Nothing Gold Can Stay

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Chapter four

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Ran sat in the shade of a tree, a pile of books beside him that by all means he should have been reading instead of watching Aya swing through the air. When his beloved sibling had begged him to take her to the park he hadnít been able to resist, even though he had several exams to face over the next few days. But all of his worries disappeared as he watched the pretty girl on the swing, looking as if she would fly away at any moment, laughing her joy to the sky.

Glancing down for a moment to frown at his homework, Ran shifted his eyes back to his sister. And found the swing empty, still swaying in the air. "Aya? Where did you go? Aya-chan?" He rushed over to the swing set, turning round in circles as he searched for the girlís presence. Nothing, no trace besides the swing that she had been there at all. Taking a step back to the tree, Ran was surrounded by a swirl of color that formed into a cold, empty bedroom, his few belongings piled in boxes as if they were about to be moved, or had just been so. Confused, the redhead spun around, leaving for the room he shared with Yohji, desperately needing his lover at the moment. When he came to the familiar door he found it locked. No matter how much he twisted the knob or pounded on the door, it wouldnít open. Even though he knew for a fact that the older man was on the other side of it, Ran heard him talking to someone. A feminine voice was murmuring the blondís name. Choking back a sob, Ran slid down to the ground, futilely banging his head against the wood. As if from a distance, he heard his sister recite a poem.

"Natureís 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 dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay."

The world once more dissolving around him as he tried to fathom the odd stanza, Aya found himself sitting in a garden, feeling as if his heart had just been ripped out. The riot of beauty and scent just made the pain even more acute, the misery standing out starkly against such splendor. A hand gently stroked through his hair, making him look up into a pair of troubled grey eyes. "Iím so very sorry. Life always includes pain, but should not be consumed by it. The bronze claws and gnashing teeth will tear your soul away, and your heart as well if they can, and we are helpless to stop it."

Sighing as he stood up, Aya ran a shaky hand over his face. "I really wish you would clearly tell me what you are sorry for, though I know better than to expect that." He tried to collect himself, let the shield slide back in place after the disturbing vision. Another damn nightmare, it seemed he could never escape them for long. It was bad enough to always dream of losing Aya-chan, that Yohji would be gone from him as well was simply unbearable. "Why canít I hold on to those I love? Am I that evil?"

Cassandra could only stare at the pale man in guilt and agony as she thought how to best answer that question. "Not good, not evil, you simply are. Told you this before, I have. Light and dark, a beacon in the night sky. There are those that ever seek to take away the chosen ones blessed with your heat and brightness, a price to pay for the gift." Hesitating for a moment, she decided to risk a dangerous comment. "You can hope to hold on to one, but not even a star child such as yourself can keep both near. And one is already past your reach. The decision should be easy, but can twist and tear you apart. Can and will." He had to be warned so when the time came he could deal with the loss. But the child never handled threats to his beloveds very well.

Violet eyes bored into her, judging the truth of her gibberish. "Are you saying I can have either Yohji or my sister, but not both? I wonít believe that, there is no way you can make me choose between them." And he wouldnít, both were too vital to him, they were the reason Aya continued on with this mockery of a life. "I refuse to play such a game."

"Not a game. And not a true choice as well." The grey woman shook her head, teeth clamping on her tongue as she fought to hold back certain words. Certain warnings. It was so very heartbreaking, to not be able to speak the whole truth to one who could hear her, and to talk freely to one whose ears were closed. "It matters not, for the decision is ultimately not yours. And that which truly matters hinges on what the fair Knight will decide. Either the past or the future, he canít have both as well."

Aya rubbed at his temple, feeling a headache coming on. "Do you try and confuse me deliberately? I have to choose, but it wonít matter, because it all comes down to what Yohji picks. Between two abstracts." Feeling the need to do something, to focus on something he could resolve, Aya stalked over to a plot of dahlias, falling to his knees as he set about weeding the flowers. "My life is confusing enough, without you adding to it." Especially with Schuldig back in it, with motives he could never comprehend.

As if reading his thoughts, Cassandra commented on the telepath. "He loves you, you know, the evil one." She watched as a slender back went stiff, then a yanked weed flung away with some violence. "That is what makes his actions so confusing, love has so many conflicting impulses. Caught amongst them he is, and you as well. To protect you, to break you, to make you happy yet jealously keep you away from those that do, he flounders back and forth. But love you he does, in his own twisted way. It is a miracle that he can at all, what with the way his cruel masters brought him up. He can make you happy as well, I have seen it." For a second Cassandra consulted within her visions, trying to find some reassurance to offer the young man. For something to assuage her growing guilt. It was so easy to forget about the lives she was unraveling, all because of her wish, when she was here alone. "With each ending something begins, a vacuum that must be filled. If the Knight chooses unwisely, another lover can keep you warm."

"I donít _want_ another lover! I already have one!" Thrusting himself off of the ground, Aya quickly crossed the garden to stand in front of Cassandra. "Why canít anyone understand that?"

She bravely stood her ground before the fury. "The choice is not yours. The threads are fixed, you can not change them now. What is set into motion can not be stopped, it will lead to many fateful choices that you and your lovers will have to face. It is the Fates way of laying check to you, who can cut through the threads they so carefully weave. All the stars have one blind spot that they can not see, can not effect, no matter how hard they strive. This is yours. Others have seen to it, for your benefit and theirs." And to her damnation, she was one of the later. "Iím so sorry." Now if only the words would do something to diminish her guilt and his pain.

The catalyst was still before her, unknowingly searching for the strands that the evil one and she had placed out of his reach. "I will not accept that. I wonít lose Yohji, and one day Aya-chan will come back." There was a desperation to the manís voice, a rasping hurt. Heíd given up too much to ever believe otherwise. Those were the two threads he clutched close the most, and Cassandra knew that subconsciously he felt them slipping out of his grasp. That was what accounted for the shadowed eyes and burdened heart.

So the woman sought to supply Aya some comfort, cold or not. "You will always be cherished by at least one. Held safe by that person. Any decision your knight will make will be out of love." She would do her best to ensure that the man would choose the right one. "And love you he does." A delicate hand lifted to stroke a pale cheek. "Itís for the pain that I apologize for. But see not do I any way to spare you from it. Just know that you will never be alone." For all of his evilness, the Magician would never let himself be severed from Death. It made the psychic shiver, to remember the determination in that oneís voice as he spoke of those who would seek to harm his heart. "There is nothing you can do, but bear the hurt. And trust that there will be those to share the burden."

"Yohji?"

Oh how she wished she could lie. But the other child had not gotten his gift to twist the truth from his father alone. "He will always love you. As will the other." That earned her a frown, but she felt some of the tension leave the redhead. Cassandra hoped to ease the foreknowledge that his talent whispered to him, the star child did not need to be worn down in advance for what was soon to come. Continuing to stroke the boyís check with a hand adorned by a silver ring wrapped with red, she mentally reached for the cloak she had woven. "There is nothing you can do, cease your fretting. And know that when your soul is gone, no harm will come to it. Weíll see to that, him and I both. We owe you that much." Sweat broke out on a tanned forehead as Cassandra wrapped Ayaís talent under a weight of new chains. The worrying and sadness had to stop. "Now return to your knight, and enjoy your time of peaceful idyll."

The frowning redhead dissipated from her dream realm, leaving her alone once more. With a shaky sigh Cassandra gathered up her skirts and walked inside her house, intent on checking the loom in person. She felt the need for reassurance that all her hard work would hold against the upcoming assault. Seeing the rents and gnarled threads mostly gone, the psychic sat down at a table. Long fingers traced the back of a tarot card, for a moment Cassandra debated shuffling and dealing them. But the answers would be no different than before. The more intertwined she grew with the catalyst, the more her talent failed her, weakened by so many possibilities. All she knew was that the Erinyes would snatch the shade, and the catalyst would try to break free. That those actions would eventually lead to a fateful decision to be made by the Knight of Cups, with the convergence soon to follow. Everything else inbetween was swiftly becoming a blur of what may beís, overwhelming her vision with too many outcomes. And after the convergence there was just one glimpse of the future, of a house amidst the blooming cherry trees. With all of her heart Cassandra wished fervently that the lack of foresight indicated that she would gain her wish, but could not quite shake a feeling of doom.

