Art of Cruelty

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chapter six

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Omi and Yohji returned home to find Aya waiting for them, a pot of coffee brewed and three delivery pizzas waiting on the kitchen counter. Omi could smell the familiar seafood aroma that normally made his mouth water, and despite the awfulness of the situation, his stomach rumbled in hunger. "Thank you," he whispered as he removed his coat and hung it up on the rack by the door.

Aya nodded in acknowledgement and went to help Yohji with his coat. He must have been very busy during the drive back from the restaurant; not only had he ordered dinner and brewed the coffee, but he had made himself some tea and brought up all the case files for the mission. The kitchen table was covered with the documents as well as Omi’s laptop, and it appeared that Aya had been reading through some of them while he waited for their return. Next to an open folder sat a mug of tea and a plate with a half-eaten slice of basil and mushroom pizza.

"Did you get the spicy Italian for me?" Yohji asked as he opened one of the boxes, and managed a tired smile as he picked up two slices to put on a paper plate. "Always think best on a full stomach." He poured himself a mug of coffee and joined his lover at the table, quickly followed by Omi once he had enough cream and sugar in his drink.

If it was not for the fact that Ken was missing and why, it would actually be an enjoyable night; when was the last time they had sat down together and enjoyed pizza like this, Omi wondered as he nibbled on a slice. His mind threatened to rebel and make his throat tighten when he tried to swallow, but he knew he needed the food and it was foolish to sit here and eat nothing just because Ken had been abducted. Starving himself out of concern would do nothing but weaken himself and deny Ken a needed ally, which was something he refused to do, so he forced himself to swallow and take another bite, until his hunger took over and he could eat normally.

The silence seemed so unnatural, especially with Yohji sitting across the table, and he knew his friend was holding back on saying anything to avoid from upsetting him. So he decided to get over the uneasiness. "Ken’s going to kick himself for missing a pizza night, especially since it was Aya’s treat."

Yohji started at the words and spilled a few drops of coffee on the piece of paper he was reading, but he quickly seemed to catch on to what Omi was trying to do. "Well, maybe that’ll teach the dumb jock to not go ahead and get snatched up by art-freaks." Yohji’s smile then turned into a grimace. "Dammit, saying it out loud makes it real, doesn’t it?"

Aya finished eating his slice of pizza then wiped his hands clean with a napkin. "Is it likely that he was taken by anyone else?" The look he gave Omi carried a hint of pity, as if he hated to be the one to mention the painfully obvious, but he saw no sense in holding back any longer.

"Not when the point of him being a model was to get the attention of the targets in the first place." Omi set the crust of his pizza down on his plate and picked up the coffee mug with both of his hands. "We just… I guess we never really thought that they would go after him like this." Not when they could also go after Aya, who seemed to have a ‘take me’ sign painted on him in regards to psychopaths, either because of his looks or his talent, possibly both. Or not in such a manner that would catch all of them so unaware like this, after what had happened to Aya earlier in the year and when they had thought they had taken so many precautions.

"So much for tracking devices and back-up plans," Yohji muttered, as if reading Omi’s thoughts. "At least we know that it has to have been someone who was on campus, because not even Ken would have let his guard down enough to get taken by someone who *wasn’t* in class today." He looked up from his meal to find Omi glaring at him, unhappy at the implied insult to Ken’s intelligence. "Hey! Come on now, you know how Ken can be! This is someone who can forgive… I don’t know, Jack the Ripper if the guy happens to mention how much he likes a particular goalie."

Omi had to concede that Yohji had a point and stopped glaring, instead sipping his coffee as he gave Yohji’s *other* point some thought. "I believe that by now, we can definitely rule out Hasegawa as a suspect. Not only did Aya and I fail to uncover any incriminating evidence against him today, but I don’t think he could have possibly managed to slip past you and Aya and get to campus in time to abduct Ken. While that doesn’t rule out an accomplice on his part, as I said, nothing I’ve found revealed any signs of him having one."

"And like I said, it would have to be someone on campus, and we’ve failed to tie him anyone who was on campus today." Yohji rose from the table to fetch more pizza, bringing back slices for himself and Omi. "Ken’s never run into Hasegawa’s mistress, so I doubt he would let himself be snatched by her and a couple of goons without putting up some sort of struggle that would attract a lot of attention. Plus, there’s the fact that he should’ve been wearing the tracking device and activated it, so something had to have happened before he had a chance to do that. That all points to something taking place before he put it back on."

"Or someone tampering with it before it was put it back on," Aya contributed to the conversation, appearing finished with dinner as he sat back in his chair, a mug of tea in his hands. He seemed recovered from whatever it was that Mastermind had done to him earlier, other than wearing a thick black sweater as if bothered by the cold.

"Which would indicate that something had been done around the art building, either in the locker room where Ken stored his clothes, or between there and the classroom where Ken models." Omi picked a piece of squid off of a slice of pizza and nibbled on it as he considered the possibilities. "I would think that they would probably have tampered with the tracking device, rather than risk drawing attention to themselves by abducting Ken in front of witnesses."

Aya tapped his long fingers against the ceramic mug, the hollow sound it produced decrying its empty state. "Yes, but how did they find out about the tracking device?" He held up his left wrist before rising from the chair to refill his mug. "While not made of valuable materials, Kritiker did go through some effort to make sure that these were fashionable enough to not stand out too much."

"Also, if the targets realized that they were tracking devices, why risk taking Ken?" Yohji had to say, which poked a major hole in the developing theory. Omi felt his hopes of the developing lead be dashed. "Sorry, kiddo, but it doesn’t make any sense. More than likely, Ken got distracted by something and forgot to either put the bracelet on or couldn’t activate it in time for it to do him any good."

Something must have shown on his face just then, the hopelessness he was beginning to feel over the man he suspected that he loved being captured by people who had every intention of mutilating and killing him sometime in the next few weeks, that Yohji reached over to give his left shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "Hey, it’s not all bad. It just reinforces my belief that it has to have been someone who was in his class who did it. I might call him a dumb jock all the time, but Ken’s a pro at this. He was on a mission."

Aya rejoined them at the table and did his best to provide some comfort as well. "If anything, I’m willing to bet that he was distracted by what he thought was a lead, which would only affirm Yohji’s belief. We need to find out who was in the class and focus on them." He leaned forward, his eyes distant as if he was searching for something that was not visible, and Omi found himself holding his breath as he hoped that they would darken in color. Yet they retained their usual violet hue, leaving him upset that Aya’s power could not be used this time to help save Ken, as unreasonable as he knew that was.

His friends were here beside him, doing their best to help cheer him up and find Ken. He knew they would not rest until they did find their missing teammate, would do whatever was necessary to track down the people who had taken him from them and make the targets pay. This was not about the mission anymore, there would be no more complaints about modeling or classes, about the shop being closed or anything else they had to do. That he had their support meant so much to him, yet he wanted it all over with, wanted Ken back safe and sound at any cost.

"Mickey should be calling soon to tell us what they found in the dumpster." This time it was Omi’s turn to leave the table, to fetch the pot of coffee so he could refill his and Yohji’s mugs. The pot was heavy enough that it kept his hands from shaking while he thought about the call that would put an end to any doubts about Ken’s abductions, never mind the conversation they were having right now. "Once they find the tracking device, we’ll know for sure if it was disabled or not, maybe even get an idea if he was wearing it at the time he was taken."

There was usually some sort of smile on Yohji’s face these days, sardonic if not happy, but now it was nowhere to be found. "You can ask him for the class roster, maybe see if he can get one for the whole building since there shouldn’t have been many classes today. We can identify who’s on it that we’ve already narrowed down as a suspect, check them out first, then widen our search if nothing turns up."

What he did not say was that they had a limited amount of time now. They had always known that once another person had been abducted, they had that ‘anywhere from two weeks to two months’ time period to work with before a body would appear, but it was actually much less than that. They only had that much time before Ken would be *dead*. Starting from now, any sorts of things could be happening to him; he could be burned, or flayed alive, starved to death or force-fed until he gained weight, tattooed or scarified, his body modified in a variety of ways that basically would amount to torture. Would he be kept drugged during the entire process or would he be aware the entire time? Their investigation had hinted that some sort of drugs would be involved, so maybe Ken would not be aware the whole time. Maybe he would be spared the worst of it. Omi did not know if that really made any of it better.

