Of Cups and Wands

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Chapter 9

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Slowly waking up, Yohji stretched out his arms, yawning and grumbling at the prospect of leaving sleep behind for another day. Running a hand over his face, the blond realized that something was wrong. It felt as if he was the only one in bed. Opening his eyes, he saw that the assumption was indeed correct. There was no Aya to be found anywhere, either in bed or in the room. Damnit. He hated to start the day off without having the man curled up on or next to him, being able to encourage the grouch into a little bit of fun before they faced the world. It put such a damper on waking up.

Grumbling to himself, he reached over to the nightstand for his cigarettes. And felt his fingers brush against paper. Yohji glanced over and saw a note folded on top of his pack of smokes. Picking it up and reading it, he found out that it was from Aya. Seemed the younger man had tired of waiting for him to wake up, and had gone to visit Aya-chan. The note was signed Ďlove, Ayaí. It was ridiculous how two little words warmed him so and made the morning better, but the redhead could be so incredibly stingy with the first word. Lighting a cigarette, a much happier Yohji decided to take a shower, then find out what was needed done around the Koneko. He liked to keep busy in the hours before a mission; it gave him less time to think of all the things that could go wrong.

A half hour later he walked into the flower shop, finding it so strange, what with no customers milling about on a late Saturday morning, and the decrepit coolers that always hummed and sputtered and burred in the background gone. The new ones should arrive on Tuesday, the blond had found out yesterday, so just another few days left to enjoy the reprieve from work. Omi was found watering the plants in the windows, waving to someone he knew out on the street. The boy spun around when he heard footsteps.

"Ohayoo, Yotan. Did you have a nice night?"

"A very nice night, thank you for asking." Yohjiís face broke out in a leer, thinking of all the fun heíd had when theyíd finished the meeting last evening. Aya had been a little tired, exhaustion seemed to plague the man lately, so their playtime had been a bit abbreviated, but no less pleasurable for all of that. The older man had spent a good hour afterwards smoking a joint and just staring at the beautiful creature curled up at his side, bonelessly asleep. It wasnít often he was able to do that, what with the way his lover tended to wake up first most mornings.

Omi blushed as he sprayed a few drops of water at his lecherous roommate. "Thatís not what I meant." It was blaringly obvious that the playboy had enjoyed his evening, considering the fact that heíd managed to drag poor Ayan off to Ďbedí before nine oíclock at night. "What I wanted to know was if Aya or you had any problems sleeping."

"Oh, that." Yohji frowned for a moment as he toyed with some freesia. "Not that I know." Did something happen during the night that he hadnít been conscious of? Had Schuldig gotten to the kitten again? "Thanks, chibi. I had been feeling pretty good about the morning, until now." He wouldnít be able to relax until he saw his lover and made sure The Bastard hadnít tried anything last night.

"Iím sorry, Yohji-kun. I had to ask." The teenager walked over to pat his friend on the arm. "You wanna help me take care of these plants? We havenít been able to do that much lately, what with the electricians being in the way." When the older man nodded his head, Omi handed him the water nozzle. "I didnít get any of the ones in the back of the shop, and the sidewalk really needs to be hosed down, even though the shop isnít open. Iíll get to work on the orders while you do that."

Yohji set about his tasks, not minding the distraction. After a while he started a conversation, just something to break up the silence. "So another day of skipped classes, eh kiddo? You going to be alright, what with summer break right around the corner?"

Putting down the ribbons he was organizing, Omi nodded his head, a feeling of sadness creeping over him. "Iím going to be super busy the next few days catching up on some projects, but for the most part Iím doing okay. My grades are fine, and Iíve turned in a few assignments and papers in via email to my teachers. Just have the exams to face, they start next week." Which he really shouldnít have much of a problem with; he always did great on tests. It was just the lack of classroom participation due to missed days that prevented him from having the best GPA in his grade. No, he had no problem there; it was just the thought of all his friends leaving the city for a couple of weeks, enjoying their vacation, while he stayed in Tokyo because of his job. Unbeknownst to him, lost in thought, he heaved a sigh as he toyed with a daisy, a small frown on his lips. Yohji noticed it though.

Frowning as he sucked on an unlit cigarette, the lanky blond tried to think of what would have his chibi all upset. Omi was way too bright to have to worry about tests; the boy genius could ace them without even studying most likely. Then he remembered his summer breaks, off to the beach or amusement parks or even one horrid week spent camping, anywhere that was away from home, going off with a pack of friends. That must be it. "You know kiddo, if you really want to get away for a week or two, I think we can manage it somehow. Why donít you go away with your school friends?" Let the boy enjoy his childhood, what little bit was left.

Omi shook his head. "Really, Yohji, thatís okay. Besides, all the plans have been made, itís too late to get in on the vacation packages."

"Damnit, Omi. Why didnít you say something? We would have let you go. You deserve a break, what with all the work you do."

"Because I really didnít want to go." Pushing back his bangs, the archer huffed as he leaned over the table. "I donít find the trips all that much fun." They werenít, judging from the few excursions heíd gone on for school. The first day or two were nice, but soon he got bored, and realized just how little he had in common with his classmates. "Iíd much rather stay home with you guys."

Reaching out a hand to ruffle the young blondís hair, Yohji smirked at him. Time to cheer the boy up; he hadnít thought to touch what was appearing to be a sore nerve. "Oh really? All of us, or just a certain brunet in particular." Omi blushed, mouth gaping in a red face. "Right on the mark, I see. Where is the dumb jock, anyways?"

Shoving Kudohís hand off his head, Omi grumbled as he tried to contain his embarrassment. "I let him go play with his kids for a little while this morning. They tend to put him in a better mood, and I felt that he needed the lift. Kenís still a bit upset over yesterday." Who wouldnít be? "So did you come up with any suggestions for me yet?" It was Yohjiís turn to shift about uncomfortably.

"Havenít had much time, jeez we just talked about this yesterday." Heíd been too interested in seducing Aya, not Hidaka. Yohji decided to stall for time. "First thing is finding out his erogenous zones. Youíll have to be the one searching for those, there is no way in hell Iím feeling the boy up." At Omiís puzzled look Yohji shook his head and thought longingly about the bottle of vodka in the freezer. "You know, the spots that get him all hot and bothered. Take Aya for example. If I want to get him in the mood, I go for his neck and spine, play with his hair. Things like that."

That made sense, especially with the way the redheadís neck was always bruised. Looked as if the man took a bit of persuading at times. Or just dealt with a boyfriend who was always in the mood. The more Omi thought about it, the more likely it was the second one. "I canít just go about sucking on Kenís neck!" Not that he had much of a problem with the idea in general; he just didnít think the brunet would take it in the right spirit at first.

"I didnít tell you to do that! Fuck." Long fingers tugged on honey blond locks in frustration. "Okay, pay attention here. Think of it as if you are fighting with someone. You have to feel them out a bit, see how they react to various feints and openings. Understand me?" Omi nodded enthusiastically, memorizing each word. "Now, you find out what turns him on. Come up with excuses to touch him all over, wah, maybe not all over, oh fuck, donít grope the dumb jock, at least not in front of me." This was turning out to be one huge disaster, Yohji just knew it. "What I mean is, try giving him little massages, on the /upper/ body, brush back his hair, the boy needs to be introduced to a comb, touch his hands. Pretend to help straighten out his clothes, or that he has a scratch somewhere, or some dirt or lint that needs to be brushed off. You know, relatively innocent things. Well, innocently seeming things. See what gets a response. If he jerks back or shivers or catches his breath." He eyed the younger blond suspiciously. "You following me?"

Omi nodded his head. "Find excuses to touch Ken, watch and see how he reacts. What then?"

"I think you have enough on your hands just finding out what turns Hidaka on." Besides sports equipment and kids. "Gods, I so didnít need this conversation. Once you find that out, let me know and weíll come up with a game plan from there." Yohji shuddered in horror at the thought.

"Thanks, Yohji-kun. I really appreciate your help in this. Iíll try those things out in another day or two." Ken needed some time to recover right now. Omi smiled at his friend in thanks. "Hopefully Iíll have an idea or two before you and Aya have your weekend."

"Yeah, the weekend." Now that was something he was all too willing to spend some time thinking about. This time in two more weeks heíd be tucked into a nice soft bed with a gorgeous redhead. Better rest up for that. Catching the wistful look on Omiís face, Yohji picked up a carnation and bopped the youth on the nose. "Hey, I have an idea. We still need to break the news to Manx that Aya and I will be taking a few days off, why not go whole hog and tell her WeiŖ is away for a whole week on top of that? No one will think twice of the shop being closed then, and we do deserve a vacation. Especially after this case. How does that sound?"

"Sugoi! It would be so nice to get away, all four of us. Ken and I can meet you guys somewhere, how about the cabin? It would be great to get out of the city and enjoy some fresh air and quiet." Blue eyes sparkled in happiness, and Omi was already mentally busy with the planning.

Yohji didnít need much convincing to have Aya almost completely to himself for a week, alone in the middle of nowhere. "That sounds perfect. Donít think weíd be able to get the kitten off to a beach somewhere, so the cabin is a good choice." And with Omi being the one doing the asking, Manx and Kritiker were going to be much less likely to say no. Things were just getting better and better. Yohji started singing as he tended to the flowers, oblivious to Omiís cringes at certain notes. It was while he was dragging a large topiary into some sun that he caught sight of a familiar pair of long legs. "Heya kitten, howís your day been so far?" Aya stood before him, carrying several huge shopping bags, dressed in jeans and a sweater that was way too thick to be wearing in summer, even if it had been an unusually cool one. The man didnít even look hot. Well, in a temperature sense at least.

Aya silently walked over to him as he reached into one of the shopping bags he was carrying. Yohjiís eyebrows lifted as his lover held out a white paper bag. Taking it and looking inside, he let out a happy cry. "Pork buns! Great! And I didnít even have breakfast yet." He grabbed the redhead and gave him a sloppy kiss. "Youíre the best. Want one?" Aya just shook his head, watching the blond quickly devour the treats. Omi drifted over from the worktable, face eager. "Did you do a little shopping, Aya-kun?" A box of pastries and some ground coffee was handed over. "Thank you thank you, Iím going to brew a pot right now." The older men were soon left alone in the shop, as Omi took all the perishable items upstairs.

Wiping crumbs off of his face, Yohji leaned back on the table as he eyed his boyfriend worriedly. Granted that the man normally was on the quiet side, but he still hadnít said anything. "Something wrong, love?"

Brushing off a bit of crust the blond had missed, Aya let himself be pulled close. "No." At Yohjiís aggrieved sigh he elaborated. "Iím fine. Saw my imouto, did a little shopping on the way back. Thought we might need some supplies, what with Honjyou and Tamema here." And with the mission later. Nobody might be in any shape to go to the market the next few days. "Where are they?"

"Last I saw, they were playing with Omiís Playstation. I got the impression that Masato cheats, from what I heard in the kitchen." Yohji bent his head to nuzzle a pale ear. "Thanks for the buns. What do I owe you?"

"Nothing." At the incredulous stare he received in return, Ayaís face settled in a frown as he tried to pull free. "You pay for me most of the time, canít I treat you every now and then?"

"Not if you want to convince me that you really are Aya Fujimiya. Come back here, I wanna see if you have a fever." Ignoring his snarling boyfriend, Yohji pushed back the crimson bangs and felt Ayaís forehead. It was still too chilly to the touch. "Hmm, no temperature to speak of, guess you must be some sort of evil clone then. Oh well, as long as youíre just as good in the sack, I could care less." He yanked an indignant Aya back into his arms and proceeded to kiss him breathless. The redhead gave him one good whap to the ribs, but didnít put up much of a struggle after that.

When they broke apart, Aya glared at the older man. "I donít know why I even try."

"Because you love me, even have written proof upstairs." Yohji spared a moment to grin at the grouch, before his face grew serious. "Hey, you have any dreams last night?"

"You mean a visit from Schuldig?" Aya shook his head. "I donít think I dreamed at all. I was too tired." That comment earned him a smug grin from his boyfriend.

Combing his hands through the smaller manís hair, Yohji let the grin shift into a leer. "Maybe thatís what we need to do then, make sure youíre too exhausted to dream." Sighing dramatically, he pulled on a mournful expression. "It will be sheer hell, but because of my love for you somehow I will persevere and rise to the challenge. Every single night." The blond started to laugh at the panicked look on Ayaís face. He was about to swoop in for another kiss, perhaps prevent a smart remark on the redheadís part, when Omi appeared, carrying a tray of coffee mugs and cookies.

"Coffeeís ready, doesnít it smell delicious?" Omi handed a mug to each of the men, then offered them a cookie. "Aya-kun, would you mind helping with the flowers? There are a few orders that are specific requests for you." Aya nodded his head and left Yohji to go sit at the table. The shop was filled with the aroma of coffee as the assassins were busy arranging flowers and shifting things about, making sure that the plants got enough light and preparing the place for the arrival of the new coolers.

It was an hour later when Yohji rested in the doorway, enjoying a cigarette. From the looks of it Aya was just about done with the orders, and Omi had decided to come up with a new system of organizing the tissue papers and ribbons. It was for the most part busy work, something to keep the body limber and the mind active, so one didnít have much time to reflect that theyíd be facing death later tonight, and dispensing it. The odds werenít some of their best, but there had been more difficult missions in the past. Not wanting to jinx himself, Yohji quickly diverted his thoughts. No telling just how easy or difficult tonight would be until it was over. He tossed the smoke aside and drifted over to his pale lover. On the way Omi caught his eye, big blue eyes watching him intently. Figuring what the hell, he decided to show the chibi a few pointers.

"How are the flowers coming, kitten?" Yohji stood close to Aya, just a few inches apart.

"Almost done," the man grunted out, ignoring him to concentrate on how exactly he wanted to arrange a bouquet of narcissus.

"Hmm, thatís good." Yohji casually reached out and brushed back a lock of hair that Aya was trying to blow out of his eyes. The redhead nodded his head briefly, then returned his attention back to the flowers in his hands. Carrying through with the gesture, Yohji trailed his fingers through the silky hair, brushing the back of Ayaís neck. Which caused the smaller man to close his eyes for a moment. The blond started to massage tense shoulders, earning another puff of air that forced its way out between pale lips. He waited until Aya was finished with the Tussie-Mussie to run his fingers down a stiff spine, smiling as the manís back relaxed. Trailing them back up, he buried them in his loverís hair, massaging the scalp as he bent his head to breath on his neck.

