Balance

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Chapter 7

*******

Aya looked away from the floral arrangement he was working on to the two flowers Yohji had dropped on his table. Twirling the pimpernel and jonquil between slender fingers, he spied the blond slowly walking towards the greenhouse, glancing back over his shoulder with a positively wicked smile on his face. For someone who did a suspiciously abysmal job of arranging flowers, the playboy had an interesting grasp of the Victorian floral language. Taking in the quiet atmosphere of the shop, with Omi at the counter, schoolbooks in front of him and Ken sweeping a clean floor, the redhead shrugged his shoulders and followed his lover.

As soon as he stepped into the greenhouse, two long arms swept out to gather the swordsman into an embrace. "Caught ya, does that mean I get to keep you?" Yohji inquired, one honey colored eyebrow lifted above a sparkling emerald eye.

"Hn."

"There’s my kitten, ever the conversationalist." Before the smaller man could retort back, the playboy lowered his head and initiated an ardent kiss. Aya lost himself in the sensation of skilled lips and tongue delving deep into his mouth, stealing away his breath and making his knees weak. In response the arms around him tightened, forcing his body tight against the lanky blond, letting him feel just how excited his lover was at the moment. He reached up and removed a pair of ever-present sunglasses and gumband that held back the shoulder length locks, running his hands through the hair after he set the accessories aside. The redhead’s world narrowed down to the feeling of silk between his fingers, that demanding mouth on his, and the rigid heat rocking back and forth against his pelvis that was stirring a similar hardness from him. This was heaven. When Yohji started to trail his lips down the smaller man’s neck, Aya let out a low moan that was half purr, fingers tightening on the honey blond strands. He felt himself be lifted up on to the edge of a worktable, and wrapped his legs around his lover.

Impatient hands began tugging at his clothes, the mouth more demanding and almost harsh as it nipped and suckled with a bruising intensity. Eyes tightly shut so as to concentrate on the pleasure coursing through his body, the redhead tugged on his boyfriend’s hair at one sharp bite. It was then that he noticed that something was different, that Yohji’s hair felt longer and straighter and wasn’t scented by the peppermint shampoo he used. Pulling back from his lover, violet eyes opened and stared at a smirking Schuldig.

"You fucking bastard." Aya hissed out, his hands jerking through the long reddish mane. Before he could do much more, he felt the now familiar paralysis grip him, freezing him still with his hands in the German’s hair and legs wrapped tight around the man’s waist.

"So nice to see you too, Kätzchen. Couldn’t resist taking advantage of such a tempting opportunity. Maybe I should be just the tiniest bit thankful for Balinese, your dreams have become much more interesting since he’s been screwing you."

Mouth opening to heap abuse on the amused telepath, Aya found no sound emerging.

As violet eyes increased the intensity of animosity directed at the foreigner, Schuldig chuckled softly while resuming where he’d been interrupted, kissing an exposed collarbone. <Sorry about that, Knuddelhäschen, but I don’t have much time right now. Normally would love to hear you whisper the usual terms of endearment in my ears, but I just dropped in for a brief visit. Save them for next time.> He drank in the waves of hate and frustration emanating from the silenced man, who was much too angry to form coherent thoughts. Perfect. Schuldig had managed to steal a few moments from his bodyguard duties to drop in on his Süßen, as much to spite Crawford as to have a bit of fun playing. He’d spent precious time urging the Kätzchen’s subconscious into the sexual fantasy, but it had been worth it to create such an excellent opening. Aya’s guard had been down at the beginning, letting the German sink his mental hooks in deep before the swordsman realized he was no longer dreaming about his lover.

Too bad there wasn’t any more time to continue this little session, what with the American most likely to live up to his threat from the previous evening if he ever found out about this visit. <Gotta go now. But here’s a little present to remember me by.> Using those hooks, Schuldig turned the animosity and anger to pleasure and lust, watching as the violet orbs went wide and darkened with desire. <Remember, meine weiße Kamelie, its your choice between /this/ or,> a savage twist, filling the still form with molten agony, <this. Something to think about for the next time, neh?> He left the pain-wracked man in the dream greenhouse. With a bit of luck, Kudoh wouldn’t find such a willing lover the next time he dragged the redhead back to the conservatory.

*******

Body tight from imaginary pain, Aya woke up. And found himself entwined with Yohji. The two men were facing each other, arms wrapped around the other and legs entangled, with the smaller man’s head tucked under a pointy chin. Mind exhausted from the telepath’s escapades, he didn’t find himself reacting with panic or anger at the blond’s proximity. In fact the familiar scent of cigarette smoke and spices that clung to Kudoh was oddly soothing, helping to wash away the aroma of expensive cologne that had accompanied the German. It seemed that he had unconsciously reacted to Schuldig’s mental presence by seeking out comfort and a grounding touch to reality. Recalling the beginning of his dream that Schuldig’s presence hadn’t quite obliterated, Aya felt his body relaxing as his mind bottled up all the negative memories, refusing to let the prick affect him anymore. Blowing a wavy strand of hair away from his face, the redhead let himself be lulled back to sleep by the quiet snores, as a sense of peace washed away the last of the ache.

Across town, a black haired American sat up in bed, harshly cursing his insubordinate teammate after his latest vision. Did the man have no concept of obeying orders? Any headway made during the past week against Weiß was now swiftly fading. For a powerful telepath, that idiot Mastermind was proving himself a stunning failure at anticipating his obsession’s reactions. He’d have to put some pressure on Dr. Gotō to finish the new drug Esset wanted right away, their schedule had just been bumped up. Granted, the kittens were still rather battered, but Weiß had made a history of striking back just when you thought they were down for the count. Crawford was beginning to worry that would be the case here.

*******

Feeling warm sunlight on his face, Yohji crinkled his nose and immediately let out a quiet ‘ow’ at the pain produced at that movement. Body once more an aching mass, it took him a minute to realize that he had a sleeping assassin snuggled up against him. The duvet mostly covered Aya, hiding everything below a thin crimson eyebrow from sight. Briefly wondering if he was going to be killed for this presumption, the blond took comfort in the fact that they were cuddled together in the middle of the bed. The redhead had to at least shifted closer to him during the night, so he wasn’t solely at fault. Which left him with a new conundrum. Did he move and chance waking the man or just let him sleep? He was all for the latter, but wasn’t sure if Aya coming to like this would be a good idea. Lying there debating outcomes, the decision was taken away from him as the smaller man stretched and opened his eyes.

Yohji held his breath as the redhead regarded him coolly for a minute, then shifted backwards. His arms were reluctant to let go of their prize, but the older man relaxed his grip, allowing the swordsman to leave the bed. Aya carefully stretched again as he stood up, a look of concentration on his face as he evaluated his injuries. It seemed that he limped a bit less today. Yohji didn’t move as the man left the room, never saying a word.

Laying in bed, the blond waited to see if his lover returned, katana in hand, to deal with him. It took him a couple of minutes to realize that the sound he heard was from the shower, and that Aya wasn’t coming for his head, at least not right now. Thankful for the reprieve, Yohji got out of bed with his arms around a tender stomach, dressed and went down to the kitchen. Where he was startled to find Ken present.

"Ohayo. There’s some fresh coffee on, and I hear you make some pretty good eggs. I like mine sunny side up."

"Tough, I only do scrambled. What are you doing up here? Is the blabbermouth skipping school to work the flower shop?"

Ken looked up from his coffee while tapping the empty plate in front of him meaningfully. He kept glancing from the blond to the stove, oblivious to the concept of subtlety. "No, he’s off at school. Decided that the three of us would more than likely scare everybody away, so the store stays closed. Plus it gives you and Aya another day to rest up. I don’t mind scrambled, you know."

Snorting out a lungful of smoke, Yohji opened the refrigerator and pulled out the carton of eggs. "I’ll make them, but you better leave some for Aya. Or you’ll have a whole new set of bruises."

Waving aside the threat, Ken focused his brown eyes on the smoking man. "So, how are things going in that regard? He seemed a bit worried about you last night, and one can’t help but notice he didn’t sleep in his old bed. Which is why you got out of an early morning exam from Omi. Kid didn’t want to chance walking in on either a blood bath or something perverted. Since you’re not hacked into itty bitty cubes, I take it things went well?"

Yohji paused in the middle of breaking open the eggs, thinking of how he woke up this morning. And Aya’s answer to him last night. "Don’t know if ‘well’ describes the situation, but things are better. It helps that Schuldig keeps proving how much of a manipulative bastard he is. But I won’t go out on a limb and say things are fine. What about you and your little ‘crush’?"

"Yohji! Hush." Ken glanced around the room, even though he knew Omi was at school. "That’s the last thing I’m worried about right now."

"If you say so. Think you’re missing a great opportunity though, not playing the sympathy card while you’re all beat up and bruised. Omi’s such a sucker for that, he just loves playing ‘nurse’." The blond leered suggestively, until it struck him that this was /Omi/ he was making hentai comments about. Shuddering at the thought of the chibi dressed up in a female nurse’s uniform and administering ‘aid’ to Ken, he quickly added, "But waiting a bit doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all." Great, he’d just lost his appetite.

Ken was lost in similar thoughts, which were doing nothing in the slightest to diminish his appetite. The slight of a dreamy, slightly drooling brunet and Yohji once again cooking greeted Aya as he limped into the room. He made sure to sniff the coffee cautiously before pouring himself a cup. Deciding it was safe to drink it, he looked curiously at his teammates, wondering if Mastermind had been messing with their heads again.

"Here you go, two Kudoh’s specials, hot off the grill. Think I can get out of cooking dinner if I make breakfast once or twice a week?" Yohji asked, setting a plate of eggs and toast each in front of the younger men. Shook from his reverie, Ken attacked the food with his usual gusto. Sitting down with a plate of his own that he picked at, the blond gazed upon Aya, watching the man eat about half of his meal. It was quiet until Ken asked his two roommates if they were going to finish their eggs, and then commenced to polish off their plates as well.

"I take it the shop is closed?" Aya asked.

"Yeah, Omi doesn’t think we’re up to fan club standards right now. Don’t want to give the poor girls heart attacks, do we?"

"Oh man, could you imagine how’d they react to seeing us all black and blue? It was bad enough dealing with their fussing and weeping the other day with Aya being too cut…" It finally registered on the brunet what exactly he was saying, and he let the topic drop, blushing slightly and not looking at the older men. Standing up, he made some excuse about checking the plants downstairs and hurried off. Yohji and Aya were left in an uncomfortable silence.

