Nothing Gold Can Stay

*******

Chapter three

*******

"Why are you here, Schuldig?" Aya kept his voice hushed, his hands at his sides even though they itched to unsheathe the katana strapped across his back. They couldnít fight here, not in this house. If they did then the woman and two children sleeping upstairs would wake up and see them, which would result in their deaths. Aya didnít want to have the blood of innocent children on his hands, then he well and truly would be a monster.

<Hush. Iím not here to fight you, I came to help. The wifey and her brats wonít wake up if a bomb went off down here, I made sure of that.>

"ÖÖwhat?" This must be a trick of some sort, Schuldig was helping him? "I donít believe you."

In a flash the telepath crossed the distance separating them and stood before Aya, reaching out a hand to caress his cheek. For a moment dream and reality were confused, it was such a familiar gesture from when Schu visited him in his sleep that Aya didnít fight the touch, just glared at the other man. Schuldig laughed as he tucked a strand of crimson behind a pale ear. "Fine then, donít."

Oh, this was turning out even better than he had expected. Poor Aya was refusing to move, not about to set off a fight that would result in something that tore at even his shadowed conscience. "But itís the truth. I sensed last night how much you were dreading this mission, and decided to help you. Wanted to spare my sweet little tuberose some pain."

Refusing to let his body react to the soothing fingers combing through his hair, Aya snarled at the German. "A little too fucking late for that, donít you think? By about three years." The fingers tightened in the silky strands, jerking his head back. "If it hadnít been me that day who planted the bombs both you and your precious sister would be ashes by now. Never forget that. Your parentsí deaths were assured the moment they planned on exposing Takatori, I had nothing to do with that decision. It was me, however, who let the two of you live. You _owe_ me for that." Aya paled when Schuldig started to shout at him, eyes rolling to watch the door for a sight of a woman or young child investigating the noise. <I told you, they are asleep. I always keep my word to you.>

There was something familiar to this, standing in front of the man as they argued, Schuís hands on his body. Of talking about promises and debts. "You keep saying that Iím yours, that I owe my life to you for that day. All that I am now is because of you. How does it feel to have made such a monster, Schu? How much farther to I have to fall for you to be satisfied and leave me the hell alone?" Violet eyes fluttered closed as a light caress moved down his face and jaw. Trying to lift his arms to shove the telepath away, Aya found his body refusing to move.

"Iíll never be satisfied, precious. Not when it comes to you. Wonít stop until you cease fighting me and realize that you are mine." Schuldigís fingers worked the leather collar around Ayaís neck open, pocketing the strap before he stroked exposed the pale column. The smaller redhead shivered at the pleasure the touch provoked. It was just like in his dream last night. <Thatís right, wasnít it so lovely before the Schwanzlutscher interrupted our fun? I donít blame him for crawling back into your good graces so quickly, you are utterly delicious. But arenít you getting tired of having to forgive him yet? Heíll just hurt you again and again, donít you know that? You have to ask yourself if Kudoh is really worth all of this pain.>

The smaller manís eyes snapped open to glare at his suitor. "Shut up, Schu. I wonít let you destroy things between us. Thereís no-" Aya moaned as the touch stroked back up the side of his neck and along his jawline. Eyes snapping back shut, he struggled hard to prevent another such sound from escaping his lips. Warm breath hitting his face was the only warning he had before he found himself being kissed. <I wonít have to do anything to break the two of you apart. Balinese, die Arschloch that he is, will do it all for me. Maybe then youíll realize how foolish youíve been to fight me all along. Youíre the only thing that matters to me, but thatís not the case with your lover. Remember that when he rips your heart to shreds without a care.> The hot mouth left his, provoking a small whimper. Heavy eyelids drifting open, Ayaís breath caught at the emotions burning in a pair of jade green eyes.

Slowly stepping back, Schuldig continued on in a husky voice. "The targetís family wonít wake until morning, and then it will be the wife, and not the little girl, who comes down to find him. He didnít lie you know, there are no other files to search for. Now go home and get some rest." There was one more caress to his face, and then in a flash of green and red the telepath disappeared, leaving a stunned Aya in the room with a corpse. Shaking as he forced his muscles to move, the assassin breathed heavily a few times before double checking that there were no signs of someone other than the target having been in the room that night. Assured that heíd completed the mission to the best of his ability Aya quietly left the house, wanting nothing more than to be safely home. Where hopefully there wouldnít be any more shocks for a while.

As he walked to his car he felt the slight bit of warmth that had filled him depart, leaving him even more exhausted than last night. Stumbling a little on the sidewalk, he yanked a hand through his hair to sharpen his awareness with pain. The distance to his car seemed so impossibly long, but he finally made it. Reaching for his keys, Aya noticed something resting on top of the Porsche.

It was a bouquet of flowers, all white except for a single red rose amid the camellia and tuberose. Beautiful and fragrant, it helped wash away the scent of death from his senses. When Aya picked up the flowers he found a choker of pure platinum amid the blooms, a dangle comprised of rubies and fire opals cut in a star pattern attached to the thick chain. Staring at it for a moment, he removed the jewelry and tucked it in a pocket, telling himself that the reason he kept it was because of its monetary value. That didnít explain why he tenderly laid the flowers on the passenger seat beside his katana as he sat behind the wheel. Refusing to think about the gift anymore, he pulled out his cellphone and informed his employers that the mission was completed. That done, the assassin headed home.

Upon reaching the Koneko he pulled into the garage and got out of the car. Catching sight of the flowers, Aya reached back into the automobile to get them. Breathing in their scent one more time, he touched a soft red petal for a minute before tossing them away with some regret, except for the rose. They were beautiful. He tucked the red flower into an inside pocket of his coat. Aya then made his way up to the kitchen, weariness like lead in his bones.

Yohji was sitting at the table, clearly waiting for him. "Aya, thank the gods, itís about time." The redhead found himself engulfed in a pair of wiry arms and hugged tight. After a moment he was shoved backwards and minutely examined. "Not a drop of blood tonight, it figures. Everything go all right?"

"Ö. it was okay." Yohji blinked at the exhausted tone in his loverís voice. When Aya shrugged off his embrace and went upstairs, he followed the smaller man up to the bathroom. "Here, let me help you with that." Aya didnít say anything as his coat was unbuckled and dropped to the floor. "Where were you at, you smell like flowers tonight." Not getting an answer, Yohji kept stripping the uniform off, idly noting that Aya wasnít sporting the usual leather band around his neck. In a matter of minutes the tired man was naked and turned to start his shower.

Stepping into the hot stream of water, Aya was startled when the just closed curtain opened to admit a nude Yohji. "Kudoh, not now."

"Donít worry, lover, my intentions are pure. Well, mostly. You look like youíre going to collapse at any minute, figured Iíd make sure you stay on your feet long enough to get clean." After eying the blond for a moment and determining that it didnít look like the man was up to something for once, Aya turned back around so that the water was falling onto his face. Yohji stepped closer and pulled him back a little to start washing his hair. Sighing at the feel of his scalp being massaged, the pale man let his muscles relax under his boyfriendís ministrations. It didnít take long until he was scrubbed and rinsed off, then tugged away from the wonderful hot water. "Really, kitten, I donít understand how come youíre not boiled alive by now. Ever hear of a thing called cold water?" Aya just hníed as he was toweled off.

Picking up the manís gear, Yohji led his lover back to their room. Once there he tossed the stuff onto the couch and pushed Aya down on the end of the bed. "You should know the drill by now." Settling behind the man, he proceeded to dry the wet mop of hair. Aya didnít do or say anything other than just lean back against him. Gods, the man must be really drained to be this complacent. Once the crimson hair was dried to his satisfaction, Yohji tossed the towel aside and used his fingers to restore the locks to some semblance of order. "You need a haircut, you know that? Unless youíre planning on letting it grow long, which wouldnít bother me in the slightest."

Shaking his head, Aya stood up to get dressed. Remembering that his sweatshirt was in the laundry, he made do with a pair of boxers and a t-shirt. When he was attired he turned to face his boyfriend, who was gazing at him worriedly. Running an internal debate through his mind, Aya tried to decide if he should tell Kudoh about what had happened tonight. He had no energy to put up with the manís hysterical over-reacting, but since he did not know what Schu had been after this evening, it would be best to warn Yohji of any potential conflict. Kneeling between the blondís legs, he rested his head on a golden hued shoulder, distantly noting that even after a shower the man still smelled like cigarettes. "I ran into Schuldig tonight."

He could tell when the words made sense to Kudoh, just by the way the thin body tensed. "What? The Bastard was messing with you again? What the hell did he do?"

