Bleed

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chapter 6

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Aya awoke to the sound of Yohji muttering. He rolled over to see what was wrong with his lover and found the man tossing about and repeating the words 'let me go' over and over. When he tried to stroke Yohji's chest, which usually calmed him down, all the blond did was jerk away from his touch and toss about some more. Not sure what to do, Aya curled up against Yohji resting his head on his shoulder. That seemed to do the trick, and the thrashing and muttering came to a slow halt.

Lying there in the darkness and failing in his attempt to fall back to sleep, Aya decided to take the time to marshal his thoughts. All he'd wanted to do last night was to escape from his problems, for a few precious hours at least, but that wouldn't work for very much longer. Schuldig was determined to carry on with the mind games and already one of the telepath's predictions had come true. Ken knew about his power and clearly hated him for it. Rubbing a hand over his eyes, Aya tried to figure out exactly when his life had become so screwed up. The easy answer would be the day his family had been torn apart, or that it had never been normal, but there had been a period of happiness recently. Lastly, right after Yohji and he became lovers.

But it hadn't remained that way for long. No, as soon as Schuldig had returned to torment him, things had gone downhill. The rape, his headaches, the plaguing doubts… it was easy to look back now and see the development of a disturbing trend, but then again, one's hindsight was always perfect. It was then that the doubts had crept in, that the relationship had taken on the taint of desperation. All Aya had wanted was not to lose yet another person he loved, but had become more convinced that fate would repeat itself once again.

He loved Yohji with all his heart. It was a bit shocking to discover that he could indeed love again and feel for someone as strongly as he did his sister… possibly even more. It more than scared Aya, and that was probably why he'd let things get out of hand, had let the physical part of the relationship matter more than the emotional. It was so much safer to fool himself into thinking that what he was feeling was all about hormones and pleasure, and when Yohji did leave him…

"Dammit." The word came out as a harsh whisper. Aya scowled at nothing in particular, wishing there was a certain telepath present that he could skewer with his katana. He was doing it again. 'When Yohji did leave him'. Schuldig's taunts and lies had crept inside his head and taken up residence there, tainting all his thoughts. Yohji wasn't going to leave him; he'd promised not to. The blond constantly surprised Aya with how seriously he was taking their relationship: putting up with his foul temper and depressions, constantly trying to coax him into a better mood and pry him out of his shell. Add to that the recent development of Yohji wanting to give the emotional aspect of the relationship more importance, and Aya had a feeling that the man wasn’t going to back away from the issue, as he had in the past. When was the last time someone had devoted so much attention to him, _other_ than Schuldig?

There'd been Knight, but he hadn't been interested in what the man had to offer. Besides, almost any discussion between them had led to one form of an argument or another. Before him, there'd been Shion and Kikyou. To the former, he'd been a failure of a student, to the other… he didn't know what Kikyou had seen in him, but knew that whatever the attraction had been, it had been Ran who had drawn that bastard's attention. And, Ran was now gone, killed by too much sorrow and heartbreak.

He'd been close to achieving Shion's path, had felt the pieces finally start to click after Takatori's death, but then a certain aggravating blond had decided to wreak havoc on his life. He had forced him to care about something other than his sister, had made him love again. For a moment Aya felt like hitting the idiot. Trust Yohji to mess things up for him, uncaring of the consequences and to make him not give a damn about the consequences, either. He just wanted Yohji by his side forever.

That was why he'd been so happy back then. However, the doubts had crept in, and Aya had to face the prospect of having his happiness snatched away from him, as usual. It didn't help that he couldn't see what made him so attractive to Yohji, other than being someone who shared the same profession. After all, he was odd looking, sullen, brooding, hated other people and crowded, noisy places and had a bad temper. In other words, not exactly mate material. But Yohji was tenacious as hell and kept putting up with his shit. Aya simply loved him back for that.

Well, that’s one person down, Aya thought to himself as he rubbed his cheek against Yohji's chest, inhaling the scent of spices and cigarettes. One person he was sure of his feelings for. He loved Yohji Kudoh beyond a shadow of a doubt -- every inch of the chain-smoking, alcoholic, lazy, gorgeous idiot. Which, just as Shion had warned him, had made Aya vulnerable, especially to Schu's manipulations. What was worse, he should have expected this. He'd been warned after all. Why had he thought that Schuldig wouldn't try something else to break them up after the one attempt on Yohji's life? Even with his promise about the dreams, he should have known Schu wouldn't give up that easily.

As for the German…. Aya sighed and pressed his face against Yohji's shoulder. He could lie here for days, and still not figure out what had happened inside his head to make him not hate that bastard anymore. He could clearly recall Schuldig standing over him as he knelt by his sister, and warned him about the sin of surviving. He recalled the mocking dreams, and the ones that had caused him to wake in agony. But, intermixed with those were ones of pleasure and of the man helping and watching over him. Somehow, those had become more important. Somehow, even though he lay here and thought of how he'd like nothing better than to take his katana to Schuldig, that emotion was nowhere to be found when he was face to face with him. Aya only knew that the change had occurred after the Sybil mission, but had no clue why other than Schuldig had willed it.

He wasn't a fool. He knew that it had to be his power that attracted the telepath, no matter what Schuldig said. The man was a consummate liar. But one that mixed truth with his falsehoods. Schu had warned Aya about a traitor in Sendai, and he'd found out the hard way that it hadn't been a lie. The same with Yuushi's attraction to him, and that Kritiker wouldn't let him go. He was being proven right again with Ken, who could barely look at Aya anymore, let alone say anything civil to him.

Fear gripped his heart when Aya thought about Yohji finding out. He desperately wished that would never come to pass, unable to bear it if Yohji looked at him the same way Ken did. That led him back to his doubts about his lover and their relationship, right back where he'd started. Calling himself an idiot, Aya reluctantly sat up in bed. Yohji mumbled his name and stirred, but a hand combing through honey blond locks calmed the man down. Aya stared at his lover and leaned over to brush their lips together.

"I love you with all my heart and soul. You better not mess up, Kudoh, or I'll kick your ass." Kissing Yohji softly, Aya leaned back and got out of bed. He stripped off his sweatshirt and pulled on a pair of cotton pants then snatched his katana from its stand. If thinking didn't get him anywhere, perhaps some exercise would. At the least it would help center him, help him achieve a state of no emotion where things often became clear to him. Aya welcomed a respite from the conflicting feelings that filled him. Yohji and his own injuries hadn't left him much time to practice, and he missed the sessions and the clarity they provided him. Perhaps he would find a few solutions that way.

*******

Yohji groaned as he woke up, feeling as if he hadn't any sleep at all. His head hurt and he still felt exhausted, and after a moment he realized there was no Aya curled up next to him. Sweeping out an arm, all he found were cold sheets. Hence, there had been no Aya for quite a while. Dammit.

Groaning again as he sat up, Yohji tucked back his hair and blearily gazed around the room. The sun was shining, making it easy to see everything. Aya's robe was still hanging on the closet door, but his katana was missing. Which meant that either his kitten was upstairs working out or had gotten it into his head to go kill someone. Yohji hoped it was the first, as he didn't feel like trying to track Aya down. One of these days he was going to tag the roaming bastard and have an alarm go off whenever his lover tried to sneak out of bed.

It took some effort, but Yohji managed to stand on his feet. His left leg wasn't quite ready to fully support his weight, so he grabbed a cane that rested against the wall near the bed. He'd dug up the piece of polished wood from his closet last night, where it had been stashed after the last time he'd hurt his leg. Yohji Kudoh didn't do crutches, they just weren't sexy enough. He refused to look like some trauma case, hobbling about in an ungainly fashion. No, a cane was much better. It had worked wonderfully to get him to the bathroom and back, and even sneaked in a few trips up and down the hall. His leg was healing very quickly and gave him hope of being back on missions in a few more days, much sooner than he’d have otherwise expected, what with the severity of his wound.

Yohji pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans before he went looking for Aya, and made sure to tuck his smokes inside one of the pockets. He didn't like the idea of the man being out of his sight at all, not after recent events. Dammit, he didn't need all this worry and stress. He would tell Aya just that, after the katana was put a safe distance away. Approaching the steps, Yohji started to hop up them, wishing he'd paused for a cigarette before embarking on his latest 'track down a certain stubborn fool' mission. Gods, why couldn't he have fallen in love with someone who liked sleeping away the mornings as much as he did?

Sweating and huffing a bit, he finally made it to the fourth floor. The gym's door was open, and as he hobbled in, he caught sight of Aya practicing his katas, the katana unsheathed and creating a silver arc through the air. Yohji leaned against the wall and watched, entranced by how graceful his boyfriend was. It seemed as if the man was dancing and not fighting, and he even had his eyes closed. Aya flowed across the floor, striking down imaginary foes, and after a few minutes came to a halt in front of Yohji, weapon pointing down at the floor.

A pair of violet eyes snapped open, turbulent with anger. "Kudoh, what the hell are you doing out of bed?"

"Trying to find out where you went off to. It's all your fault," Yohji sulked, hoping to deflect the anger somewhat. Or at least get Aya pissed off about something other than him being on his feet. Maybe the kitten hadn't been kidding about breaking his leg if he stood up after all, judging from the glare he was getting.

