Bleed 8

*******

by nekojita

*******

Gaijin gazed at Old Man, noting his slumped shoulders and shocked countenance. He wished that there was a gesture of condolence he could make that would lessen the man’s grief, but could only sit in respectful silence as his associate stared at the file before him.

Frown, of course, didn’t seem to care about anything other than carrying on with the meeting. "The report states that she died instantly, with no hope of resuscitation."

"Correct. Arai had slashed all the way through to her spinal column." He paused out of respect for his fallen colleague and for Old Man, whose shoulders had slumped even more. "It was quick and relatively painless, apparently."

"What about Arai?" Old Man’s voice was gruff and didn’t look up from the file spread before him.

"She’s currently under observation at the moment. They’ve found cuts all over her body, some of them random and some of them deliberate markings." Gaijin passed out photos, and Frown chuckled when he made out the kanji. "Due to their location on her body, it’s assumed that she didn’t inflict all of them on herself. It’s also been noted that she’s not responding properly to pain stimuli; the doctors want to investigate that further. They also report several chemical imbalances in her blood."

He steepled his fingers in front of him and continued with the report. "I sent a team to Arai’s apartment, and they found blood and semen samples on her sheets. I’m awaiting the results from those tests, but it is likely they are connected, and that Arai’s lover is tied to the cutting. She’s been reported to comment on a lover who appears to have betrayed her, though she won’t name him. Security at her building reports no record of seeing any guests arrive for her."

There was a moment of silence, then Old Man cleared his throat. "What are the chances of Schwarz being involved?"

"Considering the very few traces we’ve found of another person being involved, and Orchidee’s presence, I’m willing to bet rather good." Gaijin looked down at his own report of Smoke’s autopsy. "Taking into account the damage that has been done to Kritiker, I think the chances are very good."

Frown snorted as he tapped his fingers on the table. "Everything comes back to Orchidee, doesn’t it? Perhaps it was just an attempt at Smoke alone, and you’re attributing the wrong motivation to the situation." Gaijin opened his mouth to protest, but caught the quick shake of Old Man’s head and fell silent. "I think we’ve wasted more than enough time on the man. We’ve more important things to concern ourselves with, such as who will assume leadership of the Schatten division, rebuilding our ranks and dealing with a Persia who is determined to mothball some of our best wetwork teams." The Japanese man continued on at great length, propelling the meeting forward. When Old Man didn’t object to the sudden change of focus Gaijin sat back in his chair and made his quiet observations and declarations of opinion when they were called for.

It was odd, not having Smoke there to needle Frown, to not have to put an end to one of their arguments. Gaijin found himself missing the intelligent woman and the insight she’d brought with her. They’d lost one of their own, and things were off balance because of that. Frown seemed determined to try and take control of their little coalition, and Old Man appeared to be letting him.

It was almost two hours later when the meeting ended. Several issues had been resolved, but many more were left tabled due to the lack of information that was normally supplied by Smoke. Gaijin saw hard times ahead as they tried to replace the woman, her priceless knowledge and expertise.

Having decided that was it for the day, Frown rose to his feet as he cited pressing demands that required his attention, then walked away. Gaijin remained in his seat, gathering his files and data, waiting for Old Man to speak. It only took a few minutes.

"He has no idea how badly we’ve been crippled."

"No, I believe he doesn’t. His feelings towards Smoke are affecting his judgment in that regard." Those two had never gotten along, and Frown seemed almost delighted that his sparring partner was now dead. "Why did you allow him to change the topic earlier, if I may ask?"

Old Man looked up for the first time since the meeting had started. His eyes were bloodshot, but otherwise his face didn’t reveal any emotions. "Because he wouldn’t have accepted anything we had to say. He refuses to see the connection to Orchidee, and it would have been a waste of our breaths to try and convince him otherwise."

"You’re certain that the… assassination… ties back to Orchidee?"

"I believe that Arai’s apparent madness is a result of her sessions with Orchidee, though Smoke’s death may have been a fortuitous opportunity that Schwarz couldn’t pass up." Laying a hand on the autopsy report, Old Man closed his eyes. "Why didn’t she listen to me? Orchidee was to have been left alone."

Gaijin assumed that his associate was referring to Smoke’s presence in the hospital to detain Orchidee and place him under observation. "I don’t know. She suspected something, but wouldn’t even tell me. Should we carry through with her plans?"

Old Man shook his head. "No, we’ve paid a high enough price already, leave Orchidee in peace. I don’t want him to be brought in for observation, or for the sessions to resume. Let’s see what develops if we let Mastermind assume he’s won."

Nodding his head, Gaijin pushed away from the conference table and rose to his feet. "If I may ask, sir, why do we continue to… dance around Orchidee? He’s been with the organization for almost three years, yet we do little more than analyze and observe him. It’s clear he has some sort of power, one I’m convinced is very powerful, and it would make sense to send him to…" He almost said ‘Smoke’s division’. "To Schatten division for further tests. It’s like we really are giving in to Mastermind."

The older man grunted as he tucked his hands inside the sleeves of his kimono. "Ever since Orchidee joined Kritiker, I’ve had a feeling that he is very important to the organization. Almost as if our fates are in his hands. That is why I’ve ordered him returned to the organization when he’s tried to leave, and why I don’t order him taken into custody. We need him, and it wouldn’t be wise to antagonize him. Smoke used to feel the same way, until recently." He then fell silent, his eyes returning to stare at the tabletop.

Gaijin recognized a dismissal when he saw one, and after bowing quietly left the room. He thought of Old Man’s answer as he returned to his office. How could one agent, talented or not, so strongly influence Kritiker’s fate? He didn’t understand it, couldn’t see the logic in it at all. But he trusted Old Man’s judgment.

Walking down the hallway, he tried not to think that he’d trusted Smoke’s judgment also, and look what had happened to her.

*******

Shivering from being cold, Aya fumbled for the comforter as he slowly woke up. He found himself sprawled atop Yohji’s chest, with the man’s arm resting on his hips, along with the scrunched up comforter. He was willing to bet that Yohji had inadvertently dragged it down during the night, so Aya tried to tug it back up. His actions caused Yohji to mumble in his sleep and wrap his arm tighter around Aya, trapping the blanket at the same time.

With a sigh Aya gave up on the comforter for a moment. His head still hurt slightly, but it was nothing like the pain he’d suffered the past couple of days so it could be ignored. It seemed that sleeping all night long had helped with the headache that Arai had given him.

Remembering the doctor Aya shivered again, wondering what had happened to the woman after she had killed the Kritiker supervisor. He’d recognized the victim as the woman Schuldig had pointed out to him last week, and for a moment wondered what she had been doing at the hospital yesterday. Aya had been too distracted by Arai at the time to see what she had been up too, and then in too much pain after the attack to pay any attention to anything other than getting out of the hospital. Only then to safely reach the Koneko and fall asleep almost immediately.

Craning his neck, he glanced at the clock and discovered that it was seven in the morning. He had slept for over sixteen hours. Aya felt rested for the first time in days, and in better shape than he’d been for the past couple weeks. It was nice having his stitches and cast removed, and other than the slight headache and being cold, he felt fine.

Giving the comforter another tug, Aya soon realized that Yohji wasn’t going to move his arm at all. He glared at his oblivious lover for a moment, wondering if Kudoh was doing it on purpose, then decided that the man was obligated to help warm him up since he was responsible for Aya’s current condition. Grunting softly, Aya dipped his head, nuzzling his cheek along Yohji’s chest before sucking on the man’s collarbone. He started to rock his hips against Yohji’s, feeling the man harden against him.

It didn’t take long before Yohji woke up, the arm around his waist pulling Aya more firmly against the blond’s groin. Aya didn’t know if it was an instinctive response or if Yohji was aware enough to decide he liked the situation he found himself in and to take advantage of it but wasn’t about to complain. His chin was tilted up for a demanding kiss.

Yohji slid his fingers into Aya’s hair and growled softly as he nipped Aya’s lip. His tongue slipped inside Aya’s mouth, thrusting and flicking about until they both moaned. Aya stroked his hands over Yohji’s naked flesh, reveling in how warm his lover was, wanting that heat to envelop him and chase away the chill.

"If this is a dream I’m going to be very disappointed," Yohji panted when he broke off the kiss.

Aya pulled far enough away from his lover to glare down at him. "You took the blankets again. I’m cold, and it’s all your fault."

Grinning wickedly, Yohji slid his hands under the sweatshirt Aya was wearing, pushing it up his back. "Well then, I guess I should help warm you up." Nails lightly scratched along Aya’s spine, making him gasp and arch his back into the touch. Yohji yanked the sweatshirt over Aya’s head and tossed it aside, rolling Aya onto his back when he was done.

Sighing in pleasure, Aya dragged Yohji on top of him, draping the man’s deliciously warm body over his. He lifted his hips for Yohji to remove his boxers then wrapped his legs around his love’s waist. Yohji’s hands roamed over his body, leaving a trail of pleasure and warmth in their wake, making Aya mewl.

Yohji nuzzled Aya’s neck, his stubble making the skin hypersensitive, then lavished attention from his lips on the pale column. One of Yohji’s hands grasped both their erections and started to pump, his other searched for the lube. Aya closed his eyes and lost himself in the sensations that Yohji was making him feel, of being warm, cherished and desired.

"Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?" Yohji’s moist breath warmed Aya’s ear, making him twitch his head. "So lovely. You’re perfect, Aya. There’s not a thing I’d change about you."

Moaning as a slickened finger entered him, Aya rocked his hips upward. "You’re the beautiful one," he managed to choke out, not believing Yohji’s words for a moment. He knew he wasn’t beautiful, and he sure as hell wasn’t perfect, but Yohji could make him feel that way with a look alone. Yohji could do a lot of things to him with a single look, almost as much as a single touch.

"I want you, Yohji." He didn’t often say the words out loud, and they seemed to give Yohji some pause as the man became still for a few seconds. Then his mouth returned to Aya’s neck, sucking on the skin right above his collarbone, and another finger pushed inside him, stretching him and flicking against that spot that had Aya gasping in pleasure.

"I’m yours, love. All you have to do is ask." Yohji chuckled as he pushed Aya’s right leg up against his chest. "Hell, all you have to do is look as fucking sexy as you do right now, and I’m yours." Yohji started to push inside Aya, causing him to toss back his head and rock his hips forward, wanting Yohji’s hot, hard cock buried deep inside him.

Yohji paused once the head of his cock was past Aya’s tight ring of muscle, making him moan impatiently. "I want you to open your eyes, kitten. Watch me making love to you. See how much I want you back."

Doing as he was asked, Aya stared into his lover’s eyes, his breath catching at the love and want he saw in them. Yohji pushed all the way in, groaning as he was completely encased inside Aya, his eyelids drooping but not closing. Aya hooked one leg over the man’s shoulder and another around his waist, his gaze locked on Yohji’s.

His lover kept the pace languid, thrusting in as deep as he could before pulling back, making Aya mewl each time. His hands stroked Aya’s body, warming him and driving him wild with their touch, making him want to close his eyes from the bliss they provoked but Aya didn’t. His hands wandered over Yohji’s body in return, pulling the older man’s hips closer to his, tangling in the honey-gold strands, rolling a brown nipple between slender fingers.

They were lost in each other, in the pleasure they stirred with each touch, and Aya choked out Yohji’s name when the man started to stroke his neglected cock, breaking the eye contact for a moment as his head was tossed back. Yohji bent down to kiss him, a savage kiss at odds with his gentle pace, one that left them breathless in a matter of seconds. Pulling slightly away from each other, they resumed gazing into the other’s eyes, needing that contact as much as the physical one. The pleasure continued to spike until it was almost unbearable.

