The Other Side

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Chapter 4

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Schuldig felt his lips curve into a smile as he woke up, remembering what had happened the night before. Opening his eyes, he stared at the slender redhead curled against him, held close to his body. Tingling pleasure ran along his nerves everywhere the other telepath touched him, but he knew it for the muted ecstasy that it was. All it did was make him hunger for the emotions from last night. For the mind-blowing bliss he’d experienced from being buried deep in Aya’s body and mind. He felt himself hardening at the very thought.

Nuzzling a pale temple, Schuldig ran a teasing hand first up the sleeping man’s back, and then downward, until he was cupping Aya’s ass. He started to grind against his lover, his other hand tilting up the man’s face so he could kiss the parted lips. After a few seconds he felt the flutter of long lashes against his cheek as Aya drifted awake. Plunging deep into the awakening consciousness, he felt the smaller telepath’s momentary disorientation. Then, as the memories flooded back, the slim form in his arms stiffened as Aya waited for Schuldig’s fury from last night to return, to make him pay for trying to escape.

<Silly little violet, I’m not going to kill you.> Feeling Aya’s shock and disappointment, Schuldig rolled onto his back, dragging the struggling man on top of him. <Nor am I going to break your mind into little pieces, until all I have left is a willing slave. Not that the idea holds no temptation for me, you stubborn little ingrate. It’s just that you’re not escaping me that easily.> Grasping Aya’s chin with his hand, he started kissing the man, half expecting his questing tongue to be bitten. Trust his violet to not go the obvious route. Instead, the irate man grabbed an earlobe and pinched it harshly. "Ow." Schuldig and Aya exchanged a glare for several seconds.

However, he could tell that, for the moment at least, the anger was just a mask, hiding a series of disturbing emotions. Beneath it was more disappointment, regret, and a hint of shame. <Let me go.>

<No.> He resumed the kiss, catching Aya’s hands in an attempt to prevent any further abuse. The pleasure started to build, swamping the both of them. It washed through Aya, breaking his train of thought, which had centered on his yearning for oblivion and his fear of having to live with the decision he had made last night: to give in to the pleasure for once, to ease his soul deep loneliness. Schuldig redoubled his efforts, flicking his tongue inside the man’s mouth, running his hands through the crimson locks in an effort to remind the stubborn fool of the benefits of living. To remind him of what they could make each other feel, minds and bodies touching like they were. He almost let out a mental cheer as the Japanese man relaxed in his arms and started to kiss him back. Releasing the pale hands, he once more trailed a hand down the man’s back, resting on the curve of the man’s bottom. The touch seemed to snap Aya back to reality, as he suddenly pushed up, breaking off the kiss. "Come back here, //little one//. I’m not done with you yet."

<Let go, Schu.> The hint of panic in the man’s voice made Schuldig’s eyes go wide, as he instinctively clutched Aya closer. He felt the other telepath’s building confusion and fear, swirling around the lust, pleasure and disappointment that had been present moments before. <Leave me alone, just get on with whatever torture you have in mind.> Aya fervently hoped that he had lied, and that there would be an ending of sorts for him. Death or complete erasure of his personality, the swordsman didn’t care which one it was. He was so tired of living; he’d done his best for his teammates, had a moment entirely free of pain last night, and now wanted things to end.

Schuldig brushed back the long crimson bangs, swearing in German under his breath. <Stop this shit right now. You’re going to live, Aya, going to keep on being the abusive, vicious little ingrate that you’ve always been. I never should have let you think for a moment last night that I’d harm you like that.> He sent waves of reassurance to Aya, growling when the stubborn fool felt a flash of regret and pushed aside the comforting emotions. <Crawford knew that you’d try something; there was never any danger of you escaping anyway. Now get it through that incredibly thick head of yours that you are going to live and be a happy, productive member of Schwarz from now on. I’m getting very sick of this suicidal nature of yours. You promised your sister you would live, now start doing it, dammit.>

Oh, it seemed that a certain someone didn’t like to be reminded of the promise he had made to the dying girl. Aya’s anger flashed through him, both at the comment about the man’s sister and the fact that his attempt last night had been doomed to fail, but allowed to proceed anyway. Catching a flash of thought, Schuldig gritted his teeth as he realized that Aya hadn’t really thought it would work, but had done the scanning because _Kudoh_ had begged him. He was startled out of the beginnings of a truly momentous jealous rage by the man’s voice inside of his head. <You have no right to talk about her, you bastard. Let go of me.> The futile attempts that Aya made to escape his grasp only inflamed the older man’s passion even more, so he switched positions, trapping Aya underneath him.

"That’s not going to happen." Aya now tried to knee him in the groin, but Schuldig smoothly settled between his legs, capturing the other’s hands once again and jerked them above the crimson head. "You… you…" shaking his head, the German tried to straighten out his frustrated thoughts. It didn’t help that a pair of violet eyes were glaring at him with an exceptional amount of venom. "You frustrate the hell out of me, I’ll have you know. Also, while I said I wouldn’t destroy your mind or kill you, there is still the issue of your punishment. You need to be taught a lesson, one that will discourage you from ever trying to escape again." He grabbed both slender wrists in one hand, lowering his other to Aya’s face.

The man flinched from his touch, expecting pain. Instead, Aya caught his breath when his cheek was tenderly stroked. Schuldig felt the man flowing through his mind, trying to find out if he was being toyed with. Lips once more curving into a smile, Schuldig bent his head and started to suck on Aya’s sensitive neck.

<You’ve got to be kidding me. Just beat me and get this over with.> Ah, it seemed that someone was protesting his choice of punishment. The bitter disappointment was being pushed aside by apprehension, as Aya felt his body be suffused with heat and bliss, and started to remember just how incredibly good Schuldig had made him feel last night.