"Kudoh…" Aya snarled, then spun around and picked the sheath up off the floor and slid it over his katana. Yohji sighed in relief at that. Then Aya stalked over to him, pausing to make sure he had the full benefit of a shi-ne glare before sliding a shoulder underneath his arm.

"Come on, you're going back to bed."

"No, I'm not. Aya, the doctor said two days of bed rest, I gave it three, just to humor you." Yohji ignored the look he got for that comment and continued. "My leg feels fine and doesn't even hurt today. If I keep babying it, it'll take forever to get back in shape. Besides, you need help in the shop."

Aya started to drag him towards the door, causing Yohji to curse as he hopped along. "Did you hear a word I said?" When he didn't get an answer, he used his cane to block the door, earning yet another glare. Wow, he was going for a new record this morning; how many shi-ne glares he could get within an hour of waking up, without even asking for sex.

"Aya, I'm not going to sit in bed all day. You know how important it is to get back on your feet after an injury."

The smaller man sighed, and Yohji knew he'd won. It was much easier navigating the steps on the way down with Aya’s help, but Yohji went on the defensive when they made their way back to their bedroom.

"Love, unless you're going to ravish me, I'm not getting back in bed."

Aya sighed again and leaned him against the wall. "I have to put my sword away and get my robe. I need a shower."

Now that was giving him some ideas, at least until Yohji got to the part of shoving Aya up against the shower wall and fucking him silly. Hmm, somehow he doubted the leg was up to that presently. Just great. But maybe he could manage something else….

"Hey, do you want your back scrubbed?" It was Yohji's turn to sigh as Aya shook his head. Killjoy. "Alright, I'm gonna go downstairs and put some coffee on."

"I warn you now, if you fall down the steps and break your neck, I'm just leaving you there," Aya idly remarked. The bastard would do it too, he just knew it. Being the one to do the scowling for once, Yohji hmphed and hobbled out of the room as quickly as he could.

He was extra careful on the steps to deny Aya the joy of stepping over his broken body on the way to the kitchen. He entered the room to find Omi weaving back and forth in front of the brewing coffee machine, looking about ready to fall asleep on his feet.

"Hey, chibi. Rough night?" Blue eyes blinked at him rather dazedly for a moment.

"Yotan, are you sure you should be on your feet?"

"I'll have you know, _I'm_ not the one who looks as if he's ready to fall down at any moment. I think the coffee is done."

Omi flashed him a weak grin, a mere shade of his usual expression, and reached for the pot.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah… just bad dreams." Omi poured himself something to drink and shuffled over to the table as he slurped the hot beverage. Yohji noticed the dark circles around the teen's eyes.

He poured himself some coffee as well and hobbled over to the fridge. Pulling out eggs and some vegetables, he looked over his shoulder at his teammate. "Want to talk about it?"

Omi slurped a little more and shook his head. "It was just some stuff from my session with Dr. Arai. I really don't want to think about it anymore."

Chalk up another victim to the Bitch. It was bad enough she had Aya regularly losing sleep, but now she was sinking her hooks in Omittchi as well. Yohji wondered if Kritiker would notice if the doctor died of suspicious ligature marks around her throat. Perhaps he could make it look as if her toaster had gone wild and strangled her one morning. Scatter toast all about as evidence.

Scrambling the eggs, Yohji ignored the ache in his leg from standing too long. It better get used to the exercise, and soon. "You do know that she's a psycho bitch who lives for hurting people, right? And that she talks a bunch of shit?" He just wanted to make sure.

"Yes, Yotan, I realize that."

Not that it made it any easier for the kid or Aya to sleep at night. Yohji put the eggs, diced scallions and peppers on the stove and pulled out the pack of cigarettes he'd stuck in his waistband. Lighting one up, he regarded Omi through a haze of smoke. The teen looked as if he'd gotten no sleep whatsoever.

"You want some eggs? There's more than enough for Aya and me. You can eat something and go back to bed if you want."

"No thanks, I'm not hungry. I'll just have some more coffee and be on my way." Omi rose to his feet and crossed over to the coffeepot. Once his mug was full, he regarded Yohji solemnly. "You guys do know that I'd never betray you, right? That everything I do is to make sure you all will be safe?"

Wondering what the hell had gone on at the session, Yohji nodded his head. "Yeah, chibi, we know that. We trust you completely."

There was a flash of pain on Omi's face for a moment, but he just nodded his head and quietly left the room. Wondering what was getting into people this morning, Yohji returned his attention to cooking breakfast, and nearly had a heart attack moments later when a pair of arms wrapped around his waist.

"Fuck, Aya, you need to wear a damn bell or something! Make some noise, dammit." But he put down the spatula and turned off the gas so he could hug the man's arms tighter about him.

"Hn." Aya pressed a kiss to the back of his neck, causing Yohji to shiver in pleasure. He carefully turned around and bent his head down for a kiss, one that left him breathless. When they finally broke apart, Yohji panted for a few breaths and shook his head.

"First you leave me all alone in a cold bed, then you threaten me, and now you're in an affectionate mood. Which, just so we're clear, I'm not upset about in the slightest. But I must admit, I'm a little confused and feeling a bit put upon." He traced a finger along Aya's lips as he spoke, drinking in the sight of heavy lidded violet eyes and a pink tongue that followed the path he traced.

Aya didn't say anything, of course, and just leaned against him. Glad that the stove was behind him to support their weight, Yohji hugged his lover close. They remained like that for several minutes, until Omi came back down to put his mug in the sink and went on his way to class.

"Morning, Aya. I'll be back right after class today."

"Take care, Omi." Yohji watched his young friend leave and then kissed Aya on the forehead. "Our breakfast is getting cold."

Aya rubbed a cheek along his shoulder and then stepped aside, reaching into a cupboard for some plates. Yohji sat down, finally giving his leg a break, as his lover got food and drinks for the both of them. When Aya joined him they ate in silence. Once his eggs were finished, Yohji pushed aside his plate and studied the pale man over the rim of his mug. Everything had been pretty peaceful so far this morning, but they needed to talk about a few things. Part of the reason for the trouble they were in was because they didn’t talk enough in the past.

"So, you going to be quiet all day?"

"Maybe." Aya drank the last of his juice and rose from the table to turn off the hot water. When he returned, it was with a pot of tea "Need I ask what you want to talk about?"

The man had to be joking. "No, I don't think you do. What happened last night, Aya?" Expecting his lover to put up some resistance, Yohji was surprised when Aya propped his head on his arm and closed his eyes, and then started talking.

"I told you, he tried to tell me that he wasn't messing with my head, that my emotions were changing on their own. He also told me you'd hurt and leave me, and.... That Weiß would betray me too. Then he left me flowers: tuberose, cherry blossoms and camellias."

Now that was new, no one had mentioned the flowers last night. "What color were they?" Ever since Mastermind had sent the one message in flowers to Aya, Yohji had been brushing up on their meanings.

"White." Aya opened his eyes and looked at him. "'Dangerous pleasure', 'graceful resignation’, and 'perfect loveliness'."

"Also, 'you're adorable' for the camellia." The last comment brought a hint of a scowl to Aya's face. Yohji almost smiled himself at the phrase, but the matter was too serious for much joking. "Has he given you any other flowers in the past?"

"White roses. 'I'm worthy of you'."

"Like hell he is." The Bastard never would be, not if he lived for a thousand years. Besides, Aya was already taken. He watched as Aya nodded his head and poured himself some tea. "Then he left without harming anything other than your tire." Yohji smiled maliciously at the frown on his lover's face. Mastermind didn't know just how badly he'd fucked up by damaging Aya's precious car. Hopefully he'd keep it up and return to being hated in no time.

Sipping his tea, Aya frowned into the cup. "I can't figure him out anymore, Yohji. I used to be able to; it was always guilt and lies in the past, but now…he's mixed everything up so much. I expect pain, and he ends up being almost helpful. He shows up out of nowhere and disappears after thoroughly confusing me. I can't understand why he's playing these games."

Because he wanted Aya. It usually amused Yohji at how perplexed his lover was at the attention he received, but nothing concerning the Bastard was in any way amusing. Not unless it involved his very bloody and painful death. But what worried Yohji the most was how Mastermind was going about his attempt to get Aya. It was so insidious, the mental tampering, which meant a lot of time and effort on the telepath's part. That meant the Bastard wasn’t going to give up any time soon.

Aya sighed as he poured himself more tea. "I'm tired of my thoughts going around in circles, and the shop needs to be opened. Were you serious about actually working?"

"Hell yes. The only way I'm staying in bed all day is if you're with me, and I don't mean to sleep." He leered at his lover, who only rolled his eyes in response. "Besides, my adoring fan club must be in tears over my absence. I have to make an appearance before they do something drastic. There's no telling what those girls could get into, considering how many there are. I'll have you know I'm still in the lead by seven ahead of the rest of you." Yohji took pride in having the biggest fan club of the four of them.

"Only because you cater to them instead of working." Aya rose to his feet and started to clear off the table. Yohji watched him as he washed the dishes, more than happy to have an excuse not to assist with that chore. Once the plates were dry and put away, Aya held out a hand to help him to his feet. As soon as he was standing, Yohji braced himself and yanked the smaller man close, capturing his lips for a tender kiss.

