Of Cups and Wands

*******

Chapter 8

*******

La Le Lu

nur der Mann im Mond schaut zu

wenn die kleinen Babys schlafen

drum schalf auch du

La Le Lu

vor dem Bettchen stehn zwei Schuh

und die sind genau so mŁde

gehn jetzt zur Ruh

Dann kommt auch der Sandmann

leis tritt er ins Haus

sucht aus seinen Tršumen

fŁr dich den schŲnsten aus

It took a moment for the words to sink into Ayaís mind, for them to make sense. Then the sandman comes/ quietly he enters the house/ searches from his dreams/ for you the most beautiful. What an odd nursery rhyme. He gradually realized that his other senses were coming into play, that he was sitting in a hard wooden chair in a sunlit room, filled with the scent of a riot of flowers, hearing a womanís sing-song voice as a hissing, rhythmic sound echoed in the background. He was back in the mad womanís place again. Why he kept coming here, the redhead had nary a clue. Perplexed and not very happy with the direction his dreams had taken lately, Aya asked the question out loud.

"Maybe because you shouldnít be here. Naughty child, to keep coming back and interrupting my hard work. A star child knows no sense of boundaries; you are quite exemplary in that regard. You and the evil one truly do deserve each other."

All right, that had almost made sense. Frightening. "Why do you keep calling me Ďstar childí? And who is the Ďevil oneí. You keep mentioning him as well." Might as well try to get a few answers while she was in a semi-lucid state. For a brief moment Aya wondered what the Kritiker shrinks would make of his recent dreams. They always had been so insistent that he recount them in the sessions.

Cassandra hmphed for a moment, hands still busy weaving. It was constant toil, repairing the snapped threads that the manís talent just cut through. But the evil childís gift was working, slowing down the rents and making it easier to seal the ends together. "I call you what you are. A bright flame. One that can warm or burn, often both. You shine bright in the darkness, breaking it apart but making it all the blacker in contrast to your light." She paused in her work to wave away the frown sent her way. "It makes no sense, I know, I know. But it is you. Light and darkness, death and life, an ambiguous all. So many options open to you, no boundaries at all. All it takes is a wish and some of your heat, your essence. Twinkle, twinkle, wish upon a star. Youíre that star. The golden hind, the holy grail. Many crave you for that. Including the evil one. You know who he is. Your body still burns from his regard. Pain and pleasure, he shakes you up so, until you canít tell the one from the other, yet yearn for the sensation. He is your other. You are the agent of change. He is the agent of control, the channeler of your fire. Why do you think he gets inside you so easily?"

"Youíre talking about Schuldig, arenít you?" Oh, it was one hell of a sinking feeling that overtook his stomach when the woman nodded. She was still talking nonsense, but the little he could figure out did not sound very good. At all. "What do you mean, heís my other? Do you mean my opposite?"

"Hardly." Cassandra snorted at the notion. "The reversed fool would be better suited for that position. No, he is your compliment. So much alike, yet so different. Thatís what makes him so dangerous to you, and you so addictive to him. Echoes of each other, sounding back and forth. Harmonizing."

"I donít want to harmonize with him," Aya retorted angrily. Great. Even when the man wasnít personally tormenting his dreams, he still found a way to insinuate into them. "What do I have to do to make him go away? You seem to have an answer to everything else, what about that?"

The prophetess suddenly found renewed interest in her weaving. "You canít. Never. Iím so sorry, but itís gone too far. Even back on the day of death and destruction, your world tumbling down around you, even then it was too late. As soon as you two crossed paths, it was fated. Your threads became hopelessly intertwined. Not even you can cut him away, not without splitting yours as well." Her actions had seen to that.

Cursing under his breath, the pale man surged out of the chair and stalked over to where Cassandra was working. He stopped next to her and grasped the flying hands, forcing her to look at him. "I want him gone. Dead is fine, dead is a perfectly acceptable option. Whatever it takes for no more taunting, no more pain, an end to the dreams."

"Iím so sorry."

"You keep saying that!" Filled with rage and an emotion he refused to acknowledge as despair, Aya tossed the womanís hands aside, jerking his own through his hair. "Your apologies do me no good!" About to rant some more, he stopped at the sight of grey eyes filling with tears. Suddenly abashed, he twisted around so he wouldnít have to see the sight of the strange woman crying. Focusing instead on the dark cloth she was forever weaving, he noted a hint of color in the black material. Reddish orange strands were delicately laced throughout the whole of it, sparkling bright. He felt the faintest touch, as if phantom fingers were combing through his hair, whispering across his flesh, making him shiver. Aya rubbed his arms, feeling a chill take him over. "Maybe you can tell me this, since you seem to know so much about the both of us. Will he keep his promise? The one he made earlier tonight?"

"Last night, you mean," Cassandra sniffed, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "He will. The Knight of Cups will come to no harm from him. He wants your capitulation too much to endanger it with revenge. Besides, the devil knows very well that there are others out there eager for the knightís blood. Shadows of the past. One Erinyes in particular, and the Ronin wreathed in flowers. The golden oneís death will not come from his hands."

Ayaís breath caught. "What do you mean, that Yohji will die? I wonít let that happen."

"No, you wonít." Grey eyes regarded him sadly, yet with a touch of awe. "Defeated death once already you did, but the soul is forever gone. Your knight begins to glow from your affection, a suit of impenetrable armor. Love too much, you do. It will cause you much pain, already has. But you have no choice, he compliments you as well. If only youíd crossed paths first, there would be hope." Maybe it wasnít completely hopeless, she would not know until she could pull the knight here and warn him. But to do that she needed the star child and evil one distracted first. Much more so than last night. Reaching out a shaking hand, Cassandra brushed back the scarlet bangs obscuring the catalystís face. Plum colored eyes widened in astonishment as they gazed back at her, confused and wary. Too many shocks in the past few days, and his future boded no time for recovery. "It does you no good, I know. But I am sorry. It is mainly up to you, to hold on to what you love." A wave of her hands, and there were two cards in them. One of a knight on a white horse, a golden chalice in his hand. The other of a robed man, one hand held high, the other low. The first bore Yohjiís face, the second Schuldigís. "You will have to choose one eventually, you think you already have but that crossroad hasnít been breached just yet. I strive to push it back as far as I can, but the time will still come. And it will be more difficult than you can imagine. That is all I can say. All I ever will." It was pressing things, the little sheíd given the man. But her guilt wore so heavy on her.

"Will you ever make sense?"

Cassandra knew that heíd understood her better than the pale man let on, but he didnít want to face the truth of what she was saying. He wouldnít be able to, until the proper time. But at least the star child heard her words. "Most likely not." Heaving a wistful sigh, she made the cards disappear as she returned to her task. "Iíve not time for logic, not when a certain person keeps me so busy, doing things that he shouldnít. Now return to your knight, Iíve been bothered enough for the day. Iím sure youíll be back again, such a pest you are. Not even a welcome gift for crossing my threshold. A flower would be nice, mayhaps something new to plant. Keep that in mind, rude one." She started to sing again, ignoring Ayaís presence completely.

Funkel, funkel, kleiner Stern,
ach wie bist du mir so fern,
wunderschŲn und unbekannt,
wie ein strahlend Diamant,
funkel, funkel, kleiner Stern,

ach wie bist du mir so fernÖ.

A shiver in the cloak alerted her to when he departed, leaving the dream to return to his lover. Hopefully he would remember about the present, she so enjoyed a new plant to fuss over.

*******

/Guten Morgen./

There was sunlight touching his face, making the skin tingle. Shifting away to prevent a burn, Aya become aware of two things. First off, that he could barely move, due to the blankets tucked firmly about his body. Second, that the faint raspy burr he heard meant that Yohji was in bed with him. Opening his eyes, he found his lover sprawled out on top of the bed, fully clothed and with an arm thrown over his waist. Worming his way free, he finally managed to loosen the cocoon of blankets and toss them back somewhat. That motion startled the blond awake, and Aya found himself trapped once more, this time underneath the man as Yohji rolled over and wrapped his arm and a leg about him tighter. "Kudoh, LaŖ mich los," he growled.

"Ungh. You awake there kitten," a sleep-slurred voice inquired. Aya barely managed to keep the reply civil with a half-snarled Ďyesí. What, did he suddenly have a habit of talking in his sleep? Green eyes blinked at him, staring for a moment. "You okay?"

No, he had a headache and his body ached terribly, and some idiot was tormenting him with the stupidest of questions when he was in an absolute pissy mood, but all he said was Ďhn.í He wasnít in the mood for a fight right now, although he felt oddly refreshed. It was just that he was filled with pain and frustration and uncertainty. It would be a very nice thing if he didnít dream any for the next couple of nights. Aya blinked his eyes at the concerned look he was still receiving from Yohji. "What?" he snapped.

A golden hand brushed back his bangs and felt his forehead. "Youíre not feverish, so thatís not it. Are you aware you werenít speaking Japanese back there?" Aya was about to ask what language heíd been talking in, but the apparent worry in his loverís eyes made him think he already knew. /Funkel, funkel, kleiner Stern/ "There was another dream, with a woman speaking German."

Yohjiís hand took to stroking his face. "Hmm, please tell me it wasnít The Bastard in drag."

"No." Aya felt his dark mood lift slightly, as visions of Schuldig in a formal ball gown flitted through his head. He tilted his face into the caress, enjoying the spark of pleasure generated by the touch. "Although she looked an awful lot like him. There was no pain though," not this time, "just a lot of riddles. And a nursery rhyme."

"I think Iím going to be very upset with you. Cheating on me like that." Aya could only stare at the man in confusion, as a smile crept upon Yohjiís handsome face. "Dreaming about some German floozy like that." An eartail was tugged upon. "Do you know youíre not supposed to be imagining anyone else when you have a vision of perfection like me here to fulfill your every fantasy? And a couple more you never even thought of?" The smile shifted to a leer with the last sentence. Aya blinked some more as the blond leaned down and kissed him. He reacted enthusiastically for a few minutes, until Yohjiís hands started to tug the over-large sweatshirt he was wearing up. Pulling back from his boyfriend, Aya treated him to a frown. "Kudoh, Iím not in the mood."

"Hmm?" Yohji trailed a finger down the inside of the redheadís inner thigh, relishing the feel of silky skin. He never got enough of how soft to the touch his kitten was. "You sure about it?" Narrowed dark purple eyes convinced him that the answer was yes, as his hand was grabbed and jerked up. "Youíre no fun." His hand was released as Aya closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. Instantly feeling contrite, the blond started to play with his loverís hair. "Iím sorry, guess I didnít stop to think that maybe you were still not feeling okay. Head bothering you?"

"Everything is bothering me. All I want is a nice hot bath." Aya opened an eye to glare at the older man. "/Alone./" He snorted at the suddenly innocent expression on Yohjiís face. He knew what the man had been thinking. When didnít Kudoh think of ways of getting into his pants? Speaking of whichÖ. "Why are you all dressed up?"

