Of Cups and Wands

*******

Chapter 4

*******

Yohji hurried from his car, just tossing the keys at the valet as he entered the restaurant. Clutched in his hands was a bouquet of pink roses, a present for Kisaragi so she wouldnít be so terribly upset at having to wait for him a few minutes. Traffic had been crazier than usual, it was a miracle he wasnít any later than he already was.

Kasbah was a European style restaurant, specializing in Mediterranean food. The building was awash in soft earth tones on the stuccoed walls and white linen. A maitre de approached him as the blond entered, but a quick nod at the pretty woman standing off to the side amidst two burly gentlemen made the man back off. Walking over to his Ďdateí for the night, Yohji stopped to execute a formal bow and held out the flowers. Kisaragi made a happy exclamation as she snatched the roses, smiling gleefully at the playboy. Straightening up, Yohji was careful to keep a little distance between the woman and himself. "I take it Iím forgiven for being late? I know itís a horrid excuse, but traffic really was bad." Two sets of eyes scrutinized every inch of his body, trying to figure out if he was concealing a weapon. It was hard to suppress a smile as the bodyguards negligently dismissed his watch.

"What pretty roses! Theyíre my favorite. No, Konomi, itís perfectly all right. We just got here ourselves." Miho beamed at her dinner date, feeling very pleased with having actually called him for a night out. If Yuzo was going to keep ignoring her so shamefully, there was no reason why she shouldnít be out enjoying herself. "Would you like to go wait in the bar? Itís going to take a moment for them to get our tables ready." Gesturing to the proper area, the brunette handed her flowers over to one of the yakuza as she grasped Yohjiís arm. The bodyguard quickly gave the bouquet a thorough inspection.

Once more trying not to smile, this time at the image of a gangster holding the pink flowers as if they would explode at any minute, Yohji let himself be led to the bar. Like that was a hard decision. Miho took a seat at the counter and he sat next to her, again careful not to be too close. The bodyguards stood behind them, clearly discouraging any other of the restaurant patrons from crowding the couple.

It was only a few moments before the bartender left the customers heíd been serving and came their way. Eying the huge foreigner, it took the assassin almost a minute to figure out why the man was so familiar. The wild hair was slicked back into a short ponytail and the beard had been mostly shaved off, leaving a neatly trimmed goatee, but the grey eyes widening in recognition clued him in. Shit. Mickey Stout. All of a sudden the blond remembered hearing the bartenderís brother Teddy mention that he worked at an upscale restaurant named Kasbah. And where Teddy went Mickey was sure to follow.

Please oh please let him keep his mouth shut, Yohji fervently prayed. The grey eyes lingered on him for a moment, then shifted over to Kisaragi. "What can I get you?" The woman requested to see the wine list, and while she perused the selections Mickey turned to the blond. "And you sir?"

"Wine sounds fine as well, whatever the lady orders." The foreignerís eyes widen a bit at that, Yohji had never ordered anything other than whiskey and beer while at Bacchus. When Kisaragi finally made a selection the dark haired man left to fetch the bottle. Letting out a sigh of relief for not having his cover blown, the lanky man was silently thanking all the gods for the fact that Mickey had never been the most talkative person, unlike Teddy. Oh shit. Teddy.

Surreptitiously glancing around the dining room, the blond tried to figure out if the younger American was working as well while carrying on a conversation with his date. So far no sign of the longhaired pest. Yohji started to relax and enjoy the drink that Mickey poured for them, refusing to meet the manís eyes the whole while. He was barely done with the glass when the maitre de arrived to show them to their tables. Kisaragi and him were seated at a cozy little booth, and the bodyguards at the table across from them. Refilling his glass with the bottle theyíd brought along from the bar, the blond was hard pressed to not drop it when their waiter announced himself to the diners.

It was official, the gods hated him. Blue eyes regarded him angrily, flicking back and forth between Miho and him. On the plus side, the longhaired man showed no sign of letting slip he knew the blond, maybe his brother had warned the American. On the other, Yohji was willing to bet on what his friend was thinking. Here he was out on a date, cheating on Aya. Now wasnít exactly the right time to explain that the supposedly cuckolded man had all but forcibly sent him out on this assignation, and that it was purely innocent. Well, as innocent as it could be given the fact that he was an assassin trying to obtain information on the womanís boyfriend so he could kill him.

So a harmless smile firmly planted on his face, the blond calmly ordered an appetizer and watched as Teddy stomped off. "If you donít mind, Iíll be back in a moment." Yohji took the opportunity to escape into the bathroom, where he promptly leaned against the sink, waiting for the other occupant to leave. As soon as the elderly man did, the door opened once more to admit a fuming American, who promptly locked it behind him. "Okay Kudoh, what the hell is going on? I thought Mickey was joking when he told me you were here with a /woman/. Going to try and pass her off as your sister or something? You are so dead."

Eying the huffing man, the blond felt oddly put on the spot. "Wait a minute Stout, and let me explain. Sheesh, youíre not even the person Iím supposedly cheating on." Watching as the smaller manís face darkened at the last statement, Yohji hurriedly started talking, "Remember me mentioning those little side jobs the others and I occasionally pick up? Well, this is one of them. Iím on this date for purely business reasons."

Teddy hmphed. "Right, like Iím supposed to believe that. A convenient excuse, if I say so myself. Mind if I double-check this little fact with Red?"

"Be my guest." The lanky blond smiled at the crestfallen expression on the young manís face when he heard that statement. Looked as if someone was hoping for a quick denial. "The shopís closed for electrical repairs, thatís what prompted us to take this job, but if you stop by around lunch Iíll let you in and you can hear the same thing from the man himself. Now if you donít mind, I need to get back out there." He stopped at the door, hand busy working the look, and fixed the American with a stern gaze. "Whatever you do, /donít/ mention the name Yohji Kudoh, as far as the lovely lady and her friends are concerned itís Yuji Konomi."

"Wait." Blue eyes sparkled with mischief as he restrained the taller man from leaving just yet. "So it would be really bad if Mickey or I slipped and called you by your real name then, huh? How much is it worth to you that we make sure it doesnít happen?"

It took Yohji a moment to realize that Teddy was actually serious. "You little bastard," the assassin hissed out. "This isnít the time for jokes, did you get a look at those guys? If they find out Iím lying about who I am, things will be bad."

Yohji really should have known better than to try and reason with Teddy, especially when he wanted something. "All the more reason for you to honor a little request of mine then, no?"

There should have been steam coming out of the older manís ears. "What. Do. You. Want." The playboy gritted his teeth, regretting all those times heíd prevented Aya from killing the foreign bastard.

"Video footage of you and Red going at it?" Teddy yelped and ducked away from the grabbing hands. "Hey, back off! Just kidding." And here heíd always thought of Fujimiya as the hotheaded one. "What I want is that little double date I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The one you guys begged off of due to Redís illness. Well, if heís good enough to be working, the two of you should be up to a night out."

Squashing down the impulse to strangle the foreigner, Yohji sighed instead as he asked the other man what was so important about the date. "I told you, Koyu hasnít felt much like going out anymore, not since he was released from the hospital. But I know heís dying to meet that boyfriend of yours, and he liked you that one time you met. If I arrange a night out with the four of us, I know heíll agree. And neither of you are stupid enough to say or do something that will upset him. So is it a deal?" His boyfriend desperately needed a fun night out. The man was withdrawing more and more from the world. Koyu was actually intrigued enough with the idea of an evening out with the men, so Teddy was damn well going to arrange it for his koi. It was the least he could do for the man.