Shouting out the blond’s name as he came, Aya drowned in pools of emerald green as ecstasy pulsed through his body. Yohji quickly followed, growling as he poured himself inside Aya, waves of heat that made Aya shiver. When done they both remained still for several heartbeats, then the taller man shifted around, resting his head on Aya’s chest as he tried to catch his breath.

Toying with Yohji’s hair, Aya closed his eyes and just enjoyed the feel of Yohji’s skin pressed against his. His headache and the cold were completely chased away. For a moment Aya fantasized about spending the day just like this, in bed with Yohji close to keep him warm.

"Hmm? Are you still cold?"

"No."

Yohji lifted his head and looked at Aya, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "I don’t know if I should be upset or happy about that. I don’t want you to be cold, but I’d love another shot at warming you up." He waggled his brows for added effect.

Feeling the corners of his lips twitch, Aya sighed as he rolled his eyes. "You’re definitely…."

"Oversexed," Yohji said the same time he did then let out a laugh. "Who can blame me, when I have you for a lover? Hell, I’m really a model of restraint. I bet if you’d ever taken Yuushi as a lover he’d never have let you out of bed. That man has ‘pervert’ written all over him."

Raising an eyebrow at that unlikely image, Aya hmphed and pushed Yohji off his chest as he sat up in bed. While he reached for the box of tissues, the man shifted about until he was behind Aya, holding him close and helping to clean him off. Once that was done, Aya leaned against him and hugged Yohji’s arms around his chest.

Warm lips brushed along his temple. "How’s the head?"

"Better. It barely hurts now." Yohji had driven the headache away, for the time being at least. Aya knew there was a good probability that it would return later, induced by half a dozen potential things. He might as well enjoy the quiet time with his lover before he had to open the flower shop and put up with all the aggravations that were awaiting him for the day.

"Too bad Omi won’t be able to say the same thing about his arm. That was a pretty wicked cut, and it’ll be a couple days before he can use his arm for anything, let alone a mission. What the hell possessed Arai to go nuts like that?"

Not wanting to think about the psychiatrist, Aya grunted and reached for the comforter, pulling it up against his chest. When Yohji nudged him in the ribs he snarled quietly.

"Aya…"

"I said I don’t know. She was acting all weird during the session, and when she started to get nastier than usual, I walked out. She tried to drag me back, Omi objected, and Arai tried to hit both of us. I knocked her to the ground for slapping Omi. She came up with a knife, and after cutting Omi, attacked this strange woman who was nearby." Debating what else he should say, Aya figured he should own up to the psychic assault. "She did something to my head when I tried to stop her, and I don’t remember things very clearly after that."

"Weird. Oh well, at least she shouldn’t be able to bother you anymore," Yohji said as he hugged Aya closer. "At least I’m assuming she’ll have her license revoked. Not even our employers can keep a nutcase like her in their hospital."

Aya sincerely hoped not. He rested his head on Yohji’s shoulder, breathing in the man’s scent, for once without the reek of cigarettes. Yohji’s hands took to stroking his chest, causing a tingle of pleasure that had him shivering.

Then Aya’s stomach decided to remind him he hadn’t eaten much at all in the past thirty-six hours. Embarrassed by the noises it was making, he pulled away from Yohji.

Who seemed to find the situation very amusing, judging from the smile on the man’s face. "I think someone needs to eat breakfast. Since you woke me up at this ungodly hour and we still have some time before the shop needs to open, I’ll let you treat me to breakfast." Yohji kissed Aya on the nose and pulled on an eartail as he climbed out of bed.

Aya followed him, frowning and feeling a bit grumpy at being forced to spend his money on something so frivolous. They had food downstairs, didn’t they? Why pay extra just to have it cooked for them? "Why do I have to pay?"

Yohji stretched his body, quite a lovely sight, but Aya refused to allow himself to be distracted from the issue of money. Especially when it was _his_ money at stake.

"Because you woke me up."

"You stole the comforter," Aya retorted back. "I only woke you up because you wouldn’t let go of it."

Sighing, Yohji reached for the pack of cigarettes on the dresser. "You still woke me up, so that means you have to pay this time."

"Fine then. I won’t ever do that again, other than to drag your ass out of bed to work." Angry, Aya stalked over to the closet to grab his robe. It had been Yohji’s fault, not his, and now the aggravating idiot would probably drag him to some greasy diner or some other ridiculous place for the owed meal that _he_ had to pay for. On his way to the door, Yohji reached out and grabbed Aya’s arm.

"You really mean that, you little miser. Damn, Aya, you take stubborn to new heights. I’ll treat for breakfast." He bent his head to kiss Aya, forcing him to stop cursing his boyfriend. "The things I do for great morning sex. Can I join you in the shower? Maybe even talk you into washing my back since I’m paying?"

Considering the question, Aya stared at a grinning Yohji. What the hell, he thought. Besides, Aya was sure he could talk Yohji into letting him pick the place if he asked nicely enough. His lips curving in a slight smile, Aya grabbed the man’s hand and led him to the bathroom.

*******

Yohji looked up as Ken walked into the Koneko with a frown on his face.

"Something wrong, Kenken?"

"I just wish winter would get here already. I’m sick of the damn heat." He brushed back his sweat soaked bangs as he growled, huffing a little before smiling sheepishly at Yohji. "Well, aren’t you going to say it?"

"That two weeks into winter you’ll start bitching about how you can’t play any soccer and be complaining about how cold it is?" Yohji smiled and leaned back against the counter as he gave the customary reply to Ken’s bitching about the heat. "Happy now?"

"Ecstatic." Ken tossed his apron onto the counter beside Yohji. "The deliveries are all done, so now I’m going to go check on Omi. You guys want to do takeout for dinner or what?"

Considering the question, Yohji decided he wasn’t going to try and have Aya make any dinner that night. His lover had seemed perfectly fine all day, but there was no sense in not giving him a break in view of how things had been lately. Since neither Ken nor he could cook, that meant Omi, who he wasn’t about to make cook because of his hurt arm, or takeout. "What are you in the mood for?"

"How about curry? I know Omi likes it, and we haven’t had it for a while."

Yohji reached for his wallet and pulled out a few bills. "All right then, there’s Aya’s and my share. Why don’t you have it ready for when we finish with the shop?"

Grunting, Ken took the money and crammed it in his pocket. For a moment his eyes sought out Aya, who was helping a customer choose some flowers for an arrangement, and Yohji swore he saw his friend’s eyes grow cold for a moment. Gritting his teeth, he watched as Ken shook his head and walked to the back stairs.

Ken had pretty much been avoiding Aya all day long, what little time he’d spent in the Koneko between the deliveries and looking after Omi. Yohji wondered if it had anything to do with the chibi’s injury; and if so, how the hell Aya was to blame? Or maybe it was just those two rubbing against each other nerves again, which happened a lot. Ken and Aya were just two completely different personalities, and the slightest thing about the other could completely annoy one of them. But he’d keep a close eye on the situation all the same.

He flipped through a magazine while Aya worked on the last of the arrangement, pausing only to flirt with a young woman who came into the shop for directions. Yohji didn’t buy her story for one moment, but he enjoyed the interaction and making her blush. She finally wandered away when he had to ring up the customer, a disappointed look on her face. Poor thing had been trying so hard to get Yohji to ask for her phone number. Smiling, Yohji tucked back a strand of his hair, content in knowing he was still sexy as hell even if he was happily taken.

Remembering how Aya had acted that morning, Yohji looked back at his lover. The man was cleaning his workstation, his long bangs falling onto his face. Aya had chosen a wine coloured sweater to wear that day, a little on the tight side, and a pair of grey pants that Yohji had picked out for him. They were low cut and on the tight side as well, and Yohji wanted nothing more than to drag his kitten back to the greenhouse and ravish him silly. But there was no sense in getting killed for the attempt, not when he’d woken up in such a wonderful manner. Aya wanting him, even saying so out loud….

"Should I fetch a bucket to catch all this drool?"

Yohji glanced over and groaned when he caught sight of Teddy standing beside him, grey eyes sparkling with amusement. Behind the American was the man’s boyfriend, his blind eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses.

"Koyu, how many times do I have to tell you about letting Teddy wander around like this? You should keep him on a leash."

"Sorry, Yohji, but I expressed an urge to talk to Aya, and Teddy decided to humor me by making sure I didn’t get lost along the way. Is he here?"

Wondering why Koyu wanted his boyfriend, Yohji frowned and looked back at Aya’s table. He found the redhead on his way to the front of the store, his face blank except for an eyebrow raised in enquiry.

"Here he comes now."

Aya joined them, calling out Koyu’s name softly and returning the man’s bow. Puzzled by the sudden formality, Yohji noted that the blind man was dressed in black slacks, a light grey shirt and darker jacket. He stood out in contrast to Teddy, who was wearing a black and red plaid kilt and a black t-shirt. Something had to be up.

"So the two of you just decided to pay Aya a visit? That’s the only reason for you to come halfway across town?"

Teddy had the grace to look a little flustered. "Well, I was hoping to get a flower arrangement to take to Mickey. He’s getting out of the hospital later this evening."

Ah, the man was hoping to mooch some free flowers from the Koneko, as usual. Yohji didn’t mind in the slightest since they were for Mickey, and that would explain why Koyu was dressed up. The blind man was the sort to believe in dressing for the occasion, unlike Teddy who didn’t even have the sense to wear any pants.

Yohji glanced at Aya, who merely sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "Okay, one flower arrangement coming right up. But you have to tell your brother that it came from us."

Looking ready to argue, Teddy closed his mouth when Koyu squeezed his arm. With a pout on his face, he nodded his head.

"Would you like a cup of coffee, Aya?" Koyu asked, his voice quiet. Yohji eyed the man critically, trying to figure out why he was interested in getting Aya alone, then looked back at his boyfriend. Aya appeared confused and about to decline the invite. His curiosity getting the better of him, Yohji wrapped an arm around the smaller man’s shoulders.

"You should go, love. Bring me back a double cappuccino with hazelnut while you’re at it." It would get Aya out of the store before the fan club mobbed the place, ensuring that the redhead’s blood pressure didn’t explode and he didn’t come down with another headache. Yohji doubted anything would happen to his boyfriend while Koyu was with him, and they’d get to the bottom of this much quicker if Aya went along with him. One thing they’d learned from bitter experience was that Teddy was tenacious as all hell, especially where Koyu was concerned. It was best to get this thing out of the way and spare themselves a few visits from the American lunatic.

Aya frowned as he looked around the store. Yohji tugged on an eartail to get the man’s attention and grinned down on him. "I can handle the store alone."

"No you can’t." Aya’s eyes glanced over at Teddy, and Yohji swore he saw a hint of a frightening smile on his love’s lips. "But Teddy can help you while we get some coffee. He should be able to run the register, at the least."

Looking back and forth between Koyu and Aya, Teddy tugged on one of his braids and sighed. "Okay, I’ll stay here. Someone better bring me back a coffee too, though. I’m still on sick leave and should be resting." He rubbed his wounded arm, which was still sporting a bandage, albeit a small one.

As soon as the American indicated his acceptance, Aya grabbed Koyu by the wrist and led him out the door. Teddy called out after them to warn Aya that he better take good care of his boyfriend then leaned against the counter and looked at the register.

"Okay, this should be pretty easy. I helped Omi out one day, and didn’t have to do anything more strenuous than lifting a few heavy pots. Counting money is nothing compared to that."

