Bleed

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Chapter 3

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There was a swirl of colours and some cheesy music playing in the background, as Yohji became aware of the fact that he was strapped down on some sort of table. Lifting his head to survey his surroundings, the blond found himself in a small room with cages all along one of the walls. Behind the wire mesh doors was a bunch of sad looking cats and dogs, all of which were staring at him mournfully. He didnít know how the hell he could interpret their looks as mournful, but somehow Yohji did, and he knew that things were about to get very, very ugly.

"Yotan! Youíre awake." Omi burst into the room, covered in a too large surgical gown. Behind the chibi was Ken, looking too frightful for words in an old-fashioned nurseís outfit, complete with the short skirt and a little hat. Man, someone needed to tell the dumb jock that if he wanted to even attempt to pull off drag, he really needed to shave his legs. Then Omiís voice drew Yohjiís attention back to the younger blond. "Youíre supposed to be asleep, donít you know. Itís not good that you are awake, but weíll proceed with the operation anyway." That said, the youth snapped on a pair of rubber gloves, and Ken grinned wickedly as he held up a tray filled with lots and lots of sharp objects.

"Ah, chibi, what the hell are you doing? Why am I tied to this table?" Yohji began to struggle against the leather straps that held his chest, wrists and ankles firmly to the table. It was then that he noticed that he was nude from the waist down, and that his legs were spread open. "Omi, if this is about you learning about the birds and the bees, Iím gonna kill you when I get free." What the hell was going on here? Oh, Yohji so didnít like the sight of all those sharp blades that were being set on a small table next to him.

Omi reached down to pat Yohji reassuringly on his right shoulder, then adjusted the overhead lights until they shone down on his crotch. "Ken, I think you need to shave him first."

The brunet chuckled evilly as he produced a can of shaving cream and a Lady Bic. Letting out a yell, Yohji renewed his struggles as he felt the cold cream hit his private parts, but immediately stilled when the razor touched his flesh. Oh shit. "Ken, you fucking bastard, stop that this instant! Iím serious! Iíll fucking rip all of your soccer balls to shreds! Put the razor down now! Leave my dick alone, and try using it on your own legs, you perver-mph." Yohjiís voice was cut off as Omi shoved a wad of cotton in his mouth.

"Ah, quiet now, Yotan; youíre disturbing my other patients." Omi looked away to stare at his now bare crotch, and beamed at the bastard Hidaka. "You did a very good job, Ken-kun. That will make the operation a lot easier."

What operation? Yohji didnít remember signing up for any surgery, and he would definitely remember anything that involved shaving off all of his pubic hair. Where the hell was Aya? Had his lover put Omi and Ken up to this? The damn redhead needed to show up _right now_ and save his ass. And a few other choice parts as well.

As if reading his thoughts, Omi smiled at him for a second, before placing a surgical mask over his face. "Oh, donít wait for Aya to save you; weíve made sure heísÖ tied up at the moment. But we think heíll really like it when we are done; after all, weíre doing this for him."

Ken chuckled again. "Yeah, maybe now he wonít be so tired any more, and worn out from you attacking him all the time. Plus, we wonít have to worry about what weíll come across whenever we enter the greenhouse or den from now on. You brought this upon yourself, Kudoh."

What the hell were Ken and Omi talking about? Yohji then let out a strangled moan, as he felt something cool be wiped all over his balls. He lifted his head to see Omi covering the sacs with some type of antiseptic fluid. It was then that he figured out what the two younger assassins were about to do, and started to struggle once more. No way. No way in hell was he going to let them do that...

"Yotan, you really need to remain still. I just want to neuter you, not chop everything off. Now youíll feel a slight pinch, but it will all be over in a few minutes. Then poor Aya wonít have to put up with your raging hormones anymore, and we can actually get some work out of you. Ken and I are tired of having to run the Koneko by ourselves, while you either flirt with the customers, or try to drag Aya off to the greenhouse. Think of how much better your career will be after this."

There was a flash of pain in his groin causing Yohji to scream. It became stronger and stronger, until it was all he was aware of. He tried hard to escape his bonds, and writhed on the surgical table.

"Yohji, stop it! Lay still, or you are going to tear out your stitches, and then really be in trouble."

It was Ken who was holding him down while Omi fucking castrated him, just like the kid had been threatening to do these past few months. Yohji drew back his fist and punched the athlete, not realizing that he wasnít strapped down any longer. Then he tossed back the blanket covering him, sliding a hand under the hospital gown until he cupped himself, and let out a sigh of relief to find that he was still all there. It was then that the playboy noticed the bandages wrapped around his left thigh. Green eyes glanced about the room, reassuringly bereft of a mad doctor Omi and the sad animals; Yohji realized that he had been dreaming. It must have been the throbbing pain in his leg that had inspired that particular nightmare. He suddenly remembered being cut during the mission, then waking in a hospital room with Aya holding his hand. Things were hazy after that, and he must have been given something that had put him to sleep, only to have a bad dream. Thank the gods; it hadnít been real.

It was then that Yohji became aware of a growling Ken, sporting a swollen eye. "Heh, Kenken, you wouldnít hit an invalid, would you?" He tried for a look of agony, and succeeded when he shifted his left leg slightly. Ow, bad idea. Very bad idea. Yohji suddenly realized that it was just he and Ken in the room, and started to frown. "Whereís Aya?" He could have sworn Aya had been in the room the whole entire time he had been awake before, but the memory was a bit hazy. All he could remember was holding out his hand, and how the pain had faded away when his love had grabbed it.

"YohjiÖ you are so lucky youíre injured right now. What the hell were you thinking, hitting me like that? I thought it was your leg that was damaged, not your head."

"Ha, ha, Hidaka. Whereís Aya?" The blond was starting to panic when his boyfriend remained missing. Who knew what type of trouble Aya could be in right now, without him to keep an eye on the swordsman?

Ken sighed as he pulled a chair close to Yohjiís bed then gingerly touched his black eye. "I sent him home a few hours ago, after you woke up the first time. You remember much about that?"

"A little." What he could mostly recall was Aya and pain. Yohji tried to sit up in bed and winced as agony shot through his leg and groin. "Ow. What the hell happened, Ken, and how is Aya?"

The brunet sighed then reached for the control that elevated the head of Yohjiís bed. "You got hurt on the mission." When Yohji was about to retort Ďno shití, Ken silenced him with a glare that would have done Aya proud. "The target managed to slice your femoral artery, and only Ayaís quick thinking saved you. He killed the man and tied a tourniquet around your leg. We scrapped the rest of the mission and raced to the hospital, where they closed you up. They had to patch Aya up as well, since he got a bit battered trying toÖ" Ken closed his mouth suddenly, his eyes glazing over, as if in thought.

If it had been at all possible, Yohji would have gotten out of bed to strangle the moron for stopping right there. "Ken, what the hell happened to him?"

"Hmm, oh, sorry about that. Aya got hurt trying to get to you. He needed some stitches, banged up his ribs and left arm pretty bad, and had a concussion. It was hard as hell to get him to go home, and he only did so after you woke up."

"Shit." His kitten didnít sound in very good shape; Yohji hoped that the man was safely home in bed getting some rest. He seemed to recall Aya looking bruised and pale, with something bulky on his one arm. "Was Aya dressed in scrubs for some reason?"

"Huhn, yeah, he was. You starting to get your memory back?"

"A little."

Ken leaned forward until his arms were resting on the bed. "Good. Now you can tell me what the hell happened last night. What went wrong, Yohji?"

What had gone wrong was that his grand plan had blown up in the blondís face. Fuck, the target had almost taken him out, not the other way around. Aya had been the one to make the kill, when he had been trying so hard to screw up the mission. Yohji rested his head back on his pillows and closed his eyes. "I donít know. I remember fighting this guy who was really good, and then pain. Sorry, Ken, but everything else is a blur." He wondered if he should call home and check up on Aya. While Yohji was grateful that Ken was here, so he hadnít woken in a hospital by himself, he really wanted his lover by his side at the moment. "Hey, wait a sec, whereís Omi?"

"About time you asked about him," Ken growled. "Heís also at home, getting some rest. You had everyone real worried, Kudoh; we thought you were going to die, you lost that much blood. Then we get hauled in to some debriefing with Manx and a guy Iíve never seen before because of the mission getting all fucked up, which freaks Omi out for some reason. Itís been a really lousy night."

Yohji flinched at that bit of information, and covered it by complaining about the pain in his leg. "Ow, ow, ow. Shouldnít I be on some good drugs or something?"

Rising to his feet, Ken reached for a button that was attached to the top of the hospital bed. "Someone should be coming soon. Is there anything I can get you?"

"Yeah, Aya...naked and covered in whipped cream."

"YohjiÖ I canít believe that youíre lying here in intensive care, and the only thing you can think of is screwing your boyfriend. Itís not a good idea if heís hanging around you all the time, you know. Think of where you are."

As if there was a chance that the blond could forget, what with the pain in his leg and various tubes stuck in his body. It didnít make Yohji want his kitten here any less; if Aya was by his side, nothing could happen to the man. The gods only knew that if anyone needed to be looked after, it was Aya. The man attracted trouble like nobodyís business.

