Balance

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Chapter 5

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It was dark and silent. He welcomed the darkness and let it fill him, taking away the pain and memories. Aya just wanted to remain here, suspended in this numbness. There were so many bad things waiting for him to wake up and remember them, that it was just too much. So heíd hide here for as long as he could. Nothing peaceful ever lasted for long, that much he could recall.

<Sorry Kštzchen, canít have that. Time to come back a bit. They really did load you up with drugs, didnít they?>

As the accented voice spoke, the blackness receded. Aya found himself suspended still, but instead of floating in nothingness he found himself hanging among blood red ribbons. Pain flooded back into his awareness, the strongest point radiating from his right thigh, but lines of hurt crawled around his legs, arms, back and chest.

It came back to him, what Yohji had done in the exercise room. Tying him up in the cutting wire, hurting him to make him still, and then the rape. The redhead started to struggle against his bonds.

<Shh, relax SŁŖer. Here, letís take care of this.> Aya calmed as the pain slowly faded away, leaving him lethargic in its wake. He just hung there as Schuldig appeared and walked over to him. "Never thought Balinese would hurt you that bad. Seems the Schwanzlutscher has quite a mean streak in him, underneath the laziness and hormones."

"You. It was you who made him do that. That drugged him." His tone of voice was rather apathetic. The redhead knew he should be furious, that he wanted nothing more than to kill the man standing in front of him with his bare hands and decorate this awful brightness with the Germanís blood. But he just couldnít care right now. Nothing seemed to work, and the numbness had returned.

<Itís the drugs. Bombay gave you enough to take down a horse. You have any idea how hard it is to talk to you like this, with you doped up /past/ the gills?> "Only you are worth this much effort, Knuddelhšschen." The telepath stepped right up to him, reached out a hand to stroke through crimson hair. Aya found himself leaning into the caress. It felt so nice, a small bit of pleasure that reminded him of his mother brushing his hair as a young Ran sat in her lap. Of Yohjiís favorite gesture of affection.

"Stop. It was all your fault, fucking bastard." Aya tried to jerk his head out of Schuldigís reach, but his body failed to respond.

The telepath just smiled at him. "/I/ didnít slip him the drug, just took advantage of the situation. And I didnít tell him to do any of those nasty things he did to you. That was all your loverís subconscious at work. Frightening picture isnít it, of what Kudoh is capable of. Something to reflect upon the next time youíre lying in bed with him, letting him fuck you. But I forget, you two donít just limit yourselves to the bedroom. Didnít know you had such a wild streak, you naughty boy. Balinese has been such a bad influence."

"Lies. Itís always lies from you, Schuldig. Nothing would have happened tonight if you hadnít been there, playing your mind games. You always have to fuck around with me, donít you. Why the hell canít you leave me alone?"

Snarling softly, the longhaired man jerked Ayaís head down towards him. "Listen to me Abyssinian. I /own/ you. I get to decide if you live or die, and I get to play whatever games I want with you. Youíve been mine ever since that one spring day three years ago. Iím the reason you survived. That Schwarz didnít kill you during the whole Takatori affair. The reason why you got your revenge against the prick. All of that you owe to /me/. Not Kritiker, or WeiŖ, or especially that Penne Kudoh. Never forget that."

Violet eyes blazed down, anger shining through the drug haze. "If you ever come near me again, I will kill you."

Mocking laughter met that statement, as those hands once again stroked his hair. "Oh, the brave little kitten, unsheathing his claws. You have me so scared, my sweet tuberose. Youíve been trying to kill me for how long now, and youíve never come close. And you never will. You know why? Because deep down you know everything I just said was the truth." Schuldig smirked at the swordsman, hands now roaming over the lithe, be-ribboned body. "Know why I havenít just taken whatís mine, eh? Why I havenít done to you want Kudoh did so bloodily last night? All I have to do is wait, and youíll come to me of your own free will. Itís only a matter of time, Abyssinian, before you finally cross the last little divide that separates us. Before Kudoh truly does betray you, with no excuse of a drug to hide behind. Before you realize how much Kritiker and oh-so-innocent Bombay is using you. Just ask Crawford, heís seen it. Youíll come to me on your hands and knees." Schuldig didnít know what was more delightful, the image produced by those words or the wave of anger after they were uttered.

"Until that time, Iíll just amuse myself with watching you struggle against fate. Itís very funny. So while I wait for you to come to your senses, Iíll leave you a small taste of whatís in store for you. A little something to chase away your suffering." All the while he talked, the telepath used his power to stimulate the pleasure center in Ayaís brain, the touch of his hands leaving a brand of desire on pale skin. It was a difficult task to do while holding back the drugs and pain, but well worth it to see the reserved man bite at his lips to prevent himself from moaning at that touch. Schuldig continued the assault as long as his power held out, determined to leave his mark on the assassinís battered psyche.

<This is just the tiniest sample of what I can do to you. All youíve had before is the bad, but youíll never be able to forget this part of my talent, the pleasure it can make you feel. Nothing Balinese can do for you will /ever/ come close to this.>

The darkness came back to overwhelm Aya, the numbness returning. But even then he could still hear the Germanís laughter, and feel the touch of his hands.

*******

"Oh, man, whatever I drank last night Iím never drinking again." Yohji protested with a dry throat, as sensation returned to his waking body. Opening his eyes was a mistake, they quickly shut after being scorched by the light. He didnít know what was worse, the headache or his stiff, aching body. Part of the problem was the way he must have fallen asleep, still wearing his tight jeans and boots, flat on his back with his arms stretched over his head. Dammit, he couldnít even feel his hands anymore. What the hell had possessed him to lie down like this, and where was Aya? Trying to think back on what he had imbibed to leave him in this position, the blond drew a blank. Okay, heíd been at the club, trying to get some information out of Mika. Talked a few minutes with his kitten, went back to the woman. Everything after that wasÖ gone. Nothing there but a warm feeling of bliss. Hee hee, must have gotten lucky last night. Guess he hadnít been too drunk after all. Or Aya too mad that heíd drank so much during a mission. Twitching his arms, he found that the limbs wouldnít move. A frown broke out on his face as he tried harder, only to meet resistance. What the fuck?

Yohji opened his eyes again and once more attempted to rearrange his arms. All he got was a clanging sound and the rather painful sensation of pins and needles. He arched his body so he could look at the limbs, and was shocked. No wonder he couldnít move his arms, they were handcuffed to his headboard. Collapsing back onto the bed, the blond then raised his head to check out his feet. They were tied up as well. Swearing out loud, he noticed his jeans were caked with something that disturbingly resembled dried blood. Which also covered his chest. Shit. What the fuck had happened last night?

"Aya! Where the hell are you? If this is your sick idea of a joke Iím going to be pissed! AYA!" No response. Okay, now he was starting to panic. "Aya! Omi! Ken! Somebody get their ass up here and untie me!" The lanky man kept yelling for his lover and teammates, twisting about on the bed. Pausing to take a breath, he heard footsteps running down the hallway, and then the sound of one of the locks on his door being turned. The door was finally opened, revealing an out of breath Omi.

"Omi! What the hell is going on? Why am I fucking handcuffed to the bed?"

The youth cautiously approached the bed, as if something dangerous lay on it. Yohji noticed Omi held one of his darts in his left hand. "Whatís wrong, chibi? And where the hell is Aya?" The older man was startled to see the boy flinch.

