Crossroads

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chapter four

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Yohji sighed in frustration as he watched Aya pull on a thick, black sweater. Count on Birman to show up with work on a night when he didn’t want to do anything but lie in bed with his lover at his side. They’d been so damned comfortable too; relaxed after making up from their fight and about to drift off to sleep.

He pulled on his t-shirt and jeans before walking around to the other side of the bed and combing his fingers through Aya’s hair, taming the stray strands that poked up in all directions. "You either need to get a haircut or to let it grow," he said, the crimson hair silky between his fingers. For a moment, he lost himself in imaging Aya with long hair tumbling down his back, a mass of silken locks for him to play with to his heart’s content…. "Long. Definitely let it grow long."

Aya batted his hand away. "So the targets can see me coming from a kilometer away?"

"Don’t see how it makes that much difference; short or long, the color’s the same." He flicked an eartail over Aya’s shoulder and smiled. "It stands out almost as much as that hunk of metal you wave around."

"Yet a tall, blond man who wears sunglasses at night and reeks of cigarette smoke fades into the background. Silly me." Aya softened his words with the hint of a smile as his left hand lifted to toy with a strand of Yohji’s hair. "Long hair looks better on you," he said, his voice soft and his eyes gleaming with appreciation.

Yohji relished that appreciation, knowing that Aya found him desirable and wanted him enough to put up with all his crap, his emotional baggage and his bad habits, enough that he finally broke down and was the one to apologize first tonight. It had to be true love. He started to tease his lover some more, but the strong fingers in his hair tightened and pulled his head down for a kiss more than ardent enough to curl his toes and snatch away his breath.

"Gods, Aya," he stammered once he could breathe again. If it weren’t for Birman downstairs waiting for them, he’d drag his kitten over to the bed and fuck him silly but, with their luck, Birman would interrupt just when it got good and dump a bucket of ice water on them. He fell silent at the look in his lover’s eyes, intent and ferociously passionate, even more so than the kiss.

"I love you," Aya said, his voice thick with all the emotions shining in his lovely eyes. There was another passionate kiss, one that left Yohji dazed as he watched his boyfriend turn from him and leave the room. His addled brain needed a moment to realize that he should be following.

It seemed that everyone was waiting for them in the mission room, so down they went, and upon seeing Omi and Ken sprawled out on the furniture, Aya took to leaning against the wall while he sat down nearby on the steps. Birman, dressed in a ridiculous, ugly dress that made him long for Manx’s miniskirts and bobby socks, looked up from the VCR and frowned. "I’m happy to see that you could make it," she snapped.

"Far be it for me to ignore an invitation from a lovely lady," he replied as he fished out his cigarettes from his shirt pocket. He smiled when he heard Aya snort ever so softly but didn’t glace at his lover.

Birman shot him a dirty look before returning her attention to playing the mission tape. The room fell dark as the television flared to life, everyone bracing themselves for the images to come. Kritiker liked to prime them for hunting ‘dark beasts’ by showing them enough gore to sicken and enrage them. Yohji thought the tactic was more than a little heavy handed but still effective.

His jaw clenched when he realized that all the victims were women. Image after stark image flashed across the screen, of young women’s bodies abandoned at various crime scenes, their corpses left lying about like trash. The analytical part of him recognized the age similarities and the matching wounds to the lower back while the rest of him felt sick. He suddenly had a bad feeling about this mission, the premonition not helped in the slightest when he glanced at his lover and found Aya perfectly still, his eyelids lowered as if he was paying more attention to something inside his head than what was being shown on the screen. Granted, Aya was normally a bit on the impassive side during mission briefings but he usually looked as if he was paying at least a tiny bit of attention. Both Omi and Ken were focused on the tape; Omi’s face carefully blank except for the tightening of his lips and Ken’s face grew more flushed with each new corpse that was shown.

Over it all, Persia’s voice droned on, stating the obvious. "Weiss, there has been another series of strange incidents."

No kidding. Yohji forced his jaw to unclench so he could remove the cigarette from his mouth and exhale a lungful of smoke. He noticed that Birman was looking at the floor instead of the television screen.

"What happened to them?" Omi asked, his voice revealing the emotions his cultivated mask mostly hid. It was hard on all of them when the mission consisted of revenge for murdered women and children, but most especially for Omi since Ouka’s death. Yohji inhaled more smoke and blinked - one of the dead women appeared to resemble Asuka for a moment. They all had their ghosts.

As if he was present in the room and had heard the question, Persia spoke. "All the victims have had their spines removed."

Ken grunted and leaned forward, his hands clenched into fists. "What do they think humans are, fish?" Yohji gagged slightly at the image that flashed into his head from Ken’s statement as he suddenly remembered a quote about human flesh from the notorious cannibal Issei Sagawa. Gods, Aya better not be in the mood for sushi anytime soon….

"Hunters of the night, deny the tomorrow of these dark beasts!" Persia’s voice rang through the small, dark room, cutting through Yohji’s morbid thoughts and signaling an end to the gore. The television went dark at the same time the lights came on. He blinked his eyes a few times to adjust to the change and put out his cigarette. Irritation welled inside him for being subject to the horror show yet again, to be told to hunt down ‘dark beasts’ while they were given such a poor briefing about just who these beasts were.

He looked for Birman and found her leaning against the wall in a pose similar to Aya’s. "What the hell? Talk about a mission with no clues." He was sick of getting these impossible assignments and couldn’t help but wonder if this wasn’t yet another test for Aya, trying to force his lover to reveal his talent. The thought of using the dead women like that filled him with rage.

Birman didn’t appear fazed by the anger in his voice, however. "Do you know what Kundalini is?" she asked, her voice and demeanor calm as she answered his question with one of her own.

"Kun-da-leenee?" Yohji had to wince as Ken mangled the word, faint amusement dampening the irritation. He leaned forward a little more, his hands between his legs and his butt was starting to grow sore from sitting on the steps. He should have stood over by Aya.

Omi, being the nice boy that he was, didn’t mock the stupid jock but instead answered Birman’s question. "Isn't it Yogic philosophy?" The cold mask on Omi’s face faded away, replaced by curiosity and interest as he slowly lost himself in the details of the new mission.

Ken looked at him, a hint of a blush on his cheeks. "Oh.…" Omi flashed a brief smile and the blush faded.

"It is said to be the pure life energy that lies dormant at the base of the spine until it is called into action to be used in seeking enlightenment." Birman sounded as if she was teaching a class on the subject, her arms folded across her chest and brow furrowed. "That's what Yogic teaches."

They took a moment to digest that, everyone shifting about in their seats – all except for Aya, who still seemed lost in his thoughts. Yohji spared him a worried glance and felt the urge to light another cigarette. As far as he knew, they’d never come across Yoga-related deaths before, other than his heart nearly stopping after that one night with the exercise instructor from Roppongi…. "What's this have to do with those bodies without their spines?" For the life of him, he couldn’t see the connection. Broken spines, yes, but missing ones? Just how could you get any energy from that?

Birman stepped away from the wall, her manner growing disturbed. "There's a dangerous group of people trying to use Kundalini for evil purposes and those corpses are-"

"Let me guess, guinea pigs." He almost jumped when Aya finally spoke, his voice cold and distant.

"How awful...," Ken said as he wrapped his arms around his waist, appearing torn between sympathy for the dead women and rage toward their attackers.

Birman crossed the room and held a sheet of paper before Aya’s face. "Here’s the list of Kundalini research labs. We believe that one of those belongs to these demons." She was definitely upset about this case, Yohji thought, as she quickly turned away, leaving Aya with the paper. He felt a little relieved that there seemed to be a bit more information to the mission than he’d supposed earlier.

"And there's another thing," Birman said as she handed the yellow folders to Omi, her motions jerky. "According to Kritiker, four women were sighted at each location where the bodies have been discovered."

The bad feeling from before flared to life as his eyes widened in shock, the name ‘Schreient’ echoing in his head. It had to be them - how many teams of women assassins known for their involvement in obscure research were there in Tokyo?

It seemed he wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. "Huh? Four women? Could it be Schreient?" As the team’s name was spoken aloud, Aya finally moved, his hands falling to his sides. Yohji caught the motion out of the corner of his eye but couldn’t make himself look at his lover. All he could think about was Neu, and how the silent woman looked so much like Asuka. His teammates’ voices faded into the background as he remembered his dream from earlier this morning. He ran a shaky hand through his hair and forced himself to concentrate on the discussion.

"Based on the descriptions of the women, it's highly likely they are Schreient," Birman confirmed.