"Yakumo-"

"Already on it, kiddo." There was a cold gleam in Yohji’s normally lively green eyes. "It’s not like I can just track him down and have a chat with him without raising too many suspicions, but I plan to see what the rich boy is up to on Monday." He finished off the last bite of his pizza and brushed his hands together as if ridding them of crumbs. "Maybe he’s involved, maybe not, but I think he might be our best lead to whoever is behind these murders. I’m gonna have a nice little talk with the guy and see what he has to say."

Aya tilted his head to the side and regarded his boyfriend with a cool stare. "And what makes you think he’ll tell you anything?"

Yohji gave his lover a smile that would have been charming except for the cold gleam that remained in his eyes. For some reason, combined with that particular smile, it had a chilling effect that the professional side of Omi’s brain was proud to take note of. "Because I can be very, very convincing when I want to be, Kitten."

For once, Aya did not object to the hated nickname, he only nodded once and sipped his tea. "I suppose that it’s best for me to resume modeling, so it does not appear as if any suspicions have been aroused." He made a small grimace of distaste. "It’ll be a good way to observe the students."

Yohji grimaced as well, but could not object to Aya continuing with his ‘job’. "At least I won’t have to worry about you going off to Hasegawa’s house again."

"I’ll work with Mickey on the list as soon as he has it ready." Now that his stomach was full and he had some caffeine in him, Omi felt ready to work through most of the night. He would ask Teddy and Koyu to run the Koneko for the foreseeable future, and come up with some excuse to miss school until Ken found. There was no way he could back to class, sit there with other kids his age and pretend that everything was fine, smile and laugh and go through the motions while Ken was missing. He could only fake it so much.

No, he would never be able to concentrate on schoolwork, wondering if he was missing something vital, if he was wasting time tracking down a lead or following a potential target. He had allowed himself to pretend to be a normal teenager until now, to lead a dual life as if he had ever a chance to grow up ‘normal’. No more – at least, not until Ken was back. And if Ken did not come back alive…. That was something he would have to face when the time came, but he was not going to risk a dear friend and potential lover’s life over pretending to be something that he knew he truly was not. At times, it seemed that he went along with being ‘Omi’ more for the sake of his friends than he did for himself.

And when the time came to track down the targets and free Ken, there would be no trace of ‘Omi’ to be found. After training for so many years, what he needed right now was to put aside his fears for Ken and focus on the mission, to not let his emotions get the better of him and affect his judgment. He had let that happen when it had involved Ouka and his family, he needed to prove to himself that he had learned from the past. This time it was Ken’s life at stake, and if he messed up again, his dear friend might be the one paying the price. He had to make sure there were no mistakes this time. This mission would be done right, the targets would be eliminated, and Ken would be safe.

"Yohji, hand me the file next to your mug," he asked, and waited for Yohji to wipe the grease from his fingers before handing him the requested file. "I’m not sure if students could pull this off alone. Such careful planning possibly points to an older adult."

Yohji gathered the paper plates from the table and took them to the garbage can. "Yeah, that’s what Mickey’s psyche report says, but so far, we don’t have anything on Kaneshiro. He’s always got an alibi for when a body’s been found."

"Which might be a sign of over-planning on his part," Aya remarked as he held out his mug for a refill, before Yohji could sit down. Yohji accepted the mug, but demanded a kiss in return for his services. Omi had to avert his eyes as the affectionate gesture lingered for more than a few seconds, his chest filling with pain as he found himself wondering how Ken was faring just then, wishing more than anything that his friend was home.

"Anyone ever tell you that you’re a suspicious bastard?" Yohji asked when the kiss finally ended.

"Is that a bad thing?" Aya asked, sounding curious about the answer.

"Considering what we do for a living, can’t say that it is!" Yohji laughed as he set Aya’s mug on the table and sat back down, his expression tender as he looked at Omi. Once again, he gave Omi’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze. "Just think of how much we’ll get to abuse Ken-ken over him being dumb enough to get kidnapped."

"Technically, he was abducted, unless a ransom’s demanded," Omi replied, unable to stop himself from explaining the difference. He could tell from Yohji’s smile that his friend had done that on purpose. "You’ll never let him live it down, will you?" he asked, a spark of hope in his chest for the first time that night as he thought of how badly Ken was going to be teased for this.

"Hell, no." Yohji spoke in such a forceful manner that there was no doubt left over just how much torment that Ken was in for once he did get home.

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Yohji followed Aya up to their room, his face aching from the false smile he had worn for most of the evening. He had done his best to present a hopeful front to Omi, to make it appear that he had no doubt at all that they would get Ken back somehow. It was not that he doubted Weiss’ skills at all, just that he had learned over the years that Fate liked nothing better than to take away what you wanted to keep safe the most. That he had managed to get Aya back from David Aso had been a miracle, if he believed in such things, and he did not think that his luck could continue to hold out. Not that it would stop him from doing everything that he could to track down the bastards who had taken Ken and rescuing his friend before – hopefully – they did anything to him. With any luck, maybe all Ken would come out of the situation was with a new hairdo and a pedicure.

He could not help it, the mental image prompted a tired laugh that made Aya pause in closing the door behind them and give him a worried look. Yohji waved the concern aside and shook his head. "No, I haven’t finally snapped, thanks, just imaging us bursting into the target’s nefarious lair and finding Ken all trussed up with a pink frizzy hairdo and matching nails."

"And to think that I would have sworn that you didn’t know the meaning of the word ‘nefarious’," Aya remarked in a rather snarky tone, considering that he usually projected ‘aloof’ or ‘annoyed’ most of the time. So surprised by it, Yohji stared at his lover for a few seconds, until he put it down to stress over the situation of Ken’s abduction.

"Don’t you think there’re enough of us being abused right now?" he said, and winced as he wished that he could take the words back in an instant.

There was a spark of anger in Aya’s eyes, followed by exhaustion as Aya went to the bed and sat down. "I certainly hope not." He rubbed his eyes and then ran his hands through his hair, the shorter strands of his bangs standing up for a few seconds before gravity won out. "As it was pointed out several times tonight, the targets always take some time to prepare their victims, so we can only hope that they’ll follow the pattern with Ken. There was no blood found on the items that Mickey’s people retrieved from the garbage bin, so it doesn’t seem as if they’re in any hurry to harm him."

Yohji nodded as he joined his lover on the bed. "It does seem as if they’re taking some care with the idiot for now. Maybe they’ve decided to make this latest statue an ode to obesity? I still think Ken’s put on a few pounds recently, thanks to his new obsession with spring rolls, which is why they snatched him." He had actually managed to get a smile from Omi earlier when he had pointed that out. "They’ll need a few months at least to get him up to American standards, but the groundwork’s there."

His attempt at humor got him a dreaded elbow in the side, but Aya’s heart was not in it as the jab would not lead to any bruising on his part for once. Really, it was along the lines of a love-tap, and he smiled as he wrapped his left arm around Aya’s shoulders. "Hey, it could happen!"

"We would never be so lucky," Aya muttered as he leaned against Yohji. "Besides, it would be a race against time to get to them before Ken annoys them too much by complaining about how he can’t play football if he can’t see his feet."

Yohji pulled back enough to stare at Aya. "Okay, snark *and* a joke in one night. What happened to the real Aya while Omi and I were out? You’re a pod person, aren’t you?" This time, the elbow to his ribs was *not* a love-tap. He yelped in pain and wondered if one of his ribs was actually cracked. "Never mind, you’re the real deal."

Aya glared at him for a few seconds before sighing and closing his eyes. "I’m just… I need to do something, and running out with my katana in hand won’t do much good, will it. So right now I’m trying to distract myself until we find some sort of lead."

Well, at least someone had learned his lesson about throwing his sword about, Yohji thought with some relief. Then again, the Takatori or Aya-chan were not involved, so it might be a bit early to assume the best.

However, right now he did not believe that Aya was the one he had to be really worried about – oh, he was sure that Aya would do whatever he could to help get Ken back, just as he always focused on their missions. Despite the distance that had come up between the two men the last few months – a distance that seemed to have been breached lately, as Ken had gotten over whatever bug had crawled up his butt – Ken was a teammate so it had become personal for Aya, even if he tried to pretend that he cared about little beyond his sister.

