Chapter 2


The scent of blood. The beat of a heart. The faint glimmer of gold threads. A purring voice, deep inside, clamoring to be put to use, to be free. A solid weight in his arms. These were the defining points of Ayaís world; everything else had faded away. All that mattered was Yohji; he wasnít about to let the man be snatched away, like his sister had been. Aya kept pouring whatever bit of himself he could into Yohji, forcing the manís heart to keep beating. He wouldnít let the man die. That wasnít allowed.

From far away, Aya felt a tugging sensation. He gave into it, since that course of action was easier than resistance, making sure to clutch tight the solid presence in his arms. Vaguely, he realized he was walking, but that wasnít important to Aya. It was something the redhead could ignore in favor of other things. At least until he felt someone tugging on Yohji, trying to break his hold on the man. Aya snarled, holding his lover tightly.

"Aya-kun, the doctors need to take Yohji; they have to operate on him. You need to let him go."

"Get some O negative blood, and lots of it, right now. This guy looks almost completely drainedÖ"

"Aya, itís okay, weíre at the hospital. Shit, Omi, I donít think heís hearing us. He must have taken a blow to the head."

The words were almost meaningless to Aya; all he cared about was not losing another loved one. There was a hint of pain, and the voices become louder and harsher, but still he held on.

<Aya, let him go. The doctors will look after him, and youíre only endangering both Kudoh and yourself with this shit. Stop it now.>

That voice got through to the swordsman, and he reluctantly let go of Yohji. Once more he felt someone tugging on him, but he kept his attention focused on making sure that the golden strands didnít fade. Aya had so little heat left, but it had to hold out. It had to last. The bindings were in place once more, blocking him from his power, all but the little bit he had clung to back at the warehouse.

<Itíll hold, the Schwanzlutscher is too damn stubborn to die. Iím not that lucky. Heíll pull through, now that the doctors have him. Now to worry about you. Youíre a mess, little tuberose. Poor Rōyama, he thought he was going to have a nice, quiet night at home this evening. Heíll look after you.>

"You said that Kudoh is in the OR? Then Iíll handle Fujimiya. No, thatís okay, Iím here now; got the damn page and came all the way here from home. Iíll take care of him. Letís get him into a private room."

"Dr. Rōyama, is he going to be alright?Ē

"Let me find out. Help me get him out of this coat."

Aya felt his body be shifted about, and started to shiver from the cold. But the gold strands distracted him. Was it misplaced hope, or were they becoming brighter? There was more pain, growing stronger by the minute.

"Öcracked ribs, I want an x-ray of his left forearm, the wrist appears swollen, several contusions requiring stitches. Let me check his eyesÖ uhm, shitÖ I _think_ he has a concussion, judging from his reactionsÖ"

He was moved about, poked and prodded, and all that mattered was the strands becoming brighter. Their light was still so weak, but they didnít seem as if they would fade into darkness anymore. Yohji wasnít going to die on him, at least not right now. Aya shoved the last of his essence down the threads, and felt darkness pressing against him.

<Ah, ah, ah. None of that. You pass out right now, and Rōyama will be forced to admit you. That will attract attention, and someone will notice things, like your eyes. We canít have that.>

Strength flooded into Aya, and he used it to push back the darkness. The room about him came into focus, and Aya found himself sitting in a curtained section of the Magic Bus Hospitalís emergency room. It took him a moment to realize that the room appeared dark because his sunglasses were still on. Omi was sitting beside him on a hospital bed, and Dr. Rōyama was finishing placing a temporary cast on his left arm.

"Aya-kun? You okay now?" The teenager reached over and hugged him, and Aya couldnít help but let a small gasp of pain slip past his lips. "Oh! Iím sorry. We were so worried about you! The doctor says you have a mild concussion, and some fractures, among other things."

Aya didnít want to hear about himself. "Kudoh?"

Omi patted his shoulder, blue eyes filled with tears. "Ken is trying to find out his status at the moment. Heís been in the operating room for a half hour now. Heíll be fine though, I just know it."

A half hour. If he wasnít so exhausted, Aya would try to check the strands once more, but he couldnít make his mind find them again. Theyíd been at the hospital for that long now? It seemed just minutes ago that Yohjiís body had crumpled to the floor of the warehouse.

Dr. Rōyama was at his side, scribbling away on a medical chart. ďOkay, listen up, Fujimiya. You have three cracked ribs; not much I can do about those besides give you some painkillers. There is a hairline fracture in one of the bones in your left forearm, which is why I put it in a temporary cast. Leave it on, except during showers, for the next week or so. Come back in seven days, and Iíll take another x-ray, see if it has healed by then. Youíre also the proud owner of eighty-seven stitches, and several abrasions. I uh, wrapped them up for the moment," the doctor appeared nervous about the matter, and a light blush bloomed over his cheeks. "Whatever you do, donít remove the bandages while youíre here in the hospital. Also, you have a mild concussion. That means no sleep for you, not for the next several hours at least.

"Under the circumstances, I should be admitting you, but having dealt with you in the past, I donít wish to inflict you upon the hospital staff. Besides, I have a feeling that you will be remaining here anyway, awaiting the recovery of your teammate." The doctor stopped writing, and handed something over to Omi. "Hereís a list of the antibiotics and painkillers I want your friend to take; you can wait for word on Kudoh out in the waiting room. Good night."

The two assassins stared at the surly physician as he shrugged out of his white coat. Schuldig provided an answer to their unspoken question. <Someoneís grouchy because I made him acknowledge the page. See how I take care of you, my little tuberose? Any other doctor would be running to Kritiker right this minute, telling them about your eyes and the marks on your neck, which sure as hell werenít caused by the mission earlier. What would you do without me? I keep you safe.>

Yes, but at the expense of Ayaís sanity. Schuldig snorted at that thought, as the swordsman let Omi lead him out of the ER. His whole body hurt, now that he wasnít distracted with keeping Yohji alive, and he was freezing. ĎHow is he, Schu?í

<Always such concern about the blond slut, when you should be worried about yourself.> Bitterness and jealousy accompanied the words; Schuldig was clearly not happy, either. <Heíll be out of surgery in a few minutes; the surgeons have closed his wound and have him stabilized. Theyíre preparing to admit him to intensive care as we speak. Now relax, people are watching. You keep acting like this, and theyíll wonder why you are so worked up over Balinese.>

Aya ignored the chair that Omi was gesturing to, preferring to stand instead. If he sat down, he might never be able to regain his feet. Exhaustion weighed heavy on his battered body; Aya could feel each one of those stitches and cracked bones.

"Aya-kun, are you alright? Should I go get the prescriptions filled now? I was hoping to wait until we heard about Yohji-kun, but if you are in pain, I can take care of them now." Omi hovered by his elbow, an anxious expression on his face. The teenagerís clothes were splattered with blood, and he was wearing a pair of hospital slippers, instead of his sneakers. Looking down, Aya was shocked to discover that sometime in the past half hour or so, most likely during his examination, his mission clothes had been exchanged for hospital scrubs. There was something scratchy around his neck, which, from the feel of it, was gauze. He recalled the doctor telling him to keep his bandages on, and then Schu mentioning why the man was in a bad temper. ĎSchu, what the hell is going on here?í

There was a phantom caress along Ayaís right cheek, followed by another wave of energy that helped the pale man better focus on the world around him. <Look over by the elevators, but donít stare.>

Doing as he was told, Aya spotted a Eurasian woman, in her thirties from her appearance, dressed in a conservative skirt and blouse, smoking a cigarette. Nothing about her should have attracted his attention, but once he saw her, it was hard to tear his eyes off of her. For a moment, he felt fine threads tying him to the woman, and sensed that Omi, Ken and Yohji were also connected, but not as strongly as he was.

<See the benefits of acknowledging your power? Thereís a whole new world awaiting you now. One these boring, ignorant, normals will never understand.> Schuldigís voice was smooth and insinuating, echoing throughout Ayaís mind. It clashed with the pain and self hate that arose when Aya reflected on just how abnormal he was. <Youíre not a freak, just special. Ach, you wonít believe me; weíll save that for later. That woman is one of the people who actually runs Kritiker. Poor Persia; he doesnít understand that he only operates the organization by her and her colleaguesí whims. She is here to personally try and piece together what happened tonight. You keep mooning over the Schwanzlutscher, and sheíll figure out that you care for him as more than just a teammate. Which would be very, very bad. Now answer the chibi, before he repeats the question for a third time, and attracts unwanted attention to you.>

"Iím fine, Omi. Weíll wait."