Wincing a little at the manís volume, Aya made a hushing sound. "Shh." When Yohji started to growl he wrapped his arms around him and hugged him tight. "He said he was protecting me, making sure things went right tonight. I donít know why he decided to do that, I canít figure him out at all. One moment itís pain, the other concern. I think heís trying to drive me insane." Maybe his lover could make sense of it, which was part of why heíd told Kudoh after all.

"Well I think heís trying to drive my blood pressure through the roof, and that he has a death wish. He was helping you? Not damn likely. Most likely has some twisted goal that heís working towards." Yohji clutched Aya tight against him, rubbing his cheek against the pale manís hair. "What exactly did he say to you? Did he try anything like last time?"

"It wasÖ. mild compared to the last time. He barely touched me. And all he really said was that you would hurt me, and heíd be there for me when that happened. Why wonít he leave me the hell alone?" When Yohji answered back he didnít know, Aya sighed and leaned back, hands pressing against the playboyís chest. "Iím tired of the games." In fact tired of everything at the moment. When it didnít look as if the older man was going to spend the night ranting about and threatening the telepath, Aya wriggled his way free. Crawling to the head of the bed, he yanked back the duvet and sheets and slid underneath them. It didnít take Yohji long to turn out the light and lay down beside him. Seeking the manís warmth, Aya turned around and draped himself on top of him, loving the feel of all that naked skin underneath him. Reassured that Kudoh was still there with him and grateful that the blond wasnít harassing him about the nightís events, he quickly drifted off to sleep.

Lying there in the darkness, listening to his kittenís breathing even out, Yohji silently fumed at a certain telepath. Fucking Mastermind. When the hell would the man learn that Aya was never going to be his? The next time he saw the German heíd be dead. There was no way he was going to let him continue to try and get his hooks in Aya, to keep on with the mind games. Wanting to protect the man his ass. Mastermind seemed to delight in keeping his lover confused and off guard, this was just another tactic in that regard. Well, the games wouldnít last for long, heíd certainly see to that.

Yohji felt some of the fury vanish as he lifted a hand to stroke his redheadís hair. Aya had told him about the incident without any knock-down, drag out fight on his part. That was one hell of a miracle, right up there with turning water into wine in his book. Hell, all the man had had to do was to keep quiet and heíd have never suspected a thing. This was one of the most hopeful signs that heíd ever received that maybe one day they could move past Ayaís crippling issues over trust. And had it ever been so hard to reign in his temper and not go off the deep end when heíd heard about what had happened. But yelling and grilling Aya over the matter would have just shut the man up and make him resolve to never willingly mention the matter again. Yohji hadnít known that heíd had that much control over his temper. Guess being in a relationship with the redhead had helped considerably. The gods knew he had enough practice at it the past four months or so. Kissing the kitten on the top of his head, he held his lover tight and let him be lulled to sleep by the scent of roses.

*******

Aya awoke to the feeling of warm hands stroking down his back, underneath the t-shirt. Shivering a little at the touch, he lifted his head, only to have his mouth captured for a hungry kiss. Moaning at the assault, he forced his arms to move, lifting them up to rest on either side of a blond head. When he drew back for some air the redhead wasnít surprised in the least to find his shirt being ripped off. Next went his boxer shorts as he was rolled onto his back. Yohji was certainly determined this morning. A swift glance at the clock informed Aya that for once they had plenty of time so he didnít put up any of the usual resistance. Emboldened by his submission, his lover eagerly set to work, quickly preparing him while driving him crazy by roaming that hungry mouth all over his chest and neck.

It wasnít long until he was lying on his stomach, his ass in the air and being pounded into by Kudoh. Mewling out the manís name as the blond kept thrusting so deep into him, Aya felt his mind go blank under the pleasure. All there was to feel was heat and bliss, a molten tension that flowed through him, coiling inside his body before exploding outward, leaving him languid and warmed through. With a content sigh he let himself be pulled up into a sitting position, resting against Yohjiís chest. Aya hummed softly as a mouth nibbled on his ear. "Ohayoo." Hot air against his throat made the redhead shiver.

"Ohayoo." The word came out as a contented sigh. He half felt, half heard Yohji chuckle behind him. "Whatís so funny?"

"Oh, nothing really. Just thinking that there are some distinct advantages to waking up early. Never thought such an anti-morning person like me could be converted, but I must admit there are certain perks I could get used to. Like a nameless kitten not putting up much of a fight for once."

Glancing again at the alarm clock, which showed that they still had several minutes before it would go off, Aya rested his head on the playboyís shoulder. "I only complain when it will make me late for work." Shifting about until he was facing Yohji, Aya kissed him for a moment before leaning back and twirling a honey blond strand around his finger. "I have no problem waking up like this, as long as it doesnít end up with Tsukiyono hauling us out of bed." Besides, Yohji usually was a bit better behaved if he got some in the morning.

"Oh really now?" Yohji waggled his brows. "Iím thinking of setting the clock twenty minutes early every damn day from now on." Smiling at the face his lover made, he pulled an eartail and huskily whispered Ďai shiteruí. As always, hearing Aya answer him back with the same words made something ache in his chest, a feeling of love that took his breath away. Tilting up the pale face, he kissed a pair of slightly smiling lips. "Hey, thank you for last night." At Ayaís puzzled look, he elaborated. "For telling me what happened."

Aya frowned a little, hoping that Yohji wasnít going to now beat the subject to death. Or do something very stupid such as acting like an overprotective, possessive fool. "Youíre welcome." Hoping to change the topic, he quickly asked the blond how his night had been.

Trying not to smile at the artless way his lover went about getting off the subject of Mastermind, Yohji brushed back the crimson bangs. "I heard from Masato last night. He said to say Ďhií."

"What did he want?"

"Hmm, remember us talking about a night out?" Aya nodded. "Well, Crashers just finished up a mission that I get the impression was a real beast, and heís looking for a little stress relief. I told him that as long as things go well tonight, Iíd be up to a little clubbing on Friday. You mind?"

Pansy-colored eyes narrowed at him suspiciously. "Youíre not trying to drag me along, are you?"

Tugging on an eartail, Yohji pouted. "Would it really be such a bad thing spending the night out with someone you love in a smoky, loud club packed with a bunch of drunks?" He had to chuckle at the expression on the smaller manís face. "Just kidding. But donít you want to come and protect my virtue? You can bring the cactus with you." Oh, he had to laugh outright at the glare he received, stopping only when Aya struggled to get off of his lap. "Sorry, love, couldnít resist that one. I have to give you credit, it was a pretty ingenious way of getting rid of the woman. Thanks again."

His lover looked up at him for a moment, a frown pulling down a set of crimson brows. "You didnít want her around? I thought that you really liked her."

Yohji shook his head. "Nah, never was that crazy about Megumi in the first place. It was just of interest to see for how long she would try and string me along without letting me in her bed. Though the circumstances of our relationship was a welcome change of pace." Plus it had amused him, watching the woman put on airs, trying to pretend that she was better than what she had been raised, a poor girl from an industrial city and not some cosmopolitan debutante. Considering his own past, Yohji had sympathized with her somewhat. And by going out with Nakashima he had been assured a debauchery free date on the nights before important missions. "Though I think all the dancing around she had me do was worth the look on Megumiís face when I turned her down. Thatís certainly not something sheís used to."

"Or you, for that matter." Ayaís biting tone caught the older manís attention. "What, you mean turning down somebody?" The flash in his loverís eyes told Yohji that he had guessed correctly. Great, looked as if someone was not quite ready to leave his old reputation behind in the past. "Well, itís something that Iíve gotten very used to in the last several months, Iíll have you know. So donít worry your pretty little head over it." Yohji tapped a finger on the end of the pale manís nose.

Apparently that had been the wrong approach to take with the situation. Aya growled and pushed at him, breaking free of his arms long enough to squirm off his lap and the bed. Stalking over to pick up a discarded towel, the smaller man angrily wrapped it around his waist, clearly intent on getting a shower. Yohji gritted his teeth as he launched himself off of the bed, colliding with Aya and spinning him onto the couch, trapping him there beneath his body. He refused to let a wonderful morning denigrate into yet another senseless fight. "Has anyone ever told you how much of a grouch you are? I try to assure you that Iím not interested in anyone else, and you get all pissy. You ever try thinking rationally, love?"

"Kudoh." Finding himself being pressed rather painfully against his sheathed katana, Aya squirmed about seeking some relief. Which caused Yohji to hug him tight. "Get off of me."