"Calm down if you want to be untied." Yohji could only blink up at his friend, taken back by the serious tone of voice heíd used. Blue eyes peered intently down on him, examining his face.

"Omi, please, whatís happening?"

Sighing, Omi forced himself to not be moved by that confused tone of voice. Heíd contacted Manx last night for more information on the Sybil drug, and had been reassured that it usually worked its way out of the userís system in eight to ten hours. Yohji was by their estimate an hour or so past the time limit. But there was no telling if Schuldig had left another surprise for WeiŖ to deal with, and he had promised Ken he would be very careful in dealing with the older assassin. It was the only way to keep the brunet down in the flowershop during this exchange. He was still out for Yohjiís blood.

"What do you remember about last night? Tell me everything you can recall."

Here he was, chained, covered in blood he didnít think was his and the chibi wanted to play Twenty Questions? "Ken, Aya and I went to the club. Aya covered the bar, Ken the pool tables and I tried getting some more information out of that woman Mika from Thursday night. Thatís it, I donít recall leaving the bar or coming home."

"Someone give you any medication, or did you feel a pain or needle prick at any point?" Yohji shook his head. "Did you have anything to eat or drink last night?"

"I had a couple of drinks, but not enough to get me drunk."

Omi leaned over him some more, face intent. "How many, and did you buy them all?" If the idiot had done what he thought he did, even after the Aso mission, he just might be tempted to leave Ken alone with him.

"Letís see, had one while looking for Mika, then bought three, no four rounds with her, and then she bought us a shot each." Noticing that Omi was frowning, the older blond quickly defended himself. "That may sound like a lot, but itís not, really. They were spread out, and you know my tolerance is pretty good." Yohji tried a weak smile, but it faded quickly at the look on Omiís face.

"Yohji, how could you. Especially after what happened to Aya not too long ago? S.O.P. now is to /never/ accept a drink from /anybody/."

An ominous feeling spreading through his chest, Yohji asked the question one more time. "Omi, I swear if you donít tell me what happened last night when I get off this bed Iím going to smash your precious computer to bits."

Sitting on the bed beside the handcuffed man, the youth kept his gaze locked on beseeching green eyes. Only now he appeared more sad that serious. "Schuldig was at the bar. HeÖ contacted Aya again, and during their discussion he let something slip about ĎSybilí users being very easy to mind control."

"What did he do to Aya?" The question came out barely more than a whisper, the playboyís throat tight with fear. "And why canít I remember any of this?"

Omi gazed into his eyes for a few seconds, and then shifted his attention to Yohjiís bound hands. "Because, as far as we can tell, that drink your date gave you contained ĎSybilí. Thatís why you canít remember anything afterward. We assume it was she because later that night a Mika Suzuki killed herself by driving her car into a wall. Kritiker is trying to obtain the tox report. Then you or Schuldig did something to make Aya come home alone, and you followed him." Opening his mouth a couple of times, but unable to produce any sound, Omi once again met Yohjiís eyes. "You found Aya upstairs, in the gym, and you tied him up and hurt him pretty bad. It, it looks like youÖ had sex with him as well. While he was tied up." As hard as he tried, Omi couldnít make himself say that word.

The dawning horror in those wide, emerald eyes convinced the young assassin that Yohji was no longer under the influence of the drug. "Tell me youíre lying, Omi. I couldnít have done something like that." The boy only shook his head. It had to be some sort of joke. Why his friends would do something so mean to him he didnít understand, but there was no way he could have done what Omi had just said. "Aya! Where the hell are you? Get in here now!"

"Yohji, shush! They might hear you down in the shop." Ken might hear him, and come charging upstairs. Which would /not/ be a good thing. "Iím not lying, I swear. We found Aya in the bathroom, and patched him up. He was cut up from your wire, and lost a lot of blood. His leg wound was torn open too. We had to sedate him, and have been giving him some painkillers to keep him asleep. He canít hear you."

"I want to see him. Let me up, I have to see him." It would all be a lie, heíd find Aya downstairs working in the shop. Or even better, this was all some twisted dream he was having, and any moment now heíd wake up to an armful of redhead.

"Alright. Lay still, and Iíll let you loose." Pulling a key out of his pocket, Omi set about releasing the handcuffs. He winced in sympathy at the older manís swollen hands, Ken had cuffed him and apparently set the metal restraints a bit too tight. Noting the floppiness of Yohjiís limbs, he decided it was a good thing heíd released the tall man when he had. He moved down to the end of the bed, untying the bound feet as Yohji tried to restore the circulation in his arms. Knowing that the man was not going to be able to move about for a few minutes, Omi went to the bathroom.

Yohji hissed at the sensation of thousands of needles being driven into his arms and legs. Damn, that hurt. Gritting his teeth, he kept shifting about his limbs, determined to get them back into working order as soon as possible. After a minute or two Omi returned, and tossed a wet towel at him. Coordination not at its best, the towel more or less ended up on his face and shoulder. "Whatís this for?"

"To wipe yourself off with. And change your jeans while youíre at it." It was gruesome, staring at a friend covered with the blood of another friend. Heíd wanted to clean the man up last night, but had been too distracted with trying to prevent a homicide to do so.

Opening his mouth in protest, the green eyed man closed it at the grim expression on the normally genki youthís face. As soon as he could move his arms he ran the cloth over his body, ignoring how stained it soon became. Once done, he set about pulling off his stiff pants, a grimace of disgust on his face. Removing his boxers as well, he was relieved to not find any blood on his flaccid penis.

Dressing himself quickly in an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt, he turned expectantly to Omi. "Aya, now." He still felt as if everything would clear up as soon as he saw his kitten.

Biting his lip, Omi reluctantly turned for the door. "Iím only allowing you a quick peek, just to prove to you Iím not lying. If Ken finds out, uh oh."

"Uh oh what?" Yohji asked, paying more attention to his cigarette than the hallway.

"I think he meanís if Ken finds out heís going to be pretty pissed off. And guess what, heís right. What the hell are you thinking, Omi, letting that bastard near Aya again?" growled out the irate brunet.

"Heh. Youíre supposed to be downstairs in the flower shop. Whoís manning the Koneko?"

"Nobody. Store was empty, so I locked the door and came up here." Well, it had emptied out after heíd shooed away the customers.

"Great." Omi had skipped cram school and opened the shop so as to keep Ken occupied and observed. The brunet was enraged with Yohji and what he had done while under the drugís influence last night. After patching Aya up and into bed, the youth had despaired over tending to the unconscious blond himself, afraid of what Ken would do if he got his hands on the man. But the athlete managed to restrain himself, at least somewhat, while they carried the man downstairs and to his room without incident. Well, at least not counting the three times Ken had Ďaccidentallyí dropped the blond, or how heíd tied Yohji up. Omi had locked the door and made sure he had the only key, more to keep Ken out of the room than the blond in. Heíd refused the older teenagerís request to check up on Yohji before they opened the shop, saying heíd deal with it himself. It was then that Ken had made him promise to be careful, and to keep the man away from Aya. "Ken, he doesnít believe me. You know the drug makes the users forget what they did while on it. Iím just going to let him take a quick look while I check up on Aya."

"He thinks weíre lying? About what /he/ did?" The brunetís voice was incredulous. Looking Yohji over, he quickly snatched at the older manís arm and tugged him down the hall. Omi followed, tranquilizer dart in hand. Throwing open the door to the swordsmaní room, Ken dragged the blond in after him. "Think weíre lying now?"

