Bleed

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chapter 4

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"Something’s been going on with you and Mickey the past month or two. You’ve been working weird hours, and this isn’t the first time I’ve smelled blood or gunpowder on you. And you’ve been getting hurt an awful lot at ‘work’ lately. At a job that I know you haven’t been to for several weeks, since I tried getting ahold of you at Kasbah a couple of weeks ago. Tell me what is happening or I’m 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. He heard Mickey’s voice in his head telling him that Koyu couldn’t know about Kritiker, but he knew his lover well enough to judge that the man was serious. Koyu really would leave him.

"All right, give me a second here." At the blind man’s snort, Teddy tugged on one of his braids and sighed. "Listen, I’m not trying to come up with a story, but thinking of how best to tell you some things. Things that you might not want to hear, and it’s a bad idea to tell you. Can’t you trust me on this and drop the matter, Koyu?"

"Teddy, tell me the whole truth or I’m gone."

Teddy sighed again and sat down next to his lover. Koyu turned to face him, a hand reaching out for his as the man tried to judge exactly where he was. "You can’t breathe a word of this to anyone else, sweetie, I’m absolutely serious about this. It would be really, really bad for you, Mickey or me if the truth got out."

"Enough with the melodramatics, TB. Spill."

Smiling at the nickname, Teddy cleared his throat. "Mickey and I… ah, shit Koyu, there’s no way to tell this without it sounding like some stupid plot in one of your anime. Mickey and I are secret agents."

When the blind man said nothing and failed to burst out in laughter, his lover continued. "We work for an organization called Kritiker. We… mainly gather information for them, go undercover and deal with a few of their agents. Sort of glorified errand boys, in other words."

Koyu’s face was impassive. "And the rest of the time? The times that I smell gunpowder on you?"

Wincing, the American played with his braid once more. "It’s not always sneaking around that we do. Sometimes… they’re never good people, Koyu. Trust me on that."

"You’re telling me that you’ve killed people -- you and Mickey."

"Yes." Teddy’s eyes closed in pain for a few seconds. "We’ve had to, in order to defend ourselves or other agents."

"So, let me get this straight. You and Mick are secret agents, license to kill and all that shit. It does sound ridiculous, but I know when you’re lying to me, Teddy, and this isn’t one of the times. You always stutter when you call me a pet name when you’re lying. Hence, I believe you. But, I want to know why, and it better be a damn good reason if it’s turned you into a murderer."

Well, he was over one hurdle, now for the other. At least Koyu believed him. But Teddy hadn’t needed that ‘murderer’ crack. He wasn’t particularly happy about that himself, though he still didn’t regret shooting the drug dealer who would have killed Mickey two weeks back. "Well… ah shit, Koyu, it’s because of you that I joined."

The blind man blinked in surprise, and Teddy continued before he could say anything. "Mickey and I got involved with a few Kritiker agents when they were investigating… Aso." The mere mention of his old lover caused Koyu’s face to tighten in pain. "They were the ones who took care of the bastard, not the police. I guess that brought Mick and me to the organization’s attention. We were offered a chance to join, and we jumped at it."

"Because of me."

"Yeah." Teddy brushed back the Japanese man’s bangs and stared into the glass eyes. "Well, at least for me. Sweetie… I know you said it wasn’t my fault what happened to you, but I still feel like it is. Kritiker goes after the criminals who would normally get away; that’s what they do. What we do. I couldn’t stop… David, but I can keep something like what happened to you from ever occurring again. So I joined up.

"As for Mick, he went along with it because of me. At least at first. He wanted to keep an eye on me. But - he’s perfect for this. He’s found his calling. The Asshole always tried to get him to join the Army or go to West Point and beat the training into him, along with me. Mickey absorbed that training, even if he hated the idea of joining the Army. Well, now he’s putting those skills to use and loving it. And he’s happy, which makes me happy. I’ve hated the fact that he’s done nothing but look after me these past few years to the exclusion of him having a real life or occupation. Now he can keep an eye on me and do what he was always meant to do. And I’m doing something much more worthwhile than waiting tables."

Koyu continued to remain silent for several minutes, making Teddy wonder if the man doubted him after all. About to try to convince Koyu again, his lover spoke. "Aya and Yohji… they’re the other agents, aren’t they?"

"What? How the hell did you come to that conclusion?" He knew he hadn’t said a word about the couple.

Smiling, Koyu’s hand fumbled about until it found an unraveling braid and yanked on it. "I know you didn’t know them before I… lost my eyes. And you’re always hanging around their shop, bringing flowers home. You seem to know them too well to just be casual acquaintances. Plus, they act too weird to just be florists. They almost never talk about work, and when they do, the conversation is phrased so ambiguously that they could be discussing anything. They’ve never said a thing about their pasts, even ignoring the question or changing the topic the few times I’ve tried to ask." Teddy blinked at that bit of news. "And there’ve been times when I know they haven’t said a thing to each other out loud, but somehow they talk to each other. I’m right, aren’t I?"

Shit. He’d meant to just out only himself and Mickey, not Weiß as well. "Yeah, sweetie, you are. Listen, you can’t say anything to another living person. I mean it. Mickey and I got recruited when a bunch of Kritiker agents were killed because another agent and her boyfriend sold them out to a gangster. Can you see why I didn’t want to tell you about this? If my bosses find out you know… it wouldn’t be good." That was one hell of an understatement.

"Teddy… I won’t tell a soul. Not if it means you and Mick might be hurt. But I wish you would’ve told me the truth from the beginning and spared me the worry. Though I guess I have something else to worry about now." Koyu leaned in and kissed Teddy on the mouth.

It amazed the longhaired man that his boyfriend was accepting the situation this well. "Koyu… I wanted to, I really did. It hurt lying to you, and I’m so glad that I don’t have to anymore." He rested against his lover, sighing in pleasure when a pair of arms encircled him.

"TB, you sound exhausted. Let’s get you cleaned up and in bed. I’ll probably yell at you and call you an idiot in the morning and ask a million questions, but that’s for later. How come Mickey let you be hurt?"

Hugging the older man close, Teddy closed his eyes on the tears forming in them. "He’s in the hospital." When Koyu jerked at the news, he was quick to reassure the blind man. "Hey, he’s going to be okay. Mickey will probably be out in a couple days time. Wanna go visit him tomorrow?"

Koyu rose to his feet, dragging Teddy with him. "I would. Listen to me, Theodore Robert Stout. If you get yourself hurt or killed, all because of feeling guilty about something a psycho did to me, Mickey won’t be able to save your ass from the kicking I’ll give it. Do you understand me?"

"Yeah, loud and clear." God, he loved Koyu so damn much. Who else would have listened to his story and not laughed in his face? Feeling good for the first time since running into Schwarz, Teddy let himself be led to the bathroom.

*******

Yohji lay in his hospital bed resisting the urge to check his watch and see what time it was. He’d looked five minutes ago and watching the minutes tick by did not seem to be speeding things up any. Another three hours and eighteen minutes, and Aya should be arriving to take him home. Yohji could hardly wait; a couple more hours and he’d be snuggled up in bed with his lover. Never mind the fact that he wouldn’t be able to do much more than curl up with the redhead, but considering their conversation yesterday that was most likely a good thing. It would be more than enough to just have Aya near him safe in his arms.

Okay, the drugs the latest doctor had pumped into him, after a rude seven AM wakeup call and breakfast of bland eggs and rice, must be affecting his brain if he seriously thought that it would be enough to only snuggle with Aya. As it was, Yohji was hoping to be back in top form and to have the little misunderstanding cleared up in a couple of days. Enjoying his drug induced bliss, the blond started to fantasize about all the fun games he could play with his kitten.

It took a second for the fact that the door to his room was opening to register on his addled senses, and Yohji hurriedly adjusted the blankets covering his lap. Wondering if he had really lost track of time and that Aya had arrived, he was a bit disappointed to see that his guest was a woman, dressed in a black business suit and with cropped hair. She was cute, but something about her radiated ‘bitch’. Yohji eyed her with interest, wondering if he was going to be checked out again. It wasn’t exactly a good time for another grope, considering the direction his thoughts had taken.

"Morning, Kudoh-san. I’m Dr. Arai." The woman sat down in the chair next to his bed, a brittle smile on her face. He finally noticed the notepad and tape recorder that the doctor was carrying.

Arai; why did that name sound so familiar?

<Because she is the Fotze that’s been fucking with Aya’s mind lately, you Schwanzlutscher.>

Yohji barely avoided jerking upright in his bed when he heard that voice. Anger flooded through him. "What the hell do you want?"

The question had been aimed at the Bastard, but Arai raised an eyebrow and answered him as laughter filled his head. "I’m here to have a little chat with you. Kritiker is concerned about your well-being after this last mission."

<Listen, moron, keep your mouth shut. If she figures out that you’re talking to me, things will be very, very bad. Not that I give a shit about you, but it would affect my tuberose.>

‘He’s not your anything, you prick. Get the fuck out of my head.’

<Nope, can’t do that as long as the Schlampe is over there. She’s here to find something to use against Aya, and I’m not going to let that happen. Now answer the woman.>

Distracted by Schuldig’s presence, Yohji had missed what Arai had been saying. He rubbed his wounded leg and glared at the woman. "What was that? My leg is bothering me."

The psychiatrist glared back ever so slightly and tapped her pen against the notepad. "I asked if you were looking forward to going home this afternoon. I understand that the doctors are releasing you already."

"Oh. Yeah, I am."

"You have no problems leaving a secure hospital and trusting your teammates to protect you? Wouldn’t you feel safer here?"

The blond snorted, amusement warring with the fury he felt. "Right. Like I’d want to stay here and keep getting groped and prodded, instead of resting in my nice comfy bed. And I’ll feel a hell of a lot safer at home, considering what happened here last month."

<Yes, I must agree with you about the bed. It was nice and comfy, but maybe it was Aya all curled up in my arms that made it feel that way.>

"I take it you mean the abduction of your teammate Abyssinian’s sister?"

"Yes." Yohji snarled out the word as he tried to process Schuldig’s comment. ‘What the hell are you talking about?’

<Oh, that’s right, you were dreaming about being snipped while that happened. Wonder how hard it would be to ‘convince’ little Omi to make that dream a reality.>

Jotting something down in her notes, Arai nodded her head. "You do have a point. Let me ask you this; how do you feel about Abyssinian now? Do you still trust him to watch your back, knowing that he’s distracted by the loss of his sibling? Do you think that might be responsible for your injury the other night? That he’s not in his top form?"

