Art of Cruelty

*******

chapter three

*******

Aya stared at the plastic jar in his right hand for a moment and then with a sigh of regret, set it on the bed and removed his black cotton pants. Now dressed in Yohji’s very comfortable sweatshirt, a t-shirt beneath that and a pair of boxers, he sat down on the bed and unscrewed the jar’s lid.

The make-up that Teddy had brought him last night was thick, creamy and cold. He had to admit that it did a very good job of matching his skin tone before he applied it to the scar on his thigh, a little surprised to see how easily it covered the reddish, raised skin. The scar wasn’t completely hidden, but at least now it wouldn’t be so noticeable. He had hopes that the smaller, fainter scars wouldn’t be visible through the make-up and the larger ones wouldn’t attract too much attention. If anyone asked, he’d just tell them he’d been involved in a motorcycle accident or something, or injured during an earthquake. Maybe he should check with Ken and see what explanation his teammate would use so they both didn’t come up with the same answer.

He was applying the make-up to a smaller scar on his right calf when Yohji entered the room, smelling of cigarette smoke and beer. After dinner, Aya had left his boyfriend down in the kitchen while he worked out for a bit and took a shower; he didn’t think he needed to guess what Yohji had been doing during that time. "Are you drunk?" he asked, more exasperated than annoyed at the moment.

Yohji leaned against the doorframe and leered slightly. "Why, you gonna take advantage of me?" He raised his arms over his head, wrists crossed, and whimpered for a moment. "Please be gentle."

Replacing the lid on the jar and tossing it onto the couch, Aya snorted in derision as he left the bed to approach his lover. "You’re an idiot." He stopped right in front of Yohji, shivering slightly from the chill that rarely left him, and gave the moron a mostly gentle whap to the stomach. "And you must be drunk." Now he was getting annoyed, since they had a mission in the morning.

Yohji shook his head as his arms lowered and slid around Aya’s waist. "No, I just had a couple of beers, I promise." His expression turned serious and his voice grew rough as he pulled Aya closer. "Though I really, *really* wanted to drink a few bottles of whiskey or something. Kitten…." He didn’t finish whatever he was about to say and just shook his head again.

"*No*, Kudoh." Aya’s voice was sharp with anger as he whapped his boyfriend again, this time with a bit more force; just enough to sting, however, since he realized that Yohji truly was trying to not harass him about his role in the mission. Yohji was definitely still upset about it and Aya had no doubt that if the slightest excuse to change things presented itself, Yohji would pounce on it. That said, Yohji wasn’t being as stupid about things as he had down in the mission room the other night. No, while he made his displeasure over the circumstances well known, he seemed determined to solve the assignment as quickly as possible so Aya didn’t have to pose nude too often.

Aya shivered at the thought of having to admit it, but… he *liked* this side of his lover. To see Yohji so focused on something, putting the intelligence that he laughed aside on too many occasions to good use, turning serious over something other than how to get Aya to agree to sex… Aya loved Yohji, even if the man could be so infuriatingly lazy and hedonistic, that he couldn’t help but be pleased to see this side of him.

As if in response to his shiver, Yohji hugged him closer. "You shouldn’t go around half naked if you’re so cold, Aya. It would be such a shame if you came down with a fever." A devilish grin formed on Yohji’s lips. "Such a terrible shame." As he spoke, he slowly pulled up the sweatshirt and t-shirt that Aya was wearing.

"Yohji!"

Ignoring his yelp of surprise, Yohji pushed both of them toward the bed. "Aw, don’t worry, I’ll keep you warm, Kitten." He laughed when Aya glared at him, eyebrows waggling in a salacious manner as he tipped them both onto the bed. Amused despite himself, Aya huffed a couple of times and hit his lover on the left shoulder.

"Maybe you should be neutered," he joked, his amusement growing at the sudden grimace that appeared on his lover’s face. He didn’t know why that joke had turned into such a sore spot for Yohji in the last few months, but it never failed to get a response.

"If you do something like that, you’ll just cheat yourself out of some enjoyment in the end," Yohji rallied, his good mood restored as he stroked his right hand along Aya’s side. Between the cold and Yohji’s touch, Aya was covered with goosebumps and shivering once again.

"Shut up and keep me warm." Aya somehow managed a glare despite Yohji touching and smiling at him like that, the expression quickly lost when his lover leaned forward to give him a kiss.

Lying on his back with Yohji stretched out on top of him, Aya stopped feeling so chilled as pleasure slowly built inside of him. It seemed only natural to give in to it and the need that grew along with it, to push aside his worries and commitments to revel in what his lover could make him feel. For a moment there was an impulse to push Yohji away, onto his back and then settle between his thighs, but he ignored it and hugged the man closer instead. If Yohji offered to be fucked he’d agree to it, but right now he had the feeling that being in control was something his lover needed. Considering how well Yohji had behaved for the last day or so, Aya thought it was only fair, too.

Besides, he still truly enjoyed giving himself to the man he loved like this, allowing Yohji to take charge and reduce him to someone who could only feel instead of dwelling on what was wrong in his life. Even though he’d accepted that he loved Yohji so much, he wasn’t very good at showing that emotion outside of situations like this, which made them all the more special.

After nipping at his bottom lip a time or two, Yohji deepened the kiss, tongue snaking lazily into Aya’s mouth and flicking about, rubbing against the roof of his mouth while he rocked his hips against Aya’s. Suddenly grateful to only be wearing a pair of boxers, Aya fumbled to remove his lover’s clothes, yanking on the hem of Yohji’s cashmere sweater in his haste.

"Slow down, love, we’ve got all night," Yohji joked, his voice deepened to a sexy purr by desire. He pulled away enough to remove his sweater and toss it aside, then rid himself of his tight jeans with an ease that Aya still couldn’t figure out. He was trying yet again when he was distracted by Yohji tugging on his boxers and anxiously lifted his hips. Things would be even better once they were rid of their clothes, after all.

The feel of Yohji against him was so delightfully warm and solid. Aya wrapped his arms around his lover and hugged him close, soaking in that warmth and enjoying the pleasure of smooth skin against his own. His hand skimmed down Yohji’s back, idly tracing a couple of scars along the way while Yohji kissed a trail from the corner of his mouth to his neck. "Yohji…."

As if pleased to hear his name moaned like that, Yohji rocked his hips forward again before sliding down a little. His mouth fastened on Aya’s neck, a gentle kiss followed by a sudden intense sucking pressure that made Aya gasp loudly and his hips to jerk back and forth. Dammit, the idiot had to be sucking hard enough to leave a bruise, something that Aya planned to protest by yanking on his lover’s hair when Yohji shifted his mouth over a few centimeters until it brushed against *that* spot.

Aya felt as if all control to his muscles had been cut with the simple touch of lips against the skin just below his right ear. He moaned in ecstasy and relaxed against the bed, his head turning to the side so Yohji could more easily lave attention onto that spot. Electric bursts of pleasure raced along his nerves, leaving fervent desire in their wake until his entire body was tingling with need and ecstasy. As those feelings grew, so did the ache inside of him, a yearning for Yohji to fill him up until he had to yell over how wonderful it felt.

Yohji chuckled, the sound so very pleased and wanton, his attention divided between Aya’s neck and preparing him for sex. Lost in a haze of increasing pleasure, Aya didn’t know when his lover had grabbed the lube, but was so very grateful when he felt Yohji’s slick fingers press inside of him. He hissed a little at the suddenness of their entrance, his body stretching easily after a moment’s hesitation. After several months as lovers, Yohji was so damn good at gauging how much Aya’s body could take and when he needed it fast or slow. Right now, Aya craved what Yohji could make him feel and wasn’t willing to wait.


"Now, Yotan," Aya hissed, his hips rocking back to take his lover’s fingers in even deeper. That prompted another pleased chuckle from Yohji, who flexed his fingers apart one more time before pulling them free.

"So impatient, love." Yohji nuzzled Aya’s aching neck before he slid his arms beneath Aya’s legs and lifted them upward. Allowing his body to curl into the desired position, Aya shifted his legs to Yohji’s shoulders and watched his lover stare down at him, cock in hand as he pressed it against Aya’s opening. "One day, I want to draw you like you look right now," Yohji said, his voice even huskier than before, this time with something more than desire. The expression on his face just then was so tender, so loving that Aya was lost in it to the degree that the sensation of hardness sinking into him prompted a surprised gasp.