"Promise me you wonít get mad first." The swordsman narrowed his eyes again, but after a moment nodded his head. "I called a meeting this morning. To discuss Mastermind. I," Yohji took to nibbling on his lip, clearly not happy about recounting the next part, "told them about the dreams. Aya love, I swear they promised not to report them to anyone. Hell, Honjyou didnít even think I was telling the truth. Ignorant prick." Emerald eyes regarded him warily, waiting for the explosion.

All that happened was Aya sighed as he pushed himself upright, wincing slightly at pulled muscles that protested the movement. Yes, a very hot bath was most definitely in order. Afterwards heíd see if he still felt like killing the blond. Silently crossing the room, he reached into the closet and pulled out his yukata. Turning around, he found Yohji staring at him intently. Looking down, he was reminded of the fact that all he wore was his boyfriendís over-sized sweatshirt. Tugging the material down to the middle of his thighs, he noticed that a pair of green eyes followed the movement. Aya walked out of the room, thinking dark thoughts about Yohjiís hormones.

For his part Kudoh continued to gaze after the man, especially enjoying the back view. Mmm, that image indisputably inspired a few fantasies. Feeling his jeans grow a bit tight, he resolved to give his redhead a little time to wash off and soak, then see if maybe he needed his back scrubbed. Double-checking to make sure Ayaís katana was safely tucked away on the chest, Yohji nodded his head. Yep, a perfect plan.

*******

Laying back in the tub, Aya let the hot water melt away the various aches and pains. One thing he had to say about the bathroom, it might need as much as an overhaul as the shopís electrical system, what with only one electrical outlet, several cracked tiles and cranky pipes that let out an awful noise if the water pressure wasnít just right, but the tub was huge. More than enough room for a grown man to stretch out in, one didnít have to sit up to enjoy a good soak. Rinsing out a washcloth and draping it over his eyes, Aya slid a little further into the water, til it was brushing against his chin.

Off to his side the door opened, a draft of cool air taking away some of the lovely steam. "Kudoh, do you understand the concept of Ďaloneí?"

"Ah, love, I just came in to see if you wanted your back scrubbed. Or any other body part." Removing the damp cloth, Aya watched as Yohji sat down on the edge of the tub, a leer on his face. Where the hell did the man get all his energy? A gold toned hand dipped into the hot water, moving back and forth, sending waves to lap against pale skin. "How are you feeling now?"

"As if Iím about to be pounced upon." There was no denial of that fact. Seeking to distract the man, Aya asked how the rest of the team had taken the news about Schuldig.

"Rather soberly. The chibi took over everything, had us jumping up to get everything we need for the mission to be ready as soon as possible. Just like the Tayago case. The sooner we get this done, the less chance of Schwarz messing things up. Or hopefully not have us do their dirty work for them this time. Him and the prick are busy getting Somaís and Kusariís accounts all set up to come crashing down. Tamema is out gathering the last of the intel we need on the yakuza." Yohjiís hand was smacked as it drifted a little too close to Ayaís thigh. "You know, him I like. Feel sorry for the guy, being stuck on the same team as Honjyou. And itís hard to imagine you filling his shoes, I must say."

Aya sat up to turn on the hot water again, wanting more heat. "Itís difficult not to like Rook. What about you and Ken?"

"Dear Kenken got a little more sleep, and is now out delivering flowers. He should be back any minute. As soon as heís here and everyone else is finished, it will be time for a group pow-wow. We need to move tomorrow night. "

Not wanting to think about the bloody mission awaiting them, Yohji let his gaze drift over his loverís body, taking in the white skin, crimson hair floating in the water and plastered about a heart-shaped face and glowing eyes. Oh yum. He had to shift about for a more comfortable sitting position. "As for my morning, I got the dubious pleasure of making the arrangements today, hopefully we will still have some customers left after they see them. Got a little more sleep as well, but you knew that."

And most likely had been ordered to keep an eye on him. Schuldig was famous for twisting peopleís minds to get them to do something for him, and the team was painfully aware of that. Aya was willing to bet that Omi had told Yohji to make sure that wasnít the case with him. He wondered how he could convince the youth that Schuldig had never tried anything like that with him as he had done to Ken. The telepath enjoyed way too much messing with his head and sitting back to watch his responses to dictate a course of action. A hand skimmed past his bent knees, a light touch. Looking up he found Yohji staring down at him, a lascivious smile on his face. "Shouldnít you go see if Omi and Honjyou need any help?"

"Oh, I think Iíd just get in the way. Sure you donít have anything that needs to be scrubbed? Looks like you missed a spot or two." The blondís hand drifted closer, once more tracing a line down a pale thigh. Impassive face masking his thoughts, Aya just sat still, letting the hand move further along the inside of his leg, Yohji leaning over the tub more and more. The smaller man suddenly reached out and grabbed Yohji by the shoulder, jerking the playboy into the bathtub. There was an indignant yell and a large splash, completely drenching the lanky man and sending water cascading over the sides unto the bathroom floor.

Yohji sat up in the tub, one leg dangling over the side, as he sputtered and tried to force himself into a more upright position. Spitting out water, he tucked back soaked honey blond hair and turned to face his lover. Who had a rather satisfied smile on his face. "Why you sneaky little bastard."

"Figured if anyone needed a good scrubbing, it was you." Aya felt pretty content with the trick, until he saw a familiar gleam in his boyfriendís eyes. Scooting back as far as he could in the tub, he started to think that maybe it hadnít been the best of ideas after all. Yep, he was certainly about to be pounced.

*******

Letting out a yip, Omi pushed back from his computer and spun around in the chair. "Thatís it! Last account taken care of. All we have to do it wait til tomorrow night and down they go!" The assets would be diverted into various bank accounts, all of them Kritikerís. The youth resolved to do a little more hacking when Knight was gone, maybe see about siphoning some of that money into different locations. WeiŖ could use a little emergency cash, at the very least it would be set aside for Aya-chan, in case of something happening to Aya and the rest of them.

Yuushi looked at the genki assassin, a smile on his face. For a moment Omi reminded him of Naru, filled with childlike innocence. It was hard to imagine him killing anybody, let alone on a regular basis. "So, it looks like our part is done. We get to take a break?"

"Yep." Omi nodded his head, blue eyes twinkling. "I think this calls for a nice big lunch. Ken should be back at any moment and uh," a blush covered his face, "I think Yohji and Aya are done in the bathroom." It had been some time since theyíd heard the crash and yelling. Thankfully the tiled walls had prevented any other sounds from reaching the bedroom next door. He glanced over at Yuushi, waiting to see the manís reaction. The elegant blondís face was tight for a moment, then he rubbed his hands over it and stood up from his chair. "How Ďbout I get started on lunch. At the very least I can brew a mean pot of coffee."

Omi waved his hand, thinking that caffeine would be much appreciated at the moment. "Thatís sounds good. Get that started and Iíll be down in a few minutes." Yuushi nodded and left the room. Omi quickly returned to the computer, fingers flying. Heíd need only ten minutes or so to get the task done.

Walking into the hallway, Yuushi came across Aya standing in the bathroom door. "-- said you wanted to clean something, you can take care of the mess." Closing the door behind him, he stepped away, stopping when he spotted his former teammate. Who could only stare at the redhead, clad in a thin grey cotton robe, the color making his skin appear luminous.

Yuushi swallowed, then offered the pale man a weak smile. "Nice to see you up and about, I heard you had a rough night. Guess you recover real quick when you have the proper incentive." Is was so easy to fall back into a familiar pattern, hiding his lust and pain behind an argumentive nature.

Ayaís eyes narrowed at the comment. "Perhaps you shouldnít talk about things you really donít know about."

"What, that you have a nightmare and get to sleep in and fuck around while the rest of us are at work?" He knew damn well what the lovers had been up to in there. "Itís funny, the Fujimiya I knew used to be a hard worker. Someoneís certainly been a bad influence on you."

"Iíve put a lot of effort into this mission-"

"Yeah, playing pool and fooling around with your boyfriend. You planning on staying home in bed while Tsukiyono and Hidaka are out there doing your job?" He knew he should just shut up and go down to the kitchen, but Yuushi couldnít resist venting a little anger. Besides, it was so natural to fight with the man, like an ingrained habit. It didnít take any thought, his mouth was just off and running all on its own. "I thought you were a killer, not a whore." Uh-uh, that was a bit over the line. Yuushi braced himself for a punch.

Violet eyes went wide at that comment, and Aya growled, wanting nothing more than to punch the other man. "As opposed to you, who canít do anything without supervision? Didnít take Bishop long to send Rook here to watch your ass, did it?." Out of the corner of his eye Aya noticed Ken coming up the steps and stop to watch them. A few seconds later the athlete slipped past them for his room. Guess he didnít want to witness a fight. "Must have known it hadnít been wise to trust the job to you." With that he turned to leave, not feeling like putting up with a childish argument. He at least had grown up a little bit. Besides, if he started on Knight he might not stop until the man was dead. Ayaís temper was too frayed right now to let it slip free.

Staring at the departing man in amazement, unable to believe that Fujimiya was just walking away from him, Yuushi muttered under his breath and set after the redhead. He didnít take more than two steps before something slammed into him, knocking him down to the ground. Looking up, he found Hidaka standing above him, brown gloves on his hands. Those hands flexed, causing five sharp blades to pop out on each. Brown eyes glassy, an evil smirk distorted Kenís face as he leapt at the Crasher.

Yuushi managed to duck to the side, rolling out of the way and sending a kick in the younger manís direction. Ken just shook off the blow and tried again. The blond got his arms up in time to prevent his throat from being slashed, but felt the skin on his left arm part open, shock keeping the pain away for a precious few seconds. "What the hell are you doing?" he gasped out, bringing his legs up to kick Ken off of him. Aya poked his head into the hallway, and when he saw the fight ducked back into the room after calling out Kudohís name. Unable to believe that the redhead was going to let a teammate eviscerate him, Yuushiís timing was slightly off, rewarding him with another cut, this one on his shoulder. Gasping at the pain now screaming along his nerves, he tried to put as much room as possible between him and the insane assassin, but stumbled to the ground as his foot twisted underneath him. Sharp claws descended down towards him, only to be blocked by a sheathed katana.

Aya twisted the blade as he lunged forward with it, tossing Ken back a few steps. Standing over Yuushi, he held the katana in a challenging manner. The brunet paused in his attack, staring at his friend, clearly confused. He didnít seem to want to hurt the man. For a moment it looked as if heíd come to his senses, but the blond struggling to his feet attracted the brown eyes, and with a snarl Ken leapt forward. Shards of light spun out, and the assassin was suddenly jerked back, ensnared in wire. Yohji stood behind him, wearing a towel around his waist and one each wound about his hands. As Yuushi watched a crimson bloom spread over the material as his assailant struggled against the bonds. Aya stalked over and knocked the hilt of his sword against Hidakaís head. The man fell to the ground, dazed.

