Nothing Gold Can Stay

Chapter 7

*******

Yohji was trailing after Aya, wandering through a crowded department store filled with Nakashima look-alikes. The redhead would stay just out of reach, tossing back heated looks out of indigo dark, passion filled eyes. All he wanted was to grab the man and haul him off to the nearest changing room, ravish him silly until they got tossed out of the store for making too much noise. But the man kept flowing through the horde of women like water. It was so very damn frustrating.

Just when he was finally gaining ground on his kitten, the store and everything else faded into smoke, Aya last of all. Next came the voice, feminine and with a trace of an accent. "The Five of Pentacles is at hand. It brings the star child loss."

"Princess, is that you?" Yohji glanced around, trying to catch sight of the petite woman dressed in rags. There was nothing but grey smoke and a hint of flowers in the air. "What the hell are you talking about now?"

"The star child. Your lover. The Erinyes are poised to strike. His soul will be snatched away, breaking him. Be there you must, he canít choose the right thread to follow without support. Hold him close and do not let him go until back he comes." The grey world darkened, and before Yohji could question the matter any further it suddenly flared to light, making him close his eyes in pain.

Opening his eyes, Yohji realized that heíd been dreaming after having drifted back to sleep. It appeared that Aya had as well, the man was bonelessly pressed against his side, a pale arm flung over his chest. Brushing back crimson bangs that desperately needed a trim, the playboy lightly traced a finger along an arch of cheekbone, down along his loverís jaw. Long dark lashes fluttered for a second but remained closed. Guess the kitten was worn out. Male pride crowing over that fact for a moment, the blond started to stroke his hand through Ayaís hair.

With his other hand he searched out his pack of cigarettes, pulling one out and lighting it quickly. Now this was the life. Or would be, once his hangover completely went away. Yohji swore to never mix sake and whatever the hell heíd been drinking at the bar ever again; heíd felt like shit when heíd first woken up. Fortunately Aya had taken pity on him and gone to the bathroom to fetch him some water and pain medication, not to mention clean himself off from last night. Too bad the pale man hadnít remained clean for long, Yohji had managed to persuade him to serve as a Ďdistractioní from the pain. Not that Aya had needed much coaxing. He didnít know what sudden change had come over the man, but Yohji whole-heartedly approved of it. Theyíd spent a couple of hours in bliss, making love again and again. Now wonder theyíd fallen back to sleep.

What was even nicer was the fact that this was all they had to look forward to today. The door was locked, preventing any suicidal agents from trying to drag them off on some mission, he had his cigarettes and Aya had taken his medication. Food would become important at some point that day, well for him at least, but they could easily hold out for another couple of hours. Heíd let his love sleep a little longer and then wake the man to see if they couldnít beat their all-time record for sex on a Sunday. Nothing like having a goal for the day.

Cigarette finished and eyes growing droopy again, Yohji felt Aya shift against him. The arm about his chest suddenly hugged a hell of a lot tighter, and it sounded as if the man was mumbling the words Ďcome backí over and over. His hand resumed stroking through Ayaís silky hair as he tried to soothe the nightmare away. "Aya love, wake up. Itís just a dream." The slender form suddenly went stiff for a few heartbeats, when it relaxed a pair of dark violet eyes were slowly revealed.

"Yohji?"

"Hmm, here kitten. You alright?" The older man watched as Aya sat up, hugging his arms tight against him. For a moment the redhead looked so young and defenseless it tugged at Yohjiís heart. "Another bad dream?"

"Yeah." When his boyfriend held out his arms in invitation Aya didnít hesitate to fall into them, letting the man hold him close. "But I canít make sense of it, everythingís a blur." All that he was sure of was someone he loved was being taken away from him, and he was helpless to prevent it from happening. The feeling was getting quite old. "I hate this."

Yohji wasnít too happy about the nightmares plaguing the younger man himself. "Well, there is one solution we can try. Just have to keep you from sleeping." He grasped a pale hand and lifted it to his mouth, nibbling on the palm. "What say you to giving that a go?"

The hand was jerked away, coming back to briefly bink him on the nose. Pushing up on his arms, Aya regarded his lover bemusedly. "How can you still want more after this morning? Donít you ever get tired of sex?"

"Now that," Yohji commented as he rolled Aya onto his back, "is an incredibly stupid question. Of course I never do, itís the whole of my existence." He leered at the redhead before swooping in for a kiss. When he pulled back he was happy to see Aya actually smiling for once. "Itís our day off, Iíve got you in bed, what else did you expect me to do? Gonna take advantage of this for as long as I can." Dark blond eyebrows waggled up and down, making the smile on the swordsmanís face go up a notch in intensity. Yohji bent down for another swift kiss.

"Huhn, maybe I will look into getting you neutered. Tomorrow." Aya tucked back a strand of Yohjiís hair, wanting to see the manís face. Which was grimacing over that last remark. Letting his hand rest on the blondís shoulder, it skimmed down until it traced the outline of an inverted cross. A thought suddenly occurred to the quiet man. "So who won the bet last night?"

Thrown off track by the question, it took the playboy a moment to decipher it. "At the bar, you mean?" Aya nodded. "Uh, you know, I donít think we ever figured it out. Just looked back at the table to check up on you and Saito, and once we discovered you two gone we panicked." The amount of alcohol Teddy and him had imbibed hadnít helped matters either, Yohji wasnít sure he wanted to go back to that particular bar any time soon, might find out heíd made a few offers that he had no intention of keeping. "Great, you do realize that Stout will probably insist on finishing it one night, just to find out whoís the winner."

"I wouldnít worry about Stout much anymore," Aya said with a hint of an evil smile on his lips. Yohji knew that look very well and decided he didnít want to question the matter any further. Whatever the American had coming the poor bastard deserved it.

"Then I wonít. Now back to what we were first discussing. Something about sex, if I remember correctly." Once more kissing Aya, Yohji let a hand trail down the manís smooth skin, stopping to toy with a silver navel ring. He tried to decide how he wanted to take his redhead this time. From behind or face to face or maybe even him on his back for once, so many options to choose from. While trying to make up his mind there was a knock on their door.

Shit.

*******

Balancing a full tray on one hand, Omi quickly knocked on the closed door. When the first two knocks failed to generate a response he rapped the wood again, blowing a lock of hair out of his eyes. "You guys awake in there? Itís past noon, thought you might like something to eat." Nothing that he could hear, maybe they were sleeping. About to give up and take the food back downstairs, the youth was startled to see the door suddenly open but no one emerge from the room.

Cautiously entering the bedroom, he caught a quick flash of Yohji diving back underneath the covers, clearly naked. The man settled the blankets over his lap as a sleepy Aya fumbled for something on the floor by the bed, which turned out to be his sweatshirt. "Morning, chibi. Thought you were Manx or Birman for a minute, didnít want to unlock the door for them." One of Yohjiís hands reached over to straighten out a lock of his loverís hair that was sticking up in the air. Aya batted the hand away and pulled on the sweatshirt. Then he curled up beside the older man, resting his chin on Yohjiís shoulder.

Distracted with watching the redheadís actions, Omi was surprised when he felt the tray being tugged from his hands. "Wah- Yotan, be careful not to spill the drinks. Brought some eggs up for you guys, sorry but there isnít much left in the fridge besides that. Iím about to head out and do some shopping, you two want anything?"

Setting the tray on the bed, Yohji nodded his head. "Yeah, I need a new carton of cigarettes. Get me a couple of six-packs too while youíre out, thereís some money on the dresser."

"Mah, I feel like such an enabler, helping you with your addictions," the youth commented as he sat down on the end of the bed. Blue eyes watched as the older blond handed a mug of tea to his silent lover, then picked up the coffee and bottle of aspirin with a grateful smile on his face. Omi acknowledged the unspoken thanks, well aware that the man had to be feeling some effects of all the alcohol he must have consumed last night. Yohji had definitely seemed rather drunk when he had woken him and Ken up last night with his yelling. The archer couldnít quite believe that the man was in one piece and looking relatively unbruised after coming home the way he did. Aya must have taken it easy on him.

The terror in question took another sip of his beverage and set about eating his eggs. After a minute Yohji did the same, wrinkling his nose for some reason before shoveling a forkful into his mouth. "Something wrong, Yohji?"

"Just convincing my stomach that itís a good idea to eat after all." Here heíd lived with the boy going on what, three years? And it was Aya who knew that he liked his eggs over easy when he had a hangover. He knew there was a reason he loved the man so much. But food was food, and meant that he didnít have to leave his bed to raid the fridge until evening at the very earliest now. The two of them made quick work of their meal, not saying a word as they ate. When finished, Aya stacked the plates back on the tray and refilled his teacup from a small pot. Green eyes looked up to find blue ones regarding him and Aya intently. "Thanks again, kiddo. It was nice of you to bring us something." Did the kid want something, was that why he was still hanging around? Well, if it was a demonstration of the advice Aya had given him the other night, Omi was out of luck. No way in hell he was putting on a show for a minor. Not to mention what was sure to be Ayaís reaction to the matter. Yohji reached over to gather his lover in his arms, in case the man decided to go for his sword when Omi made his request.