Just as expected, Aya leaned back against him and tilted his head to the side. Unable to resist, Yohji ran his tongue teasingly over the white flesh, enjoying the way his redhead shivered. He planted a couple of kisses before stepping back, drinking in the blinking eyes and slightly pouting lips as Aya realized that he had stopped. Violet eyes focused on him in confusion and passion, quickly clearing when they noticed the way Omi was watching them. Yohji was treated to a questioning look as the teenager flushed and busied himself behind the register counter. He just shrugged his shoulders and helped to clean off the table.

It didnít take them long to put things away, and Omi informed them that heíd handle the remaining few odds and ends, why didnít they go upstairs and get something ready for lunch? Yohji suspected the youth was hoping to catch Ken in the shop alone, and flashed him a quick wink, causing the archer to blush. Helping Aya pick up the last remaining bags, they headed up the steps.

Entering the kitchen, the two assassins found Rook and Knight bickering as they assembled a plate full of sandwiches. "If all of those are just for you guys, weíre kicking your mooching asses out on the street," Yohji called out.

Masato tossed a leaf of lettuce at him. "Yeah, like I could keep my girlish figure if I ate all of these."

Chuckling at the joke, Yohji pretended to treat the scruffy man to an assessing gaze. "You have a point. Donít you know, you have to stay nice and petite if you want to land yourself a rich sugar daddy to take you away from all of this."

"This may come as a shock, but I already have one specific in mind." Hazel eyes were batted at him, as Masato continued in a falsetto voice. "Oh Kudoh-sama, how I long for the day that you notice me and return my love." The two longhaired men broke out in laughter, as Yuushi looked on in shock and Aya just ignored them, getting some juice out of the fridge.

"Uhm, Masato, are you feeling okay?" Knight inquired, not sure what had come over the man. Even if it was just a joke, he was flirting with /Kudoh/ of all people. When had they become friends? Why had they become friends?

"Oh, relax Hotspur, weíre just having some fun." Masato looked at Yohji as he jerked a thumb in the elegant blondís direction. "Now there is someone we need to drag out for a night of drinking and debauchery. Bet he wouldnít even last half a dozen rounds."

"Imagine the fun we can have with him when he passes out, though. Oh, thatís so tempting," Yohji leered at his former rival, enjoying the way the man squirmed, as if his virtue had just been assaulted. Well, give him a bottle of tequila and some time, and he could help Masato out with that. Tamema started laughing again as his teammate sputtered and moved closer to Aya, as if seeking protection. The redhead just poured himself something to drink and grabbed a sandwich, sitting down at the table to eat. Giving his new friend a conspiratal wink, he leaned over the man and spoke loudly enough to make sure Honjyou overheard. "I know this great fetish club we can drag him off to. Imagine how much money we could make if we dressed him up in leather and pimped him out." That set Masato off again.

"Now thatís enough," Yuushi indignantly declared. He glared at his teammate. "Thatís not funny at all." He was one for jokes normally, but somehow the combination of Masato and Kudoh did not strike him as a very safe one, at least for his well-being.

The scruffy man just treated his friend to an assessing gaze. "I donít know, I think Kudohís got a point. You would look real good in some tight leather and zippers. Maybe something like Fujimiyaís coat." Aya glanced up from the table long enough to give Rook a potent shi-ne glare. "Who knows what type of offers weíd receive."

"Masato!" Yuushi was practically wailing. Both of them would actually do it, the blond knew.

Yohji couldnít help snickering as Tamema tried to reassure the other blond that they were just kidding. Too bad, he personally believed that getting drunk and being taken advantage of was just what Honjyou needed to get over Aya. It was time for the man to realize that there were other fish in the ocean, so to speak. And that a prime candidate stood right before him. But he just grabbed a plate from a cupboard and stacked several sandwiches on it. Yohji then sat down next to his lover and proceeded to dump one of the sandwiches in front of the man. "Eat it, youíre still too skinny. While itís nice that youíre less of a target than usual, last thing I need is you passing out during a mission." Aya glared at him, eyes wishing grievous bodily harm upon him, but picked up the food and started nibbling on it. It took the blond a minute to tear green eyes away from what the manís mouth was doing to the sandwich; he had a sudden urge to substitute a body part for it.

Focusing on his lunch, Yohji quickly devoured a couple sandwiches before reaching over and snagging Ayaís drink. Or trying to anyways. His hand was slapped a couple of centimeters away from it. "Ah, come on kitten, I shared my food, least you can do is give a thirsty man a drink."

"Get up and fetch your own."

Yohji pouted for a second before doing just that. Walking over to the fridge for a can of pop, he returned to the table to find Aya gone, a half finished sandwich still on his plate. "Whereíd he go?" The quiet, sneaky bastard. Yohji had to start making the man wear his choker while in the house at all times.

"Away from you," Yuushi replied sourly. And then jerked back from the table, swearing under his breath as he glared at Masato, rubbing a kicked shin.

"Thanks a lot Honjyou, I can see that." Shaking his head, the playboy sat back down and finished his lunch, chatting idly with Masato the whole while about various bars the two of them had patronized. After the food was gone the two men leaned back in their chairs to enjoy a smoke. It was then that Omi and Ken came up from the flower shop, their expressions blank.

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Putting away the last of the ribbon, Omiís face broke into a grin as he saw Ken enter the shop from the back. "Konnichi wa, Ken-kun. How was the practice session?" The brunet was covered in dirt, grass stains and sweat, and was actually smiling for the first time in a day. Omiís heart sped up as his friend walked over to him and tossled his hair.

"It was a lot of fun, Omittchi. Too bad you couldnít come and watch. The kids missed their pep squad, and lectured me rather strictly to make sure that youíre there for the game next week." Ken reached over the counter to snag a paper towel to wipe his face off with. "How are things going on here? Any catastrophes so far today?" He tried to keep his tone light, but felt his smile fade away.

"So far so good." Omiís voice was overly cheerful, he was trying to rally the athleteís spirits. "Although I havenít heard Aya threaten Yohji today, so something is bound to happen. Thatís just not natural." No response from the other teenager. He hesitantly asked Ken if he was alright. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

Ken sighed as he shook his head. "Thanks Omi, butÖ.. no, sorry but I donít think thereís anything that you can do. Besides leaving Mastermind bound and tied in the exercise room as a present." There were a lot of things that heíd like to do to the telepath, and almost all of them involved sharp objects and copious amounts of blood. He felt something deep inside of him stir at the idea, a feeling of pleasure at the thought of butchering another living being. Brown eyes regarded Omi, wondering if heíd been imagining the flash of pain that crossed the blondís face.

"I can always try, but I think Yohji would like a piece of him first. And then me." First for Ouka, then Aya, and now Ken. He wasnít going to let the German keep harming the ones he loved. For a moment Omi debated telling Ken about how heíd been working with Schuldig, but decided the brunet might not handle the news well at the moment. Nothing like hearing one of your best friends had been collaborating with the enemy that had just screwed around with your head.

Crossing his arms over the register, Ken rested his chin on them as he asked the youth a question, voice hushed. "Omi, damn, I know this is going to sound bad, but do you ever wish that Aya never joined the team? I mean, look at whatís going on now," he rushed, not giving his shocked friend a chance to interrupt, "I like the man, well sorta, heíll never be a great pal but I trust him with my life, and I do care for him. But we never had to deal with psychotic telepaths whoíve got the hots for him gunning for the team, fucking with our minds. Or psychics, or insane freaks that gets off on blood. Things used to be so much quieter before he joined WeiŖ. You know what I mean?"

Brows furrowed as he gave the matter some thought, Omi shook his head sadly. "I donít believe that things would be any better if he was gone. If anything, I think the team would be worse off. Sooner or later we would have crossed Takatori, my uncle would have never let him go unchecked. That means Schwarz as well. And I, well, I donít think we would have survived if Aya hadnít been there. I donít think Mastermind would have had a reason to let us live, he wouldíve killed us outright. But alive weíre something he can use against Aya." Or so he suspected, after hearing what Ken had said yesterday when Mastermind had been controlling him. Ever since looking deeper into Kritikerís files, Omi had been studying German, hoping to gain some insight to the organization, which favored the language for some reason. Heíd caught something about Aya making a promise to the telepath, and considering how the man had gained his cooperation, could guess how heíd done that.

"I donít know Omi, a clean death might be preferable to whatís been going on. I donít think I can take The Bastard rewiring my brain another time." Ken had spent the night having nightmares of coming to on a bloody soccer field, the bodies of his kids strewn about, his bugnucks coated with their blood. "Never again." So help him, if he even suspected that the dream might come to pass. Feeling a touch on his head, he looked up to find a worried Omi standing next to him, a hand lightly stroking his hair. The soccer fanatic had to smile. "Iím not Aya, you know. I donít think thatís going to work on me." For some reason the boy blushed bright red, and stuttered out an apology as he stepped back. Ken stretched out an arm and snagged his teammate close. "Hey, I didnít mean anything by that. Thanks for listening to me, Omi, I appreciate you trying to help." He hugged the blond tight, feeling so much better for having him in his arms. Even though he knew that nothing was going to come from it, he couldnít let go right away. "Iím sorry, Iím just getting you all dirty and smelly." Omi snuggled in closer as his hands rubbed soothing circles on the older boyís back. Ken wasnít willing to let go anytime soon, deciding to enjoy the moment while it lasted. The next thing he knew there was a loud shrill noise echoing throughout the shop.

Omi reluctantly moved away from Ken, seething inside about having his moment with the brunet ruined. This better be good. If it wasnít for the fact that there was a mission that evening, heíd have ignored it. "Moshi moshi."

"Omi? Is that you? Is something wrong, you sound a bit short."

Ah, it was Manx. Face turning slightly pink, as if the woman had caught him embracing Ken in person, Omi swiftly apologized. "Iím sorry, Manx. You interrupted me in the middle of something. How are you?"

"Iím busy, but fine. Omi, there is some news that I just found out that I thought WeiŖ might appreciate knowing. Itís about Somaís mistress."

*******

Quietly leaving the kitchen while Yohji was distracted, Aya made his way upstairs. He wasnít in the mood to be fussed over right now, just wanted a few quiet moments, maybe read a book, before getting ready for the mission. He entered his new quarters, dropping off the bags and searching out one of his favorite books. It would be nice to hide on the roof for a little bit, waste some time acting like a normal person before spending the night killing people. Pouring over his bookshelves, he couldnít find the one he was searching for. It was an story written by an American, a fantasy novel about an unlikely heroine who always found herself in the most improbable situations, yet refusing to just submit to fate and give in. Aya-chan had always enjoyed listening to Jameís adventures, when heíd translated the story to Japanese and read it to her. And the main character had touched a chord in him as well, being shunned by her family and people for how she looked, for what she was. Tainted, through no fault of her own. Shaking his head, Aya tried to dispel the dark memories rising up. Now was not the time. It never was the time, as far as he was concerned.

Giving up on finding it in his and Yohjiís room, the redhead went to search in what was Kenís old abode. Technically his new one, though he hadnít even set foot inside of it since moving into it earlier that week. It was odd, seeing his bed, chair and desk, so familiar in the new surroundings. If it wasnít for some of the personal effects that were scattered about, heíd offer the room to Yuushi or Masato to sleep in as an alternative to the floor. But there were a few belongings he didnít want to chance people going through. Yohji stumbling across that one box had been bad enough.

He found the book on a shelf; it somehow must have ended up in the wrong box. Prepared to leave the room, he stopped when he noticed a package sitting on his bed. Carefully opening it up, he found a small cedar chest much like the one he kept some of his more cherished items in, carved in a star pattern. It was beautiful. Prying open the lid, he found two pairs of sunglasses nestled inside. They were identical. Picking up one of them, he set the box back down as he held the metal and glass in his hand. The lenses were a tinted grey, the metal dark and sleek. Aya walked over to the closet door and opened it, wanting the mirror so he could see how he looked with the glasses on. They suited his face perfectly, the lens covering little more than his eyes; dark enough to obscure the orbsí colour but not so much that his vision was impaired. Nice.

Removing the shades, he stared at his reflection for a minute. His skin was still too pale, almost a bloodless white. And his eyes were a dark shade once again, even though he could have sworn that before yesterday afternoon they had been bleaching back to their normal light violet shade. His thoughts skittered aside as he turned away to face the coats hanging inside the closet. What did it matter how he looked, or what colour his eyes were? For a moment a memory flashed through his mind. Of him standing in a hospital restroom, tape on his cheek and clothes torn, staring at a pale visage with wine dark eyes. Waiting for the verdict of his sisterís operation. Knowing that she would survive it, even though all the doctors frowned at him and shook their heads when he asked for an update. They kept trying to repeat the statistics of his imouto coming out of the emergency room alive to him, while he refused to listen. She wouldnít die, he just /knew/ it. They kept fussing over him, wanting to check him for concussions, worried about his pallor and how his eye coloring didnít match that on file. Heíd hated it, having the doctors surround him, poking and prodding and taking all of those notes, shining lights into his eyes and taking blood and ordering cat scans. Worrying about him when they should have been trying harder with Aya-chan, not just writing her off as they were doing.

A sharp pain in his left hand brought him back to the present. Looking down, he found that heíd been clenching his fists so tight his fingernails had punctured his palm. Fortunately he hadnít broken the new glasses, they looked very expensive. He set them down on his desk as he fumbled about for a Kleenex to wipe his hand with. Dabbing at the cuts, he once again was lost in the past as he stared at red on white. How heíd always hated the colour, an awful reminder of his hair. Of being a freak. /He canít be mine, Himiko. My familyís bloodline is pure; I can trace it back hundreds of years. I donít understand how he came to be. This nonsense that the doctors spout, about dormant genes and recessive characteristics. Thereís never been anyone like him in my family. That skin, the awful hair. Heís unnatural. I canít have him as my heir; do you hear what people say about him? Miyamoto even asked me the other day if he was adopted. I canít have something like him representing the Fujimiya name. I canít./ Every day there had been a reminder of the failure that he was, every single day. He swore his father had called him Kikei more than he ever had called him Ran. Even when the man had been silent, the word had been there.

