Cages

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chapter 15

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Ashes, ashes…

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The continuous soft splash of the water fountain in Saijou’s garden was working on Kikyou’s last nerve. The old bastard had been in rare form today and Kikyou had to rush through his bath so he could meet Shion here on time. That was almost half an hour ago and he was still waiting.

He was nervous and annoyed in equal measure. Beginning to wonder if something had happened to his lover - if Shion had been found out - Kikyou resolved to strangle the man if he’d merely forgotten the time. It wouldn’t be the first time Shion had requested a rendezvous with him and stood him up but that had been over finding a little time to be alone with each other, not something as important as this.

Hearing the scrunch of sandals on fine gravel, Kikyou turned around to find Shion and Rindou walking toward him. Relieved, he jumped off the low bench. The relief faded when he noticed the serious expression on Shion’s face. "Is something wrong?"

Shion shook his head while reaching out to brush back Kikyou’s bangs, his hand trembling slightly. Kikyou grasped it with his and squeezed gently. "Are you in any trouble?" he asked, a hint of worry in his voice.

"No, I’m all right." Shion motioned for Rindou to sit down on the bench before enfolding Kikyou in a tight embrace. "It’s just… things are even worse than I ever suspected. Hirofumi and Reiji have been giving orders to my staff without my knowledge and Saijou’s been hiding reports from me. I’d never have known if I hadn’t started digging around for the information you wanted." He placed a kiss on Kikyou’s forehead and sighed, suddenly weary.

"We thought you knew, Shion. We were always told the orders had been cleared through you." Rindou sounded as tired as his supervisor. Kikyou looked evenly at the elegant man and wondered why Shion brought him here. He had only expected his lover to question the security agent, not include him in their meeting. As if reading Kikyou’s thoughts, Shion ordered Rindou to tell him about what happened in America.

Rindou took a deep breath and fixed his eyes on the gravel between his feet. "I was ordered to ‘take care of’ an American businessman named Tyson. Hirofumi wanted me to make his death appear an accident." He rubbed the back of his neck and snorted. "I thought… I don’t know what the hell I thought. That maybe this guy was a threat somehow, that perhaps Reiji was behind the order. I did what I was told."

It took Kikyou a moment to place the name. Tyson had been the American who had insulted Aya by asking to sleep with him for a night. He was also the representative of an American firm that had purchased billions of yen worth of loans from an associate of Reiji’s. He remembered sitting through tea just a couple of weeks ago, right after returning from Tokyo, when Reiji told his father about the deal. Was Tyson killed because of Aya or the loans?

The three of them were silent for several uncomfortable moments, lost in their own thoughts until Shion cleared his throat. "Reiji approached me about my giving Rindou orders on his father’s behalf during the visit to America and I told him that I hadn’t. He seemed rather upset at the news. This was a week or two before you asked me to help you, Kikyou." Shion looked at him, his eyes haunted and face haggard. "I must confess that I didn’t agree to help you for Aya’s sake alone but to find out the truth of what my men have been doing. Reiji’s question raised my suspicions. What I’ve found out over the past few weeks… has been a revelation."

Kikyou didn’t know what he was supposed to say at that moment, if he should apologize or not. He’d always known that the Takatoris had the power to get away with murder, that was what led to him becoming Saijou’s toy. After meeting Shion, he believed that power wasn’t abused since he couldn’t see Shion working for… psychopaths. It never occurred to him that his lover might have been kept out of the loop.

"What are you going to do now?" he asked, half afraid of the answer. This wasn’t just about Aya any more, things were now hitting much closer to home. He wasn’t worried about earning Reiji’s wrath over his little betrayal but Saijou…. No matter what Reiji and his sons thought, Saijou was still the true power behind the Takatoris. Power that he was abusing if he was keeping things from his chief of security. But for what purpose?

Shion took a deep breath as he plucked a branch from the camellia tree by the fountain. He began to strip it of its leaves. "Give me a few more days to find out all I can and then you can give the information over to Aya’s friend. If things go as you hope, Reiji will be in some serious trouble and I can take advantage of that situation." His eyes glinted with anger and resolve. "Things were never this bad before Reiji became Prime Minister. Since then, the Takatoris have been involved in nothing but deceit and death. Once they lose most of their power, the murders and the rest of it will stop."

Kikyou wasn’t so sure that things were that simple but he didn’t want to be the one to point this out to Shion. It seemed that all he could do right now was to pass the information to Ayumi and hope that she could arrange something damaging enough to bring the Takatoris’ empire to its knees before he lost friends and loved ones. He’d do it himself but knew that nobody would listen to him. Any respect or honor he’d possessed had been lost the moment it had become known that he was Saijou’s lover.

He’d always remained willfully ignorant of what Saijou and his offspring were up to – there were some things that required a person to either stand against them or to become as heartless as their perpetrators. Now, he was aware of what was truly happening, as well as the people he cared about, and he refused to become what the Takatoris had allowed themselves to become. It was a bit disconcerting to discover that he still had a conscience left after all these years. He fervently hoped that said conscience wouldn’t be the end of them.

*******

Saijou hung up the phone and sat back on his heels, his hands folded in his lap as he thought. He barely noticed when the servant returned to fetch the phone and left a cup of tea in its place. He debated for a moment whether to order the young woman to find Kikyou and tell him to report here but instead he remained quiet.

He sipped his hot, bitter tea, a blend usually used only for tea ceremonies. It was his favorite and even with his age-dulled senses, a single taste was enough to flood his mind with memories of the past, of sitting through numerous chadou with his father. He spent hours sipping tea like this and learned from his father. The next time Hirofumi visited with his lover, Saijou would have the young man perform a tea ceremony.

His thoughts settled on Fujimiya Ran as Saijou sipped his tea and reflected on the recent phone call. Hirofumi was too possessive, too impulsive. The boy learned that from his father, despite Saijou’s best efforts. How Reiji grew into the man he was now, was beyond him, and his son passed his bad habits to his grandsons. What a shame that Shuuichi hadn’t been firstborn….

The boy had been beyond foolish this time and worse yet, Reiji didn’t seem to care. His son only cared that a rival was now in mourning, weakened by a loss that could be exploited. Reiji was just as foolish as his son. He’d learned *nothing* during the chadou Saijou held for him, nothing at all. Reiji and his sons only cared about what their power allowed them to do and ignored everything else.

Ah well, at least Shuuichi showed signs of promise. Years of covering up his older brother’s indiscretions and crimes was the perfect schooling for Saijou’s youngest child. Better yet, Mamoru appeared to take after his true father, despite growing up in Reiji’s household. Saijou chuckled and nodded in satisfaction. He had plans for Kikuno’s child.

Finishing his drink, he wondered if he should summon Kikyou to him after all or allow his lover to play at his conspiracies. In light of the recent news, it seemed the latter would be best. He’d leave the young man in peace tonight. An amused smile tugged at his lips as Saijou resolved to play with Kikyou tomorrow. He would teach his lover his proper place then, so Kikyou didn’t get any ideas into his pretty head. For some, escape was never an option and Saijou wasn’t going to give up his lovely young lord, especially when he was proving so very interesting.

*******

His enemy trapped beneath him, Yohji went for the strongest weapon in his arsenal. Flexing his fingers, he prepared to mercilessly torture the unfortunate soul. "Come on, Ken. Give up the remote. I’m not watching some stupid football game all night!" He enforced his words with a ruthless bout of tickling.

Ken was laughing so hard he started to turn red but he still held the remote firmly clutched in his hand. "Go… to… he-ah!" He gasped as Yohji intensified his assault.

"No more football! You’ve watched these stupid games all day long. It’s my turn to pick a show." Yohji reached with his free hand for the remote Ken was valiantly holding as far away from him as possible. Grateful for long arms, Yohji managed to snag the remote and gave his friend’s stomach one more tickle in victory. "Yes! Death to all sports channels! Long live pornography!"

Of course Aya chose just then to smack him on the back of the head, and with his cast-bound left hand of all things. Damn near seeing stars, Yohji squawked in pain and turned to glare at his lover, who was standing beside him. "What the hell is your problem?"

"We’re not watching the porn channel," Aya said, glaring, looking so adorable with his eyebrows furrowed and his lips pressed tightly together. He was dressed in a pair of Yohji’s cut off jeans which were sliding down his hips and a black t-shirt, his arms and legs exposed for once. Reminded of how sexy his lover was, Yohji quickly forgot about being cranky.

There was another loud squawk, this time from Aya as Yohji grabbed a belt loop of Aya’s jeans and yanked hard. Aya fell forward right into Yohji’s arms and he quickly rolled his lover onto the floor. "Great idea, darling. Why watch it when we can live it?" Before Aya could yell at him, he leaned in for a kiss. And was quite pleasantly shocked when Aya actually kissed him back… enthusiastically.

Gods… he was only kidding about putting on a show but the way Aya was kissing him…. Yohji groaned in pleasure and moved his hands along Aya’s body. He dropped the remote onto the floor, needing to be able to slide both hands underneath the t-shirt to stroke smooth, taut skin….

"HA! I got it, Aya." At Mamoru’s triumphant yell, Aya broke off the kiss, a wicked gleam in his eyes. Realizing that he’d just been tricked, Yohji growled as he buried his hands in Aya’s hair, holding his lover still so he could continue what they’d started. Aya should know better than to try and use his hormones against him. Aya tried to push him away at first but a gentle nibble on his neck made Aya sigh and his body melt.