Feeling an evil grin creep up on him, Yohji glanced down at his watch. In another seven minutes a horde of love struck schoolgirls would be descending on the Koneko. Girls who were going to be very upset at being deprived of Aya, Omi and Ken’s presences, and would most likely interrogate the hell out of the ‘newbie’. Beginning to understand why Aya had decided to leave Teddy here, Yohji chuckled under his breath.

*******

 

Koyu nodded his head in thanks as Aya helped him into a seat. The delicious aromas of coffee and tea pervaded his senses -- so thick in the air, he could actually taste them. There was a scuff of a chair being pulled towards the table, and the sound of footsteps approaching them.

"Good afternoon, Fujimiya-san. Would you like a pot of your regular tea?"

"Yes."

"I’ll have a latte, please. Oh, and we’ll need a takeout order before we go." Koyu unbuttoned his jacket and leaned over the table as he ordered.

"That’s fine, just let me know what it is a few minutes before you leave." From the sounds of it their waiter was Aya’s secret admirer, and the man would only be too happy to see to ‘his’ Fujimiya-san’s needs. Koyu smiled as he wondered if Aya really was as beautiful as Teddy told him the quiet man was. He couldn’t quite picture a Japanese man with white skin, red hair and violet eyes, and sometimes thought that his boyfriend had to be playing a joke on him. But Koyu had to admit that Aya did attract attention, and that Yohji certainly was in love with him. A few other people as well, if he was any judge. It couldn’t be Aya’s ‘outgoing’ personality alone that attracted them, that was for sure.

They remained silent until the waiter returned with their drinks. Koyu inched his hand over the tabletop until he found his mug, and carefully sipped the hot liquid. It was delicious, if just a little too warm, and he heard Aya pouring a cup of tea. He waited for the inevitable question.

"What do you want?"

It was so nice to deal with someone who got straight to the point, if a bit unusual. Koyu had learned over the past month or so that Aya didn’t waste any time on formalities, and tended to be a very blunt young man. It was a change of pace from people who tended to babble on endlessly when they talked to him, trying to put themselves at ease because of his disability. That got on Koyu’s nerves very quickly.

He paused before answering the question, straining his hearing to sense if anyone was around them. His senses were finally starting to compensate for his lost sight, and Koyu was able to better focus on his hearing and sense of smell than before his… accident. Not hearing any voices talking around him, he nodded his head and decided to get down to business.

"Teddy told you that I found out what he and Mickey do for a living now." It wasn’t a question.

Aya grunted, and from the sounds of it lifted his tea for a sip. Koyu patiently waited for his answer. "He told me. Do you have any idea how much danger you’re putting him, Mickey and yourself in?"

"It seems to me that they’re in enough danger already. Now they don’t have to worry about lying to me or trying to cover up their activities. They’ll have someone who cares about them waiting to make sure they return home." Someone who would stay up all damn night if he had to, waiting for those American idiots to come back to him. Koyu foresaw a lot of sleepless nights in his future and couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty. He knew that it was because of what had happened to him that Teddy had joined Kritiker, and Mickey had no choice but to follow his brother to keep an eye on the brainless nitwit. Koyu wouldn’t be able to rest easy until the two were safe at home.

"Hn." There were a few more sips of tea, and Koyu enjoyed his latte as he waited for a more definite response from Aya. He liked the man, had several things in common with him, but Aya most definitely made him long for his missing sight. It was damn near impossible to read the man just by voice and actions alone when he barely talked.

Aya set his cup back down and poured more tea. "You didn’t want to talk to me about something I already know."

"No, I didn’t. Actually, I’m here to beg a favor from you." Taking a deep breath, Koyu hurried through the next few words. "You said something to Teddy about Kritiker possibly having a use for me. Well, I want to know where I sign up."

There was silence, so quiet he couldn’t even hear Aya breathe. Then the man sighed, and the table shook slightly, as if something had come to rest against it. "I thought you were smart, Saito. Why would you want to join? All they do is make killers out of everyone they touch."

That wasn’t very heartening to hear, but Koyu was determined. He’d thought long and hard about this the past week while Mickey healed in the hospital and Teddy fussed around their apartment, his arm hurting from being shot. There was no way he was going to be locked out of the lives of the two people he cared most about. No way he was going to pretend to be a blind, helpless man who didn’t have a clue what they were doing behind his back. He was responsible for them joining Kritiker, so he wanted to help them out however he could.

"I don’t think of Teddy and Mickey as killers, and I definitely don’t think of you, Kudoh or the others that way either."

There was an indrawn breath, and when Aya next spoke it was in English. "Can you understand me?"

"Yes." Living with an American, Koyu’s English was rather good. He was surprised at how well Aya spoke it, though.

"It’s better to talk about certain… things… this way. Saito… I have more blood on my hands than you can ever imagine. I would… you can’t ever understand what the others and I would give to be free of the blood, like yourself. Don’t throw that away." Aya’s voice was taut with anguish.

Brushing back the bangs that fell onto his sunglasses, Koyu smiled bitterly in the direction Aya was sitting in. "But I’m covered in blood too. My own, Teddy and Mickey’s. You must know why they’re doing this." When Aya grunted he continued, having to pause every now and then to think of how to say certain things in the foreign language.

"I’ve been raped and beaten, Aya, and mutilated on top of that. The only reason I can get out of bed each day and live a mostly normal life is because of a foreign idiot who makes me forget all the bad things that happened to me, who makes me forget that I’ll always be incomplete and a freak for the rest of my life. And he’s out there risking his life for me to make up for what happened. I won’t sit at home doing nothing but worry when I could be out there helping him. I don’t give a damn about the blood, as long as it isn’t his."

Aya was quiet, the only sound from him was him sipping his beverage. Koyu finished off his latte and waited. When Aya spoke his voice was weary and full of resignation. "I told Teddy that Omi is the one you want to talk to, if you’re serious. Personally, I think it’s a mistake, but you must make your own decisions. If you like, I will talk to Omi and ask him to meet with you. He’ll have a better idea what you can do and how to join Kritiker."

"How did you join?" The words slipped out of Koyu’s mouth as he thought them, and he felt a heat spread across his cheeks at the faux pas. He hadn’t meant to ask such a personal question. It was bad enough that he was trying to put Aya under an obligation to him as it was.

"… they sought me out. They took advantage of me, Koyu, and they’ll never let go. I’m theirs until I die, which probably won’t be very far off. Are you sure this is what you want?"

He tried to put all of his sincerity into his words. "I’m positive. I can’t just sit at home and do nothing, Aya. I need…." Koyu needed not to lose anything precious to him ever again.

"All right. Give me a couple days to talk to Omi and don’t expect to hear from him right away." Then Aya called out the waiter’s name, and when the man hurried over to the table he gave him their takeout order.

Koyu waited until the server was gone to voice his gratitude. "Aya, thank you very much. I’m sorry if you’re not happy with the situation, but this is truly what I want."

There was no response as they waited for the coffee, and Aya remained silent as he paid the bill and led Koyu out of the shop. It wasn’t until they were out on the street that he said anything, speaking Japanese once more.

"You’ll just be more blood on my hands, Koyu. It’s nothing new for me."

The ominous words made Koyu shiver, even though it was a hot and muggy day outside. Silence reigned as they walked back to the Koneko. When they stepped inside the flower shop, he heard the sound of high-pitched female voices calling out Aya’s name. Bodies pressed against him, jostling him, and Aya snarled for the strangers to back off. Koyu gritted his teeth, determined to get through the disturbing ordeal.

Teddy came to his rescue. As he grabbed Koyu by the arm and dragged him to safety, the American snarled at what sounded to be a horde of girls.

"Hey!! He’s taken, so back the hell off. I don’t share. Why don’t you go grope Kudoh since he seems to like that kind of stuff?"

There was a moment of silence, and then the horde clamored from all around the counter Teddy had pulled Koyu behind.

"Cute!! The two of you are together?"

"They’re gay? Ohhh, how cute! Maybe they’ll pose for pictures?"

"Oh no, I liked the foreigner. He has such pretty hair!"

At that moment Koyu wanted nothing more than to strangle his idiot lover. Did Teddy really have to out them to a bunch of insane young women? Women who were discussing who was seme and uke, and if they could have pictures of them together? Rather explicit pictures, from the sounds of the suggestions being shouted out at them. Maybe he should rethink this whole Kritiker business if it meant that Teddy would remain safe.

"Buy something or leave!" Aya’s voice rang through the shop, the lovely baritone cutting through the incessant chatter. The girls fell quiet for a moment and then started to complain, under their breaths, about how mean Aya-san could be, but that they loved how he looked when his eyes shone like that. His temper was a sign he was a true redhead, after all. But thankfully they started to leave the shop.

Sighing a breath of relief, Koyu jerked on one of Teddy’s braids. "You’re an idiot. Just so you know, if you do something like that again I’m dumping you for Aya."

"Huhn. Right, Koyu. Yohji will kill you if you get within ten feet of his little ‘kitten’. You’re stuck with me forever." A sloppy kiss was placed on his cheek.

Muttering about crazy Americans, Koyu huffed and leaned against the counter.

*******

Ken burped as he pushed his empty bowl away from him. He leaned back against the couch and looked around the living room for a moment. Omi was curled on the couch just above him, cradling his injured arm against his chest as he watched the movie. For a moment Ken thought about pushing the younger man to eat some more dinner, but he’d been forcing food and drinks down Omi’s throat all day, so much so that the blond hadn’t been able to eat more than half a bowl of curry.

Omi glanced away from the television set and smiled at him, a look of utter happiness on his face. Ken smiled back, unable to resist, and was rewarded when Omi’s expression became all the brighter. When the boy patted the sofa cushion beside him, Ken climbed up onto the couch. Omi leaned against him, and it felt natural to put an arm over the teen’s shoulders and hold him close. It was so nice to have someone to snuggle with, and Ken hadn’t realized how much he’d missed the joy of simply being near someone he cared about. It had been so very long since he’d given in to his feelings like this.

Yohji and Aya were curled up together on the chair; Aya rested against Yohji’s chest. The redhead was sipping a cup of tea, his eyes heavy lidded and his face free of stress and worry for the first time in what seemed ages. Omi had told Weiß at the beginning of dinner about his email from Birman, granting the team a short reprieve from work because of their injuries and announcing that Aya was no longer required to report for psychiatric sessions. Aya had almost smiled at the news.

He guessed that it was pretty hard to have the man be psychoanalyzed when his shrink had gone bonkers. Still a bit upset about how Omi had been injured yesterday, Ken nursed a hint of anger at his pale teammate. It didn’t help his suspicions that Kritiker seemed to know about Omi’s arm being cut, and possibly Aya’s head injury from yesterday, and the organization wasn’t saying a thing about them. Something odd was going on, that was for sure.

The fact that Arai was a freak made Ken shudder in distaste, which prompted an odd look from Omi. He smiled down at the young man and resumed watching the movie for a few minutes. It was one of the historical dramas that Omi loved so much, but at least it had enough blood and gore in it to keep Ken entertained. But as he actually remembered the historical events this movie was based on, a fact that would have no doubt shocked his history teacher, Ken found his attention wandering from the predictable drama.

If Arai was a psychic, which explained how easily she’d been able to get under Weiß’s collective skin, then Kritiker definitely had other psychics working for them, which made Ken wonder all the more why Aya was in Weiß. Did they not know about him? He didn’t think Aya would volunteer any information about his talent, but if _he_ of all people suspected….