No, the one who Yohji would be keeping an eye on to avoid any ‘katana being thrown at helicopter’ moments was Omi. The kid did not have the best of track records himself when loved ones were involved, and Ken could definitely be counted in that category if recent events were any indication. All evening long, ever since Yohji and Aya had come home to find that Ken had never returned from class, Omi had alternated between concern and an icy chillness that he usually only radiated during difficult missions. That was not something that he normally displayed during reconnaissance or short of actually being out in the field, about to engage in or in the middle of a nasty fight.

Yohji had the sinking suspicion that he would be seeing a lot of that side of Omi in the near future, until Ken was found. Omi was focusing all of his energy into finding their teammate, at any cost, as evident from his announcement that he was skipping school and shifts at the Koneko until they tracked down the targets. Yohji and Aya had shared a look and decided without a word to not argue, knowing a lost cause when they saw one. First off, Omi was old enough to make such a decision on his own, and secondly, they would make a similar decision if they were in his shoes. They needed all the help they could get right now to find Ken before he got hurt, and who wanted to tell Ken that maybe he would still have some fingers or skin if Omi had been home hacking a network or two instead of taking a math test?

"I know the feeling. If I thought it wouldn’t freak the kid out and shut him up, I’d go knock on Yakumo’s door tonight and see what he can tell me about dear old gram’s medical supplies." Yohji hated that he had to wait over a day before approaching the kid, but he had no reason at all to seek him out before class on Monday. There was a slight chance that the target might be on the look-out to see if anyone noticed that they had taken another model, and it made sense to pay attention to the students since they might be among the first people to suspect anything. The targets had gotten away with things this long by being careful, so there was no sense in hoping that they would get sloppy now just because Ken was the latest victim.

Aya was *too* quiet for a minute, then he let out a deep breath and sat up straight. "At times like these, it makes me wish that we were the team with a telepath." The words were spoken softly, with a trace of bitterness that made it obvious that he was thinking about his own, unvoiced talent.

Yohji was stunned for several seconds, and used his hold on his lover to give him a jarring shake. "Hey, if it means having to put up with an insane bastard like Mastermind, thanks but no thanks! After the shit he put you through today, what would make you say something like that?"

Pulling back with a nasty glare, Aya shrugged off the hand on his shoulder. "If it meant that we could find Ken before he was harmed, I would think that it would be worth it, wouldn’t you?"

"We’ll find him, okay! We’ll find him the old-fashioned, normal, *human* way." Yohji wanted to smack himself when he saw Aya flinch at the last comment, but it was too late to take it back now. "Aya… we’ll find him, just like we always do when we’re on a mission. We’ll follow the leads and track down the targets like we always do." He tried not to think about how they sometimes had help from Aya’s talent in that regard. "You’ll see. We don’t need to read thoughts to do that, just determination, a bit of luck and a charming smile." He put that smile to use, and was relieved to see his lover’s glare start to fade.

"Things are really messed up when you’re the optimist of this relationship." Aya sighed and dropped back on the bed. "Hell, when you’re the most optimistic person on the team."

"I’ll take that as a compliment and not an insult, considering that you think smiling twice a month is a sign of being overcome with emotion and a drastic need for lithium." Yohji stretched out beside him and did some rib-poking of his own. "Which, by default, always makes me the most optimistic person in this relationship, I’ll have you know. I’m hopeful all the fucking time."

Aya propped himself up on his elbows to give Yohji another weak glare. "I’ll agree to that statement if it’s about sex." He gave breath to a rather eloquent snort to voice what he thought about *that* particular subject and dropped back to lie on the bed again.

"Oh for crying out loud," Yohji muttered as he rolled over and straddled his lover’s hips. "Are we fighting about something now? Because it’s been a hell of a day – a day when I could have seriously used a drink about ten times over by now, and haven’t had a single drop. If you’re going to get all pissy and throw a fight into the mix, then I’m gonna start catching up right now." He knew that Aya had not been entirely pleased with him earlier about the whole Hasegawa assignment, but had thought that things had been settled.

Aya snorted again and, moving too fast for Yohji to counter since he was distracted by trying to figure out the stubborn fool’s temperamental thought-patterns, reversed their positions. "I had thought that I was merely stating a fact." Aya sounded rather calm, and arched his left eyebrow in a manner that bespoke amusement instead of the urge to disembowel. Yohji decided he would continue to lie on the bed and see where his lover was headed with this particular scenario.

"Okay, so I *may* have a slight tendency to hope for sex on some occasions," Yohji admitted, and had to bite his lower lip to keep from laughing at the way Aya rolled his eyes in response. "*Most* occasions," he amended. "But who can blame me when I have such a sexy lover?" He decided to take advantage of their positions and give Aya’s delectable ass a quick pinch. The resulting smack to his chest was more than worth it, since he could see a faint blush spread across his lover’s pale cheeks.

That blush was so erotic, he attempted another pinch, only to have both his hands be caught and pushed toward his chest. He managed a much put-upon frown as he struggled against Aya’s hold on his wrists, but they were about matched in strength and determination. "I take it I’m being overly-optimistic again?" he teased, feeling a hollowness in his chest at being denied, even as the rational part of his brain chided him for such a reaction; Omi was just down the hall, probably ready to spend the night online hoping to find any clues for Ken’s whereabouts.

Aya paused for a moment before responding. "No… just… be quiet." It was almost as if he had just read Yohji’s mind, despite their previous discussion about the team lacking a telepath. Still, Aya cared about Omi even if he tried to pretend upon occasion that he could still walk away from the team if necessary.

Not that it was an option for him anymore – at least, not without Yohji by his side. Yohji had done a pretty good job of putting up a false front of hope for Omi, but he had done an even better one of pushing aside the crippling fear that had accompanied the thought of what if it had been Aya abducted, and the guilty relief that it had not been his lover taken this time. That mix of guilt/fear/relief had slammed into him as soon as it had sunk in that Ken might actually be missing, and his first impulse had been to grab hold of Aya and hold on to him for hours, if possible, to assure himself that his lover was indeed safe. He had buried those emotions down deep and focused on looking for Ken, but now….

Now he could finally wrap his arms around the man he loved and pull him close, to breathe in Aya’s scent and feel that familiar body against his own. After everything that had happened this past year, he did not think he could mentally survive losing Aya again. As much as a part of him hated himself for the thought, there was some relief that Ken had been taken since it meant that Aya was ‘safe’ for the rest of the mission. There were always the inherent dangers of fighting the targets, but he knew that Aya could watch after himself then – besides, he would be there to help out.

"Or you could just hold me all night." Aya sounded a little amused as he whispered, his breath warm against Yohji’s neck. His hands stroked up and down Yohji’s sides, pausing as if about to slide beneath the tan sweater that he wore.

The words shook Yohji from his possessive thoughts with a laugh. "Now where would be the fun in that?" he whispered back, releasing his hold on his boyfriend so his hands could mimic Aya’s. Only his did more than tease, they slid beneath the black sweater and stroked along Aya’s muscular back until the redhead shivered in pleasure. "I think I can be quiet, if you can manage it, too, for once."

Aya looked for all the world like he really, *really* wanted to abuse Yohji’s poor ribs some more, but he seemed to realize that it would cause a noisy reaction and so settled for one of his infamous glares. "Die," he muttered, and as if to reinforce the words, kissed Yohji in such an intense manner that damn near suffocated him. Yohji almost forgot to breathe during the passionate kiss, his fingers scratching along Aya’s back in response to the ones that clutched at his hair, hips lips aching from the force pressed against them and cock painfully constricted by his jeans.

When Aya finally broke off the kiss, he appeared very smug, as if he had just proved some sort of point. Yohji had no idea what that was, and did not really care as he gasped for air and shifted about to try and get the damn seam of his jeans to move off of his balls. When Aya let go of his hair and went for the buttons of his jeans, he almost let out a cry of joy, before he remembered about the ‘be quiet’ restriction of the night. "I love you," he managed to moan as he lifted his hips to assist his lover in removing the torture device.

