Of Cups and Wands

*******

Chapter 7

*******

"Rook? Did you just say ‘Rook’, Aya-kun, as in Crashers?" Omi’s voice had shifted a good octave and a half up the register, causing the two older men in the kitchen to wince in pain. "What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to even know about this place, let alone be here. Crashers has been ordered to back off of this mission, can’t you guys follow orders?" Omi was beside himself in anger and worry. This was getting out of hand. It was bad enough letting Knight participate in the assignment, it was either do that or have the man interfere with their plans, but by no means should there be another agent from that team standing in their kitchen, dripping water on the floor. This was ridiculous. If one more Crasher showed up at their door he was posting the address of /their/ safehouse up in a swingers’ chatroom. With an open invitation to stop by the place anytime. Let Bishop deal with that.

Masato ignored the question for a moment, looking about the seemingly normal kitchen. It didn’t look like a place a bunch of murderers would live in, especially ones as young as Weiß. He’d heard so many things about the team, through rumor and Shirasaki, that a nice bright room filled with the scent of tea and a soccer ball on one of the counters seemed a bit incongruous. "I’m here to help Yuushi out."

Rubbing his temples, Aya swallowed a sigh as he sat back in his chair. Things were not going very well, ever since Tamema Masato had arrived on their doorstep, dripping wet. Omi had started at the codename, blue eyes narrowing in suspicion, but he had stepped aside to let the tall man in anyways. Now he was glaring at the man as he handed him a towel to dry off with. The youth didn’t appear too happy with that vague explanation. Another thing that was odd; Rook usually was much more at ease than he was right now. His old teammate seemed a bit tense. "Masato Tamema, aka Rook, meet Omi Tsukiyono, or Bombay." Dark violet eyes also studied the agent. Taking in Rook’s scruffy appearance, the perpetual five o’clock shadow, the shoulder length mussed hair and disheveled clothes, Aya was hard pressed to find anything different about the Crasher. Maybe the creases around those light brown eyes were a bit deeper, but that was about it.

Masato accepted a seat at the table, eyes still busy roaming over the kitchen. He paused to flash a crooked smile at Omi, who was seeing to some refreshment for their guest. The youth was muttering under his breath as he set a cup of tea in front of the scruffy man, shooting him a slightly dirty look as he did so. Omi quickly snatched up the mostly empty box of pastries that was sitting near his textbooks and set it aside on the counter. Aya reflected that his roommate must really be upset to not offer any of the treats to Tamema, the boy usually was much more courteous than this. Deciding to ease some of the tension in the room, he spoke up, breaking the anxious silence. "What is it that you are here to help Knight with?"

Hazel eyes stopped looking around the room and focused on the redhead. Masato had resisted the urge to stare at his old friend from the moment he’d stepped into the house. Ran looked so different, yet at the same time almost completely the same. That improbably mop of hair had been cut, except for the eartails, and fell more towards his face than in the past. Perhaps being surrounded by all the crimson strands was what made the violet eyes appear darker than he’d remembered them being. The man was still exceedingly pale, and from the little he could see, what with Ran being seated at a table and covered in a huge towel, he was as thin as he’d been the few weeks before his departure from Crashers, when something had clearly been wearing on him. Everything came together to form a heartbreakingly beautiful young man, but there was a hard edge to him now, a nonverbal warning to look but never touch. Shaking his head to rid it of the fanciful images, Masato focused on the question posed to him.

"He’s been trying to get the scoop on certain gangsters, talking to some of the group’s contacts. Well, these guys feel a bit more comfortable dealing with me and not him, so once word of this got back to us I decided to lend a hand. And a good thing that I did. Something is going down, a Tadatoshi Nakajima, who answers to a Yuzo Soma, heads this particular branch that you are looking into. It seems that both of these guys have made a bunch of enemies that are just itching to take them down. So they are an awful touchy subject for a lot of people, and one of extreme interest as well. Bishop and Queen decided that you guys could use my help on this one."

That set off the fuse on Omi’s temper. "Bishop and Queen are /not/ responsible for Weiß!" It was a miracle that no glass was shattering in the irate youth’s presence. "This is our mission! We may have agreed to let Honjyou help out, but we never said we’d take in the whole team. Your leaders have no say in what we do, and your actions could get all of us in a lot of trouble. What are you people thinking?" Omi was ready to take his darts to some agents. Did he butt his nose in another team’s business? No. So what the hell were these guys thinking, to just send him another agent like this? Someone was going to get their credit accounts seriously hacked when this mission was over, that was for sure. They were most likely doing this because it was Weiß. Omi knew the reputation his team had in Kritiker. He’d snooped in enough files to have found out that many of the agents and teams looked down on the group because of their young age median and lack of previous experience. And the fact that they had been a pet project of sorts of the late Persia, his uncle. There was an odd double standard to the team, they were killers yet were sheltered from many of the nasty developments that plagued the organization. He knew that there were many disreputable jobs that Weiß had been spared. Well, most of the team anyways. All that led to a certain lack of respect for him and his friends. Which was painfully evident in the way Crashers’ leaders were running roughshod over the team.

Rook just confirmed his thoughts. "That some snot-nosed brats can use a hand in finding and making a guy responsible for the deaths of a bunch of friends and trusted colleagues pay." Tamema did not take being yelled at by a boy half his age very well. Even if he had a point. /Especially/ when he’d just made a very good point. Crashers knew they were imposing on Weiß and risking the wrath of Kritiker falling on both groups with their blatant disregard for orders, but a dear friend had been killed. It was also a bit of an insult to see such an important mission go to a team of men young enough to still be in college, or in Tsukiyono’s place middle school. "Don’t worry, you’ll still get your kicks by getting to carve up the bastard, I’m just here to make sure you actually get your hands on the guy."

"Why you…."

"Rook, Bombay, shut up." An artic cold voice nipped the rapidly developing fight in the bud. The two agents turned to regard Aya with wide eyes as he slowly pushed back the chair and stood up. "Bombay, he has the contacts that we need to successfully complete the mission. That is the most important thing right now." Turning furious eyes on his former teammate, the redhead leaned forward on the table, body tense with anger. "You have no right to talk to him like that, Rook. This is not your team or your mission. I can’t believe Bishop is interfering this much to begin with, I’d never have suspected him of going behind Kritiker’s back to this extent. There should be no judgment calls being made by you or him. You have no real idea what it is we do, or what we’ve put into finding Morimoto’s murderer. The information that you can supply us with will be well received, but you are nothing more than a go-between right now. That’s it. Your presence here is to inform us of what we need to know, and to help with any arrangements the mission requires. That means you listen to us. Am I being perfectly clear?"

Swallowing his anger, the scruffy Crasher nodded his head. Omi wasn’t too happy with any solution that didn’t end with the man being tossed out of the house, but knew that Aya had correctly summed up the situation. The pale man just stayed where he was, glancing back and forth between Tamema and him, obviously waiting for someone to make a remark. Omi wasn’t stupid enough to say anything, and it seemed that Tamema wasn’t either. Too bad, it would have been fun to watch Aya rip into the man. "Fine. Knight won’t return for a couple of hours, Rook. It might be best if you came back in the morning."

The older man looked a bit rueful as he toyed with his mug. "Thing is I took some ‘vacation’ time to help Yuushi out. I was hoping to crash with him til the job was over. This was the only address I had to contact him at, figured I’d catch up to him here." Their phones were off-limits, just in case Kritiker were monitoring the calls. No reason for two off-duty agents to be using company equipment like that.

The two assassins exchanged an unhappy look. "Please tell me this isn’t happening," Omi whimpered. Now he had to deal with two Crashers sleeping here? Catching Masato’s puzzled expression, Aya elaborated. "We’ve been letting Honjyou stay here, on the couch."

"Got room for one more then?" Rook paused as the young blond whacked his head on a pile of books. Where they really school books? Would their employers actually let an assassin attend class, or were they for some undercover mission? "I’d really appreciate it, Ran."

The redhead rubbed his temples again for a moment, causing the towel about his shoulders to fall down. Masato ran his eyes over the slim form, noting that the man was indeed as thin as he’d been the last time he’d laid eyes on him, maybe even more so. Hazel eyes caught the bruised marks on the pale neck and collarbones, a couple even looked rather fresh. The orbs narrowed in anger, Masato’s thoughts churning over what must have happened during the past few days. Seething inside, he missed what Aya was saying to him. "What was that?"

Frowning slightly, Aya tried to make sense at why Rook was suddenly upset with him. The normally calm man was glaring at him, and his voice was rough with anger. "I said it’s not Ran anymore, it’s Aya. Try to remember that. And the decision is up to Tsukiyono."

"Huh?" Ran was going by a girl’s name now? Whatever. He turned to look at the upset youth, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, I don’t see why not. We’re dead if they find Honjyou here, might as well make sure if we’re going to get in trouble we do it right." Blue eyes fixed on hazel, no trace of amusement to be found in their depths. "Just as long as you understand that Aya and I are in charge. And that you will have no part whatsoever in the final mission. Crashers is a non-lethal group, vacation or not you will abide by the same rules that govern your teammates. You and Honjyou can fight over who gets the couch and who sleeps on the floor. Contrary to what your team thinks, this is not a bed and breakfast."

Masato nodded his head in agreement. Over by the counter Aya shivered a little as he hugged the towel tight against him once more. Omi caught the action and suggested that the redhead go upstairs and finish drying off, the last thing Weiß needed was him coming down with a cold. Bobbing his head in agreement, the pale man quietly exited the room. Sighing to himself, Omi hopped to the stove and put another pot of water on. Maybe he should brew some coffee as well, something told him it was going to be a long night. Sitting back down at the table, he reached out and smacked away the hand that was riffling through his schoolwork and dragged the books and papers to the other side of the table. Here he was, a highly trained assassin, reduced to babysitting.

*******

Tadatoshi Nakajima surveyed the crowd of people inside Sōdō. The mob was on the light side for a Thursday night, many people had been scared away by the murder last night. Even some of the regulars, who should be used to such things. But word on the street was that the Kusari Yakuza was under fire, with the other gangs eager to see them go down. If only they knew the truth.