Oh, Yohji didn’t mistrust his love in that regard, but he was livid that Aya might have had another run-in with Schuldig and not said a fucking word. Someone was going to have a little sense shaken into their pretty head.

<In my Knuddelhäschen’s defense, he probably doesn’t want to tell you while you’re injured. Unless he really enjoyed being able to sleep without getting pounced on for once and wanted to keep the news to himself. We merely slept together yesterday; the poor boy was so tired and hurt he just about passed out in my arms. I so adored how he tucked his head under my chin and snuggled close.> Schuldig passed the memory of the event to him, showing Aya asleep in his arms, pressed against the German.

The Bastard was dead. Dead. He’d taken advantage of Aya when the man was down and hurting, and was now taunting him with the fact. Yohji gritted his teeth together.

<Answer the doctor, idiot.>

"I trust the man with my life. I understand that he was the one who made sure I didn’t die during the mission." ‘You fucking bastard, leave him the hell alone.’

<Why should I? He needs someone to look after him, and that’s clearly not you. Not when your bright idea got him injured in the first place and has Kritiker breathing down his neck. Why do you think the good doctor is here? This is your entire fault, Kudoh.>

"So you’re not worried about Abyssinian’s ability to protect you and the rest of Weiß?"

"No." Yohji glared at the woman, wishing desperately that he had a cigarette. "I’ll say it one more time; I trust the man."

<But not where I’m concerned. Don’t blame the kitten; I’m just too irresistible. Though maybe he wouldn’t enjoy my presence so much if you treated him right.>

"I am glad to hear that this incident won’t negatively affect your team then." Arai flipped through her notes and looked up at Yohji. "You’ll be happy to know that the results are back from your blood work, and that you’re clean."

Confused as to what the hell the woman was talking about, Yohji tried to push aside his anger and concentrate on Arai. "What was that?" Damn Schuldig for distracting him. Had he missed something?

"Your blood work. Surely you realize that Kritiker insists that you be checked for STDs whenever you’re in the hospital? Considering your lifestyle, that is."

Oh yeah, those tests.

<Such a whore, Kudoh, that even your employers realize it. Everyone knows that you can’t keep it in your pants, even Aya. How much longer do you think he’ll put up with a lover who has fucked half of Tokyo?>

‘Shut the fuck up.’ "Of course I’m clean, I use protection." Well, he had, back when he’d been screwing around. Though not with Aya, of course. There was no need; the man had been a virgin and went through the same tests that he did. Yohji hadn’t thought about needing protection with his lover.

<Never mind the fact that you’re Japan’s biggest slut. Funny, you thought about what he might pass on to you, but never the other way around. Is it any wonder that he feels safe with me, considering how you treat him?>

Yohji wanted nothing more at the moment than a chance to strangle Schuldig to death. The Bastard was working on his last nerve. How dare the prick insinuate that he didn’t treat Aya right? At least he wasn’t responsible for the death of the swordsman’s parents.

There was a growling sound inside Yohji’s head, letting him know he scored a point, and was immediately followed by a wave of pain. Gritting his teeth, he tried to focus on what the bitch was saying to him.

"Still, it is a rather risky behavior to engage in. Do you feel that’s the only outlet you have for job related stress? Judging from your psych profile, I wouldn’t have guessed that you’d seek escape through promiscuity. The drug abuse I can understand, but I’d have imagined you as someone who would bond very strongly with another partner."

Did she just call him a slut and a drug user? Yohji stared at Arai, distracted for a moment from Schuldig, at least until the man made a comment.

<Haha, this is priceless. Seems the whole world knows what you are: a piece of trash.>

"Listen, I am not a drugged out whore. What do you know about job stress? You out there killing people and risking your damn life every night, lady? I don’t think so. I do whatever helps keep me sane, and if that calls for me fucking everyone over the age of eighteen in the metropolitan area, that’s my business. What the hell does this have to do with me being an assassin?" Though as long as the woman had him pegged as still sleeping around, Aya would be safe.

<It’s a bit much, to expect you of all people to be in a monogamous relationship. No one would buy that, even Aya. Why do you think he so readily jumped to conclusions about you and that Nakashima tramp? He knows that sooner or later, you’ll leave him for someone else.>

Like hell he would. Yohji snarled under his breath, causing a pair of brown eyes to blink at him, and Arai spent a couple of minutes writing down notes. Any drug haze from Yohji’s medication had been burned away by anger, and his leg was starting to hurt again. All the blond wanted was to be home, tucked into his own bed with Aya curled up at his side.

<Enjoy him while you can, Kudoh. He won’t be there much longer.>

Yohji growled softly and sat up in bed. Arai glanced over at him. "Are you in pain? Would you like more medication?"

He refused the offer, imagining just how much the bitch wanted him to have another dose so she could mess with his mind while he was drugged. "No thank you, I think I can wait a little longer for another fix. I’m a professional, after all."

"Very well then, let’s continue. Tell me what you think when I say these names. Omi Tsukiyono."

"Smart, chibi, dependable."

"Ken Hidaka."

"Loyal, good with kids, solid, soccer."

<You do know where she’s going with this, don’t you? Watch what you say about my Aya.>

"Aya Fujimiya."

"Graceful, sneaky, quiet." His. Aya was his, and Schuldig could rot in hell before that fact would change.

<Oh, it will, and a lot sooner than that. Want to know what the best part is? You’ll practically give him to me. Aya will be mine, and I’ll owe it all to you. It’s already happening.>

"Asuka Murase"

"Independent, beautiful, regret…" That last word startled Yohji. He had been on guard for Aya, but that last had slipped out. Looking at Dr. Arai, he caught a flash of a predatory smile on the woman’s face.

<You forgot the ‘dead’ part. Which is all your fault. What’s worse is that history is repeating itself. Once again you’re trying to protect someone you love and failing miserably. If it wasn’t for me, the Schlampe would’ve picked up on the fact that you and my tuberose are lovers, and then things would really start to get nasty. You can’t protect him, Kudoh, but I can. Do him a favor and leave him the hell alone.>

‘Not a chance of that, Schuldig. You know, for someone who keeps saying that Aya is his, you can’t seem to get him into bed unless he’s too injured to fight back or without threatening him. He’s mine, now fuck off.’

<Not for long, Kudoh, not for long. And pay attention, she just said another name.>

Gritting his teeth together, Yohji had to ask for the name to be repeated. Schuldig’s amusement filled his mind, and the predatory look was back on Arai’s face. He began to wonder if he would still be sane by the time they left him alone.

"I think I’d like to ask you a few questions about your childhood now."

*******

Aya looked up from the plant he was clipping to see Omi staring at him. "Aya-kun, what are you doing down here? You should be in bed, resting."

"Hn." Snipping off the last dead leaf, Aya stirred the plant’s soil and gave it some water. He hadn’t been able to sleep in a bed empty of Kudoh. His slumber had been filled with nightmares of him arriving at the hospital, only to find the man gone, much like his sister had vanished. It had been so bad he’d given up on sleeping and had come down into the shop to tend to the plants.

"Come on, I’ll make you some breakfast; you need the food to heal quicker." Allowing the boy to lead him back upstairs, Aya closed the door behind him, which he had left open when he had gone into the shop several hours ago. The redhead sat at the kitchen table, his head bowed and his eyes closed, oblivious to anything but the pain that filled his body, until a mug and several pills were placed on the table beside him.

He glanced back at Omi, who, even though he was dressed in a yellow robe decorated with penguins, had an air of authority about him that not even the fluffy penguin slippers could detract from. "There’s some tea, now take the pills. I know you’re in pain; your eyes are all squinty, and it’s the only time I see you slouch. The food will be ready in a few minutes, and you will eat all of it. Else I’ll check you into the hospital in Yotan’s place, understood? I don’t know why they didn’t admit you the other day."

Aya avoided answering that question by swallowing the medicine. It was because someone there would have noticed how much of a freak he was if he’d been admitted. Taking another gulp of the bitter tea, the pale man frowned at his mug. How much longer until someone in Weiß noticed his power? He had taken the pills as Schu had told him this morning, determined to keep the power latent as much as possible, not even minding the nausea they caused as he normally did. No one else could know the truth about him.

Omi chattered as he prepared the meal. "So, I take it you’re going to get Yohji later on? I know he would appreciate it, but let me know if you don’t feel up to it. You look exhausted, Ayan; maybe you should get some more sleep after eating. The Koneko’s going to remain closed today; I don’t think Ken and I have the energy to run it by ourselves. But I’ll get the orders out of the way, if you haven’t already. And I’ll make a nice dinner, in thanks for everyone being safe and home."

Holding the mug between his hands, Aya shuddered at the thought of any more sleep. He didn’t want the nightmares to return, which he sensed they would if Yohji wasn’t there to chase them away. But he was so very tired. He hadn’t gotten much sleep in the past few days, what with the appointment with Arai and then Yohji being hurt. The last semi-decent rest he’d had was when Schu had been there…

Dammit, he wasn’t going to be grateful for the telepath keeping the nightmares at bay for him. The man was responsible for many that had disturbed his sleep. Aya considered for a moment telling Omi that an enemy had been in their house, but didn’t see what good it would do. Unless they moved and found a way to block Schu from their thoughts, they’d never be able to keep their home secret. As it was, it would be bad enough telling Yohji when he was out of the hospital and feeling better

Yohji… when had holding a secret from the man start to bother him so much? Aya had wanted to tell Yohji about the incident yesterday, but had kept quiet upon seeing his lover in a hospital bed with tubes connected to his arms. No, it wouldn’t do to give the man a fit while he was there. But even if Aya told him what happened, there was something else he had to keep quiet about: his talent. He didn’t want to think how the blond would react to that bit of news, considering some of the things he had called Schwarz in the past.

No, he wasn’t willing to test the promise of love that Kudoh had given him yesterday with that revelation. It was bad enough he wasn’t Asuka, but to be a freak on top of that…

"There you go, just the way you like it." Aya looked down on the bowl of white miso soup with several slices of mushroom and tofu floating in it. He mumbled thanks to Omi and picked up his spoon. Even though the thoughts of Yohji’s old and much missed lover had killed any appetite he might have, the redhead mechanically ate his meal, and then the rice and smoked eel that followed it. Was it any wonder that his sleep was filled with nightmares, considering what his life was like at the moment? Would the pain ever go away? He knew he didn’t deserve any love, but Aya couldn’t prevent himself from seeking it out so desperately. Damn Kudoh for awakening this need in him and for filling him with doubts about whether the feeling was truly returned or not.