It would explain the almost preferential treatment that Aya had received from the organization, that was for sure. But was Kritiker just waiting for the right moment to reassign Aya? Ken was shocked to discover he didn’t like that idea. While the man might be an uptight, quiet, temperamental asshole at times, he was Ken’s teammate. One of three people, the _only_ people who Ken trusted with his life. He didn’t want to see Aya go. At the very least, Omi and Yohji would be shattered if that ever happened.

God, he was back at it again. One minute bitter and suspicious towards Aya, the next protective and worried. He was being as emotional as the silly girls that frequented the shop. But Ken felt at war with himself, torn between hating the fact that Aya was a freak while still caring about his teammate, no matter how standoffish the man was.

Yohji, who had been leaning back in the chair, one hand playing with an eartail and the other holding Aya close to him, noticed that Ken wasn’t watching the movie any longer. He glanced his way, and when he found Ken staring at Aya he frowned. Ken smiled back at his friend, trying to show that he wasn’t angry or anything, and that seemed to placate the blond a little. Yohji bent his head to whisper something in Aya’s ear, and the redhead gracefully rose from the chair and, after nodding at Ken and Omi, left the room.

Rising to his feet with almost as much grace and showing little in the way of a limp, Yohji crossed over to stand in front of Ken.

"Yotan, you’re blocking the tv!"

"One minute, Omittchi. I need to ask Ken a question."

Ken looked up at Yohji, noting the anger in the lanky man’s eyes. "Yeah?"

"You have a problem with Aya?" Yohji cracked his knuckles and glared at him. "You’ve hardly been civil to him all day, and you keep scowling at him. What the hell is your problem?"

"Yohji…" Ken sighed. "I don’t have a problem with him. Just… trying to figure a few things out, that’s all." He didn’t know what else to say. Ken wasn’t about to admit the fact out loud that Aya was a freak and he didn’t know how to react around the man anymore.

"Then figure them out quick, Hidaka. Before he gets as pissed at you as I am. If the two of you have another fight I will kick whatever bit of your ass is left when Aya’s done with it."

Biting back on the comment that all that would happen was Aya would end up unconscious in Yohji’s bed again if they did have another fight, Ken just nodded his head. Yohji glared a little longer and left the room, most likely for his bedroom.

Ken remained on the couch, trying to lose himself in the movie. He didn’t want to think about Aya turning into someone who would fit in with Schwarz, Mastermind or the very strong possibly that the German asshole was messing with his mind again. Instead, he just wanted to enjoy this quiet time with Omi.

"Are you okay, Ken?"

He turned his head and smiled reassuringly at Omi. "I think so, Omi. Don’t worry about me and enjoy the movie."

Omi didn’t say anything, just slipped his hand into Ken’s. Feeling the best he’d felt all day, Ken squeezed it and hugged his friend closer to him.

*******

Omi lifted his crossbow, sighted the canister of coffee that rested on top of the counter and pulled the trigger. His arm ached slightly, but the dart hit the target, knocking the can over.

"Don’t you think you should play with your toys somewhere else, Omittchi?"

He turned to see Yohji and Aya standing in the doorway of the kitchen, both men dressed for a night out. Yohji was wearing a pair of dark brown dress slacks and a pale yellow dress shirt left unbuttoned at the collar. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, all but some strands that fell along the side of his face. Aya had on a pair of black pants and a deep red merino wool sweater that Omi knew belonged to Yohji.

"Is it that late already?" The men were planning on catching a late dinner and a movie, and Omi hadn’t realized that it was time for that already. Which meant he was seriously behind on his homework. Just great, nothing like staying up all night reading about religious systems and writing a paper on the nonsense.

Yohji walked over to him and ruffled his hair. "It sure is, chibi. We’re gonna head on out now, so be a good boy and be in bed by the time we come back. It doesn’t matter if it’s yours or Ken’s."

"Yoh~ji." Omi stamped on the man’s foot and jumped away. Yohji glared at him as he polished his smudged boot. "I most likely will be up when you get back, since I still have a lot of homework to do. So no sex on the steps! Or anywhere else other than your room, in case I need to leave my room for some reason." That earned him a glare from Aya as well.

Growling, Yohji leaned against the counter and put the coffee can back in its proper place. Then he tossed the dart at Omi. "One time. One freaking time we were caught on the steps, and you can’t ever let us forget that, can you?"

Omi was spared having to comment on how both he and Ken were traumatized by the incident when Aya questioned, "Why are you behind on your homework?"

"Because, while the two of you were getting ready, by taking a _very_ long shower together," he glared at the older men, but knew his flushed cheeks ruined the look. "Manx called to let me know about an upcoming mission."

Aya and Yohji instantly devoted their full attention to Omi. He fingered his crossbow as he thought of the best way to disseminate everything Manx had told him.

"We have a mission in two days. This time we’re to take out the rest of the smuggling ring. Your leg hasn’t given you any problems lately, Yohji, and my arm should be fine by then, so Kritiker wants us to finish the job we started. Teddy and Mickey will be helping us out that night, as well."

"Why?"

Omi looked at Aya. "There’s to be a shipment of weapons arriving that night that Kritiker wants to make sure doesn’t hit the streets. The brothers will take care of that while we kill the smugglers."

The swordsman nodded his head while Yohji sighed. "Damn, I hope this doesn’t set a precedent for working with those two. It’d be hard to resist the temptation of taking out Teddy as well as the target." The comment earned him an elbow in the ribs from his lover.

"Dammit, love, I know you’re not crazy about the man either. You want to be working with him all the time?"

Aya hmphed and tugged at Yohji’s hand. "We don’t have a choice. Now let’s go to dinner." He pulled a protesting Yohji out the door, leaving Omi alone.

It was weird having the house to himself. Ken was out playing soccer and wouldn’t be home for another hour, which meant that Omi would have a little time to focus on his homework in peace. But it was still odd, since for the past couple weeks it seemed that someone was always home because of the injuries Weiß had suffered. But Yohji’s leg had indeed healed, as miraculous as it seemed, and Aya had been headache free this past week. There hadn’t even been a sign of Mastermind, for once.

Heading to his room, Omi vowed to have a talk with Yohji sometime before the mission. He’d make it very clear that there wouldn’t be any screwing up tolerated this time. This whole mess had started when Yohji had gotten the idiotic scheme in his head, and Omi just wanted to put this assignment behind him without any more problems. A few threats would help greatly in that regard.

As Omi entered his room he caught sight of his computer. A smile spread across his face as he sat down in front of it. Well, maybe he had a little time to spare. Ken had been paying a lot of attention to him lately, mother henning him over his wound and just being… ‘there’ for Omi, and he rather enjoyed it. It gave him hope that maybe they wouldn’t be "just friends" for very long. If that was the case… well, he should do a little extra-curricular studying, shouldn’t he? Just in case….

If Yohji ever found out, he’d never stop teasing Omi about surfing the ‘net for porn. But really, it was partially the man’s fault. What else did he expect a healthy teenager to do when he kept coming home and finding his two good-looking roommates in such compromising positions all the time?

*******

"Teddy, get your ass in gear. We need to meet the others in a half hour." Mickey glared in his brother’s direction as he played with the zipper on his nylon jacket. He would be a bit hot tonight because of the clothing, but Mickey needed something to cover his gun holster. A bat just wasn’t going to cut it if they ran into Schwarz again.

Finished kissing his boyfriend, Teddy sighed and turned to face Mickey. "Alright, let’s get going then. Koyu, don’t worry unless we’re not back by morning. Then call that number I gave you."

Koyu nodded his head and slowly sank down onto the chair he’d been standing by. For a moment Mickey wished the man had never found out about their new jobs, not with the way Koyu’s face was lined with worry. However, he hadn’t been able to do much about the situation since he’d been in the hospital at the time, and he had to admit that Teddy was much happier not having to hide things from his lover anymore.

They didn’t say a word to each other until they got into Mickey’s car and were on their way to the Koneko. "You sure you’re in shape for this, Mick?"

"We shouldn’t be the ones doing all the fighting tonight, so I’ll be fine." Besides, it wasn’t as if he had a choice to stay home tonight and continue recuperating. The mission had been assigned to them, not offered. Sometimes Mickey wondered if Teddy had even noticed that little fact.

"Well, be sure to let Kudoh do all the work, then. He needs to move his lazy ass around before he gets all fat and Aya leaves him," Teddy huffed.

Biting back on a smile, Mickey made a non-committal sound as he swerved in and out of traffic. Koyu had been torturing his little brother all week long by threatening to leave him for Fujimiya. Guess the blind man was still a bit miffed at Teddy outing him like that in the shop. While Mickey knew his brother didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about him, Teddy failed to realize that Koyu was a bit more reserved. It was hard enough for the man to be blind let alone risk being ostracized for his sexual preferences too.

"Well then, we must make sure that the man gets some exercise. We wouldn’t want Aya to start looking for a new lover. You might find yourself being kicked out of Koyu’s apartment if that happened."

As Teddy started to rant about how much better he was for Koyu than the human ice cube, Mickey only listened with half an ear. His brother was now distracted from having any pre-mission jitters, but Mickey was suffering enough for the both of them. He just hoped nothing happened to Teddy tonight. Yes, Weiß would be the ones doing all the dirty work, but he didn’t like the possibility of crossing paths with Schwarz again, considering what had happened last time. There was no way he’d let Teddy be hurt.

All he wanted was for this mission to be over with. Then Mickey could resume hanging out around Birman’s office, seeing if the woman needed him to do any projects for her, and trying to find out what was going on in the organization. Something had shaken Kritiker up last week, something that it was trying to hide. Considering how their fates were tied to the organization now, Mickey had made it his job to find out what exactly had happened.

He wouldn’t let anything harm Teddy, and now Koyu was being tied up in their affairs as well. Mickey would make sure both men were kept safe, even from Kritiker itself. Which meant he had a lot of work ahead of him. But first he had to finish this mission, hopefully successfully, which in return would reflect well upon him. The better he did, the more Kritiker would trust him. The more truth he’d then be able to find out.

*******

Yohji sighed as he pulled on his black crop top. The damn mission hadn’t even started and he wanted nothing more than for it to be over and him pulling his uniform off, and not on. But things weren’t working out that way.

He glanced over at Aya, who was sitting on the bed as he pulled on his boots. For a single yen Yohji would have toppled the man over and kissed him silly, and not stopped there despite the very real threat of being dismembered by his lover. It was so hard to slip into his coat when the room still smelled of the sex they had earlier. The sheets were still in disarray from their passion. Missions always made him hornier than hell, and this time Aya hadn’t balked at his idea of a distraction to kill some time before they had to go to work. Instead of the usual pre-mission frenzy though, the sex had been slow and totally consuming. It had been the two of them truly making love.

"You alright, kitten?" Yohji wanted some excuse to call the whole thing off and hoped Aya had a migraine or something. He had a bad feeling about tonight and knew that Aya had his reservations too. That had been why they had been so determined to enjoy each other earlier, in case something bad happened tonight.

"I’m fine. How’s the leg?" Aya looked up from his boots and rose to his feet, crossing over to join Yohji by the window. Unable to resist, Yohji captured the man’s face between his hands and kissed him, deeply and languidly.

When they broke apart he was panting, wanting desperately to curl up in bed with Aya and just hold the man close, to not let him leave the room. "Think Omi will buy me having a relapse?"

"How can you have a relapse from a healed knife wound?" Aya nipped his bottom lip and then pulled away, picking up his coat and katana. "We have to get downstairs before Teddy comes to fetch us."

Grumbling, Yohji reluctantly followed his lover downstairs. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, he pulled Aya into his arms. "Be careful tonight, okay? I promise not to get wounded if you don’t. I think we’ve had all the trauma and angst we can stand for a while."