It had been his idea to go after Kritiker. Yuzo had wanted revenge on the organization ever since his cousin’s death, and had been very easy to talk into the plan. It had been too good an opportunity to pass by, finding out that they had a Kritiker agent’s boyfriend in debt to them past any hope of paying off. He had Ueno make a deal with the woman, her boyfriend’s life and some cash for a list of agents. Everything was to have gone smoothly, killing off the people over a weekend, striking a blow to the organization, giving Yuzo a sense of revenge and the gang a solid reputation among the one or two people who would know who had been behind the hits. But one of the men was caught while fleeing the scene and made to talk, the blame being laid at his partner’s feet.

So they now had the powerful syndicate after them, and the other yakuza unimpressed at what they saw as a botched attempt. His men were under fire, and with the death of Yuzo’s cousin a year ago little hope of any support. If they managed to fend off the other gangs and Kritiker long enough, there was a chance they might survive. It wasn’t the best odds, but still possible. Nakajima was a man who loved playing the odds, he’d gathered a bunch of criminals together and made something of them, his only failure had been reaching too far too soon. Jidokai’s death had given him an opening with Yuzo, the man had needed backup when his cousin had been killed and the organization he’d worked for taken out. It had been a profitable association, but he’d made many enemies in an attempt to gather as much power as possible. He gained control of most of the gambling, prostitution and drugs in a ten-block radius, taking over the territory of a few different gangs. He’d been the golden child, everything falling into his grasp so easily. Until he tried to take a bite out of Kritiker. They were supposed to have been crippled due to internal conflict, who would expect them of striking back so quickly?

Ueno’s death proved otherwise. No other yakuza gangs were claiming responsibility for that hit. None of them could have pulled it off, not like that. In a bathroom in a crowded club, somehow sneaking a gun in and torturing the man without there being a single witness. Only Kritiker had the skill to do that. Somehow one of their agents had infiltrated the club. Not a happy thought.

"Yoshioka, any sign of Fujimura yet?" The stocky man had been promoted into his friend’s position.

"No, sir. I’ve men watching the front doors, he hasn’t been anywhere near the club tonight."

"So let me make sure I understand this. A man who made a very impressive amount of money playing pool, drawn in a lot of business, has been allowed to just disappear?" He’d heard about the pool shark, word of mouth had spread pretty quickly. Fujimura could not be allowed to get away, it would be just another black mark against his people, that they hadn’t even been able to hold onto one man.

"I’m sorry, sir. We tried to follow him home one night, but he slipped out. Ueno had men at all the exits last night, but in the confusion he managed to get away again."

"Huh. And you have no way of finding out where he lives? No information on the man whatsoever?" There was a dangerous undertone in the boss’s voice.

Hoshino Yoshioka shifted about, uneasy with the scrutiny. As bad as things were right now, failure could mean his death. "No sir. He was very careful not to mention anything about himself. Didn’t even gave us his real name, from the looks of it." The older gangster glared at him, clearly displeased. "But he had a friend down here last night, an American. He tended to stand out in the crowd a bit. I have the men looking into finding the gaijin right now. Once we track him down we’ll have Fujimura." One of the yakuza had even sworn he’d seen the longhaired man before, and was racking his brains to figure out where. It would just be a matter of time.

"Very well then. I want him back here by the end of the weekend." Glancing around the club, he noticed a few of the people hanging out by the pool tables. "I see Kitayama is back again, and with a friend. I want you to have a talk to him later, we will need some more information about our little problem, and if his girlfriend wants him to remain alive she’ll cooperate." The purple haired man nodded his head in understanding. "Anyone else of interest here tonight?"

"A couple. Uemura is here, but I think to see Fujimura in action. So are a few other people." And not real happy to find the man missing. He didn’t blame the redhead for making a break for it after the way Goro had been chasing him, but it wouldn’t prevent him from dragging the man back and teaching him his proper place. He was property of Kusari now, and was causing them to lose face. "Akiba’s here to talk business with you. Oh, and the fellow that Kisaragi was all over last night is back."

"Which one?"

"Tall blond."

Nakajima narrowed his eyes as he looked at the man. Obviously a half-breed, what with that coloring. The lanky man was dressed in skintight jeans of some dark color that were very low on the hips. A cropped top of a blue material shot through with sparks of gold clung to his upper body, leaving nothing to imagination. No wonder Kisaragi had made a fool of herself, he was an attractive man. But not worth the price she was going to pay this evening. Checking his watch, the yakuza mentally corrected himself. She was most likely already dead. Yuzo had been convinced of the need to rid himself of a potential embarrassment and weak spot after hearing about the lady’s escapades last night. If one of their enemies had gotten their hands on her in that condition…… As it was, they had to be thankful the konketsu hadn’t tried anything. It was the only reason he was alive right now. He didn’t need the man hanging at the club anymore, possibly asking where the woman was. "I want him taken care of as well, make it clear to him that he is unwelcome here anymore." As if sensing what was in store for him, the blond let himself be dragged out on the dance floor by some tart in a mini-skirt.

"Yes sir."

Once more glancing though the crowd, the cold man’s thoughts returned to his current predicament and what would have to be done to make sure he managed to survive. He hated being attacked from the shadows. It made him tense, and his men were picking up on the emotion. He also hated that feeling. However much blood and violence it took, Nakajima would make sure he was left standing at the end of everything.

*******

Yuushi was miserable. Here he was sitting at a table with a man who in all probability wouldn’t live past the next few days. Not if Aya and his friends had their way. And he couldn’t do a thing about it. It grated at his sense of what was right, this enforced silence. He had to use every once of self-control to keep himself from shouting at the drunk to get his girlfriend and run as far from Tokyo as they possibly could. An image of Koge’s face helped.

"The selfish bastard. Can’t believe he didn’t show up. Just needed a little more money, that was all." Kitayama was rambling on about Aya, very upset that the pale man hadn’t returned to play tonight. Judging by how tense everyone in the club was, Yuushi was glad he’d decided to do surveillance this evening. It was clear that the yakuza were on the lookout for him, every redheaded man was given a quick once-over, and he’d heard a couple of questions asked about the swordsman’s whereabouts. So far no one knew a thing.

"I don’t think he wanted to take the chance that someone else shared Ueno’s tastes," the Crasher responded dryly. Kitayama just continued to bitch, causing him to shut the man out. The yakuza did not appear very happy tonight. They seemed very suspicious of everyone, and no one walked around by himself. There were also a lot more of them on the premises tonight. While in the bathroom he’d overheard that most of the gang was here, making sure that there was no more trouble in the club. Yuushi estimated that there was about forty of them. One had to figure that Soma had to have some with him for security, anywhere from a couple to a dozen. So say fifty men in all. And Weiß was planning on killing all of them. Had even talked about it in a calm tone of voice that was usually reserved for discussing sports or some movie.

Glancing down at his watch, Yuushi noticed that he’d only been here a little over an hour. Great, several more to go. He was ready to punch his drinking companion just to get the man to shut up. Kitayama didn’t care about a damn thing beside him, his girlfriend, and money. That’s it, he told himself, remember that he’s partially responsible for the death of a dozen people. Still want to warn him? Shaking his head, he caught a glimpse of one of Ueno’s buddies walking over to their table, followed by three huge men. This didn’t look good.

"Kitayama, I want to have a bit of a discussion with you." Before either of the seated men could respond, on of the thugs grabbed ahold of the gambler’s arm and yanked him upright, dragging him off to a corner. Yuushi forced himself to remain seated, so far all it looked like all the yakuza was doing to the man was talking. After a few minutes, Kitayama started yelling and shaking his head, repeating the word ‘impossible’. The stocky gangster, Yoshioda, grabbed him by the shirt and shook him. When the drunk kept refusing, Yoshioda punched him viciously in the ribs.

Yuushi jumped up from his chair without even thinking. He shoved the yakuza away, but before he could yank his companion off of the floor, he found himself being swung around by on of the thugs and punched on the jaw. His hands reached for his belt, which usually was his weapon, but he hadn’t been able to wear it in the club. The blond managed to strike back with his fists, landing several good blows, before the other two men joined in. Realizing he was outnumbered, he sank to the ground and curled up, taking a kick in the side before the gangsters backed off.

Above him Yoshioka resumed talking. "You’ll do it, Kitayama. Talk to your girl, tell her she has no choice. You’re both in it way too deep, what do you think her bosses would do if they found out about the list? Now pick up your friend and get out of here. Don’t come back without the information, and if you’re thinking of skipping town, /don’t’/. You won’t like what happens when we track you down."

The Crasher let himself be picked up by the drunk and half carried out the door. On the way he saw Kudoh staring back at him, actually a bit worried. Yuushi nodded his head slightly to let the man know he was fine. Once outside he shook off Kitayama’s arm and rested back against the wall. "So, what was that all about?"

"Listen buddy, thanks for the help back there, but that was a damn stupid thing to do. You better go home, and not think of coming back for a few days. You’re lucky they didn’t beat on you some more."

"What about you?" The gambler mumbled he was fine as Yuushi spat out some blood from a cut in his mouth.

Kitayama just laughed. "Oh I’m fucking fine, you don’t go killing the goose that laid the golden egg. They’ll leave me alone for a day or two, give me some time to get together what they want. Damn, this is going to break my Reiko’s heart." For a moment the man looked sorrowful, then just shook himself. "Well, no sense in worrying about anyone else, we all gotta do what we gotta do. Or something along those lines." Knight shivered at the man’s callous attitude. If he guessed correctly, Reiko was going to have to provide another list of agents and contacts. More people would be killed. And the drunk bastard in front of him didn’t give a damn. "Hey, what do you say to a quick cup of coffee? My treat, the least I can do since you got beat up for me. I know this great café down the block. Maybe they’ll have some ice for your jaw." Not wanting to say anything, not sure if he could, Yuushi let himself be lead away. Maybe he would hate himself at a later time, but he didn’t feel sorry for the man anymore.