Yohji could only stare down at the still figure on the bed. Aya was propped up by pillows and covered with bandages. He didnít know what was whiter, the sheets or that pale skin, accentuated by the blood red hair and a bruised cheek. "Aya, loveÖ" his voice choked. The blond stretched a hand out to his lover, desperate to make sure that the still form was in fact alive and warm, only to have it smacked away by Ken.

"Donít touch him, youíve done enough damage. Donít ever go near him again. You believe us now, or are you going to keep denying it until he wakes up and can blame you himself? If he can even stand the sight of you."

"Ken! It isnít Yohjiís fault! Even Aya said so. Itís Schuldig and the drug thatís responsible. Yohji, donít listen to him, heís just upset and taking it out on you. IímÖ sure Aya wonít blame you when he wakes up." Omi stared up at the shaken man, hoping he hadnít heard that pause. "Yohji, are you listening to me?"

The blond just stared down at his lover, body trembling. This had to be a dream, please let it be a dream. Only he wasnít waking up, and the redhead was lying still as death in his bed instead of Yohjiís arms. He had to get out of here. Ignoring the two men, he rushed out of the room, pausing by his door to go in and snatch his wallet and car keys. There was no way he was going to deal with this right now.

*******

There was someone in the room with him, he heard the sound of ceramics clanking together. Opening his eyes, Aya woke up to a brightly lit room, filled with the scent of flowers. Trying to turn to face the person on his right, he stifled a groan at the pain lancing through his body. Managing to shift over a little, he found Omi staring worriedly at him.

"Aya-kun! Youíre awake! How do you feel?" The youth blushed. "I mean, do you want some more pain medication? Weíve been keeping you doped up the past several hours, but decided it was time to let you wake up. Are you alright?"

His brain was sluggishly trying to process all the words. He remembered the German talking about drugs, and he felt as if someone had unsuccessfully tried to skin him. His leg throbbed with each heartbeat. "No, no more drugs." The redhead didnít want to sleep anymore, that last dream had been too much. The only thing more frightening than a pissed-off Schuldig was an almost nice one.

Omi looked pleased that he was speaking more or less coherently. "Here then, let me get you some water." Picking up a glass, he held it as Aya struggled up into a sitting position, icy glare making it clear he didnít want any help. As soon as the redhead drained the glass, the youth snatched it from his shaking hands and set it on the nightstand. Which was a little hard to do, as it was covered in flowers. Along with his dresser and several shelves on his bookcase.

Noting the direction of the violet gaze, Omi smiled and added in a soft voice. "Once the girls found out you were Ďsickí, they purchased the flowers for you. They seemed quite worried about you having a relapse. Thereís a rather large lunch in the fridge, courtesy of Sakura Tomoe, if you feel like eating."

Aya frowned. "Just tea." Omi clucked his tongue, but was still smiling. He had to ask the next question. "What did you do to Yohji?" The youthís smile faded quickly.

"After we took care of you Ken and I restrained Yohji to his bed and locked him in his room. He woke up a couple hours ago, not remembering a thing. Insisted on seeing you, he really didnít accept that heíd done the things we told him he did. Once he saw you he was convinced though, and he left. Havenít heard from him since." Ken had stopped him from following the older man.

"Hn."

"Aya-kun, are you, I mean, well, are you going to blame him for what heís done? For the beating and the, for tying you up and that?" Blue eyes gazed at him earnestly, as Omi held his breath, waiting for the answer. He hated to press the injured man, but Schuldigís involvement meant that the telepath would take advantage of any rift between teammates. And this was a hell of a rift. Things were bad enough before this.

"It wasnít him. Schuldig was behind the whole thing. It would make the bastard happy if I blamed Yohji for what happened." Not that he was particularly happy with the blond at the moment. It just meant the man wasnít going to be decapitated as soon as he spotted him. He didnít want to think about the matter anymore, just wanted to forget the whole damn thing had ever taken place. It was only one more nightmare he had to deal with in a life thatís past few years had been filled with them.

"Iím glad to hear that. Oh Aya, Yohji is so torn up about what he did, even if it wasnít his fault. You need to tell him that as soon as he comes back."

He wanted off this topic, now. "What about Kritiker. Did you inform them of the situation with Schwarz?"

"I needed to get more information on the drug, so I contacted Manx. I let her know that Schuldig had dosed Yohji, and I told her that you got into a fight with the telepath. Hopefully she wonít check up on your wounds." Omi hadnít wanted to tell the woman what the blond had done to his lover, he was afraid she would use it as an excuse to remove Yohji from the team. An excuse that she was avidly looking for. "I donít think Kritiker was too happy to learn that Schwarz is definitely involved with this mission, but hopefully it will buy us a few days as you recover."

"Hn." The redhead rested back against his pillows, head tilted back and eyes closed. Omi, evidently not ready to leave just yet, fussed around the room, moving the flowers around, partially closing the curtains, checking out the swordsmanís stereo. There was a click of plastic. "Aya?"

"The Saint Saensí cd. Should be to the left." A minute or two later melodic strings filled the room. The injured man hummed along softly, waiting for the next question.

"Aya, have you noticed something strange about Ken lately?"

"Heís fixated with me and is constantly angry with Kudoh. Been more short-tempered than usual, and half the time seems surprised by his actions and comments."

Omi looked back at his teammate, who still had his eyes closed. It was startling at times to realize how much the quiet man observed and stored away, all the while appearing caught up in his own troubles.

"Do you thinkÖ"

"Itís Schuldig? Yes."

"So what do we do about it?"

"Kill the man." The redheadís voice was pure ice.

"Uh, you do mean Schuldig, donít you Aya?" It paid to make sure, especially when the swordsman was involved.

A violet orb opened, glared briefly at the anxious teenager, and closed once more. "Kill Schuldig. Keep an eye on Hidaka. Thatís it. Unless you have a suggestion."

"No, nothing I can think of at the moment. Iíll go get your tea. And make some miso soup as well, you really need to eat something what with all the blood you lost. Are you warm enough, how about another blanket? Thereís the pain medication on the nightstand if you need it, Iíll only be a few minutes. Let me know if you want some help making it to the bathroom, you really should to keep your weight off that leg." Omi finally shut up and left the room.

"Hn." If he didnít have enough of a reason to gut the German before, he did now. There was nothing worse than a fussing Omi, and being unable to escape the boy.

*******

Another shot or no? Yohji thought, counting the empty tumblers in front of him. It was an impressive amount, even for him, and it wasnít doing any good. The image of Aya, unconscious and covered in bandages, still filled his mind. How could he have been so stupid? He knew Schuldig had been in the bar, and that he got a kick out of using people for his own twisted purposes. Why had he taken that last shot? Because a woman gave it to him? Or that he was so sure the German would go after Aya and never thought that heíd be used to hurt the man instead? Heíd been so focused on his lover, on trying to protect the man, that heíd let his guard down. Damn it.

What was the probability that Aya would want anything to do with him now? Was there a chance in hell they could salvage the relationship and put this event past them? Once more here he was, racking his brain trying to figure out how to get back into the mansí good graces, a mere two days after having just gotten back into them. The blond wasnít holding out much hope this time, there were certain things that couldnít be easily forgiven, and being raped by the person who supposedly loved you was one of them. Now he had to face the fact that through his own stupidity heíd most likely lost the one person who meant the most to him. Would Aya ask to be transferred to another team? Yohji would volunteer to be the one transferred, there was no reason for the redhead to suffer anymore than heíd already had. Somehow heíd just have to learn to live without the man.