*******

A drink. Yohji would give just about anything for a drink and a cigarette. The terrible duo, the Bitch and the Bastard, had finally stopped fucking with his mind about two hours ago, and he still was having trouble calming down. What he needed was a bottle of whiskey and a carton of cigarettes. Not to mention a beautiful redhead to ravish. Now that would be heaven.

It has been an hour of one mind fuck after another, with Arai shifting topics from his childhood, his chosen lifestyle (she had a lot to say about how his fear of commitment, brought on by his fear of failing another partner, i.e. Asuka, manifested itself in his bisexuality), his teammates, his ethnicity and his profession. Pretty much the Bitch had summed him up as such a waste of oxygen that because he couldn’t keep one woman safe (which she made clear should have been an easy task except he was such a fuck-up), he wallowed in various vices as a means of escape from his worthlessness. No wonder Aya acted like he did after one of his weekly sessions.

On top of the character slaughter had been Schuldig, mocking him and taunting him about stealing his lover away until Yohji had been a hair’s breath away from a murderous rage. It had taken all of his self-control to prevent himself from pulling out some wire and strangling everyone in sight. Fortunately, when the Bitch had left so had the telepath. Yohji had immediately paged a nurse for more drugs.

Hearing the door open, green eyes glanced in its direction to see a chipper nurse push a wheelchair with crutches resting in the seat into his room, followed by Aya. Sitting up in the bed, Yohji smiled at the man, who was dressed in one of his sweaters and a pair of faded blue jeans. Damn, but Aya looked good enough to eat. The redhead was carrying a department store bag.

"Hello, Kudoh-san, are you ready to go home now?"

"I sure am, sweetie, though I wish I could take you home with me. Don’t you want to come and make sure all my needs are being seen to?" He let the familiar playboy façade mask his emotions on seeing his lover, making the pretty young woman blush and pat him on the shoulder.

Aya walked over to him and held out the bag. Taking it, Yohji found it to contain a change of clothes. He hadn’t thought about what he’d wear to leave the hospital. "Thanks, Aya. I didn’t relish the idea of exposing my ass to all of Tokyo; it might’ve caused a riot of lust crazed people." The nurse laughed at his joke, but all the pale man did was quietly comment that he would wait outside while Yohji got ready.

Trying to figure out why Aya was acting more distant than usual, Yohji let the young woman, Hana, dress him in the boxers, cut off shorts and red shirt. His leg started to hurt him again, but the pain was bearable today. Cutting short his flirting, the playboy insisted that he didn’t need a crash course on crutches and had his butt firmly planted in the wheelchair. Hana pushed him out into the hallway where Aya took over steering him around. A brief chat with a doctor who handed him some pills and cautioned him about not doing much of anything besides lying in bed for the next few days, some forms signed and a cheerful send off from the hospital staff later, the two assassins were on their way. An orderly followed them to take back the wheelchair and helped Yohji into Aya’s Porsche.

Yohji waited until the hospital faded into the distance before shifting in his seat to stare at his boyfriend. "Okay, is something wrong?"

He got a vacant look in return. "No. Why do you ask?"

"Well, you’ve barely said two words to me, which isn’t a lot, even for you."

Stopping the car at a red light, Aya gazed down at his hand on the wheel. "I didn’t want anyone to wonder why I was there picking you up."

Resting his hand on the one clutching the gearshift, Yohji sighed and leaned back into the leather seat. "You drive me nuts, you know. You really need to come with a manual, so I can look up what a particular silence means. I can never tell if you’re pissed off, depressed, thinking, or have a sore throat, and that bugs me."

"… I’m tired. Didn’t get much sleep last night." Aya threaded his fingers through Yohji’s, his hand cold to the touch.

"Nightmares?"

"Huhn."

He knew Aya well enough now to translate that into a ‘yes’. "Well, I had a pretty good night’s sleep, but the day has been generally shitty, your presence excluded. Dr. Arai paid me a visit."

The car swerved to the right before Aya straightened it out and looked in Yohji’s direction. "What did she want?"

"She said she was there to make sure that I was okay, considering my little ‘mishap’. Bitch spent over an hour picking at my brain, making me feel like shit while asking a lot of questions about my past and Weiß. Love, I don’t see how you’ve sat there with her every week and haven’t killed her yet."

Yohji debated telling Aya about Schuldig, but decided to keep that a secret for the time being. Besides, he wanted to see if his lover would tell him about yesterday. There was a slight chance that the Bastard was lying, but… Aya had confessed to his last run-in with the telepath; hopefully he would do so again. The blond wasn’t sure what he’d do if the man said nothing.

"I’m sorry."

"For what? Not killing her by now?" Glancing at his lover, Yohji sat up when he caught the solemn look on the beautiful face. "Hey, I don’t see how you’re to blame for this one. I messed up the other night; it’s my fault she made the Spanish Inquisition look like a bunch of softhearted sissies. Don’t let her get to you, love." He raised Aya’s hand to his mouth and kissed the slender fingers.

Not saying a word, the redhead withdrew his hand and used it to shift gears. The Porsche pulled into the Koneko’s garage, and Aya got out of the car to assist Yohji. His leg wouldn’t support any weight at the moment, so he had to be ignominiously hauled out of the vehicle. Disdaining the crutches, Yohji slung an arm around Aya’s shoulders and used him for support.

Omi pounced on them as soon as they entered the kitchen. "Yohji! Welcome home! Now get off of Ayan, you can’t be helping his sore ribs any." The chibi rushed over and grabbed his other arm while glaring up at the older man. For his part, Yohji swore and apologized to his lover for forgetting about his injury. Aya didn’t say anything, just wrapped an arm around his chest and headed for their room.

Dammit, would nothing go right for him today? Omi had him in his clutches, and Yohji had hurt Aya yet again, unintentional as always. "Chibi, not now, okay? I know you want to kill me, but save it til later. I just want to crawl into bed at the moment."

The teenager frowned at him as they navigated their way up the stairs. "I won’t forget, Yohji, count on that. Now what would you like for dinner? We kept the shop closed today since you and Aya aren’t up to working, and I’m about to head to the store."

"Something spicy, that’s all I ask. I’ve had it with bland food. But maybe you could get something that Aya likes." That way, it was would less likely that there’d be any poison in the food. Yohji was so not looking forward to his talk with Omi and wondered how he could keep Aya by his side constantly for the next couple of years. Maybe the youth would have calmed down by then.

"I think I can manage that." Omi navigated the two of them around a soccer ball left on the steps. "Something’s bothering Aya; I woke up to find him down in the shop this morning, tending to the flowers. Ken seems to think that he feels guilty about you getting hurt." Blue eyes stared at him accusingly. "Try to keep that in mind, the next time you come up with a hair-brained scheme. And don’t even try to deny what you did." Yohji was spared any more reproaches when they arrived at his room and wondered how the boy had managed to perfect his guilt-tripping technique over such a short life span.

Aya had turned down the bed and was waiting for them. Omi left Yohji to his boyfriend, and with one more evil look sent his way left the room. Stripping down to his boxers, the blond slid under the covers. A frown settled on his face as he recalled the vision Schuldig has shown him, of the Bastard lying on his side of the bed with his kitten in the man’s arms. That was never going to happen again. "Aya, you look tired; come curl up with me."

For once the redhead didn’t need any convincing and after removing his clothes, Aya joined Yohji in bed. Mindful of his leg and the smaller man’s injuries, Yohji snaked an arm around a slender waist and pulled as much of his lover as he could onto his chest. "Okay, no one’s here. I think it’s safe now." He kissed Aya on the mouth and was relieved when his kitten kissed him back. The man couldn’t be that upset with him, not with how passionate the embrace was. Something was finally going right for him that day.

Several enjoyable minutes later he pulled back, a smile on his face as Aya rested his chin on Yohji’s chest. "This is the best I’ve felt in what seems like ages."

Unsurprisingly, Aya didn’t say a word, just shifted about on Yohji and tucked his head under his chin. Wrapping his arms around the man, the playboy rubbed his hands up and down a cool back and then tugged the sheets up higher. Within minutes Aya was asleep, but it took Yohji a little longer to drift off. He couldn’t get the image of Aya and Schuldig together out of his mind, and kept hearing the German telling him that he only hurt his boyfriend and was already losing him. He couldn’t let that happen.

*******

Kirie Arai sat in front of her computer as she typed her notes concerning the session with Balinese. Now that had been an interesting and exhilarating one, if a bit painful. All because of the lovely hate and anger the man had radiated due to her presence. It had started almost as soon as she had identified herself. Now that was peculiar; why did the man hate her so much? Could someone be a bit fixated on a teammate she was currently tormenting?

She had picked up some very faint traces of lust and love when she had mentioned Orchidee. Judging from Balinese’s profile, the man would be attracted to the redhead, especially when you combined the gorgeous looks with such a challenging personality. Oh yes, Balinese wanted the man and judging from the brief flash of anger she’d picked up that hadn’t been associated with her, she’d say he was growing frustrated with not getting what he wanted.

It would be in Kritiker’s best interest to keep the two assassins together; Balinese could be easily managed as long as Orchidee was his teammate and he had a hope of getting the man eventually, as impossible as that seemed. But the fool would never realise that, and Kritiker could use that fact against him. Balinese was certainly the obsessive type. He still even cared for his dead lover. The fool.

Thoughts of that nature made Arai pause in her typing to finger the bandage on her hand. When would she see Jei again? The pleasure had been so intense that she wanted more as soon as possible. Should she go out in hopes of running into the man again? She instantly berated herself for the idea. Jei knew where she lived; he’d come back when he felt like it. The bastard, to leave her wanting like this. But she wouldn’t search him out; she had that much pride and control.

No, she would distract herself by reviewing Balinese’s session, and preparing for the upcoming ones with Bombay and Siberian. Hopefully they would be just as passionate and as easily read as the blond had been. It was a welcome relief from dealing with Orchidee’s shields. Finally, she would have some ammunition to use against the damn precog when she saw him again on Thursday. She actually looked forward to the appointment.