*******

Grateful that one thing was going right so far tonight, Yohji pulled his Seven in by Omi’s bike. Its presence meant that Aya was home, and not out in the rain trailing after Soma. All he wanted right now was someone to fuss over him, and to curl up in bed with said person. Three guesses who was the prime candidate. Dabbing at his split lip, he winced in pain that the action provoked, getting out of the car and making his way to the kitchen. It had been a short, eventful night. He’d checked out the club, filled with anxious gangsters and a bunch of oblivious idiots looking for a thrill, hanging out in a place where a gruesome crime had just been committed. Yohji didn’t envy Ken with having to put up with that crowd.

He’d just kept an eye on the yakuza, getting a headcount. And a good look at what appeared to be the guy in charge. A heavyset man in his late thirties, hair prematurely grey and slicked back, brown eyes flat, like the eyes of a corpse. That had to be Nakajima. Things had to be pretty bad to have him crawl out of whatever hole he’d been hiding in. However, the playboy hadn’t managed to get too close to the man, after a couple of trips on the dance floor he’d been intercepted while on his way to the bar and ‘asked’ to leave the club. The request had consisted of him being grabbed and punched first in the face then the stomach as he was told that he wasn’t welcome on the premises anymore. Guess they were still really upset about last night. Jeez, what would have happened if he’d reciprocated Miho’s groping or kisses? It didn’t pay to think about it.

Yohji had let himself be half dragged out of the club, oddly enough no more than ten minutes after Honjyou had been summarily kicked out as well. Not a good night for the good guys, that’s for sure. The yakuza obviously didn’t suspect that they worked for Kritiker, or they’d be dead, but it was still odd him being tossed out like that. Honjyou, that was easy to figure out, he’d all but started a fight by defending his louse of an informant, but Yohji had been on relatively good behavior this evening. Then again, there had been a lot of people beaten up and dragged out of the club that night. Oh well, he’d puzzle it out later, right now he just wanted to get a little sympathy from his lover, maybe see it the man was up to a bit of fun.

Throwing open the door, he loudly announced his presence. "Yo kitten, your valiant knight is home from doing fierce battle. Wanna come here and tend to his wounds?" Gazing around the room, he found Omi staring at him and some stranger sitting in his place at the table. The man looked oddly familiar. "Who the hell are you," he asked, cutting across the chibi’s exclamation at his presence.

"Yotan, what happened to you? Did you get into a fight at the club?" Omi fussed over his friend until a golden hand grasped his chin and forced his head in Rook’s direction. "Hey kiddo, who the hell is sitting at the table?"

"Uh, Yohji, meet Masato Tamema. Tamema, Kudoh. He’s from Crashers, here to give Honjyou some information."

"What?" Omi jerked back from the voice shouting in his ear. "We got another one of them here now? I thought the deal was we let Honjyou play, they left us alone." The damn team was like a bunch of cockroaches, when you found one others were sure to be nearby. Yohji had enough trouble dealing with his lover’s health and odd reactions and the fact that Mastermind was back on the scene to deal with this right now.

Masato snorted over the rim of his coffee cup. "Sorry, ‘valiant knight’, but we didn’t know you’d be fishing in some pretty deep waters for the person responsible for the murders. Yuushi’s in over his head trying to help you guys out." Now this was very upsetting, a grown man fooling around with a boy. The kid kept fussing over the blond, dashing about to get him some ice, towels, and aspirin. "If you don’t mind me asking, what the hell happened to you?" The lanky blond’s lip was split and swollen, one of the green eyes bruised and his very interesting outfit ripped in a couple of places. Masato couldn’t believe the man had actually gone out dressed like that. He most get a lot of propositions, looking like a prostitute. And Tsukiyono found that attractive? Gesturing to Kudoh’s appearance, Rook inquired over who had won the fight.

Trying to shoo Omi away, Yohji sat on the counter and regarded the stranger coldly. "Hey, we never asked for the man’s help in the first place. As for what happened tonight, things got a little tense down at a club. Don’t know how much you’ve been filled in on the mission, but the yakuza we’re after had one of their own murdered yesterday. They’re jumping at shadows, suspicious of everybody. I just got a friendly little warning to stay away from the premises from now on. Your buddy didn’t have the best night from the looks of it either, he got tossed out as well. I’m surprised he’s not home right now."

"How bad a shape was he in," Masato barked out, worry plain on his face.

So this was Rook. Yohji recognized him now from a photo in Aya’s collection. This was the guy he’d replaced for a couple of months. Wow, what a shock that must have been for the team. An uptight redhead taking over for a laid back bum. "Relax, he walked out under his own power. Most likely he’s making sure someone else got home safely. Pain in the ass or not, I wouldn’t have left him there if he’d really been hurting." He’d never hear the end of it if he did. Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Yohji turned around to spy his lover leaning against the hallway door. The man was wearing that damn orange sweater again, and what looked like a pair of his sweatpants. This theory was proved correct when the man hiked up the pants some more as he crossed the room. "Hey there, wondered where you were at. Want to compare bruises?" Yohji felt some of the tension he’d harbored all night fade away at the sight of the pale man, home safe and sound. Aya did look a little stressed though, his eyes were shadowed and lips pressed tight together.

The redhead had been upstairs taking his medication. He’d rested on his bed for a few minutes, waiting for it to kick in and attempting to pull himself together. "Hn." Grateful that Yohji was finally home, Aya walked over to him and gently pried the hand holding the icepack away from the handsome face to check out the damage. "Did I hear you say that they kicked you out of the club?" Yohji’s lip was in worse shape than his had been, but the blond’s skin didn’t bruise as easily as his. "You’ll live." It was so nice to be near the man’s warmth; unconsciously he shifted closer to the playboy. Aya heaved a sigh of relief to find that his feelings for the older man remained unchanged. Whatever Schuldig had done to him hadn’t affected them.

Yohji toyed with an eartail as he snorted. "Oh, nice show of compassion there, love. I might be suffering internal injuries for all you might know. Could croak at any minute, wouldn’t that make you feel bad. ‘You’ll live’ indeed."

"Hmph." Aya stood up on his toes and pressed his lips gently to Yohji’s swollen ones. As he’d predicted, the blond gathered him close, forgetting all about the other two men in the room as the kiss was deepened. A couple of minutes later he pulled back, earning a groan from Yohji. "Bit frisky for a dying man. Like I said, you’ll live."

Green eyes sparkling in lust and amusement, Yohji’s face split as much into a grin as it could. "Tease." He pulled the smaller man to him, resting his chin on the mop of red hair as he looked about the kitchen. Omi was clearly trying hard not to laugh, while the Crasher, Tamema, was staring at the couple in an astounded manner. Not again he thought, this better not be another bastard carrying a torch for the redhead. His patience for dealing with the idiots was through.

Gears were whirling about in Masato’s head, trying to make sense of what was going on. At first he’d thought that maybe something was going on between Kudoh and the kid, just from hearing the greeting and witnessing Tsukiyono mother-hen’ing over the man. So he was expectedly taken back at seeing the man kiss someone else. But for that person to be Ran, it was one hell of a shock. After all, this was a person who’d remained oblivious to several months of concentrated effort on Yuushi’s part to get into his pants, when they weren’t trying to kill each other. Masato had though that Ran hadn’t swung that way. Or any other to be quite honest. Did that mean the hickeys were from Kudoh? Where did that leave Yuushi? Coming out of his thoughts, he found the blond glaring at him for some strange reason. What, did the man expect him to be disgusted at the display or something? Ran, no Aya, must remember to call him Aya now, gazed back at him evenly, waiting for a remark. Who was he to disappoint a friend, even one who’d disappeared out of the blue one day. "So if he’s the valiant knight, does that make you the kitten?" He was dying to know, after all.

Dark violet eyes flashed as the swordsman spun around to face his lover, growling out the blond’s name threateningly. Yohji was swift on the defense. "Hey, how was I to know he was here? I didn’t see the ‘Crasher’s Welcome’ sign on the door." Omi was laughing out loud in earnest, watching as Yohji quickly wrapped his arms and legs about Aya, desperate to prevent being punched again that night. Masato himself was grinning at the lovers’ quarrel. The four men went still though, at the sound of the back door being opened. Yuushi walked in, looking depressed and clutching an arm around his sore ribs. He stopped once across the threshold, taking in first Yohji and Aya, then Masato sitting at the table. Gold eyes first widened in surprise, then narrowed. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Masato’s face fell as an air of wounded feeling surrounded him. "I’m getting tired of hearing that question. It gives the impression that no one is happy to see me." Yuushi flushed at the comment and sat down in the chair, letting out a puff of breath as his body protested. "How was your run-in with the yakuza?"

Flashing a quick look over at Yohji, Knight leaned back in the chair before answering. "They were bothering the leak’s boyfriend tonight. I think they’re pressing him to give them more names of people working for the organization. I stepped in to keep them from getting too rough and to give the guy a chance to escape. They’re panicking, that’s for sure." He was silent for a moment as he tried to figure out the reason for his friend’s presence. "You here because of the contacts?"

"Yeah. Sorry, Yuushi, but they prefer to deal with me right now. Things are real shaky in the underworld, it has something to do with the mess you’re involved in." Resting his arms on the table, Masato leaned his chin on a hand. "Dammit, I could use a smoke right now. It was raining too hard before, or I’d have stopped at the store." Yohji, after cautiously relaxing his hold a little and not getting immediately whapped, fished in his coat pocket and tossed a cigarette pack at the brunet after snagging one for himself. Aya seemed content to just remain pressed close to his side, not even complaining over the cigarette smoke. Masato flashed Yohji a grateful smile as he lit a stick, grunting happily as he expelled some smoke. "It appears a power struggle has been touched off. I can get you all the information you need on Soma’s men, should have it by tomorrow night. Can probably even score some cooperation with another organization or two. A lot of people want to see Nakajima, that’s who in charge of your yakuza, go down. Feel he’s reached too far too fast. For some reason these guys have decided to move now. I don’t think they even know why. But it’s the perfect time to take the men down without touching off a war."