<I’m perfectly serious.> His tongue flicked out, tracing the blue vein that ran just under the porcelain skin. <You were the one to start this current battle, I’m just refusing to let you end it with your failure.> Schuldig’s little violet tried to deny the passion, mind busy chanting that he’d only given in last night due to need for reparation, knowing that his punishment would render any consequences null and void. Anger returning, Schuldig pushed deeper into the smaller man’s mind, making him experience their combined emotions even more strongerly.

<Feel the passion, Aya, feel how good it is, just me touching you like this. I know you remember what it was like last night. It will be that way each time, and it will only keep getting better. I want to feel like this again and again. So I’m never letting you go.> There was another flash of temper at the possessive claim, swiftly fading as once more the pleasure came to the fore. <You’re not losing here, Aya. We both feel the same thing. Just give in for once, let yourself experience something other than pain and loneliness.> Schuldig let his concern and longing colour the words, trying to prevent this from turning into another fight. He wanted Aya too much to let that happen, and had no true way to press the issue.

<I’m not letting you get away. For the first time in the past few fucking years, accept something. Accept a damn end to the loneliness and pain, and take what I’m offering you. Pleasure. That’s what this is all about.> Schuldig knew just how Aya’s talent and enforced isolation had affected him; he’d suffered a similar, but not quite so extensive, fate. He would keep playing those two emotions, twisting the man’s need until he caved in. <Aya-chan wanted you to live, do you really think she’d be happy with you, turning away from your first real chance to do so?>

Trying to marshal his thoughts, Aya struggled against him, torn between what he wanted and what he was afraid of. Ecstasy, once experienced, was not so easily forgotten. Aya craved the emotion again, but was fearful of being left alone and isolated once more, just as he had been when his sister had died, and Weiß had abandoned him. <I don’t deserve to live, Schu. I’m just a murderer.>

Schuldig felt like smacking his head against the wall. Just when he thought he was getting Aya past one neurosis, another one reared its ugly head. All he wanted was some mind-blowing sex. Was that too much to ask for? <So am I, and so are Kudoh and Nagi and everyone else here. Yet we still seek happiness and pleasure, along with everyone else on the damn planet. No matter how much blood is on my hands, I still need the same things other people do. So do you, little one. Before it wasn’t available to you, now it is. What’s the sense in denying yourself any longer? I won’t abandon you, my violet. I want you too much. Please, Aya.>

For a moment, it seemed that the stubborn man was going to resist him, then Aya tilted up his chin, allowing Schuldig’s mouth to wander all over the pale column. Gently searching the other’s mind for the reason why, he found that his longing and loneliness had touched upon Aya’s. That the man, filled with a new need that was as great as his wish for death and his fear of abandonment, had given in to the first one. Aya was so tired of being caught between the two desires. Whatever, all Schuldig cared about was the fact that once more he was getting what he wanted and craved. He let go of the trapped wrists, making the smaller man squirm as his hand trailed tingling pleasure down Aya’s side, lifting a long leg and wrapping it around his waist as he ground his pelvis downward.

The moan that escaped from his lover thrilled him to no end. Schuldig lifted his head and captured the sweet mouth, thrusting his tongue in deep. There was a twinge of pain when Aya lifted his other leg, hooking his ankles behind the German’s back. <Schu… ohhh.> The younger man was a bit sore from last night, so Schuldig took some of the slight ache onto himself, easing the pain until it was overwhelmed with bliss. <I’ll be gentler this time. I promise.>

Aya rocked his hips upward, earning a groan from him. <I’ve finally gone mad, you know.> The fact that the swordsman actually trusted him to keep his word surprised the both of them. Schuldig cupped a delicate cheek, toning the kiss down until it was tender and sweet, proof that he wouldn’t break his promise. Any of them. He’d keep Aya forever, wouldn’t let anything hurt the man, or mar the pleasure that existed when they were entwined together, body and mind.

<Trust me, sanity is over-rated.> It was the last coherent thought either of them could manage for quite a while.

*******

Shakily standing on his feet, Aya scowled in Schuldig’s direction. <I promised to be gentle with you, not that you wouldn’t still be sore afterwards>, the older telepath thought to him, words tinged with humor and a hint of malicious satisfaction. Oh, he just bet that Schu loved the fact that he was the one who was sore and hurting for once. Just before he could decide if he wanted to punch the man or yank on the reddish hair, the German telepathically reached out and gathered some of the pain, taking it on himself as he had earlier. It still didn’t prevent Aya from grabbing a long strand of hair and tugging on it. "Hey! You vicious little ingrate. I’m helping you out here." A pout settled on the handsome face, light green eyes blinking quickly, as if to hold back tears.

<Considering that you are largely responsible for the pain, you still deserve it. And don’t try the hurt look with me, I lived with a master for a year. You have a ways to go before you reach Tsukiyono’s level.> Aya hn’ed softly as he walked away from Schuldig, heading into the bathroom, feeling the need to wash himself off. No wonder Kudoh always stank so, when he crawled back to the Koneko after spending the night with a willing body. There was a flash of anger from the older man, so surprisingly strong that violet eyes blinked in confusion at its intensity. Schuldig set out to follow him, jumping off of the bed to reach the bathroom before he closed the door, but Aya stopped him with a look. He needed a few minutes alone, to put his thoughts in order and figure out how this latest decision of his was going to impact his life.

Almost infuriatingly, Schuldig picked up on his desires, and with a grim look on his face nodded his head. "Remember, your shields won’t last very long." Aya nodded his head in return, and closed the door. It wasn’t as if he could forget that fact; already the voices that had been hushed since waking up in Schuldig’s arms were pushing back into his consciousness, the volume ever so slightly increasing with each breath he took. Within the next ten or fifteen minutes or so, they would overwhelm him. The redhead resolved to be done with his shower before then.

