Nothing Gold Can Stay

by nekojita

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Disclaimer: Sorry, donít own the pretty boys, but one can dream, right? Teddy however, is mine all mine.

Tons of thanks to Kabuki and Lady Gackt for their help on this chappie!

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Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leafs a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief;

So down goes down today.

Nothing gold can stay.

*******

"Aw, come on kitten, what the hell was I supposed to do, let Teddy open his big mouth and get myself beaten up by a bunch of thugs?"

"You would have survived it."

Yohji could only stare at the retreating back of his lover. Aya was _not_ taking the news of their impending double date with Teddy Stout and his boyfriend very well. Granted, he wasnít looking forward to it either, but the redhead was flat out pissed over the matter. Yohji was starting to get a wee bit angry himself, what with the way the stubborn man was acting. "I wasnít willing to take the chance, they were gunning for Kritiker agents if you remember." He followed Aya up the steps to their room, panting a little from carrying all of his bags. Of course his boyfriend hadnít offered to help carry them, not after being informed of Teddyís blackmail on the way back from Villa White. "You know Iíd be more than happy to suffer through a date with the pest if it kept you from harm. Really know how to make a man feel loóhey! Open the damn door!" Yohji kicked at the piece of wood that had been slammed in his face. When it remained closed he let out a growl and dropped enough baggage until he freed a hand to twist the knob. The good news was it hadnít been locked. Maybe heíd survive this after all.

Walking into the room as he kicked a couple of the bags before him, he found a grim Aya unpacking. "As I was saying, thanks a lot for making me feel that youíd rather risk my life than put up with Stout for one stinking night. Love you too, sweetheart." That nickname earned him a potent glare and a snarl. "Itís one fucking night. Sorry if Iím not worth the waste of your time." Yohji dropped the last of the luggage and treated the pale man to a sour look. "The gods forbid you making that great a sacrifice for the person you supposedly love."

"Itíll be more than one night, if I know Stout. But thatís beside the point," Aya snapped as he violently shoved their dirty clothes into the laundry hamper. "You do this all the time, make plans that include the both of us and just mention it to me as an afterthought, automatically assuming that Iíll go along with them."

Trying to calm down by lighting a cigarette, Yohji took a long puff and held it in for several seconds, waiting for the nicotine to relax him somewhat. "It wasnít like I could exactly ask for your permission at the time. You know Teddy, the bastard would have carried through with the threat." He overturned a bag, dumping the contents onto the bed. Gathering the clothes up he randomly opened a drawer and dumped them into it and closed it shut. Aya shook his head at the action, occupied with putting his possessions carefully back where they belonged. He then took off the sunglasses resting on top of his head and placed them on the nightstand.

"As for me waiting til the last minute to tell you, would you have rather I mentioned it to you before the vacation? Sorry, but I didnít want to put up with a pissy lover on my week off. Itís all your fault anyways, if you hadnít distracted me the day Kisaragi chose the restaurant, I might have remembered that Teddy mentioned that he worked there and picked another place." Yohji stood looking at the smaller man, feeling vindicated with that last statement. There was no way Aya was arguing his way past that little fact.

"So this is now my fault," Aya hissed. "Typical Kudoh answer to everything, blame someone else."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Aya put away his luggage and turned to face the taller man. "It means exactly what I said. Nothing is ever your fault. Iím amazed at how often you twist the blame to land at my feet. Either I distract you or someone is hitting on me or Iím too stubborn to see what you consider sense when Iím not being sneaky, need me to continue on? If Iím such a distracting, oblivious idiot, why do you even bother with me?"

"Iím wondering that myself right now." Seeing the flash of hurt in a pair of violet eyes before Aya turned away from him, Yohji reined in his temper as he ground out his cigarette. Dammit, that last comment had been uncalled for. It was just so hard to come back from a nearly perfect vacation and have Aya blow up at him for something that for once really wasnít his fault. He crossed the room to stand behind his lover, who had taken to staring out the window the past few moments. "Hey, Iím sorry, that wasnít true." Yohji rested a hand on a tense shoulder, when it wasnít shrugged off he snaked it around the redheadís chest. "Iím a moron." That earned him a Ďhmphí and a slight nod. Lips curving into a smile, he wrapped his other arm around a slender waist and hugged Aya close. "Itís not your or my fault, itís Teddyís. Can we agree on that and stop biting each others heads off?"

For a moment he didnít think that Aya would assent to ending the fight, but just as he gave up hope the smaller man sighed and leaned back against him. "Guess the vacation really is over, hn?"

"Yeah, things are certainly back to normal for us. I think itís due to the fact that over a period of ten days we only had one fight. Have to catch up to our quota." Yohji rubbed his cheek against his loverís silky hair, enjoying the feel and scent of it. Aya rested an arm on the one around his waist, interlacing their fingers. "Not that I mind too much, the make up sex is always fantastic." That earned him a snort as an elbow was lightly jabbed back into his ribs. "Donít try and tell me that you disagree. Not after you started an argument over the way I dry dishes, of all things." Yohji nuzzled the redheadís ear. "You just wanted an excuse to go at it in the kitchen."

The memory of that fight and its aftermath brought a slight smile to Ayaís lips. "Kudoh, you donít need an excuse to Ďgo at ití anywhere. All I have to do is look like Iím remotely interested in sex and you take it from there. Half the time not even that. As Omi would say, you are a sex maniac." Yohji chuckled in his ear, making him shiver. Feeling that they were past the danger of fighting over the topic any more, the pale man breached the double date topic again. "Please tell me you didnít agree to going to some awful club for the date. If we end up at Bacchus or a place like it you better be prepared to sleep on the couch for a month." He tried to relax in the older manís arms, but his tense body refused to. Aya hadnít been able to loosen up all day, something was getting to him and he didnít know what.

"Didnít have a chance to talk about the particulars of the night, but donít worry kitten, I wouldnít do that to you. Actually I think Teddy might be interested in someplace nice and quiet, believe he was hinting at that the one day he stopped by. Besides, his boyfriend seems on the quiet and shy side, doubt heíd go for a place like that." Yohji released his hold long enough to spin Aya around, tilting up the manís face. "If we end up at a noisy club weíll kill the pest and say that Schwarz attacked the place. The plan sound good to you?"

"Hn." Aya rocked up on his toes to kiss the blond, having had enough of the discussion. Yohji was as easily distracted as always, even after their vacation. The redhead was surprised that the both of them could still walk after all that sex. Next time he went away with his insatiable boyfriend he was packing some tranquilizers, just so he could have a day of peace. Obviously deciding that the six hours since their last bout was too long a time, Kudoh started to lead him over to the bed. Aya figured he could work up some enthusiasm after all and let the man have his way. Right as Yohji sank down on the mattress, pulling him down with him, there was a knock on the door.

The older man growled, face drawing into a scowl. "Fuck. Looks like things really are back to normal, right down to the annoying interruptions." In a louder voice he asked what the hell was worth bothering the two of them about.

"Sorry, Yotan, but Birman is downstairs and she brought Teddy Stout with her. She wants to talk to all of us. Weíll be in the kitchen."

"Fuck." Yohji gave Aya a quick kiss on the lips before letting go of the smaller man. "Yep, definitely back to normal. I wanna go away again. Couldnít they have given us a whole day back before dumping a mission on our asses?"

Aya tugged his boyfriend to his feet. "They gave us ten days off, remember? What worries me is the fact that Stout is here." This would be the first time they had seen the American since he had joined Kritiker. Aya headed down the steps after grabbing his shades, an unhappy Kudoh on his heels.

"Itís just like in one of those damn American horror movies. You mention the psychotic serial killer or monster, and the damn thing appears."

"Is there such a thing as a non-psychotic serial killer?" Yohji graced his lover with a glower over that question, shoving him into the kitchen. He swore he caught sight of a grin on the pale manís face before his attention was focused on their guests.