Stifling a yawn, Omi debated more coffee or not. "I think we have to sit down tomorrow night and make some serious plans. We’ll need to know everything about this Nakajima and his men, their exact numbers and whereabouts, and come up with a way of getting them all together. Maybe in the club, since we need to take that place down as well. I’ve tracked down most of Soma’s business accounts, a little more searching tonight and I’ll have them all. I’ll turn the list over to you in the morning, Honjyou, and you can start setting up the process of wiping them out. Would you mind if I sit in on that for a little bit?" Yuushi shook his head, earning a grin from the youth. Omi was looking forward to that, his expertise was in sniffing out the money, usually he just turned the list over to Kritiker after using the trail to track down various targets. This was the first time of him participating in something like this. He always had been eager to learn new things. "Cool. Well, I guess I have my night all planned out. Aya-kun, would you mind getting some extra blankets and a futon for one of our guests to sleep on?" The quiet man reluctantly stepped away from Yohji and nodded his head.

Yuushi reached out a hand to stop him, causing Aya to shy away. Everyone in the room noticed this and stared at the redhead. "Wait a second, uh Aya. Would you mind checking out my ribs for me? I don’t think they’re broken, but I don’t want to take any chances." He got another nod for an answer. Yuushi then turned to look at his teammate. He knew Masato well enough to guess what the man’s intentions were. "/You/ get the floor tonight, there’s no way I’m sleeping on it in my condition." Aya and him left the room as the scruffy man came back with a retort. "Ah, you’re such a wimp, Knight. We need to toughen you up. You’re making Crashers look bad here."

As soon as the men were out of hearing, Yohji turned a questioning look on Omi. The youth shook his head, clearly just as puzzled. "I don’t have a clue, Yotan. He’d been on edge ever since he came back from tailing Soma." Yohji took a drag on his cigarette as he wondered what might have affected his lover so. Unfortunately he came up with an answer rather quickly. He stayed seated on the counter as Omi gathered up his schoolbooks and wished him a good night.

When it was just him and Tamema in the room, he crossed his arms and regarded the other man solemnly. Masato returned the gaze as he leaned back in his chair. "You look like you have something you want to say. Go ahead, be my guest."

Yohji cut to the chase. "Do you have an ulterior motive besides the mission to be here, just like your buddy Honjyou? Because if you do I am kicking your ass out right now."

"Huh?" It took the Crasher a minute to figure out what Kudoh meant. "Like Honjyou? You mean am I after Fujimiya?" Yohji grunted out an affirmation. "Possessive bastard, aren’t you? Well you’ll be happy to know that it never was redheads that I have a thing for, especially cold, rude ones. He’s just a friend as far as I’m concerned." Masato watched as the other man’s posture relaxed. "Yuushi’s been giving you some problems in that regard, hasn’t he? I can just imagine how he must have taken the news that Aya was involved with someone. I know I sure as hell was shocked to see you guys together."

There was an odd note in Tamema’s voice that had Yohji replaying the man’s words in his head. The way he dismissed being attracted to redheads, and the trace of satisfaction in wondering how Honjyou had reacted to the news. "Wouldn’t happen to have a thing for blonds now, would you?" Bingo. Hazel eyes narrowed at him, plainly displeased at being found out so easily. He decided to crack a joke, to put the man more at ease. "I could care less myself, just keep your hands off of Omi. You’ll have a really pissed off jock after your head if you try anything." Although maybe that would force Hidaka to buy a clue and admit his feelings. Yohji pondered the situation for a moment, but decided that dear Kenken was a bit too touchy over the subject for him to try and set something up with Tamema. The man’s voice broke through his thoughts.

"And what about you? You that happy with Fujimiya, or do I stand a chance in hell?"

Oh, here was a Crasher he might actually get along with. Batting his eyes, the playboy answered back in the same teasing tone that Masato had asked the question in. "I don’t know, you just might clean up real nice." Rook laughed at the comment as he stubbed out his cigarette. "Sorry to dash your hopes, but I think I’ll stick with Aya. He’s much more prettier than you. Have to admit it’s nice not having to fend off yet another ardent suitor." Yohji’s face darkened as he thought about the ones already after the kitten. Jaw tightening, he waved aside the cigarette pack to the other man tried to return to him as he jumped down from the counter. "Nah, keep them. I have another pack upstairs, this should help get you through the night, it looks as if the rain’s not going to stop any time soon. There will be a brunet stomping in around three ‘clock or so, if not earlier. He’s one of ours. And if you hear any yelling in the next couple of minutes, pay it no heed. Just Aya and I discussing a few things. General rule of thumb in this house is to not get involved unless one of us screams for help, you’ll live much longer that way." Smiling at Masato’s incredulous look, Yohji headed upstairs, intent on finding out just what exactly had happened to his lover tonight.

*******

Leaving the bathroom and opening the door to his room, Yohji felt his heart seize in his chest. Aya was sitting in the window, legs dangling down the outside of the building. Rain was pouring down on him, sliding into the room on either side of his body and puddling on the floor. Unsure of what the hell was going on, he sprung into action, dashing across the room to grab the slim figure around the waist and yanking Aya back into the room. Both of them went down, Yohji twisting around to take the brunt of the fall. His lover moved about in a dazed manner on his chest, a trembling hand lifting to push the soaked bangs covering purple eyes back to glare at him. "What the hell are you doing?"

"What am I doing?" Yohji’s voice echoed loudly throughout the room. "You’re the one who looked as if you were about to take a diver out of the window. What the fuck has gotten into you, Aya? What happened tonight? Was it Schuldig?" Aya just shivered in his wet clothes and closed his eyes, hiding his face on the blond’s chest. Cursing under his breath, Yohji stroked through the redhead’s hair as the rain continued to fall into the room. When Aya showed no signs of answering him, he grasped the man about the shoulders and shook him a bit. "Come on, we need to close that window before the whole room is flooded, and get the both of us into dry clothes."

Aya just opened his eyes as he stood up, reaching for the window as he did so. He started to close it, but paused halfway, eyes staring out into the rain, mind clearly far away. Yohji stretched out an arm from behind the man and slammed the window shut with a loud slam. Aya jumped at the sound and his presence, sliding away until he reached the dresser. His boyfriend stared after him, getting more worried by the minute. "Something’s wrong, love. What is it?"

Searching for something dry to wear to bed, Aya didn’t look up from the open drawer. "I don’t know. It has to do with the rain, I’m certain about that much." A rainy day that changed his life forever, heartache and despair and a searing passion, that was all he could make out. A binding promise, loss and hope offered to him. It teased at his memories, sitting in the window with the rain beating down on him he’d felt so close to figuring out what it was. He /knew/ it had something to do with the way he’d reacted to the telepath tonight, maybe if he could decipher it out he’d be able to fight the bastard. Trust Yohji to come in and think he was about to kill himself. He’d never die like that, jumping out a window. Grabbing ahold of his sweater he yanked it over his head, taking a moment to drape it over the hamper to dry. Once again long arms reached out for him, causing him to jerk back in an attempt to escape. Yohji was too quick for him, though. Cursing a bit, he glared at the older man who dragged him close and shoved his chin up. "Get your damn hands off of me, Kudoh."

"Shut up." Yohji hauled the smaller man over to the mirror, ignoring his protests. Standing before it he tilted Aya’s face to the side and pointed to the love bites darkening on the man’s skin. He knew that he hadn’t marked Aya earlier today, he hadn’t even kissed his kitten’s neck. Plus these looked only a few hours old, he must have been on his way to the club when they had been made. "Where did you get these? I know they aren’t from me, they’re way too new. Someone did this to you at some point this evening. I want to know who." He was pretty sure he already knew who they were from, he was waiting to see if the redhead would tell him. Staring into the mirror, he met a pair of shadowed purple eyes. "Please Aya."

"Schuldig." Just the one word, barely whispered.

"Shit." Releasing Aya’s face, Yohji wrapped the quiet man in an embrace. "Why didn’t you say something? You didn’t even tell Omi, did you? What did The Bastard do to you?" Pale arms encircled his neck, holding on tight.

"I can’t let Omi know, or Ken. You said Manx was here wanting to ask me questions about Mastermind. That means Kritiker suspects. I won’t let them back into my head, Yohji. No more psych sessions, no more tests. I’d rather face Schuldig every night on my own. They won’t stop with their prying. They’d find out about us, about the….. about what happened a couple of months ago." Aya suddenly shifted back, eyes flashing in anger. "No more. I won’t put up with it ever again. You have no idea what it was like. Bad doesn’t begin to describe it. So I didn’t say anything earlier. And you can’t breathe a word of this to the others."

Aya dropped his head to his chest before he continued. "As for the rest, I don’t know what Schuldig wanted. Other than to make me upset and confused. I never know what to expect from him anymore. He surprised me while I was watching Soma, somehow got inside of my head so I couldn’t fight back. He kissed me and told me he’d killed Ueno for hurting me." He was editing out certain details, there was no way he’d tell Yohji all of it. It would set the blond off in a rage. Kudoh could be every bit as possessive as the German. "The usual threats, warning people away from me. Told me that Soma would go back to the townhouse, that he’d made sure of it. And I was to go home. I don’t know if he was hoping I’d lose the target or……" It was frightening to consider that Schuldig might have actually been helping him.

"Were you going to tell me?"

Yohji’s voice had been very soft, but there had been a hint of steel in it. He already knew the answer. "Most likely not. I suspected that you’d make a big deal out of it, maybe do something stupid. That just might be what he wants."

Jerking a hand through his hair, Yohji counted to ten. In Japanese and English. And wished he knew a couple other languages. "The Bastard is back to his old tricks and you weren’t going to say a word. Last time he nearly killed me, don’t you think I deserve some sort of warning? What the hell is it between the two of you? You shut me out whenever he shows up. I’m not happy, Aya. I’m flat out pissed. When are you going to learn that what affects you affects me?" The swordsman was frowning at him but wisely kept his mouth shut.

"He’s involved in the mission, that makes him Weiß’s business. We have to tell the others, warn them that Schuldig might be messing with their heads-"

"No!" Aya twisted about in Yohji’s arms, livid and frantic. "I said tell nobody."

"Damnit Aya, Ken and Omi need to know! Probably Honjyou and his pal as well. I know they’ll promise not to tell anyone if you ask them to. They’ve kept our secret, haven’t they?" It was like trying to hold onto a wildcat. Yohji was only thankful that Aya was too upset to logically go about his dismemberment. As it was he got a couple more bruises and a few scratches as well.