The sound of approaching footsteps put an end to any more conversation between the two assassins as another doctor, this time a middle aged woman, entered Yohjiís room. "Ah, Kudoh-san, I am happy to see that you are awake. How are you feeling?"

"Like my leg got all sliced up, but just seeing your beautiful face makes the pain go away." Hell, Yohji needed to be practically dead before he would pass up on an opportunity to flirt with a woman. The doctor blushed slightly and made a big production of checking his IVís. She adjusted something and within a few moments the pain started to fade away. "Hmm, thatís nice."

"I imagine it is. Now let me check your wound."

Yohji grinned as the doctor pulled aside his gown and started to peel back his bandages. "Why, Doctor, and I donít even know your name. Shouldnít we save this for after our first date? Ow."

The doctor gave him a warning gaze and prodded at the wound a little more gently that time. "Iím amazed at how well your leg is healing. Weíll monitor you for a couple more hours, then move you out of ICU. Good day, Kudoh-san. Iíll be sure to warn the nurses about you." That said, the doctor rewrapped his bandages and adjusted his robe, but didnít leave until after she gave Yohji a pat on a rather personal area. The blond gulped at the grope and was very grateful that his lover hadnít been in the room at the moment. Somehow, him getting felt up would be considered entirely his own fault. Aya didnít believe in giving Yohji much benefit of the doubt. Which reminded himÖ

"Ken?"

"Yeah, Yohji?"

"Could you be sure to call home and let Aya know that they will be moving me? I donít want him to come here and find me gone, and freak out again." The increased drugs were making Yohji groggy, and it was getting harder for him to concentrate.

"Okay, Yohji. No problem. You feeling alright? You look a bit out of it."

"Oh yeah, never better, Kenken. All Iím missing is my kitten here in bed with me, and Iíd be one happy little killer." Hmm, what nice fantasies that thought inspired. A smile crept up on Yohjiís face as he imagined what he could do to his lover if the man was curled up beside him. First on his list would be making sure that Aya would never even _think_ of having him neutered. He had to remind the man of all the benefits of having one horny, extremely talented boyfriend molest him all the time.

Kenís voice drifted through his thoughts. "YohjiÖ whatís going on with Aya and Kritiker? What happened the night that his sister was kidnapped?"

"Sparks. Lots of them. He totaled the equipment, and then he wouldnít listen to me. I was right there, and he could only think of her. But I wonít let them get him; heís mine. Why ya asking, Kenken?"

"Öno reason, Kudoh. Iím sorry. Why donít you get some rest, and Iíll make sure to call the Koneko when they get ready to move you."

"Hn." Yohji let himself drift off to sleep, so he could dream of Aya. The pain in his leg had faded away, and he forgot all about Ken sitting next to him and the question his friend had asked.

*******

Ken watched the blond man fall asleep, and rested his head on the back of the hospital chair. What the hell had he been thinking, trying to take advantage of a drugged Yohji like that? But he hadnít been able to resist the chance to find out if Omi had lied to him again this morning. He knew that the youth had spoken the truth to him, butÖ Dammit, why couldnít he shake this feeling that his teammates were hiding something from him? Was he that fucked up in the head that he thought everyone would betray him, like Kase had? He had to get over that and get on with his life.

Maybe it was his feelings for Omi that were complicating things. His last male lover had betrayed him so badly, not only once but twice. Could it be that now, when his heart was urging him to take another boyfriend, his subconscious was filling him with doubts? Ken shook his head as he growled and rose to his feet. But he couldnít shake the feeling that he was being left out of something, and wondered how Aya had known to warn Yohji ahead of time about being injured. The man had even started moving towards the blond before the target had cut him. Was he really just imagining things, due to how messed up his emotions were because of Omi, and from being so tired at the moment?

This was ridiculous; Aya was the one who needed therapy, and not him. He didnít want to think about all this psychobabble bullshit. His job must be finally getting to him; years of working for a secret organization was making him paranoid. Or maybe it was Mastermind fucking with his head a little more, making him suspect his teammates. That seemed like something the sick fuck would do. Well, he wasnít going to let it get to him, not if it had him taking advantage of an injured and medicated friend. Ken glanced over his shoulder at Yohji for a moment before deciding he needed to get some caffeine to help his brain start working properly.

*******

Dr. Arai sat in a leather chair before her supervisor, making sure that none of her emotions or thoughts showed on her face. There was no need to let the officious prig know exactly what she thought of him and his Ďopinioní.

"-had the subject for a patient for over a month, and there have been no results whatsoever, at least not positive. I donít think I need to spell out to you how bad it looks, that a mission he partakes in on the same day as a visit with you ends in failure."

"I understand that he took out the target. How was it a failure on his part? His teammates yes, but not Orchideeís."

Dr. Oshin regarded her over the wire frame of his glasses. "I wasnít aware that I had asked for your opinion on the matter." Arai tried to appear apologetic at the reproach, and thought it best to just bow her head, when she couldnít manage the proper expression. Damn prig. He was just jealous of her power and disrespectful of her because she was female.

The elderly Japanese man continued with his rebuke. "I am well aware that Orchidee took out the target, having read the report myself. But the man obtained considerable damage to himself, and another member of WeiŖ was critically injured in the process. Not to mention the second objective of the mission was not completed, due to the medical emergency. Iíd say that the mission was a failure, to such a degree that we havenít seen since the man was placed in the team. And this occurs only after we entrust Orchidee to you.

"Iíve been going through the recordings of your sessions. Donít you think that you are being a bitÖ heavy-handed? It would be clear to a first year psychiatry student that the man has issues regarding his family and appearance, but I feel that you are overemphasizing them. One of the reasons you were picked to be his doctor was because of your talent, which should enable you to find a different approach with him. Why are you not being successful?"

The empath toyed with the bandages around her left hand, using the memory of the bliss that Jei had awakened in her yesterday to calm her down, before she called Oshin a pompous moron to his face. "He has developed quite an impressive set of shields over the years, most likely due to Mastermindís meddling. It is a bit difficult to break them down, when all I am given is an hour a week with him. Let me admit him, administer the drugs of my choice, and I will have his shields broken within a few days." Sheíd have Orchidee regressed to the mental age of an infant in that time, and hand him over to Kritiker to reform his personality in whatever manner they liked. Why hadnít the organization just let her do that from the beginning?

Her supervisor cleared his throat, a faint look of disgust on his wrinkled face. "Anyone can do that, and the results would not be worth the effort. We want him broken and obedient, not a mindless automaton. His power has proven to be much too unpredictable for that course of action." The manís voice carried a hint of reproach and disappointment, both of which were echoed in his emotional matrix as well. Arai found herself wishing more than anything that she could twist the manís emotions until he was writhing on the ground in pain. How dare Oshin talk down to her like this? She was doing the best job she could, considering the way Kritiker was tying her hands on certain matters.

"Then at least let me prescribe him a few psychotropic drugs that will soften up his shields-"

"Youíve seen his files and should know that that approach has been tried before. The results were distinctly unsatisfactory. Are you telling me that you can not break down the shields of one untrained precog?"

Not after a telepath of Mastermindís level had been fucking with the manís head for the past few years, but Arai didnít voice that. "I take it you are encouraging me to find a new way of breaking Orchidee?" The empath rubbed at her nose, which had started to bother her the past few minutes. Oshin looked at her oddly for a moment then nodded his head.

"Exactly. There cannot be another repeat of this past mission. If there is, you will immediately be removed from this case." He paused to let the importance of the words sink in on Arai, as if she couldnít figure that out on her own. Bye-bye career, at least as far as Kritiker was concerned. She was not going to let that happen.

Arai pretended to think for a moment, then made sure to phrase her request in a quiet voice. "Let me talk to his teammates. They shouldnít have any shields to speak of, and I am sure I can gather enough information from them to formulate a new approach for Orchidee."

Oshin frowned as he considered the idea for a moment. He turned to face his computer and typed for a few seconds. It wasnít long before he faced Arai again, and gave his answer. Or should she say the manís own supervisorís answer. Now, she recognized what was irritating her nose: the room smelled faintly of cigarettes; Oshin didnít smoke. Someone very high up had taken an interest in Orchideeís sessions, dammit. That did not bode well for her, since any mistake would be quickly spotted.

"You have permission to speak to the rest of WeiŖ. Balinese will be in the hospital for another day, and here is a copy of Bombay and Siberianís schedules." The elderly man printed off a sheet of paper and placed it at the edge of his desk.

Looking over the assassinsí schedules, Arai nodded her head. "I would like to talk to Balinese before they release him, and will make a point to see him tomorrow morning." Might as well get inside the manís head while he was injured and medicated, though the session would be a bit rough on her empathic abilities. "And I will schedule appointments with the other two for the beginning of next week. That should give me some new insight to use on Orchidee at his next appointment."

"Let us hope you put this opportunity to good use. There had better be a significant breakthrough shortly, or we will reassign this case to someone who will handle Orchidee properly. Good day, Dr. Arai." Dr. Oshin then focused his attention on his computer once more, indicating that the meeting was over.