"Schreient?" he whispered, an image of both Asuka and Neu in his mind. He mentally called out his dead lover’s name, unwilling to believe that she could, in any way, be related to that psychopath Neu but they looked so damned much alike. Half-formed thoughts filled his head. There’d never been a body to bury. There was no way Asuka could have survived all those gunshots… yet he’d seen a lot of unbelievable things in the past year.

"You said this is a list of the laboratories they’re suspected of using?" Aya’s voice snapped him out of his reverie, the tone bitingly cold. Aya still leaned against the wall but now his body was tight with tension and his mind clearly on what was happening in the room.

Oh, shit. Aya-chan. What the hell must Aya be thinking after seeing a video of dead young women and finding out their murderers were Schreient? Yohji rubbed his hands over his face and stood up, taking a step closer to his lover.

"Yes." Birman tugged at her dress, an exhausted look in her eyes. "Mickey and Koyu have been working hard the past couple of weeks tracking down all the leads they can find." She paused for a moment while Yohji slowly leaned against the wall by Aya. "They… they only harvest the spines of healthy women. The last body found was discarded after Schreient apparently discovered the woman suffered from multiple sclerosis - they didn’t complete the procedure." The implication was clear – Schreient wouldn’t be interested in taking the spine from Aya’s comatose sister.

Yohji could swear he felt some of the tension in Aya’s body lessen at the words, but his lover still remained focused. "What are the chances that the killers are not Schreient?"

"Very slim. We’ve gotten descriptions from the few witnesses that match the team members but there’s always a chance they’re wrong."

Omi, clutching the folders in his hands, stepped to Birman’s side. "Just from the limited information you’ve presented us, I’m pretty certain it is Schreient. They have a known history of being involved in… unusual experiments."

"There is that," Birman agreed. "All of the information that Mickey and Koyu found is in those files. If you have any questions about the case, contact them." Birman smoothed her skirt over her thighs and nodded. "Good luck, Weiß." That said, she hurried up the steps and left.

Feeling the overwhelming urge for both a smoke and a drink, Yohji rested his hand on Aya’s left shoulder. "I’m sure she’s fine, love."

Aya’s shoulder tensed beneath his touch before slowly relaxing. "She’s alive, I know she is," Aya whispered. "Just as I’m sure it’s *them* who are behind these murders." His voice was thick with hate for the women who took his sister.

"We’ll get her back," he promised. No matter how much a small voice in his head whispered that he’d then have to share Aya with the girl, he knew his boyfriend wouldn’t be whole without her.

"I’ll get her back… eventually," Aya mumbled, his brows furrowed and his arms hugged tight to his chest. Yohji puzzled over this statement as he slid his arm around Aya and pulled him close.

Omi looked up from the folders in his hands and smiled. "It seems like we have a great lead on Schreient, *finally*. I knew it was only a matter of time before we found them again." He held up a few sheets of paper. "However, this is quite a long list of sites for us to check out." He seemed to think something over. As he did, Yohji combed his fingers through Aya’s hair, trying to get his lover to relax. "We have several important orders in the flower shop and I have a test I can’t miss tomorrow," he said, casting an apologetic glance in Aya’s direction.

Aya tensed in Yohji’s arms and tried to pull away. "I’m not worried about the orders," he snarled. "We need to start right-"

"We need to be careful, Aya-kun," Omi interrupted, the apology gone and his manner became more resolved. "Schreient is not to be taken lightly, and I’m certain that they’ll use your sister against us if we take them on while we’re unprepared." Aya went still at that statement and Omi’s demeanor softened. "I know you want her back, Aya, and so do I. However, we can’t do sloppy work here, not with them. Give me a night to go over this information and I’ll leave a list of addresses for Yohji and Ken to start checking out in the morning. You can complete the orders and I’ll return home as soon as my test is done. We need to go about this search in teams, understood?"

Aya was quiet for a moment before leaning back against Yohji. "Understood."

"Then you won’t have a problem promising to wait here until I get back tomorrow, ne?" Omi asked, his tone cheerful but his eyes steely. He had to wait a few seconds before Aya reluctantly gave his word. "Good." He stepped toward Aya. "We’ll get her back, Aya-kun."

Aya didn’t say anything as he shrugged off Yohji’s arms and walked up the stairs. Yohji stared after him and tried to decide if the kitten needed a moment alone or if he needed someone to talk to and took a step after him, only to be stopped by Omi’s hand on his arm. "Give him a minute, Yohji-kun."

"Yeah, he’s not thinking too clearly right now, so you don’t know how he’ll react," Ken said as he joined them.

"He’s just been handed a mission to take out the women responsible for kidnapping his sister, how do you think he’s going to react?" Yohji asked snidely as he lit a cigarette. "As it is, I’m surprised as all hell that he promised to not go off on his own." Taking a long drag off the cigarette, he began to worry that Aya was headed for his mission gear and katana and would go after Schreient by himself. "Maybe I should go make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid."

"Yohji… if he does do anything reckless, I’m pulling him from the mission." He stared in disbelief at Omi, who appeared upset at his own announcement but not ready to take it back. "Weiß can’t afford to have him running off on his own. For all our sakes, and his sister’s, he needs to be in control of himself. Schreient wants to hurt us; we can’t let our emotions make us stupid and careless."

"I know, Chibi, but it’s his sister." Yohji pulled his arm free and went after his lover, hoping desperately that the stubborn man was up in their room or working out, anything but out chasing after Schreient and about to get himself killed. Relief washed through him when he entered their bedroom and found Aya sitting on the couch sharpening his katana. "There you are." He ground out his cigarette in the ashtray on the nearby shelf and sat down on the arm of the couch.

Aya’s eyes flicked in his direction and returned to staring at the blade as it slid against the whetstone. The only sound for several minutes was the soft grate of metal being sharpened and finally Aya wiped the blade clean with an oiled rag and returned it to its sheath. "Be careful tomorrow."

Surprised by the words, Yohji almost fell off the couch as he jerked at the deep sound of his lover’s voice. "Eh? Oh, you mean while Ken and I crawl around dirty warehouses?"

Setting aside his weapon, Aya turned to face him, his eyes shadowed and serious. Yohji wondered if it was a trick of the light that they appeared darker than normal and had to suppress a shiver. The absolutely last thing they needed was Aya going berserk with his power again and making things spark and smoke.

"I…." Aya picked up Yohji’s hand and held it between his chilled palms. "I have a bad feeling about this mission. Please, be careful. I don’t…." His mouth twisted in a grimace and his eyes closed as if he saw something he didn’t want to see, and the next Yohji knew, he was being kissed, Aya’s desperation palpable. Fingers clutched at his hair as his lover pressed against him.

He grasped Aya’s wrists and tried to calm the kiss as he slid down onto the couch’s cushions. Aya immediately moved closer but didn’t seem as frantic anymore and allowed the kiss to end, pressing his face against Yohji’s shoulder. "I don’t want to lose you."

"That’s not going to happen, love," Yohji reassured, his hands stroking down his lover’s back. "I’ll be careful. Hell, I’ll even send Ken into the places first in case there’s a trap," he joked. Aya pulled back far enough to be able to see him, a weak smile on his lips and his eyes troubled. "You won’t get rid of me that easily."

"Good. I don’t want them to take anyone else I care about away from me," Aya said and immediately flushed. It was a bit unusual to hear him express his fears so clearly, making Yohji smile and hug his lover tightly to his chest.

He’d thought about mentioning Neu’s resemblance to Asuka but now… now he wasn’t too sure. Aya was upset about something, maybe the fact that Yohji might possibly run into the women responsible for his sister’s abduction while he wouldn’t be there to do anything, or maybe he was still upset from the fight earlier. Whichever it was, Yohji didn’t want to press things by saying, ‘hey kitten, I couldn’t help but notice that one of Schreient’s psycho bitches resembles my dead girlfriend. I think there’s a very real chance they might be one and the same.’ Not now. He’d wait til morning.

"Come on, let’s go to bed. It’s been a long day and tomorrow promises to be even longer." He urged Aya off the couch and set about removing his lover’s clothes. Aya stood there and allowed himself to be stripped but took the sweatshirt from Yohji’s hands and slid it on himself. Yohji quickly shed his own clothes, pausing only to set his cigarettes on the dresser before pulling the sheets down on the bed. "Come here."

Aya turned off the lights and approached him and after being thoroughly kissed, was pushed gently onto the bed. He slid in beside him, lying on his side and pulling Aya close, wrapping his love in his arms and even draping his left leg over chilled ones. "You’re so damned cold. Maybe we should get an electric mattress pad to help warm you up."

Aya grunted softly and snuggled closer, his arm clutching Yohji’s waist, his cold nose pressed against Yohji’s throat.