Snarling softly, he thrust the memories aside. He couldnít let them get to him, not now, not here. His father was dead and buried, in some cemetery outside of Tokyo that he never visited. There were no more taunts or disapproving stares or impossible tasks. Not even Schuldig threw it in his face anymore, preferring much more to torment him with his failure to protect Aya-chan and his current profession, about his lack of humanity. Flashes of the visions the telepath had shown him up on that roof flowed through his mind. Someone else who knew what it was to be a freak. Aya had been hated for his differences, Schuldig had been treated like a tool because of his. Two similar pasts, a complement of each other.

Aya was startled out of his thoughts as the door opened, admitting a somber Yohji. "Hey kitten, I was looking for you. Whatícha doing in here?" All he could do was point to the book resting on the foot of the bed. Yohji gave it a curious look before falling down on the hard mattress, muttering about concrete slabs. The blond picked the novel up, flipping through the pages for a moment before setting it aside. "I donít read English well enough to suffer through anything that doesnít include pictures. Donít know how you manage." He then noticed the box and ran his fingers over it, tracing the carved artwork. "You pick this up today? Itís pretty." He set it down next to the book, returning his attention to his silent lover. Taking in the hand clutching a bloody tissue, he reached out and snatched at it, yanking Aya close. "What happened, love?"

Unfurling his fingers so the blond could examine the cuts, Aya just shrugged his shoulders. "Wasnít paying attention." Yohji twisted his hand about, checking out the damage, before giving it one more wipe with the tissue and placing a kiss on the palm. The smaller man shivered slightly at the soft caress. Green eyes stared up at him, not sparkling with laughter or lust as they did most of the time, but filled with shadows. Aya stepped closer and ran the fingers of his other hand down the handsome face, brushing them over full lips before letting it drop. "Something wrong?"

Letting out a breath he hadnít know heíd been holding, Yohji shook his head. "The chibi just informed me that they found Kisaragiís body in a dumpster this morning. That prick Soma had her killed, I know it. She loved him, all she could talk about was her wonderful boyfriend, and he killed her after using her one more time." He closed his eyes, trying to rein in his anger. And image of Asuka shimmered in his mind, as she fell towards the ground, blood spilling into the air. His lids drifted open and he stared into plum coloured eyes. "Promise me love, that youíll make him pay. Donít be too quick tonight." The prick had killed an innocent woman, he deserved to suffer.

The pale man nodded his head, understanding what had Yohji so upset. The playboy didnít handle the deaths of women very well, especially ones he knew. One that might be alive if he hadnít have crossed her path. "I promise." He bent down to kiss the man, unsure of how to offer comfort but feeling the need to do so nonetheless. Yohji wrapped those long arms of his around Ayaís neck as he raised off of the bed, deepening the kiss as he clutched him tight.

"Promise me youíll be careful as well. That youíll come back. I swore that I would never leave you, now you do the same." The blondís voice was low in his ear, filled with emotions that made it harsh.

"I will. As long as you want me to." As long as he had a place by the manís side. Yohji didnít think he was a freak, something to be ashamed of or shunned. Heíd keep coming back, through hell or whatever else got in his way, as long as the older man loved and wanted him.

"Always, kitten. Always." Letting his hands slide down the redheadís back, Yohji slid them back up underneath the sweater. Aya shivered again, loving the feel of those hands stroking his skin, leaving a trail of warmth behind. The sweater was yanked over his head, sailing through the room to land by the bed, soon joined by a t-shirt. He pressed closer to his boyfriend, fitting himself against the taller manís body, needing that all-over contact. The blond kissed him again, thrusting a tongue deep into his mouth, stealing his breath away. Aya realized that he was being steered over to the wall, felt his back brush against it. Yohji pressed him into it, trapping him there, nowhere to go. Not that he wanted to be anywhere else at the moment. Encircling his arms around the lanky manís waist, Aya tried to get him even closer still.

Happy to oblige his redhead, Yohji stepped forward as much as he could, loving the feel of Aya pressed against him. He rocked his hips forward, wringing a gasp out of the man. The smaller man buried his head in the blondís shoulder, tongue flicking out to taste the manís golden skin. Desperate to be inside of his lover, shutting out the world and their bleak future, Yohji snaked a hand inbetween their two bodies, moaning at the little bit he had to shift away so he could work at their zippers, hating to lose even that much of Aya. He got his pants undone enough that his erection sprung free, eager and dripping, and fumbled with Ayaís as he cursed until he realized that they were button fly. Any other time heíd have laughed at the situation, trying to get a similar response out of the quiet man over his stupidity, but right now it just wasnít funny. Once the damn things were all unbuttoned, he shoved the material down the manís legs, lifting Aya up when they fell to the floor.

Oh yes, his kitten knew what he was after, and wanted it just as bad. Aya wrapped his legs tight about his waist, lifting up his head to kiss the blond passionately. Yohji broke it off with a frustrated grunt, wanting to keep drinking in his lover as much as possible but needing to be buried inside the man even more. He brought a hand to those pale lips, watched fervently as they parted to allow the digits in, lavishing the fingers with a wet tongue as they were sucked on. He lifted his eyes to meet Ayaís gaze, so dark and turbulent and expressing just as much need as he felt. Tearing his hand away from the otherís mouth, Yohji resumed the kiss, delving in deep to savor every nuance of the way the redhead tasted as his fingers worked themselves inside the pale body, forcing the clenched ring of muscles to loosen enough so he wouldnít tear his lover. Soon Aya was gasping too much to kiss him back, mouth panting as he rested his head on the wall.

Yohji moved his lips down the exposed neck as he lifted the smaller man higher, raising Aya up to lower him back down on his aching shaft, panting out the manís name as he shoved himself inside that hot and oh so fucking tight entrance, feeling his loverís body close around him. He knew he should be going slower, but each little bit more he drove in made the craving that much stronger, made him push in faster. "Gods Aya, so fucking good, oh kitten, please say this doesnít hurt it feels too damn good to hurt." Never one for talking, especially during sex, Aya just wrapped his arms about his shoulders, clinging to him as he pushed down. Groaning out the manís name as he finally slid in all the way, Yohji started to thrust into swordsman, racing to an explosion that would drain him of everything, thought and feeling and want for a few precious minutes, already forgetting everything as his world narrowed down to the tight sheath he was pounding into, the sound of his name being mewled out, the cool body pressed so close to his. He focused on those sensations until he felt his insides clench, the tension exploding outward, filling his vision with stars as he shot himself deep inside of Aya, touching off the manís orgasm as well at the waves of heat coursing into him.

Knees suddenly weak, Yohji slid down to the floor, dragging Aya along with him. The smaller man once more tucked his head into his shoulder, resting against him as they shuddered and fought to control their breathing, the sound of panting the only thing to be heard in the quiet room. Brushing his cheek against silky crimson strands, Yohji lifted a hand to trace a delicate cheekbone, trailing it down a pointed chin and under it, forcing his boyfriend to tilt his face up. He kissed him on the nose and then the lips, the actions lacking the fire from earlier, but somehow still rendering the man breathless with their tenderness. Employing his other hand to brush the too long bangs out of the manís face, Yohji offered Aya a silly grin. "How was that as incentive for you to come back, hmm?" The dark purple eyes glared at him for a moment before drifting closed, and he felt a weak jab at his ribs. Aya leaned against him for another moment before struggling upwards, wincing slightly as Yohji slid out of him, legs unsteady at supporting his weight. He glared at the blond some more, as if he was responsible for the situation. Which considering how rough the sex had been, was very likely. "Sorry."

Leaning against the wall for support, Aya snorted at the apology. "No, youíre not. Neither am I." It had been too good for that, even though his lower body ached at the moment. They were too on edge for a leisurely bout of sex, their bodies had just wanted to prove that they were alive, desperate to deny the very real fact that one or both of them might not returning from this mission alive. Later would be the time to revel in each other, at beating the odds once again and reassuring themselves that they were fine. Aya shakily made his way to the desk once more, seeking something to wipe off the semen on his stomach and dribbling down his thighs before it dried.

Once there he cleaned himself up and wadded up some more tissues, tossing them at Yohji. Aya then sat on the desk, wincing slightly as his bottom touched it. The blond just stared at him for a moment, enjoying the view of a naked Aya just out of reach, before hauling himself off of the floor and straightening out his clothes. Picking up those belonging to the redhead, he crossed the room and set them on the desk, trapping the manís face between his hands and nibbling on his lips. Deepening the caresses into a lingering kiss, Yohji shifted back when he found himself pressing his kitten down on the desk. Damnit, he had to stop now, or a certain swordsman would have difficulty walking later. Heíd always been horny before missions, body demanding one last stab at perpetuating the genes or some other primordial nonsense, but the thought that he might never again taste Aya, plunge himself inside of the man, filled him with a desperate hunger. Damnit. This time he spoke the word aloud, causing Aya to look at him curiously. "I just want to toss you on the bed and stay there until this whole damn mess is over with. You think Ken and Omi can handle things by themselves? They do have Masato and Honjyou helping out."

"A nice thought, but no." Aya tucked back his loverís hair as he smiled wistfully. "Two more weeks thoughÖ." he let his voice trail off as Yohji groaned, thinking of what he could do while on their vacation.

"Donít tease me, we still have way too much time until then. But that reminds me, Omi and I have decided that WeiŖ needs a bit of a vacation. Heís going to ask the boss for a week off, just the four of us at the cabin. How does that sound?"

It meant a week away from his sister, but it would be very nice to get away from everything else for a while. "Good." Maybe he could catch up on his reading, while the others were off swimming and playing around. Aya didnít do goofing off very well. He pushed Yohji over to the side as he pulled his sweater back on, then hopped off the desk to finish dressing. His legs were still a little on the unsteady side, and he scowled at the blond for the fact of the smug look crossing that handsome face. Arrogant bastard. A pale hand drifted over to the sunglasses, picking them up and placing them on his face.

"Hey, those are nice, did you just get them?" At Ayaís nod Yohji leaned close, examining the shades. Wow, those looked expensive. Who would have guessed his redhead would spend so much money on a pair of glasses? But as long as it kept the man from swiping his pair; coats, sweaters and jeans were one thing, but Yohji refused to do without his shades. "Guess Iím rubbing off on you, neh? Maybe Iíll pick up a matching set for us at Christmas." He was treated to a dirty look as Aya turned to close the closet door. Yohji stretched out an arm to prevent him from doing so. "Now I remember something that Iíve been meaning to ask you. Wanted to know where you got," he flipped through the various coats, some of them his, "/this/." He pulled out a supple black leather coat, covered with zippers. One of which was unzipped, letting an arm dangle down loosely. "This is what Masato was talking about, wasnít it? You actually wore this in public?"

Aya snatched the coat and shoved it back in the closet. "Yes I did, what about it? It was part of my uniform for Crashers. And I donít think a guy who wears crop tops has anything to say about anotherís outfit."

"Aya, you could wear that at the Velvet Room and no one would think twice, except to pray you have nothing underneath it and want to start unzipping." It just boggled the mind, to think that Aya Fujimiya, who could be so incredibly fucking straight, wore something like that. Just another wonderful surprise to add to the list. Yohji pulled the other man close, green eyes darkening in lust, and whispered huskily "promise me youíll wear that for me one night. I have to see you in it." Expecting to be punched, all that happened was Aya graced him with that wicked smile that hit him like a physical blow. "Maybe, if youíre really good." Growling softly, Yohji leaned in for a kiss.

He was about to start yanking off the clothes Aya had just put back on when there was a knock at the door. Kenís voice drifted through the wood. "Uhm, sorry to interrupt something, but weíre starting to get some action with Nakajima and his goons. You guys want to come to Omiís room and find out whatís going on?"

Breathing heavily as his lover slipped out of his arms and hurried to the door, Yohji mentally started to run through every curse word he knew. Two more weeks, he could stop himself from killing the damn jock because in two weeks heíd be too far away for the man to bother him. And with a bit of luck, he could convince the kitten to pack the coat.

*******

Nakajima entered Sōdō, eyes busy checking out the place, making sure everything was set up just right. Heíd been on the phone all day with Yoshioka, making sure that the men were in place, ready to handle any contingency. Word on the street seemed to indicate that Akiba truly was behind the meeting tonight, eager to settle their property dispute. The bastard was probably hoping to take advantage of the situation Kusari found itself mired in. No chance in hell of him letting that happen. But heíd pulled almost all of his muscle off of the street, except for a few special cases and the guys guarding Soma. There still was a good probability that Kritiker might try to take advantage of his absence to make a move, maybe take his partner out. Nakajima wasnít willing to let that happen, he needed Yuzo as a legitimate front. All he had to do was hold off the organization for a couple of months. Heíd heard rumors that one of their rivals was ready to move against them later this year. All him and Soma had to do was live that long.

Yoshioka came over to him, gesturing at one of the servers to bring some drinks. "Everything is just as you requested it, sir. All we have to do now is wait a little longer."

"Good." He missed Ueno, despite the manís perversions he knew he could trust him, but Yoshioka was coming along fine. "Anything else on the other matter we discussed previously?"

"Yes, I have some good news there as well. Todo remembered where heíd seen the foreigner from before, apparently he is a waiter at some restaurant Kisaragi used to frequent. With your permission, I can excuse him and a few others from guard duty at the townhouse and have him track down the man, bring him back here for questioning."

Nakajima nodded his head. "Do it. I want Fujimura here for when the club opens back up tomorrow night. Whatever it takes." Yoshioka bowed and stepped aside, reaching into his pocket to pull out his cell phone. Once more regarding the club, the yakuza boss felt some satisfaction in knowing that things were finally turning for the better, that his persistence and refusal to give in to the odds would see him safely through turbulent times once again.

*******

Omi was pulling his goggles on when he heard a knock on his door. "Enter." Aya walked in, katana in hand and leather coat buckled up. "Hello. You want something, Ayan?"

The pale man nodded his head. "Are you sure your foot is up to tonight?" he asked, cutting the quick of the matter.

"For the seventieth time, yes." Omi refused to get upset about being subjected to the same question over and over, it just showed that his teammates cared for him. "I wouldnít put the others at risk if I thought it wasnít. How about you, any headaches or drowsiness?" Aya shook his head. "Thatís good, we need you able to face Soma and his men and then take care of Hirohata and her boyfriend later." Knight hadnít been happy to hear that Aya was going to handle the couple, but had still insisted on being the redheadís back up. Tying his shoe laces, Omi straightened up, ready to meet the rest of team downstairs, when his computer let out a chirp. Both assassins went over to it, interested in seeing what was up.