Omi nodded his head as a blush spread along his cheeks. "It wasnít a problem, and I knew that you wouldnít want to uhm, get out of bed for a while yet." The couple was never often seen on Sundays until late afternoon usually, unless something came up to disturb their idyll. "Just wanted to show my appreciation to Aya for the suggestion he gave me."

In the middle of being pulled onto Yohjiís lap, Aya glanced at the boy in curiosity. A crimson eyebrow lifted eloquently. Omi continued on. "I uh, tried one of your suggestions on Ken yesterday. It worked pretty good."

Flummoxed that any romantic advice his anti-social lover had dispensed hadnít blown up in the chibiís face, Yohji rested his chin on top of Ayaís head. "Oh come on, you canít leave us hanging. What did you do to the poor dumb jock?"

Picking up a fork, Omi prevented himself from throwing it just in time. It wouldnít do to hit Aya by accident. Yohji seemed to think this as well and just smirked at him from behind the safety of his boyfriend. "Heís _not_ a dumb jock." Well, not very much at least. What with his ridiculous insistence that Omi was too young to know his own heart. "Heís just got some stupid ideas stuck in his head. Anyways, I tried ignoring him yesterday." The youth just grinned.

"And? Come on, spill Omittchi, itís not nice to tease."

The youngest WeiŖ stuck out his tongue. "But you do it all the time, Yohji-kun." As the two older assassins glared at him the boy relented. "You should have seen it, he followed me around all last night, asking me if there was something wrong, if heíd done something to upset me." Omi had enjoyed every minute of it, relishing having the tables turned for once. It was about time Ken tried to please him, he was sick of chasing after the man and not getting anywhere.

Yohji burst out into a laugh, arms wrapped tight around his lover. "Oh my, I think youíve created a monster, kitten. Poor Hidaka. Just how long are you going to let him suffer, Omi?"

"A little bit longer. I think he deserves it." Omi sniffed as he stood up, serious expression breaking out in a grin as the older blond kept laughing. "Donít you?" Yohji nodded his head as the teenager walked over to the dresser to grab some yen. He then picked up the tray and headed for the door. "You two have fun, are we going to see you for dinner?"

"Maybe, maybe not." Yohji just barely managed to block a bony elbow from impacting against his ribs. "Wasnít planning on it, but I think I wanna catch a glimpse of Ken groveling through dinner." Omi flashed him a quick smile before closing the door behind him. Shaking his head, Yohji sighed at the thought of how much his brunet teammate was going to suffer. Oh well, better Ken than him. Somehow heíd managed to stay on his boyfriendís good side even with the stunt heíd pulled last night. About time someone else was in the romantic doghouse. It was time as well to get back to the matter at hand. Catching Ayaís chin in his hand, he tilted it upward until the manís neck was stretched and exposed. "Now where were we?"

*******

Schuldig rested on the living room couch, his head tilted back on the furniture. Balinese was ravishing his precious again, what was with the man? He could understand why Aya put up with it, the other redhead was desperate for assurances that he was wanted and loved. But the man-whore didnít have any excuse besides rampant hormones. "Was fŁr ein Schwanzlutscher."

Ah, but he was gaining quite the insight into his tuberoseís preferences, at least. What things the man truly liked and what he put up with because his over-sexed boyfriend enjoyed doing it. Knowledge that he looked forward to putting to good us one day. Soon, it wouldnít be long now, not after tonight. Things would be set into motion that would lead to his dreams coming true; Aya would be his before the year was out. All he had to do was wait.

The sound of footsteps distracted the telepath from his link with the catalyst. Opening his eyes he found Crawford standing in front of him, a serious look as usual on the handsome face. "Mein Fuhrer, how best can I serve you?" Schuldig so loved getting a rise out of the man, seeing that slight furrow between the ebony brows.

"I want to have a talk to you about something."

Schuldig sat up straight and clapped his hands. "Bradley-kins! I knew it would only be a matter of time before you became interested in sex. You want me to explain about the birds and the bees now, or are bees and bees more your type of thing? Stay here, I have some magazines that will help explain things perfectly." He made to get off of the couch.

"Mastermind, _sit_." Crawford didnít need to be psychic to know he was going to suffer through one hell of a headache before this discussion was over with. Why couldnít he have selected the medium from South Africa when he was assembling Schwarz? No, he had to go with a troublesome telepath, even had ignored the warnings other had offered him about the man. They better be able to free themselves from Essetís hands after all, or Crawford was going to take out some of his frustrations by shooting Schuldig repeatedly before the elders dragged him off to be punished for his attempt at betrayal. "This isnít about my sex life, but a topic I believe you are even more interested in. I want to talk about Aya Fujimiya." Out of the corner of his eye the American caught sight of a lurking figure. "Nagi, leave us alone, weíre in the middle of discussing something here."

Schuldig leaned back in the couch and waved his hand. "Let the boy sit in on this, Crawford. Maybe heíll learn something. Besides, isnít he already involved?"

Blue eyes regarded the telepath for a moment as Nagi warily crept into the room, sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table. "You knew about the search I had Prodigy conduct, didnít you?"

"Ja." Schuldig flashed his teeth at his leader. "If you had any questions, Brad, you could have just asked me. What do you want to know about the Kštzchen? About how he shivers if you massage the small of his back? Or something more boring, like how he always has to floss before he brushes?" He pulled out a cigarette and lit it, being very careful to mask his tension with flippancy. The old witchís words echoed in his head, how he wasnít supposed to lie to the precog, but didnít have to tell him the whole truth about his heart either.

It was time to cut to the chase, try to shake up the damn smug man. See if he couldnít have a few suspicions confirmed. "I want you to tell me about his power, Mastermind. Just how long were you planning on keeping that small fact a secret? Didnít you ever think that Schwarz might be interested in knowing that one of our enemies is a talent?"

Blowing out smoke before he answered the question, the German caught the focused attention that Nagi was directing towards this conversation. He paused to scan the boyís thoughts. Hmm, seemed that his tuberose had gained a supporter already. Something important to keep in mind. "Heís latent, well mostly. I didnít see how his talent would matter if he wasnít actively using it." That was one lie that he knew the precog would see through, but didnít think it would negatively affect things. Besides, the uptight bastard would be suspicious if he didnít bend the truth at some point in their conversation.

Crawford leaned forward in his seat, hands resting on his knees. "You didnít think that I should know that WeiŖ is lead by a precog, even a latent one? You know as well as I do what sort of trouble he could cause us."

"You in particular, ne?" Blue and green eyes stared at each other, a smirk being met by a slight frown. Prodigy glanced back and forth between the two men, curious as to what that comment had meant but afraid to draw attention to himself. <Go ahead and ask it, Nags. Bradley-poo wonít kick you out for doing so; youíll be learning something. Right oh illustrious leader?> Crawford nodded his head.

Shifting about nervously, Nagi did as he was bid. "What does he mean, Oracle? What trouble could a latent precog cause you?"

"It is possible, if one has the talent and will, for one precog to block the visions of another. Which seems to be the case here. I believe Abyssinian has been preventing me from accurately seeing the outcomes of our clashes, among other things. Even if he is unaware of doing so." Schwarzís leader stared hard at Schuldig. "Just how latent is he?"

The German waved his hand lazily through the air. "Heís still mostly powerless." Relatively speaking, the boy wasnít using a fraction of what he had inside of him. "The power slips through the leash heís put on it every now and then, especially when heís fighting or on a mission, but for the most part he doesnít touch it except subconsciously. Poor kitty is terrified at the thought of not being normal, itíll be a real challenge to get him to acknowledge what heís got and consciously use it. Iíve been helping to rein him in some as well, trying to push back the time his talent breaks free until he can properly handle it." Schuldig was very careful to not exactly spell out what Ayaís talent was, it was to their benefit that Crawford assumed the man was a precog, much like everyone else.

"But why would he be afraid of it?" Nagi was confused. It wasnít as if Abyssinianís power was like his, extremely destructive if not carefully controlled, or like Schuldigís, which could be very painful for its owner if not kept under wraps. "And how can he be blocking Crawford, especially if he doesnít even know heís doing it?"

Crawford glared at the youth for a second, anger and embarrassment written on his face for a heartbeat before it became impassive once more. Schuldigís grin grew wider. <Not a smart question to ask, Nagi-kins. What it means is that Abyssinianís power is stronger than Oracleís. Even if heís not aware of using it. As long as the talent is there, and the will knowingly or not focused on it, even a latent precog can block another one. If they are as strong or if not even stronger than the other.> Nagi was still a bit confused, but decided not to press the issue at the moment. "The boy was raised to detest the idea of being abnormal. Itís in the psych files that Kritiker has assembled on him, guess you guys havenít had the time to read through all those yet."

"Not completely, but Iíve gotten the general idea from them." The American noticed when his unruly subordinateís shoulders tensed for a moment. Mastermind had good cause for not being happy over him seeing those files. "Abyssinian definitely has some issues. What I want to know is who gave you permission to kill or drive insane Kritiker personnel the way you did? That was incredibly reckless and stupid, what you did. Repeatedly." Esset would have the manís hide if they ever found out what heíd been up to.