"Too bad we don’t have a fireplace," he continued since his lover had evidently exhausted his quota of words for the day. "Imagine how nice and toasty the room would be then." He got another grunt, followed by a deep sigh. Continuing to talk softly about nonsense as his hands rubbed up and down Aya’s back, he waited for his lover to start to relax before closing his eyes. Forcibly clearing his mind of any thoughts about Asuka or Neu, he focused on the feel of the man he loved resting in his arms, on Aya’s pleas for him to be careful. He didn’t want any nightmares tonight.

*******

Aya drifted awake, feeling mostly warm and a little uncomfortable. He was lying on the edge of the bed with Yohji pressed against his back and his head unsupported by any pillow. He felt a crick in his neck, the ache intensified when he looked up at the alarm clock. He had a little more time to sleep, but he was awake now and wanted to get things done so he crept off the bed, Yohji snoring behind him and deeply asleep enough to not be bothered by the mattress shifting about.

He had no idea when Omi would be back from school so he’d get a start on the arrangements now. Hopefully, as soon as his teammate showed up, they could drop off the flowers and start searching for Schreient. Hate simmered in his chest at the mere thought of the women, causing his hands to shake as he gathered up some clean clothes. Casting one last glance at an unconscious Yohji, he left the room for a shower.

Washing off, his thoughts kept drifting to the women assassins. Why was Schreient being so obvious about their actions? Why did they allow themselves to be seen at various crime scenes? For the past few months they’d been untraceable and now… now it seemed as if they were seeking attention. He snorted as he rinsed the lather from his body. He could easily imagine whose attention they were seeking to attract. Schreient was insane, not stupid. They had to know Kritiker would notice them and send Weiß to stop the killings.

He stepped out of the shower and had to give himself a moment to calm down before he grabbed a towel and dried off. Would they use his sister against him? He couldn’t imagine that they wouldn’t but they weren’t the most rational creatures. What worried him was how they’d use Aya-chan against him and the fact that, while he’d do almost anything to keep her from harm, Schreient couldn’t rely on the same devotion from the rest of Weiß.

He’d have his answers when they finally tracked the women down. Despite his doubts about rescuing his sister, he was certain that Weiß and Schreient would face off sometime very soon. As he opened the bathroom door, a vision from his dreams superimposed itself over the doorway, turning the long corridor before him into a nexus of perpendicular roads with him standing at the intersection. Cassandra’s voice whispered in his head, telling him that the crossroads were at hand and he had to choose.

Forcing himself to shake off the fanciful thoughts, he returned, still trembling from the vision, to his bedroom to toss his sweatshirt onto the couch and left without waking Yohji up. His lover appeared to be resting deeply so he let him be, not wanting to disturb him after weeks of fitful sleep. The alarm would go off soon enough, signaling the start to Yohji’s search for Schreient. For a moment he felt jealous of the fact that his lover was paired with Ken and not him but he was certain that Omi had a good reason for splitting the team this way.

He entered the kitchen and found a pot of miso soup bubbling on the stove and a covered plate of rolled omelets on the table. His stomach rumbled at the wonderful aroma filling the small room and he decided that there’d been enough time between him taking his medicine before showering and now that he could safely eat. Thankfully, he was finally adjusting to the medication, especially now that he didn’t suffer from any more of the awful migraines. The two attacks since finding out about Schuldig messing with his dreams had been brought on by normal causes and he’d felt better in record time.

He sat down and enjoyed a bowl of miso soup while his tea steeped. His anger at Omi’s orders faded as he satisfied his hunger, mentally reminding himself to thank Omi for making breakfast despite a night spent studying and going over mission files. Growing impatient, when his tea was ready he slid an omelet onto a plate and took it down to the shop so he could eat it there. He ate at his worktable and went through the special orders to see what he’d need for the arrangements. Finished, he grabbed two buckets and went to fetch the flowers.

Even dressed in one of his new sweaters and jeans, he still shivered in the cooler room as he selected the blooms. He thought of his nice, warm bed upstairs with longing throughout the ordeal and, as soon as the last flower was selected, he fled the cooler.

He smelled the cigarette smoke as soon as he stepped outside. Setting the buckets by his table, he crossed his arms over his chest and glanced around the shop for his lover. He could make out a tall figure with long hair standing in front of the shuttered windows. "You know you’re not allowed to smoke in here."

"Well I know, now," a nasal voice replied and chuckled. Aya tensed in recognition but before he could force his body into action, Schuldig blurred before his eyes and strong, warm arms wrapped around him from behind. "Morning, precious."

He tried to swing his arm back to drive his elbow into Schuldig’s abdomen but the arms around him kept his arms pinned at his sides. Before he could attempt to swipe Schuldig’s feet out from under him, he found his body frozen still. Fucking bastard, he never fought fair.

<Oh, please, as if you ever do. If I gave you an open shot at me, no matter how dirty it was, you’d take it in a second.>

<Why don’t you do just that and see if you’re right?> Aya thought, furious that he wasn’t even allowed to speak out loud. Damned telepaths and their god complexes.

Schuldig chuckled and slowly released him, his arms loose around Aya’s waist as he moved to stand in front of him. "I don’t have a god complex." Schuldig’s smile faltered as he stroked Aya’s bangs back. "Rosenkreuz creates obedient little soldiers, not demigods. They don’t want us to get carried away and even dream of taking them on, after all."

<Then what do you call what you’re doing right now?> Aya trembled at the touch, entirely unsure if he was trying to move away from Schu’s hand or toward it and hating that indecision.

"Self preservation. I’m not in the mood to get my ass kicked this early in the morning." Schuldig’s sense of humor seemed to have returned as he played with Aya’s eartails, brushing the long strands of hair over Aya’s cheek and neck until he started to shiver in pleasure at the light touches.

<Then… stop paying me visits.> He managed to think coherently despite the teasing caresses and the feeling of so much delicious warmth standing mere centimeters from him. He forced himself to remember that he was being held here against his will, immobile, by an enemy and tried to stop his shivering that was brought on by these pleasant sensations.

Warm air flowed over his cheek as Schuldig leaned close. "But how can I resist seeing my little snugglebunny? You look good in grey and blue, Aya." A hand stroked down his chest and along his right hip. "It’s a welcome change from your work uniform, as much as I like you in leather. This is how you look when you’re Aya and not Abyssinian."

Images flooded his mind, a brief flash of the familiar scene of them making love in the small house surrounded by cherry trees, followed by new ones of the two of them curled up together on a couch, of him reading a book while sharing a bed with Schu, of them walking down a foreign street, shoulders almost brushing together as Schu pointed out various sights. In all of them he looked happy and, he noticed, his hair was longer and darker.

<We’ll be so happy together, Aya, I promise. These aren’t lies, they’re visions of the future.>

He could feel the truth in Schu’s words, just as surely as he felt the man’s hands stroke over his body, sliding underneath the sweater to caress his chest. Something inside him purred at the thought that they’d soon be together, the part that kept him from panicking even though he was held immobile and Schu moved behind him again, chest pressed against his back, hard, hot erection rubbing against his ass. Smiling lips started to nibble along his neck and this time he couldn’t suppress the shivers.

<But it’s not the future I want,> he said, despite that part of himself and the pleasure and safety he felt. <I love Yohji, not you.> He braced himself for a blow.

Schu tensed behind him but instead of being punched, he felt some of the paralysis leave him before he was dragged over to the worktable. He was pushed onto his stool as Schuldig shoved aside his work tools and dishes. The plate was sent skittering to the floor, its loud crash reverberating through the quiet shop.

"You love him, so what? The question is, does he love you?" Schu froze his arms before he could reach for one of the sharp scissors scattered about his table, earning Schuldig a glare for always thinking of everything. Aya got an amused smile for the thought and a caress along his cheek. "What can I say, you tend to keep me on my toes so I try to be on guard around you." The smile faded as Schuldig gripped his chin and forced him to look up. "Just how certain are you that Kudoh feels the same for you?"

<He loves me,> he said as he glared, furious that Schuldig was back to playing these games. He wasn’t going to be tricked into thinking that Yohji was going to cheat on him and concentrated on memories that recalled their happy moments together as an antidote to the burgeoning doubts inside of him and the visions Schuldig had shown him.

Schuldig laughed as his fingers tightened almost painfully around his chin. <Such a happy couple. He’s even got you groveling now, Aya. You’re his little kitten all right, well trained and obedient.> The sound grew harsh as he forced Aya to look down at the table as he placed two flat objects on the cleared space.

"He may love you now, but there was someone else he loved long before he met you. Someone he thought to spend the rest of his life with, who he joined Kritiker to avenge. How do you think you rank next to her?" Schuldig asked, his voice gloating.