Birman was prim and proper in a floor length skirt, sweater set and hair pulled tightly back. Teddy, as usual, was dressed in a skirt as well. The longhaired man flashed him a smile and a wink. As soon as Aya and him grabbed a seat the brunette cleared her throat. "Sorry for stopping by right after you returned home, but there are a couple of missions we need to discuss with you. I know you are familiar with Stout, but allow me to make introductions anyways. Youíll be seeing him from time to time, he is taking over some of Manx and Iís duties. For official purposes, he will be referred to," the woman slanted her eyes over at the foreigner, "as Ragdoll." This statement was meet with silence.

Ken was the first person to brave a comment. "Ragudoru? What the hell does that mean?" Omi stifled a laugh as he watched Birman pinch the bridge of her nose, eyes tightly shut.

Teddy just hmphed in response as he turned to face his new supervisor. "Hey Catwoman, I thought you said that Kritiker had a IQ requirement." It took a moment for the insult to sink into Kenís mind, then the brunet started to growl at the foreigner.

"Teddy." WeiŖ, with the exception of their leader, blinked at how Birman managed to fit so many syllables in the short name. She let go of her nose and opened her eyes to glare wearily at Stout. The bridge of her nose remained red, as if she had been pinching it a lot lately. When it looked as if the longhaired man was going to behave for a few seconds, she focused her attention back on the assassins. "As I was saying, Stoutís codename will be ĎRagdollí. For your information, Siberian, it is an American cat breed. I see we need to send you to some English refresher courses, your accent is appalling." Ken wilted from the comment after shooting Teddy a dirty look. Knowing Birman, he was going to be sitting in a classroom several times a week for the next month.

Seeing an opportunity to get a few words in, Yohji quickly asked a question. "Hey Birman, whatís the deal with these assignments? Canít we have another day or two off, you know, to get back in the groove of things?"

The brunette shook her head. "Like I said, sorry but Iím just following orders here. You can always refuse the missions." Something about the womanís tone of voice suggested that it wouldnít be a very good idea if they did so. "As it is, you should feel very lucky that your team was spared for the past couple of weeks, the other Kritiker agents have been very busy." Their vacation was largely due to the fact of her influence with Persia. She had shamelessly used the knowledge that the man wasnít happy with the team taking assignments to give them time to recuperate and rejuvenate. "Any other questions?" Yohji grumbled a bit but kept it to himself as he lit a cigarette. Birman turned her attention to the manís lover, who hadnít said a word since entering the room. "All right then, Iím going to leave the debriefing to ĎRagdollí. Everyone but Abyssinian can go down to the mission room." Meeting puzzled violet eyes, she jerked her head towards the kitchen door. "I have a private assignment for you."

For a moment it looked as if Kudoh would say something, instead he snapped his mouth shut and walked toward the steps, his attention directed towards his lover. Aya merely nodded to the man as he went for the door, placing the sunglasses on his face. As she walked outside Birman heard Teddyís voice jokingly tell the blond that he wasnít getting out of the Americanís first debriefing by falling down the stairs and breaking his neck. Pulling the door shut, the agent found Aya waiting for her on the street. In silence they walked down the block to a small cafť. Birman ordered them coffee, and after the waitress had brought them their drinks handed Fujimiya two envelopes.

"Per usual, here are your assignments. There are two this time. Iím to tell you that the pay will be double the usual amount for both of these. The one is for tomorrow night, the other needs to be completed before the end of the week, the sooner the better. Are you willing to accept the missions and those terms?" The second the redhead opened those envelopes would mean he agreed, it wasnít allowed for him to know any particulars and turn them down. Birman herself didnít know anything about the contents of those envelopes, and she had a sneaking suspicion that Persia was in the dark as well. But the woman had been a part of the organization for too long to question the matter. Sometimes curiosity got one dead.

Aya rested a hand on the files, a feeling of dread overwhelming him as he touched them. A part of him wanted the throw the envelopes as far away from him as possible, but another part remembered why that wasnít possible. The redhead briefly closed his eyes and sighed, then nodded his head. He would read the contents later, right now he didnít want to know what was being asked of him. Waiting for Birman to finish a sip of her coffee, he asked the agent if she had a pen. When one was produced he quickly wrote down a sequence of numbers on a napkin. "Here." Birman accepted the piece of paper, clearly puzzled. "I want the money to be divided between the two usual accounts and now that one as well. Same goes for any future missions. Can you arrange that?"

"Yes I can, it shouldnít be much of a problem." Birman stared at the numbers for a moment. "Setting up a retirement fund finally, Fujimiya?" She stared at the pale man, trying to read his expression behind the shades. He must be hanging out with Kudoh too much to have picked up on that habit. Suddenly a thought appeared to her. "Itís for Kudoh, isnít it? The account?" Aya remained silent, but his lips pressed together a bit tighter. The woman shook her head. "I get the feeling that he would prefer you alive and well to the money, Fujimiya. Please donít tell me you are taking these jobs because of this," she waved the napkin in the air. "Youíve been lucky enough to find someone to love, donít get yourself killed trying to leave them a nest egg."

"Itís none of your business. If you donít want to set up the accounts, tell me and Iíll arrange things myself." Aya took a sip from his drink, glaring eyes directed towards the tabletop. Birman had no right to pry into his private life.

The female agent sighed as she placed some money on the table. "Itíll be best if I take care of it, I donít think that you want too many people to know of what you are doing, it would raise certain interests." Standing up, Birman regarded the redhead for a moment. "Youíre not planning on doing something stupid, are you?"

Knowing that the woman would just keep picking at the matter until she was satisfied, Aya gave her half an explanation. "No, I just donít have much else in the way to give him besides the money. He might need it some day, Iím merely looking out for him, same as for my imouto. Besides, what else am I going to do with it?" The brunette nodded her head and stepped out on the sidewalk, appeased with the answer.

Sitting back in his chair, Aya thought about the account for another moment. He had set it up to look after Kudoh, who was notorious for spending all of his money. Their weekend together alone must have cost the man a fortune. But what the reserved man wanted was if anything happened to him, for his boyfriend to have the means to leave Kritiker forever. The money from these two missions alone would be more than enough to get a trust fund started that would enable Yohji to disappear anywhere in the world. It wasnít much of an estate to leave a loved one, but freedom was without price. If he could give Yohji a chance at it, then he would do so and be content. The dumb blond most likely wouldnít leave the organization while he remained in it anyways, and Aya had no disillusions of him walking away from Kritiker again. Not after the pains they went through to bring him back not only once but twice.

Checking to make sure that no one was paying any attention to him, Aya opened the envelopes. It became quite clear why heíd been offered twice the usual salary for these jobs. The first one would be very risky, if the numbers were true. The second one had the potential to be rather ugly. All in all, he much preferred risky to ugly. But there had been worse assignments in the past, it would just be a bit difficult to live with himself after it was done. Nothing new there. Besides, he really had no choice in accepting them. With a sigh Aya got up and returned to the Koneko, where he was sure Yohji was waiting for an explanation.

*******

Rather unhappily so, Yohji watched his boyfriend walk off with Birman. It never was a good sign when one of the agents pulled the swordsman aside. As for those Ďspecialí assignments, he had learned enough about them a couple of weeks ago to be leery of the things. Kritiker didnít pay out that much money unless one did them a very big favor. And all the secrecy surrounding the jobs was another bad sign.

"Hey Kudoh, youíre not going to spoil my first official debriefing by breaking your neck on these steps. Iíll hold the damn thing over your dead body if I have to."