Omi pulled up the program that he was using to track Nakajima and his menís cell phone conversations. "Hold on a second, letís see what is happening." A voice came through the computerís speakers, a gruff voice. "Ö..is working right now. Should be leaving soon, paid the hostess off to answer a few questions. Will follow the gaijin home, get the information that we need. You want me to bring him to you?"

"Yes, we might need some additional leverage to make Fujimura cooperate."

"Okay then. Guyís got a roommate, what do you want done with him?"

"Kill him. It will prove our point that we are serious."

"Understood."

Staring at his silent friend, Omi waited for the man to speak. After a minute, he ventured forth in a weak voice. "I asked Manx to keep an eye on him, do you think we should call her or someone else?" It had to be Teddy Stout that they were talking about.

"No, Iíll have Knight go over and keep an eye on Teddy and Mickey." Aya turned around and headed for the door."

"Uh, Abyssinian, are you sure about that? What about your backup?" Dark violet eyes stared back at the youth, flashing gems with no hint of humanity about them. A distant, deep voice answered back. "I wonít need him tonight. No word about this to Balinese."

 

Bombay shivered at the tone, but reluctantly nodded his head.

*******

Yuushi watched as Masato and Kudoh sped off in the assassinís sportster, and Hidaka and Tsukiyono went to the club by bike. Looking at Fujimiya, he inquired about who got to drive to the townhouse. He wasnít expecting the answer he received at all.

"Youíre not coming with me." Aya handed the stunned man a piece of paper. "Go to this address. Youíre to protect two men, both Americans. Teddy and Mickey Stout. Might have seen Teddy the other night at the club, heís the one in the skirt, has long hair. The yakuza are after them because of me, make sure no harm comes to them." That said, the redhead made for his car.

"Wait a damn second, Aya. What about you? Iím supposed to be your backup for the night."

"Not now." Aya opened the car door, pausing in getting in to stare at his friend over the roof. "They need you more. I can handle myself just fine. Now get going."

Yanking on an end of his scarf in frustration, Yuushi protested. "Youíre going to take out, what, over ten men on your own? Are you nuts?" Besides, heíd promised Kudoh that heíd watch after the man. How was he going to do that on the other side of town?

"Knight, Iím not in the mood to be killed tonight. I can handle the men, if not Iíll distract them and give the others a call, and wait for them to arrive." Gold eyes stared at him attentively, assessing the situation and his skills. Biting back a snarl, Aya played dirty, working the manís conscience. "If you donít go now, there is a very good chance that at least two innocent people will die. People who just so happen to be WeiŖís friends, who got into trouble helping me out." He stood there looking at the Crasher, wishing he would just stop arguing and give in. After a few heartbeats, Yuushi nodded his head.

"Okay, just make sure to call if you need any help. Donít want Kudoh all over my ass for letting something happen to you." He added "be careful" in a serious voice, mentally willing the pale man to not take any unnecessary chances. Aya nodded his head, then slid into his vehicle. Going for his own car, which was parked outside, Yuushi fervently hoped that he wasnít making a mistake in listening to his friend. But for some reason he felt compelled to obey the man.

*******

On a roof opposite Sōdō, Bombay nodded Balinese, Siberian and Rook. ďYou guys get as close as possible, and Iíll take out the four guards on this side. Finish off the rest of them on the perimeter, and then weíll move on in. Rook, slip inside while we handle things out here, start setting up the incendiaries. Things will have to move very quickly, the yakuza inside wonít take long to notice thereís no one watching things out here." When the older men nodded their heads, the youth pulled out his crossbow, lining several bolts on the ledge in front of him. Siberian went to cover the west side of the building, Balinese the east. The south side was fine, that was the one that faced the street, and it would call too much attention to the place if armed guards were patrolling there. Just one man sat at the door, watching for Akiba and his men to arrive in the next half hour. Which never was going to happen.

Once the assassins were in place and reported this over the comms, Bombay started firing at the four yakuza in his sights. They quickly went down in succession. Scurrying down the fire escape, he started to drag the bodies out of view. Siberian soon joined him, gloves damp with blood already. Balinese hissed over the comms that Rook was inside and that heíd taken care of the men on his side. Ken nodded to indicate that his targets were down as well. WeiŖ slipped into the club through the back and side entrances, and several more yakuza that had been stationed at the doors died.

Omi calculated that about a third of the yakuza were now dispatched. So far, so good. But there was only so much more they could do by sneaking around. Everyone took cover, as he stealthily sought out the clubís fuse box. Once stationed by it, he waited for Rook to give the signal. If worse came to worse, theyíd leave the place burning as they escaped and pick the targets off as they ran from the fire. It took about ten minutes for the Crasher to get enough bombs planted that would set the club ablaze, more would be needed to do a proper job of it, but those could wait until WeiŖ were done.

Giving the signal, Bombay counted to jū before he killed most of the lights. Instantly there were shots and yells, the men panicking already. In the dim club the young blond could make out Siberian leaping at a man twice his size and make short work of the gangster, blinding him and then slicing his stomach open. Thinking that his friend was acting a bit more savage than usual, Bombay forced himself to focus on taking out as many people as he could, darts and arrows flying about with deadly accuracy. Balinese was in the thick of it, taking out the guards surrounding Nakajima, his cheek cut and his glasses askew on his face. Omi gave him some assistance, taking out a man about to shoot the playboy in the back. Surprisingly enough Rook was in the melee as well, spinning a staff with potent accuracy, not killing the targets but incapacitating the men, helping out the assassins as much as he could.

Balinese ducked a blow that would have shattered his jaw, driving his shoulder into the fat manís stomach and shoving him backwards, knocking him into several other gangsters. Picking up a fallen gun, he fired several shots, clearing some space around him. Kicking at yet another yakuza trying to shoot him, he broke a couple of the bastardís ribs, and the man dropped to the floor in pain. That finally made his way clear to his target, and after quickly dodging to the left he tossed out some wire, snaring a stunned Nakajima. Pulling back tight on the cords, he strangled the fighting man. "Surprised to see us, mister? Kritiker sent us here to teach you pricks what happens when you murder our friends." Rage and shock filled the older manís cold eyes, as he garbled out several words, fighting his death to the end. All he could think of was it wasnít supposed to end like this, having some two-bit punk kill him when he was so close to beating the odds yet again.

Letting the corpse drop to the ground, Yohji looked about for another target. He recognized the man with purple hair who was running towards the kitchen as Uenoís second in command. Since that bastard was already dead, might as well take out some residual anger on the manís buddy. It still burned him to think that someone had deliberately hurt his redhead. Ken noticed the man also, and set off after him as well, headed for the kitchen doors ahead of the blond.

Something teased at the ex-detectiveís memory. /Watch out for the kitchen./ Shit, the kitten had warned him about the place. "Siberian, look out!" Shoving open the doors, he leapt at the brunet as someone whoíd been hiding behind a table brandished a very long knife, slicing at the assassin. Balinese knocked the both of them to the ground, rolling them under another table as he sent wires flying. Siberian was huddled on the floor, cursing in pain. "Bombay, Rook, Siberianís down in the kitchen. We need help." A volley of bullets flew in their direction, chewing up the tile and sending some of the shrapnel at the two assassins. Yohji took some in leg, he yanked out the piece as he reached his switchblade.

"Balinese, take cover." That was all the warning that the blond had before the doors were forced open by a dead yakuza being thrown through them, and then an incendiary sailed through the air after it. Covering his eyes, Yohji heard the sizzle as the thing ignited, setting Yoshioka and one of his men on fire. The remaining targets were taken down by Omiís darts as they tried to escape. Grabbing Siberian, Balinese hightailed it out of the room, to the dance floor where Bombay and Rook were waiting.

"Balinese, help Rook finish setting the bombs, and make sure there is no more resistance." The archer dropped to his knees, checking the brunetís wound. Balinese took off to finish up the mission, after he had set three incendiaries he inquired over the comms as to how badly Ken was hurt.

The relief was evident in Omiís voice. "Not too bad, although weíll need to take him to the hospital. Some of his abdominal muscles were sliced, heíll need a lot of stitches. If you hadnít have been there, the guy would have cut him wide open." Kenís voice could be heard mumbling in the background, insisting he was fine.

Within minutes the four men were gathered back on the dance floor. The club was rapidly filling with smoke, pretty soon someone would notice and call the fire department if they hadnít already. "Well fellas, we better get our asses out of here and light this place up." With Masatoís help Yohji got Ken upright, and the two of them carried the injured athlete out of the club. As soon as they cleared the doors Omi set the place on fire, ensuring that everyone and thing inside would be burned to the ground, even if people arrived to stop the blaze. Sirens could be heard, growing louder by the second.

They put Ken in Masatoís Jeep, the vehicle being roomier and easier to get a hurt person in and out of than Yohjiís Seven. Omi jumped in the back seat, fussing over Ken a second before turning to face the lanky blond. "Balinese, why donít you go home, weíll handle this from here. Should be back in a couple of hours, they might not even want Siberian to stay over night." He knew that Yohji just wanted to go home and find out how Aya had fared that night. Hopefully the quiet man had been correct in his assumption that heíd be able to take out Soma and his men by himself.

Not about to question the boyís orders, Yohji patted Ken on the arm and took off. He wouldnít be able to relax until his lover was safe by his side. Fuck this split up the team shit, from now on he was insisting that he be the manís backup from now on, it was just too damn stressful other wise. If there was so much as a scratch on his kitten, Honjyou was dead.

*******

Creeping among the shadows in the back alley, Abyssinian mentally recalled the townhouseís floor plans, where the men were assumed to be stationed, and the placeís security system. Tucking his sword in the back of his coatís belt, he decided to go in by using a tree on a neighborís property. A quick scan showed no alarms to worry him. He scaled a wall, silently ran across the yard, and then climbed into a tree. There was a small part of his mind chuckling at the situation, a kitten up a tree, before he pushed it aside to focus on the matter at hand. It would be a bit of a drop down the other side, and heíd have to leap out to clear the wall, but it was manageable. Searching for any sign of guards, he caught two patrolling through the ornamented grounds, and stilled. Lying on a branch, he concentrated on the men, waiting for an opening. There was a flood of heat, and a surety that he would have his chance in another minute.

As he watched the two yakuza walked right underneath him, continuing down the path to a garden pool. They stopped to light some cigarettes, chatting about something in a quiet manner. The sound of water falling and their voices masked the slight creak from the branch he swung off of for clearance, and his subsequent impact on the ground. He touched down and rolled into the shadows, pulling his sword free as he flowed to his feet. All he had to do was wait for them to move. The one smoking a cigar would shift to the right, gesturing to the house. His partner would be staring off in that direction. So he slid behind them, and when the man extended his arm Abyssinian swiped the katana across the yakuzaís body, down his shoulder and neck, through the chest. He never saw it coming. As the body fell Aya brought his blade up for another blow, timing it just right as the yakuza turned around to see his friend. A head went rolling into the koi pond, scattering the fish for a minute, until they returned to investigate.

By that time the pale assassin had dragged the bodies over to a cluster of shrubs before ghosting his way across the yard. There would be another person in the kitchen. He stood outside the door until something told him that now was the moment to rush in. Quietly making his entrance, Abyssinian came up on the man as he was fiddling with the coffee maker, severing his spinal column. The guard slid to the floor as the redhead reached forward, snagging the glass pot before it shattered on the ground. Gliding along a hallway, he took care of the two men standing watch at the front door, kicking one to the wall as he brought the katana down on a hand reaching for a gun, rolling the hilt in his grasp so he positioned the blade to stab upwards into the manís chest cavity, skewering his diaphragm and heart. Pulling it free, he used the hilt to strike his other opponent across the face, reversing the weapon to slice the manís throat.

Five men down, in the matter of minutes. He still had six more to go, counting the two stationed out front. Bending down to wipe his hands and katana free of blood, somehow Abyssinian knew that he wouldnít be able to sneak up on the yakuza and take them out one at a time anymore. Next would come a more rapid confrontation, one that would draw the remaining guards from the outside to where he needed them. A sense of calm filled the swordsman, everything would turn out fine. Once more waiting for the most opportune moment, Abyssinian crept up the steps, stopping before the last few. One of the men was entering the bathroom, another was in the office with Soma. The remaining two would be coming out of a spare room in forty seconds, on their way to the kitchen, hungry for snacks and caffeine. He would strike when they came out, it would give him several seconds to dispatch them before the others joined in the melee.

Busy making jokes about the outfit one of the J-Pop singers had been wearing for a television appearance as he stepped out of the room, the jocular gangster didnít see the blade arcing through the air for his throat. There was a flash of silver, and a streak of ice across his neck that blossomed into fire, blood suddenly gushing from the slash. His friend jumped back until he hit a wall, loudly yelling at the top of his lungs. His gun was halfway out of its holster before the katana carved into first his stomach, making him double over in agony, then across the back of his neck.

Whirling around, Abyssinian speared the yakuza bursting out of Somaís office through the right eye with the point of his blade, letting his momentum spin him and the body around so when the other gangster burst from the bathroom, gun firing off two shots, it was the dead man who took the bullets. He kicked out, forcing the body into the yelling man, freeing his katana in the process. The sword arced out again, sending the guardís head rolling down the hallway.

Counting down, the pale assassin dove into one of the empty bedrooms, knowing that in sixty three seconds the outside guards would arrive at the second floor, ready to shoot the first thing that moved. Soma was huddled in his office, desperately trying to remove the safety from his gun, hands shaking badly. Hiding to the side of the door, Abyssinian stood with his sword up, waiting for the man with the gold shirt to investigate the room. Heíd have five seconds to dispatch him before the yakuza with the ponytail fired into the room, it would be best if he remembered to stay to the right after gutting the first. Sure enough, a shimmer of gold in the corner of his eye sent Abyssinian into motion, running low as he dragged his weapon through the manís stomach. There was a strangled yell as he crouched to the right of the door, followed by a hail of bullets. It would only be eight more shots until the bullets ran out, on the count of seven he uncoiled and launched himself at the last target, knocking the man down as he fumbled for a new clip, sliding his blade between the yakuzaís ribs. Getting to his feet, he stalked to Somaís office, knowing that the man had finally managed to get the safety off his gun.