As much as he wanted to continue staring at Yohji, he gasped again and tilted his head back, his eyes fluttering closed as he was slowly yet inexorably penetrated. As if from far away, he heard Yohji continue to talk, the words almost lost beneath the rushing of blood through his veins.

"You look so gorgeous right now, Aya. Flushed with your lips parted, your hair clinging to your face…." Yohji pushed in as far as he could go and slowly pulled back out. "Everyone would want a painting of you like this, and only I get to see it." His voice grew shakier the longer he spoke, the last word almost a growl as he snapped his hips forward and thrust in fast and deep.

Aya cried out, his left hand reaching for Yohji’s arm at the same time his right one curled around his own cock. He pumped it as quickly as he dared, his palm growing slick with sweat and precome as Yohji rocked into him hard, just how he needed it. Forcing his eyes open, he found Yohji still staring at him, face flushed and half covered with hair as well, green eyes almost glowing through the dark gold strands. His lips would twitch with the slightest of smiles whenever he thrust into Aya, as if he knew exactly how wonderful it felt. Aya’s fingers dug into muscle and bone, his breathing growing more labored with each shock of pleasure through his body. Even while his body was almost bent in half his cock remained hard, ecstasy coursing along his nerves with each movement that Yohji made.

The feelings continued to build inside of him, a crescendo of pleasure, need and love, strongly enough to make him feel dizzy and his limbs grow numb. He felt the searing pleasure course through him and pool in his middle, increasing sharply each time Yohji brushed against that special spot inside of him until he was left gasping for air and trembling. A few more thrusts, more bursts of molten ecstasy and the resulting orgasm made him cry out his lover’s name.

His eyes snapped shut at his climax so he didn’t get to watch Yohji come as well, although he did hear his lover yell something that was probably supposed to be his name. Blood pounding in his ears as he struggled to breathe, Aya only really heard the volume with which the word was shouted and did his feeble best to hug Yohji close as he came.

They lay still on the bed after that, bodies shifting minutely until they were comfortably tangled up with each other, Yohji still on top of Aya and keeping him warm. Amidst all the usual aches and minor strains of a vigorous bout of sex was a slight burning to Aya’s throat that he belatedly recognized as meaning he must have some truly impressive hickeys now.

"Do I have enough make-up to cover what you did to my neck?" he grumbled with his eyes closed, not bothering to glare just then.

Yohji’s pleased chuckle made him blindly whap the idiot on the back, which didn’t seem to do much to dampen Yohji’s good mood. "You can hide most of them." That prompted Aya to open his eyes and find his lover staring at him with a very serious expression.

"Yohj-"

"No, Aya," Yohji cut him off, the smile fading from his lips as he spoke. "Leave one of the marks or let me scratch you somewhere, but those perverts passing themselves off as art students are gonna know that you’re taken." He sat up, his movements slow and insistent as he made Aya sit up as well. Since the duvet was wrapped around Aya’s shoulders and back, he didn’t protest too much. "You can tell them your girlfriend’s a possessive wildcat if you like, as long as it’s clear that you’re not gonna accept any offers for a date."

Aya rolled his eyes at the possessive tone in Yohji’s voice. However, he didn’t make a smart comment, not when he realized that if Yohji were the one posing naked in front of a bunch of strangers, his back would be bearing several claw marks by now. "One hickey, Kudoh. Any more than that and they might think it means I’m rather ‘friendly’." Now he glared, at the thought of explaining to Kritiker why he’d broken the hand of a possible suspect.

Yohji huffed and hugged him closer. "It’s bad enough that they get to see you naked, dammit." He seemed to think about something as his right hand stroked up and down Aya’s back. "Maybe you can suffer some sort of rash-"

This time, it was Aya’s turn to do the cutting off. "No, Yohji." He didn’t even want to think of possible ways to get out of the mission, not after he’d agreed to it. There was a stab of pain when he thought that the money he earned wasn’t going to his sister’s medical bills now, but he still had to stay in Kritiker’s good graces if he didn’t want to endanger his relationship with Yohji, which meant that he couldn’t change his mind or turn down many assignments.

"Just a thought." Yohji let out a slow breath and rested his chin against the top of Aya’s head. "We better find those bastard killers really fast."


Grunting in response, Aya slouched down a little more against his lover and huddled closer, wanting the heat and comfort that he got from hugging Yohji. He had a feeling that by tomorrow night, he’d be begging Schu to let him use his power to find the killers and be ready to tear through Yohji’s very impressive bar.

******

Yohji took one last long drag on his cigarette before he pushed away from the building’s wall, the art portfolio he’d bought at a second-hand store tucked beneath his left arm while he flicked the cigarette away with his right hand. He muttered under his breath as he stalked across the small courtyard toward the art building, annoyed as much by the fact that he’d had to take a damn bus of all things today as by the thought of walking into the room and seeing Aya there. That there were all these laughing, chatting *kids* around him didn’t help, either; he was probably the same age as some of them, maybe a year or two older than most, but he felt positively ancient right now. Even before he’d gotten ensnared by Kritiker, higher education had never been an option open to him. He’d needed to make money to support himself and had only managed a helpful computer class or two here and there to assist with the P.I. work.

Now he had to pass himself off as an art student, which was utterly ridiculous. Oh yes, he felt truly old at the moment, weighed down by darkness and the fact that unlike the majority of the people around him, he didn’t have much of a future to look forward to or to plan. No, he’d work for Kritiker until he died, holding on to the faint hope that he might be retired one day but not really buying it. Ah well, at least he’d have Aya by his side, he reminded himself as he went up the stairs to the third floor. That was, unless Aya caught pneumonia from standing around naked all day and died, or snapped at being the center of attention and was locked up for slaughtering an entire art class. Yohji would put serious money down on either happening, to be honest.

Finally finding the correct classroom, he squared his shoulders and stepped inside, a little surprised to realize that he must be the last person to arrive. There were five other students in the room whom he recognized from the information that Mickey had sent to him the other night. He’d been taken aback to realize how small the classes were and realized that Mickey really hadn’t had much of a choice but to assign just Yohji as an art student; the requirements for the class were pretty strict and it wasn’t cheap, either.

A young woman with short hair dyed an unnaturally bright shade of copper looked up from the photo she was showing two other people and smiled. She was cute and trying to make up for not being beautiful with the outrageous hair and facial piercings, Yohji was willing to bet, well familiar with the kind after several years spent trolling bars for ‘dates’. That or she was trying too hard to be unique and just managing to look like at least twenty other girls in a four block radius.

"Well, I certainly hope this is the right class or I’ll be heartbroken," he said, a lazy, friendly smile on his face and a hint of Kansai-ben in his voice. When the girl’s smile strengthened, he tossed in a wink, pretty happy with his persona of a laid-back, flirty art student. The best personas were the ones that didn’t require much of a stretch from reality, after all, though Yohji was sure his lover and at least one teammate would just tell him he was too much of a lazy flirt to come up with anything else.

"It is if you’re Konomi-san," the girl replied with an adorable giggle that didn’t seem an affectation. When Yohji nodded, she giggled again and bowed her head slightly. "I’m Saito."

Yohji inclined his head slightly as well. "It’s a pleasure to meet you. Please take good care of me." He drawled out the words in such a manner that Saito did her best to stifle another giggle and the young woman standing next to her actually blushed. Unlike Saito, this girl could easily blend into a crowd, her dark brown hair pulled back into a simple ponytail, her clothes just fashionable enough that she shouldn’t get teased too much over the way she dressed and utterly un-provocative.

"This is Murata-san," Saito said by way of introductions as she motioned toward the other girl, "and Masashi-san is too busy drooling over the picture to say ‘hi’."

"No I’m not," Masashi mumbled as he pushed the photo – what looked to be a naked young woman with shadows strategically placed to hide her nudity – aside and grinned at Yohji. "I’m just disappointed that you’re not a sexy girl." His hair was as long as Yohji’s but bleached twice as blond, his clothes so trendy that Yohji was impressed despite himself. Must be nice to have parents who gave you that much money to blow on clothes – that or the kid was doing something to earn it, something that probably didn’t involve flipping burgers or renting videos.

Yohji didn’t let his suspicion show on his face. "Sorry, you’re gonna have to settle for a sexy guy instead." That made even Murata laugh, transforming her into someone prettier than Saito.

The guy clad in blue jeans and a comfortable looking blue sweater looked up from the sketchpad in his lap and smiled, nodding his head once when Saito introduced him as "Baruma-san." That only left the guy sitting by the window as he continuously texted something on his cellphone - Yohji figured he was Yakumo Masayuki. He already knew all of the students’ names and their personal and academic histories thanks to Mickey’s very detailed reports, as well as that of the instructor, Kaneshiro Jun.