"Thanks for the lovely image there, _Ragdoll_," the blond hissed back as he made his way down said steps, eyes focused forward. Yohji shook his head at the sight of Omi and Ken sitting on the couch together, very careful not to touch each other. Bakas. Ken needed to stop denying his feelings and Omi to take a page from his book and just pounce on the thick-headed brunet. He settled himself on a chair, sitting on it backwards. Head resting on a pair of arms crossed on the seatís back, Yohji waited for Teddy to get started.

The short American walked over to the tv and stood with his weight resting on both feet evenly, arms crossed over his chest. In a much louder voice than one would expect Teddy shouted at the three assassins in English. "Okay maggots, from this moment on your asses are mine. I own you, understood? Now drop and give me twenty, ya fucking pansies." Yohji nearly fell off the chair while Omiís jaw dropped and Ken scratched at his head. "Did he say something about flowers?" Oh boy, looked as if someone really needed to brush up on his foreign language skills. Yohji regained his seat and glared at Teddy.

"What the fuck are you doing? This is not boot camp!"

"I know, I know," Teddy said dismissingly as he leaned against the television set. "Just always wanted to say that, and the moment seemed right." Omi shook his head and watched as Yohji pinched the bridge of his nose. Seemed the foreigner produced that response a lot. "Really, you guys need a better sense of humor. And for your information, Brown-eyes, I wasnít speaking about flowers." Huge blue orbs were batted at the brunet. "I think you definitely have to have a language refresher. I volunteer to be your personal tutor." Omi did a very good impression of a possessive Yohji, snarling under his breath as he scooted closer to an oblivious Ken. Teddy stared at him for a moment, eyes glancing over at Ken, before smiling slyly at the teenager.

Yohji gritted his teeth together. "Teddy, what the hell is the assignment?"

"Maa, Kudoh, so impatient." Inserting a tape into the vcr, Stout stepped back and let the young men watch the video in peace. When it was done he ejected the tape and raised an eyebrow at them. "The target, an Ian Robertson, should be coming into the country sometime this week." He handed out three folders. "Here is a list of possible aliases for him, the company that heís turning over the weapons information to is obviously trying to mask his travel plans. The trade off will most likely take place on their corporate grounds, thereís a private air strip there. Kritiker wants those plans and Robertson unable to come up with any more such designs. Any questions? Need me to draw a diagram?" That remark earned him three scowls.

"So itís the usual grab and gut." Ken couldnít think of how many such similar missions they had undertaken like it. "We scope out this corporation, wait for the dude to show up with the information, kill him and snatch it away." Yohji snorted at the simple summary. Hidaka should know better, the simpler a job appeared, the harder it was to complete. And no Aya on this one.

Walking over to the couch, Teddy draped himself over it until he was staring into Kenís eyes. "Got it in one, gorgeous. And here I was hoping that youíd need a little coaching for this job. Iíve been told Iím a very good teacher." The foreigner ran his tongue over his lips suggestively. "So your name is Siberian, huh? You know, I always wanted to fall asleep on a tiger skin pelt." The soccer fanatic could not look away from the other manís mouth, it was as if heíd been mesmerized. "Though it would be more fun if the skin was still wrapped around its owner if you know what I mean." Teddy leaned in even closer, a seductive smile on his face.

Omi leapt up from his seat, tugging Ken off the couch as well. "Okay then, Stout, we have the gist of the mission now, good job. I need Kenís help to track down this Robertsonís itinerary, pull up the plantís blue prints, so on and so forth. Iím sure Yohji will see you out, _good-bye_." He paused a moment in his shoving a protesting athlete up the stairs to glare evilly at Teddy.

As soon as they were up the steps the American burst out into laughter. "Oh that was just too fun!" He turned around to face Yohji. "Is the little one always that possessive? Thought I was looking at a cuter version of you for the moment. Was waiting for the snarled Ďmineí. Territorial pack of kitties, arenít you?" The lanky manís scowl made him start chuckling again.

"Te~ddy." Yohji rubbed at his temples, feeling a sudden headache come on him. "You should come with warning labels. I donít know what I need more right now, a drink or a bottle of ibuprofen." When the smaller man resumed chortling, he was treated to a venomous glare from a pair of green eyes. "You shouldnít mess with Omi like that, the kid has a hidden mean streak a mile wide."

"Oh relax, Kudoh," Teddy huffed. "Iím not after Brown-eyes, already got someone waiting for me at home. Just getting the lay of the land, as it were. Iíll leave the boy alone from here on out, itís much more fun to pull Redís chain anyways." At yet another glare directed his way Teddy just smiled and batted his eyes. "Unless I get that promised night out soon."

Yohji flexed his hands, resisting the urge to strangle the pest. "You have any idea the damage that you almost did to my sex life? To say that Aya wasnít happy about the news is to say that Hiroshima took a little damage during the war. And Iím still not off the hook, you got any crazy places planned for that evening and Iím going to be kicking your ass every night for a whole month, Mickey be damned."

It was amazing how skilled Teddy was at changing his facial expressions. One moment the man was radiating pure mischief, the other complete innocence and hurt. "Would I do something like that to the two of you? Donít answer that." Yohji bit back on the retort. "No, I was planning on a nice quiet dinner, a chamber recital and a small bar for drinks. Koyu doesnít take to noisy places anymore, not since he lost his eyes." For a moment true sorrow reflected on the Americanís face, only to be wiped away by a gentle grin. "Think that will suit Red?"

"Yeah, it should." And should guarantee that his love life didnít come to a screeching halt as well. "Hey Teddy, do you know what Birman wanted with Aya? Whatís the deal with the mission sheís giving him?"

Teddy shrugged his shoulders. "Donít know, and I donít believe she does as well. Should of seen the way she was checking out those envelopes, trying to sneak past the seals and holding them up to the light. I can have Mickey snoop around a bit, if you want."

For a second Yohji thought of the danger he would be placing the brothers in, then thought of something happening to Aya. "Yeah, if you could. Tell him to be real careful though. What is Mickey up to for Kritiker, if youíre doing the go-between bit?"

"Heís into research and recon mostly. Finds out things for them, so youíll probably see him around a lot where you least expect to. Mickeyís just loving it, man never met a bit of information that he didnít want to meet." Teddy played with the pleats on his kilt for a moment, a genuine smile on his face. "Get this, he chose the codename ĎSphinxí. He was slated for ĎAngoraí, but they took one look at him and decided that maybe they better come up with something else. No one would be able to call him that to his face without dying of laughter." That comment got an answering smile from Yohji as the younger man made his way to the steps. "Well, gotta go, you wouldnít believe all the things I have to do now, and I thought waiting tables could be hard. Keep in mind that I can check up on your schedule at any moment, so donít try and pull that Ďwe got a missioní bullshit to get out of the date."

Yohji ran over to the stair well and looked up at the retreating man. "But we do have a mission, you nitwit!"

"Always an excuse from you, Kudoh. Like Hidaka said, it shouldnít be that much of a problem. And stop trying to look up my kilt or Iíll tell your boyfriend how hentai you are. Though it wouldnít surprise him, most likely."

Giving the man five minutes to get out of the house, not wanting to explain to his employers why heíd killed their newest agent, Yohji slowly made his way upstairs. To grab some headache medicine in the kitchen and wash it down with some vodka. He was debating whether to have a joint or five before dinner or after when his lover walked into the house. An elegant eyebrow was arched at the bottle of alcohol in his hand. "Donít even start, I donít care if itís barely evening, youíd be drinking too if youíd spent time with Teddy Stout in a small room."

"No, I just have to spend the night out with him and his boyfriend, thanks to you." Realizing that the statement had come out much sharper than he had meant it to, Aya walked over to the now frowning blond. He took the vodka and set in on the counter before wrapping his arms around Kudohís neck. "I have to take my medicine now, want to help distract me for the next hour or so?" Suddenly presented with a very willing kitten, Yohji didnít think of anything other than dragging the pale man up to their bedroom. It wasnít until Ken and Omi started talking about the mission during dinner that he remembered wanting to question Aya about his new assignment.