Before Yohji could work up the nerve and say something, maybe apologize once more, Aya stood up as well. "I’ll be in the mission room, continuing the search on the Tayago Corporation." Before leaving the room he filled up his mug again.

"Uh, Aya, could you wait a second?" The smaller man paused in the doorway, an eyebrow arched in expectation. Yohji suddenly felt unsure of himself. The redhead had woken up in his arms, but had been coolly distance since then. Which was an improvement after being ignored for most of yesterday, but still… Summing up his courage, he finally inquired, "You said last night to ask you in the morning. Well, it’s morning. So, yes or no?"

Head tilted to the side, violet eyes regarded the nervous man for what seemed like an eternity. "You’re not dead, are you?" With that statement the redhead left the room.

Letting out a breath that he hadn’t known he was holding, Yohji felt weak with relief. While a disturbing comment, it was still Aya-speak for yes.

*******

"So, find anything yet?"

"Nothing since the last time you asked, which was twenty minutes ago. Go away."

Grumbling a bit, Yohji backed up a few steps, but didn’t leave the room. Aya had spent the whole day doing Omi, the resident hacker, proud with the background check he was conducting on the Tayago Corporation. It was a small pharmaceutical company whose products tended to end up in the private sector. The redhead had found sufficient cause for Weiß to conclude that the company was behind ‘Sybil’. What had the idiots in charge been thinking, to hand the drug off to dealers right outside their own corporate headquarters? Someone was either mentally incompetent or very confident that no one would dare touch them over the matter. Considering the fact that Schwarz was involved, it was a safe bet on the later. And then there was the mysterious backer, of which all the redhead could find out was that they were based in Europe, even using some of Bombay’s special programs.

Yohji had remained near his boyfriend, happy to be allowed in the same room as the man. Aya for the most part ignored him, but it was more from being focused on his work than an effort of spite. He let the blond fetch him some tea and a sandwich for lunch, and usually answered the questions posed at him. His demeanor was still a bit chilly, especially when Yohji kept pestering him for updates. Humming contentedly, Yohji went back to the couch and reading the stack of magazines piled beside it. A day filled with lounging around in the presence of a gorgeous guy who didn’t hate him anymore was a gold star one in his book.

As if the gods had heard his thoughts, there was the sound of a pair of feet coming down the steps. Considering it was still a little early for Omi, the blond didn’t look up from his magazine, expecting it to be Ken. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Aya stiffen, a cold mask replacing the focused look on his face. Jumping up from the couch, Yohji saw Manx descending the spiral staircase. He hurried over to his lover, getting a bad vibe about the situation. "Hey Manx, what’s up?"

"Afternoon, Kudoh." The redheaded female gave the blond an assessing glance. "It just hasn’t been your week, has it?"

"You could say that. So what brings you here?" Yohji tried again.

Green eyes flickered briefly to the other redhead, then back at the playboy. "I wanted to see how things have been going. Heard about the run-in with Schwarz last night, and that you’d been hurt. You alright?"

"I’m fine. Mastermind’s just digging his grave a little deeper. Omi probably told you that Ken managed to get a little information from his target, and Aya’s been working hard expanding on it. Nothing to worry your pretty little head over." Yohji reigned in the possessive impulse that demanded he pick up the woman and toss her out of the Koneko. She was here to talk to Aya about something, and he was willing to bet whatever it was wasn’t good. He couldn’t help shifting a little closer to his silent lover though.

Noting the blond’s reaction, Manx turned to Weiß’s leader. "What have you discovered?"

Suppressing the irritation at hearing more-or-less the same question for the umpteenth time that day, Aya spoke up. "The ‘go’ in the Tayago Corporation is a Dr. Osamu Gotō. He has a doctorate in Psychiatry as well as Pharmaceuticology, and owns several patents on mild-altering drugs. All the information that I’ve come across suggests that he has the capabilities to create a drug like ‘Sybil’, although right now I’m lacking a why."

"Hopefully Omi can help fill in the blanks when he gets back. You seem in pretty good shape for someone who had a run-in with Mastermind. Much better than Kudoh does." Aya was relieved that he’d worn a long-sleeved shirt today. Sight of the thin cuts all over his arms would arouse the agent’s suspicions. Manx was more than smart enough to notice that they came from a weapon more like the one Balinese used than anything Schuldig might employ. "Are the two of you going to be able to fight anytime soon?"

"Yes." Manx kept her eyes focused on the reserved man, waiting for a more in-depth answer. Aya calmly gazed back at her until she gave up. Turning towards the fidgeting blond, she smiled charmingly. "You know, I would just love a hot cup of tea. I’m sure a gentleman such as you wouldn’t mind fetching me one, now would you?"

Yohji only stared at her for a moment, then glanced at Aya. At the smaller man’s slight nod, he ungraciously stomped up the stairs, not pausing to flirt or speak with the short-skirted woman.

"I take it you’re the one involved with Kudoh?" The quiet man treated her to a glare of pure ice. Great. Looked like she owed Birman ¥10,000. The two women had a running bet on which teammate Balinese would get into bed first. Manx had sworn it would be anybody /but/ Abyssinian, who seemed about as sexual as a marble statue he often resembled. It also appeared that one of Kritiker’s top psychiatrists, who clearly stated in the young man’s case file that Aya Fujimiya had a sister complex which would prevent him from having any type of personal relationship, sexual or not, with anyone not resembling his imouto, was about to have his license revoked. Seeing how the impossible had just been done, maybe she should re-evaluate the playboy’s charms. If he could get someone as repressed as the redhead into his bed, there were a couple other Kritiker groups who could put that talent to good use.

"You are aware that these things tend to end badly, don’t you?" The temperature in the room felt to have dropped several more degrees, all courtesy of a single glare.

"Until it does, I don’t see how it’s any business of yours. What do you want? Yohji won’t be long with the tea." The only thing more frigid than those amethyst orbs was Fujimiya’s voice.

"I’m sure you know why I’m here. Has Mastermind resumed his little ‘chats’ with you?"

"You make them sound almost pleasant. If you mean the dreams, no. Anymore Schuldig seems to prefer talking to me in person." Aya lied flawlessly, his mask-like expression betraying nothing

"What does he talk to you about?"

"My sister, my job, my lack of humanity. The usual."

Desperate to get a peek behind the icy façade, Manx tried once more. "Any opinion on your new lifestyle?"

"He says Yohji will betray me, and that I’m making a mistake. Maybe the two of you should get together and compare threats."

It was impossible to tell if Aya was lying. He’d reported that the telepath had mostly left him alone during the Takatori business, it was possible that Mastermind was losing interest. Abyssinian was nothing like the shy Ran she’d first met, years ago. Maybe the young man had simply changed too much. "You know it’s not good to have someone as manipulative as him inside your head, Fujimiya. You might want to consider seeing the psychiatrists again. Kritiker has several good ones employed at the Magic Bus hospital, you can stop by while visiting your sister."

"I’m fine." Manx actually shivered at that tone. That was enough for the woman. If her employers wanted to know if their agent was still in contact with the German, they could come down here and ask him themselves. She didn’t understand their interest in the matter, and was not about to ask Fujimiya his opinion.

"Do you think Weiß will be able to finish the mission?"

"Yes."

"Is there any problem between you and Kudoh that I should know about now before it gets out of control?"

"No."

"You know Omi cares very much for everybody on this team. It would be a shame if he got hurt over a brief fling." Nothing. "Or is it more than that?"

It was always impressive to watch the swordsman summarily dismiss a person’s existence, to go about what he was doing as if he was the only person in a room. Manx decided it was much better to witness the event than to be on the receiving end of it. Biting her lip in anger and frustration, she reminded herself that it would do no good to try and pry out any more answers from the man. It would be even less productive than banging her head against a brick wall. At least that way she’d see some pretty stars.

So she just stood there, tapping her foot while observing the other redhead hard at work at the computer. Fortunately it was only another minute before Yohji returned, teacup on saucer in hand. Half of the golden contents were spilled onto the plate, due to his rush down the steps. "Here you go, milady’s request."

"Thanks, Kudoh." Setting the drink down, Manx swallowed a sigh as the blond took up residence by the computer, body tense and green eyes observing her every move. That protective posture, which all but screamed ‘touch the man and deal with me,’ didn’t indicate that the two assassins’ relationship was of a temporary nature. No wonder Omi was so defensive of the matter and his teammates. And judging from Kudoh’s psych file, which had been compiled by a different psychiatrist than Fujimiya’s, the blond would vehemently fight any reassignment that would take him from his lover. The man had joined Kritiker solely to get revenge for his missing girlfriend, after all. Manx hated it when things became this complicated. "There are a couple of errands I still need to run, please tell Omi I said hello, and to contact me if he needs anything." Aya didn’t even bother to turn around and see her off, while Yohji appeared all too happy to watch her go.

Once the pair of bobby-socked feet vanished from the stairs, Yohji looked down at the busy redhead. "Going to tell me what she wanted?"

Aya just continued his clicking and typing, so the blond decided to pull out a cigarette. "Go do that elsewhere."

"I’m allowed to smoke down here, not even the chibi fights me on that one. You want me to stop, spill what Manx talked to you about once I was out of the way." He flicked the lighter in a threatening manner. "Come on love, we can die of lung cancer together."

Growling softly, the redhead treated the annoying man with a shi-ne glare. Its target briefly wondered just how much more potent that look would be if his eyes were some other shade than that innocuous purple. Then again, it conveyed the concept of ice very well. The blond just smiled, cigarette still firmly clasped between his lips.

"She wanted to know if Schuldig had taken to bothering me again."

"I suppose you lied and said no." At the smaller man’s derisive snort, he removed the cigarette and put it back into its pack. "Just checking, everybody has been acting a bit weird lately. Guess we really can’t tell the chibi now, Manx will have kittens if she finds out you lied to her face." Aya just resumed his work.

Standing beside the man, Yohji noticed how tense his frame was. The redhead didn’t take being handled very well, nor confrontations where he couldn’t physically fight back. Moving behind his kitten, the blond reached out to massage the stiff neck and shoulders. As soon as his hands touched the pale skin, Aya jerked around in his chair and scowled up at him. "Kudoh." That was it, just his named growled out in a menacing manner.