The thing was Teddy had enough balls to actually go through with the threat, Yohji reflected. Anybody who delighted in tormenting Aya had to be both brazen and nuts. "Alright. I hope you realize youíre just postponing my death from immediately at the hands of those goons until when I tell the man."

Unlocking the door, the puckish youth turned around to grin at his friend. "Like I havenít seen you take the wind out of your boyfriendís sails before. Just make sure you have your hands on him when you break the news, seems all it takes is a little nibble on the neck and your kittenís too busy purring to be pissed."

"Hmm." That brought back images from earlier that evening, of his loverís evil teasing while heíd been on the phone with Kisaragi. Aya only had himself to blame for this one, if the blond hadnít been so distracted heíd have remembered that Teddy worked at the place and requested some other restaurant. Smile once more back on his face, Yohji headed over to his table. It always was nice to be able to pass the blame on to someone else, with a little bit of luck the redhead would be so annoyed with Stout that heíd get away with his skin intact.

*******

As soon as he sank the eight ball Aya turned away from the table and searched about for the next person to play. Off to the side he glimpsed Ueno collect a good sum of money from those who had bet against him, pale face growing more impassive at the sight. The yakuza had taken over handling all of the cash, insisting that he was doing the redhead a favor and for him to not worry about the bets but just to keep winning. Aya knew what was going on, the gangsters were pretty much taking control of things, letting people know he was under their protection and keeping a hefty percentage of his winnings for the Ďfavorí. It had been expected, the assassin knew he couldnít continue playing on their turf without paying a price. He just hadnít thought it would happen so quickly. Or for Ueno to be so diligent in his regard. There had already been one person bounced out of the club with a few broken bones for suggesting that the games were rigged in his favor. Wasnít his fault he hadnít lost yet tonight. This was why the redhead rarely flaunted his skill at pool and other games, sooner or later someone started to comment on his win/lose ratio. Even when he tried to lose it didnít always work. If there hadnít been that niggling feeling that the pool tables were where the break for this mission would come from, heíd never have picked up a stick and started playing.

Observing the person who stepped up to the pool table, Aya nodded to let the older man know he had the right to break. One eye on his opponent, who turned out to be very good, the pale man searched about for his teammates. Ken as expected was busy behind the bar, and Yohji must still be out with his date. Or at another club. A flash of gold in the far right corner informed him that Yuushi was once more deep into a conversation with Hiro Kitayama. A faint echo of last night, the impression of threads tying him to the drunk gambler, flared up just as his opponent scratched the cue ball. Drawing his attention back to the game, the swordsman cursed at a twinge in his head that heralded the start of another headache. Why the hell were they plaguing him again? The past two weeks, barring the one night he forgot the pills, had been relatively pain free. But here he was, second evening in a row with a migraine, and there was a sense of heaviness to his limbs that indicated that just like last night heíd be exhausted when he left the place. Something was draining his energy away, whether the stress from this mission, which so far wasnít bad, or that from Yuushiís presence, he wasnít sure.

Aya quickly set about finishing off the game, even agreeing to several rematches with the upset loser. It was clear that the man was a professional and not used to losing. Yet each time the man would either scratch a ball or miss what should have been a doable shot. Then the redhead would finish up flawlessly, more money going into Uenoís and his comradesí hands. Finally the older man gave up and let someone else have a chance against the redhead. It was during a game with a teenager in biker leathers that Yohji eventually showed up, Miho Kisaragi on his arm. The woman appeared very happy, and waved gleefully at several of the gangsters around the pool tables. The couple settled in the booth clearly reserved for the ownerís girlfriend, and feminine laughter was soon heard from that vicinity. The swordsman paused to reflect that maybe Kudoh wasnít lying about those charms of his after all.

Angry swearing and a few rude comments on the status of his parentsí relationship clued Aya to the fact that he might have a problem on his hands. The teenager hadnít taken losing very well, especially considering the amount of money he and his companions had bet, and was rather perturbed over the matter. It was obvious that the biker had decided to take some of that frustration out on him. The pale assassin ducked under a wild swing, but before he could move forward to return the blow felt himself grabbed from behind. Struggling against the hold as a wave of panic filled him, it took Aya a second to understand the words being spoken in his ear. "Hey, relax there Fujimura. Let the guys handle this." It was Ueno who was holding him tight, as soon as he realized that the slender man went still as he waited for the arms to release him.

It wasnít happening anytime soon. "Ueno, let me go or Iíll break your arms." He meant it too, there was no way he was going to allow the yakuza to stand there holding him like this. It was difficult as it was to control the impulse of striking out long enough to issue the warning.

Hearing the growl in the pool sharkís voice, Ueno reluctantly loosened his grip. "Just making sure you didnít get hurt." It had been too good of an opportunity to pass up, but judging from the way those violet eyes were glaring at him, heíd really pissed the smaller man off. But Goro was a good judge of peopleís reactions, and he knew panic when he saw it. Seemed that Fujimura had a thing about being grabbed. The yakuza smiled as he mentally stored that little tidbit of information in the back of his mind. A little something for him to use against the standoffish man.

Aya watched the young biker and his friends get dragged out of the club, most of them bloody and unconscious. He used the time to reinforce his mask, face now only showing indifference, not agitation and fear. "You mean you didnít want to risk losing your investment."

"Ha! Youíre a quick one. The boys would be a bit broken hearted if you couldnít play pool for a while, but itís your sparkling personality that we love the most." The tall man smiled at the swordsman, who merely Ďhníedí as he moved back over to the pool table. Another mobster, guessing his intent, quickly set about racking the balls. Standing to the side, Aya let his eyes once more roam over the club.

The fight had attracted a good bit of attention, but people were slowly drifting back to the dance floor and bar. Yohji was among the throng, frowning over his shoulder at his lover as Kisaragi dragged him out for a dance. Yuushi had left his table as well, edging near Aya in case he needed some backup. Upon seeing the blond only a few feet away, the redhead was hard pressed not to glare at the man. He still hadnít forgiven the idiot for what had happened in the exercise room earlier, and being grabbed a second time that night wasnít helping matters at all. What, was there a sign on his back saying Ďmolest me pleaseí?

A couple games later Ayaíd had enough and decided to take a break. This was getting boring quick, and all he wanted was to escape for a bit from the crowd and noise. So he retreated back to his table, hoping for a little peace. As soon as he sat down Ueno slid into the other chair. "Go away."

"Ah, come on Fujimura, thatís not very nice. And you look like such a polite young man. Something bothering you?"

"Nothing that being left alone wonít cure." Aya knew better than to think that the gangster would get the hint.

Ueno grinned at the redhead. There were very few people who knew what he did for a living that would dare talk to him like that. It was surprisingly enjoyable to deal with the attractive manís attitude. "What if I told you me being here is all thatís saving you from being descended upon by a bunch of lowlifes interested in your skill and money? Youíve attracted a lot of attention, what with the way you play."

"Hn."

"Not much of a talker, are you? Thatís not a bad thing. But answer me this, if you can. What do you hope to get out of playing pool here?"