Gritting her teeth, Arai rose to her feet and bowed at her supervisor, then left the manís office. She couldnít resist inflicting a headache on the man, one that would only grow in intensity over the next few days. The bastard deserved it for threatening her like that. They had given her Orchidee for little over a month, and had placed all those restrictions on her, only to chastise her for failing to break the man instantly? They should be damned pleased that she had gotten some sort of response from the blasted precog, even if it had endangered his teammates. Assassins were easy to replace; empaths were not.

As she waited for the elevator, the infuriated woman noticed that it was almost three in the afternoon. Fuck it; she was taking the rest of the day off. Ani could reassign her rounds to the other psychiatrists on duty, while she went home and awaited the arrival of the files on Orchideeís teammates in her email.

Stepping into the elevator, Arai once more toyed with the bandage on her hand. Try as she had last night, she hadnít been able to recreate the same intensity of feelings that Jei had awoken in her as he sliced her hand yesterday. She had cut herself several times before giving up in frustration. This was shaping up to be a pretty lousy week, but at least she had the prospect of a few fresh minds to play with to look forward to.

*******

Aya found himself standing in the rain, surrounded on all sides by various flowers. The garden was becoming familiar territory, considering the frequency of his visits. Letting the cool water fall down upon him, the redhead felt the pull of a faint memory. He was walking into a hotel, soaked to the bone and numbed by freezing rain, only to findÖ a stab of pain made Aya fall to his knees, as something inside him blocked the rest of the memory.

"Do you hurtle down that path so willingly, star child? There are those that strive to make the memory a falsehood, and your heart is one. Both of them, though one is traitorous at the moment." Cassandra came to his side; she was just as soaked as he was, and her muddy hands held a bouquet of roses similar to the one she had gifted him with on his last visit. She held the flowers out to Aya. As he grasped them with his left hand, he felt the bite of many thorns to his palm. Blood dripped down the green stems to form a pool on the wet ground.

"Told you that you would bleed, did I not? You bled for the fourth blackbird, and the first as well. But a greedy one is he, with the blackest sorrow, and pecks at your heart he does. The third blackbird haunts you all; Morriganís aspects burning bright. Three threes for you, the Knight and the Magician."

Aya clutched at the stems in his hand welcoming the pain the thorns caused him. "What are you talking about? Why do you call me here if all youíll do is spout nonsense?" He was so tired, and the past twenty-four hours had been such a nightmare. Standing here in the rain while Cassandra babbled on was simply too much for him to bear. "If you knew that Yohji would be hurt, why didnít you tell me so? Why this nonsense with blackbirds? You tell me nothing that will help me. You didnít warn me about my power." Thorns tore into his flesh, a grounding presence for him to focus on. "You told me that Yohji would always love me."

Cassandra reached out a hand to brush aside the bangs that were plastered to his face. He wanted to flinch from her touch, but couldnít find the energy to do so, and settled for a glare instead. "Ah, quite the Medusa you are. I am sorry, child, that my warning was not clear. It would not have changed anything, though, and was meant more to brace you than alter fate. Your heart had to bleed, if you would keep him safe. If you would keep them both safe, and your soul as well. You had to acknowledge the truth, and bind it to your soul with blood." She let out a keening sound, and the sky glowed with lightning. "Love is so often the first blackbird cloaked in disguise, is it not? Treacherous thing, to rend our hearts so."

That was the first thing that she had said that made sense to the swordsman. Love had often brought him nothing but sorrow and was threatening to do it again. "He doesnít love me, Cassandra; why do I keep sacrificing parts of myself if he doesnít love me?" Aya was just a substitute for Asuka, who was forever beyond Yohjiís reach. But it didnít stop the man from yearning for his dead lover. A hand stroked Ayaís cheek for a moment, soft and hesitant, and then suddenly smacked his face. "What?" The hand that held the flowers knocked Cassandraís away, sending rose petals and blood to the ground. "Why did you do that?"

Grey eyes glared back at him. "He loves you, never doubt that. It is not his fault that the second blackbird is ever preceded by the first. The Knight bled for _you_, do not let his sacrifice be in vain."

With his uninjured hand, Aya coaxed the few rosebuds in the bouquet open, staring at the flowers as an excuse not to look at the madwoman. "Maybe he does love me, but he still loves her. Try telling me that is my imagination."

The woman wrapped her arms around her chest and slightly rocked back and forth. "The third blackbird came before the fourth. That is the truth, for you and for him. You are tied to your soul with blood, but the Knight is tied to the Erinyes by death. That is the strongest bond, and his guilt is as great as yours. But blood binds the two of you, and so does death, in a way. Do not doubt your Knight, or when the time comes to make his choice, he will make an unwise one, and you will find yourself standing in the rain, much like now, and the evil oneís dream will come true. You have had your foreshadowing this day, pay heed to it." Cassandra keened again, and clutched at her head. "It hurts so, to ignore their voices for the shortest time. Have I not sacrificed so much as well? Heed my words, foolish little star."

"Iím so tired of all of this. Of having people tell me things that never make any sense. Of giving all of myself to someone, and getting nothing in return. First selling my soul for someone who will never wake up, and now handing over my heart to have it be broken." But Aya was too stupid to give in, to listen either to the doctors who told him that his sister would remain as she was until she died, or to Schuís warning about Yohji. That was the worst part, to know the truth and be unable to change anything.

A sly look came over the womanís face; she leaned in closely in a conspiratorial manner. "Poor child, but you have the power to make your wishes come true. Youíve acknowledged it now; when the time comes for it to be free, you can make sure that you have both blackbirds at your side, forever. You can do many things, and make them pay for their sins. It lies in your hands. I can show you what to do."

His hands were stained in blood, his own and that of others. Aya looked at Cassandra and caught the gleam in her eyes. In all the time he had been coming here, he had never spared a thought for what the woman got out of their conversations. Now, he wondered at the presumption that it was just his company and not something more sinister. That perhaps here was yet another person who sought to use him for her own ends, just like everyone else. "Iím not your pawn, Cassandra. Iíve made people pay for their sins these past couple of years, and it has brought me nothing but heartache. Make them pay on your own."

So Cassandraís agenda had been revealed; she, like Kritiker, wanted him for his power. Yohji wanted him in his bed and to fill the hole that Asukaís death had caused, and SchuÖ Aya wasnít certain anymore what the German wanted from him. Whether his last visit had been a dream or not, the man had not taken advantage of him when he could have. And while Schu had offered to teach him to use his power, he also helped to hold it in its cage.

Making his way to leave, Aya cast the flowers aside and stepped away from the grey woman. Cassandra reached out to tug at his sleeve. He whirled about to face her with his face set in a scowl.

She spoke quickly, as if sensing that he was now wary of her presence. "Iím sorry, though the words will do you no good. I must make them pay and honor the debts I have incurred, though I try and spare you as much as I can. The first and the seventh blackbird have ever been my fate." There was a sorrowful expression on Cassandraís face, and tears joined the raindrops on her cheeks. "This I will say, that they both love you. The Magician and the Knight are tied to you; you have seen the threads. But the Knight is tied to another as well, the Erinyes that once was fair. He will have to choose, and soon, which one to sever from him. He longs for you, but if you repudiate him, she will have him. Do not throw your heart away."

From far away, there was a ringing sound; it pulled at Aya, making the garden grow faint. He stared back at Cassandra, only to see the woman fade to mist before his eyes, as she pleaded with him not to forsake Kudoh. Grateful for the escape, he let the noise drag him from the dream. Aya jerked upright in his bed, then searched about for his cell phone with bleary eyes. It was resting on his nightstand where he had left it before leaving for the mission last night. The pale man grabbed it and flipped it open, then hníed into the mouthpiece.

"Aya?" It was Hidaka calling him.

"Is it Kudoh?" Funny, how his first thoughts were about his lover. Aya puffed at a lock of hair that had fallen into his eyes, then lifted his left hand to brush it aside.

"Oh, yeah it is. Wait, itís not bad, Iím just calling you to tell you that they moved him a little bit ago. Heís in room 7-B now and wanted me to tell you that."

The palm of his hand was covered with blood. Aya flexed the appendage, but didnít feel any pain, nor could he find any wound. Yet fresh red blood covered his palm, and the scent of flowers filled the room.

"Aya, are you there?"

"Hn."

"Did I wake you? You sound out of it. Iím sorry if I did, I thought your phone would just go into voicemail. Sorry about that."

He searched about for something to wipe his hand with and paused once more. Aya now knew why the room smelled like flowers; white camellia petals were scattered all about him and the bed. Which meant that Schuldig bringing him home, their discussion, and falling asleep in the manís arms hadnít been a dream. Shit. That was very, very bad.

"Aya, are you still there?"

"Yes."

"Uhm, howís the concussion?"

"Ö" One thing was normal at least; Ken was managing to annoy the hell out of him. "Yohji is fine?"

"Yeah, they moved him to a normal hospital room, said his condition had improved." Kenís voice suddenly became quieter. "Heís asking for you. When can you be here?"

