his lover’s face didn’t look very good. Aya seemed ticked off about something, and considering that Yohji had just woken up and gotten a laugh of sorts, it shouldn’t be because of him.

"What’s wrong, love?" he asked and gave his lover’s waist a gentle squeeze.

"Schuldig thinks he can order me around," Aya spat, pulling away enough so he could look directly at Yohji.

"What? He better not try to force you to do something!" Yohji’s hands clenched into fists and he so wished that he could strangle a certain German bastard.

Aya quickly shook his head, eartails flying about from the force of the movements. "No! Not… not that." Still glaring at nothing in particular, Aya rubbed his left temple. "He doesn’t want me to take part in the mission, either." For a moment, his glare settled on Yohji.

Just then, Yohji was so damn happy that he managed to not be an idiot about the mission other than down in the mission room. He still wasn’t ready to accept that Aya was going through with it and would take whatever opportunity came along to put an end to his lover’s ‘modeling career’… but at least he’d stopped with the ultimatums when it became abundantly clear that Aya would either kill him or put an end to his sex life if he was so direct about it. "Oh."

Aya nodded and folded his arms over his chest. "He has no right to tell me what to do or to interfere with Weiss." For the first time in quite a while, there was true venom in Aya’s voice as he spoke about the telepath. Yohji felt a spark of hope at The Bastard doing something to make Aya possibly hate him again.

"Well, he is a meddling asshole," Yohji pointed out, eager to be helpful in this situation. "He likes controlling you and it won’t bother him if there are some sick fucks out there mutilating and murdering people for the sake of art." He grimaced at the thought of the photos he’d stared at for too long last night.

Nodding again, Aya once more rested against Yohji. "I need him to tell me about my sister, but… I draw the line at being his slave." Sadness crept into his voice, and Yohji knew that it must hurt Aya to possibly lose the only connection he had to Aya-chan. Yet the fact that Aya was willing to do so was the best news he’d heard in ages.

"I’ll never let that happen." He pressed a tender kiss against his lover’s forehead. Even if it meant hurting Aya, he’d figure out some way to take out Mastermind and break the connection the telepathic bastard had with his lover.

"I know, Yohji." Aya shifted about until they were facing each other. "Talk about a very lousy way to start the day." He seemed to be trying to joke about the situation, but the haunted look in his eyes and the sad turn of his mouth revealed his true emotions.

As much as Yohji *detested* his lover communicating with someone he wanted to rip apart with his bare hands, it was times like this that assured him that Mastermind would never get what he wanted. Yohji and Aya’s relationship had deepened since Neu’s death and the revelation about what Schuldig had been doing via dreams; Yohji wouldn’t allow things to get as bad as they’d been before those events ever again, not when it meant losing the man he loved. The fact that he’d be losing Aya to such a manipulating, evil bastard only strengthened his resolve. "Look, I’m not happy about the situation, but at least you know your sister is all right." He paused for a moment, suddenly afraid that he’d said something wrong. "Right?"

Aya’s smile just then assured him that he hadn’t put his foot in his mouth. "She’s fine. I even think her hair is beginning to grow again." Aya closed his eyes as if imagining something. Feeling a bit wicked and in the need of some fun, Yohji leaned forward and kissed his lover.

When Aya stared at him in surprise, he pulled his boyfriend closer. "There’s no reason why the rest of the morning has to be so lousy, na?" Something that he’d said amused Aya more than he’d intended, not that he minded at all with the way Aya chuckled in response.

"Just what do you have in mind, hmm?" Aya’s smile strengthened as he settled in Yohji’s lap, his arms wrapping around Yohji’s neck.

"Oh, something that involves you screaming out my name a few times, along with mind-blowing pleasure on both our parts." Yohji waggled his eyebrows for added effect. He’d been hoping to start off the morning with a bit of fun, maybe using one of the silk scarves that were hidden in the nightstand, but that was out now because of Aya’s dream visitor. Still, there was something to be said for a nice, simple, leisurely fuck, of being able to enjoy his lover’s body and make Aya tremble in ecstasy. Oh yes, there would indeed be something very good to say about that, and if there was a hickey or two left on Aya’s body, what was the harm in that? The art students who got to see Yohji’s lover naked would just know that he was definitely off-limits.

Aya tugging on his hair snapped him from such devious thoughts, and he realized that his lover was frowning at him. "You’re up to something, Kudoh," Aya said, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.


"Yes, but as long as it includes starting off the day with incredible sex, do you really mind?" Yohji gave his boyfriend his most seductive smile.

To his surprise and delight, Aya sighed and shook his head. "No, I can count on you to make it worth my while, at the very least." Then he gave Yohji such a sultry, heavy-lidded look that Yohji swore his IQ had to have dropped by at least fifty points.

"Damn right I will." Not about to let the man he loved down, Yohji set out to prove that he wasn’t lying about the ‘mind-blowing pleasure’ part.