<Or you could just find a nice sharp knife and put an end to all of our misery. Maybe do what your little slut did, and crash your car into something. I could provide you with a map to a suitable building if you like.>

"Schuldig? Where the hell are you, you fucking bastard." Yohji almost fell out of his chair from whipping around so quickly, trying to spot the German.

<Oh, please. Iím not stupid enough to let you find me. Just sit back down like the good little lush you are. As if you could even stand on your own two feet at this moment. Pathetic.>

"Show your face, you Germanic prick, and Iíll show you how pathetic I am." Visions of ripping the smug bastard apart limb by limb filled his head. It was remarkable how quickly he was sobering up.

<Hmm, a bit more original that what I usually get, but still not up to the level of the Kštzchen. He has a much better imagination when it comes to maiming people. And stop talking out loud, Iím a telepath, remember? Try using those few brain cells you havenít pickled to death yet. By the by, have I mentioned how much I love the hair? Nice touch. Maybe next time you can try green.>

"Come to gloat over what you caused last night, huh?" Yohji growled under his breath, refusing to do anything the asshole said. Even if he was beginning to get a couple odd looks his way.

<Hee hee. Iím surprised at how nasty you can be when in the right mood, Balinese. Even told meine weiŖe Kamelie that earlier. Donít think he appreciated it though. Who can blame the poor boy, with what you did to him.>

"You. Fucking. Bastard." What the hell had that German meant? His white flower? Did that mean Aya? Heíd been talking to Aya again?

<Yes, I get the point. Me evil. But did you ever stop to wonder just how pure you are, what with all the killing and now rape to add to your rťsumť? >

The blond was clenching his hands so tightly his nails bit into his palms. The pain helped him focus through the rage somewhat, kept him from getting out of his seat and tearing the place apart trying to find Schuldig.

<I commend your restraint. Too bad it was nowhere to be found last night, eh?>

"Why?" The question was snarled out.

<Why what? Why am I talking to you right now? Why did I have you abuse Abyssinian last night? Why is someone so annoyingly cheerful as Bombay still alive? Why are boy bands allowed to exist instead of being used for target practice? There are a lot of Ďwhysí out there Balinese, youíll have to narrow it down a bit.>

"Why are you doing this to Aya and I, you fucking asshole."

<My, what language. It almost shocks my tender sensibilities. Why am I doing this? Because you dared to touch something that belonged to me.>

"What?"

<Shh, keep it down or theyíll be getting a little white jacket ready for you and reserving you a room right next to Farfie. Just think about it, you Wichser.>

Grinding his teeth together kept him from screaming his anger and frustration out loud. "Youíre talking about Aya, arenít you?"

<Correct in one. Gee, maybe you were a real detective after all. Abyssinian is mine, I claimed him first. Long before he ever ended up in your bed. You never should have laid a finger on him. Among other things.>

"Donít you think he has a say in the matter? Seems to me youíre right up there on his ĎPeople who need to die right nowí list.

<Have you checked the list for your name lately? At least I never raped him. Well, in a physical sense at least.>

"YouÖ"

<Fucking bastard. Yes yes, we already went over that. Really, it gets annoying. You should try spending time in KnuddelhšŖchens mind. Quite a treat that. All those wonderful emotions bottled up, so tumultuous and deep. But you have an idea, youíve been manipulating the kitten a bit yourself, using his feeling to your advantage. Donít you just love the rush of messing with a personís mind and heart?>

"I donít know what youíre talking about."

<Oh yes you do. You dragged Abyssinian kicking and screaming into unknown waters, let him flounder around a bit before diving in and giving him something to latch onto. Iíve been in your head, remember. Youíve used his inexperience and love for you to get your way for the past several weeks. What do you think last night was about, the whole little scenario you came up with. That as all /you/, just not restrained by your conscience anymore. ĎPlayingí with /your/ kitten. Iím touched to see you didnít tear him up though, it really must be love.>

<The funny thing is heís probably going to forgive you eventually, just like he always has. Never too great a sacrifice for the ones he loves, and all that bullshit. Look at his current profession for proof, and all for a vegetable. And then thereís such a perfect villain like me to take the fall for you. I really didnít think it would work to break the two of you up, at least not right away. But forever in his mind now there will be the knowledge of what you are capable of. That you could use and hurt him without a care for his wishes. Heíll never be able to forget last night, and that will give me the beginning I need to make him hate you. All it takes is a little seed, planted deep. And I know the Kštzchenís psyche inside and out. Didnít he ever tell you about the dreams heís had for the past three years? Where I come to pay him a visit and talk? But he hasnít, has he? Iím the only one he can reveal his true self too. I had a nice chat with him the other morning, which he didnít share with you. Already there is a little part of him that doesnít trust you. That knows itís only a matter of time before you betray him again. I know something that youíve only begun to guess, and itís going to be a hell of a party when you figure it out. Abyssinian will be all mine then.>

Gods, but he had one hell of a headache. Schuldig had been pestering Aya all this time and he never warned WeiŖ about it? No wonder the man was constantly in a foul mood, what with the telepathic bastard mind-fucking him the past couple years. But why hadnít he told Yohji?

<Well, Iím off now. No need to bore me with the ĎIíll kill you the next time I lay eyes on youí speech. Already had that once today, from Abyssinian no less. Take care of my kitty for me, or I might have to do something you /really/ wonít like. Enjoy the little bit of time you have left with him. Iíve been in such a giving mood lately, but Iím sure youíll find that out shortly. Taa.>

 

"Wait a minute you shithead," Yohji stood up, scanning the room. There was no sign of anybody leaving. If Schuldig had even been in the bar in the first place. Once again he was being treated to a variety of looks, and there was some whispering going on around him. Not knowing what the Schwarz prick was up too, he decided he better get home and check up on Aya and the others. And maybe try to get a few answers from his lover. If the redhead would even speak to him. ĎHe talks to that German fucker, he better be prepared to talk to me.í The blond threw down some money on his table and stalked out of the room, mind occupied on what he was going to do to the telepath the next time he caught up with him. Maybe there was a book of medieval tortures he could find for some new ideas. Not that he was in any danger of running out of his own.

 

*******

"Here you go, have a nice day." Ken waved goodbye to the blushing girl as she exited the shop, rushing out to join her friends and gush over how kind the brunet had been to her. Shaking his head at the antics of one of his fan club, he spotted a familiar car driving down the street. That was enough to ruin the good mood heíd worked so hard to obtain all afternoon. Yohji was back. Fury ebbing its way back into his blood, the assassin waited a few minutes to see if the man would join him and Omi in the shop. When it became clear he wasnít, Ken caught his co-workerís attention, pointed upstairs and mouthed ĎAyaí. Occupied with a late day customer, all the blue eyed boy could do was nod his head and smile nervously.