"Yohji… not here," Aya pleaded breathlessly. Yohji didn’t bother to grace that with an answer as he rolled over, dragging Aya along with him. He didn’t want to put any pressure on Aya’s healing ribs and now he stood a chance of getting that annoying shirt off his lover….

"Ow!" This time it was the remote that was smacked against his head by Mamoru. Yohji began to curse his friend when he noticed that Aya was smiling. That was a rare sight these past few weeks so he settled for grumbling in annoyance and sent a scowl Mamoru’s way as he rubbed his sore head with one hand, the other wrapped firmly around Aya’s waist. He slowly sat up while making sure to keep Aya in his lap. "If you guys keep up with all this abuse, I really will turn into a dumb blond."

"You mean you aren’t one already?" Ken teased, still stretched out on the floor.

"Comments like that will have you sleeping out on the balcony," Yohji threatened, feeling a bit surly over all the abuse. "What is this, ‘pick on Kudoh’ day or something?"

"We have to do something to keep you in your place." He gave Aya a hurt look for that comment and was graced with another smile. Aya combed back Yohji’s hair and bent his head forward before giving him a kiss on the forehead. "Head feel better now?"

Unable to resist, Yohji wiggled his hips and arched an eyebrow. "Yes, it does. You know, I’ve also a pain down he-" This time Aya smacked a pillow onto his poor head, which was an improvement of sorts.

"I believe Aya said there will be no pornography, thank you very much!" Mamoru tried for a stern tone but was laughing too much to pull it off. "You’re such a pervert, Yohji."

"That’s why Aya loves me." He kissed his lover on the nose and shared a smile. "Don’t worry, kiddo, I’ll behave. We wouldn’t want you to have a clue of what you’re missing out on since you’re still just a little kid."

Yohji could tell that Mamoru wanted to hit him again but, with Aya curled up in his lap, his friend didn’t have a clear shot at just him. He contemplated sticking out his tongue before Aya gave him a warning nudge in the ribs. Stealing another kiss, this one brief but sweet enough to leave him smiling like an idiot, he rested his back against the couch. Aya turned around and nestled between his legs, his back resting against Yohji’s chest.

"So what’re we watching now? If you say football, kiddo, I’ll give you the same treatment I did Ken," Yohji warned, flexing and wiggling his fingers.

Mamoru rolled his eyes and plopped onto the couch. "Pardon me while I tremble in fear, Yohji. Aya, when are you going to teach this oaf some manners?" he asked while tugging on a strand of Yohji’s hair. "If you threaten him with no sex until he starts behaving, you’ll have him trained in no time."

"You little brat, I should-"

Aya cut into Yohji’s cursing, his voice smooth with amusement. "Here I thought he was a boyfriend and not a pet, even if he *is* a kitsune." He rested his head on Yohji’s shoulder and entwined the fingers of their right hands together. "Besides, I’d only be depriving myself if I do what you suggest."

"Damned straight you would, love," Yohji mumbled as he began nibbling on Aya’s ear. He’d have to be *very* good to Aya later tonight, just so his lover didn’t reconsider Mamoru’s advice. He smiled in anticipation.

"Just so you guys know, I’ve got a bottle of water over here and I’m not afraid to use it if you decide to put on another floor show." Yohji looked up to see Ken, now sprawled on the loveseat, waving his drink. "I’ve seen enough of you two going at it to last me a lifetime."

Before making a comment that his roomie was just jealous, Yohji bit his lip just in time. He could tell that Ken got a little wistful and depressed when he and Aya carried on in front of him and he didn’t want Ken to feel bad. So he scowled at him and snuggled with Aya instead. "So, what are we ordering for dinner?"

Mamoru flipped through the channels before settling on one. It was early, so the news was still on. A middle-aged man was staring solemnly at the camera and talking about a body which was found dumped in the Kandagawa River. "How does yakitori and gyoza sound? It’s my turn to-"

Aya went rigid in Yohji’s arms and leaned forward. "Turn up the volume, Mamoru." His voice was low and serious, his attention focused on the television. Yohji frowned and glanced at the screen, wondering what had Aya so upset.

"- officials have not released any information at this point. This station has been unable to reach Nijo Arata for comment." The newscaster paused for a moment, his lips pressed tightly together briefly before relaxing and switching the topic. "Scientists in Western Europe have discovered a new…-"

Mamoru turned the volume down. "Nijo Arata’s son? Is that who they were talking about, Aya? Something happened to one of his sons?"

"Hideo," Aya whispered. "They said he was found floating in the river this afternoon." He was trembling.

Yohji ran his hands up and down Aya’s arms, trying to get his lover to stop shivering. At a loss for words, he tried to think of something to say to break the uncomfortable silence that followed Aya’s statement. Before he could come up with anything, Aya stood up and walked quickly to the kitchen. Yohji followed, unhappy about the guarded, carefully blank look on Aya’s face. Back in the living room, Mamoru explained to a puzzled Ken who Nijo Hideo was.

Yohji found Aya at the sink, filling the teakettle. He leaned against the door and observed his lover. "Aya…." It seemed rather stupid to ask his lover how he was doing since the answer was obvious. "I’m sorry. I know you cared about him and that was a rather shitty way to find out."

Setting the kettle on the counter with great care, Aya kept his back turned to Yohji. "He was just an old friend, Yohji. One I barely think about any more. It’s a shame, what happened." Aya’s voice started to crack. "His mother must be falling apart. She always doted on Hideo, saying that-" He choked out the last word and fell silent.

Rushing over to his lover, Yohji was surprised to see Aya glaring furiously into the sink. "I’m sorry. " When he wrapped his arms around Aya, he found him rigid with tension. "Aya…."

"He’s dead," he whispered. "It’s my fault."

"How the hell is that possible? You didn’t kill him, Aya."

"I didn’t? Then why is he dead only a few days after running into me, Yohji?" Aya turned in Yohji’s embrace, his broken arm cradled against his chest. "Do you think it’s a coincidence? Do you think that if I hadn’t been sitting in that café the other day he’d ever have died?" Aya’s eyes burned feverishly bright, his pale face flushed. "He’s dead, just like my mother and father, like Sakura and Rei and--" He fell silent and pressed his hand against his eyes, as if holding back tears. "He’s dead and I know it’s my fault. He’d still be alive if he hadn’t run into me."

Shocked by Aya’s statement, Yohji shook his head and pulled his lover close. Aya finally relaxed as he allowed his body to slump against Yohji’s and his head tucked into the crook of Yohji’s neck. "You can’t blame yourself for their deaths, Aya," Yohji soothed. "Besides, your parents and Sakura killed themselves. You had nothing to do with that." He wondered who Rei was but wasn’t about to ask right now.

"That’s an awful lot of people to die around me, Yohji. Almost everyone I care about. There’s just my sister, you and Ayumi now." Aya pulled away, his eyes filled with pain and sadness. "Yohji, you should-"

Suddenly suspicious of where his lover was headed, Yohji grabbed Aya’s shoulders and gave him a shake. "Oh no, don’t you fucking say it, Aya," he growled, his voice rough with anger. "Don’t you fucking dare tell me that I should leave you or something for my own safety. I’m not leaving you. Get that through your head right now."

Aya looked ready to argue with him before wearily shaking his head and leaning against Yohji. "It’ll destroy me if anything happens to you," he whispered against Yohji’s neck, his lips cold.

"Nothing will happen to me. I won’t lose you, Aya, and I certainly won’t walk away from you. We’ll be fine, just have some faith in me. I won’t let anything happen to us." He kissed his lover’s temple and hugged him as tightly as he dared. They were quiet for several minutes, just holding each other close. "You think Hiro had something to do with it, don’t you?"

He felt it when Aya nodded. "The guard could have reported back to Hiro about what happened in the café. Hiro can’t afford to have anyone track me down and make the connection back to him. I… the first year I lived here, I barely ever left the Hanabatake. People easily recognized me. There are still people out there who would wonder what Fujimiya Ran is doing in a place like this, especially since it’s clear I can’t afford this on my own. If they find out about Hiro putting me here…."

"There’d be one hell of a scandal." But was it really worth Hiro’s reputation to kill a young man and risk being exposed if caught? "I can’t believe he’d kill someone just so no one finds out he’s gay." Yohji knew there was more than that involved but he didn’t want to say so in front of Aya. Judging from how insanely jealous Hiro became, the death most likely was not over a potential scandal.

"Aya, you mentioned Sakura a moment ago. You said she killed herself." He wouldn’t ask about Rei tonight but the mention of Aya’s former neighbor made him curious.

Aya pressed closer to and wrapped his slightly trembling arms around Yohji’s waist, the plaster cast pressed lightly against the small of Yohji’s back. "She did, but… the day of her death, she received a phone call from my apartment. I never called her that day… but Hiro was here most of the night. The call was made around the time I was preparing dinner." Aya shivered so Yohji ran his hands up and down his lover’s back, trying to soothe and warm him. "The police questioned me about the call and I lied. I told them that I called to see how she was doing and just wanted to chat. I don’t think they believed me but there wasn’t anything they could charge me with so they eventually dropped the matter. Hiro never discussed the phone call and there was no evidence that anyone else was involved in her death."

"But whoever called her that day may have said something that would influence her thoughts to kill herself, instead of running away like she’d planned," Yohji said, certain that a son of a bitch like Hiro could come up with something nasty enough to convince a naïve young woman that her best and only option was death. No wonder Aya didn’t want to talk about Sakura and her death.