"I let them distract me so I don't constantly carry you off to the greenhouse for some serious ravishing. If it weren't for them, neither of us would get any work done." He stroked his fingers along Aya's face, tracing up and down a high cheekbone. How a man could be so lovely? He didn't understand, but then again, so much about the redhead left him feeling perplexed. Aya was such a bundle of contradictions, and it took so much more effort to puzzle him out than Asuka. Not that he minded. One thing was for sure, he'd never grow bored with the man. Yohji knew he had one very interesting life ahead of him, as long as he managed to keep his lover by his side.

"Hn." Aya grasped his hand and entwined their fingers then moved towards the Koneko. Yohji hobbled along after him, wondering if he could somehow manage to get the two of them into the greenhouse this afternoon, or not.

*******

Arai sat in Oshin’s office with a frown on her face as she waited for her supervisor to appear. She hadn’t had the best morning so far, what with arriving at work and being informed of this meeting, then having to wait for the oaf to show up on top of that.

But what had truly soured the day was to wake up in bloodstained sheets, with no sign of Jei to be found. The foreigner had shown up on her doorstep again last night, and upon walking into her apartment had led Arai to her bedroom. The rest of the night passed by in a blissful haze, with flashes of silver and the scent of blood. The last thing she could clearly recall was Jei thrusting inside of her as his mouth sucked on a cut on her collarbone. The pleasure had become too intense, and she’d passed out.

She’d been bandaged while unconscious, but still left spread out on her bed, naked, like a whore. Arai was torn between what she’d do to the scarred man the next time she saw him: either punch him or drag him off to the nearest bed. With a flush to her cheeks, she realized it would probably be the latter, as the pleasure outweighed the anger. How Jei could do this to her? She didn’t know, but she desperately wanted the man back, needed his presence and sharp knives.

Arai had dressed in a black pantsuit and red turtleneck to hide the many cuts on her body. There wasn’t much skin that Jei hadn’t marked, and all the wounds, both shallow and deep, radiated pleasure even now. She picked at the bandage on her left hand, recalling how Jei had sliced open the tip of her middle finger and sucked on it right before thrusting inside her. Arching her back, Arai’s lips curved into a smile as she remembered the bliss. He was the best lover she’d had in ages, and she wished he hadn’t left without giving her a phone number or address where she could contact him. Bastard.

Her thoughts were cut short by Dr. Oshin’s arrival. She glanced up at her supervisor, her nose wrinkling as she caught the scent of cigarettes lingering on his clothes. The scent made her instantly wary.

"Good morning, Dr. Arai. How are you today?" He graced her with a minuscule bow, and she grated her teeth together as she rose to her feet and returned the gesture, forcing herself to dip down lower than he had.

"As well as can be expected, sir." She wanted this meeting over with.

The elderly man stared at her over the rim of his glasses and gestured at her left hand, which was covered with bandages. "I hope you are all right."

"Oh, it’s nothing. I cut myself on a broken jar last night. Thank you for your concern."

Dr. Oshin nodded his head briefly. She could sense his discomfort over this meeting and knew he couldn’t care less about her injury, but had been stalling for time.

"Ah, well, let’s get on with this. I understand you have a busy schedule today and don’t wish to distract you from your patients. We’ve gone over your sessions with Weiß the other day and have a few new doubts about your methods."

Dammit, Bombay had done her some damage, after all. Arai wished she had the boy in front of her so she could tear apart his mind right that moment. Smug little bastard. She’d pretty much reduced him to tears by the end of the session, constantly goading him about spying on his teammates and needling him about his true parentage, playing on his fears of turning into his father, but the damage had been done at the beginning.

Nevertheless, she wouldn’t let any of her fear or anger show on her face. "I don’t understand, what are you talking about?"

Oshin cleared his throat. "I’m talking about the effect you have on Orchidee, which has suddenly appeared in a negative light. We have grave concerns that your sessions are interfering with his efficiency and don’t want to have any more incidents like Weiß’s last mission."

"I don’t believe that you can lay the blame for their failure at my feet. As I’ve pointed out before, Orchidee was the one to salvage the mission. Any failure was Balinese’s fault. If you want to prevent a repeat of that mission, place the man in rehab. He’s clearly a sex and drug addict, not to mention an alcoholic. Quite frankly, I’m amazed he’s been left on active duty for as long as he has." Arai toyed with the bandages on her hand some more, sliding a finger underneath them. She then traced a nail over the deep cut on her palm.

"We’re not here to talk about the other members of Weiß, but about Orchidee. There’s been no significant progress made with him, and your sessions are starting to attract attention from his teammates." Oshin’s tone was full of reproach, and she could feel the old windbag settle into the task of giving her a verbal takedown.

The fingernail bit deeper into the wound, and Arai sat back in her chair as pleasure started to build inside her. "You’ve barely given me any time to work with him. Once a week for little over a month is nothing. Now that I’ve talked to his teammates, I have a fresh new approach ready for this Thursday."

"We’re tired of hearing your excuses, Dr. Arai. We want results."

Arai felt her nail scrape against something hard and nearly closed her eyes at the wave of bliss that flooded through her. It was becoming difficult to concentrate on what her supervisor was saying.

"I can guarantee you some results with the next session-"

"You’d better, because it will be your last one if you fail to do so." Angry at being cut off, it took her a moment to realize that Orchidee was about to be snatched away from her. Her temper snapped.

"I need more time! How can I do anything when you constantly tie my hands? No drugs, no overt use of my talent, only one hour a week… it’s as if you want me to fail! How dare you dictate such things to me! He’s my patient."

"You will not speak to a superior in that tone of voice, Arai." Oshin glared at her for a moment, and then his face blanched. "Oh dear, what have you done to your hand?"

Arai looked down to see the pool of blood in the palm of her hand, watching as it spilled into her lap. She removed the finger embedded in the wound and daintily licked it, frowning at how the blood didn’t taste as good as when on Jei’s lips or blades. Dammit, why did she have to depend on that man for her pleasure?

"I’ll call a doctor to look at it. Do you want my handkerchief? I don’t have any bandages in my office. Oh dear." Oshin fussed about, handing her the piece of white cloth and then paging his secretary, ordering her to have a doctor rush to his office.

She sat there with a half smile on her face, enjoying the fuss made over her. It had cut the meeting short, and pleasure radiated from her mangled hand. It wasn’t as good as what she felt with Jei, but it would tide her over until she saw the man again.

*******

Ken hesitated for a second then pushed open the door to Yohji and Aya's room. He wanted to see if Yohji needed anything, but didn't want to disturb his friend if he was still sleeping. Desperately hoping he wasn't about to walk into something that would have him blushing the entire day, Ken cautiously entered the room. Thankfully it was empty, but that did leave the question of where Yohji had gone. He sure as hell wasn't in the bathroom, as Ken had just come from there.

Glancing about, he noticed the neatly made bed and general tidiness of the room. It was hard to believe that Yohji Kudoh lived here. Guess Aya was a good influence on the man, if he kept the place from looking like a disaster area.

Ken sighed and shook his head as his thoughts returned to a topic he’d been trying so hard not to think about. Aya. What the hell was he supposed to do? That question had been on his mind ever since the session with the psychiatrist. The more he was around Aya, the more he was certain the man had some sort of talent, most likely precognition. It explained a lot, really, such as how the swordsman had been able to salvage so many missions in the past. For a moment, hate flared in Ken’s chest as he thought of anybody possessing a psychic talent. The only experience with the paranormal he'd ever had was the old lady who worked at the candy store who always knew what he and the other kids were going to buy before they said anything, and Schwarz. Was it any wonder he hated the freaks?

He'd been used as a damn puppet twice, had watched someone he cared about die before his eyes and having his very own thoughts manipulated by the damn freaks. What was even worse was the fact that Schwarz treated Weiß as if they were some sort of toys or something: there for the team to play with and torment. They'd made it clear that they could kill them at any time, but had chosen not to. Hell, one of the pricks even knew where they lived.

And it was all because of Aya. Well, to be fair, it was mostly because of Aya. Each of them had had their reasons for wanting Reiji Takatori dead, and that had caused their paths to cross with Schwarz’. But Aya was the reason that Mastermind was constantly fucking with them, why Ken sometimes had doubts about his very own thoughts and had nightmares of being surrounded by the bodies of his kids and Omi. When he'd realized what the quiet man was, what it was about him that attracted Mastermind and put them all at risk… he'd hated Aya with every part of his being. And now he was doubting if that emotion was truly his or something that Mastermind had planted in his brain, whether for giggles or some unknown purpose. He’d been doubting himself a lot lately, and Ken hated that fact.

Ken came to a halt in front of one of the bookcases in the room. He selected a volume at random and opened it. The words were in… French from the looks of it, and they were poems. Replacing the book, he picked another. This one was Chinese, and he could make out some of the characters; it seemed to be a book about legends. For a moment he wondered if Aya had done much reading lately, considering his relationship with Yohji. It seemed the few times he'd spied the redhead reading, Yohji was about to pounce or was busy trying to talk Aya into putting the book down and going out with him.