*******

Not bothering to knock, Schuldig burst into Crawford’s office while wearing nothing more than pair of almost sheer silk boxer shorts and a furious glare. "You meddling fuck," he fired off as an opening verbal volley when he came to a halt in front of the precog’s desk. "You know about the mission, don’t you?"

For someone being insulted by a half naked, enraged telepath, Crawford had to the gall to appear completely unruffled. He stopped typing on his laptop and tugged on the cuffs of his white shirt before folding his arms over his chest and leaning back in his padded chair. "Good morning, Schuldig."

Slamming his fists down hard onto the desk, Schuldig pulled his lips back in a feral grin that would do Farfarello proud. "Of course you fucking knew, you manipulative bastard."

A slight frown settled on Crawford’s face, his blue eyes narrowed the tiniest bit in anger. "If you expect any sort of answers from me, I advise you to stop with the insults and calm down before I let Farfarello know that he can ‘play’ with you today."

Schuldig realized that his leader wasn’t kidding and grudgingly backed one step away from the desk. "Why didn’t you warn me?" he demanded, just barely holding back on further name calling.

Crawford’s anger appeared to vanish as a pleased smile curled his lips and surprised the hell out of Schuldig. "Because of how you’re reacting now; if you’d known about it beforehand, you would have done something to change the mission, which can’t be allowed."

"Why the hell do you care about Weiss’ missions?" Not for the first time, Schuldig wished he could get a clear idea of what freaky shit went down in Crawford’s head. He could pick up surface emotions and a stray thought or two, but not much more than that at the moment. For a precog with no empathic or telepathic ability, Crawford had some damn near impervious shields. "You telling me that you’re suddenly taken up with pity for the sick fuck’s victims or something?"

"If you’re referring to Weiss’ latest mission, it’s more than one ‘sick fuck’ perpetrating the crimes. I couldn’t care less about the victims, though I’ll admit that Farfarello and several people back in Germany have been grateful to me for sharing photos of the crime scenes." Crawford adjusted his glasses, the picture of calmness and respectability in his dress shirt and tie.

Schuldig wasn’t the slightest bit surprised that Crawford knew about the crimes and was even a bit hopeful that there soon would be a way out of the cursed mission for Aya. "So you know who the murderers are? Tell me." He did his best to slip past the precog’s shields, but only ended up frustrated and with a headache for all his effort. <Tell me, dammit.>

"No." The absolute coldness in Crawford’s voice told Schuldig that he was not going to change his mind on that front any time soon. "You will not interfere, Schuldig, unless you want to find yourself on a plane to Germany as a direct result." His handsome face was set with total resolution, his eyes narrowed as he made one of the few threats that Schuldig would heed. The last thing Schuldig needed right now was to be far from his heart and in the hands of Rosenkreuz… and he was willing to bet a certain sadistic, bastard of a precog both knew and counted on that fact.

"You do our masters proud," he muttered in German and took another step back from the desk, his position mocking Crawford with his back straight and arms crossed over his chest. <Will you at least bother to tell me why I have to suffer through this bullshit?>

Crawford snorted once, his mood swinging away from furious and toward amused. "Because it will benefit Schwarz in the end, at no cost to us despite what you think you’ll be ‘suffering’. Weiss will be the only one bearing the brunt of this mission, embarrassing themselves and being subjected to things that will work in our advantage in the end." His eyes took on a hazed cast as he stared at nothing; Schuldig would have killed almost anyone to know what his leader was seeing just then.

He waited until the precog’s eyes cleared before asking any more questions. <What will Aya be subjected to, hmm?> It better not be anything more than a few cold breezes and some lecherous gazes or Crawford would have quite the fight on his hands.

As if reading his thoughts, Crawford smiled and settled his glasses a little farther up his nose. "Nothing, really. First off, he is valuable to us in as unharmed a condition as possible. Secondly… he’s not the only member of Weiss, I hope you realize, nor is he the only one who can either be of use to us or be of any importance," Crawford chided as he reached for his mug of coffee.

"He’s the only one who interests *me*," Schuldig muttered and scratched the nape of his neck, feeling the need for some caffeine himself now that his righteous anger was waning away for lack of a proper target to abuse. "I fail to see how anyone but young Bombay could be of any interest to you, sick fuck that you are." When Crawford gave him a dark look for the insult, he bared his teeth in a too-cheerful smile. "Sorry, I meant ‘mein Fuhrer’."

As always, *that* particular jab hit home with deadly accuracy, prompting Schuldig to wonder why two little words could affect Crawford so strongly when he was usually so dispassionate. Not that he was ever counting on his fearless leader explaining why to him one day, but it was something interesting for him to ponder when he was bored.

"If one day any latent genes kick in and you can see the future," Crawford shot back, a rather effective jab of his own considering Schuldig’s parentage, "then you’ll understand. Until then, pardon me if I consider it a huge waste of effort and time on my part to explain things to you," he finished with an exceedingly dry tone of voice.