Ken took the steps three at a time. There was only one reason Kudoh had returned and was sneaking into the house. The man wanted to see his boyfriend again, maybe hurt him a little more. All rational thought quickly fled the brunetís mind as it was filled with pictures of what Yohji could do to the wounded redhead. Reaching the hallway, he raced towards the man, who was right in front of Ayaís door. Yelling an inarticulated cry of rage, he barreled into the taller man and knocked him to the floor. Straddling the stunned blond, he commenced pummeling him with all of his anger-fueled strength. Yohji fought back at first, getting a few good blows in, but was soon overwhelmed by the barrage. He wasnít dealing with a quite sane person anymore, and had left his watch on his dresser. As soon as the blond stopped struggling, Ken wrapped his hands around the manís throat and started to squeeze. Something was goading him on, calling for the other manís blood. It was all Yohji could do to try and wheeze out his friendís name, hands feebly clawing at the ones cutting off his air.

Suddenly the door to Ayaís room opened, and the bandaged man stumbled on top of the embattled couple. Yohji took advantage of the confusion to wrench himself away from the berserker and slam him back into the wall repeatedly. "What the hell is your problem? You just tried to kill me." The words were accented by yet another series of blows.

"Kudoh, stop it, itís not him." The blond looked down on the slender hand attempting to restrain his arm, then up to its owner. Aya was staring intently at Ken, his lips narrowed in pain.

"What do you mean? Itís the insane asshole whoís been after my head the past few days. This time heÖ" Yohji cut off the sentence as those violet eyes focused on him with that Ďthink you idiotí glare he almost got as much as the Ďshi-neí one. His conversation with Schuldig rushed back, along with the cryptic comment about him being in a giving mood. And of planting seeds. "Shit, you mean itís that damn telepath again?" Aya nodded his head as he removed his hand.

Gods, that bastard just kept piling up the reasons he was going to be divided into seven body parts. "Iím about ready to stake the prickís head on top of the Koneko." Eying the dazed brunet, Yohji tensed when he heard someone else running up the steps. Omi rushed over to his friends and collapsed on the floor, staring back and forth at the bruised and beaten men. Then he looked at Aya.

"Whatís going on up here? I heard the noise in the shop and ran up as soon as I got rid of the customers. And what are you doing out of bed, Aya?"

Aya glared at the younger man and snarled "Ken was trying to kill him. Donít know why I bothered." A crimson head was jerked in Yohjiís direction. Omi turned his attention to him.

"I came back to check up on Aya after having a mental run-in with Schuldig." Both of the conscious men were startled to hear that. "Before I could get in his room, Ken came charging at me and proceeded to beat the shit out of me and try to strangle me." The manís tenor voice was harsh from the abuse his throat had been through. "Aya must have heard the commotion as well and came to investigate." Yohji looked over at his lover, who nodded, not saying a word. "He surprised Ken, which let me get away from him and knock some sense into the idiot, then you came to join the fun." Once more glancing over at the silent man, he asked "How long have you known about Ken? Why didnít you warn me the bastard had his claws in him?"

Aya just shook his head and leaned back against the wall, face paling as he tried to straighten his injured thigh. "We just talked about this earlier today, Yohji-kun. I donít think we had all the pieces figured out until Schuldig used you to hurt Aya last night. And you took off right after you woke up." Omi kept looking back and forth between the couple. At Aya who wouldnít meet Yohjiís eyes, and Yohji staring intently at his lover. "What are we going to do with Ken?"

"Iíll handle him, got an idea. Those handcuffs still in my room?" Omi nodded his head. "Good, time to return the favor." The lanky man stood to his feet, eyes still focused on Aya. He reached a hand down, an offering to help the wounded man stand. The redhead just stared at it a moment or two, then struggled to get up on his own. After several unsuccessful tries, all ending with his leg collapsing under his weight, he tentatively clasped the proffered limb, letting Yohji pull him to his feet. As soon as he was standing though, he released the hold, swaying slightly with one hand on the wall for support. Guess thatís better than nothing, the blond thought. "Omi, you help Aya get back to bed while I deal with Ken."

He bent down and grabbed the brunet by his arms, dragging the man to his bedroom. Once there, he left Ken sitting on the floor, but used the handcuffs to chain his teammate raised hands to the bed frame. Heíd have to remember to get the keys off of Omi later. Kneeling besides the unconscious figure, Yohji slapped the athlete a few times.

"Wakey wakey, time to get up now, Hidaka." Around the fifth or sixth slap Ken sputtered back to life. Upon seeing Yohji, he started snarling and struggled to get at him. The blond let him exhaust himself as he smoked a cigarette. When he was finished with the smoke, he slapped the brunet again. "Stop that. Now listen to me, tell me why you just attempted to murder me in the hall."

"You bastard! I told you to stay away from Aya. You were probably trying to hurt him again. Iíll kill you!" Okay, Yohji was officially creeped out. He had just found himself sympathizing with Schuldig. No surprise the guy was an annoying asshole if everyone talked to him just like Ken had right now.

So he slapped the younger man again. Whack. "Not good enough. You should realize last night wasnít me, it was the drug. Now try again. Why are you mad at me?"

"Because youíre an fucking bastard."

Whack. "Nope, gotta be another reason than that, or youíd have killed me over a year ago."

"Iím going to kill you now, you lazy self-centered prick."

Whack. "We went over this the other day. Youíve always been mad over that, never tried to kill me for it though."

"Stop hitting me! You murdering slut."

Whack. Yohji hoped they got to the little Ďseedí that Schuldig planted sometime soon. His hand was getting sore, and Kenís face was going to be bruised for days. This might have held a little bit of satisfaction at the beginning, but he was getting tired of beating the shit out of the brunet in order to find out what the telepath had twisted inside of him. That fucker liked to take an existing problem and pervert it into something he could use. Breaking Ken out of his control meant finding what had originally made the man mad at him. "Letís try something new. What comes to mind when I mention Aya and me?"

"Youíre a filthy rapist, Kudoh. Finally showing your true colors. Heíll never want anything to do with you now. Never should have touched him, you lying whore."

Okay, now they were getting somewhere. "You obviously have a problem with me being involved with Aya. Why didnít you say something, I thought you were happy about the situation."

Ken appeared confused. The brunet was desperately trying to control himself, but was being torn in two. Part of him, now that he was a bit calmer, was appalled at what heíd done to Yohji and what he was saying. Another part refused to settle down, kept spewing hate at the sight of the older man. "I was, I mean, why donít you just shut up and untie me?"

Whack. "Not until we work this out. Schuldigís using you, Kenken. Heís warped your mind to hate me and we need to fix that. So tell me whatís been making you so angry. Is it because you love Aya too? You upset I got him instead of you?"

"No, yes, wait a minute." Whack. "Stop hitting me you lecherous prick. How the hell am I supposed to think if you keep doing that?"

Hmm, that sounded a bit more like the Hidaka he knew. "Explain yourself, and Iíll stop."

Feeling more like his old self, Ken let out a sigh. "I donít love Aya, or want to sleep with him. I mean, heís gorgeous and all, butÖ"

"Youíre not into guys." Oh, that was interesting, the brunet didnít agree, but just hung his head down on his chest. Yohji lit another cigarette as he tried to figure out this new kink. "Okay, youíre not into Aya. So this isnít about jealousy." Ken remained silent, and drew his knees up to his chest. "Or is it because you are jealous? Answer me Hidaka, or Iíll whap you again."

"Youíve no right to be loving anybody. Isnít that what you told me? I didnít have the right to love Yuriko, to be happy with her since I was a killer. Well, youíre one too, but there you were, just so frickení happy all the time since you had Aya. Always dragging him off to do stuff, or to fool around."