He got the impression that at least Saito, Masashi and Murata knew each other – most likely from previous classes – and would have to ask Omi to check into that. The belief was that more than one person was involved in the murders, considering the amount of body modification the victims suffered, let alone being able to dispose of the dismembered bodies without detection.


Saito had just asked him where he lived when Kaneshiro entered the room with Ken trailing behind him. The instructor was a middle-aged man with graying hair and glasses with bright red frames.

"Ah, Konomi-san, I’m pleased to meet you. If you don’t mind, I’d like to speak to you after today’s lesson." He seemed pretty cheerful, a lot different from the strict teachers that Yohji had known during high school, although he guessed things weren’t the same when the class was basically a voluntary one.

"Of course, Kaneshiro-sensei," Yohji replied, noticing the way Ken’s lips twitched ever so slightly. Yeah, yeah, he was being a ‘good boy’ – if Omi didn’t kill him for messing up the mission because of a snarky attitude, Aya and Mickey would be waiting to finish the job. So he’d behave for once and focus the energy that would normally go into amusing himself into figuring out who the sick fucks were behind the murders, end of story.

While Kaneshiro introduced everyone to Ken, Yohji unzipped his portfolio and looked about for an easel he could use. There was one available by Baruma, who gave Yohji a polite smile as he approached. Not sure what was going to happen since he hadn’t been in an art class in years, Yohji opened the portfolio and removed a few contents, one of them being his sketch pad.

"May I?" Baruma asked, stepping closer when Yohji nodded. "You haven’t missed much," the art student explained as he flipped open the pad. "We’re still on basic poses with a focus on shading. At least today’s model looks to have some muscle definition." Baruma didn’t pay much attention to the few still life drawings that Yohji had done in case anyone wanted to check out his work, but stopped once he got to the incomplete picture of Aya from the other night. Because Aya was modeling here at the school, Yohji had left the face in the sketch unfinished, but his lover’s body was done in as much detail as he dared. "You shouldn’t have much trouble in that area, from the looks of it." Closing the pad, Baruma gave Yohji another smile, this one warmer than the previous one.

"I thought all of us were supposed to be pretty advanced to get into here," Yohji replied after a couple of seconds, not sure how he was supposed to react to such obvious approval. Art had been something he’d fooled around with in school, an easy after-school activity that had usually impressed the girls and a few boys. It felt… oddly good, and he couldn’t help but wonder what his life would be like now if he’d stuck with it instead of being a private investigator. For one thing, he’d never have met Aya so maybe things had worked out after all….

Baruma’s gaze flicked over to Yakumo, who had put away his phone and was now fussing with his blond-streaked, spiky hair. "Some talent is necessary, but as this isn’t a graded course, the effort that one puts into it is left up to the individual." The impression that Yohji got at the moment was that Yakumo didn’t bother with much, if any at all.

Meanwhile, Baruma came across as your typical art student: some sort of individual style to make him stand out a little, his hands marked with smudges of what looked to be charcoal and ink, his portfolio battered, plastered with various stickers and pictures and crammed with numerous sketch pads. He seemed perfectly harmless… but Yohji had learned that the best killers were the ones who never came across as homicidal maniacs. Perhaps this guy was a bit too much into the creative process and had grown bored with sketching and painting.

The same could be said about Murata, who was busy setting up a few things around her easel while Saito and Masashi continued to joke around while they did the same. All the while, the instructor continued to speak quietly with Ken. Yohji’s teammate stood off to the side of the room with his face turned to the ground, his slippered feet shuffling about and his hands tucked into the sleeves of his yukata. Yohji was willing to bet half of the money he’d make on this mission that Ken was blushing, and barely resisted the urge to smirk when he caught a hint of red on his friend’s face. Kaneshiro kept patting poor Ken on the shoulder, until Ken finally looked up and took a deep breath.

"All right, we’re ready to begin." Kaneshiro motioned for Ken to move toward the center of the room, where a padded stool and a small table were set. "Now, I believe we worked on standing poses last time, so today we’ll focus on a sitting pose. This should give everyone the perfect opportunity to work on shadowing." He beamed around the room before patting Ken once more on the back. "Ah, please remove your robe and take a seat. I’d like something simple today, so a comfortable yet open position would be nice."


Ken looked as if he’d just been told that he was a Takatori, his brown eyes going wide and his tanned skin turning ashen. However, what appeared to be a burgeoning panic attack didn’t last long, something that Yohji had to give the guy a hell of a lot of credit for. After taking a deep breath, Ken’s expression grew resolved and he removed his robe.

Yohji and Ken had been teammates and roommates for the past few years, and that had involved sharing the bathroom at times as well as patching each other up. The make-up was doing a good job of hiding a scar on the small of Ken’s back that Yohji had cleaned and bandaged several months ago, in fact, so it wasn’t as if Yohji hadn’t seen his friend’s ass before.

That didn’t mean that Yohji had no problem watching as Ken sat down on the stool, shifting about at Kaneshiro’s urging to pose this way and that. Ken finally settled on a pose that had his legs stretched out in front of him, his left arm resting on the table and supporting his head. It looked comfortable enough to be maintained for the next hour or so, and Yohji thanked whatever gods, demons or spirits that Ken’s lap was cast in shadow. Well, mostly cast in shadow. Ah hell, maybe he could shift his easel about a bit so he didn’t have to draw anything remotely resembling Ken’s cock. Yohji wanted to shudder in horror just at the thought of doing such a thing. Nope, he wasn’t screwing Ken so he’d stay as far away from his friend’s naughty bits as possible. Kritiker didn’t pay *that* well.

Besides, he had a feeling that Omi would be asking him for details, and this time he shuddered slightly as he picked up a piece of charcoal. "Sorry, I felt a chill," he told Baruma when the man gave him a questioning look. Despite the fact that he was wearing a heavy cotton shirt over a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, Baruma merely shrugged and began staring at Ken as if to memorize everything about him.

Pretending to do the same, Yohji surreptitiously observed his fellow ‘classmates’. Saito was smiling widely as she stared at Ken, busy playing with her hair until Kaneshiro asked her a question about ‘composition’. Beside her, Murata no longer came across as shy at all, not with the way she stared so intently at Ken for several moments before beginning to sketch. Masashi appeared to be looking for a suitable piece of charcoal while Yakumo finally seemed to find something of interest in today’s class. He tilted his head to the side as he looked at Ken and moved his easel about half a foot to the left before he began to sketch as well.

Conscious of the fact that the instructor would be over to check on his progress soon enough, Yohji began to do a rough outline of Ken. Dammit, maybe Aya talking to Mastermind was a good thing; if Aya asked nicely enough, there was a chance that the telepath would remove the memory of this class from Yohji’s brain. He’d risk letting the psychopath in his head for that worthy cause, because the *last* thing he needed to know about right now was the mole on Ken’s upper right thigh.

There was no doubt in his mind that Kritiker was pure evil for assigning Weiss this mission.

*******

Aya toyed with the copper bracelet around his wrist a few times before he set it aside, now only dressed in a yukata and a pair of slippers. Part of him still didn’t believe that he was about to pose naked in front of several strangers, but he wouldn’t listen to that disquieting voice. No, this was a mission; compared to killing several people merely for the fact that they’d been hired by a target, taking off his clothes should be relatively easy. At the very least, it wouldn’t stain his soul as much as all the blood he’d shed over the years.

His mind slipping into mission mode, he straightened his back and closed the door of the locker that he’d been shown to put his clothes and belongings in while he worked. Turning around, he went through the door and out into the hallway, where he found Hasegawa-sensei waiting for him. The elderly art teacher looked him up and down with narrowed eyes, his gaze so intent that Aya hoped the make-up he’d put on a little while ago sufficiently covered his scars and bruises.

"What you do in your personal time is your own business, but kindly refrain from showing up with any new… bruises," the small man said with a disapproving sniff before walking away.

Aya resisted the urge to touch his neck and wished Yohji was there so he could smack the possessive idiot. While the last thing he wanted was to be hit on by anybody, he really didn’t care for the dirty look that Hasegawa had sent his way. "I’m sorry, sir," he replied, doing his best to unclench his teeth.