*******

"Dammit." Yohji stared up the steps, seeing the light that meant Aya was in the exercise room working out. There was no way he was going to be able to go up there and talk to the sneaky bastard now, not unless he wanted to be turned into Kudoh tartar. Grumbling under his breath, he made his way back to his bedroom.

He hadnít managed to corner his lover after dinner, heíd run out of cigarettes and had though that heíd be able to dash out and back before Aya had finished the dishes. Wrong. Now heíd have to wait at least another half hour or so for the redhead to finish his workout and shower to ask him about the mission. Stripping off his tight jeans, Yohji plopped down on his bed and reached into the nightstandís drawer for a small tin. Pulling out a couple of joints, he lit one and set the other on the nightstand. Might as well relax while he waited, and this day called for a little buzz to take the edge away. He just wish he could get Aya to partake as well, if anyone needed to relax it was his redhead. For someone who had just come back from a vacation the man was very stressed about something.

Some time later Aya walked into the room, clad in his usual yukata. Yohji had to stare at the pale man, taking in the white skin and crimson hair, set off by the grey material. Maybe it was the deep purple of the irises that made his loverís eyes stand out even more, flashing underneath damp bangs. "Hey kitten." He frowned as he was first treated to a shi-ne glare then ignored as Aya stalked over to the window, throwing it open so forcibly that the older man was surprised the glass didnít shatter. "Something wrong?"

The swordsman sat on the edge of the bed as he angrily towel dried his hair, ignoring Yohjiís question. Feeling a bit irritated but mostly horny from the pot, Yohji slid down the bed, snatching the towel away from his boyfriend and taking over the task. When Aya failed to melt against him and purr as he normally did the blond frowned. "Okay, what the fuck is up with you?"

"I happen to live with an asshole who fails to understand that I donít want my belongings to smell like pot! How many times do I have to tell you if you insist on smoking that stuff to open the damn window?"

"Oh, so thatís what got the bug up your ass?" Aya made to get off the bed but a pair of lanky but strong arms wrapped themselves tight around him. "Donít see why youíre so pissed off, anymore all you wear are my clothes. Do you hear me bitching about them smelling like flowers when you put Ďem back?" It was registering in the back of Yohjiís mind that this might not exactly be an argument that he could win, at the very least Aya would stop wearing his clothes and then he wouldnít be able to see the man looking all adorable in his size too big shirts and sweaters. Besides, wasnít there something else to fight with the stubborn idiot about? Oh yeah, the mission.

Tightening his grip on the silent redhead, Yohji asked him about the task Birman had talked to him about. The only answer he got in return was more silence. "Come on, Aya, Iím not dropping this. Donít tell me you turned her down, you never have before. And I saw how much money you make off of these jobs, if all you are doing is a little B&E or recon Iíll flush the rest of my stash." The two of them just sat there, not speaking as Yohjiís temper grew shorter. "Fine, be a prick." He jerked his arms away from the smaller man, muttering curses as he reached for the last joint. Quickly lighting it, he made sure to blow a puff of smoke Ayaís way.

Who slowly stood up from the bed. Glancing at his irate boyfriend, Aya ran a hand through his hair, a small part of him making a comment that he needed a haircut. Green eyes glared at him as Yohji took a deep toke off of the joint. He refused to have another fight today, all he wanted to do was curl up in bed and go asleep, worn out from being on edge all day. "I canít tell you about the assignments, thatís part of why they are paying me so much, for the silence. Just that Iíll be going out tomorrow night and the night after that if things go well."

"Donít give me that shit, Aya. You should know you can trust me not to say anything, the fact that you wonít tell me lets me know that itís just as bad as I thought. And I can think of a lot of bad things that they might have you do, lover. It has to be something that not even an assassin like me would willingly do, or be insane odds. You that much a whore for the money?"

Aya growled at the blond. "You donít know what the hell you are talking about, Kudoh. I do the jobs that require one man, no back-up. Thatís why I make the money. And I gave my word not to talk about anything of it, so you can insult me all you want, but it wonít get you anything but me even more pissed off. Some of us need the cash, we have better things to spend it on than marijuana and beer." That said he reached for his pillow, intent on spending the night on the couch downstairs. Before Aya could move away from the bed a hand clamped around his belt and pulled him backwards. Falling half onto Yohjiís lap, he tried to toss his hair off of his face as he glared up at the older man. "What the hell do you want now?"

Yohji combed his fingers through the crimson bangs, letting out a sigh. "Iím sorry, kitten, I didnít mean to say what I did." The anger left him just as quickly as it had come. Ayaís tension had him on edge as well, prompting this ridiculous fight. Well, that and the manís stubborn refusal to tell him anything without major effort on his part. "I know you need the money for your sister, Iím just not happy with the idea of you being out there where you can get hurt and having no one watching your back." Violet eyes continued to glare at him for a minute before drifting shut. "I know, Iím a possessive jackass, but I hate worrying about you love."

"Then donít. Kritiker wonít give me anything more than I can handle by myself." Opening his eyes, Aya stared up at his lover. "Trust me at least, Iíve been doing stuff like this before I joined WeiŖ. And I have a hell of a lot more to live for now."

"You better." Yohji bent down to kiss the smaller man. When they broke apart he settled back against his pillows, picking up the joint and taking a drag before offering it to Aya. Who of course refused it with the shake of his head. "You sure, love? I think you can use it, youíve been on edge all day."

Shaking his head again, Aya replaced his pillow and got off the bed, ready to change before going to sleep. Yohji was right, he had been tense all day, and it was in part the reason for the fights. Things that normally didnít bother him very much were prompting exaggerated reactions, and it was such an effort to leave the arguments alone. Once dressed in Yohjiís sweatshirt that was now officially his and a pair of boxers, he made his way back to bed. Even though it was summer, he still felt cold all the time. No matter how hot it got outside. Aya wasnít looking forward to winter if this kept up. Sliding under the covers, he had just finished snuggling into the feather bed when he felt a hand stroking through his hair. Suddenly he remembered the other reason for not being too happy to find Yohji smoking pot. "Kudoh, Iím tired and want to go to sleep now."

It was hard not to sigh when the room suddenly went dark and he felt the covers lift up and another body slide under them. Though it was so nice to feel something warm press against him that even if he wasnít in the mood Aya scooted back against his lover. It hadnít taken Yohji long to figure that fact out and use it to his advantage. Long arms hugged him tight while a stubble covered chin rasped along his neck. "Surely you donít want to sleep right now. We still have to kiss and make up." A hand skimmed down his front and underneath his boxers. Feeling himself start to respond to the stroking touch, tight muscles relaxing as pleasure spread outward, Aya groaned out that the blond was an oversexed bastard. "Whatever it takes kitten, want you too much to play fair. You can pick another fight with me about it afterwards, I donít care. As long as we get to do this again."

*******

There was nothing but darkness, and no matter how much he struggled, Aya couldnít get away from it. It was so black that he couldnít tell if his eyes were open or not. And cold, so cold that the redhead couldnít stop shivering. He tried to reach for the missing warmth but couldnít find it, being overwhelmed by a painful muffling sensation until Aya had to finally concede the battle. Floating in empty space, he felt tears stream down his face as a feeling of loss filled his heart. Something was going to happen, he was about to once more lose something that he loved, but he couldnít push past the chilly darkness to find out who or what it would be. All the answers were cruelly just out of reach. Shaking from frustration and the cold, Aya heard a whispering in his head. "Iím so sorry." Looking about for the grey woman who had taken to haunting his dreams, he found nothing. Feeling his teeth grind together in anxiety and frustration, he didnít give up searching until light began to seep on in, morning dawning in the bedroom. It took Aya a moment to realize that he was now awake.