"Okay, Aya-kun."

The two WeiŖ fell silent after that exchange. Aya resisted the urge to stare at the smoking woman, while mentally willing Ken to show up with an update on Yohjiís condition. He couldnít do anything but stand here while under her supervision. Deep inside the redhead, a kernel of anger and hate formed, directed at his employers. The very same people who had taken an innocent Ran and given him a sword, and sent him out to kill; who had done the same to Yohji, Omi and Hidaka as well. The ones that subjected him to those damn psych sessions, and now stood here observing him, as if he was a lab rat of some sort. It was so much easier to focus on that rather than tonightís revelation. Aya might not be able to hide from himself any longer the fact that he wasnít remotely normal, that he was like Schu and the rest of Schwarz, but he could push that to the back of his mind for the moment, in favor of other distractions.

While Omi fidgeted in his seat, Aya quietly stood there, refusing to give in to the exhaustion and the feeling that a pair of arms was encircling his chest, coaxing him to relax and accept their comfort. <Stubborn idiot.> Aya didnít answer that comment, saving his energy for waiting for Yohji to be brought out of surgery.

A couple minutes later, and Ken trotted up to Omi and him; like Aya, the brunet was dressed in hospital scrubs, with a slightly damp orange shirt worn over the outfit. "Heís out of surgery, and in recovery at the moment. Theyíll take him up to the ICU in a few minutes. What say we head on up there, and you can sweet talk the nurse into letting us see Yohji in his room, Omi."

Omi nodded his head, and the three assassins made their way to the elevator. As he walked past the woman, Aya made sure not to look her way. Nonetheless, he felt a pair of eyes on him until the elevator door closed.


Smoke stared at the closed elevator doors, then dropped her cigarette to the floor, not even pausing to grind it out. She walked over to the ERís workstation, reaching out an arm to rummage through the medical charts hanging in a rack. A nurse moved to prevent her, a glare on the womanís face, but one of her co-workers stopped the woman with a hand on her shoulder and a shake of his head. Finding Orchideeís chart, Smoke tucked it between her side and her elbow, and walked towards surgery.

At the ORís station, she once more confiscated a medical chart, this time Balineseís. Ignoring the no smoking signs liberally posted about the hallways, she lit another cigarette as she searched out a quiet waiting room. Smoke found it on the third floor, and settled down to read.

Balineseís femoral artery had been severed; the doctors could not believe that the man still had been alive when he was brought in. The assassin had been in stage IV of hypovolaemiaÖ Smoke sputtered and tried to decipher the medical lingo. In short, Balinese had lost over forty percent of his blood volume, and should have been in respiratory distress, or suffering a stroke or heart attack; yet none of these things had occurred. His prognosis was excellent; thanks to the massive transfusions, his most pressing concern would be healing the leg wound. Very curious.

As for Orchidee, his chart painted an interesting story as well. He had required some medical attention also, but had no life threatening injuries. What stood out was, despite the amount of damage he had taken, it was nearly all centered on non-vital parts of his body, excepting the concussion. Another thing that stood out was Rōyamaís refusal to admit the assassin for further tests and observation. For a moment, the woman contemplated having another doctor check Orchidee out, but decided to let the matter ride for the time being.

Something was going on here; she could sense it, but didnít understand what was wrong. Maybe the mission report would shed some light on the situation; someone should notify Manx to contact WeiŖ and to get the information they had been sent out for, as well as debrief the assassins. However, Smoke was beginning to have her suspicions about the agent; she had been so loyal to the former Persia, and still insisted on interacting with the manís pet team, even when ordered to leave them alone. Perhaps it would be best to have Gaijin assist in this matter.

Rising to her feet, Smoke clutched the charts to her chest and left the quiet room. She had work to do tonight; the sooner she got the mission report, the sooner she could figure out what went wrong. The woman decided to start with reviewing the transcript from Orchideeís session with Dr. Arai today, and see if she could pick up anything out of the ordinary.


Omi stared down at Yohji, unable to believe that the normally animated man could be so motionless, and his face so blank. Even when the older blond was standing still, one could tell he was actually posing more than anything else, and there was almost always an emotion of some sort on the expressive face. Not at this moment, however. For Yohji to be this stillÖ it brought home just how bad the manís injury must have been. As did the amount of equipment hooked up to his friend, quietly humming and beeping all around the bed.

Aya had claimed the sole chair, and was sitting next to the bed, his arms resting on top of it, with his head on the uninjured one. It seemed purely coincidental that his left hand rested so close to Yohjiís, at an awkward angle on the bed because of the cast; a pale finger would flex every few seconds and stroke the golden skin, almost as if by nervous habit.

"Aya-kun, remember, you canít fall asleep for a few more hours." All he got back in response was a grunt, but Ayaís eyes were wide open, staring at his lover. Omi wanted to suggest that the redhead go home, but knew that Aya wouldnít leave Yohjiís side. He just hoped that nothing happened like it had the last time the three of them were in a hospital together.

"Hey, got some nice, hot coffee here, guaranteed to be worse than the stuff I make." Ken walked into the room, carefully holding three paper cups in his hands. Amazingly enough, he hadnít spilled out all their contents on his way from the vending machine to the room. "The creamer was broken, so itís black, but I swear the machine dumped about five teaspoons of sugar in each one. And if that isnít enough sugar for you, I have a couple of candy bars as well."

Omi eagerly grabbed two of the cups, and walked back over to the bed. "Aya-kun, have some coffee. I think you could really use it right now." A pale hand reached out for a cup, and didnít flinch when some of the hot liquid spilled onto it. Aya sat back in his chair, but his eyes never left Yohjiís face.

"You still not getting anything out of him?" Ken inquired sotto voce. Omi shook his head and then sipped his beverage, immediately making a face as it touched his tongue.

"Ouch, hot and terrible. Ken, this makes your coffee seem divine in comparison." The brunet flashed him a tired grin, then motioned his head towards the bed.

"The docs say Yohji wonít wake up for another couple of hours, if even then. Canít we send Aya home? Itís not good, him being here like this. What if someone notices that heís a touch too concerned about Yohji?"

Shaking his head again, Omi raised an eyebrow. "You want to be the one to tell him to leave?" Ken blanched at the suggestion, and dropped the subject. He crossed the room, taking position at the window, while Omi settled at the foot of the bed. The two of them munched on candy bars, and as soon as Aya finished his coffee, the redhead was once more leaning on the bed, his finger brushing against Yohjiís hand.

Hearing the door open, Ken and Omi looked up from their snacks. Manx walked through the door, pausing when she caught sight of Yohji. Omi jumped up from the bed and hugged the woman. "Manx, are you here to see Yotan?" He couldnít immediately think of any other reason for her to be at the hospital in the wee hours of the morning.

Manx hugged the teenager close for a moment, and only Ken noted the grim look on her face. "Iím afraid Iím here on business, and not a personal call. Kritiker needs to know what happened on the mission, and wants the information you downloaded, Omi. Letís take this into another room, if you donít mind. Hidaka, Fujimiya, Iíd like for you to be there as well."

Frowning, Omi ended the embrace and fetched his backpack, pausing to touch Aya on the shoulder. He was glared at in return, and had to repeat Manxís request to the swordsman. It was clear that Aya didnít want to leave the room, however, it was equally clear that Manx wasnít going to let him skip the debriefing.

"Fujimiya, I want you to participate in this. Something went very wrong tonight, if a skilled agent was almost killed, and we need to find out what. Now come on."

"Aya-kun, it would be best if you came along. We donít want to disturb Yohji-kun."

Aya snorted, a patent indication that he wasnít buying the excuse, but stood anyway. The glare was bumped up to shi-ne intensity, and immediately directed toward Manx. The woman ignored it as she walked out into the hall.

The debriefing was to be held a couple rooms down from Yohjiís. Omi blinked when he realized that someone was waiting for them in it; a foreign man with a kind face.

"Here, let me take that," the stranger said as he reached for Omiís laptop. "I need to download the files off of it. Could you help me with the passwords?" The youth complied, bypassing the security on his pc so the man could get the files he needed.

"Iím sorry; it wasnít a complete download, and there didnít seem to be many files on the targetís computer." The blond youth felt the need to justify his failure to complete his part of the mission, since there was a stranger taking part in the debriefing.