Hands in the air, the playboy softly answered, "All I was going to do was give you a massage. Nothing more. You look like you could really use one right now." Green eyes stared deep into violet; noting the trace of panic and resulting hostility from that emotion. After a moment he continued, "I can leave if you want." The hostility drained away, and the redhead resumed his previous position, not saying a word. Wishing he had fallen in love with a person who grasped the concept of answering questions posed at him, Yohji nibbled on a strand of hair, indecisive. It was apparent that Aya still needed some convincing that his lover wouldn’t hurt him again. He tried it once more.

Skillful fingers gingerly kneaded tense shoulders that minutely stiffened at first contact. As the massage became more sure and efficient, Aya felt his muscles start to relax. It had been disconcerting having the older man come up from behind him and touch him like that. It brought back memories from the other night, of the pain and helplessness and shame. Schuldig really did know what buttons of his to push, and the rape had hit most of them. Not being able to fight back, to rely on himself for protection, that had been the worst. Then to have his assailant be someone he cared for and trusted. The telepath must have been delighted at how well his plan had turned out. It was still hard to get completely over the event, even though he kept repeating to himself that he wouldn’t let Schuldig win

Which was why he had let the blond stay near him most of yesterday, so as to get used to the man’s presence without feeling the need to attack or flee. Why he had allowed Yohji to tend his wounds last night, in face of the pathetically thin excuse and challenge offered to him. The scare from the German’s attempt on his boyfriend’s life had convinced him that he loved the older man enough to still want him in his life. That Yohji was indeed one of those precious few he’d give everything for. He just hoped the man never figured out the power he held because of that love. And that he stopped coming up from behind him like that before he ended up dead.

Giving up on thinking, Aya decided to just enjoy the massage. Yohji was a very good masseur, and honestly enjoyed what he was doing. The redhead felt his muscles loosen as the tension vanished from his upper back and neck. He all but purred when those long fingers made their way up to his head, threading deep into his hair and rubbing his scalp. His eyes drifted shut, just enjoying the feelings, the first bit of actual pleasure he’d enjoyed in days. All too soon the massage was over. The blond tugged on an eartail before using his fingers to comb the red mop back into a semblance order. Resting his hand briefly on the back of Aya’s neck, Yohji drifted over to the couch and settled back down. Tilting his head from side to side, reveling in the loss of tension, the redhead resumed his search.

*******

"Wow, Aya-kun, maybe I should let you on the computer a bit more often." Omi looked down at the papers spread out on the kitchen table. "You did a really good job investigating the company, there’s enough evidence here to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Tayago Corporation is involved with ‘Sybil."

"Beauty and brains. What can I say, I only pick the best." Yohji winked at his lover, then quickly jerked his legs back from what he was sure would have been a truly vicious kick. The chibi just blinked at him, while Ken was quietly chortling over by the fridge.

"Maa, Yohji-kun, how’d you ever manage so many dates with those demanding standards?" The youth asked, huge eyes shining with innocent curiosity. As the older man treated him to a green eyed version of their leader’s patented glare, he broke down into giggles. "Sorry, couldn’t resist. You left yourself open to that one."

Ignoring the teenager, Aya reached over and tapped an organizational chart of the company’s upper management. "We know Dr. Gotō is involved, he’s the only one with the knowledge to create something like ‘Sybil’. The background checks on the bank accounts of the other two owners and several supervisors show recent deposits from an untraceable Swiss account.”

"Looks like the doctor isn’t the only one involved then. Guess it’s a clean sweep across the board. Surveillance is going to be very difficult, what with Schwarz being involved," the older blond offered.

Omi pulled the chart in front of him. "I can try patching into their security system, and monitor their electricity usage."

"It appears that the loose ends are being dealt with, such as the two dealers. Check the police reports for any other deaths tying back to the company. Also with Kritiker to see if any new cases of drug abuse surface, which I doubt."

"What are you thinking, Aya-kun?"

"Why eliminate your chain of supply if you are planning to distribute the drug? I believe what we saw was an elaborate field test, to see how well the drug worked. It’s proven to be very successful. Now Tayago will be turning over to the buyer."

"Think I see where you’re going with this, fearless leader. That’s why Schwarz is here, to check out the drug’s effectiveness and return it to whoever hired them. We keep running into a stone wall when we try to trace the European connection, maybe that’s who holds those pricks’ leashes." Taking in the three pairs of eyes looking at him with various degrees of astonishment and amusement, the playboy added, "It would be nice if you remembered that I did stuff like this for a living, you know."

"It’s the blond hair that throws us off. And the lazy attitude." Ken smirked at his glowering teammate. "So what you guys are saying is that we don’t have much time left. Great. How soon can you pull that information, Omi?"

Omi frowned, thinking of a calculus test he’d hoped to study for. Most likely he could pass the thing even with pulling an all-nighter on his computer, but he didn’t want his G.P.A. to suffer. "Soon as we’re finished here I can get started. Aya’s done a lot of the work for me already, so hopefully it won’t take too long. Should definitely have the data for tomorrow night." Glancing at Aya, "I assume you want to move as early as that. Are you up to it?"

"Yes." Why wasn’t anyone surprised by that answer? Yohji was frowning now as well, but seemed to have learned better than to question the redhead in public. Noting the disbelieving stares, Aya elaborated. "If we wait any longer than that it will be too late. I’ll manage."

Ken decided to voice what the others were thinking. "Schwarz will be involved, you can count on that. You ready to face them with a bum leg?"

"Yes."

"Okay then, tomorrow night it is. Looking forward to getting a little payback, that’s for sure. Hey, Omi, what do you say to me picking up some pizza and helping you out with the research?" Ken ruffled the younger man’s hair.

"Sugoi! What do you guys want on the pizzas?" Omi asked the two eldest Weiß.

"I’m going out. Will get something to eat then," was the swordsman’s reply.

"Same here, kiddo." Yohji stood and waited for the redhead to join him. He then followed Aya upstairs to his bedroom. Once inside, the older man fidgeted with one of the floral arrangements on the dresser. "Needs some water."

"Go ahead and say it, Kudoh." This was why he’d let the man into the room, so they could fight it out here and not in front of the others.

"Say what, that you’re nuts for facing Schuldig and the others while not at 100%? What good will it do? You’ll be pissed off at me yet again and still go out and do it. Besides, it’s just crazy enough that maybe the damn American won’t see it coming." Looking up from the flowers, he fixed serious green eyes on his lover. "This type of mission, it won’t be too smart to split up. I want to be there with you tomorrow night. Talk to Omi, have him pair off with Ken. You know we work well together, and this way I won’t screw things up by being too worried about you." And it would prove to the smaller man that he could be trusted again.

Aya weighed the request, still startled by the fact that Yohji wasn’t arguing with him on this. It made sense, pairing a long range weapon with an up close one, and the two of them complimented each other, in skills and other-wise. "Okay."

Have to write this day down, the kitten gave back a direct answer, the blond thought. First request done, he went on to ask the other one. "Take me with you tonight."

"Why?"

"Because I don’t trust The Bastard or his friends to not be waiting to catch one of us alone. There’s a difference between dead and hurt, and they haven’t been too concerned with our welfare lately."

"I’m just visiting Aya-chan and picking up dinner. Nothing else."

"That’s fine. I’ll even treat." Might as well appeal to the man’s frugal nature.

"Hn." Aya gathered his woolen trenchcoat from the closet, put it on and tucked his katana inside. Walking over to the door, he gazed up at Yohji. "Well?"

*******

"How’s it going, chibi?"

Putting down his can of soda, Omi waved a hand at the printouts surrounding him. "Found the building schematics, and tapped into their computer system. A bit tougher than I expected, they have someone real good working for them. But I think Aya’s right about insisting on tomorrow night." Looking at the silent redhead, he offered an apologetic smile. "There’s some big meeting scheduled, everyone involved will be there after hours. Came across several itineraries, most of the supervisors are leaving Japan the next day. Nice coincidence, huh?"

"Hn. We’re to take out everyone connected to the drug, that makes it easier." Almost too easy. Aya wondered if Weiß was about to do the dirty work for someone else. "We’ll split into two groups, you and Siberian and Balinese and I."

"That sounds wise, we’ll need backup if we run into Schwarz. I’ll come up with a mission plan based on those teams." Omi was pleased that Aya wasn’t letting Friday night come between him and Yohji anymore. The two men needed to work out their problems before running into Schuldig again. The youth knew from bitter experience just how skilled the telepath was at screwing with people’s minds and turning them against each other.

"I should be at this only a couple more hours. I suggest we keep the shop closed another day, everyone will need to be rested for tomorrow night. Manx or Birman will be stopping by to drop off some requested items."

Aya frowned at the thought of another day’s lost revenues, but couldn’t argue with the logic. He’d need to spend a couple hours warming up and stretching his body so as to not worsen his injuries during the mission. "Need anymore help tonight?"

"No, Ken’s been pretty helpful. Go get some rest, you look like you need it." The redhead bobbed his head a time or two, then went back upstairs.

Yohji stole a sip from the youth’s soda and mussed his hair before moving to follow his boyfriend. "Yohji-kun, you will keep an eye on him tomorrow night, won’t you?"

"Better believe it, chibi. Any other silly questions?"

"Yeah, why would Manx ask me to let her know if Aya-kun has any problems sleeping? That sounds pretty odd, and she wouldn’t tell me why."

Pulling out a cigarette, the blond used lighting it as an excuse to buy himself a few seconds. "Maybe she’s afraid of stress getting to the grouch. Do me a favor and don’t worry about Aya’s sleeping habits, ‘kay? That’s my responsibility."

Waving a hand at the smoke, Omi let out a frustrated growl. "You guys wouldn’t be hiding something from me, would you?"

"Who, us? No more than usual. Better go now, or the kitten will lock me out of the room." Grateful to make his escape, Yohji meandered upstairs, lost in thought. Things had seemed so much more secure when Weiß had reported to Persia. Manx would come with a videotape featuring the shadowy figure, and off they’d go. They knew who was sending them out on their missions then. But with the man’s death things had become more uncertain. There was no more personal touch, it was as if the team wasn’t much more than simple cogs in a vast machine. And as easily replaced. Even Manx had distanced herself from everyone in the group except Omi. Then there were the impressions that Kritiker might not have their best interests in heart, but just cared about how exactly they could get the most use out of the assassins.