Aya leaned against him, hugging him tightly for a moment before pulling away. Now it was Abyssinian standing before him, cold and distant. Yohji shivered and let his hands fall from the man.

"Get injured again and I’ll kick your ass." That said, Aya walked away. Sighing, Yohji dragged his hand through his hair before slipping his shades on. He really didn’t want to go on this mission tonight. The past week had been so fucking nice, a break from their nighttime job and a chance to focus on each other, on making their relationship stronger -- a chance to just talk and hold each other. Now the darkness was returning, and that made him nervous. He just prayed that Schwarz didn’t return with it. But if they did….

Yohji pulled a short length of wire from his watch before letting it retract. If they did, they would be down one member by the end of the night. He’d sworn to himself to kill Mastermind the next time they crossed paths, and that was an oath he meant to keep.

******

Omi looked around the table, noting the concentration on his teammates’ faces, the same emotion reflected on the Teddy and Mickey’s. For a moment he rubbed his injured arm, wondering if the week old wound would give him any trouble, but knew it for the plain paranoia that it was. He’d had no trouble when he’d done some target practice earlier that day.

"All right. This time our goal is to completely eliminate the smuggling ring. Umemoto _must_ be killed, along with his men. They’ll be gathered together tonight for a shipment of automatic weapons and rocket launchers. Kritiker can’t afford for those weapons to fall into any criminals’ hands, so we’re to deal with them as well."

He pointed to the blueprint of a warehouse residing on the abandoned docks near the Hirosue corporate headquarters; the company was a victim of the recent recession and was now defunct. "According to Birman, this is where the shipment will be arriving. Umemoto plans on using boats to carry the weapons to their final destination, which Kritiker hasn’t managed to discover. We’ll be waiting for them inside, and as soon as the weapons arrive we’ll take care of the smugglers."

Glancing up, Omi studied his friends’ faces and didn’t see any questions, so he continued. "Aya and I will be stationed along the catwalks, taking out the guards there before the mission starts. Yohji, you and Ken will be stationed in these two empty offices." He pointed them out on the blue prints. "Ken, Mickey and Teddy will be with you. As soon as we’ve handled the smugglers, their job is to get the weapons out of there. We’ll stay behind, in case there is any cleanup required, then return home."

"Who takes out Umemoto?" Yohji asked as he lit a cigarette, his face serious. Omi thought over the question, debating pros and cons and reaching a decision. He stared coldly at Yohji, remembering their discussion from the other day.

"You will. There will be no mistake this time, either. Am I understood?"

Yohji met his eyes for a moment and then looked away. "Yeah, I hear ya." He rested an arm on Aya’s shoulders, pulling the smaller man closer to him. Aya didn’t divert his attention away from the warehouse schematics but allowed the action, doing little more than mumble under his breath when Yohji kissed him on the top of his head.

Teddy looked as if he wanted to make a comment about the couple, but Mickey elbowed him in the ribs, putting a stop to it. A smile spread across Omi’s face over the brothers’ antics and he looked over at Ken, who smiled back at him and rolled his eyes. Enjoying the moment before he knew he had to become serious and cold once again, Omi put his finger over his lips, indicating that Teddy was to be quiet. When the American made a face at him, Omi stuck out his tongue.

"Has Schwarz been involved with the ring much lately?" Aya’s question snapped Omi back to reality.

"As far as Kritiker’s agents have discovered, no they haven’t. Oracle was last seen meeting with Umemoto two days ago. After that, nothing."

Aya frowned at the table, his hair falling onto his face as he looked downward.

"It’s suspicious."

"Yes, it is, but we’ve never had much luck in making sense of any of their actions in the past, and I don’t plan on wasting the energy now. The last shipment Schwarz received from Umemoto was supposedly a rather large one, so maybe that’s all they were after." Omi hoped that his words were true. Everyone had spent the past couple weeks recovering from wounds ranging from minor to life threatening, and that would affect their performance somewhat. This also was Weiß’s first time working with the Stouts, and Yohji’s first time in action in over two weeks. Weiß was not at its best at the moment.

"Huhn." Aya closed his eyes for a moment, his head bowed over the table. Then he stood up straight with a frown on his face. "Let’s go."

The six of them filed out of the kitchen, making their way to their respective vehicles. As always when he left for a mission with his team, Omi wondered if they would all return. He said a brief prayer in hopes that they would.

*******

Yohji slid amongst the shadows, keeping an eye on the target. Umemoto was surrounded by his underlings, looking about the warehouse with a frown on his face. He seemed to be expecting someone, and Yohji’s stomach fluttered when he thought of who that might be. Sternly reminding himself not to get ahead of himself and ruin another mission he settled behind a crate.

"Bombay, have the trucks arrived yet?"

"They’re about five hundred meters away. No sign of any other vehicles. Sphinx and Ragdoll, get ready." Omi’s voice was focused and curt, his attention obviously resting on making sure there were no surprises for this mission. Hoping that everything went smoothly tonight too, Yohji glanced up at the catwalk, where he knew Aya was waiting to descend on the smugglers. The swordsman and Omi had already taken out a few of them to prevent the men from discovering them and firing down on Weiß once the mission started in earnest.

The flash of headlights inside the warehouse was the trigger, causing Weiß to spring into action. Yohji leapt from his hiding place, taking out the men nearest to him. His wire arced out and tangled around their necks, biting into their flesh. He left them behind him, having knotted the wire enough that all they were doing with their struggles were killing each other. He was already focusing on his next target.

There was the sound of Omi’s crossbow being fired, quickly taking out anyone about to shoot them. Ken was amidst of a group of men, hacking and slashing away with abandon. Guess the dumb jock didn’t need any help from him. Hearing a strangled cry to his left, Yohji spun around to see that Aya had gotten down from the catwalk and had taken care of someone about to sneak up on him. Blowing his lover a kiss, Yohji resumed tracking down Umemoto, determined that he wasn’t going to screw up this time, unintentionally or not.

Aya was watching his back, and Omi was watching over everyone from his vantage point on the catwalk. Ken was a one-man killing machine, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Trusting his safety to his teammates, Yohji focused his attention on Umemoto, taking out everyone between him and the target. The sounds of screams of pain and anger, and the occasional burst of gunfire and breaking glass, faded underneath the rush of blood through his veins, and Yohji’s world narrowed down to reaching one man.

He dealt with one bodyguard, making sure to keep his distance because of the man’s gun, and a familiar ‘thunk’ informed him that Omi had taken care of the other one. That left just Umemoto. Yohji tossed out his wires as he dodged to the left, wary of any surprise weapons this time. He just missed being shot, but his aim proved true. A flick of his wrist had the wire taut around the target’s neck, and he pulled on the filament with all his strength. Umemoto managed a choking sound before his throat was sliced open, and Yohji let the nearly decapitated man fall to the ground.

There were a few more bursts of gunfire and the sound of breaking glass, and when he turned around to investigate, Yohji found Ken yanking the driver of one of the trucks through the door window and tossing him onto the ground before gutting him. Aya solved the problem of the other driver by shoving his katana through the window, then stepped back as he opened the door and let the man’s corpse fall out of the cab.

Mickey and Teddy came out of the shadows, the smoking guns in their hands a testament to the fact that some of the shots fired had come from them and not just the smugglers. Omi jumped down from the catwalk using a series of boxes and crates as overlarge steps, and Ken wandered over to the teenager’s side. Looking back at Aya, Yohji found him staring off into the opposite end of the warehouse, his katana at the ready.

"Sphinx, Ragdoll. Get the trucks out of here now." Aya’s voice was hushed, only being carried to them over the comms. Yohji instantly pulled out some wire and faced the direction that his lover was staring.

"Do you guys need us to help with any of the cleanup?" Teddy asked, stepping towards Aya as he spoke.

"Get out of here," Aya hissed, his eyes never leaving the shadows.

"I’m afraid we can’t allow that," a calm voice rang out; at the same time the warehouse doors slid shut, seemingly on their own. "You seem determined to take something that belongs to us."

Schwarz stepped out of the shadows: Prodigy in his grey school uniform, Berserker in a dark blue sleeveless outfit, and Oracle in a black designer suit. Looking about wildly, Yohji tried to find Mastermind. As he did something was tossed down from one of the catwalks that crisscrossed the warehouse’s ceiling, landing at Aya’s feet. It was a bouquet of white flowers. Mastermind immediately followed it, effortlessly landing on his feet only a meter away from Aya.

*******

Aya stared at Schuldig, not surprised to find the man before him. He’d felt something the last few minutes, had known that the telepath had to be nearby, but why, he couldn’t explain --something to do with green threads wrapped tightly around him. The scent of cherry blossoms filled the air and he felt his katana start to waver as a familiar vision threatened to overwhelm him. Refusing to be lost in it, Aya leapt at the German.

Schuldig laughed and jumped out of his way. "My, someone’s in a bad mood tonight, Kätzchen. Don’t you like my present?"

Over the comms Bombay was screaming at Sphinx and Ragdoll to get into the trucks and leave, and a few shots were fired before he heard Teddy curse in pain. Blocking out the distraction, Aya focused all his attention on Schuldig, on trying to make sense out of the green threads connecting them. His talent wasn’t as forthcoming in this fight as it had been earlier during the mission, but he caught enough of a glimpse of Schuldig’s possible actions to sweep out his blade and just barely miss the man, slicing his jacket.

Schuldig’s eyes went wide as he jumped back then narrowed in anger. <Ah, and here I thought you didn’t want to be a freak. Useful little thing, isn’t it, your power? Imagine what you can do once you fully embrace it. But that won’t be tonight. I’m going to have to take your toy away from you since you can’t play well with others.> There was a painful tug in Aya’s head, and for a second he felt smothered, completely encased in a tight binding that wrapped around him. The sense of threads all but vanished, and he fell to his knees in agony and cold, his katana sliding from his hands.

Footsteps approached him, and Schuldig combed his fingers through Aya’s hair. <Why are you always making me hurt you? If you would just give in I promise you’ll never feel pain again. I don’t want to hurt you.> Schuldig started to slide his hand down the side of Aya’s face, gripping his chin slightly. <Stop being so stubborn.>

His head was tilted upward, and Aya was forced to look at Schuldig as his hand fumbled for his katana. Green eyes stared into his, burning with obsession and excitement. Just when Aya’s fingers gripped the hilt of his weapon someone slammed into Schuldig, knocking him away.

Aya forced himself onto his feet as Yohji and Schu rolled on the ground, loudly cursing each other. Looking around, he found Siberian facing off against Berserker, barely getting his bugnuks up in time to prevent a knife from slashing down his chest, and already bearing a few fresh cuts. Bombay and Sphinx were trapped against some crates, held there by Prodigy’s talent, but as Aya watched Ragdoll, sporting another bullet wound on his just healed arm, lift himself off the ground enough to fire a few shots at the telekinetic. That seemed to break the boy’s concentration long enough for Sphinx and Bombay to break free and melt into the shadows.

Taking a step in Siberian’s direction, Aya felt something and barely lifted his blade in time to deflect the iron pipe that crashed down on him. He caught the slight grin on Oracle’s face as the man readied his weapon for another blow.

"I can’t believe that the four of you have lasted as long as you have with such antiquated and impractical weapons. One shot is all I need to kill you, and four would ensure that Weiß never bothers Schwarz again. But I’ll play along your way, for tonight at least." Oracle swung the bar again, Aya blocking it and sliding his blade along its length, forcing it to the side.

His head hurt and he felt half blind, but Aya managed to lift his sword again and again to block each blow. He couldn’t rally any sort of offense against the American, but he prevented any of the blows from landing on him. That alone was a minor miracle, considering how he’d fared the last time he’d faced the precog on his own.