Manx sat down on the vacant bed, making sure to cross her legs and tug her short skirt down as she did so. "What about the target? Is Hirai dead?"

"Yeah, Aya took him out." Ken snagged the roomís chair, turning it around and sitting on it backwards, forearms crossed on the back of it. "WeiŖ managed that much, at least."

Omi thought he saw the foreigner start at that comment, then the blond man smiled at him and resumed typing on his own laptop.

"Start from the beginning, I want to know about the whole night."

There was something odd in Manxís voice, Omi realized. It was a bit higher than usual, as if strained by tension. Turning his back to the computer technician, Omi raised an inquiring eyebrow at the redheaded woman. Green eyes flicked from him, to Aya, and then to the technician, before returning to his face for one intense moment, and then dropping down to the floor. The message was clear; this had something to do with Aya. Omi waited for the moment he could interrupt Kenís recitation, fervently hoping that the man didnít say any more than he should. The gods seemed to be favoring him for once, as Ken didnít report anything incriminating.

"-looked behind me for Aya, only to find him taking out the target, and Yohji falling down wounded. Aya fixed up a tourniquet real quick, and we aborted the mission, not that there was much left to it by that time. We drove here, and that was that."

"Fujimiya, do you have anything to add?"

Aya didnít even look up from where he was leaning against the wall beside the door, his eyes fixed on the floor. "No."

The technician coughed, causing Manx to flinch, just the slightest bit. Both Omi and Ken caught the movement. "What is your version of tonightís events?"


"Abyssinian, please give a summary of tonightís events."

Ayaís body tensed in anger, immediately causing the man to let out an explosive puff of air in pain. His head still tilted downward, so his long bangs covered his face; the only other movement the redhead made was to lift a hand and brush it along his cheek. "We arrived at the warehouse; Bombay departed for the office, Siberian and I surveyed the place and found a dark corner to hide in, and Balinese remained hidden, waiting for the target.

"When the target did arrive, Siberian and I created a diversion, and started to take out the guards. Balinese went after the target, but had interference from the manís bodyguards." Aya paused, the hand still cupping his cheek. "When I turned to check on Balineseís progress, I saw the target approaching him with a weapon. He failed to heed my warning, so I left Siberian to deal with the remaining security so as to assist Balinese. I managed to kill the target only after he wounded Balinese, and immediately gave my teammate the necessary medical attention." The deep voice fell silent, and Aya seemed unaware that four sets of eyes were focused on him, waiting to see if he would continue.

When it was clear he wouldnít, Omi reported his version of events. His report was a bit different from the othersí, since he had been hidden away in an office during the fight. Omi reported Yohji mentioning the heavy security, and then cutting off communications with him as the older man had started for the target. Heíd had to abandon the download when Ken called for the mission to be aborted, due to Yohjiís injury. Finished with his debriefing, Omi stared at Manx, waiting for her response.

"Why was Kudoh selected to take out the target?"

That wasnít what the teenager had expected to hear, but Omi had an answer ready. "Because of the anticipated security, I thought it best to have someone with a long range weapon be assigned to the target. That way, Yohji wouldnít have to be as close to the man as Aya or Ken would have to be, in order to take him out."

There was a pause in the clacking of keys behind Omi, and Manx frowned for a moment, as if unhappy with something. "So you were the one who chose the mission roles?"

"Yes, I normally do. No one had a problem with the assigned positions; in fact, Yohji had looked forward to being the one to take out the target for once."

"Yeah, Aya had tried to-"

Omi started to cough furiously, glaring over the hand covering his mouth at Ken. The athlete seemed to get the hint, and quickly shut up. After a few more seconds, Omi stopped and smiled sheepishly at the woman. "Sorry about that."

Tugging at her skirt, Manx nodded her head. "Have a drink of water, Omi. All three of you look as if you are ready to collapse; maybe you should go home and wash off, and get a little sleep. Iíd hate to have you become ill."

"Iíd like to stick around until Yohji wakes up, if thatís alright with you. But maybe Ken should go home; he could bring me a change of clothes, and post a sign saying the Koneko wonít be open for business for a day or so. Right, Ken?"

Picking up on his chance to escape, Ken nodded his head. "Iíll go right now, and will be back in a couple of hours. You want me to bring back anything special from home, Omi? Aya?" When neither young man specified anything, Ken was quick to flee.

"If there is nothing else you want to know, Manx, could we please go as well? Iím anxious to see how Yohji is faring." Omi held his breath, waiting to see if there would be any more questions.

Manx nodded her head, a tired look on her face. "Iíll get in touch with you if there is anything else we need to know. I am heartened to hear that Hirai was taken care of; Kritiker will have a better idea of where we stand with the smuggling ring as soon as we go over the information you brought back. WeiŖ can count on hearing from someone soon; this mission is far from over." She stood up, smoothing down her skirt again, the nervous gesture at odds with her calm demeanor. "I hope Kudoh recovers quickly. Now try to get some rest before you make yourselves sick with worry."

Suppressing the urge to hug the woman, Omi bowed and turned to face the Ďcomputer technicianí. "Are you finished yet?"

"All done. You might want to defrag your computer sometime soon; it would help speed things up. But as you mentioned, there really wasnít that much to retrieve. I also hope your teammate will be fine." The foreigner smiled again, and started to gather up his equipment.

"Thank you." Omi offered a smile in return, and turned around to find Aya already gone. Shooting another glance at Manx, he followed the swordsmanís example.

Upon entering Yohjiís room, Omi discovered Aya once more at the playboyís side. When the pale man showed no sign of wanting to talk, Omi sighed and curled up on the wide windowsill. He stared at the couple for a few minutes, taking in how Ayaís sight never wavered from Yohjiís face, and how he kept touching the unconscious manís hand. Maybe it was his imagination, but Yohji appeared to have a bit more color to him now.

Then Omi thought about the mission debriefing. Who was that technician, really? He had never come across the manís profile before, and being so obviously a foreigner, the manís face would have stayed in Omiís memory. The teenager seriously doubted he was some sort of lackey, or else heíd never have been allowed in a debriefing like that. And there was no question that Manx had been upset over something other than Yohjiís injury. It didnít take much thought to come to the conclusion that it was about Aya. Omi didnít want to think about Kenís slip, and the potential trouble it could cause them.


Ken straightened up with a groan, his left hand massaging the small of his back. Heíd managed to clean up the Seven to the best of his ability; someone from Kritiker would have to take the vehicle to completely remove the bloodstains he couldnít remove. Yohji better damn well appreciate his efforts, though. Gathering up the dirty rags, Ken stopped by the laundry room, tossed them in the washer, and started the machine. That tended to, he entered the Koneko.

That was another half hour of cleaning; this time, taking care of the mess that should have been attended to the previous evening. Once the place appeared presentable and the plants were watered, Ken made a mostly legible sign to inform the storeís customers that the Koneko would be closed for the foreseeable future.

After that, the athlete headed to the kitchen, and made himself a couple of sandwiches. Still munching on the last one, Ken decided to grab a shower, and then sleep for a couple of hours before returning to the hospital. The doctors were almost certain that Yohji would completely recover; he didnít think that the dumb blond would be too upset if he wasnít present when Yohji woke up. All heíd care about was where Aya was, most likely.

Turning on the hot water until the shower was just short of scalding, Ken started to rinse off the sweat and blood stuck in his hair and the feeling of grime from his body. Scrubbing his hair, the young man thought about the odd debriefing heíd taken part in before leaving. It was strange, having an outsider there for the meeting. And Manx and Omi had definitely been acting odd. Why had Omi hushed him when heíd mentioned how Aya had wanted to take out the target, instead of Yohji?

Something inside Ken told him the strange occurrence was focused on the silent redhead. But he couldnít figure out why, not yet. But he was convinced that Omi was keeping secrets from him, and decided he didnít like that, not at all. Once things calmed down a bit, he was going to make it his mission to find out what exactly it was that the youth was hiding from him.


Schuldig sat in an empty doctorís office, his feet propped up on the desk and his eyes closed. So many tasks that needed taking care of, and he was so tired at the moment. About to fall asleep, a twinge in his left hand jerked him back awake. Opening his eyes, he regarded the star cut into his flesh. What the hell had possessed the old witch tonight?

So Aya had finally acknowledged his power, but was the price worth it? The risk was so great; each time the Japanese man used his talent was a chance that someone might notice what he was doing, and then all hell would break loose. Once word of a catalyst got out, certain organizations would never rest until they found the prize. Cass had risked all of them with her games tonight. It better damn well be worth it.