Deciding it would be best to shave now, while his hands were still steady, Aya crossed over to the sink and reached into a drawer for his electric shaver. As he stared into the mirror, he caught sight of several bruises on his neck, for a moment stunned as to what had caused them. Remembering how Yohji would show off his hickeys, proudly relating the sexual escapades that had led to each mark, he flushed a deep red. Refusing to let his eyes linger on them, Aya quickly shaved, glad that the task never took him very long. There was never much to shave off, and in a minute or two he was preparing the water for his shower. He turned the hot water on almost full blast, adding some cold almost as an afterthought.

Whoever had designed the apartment had clearly been foreign, as the tub was not designed with a long soak in mind. Aya made up for that fact as best he could, since his body was comprised of many stiff, uncooperative muscles that needed heat to help them loosen up. Once again he was reminded of his activities during the previous night and this morning, which had resulted in the sore muscles. Resolving to face the matter while Schuldig was away from him and mostly out of his head, Aya sighed as he scrubbed his skin clean.

There had been so much pleasure, along with the impossible to resist lack of the loneliness and sense of isolation that normally weighed him down, that Aya hadn’t initially cared about the consequences of his decision. Indeed, he’d been counting on Schuldig’s fury to only intensify once the act was over, leading to a conclusion that would spare him from his momentary weakness. But Schuldig had other thoughts upon waking up, ones that clearly had indicated that the sex wasn’t to be a one-time thing. Aya had been shocked that the man had still wanted him, and at the tenacity that Schu had displayed, refusing to let him retreat within his shell. That and the addictive pleasure had him giving in once again.

Aya knew that he’d done more than agree to just this morning’s bout of sex; Schu would press the issue again and again. That by giving in a second time, he had set a dangerous precedent. He waited for fear or apprehension to fill him at the thought that he had pretty much agreed to be the foreigner’s lover, but that never happened. Maybe he was indeed insane, but he trusted Schu’s word. The man’s mind had been filled with an unshakable conviction, so much so that it had swayed him. The fact that he’d never felt so alive in his life as when joined with Schuldig, body and mind, played an important part in his decision as well. Aya was so tired of being isolated and alone, filled with nothing but pain. If there was a price to pay for giving in to his desires for the first time in his life, then he’d gladly face it.

There would indeed be a price to pay. One was already evident, the intensified bond between him and Schuldig. Even now, if he let his attention wander, he could feel how the man was waiting impatiently back in the outer room, busy stripping the bed, a cigarette clenched between his teeth. Schu’s presence had never felt stronger inside his head, and they weren’t even touching at the moment.

Tilting his head up, Aya let the hot water wash over him. The other price would involve his teammates. Hidaka might not present much of a problem, considering his growing attraction to Nagi, but Yohji… No, Aya knew that there was no way the blond was going to accept his choice in a gracious manner. First off, he had pretty much slept with the enemy, nevermind that said foe had all but kept him sane, or as sane as he would ever be, the past several weeks. That Schu was the only person he’d ever touched, beside his sister, that didn’t cause him any pain. No, Yohji wouldn’t care about those facts. All that he would think about was the fact that Aya had a lover, something that was currently unavailable to him. That he had picked someone other than Kudoh to have sex with. As if the damn playboy had ever cared for him, outside of being an effective if standoffish teammate, and a potential one night stand.

There was a flash of anger that took Aya a moment to realize wasn’t his own. The voices were getting so loud, it was very difficult for him to think clearly. Before he knew it, Schuldig tossed back the shower curtains and yanked him out of the shower. A pair of arms wrapped around him, hugging him close as once more a familiar set of shields settled over his mind, blocking out the voices. As further proof of their increased link, the unwelcome thoughts completely vanished, not even whispering in the back of his mind as they had always done before last night. Tucking his head under the taller man’s chin, Aya sighed in relief. Schuldig grabbed a towel and rubbed it along his back, starting to dry him off.

"//You are such a stubborn bastard//."

<//I learn from the best//.> He felt Schuldig’s surprise at his halting German, the first that he’d spoken to the foreigner. Lips pressed against his forehead, and then his hair was roughly toweled dry. <What the hell are you doing?>

"Preventing my ungrateful little violet from coming down with a cold. We need to dry you off before you start to wilt." The Japanese man scowled at his lover for that remark, even though, deep down, the nickname touched off bittersweet memories. Shion had called him ‘little orchid’ all the time, forsaking the affectionate term only when he had been training Aya. With the man dead and his true name discarded, Aya was surprised to find the new nickname evoking one of the few pleasant memories that he had. Which was the only reason Schu got away with calling him that, and hadn’t ended up black and blue for uttering it repeatedly.

The towel was wrapped around his waist, then Schuldig pulled him close for a lingering kiss. <As if I’m not bruised and battered enough already.>

<Schu… you earn each and every one of those hits.> Uncertain as to what he should be doing at the moment, Aya hesitantly rested his arms on the older man’s shoulders. In return, Schuldig jerked him closer, combing through his hair as the kiss deepened. After a few more minutes, Aya pulled away, panting as he tried to catch his breath. <We need to get going, if we want to eat breakfast.> It was either show up for the meal, always held at nine thirty in the morning outside of the occasional brunch, or make due with leftovers or their own cooking skills until dinner. <Take your shower.> With a flash of regret, Aya stepped back, keenly feeling the loss of contact with Schuldig.

<You’re pushing things again.> The words carried a flash of irritation and worry. <I’ll only be a couple of minutes.>

Aya left the steamy room, as the longhaired man started to sing out loud in German. Closing the door behind him, he tried to decide which of his few shirts he wanted to wear. There was a moment of pain as he thought about the sweater his sister had given him, left behind in his apartment, along with most of his clothes. <Sorry about that. If I’d known you were so attached to the godawful thing, I would have grabbed it.>

Settling on his long-sleeved t-shirt, Aya sent back a biting thought. <Let me think in peace, Schu.> It was getting on his nerves, how he couldn’t complete a thought anymore without the other telepath picking up on it. He was used to solitude and privacy; sometimes it was very aggravating to be denied those two conditions. Especially after several weeks of having the man in his head. They had reached a balance of sorts the past few days, but last night had upset everything.