Off to the side he heard the trucks’ engines start again, but he dared not to spare a glance their way, not if he didn’t want any of Oracle’s swings to land. There was a squeal of tires and the smell of burning rubber that suggested that the trucks were being held in place, and over the comms he heard Bombay and Siberian try to formulate some sort of strategy against Berserker.

Oracle swung the pipe again, and Aya just barely avoided being struck in the head. "You must realize that you don’t stand a chance against us, not as you are. Weiß can’t ever match Schwarz when you’re so limited and powerless. You’re not even a challenge. One day soon we’ll grow bored with playing with Weiß, and your teammates will die."

Baring his teeth, Aya parried another blow with his katana, desperate for an opening he could use to slide the blade behind Oracle’s defenses and slice the man wide open. "We won’t lose to you. You’ll be the dead ones."

"I hope for your sake that doesn’t come to pass." Oracle stepped back from Aya’s frenzied thrust, his return strike to Aya’s upper body barely blocked. "No, not considering how tied to us you now are."

Upset that he hadn’t been able to do much more than defend himself, Aya’s fury had him focusing on a way to remove the American’s head from his shoulders instead of on his cryptic words. He finally managed to get a few strikes in himself, but Oracle parried each one with ease. Aya was quickly returned to being on the defensive.

As he jumped back from a blow that would have broken several bones if it had landed, Aya suddenly felt a sharp pain in his right thigh, as if it had been sliced open. He stumbled to the ground, only partially blocking a blow to his left shoulder that had him gasping in pain. Trying to breath through the hurt, Aya sucked in a lungful of air and started to choke. Even though Oracle was standing several feet away from him, both his hands holding the iron pipe in front of him, someone’s hands wrapped around Aya’s throat, pressing into his flesh and preventing him from being able to breath. He started to hyperventilate, desperate for air, but his vision soon started to darken from lack of oxygen. As the world slowly faded to black, he saw Oracle smile at him.

"I told you so."

*******

 

Yohji saw Mastermind lean down to touch a fallen Aya and rage coursed through him, allowing his body to go into motion without any thought on his part. He managed to tackle the Bastard, knocking him away from Aya, but the telepath landed a blow as they rolled on the ground, wringing a curse from him. Swinging out his arm, Yohji managed to knock Mastermind into a crate.

He barely made it to his feet before Mastermind did, getting his wires ready to slice the Bastard into bits as he did so. But Mastermind put his speed to use, and the wires fell to the ground as Yohji barely dodged being shot.

Not giving up, not until the man was dead and gone from their lives, Yohji chased after the telepath, determined to kill him. This was going to end tonight, and then he’d never have to worry about Aya’s dreams again, or having his love leave him because of another’s lies.

<Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you? What the hell makes you think you even have a chance against me? If it wasn’t for my promise to my tuberose you’d be dead already.> Mastermind ducked under the wires, punching Yohji in the stomach before dancing away unscathed. Wheezing from the pain, Yohji gritted his teeth together and refused to give up.

"I’m going to kill you, you sick fuck."

<How? I can read your thoughts and predict your moves. You don’t stand a chance.> Trying to snare the prick again, Yohji’s wire caught in the boards of a broken crate, and with a snarl he abandoned it, pulling out a new strand. Resuming the chase, he followed a laughing Mastermind, barely sparing a thought for Omi or Ken, who were having difficulties holding their own against Berserker. The sight of Aya facing off against Oracle gave him some pause, but since his lover was basically untouched by any injuries, Yohji returned to the matter at hand.

Mastermind remained just out of reach, taunting Yohji all the while. <You’re utterly hopeless. Can’t even manage to kill one person, can you? What do you think Aya’s feeling about your failure to keep him safe? Some lover you are.> Even with all the dodging about, Mastermind managed to land a punch to Yohji’s jaw, spinning him around and leaving him dazed for a second.

Shaking his head, Yohji found Mastermind again just out of his reach. His anger started to build. <Then again, what can one expect from an alcoholic slut? You know the best thing about this situation? You’ll manage to drive Aya away from you on your own much better than I ever could. In a couple months I’ll have my sweet tuberose in my bed, completely willing, and it will all be thanks to you.> The Bastard sent Yohji a mental image of him in bed with Aya, the redhead underneath him and calling out Mastermind’s name.

Giving up on his wire, Yohji grabbed a plank of wood that lay on the floor and swung it at the German, too lost in his fury to think of anything other than smashing Mastermind’s head into a broken bloody mess. Mastermind’s eyes went wide, the vision coming to an abrupt end as he jumped backwards, barely managing to evade being hit. Yohji continued the attack, keeping the Bastard off balance with his rage.

Mastermind jumped again to avoid a wild swing that would have crashed into the side of his head. Yohji swung the plank at him again, but only hit one of the warehouse’s concrete pillars. The wood shattered, sending splinters flying. Trying to avoid the fragments, Mastermind blindly stumbled over the body of one of the smugglers. Letting out a cry of victory, Yohji flung out his wire, catching the telepath around his leg and jerking until the other man fell to the ground, blood flowing from his cut thigh.

He immediately grabbed the man by the neck, determined to choke the life out of Mastermind with his bare hands. The Bastard fought against him, clawing at his hands and trying to strike back with his talent, but Yohji’s rage made him ignore the awful pain in his head. He wanted the man dead, had promised himself and Aya that Mastermind would die and he wasn’t going to break his word.

The telepath’s struggles slowly became weaker. Gloating, Yohji tightened his grip. It wouldn’t be long now.

<You’re killing him too.>

He clenched his hands, not willing to listen to any lies. Mastermind was just trying to trick Yohji into freeing him.

<He’s dying. Look at Aya… I’m not lying.> Mastermind’s voice was weak, his hands falling from scratching at Yohji’s gloves. There was no way Yohji was going to let go, not when his goal was in reach. Mastermind was going to be dead in a few more moments, by his own hands.

"Abyssinian! Balinese, Abyssinian is down!"

That had been Omi’s voice, and the boy wouldn’t lie to him. Unable to prevent himself from making sure that Aya was indeed safe, Yohji looked up to find his lover on his knees, clutching his throat as his face turned blue. Oracle loomed over Aya, a long pipe in his hands resting across his legs.

"Aya!" Yohji tightened his grip, determined to snap Mastermind’s neck and then go rescue his boyfriend, but as he did Aya suddenly fell forward, his body convulsing. Crying out his lover’s name again, Yohji left Mastermind to go save Aya.

"Prodigy, assist Mastermind, now."

Oracle called out as he gracefully stepped out of the way of Yohji’s wires, and Yohji didn’t waste any more time on the Schwarz. Instead he fell down beside Aya, lifting the smaller man up to try and see how badly he was wounded. There were bruises all around his neck, as if someone had tried to choke him with their hands. Aya had stopped breathing, his head lolling back on his shoulders as if his neck was broken, and Yohji let out a cry of grief. He bent his head down to breathe into Aya’s mouth, squeezing the man’s ribcage as he did. It took a few seconds before the unconscious figure in his arms convulsed, suddenly gasping for air. Yohji held Aya close and willed him to continue breathing.

A sudden crashing sound made him look up, and Yohji caught the sight of the two trucks leaving the warehouse via the smashed through metal doors. Oracle and Prodigy were bent over a still Mastermind, and as Yohji watched, the German was maneuvered onto his feet. Blood flowed down his injured left leg, and Mastermind hung limp in an invisible grip, panting heavily. The two talents then turned and looked over at Yohji.

He forced himself to stand up, dragging Aya along with him. His lover clung to him weakly and didn’t seem able to rest his weight on his left leg. Ken and Omi came running over to his side, their weapons held at ready, while Berserker joined his teammates. The eight of them faced off against each other.

Not saying a word, Oracle held his hand out to Berserker. The Irishman handed him a knife, and as Oracle smiled he grabbed one of Mastermind’s hands and sliced a cut along the man’s palm. Aya moaned in pain and shook his right hand.

"Check Abyssinian’s hand," Oracle called out.

Weiß remained still for a moment, then Omi hurried to Aya’s side and tugged off his glove. The teenager sucked in a mouthful of air and raised wide, shocked eyes at Yohji. He held up Aya’s hand for everyone to see that it was sporting a red line across the palm. Yohji started to curse and looked back at Schwarz, at the bleeding hand that Oracle held in his. Mastermind’s wound was the same as the mark on Aya’s hand.

"Are you beginning to understand now? Try to harm Mastermind, and you hurt one of your own. Just how hungry are you for revenge, knowing that now?" When Oracle didn’t receive an answer he nodded his head. "I think it’s time we left. Until we meet again, Weiß. Have fun wondering what other surprises we have in store for you." The four men retreated back into the shadows and Weiß just let them do so, too stunned by the latest revelation.

After a minute Yohji turned to look at Aya, cradling his lover in his arms while the man stared down at his hand. Aya’s eyes were wide with shock and pain, his breath still coming in ragged gasps.

"Aya, are you alright?" Yohji didn’t receive an answer, so he asked again. When Aya remained quiet he shook his lover slightly, making the man look up from his hand to stare at him. Aya’s lips moved but no sound came out, and he shook his head very slightly from the right to the left. Then he tried to force his way out of Yohji’s embrace, pushing weakly against his chest with his left hand, but the moment he put weight on his left leg Aya crumpled.

Swearing, Yohji picked the stubborn idiot up in his arms, ignoring the hissing sound Aya made for a couple seconds before choking it off, his eyes closed tight in pain. He looked over the man’s head at an incredulous Omi.

"I assume that was Mickey and Teddy taking off in the trucks, right?" Omi nodded his head. "Umemoto is dead, along with all his goons, so is there anything left for us to do?" The teenager shook his head. "Then let’s get the hell out of here."

He took a few steps toward the broken doors, holding Aya close to him. He heard Omi let out a startled sound then run after him, immediately followed by Ken. They made it to Yohji’s car without anyone saying a word, nor did anyone speak during the ride home.

*******

Schuldig found Cassandra standing before her loom, her head cocked to the side. For a moment he contemplated the dark fabric spread across it, smiling at the sight of all the reddish threads intertwined with black.

"You didn’t warn me about what would happen tonight." He’d been beyond pissed after Schwarz had retreated, in a world of pain and unable to do anything as Farfie had carried him away from Aya. Schuldig hadn’t meant for Weiß to find out the extent of his link with Aya, and he hadn’t meant for his love to discover it in that way. But Kudoh, his mind blank with rage, had surprised Schuldig and actually hurt him. The sudden shock meant that his mental shields weren’t in place to keep Aya from suffering his pain. Especially not when he’d been so busy preventing Aya from using his talent.

But luckily for Cassandra, most of Schuldig’s anger had faded away by the time he’d reached Schwarz’s safehouse. The revelation had been made, and Weiß now knew that they dared not try to exact revenge against him unless they wanted to hurt their precious Abyssinian. The thought of Kudoh’s frustration alone at that fact almost made Schuldig laugh out loud. No, the kitties had to be pretty pissed off at the moment. Not to mention that Aya had had the truth of their bond rubbed in his face, and now not even that stubborn idiot could continue denying that they were irrevocably tied together.

Cassandra stopped fussing with the loom and finally turned to face him. "It would have made no difference if I’d told you. Tied you are now, when one bleeds the other will follow. It was your turn, the cycle is now completed."

"I would have preferred some sort of warning. Kudoh nearly killed me tonight." That was what had stung the worst, the fact that the man-whore had bested him out of sheer luck. Schuldig’s hands clenched in anger at the thought. "If I die, so does the catalyst. I’d think that you’d want him at least to live."