"It’s my life you’re about to fuck up, Kudoh. I’ll take my chances." There was no way he was seeing the doctors again. Sometimes he swore they did more damage than Schuldig. He’d never felt like killing himself after talking to the telepath. Shoving Yohji aside, he made for the door. And was tackled a few meters short of it. Aya felt Yohji settling on top of him, blood dripping onto his back from the man’s split lip that had been broken open in the struggle. It was suddenly too much. The copper tang of blood mixing with sweat. Yohji pinning him down. Schuldig playing his games. He started to hyperventilate.

Yohji could only stare at his panicked lover for a minute before it clicked. Rolling off of the man, he quickly scooped him up and set him on the bed. Shit. Aya had seemed to have pretty much recovered from the rape; he’d even let him make love to him from behind the other night. But the pale man had been upset ever since he’d heard that Schuldig was back. Kneeling on the floor, he patted a white face, trying not to crowd him. "Aya love, I’m so sorry. It’s all right, no one is going to hurt you. I’m not going to hurt you." He kept repeating it. Gradually Aya stopped panting, the dark violet eyes focusing on Yohji a few heartbeats before closing. "Are you okay now? I’m sorry, love."

The redhead just rolled over onto his back, an arm thrown over his eyes. "Yohji, this has got to stop. He has us tearing at each other every time he comes around. I can’t. I don’t want to keep going through this." It got to be too overwhelming. "This is why I didn’t tell you."

Cautiously, observing Aya’s reaction the whole while, Yohji crawled up on the bed and laid beside his boyfriend. Aya turned over to face him, holding onto him fiercely. He stroked a hand through the man’s hair, smoothing out the tangles. "Okay, you do have a point. I don’t take the news very well." A bit of an understatement. It shook him up so badly to see the smaller man reduced to a panicked state like that, and to know he was mostly responsible for it. When would he learn not to try and force his opinion down the kitten’s throat like that, it just led to one hell of a fight. "But I’m right as well. We have to tell the others. They’re going to guess anyways, it’s obvious that something is bothering you. If we don’t say anything they probably will mention it to someone, and it’s clear you don’t want that. Trust them." He paused for a second, then in a quiet voice added "trust me."

That earned him a punch in the stomach. What the hell was it with people hitting him today? Aya sat up and glared down at him. "Do you think I’d be here, in this room, if I didn’t trust you? Baka." His tone of voice clearly conveyed that he was dealing with a moron. Yohji was about to take umbrage at it when he thought a little more. No sense starting off another fight, and the last few minutes hadn’t been his proudest. Aya continued, seizing the opportunity to get a few words in. "What I don’t trust is what you’ll do if I tell you certain things. Like Schuldig. You tend to act without thinking a lot."

"Oh, and you never have? Does the word ‘Takatori’ have any special meaning for you?" Yohji barely managed to block that hit. "Okay, that was a low blow. I understand what you’re trying to say. If The Bastard walked into the Koneko, I’d remove his head from his shoulders without any thought. He’s one of my blind spots." Along with anyone else who threatened the redhead. "But I promise you, word won’t get back to Kritiker. Trust me on this. I won’t let them get their claws in you." That statement earned him a ‘hn’ and a dubious look, but at least Aya wasn’t protesting anymore. Yohji slowly pulled him back down to the bed and slid an arm around the slender man’s waist. "We have to tell them."

Aya tensed for a moment before resting his head against Yohji’s shoulder. "……. If anyone reports back to Kritiker about this, I get to gut them. Promise me that."

"Hell, I’ll even hold them down for you." Gods the man could be absolutely bloodthirsty. He didn’t doubt for one moment that Aya would carry through with the threat. "Have I ever told you how happy I am that you love me?"

"Hn." Yohji took to nibbling on a pale ear, the only bit of flesh he could find. After a moment Aya lifted his head and stared deep into the older man’s eyes. "I do. So much it scares me sometimes."

"I know, kitten. I feel the same. Why do you think I panic everytime I find out The Bastard’s taken to messing with you again? I really am sorry about earlier." Cupping the smaller man’s face between his hands, Yohji bent down until his lips brushed against Aya’s. "Forgive me?"

Aya let his actions speak for him, pressing close to the man as he kissed back. Baka. When wasn’t Yohji forgiven? It was disgusting how easily he always gave in to a pouty look, green eyes filled with sorrow. It might frighten him, and at times confuse and irritate him, but he knew that his feelings for the blond were genuine. So he let the blond’s hands wander all over his body, working the sweatpants done his hips as a hungry mouth moved over his neck, determined to leave marks of its own. Sex for Yohji was an act of possession, of ownership. By letting the man make love to him Aya was confirming that he still belonged to Kudoh. Not wanting to dispute that fact, he yanked the man’s head up to kiss those lush lips again, letting passion wash away the last of his panic and anger. No one was going to take this away from them, not Schuldig or Kritiker or anyone else.

It got very hard to think of anything after that, what with Yohji kissing him breathless as one hand stretched him and another pumped his erection, making him squirm on the bed. Aya frantically tore at the blond’s clothes, needing to feel that hot skin pressed against his. Yanking off the top got his lungs a brief respite before the kiss was resumed, until he unzippered Yohji’s pants and stroked him back in return.

Groaning at the sensation, the older man rolled onto his back, pulling Aya on top of him. The redhead took advantage of the opportunity, shifting about on Yohji’s lap as he snatched the abandoned tube of lubricant and coated his lover’s engorged shaft with the slippery oil. He felt his hips lifted as the playboy urged him forward, positioning him above the erection and slowly easing him down upon it. Taking the organ deep inside of him, Aya moaned out Yohji’s name, and heard his own gasped as well. Tossing back his head, he concentrated on riding the lanky form beneath him, meeting each thrust and taking his lover in deeper and deeper. He mewled at the warm hand that stroked him in time with the thrusts, and cried out when the other one urged his hips forward, shifting him about until sparks burst inside him, more pleasure that was rapidly becoming too much. He became frantic, rising up to fall back down faster and faster, breath choked in his throat until he felt the coil of heat and tension inside him snap, sending him over the edge. Strong hands held him upright as Yohji kept thrusting into him, until a minute later when his name was shouted out and his body flooded with the man’s seed.

Collapsing forward, Aya rested on the blond’s chest, sated and limp as a shaky hand brushed back his bangs. Lying on top of his boyfriend, the quiet man couldn’t help but think that this was real, maybe the most real thing in his life. No confusion, no pain, no anger or uncertainty. Just Yohji still inside of him and holding him tight. He knew it couldn’t last, nothing good in his life ever did, but he’d enjoy it as much as he could. Resting his chin on the older man’s chest, he once again took to looking deep into a pair of green eyes. "Kudoh."

"Mmm?" An eartail was brushed along his cheek, tickled his nose for a moment until he almost considered smiling. But the sound of rain falling touched something buried inside of him, a fear that could cripple him if it ever came to be.

"Promise me you won’t ever leave."

Yohji was shocked by the question, wondering where the hell it had come from. Damn but the kitten had a strange mind. "Never. I promise. Not even if you want me gone one day. I hate to break it to you love, but you’re stuck with me forever."

Aya regarded his boyfriend solemnly for a moment, then shifted off of the man to look for something to clean them up with. Reaching for the damp sweatpants, he stopped when he saw out the window, lightning streaking the sky and water spiraling down. He stayed like that until Yohji dragged him back down on the bed, golden brow creased in concern.

*******

Downstairs in the living room Masato fluffed his pillow as a loud thud echoed from upstairs. Yuushi and him both stared at the ceiling, trying to figure what was going on up there. Another minute or two later they heard Kudoh and Fujimiya start to shout, and the younger Crasher immediately struggled to get off of the couch, cursing out his sore ribs and Kudoh. A strong hand gripped his arm and yanked him back down onto the couch. "Stay out of it, it’s none of our business."

"Damn it Masato, that’s a friend of ours up there. What if he needs some help?"

"We talking about the same redhead here? Aya can take care of himself. You should know that by now, you worked alongside him long enough." Masato kept his grip on the blond’s arm, not about to let him go upstairs.

Yuushi sighed as he sat on the couch. "Not you too. His name is Ran. And who knows what that Kudoh could be up to. He’s a killer."

"So is Aya now. And I’ll call the man whatever he asks me too. He’s not Rook anymore, you need to get that through your thick head. Please Yuushi, let him go." Masato said that last part in a quiet voice, willing his friend to move on. Yuushi looked down at him, a frown on his handsome face.

"How can you say that?"

"Very easily. He has someone in his life now. You had your chance, and it didn’t work out." More loud yelling could be heard, and it was followed by another sound of bodies hitting the floor. Masato refused to get worried. If there really was a problem, Tsukiyono would be breaking up the fight. Yuushi just kept staring at the ceiling, body tight as if he’d leap off the couch the second he was free. "Relax. I haven’t known the man for very long, but I don’t think Kudoh will hurt Fujimiya. Hell, it sounds like something the two of you would get into. Or for all we know it’s what they consider foreplay." The younger man evidently didn’t like the thought of his obsession engaging in sex with someone else. He swore and tried to yank his arm free.

"Yuushi, I’m serious. It’s over, let it go. He looks happy with this guy, don’t do anything to mess that up. Aya would hate you for it. Just wish him well and remain his friend. It would never work out between the two of you anyway, he’s ‘a killer’ now also. I know you too well, you’d never be able to love someone who murders people in cold blood every night. I don’t think you even loved him in the first place."

That got a hiss of pain from his young friend. "He said that to me earlier, pretty much the exact same thing. How can all of you know what I feel?"

Masato pursed his lips for a second, craving another cigarette. Anything to calm his nerves as he tried to make his young friend face the truth. Yuushi could be so damn stubborn, especially once he set his sights on something. "Because if you really did love him you’d never have let him go. You’d have moved heaven and earth to track him down when he vanished. Instead you pouted and went on with your life. You didn’t even try to see him when Shirasaki let us know he was back with Kritiker. He was just this unattainable ideal for you, a fair lover locked up in some tower while you vanquished dragons in his name. That’s infatuation, not love." He was trying to go about this as painlessly as possible, but it tore at Rook’s heart to have Yuushi so stubbornly refuse to see what was in front of his face. "What the two of them have, it’s the real thing. You realize it as soon as you see them together. And I think you know that, and it gets to you. That some stranger managed to bag the guy you’ve wanted all this time. I know that it must hurt, but it doesn’t make what you are doing right. You need to let him go and focus on the mission. Think of Morimoto, at the very least. That’s the real reason you’re here, not to try and straighten out your love life." Crashers had grown concerned when they’d heard about Fujimiya’s presence, all of them knew about the torch Knight still carried for the man. The first convenient excuse to send another member to Weiß that they came across has been acted upon. Masato had insisted on being the person, Yuushi usually listened to him, and he had reasons of his own.

