Nothing Gold Can Stay

Chapter eight

*******

Aya turned to face the other people in the hospital room with him. "I want my sister." He felt as if he was filled with fire, it rushed through his veins, warming him completely for what seemed to be the first time in ages. Everything else faded away, everything but the fact that Aya-chan was missing and his chest felt as if it was filled with shattered glass. The redhead was aware of threads running from him to the wide world, humming and throbbing and whispering things to him. Useless things, none of them told him where the girl was. Anger pulse back out along the strands.

Yohji jumped when the electrical equipment in the room sparked and crackled. The room was an inferno, at the center of it stood Aya. Glowing and looking as if he was some kami, gracing mere mortals with his presence. He couldnít tear his eyes off of the man, neither could he come any closer. It was as if something radiated from his lover, something almost tangible that pressed them all back. The blond gritted his teeth and refused to budge any further away from Aya. This was not good, not good at all and he wasnít leaving the man to face what was happening all alone.

"Where is she?" There seemed to be a hint of pain in the deep voice that time, it tore at his heart to hear it. The monitor let out an awful squeal and started smoking, Omi spat out a curse and tried to move to unplug the machine, but was stopped by whatever it was his teammate was emanating. Yohji actually prayed that the room didnít set on fire before he calmed Aya down and got them the hell out of there.

Manx yelled at the oblivious redhead. "What the hell is going on here? Fujimiya, what are you doing?" There was a note of hysteria in the usually unflappable womanís voice. When Yohji swiftly glanced over his shoulder he found Manxís eyes staring wildly about the room, looking everywhere but at Aya. Omi appeared grimfaced, just staring at the pale man as he kept trying to approach the smoking equipment. Green eyes returned to look at Aya, who hadnít moved at all. He seemed a bit brighter, or maybe it was that the room was darker, the shadows longer.

"Aya love, calm down. Weíll find her, I swear. Just calm down and let me near." No response from his lover. Nothing. It was as if the other man hadnít heard him at all.

"I. Want. Her. Back."

Yohji swore that he felt the heat increase, dammit what the hell was Aya doing? He had to calm the kitten down, get him the hell out of here before someone noticed that he was doing things that he shouldnít be. Like impersonating a light bulb and frying the electrical system. It was bad enough that Manx was in the room, he sincerely hoped that Omi would be able to talk the woman into keeping quiet about what she was seeing. The last think they needed was any word getting back to Kritiker. Somehow the playboy doubted his lover was just a precog, after seeing this. Nor that the organization would just let him go back home. "Weíll get her back, I promise you. Please Aya, please stop it and let me near you."

For a precious moment it seemed that he was getting somewhere, that Aya was hearing him. The pale face slightly shifted in his direction. Then there was the sound of someone rushing into the room, feet heavy and breath panting. The slight movement that Aya had been making was arrested, the heat intensified some more. Afraid to look away from the smaller man again, Yohji wondered who the hell it was that had just arrived. His question was answered when he heard Manx call out the intruderís name. "Dr Rōyama, what are you doing here?Ē

"Hear- heard about the attack," the doctor panted, trying to still his racing heartbeat. Upon seeing Fujimiya it set to racing again, filled with anxiety. How the hell was he supposed to get close to the man? Why would he want to? <Wait for your moment, then strike quickly. If you fail to bring him down in time your son will be dead within minutes. Then Iíll work my way through the rest of your family.> Rōyama shuddered in fear and hate, fondling the shot needle in his coat pocket. The first opportunity he had he was jamming the thing into the assassin and getting his ass out of here.

Omi still tried to press on towards the monitor, hoping to unplug the sparking machine and incidentally enough get closer to Aya. The man needed to be brought down immediately, before anyone else stumbled across them. He briefly wondered what Mastermind was up to, why he hadnít put a stop to this. Didnít the telepath realize the danger that Aya was in? If Aster or anyone from Schatten came to investigate, the catalyst would be gathered up and taken away before they could do a thing. It was bad enough the doctor was here. The teenager wish heíd had the time to grab some weapons before he had left the house. "Yohji, try it again, we need to get him out of here now."

Yohji cursed out of the corner of his mouth. "Dammit chibi, Iím trying." What the hell did Omi think he was up to, what with his hand outstretched and his eyes staring beseechingly at Aya. Who didnít seem to be seeing anything at all. Though it was hard to tell, what with those sunglasses on. "Aya, come over here, weíll start searching for Aya-chan. Together. Please." It felt as if he was thrusting his hand into a hot oven.

"Aya-chan." There was more emotion in the manís voice that time, he wasnít imagining it. The pain and sorrow echoed through the name. "Aya-chan. I failed her." Yohjiís hand flinched back from the wave of heat striking it. Oh shit, that definitely hadnít been the right track to take.

"You didnít, love. You didnít fail her." Fuck, Aya didnít seem to be hearing him anymore.

Aya wrapped his arms around his chest, trying to press back the pain spreading through him. It hurt so bad. Heíd failed his sister, had been enjoying himself while Schreiend had taken her away. Who could be doing anything to the girl. Heíd failed her. Let her be placed in danger yet again. It was all his fault. Pain ripped through him, making him cry out. Through it Aya felt the sensation of chains snapping, slowly falling aside as he felt the warmth flare inside of him. For a moment he saw a multitude of threads, of various thickness and color, enveloping him and leading off into the distance. One of the thickest was gold in color and tied him to Kudoh.

There were green threads as well, wrapped tight around him and leading off into the city. Another was a sky blue, and faded the further it got away from him. Somehow Aya knew that it connected to his sister and desperately tried to follow it to the girl. But he kept losing the thread, no matter how hard he tried he couldnít find Aya-chan. "I want her back now." His eyes closed as he continued searching.

The warmth chased down the threads, obeying Ayaís desire to find and protect the young woman. But failed as well. Thwarted in its objective, it twisted and changed various other strands. A young girl two floors down was flooded with heat; it filled her small body. In the following three days her doctors would find her red blood count going up as her body finally started to produce the proper amount. Another week later she would report being able to see some light, her eyes becoming less blind per day. The child wasnít the only one touched by the power. Throughout the hospital other young women found their fates shifted about; as a teenaged girl explained to her doctor how she had burned herself yet again with an iron her abusive father was electrocuted to death by the vending machine he was getting coffee from. A young woman in the emergency room, body broken from a car accident, came out of cardiac arrest. In the ICU ward an exhausted intern caught herself just in time about to give a patient a mistakenly lethal dose of medicine. Another floor up a girl woke from her coma. On it spread, saving those it could since it could not find the object of its search, reaching through the building and starting to spread outward.

<Stop! Stop bevor du sie aufmerksam machst. Stopt sofort!> The catalyst clutched his head at the agony spiking through it. He felt something thick start to muffle his warmth, felt the remaining chains strain against it, to force the precious heat back up the threads and bury deep inside of him. Struggling against the reining in of his power, Aya let out a low moan. He snapped open his eyes to see Yohji standing a meter away from him, pain and fear on the manís face. A hand was held out to him, trembling and oddly red. A hoarse voice called out to him, echoing the frantic one inside of his head.

"-listen to me, kitten, stop it now. Stop it and let me take you out of here, weíll go looking for Aya-chan. Wonít rest until we find her, I promise you. I wonít let you down, please just stop and let me near you-" The hurt in his loverís voice tore at Aya, broke through the punishing guilt, self-hate and pain that filled him. For a moment he didnít resist the chains stealing the warmth from him; he reached out a pale hand to grasp Kudohís. Just when their fingers brushed against each other Aya felt the heat start to strike back at what restrained it, felt the otherís surprise and pain. The emotions echoed through his head, he found himself dizzy as a thousand voices filled his mind. All those thoughts tore at him, yet the warmth kept seeking the power that had chained it, kept entwining around it. As Aya once more clutched at his head he caught sight of someone dressed in white leaping towards him. Something sharp drove into his thigh and the world started to spin around, more and more violently with each heartbeat as Yohjiís arms gathered him close. Everything started to fade away, all the threads vanishing from his grasp. Along with his hope of finding Aya-chan. There was a snapping sensation in his head, the guilt and hate overwhelming the pain as he failed yet again. "A failure." That thought chased him down into the darkness.

Letting out a curse Yohji struggled to catch the falling swordsman, to prevent him from crashing to the ground. Rōyama quickly stepped back, leaving the needle in Fujimiyaís thigh. The redhead mumbled something as he passed out, the heat and light fading from his flesh. Holding his lover tight, Yohji slowly sank to the floor, Aya cradled in his arms. "What the hell did you do to him?"

"I gave him a sedative. Had one left over from the patient I was treating earlier, figured it would be put to good use on Fujimiya. Or did you want him to just keep standing there, doing whatever he was doing?" The physician trembled, a headache forming from the command shrieked in his skull to move and render the man unconscious. There were no more instructions, the Germanís voice had gone away.

Omi shoved the older man aside, eager to check out how Aya was faring. He pulled the needle out of his friendís leg, then reached for a pale hand after tossing it aside. After holding onto it for a minute he worriedly looked at the doctor. "Heís growing cold."

Yohji nodded his head, his lips pressed against the unconscious manís forehead. "Heís like ice. What did you give him?"

"A sedative, I swear it. A powerful one, but it shouldnít be harming him." Rōyama hurried over to the assassins, desperate to make sure that Fujimiya was alright. If the man died because of what heíd done, his family wouldnít survive the night, he just knew it. The teenaged boy shifted out of his way but kept ahold of the redheadís hand. ďSomeone, please turn on the light.Ē After a moment the stunned woman did just that, and he was shocked anew at how pale his patient had become. As if there wasnít a drop of blood left in the manís veins. Rōyama checked for a pulse, found one slow but steady. Still, Fujimiya felt shockingly cold to the touch. Tilting up the grey sunglasses, the doctor checked Ayaís eyes.

He promptly let out a shout. "Is there something wrong, doctor?" Manx asked from the door. The middle-aged man could only stare down at the all black orbs, not a hint of white or any other color showing. When he looked up he found the older blond, Kudoh, staring down at the unusual eyes as well. A reddened hand reached out and carefully put the glasses back on the pale face.

Alerted by his shout, a nurse and an armed security guard entered the room. "Is everything all rig- quick, get a fire extinguisher!" The nurse hastily left the room as the guard used a pillow to beat on the smoldering medical equipment. When the woman arrived seconds later with the extinguisher and two more guards, he quickly foamed the machines and stepped back to glare at Kritiker agents. "What are you doing in here? None of you should be here right now, weíve had a security breach. And whatís wrong with him? Was he attacked as well?" The nurse rushed over to assist the doctor.