"Money." Violet eyes regarded black, weary and irritated. "Why else would I be playing a bunch of yakuza and gang members? I need the cash, not going to get enough working myself to death anywhere else."

Ueno shifted closer. "You have the skills, thatís for sure. But you know that you canít go much farther on your own. Fights like tonight are only the beginning. Itís always a good idea to have someone watch your back, especially once word gets out about a hotshot with no protection."

"I thought you had that covered, judging from this evening. Just how much of a cut are you taking?"

The taller man wasnít surprised that Aya had already figured things out. "Twenty five percent." The redhead frowned at the amount, making Ueno chuckle. "Thatís not bad, not really. Usually itís a third."

"Fine. A fourth of the cash and you keep people off my back. Why are we even having this conversation?"

A scarred hand reached out and ran a finger along the pale manís arm. Aya had to force himself to not move or react to the touch. "Just making sure you are aware of the deal. We provide the protection, you provide the services. Donít even think of trying to play anywhere else, if we find out we wonít be happy." A grunt and a curt nod was the only response to the conditions. Dark eyes narrowed as they took in the cold expression and thin lips. "Iím serious, things will not go well for you if we find out youíre cutting us out of any money. Itís a very smart idea to stay on our good side."

"I understand. No games anywhere else." The quiet assassin wanted this conversation over with.

The other manís hand tightened on his wrist. "Wonderful. Itís so nice to find an intelligent person who understands their end of the bargain. I think this will be a profitable partnership, donít you?" Ueno leaned in some more, his fingers digging into the pale skin. "There are benefits for both of us."

Aya glared at the yakuza. "Let me make one thing clear. My services only include winning at pool. /Nothing/ else, or Iím out of here."

Ueno looked as if he was going to debate that statement when one of his friends came over to the table, calling out his name and patting him on the back. Aya pulled his hand out of the distracted manís grip. The tall gangster practically snarled at the stranger, angry at being interrupted. "What the hell do you want?"

"Thereís something I need you to come deal with." The tall man sighed and left the table. As he passed by a stocky man with purple highlights he paused to issue an order. "Yoshioka, go keep an eye on Fujimura."

"Sure thing."

Aya watched the man depart, thankful to finally be left alone. Another yakuza came over, but merely stood by his table, not even attempting to sit down. His presence was clearly there to discourage anyone else from bothering the redhead. Sighing as he rubbed the bridge of his nose, the pale man was thinking that things were starting to get out of hand. There better be a damn lead sometime soon, or an overbearing gangster was going to lose a limb or two. Tired and cranky, he kept concentrating on that thought, on wracking his brain to think of anything that heíd overheard in the past two nights that shed some light on the assignment. Thoughts focused on the mission objectives, Aya gasped at a tearing pain in his head, at the feel of thousands of threads twisting and breaking and tying in new patterns, all of them resonating against his being. He started to sweat, flesh burning and breath panting, as his eyesight darkened.

There was a voice in his head, female and agitated. <Foolish foolish! You burn too bright too fast, star child. Have to hide the flame.> Next came the sensation of part of him being smothered in cloth, the material then being pulled painfully tight. The agony was blinding as he struggled against the restraint, and a chill was quickly replacing the heat. <DO SOMETHING, evil one. Heíll break my weaving, shadows and strands floating useless in the wind. The cloak will be gone, the light burning for all to see.>

<Iím trying, you Alte Hexe. Back off for a moment.> There was the soothing touch yet again, phantom fingers combing through his hair, helping him to relax with the familiar gesture that was one of the very few signs of affection that his mother had ever shown to him. The pain lessened, but the coldness remained. <Thatís it, precious one. Iím here, no need to worry anymore. Now forget, its not the right time.> For a moment he resisted the command, fighting against the familiar voice, but that just caused the pain to flare up once more. The calming touch intensified. <Such a stubborn one, neh little tuberose?> An exhausted Aya gradually stopped struggling, his senses filled with the scent of rain and sweat peas, the caress soothing his anger and fear.

*******

Returning back to his table and the gambler waiting there, Yuushi forced himself to sit down and stop staring at Ran. Heíd wanted to rip the head off of that goon whoíd grabbed the redhead, and had been very close into giving in to the impulse. The sight of those violet eyes going wide, much like earlier in the day when heíd been possessed enough to force himself on the slender man, had filled him with rage. Luckily Fujimiya had regained control over his emotions and got free before the anger had overtaken the blond agent.

The pale assassin had been avoiding him all night long. He hadnít come down for dinner, not even to grab something to eat before heading out for the night, causing his young blond teammate to worry. Honjyou got the impression that Omi was the fusser of the group, but there had been something odd in the anxious manner the teenager had betrayed when talking about his quiet roommate. Even Ken had treated his friend to an strange look as the blond kept worrying over dinner if Fujimiya had eaten enough that day or was suffering another headache. Or if he was upset about Kudoh spending the evening out with someone else. Secretly Yuushi had wished that was the case, but wasnít about to point out to the manís friends that the reason Ran was avoiding their company was because of him. Assaulting the redhead like that. What the hell had he been thinking?

"Looks as if the excitement is all over." Hiro Kitayama hadnít even bothered getting up from his seat, too busy with calculating just how much money heíd won off of that round.

Taking a swig from his beer, the Crasherís mouth twisted into a parody of a smile. "It sure does, at least for now. Wanna bet that thereíll be another fight before the night is done?"

Light brown eyes glowed at the mention of a wager. Knight had quickly learned that Kitayama could not resist a bet. "Hm, Iím thinking no, not tonight. If you noticed Uenoís thugs were a little on the harsh side that time, theyíre clearly trying to discourage any more such incidents. But the possibility is still there, as long as Fujimura keeps winning like he does. Which he better, got a lot of money riding on that boy."

"So Ueno is in charge of the guys here?" The blond kept his tone light as he asked that question. So far Kitayama hadnít questioned his sudden friendship, just accepted him as a drinking companion and sounding board.

"Huhn. Heís one of them. Answers to a Tadatoshi Nakajima when the manís here, but thatís usually not unless Somaís on the premises. Which hasnít been the case lately." Kitayama frowned at his gin free glass, prompting Honjyou to wave at a waitress and gesture at the empty glasses on the table.

"Business must be pretty good if the owner doesnít feel much of a need to check things out."

"Heh, not everything is going Somaís way lately, thatís for sure." For a moment it looked as if the drunk was going to add something, but clearly thought better of it. Instead he resumed watching Aya play, drunkenly cheering each time the redhead won. Yuushi kept ordering more drinks and making idle chitchat, wondering for the umpteenth time what had made Ran think the guy was worth all this trouble. Sure he had a lot of insight in what was going on in the club, but it was information that the agent could get several other places. Still, he decided to continue with this lead for a bit longer. If nothing came out of talking with the man tonight, heíd move on to someone else tomorrow.

After a little while Aya sat down at his table, and the blond tensed to see that Ueno had joined him there. His drinking companion chuckled when he noticed where the manís attention was directed. "Someone really needs to warn that boy that old Goro can be a spot of trouble. The man just isnít going to give up. Especially since Fujimura is raking in the dough for him."

"You think heíll try something?"