Hasegawa sniffed again and pushed up the glasses that slid down his very short nose. "It’s bad enough that I have to teach a bunch of giggling women how to draw so they can make some money producing perverted manga, but I expect some professionalism from another employee, Matsumoto-san." He hugged the white smock he wore over a grey dress shirt closer and led the way to his classroom. "That said, please do not be put off by their silliness. I assure you, the afternoon classes are comprised of the more serious students."

Aya had read the background file that Mickey had given him of the professor and could imagine how bothered the man was by his current teaching position. Hasegawa had gained quite the reputation in his youth as a talented artist, only to stop producing works of his own around the same time he was accused of sexual harassment by a former model. The case had been settled out of court; between that and Hasegawa’s divorce, the man hadn’t been left with much money and had to resort to teaching to pay his bills. That was enough motive there for him to be behind the crimes, though Aya didn’t see how someone so frail and old could manage carrying any bodies, even if they were dismembered. Still, Aya wouldn’t discount the instructor as a suspect until they found their target.

His cold mission persona took a hit when he entered Hasegawa’s classroom and heard several squeals of delight. Resisting the urge to turn around and leave, he squared his shoulders and did his best to ignore the students. Other than a quiet young man who was actually blushing and ducking his head, the rest of the students were young women. The noise was being produced by four in particular, who Aya recognized from the college IDs included in the mission packet.

"Oh, he’s so pretty!" the tallest of the four proclaimed, one Nagae Arisa if Aya remembered correctly. She was dressed in a very feminine, frilly light blue dress that looked too thin for the cold weather. As it was, he was doing his best not to shiver too much while standing there in just a robe.

"We should make that character look just like him, Saibara! Only with blond hair," another girl replied, busy reaching into what looked to be an expensive designer bag to pull out a sketch pad.

Another young woman, wearing a pair of jeans even tighter than Yohji’s, nodded and flipped back her long, dyed-blonde hair. "Oh, yes! But maybe we shouldn’t change-"

"Saibara-san, kindly be quiet so I may begin the class," Hasegawa said, his cold, clearly furious voice cutting her off. "The same goes for you, Nagae-san, Shimizu-san, Kurachi-san." He glared at the students one by one until they finally grew quiet and returned to their easels.

"Today our model will be Matsumoto-san. Do your best not to drive him away as it’s becoming very difficult to find models lately." Hasegawa included the rest of the class in his glare before turning to Aya. "If you don’t mind, I think we better go for a sitting position today." For the first time since Aya had met the man, something akin to humor appeared in his expression. "Perhaps with your legs curled up on the chair while you lean to one side?"

Feeling that he understood what the man was alluding to, Aya took a slow, deep breath before he nodded and did his best to ignore the four vocal women as he stripped off his only remaining garment. At least two of them twittered as he went to the chair, quickly hushed once again by Hasegawa. While the man went on a tirade about how serious artists didn’t debase themselves with selling manga to the lowest common denominator of the public, Aya quickly seated himself as he’d been asked. With this position, he didn’t feel too exposed even if he was freezing, although he fought hard not to blush when Saibara and Kurachi pulled their easels closer to the chair.

"Now, with such a… riveting model, I highly expect to see some very skilled sketches from you today. Unlike the majority of you, this young man seems to do something other than read perverse manga and play video games all day, so you’ll have a good idea of the human musculature system." While Hasegawa berated his class, he walked around the students as they began prepare themselves for the lesson. "Use charcoal today for a preliminary sketch. I’ve booked Matsumoto-san for the rest of the week, so as long as you harridans don’t scare him away, we should be able to progress to oil paintings eventually. You’ll have to mix up more than one color for him!"

<Yes, but how will they draw all those goosebumps?> Schu’s voice was very unexpected in Aya’s head, as was the faint rush of warmth that he associated with his talent being freed. However, he didn’t see the world suddenly colored by myriad lines of thread; this time, he sensed them as if they were just out of reach.

<Schuldig, what are you doing?> he demanded to know as he struggled to better ‘feel’ the threads.

<I’m making sure mein Herz doesn’t catch his death from the cold, what else?> Schu sounded a little annoyed and much too sly for Aya’s comfort. <Do you know the one boy over there is trying to see if you’re ‘bigger’ than him?>

If he wasn’t required to keep still for the students, Aya would give in to the urge to bang his head against a hard surface in the hopes that it caused Schuldig a headache. <Go the hell away, Schuldig. I told you *not* to bother me during a mission.>

<Who’s doing any bothering? You’re sitting there like a rack of prime meat – half frozen at that. What would you do without me, Aya?>

<Be a hell of a lot happier and sane,> was Aya’s instant retort. The art room faded away as he focused on getting Schuldig out of his mind. <Go away.> He made no effort to hide his anger at the telepath’s antics.

Schuldig responded by sending along some anger of his own. <No. Not only do I have to suffer you freezing your rather sexy ass off if I do, but there’s no telling if any of these lechers will try something if you’re left alone. The bitch to your left is considering shanghai-ing you after class so she and her friends can use you for their own ‘personal’ model.>

Aya paid enough attention to his surroundings to identify the ‘bitch’ as Saibara Akemi. Some of his anger faded as he wondered if this was a possible lead in the case. <Why does she want to use me as a model? Is she one of the killers?> He didn’t get anything by way of an answer other than an intense wave of smugness. <Dammit, Schuldig, if you’re not going away then either release more of my talent or tell me what she’s thinking!> If his talent was only a bit stronger, he could see if she was tied to the murders or not.

A phantom caress ran down the left side of his face. <See, you *do* need me, Aya. Now ask me nicely and I’ll tell you what she’s thinking.>

There was no way Aya was going to play along with the annoying bastard’s game. <Fuck off,> he replied, putting as much venom into the thought as possible.

<Oh, now that has possibilities.> Aya’s mind was flooded with several pornographic images of him and Schuldig having decidedly kinky sex with each other. Torn between panic over the possibility of his body responding to the unwanted stimuli and fury over Schuldig’s little ‘prank’, Aya was hard-pressed to not get out of the chair and track down the asshole. However, when he tried to clench his fists in anger, he found that his body refused to obey him.


<Relax, Aya, I’m not about to have you charge through Tokyo butt-naked while looking for me. At least, not when you’re more in the mood for fighting than sex.> Schuldig’s amusement only annoyed Aya even more. <Now, since you need to work on that temper of yours, I’ll give you a free answer. It seems the bitch and her pack make money to support their rather expensive shopping habits by producing doujinshi featuring unnaturally lovely and feminine men having sex with each other.> There were more pornographic images in Aya’s head now, but this time they were drawn pictures. <You can take some comfort in the fact that they thought you’d make a good basis for their latest ‘seme’ character.> The snicker that echoed in Aya’s head didn’t do anything for his foul mood.

As he formed some images of his own in his head – of him gutting Schuldig with a butter knife – Schuldig made a ‘tsking’ sound. <We need to work on your sense of humor too, Kätzchen.>

<I fail to see why I should be amused at having to put up with an enemy invading my thoughts and insulting me.> Aya wished Schuldig was there in person so he could hurt the meddling bastard. <What did I tell you about not interfering with this mission?> Why the hell couldn’t Schuldig just listen to him this *once*. For someone trying to make Aya trust him and consider him as a lover, the man was a humongous idiot for the way he went about things.

That thought seemed to sting Schuldig a bit. <Hey, I’m doing you a favor here, you ungrateful bastard. Do you want to end up kidnapped again? Your catalyst nature makes you an irresistible target for some unsavory people.>

<Like you?> Aya couldn’t help but ask, growing tired of the discussion and wanting to be left alone, even if it meant freezing and putting up with the voracious looks from Saibara and her friends. He was supposed to be paying attention to the students, after all, to see if any of them would be potential targets. That was a bit difficult to do with a very irritating telepath in his head.

<Technically, my thoughts are in your head, not me. That would be an awful lot like Athena’s birth, don’t you think?> Schuldig must have noticed that Aya was *not* in the mood for mythological allusions and tsked again. <Okay, I’ll scan the damn students’ minds, are you happy now? You owe me->

<I owe you *nothing*.> Aya seethed at the implication that he was in any way indebted to the telepath – other than for the news about his sister. As this had nothing to do with Aya-chan, then Schuldig’s comment only made him more furious over the situation. Over the forced link between them, he actually felt Schuldig’s surprise and partial mental retreat.

Why the hell did these things have to happen to him? As if it wasn’t bad enough to kill for a living, he was currently naked in front of a bunch of strangers while being tormented by his personal devil. He wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed and forget that this day had ever happened, and he still had two more classes to get through before he could return to the Koneko.