Quickly getting dressed, Aya sat down on the made bed, concentrating on strengthening his shields. He was pushing it this morning, being away from Schuldig twice within such a short period of time. Eyes closed, he heard the older man enter the room, footsteps pausing for a moment, then walking over to the closet. Another minute and a weight settled on the bed next to him, and Aya once more felt himself be hugged, a hand sliding under his shirt and resting on his waist. "You are so damn stubborn."

<You tell me that at least ten times a day.> The smaller man rested his head on Schuldig’s shoulder, once more reveling in the peace and quiet. <I could get used to this.>

"Hmm, the silence? It almost feels weird, not having all that noise in the back of my head. But I definitely agree with you. Now come on, I have bruises from banging into your bony hips; we need to get some more padding on you." Aya glared scathingly at the bastard for that comment, hissing in anger as he stood up. Schuldig, dressed in a white polo and tan slacks, merely smiled back at him. "And another thing, we need to get Papa to let you out for a little shopping, I’m tired of seeing you wear the same things day after day. Why the hell you don’t just borrow something of mine, I’ll never understand."

Because the German’s clothes were almost all light colored and a touch revealing, exposing skin, which he wasn’t used to, Aya thought. He preferred darker colors, so he could blend in to the shadows, safe from watching eyes and touches that would cause his mind to burn in agony. <I’m not comfortable wearing them. Besides, I doubt Crawford is going to let us out any time soon, if he knew about the plan to escape.> Aya couldn’t keep back the bitterness and anger from that thought; how he and his friends had been allowed to dream of freedom, yet had been doomed to fail from the start.

<If he was that upset about the attempt, he would have done something about it, other than keep me from picking up on it from the beginning. I think he wanted you to learn a lesson.> Schuldig tugged Aya towards the dining room. <It was to be expected, after all. You three aren’t spineless wimps, to simply bow down to fate. If it had taken the form of an attack, now that would have been unforgivable. As it was, I personally am very thankful for the misguided plan.>

Aya picked up on Schuldig’s thoughts, centering on the conversation he’d had with the precog before the last mission. On how the smug, clairvoyant bastard was right, and that Schu didn’t regret in the least not picking up on his conversation with his teammates, when he had agreed to the insane plan. It was automatic anymore, the elbow swinging back to nail the German in the ribs. This time Aya didn’t pull the blow, deciding to let Schu know just how pissed off he was over the matter. Which resulted in both a mental and verbal tirade over his being such a vicious bastard. Used to the insult by now, Aya merely proceeded on his way to the dining room, where he sensed everyone was waiting for them to show up.

As soon as the two of them entered the room, four sets of eyes turned to focus on Schuldig and him. The only exception was Farfarello, who was busy licking his spoon, a sullen expression on his face at the failure of the utensil to slice his tongue. Aya was instantly grateful for the increased bond, as it shielded most of the insane man’s thoughts from his mind. Sitting down at his place, he shifted closer to Schu, their two chairs pushed together.

Looking up from the bowls of rice and soup that had been left for him, Aya noticed Kudoh studying him intently, a frown marring the handsome face when green eyes drifted down to his neck. ‘Aya, what the hell happened? What did the bastard do to you, it looks like he chewed on your neck or something. Just how much did you distract the bastard?’

<Kudoh, not now.> Aya could sense Schu listening in on the conversation, and squirmed under the rage, amusement and jealousy radiating from the German, and the anger, jealousy and confusion that poured off of his teammate.

‘I want to know what happened. All you sent was that you failed; did he catch you or something? Did he hurt you?’

<Kudoh, _not now_. He can hear you. I got caught; I told you it wouldn’t work. I wasn’t hurt.> Well, not much anyway, and not in a malicious manner. <They knew we’d try something. That’s it.>

Yohji, stubborn as a mule, refused to drop the matter. He started glaring evilly at Schuldig, who only smirked back. Aya nervously started to sip his tea, not liking how things were going. He almost groaned out loud at the blond’s next thought, dripping with venom and jealousy. ‘You’re not telling me what the prick did to you. It must have been bad. I’ll kill him.’

<All I did was fuck your friend senseless, Blondie, and trust me, it was consensual as all hell. Then I did it again this morning. You happy now? Thanks a lot for coming up with such a great plan, by the by.>

If the others in the room hadn’t picked up the tension between the two longhaired men before, they sure as hell bought a clue when two things happened simultaneously. First was Schuldig yelling out loud as Aya brought his fist down on the older man’s groin, and then Yohji leapt across the table, intent on strangling the wounded telepath. Fortunately, Nagi managed to catch him and slam the playboy back into his chair, while the man shouted obscenities at Schuldig, who was in a bit too much pain to do anything but hiss back at him. Aya seriously considered fleeing the room and letting the two morons kill each other, but found himself frozen into his seat when Crawford very loudly cleared his throat and speared him with a look.

"Nagi, shut Kudoh up, if you would." The tirade of abuse was quickly shut off. Ken glanced Aya’s way, clearly confused by the recent events.

‘What the hell is going on, Aya? What set Yohji off like that, and what happened to you? Your throat looks like-‘

Gritting his teeth, Aya didn’t want to hear any more about what his throat looked like. <I know what it looks like. The plan failed, and Schuldig set Kudoh off.> He aimed another blow to Schu, this time hitting the man in the kidney, eliciting another yelp of pain from the loudmouth.

‘How the hell did he do that?’ From the look on Hidaka’s face, Aya was willing to bet that his teammate wasn’t going to drop the subject until he got a suitable answer. He’d better be the one to break the news, before Schuldig could string together any thoughts beside beating his ass ‘til it was the same shade as his hair. As if he wouldn’t castrate the bastard the moment he tried. <Things got out of control, and we… had sex. He told Kudoh that.> It was almost amusing, watching the athlete be stunned speechless. Almost.