"Not until we get this settled. I think you still have a few doubts about my fidelity. Okay, I admit that I had flirted with the girl. But to be honest it was only because it was so nice to see a reaction from you." That earned Yohji another snarl. "Usually itís me with the hackles all raised, figured Iíd treat you to a dose of your own medicine."

Aya graced him with a shi-ne glare. "I. Have never. Flirted with someone."

Well, the man certainly had a point there. "No, you havenít. But just because I flirt with someone, doesnít mean I want to sleep with them. Hell, that would signify that I was after all of our female clientele, and some of our male as well. Not to mention Omi and Ken, perish the thought. Yet none of this ever seemed to bother you until the other day. Why is that?"

Because heíd never seen anyone draw so much effort from the blond, not even himself. But Aya was not about to mention that. It stung a little at times, how easily he had given in to Yohji, no matter what his feelings were for the man. Especially since lately he had been plagued with doubts about how much the playboy really loved him. There was this image in his head, of Yohji leaving him for someone else. And watching the man with Nakashima the other day had brought those fears to light. What was he supposed to say now? Words had never been his friends, it was Aya-chan that had always said out loud what he felt. So all he could do was issue a threat, and hope the man understood. "You ever cheat on me, Kudoh, and there will be no forgiveness, no second chances. Am I perfectly clear on this?"

Another weird conversational turn, a Fujimiya specialty. "Yeah, like crystal. But," Yohji drawled as he stood up, yanking Aya along with him, "thatís never going to happen. I love you, nobody else. Sex aside, Aya, Iíve only ever fallen in love with one other person. And I loved her to her death, and even a little bit still today. Iím not going to mess up what we have over a fling." He let out a breath, stunned at how serious things had become. One would think heíd be used to the way the quiet man shifted gears on him, but this had been rather remarkable even for Aya. Seeking to lighten the atmosphere a little, Yohji leered down at the redhead. "Especially when the sex we have is so damn hot."

Feeling annoyance break through his anger, Aya sighed wearily. "See that you never do, Iím not lying." That said, he rested one hand on his boyfriendís chest while jerking the other through his hair. And sternly told the little voice in the back of his head that doubted Kudohís sincerity to shut the hell up. A golden hand tilted up his chin. "I know youíre not, kitten. Neither am I." Yohji kissed him, holding him tight until the alarm sounded, breaking apart both the peaceful atmosphere and the couple.

Aya strode over to the appliance and turned it off, before Kudoh could smash yet another clock into pieces. Adjusting his towel, he looked down on the soiled sheets and with a tsking sound set about yanking them and the mattress pad off of the bed. It was now evident on how he was going to spend his night, the laundry basket was overflowing and this had been their last clean set of bedding. "If you need anything washed, get it downstairs."

"Ah, knew there was a reason I volunteered for this mission." The blond smiled at Aya, good temper restored now that things had calmed back down. "Iíll gladly face a squad of armed guards any day to sorting through dirty clothes. Thanks, love." Smiling a little himself at his loverís distaste for any and all chores, Aya just nodded his head as he headed for a shower.

There was a frown back on Yohjiís face as he picked up his cigarettes and lit one. Another damn fight. Ever since they had come back, and even a little before their vacation, that was all Aya and him seemed to do. Even while they were at the cabin there had been a conscious effort to avoid a growing argument lest it spoiled their week away, except for that one time. Something was going on in the swordsmanís head, but fuck him if he could figure out what. And he would bet his car that Aya himself didnít even have a clue at times as to what they were fighting over.

Shaking his head at thoughts that werenít getting him anywhere, the blond crossed the room to open a window. Aya hated it when the place stunk of smoke, might as well try to prevent another squabble. Pushing the window up, Yohji was startled to find that it was raining. Huh. He wondered idly when it has started, there hadnít been any rain when he had woken up and decided to have a little fun with his sleeping lover. From the looks of it the stuff had been falling for some time, must have started when him and Aya were making love. Flicking out his smoke, Yohji decided to go see if his lover might still need his back scrubbed.

*******

Done watering the plants for the day, Aya set the can on the ground and walked over to the door. Leaning against the frame, he watched as rain cascaded down, grey sheets that obscured everything more than half a block away. An occasional rumble of thunder could be heard, it didnít look as if it was going to stop any time soon. The pale man let his eyes drift shut, trying to pin down what he was feeling. The sorrow was still there, no matter how hard he tried to shake it. A little voice whispered in his mind that he was about to lose something precious. It didnít make any sense to him, Yohji hadnít left him the other night. But he couldnít get past the feeling, especially with the rain falling down.

Hearing footsteps behind him, the redhead opened his eyes and shifted about until his back rested against the doorjamb. Yohji walked over to him, holding out a cup of tea. "Miserable day, ne?" Aya shook his head. Perplexing emotions aside, he had always loved it when it rained. "Donít tell me you are so perversely morose that you actually like this weather. That goes way beyond always wearing black and being grouchy all day." Yohji rested an arm on the wall beside him, leaning over him in a manner that could be construed as platonic.

"AyaóAya-chan and I used to go out an play in the rain all the time, splashing in all the puddles. We would get yelled at when it happened, for getting soaked and muddy, but we always had such fun. It was like the world was ours alone, what with everyone rushing to get inside, out of the storm." It had been worth the punishments and danger, just to have a few carefree moments of pleasure, his sisterís laughter echoing through the falling water and thunder, free of the ever-present tutors and a set of disapproving eyes.

Yohji shifted closer, staring down on his lover. Ayaís voice was soft and distant, those dark eyes never once looking away from the scene outside. The street was mostly deserted, no one wanted to be out in this mess. Hell, they hadnít had more than five customers today, all but one stopping by to pick up an order. There was an expression on the pale face, a wistful dreaminess, as if Aya was searching for something that was not there, and that its absence pained him. He reached out a hand to comb back the over-long bangs, startling Aya. When those pansy-colored eyes looked up at him the blond offered a smile. "We could go out and play in it, if you want."

Crimson hair flew as Aya shook his head. "No, thatís all right. It wouldnít be the same, worrying who would see us." Two grown men frisking on the street in the middle of the day would attract a little bit of attention. Besides, he wasnít sure that he wanted the memories tainted by trying to recapture them and failing. Yohji most definitely could forget his worries long enough to enjoy himself, Aya wasnít so sure that he could. Especially with sorrow heavy on his heart. He sipped his tea, enjoying the temporary warmth that filled him.

"Hmm, you worry too much. I tell you what, the next time it rains and weíre not stuck here in the shop, Iím dragging you off to the nearest park for a little fun. Weíll just make sure that you are actually wearing your own clothes first." Yohji fingered the navy wool sweater that Aya currently had on, for a moment irritated that most of his clothes looked better on the smaller man. If a wee bit too big. Which reminded him of something. "Hey, itís almost lunchtime, and I know you havenít eaten anything today. What do you say to lunch?"

"Hn."

"Great, Iíll go upstairs and grab some menus, weíll see if thereís anything we can agree on." Yohji yanked an eartail before strolling upstairs, softly singing under his breath. So far it had been a lazy day, most of the work had involved setting up the shop and helping Aya with the orders. Ken was out delivering them right now, the lucky boy. There was sure to be an irate soccer player rattling around the house later, mad about being forced out into the weather and then not being able to play with his kids because of it. Youíd think he would have gotten enough of them yesterday on his day off. It was beyond Yohjiís keen to figure out what was the attraction of hanging out with not one or two but a gaggle of rug rats. It made him shudder in horror at the thought.

Stepping into the kitchen, he found Omi pulling various objects out of the cabinets. "Hey chibi, what are you up to? Going to cook something?" The young hacker had taken the day off from the flower shop to monitor their targetís flights to Tokyo.

"Nice detective skills there, Yotan. Iím making some lunch." Blue eyes sparkled at him merrily. "Hope you and Ayan are hungry. How does pad thai sound?"

"Tofu or chicken?"

"Both."

Yohji wrinkled his nose a little, but nodded his head. "Not bad then, Iíll just make sure that Aya gets all my squishy stuff. Came up here for the take-out menus, so your timing is perfect. Everything fine with Robertson?"

Getting some ingredients out of the fridge, Omi nodded his head. "He left the Detroit airport a couple of hours ago, should be arriving in Nagoya around 9pm, then leaving there by private plane for Taki Corporationís landing strip. We need to be on site by 8:00 pm the latest, get set up before security is too tight."

Green eyes stared out the window for the moment. "What are the chances of the rain stopping by then?"

The answer was supplied in a weak voice. "Uh, 10%. Looks like itís going to be a wet mission." Omi felt his cheeks heat up with the words his friend was spewing forth. Yohji certainly hated to spend a night being rained on. "Sorry."