Schuldig pushed back into his mind again, a much more subdued presence this time. <Look, as much of a thrill as it is for you to think of me as an all-powerful telepath, there are limits to my power. I can scan the surface thoughts of the people around you, but I can’t go in too deeply at this moment.> He was clearly reluctant to admit even that much to Aya. <I’m not picking up anything that suggests these people want to chop you up and leave your body in some fancy plaza, although don’t you dare bitch at me over a few of them coming down with headaches because of what I *can* pick up,> Schuldig huffed.

Aya was about to ask if Schuldig could sense their thoughts better if he was here in person before stopping himself. Schuldig was Schwarz, not Weiss. This was *Weiss’* mission, and he wouldn’t ask any favors from the telepath. He already owed the man too much right now as it was, and once he accepted Schu’s help as a given, then it would affect his performance as an assassin and put his team at risk. As much as he hated to use it, there was another option, however. <Release my talent.>

<No.> Schuldig’s response was instantaneous and resolute. <You’ll only put yourself in danger if I do that. Kritiker will notice if you resolve the mission too quickly, and so many threads to search will tax your talent as well as draw unwelcome attention from more than just your employers.> He was quiet for a moment while Aya cursed him for that answer. <Besides, you never wanted to use it before.> He pushed deeper into Aya’s mind as if looking for something.

<I want to put some damn clothes on and stop the killers, Schuldig. If you’re going to give me a little of my talent, release some more, dammit!> It would only take a few minutes, he was sure, to find the thread that connected to the dead models.

<No,> Schuldig repeated, sounding angry again. <I don’t take orders from you, Aya. If you want me to not interfere with the mission, then accept the consequences of that decision. All I care about is keeping you safe.>


Because of the link between them and the use Schuldig got out of his talent, Aya thought with growing bitterness.

<Because you’re *mine*, and I don’t allow my things to be harmed. Now, do you want to know how your sister is doing today or what?> Schuldig practically gloated as he asked the question, most likely because he already knew Aya’s answer.

Seeing no good way out of this situation, Aya wished he really could gut Schuldig without harming himself and reluctantly sent his mental assent. One day he’d make the bastard pay for all of this.

<Keep telling yourself that, mein Herz,> Schuldig crooned while Aya once again felt invisible hands caress his face. <Just sit there looking pretty while we pay your dear sister a little visit.>

Wishing he could at least grit his teeth in frustration, Aya allowed his consciousness to be pulled from the classroom toward the brightly lit place holding Aya-chan.

*******

Omi watched in horror while Teddy batted his eyelashes at a woman old enough to be the American’s grandmother. To think that Omi had considered Yohji a terrible flirt; Teddy was absolutely *shameless* in his actions, using the fascination that most of the Koneko’s customers had over an oddly dressed foreigner speaking perfect Japanese while waiting on them to put them under his spell. Every single woman that Teddy had talked to today ended up giggling and patting either one of his arms or shoulders. In the last few years, Omi had never seen the customers be so affectionate or physical to a ‘new’ employee, not even Yohji.

Meanwhile, Koyu was carefully creeping along a row of plants with the water hose in hand, reaching out to feel the soil before giving them some water. The store only had one customer at the moment who was busy complimenting Teddy on his Japanese, so Omi took this as a great opportunity to flee. He removed his apron, folded it up and placed it beneath the counter before reaching for the coat and bag he’d stuffed down there at the start of the shift. Pulling on his coat, he went over to Koyu and gently touched the blind man on the left arm.

"Mickey told me where he’d be today, so I’m going there to talk about… things." He was confident that Koyu knew what he meant and wouldn’t ask any questions. Proving his faith right, Koyu merely nodded and smiled.

"Go, then. If things get busy here, it’s only fitting for Teddy to have to handle it after missing training the one day and his behavior today." For someone who couldn’t see anymore, Koyu seemed to have a good grasp of what was going on around him.

"Thank you." Omi just managed to stop himself before he bowed slightly, aware that Koyu wouldn’t be able to see him. "I have my cell phone in case there’s any trouble."

Koyu laughed at that statement and shook his head. "Don’t worry, I’m fully prepared to fake a faint if worse comes to worst," he said in a conspiratorial tone. "That should be a good enough excuse to close the shop early." He returned Omi’s pat and smiled. "Now go, because I’m sure Mickey’s very busy and could use an excuse to talk to a friend right now."

This time Omi couldn’t stop himself from bowing a little before he wished Koyu good-bye. Why the man was involved with an obvious lunatic with a wandering eye like Teddy, he’d never understand, but he truly thought that Koyu could do better. Then again, Koyu may be the only thing stopping Teddy from trying to molest poor Ken, so he wouldn’t think about the two men’s relationship too much.

Climbing onto his bike, Omi mentally pictured the location of the bar where Mickey had told him he’d be today. It was in a section of town that Omi didn’t frequent too much, one with several popular foreign establishments but not too trendy. He’d gotten directions from Yohji this morning, and hadn’t been too surprised that his friend knew where it was.

Traffic this time of day wasn’t too bad, especially the closer that Omi got to the district. He guessed that not many people wanted to be drinking before the work day was over, which was fine with him. He had no trouble finding a space to leave his bike, though he felt very nervous the closer he got to the bar. Several people sent him disproving looks as he stepped up to the entrance, well aware that he appeared too young to be legally drinking.

The man behind the long bar that ran along the left side of the establishment had to be at least forty years old, maybe fifty judging by the amount of grey in his buzzed cut, thinning hair. His broad face seemed wrinkled more from exposure to the elements than from age, and he actually greeted Omi with a warm smile. "You here to talk to Mickey, right?" he asked in heavily accented Japanese.


"Yes," Omi replied, wondering if the man was American but hesitant to speak that language in case he guessed wrong. The bar smelled of smoke although the air was rather clear at the moment, and was filled with polished wood and brightly lit signs advertising a wide range of foreign alcohol and beer.

"He’s back there." The man pointed with his right hand, a white cloth clutched in his thick fingers, toward the back of the room. Mickey could be seen sitting at a table while typing on a laptop, a large mug by his side and a half-finished lunch. "Want something to eat? We do great burgers."

"Ah, that would be really nice." Omi smiled at the man, feeling put at ease by his friendliness and the fact that the place was empty. When the man nodded and pointed again toward Mickey, he got the hint and went over to his friend.

Mickey’s black hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail and his beard trimmed into a goatee. He looked as if he fit into the place with his dark blue wool sweater and jeans, his hands almost too big for the laptop’s small keyboard. "Hey, Omi. I’m glad you could make it." His smile was very welcoming, even if there were shadows beneath his grey eyes.

"And you look tired," Omi said, knowing that he didn’t have to stand on formality or distant politeness with this man. That was such a refreshing thing, considering that Mickey worked for Kritiker.

Laughing at the observation, Mickey leaned back in his chair and picked up his mug, which was filled with what smelled to be coffee, to have a long drink. "I’ve been putting in long hours lately." He even sounded a little tired, although his voice was warm.

Sitting down, Omi pulled out his own laptop so they could discuss the latest assignment. "Is there… any problem?" He wasn’t sure just how much he could say while here, though Mickey must have chosen this place for a reason.

Finished with his coffee, Mickey munched on a couple of fries as he waved in the bartender’s direction. "Teddy and I know Bill from when our father was stationed in Okinawa. He had a low level position in Intelligence and knows when to turn a deaf ear to a conversation, and can be trusted not to say anything. Believe it or not, he’s dealt with Kritiker a time or two."

"Ah." Omi gave the man another look, wondering what made a person stay in a foreign country that would probably never fully accept him. Mickey and Teddy had done much the same thing and were now working for Japan’s benefit – as much as Kritiker had Japan’s interest in mind, that was – but at least they were younger and had no problem with the language. For himself, Omi could never imagine wanting to live anywhere else.

He powered up his laptop while Mickey finished his lunch. "Is there any particular reason why you’re working so hard?" he dared to ask, using this opportunity to find out what was really going on with Kritiker. He hadn’t seen Manx in months and Birman was decidedly tight-lipped about a lot of things, and he’d come across some very interesting classified documents in the last month or so.

Mickey grimaced slightly then wiped his face with a napkin. "Just what I told you before – someone important got killed, most likely that woman when you were at the hospital - and things haven’t been right since then. There seems to be a shift in focus in regards to a few departments, including one or two that don’t ‘officially’ exist."

Omi nodded to show that he understood what wasn’t being said; most likely it was Schatten that Mickey was talking about, Kritiker’s paranormal division. "Anything else?"