Kudoh was asking for him. Schuldig was messing with Ayaís head, Cassandra was coaxing him to using his power, and Kritiker was up toÖ whatever they were up to with him, which usually wasnít good; yet all that seemed to matter was the fact that Yohji wanted him by his side, and Aya wanted to be there for him. Even if he was just a substitute, he would take whatever amount of love the blond would give him. Cassandraís entreaties had been wasted, since he was too stupid to know when to give up on something, even if it was a lost cause. Yohji wanted him now, and that was what mattered. "Iíll be there." With that, he hung up the phone.

Getting out of bed was a very painful affair; Ayaís bottom lip suffered from several bites before he was standing in the shower, hoping that the hot water would warm him up and take the ache of his abused muscles and ribs away. He didnít have the energy to take his cast off for the shower. So, he left it on and let the hot water wash away all the dried blood and sweat that clung to him. When he was finished, he wrapped a towel about his waist and rummaged through the medicine chest looking for his pills: the ones that Schu told him would keep his power dormant, for the most part, and help with the headache that he was suffering. Beside the familiar containers were the ones that he received at the hospital, and Aya found himself swallowing a handful of them. He ignored the battered person who stared back at him from the mirror and went to get dressed.

Once in a pair of baggy black cotton pants and his orange sweater, Aya made his way to the kitchen. The painkillers were making the throbbing ache from the cracked ribs and his arm subside, and his headache was fading away, along with the sensations of threads reaching to and from. He paused to put some water on for tea. Despite knowing that he would be nauseated soon by his medication, Aya choked down a peanut butter sandwich. Yohji would give him grief if he showed up and hadnít eaten anything all day long.

He left a note for Omi, who he _knew_ was asleep in his bed, andÖ shaking his head, Aya shoved that thought aside. The pills needed a little longer to take effect, and he refused to let that voice inside of him whisper things to him, not when several people were trying to get him to heed it. Aya remembered it failing him when he wanted to find his sister; what good was his power? And while it had kept Yohji alive, it had failed to protect the idiot in the first place. He would continue to take the pills, and leave Schuís binding in place.

Ayaís arm was still hurting, so he wasnít sure if he could manage the stick shift for his car. Deciding to take the bus, the redhead waited anxiously at the bus stop, flinching every time a cab drove past him. He sighed in relief when he stepped into the vehicle and thought of how shortly he would be by Yohjiís side.

*******

Cassandra stood in the rain, staring down at a puddle of blood and the red edged white roses that were taking root in the middle of the pool. She bent down to touch the crimson fluid and hissed at the thoughts she felt at the contact. So, the star child was going to be stubborn. Time would tell if that would make her task harder or not. The one thing she was sure of was the fact that she had handled things badly and would most likely be paying for her mistakes in the coming times. The future was becoming more and more clouded, especially now that the catalyst knew about his talent.

"What did you do to him, you alte Hexe?"

Ah, the evil one was here and filled with fury. She shifted her gaze from the blood to the telepathís eyes and became lost in how they so resembled her fatherís. The sound of her parentsí voices grew stronger, dragging her back to the cliff in her mind. She had tried stepping away from it this day, in an attempt to reach the star child, but her struggle had been for naught. Now she found herself listening to her parents calling her back to the darkness.

A sudden pain along her right cheek brought the psychic back to her senses. Cassandra raised a hand to the side of her face, which was red from Schuldigís blow. "Go away, evil one, I have no time for your tantrums." She made to retreat back to her cottage, but her arm was gripped and the woman was jerked backwards, causing her to slip on the wet grass and fall to the ground.

"I know he was here, and now I find you staring at his blood. What have you done, Schlampe? What game are you playing now?" Schuldig loomed over her, preventing her from rising to her feet. He raised his hand threateningly, until Cassandra sat there quietly. "You are up to something, I know it."

"He came here full of questions, and all I could give him was pain, to center him and anchor him here." Another mind tore at hers, but the telepath would find no answers that way; the madness protected Cassandra. "I will not give you even that much, you evil thing."

For a second it appeared that Schuldig was going to hit her again, but he merely grunted and stepped aside. "Then I wonít give you your death. You need me, you crazy bitch, just as much as I need you. But if I find out that you have hurt him in any way, I will have you begging for the pain to end, do you understand me?"

Yes she did, and the grey-eyed woman nodded her head in response. She had two things that she needed more than anything: that the dark ones pay for their sins against her, and her death. Cassandra had to focus on those two goals, not the madness, or her regret for using the catalyst almost as vilely as she had been treated. "What do you want?" She wanted her child gone from her mind as soon as possible.

"To know what you have set into motion now. Aya is shaken up from acknowledging his talent, and I can not see how it will be of any benefit at this time."

"He needs to be aware of what he is when he faces our masters. The best way to make him accept his talent was in using it to keep a loved one safe. He couldnít use it to save his soul, so he denied the truth of that incident. He could not do so again, not when his heart was at stake."

Schuldig looked down on her, lost in thought for a moment, and then she felt his mind brushing along hers once more. <Such a sane answer, for a madwoman. There is more to you than it seems, which Iíve only begun to realize. Know this, I will be paying better attention to you now. Hide your agenda from me as long as you can, but be forewarned. Aya will be mine, or you will never have your death.> Malice and promise were heavy in that thought.

"What youíve done has made him susceptible to me, because of his power and the Schwanzlutscherís little slip. For that, Iíll leave you in peace. He doesnít trust you anymore, Cassandra, and neither do I. There was more than one revelation made this past day." Green eyes glittered at her, filled with suspicion and venom. "Now, I have a busy week ahead of me, and have no time for your nonsense. I want a few simple answers, or I will tear this garden apart." The plants swayed on their stems in the face of a sudden gale, and the air was filled with leaves and petals, as some of the trees creaked and groaned. "You realize that I can easily do that, donít you?"

"Yes." The Magician might not be able to touch her thoughts, but he could decimate her dreamscape and leave her only the cliff and her memories.

"GŁt. See, you are learning already. Now, do you foresee any problems with letting Farfie play with the doctor?"

"No. She too has been marked to bleed."

"GŁt. Are the Elders aware of the catalyst after his display of power last night?"

"No."

"GŁt." The evil one patted Cassandra on her head, as if she were a pet. "I will be back later to speak to you some more. I need to know what will happen these next few months and plan accordingly. Behave yourself, and you can go join your precious Vater and Mutter. But play me false in any way, and I will make sure that you will not die for a long, long time to come." With that, Schuldig faded from her mind, and the tempest around Cassandra calmed down. Her garden was a bit worse for the wear, with branches and blooms scattered about, but were more or less intact. The new rose bush appeared untouched, and she fingered the pale petals.

"Feh, he would have been wise to ask about himself while he was here. He will also bleed, and the Knight made aware."

*******

Yohji stared around his new room and shivered at its resemblance to Aya-chanís. He hoped that wasnít a bad omen, especially when Ken was busy calling Aya to let the man know he had been moved. The blond figured he'd find out whether or not his lover got the message if he showed up, or the fire alarms would be triggered. That wasnít a happy thought either, so he let himself be distracted by the fact that he hadnít had a cigarette in at least eighteen hours and desperately needed one now.

Busy thinking of what heíd willingly do or give up for a smoke, Yohji was startled when the door to his room opened. Hoping it was Aya, he let out a sigh when Manx walked into the room instead, carrying a vase filled with sunflowers. "Hello, beautiful. You here to give me some extra special TLC to help me feel better? I can tell you right now that the bed is nice and soft." He leered at the redhead.

Manx only rolled her eyes at the comment. "I see it takes more than almost dying to calm your libido down. Maybe we should have had the surgeons take care of that when they had you in the operating room." An elegant eyebrow shot up when Yohji glared at her for that suggestion, his nightmare from earlier still fresh in his mind. Hell, heíd woken from the latest drug induced sleep after dreaming that he was a eunuch responsible for guarding a whole harem of sexy, scantily clad Ayas, and unable to so much as touch any of them. Talk about being frustrated as all hell.

"What brings you here, then?"

Setting the flowers on the table near his bed, Manx sat down in one of the roomís chairs, her ankles neatly crossed and her hands resting in her lap. "What happened last night, Kudoh?"

Great; time for a mission debriefing. "I canít remember things clearly yet, but I know that the target had some damn good bodyguards, thatís for sure. This one guy with a chain slowed me down, and I made the mistake of paying more attention to him than his boss. Least, thatís all I can remember." Yohji would play the whole Ďtoo traumatized to recall anythingí card for as long as he could.

Manx stared at him for a moment, as if mentally willing him to spill his guts about the whole affair, but Yohji only gazed back at her evenly. She shifted her eyes away first and lifted a hand to brush aside the hair clinging to her right shoulder. "Well, you might be happy to know that the doctors are very impressed with your recovery and are willing to let you go home tomorrow. Kritiker wants you out of the hospital as soon as possible, to avoid alerting any enemies of your serious condition."