Grumbling a little as he headed back downstairs, Yohji reflected that at least heíd have a nice clean bed to come home to, hopefully all toasty and warm by a certain redhead. Well, maybe not too toasty, Aya was still cool to the touch, for some reason the man couldnít get warm to save his life the past couple of weeks. It was a bit odd, to see someone wearing sweaters during the middle of summer. It was a good thing Aya got to stay in tonight, heíd most likely be miserable out in the rain.

He found his lover once more staring out the door. "Iíll have you know, this is a brooding-free flower shop. Keep that up and youíll have to pay a fine."

An elegant brow arched in query. Crossing over to Aya and tugging him deeper into the shop, Yohji smiled wickedly. "You have to pay it with kisses. Now letís see, youíve been like this all day, hmm, Iíd say you owe at least five. Ante up."

Not saying a word, Aya just twitched the raised brow some more as he wrapped his arms around the blondís neck. Yohji couldnít believe that his joke was actually working, but wasnít about to complain in the slightest. Being kissed breathless tended to prevent him from talking anyways. After a couple of minutes the smaller man rocked back on his heels. "One." Yohji met him halfway for the second kiss, and by the third one was doing his veritable best to drag Aya back to the greenhouse without being too terribly noticeable about it. Damn, but he was always horny before missions. And having a sexy lover readily available and thrusting a tongue down his throat was not helping much. Just short of picking his boyfriend up and tossing him over his shoulder, the playboy let out a groan as the door chime went off and so did Aya. He trailed the man up to the front of the shop.

A second groan was produced when he saw who it was who entered the Koneko. Why oh why couldnít it be Teddy? "Konnichi-wa, Megumi." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Aya stiffen.

"Yohji! I was hoping you would be working today." The young woman rested her umbrella on the counter as she carefully fluffed her hair, making sure it didnít frizz too much from the humidity. "What do you say to some lunch? I have a couple of hours free, thought we could do some catching up." Glancing around the store for a moment, Megumi then leaned over the counter. Sheíd made sure to wear something truly low cut today. "You donít look busy, surely you can be excused for a while."

Snaking out a hand below counter level to snag one of the belt loops on Ayaís jeans, Yohji prevented his lover from wandering off to implement whatever mode of attack that flat look to his eyes suggested was about to befall Megumi. The lack of witnesses disturbed him, there was no telling what the vindictive man would get up to. "Sorry, sweetie, but I already have plans. If you had come a little sooner, I would have been free." Aya settled against the counter, presenting Nakashima with his back while he glared venomously at the blond. Yohji tried not to flinch under the double assault of that potent look and the pout the young woman was bestowing on him.

"But Yohji, I was counting on lunch today. You owe it to me, you know." Brown eyes flicked over to Aya, hardening for a moment. "My arm was swollen and red from those cactus spikes all day. I had to wear something long-sleeved yesterday, it was still a bit puffy."

"Sheís right, we do owe her something." Yohji looked on in shock at his lover. Aya took advantage of that to glide away. "Iíll put together some flowers for the lady."

A sense of impending doom overtook the older assassin as he watched the smaller man disappear into the back. "Ah, Iím sure heíll just be a few minutes. So, find a job yet?" Yohji tried to keep the discussion on neutral topics and about Nakashima, ensuring that she would spend the time talking about herself and not getting him in any more trouble. The longer Aya took on the flowers the more worried he became. They didnít have any ingredients for making a bomb back there, did they?

"So what do you think?"

"Eh, Megumi, what did you say? Iím sorry, rainy days make my thoughts wonder."

The brunette rolled her eyes. "I was asking about your plans for the weekend, and if you would want to go out with me Friday night."

"Sorry, but Iím already booked. What can I say, Iím a popular guy." Megumi didnít appear happy with that statement. In fact it looked as if she was about to have an unlady-like fit. Before she could, Aya appeared with an odd collection of flowers in a pot. Yohji started to sweatdrop when he noted the species. Hemlock, hellebore, foxglove and nightshade, with yellow roses and marigolds sprinkled throughout, along with a few branches of yew. There was even a sprig or two of mistletoe, complete with berries. Oh boy.

"Here." The pale man thrust the arrangement into Megumiís hands. "You should save the dried leaves and flowers, they make an excellent tea." Yohji choked behind the counter, desperately trying to shake his head at the girl.

"Oh, thatís okay, Iím a coffee drinker. But thank you anyways."

"Hn."

Looking over her arrangement, Megumi was sure that she had her poutiest expression on her face, letting a little bit of anger show through. "I guess Iíll be leaving, since no one seems to have the time today. Maybe I need to find someone who isnít so busy." Kudoh actually looked a bit distressed, so the threat must have been taken to heart. Goal achieved, she gathered up her umbrella and left.

Yohji turned to face his lover and sputtered. "Tea?"

"Relax, Kudoh, there wasnít enough of anything there to actually kill her. Most likely."

At a total loss for words, Yohji was spared trying to think of an appropriate response when Omi came downstairs with two huge bowls and some mugs on a tray. "Lunch is here."

"Oh, yeah kitten. Omi spared us from having to order anything." Aya just hníed as he picked up a bowl and started to eat. After a moment he noticed that there was two sets of amazed eyes watching him. "What?"

"Just making sure everything is okay." Deciding his roommates were weird, Aya returned to his lunch. For once he was actually hungry, maybe the food would help shake off the feeling of lethargy heíd had the past two days. Yohji picked up the other bowl and began to flick pieces of tofu into his.

Remaining down there for a few more minutes, enjoying his friendsí antics, what with Aya growling at Yohji for stealing his chicken, who claimed that it was only fair since he had given up his tofu, Omi slowly made his way upstairs. "Tell Ken when he comes back that I have some more sitting on the stove for him. And there is enough food that if you want seconds, help yourself."

"Thanks, chibi." Yohji tried to snag a red pepper and let out a yelp when a chopstick stabbed him. "My, youíre awful bloodthirsty today." The squabble continued until the food was all gone, the blond managing to get a few more pieces of chicken and pepper without loosing too much blood. Ken returned as they were finishing off their drinks, soaked and foul-tempered. He glared at the dry couple.

"I am done for the day. Anything else needs to be delivered, break out your scuba gear and a drop if off yourself." The brunet removed his jacket and rung it out, producing a puddle on the floor. "Whereís the rest of the food at?"

"Upstairs. Be sure to thank the chibi for it." Yohji shoved the tray of empty dishes and mugs into Kenís hands. "Iíd tell you to go dry off, but weíre just going to get soaked later on."

Muttering as he looked over his shoulder back outside, Ken shook his head and headed for the kitchen. As soon as the athlete was gone, Yohji reached for his lover. "Now where were we? At three? Donít think it really counted since we were interrupted. And I think weíll add another two for homicidal intent."

Aya looked back outside, at the disquieting weather, the customer-less store and empty coolers, then back at the older man. "Why donít we just close the shop and take this somewhere else?" He wouldnít complain over having Yohji to himself for a while, no flirting girls trying to steal away his lover and causing his chest to ache in pain.

Once again at a complete loss for words, Yohji waited for the dream to end. When Aya, who had been standing there patiently waiting for an answer, shook his head and made for his worktable, the older man realized that this was indeed happening and that Aya of all people had just propositioned him. In the middle of a shift. Would wonders never cease? Yohji grabbed hold of the redheadís hand, jerking him to a halt. "Wait right there." He then hurried over to the door, quickly turning the sign to read Ďclosedí and yanking down the metal shutters. Running back over to his lover, he started to pull the man back to the greenhouse. "We can clean up afterwards."

Digging in his heels, Aya twisted in the direction of the stairs. "The bedroom."

"No sheets, remember? Besides, this is closer, and no questions from irritating roommates along the way."

With a sigh, the redhead let himself be led back to the conservatory. "You, Kudoh, are a very perverse man."

"Huh, look whoís talking kitten. What say we head to the park when weíre all done?"

*******

Firmly planted on the sofa and busy flicking through the television stations, Ken resolutely ignored the two men sneaking their way upstairs, and then again as they not so stealthily came down and left the house a few minutes later. If Yohji and Aya were nuts enough to willingly go out in this weather, let them. As for himself, he wasnít budging from his spot until it was time to get ready for the mission. Which was going to be miserable, never mind the fact that it was at least warm out. Spending several hours out in the rain, wearing a leather jacket, jeans and boots that no matter how hard he tried he couldnít completely water-proof just so he could gut some American and steal some blueprints was not going to be fun. It never was.

Finding a music station, Ken decided to watch some videos as Omi plopped down on the sofa next to him and handed over a can of soda. "Yohji and Aya are going to be out for a couple of hours."