"It gets worse, Yotan." Aya pulled back far enough so he could look at Yohji, his expression one of sorrow. "Rei… I never told you about her, did I?" Yohji shook his head and, after a quiet sigh, Aya continued. "When I first moved here, I had two friends. Ayumi and Rei. Rei was…." He paused to smile sadly. "She was my age and lived here for over a year. I had Ayumi for support, someone to teach me how to adjust to life here. Rei helped to make it bearable. She could always make me laugh and smile. I think that Hiro believed that she was the one who had encouraged me to run away and, not long after that, her patron kicked her out." His expression darkened, along with his voice. "We tried to stay in contact and even managed to meet a few times but within a few months of her leaving here, she was found dead of a drug overdose. She never used any drugs while she lived here, Yohji, but there’s a chance that she became addicted after moving. I know it was hard for her, not having a job or any education. I even gave her what money I could." He fell silent and rubbed his eyes. When he spoke again, his voice contained an icy politeness that Yohji hadn’t heard in months. "Can you see why it would be safer if you left? I don’t want anything to happen to you."

"Nothing’s going to happen to me, Aya. I know how much of a bastard Hiro is and I have you and Ayumi watching out for me." Yohji hugged his boyfriend and smiled reassuringly. "Everything will work out fine in the end, you’ll see. Just believe in us, love." He bent his head for a kiss, one that Aya returned with a desperation Yohji could feel. Aya clung to him as if he feared Yohji would vanish at any moment.

Several things were now very clear to Yohji. No wonder Aya treated him the way he did when they first met. Aya must have been desperate to avoid making any new friends, to not care for anyone who could be harmed because of him. And then there was Aya’s cold acceptance of Maki’s fate. He’d seen first hand what could happen to the Hanabatake’s former residents.

Even if Hiro hadn’t done anything more than have Rei kicked out of here, he had the young woman’s blood on his hands. Probably Sakura’s too, and now Hideo’s. Yohji still believed the bastard was responsible for what had happened to Aya’s father. How many deaths had Hiro caused?

Aya and Yohji held each other until they heard Mamoru clear his throat. When they looked over at their friend, he smiled shyly and stepped into the kitchen. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah." Yohji wasn’t in the mood to elaborate. He cupped Aya’s chin and tilted his lover’s face upward, searching his violet eyes to see if he’d lied just then. Aya gazed back at him, still a little sad but not appearing hopeless. "We’re okay, kiddo. What do you want?"

"I was going to order dinner now. Should I get the usual for you two?" Yohji and Aya nodded and Mamoru stared at them a moment longer before leaving the room. Giving Aya a gentle squeeze, Yohji kissed him on the forehead and released him.

"I promise that you’re not going to lose anyone else." He gave his lover the most sincere, honest look he could, hoping to put Aya’s fears to rest.

Aya stroked Yohji’s cheek before stepping back. "I’ll never forgive you if you let me down, Yohji. Keep that in mind." He tucked back Yohji’s hair and quietly left the kitchen.

Following him, Yohji decided that he’d have to kick Ken and Mamoru out after dinner, maybe send them to an arcade to play for a few hours and have Ayumi invite Aya over for tea. He wanted to spend some time on his computer to see if he could track down any new leads. He hadn’t had much time the past couple of days but now felt the need to make that time. Despite Aya’s promise to him about not considering suicide as an option, Yohji didn’t want to test that oath by letting his lover believe Hiro might harm him. They needed to free Aya from that bastard as soon as possible. He could waste a night watching videos after he was sure Aya was safe.

*******

Hearing the front door close, Ken shifted his chair at the kitchen table and took a deep breath as he wrapped his shaking hands around his mug of coffee. He’d wait to see if Yohji came in here for something to drink or if he sat down in the living room. His friend was spending an awful lot of time on the computer the last couple of days so maybe he’d log on now. As much as Ken didn’t want to bother Yohji, he didn’t have much choice. He’d be moving out tomorrow since Kase would be back then. If he hadn’t been such a coward, he would have told Yohji about his decision days ago.

But he didn’t want his friend to be upset with him. Sighing, Ken picked up his mug just as Yohji walked into the kitchen.

"Is there any of that left?" Yohji asked before spotting the mostly full pot of coffee. "Great." A contented smile on his face, he hurried over to the coffee maker. He was dressed in a green yukata covered with kites, his hair still wet from the shower he’d taken with Aya a few minutes ago. "You know, I’ll never understand how Aya and Ayumi can prefer a pot of green tea to this. Mmmm, wonderful." Yohji sipped his coffee with apparent happiness, his body relaxed and eyes bright.

"That’s funny, I heard Aya mention that he can’t understand why you’re so crazy about coffee." Ken smiled himself before taking a small sip.

"Well, between the caffeine in this and the nicotine in my cigarettes, I have all that energy to keep Ayan very, very happy." Yohji leered and leaned against the counter. "He certainly didn’t have any complaints just now," he remarked dreamily before glancing at Ken. Then he straightened up, an embarrassed flush to his face. "Sorry, Kenken."

"It’s okay, Yohji." Ken had felt some jealousy sitting here in the kitchen while Yohji and Aya had been making love but it wasn’t his friends’ fault. They were just taking advantage of the small amount of time they had together, not trying to make him feel bad. It was just… they were so damned happy together. They complemented each other so well that just watching them sitting near each other proved how much they belonged together. Ken believed that he and Kase had been the same way but, seeing two people who were truly in love…. He hoped he wasn’t making a mistake.

Taking a deep breath, he decided to get this over with already. "Yohji…. I want to thank you for letting me stay here the past several weeks."

His demeanor serious, Yohji sat down at the table opposite Ken. "You’re more than welcome." He sipped his drink and set the mug down. "I get the impression you’ve made a decision. Care to enlighten me? Or are you moving in permanently?"

"No, anything but that." Ken dredged up a smile and sat back in his chair. "You’ve been a great friend but there’s no way I could be your roommate for more than a month or two at a time. I’m tired of hiding in my room all the time or walking in on you and Aya."

"You, me and him," Yohji muttered. "I think you just like seeing me naked. Admit it, you’re jealous."

"Yeah, right, Yohji. I can’t stop lusting over your scrawny body." Ken rolled his eyes, put at ease by the teasing. At least until he noticed Yohji’s amused but expectant look. "Uhm… I’m moving out. Tomorrow."

Yohji frowned slightly at the news. "You don’t believe in giving a guy much notice, do you?" He tapped long fingers against his mug, the amusement slowly fading from his face. "You moving into a new place, Kenken?"

"No." Ken whispered the word, then repeated it in a stronger voice. "No. I’m… I’m moving back home." He suddenly couldn’t look Yohji in the eye anymore. "I’m going back to Kase."

The room was quiet for several seconds, then there was a rustle of cellophane and the faint scent of tobacco. Ken cautiously looked up to see Yohji with an unlit cigarette between his lips as he stared off into space.

"This might be a stupid question, Ken but, have you thought this through? You don’t have to move out right away if you still need more time."

Ken felt a warm rush of affection for his friend. Yohji was lying his ass off, it was more than past time for Ken to move out. "Yeah, I thought it through. I’m not rushing back into things with Kase but I… I need to give this relationship one more chance," he finished weakly, hoping that Yohji would understand.

Nibbling on his cigarette, Yohji appeared to consider that. "I think I get that, though I’ve never been in your situation before." His eyes grew sad for a moment. "I’ve never… I never really broke up with someone I loved but I know how it feels to have the person you love fuck someone else. It sure as hell doesn’t change the way I feel about Aya."

"I guess I never thought about that," Ken admitted. Yohji and Aya certainly couldn’t afford to have any hang-ups about fidelity, not with their relationship. But neither he nor Kase were prostitutes so it wasn’t the same.

"Do you love him?"

Ken looked at Yohji. "Yeah, I do. I wouldn’t go back to him if I didn’t."

"Huh." Yohji removed the cigarette and rolled it between his fingers. "Do you believe he loves you?"

"Yes." Ken was proud that he didn’t hesitate with that answer. "I know he cheated on me, Yohji, but he promised that he wouldn’t again. I told him flat out that if he did I’d leave him for good." He wanted to convince Yohji he wasn’t making a mistake. "I’ve known him all my life. I know when he’s lying to me."

"It’s your decision, Ken. I certainly can’t tell you how to live your life." Yohji tossed aside the mangled cigarette and picked up his mug. "I know that if something ever happened between Aya and me, I’d do everything in my power to get him back. Love’s like that. Just know that you have a place to crash if you need some space to think." Yohji smiled, his expression shaky. "I won’t convert the spare room into an office for at least a few weeks."

"Thanks, Yohji. But you’ll probably move the computer back there the same day I move out so you can surf for your porn in peace," Ken teased, wanting more than anything for the serious mood to lighten. He wanted Yohji to be happy about his decision, not wary. He wasn’t making a mistake. He knew what he was doing and he’d be keeping a close eye on Kase. He just didn’t think it was time to walk away from his friend and lover just yet.

"I don’t need porn, I have Aya." Yohji got up and fetched more coffee. "I’ll never find anything half as sexy as him out on the ‘net. Nothing like a lover who’s flexible as hell to keep you satisfied," he deadpanned before taking a sip.

Ken made a gagging noise. "Too much information, Yohji. I don’t need to know about you surfing the ‘net looking for new poses for you and Aya to enjoy." He grimaced and finished his cold coffee. "God, thinking about it is bad enough. I need to get out of here before I come home and find the two of you trying out your discoveries on the kitchen table. Again."

Yohji set his mug down on the counter and walked over to Ken, hugging him around the shoulders. "Just think, Kenken, it could have been you. But nooooo, you had to go and break my heart." He licked Ken’s cheek and jumped back laughing. "You taste scrumptious, Kenken."