Mind busy dwelling on these disturbing facts, the blond was startled to find Aya standing in the hall, dressed in work-out clothes and katana in hand. It was clear from his posture that he had been waiting for Yohji to come upstairs. "What’s up, kitten?"

"Follow me."

Now confused, Yohji did just that. And was surprised once again to realize that the redhead was leading him upstairs to the workout room.

Omi or Ken had taken the time to clean the room after Friday night. The scent of bleach was heavy in the air. Aya walked to the center of the room while Yohji hung around at the door. "Uh, Aya, what exactly are you up to?" Hopefully it wouldn’t involve him and the sword.

"Sit down." Forcing himself to breath evenly, the swordsman watched as the blond settled himself along the wall, lanky body tense. He knew the feeling. It was hard to stay calm, with images from the other night flooding his mind. It was important that he faced what had happened before meeting Schwarz tomorrow. Mastermind would be sure to use everything he could against him, especially that. Fighting his screaming instincts, Aya turned his back to the older man as he unsheathed his weapon.

He started the workout slowly, careful of the stitches and sore muscles. "Talk."

Green eyes blinked, never straying from the slender form before them. "Nani?"

"Talk."

"Uh, okay. Want to hear about anything in particular?" Not getting a response, Yohji decided to just say whatever entered his mind. "Did I ever tell you about some of Weiß’s earlier missions?" The blond rambled on from that topic to a list of upcoming concerts and movies he hoped to go see, confessed his fantasy vacation plans, and debated the merits of various brands of whiskey. His throat grew sore from talking non-stop, and his eyes remained focused on the swordsman, drinking in the man’s grace and beauty. He realized that the redhead was trying to face and defeat his inner demons. The man’s courage and determination amazed him, Yohji didn’t know if he’d have the strength to confront such a harrowing experience so soon after its event.

Little over an hour into the workout session, Aya slowed down the pace and finally stopped. Back once more turned toward the blond, he spoke again. "Touch me." His voice was as hoarse as Yohji’s. Joints stiff, the playboy rose up and quietly walked over to the trembling man. Recalling his lover’s reaction to being surprised from behind earlier, Yohji had an idea of what he must have done that night. Long arms reached out to enfold the redhead and pull him in tight. The taller man made sure to trap Aya’s arms at his side.

Eyes tightly closed shut, Aya fought against the urge to fight the embrace. Forcing himself to relax, his breathing eventually became less harsh, his body less tense. Everything was alright, Yohji wasn’t going to hurt him he repeated to himself. Schuldig wasn’t going to be able to use the rape against him, he refused to let that happen. Letting his blade fall to the ground, the redhead leaned back against his lover.

Relieved that the smaller man had released his death grip on the edged weapon, Yohji relaxed his hold, shifting his arms under Aya’s as he nuzzled damp crimson hair. The two men stood there for several minutes, until the swordsman felt his protesting muscles begin to stiffen up. "Kudoh." The last of his anxiety fled as the blond quickly loosened his arms and stepped back.

As soon as Aya turned around, Yohji reached out to brush back his sweaty bangs. "You need a hot shower and then a massage if you want to be able to move tomorrow." He didn’t mention how the redhead had pushed things tonight, it had needed to be done before facing Schwarz tomorrow. "I can help with the later, if you want."

Aya nodded his head. It would be good to let the older man touch him, to get over the slight panic he felt at the thought of lying beneath the blond, tired and naked. Glancing around the room, he refused to associate anything other than working out in it ever again. The quiet man purposely left his katana behind as he walked away, intent on the shower.

Watching his boyfriend leave, Yohji reached down to pick up the blade and its sheath. He then went downstairs himself, to return the weapon to Aya’s room and pick up a couple of the younger man’s cds. While the redhead was in the shower, he placed the disks in his stereo and lit several candles. A clean sheet was placed on his bed, and he rolled a bottle of massage oil between his hands, warming it up.

Fifteen minutes later Aya walked into the room, body slightly damp from his shower and wearing only a towel. Momentarily taken back at the room’s transformation, he realized that Yohji must have done it in attempt to relax him. The music was soothing, and the scented candles brought back memories of happier nights the two men had spent together. Without saying a word he laid face down on the bed.

Humming slightly, so Aya would hear him move close, Yohji settled first on the bed and then knelt on top of the man, weight resting on Aya’s thighs. He poured the oil on his hands and carefully started the massage at tense pale shoulders. Concentrating on how best to go about the task without breaking open the healing cuts kept him from embarrassing himself, what with his lover’s body underneath him. There was nothing sexual about the situation, just one man giving another a rubdown. The blond steadily worked his way down, kneading tense muscles until they relaxed and Aya sighed in relief.

Yohji got off the bed to better reach the stiff legs and feet. When finished he told the smaller man to turn over. Once Aya did, he settled himself once more on top of the man, deliberately ignoring everything but the task before him. Violet eyes watched him cautiously the first couple of minutes, then drifted close in pleasure. Yohji was very careful of the healing ribs and thigh, determined not to cause any unnecessary pain. "There, all done."

"Hn." Aya just lay there, his body the most relaxed it had been in days, exhausted from the physical and emotional workout. He heard Yohji moving about the room blowing out the candles, and opened his eyes as the blond stood beside him once more.

"You look like you’re ready to fall asleep, why don’t you put these on and crawl under the sheets." He offered the smaller man a pair of drawstring pajama bottoms. Aya accepted them, first sitting and then standing up languidly.

Pulling down the bed covers, Yohji couldn’t take help but stare at the man. At the show of pale flesh as the smaller man dropped the towel to floor and stepped into the pants. Tearing away his eyes, he quickly pulled off his clothes and slid between the sheets. His body was finally reacting in its normal fashion at the close proximity of his lover. Leaning over to put out the last of the candles, he mumbled a ‘good night’ and huddled at the edge of the bed.

There was a light touch on his shoulder. "Yohji."

The blond sighed. "Aya, it’s not good to push too far too soon."

"There’s no more time."

Sighing once more, Yohji rolled over to face his lover. Aya’s skin glowed faintly in the darkness. Combing his fingers through that improbable hair, he tenderly asked "what now?"

"Hold me again."

Fingers untangling knots caused by the shower, the blond offered a bitter smile. "Not a good idea at right now, kitten."

Understanding the comment, violet eyes narrowed slightly. "Now’s a very good time then. Any doubts I have Schuldig will twist until they overwhelm me. That’s his style. Prove to me that you won’t hurt me again, Kudoh."

Knowing he couldn’t argue with that statement, Yohji opened his arms. Pausing for a few seconds, Aya turned to his other side and shifted back into the older man’s embrace. His body tensed at the feel of his lover’s erection rubbing against his backside. Seeking to distract the man, Yohji resumed running his fingers through crimson strands. "Omi asked me why Manx would want him to report any trouble you have sleeping to her."

Closing his eyes, it was Aya’s turn to sigh. "What did you say?"

"That you sleeping or not was my concern, not his. He’s suspicious, but willing to let the matter drop."

"Hn." He wasn’t going to deal with this right now, not on top of everything else. Concentrating on Yohji’s hands and the thought of spoiling Schuldig’s fun, the redhead let exhaustion gradually drag him down into unconsciousness.

Yohji kept up the stroking caress as he listened to Aya’s breathing deepen. "Love you so much, kitten. Try not to forget that part, hm?" The slender body slowly melted back against him as the redhead mumbled something, causing a flare of desire in his groin. Wrapping his arms against the now sleeping man, the blond rested a cheek on his lover’s head, content to lie in the darkness until he finally drifted off as well.

*******

Crawford stalked over to the computer and the teenaged boy busy on it. "How are things proceeding?"

"The computer and security system have been broken into, definitely the work of Bombay. I’m pretty sure he’s found out about tomorrow’s meeting, but not certain. He’s been very good at covering his tracks." There was an unusual measure of respect in the telekinetic’s voice.

"All that matters is that Weiß shows up. We can leave the elimination of Tayago’s management to them while we deal with getting Gotō to safety.”

"It will be nice to have Weiß do the messy part for us," Nagi commented.

"Make sure to download everything to do with the doctor’s research. Esset wants those files."

"They’re completely up to date, including the latest on the drug he’s currently working on. When are Farfarello and Schuldig due to return?"

"Any minute now." Blue eyes focused on the monitor before him, observing the flow of data across the monitor. Bombay must be very skilled at hacking if he managed to stump Prodigy. Something to remember for the future.

Awaiting the arrival of the rest of his team, the American thought back on his conversation earlier with the telepath. Schuldig had been surprised to have his little visit with Abyssinian exposed, but unrepentant to the extreme. The man’s attitude had been so irritating that Crawford decided not to mention the fact that the two kittens had metaphorically kissed and made up. All thanks to Schuldig’s continued interference. If he’d just backed off the swordsman wouldn’t have been so hell-bent on forgiving his boyfriend, just to piss off the German. Not that it would affect the outcome of tomorrow night. Weiß would be out for Schwarz’s blood this mission, eager to pay Mastermind back for his meddling. That would give his team the edge it needed to get Gotō and his research back to Esset. His masters were counting on the doctor’s work to aid them during the Confluence.

<You shouldn’t think so hard, Crawford. Might break something, and then where would you be?> The longhaired telepath waltzed into the room, dragging Farfarello along by a leash.

"If anything gets broken, Schuldig, it will be you. How did things go?"

"Answer the man, Farfie."

"We had fun. Lots of lovely screams and blood everywhere." The Irishman’s clothes were saturated with the fluid, it was a miracle none dripped to the floor. His golden eye was unfocused, and a dreamy smile was spread across his scarred face.

<Pity the poor souls that stumble upon the bodies. Farfie was in a rare mood tonight, since he won’t get to play much tomorrow.>

"You did eliminate everybody on the list, didn’t you?" Crawford’s voice was icy, and promised bad things if the answer was no.

The German pouted. "Bradley-kins, you wound me. Of course everything was taken care of. We were a right pair of zealots tonight."

"Make sure you stick to that work ethic, Mastermind. Now hose Berserker off and lock him up for the night before resuming your guard duty. I want you to follow everything the doctor does." <There won’t be any chats, no matter how brief, with Abyssinian tonight. Not if you want to know about a certain vision involving you and the kitten in Kyoto.> It was rare that he had visions focusing on events that far in the future, and it wasn’t definite. Unless the German played his cards right. The staid man was hard-pressed to suppress a smile as the telepath futilely tried to search his mind for the vision. <And that goes for tomorrow as well.>

Used to the mental verbal spats his teammates engaged in, Nagi wasn’t startled so much as to hear Schuldig snarl out several German swear words, but at his intensity. Wow. Whatever Crawford had said had really upset the pest.