"Oh, most definitely. Thereís a guy who doesnít take no for an answer. Though itís not very often he goes after another fellow. But the boy is pretty." The light brown eyes regarded the yakuza, and a wide smile broke out on his face when the man stalked off. Yuushi didnít need to be psychic to tell there was some bad blood between the two men. "Poor guy looks upset, Honda must have interrupted him just as he was moving in for the kill. Seems like Fujimura gets a reprieve. Feh. The hentai bastard. Thereís a ton of women here who would love to get into Uenoís bed. Asshole."

About to direct the conversation elsewhere, not feeling very comfortable with a topic that was making him livid, Yuushi was startled when the gambler sat straight up, eyes glowing with passion. This was the most animated heíd ever seen the longhaired man. "Sluts, all of them. Not worth the trouble. A real woman will stand behind her man for support, take his troubles and do all she can to help. Like my Reiko. Sheíll do anything for me. Already has. Poor little thing, being in love with a mess like me."

Did he miss something? Why was Kitayama suddenly telling the blond about his personal life? But he sensed it was worth following. "Reiko? Thatís a pretty name."

"Reiko Hirohata. We always joke that thatís how we knew we were meant to be together, even share the same name. Almost. So pretty and smart. The perfect woman, and she has to go fall in love with me. But Iíll make it up to her. Wait til she sees the money Iíve won tonight. As long as the pretty boy keeps winning, weíll be all set soon. Just gotta keep winning." The inebriated man continued to ramble on, praising his girlfriend and talking about their plans to leave the country. The blond got the impression that they were in a bit of trouble and wisely kept his mouth shut. "She did it to save me, it was the only way to get Soma and his goons off my back. Should have won that bet, the game was fixed. I /know/ it was. The bastards. Theyíd found out who she worked for, never should have mentioned it that one night. But I was so drunk. Iím sorry honey, but Iíll make it better. Weíll leave and Soma will be the one to pay."

The words burned into the Crasherís mind. If Reiko worked for who he thought she didÖ heíd have to talk to Tsukiyono tomorrow, find out for sure. But chances were good heíd just found the leak in Kritiker. If the woman was the one responsible for Koge and all the others being killed, all to save her lush of a boyfriendís life, it just didnít bear thinking about. Hands clenched tight in anger, Yuushi swallowed the fury, burying it far down before it took control. Looking around for a distraction, he noticed Ueno rushing back through the crowd, right to Ranís table. The redhead was slumped in his chair, eyes closed and skin deathly pale.

*******

Was the damn woman going to dance all night? Normally Yohji would be more than happy to spend a couple of hours on the dance floor with a cute person, especially since he didnít have all that many opportunities to party any more. But right now all he wanted to do was go back to the booth and keep an eye on his kitten. That yakuza prick had been getting a little too friendly with the redhead for his liking. Even Aya had to admit now that the guy was interested in more than his pool skills. "Wanna drink?" The fake blue eyes lit up at that suggestion, and the assassin found himself once more being dragged around, this time to the bar. When the woman paused to see which bar was the least crowded he quickly took the decision into his own hands and steered them over to where Ken was serving.

It took them a minute or two to be waited on, and when Ken went off to get their drinks Mihoís cell phone rang. Pulling out the slim accessory, complete with a Kitty-chan dangle that made Yohjiís eyes roll, the woman let out a squeal of joy when she answered it. "Yuzo sweetie! You called!" The lanky manís attention was immediately focused on his companion, wishing there was some way he could eavesdrop on the whole conversation. Kisaragi was extremely happy that her boyfriend had phoned her; Yohji guessed she hadnít planned on that happening tonight. But the joy was short lived, as the brunette started to pout and plead with the man. It was a safe bet that once again she was being stood up by Soma, and wouldnít be seeing him that evening. Upset at being denied, the woman put her phone on the bar and turned to face her date. The blond made an effort to fuss over her, doing his best to get a smile.

When Ken came over with their drinks green eyes stared at him, dropped down to the phone, and then looked back up. The goalie picked up the hint, and when several yen were placed on the bar, his big hands covertly swiped the cash and the cell phone at the same time. Both men made sure that their faces didnít express any of their elation at stumbling onto a break, Yohji busy steering Kisaragi back to their booth and Ken pocketing the phone until he could take a breather and download the numbers on it. With any luck he could do this before the woman realized that she had left her cell on the counter.

On the way back to their spot a rushing Ueno, mumbling an apology as he headed back to a corner, bumped into Yohji and Miho. Curiosity raised, the blond made sure to look in that direction as he settled into the booth. Once he realized what the commotion was about, he almost jumped up and ran over there as well. Only Kisaragiís hand on his arm, squeezing to get his attention as she asked what was going on, kept him in place. "Looks like the one pool players is having a bit of a problem." Aya appeared completely white; his eyes wide and darkened to an almost black shade either in contrast or some trick of the light, and was acting a bit groggy. As Yohji watched the redhead pushed away the people crowding around him, citing that he was fine and just needed some space. The yakuza looked doubtful, but eventually backed away. The blond relaxed as he saw the shi-ne glare appear on his loverís face, and the man stood to his feet to prove that he was fine. The slender figure swayed a bit, but that furious glower stopped any attempt to support him.

Proving that he had more guts than brains, Ueno took to arguing with the pale man. There was some wild gesturing on his part, but the disagreement ended when Aya stalked over to a table, pausing to grab a cue stick on his way. Only paying Kisaragi half a mind, Yohji carefully examined his redhead, noting the tense shoulders and white skin that remained too pale. The swordsman kept hugging his arms tight around his chest as he played, a sure sign that he was cold. Something was going on there. But considering he was well enough to win the game, and the one after that, the playboy had no choice but to return his attention back to the woman sitting beside him and attempt to keep her distracted enough that Ken had all the time he needed with her phone.

Yohji couldnít help but notice that he wasnít the only one keeping an eye on the slender assassin, as Ueno and Yuushi both made it a point to stare in the manís direction throughout the night. Swallowing the bit of jealousy that arose from that piece of knowledge, the lanky man let himself be led back to the dance floor. Passing the bar on their way, he intercepted a quick nod from Hidaka, letting him know the brunet had gotten the information and most likely returned to appliance back to the bar, in case Miho remembered and came back looking for it. So he spent some more time dancing. When the next break came and he found Aya missing from the pool tables, Yohji decided to call it a night. Claiming the need to return home to his girlfriend, the blond said goodnight to Kisaragi, promising her that he would be back at the club tomorrow if she was once more bored and looking for something to do. The woman appeared mollified by this, and promised to see him the next evening. It was with a sense of relief that the assassin departed the club, and felt again upon finding his boyfriendís Porsche gone from the parking garage. Time to go home and get some answers.

*******

Snarling at being interrupted when presented with such a perfect opening, Ueno got up from the table to see what the hell it was that Honda wanted him to deal with. It wouldnít look very good to just delegate the matter, not when the men were eying him oddly enough for being interested in Fujimura as it was. On the way to the problem he paused and had a friend keep an eye on the redhead, not trusting the skittish man not to just up and disappear for the night.

Walking over to the other side of the club, the tall gangster looked around for what it was that required his presence. "Iím not seeing anything," he said in a low tone of voice to the underling.

Honda stood there, looking around at the happily dancing people, narrow eyes blinking in surprise. "ButÖ. I thoughtÖ. there was something here, wasnít there?" Great, the man must be sniffing something again. Turning away in disgust, Ueno headed back for the pool tables. Halfway there another yakuza came rushing over to him, gasping out that Fujimura had passed out. Cursing under his breath, the scarred man took off in a run.