*******

Aya opened his eyes and rubbed his cheek along Yohji’s chest, feeling rested for the first time in days. There hadn’t been any nightmares this time; in fact, there hadn’t been any dreams at all, and for that the swordsman was happy. The ones from last night had been bad enough. Trying to move his sore body, Aya found his lover’s arms wrapped around him tight. Ah well, he could always stay where he was for a while longer.

Trailing a hand down the blond’s side, Aya tried to push aside all the thoughts troubling him, determined to enjoy the moment while it lasted. Yohji was safely home, that was what really mattered. His doubts aside, Aya was content. It was easy to believe he was cherished when Yohji was holding him like this. Something would surely come along shortly and wreak havoc with this sense of peace, but that was only to be expected. It didn’t seem to be his fate to be happy for very long.

For the time being he would enjoy being here with Yohji. Aya hadn’t been able to relax while the blond had been in the hospital, but now he could. He could keep his boyfriend safe, something he’d failed to do during the mission. Shying away from that thought, Aya pushed it to the back of his mind along with the questions of what he was going to do when his sister woke up, or if she never did, if he would get her back, and the new concern about his talent. Those were topics that didn’t bear thinking about as the answers seemed so hopeless. It was best living wholly in the moment, and looking past the fact that he was a murderer and a freak who didn’t deserve any love. Even if he was just a substitute for a dead woman.

Cassandra’s voice echoed in the redhead’s mind, telling him that Yohji did indeed love him. There were so many things that Aya knew were lies; what could he trust to be the truth? The madwoman, Schu, Arai and Kritiker were twisting things about, confusing him with what was real and what wasn’t, as hidden motives became more proliferate. Aya didn’t believe he could handle it if Yohji was included in their numbers. It would break whatever remained of his heart.

Resting his chin on the older man’s chest, Aya wrapped a strand of honey blond hair around his finger. As he toyed with Yohji’s hair, a pair of emerald eyes drifted open and stared at him. A smile spread across his lover’s mouth, and the lips parted, as if to speak.

Before Yohji could say anything, the pale man asked a question rather bluntly, desperate for the answer. "Do you really love me?"

It was clear that the blond hadn’t been expecting something like that. Taking advantage of the man’s stunned silence, Aya pressed on. "I need to know, Kudoh. Is it me that you love, or am I just what’s available?" He was alive, while the woman Yohji loved was gone… It still tore at his heart, having heard the man call out her name. //As for Kudoh, he still pines for his first love. You’re just a replacement, precious Aya.// Aya didn’t want to live with the pain and apprehension any longer and needed an answer. He wouldn’t continue this relationship if all Yohji wanted was someone to replace Asuka; Aya didn’t have much, but he still had a tiny wisp of pride.

"Aya… fuck. You make my head spin." Yohji glared at him for a moment, then roughly grabbed his chin and yanked his face close. "I love you. So fucking much it scares me at times, and makes me lose all of my considerable intelligence. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I do you. Gods, haven’t I made that more than clear by now? You stubborn little ass."

A savage kiss stole away Aya’s breath as Yohji shifted his hand, threading long fingers through his hair and gripping it painfully tight as if to make sure that the redhead couldn’t even think about pulling away. It was a familiar reaction; any moment now Yohji would be rolling on top of him, employing sex once more as the cure all for their relationship. It usually worked; both of them were guilty of that tactic as it was much easier to lose oneself in pleasure than try to put emotions into words or face unpleasant truths.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when Yohji broke off the kiss and whacked Aya on the ass. He merely stared at the older man at the first one, but the second blow had him hissing at his boyfriend and moving away. Or at least trying to; Aya had forgotten about the hand in his hair. "What the fuck are you doing?" Kudoh was _dead_ for doing this.

"Trying to beat some sense into you. Figured it’s the only part of you that isn’t already sore, or at least it sure as hell shouldn’t be. If it is, I’m really gonna beat you black and blue."

Aya hissed some more when a third smack landed. "Shi-ne, Kudoh. Let me go."

"No. I’ve told you I’ve loved you countless times, fucked you silly even more, risked my life, and after today, sanity for you, and put up with more shit than I’ve ever imagined possible, all because I love you." Yohji smacked him one more time, hard enough to have Aya squirming in pain, and then yanked a hand through his own hair. "Fuck, Aya, do you have any idea of the things I’ve done for you? I mean I-" A startled look crossed Yohji’s face as he bit off the words and chuckled anxiously.

Curious at the man’s sudden change in temperament, Aya narrowed his eyes. "What have you done for me? And smack me one more time, and you’re losing the hand."

"I’ve done a lot of things for you, love, never doubt that." Yohji shifted the hold he had on the crimson hair and yanked Aya down for another kiss. Since it was better than getting spanked, Aya allowed this. He flinched when a hand touched his ass once more, but all the appendage did this time was gently rub the sore flesh.

Yohji sighed and let go of the smaller man’s hair, except for one eartail. "Kitten… what is it going to take to get you past this? Didn’t we settle this a month or so ago?"

Well, for starters, it would certainly help if Yohji stopped begging for his old lover to return to him. For some reason Aya couldn’t shake the bad feeling he had whenever the woman’s name was mentioned. It was preposterous to be jealous of a dead woman… but the fear that Yohji would abandon him over the woman would not leave him. It didn’t help that the last time he felt an irrational fear, Aya had lost his sister. For a second, he wondered if it had anything to do with his talent, but shied away from the thought when he felt the sensations of strands in his mind.

Tucking his head beneath Yohji’s chin, Aya breathed deep his lover’s scent, letting the man’s presence calm him down. "I love you."

"Gods, you better damn well love me, since you’re driving me mad. I ask for an answer, and you tell me that. Not that I’m complaining…" Yohji stroked a hand through Aya’s hair and down his back. "You can tell me anything, you do realize that, don’t you? Anything."

// What do you think will happen when they find out that you aren’t a powerless waste of flesh like they are? They will hate you for it at worst and fear you at best. Can’t deny the truth any longer, mein weisse Kamelie.// No, not anything. Aya closed his eyes, trying to force Schu’s voice from his head. Why was he letting the man get to him like this? Maybe now was the time for the truth. "Yohji?"

"Yes, kitten?"

"I saw Schuldig yesterday."

The lanky body he was resting on tensed, and Yohji cursed in pain, most likely from the leg wound. "Fuck that hurts. What the hell did the prick want?"

"It was the usual mind games. He got me outside of the hospital and brought me home. I… I couldn’t tell if it was a dream or not." Not until he woke up the next day and found the flowers. "I didn’t want to say anything while you were in the hospital." Aya waited for Yohji to explode in anger and blinked when he was kissed on the forehead and tickled on the nose by an eartail.

"Figures he’d try something while the two of us were too hurt to kick his ass. The Bastard just keeps adding to what I owe him. I’m gonna kill him the next time I see him."

A feeling of apprehension spread through Aya at the words. He should be happy at the thought of Schuldig gone from his life, but was filled with dread instead. A voice in his head whispered something about green threads and blood. Batting aside the hand that was brushing the long piece of hair against his face, Aya reluctantly drew himself off of Yohji, trying not to wince as his ribs complained at being moved.

"Where ya going, love?"

"Downstairs. You want something?"

Yohji smiled at him and started to sit up. "I’m a little thirsty, let me come with- hey!" The blond, who’d been pushed back onto the bed, glared up at the pale man. "What’s that for?"

"The doctor said to stay off your leg for at least another two days. Get out of bed before then, and I break the other one." He glared back down at Yohji, perfectly serious. Aya wasn’t going to let the moron rip out the stitches or impede the wound’s healing in any manner. Not when considering their line of work and how close his lover had come to dying the other night. It still amazed him how well Yohji was bouncing back from the injury.

The blond continued to scowl at him for another minute, then broke into a smile. "I’m gonna need one hell of an incentive to stay in bed then, you know. Maybe something with red hair, a delectable ass, and a bad temper. Any idea where I can find that?"

"Kudoh, I’m not having sex with you to keep you in bed. You’ll have the stitches ripped out in no time."

"Ay~a… geez, I know I’m a sex god, but not everything comes down to that." Green eyes stared at him mournfully, at least until they were overcome by a twinkle of humor. "Though maybe you’re the one who can’t keep his hands to himself. It’ll be hard as hell for you to control yourself with me here in bed, but I was thinking more along the lines of my sweet little kitten cuddling with me. You’re not in such great shape yourself, you know."

Aya stopped glaring at his lover long enough to blink in surprise. "Cuddle?"

"Yeah, you know, sorta like what we were just doing."

"You don’t ‘cuddle’, Kudoh. You pounce, and then you recuperate between pounces, but that’s the extent of your repertoire." Aya should know, having been the man’s boyfriend, and hence the ‘pouncee’, these past several months.

Yohji was back to glaring at him. "Dammit, grr… I do to know how to cuddle. I’ve done it…" The blond seemed to be thinking. "Well, I thought I’d done it in the past, but hell, this is the first time I’ve nearly been emasculated during a mission, so I’ll try something new. Cuddling it is."

For his part, Aya had some serious doubts about the proposed endeavor and didn’t say anything as he left the room.

"Wait a second, you bastard, I know what the hell _that_ silence means. You don’t think I can do it, do you? You think I’m nuts!" Yohji yelled at him. "Well, I can do it. Yohji Kudoh can cuddle, do you hear me? I can fucking cuddle with the best of them!"

Stepping out into the hall, Aya came across Ken, who was staring in the direction of his and Yohji’s room. "Man, what the hell type of drugs do they have Kudoh on?"

"Hn."

*******

Feeling drowsy, Yohji hugged Aya to him tighter as he gazed blearily at Ken’s borrowed television. His lover had somehow ‘convinced’ the soccer fanatic to part with his precious set so Yohji could watch videos in bed. The blond wasn’t sure how Aya had managed it, and really didn’t want to ask where the man’s katana was, but had to admit he was pretty damn content at the moment. Maybe he should let himself be injured a little more often if this was the result that he got. Aya waiting on him hand and foot, fetching him food and drinks, putting up with Yohji’s collection of American film noir, and there was a promise of a sponge bath at the end of this movie. Life was pretty damn good. Except for the threats and shi-ne glares he got when Yohji tried to get out of bed.

Aya was curled up at his side, resting his head on Yohji’s chest. It was a bit of a challenge to remember to keep his hands around the pale man’s waist and not try anything funny; the playboy kept finding the damn appendages moving southward if he wasn’t paying attention to them. Simple cuddling wasn’t quite as easy as he thought it would be, but whenever his hormones started to get out of hand, all he had to do was move his left leg and the pain calmed him down: that and remembering his and Aya’s past few conversations.