Schuldig was getting bored with being kept in the dark so much – he could always try to use Aya’s talent to look into the future, but Aya wasn’t a true precog and that would risk letting the man’s talent slip out of his control. <Maybe you just got the hots for one of the Weiss kitties and don’t want to admit it. I can see you and Siberian getting it on.> Schuldig tilted his head to the side and gave Crawford an assessing look. <You’d like screwing around with a brainless jock you could manipulate the hell out of, and he’d have a lot of stamina for kinky sex.>

"I wouldn’t know; I’ve never given the man in question any thoughts along those lines." Unfortunately, Crawford came across as more amused than insulted or infuriated over the jabs just then. "You’re the pervert of our team, after all."

"And damn proud of it, even if I haven’t been able to do much perverted stuff lately." Schuldig pouted over that fact, prevented from engaging in any ‘enjoyable’ dreams with his tuberose now that Aya had caught on to them, and unwilling to risk the man’s disdain and possible hatred for screwing around with anyone else either physically or mentally; Aya definitely had a thing about fidelity from his lovers, in no small part thanks to Schuldig’s manipulations.

"So what the hell am I supposed to do while Aya’s doing his Lady Godiva routine?" he demanded to know after a few seconds’ contemplation.

Definitely appearing very pleased, Crawford reached into the top drawer on his desk and handed Schuldig an encased CD. "I expect you to provide me all the information you can on those people."

Damn killjoy just had to come up with a mission, Schuldig thought with growing annoyance. He’d bet almost anything that Crawford would keep him pretty busy while Aya let complete strangers paint pictures of his naked ass. <Don’t tell me this is another list of Kritiker agents.>

"I’m afraid so," Crawford replied, which was a blatant lie since he was clearly pleased over the situation. "You missed several important agents during your last sweep." His good mood vanished in an instant, replaced by deep reproach. "The Elders are very serious about us having sufficient information on every Kritiker agent possible so we can take down the organization prior to the ceremony."

"They don’t need to be that damn thorough, not when all it really takes is removing a few key personnel," Schuldig grumbled, annoyed as always about overkill when it came to his assignments. If it was something that gave him great fun or delight, that was one thing but this was going overboard. Then something occurred to him that made him smile. "Can I take out the asshole who decided that Aya should be a nude model?"

"No." Crawford’s answer was instantaneous. "You’ll leave Mickey Stout alone, do you understand?" He leaned over his desk, his expression as serious and malevolent as Schuldig had ever witnessed. "No tricks, no attempts at ‘accidents’, *nothing*."

Now that was intriguing as hell, Schuldig thought as he stepped forward and sat on the edge of his leader’s desk. "Why?" he asked, his evil grin making it clear that he expected an answer or he would be very… contrary.

Crawford took a deep breath and once more sat back in his chair. "Because he’ll be very important to us in the future."

<I thought we were going to take Kritiker down,> Schuldig sent, as always trying to gain some insight into the precog’s plans.

"We will… mostly. There will be lots of uses for Kritiker in the future, and Stout will be instrumental in making sure that some remnant of the organization survives." Crawford did the hazed eye thing again and let out a slow breath after several seconds of stillness. "The organization has been crippled by Smoke’s death, and several people are stepping into the sudden power vacuum."

<Let me guess - and Stout is one of them.>

Crawford’s knowing smile returned. "Not… quite. More along the lines that he’s taking advantage of the situation to gain some useful information and make important allies. He’ll be there when Bombay needs him – and will be a check on the young Takatori’s ambitions when *we* need him." The man’s smile took on a cruel edge that made Schuldig proud to work for him, anal-retentive, domineering, manipulative secretive bastard that he was.

<At least one of the Stouts has a brain.> Schuldig had to wonder just what Crawford had planned for Bombay – from the sounds of it, the kid was about to follow in his papas’ footsteps after all, which meant that it should drive a wedge between him and Aya. That was something that Schuldig had no problem with at all, especially since he failed to see how Aya could blame him for this one. Bombay had it in him to do the Takatori proud, and it was always delightful to watch a supposedly pure soul fall into ‘the darkness’.

Shaking his head as if to clear it, Crawford then sipped his coffee for several seconds before setting the mug aside. "Get dressed and take Nagi with you today as you work your way down the list." Command issued, he focused his attention back on his laptop and acted as if Schuldig was no longer in the room.

A bit annoyed at being dismissed so easily, Schuldig did his best Nazi officer impersonation as he saluted his ‘Fuhrer’ before leaving the room. He wasn’t too pleased to be stuck with Nagi for this assignment since the kid had been quieter than usual after nearly dying a few weeks back, but it was better than having to worry about keeping Farfarello in check since they weren’t supposed to kill anyone just yet. He swore that the only thing that kept the psychopath calmly playing video games for the last month or two was that Crawford had promised Farfarello that he could take out most of the Kritiker agents when the time was right. Schuldig didn’t mind missing out on the ‘fun’ too much since work was work, even if you were eviscerating someone or fucking with their minds, and he was inherently lazy at heart. As long as he got a few agents to play with when the time came, he’d leave most of the chop-chop to his teammate.