Jerking Aya against his chest, Yohji glared at the woman as Rōyama prevented her from getting too close. Finally regaining her wits, Manx shook her head and stepped in front of the guards, blocking their view of WeiŖ. "They came with me. Iím Hanae Kitada." She showed the men a badge, they quickly nodded their heads and lowered their weapons. "These men arrived with me, the one is the abducteeís brother. He passed out from the stress of finding his sister missing. Any word on the girl or what happened here tonight?"

"Sorry maíam, but weíre still trying to figure that out. No sign of the girl or the terrorists, they were long gone before we showed up. Near as we can tell, they picked an excellent night for an attack, three of the usual guards were out with a bout of food poisoning. So the night shift was understaffed and not able to repel the attack. Whoever did it were professionals. Iím surprised that they only took the girl, nothing else is missing or gone, as far as we can tell. What was so important about her?"

Manx glared at the man. "None of your business. If thatís all you have to report, go double check that the floor is secured. Iíll be leaving shortly and filing my own report." The guards left, exchanging unhappy looks with each other, still in the dark over what had happened and not liking it. The redheaded woman turned around to see Yohji wrapping Aya in one of the blankets resting on the floor, shifting his lover about to pick him up. "Where are you taking him?"

"Home. The doctor gave us permission, Iím getting him out of here right now." Yohji wanted Aya as far out of Kritikerís reach as possible, but would settle for the Koneko for the time being. He exchanged a brief look with Omi and carefully stood to his feet, his boyfriend a limp bundle in his arms. "You have any problems with that?" He balanced Aya and freed one hand to brush back crimson bangs. His fingers swiftly twisted about, caught only by Omi. Whose fingers moved in return. Another look was exchanged, the assassinsí faces impassive.

The woman glanced over at Rōyama, who was telling the nurse to go check up on the other patients. ďIs everything alright with Fujimiya?Ē

"Yes, the sedative should wear off in a couple of hours. I think it would be best if he wakes up at home, he hasnít been very comfortable being in the hospital in the past. Besides, there is nothing I can do for him. Now if youíll excuse me, I need to make sure that the other patients on this floor are fine, what with all the excitement." The doctor stopped to exchange a look with the two blond men. "Just a case of shock and stress, like Miss Kitada said. Nothing unexpected, what with him finding a family member gone. Thatís- thatís all I have to report." Two pairs of green eyes and one blue blinked at the flushed man as he exited the room.

Not sure why the doctor had just told them that he was going to cover for Aya that night but not about to question his luck, Yohji nodded his head at Omi and hurried out of the room. Word seemed to have spread to the other guards in the hallway, and he was waved through to an elevator. Shifting Aya about in his arms, the former detective marveled at all the armed men standing about. What the hell did Kritiker have on this floor that they employed a militia to protect? Which begged more questions, like how the hell had Schreiend been able to get through it and snatch Aya-chan away? Why didnít they just kill the girl, why try to kidnap her yet again? Something wasnít right here, but at the moment he was too worried about Aya to figure things out. All he wanted to do was go home, get things ready in case Omi informed him he had to take the redhead and flee. It would all depend on what Manx decided.

*******

Omi walked about the room, grabbing the few personal belongings he could find and stuffing them in an empty pillowcase. A teddy bear, couple of cards, a beautiful carved brush and comb set, some cds. Aya might want them, to keep them safe until WeiŖ got his sister back. Which they would, there was no way theyíd let Schreiend keep the girl. Once done with his task he looked up to see Manx staring at him oddly. Time to get this over with. "You do know what Iím going to ask you, donít you."

"Iíll tell you my decision, if you answer me this. Did you know that Fujimiya was psychic?"

Sighing, the boy set his bundle down and sat in the chair. "Yes."

"For how long?"

"Not very long at all. The past two months or so, Iíd say." Omi looked pleadingly at the woman who was almost like a mother to him. "Please Manx, donít say anything to Kritiker. I donít trust the organization. If my uncle was still alive, it would be one thing, butÖ I donít know who is running it now, and I donít trust them to have Ayaís best interest at heart. Iím afraid theyíll take him away and weíll never see him again."

Manx walked over to the window, staring out it to avoid the blue eyes begging her to be silent. "I understand your concerns, Omi, I really do. But you saw him tonight, what if he becomes a danger to WeiŖ?" To you, she left unsaid.

"Aya wouldnít hurt us! He didnít do a thing to harm anyone here tonight. And heís not normally like that, usually all he does is predict things, which helps keep the team safe. Ken might have died during the mission at Sōdō if it hadnít been for a warning of Ayaís. There have been a lot of times that the only reason WeiŖ had survived was because of him. Please, Iím begging you, donít tell them anything. Just do what the doctor is doing, tell them he fainted at finding his sister gone. That the equipment was damaged when Schreiend attacked. You do know it was them, donít you?"

"Iíve seen the bodies, and I know about their attempt to kidnap Aya-chan earlier this year." Manx avoided the other question for the moment, pondering her choices. To lie to her superiors would be very risky, this involved more than just two agents sleeping together. But if she knew Omi half as well as she thought she did... She turned to gaze seriously at the teenager. "What will you do if I donít say yes?"

Blue eyes gazed back at her grimly. "Yohji, Aya and I will disappear. Maybe Ken as well, but I canít say for sure. Yohjiís only waiting for my word, if he doesnít hear from me soon heíll leave regardless. We protect our own, and that means not letting anyone get ahold of one of us. Even if it is Kritiker." The two blonds had silently agreed on that before Yohji had left.

It was worse than she had thought, Omi was tossing his fate in with the older menís. "Theyíll never let you go," she said in a husky voice.

"Theyíll have no choice. If you thought Hirohata had compromised the organization, thatís nothing compared to the damage I can do. Iíve been prepared for this day for some months now, Manx. Kritiker will be too busy trying to protect their people and families to come after us any time soon. That will be all the head start we need to be safe."

"Youíd do that to the organization that has raised and supported you?"

Gazing back at the woman, Omi appeared so much older than his years. "It will hurt, but Iíll do it. You and Persia raised me, not Kritiker. Besides, Yohji and Aya are my family, I wonít let anything hurt them. Iím sorry Manx." He truly was, but it wouldnít stop him from doing what was needed to be done. No one harmed his family, was allowed to tear it apart. Not while he still drew breath.

He would do it to, Manx thought. She knew the boy she had helped raise very well. There was only one choice left. Not that it was an unpleasant one to make, but it placed Omi and the rest of WeiŖ in great danger, risked all of them for just one. "All right, I will report exactly what you asked me to. They wonít find out what happened from me. Iím not happy about this, but Iíll do it. If only to stop you from making a terrible mistake." The decision was worth it when the boy launched himself into her arms, hugging her tightly.

"Thank you thank you thank you." Gracing the woman with a beautiful smile, Omi stood on his toes and kissed Manx on the cheek. "Now I only have one more thing to ask you." That got him a frown. "Could you please give me some money for a cab? I need a ride home, and donít have any on me."

Shaking her head, the woman handed over the keys to her car. "Just take mine, park it behind the shop. Iíll get it some time in the morning."

"Thanks again! Youíre the greatest." Omi smiled again and headed for the door.

Manxís voice stopped him at the doorway. "Omi, promise me to be very careful."

He turned around and nodded his head. "I promise. Good night." With that he hurried down the hall, eager to get home. Heíd have to stop on the way and call Yohji, let him know to stay put for the time being. Once back at the Koneko he would have to hack into Kritikerís system, make sure that no one besides the five of them had a clue what had happened in Aya-chanís room tonight. Looked as if he wasnít getting any sleep any time soon.

*******

Schuldig rested on his bed, ready to drift off to sleep. Cursing himself he opened his eyes, it wouldnít do to be off his mark this night. Unfortunately the man-whore had finished molesting his tuberose for the time being, there were no more second-hand emotions to distract himself with while waiting for Schreiend to make their move. While it was heartening to learn of Ayaís stamina, his teeth would be worn to nubs from grinding in anger and frustration if Balinese didnít take a cold shower soon. Where did the man get all that energy?

Busy thinking of ways to kill off his rival, even if he couldnít follow through with them, Schuldig was shocked back to reality when he felt Aya leap out of bed. The man knew, already he knew what was happening as he dressed. But he wouldnít get to the hospital in time. The Fates had seen to that. The telepath mentally tagged along for that ride, not tampering with his tuberoseís mind or talent in the slightest, being too afraid to disturb the man as he wrecked havoc on Tokyoís streets. The whole entire time he felt the chains binding Ayaís talent strain to hold it contained, and let out a gasp when they started to snap as the man stared at the empty bed his sister should have been occupying.

<Rōyama, get upstairs. Right now. Or else.> He felt his puppet tremble as his voice ripped angrily through the doctorís mind, and was relieved when the man burst into action. Schuldig double checked that the man had prepared the sedative properly, then ensured that no one tried to prevent him from reaching the now locked down floor. It took a bit of Ďconvincingí, but with his heartís power rushing through him it was childís play to make people look the other way or wave the doctor past and immediately forget about doing so. He kept the other Kritiker agents on location that evening away as well, all but the redheaded bitch. The kitties might need some authority to back them, and Bombay had the bitch wrapped about his finger.

When the doctor burst into Aya-chanís room he used Rōyamaís eyes to see the catalyst in all his glory. Beautiful. Stunningly so. The German couldnít wait to see Aya completely unchained one day. Making sure that the man didnít balk when the time came, he left the doctorís mind to delve Ayaís psyche. Then immediately recoiled in shock. Inside the swordsmanís mind was a punishing maelstrom of guilt, self-hate and pain, chipping away at the manís delicate sanity. Dammit, he knew that the boy wasnít going to react well to his siblingís abduction, but all that was keeping him sane was the distraction his talent was providing. Why the hell hadnít Cassandra warned him about this? If Aya completely shattered he would have a broken catalyst on his hands, a very dangerous thing indeed. Not to mention that lovely mind destroyed. That was unacceptable.

Schuldig set to work trying to keep Ayaís psyche from breaking into tiny pieces, using all of the shared power at his command. He couldnít do anything at the moment about the man using his talent to search out for his sister. Besides, it wouldnít do Aya any good, she was out of reach, his blind spot fully exploited. Between the rush of that power and his difficult task, Schuldig failed to initially notice how the talent was twisting about, seeking any outlet it could find. When he did notice what was going on it was starting to affect threads directly outside of the hospital. < Stop! Stop before you draw their attention. Stop right now.> There was no way the elders and any other high level talent would miss what was going on if this continued. He desperately tried to rein in the catalystís power, forcing it back in the cage that Cassandra had fashioned for it. It took all of his strength, and for a while it seemed to be working.