"I heard. Where the hell are they going, and how did Kudoh get Aya of all people to close the shop early?"

Chuckling a little, the young blond shifted about on the couch until he was facing his friend. "Youíll never believe this, but Yotan said something about going to the park. I thought I was hearing things and asked him to explain that again, and all he did was smirk at me."

For a moment trying to figure out why the couple would want to go to the park of all places on a rainy day, Ken gave up when one most likely scenario presented it. "Yohji probably just wanted to do it on a swing set or something." Gods, he hoped the over-sexed blond didnít pick where he took his kids to play. Heíd never get the image of the two older assassins going at it out of his head during a game then.

"Ken-kun, how can you think of such a thing?"

"Give me one good reason why Yohji would take Aya to a park when the weather is this lousy outside?"

"ÖÖ."

"My point exactly. Iím amazed at how the hell he convinced Aya to go along with it. Love does funny things to oneís mind, thatís for sure."

Looking down at his soda, Omi quietly asked if they could get off the topic of their teammates romantic life. Completely in agreement with him, Ken happily obliged. The last thing he needed to think about was anything related to sex while Omi was sitting so close to him he could feel the heat the boy radiated. Damn, it had been way too long since heíd slept with anyone, it was making him think crazy thoughts. Like how Omi would react if he suddenly turned around and started kissing him. Among other things. Shifting about uncomfortably, Ken reached for a pillow and set it firmly on his lap, refusing to acknowledge the bulge hidden underneath it. Maybe he should spend the weekend at a bar, trying to meet someone. But the thought of a one-night stand was just so sleazy. And heíd just have the same problem as soon as Omi came near him again. Why the hell was his heart being so unreasonable?

Time for a distraction. "So, the targetís ETA still on for 9:45pm?"

"Yes." Staring at the brunet who refused to look at him, Omi let out a sigh and turned to face the television set. Why was this so difficult? Ken wanted him, he wanted Ken and had pretty much made that clear over the last week, so why were they sitting here watching tv instead of talking, or even better yet making out? They were two young men, werenít they? That should come natural to them, given their preferences. But no, Hidaka was being a stubborn baka. Who tensed when he scooted closer just the slightest bit. Giving up on trying anything on the man at that point, Omi sighed again and stood to his feet. "I guess I better go make sure the flight doesnít get delayed, maybe put an extra layer of oil on my bow." Ken just grunted and took a swig of his soda. Resisting the urge to smack the idiot, Omi stomped back upstairs.

Okay, so what had he done wrong? Heíd found out that Ken was very sensitive about his hands and ribs, that lightly stroking either got the manís attention. And that the athlete hated having his hair messed with. Massages didnít do much besides put the man to sleep. Chewing on his lips definitely would make Ken stare at his mouth and forget whatever it was the brunet was saying. But doing any of those things in a manner other than purely innocent would have his quarry jump and flee in the quickest manner possible. It was just so damn frustrating, here he was doing everything that Yohji had suggested, and getting a reaction, but before he could enjoy it Ken would take off. Why wasnít it working for him? Yohji had caught many a lover with these tactics, including Aya. _Aya_ dammit. If anyone should be impossible to catch, it should be the teamís resident anti-social redhead, not Ken.

So, once more, what was he doing wrong? Sitting down at his computer, Omi tugged on his hair as he searched for a solution. Heíd followed Yohjiís advice perfectly. Staring blankly at his screen, the youth wondered if maybe that had been part of the problem. Was it possible that he was coming on a little too strong? Letís face it, Yotan wasnít known for subtlety when he went after something he wanted. All one had to do was watch him drag Aya off for sex to get that point. Maybe he was acting a little too aggressive for Kenís liking. After all, the brunet was most likely used to being in charge in a situation like this. Yohji had given him advice from a seme point of view. Was Ken afraid that Omi wanted to Ďbe on topí? Was that really a concern? Having no experience in the matter, he wasnít the slightest bit sure.

But there was one person he could talk to, if he did it in a room with no sharp or breakable objects. If he wanted to be the uke with Ken, Omi thought, his cheeks flushing furiously, why not talk to the one that he knew best? Now to figure out how to get Aya to actually discuss the matter with himÖ..

*******

 

Pulling on his gloves, Yohji looked over at Aya. The redhead was brushing his hair, planning on leaving at the same time as WeiŖ did, but to go visit his sister instead of for a mission. For a moment he pictured his lover as he had been in the park, soaked and covered with mud and leaves, but actually smiling in joy. Well, Aya had been wearing what passed as a smile for him. How he wished he had brought a camera, so he could show people a thoroughly disheveled and happy Aya Fujimiya. This day definitely went down in the books as a great one. Finished with his task, he stepped behind his lover, wrapping an arm around a slender waist. "Hmm, must say you clean up real pretty. Who would have guessed there was this underneath all of that mud?"

Aya leaned back against the taller man, hugging the arm around him tight to his body. "I wasnít anywhere near as filthy as you. You need to wear better shoes next time, those boots of yours have no traction."

"Sorry, never had much experience playing Ďtagí on a slippery field of grass before. Iíll know better when we do that again." Which he very much looked forward to. Yohji couldnít remember the last time Aya had been this relaxed. The shadows that had been haunting the purple eyes the past few days were almost completely gone. If it hadnít been for the mission, he would have never departed the park until there were no traces left. "Although somehow I doubt that a gentleman such as yourself actually did a full flying tackle on your little sister. You just had to take me down in that huge puddle, didnít you? Iím still tasting mud." Aya turned around to grace him with a small wicked grin before kissing him soundly. That was more than worth a mouthful of muddy water any day.

Stepping back slightly, Aya looked up at his boyfriend. "Thank you, I never would have thought of doing that if it wasnít for you." It had been nice for an hour to just act silly, to forget about all the troubles plaguing him. It had been years since he had done anything like that. Only Yohji could bring him out of his shell long enough to enjoy himself. Though all that emotion left him feeling more drained than if he had worked out for two hours. It was so hard for him to feel such strong emotions, even if they were positive. Now a cloud of worry settled back over him, the grief and loss returning to dampen his good spirits. "Be careful tonight." Yohji had to come back to him.

The comment earned him a tugged eartail. "No, Iím going to dress all in white with a red bullís eye on me and prance around before some armed guards. Of course I will, donít want you on my case if I get hurt or something." Yohji ignored his growling lover with practiced ease and kissed a pale nose. "Donít worry about me, and tell Aya-chan I said Ďhelloí." He started for the door, zipping up his coat as he went. Meeting with Omi and Ken in the garage, they decided to take his Seven to the mission location. Climbing into the vehicle, Yohji blew a kiss to the redhead leaning against the door to the garage.

After nearly an hourís drive to the remote airstrip, then a twenty minute hike from the car to a spot that Bombay deemed acceptable, on the lee side of a small shed a distance away from the airplane hanger, the assassins settled in for the next hour or two.

"Explain to me again why we donít just wait in the damn shed, which Iím sure is nice and dry," Yohji muttered, vainly wiping water off of his face.

Omi, for the most part dry since _he_ got to huddle underneath the small overhang due to the computer he had out, checking the private planeís location on radar, answered the same question for the third time. "Because itís rigged to an alarm, and there is no sense in taking a chance of setting it off when itís not freezing out."

"You know, for a guy who just spent the afternoon outside trying his best to get hit by lightning, you sure are bitching a lot about being a little wet," Ken remarked as he kept an eye out for guards. So far security was keeping close to the landing strip, though every ten minutes or so the assassins would have to duck down when a searchlight drifted over the shed.

Tucking back the soaked strands of his hair, Yohji slinked over to the brunet, leaning along side his teammate. "Thatís because I had someone who was all too happy to distract me from my misery. We got some time, you wanna try and keep me occupied from thinking about the weather?" He ran a tongue suggestively over his lips as he reached out a hand to toy with Kenís goggles.

"Not in this fucking lifetime, Kudoh," Ken hissed out when he got over being stunned, at the same time Omi snapped at the both of them. "Balinese, Siberian, behave and focus on the mission. The plane will be landing in ten minutes, we need to move into position now." Yohji was treated to a furious scowl from a set of blue eyes, he made sure to make a Ďhands offí gesture as he mouthed Ďsorryí to the boy. Teddy was right, the chibi was proving to be very territorial.

For his part, Ken merely put some distance between him and the playboy, flashing Omi an apologetic look. "Okay, Iím off." He was to handle the target and snatch the briefcase the man carried, while Bombay and Balinese took out the guards. Stealthily making his way closer to the landing strip, he moved about in a manner that contained no trace of clumsiness or unease.