"Some of our agents have gone missing. Persia is trying to downplay the disappearances, but I know of two people who seem to have vanished off the face of the earth. Neither of them were the type to just quit their jobs, either." Mickey gave Omi a very intent look. "Weiss has become very important to Kritiker in the last few months as you’ve suffered no losses and have such a good record for completing missions. It seems that every couple of weeks, I’ve one less team that I can rely upon for assignments, which is part of the reason why Kritiker didn’t get involved in the murders until now."

To think that Omi had come here to mainly talk about the mission, and instead was finding out some things that should keep him rather occupied for the near future. First and foremost, he had to make sure that Weiss was protected – from whatever was targeting other Kritiker groups and Kritiker itself, if need be. "Thank you," he told Mickey, the words truly heartfelt since he knew that Mickey was taking a big risk by giving him this information.

Since Bill chose that moment to put a plate with a huge burger and a large helping of fries on the table, along with a bottle of Coke, Mickey didn’t say anything and only nodded. He motioned for Omi to start on his lunch and began typing again while Omi tried to figure out how he was going to fit the burger into his mouth. Grateful that he hadn’t eaten any lunch yet, he squished the burger as flat as possible then took a bite. It was hot and greasy and very, very good.

"Oh, I’m definitely bringing Ken here very soon," he moaned once his mouth was empty enough to speak.

Mickey laughed at that and called out to Bill that he’d like another burger, too. "I try not to come here too often because I stuff myself silly on them then spend a lot of time the next few days running off all the grease and calories. It’s worth it, though." His smile vanished as he looked up something on the computer screen. "I don’t have much else to tell you about the mission right now, not until the others give me some feedback on any possible suspects."

Omi nodded in understanding as he tried the fries, which were just as good as the burger. That was it - he was spoiled for fast food now. Ken would really love this place, especially since one of the televisions over the bar was showing a football game. "They know to pay special attention to the instructors since the meticulous natures of the murders suggest an older person is orchestrating them."

"I’m currently doing checks on the instructors’ bank accounts." Mickey turned his laptop around so Omi could see the screen. "I’m sure that if they’re clever enough to pull off these murders that they probably have another account set up, but it’s a start. When Yohji’s not in class, I plan on having him visit several art supply stores since I’ve managed to identify a few of the pigments used on the bodies."

"I can look into medical supply stores as well, and see if we can get a cross-reference list going. They’ll need special supplies to cut the bodies up as finely as they have." Omi felt no queasiness at all when he bit into his burger, the meat still a bit red in the center and very juicy. Years of assassination work had given him a virtual iron stomach in regards to situations like this.

Mickey made a hissing noise and held up his mug as if hoping that there was more coffee in it. "Not to mention drugs used to subdue the victims and possibly to thin the blood to aid in draining them. Unfortunately, it’s been very difficult to get decent samples for tests, but I should have some results for you in another day or two. Our labs are much better than the police’s, and as much as I hate to say that it’s been ‘fortunate’, the latest murder has helped the investigation in some regards."

Omi understood what the man was trying to say. "Was there any luck with the video footage at Roppongi Hills?"

"Nothing very good, but it does prove that there are at least two suspects involved," Mickey answered, a smile spreading across his handsome face when Bill returned with another plate of burger and fries. "I don’t know how you haven’t died from a heart attack yet," he told the bartender in English.

Bill snorted and folded his arms over his chest. "I’ve run this place for five years now, and been officially sick of the menu for four of them. I’m in more danger of dying from the beef bowl place down the road than I am from the food I serve!" Laughing at his own joke, he returned to the bar and opened up an English language newspaper to read.

Reaching for the bottle of ketchup on the table, Mickey shook some onto his burger and took a bite. "I’ll send the footage to you, but I doubt you’ll be able to clean it up any better than the tech department did," he said after a moment’s pause.

"If we’re going with the belief that one of the instructors is responsible, then we need to look for any relationships with their students." Omi pulled up the data file he had on all of the students enrolled in the art classes where the models had worked. "Fortunately, the classes tend to be of small size since it’s such an advanced credit, but it’s still going to be a lot of work." He tried not to sigh and had a few fries instead. "Yohji can do a lot of the legwork since he has the most free time, but I can do some after my classes are finished." As much as he wished that he could be taking the art classes instead of Yohji, at least this mission didn’t require him to miss too much school.

"It’s a good thing that Yohji used to be a private detective. This is definitely not a matter of ‘slaying’ as much as ‘finding’ right now." Mickey frowned and had a couple more bites of his burger. "I think that this time, Weiss wasn’t given this mission as a test to see if you could pull things off as much as there just aren’t enough reliable people to do all the work for you," he admitted in a hushed voice. "And I’ve got a feeling that if you pull this off, then it’ll just mean more work in your future."

Omi had mixed feelings about that admission; he didn’t want Kritiker to be testing Weiss to see if Aya had any special talents, but he didn’t want his team worked to death or handed missions that were impossible to complete because of the lack of information. Mickey was right – Yohji was the detective of the team, although Omi’s computer skills helped if there was an electronic lead for them to follow. Weiss was better suited for taking out the dark beasts, not figuring out who they were supposed to kill in the first place. Vague missions like this were always a bit unsettling, at the least for the fact that there was a chance of innocents being involved or for Weiss to be discovered.

"I’m afraid that we don’t have much choice in the matter," he replied in just as quiet a voice. "Knowing that Kritiker needs us so much will give me some room to maneuver if they push too hard, but in the end, if Weiss doesn’t accept most of the missions, then we have no real purpose." An assassin team that didn’t assassinate wasn’t one that was just left alone, after all.

"Well, one of the good things about the recent power upheaval is I’ve taken on more responsibility than I normally would have, I’m willing to bet." Mickey wiped his hands with the napkin and typed some more. "Between just joining the organization and being American, I mean. Rest assured that I’ll be watching out for Weiss."

Omi wasn’t sure what he and his teammates had done to earn Mickey’s friendship and loyalty; because of knowing about Weiss, Mickey and Teddy had pretty much been dragged into Kritiker and this lifestyle. The fact that the Americans actually appeared to be thriving while working for Kritiker was a surprise, but in the end, as long as they were happy that was fine with Omi. He and his friends could use all the help they could get, considering who some of their enemies were.

"Have you heard anything more about Schwarz?" He’d been wanting to ask the question since he’d seen Mickey, worried about the fact that Mastermind hadn’t spoken to him in weeks. Not that he was upset over the silence, but he had a feeling that the German was involved in things that would not benefit Weiss.

Mickey’s thoughtful expression turned into a cold frown. "Pull out some cable and I’ll send you all the information that I’ve found these last few weeks. Not much of it is on Schwarz itself, sadly; they seem to be laying low and that makes me very nervous considering how they acted while working for Takatori. But I know for a fact that at least two other Esset agents have arrived in Tokyo recently, and no one has openly moved to take Schreient’s place in handling some… illegal activities."


Doing as he was told, Omi connected their computers so they could safely exchange information. "No wonder you look so tired if you’re investigating all of that!"

Mickey looked up from his computer and smiled. "Believe it or not, but this is… well, not ‘fun’, but ‘fun’, if you know what I mean. I’ve always been too curious for my own good, though I’m better at hiding it than my idiot brother." Omi returned the smile and laughed at the comment as well. "And so much of this stuff is interconnected in one way or another. I’m still looking, but I think that Kritiker and Esset have more of a history together than just as enemies."


That didn’t shock Omi as much as it should have, considering what Mastermind had told him and what he’d found in the Schatten database. "I get the feeling that something’s about to happen." Omi pushed the remaining fries about on the plate. "That Schwarz was never recalled from Japan after Takatori Reiji’s death means they’re here for a reason."

"Exactly." Mickey finished the last of his meal and pushed his plate aside. "I think that all these recent events means that Esset is about to try something, too, but I don’t have enough proof at this moment. And I’m not sure I can find too many people willing to listen to me, either." He let out a slow breath and shook his head. "Okay, enough of this discussion, let’s move on to truly depressing matters." His smile took on an amused edge. "How’s Teddy doing at the Koneko?"

Omi groaned in a loud, theatrical manner and considered throwing a fry at the American. "I’m beginning to think there are more evil things out there than Schwarz, thank you, and they both share the same last name!" he declared while Mickey’s loud, warm laughter filled the bar.

*******

"Ah, so Yohji-kun…."