Besides, he’d have other things to focus on then, such as doing his best to figure out a solution to the Aya-chan problem. He already had a few ideas in mind, and perhaps while about on his latest ‘job’ he’d have a chance to get a few balls rolling, figuratively speaking. That thought cheered him up as he went into the kitchen, whistling loudly and making a big deal about scratching his mostly exposed ass just to annoy Nagi.

*******

Ken thought it was pretty ridiculous that despite the fact that the shop was closed, he was down here messing around with the flowers and pots. Aya had tended to the plants in the greenhouse before going off with Yohji to buy some art supplies, which left him and Omi to take care of everything in the shop itself. Teddy and Koyu were supposed to arrive in a couple of hours for their crash course in running things; he still wasn’t sure how a blind man was going to be any help in the Koneko, but he figured at the least Koyu would keep Teddy somewhat in check. The man had more problems going on than being blind if he truly loved that American idiot, but Ken had to admit that he did a good job of stopping Teddy dead in his tracks most times.

Thinking about Teddy made him think about the mission, which made him feel nervous as hell and begin to sweat. He was going to have to dye his hair and wear the contacts again to change his appearance, just on the off-chance that any of the art students had been football fans. Then there was the whole ‘stand around naked’ aspect that he wasn’t too crazy about.


He didn’t think that he had too many hang-ups about nudity and his body; he’d gone to onsen often enough and soaked in the hot springs with strangers, and there was very little privacy to be had in a locker room, after all. Quite a few guys had seen him naked in the showers or while changing his clothes, and that had never bothered him in the past. But being a nude model… he’d be the only naked guy in the room as well as being stared at for almost an hour or two at a time. That wasn’t a terribly comforting thought.

Worrying about the mission, he snapped back to reality when he almost set a very full flowerpot about two feet away from the bench it was supposed to sit on. Swearing under his breath, he put it down properly and stepped back while wiping his forehead as if it were sweaty. "Great, I’ll be the only model wearing a cast for a broken foot." That made him wonder if it would be possible to be fitted for a complete lower body cast….

"Leave some work for Teddy," Omi chided, sounding a lot darker than was normal for the cheerful kid. Ken looked with concern at his boyfriend and found him standing a few feet away with a clipboard in hand and a rather inscrutable expression on his face.


"Ah, is everything okay, Omi?"

Omi nodded and held up the clipboard. "I’m determined to foist off every unpleasant chore I can think up on that… that… *foreigner*," he spat with a vehemence that stunned Ken. "There better not be a single cobweb left around here by the time this mission is over."

While Ken thought that anyone other than him tackling the cobwebs and their creepy, disgusting, multi-legged residents was a great idea, coming up with that plan was something he expected more from Yohji or Aya than Omi. "So, I take it that you’re not happy with Teddy right now?" he braved to ask after watching his boyfriend’s expression take on an evil cast right before Omi scribbled something else down on the clipboard.

"He called to say that he was bringing over some hair dye for you and some makeup that you and Aya-kun can use to cover the worst of your scars." Oh yes, Omi was *definitely* not happy right now. "And he just so happened to offer to help with your hair."

Ken didn’t see anything wrong with that since he’d never dyed his hair before. "Ah, and that’s… bad?" He actually took a step back when the look on Omi’s face would have rivaled Berserker at his maddest.

"He wasn’t offering to dye your… head," Omi spat, for the moment holding the pen as if it were a lethal dart that he could throw.

Now Ken knew that Teddy truly loved Koyu – anyone could figure that out after watching the two men for a few minutes and seeing how the American doted on and fussed over Koyu, but he had to admit that Teddy was as big a tease as Yohji, if not more. At least Yohji wasn’t as blatant as Teddy could be at times, unless he was flirting with Aya. Yet Ken wasn’t sure how to explain to his boyfriend that he suspected that Teddy flirted with him mainly just to get a reaction from Omi. Which was something that once again proved how stupid *and* suicidal Teddy could be because Omi was *not* someone you wanted to deliberately rile up. No, unlike Aya, Yohji and even himself, Omi didn’t just blow up, take a swing or two, toss weapons about while swearing and then eventually cool down. Oh no, Omi *plotted*, and what he came up with was nothing at all good or nice or conducive to being able to enjoy the rest of your soon to be ended life when he put his plan into action. There were very good reasons why all of them heeded Omi when they could ignore each others’ warning signs with ease.

So, after crossing his legs a bit at the thought of letting any chemicals get near down *there*, he laughed nervously and gave his boyfriend a smile. "I, ah, didn’t think I’d have to go that far for this mission." After all, it was pretty common for guys around here to dye their hair; no one should think anything of his top not matching his… er, yeah. "Do you think you could help me with my hair? I mean, what’s on top of my head," he added and couldn’t help but blush.