"Ken, Yuriko was an innocent. If Iíd let you leave the group and run away with her, Kritiker would have tracked you down, and most likely killed you and her. Hell, they might have even sent WeiŖ to do it. You knew the deal when you signed on. Aya and I, well, that just sorta happened. I never thought it would, had even given up hope for it before this thing started. But weíre both WeiŖ, thereís no hiding what we do from each other. We donít have any secrets that can hurt the other." Or at least he had thought that, before this afternoon. Aya had known Schuldig for three years, had Ďtalkedí to the telepath on a semi-regular basis from the sounds of it, and hadnít told a soul. Hadnít told /Yohji/.

"Thatís why I hate you." It was more of a whisper than a statement.

"What was that? What does that mean? Ken, Iím serious. You better say something soon before I smack you upside the head with that lamp over there."

"I said thatís why I hate you. Because you found someone to love anyways. Come on, you got /Aya/ to love you. Donít tell me that didnít take a lot of work. But obviously you didnít give up. You must have had the courage to tell him how you felt at some point, the man is completely oblivious to anybody wanting him. You took the chance that heíd hate you or be disgusted with you, and you got him after all. And Iím too scared of changing things, of not even having a friendship to cling to if I say anything. It never should have worked out for you, Yohji , but somehow it did. And now I have to live with being a coward, of seeing what might be everyday. Thatís why Iíve been so mad lately. Itís so much easier to just take it out on you than face myself. You were the one who had something that I wanted." Ken closed his eyes, refusing to let himself breakdown in front of his friend. He felt so hollow now, all the anger finally gone.

Stubbing out his cigarette, Yohji ran a hand through his hair. "Well dammit, I wasnít expecting that. Why donít you tell the chibi? It is the chibi, isnít it? I canít see him hating you for it, and you might be surprised. Heís always had a soft spot for you."

"I just canít. Not right now at least. Iím not even sure if itís love, or just the need to have someone to hold onto. Until I figure that out, I wonít say a word."

"Itís your life, Iím not going to interfere. But watch out that Schuldig doesnít try and use that against any of us again. You should have said something, Ken. If anybody would have understood, itís me."

Ken finally looked up at the blond, a bitter smile on his face. "Didnít think anything of it until you started dating Aya. Youíve been a bit occupied with that lately. And I think part of me was in the dark about the whole thing until you tried smacking some sense into me. Yohji, Iím sorry about the past few days."

The blond sat down on his bed. "Donít sweat it, it wasnít you. Yet another thing to add to Schuldigís bill. The bastard better be paying it sometime soon."

Opening his mouth to ask Yohji what he was going to do about last night, the younger man decided to forget about that. "So will you uncuff me now?"

"Shit, have to get the keys from Omi. Iíll be right back. Consider yourself lucky you donít have to spend the night in those things. Not even going to ask the chibi why he owns them."

Speeding down the hall, Yohji called out to the youth. "Oy! Kiddo, whereíd you put those keys at? And break out the ice, I think Ken and I are going to need it." He wandered into the kitchen, and came to a halt. Omi was standing there, talking to Manx. "Oh, there you are. Hi, Manx." That last bit sounded less than thrilled.

"Hello Kudoh. Might I say you look a little worse for wear. She took in the tossled hair, disheveled clothes, the split lip and bruised neck and right cheek. "Those look fresh. More problems?"

"Manx just walked in, and I was explaining the situation to her. Is Ken alright now?" Omi handed over the small keys.

"I think so. Might want to keep an eye on him, just in case. But I think we figured out what Schwarz was using to make him so angry."

Manx gazed at the green eyed man, plainly curious. "And that was?"

"None of yours or Kritikerís business." Yohji ignored Omi hissing his name at him. "I think itís resolved now, thatís all that matters. Do you need us for this little discussion, or can we try and clean ourselves up?"

"I just stopped by to get an update from Omi, and find out how you were doing. No lasting effects from the drug I take it."

Other than having his lover despise him? "No, none that I can think of." With that he turned around and left the room.

"Heís still shaken up over the whole ordeal. Yohji felt really bad when he came to this morning."

"Why did he take the drug in the first place?"

Omi busied himself with preparing dinner, not very pleased that Manx kept pursuing the topic. "Schuldig was involved in that. Must have used the bartender to slip it in his drink." He hated lying to the woman.

"And Mika Suzukiís as well, apparently. The tests were positive for the drug. So much for Kudohís contact. Did WeiŖ manage to find anything out last night, what with Balinese being drugged and Abyssinian fighting Schuldig?"

"Ken mentioned a Roy Nama he believed was dealing, and Aya saw a man named Kenchō Uehara sell the drug. I was hoping to spend the evening tracking down what I could on them. As soon as Yohji and Ken are up to it, theyíll go back and have a Ďchatí with the men. Find out who their employers are. Might be as early as tomorrow night."

Manx continued to stare at the youthís back, mentally willing him to turn around and look at her. He was hiding something, that was for sure. Since when had Omi sided with WeiŖ over her? "And when do you think Fujimiya will be back to mission ready? Your report was a bit vague on exactly how he was wounded in that fight with Schuldig." If there even was a fight.

Chopping the vegetables gave him an excuse to not face the redheaded woman. "Schuldig worsened his injuries from Tuesday night. It will be a few days at least before heís ready for anything. I could use some help with the research, so it shouldnít be a problem." And it would give Omi some time to finish with his side project. Which was becoming more important every day.

"Let me get this straight. Hidaka and Kudoh just tried to kill each other, and Fujimiya, since he hasnít come downstairs or killed the other two for acting like idiots, is clearly laid up and unable to do much. All on top of Kudoh messing up another mission, once again causing a teammate to be hurt."

"It wasnít his fault!" Omi whirled around, blue eyes even wider with anger. "When was the last time you had a telepath of Mastermindís talent mess around with your head? And the mission is still salvageable. Weíve verified that Schwarz is involved, didnít we, and that the users are susceptible to telepathic suggestions. WeiŖ paid a heavy price for that information, and Kritiker should be content. Schwarz is clearly trying their best to throw us off-balance, but we are still doing the job. They were probably responsible for the Teshi fiasco as well, it was right around then that things started to go wrong. So tell your bosses to back off and give us some time to do things our way. WeiŖ has always come through in the end, havenít we?"

Manx could only look at the young man she had helped raise for a moment, and then added in a very serious voice. "Kritiker is your employer as well, Omi. I donít know if I made this clear before, but Ďmy bossesí are rather worried about this mission. And that uneasiness only increased as soon as Schwarz was mentioned. They are paying close attention to what is going on, and should you fail, they will be looking for a scapegoat. I refuse to let that be you."

"All Iím asking is that you and Kritiker give us the time and leeway to finish the assignment our way. With no threats of transferals hanging over our heads. Canít you just tell them that we are working hard and leave it at that? After all that has happened, there is no way that WeiŖ is going to let Schwarz beat us. We will track down the source of the drug and put it out of commission. Please, just give us a week. That is all Iím asking."

Staring into pleading sapphire eyes, Manx let out a sigh. "Alright, but I still think itís a mistake. Iíll placate the higher ups while you concentrate on getting the job done. But I warn you, Iím all set to transfer Kudoh out of this group if something else goes wrong. If I donít do it the next time he screws up, it will be /my/ head as well as yours. While Iím doing this for you, Iíd appreciate it if you could do something for me. Donít worry, nothing difficult. Just let me know if Fujimiya has any trouble sleeping. I have to go, so take care. Good night, Omi."