Bumping into several people as he tried to cut through the crowd, Ueno kept muttering apologies until he finally forced his way to the corner. The redhead was slumped over the table, skin as pale as snow. As the yakuza approached the table the redhead straightened up and blinked open his eyes. Ueno grasped him by the arms, trying to steady him and anxious to find out what was wrong. The skin under his hands was ice cold. He bit back a gasp when the eyes focused on him; the usually violet orbs had darkened to a deep royal purple color, bordering on black, the pupils mere pinpricks.

"FaŖ mich nicht," the slender man growled at the touch. The yakuza just stood there, trying to figure out what Fujimura had just muttered. "I said let go, Iím fine." The darkened eyes drilled into him, making Ueno feel extremely uncomfortable. There was a low hissing sound as the redhead shook off the hands and stood to his feet. The scathing glance was turned on the crowd surrounding them, and the people fell a step back.

Trying to regain control of the situation, Ueno sputtered out. "What the hell just happened here? I go away for a few minutes and come back to find you unconscious."

"Hn." The unsettling scowl once more focused on the gangster, Aya found an excuse spilling from his lips. "Didnít eat anything today, guess my blood sugars got too low." Well, it was true; he hadnít had a bite to eat, excluding those two cream puffs.

"That supposed to explain why youíre cold as ice?"

"Hn." Aya made to step away from the man, who only moved into his path. "What do you want now, Ueno?"

"I think you need to sit back down. You look whiter than death right now." That just earned him an intensified glare, and the slender man stomped off without another word. About to extend an arm and stop the redhead, Ueno found himself unable to move. He stood motionless as Fujimura grabbed a cue stick and stopped at an empty pool table, looking about for another player. There was a brief scuttle as several men jumped at the opportunity, but finally one won out. And was promptly beaten for his troubles. The quiet man was a touch unsteady on his feet and hunched over as if in pain or cold, but continued on with his winning streak.

After about an hour the redhead finished another successful game and walked away from the table, ignoring his opponent begging for a rematch. Placing his stick back in the rack, Fujimura gazed over at the yakuza boss, quietly informing him he was finished for the night and asked for his money. Ueno nodded to Yoshioka, who handed over quite a large wad of cash. "Thereís an awful lot there, even minus the cut. Be careful you donít get mugged. Why donít you let one of the boys give you a ride home? You look like youíre ready to pass out, anyways."

"Iím fine." The pale man simply turned on his heel and walked away, leaving the two stunned gangsters speechless. The scarred man nodded at the purple haired thug, who promptly took off after Fujimura. And sheepishly returned some time later, shaking his head. "Sorry Goro, but I lost him. The man just disappeared." Yoshioka couldnít understand it, one moment the redhead had been plainly in his view and then suddenly his vision had gotten blurry and dark. After blinking his eyes several times his sight had returned to normal, but he hadnít been able to spot the exotic looking fellow in the club or out on the street. Fujimura should never had been able to vanish like that. He wandered around a bit hoping to stumble across the pool player, but the only other redheaded man heíd found had been a foreigner with long hair.

Ueno sighed, for the moment furious that heíd lost the chance to find out where the slender man lived, but quickly pushed the anger aside. "Heíll be back, needs the money too bad to stay away for long. And Fujimura will stand out too much if he tries to play anywhere else." All he had to do was wait for the redhead to return. Whether it was drugs, health reasons or debts, he knew the younger man hadnít been lying when heíd given the reason for playing earlier. So tomorrow or some other night the yakuza would have another shot at Fujimura. And that time he wouldnít let him slip away so easily.

*******

Stumbling up the steps, Aya clutched at the railing to steady himself. He didnít know if he was shaking in exhaustion or cold, most likely it was a combination of both. Heading straight for the bathroom, the swordsman twisted on the hot water full blast and turned to the medicine cabinet. It took a moment for his trembling hands to open the two pill bottles, but after a minute he was swallowing the medication and stripping off his clothes. Twisting the cold water nozzle just the slightest bit, Aya stepped into the steaming shower. He stood under the hot water, desperate to warm up, until he felt the drugs start to kick it. It had become apparent that the worse the symptoms the stronger the side effects were, and right now he felt drowsy and nauseas. He was ready to curl up on the tubís floor and fall asleep as the no longer hot water poured down on him. Forcing himself out of the rapidly cooling shower, the redhead grabbed a towel and patted himself dry. The water hadnít warmed him up at all, it was hard to get his hands to tuck the cotton material around his waist due to the shaking. Arms wrapped tight against his chest, the redhead made for his bedroom. It was when he was standing in front of what should have been his room that it registered on his dazed senses that it was now Kenís he was about to enter.

Pushing open the door to his new residence, the pale man staggered inside and crossed over to his dresser. It was while he was pulling on a pair of sweatpants to wear that the roomís other occupant entered. "There you are, kitten. Are you okay? What the hell went on earlier?" The other man spoke in a rapid-fire manner, plainly worried about his boyfriend.

Yohji stood there staring at the shivering man, taking in the overly pale skin and the shaky stance. In a few long steps he was standing beside his lover, pulling Aya into his arms. The smaller assassin was so cold to the touch it was shocking. "Aya love, whatís going on. Did you spend an hour in a cold shower or what?"

The redhead pressed closer to the lanky blond, eager for the warmth the man exuded. "It was hot, but it didnít do anything. Iím so cold."

"I can very well imagine. Damnit Aya, itís like cuddling an ice sculpture" Yohji energetically rubbed his hands up and down his loveís back. "It looked as if you passed out earlier, was it the headaches again?"

"Hn." When his lover didnít elaborate beyond that Yohji tilted the quiet assassinís face up and received a second shock. The smaller manís eyes were a much darker purple than normal, shading more to the color of pansies than violets. "Answer me."

"Didnít eat anything today. Got woozy and had to sit down. Headache didnít help matters."

Yohji felt a bit of guilt upon hearing that last bit. He knew that heíd upset his redhead earlier by going through the manís stuff, and by making him dredge up his painful past. Coming back to himself at the feel of an icy nose being pressed against his neck, the blond returned his attention to the cold man in his arms. "Come on, we need to get you into bed." It was exceedingly difficult to make Aya let go of him long enough to peel off his clothes and pull down the sheets. As soon as the playboy crawled into bed his boyfriend was right there, snuggling tight against him. He swore a bit at the feel of chilled flesh touching him. This wasnít normal by any stretch of imagination. The blond was worried about the stubborn grouch, and needed to find out what was causing this reaction. "You telling me you skipped dinner again? Why? The medication that bad?"

"Hn." About to drift off to sleep, Aya wasnít happy to be bothered. Tucking his head under the other manís chin, he let out a hiss at the tug on his hair. Why couldnít Kudoh leave him alone? Everything was so distant and hazy, as if a dream. Maybe he was just imagining the older man bothering him. "Wanna sleep."

Stroking his fingers through damp crimson locks, the older man resumed his line of questioning. "In a minute. Why didnít you eat? Was it the drugs? If thatís the case we need to go back to the doctor, you canít be passing out during missions."

It had to be a dream, the phantom touch was back, long fingers massaging his scalp. "Didnít want to see Honjyou, still too pissed. Stayed up here until I had to leave." There was the slightest lessoning of the chill, Aya pressed even closer to his lover in hopes of achieving more relief. The next thing that he felt was a rumbling under his cheek.