"Heís _mine_, those fuckers were messing with his head, trying to break both the shield around his power and his will at the same time. If I hadnít have stepped in the bastards would have destroyed his mind." Schuldig was snarling in a possessive fury, hands clenching on the remains of his cigarette until the filter was shredded. Nagi looked on in shock as Crawford let a slight smile curve his lips. Yes, it was much better when Schuldig was reacting and not plotting. Now that the man was shaken up he could ask the rest of his questions. "You only served to bring him to the attention of his masters all the more, what with you playing with their psychiatrists and the dreams. You are partly responsible for the hell that Abyssinian has been put through. And you think heís ever going to forgive you for that fact and willingly join you here?"

"He will. Aya is _mine_, deep down he knows that and has even acknowledged it. It will only be a matter of time."

As if on cue Nagi added his two cents to the discussion. Crawford was careful not to let his smile get any bigger, things were going just as he had planned. "But, Abyssinian is one of us. Of course he has to join Schwarz. He canít be left with a bunch of _normals_. Theyíll only turn on him when they find out the truth, we canít leave him there now!"

"I donít need my power to see that forcing the man to join us would be a disaster. Abyssinian will need some sort of incentive to willingly come here, maybe being betrayed by his teammates would do." For a moment the clairvoyant thought of the one vision heíd had of Schuldig and Fujimiya together, he knew it had involved a betrayal of sorts from the hands of Balinese. But he had seen nothing else to judge if the man would break from WeiŖ and his lover permanently or if it would just be a single incident. Yet Schuldig was very incessant about the swordsman coming to him of his own free will, how did he know? That was a matter that he would have to look into more closely. He waited for the teenager to speak again.

"What if they try to kill him? Schuldig says his talent is latent, and itís not like my telekinesis, which would help protect him. Heís just a precog." The telekinetic was about to add something else but quickly snapped his mouth shut when he realized what had just come out. It has sounded as if he was implying that precogs were helpless, something that Oracle was anything but. However, when his remark was met only with silence, Nagi finished his thought. "Isnít he?" The American had said something last night about Abyssinian possibly possessing another talent.

Once more Crawford stared at Schuldig. "Isnít he," he asked, echoing the teenager.

It took a few seconds before the German would answer that question, and then clearly begrudgingly. "Heís more than just a simple precog." The telepath was clearly not happy with that admission

"What is he, Mastermind?"

Schuldig pulled out another cigarette, letting irritation settle on his face. <You seem to have all the answers, oh mighty Oracle. Why donít you enlighten us? Tell us what you think Abyssinian has been doing.>

"Heís doing more than just blocking me, heís actually influenced certain outcomes." Crawford waited to see how his teammate would react to that statement. If he would try to deny it or not.

"Ill wight." That was it, two more words even more begrudgingly uttered in a harsh tone of voice. The precog wondered why he didnít feel so victorious for forcing the confession from the other man.

"What-." The word slipped from Prodigyís lips, causing both of the men to look at him. When he wasnít yelled or glared at he continued with the question. "Whatís an ill wight?"

An ebony eyebrow was cocked in query, an unruly mop of hair nodded in response. "An ill wight is someone who can, in a small way, direct fate. Can make certain events happen by sheer will alone." Bradley Crawfordís eyes took on a distant sheen as he recalled what he had been taught at Rosenkrantz. "Literally, they are an Ďill wishí, they mean harm for usually someone they hate or seek vengeance against. Itís a very rare talent, and requires a very strong will to control it, harness it enough to focus on certain individuals exclusively. Most often it manifests by people who have harmed or angered the ill wight having misfortune fall upon them."

"Abyssinian sought Takatoriís destruction. Can he have used it against him even if heís latent."

<Can and did, Nagi-kins. Can and did.>

Which explained how the short-tempered fool had managed to survive for so long, Crawford thought. "Ill wights are extremely rare, along with their counterparts, blessed beís. Who are talents whose powers bestow good fortune as opposed to tragedy to them and their loved ones. Both are highly sought after, and only a couple ever appear at any given time, over the whole wide world."

Schuldig let a proud grin spread across his face. "Meaning my little kitty is infinitely precious. Now you see why I didnít want you to know, at least while I thought you were still Essetís willing puppet? If they catch wind of what he is theyíll snatch him up and lock him away so quick, break him until he was obedient."

Oracle nodded his head. "Like Cassandra." Nagi, to no surprise, appeared confused at mention of the woman. Interesting enough though, Mastermind again tensed for a fleeting second. Was that how the man was getting his information, had he made a deal with the madwoman? Crawford knew something that the telepath didnít; a reason why the woman might want to help him, but as far as he knew the man was in the dark about his parentage. "So Abyssinian is an ill wight. The man has irreparable value."

Schuldig warned himself to be very, very careful. Damn Brad for being an observant bastard, he knew the older man had caught his slight reaction to hearing the witchís name. As a slip it wasnít quite so bad, he would assume that any foreknowledge that he had was attributed to her and not his heart. But to give anything about Aya awayÖ that would be disastrous. His head nodded, supposedly in agreement. "There is only one talent even more valuable and rare than an ill wight or blessed be."

"Catalyst." The words were almost reverent on the black-haired manís lips. Schuldig nodded again, this time truly in agreement, being very careful where this conversation went. To not mention that talent would possibly raise Crawfordís curiosity over why he had avoided mention of it. Now, with Nagi here, he could pass it off as a lesson, use it to lay any suspicions his leader had on the matter to rest. It was bad enough the uptight prick had figured out the ill wight part. "I can feel the question burning in your mind, Nags. ĎWhatís a catalyst?í. Well, if you think the other two that Unser FŁhrer mentioned were rare, imagine what you get when you mix the two together, only not can they influence what is around them and the people who have attracted their attention for good or ill, but they can influence _anything_. Fate becomes a willing whore for them."

"A wonderful analogy there, Mastermind. What the man is trying to say, Prodigy, is that a catalyst can twist the future however they see fit, sometimes on a small level, sometimes global. Usually they have some sort of impact on history, most cataclysmic events can be traced back to them."

<Hence the name, cute, ne?> He received a glare for that thought.

"Schuldig, donít interrupt me, youíll confuse the boy. As I was saying, many of historyís pivotal events can be traced back to them, or happened in their name. Sparta won the Peloponnesian war with the aid of a Syracusan catalyst. In 410 AD the Visigoths invaded Rome on an oracleís prophecy that a catalyst had been born in the city. No one knows if the prophecy was correct, but considering how they faded from history, itís doubtful they ever found the child, or if one had indeed been born. The failure of Kublai Khanís army to fully land in Japan is attributed to a typhoon willed into being by a young catalyst living in a monastery near Hakata Bay. Saladin was himself one, the rarest of all in fact, a catalyst that actively took part in history, instead of pulling the strings on someone elseís behalf. He successfully brought the Arab world together and fended off the Crusaders in the twelfth century." Brown eyes went wider with each cited example.

"These impacts have been felt in recent times as well. A niece who many believed to have committed suicide in 1931 aided Hitlerís rise to power, in all actuality heíd hid the child away, somehow sensing her power ever since she was born. The United States Armyís intelligence found out about the young woman, and it was her subsequent capture that led to the manís downfall, and that countryís rise to prominence after the war. The catalyst didnít survive on American soil for long, her uncle had broken her too much, but she set in motion much of the cold war at Trumanís insistence. Those are but a minute example of how these people have affected various civilizations throughout the world."

Shaking his head, the telekinetic tried to absorb all of these facts. Heíd never heard of the three talents the older men were discussing this afternoon, let alone imagine they could be so important. "Just how rare are these people?"

"Extremely." Schuldig rested his head back on the couch, playing with a long strand of his hair in a manner that clearly expressed just how bored he was with the discussion. "It is an exceptional circumstance if more than one is born in a century. In almost all cases they are heralded by a prophecy of sorts, one psychic who foresees them and passes the news on. Then comes the mad scramble to lay hands on the poor child, raise it so one can benefit from its talent. You have to be careful, they are often emotionally fragile creatures, and most of their power is focused on those they love, gain that and you can make things happen however you want. Push them too far, and well, like Crawford said, poor Geli resulted in the concentration camps and the atomic bomb. She twisted things in madness, and that manifested in the events that took place around her. Sometimes they change big things and sometimes little, but they always leave their mark, either by making something happen or preventing it. Now Schuldig-sempai is tired and hungry, any more questions Crawford or can I go get something to eat?"

"One more, what are your intentions with Fujimiya?"

Green eyes gazed coldly back at the emotionless man. "To have him, plain and simple. To use his power to protect me and mine. Make sure that I never dance on the end of someoneís strings ever again. Random chaos and mayhem would be nice as well, but Iíll settle for the first three. A word of warning, never once let it enter your head to control him, _I_ will be the one to do that. Heís mine."

The threat didnít seem to much faze the other man. "Donít threaten me, Mastermind. That is not a very wise thing to do. But I understand your concern. Abyssinian is yours, just see to it that you never forget what you owe Schwarz. Nor that you will never be free without us." That said, Crawford waved the man away, reaching down for the remote to turn on a news channel.