The assassin kicked open the door, diving to the ground as two bullets harmlessly flew over the top of his head. Tumbling across the floor, Abyssinian lashed out with his sword, catching Soma across the wrist, severing the tendons. The gun dropped to the floor. Coming to his feet, he next went for the manís Achilles tendons, ensuring that his target didnít flee. As the sobbing man collapsed to the ground, tears of pain streaming down his face, Aya just stood over the shuddering form. Soma pleaded with him between sobs, babbling about money and his friends. "Please oh please, let me go, give you anything you want, Iím rich, just let me go, theyíll never let you get away with this." Cold pansy-hued eyes regarded the wretch, waiting for the man to shut up. Once Somaís voice died off, he bent over the man, katana touching a heaving stomach. "For Koge Moriyama and Miho Kisaragi." Twisting the blade as he shoved it down, the redhead next walked out of the room, leaving a gutted Soma writhing on the floor. It would take a couple of minutes for the man to die, his promise to Balinese was kept and heíd avenged Moriyama and the other Kritiker agents. All total it hadnít taken him fifteen minutes to kill the targets, and he wasnít even breathing hard. A shiver ran through his body as the heat fled yet again, leaving him cold and empty. Sneaking out the back way, he looked about for witnesses, but the neighborhood remained unnaturally quiet. Not about to question his luck, he slinked back through the shadows to a gate, feeling as if eyes were following him. Not spying anyone about, Abyssinian quietly melted into the night.

From their advantage point on the house next doorís roof, Schuldig and Farfarello watched him disappear. Schuldigís eyes never left the pale man until he was gone from sight. "Well, that certainly was fun, now wasnít it? The Kštzchen sure does have some interesting talents." Heíd used his telepathy to keep track of the going ons in the townhouse, mentally watching his tuberose in action as he shared the vision with the Irishman and kept the neighbors from noticing the gunshots. Ah, what a fucking rush. It had been so easy to do those things simultaneously, what with the heat and energy flowing into him from Abyssinian. His whole body shivered in pleasure; even after cutting the flow off, his hair was still standing on end. It was almost as good as sex. The Germanís hunger for the pale man intensified, needing to have the assassin in his arms and his head, that body and mind and talent completely his. It took all of his will power to remain on the roof, to let the Japanese man walk away from him. Soon, heíd have his tuberose soon, one way or another. His companionís voice jostled him from his thoughts.

"Beautiful. No white kitty but an angel of death, gleaming sword raining down justice and retribution. God must love his servant well, to bless him so." Farfarello stared after the departed man for a second before an amber eye drifted back to the corpses in the garden, the fish nibbling on the decapitated head. Idly a pale hand traced a knife over the flesh of his left bicep, carving little crosses over and over as blood trickled down.

Not liking what heíd heard, knowing as he did about the insane manís obsession, Schuldig reached over and the jerked the Irishmanís head aside until they were staring at each other. "Not Godís, Abyssinian is /mine/. Do you understand? Try and hurt God by harming Ďthe angel of deathí, and I will make sure you feel immeasurable pain before you join your family. Do you understand? He. Is. Mine." Farfie must be made to understand that Fujimiya was not to be touched by his private crusade.

The amber orb drifted unfocused for a moment, then looked back at the telepath. "A fallen angel, descending from heaven into the devilís arms. Oh, God must be gnashing his teeth in fury and despair, having lost the shining one to you. Oh yes, he is yours, the stench of brimstone surrounds him now. But still he shines, oh so bright." A smile broke out on the scarred face. "Yes, God is hurting over the loss. The angel of death, his feet touching the earth, beholden by the enemy. So beautiful. Delicious pain." He dug the knife deep into his flesh, cutting the character Ďdeathí into the skin and muscles.

Braving the madmanís thoughts, Schuldig wanted to ascertain that Berserker wouldnít harm his heart. The manís brain was filled with complete chaos, misfiring synapses and whirling images and the overwhelming taste of copper and steel, but he managed to find a picture of the WeiŖ assassin, surrounded by a nimbus of light, while bearing leathery wings of purplish black, much like his coat. Hmm, sometimes lunatics were blessed with clearer sight than others, Farfie was no exception. In a flash of motion he snatched his comradeís knife, holding the toy ransom. "Youíll get it back in a minute," he told the protesting assassin. " Now listen to what I have to say, no more talk of Abyssinian shining bright, do you hear me? Or there will be no more fun little excursions for you. Do you understand?"

Farfarello nodded his head. "Youíre a jealous devil. Want the light all to yourself. Just like God. But the angel is out of his reach forever now, what has fallen can never be lifted back up." He spat to the side, as if riding himself of a bad taste. "No more basking in the glory of heaven for your kitty. Make God hurt by sullying what was once his," the Irishman purred, face beaming with joy. "Make him scream to see the devil holding something that precious close, and I wonít say a word. Who listens to me anyways," he asked, sounding perfectly lucid for a moment. Once more staring at the house littered with dead, he whispered, "make him scream in pain."

"I think I can manage that." Schuldig handed Farfarello his knife back. "Letís get out of here, nothing more to see. Promised you a bit of fun tonight, right? How does this sound, I know a catholic priest who has some family come to pay a visit, see how their dear brother and uncle fairs in converting this heathen land. A priest, his sister and her god-fearing husband, two angelic little boys. Both of them alter boys at their local parish. You up for a little excitement?" At the scarred manís fervent nod, Schuldig made his way down the roof, effortlessly jumping to the ground. "Well then, what are you waiting for? Bradley will expect us back in a couple of hours, that doesnít leave you much time to play."

*******

Teddy glanced over to see his brother once again staring in the rear view mirror. "Theyíre still back there, arenít they?"

"Yes."

"Fucking great." For once Mickey let the obscenity slip past, not telling him to mind his language. They had noticed the three dark suited men at the restaurant earlier today, and Mickey had overheard one of them asking questions about the younger Stout. So neither of them were surprised to find a black Cadillac following then home. "What are you going to do?"

The older man mapped out a plan. "We go home, you dash in and grab your gun, and we take off again. Theyíll find out where we live soon enough, since they tracked you to work, best try and get them somewhere not very crowded and knock a little sense into them." Mickey refused to adjust the rear view mirror another time, he knew the men were back there, and that it wasnít likely that theyíd be driving off somewhere else any time soon. Why the hell were they after Teddy? Damn the noisy brat for having to check up on Kudoh, now heíd stirred up some new trouble for them. "When I park, remember to act natural. Hopefully they wonít think weíre on to them, and give us a minute or two in the apartment before they pay us a call." Somehow he doubted that theyíd just follow them back to their house and then leave them alone.

"Understood." Teddy fidgeted with his seatbelt for a moment, twisting the nylon between his hands. If the bastards though theyíd found a couple of jingaiís they could mess with, they were clearly mistaken. For a second he reflected back on Redís warning yesterday, that the yakuza might come after him. Guess he should pay more attention to the man from now on.

As soon as they pulled into their parking space, Teddy got out of the car, calling out that he wanted to get upstairs and check their messages, would Mickey mind if he left him to carry up the stuff? The older man just snorted and waved him away, reaching into the back seat to grab a shopping bag and a large nylon sack that contained what appeared to be sports equipment. Mickey never went far without his bats, they were a very handy little weapon, what police officer in this baseball crazed country was going to arrest him for carrying around two or three bats? It was perfect.

Once Teddy got out of the garage, he raced for the elevator. Getting off on his floor, he ran down the hallway for his apartment. Keying open the lock, he pushed aside the door and entered, coming to a complete halt. There was a strange blond sitting on the couch, dressed all in white. "Who the hell are you?" Sidling down the wall to a spare table, he stood in front of it, hands behind his back and reaching for something to throw at the man as a weapon.

"A friend, so relax. No need to assault me with knickknacks, Aya Fujimiya sent me to make sure you and your brother are all right. I assume you are Teddy Stout, after all." How many foreign, longhaired men in skirts could there be in Japan?

"Fujimiya? You telling me that Red sent you?" Not quite trusting the man just yet, Teddy asked him to describe the redheadís lover.

"Tall, lanky, dirty blond whoís a smug ass bastard and a walking chimney."

Letting go of the thick candle heíd been holding, the foreigner heaved a sigh of relief. At least until the door opened, admitting Mickey. The burly man caught sight of the stranger and immediately freed a bat, swinging the aluminum stick forward as he advanced. Teddy latched on to his arm, yelling at him to stop. "Mickey, wait! Heís the cavalry, Red sent him."

"Huh? Heís friends with Red?" He looked over at the blond. "How did you know to come here?"

Yuushi cautiously stood to his feet, not wanting to be caught sitting if the man came after him. "Ask the man yourself, just know that I got drafted to make sure you guys didnít get hurt. I take it someoneís after you already, from the way you are acting."

"Hell yes, we have three gangsters sitting in a car downstairs, maybe even on their way up here right now. Excuse me for a moment." Teddy ducked into his bedroom, changing his light top for something darker and grabbing a thin cotton jacket. Digging in a drawer, he pulled out a Glock and two clips, making sure they were filled with bullets before sliding one in the gun and tucking the other in a jacket pocket. The gun he placed in the small of his back. Good thing heíd kept the damn thing, it came in handy every now and then, at the very least as a stress relief. Nothing like driving off to the middle of nowhere after a frustrating day and doing some target practice. Anyone who got in his way tonight would find out just how good of a shot he was. It paid to be raised on American army bases, he could shot since he was seven. Entering the living room, he nodded at the two men quietly standing there waiting for him. "Okay, Iím ready now, letís go."

"Let me go first," Yuushi commented. "Leave the lights on, and turn the tv on as well. Itíll buy us a few seconds if they come up here to find you." He checked the hallway, then motioned for the two brothers to follow him. The blond went for the stairwell, ignoring the elevators. Teddy came next, with Mickey in the rear, bag full of bats slung across his back. They ran down the steps, pausing at each landing to make sure they were alone on the steps.

Finally reaching the bottom, Knight once more cautiously stuck his head out to check for yakuza. And immediately dived for the ground, cursing at the punch that had been aimed at his head. Rolling to his feet, he pulled out his whip sword, using it to knock the yakuzaís feet out from under him. The man fell down, gun going off as he hit the ground. Mickey was already swinging into action, knocking the gun out of the second yakuzaís hand, breaking his wrist. The Japanese man let out a wail, and his friend pointed his weapon at the large American, clearly intending to shoot. Teddy smashed into him, making the shot go wild. There was a sound of broken glass in the background as the bullet struck a windshield.

Struggling with his assailant, Teddy was punched in the stomach, then hauled to his feet as he gasped. "Enough of this shit. Put your weapons down or I shoot him." Yuushi and Mickey looked up from the yakuza they were subduing, to find a gun pointed at the longhaired manís head. Letting out a curse, Mickey dropped his bats. The man with the broken wrist lay unmoving on the ground, unconscious from the blows. The yakuza Yuushi had been fighting stood up to his feet after picking up his gun and striking the Crasher with it across his face. Spitting out blood, the blond glared at the two gangsters.

Todo looked at his friend and nodded his head, as he jerked the small American back to the car. They had what they came for, time to go. The yakuza leveled his gun at Yuushi, intent on taking out the bastard that had bested him first. Before he could pull the trigger another shot rang out, and the four men could only watch as the shot man crumpled to the ground. Pulling his arm out of a stunned Todoís grasp, Teddy snatched his gun and pointed at the man. When the yakuza came to his senses and tried to lift his weapon as well, Teddy shot him in the shoulder, calmly watching as the man fell to his knees, screaming in pain.

"Nice aim there. But donít you know that guns are illegal here? This is Japan, not the NRA loving United States." A brunette woman approached the men from across the parking lot, her hair slicked back and body covered in a catsuit. A smoking gun was in her gloved hand, and the long black duster billowed out around her.

"Who are you supposed to be, Catwoman?" Teddy quipped, gun still pointed at Todo. Yuushi moved to stand in front of him defensively, kondorudarujan in his hands once more.

"This name will have no meaning for two of you, but you can call me Birman." The blond started when he heard that. "Konban wa, Knight. I thought you were on vacation. A little odd for you to be involved in WeiŖís affairs, isnít it?" Yuushi only stare at her, not quite sure what to say. "Run on home now, puppy, Iíll handle this from here on out."

Eyes still locked on the woman, Yuushi was unsure of what he should do. Heíd promised Aya that heíd protect the men, what if this was some sort of trick? He knew of the name Birman, it belonged to one of Persiaís agents. Company rumor had it that she was sharing the current leaderís bed. "I was given an task, excuse me if I see it through. What are you doing here?"

"One moment." Birman raised her gun, and in two quick shots killed Todo and his unconscious friend. Mickey reached over and yanked Teddy behind him, bat held in a defensive position, but neither men said a word. Yuushi let out a gasp and lunged at the woman, brought to a standstill as the gun targeted him.

"What the hell are you doing? They werenít a threat anymore!"

Birman regarded him coldly. "They were targeted to die, along with the rest of Kusari. You should know that, itís what Rook and your new roommates are taking care of right now." Looking over at the Americans, she stated manner of factly that she wasnít here to kill them. "Someone passed on to me that you were in danger because of assisting an associate of ours, and since I was in the neighborhood, I came to make sure you were alright. Now if you donít mind, I think we need to go somewhere and have a nice private discussion." She walked over to the elevators, pulling out a cell phone on the way. She hastily spoke to whoever answered, informing them of three bodies that needed to be taken care of. Once done she regarded the men impatiently. "Well? I donít think itís a good idea to stay here forever, sooner or later someone will come down from upstairs or get past the jinx I put on the security gate. It would be best if you werenít here at that time." Staring pointedly at Honjyou, she jerked her head towards the exit. "Goodbye, Knight. Iíll take it from here. Leave now or Iíll be forced to mention your little moonlighting job this past week." Her faced relaxed somewhat at the manís worried expression. "Donít worry, I promise not to harm them. Now go, and tell Queen she owes me big time for keeping quiet." She pushed the elevator button, and when the doors slid apart held them open, regarding the Americans with an impatient expression.