"What do you mean that you were still too mad to see Honjyou? What did the prick do now?"

"You know." A dream Yohji was just as irritating as the real one. Being a figment of his imagination the blond should damn well know what had happened. "Up in the exercise room. I didnít like it." An evil smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Bet he wonít try that again, got him good." There was a smugness to the smaller manís voice that shone through the drug induced slurring. The arms about him flexed tight, drawing the slender man closer. Aya didnít protest.

The blond tried to think through what Aya had just told him. He wanted to be crystal clear on the matter before he scattered a certain agentís intestines all over the den. "You telling me that Honjyou tried to pull something on you up there?" Yohji suddenly recalled the redheadís appearance earlier tonight. Heíd passed off the younger manís unease as related to finding him going through the personal belongings. Heíd never thought that Aya might have already been upset before he entered the room.

"No trying to it. Donít like how he kisses, itís nothing like the way you do." Cold lips moved against a gold throat for a moment, a light flick of a chilled tongue. When the older man attempted to get up and head downstairs to massacre their guest, Aya latched on to the warm body. Dream or not there was no way he was letting Kudoh go and take all that delicious heat with him. When the playboy settled down once more, he snuggled close and sighed against the manís neck. The drugs and exhaustion finally won out, what with no more distracting questions for him to focus on.

Forcing himself to breath evenly, Yohji resumed combing his fingers through his loverís hair. It was so hard to remain in bed, knowing what that golden-eyed prick had been up to. Only Ayaís tight grip on him kept him lying there. Thoughts shifting to his lover, the blond felt his anger slowly abate. Maybe it was just a lack of food that had made the kitten faint at the club. But it still didnít explain the cold form shivering in his arms. If Aya was suffering from the drugs or some other reason, they couldnít afford for Kritiker to find out about it. They needed to present as normal a faÁade as possible to their employers, and that meant a successful mission. That would give them time to figure out what was plaguing the swordsman and find a solution. Which meant that the Crashers asshole was necessary. WeiŖ might need another able-bodied person in case Abyssinian wasnít up to it. Honjyou got to live a little longer. But the lanky man reassured himself that it didnít mean he couldnít have a nice little Ďchatí with Knight tomorrow.

*******

Walking into the shifting house, Aya glanced about. The crazy woman didnít seem to be home at the moment. Filled with a sense of curiosity he roamed about the place, picking up this item and touching that. It was an eclectic mix of few belongings: surveying equipment and trowels, a rocking chair, various bits of rusting metal and old coins, what looked to be books written in Greek, hair combs and ribbons. Stopping in front of a full-length mirror framed in cherry wood, he reached out with a pale finger and touched the distorted image reaching back to him. There was the feel of threads parting and shifting farther and farther back, pulling him with them. Images filled his head.

There was a little girl with long dark hair that her mother loved to braid and tie ribbons in. While the woman fussed over her only child she would tell endless stories. Of Jasonís quest and his evil betrayal to the woman who loved him. Of clever Ulysses and doomed Agamemnon. Of the manís cursed offspring, damned for seeking revenge and damned if they didnít. Tales of satyrs and lamias and bacchae and erinyes, all the magical creatures of their land. At night her father would come home, smelling of earth and sweat, bag at his side bulging with his gear and all the wonderful trinkets heíd found that day, and as she lay in bed he would tell her tales of his own land. Of the Wilde Jagd, the Fenriswolf, Hilbrecht, Fafnir, the alfar, Asen and Vanen, and her favorite the Nornen, of tales from other places such as the sidhe and kitsunes and werewolves and fabulous beasts that lived in deep lochs, an infinite parade of fables and myths.

Then one day it all shattered, loud men speaking the same tongue as her father came to the house and snatched her away amidst violence. They took the crying and screaming child with them, the flames engulfing her family home dancing in her eyes as she last saw it, to a far away land. Where she was subjected to never ending questions that she tried so hard to answer, to explain the visions that filled her head, only to have them hit her and poke her with sharp pins and tell her to try harder. They told her that from now on she was to be called Cassandra, and was theirs until the end of time. A triumvirate of evil that tormented her daily, berating her for answers and abusing her for their failure to understand what she said. Next came the monsters that could enter her mind, trying to drag the truth from her skull. They always failed, but one managed to leave a compulsion at their mastersí orders when they found her bleeding out her life from bitten wrists. No death for her, not until /they/ decided it was time. Her youth passed by in a flash of pain and torment, lost in the visions that no one ever understood.

One day to her little room the dark masters sent the men, the mind pickers and flame throwers and object lifters, one at a time to abuse her in an attempt to break her and bring forth a child of her and their power that would be more controllable. She had foreseen this, and was driven almost mad in her failure to prevent it. She tried to explain that it would fail for all but one, and save herself from the repetitious cruelty, but the dark masters did not care in the slightest. Finally the day came when her belly grew round with child, an evil presence in her body and soul, and the torment ceased. When the red-haired demon was eventually spawned she sobbed in relief, knowing that her death had at last been born. They took the evil thing away from her, not to be seen for years to come. A smirking devil who called her an old witch, failing to see the youth and beauty beaten to a premature grave from the years of abuse and misuse. All she had to console herself with was the madness sheíd retreated into, the visions and images it showed her, and the knowledge that one day soon it would end. That sheíd be free to join her beloved mother and father, to live in the house by the sea once more and hear the endless tales forever. All that it took was a bitter betrayal, as bad if not worse than that which had befallen her.

Aya pulled back from the threads, mind swamped with the images and puzzled by their meaning. Somewhat dazed from the experience, he drifted over to the large loom that covered most of a wall. As the last time it was filled with a great dark cloth. Looking closely, he saw what must have been strands of hair woven into the black material. And that the weaving appeared to have been battered about quite a bit, there were thin patches and obvious attempts to mend breaks and tears. Once more he stretched out a pale hand, only to have the limb smacked away millimeters from the cloth.

"You should not be here! Does the star child have no manners? No sense of propriety or boundary? Foolish star, yes. Striving so to unravel all my hard work. Go away and play with your knight."

Great, the woman was back, and as mad as ever. "Who the hell are you? Canít you speak in anything but nonsense?"

"I said no names. Not here. They echo and reverberate, drawing unwanted attention. Star child is bad enough. Heíll notice soon, and there will be an awful price. Much safer for you to dream about your golden lover, enjoy youíre time with the dashing knight."

"You mean Yuushi? He isnít my lover."

"No, though that one strives ever so. Doesnít see what is in front of him, constantly looking at the past the way he does. That is one knight who always dashes off, sword in hand and ĎI want, I wantí filling his head. Not the chevalier for you, no sir. Wands burn in the flames, need pure gold to hold you safe. Your knight comes offering the chalice to you, he desires, not wants. Much difference. Return to his side, share all that you can while you are able. The evil one will not allow much, and your actions but give him a means to cage you tight."

The redhead snorted. "I think I prefer the nightmares about all the people Iíve killed to you, madam. At least I understand what theyíre trying to tell me."