Aya’s brows drew together in confusion over the statement, then he shrugged as if putting it off to something hormone-induced. "I know." His expression softened as he tossed the jeans aside, and when he leaned in for another kiss, this time it was a sweet, lingering brush of lips and a gentle caress to the cheek that Yohji knew was a non-verbal affirmation of his declaration. He smiled as he slid his hands down Aya’s back so he could grasp the hem of the black sweater and then slowly pulled it upwards.

Once the sweater was removed, Aya shook his hair to settle it back into place and worked on his own jeans while Yohji removed his top. Aya paused once he was naked, as if waiting to see if Yohji wanted to change positions, but all Yohji did was reach over to grab the bottle of lube from his nightstand and then pat his upper right thigh in invitation. Aya smiled and inched forward on his knees, his hair tousled and eartails trailing down his bare chest, a bewitching sight that made Yohji’s chest ache once more, this time from the almost painfully intense love and desire he felt for the gorgeous man.

"How about you do all the work for once, eh?" Yohji joked as he handed over the bottle, content to let Aya set the pace to ensure that things did ‘stay quiet’. He needed to have his lover right now, needed to feel Aya’s body around his own, but was trying to meet Aya halfway tonight. There was something in the way that Aya was trying to distract himself, in the way he was bouncing back and forth between so many emotions yet not storming off in a huff, which indicated that maybe Yohji was not the only one suffering a case of guilty relief right now.

"Lazy bastard," Aya grumbled as he poured some of the lube onto his right hand, taking a moment to warm the lube by spreading it around on his palm before coating his fingers. He rested his left hand on Yohji’s chest as he raised up on his knees and prepared himself, his face a study of concentration as he nibbled his bottom lip and his eyes became heavy-lidded. Yohji was torn between looking there and between his thighs, his cock becoming even harder at the thought of Aya stretching himself for him, of what those fingers were now doing. He took to stroking himself while he waited, distracting himself when necessary by the thought of drawing Aya like this one day, thinking of the necessary supplies he would need and at one point what would happen if his lover ever came across him sharing the picture….

His thoughts scattered when he felt Aya move forward, a slick hand brushing his own away from his cock to wrap around it and slide up and down a couple of times. He settled his left hand on Aya’s right hip while his other hand quickly flipped open the bottle of lube and squeezed out a few drops. He spread them about his palm and fingers while Aya positioned himself, his breath catching in his throat as he felt initial resistance and then wonderful heat/friction as his lover sank downwards.

"Oh… hell." He breathed out the words and closed his eyes for a few seconds, amazed as always at how damn good this always felt. And Aya wanted to know why he always pressed for sex, especially after topping several times? The man had to have faulty wiring in that gorgeous head of his or something, because if there was any way Yohji could stay like this all the time, he would. He wrapped his right hand around Aya’s cock before snapping his hips upward as much as he could, grinning when his actions startled a low moan of pleasure from his lover.

Aya dug his fingers into Yohji’s chest for a moment, either in warning or reaction, before he relaxed them and began to concentrate on moving. He stared directly at Yohji the entire time, his face flushed as he rose up and down, crimson hair clinging to his forehead and some strands across his left cheekbone, eyes darkened with passion and so bright with emotion that they seemed to glitter with unshed tears. His body never stopped, a constant rise and fall that made Yohji gasp for air and struggle not to moan as electric ecstasy sizzled through his nerves, originating from his groin and shooting through his body until he swore his hands and feet tingled, his head throbbed in time with his racing heartbeat. The pleasure continued to build with each breathtaking slide of friction and clenching warmth, Aya’s body taking him in again and again.

His hand echoed the movement as best it could, sliding up and down his lover’s cock as Aya continued to ride him, his fingers shaking as if with palsy as the ecstatic burn grew sharper, hotter, his nerves more overloaded with the intense emotion and his body not his own as it was caught up in the exquisite pleasure. He stared back at his lover, reveling in that ephemeral connection between them just as much as the physical ones, at the reassurance that Aya was here, before him, *with* him still, safe and sound.

From the dark flush on Aya’s face and neck, he knew that his lover’s release was not far away, but the sight of Aya, the feel of Aya’s body, even the simple knowledge that this was real and not wishful thinking on his part, all added to the already potent pleasure. His breath caught in his throat as it crashed through him, his mind momentarily wiped clean of everything but pure emotion.

At least his hand could still move on automatic through the orgasm, which helped Aya to come a minute later, a beautiful sight to focus on as one recovered all higher brain functions, Yohji thought with a smile as he watched his lover shudder in bliss. He did not even mind the warm splatter on his chest as Aya came, absentmindedly swiping up a drop and licking his finger clean while Aya panted and took the time to gather his thoughts.

"Well, as much as I missed hearing you scream out my name, that wasn’t too bad." He managed a tired grin when Aya rolled his eyes at the lame joke and only shook his head a couple of times before moving from Yohji’s lap.

"I’m just amazed that you did manage to keep your mouth shut so long." Yohji had to admit that his lover had a point and accepted the tissues that were handed to him with a gracious smile. Aya appeared to be waiting for a smart-ass remark of some sort and shook his head again at the lack of one. "I’ll go wash up first."

Yohji watched him pull on the grey yukata so he would be decent enough for the walk to the bathroom, still stretched out on the bed and loathe to move until his lover came back and forced him to go clean up. Once Aya returned, they would probably talk some more about what to do about Ken, then go to bed. While normally he was happy to fall asleep with the man he loved held in his arms, he did not think even that would hold back the nightmares tonight. No, the fact that it may have been Aya who had been taken – never mind that it had not been – would haunt him into his dreams. He did not need to be psychic to know that the night would be full of losing his lover again and again, which was something that he dreaded to face.

He wondered what Aya’s dreams would be full of, if they would be of losing him to some faceless monster or an old nemesis, or of being held captive by David once again. Somehow, he doubted that either of them would get much sleep tonight.

*******

"Geli!"

Aya remained still as the shouted name reverberated through the garden dreamscape, its flowers and shrubs silver-gilt with the moonlight thinly veiled by wisps of clouds that flowed over the night sky. No matter how much he willed it, the moon remained a stubborn fixture in the sky, the normally welcoming garden cloaked in darkness that reminded him too much of another landscape, one that appeared less tended-after and made his head ache in pain at the memory….

"Geli! Where are you?" Why was she avoiding him? She always joined him here when he came, maybe not right away, but only after making him wait whatever she decided to be a playful amount of time. He felt as if he had been shouting her name for hours, and still no response. He kicked at the ground in anger and let out a cry of frustration, his hands bunched into fists. "Dammit, I need your help!"

"I know."

The words were spoken with such a soft, sorrowful tone that Aya needed a moment to convince himself that they were real. He twisted about to face his friend, almost falling in his haste as his bare feet fumbled about.

While he was dressed plainly for this meeting in black cotton pants and one of the sweaters that Yohji had bought for him, the same could not be said for Geli; she wore an old-fashioned dress that appeared to have been made of yards of starched lace and linen, its flat black color turning her complexion sallow and its unflattering cut stripping her of her youthful air.

"You know why I’m here?" Her subdued appearance disturbed him almost as much as the darkened garden, that as well as her words had him off-balance and struggling to regain the assurance that he needed to go through with the decision he had come to last night.

"Yes." Geli nodded once, her tone and actions that of an elderly woman, even if she looked to be young. "Your friend… you’ve lost a companion."

Aya knew that she had some way of following what went on in his life outside of this… this dream world, but that was the clearest that she had ever put it into words, at least anything that did not have to deal with Schuldig or Yohji. "My teammate, Ken, has been kidnapped." He pushed aside all of the doubts he felt as best he could and faced her directly. "He was working on an assignment for the mission and, as best we can tell, was taken by the targets. I need to find him." There was always a chance that Ken had been abducted by someone else, but while working on a mission? No, Aya did not need his talent to know that whoever was behind the missing models was responsible for Ken being gone. What he wanted now was to find out where Ken was being held.

Geli did not react for over a minute, she stood there so motionlessly that she could be mistaken for a statue. Then she let out a slow breath and looked up at the moon as she answered. "You want to follow his thread, to see where it leads and whose has become entangled with it, yes?"