*******

Drifting awake, Aya gradually became aware of the world around him. The warmth underneath him was clearly Yohji, the soft snores only confirmed that suspicion. His back was cold, as the over-heated blond must have tossed the comforter off the two of them at some point during the night. The room was dim, but that might have more to do with the fact that the curtains had been firmly drawn to prevent any light from disturbing them, or more correctly Kudoh, on their day off. Stretching a little Aya felt the residual aches and strains from a night spent more making love than sleeping. On top of it all he felt the pangs of a beginning headache, signaling the need for him to take his medication.

As he carefully pulled away from his lover, the redhead reached to his nightstand for the pills, wishing he had a glass of water but not willing to leave the bed to fetch one. At some point during the day he would have to make sure and bring upstairs another water bottle. Once done Aya settled himself back on top of an oblivious Kudoh, the man still deeply asleep. Heíd always been amazed and frustrated by how the older man could spend the better part of the day unconscious, though there were times that Aya longed for the same escape. If he could only be assured that the rest wouldnít be plagued by nightmares, as it had been lately. Twirling a strand of honey-gold hair around a finger, the pale man experienced a twinge in his head as he tried to recall what he had dreamed about that morning.

Something about Aya-chan and Yohji, of that he was certain. And hadnít there been a garden or a park? Giving up as the pain intensified, Aya rubbed a cheek against the smooth chest he rested upon. It bothered him when he couldnít recall his dreams, usually the vivid details haunted him into the waking hours. Now he was finding out that he much preferred that to vague images that left him feeling uneasy and saddened. Though the second emotion felt lessened, it didnít weigh on him as much as it had in the past few days. Figures that his feelings wouldnít make any sense, what with the way this week had been. Forcibly cutting off thoughts and emotions, Aya just rested on top of his lover, enjoying the peace and quiet as he stared at the man.

It was some time later that Yohji finally woke up, several cravings demanding attention. One of his hands was reaching for the cigarette pack even before he opened his eyes. When he did, the blond was greeted with a very interesting sight. Aya was sprawled half on top of him, chin rested on his chest, just staring at him. Lips curving into a smile, he gave up on the smokes to brush back a pair of ragged crimson bangs. "Ohayoo, kitten." A pale face shifted until his hand was cupping a delicate cheekbone. Nice to see that Aya wasnít shying away from him like he had at one point last night. Still not quite sure what that had been all about, Yohji gently wound an eartail around two fingers and used it to pull the smaller man up for a kiss. After a minute he rested his head back on the pillow, hauling his boyfriend more firmly on top of him.

With Ayaís head tucked under his chin and an arm about his loveís waist, he finally picked up his cigarettes and lit one. Now this was the life, a day off, nicotine craving satisfied, and a beautiful lover snuggled up to him. Ignoring his rumbling stomach and full bladder, Yohji idly toyed with Ayaís hair while he finished his cigarette. For once the silence between the two of them seemed more comfortable than strained, all the blond wanted was to remain like this for as long as possible. No fighting, no weird Fujimiya moods, no work. This was perfect. And the smaller man didnít appear to want to do much of anything else either, just content to stay there with him. Normally Aya was trying to get away before he was pounced upon, but after last night Yohji was more than satisfied, not to mention unwilling to chance anything that would disturb the peace.

Then his stomach had to protest at its emptiness, quite loudly at that. A crimson head lifted and pansy-coloured eyes gazed at him with what looked to be amusement. It was hard to tell, what with the unusual color. Running a thumb along a delicate cheekbone once more, Yohji offered his boyfriend a wry grin. "What can I say, some of us have nice, normal appetites, unlike others. Gotta have something to fuel all those greenhouse rendezvous." All the smaller man did was snort and drop his head. The two of them resumed their quiet interlude, intent on not doing anything for the foreseeable future. But after a particularly loud rumble Yohji groaned and sat up, shifting Aya over to his side. "How do you feel about some breakfast, love?" Receiving a nod in response, he swung his legs off the bed and stood up, taking a moment to stretch stiff muscles. Yohji winced as his wounded arm protested, reminding him of what else he had been up to the night before, out in the pouring rain. After finding and pulling on a clean pair of boxers, the lanky man held the door open for Aya, bowing as the quiet man walked through it. The sense of anxiety that had been building at the silent treatment he was receiving faded as he caught a slight twist of lips on the pale face. So the kitten didnít feel very talkative this morning, nothing wrong with that as long as it wasnít due to a sulk or bad temper.

When they entered the kitchen Aya made his way to the coffee maker, dumping the batch that Omi most likely had made earlier that morning. Once a fresh pot was brewing, the swordsman filled the kettle with water and waited for it to heat up, busy measuring out some green tea while he did so. Unable to understand how anyone could start the day without a healthy dose of caffeine, Yohji shook his head as he opened the fridge to pull out what he needed for the eggs. Violet eyes stared at him in wonder as chives, peppers and some cheese was set on the counter. "What? I figured we deserve something a little fancier than just plain ole scrambled eggs for once, feeling a little creative today." The orbs narrowed in suspicion, raking over him as if to make sure he was all right and not some imposter. A bit stung by the reaction, the older man sniffed as he searched for the cutting board. "You donít have to eat them if you like, or look at me as if I was possessed. I can actually do a little cooking every now and then." Knife in hand, he set about massacring the chives, green bits flying every which way as he chopped them.

A hand stilled his frenzied assault. "Kudoh, let me." Sliding between the playboy and the counter, Aya quickly finished up the task, albeit in a much more skilled manner. The chives were soon finely chopped and scraped into a pile, next came the peppers. For his part Yohji rested his chin on a yukata-clad shoulder and quietly watched, an arm loosely about his loverís waist. "There." Ayaís voice contained a hint of smugness, possibly at the sight of all the evenly chopped vegetables.

"I said I could cook, not prep. Thanks love." Kissing the top of the smaller manís head, Yohji started to prepare the eggs. After scrambling them and letting them set a bit, he added the rest of the ingredients and soon breakfast was ready. Well, a very late breakfast, Yohji corrected himself, glancing at the clock. Him and Aya had stayed up quite late last night, what with him doing his best to keep the promise he had made the other man. For the most part his boyfriend appeared recovered from what it was that had disturbed him so last night, the shadows in the dark eyes were mostly gone. Thankfully so, now maybe things could return to what passed as normal for them. Scraping the eggs onto two plates, Yohji placed them on the table and sat down. He then picked up his mug of fresh brewed coffee and took a sip. "You know Aya, for someone who doesnít care for the drink very much, you do brew a helluva good pot."

Shrugged shoulders were all he got in way of an answer. So it was back to the silent treatment for him, apparently. "Everything all right, love?"

Gracing the eggs with a dubious look and trying a small mouthful, Aya glanced up with a surprised expression on his face. "Iím fine. These are good."

Well, he at least got two whole sentences there, the older man thought amusedly. "You donít have to be so stunned, you know. I might be helpless when it comes to dinner, but I can make a pretty mean egg dish." Years of needing protein to help with a hangover had taught him the expertise. "You sure things are fine?" Yohji hated to push, lest it led to another fight, but he wanted to make sure that his lover was being normal quiet and not pissed off/unhinged quiet.

Aya nibbled on a pepper as he rested his jaw on his hand. "Just had some weird dreams last night. And no," he quickly added, "not weird as in got chased by a rabid pack of Chihuahuas while dressed as RuPaul or whatever strange fantasy you are thinking of. JustÖ weird." And bothersome, since he couldnít remember anything more than that.

"I donít even want to know what you consider weird, then." Yohji shuddered in mock horror, earning a glare that was lacking in any real fire. Deciding to change the topic before the look became real, he asked the quiet man what he wanted to do for the day. "Need to run any errands, want to catch a movie, go out to eat or just spend the day in bed?" He leered at Aya on the last bit. "Betcha canít guess which one Iím hoping for."

A weary sigh greeted that comment. "Would you ever get out of bed, if you had a choice?" Yohji emphatically shook his head. "All I want to do is see my sister later, we can stay in the rest of the day if you want."

"Well you donít have to sound so enthused about spending some time snuggled up to your one true love, you know that? Want me to go with you to the hospital? We can grab something to eat afterwards."