But despite the danger, Schuldig had to admit that several new possibilities had opened up in front of him. He now had one more thing to use against his heart, to bring the man around and make him his. Tonightís revelation should only serve to make the man distance himself from his teammates and friends, and hopefully Kudoh as well. The telepath had every intention of doing what he could to isolate Aya from the others; the fewer people Aya had for support, the better. The smaller redhead needed someone to focus his attention and emotions on; despite his icy exterior, Aya was a very emotional person who needed someone to ground him, and because of that, had formed ties with the rest of WeiŖ, and a few other individuals as well. Time to strip that support from him, until he was the only one the swordsman could turn to.

Schuldig had already taken steps to ensure that the annoying girl who had been stalking Aya had backed off, by manipulating events until she discovered just what exactly her crush did for a living. That night had been especially productive, as the prick Kudoh had another run in with Neu from Schreient. Being a bit of an expert at messing with peopleís minds, Schuldig knew that the man-whore had to be fixating on the encounter, and on the woman who so resembled his lost love. All he had to do was ensure that WeiŖ met up with the female assassins once or twice more, and the prickís obsession with the woman would take care of things for him. Then the German would be able to truthfully tell Aya that he had nothing to do with Kudoh abandoning the man for one of the enemies who had captured his sister.

But that was the future, and right now, the present demanded his attention. Two of Kritikerís uppermost echelon were here in the hospital, investigating what had happened during WeiŖís mission earlier tonight. With a bit of luck, and a little mental nudge here and there, Schuldig was hoping to lay the blame squarely on the bitch queenís shoulders. Let Dr. Arai take the fall; it would spare his little tuberose the psychiatric sessions, and if he played things just right, maybe put an end to them once and for all. Kritiker had to realize that the more they meddled with Ayaís talent, the less they would like the results. And once the bitch was smarting from her takedown, Farfie could finish the job with her. Hell, the Irishman was almost as excited as when Crawford had given him permission to track down his real mother, and allowed him to play during the hunt.

Reaching out with his talent, Schuldig found the psychiatrist asleep in her bed, frustrated as all hell over the fact that she hadnít been able to reach the same state of bliss as she had when Farfie had cut her. Hee, she wouldnít have to wait for too long.

Another scan revealed a worried Omi, about to fall asleep. The boy was anxious about the debriefing, and what it signified. The fool should realize by now that when anything threatened Aya, Schuldig wouldnít be too far away, taking care of the man. Just like he was doing right now.

Kudohís brain was showing signs of activity; the man-whore was dreaming. It wouldnít be long before he woke up. Beside him was Aya, who was tenaciously clinging to consciousness, despite his exhaustion and injuries. Dammit, the prick did not deserve such devotion, not when he caused Aya so much pain. Schuldig felt jealousy wash through him, causing him to grit his teeth at the intensity of the emotion. A couple more months; that was all he had to wait, and Kudoh would be a stupid enough ass to hand Aya over to him. Until that time, he would take every opportunity the cocklicker presented him with to bind the catalyst to him even more.


There was a hint of pain in the far off distance, gnawing at the edges of Yohjiís awareness. He tried to ignore the sensation, and focused on the man curled up on top of him, kissing him breathless. Yohji was laying on the wet ground with Aya sitting on him, and rain falling down about the two of them. The taste of the man, mixed with rainwater, was making him almost as dizzy as the lack of oxygen. All Yohji wanted was to pull off their soaking clothes, reverse their positions, and fuck his kitten senseless. Damn, but something about the combination of Aya and rain made him so incredibly hungry for the man.

Tearing off Ayaís sweater, Yohji flipped the man onto his back, and settled between his legs. His lover graced him with a small, wicked grin, and rocked his hips upward. With a groan, Yohji resumed kissing the redhead, grinding his hips downward, becoming all the more inflamed with the need to possess Aya. Pulling back to yank off his own shirt, Yohji lifted the wet material up, and lost sight of Aya as the shirt clung to his face. Once free of the hindrance, he found the smaller man gone.

"Aya, love, where did you go?" Yohji jumped to his feet, and began searching for his boyfriend. He became more frantic by the minute when he couldnít find Aya. "This isnít funny, love, show yourself."

There was a flash of lightning, which illuminated a slim figure off in the distance. Yohji ran in the personís direction, his sight hampered by the darkness and pellets of water hitting his face. As soon as he reached Aya, he wrapped his arms around the man and hugged him tight.

About to kiss the man, another flash of light revealed the person he was holding not to be Aya, but Neu of Schreient. "What the hell? Where is Aya?"

The woman said nothing, just stood there like a statue. Clutching her by the shoulders, Yohji shook her violently, trying to make her answer him. Then before his eyes, the womanís visor melted away, revealing Asukaís face.

A wave of guilt washed through the blond as he looked down at his dead lover. "Asuka, what is going on?"

"Ah, at least you still remember my name, Yohji. I thought you might not, since you replaced me so quickly. You promised me that you would love me forever, didnít you? Has it been forever already? Youíre so fickle, Yohji. And now youíve lost your new lover as well. Did you promise him forever too?"

"Asuka, where is Aya? What did you do to him?" The womanís eyes narrowed, filled with hurt and malice and jealousy. Yohji had never seen such an evil expression on his former partnerís face before, and it filled him with foreboding. "Asuka, please, tell me."

"Never, Yohji, never."

The woman faded into mist, disappearing into the rain and darkness. But her laughter remained, bitter and harsh, as it never had been when Asuka was alive. "Youíll never see him again, Yohji. You broke your promise to me, and now you have to pay. Try spending forever on your own, your lovers gone, because of your sins."

"Asuka, please? Iím sorry, what was I to do? You were gone, and I was so alone. Bring him back, please." Running about in the darkness, Yohji fell to his knees, tears blending with the rain. He couldnít take losing both of them, he couldnít. "Please, Asuka, come back. Iím so sorry." She had to forgive him, and return Aya to him.

"Someone else always pays for your sins, donít they, Kudoh." That was Ayaís voice, filled with ice and pain. Green eyes searched the darkness, but could find no sight of the pale man. Forcing himself back to his feet, Yohji called out to his two lovers, begging Asuka for her forgiveness, and Aya to come back to him. The pain grew stronger, all the while.


Aya shifted his head about on his arms, and hissed at the pain. His headache was only getting worse; he should have taken his medication hours ago, but that would have meant going home. And Aya wasnít leaving until Yohji woke up; he had to be here for that. Even if at the moment the pale man didnít know which was worse, the pain or the exhaustion that filled his whole being.

I got a hole right here

My eyes are burning through their lids

I canít remember when Iíve closed them

I think of searing off my lips

So I canít scream your name

The song wouldnít leave him alone, but played over and over in his head. The repetition annoyed him, but it was also a distraction of sorts, and something for him to focus on. Aya was just so incredibly tired; even though he had passed the point where he had to stay awake because of the concussion, he still couldnít sleep. Not until Yohji woke up, and he was assured that the man would indeed be fine.

Sunlight streamed into the hospital room, flooding it with light. Aya was grateful for his sunglasses, which had remained with him throughout the night. The redhead was amazed that Omi managed to remain asleep, curled up in the window as he was. He must be as tired as Aya was. The boyís face was tight with worry and exhaustion. If it hadnít meant leaving his loverís side, Aya would have spread a blanket over his young teammate. But he couldnít force himself to move, not even that little bit of distance. Not even to fetch a blanket to prevent himself from shivering.

And I cannot believe

The one that you would reach for in your sleep

Is now writhing at your feet

And you just let me bleed

Yohji had to wake up, it was as simple as that. Heíd lost his sister; even though he knew she was alive, Aya was still eaten through with guilt over failing to keep her safe. And now Yohji, wounded before his eyes. Maybe if he hadnít hid from his freakish nature, he could have kept his lover from harm. But Aya always failed the ones he loved the most, it was as simple as that, and Kudoh had been no exception. When would he learn that he was just a murderer, and didnít deserve to have anyone care for him, no matter how much, deep inside of him, he hungered for that affection?

He was distracted from his dark thoughts by Yohji stirring in his sleep. Forcing his battered body upright, Aya sat back in his chair, but kept holding onto the blondís hand. Yohji muttered for a moment, then became still once more.