Then the talent chose to strike back at him, entwining with his. Pleasure rushed through his body at that, delicious heat washed through him. The two melded together for a sweet instant, then he felt his shields crumble at the unexpected stress. The minds of all the people around him started screaming in Schuldigís head, making him whimper in pain. What was worse was he knew that Aya was hearing them to, it destabilized the man even further. It took him a precious few seconds to organize his thoughts enough to send the command. <Do it now! Or Iíll skin your family alive.> The doctor burst into motion, he felt the prick of the needle just as Aya did. His relief was short lived, however, as the telepath found himself being dragged into unconsciousness with the other man. Their minds were too entangled for him to separate his in time, so he joined his heart in darkness and insanity.

*******

"Okay, chibi. Just get home soon, alright?" Yohji hung up the phone and returned his arm back around Ayaís waist, hugging the slender form close. It felt as if he was holding a block of ice, even through the thick sweater he had dressed the man in as soon as heíd gotten them home. The blond was sitting on his bed, propped against the headboard with Aya on his lap, held close to his chest. The comforter was tucked tight around the both of them.

"You want to tell me whatís going on now, Kudoh?" Ken stood at the foot of the bed, very upset at what was happening around him. Heíd woken up to the squeal of tires and found his roommates gone and the garage door left open. After almost an hourís wait Yohji had returned home with an unconscious Aya, rushing up to their room and curling up on the bed together, a cell phone in the blondís hand. Yohji had refused to say anything while heíd waited for the call, which was from Omi apparently. Who should have been with the two of them. "I want some answers, dammit."

Jerking a hand through his hair, Yohji shifted Aya until he rested more fully against him. "Aya got a call from the hospital, something was going on there. He dashed off and I went with him. We ran into Omi on the way out the door, so the chibi tagged along. Got to the hospital in time to find Schreiend had been there and were long gone, Aya-chan along with them. As you can imagine, fearless leader did not take the news very well. Quite simply, he freaked." He thought that summed up what the hell had happened with the man rather well. "Fortunately a doctor came by before the kitten did too much damage, put him to sleep. So I came home and Omi stayed to see what was going on. Did I mention that Manx was there as well? End of story, Omiís on his way home now, good night and go back to bed. And fuck opening the shop tomorrow, I think Iíll need you to help sit on Aya, keep him from charging out after those bitches single-handedly." That said, Yohji rested his head on top of Ayaís, wishing he could go to sleep at well. But he wouldnít, not until his lover woke up. He wouldnít put it past the sneaky bastard to disappear on him, searching for his sister. At that moment Yohji hated Aya-chan, the claim she had on his redheadís heart and how she was now being used to hurt him.

Ken stared at the couple for a minute, one word echoing through his mind. Bullshit. Heíd lived with Kudoh too long to not have his internal lie detector go off during that speech. Something was off about the story, he just wasnít quite sure what. But he knew better than to get into it with the older man, Yohji would deny it was a lie until he was blue in the face. "All right, Iím going downstairs to wait for Omi. If weíre not opening the shop I donít need to wake up early. You want anything?"

"Put some coffee on, please. Then bring it up here if you wouldnít mind."

"Huhn." Ken left the couple and made his way to the kitchen, brewing the coffee just to give himself something to do. When it had just stopped dripping Omi came in through the back door.

"Ken, what are you doing up?"

Now that was a nice greeting, Omi didnít appear real happy to see him. "Waiting for you to get home. Want some coffee?" The younger boy nodded his head. Ken passed him a cup and sat down at the table. "What happened tonight?"

Omi paused in sipping the hot beverage. "Didnít Yohji tell you?"

A brunet head nodded. "Yeah, but humor me and tell me as well."

Buying some time as he sipped some more coffee, Omi tried to think of what Yohji would tell the athlete. It wouldnít have anything to do about Ayaís power, Ken wouldnít react well to that. "Aya got a call from the hospital, was told to show up there immediately. Yohji went with him and I tagged along, wondering what was going on. We got there to find out that Schreiend had kidnapped Aya-chan. Aya passed out from the stress, so Yohji brought him home. I stuck around to try and find out what happened."

"Yohji said a doctor put Aya to sleep, since he was freaking out."

Oh, hell. He hadnít thought that Yohji would say that, he usually tried to cover for his loverís often unstable behavior. "Well, the official version is that Aya passed out, please try to remember that. Donít think Kritiker would like it if they found out he flipped. It was pretty scary." The teenager could still see Aya standing in that room, appearing so inhuman. He shivered in memory. Upon looking up he found a pair of brown eyes narrowed on him. "Something wrong, Kenken?"

"You wouldnít be lying to me about what happened, would you Omi? Because thatís the impression Iím getting here. Whatís going on that you think you canít share it with me?" It hurt, the feeling that his teammates were hiding something from him. Something that had to do with Aya, he was certain of that much. Had Mastermind been involved in this nightís activities? Was that why the two blonds werenít telling him everything?

Omi stood up and walked over to his friend. "Itís not what you think, Ken. I donít know why you are feeling like this. Thatís all that happened tonight, I swear it." There was no way Ken could know what all had really taken place. He would probably hate Aya after finding out the man was psychic. Which was the last thing the redhead needed right now, it was bad enough that heíd lost his sister. "Now if youíll excuse me, I have to go and start trying to find out all I can about Schreiend. See if I canít dig up a few clues as to where they might be. We need to get Aya-chan back soon, before they hurt her." Or Aya lost it again.

"Iíll keep the coffee going, donít feel like sleeping right now. Besides, I have to take some up to Yohji." Ken watched as his roommate left, swallowing down the anger he felt. It wasnít what he was thinking, his teammates werenít betraying him. Aya most likely had done something incredibly stupid, like the equivalent of throwing his sword at a helicopter again, and Omi and Yohji were covering for him. That was it. No reason to let his anger build over the matter, he kept telling himself. Sooner or later heíd believe it.

*******

Humming softly to himself, Yohji stroked a hand through Ayaís hair. He watched as the crimson strands fell back onto the perfectly white flesh, the slashes of red appearing as open wounds on the pale face. Lifting up one of his loverís lids he found the manís eye to still be a solid black orb. Shit. "Aya, love, youíre stressing me out. Wake up and return back to normal, _please_." It was early morning, the sun was out shining and Aya wasnít awake yet. It was past the Ďcoupleí of hours the doctor had said the man was supposed to be out. Yohji had a very bad feeling about the situation. / Hold him close and do not let him go until back he comes./ He heard the voice in his head, the one from his dream the other morning. Even though he desperately needed to get up and go to the bathroom he didnít want to leave Aya alone for even a second. "Please, kitten, just wake up. Iíll even take the odd eye thing if I have to, just open them." Nothing, no response at all.

So he started to sing softly, something to fill the time and so Aya could hear his voice. Anything to let the man know that he was here, freezing along side of him, even though it was turning out to be a typical, unbearably hot and muggy late August day in Tokyo, making up for the past few cool ones with a passion. His redhead was still a block of ice.

About an hour later a weary Omi poked his head in the room, taking in the sight of an exhausted Yohji singing to an oblivious Aya. "Is he asleep?" It didnít seem natural, that Aya would wake up from the drugs and not try to tear the place down on his way out to find his sister.

"No."

"What?" Omi rushed to the bed. "He canít still be out, can he? Do we need to call the doctor?" He hissed when he got a close look at his friend, at how pale he still was. "Aya looks the same as he did a couple of hours ago."

Dropping a kiss on top of a crimson mop, Yohji then rested his chin on it. "I know, kiddo. Here, take a look." He showed Ayaís eye to the boy. "I donít think this has anything to do with what Rōyama gave him, I think itís because of what he was doing beforehand. Whatever the hell that was. His eyes are a solid color, like that Prodigy kidís when he uses his power." Yohji still wasnít sure what had happened last night. He wasnít sure that he wanted to know. "What have you found out, anything?"

Omi shook his head. "Nothing on either fronts. The doctor and Manx reported the story they said they would, and no one else was aware of what was really going on. At least as far as I can tell. No news about Schreiend either, I canít find a trace of them. Itís like they vanished, and they couldnít do that unless they had some major support backing them up. This doesnít look good, Yohji. I donít think we are going to get Aya-chan back anytime soon."

Green eyes closed in pain. "Fuck, donít say that, chibi. Itís going to destroy Aya if he wakes up and we tell him we canít find his sister." For a moment he remembered the anguish and guilt that had slowly bled into his loverís emotionless voice, as he kept repeating that he wanted Aya-chan back. No, it was going to devastate the man. "Iím so sorry, kitten, weíll get her back, I promise." Yohji started singing again, the first song that came into his head as his thoughts drifted off.

What were the chances that Schreiend would be the ones to kidnap Ayaís sister? After what had happened earlier that year. He could still remember that day so clearly, the very beginning of spring and already the weather so warm, seeing the woman who looked so much like Asuka. Who had tasted almost the same. But it wasnít her, heíd known that when they had slept together, when the connection heíd always had with the woman had failed to appear. Dammit, Neu was so much like her though, he couldnít be a hundred percent sure. That doubt had almost cost him his life as the woman had tried to kill him with his own wire. Would have too, if Botan hadnít shown up in time. Even though sheíd clearly led him on only as an excuse to get him off somewhere so she could murder him, Yohji couldnít get Neu out of his mind. Could she be Asuka, somehow so changed he couldnít easily recognize her? If so, where did that leave him and Aya? It had been so much easier to not think about these things when the woman and her team had faded away, leaving WeiŖ alone after their failed attacks.

Now they were back, and he was so confused. /Think of the future./ Again with the voice. Yohji hugged Aya tighter, suddenly afraid to let him go. What did these musings matter, he was here, with someone who he loved so much it hurt to even think about it. Who loved him back. Hell, Aya had let him ravish him in a _park_ of all places, never mind that it had been raining and the place deserted because of that. Didnít get much better proof than that of how much the smaller man loved him.

"Uh, Yohji-kun, I think you should let go a little, Ayan needs to be able to breathe."

Yohji looked up to see Omi staring at him worriedly, and to find his arms constricted very tight about his lover. Who most likely was going to be a bit bruised now. "Shit. Sorry, kitten." He stroked a hand along a delicate cheekbone, drowning in sorrow when violet eyes failed to open and stare back at him, when Aya didnít tilt his face into the caress. "Please wake up."

"You okay, Yohji?"

"Not really. Iím stressed out, tired, got a sore throat and had about five cups of coffee too many. Swear that Ken brought me up at least two pots during the night." He had to get out of bed before he had an accident. "Listen chibi, do me a favor, hold onto Aya for me. I donít want him to be alone. Just hold him and talk to him, and Iíll be right back." The youth nodded his head and sat down on the bed, gingerly wrapping his arms about the unconscious figure. Yohji forced himself to get out of the bed and leave the room, even if he planned on only being two minutes he still stressed over leaving Aya. It was an amazingly quick trip to the bathroom and he raced back, startling Omi who had just settled his teammate against him comfortably. "Heís still freezing, Yotan."