A vision of running into a Kritiker psychiatrist with Yohji standing next to him filled Ayaís head. "NO." That would be very bad, the blondís presence would raise questions that would be extremely difficult to answer, such as why a teammate was accompanying him on such a personal errand. Aya didnít want to give the shrink any remote possibility of picking up on the relationship; they would then analyze it to death until the whole truth came out. Flustered and anxious, Aya gazed at his boyfriend, stomach sinking at the frown on Yohjiís face. The peaceful mood that had enveloped them that morning was shattered, and by him no less. This time it was his fault, and now another fight would start, something that he was so weary of.

Averting his eyes as he stood up, the redhead picked up his plate and carried it to the counter. He wasnít hungry anymore, not now. Unwilling to just toss Yohjiís eggs away, he pulled out a container and scraped the mostly untouched meal into it. As he set the plate in the sink he heard the other man get up from the table and walk over to him. Muscles tensing as Yohji drew near, Aya started slightly when an arm encircled his waist, wary of what was going to happen next. Warm breath caressed his right ear. "Why donít you want me to go, Aya?" The voice was soft and hushed, carrying a hint of pain rather than the expected anger. That was what shocked Aya into answering.

"Because of the doctors. I donít want them to see us together, they might figure something out."

Yohji jerked a hand through his hair, thoroughly confused. Turning Aya around, he asked him just what the hell he was talking about.

A frown marring his face, Aya stared at the blond for a moment before answering. "Itís time for the exams again." When Yohji still looked perplexed he elaborated. "The bi-annual check ups. Dr. Rōyama caught me yesterday about an appointment for the physical; Iím waiting to hear about the psych exam. Hasnít anyone contacted you yet?Ē

"No. No they havenít." Brain kicking into gear, Yohji tried to figure out just what was going on. Bi-annual exams? He only had to get checked out, poked, prodded and lectured once a year, unless there were special circumstances. Same for Ken and Omi, as far as he was aware of. Of course everytime he was in the hospital for some wound that needed tending Kritiker insisted that he have a blood test, but other than that they pretty much left him alone until the anniversary of him joining the organization. Well, he guessed that it meant his re-joining, now. But from what Aya was saying, the pale man went twice a year. Why? "So they are doing you first? They give any reason?"

Aya shook his head. "They never do. Just say show up or I canít go on any missions. They always catch me around Aya-chanís room, either to set up an appointment or just take me to the doctor from there." It never had occurred to the swordsman that his teammates might be exempt from some of the examinations. Considering how much he hated doctors, even just talking about them, he had always assumed that the others were merely keeping quiet about their visits. "I donít want them to figure things out, Kudoh. About us."

Biting down on the impulse to violently curse, Yohjiís lips curved into a wan smile instead. "Thatís all you had to say, love. I can understand that, donít want them to find out about the two of us either. Just wish you would have said something about this last night." Which at that point he remembered what had all happened the evening before. No wonder Aya had been so stressed out, the man detested going for check-ups. "Then again, you didnít have much of a chance to, now did you?" When Aya shook his head again, Yohji leaned down for a kiss. All too eager to drop the subject and regain the broken mood, Aya wrapped his arms around the blondís neck, kissing him back passionately.

So it really shouldnít have been such a surprise that it wasnít long after that when Teddy walked into the room.

*******

Groaning slightly as he set up the flower shop, Omi rubbed at his eyes yet again. Heíd need all of the coffee in the thermos heíd brought down with him from the looks of it. How did Aya deal with opening the Koneko mornings after a mission all the time? It was one thing to get up and go to school, where as long as he paid a little attention to the lectures and kept his eyes open he was fine, but quite another to shift about all these plants and to try and make sense out of the order requests. It was going to be a long day, and the fact that Omi had to work alongside of Ken didnít help matters. At least there wouldnít be quite so many of the brunetís fan club in the shop today, there was still another whole week of summer vacation left. The youth didnít know how Aya managed to quietly stand there when the girls mobbed his boyfriend, not appearing bothered over all that flirting the slightest bit. Then again, if what Ken had told him was the truth, the implacable redhead had finally showed signs of jealousy the other day. Glancing over at the cactuses, Omi felt a smile spread across his face. Too bad he had missed that scene.

It was just as he lifted up the shutters that Ken came down through the shop, dressed in cut-offs and an old t-shirt. There were dark circles under the athleteís eyes, hinting at a night spent more tossing about in bed than sleeping. "Everything all right, Ken-kun?" Omi resisted the urge to give Ken a hug, it so looked as it he needed one at the moment.

Scratching his head as he stifled a yawn, it took Ken a moment to answer. "Need to clear my head a little. Mind if I do some running, Iíll be back as soon as possible to help in the shop." Omi quickly agreed, easily understanding that it had been one of those nights for his friend. It never was easy sleeping after a mission, and sometimes the nightmares were impossible to keep at bay. "Take as long as you like, I can handle the shop with no trouble by myself for a couple of hours," he lied smoothly. The grateful grin that Ken flashed him as a hand ruffled his hair made the hard work ahead all that much easier to bear.

Pouring himself another cup of coffee, Omi started getting the shop ready for their clientele. When the door chime sounded he looked up to greet the early customer, words dying as he took in the bleary-eyed figure standing before the register. Teddy woodenly crossed over to where the thermos was sitting, unscrewed the lid and drank the hot beverage straight from it. After a minute he stopped, wiping his mouth as he mournfully regarded the teenager.

"They get you suckered in with this great line, tell you all the super-spy mumbo jumbo, teach you some nifty tricks, spill a few secrets, and only when itís way too late to back out do they tell you about the fact that they expect you to get out of bed at some _ungodly_ hour, just to play errand boy. The cruel, sadistic bastards," he whimpered, clutching the precious caffeine close. "I wanna talk to the union rep, this is unjustifiable, cruel and unusual punishment. Can shoot whoever I have to, torture is fine in my book, but they _have_ to stop with these early morning wake-up calls." Pleading blue eyes turned in Omiís direction. "Help."

"Sorry Teddy, not much that I can do. And we donít have a union representative, sorry to tell you so." The American whimpered again, then polished off the last of the caffeine.

"Okay, then, whereís the-" he stopped talking as a couple of elderly matrons entered the store, heading for a display of pansies. Blushing slightly at the state of the still not prepared shop, Omi turned pleading eyes of his own on Teddy.

Gesturing to the small rose bushes that were resting on the floor, Omi asked the agent to water them and set them on the bench by the window. "Iím sorry, but Iím the only one here right now. Could you please help out while I tend to these ladies?" Figuring that he was already miserable, what with being out of bed before the clock took to showing four digits, Teddy nodded and got to work. A little bit of labor wasnít going to kill him. After taking care of the roses he found himself sweeping the floor, carrying some cut flowers that Omi needed for the arrangements up from the coolers, and even manning the register after a crash course on the machine. For the most part the odd looks directed his way put Teddy in a better mood, as many customers inquired if he was a new employee. The responses to his Ďjust temporaryí were mixed, several seemed disappointed that he hadnít joined the ranks of the resident bishounen.

It wasnít until almost eleven am when Ken returned back to the shop, sweaty and red-faced, but calmer than when heíd left. "Omi! Iím so sorry, I lost track of time." Finding Teddy carrying a few potted ferns from the greenhouse, he did a double take. "Stout, what are you doing here?"

"Came to pick up a few things, and got drafted." Turning to face Omi, he inquired if his indentured servitude was over.

"Yes, and thank you so much, Teddy." If the man would only stay away from Ken, Omi thought that he might be able to like the foreigner. "Everythingís upstairs in the laundry room, except for Yohjiís gear. You might have to wake him up to get it." For some reason the teenager didnít think Teddy would mind that. "And stop by on your way out, I believe youíve earned some flowers in way of thanks."

Shoving the plant into Hidakaís arm, Teddy waved his hand in acceptance of the offer and quickly made his way upstairs. Oh this would be too good, if he could manage to catch Kudoh and Red together in bed. Those pictures that Birman had shown him had been too delicious for words, now he wanted to see the real thing. Stumbling into the kitchen, he was at first disappointed to spy the couple up and about. That was until he realized what the two of them were doing. Watching for several minutes, he finally couldnít resist commenting on the situation.

"Wow, amazing lung capacity there, fellas. I can clearly see you left the amateur rankings behind long ago." Kudoh whirled around at the sound of his voice, hands falling in front of his boxers, while Aya peered over the blondís shoulder, yanking up his yukata and what looked like tying it shut as well. Hmm, maybe he should have kept quiet after all. From Redís state of almost undress and the sizable bulge in his boyfriendís shorts, things might have gotten real interesting in another minute or two. Oh well, live and learn.