His hands once more clenched into fists, Aya nodded a few times before he realized that she might not see him with the way she was staring to intently at the night sky. "Yes, that’s what I want." To use his power to find and save Ken before it was too late. To spare… to spare the people he cared about the pain of losing a loved one. If Omi had been any less of an assassin, he would have broken down last night over the realization of what could be happening to Ken. Yohji had tried to laugh things off with jokes over how Ken was going to be in trouble with Omi once he got back home and how he would never live this down, but Aya had seen the fear in his lover’s eyes and been woken by familiar tossing and turning during the night.

He might hate that his power made him a freak, that it drew Schuldig to him and opened him up to never-ending mindgames, but if it could save a friend…. "Break it free. Undo whatever it is that Schuldig and Cassandra did so I can’t use it." Whatever the consequences were of doing such a thing, he would deal with them afterwards, when Ken was safe and back home. At the least, Cassandra and Schuldig should be eager to chain it back up again.

Geli finally stopped staring at the moon and looked at him, her blue eyes shimmering as if filled with tears. Yet no drops spilled down onto her cheeks, and there was no quiver in her voice when she spoke. "I’m sorry, Aya, but I can’t."

"But… yes, you *can*." He stepped forward, the grass dry beneath his feet despite the coolness to the air, his mood more of sadness than anger just then. Geli had yet to disappoint him, so her denial came as a shock. "If Cassandra can-"

"No." Just the word, no motion, no force, just the word and Geli refusing to look away as he stopped a mere arm’s length in front of her. "There are things I can do, yes, and bringing you here from *her* dreamscape is one of them. This is a place where you belong, as do all of our kind. I can hide myself from *him*, because I’m not really a part of his world anymore. I’m not part of the *living* world. As such, my power is limited."

For the first time since she had shown herself to him, she allowed herself some emotion, the sorrow aging her appearance as much as the old-fashioned cut of the dress. "Aya… you are the current catalyst. My time is past, and there is much that is denied to me as a result. I want… oh, there is so much that I wish I could spare you, but I can’t." The tears finally broke free and sparkled as they flowed down her cheeks. "If I could, I would return to you your power so you could be strong. Please, don’t ask of me what I can’t give."

He wanted to yell at her, to grab hold of her shoulders and shake her until she stopped crying and did something useful, until she helped him, but… but…. Of all things, he heard Yohji’s voice in his head, chiding him over making a pretty girl cry. He also thought of his sister, who Geli reminded him of so much, and about how much he trusted the young woman. There was a stab of guilt over how all he seemed to do was ask things of Geli, and now he had reduced her to tears. He averted his eyes as he gave her a clumsy pat on the left shoulder, uncertain over what he was going to do now. "It’s… it’s okay. I’m sorry."

There was a sniffling sound, as if Geli attempted to stifle her tears. "I know. It’s the truth, Aya. I truly wish I could help you! However, even if the ability was mine, I fear that it would do more harm than good." She stepped closer until he was forced to look at her, her lovely face glistening with tears and still aged by grief. "Despite *her* jealousy and madness, there was more behind locking away your gift than to appease *his* twisted desires. To let it go unchecked in these perilous times will put all your loved ones in jeopardy." Damp with tears, her right hand reached to touch him gently on the left cheek. "I’m sorry."

The thought of Yohji being hurt, of being in a situation similar to Ken’s, made Aya shudder in fear and anger. He would not allow the man he love to be taken from him, not after having opened himself up after so long, or already paying so much already to have Yohji by his side. Despite his best attempts to isolate himself since losing his family and then his first team, he had come to care for Omi and several others as well.

How many considered him cold, unfeeling Aya? Would even Omi suspect him of being here, in some dreamworld, pleading for Ken’s life? Willing to unlock a talent that made him a freak if it meant that things could go back to ‘normal’, that Weiss would be the same once more, the four of them living together and participating in missions? Yet no matter how much Aya was ready to sacrifice to keep his newfound family together, he was once more failing at that duty. "What am I supposed to do?" he asked, his voice hoarse from the tears he refused to shed, even in front of Geli.

That she answered at all helped to shock him out of his growing depression. "Go back to your lover and your friends. Put your trust in them and not your talent." Her fingers curled inward, a soft caress against his cheek before her hand withdrew. "We can do much and change so many things, but they are not without a power all of their own, all through their determination and ingenuity. Trust that the people you have chosen as your allies are clever and brave, that you can offer them more than your talent, and you will find your friend."

He bit back on the bitter retort of just *how* they would find Ken, as she did not deserve the vitriol. Instead, he managed a wan smile and a slight nod as something occurred to him. "All right, I will." Taking a step backwards, he gave her a curt bow in thanks. "Goodbye, Geli."

"Goodbye." She still appeared sad, her soft voice sounding forlorn as well, and the garden lacked its usual welcoming warmth despite her presence. He hoped that the next time he returned that things were back to normal, as this dreamscape had become a sanctuary of sorts. No matter what the outcome of the next few days, he would be back; Geli had too many answers that he needed, especially after the topics she had skirted around tonight. In a way, she was as tightlipped with secrets as Cassandra, something which he was very, very tired of dealing with all the time.

However, the two women were not the only choices he had when it came to his talent. They were probably the ‘safest’, which was a bit ridiculous to think about when considering Cassandra, and the easiest to reach, but there was still one option left to him. As the ‘world’ around Aya turned to grey mist, he closed his eyes and focused on where he wanted to go next.

This was not something he had ever tried before, but that did not mean it could not work. It was more a matter of him never *wanting* to go there rather than attempting to get there, after all. He had a need to be there now, though, and there was the link between them to consider as well. Thinking of what could be happening to Ken right at that moment, he let his desperation propel him someplace he had never thought he would willingly go.

*******

Schuldig watched as the fat Japanese man who bore a passing resemblance to Takatori slowly burned in the pathetic excuse for what the people in this country called a luxury car and smiled. He realized it was a dream and only exerted enough control to fan the flames hotter in order to make the nameless man squeal even more in terror, huge drops of sweat and tears streaming down his face as he pleaded for help. Ah, was there anything sweeter than the primal panic that fire could bring out in people? Maybe he should manage a similar scenario with the next target – make it even more intense by putting the target’s family in the car, if he had one. Oh, Crawford would probably make a fuss over wasting time and drawing attention, not to mention having to pay his dry-cleaner extra to get the stench of burnt flesh out of his precious suits, but Schuldig could always count on Farfarello to back him up on a bit of fun. It was about time that Nagi learned about roasting marshmallows, too.

The squealing bastard’s hair had just burst into flames and he had begun to make the most amusing noises when Schuldig’s fun was interrupted. More startled than anything to find his right arm grasped and used to spin him around, he barely raised his left arm to lash out at his assailant when he found himself stunned both motionless and silent. Aya was here in his dream.

That in and of itself was not a big surprise. Aya had been a fixture in his dreams for years now, ever since he had approached the redhead in the midst of the explosion’s wreckage, forsaking mission protocol to give in to temptation. However, *he* had always invaded *Aya’s* dreams, not the other way around. *He* had always been the thief in Aya’s head, sliding inside to twist thoughts about, to warp dreams into nightmares, to at first continue leaving a wake of damage behind him in a way that no one else could. Even now, with his intentions not so much to harm as they were to claim, it was supposed to… it was a fucking one way street. So how the hell was Aya in *his* dream?

*"What the fuck are you doing here?"*

"I’m beginning to see the advantages of letting a sick pervert like you in my head," Aya snapped back, sounding every bit as disgusted as Schuldig was furious as he took a quick glance at the burning car.

"What the *fuck* are you doing here?" Schuldig repeated, this time in Japanese and with a note of hysteria cutting through the anger. He was Rosenkreuz’ best telepath, no matter what those anal bastards said about his lack of control and unwillingness to focus on training. His shields were the best, so how the hell did Aya breach them?

"I’m… I didn’t…." All of a sudden, Aya seemed uncertain, as if the situation had just caught up with him. His left hand fell from Schuldig’s arm; the motion acted as a trigger, unleashing his telepathic talent.

Schuldig pushed into Aya’s mind, desperate for an answer that made sense, that would return his world to ‘normal’. While Aya hissed in pain, he pushed in deeper, searching for an explanation. That concern for Siberian had driven Aya to go looking for help came to no surprise, what helped to quench his fear and anger was the knowledge that his love was here looking for aid from *him*.