<It better be worth it, Crawford,> was all the German could respond. He /hated/ being denied his pleasure, and had had a special treat in store for his Knuddelhäschen.

<Oh, it will be. Almost made me blush.> "Now be a good boy and be on your way."

"I live to obey, mein Führer," Schuldig drawled out sarcastically as he dragged the blood-drenched psychopath out of the room, all the while humming ‘Hitler in Spring’.

"That man should have been drowned at birth," muttered the precog. Nagi silently agreed as he resumed his work.

*******

Green eyes drifted open as Yohji woke up, feeling the need for a cigarette and a trip to the bathroom. Aya was sprawled on top of his chest, still dead to the world. Ignoring his body’s complaints, the blond stared down at his lover, brushing back ragged bangs and an eartail to get a better view of that delicate face. It wasn’t very often that he woke up before the swordsman, so he didn’t get many opportunities to observe the man asleep in the light of day. As always he was amazed at how different Aya appeared. This must be what Ran had looked like, with no signs of the habitual iciness to be found. The blond wanted nothing more than to roll his lover over and kiss him awake, to spend the morning making love. But that would ruin everything the smaller man had fought so hard to regain last night, and break his trust in Yohji for good. It was up to Aya to make the first move.

So he settled for stroking back the silky hair he loved so much to play with. What he wouldn’t give to see the younger man grow it long. Say to waist length. Now that made for some interesting fantasies. Funny that he was so turned on by long hair yet the only two people he’d truly loved both had short hair. Well, short-ish, considering the eartails.

The object of his affection began to stir, and a few seconds later Aya raised his head to look at his boyfriend with bleary purple eyes. Yohji resisted the urge to wrap one of those long strands around his finger and haul the redhead up for a kiss. This was one of those rare moments when the man looked so cute, eyes blinking as they tried to focus and the slightest trace of a pout his lips. He really did resemble a little kitten disturbed from a nap. All too soon Aya returned to his normal personality.

"What time is it."

"A little after eight." At the quiet man’s frown, Yohji ran a hand down the pale face and brushed the down-turned lips. Too fast to prevent, Aya nipped his thumb, making the blond yelp in surprise and pain.

"Fuck, Aya. That hurt. I think you broke the skin. What the hell was that for?" The older man sucked on his wounded digit.

Violet eyes observed him warily for a few seconds, then blinked shut as their owner shrugged. "Making sure this wasn’t a dream."

Pulling the finger from his mouth, Yohji scowled at his lover. "You’re supposed to pinch yourself, not bite your boyfriend. Geez, I’m going to start wearing gloves to bed if you keep this up."

"Sorry." Aya looked anything but apologetic.

"So I take it you had a nocturnal visit?"

"No, that’s why I was making sure. This is the first time in days Schuldig’s left me alone. Something tells me that’s not a good sign." It was ridiculous to feel upset that the telepath hadn’t tormented his dreams.

Encasing the frowning redhead in his arms, Yohji lightly rubbed his hands down the man’s back. "Maybe he was too busy, or trying to throw you off balance."

"That’s what I’m afraid of. Either one means Schwarz is up to something."

"One way or another, everything will be over tonight." Yohji hoped that came out in a reassuring manner.

"Hn." Aya rested his chin on the blond’s sternum and closed his eyes. In a few minutes he’d have to get out of bed and start preparing for tonight. It was nice to put off the thoughts of killing and death for a little longer. To feel as if he and Yohji were in a much more innocent world, where such things didn’t exist. He didn’t need to be so strong in this world, didn’t have to hide behind a veneer of ice that kept everyone but Kudoh away. Well, and Schuldig. Peaceful reverie broken, he opened his eyes and sat up.

"Need to get started on a few things. You getting up or what?"

"Just waiting for a grouchy kitten to get off me. All that money I spent on this mattress and featherbed, and you have to keep sleeping on bony old me. You’re a weird one, love.

"Hn."

*******

"Somebody want to give us a hand up here?" Yohji called out from the back door. Aya and Ken put down their weapons, which they had been sharpening and oiling. They had assumed that their visitor was either Manx or Birman, but were surprised that whichever woman was bringing so many supplies.

"I’ll go," Ken volunteered. Several minutes later he returned to the mission room, a large box in his arms. Yohji and Birman trailed after him, arms just as full.

"I think someone has mistaken today for Christmas," Yohji remarked as he set the boxes down in front of Aya and sat beside his boyfriend on the couch.

"Hello, Aya. Must say you look a bit better than these two."

"Hn." The redhead nodded his head briefly at the woman before surveying the boxes.

The brunette settled in a spare chair, eyes intent on the two older assassins. Manx had told her about their affair after swearing her to secrecy, then handed over the owed money. It was about time Yohji wore through the quiet man’s defenses and jumped his bones. Birman had known from the first day Fujimiya had joined Weiß that the playboy wanted him. Yohji had been very insistent that the unconscious man recuperate in /his/ bed, and not Omi’s or even Aya’s own room. She just hadn’t counted on Kudoh taking over a year to get the man back into it. Unlike Manx, she was all for the relationship, and for keeping Kritiker in the dark about it. Let the men find their happiness in each other; they weren’t likely to anywhere else.

"Guess you’re wondering what’s in the boxes. Well, this," she handed over first the large box Ken had carried and then another, "and this are yours, Aya."

Opening the larger of the two, the redhead found his leather coat, all patched up and cleaned. He draped it over the arm of the couch. The other box contained two bands of light, flexible armor. An elegant eyebrow was arched in Birman’s direction.

"The one is a brace for your leg, the other for your ribs. They won’t offer a whole lot of protection, but should help a little if someone decides to take advantage of your recent injuries."

"Hn."

"Oh, stop. Get any more eloquent in your thanks and I’ll start gushing." That got her the other eyebrow raised, and a guffaw from Yohji.

"So anything for the rest of us?" Ken asked, amusement dancing in his brown eyes.

"Some special explosives for this mission. Keeps the damage localized, should leave the architecture intact while taking out everything else in the room. Can’t just blow up downtown buildings with abandon." Ken edged away from the boxes slightly. Considering his clumsy nature, everyone was a bit relieved.

"The rest are new headsets, latest model, more darts for Omi, his jacket and a crossbow that’s finally been repaired. Would have been easier to just buy a new one, but he wanted it fixed."

Standing up, Birman gave the men a thoughtful glance. "Be careful, guys. Word about Schwarz is that they are very good at what they do and highly deadly. Mastermind has done enough damage to you that I don’t think I need to say more. But all four at once is going to be quite a challenge. Kritiker is worried about this mission for some reason, and won’t take failure lightly. I think Manx has expounded that point enough, so I’ll say no more. Good luck, I’ll let myself out."

Lighting a cigarette, Yohji reclined back into the couch, arm flung on the back above Aya’s shoulders. "Makes a person feel real good, having everyone so worried about us. What’s left to do?"

"I’ll be heading upstairs to start warming up. Omi should be home soon, give his some time to get ready and then we’ll all go over everything again. The executive meeting is at 20:30, that leaves us little more than four hours to get into place." Yohji heard the flat tone of voice attributed to Abyssinian creep into the swordsman’s speech.

"Well, I have a few things I need to do, be back down here in a couple hours." Ken climbed up the stairs, clearly shifting into mission mode as well as his movements became surer and the fact he didn’t trip over any of the boxes. Left alone with his boyfriend, Yohji yanked on an eartail, trying to reach Aya before the cold-blooded killer completely took over.

"Hey, want to tell you something real quick."

"What." Aya batted at the blond’s hand, not even bothering with a glare.

"This." Yohji leaned in and placed a tender kiss on his lover’s lips, not forcing the issue in any way. Aya started at the touch, then lightly returned the gesture for a few brief seconds. When the smaller man pulled back slightly, Yohji whispered, "I love you."

"No you don’t. I’m not worthy of love." The redhead was shook enough to forget about the impending mission start time.

"Now that sounds like something Schuldig told you. Yes you are, and yes I do." Yohji stroked a pale cheek, preventing Aya from hiding his face. "Figured maybe it would be good for you to hear that before The Bastard tries screwing around in here." The blond tapped a long finger against his lover’s temple. "Don’t let his lies get to you."

"And how do I know that you’re not lying to me?"

"Because I’d give my life to keep you from harm." Violet eyes searched green ones intently, looking for a gleam of insincerity. Yohji just sat there, face completely open, appearing more serious than the smaller man had ever seen him.

"Don’t make promises like that, Kudoh. I can take care of myself." The redhead’s actions belied his gruff tone as he first ran a pale thumb over the playboy’s full lips, then his tongue before pressing his mouth against them for a couple of heartbeats. Standing to his feet, Aya gathered his icy armor around him and in Abyssinian’s tone informed the seated man he was going to work out.

*******

Weiß gathered in the shadows of Tayago Corp.’s parking garage. The guards stationed down there was dead, ligature marks vivid around one’s neck, a dart in the other’s. "Abyssinian, you and Balinese now have twenty minutes to get to the conference room." Omi tapped at his laptop, quickly perusing the building via the surveillance cameras. "Everyone seems to be gone for the night, but be careful. After the allotted time Siberian and I will start taking out the drug labs. That should scare everyone out of the woodwork. The building’s security is now disabled."

"Understood." Yohji and Aya ghosted across the empty garage and up the stairwell. Their objective was the seventeenth floor. The redhead felt the strain to his injured leg, but ignored the pain. It wouldn’t do to be caught in an elevator by Schwarz, so they were taking the long way up. Reaching their level, Balinese cautiously opened the door, looked around, and stepped out into the hall. His partner followed.

Pausing to check the empty offices and plant explosives on the computers and filing cabinets found within, it took them a few more minutes to work their way down to the conference room. Hearing footsteps, the two men slid into one of the abandoned rooms as a secretary walked past, an empty pitcher of water in her hands. Taking in the glum expression on the blond’s face, Abyssinian ghosted after the woman, his sword arching out in a swift blow to her neck. He took a second to nudge the young woman’s head into a dark office as he waved Balinese on. While gruesome, the decapitation at least ensured that the girl hadn’t suffered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The blond steadfastly ignored the still twitching body. Women targets always got to him.