"You are one hell of a pervert," Ken snapped as he scrubbed his defiled face with the sleeve of his t-shirt. "Gross, now I have Yohji cooties. You really do think you’re a kitsune, don’t you?"

"I’ll gladly show you my tail whenever you want, sweetheart." Yohji winked at Ken as he picked up his mug. Before leaving the room, he paused in the doorway, serious once more. "Ken… do me a favor and watch out for yourself, okay? I know you’ve known Kase forever and I’ve had clients who broke things off with me because they didn’t want to cheat on their spouses anymore. But the majority of them are married and don’t give a damn that they’re committing adultery. Just be certain that Kase isn’t like that, please."

"I promise," Ken said, suddenly weary. He really was going through with this, leaving here and returning to Kase. That thought sobered him. "I don’t want to be made a fool of again, trust me. I know what I’m doing."

Thankfully Yohji just nodded and didn’t say, "I hope so". Still, it was clear Ken’s friend still had his doubts. Ken wished that Yohji was the only one.

*******

Ayumi extended the metal cup into a stream of the Otowa waterfall, the long handle shaking in her gnarled hand. She had to be careful not to spill the water as she drew the cup toward her. As she sipped the cold water, she thought of Aya and hoped that the health and happiness the water was believed to bestow on people would be transferred to him. After setting the cup underneath the row of sanitizing lights, she left the small pavilion below the sacred waterfall.

She didn’t know why Kikyou asked her to meet him at Kiomizu-dera but, when he’d mentioned the place, she’d insisted that she’d wait for him at the small kitsune shrine not far from the pond. She took her time, still feeling the effects of walking up the hill to the shrine. She absently thought that she’d have to stop at a few of the stores that lined the narrow street on her way back down. There were several fans that had caught her attention.

Seeing the two kitsune statues, she bowed slightly as she passed them and thought of Yohji. She wanted to bring him here one day. He’d love to see all the shops and the lovely view of Kyoto from the one pavilion. Aya would be with them, of course, as this was his favorite temple.

The small shrine was set off the path, surrounded by trees. Kikyou was waiting for her, leaning against a maple tree. "How are you, Ayumi-sama?"

"I’m fine, Kikyou-san. How are you?"

"As well as can be expected," he replied, his voice hushed. He glanced behind Ayumi as if making sure no one had followed her and then motioned her forward. "Come closer, the last thing we need is someone to overhear us."

Doing as she was told, she approached the young man, venturing to the edge of the woods. It was so quiet, the only sound being the rustle of falling leaves. The day was overcast so the temple was a little less crowded than usual. Not that many people would bother with this small, out of the way shrine.

"Did you find something?" she asked hopefully.

Kikyou nodded and reached into the sleeve of his dark brown and gold kimono. He pulled out a small envelope and handed it to her. "Here, please give these to Yohji. I won’t go into them in depth here but there’s enough information on these discs to indeed hang Reiji and Hiro." At her questioning look, he smiled slightly as he combed back the hair falling into his face. "Did you see the news about the death of Nijo Arata’s oldest son?"

"Yes. Aya was quite upset about the unfortunate accident. The young man was a good friend of his," Ayumi commented as a bad feeling crept over her. "He ran into him just the week before."

"I know. It’s no accident he was found murdered soon after." Kikyou paused as he looked around them suspiciously. "He was trying to find Aya after the incident in the coffee shop. Hiro…."

Kikyou didn’t finish but Ayumi didn’t need him to. Covering her mouth in horror, she tightly clutched the discs in her hand. "He… oh, how could he?"

"It wasn’t just the Nijo boy, either. There’s information on there about an American businessman who died back in July." Kikyou rubbed his hand over his eyes, his appearance haggard. "There’s nothing official, I’m afraid. I can’t reveal who I got the information from and they won’t testify. I won’t ask them to, either. But you and Yohji should be able to do something with what I just gave you. There’s also the information that Yohji wanted on Aya’s father. It should back up any information he’s found in the police database and be the thing that we can officially blame on Reiji and Hirofumi."

He sighed wearily as he tore a red leaf off the branch above his head. "The things I found out the past couple of weeks…. I thought I had it bad, being Saijou’s pet, but the old man’s far from the worst of his family." He stared bleakly at Ayumi. "Among other things on those discs is a report that Saijou refuses to do anything about. It seems that Reiji has-" He let out a shuddering breath as he tilted his head downward, his hair falling around his face like a black veil. "It appears that he’s been… molesting Masafumi’s adopted daughter."

Just when Ayumi thought she’d realized just how depraved the Takatoris were, along came another revelation that surprised and disgusted her. "Does Masafumi know?"

"No, a guard walked in on Reiji and the girl one day and filed a report hoping that someone higher up would do something. Of course the old bastard’s done nothing and the guard is too terrified of Reiji to tell Masafumi himself. The only way Masafumi will find out is if the girl tells him. " Kikyou laughed bitterly. "As if a young girl would speak out against a distinguished older man."

Which Ayumi was certain would never happen. From what Aya told her, the girl was a bit… backward in her mental development but one needn’t be the brightest to understand Kikyou’s point. "How can Saijou allow his family to dishonor themselves so?"

"I don’t know. From what I’ve discovered, he reads all the reports and just sets them aside. I’m beginning to understand though, why Saijou favors Mamoru so much, besides his mother. He’s the only true innocent in that family, if you discount his half-sister." Kikyou glanced at her before staring at the kitsune statues. "I think I’ve given you all the rope you need for Reiji and Hiro’s nooses. To be honest, I don’t want to know anything more."

"It should be more than enough. Thank you," Ayumi told him earnestly. Her mind whirled, busy analyzing the potential ways she could put this information to use. She wouldn’t make any concrete plans until she went over those discs in depth but she was already seeing several possible plans. "Between the information about Nijo’s son and Fujimiya Yutaka, I should be able to give Reiji’s enemies more than enough reason to depose him. The only difficulty now is figuring out how to do that without causing damage to anyone but Reiji and Hirofumi."

"Please, try to keep Mamoru out of it for as long as possible, if you can." Kikyou pushed himself away from the tree. "He shouldn’t have to suffer from his family’s scandal the way Aya did."

"No, he shouldn’t." Ayumi bowed low to Kikyou. "Thank you. This is more than enough to free Aya."

Kikyou stood before her, his demeanor serious. "Have you given any thought to what will happen to Aya then? It’s not just enough to weaken Hirofumi, you know. He’s already *killed* for Aya, do you think he’ll just give him up that easily?"

She considered the question for a moment. "He’ll have to leave Japan. I’ve always known that. He can go to America and reunite with his sister." She ignored the pain that filled her at the thought of never seeing her beloved Ayan again.

"I’ll talk to a friend and see what he thinks about this," Kikyou said, lost in thought. "I’m sure Yohji will be with Aya, wherever he goes. They’ll need passports, since Hirofumi has Aya’s. They’ll need new names, too, since I wouldn’t put it past Hirofumi to have issued an order barring Aya from leaving the country. I might as well see this through and done properly." For the first time during their meeting, he smiled. "This could be fun. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return home."

"Again, thank you. I’ll let you know what I decide to do with this information." She tucked the precious discs into her purse. "Good day, Kikyou."

"You too, Ayumi." Kikyou waved as he walked away, pausing to pat one of the kitsune on the back. She watched him leave and waited a few minutes before returning to the main shrine. She wanted to offer up a few prayers to whatever gods would heed them. If they were going to pull this off successfully, they were going to need all the help they could get.

*******

Yohji blew on his cup of tea, his attention riveted to the doorway in front of him. "It won’t take Aya very long to finish that arrangement for you, Ayumi. Let’s save the pleasantries for when he arrives and get down to business now." Ayumi’s heavy sigh made him look at his friend and smile. "In other words, for once in your life talk fast, dammit," he teased.

Ayumi sighed again, even more melodramatically this time. "I spent most of my life learning how to talk like this, Yotan. Don’t expect miracles." She smiled sweetly before sitting back and nodding. "We should have a few minutes alone but you’re right. I went over the information you left here last night and have a few ideas of how we should proceed."

"It’s about time." He took a gulp of his drink and set the cup down. "It’s enough information, isn’t it? I mean, between what Kikyou and I came up with, even if we don’t have anyone to back us up, it should be more than enough to lock Hiro and his father away for the rest of their lives." He fervently hoped that he wouldn’t have to spend any more time looking for more damning information on the Takatoris. Finding the missing files on Aya’s father last week had been bad enough, but corroborating the information that Kikyou gave Ayumi the other day…. Yohji shivered in disgust. He needed a night with Aya, just the two of them lying together in his bed, talking and making love, to help dim the memories of what he’d found.

Shivering again, he looked at Ayumi and caught his friend looking oddly at him. A small frown was on her lips and there was a sadness and disbelief in her golden eyes. "Ayumi? Is everything all right?" He had a sinking feeling that she was going to tell him there wasn’t enough information.

"It’s fine, Yohji. We have enough." Ayumi smiled gratefully then did some shivering of her own. "The things you and Kikyou found…." She took a deep breath and held the teacup between her hands. "I want to approach a few people with the information. It should be enough to motivate them to move against Reiji or, at the very least, fail to support him when others do the same."

"I don’t know… you need to be careful about who you approach about this." Yohji didn’t want to think about what would happen if Ayumi told the wrong person. He was disturbed from his thoughts by the sensation of something wooden smacking against his arm. "Ow!"

Her fan clutched in her hand, Ayumi frowned at him, a pout on her face. "You presume to tell me what to do, do you? I’ve held my own against these politicians since before your *parents* were born. I most certainly know what I’m doing now."