Crawford cleared his throat again. "If the initial explanations are out of the way, I’d like to have a word or two. First off, Kudoh, if you don’t calm down, I will tranquilize you." Green eyes glared venomously at the American for a minute, then the muffled curses died off. "Thank you. Now let me inform you of something that Fu-, Aya alone of you three is aware of. I knew about your plan weeks ago, and had changed the elevator codes yesterday afternoon. Even if Aya had been successful in finding them out without Schuldig being aware of the fact, they never would have worked. I understand that you are all upset at losing your freedom, and will overlook this incident. Consider it a warning, that anything you try I will know of before you do it. So don’t even think of trying to sneak into my office or Nagi’s room, Kudoh, to send out a message or place a call. Both the phones and computers require codes to operate. Nor will bribing the housekeeping or catering staff work; they are all Esset agents. If anything, any attempt to involve them in your escape would be extremely unwise, as they would report such an incident to _our_ employers, and you would not like what would befall you should that happen. Ask Aya; I believe he has a much better idea of what the Elders and their subordinates are capable of now."

The man’s comments were met with stunned silence, as Ken and Yohji tried to comprehend the fact that any move they made could be countered so easily. The precog continued. "As it stands, I believe that now is the time to tell you a few facts that have been held back from you. Such as who you will be working for. Esset is a very powerful organization that, for some reason, has a special interest in Japan. We are not the first team that they have sent here; I believe you will remember our predecessors, Nacht."

There was a wave of anger, hate and incredibility pouring off of Ken and Yohji, and Aya felt Nagi and Schu’s amazement at how open their leader was being at the moment. He’d picked up the fact that the two teams were tied together last night, and in all honesty had forgotten it, what with having sex for the first time. Schu’s amusement washed through him for that thought, and the man barely blocked the blow to his ribs. Crawford’s voice returned the swordsman’s attention back to the matter at hand.

"Esset has teams and operatives stationed throughout your country, having been greatly aided in that task by Takatori. Make any attempt to escape, and every single one of those agents will be on your trail, and you will be broken upon your capture. Which wouldn’t be long after you step out of here, if you even manage to get that far. Please understand this now, and save all of us a lot of pain."

"You fucking bastards, how-" Kudoh was cut off by Nagi again.

"Thank you, Nagi. Hear me out, Kudoh, then you can scream and swear all you like. I am taking a very great risk by revealing this information to you. The least you can do is shut up and listen." Brad Crawford fixed everyone at the table with a serious gaze. "I am well aware of your hatred for both Takatori and Nacht. I don’t think there is a single person at this table who regrets those… assholes’ deaths. Indeed, I myself am very grateful to Weiß for taking care of them; that is the only reason Schwarz is able to be here in Tokyo, with a chance of gaining our freedom."

It was Schuldig’s turn to speak out loud, and Aya blinked in amazement that the precog was discussing something that he knew to be a very closely held secret. "Bradley, what the hell are you doing? Tell them this and the Dummkopf over there will blab it to the wrong person, and it will be all of our heads."

"I am telling them so they know exactly what is at stake, Schuldig." A large hand was raised, and it readjusted the wire rimmed glasses resting on the black haired man’s face. "Schwarz is hoping to free ourselves from Esset’s grasp, and thanks to a vision I had, we are aware that it will only happen when the three of you are members of our group. Let me make two things perfectly clear. First off, any attempt to escape our masters that fails will lead, at the very best, to extremely painful deaths for the escapees. Secondly, I will never let any of you go, not until my dream is realized. I and the others will be free; if you keep refusing to cooperate," a pair of blue eyes raked over Yohji, "I will order Schuldig to erase your minds and create a more docile, obedient persona."

Ken and Yohji turned to look at Aya, who didn’t need his telepathy to know what they wanted. He nodded his head. <Yes, Schu could manage that easily. It’s what Esset expected Schwarz to do in the first place, instead of trying to win our loyalty as they are doing now.> That fact greatly shook up his two teammates.

A very faint sense of satisfaction radiated from Crawford, the strongest emotion that Aya had ever sensed from the man. "It is as simple as this. You cooperate with us, and eventually you will regain your freedom. That is why I am telling you this. We’re your best hope. Even if you did manage to escape and return to Kritiker, the organization is aware of your talents, and would treat you no better than Esset would. In fact, your treatment at their hands would be even worse, as Kritiker is desperate to possess any talented agents they can find. And they know enough about you to break you with ease. Even now, your former teammate Bombay is assembling a new Weiß, with the intention of finding you. The boy has the best of intentions, but is unaware of the fact that two of his new teammates have strict orders to retrieve you at any cost. If that happens, Fujimiya Aya, Hidaka Ken and Kudoh Yohji will cease to exist. I’ve seen that very clearly."

Aya bit down on a gasp when he suddenly felt the shields surrounding the foreigner’s mind slip the slightest bit. <They won’t be satisfied until you verify the information for them.> He pressed into Crawford’s mind, shuddering at the feel of it. So cold and analytical, almost inhumanly so. An image presented itself to him, of him and his two friends, almost altered beyond recognition, blank looks on their faces as Birman and another agent issued them new orders. The swordsman didn’t know he was shivering until he felt Schuldig hold him close, questing through his mind to see what had him so upset. He had recognized the other agent, who in the vision was now smiling at his other self, a twisted expression on the handsome face as a hand lifted to touch his cheek. There was finally a flash of emotion in the violet eyes: of pain and fear.

Then Crawford was shoving him out of his mind, and Aya thankfully retreated deep into Schu’s, needing the man’s emotions and presence to erase the feel of the American, along with giving him a moment to compose himself. Ignoring the man’s questions, he flooded Yohji and Ken’s minds with the images, minus the last bit, and his personal conviction that Oracle wasn’t lying. The table became very quiet after that.