It had to be Schuldig who was shaking his kitten up so much. All this bullshit had started after the man had brought Aya home. Which was a scary thought in and of itself, but hell, the damn army had tracked Weiß down to the Koneko, so it was ridiculous to think that a telepath didn’t know where they lived. Yep, Schuldig had to be to blame for Aya doubting his feelings all of a sudden. The Bastard had a way of telling lies upon lies until one was totally confused about what was the truth and what wasn’t.

Yohji couldn’t think of any way to defeat the German other than kill him. Which would be given top priority the second that Weiß and Schwarz crossed paths again. He could hardly wait. Until then, the blond would do his best to convince the stubborn little fool he loved that he wasn’t going to be dumped or cheated on.

At least Aya had told him about the encounter. Yohji had felt so relieved when the redhead had haltingly told him about his run-in with the telepath. Mastermind had been lying through his teeth when he had said that Aya was going to be his. The swordsman didn’t trust the dishonest German bastard farther than he could throw him. If only the Bastard wasn’t using Yohji and the rest of Weiß as hostages, forcing Aya to cooperate in the dreams. Once Schuldig was dead, the problem would be dealt with.

Combing his fingers through silky crimson strands, Yohji smiled as he swore Aya purred at the touch. "You comfy, love?"

"Hmph." Aya-code for yes. "How’s the leg? Need more pain pills?" The pale man had been so damn attentive to Yohji this past evening, making sure he was comfortable and not in pain. This was a side he didn’t see very often; usually it was Aya-chan the man was obsessing over. What a welcome change. Knowing he should be feeling a bit guilty at the thought, Yohji couldn’t help but reflect that he was glad to know that Aya cared for him at least half as much as the pale man did his sister. That he was getting some of the attention usually lavished on the comatose girl.

"No, I’m fine. Though I think tomorrow night we need to remember some popcorn; that’s the only thing missing at the moment. I’ve got some David Lynch films we can watch; they always make more sense if you’re doped up at the time." There was a long-suffering sigh from his lover, but Yohji knew that the man would be looking forward to it. Just as he didn’t mind in the least the prospect of another day spent like this, the two of them alone together. It sure as hell kept Omi away; the chibi had checked up on them a couple of times that evening, including bringing up their supper and had appeared to have been biting his tongue the whole entire time he looked Yohji’s way. The playboy was just extremely grateful that he had caught his slip to Aya earlier that day and hadn’t confessed to what had really happened during the last mission. That had been very, very close. Something told him that he wouldn’t be snuggled up in bed watching his favorite movies with Aya if the man found out the truth.

No, more than likely Yohji would be back in the hospital. He bent his head to kiss the top of Aya’s and tried not to think about the matter anymore. All he wanted to do was enjoy this quiet time as long as it lasted.

Which ended up being another twenty minutes, give or take a few, before there was a knock on the door. Yohji, who had begun to fantasize about his upcoming sponge bath, mumbled out an ‘enter’ as the movie kicked into high gear, signaling the approaching end. It wasn’t that much of a surprise to see Omi walk into the room, but the rumpled, bruised Teddy on the teen’s heels had Yohji and Aya sitting up as fast as their bodies allowed. "Stout, you look like hell. Did someone who thought you were a girl take offense at finding out differently and beat you up?"

The next shock came when all the American did was smile wanly at Yohji and then fix his attention on Aya. "Mickey and I had a little trouble during a mission last night. He’s in the hospital with a punctured lung."

"Fuck, I’m sorry to hear that." Yohji truly was; Mickey was a decent guy saddled with an obnoxious brother. "Is he going to be alright?"

"Yeah, I spent most of the day with him. He has all the nurses eating out of the palm of his hand already. Should be out in a couple of days." Teddy brushed aside his bangs and sighed. "We ran into Schwarz."

"You’re lucky to be alive then."

Teddy sighed again. "So I hear. I came to give Omi a quick debriefing on the debacle, since Mick and I were covering Weiß’s target. Now I was wondering if Aya wouldn’t mind having a cup of coffee with me; there’s one or two things I’d like to talk to him about." As three sets of eyes stared at the kilted man, Teddy shrugged his shoulders. "It’s about Koyu. You able to tear yourself away from the pervert for a little while, Red? Oh, and glad to see you are bouncing back so quickly, Kudoh."

Aya glanced down at Yohji. "Please, Red." Not wanting Teddy to start begging in earnest, Yohji caressed his lover’s cheek and gestured towards the door.

"Go on and humor the pest, or he’ll never leave. You’ll know where I’ll be."

"Get off this bed at all, Kudoh, and you’ll be back in the hospital when I find out, understood?" Yohji gave the grouch a quick kiss as he yanked on an eartail.

Turning his attention back to the movie, Yohji heard his bedroom door close and assumed that he was all alone for the time being. Guess he could fantasize about the sponge bath a little longer; he didn’t say he wouldn’t do anything but cuddle, now had he? Surely Aya and he could manage a position that didn’t pull at his stitches too much. They were two rather flexible young men, after all.

A throat suddenly being cleared jerked the blond back to reality. Nearly jumping off the bed at the noise, Yohji glanced over to find Omi standing by the door, an angry expression on the cute face. Oh shit, it looked as if he was going back to the hospital after all. If he was lucky.

"Hey, chibi, isn’t it past your bedtime?"

"Nice try, Yohji. It’s time for that talk." Omi stalked over to the bed and hit the older blond on the back of the head hard enough to make him see stars. Hell, the pain eclipsed the one in his leg for a few moments.

"Dammit, you brat, that hurt!"

"Good!" Omi whacked him again, even harder this time. "BAKA! How could you, Yohji? How could you have conceived of something so stupid and have done it without talking to me first? I know you screwed up the mission purposely; don’t even try to deny it."

Rubbing his aching head, Yohji glared at the teenager. "Alright, I did. You got me. Let Kritiker fuck around with Ken for a month or two and see if you do something just as stupid. I had to do something, Omi. You didn’t see Aya when I picked him up on Thursday. The man was clinging to me. _Clinging_. This is Aya we’re talking about here. I wasn’t going to just sit back and let that shit continue without doing something." He reached for his cigarettes as a means of distraction, trying to resist the urge to smack Omi back.

The youth glared at him for a few minutes and sighed. "I can understand that, Yohji, honestly I can. But you could’ve picked a better mission or have cleared it with me first. I would’ve taken that into account when I planned the mission. But you acting on your own… it’s made things worse, you know? Kritiker is paying too much attention to Weiß now."

"I know. They sicced Dr. Arai on me this morning. Damn, no wonder Aya is so fucked up after talking to her. She made me feel like a complete piece of shit." Of course it didn’t help that the Bastard had been in his mind, agreeing with every thing the Bitch had said. Yohji let out another yelp as his head was smacked again. "I fucking swear, Omi, even if Aya kills me for leaving the bed, I’m gonna get up and kick your ass!"

"Stupid Yohji! See how bad it is? The last thing we need is some psychiatrist probing into Weiß’s affairs." Omi’s glare had gone up a notch or two. "Listen to me, Yohji, and listen well. I won’t let anything happen to my family, and that means you, Aya and Ken. I’m doing my best to keep us safe and together, and you are _not_ helping. Do anything like this again, and I’m suspending you from active duty for at least a month, maybe even two." An evil glare from the blue eyes kept Yohji quiet. "You’re a danger to the rest of us. Look at what happened to Aya alone. Keep on acting without any thought first, and he might be hurt even worse."

"I know, chibi, I know." Trust Omi to lay a major guilt trip on him with the one thing that would really hurt. He’d caused Aya pain, something that Yohji would never consciously choose to do.

Omi glared at him a little longer then sighed. "Okay, I’m going to take it easy on you. You’re stuck with morning shifts for the next two months." At Yohji’s groan the glare returned. Fuck, it was like dealing with Aya. "Ask Ken or Aya to switch with you, and it will be four months. On top of that, the windows in the greenhouse need to be cleaned. I expect that to be done as soon as you are feeling well."

Great, nothing better than spending a day or two during a hot, muggy summer out in the heat cleaning glass. "Okay, I’ve learned my lesson."

"I’m not finished. You also get to do the laundry for a month. Any ruined loads will be another week added on, and if I see Aya doing any laundry, I will be very upset. Do you understand me?"

Gods, he _hated_ doing laundry. But Yohji figured if he got out of this alive, it would be a small enough price to pay. "Perfectly."

"Good." Omi leaned in and gave the playboy a hug. "You had me really worried, you idiot. Don’t ever get hurt again."

"I’ll do my best, kiddo." Yohji returned the hug and wasn’t expecting yet another hit to his already battered head. Fuck, he had a headache now. "Omi, I’m gonna fucking kill you!"

"Baka."

*******

Walking into a quiet café, Aya sat down at a small table, and Teddy chose the seat opposite from him. They waited until someone came to take their order and returned with the beverages before either of them spoke. "What do you want, Stout?"

Teddy flashed him a wry grin. "You don’t waste any time, do you?"

"Hn." Not when he was being kept away from Yohji. Aya wanted to return home as soon as possible and make sure the moron didn’t try to get out of bed while he was gone.

The American sipped his drink before continuing. "Damn this is good. Okay, I told you we ran into Schwarz. What I haven’t told anyone is that Mastermind spoke to me telepathically and told me to relay a message to you." There was a pause, as if Teddy was awaiting a response of some sort, and when nothing happened he continued. "He said you’re to be nice to him the next time you see him, since he ever so graciously didn’t kill Mick or I, the bastard."

Pausing with his drink halfway to his mouth, Aya closed his eyes for a brief moment. Damn, Schu was once more using his acquaintances against him. Why the hell had he let himself get attached to the two brothers and Teddy’s boyfriend? When was he ever going to learn? Feeling something for other people only led to pain. "Fine. Anything else?"

Blue eyes stared at him incredulously. "A psychotic telepath sends you a message, and that’s all you have to say? I want answers, Red. Why the hell did he choose to leave Mick and me alive, when I get the impression he’d have much rather killed us? Why is this guy so interested in you?"

Great, now more people were becoming involved in his affairs. "He likes to torment me, and uses people I know against me. You and Mickey have become his latest weapons."

"Why?" Aya just sipped his tea.