Rubbing his sore arm, Yohji snorted as he shook his head. "I’m sorry, darling, I forgot who I was talking to. Who are you going to approach?" he asked, hoping to distract her from her irritation.

She glared at him a moment longer before putting her fan away. "You most likely don’t know many of them. For the most part, they prefer to work behind the scenes so they don’t hold obvious positions of power. However, they are influential enough to sway people to their cause."

He started to grit his teeth in irritation, wishing that Ayumi wouldn’t be such a damned… geisha… when she took pity on him. "Two names you might recognize are Nijo and Chizuru."

"Uhm, I know the first but not the second." He tried to remember where he’d heard ‘Chizuru’ before, at least in connection to Aya and Ayumi. "Are you really going to approach Nijo?"

Ayumi tsked before sipping her tea. "Yes, I am. While the situation is potentially volatile, I feel it’s best. From what I know about the man, even with the death of his son he’ll proceed rationally." Her expression suddenly turned sad. "Besides, he needs to be cautious when it comes to Hideo. The news reports have been restrained, out of respect to Nijo’s position, but they’ve found some information that indicates that Hideo was gay."

"So he’ll need to be careful when he finds out that his son was killed for carrying a torch for another man." Yohji could see the sense in that. "Let me guess, you’re going to use the information about his son to get him to do something about the rest of the things we found out, such as Reiji and Hiro framing Aya’s father." Ayumi smiled proudly, causing a feeling of warmth to spread through Yohji’s chest. "So who is Chizuru?"

She rolled her eyes. "Just when I think you actually have a brain in that pretty head of yours and know how to use it, you disappoint me." Ayumi smiled in the face of the scowl he directed her way. "Chizuru is one of Masafumi’s women. You might have heard Aya refer to her as ‘Hell’."

"Oh." Yohji thought about that for a moment. "Oh, the one who brought Aya home from the hospital. What the hell are you going to talk to her about?" As he spoke, he remembered one of the more disturbing reports he’d read in the last few days. "Wait… you’re going to tell her about what Reiji did to the girl, aren’t you? Masafumi’s foster daughter?"

"Yes." Ayumi’s eyes closed for a second, her face tight with sorrow. "Masafumi is only a little better than his brother and father but Aya believes he truly cares for his lovers and foster daughter. I don’t want to approach him directly but I feel that if he finds out what his father has done… well, the more support we can tear away from Reiji and Hiro, the better."

And nothing would do that better then Masafumi finding out that for the past two years his own father had been raping the teenaged girl he’d taken in. "I want them to have *nothing* when we’re done with them." His voice was rough with the anger and disgust he forced himself to hold back. The bastards deserved no better after all the things they’d done to others.

"They won’t, Yohji. I promise you that, by the time we’re through, Aya will be free. And that Reiji and Hiro will have lost everything they ever cared for." Ayumi’s voice was low and solemn, her eyes sparkling with hate. Yohji remembered the times she had calmly threatened him about ever hurting Aya and knew she was telling the truth. Reiji and Hiro would pay. Ayumi would make certain they did.

They sipped their tea in silence, letting the topic drop before Aya joined them. Yohji idly thought about when would be the best time to tell his lover what was happening but resolved to discuss this with Ayumi another time. Right now, he was just grateful that he wouldn’t have to search for any more information on Reiji and Hiro.

Remembering a search he’d been wanting to conduct for quite some time now, Yohji thought he might try to find some information on Ken and his boyfriend over the next day or two. Ken appeared happy now that he was back with Kase but Yohji wanted to make sure his friend wasn’t going to be hurt again. There was a good chance he wasn’t going to be around much longer to watch out for Ken. Once Aya was free, there was no reason for them to remain here. Sipping his tea, Yohji let his thoughts drift to that tantalizingly near future when it would just be him and Aya - no Hiro, no hiding, no fears. The first thing he wanted to do was spend a whole week in bed with Aya. He couldn’t wait.

*******

Ayumi waited, her hands tucked into the sleeves of her kimono as she softly sang a song that was popular in her youth. She just started singing it for a second time when the shoji of the private tearoom she was sitting in slid open. Looking up, she saw the proprietor of the teahouse, her old friend Himiko, and Nijo Arata.

The minister frowned as he sat down across from her and, after a bow, Himiko withdrew. Smiling at Nijo, Ayumi bowed her head and gestured to the waiting teapot. "Would you like some tea, Nijo-sama?"

"Yes, please." He stared at her with a mixture of coldness and curiosity. Ayumi thought that the years hadn’t been kind to him and that his grief was evident. Nijo was now a shadow of the younger man she’d met during one of Natsuo’s parties.

Ayumi made idle chitchat as she poured their drinks, talking about the weather and an upcoming festival. During it all, Nijo watched her carefully and sipped his tea. Judging that enough time had passed, she set her teacup aside. "I’m very sorry for your loss, Nijo-sama."

It was only through close observation that one could tell Nijo flushed very slightly at the condolences. "Thank you, Ayumi-san." He set his cup aside, the porcelain clinking loudly against the wooden table. "May I assume that you didn’t invite me to tea merely for that purpose?"

"No." For a moment Ayumi considered her actions. She’d known Nijo for over twenty years, known him through the talk of her friends and her lover, through brief meetings at various parties. He was a rigid, old-fashioned man who ruled his ministry with an iron fist. He was respected because he always honored his word and regarded as cold and aloof. He did his job and did not falter in his obligations. He’d been a good friend of Fujimiya Yutaka, standing by him until the overwhelming evidence of Fujimiya’s role in the financial matter became too damning.

She decided that it would be best if she proceeded as she’d planned. "Pardon my rudeness but have the police found any leads in your son’s murder?"

There was another almost imperceptible reaction to the question. Trained over the years to be able to effortlessly read her patrons, Ayumi didn’t fail to note the tightening of thin lips and flash of pain in dark hazel eyes. "I’m ashamed to say that there have been no leads whatsoever." He glared at her presumption. "I’m afraid I don’t have very much time Ayumi-san and must be going. Thank you for the tea."

"Nijo-sama, what would you say if I told you I knew who was responsible for your son’s death?" Ah, that question made him halt as he was halfway to his feet. Nijo’s face darkened for a moment, and then a look of familiar icy disdain settled on his plain features.

"Ayumi-san, for your sake I hope this isn’t some sort of silly joke. I do not find it funny in the least," he all but growled as he sat back down. "What do you know?"

She poured them more tea, biting her lip when she heard Nijo grate his teeth together. She was sorry for dragging things out but this needed to be done properly. "This is no joke, Nijo-sama. However, before I tell you what happened to your son, I want something from you."

The former disdain now transformed into pure disgust. "You’d sell the identity of my son’s murderer to me? Is it money that you want?"

"No." The one word halted Nijo’s burgeoning tirade and caused him to frown uncertainly. "This is not about money, Nijo-sama. This concerns the people we care about and seeing justice done." Ayumi thought the last sounded a little trite, as if from an old play, but it was the truth and she knew of no better way of getting her point across.

Nijo rested his hands on his knees and leaned forward. "What is it you want, Ayumi-san? If you do indeed know who killed my son, I’ll do everything within my power to give it to you."

She well and truly had this fish on her hook, as an old geisha friend of hers would say, Ayumi thought bemusedly. She tapped her bottom lip as she forced herself to remain calm. This had to be done properly. She had to play this gambit with considerable skill as it was not just Aya who was depending on her.

Pushing the plate of delicacies across the table, she bowed her head slightly. "Please, Nijo-sama, have something to eat. I have a long tale to tell so you best understand what it is that I’m asking for in return." She waited until he picked up one of the treats, holding it between his fingers but not raising the food to his lips. "My story starts with an old friend of yours, Fujimiya Yutaka…."

*******

Shifting the full basket of laundry to his hip, Aya stepped out of the elevator. Somehow it seemed that Yohji had gotten the better of him. While his lover spent an hour shopping for both of them, Aya had spent most of the morning doing not only his laundry but Yohji’s as well. Knowing Yohji, he had probably deliberately given Aya so much laundry to do to make him regret their recent arrangement and go back to shopping on his own. Not that he cared much, since he usually spent the time on the roof tending his flowers while the wash dried. He much preferred not having to go out for anything, not even errands, for fear of running into any old acquaintances.

He was shaken from his thoughts by the sound of a loud voice. It was very familiar and coming from the direction of Ayumi’s apartment. Glancing down the hall, Aya noticed a gentleman with graying hair and an expensive, if conservative, suit arguing with Kohmi.

"It’s very important that I talk to her. I don’t want to just leave this letter here, I need to give it to her personally."

"I’m sorry, sir but, as I told you before, Ayumi-sama isn’t at home right now. She will not be back for another hour or two, at the least." Kohmi sounded more than a little upset, so Aya walked toward that end of the hall, wondering if she needed his assistance. "If you don’t want to leave the letter with me, then I suggest you either leave it with the guards downstairs or return later." Kohmi appeared ready to slam the door in the stranger’s face.

"Is something wrong, Kohmi-san?" Aya asked. The stranger started at hearing another voice, especially one interrupting a private conversation.

Kohmi smiled at him, seemingly grateful for his interference. "I was just explaining to this gentleman that-"

"Fujimiya." The stranger cut her off as he glared at Aya. "She said you lived here. I guess you’ll do. Let’s go somewhere private." Aya could only stare in shock at the older man, his addled brain telling him that Nijo Arata was standing here addressing him. Nijo snorted in disgust and stepped toward him. "I don’t have all day. Where is your apartment?"