"Do you have any idea what it is like, to want something for so long and then suddenly to have it in your grasp again, and then to be told it will never be yours?" Yuushi’s voice was so sad, his friend’s heart ached to hear it. "I know that he doesn’t love or want me, but…. it’s just so damn hard to let go."

Releasing his hold on the younger man, Yuushi ran his hand up a muscled arm and massaged a tense shoulder for a moment. "I perfectly understand what you are going through, Knight. I really do."

 

*******

Aya was sitting in a hotel room. He didn’t know why, just that he was waiting for someone, and that the suite was very familiar. For example, he knew about the comfortable couch in the one room, and that the sheets here in the bedroom smelled faintly of lavender. It didn’t make any sense, he’d never stayed in a place like this before. Puzzled, he just sat there on the bed, staring out a window that overlooked downtown Tokyo. A grey veil of rain obscured the skyscrapers.

The redhead gradually became aware of an arm circling his waist, it seemed so natural for it to be there that he had no way of telling how long he’d been held. Twisting around, he felt a tumult of emotions awaken at the sight of Schuldig lying beside him, a tender look on the foreigner’s face. <Imagine finding you here, little tuberose.>

His body froze, assailed by conflicting desires. To either kill the man or run as far away as he could. Aya felt himself be lowered down on the bed as he tried to fight the paralysis, only managing to do so as Schuldig settled on top of him. He got one blow in, snapping back the telepath’s head, before the man’s unnatural speed and strength pinned him down. "Damnit leave me the hell alone."

Blinking away the pain from the punch, Schuldig leaned over the struggling assassin. "Behave, or I’ll freeze you still. You know I can do it in here, do you really want to be completely helpless right now?" He had to repeat the demand a couple more times, trying to get through to the panicked Japanese man. Violet eyes stared up at him as the slim body finally lay still beneath him. The emotions swirling about inside those orbs was so delicious to see. Before it had always been hate shining back at him, now there was confusion as well, and a hint of fear and longing. "There, that’s much better now, isn’t it? I think mein Knuddelhäschen deserves a present for being so reasonable." Carefully using his talent to fill the pale man’s senses with pleasure, Schuldig bent his face down to kiss the panting lips. It was easier to stir desire in the Katalisator here, in this familiar dreamscape. Aya’s mind wasn’t fighting him so much, having accepted the situation before. There shouldn’t be that much of a backlash this time, but he still had to be restrained in his actions. His tuberose’s mind was nowhere near finished healing, most likely it was a very bad idea to be here at the moment but he hadn’t been able to resist, not after what had happened earlier that night. That little taste hadn’t been nearly enough.

Ah, Abyssinian was kissing him back. The dream was working, and his Kätzchen’s talent was seeking his out, desperate for an outlet of sorts after being bottled up for years. Another thing to be aware of in the future, he could get so deep in the pale man’s mind that there would be no severing the connection, ever. It wouldn’t be a good thing to hand an enemy such an advantage like that, or the great Mastermind might just find himself open to manipulation.

Breaking off the kiss, the German moved his mouth down a slender throat, hungering to hear the other man gasp and moan. However, it had the opposite effect. Aya came back to himself at the touch, Yohji’s voice echoing in his head. He thrust up from the bed suddenly, knocking Schuldig off of him and backed up until he hit the wall. "Stay away from me, or I’ll kill you."

Growling in frustration, Schuldig sat up and glared at the trembling assassin. Savagely putting his talent to use, he scoured through the last few hours of Aya’s memories, causing the man to moan in pain. <So I see. Guess Balinese is a little brighter than I gave him credit for. To be able to figure things out so quickly. The Schwanzlutscher.> Damn the man-whore for noticing the marks, and for the effect he had on Abyssinian. ‘He is so dead once Bradley doesn’t need him anymore.’

"/No/." That one word, so cold and final, made the telepath stare at Aya in astonishment. "You hurt Kudoh and I will not rest until you are dead. Do. You. Understand. Me?" Schuldig was at a loss of words. How the hell had the man picked up that thought, he hadn’t been projecting it. And how dare the Kätzchen dictate demands to him like that? /He/ was the one in charge here, if anyone was brought to heel it was Abyssinian. He couldn’t have the Weiß start to get all uppity.

Shifting forward, closer to his heart, the German scowled at the smaller redhead. "I don’t see how you can stop me. I warned you about what would happen to anyone you let get close, you were the one who dug the Penner’s grave by letting him fuck you in the first place." The emotions emanating from Abyssinian were more hate and anger now than anything else. Schuldig was going for panic, he wanted to use Balinese’s life as a leash about the Katalisator. <Another death you’ll be responsible for. How many will that be now? Tens? No, more like hundreds, you passed the triple digit mark some time ago. Your sweet lover will just be one more drop in the bucket.>

"I will destroy you if anything happens to him." Oh dear, the man was quite quite serious. Fuck. Schuldig hadn’t been able to counteract the feelings his tuberose harbored for the other man enough yet to go about threatening the blond. It was possible he never would. It was painfully clear from the other’s thoughts that all the things he’d worked so hard for would come crashing down the moment he killed or harmed Balinese. It took a moment for him to squash the jealous rage burning through every fiber in his body. Taking deep breaths, he regarded Aya darkly until he was once more in control enough to summon up a smirk.

"And just how do you plan on stopping me? Or any of Schwarz for that matter? He’s a walking dead man, all of your friends are. Unless……." Aya just sat there, pressed against the wall, never taking those gorgeous eyes off of him. <Come now, isn’t a curious little kitty like yourself eager to know how you can keep the trollop alive and well?>

Aya just shook his head. "I know better than to make deals with the devil. They always turn out badly. You harm him at all and I will not rest until you are finally dead. Even if I have to kill myself in the attempt." Too fast to see, the swordsman found Schuldig on top of him again, forcing him back painfully against the wall.

"I will not allow that to happen." The thought of Abyssinian dead and forever gone from his mind filled the telepath with dread. "You’ve been trying to kill me for two years, you don’t have any chance in hell of succeeding." Not while his talent was kept dormant, and now Schuldig controlled that. "So now we do a little bargaining. You want your precious Balinese to live, and I want you." Savoring the rise of panic in the pale man, Schuldig took a moment to nuzzle at an adorned ear. There was just so far he could push right now, and he dare not risk the hate becoming ascendant again. "From now on, no more fighting me in these dreams. Keep me happy, and I’ll let the Schwanzlutscher live. Such a small price to pay for a loved one, isn’t it?"

The mouth moved down a pale neck, making Aya shiver at the feel of it. Mind racing, he tried so hard to think of the proposed deal. Nothing that Schuldig asked of him would be harmless, experience and instinct told him that. But Yohji’s life was on the line here, he knew that as a fact. Whatever reason the German had to let his lover live for now, he was certain it wouldn’t last forever. There would come the time that Schuldig would be gunning for Kudoh’s blood, and he knew that the playboy didn’t stand a chance. That was why he tried to keep his interactions with the bastard a secret, so Yohji didn’t go storming off for vengeance and get himself killed. What harm would submitting in dreams do? Recalling his strange reactions to Schuldig this night, he was afraid of the answer. But there was no choice, not really. He’d endangered Yohji by not keeping him at arm’s length, by craving the affection and feeling of safety and warmth the man lavished on him, he was responsible for keeping harm away from him. "Only while in the dreams." Schuldig’s sudden grin sent chills down his spine, someone was too happy for things to be good.

<Of course. I look forward to our fights in the real world too much.> It was so wonderful to force a concession out of the stubborn man. <As long as you don’t fight the dreams, I will make sure that Balinese comes to no serious harm at my or any of Schwarz’s hands. That doesn’t mean he won’t be safe from a little rough handling now and then, we are enemies after all.>

"Nothing serious or permanent, Schuldig. Or I will do everything in my power to destroy you. You better keep this promise." This was insane, trusting the telepath like this. But he had no choice. It would shatter him too much to know that Yohji was hurt or killed because of him. The foreigner once again kissed him, this time he didn’t try to resist the action. Focusing so much on not breaking his promise, Aya didn’t notice his hands sliding into Schuldig’s hair, entwining in the long strands. The kiss went on for several minutes, until the older man sat back on his heels. There was a flash of something soft in the pale green eyes for a moment, then they hardened to a peridot shade.

Grasping Aya’s hands and pulling them from his hair, Schuldig regarded the quiet man for a moment. Abyssinian was indeed keeping his part of the bargain. It filled him with a sense of euphoria, knowing he’d advanced a little farther in winning the Katalisator over. But a lesson had to be taught. Two to be exact. And he needed to shake up the man, break apart the anger and hurt at being forced to surrender and replace it with confusion. Abyssinian was going to be his, it was time to make sure he knew who exactly was in control here. "I’ll keep it. Have I ever broken a promise to you?" The smaller man shook his head, he knew to much past regret that Schuldig always followed through with his threats and promises. Now to reinforce that, and to work off the anger filling him. At the thought of having to let that Penner Balinese keep touching what was his, a stubborn little fool who refused to give in completely. "Correct. Now to keep one I made you a couple of months ago. I told you the choice would be yours, pleasure or pain. You chose pain." Unleashing his power, Schuldig watched as Aya writhed in agony, mouth open in a silent scream.