Carefully pulling himself away from a snoring Yohji, Aya quietly got out of bed. After he put on his robe and grabbed some clothes to wear, the pale man paused to sit on the edge of the bed to stare down at his lover. A sense of fear filled him, that he might not ever see Kudoh again to fight with him and then spend the night in pleasure making up. He reached out a hand to brush back the strands of honey blond hair that was covering the manís face. For a moment it looked as if Yohji would awaken, but all the blond did was swipe a hand over his face and turn on to his side, mumbling in his sleep. Aya watched him for several minutes longer, until he realized that he was running late for opening the shop. Tearing himself away from Yohji, he went off for a shower.

Once cleaned and dressed, Aya opened the Koneko for the day. Pushing up the shutters, shifting the plants about and starting on the orders helped to distract him from his dream. A sense of helpless dread filled him, making the short-tempered man even more irritable than usual. Ken found this out the hard way when he showed up for his shift. Wishing his teammate good morning earned him an evil glare, and him accidentally dropping a potted geranium resulted in a scathing five minute diatribe of how clumsy idiots cut into the shopís budget with their inability to hold onto anything that wasnít perfectly spherical. The brunet let out a sigh of relief when Aya icily informed him he would finish the arrangements in the greenhouse, and that he would have to deal with the customers himself until Kudoh showed up.

When the blond did just that, Ken again wished his coworker a good morning and was once more snapped at. "Okay, what the hell is going on with the two of you? You guys have another fight already? Well get over it, Iíve had my fill of putting up with grouchy bastards for the day." He rubbed at his still tender stomach as he did some glaring of his own. Why did he always have to be caught up in the fallout of the couple? As it was the athlete was counting the minutes til the shop closed and he could go play with his kids. Least they didnít wish him dead with a stare.

"Sorry, Kenken." Yohji smirked slightly when his friend growled at the nickname, pausing a moment to light a cigarette before continuing. "So whereís my chipper little snugglebunny at?" Aya was no where to be found in the shop, and the fact that he had sneaked off to work this morning was why Yohji had been so short with Ken. The day always got off on the wrong foot when he woke up and found Aya gone, it didnít help that this was the first time in weeks that it had happened.

Ken glanced warily towards the greenhouse. "Heís back there. Fair warning, go anywhere near him and you run the risk of losing your hide at the very least." A tanned hand took to twisting the leaf of a spider plant as its owner reflected back on the morning. "The man actually bitched at me for five whole minutes about how much I cost the Koneko whenever I drop something. Five minutes, Yohji. I think thatís the longest Iíve ever heard Aya speak, and let me tell you this. If he doesnít talk to me for another year Iíll be quite happy." The quiet man had been very good at articulating just how much he thought Ken was a waste of oxygen during the tirade. "What the hell did you do to the man?"

Sighing as he looked back at the conservatory, Yohji shrugged his shoulders. "Not much as far as I can tell. Yeah we had a couple of fights yesterday, but they were more on the scale of small skirmishes and not outright battles. Ayaís upset about something, wish I could figure out what that was." He managed to take about two steps in the direction of his lover when the doorbell started chiming, heralding a client. It was almost an hour later that the shop finally calmed down enough for him to seek the redhead out. Ken didnít help matters any by humming the funeral march while he was on his way.

Filled with a sense of caution, the blond carefully poked his head into the glass building, trying to gauge Ayaís temper at the given moment. He found the other man sitting at a table covered with flowers, twirling a snowdrop between his fingers. "Hey kitten, you have those orders all finished yet or what?" The endearment earned him a glare but no Ďshi-neí, so he assumed it was safe to approach.

Yohji stared at all the floral arrangements for a moment, then turned to regard the smaller man. "Looks like youíve been busy. In between biting Kenís head off and all. You definitely live up to your title as the grouchiest member of WeiŖ, you know."

"Kudoh, Iím not in the mood right now," Aya growled out.

Trying to decide how he wanted to answer that, Yohji discarded a few snide comments and shook his head. There had been enough fights last night, trying to drag out what was bothering Aya would just lead to another. Which was a bit much, even for them. "Fine then. I see someone is still all pissed off. Whenever you feel like talking and not bitching at people, let me know." About to walk away, he was startled when a cool hand slipped around his wrist to prevent him from doing so. Green eyes regarded Aya curiously for a moment, taking in the tight face and shadowed eyes. When his lover stood up and stepped closer to him, Yohji wrapped the man in a hug. "Whatís wrong, Aya? Granted you normally arenít a ray of sunshine, but youíve been in this bad mood since yesterday."

Aya rested his head on Yohjiís shoulder, breathing in deep the playboyís scent of tobacco and spice. Some of the tension in him melted away as he held the man close, knowing that someone he loved was safe and near. "I donít know, Kudoh. Just have this bad feeling that somethingís about to happen, and that I should be able to stop it but I canít."

A gold hand tugged at an eartail. "That makes as much sense as anything else youíve ever said, which isnít saying much." Yohji managed to jump back before he was hit. "Sorry love, couldnít resist." He reached out to brush back the redheadís bangs, smiling down on a scowling visage. "You think it has anything to do with your mission tonight? Kritiker doesnít need to know if you have some back-up, I can easily tag along and help."

"No." The older man blinked at the cold tone of voice.

"You know Aya, all you are doing is making me wonder even harder what the hell it is that youíre hiding. What is it with these jobs that Kritiker gives you? Why donít they want us to know anything about them?" The pale man just stared back at him, face as cold as his voice. Before Yohji could start a fight in earnest Kenís voice drifted back to the couple, sarcastically commenting that he was handling a sudden flood of customers with no problem at all, why didnít they stay back there a little longer? Both men hurried up to help their teammate.

Yohji took over the register, ringing up the clients and flirting with them if they were female. Aya stayed towards the back of the shop, silently making requested arrangements or assisting the customers. Every now and then Yohji would try to catch the manís eye, but his lover seemed bound and determined to ignore him. He shook his head and decided to get some answers later, when there wasnít so much breakable stuff lying around.

The day went by pretty quickly, their usual clientele happy over the fact that the shop was once more open. Aya began restocking some of the flowers, ready to finish up his shift and leave for the hospital. Just about done, he heard a high-pitched voice shriek out "Yohji-san! You look tan, how have you been?" The voice was familiar, and Aya turned around in time to see a well-groomed young woman fling her arms around a stunned Yohjiís neck. Violet eyes narrowed as the blond stood there hugging the woman back. Seeing her face, he remembered who she was and how Kudoh had thrown himself on the woman in the past.

"Nakashima-san, how nice to see you again. Back from Hong Kong already?" Yohji tried to surreptitiously remove the arms clutched tight around his neck.

"Really, Yohji, call me Megumi. Surely I havenít been gone that long!" The pretty longhaired woman batted her eyes at Kudoh, a seductive smile on her face. She had forgotten just how handsome the man truly was, thinking that her memory had been playing games on her while sheíd been gone. He was so much better looking than any of the men sheíd met while away on her internship. She reluctantly let go off Yohji, but leaned over the counter to be near him, and to give him an excellent view down her cleavage. Which for some odd reason the man was ignoring. Usually Yohji never resisted a chance to oogle her assets.

Making sure that his eyes didnít drop down below Megumiís chin, Yohji chuckled nervously. Dammit, here was one former girlfriend that he had been hoping wouldnít be coming back. Before the woman had taken off to work on her business degree, he had tried his hardest to get into Megumiís panties. But she had resisted, stringing him along until he realized that here was someone who enjoyed being a tease way too much. She would play out any interested men, getting what she could out of them while holding them at armís length. The challenge had been fun for a while, to see if he could break through her resolve, but he wasnít interested anymore. Sneaking a glance at the reason he wasnít, he found a pair of very chilly amethyst eyes trying to freeze him dead on the spot. No good. Then again, this was the most reaction he had ever gotten out of Aya concerning any of his admirers. "Ah, Megumi, a day would have been too long. How was Hong Kong?" Used to flirting, he couldnít quite turn the habit off, even if his boyfriend was busy glaring at him. Especially if his boyfriend was glaring at him. It actually looked as if Aya was jealous. Now that was a first. Yohji decided to play this up a bit, smiling down on the young woman.