Aya stared at the two pictures on his table. One looked like it was clipped from a newspaper, showing a much younger Yohji standing beside a smiling, confident woman. She was lovely, her eyes sparkling and her face lively, and Yohji had a possessive arm around her slender waist. The caption under the photo said something about Yohji Kudoh and Asuka Murase helping to retrieve a missing item… it was incomplete and inconsequential. All that he cared about was how happy Yohji looked standing beside his old lover.

The other picture made him suck in his breath and his vision darkened in anger for a moment when he saw it. There was Masafumi Takatori, alive and well, waving at something in the distance. Beside him, dressed in dark, knee length skirts and matching, conservative blazers over frilly blouses, were two women. He recognized the taller of the two as Hell and flanking Masafumi’s left side was… Asuka.

Her hair was now shoulder length, her eyes hidden by reflective sunglasses but he could see the familiar birthmark on her cheek. It was Asuka, the smile present in the other photo now stripped away. His vision blurred, making the sunglasses bigger until they resembled a visor that covered half of Asuka’s face, the dress becoming a short-sleeved catsuit. Asuka was Neu. <How…?>

"Yohji saw his beloved Asuka shot dead before his eyes while he hid in an alley," Schuldig said, his arms once again around Aya and his voice now smooth and sure. "But they never recovered her body."

<She survived?> How could she and Yohji not know?

"Maybe Kritiker kept that information from Yohji, and Asuka, thinking he was the one who died, somehow stumbled across Masafumi one day. Maybe she really did die and Masafumi used her DNA for an experiment or even brought her back to life somehow. Maybe he just happened to find her evil twin." Schuldig’s voice grew lighter with each ‘maybe’. "What do you think, hmmm?" His lips pressed against Aya’s neck, vibrating against his sensitive skin.

Shocked and hurt that Yohji never once said anything about Neu resembling his dead lover, Aya couldn’t think straight. Yet that purring part of him told him that Asuka was dead, dead, dead. Neu was either her doppelganger or her cloned twin. Or… or she was just an empty shell, her soul long gone but her body still alive, just like-

Pain shot through his head, a migraine-like agony that made him gasp and his eyes water. It grew in intensity for what seemed like forever before slowly fading, chased away by a soothing touch through his hair and a whispered voice in his ear.

"-all right, we won’t go there just now. It’s all right, precious. Don’t think about that."

Schu held him close, one hand combing through his hair while the other rubbed his back, his head resting on the telepath’s shoulder. He felt utterly drained yet comfortable, not willing to move until the pain was gone. As his arm slid around Schu’s waist for support, he realized he could in fact move again but remained still for a few more seconds.

Then he slowly pushed away from Schuldig, a bit unsteady on his stool but no longer willing to accept the man’s comfort. "Is that why you came here, to show me those photos?"

"Yeah," Schuldig said, sounding uncertain. His hands reached out as if to touch Aya but fell back to his sides. "I thought you needed to know the truth."

About to ask if the timing of the revelation had anything to do with Weiß’s latest case, Aya thought better of it and just shook his head. If Schuldig or Schwartz was involved with Schreient he’d soon find out; if not, he didn’t want to hear how Schuldig knew about the mission through their link. "Then leave."

He got an unhappy frown at the command but Schuldig stepped away from him. <Know this, Aya. My entire life I’ve only loved one person and that’s you. You’re the only one I want, the only one I see myself caring this much for, ever. Kudoh may love you but he also loves her.> Schuldig gestured toward the photos. <He’s dreamed about her for years, took up killing for her and still bears guilt over her death. You’re the person he fights with, is sullied with as much death as he is, who he thinks he’ll never drive away because you love him so much. When the time comes who do you think he’s going to pick; his beloved Asuka or you?>

When he didn’t say anything, desperate to deny the truth of the harsh words, Schuldig once again brushed back his bangs. "You’re all I want," Schuldig said, his voice shockingly earnest. "Can he say the same?" There was one more caress, heat flaring along his cheek in its wake, and then he was alone in the shop.

To stop thinking about Schuldig’s questions, Aya forced himself to set aside the photos and start working on the arrangements. It took him three tries to get the first one done right, mangled flowers were scattered around his table but he eventually calmed down enough to work. He was halfway through the list when he heard the scuff of boots and the click of a lighter and looked up to see Yohji approaching him.

His lover smiled at him, lit cigarette between his lips and leaned against his table. "I’ll never understand why you’d rather play with flowers than with me in mornings," Yohji drawled, his hair pulled back in a ponytail and the cropped t-shirt underneath his red dress shirt riding up his lean torso.

His hand trembling, Aya snatched the cigarette from Yohji’s mouth and tossed it to the floor. "I said ‘no smoking in here’!" he snapped.

Yohji stared at him in perplexed amazement for a moment before pushing off from the table and stepping closer to him. Aya closed his eyes and laid his head on the table, breathing in the scent of the ruined lily of the valley that lay near his nose. He heard the crunch of broken glass and then felt a tentative touch on his left shoulder.

"Aya? I’m sorry, okay?" Yohji sounded so damned contrite that he had to open his eyes and look up at his lover, who was standing there with frown on his face and worry in his beautiful green eyes.

"Schuldig paid me another visit while you were sleeping."

Yohji’s face tightened in anger and he stepped on more broken shards as he hugged Aya. "Fuck. Are you all right? What did he want this time?"

Rubbing his tired eyes, Aya straightened up and reached for the photos. "Why didn’t you tell me about this, Yohji?" He handed over the photos and stared at his lover.

He could tell when Yohji got a good look at the pictures, saw his lover flinch and the frown return. Yohji’s hands shook as he set the pictures down on a pile of ferns and then moved as if to pull out another cigarette. He caught himself just in time and folded his arms over his chest instead, his hands tucked into the crooks of his elbows. "The fucker needs to stop messing with our lives," he muttered darkly.

Then his anger faded slightly, leaving him looking more guilty than anything else. His gaze skittered past Aya’s for a moment but returned and focused on him. "I wanted to tell you last night, honest," he said, his voice thick with sincerity, the same emotion shining in his eyes. "I’m not lying, Aya, I swear. I thought about telling you and then… then I remembered about your sister and you were acting all upset." He ran a hand through his hair, jerking several wavy locks out of the ponytail. "So I thought I’d tell you today. Never imagined the Bastard would beat me to it."

Staring at his lover, Aya wanted to ask who he loved more, him or Asuka. But he knew better than that, knew Yohji would say it was him whether it was the truth or not. It probably would be the truth… now. It might not be when they ran into Schreient, however. "How long have you thought Neu might be Asuka?"

Yohji chuckled nervously and rubbed his right hand up and down his left arm. "I don’t, not really. I just- well, they look an awful lot alike." His expression became more hangdog, his head lowering as he looked at Aya through his lashes, his hands fidgeting. "During the Wunder X mission, when we ran into Schreient, Neu’s mask fell apart. That’s when I saw that she looked like Asuka. When I ran into her before…." Yohji flushed with embarrassment and didn’t elaborate any more on that time, "I wasn’t sure if she was Schreient or someone they used to fool me. However," he said quickly, as if to lessen the impact of his confession, "I don’t… she can’t be Asuka, she’s nothing like her. Asuka would never kill anyone. It could also be cosmetic surgery, I never checked to see if she had any scars so there’s a chance it’s all just a trick," he finished weakly.

Aya glanced at the photos and had to admit that the grainy images weren’t the clearest. Still, trick or not, Yohji should have said something. "That mission was months ago."

"I know," Yohji said, golden skin flushing. "I guess I wanted to think that I imagined things, that the resemblance was all in my head." He reached out to touch Aya but dropped his hand when he was glared at for his trouble. "Oh, for fuck’s sake, you’re pissed because I didn’t tell you that an enemy looks a bit like an old girlfriend? Did you ever stop to think that you being angry with me is exactly what that Bastard is hoping for?"

"I wouldn’t be angry if you said something before, would I?" Aya shot back as he walked away from the table, not wanting to be near Yohji and sharp objects at the same time. The rage built inside him with each step. "Did you ever think about what could happen if you came across Neu during a mission and paused while trying to figure out who she was? What could happen to you or another member of the team? They know about us, Yohji," he said as he stalked through the shop. "They know enough to be able to track us all down after we disbanded and to snatch my sister away. Do you honestly think they don’t know that Neu looks like Asuka and won’t use that against you? Yet you didn’t say a damned thing."

Yohji followed, hot on his heels. "Oh, this is just priceless, me being bitched out by the man who had a personal grudge against Takatori for how fucking long and never told us for months." He got ahead of Aya and stood in his way, arms crossed over his chest. "You even fucked up a mission because of it and threw that precious heirloom of yours at a fucking helicopter of all things. Where was your concern for Omi and Ken then, hmmm?"