*******

Yohji woke up, feeling his lover shift in his arms. The smaller man let out a moan as he thrashed about for a few seconds before lying still. Wiping sleep from his eyes, Yohji lifted his upper body and rested on a bent elbow to better observe his kitten. The man’s face was flushed, a scowl creasing his brows. It didn’t look like the one time when he’d awoken in pain due to skipping his medication. Instead it was as if he was caught in a bad dream. Realization finally dawning, the blond started swearing, wondering what the hell he should do. Would it harm Aya to be woken from a dream where some German bastard was tormenting him? He’d done it the one time before, and the pale man had almost killed him for it. Unsure of what was the best course of action, he sat there watching, wondering if he should go get Omi or not.

Suddenly Aya started thrashing again, back arching off of the bed. Whatever the hell Mastermind was doing to the redhead, it sure as hell wasn’t good. Blood started to trickle down a pale chin, teeth sinking deep into the bottom lip as Aya tossed back and forth in agony. Not seeing how waking up the man could be any worse than what was happening now, Yohji started shaking his lover, calling out his name over and over. Snapping the man back and forth, he started to panic as nothing changed. Just as he opened his mouth to scream for his teammates, purple eyes flickered open, the stiff body going suddenly limp in the older man’s grasp. Yohji clutched Aya tight, trying to soothe the trembling swordsman.

Aya let out a hitched sob as he buried his head in the blond’s shoulder, nerves still tingling with fire. It had felt as his blood had been replaced with acid, a burning agony that consumed him. Slowly the pain faded, Yohji’s touch chasing it away. Gentle hands stroked down his back, kisses were pressed against the top of his head. Lifting up his face, one of the hands brushed back his bangs and wiped at the blood on his chin. "Gods Aya, I thought you were dying or something. What the hell did The Bastard do to you?"

It took him a couple of tries to get his voice to work. "He… was keeping a promise." Aya had forgotten all about it, the fateful words shouted back to him as Schwarz fled Tayago’s corporate headquarters. Figures Schuldig would remember. And the man would use it to prove just how determined he was to keep his word. The pain was worth it though, if it meant that Yohji was safe.

"What, to see if he could make you break any bones as you convulsed in agony?" Yohji stretched out an arm to turn the light switch on, eager to see how much damage Aya had done to his lip. "Doesn’t look too bad." He took in the clammy skin and dilated pupils. The man appeared to be going into shock. "Damnit. Stay here, love." He quickly got off the bed and snatched his sweatshirt off the couch. Returning to the trembling man Yohji yanked it over his head. Had to keep the kitten warm. "He always pull things like this? I thought you said he mainly liked taunting you and making threats."

It was getting harder to focus on the blond and what he was saying. "Once or twice. There were threats this time too. But he promised. My head hurts." Aya let Yohji shift him about while he reached for the pills. They were pressed into his palm, and a bottle of water held to his lips. He swallowed the medication, washing the taste of blood out of his mouth. Yohji lowered the two of them back down on the bed after he turned out the light. Aya fought against unconsciousness, terrified that he would find Schuldig waiting for him, but lost the battle.

Stroking a hand through his lover’s hair, Yohji curled around the smaller man, tucking the blankets tightly about him in an effort to keep him warm. There was no way in hell he was about to fall asleep again, not if it meant that Aya would be suffering while he was unaware. Gazing at the clock on a nightstand, he saw that it would have several hours before anyone would even be thinking of getting out of bed. He’d give them another hour or two, then call a war council together. Thoughts drifting back to The Bastard and some of the more enjoyable ways he could go about killing the man, Yohji found him self wondering what it was that he’d promised Aya this time.

*******

Omi and Ken were at an amusement park. The brunet had thought that his boyfriend would enjoy a day riding roller coasters and playing games, seeing who could win the most stuffed animals. They were on a ride at the moment, being tossed about on the sharp turns. Not that Omi minded. Ken had an arm tight about him, keeping him close. But still the couple was tossed about, and for some reason the ride’s sound system was blaring out his name. "Omi, come on kiddo, wake up. Omi." Since when did Yohji work at an amusement park? Suddenly it was very hard to breath.

Gasping in an attempt to fill his lungs with oxygen, the youth woke up. And found Yohji leaning over him, hand clasped over his nose and mouth. As soon as his eyes opened the playboy removed his hand. "About damn time, sunshine."

"Yohji! Are you trying to kill me?" Omi sputtered out.

"Nah, who’d do the cleaning around here then? Get out of bed chibi, I’m calling an impromptu meeting. Go wake Ken up while I wake the guests from hell." The lanky man was dressed in jeans and a denim shirt worn over a cropped tank top. Oddly enough he had his cell phone in the shirt pocket, and had the earphone attachment on, as if listening to something.

"Yohji, what are you doing up at," oh please tell him this was a joke "six am? You only went to bed a few hours ago. /I/ just went to bed a couple of hours ago."

"I’m calling a meeting. You need to be there for it, so does Ken."

Omi punched his pillow in frustration. "Can’t it wait til later? Like noon maybe?" This was a weird reversal, the playboy being up and ready while he pleaded for a few more hours sleep. He turned his big eyes on the man, counting on being told to go back to bed.

The older blond wasn’t affected in the slightest. "No. Get up now or I dump a pitcher of water on your ass."

"Yohji, is everything okay?" He couldn’t recall the last time the big eyes failed to work on his friend, and the man was unaccountably tense.

"No chibi. That’s why I’m waking everyone up. Would you please just get out of bed and drag Ken downstairs?"

"Okay." Things had to be bad for Yohji to be so serious at this time in the morning. His teammate mumbled some thanks before swiftly leaving the room. Tossing off the sheets and standing up, Omi took a minute to change into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. He stopped at the bathroom, then ventured into Ken’s room. Navigating his way around all the boxes still stacked on the floor, he sat down on the bed and stared at the brunet’s profile for a minute. What he wouldn’t give to have the man dreaming about him right now. He started shaking his crush. "Ken-kun, wake up." It took several tries, and just when he was about to try Yohji’s tactic on the athlete brown eyes slit open to glare at him.

"Go ‘way. Don’t got the morning shift t’day."

"Wake up. There’s an emergency of some sort. Yohji wants us downstairs. Please Ken, get out of bed."

"Emergency?" Ken sighed as he rubbed at his eyes, exhausted from a night working hard at the club. The stress alone had worn him out, serving drinks to a bunch of gangsters who were on edge. He sat up. "Wait, you said Yohji?" Looking at the clock, he cursed under his breath as Omi nodded. If Kudoh was up at this hour, then something was most definitely wrong. He snagged a jersey and walked out of the room, the youth at his heels. Half running down the steps, Ken entered the kitchen to find Yohji making a batch of coffee and Honjyou and Tamema sitting at the table, looking ready to fall asleep at any minute. Only one person was missing. "Well, we’re here. Once Aya shows up will you please tell us just what disaster is lurking about this early in the morning?"

"Grab a seat guys, coffee will be ready in a minute." Despite the shadows under the green eyes Yohji looked wide awake. "Aya won’t be joining us for this."

"What the hell? Hey Kudoh, I don’t care if you’re screwing the guy or not, but if you think I got out of bed while the ice cube gets to sleep in, you’ve got another thing coming." Ken got up from his chair to go wake the redhead up before returning back to his bed. If Aya’s presence wasn’t needed, neither was his. He got about a foot from the table before he was jerked back down in the chair. Yohji glared at him, keeping his weight on the brunet’s shoulders to make sure he stayed seated.

"Stay here. This isn’t a joke, Hidaka. I’m perfectly serious. Leave the man alone and just listen to me. Things are about to get real ugly here. Obviously we weren’t paying enough attention yesterday for that to sink in." Yohji’s tone was grave, and contained a spark of anger. He was still berating himself, wondering why the hell he’d thought Schuldig would stick to just the club. Taking in the other men’s perplexed expressions, he elaborated. "It’s official, The Bastard is back."

Honjyou and Tamema exchanged confused looks while Ken started cursing and Omi just stared into his empty coffee mug. Breaking off the string of profanity, the soccer fanatic spoke up. "I thought Manx sent an email saying the ballistic tests proved the bullet that killed Ueno didn’t come from one of his guns?"

Yohji snorted as he lit a cigarette. "Man probably got a new one. Or did something to screw up the results. This /is/ Mastermind we’re talking about here."

"Excuse me," Masato interrupted, "but is ‘The Bastard’ and this Mastermind one and the same? And if so, who the hell is he?"

"Have you ever heard of the team Schwarz?" Both Crashers shook their heads, still half asleep and trying to figure things out. Yohji continued on. "They’re a team of killers we’ve run across a couple of times. Reiji Takatori had used them for muscle and any dirty jobs he wanted taken care of. The team is comprised of four paranormals, and Mastermind is a telepath who just loves fucking with our heads. Aya’s in particular."

Yuushi pushed his chair back from the table as he glared at the lanky assassin. "Wait a sec. You woke us up this early to play a joke on us? Paranormals? Telepaths? There are no such things."

Taking a step away from the counter he’d been leaning against, Yohji was prevented from walking over and punching Honjyou by Omi and Ken. "Listen you ignorant prick, I’m telling the truth. It wasn’t a figment of my imagination that fucked around with my boyfriend last evening, or had him damn near screaming in agony from a fucking /dream/ an hour or two ago. He’s real, and since you assholes just had to interfere with Weiß’s affairs, chances are good he’ll be messing with your heads. That’s why I bothered to include you in on this meeting."

Omi blinked at the older blond. "You said….. last night? Aya ran into him last night? And didn’t tell me when he came home? Why not, and what’s with this dream?"

The playboy drifted back to the counter and sat on it, yanking his hands through his hair and tucking it behind his ears. A quick glare at Knight prevented the man from saying anything else as his partner hauled him back to the table. "Yeah, well the man didn’t exactly elaborate, but he ran into Schuldig last night. That’s The Bastard’s name," he glared at Masato, who had opened his mouth. "If you don’t know any German, it means ‘Guilty’, and boy is he ever a guilty bastard. Anyways, he caught up with Aya while he was tailing Soma and played some mind games with him. Shook him up pretty bad. Somehow he’s tied up with Soma, get this he supposedly was even trying to help us out. Or Aya anyways. Then he paid a little dream visit to the man, gods you should have seen what The Bastard had done to Aya. I’ve never seen anyone in that much pain before. He’s tucked up in bed, all shocky from the incident." Yohji pressed the earphone closer to his head, checking his lover’s breathing. So far no sounds of moans or any other indicators of pain and agitation. He’d left the pale man’s phone on right next to his head, not wanting to leave his lover unattended.