Megumi blushed and then smiled at the compliment, reaching up to tuck back a long strand of blond hair behind an adorned ear. "Still the same Yohji I see, always saying the perfect thing. Hong Kong was," she paused to sniff, disdain evident on her face, "disappointing. Iím so happy to be back in Tokyo, where the men know how to treat a lady." She stood there for a moment, waiting for Yohji to get the hint.

"So sorry to hear that, sweetie. Maybe now youíll think twice about ever leaving the city again." Yohji looked about him, snatched a rose from a vase on the counter, and offered it to the girl with a slight bow. "Welcome back. Youíll have to tell me all about it some other time."

"What a perfect idea!" Yohji blinked at the girlís happy tone. "You did promise to take me out when I came back, we can talk about my internship then. How about later this week?"

Starting to sweat, the playboy chuckled weakly. Maybe this hadnít been a good idea after all. "Uhm, you know, itís a really busy time for me. Can I get back to you about that?" Oh this was not good. Aya usually put up with his flirting with other people, but an outright date was going to get him killed. Megumi pouted at him, clearly expecting him to give in and agree. She backed up from the counter, tossing a hand through her hair in her trademark ĎIím angry and you better make me happy real quickí gesture. Trying to think up a better excuse, Yohji blinked when the longhaired girl let out a shriek.

It appeared that Aya had silently sneaked up and was now standing behind her with Kenís cactus in his arms when she swung her arm back. Several of the plantís spines had become embedded in her shirtsleeve. "Behind you," the pale man quietly stated, a bit too late.

"Ow! Why, you, what were you doing back there?" Megumi asked the icy redhead, upset and flustered. "It hurts!" Turning to have Yohji assist her with the spines, she let out another cry as a cold hand grabbed hers, holding the arm still as the needles were quickly plucked out without any unnecessary fussing.

She shivered at the look the quiet man was treating her to. "This is a flowershop. If you arenít going to buy something, then get out of the way and leave. Kudoh, we need the rest of the plants moved. Now." Megumi was about to argue, but something about the odd colored eyes boring into her prevented that. Even though she had tried hard in the past, she had never been able to get the beautiful redhead to warm up to her. He merely ignored her. And she didnít take being ignored very well. So she had concentrated on Kudoh instead, who had most definitely not dismissed her presence. "You always treat customers like this?"

"Hn." Aya just walked away, not even stopping when he handed the cactus back to an amused Ken.

"Well Megumi, you heard the slave driver. I have to get back to work. Talk to you later." The stunned woman stood there as Yohji waved to her before snatching up some plants and practically running towards the back of the shop. Megumi realized that her mouth was open and snapped it shut. She waited a few minutes for the blond to return, and when that didnít happen she snatched up her rose and left the shop. Ken wished her a goodbye then rung up his customer, setting the cactus on the counter. From the determined look on the girlís face, he was willing to bet that Aya was going to need it again sometime soon.

He was checking the plant for damage when Yohji reappeared. "Is the coast all clear?"

"Yep."

"Where is Aya at?"

"Think he left the shop." Ken gave the older assassin a serious look. "He seemed even madder than this morning. Iíd give him some time to cool off if I was you."

Yohji pulled out a cigarette and stood in the doorway, blowing the smoke outside. "Great, just what the man needed, to be in an even worse mood." He took another few puffs before flicking the cigarette away. "So tell me, Ken. That look like jealousy to you or what?" Aya had never attacked one of his fan club before, usually he just ignored them until they went away.

Ken couldnít help but chuckle in amazement. "Kudoh, you are quite a piece of work. Yes, I think he was jealous. But before you crow over the fact, think about it for a moment. You have a short-tempered swordsman not well-known for rational thought whoís most likely sharpening his katana right now real upset at you. I wouldnít be very happy if I was in your shoes."

Yohji smiled at the brunet. "Yeah, but youíre missing the point, Kenken. I just got a reaction out of the Ice Prince. Thatís the first time heís ever done something like that." Suddenly the day was looking up.

"So you going to go talk to him right now or what?"

Stretching his arms as he yawned, the lanky man shook his head and grinned sheepishly. "I may be blond, but Iím not stupid."

*******

Katana in hand, Aya got out of his car, glancing about for any witnesses. The dark alley that he had parked in was completely deserted, and with some luck no one would ever notice his car. Sliding the weapon inside of his coat, he made his way to the office building Kritiker wanted him to infiltrate. The streets were quiet, most of the businesses around here were closed for the night. The pale assassin slinked down the darkened sidewalk, mind elsewhere. It had been a strange day, all he wanted was to complete the mission and go home. Where most likely he would find an annoyed boyfriend waiting up for him, eager to continue the fight they had started in the greenhouse.

After taking care of Kudohís little tramp, he had rushed upstairs to gather his work clothes and gear and had left the Koneko. Which most likely had only made the man more upset with him. But Aya had needed some time to cool down, after watching his lover flirt with that woman. The same woman who had strung Kudoh along for months before leaving the country, having gained more effort and attention from him than any other of the manís flings Aya could remember. Maybe that was why he had felt so jealous, this wasnít one of the many dates that Kudoh had wooed and walked away from. If it wasnít for their relationship, Yohji would have been all over her again. A small part of Aya wondered if that would be the case even now. He knew how much the blond loved challenges, and Nakashima had been that. And she hadnít spent the past day in a bad mood.

Aya still wasnít sure what had him so upset, just that upon leaving the cabin on Sunday he had felt more and more upset the closer they got to Tokyo. Yohji telling him on the way back about Stoutís blackmail hadnít helped the situation, nor had Birman showing up with the missions that he couldnít turn down. Not when he considered the date. It was almost six months since he had rejoined WeiŖ, and that meant his bi-annual check-up was right around the corner. Maybe he could argue his way out of the physical examination, what with the work-up heíd had a couple of months ago, but Kritiker would probably only inform him that considering his current health problems that wouldnít be an option. But what really had him anxious was knowing that any day now he would show up to see his sister and find a nurse waiting for him at the station. To escort him to a psychiatrist for a mental evaluation. Heíd felt the familiar dread when heíd visited Aya-chan today, unable to find the normal calm he achieved in the girlís presence because of that.

It wasnít an option to refuse the missions, not right now. Heíd never turned them down before, to change that pattern would raise questions during his session. As it was Aya would have enough of a problem hiding his relationship with Kudoh and Schuís renewed interest. The redhead couldnít afford anything that would draw attention to him. So that left him with an ex-private investigator of a boyfriend who had found out too much about the jobs asking uncomfortable questions. Aya knew Yohji wouldnít stop harping about them until he found out some answers. The man could be extremely tenacious in that regard, wanting to know what he was hiding.

A car speeding down the street woke Aya from his thoughts, sending him into a dark doorway to hide. Waiting for the passing car to vanish from sight, Aya slid out from the shadows to make his way to the designated office building. Kritikerís orders were quite clear, he was to enter the premises and kill everyone inside. No explanation had been given, but then again there never before had been any for these missions. No dramatic videos or claims of dark beasts, just codes to get him into the building and the understanding that he would be the only one to leave alive. That was why he was paid so much and did these jobs by himself. Some missions were best kept in the dark, their justification might not stand up very well in the light. For a second he thought about what these people had done to draw the organizationís wrath upon them, but he shoved the thought aside. It didnít matter. He would go in and do the job, just like he had done since he had joined WeiŖ. Like he had done since leaving Crasherís. There was no need for the validation of some dark beast or another, all Aya normally wanted was the money for his sisterís continued care. Kritiker knew that, having kept their eyes on him when he left to freelance, and put that resolve to very good use. What was more blood on his hands at this point? Aya knew that he was tainted beyond redemption, why pass the unpleasant assignments on to someone else when Aya-chan needed more funds?