Still holding a tight rein on his emotions, Schuldig got off the couch and walked to the kitchen. Once there he pulled a beer from the fridge and a pizza from the freezer, preparing the oven to bake it. That taken care of, he turned around to face his young teammate. "Lunch will be ready in twenty minutes." He sat down at the table, waiting for the boy to do so as well. "Listen Nagi, you have any questions on what the illustrious leader or I were talking about, donít by any means go searching online. I donít care how good a hacker you are, using any three of those terms on any electrical apparatus will attract attention none of us want."

He read the boyís jumbled thoughts, trying to figure out what he wanted to ask first. Nagi felt his presence and slammed a shield up in place, producing a stab of pain in the telepathís mind. "Now that wasnít nice at all, Nags."

"Neither is messing around in a teammateís head. What are you going to do now, are you going to bring Abyssinian here?"

"Yes, when heís ready." Schuldig grinned in anticipation of that day. Then imagined the look on Crawfordís face when he found his team possessing not an ill wight and precog but a catalyst. At that point it would be too late for the American to try and sink his hooks in his tuberose, in fact it was already too late. "He still has to realize just how completely he is mine."

Tracing a finger over the crosses that Farfarello had carved into the tabletop, Nagi voiced the question that he had been holding back the past few minutes. "Do you know that you make him sound like a possession, Schu? How can he be yours?"

"He. Is." The older man spared his companion a frown.

"Okay, so he is yours then, just like we are Essetís. Whatís the difference between you and the elders? They own us, which is why we are trying to break free of them. Why should you own Abyssinian when you want freedom yourself?"

Schuldig crushed the can between his hands, wishing it was the teenagerís arm or some other body part. How dare the little prick compare him to those senile bastards? "Itís not the same at all. Heís mine because he is, Iíve protected him these last few years, Iíve helped to make his wishes come true. If it wasnít for me heíd be dead the past three years, along with his family. That day he became mine."

Clearly seeing that it would be very dangerous to continue this discussion, Nagi wisely dropped it. "Will he like it here, with us? You said he was brought up to hate those who were abnormal."

The older man shook his head and offered the boy a friendly smile, calm once again. Any time he thought of Aya by his side permanently it put him in a good mood. "No, he was brought up to hate thinking _he_ was abnormal, thereís a difference. Once heís here heíll be happy, Iíll make sure of that." Much more than the man-whore did, constantly hurting his precious heart. Once he had Aya near there would be no more need to hurt the man anymore. "Heíll be happy." Schuldigís gaze shifted over to the window, where he was surprised to see that it had started to rain. Letting his thoughts drift he felt what the catalyst was up to at the moment. He too was staring at the rain, thinking of his sister, about visiting her. The dread and sense of loss was still there, Schuldig pushed it back as far as he could, feeling the other manís talent struggle in its cage to entwine with his. As soon as he was done with lunch he would have to go lie down upstairs, reach Cassandra and make sure that everything was set for tonight. That power would surely try to break free, he needed to be prepared for it. "But first I have to break his heart." The telepath didnít even realize that he had spoken the last out loud, lost as he was in Ayaís thoughts.

Nagi glanced worriedly at the German, wondering what the man was thinking of. He didnít like the possess attitude Schuldig held over Abyssinian, it didnít seem right. Once the Japanese man was with them heíd have to make sure that Schuldig treated him right.

*******

Aya wrinkled his nose and sat up on the bed, pulling away from a smoking, content Yohji. The room stank of sex and cigarettes, he needed to open the window and let some fresh air in. When he turned towards it the redhead realized that it was raining once again. He got out of bed, tugging off a loosened sheet and wrapping it around his waist as he crossed the room. Once at the window he shoved it open and perched on the sill, staring out into the rain.

As with so many things anymore, the sight stirred mixed emotions in him. Memories of him and Aya-chan playing in the rain combined with vague dreams of him in a strange room, letting someone other than Yohji make love to him. It didnít make any sense, and he was so tired of being plagued by these half-forgotten reveries. They didnít do anything more than hurt and trouble him. There were more than enough things in the waking world that did that as well, Aya didnít need the added stress of what his dreams were doing to him. He wished he could be more like his teammates and be content to just live in the moment. But until his sister was awake and well he just didnít see that happening.

Thinking of his sister, he reflected on how he hadnít been able to see her the past two days. He would have to break Yohjiís heart and leave the room at some point that day, pay the comatose girl a visit. Maybe take her some flowers. As he made his plans Aya felt pressure build in his head, his body flush with a roiling heat. The sensation only lasted for a few heartbeats, leaving him cold and empty once more. Pondering the weird occurrence, he was shook out of his thoughts by Yohjiís voice.

"So you leave a nice, comfy bed filled with the sexiest man alive to go brood on an uncomfortable windowsill? Those shrinks ever tell you just how crazy you are, love?"

Dark violet eyes looked over to glare menacingly at the smirking playboy. "But you deliberately antagonizing me is the epitome of sanity?"

"Good point." Yohji got out of bed and joined his lover over at the window, uncaring that anyone looking in could spy him in all his glory. Aya thought of mentioning to the man that he was naked and exposing himself, but figured it would just be a waste of breath. Kudoh was an exhibitionist extraordinaire; he was probably doing it on purpose. The blond stood beside him, a hand stroking through his hair as they watched the rainfall together. The silence stretched on for quite a while. "Mmm, you feel up to another excursion in the park?"

Aya leaned back his head and regarded his lover with a small smile. "I donít know, you up to leaving the bedroom today, not to mention swallowing a bunch of muddy water again?"

"Maybe, as long as Iím out having my fun with you. Learned my lesson from last time, wonít wear those boots again." Yohji double-checked the sky, making sure there wasnít a hint of lightning. Time to drag the kitten off to a secluded section of the park and have his way with him, while Aya was in such an unresisting mood. Sooner or later the manís sex drive would return to normal, which meant that heíd have to take advantage of this for as long as it lasted. It would be nice to take a stab at a fantasy that had been building in his head the past couple of days. "Weíll see if we canít have you doing all the swallowing this time out." He smirked as an elegant crimson brow went up at the double entendre.

"I want to visit my sister first, if you can control yourself that long."

Brushing back the long bangs, Yohji kissed his pale boyfriend on the nose. "Well, if you promise to make it worth my while, Iíll behave myself while I sit in the cafť next door." Before he could pull away Aya grabbed him by the hair and tugged his face down for a kiss on the lips. When he was let go of Yohji was panting and about to haul the man back to the bed.

"When donít I make it worth your while?"

All Yohji could do was stare at the wicked smile gracing his loverís mouth, the gleam in the dark eyes. "Itís a deal." That said, he picked up the man, earning a short bark of laughter from Aya when he was carried to the bed and dropped onto it. The playboy quickly followed.

*******

SchŲn snapped her whip at a paper target, ripping it to shreds. Then repeated the action, again and again, until almost all the targets lined up on the opposite wall were tatters floating in the air.

"You need to save some energy for the mission tonight," Hell reminded her, having just entered the room to check up on her teammates. "I doubt that we will run into WeiŖ, but it would be pointless for you to exhaust yourself before then."

The whip snapped two more times then stilled. "If memory serves me correctly, the last time you tried kidnapping Abyssinianís sister you were sure that there wouldnít be any problems." Somehow the damn man had showed up in time to prevent the kidnapping then, Hell had been forced to retreat after killing a hospital orderly. All of their attempts on WeiŖ had failed that day. Like their codenames, the bastards had nine lives.

"All the more reason for you to stop this now and rest, Schreiend will need to be on our toes tonight. This is not some private hospital, but one of Kritikerís own establishments. Even if no one is suspecting us, there will most likely be some fighting." Hell watched the blonde for a few seconds, as the other woman ran a finger up and down her healed cheek. "We will be successful this time, and WeiŖ will suffer because of it."

"Abyssinian will, at the very least." Mindful of what her hand was doing, SchŲn forced it away from her face, made it fall to her side. "When will we make the rest of them suffer? They owe us for Masafumi, and-"

"And for what they did to you as well." Hell reached out and took the whip away, patting the former model on her shoulder. "Siberian will pay, trust me on this. First Abyssinian though, he struck the last blow. Then we will be able to use the fact that we hold his sister hostage against the rest of the team." Schreiendís leader looked over to where Neu leaned against the wall, a silent ghost. "We will twist Balineseís heart, give him hope of regaining something he lost long ago and have him betray his team for our benefit. That done, Siberian will be delivered into your hands. Trust me on this."

SchŲn smiled and gave the older woman a brief hug. "I know, and I trust your plan. We will have our revenge, and Masafumi back as well. I just worry. Things never seem to go well when we face WeiŖ, I donít want anyone to be hurt tonight." Hell returned the hug and patted her teammate on the untouched cheek.

"Donít worry, after tonight we will have the advantage. One that we will use to break them."