Yohji almost found it amusing the way that Omi shuffled his feet and ducked his head, clearly about to ask Yohji something but unable to spit it out. Guessing that he knew what his friend wanted, Yohji smirked as he reached out to tousle Omi’s hair.

"Sorry, chibi, but the artwork from today was left behind in class since it’s a work in progress. You’ll have to wait a bit to see nude pictures of your boyfriend."

"Yohji," Omi muttered as he batted Yohji’s hand aside, his annoyed look turning into a chagrined expression after a few seconds. "Would you believe me if I told you that I just wanted to make sure you were focusing on your artwork?"

"Nope." Yohji stuck out his tongue for good measure, which made Omi laugh in response. "I think you’re picking up Ken’s perverseness, Omi."

"Says the man who regularly molests his boyfriend in the greenhouse," Omi replied with a disdainful sniff. "I do need to make sure you’re putting the proper effort into this mission, you know."

Yes, Yohji did know that; Omi was always the professional unless his family was involved, and even then he only remained shaken for a short while. The kid needed to spend more time trying to jump Ken’s bones or something, he thought with some remorse. When he’d been Omi’s age, all he’d been concerned about was starting his own business and how easy it was to pick up whoever he wanted for a night of ‘fun’. "Teddy was right about the class, dammit. The instructor paid a lot of attention to me today and spoke to me after the class to make sure I’d be able to keep up with everyone else." For a nice guy, Kaneshiro was definitely very serious about art. "He seems a bit intense for someone spending his days teaching a bunch of kids how to draw naughty pictures."

Omi’s demeanor turned serious in an instant. "Do you think he’s a viable lead?" he asked, easily picking up on what Yohji was suggesting.

"Yeah." Giving up on his search for a tin of Aya’s favorite tea, Yohji sighed and turned around so he could lean against the counter. "I mean, obviously he knows a lot about art to be teaching a class like this, and it would mean he’d know a lot of models. Maybe he gets bored with teaching the same thing over and over again." One thing that Yohji had learned after a few months in Weiss was to give up on looking for a real motive other than ‘getting off on killing people’. Some people might look to see if poor ‘Hiro’ had been abused as a baby or bullied too much in high school, but what it often came down to was that some people were pure evil and enjoyed destroying innocent lives.

"There was a reason why Mickey has you in that class." Omi folded his arms over his chest and gave himself a little squeeze. "Okay, I’ll spend tomorrow looking up what I can find on him." He stared off into the distance for a few seconds, probably contemplating wire taps and surveillance cameras and such. "I wonder how long this mission will take," Omi said, his voice quiet as if he hadn’t meant to speak out loud.

Since he had, and he was usually better at keeping such thoughts to himself, Yohji shrugged and resumed his search for the tea as well as some cookies. "I certainly hope not too long. I doubt Aya’s gonna be able to manage more than a few more days of this. I never thought the time would come when he’d be happier working in the shop than on a mission." Finally finding the green tin he’d been looking for, he let out a ‘ha!’ of victory and opened it up to measure some into the waiting teapot. "Oh, speaking of the shop…." He waited until the lid was safely back on the tin to look in Omi’s direction and waggle his eyebrows.

Rolling his eyes by way of an answer, Omi went to the freezer and pulled out a pint of mocha ice cream. Oh, that *so* wasn’t a good sign if the kid was hitting the hard stuff before dinner. "Koyu does a pretty good job of watering the plants and wrapping up the arrangements once someone picks the sheets of paper for him, but Teddy…." Omi shook his head and grabbed a large spoon before hopping up onto the counter to sit. When Yohji gave him a reproachful look for doing so, it was his turn to get a tongue stuck out at him. "Hush, you do this all the time."

"Great, now I’ll be stuck with a lecture on how I’m corrupting you." Yohji laughed when Omi rolled his eyes again. "So, what was that about Teddy?"

Omi shivered, and Yohji didn’t think it was from a large mouthful of cold ice cream. "I left after making sure they could handle things to talk with Mickey about a few leads, and I came back to find several of the fangirls whispering about if it was true or not that men who wore kilts didn’t wear anything beneath them. I think they plan to bring things like rulers and umbrellas to the shop tomorrow." His cute face wrinkled in disgust and he helped himself to a spoonful of ice cream big enough to choke a person.

Yohji couldn’t help it, he had to laugh at the situation. "Sorry, Omi, but you’re not getting any sympathy from me." He smiled sweetly in the face of his friend’s vicious glare; an easy task considering his boyfriend gave him nasty looks much worse than that on a daily basis. "If I have to see Ken sit around naked all day, you can survive a quick flash of Teddy’s ass."

"You’re so mean, Yohji." Omi pouted for a moment, spoon held in his mouth as he stared off at nothing. "I think it’s going to be an all-afternoon effort to set up the surveillance on Kaneshiro." Sounding very pleased with himself, he began to attack the pint of ice cream with no mercy.

Wondering if someone was going to have to run down to the nearest convenience store tonight and buy some more ice cream, Yohji added hot water to the teapot and continued his search for cookies. Finding a box each of green tea and strawberry flavors, he quickly snatched them up and shook out several cookies from each. He fetched a plate and assembled the unwrapped cookies, a mug of coffee, the pot of tea and an empty cup on a rinsed-off tray. Yohji figured he had the makings of a decent snack that should tide him over until dinner and hopefully put Aya in a good mood.

As if sensing his thoughts, Omi put the scraped clean container aside and jumped off the counter. "What are we going to do for dinner tonight?"

"I think everyone’s on their own." Yohji picked up the tray but didn’t leave the kitchen just yet. "Why don’t you see if Ken wants to go out or something? I doubt Aya’s going to leave the room anytime soon, so we’ll probably just order something." He wasn’t entirely happy with the prospect of spending the evening with a very grouchy lover, but at least Aya would let him be there – even if just to yell at him from time to time. Not too long ago, the redhead would just lock himself up in his room and brood on his own.

"Okay." Omi seemed back to his cheerful self; the prospect of an evening alone with Ken usually did the trick lately. "We’ll talk some more about the mission tomorrow. Mickey gave me a list of shops that he wants you to visit." He waved at Yohji and left the room, most likely in search of Ken.

There wasn’t a class tomorrow, but as the new art student, ‘Konomi Yuji’, had just come to Tokyo, Yohji was expected to hang out around the art department for the next few days in an attempt to ‘make some friends’. Gods, why was Kritiker so cheap that they wouldn’t splurge on a new ID or two for everyone, Yohji thought to himself While it was easier to remember names that he’d used before for other missions, it added an unnecessary element of risk to assignments to reuse the same names a couple of times.

Knowing that he was pretty much in a mood to bitch about anything, Yohji sighed as he headed to his bedroom, hoping that Aya’s temper had cooled down a little. His lover had stormed through the house upon his arrival over an hour ago, not speaking to anyone as he’d first taken a long shower then shut himself up in his and Yohji’s bedroom.

Yohji wasn’t too surprised over the show of temper, not when Aya had spent the day naked in front of a bunch of strangers, but he hoped that it wasn’t directed at him for the rest of the night. Opening the bedroom’s door, he cautiously stepped inside, making sure to hold the tray out from him so Aya could see he brought appeasement in the way of sugar and tea.

He found his lover sprawled out on the bed, dressed in one of Yohji’s sweaters and the black cotton pants he normally wore to work out in. His arm was draped over his forehead; what could be seen of his expression was drawn and pale.

"Aya, do you have another migraine?" Yohji asked, worried that the painful spells had returned. After all, Aya had suffered them from time to time before Mastermind had fucked with his dreams.

Moving his arm, Aya stared at Yohji for a few seconds then slowly shook his head. "It’s just a headache." He sounded as tired as he looked, which didn’t do much to appease Yohji’s sense of worry.

Hurrying to the bed, Yohji carefully set the tray down on the nightstand before sitting next to his lover. "You okay?" he asked after a moment’s deliberation; he could end up whapped for ignoring the obvious, but he really wanted Aya to give him some sort of an answer.

Aya let out a long sigh as he sat up and leaned forward to rest his head against Yohji’s right shoulder. "I want this mission to be over with already," he grumbled as his hands slid along Yohji’s waist.

"I know, love." Yohji pressed a kiss against the top of his boyfriend’s head and hugged him back. "I don’t know if I was glad or not that I didn’t have to make it through a class with you as the model." Now that he was back home and with his lover, his voice sounded as tired as Aya’s.