"Stout!" Yanking Aya around until the smaller man was standing in front of him, and wrapping his arms around a slender waist to prevent them from reaching out to strangle a certain pest, Yohji glowered at their guest. "What the hell are you doing here now?"

Teddy leaned against the doorway and cocked an eyebrow. "Besides enjoying the show? Once again, here to pick up your goodies. Would have been out of here a couple of hours ago, but Tsukiyono put me to work in the shop. Can I please get the briefcase and gear before he decides he wants me to organize the plants alphabetically? Unless you guys are planning on continuing where you left off, and then I will be more than happy to stick around for a while longer." He blinked at the growling sound Aya produced. Someone took their kitty codename too much to heart.

Rubbing his temple, Yohji figured that the sooner he got the stuff, the sooner Teddy would leave. "One sec." To his lover he added, "donít kill him, at least not here." He then proceeded to run up the stairs for his gear, eager to get rid of the pest.

Catching sight of first the coffee and then the leftover eggs, Teddy immediately helped himself to both. "I just canít get used to these early mornings. Have no problem staying up all night tailing someone or working undercover, but I really hate it when they wake me up just to fetch some bloody clothes and secret blueprints. Canít that wait til some civilized hour, like noon?" Not really expecting an answer, the longhaired man just kept gulping down the food. "Thatís what I like about you, Red, you are a great listener. Canít wait til you and Koyu meet."

Still not saying a word, Aya sat back down at the table, mug of tea in his hands. He merely watched as Teddy made short work of Yohjiís breakfast. For the life of him Aya couldnít fathom how the American managed to keep such an upbeat, if a bit eschewed, outlook on life. He actually found himself interested in meeting this mysterious Koyu, just to find out if the man was as insane as his lover. Yohji quickly reappeared, a bit out of breath, but holding onto a bag that must contain his long black duster. Green eyes glared at Teddy as they noticed the empty container. "Here, take it and leave, while we still have a few things left in the fridge. This is a flower shop, and not a soup kitchen, you know."

"Oh, relax, Kudoh. Iíll be going, and youíll get to snuggle up with your kitten again." Grasping the bag, he pouted a bit. "This seems a little heavy, I thought you said the rest of the gear was in the laundry room."

"The boots need some attention as well. If Kritiker thinks Iím going to traipse through some damn forest and let them get all scuffed up, then they can repair them. Those things cost me a fortune, bad enough they get covered with blood all the time."

Making a face, Teddy held the bag at armís length and went to gather the rest of the things. "At least itís not squishy this time, should have seen the look on the cleanerís face when I went to pick up Redís gear. As if it was my fault it took him four hours to get the blood all off." Blue eyes glared at the redhead accusingly. "You know, you could take it a little easier on the new guy. Try to keep the gory stuff down to the minimum, okay?" That said, Teddy breezed out of the kitchen, returning in less than a minute with the rest of the stuff. "Now go back to screwing each other like bunnies, I need to believe that someone is having a good day while I run all over Tokyo dropping this shit off. And make sure to stay in one piece until after Saturday."

Yohji could only stare at the longhaired man as he disappeared back down into the Koneko. Shaking his head, he briefly reflected on how absurd his life became at times. Aya with his sudden mood swings, which he swore were intended to drive him nuts, Ken and Omi doing everything but each other, nefarious employers, psychotic telepaths, and now Teddy Stout waltzing in and out whenever he pleased. And people wondered why he drank so much. Picking up the empty dish that had contained his too thin loverís breakfast, he calmly asked the man if he wanted something else to eat.

The only response he got was Aya tugging him out of the kitchen. "Eh? Arenít you hungry? Where are we going?"

"Upstairs."

Well, that certainly became obvious as he was hauled up the steps. Not that he minded in the least, it was nice to be the one dragged off to the bedroom for once. They better damn well be going to the bedroom, heíd throw one hell of a fit if Aya felt in the mood for an exercise session. Yanking back on Ayaís arm, Yohji asked him why they where headed upstairs, curious for the unusual behavior. "There are other things we can be doing, like maybe watch some tv," he added perversely, taking in the shocked look on his loverís face for that statement. He could almost read the manís mind, an extremely rare event. ĎYohji Kudoh was turning down spending the day in bed?í A low chuckle escaped past his lips.

Realizing that the blond was teasing him, Aya just hníed and continued up the steps. "Weíre going back to bed." His tone was final. Never being a very superstitious person, Aya could nonetheless get the hint that it wouldnít be a very smart idea to leave their bedroom that day. Look what had already happened in the short amount of time that they had. A barely diverted fight and Stout descending upon them, all in less than half an hour. That was it, his feet werenít touching the floor again until it was time to visit Aya-chan.

*******

Going through the emails that Esset had sent him, sifting through the necessary orders and the useless ccís that annoyed him to no end, Crawford rubbed at his aching temples. It was exhausting enough trying to keep a set of maladjusted, psychically gifted sociopaths together and under control, add dealing with three senile fools who expected their every whim instantly obeyed and taxing visions on to that, and it was a wonder he wasnít prematurely grey and bonkers by now. And Schuldig had the audacity to call him a prudish stick in the mud. As if he had any time for trivial, relaxing matters with so many important things already on his plate. Like preventing those same senile bastards from taking over the world, and trying to keep a certain telepath from messing up all of his careful planning. Schuldig had always been a bit of a loose cannon, what with the way he delighted in causing so much mischief and grief, but lately he actually posed a threat to everything Crawford was working so hard for. The German was completely unpredictable, and that was unacceptable.

The lack of Mastermind in any of his visions not related directly to Schwarz disturbed the precog to no end. He couldnít figure out how the man was managing to shield his activities from his talent. That was what got to Crawford the most, being unable to see anything. Things were swiftly approaching a critical point; any deviation from his plans could not be tolerated. It would lead to disaster.

Leaning back in his chair, the American rested his sore head against the leather headrest. So far his visions remained the same, the only glimpse he caught of the actual convergence involved WeiŖ and Schwarz facing each other at the island museum, the eldersí bodies scattered about the floor. He had to make sure that things happened exactly as he saw them, or else his team would pay the price. And that was something he would never stand for. There was no way he was going to let anyone or thing destroy Schwarz, not while he still drew breath.

Just as he wondered if a cup of coffee would help his headache, Nagi knocked twice and then stepped into the office, a couple of mugs floating in the air beside the boy. Crawford nodded his head in acknowledgement as one of them settled smoothly on his desk. The boy stood in front of him, placing a folder of printouts on the mahogany surface. "The information on Abyssinian?"

"More or less." An ebony eyebrow was arched, a silent command for the telekinetic to continue. "The search is not yet complete, Iím ashamed to say that I havenít found out very much."

The American pulled the folder close to him. It didnít look at all slim for there to be not Ďvery muchí in it. "Explain, Nagi."

After a nervous gulp of his own drink, the boy did just that. "What Iíve brought to you so far is a comparison of the initial background checks of all four members of WeiŖ. I can find the complete histories of Balinese and Siberian, and almost everything dating back ten years on Bombay. Abyssinianís, however, is another story all together. Iíve found some things out about his family, mostly business related, but very little on the man himself. He hasnít just been declared dead like the others, theyíve done a complete wipe of his past. Iíve managed to track down the schools he attended due to some financial documents Takatori had of his parents, but once in those databases there is absolutely nothing on him. Nor medical records, either."

Very interesting. "What about Kritikerís database?"

Nagi blew the bangs off of his forehead, face settling in a scowl. "So far not much to be found there as well. At least nothing compared to the other three files. I know the information is in the system, they just have buried it somewhere a hacker would never suspect." And that rankled him, that he hadnít been able to find it yet. This was about more than just completing a request for Oracle, it was a personal matter now. There was no way he was going to be defeated over this. "Iíll keep searching, just wanted to give you a bit of an update. I apologize for the lack of something concrete."

"I think what youíve brought me so far is proof enough that something is going on here." He could understand if it was Bombayís past that Prodigy failed to unearth, but it was extremely suspicious that it was Abyssinianís that was proving the most difficult. What the hell had that damn German uncovered about the man that he wasnít sharing with the team? "I want you to concentrate on a certain subsystem in Kritikerís database. It should be codenamed Ďshadowsí, try the word in German or English if it fails to show up in Japanese."