Nearing their destination, the two assassins stopped a corner short of the conference room. Balinese held up two fingers while he consulted his watch. As soon as one of them dropped the swordsman burst around the corner, taking out one of two guards posted outside the door. Before the other could lift his gun thin wires entwined his hand and arm, biting deep. The pain distracted him from realizing that a lanky form came up from behind him until he felt two hands grip his head. A short twist later and he joined other man on the floor, who had blood gurgling from his slit throat. Exchanging a brief glance, Abyssinian threw open the door to the meeting room as Yohji once again tossed out the deadly wire, preventing the managers nearest the exit from fleeing.

One man managed to ask what was happening before being having a blade slice into his heart. Halfway through their grisly objective the older Weiß felt the floor shake ever so slightly, indicating that their teammates were busy as well. Ignoring the pleas for mercy and offers of wealth, they continued to eliminate Tayago’s upper echelon. In a matter of minutes the conference room was made to resemble an abattoir, filled with scent of blood and voided corpses.

Wiping the blade of his katana on a bright yellow tie, Abyssinian once again counted the bodies. "We’re two short."

"What? Ah hell, who’s missing?" Yohji knew this job had been too easy.

"Gotō and one of the managers. Obari, I think.” It was hard to tell, what with most of the facial features twisted in pain and covered in blood.

"Bombay, got a second?"

"Hai, Balinese."

"You or Siberian run into Gotō and a friend down there in the labs?”

"No, just a dozen or so technicians. One of the labs looked like it had just been abandoned though. I rigged the security systems to go off if anybody tried to leave the building, so they have to still be here."

"Great." Exchanging a look with his lover, both men broke the eye contact to glance up at the ceiling. Or more exactly the roof. As they ran for the steps once more, the blond panted into the com, "We think they’re leaving by air. Meet us on the roof, and watch out for Schwarz."

"We’ll be there in eight minutes, have to finish up here first. Watch yourselves."

*******

"I don’t understand why you just don’t kill these assassins," Obari complained to the foreigners crowded into the elevator along with him and Dr. Gotō. The longhaired man was grinning at him in a mocking manner as the one-eyed man looked at him in such a way that unnerved the young manager.

"Because they are doing us a favor by getting rid of any witnesses that might cause us problems later," the American commented, voice betraying a hint of annoyance.

"I thought your friends," a manicured hand indicated Schuldig and Farfarello, "took care of that last night."

Osamu Gotō gave the dense man a pitying look. Obari hadn’t realized yet that he had sold their souls to demons with the deal he had brokered to the secretive organization that had supplied these men. He hadn’t yet made the connection between the meeting tonight and the arrival of yet another squad of killers.

Pushing down the urge to grind his teeth together, Crawford directed a pointed gaze at the Irishman. "They took care of most of the loose ends. Now Weiß will finish with the rest while we get the good doctor to safety.

Opening his mouth to inquire what about himself, Obari felt a stabbing pain slam up under his jaw, snapping his mouth closed. A blade had entered under his chin, piercing his mouth and sinus cavity. The blood rushing down his throat made it difficult to breath, but shock kept the worst of the pain at bay. A golden eye gleamed manically at him as he was shoved up against an elevator wall.

"Try to keep from making too much of a mess, Berserker." Crawford commented in an even voice, before shifting his attention to the shivering doctor. "Something wrong?"

"Noo-ooh." The middle-aged Japanese man stuttered out.

"Good. Remember, you are the only one we’re interested in."

"Please, just… please don’t forget your promise."

"We won’t. Our employers see no reason to harm your family, not as long as you continue to cooperate. Besides, your daughter shows signs of being as brilliant a scientist as you."

The man closed his eyes to block out what was happening to the young man who’d approached him with the challenge of creating a special mind-altering drug. Baka. He should have focused more on who was requesting the drug and why than eagerly grasping the demanding assignment. Now these demons would be taking that drug and the new one he’d worked so hard at the past week to their employers, along with him. And he would have to continue producing new drugs if he didn’t want his family to suffer.

<Hee hee, you should get a taste of this, Crawford. Poor guy’s wallowing in guilt and shame. Better watch it or he’ll throw himself out the helicopter.>

<How are things going downstairs?> The elevator dinged, letting Schwarz and company out onto the roof. "Berserker, playtime’s over."

<Abyssinian and Balinese are on their way, what smart kitties they are. The other two are finishing up in the labs. Do /I/ get to play now?>

<You and Berserker deal with Weiß. Kill them and I’ll have your heads. Prodigy, you’re with me. I need you to keep an eye on the doctor, and protect that laptop at all costs.>

The youth nodded and followed the two oldest men out onto the rooftop, while Schuldig and Farfarello settled in front of the stairwell.

"Abyssinian’s mine, you deal with Balinese. And if you cut up the dear boy enough, I’ll take you out on a nice little jaunt one night. Imagine the fun you’ll have then." Schuldig cocked an eyebrow at the insane man, who bobbed his head while licking one of his knives clean of blood.

<Here they come.>

The door was kicked open as glittering threads reached out, protecting the swordsman as he dove through the opening. The Irishman lost one of his knives as the cords jerked back, and charged at the blond assassin.

"Hello there, Kätzchen. Come to give me a goodbye kiss?"

Refusing to be baited, Aya focused on fighting his enemy, on being one step ahead of the lightning fast man. He and the German danced across the rooftop, parrying each other moves. "Such a joy, neh my little tuberose? Who else is this much fun to fight?"

Trying to take advantage of the wounded man, Schuldig kicked out a foot, catching the younger redhead in the ribs. The blow caused his opponent to hiss in pain as he flinched back, and earned him a slice along his leg. Abyssinian refused to go down. Scowling at the man, the telepath jumped backwards. <Ah, I see someone came prepared.>

"Really, Knuddelhäschen, you are such the spoilsport. But I guess you had to learn caution, considering the back-stabbers you live with. You should think of joining Schwarz, at least we don’t rape and spy on our fellow teammates. And you consider us the bad guys."

The swordsman refused to listen to that nasal voice. He concentrated on the fight, on figuring out the best way to impale the aggravating prick on his blade.

Sensing he wasn’t going to get anywhere with the redhead right now, Mastermind turned his attention to Kudoh, who was busy trying to keep Farfarello at arms length. The psychotic was oblivious to the dozen of bleeding cuts that covered him, he just sliced off the wire as soon as it landed on him. The blond was fending him off with the knife taken earlier, at a disadvantage against the Irishman’s weapons of choice with no other blades of his own.

<Don’t worry, Balinese. Farfie’s just going to slice up that pretty face of yours. Think the kitten will want to kiss it after he’s done?"

"Fuck off, asshole." Yohji narrowly avoided a swipe that might have cost him an eye. No matter what damage he did the foreigner, the madman wouldn’t go down.

Frustrated at the lack of response he was getting, and sensing the arrival of both the helicopter and the rest of Weiß, the telepath reached out to his teammate. <A little help here, Nagi-kins.>

<No. You got your job, I got mine.>

<Help me out or the boss will learn about a certain blue haired freak you’ve been staining the sheets dreaming about.>

<….. You’re such an jerk. I hope Abyssinian guts you.>

<How nice. I need you to stop him for a few seconds, that’s all.>

<Alright.> The telekinetic stretched out his powers and lightly grasped the swordsman, stopping him cold. Schuldig immediately took advantage of the situation by knocking the katana to the ground and holding the snarling man tight against his chest.

"Knew it was only a matter of time before you ended up here, Süßer."

Aya felt the panic start to build as once again someone intent on causing him harm was gripping him tightly from behind. Trying to fight the emotion, he snarled viciously when he felt a mouth nibbling on his left ear. <What’s the matter, mein Knuddelhäschen not happy to see me?>

Spotting what had befallen his lover, Yohji felt something inside him snap. Yelling obscenities, he struck back at the Irishman preventing him from helping the redhead. The fury of the attack forced the Schwarz member to retreat across the roof as the green eyed man swung out wildly. Farfarello wasn’t used to being on the receiving end on a berserker attack. Bombay’s voice echoed unheeded in the blond’s ear, informing him and his partner that the boy and Siberian were on their way.

Blue eyes shifting between the nearing helicopter and the ongoing battle, Crawford scowled in Mastermind’s direction. <Stop fooling around!>

The telepath ignored his leader, mind focused on the struggling man in his arms. The man’s anger and fear was such an exhilarating mix, along with the feel of that body writhing against his. "Mmm, such a tease, Kätzchen. Let’s see if we can get you in a better mood." Using his talents to arouse the pleasure center in Abyssinian’s brain, he smiled as he felt the man’s body still. "That’s it, just enjoy it." The rush was just too much, being linked to the dear boy’s mind.

The younger man let his body go limp, no longer fighting the waves of bliss coursing through him. A small part of his brain felt the German shift his arms to get a better hold on him, and he suddenly slammed a booted heel down on his enemy’s instep while swinging his elbows back as much as possible. Caught unawares, Schuldig let out a yelp as he stumbled backwards. Abyssinian dove for his blade as the helicopter touched down.

"Prodigy, keep them back. Mastermind, Berserker, come /now/." Things were falling apart, he never saw the two Weiß beating their opponents. The precog wanted in the air and safely on his way as soon as possible.

"Mastermind, guard the doctor." He thrust the Japanese man at the telepath as he pushed Farfarello into the back of the helicopter. Schuldig kept staring at Aya. Kept his mind linked with the other man.

<Not very nice, little tuberose. I told you it was your choice. Next time expect pain until you learn better manners.> He started to walk across the roof, shoving Gotō in front of him.

"Abyssinian, Balinese, we’re on the last flight of steps."

"Bombay, target the doctor as soon as you come onto the roof." Violet eyes glaring at his nemesis, Aya called out the German’s name. It got the man to pause for a second, mind brushing against his to discover his intentions. Gathering up all the pain, anger and hate he’d felt the past week, the swordsman let the feelings overwhelm him, body shaking from the intensity of the emotions.

The longhaired man moaned out loud as he was swept away by the barrage, oblivious to Oracle’s frantic shouts or the stairwell door bursting open. It was only when he felt his physical body being dragged down by something that he broke free of the maelstrom of emotions. Snapping his eyes open, he saw Gotō’s slack face and the dart sticking out of the man’s throat. Abandoning the dead scientist, he raced to the helicopter, busy dodging the hail of darts that Nagi wasn’t quite shielding from him. Sweet kid.