Yuushi sighed as he headed for the exit. "You guys should be safe with her, she works for the same organization that Fujimiya and I do. Iím sure heíll be checking up on you later. Right now I need to go and see if he needs any help." And to find out if the stubborn baka had gotten himself killed while on the mission.

Exchanging glances, Mickey just grunted as Teddy shrugged his shoulders. "Thanks, Blondie," the small man called out as he entered the elevator. "Hope to see you around, you have a nice ass. Especially considering the fact that youíre wearing white." Yuushi choked for a moment, but quickly recovered and offered the foreigner a smile and a wave goodbye. Mickey joined his brother on the elevator, shaking his head.

Birman pushed the button for the twenty-third floor, already knowing where they lived, having read their file earlier. She got two raised eyebrows over that action, but the men remained silent, Teddy with his gun held at the ready, and Mickey smacking a bat into a palm. Putting her own weapon away, Birman hoped that the men would relax. They were a promising couple, intelligent, and had calmly handled everything that had happened downstairs. About to say something, she bit back the comment when Teddy spoke up.

"So let me get this straight, you work for the same people that Blondie, Red, and the rest of his roommates work for, right? And itís not freelance detective jobs, right? Never really bought that story."

"Yes, we all work for the same organization. Thatís part of what Iím hoping to talk to you about."

Teddy looked at his brother. Mickey decided to take over the conversation. "An organization that is interested in serial killers and yakuza, and doesnít seem to have much of an issue about murder. Pardon us if weíre a bit leery over your intentions for us. To put it bluntly, what the hell do you want?"

Birman looked at the elevator doors, they were approaching their floor. Teddy quickly hid his gun as the door opened. Stepping out into the hallway, the agent gestured for the men to join her. "What Iím here for is to find out if either of you want to be my dog."

A smile broke out over Teddyís face, as Mickey looked on in puzzlement. "Oh, that sounds delightfully kinky. You can count me in then," the younger Stout replied.

*******

Standing in a too quiet apartment, Aya sighed and rubbed his temples as he looked at the bodies of its occupants. Kitayama was suspended from the ceiling, a chair lying on the floor beneath him. Hirohata was sprawled on the couch, judging from the empty pill container on the coffee table dead of an overdose. Someone had beaten the redhead to the traitor and her boyfriend.

Deciding it would be best if he quickly left the premises, not sure if the police were about to Ďdiscoverí the bodies at any moment, Aya was on his way out the door when his cellphone vibrated. Pulling it out of his coat, he clicked it on and grunted.

"Aya, is that you? Are you alright?"

"Honjyou. What do you want?"

Yuushiís indignant voice crackled over the connection. "To make sure youíre still alive, you ungrateful bastard. Should have known youíd be too mean to kill. Everything go according to plan?"

A slight smile on his face from the blondís remarks, Aya quietly answered him back with a Ďyesí. "How are the Stoutís?"

"Uhm, okay I guess. A young woman named Birman showed up, kil- uhm, took care of the problem before our eyes, and is now talking with them. She said theyíd be safe."

That didnít sound good, Kritiker policy was to eliminate any witnesses. He doubted that Honjyou knew that, or heíd never have left the men alone. But once more tonight his instincts flared up, whispering that the men would be fine. Although it left him with a slightly worried feeling, as if there would be an unpleasant surprise later. "Fine then, Iím on my way home."

"Aright, Iíll meet you there. Is there anything that needs tending to?"

"No." With that last word Aya cut the connection, just wanting to go home and take a long hot shower, and check on Yohji. It made him nervous, not having the blond in his sight during a mission, knowing that he was off fighting without him. Nobody better have laid a hand on the man, heíd find a way to make them pay even if they were dead.

Exiting the apartment building, the pale man slid his new sunglasses on his face, even though it was dark out. No telling who was about, someone from Kritiker might still be in the area, either finishing up covering their tracks, or waiting for the couple to be discovered. For some reason once again he felt a pair of eyes on him, and it made him very uncomfortable. Hurrying to his Porsche, he tried to convince himself that he was just being paranoid.

*******

Yohji jumped out of the chair when Yuushi walked into the Koneko, searching behind him for his lover. When the man failed to appear he descended upon the other blond, eyes flashing with anger and fists clenched tight. "Where the hell is he? Why isnít Aya home yet?"

Great, what were the odds that Aya hadnít told his boyfriend that he went off take care of Soma by himself, a chagrined Yuushi thought. "Heís on his way here, just spoke to him about twenty minutes ago. If youíre so worried about him why didnít you give him a call?"

"Because it might distract him at a critical moment. We never call each other during a mission unless itís a matter of life and death." Taking in the manís guilty expression, and the fact that the idiot hadnít been aware of the policy. "Why isnít he with you?"

The elegant blond let out a long breath, not very pleased to be the one to break the news to Kudoh about what his boyfriend had been up to. "I was ordered to go help some friends of his, the Stoutsí. Fujimiya insisted that he could handle Soma by himse-." Yuushi just barely managed to duck the punch, and was swift to put some distance between him and an enraged Kudoh. "Listen damnit, I only did what the man wanted. You take it out on him, not me!"

"You were supposed to watch his back, I trusted the suicidal moron into your hands. What the hell were you thinking? Or me for that matter." All Yohji wanted to do was strangle the Crasher until he turned blue. "Something might have happened, and where the hell would you have been then? You fucking asshole." Busy chasing Knight around the kitchen table, he missed Ayaís entrance.

A deep voice caught the two menís attention. "Am I interrupting something?"

Yohji immediately spun around and glomped the redhead as Yuushi ran for cover. "You sneaky, fucking bastard! What the hell were you thinking, going off on the mission by yourself?" He alternated shaking his lover and holding him still, checking for injuries. The smaller man hissed at him to let him go. Yohji pulled Aya close and proceeded to ardently kiss him. After several minutes he broke it off and resumed the tirade. "What the hell would you have done if something happened? Are you hurt anywhere? Iím going to kill you if you are."

"Damnit, Kudoh, Iím fine. Not even," he added bitingly as a pale hand traced a cut cheek, "scratched. Which is more than you can say, and you had more than enough back up. Iíve handled a dozen men before, the mission was nothing new." Hell, if Yohji even got a hint of what he did on the private assignments that Kritiker sent him out on from time to time, the blond would never let him out of his sight again. "What about the others, did everyone make it back alright?"

Finally calming down, Yohji brushed back the smaller manís bangs, gazing deep into the dark purple eyes. What the hell was going on with them, it seemed that each time he saw them they were darker. And Aya was even colder now than heíd been earlier. "Youíre freezing again, what are you, part snowman?" At the redheadís growl the lanky man kissed a too pale nose after pushing up the grey shades. "Kenís at the hospital, Omi called about ten minutes ago to say that the doctors are looking at him but think he can come home tonight. No soccer for the boy for a couple weeks though, itís going to be sheer hell living with the damn jock. Everyone else if fine, except for a few scratches and bruises. You sure youíre alright?"

Resisting the urge to punch the blond, Aya nodded his head. "I want a shower. Let me go." Yohji reluctantly released his grip, but followed him upstairs. From the sound of it Yuushi was hiding in the living room, not willing to be caught in the middle of a loverís quarrel.

Aya entered their bedroom, dropping off his sword and coat and placing his shades on a nightstand before grabbing his yukata. Yohji was waiting for him in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet as he smoked a cigarette.

"Are you trying to kill me with second hand smoke?" the redhead snapped as he grabbed the cigarette and tossed it in the sink. "I swear Iím going to die of lung cancer before you do." Green eyes glared at him.

"Quit your bitching and strip. Iím not trusting your word, not after tonight."

About to retort back, Aya tugged on his bangs as he tried to calm his temper. All a fight was going to do was keep him from a nice hot shower. Sitting down on the tub, he pulled off his boots, tossing them at Yohji, feeling a little better as one of them hit the manís knees and made him yelp in pain. Standing up he pulled his sleeveless turtleneck off after removing the collar, then set about stripping off his pants, boxers and socks. The older man just sat there silently, minutely examining each and every inch of exposed skin. "Happy now? Then get out, I want to take a shower in peace. Step into it and I swear you wonít be able to have sex for at least a month when Iím through with you." That said, Aya climbed in the tub and yanked the curtain closed with more force than was necessary.

Picking up his loverís clothes, Yohji paused before leaving the room to maliciously flush the toilet. Unfortunately the damn redhead was too cold to care about a sudden rush of hot water that would normally have him jumping out of the shower and yelling his head off. Making his way back to the bedroom, the playboy just shoved the clothes in the hamper, putting the leather coat in the bag along with his, to have the bloodstains and gunpowder residue cleaned off of it by Kritiker. He chain-smoked the whole entire time, filling the room with the smell of his cigarettes.

When Aya walked into the room he immediately set about opening the window, snarling under his breath as he took deep breaths of the clean air. Once the room was aired out a bit he turned around to look at his boyfriend, who was sprawled out on the couch. "Thank you so much for ensuring that every damn thing I own now smells like an ashtray."

"No problem, kitten, anything for my sweet little snugglebunny." The dark purple eyes flashed in anger, and Aya took a step closer to his sword. Sighing as he put out his smoke, Yohji stood up and walked over to his dresser, prying open a bottle of Jameson and taking a long swallow. "Okay, so are we going to bitch at each other all night long or what? Letís cut to the chase, Iím an overprotective bastard who doesnít trust you to take care of yourself, and youíre a lying sneaky bastard who drives me completely apeshit by trying to get yourself killed every damn day. Weíre both fucked, the same damn thing will happen in another couple of weeks, still wanna scream all night or just go to bed?"

The older man looked over at his lover, who just stood there quietly. Sighing, Yohji turned away and took another swig. Suddenly the bottle was taken from his hands, and he almost spit out the liquor in his mouth, coughing a bit as it burned his throat. Aya tilted up the bottle and had a hefty swallow before grimacing at the taste and placing it back on the dresser. "Donít know how you can guzzle that stuff."

"Years of practice. Besides, itís better than bourbon. Jeez, love, youíre going to give me a fucking heart attack one of these days. Do me a favor and wear the damn choker every single day from now on. Iíll buy you a bunch more, just so you canít sneak up on me all the time."

"But Iím a sneaky bastard, remember?" The remark was said in a soft voice, a hint of a smile on the manís lips. "Which reminds me, I bought you something, but I was going to save it til our weekend. But maybe now would be a better time." Yohji could only stare at his lover as the man fished in the bags heíd brought home earlier that day. He just knew that he had a stupid expression on his face as a small box was placed in his hand.

One moment he was trading snipes with the man, a millimeter away from an all-out fight, and now he was being smiled at and given a present. Aya /never/ gave him a gift. Well, not the kind that you paid money for. He tended to do cheap things, like cook his favorite meal or move into his bedroom. "Damnit kitten, itís like living with Sybil, I never know when youíre going to switch gears on me." The dark purple eyes glanced at him, clearly perplexed. Yohji sighed and brushed back the long bangs and placed a kiss on the furrowed, pale brow. "Never mind, it figures you donít have a fucking clue what Iím talking about." The man never did. One of these days he was going to find out that the redhead had really been raised by aliens or something, there was just not the remotest thing normal about his thought processes. And other men thought trying to figure out what women were thinking was difficult. Sheesh, let them try living with Aya Fujimiya for one day. Hell, one hour.

Remembering the box in his hand, Yohji quickly unwrapped it. It couldnít be a bomb, way too small and Aya was standing right next to him. Poison maybe? His breath caught in his throat as he peeled back the cotton batting to revel a simple silver ring, about the size of a single yen, with a tiny little bell on it. Picking it up set the thing chiming, a tinkling little sound. "Figure out what it is yet?"

Looking over at his lover, the older man felt a smile split his face in half. "Itís a navel ring, right?" Aya nodded his head. Tossing the box and wrapping aside, which earned him a frown from his neat roommate, Yohji grabbed the smaller man and kissed him passionately, savoring how the man tasted and the way their bodies fitted together. When he let the oxygen deprived man go, he started tugging on the yukataís belt, revealing Ayaís stomach. Falling down to his knees, he carefully threaded the ring into the manís belly button, taking a moment to flick the bell, delighting in the sweet chimes. It would drive everyone nuts, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from, and judging from his loverís wardrobe, heíd be the only one to see it. He better damn well be the only one to see it. "Mmm, me like. Me like very much. Here, let me show you how much." Yohji started to stroke Ayaís shaft, coaxing the organ to life as the redhead moaned. As soon as it started to swell he took it into his mouth, lips and tongue and teeth making it hard and dripping.

Ayaís fingers curled in his hair, as the man mewled and gasped out his name. Yohji took to teasing the manís ass with his fingers, stroking the firm globes, darting between them to push at the puckered opening, circling and entering it just the tiniest amount before darting away. On and on until Aya was about ready to sob at the torment of it, body becoming tenser and tenser. Suddenly it was too much for the pale man, and he came in a flood in Yohjiís mouth, crying softly as his body went limp. The blond stood up in a rush, picking up his lover and carrying him to the bed, amusing himself while his kitten regained his scattered wits by playing with the jewelry, twisting it between his lips and tugging on it. When slender fingers took to stroking through his shoulder length hair, the playboy broke off and settled himself on top of the white body, initiating a leisurely kiss that had them exploring each otherís mouths for several very enjoyable, languid minutes.

"Still think Iím a sneaky bastard," Aya murmured against the blondís lips.

"Most definitely yes." Yohji replied back, mouth curving into a smile. "But Iím starting to hope you never change."

"Hnnn." Aya ran his nails down his loverís sides, drinking in the gasps that the touch produced.

Shifting his mouth down a pale neck, Yohji pulled back long enough to frown at the smaller man. "Youíre supposed to reply back, Ďand I hope you never change eitherí." Aya just smiled a tiny smirk at him as he shifted his legs apart and ran a foot up and down a gold-toned calf. Yohji felt his train of thought start to derail as the other leg encircled his waist, pressing him close so their two erections rubbed against each other, the friction so incredibly delicious. Before he conceded the battle, he thrust down, earning a mewl from Aya. "Evil. Sneaky evil bastard. Itís official." With that he put his mouth to better use, making his redhead squirm underneath him as he devoured all that white skin.

*******

Masato stepped into the Koneko, a drugged Ken in his arms. Omi hurried on in front of him, turning on the lights and opening doors. As the scruffy man reached the steps, Yuushi appeared from out of the living room, eager to see if his friend was alright. "Hey, about time you got back. How are things?"