Bombay watched him until the brunet disappeared, then after double-checking the planeís location snapped his laptop shut and put it in his backpack. "Alright then, Iím going for the roof of the hanger. Watch yourself, Balinese."

Biting back on the urge to ask why everyone had to tell him that tonight, Yohji sneaked around the shed, keeping an eye out for security the whole time. He wasnít the suicidal one of the group, after all. No, he was drop dead gorgeous, smart, young and a sex god as far as a certain redhead was concerned, in other words Yohji Kudoh had everything to live for. Wasnít about to do anything to mess with that.

Yep, the plane was most certainly about to land. All of a sudden a jeep appeared with eight more armed men. Flattening out along the hanger wall, Yohji let out a curse before speaking into his com. "Bombay, Siberian, you see those guys?"

Bombay answered him. "Hai, and Iíve spotted the plane as well. Will start jamming their radios as soon as it touches the ground. Balinese, can you take care of the guards nearest the hanger? Iíll get those around the target and clear a path for Siberian. Alright?"

Both of the older men agreed. It was a waiting game while the plane landed, avoiding the guards that were suddenly swarming around the place. As soon as Robertson was on the ground and walking towards the waiting car, WeiŖ sprung into action.

Silver threads were flung out, slicing into two guards as the lights were suddenly shot out by a series of arrows, along with the tires of the limousine and two of the jeeps. Next attacked were more security guards, their remaining compatriots closing in around the American and focusing their fire in the direction of the hanger. Balinese let out a curse as he dove for the ground, feeling a burning sensation along his bicep. But he managed to get some wire tossed out as he rolled around, taking out a few more men.

Attention directed towards Bombay and Balinese, none of the security noticed the figure speeding towards them until it was to late. Siberian slashed out, catching a guard in the throat, and swiping one of Robertsonís escorts across the face. Before any of the bodyguards could react he ripped out the Americanís throat, then picked up the dropped briefcase. A guard about to shoot him went crashing down, felled by a poisonous dart. "Iíve got the case."

"Take out the guards and retreat." Balinese appeared by the athleteís side, helping him take care of the last of the resistance while Bombay put the rest of the vehicles out of commission. In a matter of minutes everyone was down, either wounded or dead, while WeiŖ slinked off into the darkness. A few well-aimed arrows discouraged any pursuit.

It only took them ten minutes to get back to the car, Yohji had to lean against the roof and catch him breath when they got there. "Donít fucking say it." He wasnít in the mood for any lectures about how smoking ruined his lung capacity and shit like that. Kritiker had hired him as a killer, not a damn long distance runner. The blond tilted his face up in the rain, letting it wash down on him, removing the splattered blood. For a moment he reflected back to the park earlier that day, laying on his back with Aya on top of him, kissing him until he no longer cared that he was lying in a puddle of mud. Next time it was going to be the swordsman who was on the bottom, and he wouldnít stop at a kiss. Though it would be best to be in a real secluded section of the park when that happened.

"Kudoh, we need to get out of here before more guards arrive."

"I hear ya. Get in, make sure youíre sitting on the sheets, any trace of mud in my baby and you guys are detailing her for me." Yohji took the time to adjust the sheet he had put on his seat before entering the car, wincing at the thought of sitting on the leather interior with his coat in this condition. At least tonight it was more dirt than blood.

Pulling out his laptop so he could monitor the companyís security channel and tell if they were still being pursued, Omi paused to look at the older blond. "Can we worry about the car _after_ we safely get away?"

Yohji snorted at that remark. "Oh please, if I was Aya you guys would be walking home right now. There is no way heíd let you in his Porsche all muddy and soaked." Ken chuckled in the back of the vehicle, leaning forward to look at the computer screen.

"How are things going?"

Omi flipped through a few screens. "They still havenít been able to contact anyone yet, we should be out on the highway before they do. As long as you donít tell me you dropped the briefcase, we should be fine." He turned to smile at the soccer fanatic, and blinked when a wet strand of hair was brushed off of his face.

"You better get a hot shower when we reach home, it would suck for you to start the new school year all sick and everything." Looking as if he was a bit surprised by his own actions, Ken abruptly sank back into his seat and started to fiddle with the briefcase in his hands.

"Donít open that, Hidaka. You blow us all up and I will kick your ass so bad," Yohji muttered around the cigarette he was trying to light. Ken stuck his tongue out to him and left the thing alone while Omi kept touching the lock of hair the brunet had tucked back. Rolling his eyes, Yohji concentrated on the road before him, somewhat obscured by all this rain. The kiddies really needed to consummate their damn relationship or something, this little dance was starting to get a touch tedious. Oh well, all he had to do was get them home in one piece, wash off a ton of dirt and some bodily fluids, and he could spend tonight and the whole day tomorrow in bed with Aya. Thank the gods that they didnít have to get up and work the next day. Humming softly, he started to think of all the fun they could get up to.

*******

Brushing back his sisterís bangs, Aya kissed the sleeping girl on the forehead before leaving the hospital room. Heíd spent this visit recounting the incident in the park to Aya-chan, remembering some of their own escapades. Like the one time they had snuck out in a hurricane, laughing as they held on to the fence to keep from what felt like being blown away, watching as various garden items went tumbling down the street. Even despite having their playtime together cut down to a half hour for a whole month, and another language added to his already overburdened schedule, Aya never regretted that day. His sister would always smile whenever one of them brought up that storm.

He glanced back at the comatose girl over his shoulder, then stepped out into the hallway. And immediately felt all of his happiness drain away. Standing by the nursesí station was Dr. Rōyama.

"Fujimiya-san, I would like a word with you." It took a second for Aya to react, nodding his head as he felt his mask slam back into place. Why was the doctor here so late? He had thought to avoid them by visiting Aya-chan in the evening. Without a word he fell in step besides the physician. The man didnít speak until they reached the elevator. "How is the new medication? Any new side effects?"

"No."

"Any more headaches? Has the nausea gone away yet?"

"No."

Glancing at the pale man standing beside him, Rōyama let out a barely audible sigh. Of course Fujimiya wouldnít make this easy for him, that would be too radical a change for the quiet man. ďThe reason I wanted to talk to you is about your upcoming physical.Ē

"I recently had one, if you remember. What is the need for another one so soon?"

If he remembered. Hell, he could vividly recall each and every time he had examined the assassin, Fujimiyaís attitude was not something one could easily forget. Nor how he usually reduced the nurses to tears with his cold demeanor. "Because there were a few tests that werenít conducted at that time, and your current physical condition calls for more examinations, not less. Iíd like to schedule the exam two weeks from today, eight am in my office here, if that is alright with you."

As soon as the door opened Aya stepped out in the hallway. "Do I have a choice?"

"No, you donít. Iím sure you are aware that failing to show up will lead to you being removed from active duty. Sorry, that is not my policy, but our employers. I will see you then." All he got in response was a curt nod before the young man stormed off. Rōyama wiped a hand over his eyes as he wearily made his way back to his office. He now had two weeks to prepare for the examination, and figure out how he was going to tamper with all the test results. But it wasnít as if he had a choice in the matter. Especially not when the gaijin had appeared in his office last night, informing him of what he had to do during Fujimiyaís exam. For a moment his thoughts drifted to think of his son, whom the blackmailer had known so many details about. There was no way he could risk disobeying the orders. All he could do was pray that the redheaded assassin would meet his end during a mission sometime soon.

*******

Tossing his keys on a kitchen counter, Aya sank down in a chair and rested his head in his hands. Already a headache was starting to form, a painful tension in his head. Of course he hadnít been able to get out of the physical. And it would only be a matter of time before the psychiatrist tracked him down, whoever it was that Kritiker sicced on him this time. If it was Okudo againÖ. he didnít know what the hell he would do. That man had messed with his head so badly that during his last mission while undergoing sessions with the psychiatrist he had actually thought of stepping into the line of fire, letting the bullets finish him off quickly. Only Knightís swift reflexes had prevented that from happening.

No, he was not going to let this get to him. Not now. Shoving aside the panic as he stood up, Aya shook his head and made his way to the laundry room. He refused to spend the next two weeks jumping at shadows and miserable, afraid to visit his sister. Yohji would most likely strangle him after three days of it of him behaving like that. Crossing over to the washer, the redhead bent down to shift through the two laundry baskets. In a matter of minutes he had a load going, one of several that he had to do that night. At least the chore was started. Aya went upstairs for his medication, the way his head was hurting he wouldnít be able to hold out for his nightly dose.