Toying with his mug, Nagi cautiously asked what the name represented.

"Kritikerís paranormal unit." At the surprised expression on his teammateís face, Crawford elaborated. "At least the dregs Esset left them with. That division is no match for us, they are barely worth mentioning. So you would never have heard of them."

The boy hesitated to speak for a moment, then rushed out the question. "So you do think Abyssinianís talented, donít you?"

The sleek head nodded. "I believe so, especially after what youíve failed to find. It would explain a few things." Such as why his encounters with the redhead never ended as his visions had predicted. And how the man could avoid said visions in the first place.

"Like why Schuldig would be so interested in him. AndÖ and why heís so hard to hold onto."

Dark blue eyes narrowed at that last statement. "Prodigy, explain."

Nagi swallowed a gulp, not wanting Crawfordís anger directed at him. "Itís just that- well the last time we faced WeiŖ, on the roof of the building, Mastermind asked me to hold Abyssinian still. And I did, but it took so much effort. Much more than it should have. It was like the man was slippery, or there was something that interfered with my powers. At the time I just thought that I was tired." But now it made sense, in an odd sort of way. The boy felt some of his hatred for the swordsman fade, acknowledging another talent. "He doesnít belong with WeiŖ, heís not a Ďnormalí." The last word was heavy with scorn, the normally reserved youth expressing his utter disdain of those who didnít possess any powers. "He belongs with us. Is that what Schuldig is working towards?"

"It would certainly seem so." But why didnít Mastermind say anything about the matter? That was what Crawford really wanted to know. It was never good when the telepath was acting this devious. "Be sure to let me know what you find out as soon as possible." Deprived of his visions, Crawford would need that information to formulate a new plan, and to interweave it among the others already in play. Discussion over with, he returned to sorting through his mail.

And looked up when Nagi failed to depart. "Yes?"

Coming back to himself, the boy stared to back out of the room. "I was just wondering what his talent was. If he was another telekinetic, or something else."

"Continue your search, and maybe weíll find out." And then use that information to get some answers from Mastermind.

*******

"Hm, love, bend forward a little more. Thatís it." Yohji spread more oil on his palms and continued kneading Ayaís shoulders, bound and determined to rid the smaller man of any and all tense muscles. For his part, Aya just made a purring sound as he rested his head on his knees, all too happy to accommodate Kudohís wishes. This was heaven.

Dark violet eyes staring out the window, the redhead took in the overcast sky. Afternoon was swiftly fading, in another hour he would have to get ready and go visit Aya-chan. He wasnít happy at all with the idea of leaving the bedroom and facing whatever Fate had to throw at him today. Hopefully it would be a good deal less than what had happened yesterday.

Yohjiís voice cut into his thoughts. "Stop thinking whatever the hell you are right now, youíre getting all tight again. Youíre spoiling all my hard work."

"Sorry."

The blond sighed and pulled Aya back against him, slick fingers tracing down his arms and up his chest. "Why is it so hard for you to relax? Youíre young, mostly healthy, not bad looking, reasonably smart, and have the worldís greatest lover in bed with you. Most people would be able to forget about all the other bad stuff and concentrate on that. We need to make you a bit less depressed, love." Considering the way those hands were circling his nipples, Aya didnít have to think very much on how Yohji was going to go about doing that.

Yohji sighed as his hands were caught and grasped tight, prevented from getting into any more mischief. "Youíre no fun, I hope you know that, Aya." All he got was a non-committal Ďhní in response. Smiling a little at the how well heíd learned to interpret such grunts and snorts over the past several months, Yohji took to nibbling on his loverís ear. "You were thinking about going to the hospital, werenít you?" The crimson head briefly nodded. "How Ďbout I meet you for dinner then, afterwards? We could go to that noodle place that you like so much, stop for some coffee and tea, then come back here. Or," he added as he licked an earlobe, "we could just spend the night like this."

The slim body in his arms tensed for a moment, then forcibly relaxed. "I want to see her, Yohji. But dinner sounds nice, unless you want me to come straight home."

What he wanted was to go with Aya and protect his lover from their employers, but understood the reasons why he couldnít. "Why donít we meet for dinner, see if I canít control my hormones long enough for a bite to eat." Freeing a hand, he used it to tilt the smaller manís face towards his, kissing the slightly smiling lips. "Though it would help if you gave me something to tide me over til then." Oh that most definitely got him a smile. When Aya made to pull away he fell back onto the bed, taking the man down with him. "Donít you know I have a reputation as an oversexed pervert to live up to?"

Resisting the urge to chuckle, Aya struggled to get up, failing to be surprised when he couldnít manage that due to the long arms wrapped tight around him. "You more than live up to it, Kudoh. Any more so and I wonít be able to walk."

"Sweet gods, mark this day down, the kitten cracked a joke. The world must be coming to an end." Before the pale man could protest about the comment, Yohji kissed him breathless. When a panting Aya broke it off for some oxygen, he gasped out if that meant the redhead wasnít up to a little bit of fun. "Wouldnít want you to be limping about all over the place, poor Kenken would die of embarrassment each time he saw you. Guess thatís what I get for picking such a delicate lover, no real stamina or endurance." He couldnít help but grin wickedly when Aya rolled over, dragging him on top. Seemed the man was eager to prove him wrong. Sometimes it was so easy to push the prickly redheadís buttons.

It was much later before the two of them were through with each other, sated and sweaty and a bit exhausted. Holding Aya spooned against his chest, Yohji tried to calm his heart rate back down. Running a shaky hand down a pale back, he smugly noted that the smaller man was nice and relaxed at the moment. Mission accomplished. Nothing like a leisurely bout of sex to make oneís troubles vanish. For a moment he wondered how it was possible that each time things just got better and better. Maybe part of the explanation was at how well they knew each otherís bodies and reactions now, there were no awkward, jarring moments or mishaps, everything just flowed together into greater and greater pleasure. It felt so right, being buried deep in his loveís body, Aya clenching tight around him and mewling his name, those gorgeous eyes staring deep into his soul. They just fit together so perfectly, more so than any other lover heíd ever had. "You were made for me, you know that. Only for me."

For a moment he didnít think the redhead had heard the whispered words, then Aya turned around to face him. "Say that again."

A bit nervous, knowing how much his kitten hated it when he turned possessive, Yohji did just that. "I said you were made for me and me only. Weíre perfect together, love. Never gonna find something like we have elsewhere." At the distant look that Aya was treating him to, brows furrowed slightly, he added "ai shiteru." For a few seconds a cloud crossed the beautiful face across from his, then the blond could only stare at the exposed look the pale man gave him. "Youíll always love me."

All he could do was nod in response, that hadnít sounded like a question. His eyes never left Ayaís face, he only ever saw it this carefree and tender when the man was sleeping. And not even very often then. This was, for all extent and purposes, Ran he was now holding. "You better. Ai shiteru." Then the worries and sadness crept back, until the gentle man who had had his life torn apart by a bomb had vanished. "You look like a fish."

"Huh?" Shaking his head as he closed his mouth, Yohji rid himself of the fanciful thoughts. "Sorry, still trying to catch my breath. I take back whatever I said about you not having any stamina, or whatever nonsense it was. Give or take a couple of years of intensive training, I think you might manage to rise up to my level. Promise to work real hard to help you reach your true potential. Ow, dammit. And here I thought Iíd make it a whole day without being hit." He mock-glared at Aya, glad to see some of the sadness depart.

"Then donít speak for twenty four hours. I donít want to turn into a slut, thank you very much."

"Youíre only a slut," the playboy said, pausing to kiss a pale nose. It was so cute to watch Aya rub the appendage, looking faintly offended at the indignity. "Youíre only a slut if you sleep with a lot of people. And the only one who gets the honor of being in your bed is _me_," he growled possessively, damn it if it rubbed Ayaís fur the wrong way. "All that lots of sex will make you is very, very happy, and very, very relaxed. Might even ensure that you smile once or twice a day."

Aya reminded himself that one had to humor the mentally challenged. "Hn." Lifting his head to check the time, he bit back on a sigh as he then tucked it under Kudohís chin.

"So you still going to the hospital, kitten?"

"Huhn." He just snuggled closer to the older man.

Several minutes later Yohji tried again. "We need to get going if we want to grab a bite to eat anywhere." When Aya still didnít move, he asked the man if he really did want to go visit his sister.