The older blond snorted as he curled back on bed, settling Aya on him again. "Tell me something new, chibi. Thanks for the assist, why donít you get some sleep. You look as if you could fall asleep standing up."

Omi yawned and stood to his feet, taking a moment to tuck the comforter tighter around the couple. "I could say the same thing to you. Get some rest, if I find something weíll need your help." He left the room, intent on getting some food and more caffeine to fuel his tired body.

Sighing out loud, Yohji reached for his cigarettes and lit one, taking a deep drag off of it. "Now where were we? Think I was singing and you were doing your best ice statue impersonation. You getting tired of this yet? I know that I am, you really need to wake up and make up for all this stress youíre putting me through, love. Or even give me one of those glares of yours and tell me to shut up, then go tearing through Tokyo looking for your sister. Ever think that this is not helping the girl? How the hell you gonna rescue her when youíre out cold?"

"Come on, Aya, time for you to be your usual stubborn idiot self. Wake up. Please. Look, you got me begging and it isnít even for sex. Which Iím very disappointed over the fact that Iíve been in bed with you for the past several hours and you havenít succumbed to my raw sexuality yet. I know I went a little overboard yesterday, but if youíre pulling this shit just to give your ass a break, you are so dead. Now snap out of it and try to kill me. Come on, sweetie. Please." He alternated between cajoling and pleading with the unconscious man, anything to keep talking and to make the time go by all the quicker. The longer Aya remained out of it the more worried Yohji became. It was as if Aya had truly chosen to take his sisterís place in the world. Well if so he was going to disabuse the idiot of that notion right away. Yohji wanted his lover back.

*******

It was dark, absolute blackness. Aya floated in it as various voices screamed at him.

/A sonís duty is to his family; to honor his parents, to uphold his family name, to protect his siblings./

His fatherís voice, one of an endless stream of lectures. Which he had failed to heed. Which he had failed to obey. All three of the tenements, broken. He held no honor for his father, stained the family name with blood night after night, and had now failed to keep Aya-chan safe. He was a failure. What use was he?

/Iím not changing the will, Himiko. Iím sorry, but my decision stands. Ayaís children will inherit the company, if her husband agrees to take the family name. I know several suitable young men who would gladly agree to such a condition. Ran will be provided for, but he will not resume the responsibility as head of the family. I canít let that happen. The name Fujimiya will not be associated with such a freak./

His father had never seemed to care about how often he had been in earshot during these conversations, usually just a room away as he studied. What did it matter, anyways? He was a disgrace; that was proven time and time again.

/You hold on to your emotions too tightly, ignoring what I teach you. As long as you do so I am afraid that you will fail in achieving the proper mindset with which to direct your sword, Ran./

Shionís voice, cutting through him. The disappointment and sorrow that had been so evident during his training sessions, as he had mastered the movements but failed to detach himself from his hate. Again and again. All that had mattered was gaining revenge for Aya-chan, and then he had let her be taken. Heíd let his emotions get in the way yet again, craving the affection and pleasure Yohji gave him when the man made love to him.

/I donít know what weíll do with you at this point, Ran. You are a liability to any team we place you with right now. Itís clear that you have failed to learn what Shion tried to teach you, that you need to train your abilities better./

A liability. A failure. It always came down to that.

/So I hear there is no change in your sisterís condition. Amazing, isnít it, how you could survive such an event almost completely unscathed, and your poor sister ends up trapped in a hospital bed. Isnít that odd? Maybe if she had been better favored, better protected, she would be awake and well this day. How does that make you feel, Fujimiya? That you were such the lucky one? Not that it was your fault, Iím sure. You would have done anything to protect the girl, am I right? She was your younger sibling, if Iím reading my notes correctly. A boy is supposed to protect his little sister, I remember always keeping an eye out on mine. Such a pain she was, when I look back on that now. Didnít you ever think that? How nice it would be to not have to be the responsible one always? After all, you couldnít keep her safe from everything, could you. You couldnít keep her safe that day./

He always betrayed Aya-chanís trust in him. Always let the girl down. Failing, failing, failing.

/What the hell were you thinking, you almost blew the damn mission! If Omi hadnít salvaged it Hikage would have gotten away. He covered for your fuck-up. And you donít even seem to care, prick. Probably wouldnít even if we ended up dead, nothing matters to the great Aya Fujimiya./

Kenís voice, shouting at him. For messing up the mission. For letting his teammates down. For failing yet again. He hadnít asked for WeiŖ to look to him for guidance during missions, he couldnít be trusted with the responsibility. Why had they never realized that? Why had they accused him when things went wrong? He had never asked for any of it.

/Does it please you to bring shame to this family? Your behavior today was irreprehensible. You should have known better than to play some silly game with your sister on the temple grounds. It was unseemly, and reflected badly upon your mother and I. Will you never be a proper son?/

/You do not grasp the essence of the lesson, Ran. Try again. You clearly need to practice more./

/Youíll always be there for me, wonít you Ran? Iíll always have my big brother looking out for me, scaring away all the monsters with your frown. Hana said you could even scare a gaki away with your glare, you look so mean./

/This is a fucking team. Team, as in a group of people working together. Are you grasping that concept yet, Abyssinian? You keep going off on your own and one day youíll get the rest of us killed. Youíre such an asshole. We canít depend on you./

/Howís your sister today, Fujimiya? You still visit her almost every day? Such a devoted brother you are. Itís such a shame that you couldnít have kept her safe that day. Isnít it funny what Fate throws our way? How does that make you feel?/

Like a failure. It always came back to that. He was nothing more than a freak, a disappointment to those that knew him. Why did he even bother? He always failed in the end.

/ I knew you were a cold bastard, Aya, but I never guessed just how much. Youíre not human, are you?/

/I think you have issues of guilt at failing to protect your sister that day. Of failing your parents. Which is silly. There was nothing you could have done to prevent it, was there? It wasnít as if you knew ahead of time, that you had some sort of warning. Did you?/

/Heís unnatural. I canít have him as my heir; do you hear what people say about him? Miyamoto even asked me the other day if he was adopted. I canít have something like him representing the Fujimiya name. I canít./

/Youíve been given another chance, Fujimiya. A new team. Donít mess it up this time./

/Hahaha, you should have seen Yoshiís face! I told him if he picked on me any more that my big brother was going to beat his face in. That you wouldnít let anyone ever hurt me. He ran away so scared!/

/Keep your eyes lowered, Ran. Itís bad enough that we canít do anything for your awful hair, but it unnerves people when you stare at them. Theyíre such an awful color. Really, I donít care what those doctors say, there has to be something wrong with you./

The voices kept speaking to him; his parents, his teammates, Manx, Shion, the psychiatrists, Yohji. His sister, which was the worse. To hear the love and pride she had held for him, to know that he had betrayed her and that precious trust. Heíd failed her.

He let the voices wash through him as he curled up into a ball, not arguing with them or their claims. It was all true. He was nothing. So he would stay here in the darkness, listen to their verdicts of him, never do anything else since it would only end in failure. It was best this way, before he hurt anyone else that he loved and cared for. He should have learned that lesson after Aya-chan was injured. Should have learned that when he lost Shion and the others. Well the lesson had sunk in now, he would stay here forever. Just him and the voices.

<Oh no youíre not. Iím not going to let you wallow here in your misery while a bunch of jackasses spout on about something that they know absolutely nothing about. Snap out of it already.>

He didnít like that voice, didnít want to hear it. It cut through the others, brought a hint of light and feeling with it. That was unacceptable. He just wanted to remain here, why couldnít he ever find any peace?

<This isnít peace, little tuberose. Itís madness. You stay here much longer and youíll be even more cracked than the old witch. Which means I wonít be that far behind you. I wonít let that happen, Brad will make me share the same room with Farfie. So come on, stop giving in and show me that backbone of yours. Show me your fire.>

Forgetting that he was surrounded by nothingness, Aya unfurled and glared in the direction that he thought the voice was coming from. "Go to hell, and leave me alone. I just want-" before he could finish that thought he felt a tug, closed his eyes with a hiss as light blared through the blackness.

A pair of arms wrapped around him, held him tight. When Aya opened his eyes he found himself standing on a cliff. It looked just like the one where he had gone to think after Botanís death. Instead of the ocean, though, there was the darkness that he had taken refuge in waiting out past the land. Cherry blossoms bloomed behind him, their petals emitting a faint light. The wind blew through his hair, bringing their scent with it.

"Much better, though youíre still too close to it. Could we please walk away from the edge? Literally and figuratively?"

The swordsman twisted around to stare at the man who was holding him from behind. When his suspicions were confirmed he twisted in Schuldigís grasp, trying to break free. But it wasnít just a pair of arms holding him tight, there were jade green threads binding them together as well. "Relax, precious. Iím not here to hurt you. Iím trying to prevent you from doing that to yourself and to me. Come away from the edge, please."

All his struggles got him was turned around and facing the telepath. Aya gazed up in wonder at the taller man, taking in the worried expression on Schuldigís face. In his experience the foreigner was never anything other than condescending, smug, lustful or angry. Never worried. It stilled his struggles, but when Schuldig tried to pull him closer to the cherry grove he dug in his heels. "No, Iím not budging. Let me go."

"Not a chance, Aya. Iím not letting you drag the two of us back into the madness. Do you have any idea how much effort it took to pull you out of there? Any longer and I would never have been able to." Schuldig held his heart close, trying to radiate reassurance and calm. But he was still too shaken up by finding himself stuck in the catalystís mind like this.

It never should have happened, but when Ayaís talent had entwined so desperately with his he hadnít been able to prevent it. So now he was literally stuck here until the younger man decided to leave. Which he didnít show any signs of doing. Schuldig could still feel the attraction the madness held for Aya, and knew that it would take quite some effort to get his precious to walk away from it. He had surrendered to the self-hate and guilt completely, if it wasnít for his presence the man would have been lost to it forever.


When he had bound them together he had never stopped to think how fully that would truly be. He hadnít thought beyond having to block the other assassinís emotions and pain. Now he found him linked to the madness as well, standing on an edge that many of his recent actions had pushed Aya closer and closer to the past couple of weeks. Talk about hoisting oneself on their own petard. "Come back from the edge, weíre too close to it as it is. Itís safer by the trees."

"Iím not moving, Schu. Why should I believe anything you have to say?"

"Because I have never lied to you." At Ayaís disbelieving snort the German rolled his eyes. "Okay, maybe Iíve stretched the truth a time or two, but when Iíve given you my word it has always been honest. Well, Iím telling you now, it is a very bad idea to stay here like this. You need to leave, now."

Feeling the guilt and hate still filling his chest, Aya buried his head in the other manís neck. "I canít, Iím a failure. All that will happen if I go back is that someone else will be let down, someone will be hurt. Iím staying. Let me go."