It was time to stop thinking and to get this over with. Staring at the door he was to enter, Aya took a few deep breaths, waiting for the warm calm to come over him. For his Abyssinian faÁade to mask his emotions and help get him through this task. He stood there shivering, finding the calm to be completely elusive. After several minutes of waiting for the feeling to come over him the redhead decided that he would have to proceed without it. No more than two steps from the stairwell he had been hiding in Aya felt a flood of heat, chasing away the cold yet distancing him from the world at the same time. Violet eyes flooded with color, darkening with each breath he took. Now he was ready, instincts awake and whispering what he would find inside.

Aya stilled until the right moment came, then rushed to the door. Gloved fingers flew over the keyboard, entering the code needed to make the entrance open. He would only have seconds before the guard resumed his watch of the video screens. The code that Kritiker had supplied him with failed. Taking another deep breath, he closed his eyes and let his fingers randomly push the buttons. There was a low click that signaled the bolt being thrown open. Once in he strode down the hall resolutely, blade drawn and ready. Stepping into the side alcove, he beheaded the guard stationed in front of the monitors, the man not even knowing that he was behind him. Back in the hallway a young man carrying two cups of coffee rounded the corner and impaled himself on the katana. As blood dribbled down his mouth the sword was withdrawn, letting the body slide down to the floor. Aya stepped into a room and dispatched two more men, not even giving them time to scream.

Four down, supposedly twenty-three more to go. For a moment the pale assassin reflected on how heíd been worried about the number when heíd read the file, but the anxiety was long gone. There would be one or two rough spots, but he could already feel ahead and tell that the mission would be a success. The threads never lied to him. Already they twisted about, making a computer specialist turn her radio up louder, a security guard decide that he could stop on his rounds to chat with a co-worker, a locked door to remain that way even as a smoking man punched in the right code. All that was left was tracking them down and killing them.

Aya gave himself to the instincts, letting himself be pulled along. His world narrowed down to slicing and stabbing, twisting about as if dancing. The redhead was always focused ahead, preparing for the next person as he pulled his blade free from abused flesh, yet another body falling at his feet. First one step and the next, everything was already a foregone conclusion. Anything that would get in his way was shifted and changed until the outcome fit his desire. He was so filled with heat that he didnít even feel the warm blood splashing over him. Dark violet eyes stared more inward than out, seeing what would be and not what was. It felt so natural like this, Aya didnít even wonder about what he was doing, what was happening to him.

The targets died at their desks, in the hallways, three alone were taken out in the lounge. Aya counted down the bodies as he checked every room, even the ones he knew to be empty. No sense in taking any chances, the caution was too ingrained to ignore. A guard never even got his gun out of the holster before the blade swept across his throat, ending his life in a splash of blood. The swordsman paused to step into the ladies room, knowing that he had eighty-five seconds to try and wipe the blood off of his hilt before needing to be in the computer room. Any longer than that and an alarm would be tripped. Entering the room he glided over to a young man on the phone, removing his head neatly. Then a step to the side, disemboweling a stunned woman as she rose from her seat. Spinning to the right, he cut across a screaming throat, feeling a spray of blood coat his face. Next he dropped to a knee, jabbing upward to catch a whimpering man in the chest. The four techs were dead within two minutes, only one managing a scream. Not that it mattered, there were only five people left, all on the third floor.

Racing up the steps, Aya made short work of them. Yet another unsuspecting security agent down in the hall, caught as he waited in vain for the elevator. An older man in a large office managed to gasp out a plea for mercy as he watched his two associates collapse on the ground before joining them. Stepping back into the hall, Aya ducked under a wild swing, thrusting his sword into a manís stomach and then twisting it until he severed the spine. Another swipe of the katana ended the targetís suffering. All in all, fifteen guards were dead, none of them firing off any shots. Eight computer technicians, one janitor, one secretary and two supervisors were dead as well. Those facts dimly registered on the redheadís senses, all he could see or smell at this point was blood. It coated his face and clothes, dripped from his hands and katana. Twenty-seven. For a moment Schuldigís voice floated through his head, about his dead numbering in the hundreds. Now it was almost thirty more. Soon he would have to count by the thousands. At what point would he start to drown in the blood?

The warmth started to retreat. Desperately Aya clung to it, feeling the sense of loss and heartache return. He wanted to know what was going to happen, knew that there was some dark event hovering on the horizon, but all the pale man could do was collapse on the blood-soaked carpet as the heat was viciously ripped away. There was a stabbing pain in his head, and for the moment it was impossible to breathe, smothered as he was. Gradually the muffled feeling faded away, letting him fill his lungs with air and stand to his feet, shivering with the cold.

He made his way back downstairs, stopping again in the restroom to halfheartedly clean off his face. Aya made sure to return to the monitors and pull the surveillance discs out of the recorders. There was to be no record of him ever being here. Before leaving the premises, he reached inside his coat for his phone. Quickly dialing a number, he spoke four words. "Abyssinian hier, alles erledigt." Aya then exited the abattoir, shivering as he headed back to his car. His task was finished, Kritiker would send someone to clean up after him, maybe comb the place for whatever files or objects they wanted from it in the first place. All he did was kill people.

*******

Crawford accepted some more sake with a nod of his head, lifting the small glass for a taste before continuing his business. Behind him Schuldig resisted the urge to make a face. Just how big was the Americanís damn bladder anyways? Theyíd been sitting in this room all evening long, Bradley discussing business with the yakuza boss while Schuldig played bodyguard and read the manís mind. Heíd gotten all the relevant information they needed from it hours ago, and had planted the necessary suggestions. All he wanted to do was go home and sleep, last night had been a bit draining. But some damn stuck up bastard refused to budge from the low table.

The reason for his exhaustion was that his tuberose had tried to access his power, and it had taken no small amount of energy and effort to block Aya from achieving that goal. Schuldig could not remember the last time heíd felt this worn out. But heíd been successful in preventing his heart from catching a glimpse of what fate had in store for him and his sister. Closing his eyes for a second, the telepath sought out the other manís mind with an ease that still amazed him. All he had to do was just think about Aya and he knew what the catalyst was up to and how he was feeling. The only problem anymore was blocking the man out. The past week and a half had been pure hell, feeling second-hand what his tuberose and the man-whore had been up to. Nagi refused to remain in the same room with him now, what with the way heíd taken his anger and frustration out on everyone around him.

Achieving contact with the delicious mind, Schuldig barely stifled a curse. Fuck, heíd been so distracted by this stupid meeting that heíd forgotten what was on the kittyís agenda for the night. Abyssinian was all set to prowl on his mastersí orders. The stubborn fool was about to go ahead with the mission without any backup or his power to help make sure he wasnít hurt. Schuldig released his hold on the manís talent just loosely enough so it would protect Aya during the next few minutes but not enough to extend beyond that period. As heat and energy flooded through him, the German was hard pressed not to let out a moan of pure joy.

It was such a fucking rush to be in Ayaís mind when the man was immersed in his power, a perfect angel of death as Farfie would call him. It was amazing how events rearranged themselves to suit the catalyst, the cold analytical nature that overtook the manís mind. Aya didnít think of anything other than where next to place his blade, another life cut short through pure thought and motion. Schuldig longed for when he didnít have to rein in the power anymore, when he could enjoy this sensation every day. But that couldnít be until Aya was completely his and had accepted his talent. Even now as the last body dropped to the floor he could feel his heartís mind start rationalizing what had happened, blanking all thoughts of the threads and foreknowledge. The poor boyís father had done such a great job on him, making him cringe at the thought that he was anything but normal. Yes, it would be quite a challenge to get his lover to accept what he truly was.