"Good night Manx." Omi watched the woman leave, knowing that he had upset her, but unwilling to do what she felt necessary to set things right. So the only thing left to do was to worry about something he could easily handle, and that was dinner. And wonder about her odd request.

*******

Aya looked up from his book at the sound of the knock. "Omi, leave me alone."

The door opened anyway. For a moment Aya contemplated throwing the book, but knew he didnít want to have to crawl out of bed to retrieve it, or deal with a pouting, fussy Omi. When he saw who it was that came in, he almost reversed the decision, but decided he didnít want food spilled all over his clean floor. He could throw the book after Kudoh set the tray down.

"Omi said you needed some dinner. I volunteered to bring it up while heís helping to straighten Kenís head out." Heíd left the younger assassins downstairs for some Ďqualityí time together, hoping that it would put Ken at ease. He doubted the brunet was going to spill his heart out to Omi, but the genki blond had an annoying habit of making people feel better when they were upset. Plus it gave Yohji an excuse to brave his way into the redheadís room, and find out just how much Aya hated him.

"The chibi made a fish chowder just for you. Did a great job, and it wasnít even his night to cook. Should help you get back on your feet in no time." He was pretty close to babbling, which was understandable since Aya refused to say a word to him. The swordsman just lay on his bed, staring at Yohji with the corner of his eye, a thick tome held in his hand. The man was up to something.

"Hmm, doesnít look like there is a lot of space to put this thing down." The tray was filled with a steaming bowl of chowder, a pot of tea and mug, a bowl of rice, some juice and a few cherry tarts. Omi was optimism personified if he thought Aya was going to eat all of it. The blond didnít want to set it on his loverís lap, so he searched for an uncovered space to put it until he cleared away some of the flower arrangements. Setting the dinner down on a chair, he straightened up in time to catch the book in his chest instead of his head. "What the?" Damn, that hurt. "Donít you think that was just the tiniest bit childish?"

"Get out." Yohji was surprised to see that frost hadnít settled on the windows from the chill of that voice.

"Sorry, under orders to make sure you eat everything before I can leave. So yell your pretty redhead off, but unless that tray is empty youíll have to deal with the wrath of Nurse Omi. And then eat whatever he serves you after that as well." He was improvising, hoping the smaller man wouldnít call him on the bluff. But it was an inspired threat.

Aya just glared at him for a few seconds before deciding to ignore his presence completely. Yohji let out a mental victory cheer and moved to clear the nightstand of its vases. He put the flowers on the floor and the tray in the vacant space. Realizing that Aya wouldnít acknowledge the meal as long as he was standing nearby, the blond walked back to the chair and sat down. Like the bed, it was very uncomfortable. Aya seemed to choose only very uncomfortable Western style furniture.

After several minutes of silence, Aya reached for the teapot. "How do I know you didnít tamper with anything? You seem to like taking advantage of a situation." The deep voice was harsh and bitter, and the redhead still refused to look at Yohji.

"Because I think the spiked drink thing has been played out. If Iíd wanted to have sex with a drugged body, I could have done it earlier when you were knocked out by whatever Omi was shooting in you."

"No, you prefer a bit of struggle, donít you." Okay, the bell had just dinged and Aya was out of his corner and swinging hard. And a bit low. Yohji assumed it was better than being ignored, but the pain that wasnít completely hidden in the manís voice tore at his heart.

"I know you probably donít want to hear this, but Aya, I am truly sorry. I shouldnít have let down my guard like that last night and left myself open for Schuldig. It was inexcusable, and to be quite honest what happened afterwards is unforgivable. But I thought, I mean Omi told me that you understood that it wasnít really my fault. That it was the drug and Schuldig that is to blame." And that sounded absolutely pathetic, thank you very much. He couldnít believe he just said that.

Aya sipped at his tea, trying to calm himself down. The mere thought of Yohji being in the same room as him, when he could barely get out of bed and defend himself, was grating on his nerves. One of his hands drifted off the teacup and down under his sheets, where his katana rested. All he wanted to do was to ignore the man, but knew the blond would never leave unless he spoke to him. An extremely aggravating habit Yohji had picked up in the past month or so. Besides, maybe he could vent some of the bitterness and anger that consumed him at the moment. "I said I knew Schuldig was to blame. I didnít say I forgave you. You might not have willingly taken the drug, but it was still working on your thoughts and desires. Part of you wanted to do what you did last night."

"Wait a minute. I can honestly say Iíve /never/ fantasized about beating you bloody and raping you. Tie you up, yes, but only with your consent. Iíve never forced myself on another living person, ever. That smirking bastard even admitted heíd put me up to the deed. If he hadnít been involved things would have never gotten that far out of hand."

"No, youíd just have screwed anything and everything that came your way, just like you did that woman youíd spent the night talking to."

"What?" Okay, no one had mentioned that little fact to him. {Then you or Schuldig did something to make Aya come home alone, and you followed him.} He remembered Omi telling him that earlier. Shit. So not only had he raped Aya, heíd cheated on him as well. No wonder the redhead had left the bar. He had probably been warming up in the gym before tracking Yohji down to emasculate him when the whole Ďincidentí had occurred. "Let me guess, good ole Schuldig was involved in that one as well. Gods, does that man live up to his name or what." From the sudden interest Aya had taken with the contents of his cup, the blond was betting heíd hit it on the mark with the next to last comment.

"Not at any point in our relationship have I ever entertained the notion of cheating on you. Why would I? Youíre everything Iíve ever wanted in a lover, I wouldnít risk losing that." The redhead just poured himself another cup of tea. "I refuse to let you end things over something that wasnít my fault. You have to give me another chance."

"I already did, remember? Now get out."

"No, you didnít touch your supper. And a pot of tea doesnít constitute as dinner."

"Fine, Iíll eat, you shut up then leave."

Yohji sat in silence for a few minutes, watching his lover toy with his meal. Omi had spent too much time and care on the dish for Aya to just pick at it. "Thereís something else I need to talk to you about." He was rewarded with a bone-chilling look before the injured man resumed stirring his chowder. "During my discussion with the bastard today, he told me something." It was funny how over the past day or so Ďthat bastardí had come to mean Schuldig. Pretty soon and everyone would be saying it in capital letters. "That youíve known him for three years, and during that whole time heís mentally contacted you via dreams. Donít you think that was something WeiŖ should have known?" Oh that got Aya to eat his meal, anything to have an excuse to not answer back.

The blond just practiced his sense of patience as the smaller man slowly ate his dinner. However, it was only a matter of time before Aya was full, and had no excuse to be silent any longer. "Iím done, now leave."

"Trayís not empty. Maybe if you put your energy into eating and not trying to kill me with a look youíd be able to finish everything. You never answered my question. And donít even think of throwing me out, or Omi and Ken will be up here in a flash. Then youíll have the pleasure of explaining it to them as well." The lanky man expected to receive another glare for his impertinence, and was startled to see Aya lay back on his pillows, violet eyes closed and being rubbed by his hands.

"Do you have any idea howÖ /wearying/ you are? Canít you just leave this for another time?"