"No chance in hell. Listen to me, I am completely serious. You stay here, and youíll be stuck with me for all of time. You really want that? Either the two of us stay or we leave together, there are no other options. Weíll be nuts together, isnít that romantic?"

He received a rather potent glare for that comment. "Let go of me Schu, and get the hell out of my mind." Aya made to shove away, to jump back into the darkness, but the green strands coiled about him even tighter, pressing him close to Schuldig. "Why wonít they let me go?"

"Because like it or not, weíre stuck with each other forever now. It wonít let us separate. If they would Iíd be back in my own head right now, insanity holds no attraction to me. I never thought that it would for you." When Aya continued to glare at him he lifted a hand to cup a pale cheek. The man was just so beautiful, it hurt to know that he had to wait a while longer to totally claim him. "You are not a failure. There was no way you could have stopped any of that stuff from happening, either the explosion or your sisterís kidnapping. Accept that. Ignore those voices. They are just talking shit."

"I seem to remember you telling me something similar once. That I had failed my sister. Why the sudden change? I think youíll just say anything to keep from going back into it again." The voices were getting louder, Aya found his attention drifting back to them. Suddenly he felt a pair of warm lips on his, found himself responding to the kiss, pressing himself hard against the telepath. It was instinctual, no thought involved. After a moment Schuldig broke it off.

"Iím sorry, precious." It was painful, having to eat crow. Nor was it the time to explain how heíd said those things to break down the other manís mental and emotional shields, to help burrow his way in. Seemed he never should have forgotten that the kitty had one hell of a memory, and was tenacious as a bulldog. Aya gazed back at him with a closed expression, clearly not believing a word he said. What a time to have the past come and bite him on the ass. "Cassandra, come here. I know you have to be watching this. Cassandra, come, you old witch. Cassandra."

Aya broke off from staring at the telepath as he felt a hand brush back his bangs. Beside him stood the woman from his dreams, who must be the Cassandra Schu had called. The woman appeared sad, and stood between him and the darkness.

"Warned you I did, about pushing him too far. Now you reap what you sow, and seek to enlist my help for your blunders and foul temper. Fool you are, a childish devil. Now hush, you do your cause no good with your mouth." The smaller redhead looked on in wonder as the woman chided his personal tormentor, and Schuldig merely put up with it, a bitter expression on his face.

Cassandra returned her attention back to the star child. "He speaks the truth now, truly. Cast yourself into the darkness and you damn the two of you, and others as well. Your sister will truly be left without protection, and the Knight will soon follow you. Three lives weigh on your decision, three and an infinite more. Choose wisely you must. Always it comes down to choosing."

"Aya-chan would be much better off if I wasnít around, all I have done is hurt her." Aya jerked his head away from the womanís soothing touch, stared past her shoulder at the darkness.

"You are just as foolish as he. Your love keeps her safe, it matters not where her body rests. Give in to the madness and your love and power go with you, leaving the shade unguarded. Then she truly will be dust and ashes. Walk away now and I promise you that you will find her one day. Not without time and pain and the cruel Fates taking their toll, but you will find her. This I swear." Violet eyes drifted back to her, met hers. The beautiful orbs were filled with doubt. "Never have I lied to you. Never."

"But chide you I will, for forgetting about your Knight. Look closer at the threads." Schuldig growled, looking as if he wanted to say something but snapped his mouth shut. Aya did as he was bid, looking down at the threads binding him to the German. What he had failed to see before was the golden ones wrapped around the green and trailing back in the direction of the trees. He recognized them as the ones connecting him to Yohji earlier.

"Kudoh, theyíre Kudohís. What do they mean?"

Cassandra touched one of the strands briefly, a look of pain crossed her face as she did so. "Tied to each other you are, because of the love you bear. Almost as much as you are with this evil one." Schuldig glared at the nickname. "He is wrapped in your glow as well, you strive to keep him safe. That has bound you together. If you fall into the darkness eventually it will consume him as well."

Aya felt a pain in his chest at that thought. "Youíre lying."

"No, I can not. Listen, focus on the thread and listen."

Once more he listened to her, why Aya wasnít quite sure. He stroked a golden strand.

Worry and fear consumed him. [I swear, you have any idea of the amount of stress you cause me? You are by far and way the most high maintenance lover I have ever come across. If you werenít so damn sexy and likely to take that fucking sword of yours to me Iíd spank some sense into you. This is ridiculous, wake up you sneaky bastard. Please, love, just wake up. I canít yell at you properly when youíre all floppy and cold. Not to mention you look so fucking beautiful, like a porcelain doll. You look like Ran. But I want Aya, so come back to me. Now. I swear youíll be in for it if you donít. Iím warning you. You want me to start singing again? Already sound like a damn frog from trying to reach your stubborn ass, might as well. This is beginning to turn out just like any other conversation between us, me yelling and you not saying a damn word. Sometimes I think you should have had your tongue pierced, you sure as hell donít use it for much. Well, besides torturing me with popsicles and that little thing you-] He jerked his hand back, a trace of a blush on his cheeks.

"What Ďlittle thingí was he referring to, Aya?" Schuldig asked with a leer. He glared at the man for eavesdropping, a slight smile curving his lips when Cassandra smacked the reddish-orange head.

"Now is not the time! Almost as randy as the Knight you are! Behave for once." Grey eyes returned to look at Aya. "Hear him you did? You have him worried and worn, he will not rest until you come back. Go into the darkness and that will be never. Trust me on this. Many a year I have stood on the edge, listening to the voices, forgetting about the world. So hard it is for me to leave it, even now I hear it murmuring to me still. If I had ventured any further in never would I be able to leave it, it eats at you so swiftly. Put away your doubts and guilt, it wasnít your fault. The Fates have conspired against you, never a chance you stood on this matter. But if you step off the cliff it will be of your free will, it will be your fault that the shade and the Knight suffer. And the Magician as well. Evil he is, but he shouldnít be doomed by his love for you. No one should."

"Oh, thanks a lot you grey hag," the telepath muttered before returning his attention to the man in his arms. His tuberose was torn, wanting to believe Cassandra, desperate for reassurances yet afraid to hurt his loved ones any more. So tired of failing, or believing he would fail again. Schuldig stroked Ayaís cheek, knowing he would have to swallow his pride and lay unpleasant truths on the line. "Sheís right though, I do love you. If that means following you into the darkness then at least youíll be all mine there. Iím not letting go of you. Never. Balinese, cocklicker that he is, cares for you too. Can you turn your back on the both of us?" For a moment Aya leaned into the caress, his talent and dreams whispering of his need for the older man. Schuldig smiled at that action. All to soon it ended as Aya shook his head. When he opened his mouth to argue, glancing back at the darkness, the telepath grabbed his hand and touched it back to a golden thread.

[Sail away with me honey/ I put my heart in your hands/ Sail away with me honey now, now, now/ Sail away with me/ What will be will be/ I wanna hold you now/ Crazy skies all wild above me now/ Winter howling at my face-]

The idiot was living up to his threat after all, the pale man thought. Before he could suffer through any more of Kudohís singing, Schu moved his hand to a green thread. The emotions coursing through it startled him. A burning, possessive love, need, desire, protectiveness and fear, all of it at such a bruising intensity that it almost hurt to feel them, even if only for a short moment. Aya snatched his hand away, blinking confusedly at the other man. When the hell had Schu fallen in love with him? Why the hell had he? What was even worse was that deep below the shock and confusion a small part of him purred at feeling the telepathís emotions. This couldnít be true, he had to be mad already.

<No youíre not. Whatís the matter, kitty, at a loss for words? I told you that you were mine, now you know why. Iíll always be inside of you, will be watching out for you. I will even go over the edge with you. Accept it. That will never change.>

Body shaking, violet eyes searched out grey ones. "Will Yohji truly follow me if I give in to the voices?" Aya felt a flash of hurt and anger from Schuldig, but ignored it. He wasnít going to think about the recent revelation any time soon. Never, if he could help it. Right now he wanted to make sure that Kudoh wouldnít pay for his mistakes anymore. That he did something right for once.

Cassandra nodded her head. "He will suffer the same fate as you. What is tied so tightly can never be parted. The three of you will never feel the light again, and the shade will perish. I see no other outcome."

Feeling Schu kissing his temple, Aya ducked his head, trying to find the strength to move. He felt it flow into him from the telepath, after a moment he lifted his face so those lips brushed against his. Then he purposely stepped away from the cliffís edge, feeling the voices call out to him stronger with each centimeter he moved away from it. <They hold no sway over you, leave the past be.> Each step took the two men further into the brightness. The scent of cherry blossoms surrounded Aya, for a few heartbeats his mind flashed back to a vision heíd had weeks ago, of Schu and him making love in a room filled with the flowerís scent. Resolutely he pushed it aside and kept moving forward. <Remember, Iíll always be with you. Youíre mine now.> That was the last thing he heard before the light became unbearable.

The next thing Aya knew was he was being held tight against Yohjiís chest, the manís voice raspy and finishing up the song heíd heard in the dream. He shifted about, trying to move closer to his lover, seeking out the manís warmth. Aya found himself clutched even tighter and his head tilted up. "You awake, kitten?"

Yohjiís breath caught as the smaller manís eyes drifted open, no longer a solid black. They focused blearily on him for a moment as Ayaís lips curved into a frown. "You canít sing." With that the redhead fell asleep, snuggling closer as he sighed.

Torn between wanting to strangle his boyfriend for worrying him to no end and then saying something like that, and joyous that Aya had woken up, even if just briefly, Yohji felt a smile spread across his face. "Oh you are so dead when you wake up again." He squirmed about until the two of them were lying down and finally gave into the urge to sleep himself.

*******

"All in all, a very interesting report," Frown commented on, tapping the pile of papers in front of him. "But what exactly did we learn here?"

"That Orchidee is most definitely a precog. That has again been confirmed, this time beyond any shadow of a doubt. Aster reports that he left his house a full two minutes before any alarms went off." Smoke stopped talking to light a cigarette, needing the nicotine to calm her down before she strangled the thickheaded man.

Who unwisely glared at her, feeling in a mood to stir up trouble. "I noticed that, his report was so miniscule that an idiot could have memorized it word from word." When he failed to get a response from the woman he directed the look towards the foreigner in the room with them.

Gaijin merely shrugged his shoulders. "He set out in pursuit of Orchidee, but was prevented by a car accident. The man left several behind in his wake, though we are not exactly sure how many because oddly enough none of the victims remember seeing a white Porsche. Except for Aster."

Frown hmphed and glanced down at his papers.

"So we have confirmation that we indeed do possess an assassin with a formidable talent. One whose ability is clearly not as latent as we previously thought. One that we have an even greater hold on than before, as he will need Kritikerís resources in finding his sister." Old Man carefully tore a page of the report into a perfect square and started to fold it into a lily. "We have conformation as well that Schreiend was not merely funded by Takatori alone, that they have stronger ties with Esset than we previously thought. Those are all very good things to know."