Even if he felt a bit like an idiot all of a sudden, something he said made Omi smile in happiness and stop looking like Death personified. "Of course, Ken-ken." He set the clipboard aside and approached Ken, his right hand reaching up to tousle Ken’s hair when he was close enough. "I’d gladly help." Staring at Ken’s hair for a minute, he smiled some more and laughed in delight. "I’d love to see you with your tips dyed a different color. That way, we won’t have to bleach all your hair." He played with the strands for a bit longer, Ken shivering minutely in pleasure at his boyfriend’s touch.

"Maybe we can do something a bit crazy? You know, make them red or blue or something?" He had the thought of using his favorite football team’s colors, but quickly discarded it after a moment’s consideration.

"What about blue? That’ll look really good with your contacts." Omi stopped playing with his hair but didn’t move away, so Ken wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s waist. "I’ll just do the last inch or two of your hair, that way you can cut most of it off if you like once the mission is over."


Ken shook his head, feeling his hair brush against the side of his face and the back of his neck. "Good thing I’ve put off a haircut for the last few weeks." He knew he was looking a bit raggedly lately, but with the weather finally cooling off, he hadn’t felt the need to get his hair cut short to keep it off his neck.

"You do look good with it a bit long," Omi remarked, once more playing with Ken’s hair, but this time the strands that brushed against his nape. "Not too long, but maybe just another inch or two more than it is now."

Laughing a little, Ken leaned down to give Omi a brief kiss. Of course it didn’t stay brief, not when Omi rocked up onto his toes and parted his lips, so Ken allowed himself the enjoyment of kissing his boyfriend while in the middle of the flower shop. Dammit, Yohji got to do this all the time, even when he really shouldn’t, and at least there was no risk of customers finding them like this. He held Omi closer and rubbed their tongues together, suddenly very happy and at peace.

When he started to think about maneuvering Omi back to the greenhouse, he broke off the kiss with great reluctance and a faint moan. They hadn’t slept together yet and he was a bit hesitant about taking such an important step even when he really, *really* wanted to have sex with his boyfriend. Yet he couldn’t stop thinking about how it would really change things if they went that far, and there was no way to ignore all the effort that Yohji and Aya had to go through to keep Kritiker from finding out about their relationship. He didn’t want to risk having the team split up or things get all fucked up again like the one mission last spring, and had confided his fears to Omi. His boyfriend had reluctantly agreed that they should take things slowly.


However, considering the look on Omi’s face right now, that decision was being regretted. "Ken…."

"Not here, Omi," he said, quickly cutting off his friend. "And… and not now, either. I’m sorry." He already had enough to worry about with the mission that the thought of intensifying their relationship was about to make him hyperventilate.

Omi let out a slow breath and nodded. "I know." He leaned against Ken for a few seconds before pulling away. "Now’s a really bad time. But… that won’t always be the case, right?" he asked, his blue eyes wide open and shining with hope.

"No, it won’t," Ken promised. Despite how reckless he’d believed Yohji and Aya to be for dating each other and potentially screwing up the team’s dynamics, he’d pretty much come around to see why they put up with all the risks associated with their relationship. Dating Yuriko had basically proved that it wasn’t feasible to see someone who wasn’t in their line of work, someone who would know not to ask questions or even too much from him. He’d never be able to run off and have a nice, quiet life or start a family, not as long as Kritiker existed and probably even if it didn’t. But with Omi, he had someone who understood waking up in the middle of the night from a terrible nightmare, the times when he just needed to be alone or he’d hurt someone, the urge to do something inane and foolish just to be a distraction from all the darkness in his life. That wasn’t something he’d ever get from anyone who wasn’t a murderer as well.

"Good." Omi’s smile just then literally took Ken’s breath away, it was so beautiful and happy and even a bit sexy. "Because as Yohji would point out, I’m still a teenager and we’re sorta renowned for having all these hormones and naughty thoughts." He brushed his lips against Ken’s before stepping back.

"Hey, I’m still a teenager, too!" Ken cried out and reached for his boyfriend, only to have Omi laugh and dart away. Funny how he’d forget that fact all the time, even if it would only be true for a little longer. One of the many wonderful things Omi did for him was remind him that he was still young and could have fun; out of all of them, Omi was the person most determined to enjoy life and be ‘normal’.

"And here I thought you were as old as Yohji," Omi teased as he hid behind a very large planted pot.

"Come on now, don’t insult me by comparing me to that old pervert!" Ken laughed as he stalked his boyfriend.

"I don’t know – for an old pervert, Yohji certainly seems able to keep up with Aya and then some! Poor Aya’s gonna need a lot of make-up just to cover the hickeys from today!" Omi laughed and easily dodged Ken’s attempt to grab him.

Ken grunted as he almost tripped over a basket and tried once again to nab Omi. "I think Yohji believes he’s part vampire or something." That or he was trying to make it very clear that Aya had a very enthusiastic lover, which was more likely when Ken thought about what Aya was going to be doing in two more days. "And, well, he’s a pervert."