Aya snorted at that revelation. "It was bad enough without you there, the last thing I needed was waiting to see if you started attacking the other students." He pulled back a little so he could look at Yohji, the slightest of smiles on his face. "Oh, and I got yelled at by Hasegawa-sensei because of the bruise on my neck." Yohji was glared at for all of three seconds before Aya shook his head and looked over at the tray.

"Imagine his reaction if you hadn’t worn the make-up," Yohji couldn’t help but say, and laughed at the wry twist to Aya’s lips that was quickly smothered. He leaned forward to brush his lips against the hickey that had gotten Aya into trouble. "Did anyone try to hit on you, hmmm?"

Not answering until after he poured himself a cup of tea, Aya settled himself comfortably on the bed, plumping up pillows and retrieving the blanket from the end of the bed. "No, Hasegawa made sure that no one got too close to me." He sipped his tea then rested his head against the pillows. "I think Schuldig had something to do with everyone keeping their distance, too."

Yohji hadn’t expected to hear mention of the Bastard just then and almost choked on his coffee. "What the hell are you talking about? Was he there?" He’d stake out the damn classroom if Mastermind was showing up in person to torment Aya. Setting his mug aside, he curled up behind his lover and hugged him close.

Aya grunted softly and shook his head. "No, he wasn’t there." He knocked his left elbow into Yohji’s ribs with only a slight bit of force. "He showed up in my head and claimed that he wanted to make sure that nothing happened to me." Despite how much Aya’s emotions toward the telepath had changed in the last month or so, it was pretty easy to tell that he was *not* happy about Schuldig’s effort to ‘protect’ him.

Neither was Yohji, who did a hell of a lot better job of looking out for Aya than the Bastard could ever dream of doing. Yohji had accepted the fact that he couldn’t interfere with Aya’s morning conversations with the telepath since Aya needed to know about his sister, but Mastermind had no reason to bother Aya during a mission – not unless he wanted things to go badly. "Did you tell him to go fuck himself?"

"Repeatedly," was Aya’s instant response as the poor cup of tea in his hand was bestowed with a rather ferocious glare. "You can imagine how much good that did. He had the gall to send visual pictures of just how he’d go about doing that."

Yohji was beginning to understand that not all of Aya’s temper from earlier had to do with being a nude model. On one hand, he wondered just how much Schuldig’s ‘interruptions’ had kept Aya from being too embarrassed over his new ‘job’, but he wasn’t foolish enough to think that the German had done so out of the goodness of his heart. "Is he trying to fuck up the mission?" he asked, his voice pitched low in an effort to hide the venom it contained.

Aya sipped his tea and seemed to consider the question. "No, I don’t think so. He’s upset that I’m taking part in it, but I warned him that I wouldn’t tolerate him affecting Weiss just because he can’t handle a few people seeing me naked." The determination that made Aya such a deadly assassin crept into his tone and made him scowl. "Not that I ever thought him to be very sane, but he’s definitely crazy if he thinks that his overbearing nature is a good way to get me to trust him, let alone not gut him the next time I see him in person," he grumbled.

As trying as the last few days had been, Yohji felt very happy all of a sudden. Now *that* was the fiery-tempered Aya he knew, minus a few ‘shi-ne’s and attempts to throw his katana at people or flying objects. "Don’t look at me to defend the Bastard’s actions or sanity," Yohji huffed, pretending to be a little put out even though he felt like grinning. "I know better than to get between your katana and a target!"

There was a derisive snort by way of an answer, Aya’s brow still a little furrowed by anger but his mood overall good. He even picked up a strawberry cookie and began to nibble on it, a clear sign that he wasn’t too upset any longer. "Thank you," he said a minute later, his voice quiet but heartfelt.

"Hmm, for the cookies and tea?" Yohji snaked his hand between their bodies so he could give Aya’s delectable ass a squeeze. "I just like having something to hold on to, you know, so I want to keep you well-fed." He got a bony elbow to the ribs, and managed a yank to one of Aya’s eartails while he laughed.

"Idiot," Aya spat, his eyes narrowed but one of his better glares ruined by the tiniest of curves to his lips.

Yohji let his chuckle turn into something very naughty as he squeezed Aya’s ass again. "It’s truer than you think, but I figured you could use a snack today. What do you think we should do about dinner?"

Relaxing against him while finishing the cup of tea, Aya closed his eyes and let out a slow breath. "I honestly can’t decide, so you pick. Just… something warm." Yohji didn’t think his lover shivering just then was in any way theatrical.

Well, a hot pot for dinner would be nice and warm, but not very practical while up here in their bedroom. Yohji thought some udon might hit the spot; there was a stand not too far away that would be open for another hour or two that made dishes that both he and Aya liked. He grimaced when he thought about ordering kitsune udon, comforted by the fact that he wouldn’t be the person eating it. "I’ll run out for some udon in a little bit, okay? And I’ve a good bottle of sake I can heat up, too." When Aya tilted back his head and frowned, Yohji gave his lover’s eartail another tug. "I’m not trying to get either of us drunk, but a couple of drinks won’t hurt."

"No, I guess you’re right." Aya leaned away to pour more tea into his cup. "So, how was your day?" he asked when he settled back against Yohji, fussing with the blanket until they both were covered by it.

Yohji smiled in contentment. Now that he was home and had an armful of lover snuggled against him, his day and mood had gotten a hell of a lot better. Not even the news about Mastermind had him too upset, not when Aya was pissed off at the man’s actions. "Other than being horribly scarred by seeing Ken’s naked ass for about an hour, it wasn’t too bad. I might have a possible lead for Omi to follow up on tomorrow, which will put us closer to finding the targets." He really, really wanted this case to be wrapped up as soon as possible. The unease he’d felt the other day returned when he thought about Aya being kidnapped again.

"Hey," he said as he gave Aya’s ribs a rather tight squeeze. "Are you wearing the tracking bracelet?"

He got another whap for his troubles, probably in part because Aya almost spilled his tea when he’d been hugged. "I can’t wear it while modeling, but yes, I’m wearing it whenever I leave the house." This time, there was no smile to temper Aya’s glare as he looked at Yohji and pointed in the direction of the dresser. Yohji was relieved to see a familiar bracelet resting on its surface and managed to smother the impulse to ask Aya if he was going to accept any drinks from strangers during this mission. To be fair, David hadn’t been that much of a stranger to Aya, and considering what had happened to Yohji several months ago, *no one* in Weiss would be stupid enough to make that mistake while working again. Not wanting to bring back any disturbing memories to Aya, Yohji was glad he hadn’t asked the question and so dropped the subject.

"Mmm, a nice, warm bed, lots of yummy udon and a gorgeous man to cuddle with all night. You’re one lucky bastard, Aya." Yohji laughed and barely managed to protect his poor ribs in time. Too bad his boyfriend didn’t have the best sense of humor.

"Keep it up and you’ll spend the night in the spare bedroom, Kudoh," Aya practically snarled, and set his empty tea cup aside as if he was worried it would soon be broken.

Yohji risked some nasty bruises and held his lover close. "Nah, you need me here to keep you warm at night."

"That’s what the heated mattress pad is for," was Aya’s rather pleased retort. Yohji chuckled and had to admit that Aya did have a point.

However, that fact didn’t stop him from sniffing in a distinctly forlorn manner once he got a hold of himself. "Oh sure, replace me with an electrical appliance." The not-quite successfully smothered laugh from his lover made him first frown in confusion and then smile to know that Aya was happy enough to laugh before he realized how what he’d just said could be taken. "Oh hell no, don’t *even* think to replace me with something that requires batteries."

Aya laughed again, his eyes closed and lovely face a little flushed in amusement. "A vibrator wouldn’t make me late for work in the morning by pleading for sex." The amusement bled into his voice, making it even deeper than usual and very warm.

Yohji grunted as he did the whapping for once. "They also won’t bring you pots of tea or fetch some nice, hot udon, now will they?" he pointed out, sure of his victory.

Still smiling, Aya rested his head against Yohji’s shoulders and opened his eyes. "No, I guess not. You get a reprieve, then."

"Damn right I do," Yohji grumbled, unable to keep from smiling for long. He leaned forward for a kiss, for once content to not take things farther than that because he really did want to run out for some dinner soon. Once they ate and had a few glasses of sake, *then* he could set about proving just how much better he was than a damn vibrator.

Aya’s fingers tangled in his hair as he was kissed back, an exchange of breath and pleasure that left Yohji’s nerves faintly tingling. With all the doubts and fears he had about the upcoming days, part of him realized that moments like this were to be savored and focused on doing just that.

*******

Return to Archive

Next Chapter