"It was just a slice along my leg, for the godsí sake. Granted, a couple centimeters to the one side, and Iíd have been begging them to let me die, but I donít see what has everyone so concerned. I hurt like hell, but Iíve had worse injuries before." At least a knife wound wasnít as painful as a gunshot or burn.

"The big deal is...you should be dead." The agent rose to her feet and started to play with the sunflowers, arranging them this way and that. "You lost a lot of blood, yet seem to be suffering almost no side effects from that. Your luck and constitution have been just amazing, that is for sure."

Uncomfortable at the serious tone of the conversation, Yohji started to squirm, only to stop as soon as he tried to move his injured leg. "Spit it out, Manx. Whatís happening? Why was a stranger in on the mission debriefing last night?"

"Because one of our best teams failed in their mission, which is an almost unprecedented event." Manxís voice was hushed, as if to ensure that no one overheard them. "My supervisors want to know what went wrong, andÖ who is to blame."

A strong feeling of misgiving overtook the blond assassin. "Do they suspect Aya? He didnít do anything wrong." It was Yohjiís fault, not his loverís, but now he realized that if Kritiker decided to blame anyoneÖ Fuck.

"No, I donít think they blame him." Those few words flooded Yohji with relief, until he remembered the Ďthinkí part. "He did manage to take out the target, after all. But this is drawing a lot of unwelcome attention to WeiŖ, which is not a good thing at this time." Slender hands plucked off a few green leaves, while Manx was careful not to lift her gaze from the flowers. "It might be a good idea if you and AyaÖ break things off for a while. Iím not saying to end the relationship, but just cool off until things calm down. You really donít want them to find anything out."

"No. Way. In. Hell."

"KudohÖ Yohji, please-"

"NO." Yohji wasnít going to pretend that he and Aya werenít lovers anymore, not even to convince Kritiker that nothing was going on. Theyíd managed to fool the organization for the past few months; they would continue to do so. If he left Aya alone, with what had been happening the past few weeks, there was no guarantee heíd get his lover back. The redhead was already shutting out too much of the world because of his grief for not being able to protect Aya-chan.

The woman sighed and gave up on the flowers, and him as well. "You are a stubborn fool, and I only hope that the rest of your team does not pay for your stupidity." Hah, she meant Omi; Manx could care less about Aya or Ken. Well, perhaps that was a bit harsh on his part, but Yohji wasnít going to let the agent convince him of anything different.

"Is there anything else?"

"Get well soon, Kudoh. WeiŖ still has a mission to complete." Leaning down to kiss him on the cheek, Manx whispered in Yohjiís ear, "Be very careful, Kudoh."

"Ah, I knew that you wanted me, Manx. Can I convince you to dress up as a nurse and personally tend to me? A sponge bath would be nice right about now."

"You are an irrepressible flirt, Iíll have you know. Get your rest, Kudoh; Iíd only make you end up back in intensive care."

Grinning back at the woman, Yohji batted his eyes. "But I think it would be worth it. Thanks for the flowers, Manx."

When she had left the room, Yohji huffed and tried to adjust his leg without causing himself any agony. He really should tell the doctors to dose him again, but the blond felt the need to have his wits about him, which wouldnít be possible if he was drugged. Besides, the painkillers were giving him awful nightmares, and he wanted to be awake when Aya came.

Ken returned a few minutes later holding two cups of coffee in his hands. The athlete held one out to him. "Thanks, Kenken, but Iíd rather have a cigarette. Did you call them?"

"I am not sneaking you cigarettes, Kudoh. Think about this the next time you have a desire to spend a few days in a hospital. Besides, the staff would kill me if they found out." Ken took a sip of coffee, and sat in the chair that Manx had vacated. "I left a message for Omi and managed to wake Aya up. He said heíd come, but I donít know when. I also ran into Manx while I was out."

"Huhn, what did she have to say?"

"Not much, just that you were going home tomorrow, and that as far as Kritiker is concerned, the mission is not over. Do me a favor, Yohji, and try not to screw up next time. I hate hospitals."

Yohji would have given anything to be able to get out of bed and kick the brunetís ass at the moment, but had to settle for doing his best Aya impression. The glare he was giving his teammate was bumped up to a pretty impressive shi-ne impersonation when Ken found the remote to the television set in the room and promptly turned on a soccer game. Did the man have a special talent or something that he never failed to find a damn game being played on some station or another? And of course, Ken had pushed back the chair enough that he and the remote were safely out of reach.

He was about to page the staff to come and give him more drugs, just so Yohji didnít have to put up with Hidaka yelling and screaming about a bunch of grown men kicking a ball back and forth, when Aya walked into the room. Yohji tried to sit up, only to let out a yelp at the pain in his leg that motion caused. His lover hurried over to his side.

"Sit still, Kudoh." Aya sat on the edge of his bed, his purple eyes shadowed and his face still showing some bruises. He also had lacked his usual grace while crossing the room and held himself stiffly. Yohji reached out to brush back the ragged bangs falling onto the pale face and smiled when Aya tilted his head into the caress.

"Ken, go watch the door."

Ken turned off the tv and quietly got up to leave the room, making sure to close the door behind him. Yohji tugged Aya closer to him, noting how his kitten was biting into his lip as he settled on the bed next to the blond. "You alright?" It was a bit awkward trying to get two wounded men to lie down comfortably on a twin bed, especially when Yohji couldnít move too much, but soon enough, Aya was lying on his side, his head resting on the older manís chest.

"I wonít be able to get up right away."

"Donít worry about that, Ken will give us enough warning if anyone stops by for a visit. Are your ribs bothering you? You look like hell, love."

There was a weak jab to Yohjiís ribs, but otherwise Aya didnít respond to the comment, just tucked his head under the blondís chin. Thankful that his lover was here with him, Yohji let the silence be for a few minutes, as the pain in his leg seemed to fade away. Ayaís left arm rested on his stomach, and he entwined their fingers together.

"I love you, you know." The statement seemed to startle Aya, and the man slowly shifted to sit back upright, a frown on his face. Yohji grabbed an eartail and yanked him down for a kiss, refusing to let go when his lover would have pulled away. Several minutes later, Aya managed to escape, his breathing heavy and lips swollen.

Snaking out a long arm, Yohji prevented the pale man from moving too far away. "Aya, is something wrong?" There was an air of sadness about the redhead, and the violet eyes refused to meet his.

"Iím fine, Kudoh."

Great, someone wasnít in a talkative mood, and Yohji didnít think that they had all that long before a doctor or someone else walked into the room and interrupted them. "Are you still mad at me about last night? Or pissed off that I got injured during the mission? I didnít do it deliberately, you know."

Aya hugged his right arm around his sore ribs and wouldnít lift his head to look at the older man. "Iím not."

Something was definitely wrong if Aya was passing up the chance to bitch him out about a screw up on his part. Yohji grabbed a hold of an eartail and kept yanking on it until Aya batted his hand away and glared at him. "Then what are you mad about?"

"Iím not."

"Yes, you are. Somethingís bothering you, Iím certain about that. You didnít skin me alive for being stupid enough to get injured, you wonít look at me, and you didnít say that you loved me back." Aya might almost never say the words first, but he always said them after Yohji did. The playboy lightly ran a finger over a bruised cheekbone and was surprised when Aya grabbed his hand and pressed it against his face as he stared at him with a blazing pair of eyes.

"I love you." But the statement seemed incomplete, as if Aya wanted to add something else, but refrained from doing so. Yohji was wishing that he wasnít so tired and in pain, otherwise he might stand a chance of deciphering what the hell his lover was trying to say.

"Thatís good, because I sure as hell love you, too." Trying to lighten the serious mood, Yohji decided to crack a joke. "So much so, that when I get out of here tomorrow, you better not expect to be leaving our bed anytime soon. I think Iím going to need to keep you real close, to make sure I donít suffer a relapse or something. You better take your vitamins, kitten, so you can keep up with me." Yohji waggled his eyebrows up and down, and a leer twisted his lips. However, he didnít get the response that he had been expecting for his joke, which was either a slight smile or another punch to his ribs. Instead, Ayaís face became even more closed, and the smaller man again tried to pull away. "Aya, love, what the fuck is bothering you?"

"Donít worry, Kudoh, youíll get your sex when you feel better."

Were he and Aya having the same conversation, or what? Yohji didnít understand what heíd said to make the pale man answer him back in such a bitter tone. "Hey, Iím only kidding, you know. Not about wanting you to stay by me, but about the sex." Mostly. He wouldnít pass up the chance to make love to Aya, if and when the opportunity presented itself. Though he wasnít quite sure if heíd be up to it any time soon, considering how badly his leg hurt.

His boyfriend just stared at him with doubt plain on his face. "How am I to know, when thatís all that you usually want?"

"AyaÖ" Maybe this was another one of his nightmares. Yanking a hand through his hair and tugging on the long strands to make sure he was indeed awake, Yohji tried to make sense of what was happening. First off, Aya was rather upset about something, which was par for the course. Secondly, the man was acting as if all Yohji was interested in was sex. With a sudden flush, the blond recalled what their relationship had been like for the past month or so. All the two of them had ended up doing lately was screw each otherís brains out; their last real date had been with Teddy and Koyu. Before that, Aya had seemed upset about something and had wanted Yohji almost desperately, as if to reassure himself that Yohji was his. And, they had been fighting so much back then, it had been a way to escape the anger and remind themselves that they did love each other. After Aya-chanís kidnappingÖ sex had been a way to distract the kitten from the fact that his sister was gone and that they couldnít find her, and a way to keep the man from retreating from Yohji.