A smile teased at his lips as he thought about the couple. Who would've thought they'd last this long? Yohji the extrovert and Aya… introvert seemed to be putting it mildly, maybe the extreme anti-extrovert would be better. But somehow they fit together, smoothing out each other's rough edges. When the two men were together, Ken often felt as if they were in a world of their own, or at least had forgotten all about the real one. It just didn't seem to matter to them. Even when they were fighting, all that seemed important was each other. He was so jealous that just thinking about them hurt. He wanted something like that so very much, but was burned by the fact that he thought he'd had it, at one point. Kase had meant that much to him, and the bastard had betrayed him, several times. How could he trust the one other person he felt that close to, when the boy had questionable allegiances? Ken could never be sure what was more important to Omi, him or Weiß.

He moved away from the bookshelf and investigated Yohji's dresser. Amid the cluttered mess of coins, hair ties, cigarette packs, lighters and assorted other junk was a photo Omi had taken a couple weeks ago. He'd captured the couple as they'd tried to sneak back from one of their rainy day visits to the park. Half of Yohji's face was covered with mud, and his hair was lank with it. Aya was liberally splattered with the stuff, and both of them were soaked. Yohji was smiling a huge grin that made it perfectly obvious what the two of them had been up to. He appeared incredibly happy and overshadowed the pale man at his side. There was a hint of a smile on Aya's lips, but the shadows in the violet eyes depicted another story. Even after a day with his lover, he couldn't manage to shake his sorrow.

It reminded Ken of how Aya had looked last night after he'd slapped him. There had been fear and uncertainty on the usually impassive face, which had shaken him to the core. Aya never came across as frightened and uncertain, never. Yet he'd clearly been disturbed by whatever Mastermind had done to him.

It brought home that whatever attention he drew to himself and the team, Aya had certainly never asked for it. Out of all of them, he had the best reason for wanting to see Mastermind and the rest of Schwarz dead. Ken assumed that if the telepath was involved in the death of Aya's parents, the rest of his team had to be as well.

As bad as it was to be used, twice, to carry out Mastermind's agenda, how much worse was it to have your enemy torment you in dreams for years? To have your lover rape you, all because of him? From the little he'd picked up from Yohji, Ken knew that a lot of Aya's personality was because of the bastard German. He'd kept Aya isolated from other people, had used others against him. A little voice commented on the possibility that Mastermind was using him, Omi and Yohji against Aya even now.

But even though Aya had his sympathy for those facts, the hate was still there at the thought of the redhead possessing a talent. Ken didn't like the fact that someone he had to rely upon on an almost nightly basis was keeping secrets from him. But could he really blame his friend for that? If he was in Aya's shoes, he'd never breathe a word about being a precog to anyone else. Who would believe him? By the time Weiß found out that paranormals really existed, they were facing them as enemies. Not to mention that Ken didn't think it would be a very good idea to let Kritiker find out they had an agent with special powers….

Sighing, Ken shook his head and fell down on the leather couch. He was so damn confused. Part of him hated Aya, another felt sympathy for him. He didn't like feeling this torn over something; his emotions were usually much simpler than this. Yohji always laughed at him and told him he needed to see things in a less concrete fashion, that there was more out there than good and evil. Hell, here he was thinking he was a decent guy, for the most part, and he had over a hundred kills attributed to him. In all actuality, it was much more than that, but he'd stopped counting once he passed the double digits.

What it came down to was Aya was his teammate and a friend, albeit a cold and distant one. The man had risked his life for him and would continue to do so. Ken didn't have anything in this world other than Weiß. His kids were important to him, but they were an escape; Omi, Yohji and Aya were his support. He couldn't turn his back on one of his own. He just needed to find a way to deal with his anger and prejudice. If the emotions were even his own. God, he _hated_ being used, especially by some foreign bastard.

Glancing about the room once more, Ken wondered if he'd ever have something like this in his life. A safe haven for him and a lover to retreat to. It was a perfect balance of Yohji and Aya's tastes and lifestyles, showing the effort they'd put into the relationship and the compromises they'd made. What was it like to have someone who did compromise, who didn't only demand from you? Kase and Yuriko both had been set in their ways, leaving him as the one to adapt and tag along. That was in part why he hesitated to confess his feelings to Omi. The teenager came off as gentle and easy-going, but there was a core of steel in him, which far surpassed that of his previous lovers, and him as well. Ken didn't want to be a follower anymore; he wanted to be an equal.

How much of his recent feelings towards Aya were because of jealousy? Aya had the relationship that he desperately wanted, had someone there for him no matter what. Mastermind had used the emotion once before to twist his thoughts. What if he hadn't completely shaken off the prick's influence? Ken smacked his fists into the cushions, hating the fact that he was second-guessing himself like this. All because a sick fuck of a telepath had decided he wanted Aya and had to go about getting him in such a round about fashion. Why couldn't he stick with flowers and candy?

Ken smiled as he imagined Mastermind showing up with a box of chocolate and some roses, only to end up being cut in half by a sword. Then he sobered when he remembered the flowers from last night. The mere sight of them had caused Aya to go almost into a trance and seemed to shake him even more than whatever had happened on the water tower. Nope, as bad as his head had been messed with, it was nothing compared to what had happened to Aya. There'd been no shi-ne's, no headlong and hopeless chases after Schwarz, no more futilely tossing about his katana. The situation wasn’t very good when Aya's infamous temper was nowhere to be seen.

So where did that leave him? He didn't have the slightest clue. In other words, a typical Hidaka situation. God alone knew why his karma was so fucked up. Ken shook his head and left the room.

After grabbing an energy bar and some coffee for breakfast, he finished getting ready and went down to the Koneko to start his shift. Ken smiled slightly when he found Yohji sitting behind the register, busy flirting with a pretty woman as he rung up her purchase and wished her a good day.

Glancing about, he spotted Aya walking over to his table, carrying a bucket of flowers in each hand. Ken's stomach twisted at the sight of the pale man, until Aya noticed him. He could only stand there as Aya gazed back at him impassively before ducking his head and continuing on his way. No hello or good morning, not even a grunt of acknowledgement. Nothing. But considering his attitude towards Aya lately, did he even deserve one?

"Hey, Kenken, nice of you to finally join us down here."

"Shut up, Yohji. You have no room to talk, considering your track record." Ken walked over to the register and leaned against the counter. "What are you doing out of bed?"

Yohji made an annoyed face and stuck his tongue out at him. "Not you too. The leg's healing just fine, and I didn't want to deprive my adoring crowd of my magnificent presence any longer."

What a swelled head. But if not even Aya could completely deflate Kudoh's ego, what did he expect? "I hate to say it, Yohji, but I think that somehow, they could manage without you. Right, Aya?"

There was no response from the redhead. Ken looked back at Aya, who was staring at the white rose in his hand.

"Aya?"

Looking over at Yohji, Ken found the blond to be gazing at his boyfriend with a worried expression on his face.

"Aya? Love? You there at all?" Yohji frowned as he reached for his cane. "Hey, kitten." Still nothing. Ken was starting to be concerned himself. Usually Aya would be bitching Yohji out for calling him that name in public.

"Yo, sweetie?"

That seemed to do the trick, as Aya dropped the flower to glare viciously at Yohji before snarling.

"Don't _ever_ call me that, Kudoh."

Yohji didn't seem very upset over seriously pissing off his boyfriend. He hobbled over to Aya and yanked on an eartail.

"You were zoning out on us back there. Everything all right?"

Aya closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, the dazed look from last night was back on his face. Ken felt the last of his anger fade away at the sight of Aya appearing completely shaken, even if only for a moment. Then the normal veneer of icy disdain returned.

"I'm fine, Yohji."

Yohji didn't seem to be buying the answer. His face angry, he leaned down to whisper something in Aya's ear. The smaller man first sighed, and then after making sure that there were no customers in the shop, whispered something back.

The two men carried on the quiet conversation for several minutes. All the while, Ken tried to appear busy up at the register, wiping things down and rearranging supplies while sneaking glances at the couple. The talk ended with Yohji kissing Aya tenderly before limping back up front.

Noting the serious look on his teammate's face, Ken decided that it might be a good time to sweep the floor. Anything that would distract him from the somber mood that had overtaken the Koneko.

He had barely taken two steps away from the counter when Yohji quietly called out his name. Turning around, Ken looked at Yohji questioningly.

"Promise me something."

"What?"

Yohji's mouth tightened into a grim line. "I want Mastermind. I know you want him dead by your hands, but I need to be the one to do it. Leave him to me."

About to protest that he deserved to be the one to kill the telepath, Ken paused before he opened his mouth and looked back at Aya. Who was busy pulling white roses out of the arrangement he'd been working on. Precog or not, he'd had his head fucked with much worse than Ken had.

"All right. I'll give you first shot at him. But if you fail to take him down, I get a turn."

Yohji nodded his head. "Fair enough."

"Hey, Yohji." Ken made sure he had the man's undivided attention before continuing. "Are you sure we can trust him anymore? Aya, I mean. His head's been messed with pretty badly for him not to be going all 'shi-ne' on us."