Wondering if this was some sort of waking nightmare, Aya, in a daze, turned around and walked toward his home, very conscious of the man at his side. Nijo’s body was tense and the scowl remained on his face, hands cupped behind his back and tightly holding a letter.

Aya unlocked his door and entered the apartment, standing by the door as Nijo joined him. At least their conversation would now be private. He dreaded to think about what Nijo wanted to discuss. Or, more likely, what accusations he would hurl at Aya.

"Nijo-sama… I’m terribly sorry for-"

Nijo Arata waved him silent with a jerky movement of his hand. "I didn’t- I didn’t come here to talk about my son." Nijo’s dark hazel eyes stared coldly at him, bearing no small amount of animosity and pain. "Nor am I here for tea or pleasantries. Here." He shoved the letter forward, holding it out until Aya gingerly took it.

"What am I to do with this, Nijo-sama? Is this for Ayumi-sama?" There was a neatly written address on the vellum envelope, the kanji written in a teasingly familiar hand. It had been sent to Nijo’s house.

Nijo snorted again and stepped away from Aya. "I want you to give it to her. She should find it very interesting. I didn’t want to entrust it to just anyone, even though I had copies made." He stood rigidly before Aya, his hands once more clasped behind his back, his expression now more angry than hateful. "I assume that one of your friends sent it to me, though I don’t understand why. You’ll be interested in knowing that Reiji is planning on doing the same to me that he did to your father."

Thoroughly confused, Aya could only stand there holding the letter in his hand. "My father?" he asked faintly, feeling disconnected from reality. Nijo Arata was in his home and, instead of yelling at him for causing Hideo’s death, he was talking about Aya’s father.

The older man didn’t seem to notice his confusion, perhaps because he avoided looking directly at Aya. "Yes. Read the letter if you want. I’m sure Ayumi will fill you in once she does. If that letter is correct, then Reiji," the name was laden with hate, "is planning to use Hide-… is counting on me being too distracted to notice him pushing several regulations through that will benefit his friends’ companies. When the new ordinances have severe implications on other businesses, specifically those of his friends’ rivals, I will be held responsible."

For a moment Nijo appeared worn down and guilty. He looked directly at Aya for the first time in minutes. "He would have succeeded if I had not been warned. Several of my associates are backing him and it would be ridiculously easy for them to make it appear as if I passed the new regulations carelessly not devoting my full attention to my job." A bitter smile spread across Nijo’s face. "He obviously perfected his backstabbing skills with your father and I’m not half as popular or as well respected as Yutaka was."

An uncomfortable silence settled between them. Aya stood unmoving while his arms grew sore from holding out his hand and the laundry basket for so long while Nijo shifted about in obvious discomfort. "I- what happened to your father was a terrible injustice and I apologize for the part I inadvertently played in-" Nijo flushed and bowed deeply. "Good day." He quickly turned around and left the apartment, the door slamming shut behind him.

Aya remained standing still for several minutes before absentmindedly setting aside the basket and toeing off his sandals and walking into his living room. He settled in front of the table and placed the letter before him. Filled with questions, shock and pain, he stared down at the thick envelope.

*******

Yohji entered Aya’s apartment and juggled the many bags in his hands as he stepped out of his shoes. Seeing the basket of laundry sitting out in the foyer, he assumed that Aya was home. "I’m back! You won’t believe all the stuff I bought. Guess what? You’re cooking me dinner tonight!" He chuckled as he headed for the kitchen.

Wondering why his lover didn’t respond, Yohji quickly shoved the groceries that needed to be kept cold into the fridge and left the rest on the counter. He thought he caught a glimpse of Aya sitting in the living room; maybe his boyfriend was talking to someone on the phone. Worried that it was Hiro trying to make plans for later that night, Yohji hastened to the living room.

Aya was indeed sitting there but didn’t appear to be doing much more than staring at some papers spread out on the table before him. "Is everything all right, love?" Yohji asked. "Is that a letter from your sister?"

The look his lover gave him was so distant, like Aya was staring at a stranger. "No, it isn’t. Read this." He picked up the papers and held them out to Yohji.

Taking them, Yohji frowned and skimmed the first page. Catching the name ‘Nijo Arata’, he was surprised and paid closer attention to the letter. Reading along, he felt the urge to sit down, his knees no longer able to support him. Where the hell did Aya get this letter? "Did… did Ayumi give this to you?" he asked without thinking.

Aya shook his head. "No, but it’s funny you should ask that. Nijo dropped off the letter about half an hour ago. He was insistent on talking to Ayumi about its contents but, since she wasn’t home, he gave it to me instead." Aya’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why do you ask?"

Flushing under the scrutiny, Yohji tried to cover up his slip. "I- it’s just that this seems like something she’d be involved in, not you. She’s the one who’s friends with people like Nijo."

Aya didn’t seem to buy his excuse. "Nijo knew I was living here. He thought I was involved in something with Ayumi and he talked about my father." Yohji’s stomach clenched at the mention of Fujimiya Yutaka, his throat went dry. "He said that Reiji was trying to frame him the same as he framed my father."

Licking his suddenly dry lips, Yohji desperately thought of what he could say. Aya’s look grew colder as he continued. "You’re not shocked by this, are you, Yohji? By the letter, yes, but not that Nijo has been talking to Ayumi or what he said about my father. What the hell is going on?"

"You’re mistaken, Aya. I have no clue about any of this," Yohji tried to lie convincingly in the face of Aya’s suspicions. "What was that about your father?" For a moment he thought that maybe he’d pulled it off when Aya looked away from him.

Picking up the letter, Aya folded it neatly and returned it to its envelope. "I’m not stupid, Yohji," he said softly but with a hint of anger. "I know Ayumi has been up to something. Suddenly she’s always away seeing people she hasn’t spoken to in several years. I’ve noticed the people she’s invited over for tea. Many of them were acquaintances of my father." He set the envelope aside and stared at Yohji, not in anger but there was sorrow in his eyes. "And then there’s you. Always on the computer. Always early for our teas with Ayumi or staying for a few minutes to talk to her about something that you always pass off as a joke to me. Telling me to have hope, that things will be better soon. Did you never think that I would notice?" Aya asked, his voice raw with pain.

"Aya…." Yohji faltered, completely unsure of what he should say. Ayumi hoped to set their plans in motion in a couple of days, when Reiji left for Kyoto. Did he risk telling Aya everything now, when there was a good chance Hiro would try to see Aya this weekend? Could Aya pretend he knew nothing when face to face with one of the men who betrayed his father? "Nothing’s going on," he replied weakly.

His lover stared at him for a few seconds before nodding and rising to his feet. "Get out."

"Aya!" Yohji quickly stood. "Wait, what-"

Headed for his bedroom, Aya looked over his shoulder and glared. "Get the hell out! Take the letter, give it to Ayumi and leave me alone. I won’t allow you to lie to me about what you’re doing and what Reiji did to my father!" Aya’s eyes were bright with hate and grief, his face pale except for his flushed cheeks. When Yohji tried to follow him, Aya whirled around, his right arm swinging.

Barely blocking the blow in time, Yohji stepped back, his arms held defensively before him. "Listen to me, I’m not trying to lie to you!" He couldn’t take Aya looking at him like that, as if he’d betrayed Aya.

Lowering his arm, Aya glared, his chest heaving. "You either tell me the truth or you leave here, Yohji. If you know what Nijo was talking about, you better tell me now."

Taking a deep breath, Yohji nodded reluctantly. "Okay." He stepped back into the living room and sat down on the cushions, Aya following him. Not seeing a way out of this, not without hurting Aya or causing possibly irreparable harm to their relationship, he told his lover everything. About finding out the truth about Aya months ago, his expeditions into the police database, and what he, Ayumi and Kikyou were doing. Aya, sitting less than a foot away from him, drew his knees up to his chest, hugging them close, his eyes never leaving Yohji’s for a moment. He sat there, drawing more and more into himself as he heard what Reiji and Hiro had done to him and his family, his eyes growing angrier by the second.

Finishing his tale, Yohji cautiously brushed aside Aya’s bangs. "Love?" He didn’t know what he should do or say now that the truth was out in the open. Somehow, asking Aya if he was all right seemed rather stupid.

He frowned when Aya knocked his hand aside. "All this time…. How could they do that to us? My father… he considered Reiji his friend for over twenty years." Aya’s voice was ragged with pain and anger. "Yet Reiji utterly destroyed us, took away our honor as if it was nothing to him. And all those deaths…."

"I know." Yohji tried to touch Aya and was again rebuffed. "I’m sorry for not telling you sooner but we thought it would be best to wait until we were ready to take the bastards down. We couldn’t chance Hiro finding out somehow."

At the mention of his patron Aya went stiff, his eyes glittering with hate. "He knew. All this time he knew what his father did to mine. He didn’t do a damned thing other than to make me his whore," Aya spat. "He told me he loved me yet he took everything I ever cared about away from me. The bastard made me a whore so I could give back to my sister what had been taken away from us, by Hiro himself." He glared at Yohji, his expression furious. "And you knew about this for how long? How many more times was I supposed to fuck him before you and Ayumi told me the truth?"

"How were we supposed to tell you, Aya?" Yohji asked, stung by the question. "Were we to tell you as soon as we suspected and then sit back and do nothing until we had enough evidence to move against him? What would you have done if you’d known the truth earlier? Would you have waited until the right time or would you confront Hiro right away so you could ask him why the hell he did it? So you could make him pay for what he did, maybe even kill him? This is why we didn’t tell you, dammit. If you say anything about this to Hiro there’s no telling what he’ll do. Most likely he’ll lock you away and kill Ayumi and me. You have to stay calm."