Aya wanted to hit him, to make him shut up. How dare Yohji bring up Reiji Takatori? It wasn’t the same thing in the slightest. His hands grabbed his lover’s open shirt, ready to throw him out of the way, to do anything to shut him up but then his hands clenched and didn’t let go as he slumped forward. He felt Yohji start when he rested his head against the broad chest in front of him, drank in the man’s warmth and shuddered. Somehow he knew just then that if he carried on with this fight that he’d lose Yohji, lose the person he loved as much as his sister. "He does this to us every time," he said, more than a little dazed from the sudden flash of knowledge and the quick shift in temperament.

Yohji understood him anyway. "Yeah, he does." He wrapped his arms around Aya and pressed warm, moist lips to his temple. "Screw ‘guilty’, I think his name should be ‘meddlesome bastard who likes to fuck up good things’. What do you think?"

"That it’s a little long for a name," Aya said as the tension left his body and he hugged his lover back.

"You do have a point. Kind of hard to yell that out in the middle of a fight." Long fingers tangled in his hair and tugged gently until he looked up. "I’m sorry, love; I truly am sorry that I didn’t say anything sooner. This time it’s all my fault, at the least I shouldn’t have left the Bastard an opening to use against us. And you’re right, it was a risk to the team, keeping quiet like that."

He stared at his lover, prompting a wry chuckle from Yohji. "You’re not the only one who knows how to apologize." His nose was gently tapped by a long finger, more laughter followed as he frowned and rubbed it. Yohji winked at him and grew serious. "The Bastard doesn’t miss a chance, does he?"

"It doesn’t help that we give him so many opportunities," he mumbled as he draped his arms over Yohji’s shoulders. About to ask what his lover was going to do if they discovered that Neu had more than a passing resemblance to Asuka, he was prevented by a very passionate kiss. Yohji, tongue thrusting hungrily into his mouth, strong arms hugging him close, warm hands stroking along his back beneath his sweater.

The kiss, the embrace felt so incredibly good…. He moaned, the sound reverberating in the back of his throat as he clutched his lover closer. Part of him wanted to prove to Yohji just how much he wanted him, just how good it felt, the two of them pressed together and touching, stroking – he wanted to grind Asuka’s memory to dust, to obliterate it with new ones of just how much *they* belonged together.

He’d taken the first steps backwards toward the green house, where he would literally and figuratively fuck Yohji’s brains out when he heard the sound of someone clearing his throat and came to a sudden halt. Schuldig hadn’t returned, had he?

Yohji groaned and tried to push him onward, hands clutching his ass and mouth fastened to his neck but before he could lose himself in the pleasurable sensations the sound was repeated, this time louder. Yohji jerked his head up and turned in the direction from which it came, Aya craning his neck to look over his lover’s shoulder.

Ken was standing in the middle of the shop with a disgruntled look on his face and the hint of a blush on his cheeks. When he noticed that he had their attention, he folded his arms over his chest and gave them a very good impersonation of Omi’s sternest ‘Bombay’ look. "I thought today’s mission was us tracking down Schreient’s lab, not the two of you screwing each other yet *again* in the greenhouse."

"Dammit, Ken, do you get a thrill from walking in on us all the time or what?" Yohji huffed as he draped an arm around Aya’s waist.

"If the two of you would just restrain yourselves to having sex in the privacy of your own room, you wouldn’t have to worry about anyone walking in on you, would you?" Ken asked, his eyes flashing with anger.

Yohji grinned wickedly at the question and glanced down at Aya. "That sounds like a wonderful suggestion. Wanna head upstairs, kitten?"

"We’re supposed to be working!" Ken hollered, flustered once more, his hands clenched into fists at his sides as if he was trying rather hard not to punch something – such as a certain blond playboy. "Why the hell do I have to be paired with the lame brained sex addict?"

"Hey, there’s nothing wrong with my brain! At least I haven’t taken one too many blows to the head from a soccer ball like some people I know!" Yohji said, his voice rising with anger as he stepped away from Aya and closer to Ken. "Omi paired me with you because he knows you’re a helpless idiot who couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a map, let alone some hidden lab! Does the phrase ‘dumb jock’ ring a bell?"

Ken stepped forward until he was almost, despite the differences in their heights, nose to nose with Yohji. "At least I’d be out there looking for the damned thing than in here fucking my boyfriend! The next time you go in for a check up, I’m going to ask Kritiker to castrate you so Weiß can get some work done!"

Aya returned to his worktable, frowned at the broken plate scattered on the floor and resolved to sweep it up after he finished the floral arrangement that he was working on when Yohji showed up. He reached for more gladioli as the fight raged on.

"At least I use my dick!"

"Yeah, Kudoh, by constantly sticking it-" Ken seemed to suddenly think better of what he was about to say and, after a nervous glance in Aya’s direction, continued. "You use it too damned much!"

"As opposed to you wanking off all the time, pining after Omi." Yohji snorted in disgust as he shoved his hands into his back pockets. "Maybe if you put yours to good use sometime you wouldn’t be so concerned what I do with mine."

"I don’t give a damn about what you do with your dick," Ken said in obvious frustration, his hands gripping his hair and starting to tug. "I just want it in your pants when we’re working! Is that too much to ask?"

"But we’re not working now, are we?" Yohji pointed out, a wide grin on his face.

Ken closed his eyes, appearing to either be praying or imaging himself ripping off Yohji’s head. After a few seconds and several deep breaths he opened his eyes. "We’re supposed to be working. If you can keep your damned hands *and* dick away from your boyfriend for a little bit, we can leave." He gritted out each word.

Yohji shrugged his shoulders, reached for his cigarettes, pulled one out of the pack and placed it between his lips. When Aya made a coughing sound, he glanced over his shoulder, smiled apologetically and didn’t try to light the stick. Turning back to Ken, he waved his hand before tucking dramatically it back into his jeans’ pocket. "I see. Now that you’ve had your breakfast and caught up on your teams’ scores, *you’re* ready to work. Pardon me if I take the time you used slacking off to see my boyfriend before I spend the day crawling all over Tokyo." He bowed, bent at the waist and remained there for a few seconds before straightening back up, the graceful movement offset by a sardonic smile. "Since you’re now willing to do something, I have no choice but to follow."

Ken definitely looked as if he wanted to hit someone, namely Yohji. "Kudoh, just move your fucking ass, all right?"

"I hear and obey, oh fearless leader." While Ken sputtered in anger, Yohji looked at Aya, winked and blew him a kiss before his expression turned serious. "Be careful today, you and Omi. I’ll see you later." He waited for Aya’s nod before heading for the door. "Let’s get going, Kenken. You’ve wasted enough time this morning. And what’s with this sudden fascination with my body parts? First my dick and now my ass - you seriously need to get laid, man." Ken’s indignant reply wasn’t audible as the door closed behind them but Aya imagined it consisted of a few choice swear words wrapped around an insult or two.

Omi and he’d commiserated with each other a few times, telling each other that they should be paid for being babysitters one day, the latest fight a prime example of what they put up with on an almost daily basis. What was Kritiker thinking to pair the four of them up? It was a miracle they hadn’t killed each other yet, especially with so much sexual tension added to the mix. He shook his head as he thought about his bickering teammates and finished the arrangement. That left him with two more to do.

He left his table to clean up the mess on the floor and fetch more flowers. He went about the work quickly and efficiently, trying not to think about German telepaths or how much longer Omi’s test would take before he could search for his sister, and most definitely trying not to think of Yohji out there, tracking down Schreient and possibly running into a woman who resembled his dead girlfriend to a frightening degree. Each time he did, the anxious feeling inside his chest only grew in intensity.

*******

Ken sighed as he realized that they’d found yet another false lead. The room they stood in clearly had not been used for some time. "Explain to me again why we’re following leads gathered for us by a blind man and a foreigner who was a bartender up until a few months ago." Not to mention the fact that Mickey was Teddy’s brother and Koyu Teddy’s lover, which cast further doubt on the two men’s sanity.

"You can trust Koyu and Mickey," Yohji said as he lit a cigarette. "They’re among the few people in Kritiker that I do." He exhaled a cloud of smoke and tucked back the hair that escaped from his ponytail. "At least we have some leads this time, even if they’re not panning out."

Ken snorted at that statement as he brushed the dust off his hands. The stuff had to be at least several millimeters thick in this place. "Big deal, we’ll still running around in the dark." He hated the thought that, while they were checking out one wrong address after another, Schreient could be torturing and killing another innocent woman or worse, Omi and Aya were facing the team by themselves.

"Of course. There are times when I think we should be called Schwartz, instead of those freaks," Yohji muttered as he wiped off the screen of an old monitor. "Is this thing even connected to anything?"