Easing back with his talent as he blocked out as much of the shared pain as possible, he realized that Aya did not even know exactly how he had ended up here, in Schuldig’s dream, only that he had been desperate for help and had thought of Schuldig. Aya’s power was technically still bound by Cassandra’s ‘spell’, but catalysts… were a bit difficult to pin down when it came to dreams. Schuldig could not exactly bitch about the fact, as he had unknowingly used that to his advantage all these years, able to connect to Aya’s mind via dreams over greater amounts of distance than usual. Then there had been using the dreams to almost convince Aya that Kudoh would cheat on him. What was the damn English saying about petards?

His hands slid around Aya’s shoulders and back as he pulled the trembling man toward him for support. "Sorry about that, katzen," he murmured into Aya’s left ear, taking advantage of the fact that, for the moment, Aya was too affected by the rough mental search to fight back against the embrace. He dispelled the imagery around them, replacing the stench of burning flesh, fuel and metal with fresh sea air, the scenery that from some movie he had seen a few weeks before. They stood on a pier as the sun set, with no weapons around for Aya to grab and try to bash him over the head or run him through with to be found.

It took Aya a couple of minutes to recover, and he managed a decent punch to Schuldig’s left ribs once he did. He was about to land another blow before he remembered that he was here to ask for help, and settled for one of those potent death-glares of his. Schuldig smiled in the face of it, content with the fact that Aya was here to ask a favor of *him*, and even over the shock of the fact that this was his dream. After all, it was just another sign of how they were meant to be together, he had decided. No one else out there could enter his mind like this, not even Cassandra.

"Do I even need to tell you why I’m here now?" Aya’s tone was a mix of exhaustion and surliness, a mask to hide his worry at being turned down. Why he was so concerned over someone who hated ‘freaks’ and had been forced upon him as a teammate, Schuldig could not understand. He wanted to shake some sense into the idiot’s head, to make him see that this was an opportunity to rid himself of unwelcome baggage, but knew a lost cause when he saw one. If Aya insisted on clinging to Kudoh in the face of the asshole’s mountain of issues, than what was one more borderline psychotic teammate?

"It seems that you’ve misplaced a kitten." Schuldig clicked his tongue in mock disappointment. "See, this is why you should have Siberian and especially Balinese declawed and neutered. That would keep them from wandering-"

"Schuldig," Aya hissed, the surliness definitely winning out over the exhaustion. "I’m not in the mood for any jokes." He broke free from the embrace and put an arm’s length of distance between them, his hands clenched into fists and his eyes narrowed in anger. "We need to find him as soon as possible."

Still smiling, Schuldig made a point of shaking his head. "No, you don’t. All the evidence you have indicates that he was taken by your target, which means that he should be good for a few weeks yet." He shrugged and scratched his neck. "Well, good in a ‘tortured and maybe missing a few digits’ kind of way, but he’s young, I’m sure he’ll bounce back from that."

"Bastard! Do you think this is funny?" Aya took a step forward and came to a quick halt. "Or is this one of your sick games? Do you plan to torment me a bit until I beg you for help?"

Schuldig figured that dream or no dream, it would not be a good idea to tell Aya just how beautiful he looked when he was angry, even if the cliché happened to be true. Being a catalyst, Aya might be able to inflict true damage to him in a dream, and judging from the anger that flashed in those lovely eyes and the hint of pink on normally pale cheeks… oh yeah, his love was definitely pissed off right now. As tempting as the thought was to have Aya begging him for something – and Schuldig had the impression that saving a previous member of Weiss would do it, as much as he would hate himself for doing such a thing – he could not go through with this.

"Aya… I won’t make you beg."

Hope flashed across Aya’s face and burned through his emotions for a moment as he stared at Schuldig. "You won’t?" Then he seemed to realize that the serious expression that Schuldig wore could not mean anything good. "But…."

"I can’t help you save Siberian," Schuldig admitted, inwardly cursing Crawford and the man’s gift. Had he ‘seen’ this moment? Had he known that Aya would come to him? "You’re going to have to find him on your own."

"Dammit, Schu!"

"No!" Schuldig breached the distance between them and grabbed Aya, giving in to the urge to shake him a couple of times. Aya tensed against the assault but did not fight back, holding on to that ferocious temper of his in the faint hope of still winning him over. "Think, for fuck’s sake! I’m not doing this to make you beg or to annoy the hell out of you! It’s not a bargaining tactic to get into your pants or your head!" He shot down the thoughts in Aya’s addled head, the ‘twisted’ reasons he would deny the man he loved something he desperately wanted. Okay, so yeah, he was a sick fuck who adored playing mind games, ‘guilty’ as charged. He also was someone trying to gain a pathetic bit of trust from a stubborn bastard.

"Then why won’t you use your talent and tell me where Ken is?" Aya managed a nasty kick to Schuldig’s shin, which made Schuldig let him go. "Or better yet, just let *me* find him! You won’t have to do anything other than unblock my talent." He trembled slightly as he spoke, his eyes wide and the flush gone from his skin due to the importance of his words. Even now, the thought of his talent still scared him, but he would use it for his teammates, for *Weiss*. Schuldig did not know if he should laugh or curse.

"For fuck’s sake, *think*." Despite the crudity of his language, his tone was soft. "Don’t you think I want to do just that? There’s little else I would love to do right now than achieve two goals with one little action on my part." He held up his right hand with his forefinger and index finger extended. "You owing me a big favor, and you willingly embracing your talent, willingly *using* it."

Aya was quiet for a moment, his gaze intent on Schuldig the entire time before dropping to stare at the weather-worn planks between his feet. "Then do it, Schu. I… I know the consequences."

Somehow, Schuldig doubted that his beloved idiot did, but no matter how much he wanted to pounce just now, he had to hold back. *Damn* Crawford! Oh, to be fair it was not the anal bastard’s fault, but he had to blame someone whom he could actually take out his frustrations on. "Sorry, but I can’t."

When Aya’s head snapped up and he was given the death-glare once again, Schuldig shook his head. "Look, it’s for the same reason that your talent’s been locked up in the first place! I let it go, you use it and you light up brighter than Tokyo Tower on a dark night." He waved his right hand, two fingers still held out, for added emphasis. "People we don’t want will notice you, and if the Elders figure out that *you’re* the catalyst and not your sister…." The threat was left unfinished, and he prided himself on that bit of inspired thinking, since few things brought a raving Aya to an immediate halt like probable harm to dear old, vegetable Aya-chan. Never mind that he always ignored the danger to himself. "Plus, you think being chopped up and left as a fucking statue is a bad way to end up? Your teammates will be *lucky* to get off so lightly if they end up between the Elders and something they want, and I highly doubt Weiss will just let those old bastards come and get you." As much as he hated Kudoh, he knew the bastard would fight to keep Aya safe.

Besides, if Aya insisted on playing patty-cakes with the blond asshole and being friends with a bunch of talent-less humans, then he deserved to be hurt when they were used against him like this. He could feel his love’s pain at the thought of all those people being hurt because of him, although the blow of the news seemed oddly blunted. Somehow… it was as if none of this was that much of a surprise to Aya as it should be, but Schuldig could not find anything in his thoughts to explain why, other than a faint impression of flowers and moonlight on leaves. Dammit, he needed to get Aya out of that fucking flowershop soon, or be stuck with floral mental allegories for the rest of his life.

"I don’t see why I’m so damn important," Aya snapped, sulking in such a manner that made it obvious he was displeased as much with the attention as the denial.

Schuldig took a deep breath and reached out to tuck back the hair that had fallen over Aya’s eyes. "No, you wouldn’t," he sighed, a little annoyed by that fact even though he was used to it after all this time. It was part of what attracted him to the man, that inability to see what it was that drew not only him but Kudoh and others to Aya. Some of it was Aya being a catalyst, but some of it was personality as well – stubborn, stunted, obsessed and oblivious as that personality could be at times.

Aya suffered through the caress, his expression stoic and lips pressed together on what surely had to be a ‘Die, Schuldig’ comment just wanting to burst free. Schuldig enjoyed the moment as long as he could, the fingers of his right hand trailing along the side of Aya’s face and neck until they reached soft cashmere. He wanted to say something about how nice Aya looked when he was not dressed for a mission, and even twist things until his love wore clothes that *he* had picked out, yet held back so as not to shatter the precious cease-fire between them with a fight. There was only so far he could push before the infamous redheaded temper would break free – on either of their parts, really – and Aya had done an amazing job of reining it in so far. In fact, Schuldig could ‘see’ with his talent that he was not being cursed at or hit just now because of a question that he was just about to be asked.