Yohji bent over the still figure and made sure his wire bound the brunet tight. He then turned his gaze on Aya, reassuring himself that the redhead was all right. Once confident that no harm had come to his lover, he started to remove the impromptu gloves, hissing slightly at the cuts covering his hands. Fortunately they werenít very deep.

Omi threw open his door. "Canít you guys stop fighting for five minÖÖ" his voice drifting off as he took in the sight before him. "Wah? Yohji, why is Ken tied up?"

"Because he was trying to gut Honjyou," Aya replied as he bent over the soccer fanatic and tugged off the bugnucks. Ken was coming to, squirming on the floor. Yohji quickly stepped between him and Aya, not trusting the man. Ken stared at them for a moment, shaking his head. Omi rushed over, trying to see if his friend was injured. Puzzled, the older WeiŖ let the chibi fuss over their teammate as they glanced over at Yuushi. "You okay over there?"

"Yeah, just a bit scratched up." At the sound of the Crasherís voice Ken started to thrash about, sending Omi jumping back. Aya held up a hand, preventing Yuushi from saying anything else. Frowning at the figure on the floor, he waited til Ken stilled once more. He then gestured for Yuushi to join them over by the brunet.

As soon as Ken saw him he started to jerk about some more, cursing and ranting. "Dead, youíre dead you fucker, let me go damn you, gonna fucking gut you blondie, dead, youíre a fucking corpseÖ.." The men stared down at the possessed man, Omiís eyes filling with tears, Yuushiís face shocked and Ayaís and Yohjiís grim. "But, what did I do to him?" Yuushi asked.

"Just go into the bathroom, weíll explain later," Yohji said wearily. Yuushi gave him an odd look but complied. As soon as he was out of sight the swearing stopped. "Damnit, The Bastard got to him again."

"Yohji, what are we going to do?" It hurt Omi to see his friend like this. He just wanted to hug Ken tight until the brunet was back to normal and hugging him back. That was it, Mastermind was dead the next time he saw him. He really meant it. First messing around with Aya, then doing this to Ken again.

"Same thing as last time, smack some sense into him." The blond shook his head at the shocked look the chibi was giving him. It had to be done. Yohji wasnít looking forward to it, his hands hurt enough as it was. "Give me a moment to get my gloves and Iíll take care of it. You two check out Honjyou, when I give the all clear send him out here."

Omi nodded his head. "Be careful, Yotan. And donít hurt him too much, itís not his fault." With that he walked into the bathroom. Aya stayed in the hall for a moment, clutching his katana in his arms like it was a child. "You okay with this?"

Reaching out a hand to brush the scarlet bangs back, Yohji stopped in time when he remembered that his hands were a little bloody. "I can handle it, at least this time he wasnít after me. Just your buddy in there." It was confusing, why Schuldig had only targeted Honjyou. Yohji would have thought heíd use any opportunity to take him out of the picture, leaving Aya clear for the telepath. "Go on, make sure heís all right, I donít think Ken will want any witnesses for this." Aya nodded and left the two men alone.

Glancing down at the bundle by his feet, Yohji felt a headache coming on. What a way to kill the enjoyable feeling heíd had just a few minutes ago. "Iíll tell you this, Hidaka, Iím getting damn tired of beating you up." He headed for his bathroom, for the gloves and something to wear.

*******

"Ouch, that looks like it hurts."

Yuushi tried to crane his neck over his shoulder enough to see the wound Omi was dabbing at. "It does. Like hell. Am I going to need stitches?"

"Hai. Aya-kun, could you hand me the disinfectant please?"

Aya handed the bottle over, then settled on the tub, silently gazing at the two blonds, waiting for the questions to start. It wasnít long.

"So, anyone wanna tell me why Hidaka suddenly had a craving to see what my insides look like? Iíve barely said ten words to the man." If it had been Kudoh who had attacked him, what with the verbal spat with Fujimiya, the blond would have understood.

"Mastermind."

Wow, it was like a stereo effect, coming from both sides of the small room. "The telepath? Youíve got to be kidding. Ouch." Yuushi glanced back to glare at Omi.

"Sorry." Not really, but the manís refusal to see the truth was irritating the archer, so heíd been a bit liberal in applying the disinfectant. "He's done something just like this before, using Ken to nearly kill Yohji. We warned you he liked to manipulate other people." Nothing like a brush with death to convince a stubborn twit.

"But to kill me, why? What did I do?" The two assassins were quiet, and that got on Honjyouís nerves. "Iíve never met the man, let alone done anything to piss him off."

Omi exchanged a look with Aya, whose lips were tightly shut. Guess the explanations were left to him. "Most likely for the same reason he went after Yohji. He doesnít like it when people come between him and Aya." He couldnít come out to say that Schuldig had pretty much threatened the manís life yesterday while they had talked in the conservatory.

Yuushi shot the quiet man a look, silently asking a question. Aya nodded his head, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken. "He always been this way with you?"

"Yes." One word that clearly expressed the redhead was not willing to discuss the matter any further. The next few minutes passed in silence, as Omi set about patching up his shoulder.

The Crasher tried to be quiet, but had too many questions to let Omi patch him up in peace. "So whatís Kudoh doing out there with Hidaka. How do you go about un-brainwashing someone?"

Taping down a bandage, Omi answered back in a soft voice. "Just like he said, by smacking some sense into him. It worked pretty good last time." Ken was /not/ going to be a happy camper when he snapped out of it. To find out that Schuldig had used him twice as a weapon. Omi felt sorry for his friend. "Your shoulderís taken care of, let me see that arm."

Wincing at the pain of the cuts being handled, Yuushi tried to start a conversation once more. He wasnít dropping this matter, no matter how unwilling or uncomfortable the two WeiŖ were. Someone had just tried to kill him, he felt he was entitled to the information. "Okay, so you guys werenít kidding this morning. Kinda hard to deny that right now, unless this is one hell of an elaborate trick. But Iíd like to think I know when someone is seriously trying to kill me, and Hidaka most certainly was. All because of some telepath that has a thing for Fujimiya? Doesnít that sound a little ridiculous?" It was very unnerving the way the young men were just accepting the situation.

"It might have something to do with the mission." Aya finally spoke more than one word. "Doesnít have to be about me this time."

"Maa, you have a point there, Aya-kun." Even if he was completely wrong. Schuldig had just wanted Honjyou out of his way. But why go after him when there was a much better target of Yohji in the same house? Suddenly worried, Omi finished wrapping some bandages around Yuushiís arm. The youth hoped that Ken was alright. "Theyíve been pretty quiet out there, maybe we should check up on them?" He let out a sigh of relief when both men nodded their heads. "Okay, Knight, stay behind Aya and I." Aya walked out the door first, Omi on his heels and Yuushi following.

They came upon Yohji kneeling next to a sweating Ken, propped sitting up against the hallway wall. The brunetís face was a bit red, and he was huddled over his stomach. Yohji looked up at the spectators, a cigarette clenched between his teeth. "Hey, Iím not done just yet, you guys might want to go wait somewhere else." Aya stepped back to do just that when Omi threw himself on the floor next to Ken.

"Ken-kun, are you alright? Itís me, Omi." Brown eyes focused on him a moment, but the athlete remained silent. Yohji put a hand on his shoulder.

"He knows who you are, kiddo, heís just not all the way there yet. I donít know how Mastermind went about twisting him this time, still trying to figure out the little obsession he used. Why donít you go fix us something to eat while I keep working on it."

Aya walked over to pry Omi away from Ken. As he approached the possessed manís face broke out in a smile. "Hallo Knuddelhšschen. Erinnere dich an dein Versprechen. Ich weiiŖ, ich bin damit beschšftigt meins zu halten." Kenís eyes then drifted over to Omi. "Always remember to keep your promises, wouldnít want anything to happen to your loved ones." With that said the brunetís head jerked back against the wall, he could be heard growling and muttering. Everyone watched him for a moment, stunned to hear Schuldigís voice coming from his mouth. Swearing, Yohji tossed his cigarette aside as he grabbed his teammateís head. "Damnit Hidaka, you in there?"

"Who the hell else would it be? Heís dead, fucking dead, a rotting corpse too damn stupid to die-." Yohji drew back his hand and punched him in the stomach. Once Ken got his breath back he yelled at the blond. "God damnit Kudoh, you hit me one more time and Iím shaving off /all/ your hair as you sleep. I fucking told you it was me, didnít I?"

Yohji stared back at him, and them gestured Yuushi to come close. The Crasher approached cautiously, waiting to have death threats screamed at him. Instead Ken just blushed as he saw him. "Sorry, Iím sorry about that. The fucker is so incredibly dead."

"Uh, you mean Schuldig, donít you?" Omiís voice was soft and unsure. It set off another explosion in Ken.

"Of course I do, damnit Kudoh get the hell away from me, Iím not letting you use me as a punching bag anymore! Jeez, you enjoy that a little too much or what? Sadistic bastard." The playboy just smiled in relief as he got up and walked over to Aya, hugging his boyfriend close.

"Yep, thatís Hidaka. Nice to have you back, you dumb jock."

"Lazy-ass hedonist."

Filled with relief, Omi set about to remove the wire that had his friend entangled. "Do you remember anything, Ken-kun?"

As soon as his hands were freed Ken raised them to tenderly feel about his head. Luckily Ayaís blow hadnít broken his thick skull. "Yeah, The Bastard," a quick look was directed Yohjiís way, "surprised me on one of my last deliveries. Donít recall much, just falling down the stairs after spotting him. It felt as if I was sleepwalking, coming back here. As soon as I saw Honjyou yelling at Aya, I justÖ.. lost it. Wanted him dead more than anything else in the whole world. So much rage, I donít think that was me. It went away when I saw you guys, but each time Honjyou came near, well, you know." Ken closed his eyes, recalling how close he came to killing the blond. It was bad enough to be a killer for Kritiker, now the German fuck was trying to get him to be a murdering little lackey? "I even felt Yohji trying to break through to me, but it didnít go away until just now." Shakily standing to his feet, all the brunet wanted to do was take a shower, he felt so unclean. He wondered if he could still manage a little time with his kids, he needed to get out of the house right now and think of something other than what had just happened. But would they be safe around him? "Damnit, heís dead."

"Get in line, Kenken. I think Aya and I have first dibs on him." Brushing back the damp bangs, Yohji pressed a kiss on a pale temple. That had been too weird, he wasnít going to leave Ken alone with his redhead anytime soon. He wanted to make sure there werenít any surprises left in the manís subconscious as well. "Hey kitten, what was that he was speaking back there. It was German, wasnít it?" Aya remained quiet for a moment, then dropped his head as he sighed.

"Basically he was reminding me that he was keeping a promise heíd made me."