Now that the mission was complete Schuldig savagely forced the talent back into its cage, once more fighting Aya over the matter. Abyssinian couldnít know about what was to happen to his sister, there were too many important things hinging on that one action. Sweat running down his body, he managed to cut off the man from his power, feeling exhausted once more. But a hint of euphoria remained, enough to bring a smile on his face as he opened his eyes and stared at Crawfordís tense back. It took him a moment to realize his leader was trying to talk to him.

<Mastermind, what are you up to?> There was a peevish tone to the precogís mental voice.

<Just amusing myself while you drink our guest under the table. Can we go home now, we were finished hours ago.>

<Iíve been waiting for you to come back to do just that. You have all the information Esset needs and are sure that Toma will handle the Urawa matter for us?>

There were distinct drawbacks with working for such an anal retentive bastard. One such being stuck answering all these rhetorical questions. <Ye~s, Bradley-kins. Iíve been a very good boy, now letís go.> He watched as his leader chatted for a few more minutes and then politely made his apologies for having to leave. It wasnít much longer than that before they were driving off in Crawfordís Mercedes, Schuldig stretching out in the back seat. "Home, Jeeves." Dark brown eyes glared at him in the rear view mirror. "Ah, donít be like that Brad, I wonít protest any if you pull over and come back here for a little fun. Youíve been much too tense lately, some fooling around will do you good." He knew the uptight prick would never take him up on the offer.

"Schuldig, there is nothing in this world that would tempt me to join you back there. And my name is Crawford." The American readjusted the mirror after the other man stuck a tongue out at him. "As for why I am so tense lately, how would you take it if a subordinate of yours insisted on disobeying your orders, heading off on a questionable tangent? You were messing around with Abyssinian again, werenít you?"

The telepath leaned forward, resting his chin on the back of the passenger seat. "Why do you care so much? We have our deal, I help you kill the old geezers in return for the Kštzchen. So far Iím living up to my end, even leaving the Penner alone because you say we need him alive. Where is there a problem?"

The problem, Crawford thought, was that ever since Mastermind had intensified his crusade to have WeiŖís leader, things had been very very odd. He was failing to have visions over matters that were directly related to the two men, and the telepath was acting rather strangely. If he didnít know any better, heíd say the man was in love. But that wasnít possible, was it? He couldnít see Mastermind falling in love with a normal, no matter how beautiful or unique his mind was. So what was the attraction for the -- <Youíre thinking too hard, mein FŁhrer. I keep expecting to see smoke coming from your ears.>

"Dammit Schuldig, stop being such a pest. And start concentrating on the job at hand. You fuck things up for Schwarz because youíre too busy playing with your toy, and I will personally kill Fujimiya." Crawford took his eyes off the road long enough to glance over at his teammate, whose face was twisted into a mask of fury. For a moment he almost let slip a genuine emotion on his own impassive visage in response. He quickly looked back at the road, giving himself a chance to regain control. What he had just seen in the Germanís eyes was not good.

<You so much as touch a hair on the manís head, Oracle, and I will break you. Heís _mine_.> Crawford could not remember ever hearing Schuldigís voice this serious. <I gave you my word, what I do with Abyssinian will not impact our bargain in the slightest and in all probability will only help ensure that we destroy Esset. It isnít any concern of yours.>

The precog was relieved to hear his voice come out perfectly normal. "Make sure of that, and we wonít have any problems. But if I see the slightest hint that you will betray Schwarz or your distraction will cost the team, I will make Fujimiya pay for your mistake. Never forget that." The rest of the ride passed in silence, Schuldig retreating to the back of the car to resume his link with his lover, and Crawford contemplating what sort of mischief a love-struck Mastermind could do to his team. It was almost easier to take if the man was trying to double-cross him, heíd prefer if things were that simple. He was left floundering, trying to figure out how best to handle this new development. That he couldnít think of anything greatly disturbed Crawford.

******

"Here you go, Ďhot off the pressesí as they say." Gaijin tossed a stack of photos on the table, sitting down as Smoke, Frown and Old Man sorted through the pile. "The cleanup crew just faxed them over to us from the Yono building." The foreigner waited for his comrades to comment on the bloody scenes.

Smoke looked up first, cigarette shaking slightly in her hand. "Correct me if Iím wrong, but there arenít any signs of a struggle from what I can tell."

Gaijin nodded his head. "There is no indication whatsoever that security got off any shots, and no alarms were triggered. Somehow Orchidee got in to the building and killed a cadre of very well trained guards without arousing any suspicions."

"What about the entrance way? Did he force his way in?" Frownís voice was sharp, his features drawn into a scowl.

"Not at all. As far as the team can find, the proper code was entered right after the false one. Any more than two failed tries and an alarm would have gone off."

"So my precogs were correct, Orchidee managed to get in and take care if things with no problems." There was an actual smile on Smokeís face, one that took on a smug air as she glanced over at Frown.

The surly man snorted as he neatly stacked the gory photographs in front of him. "Impressive, they got things right for once. Though all they said was heíd survive the mission, a rather vague statement even for them."

Old Man spoke up for the first time, startling the others. "He did more than survive, look at those photos. I know whole teams that couldnít have pulled off what he did." Bleary amber eyes gazed at Gaijin. "Was he wounded at all?"

"Not that we can tell. Iíll have Aster check up on him tomorrow, but I doubt it. Like I said, there were no spent bullets found anywhere, and most of security never even drew their weapons."

Taking a deep breath, the woman blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke. "Well, I think we have the proof we wanted. He has to be a precog at the very least." The others nodded their heads. "The only question left is what do we do now?"

"He is scheduled for a check-up in two weeks. Iím sure we can fit a few new tests into the regime." Gaijin pulled out a PDA and checked through it. "Can we arrange for one of Schattenís psychoanalysts to be at the Magic Bus Hospital then?" Smoke nodded her head. "Iíd prefer it to be Dr. Arai, Orchidee hasnít met her yet." Again, a nod. "Good. Another thing of interest tonight is that the operator who took his call reported that he spoke in German." Two pairs of eyes focused on him, filled with curiosity. "Iíd like for Arai to investigate that."

"That does sound very intriguing," Old Man commented. "Heís only done that once before."

Frown made an irritated sound. "What about the other matter we discussed?"

"Iím still not sure that it would be a wise idea," Old Manís deep voice rang out. "But I will not fight you over it anymore. Not after tonight. Just be careful of what you unleash, Orchidee is an unknown quantity. And the girl has some value for study as well."

A rare grin crossed Frownís face, flushed with victory. He pointedly looked at the other two, who nodded their heads in agreement. "Very well then, we will precede with the plans. It wonít be very hard to leak the girlís location to some interested parties. Anyone want to wager on who acts first?"

"The boy has made some interesting enemies, that is for sure." Gaijin reached out to snag a cigarette from the pack in front of Smoke, accepting the lighter with a grateful smile. As he puffed on the stick he shifted through the photos once more. "Any of them would be very happy to get their hands on his sister."

Old Man leaned forward in his chair. "Yes, it shouldnít take long for someone to locate the child. But what I will find of interest is Orchideeís reaction. This has the potential to sever him from us, I hope you are aware of this."

"Or it will make him even more dependent on us. We can assure that whoever takes the girl has an interest in keeping her alive. As you said, she does have some value in and of herself, what with her condition." Smoke twirled a strand of hair around her finger. "If anything should help break through the shield on his power, this should do it." The three men agreed with her.

*******

Abyssinian hier, alles erledigt Ė Abyssinian here, itís done.

Poem by Robert Frost

*******

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