He flicked on the light switch in his room and surveyed the mess. The bed was still unmade, awaiting clean sheets. Yohjiís and his clothes were strewn about, from when they had hurriedly changed before heading to the park. And his gear was still on the couch from last night. Crossing over to the piece of furniture, the redhead set about putting the stuff away. The katana went on its stand over on the cedar chest, the uniform in a pile to be joined with the other dirty clothes, the boots and coat in the closet. It was then that Aya remembered about the choker and rose in a pocket. He removed the objects as he set the coat on a hanger.

Aya could only stare at the gifts for several minutes, until he was startled by what felt like a hand stroking along his cheek and then through his hair. But there was no one in the room with him, no matter how much he could swear to feel the telepathís presence. Closing his eyes for a second, he suffered a touch of vertigo, swirls of light before seeing what looked like an expensive restaurant appear in his mind. Crawford was there, talking to an elderly gentleman surrounded by bodyguards. <Naughty little kitty, you shouldnít be here.> With a stab of pain the connection was cut, and when Aya opened his eyes all he could see was his bedroom. Letting his head fall to his chest, the scent of flowers surrounded him, easing the hurt somewhat.

Schuldig. If the man wasnít happy tormenting him in his dreams and during missions, now he was invading his reality. Or having him fantasize about him, which was almost as bad. But try as he could, Aya could not work up anything more than a dull apathy. A pale finger touched a blood red flower. Just how long did he have to fight this? It got so wearying, being caught between Schu and Yohji. Aya jerked up his head, trying to figure out where that thought had come from. Before he could a stab of pain made him drop the presents as he hissed in pain. He fumbled for his pills, heading to the bathroom for some water. After filling the glass and draining it, he returned back to the bedroom. Picking up the rose and jewelry, he carried them to the spare bedroom and placed the choker in a star patterned box. Not sure why he had kept the red rose, Aya tossed it into the garbage can by his desk.

Pushing the matter to the back of his mind, Aya gathered up the dirty clothes and returned to the laundry room. All he wanted to do was to finish the chore and maybe get a little reading done, to try for as normal a night as he could. No killing, no psychotic telepaths, just mundane every day type of stuff. A very necessary break for whatever little bit of sanity he had left at this point. The amount made all the more tenuous by the sound of falling rain and a melancholy that would not let him go. And even more endangered by the wild flux of emotions that had overtaken him this day.

Aya rested against the dryer, pushing aside his feelings in an attempt to control himself. With some effort his icy shield once more settled over him, imparting a safe distance between himself and the rest of the world. It was easier to handle things this way; constantly feeling exhausted him so, unused as he was to anything but anger and pain. This was all Yohjiís fault, the man made him experience so many other emotions that they overwhelmed him at times. It made him grateful of the few hours of peace that he could enjoy, what with the house all to himself. Shivering with cold, he once again went upstairs to find something warm of Kudohís to wear.

*******

"Damn, it feels good to be home. Though Iím half surprised not to find the place underwater," Yohji muttered as he climbed out of his car. Ken, for his part, just grunted and as soon as he got clear of the vehicle shoved the briefcase in Omiís direction and set off in a dash. "First dibs on the shower!"

"Wah, Kenken, thatís no fair!" Omi wailed, taking off after the brunet. Yohji just shook his head, amused by his teammatesí antics. No one would guess the two teenagers were killers, what from the way they acted. Right now there were other things he deemed more important than a bath, like a nice warm bed filled with a willing lover and a shot or four of alcohol. Climbing up the steps he found Aya standing in the doorway of their room, staring at Omi who was pounding on the bathroom door, yelling at Ken. "Iím just as soaked as you, why do you get to wash off first?"

"Because you arenít covered in blood right now. Go away."

"Use all the hot water and Iím tearing a page out of your book. Youíll wake up blond, I swear it!" The young hacker kicked at the door before turning around and leaning against it, his face drawn in a pout. "Itís just not fair, I never get in the shower first. Hey there, Aya."

The redhead just grunted as he ran his eyes over Yohji. He stepped back into the room, helping his lover out of a soaked coat. The men let out a yelp when the left sleeve was tugged off. "Ow. Oh, damn, forgot all about that." There was another curse as Aya prodded the bleeding wound. "Ouch! What the hell are you doing there, love?"

"Checking. The bullet just grazed you." Dark purple eyes glared up into green ones. "I thought you said you were going to be careful."

Pulling on an eartail with his right hand, Yohji smiled back tiredly. "Well, in my defense there were a hell of a lot of guards. Not surprised that one of them got lucky. So you gonna kiss it and make it better?"

Aya just glared a little more and stormed out of the room. Continuing to strip off his clothes, Yohji heard a loud shriek from the vicinity of the bathroom. "Dammit, Aya, Iím in here! Do I bother you when youíre taking a shower?" There was a low rumble for an answer, then a high-pitched voice that clearly belonged to Omi. Yohji then swore he heard his lover comment something about Ken obviously being very cold, which considering the squawk the athlete made, was most likely not his imagination. A moment later Aya stalked back into the room, the medical kit in his hands. The playboy let out a yell of his own when Omi followed on the pale manís heels. "Hey, Iím naked here!" A towel was tossed at him, which was quickly draped over his waist as he sat down on the bed.

"Puh-lease, Yotan. I think Iíve seen another man naked before, especially considering those magazines and videos you gave me two weeks ago."

Well, Aya hadnít been glaring at him for a few seconds, but the scowl was back now. "You bought Tsukiyono porn?"

Chuckling weakly, Yohji made a big deal over his wound. "Canít we discuss this after I get patched up? I could bleed to death while you lecture me." A slight exaggeration, but it made Aya back off of the matter, though Omi obviously was biting back a smile.

"Itís just a flesh wound, Yohji-kun. Once I clean it everything should be fine." In a matter of minutes the injury was taken care of. "All better now." Blue eyes shifted over to Aya. "Donít be too mad at him, Ayan, he was just trying to help me out. At the very least, I now know what Ďrimmingí means." The teenager blushed slightly as he gathered up the medical supplies.

"Oh, thanks a hell of a lot there, chibi," Yohji groaned out. His lover said nothing until the teenager had left the room.

"Do you have any idea what Manx would do to you if she found out you bought the boy some porn? Are you really that eager to get re-assigned, Kudoh? Or more likely, used as target practice?" It amazed Aya, what new hair-brained idea his boyfriend would come up with next.

Sighing as he stood up, letting the towel fall the floor, Yohji kept stepping closer to the smaller man until he had him backed against the wall. "I was just trying to teach the chibi one or two things. From watching him try and seduce Ken, Iíd say he was a quick learner. And I doubt anyone here is going to be foolish enough to mention the stuff to Mama Manx. Now quit complaining and welcome me home." He let his mouth descend upon his loverís, a heated kiss that made him forget all about spending the past few hours out in the pouring rain. Slender fingers slid through and gripped his hair, first pulling his head down and then away.

"Kudoh, youíre still soaking wet."

"So?" He rocked his hips against Ayaís, not used to facing resistance from the man after a mission. Usually the both of them were tearing each otherís clothes off the second they hit a semi-private room. This whole going to work without his lover situation sucked. "I donít see a problem with that." Yohji managed to dip his head down enough to trace the outline of a delicate ear with his tongue. Aya moaned and let go of his hair, the pale hands falling to his hips, pulling him closer to smaller man. Now that was more like it. Walking backwards, the blond directed the two of them towards the bed, falling down on it with Aya on his chest.

Hands were soon divesting the redhead of his shirt and pants. For a brief moment Aya reflected that all his cleaning had been for naught, as more articles of clothing were strewn about the place. Then Yohjiís mouth on his neck made him not care. "Ku-doh." As it had several times already that day, Ayaís world narrowed down to what that mouth and a pair of warm hands were doing to him, shutting out everything else. Yohji filled all of his senses: taste, touch, smell and hearing. Pleasure rushed in to fill the void of feelings he had so carefully attained in the past couple of hours, throwing him mentally off balance and deep into the emotion. Suddenly he found himself scrambling away from his boyfriend, desperate to put distance between them, to cool the ardor down before he was swamped with feelings yet another time that day.

Staring at his lover in shock, Yohji took a moment to catch his breath. "Aya, what the fuck is wrong?" He stretched out a hand to touch his lover, only to see the man shy away from the touch. "What is it, kitten?" Aya laid curled up on the far side of the bed, clutching his head between his hands.

"Please, YohjiÖ.." his voice drifted off, not sure what exactly he was asking for. All the redhead knew was that he couldnít take another sudden emotional peak, there had been too many that day, and the previous ones as well. The night before last and then waking up and yet another fight, inexplicable grief and jealousy and lust, happiness and panic and apathy and pain. Aya never handled feelings very well at his best, but the past few days had been an endless roller coaster ride of them. It became too much for him to take at the moment.