Ken sighed and peeked underneath the computer desk to check the cables. "Yeah, it is." He watched his friend power on a computer that had to be almost as old as them. He looked over Yohji’s shoulder as they waited for the machine to sputter back to life, which it slowly did. After a few long minutes, most of which was spent sneezing from all the disturbed dust and muttering about the computer’s slowness, they still didn’t find any suspicious programs on the hard drive. Hell, it didn’t even possess a version of Solitaire.

"I think we can safely say this place hasn’t been used for anything other than a dust bin for the last ten years or so," Yohji said when he turned off the computer. "Let alone for messed up experiments. What’s next on the list?"

He pulled out the folded sheet of paper and groaned when he read the address out loud. "It’s going to take us at least twenty minutes to get there." This was ridiculous, dashing madly all over the city. "You know, say what you like about us always being in the dark but when we don’t have any leads, we can stay home where it’s clean and warm while Omi and Aya come up with something."

"Lazy-ass wimp." Yohji snatched the list from him and squinted at it in the dim light. "What’s with the marks by these addresses?" he asked as he motioned to the ones at the bottom of the list.

"Those are the locations that Omi feels are too big for us to search on our own. I’m supposed to call him in a little bit so we can meet up." He hoped they got through the list pretty quickly. He didn’t like splitting Weiß up like this, even though it would take them at least three days to go through the list if they were all together. At least they weren’t working individually.

He just wished that Omi hadn’t teamed himself with Aya. Granted, it wasn’t the best of ideas to put the two lovebirds together and then send them off on their own but Aya tended to attract unwelcome attention. He just hoped that Mastermind didn’t decide to mess with the redhead while Omi was there. Or any more knife-wielding psychos. Hell, he just wished he was with Omi, watching his… friend’s back.

"Let’s get going," he told Yohji as he folded the list and put it back into his pocket.

"Great, time to crawl around another creepy, filthy place," Yohji said as he rolled his eyes. "Yippee. Why would I possibly prefer being home in bed with Aya than tracking down dark beasts right now?"

"Because these beasts have Aya’s sister and the sooner we get her back, the better," Ken pointed out as they turned off the dim lights and left the dusty room. "Not to mention all those poor women." He grabbed the leather bundle of his jacket and bugnucks from the table by the door as they walked out.

"I haven’t forgotten either reason," Yohji said as he pulled out his pack of cigarettes. "Trust me, I want Schreient dead just as much as you do, I just think there are better ways to go about this."

They reached Yohji’s car and once inside, Ken rolled down the window so he could breathe something other than cigarette smoke. "There’s nothing new about this mission," he pointed out as they pulled out into traffic.

"I know." Yohji went to flick the ash on his cigarette into the ashtray, grimaced when he saw how full it was and dumped the container out the window. "Just because we’re used to it doesn’t mean we have to like it."

No, but that’s the way it was and he didn’t see how complaining or pointing things out was going to help Weiß. They were Kritiker’s pawns, plain and simple, and they jumped when and how high the organization told them to. As Yohji drove them to the next location, he stared out the window at the passing scenery and wondered how his life had become so fucked up and if it was even worth being depressed over it when there was no hope of a better future.

*******

Omi hung up his phone and looked over at Aya. "We’re going to meet up at the Ibu complex."

His friend didn’t say anything, just grunted and glared around the empty room they were standing in. He could practically see the tension and frustration radiating off Aya’s tense body. It had grown steadily with each false lead they checked off the list. If they didn’t find some sign of Schreient soon, he didn’t know what Aya would do. Well, he’d take a guess and say either start an explosive fight with Yohji or begin hitting something to relieve his frustration, neither a very appealing prospect. He’d had enough of fighting the last day or two and Aya didn’t need to hurt one of them or himself while working off nervous energy.

He headed for the door, looking back over his shoulder to see Aya give the room one more glare before following him. Neither of them spoke the entire way back to Aya’s Porsche, the loud slam of the car door making him flinch as he slid into the passenger seat.

"Aya, we’ll find them, just give it some more time. It’s a long list and we’re not even half way through it yet." He debated adding that he was almost certain that Aya-chan was fine and they’d soon find her but the angry set of Aya’s jaw and the way his pale hands clutched the car’s steering wheel made him think that now wouldn’t be the best time to bring up that subject. Aya had calmed down over the past few weeks but the one thing certain to make him jump around like a careless fool was any mentioning his sister.

He didn’t know what they’d do if they found Aya-chan dead. He had a few tranquilizer darts on him, and he’d definitely use one on Aya if he lost it, but that wouldn’t solve anything in the long run. As silly as it was to hope that a group of insane women who had a very personal grudge against Aya hadn’t harmed the man’s sister, he did indeed hope that all they’d done to Aya-chan was kidnap her to use as leverage against Weiß. One thing was certain, they’d soon find out.

Things remained quiet for a few more minutes until Aya spoke. "Omi, do you know anything about Masafumi’s research?"

"Huh?" He was more than surprised to hear Aya ask him a question other than where the next building was, especially when it had something to do with his family. "Just the little bit we found out during the mission dealing with him," he said as he sat up straighter in the leather bucket seat. "He was into genetic modification in hopes of making himself immortal."

Aya grunted again, the sound soft. "Was there any indication of him being into cloning?"

About to point out that Aya had been there for the mission, he remembered how his teammate had acted back then, so utterly focused on taking down a Takatori that he was oblivious to anything else. He swallowed the smart comment and gave the question some thought. "Not that I know of. He was trying to alter DNA, not replicate it." Turning in his seat so he could look at Aya, he frowned to see the worried look on his friend’s face. "Why?"

Aya didn’t say anything for at least two blocks and then he sighed. "Neu looks like Yohji’s old partner, Murase."

From the way Aya said the name, he expected Omi to know whom he was talking about. Even though he knew his teammates were aware of how he’d spied on them and been granted special access to Kritiker information by his uncle, he still felt guilty over the matter. It took him a moment to realize that Aya hadn’t meant anything snide and for the impact of the words to sink in. "Neu of Schreient looks like Yohji’s dead girlfriend? Do you think she’s a clone or something?" It sounded silly… but so did a man turning into a beast because of a mad scientist, and telepaths roaming around Tokyo.

"I don’t know, Omi, I just think it’s very suspicious," Aya said, his eyes never leaving the road.

Omi thought about the matter some more. "I know he did some pretty amazing stuff but I don’t see how he could clone a dead woman and create an adult copy, let alone why he would clone her in the first place. It could be a coincidence."

By the way Aya’s lips pressed into a thin line, it was obvious he didn’t feel the same way. Omi suddenly felt very uneasy. For the past day he worried about how Aya would react on this mission, and now he just found out that they were tracking down, with the intent to kill, an assassin who looked like the woman Yohji had joined Weiß to avenge and who he’d pined over until the last few months. "It has to be a coincidence," he said, utterly unconvinced by his own words.

"And if it isn’t?"

He didn’t know what to say to that and, after a quick glance in his direction, Aya fell quiet and concentrated on navigating through Tokyo’s afternoon traffic. Sitting back into his seat, Omi fingered the tranq darts hidden in his sleeve and realized that Aya wasn’t the only potential problem he had on hand. His awful premonition about this mission intensified.

*******

Itching from the need for a cigarette, Yohji looked over at Ken as his friend pecked at the computer’s keyboard. He wanted to step outside for a smoke but he also had a bad feeling about leaving his teammate. This was the most promising site they’d come across yet, and considering its sheer size, Schreient and Schwarz both could be hiding in one of the warehouse’s many rooms and they’d never know it until it was too late. He just hoped Aya and Omi were being careful as they wandered around, especially since it was starting to get dark outside.

"How’s it going?" he asked as he glanced over Ken’s shoulder to see the lines of characters scrolling down the monitor screen. Ken didn’t answer him other than to shake his head, too busy concentrating on finding and saving all the data they could.

"At times like these, I wish I had studied science," he said to fill the silence that was getting on his frayed nerves. Hell, he actually wished right now that he’d finished high school, something that usually didn’t bother him unless Aya was enraptured in some book whose very cover gave him a headache just to read or when faced with computers. That had been Asuka’s department…. "You think that’s anything but gibberish there?" He poked a finger against the screen and noted with interest that it was dust free, unlike most of the sites they’d visited during the day.

Ken tilted his head to the left and right as if to work a crick out of his neck. "Well, let's save a copy just in case."

Yohji grunted, stepped back and gave the large, mostly empty room a quick scan, feeling like an idiot and desperately craving nicotine. He’d gone through a whole pack today, his nerves on edge from walking again and again into a potential lab of Schreient’s and coming up empty each time. He felt jittery, as if he was being watched. He just wanted this mission to be over with and thought longingly about his nice, soft bed at home. What he wouldn’t give to be curled up there with Aya instead of here.