"Huh." Yohji knew which one, and could understand why Mastermind had gone after Honjyou. Must have thought that there was one rival heíd never have to deal with again. "Then he talked about us keeping ours. What promise besides killing The Bastard have we made?" Distracted by Aya trying to squirm his way free, Yohji missed seeing the flash of pain on Omiís face. Yuushi and Ken missed it as well, being lost in their own thoughts. Watching Aya retreat into their room, the lanky manís face grew solemn. "Everything taken care out here? Good, got a thing or two I need to see to. Anyone still up to lunch, I know Iím starving."

Happy to have something to deal with, Omi quickly nodded his head. "That sounds like a good idea, I think we all need the energy. Iíll get to work on it right now." He patted a hand on the athleteís arm, still resisting the urge to hold the older boy close. "You going to be okay Ken-kun?"

"Yeah, Iím gonna take a shower. Will you guys mind if I take off for a little bit?"

"Just stay the hell away from any psychotic telepaths." With that comment Yohji followed his lover.

"Smart-ass," Ken muttered as he lurched to the bathroom. Yuushi tensed as he brushed past him, but when no attack came the blond relaxed. And then headed downstairs, needing to find a new shirt to wear. And to put on his kondorudarujan. If recent events were any indication, he needed a weapon close at hand.

*******

Yohji walked in on a changing Aya, falling down on the bed as the man pulled on a pair of black leather pants and a black shirt that was his. It was almost as much as a telling sign as if heíd chosen the damn orange sweater. "Heís got you on edge again. You think that was the reason behind the attack, to shake you up some more?"

Sitting on the bed next to the older man, Aya picked up one of Yohjiís hands and pulled off the old glove, checking out the cuts. They were more along the line of scratches, the towels had provided enough protection. "Heís always looking to shake me up. No, he was after Honjyou, wanted to prove to me how serious he was about his threats. Consider it a reminder of sorts." Of how easily he could snatch Ayaís happiness away.

Tugging on an eartail, Yohji caught the fist that was about to smack him and jerked his lover down beside him. "So do you think we need to worry about another attack, since this one failed?" He ran his hand over his boyfriendís cheek, through the silky hair and back to the manís neck, where he massaged the tense muscles.

Aya gave the matter some thought, then shook his head. "No. Schuldigís made his point, he wouldnít have let Ken go if heíd really wanted Honjyou dead. Knight will be fine as long as he leaves me alone." Which judging from the looks heíd received in the bathroom, was most likely going to be the case. It was one thing to chase after someone who didnít want you, quite another to do so knowing you could be killed for it. Aya was miffed at having something to be grateful to Schuldig for. A small groan escaped his lips as Yohjiís talented fingers worked their magic.

"Well, that covers the promise he made, what about the comment about us keeping ours? Did you promise him something?" The massage stopped as the older man waited for an answer.

Aya made sure not to look away, to give no tells while he mixed some truth with lies. Years of Schuldig being in his head had taught him something at least. "Heís referring to a promise I just made him. That he wouldnít hurt you if I swore not to try and escape the dreams anymore. To not force him out of my head." The playboy started swearing, emerald eyes flashing with anger. Aya tried to explain some more. "And I did, it was an easy enough promise to make, it didnít always work, only when I caught him off guard. Which was almost never. So where is the harm, if youíre kept safe?" Schuldig had indeed threatened him over the matter a while ago, but held the fragile safety of his teammatesí minds hostage if he ever did it again. This was why heíd shunned friendship for so long, it left him way too open to blackmail. As it was, he wondered why Schuldig had ransomed Yohjiís life for so little. Aya would have paid a much steeper price to ensure the manís safety.

Yohji didnít seem to appreciate the matter. "You little idiot," he growled. "How can you trust the man?"

"Because heís never broken a promise that heís made so far." Aya yanked Yohji back to the bed when he would have gotten up in anger. "Heís been in my head for three years now, I think I know the man better than you do. Every other thing out of his mouth might be a lie, but when his word is given, itís good. Why do you think I resisted having anyone to care about for so long? Because I knew heíd hurt them, just like he hurt you. Just as he promised to."

Grunting in resentment, Yohji settled back down. It was painful, knowing that the kitten had given in to the psychopath, no matter how minutely, because of him. "Itís easy for him to keep that promise. How do you know heíll leave me alone?"

"Because of Aya-chan." That obviously wasnít what Yohjiíd expected to hear. Aya kept talking. "Do you really think heíd have forgotten about her?" It had filled him with an overwhelming sense of panic at first, when the German had taken to haunting his dreams, tormenting him with the image of his beloved imouto. The pale man had been terrified that heíd finish the job, killing the comatose girl. "Schuldig had promised me a long time ago that he wouldnít involve her in our Ďrelationshipí. That he would never willingly seek her out." The clever man had warned him that it would be a different matter entirely if he was ordered to, and had commented that Aya better find a safe place to hide the girl away. That was why heíd let Botan draw him back to Kritiker, after the failed attempt by Schreient to kidnap his sister. He knew heíd never be able to keep her safe at some hospital not affiliated to the organization. "Heís kept it, all this time. Schuldig knows that I would do anything to keep her safe."

Rubbing at his eyes, Yohji snorted. "This is one hell of a weird conversation, I gotta admit that. Talking about Mastermind and trust in the same sentence." Staring back at Aya, he pushed himself off of the bed. "Come on, I think we need something to eat. You able to stomach some food right now?" At the smaller manís nod he hauled him off of the bed and pushed him towards the door. "The chibi better not bitch at me having a beer or three at lunch, what with the way this day has turned out."

*******

"Is that spaghetti I smell," Masato inquired as he stepped into the kitchen. The lovely scent of tomatoes and garlic filled the air, and he found Yuushi and all of WeiŖ except Hidaka sitting at the table, in the middle of a meal.

"Thereís plenty on the stove, please help yourself." Omi gestured his chopsticks over in the foodís direction. It had been the easiest meal he could come up with, just a jar of sauce and some pasta. The fact that it was one of Kenís favorite dishes didnít have anything to deal with it, he told himself. Especially after the way the brunet had silently walked through the kitchen after his shower and left without saying a word.

Grabbing a plateful, Masato sat back at the table. Asking for the salt, his eyes narrowed on Yuushiís bandaged arm. "What happened to you?"

"I found out the hard way that telepaths really do exist." At Rookís confused expression, the four men filled the man in on the dayís events.

"Man, sorry I missed that, it would have been interesting to see." Yuushi and Omi glared at the scruffy man. "No offense intended. Howís Hidaka handling things?" Uh oh, not a good choice as a diversionary topic.

"Heís understandable upset. Iíd /really/ appreciate it if neither of you bring up the matter in his presence." There was a hint of ice in Omiís voice, belying his cheerful looks. Both Rook and Knight quickly grasped the fact that it wouldnít be very healthy to cross the teenager.

"No problem. You guys might be happy to know that I had a bit more productive day." Masato reached into his pocket and pulled out a notebook, tossing it on the table. "Names of everyone in the Kusari gang. My informants came through big time. And thereís even another yakuza boss, by the name of Akiba, who wouldnít mind in the least if someone used his name to set up a meeting with Nakajima, as an excuse to get him in the club and wipe out the whole bunch. Seems there is a bit of a rivalry going on between the two men, a small dispute over a couple of blocks. Nakajima and companyís deaths mean he gets to move on in, take things over."

Nibbling on a piece of garlic bread, Omi thought things over, mentally deciding on a plan. "Go ahead and do it. We need all the men not assigned to Soma gathered at the club. Set the meeting up for after hours, we canít have any other witnesses around. Once Ken gets back weíll find out if that will be a problem, but I donít imagine theyíll want to have too many employees hanging out while they discuss business matters."

"Iíll see if I can stipulate that in the agreement. Iíll go back out after lunch, itíll take some time for the offer to get through all the various contacts. Trying to keep Kritikerís identity out of it for right now, but most of the yakuza know that Soma and Nakajima pissed off some powerful organization, and are willing to help without too many questions. There will be a hell of a power struggle going on through the underworld when weíre done though, no way of getting around the matter completely."

Yohji got up and crossed over to the fridge for another beer. While he was there he grabbed one for Masato as well. "As long as itís not an all-out bloody street war, we can live with it." He tossed one to the Crasher, who opened it gratefully. "Thereís always infighting going on among these groups, hell, Kritiker probably has a bunch of agents lined up to take advantage of the situation." Yuushi looked scandalized at the suggestion, while Masato nodded his head knowingly. The meal passed by in silence, and Omi and Aya had just started the clean up when there was a knock on the back door. The men went on alert, Rook and Knight disappearing into the living room as Omi cautiously opened it. And looked in shock at their guest.

"Uhm, can I help you?" Why was a man wearing a skirt in broad daylight? And why was he paying them a visit?

"Wow, I never saw such a perfect living example of Ďkawaiií in a human before. Youíre just too cute for words." Teddy used a quick step and even quicker tongue to slip inside the kitchen. "Hey, just the two men I wanted to see. How things going, anyone smacking you around lately?" Eying Yohjiís face, he nodded his head. "Sure looks like it."

"Uhm, you know this guy?" Omi asked, mind still awhirl from the foreignerís presence and personality.

Yohji pushed his sunglasses up on his head, enjoying the chibiís bafflement. "Yeah. Omi, meet Teddy Stout, pest extraordinaire." Teddy protested the remark, stalking over to smack the lanky man on the back of his head while Omiís eyes just got wider and Aya muttered something about a headache. "Hey, keep your hands to yourself, crazy damn American. What the hell brings you here?"

"I just wanted to check up on Red, make sure he was okay. Would have been here yesterday, but spent the whole day at work, pulling a double shift." Which Mickey had oh so conveniently signed him up for, figuring it would keep him out of trouble. He walked over to the sink and got in Ayaís face. "Wow, you sure do heal fast. I looked like a piece of spoiled fruit for almost a week when I got bitch-slapped that one time, can barely tell that you got hit anymore. And youíre even whiter than me. Some guys have all the luck." Spinning around, he found the plastic containers holding the left-over spaghetti and grabbed one. "Food! Great, Iím starving!"

Omi just sweat dropped as he watched the strange manís antics. So this was Teddy Stout. No wonder he gave Aya the fits. "Uhm," he really had to stop using that word, but something about the situation just required it, "why are you wearing a skirt?"

"And Japan is supposed to have such great schools," Teddy remarked around a mouthful of pasta. "Itís a kilt. Traditional apparel for Scottish men. Which I wear in proper fashion," a wink was directed at Aya, who from working with the man knew what that meant. "Considering how much of traditionalists you slant-eyes are, figured youíd have some appreciation for it. But no~o, I get the damn skirt comment at least once a day." Teddy might have been able to pull off the indignation a little better if he wasnít busy slurping a long pasta noodle.

"Uhm, okay."