"No. Iím sorry, but the bastard is screwing around with all of our heads, yours and mine in particular. I need to know all I can about him if I hope to fight back. To make him pay for what heís done to us."

"Not Omiís."

"Not Omiís what?" Silence. Yet another conversation with Aya featuring those out of nowhere remarks. Wait a minute. "You mean Omiís head, huh? Now that you mention it, he is the only one not being messed around with. Any clue why?"

"Ö.."

"Aya, Iím serious. I know youíre mad at me, but itís all of our lives and sanities at stake here."

The redhead knew Yohji had made a point. As much as having a conversation with the man, as if nothing had happened, was proving painful, things could get much worse if he remained silent. At the very least the older man would carry through with his threat, and what Omi knew Kritiker would soon know. That meant a return to the weekly psych exams and sessions, as his employers worked to undo the damage the telepath created. It had been bad enough before, but throw in the rape and Schuldigís disturbing behavior earlier, and those sessions would be pure hell. "Mastermind was involved in the bombing of my familyís company. I met him on the day they were killed. He should have killed me as well, but for some reason he let me live. From that point on he considered me his." Yohji growled, ready to spew forth some choice obscenities on the manís sexual preference and family background, only to have a slim hand be held up and stop him. "Donít, not right now. This is why I havenít said anything before."

"Kritiker knows about the situation. Schuldig started appearing in my dreams while I was with my first team." The blond was instantly alert, his lover almost never mentioned his time in Kritiker before joining WeiŖ. "Things werenít so bad, and I thought I was just dreaming the encounters, making them up in my head. But, after I lost my teammates Schuldig got much worse. That was when Kritiker found out. They tried to help me block him, and after a time it seemed to work. But it was just him getting bored, or leaving the country or whatever that caused the break. Over the past three years its been almost cyclic, heíll leave me alone for a while, and then start the nightmares all over. Sometimes I donít think its even him, that at times they truly are just dreams."

"Why didnít you tell us? Were you ever going to let me know?"

"I kept it from WeiŖ because it was /my/ problem. It never interfered with anything in the past. As for you, if Iíd told you youíd probably had tried to go after the bastard. And be killed."

"Give me a little credit." He would have gone after the German alright, but Aya should have more faith in his fighting skills than that.

"You donít deserve any. At one point, there was a teammate who was interested in me. Schuldig told me if I started anything with the man, heíd kill him. There was no way I was going to let you know about the dreams."

"Heís kept you away from everyone, hasnít he."

"Itís my life Kudoh, my choices. I wasnít attracted toÖ to the man, so it didnít bother me much. Just Schuldig making empty threats and thinking he could control how I lived."

"And me? You started something with me."

"Schuldig had left me alone most of the time during the Takatori affair, and since it ended. I thought maybe heíd found someone else to torment. I wasnít exactly thinking of him during the time."

"So thatís what he has against us. Ken was just used as a means to get at me. But why is Omi still okay. He is, isnít he?"

"I donít know for sure, but I think so. Schuldig answers to Crawford, heís the one pulling his strings. Something is making him hold the German back, or youíd be dead already. Heís not one for letting a rival live."

"Yeah, but Ken just tried to kill me."

"Schuldig probably just twisted something inside and let Ken go. He most likely wasnít supposed to strangle you to death. Just over-reacted. So if someone wants us hurting, but not dead, there needs to be a teammate left unaffected to try and pick up the pieces, to keep things from going to far. And thatís Omi."

He just loved how the manís brain worked. How the cold, analytical side that made him such a good field leader surveyed a situation and put things together in a manner not even Omi the boy genius could rival. It was so easy right now to just close his eyes and pretend that it was one of those nights that he managed to get his lover to open up and have a real conversation with him. Such a rare treat. Yohji was so afraid of opening his mouth and ruining the moment, of having Aya tell him that was enough and for him to leave that he just sat there quietly, barely breathing.

Glancing over at the blond, Aya shook his head. Part of him wanted to get out of bed and chop the man into little pieces, another to throw him out the door, and yet another just sit there watching him. His mind knew it was Schuldigís fault that the whole thing had happened, but his body still remembered the pain. He didnít want the German to succeed in his attempt to foil the relationship, that was letting the bastard win. And he refused to allow something that unpardonable to happen. So that left him with what? Forgiving the blond? Yet again? That was getting to be an exasperating habit. {Oniisan, Iím sorry. I didnít mean to ruin your book. I just thought it would look so pretty with some pictures in it.} Aya-chan had taken one of his favorite books and reduced it to a stuck-together, multicolor block of pulp. He still remembered the tears in her eyes. Despite losing a prized possession, it hadnít taken any effort at all to forgive her, that time or the many other times her enthusiasm outpaced her common sense. He just couldnít stay mad at her. At anybody he truly loved. He cared for so few people his whole life, he could count them on one hand and have fingers left over. Now the trick was seeing if Yohji truly belonged in that group

But that didnít mean he couldnít make the manís life a living hell for the next couple of days. Maybe teach the blond a lesson or two in the process. It looked as if Yohji wasnít going to budge from the chair as long as Aya let him sit there. And that chair was the most uncomfortable one heíd found in a weekend of shopping. A means of discouraging his annoying new roommates from making themselves at home in his room. So Aya just settled down in his bed, wincing at the various hurts and aches, and closed his eyes. His body needed the rest to heal, and he really didnít want to sleep alone, not with the probability that Schuldig would be paying a visit. Right before he drifted off, he heard the older man get out of the chair and cross the room to the bed. Hand tightening on his weapon, the redhead realized that Yohji was just taking one of the many blankets Omi had piled on his bed, and resumed his spot in the chair. Relaxing the slightest bit, Aya thought about the German who took such delight in making his life a living hell. ĎIím going to prove everything you said is nothing but a lie Schuldig, just you wait and see.í

*******

Schuldig strolled into Crawfordís office, once again whistling and surrounded by an air of contentment. Which was abruptly shattered when the American slapped him.

"What the hell was that for?" the telepath snarled, rubbing his sore cheek.

"I told you to mess with WeiŖ, /but to leave them alive/. Siberian would have killed Balinese if Abyssinian hadnít stepped in. We need /all/ of them alive, or we will be dead by the end of the year. Is that what you want? Answer me."

<No.> "I didnít order Siberian to kill Balinese."

"Of course not, youíre too slippery for that. Most likely you just tweaked something in his head and let nature run its course. Heís not the most stable member of the team, and thatís saying something."

"So why are you bitching, no harm no foul."

"Because you are letting things get out of control, all because of your obsession with Abyssinian. We are in the middle of an important mission, one that Esset will have our heads over if we fail. Iím ordering you to back off from WeiŖ as of now. Youíve done more than enough damage to keep them occupied."

<Not a good idea, Bradley.> If the prick was mad at him anyways, might at well take advantage of the situation. <Give them time to regroup and theyíll be down our throats in a heartbeat.>

"Donít make me repeat myself, Schuldig. Now I want you go to this address and keep an eye on Dr. Gotō. And pay attention to what heís doing. His research will be critical to Esset in the next several months. We canít take any risks of losing the data. Leave.Ē

Schuldig stormed out of the room, furious at his leader. So he wanted the kittens to be left alone, did he? The man would regret that decision, and the German would make sure his employers found out who had made that call. But very well, heíd leave Siberian and Balinese alone. But his relationship with Abyssinian was more important than the one with Crawford, and he wasnít giving that up.

 

*******

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