*******

Aya exited the elevator, a hand brushing along his lips, still warm from the brief kiss Yohji had given him before sending him on his way. All he wanted to do was run back to the coffee shop his lover was waiting for him in, to flee the hospital before something bad happened, but his feet continued on the familiar path to Aya-chanís room. As he passed the nurseís station the assassin felt his muscles tighten in apprehension, waiting for one of the women to wave him over, inform him of his appointment with a psychiatrist.

But all the nurses did were smile at him and exclaim at the dozen of roses he had brought for his sister. Aya nodded back to them before entering the room. It was dark, what with the sky outside covered with grey clouds, so he turned on the light beside the bed. Aya-chan had always hated the dark, heíd teased her about approaching her sixteenth birthday and still needing a night light in her bedroom. That had earned him a magazine filled with beauty tips being hurled at his head with more anger than accuracy, being called a mean and rude brother. Aya smiled sadly to remember that this had occurred a month before the explosion. Heíd let his sister bring a friend to the restaurant he worked at and snuck the both of them ice cream and milk as a way to make up for the comment. Setting the flowers in a vase he recounted the story to the comatose girl, and in a quiet voice filled her in on what had happened in his life the past couple of days.

Mindful of Yohji waiting for him, the redhead did not stay for long. All he really had wanted to do was bring more flowers to freshen up the room and to assure himself that his sister was fine. "I have to be going now, Aya-chan. Weíre going to the park to play in the rain, just like you and I always did. Well, not exactly like we did, Iíve told you how much of a horny pervert Kudoh is." Ayaís cheek flushed for a moment as he remembered the look Yohji had given him when he had suggested the outing. One got the impression that they were going to be doing a bit more than just chasing each other about and kissing in a muddy puddle this time. For a moment he reflected over how ashamed his father would be of him, having a relationship with another man and letting said man molest him in public. Aya bitterly hoped that the dead man somehow knew what it was he was up to, whatever afterlife his father had ended up in. That he could see his son actually happy and not giving a damn about the Fujimiya name. Not when it was applied to him. "Goodbye."

Leaning over to kiss his sisterís forehead, Aya was gripped by a sudden urge to snatch the girl up and hide her away, to keep her safe. It puzzled him, he didnít know where else the girl would be safer at, here there were doctors and an elite security force to look after her. The fear tore at his heart for a moment, making it hard to breathe. <Easy precious, forget and walk away. Forget and walk away.> Phantom fingers ran through his hair, soothing him as the words kept repeating until Aya shook his head and stood up straight. He still felt some unease as he moved away from the sleeping figure, prompting him to check the window and its lock, to gaze about the room to see if anything was amiss. Patting his sister on the cheek, the pale man once more wished her goodbye.

Aya stopped by the nurseís station, waiting for one in particular to finish a phone call. "Ah, Fujimiya-san, is everything alright? Something wrong with Aya?"

"No, she seems fine, Watanabe-san. I just wanted to ask you if you could keep an eye on her tonight, and pass on to the night personnel to do the same." At the strange look the woman was giving him the swordsman improvised with a lie. "She always hated it when it rained, it would comfort her so much if someone would check up on her every now and then." Aya hoped the woman never wondered why he had failed to point this out before, but she was new to the floor. He almost let loose a sigh of relief when the woman nodded her head.

Thanking the nurse, he stuttered over the last bit as he felt a shudder run through him. Aya turned around and found another woman standing behind him. This one was in her thirties, black hair cut short and dressed in an expensive, tailored man suit. Brown eyes regarded him with curiosity. "You must be Fujimiya, canít imagine there are many handsome young men with such pale skin and outrageously colored hair running around here. I am Dr. Arai. Heard about you, the nurses go on and on about what a devoted brother you are."

Controlling the urge to flinch at the comment about his coloring, Aya silently nodded his head, for some reason thankful that he had worn his shades that day. He noticed the doctor stare at them for a moment, clearly wondering about the glasses. Aya felt himself shudder once more as pain started to build in his head, only to end abruptly as the strange woman bit out a muted curse. Before she could speak again the nurse walked out from behind the station after finishing jotting something down in a ledger. "Ah, Dr. Arai, Iíve been expecting you. I can take you back now."

"That would be very nice, Watanabe. Well, Fujimiya, I am sure that we will see each other again. I look forward to it." The doctor bowed slightly before following the nurse down the corridor to a highly restricted area. Aya watched her for a moment, not willing to turn his back to her until she was gone. Something about the woman disturbed him greatly. All the more eager to rejoin Yohji, dark violet eyes once more scanned the hospital floor, trying to tell if something was wrong. He stepped into the elevator, feeling as if he was leaving the place forever, never to return.

*******

Kirie Arai shook her head as she followed the silent nurse down the hallway, stopping at the various security checks while the woman swiped a card and punched in a code. The rumors about Orchidee were by no means overblown. The man had talent, that much was for certain. He also had some of the strongest mental shields that she had ever come across. Guess having a telepath mess with his head for a couple of years had helped the man to establish them, in a vain attempt to keep Mastermind out. It would take some work to break them down enough for her to catch the nuances of what the assassin was feeling, as it was all she could read was the pain and self-hate that heíd felt when she had mentioned his looks. Oh what a twisted puzzle her latest case was turning out to be, this would be some fun. Challenging, most definitely very challenging, but fun as well. It was such a rush to break down someoneís walls and let their carefully blocked emotions run amok. That was the best type of buzz ever to be had.

Coming to a manned door, Arai snapped her mind back on the present. Watanabe turned her over to the armed guard, who very diligently checked her access card against some information he had on his clipboard. That done he opened the door behind him. "Okudo is the third door down on the left. Weíve been expecting you." The empath nodded her head in thanks and proceeded down the padded, faintly lit corridor. There were muffled sounds of laughter and crying, various white robed staff members bowed their heads at her in acknowledgement.

Opening the third door on the left she found another dim room decorated with plain furniture, none of it with any sharp edges. The walls were a neutral lavender grey, a simple bed, small bureau and a round low table were all the accoutrements that it possessed. Arai seated herself at the table, across from a man with a shaved head and squinting eyes, hands bandaged in thick mitts and tied together. Various straps clung to his jacket, preventing his arms from stretching out all the way. Off to the side a burly orderly silently stood, looking as if heíd been a former sumo wrestler before this job.

"Who are you?" The jacketed man had a lisping tone, when he opened his mouth it was evident that he was missing a few teeth, and that the rest had been blunted down.

"Iím Dr. Arai, I work for Kritiker. You may have heard of me, I joined Kritiker several years ago, though not in the same department that you worked for. I came here today to talk about a former case of yours." No need to drag this out, all of the insane minds surrounding her started to wear on Araiís mental shields.

The insane man started to laugh, a hissing, grating sound. "I heard about you. Schattenís empath. Ah, you want to talk about Orchidee, donít you? Everyone does. Thatís all they come to me about, never mind that Efeu always had to fondle his kills, even raped a few of them, or Klinge having such an interesting psychosis, how she relives her motherís murder by always stabbing her victims in the same way the woman was killed. No, itís always Orchidee, such a sweet prize. Poor, disturbed boy. Efeu always made for the more interesting sessions though, wish people would talk about him."

Amazed at how lucid the man sounded, Arai started to say that she was indeed there about Orchidee. And was cut off when the former psychiatrist suddenly snarled and jerked his hands up to his mouth, gnawing at the thick gloves. The orderly left his post to slap the man on the side of his face. Okudo crashed to the ground where he whimpered for a moment or two. "Touched him I did, touched him. Shook his hand, patted it as I tried to rip him apart. Bad, bad to have ever dared to touch. Bad. Not mine. Must be punished. Never touch again." Arai sat there quietly, recalling how sheíd heard the man had tried to gnaw his hands off after first being admitted. One of her associates had informed her that Okudo had managed to eat three fingers and half of a thumb before heíd been restrained.

A few more whimpers and the man slowly levered himself back upright. "Donít touch him, youíll pay if you do." A malevolent look came across Okudoís face. "Smart bitch, bet you think that youíll be the one to breach his defenses, to turn him over to our bosses all broken and docile. Fool. Ono thought that as well, and slit his wrists from what I heard. Hasuike wasnít stupid, frigid bitch quit before the curse got her. Never came back, did she? Ran and ran as far away as she could. Ran, hee. Orchidee. Youíll be stupid, I can see it now. Youíll touch and heíll make you pay. Want the room right next to mine? Nice and cozy, all the drugs you can want. That should tempt you, I know all about you, you whore. Touch Orchidee and youíll be my neighbor, hopped up on more drugs than you could ever wish for. Probably think that youíll break the curse, just like the others. Just like I did. As if a child druggie whore has a chance. _Heíll_ be the one to do the breaking, just you see."

During the taunts the woman quietly sat there, never once looking away from the insane man verbally abusing her. When he finally stopped ranting she merely sighed. "I never was a whore, looks as if you heard it wrong. Never stooped quite that low. There are a lot of things Iíve never done, such as take a bludgeon to the heads of my spouse and three children, crack open their skulls and finger through their brains. Just what were you hoping to find? I always wondered about that." She drank in the manís pain, the mention of his actions breaking through the hate and madness, filling him with sorrow as he cried in memory of his deeds.