As soon as he was onboard, the craft took off. The telepath felt himself hauled up and punched in the jaw. The pain barely registered, he was still high on the buzz from Abyssinian’s emotional assault.

"You fucking prick. He’s dead! I warned you about messing around too much with Weiß."

Schuldig took another hit before he shoved the American back. "Arschloch. We have the two drugs and all his notes, plus the other little bits I took from his mind. That’s enough to satisfy the Tattergreise." Crawford glared at him, then turned around to fuss with the precious laptop. Settling down in a seat, the German closed his eyes and focused once more on his Kätzchen’s latest action. Wunderbar. He reveled in the feeling of that tumultuous mind seeking his out and dragging him in so deep. The poor kitten didn’t realize it yet, but he had just made things all that much easier for the telepath. Connections had been developed that had never existed before, as the swordsman’s mind became active in their link, no longer just passively receiving. Abyssinian had made himself open to a whole new world of mischief. The years of torment and taunts from afar had just paid off in a major way. ‘Hee hee, the fun truly will begin when I come back, count on it, Süßer.’

*******

"Anybody gets the bright idea to wake me up tomorrow morning will die, I’m warning you now."

"Hn."

"Maa, Yohji-kun, it must be old age creeping up on you. You used to stay up all night partying after missions."

"Yeah, but they didn’t involve a bunch of psychotic paranormals out for blood." Yohji flicked on the kitchen lights as the rest of Weiß followed him into their home. "Speaking of which, I’m covered with it and want a shower in the worst way."

Running a critical brown eye over the tall man, Ken commented that some of the blood looked as if it belonged on the inside of the blond. Which resulted in Omi dragging the protesting man off to the bathroom for first aid. The brunet offered his silent leader a sheepish grin. "Won’t get a chance to shower off for a while myself now, but it sure is nice to see someone else on the receiving end of the kid’s maternal instinct for once, ne?"

"Hn."

"You okay there Aya? Been a little bit more quiet than usual. Schuldig didn’t try anything, did he?"

"No, just got a headache." The redhead rubbed at his temples, puzzled by the odd sense of pain filling his head. As if he’d strained something, weird as it sounded. Guess that’s what he got for suddenly unleashing a ton of repressed emotions. It had done the trick though, in getting the German to freeze and allow Omi a clear shot at the target. Too bad Prodigy had blocked the youth’s next shot in time to save the bastard.

Aya made his way up to his room, lips twitching at the sounds of Yohji’s protests and Omi’s replies drifting out of the bathroom. He stripped off his coat, tsking over the new bloodstains that would have to be cleaned, and started to clean his blade. It took several minutes, but finally all the blood and gore were off. He’d have to find some time tomorrow to properly sharpen the weapon, but felt too wore out to do the job properly. A shower would feel nice right about now, washing off the stink from the mission and the feel of Schuldig touching him. Knowing Yohji the blond would use up most of the hot water, just like he usually did if he beat the others to the bathroom first.

Startled by the thought that crept into his mind, the redhead took a few seconds to analyze it and make sure it truly was one of his own. Hn. Hadn’t thought he was ready for that so soon, but the lure of a hot shower convinced him otherwise. He put down the katana and started undressing.

*******

"I wanna know what you got to say/ I wanna know what you got to say. I can tell you taste like the sky/cause you look like rain/you look like rain/ you look like rain/ you look like rain."

Yohji sang the American words cheerfully, glad to be alive and well on his way to being clean. Omi had dealt with the one or two cuts that needed stitches, fussing way too much over the rest of the scratches. All the playboy had really needed was to wash off before collapsing in his cozy bed. With luck there would be a certain redhead snuggling up to him again. While a far cry from his former after-mission escapades, it was still a night he was looking forward to.

Singing once again, the blond didn’t hear the bathroom door open and close. So it came as a bit of a shock when the curtain was jerked back and a naked swordsman joined him in the shower. "Aya! What the hell are you doing here?"

"Getting a shower." There was that ‘what an idiot’ look in those violet eyes, and maybe a trace of amusement as well. "You take too long."

"But…" Yohji lost his train of thought as the redhead tilted his head back and let the water run through the crimson locks. Body instantly reacting to the sight, the older man wondered if this was really happening. He was unsure of what to do. Aya was here, in the shower with him, naked. Any other time he’d be all over the smaller man, but something held him back. If the man really was here just for a shower, the blond could end up needing a lot more stitches from Omi.

"Where’s the shampoo?"

"Uh, here." The blond held out the bottle that his lover used, only to have it be ignored. Aya just kept his back to him, eyes closed as he let the water hit against his head and face. Deciding to take a chance, Yohji poured a handful of the cherry scented cleanser in his hand and started to scrub the red hair.

"Hmmm,’ the smaller man purred, head tilting back farther. Emboldened by the response, Yohji moved in closer, brushing his body against his lover. Aya shivered for a few seconds, then turned around. His eyes still closed, he ran a pale hand down the blond’s chest and stomach before settling it on a golden hip.

Breath catching in his throat, the older man adjusted the shower nozzle to rinse away the suds in the crimson hued mane. Looking down at the upturned face before him, he leaned forward to kiss his lover’s mouth. Aya’s lips parted to draw in his tongue as the redhead’s other hand reached up to tangle in his wet hair.

One moment the kiss was teasing and playful, the next searing in intensity. The two men clung to each other as the water fell upon them, shivering with desire. There was no telling how much time had passed, except for the annoyed pounding on the bathroom door and Omi’s raised voice. Yohji moaned deep into his lover’s mouth as the pale hand on his hip drifted lower, alternately stroking and pumping his erection. Shifting his grip to shove the smaller man against the wall, the blond caught himself in time. He wasn’t about to engage in rough shower sex with Aya, not right now.

Pulling back, he gasped out to his startled lover, "Not here, don’t want to hurry this. Bedroom." Aya looked as if he was about to complain, then just nodded his head as he stepped out of the shower. The two men gave it a go at toweling each other off, only to end up with the redhead pressed back against the door while Yohji’s mouth worked his nipples. The smaller man’s wince at having a door knob dig into his sore ribs helped the men to somewhat regain their senses, as they carelessly wrapped their towels around themselves and opened the door.

About to resume knocking and yelling at the older blond what was taking him so long to dry off, Omi just stood in the hallway as the sight of Yohji and /Aya/, dripping wet and towels threatening to fall off their hips, stumbling out of the steamy room. Yohji offered the stunned youth a quick wink before dragging his boyfriend down to their bedroom. Guessing that the playboy hadn’t been that tired after all, the teenager looked after the departing men with a bit of envy.

Fumbling open the bedroom door, the blond yanked Aya into the room after him, kicking the door shut behind them. "Now then, where were we?"

The redhead pressed up against him as a hand resumed its attention to his engorged shaft. "This seem about right?" he asked the moaning blond, nipping at a prominent collarbone. Aya continued pumping his hand as the nips and kisses moved downwards, teasing hardened nipples for a few minutes before trailing on. Yohji’s moans increased in intensity as the smaller man settled on his knees, face brushing against golden curls as he blew softly on the blond’s twitching organ. Feathery kisses and licks had the older man pleading while his hands gripped crimson strands in an effort to get that teasing mouth exactly where he needed it. Aya paused a second to smile up at the oblivious man before wrapping his lips around the shaft and started sucking. He liked being in control of the situation, it made him feel safer, more sure that this was the right thing to do.

Yohji gasped out the swordsman’s name as that hot mouth completely engulfed him. At first trying to hold back from thrusting deep into the moist cavern, he soon gave in to his body’s demand. Aya didn’t try to stop him or prevent his hips from moving, instead the man’s tongue resumed its torment as a hand came up to fondle his balls. The redhead kept enflaming his lover on until the older man came in his mouth, body tense and shouting out his name. Swallowing the waves of ejaculate, violet eyes focused on the shaking man in front of him. Shifting back onto his heels, Aya wiped his lips, a smug expression on his face.

Wanting nothing more than to haul the pale man up for a kiss, Yohji settled for extending a hand while trying to gather his scattered wits and strength. Aya accepted the gesture and gracefully rose to his feet as he tilted his head and nipped the older man’s chin. Hands once more gripping red hair, Yohji held his lover still so he could taste himself on the man’s lips. Gods, he loved that, it was enough to make him start to harden again. Mouths busy once again devouring each other, the blond walked backwards towards the bed, falling down onto it with the smaller man enclosed in his arms.

Searching his kitten’s half-lidded eyes, Yohji whispered into a pierced ear that things stopped whenever the smaller man wanted them to. Aya looked back for a minute before tilting his head to the side, allowing access to his sensitive neck. Accepting the offer, the blond fastened his mouth on the pale column as he rolled the mewling man onto his back. Grabbing some lubricant, he started to return the favor from earlier, working his mouth down the slender chest, devoting special attention to pink nubs and navel, depressingly bereft of its adornment due to the mission.

While taking the dripping erection into his mouth, he coated his fingers and slowly worked one of the slickened digits inside of his lover. Feeling the slender form stiffen, he tried to pull his head back to ask Aya if he wanted him to stop, but the fierce grip on his hair prevented that action. The redhead rocked his hips back, taking the finger in further. Giving the man’s body time to adjust, Yohji focused on the blowjob until the muscles clenching around his finger loosened. He added a second digit, searching for that certain spot that would make the redhead forget all about his anxieties.

Aya gasped as waves of pleasure washed over him, making his body relax and eyes close. His mind blanked on everything but what the talented mouth and fingers were doing to him. Lost in the sensations, it was only a matter of time before he felt his body clench as he orgasmed, a feeling of bliss and warmth filling him. It took him several minutes to realize that Yohji had shifted on top of him and was brushing back damp bangs while one hand kept stretching him below. "Aya love, you sure you’re ready?"

Not trusting his voice, the redhead lifted his legs, hooking them on the taller man’s arms. Pulling his lover down for a searing kiss, Aya focused purely on the present, refusing to think about anything that might ruin the moment. He wanted this, needed it badly to wash away the painful memories while his determination lasted. He’d defeated Mastermind once already tonight; he was hell-bent on doing it again.