Unwilling to let it be voiced and then ruin this moment, he quickly pulled back with a frown on his face, as if he was concentrating on something. "Dammit, the bastard has the worst timing," he muttered under his breath, before flashing a charming smile in Aya’s direction. "I’m sorry, mein Herz, but duty calls. It seems that I’ve a certain unrelenting dictator to appease and you’ve a bed to return to." He blew Aya a kiss as he began to unravel the dream, shifting towards consciousness.

"Schu, wait! I wanted to-" Aya reached for him, trying to keep him there. When his fingers brushed against Schuldig’s left arm, Schuldig felt a jolt that almost knocked him back into the dream, until he focused his talent more firmly on the waking world.

He returned to consciousness with an almost physical blow, feeling as if he was slammed into his bed even though he did not physically move at all. His eyes flew open as he struggled to sit up, his breathing accelerated and head pounding with the effort it had cost him to break free from the dream.

"Scheisse!"

He was used to being the most powerful psychic around, to being the one who could bend things to his will and do the impossible. Yet Aya had waltzed into his dream and almost kept him there, while his fucking power was *chained up*.

Schuldig did not know if it was merely because Aya was a catalyst or because of the bond between them, but he would have to be more careful from now on. He would have to put up blocks on their link while he slept, at least until he managed a trip to the crazy bitch to see if there was a way to keep Aya out of his head that did not require such an effort on his part. Dammit, he was supposed to be the one in control! And how could he monitor what was going on with Aya and the blond asshole, not to mention Weiss, if he was blocking things? This… was not an ideal situation.

Even as he threw back the covers to go search out Crawford – the clock might read the unholy hour of six am, but he would bet his left hand that the workaholic bastard was up already – his anger began to fade. Ideal situation or not, it was still one where Aya had sought *him* out, had put what little use of his talent he still had to come to Schuldig and ask for a favor. Oh, it had been for one of fucking Weiss, but if Aya truly thought of him as an enemy, he never would have been able to slip past Schuldig’s mental barriers *or* keep his temper long enough to ask for help. Things were changing.

He was reaching Aya. Maybe it was the link, maybe it was the dreams, maybe it was not utterly fucking up his head and life for once – hell, it could be a combination of all three. Who knew what a bit of restraint and careful planning could do for a person? Schuldig snorted as he pulled on a pair of boxers to make himself ‘presentable’ and thought that if he was not careful, he just might turn into Crawford one of these days. As if the world could handle two such anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive bastards in existence at the same time without imploding. No, he would do everyone a huge favor by remaining the perfection that he was.

As expected, he found Crawford communing with the great god of caffeine in the kitchen. "You know, there is more to this world than a coffee machine and a computer, even if the first produces manna from heaven and the latter finds endless porn," he remarked as he reached into a cupboard for a mug.

It came as no big shock that Crawford did not seem at all ruffled by his extremely early morning appearance. "I’ll concede to you on your second point, but brand you a heretic forever for your first one." He sipped from his own mug of freshly brewed coffee, immaculately dressed in a dark blue suit and white shirt despite the freakishly earliness of the day, while Schuldig tried to wrap his mind around the fact that *Crawford* was actually *joking*.

"Is the world coming to an end?" he asked as he poured some of the coffee into the biggest mug he had found. "I mean, you, *joking*?"

"I could say the same about you being up before noon, especially on a day when I haven’t assigned you a mission to kill anyone," Crawford shot back in a nonchalant manner, not handicapped by still trying to get his brain to function so early in the morning.

Schuldig grunted and decided not to answer until he had at least half a mugful of coffee, which he only diluted with enough cream to keep his mouth from being scalded. Once there was a suitable amount of caffeine in his stomach, he glared at his team leader and gestured with the mug, which he only now realized was covered with kittens ensconced in various types of food. Dammit, he would *have* to have some sort of talk with Nagi later that day… unless it was Farfarello’s mug. "Ya gonna tell me that you haven’t had any visions about why I’m awake now?"

Crawford adjusted his glasses before answering. "To be truthfully honest? No, I have not. However," he paused to hold up his left hand to prevent Schuldig from interrupting, "I’m willing to bet it has something to do with Abyssinian and Siberian. You only seek me out lately when the matter is somehow tied to the illwight, after all." There was a twitch to his lips that all but screamed ‘disapproval’ – at least, to anyone who knew the uptight precog.

Still, uptight or not, he had a point; Schuldig should probably start annoying him about more random things to keep from being so predictable. "Let’s cut to the chase, then, since I haven’t had enough coffee yet to put up with your usual dance for information." He wrinkled his nose to show what he thought about the typical rigmarole he had to go through to get anything useful out of the precog. "You really think it’s for the best – no, wait, it’s for *my* best interests to not help Aya find Siberian?" He stared intently at Crawford, his talent extended to its fullest for any hint of deception.

He had to give credit to the man – Crawford stared right back at him, smooth as silk and cool as ice, nodding once before he answered. "Yes, I believe it is in both your and Schwartz’s best interests to stay out of this matter. It might earn you his gratitude, but it will only prolong matters in the future. He won’t be driven to cut necessary ties when he will need to if you assist him now."

That answer had Schuldig shoving aside the coffee mug and stepping forward. "’Cutting ties’? You mean…?" He pressed with his talent, desperate to ‘see’ the vision that had led to that answer, only to be denied by the mental barrier that was like a black glass wall which protected Crawford’s inner thoughts. Fuck, the bastard was prepared today; it had been ages since Schuldig had caught him out and ‘seen’ his visions, which frustrated him to no end.

"I’m still honoring my end of our agreement." Crawford sounded as if he was discussing nothing more unusual than the weather as he refilled his coffee mug. "Make sure that you uphold yours." That said, he left the kitchen, presumably to go stare at his computer screen for a few hours.

Schuldig remained in the quiet room for another minute or two, lost in thoughts of what it would be like when Aya willing left Weiss. That future seemed *so* close now, and when he should be happy and confident, he found a strange sensation growing inside his chest – one of anxiety at the thought of losing what he almost had in his grasp. Frustrated at something that made no sense, he shook his head and stormed out of the room, determined to get dressed and go out for something to eat. Once he was certain that Aya was up and about for the day, then he could take a nap; it was clear that the lack of sleep was affecting his emotions.

*******

Ken was lying on his stomach again, his stomach rumbling and his head aching from whatever it was that they had injected him with earlier, when they had rolled him onto his back. Great, not only did he have to worry about what the hell they would do to his body while waiting for his teammates to save him, he probably had to deal with drug addiction as well. Weiss better get their asses in gear *fast* and get him out of here, or they would have to put up with his bitching about them dragging their feet for the rest of their lives.

He tensed when he felt air flow over his mostly naked body, the only indication he had of the room’s door opening, thanks to Saito leaving the stereo playing the same annoying CD on repeat; he did not think he could stand to listen to Hamasaki Ayumi ever again if he got out of this mission alive.

This time, it was more than just one person, judging from the sound of footsteps approaching. From the soft giggling, he knew that Saito had returned, which was confirmed when the young woman bounced into his view. She was once again dressed in the paint-splattered smock and jeans, her copper-colored hair pulled into short spikes with several bright clips. Beside her was another student from the art classes, Masashi, who wore a similar outfit but his long, blond hair pulled back into a neat ponytail. Ken had not thought of them as close friends, so his surprise at finding them as accomplices, as opposed to one of the other girls in the class, distracted him from the other person in the room for a few seconds.

"I’m glad to see that you were able to retrieve him without any damage."

At the sound of Kaneshiro-sensei’s voice, Ken turned his head as much as he could in the older man’s direction. Like Saito and Masashi, the professor was dressed as if he planned on doing some work, although his smock was much neater than his students. Also, he had traded in his usual red-rimmed glasses for a wire-rimmed pair that appeared much sturdier and more protective. The only thing that Ken could think of was well, there went the belief that Hasegawa was behind the killings. He guessed that Aya had posed nude yesterday for no good reason – and that Yohji had nearly been gutted for no good reason by trying to talk Aya out of the mission.