"Oh no, Red, I’m not dropping the matter that easily. Not when Birman would skin my hide while I’m still alive if she found out I was keeping something from her."

"You didn’t tell her?" The redhead felt relieved at that bit of news. If Kritiker found out about the message, he’d never convince the organization that he hadn’t been talking to the German these past months.

"No. Mastermind said he’d hurt Koyu if I told anyone but you. Now he’s involved in well."

The blind man was another chain wrapped around his withered soul. Aya was flooded with pain that was emotional in nature rather than physical. Why was he such a curse to the people who cared about him? Because he was a freak? What good was his power, when he couldn’t keep anyone safe?

"I’m waiting."

Teddy Stout was too damn stubborn for words. Realizing that he had to say something, Aya treated the man to a shi-ne glare before continuing. "Do you know how I joined Kritiker?"

The American looked sheepish at the words. "Yeah, Mickey hacked into all of Weiß’s files." No surprise there, considering how nosy the brothers were. "Something about your parents being killed in an explosion."

"Mastermind carried out the orders to kill my family. Since that day, he’s thought of me as his." The statement only made Aya feel weary. For three years this had been going on, and Schu only seemed to be getting more obsessed with him every day.

Slurping his coffee, Teddy rested his chin on one of his hands. "Wait a second, he’s the guy that’s been giving Kudoh fits, right? The one who calls you Knuddelhäschen? This guy has a crush on you?"

"Hn." Aya glared at the longhaired man, daring him to make a comment. He could kill Teddy and be out of the shop before anyone noticed a thing.

Fortunately, Teddy proved to have some of his brother’s intelligence. "Ah, okay." They remained quiet for a couple of moments, and their server, a young girl who frowned at Teddy, refilled the man’s coffee.

"He’d really hurt Koyu, wouldn’t he?"

"Yes."

"I thought so." Teddy played with one of his braids for a minute. "There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Koyu figured out last night that something was going on, and I had to tell him the truth. About what my job is now." Blue eyes gazed at him cautiously, as if awaiting an explosion.

Aya replied calmly. "That wasn’t a good idea." There was a lot more he should say, but Teddy was keeping a secret for him; Aya wasn’t going to comment anything else about the man’s lover knowing about Kritiker, even though it should be his death. Who was he to criticize? He’d let Sakura live after she saw him during a mission, all because she looked so much like Aya-chan. Yohji was the only one who knew about that.

"Uh, I’m waiting for more of a lecture."

Aya sighed and glared once more at his companion. "You’re not getting one from me. Just make sure he doesn’t tell anyone else."

Teddy smiled, the expression wiping away the worry and stress that had been on his face. "I’d hoped you’d be like this. If you don’t have any problems about Koyu, that means the rest of the kitties won’t either. That’s good, because he knows about Weiß too and wants to talk with you."

Gritting his teeth together, Aya was suddenly reminded that he owed the American some payback, but had been distracted by the fact of his sister’s kidnapping. He now had something to think about for the next few days and welcomed the distraction. "Stout…" He really should kill the man, really he should. "You told him about us?"

"He figured it out. What can I say, the boy’s smart. Please, Aya, I think he wants to understand what we do. He supports it, really; how could he not after what happened to him? And I think Koyu feels that if he’s involved in some way, he’s helping Mickey and me out, keeping us safe. He can’t do much considering the fact that he’s blind, or I’d ask Birman to bring him in."

"Kritiker might still be able to use him. But is it really wise, Teddy?" Aya wouldn’t try to recruit anyone into joining the organization. Not after what they’d done to him over the years. But it was Teddy’s call, and the man already knew one secret too many about him. He wasn’t going to let the man know how unhappy he was about his job as well.

"Honestly, you think they would? It would be better if he was one of us, so they won’t worry about what he knows."

At least Teddy had a better grasp of Kritiker’s thinking than he’d had his first few months in the organization. Aya had fallen for the company line like a complete idiot, being too interested in paying for his sister’s medical bills and seeking a chance at revenge. Hopefully, the Stouts had a better idea of what they had gotten themselves into. "Talk to Omi." The boy would know for sure.

"Okay, thanks." When nothing else was said for the next few minutes, Aya stood up to leave. He wanted to check up on Yohji and find out if he needed to break a bone or two. Stepping around the table, the pale man was instantly assaulted. Aya winced in pain as Teddy hugged him. He smacked his cast against the man’s back to make the pest let go of him.

"Heh, sorry about that. Thank you so much for the talk." Teddy patted Aya on the shoulder. "And don’t worry, I won’t say a thing about a certain German. That’s our secret. You’re a real pal, Red. Just so you know, I’ll always be there for you."

As if things weren’t bad enough at the present, Aya now had to put up with an indebted Teddy. Why couldn’t Schu have killed the man?

*******

Crawford stood behind Umemoto as the man tried to explain to one of Hirai’s suppliers that he was taking over his former boss’s business. When the other man refused to listen, the precog motioned with his hand. Farfarello stepped forward and with a flash of silver, buried a knife in the man’s throat. As the corpse fell to the floor, the Irishman licked the blade clean. "Are there any other objectors present?" Blue eyes surveyed the dead man’s two associates, who were busy shaking their heads as they stared with fear at Farfarello. Umemoto tossed Crawford a smile over his shoulder and resumed negotiations.

The young man had promise. He’d held the smuggling organization together after Hirai’s death and with Schwarz’s help, was continuing with operations. The weapons that Esset wanted would soon be pouring into the country. It was a shame that Umemoto would be dead within a fortnight.

Recalling his latest visions, Crawford smiled as he motioned his teammate back beside him. Schwarz would be busy following their orders, but Schuldig and Farfarello would still be able to play a little. When things were done, Kritiker would be short an empath, and Weiß would find their hands tied in regards to certain matters with Schwarz. Abyssinian would be bound to the group even more so than he already was, thanks to the link Schuldig shared with him, and with the ill wight’s influence, Crawford could set several plans into motion. His team would be free; of that there was no longer any doubt. He would make sure that Esset went down in flames.

<Something has you happy, mein Führer. Fun night at work?>

<It’s bearable,> the precog sent. <How are you and Prodigy doing?>

<We’ve convinced the target that he will continue to smuggle the weapons in by train. Funny how agreeable a person is when they see a human head explode.>

<Good. You’ll have some time free tomorrow to play with your kitten. Try not to cause too much mayhem.>

<…you’re a weird one, Brad, just thought I’d share that. See you back at the house.>

Ah, Schuldig was probably wondering why he wasn’t fighting the German over Abyssinian any longer. He resolved to keep his last few visions to himself. Crawford smiled as he thought about them. Yes, he certainly was happy about something.

*******

Aya adjusted the bag he was carrying in his right hand and stepped out of the convenience store. Shaking his head, the swordsman couldn’t believe that he had just bought a carton of cigarettes for his lover. He was officially feeding the playboy’s filthy habit. But Aya hadn’t been able to put up with Kudoh’s constant sighing as the man crumpled his empty pack of cigarettes over and over. It had gotten on his nerves so terribly bad that he had given in and said he’d get the damn things.

Yohji better heal soon; Aya wasn’t going to be this nice forever. He should have told the blond to go fuck off and that smoking was bad for him, but he’d been too damn content this morning to do that. Aya had woken up in Yohji’s arms to find the older man staring at him as one of his eartails was flicked along his cheek. The smile he’d gotten next, followed by a gentle kiss and an actual cuddle had made the redhead blink in surprise that soon turned into enjoyment. Aya had been all but purring in contentment by the time Yohji had shifted uncomfortably and confessed that he needed help to get to the bathroom. Assisting the man in that task had made Aya think of how much his boyfriend needed him for the time being.

For something other than sex, that is. Waiting for the light to change, Aya reflected on the fact that Yohji just might need him as much as he needed the infuriating blond. Aya knew how vital the man was to him; his life had always required a focus of sorts, something or someone that gave him a reason for putting up with the pain and heartache living inflicted on him. His sister had been that for him, but even though he had sacrificed so much of himself for the girl these past few years, a part of the pale man had longed for something less… one-sided. All Aya-chan could do was lie in her bed and continue to breathe as Aya chopped off bits of his heart and soul. But with Kudoh… there was a solid presence by his side when the nightmares came for him, someone to watch his back, to hold him close, and if Aya dared to believe it, love him back.

For the longest time, he had thought that Yohji was merely happy with the prospect of having a lover conveniently nearby whom he could trust with his secrets. When Aya had begun suffering the headaches, the blond then had someone to tend to, to fuss over and take care of. He knew that Yohji got off on that, especially since it was him who needed to be taken care of. But with the older man being the one who needed tending to, Aya had slowly realized that the both of them needed someone in their lives to love. Maybe he could trust Yohji’s promises.

Lost in his thoughts, it belatedly registered on the swordsman that he was being followed. Ducking into a side alley, Aya pressed himself against a concrete wall as he waited for his stalker to either walk past or come in after him. When he saw a silhouette at the alley’s mouth, his body tensed, ready for an attack, but went completely still when he caught sight of reddish hair and green eyes.

Forcing his body to move, Aya swung the bag filled with cigarettes, three pints of ice cream and a six-pack of soda at Schuldig’s head. Of course it failed to connect with its target as the telepath dodged aside. Kicking out his leg, Aya hissed when the limb was grasped and used to spin him around until he slammed face first into the wall. Schuldig then pressed against him, trapping him as the German grabbed at the hands swinging about wildly, hoping to connect somehow.

Someone pressing against his back, his hands caught in a tight grip, warm breath on his neck; all this crashed down on Aya as he started to hyperventilate. Trying to control himself, the pale man couldn’t stop the fear that overwhelmed him.

<Shit. Never thought this would come back and bite me on the ass. Calm down, precious, I’m not going to hurt you.> Schuldig eased back a little and placed Aya’s hands on the wall, holding them still by entwining their fingers together. <I’m not going to hurt you.> It felt as if a soothing touch ran through Aya’s hair and along his cheek as the words were repeated.

Forcing himself calm down, the swordsman briefly rested his head against the concrete wall. Then he shoved back suddenly, trying to duck under Schuldig’s arm and put some distance between the two of them. The hands holding onto his jerked him back, and Aya was once more slammed into the wall, but this time he was facing Schuldig.

"Ah, ah, ah, what a naughty kitty. Someone sure likes to flex his claws."

"Let go of me Schu. Fuck off," Aya gritted through the pain from his ribs and arm.