Almost twenty minutes later, the door opened. "Morning. He still out of it?" Ken walked into the room, a bag of bagels in one hand, and a carry out tray of coffee in the other. Omi jerked awake at his entrance, blue eyes blinking for several moments in an effort to focus.

"Ken-kun, you just get back? How is Yohji?"

Aya didnít say anything, just rested his aching head back on the bed. He ignored the offered refreshments, unable to stomach any more coffee, and definitely not any food at the moment. The other two men congregated by the window, with Omi throwing worried glances in his direction, and asking Ken if he had taken care of a few things. Tuning them out, Aya stared at Yohjiís fingers entwined with his, brushing his thumb over the nicotine stain on the golden skin.

I think the sun was out today

I canít remember when Iíve felt it

I keep waking up to waste away

In this empty room

Yohji took to mumbling again, a frown forming on the handsome face. Aya leaned forward to brush away strands of honey-blond hair, hoping his touch would soothe the man.

"Please, Asuka, come back. Iím so sorry."

The pale hand stopped stroking through the sweat-dampened locks, as Aya felt a new pain spring up in his chest. Yohji called out the womanís name again, and then groaned in agony. The noise drew Omi and Kenís attention, and they rushed towards the bed. Omi patted Yohjiís other hand and spoke softly to the man, asking him to wake up. All Aya could do was sit there, one hand holding onto Yohjiís, the other hovering over the blondís forehead.

As if in slow motion, a pair of green eyes slowly opened, clouded with pain. Ken let out a yelp of joy, and ran to find a nurse as Yohji groaned again. Aya just stared at the man, face impassive, trying to tell himself that it was foolish for him to feel this hurt. [You chose, little star. You chose your heart over your soul, back on the cliff. Decided which one to live for.] He had sacrificed so much for the man, and still Kudoh thought of his lost love.

I know you see

That I am just a shell of me

How is it so easy

For you to watch me bleed?

"Yotan, are you alright? Do you recognize me? Itís Omi. Kenís gone for the nurse, youíll feel better in a moment. Weíre here for you, all three of us." The teenager continued to babble on, and Aya merely sat there quietly.

"Aya, youíre back." Yohjiís voice sounded weak and harsh, and he didnít speak after that. The blond clutched at Ayaís hand, then closed his eyes in pain. Ken returned to the room, followed by a young man in a doctorís coat.

Letting go of Yohjiís hand, Aya pushed back his chair, making room for the physician. The man checked Yohjiís eyes and pulse, then consulted the machines hooked up to the playboy.

"Kudoh-san, do you know where you are?"

Yohji managed to more or less rasp out the name of the hospital, all the while his eyes sought out Aya.

"Good. You seem to be in pain, so Iím going to increase your painkillers." The young doctor fiddled with one of the IV drips, and after playing with the various tubes feeding into Yohji, and checking the heart monitor one more time, faced the other members of WeiŖ. "I think heíll be fine; itís a very good sign that heís woken up so soon. The medication should make him sleep again, which is good. It wouldnít do for him to move his leg, and tear any stitches, but the worst seems to be over." With that, the doctor left the room.

Yohji groaned again, and the fingers on his right hand flexed. "Aya."

Despite his hurt, Aya once more shifted closer to the bed and held his loverís hand. The touch seemed to calm Yohji down, and in a matter of moments, the lanky man was asleep once more. Gazing wearily at Yohji, Aya started at a touch to his shoulder.


Omi looked down at him, concern shining in the blue eyes. "Aya-kun, I think you should go home and rest. Heís alright now, and you need to take care of yourself. Do you want Ken or me to take you home?"

It took a few seconds for the words to sink in, and then Aya shook his head. "No."

With a snarl of frustration, Ken yanked the redhead out of the chair, heedless of Ayaís hiss of pain over the rough treatment. He glared at the soccer fanatic, but at least the pain helped to wake him up. "Listen to me, Aya. You look like shit. Right now, Yohji appears to be in better shape than you do, so unless you want to end up in a room next to his, go home and sleep. Iíll stay here and keep an eye on the idiot, and Iíll call you as soon as he wakes up again."

"Iíll stay around a little longer as well, Aya-kun. But as I said, one of us can give you a ride home, or some money for a taxi. If Yohji wakes up again and sees you like this, it will only make him worried. Go home, please."

With both men pleading and glaring at him, Aya felt too tired to put up with their nonsense, and gave in. Besides, he had to get out of the hospital for a little bit; it held too many bad memories for him. "Stay here with him, Iíll be fine."

Ken appeared dubious at this statement, but pressed a few yen into his hand. "That should be enough to see you home. Be careful, and weíll call you if anything changes. Get some sleep."

Not even saying goodbye, Aya simply turned around and left the room. He shoved the money into a pocket of his scrubs, and made his way out of the hospital. There was a bus that passed in front of the building every twenty minutes or so that should see him home. Stopping at the curb, Aya leaned against the bus sign and waited.

Moments later, a cab pulled up in front of him, and the back door opened.

<Get in.>

Aya hesitated, but when the voice spoke inside his head again, he crawled into the cab. The door closed behind Aya as Schuldig said the address of the Koneko out loud to the driver. Remaining quiet, Aya sank back into the padded seat, closing his eyes and awaiting what came next.

<Which is me getting you home in one piece, and putting you to bed. Though I must admit Iím surprised that you listened to me, and got into the taxi without a fight.>

Did it really matter anymore, the nonstop fighting between the two of them? Aya was too tired to care at the moment, and at least by going along with the man, he was ensuring that Yohji was safe back in the hospital. Schu couldnít harm the injured man if he was occupied with Aya.

<You are so damn frustrating, Iíll have you know. I told you, as long as you donít fight me in the dreams, I wonít harm the slut. Have I ever broken a promise to you yet?>

The pale man shook his head, ignoring the pain that motion caused.

<Then forget about the prick. Heís safe enough at the moment; I told you to worry about yourself. Youíre about to pass out from exhaustion, little tuberose, due to your injuries and from using your talent.>

Anger started to build within Aya over Schuldigís attention. He was being lectured about his health by the man who, willingly or not, had participated in the deaths of his parents, had tormented him for years, drugged his boyfriend and sent him to rape Aya, and who still occasionally tried to kill his teammates. "Go to hell, Schu." Aya waited to see if any more venom would spill forth, and was stunned to find none. Maybe he was just too exhausted to want to try and kill the man or something. As it was, he was taking the fact that Schuldig was accompanying him to the Koneko rather easily. Granted, the man was a telepath, and could have that information from any of the WeiŖís minds whenever he wanted it, butÖ

"Youíre thinking too much. Iíve known where you live for ages now, ever since the first day you moved in. Remember, the one when Hidaka beat you up? Nice roommates you have there, Kštzchen."

Aya refused to rise to the bait, and just waited for the cab to reach home. When the vehicle pulled up behind the Koneko and the door opened, he jumped out, leaving Schuldig to deal with the cab driver. Moving as fast as he could, Aya made it up the steps leading to the kitchen door, and had his key in the lock when an arm encircled his chest, pinning both of his arms to his side. Schuldig pressed against him, and finished opening the door. <Arenít you going to invite me in for some coffee?>

"Shi-ne, Schu."

There was a warm breath of air against Ayaís ear as the telepath chuckled and forced him into the building. The pale man was entirely too conscious of the fact that he didnít have his katana with him; it had disappeared sometime after Yohjiís injury. Aya felt a wave of self-hate and guilt, so angry with himself for being defenseless, and misplacing the precious item.

<Omi has it safely tucked away in the trunk of the Schwanzlutscherís car. But you donít need it right now, Iím not here to hurt you. Just want to tuck you into bed, like I said.>

Letting his chin fall to his chest, Aya slumped his body, giving in to the exhaustion. When Schuldig shifted his grip to hold him better, the swordsman brought his heel down on the arch of the other redheadís foot, and then jabbed both of his elbows backward. There was an unpleasant tingle down the injured arm at the impact, but it got him free of the embrace. Aya tried making it to the counter, where a set of knives rested in a wooden container, but Schuldig had him once more.

The pain from his cracked ribs being squeezed so roughly had him blacking out for a few seconds; when Aya came to, he was being carried up the stairs to his room. Trying to struggle, he found his body no longer responded to his commands. ĎYou fucking bastardí, he thought to Schu.