The amount of venom that filled the green eyes glaring at him made Ken take a step backwards.

"Don't ever ask that again, Hidaka," Yohji warned in a low voice. "Yeah, the Bastard's fucked about in Aya's head, but we can still trust him. Besides, Mastermind's trying to convince Aya that we'll be the ones doing the betraying, not the other way around."

The words filled Ken with dread, and he walked away without another comment. So they were supposed to betray Aya? With a sinking feeling in his gut, Ken wondered just how Mastermind intended for the rest of Weiß to go about that, and if he'd unknowingly already set about doing just that.

*******

"Schuldig, light that cigarette here in my office, and you'll regret it."

The lighter halfway to his mouth, Schuldig paused and thought up a suitable retort. But something on Crawford's face made him click the lighter shut. He remembered that it wasn't always a very smart thing to do, pissing the American off, especially considering how obliging Crawford had been lately. He could afford to humor the man.

However, he couldn't resist tossing the cigarette aside onto the floor, making his leader frown. "I live to obey, mein Führer."

"And I'm the pope. Why must you always cause trouble?"

"Because it’s what I do." That answer seemed to placate Crawford, and he went back to his paperwork. Schuldig watched him for a couple of minutes, and then sighed as he sat on the edge of the desk.

"You know, you called me in here. Was it for some other reason besides letting me near your sanctified presence?"

Blue eyes regarded him levelly for a moment then the precog reclined in his leather chair.

"I met with Schreient today. The women wanted to know when they’ll get their revenge against Weiß."

Ah, so that’s where Crawford had gone off to. He’d wondered. "What did you tell them? And how’s the girl?"

"Interesting that you should ask. She’s still in the same condition as before; there’s no obvious trauma from her removal from the hospital. As for Schreient, I told them they would have to wait a while longer." Crawford paused to straighten his blue tie, making it lie flat on his white and blue pinstriped shirt. "They want his blood, you know."

"They won’t get it. I’ll make sure of that." No one harmed Aya, not while he was alive. Schuldig’s hand slid under his green jacket and stroked the handle of his gun. "If we didn’t need them for the moment, I’d kill the bitches right now."

"But we do need them, and their knowledge. Once we have everything that the Elders want, we can dispatch them and snatch the girl." There was another pause, as the American leaned forward and rested his arms on top of his desk. "It’s amazing how no one suspects anything about the brother, considering how special the girl is. If one sibling has a talent…."

Crawford was referring to Aya-chan’s refusal to age. Schuldig wasn’t about to tell his leader it was Aya’s talent at work, and not the girl’s. "They’d have expected him to have used it by now, if he possessed any. Besides, there are already a few suspicious people."

"Such as Kritiker. How are things on that front? Did Berserker enjoy himself?"

Schuldig smirked at his companion. "Oh, very much. Though he didn’t leave her with much blood. No, another visit and she’ll be primed to snap. Then Kritiker will have to back off of Abyssinian for a while, which will be more than enough time for our plans to bear fruit."

Nodding his head, Crawford let his eyes grow distant. "Mastermind, I want her to do the most damage possible. We have a golden opportunity, one that Schwarz should capitalize on. Some very important people have taken an interest in Abyssinian, and it would benefit us if they were eliminated."

"What have you seen, Oracle?"

The smile Schuldig provoked with his question was in no way reassuring or benevolent. "Many things. Including a way to cripple Kritiker, which is in part why I’ve let you and Berserker have your fun. All I ask is that a certain woman doesn’t live past Thursday."

He’d known there would be some sort of strings attached to Brad’s acquiescence towards Aya. But Schuldig really didn’t mind, not in the least. One more threat to his love would be eliminated, and Oracle would owe him.

"Ah, this woman wouldn’t happen to smoke too much, would she?" When Crawford dipped his head the slightest bit, Schuldig smiled. "Consider the job done. I can make sure Arai goes out in a spectacular fashion. It’ll be my pleasure."

"Good. Now I’m sorry to inform you that I’ll be depriving you of your kitty’s presence tonight, as we have a matter to take care of unrelated to our current assignment."

Schuldig pouted for a moment, until he thought about how long it had been since he’d had one of his special dreams with his tuberose. Aya had been too unstable after the abduction of his sister, but he’d calmed down these past two weeks. Besides, he couldn’t let the opportunity that Balinese had presented him with pass. He could twist Aya’s fears of being abandoned by the blond to his benefit.

"Don’t worry, I’ll live on somehow. What does tonight’s job consist of?"

"Finding out where a certain banker has embezzled some funds, and killing him and his family as a warning to anyone else who would think of stealing from Esset."

"Ah, that means Farfie gets to play. Better break out the raincoats. I take it that we won’t ‘find’ all of the money?"

Crawford graced him with the same cold smile as before. "Of course. We never do."

*******

Aya stared down at the flower he was repotting, taking comfort in its pink and dark green foliage. He didn’t want to see another white flower for some time to come. Not when the sight of them had him flashing back to holding Schuldig close to him, letting the man kiss and caress him. No, those weren’t thoughts he wanted to dwell on at the moment.

Neither did he want to spend any more time in the front of the shop with Hidaka. The man was trying to drive him mad. One moment he glared and muttered at him, and the next he was so damn helpful that he was constantly in Aya’s way. It had even attracted Yohji and Omi’s attention, causing the two blonds to look on rather puzzlingly, and with a touch of jealousy as well. As soon as the last orders had been completed and the fan club descended upon the Koneko, Aya had decided there were several pressing matters requiring his attention in the greenhouse. The past hour or so had been spent tending to the neglected plants.

Hearing dragging footsteps, he looked up to see Yohji limping towards him. Aya pressed his lips together in a frown, but he had to admit that his lover wasn’t moving about as stiffly as he had earlier that day. It seemed the bit of exercise was helping the wound to recover.

"If you fall down…"

"I know, I know, you’ll just step over my writhing body and carry on with your duties. Such a devoted lover you are." Yohji sidled next to him, and the next thing Aya knew he was being kissed with a great deal of enthusiasm. Not minding the situation too terribly much, he wrapped his arms around the taller man and kissed back as he tugged off his work gloves, drinking in how Yohji’s presence always made him feel warm and cherished. It would hurt so much if the man ever left him.

Growling softly, Aya broke off the kiss and nestled his head against Yohji’s neck, breathing in the man’s scent and letting his body heat soak into his chilled flesh.

"Hey, kitten, is everything all right?"

"Yohji, promise me that you won’t ever leave." He needed to hear the words from Yohji, needed some sort of reassurance. Aya didn’t want to think of the vision that had recently plagued him, of him turning to Schuldig because of something Yohji had done to hurt him.

A hand stroked through his hair. "I’ll never leave you, Aya. I need you too much to do that. Get used to having me around."

Grateful that Yohji hadn’t decided to chide him yet again over his doubts, Aya lifted his head and kissed him. All his uncertainties vanished at the way Yohji clutched him tight, one hand buried in his hair and another around his waist, hugging him close. Right then he felt safe and complete. Aya closed his eyes and gave in to the moment. He didn’t know whose idea it was or how they managed to move, but the next thing Aya was aware of was kneeling on top of Yohji’s lap, the two of them naked and seated on top of one of the tables.

Slick fingers pressed inside him, and he thrust his hips downward, wanting them in even deeper. Yohji’s mouth was on his neck, licking and sucking, and he repeated the blond’s name over and over, only to fall silent with a mewl when something thicker and hotter pushed its way inside him. Aya became lost in the sensations, giving in to the pleasure and Yohji, riding him with a desperate frenzy. He needed this, needed to have Yohji in him, joined together so the man could never leave.

When he came, minutes later, it was with Yohji’s name on his lips, his heart thudding so frantically he thought it might burst through his chest. Aya moaned when his lover came as well, half at the feel of being filled with warmth, half at the moment’s end, and knowing they’d lose this connection and become two once more. He rested his forehead against Yohji’s and just held on to the man, not wanting to be the one to pull away first.

"Oh gods… that was… you trying to kill me or something, kitten?" Aya gazed curiously at Yohji, wondering what he was talking about. He was graced with a wide grin, Yohji’s face sweaty and red, and a quick kiss on the lips. "You’re gonna put me back in the hospital, not that I’m complaining."

"Hn." Remembering Yohji’s wound, Aya reluctantly slid off the man’s lap, but curled up next to him on the table. They sat there for several minutes, their arms around each other, until Yohji groaned and reluctantly stood, clutching the table for support.

"Damn, the leg’s getting stiff." He bent down to examine his wound closely, and then flashed Aya a grin. "Stitches are fine. In fact, they look about ready to come out."

Aya stood to his feet as well and checked the wound himself. It did seem to be healing rather quickly, just as his ribs and arm were. He shivered for a moment, wondering if it was his power at work, then pushed the thought aside as he searched about for something to wipe himself off with.

It took them a moment to find their clothes, which had been tossed all over the place, and they dressed in silence. Once that was done, Aya quickly finished the plant he’d been working on when Yohji had distracted him, and put away his tools and the bag of potting soil. He automatically reached out to snatch the cigarette Yohji was about to light.

"Not in the greenhouse."