Surprisingly enough, it was Ken who first breached the silence. "Say that we do cooperate. How much longer can we hide in here? What about the upcoming missions? I don’t feel comfortable killing a bunch of innocent people."

"What about all the guards you kil-ah, dammit!" Schuldig jerked Aya onto his lap, the only sure way to keep himself from being abused. Aya let his anger over that comment flash through the man’s mind as his arms were pinned to his side and a leg thrown over his. He could still feel Ken’s pain for being reminded of that fact.

"That was… I mean…" The athlete’s thoughts were in turmoil. Nagi seemed to realize it and rubbed his back consolingly. Aya almost let out a laugh when he felt, via Schu’s mind, how the telekinetic used his power to smack the back of the German’s head. <Dammit, little one, you’re making the kid just as vicious as you are.>

Crawford, perfectly calm amidst the violence, nodded his head in understanding. "I think Schwarz can manage to limit your missions to those where we take on other criminal organizations. We will be busy for the next several months trying to restore order back to Tokyo’s underworld." Disorder that had been sowed by Weiß, Aya thought to himself, grateful that Schu remained quiet for once.

Ken quietly thanked the man, then excused himself from breakfast, food only half eaten. Nagi left as well. Yohji followed the two of them out; only Schu, Aya, Farfarello and Crawford remained. Knowing that the discussion was over, the American resumed reading his paper. Farfarello fixed a golden eye on the two telepaths and started to sing in English, the amusement plain on his face.

"When I was apprenticed in London/ I went to see my dear/ The candles were all burning/ The moon shone bright and clear/ I knocked upon her window/ To ease her of her pain/ She rose up to let me in/ Then barred the door again."

It was plain that the Irishman thought himself very clever, but Aya didn’t feel up to searching his mind for the reason why. He’d rather walk naked through a crowded room of strangers. <Can we just leave now?>

<No. You didn’t eat a thing.> Schuldig pushed his now cold breakfast over in front of him. <I want you to gain weight, not lose more. So eat up, or I’ll tell Farfie about all the little noises you make during sex.>

Aya would have given anything to have an arm free at the moment. <You do and I’ll kill you.> Then his curiosity got the better of him. <What noises? I didn’t make a sound.> As Schu pressed his lips against Aya’s neck, he could feel the smile stretched upon them. Next came a series of images, from Schu’s perspective, of all the gasps, mewls and moans that he’d uttered during sex. Feeling his cheeks grow heated, Aya resolved to break a few of the bastard’s ribs the first opportunity he had. One of his arms was cautiously released, but a firm grip remained on his elbow.

"I like your well behavior/ And this I often say/ I cannot rest contented/ When I am so far away/ The roads they are so muddy/ We cannot walk about/ So roll me in your arms my love/ And blow the candles out."

Halfway through his rice, Crawford stood up and left the room. Aya gazed longingly after the man, wishing he could be escaping as well. Farfarello continued singing, and Schu was busy gloating, pleased for once to win an argument abuse-free. The smaller redhead started to reconsider just how awful it would be to end up in Kritiker’s hands and have his personality wiped, after all.

*******

Rushing out of the dining room, Yohji spared a dark scowl the brat’s way when the boy ducked into Ken’s room, right behind the soccer fanatic. He wasn’t happy about being gagged and held into his chair during breakfast. The desire to murder Schuldig still filled him; it had taken every ounce of control he possessed to walk past the smirking prick, who had still been holding Aya on his lap.

Checking the hallway, he quietly stepped into the telepaths’ bedroom. Yohji wanted some answers, and didn’t think he’d be getting them from Aya. Not when he considered the way the man had been avoiding his questions this morning. Stepping over to the bed, Yohji found it to be made and cursed softly.

Green eyes searched the room, soon lighting upon a pile of bed sheets lying on the floor. Kneeling down, the blond pulled off a glove and reached for the material. Damn power had better work _for_ him for once; Yohji could well imagine it refusing to cooperate the one time he wanted to use it.

As soon as his hand touched the fabric, Yohji’s mind was assaulted by a confusing barrage of images. Both Schuldig’s and Aya’s memories/emotions filled his head. There was a sense of betrayal, hurt, need and joy from the German; from Aya came confusion, hurt, resignation, hope and surprise. Then there was a hint of pain, and intense pleasure coursed through Yohji as he felt the two men having sex. Dimly he felt his body respond to the emotional stimuli as he relived the telepaths’ experience, lost to the bliss of what they had felt. Then came satisfaction, more need, irritation, depression and acquiescence, too jumbled together for him to figure out who had felt what. Then another wave of pleasure, this one slower and less frenetic, but no less intense.

Letting out a shuddering breath, Yohji released the sheets. Schuldig hadn’t forced Aya, had even left the choice to the younger man, and Aya had decided to go through with the seduction, even though his mission had failed. He had never thought to consider just how lonely Aya must have been; the past few weeks of not being able to touch anyone was _nothing_ compared to spending most of one’s life knowing that there would never be a lover for him; that anyone’s touch, other than his sister’s, would only fill him with pain. No wonder Aya was such a masochist; what was more pain to him when every moment was filled with it? No wonder either why he had let Schuldig fuck him, to at least be able to experience pleasure for once in his life.

Yohji slowly stood to his feet, suddenly realizing that his pants were wet from the release he’d experienced while sharing in the telepaths’ sex. That had been… incredible. He’d sure as hell never managed to feel something like that with any of his numerous partners, not even Asuka. It shocked him to imagine having a lover who could experience every emotion one felt, sense what pleased and what didn’t and put that knowledge to blissful use. It made him want Aya all the more, to have that for his own pleasure. It burned him to know that he never would, due to the pain he caused the man when they touched, and he hated Schuldig with all his heart at the moment. Yohji knew that the man would never let his friend go; he’d felt the prick’s resolve through the mental link. And he couldn’t blame him one damn bit.