Saito resumed bouncing at the praise. "Oh, he was no problem at all! He’s one of those helpful types who makes tricking them really easy!" To add insult to injury, she even reached out and patted him on the head. He tried to toss her hand off, but it was difficult when he could barely move his body and each movement made his headache worse. "Now, now, behave!" She resumed giggling and took a step back at Masashi’s urging.

"He’s a bit more resistant to the drug than we would have expected, given his body weight," Masashi commented, his right hand reaching into the pocket of his smock. "I think we’re going to need more supplies sooner than I had anticipated."

Kaneshiro stared at Ken for several seconds, as if he was an interesting lab specimen, reminding Ken of Takatori Masafumi, of all people. As his skin crawled at the memory, the professor shrugged as if coming to a slightly unwelcome conclusion. "Perhaps he has a fast metabolism due to his active lifestyle. I can’t complain too much since it gives me the physique I want for the next piece." He nodded at Masashi. "Get the necessary supplies now, before too many people notice that he’s gone missing."

"Understood." Masashi smiled, his hand still in his pocket, which Ken began to suspect contained some of the ‘supplies’ that kept him docile enough for Saito to turn him over and clean him up. "So, you already have something in mind for him?"

"Yes, ever since I saw him in class." Kaneshiro vanished from Ken’s line of vision as he stepped back, but Ken could feel the professor’s hand stroke along his back, over the burn scars left from that time with Kase. He shuddered at the touch, doing his best to sink further into the medical bed as if he could escape from the insane man. "I was tempted to do something with a canvas already partially prepared for me, to add beauty to a rough landscape. Between these markings and his impressive physique, he’s been quite the inspiration."

"You’re a bunch of sick fucks, you know that?" Ken said, getting very tired of just lying here and listening to this nonsense. "You actually think you’re smart by kidnapping people, mutilating them and posing them for the sake of art? What, painting and clay aren’t good enough for you? You think you’re that much better than all the great artists born before you?"

Masashi laughed while Saito giggled, and all Kaneshiro did was stroke along Ken’s scars, until more than anything Ken wished his hands were free so he could break the murderer’s fingers. "Do you think we haven’t heard such things before? That others in your position haven’t tried to rationalize or threaten their way free? Next you’ll probably tell us that there’s no way that we’ll get away with things, or that we can’t possible actually do anything to you." He sounded so calm, as if he was not worried at all about the possibility of being caught or made to pay for the crimes he had committed.

"He’ll probably ask us to let him go, after promising us that he won’t tell anyone what we did," Masashi sniggered and rolled his eyes to show what he thought about that happening.

"Do you think he’ll cry when we tell him ‘no’, like the last couple of them did?" Saito giggled through her fingers, as if she was trying to stifle the sounds, her eyes gleaming with wicked amusement. "I like it when pretty boys cry."

"Drop dead," Ken muttered, praying to whatever would listen to him that the handcuffs would fail just then and he could wrap his hands around her throat. Normally, he had reservations about harming women, but Saito was really, *really* getting on his nerves. "You made a big mistake this time."

"No, I don’t think so." Kaneshiro finally removed his hand from Ken’s body. "No, I can already see how it’ll look. I can’t wait to tattoo the cherry blossoms amid the scars… but the skin is in no condition right now. Saito, I expect you to work very hard on conditioning it over the next few days. As typical for an athlete, he never paid any attention to what covered his precious muscles."

Saito nodded to show that she was following along, while Ken tried to figure out if he should feel insulted or not; at the least, he appeared to be receiving a few days reprieve. "Anything else? I assume you want me to do the usual wax?"

"What the hell?" Ken jerked at his restraints

Kaneshiro ignored the shouted question. "Yes, everything from the neck down. I’ve yet to decide if the piece will require castration or not-"

"WHAT?"

"-so it’s best to be prepared. I’ll know better as it progresses, probably once the tattoo is almost done." Kaneshiro stepped back into Ken’s view, unruffled at being on the receiving end of a glare that would put one of Aya’s to shame. All he did was adjust his glasses and motion toward Masashi.

"There’s no *fucking* way that you’re going to-" Ken stopped when Saito grabbed his right arm, which still sported a small band-aid from the last time he had been given an injection. "Get your damn hands off of me!" Hampered by the restraints, he did his best to pull his arm free, which unfortunately was not very much. When he tried biting her, she positioned her body so all he managed to get was a mouthful of dirty smock.

Still, at least he managed some type of struggle. "Oof, he’s really strong." Saito cursed under her breath as she held his hand immobile as best she could so Masashi could inject a needle-full of whatever it was he had been hiding in his smock’s pocket into a vein.

"We’ll probably need to keep him better sedated, at least until he gives up struggling," Masashi remarked as they both stepped back. "It’s a stronger dose this time, so he should be complacent for a few more hours. When you’re done waxing him, try getting him to eat something."

"What, you’re not gonna help me?" Saito pouted at Masashi, while Ken glared at the two and did his best to gauge the drug’s effect on him in order to figure out what they were using on him. He no longer heard anything from Kaneshiro, and wondered if the professor had left during the struggle to dose him.

Masashi snorted once and shook his head. "Call me when you need to turn him over, but I know how much you enjoy doing your thing." He motioned to something off in the corner of the room, and judging from the way his vision blurred, Ken had the feeling that whatever the drug was, it was *damn* powerful.

Saito let loose another annoying round of giggles. "Oh, you know me so well." She stroked her fingers through Ken’s hair, and his coordination was affected enough that he could barely move his head enough to try to avoid the ‘caress’. "It’s such a shame that we have to dope them up beforehand, as it spoils my fun a bit, but I love being around when they wake up enough to realize what’s been done to them."

Masashi shook his head as he began to walk away from the bed. "Play with him while you can. In a few more weeks, he won’t be in any shape to amuse you." His voice got fainter as he left the room; the music suddenly became louder, which Ken took as a sign of being turned up before Masashi left for good.

All alone now except for Saito, he forced his head to the left side and did his best to glare at her. "Don’t touch me." At least, that’s what he tried to say, but the words came out slurred. To his annoyance, all she did was giggle some more and smile before patting him on the cheek.

"Aw, I get the impression that you don’t like me anymore! Was it something that I said?" She seemed very amused with herself as she went to retrieve something, busy for what seemed a very long time to Ken’s addled senses. He wondered if he had fallen asleep when she finally returned, an impact against the medical bed jolting him back to the present as she wheeled a small cart next to him. It took him several tries to make his eyes focus enough to make out what looked to be a hot plate and a pot of what had to be melted wax. "And just when we’re about to become such intimate friends!" Saito leered at him as she pulled on a pair of latex gloves.

Ken once more attempted to order her to leave him alone, the words even more garbled than before. Rage, potent and burning, churned inside of him, stronger than he could remember it being in years. There had been so many reasons to hate since joining Weiss, so many atrocities, so many ‘dark beasts’. Yet none of them had made him feel as helpless as Saito was doing just now, had smiled at him so cheerfully while going about what would eventually lead to the utter destruction of a human being. She was willingly taking part in the breaking down and mutilation of a person, had lured him into a trap and took evident pride in her role in all of this. She was guilty so many times over, for crimes that were so heinous, that Ken expected to see smears of blood on everything she touched, including himself.

He wanted to be free with a desperation that made his body ache with the strain from tensing against the restraints, just so he could be the one to end her life. No, it was not enough that Weiss be the one to but a stop to her, but that *he* do it. There would be no more giggling in delight as she tortured another poor victim, no more ‘fun’, no more works of ‘art’ for Saito. He would see to it personally that she was stopped, whatever the price. This had gone far past a simple mission, an agreement to stop a ‘dark beast’ in order to repay the second lease on life he had been given. If Omi and the others did not get their asses into gear and rescue him somehow, he would get off this bed, in pieces if he had to, and rip out Saito’s heart with his bare hands before he would let her win. He swore that to himself. There would be no qualms about killing a woman this time.

"Okay, this may sting *just* a little," Saito crooned as she began to dribble hot wax onto his left calf. "But it’ll stop in… oh, about an hour or two." She giggled again as she smeared the hot wax around.

*******

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