"Yes, I do." At the blondís puzzled expression he elaborated. "Just donít want it to end." It had been so nice and peaceful all day long, with the exception of after they had woken up it had been nothing but pleasure and feelings of warmth and contentment, flashes of humor. No emotional roller coaster, just like Yohji had promised him.

"Hmm, not giving up on my promise that easily, love," Yohji said when he finally figured out what his boyfriend was referring to. "Now what do you say to getting out of bed and taking a shower. The sooner we leave the sooner we can return and focus on that training of yours."

*******

Omi and Ken looked upstairs at the loud yelp that filtered down through the ceiling.

*******

Busy going through a case file, Kirie Arai looked up when her computer beeped. Clicking on the new mail icon, she found an email sent to her from Schattenís director. Ignoring the case she had been studying, she quickly opened the message. After scanning it for a moment, the psychiatrist swallowed her surprise and gave it a more thorough peruse. It seemed that she had a new patient. The infamous Orchidee, at that.

Now this was very interesting. Every since she had heard about the Kritiker assassin, and the fates that had befallen many of his previous therapists, the woman had hoped for a shot at the man. Rumors among her department had it that he was a latent psychic, and did not understand why their employers had not re-assigned him to Schatten for that power to be fully developed. It was not often that they came across promising talent, and if what was whispered about was true, Orchidee was held to be of exceptional regard. And it was commonly believed that the assassin was responsible for what had happened to Dr. Okudo, though many secretly cheered over the fate that had befallen that particular sadist. And now it was going to be her turn to have a shot at the enigma.

Combing her fingers through short black hair, Arai clicked open the attachment that included her new patientís case histories. Amazing, that there was this much information obtained in such a short period of time. It would take her a couple of days to sort through all of it, what with the various doctorís comments and all the recorded transcripts. The little she could pick out had the assassin pegged as an emotionally withdrawn socio-path, lacking any other real connection to reality outside of his sister, having developed a bit of a complex towards said sibling. All very interesting, but she would reserve judgment until she had Orchidee in her office.

It was something that she looked very much forward to, being able to delve into a mind that, if these documents were any indication of, was rather unique and more than a touch unstable. What fertile playing ground. Closing the attachments, she carefully reread the instructions sent to her. It seemed that some tragedy was about to befall the man, what exactly wasnít stated but being a bright girl, Arai guessed that it would have to deal with the sibling. She was to take advantage of the fact and search for any sign of talent or weakness that Kritiker could manipulate to their benefit. It seemed that she better make sure that she had no other patients after seeing Orchidee, or Fujimiya as the file indicated was his real name. The man was most likely going to be seriously distraught, it would wear a bit on her emphatic abilities, dealing with those emotions while purposely probing his mind.

Araiís mouth lifted into a predatory grin. What an opportunity to be presented with. If she could be the one to break the block on Orchideeís power, it would mean no small amount of prestige and recognition for her career. Maybe she should shift a few cases to other colleagues, she would need some time to properly prepare. She was not about to let this chance slip her by. One way or another, she would succeed where the others had failed. After all, she would have never gotten where she was now if she accepted defeat and failure as a possibility. No, she would present Kritiker with a fully activated psychic if she had to tear Orchideeís mind apart in the process. And she would avoid the infamous ĎOrchidee curseí while she was at it. Both it and the assassin would be no match for her.

*******

 

Yohji watched his lover leave the house, mouth turning down over the worried expression on the pale manís face. Aya was clearly dreading running into any more doctors tonight. Crossing over to the fridge, he pulled out a can of beer while thinking dark thoughts about Kritiker. It was bad enough that the organization for all intents owned them, now they were playing games with WeiŖ as well. And Aya in particular. It did nothing for his peace of mind, wondering if their employers had figured out about the redheadís talent. More than likely, considering the extra medical exams and the Ďtestí Teddy had mentioned. Things didnít look very good, not at all.

The beer was quickly drained, so he got up for another. As he closed the refrigerator door Omi burst into the kitchen, looking a bit frazzled. "Hey there, kiddo, everything all right?"

"It was a busy day in the shop today. Am I glad that I can sleep in tomorrow morning." The teenager looked beseechingly at the older blond, who once more raided the fridge, this time for a can of soda. Tossing it at Omi earned him a smile in return. "Thank you. I donít know what got into people today, I think they were making up for yesterday. Aya should be happy when he sees the sales." Looking about, Omi realized that the swordsman was nowhere to be found, which was an odd occurrence when the couple both had the day off. The oldest assassins could always be found in each otherís presence during those times. "Speaking of which, where is he?" Maybe if Aya was alone, they could have that talk right now. The man was always in a slightly more relaxed mood after spending the day in bed with Yohji.

"At the hospital."

Blue eyes blinked at the bitter note in his friendís voice. "Something wrong, Yotan?"

"Where is Ken at?" Yohji could tell he was starting to worry the chibi, what with the way the normally cheerful face grew serious, and when he was quietly informed that the athlete had run off to see his kids. No surprise there, Ken usually went to spend time with them after a mission. He didnít want the brunet to overhear his and Omiís conversation, Hidaka had developed a hatred for any and all things paranormal, what with the way Mastermind had fucked with his head not once but twice. There was no way he was going to take the fact that Aya was most likely psychic very well. "Just checking. What do you know about our yearly medical exams? Is there any reason why Kritiker would require an agent to have extra ones?"

"Maybe if they doubted the personís health or something, why, whatís wrong?" Omi had a sinking feeling that he knew where Yohji was going with this. He was careful to school his face in order not to betray anything.

The older man spared a moment to light a cigarette. "Ayaís been getting checked out twice a year, physical and psychological, the whole time that heís been in Kritiker from what I can tell. And except for the recent headaches, heís always been in perfect health. I wanna know why theyíve singled him out like that. If they suspect that, well, you remember what we talked about a couple of weeks ago. About him being a precog like Oracle. I think they do, and it worries me on how theyíll act next." A vision of his lover, dressed in a dark suit like Schwarzís leader, face just as impassive, flashed through Yohjiís mind. His hands clenched in anger. Theyíd already done their best to turn Aya into an obedient little killing machine, heíd be damned if they did any more damage to the redhead.

Omi sat down at the table, trying to figure where to go from there. He knew that Kritiker suspected that Aya had a talent, but heíd gotten that information from Schuldig, and hadnít let any of his teammates in on the secret. How was he going to tell Yohji now that the manís fears were entirely justified? And that their worst enemy was working hard to protect Aya? "I can do some snooping, but there is no telling where that information would be. It might be easier to wait until the actual exams, tap into the doctorsí computers and trace where the medical files go to." That should buy him some time. Speaking of Mastermind, did the telepath know about this? How could he possibly not, considering the close tabs he kept on the swordsman. Why hadnít he warned him then?

"That sounds brilliant, Omi. Knew there was a reason we all consider you a genius." Yohji leaned over to ruffle the boyís hair.

"Who are his doctors?"

"Rōyama, at least for the physical part. The shrink hasnít pounced on Aya yet, but Iíll let you know as soon as he finds out." Stubbing out the cigarette, Yohji yanked on his hair. "Dammit, heís all stressed out about this. Think thatís whatís been bothering him lately. And judging from what heís told me about past sessions, the shrinks really fuck with his head. Boy is unstable enough lately without adding to the matter." The blond loved his boyfriend with all his heart, but it was going to be downright unbearable living with him during the exams if the past couple of days were any indication. "You have to find out if they suspect anything, Aya isnít going to be stupid and will tell them diddly-squat, butÖ" This was Kritiker they were up against. The bastards knew more then they should about way too many things. Quite frankly he was amazed that they didnít know about the relationship yet. Good thing Omi, Manx and Birman were in their corner, covering for Aya and him.

For his part, Omi could very well imagine how the redhead would react, looking back on when the man had undergone the exams in the past. It was going to be a rough ride for the next couple of weeks, especially for Aya. He would be even more moody and sullen than usual, not talking to anyone at all, and driving Ken up the wall with his attitude. "We better warn Ken about the exams, maybe pass them off as due to the headaches, so heíll know to leave Ayan alone. Last time those two almost came to blows on at least three occasions."