The taller redhead pressed against him once more, jade green eyes flashing with passion and anger. "You really should be nicer to me, you know."

"Why? I know this isn’t a dream. Either go away or get on with whatever you’re here to do." Aya glared at Schuldig, refusing to let fear get ahold of him a second time. He used anger to keep the other emotion away, determined not to let the bad memories affect him when he needed his wits about him. There was no telling what Schu would do to him this time.

<You little idiot. I could’ve raped you at any time, do you realize that? I could’ve done it the other day, when you were too tired to fight your way out of a wet paper bag. How many times do I have to tell you I won’t hurt you?>

"Try proving it for once." At the moment, Aya wasn’t feeling anything other than pain, anger and apprehension.

Schuldig sighed and rested his head against Aya’s. At the telepath’s touch, a feeling of warmth and energy spread through the smaller man, washing away the pain. Feeling his muscles relax against his will, Aya couldn’t do more than turn his face aside when a hand caressed his cheek.

"I know you got my message; weren’t you supposed to be nice to me? After all, I did do you a favor. Two, in fact. I let your little friends walk away, not to mention kept Arai from fucking with the man-whore’s head yesterday. But he didn’t tell you about that, did he? Funny how he pitches a fit when you hold things back from him, yet he keeps secrets from his beloved kitten all the time."

The hand was replaced by warm breath, all the warning Aya had before the other man nuzzled his cheek. Yelling at himself to do something, the pale man found his body refusing to move as a mouth attached itself to his neck. Why the hell didn’t the damn thing listen to him when he was around the telepath? Two minutes ago he’d been convinced that Schu was going to hurt him, and now he couldn’t stifle a moan as the man nipped at his ear.

<Well, you aren’t trying to kill me for once, so I’ll consider this being nice. You think too much, tuberose. Let it all go and just feel. Stop trying to hide from your emotions.> Schuldig tilted his head and kissed him on the lips. Something inside Aya coiled and then pushed against its bonds; his power struggling to break free. There was a flare of heat within Aya’s chest, and images flooded his and Schuldig’s mind.

// His throat was sore, throbbing in pain from the rough abuse it had suffered such a short time ago. Schuldig was there, holding him close, trailing soft kisses down his jaw that distracted him from the agony. Clutching onto the man resolutely, Aya laid back on the bed, drawing the telepath down with him. Words of endearment in Japanese and German filled his mind as Schuldig shifted up and captured his mouth. The scent of cherry blossoms filled the air as his robe was stripped off, soon joined on the floor by the outfit the German had been wearing. Long strands of hair teased his skin as the older man bent over him once more, tongue busy tasting exposed pale flesh. Aya pleaded with the man not to stop; he needed this too much.//

The two redheads reeled away from each other, eyes wide with shock. Aya rested an arm against the wall, needing the support to remain standing on his feet. Schuldig didn’t seem to be in much better shape. For a moment the scene about Aya shifted and changed, from a hot, muggy Tokyo street to a cool night scented with cherry blossoms somewhere quiet, light glowing through traditional paper walls. Shaking his head helped restore him to reality, and Aya shoved away from the wall, unsteady legs carrying him more or less towards where the shopping bag lay on the ground. He picked it up and lurched toward the street.

Only to be pulled back against Schuldig’s chest, his arms firmly pinned at his sides. But this time the hold didn’t raise any fear in him, just brought back the scent of cherry blossoms. Aya, torn between resting against the man and pulling away, growled under his breath. Schu chuckled in response and kissed him on the back of his neck. <Was that good for you too?>

"Hn." Why couldn’t the man leave him the hell alone?

<You know why. But we’ll have to continue this conversation another day. Then we’ll talk more about what you owe me for keeping a certain pair of kittens alive. I’ll be watching over you til then.> Feeling the arms about him loosen, Aya jerked himself away from the German and ducked back onto the busy sidewalk. Weaving between the other pedestrians, Aya didn’t slow his pace until he saw the Koneko before him.

Looking about him for any signs of the telepath’s presence, Aya crossed the street to his home. He hugged his injured arm tight across his chest, wanting nothing more than to reach his room and put this encounter behind him. Damn Schu for shaking him up so. As he pushed open the door and took a deep breath of the flower-scented air, Aya realized that his chest wasn’t hurting anymore, and that it hadn’t since Schu had taken the pain away.

<Ah, it’s nothing, my little tuberose. Your pain is my pain, and vice versa. You might want to remember that the next time you feel that I’m going to hurt you.>

"Get the hell out of my mind, Schu."

<I know, I know, it’s not your Thursday appointment. Funny how you’ll be glad to hear from me then. But that’s okay, I don’t mind being used. Especially in certain pleasurable ways.>

"Shi-ne." The bastard just had to work on his last nerve, didn’t he? Trying not to think very much about the aforementioned appointment, Aya wearily opened the freezer and put the melting ice cream away. The dented soda cans were placed into the fridge, and the redhead quietly made his way to his room. He pushed open the door and after closing it behind him, dropped off the cigarettes on his way to the window. Yohji smiled and welcomed him back, the older man’s voice trailing off as Aya ignored him, choosing to sit in the windowsill and stare out onto the streets.

After a few seconds, Yohji spoke again. "Aya, is something wrong?"

Rubbing his eyes, the pale man didn’t say a word. He was so tired of how, whenever he was actually happy, Fate threw something at him that left him shaken and hurt, if not worse. The contentment from this morning was gone, replaced by confusion and apprehension. Aya felt drained by those emotions and the ones that he’d felt when Schu had held him against the wall and from what had happened after the kiss. The only fantasy he should be having about the German should involve Schuldig dying on the end of his sword, not the two of them in bed together. Why didn’t things make any sense anymore?

A grunt of pain snapped Aya out of his thoughts. He turned around to find Yohji shakily standing on his feet. Hissing in anger, the redhead uncoiled himself from his perch and stalked over to his boyfriend, pushing the larger man back onto the bed. "I wasn’t joking when I said that I would break your leg. Lay back down."

Yohji grabbed him by the arms and jerked him onto the bed. Aya was hard pressed not to land on the man’s injured limb, and felt a spike of pain in his left arm. He glared at the older assassin.

"I wouldn’t be getting out of bed if you weren’t ignoring me. What happened, love? You look paler than normal, and my cigarettes are a bit crushed. Did you have to fight someone for them?" Yohji smiled, encouraging Aya to join in the joke. When he didn’t, the blond frowned in worry. "What the hell happened?" Aya closed his eyes and sighed, not sure how to put his latest encounter with Schu into words.

"Don’t tell me the Bastard messed with you again?"

"…yes."

Yohji’s grip on Aya’s arms tightened, causing the smaller man to shift about uncomfortably. "What did he do to you this time?"

"Not much. Let go of me."

"Aya, you better not be holding something back. I want to know what he’s up to."

Glaring at his lover, Aya managed to jerk his right arm free and to sit up on the bed. He was so damn sick of this, of putting up with Schu’s games and then having to placate Yohji afterwards. If it weren’t for the two men, he’d be left alone in peace and quiet. He wouldn’t have to put up with confusing emotions, heartache, or jealous lovers. There was something to be said for being single.

"It was the usual Mastermind games. He surprised me, shook me up, kissed me and let me go; I never got a chance to lay a hand on him. Schu also wanted me to be thankful for letting the Stouts live." Aya didn’t mention anything about the comment the telepath had made about helping Yohji deal with Arai. Now he didn’t feel so bad about withholding the truth about his own sessions with the empath from his boyfriend. Still glaring at Yohji, Aya tried once more to get free and failed. Dammit, why couldn’t it have been Kudoh’s arm that had been injured?

Yohji stared back at him, oblivious to the dirty look he was receiving. "Why aren’t you going for your sword, Aya? The Bastard fucks around with you for the second time in days, assaults and blackmails you, and all you do is sit here and glare at me. Something’s wrong, love."

"Nothing’s wrong, Yohji. It’s Schu up to his usual games, and I’m too tired and sore to go chasing after him."

Green eyes stared at him intently. "What’s with the sudden first name basis, Aya? When did Mastermind become ‘Schu’ to you? I also find it hard to believe that after taunting you with the lives of two people I know you care about, not to mention touching you, you’re not out there chasing after the man, intent on his head. You never let anything stop you from taking out an enemy before."

The conversation was beginning to make Aya very uncomfortable, and he was upset that Yohji was treating him like this. It was as if he was being held culpable for the incident somehow. "Maybe because I’m sick and tired of this, Kudoh. Of him messing with me and keeping me off balance, of having people I care about being used against me, of you yelling at me as if I’m to blame for this. There are times I wish that all of you would just go to hell." Aya was so mad that he didn’t stop to think about what he was saying. "It was never this bad before."

"Bad before what, we became lovers? Before you started to act like an actual human and let people get close to you again?"

Aya nodded his head.

Yohji muttered under his breath and struggled to sit up in bed. "Well sorry that me being your lover causes you such a great inconvenience. You ever think that it’s no picnic having a bull’s-eye painted on me because I fell in love with a stubborn, anti-social idiot? I’ve been drugged and beaten up because of you, but do you hear me complaining?" The playboy’s face was suffused with anger, his voice loud and rough. "Ken’s mind been fucked with twice, and Omi lost the only decent member of his damn family. Because of you, Weiß has been treated like the Bastard’s personal play toys. You ever think that him not liking you acting like a human for the first time in your fucking life has some sort of significance, Aya? That there’s a reason he tries to keep you isolated?"

"If it wasn’t for you and the others, I would be able to fight back against him. You make me feel something, and that makes me weak. Emotions have no place in our lives, Yohji. Schu wouldn’t be able to blackmail me if you’d have just kept fucking every other legal aged person in Tokyo."

A golden hand rose in the air, and Aya prepared himself for a blow. Instead, it reached out and snagged an eartail, making him wince in pain as he was yanked onto Yohji’s chest, losing a few strands in the process. Violet eyes glared at the older man with potent vehemence. "Listen to yourself, Aya. ‘Schu’ that and ‘Schu’ this. He’s fucking with you again, and you’re screaming at _me_. When the hell did this become my fault?"

The question caused the swordsman to go still as he tried to sort through his confused thoughts. Seeing that he was getting a reaction, Yohji pressed on. "He fucks with you, and you just take it. When did this change happen, Aya? I remember you being someone who wouldn’t stop no matter what to get your revenge, to make someone pay for hurting you or the person you cared for. Where’s the hate and anger you should be feeling for ‘Schu’ and not me?"