The person he did blame was himself, for wanting out of here so damn bad that he’d asked Aya to seduce the prick. He’d expected his friend to let the German kiss him a little, maybe cop a feel, but nothing else. Hell, this was Fujimiya Aya after all, ice prince extraordinaire. Who would expect the man to actually sleep with someone else? Yohji certainly hadn’t thought that possible, and had even hoped to be proven wrong, until he had touched the sheets. Through his own stupidity and impatience he’d handed Schuldig something that he himself had wanted for so damn long. Aya.

He sighed and quickly left the room, not wanting to be caught red-handed, not to mention the evidence of his own pleasure showing through his sweatpants. Once he was sure that the hallway was clear of witnesses, Yohji ducked into his room. Cursing under his breath, he made his way to the bathroom, shoving off his pants and cleaning himself with a damp washcloth. Yohji’s nerves still tingled from the second-hand passion and ecstasy, making him ache to fuck a lover until they both passed out from exhaustion.

Stepping into his bedroom, Yohji had the shock of his life, finding Crawford waiting for him, his arms crossed behind his back. "What the hell do you want?"

The foreigner, looking impeccable in his expensive white suit, light reflecting off of his glasses in such a manner that one couldn’t see his eyes, merely lifted an eyebrow at the outburst. "I came in here to offer you this." He held out a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Yohji immediately reached for it, barely remembering in time that his gloves had been left in the bathroom. A quick search turned up one of his spare pairs, and he donned them before snatching the alcohol away.

"What did you put in it? Some type of mind-control drug, or poison?" Any and all forms of alcohol had been denied him in the past. Yohji was highly suspicious of this latest offering. Not that he wouldn’t drink the bottle dry in a matter of minutes, needing something to relieve his frustration and self-recrimination at the moment.

Crawford let a hint of irritation cross his features. "If I wanted you dead, you would be, and it would be much easier to just let Schuldig into your head if I wanted you nice and obedient. Not that I don’t think about doing just that several times a day." He smiled a little at Yohji’s anger, clearly relishing pissing the blond off. "Consider it a gift of good will, one that brings along the hope that we may one day be friends of some sort, and as my condolences for your loss."

Before Yohji could snort over the ‘friends’ comment, the last statement sunk into his mind. "What do you mean, my loss?"

"Fujimiya. He’s Schuldig’s now, just as I knew he would be. I know you wanted him, and figured you would need a bit of relief at this moment."

Yohji closed his eyes for a moment, refusing to let his jealousy and anger show. When he opened them, he immediately set to removing the bottle’s cap, needing desperately to get drunk at the moment. Who would have ever imagined that Aya of all people would suddenly develop a sex life, just when he was denied it forever. The irony of the situation was too painful for words.

When about a fifth of the bottle was swallowed, he looked down to find Crawford still watching him. "What do you want now? To kill a few more dreams while you’re on a roll? First you tell me that I’ll never escape, nor will I ever be able to trust Kritiker again. Now you add that Aya will never be mine, that I have to spend however long it takes to be free of Esset watching Schuldig rub in my face that he has something I’ve wanted for more than a year. Aren’t you just fucking tidings of great and joyous news." Yohji took another long swig from the bottle, letting out a sigh when he paused for a breath and found the precog still looking at him. "Well? Let me guess, I’ll be dead of lung cancer in another year or two."

"No, I see nothing about that, which is odd considering you smoke like a chimney. I don’t think we’ll ever get the smell out of this room. I have no more dreary news to report, and would just like to correct your assumption there. I said that Fujimiya was Schuldig’s _now_. The future holds one or two very interesting possibilities on this matter. But you’ll never know, will you, if you take off running the first chance you get."

Leaving Yohji to try and puzzle out what he meant, Crawford walked over to the door. "So I guess it’s all up to you now, what direction the future will take."

Before the man could close the door behind him, Yohji called out. "Aya… it hurts for me to touch him. How the hell can there be a chance at anything when I can’t fucking touch him?"

Blue eyes regarded him intently. "I promised Schuldig that if he didn’t scan any of your minds yesterday, he would never regret not doing so. Now I make a similar one to you. Work on your shields, Kudoh. Devote as much attention to them as you have to figuring out how to escape, or how to seduce one of your dates, and then some, and I promise that you’ll never regret it. Enjoy your treat, there won’t be many more in the future, at least until I am convinced that we can trust you. Which is another matter that is entirely up to you."

Yohji was left standing there, for once wishing he hadn’t drunk so much, wondering if there had indeed been a glimmer of hope held out before him.

*******

Brain hurting from the recent revelations, Ken plopped down on his bed. When the door closed behind him and there wasn’t another body collapsing on the mattress, he rolled over and looked at his friend. "Spill, Nagi. What are you upset about?"

The teenager leaned against the wall, his face shuttered. "You tried to escape," he said softly, after a few minutes of quiet.

It was pretty much just what he had thought was upsetting the boy. "Technically, Yohji did, he just needed Aya to get some information for him. I knew about it, won’t try to deny that, but I told both of them it wouldn’t work. Aya doubted it would as well, but went along with the plan, because Yohji asked him to." There was another period of silence, and Nagi’s face remained expressionless. "Listen, Nagi, if we hadn’t tried something, we would never know the whole situation, like we do now. Or at least more of it, something tells me Crawford is keeping a few secrets still. We’d never know just how futile it would be to try and escape, or that we can’t trust an old friend, or even that our best hope for freedom involves cooperation. So it was a good thing we let Yohji talk us into being just as stupid as he is."

His words seemed to have some effect, as Nagi sighed and stepped closer to the bed, clearly still a bit upset but acting more like his normal self. Quiet and a touch sullen. "He’s serious, you know. Oracle. We are trying to escape, and we won’t let you or the others jeopardize that."