Okudo rocked back and forth, muttering his slaughtered family membersí names. She patiently waited for the crying jag to come to an end, for the anguish to retreat. Bastard should have known better than to try and use her past to hurt her, insane though he was. Sheíd turned to the drugs as a means to escape the emotions assailing her, unaware of her talent. But sheíd never whored for them. Not once sheíd learned to control it somewhat, to use it against others. "Are you done now? I have a question or two to ask you."

The rocking stopped as once more the man regarded her with a twisted smile. "Ask away, ask away. Just digging yourself in deeper and deeper. Youíre fucking yourself over all on your own, you know."

"Iíll take that risk. Just how much, in your dubious opinion, is the man unstable? How close were you to breaking him?" Unfortunately, for the former doctor at least, it had seemed that he had been the closest to achieving that goal than any other of Orchideeís psychiatrists.

The grating laughter returned, Okudo shaking with mirth. "How close? Oh so very close, so very close. Can taste it still. Made him cry, in that last session. Made him feel so worthless, a failure. Used his sister against him, how he survived and she didnít. It would have just taken a little more pressure, a little more guilt, and he would have snapped. Done anything he was told. But then-"

"But then you went home and slaughtered you family instead." Another delicious spike of pain. "Thatís what I thought." She now knew what track to take, would base her sessions on the madmanís, work the already fertile ground. Arai stood to her feet, looking down on the wreck of a once brilliant doctor. "Oh, and the Ďheí that you mentioned. Itís Mastermind, isnít it? Thatís who you were talking about?"

"Heh, itís never wise to say the devilís name. I learned that the hard way. Youíll find out just as well, ambitious cunt that you are. Touch the man and youíll find the devil waiting for you. Think you are such a badass, wait til you meet him. Iíll tell them to keep the room open, Kirie dear. All those lovely drugs, just waiting for you. Youíll crash and burn, stupid whore like you canít hope to succeed."

The woman sighed as she twitched her jacket back into place. "Youíre supposed to be insane, not boring. No wonder you donít have many visitors. Then again, doesnít help that you killed the only people who would ever care for you." Reaching out, she braved the manís psychosis to tweak his emotions. "Did you get a thrill when you caved your little boyís skull in? I heard his head looked as if it had exploded when they found him. You must have really pounded away on it. Let me guess, he was an unplanned pregnancy, wasnít he?" She deftly sidestepped when the madman let out a scream and charged up from the ground, trying to tackle her. The orderly once again rushed over to restrain the man, beating him to get Okudo to stop struggling so much. At each spike of pain the smile on Araiís face grew wider as she walked out of the room.

*******

It was wet, everything was so wet; the grass, the air, his and Yohjiís skin. Aya lay on the ground, the rain falling onto his face as the older man thrust into him again and again, grinding him into the damp soil, the sound of his name repeated again and again until it melded with the hissing of the rain. He felt as if he would burn from the pleasure, that the water should turn to steam as it touched him. The coiling heat inside him was an inferno, blazing through his senses as the pounding thrusts continued. Each one adding another spark of pleasure, filling him that much more. Aya couldnít get the breath to call out his loverís name, it was forced from his body time and again, until all he could do was gasp. It was all he could do to raise his hips to meet Yohjiís sweet onslaught, wrap his arms and legs about the man even tighter, dig his nails into the golden flesh. So very desperate to let the manís passion consume him. He wasnít alone, Yohji was here, driving into him, driving him over the edge, making him feel complete. If only this moment could last forever. Heíd give everything he owned to make it so, surrendering himself completely into the arms of his lover.

Body starting to tremble, Aya felt everything disintegrate as the blissful heat finally became too much. Choking out the blondís name he came in a rush, pulses of pleasure that drained him into the grey, making the warmth slowly fade away along with everything else. It returned briefly when Yohji came as well, his hot essence filling deep inside of him; then the man fell on top of him, a warm blanket draped over his body. Concentrating on breathing, feeling himself return back to the world, Aya hugged the man close.

Several minutes later the quiet hush of the falling rain was interrupted by a hoarse voice. "Fuck Aya, if itís going to be like that every time we do it in the rain, Iím going to be praying for cloudy skies every damn day." Yohji made to lever himself off of the smaller man but stopped when Aya moaned and clutched him all the tighter. That had just been so incredible, Aya so amazingly responsive and ardent. The amount of passion that had been raised between the two of them left Yohji drained. He made to pull away again when he felt the slender figure beneath him shiver. Guess his kitten was a little chilly, considering how the temperature had dropped and he was lying naked on soaked grass. Settling himself more comfortably on top of his love, Yohji ran a hand up and down a chilled side. "Hmm, youíre cold."

"Thank you for pointing that out. Never would have come to that conclusion." Aya opened his eyes to find his vision filled with a scowling Yohji. He smiled wearily at the older man, releasing his hold to brush back the dark blond strands clinging to the handsome face above his. Even if he felt chilled to the bone the redhead didnít want to move an inch, things were too perfect. The apprehension and barely remembered dreams of him and a stranger making love as rain pounded down on the city outside had been obliterated by the past minutes, with Yohji taking him in the park. He wished he had thought of it earlier. He as well couldnít wait to do it again. Once he got his strength back, like maybe a week or two.

Yohji slowly sat up, pulling Aya along with him. "Come on, we need to get dressed and you back somewhere warm and dry. Our bed sounds like a great idea right now. Omi mentioned dinner, think the both of us could use a bite to eat as well.

Aya grumbled wearily and tucked his head under the blondís chin. He didnít want to leave, everything was so peaceful here, even if he was shaking from the cold and he was certain that someone would stumble across them in another couple of minutes if they didnít move now. Comfortable and more that a little tired, Aya let out a hiss as his boyfriend yanked him onto his feet.

"Kittens are supposed to be all pissy when they get soaked, not at their lovers for trying to get them nice and dry. Donít you want to get out of the rain?"

"Not really." Rocking up on his toes, the smaller man kissed Yohji on the mouth for a brief moment and then set about finding his clothes. They sort of had been tossed all about, what with the heat of the moment. Aya picked his up and started the difficult task of pulling on soaked garments, shivering at the clammy feel of them. Once done he looked up and found the other assassin staring at him. "What?"

Chuckling softly, Yohji brushed back the crimson bangs plastered on a pale face. "If I look half as bad as you do, we are quite the sight. Wet, bedraggled, and muddy. Not to mention the occasional leaf stuck to us." A golden hand plucked a maple leaf out of Ayaís hair. "The fan club would have a heart attack if they see us like this."

"Hn." Aya grabbed the hand and used it to tow his boyfriend out of the clump of trees heíd picked for some privacy. Stepping out into the parkís clearing, the two men came across another person out walking his dog in the rain. The middle-aged man treated them with a frown, clearly puzzled at why two young men were drenched and filthy, hanging out in the woods he normally walked his pet in. Yohji offered the stranger a lewd grin and pulled Aya closer, chuckling once again at the scandalized look that crossed the manís face. Aya just rolled his eyes and headed back to the car

*******

Schuldig stared at the loom, or more exactly the dark cloth woven on it. He stroked a hand over the material, feeling Ayaís emotions echoing through his mind. The man was peaceful once more, enjoying the calm before the storm. As much as he hated Balinese, Schuldig could not begrudge the two assassins their fun. His tuberose needed the distraction, couldnít begin to guess what event would soon be put into motion. "His power is restless. I felt it earlier, struggling to be free, to join with mine."

"Seethes it does. The future is open to it as well, a complex web of threads for it to manipulate. Senses what is to come. Long has he been tied to the girl, has sought her protection. The talent seeks to assure that she is safe, yet finds itself hindered. No outlet for it to go." Except for one. The evil one was in for a rude awakening that night, was about to find out that he could be made to suffer for the bonds heíd enforced on the star child. Cassandra smirked evilly, it was enjoyable to contemplate the telepathís immediate future. If only the star child and the Knight were not so entwined. "Have you your puppet ready, to put the star to sleep if needs be?"

"The good doctor has been warned. Heíll be called to the hospital just before the screaming bitches arrive for some emergency. Iíll inform him when he needs to make his move." Schuldig had placed so much thought into this, how best to protect Aya and to ensure that he covered his tracks. Things would go smoothly, he was sure of that. "Do you know he ran into Kritikerís bitch tonight? She tried to sink her claws into him already. Iíll make her suffer for that."

"Careful, you must be subtle this time. Use her as a weapon against herself. Attract too much attention you do, it is never wise." Holding her cards in one hand, Cassandra stroked the topmost with a finger. "But well you did, against the reversed Fool. His suspicions have been lulled, for the moment. Restrain your lies and honor the promises you made him, and he will not harm your heart."

Running a hand through his hair, the German regarded Cassandra amusedly. "Careful there, alte Hexe, you almost sound as if you like the man. You harboring tender feelings for your former pupil?" When the woman hissed in indignation he laughed out loud. "Iím sure he feels the same about you. Now is there anything else I should know before I go?"