"Ah, come on, Aya, it’s customary to smoke after fantastic sex. Hell, that almost made up for not being able to fool around in here for a whole damn week." Yohji first pouted at him then leered, causing Aya to roll his eyes as he walked towards the door.

"Yohji, going one day without doing it is a great tragedy in your life. You’re oversexed."

Moving quickly despite his leg, Yohji managed to catch up to Aya and wrap his arms around him tightly. Soft lips brushed along the back of his neck, making him shiver.

"Are you complaining?"

"No." Not when Yohji could make him forget his troubles like he just had, or reassure Aya just by being close. The two of them continued on their way and walked into a quiet Koneko. Ken was busy sweeping the floor, and Omi was starting to put away some of the plants. Aya grabbed one of Yohji’s hands and tugged him over to the register, where the injured man could sit as he counted the till.

"Great, now it’s safe for me to put the flowers back in the conservatory. You’re so predictable, Yohji-kun." Omi frowned at Yohji for a moment, but the look was soon ruined by his smile. "I guess you must be feeling better."

"Chibi, the day I’m too hurt to play in the greenhouse with Aya is the day you should just shoot me and put an end to my misery."

"It’s a deal, Yohji-kun." Omi laughed out loud and giggled, darting across the room to avoid the various objects Yohji was tossing at him. Aya just sighed and resumed counting the cash, but a smile teased at his lips when Yohji scooted his stool right next to him and sat there, an arm about his waist as he handled the money.

"So, what do you want to do tonight? Takeout and a movie sound good? I’ll even let you pick." They should be able to have a little peace and quiet together before Aya had to partake in any surveillance.

Aya arched an eyebrow at his boyfriend, and then thought the matter over. "Thai and Bogart?" That way he’d have his spicy food but Yohji could order something a little more to his taste, and both of them enjoyed old American films.

"You’ve got yourself a deal. We’ll spend the night cuddled in bed, giving me some time to recuperate from just now." Yohji waggled his eyebrows, making his sunglasses slide up and down his nose in such a manner that Aya had to bite his lips to keep from smiling.

As he finished counting the money, he quickly separated the bills and change, getting it ready for a deposit. Once that was done, he glanced up to see Ken staring at him, a wistful look on his face. Uncomfortable with the attention, and half afraid that it would turn into the look of disgust and anger that Ken had been wearing in his presence the past day, Aya glanced back down busying himself with his task

*******

Cassandra stood before a blooming rose bush, stroking a white petal edged in crimson. The plant was growing prodigiously, sprouting new buds and leaves each day. She tended to it carefully, sensing she would have need of it later that night. It was time for another revelation, this time for the golden knight. The magician was about to be too greedy, as usual for him, but she was prepared beforehand. It would be a betrayal, but hopefully one that would offset another. And, a warning as well.

"One for sorrow, two for joy. But will this blackbird hear? Three for girl, four for boy. One and one and one, or two and two. Odds are sorrow, evens joy, but all paths lead to one. Or they won’t. The crossroads will decide." She nodded her head as she tended to the plant. For the knight and his lover, she hoped for evens, but it would be one and none for her masters, and that destiny came first. All there was for her to do for the moment was tend to her garden.

*******

Smoke lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, a smile curling her lips ever so slightly as nicotine coursed through her body once more. Her craving satisfied, she waved the cigarette at her companion, indicating the report spread across her desk.

"I have video and audio tapes available from her sessions with Orchidee, if you’re interested." She pointed to the stack.

Gaijin nodded his head. "Are you positive that the ‘curse’ is striking again? Perhaps we merely gave her too much responsibility, and that’s behind her sudden odd behavior."

"No, I don’t think so. Dr. Oshin reported that it was as if she felt no pain at all, in fact she seemed to derive pleasure from the injury, and the doctor attending her commented that she was very adamant about not removing her shirt or jacket, and that he thought he saw evidence of more bandages underneath her clothes. Dr. Arai has never shown a tendency for cutting herself before."

She watched as the foreign man digested the information. Gaijin was very gifted in assimilating data and forming a cohesive conclusion, and often balanced her reliance on intuition and foresight. His opinion was being sought on this matter.

"I see… it seems that Mastermind is still interested in Orchidee, in my opinion. If the doctor is becoming as unstable as you say. She has a bit of a checkered past, but Arai wouldn’t have been picked if it was suspected she couldn’t handle the task." Gaijin regarded Smoke intently for a moment. "I assume that she’s asked Orchidee about the telepath."

"Yes, and he’s denied any contact with the man outside of the one mission. Arai indicates that she sensed no falsehood from him, and she’s quite talented in that regard."

The blond man stroked his chin for a moment. "Perhaps he’s taking on a more… reserved role this time. Avoiding any direct confrontations with Orchidee, but still manipulating things from the shadows. Even if that’s the case, we can still use Orchidee to lure him into the open."

Grinding out her cigarette, Smoke immediately lit another one. "My feelings exactly." Her eyes watched as smoke tendrils climbed to the ceiling and felt a tingle from her talent. "They’re tied together, I’ve always known that, and I don’t see the bonds breaking any time soon. There’s hope of us converting Mastermind to our side, possibly others in Schwarz as well, and then using them against Esset. But Orchidee is the key… I just wish the others and I could see things more clearly." All she knew, from the first moment she’d seen the redheaded man’s dossier, was that his fate would be intricately tied with Kritiker’s, and to ensure the organization’s prosperity meant having him firmly under its control.

"Something is still blocking your and the other precogs’ visions?"

She nodded her head, lips pressed tight in frustration.

"Ah, how unfortunate." Gaijin began to gather up the tapes and reports. "I assume then, that you’ll continue to keep a close eye on Orchidee and Arai?"

"Yes. I want to be nearby during the next session and witness the effect she has on the man personally." Also, Smoke wanted to gauge Dr. Arai’s instability. She had dark feelings over the matter, but once again, couldn’t see anything clearly. For a moment she wondered why she and the other psychics that Kritiker employed failed to see so much of the future that surrounded Orchidee, but couldn’t come up with any answer that didn’t seem rather farfetched.

"We’ll see if she succeeds this time or not. If there are no results… I’m seriously considering isolating Orchidee and examining him myself." Gaijin appeared stunned at her announcement, as she and Old Man had always advocated leaving the young talent with his group. "I know, I’ve always insisted that it’s very important that he remains in Weiß, but there are a few answers that I’m looking for. Once I’ve found them, he can always be returned to the team." Or other steps could be taken, depending on the results.

Nodding his head, the foreigner bowed slightly. "I’ll leave the matter in your hands. After all, you’re best suited for the task. See you in a couple of hours." He departed her office, and Smoke sighed as she thought of the budget meeting they had to attend later that evening. It would be best if she spent the time til then going over matters in her own department and grabbing a bite to eat. Most likely, the meeting would drag on for hours, especially since Frown would be attending. Gathering up the materials she needed, Smoke felt a sudden chill wrack her body. The sensation was most unpleasant and left her with an inexplicable feeling of dread for the rest of the night.

*******

Ken watched as Aya dried the dishes with Yohji at his side, insisting on ‘helping’. That seemed to entail him pinning the smaller man against the sink as he reached to put various dishes Aya had just wiped into the cupboards. The blond wasn’t heeding the snarling sounds his lover was making, other than to rip the towel out of Aya’s hands and kiss him until the sound ceased. Glancing over at the clock, Ken sipped his cup of coffee and then quietly muttered the number six.

Beside him, Omi flashed a quick grin and coughed out the number four. Both of them pretended to be very interested in their beverages, sneaking quick looks at the couple and the clock in-between sips.

Seven minutes later, Yohji finally pulled away from Aya and glared at the two of them. "There, you’re both wrong."

"Wah, Yotan, you always spoil our bets." Omi rested his chin on his clasped hands and pouted, somehow appearing the personification of abject misery for a moment. The impression was ruined when Yohji leaned over and ruffled his hair.

"Of course I do, chibi, that’s what’s so fun. Now we’re heading upstairs once the popcorn is done, and most likely I won’t see you til dawn. Who’s opening the shop tomorrow?"

Omi tried to restore his hair to some sort of order. "Ken opens, and you and Aya are supposed to help him for the lunch rush. Do you feel up to working another day?"

"Come on, Omi, he’s been standing on the leg for the past twenty minutes or so, and certainly seemed ‘frisky’ this afternoon." Ken glanced over at Yohji, who was sticking his tongue out at him. For his part, Aya was busy preparing the popcorn for their snack. "For an invalid, he seems to be in pretty good shape, he could probably open the Koneko by himself."

Yohji made a big production out of toying with his watch, pulling out a length of wire and letting it snap back into place. "Just you try and drag me out of bed tomorrow, Hidaka, and you’ll be the one who’s injured."

"Whatever, Kudoh." Getting up to refill his coffee mug, Ken accidentally brushed against Aya as he snagged a foot on the floor rug in front of the sink. The redhead flinched away from him, a guarded expression on his face. Ken didn’t say anything, just stood there as Aya cleaned up the small bit of popcorn he’d spilled and left the kitchen without a word. Yohji followed his boyfriend after sparing a decidedly unfriendly glance his way.