"Just fine, well, for me. Give me a couple of minutes to put Hidaka to bed, okay?" The blond nodded and headed back to the other room. Masato continued up the steps, into the unconscious manís room, where he laid Ken on the bed. He looked over at Omi. "You need any more help with anything?"

Omi shook his head. "No, Iíll take it from here, just want to make sure heís comfortable before I file a mission report." The teenager lifted an exhausted face and smiled at the Crasher. "Thanks for your help tonight."

"No problem, kiddo." Masato patted him on the head in a fatherly manner. "Iím going to grab a quick shower, then pass out downstairs. Hope no oneís in the mood to get up early tomorrow." The boy assured him that it most likely wouldnít be the case, all of WeiŖ would be resting in bed, recuperating. "Good to hear."

It only took Rook a couple of minutes to scrub the scent of smoke off of his skin. He knew it would be a while before he stopped smelling blood after tonight, and couldnít imagine how the assassins handled it. Especially at their ages. Or was it because they were so young that they handled it well? He didnít feel like getting into a philosophical debate with himself right now. So he wrapped a towel around his waist and gathered up his clothes, then stepped into the hall. On his way to the steps he heard a loud moan, and what sounded like the word ĎAyaí repeated over and over again. Guess he knew what Fujimiya and Kudoh were up to, the lucky bastards. Right now crawling into bed with a warm somebody and forgetting all the blood and death heíd seen earlier would be a very nice thing to do.

Making his way to the living room, he tossed his dirty clothes aside. Not being bothered by Yuushi sitting on the couch just two feet away from him, he stripped off the towel and riffled through his bag for some clean underwear. Straightening up as he pulled the briefs on, he caught sight of the blond man staring at him. The light from the television seemed to indicate that the man was blushing, ever so slightly. Feeling a grin break out on his face, Masato sprawled out on the chair and glanced over at his friend. "So how was your night?"

"Interesting. Fujimiya sent me to look after some people for him, and I ran into another Kritiker agent."

Rook shook his head, smile now gone. "Shit, who was it? Did they know who you were?"

"It was Birman, and yes. But she said something about Queen owing her for her silence, so I donít think sheís going to report the incident." Which was a good thing. But on the other hand, dealing with a put-upon Queen was not going to be fun. Thinking the same thought, the two Crashers exchanged weak smiles. "You know we are going to get the worst assignments now for the next couple of months, right?"

"Hotspur, if weíre forgiven after a couple of months, that will be a miracle. Get used to baby-sitting Pawn all of the time now."

"Great." Yuushi rolled his eyes, then shifted them back to his teammates. Masato looked good, sitting in nothing but a pair of briefs and his hair all slicked back. Feeling a rush of heat to his cheeks, the blond quickly brought up a new topic as a distraction. Damnit, he hated how excitable he was after missions. "So things are all wrapped up here, what do we do now?"

Resting his head on the back of the chair, Masato took a moment to answer. "Iíd say get a goodís night sleep, sponge some free breakfast, or lunch maybe, and then return home." He lifted his head to regard his friend solemnly. "Unless you still feel there is something here for you."

Closing his eyes, Knight shook his head. "No, I can be amazingly thick at times, but even I have to admit thereís nothing here for me." It still hurt, letting go of a dream after so long was never easy, but heíd finally accepted the fact that Fujimiya was never going to love or want him. "Not that Iíd like to walk away forever, he was a good friend, and Iíd like him to remain that."

"Not a bad idea at all. Itís fun watching the two of you fight, so I think Iíll be around as well. Besides, Yohji owes me that night out. Or I owe him." The scruffy man shrugged his shoulders. "Hell, weíll go out two nights then. Should be a hell of a time. You wanna tag along, Yuushi?"

"I think," the younger man replied succinctly, "that you two are going to need someone waiting at home to bail your asses out of jail. And that if you called Aya, heíd let you stew a while in there. So I think Iíll say no."

"Ah, youíll be missing out on a lot of fun." Yuushi just snorted. "Iíll keep asking, you know, you could use a night out to relax." Gold eyes regarded Masato cheerfully.

"Keep asking then, who knows, maybe youíll wear me down. /But/, I am not getting within a mile of a fetish club with the two of you."

"Really, Hotspur, we need to work on your sense of adventure some more." Yuushi just tossed a pillow at his friend and wished him a goodnight.

*******

Soft rain fell down on Aya as he once more found himself on a now familiar garden path, a quiet weeping from the sky. He continued walking to the house, wondering what lay in store for him this time. Pausing on the threshold, he remembered something the madwoman had said to him last time, and closed his eyes, concentrating on an image. In his hands he suddenly held a pot of rose acacia, a gift for the woman. He hadnít seen any in her garden.

Entering the house, he found her once more before the loom, hands busy on the dark cloth. It seemed that he felt each pass of the shuttle on his skin, a slight tightening about something caged deep inside of him. "Why are you always weaving?"

"Because naughty stars know not their place. But finished with the threads you are, all snipped or retied or knotted together, so my task eases. The evil one will see to it. No more heat for you, not until the convergence. Get used to the cold. Cold. Cold cold death, indeed you are. Theyíve crafted quite a blade, your dark masters, there will be little time for you to rest in your sheath. Events proceed at a hurried pace, revenge and desire and ambitions hurtle from the past to the future, with you at the center. Flanked by your evil one and your knight. Mind and emotion." Cassandra finally stopped her work, getting up from the chair to approach Aya. When she saw what he held she clapped her hands together and cried out in joy. "Oh, so pretty. You have manners after all, it seems. Who would have guessed?"

Gritting his teeth together, from that last remark as well as the babble sheíd been spouting earlier, Aya handed her the pot. "So Iím to remain busy and cold. What else is new? What can you tell me about Schuldig, there were no signs of Schwarz at all this past mission, what is he up to?" It puzzled and perturbed him, not being able to figure out what game the telepath playing now. Surprises and Schu were never a good combination. "Will he leave me alone?"

Cassandra was very careful not to look up from her gift. It hurt, not being able to tell the catalyst what would happen. The upcoming months would hold much pain for him. "Never. Never will he leave you alone, havenít you heard me yet? Bound you are, in chains of silver. Your safety he seeks, a jealous guardian. Keeping his heart protected. Get used to his presence, you will never be alone again."

Aya started to quietly swear, not very happy to hear those words. Why oh why couldnít he have nice, normal dreams, like the weird ones Yohji always told him about or his usual nightmares? A dose of guilt and self hate would be welcome right about now. His string of obscenities were cut short as Cassandra tilted her head, staring off into the distance. The grey eyes drifted over to gaze at him. "You have company again, the Queen of Wands comes calling. Forego the knife and shield your eyes, there are things that shouldnít get back to your masters just yet. They watch you more closely than you think, but your Page and the evil child will keep you safe. Time to go." Aya felt a tug on his awareness, and as he faded back to reality he heard the woman laugh. "Oh, no, your Knight will not be happy at all."

The redhead came to, a feeling of dťjŗ vu echoing in his head. This time he was clutching his new shades in his hand, and not the knife he kept close. Squinting his eyes, he made out Birman standing in the door, quickly shoving something into her purse. Had that been a clicking sound heíd heard?

With a start Yohji jerked up in bed, mumbling incoherently as his instincts informed him that the two of them werenít alone anymore. Bleary green eyes took in the almost drooling agent staring at the naked couple. Aya once more snuggled into his back as the pale man shoved the dark glasses on his face. "Birman. Please oh please, tell me this is some sort of dream. I warn you now, even think of trying to get the two of us out bed and Iíll kill you without a qualm. Itís Sunday, for fuckís sake." The blondís voice was almost howling at the last, at the prospect of yet another Sunday morning being ruined over Kritiker business. No way in hell was he going to let that happen, he had important plans for the day. Ones that involved the kitten and his new toy and lots of lube. He was more than willing to murder anyone stupid enough to get in the way of them.

"Relax Yohji, I just came by to pick up a few things, such as your gear." As an excuse it worked very well, Birman had been very insistent on having her fun. Which included tormenting the two Crashers downstairs and walking in on a naked Fujimiya sprawled on top of an equally naked Kudoh. Oh how she hoped the pictures turned out all right, she was taking them to be developed the second she left the house. "And to let Aya know that his friends are alright."

Aya regarded her over his boyfriendís shoulder, waiting for her to continue. The agent frowned a little, expecting more of a response but getting none. "The Stoutís are fine, there were no repercussions of them seeing me or Knight in action. No need for you to worry over that point." Why was he wearing glasses, usually it was Yohji who wore them. The scent of pot hung in the air, maybe he was trying to hide evidence of indulging in it.

"What did you do to them," Yohji asked nervously. If it entailed making Teddy keep his mouth shut, he was willing to bet there had been a tongue or two forcibly removed.

"Nothing harmful. Kritiker had me make them an offer, as of now they are two of our newest agents."

"What?!?" Birman covered her ears a bit too late to block out that shout. The neighbors next door had to have heard it. Aya just stared at the woman, now knowing what that bad feeling from yesterday had indicated, while Yohji couldnít seem to get his mouth to close. "You hired Teddy? Teddy Stout? What the hell are you idiots thinking?"

Birmanís voice was decidedly chilled when she answered back. "That two men with defense training, language skills, high intellects and job skills that would make it easy to insert them in many situations would be an asset to the organization. If you care to remember, we lost several good agents and contacts, not too long after a previous loss. Kritiker has had their eye on them ever since the Soma affair, last night proved that they were good material. Much more potential there than in a high school dropout private detective or a freelance assassin hell-bent on revenge." Yohji huffed, but kept himself from bitching anymore. He just took one of the pale hands wrapped around his waist and interlaced his fingers with its. The brunette continued when it was evident that there would be no more outbursts. "Since they are familiar to you, expect to see them more often. Manx and I both have additional duties now, and wonít always be around to baby-sit you. Now whereís the gear at?" A blond head was jerked towards a closet, where a cloth bag was resting before the door. The couple watched as the woman crossed the room to pick it up. "Anything else that needs repaired? No? Well then, gentlemen, itís time I made my departure. Make sure Honjyou and Tamema are out by the end of the day, I know for a fact that Crashers is about to be handed a new assignment. Enjoy your upcoming vacation."

Once the woman was out of the room Yohji got out of bed and locked the door, then plopped back down next to his lover. He pulled Ayaís sunglasses off, revealing a pair of scowling eyes. "Can you believe that bit? Teddy a Kritiker agent? I mean, maybe Mickey, he at least can keep his mouth shut, but the pest?"

"Itís not like we have any say in the matter. Just better get used to him showing up and mooching free flowers off of us." Damnit, why had he sent Yuushi after the pair? Now he never was going to get rid of them. Somehow he doubted heíd ever be able to convince Kritiker to let him kill the American now. Aya was distracted from his thoughts by a mouth nibbling down his chin and throat. Falling back down on the bed, he pulled Yohji on top of him, tilting his head back for the man. "Arenít you going to go back to sleep, it isnít even nine am yet." The blond had been very insistent last night about sleeping the morning away, to rest up for the afternoon he had said.

Green eyes filled with desire regarded him for a long moment as Yohji lifted his head to look down on the man. "I can think of better things to do right now, how about you?" When the redhead didnít make any more remarks he closed the distance between them, mouth hungry for his lover. As irritating as it was to be woken up yet again on his day off, it certainly came with some advantages. A couple more hours of play was one of them.

*******

Carrying a bag of trash, Omi took his time walking to the garbage can. No sense in rushing back inside, he would just have to put up with a surly Ken, upset at the enforced bed rest his injuries called for. If he made it through the soccer fanaticís recovery without killing the man, heíd know for sure that he loved him. Gods, the man was like a little child, pouting at having to stay inside and bothering him every fifteen minutes on the dot for something that was just out of reach, or for a drink or a bite to eat.

One the plus side, the youth mused, tending to the brunet was doing wonders for him figuring out Kenís Ďspecialí spots. The older boy reacted to light touches on the back of his hands, and had very sensitive sides. That last bit had been discovered while Omi changed Kenís bandages. It wasnít that he was ticklish, but would suck in his breath any time Omiís hand brushed along his ribs. The blond wondered what Yohji would have him make of that. Heíd have to corner the playboy later and remind him of his promise to help.

Tossing the garbage into a bin and making sure the lid was closed tight, Omi slowly made his way back to the porch. Two more papers to get out of the way, four finals and a presentation, and school would be over for a month. There hadnít been much time to get things ready for WeiŖís vacation, heíd be very busy running errands all next week, making sure everything was just perfect. He was so looking forward to spending some time at the cabin.

<Aw, how romantic, HosenscheiŖer. Planning to make a move on the Arschloch while in a remote little shack. Not a bad idea, really. Hidaka has a thing for doing it outside, fucking his lover face down into the grass. Just ask Yuriko or Kase, but the latter is a bit out of your reach right now.> During the conversation Schuldig stepped out of the way of a dart tossed at his head and the follow up punch, easily grabbing the youthís arm and swinging him into the wall. Omi grunted at the impact, wincing as his face was pressed against brick. A nasal voice hissed in his ear.

"Now that wasnít very nice of you, sweet Bombay. Youíre supposed to be the polite, cheerful one of the group. One gets the impression that you arenít happy to see me."

Before Omi could reply, Schuldig was once more in his head, making his body freeze into position. <Did you really think that I didnít know about your plans to kill me? How you want to get revenge for me pulling poor Siberianís strings? You are a verdammt groŖer Idiot to think that you can protect Abyssinian all by yourself. Iíll prove that to you in a moment. Right now I have to take care of a certain scheming little kitty. Really are a Takatori, arenít you? Reiji would be so proud right now.> The boy felt tears of rage and frustration trickle down his face. Damnit, why did Mastermind always have the upper hand? Couldnít the prick let his guard down once?