"Nothing that will change the outcome of tonight. Be on your guard, Death will burn in his true glory tonight, the flame must be masked quickly. The Fates will ensure that he canít alter anything, on this one matter at least, but he is in danger of attracting harmful attention."

"One gets the picture." There was no way he was going to let anyone else know of the catalystís presence. They would try and snatch Aya away from him; that was never going to happen. The man belonged to him. Finders keepers, as the childrenís rhyme went. Schuldig vanished from the madwomanís dreams, letting himself drift off to a deeper sleep. He would need his strength for later. To keep his heart safe, and to piece the man back together when he shattered at the loss.

*******

Sitting down at the kitchen table, Ken miserably shoved what was a fine dinner in his mouth. Omi had decided to try some lasagna recipe he had found on the web, and the result was WeiŖís supper. Aya was eying his portion with a dubious expression while Yohji was swiftly devouring his. As for the chef that evening, Omi was teasing the two older WeiŖ and steadfastedly ignoring him. Just like he had been doing for the past day, ever since he had come back from yesterdayís deliveries. What had he done wrong? The youth was never upset with him this long, not even when he had flubbed a mission. Those blue eyes almost never rested on him, the few times they did there was a spark of anger burning in them. Was Omi that upset about him going out the other night? It had been apperant that the boy had hoped to do something with him that evening, but heíd already promised a few of the other coaches in his kidsí soccer league that heíd join them at the bar. Besides, when did it matter so much if he stayed home and did something with the boy or not? It wasnít like they were dating or anything. For a moment Ken heard Yohjiís voice in his head, about how he had no ties to Omi through his own choice. A choice that he was beginning to regret, if it meant that he couldnít even have the young man as a friend.

"-know, you two might want to stop playing around in the rain all the time, you might get sick. Poor Aya-kun looks so pale, maybe heís coming down with a cold already."

Yohji smiled at his roommate and scooted his chair closer to the man in question, slinging an arm over Ayaís shoulders. "Come on, chibi. The man is always that pale heís completely lacking in any type of pigment. Think it all went into the hair. Besides, the only chance I have to dragging him off to a park to play is when itís raining, else he fries when exposed to the su-ow! Dammit, kitten, those elbows of yours should be declared lethal weapons! Donít see why you bother with a sword at all when you got them. Now eat your dinner before you actually puncture me the next time I get hit." He rubbed his sore side, wondering if the bruise there would ever fade.

"Huhn." Aya kept poking the pasta on his plate. He should have made Yohji buy him some dinner when they were out. Heíd never been a big fan of tomatoes in the first place, what had possessed Tsukiyono to make a dish drenched with them? Pushing the plate away, Aya concentrated on his salad. When he glanced up he caught the sight of a pair of huge blue eyes glimmering with tears, looking back and forth between the spurned dish and his face. "Sorry, Ayan. If you donít like it I can make you something else." One tear threatened to overspill onto Omiís face.

Sighing, Aya pulled the pasta back in front of him and resolved to scrape off as much of the sauce as he could. At least when the boy made spaghetti he was able to get to the noodles before it was covered in the stuff and eat them with a little butter and vegetables. Off to his side he heard Yohji laughing softly. Seeing the arm blocking his preferred target, Aya stretched out his leg and kicked the man in the shins instead. As if Kudoh didnít fold like a paper sack when Omi pulled the chibi eyes on him as well. The boy was certainly pure evil.

In a foul mood over the incident, dark violet eyes locked on the miserable figure sitting opposite him. What a perfect target. Time for the owed revenge. "Hidaka."

"Yes, Aya?"

"Youíre working the swing shift tomorrow."

Ken looked up from his plate of barely touched dinner. Upon seeing the slight smile on the redheadís lips he realized that things had gone from bad to worse. "I thought that I was to work the morning shift." That came out as more of a question than heíd intended, Aya had sounded rather adamant about him working the new shift. If he wasnít so damn depressed heíd be angry at the change.

"No, Iíll cover that now." Yohjiís attention perked up at this, and he turned to glare at his lover for disturbing his plans for the both of them to sleep in. When he spotted the look on Ayaís face he wisely shut his mouth and abandoned Ken to whatever evil fate the vindictive man had in store for him. Comradery and that Ďall for oneí team spirit shit only went so far, Hidaka was on his own for this one. He wasnít suicidal. "Since the shop had been improved with a new electrical system and coolers itís time for a few other renovations. You are to clean out the storeroom, moving everything away from the wall and sweeping and wiping them down, so we can paint in there later this week."

"But, but the room is filthy."

Ayaís smile grew the slightest bit. "Yes."

"And it hasnít been cleaned in ages. There are all those cobwebs in there." Not to mention all the bugs as well, creepy, scurrying little things with all those legs. Ken had a distinct problem with anything that had more than four. It just wasnít natural. If he had to clean out the room heíd have to deal with the disgusting things, be faced with the prospect of the vile creatures crawling all over him. The athlete shuddered in horror. He glanced beseechingly at his field leader. "Canít someone else do it?" The two other men at the table swiftly averted their eyes, sacrificing him in a heartbeat.

"No." The smile grew a fraction bigger again. Someone was taking great delight in his discomfort. Ken tried to figure out how he had mortally offended the man. Aya _knew_ all about his phobia, him and the others had to kill any and every bug that crossed the Konekoís threshold while the brunet cringed in the background. "Omi and I need to do the arrangements and get the fall plants ready, and Kudoh canít be trusted. Youíre doing it." Ayaís tone was final. Yohji sent him a sympathetic look and helped himself to more lasagna.

So not only was the man he loved angry with him for some reason, now he had to spend the whole day in a room filled with dirt and bugs. Ken just knew that he was going to have bad dreams the whole night, imaging the things crawling all over him. Just what he needed. Could the day get any worse? At least when he looked at Omi again he saw the young man offer him a flash of an understanding smile before pointedly looking away. That restored his appetite enough to finish off the pasta on his plate. The rest of the meal passed by quietly, everyone afraid of being the next person targeted by Ayaís wrath.

It wasnít much longer than that when the dishes were soaking in the sink and Omi portioning out sundaes. Conversation resumed while the men ate their dessert, mainly along the lines of what Omi planned on doing with his last week of freedom before classes started. Ken made sure to inform his teammates of his kidsí game schedule for the week, hoping that Omi would come to one of the matches. Yohji and Aya didnít have much in store for the next week, which meant that him and Omi would have to tread cautiously around the house. Nothing like trying to catch a television show in the den and walking in on your roommates going at it on the couch. Been there, done that, still had embarrassing dreams about it. Though the couple seemed to be favoring the recliner more often now. Omi had caught the men in the middle of something on it right before they had gone on vacation.

Before their treats were all finished there was the sound of the kitchen lock turning and then Teddy striding into the room, a huge man right on his heels. "Teddy, take off your shoes before you track mud all over the place," the stranger growled.

"Yes, Mickey." The longhaired manís tone was long suffering, and he swiftly did as he was bid.

"Do we need to explain the concept of a door bell to you, Stout? Hi Mickey, long time no see."

"Hello Kudoh. Are we interrupting dinner? Just came by to drop off some goodies." The tall American sighed as he saw the gleam in his brotherís eyes at the mention of food and reached out with a long arm to snag the manís collar as he made a beeline for the fridge. "You know, Teddy. I quite distinctly remember teaching you manners."

Blue eyes stared mournfully into grey. "But Mickey, Iím starving. Been busy running errands all day, havenít had a chance to grab a bite to eat."

"You mean you were too hungover to eat anything. I talked to Koyu today, you should be ashamed of the way you behaved last night. Good thing Red was there to look after your boyfriend for you." Mickey nodded his thanks to the quiet redhead. "He told me about the cafť, hope you donít mind if we stop there afterwards, I want to try out that coffee." Glancing over at Omi, he quietly introduced himself to the wide-eyed boy.

Finishing the last of his ice cream, Aya got up from the table to first place the dish in the sink and then to pull the leftover lasagna out of the fridge. For once he was more than happy to have the pest eat all of their food, meant that he wasnít getting stuck with leftovers the next day. "Help yourself. And no, I donít mind." Teddy didnít need to be told twice, and was soon dividing the lasagna on to two plates. Aya stayed at the counter, and Yohji soon joined him there.

Before he sat down at the table Mickey waved to the bags he had set on the counter. "Your gear. Also new modems for Bombayís computers, and new headsets and cell phones. With the whole Hirohata affair thereís a bunch of new security protocols going into effect."

"Thanks. So you playing chauffer for your brother," Yohji inquired. Mickey nodded his head and mentioned that the lasagna was delicious. Omi beamed and thanked him for the comment.

Teddy glanced about the room, taking in Yohji and Aya leaning against the counter, the smaller man in the blondís arms. Hidaka was quietly playing with his melting ice cream, sending an entreating look or two Omiís way. Who was refusing to look in the brunetís direction. Seemed that someone was a bit upset with the man, if he had to wager a guess. Prevented from talking about the previous evening because of Mickeyís presence, not wanting another lecture on his childish behavior, the kilted man made small talk with the assassins. Well, Yohji and Omi at least. Red was his normal, untalkative self, but Brown-eyes was clearly miserable and suffering in silence. Finishing off his food, Teddy stood to his feet. "Well, dinner was great, as usual. But we have to get going, couple more things we need to do before calling it a night."