"Yeah, that would be a good idea. If I hear Ken muttering about how Aya is a coldhearted, temperamental bastard who lives to take his bad moods out on everyone else even one more time, Iíll be the one throwing the punches. Itís not his fault," Yohji growled protectively. It was so easy now to see the cause of his loverís many past mood swings, now that he knew what had been done to the man. Between the Bastard and Kritiker, it was no wonder Aya didnít come across as real stable. Even amongst this crowd of nutcases.

"Iíll speak to him, donít worry." Getting up from the table, Omi walked over to the fridge for a bite to eat. "Thereís still some pad thai left over, you want some?" Hopefully Yohji would be satisfied with the solution and drop the subject, before he let anything slip.

Yohji shook his head. "Nah, Iím meeting up with Aya later, weíre having dinner out tonight."

The youth proceeded to microwave the leftovers. "If youíre not going to be out all night, could you pick up some more ice cream please? All we have left is that coffee flavored stuff of yours, and I donít want to hear any more death threats about me touching it." Expecting to see a smile on the playboyís face when he gazed over at him, Omi was surprised to see the man still looking rather serious. "Something else still wrong, Yohji?"

"Yeah, like what are we gonna do if the reports confirm Ayaís power. We need to start thinking here, kiddo. Iím not going to lose the man I love, sit back and watch him be twisted into something that would fit right in with Schwarz by the people I work for."

"Thereís nothing indicating that Kritiker would do that to him, Yohji." At the disbelieving snort he received for that comment, Omi flushed a little. "I know that we canít completely trust their motives, now that my uncle is dead, but they havenít done anything to Aya by now, why do you think they ever will?"

It was amazing at times, how naÔve Omi could be about their employers. Yohji guessed it was because of the boy being pretty much raised by the organization. "Because of the way theyíve fucked with Ayaís head already. Just mention the possibility of him having to go see a shrink and the man flips out. And weíre talking about someone whoís never turned a mission down, no matter how disturbing or hellish it is. Iíve never seen anything faze him before, and the mere thought of a psychiatric session has him freaking out. No, they are definitely doing something, we just never caught on to it before." Because of the stubborn foolís habit of keeping everyone at arms length, not saying a word about anything that was hurting him. Well now he had Yohji Kudoh looking after him, even if it was an under appreciated, often thankless task.

"So what are you suggesting we do? Run away?" That would be a huge mistake, then Kritiker would be sure to know that something was going on, and make all efforts to track them down.

It seemed that Yohji realized this as well. "Iím not that stupid, it would mean our deaths more than likely. It was a miracle they left us alone for so long after the Takatori mess. No, Iím thinking it might be in WeiŖís best interest to flub a mission or two."

Omi wasnít sure that heíd understood what the other man had said. "What?"

"You heard me." Yohji stood up and pulled on the coat heíd left resting on the back of a chair. "Ever since Ayaís come on board weíve been damn near flawless, no wonder they think something is going on. But maybe if we screw up a little, make some mistakes, theyíll begin to wonder if they had it wrong after all. Itís worth a shot, at least."

All the younger blond did was shake his head. "And just how were you planning to explain to Aya that you want him to mess up an assignment? He needs the money, there is no way heíll agree to this."

Dammit, the chibi had a point. "Okay, we clearly need to think about this a little more. Youíre the master planner, come up with something."

"I donít see too many options here, Yohji. But," Omi added, when the older man scowled at him, "Iíll give the matter some thought. Right now I think that itís in our best interests to see what the doctors say." Crossing over to his friend, Omi patted his arm reassuringly. "And if by some chance we canít come up with a suitable solution, I have an ace in the hole. Ah, not telling you, " he said to Yohjiís curious look, "then it wouldnít be a secret. You think Iíd just sit back and let them take any of you guys away from me? Think again."

Feeling relieved as he saw the possessive gleam in the boyís blue eyes, Yohji couldnít resist hugging Omi tight. "I think Teddyís right, you do take after me, at least in some regards. Remind me to never cross you over something ever again, I can tell youíll be pure evil to deal with. Thanks a lot, chibi." Letting the young assassin go, Yohji put on his shades and made for the door. "I feel a hell of a lot better now. Just for that, Iíll bring you back two pints of ice cream, at the very least."

"No problem, Yohji-kun." Omi waved at the departing blond, then removed his supper from the microwave. Picking at his food, he pushed aside the worry and guilt gnawing at him. There was no way heíd let anyone break his family apart, but this latest development was not good. And he didnít know if Mastermindís silence over the matter was a good thing or bad. Knowing how protective the telepath was over Aya, it was a safe bet that he knew about the matter, and was planning something. Omi just wondered how many deaths it would involve. And if he really cared, when the people were hurting the ones he loved the most.

*******

Groaning in agony, Aya woke up, covered in sweat. He clutched his head between his hands, trying to calm his panting breaths. A feeling of desire, heartache and fear washed through him, making him tremble under the barrage. For a moment it felt as if someone was combing their fingers through his hair, brushing along his cheek. Jerking back from the imaginary touch, he almost fell out of bed from the overreaction. The motion made him hiss in pain, the room tilting about. With a shaky hand the redhead reached for his medication.

Once heíd grabbed the pills Aya looked about for some water, finding none. His throat too dry to swallow anything unaided, he crawled out of bed, limbs unsteady. There was no way he was going to make it all the way to the bathroom in this condition. Searching the spinning room, he found one of Yohjiís whiskey bottles. Fumbling off the lid, he quickly swallowed two each of the pills, leaning against the wall as he did so. Things were such a blur, he wasnít quite sure what was real and what wasnít.

Back on the bed Yohji muttered in his sleep, agitated about something he was dreaming. The blond rolled onto his back, brow furrowed as his head tossed back and forth. Aya stood there staring at him, watching as the other man eventually calmed down. Drawing a deep breath, he started for the bed, planning on laying beside his lover. But as he neared the furniture a vision flashed by too fast to see, a tangle of limbs on a strange bed, two voices moaning out garbled names. The pain spiked again, and once more he felt the bruising emotions, wringing a gasp from him. No, not the bed. Not now.

Scrambling away from it, Aya stood in the center of the room, whiskey bottle in one hand, pills in the other. More sensations assaulted him, long hair trailing along his flesh, a stubbled chin rasping against his neck, the scent of expensive cologne. It felt so real, for a moment the bedroom faded away, replaced by a hotel room that he swore he should know, somehow. Whimpering as he shook his head, the pale man sank down on the couch, lifting the bottle to his lips as he swallowed several mouthfuls of whiskey. The liquor burning down his throat brought him back to his surroundings, so he kept drinking until it was almost half gone. A sense of lethargy spread through him, dulling the hurt and aching loss that threatened to bring tears to his eyes. Slender fingers let go of the medication to stroke along a golden nearing, assuring its owner that it was still there. Aya felt as if it would be gone, his sister no longer a part of his life, vanished by his choice. The thought made him shiver.

Looking for a distraction, a pale hand felt about and found the remote to the stereo system. Turning it on, he started flipping through the cds as he tucked his knees under the sweatshirt he was wearing, feeling cold once more. It was while on an album by one of the dubbed "wailing piano bitches" that Kudoh enjoyed listening to every now and then that a song caught Ayaís attention.

I know that my face/ Is only too familiar to your sleep. I can see it in your eyes/ I can tell by your body heat. Why are you taking so long/ You need to come and find me, honey. To set your mind at rest/ And let your dreams run free.

Come here boy/ Oh come here boy, yeah/ Come here boy.

He drew in a sharp breath, mind once more filled with blurry visions. Of his mouth on skin paler than Yohjiís, tasting and smelling differently than the older manís. Of him crying out as the stranger thrust into him, making his body thrum in pleasure even now. Letting out a low moan, Aya took another swallow of whiskey.

Where Iíll be touching and holding caressing and giving you/ Your every fantasy, yeah

Iíll get you dreaming and lusting and burning and praying/ For more of this ecstasy, oh yeah.

It was insane, heíd never made love to anyone other than Yohji, let alone fantasized about it in such explicit detail. But it was as if he could feel what it was like to let another person touch and kiss him, feel the man thrust into him again and again. A name was on the tip of his tongue, teasing him so. He found himself hitting repeat, playing the song over again, the lyrics putting into words what he felt. Instead of a womanís voice he heard a nasal voice whispering in his head. Calling him precious, soothing him of his hurt. His heart ached as if it had been torn in two, there was another picture flashing through his mind, of Yohji walking away from him. Of him walking away from Aya-chan. It seemed so real, Aya felt tears stream down his face. He must be going mad. There was no other explanation. Why else would he be here crying over Kudoh leaving him, when the man was asleep no more than three meters from him?