"Always such a sweet little tuberose. Dangerous pleasure sums you up perfectly, you know. You should have been named after that flower, and not Ran." Schuldig kicked open the door to his room, and then carefully laid Aya down on the bed. The foreigner took a moment to close and lock the door, then set about removing the slippers that Aya was wearing in place of his boots. "But I forgot, you arenít Ran anymore, are you? He was a quiet, good little boy, obeying every order he was given. He would have spent his life working at his fatherís company, a glorified secretary, assisting the man who would claim what was rightfully his."

Schuldig straddled Ayaís hips, leaning forward so he was on all fours above the smaller man, their faces centimeters apart. Reddish orange locks cascaded around Ayaís face, until all he could see was Schuldigís face. The jade green eyes burned with passion and a twisted, possessive love. "He died that day, you know. He died, along with the mother who had washed her hands of him when it became clear her husband would never approve of her first-born child, and with the father who despised him. You were born in his ashes, a true phoenix, as rare as that legendary creature. Something stirred in you that day, and bound the two of us together. And you became mine. Kudoh might have named you, and found his way into your bed first, but you are mine."

Violet eyes glared back at the man, but try as he might, Aya couldnít invoke the hate he usually felt towards the German. There were only the sensations of hurt, anger and confusion inside of him. Where had the hate gone?

<Does it matter? The truth is, you donít hate me anymore. You should realize by now that Iím not the one to blame for the tragedy that befell your family; I was just the hand used to carry out the order that came from Takatori. Just like you carry out the orders of Persia, and that woman by the elevator. We are the same, in more ways than one. No one else can ever understand you the way I do.> Schuldig leaned down and kissed Aya softly on the mouth, then shifted back to look him in the eyes.

They were so much alike, killers both. Nothing he had ever done had sickened Schu, and nowÖ now they shared something Aya never would have believed possible. Something that Yohji would never be able to understand.

<Thatís right, you are talented, just like me. You used it that day, to save your sister. Just like you did tonight, to keep Kudoh safe. You belong with Schwarz, not with WeiŖ. What do you think will happen when they find out that you arenít a powerless waste of flesh like they are? They will hate you for it at worst, and fear you at best. Canít deny the truth any longer, meine weisse Kamelie.>

"You lie." That statement was a falsehood itself; Schuís words wouldnít hurt him half this much if they werenít the truth. Aya felt something in him start to crumble, and for a moment, everything seemed to darken. He was reminded of the dream he had after Aya-chan had been kidnapped, and recognized the cliff looming before him. Fighting to remain away from the edge, he glared at the other man. Desperate for a distraction, Aya recalled what else had happened that night, several weeks before. "Yohji and Omi, they know the truth. They saw me in my sisterís room, when I let the power take over. They know, and donít hate me for it."

Schuldig growled, and Aya sensed the manís unhappiness at having his flawed logic pointed out to him. "But Hidaka doesnít know, and he despises anything with talent. Poor thing, maybe I was a little too rough on him? He has no sense of humor, but he does possess Omiís heart. Which of you do think the boy will choose, when it comes down to it? Hmm? As for Kudoh, he still pines for his first love. Youíre just a replacement, precious Aya."

No more; Aya didnít want to hear any more. He was so damn tired, and everything hurt so badly; why did Schu have to torment him so? That was more than enough reason to hate the bastard, but his emotions were, as always, so uncooperative. Aya flinched as a hand stroked through his hair, radiating concern and affection. The redhead felt himself relaxing at the touch, and realized that heíd had control over his body for some time now, but couldnít summon the strength to toss Schuldig off of him.

"Leave me the hell alone! Why wonít you just go away and find someone else to torment?" Aya was so tired; he tried to fan the anger so it would give him strength, but all the emotion did was drain him.

<Shh, I keep telling you, you need to sleep. Why you have to argue with me so much, I will never know. Youíre mine, and I always look after what is mine, as well as protect it. One day soon, you will realize how much Iíve done for you, and that I am the only one who will ever understand you. I wonít push any more, at least not now. You canít hide from the truth any longer, Aya. Youíre fighting the people who would keep you from harm and stop Kritiker from using you. Why do you think they started the sessions again? Not because of your sister. No, they have an inkling of your power, and they want it all for themselves. Theyíll use Kudoh and the others against you without a qualm; youíre endangering the ones who care for you again.>

"I want it gone, Schu. Make it go away," Aya whispered hoarsely. "I can feel your threads in my mind, holding it back." He bit his lip, not wanting to beg Schuldig of all people, but desperate enough to do just that.

The German leaned down again, and captured Ayaís mouth for a kiss. Like before, desire and need rose in the pale man, making him kiss Schuldig back, his arms rising to hug the man close, ignoring the pain in his battered body. Before Aya could regain his senses and shove him away, Schuldig ended the kiss, but pulled Aya upright so he could hold him close. Soft lips pressed against his temple, a hand caressed his cheek.

<I canít make it go away. You woke it up, Aya; you called on something that was content to lie dormant. First to save your sister, and then to distract me on the rooftop, months ago. It will always be a part of you. The more you try to hide from it, the more it will struggle to escape. But Iím here, to help you hold it back. Trust me, and I can even show you how to use it.>

Schuldigís voice was soothing, but Aya didnít want to trust him. His mind hurt, was filled with pain and was now conflicted over just how much he could and should rely on a man who was his enemy. Yohji should be the one holding him and telling him that things would be all right, even though Aya would only snarl at him for the concern. But Yohji was lying in a hospital bed because of him, dreaming of the woman he had loved and lost. Yohji wasnít here, but Schuldig was. The man never left him alone and could never be driven away.

"Thatís right, little tuberose, Iím never leaving you. Not even if you drag me down into madness will I leave your side. I never let go of what is mine. Now letís get you into bed." Schuldig slowly released him, and Aya found that it took all of his strength to remain sitting upright. Everything hurt so bad, from his head to his toes. Without the other redhead holding him close, he started to shiver again. Maybe this was all a dream; the room around him was blurry and indistinct, and Schuldig was the only thing that seemed real. If that was the case, then he couldnít risk antagonizing the telepath any further, and breaking the agreement between them. Yohji wasnít able to defend himself, at the moment.

The next thing Aya knew, Schuldig was pressing some pills into his right hand. "Here; part of the problem is you forgot to take these today. Or more accurately, last night. They help to hold your power dormant most of the time, so make sure not to skip them again."

For a moment, Aya wondered just how much Schu knew about the pills, and how the man seemed to be very familiar with his doctor. <I told you, I look out for you; thatís all you need to know. I wonít let Rōyama rat on you to Kritiker. Now swallow them.>

Once he had done that, Aya crawled to the top of the bed, and slid underneath the down comforter. The sheets smelled like Yohji; of cigarette smoke and musk and spice, and for a moment he imagined the blond was there with him. That must have been why he didnít notice the mattress shifting under an additional weight, or the blankets being lifted, and another body curling up behind him, until Schuldig wrapped him in his arms. Aya felt a wave of panic at having someone other than Yohji spooning against the back of him, and immediately found himself rolled onto his other side. "Schu - get the hell out of my bed, you bastard."

"No. Iím just as tired as you are, so shut up and go to sleep. Donít worry, I wonít assault you like the Penner does. At least not this time."

Aya tried to shove the man out of the bed, but found himself held against Schuís warm body, his arms trapped between them, causing a dull ache in the fractured one, and his head tucked under the manís chin. Between his current physical condition and the drugs, he couldnít work up the energy to fight any more, or decide if this was real or not, and the only thing he was conscious of, besides being warm for the first time in hours, was a hand combing through his hair. For a moment, Aya tried to pretend that it was Yohji holding him close, which would explain why his body merely relaxed into the embrace, and why it felt so natural. Then Schuldigís voice in his head disabused him of that illusion.

<Youíre mine, Aya. Iím never letting you go.>



Schuldig felt Aya pass into unconsciousness, the catalystís mind snarling with anger and confusion, even as the slender body snuggled closer to his. Heíd finally managed to get Aya in bed with him, in the real world. Granted, the man was battered, exhausted, and off-balance, but he would take whatever concessions he could get from the short-tempered bastard. The whole entire time heíd been beside Aya, even during their discussion, there hadnít been a single flash of hate directed towards him. His poor little tuberose was so confused about that, and if he was awake or not, that it had to make the German smile.