He then crossed over to where the brunet Japanese man was sitting. When he drew near Ken glanced up at him. Teddy leaned in close, his face centimeters from the other manís. "Just to let you know, Birmanís been a little too busy to set up your English lessons right now. If you want, I can offer to take them over, spend some quality time helping you out. Lots of late nights and that." He reached out to brush back the athleteís bangs, looking deep into the chocolate brown eyes. "Iím told Iím a very talented teacher. Believe in lots of positive reinforcement." Teddy touched Kenís cheek gently.

"Wow, look at the rain come down. You guys better get going, donít want to get stuck out in this if it gets any worse. Iím sure _Koyu_ will be worried." Omi stood to his feet and literally tossed his bowl and Teddyís plate in the sink. Mickey treated his sibling to a raised eyebrow, wondering what the flirting was about since he knew Teddy was happily involved with Koyu. It became clear when the teenager jealously insinuated his body between the two brunets, shoving the American back. "Tell Birman that Iíll take over Kenís tutoring, thereís no need for you to spend your precious time in it."

Waving his hand, Teddy made his way to the door. "All right then, weíre going. Thanks for the food, see you guys in a couple of days. Take care, Brown-eyes, and remember that thereís nothing like learning from a native speaker. Give me a call if Omi isnít meeting your Ďeducationalí needs." The longhaired man was jerked through the kitchen door.

Biting his lips to keep from laughing at Teddyís obvious attempt to get Omi to stop ignoring Ken, Yohji buried his face in Ayaís hair for a moment. When the urge to burst out in laughter passed him by, he lifted his head to see Omi patting a very happy Ken on the shoulder, reassuring him that heíd be the perfect tutor. "Well, itís been quite an exciting day, think Iím off for bed. Coming, Aya?" Like the man had a choice, what with the grip he had on a slim wrist. Dark violet eyes regarded Yohji with amusement as he let himself be led away. Before leaving the kitchen the blond detoured to the fridge to pull out the container of whipped cream. At Kenís curious look and Omiís blush he shrugged his shoulders. "Never know when it will come in handy." Aya just hníed and shoved him in the direction of the stairs.

"Now I know why we go through the stuff so quickly," Omi muttered.

*******

Feeling delightfully exhausted, Yohji snuggled closer to his lover. Mission accomplished. There was a new official record set for Sundays. Though technically it was Monday now, midnight had passed them by a couple of hours ago. Time to go to bed. Soon enough Aya would have to get up and open the shop, good thing the man got by on just a couple of hours of sleep. Maybe after a bout in the greenhouse theyíd spend tomorrow evening curled up together, doing nothing more than reading and watching a movie. Give them time to recharge their batteries, so to speak. Smiling in contentment, the playboy buried his face in cherry scented, silky hair.

Just as he was about to fall asleep he felt Aya go rigid in his arms. Next thing he knew the limb heíd draped over the smaller man was tossed aside as Aya jumped out of bed. "What is it, kitten?"

Aya pulled on the first clothes he could find. "The hospital. I have to go to the hospital." It had suddenly come over him, an intense feeling of loss and pain, as he had laid in his loverís embrace. It felt just as it had when Schreiend had tried to attack his sister, back when heíd left WeiŖ and the security Kritiker provided. Only the feeling was much, much more intense. So much so that he was shaking in fear. "I have to go now."

Hearing the panic in the pale manís voice, Yohji was on his feet and getting dressed as well. "Iím coming with you." Aya didnít argue, just made his way to the door with the blond on his heels. He raced down the steps and into the kitchen, startling Omi who was raiding the freezer for a late night snack.

"Hey, whatís going on? Something wrong?" Ayaís face was taught with stress and worry, what little could be seen behind the grey sunglasses. Yohji didnít look much better, and both men were dressed in a mishmash of each otherís clothes.

Yohji was relieved that it was Omi that they had run into, and not Ken. "Weíre going to the hospital, somethingís up."

Noticing how Aya didnít pause at all, just kept heading to the garage, Omi put the ice cream on the table and followed the older men. This was not good. It looked as if Aya had seen something, and if it involved the hospital that meant Aya-chan was in danger. When he got to the garage he quickly slipped into the back seat of the white Porsche. "Iím coming with you." Yohji flashed him a grateful look while Aya just ignored him, busy starting the carís engine.

Yohji barely managed to get his seatbelt fastened before the car slammed forward. He hoped Omi was managing somehow in the small back seat. Aya barreled out of the garage, barely missing another car as it traveled down the street. A horn was honked at them as the Porsche sped down the road.

If he had thought that his lover had driven recklessly before, it was nothing compared to now. Aya stared straight ahead, head never moving to either side. Frantically shifting and downshifting, he wove in and out of the late night traffic. Cars and trucks were left slamming on their brakes as the redhead suicidally pulled in front of them, cutting them off and traveling around them in the opposite lane. Yohji heard the distinct sound of at least two wrecks left in their wake. As the car barreled towards a light that had just changed red he braced himself for impact. Yet somehow the light immediately turned green, causing the opposing vehicles to come to a screeching halt before the intersection. They sped through the light, narrowly avoiding being impacted by a car with faulty brakes. Omi let out a yelp as Yohji cursed up a storm. He turned to face his lover. "Hey, Aya, you trying to kill us or what? You keep this up and weíll arrive at the hospital in an ambulance." When he didnít get a response he leaned over to grab the manís arm.

Yohji promptly let out another curse at the feel of the pale flesh. Aya wasnít cold any more, instead he was burning with fever, almost too hot to touch. "Shit, love, are you alright? Youíre burning up." The swordsman didnít answer him, just finished driving the last couple of blocks to the Magic Bus Hospital. Two more accidents were narrowly averted and another wreck left behind them. When the car came to a screeching halt Aya leapt from the vehicle, dashing into the building. "Fuck, I need a leash for that man," Yohji muttered as he extricated himself from the safety harness and set chase, a shaky Omi on his heels. Catching a flash of red disappearing behind a door he headed for the stairwell.

Why the hell did the girl have to be on the seventh floor, the playboy asked himself as he tried not to pant. There was an echo that let him know that Aya was a flight or two above him, heíd yell at the man to wait up if it wasnít such a waste of breath. The idiot was going to charge out of the damn stairwell, maybe straight into a trap. Long legs eating up the treads, Yohji concentrated on closing the gap between them. The sound of the door being thrown upon let him know theyíd reached the right floor, just when he was about half a staircase behind the man.

Rolling out the door, he came across the body of a nurse lying on the floor. Looking over at the nurseís station he found another draped over the counter, an alive woman standing beside the corpse and shrieking. It dawned on him the floor was flooded with noise, various alarms going off and people yelling, some in panic and some trying to restore order. Down the hall was the body of an armed guard, shurikens stuck in the manís throat. Yohji quickly got to his feet and dashed for Aya-chanís room.

The door was wide open, another corpse leaning on the wall beside it. This time it looked as if the man had his neck broken, there were thick ligature marks around it. A whip. Which meant that Schreiend had come calling. Yohji briefly recalled Aya telling him about the failed attempt on his sister, which he had narrowly prevented. He knew that that was part of the reason his lover had returned to Kritiker. That and whatever Botan had said to him before heíd died. Upon entering the room he found Aya standing by the bed, perfectly still.

Aya was staring at the empty bed, bare except for a cross carved into the mattress. A bit of ticking floated in the air. Gone. Aya-chan was gone. Heíd failed to arrive in time, failed to save her. And now Schreiend had his sister. Filled with shock, he couldnít make himself move as he felt something inside of him break.

Just staring at his lover, Yohji tried to think of what to say. From the chaos outside it was evident that Schreiend, and Aya-chan, were gone. As he took a step closer to his lover, to offer support to the man and rally a futile chase after the women, Omi crashed into his back. "Aya-chan, is Aya-chan okay?" The boyís breath caught as he took in the empty bed.

Yohji reached out his hand, meaning to pull Aya back into a hug. But it stopped several centimeters short, jerked back in pain at the heat radiating off of the man. The very air around the redhead seemed to seethe and boil. "Aya- Aya, love, can you hear me? Are you okay?" A feeling of dread filled the older assassin. As he tried once more to reach his lover he heard more people enter the room.

"What is going on here? The wardís alarm was triggered five minutes ago, I was on my way home from the police station." Manx, it was the agentís voice. Yohji wanted to turn around and face her, but couldnít take his eyes off of Aya. "Fujimiya, what are you doing here? Where is your sister?"

Slowly turning around, Aya faced the people staring at him worriedly. Yohji heard Omi draw in another sharp breath as he caught sight of the manís face. Hell, he gasped as well. Ayaís skin was a pure white, lacking any color at all. It faintly glowed in the dark room, like captured moonlight. The man looked so beautiful, so otherworldly it hurt to see him. In a deep, inhumane voice completely lacking any emotion he spoke. "I want my sister."

*******

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