He hated this mission. Ever since hearing about Schreient’s involvement, he knew that this wouldn’t have a good ending. Those crazy women had Aya’s sister and somehow he doubted they’d just hand her over, safe and sound. Not to mention the whole Neu/Asuka mess and something bad was bound to happen.

Spurred on by his dark thoughts, his unease grew and as he gave in to the urge to look behind him, he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. He turned, his hand reaching out to shove Ken’s shoulder, and they both moved just in time to avoid the whip that smashed into the monitor, shattering the glass screen.

He jumped to the side as Ken stumbled over to a bookcase, his upper body bumping into it just as two throwing stars were embedded into the books beside his head. Yohji’s heart sank at the sight. Call him crazy, but he had the impression they’d just found who they were looking for. Ready or not, he was about to face Schreient.

As if to prove him right, three women jumped out of the shadows. Upon seeing them, Ken loudly yelled "Schreient," and jumped out of one of the large windows to the outside.

Why the hell had the idiot done that? Ken was usually spoiling for a fight, not running from one. He hoped his teammate was going for reinforcements but still felt a bit peeved that he was being left here alone to defend himself. Four against one were not his favored odds, especially when he was the one. He dodged more of Hell’s weapons as he heard a giggling, shrill voice in Ken’s vicinity. Well, that explained why he didn’t see Tot up here. Guess that made it three against one.

Then he stopped worrying about numbers and focused on the fact that Neu was moving toward him, Schoen and Hell remaining where they were, over by the door. Shock filled him when she paused for a moment right in front of him, light from outside illuminating her just like Asuka had been in his dream the other morning. Now all he could see was Asuka. The two women shared the same build, the same long legs and slender waist and, he soon found out, Neu even threw a punch just like Asuka did, throwing her shoulder into motion with a smooth little hitch. The doubts he told Aya about earlier that day were quickly fading away. His heart clenched in pain at the thought that here was Asuka, alive all these years and he never even knew.

He found himself desperate not to fight her, even though she seemed intent on beating him into a pulp. No matter the threat, he couldn’t force his arms to lift up and swing back, his right hand to pull out a length of wire to use as a weapon. Instead, he dodged each of her punches while part of his mind kept screaming that this wasn’t Asuka and to attack. He barely succeeded in dodging the furious swings in his direction, too confused to punch her back. "Stop it!"

Asuka acted as if he hadn’t spoken at all and kept swinging at him, her movements becoming more and more furious as she missed. He was beginning to have trouble avoiding being hit but still remained on the defensive. Gods, how could he hurt the woman he loved…?

"Asuka! You're Asuka, right?" he said, hoping for some reaction by mentioning the name. The fight couldn’t go on like this, not without someone getting hurt. He felt something shatter inside when Asuka didn’t seem bothered to hear her real voice in the slightest. Desperate to stop this fight before it went too far, he repeated the question.

"Asshole," she gritted as she kept swinging, "I don't need to tell you who I am!"

He couldn’t believe that she hadn’t reacted. Why didn’t she remember who she was, who he was, he thought dazedly as he barely ducked beneath a furious blow. Even if Masafumi had done something to her, something to take away her memory and make her into a killer, shouldn’t she remember something when she heard her name? Too busy dodging punches and trying to figure out his confused thoughts, he didn’t pay any attention to where he was going until he felt the back of his leg hit something solid and down he went. Cursing fervently the stool he’d tripped over and himself for being such an idiot, he barely managed to roll out of the way of Schoen’s whip as it cracked through the air.

He didn’t know who he was more pissed off with at the moment, fate for dumping on him like this or Ken for leaving him to face alone most of Schreient. He should have known that Hell and Schoen wouldn’t remain out of the fight for long.

"Hey, handsome, would you like to play around with me, now?" Schoen asked as she swung the weapon again, a smirk on her beautiful face. He could care less about the woman and quickly grabbed the stool to use as a shield while he tried to figure out where Asuka had gone. A quick look revealed that she was now over by the door, standing in front of a smiling Hell.

He tried again to reach her. "Asuka! Don't you recognize me? It's me, Yohji!" Nothing happened other than Hell’s smile grew bigger; there was no reaction whatsoever from Asuka as he fought for his life before her very eyes.

Somehow he couldn’t convince himself that this wasn’t his old lover, not after seeing her, not after being this close. It had to be Asuka; Masafumi and his bitches had done something to her. Once he killed them, he could get her away from here and make her remember him.

A thunderous clap next to his left ear, making his head ring with the sound, distracted him. "Hey, I'm talking to you!" Schoen said, sounding angry at being ignored as she snapped her whip as if to draw his attention. He didn’t have any time for this. He dismissed her as he threw the stool aside and leapt to his feet, calling out Asuka’s name again.

Asuka suddenly moved toward him, giving him pause as he thought gleefully that maybe this time he’d reached her. His defenses down, he couldn’t stop her knee from connecting with his gut, knocking the wind out of him and bending him in half from the pain.

Through his dazed senses, he heard the sound of laughter and then someone called out to Neu to slow down, beat him to a pulp and make him regret ever being born before killing him. He tried in vain to fight back yet each time he looked at Neu, it was Asuka he saw, standing there defenseless before him, calling out his name. That crumpled his resolve to strike back and all he could do was stare at her brokenheartedly as she continued to hit him.

As he was punched in the face he had the stray thought that Aya was going to kill him for allowing himself to get the shit kicked out of him like this. Something inside snapped, breaking the illusion. The next time Neu swung at him, he finally managed to dodge the blow and catch her arm. He twisted it behind her back and held her pinned, still careful not to hurt her but not about to let her continue beating him.

She struggled against him, trying to kick at his feet but he held on. "Let go," she spat.

"No." If he did that she’d probably run and he’d never be able to find out the truth. That thought lent him strength to continue holding on, no matter how much his battered body protested as she tried to pull free.

"Let go." Her voice held a lifeless quality to it, even as enraged as she must be at being held captive. It was so unlike Asuka’s energetic manner of speaking, a fact that gave him something to focus on in an attempt to clear his muddled head.

"I won't!" he snapped as he tightened his grip, refusing to let her get away before he had his answers. He wondered how he was going to explain this to Aya and that thought sapped a little of his will. There was no way that Aya would understand his actions at first, to not be hurt by them. Yohji slumped against Neu’s back as he thought about how Aya was going to react, at the pain he’d soon see in his lover’s eyes.

"Neu! What are you doing?" Schoen, looking worried about her teammate, stepped toward them, her whip raised as if to strike and Yohji tried to figure out how he could fight her while not letting go of Neu. He needed both hands free to use his wire but didn’t want to risk removing either from Neu in case she managed to break free and vanished. Nothing else was as important as holding on to her right now. Schoen and Hell took a step toward him, their weapons held up.

Just then glass shattered as Ken jumped back through a window. "I'll be your date!" Yohji could only stare at him in amazement, wondering why the hell he couldn’t use a fucking door, like Aya, who also came charging in, his katana held at the ready. Oh gods, Aya….

"Schreient!" There was no doubt about Aya’s feelings toward the women they were fighting, his voice thick with hate and fury. He sliced his katana at a stunned Hell but missed, just barely, as she darted beneath the blade. She didn’t give him a chance to correct his mistake but jumped out the broken window instead. Aya spared Yohji a quick, worried glance before diving after her, yelling for her to stop.

Aya looked just like he had when he’d go off after a Takatori, half mad and burning with rage. Yohji, trying to drag Neu over to the window so he could make sure Aya was all right, heard the revving of a car engine. As he was distracted trying to figure out where Aya had gone, Neu elbowed him in the gut, knocking him down as he gasped in pain before slipping out the window. Ken was immediately by his side to help him stand up.

"Yohji! Are you all right?"

"Just peachy," he managed as he stumbled toward the broken window. "Can’t anyone use the fucking door?" he asked as he looked outside, desperate to make sure Aya was okay and find out where Neu had gone. What the hell was his lover thinking to go charging after Hell like that? And why had Neu followed him? He had this terrible fear he’d see Neu beating Aya like she had just done to him but forced himself to look anyway. He saw his lover standing in the middle of the alley, his sword held in readiness. A couple of hundred meters away were the lights of a small car but there was no sight of Neu.

"Let’s go," he told Ken, not wanting to leave Aya alone out there. Suddenly, his nightmares of the past few weeks came rushing back to him. He couldn’t leave Aya and Neu alone together, not without the risk of losing one or both of them. He needed to find out who Neu really was but he couldn’t risk Aya’s life. He had a terrible vision of both of them fighting and killing each other. Why were things so out of control? Where the hell was Omi?