Standing there with an empty mug in his hand, Ken tried to figure out the situation he now found himself in. He wanted to apologize to Aya for his behavior the past day, but was extremely uncomfortable explaining why he’d been so rude and angry. Not to mention the fact that Aya refused to have anything to do with him, being even more quiet and distant than usual. With a sigh, he refilled his coffee and sat back down at the table.

Only to glance over at Omi, and find the boy staring at him inquisitively. Ken frowned as he sipped his coffee, suddenly uncomfortable with the scrutiny.

"Ken, is something going on between you and Aya? There seems to be some friction between the two of you lately."

How did he come out and say Aya was a freak and that he didn’t know if he could trust the man anymore? But that he was determined to salvage their friendship anyway, which wasn’t the strongest to begin with, because he felt guilty and wanted to prove Mastermind wrong? Great, not even his thoughts made sense anymore. Not sure what to do, Ken just grunted into his coffee cup.

Omi didn’t seem to want to give the topic up. "You’ve been acting angry towards him ever since your session with Dr. Arai. You know it wasn’t his fault, us having to see her."

"I know, Omi," Ken sighed as he set his cup down, grateful that his friend had supplied him with an excuse. "At least, I do now. It’s just… the session was so bad, I guess I took my frustration out on him."

There was a look of pain on the teenager’s face that made Ken want to hold him close and reassure him that everything was all right. Omi hugged his arms around his stomach and hunched over in his chair.

"Yes, the sessions were… bad." Ken wondered what the psychiatric bitch had done to Omi and felt the urge to gut the woman the next time he saw her. "But it’s not Aya’s fault. He’s going through enough, what with seeing her every week, his sister missing and Yohji being injured, and now Mastermind."

"Yeah, well, Yohji seems to have made quite the miraculous recovery. Hell, with how quickly he’s healing, he’ll be able to tag along in another few days."

"Yes, he’s quite determined to be back on active duty as soon as possible. You’d think he’d enjoy having Aya take care of him a little longer." There was a smile on Omi’s face at the thought, but it soon faded away.

Most likely because he was thinking of why Yohji wanted to be participating in missions as soon as possible. Ken jerked on a strand of his bangs as he sighed out loud. "Omi… do you trust Aya? What with all the stuff Mastermind’s been doing to him lately?"

Omi didn’t pause to answer. "Of course I do. He’s never done anything to hurt us." Then what his own words implied sunk in, and he smiled hesitantly at Ken. "I mean…"

"I know what you mean, Omi." Aya wasn’t the one who had been twisted about until he attacked his fellow teammates. That honor was reserved for him. "I just… _he’s_ changed Aya so much, I want to be sure he won’t let us down during a fight." That was part of his anger towards Aya the past day. Ken didn’t want another friend to betray him, didn’t think he could take that happening to him again. "I don’t want anyone to be hurt because of him."

"He won’t hurt us, Ken-kun, I’m sure of that." Omi’s voice rang with conviction. "I don’t know what Mastermind’s plan is, but I don’t think it’s that. He wants Aya too much and would have done that already if that was what he’s after."

Ken’s face flushed for a moment as he recalled Yohji’s words. About how Mastermind wanted Weiß to be the ones who did the betraying, and he’d started to fall into that trap already. Now that he was trying to make amends, Aya didn’t want anything to do with him. Nothing seemed to go right for him.

"He won’t betray us."

"I… I know that, but I guess I just need to hear it from someone else once in a while, Omi." Ken gulped down the rest of his coffee and rose to his feet. He crossed over to the sink and washed the cup, but paused when he saw the discarded dishtowel. Looking up at the ceiling, he suddenly wondered how much of his attitude towards Aya was because the man had something he so desperately wanted. Arai had kept throwing his failed relationships in his face during that hour session and had even known about Yuriko somehow. That Aya, an anti-social freak, had found someone to love and trust, and he was still alone….

"Ken, is everything all right?"

"Yeah, Omi, it’s fine."

"Okay." The room was silent for a moment, and then Omi continued on, his voice carrying a hint of authority. "Ken, please don’t be difficult with Aya-kun during the mission tonight. We need to be in top form, considering we’ve run across Schwarz once already, and since Yohji and Aya are still injured. We can’t afford to be fighting amongst ourselves."

He turned around to face his friend. "I’m not angry with him any longer; if anything, he’s upset with me. But I won’t doubt him anymore."

The tension drained from Omi’s face, and he offered Ken a smile. "Good. What are your plans for this evening?"

"I’m gonna go for a walk." The evening wasn’t too hot, and he needed to walk around, maybe go to a park and just breathe in deep the scent of grass and fresh air. They only had a couple of hours before Weiß had to continue watching the smuggling ring, and he wanted to enjoy himself much like Yohji and Aya were. Didn’t he deserve the same contentment they had found?

Suddenly feeling very bold, he returned Omi’s smile. Worrying and sulking wasn’t getting him anywhere; if Aya, of all people, could take a chance on happiness, so could he. How did he know that the fear of betrayal wasn’t another of Mastermind’s games, a means of carrying out his plan to sever the redhead from Weiß?

"Why don’t you come with me? It’s too nice a night to waste it inside, and we won’t be able to enjoy it later."

Omi’s face became suffused with joy, and the younger man immediately jumped to his feet and raced to the door. Ken laughed at the sight, his heart feeling light for the first time in ages. Maybe he’d have second thoughts in a few days, and he didn’t know how far he was willing to take things at the moment, but he was sick of denying himself happiness because of his fears. He wanted what Yohji and Aya had too much, and decided to trust not only Aya, but Omi as well.

*******

Yohji snuggled closer to Aya, humming softly as he spooned behind his love. Aya had come home from the mission exhausted and drawn and had barely said a word to him until after taking a shower. Once the man was clean and curled up in bed, Yohji had been able to coax the night’s events from him. Aya had been grouchy and quiet at first, but had finally opened up after he’d pointed out that their new resolve to talk to each other wouldn’t work if one of them kept their mouths shut.

Aya had spent the night crawling around a filthy warehouse, tense at the prospect of Mastermind and the rest of Schwarz appearing at any moment. Being on edge the entire time was what had made him so tired, and he was clearly relieved to be back safe at home. Yohji had treated his boyfriend to a massage and had managed to relax him enough that Aya had fallen asleep on him.

He’d spent his time at home doing exercises, to the point that his leg now ached from exertion. But Yohji was bound and determined that Aya wouldn’t be going out without him for much longer. No, another night or two and he should be able to take part in any surveillance that Weiß was requested to do. Let the Bastard try messing with Aya’s head while he was present.

Groaning a little as overworked muscles protested, Yohji scooted closer to Aya. His kitten sighed and clutched the arm around his waist tighter to him. A smile on his lips, Yohji tucked Aya’s head under his chin and let himself drift off to sleep. He hoped that tonight’s rest wouldn’t be full of nightmares like last night, and his last thought was of making sure he held on to Aya tight enough to ensure that the man didn’t sneak off on him in the morning.

*******

Aya groggily became aware of someone shaking him awake. He opened one eye to glare at the culprit, who turned out to be Yohji. He instantly came awake when he saw the look on his lover’s face. Opening the other eye, he sat up in bed with a frown on his face. A painful headache was making itself known to him, and for some reason he felt inexplicably sad.

"What’s wrong?"

Yohji rubbed his right hand over his face at the question and suddenly yanked it away and stared at it for a moment, and Aya noticed a line about one of his fingers, as if from wearing a ring.

"Kudoh." Aya snapped out the name, not in the mood to puzzle out what had gotten into the blond. He pressed his hands to his temples as the pain continued to build, and with a sinking feeling he realized that he was suffering from another migraine. Aya closed his eyes, partially in pain and partially at the thought of not being able to do much the next day or so because of the attack. Why now?

"Aya, I want to know what you were dreaming about just now."

The question stunned him, and he looked at Yohji trying to make sense out of the man’s words. Yohji repeated them, and when Aya didn’t answer he reached out and grabbed his hands, yanking them down from his head and using them to pull Aya against him.

"What were you dreaming about? Tell me, Aya." Yohji’s voice was harsh and his demeanor serious, almost desperate.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was asleep." The pain was making it hard to focus, and Aya tried to pull away. He needed to take his medication before the headache got much worse, and he felt so tired.

"Bullshit. You were dreaming Aya, I heard you talking. What was it about? Who was in your dreams?"

None of this was making any sense to him, and Aya found himself torn between getting out of bed and curling up against Yohji. His emotions in turmoil, he closed his eyes and tried once more to jerk his hands free.

Yohji refused to let go of him, in fact he shifted over until Aya was trapped underneath him. "Aya, love, please. What were you dreaming about?"

"Kudoh, leave me alone, my head hurts." The words didn’t come out in the snarl he’d intended, but sounded more like a plea. Aya gazed up at his lover, wondering why the man was treating him like this.

Emerald green eyes stared at him, filled with concern. For an instant, Aya reflected that they were the wrong shade, and then flinched as his headache intensified.

"You were dreaming, Aya. I woke up and heard you say ‘Schu’. You were dreaming about _him_, weren’t you? Please, tell me what happened."