At Aya’s choked curse, Yohji grabbed his lover’s shoulder and gave it a forceful squeeze "Listen to me, please. I know that Reiji and Hiro deserve to die for what they’ve done to you and your family. But if you give in to that impulse, all that will happen is that you’ll wind up in jail and no one will ever find out the truth. Ayumi’s thought this through, Aya. She’s got Nijo and others all prepared to take Reiji down and, once that happens, Hiro will fall with him. Her friends will see to it that both of them are locked up and exposed for what they are, I promise."

Aya tried to shrug off his hand, his eyes, now uncertain, intent on Yohji’s. "You really believe that, don’t you?"

Unsure why Aya was asking this question, Yohji nonetheless nodded. "Yeah, I do. That’s what we’ve been working toward for over a month now." Taking a chance, he released Aya, his hand trailing down his lover’s arm, over silk and fiberglass. He stopped touching Aya’s cast and grasped Aya’s right wrist, holding it gently between his fingers. "They’ll pay, Aya, I promise. Then you’ll be free. We… we can be together," he finished weakly.

At first all Aya did was stare back evenly at him before shaking his head. "You damned idiot. Do you have any idea what could have happened to you if Hiro or Reiji found out what you were doing?"

"I knew and I didn’t care. None of us did." Yohji gathered his lover in his arms, ignoring how Aya tensed at his touch. "That’s why you have to stay here and do nothing, Aya. Please. Give Ayumi’s plan a chance. If Hiro tries to stop by… just tell him you’re sick or something. You can’t do anything just yet."

He felt Aya try to pull away. "Yohji, I-"

"*Promise* me, Aya. Don’t do anything stupid."

Aya held his breath for a moment and then slowly relaxed. "I won’t do anything that might harm you, Ayumi or Kikyou. I promise."

Relieved to hear that, Yohji sighed as he tilted up Aya’s chin. "Thank you. Just another day or two, Aya. Just sit tight for that long."

"I love you. Even after you going behind my back… I still do." Aya stared up at him, his eyes dark with emotion. He almost seemed ready to say something else but, after a moment, he leaned up and kissed Yohji passionately.

More than a little out of breath when he pulled away, Yohji smiled happily at Aya. "I love you, too. So, you’re not afraid of being stuck with me for the rest of your life?"

Aya answered him with another searing kiss.

*******

Aya stared at his katana resting before him on the bed. He thought about what his lover told him a few hours ago, what Hiro and Reiji did to his father. All the shame, pain and heartbreak had been their fault. Added to that was the fact of what he’d become because of the scandal, of what he’d allowed Hiro to make him into: he prostituted himself to one of the men responsible for his family’s downfall and been looked down on by the man who had betrayed a close friend.

He felt numb. Utterly numb. Wasn’t that odd? He thought he should be brimming with anger and hate, not this icy coldness that made the katana seem as if it were meters away from him, not centimeters. The rage was there at first, had simmered and increased and…. It was as if there was too much emotion inside him and some sort of fuse had been blown. Maybe this numbness was shock.

Because of Takatori greed, he’d become a whore. Aya started to tremble as he thought about what he’d done over the last several years. He prostituted himself to a man he never felt anything but mild affection for, even that emotion dying over the years. He put up with abuse, cut himself off from his past and his sister and lived with the realization and shame that he’d never be anything but a whore.

And Yohji wanted him to stay here and wait while his, Ayumi and Kikyou’s plans came to fruition. He was to do absolutely nothing while Nijo gained his revenge for Hideo’s death. Aya had lost a loved one too, had lost so much more than that and yet he was to do *nothing*. This was unbearable. To make matters worse, Yohji actually believed that Reiji would be made to pay for his crimes other than just by losing his position as the prime minister. That Reiji and Hiro might actually be punished a fraction of what they deserved….

He was halfway to the closet before he realized it and even then he didn’t stop. Guilt tore at him with each step but his decision was final. He had promised Yohji he wouldn’t hurt him or the others, not that he would do nothing. He could only hope that Yohji and Ayumi would forgive him for this. He loved Yohji with all his heart, had actually hoped to be able to spend the rest of his life with him but Aya couldn’t do that if he turned his back on his obligation to his family. Hiro and Reiji had to pay for what they’d done. The icy cloak over Aya’s emotions started to crack, a spark of anger growing with each breath. He used the building rage to hold back the guilt and strengthen his resolve.

The black kimono bearing the Fujimiya crests was tucked in the corner of the topmost shelf. He shook out the heavy silk and searched it for any imperfections. Other than a few thick creases, it was in the same condition as the day he stored it away, immediately after moving to the Hanabatake. He recalled his mother presenting him with the kimono, his father’s proud face upon seeing him dressed in it for a formal event.

Aya felt he was not able to wear the garment with any pride ever since he became Hiro’s lover. His hands clenched around the heavy silk for a moment. He felt even more disgraced now but hoped to make atonement. He quickly set about ironing the kimono, aware that he probably wouldn’t be left alone for very long. It was surprising that Ayumi wasn’t keeping a close eye on him since Yohji left.

A few minutes later he was in the shower, scrubbing his body as if he could wash away the taint resulting from years of Hiro’s touch. When finished, he quickly dried himself, pausing as he towel-dried his hair. He grabbed a pair of scissors to cut the long strands before remembering that he’d raise suspicions if he appeared in short hair. He would have to keep it like this for a little longer. It would serve as a reminder of his shame. Setting the scissors aside, he quickly dressed in a white under-robe and the Fujimiya crest kimono.

He tied his hair back with a white ribbon before walking over to his sword stand. Running his hand over the katana, he realized that he’d never be able to sneak the weapon into the reception hall. He considered the short sword but bypassed it in favor of the tanto resting at the bottom of the stand. The weapon was short enough to be concealed, yet sharp enough to serve. It was fitting that the blade he’d planned to use to kill himself, should instead be used against Hiro and his father. If Ayumi guessed what he was going to do with the weapon, she’d never have returned the precious thing.

Carefully tucking the knife between his robes, he spared a final glance around his bedroom before leaving. Part of him wanted to leave Yohji a letter explaining his actions but he couldn’t think of what he wanted to say and didn’t want to waste any time trying to think of something. Yohji knew he loved him. That would have to be enough. All Aya could hope for was that his lover didn’t consider this act as suicide. If he could stay with Yohji, he would, but that wasn’t an option now that he knew the truth. He couldn’t live out his life knowing that Hiro and Reiji had gotten away with just a slap on the wrist for with destroying his family. He’d be nothing more than the doll he’d always feared becoming, not the man his father had raised. Hiro and Reiji had to pay for what they’d done.

Hurrying down the empty hallway, Aya decided it would be best to exit the building through the garage, in case Ayumi had anyone watching the lobby. He would then hail a cab to Reiji’s fundraising reception. The guards should recognize him from previous functions he attended with Hiro and allow him inside. Then he would just have to wait to see Hiro and his father together. His hand slid inside his kimono and grasped the tanto, eager to put it to use.

*******

Yohji puffed on his cigarette as he looked around for a vacant parking garage. Traffic was always bad on Friday nights, he should have left earlier to meet his client but he hadn’t wanted to leave Aya. Not after he’d found out the truth about what had been done to his father. He’d appeared so shocked….

Yohji grunted and ground out his cigarette in an already overflowing ashtray. Of course Aya was shocked. It wasn’t every day one learned that his father had been set up and that he was sleeping with one of the men responsible. Aya was a good deal more than ‘shocked’, furious might be a better word. At least he’d calmed down before Yohji had to leave for work.

Making up his mind, Yohji drove to the next light and made a left. His client could go to hell, along with Ayumi’s insistence that they ‘act normally’ until Nijo got together with his friends and took Takatori down. Yohji wasn’t going to leave Aya alone to deal with this, especially not to go off and fuck somebody for money. Aya needed him more. Yohji felt a niggling fear deep in his chest. He hadn’t liked the flat look in Aya’s eyes after his lover found out the truth. Aya promised him not to do anything foolish… and he was very aware just how much he was asking of his lover. It might be too much, if something didn’t happen soon. There was no way Aya was going to let Hirofumi ever touch him again. There was no way in hell *he* was going to allow that, knowing what that sick son of a bitch was capable of doing.

It was a miracle that he didn’t get pulled over on his way home, considering the way he was speeding. En route he used his cellphone to call his client and tell her he couldn’t make it. She sounded pissed as all hell but Yohji didn’t care. In another day or two he wouldn’t need to worry about his clients ever again. Nope, he was officially retiring. The money he’d get from selling his apartment and the little bit he managed to save over the last two years should be enough to support him and Aya until they figured out what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.

As soon as his car came to a halt, he was half out of it, determined to get upstairs as quickly as possible. He kept having a bad feeling about things and half expected to find Hiro upstairs with Aya. The elevator ride to the thirteenth floor was the longest one he’d ever suffered through or, at least, it felt that way. He bounced on his heels with impatience at each unnecessary stop it made before opening on his floor. Once the doors opened he dashed through them, rushing down the hall to Aya’s apartment.

"Aya? Guess what? I decided to play hooky," Yohji called out as soon as he unlocked the door. Stepping inside the apartment, he found it quiet and dimly lit. Praying that Aya was curled up in bed, he walked quickly through the empty rooms. Practically running as he reached the bedroom, he didn’t find his lover waiting for him there.