Yohji walked to the fridge, feeling the need for another beer. "So Teddy, you came here, found out that Ayaís fine, and are busy eating us out of house and home. Donít you think thatís enough of a visit for right now? And donít ask for any flowers, we donít have any to spare until the remodeling is taken care of. Isnít it time you went home?"

"Howís the social plans coming along, Kudoh?" Yohji just grumbled under his breath as he quickly downed the beer. "Relax, I canít stay too long, Mickeyís been keeping a close eye on me since the other night. Iím supposed to meet him to do a little bit of shopping. Make that a lot. Man I hate doing that in the evenings, Iím so used to going during the day while most people are at work. This shift change is killing me." He better damn well get a double-date out of this. Kudoh better have broken the news to Red by the next time he saw him.

Omi looked about, hoping for a glimpse of the manís infamous bat-wielding brother. He was a bit disappointed to hear he wouldnít put in an appearance. "Uhm, so you were the friend who helped Aya-kun at the club the other night? Thank you very much. I hope you didnít get into too much trouble."

"Nah, just got an earful from my big brother, that was all. It was quite an exciting night. Things have been a bit dull lately since I donít work with Red anymore. Speaking of which," Teddy tossed the empty container in the sink as he approached the swordsman. "I take it youíre not a club guy, just donít seem the type. How about small quiet bars, have much of a problem with them?" Puzzled, Aya could only shake his head. "Thatís good. And itís obvious that you like Italian, another thing to keep in mind while I make some plans. Iíll stop back in a few days, see if the shop is open, and talk," light blue eyes glared in Yohjiís direction, "some more then." Ready to leave, Teddy was surprised to find Aya standing in his way. "Hey Red, if you really want me to stay I wonít argue, but if not I sorta need you to move so I can get through the door."

"Be careful, Teddy. You and Mickey both. I think you might have attracted a bit of attention to you yourself the other night."

It took a minute for the words to sink into Teddyís head. When they did his face split into a huge grin. "Ah, youíre actually worried about me." The longhaired man threw his arms around Aya, giving him a bear hug. "I knew that Iíd grow on ya. Donít worry, Mickey and I can take care of ourselves, and Iím not foolish enough to go back the club. I hope you arenít either." Letting go of the redhead, Teddy patted him on the face and opened the door. "Taa for now, but Iíll be back. /Kudoh/."

Aya just stood there, trying to figure what the hell just happened, as Yohji and Omi stared at him with their mouths agape. "Uhm, Aya-kun, are you okay?"

"IÖ. think so."

Yohji decided he needed to double-check the fact that the redhead didnít have a fever. That sure as hell had been weird. "Jeez kitten, what brought that on? You were actually worried about Teddy of all people. This is a man who youíd said youíd kill if it wasnít for the wear on your blade." He brushed back his loverís bangs, hoping for a clear look at his face. Dark eyes stared back at him. "You really okay?"

Batting away the blondís hand, Aya rubbed his arms. "Itís just that, I donít know, a feeling that came over me. Theyíre going to be in trouble because of me now. I know it." Not liking the strange looks his teammates were giving him, Aya went back to the sink and continued doing the dishes, staring into the water. Yohji shuffled his feet, unhappy with his thoughts.

Omi sensed the tension between the two men. "Yotan, I need you to run a few errands for me, pick up a couple of things I can use right now, can you come upstairs with me? And Aya, donít worry, Iíll figure out a way to keep an eye on the Stoutsí, if you really feel theyíre in trouble." The only response the youth got was a brief nod. Omi grabbed Yohjiís arm and dragged him out of the kitchen.

Scrubbing at the pot Omi had used to boil the pasta, Aya forced himself to relax. There was no reason for him to worry about these strange impulses that had overtaken him lately. Heíd always had them, it was just odd that they were occurring with such an increased regularity anymore. They didnít mean anything, just that his instincts were a little sharper than other peoples. Hearing the tread of a foot behind him, he abandoned the thoughts as Yuushi leaned on the counter by the sink.

"Everything okay?"

"Yes." Regretting the way heíd snapped out the answer, Aya let go of the pot and turned to face his old friend. "Sorry, just getting tired of hearing that question."

"I can understand that. Let me just say that I am sorry about earlier. I had no right to say the things I did." When Aya only responded with a grunt, Yuushi swallowed the anger and forged ahead. "You had that telepath, Mastermind, in your head while you were with Crashers, didnít you?"

"ÖÖ Yes."

"Why didnít you say something? Never mind, I know you didnít want Kritiker to know. Silly question. Why didnít you trust us with the information?"

Wanting to just get the discussion over with, Aya decided to actually answer him. "Kritiker did know about it at the time. Their reaction is why I donít want them to know about it now. I didnít tell anyone in Crashers because I knew I wouldnít be in the group very long. What was the sense? Besides, it would just make you worry or mistrust me. I never let Schuldig get in the way of my job, so I didnít want that to happen."

"No, Aya, you just let it get in the way of you really being our friend. Was that why you tried to hold everyone back at arms length?" There was an unspoken part to that question, if it was why heíd never gotten anywhere with the pale man.

Aya heard the question anyways. "Yes. If I wasnít close to anyone, I couldnít be hurt. Thatís why I didnít try harder to be your friend. Or to stay with the team, once Rook was healed. Itís not the reason, however, why I never became your lover. I just donít feel for you that way."

Why had he expected any other answer? He was such an idiot, to keep opening this wound. Yuushi needed to understand that Fujimiya never was and never would be his. Masato was right, it was just so hard to let go, especially when he kept coming across excuses that gave him hope that maybe, just maybe the man returned his feelings. "So whatís so different about WeiŖ? Why did you let them, and Kudoh, close?"

"Because I believed that Schuldig had gotten bored and moved on. I thought I didnít interest him anymore, he left me alone for almost half a year. Iíd even faced him in battle, and he didnít appear in my dreams afterwards. Then there was the fact that WeiŖ was my permanent team. I never meant to let them get close, it just happened."

"And you fell in love with Kudoh." That hurt to hear, that the lanky man had succeeded without even trying, while heíd spent months attempting to get Ayaís attention. "I take it this Schuldig didnít handle it very well. What did he do to you that you donít like anyone touching you?"

"None of your business." Ayaís voice was positively bone-chilling. The conversation was over, as far as he was concerned. He turned back to the sink and the waiting pots.

Mentally kicking himself for pushing too hard, Yuushi carefully extended a hand and grasped Ayaís shoulder. The smaller man regarded him warily, but allowed the touch. "I did mean what I said yesterday, about still wanting to be friends. Is that possible?"

"ThatÖ. would be nice, Yuushi."

"Iím glad to hear that." Just as carefully the blond slowly moved and gathered Aya in his arms, giving him a friendly hug. The pale man suffered through his second, unexpected embrace of the day, wondering what the hell was wrong with people that they were treating him like this. The next person that tried it was getting punched. For his part, Yuushi just enjoyed the feeling of a stiff Aya in his arms, acknowledging that heíd never receive any more affection from the man besides this. Right before he was ready to let go, Masato walked into the kitchen.

Feeling as if heíd been hit in the chest, Rook debated whether or not to leave the room. Before he could Yuushi stepped away from Fujimiya to find out what he was up to. "Hey, you heading out to talk to the contacts?"

"Yeah, figured I better get this over with now, see if I donít have some good news for the meeting tonight. You two take care." The two younger men were left staring at the departing figure, trying to puzzle out his odd tone and crestfallen expression.

*******

"Here you go, Yohji. If you could pick up these things, I would greatly appreciate it. I havenít been able to get out very much on this foot, lately." Omi handed the list to Yohji, who was sprawled yet again on his bed. What was with the manís fascination at being horizontal all of the time?

"You going to be okay tomorrow night, chibi?" Yohji narrowed his eyes, as if daring Omi to try and lie to him.

"Itíll be fine, Yotan. I swear. Havenít even had to hop around any today." He bounced up and down for a moment, wincing a little at the ache. "Okay, maybe I better not be leaping off of roofs anytime soon, but I can take care of myself during the mission."

"You better." Debating if whether or not he really wanted to ask the next question, Yohji decided he needed to know the answer too badly to remain quiet. Besides, it had been eating away at him for days. "Hey, chibi, do you know if Kritiker has any paranormal squads working for it, like Schwarz?"

"Huh?" It took Omi a second or two to decipher the sentence, Yohji had spilled it out in such a rush. "What, you mean with special talents? No, I havenít come across any such references to something like that. But not even I have been able to crack open all their files, not enough time in the day." The answer didnít reassure the older blond any. "What are you worried about, Yohji?"

Green eyes gazed into his own beseechingly. "I can trust you, right kiddo? Youíll keep your promise from this morning?"

"What, not to tell Kritiker about Aya? I swear Yohji, I wonít report a thing. Itís not like it used to be, I donít know this new Persia, or really trust whoís running the organization now that my uncle is dead. I donít want them to know anything about the team anymore." The youth widened his big eyes as much as possible, trying to look as innocent and trustworthy as possible.

Taking the chance, Yohji decided to unburden his worries on the teenager. "Iím glad to hear that. I donít want them to even suspect what I have to say to you. The problem is, I think they already do, just a slight bit. Itís that, well, I think Ayaís psychic."

Omi felt a tingling mix of relief and concern. Yohji was guessing very close to what his boyfriend really was, but like Kritiker, and him, thought in a much too simple term. He pretended to give the matter some thought before he answered. "You mean because of the way heís been guessing things lately? It has been a bit spooky. Are you sure?"

"Pretty damn sure, or I wouldnít have mentioned it. Itís more than just the past week or so, heís always been damn lucky at things, what on missions and just some stuff around the house. Ever since the headaches started, though, itís been more intense."

"So what do we do?"

Toying with the knob on his watch, Yohji shrugged his shoulders. "Donít know, not really. Besides keeping Kritiker in the dark as much as possible. Theyíve been too interested in the man lately, itís not a good thing. Iím terrified that if they figure it out theyíll transfer him somewhere else, maybe twist him into something like Mastermind." They could do it, too. Like Aya had said, heíd do anything for Aya-chan. And the bastards knew it. "Thatís why Iím taking the chance to talk to you, I donít know what all you report back to them."

Omi sat down next to his friend and patted his arm. "Like I said, anymore I tell them next to nothing. I get the feeling that the new Persia doesnít like WeiŖ very much, so I try not to send him anything that can be used against us. Donít worry, they wonít find out from me." Yohji treated him to a relieved smile, warming the youthís heart. It had hurt, to find out that he and Aya had been keeping things from him, now at least he was being confided in. "So should we say anything to Aya-kun?"

"Hell no. Iím not even sure he realizes yet what heís doing." The man could be stubbornly blind to some things, and Yohji was willing to bet this was one of them. Aya wouldnít be happy to be reminded of anything that made him feel even more like the freak that his wonderful parents had convinced him he was. "Nope, not a good idea at all. Letís just keep this our secret, until heís ready to talk to us about it."