<No. Donít even waste your efforts in searching out my weaknesses, thereís only the one and Iíll kill you in a second if I think youíll try to use him. I did the reasonable approach, convincing you of the need to cooperate with me for the Kštzchenís sake, but you seem to think you can take on Kritiker by yourself. Dumm. Iím very disappointed in you, Bombay, I thought you smarter than that. Since reason and concern for your teammate has failed, Iím forced to more drastic measures.>

<You know how mad you are that I dared to use Siberian for a weapon? Well, from now on you will listen to me and do what I say, without these foolish little tantrums of yours, or the Hidaka you know will be forever gone, replaced by a murdering dervish that will make Farfarello seem the epitome of sanity and restraint. I can do it too, itís already in there, just waiting for me to unleash it. Imagine how heíd react if I made his nightmare come true, and unleashed that darkness on his precious students. Iíd do it in a heartbeat, never ever think I wouldnít.> Oh, the little kittyís fury and fear were delicious to the senses, an energizing cocktail. Schuldig watched as the tears streaming down the sweet face increased, a virtual torrent that signaled that heíd found the chibiís breaking point. Bombay couldnít stand by and let another loved one be taken from him, really the boy was so much like his little tuberose.

Releasing the young assassin, he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and deftly wiped the tears away before pressing it into Omiís hand. "Youíll be a good boy now, yes?" The blond head bobbed. "Good then, now come see this." He tugged on the boyís sleeve, pulling him to the corner of the alley. "Careful now, Iíve made sure he doesnít look this way, but thereís no reason to call attention to ourselves. See the gentleman in blue, sitting by the bus stop? Yes? Well, recognize him, do you?"

Squinting down the street, Omi tried to make the manís features out. He was plain, perfectly respectable looking Japanese man in his forties. "Honeysuckle, he was in the shop for honeysuckle the other day. And then he stopped back today for something else, hyacinth I think." Heíd run into the man when the gentleman had been leaving the shop. But heíd been wearing a different outfit then. "Who is he," he inquired, curiosity pushing the anger and hate he felt towards the German aside.

"Check out the name Aster in Kritikerís database tonight, youíll find out all about him. Heís just been assigned to keep an eye on Abyssinian, your employers havenít been too happy with the little bits you and the bitches have been reporting back. They sent him in to check things out. Iíve been very busy tampering with his memories, making sure he doesnít have much to report." It was a draining task, the paranoid bastards had sent someone with good mental shields, but they were no match for his ability. Not when he could call upon of seines Herzensí talent, use it to warp things ever so slightly in his favor. Not much though, he wanted the power caged. Too many people had become aware of the subtle changes Abyssinian had set off on the last mission, he had to make sure they didnít trace it back to the swordsman. With a bit of luck and hard work, they would pass it off to the approaching convergence.

Schuldig pulled Omi back from the corner, skimming the boyís thoughts. He would still have to watch himself around the innocent looking teenager, if Bombay thought he had a clear opening heíd go for it, most likely while on the battlefield. But heíd keep cooperating, for his teammatesí sake. <There will be no opening, itís not even worth thinking about it. Remember, Abyssinianís freedom and Siberianís sanity is in your hands. Give me too much of a problem and Iíll leave you with a bloodthirsty psychopath and take the Kštzchen with me. Itís much sweeter waiting for him to come to me on his own, but not necessary.> If it looked like for one moment Kritiker would figure things out, heíd snatch Fujimiya away and deal with the repercussions, rather than risk anything. And leave such a mess behind with the rest of WeiŖ that it would take the organization days, if ever, to figure out what happened. "Be a good kleinen Jungen, and keep those nasty darts to yourself in the future. Iíll be in touch soon." The telepath couldnít resist messing up the boyís hair before he departed, flying up a fire escape on the next door building. Perching on the roof, he followed Bombay with his talent.

Omi straightened his hair, feeling the urge to scream his lungs out. Mastermind was always one step ahead, and now he was using Ken against him. He didnít doubt for a second that the German would follow through with his threat. Heíd have to bide his time, swallow his hate and do whatever the man asked of him, and pray that another member of WeiŖ had a chance of taking the bastard down. Hopefully Yohji and Ken would succeed in his place. Feeling the urge to check up on Ken, to make sure he was alright, Omi hurried into the house, wishing that the past ten minutes had never happened.

Chuckling at the boyís thoughts, Schuldig searched out his own heart. Fujimiya was on his way back from the hospital. It took only a few minutes before a white Porsche appeared. The Kritiker spy put down his paper, watching the redhead over the rim of his coffee cup. Not that he would see much. The man was dressed in black, pale face covered with the grey sunglasses. All too quickly he pulled into the garage, and the agent had to call it a day. His tuberose was home to stay, the Schwanzlutscher had rented some videos for them to watch. Suppressing the stab of jealousy, Schuldig started on his way home after making sure the agent wouldnít be reporting anything incriminating. He knew about the coupleís plans to go away together before joining the rest of the team in the mountains. Sometime before the Penner had a chance to worm his way into the Katalisatorís heart any deeper, Schuldig would have to pay Abyssinian a little visit. Maybe in a couple of nights, when he was finished dealing with the few yakuza wars that had cropped up in the past couple days. Bradley was keeping him busy, trying to distract him from whatever plans he was up to. But he always had the time for a dream or two.

******* an epilogue of sorts *******

The room was dark, filled with the scent of coffee and cigarettes. Four people sat around a table, one an elderly Japanese man, with a younger one sitting on his left, then a foreigner with light brown hair, and a woman of mixed descent on the old manís right. Their ages ranged from late thirties to early sixties, and they were among the most powerful people in Japan. Some could argue the Pacific Rim as well, and be correct.

"So," the younger Japanese man inquired, his mouth turned down in a permanent, "have we found out any more about what Esset is up to?"

"No, and they are way too quiet for my liking," the foreigner commented, as he leaned forward in his chair.

Old Man waved his hand at them. "They are never up to any good, what else is new? But it worries me that Schwarz is back in the country, with no open agenda." He turned to face the woman, who was lighting a cigarette. "Any word yet from Schatten as to what they may be after?"

Smoke blew out a ring of smoke before she responded. "They are searching for something for their employers, that is all we know. The word Ďkeyí keeps coming up, but the psychics havenít been able to see anymore than that."

"What good are the freaks then," Frown retorted, earning a glare from Smoke.

"Esset has much better talent than we do, they took away our best after the split, and we havenít been able to recover just yet. That our psychics have seen that much is saying something, they keep reporting that something huge is looming on the horizon, which involves Esset and Kritiker."

"A truly amazing deduction there, considering our rivalry. What, did you call Miss Cleo to find out that bit of news?"

"Children." Old Manís gravelly voice echoed throughout the room. "We do not need any fighting amongst us. Continue your battle some other time."

Silence filled the room, as Frown and Smoke continued to glare at each other. Gaijin spoke up, hoping to restart the meeting. "Speaking of talent and Schwarz, what is Orchideeís status? Have we confirmed yet if Mastermind has resumed their discussions?"

"All reports have been negative." Smoke paused to grind out her cigarette and light another one. "But if one thing has become abundantly clear the past few months, itís that he no longer trusts us nor wishes to cooperate."

Frown snorted again. "Then threaten him with his sister."

"Not a good idea. Iíd rather we held that card in reserve for right now, it was tricky enough manipulating the threat to girl to get Orchidee to rejoin the organization. I fear if we are too heavy handed in the matter, we will completely alienate the man." Smoke and Old Man nodded, agreeing with Gaijin.

"Is he really that important that we waste this much time with him?"

"Yes." Smoke pointed her cigarette at Frown, emphasizing her point. "One thing all of our psychics agree on, which is a minor miracle in and of itself, is that he has talent, however latent. Most likely more than any other agent weíve ever come across. Look at WeiŖís statistics if you have any doubt. Theyíve gone from Shuuichiís little pets to the best team we have. All because of Orchidee."

"Then why donít we just pull the man in, and put him to better use elsewhere? The current Persia is eager to put an end to the group, he doesnít like the idea of children as murderers." Frown let out a bark of laughter. "As if making them quit will wash all the blood from their hands."

"Because where he is we can keep a close eye on him, keep him tucked away yet still use him for private missions from time to time." Old Manís voice grew tired, as if heíd explained this one time too many. "And all the data points to the fact that if there is one team he will form a bond with, something for us to use to keep him in line, it is with WeiŖ. Although we now have two more ties to bind the man with."

"Schatten agrees."

"As do I," Gaijin added, smiling at Frown, knowing the man had just clearly been outvoted. "I have an agent watching the man as we speak, heíll let us know if there is any news that Manx or Bombay fail to report. And if Orchidee acts as bait to draw Mastermind out into the open. I still donít trust those ballistic reports, the telepath had to be behind the yakuzaís murder."

"Yes, but the little activity weíve been able to trace to Schwarz has been in the underworld. He might have been trying to throw us off by making us think he is still interested in the man. That is Mastermindís and Oracleís style, after all," Old Man added bemusedly.

"This is useless." Frown shifted in his chair, toying with his coffee mug. "Letís move on to another topic, one that we actually have answers for. How is the new Persia working out, any problems there?"

Gaijinís face grimaced. "We may have picked too moral of a man for the position, he is trying to clean the organization up a bit, taking advantage of the latest crisis."

"Not all that moral," Old Man drawled, attracting everyoneís attention. "Like his predecessor, he has a weakness for his secretary. Unlike Shuuichi, he is married. We can use that against him if we need to. I say we let him run for now, thereís always time to tighten the leash later. But that brings us to our next topic, coincidentally enough. It has come to light that there are a few people that need to be taken care of, before another disaster strikes us. I was thinking Gewissen could handle of most of them, but was hoping to have Orchidee and Tonkanese tend to those that donít require a full team to be deployed."

The other three leaned forward, offering their opinions, debating the matter thoroughly before moving along the agenda.

*******

Setting several bags on the floor near the kitchen, Yohji called out to Omi. "Hey chibi! All of our stuff is down here, except for what Aya and I are taking to the hotel. Make sure you donít leave any of them behind, okay?" Ken and Omi were planning on borrowing a truck when they went to the cabin, needing the space for all of the groceries and games they were planning on taking with them. Aya and him were letting them haul their stuff as well, no need to take all of it with them this weekend, and besides, it wouldnít all fit in the Seven.

"Alright, Yotan. Iíll be sure to set Kenís sports equipment near them, that way he wonít forget them!" Omi bounced into the room, a long list in his hand. Only two more days left before they headed for the mountains, and he wanted to make sure nothing was left behind or overlooked. "What about the phone number for the hotel, just in case we need to get ahold of you?"

Yohji reluctantly handed over a sheet of paper. "Now remember, you or Hidaka try to play any pranks on us while weíre there, and I will introduce Ken to a Harley babe with three kids who thinks soccer is the most amazing thing in the world. Youíll never have a chance to get your claws into him then."

"Yo~tan!" Omi huffed and stomped his foot. "I canít believe you would be that mean."

"Better believe it, kiddo. And my threatís nothing, whatever Aya said to Ken to get him to behave had the boy turning whiter than our fearless leader." Which was saying something. Whenever Yohji had inquired as to what the threat had pertained to, Aya just gave him one of those catís smiles of his, sending shivers down his spine. And not the good kind, either.

Omi nodded his head, having seen the shaking brunet not long after that conversation. "So are you guys all set? Weíll see you on Sunday afternoon?"

Lighting a cigarette, the blondís lips curved into a smile around the stick. "Yep, see you in two days. Forty-eight hours of me, the kitten, a nice soft bed, five different flavors of lube and," he paused to glare at Omi, "no interruptions." Oh, it was going to be so much fun.

"Yo~tan! I donít think I needed to hear that!"

"Jeez, better get used to it, Omi," Yohji commented as he mussed up the teenís hair. "You are still planning on going through with ĎOperation-Get the Dumb Jockí, arenít you?"

Smacking the older manís hand away, Omi scowled up at Yohji. "Itís ĎOperation-Get Hidakaí, you meanie. And yes, I hope to proceed with it over the weekend. Those suggestions of yours should help out a lot." As long as he could manage to pull them off, the youth was a little uncertain about a couple of the techniques described to him.

As if reading his teammateís mind, Yohji chuckled. "Well then, youíll be happy to know I left a little present for you in your bedroom. Got them as I was picking up the supplies for this weekend." The playboy leered for a moment, thinking of all the things he was going to do with his purchases. At Omiís puzzled gaze, he decided to clarify matters a little. "Just a couple of Ďinstructionalí videos and some magazines, be sure to do a little reading and watching to pick up a few tips. And find out why itís so damn important you donít throw out any more of my bottles of lube stashed around the place."

Omi was prevented from wailing out the older blondís name yet again as Aya made his entrance. The redhead was still a bit on the pale side, but his eyes had returned to their normal color. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a blue sweater that belonged to Yohji. Omi swore he heard a faint chiming sound as the quiet man walked past him.

"Everything ready?" Aya shifted the small bag he was carrying on his shoulder as he surveyed all the luggage resting on the floor. Only one of the bags was his, he had no clue what all his boyfriend was bringing. Most likely an emergency stash of liquor, smokes and marijuana. When heíd commented on the bags, Yohji had dryly answered that he had to pack enough clothes for the blond to wear and Aya to borrow.

"Yep, letís get going." Yohji wished Omi goodbye, and Aya nodded, as the older man grabbed a pale wrist and dragged the redhead to the garage. He was the slightest bit eager to get on the road, the sooner they got to the hotel the sooner the fun would begin. Popping open the trunk, Yohji tossed in his overnight bag and then Ayaís. He frowned a bit at how little it weighed. "Hey kitten, you sure you remembered to pack everything? It didnít feel like there was much in it." He turned to face the smaller man, tucking back the shaggy bangs. Aya still looked too pale and tired, heíd had a bad night earlier in the week and was still adjusting to the increased doses of his medication. But the man had insisted on them still going away, despite Yohjiís worries. At least it gave him an excuse to drive.

Putting on his shades, Aya smiled ever so slightly at Yohji. "Iím sure." He started walking over to the side of the car, glancing over at the blond as he opened the door. "Just some toiletries and a change of clothes for Sunday. Wonít be needing anything else, right? I thought you said we were never leaving the room." With that comment he slid into the car.

Yohji could only stare at where the pale man had been standing moments before for several heartbeats, before slamming the trunk shut and dashing to the driverís side. Once he sat down inside he leaned over and grabbed Aya for a kiss. When he finally shifted back to start the car, he offered the man a leer. "Correction, love. We are never leaving the damn bed." Putting the car into gear, Yohji sped out of the garage. "Well, except for when we do it in the hot tub, and the shower, and then the balcony, and they have this nice rug set before a fireplaceÖ.."

*******

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