And, Yohji hadnít protested the importance that their sex life had taken in their relationship, not at all. Not when it meant having a willing Aya to ravish and, in a way, dominate. It had felt so incredibly good to have the man need him somehow, to know that he could get past Aya Fujimiyaís icy defenses at any time and possess the man completely. The sex had been fantastic, and the rush of being in charge had been almost as delicious, knowing that he was the only man able to drag his lover off to the bedroom or greenhouse and fuck him silly. It had also been a way to reassure himself that Aya was his, since the redhead would let Yohji take advantage of him like that. After all, Aya almost never said the words unless Yohji did; he could only recall one time when that hadnít been so.

So, it was possible that Ayaís belief that Yohji wanted him only for sex wasnít all that farfetched. It was even something crazy enough for the pale man to get into his beautiful head. Especially with some damn shrink making him feel like hell. Now, how to go about convincing the stubborn fool otherwise?

"AyaÖ" Yohji waited for his redhead to look at him before continuing. "I adore having sex with you, I wonít deny it. But thatís not why I love you. You are beautiful, frustrating, intelligent, and can be the most loyal, giving person that I know. And so, as the chibi might say, Iíve let my hormones take control of my better judgment lately. But I donít want you because of the sex. Hell, Iíll sleep in the spare bedroom for the next month or so, if it will make you feel better. Please, just donít think Iím using you for sex. Not you." He stared beseechingly at the younger man, wishing he was a telepath, so he could figure out if he was reaching Aya or not.

His lover stared back at him for a moment, his face blank of emotions once more. "Was yourÖ relationship with Asuka like this?"

Another famous Fujimiya shift in topic guaranteed to make Yohjiís head spin. The fact it was about his dead lover didnít help matters either. "Asuka and I? You mean, did we have sex all the time?" Aya nodded his head. Unsure of why the topic had shifted to the only other person he had loved, Yohji shook his head in response. "No, it wasnít as intense as ours is. We both were so busy trying to make the business a success, and often one of us would be working on a case when the other was at home." He regretted wasting the time he could have spent with the fiery woman. "Sex only became more important afterwards, as way to escape from the job and the memories, until you and I became lovers. Then I was reminded of how special it could be, and how great it felt, when making love to someone I actually cared about, that I wanted to experience it as much as possible. Is this making any sense?" It would sure as hell help if Aya allowed some emotion or another cross his face, and let Yohji know if he was convincing him or just pissing the man off even more. "I guess I forgot about how nice it felt to just hold you, or spend time together. I really do love you, Aya; Iíve never lied about that."

The quiet man continued to gaze at him, then closed his eyes. He shook off Yohjiís hand, and lowered himself back down beside the playboy. Yohji held on tight to the slender form, and placed a kiss on the top of Ayaís head. "You know, you make the pain go away. I can barely feel my leg when youíre here with me. Please, love, stay a while."

"I told you, Yohji, that Iím here as long as you want me." That was another ambiguous statement, and Yohji didnít think he could decipher it at the moment. Stroking a hand through silky crimson strands, he heard Aya whisper that he loved him back.

Why was it that whenever he tried to protect and help the ones he loved, Yohji failed so miserably? He had wanted to keep Aya safe from Kritiker, only to make their supervisors direct more attention WeiŖís way. He had wanted the man feel safe and cherished, to make the pain go away for a short while. Instead, he made Aya feel used. He had tried to give Asuka a secure future, and took a risky job on the chance that it would be their big break, only to run into Riot and Takatori. When it came to the people he loved, it seemed as if he couldnít do anything right.

But, at least Aya was here in his arms, and he had another chance at making things right. Yohji kissed him on the head again and tugged lightly on an eartail. "How are you, really? Ken said you got roughed up a bit, and I can tell your ribs are hurting you."

"Iím tired, ache all over, have more stitches than I want to think about, and am sick of people using me, Yohji. I just want to be left alone."

"You didnít have to come, then. Why donít you go home and get some more sleep?"

Yohji flinched when he was punched in the stomach, and then again when he tried to move his legs. "Ow. You could have just said Ďnoí."

"I want to be here. You make the pain go away too."

"Well, thatís good, considering what bad shape weíre both in. Itís nice to know that Iíll have someone to snuggle up to for the next couple of days."

"Hn." Aya shifted more of his weight on top of Yohji, and let out a sigh as he shivered slightly. Guessing that his lover was cold, the older man lifted the blankets off of himself and tucked them around Aya. They remained curled up together for almost a half hour, when there was a sudden knock on the door: two rapid knocks, then a pause, and another three bursts. Both of the assassins relaxed as they recognized the Ďstand downí signal.

Omi and Ken slid into the room, the younger man holding a tray of food in his hands. "Yohji! You certainly look better today. Hereís your food; we managed to talk the nurse into stopping back to check up on you at the end of his rounds."

Setting the food on the bedside table, Omi didnít give Yohji a chance to answer him. "I hear that you will be coming home tomorrow. Thatís very good! It makes me feel better, since I didnít bring you any flowers. I know you arenít very fond of them. You look better as well, Ayan; the nap must have helped."

At first it appeared as if someone had hit his stash of candy before arriving at the hospital, but Yohji caught how the blue eyes narrowed each time they rested on him, only to widen in concern when they shifted to his lover. Oh shit, Omi wasnít happy. Wondering what heíd done to piss the youth off, Yohji wracked his brain for a reason, and couldnít come up with any.

"There were a ton of messages on the Konekoís answering machine, wondering why we were closed. Itís a good thing that the shop is closed tomorrow as well, or else weíd have a bunch of girls holding vigil outside. Iím sure youíll get lots of flowers when they find out youíve been hurt, Yohji."

Yep, Omi was pissed when he had called Aya by a nickname and not him. Yohji sighed as his boyfriend sat up and pushed the tray of food his way. Knowing he had to eat if he wanted to be out of here tomorrow, Yohji picked up his chopsticks and wrinkled his nose when dinner turned out to be some steamed fish, vegetables and rice. "Couldnít one of you guys have smuggled in some hamburgers, or something?"

"Well, Yohji, if I had _known_ about it _beforehand_, I could have brought you some food. You _should_ have _said_ something."

Oh shit, he had discussed the idea of messing up a mission with the chibi, hadnít he? All this time Yohji had worried about how Aya would react to a botched assignment that he had never spared Omi a thought. And apparently, the boy was pissed beyond belief at him. He suddenly started to rethink this getting out of the hospital bit, not sure if he would survive for long once he was back at home. Omi was most likely waiting til there were no witnesses about to tear into him. Mere castration would be getting off easy, judging from the dirty looks being directed his way. Forgetting about his meal, Yohji pulled his blankets up to his neck and whimpered.

*******

Pushing her chair away from her desk, Kirie Arai rubbed her tired eyes. WeiŖ was turning out to be a very interesting team. Its leader was a young man who had practically been raised to be an assassin and was quite the dichotomy, what with his life as a killer and his insistence to be allowed to lead as normal a life as possible. Then there were the other two members: one who seemed well on his way to a psychotic breakdown, and another that couldnít keep his dick in his pants. Add to that the fact that Balinese had been recruited into the organization thanks to his guilt over his loverís death, and that Siberian had been betrayed by someone whom he had greatly trusted; there was angst aplenty for her to work with. Arai was looking forward to getting inside the young menís heads.

But at the moment, she was exhausted and hungry. Upon investigating her kitchen, the empath realized that she had put off grocery shopping a bit too long. Deciding to make do with some takeout, Arai slipped on her shoes and walked to the nearby KFC. She placed her order and paid for the food, then waited for it to be packed up.

"Hello, little witch."

Arai turned around to find Jei standing behind her, dressed in a long white coat. The foreigner smiled at her, then reached out to touch her bandaged hand. "Have you been trying to wash away your sins on your own?"

"What are you doing here?"

"Talking to you. Have you been trying to cleanse yourself?"

Holding onto the fingers that had been brushing against her hand, Arai nodded her head. A thrill ran through her at the simple contact, and she found herself wanting to forget about the lousy day she had had and experience more of the addicting bliss. She walked away from the counter, completely oblivious to the young woman who was trying to get her attention so she could retrieve her order and tugged Jei along with her. It surprised the empath when the scarred man meekly followed her. Her talent could pick up nothing from Jei but amusement and anticipation.

The both of them were quiet during the walk to her apartment, and in a few minutes they were standing in her living room. Turning to face the tall foreigner, Arai let out a gasp as he suddenly pushed her against the wall. She readied her power to strike back at the man, wondering why she had brought a stranger home with her, but the thought suddenly vanished from her mind when Jei kissed her. All that mattered was his weight pressing against her; his tongue deep in her mouth, tasting of honey and cinnamon. Arai let out a small moan when the man pulled away from her.