"No, I wish nothing for him. But there can’t be any more sevens either, not between the two of you. The more of those birds that flap around you, the less trust there will be." Cassandra picked at a lock of her long hair, separated it into three strands and started to braid it. "You need his trust if you wish to succeed. He must have faith in you before you can release his talent, loosening the chains that hold him back. It is trust and the lack of it that will give us what we seek."

Ah, back to the riddles from the old witch. Schuldig blew a strand of his hair that had fallen onto his face and grimaced as he’d remembered his thoughts as Crawford had administered the painkiller shot when they’d reached home. So much for hoping the pain meds would make him loopy enough to have a clue as to what Cassandra was babbling about. Even drugged out of his mind he couldn’t understand Cass. The woman was truly nuts.

He stepped over to her side and stroked her throat, making the woman tremble at his touch and stare at him with wide eyes. "Personally, I think you just wanted me to be in pain, but I won’t argue that point with you right now. What I want to know is what did tonight’s blood gain me?"

Cassandra closed her eyes. "He won’t be able to deny your bond any longer. The Knight will have to rein in his temper, to put away his sword when next you meet. That one… he is your match." When Schuldig started to laugh Cassandra opened her eyes and glared at him. "He’s worthy of a catalyst, that makes the two of you even. Don’t forget the gold threads, never for a moment. Almost your death tonight he was, always remember that. As long as he’s tied to the star child, he holds much potential. But now he’s bound, just like you are, not to spill his rival’s blood."

Schuldig snarled and dropped his hand back to his side. He didn’t like the sound of that, not in the least. But, at least, Cass was right about the both of them now being unable to kill the other. They were matched in that regard, the only one as far as he was concerned. And that advantage would be gone as soon as Kudoh betrayed Aya.

Her eyes becoming unfocused, Cassandra walked away from him, stopping at the door of her cottage. "It always comes down to blood. It must be spilled to wet the earth, to feed it and bring forth new life. Like dragons’ teeth it is, creating new progeny. But it sows death as well, as all things must have balance.

"The threes have bled, one becoming nothing and the other… the other will soon bear four. A life taken and a life created. Much promise this new four will hold, unless twisted by the evil ones." Schuldig felt a strong wave of hate emanate from the woman.

"The other three… her death will have repercussions, oh yes. No longer will there be a critical eye turned towards its own direction for the keepers of white. They’re beginning to feel the hate they’ve stirred in the star child because of their machinations. The season of reaping is fast approaching, and our masters won’t be the only one to pay."

Cassandra turned to look at him. "You fours were required to bleed, but no death, not now. Maybe not ever, if enough blood is spilled. You will be required to sacrifice it time and time again, have no doubt of that. You have Death in your midst; as long as he’s tied to you the greatest sacrifice can be avoided. But it doesn’t mean you won’t suffer when the time comes." She fell silent and stepped into the garden, disappearing from Schuldig’s sight.

Wondering if it was worth his while to chase down the woman and shake her until she spouted sense for once, Schuldig sighed and decided he’d had enough. It was getting harder to use his talent with all the medication in his blood stream, and there wouldn’t be much relief from pain in the next few days since he couldn’t block it out because of Aya. No, the Japanese man and his team had to be made fully aware of the extent of their link now. But he wouldn’t let Aya suffer alone.

Schuldig faded from the woman’s dreamscape, deciding to spare himself the pain from a headache while he could. Besides, if she spouted any more gibberish at him he’d never be able to puzzle her words out. As it was, the few clues she’d given him would give him something to worry over for days to come.

Before allowing himself to fall completely under the influence of the medication, Schuldig spared a thought for Aya. His little tuberose was tucked into bed, asleep from the medicine Bombay had given him. Tomorrow he’d pay the man a visit, telepathically thanks to his wounds, and gauge Aya’s reactions to this recent development. Most likely there would be a lot of anger directed his way, but Schuldig felt confident he could make a point or two. Aya had to be made aware of how deep their bond was, and that Schuldig would always be there for him. Whether Aya liked that fact or not.

*******

Omi looked down at Aya, who was now unconscious thanks to the pain meds that Yohji had forced the man to take. The redhead had fought against taking the pills, claiming in a croaking voice that he wasn’t really hurt, but Yohji had cupped his lover’s face between his hands and told Aya that he had a choice of swallowing the pills or having Yohji sit on him while Omi gave him a shot. It was clear that the older man hadn’t enjoyed seeing his lover in pain and wasn’t going to deal with Aya’s stubborn nature any longer. Aya had realized that and had taken the medicine, his face twisting in pain as he’d swallowed, breaking through his angry glare. His face was still marked with lines of pain, but they slowly started to smooth out under the medicine’s influence. Sure that the man was asleep, Omi reached for Aya’s right hand, which rested on top of the comforter.

"It’s not fading away." There was still a red line on Aya’s palm, similar to the one that encircled most of his left thigh. Those marks seemed insignificant to the bruises that covered Aya’s neck, marks left by fingers the same size and length of Yohji’s. The same bruises that had also marred Schuldig’s skin.

Yohji answered in a weary voice as he stretched out on the bed beside his boyfriend. "Did you really think it would?"

"If they were psychosomatic injuries, they should have started to fade as soon as Aya was no longer conscious, or at least that’s what I’d assumed." Omi chewed on his lip for a moment as he rubbed his sore arm. "If they’ve been induced by Mastermind, they should fade away soon, especially since he was hurt very badly and should be under the effects of medication now so his wounds can be tended to." He stared at the hand for a minute longer, but didn’t see any changes.

"How the hell could Mastermind do this? How did he hurt Aya while being almost strangled to death? Or the hand, when he didn’t seem to be conscious enough to even know that Oracle had cut him." Ken, sitting on the windowsill, stood and joined Omi and Yohji by the bed. "Why would he want to do this?"

Yohji laughed, a harsh sound that made his teammates stare at him. "Why the hell does the Bastard do anything in regards to Aya? Maybe it’s a side effect of him being inside Aya’s mind all the fucking time, or maybe he likes the fact that we can’t do a damn thing against him without hurting one of our own. The last one seems more likely."

"It does make sense, especially considering how much of an enemy he’s made of you and Ken," Omi replied. Not to mention him was well. How many times had he threatened to or thought of killing Mastermind? The telepath’s warnings to him over those thoughts were now making sense.

"Let’s face it, if the bastard could make me try and kill Yohji, making Aya hurt along with him is nothing." Ken looked down at Aya for a moment, his face inscrutable, then he sighed and adjusted the covers on the sleeping man. "Each time Aya thinks he’s on to Mastermind, the bastard throws another curve his way. This one is gonna be really hard to overcome. How much do you wanna bet that the next time we face Schwarz, Mastermind will pick one of us to fight and not Aya? We won’t be able to touch him."

Omi thought about what Ken said. It was true, Schwarz now had an advantage over them. They would only be able to strike back at three quarters of the team, and Mastermind could create all types of havoc if left unchecked. Then he thought of the other team leaving without continuing the fight.

"I wonder… Schwarz left without a fight when they had the upper hand. Maybe it goes both ways, and we can hurt Mastermind via Aya-kun."

Yohji pushed his upper body off the bed, his lips pulled back in a snarl. "There’s no fucking way I’m gonna let anyone hurt the Bastard by harming Aya. No fucking way."

Omi held out his hands in a placating manner. "No, Yohji-kun, I didn’t mean it that way. I’m just saying that maybe they can’t risk Aya being hurt because of what it does to Mastermind. Maybe that’s why they just left tonight. It would also explain why they haven’t killed us yet when they have the power to do so."

"Yeah, but Aya was hurt a week ago, and that didn’t prevent Mastermind from messing with him." Frowning, Ken rubbed the palms of his hands against his eyes. "You know what? I’m tired, sore and quite frankly I smell, and all I want is a bath and to sleep in my bed. I don’t want to think about Schwarz being able to hurt us through Mastermind, or wonder if this will suddenly affect the rest of us. I just want to rest."

Ken had a very good point, so Omi rose to his feet after tucking Aya’s hand underneath the down comforter. He wished Yohji goodnight and followed Ken into the hallway. Once the bedroom door was closed behind them, the older boy put a hand on his arm.

"What are you going to report to Kritiker? If this thing doesn’t fade away during the night there’s a chance that we’ll have another mission before Aya’s able to use his leg or hand."

Omi sighed as he leaned against the wall, feeling the various cuts and bruises on his body protest him moving about. "I thought I’d say he’d sprained his ankle, which is serious enough to keep him out of missions for a week or two, but not bad enough an injury that will attract attention over him not going to the hospital." Ken nodded his head, showing his approval.

"Do you really think something like this could affect the rest of us? Can you imagine having to suffer Berserker’s injuries? He might not feel pain, but we do." Ken jerked a hand through his hair in frustration. "I’m getting so sick of these freaks fucking with our lives."

"I don’t think the rest of us will be affected. Mastermind… he’s only interested in Aya," Omi replied softly. "He wouldn’t take that risk for anyone else." At Ken’s curious look Omi explained his comment. "There has to be some risk involved, some connection if he can make Aya suffer his wounds to such an extent. It has to be a very strong bond between the two of them. Maybe we can use that to our advantage."

"Yeah, but what else can he do besides share his pain? He might be able to know everything that Aya does, or even make him…." Ken fell silent, a look of pain and anger on his face. "Never mind, he can already do that stuff, and to any of us. Have I mentioned that I really want to sleep now?"

Patting his friend on the arm, Omi jerked his head in the direction of the bathroom. "Come on, let me patch you up and then you can take a shower."

"You need a little attention yourself, Omittchi." Ken slid his hand into Omi’s. "Why don’t we patch each other up? Though you might look like a mummy by the time I’m done bandaging you."

"One day you’ll learn how to wrap a bandage properly, Ken-kun. But I’ll accept your help." Omi smiled at his friend, feeling the best he’d felt since Schwarz had shown up. Later on he’d worry about the latest complication for Weiß, but right now he felt so happy holding Ken’s hand.

*******

Aya stared at the cut on his palm. The red line stood out on his pale skin, mocking him with its presence. There was no reason why he should be feeling so much pain because of one little mark, or not walk due to his one leg or barely speak because of his sore throat. No reason at all, yet he was in pain and crippled, unable to stand without support or to grip his katana for very long without his hand cramping in pain.

How had Schu done this to him? Why had he? For someone who claimed he didn’t like to cause Aya any pain, he sure as hell did it anyway. The worst was the injuries weren’t even his, but his body still reacted as if wounded.

<Sorry, my little camellia. It wasn’t my idea to get hurt like that. Thank your asshole boyfriend for our pain.>

Aya closed his eyes, trying to rein in his temper as he shifted about on the windowsill. He’d suspected that he’d hear from Schu that day, and couldn’t waste this chance at gaining a few answers by being overcome with rage.

<Ah, now you see why I love you so. Brains and beauty.> Schuldig’s thoughts were amused, but underneath Aya could sense pain. At least he wasn’t suffering alone, one small consolation.

A phantom hand caressed his cheek, making Aya scowl at nothing. <You wouldn’t be suffering at all if it wasn’t for the man-whore.>

‘I wouldn’t be in pain if it wasn’t for you. Don’t try to blame this on Yohji. Keep your damn injuries to yourself, Schu.’