Aya curled up even tighter as a sense of loss washed through him, a certainty that he would never see the blond or his sister again. The fear heíd felt all week long overwhelmed him, making him moan in pain. The pale man didnít know what hurt worse, his head or his heart. Just when he thought heíd convinced himself he was only imaging things, another lyric would set his imagination off, alternating visions of him and the stranger with Yohji holding an unknown woman in his arms.

There was a sound from the bed, Kudoh waking from sleep. The blond sat up and looked about, upon spying Aya got off the bed and settled next to him on the couch. Green eyes gazed at the younger man sleepily, widening in shock as Yohji picked up the pill bottles, rattling them about. Taking another swig of alcohol, Aya didnít say a word, not sure if he was imagining this or not. It was the older man who broke the silence. "What is it, love? Have a headache? I donít think you should be mixing the medication with alcohol like that." He nodded his head, and was surprised when the bottle was snatched from his hand. A feeling of relief washed through Aya, he wasnít imagining this after all.

When a golden hand reached out for his face he grabbed it, pulling on it until Kudoh scooted over and wrapped him in a hug. "Do you ever wonder at times if you are going crazy?" Aya shivered in the embrace, half afraid of what his lover might say. That the man might agree with him.

"All the time love," the blond soothed, rubbing hands up and down the smaller manís back. "Itís when you stop wondering that you know you have a problem. Something wrong, have a bad dream? Itíll be okay. I promise. I wonít let anything harm you." He rocked his lover in his arms. "Iíll never let you down, kitten. My word on it. Now why donít you try and go back to sleep, you really need it." Yohji settled back onto the couch, pulling Aya onto his lap, reaching for the blanket draped behind them and covering the both of them with it. The redhead snuggled close, desperate to convince himself that Yohji was not going to leave him any time soon.

"Donít want to dream anymore. Something bad is happening in them."

Yohji combed his fingers through Ayaís hair, hugging the slender figure close to him. "What do you mean? Whatís going on in these dreams, love?" As an image of Aya in bed with Mastermind flashed through his mind, the lanky arms tightened until his lover wheezed out a moan, ribs painfully constricted. "Sorry, kitten," the older man whispered, kissing a pale forehead in apology. Yohji didnít know where that picture had come from, nor the sudden rush of hatred and possessiveness. It wasnít like that had actually happened, Aya was his and only his, not matter how much the damned telepath wished otherwise.

He felt the quiet man draw in a deep breath, then haltingly start speaking again. "I donít know. I always remember my dreams, but I canít recall these ones. All I know is that in them Iím losing you forever, and now Aya-chan as well."

"Iíll never leave you, love. Gave you my word. And Iíd rather die than break a promise to you."

Yohjiís words reassured Aya almost as much as manís warm presence. Feeling the liquor and drugs tug at him, and not so afraid now that Kudoh was here, holding him tight, the redhead gave up on trying to stay awake. Yohjiís scent filled his nose, obliterating the strange cologne. Familiar warmth cooled the remembered passion, replacing it with love and security. It dimly registered upon Aya when he was held even closer, mumbled words following him into sleep.

*******

Schuldig strolled into the kitchen, whistling a cheerful tune. Three sets of eyes stared at him disbelievingly, cautious of yet another wild mood swing. The telepath didnít blame them, he had been a bit of an asshole the past couple of weeks, this was as out of character for him lately as Crawford showing up wearing sweatpants and a huge grin. Said killjoy just eyed him over the Wall Street Times, frowning slightly as the paper was gently shaken straight.

"And Guten Morgen to you too, mein FŁhrer. May your stocks go forth and multiply, or whatever." He snaked out a hand to ruffle a stunned Nagiís hair, the boy looked as if he spent the whole night in front of the computer screen. Probing his teammateís mind, he caught a quick image of a file before the boy erected a shield to keep him out. Ah, so that was how Bradley was going about finding out his tuberose being talented. Having already gone through the files that Nagi was tracking, he knew the two of them wouldnít uncover anything he needed to be worried about.

"Floods are bad, a sign of a weak and evil god. Fire is what is needed, purge forth all the believers, send them off to the hell they deserve. Burn them all, tie them to the stake, place the faggots in the hands of the pagans, the sinners, and we shall make the world one of light as God cries useless tears."

"Wow, Farfie, that was deep." The Irishman didnít look up from his cereal, instead started chanting a list of all the things he would start killing off by twoís, making God weep some more. You just had to love such a focused individual. Schuldig crossed over to the coffee maker, poured himself a cup and sat down next to Nagi. And proceeded to send the boy images of rather sluttish lingerie for him to purchase for Tot. He rather enjoyed it when his teammate choked on his toast at the crotchless panties and cupless bra ensemble, what little cloth there was covered with pictures of bunnies. The telepathís chair was immediately slammed forward, knocking the breath out of him as his rib cage impacted against the table. He managed to wheeze out a chuckle anyways.

Putting his paper down, Crawford regarded his subordinates. "Children, behave."

"He started it," Nagi pouted, then flushed red in the face when he realized what he sounded like. Pouting some more, the telekinetic gathered up his breakfast and muttered something about obscene Germans.

"Take Farfarello with you." The boy reached out with his talent, hauling the scarred man away from the table and out of the room, as Berserker kept going down his list. Most likely would be at it all day, until he ran out of species to kill. Dark blue eyes regarded Schuldig wearily. "It was a quiet morning until you appeared."

Preening a little, the younger man tossed back his hair and posed. "Thatís because Iím such a ray of sunshine, Crawford. Bringing light and joy wherever I go."

That earned him a snort. "More like dissension and homicidal impulses. What has you in such a good mood, dare I ask?"

"The thought of serving my dear Bradley-kins to the best of my ability today? Donít believe that? Ach, you need a sense of humor, Crawford. No sense on planning how to take over the world when youíre going to die of a stroke at thirty."

Crawford didnít say anything, just gazed levelly at the telepath.

"Well, if you must know, I had an incredible dream last night. Very steamy. You want the details? Bet I could get you all hot and bothered within five minutes, it was that good." Pale green eyes sparkled with humor at the American.

"This dream wouldnít happen to contain a certain swordsman, would it?" Schuldigís grin grew wider. About to issue another warning about letting his feelings for Abyssinian affect the team, Crawford just shook his head and resumed reading the paper. Now wouldnít be a good time to broach the subject, he wanted to wait until Nagi came up with some more concrete information. It paid to be prepared when dealing with the German.

It was a few minutes later when Schuldig spoke again. "Oh Crawford-san, I have a question for you."

"What?" He made sure to keep the irritation out of his voice. That would only encourage the bastard to continue annoying him if he knew how much he was getting to him.

"What would you say to me bringing home a certain kitten one night?"

Dark blue eyes blinked, Crawford was unable to completely suppress his surprise. "I wonít have an unwilling assassin kept hostage here, stash him someplace else."

<But what if he wasnít unwilling? What if he came here with me of his own choice?>

"I donít see that as ever happening. The man hates you, after all. And with good cause." At least it wouldnít happen in the time before the vision heíd had of the two men in Kyoto.

The telepath wisely bit back on the comment that there were a lot of things his leader wasnít seeing lately. <But if it did? Stranger things have been known to happen.> "I promise to love him and feed him and pet him and, well, sorry, draw the line at calling him George." At the blank look he received for that last part Schuldig frowned. "Come on, Crawford, that was from an American cartoon, of all things. No wonder youíre such a stick in the mud." <Trust me, it will happen, give it time. Now can I bring him here or not? Have to make other arrangements then.>

Crawford leaned across the table, never breaking eye contact with the other man. "I would expect him to pull his weight, be a part of this team. Wouldnít it be a bit difficult for a normal to fit in?"

"Oh, the Kštzchen will manage somehow. Danke." That said, Schuldig rose from the table, once more whistling as he left the room.

The American sat there in the now quiet kitchen, deep in thought. Mastermind had all but confirmed that Abyssinian was in fact talented. Maybe the man hadnít been trying to hide that bit of information after all. But something told him that there was more going on here, that the telepath wasnít being on the level about something. And he wouldnít rest until he found out what it was.

*******

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