"Your bedroom?"

Jeiís voice was husky and low, sending shivers down her spine as he whispered in his accented Japanese. Arai nodded her head in the direction of the room and allowed the man to pull her to it. He pushed her down onto the bed and stood at the foot of it as he peeled off the white coat, revealing the white, sleeveless top he wore beneath it and the bandages that ran all along his left arm. The man paused to fish something out of the pocket of his jacket before tossing the garment aside. The empath saw that it was a small knife and shivered in anticipation as Jei joined her on her bed, straddling her waist as he reached for her bandaged hand.

A few swift cuts, and the gauze drifted to the bed, revealing a hand bearing several shallow cuts. "Ah, you did try to cleanse yourself, didnít you? But it didnít work, did it, my little witch?"

"No," she whispered back, a hint of a whine in her voice. "Why didnít it?"

"Because you have to embrace the sin as you wash it away. God wants you to repent, but it will only work if you revel in blasphemy." Jeiís mouth licked at her hand, a warm wet touch that had Arai sucking in her breath. "Revel in it, witch." He shifted to lay his body on top of hers and to claim her mouth once more. Arai let out a gasp as sharp teeth bit into her lower lip at the same time the knife cut the palm of her hand. Bliss radiated from the wounds, and the empath started to writhe on the bed. Jei chuckled softly and used the knife to cut away the buttons of her blouse, then to strip her of the garment. "So many sins to cleanse away; you will be such fun. Weíll make God cry, to watch us revel in blood and blasphemy."

Araiís world narrowed down to the feel of the sharp blade biting into her flesh again and again, and Jeiís tongue lapping at the wounds. He slowly stripped her of her clothes, cutting them away from her body until the woman was bare before him. As the knife dug into her inner thigh, Arai moaned at the bliss crashing through her body, making her back arch off the bed. There was another chuckle from Jei, his breath caressing her skin before his mouth descending on the cut, suckling the blood that welled from it.

The feel of fingers pushing inside her made Arai cry out, and Jei cut her on the right breast moments later. The fingers pushed in and out of her, twisting about, and his mouth was so insistent on her lacerated flesh. "More please. Deeper." She didnít know if she meant the cuts or his fingers, but Jei obliged her with both, and the pleasure/pain drove all thoughts from her mind. This high was better than anything she had ever experienced before, be it heroin or ecstasy or speed, and tears ran down the empathís face at the joy coursing through her veins. One more slice, along her right nipple, and Arai came with a blinding intensity.

As the woman lay limp on the bed, Jei pulled his fingers out of her and sat beside her. He licked first the fingers, and then the sharp knife before smiling down on her. "Mmm, you taste so sweet, little witch. I canít wait for more, but he is calling me, and I have to leave. Wallow in your sins until we meet again, so we will have much to revel in next time." Jei leaned down to kiss her deeply once more, so Arai could taste herself and the copper tang of her own blood on his tongue, and then the man rose to his feet. His white clothes were marred with her blood, but the scarred man appeared unconcerned about that, as he retrieved his trenchcoat and pulled it back on and left.

Arai forced her body to move and languidly sat up. Looking down, she found dozens of shallow cuts marring her skin; some of them still oozing blood, especially those on her breasts. But they did not hurt; instead, a small amount of pleasure radiated from the wounds. She wiped a finger along her bleeding nipple and cleaned the blood from it with her tongue. It didnít taste as good as it did on Jeiís tongue, and she frowned in disappointment. In the back of her mind was a nagging thought, but it kept fading away when the woman tried to acknowledge it, so she ignored it. Rising to her feet, Arai decided that it would be best to take a bath and patch up the deeper cuts. She had work that needed tending to, so she would put her good mood to use. As she entered the bathroom, she wondered how long it would be before she saw Jei again. She was already craving more of the bliss he awoke in her.

*******

Schuldig stood waiting outside on the street and sensed when Farfie had finished with the bitch. He rested his head back on the glass window he was leaning against and burrowed his way deeper into the empathís brain. Really, for one of Kritikerís best, the woman had appalling shields. Her arrogance in her power would be her downfall; that, and the pleasure she got from hurting his heart. Tweaking a few things here and there, he buried deep inside Araiís mind all the doubts she should be having over what was happening to her and strengthened the bitchís addictive personality. Once a junkie, always a junkie, and he was twisting the elements that had made her an addict in the past, making her crave what Farfie was doing to her now. Really, it was such a simple task to do both that and to change pain into pleasure. Another session or two with the Irishman, and the bitch would be completely certifiable. Sheíd never get another chance to hurt Aya.

The telepath found the womanís plans to interrogate the rest of WeiŖ and looked forward to some fun in the morning. Mixing business and pleasure was so much fun, and it had been a while since heíd messed with the cocklickerís mind. Schuldig used his bond with Aya to see what his little tuberose was up to and found the man on his way home from the hospital. Aya was torn by his enjoyment in spending time near Kudoh and seeing his boyfriend alive and on the mend, and his doubts about the relationship. Ah, Kudoh had fucked up big time by calling out for his old lover like that. Aya still doubted that the man wanted him as anything other than a substitute for the Ďdeadí woman.

It was amazing how much damage one little sentence could do, and what made things even sweeter was the fact that the man-whore had no idea of what he had done. But things were finally beginning to come together, and in a few short months Aya would be Schuldigís. Kudohís insatiable sex drive and his refusal to let go of his lost love were the first cracks in his and the catalystís relationship, and that would give Schuldig the advantage he needed to steal Aya away from the prick.

Opening his eyes, Schuldig found Farfie standing beside him, humming under his breath. "Did you have fun?"

"Oh yes, very much so. Her blood was so sweet. Thank you."

"Itís Brad you should be thanking, since he decided to let us play before the mission." It had surprised the German when his leader had interrupted his dinner and ordered him to take Farfarello out for a Ďlittle playí, to appease the madmanís blood lust before the mission. Crawford was up to something, but Schuldig hadnít yet figure out just what. It got on his nerves that the two precogs he had to deal with were being so sneaky and had the ability to block his talent. He knew the two of them were planning something and would make them pay if it interfered with his own plans, though he and Crawford had seemed to reach some sort of accord concerning Aya.

The thought of his tuberose, and the nap they had taken together brought a smile to Schuldigís face as he headed for his car with Farfie in tow. It was time to get to work.

*******

Teddy crept along a small alley between two warehouses and stood on his toes to whisper in his brotherís ear. "Two trucks and a limo have just pulled into the complex. These guys seem real busy for an organization that has just lost their head honcho."

"I know, and that worries me. Now hush." Mickey pressed Teddy against the wall and peered over his head to where a group of armed men were standing beside a large mound of crates that had arrived almost an hour ago. Teddy stared at the small group as well and waited for the new arrivals to join the men.

Something wasnít right here. A highly illegal activity was taking place out in the open like this, right after the smuggling ring had been attacked last night, yet these guys were not acting very concerned. Security was so lax it was laughable, and Teddy knew a thing or two about security, having spent most of his life on army bases. No one was patrolling the area, and the smugglers were way too relaxed as they smoked and chatted.

A flash of lights warned the two agents of the approaching trucks, they shifted back into the shadows as the vehicles pulled up near the crates. The limo stopped by the group of men, and a young man got out from the back and joined them.

"Teddy, is it just me, or is there no equipment to move the crates?"

Squinting his eyes, the younger brother searched the docks for the forklifts or dollies that the smugglers would need to use to get the crates of weapons into the trucks. They had been forklifted off the ship, and if brute strength was going to be relied upon to get the boxes into the trucks, the smugglers would be here all night. "No, I donít see a thing, Mickey."

"Something is wrong here. Teddy, maybe you should go back to the car."

The longhaired man only shook his head as he pulled out his Glock. "Nope, no can do. This is my assignment too, and Iím staying here until they load those crates onto the trucks."

"Teddy, this is no time for- wait, another car is coming." The two brothers watched as an imported sedan came to a stop beside the limo. Two figures stepped out of it: a dark haired foreigner with glasses, dressed in a white suit, and a teenager in a grey school uniform. "Who are those two?"

Something about the newcomers seemed familiar, but Teddy couldnít place it. At least, not until the boy stepped over to the crates, and the boxes began to float through the air into the back of the trucks. "Fuck, theyíre Schwarz."

"Teddy, get in the damn car right now, and give Birman the description of the trucks. She can arrange for someone to follow the vehicles." When the younger Stout remained where he was, Mickey snarled out the order again.

Glancing worriedly at his sibling, Teddy pushed away from the wall.

"Iím afraid that we canít allow that to happen, mein leibe Kollegen. Any chance of you remaining where you are, like good little boys? No? What a shame. That means we get to play." Both Americans looked at the other end of the alley where a man with long, reddish orange hair, and another with short, white hair were standing. The two of them let out a few choice swear words at the sight of the missing members of Schwarz.

<Ah, itís so nice to be recognized. Time for you to earn some hazard pay.>

Mickey, ever the pragmatist, let his bat fall to the ground as he reached for the Beretta tucked in the small of his back. He managed to get off two shots, one of them hitting Berserker in the thigh, as the madman bounced around and came near enough to knock the weapon from his hands.