Standing up, the older blond stretched out an arm to muss Omiís hair. "Thanks a lot chibi, you donít know how relieved I am at having someone to confide in, to be able to trust them with this. Youíre a lifesaver. Between the two of us, weíll keep the kitten safe." He was a bit surprised that instead of a big smile, especially with the use of Ayaís hated nickname, the teenager looked as if he was ready to cry. "Hey, you all right?"

"Yeah, Iím fine." Cursing himself for letting the pain at knowing he was holding something back from Yohji cross his face, Omi pulled his genki mask back on. "Just, well, guess Iím jealous about how much you care for Aya-kun. I wish I had someone to watch over me the way you do him."

"You know, kiddo, the answer might be right in front of your eyes, just like it was for me." Realizing what he was saying, the older man quickly shut up.

"Huh?" Omi forgot all about Schuldig and the way he was lying to his friends, focusing on that statement instead. "Right in front of me? Yohji, who do you mean?"

Chuckling nervously, Yohji edged for the door. Damnit, he hadnít meant to let that slip. He had promised Hidaka, after all. It was just so hard to see Omi appearing so sad, and knowing the solution to the situation. "Ah, never mind. Donít listen to me, too much sex and drugs and alcohol has fried my brain cells. Iíll get to work on your list right away." He turned to reach for the doorknob, only to have a dart slam into the wood right next to the handle. "Damnit, chibi, you almost got my hand!" He faced the younger blond, not very happy with the serious look he got in return.

"Try stepping out of the room, and youíll find out just how good my aim is. Now what were you just saying, about things being right in front of me? You mean Ken, donít you?" Omi held another dart up threateningly. "Tell me the truth, or you wonít be doing Aya any good in the sex department for the few weeks. If ever."

"Omi!" He must be hearing things, there was no way sweet little chibi Omi had just threatened his manhood like that. Yohji was about to yell at the youth some more, but became unnerved as those blue eyes fastened on his crotch as a hand hefted a dart experimentally. Quickly crossing his own hands over the endangered area, Yohji growled at his friend. "I canít believe this, youíve been hanging around Aya way too long. You used to be such a nice little boy." He let out a squawk as Omi made a throwing motion. "Fuck! Put the damn thing away. Hidaka wants to jump your bones, there, hope youíre happy now, you shitty little blackmailer."

"He does?" Omi jumped off of the bed and rushed over to the fuming playboy. "He really does?" About to hug the man, he suddenly stopped and once more held the weapon in a threatening manner. "Wait a second, how do you know?"

Feeling the need for a cigarette and a nice brick wall between the two of them, Yohji sighed as he carefully stepped backwards. "Because he told me, a while ago, the last time Mastermind messed with his head. He also asked me not to tell you, so thank you very much for making me break that promise. Kenís going to try and skin me alive when he finds out." Time to go back to hiding his shampoo. And body wash, just to be on the safe side.

Deciding to hug the man after all, Omi tossed the dart aside, earning another curse and a flinch from Yohji. "Sugoi! He likes me, he really does. Oh, Yotan, youíve made me so happy. Donít worry, I wonít tell him you told me." He beamed up at a bemused Yohji, then became suspicious again. "But wait, he likes me. Why hasnít he tried to make a move on me?"

"Maybe because the idiot doesnít want to lose you as a friend, or is afraid of a relationship. Pick either one. So, I take it you like him back?"

"Oh yes!"

"Hmm, this have anything to do with that matter you wanted to discuss with me when the mission is over?" Yohjiís good humor was swiftly returning, now that his sexlife wasnít in danger anymore. "And why you wanted to know when Aya and I are going away for the weekend?" Score one point for him, the chibi was as red as a tomato.

Omi ducked his head bashfully for a second. "Yeah, I wanted to find out how you managed to convince Aya to give you a chance. I thought maybe I could try those tactics on Ken while the two of you were gone."

Oh yes, he definitely needed a cigarette now. And a bottle of liquor. Teaching seduction techniques to Omi of all people? Yech, what a mood killer. "I hate to break it to you, chibi, but Iím not sure what worked with Aya will work with Ken. Weíre talking about two totally different personalities here. ButÖ." he added, at the crushed expression on the boyís face, "Iíll think about it for a few days. Never gave much thought to seducing Kenken before, never was my type." Yohji shuddered at the thought. Yep, Aya was much more to his liking. Gorgeous and graceful and neat and not so sweaty, not to mention no annoying kids always hanging around him.

"Well heís mine, and I can use all the help I can get," Omi snapped back. "I really could use your help." He decided to flatter the lanky manís ego a bit. "After all, you are the master at this sort of thing. You got Aya, of all people, to fall in love with you."

"Better believe it kiddo. Okay, Iíll try to come up with a game plan or two. The dumb jock should be much easier to bag than the human ice cube." Not realizing how much he would regret his words at a later date, Yohji winked at Omi as he opened the door and made good his escape.

*******

Sitting down at the kitchen table, Masato was busy working his way through Yohjiís beer as the man walked in from the garage. "Please tell me thatís not my last six pack thatís littering the table top."

"Sorry Kudoh, but Iím afraid so. One can left, you want it?"

"Hell yes." Yohji set aside the bags he was carrying and pulled a chair away from the table, sitting on it backwards. "Knew I should have stopped by the store and picked up another one." He took the beer that was being held out to him and regarded the older man. "Is everything alright? Donít tell me something else has happened?" The Crasher didnít look very good at the moment. "Where is everybody?"

Pausing to light a smoke, Masato leaned back in his chair. "Nah, things have been quiet, as much as I can tell. Just got back a little bit ago myself." And had proceeded to start drinking. "Tsukiyonoís playing on his computer, Hidakaís locked up in his room, and Yuushi and Fujimiya are upstairs sparring on the roof."

Yohji hoped his redhead beat the hell out of Honjyou. Man better not try something like the last time heíd interrupted a practice session. "So what has you drinking this early in the evening? Not a very good idea, considering we still have a mission to plan. Things go okay with your contacts?"

"Yeah. Nakajima should be getting the invite to a meeting sometime soon." Masato paused for a moment, then in a subdued voice asked if WeiŖ really was planning on killing Soma and all of the yakuza working for him.

So that what was why the man was upset. Must be nice to still possess a conscious, Yohji reflected bitterly. "Yes." His voice was as cold as his eyes. "We have our orders."

Masato hadnít been expecting such a stark answer. "Someone tells you to kill a person, and you just do it? How do you live with yourselves?"

Needing something stronger than a beer, the green-eyed man got up and pulled a bottle of vodka out of the freezer. He snagged two glasses as well. Once back at the table he poured both of them a stiff shot. Yohji downed his and waited til Rook did the same before speaking. "Iím assuming youíve never been in a similar position, considering what group you are a part of." The scruffy man nodded. "Then this most likely wonít make any sense. The killingís the easy part. You go, all hopped up on endorphins or testosterone or whatever, you put your life in danger, you do the job. Sometimes itís messy and other times not, sometimes itís easier because the person fights back and you have to defend yourself. Kill or be killed. Sometimes itís in cold blood. But at least you know the person deserves it, Kritiker takes great pains to show you all the gory little photos of pedophiles and serial killers and general sick fucks that you lay waste to. And even though technically you have the option to turn the mission down, you know youíll just have to take the next one or the one after that, so you just go with the flow. They own you after all, and an assassin that doesnít kill is a useless one. And the company just hates useless things, if you catch my drift." Masato nodded his head, hazel eyes encouraging the younger man to continue. "So in a way each mission is a life or death situation. One you focus so much time and effort on, you tend to forget that youíll be murdering someone or lots of someones at the end of it. When the time comes, itís almost like an afterthought, you do the deed and you go home." Yohji stopped to take another shot and light a cigarette.

"Itís afterwards thatís the hard part. Not immediately, youíre too busy cleaning yourself off or making sure you got away without being followed, and patching up any wounds. For a while you feel invincible, ha ha you lived he/she/they died. Itís when you go to sleep that the nightmares come, that you face the fact that youíre nothing but a murderer. So you put off sleep as much as you can, either with sex and drugs, or working yourself into a stupor, or just not sleeping." The assassin paused for a moment, reflecting on his own dreams. He still had the nightmares, but ever since Aya had been sharing his bed, they hadnít been so bad. It was the same way for his lover, he knew. The fact that there was someone there holding them throughout the night, to soothe the guilt and self hate away when one woke up in a cold sweat, it helped. Greatly. "Or you find someone who helps hold the nightmares at bay, but that is a damn difficult thing to do. Have to be real lucky to manage that one. But eventually you sleep anyways. Then the light of day comes, and youíre too busy just living to have much time to reflect how you spent the night. Itís only the quiet times that get you. So you keep yourself occupied, and invariably you do that by accepting another mission. Itís a vicious cycle." He finished off his cigarette and lit another one in the silence.

"Why do you do it?" Hazel eyes regarded the lanky man inquisitively. Masato had always been told he was too curious for his own good. "Why are you in WeiŖ instead of Crashers, or some other non-lethal group?"

"Because, one way or another, we all lost the one thing that mattered the most to us." Yohji reflected on Asuka for a moment, the pain dulled by time and a new love, but still there. She was the first person he ever really cared about, and her death still tore him up. "Itís easy to kill when you donít give a damn about anything anymore. Somehow Kritiker knows that, and there they come, making you an offer that youíre too broken to refuse." You have some cold bitch come sniffing around asking you to be her dog. "You agree to anything, just to fill the void. And itís so incredibly easy to do your first job, because a part of you hates everyone and everything, why should they have happy lives when your world has been shattered? Next thing you know is thereís blood on your hands and itís way too late to change anything. Youíre owned by somebody, and when they tell you to go out and kill someone, you have no choice." Yohji stared at the glowing end of his cigarette for a moment, lost in the contemplation of his past, the decisions he had made. All of a sudden he shook himself, shivering all over, and flashed a stunned Tamema a cocky smile. "But the payís good, the roomies arenít half bad, I get to sleep in some mornings, and Iíd have never met a certain redhead any other way. There are worse jobs out there. Like telemarketing."

Masato was off put by the sudden change in mood, but went along with it. Heíd just gained some unpleasant insight, and Kudoh hadnít had to answer him, let alone so sincerely or honestly. Besides, there was no sense in feeling sorry for the men who would be dying tomorrow night, theyíd had a part in the death of a friend and a lot of other people. "Thank you." The other manís grin slipped a little, as he acknowledged the appreciation. "You think weíll get in trouble if we have one more shot?"

"Well, I havenít drunk several beers, and have one hell of a tolerance. You think you can handle it?"

"Listen, boyo, I could drink your skinny ass under the table anytime or anyplace."

"Oh, that sounds like a challenge. Maybe sometime when this mission is over weíll have to put that little statement to the test." Yohji poured another round and tossed his back quickly. "Ah, that hits the spot, after the day Iíve been having. Psychotic telepaths, troublesome Scots, blackmail all around, and spending a half hour having cyber-babble spouted at me as I try to pick up a new computer part for the chibi. All I want to do is have dinner, get this damn meeting over with, and haul Aya off to bed." He leered at the man sitting across from him. "How about you?"