"You seem very certain about the Esset connection, sir," Gaijin remarked respectfully.

"Yes, it is the only logical solution. We should have found them by now, that we havenít means that they have resources at their disposal that rival ours. Esset is the only organization in this region that can compare to us."

Waving away cigarette smoke, Frown rested his chin on a hand. "Well, itís always good to know what those bastards have up their sleeves, so something at least came out of this mess. But I thought that we had pretty much already accepted that Orchidee was a precog."

"There was a slight chance that heíd just been very fortunate on the last mission, but this is too many coincidences in a row for us to dispute the evidence any more," Smoke growled out. "Now we have no more doubts left, and whatever wall he has up around his talent is clearly starting to crumble. All we need to do now is break him, and that talent will be ours."

"Dr. Arai will be ready to start the psychiatric evaluation on him shortly. I vote that we give him only a few days to recover from the shock and then press forward, we can use the loss of his sister to force Orchidee to return back to the weekly sessions." Gaijin consulted his PDA, tapping open several files. "I think in five days time would be best, the doctor is making great headway in going through his past sessions, she should be ready by then."

Old Man placed the lily down on the table. "Hereís hoping that she will break him before the curse costs us another psychiatrist. Thereís this feeling that I have, that we will have a great need for Orchidee and his power at some point in the future. Esset is clearly gearing up for another confrontation with us, we will need every advantage that we have then."

"Then it would be best that we bring as much pressure to bear on the man as possible, isnít it," Frown commented.

*******

Groaning as he awoke, Schuldig cursed for a moment in his native tongue. That had been much closer than he would have ever imagined, with him being lost forever in anotherís mind, but had been worth it in the end. He could still taste Aya on his lips. In the end there had been no hate, just confusion and need.

It was slowly dawning on the telepath that he wasnít alone in his room. Since he wasnít picking up any thoughts that left only one person who it could possibly be. "Guten Morgen, mein FŁhrer."

"I think you should be saying Guten Abend instead. Itís almost eight oí clock in the evening, Mastermind."

"Was?" Schuldig sat straight up in bed, feeling his body protest at the sudden movement.

He felt exhausted as well, having expended too much energy to try and control his heartís power, and then to pull him back from the madness on top of that. "Somebody shoot me, please."

Crawfordís wry voice answered his plea. "Be very careful who you say that to, many people would be more that willing to take you up on the offer." Green eyes glared at the man for a moment, then drifted close. His little tuberose was still unconscious, but this time due to simple exhaustion, and would wake in another hour or two. Heíd have to be careful when that time came to make sure that the punishing emotions didnít return to drive Aya back to that edge. "Has anyone ever told you that you should have been a comedian, Bradley?"

"No."

"Thatís because thereís a very good reason why not. You have absolutely no sense of humor, at all."

The precog straightened out his shirt cuffs, not offended in the least over the insult. "No, but I think I earn points for sitting here patiently, waiting for you to explain to me how exactly youíve come to be rendered unconscious for most of the day."

Taking the hint, Schuldig settled back onto his bed. "Why do you think I was out of it for so long?"

"If I had three guesses, all of them would be Abyssinian. What have you been up to with that manís mind? I told you I need him reasonably sane, at least for the next several months."

"Then considered your wish my command, Brad. ĎCause thatís exactly what Iíve been doing, keeping him sane. Well, mostly. One hell of an unstable Kštzchen to begin with. I take it youíve Ďseení what the shrieking bitches were up to last night?"

Crawford nodded his head. "They kidnapped Abyssinianís sister." Heíd been waiting for that event to happen for some time now, things were starting to speed up to the convergence. In another month or so Schwarz would receive the order to take the girl away from Schreiend and to kill the women. "I take it that the man didnít handle what happened very well?" The fools had sealed their own fate, snatching a loved one from an ill wight. Schwarz would merely be the instrument that resulted in their deaths.

The German laughed. "One hell of an understatement there, Crawford. No, he didnít. It almost shattered his mind." As soon as he said the words Schuldig wanted to smack himself. He was tired and achy, and had just let out a slip that was not very wise.

"Then how did you manage to prevent that from happening?" The room became silent after the question. "How did you, Mastermind? Just how deep were you in the manís mind? From your silence I take it very much so. Thatís why you were out of it for so long, wasnít it?" An insane idea came to him at the time. If it was anyone other than the telepath he was talking to, he would discount it right off hand. ButÖ "Youíve linked your two talents together, havenít you?." That would explain how Schuldig was so certain that he could control the ill wight.

"Yes, I have." Schuldig glared challengingly at his leader, waiting for the explosion. Rosenkrantz has expressly forbidden any such linking of talents during their training, it was dangerous and unpredictable, much as he had found out last night. Often both participants went mad, if they did not complement each other totally. If their talents did not entwine together properly.

The explosion never came. Blue eyes regarded him carefully. "I think Iím beginning to see now." How it was that Schwarz would survive the convergence when Schreiend and Esset fell. How it was that Mastermind was so sure that Abyssinian would be his. In a way, they already had an ill wight working for them. It was an advantage that he would have to put to good use, include it in his future plans. "You do realize that the both of you could have been driven mad, donít you?"

The reddish-orange maned head nodded. "Such a link usually contains some disadvantages, be sure that you take them into consideration from now on. I refuse to let you be a liability to Schwarz. I expect you as well to be able to handle Nakamoto and his men tomorrow, we need that drug ring under our control by the middle of the week or it will invite some unwelcome attention to us. Take Berserker with you."

Watching as his leader stood up and walked over to the door, Schuldig decided to push his luck. He still couldnít believe how calmly Crawford was taking everything. "One moment, Bradley-kins. Iíve gotten Abyssinian stabilized for the moment, but his employers are planning on trying to break him down, it should be there in the files Nagi downloaded."

"I read them, what is your point, Schuldig?"

"I need to take care of that matter. Can I borrow Farfie to do so? Oh, donít get your boxers in a twist, Iím not going to have him carve the woman into beef cubes just yet, I promise. That would attract too much attention."

The American thought over the request for a moment. Then received a vision for his trouble. Rubbing his sore forehead, Crawford agreed. "Make sure you keep to that Ďsubtleí plan of yours and there should be no problem." With that he left the room.

Smiling as he lay back down in bed, Schuldig let his mind drift back to Ayaís. He was looking forward to the psych sessions very much. It would provide him with the perfect opening.

*******

He was cold again. For a moment Aya wondered if he was fated to live between the two extremes forever, blazing heat and bone-chilling cold, before he gave up on sleeping. When he opened his eyes he found Yohji sitting beside him on the bed, combing a hand through his hair. "íBout time you woke up again. Youíve been out the whole day."

Memories washed through him, of finding Aya-chan gone and thenÖ heat, threads, pain and then blackness. Something that his mind refused to think about. A dream where Schuldig and the grey woman, Cassandra were talking to him. Some of the conversation faded away, but he remembered bits of it. That Aya-chan was unharmed, that he would find her eventually. That he couldnít have changed a thing. "My sister?"

"Iím sorry love, but Omi has worn himself to a frazzle, trying to find her and Schreiend and not coming up with anything. Manx stopped by a couple of hours ago to report that Kritiker hadnít a clue to her whereabouts either, but was giving the matter top priority. I think the organization is smarting over a bunch of psychotic women getting the best of it. But I promise you, WeiŖ wonít stop searching for her until we find her. Donít get mad, but I even called Masato, had him unleash the hounds for any leads he could find." Yohji gazed worriedly at his lover, trying to gauge the manís reaction. Wondering if things were going to start sparking again.

All Aya did was sigh and close his eyes in pain. When he opened them again he stared back at the blond. "I donít care who knows, I just want to find her. Want to see how Omiís search is going, there has to be some sort of lead, even if it is miniscule. I have to save her, Yohji." He tried to get out of bed but found his body refusing to obey him. Kudoh put a hand on his shoulder until he stopped struggling.

"I know, love. I know. But you need to get back on your feet first, and running around after a bunch of false leads will just wear you down even more. Let us help you, please."

He wanted nothing more than to tell Yohji that he was perfectly fine, and would go out on his own as soon as he could stand. Then he remembered what Cassandra had said, about them being tied together. There was a flash of golden strands, a tugging on his heart. It took the fight out of him. "All right."

For an instant Yohji wasnít sure that heíd heard the redhead right. Heíd expected to go through one hell of a fight to get Aya to agree to his help. "Uhm, okay." After a few strokes through the crimson hair he pulled on an eartail. "You do know that you just agreed to our help, right?" He got a glare and a nod. "Just checking." Any other smart comment left him as he hauled Aya upright and kissed him. At first the man was stiff, but shortly melted into the embrace. When they broke off the kiss Yohji shifted Aya closer, wrapped an arm about his waist. "Iím so sorry, love. I wish we could have gotten there in time."

"Hn." Aya waited for the guilt to wash over him, but instead of the overwhelming flood heíd expected the emotion was surprisingly bearable. It hurt, but it didnít drag him down into it. Into the darkness. For a moment he felt threads embrace him and hold him firm. They glowed green and gold. Shaking his head at his fancy, Aya tucked his head under Yohjiís chin. In a moment heíd get out of bed and get ready, go find out what Omi had come up with and what Manx had to report, but for the time being he just enjoyed the peace. Kudoh held him tight, both hands rubbing his back soothingly, and a phantom touch caressed his cheek.

*******

Omi looked down on the naked brunet lying on his bed, the muscular body covered with strategically placed mounds of ice cream. "Hmm, where should I start?" Ken smiled back at him and reached for a cherry on top of the dessert piled on his crotch, held it up invitingly for the blond. Who bent down his head to take it between his teeth.

"I donít think the real Hidaka would appreciate a bunch of frozen goo all over his cock, it might deprive you of some pleasure later."

Choking on the cherry, Omi turned around to find Mastermind sitting on his desk, leering at him. The room dissolved to be replaced with the mission room, the telepath perched on the back of the couch now. "You- oh, you bastard."

The indignant insult earned him a smirk. "Well, I donít know for sure, it is possible that my parents were married. To each other at least. Not everyone can say the same, chibi."

The youth tried to dive at the man, knock him to the ground and then his head into it repeatedly, but found himself unable to move. "What the hell do you want now? And where were you the other night? Do you have any clue what the hell even happened? Aya went supernova, right in the middle of Kritikerís own hospital. Anyone could have seen him. In fact someone did, though heís remained quiet so far. Iíve been debating killing this one doctor, but havenít had a chance yet. Unless you make sure he wonít talk about what he saw that night."

"Why do you think he was there in the first place, kleiner Jung? You should know by now that I leave nothing to chance, not where my sweet tuberose is concerned. Rōyama is completely under my control, how do you think he gets the medication Abyssinian needs?Ē Shuldig smiled at the waves of frustration and hate radiating off of the teenager.