"I think you’re just jealous." Omi stuck out his tongue and dashed between two displays, moving fast enough that Ken just barely managed to brush his fingertips against his boyfriend’s sweater.

"Yeah, I’ve always wanted to be as big a pervert as Yohji, my secret’s been found out." Ken rolled his eyes and snorted in derision. Well, he wouldn’t mind having half the sex life that Yohji had, but he didn’t need to hit on everything that was above the age of eighteen and attractive. Not that Yohji did that anymore since he was dating someone who could gut him in four seconds flat – that reminded him that he’d better make sure not to be too friendly with anyone while Omi was in a rather jealous mood. Omi might not be able to gut him that quickly… but he had no plans to find out what getting shot by a crossbow quill felt like any time soon….

Finally managing to pin Omi against the counter, he started tickling his boyfriend and soon was almost laughing as hard as Omi. His boyfriend tried to squirm away, which ended up with the both of them on the floor, Omi trapped beneath him and his hands up Omi’s sweater. He knew that his teammate wasn’t really putting up much of a fight or he’d have been knocked off by now, and it was so nice to behave like silly kids for a bit. He just wished it didn’t look as bad as it did when he realized that Yohji and Aya had come into the shop through the kitchen.

"You know, Ken-ken, it usually helps matters if you have Omi’s clothes off by now," Yohji casually remarked, a huge grin on his face and his left arm draped over a frowning Aya’s shoulders. "Makes it a lot easier to take advantage of him and have some fun."

Omi let out a very loud, high-pitched squeal and tossed Ken off of him. "Yohji! That… we…."

"I know what you were doing, chibi." Yohji winked at Omi and gave Ken a ‘thumb’s up’ sign and a leer. "While I’d strongly recommend fooling around on something soft like a bed or a couch… way to go, Ken!"

"… I hate you, Kudoh," Ken muttered while holding his sore head between his hands. He’d banged it against the counter when Omi had pushed him off, and couldn’t help but wonder why he was being teased like this when he’d never done the same when he came across Yohji and Aya fooling around. Then he remembered the likelihood of Aya chasing after him with an unsheathed katana for such remarks and sighed at the unfairness of it all.

"And you, Omi. I can’t believe my little boy has grown up so fast!" Yohji laughed when Omi’s face turned even redder and he took to hiding behind the counter. The laughter finally stopped a few seconds later, when Aya’s elbow knocked into Yohji’s ribs.


"Enough." Aya shook his head and turned around. "We brought some pastries back, if the two of you are done down here." Somehow, Aya made it sound as if they’d been engaging in actual intercourse instead of tickling each other, Ken thought in embarrassment as he picked himself off the floor. Oh well, at least the man’s back was turned so he could smack Yohji’s shoulder to make the bastard stop sniggering.

"You’re the pervert here," he reminded his friend as they made their way up the stairs, Yohji’s attention pretty much focused on Aya’s ass the entire time.

"And damn proud of it." Yohji stopped drooling long enough to flash Ken a wicked grin. "Let me know if you want any pointers."

"I think I can manage on my own." Ken rubbed his head again and wondered why the hell his teammates couldn’t have just stayed upstairs once they’d come back home. As if he wasn’t about to be teased enough over the mission, now he’d just given Yohji some prime material to torment him with for the next few weeks.

But Omi smiled at him as they entered the kitchen, looking truly happy despite the embarrassment. And Ken had been able to laugh for the first time since yesterday evening, so all in all, it wasn’t a bad thing. He’d just figure out a way to make Yohji buy dinner again tonight and things would be mostly right in the world. Well, except for the whole nude modeling thing.

*******

Yohji had just phoned in the takeout order when Teddy Stout sailed through the kitchen door, Koyu’s hand clutched in his left one and a cocky grin on his face. "Okay, let the party begin since I’m finally here."

"Only if you volunteer to be that party favor that ends up being whacked repeatedly until it breaks," Yohji muttered as he tucked his cell phone into his back pocket. "I’ll go get a stick right now."

"Yohji," Omi chided, his tone not as disproving as usual since Yohji was willing to bet that the kid would love to take a few whacks at Teddy right now. "We’re going to be eating dinner shortly," Omi told Teddy and Koyu, which was a clear sign that he really wasn’t happy with at least one of them since he didn’t invite them to have some.

"That’s all right, Teddy and I have reservations in an hour," Koyu explained, sounding much too happy for someone who was willingly dating Teddy. He smiled and turned his head around as if looking for someone. "Is Aya here?"

Indeed he was, sitting right next to Yohji. "Yes. Thank you very much for the tea balls, I just brewed a pot with one of them a little while ago. Would you like some?"

"No, thank you. I’m glad you’re enjoying them." Koyu bowed slightly and didn’t make any attempt to take off his coat, nor did Teddy. The room was quiet for a minute before Koyu sighed and gave the hand in his a not so gentle tug. "Teddy…."