Yohji was equally determined to carry through, to replace the awful incident with something indefinitely more pleasurable. Continuing the assault on the redhead’s mouth, his free hand stroked Aya’s stiffening organ while he carefully pushed inside the man. Allowing the smaller body to adjust to his size, the older made sure his lover was completely relaxed before he started moving. He made the thrusts slow and deep, rubbing against the redhead’s prostate whenever he could. It took all of his willpower to keep up the slow pace, especially when Aya started to writhe against him, begging the man to move faster. Yohji found his pace increasing as sharp nails raked down his back, spurring him on to give in to the need to possess the mewling form beneath him.

Both men became lost in the desire to melt into each other, frantic for all the contact and pleasure they could derive from their bodies. Nails once again raking down a golden back and voice silenced by the demanding tongue thrust deep into his mouth, Aya came with an intensity that blacked out his vision. He didn’t even notice when his lover shortly followed him over the edge, clenched fingers leaving deep bruises on his hips. Yohji rolled off the panting redhead when he felt he could move once more, but kept an arm wrapped around a slim waist. He nuzzled at a pale ear while a slightly trembling hand cleaned the both of them off. Then he felt Aya turn to face him.

Brushing back the long bangs that covered the most beautiful pair of eyes he’d ever seen, the blond smiled tenderly at his flushed lover. "Ai shiteru."

"Hn." Aya pressed against the blond’s shoulder until the baka got the hint and rolled onto his back. Yohji winced slightly when his scratched back touched the sheets, but didn’t complain. That’s what one got for bedding a kitten like his. Besides, Aya was settling half on top of him; one leg thrown over his groin and an arm across his chest while silky hair tickled his chin. Arms moving to wrap around his lover, Yohji started to fall asleep until he heard a half-whispered ‘ai shiteru’ repeated back to him. Tightening his hold on the smaller man, the blond felt a smile spread across his face as everything else faded out.

*******

Rushing home after school, Omi was treated to the sight of a veritable horde of teenaged girls clamoring outside the flowershop. It seemed that the fan club had not taken kindly to being deprived their bishounen fix for two days. ‘Buy something or leave’ could be faintly heard over giggling and pleas for attention. Drawing a deep breath, the genki blond prepared him to face the mob when he noticed a familiar redhead across the street. He walked over and greeted the woman. "Konnichi wa, Manx."

"Konnichi wa, Omi."

Glancing around quickly to make sure no one was listening, Omi asked, "So how did Kritiker take the mission report?"

"All in all, pretty good. They weren’t too happy about Schwarz escaping, but you did eliminate the doctor and everyone else involved, not to mention destroyed what was left of the drug."

"Good. So no more threats of transferals, right?"

Manx sighed as she gazed down into earnest blue eyes. "No, not at this moment. It’s not every team that can fight Schwarz to a draw, so our employers will leave Weiß be. If you want to keep the team together, keep up the good work."

"Sugoi!"

"Omi, you do realize it’s a volatile situation, having a serious relationship between team members. I know you’re happy for Kudoh and Fujimiya, but please promise me you won’t let your feelings for them get you into trouble."

"I won’t Manx. Besides, I don’t think we have anything to worry about with those two. They put up with a lot of problems this past mission, and worked them out. Trust me, things will be fine."

Offering the young man a bittersweet smile, the red haired woman waved good-bye. For his and Birman’s sake she’d keep her employers in the dark about the two assassins, but resolved to maintain a careful watch over the situation. Omi was all she had left of her beloved Shuuichi, he would want her to keep the boy as safe as possible.

Gazing after Manx, the teenager felt a weight lift from his chest. It seemed that he wouldn’t have to use the information he’d gathered just yet. The past week had been spent compiling as much information on his shadowy employers and their families as he could find. Any threat to his family would lead to the release of that information. It was nice to know that he could keep the disk in reserve for now, maybe add to it over time. There was no way he was letting anyone split up Weiß.

Heading back to the shop, the young archer realized that he had forgotten to ask Manx about the organization Esset he’d come across while researching Tayago. He remembered hearing his uncle mention it once, and hoped the man’s former secretary could help shed some light on the group. Guess he’d have to wait and ask her next time.

*******

Schuldig cursed as he stumbled down the hall, mind too busy searching for guards and the elusive mind he was seeking to block the pain of his beatings. Esset hadn’t been too pleased to lose the doctor after all, and him being the guilty one had taken the blame. The fuckers. He’d find a way to pay them back someday. But right now he needed to talk to a special somebody, maybe have a question or two answered. Which was why he was roaming around these abandoned halls while everyone assumed he was tucked away in bed.

There she was. Third door down on the left. Those senile Idioten had locked her away once they had no more use for her. Opening the door, the telepath wheezed out, "Hello, Cassandra." Really, what had they been thinking to name her that? Hadn’t they read their Greek mythology? No wonder she was sitting here all alone in a room empty of everything but a bed and a closet, staring out into the moonlight.

"Schuldig, I knew you would come. Saw this a long time ago, when first we met." A middle-aged woman gazed up on him, her beauty dulled by years of neglect and the toil of her power. Her long hair was grey, along with her tattered clothes, and her skin pale. Cassandra was a sort of all around psychic, able to see the past, present and future. But her visions often didn’t make any sense, and like her predecessor were ignored or disbelieved. But the German had remembered that she always saw things correctly, one just had to interpret what she said.

"So you know why I’m here." He held out in a shaky hand. In it was a lock of blood red hair he’d snatched from Abyssinian as the man had stared in shock upon his drugged and cheating lover.

Rocking back and forth, the grey toned woman clutched the hair to her chest. "Oh yes, I can see what draws you to him. All those strands, tying back to him. He’s the center of it all. Eye of the storm. So many threads, and you’re one of them. How he twists them about as he dances, making new patterns with every step. Be careful, he can cut through them so easily. Already has, and will do so again. And the mighty will topple once more."

Oddly enough, the telepath was following the nonsense words, his mind linked with the woman’s, seeing what she saw. If he guessed correctly at the interpretations, then his sweet little Kätzchen was infinitely precious. "Cassandra, do the old farts still come and talk to you?"

"Yes, and I know what you want. You’re an evil child, but you’ll keep your promise this time. For him. There is one who’ll serve their purpose while sparing your heart, don’t worry. So easy to substitute the one for the other. I’ll be here waiting while you play your games."

"Thank you." For once there was no mockery in those words. Schuldig reached out to take back the crimson lock, struggling briefly as Cassandra refused to let go.

"So bright he burns, so bright. You want that heat, so hot. This little bit makes me remember how it felt to be warm, so long ago."

"I’m sorry Cassandra, I can’t leave it here. If those Wichser find it, there’ll be trouble. They’ll want him as well."

Wrinkled fingers reluctantly let go. "Remember the deal."

"I will." Schuldig left the half mad psychic and wearily made his way back to his room. Cassandra would throw Esset off Abyssinian’s scent, and in return he would come back someday soon and end the woman’s misery. Not a bad bargain, not at all. Especially considering what he had found out tonight. He’d have to be very careful to make sure no one else discovered what his sweet little tuberose really was, or there’d be a battle over the swordsman of biblical proportions. Oh, it would be sweet to keep everyone unaware while he snatched away the prize. Looks like he’d be having another little chat with Bradley soon, finding out what the man’s private agenda was and seeing if it would match up with his goal. It was going to be a very busy year.

*******

Yohji smirked at the crowd of girls fighting for his lover’s attention. The redhead just ignored them as he worked on a flower arrangement, pointing out repeatedly that he was busy helping a /paying/ customer. Poor girls didn’t know a lost cause when they saw one.

Returning his attention to the swarm surrounding him, the blond kept the cheerful smile on his face merely by thinking of his plans for the evening. Aya and him were set to have a nice quiet dinner and then curl up on the couch to watch a Humphrey Bogart movie festival. He’d overheard the younger assassins placing bets on how far into the marathon the two lovers would get before retreating back to their bedroom. Trying to decide if he’d let his malicious nature or hormones win out, Yohji was startled by the presence of an actual male in the shop besides the employees. Strangely enough, the man was carrying a huge paper-wrapped floral arrangement of his own. Taking note of the frowning man’s uniform, the blond realized that he was from one of the most expensive flower shops in Tokyo, often filling orders for the Imperial family. "Uh, can I help you?"

"Is there an A. Fujimiya here?"

"Yes, he’s busy at the moment. Can I sign for the, uh, flowers?"

Nodding his head, the stern deliveryman handed the blond a clipboard and pen. Upon its return, he looked at the signature, sniffed a little, and handed over the arrangement. Giving the shop a disdainful once over, he quickly left.

"Pardon me ladies, seems our Aya has a secret admirer." The girls cooed and awed as Yohji carried the heavy arrangement back to his lover, both jealous and curious. Someone had the nerve to send /his/ kitten flowers. It better be a joke.

Placing the object in front of the redhead, Yohji was treated to an inquisitive look, to which he shrugged in reply. Aya carefully removed the paper, taking note of the emblem emblazoned across it. Once removed, an odd collection of flowers greeted the two men. While whoever had assembled it had been quite talented, it was obvious that the arrangement symbolized something instead of being merely aesthetically pleasing. Pink anemone, china aster, phlox, dog rose and purple columbine were nestled among branches of holly and mountain ash. In the very center was a single tuberose. The arrangement was in a beautiful, clearly antique vase that was decorated with a kitten playing under a white camellia tree. There was no card. Then again, Yohji didn’t think Aya or him needed one to figure out who sent it. Judging from the icy look that had settled over the redhead’s face, the arrangement’s meaning was not a happy one.

Ignoring the laughing girls who were teasing the silent redhead, Yohji felt a chill down his spine.

*******

Song lyrics by Morphine

Pimpernel – assignation

Jonquil – desire

Holly – am I forgotten

Anemone - anticipation

Mountain ash – I watch over you

China aster- I think of thee

Purple columbine – resolve to win

Phlox – our souls united

Dog rose – pleasure and pain

*******

Okay, that’s the end for this fic. But, being the industrious little gal I am, I have a new one all set to go, and will be downloading the chapters in the next day or two. Hope everyone enjoyed the fic, know it was a bit dark at some points. Things aren’t taking a completely paranormal turn, just playing with an idea I’ve had for some time to explain some of the more absurd points of the anime. Next fic will cover this in more detail.

Thanks once again for all the reviews and comments. Special thanks to Lady Gackt for input and support, same goes to Jacque Koh for her grammar comments. And special special thanks to Kabuki for the German help, beta-reading and not killing me over the Humphrey Bogart festival. Hee, evil A-gene strikes again, but the snugglebunnies stick together.

Ja

nekojita

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