"What, do I want to drag Fujimiya into bed? Heís a bit pale for my taste, but if youíre offering, Iíll have a go." Masato grinned as Yohji started sputtering, and for some reason searched the room as if expecting to find a certain swordsman standing around. "Heís still upstairs."

"You never know, heís a sneaky bastard who always manages to overhear the worst possible conversations. For my health." Kudoh broke off the search to glare at the Crasher. "Sorry, too possessive a bastard to share, youíll have to crawl into a cold bed tonight. Unless you want me to whack a certain oblivious blond over the head and leave him as a present."

Rook instantly sobered up. "Whatís the use, when heís too busy pining after someone else?" Damn baka was way too stubborn, there was no chance in hell of him knocking some sense into the hothead until Yuushi got over his Fujimiya fixation. Which didnít look to be any time soon, judging from this afternoon. That was partly why heíd been drinking.

About to offer some suggestions, Yohji decided to let the matter drop. He wasnít some stupid advice columnist, couldnít go running around helping everyone with their relationships. Hell, he had enough problems with his own. "Well, I say we figure out what we want to have dinner, and place an order. No way Iím trying to negotiate with five other people. How does-." Food suddenly lost its interest, as the blond watched Honjyou help carry a pale, dazed looking Aya into the kitchen.

*******

Aya kicked out, catching Yuushi in the side with a long leg, sending the man stumbling across the roof. The blond had a slight advantage in reach, but like most opponents tended to mistake Aya of being shorter than he really was. A distinct advantage of appearing slim and delicate. He immediately took advantage of Yuushi being off-balance, and pressed his attack.

This had been a good idea, a practice bout with the man. He was glad Yuushi had suggested it, and hadnít minded when heíd moved it to the roof. It reminded him of all the times theyíd fought while working together, sometimes in practice and sometimes not. Both men were well matched, Yuushiís strength and reach advantage offset by Ayaís speed and flexibility. Most of the time the fights had ended in a draw, but the redhead was kicking some serious butt today. It was as if he could sense each move Yuushi was about to make and counter it. His body kept moving, almost like it was being pulled by strings into position after position.

Yuushi was sweating, favoring his left arm and ribs, just trying to keep from being pounded into the tar roof. Damnit, but Aya had gotten good. The man had always been a talented fighter, but right now he was pretty near perfect. And this was at hand to hand, heíd always been better with his sword. Yuushi hadnít been able to land a single blow, while the redhead had touched him several times. Heíd tried several different tactics and fighting styles, but Aya effortlessly countered each one. He was going to give it another few minutes and then concede the match, as much as it galled his pride, it would be better than going down and not being able to get back up.

Launching another attack, the blond was quickly reduced to parrying a series of lightning fast punches that once more had him backing over the roof, right to the edge. Desperate to put some space between him and Aya before he was trapped, Yuushi lashed out with his foot. The smaller man blocked it and spun him around. Going with the motion, Yuushi twirled around, swinging out an arm. He had a moment to catch a glimpse of Aya standing still, eyes closed and arms falling down, when the blow connected with a solid thud. The redhead was knocked to the ground, his head slamming hard onto the rooftop. Yuushi was kneeling besides him instantly, trying to see how badly heíd hurt the man.

Pain lacing through his skull, Aya tried to gather his dazed sense about him. One minute heíd been fighting Knight, and the next heíd felt this tugging, a draining sensation as things shifted about him. Just like the other night in the club. There had been a flare of heat, and once more the cold settled over him, achingly oppressive. During it all there had been a glimpse of a older man with cold eyes and a man with spiked hair standing in a room arguing with each other. Suddenly they stopped, and the spiky haired fellow nodded his head, now agreeing. It was very important, what heíd just agreed to. But before Aya could figure out what is was about, Yuushiís fist connected with his stomach, sending him crashing to the ground. Groggily pushing the fussing hands aside, the pale man tried to breath in some oxygen as a shaky hand felt at the back of his head, feeling something wet.

"What the hell, Fujimiya, are you all right? Why didnít you block that? Are you alright?" How many fingers am I holding up?" There was a flare of anger, of once again being submitted to a barrage of ridiculous questions.

"Iím fine, I donít know, I said yes, and three." Yuushi appeared relieved to be snapped at, and leaned over him. "Hug me once more and Iím tossing your ass over the roof." Heíd had it with people being all touchy-feely with him today.

Knight quickly backed up, a relieved grin on his face. Yep, sounded like someone was feeling perfectly fine. He hovered nearby as Aya sat up, and noticed the smear of blood on a pale hand. "Jesus, you cut your head? Let me take a look." The swordsman winced and grumbled, but allowed his head to be prodded at. "Just split the skin, from the looks of it, we better get some ice for that. You able to stand?"

"Yes," Aya snarled, and tried to get to his feet. He felt so drained, and his stomach and head protested him moving about. Yuushi grabbed an arm and hauled him up, tossing it over his shoulder as he helped him down the flights of steps. He felt a bit better by the time they made it to the lower floor, but the taller man refused to let him go.

Entering the kitchen, they interrupted Yohji and Tamemaís discussion. The playboy immediately jumped up and grabbed Aya, who hissed at being jerked about. "What the hell happened? If you tried anything, Honjyou, youíre dead."

"Hey! We were fighting, Aya let his guard down and I nailed him. Thatís it!"

"Heís right, Kudoh," Aya sighed as he eased down into a chair. "Itís my fault. Shut up and get me some ice."

Yohji spared one more glare for the other blond before kneeling in front of his boyfriend. "You okay there, love?"

The redhead had to shut his eyes, concentrating on breathing in and out. If he heard that question one more time todayÖ.. heíd had his limit. "Iím. Fine."

Yohji bit back on a retort that the man was obviously anything but fine, what with his skin completely white and cold to the touch. He recognized that tone of voice. Getting up, he stomped over the sink and opened a drawer, pulling out two towels. The first one he wetted, the other was wrapped around an icepack. Heading back over to the grouch, he slapped Ayaís hand away from the back of his head. "Here, let me take a peek." Long fingers carefully parted the silky hair and wiped the cut. "Hard to see anything, everythingís the same color. Must say this though, you have to have a killer headache, judging from the size of this bump." Yohji pressed the icepack against the injury, holding it there until Aya reached for it. "Okay, kitten, let me see those gorgeous eyes of yours." Said eyes opened up to glare at him. Ignoring the heat in them, he tilted the smaller manís head back, trying to see if the pupils were dilated. The irises were once more a dark purple shade, making it difficult to tell. "I donít think you have a concussion, but if you feel sleepy, let me know." Unable to resist, he leaned in and kissed the short-tempered manís nose, smiling at the angry hiss. "Any other boo-boos that need to be kissed and made better?"

"Kudoh, behave."

"Hmph, youíre no fun. Tamema and I were about to decide on dinner, what are you in the mood for?" Yohji jerked the smaller man to the edge of the chair, then slid in behind him. Fortunately they both were skinny enough, but he had to hold onto Aya tightly to keep him from falling off. Shivering once more, the redhead didnít mind in the slightest. "How does Chinese sound? Perhaps something spicy to warm you from the inside out?"

Aya started to nod his head, but stopped as it disagreed with the action. "Sounds good."

"How about you two, any preferences?" Yohji glanced over at their guests. When both said that was fine, he waved a hand at the fridge. Thereís a folder on top, take a look at the Jade Gardenís menu, they deliver." Yuushi got the menu and walked over to Masato, putting the paper on the table and read it over the manís shoulder. Yohji wanted to smirk at the expression on his new friendís face as the elegant blond rested a hand on his back and leaned in close. Yep, someone had it bad. He nuzzled a pale temple. "Howís the head."

"Still there. I want an order of orange chicken. Need to get a shower first."

Yohji whispered back into his loverís ear. "In a minute. What really happened up there? Did Honjyou try something?"

"No. I got distracted for a moment." Aya rested his sore head on the older manís shoulder. Yohji was about to ask another question when they heard a cell phone ring. Gazing over at the Crashersí they watched as Masato pulled out a small phone and grunted into it. Whoever was on the other line didnít talk long, in a another minute Rook grunted again and turned it off. Meeting the curious gazes, all he said was "weíre on for tomorrow night."

*******

Chopsticks and container in one hand, mug of tea in the other, Aya made his way into the impromptu conference room. Yohji had laid claim to the chair, Omi sat between Rook and Knight on the couch, and Ken was huddled on the floor, quietly shoving food into his mouth. Wanting to give the brunet some space, being able to empathize a bit over how he must be feeling, Aya joined his boyfriend in the chair. Of course Kudoh didnít complain, just pulled him back until he was resting against a warm chest, ready to purr from the heat. Aya set his mug carefully on the chairís arm and opened up the container. A chopstick swooped in and stole a piece of his chicken. "Hey, you have your own food."

"Like youíll actually eat all of that. Mmm, itís nice and spicy tonight." Yohji stole a sip from his tea.

"Get your own drink."

"Aw, then Iíd have to make you move. Besides, Ďwhatís mine is yours and yours is mine.í"

"I donít want an old clunker, a wardrobe of slutty clothes, or the worldís largest pornography collection, just my own cup of tea. Leave it alone."

Yohji let his hand slide down a slim waist into the smaller manís lap. Ayaís hands were full with his dinner, so all he could so was stiffen in response. A husky voice whispered in his ear, the warm breath making him shiver. "Such a miserly kitty. Guess Iíll have to find something else to cool my mouth with." Yohji sucked on his earlobe, then moved his mouth downward. The blond let out a yelp as his arm was jabbed by a pair of chopsticks.

Omi, whoíd been watching the couple with interest, hoping to pick up a move or two, spoke up. "Aya-kun, do you want to switch places with me? We need to get this discussion started, and it doesnít look like Yohji is prepared to behave."

"Hey, Iím here in the room, you stupid brat," Yohji hollered back. "Donít talk to me as if I-ah, damnit Aya, use the damn things to eat, not to attack me with!" He reached around to snatch the utensils from his loverís hands. "Start the stupid meeting already." Aya just twisted around to grab the chopsticks standing up in the other manís lo mein carton. "Jab me one more time and Iím getting you a spoon," was quietly muttered in his ear as he resumed his dinner.