The others were just sitting there, taking in what he’d told them. "As for why the idiot didn’t say anything when he came home, you guys don’t know this but Manx was right, he has a bit of a history with Schuldig. It goes back to his family being killed." Masato started at this comment, but settled back in his chair. "It seems that Schuldig loves to visit Aya in dreams, torment him a bit and try to leave as big a mess behind as he can. Kritiker knows about this, and had him seeing doctors each time it occurred." Ken let out a snort as Yuushi choked on his coffee, both knew how much the redhead hated physicians of any sort. "All they apparently did is mess around with him so more." Omi forced himself to remain still and not nod his head in agreement. He knew what the doctors had been up too, and didn’t blame Aya for not wanting his employers to know about the recent dreams. It was just crushing that the man trusted him and Ken so little. "So he didn’t want anyone to know, in case word got back to them. Which it better not, or you won’t have to worry about what he’ll do when he gets his hands on you. There will be nothing left for Aya by the time I’m finished." Yohji glared about the room, deathly serious.

Ken was shaking his head. "Gods, the man’s had the prick in his head for what, three years now? No wonder he’s such a cold, grouchy bastard. Think I’d have snapped after the first year." He had a bit of new understanding for his distant teammate. "Don’t worry, Kritiker won’t hear about it from us." He jerked his chin at Omi, who nodded his head in agreement.

"Nor us, if he really feels this strongly about it. Okay, let me see if I’ve got this straight." Masato leaned on the table, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. "Telepaths exist. I’m not disputing that fact, I’ve seen enough unexplainable things in my life to accept that, even if Hotspur over here doesn’t." Yuushi just grunted at the comment. "One in particular gets off on haunting Aya. That explains a lot, now that I think about it. Now he’s back, and is somehow involved with this mission. I take it he’s screwed things up for you before?"

"You could say that." Omi twirled a spoon in his coffee mug, not wanting to look up and meet anyone’s eyes. Especially a certain green pair. He’d known everything all along, and should have suspected something last night. Here he was helping Mastermind, who just kept hurting Aya and Yohji. "There was a mission a couple of months ago. It….. wasn’t good." That got Knight’s attention, he must have remembered the brief comment from yesterday. "He got inside the team’s heads, made people do things they never would. Almost everyone took quite a beating that time. He nearly killed Yohji as it was."

"This Mastermind, he’s the one responsible for the way Fujimiya has been acting, isn’t he," Yuushi asked. Three heads nodded in agreement. "Okay. I’m not completely buying this whole mind reading thing, but I have to admit something got to the man. If you say it’s this guy, I’ll keep an eye out for him."

Yohji let out a humorless bark of laughter. "You’ll never see him coming. No one does. And any doubts you have will be gone the moment he makes you do something you’d never have even thought of doing in a million years. Or takes your innermost secrets and taunts you with them. You have to be on guard, every second, to make sure he doesn’t sink his claws into you."

"He’ll do it too," Ken added grimly. "Mastermind is a pro at taking any little thing and twisting it until it’s an obsession. He knows your weaknesses. And he gets off on other people’s pain." It still didn’t look as if the elegant blond was convinced, at least Rook seemed to be listening.

Omi pushed his mug aside and gave everyone but Yohji an authoritative look. "So here is what we have to do. If Mastermind is involved, it’s a safe bet that Schwarz is as well. We need to finish things off as soon as possible, not give them anytime to mess around with us. Knight and I will get to work on the accounts, have everything set up so all we have to do is enter a command and down his resources will come. Rook, get out there and get us the information we need. Soma and his yakuza friends must be taken care of by tomorrow night. We’ll split the team into two groups if we have to, one dealing with the club and the other the townhouse. See if your contacts can help make sure the people are at those two places at the right time. Balinese, you’ll be down in the shop, taking care of things there before keeping an eye on Abyssinian. We need to make sure Schuldig isn’t trying to twist him into doing something. There will be another meeting tonight, so Siberian get a couple more hours of sleep before delivering the orders. Any questions?" Everyone mumbled an affirmation before going about their respective assignments. Yohji commented that he was going to check on his boyfriend before starting the orders, and dashed up the steps. Rubbing the back of his neck, Omi tried very hard to concentrate on the matter at hand, pulling this mission off successfully, and not on the thought that he was locked into an agreement that meant his friend’s betrayal.

*******

Schuldig entered the kitchen, whistling as he strolled over to the coffee maker. On his way he tossled Nagi’s hair, who was sitting at the table playing with his Gameboy. Smirking at the irritated glare he received for the indignity, the telepath rested his arms on the chair’s back and leaned over the youth. "Have any interesting dreams lately, Hosenscheißer? Need do to some laundry?" He chuckled at the dark thoughts sent his was as Nagi stormed off. Sensing another teammate up and about, he poured himself a cup of coffee as he settled in the abandoned seat.

"Guten Morgen, mein Führer." He raised his mug in a salute to Crawford, who refused to let the name get to him. Stuck up prig probably secretly liked it.

Crawford refilled his mug and leaned against the fridge as he gave his subordinate a stern look. "You’ve been awful busy lately. I wasn’t aware that Schwarz had declared war on the Yakuza."

Hiding another smirk behind his mug, Schuldig reveled in knowing he pulled something off without poor Bradley-poo seeing it beforehand. The little tuberose’s talent was shielding him from the precog’s power. Must be driving the anal-attentive prick up a wall to find out about it /after/ the fact. "Not all of them, just one branch in particular. Didn’t think you would mind, oh omniscient one, since it will just lead to chaos and in fighting as everyone jockeys for power. Isn’t that why we’re here? You telling me you haven’t already worked out the perfect spin on this yet?"

Refusing to frown in annoyance, Crawford nodded his head the slightest bit. "I have a few plans set in motion that will ensure we benefit from your little display of jealousy. Don’t try to deny it, I know the real reason you killed the man. Only the fact that Schwarz will reap from the act kept me from stopping you." It was a flat out lie, and somehow the American suspected Mastermind knew this. He was still trying to figure out why he hadn’t received a vision about the event. "You’re toying with Abyssinian again, aren’t you?" The satisfied smile on the other man’s face told him his assumption was correct. "I’ve warned you before, he’s not the most stable person around. We need him /and/ Balinese alive and in their right minds if we want to break away from Esset. Is there going to be a repeat of the last time we crossed paths with Weiß?"

The telepath just smiled at his leader until the man actually shifted in impatience. "You worry too much, Bradley-kins. I promise to be a good little boy. Won’t even lay a finger or anything else on the blond slut. As for Abyssinian, you have no reason for concern there. I’m keeping a very close eye on him and his mind." The Kätzchen was still sleeping, the dream and its corresponding shock and agony had taken its toll on the man. Once more he sent some energy and warmth, a phantom caress and a good morning as sein Herz drifted awake. Poor Abyssinian, constantly thrown off balance. The state of confusion helped his mental tamperings to take effect, and would ensure the man would feel relief and gratitude when their next tryst failed to produce pain. Every little thing he did in regards to the man led to one conclusion, Fujimiya being completely his. "Well, I’m off to take care of a few things. Any requests that need my expertise and panache to take care of?"

Crawford outlined several matters he wanted Schuldig to handle, wary of the perverse man’s enthusiasm. Someone was about to be manipulated or killed, that was a given. Most likely both.

*******

Blushing at the gushing thanks the happy recipient of a bouquet heaped on him, Ken hurried back to the van, intent on finishing the deliveries as quick as possible. He wanted to go home, maybe find a little time to see his kids before spending the night discussing the best way to kill a bunch of gangsters and then serving said people drinks. It wasn’t going to be a very enjoyable evening. Not wanting to wait for the elevator, since he was just on the third floor, he decided to take the steps. The brunet made it down most of one flight of stairs until he found his way blocked by a very familiar foreigner. Before he could do anything he found his body frozen, tumbling down to the landing, curling up at the longhaired man’s feet. Distantly he heard a voice through the pain. "Ah, just die kleine Puppe I wanted to see."

*******

As for the tarot request, I do have most of the characters matched up to specific cards (feel like I’m channeling CLAMP here, jeez not even I am that mean to my boys like they are). Cassandra will be referring to them by the cards and some mythological figures as well. Might have caught the one or two times she’s done it already. Keep in mind the interpretations are my own, there are so many ways to translate the images, but here is some of what I have:

Aya – Death. Card of endings and rebirth, transformation and loss. Sign of sweeping changes, which he initiates with his power. Card really symbolizes change, and not death like most people assume, but I like both images for him.

Schuldig – hmm, he’s a tough one, but I’m going with The Magician. Creative power of the intellect, wisdom, communication, information. Link between the conscious and unconscious. Seems to me that sums up a telepath pretty good. Plus it usually represents someone who’s confident, manipulative, a trickster. The Moon could probably work for him as well, meaning illusion, deception, fluctuation.

Yohji – Knight of Cups. First off, it correlates with the element water, and he’s a Pisces. Represents a romantic, sensitive, seductive and charming person who is ready to fight for an ideal or sentiment important to him. Symbol for emotions, the past, relationships.

Yuushi – Knight of Wands. Spirit of adventure, chivalry, enthusiasm. A handsome, imposing, daring and volatile person. And a warning of sorts to acting without thinking of consequences first.

Omi – Page of Swords. Ah, the chibi. A young person, alert, quickminded, versatile and a good choice for settling disputes. Has an adaptable mind, strongwilled and well-informed, but can be cold, ruthless and deceitful when needed.

Ken – he’s a tough one. Going with The Chariot. Card of conflict, internal struggle, being pulled in opposite directions, base instincts versus better nature. Shows a need for balance and focus to stay on the right path. Symbolizing his struggle with being an assassin, and his ‘little’ mental problem that develops in Kyoto.

Crawford – The Fool, reversed. He’s the anti-thesis to this card. Instead of being a free spirit, a wild card that trusts his life to leaps of faith and takes risks, he has to have everything meticulously planned out. He depends on his visions for the future, instead of being willing to experience the unknown.

*******

Return to Archive

Next Chapter