"You knew about it the whole time, didnít you?" Omi growled through gritted teeth. "Why didnít you put a stop to it then? Do you have any idea of the danger that you put Aya through?"

It was Schuldigís turn to growl in anger. He caused pain to lance through Omiís brain. <Donít ever imply that I do these things on a whim, Bombay. I have my reasons.> He waited for the pain to fade away before he continued. "Primarily being that now Kritiker is assured that the dear boy is a precog, and will look no further into his talent. Sometimes it is very useful to confirm an enemyís suspicions, if they have no real bearing on the truth. I allowed last night to happen as a way to better protect the boy." The telepath leaped off the couch to walk over to the immobile assassin. He patted Omiís tear-streaked cheek. "Never forget, I know _everything_ that goes on in Abyssinianís life. What may seem like simple caprice to you is nothing of the sort. Your job is not to question, it is to make sure that he remains safe. If you can not manage that duty I will have to take him off of your hands."

"I wish you would die, you bastard."

"Ah, now donít get nasty, Bombay. I might have to be that way in return. Trust me in this, you most certainly donít want either of those things to happen. Especially the first. It will cost you more than you can ever imagine. Now be a good little boy, remain vigilant and on your guard. Not to mention make sure that Abyssinian doesnít neglect himself while trying to find his sister. He never will, not until Schreiend wants him too. Iím doing my best to ensure that the precious fool doesnít blame himself too much, never met such a stubborn person before."

Schuldig made his way up the spiral staircase, growing fainter with each step. "By the by, your dear Ken-kun just adores the color red. Why donít you try to wear it one day, he wonít be able to tear his eyes off of you. Just something useful I picked up while in the boyís head, you can thank me later for the suggestion."

When the man completely vanished Omi found himself waking up. Rubbing his eyes, he realized that he had gotten a couple of hours of sleep at least. He got out of bed and went to the older WeiŖís bedroom. Cautiously opening the door he found Yohji and Aya curled around each other on the bed. Pair of golden arms were wrapped tightly around the pale man, plainly not willing to let him go. Just as Aya clung to Yohji in return. When the couple had come into his room earlier that night to find out everything heíd uncovered about Schreiend, which had been almost nothing, the swordsman had never let his boyfriend stray from him more than a meter or so. It had to be so hard on him, losing one of the two people he loved.

Reassured that the couple was okay Omi next stopped by Kenís room. The athlete had been distant all day long, Omi knew he suspected that Yohji and him had lied after coming back from the hospital. That fact tore at his heart, he knew how much Ken feared being betrayed by those he trusted. But it just wouldnít do to tell him the truth; Mastermind had raised an irrational hatred of all paranormals in the brunet. Justifiably so, but Aya had never done anything to hurt Ken, and didnít deserve the hate. Omi resolved to make sure that his teammateís doubts and suspicions were put to rest as quickly as he could manage. He wouldnít let his family fall apart, no matter how many people seemed to have it in for them.

*******

Arai walked down the street to her apartment, bags of groceries in her arms. The sidewalk was crowded, as usual, and two skate boarding youths bumped into her, making her drop one of the sacks. She sent a quick spike of pain after the brats as she cursed and bent down to retrieve the various cans littering the concrete. One of the jars had cracked, there went her favorite brand of pickles.

"Let me, youíll cut yourself." The empath jerked back, surprised to find a foreigner kneeling beside her. Why hadnít she sensed him? When she caught sight of the manís face she let out her breath. At first she had assumed that he was old, because of the cropped white hair, then saw he was anything but. He was very handsome, even with the scars and missing eye. She briefly wondered what type of accident he had been in.

While Arai watched the gaijin gathered up her groceries and put them back in her bag, then picked up the broken glass, discarding it a nearby trashcan. "There, easily cleaned. Too bad the same canít be said for oneís soul, yes? Are your thumbs pricking yet? They should be."

The comment puzzled her, she wasnít sure that she heard the man properly. "Excuse me, what did you say?" She reached out a hand to stop him when he stepped away from her.

The stranger caught her hand in a moment too quick to see. "Careful of what you touch, some things leave an indelible mark. ĎWhat, will these hands neer be clean? You mar all with this starting.í Heed my warning. ĎAll the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little handí, not if you touch the fallen one. The stench of brimstone will cling to you, never to be shed, and he will find you by that. It will mark you as mine. Heed my warning, but I see that you will not. Oh, it will be so much fun. I canít wait to play." He reached out to stroke her cheek. "You will be begging for it." He lifted his hand to his mouth, licking up blood that must have resulted from him cutting himself on the glass.

One moment he stood there, but when Arai blinked her eyes he was gone. No trace of him at all. Confused, the doctor started back to her apartment, shook up and anxious. What the hell had that been? Why hadnít she felt anything from the man? Shaking her head at those thoughts, she refused to dwell on the man and his odd behavior any longer. The resolve lasted until she was unpacking her groceries, coming across a jar of pickles that by all means of logic should be resting in a trashcan down the block. Yet it was in her hand, unbroken. Feeling uneasy she put it in her cupboard. It was then that she noticed a spot of blood on her hand.

Arai headed into her bathroom, seeking to wash and treat the wound. But when she ran it under the water the blood would not come off. Upon closer inspection she found the skin unbroken, yet the blood remained. Cursing again she glared into the mirror. Then saw another mark on her cheek, where the stranger had touched her. Which, just like the spot on her hand, no matter how hard she scrubbed it would not come off. After working herself into a frenzy she screamed and tossed the washcloth away, storming out of her room to collapse on the bed. Refusing to admit that she was thoroughly shaken, the woman remained lying down. It was some time before she realized that she was wishing she had something to take to calm her down. Something nice and strong.

*******

"You donít have to go up there, you know. Tell them youíre not ready yet, you need more time and weíll just go home. Or fuck Ďem and weíll just leave anyways." Yohji gazed at his lover anxiously, growling softly at how upset the man was and desperate to hide that fact.

"I canít, Kudoh. If I fail to show up theyíll suspend me from active duty, and any excuse I give them will be used as justification on how I need the session more than ever. Just want to get it over with at this point." Aya huddled in his chair, a cup of hot tea clutched between his hands. Damn Yohji for trying to talk him out of this, all he wanted was to give in and let the man take him home. He was so tired, and full of dread over what awaited him in the psychiatristís office.

For his part Yohji scooted his chair closer to his loverís, mentally cursing out Kritiker. What were the chances that the organization had innocently scheduled the psych exams so soon after Aya-chan had been kidnapped? Absolutely zero. The bastards had to know that Aya was still shaken up over the matter, it was probably what they were counting on. The last week had been so trying, making sure that the redhead didnít do anything crazy or suicidal, that he didnít go running off on his own, walking into some trap that Schreiend had set up for him.

Actually the last part hadnít been too difficult, Aya refused to let Yohji out of his sight. He had to know where he was at all times, becoming angry when the blond disappeared. Yohji knew that his love was desperate to make sure that he was all right and wouldnít be snatched away like his sister had been. He found himself responding with more patience than he could ever have imagined. Though it got tiring at times, not that Aya wanted him near but that the stubborn fool refused to acknowledge that he was concerned, got all defensive when Yohji tried to appease his fears. So he kept his mouth shut and stayed close. Heíd be the first to admit that he didnít want Aya out of his sight either, afraid that the man would be gone, just like his namesake.

This would be the first time that they had been apart since Sunday night. Tuesday and Wednesday had been spent combing Tokyo for any clue of Schreiend, following the meager leads that Omi had discovered. They found absolutely nothing. Aya had been forced to admit that he wouldnít find his sister until the women wanted him to. For some reason he was sure that the girl was alive and unharmed, and none of WeiŖ wanted to dispute that claim. Especially him and Omi, not after that night in the hospital.

Which Aya had completely blocked. Yohji had been stunned when Aya had asked him how his hand had become blistered and red. When trying to decide if the smaller man was joking or not, Yohji realized that he wasnít kidding. Aya didnít remember about glowing and radiating the heat that had burned his hand, apparently hadnít remembered anything past the point when he found the empty bed. Omi said that was for the best, and was immediately proved correct when Ken had interrogated the quiet man, trying to piece together what had really happened that night. The soccer fanatic had finally walked away with the impression that Aya had lost it, temper-wise, and was too embarrassed to admit it, and finally stopped glaring at his teammates.

Then there was the matter over the redhead becoming extremely withdrawn after Sunday night. Yohji was the only one guaranteed to receive any acknowledgement at all of his presence from Aya. Most of the time any questions or comments Omi or Ken posed to the man was ignored, and only about half of his were answered. Usually by a look or grunt. Aya had retreated back into himself, drifting away from the world. It was all Yohji could do to keep him anchored at times, when it got truly bad he would walk away from his boyfriend. Which would cause the man to chase after him, angry and hurt. At least it was some sort of reaction. Yohji hoped to slowly coax Aya back out of his shell, had seemed to be succeeding ever so briefly, he had gotten a hint of a smile last night as he had teased Aya after making love to him. But the phone call this morning had forced the man back in it even further. The playboy had wanted to scream his frustration and anger at the top of his lungs for at least an hour afterwards, but had instead done his best to distract the pale man. He could feel Ayaís anxiety all through that bout of sex, the way the man clung to him and urged him deeper, had needed his touch so desperately. His heart had ached the whole drive over to the hospital.

"I have to get going." Green eyes watched as Aya reluctantly got to his feet. Yohji scrambled to his, nowhere near as graceful as the smaller man. "Listen, kitten. Iím going to be here the whole time. I know, youíre not sure how long the shrink will keep you, but Iím not budging. So suffer through it, knowing that Iím waiting for you, and that weíll go out afterwards, get a bite to eat. Iíll be here, I promise." He reached out to brush back the long bangs, exposing a pair of shadowed violet eyes, stroked a pale cheek. Aya turned his face into the caress, pressed the hand against his face for a moment. Then nodded his head and quietly walked off. The swordsman paused to look back when at the door, then went out and crossed the street. Yohji watched him until he vanished inside the hospital. Then sat down, intent on keeping his word.

*******

Aya sat in the office the nurse had shown him to, back stiff in the leather chair and not touching the material. He wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. Look at the inkblots, answer some questions, prove that he wasnít completely certifiable, at least not yet, and rush back to Kudohís side. He had to make sure that nothing else was taken from him. That he could keep at least one person he loved safe. Which he couldnít very well do if he was sitting in this damn office, waiting for some doctor to pick his brain.

Behind him was the sound of the door opening and closing. A soft tread on the thick carpet. He refused to turn around and looked, instead settled his sunglasses more firmly on his face. Aya hoped they hid some of his shock when he saw who was conducting the session.