Trying to breathe through the pain, Aya stopped struggling and truly thought about what Yohji had said. He’d called out Schu’s name? Why? And why wasn’t he remembering things, if the telepath had paid him another dream visit?

His speech halting, Aya tried to answer the questions. "I… I don’t…" Why couldn’t he remember his dream? He almost always did, much to his regret. But all that he was left with was vague impressions. "There was pain… I was tired. We… we were leaving, and I was upset…" A flash of pleasure made Aya gasp, a vivid glimpse of him in bed with Schu, but it was unlike his usual vision of the two of them together.

"Why were you leaving, Aya, and who was with you?" Yohji sat back on his heels, wincing for a moment and then dragged Aya upright along with him. Strong hands held him close, and he rested his head against Yohji’s shoulder as the man stretched out his wounded leg.

"Schu- Schuldig was there. And the others." It was so hard to focus on the dream, and the more he tried the more his head hurt. Yet his stubborn nature had been awakened, and he wanted to know about the dream just as much as Yohji did. Something was wrong here. "But we weren’t fighting."

Yohji sighed and held him closer. "Why were you leaving?"

Brows furrowed with concentration, Aya tried to grab ahold of the dream once more and force it to make sense. Suddenly a piece of it became clear, and he struggled against Yohji’s hold.

"You bastard, you left me. You lied. You fucking liar, you left me." He needed to get away from Yohji, needed to break free of the bastard’s arms. Yohji had lied to him, had broken his promises and tossed Aya aside, just like Schu had said he would.

But the older man wouldn’t let him go. "Fuck, Aya, I’m right here. I didn’t leave you, I’m right here, holding you. It was just a fucking dream. Stop it."

Continuing to struggle, Aya didn’t heed his words. He wanted to be free, had to get away before Yohji hurt him again. There was pain from his left arm, but it was nothing compared to that from his head and his heart.

Strong arms wrapped around him, and he was pressed back down on the bed. "For fuck’s sake, Aya, stop it! You’re hurting yourself. I didn’t leave you, I’m right here." Unable to fight back any longer, Aya stopped struggling and lay there, panting. The arms remained about him for another moment then slowly shifted away. A hand stroked through his hair.

"Kitten, I’m right here." Turning his head into the caress, Aya wearily gazed up at Yohji, taking in the tousled hair and a forming bruise along the man’s right cheek. Reaching out with his hand, Aya lightly touched the injury. Yohji caught his fingers and pressed them against his lips. "I’m here."

"You left me."

"The hell I did." Yohji’s face became angry for a moment, and then turned worried once more. "I didn’t leave you. It was just a dream, Aya."

Just a dream. He closed his eyes, suddenly feeling extremely exhausted. The scent of roses teased at him for a moment, but soon faded under a new assault from the pain.

"My head hurts."

The hand resumed its stroking, and Aya was once more lifted into a sitting position.

"I’m sure it does. I’ll get your medicine in a minute, but answer me this, love. How long have you been having these dreams? How often?"

He growled for a moment, pissed off that Yohji had to keep bothering him when all he wanted was for the pain to go away so he could fall back asleep. Why couldn’t Kudoh leave him alone? But then the thought of the blond doing just that had Aya clutching him tight.

"Shh, it’s alright, I’m here. Do you know how long you’ve been having these dreams?"

Aya tried to push past the pain and think coherently. "I… I don’t know. I don’t remember…" It was so hard to think with the headache, and he felt so tired and sad. "Wait… the last bad headache." He’d felt the same way when he’d awakened that time, filled with melancholy and exhaustion, afraid to find Yohji gone.

"Shit." Yohji held him tighter and kissed him on the forehead. "Your migraines. You’ve only had them at night, lately. Like now. The Bastard’s doing something to your dreams, Aya."

How Yohji could be so sure of that, he didn’t know. Maybe things would make sense in the morning, when the pain was gone, but for the moment everything other than Yohji’s arms about him was too hazy to focus on.

"Yohji…"

"Alright, love, one second." One of the arms left him, and Aya shifted closer to Yohji. His lover muttered under his breath for a moment, leaning towards the right, and then sat back down on the bed. "Here." The pills were pressed into his hand. At that instant Aya remembered Schuldig doing the same thing, and him feeling just as tired and in almost as much pain. Aya shuddered, for a second unable to tell which was real and which was a dream, until Yohji kissed him on the temple.

"Hey, there’s a little soda left for you to wash them down with." Aya swallowed the pills and then the warm beverage Yohji handed him. "I know, it’s flat and warm, but we don’t want you to get sick on alcohol like you did last time." That comment earned Yohji a weak glare, but he didn’t seem to mind it a bit. Aya found himself shifted about until he was resting on Yohji’s lap, his head tucked under the man’s chin. A hand caressed his cheek, a soothing touch that helped center him. This was real, the touch and Yohji and holding him close.

"You left me, and it hurt so much." Aya didn’t know if the words were an accusation or simply a stated fact.

"Only in the dream, Aya. Not in real life. But what else happened?"

The more he tried to remember, the quicker the dream faded away. "I… something about Aya-chan. Schu promised to keep her safe, and all he wanted.…"

"Hmm, yes?"

"Me." There was a memory of a bargain, of standing before the German, chilled and wet, and offering himself for his sister. Then the pain spiked once more, causing Aya to wince in agony, and the recollection was gone.

Yohji ran his fingers along Aya’s jaw and down his throat. "Well, you’re not his, and you never will be. The fucking Bastard, that’s how he’s been messing with your mind, how he’s made you doubt me. He fed you some bullshit about me leaving you." A finger toyed with his earring for a moment. "That’ll never happen. You’re the one I’ve chosen. I don’t care what she said, there’s no choice to make."

The man’s words weren’t making any sense, and Aya felt sleep pull at him once more. A part of him tried to resist, afraid that he’d wake up and Yohji would be gone, but it was a losing battle. At least the sound of Yohji’s voice chased him down into unconsciousness, a faint reassurance that the man was still there.

*******

Yohji stroked a hand through Aya’s hair, taking in how pale his love looked. There were dark circles under the closed eyes, and Aya was limp in his arms, bonelessly exhausted. He remained sitting there, holding the redhead close, for several more minutes before lying back down on the bed.

He adjusted Aya until the man was resting against him, his head on Yohji’s chest. His hand resumed its actions, untangling crimson strands until they were smooth. For a moment it felt as if a band was constricting about his ring finger on his right hand, but when Yohji held it before his face, he couldn’t see a thing.

Pushing the mystery from his thoughts, he wrapped his arms around Aya. How could he have been so stupid? The answer had been right there all along, and he’d missed it. How Aya would change after the headaches, how he would doubt him and their relationship. But something had clicked tonight, Aya’s halting answers finally making sense.

He wished there was a way to raise the dead, so he could kill Mastermind again and again. Yohji rubbed his cheek against Aya’s head and thought of the various ways to vivisect the Bastard. It was bad enough he was messing with his kitten in the first place, but to do so through his dreams… how did one fight that?

But at least they now knew and could work together to undo the damage already done. If history repeated itself, Aya would be spending the day in bed, in too much pain to see straight. Well, that gave him a perfect opportunity to talk some sense into his lover, as Aya would be a captive audience. He wouldn’t stop until the stubborn fool realised he wasn’t going anywhere and stopped calling the Bastard ‘Schu’. After that, all Yohji could do was wait for Weiß and Schwarz’s paths to cross again

*******

Schuldig sat up straight, cursing furiously under his breath. The goddamned man-whore had ruined things, had interrupted his dream with Aya. The fucking bastard. He was so dead. How dare Kudoh do such a thing?

What was even worse was the resistance that Aya had put up in the dream, even if only for a few minutes. His tuberose was supposed to be weakened by recent events, not strengthened, but somehow Kudoh had managed to reverse some of the damage his thoughtless words had caused. That was not good. The cocklicker wasn’t supposed to be giving him this much of a challenge. Not at all.

He gradually became aware of the pain that was engulfing Aya. Schuldig hurriedly blocked their connection enough to spare himself the agony. As it was, he was left with a lingering headache that he knew would last until Aya felt better. That was the one downside to their link, and the stronger it became, the more difficult it was to block out the Japanese man’s pain.

Cautiously extending his talent, Schuldig started to swear again. Dammit, Kudoh had somehow made the connection about the dreams. For a moment he almost ripped the knowledge from the other man’s mind, but the man-whore had already told Aya what he suspected, and he couldn’t just erase the memory at present. No, he’d have to leave that fact be, and somehow work around it.

One thing was for sure; Aya was going to be pissed at him. Schuldig shrugged his shoulders. Ah well, it just meant he had to work a bit harder in the future. He enjoyed challenges, and he definitely had one on his hands here. Regardless, though, Aya was his. Once Schwarz ‘liberated’ Aya-chan from Schreient, there would only be one conclusion.

He just had a little more work to do, thanks to Kudoh. Schuldig clenched his hands into fists as he thought about how much he wanted to kill the prick. But he was bound by his promise to both Aya and Crawford. Kudoh lived, unfortunately, at least for a little longer. Then he smiled. Yes, Kudoh couldn’t die any time soon, but he could be taught a lesson or two. The next time Schwarz faced Weiß, he would make the man-whore bleed.

*******

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