Gathering up the last of his reserves, Schuldig employed his talent and delicately entered Ayaís mind. He found the newly recovered memory of what had happened in the hospital room the night of Aya-chanís abduction, and substituted a new one. Aya would now believe that his display of power hadnít been evident, and that none of his teammates suspected that he was a talent. Schuldig hadnít been happy when Aya had thrown that fact in his face a few minutes ago, and risked tampering with a catalystís mind enough to ensure that Aya would only be able to turn to him over the matter. He wanted to isolate the man from the rest of WeiŖ, and anyone else, as much as possible. The mental cover-up should be slight enough that the smaller manís mind wouldnít fight it.

That task taken care of, Schuldig hugged his heart close, mindful of the cracked ribs. He took some of Ayaís pain onto himself, just enough to ease the last of the tension in the manís body. He kissed a pale forehead as he thought with pride at how the swordsman had kept himself from shattering when faced with the harsh truths heíd lobbed his way. Aya was showing the core of steel within him, confirming to Schuldig how right his choice had been. When the time came, Aya would survive Kudohís rejection.

Closing his eyes, Schuldig let himself drift asleep. He needed to rest just as badly as Aya did, though he would remain aware enough to sense anyone entering the house. A few hours of sleep, and heíd be ready for whatever Brad wanted him to do that night. But until then, he would enjoy every moment possible of having Aya in his arms, truly his for the time being. And savor the fact with great relish that it was all thanks to Kudoh.


Teddy looked up from the magazine he was reading to watch Mickey walk into his apartment, a closed look on the big manís face. "Hey, bro, whatís wrong?"

Mickey sat down on the couch, and after regarding his brother for a moment, sighed and covered his eyes with his hands. "Kudohís in the hospital."

"What? What the hell did the idiot do now? Is Red okay? Was it during the mission last night, or did Aya catch him cheating?" Teddy tossed question after question his siblingís way, as he jumped to his feet and started to pace across the tiny living room.

"He got hurt during the mission, from what I understand; Aya was injured but not badly, and there was no cheating involved." Mickey thought about that last bit for a moment. "At least I donít think so, since the man is still alive. I donít see Red doing only half a job on Kudoh if he really was stupid enough to fool around."

Teddy snorted in agreement. "Well, if Kudoh did manage to survive, heíd be singing soprano, thatís for sure. What hospital is he in? Magic Bus? Letís go." Teddy made for the door, then smacked his head as a thought occurred to him. "Oh damn, guess the guys are at the hospital as well, which means we wonít be able to stop by the Koneko and pick up any free flowers. Got any spare cash on you, Mick?"

"Theodore Robert, sit the hell down. Iím not done." The kilted man blinked in wonder at the serious tone his brother was using, then meekly did as he was bid. It never paid to piss Mickey off; heíd learned that lesson at least during his lifetime. "What is it now?"

"We have a mission tonight. Weíre to check out the docks and see if any more shipments come in for Hiraiís ring. Get some sleep now; we will be out late tonight." Mickey stroked his goatee for a moment, an unhappy expression on his face. "Bring the Glock, and whatever backup gun you have. And I want you to be dressed in black from head to toe, I donít want to think what these guys would do to some stranger caught wearing a Ďskirtí in that area of town."

A grin on his face, Teddy plopped down in the older manís lap, and gave him a sloppy kiss on the cheek, causing his sibling to grimace in disgust. "Ah, Mick, I just love it when you pull the big brother routine. Donít worry, Iíll be carrying so much hardware, Iíll set off a metal detector from twenty feet. Maybe Koyu has a pair of black jeans I can borrow."

With that comment, a thought occurred to the younger Stout. "Hmm, need to come up with a good excuse to explain to the lover why I wonít be home in bed with him tonight."

"Tell him Iím working bar for a party, and that I roped you into catering."

If Mickey wasnít his brother, Teddy would love him for his brains alone. "Youíre a genius, bro." Giving the man another kiss, he leaned back, a slight pout on his face. "Mick, why canít I just tell Koyu the truth? I hate lying to him. We can trust him, I know that."

"Because if Kritiker ever found out, weíd be in trouble. You know how they are, especially after being betrayed because of an agentís boyfriend. Sorry, Teddy, but it would be best if you just kept on lying to him." Mickey patted his younger sibling on the head, then hugged him for a moment. Teddy sighed and hugged him back, knowing it wasnít his brotherís fault that he couldnít tell Koyu the truth. But he still wasnít happy about the matter. He didnít want to do anything that might jeopardize their relationship, and feared that sooner or later, the blind man would see through his excuses, and leave him over them.

Deciding to change the topic, the smaller American got off his brotherís lap. "So, youíre sure Kudoh is alright?" Mickey nodded. "Maybe we can stop by tomorrow then; I bet Aya has to be pissed that Yohji let himself be injured. Besides, itíll be fun, being able to torment him when heís not in top form."


Omi tucked back a strand of Yohjiís hair, and then jerked his head towards the door. "Can I talk to you for a moment, Ken? Letís go for a walk." The brunet nodded, and the two of them left the hospital room.

They made their way to the top of the hospital, and found an unoccupied corner of the roof. "Ken, did anything happen during the mission that you didnít tell Manx? I still donít understand how Yohji got injured; heís too good at his job."

Ken stared down at his feet for a moment, watching his toe grind a cigarette butt into shreds, then looked up at Omi with serious brown eyes. "Iíll tell you every little detail, if you tell me the truth. What the hell is going on here, Omi? What was with that debriefing? And donít tell me nothing, because I know somethingís been going on ever since Ayaís sister was nabbed. Tell me the truth."

The Ďor elseí hung in the air between the two assassins. Omi carefully schooled his face, letting a touch of confusion and hurt show, but nothing else. He knew that Ken had suspected something for the past month or so, and hadnít been real happy with him and Yohjiís sketchy explanation of what had occurred that night. He also knew that he couldnít lie to the man, or else Ken would never forgive him. The only option left to him was a careful skirting of the truth.


"Omi, tell me. I know it has to do with Aya. Please." Kenís voice was rough and pleading, and Omi didnít have the heart to break the manís trust.

"I think you are right, and that the debriefing has something to do with Aya. That night, when Schreient took his sisterÖ" The youth shook his head, ridding himself of the memory of Aya glowing in the dark room. "Aya more than Ďfreakedí, he wasnít himself. He destroyed the medical equipment in the room, and I donít think he knew we were there with him. He didnít even listen to Yohji. Iím afraid that Kritiker has their eye on him now, and that they might take him away from us, if he proves to be too Ďunstableí." Omi held his breath, hoping that Ken bought the story.

"Theyíve always been weird, as far as heís concerned. Come on, Omi, Birman held a gun to his head to make him join up with us. I know she sure as hell didnít do that to Yohji and me. Then they sent Botan after him to make him return to the team? Heís pulled more shit than all of us combined, and Kritiker lets him."

One had to remember, that as oblivious as Ken seemed to anything outside of soccer and motorcycles, the young man was actually rather observant. He should have counted on the athlete picking up on those odd occurrences. "I thinkÖ all that happened in part because my uncle felt so guilty, for what my father had done to his family, and because of Mastermindís interest in Aya." Ken tensed at the mention of the telepath.

"Why, Omi? Why is that sick fuck so interested in Aya?"

Now that question was skating dangerously close to the truth. He wanted to say he had no clue, but the lie choked in his throat. Ken continued on, unaware of his reaction.

"There has to be some reason. Maybe he just likes pissing Aya off? Or wants in his pants that badly? But why doesnít he just rape him then? I canít see Mastermind not taking what he wants. It has to be something." Ken furrowed his brows, trying to figure the matter out.

Omi swallowed a couple of times, until he was sure he could speak normally. "I donít know what to say, Ken-kun. Iím sorry."

The brunet smiled wanly at him, and shook his head. "I know Iíll figure it out sooner or later; Iím not the idiot Yohji goes on about me being. But you could have trusted me and told me just how much Aya lost it. Letís face it, after living with the man this long, the last thing I expect is for him to act completely sane. Or even remotely sane, when heís really upset about something. Iíd be shocked if Aya didnít over-react upon finding his sister gone."

That brought a smile to Omiís lips, and he couldnít argue with Kenís appraisal of the situation. "I know. It surprises me, how well heís taking Yohji being injured. Other than the incident when we arrived here, heís been so quiet."

"Hmm. I think it might have something to do with what Yohji said to him after he got hurt. I think he believes the idiot blames him for it." Ken leaned over the edge of the roof to look down on the street, and let out a yelp when Omi spun him around. "Yohji said something? What?"