Making sure the two lovers were done for the moment, Omi took one more bite of his meal before setting it on the table, exchanging it for a folder. "All right then, everyone take a look at these." He passed out floor plans for Sōdō and the townhouse Soma was staying at. ďThe club is to be destroyed, but not the residence. Itís rented. But here are the blueprints to both of them. Iíve been monitoring Somaís calls all day, and tracked down Nakajimaís number through him. As we all know, they are expecting a meeting with a rival gang tomorrow night at the club. Soma will stay home, just in case itís a trap, and from what Iíve overheard, will have about ten men with him. There will be over thirty at the club, and a few will be taking care of business elsewhere. Nakajima wants a show of force, and isnít taking any chances. Some of the men will be stationed around the perimeter of the club, weíll have to take them out on our way in. Sōdō will be closed for the night, which will make our job a little easier. Itís best if we execute both attacks simultaneously, less chance of someone getting away. Iíll turn the list of the missing yakuza to Kritiker, they can handle a few lone men."

"Ken." Omi waited until the brunet looked his way. It hurt to see the normally active man so quiet and subdued. "I need you to find out if any employees will be required to work tomorrow, my understanding is that Nakajima and his men will be hanging out there most of the night. If there are any innocents, let is know who. Iím hoping that they are too nervous to have anyone working who isnít part of the organization."

"I can manage that, Omi." Kenís dark mood lifted a small bit at the bright smile he received. He made an effort to push his anger and depression aside, he didnít want to worry his friend any.

"Thatís good to hear. Rook, Knight, weíll need someone setting the incendiaries while WeiŖ handles the yakuza. Any volunteers?"

"Iíll do it," Masato barked, cutting off Yuushiís offer. "Iíve got more experience with them than Hotspur over here. Last time he played with explosives he nearly blew his hand off."

Yuushiís face turned red at that remark. "Hey! At least I have enough sense to get out of a building thatís falling down. Wanna show them the scars you got from the Paksan mission?"

"Then itís settled, Rook will handle the club," Omi loudly announced, unhappy at being caught between two squabbling men. They reminded him of a certain couple sitting over in a chair. "Okay guys, who wants to handle Soma?"

Aya drew everyoneís attention to him when he volunteered. "Iíll take him, the rest of you get the club."

Yohji stopped eating, putting his food down as he pulled Aya about to face him. "You havenít been feeling your best lately. Why donít you let Ken or I take out the townhouse?"

"Because Iím a better choice. Iím fine Kudoh, just a little cold. Knight can watch my back." Aya turned back around, the matter settled as far as he was concerned.

"Knight canít decapitate a guy whoíd trying to shot you in the back. Thatís not what I call backup." Two sets of eyes, one gold and another pansy dark, glared at the blond.

"I might not be a killer, Kudoh, but I can still incapacitate anyone trying to hurt Aya. Iíve watched his back before in the past, and heís still here." Yuushi didnít like having his skills questioned like that.

"Ayaís right, Yohji. Him and Knight are assigned the townhouse." Omi didnít mind being glared at, it wasnít like Yotan could change his mind. Aya was the best choice for the mission, and if something was prompting him to volunteer for it, he wasnít stupid enough to get in the manís way. Besides, he wondered if the redhead wouldnít have more in the way of backup then the othersí suspected. It was as if Kudoh was reading his mind, when the man spoke up.

"What if he runs into Schwarz?" Yohji wasnít ready to let the matter drop. He snaked an arm back around the pale manís waist, anxious to have him close.

His lover was getting fed up with having his decision second-guessed. "What if they are waiting at the club? Iím not letting Mastermind affect my work, Kudoh. You, Siberian, Bombay and Rook will cover the club, watch out for the kitchen. Iíll have no problem with Soma." Ayaís voice had that distant quality back to it, as if he was observing something from far away. Green eyes met blue, and Yohji was forced to concede. Damnit, if his suspicions were correct, heíd be endangering things by insisting on changing what Aya saw. He stared at Honjyou for a minute, until the man looked up and met his eyes. A look was passed, and the Crasher nodded his head silently.

Glad the dispute was settled, Omi continued on. "Okay then, letís try to wrap this up, Ken-kun needs to go to work in another hour. Rook, it might be beneficial if you can go down and check out the club in person, get a feel for the place." The scruffy man nodded his head.

"Hold on a sec, Omi. Iím going to go put on a pot of coffee. Anyone want something from the kitchen?" Ken picked up a few of the empty containers to pitch, and Ayaís mug to refill. Omi took a moment to go over the townhouseís security with the redhead and Yuushi, pointing out weak spots in the system that Aya could sneak in through. When Ken returned with a tray of coffee and some cookies, the men settled down to plan their attacks in earnest. Aya sat in Yohjiís arms, shaking slightly at the feel of threads binding him tight, reaching out and dragging the others into a complex web.

*******

Humming as she fussed about her garden, clipping various flowers and herbs to scent her house with, Cassandra straightened up. "I know you are there, evil child. What has you haunting me this time?"

Schuldich came into view and slouched against a tree. "Hee, just paying an Ault Hexe a visit. Seeing what youíve been up to. I know the Kštzchen was here earlier, your mind tastes like roses and blood." Too swift to see, he burst into motion, stopping right in front of the woman, rubbing one of her roses along her cheek. "What did the two of you talk about, hmm?"

"You, of all things. Push too hard you do, the star is quite shaken up. He recognizes the trap, and struggles to break free. Asked me he did, what to do."

"And what did you tell him?" Cassandra shivered at the malice laden in that voice, then in pain as rose thorns scraped down her cheek. "If youíve said anything that will undo all of my hard work, I will make you pay. What the senile Idioten have done to you will seem mild compared to what Iíve got in mind. Do you understand?"

"Yes." This was why she couldnít warn the catalyst directly, the evil child was tied too tightly to the man. "I told him there was no severing the bond between you two. He was upset. You treat him too roughly, you do. Will shatter your heart if not cautious." Schuldig stared at her, raking his power through her mind, before stalking back over to the tree. She wasnít too worried, sheíd always been able to block him from her innermost thoughts, but resolved to speak no more to the star child just in case. Cassandra knew his thoughts were wide open to the telepath. Best to try the knight, next time they were intertwined in their dream future.

Plucking petals from the rose still in his hand, Schuldig tried to calm himself down. He didnít trust the old hag, he knew she wasnít happy with what he was doing to his tuberose. Especially after binding their talents together. But he had to have the man, and would not allow anything to interfere with that. They were meant to be together, he refused to let his heart be snatched away like everything else. Just a few petals remaining, he was about to toss the flower aside when he felt a rush of heat burn through him, felt bliss course through his body.

"Foolish star! Rein him in quick, naughty boy! Wake up and rein him in!"

Dragging himself from the delicious wave of warmth and power, Schuldig stretched out his mind to do just that. Something seemed to help him in his task, and Ayaís talent was shut off yet again. He took a few moments to insinuate his power deeper into the otherís and to shield it even tighter. Opening his eyes, the telepath caught sight of Cassandra racing towards her house. He took off after her, soon coming to a halt in front of the loom. "Well, verrŁckte Oma, how much damage did he do this time?"

"Not much," Cassandra replied in a soft voice, filled with ill ease. The evil oneís power had seen to that, protecting her weaving to an extent that stunned her. Their talents were indeed merging together, the future appeared more certain than ever. She shut her eyes and searched ahead, trying to see what things the catalyst had set into motion now. When she opened them a smirking grin was waiting for her. "He continues on, seeking a resolution to his latest task. The denouement has been breached, next comes blood and wailing, all those threads cut short, vengeance chasing them into hell." She shuddered at the vision, all red and death. He had made his choice, and this time it was to burn.

"Yes." Schuldig had enjoyed the brief peek at the future he had seen. "Iíll have to unleash him for a short while tomorrow night, make sure no one is able to harm my little tuberose. Can the cloak handle that?"

The psychic reluctantly nodded her head. "Now that you are part of it, yes. It will hold."

"Good." Schuldig regarded the vision once more. "Oh yes, it will be a lot of fun tomorrow. Must remember to take some popcorn for the show." What a treat, to get to watch the Kštzchen in action. The poor fools wouldnít even know what hit to them before they died. He relaxed in the afterglow of handling Abyssinianís power, how he couldnít wait til the day he could do so all the time. Unfortunately, once the kittiesí mission was over, he would have to harness the talent for the time being. Which should just frustrate the man even more, making him even more ripe for seduction.

Running his hands through his hair, Schuldig stretched languidly as he smiled at Cassandra. "Well, donít know about you, but I feel the need for a cigarette. Iíll leave you to your work," he waved at the loom. "Remember what I said earlier, Iíve become such a stickler for keeping my promises lately." Whistling, he shoved his hands in his pockets and strolled out of the house, savoring the aroma of a rose bush before disappearing from the womanís mind.

Coming back to himself, he found things just as heíd left them, Bradley sitting in the corner chair, pretending to read a newspaper while surreptitiously watching him. Nagi was flipping through the television, searching the cable for an anime program to watch. Farfie was upstairs, locked in his room, and from the sound of it throwing himself repeatedly against the wall. "Hee, someone sounds frisky tonight."

"Hmph." Crawford lowered his paper, openly studying his troublesome teammate. Mastermind looked too happy to be up to any good, it made him nervous. Even more so considering he couldnít foresee what the man was planning. Something wasnít right here, he better not be planning to betray Schwarz. "He needs some exercise."

Schuldig seemed to be pondering something for a minute. "Canít let Berserker get out of shape, think Iíll take him out on a jaunt tomorrow night. Give him something to play with." He smiled as he watched Bradley try and to figure out what he was up to. "Donít worry, Bradley-kins, Iíll just let him hurt God for a little bit by unleashing him on some unsuspecting innocents, unless you have a few specific targets in mind."

"Iíll keep that in mind, and get back to you." Crawford returned to reading his paper. The telepath just sunk back on the couch, and let his power search out a few familiar minds. Bombay was ready to skewer him the next time they met, as was Siberian. Poor boy, that much anger wasnít good for his delicate mental health. Hee. Too bad the boy hadnít managed to kill the Arschloch Knight, but the man did have a part to play tomorrow night. Right now the kitties and their play pals were making plans, ready to unleash Kritikerís vengeance on a pack of stupid gangsters. Idiots. Theyíd get what they deserved. Searching out his heart, he found the man cold and exhausted once more, and felt chagrined at the fact that heíd have to leave him alone tonight, give him some time to recuperate. Not too long though, just enough that the mission was finished and his temper over last night soothed a bit, then contact him again. So Cassandra said not to be so rough on the little tuberose, neh? He felt able to come up with a suitably pleasurable enough dream for the both of them.

*******

Sitting at a table strewn about with clipped flowers, Cassandra regarded the cards spread before her. She turned to them sometimes, as a way of distancing her from her visions, as a way of seeing things more as a whole. The star child burned so violently and bright, she desperately needed that distance. So much blood and death, it still shook her to the core. She had been more sheltered than she would ever have suspected, there were crueler masters than hers out there.

Her attention returned to the cards. The Page of Swords, the Knight and King of Cups, the Chariot, all to descend to the place of riot. The Knight of Wands, off to lend his aid to the Fool and the Hierophant, to be joined by the Queen of Wands. And at the center of it all sat Death, flanked by the Magician.

*******

Return to Archive

Next Chapter