Yohji could only stare at the empty room. The kimono Aya had been wearing earlier was stretched out on the bench by the bed. The duvet was mussed, a sign that Aya had been lying down at one point. Checking the bathroom, he found signs of recent use but no Aya. Growing more panicked by the second, Yohji spun around and returned to the bedroom.

Nothing. A second search revealed nothing to him, no clue where Aya went. Yohji pulled out his cellphone and dialed frantically. When voicemail picked up his call he hung up and dialed another number. His arm wrapped around his waist tightly as he waited, hoping for an answer.

"Hello?"

"Ayumi! Aya… he’s gone. Is he with you?" Please, let Aya be with her. Please. Yohji held his breath, waiting for a response.

"Aya? Yohji, he’s not here. He was supposed to stay home tonight. Isn’t he there?" Ayumi’s voice contained a hint of panic.

"No, he’s not. I’m in his apartment and he’s not here." Yohji threaded his hand through his bangs and yanked harshly, using the pain to help focus his thoughts. "He wasn’t supposed to go anywhere. Do you think Hiro came for him?" he asked, voicing his darkest fear. If the bastard found out what Yohji and Ayumi were up to and snatched Aya away….

"Oh, no. Hiro’s supposed to be at his father’s function." There were muffled voices asking Ayumi what was wrong and Yohji heard her try to explain what was happening. "Yohji, is his sword there? Where are his weapons?"

Suddenly terrified that Aya was trying to hurt himself, Yohji nearly dropped the phone in his haste to check Aya’s weapons stand. He let out a shaky breath when he realized that the sword and short sword were still there but then he noticed that the tanto was missing. The same tanto that Ayumi had reluctantly returned to Aya just last week since it was an heirloom. The same knife that Aya had just teased him with the other day, claiming that it would serve Aya well as a neutering device for a wicked kitsune….

"The knife’s gone, Ayumi. Do you…? He wouldn’t, he promised us. He can’t be trying to kill himself." Yohji was going to shake the hell out of his lover as soon as he found him. Damn Aya for doing this to him. He’d promised Yohji….

"He might not be bent on suicide, Yohji. At least not directly. Oh…." Ayumi moaned into the phone as the voices in the background grew louder. "Call Kikyou. Have him alert Shion that Aya might be headed for Hiro and Reiji."

Yohji recalled the cold look on Aya’s face earlier, his lover asking in that icy voice if they really expected him to do *nothing* against the men who destroyed his family and everyone he cared for. "Fuck. I’m heading there right now. I don’t have time for this, call Kikyou yourself." He turned off the phone, not waiting for Ayumi’s response. Aya probably just left, judging from the bathroom and the short amount of time Yohji had been gone. He couldn’t be that far ahead of him. Running from the apartment, Yohji started to curse himself and Ayumi. They should have fucking sat on Aya or kept him drugged until this was all over and done. What the hell were they thinking? That after losing everything, Aya would calmly sit at home and do nothing?

"You fucking idiot," Yohji growled at himself as he took the stairs to his car. "You can’t fuck things up, not now. We’re too damned close." Aya could ruin everything for them. If Hiro found him first…. At best, Aya would be charged with murder. At worst, Hiro would hurt Aya and be forewarned. There was no telling what the bastard would do then. It was highly probable that he’d take Aya and flee somewhere safe. And Yohji would never see his lover again.

He nearly caused an accident by pulling onto the street, heedless of traffic. It wasn’t the only close call of the night as he recklessly ignored red lights and traffic regulations. It felt like forever before he reached the auditorium where Reiji was holding his fundraiser.

It appeared as if the guard at the parking gate wasn’t going to let him in at first but, after a closer look he nodded and, lifting the gate, waved Yohji inside. Taking the first parking space he found, Yohji got out of his car and raced for the hall’s entrance. There was a line of well-dressed people waiting to enter the building, showing invitations to the two guards standing outside the door. Forcing himself to be patient and not cause a scene, Yohji waited for his turn. As he slowly moved forward, he tried to think of a plan in case the guards wouldn’t allow him inside.

"Kudoh-san?" the shorter of the two guards asked. Nodding at the almost effeminate man, Yohji stepped forward cautiously. "Shion told us you would be arriving. Come with us." The other guard waved forward another pair of security personnel, to take their position at the doors.

Yohji thought about resisting but, as the first guard grabbed his arm, the shorter man smiled reassuringly at him. "We found him. He wasn’t too happy about that so maybe you can help calm him down and get him out of here. Shion said to tie him up if he causes any more trouble."

There wasn’t much doubt in Yohji’s mind who the guard was talking about. He started to shake in relief as he was led inside the lavish hall, past elegantly dressed people who stared in his direction. He’d dressed up for work that night, but still stood out in the largely tuxedo and gown crowd. "Thanks. Maybe I should borrow some handcuffs from you guys so I can chain him to something." Aya wasn’t so much as leaving his damned bedroom after pulling this stunt.

The taller of Yohji’s escorts chuckled. "You might want to think about gagging him as well. He had some choice things to say when we-" The guard stopped suddenly and pressed his hand against his ear, which was sporting a headset. "What? Dammit, you were supposed to make sure that didn’t happen! I don’t care if his uncle was with him, you should have kept him out of the damned room! Call Shion right now, we need to figure out what to do!" Cursing, the man came to a halt, forcing his partner and Yohji to stop.

"Azami, what-"

"Hirofumi found Aya," the taller guard stated in a worried voice. "Shuuichi was with him and insisted on being allowed into the security room."

The smaller guard started cursing as well while Yohji felt as if he’d just been punched in the stomach. "What? How the… Aya." He stepped forward, in the direction the guards had been taking him, only to have both of the men jerk him back. "Let go of me," he growled threateningly, bracing himself for a fight. He had to get Aya out of here before something happened to his lover.

The smaller guard glared at him while the taller one was once more listening to his headset. "Shut up and stay here." The guard’s voice was low and menacing, his hand creeping to the inside of his jacket.

Ready to argue with the man, Yohji stopped when he saw the taller guard frown and squeeze his partner’s shoulder. "Don’t, Ayame. We’re to take Kudoh-san to the security room." He glanced up at Yohji, clearly confused and worried. "Per Shuuichi’s orders."

*******

Kikyou stood beside Shion, listening to his lover bark out orders over the phone. "Tell all the security guards to keep an eye out for him. He can’t be that hard to miss! Once they have him, I want him out of there as soon as possible. Under no circumstances are any of the Takatoris to know he’s even there. Knock him out or handcuff him if you have to and call me the second you have him."

Kikyou braided and unbraided a lock of his hair, hoping that it wasn’t too late, that Shion’s men would reach Aya in time. What the hell was his friend thinking? Why did Yohji and Ayumi tell him the truth now? He should have found an excuse to return to Tokyo once Ayumi talked to the people necessary to pull Reiji down. He shouldn’t have trusted Yohji and her with something this important. If anything happened to Aya, he’d make sure both of them suffered.

His shoulder was squeezed, making him focus his eyes. Shion peered at him, his dark eyes filled with concern. "Are you all right? Don’t worry, they’ll stop him. Aya will stand out in the crowd. The damned fool."

"Yes, he certainly is that. A damned fool trying to reclaim his honor like some ancient Samurai. He’s not one, Shion," Kikyou spat, his voice became higher from stress. "He’s barely more than a boy. If something happens to him-"

"Nothing will," Shion soothed, his large hand cupping Kikyou’s cheek. "Dammit, why didn’t the three of you think about this, huh? All your planning and scheming and none of you thought about what Aya would do when he found out?" Shion shook his head, his expression worried. "We should have thought about this. I’d do the same damned thing if I was Aya."

Why were the people he cared most about such idiots? Sure, Kikyou would make certain that Reiji and Hiro paid if he was Aya… but he wouldn’t get himself killed in the process. Why couldn’t Aya realize that the most painful thing he could do to Reiji and Hiro was to take away their power and, in the case of Hiro, Aya himself?

"I’m going to Tokyo." Kikyou informed Shion. "Call me once your men have him. I’ll need to hide him away until this is all over. Hell, I’ll keep him in the damn trunk of the car if he gives me any trouble!" He brushed aside Shion’s hand. His lover nodded in understanding and let him go. As Kikyou left the room he heard Shion back on the phone demanding an update.

Kikyou didn’t give a damn if he had Saijou’s permission to leave or not. He’d worry about that later, right now he had to make sure that he didn’t lose another loved one. Somehow over the years, Aya had become just as important to him as his own sister. Maybe it was the common bond they shared, maybe because he knew that Aya would do anything for him. Kikyou didn’t allow himself to care for many people. There was Shion, Tsubaki and Aya. That was it. He just wasn’t one to give his heart lightly but he could be as stubborn as Aya when he did. He’d damn himself, in fact already had, to keep the people he loved safe. Failing that, he would do whatever he had to for revenge. Right now, he fervently hoped that he wouldn’t have to avenge Aya.

Reaching his room, he decided to just grab a jacket, his wallet and a cellphone. He’d worry about clothes later and Tsubaki would stay here. He didn’t want to drag his old friend into this, it was bad enough that he’d done that to Shion.

Stepping into the room, it took him a moment to realize that he wasn’t alone, too focused on getting what he needed and leaving. He stared dumbly at Saijou, who was seated on his bed.

"My, you look surprised," Saijou chuckled. "Why are you in such a hurry? Is something wrong?"

Kikyou felt his mouth open and move but no sound emerged. What was Saijou doing here? The old bastard should be in bed.

Saijou chuckled again, a wicked gleam in his eyes. "I think we need to have a talk, Kikyou. Sit down."

*******

 

 

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