"Geez, relax Omi, not a real bright idea to startle someone when half their body is fifteen stories off the ground. Didnít you hear him?"

The archer gritted his teeth together. "If I had, would I be asking? Remember, he cut me out of his comm."

Ken huffed for a few seconds, not willing to concede that point. "Well, when Aya showed up to save his hide, after yelling at him not to do something, and then to watch his backÖ" He paused for a second, a frown on his face as he thought about something.


"Oh, yeah, sorry about that. Anyway, Yohji yelled at Aya about ruining things. I donít know what the hell he was talking about, unless heíd wanted to die. Weird, huh? I decided it would be best not to mention that part to Manx, or else Yohji would be going through the psych evals as well."

His mind in overdrive, Omi tried to decipher that cryptic statement. Why would Yohji blame Aya for anything, especially when the man was trying to save his life? For that matter, why had Yohji been so insistent on being the one to take out the target? It didnít make much senseÖ

He managed to bite back on the curse before voicing it and arousing Kenís curiosity. Yohji had wanted to handle Hirai; that was a fact. Aya had killed Hirai; another fact. Heíd killed the man, because if Ken and Ayaís testimony was to be trusted - and why on earth shouldnít it be - Yohji had had difficulty taking out the target. Which never should have happened. Granted, security was pretty tight that night, but Yohji had successfully completed more difficult missions. And why was he mad at Aya? What had Aya ruined? Aya had been the one to salvage at least one of the assignmentís objectives.

Which meant that Yohji hadnít wanted Aya to kill the man. And there was only one reason Omi could think of why he wouldnít. Which was going to get the blond, chain-smoking idiot killed after all.

Right before Aya-chanís abduction, Yohji and Omi had talked about Ayaís upcoming medical exams, and possible options for making Kritiker leave the swordsman alone. Yohji had proposed messing up a mission, just to make it look as if Ayaís power wasnít working. Omi had pushed the idea aside, judging it to be a bit on the risky side, and had assumed that Yohji had forgotten it as well. He was partly to blame for this situation, thinking the playboy would ever ignore a possible solution to a problem plaguing a loved one, no matter how incredibly stupid it was.

And on top of all of that, Yohji had implemented the plan without consulting Omi beforehand, and had brushed aside Ayaís prediction. The result of the manís phenomenal stupidity was that he was now in a hospital, after nearly dying, and Aya was once again under Kritikerís scrutiny. Oh, Omi hoped Yohji healed very, very quickly. He didnít want to have to wait very long to be able to kill the moron.


Schuldig moaned as he woke up, unhappy with the prospect of no more sleep. Especially when Aya was snuggled against him, a pale arm about his waist and their legs tangled together. The catalyst wouldnít be waking up for another hour or so, at least. Neither would Schuldig, if he didnít know that he had to report back to Schwarz soon. Crawford had said that there was a mission tonight, and he needed a couple of hours to get ready.

Nuzzling a mop of crimson hair, the telepath just reveled in the feeling of Aya in his arms for a couple of minutes. The man was so deeply asleep, he didnít even start at the caress, or move in the slightest when Schuldig regretfully untangled the two of them and slid out of bed. He made sure to tuck the comforter around the smaller man, and spared a moment to brush back the long bangs and an eartail that trailed across Ayaís mouth. Giving in to temptation, he leaned in for a brief kiss, savoring the way his tuberose tasted.

Stepping into his shoes and shrugging into his jacket, Schuldig did a quick scan of the house. Hidaka was still at the hospital, or at least not at home, and the chibi was fast asleep. Tsukiyono had shown up a couple of hours ago, but had only taken a quick shower and collapsed on his bed, thanks to a little mental urging on Schuldigís part. But it would be best if he left now, rather than risk discovery. First, though, he would stop in the shop for a brief moment, and ensure that Aya really didnít dismiss their discussion as a dream.

The matter seen to, Schuldig stole one more kiss before slipping out of the Koneko. He used his power to shanghai a cab, and within a half hour, was back at the current safehouse that Schwarz occupied. Walking through the front door, he found Nagi once more playing some computer game, and Farfarello was sitting next to him, bound in his straightjacket.

The Irishman looked up at him, an unholy gleam in the amber eye. "How is the fallen angel?"

"Tired, a bit bruised, but tucked all nice and snuggly into bed." Schuldig couldnít help leering a bit. "It was sheer hell leaving him."

"Ah, I hope you made God cry, to see what his lost one was up to." Farfie fell silent as he watched Nagi decimate a hoard of demons on the television set, while Schuldig leaned against the wall for a moment. He could sense that the madman wasnít done. "When do I get to play with the witch again?"

"Tomorrow." Employing his talent, the telepath smiled wickedly. "Oh, she is soooo not happy at the moment. Bad day at work, after a disappointing night with the toy you left her. Sheís hoping to see you again, too."

Farfie smiled a moment, his scarred face graced with beauty and peace. "Sheís such fun, and so eager to experience more bliss. Thank you for my new toy."

"Any time, Farfie."

Nagi was the next to speak, in an aggravated tone of voice. "Do the two of you mind? Iím in the middle of something here."

Schuldig stuck his tongue out at the boy. "So sorry, the world will end if you donít get a new high score. Just save some energy for the mission tonight." That set off Farfarello, who rocked back and forth, talking about all the different ways he wanted to slice some poor victim up that night. At Nagiís growl of frustration, Schuldig left the room.

He didnít bother to knock on Oracleís door, just walked in and collapsed on the couch. "Well, Iíve had a busy day, Iíll have you know. You do anything besides getting all excited about the pile of paperwork on your desk?"

Crawford didnít even look away from his computer screen, and kept typing the email heíd been writing when the German had invaded his sanctuary. "Iíve kept track of several new developments, and had a meeting with Schreient. They should have the results from the tests on Abyssinianís sister in a couple of days. I canít believe they actually bought the story about the girl being a factor in reviving their beloved Masafumi."

"Whatever. I take it youíll be sending the results off to our beloved leaders when you get them?" Crawford nodded his head. Schuldig closed his eyes for a moment, and wondered when heíd be able to fit in that little talk heíd promised Cassandra. He had to know what was going to happen in the next couple of months, and keep a close track on the events that would make Aya completely his. Heíd stock up on aspirin before that little visit; though he wouldnít be the only one in pain by the end of it, if the old bitch didnít start cooperating.

"Well, whatís on the agenda for tonight?"

"We have to make sure that a shipment of weapons arrives without interference. WeiŖ managed to shake up a smuggling ring that Esset has been keeping an eye on last night, leaving us the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the situation. Weíll spend the next couple of weeks ensuring that their operations recover somewhat, and when the kittens move in to finish their assignment, appropriate all the smuggled goods." There was a smile on the precogís face that made Schuldig a touch suspicious and even more worried. "So be prepared to spend the night waiting at a dock, and dress appropriately."

"Huhn. Iím thinking white might not be a good fashion choice; too much filth and grease." Schuldig examined a lock of hair for split ends, and then changed the subject. "You mind if I let Farfie play a bit the next week or two? Iíll make sure he doesnít commit mass homicide."

There was another suspicious grin on the dark-haired manís face. Now things were getting scary; Crawford never appeared this happy. "No, I think you can fit his exercise in around this assignment. And pay a visit or two to Abyssinian, as well."

"Okay, Crawford, what the fuck is going on here?" The man was almost happy; just how unnatural was that, Schuldig thought. "You are way too smug over something, and you usually fight me over anything dealing with the Kštzchen. Tell your Schu-Schu what youíve seen." Which shouldnít be much, what with Ayaís catalyst nature blocking most visions. But it was possible the man had seen something, considering how intertwined Schuldig and Aya had become lately.

"Letís just sayÖ Abyssinian is already proving his worth to Schwarz, and leave it at that. I donít want to spoil the surprise." With that, the American resumed his paperwork.

Picking up on the hint that his presence wasnít wanted anymore, Schuldig got off the couch, and grumbling the whole way, went to get something to eat. He refused to let the uptight prickís cryptic nature get to him, not after the day he had. Schuldig could still smell Aya on his clothes, and he sent a mental caress to the sleeping man. Heíd held Aya in his arms, with only one attempt at murder on the tuberoseís part, and very little mental distress over the situation. Deep down, Aya knew he belonged to Schuldig; all it would take now was another blunder on Kudohís part, and heíd have the catalyst all to himself.


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