For his part, Teddy was trying to focus his eyes enough to shoot Mastermind, but he found his vision going blurry. A blossom of pain burned along his right arm, and he let out a gasp as first his gun was sent flying, and then so was he.

A cry from Mickey had the young man scrambling to his feet, only to find a gun shoved in his face.

<Ah, ah, ah, you stay there.> "Farfie, youíve already had your fun for the night; either finish him off or leave the man alone." Shit, that was his brother the sick fuck was messing with. Teddy let out a string of obscenities and had his vision go dark as the gun smashed into his temple. He fell to the ground once more, and a kick to his ribs had him gasping for air.

"These arenít the kitties I want to play with. They arenít as much fun."

"I know, Farfie. What do you say to us using them to send Kritiker a message? Leave the big one alone so he can hear what I say." Teddy saw the redhead, who had to be Mastermind, walk over to where his brother was crumpled on the ground. "Tell your masters that if they send anyone other than WeiŖ after us, we will let Berserker play with their agents and send the pieces back to them. That pack of kitties is so much more amusing than you two. We so enjoy making them bleed."

Mickey let out a groan as he tried to get to his feet, only to have the arm he was using for a lever kicked out from under him. "Huhn, though we have to give you points for being almost as stubborn as them."

Mastermind left the other man to return to Teddy, who found himself jerked to his feet, with a hand clasped around his throat. "Weíll throw you back and see if you canít be more of a challenge some other time." <You owe my little tuberose for this, you know. Iím sparing you two for his sake. The next time you see ĎRedí, pass this message along to him. Maybe heíll appreciate this gift more than the usual flowers and jewelry, and I expect him to be properly thankful the next time I see him. And tell Balinese that I look forward to facing him again. Mention this conversation to anyone else andÖ> There was a tingling sensation in his head, and the nasal voice chuckled inside his mind. <Tell your supervisors about those messages, and Iíll let Farfie play with your cute boyfriend. Do you want to cause the man even more pain? Heíll lose a hell of a lot more than his eyes this time.> The hand let him go and Teddy fell once more to the ground.

"Ta ta for now; Iím sure weíll see more of you in the future." The two assassins vanished in a blur, and Teddy crawled over to where his brother was lying.

"Mickey, are you okay?" There was a wet sheen to the larger manís black shirt, and patches of red showed through the sliced fabric. "Mickey?"

Teddyís brother wheezed as he rolled over on his side. "ThinkÖ theÖ ahh, prickÖ punctured aÖ huuuhnÖ lung."

"Fuck. Can you stand, bro? We need to get you to the hospital."

"WhatÖ ehhhhÖ aboutÖ you?"

Carefully draping Mickeyís arm over his shoulder, Teddy got the injured man onto his feet. A quick glimpse at the dock showed that the smugglers, crates, and vehicles were all gone. "My head hurts like hell, and Iím so mad I could bite through nails. Letís go." He helped his brother to their car, one of the longest walks in his life, and then climbed behind the wheel.

After stalling the car a few times and leaving a pile of shavings from the clutch behind, Teddy managed to get the car into the proper gear and sped down the road. Anyone who got in his way was fucked, as he wasnít stopping for anything. As he swore to have Mickey teach him how to drive a stick shift as soon as the man recovered, and he damn well would recover if he knew what was good for him, Teddy used his cellphone to notify the Magic Bus Hospital that two wounded agents were coming in.

Pulling up to the emergency room entrance, he found two nurses waiting there with a gurney. The burly men easily managed to get Mickey out of the car, onto the portable bed and were soon wheeling him inside. Teddy declined the same assistance, and found himself herded into a curtained room where a surly doctor was waiting to tend to him. The man checked his eyes, ordered a few x-rays, pronounced the gunshot wound to his arm little more than a scratch, and gave him several shots for his trouble. Teddy kept asking about his brother and was repeatedly told that the man was fine. As the doctor was examining his x-rays, Birman entered the private area.

"How is he?"

"A bit roughed up, but otherwise fine. He can go home any time now."

"Good." The slender woman, dressed in an evening gown, nodded her head at the doctor and walked over to stand in front of Teddy. "I just spoke to Mickeyís doctor, and he is doing well. His lung was punctured, but they re-inflated it and closed his wounds; he is listed in fair condition. Now, what happened tonight?"

Relieved that his brother was going to be alright, Teddy felt his body sag as the tension vanished. "The smuggling ring was in full swing tonight. There was a shipment of at least thirty crates, and Schwarz showed up to help them cart the things off."

The woman snapped to attention at the German word. "Schwarz? Are you sure?"

"How many other teams out there have a telekinetic brat that could move a couple tons of weapons in under five minutes, and have a telepath and some sick fuck with a fetish for knives? Thatís how Mickey and I got our asses kicked; Mastermind and Berserker wanted to play." Teddy knew that he had seen the German somewhere before, and not from the blurry photos heíd been shown during his orientation. Heíd heard that voice before, as well.

Birman was quiet for a moment. "How did you survive?"

Teddy let out a bitter laugh at the question. "We werenít entertaining enough for them. They said to let WeiŖ play with them next, or theyíll kill whoever else they run across." Mastermindís words echoed in his head, about how they had been spared because of Aya. What that prick had to do with the redhead, Teddy didnít know, but he sure as hell was going to find out. But he wouldnít tell anyone of their private conversation, not when Koyuís life was on the line. He knew enough about the telepath to know heíd have no problem tracking down his lover and keeping his word. There was no way in hell Teddy was going to let anything happen to the man, not when Koyu still bore the scars from David.

"WeiŖÖ This is not good. Schwarzís involvement complicates things."

"You think?" At the scowl Birman directed his way, Teddy shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry. Iím in pain, my brother just had surgery, and a bunch of freaks just wiped the floor with us. Colour me bitchy."

"íBitchyí seems to be an understatement." Birman sighed as she tugged up the bodice of her black strapless gown. "Amusing enough or not, the two of you should be commended for surviving a run-in with Schwarz. Very few people ever do. And now we have some very valuable information. Go check up on Mickey, then go home and get some rest. There will be a car waiting for you outside. You are off active duty for the time being." She patted him awkwardly on the arm and left the room, reaching into her bag for her cellphone as she did so.

With a groan of pain, Teddy jumped off examination bed and went out to harass a nurse. The flustered woman gave him the room number where his brother would be taken after he came out of recovery, and Teddy made his way to it. He waited outside in the hall, leaning against the wall for support. After a while, Mickey was wheeled off an elevator and heading in his direction. Giving the doctors a few minutes to make sure his brother was comfortable, Teddy entered the room and held the manís hand for a short while, just to reassure himself that the big galoot was indeed fine. The medical staff allowed him that time, before gently but insistently telling him that visiting hours were over, and that he needed to go home.

The ride to his and Koyuís apartment was a blur in the Americanís memory, as he found himself drifting in and out of sleep along the way. The driver had to wake him up when they reached the complex, and Teddy wearily made his way to his door. He garnered a few odd stares along the way, with his dirty and bloodstained clothes, the bandage along his right arm and the bruise on the side of his face, not to mention his unraveling braid. All he wanted was to take a shower and fall into a bed that contained a nice, warm Koyu to snuggle against.

Entering his apartment, Teddy flinched as he turned on the light. Sitting on the couch was Koyu, a serious expression on his face. "Ah, Koyu, what are you doing up?

"I couldnít sleep, and decided to wait for you to come home." Dammit, the man must have been suffering another nightmare, inspired by the time he had spent in Davidís hands. Teddy felt even guiltier than usual over the matter, and without thinking, hurried over to hug his lover. "Teddy, what the hell is going on? You smell like blood and gunpowder."

Oh shit, he had forgotten all about what had happened, being worried over how Koyu was feeling. "Ah, I cut my hand on a broken plate tonight, and got some blood on my uniform. Let me take a shower, and we can go to bed."

"Teddy, donít lie to me. I might be blind, but I still have my other senses. Your clothes feel sticky and gritty, and," the longhaired man let out a moan as a hand squeezed his wounded arm, "this sure as hell isnít your hand. And I know what gunpowder smells like, after going out with you to target practice."

"Somethingís been going on with you and Mickey the past month or two. Youíve been working weird hours, and this isnít the first time Iíve smelled blood or gunpowder on you. And youíve been getting hurt an awful lot at Ďworkí lately. At a job that I know you havenít been to for over a month, since I tried getting ahold of you at Kasbah a couple of weeks ago. Tell me what is happening, or Iím leaving right now. What have the two of you gotten yourselves into?"

Exhausted and sore, Teddy could only stare at his lover and wonder what he was going to say to the man.

*******

Oh, this might help a bit in deciphering Cassandraís babble. Itís based on an old nursery counting rhyme, which has many versions out there. You sorta use it to count blackbirds as a way to foretell the future.

One for sorrow

To for joy

Three for girl

Four for boy

Five for silver

Six for gold

Seven for a secret, never to be told

*******

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