Shaking his head, Teddy grinned sheepishly and let go of his boyfriend’s hand. "Ah, yeah, guess I better explain things." He reached into the dark blue messenger bag strapped over his chest to pull out a CD disc. "Sorry for not stopping by earlier, but Mickey had me running around all day looking up stuff for him. Here’s the latest information he’s put together," he explained as he held out the disc to Omi.

There went Yohji’s faint hope that Teddy and Koyu’s absence meant that the case had already been solved and the ‘dark beasts’ found. He still was very unhappy about Aya’s new job… and didn’t see much of a way to complain about it any more since The Bastard had, too. There was no way in hell that Yohji would accept being lumped together with the sadistic, moronic telepath.

"Thank you. We had wondered why you didn’t show up today." Omi’s tone was a bit more civil as he accepted the disc as well as the paper sack that Teddy fetched from the messenger bag. "You are still going to watch the shop for us, correct?" The question made Ken do his best to hide a very amused grin behind his right hand, which both Teddy and Yohji noticed.

"I can’t express how much I’m looking forward to playing with flowers, guys." Teddy chuckled evilly for a few seconds before Koyu smacked him on the back of the head with amazing accuracy. "Koyu," he immediately whined.

"I suggest that you take a careful inventory of all flowers and plants before handing over the shop to us," the blind man said while Teddy pouted and rubbed the back of his head. "Just to make sure that a bunch of free arrangements aren’t handed out."

Aya glared at Teddy with a ferocity that he usually only reserved for Schwarz and psychiatrists, which made Yohji smile and Ken carefully scoot his chair back from the table. "You will *not* give away all of our merchandise, Stout." Nothing got the redhead riled up like the thought of someone cutting into the store’s profit – i.e., Aya’s paycheck.

"Thanks, Koyu." Teddy pouted for a few seconds before laughing in amusement. "Ah well, I guess I’ll just have to go buy that friend a birthday present after all. Or charge the arrangement to Kritiker so I can tell her that I made something by myself." He puffed out his scrawny chest and grinned. "I’ve actually been taking flower arranging classes in the last few weeks so I could help out in the shop whenever necessary."

Koyu nodded at that bit of news. "Mickey says that he actually does a decent job with the arrangements, and our apartment has smelled wonderful lately."

Aya and Omi appeared rather dubious about that statement, but Yohji didn’t really care as the Koneko had never been a major priority in his life. No, more like a bane of his existence… other than being a good place to have sex with his very hot boyfriend, he thought as he leaned over to nuzzle Aya’s pierced ear.

Shrugging his shoulder at the affectionate gesture, Aya gave him a warning look – probably because Teddy was pulling out his phone as if in hopes of snapping a picture – and grunted softly. "So, not that I’m displeased to see Koyu, but why are you here, Stout?" Trust Aya to move past good manners and just ask what was on his mind. "Other than to bring us the information and make-up?"

Teddy shuffled his feet and managed a sheepish grin. "Well, a couple of friends are treating Koyu and me to dinner tonight so I thought it would be nice to put those new skills of mine to use and take them some flowers in thanks." He reached into the bag again and pulled out a wallet. "I’ll even charge them to the company, how’s that?"

Yohji had been about to sip his beer when he heard that bit of news. "What, Kritiker gave *you* a corporate credit card?" he yelled, annoyed as hell since he had to keep track of all the receipts from shopping for art supplies today and spend the next month wheedling Birman to reimburse him for the expenses. Yet the idiots in charge gave *Teddy* a credit card?

The offer to pay for the flowers, especially at Kritiker’s expense, seemed to appease Aya, who then led a smiling Teddy down to the flower shop with Omi trailing after them. That left Yohji, Ken and Koyu in the kitchen.

"Would you care to sit down?" Yohji offered the blind man. He liked Koyu and was glad that Aya had become friends with him, someone mostly normal and who didn’t kill for a living. "Or something to drink?"

"No, thank you." Koyu smiled and shook his head. "We really do need to get going as soon as Teddy’s finished with the flowers. I’m sorry to be such a bother, and I promise we’ll be here by nine o’clock tomorrow morning."

Ken made an inquisitive sound as he got up from the table to fetch another beer for him and Yohji. "Was Teddy really busy today?"


"Yes." Koyu unzipped his black coat an inch or two from his neck, a slight frown on his face. "We both were, really. Mickey had me making phone calls all day while Teddy went from one place to another. He’s determined to eliminate as many false leads as possible to save you the work." His frown deepened and his voice took on a sad tone. "I think the crimes are really getting to him. Whoever is so cruel as to not only kidnap a person and keep them captive for a while, but then to mutilate their corpses…." He shook his head, his long dark hair flying around his face as he shuddered slightly. "We’ll do whatever we can to help with this assignment."

Yohji was about to ask Koyu to be a model in Aya’s place, then, before he realized just what that would entail. This assignment probably hit close to home for Koyu and the Stouts because of what had happened to the blind man, and there was no way that Yohji would want him to be a target of abuse again. He was pretty sure that Teddy and Mickey would beat the shit out of him for even asking, and for once he’d deserve it.