He heard the slamming of a car door and then the vehicle, a small Volkswagen Beetle, spun down the road and turned around. Yohji, with Ken’s help, stepped up onto the windowsill and wasn’t surprised to see the car start racing toward Aya. In the light from the car’s headlights he saw Neu approach Aya and felt his throat tighten in horror at what was about to happen. No. Before he could yell a warning, though, there was the sharp sound of a taut wire being plucked and something shot through the car’s windshield, making the vehicle swerve wildly a mere meter or two from where Aya stood.

There was the sickening sound of a body impacting against something hard. In his mind he saw Aya broken and bleeding on the ground. No, nothing bad could have happened just now, Aya couldn’t have just been hit. Ken gave Yohji a shove out the window, forcing his immobile body to move. He landed badly but shook it off as his eyes searched out Aya, needing to make sure his lover was all right. He found Aya still standing and looking down at a figure lying on the ground.

Terror raced through him as he recognized the still figure. Oh gods. The image of a broken Aya was replaced with the more familiar one of Asuka, blood flying as bullets tore into her body. It couldn’t have happened again - he hadn’t just stood by helpless as something happened to Asuka! He cried out her name as he rushed over to her fallen form, filled with intense guilt and remorse that he’d failed again.

He fell to his knees beside her, frantically repeating her name as he patted her cheeks. He gradually noticed that he didn’t see any blood as she moaned softly at each touch, assuring him that she hadn’t died again, that he hadn’t lost her while he stood by helpless this time.

"Yohji." An icy voice called out his name but he ignored it.

"She’s alive! We need to get her to the hospital," he said as he gathered Asuka into his arms, attempting to stand only to be shoved back down again. He looked up and glared at Ken, who was standing beside him, a hand on his shoulder. "Leave me alone." He couldn’t be bothered with Ken right now, he had to help Asuka. He hadn’t been able to do that before….

"Yohji." This time there was a quiver in the deep, cold voice saying his name. He glanced to the side and saw Aya take a step toward him, an intense frown on his face. "What are you doing? Let her go." He motioned with his unsheathed katana at Asuka as Omi, a crossbow clutched in his left hand, jumped down from the warehouse’s fire escape.

"Aya, she’s been hurt. Please, she needs to be checked out," he said as they approached. Ken let out a muffled curse and stepped closer to Omi.

"Balinese, she’s a target," Omi told him, his eyes sad but his voice as cold as Aya’s. "She’s Schreient and just tried to kill us." Ken gazed at him accusingly and Aya… Aya just stood there, sword in hand, a lost look on his face.

Oh, no, he wasn’t going to kill her. No way. Not when there was a chance she really was Asuka. "Omi, listen to me, I think I know who she is." He had a chance of making Omi see some sense, out of all of Weiß. "She might-" A cold realization ran through him. He wanted to say she might be innocent but was she, really? Asuka or not, she’d killed people as Neu. She’d kidnapped Aya’s sister. He started to shake in confusion, torn between helping his old lover and not hurting his current one.

"You think she’s Asuka Murase, your old partner and girlfriend, don’t you?" Omi asked quietly, his eyes intent on Yohji’s. "Can you give me any proof other than that she looks like a dead woman?"

He flinched at the word ‘dead’ and glanced at Aya, wondering if his lover had told Omi about their fight earlier. Aya’s eyes met his, sad and full of pain, before dropping to stare with utter coldness and hate at the woman in his arms. Yohji felt an ache in his chest but couldn’t force himself to release Neu so his teammates could kill her.

"Aya, Omi… how can I prove it to you? She looks just like her, she smells just like her, dammit, we can’t just kill her! Masafumi might have done something to her, twisted her mind or something," he said, filled with desperation. They had to agree with him. He couldn’t fight all three of them, especially not Aya, but he didn’t want to just give in and let them kill her. Not until he was sure. In his arms, Neu stirred for a moment at the mention of Omi’s brother but then went still.

"Come on, Yohji, she just beat the shit out of you and you think she’s an old flame? Who’s taken one too many blows to the head now?" Ken asked, his voice rough with anger and his bugnucks unsheathed.

"I’m not killing her until I know for sure," he said as he glared at Ken.

"What if it’s a trap?" Ken shot back, his hands clenching into fists.

"Oh please," Yohji scoffed. "They deliberately ran her over like that as part of a plot to kill us? That’s ridiculous. She’s not Kase." He threw the name in Ken’s face and watched as his friend flushed with anger. Only Omi’s hand on Ken’s arm kept him from leaping forward.

"Yohji, shut up," Omi told him, sounding years older than he was. "You’re not helping matters and Ken has a very good point. You’re asking a lot from us." Omi pointedly looked in Aya’s direction.

Yohji stared at his lover and tried to smile reassuringly, to take away the hurt he could see in Aya’s eyes, the way his body was tight with it. "Please, give me a chance to find out if it’s really her." His brain scrambled for something better to convince his teammates as they frowned and shook their heads. "The rest of Schreient got away, if we… kill Neu, we might never find them again. Let’s take her home and see if we can’t get her to talk to us. *Please.*" He couldn’t let them kill her, not now. He’d spend the rest of his life wondering if she was Asuka or Neu and hating them for doing it, for taking away a rare chance at redemption. If she really was Asuka, he needed to try to make up to her for leaving her alone in that alley, for allowing this to happen to her. He looked up at Aya and silently pleaded with his eyes while Omi and Ken exchanged looks.

"You have a point," Omi said after a few moments, but his tone was reluctant as he if didn’t want to make that admission. "Right now, *Neu’s* our best lead for finding Schreient. If we kill her we might never find the rest of them or," he paused to look at Aya, "Aya-chan."

Aya tensed at the mention of his sister and clutched his katana even tighter in his left hand. He stared at Yohji, his expression filled with pain and confusion before the cold mask settled over it, rendering his face impassive. "She better tell us where my sister is," he said, his voice absolutely frigid, before he stalked off in the direction of his car.

Omi spared his retreating figure a worried look before turning to Yohji. "We’ll take her home and have a doctor look at her but she’s still a suspect in the murders. I expect her to be able to provide us with information on the rest of her team and Aya’s sister." His cold expression crumbled as he glanced in the direction Aya disappeared and was replaced by sadness. "I hope you’re right about her Yohji, I hate to think you just hurt Aya like that with a terrible mistake. Ken, you’ll ride with Yohji and… her." He spared Yohji a concerned look before hurrying after Aya.

Ken made a disgusted sound and grabbed Yohji by the elbow, helping to pull him to his feet. "I hope you’re right about her too, Kudoh. I don’t like the idea of one of Schreient of being in our home."

He tightened his arms around Neu, grunting softly from her weight and the strain on his battered body. "I have to know one way or the other who she is, Ken." He’d been too guilt-ridden the past few years over the fact that he never had Asuka’s body to bury, too worried over what had happened to her corpse, to be able to just kill Neu and walk away. Somehow he had to make the rest of Weiß realize that.

Omi and Ken weren’t happy but they were giving him a chance at least. He’d use this opportunity to lay his doubts to rest once and for all. As for Aya… once he explained the situation to his lover everything should be fine. He was sorry for hurting Aya like this but the man loved him and knew he was loved in return. Aya wouldn’t leave him over something like this. He’d figure out how to make it up to his boyfriend somehow.

Yohji limped toward his car, Neu heavy in his arms.

*******

Schuldig watched as Weiß, plus one woman, drove away from the warehouse complex. He felt a smile spread across his face as the two vehicles faded in the distance. It wouldn’t be much longer now.

"Bored."

He glanced at Farfarello, who was sitting at the edge of the rooftop, his feet dangling down and lone eye focused on the abandoned scene below them. "Don’t tell me you weren’t the slightest bit amused to see Schreient run down one of their own just now."

Farfarello made a rude noise and stood, seemingly uncaring of how close he remained at the edge of a four-story building. "They barely clipped her. When do we get to kill them?" Some interest crept into his voice at the question.

"Just a little while longer." It appeared that he wasn’t the only one who’d grown bored these past few weeks. The little he could make out from the chaos of the Irishman’s mind revealed a long denied need to slaughter… pretty much anything that came across Farfarello’s path. "Pretty soon you’ll get a chance to play with the lovely ladies." The comment provoked another rude noise as Farfarello whirled about and stalked across the roof.

Following his teammate, Schuldig couldn’t help but start to laugh. Just a little while longer and they’d all have what they wanted – Farfarello, his bloodshed, Crawford a precious ‘ill wight’ as an addition to the team and he’d finally have Aya – all thanks to that prick Kudoh. Well, he guessed the man-whore wouldn’t get what he wanted since he’d lose both Aya and his beloved ‘Asuka’. Ah well, no one could have everything - well, except for him.

It was such a lovely night.

*******

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