Cassandra seethed in fury. "YouÖ. impertinent flame you are! Almost as mocking as him! Fine pair you are, yes indeed." She was about to rail against the young man for dismissing her warnings, then thought that she was being a bit on the ambiguous side, even for her. But she could not warn the catalyst directly, no matter how much she was wishing she could. Once more she tried to send him on his way, she lacked the power to do it directly. "Go back to your love, the golden knight will not always be at your side."

The violet eyes glared at her, swirls of power causing them to darken. "What do you mean? Yohjiís my lover, are you telling me something will happen to him?" The redhead stepped closer to the woman, causing her to back up in panic. He was Morningstar personified, frightening in his glory. "I wonít allow that. I will /not/ lose another loved one again." In the background the loom groaned and creaked as if under great stress, the cloth rippling and shredding here and there. Cassandra reached out a hand and twisted it in the air, making Aya gasp in pain. The stifling sensation was back, a wash of cold and smothering.

It took all of her skill and power to stop the young man, a draining of energy that shocked her so. It shouldnít be this hard, not with the strand around her finger and the locks woven into the cloak. A savage mental twist managed to send the catalyst crashing to his knees. "Yes that hurts, birthing pangs are horrible especially when premature and forced back. You /must/ stop that, it endangers all you care for. And he will not allow it. The flame must be smothered and cloaked. Douse the fire for now, it will burn free in the future but not until then." She eyed the gasping swordsman, huddled on the floor in pain. The shivering form shifted to look up at her, eyes clouded with confusion and agony. "Iím so sorry," she whispered once more.

"YouÖ. keep saying that. Why? What is happening to me?" Before the long haired woman could respond there was a tugging sensation and the pale man looked back over his shoulder, seeing something visible only to him. Before her eyes the young man disappeared.

Hurrying over to the weaving, she set about repairing the new tears. She should have done more earlier, but had been too exhausted to. Lost in the task before her, it was some time before she realized that she was no longer alone in the dreamscape.

"The Kštzchen has been a bit rough on your shield lately, neh?"

"I did not invite you here, evil one. Canít you see Iím busy?" Cassandra spared a second to scowl at the telepath before focusing on the weaving once more.

"Thatís why I am here. He shouldnít be using his powers now. Itís too early. You said the cloak would prevent that and people from finding out what he is. Even Bradley felt the shifting going on last night." Schuldich was beside himself with worry and anger. Of course the more worried he was over Abyssinian the more angry he got. This whole love thing sucked. It was made even worse by the fact that he still wasnít free to claim the man, other than stolen moments here and there and in dreams. He didnít handle frustration very well.

"Catalysts will do what they want. There will be flexing from time to time, but the cloak should hold. Rest easy, your star will still be caged."

Schuldig grabbed at the flying hands, forcing them still and their owner to look at him. "Your power alone wonít stop him. Admit that you need help." He let go off the prophetessí hands to reach inside his jacket. The telepath then handed a skein of reddish orange strands to Cassandra. "Do it. You know what will happen if you donít."

The woman bit back a sob as she grudgingly accepted the offering. The Germanís hair to be woven amidst the shadows and the strands of her own. It would give Schuldig control over the star childís power. While it would help rein the talent in, he could then exploit it for his own uses. Cassandra had been trying to limit the amount of betrayals she dished out, this would be a foul one indeed. That was why she had always refused before this point. But this recent dream proved that she wasnít strong enough to do the job herself. The evil one had more than enough strength, though. The two men were well matched indeed.

Trying to ignore the gloating devil at her back she commenced to weave the strands in, refusing to see how well they sealed the patches and mended the torn threads. Chaining anotherís talent just so, she now was no better than the dark masters. Tears streaming down her face, the woman was shocked at the sudden resolve forming in her. Death or not, things had finally been pushed past her limit. Warning the star child directly was not an option, Schuldig was in that oneís mind too deep right now, and would only get in deeper. But there was an infinitesimal chance that the Knight of Cups would hear what she had to say. What good was it to foresee the future of one didnít hope to change it?

*******

There was a crashing sound and a lot of cursing in a high-pitched voice. Jolting upright in bed, the two assassins quickly got up and investigated what was going on in the hall. For once it was someone other than Yohji who was wishing Ken dead.

Omi was hopping around on one foot in the darkness, shards of ceramic sticking out of the injured limb he was holding. "Mother-fucking shit! Hidaka, get your ass out here, you messy bastard. Iím going to kill you!" Purple and green eyes blinked at the sight, stunned by the obscenities the chibi was spouting. Standing in the doorway, Yohji put an arm around his lover and held him close, noting that the man was still shivering and ice cold to the touch. Aya snuggled against him, eyes never leaving the spectacle of an outraged Omi. The youth hopped over to a door and started to beat on it. "I know youíre in there, you fucking coward. Open up!"

There was a pounding sound up the steps, and Yuushi came to a screeching halt in the hall. This wasnít what heíd been expecting when the noise and screaming had woken him up. Kudoh spared a second to glare evilly at him before returning his attention back to the teenager hammering on Kenís door. Aya just hugged the arm around his waist tighter.

The banging and swearing finally produced a result. Ken cautiously opened the door a slight bit, brown eyes wide. "Ah, ohayoo Omi. There a problem?"

"Damn right thereís a problem." The young assassin was too livid for words. After spending a frustrating night dreaming about the brunet, only to be woken early by a call from Manx demanding a meeting before the day was out. Then to nearly break his ankle and managing to slice his foot to ribbons on the junk that Ken had left out, he was venting the frustration left and right. Later he would have a chuckle at the shocked expressions on his teammatesí faces at his language, but right now he was too pissed off and in too much pain. "Tell me, can you recall a certain conversation from last night regarding all this rubbish in the hall that you were supposed to make sure was safely put away before someone hurt themselves?" The brunet warily nodded his head. "Well what the hell is up with this?" A bloody and torn foot was thrust up in the air.

"Gods, Omi, weíve got to take care of that. Youíre bleeding all over the placeÖ."

"I wouldnít be bleeding if some baka hadnít left a glass mug out in the middle of the hall!"

Kenís eyes got even wider as he shoved the door open and dashed into the hall. "No! I couldnít find it earlier, please tell me that wasnít the beer stein that I got from the German national soccer team." Dropping onto his knees in the hall, the athlete almost broke into sobs at the sight of the shattered mug. The tears became an actual thing when Omi hobbled over and smacked him upside the head.

"/Baka/! Donít know why I bother with you." The youth left behind a dazed teammate as he hopped into the bathroom. Once in the room an angry voice drifted out. "You know itís kind of hard sewing up your own foot. Will some moron come in here and help me?"

"Ah, sure thing chibi." The three oldest men hurried into the bathroom, Aya and Yuushi to offer their medical expertise and Yohji to make sure the bastard didnít try to touch his lover.

Yuushi stood there as Aya pulled out the first aid kit and proceeded to open it up. Eying the way the redhead was shivering, Omi shot a look at Yohji. The older assassin just shook his head as he held his hands up, then glared at their guest. Wisely deciding that he wanted someone with steadier hands tending to his wound, the teenager told the couple to go back to bed.

Pulling his reluctant boyfriend up and back into his arms, Yohji stayed in the bathroom long enough to make sure Honjyou knew what he was doing. "You going to be able to walk on that foot, chibi? Or do we need to call the school and let them know you wonít be attending today?"