"Watching over the shop while we work is a big help," Yohji offered, wanting to put his friend at ease. "And we’ll probably have you making some phone calls, too. It’s nice to have a voice actor around for things like that!"

Koyu seemed to cheer up upon hearing that. "Thank you, Yohji."

"Yeah, maybe if it gets too bad, I can have you call saying it’s a family emergency and I need to get home," Ken added, going so far as to wink at Koyu before blushing slightly, most likely because he forgot that the man was blind. "And, well, you’ll be stuck with Teddy all day and a bunch of fangirls; maybe I can return the favor."

Laughing out loud, Koyu unzipped his coat the rest of the way to reveal a very nice pale blue dress shirt worn beneath it. "Oh yes, I can’t forget about that." The look of annoyance on his face just then would have done Aya proud. "I haven’t forgotten that TB rather foolishly ‘outed’ us to the girls, and have made him promise to buy me dinner for each time we’re asked to pose for pictures."

Yohji winced upon hearing that. "Ah, I hate to tell you this but you won’t have to pay for quite a while." He just hoped that Teddy didn’t slip and say anything about his relationship with Aya, or there’d be bloodshed in the shop the next time Aya worked during an afternoon rush.

"That’s what I figured." Koyu’s annoyed look intensified for a moment before it turned worried. "It’s something I’ll just have to accept, however, because you’ll definitely be too busy to worry about the shop while on this assignment. I just wish we could be of more help to you."

"Is everything all right?" Ken asked, a question most likely based on the insightful nature he didn’t show off too much. "I mean… from the sounds of it, Mickey’s really working hard on this mission and we haven’t seen Birman or Manx for a while."

Koyu appeared as if he was debating saying something before he sighed and nodded. "Being so new to the organization and blind as well, I don’t know much about what’s going on yet. However, I get the impression from Mickey that something’s not quite right anymore at Kritiker. There’s talk of Persia trying to do away with several of the teams and Mickey thinks that there was some kind of shake-up on an upper management level. He’s pretty much been left on his own to handle a lot of things."

"If there’s someone who could make things work in such a difficult situation, it’s Mickey," Yohji said. The man was more than intelligent enough to figure things out on his own, and had a very strong dose of common sense. Even Teddy would be some help to him, as Yohji doubted there was anything that the skirt-wearing idiot wouldn’t do for his older brother.

"Just understand that I believe that you can only look to Teddy, Mickey and I for help on this mission." Koyu sighed again and zipped his coat closed.


"Not like that’s anything new for us," Ken muttered. "In fact, that’s more help than we’ve gotten in the past."

The conversation came to an end with Aya, Omi and Teddy returning from the shop, a large parcel wrapped in bright blue floral paper in Teddy’s right hand. Yohji could smell roses, and judging from the gleam in his lover’s eyes, the arrangement probably included the most expensive flowers Aya could put together.

"Okay, we’re off but we’ll be back tomorrow. Don’t bother changing the locks because that won’t keep us out!" Teddy winked in Yohji’s direction before leading Koyu to the door. "And let me know if you need any help with the make-up or dye, Brown Eyes!"

Yohji wasn’t quite sure since his attention was mostly on watching Teddy leave, but he thought that Ken had to restrain Omi from going after the American idiot. Grateful that he shouldn’t have to help out much in the shop tomorrow, he picked up his beer and took a long drink from it. "Okay, what’s on the agenda for now?" he asked once he was finished swallowing. "Dinner should be here in about ten more minutes."

"I’ll fetch my laptop and we’ll be able to go over the information while we eat," Omi said, his tone still a little angry even though Teddy was gone.

"Once dinner is over, I’ll probably have Omi dye my hair." Ken’s expression just then was a bit sheepish, but Yohji was sure the man was pretty happy about being able to spend some ‘quality’ time with Omi in a small bathroom.

"Great. Guess I’ll practice some drawing while you get all prettied up." Yohji laughed when Ken threw a dishtowel at him and draped it over his head. "Any volunteers for a model?" he asked while looking directly at Aya.

His lover grunted and snatched the towel from his head. "As long as I can read while you’re drawing." For someone who was going to be stark naked in front of a bunch of strangers in less than two days time, he didn’t seem too upset or worried about anything.

"I’m sure we can manage that." Yohji leaned forward to give Aya a kiss, in no hurry to rush it even if Ken made gagging sounds after a minute.

Before he could end the kiss and go strangle a certain teammate, Omi returned with his laptop and told them to set the table for dinner. Yohji reluctantly got up to fetch the plates, appeased with the fact that he’d be able to spend the rest of the night with Aya. Maybe being drawn for several hours would make the man rethink his part in the mission and ask to switch places with Yohji – not that Yohji would hold his breath on that matter. If there was one thing Aya was, other than incredibly sexy and downright lethal, it was stubborn as all hell. Yohji had the feeling that he better stock up on the blood pressure medication before Wednesday.

*******

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