The German’s voice chuckled in Aya’s head. <I can’t. We’re too linked for that now, sweet tuberose. My precious flower. Mine.> The last word caused Aya to clench his good hand in anger at the sense of possession that clung to it. <You’re mine, it’s time to get used to that. All that happened last night is even more proof of that fact. You gave yourself to me in those dreams, Aya. You came willingly to my bed, to _me_, and that bound us together. We’re so alike with our talents and our pasts that we’ll never be apart. I won’t leave you, not like Kudoh will.>

‘Stop it! I’m not yours, and he won’t leave me. All you do is lie, Schu.’ All the man did was prey on his fears, disturbing Aya until he couldn’t think straight. Yohji had promised not to leave him, had given his word. Aya had only doubted his lover because of Schuldig messing with his dreams.

<You’ll find out otherwise, Aya. Time will tell, and the vision will come true. You’re mine, or you wouldn’t be bearing my wounds. Accept that fact and there won’t be so much pain.>

Gritting his teeth, Aya stared out the window, refusing to listen to the voice inside his head any longer. Schu would just twist things until he couldn’t tell truth from lies. It was a useless fight, and Aya refused to allow himself to be baited any longer. He’d given up on pointless rages with Takatori’s death and wouldn’t let Schuldig goad him like this.

<Very well, be stubborn. You’ll find out the truth soon, precious Aya. I’ve kept all the oaths I gave you, and soon you’ll see that I wasn’t wrong about Kudoh. He’ll break you, but I’ll be there for you. If you think all we can share is pain….>

Aya gasped as he arched his back, pleasure flooding his body and eradicating the pain. He felt a warm mouth on his neck, skillful hands stroking his body until it thrummed with bliss.

<Stop fighting me and the pain will be gone. This is what awaits you after Kudoh breaks your heart. I’ll make you forget about all the ways I’ve hurt you, will make you ache for my touch. I make another promise to you, Aya, one of pleasure. Just give yourself to me and there will never be pain again.>

Schuldig slowly faded from Aya’s mind, making him want to sob in relief and frustration. Just when he got used to the tactics that Schu was using against him, the prick had to go and introduce a new one. But the man had overplayed his hand this time. Arai was gone, and Kritiker had backed off the psychiatric sessions. Aya and Yohji knew about the dreams and would be on guard against them. There was nothing else for Schuldig to use against him now.

Hugging his arms tightly across his chest and ignoring the pain from his phantom wounds, Aya glanced back outside to the street below. He saw a young couple walk along the sidewalk, saw kids running across the street laughing and he sighed. That was what he wanted, a normal life, and Schuldig would never be able to give that to him. Maybe Yohji couldn’t either, not with the promises they’d made Kritiker, but the blond made Aya feel safe and human, and that was more than Schuldig would ever be able to do.

He sat in the window and stared at the life that was denied him, and eventually his eyes grew unfocused as Aya thought about what he had. An obsessed telepath tormenting him night and day, an unscrupulous agency as his employer, and Weiß. Ken… Aya couldn’t figure out the young man’s attitude towards him, not with the way it changed from day to day, but Ken had watched his back last night, had still been his teammate. Omi fussed over him and tried so hard to make Weiß a family, and Aya had to admire the boy’s determination and will. Yohji….

Aya hadn’t spoken to his lover yet that day, partially due to his sore throat and partially in fear. He’d avoided Yohji’s touches, needing time to straighten out his thoughts and half afraid that Schuldig had done more to his mind than make it think that he’d actually been injured. But Schu seemed sure that Yohji would cause him pain, and not the other way around. Which wasn’t something Aya would ever expect from his lover, at least not intentionally. He could trust Yohji, he knew that now; the same couldn’t be said for Schu.

He’d sensed them last night, the threads that bound him to Schu, and knew that they wouldn’t be easily severed, if at all. Some of them were there by his choice, conscious or not, others were Schuldig’s doing. But for a moment this morning as he’d awakened groggy from the pain pills, Aya’s power had shown him the world around him, and he’d been too out of it to be afraid of what it revealed to him. There had been a myriad of threads, but the thickest and strongest were the gold ones that led from him to Yohji, who had been sitting on the edge of the bed watching him sleep. Aya knew that those had been formed by his own choice, by the love he’d felt for the idiot.

Yohji was his lover, his friend and his support. Yohji drove Aya mad, annoyed him beyond words at times and wore him out with his presence on a daily basis, but the first three facts never changed.

<They will, Aya. They will.>

*******

Yohji pressed his hand against the door, leaning against the wood for a moment. Then he opened it and stepped inside his bedroom. Aya was perched in the window; his sore leg stretched out along the wall, and he was wearing his orange sweater. Yohji knew he’d picked the ugly thing for the security it represented and the high neck that hid bruises that had no place on Aya’s neck.

Quietly crossing over to the window, Yohji sidled next to Aya and gazed out into the cloudy sky. He breathed in Aya’s scent, hoping that Aya wouldn’t ignore him and send him away. His lover hadn’t said a word to anyone since being drugged last night and had flinched every time Yohji had tried to touch him.

"Aya, do you need anything?"

There was no answer but silence, and Yohji’s heart started to ache. He didn’t know how he’d screwed up this time, and even worse, he had no clue about how to fix things. This latest development had taken them all by surprise and left Weiß floundering, him and Aya worst of all.

About to give up and leave, Yohji started when a cold hand slipped inside his. Aya slid out of the window, falling a little as his weight rested on his ‘injured’ leg. Yohji caught him and helped him over to the bed. When Aya laid down he tugged on his hand until Yohji stretched out beside him.

"Stay." Aya’s voice was hoarse and painful to hear; Yohji could only imagine how much it must hurt his lover to speak. No wonder Aya hadn’t spoken to anyone that day.

"Kitten, is there anything you need? Some tea maybe?" Perhaps that would help the smaller man’s throat.

Aya nodded his head, but when Yohji tried to rise from the bed pale hands clung to him, holding him still. Snuggling against him when he laid back down, Aya hissed as he shifted his left leg.

"I hate this." The words were laden with anger and confusion. Yohji stroked Aya’s face, trying to soothe him.

"I’m not crazy about it either. Aya, do you have any fucking clue how the hell this happened?"

"Something about the dreams," Aya rasped. "He said something about us being tied together by them the one time." Closing his eyes, Aya tucked his head against Yohji’s chest and sighed. In return Yohji stroked the man’s crimson hair, part of him so happy to have Aya near and not upset at him, the other part still thinking the same thing since he’d seen Aya reacting to wounds he’d inflicted on Mastermind. Fucked. They were so fucked. And Aya most of all, courtesy of the Bastard.

"Love, what the hell are we going to do?"

"Don’t know."

Yohji closed his eyes for a second and then tried again. "We have to figure this out, Aya. Weiß can’t touch Mastermind now, not if it means you’ll be hurt. Hell, we’ll actually have to look out for the bastard. How are we going to be able to fight Schwarz when we can’t strike back at one of them? And what happens if he gets hurt on another mission?" His fears and concerns rushed from his mouth, all the things he’d been thinking of since last night. "What the hell do we do?"

"I. Don’t. Know." Aya pulled back to glare at him. "I’ve thought about it too, and can’t think of anything. Until someone does, I don’t want to talk about it."

"Aya…"

"_NO_." They stared at each other for a couple minutes, until Yohji realized that Aya wasn’t going to waver over the matter. Not over something he both hated and feared. No, Aya would be stubborn as all hell over something like that.

Not that Yohji could really blame him. It was easier to ignore something unpleasant than dwell on it until the fact that you couldn’t solve anything drove you mad. But he didn’t want Aya to be tied to that Bastard in any way and wanted this latest connection severed as soon as possible.

He muttered something about stubborn idiots under his breath and pulled Aya closer to him. Arms encircled his neck, tugging his head down until his lips brushed against Aya’s and they were breathing in each other’s breaths. Violet eyes regarded him with sadness and love.

"I don’t know how he’s done this, Yohji." Aya swallowed painfully and continued, his voice growing raspier with each word. "All I know for sure is he wants us broken up. Can’t do anything about the first, but…." Aya gave up on speaking and kissed Yohji passionately, threading his long fingers in Yohji’s hair.

Aya wasn’t going to let Mastermind break them apart. That part was crystal clear, and a knot of worry that had formed in Yohji’s chest last night unraveled. He’d been afraid that because of this latest sign of the telepath’s influence with Aya that maybe his lover would be affected in other ways, but Aya wasn’t letting his feelings for Yohji be changed. Especially not judging by the way the man was kissing him.

Breaking away for air, Yohji ran his thumb over Aya’s swollen lips. "Love… all I can say is we will figure out a way to undo this. I promise. It has to affect him some way too, so maybe we can use that against him. Maybe he can feel what hurts you."

Yohji’s breath caught in his throat as Aya’s lips curved in an utterly wicked smile, his eyes gleaming evilly. "Maybe he feels more," the redhead managed to croak out. For added effect he rocked his hips against Yohji’s.

Smiling in a similar manner at that thought, Yohji slid his hands underneath Aya’s sweater. "Yes, hopefully much more." His voice was husky, and his touch was making Aya shiver in his arms. "Why don’t we prove to him that he’ll never win?"

There wasn’t a verbal answer, just Aya pressing against him and kissing him. All in all, not a bad response in Yohji’s estimate. Yohji slid the orange sweater up and off his lover’s body, deciding it would look much better on the floor than on Aya. Then he set about making Aya forget all about the injuries and their pain, and letting Mastermind know that nothing had changed between the two of them. There was no way the Bastard was going to break them apart. None.

The feel of Aya sucking on his earlobe pushed all the thoughts in Yohji’s head aside but for one. He was damn sure going to give Mastermind one hell of an impression of just how much he and Aya belonged to each other.

*******

Crawford finished the report for his superiors, confident that Schwarz had excelled at their mission. While Kritiker had confiscated the latest shipment of weapons, they’d missed the similar shipment that he’d arranged to be smuggled in the day before by another organization. Nagi had diverted all the money in Umemoto’s accounts into theirs as soon as they’d returned home last night, so the second shipment of guns was paid for, and Schwarz had a little more money to pad their secret accounts. All in all, it had been a successful mission.

A knock on the door turned out to be Nagi, the boy stopping by to drop off a fresh cup of coffee before he took the food that rested on the tray beside it upstairs.

"Thank you. How is he doing?"

Nagi floated the coffee mug over to the desk. "Surprisingly well behaved. Other than demanding the VCR be moved into his room, he’s done nothing but sleep and eat." They shared a ghost of a conspiratorial grin. Schuldig had learned the hard way that if he wanted to be attended to while injured, he would have to be on his best behavior while he recuperated. Schwarz was assured a few days of peace and quiet. Crawford planned to enjoy the brief respite from headaches and aggravations.

"Maybe you should rent a few videos for him. He’s more likely to continue to behave if he isn’t too bored." Crawford sipped the coffee and nodded his head in thanks.

"I’ll do that later. Crawford, may I ask you a question?"

He nodded his head again, letting the teenager know it was okay to do so.

"How will this latest development affect Schwarz? Not that we want to harm him in the first place, but we won’t be able to strike back at Abyssinian now. Weiß will gradually realize that and use it to their benefit." Nagi gazed at him solemnly, the tray hovering in the air by his left shoulder.

Crawford set his mug down on his desk. "But we have the same advantage as them. In effect, we’re in a stalemate. But thanks to their link, Schuldig will be able to manipulate Abyssinian’s power and make it work for Schwarz, and leave Abyssinian unable to do the same for Weiß. In the end, we have the advantage."

Nagi considered his words, and after a moment, nodded his head and left the office. Picking up his coffee, Crawford savored the bitter drink as he rechecked his email for any errors. Then he sent it on its way and sat back in his chair. A successful mission, and Schuldig out of his hair for the next couple days. He could get spoiled by this.

*******

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