Scowling at the injured limb, Omi muttered a few more curses. He really hated the thought of missing school, but the wound would heal faster if he stayed off it a day or two. "Guess I better not go. Have to meet Manx later in the day though, I donít think Kritikerís search for the informant is going very well." Which meant the pressure on the team for WeiŖ to find Soma would increase tenfold.

The blond Crasher paused in pulling out the pieces of glass from Omiís foot. "Think I might be able to help with the matter. Ask your contact if there is a Reiko Hirohata working for the organisation."

The three assassins, understanding that if the man was correct it meant a death sentence for the woman, eyed the elegant blond in interest. "What makes you think she might be the leak," the teenager asked.

"Was talking to someone at the club last night. Interesting fellow by the name of Hiro Kitayama," Yuushi paused to glance over at Aya, "addicted to gambling and alcohol, in that order. He let slip something about Soma having him by the balls and his girlfriend getting him off the hook. Said they found out who it was she worked for and rigged the game." Blue, green and violet eyes hardened. It did indeed sound like Hirohata was a very good candidate.

"Sheís the one. Manx will confirm it." Ayaís voice was distant, his eyes darkening once more. The blonds stared at him incredulously, stunned by the odd tone in his voice. Omi recovered first.

"Aya-kun, you look a little tired. I think you need to get some more sleep. Did you take your medicine yet? No? Then you should and go back to bed. Honjyou will take care of me." The sapphire orbs focused on Yohjiís face, serious and reproachful. The playboy got the hint.

"Come on kitten, itís not often we get orders to get /back/ to bed. Itís always get /out/. I plan on taking advantage of it." Aya looked as if he was going to object, but when his heat source started to withdraw from the room he chased after Yohji. Once back in the bedroom he found the older man holding out some medication and the bottle of water. "No wonder the chibi wanted you back here. You still look too pale, and I swear youíre colder than you were last night, it thatís possible. Everything alright?"

"Hn." The redhead swallowed the pills and grabbed at the hand tugging on an eartail, using it to haul his boyfriend back into bed. Once under the covers he curled himself around the older man, craving the sense of warmth Yohji provided. The blond toyed with the crimson hair, letting the strands flow through his fingers. Aya shivered for once not in cold but at the feel of that touch. "Had a weird dream."

"Hmm, do tell. Were you being chased by Jehovah Witnesses that were trying dress you in a pink prom gown and a tiara and make you sing NíSync songs in front of a audience of bears? I hate dreams like that."

"Ö.. youíre certifiable. No, something about pain and abuse and fairy tales. There was this big black shadow that was smothering me, and a crazy woman telling me to seek out my knight." The fingers tightened at the mention of the last detail.

"We talking about knight or Knight?" Yohji knew of the importance of dreams. What the hell was the kittenís subconscious trying to tell the man?

"Hn. Knight as in sword and armor, riding on a horse. Chivalry and honor. Something about a chalice as well. And gold." A pale face lifted, chin resting on the playboyís chest as the darkened eyes regarded him solemnly. "She was talking about you."

A gold-skinned hand caressed a white cheek. "So Iím a knight now, huh? Thatís a first." Chivalry and honor. Heíd thought those concepts had been put far behind him, not that theyíd exactly been themes that heíd based his life on in the first place. But at one point theyíd held some meaning to him, until that day lying in the alley watching his love die for him. It was a bit shocking to realize just how much he wanted to be those two things for the man in his arms. "What do you think?"

Aya tiredly rested his head back on the older manís chest. The pills were dragging at him already, making it hard to focus. "Youíre /my/ knight." Clutching the playboy tightly, he gave in to the darkness, secure and guarded.

Humming softly to himself, Yohji ran his hands over the chilled flesh, trying to warm it by touch and enjoying the feel of it under his palms. "Just try to keep the dragons down to a minimum, okay love? Theyíre hell on the armor." Smiling widely, he lay there until falling asleep as well.

*******

Thanking the Crasher for his help, Omi let the man half carry him back to his room. He took a second to glare at his teammate busy shifting boxes from the hallway into the already crowded room and refused to feel guilty at the wounded look he got in return. Might as well enjoy being angry with the dumb jock, most likely Ken would come around apologizing in a little bit and be completely forgiven. The boy just couldnít resist those big brown eyes. Settling in front of the computer, he shooíed the older man out of the room, intent on sending a quick missive to Manx. The woman needed to know about Hirohata as quickly as possible.

Feeling a bit paranoid over the matter, he laid on the encryption programs a bit thick for a single email, but easily convinced himself that the situation justified it. No sense in letting the traitor know they were on to her, if she got ahold of the contact list there was no telling what else sheíd uncovered. Ready to finally start composing the letter, he felt a tug in the back of his mind and a sense of vertigo.

<Guten Morgen, chibi.>

ĎSchuldig?í

<Of course, who else would be using telepathy to talk to you at this ungodly hour? As your fellow countrymen would say, Ďbakaí. Ah, I see that it hasnít been the best of days so far for you. Poor little Hidaka. Donít you think you were a bit hard on him? You just wasted a perfect opportunity to have him kiss the boo-boo and make it better.>

ĎWhat the hell do you want?í No wonder his language had taken such a foul turn. It couldnít be helped when you had a psychotic telepath regularly invading your head.

<I prefer sociopath to psychotic. Itís not like Iím Farfie, you know. Just a little courtesy call to remind you to pay extra special attention to my sweet little Knuddelhšschen. Make sure to keep those Kritiker bitches away from him for the next few days.>

ĎKinda hard right now, weíre in the middle of a mission.í

There was a pause, then the telepathís voice resumed, quiet and harsh. <Do. It. Or Iíll shred Siberianís psyche into so many little pieces that on a /good/ day heíll be a drooling, writhing mass.>

Omi bit back the urge to shout some more obscenities. Focus on the questions, and not the anger. ĎWhatís going on? Aya was acting weird again this morning. And heís paler than normal.í

Now the voice was smug, evidently Mastermind was very pleased with himself over something. <Itís his talent. It leaves a mark whenever he uses it. Iíve just seen to it that itíll be harder for him to do so in the future, but it doesnít help with what happened last night.>

ĎI thought the pills were supposed to stop this from happening. And what happened last night?í The youthís head was beginning to ache as much as his foot. He toyed with his mouse, a distraction from the thought that here he was conversing with one of the teamís greatest enemy, yet again.

<He made WeiŖ a couple of breaks in the case. Hope you appreciate the effort. If my tuberose said the woman is your traitor, believe him. Now keep him out of sight, understand? And make sure he eats for once. The talent drains him of energy, heís not taking enough in to protect his health.>

This day just kept getting worse. Now he was accepting orders from Mastermind. ĎAnd what will you be doing?í Omi thought sullenly. ĎOff to murder and plunder?í

<Iíll be keeping a close eye on the precious boy. Heís gotten himself into one hell of a situation that requires a bit of attention.> There was a pause, as if the telepath was distracted. <Gotta go. Be a good little chibi, never forget that Iím always watching. And I know all about your little houseguest as well. Keep him away from Abyssinian, or youíll have a corpse to explain.>

The young archer waited a couple of seconds, trying to make sure that Schuldig wasnít reading his mind anymore. He thought a few explicit images about what he wanted to do to the German, and when there was no response felt that he was finally alone. Yep. He certainly knew that this was shaping up to be a bad day. Everybody better get used to him swearing real quick.

*******

Return to Archive

Next Chapter