"Ah, Fujimiya, how nice to see you again. I heard about your sister, how awful. My condolences."

Arai smiled as the sense of shock and recognition was replaced by a fleeting agony at the suggestion that his sister was dead. She had deliberately worded the sympathy that way. Dear little Aya was the way to get to her brother, of that she was certain. The flash of emotion only proved it.

Once the hurt faded away she couldnít sense much at all from the man, other than anger and impatience. Arai got the impression that he always radiated them. Trying to delve deeper into Orchideeís emotions she found herself blocked once again. Damn, his shield was too good. She would have to keep lobbing volleys and catch the flashes as they came. Wearying but doable. "Iím sure that the last thing that you want to do at this moment is sit here for this session, so I will be sure to keep todayís brief. Besides, I usually prefer an informal first meeting with my new patients, some introductions and so on. The real work can start next week. Are Fridays good for you or would another week day be better?" There was a flash of confusion and panic, swiftly swallowed.

"I think there is some misunderstanding, Iím only here for my bi-yearly evaluation."

"Oh no, didnít they tell you? I received orders that you are to report to me weekly, due to the tragic situation with your sister. Our supervisors want to make sure that you are handling the loss appropriately." The empath handed over a sheet of paper, having to hold it out for several seconds before the redhead took it. Arai sensed the moment the realization sunk in, the fear spiked again, this time with a sense of despair. Good, Orchidee had every reason to be afraid of the sessions, yet another thing she could use against him. "Iím so sorry you had to learn from me-" there was a knock on the door, "I assumed that they had told you already, and-" Another knock. Glaring at the door in impatience Arai stood up from her desk. "Excuse me, I usually tell my secretary not to bother me when Iím with a patient, something must be up. One moment." This had better damn well be good, she was losing momentum here.

As soon as the woman was behind him Aya clutched an arm around his waist, still staring at the paper in his hands. Which spelled very clearly that he was to report for an hour session every week for the foreseeable future, or he would be removed from WeiŖ. Which meant that heíd have to leave Yohji and his best chance of finding Aya-chan. Why were they doing this to him? This couldnít be happening, he couldnít be forced to suffer through this nightmare yet again, he didnít think he could take it. Yet how could he refuse? He crumbled the paper up and tossed it away, hands massaging his temples at the headache that had formed almost as soon as he had seen Dr. Arai.

<The headache is because of her probing your mind. Kritiker has outdone itself this time, theyíve sicced an empath on you.>

Aya cautiously bit back on his yelp of surprise. ĎSchuldig? What the hell are you doing?í Great, first the psychiatrist and now Schu was taking to tormenting him during the daylight. No question about it, he would soon be insane. Aya waited for the flood of anger and hate to fill him as it normally did when the telepath invaded his mind, but all he felt was irritation and oddly a sense of relief. Schu was a known adversary, unlike this Dr. Arai. ĎWait a second, did you say she was an empath?í

Phantom fingers stroked his cheek, making his tense muscles relax. <Yes, she is. Thatís why your head is hurting; sheís scanning you, getting your reactions to her comments. Why do you think she keeps insinuating that your sister is dead? Sheís drinking in your pain, trying to use it against you. Sick bitch. Sheíll use that power to tell when you are lying, thatís why Kritiker sent you to her. They suspect that youíre not telling them the truth about various things, so arranged for these sessions.>

His body trembling, Aya wanted nothing more than to have his sword in hand, to strike out at something. Not for a moment did he doubt the telepath, somehow he knew that the man was not lying for once. The woman had raised his suspicion and distaste the moment he had met her. What he didnít know was how to counter her, keep her from learning about Yohji and Schu.

Those imaginary fingers combed through his hair, the touch soothing. <Relax, little tuberose. Thatís why I am here. Why I arranged for the bitch to be distracted. I wonít let her hurt you, youíre mine. I can keep her from sensing anything from you, make sure that she doesnít find out about me and the Schwanzlutscher.>

ĎWhat do you want this time, Schu? Nothing you offer me comes without a price. What is it now?í

<Shh, thatís not true. Not completely. No strings this time, other than the fact that you have to let me in your mind. I can shield your emotions that way, keep her from sneaking past your barriers. Which are strong, theyíve held her off so far, but they wonít if she keeps picking away at them. And if itís one thing the Schlampe is good at, it is picking at things until they crumble.>

Aya shook his head. ĎI donít trust you, Schu.í That was a lie, deep down part of him did. He took the man at his word, didnít he? But he was still suspicious. ĎWhy do you need me to agree to this, youíre already in my head.í

<Because you are trying to fight me, even now. I canít mask your emotions if Iím struggling to remain in your head. Sheíll pick up on that right away; then youíll really be in trouble. You have to let me in, stop resisting. I promise you, I wonít do any harm, wonít muck about with anything while Iím in here. Wonít even give in to the impulse to have you deck Balinese when you walk out of here. But you have to make the decision now, sheís coming back.> Sensing Ayaís reticence he quickly added, <it comes down to which devil do you trust? The one you know or the one you donít? Which one pulled you back from the darkness? She seeks to drag you back down into it, dooming you and me and the man-whore as well. Quick, sheís almost here.>

Hearing the doorknob turn, Aya made his decision. It would be the devil he knew. The one that he remembered that had saved him and in extent Yohji from the madness. ĎOnly for these sessions, leave me the hell alone the rest of the time.í He couldnít let the woman get her claws into him, tear him away from his lover. Schuldig heard his assent and flowed into his mind, both of the redheads marveling at how complete they felt at that moment. Aya sensed Schuís surprise and happiness, could feel each part of his mind that the man Ďtouchedí. It was like a warm cloud settling on his thoughts. Immediately his panic and dread calmed down, he could now face the frowning woman without any qualms. As she sat down behind her desk he felt a pressure against his mind, a filthy taint that sickened him. But it couldnít get past the shield that Schuldig put up around his, and caused the frown on Araiís face to deepen as she rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"Iím sorry about that, someone had a question about the dosage for another patient of mine. Now where were we? Ah, yes, I had been explaining what I had wanted to touch upon for this first session, before the confusion over your visit came up. Talk to my secretary on your way out, let her know what day and time would be best for you. That taken care of, I need to ask you a few questions. Mainly about your family, touch base on your childhood and background. I doubt it will even take the whole hour." Brown eyes narrowed in frustration as that remark failed to provoke any spike of emotion at all from the man. She tried probing Orchideeís mind for a second time since returning to her office and once again failed to penetrate the mental shield. Which she swore had increased in strength in the past few minutes. Damn Ani for disturbing her to deal with Peonyís meds. Who cared if the schizophrenic died of a drug overdose, the woman was useless to Kritiker now anyways.

Snarling under her breath, Arai kept going down the list of questions. One of them had to get a damn response from Orchidee, just had to. She wasnít going to fail, the man was going to be broken by the end of the year if she had to batter down his shield week after week with the worse things she could come up with until he snapped. Absentmindedly she rubbed at the spot of blood on her hand as she hurled out each question, her talent honed on the quiet redhead sitting across from her.

*******

Schuldig stretched as he stood up from the living room couch, a huge smile on his face. He walked into the kitchen where he found Nagi chopping some vegetables and Farfie sitting at the table. "What time will dinner be ready, Iím starving."

"Not for another hour or so, the stew has to set for a while." Nagi telekinetically floated some carrots over to the German as he scooped up the celery and dropped it into the kettle. Farfie had asked him to make the dish, telling him he wanted a taste of home. "You look happy, who are you tormenting now?" It better not be Abyssinian, but the smile seemed to belay that hope. How could Schuldig hope to make the man happy if he kept harassing him?

"Have some faith in me, Nagi. This time I was a veritable knight in shining armor to the kitty. Helped to prevent someone else from tormenting him." Heíd kept the catalyst calm, had soothed him as the probing questions had cut into him. The Schlampe was dead now, sheíd tried to her best to hurt his heart and had every intention of continuing to do so. Schuldig felt for his link with Aya, found the man hugging the man-whore tight in the middle of the coffee house across from the hospital, trembling with relief and distress. An odd combination that had him running a soothing touch through the manís hair, wanting to offer him some comfort. One day soon it would be him that Aya came to for comfort, and the more that Arai tried to break him the more it would make Aya trust him and look forward to his presence. The dreams had worked to make his tuberose stop hating him and even deep down begin to love him, now to work on the issue of trust. With the girlís abduction it wouldnít be too much longer until he was forced to snatch her from Schreiend, he had to have things just so before then. The hate couldnít be allowed to flare back up again.

Farfieís voice distracted him from his thoughts. "So the witch didnít heed the warning, did she? Touched the fallen angel after all."

Nagi looked on in concern when the Irishman referred to Abyssinian as an angel. <Lower your hackles, Nags. Farfie doesnít mean what you think. He sees the boy as the angel of death fallen to the ground, turning his back on God. He wonít hurt him.> "Yes she did. Which means you get to play with her some more. Hope you donít mind." Farfarello grinned wickedly, it was clear that he wouldnít mind in the slightest. Munching on his carrots, Schuldig leaned back in his chair, reflecting on the past couple of days. Brad wasnít fighting him over Aya anymore, and had his suspicions settled. Aya had survived his sisterís abduction with his mind and cloak more or less intact, and was slowly learning to trust him. Farfie had a new toy to play with, and Nagi wasnít slamming him into walls anymore. Life was definitely looking up.

*******

Cassandra glanced away from her window as the door opened. She had been waiting for the guard to show up for her, to take her arm and lead her down the hall. That was the reason why she wasnít sitting in her garden at the moment. She had come back to reality to get this over with. It was starting now.

As she walked down the hall the psychic felt exhaustion weigh heavy on her. She still hadnít recovered from cloaking the star childís use of power a few nights ago. It had taken every last bit of her strength to do so. Cassandra had almost failed, but the hope of her death had lent her the energy to persevere. Now she would walk down this hallway and face the dark masters that had cruelly broken her and caged her body. She would finish the task that she had started twenty-one years ago, one that had begun with a similar cloaking. Then she would pray for the death that approached closer with each coming day.

In the meantime she slid closer to the cliff in her mind, back the distance that she had clawed her way from the past couple of months. It was bittersweet to give up that hard-gained ground, so much effort sacrificed for the sound of her parentsí voices. It would not do to appear almost sane in front of the dark ones. They could not begin to suspect the web of treachery that she had woven, all in the hopes of taking them down. Of making them pay for what they had done to her and her family. She had remembered so much the further she had gotten from the cliff, recalled so many things that she had set into motion over the years.

Her eyes blinked and watered from the sunlight as she was dragged out onto a brightly lit terrace. In front of her sat two old men and an old woman. "Good morning, my dear. We have a few questions for you. Do you think that your gift is up to it?"

*******

Song is ĎSail Awayí by David Grey

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