Yohji carefully inched closer to his lover, watching Ayaís face the entire time. Was he reacting like this because of the rape? But things had seemed so much better on that front, Aya no longer tensed up when he took him from behind. There had been no fight to set off the bad memories, indeed the smaller man had been very eager until he had unexpectedly pulled away. "You alright there?" Gingerly he wrapped his arms around the trembling figure, feeling how Ayaís heart was racing. His lover didnít fight the embrace, just lay there with his eyes closed. Yohji tried asking another question, this time in jovial tone that he clearly didnít feel. "Do I need a shower that bad?"

Aya didnít say anything, just rested his head in the crook of Yohjiís neck as a pair of hands gently stroked down his back. Several minutes later that was a soft knock on the door, and Omiís voice commenting on how the bathroom was free. Pulling back a little, the redhead pushed at his boyfriendís chest. "Go on." Yohji frowned a little, and looked about to say something when Aya repeated the order in a firmer voice. The older man reluctantly let go of him and got out of bed, picking up the abandoned towel to wear as he left the room.

Knowing that Kudoh was about to break the record for fastest shower in his life, Aya sat up and tried to reign in his emotions. His body shook minutely as he drew in ragged breaths, desperately seeking a state of no emotions as his sensei had tried to teach him. The trembles gradually stopped, and by the time Yohji returned, golden body taught with worry, Aya felt more or less in control again. But so cold, he forgot how frigid it felt without the manís warmth.

Looking at his lover, Yohji slowly tossed the towel about his loins onto the couch and sank down on the bed. Aya was sitting with his knees bent and hugged tight to his chest, his pale face the icy mask that the blond hated so damn much. That wasnít the man he loved on the bed there, it was the cold Abyssinian, and that was unacceptable. When the smaller man didnít shrink away from his presence Yohji hauled him onto his lap, earning a hiss for his troubles. "Kudoh, what the hell are you doing? Let me go."

"Tell me whatís bothering you and I will." Holding the struggling man close, Yohji ran a light touch up Ayaís spine until his fingers were buried in silky hair. He then used that hold to tilt the swordsman face back until he could stare into the pansy-coloured eyes. "Donít do this love, donít draw away."

"Itís too much at times, Yohji. You are too much. I justÖ. need a break. Or something."

Releasing his hold slightly, the playboy stroked back ragged bangs. "Do you want me to go?" He bent his head until their foreheads touched, breath fanning out on Ayaís face. He felt the redhead start to tremble again, the icy faÁade crumbling slightly. There was nothing Yohji wanted less than to get out of bed, every part of him prayed that Aya didnít say yes.

"Yohji." He was falling again, into emotions turbulent but warm. That was a good summation of the older man. Giving in to the heat he craved, Aya never uttered that yes. "Make this last, Kudoh. Iím so tired of it ending, only to be replaced by anger and pain. Promise me to make it last as long as you can."

"Iíll do my best, kitten." Yohji then set about to keep his word.

*******

Schuldig stood before a massive loom, the fingers of his left hand gently caressing the dark cloth. Threads of reddish-orange caught his attention, and he noticed with delight that each time he examined the cloak they seemed to be more numerous than before. For a second he let his thoughts drift, sensing at first a languid contentment that he angrily brushed past, deeper into the darkness until he came upon a roiling inferno of light, seething at its captivity. "A star indeed, eager to shine forth. I am amazed the shield holds at all, even with my help."

"Foolish, rude rude child. To come here so uninvited. Step away from there before you do harm, evil one." Cassandra scolded the telepath as her hands itched to grab hold of a green sleeve and physically tug him away from her work. But she dared not, there was no telling what he would pick up if their bodies, even these metaphysical representations of them, came into contact. "The star child keeps me busy enough, do not add to my task."

"Alte Hexe. Iíve made your work much easier, there is no way in hell you would have been able to keep him cloaked the other night, what with him trying so hard to break free. I hadnít thought that mein Knuddelhšschen would have been able to sense what is about to happen like that."

Picking at her skirts, Cassandra graced the young man with a stern look. "Long has he held tight to that thread, of course he would sense anything that would endanger it. But it is set in stone now, there is no way he will be able to prevent the what will be unless he is completely unchained. Even his talent has accepted it, though it breaks his heart. We are being very harsh to the star child." Guilt was wearing on her, the deeper she became embroiled in the starís downfall.

"Itís for his own good," Schuldig snarled out, a hand resting protectively on the weaving.

Cassandra blinked her eyes at the tone. "Yes, a small revelation to avoid a cataclysmic one. The shade offered to the Erinyes and cruel masters for revenge and sacrifice. All to keep the precious star safe. But you must be more on guard, he has dark masters of his own, and they push for more knowledge. As does your reversed Fool, poking his nose where it does not belong."

"Was? What is Bradley up to?"

"He suspects that your heart is more than he appears."

"Verdammt." Cursing out loud as he stomped about the room, Schuldig felt a sliver of fear settle in his chest. The senile Idioten were one thing, but fooling Crawford was not going to be easy. "How much does he know?"

"Not much. But he will find out enough to confirm his suspicions. What you must do is not lie to him when he confronts you about the matter. Though there is no need to tell him the truth, either," the grey woman commented wryly. "Somehow I doubt you will have much trouble with that." The Magician was a master of knowledge, both dispensing and hiding it.

Chuckling softly, Schuldig nodded his head in agreement. But he didnít remove his hand from the weaving, reveling in the feel of Aya and his talent too much to let go. The man-whore might have the Kštzchen in his bed right now, but that wouldnít be for much longer. Already things were progressing too far to be reversed. Aya had been able to reach through their link tonight, something that he never should have been able to do. But then again his tuberose specialized in doing the impossible. "Itís getting closer to when heíll be mine. Itís there, in the back of his mind, whispering all the time. The hate is almost all gone."

"You push too hard." Cassandra extended a hand of her own, running a finger lightly down the cloak. "The actions of you and the Knight wear at him, tugging in opposite directions. Stress can break him, heed my words for once. The loss of the shade will be hard enough for him to bear." Grey eyes stared at the longhaired man, narrowing in anger when they found him lost in thought. "You are impossible."

"Huhn." He was so close, he could feel it. It would take so little for Aya to take the last few steps needed to bind them forever. But Schuldig could feel the stress his heart was under, from him and Kritiker and even Balinese. Once his sister was taken, the catalyst would be too unstable to influence for while, however. A risk was involved, but he had to try another dream before then. "How will he handle the girlís kidnapping?"

A humorless laugh made him face the psychic. "I think you can imagine what he will do. Be prepared, there is a chance he might shatter the cage in pain and desperation. Have the doctor nearby, Death will reveal his true nature that night, and must be struck down swiftly, before those with sharp eyes notice."

"The man will be prepared. What are the chances of Kritiker finding out anything they shouldnít with the upcoming exams?"

"You have your puppet well under control, they will find out nothing that way. But the mind hacker is a danger, she has a talent of her own. The cloak should hold, if you distract her with nightmares hidden deep. Do not," Cassandra admonished, "kill her just yet. It is a trap."

Hand once more on the dark material, Schuldig offered a lopsided smile. "Am I becoming so obvious in my desire?"

"There is no way the cruel ones could have missed what you did to the twisted mind hacker." Brushing back her hair, Cassandra shivered. "To say it was unsubtle is like saying the sun is bright. They wait to see if you will repeat yourself." Try as she could though, the woman didnít feel sorry for the telepathís victim. That one had deserved his fate. "She will seek to break the star down, he will need some shoring."

Green eyes flashed at her. "Heís mine, I wonít let a Kritiker bitch or anyone else hurt him anymore." Schuldig snapped his mouth shut, upset at revealing his emotions so violently. Even if the hag already knew how he felt about Abyssinian, it was not wise to show the true expanse of his feelings. He didnít trust her at all, there were undercurrents going on here that made him desperately wish his talent worked unchecked on her. "I donít let others play with my toys." When the womanís face hardened he smiled evilly. "Well, I have what I came for, tah for now."

Watching as the telepath disappeared, Cassandra let out a frustrated sigh. He was going to ignore her warning, she knew it. But the star child would survive it, if barely so. There would be a trade-off, the evil one so deep in his heartís mind would help support the boy as he faced what the future held for him. And she would be able to talk once more to the Knight of Cups. Perhaps this time he would understand what she had to say. If not, then the couple would be doomed.

*******

Return to Archive

Next Chapter