"I… don’t know." Aya closed his eyes and rested his head on Yohji’s shoulder. "It, it’s gone. The hate, that is. I don’t feel it anymore, Yohji." Even after today’s meeting, Aya didn’t hate Schu- Schuldig. Where had that emotion gone? It used to fill his very core before, a roiling burning sensation that was only bested by what he felt for Reiji Takatori.

"That’s not good, love. That’s not good at all." Yohji wrapped him in his arms and kissed Aya on the forehead. "I’m sorry he’s using me and the others against you, but it’s not our fault. He’s done something to you, Aya, and we have to figure out how and why."

"I don’t know how he’s done it, Yohji." Aya didn’t think it was during his psychiatric sessions; the hate had disappeared before then. And the dreams hadn’t been as frequent as they’d been in the past. His body shivering, Aya pressed closer to his lover. The blond tucked his head under the man’s chin as the both of them lay back on the mattress.

‘We’ll figure it out, love. Just… do me a favor." When Yohji didn’t continue, Aya lifted his head to look inquiringly at him. "Now don’t get all pissy again," that comment earned Yohji a scathing look, "but try not to go anywhere by yourself, okay? He seems to pounce on you when you’re alone. You better believe that once I’m back on my feet I’m not leaving your side for a fucking instant, but please try and stay close by to the Koneko until then. And I think we need to tell Omi and Ken that the Bastard’s back to meddling with our lives."

Dropping his head to Yohji’s chest, Aya closed his eyes. Once again emotions overwhelmed him: relief and warmth over the fact that Yohji cared so much for him, confusion and anger for Schu-ldig, and hate for himself. "It’s my fault he plays with you and the others." When an abused eartail was yanked yet again, he let out a warning growl.

"I never should’ve said that shit. It’s not your fault, kitten, it’s the Bastard’s. Try to remember that."

Not in the mood to argue anymore, Aya kept quiet. It was his fault, just like so many other things were. His failure to keep his first team alive and his sister safe, his inability to follow the path that Shion had set for him. Now he was bringing harm to his lover and friends. Yohji could say it wasn’t his fault, but Aya knew better. Schu had to want him for his power and his body, and wouldn’t be tormenting Weiß if he wasn’t here. The swordsman knew what he should do, but was too weak to walk away from the team. He needed Yohji too much.

*******

Ken rummaged through the fridge, looking for something to snack on before dinner. Omi had some roast beef marinating, the sight of which caused the brunet to drool. Man, he wanted to eat it right now. Too bad he still had a couple of hours to wait.

Hearing the kitchen door open, Ken grabbed a couple rice balls and stuffed one in his mouth as he turned around. "Teddy? What are you doing here?" He hadn’t expected to see the American, dressed in a blue kilt and a sleeveless t-shirt, standing in the Koneko. "Is something wrong with Mickey?"

"No, I came here to talk to you and Omi. Where’s the kawaii one?" It was good to see that Teddy was in a better mood than he’d been in last night. Wiping his hands on his orange rugby shirt, Ken opened the door leading to the flower shop and yelled.

"Omi, get your butt up here. We got company."

The teenager appeared as Ken was pouring Teddy and himself some soda. "Ken, how many times do I have to tell you not to yell like that? And what if Yohji is sleeping?" The tirade stopped short when Omi saw their guest. Ken was actually thankful for Teddy’s presence, an odd occurrence. "Hello, is something wrong with Mickey?"

"No, but thanks for asking. I’m here on business. Birman asked me to deliver two messages to you; so much for me being relieved of duty." Teddy rolled his eyes and sat down at the kitchen table. "First off, Weiß is expected to take over the surveillance of Hirai’s smuggling ring. Kritiker knows you’re down a member, so it’s strictly recon work for you guys. Don’t engage them under any circumstances. And need I say to keep an eye out for Schwarz?" He pushed an envelope in Omi’s direction. "Here’s the most up to date info we have on the ring."

"Oh, don’t worry about us, we know how to deal with those freaks," Ken hissed as his right hand formed into a fist. He was looking forward to getting some payback from Mastermind.

Omi gave him an odd look and then nodded at Teddy. "We understand. Weiß is in no mood to fight them while we’re barely at three-quarters strength. Right, _Ken_?"

"Yeah, whatever." He wouldn’t go out of his way to fight the prick, but if Mastermind was looking for a little fun… Ken would see how the man liked the taste of steel. "What’s the other thing?"

Teddy finished off his soda before responding. "Ken, you are to report to the Magic Bus hospital at ten in the morning tomorrow, room 12-H. Omi, you are to show up at four pm."

The two assassins stared at their friend in wonder. Omi was the one to ask the question first. "What for?"

"Psych exams. The both of you have appointments with a Dr. Arai, who if rumor is correct, is a proper bow-wow. Kritiker wants to make sure that Weiß is functioning properly and that means you get to have your heads shrunk."

Psych exams? With the doctor that was giving Aya fits? Oh, this was not good. Ken had been desperately hoping that Yohji would be the only other member of Weiß to go see the woman, but it looked as if all of them were being dragged in. And why Aya’s doctor in particular? None of them had ever had the same psychiatrist before.

"All right, my task is done. I’ll see you guys around. Oh, and any chance I can nab some flowers for Mick?"

"Ah, I have an arrangement for him downstairs. Ken and I were going to stop by this evening, but I guess that’s out now, if we have work to do. Can you drop it off for us? I’ll make you a nice bouquet."

Teddy smiled. "Sure thing. He’ll be touched that you guys care so much and understand about work. Be careful tonight. Oh, and where’s Aya? Tending to Yohji still?" When both Ken and Omi nodded their heads, the longhaired man grinned wickedly. "Isn’t it a little suspicious that Kudoh gets injured, requiring constant attention from Aya? I think he’ll be making a habit of this."

"He better not," Omi muttered darkly, with an astonishing amount of venom in his voice. Ken blinked at his friend as the boy excused himself, saying he was going to get the flowers ready. Teddy said he’d go down into the shop with Omi and leave that way and waved goodbye to Ken.

Staring after the men for a moment, Ken got up from the kitchen table and opened the fridge. He pulled out one of Yohji’s beers, feeling the need for something stronger than soda at the moment. Then he remembered something. Opening the door leading downstairs, Ken yelled once more. "Oi, Teddy! What does ‘bow-wow’ mean?" He was unfamiliar with the foreign word.

"It’s an acronym. Means ‘bitch on wheels, witch on wheels’. In other words, this Arai chick is going to enjoy ripping off your dick and beating you over the head with it. Enjoy."

Ignoring Omi’s loud protest over the yelling, Ken closed the door and fished out another beer. The prospect of both seeing Schwarz and his morning appointment demanded two, at the very least. At the moment, the soccer fanatic wanted nothing more than to go dig up his ‘dear’ buddy Kase’s corpse and kick it a few dozen times. What a wonderful life he led.

*******

Yohji tossed a few kernels of popcorn into his mouth and hugged the arm about Aya’s waist a little tighter. The redhead hn’ed in response but didn’t look up from his book, his head tucked under the playboy’s chin. "You’re missing the good part." All he got was another hn.

Ah well, it had been a bit much to expect Aya to get into the movies; at least the man was curled up beside him and not off sulking alone. His kitten hadn’t been happy to be told that he wasn’t participating in tonight’s recon, having been ordered to give his body another day to heal. Yohji wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment, even if it meant that Omi and Ken were left with no support if they ran across Schwarz. Which the blond didn’t think would happen. Not without Aya being there. Call it a hunch or his old work skills, but he didn’t think his friends would be in any danger tonight.

Omi had taken the news of the Bastard’s renewed interest rather well, though Yohji could swear he saw a flash of guilt on the chibi’s face for a few seconds. The look hadn’t lasted for very long and had soon been replaced with ire as the teenager had announced that all of Weiß was required to undergo psychiatric evaluations. Oh boy, he was gonna get bitched at again for his bright idea, and the worst of it was, Yohji really did need to talk to the youth alone sometime tomorrow, so they could discuss Aya. He didn’t want the man to be left alone for a single damn second.

If the chibi had appeared guilty, Ken had looked torn between fury and introspection. That was a mix of emotion one didn’t often see on the athlete’s face. He had stared at Aya for several minutes after finding out that the Bastard was stalking the redhead once more. Yohji had been half tempted to get out of bed and smack the jock to make him stop. His redhead would have killed him for doing that.

Well, Aya was in for a rude surprise if he thought that Yohji was going to stick with bed rest after tonight. His forty-eight hours would be up tomorrow, and it was imperative that he get back into shape as soon as possible. He wouldn’t push too fast, or his leg would never heal properly, but he wasn’t going to baby it either. Though it pained Yohji to admit to himself that trying to entice Aya into a little fun tonight would be a bad idea, he had to, considering his wound. The sacrifices he made for his love.

Grasping an eartail, he used it to tickle a pale cheek, earning a smack to his hand. Yohji smiled and ate some more popcorn. Aya seemed to have mostly bounced back from his little rendezvous with Mastermind this morning, but the man was still on the quiet and brooding side. However, Yohji would gladly take that over the fight they’d had this morning. That hadn’t been good. He was grateful that it had stopped before escalating into something truly nasty; as it was, Aya saying that he was better off without anyone near him upset him.

The man had definitely changed, and Yohji knew it was the Bastard’s fault. Aya should be off chasing shadows in his fury to kill the telepath, not fighting with his boyfriend. While grateful that the redhead wasn’t being controlled by his thirst for vengeance and temper anymore, Yohji knew that the mental tampering had to be pretty damn drastic, and that worried him. Why it was happening now, and not previously during the three years that the two redheads had known each other? Maybe that was partially his fault.

The easiest solution was one he had already reached. Mastermind, the prick, was going to die. Hopefully by Yohji’s hand and not Ken’s, but as long as the telepath was dead, he’d be happy. It was the end result that mattered, which was Aya being free from the mental assault. By whatever means necessary.

Yohji had screwed up once already, and it was his lover and friends who were paying the price. He’d also messed up in failing to note how Aya’s reactions to the Bastard had changed over the past few months. Well, that wasn’t going to happen anymore. Schuldig’s death would free his love, and hopefully make Kritiker back off a little. They wouldn’t be able to question Aya about the man again once that happened. Yohji had never looked forward to a kill this much before.

*******

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