"I know, Nagi. I could feel it when he talked, my power confirmed that he was telling the truth. To be honest, I’ve known that we can’t leave Schwarz for a while now, just needed it beaten into my thick head." There was a flash of a smile on the pale face. Ken really needed to get Nagi out in the sun more often. He felt his regret lift a little as he thought about the boy. While it was true Ken had no chance of ever going back to his previous life, either as a soccer player or coach, or even as Siberian, at least here he had one true friend outside of Yohji and Aya. Schuldig was annoying but not all bad, Crawford a cold bastard, but not bad either, and Farfarello was fine as long as you kept him away from sharp objects and didn’t start a discussion about religion while in his presence. There were worse fates. Certainly were a hell of a lot better, but Ken knew by now to settle for whatever he could get.

"I officially give in, do you hear me? No sense in going against my or Crawford’s visions any more. As long as he keeps his word, and I don’t have to kill anyone who doesn’t deserve it, I’ll be a good little Schwarz. That make you happy?"

It sure as hell didn’t look like it; Nagi was frowning now. "Ken, be serious. This isn’t something to joke about."

Pushing up onto his elbows, Ken frowned back. "I’m not joking. Just giving in to the voice that’s told me from day one there’s nothing to do but join you guys. No more escape attempts for me, all right? Can’t say the same thing for the others though." Thinking of Yohji and Aya reminded him of one of the more bizarre revelations at the dining room table. "Aya… maybe he won’t try anything else either, since he and Schuldig are lovers now. That’s a weird thought to consider, Aya sleeping with someone. Especially Schuldig."

It seemed that everything he said only served to antagonize his friend. Nagi’s face was shuttered once more. "What’s wrong with him and Schuldig being lovers?"

"Let’s see, most people would say the fact that they are both men, but I can’t throw any stones there." For an instance there was a flash of some emotion across the youth’s face, but Ken couldn’t decipher what. "But what really gets me is the fact that they are complete opposites. Aya’s quiet, withdrawn; Schuldig’s loud and outgoing. Aya’s a neat freak, Schuldig’s not. Aya’s into reading, I don’t think Schuldig looks at any book that doesn’t have pictures of naked people in it. Do you really need me to continue?" Each example had lightened Nagi’s mood, until the boy was smiling ever so slightly.

"I thought that you were going to say that it is weird because they are enemies."

Ken shook his head and laid back down on the bed, leaving plenty of room for the telekinetic. "Nah, if they were enemies, Aya would have killed Schuldig by now. Or vice versa. Personally, I think that German has the patience of a saint, to put up with Aya’s abuse every day. Guess now we know why." Nagi settled on the bed next to him, curling up on his side and resting his head on Ken’s chest. "Besides, we’re not enemies anymore. We’re Schwarz now."

*******

Aya, sprawled out on the couch, rested his chin on Schuldig’s shoulder, watching the ongoing battle over who was the better Tekken player. At the moment, the two Schwarz were sitting on the floor as they played, and Nagi was kicking Schu’s ass, as Ken and Farfarello waited for their turns to be beaten by the teenager. Deciding to be a bit wicked, he blew in the German’s ear, ruining his concentration at a critical moment in the game. Schu growled as he tossed the controller aside and dragged Aya onto his lap, proceeding to kiss him breathless. <Little ingrate, you made me lose to the kid.>

<You were losing anyway, I just helped to speed things along.> It was a bit strange, kissing the man in front of several others, but Schuldig had spent the past week trying to get Aya past his inhibitions against public displays of affection. In fact, he’d spent the past week trying to get the smaller telepath used to any and all displays of affection. It still shocked Aya that he had a lover now, one who infuriated and amused him by turns, who wore him to exhaustion at night, reaching for the blissful pleasure each and every evening when they went to bed. And a couple mornings as well, and one time in the afternoon…

<We have a lot to make up for. You especially. Have any complaints so far?> At Aya’s negative response, Schuldig pulled back, a smile on his face. <I thought not. As soon as-> The thought was cut short, and Aya knew it to be Crawford trying to get his lover’s attention. He could eavesdrop on the conversation if he wanted to, but chose to settle back on the couch instead. If he didn’t respect Schu’s privacy, there was no way in hell he could get the man to return the favor. "//Duty calls, little violet. I’ll be back, don’t let anyone steal my turn.//" With that, the longhaired man rose to his feet and headed back to Crawford’s office, and he crawled back up onto the couch.

Curling into a more comfortable position, Aya watched Nagi kick Farfarello’s ass this time; though the Irishman managed to last longer than Schu did, even with him serving as a distraction. Feeling his eyes droop shut, Aya tried to stay awake, at least so he didn’t have to hear Schuldig bitch when he came back and found him asleep and Ken stealing his turn. Besides, he had to stay awake and try to keep the athlete from using his power to cheat, just like he prevented Schu from reading his opponents’ thoughts. Which was why he was here instead of reading a book, sleeping or working on his shields. The four young men had practically dragged him from his bedroom, begging him to be a ‘referee’. Oh, the joys of being a telepath.

<Your turn, Ken.> He focused his attention on his teammate’s mind, doing his best to block the man’s visions for a few seconds, preventing Ken from implementing them in time. It was a tricky procedure, and was wearing him out. It didn’t help that Schu was gone, even though he could now go about an hour or so without needing the man’s shields. Still, he needed to practice like this more often, both shielding and employing his talent, making both stronger each time he did so.

Distracted with keeping the voices at bay and thwarting Ken’s power, Aya failed to notice when Farfarello settled on the arm of the couch, a foot or two away from him. It wasn’t until the hum of insanity became more pressing than everything else that he looked up, only to find the man staring at him intently. <What?> He always kept his conversations with the madman short, not liking to deliberately touch his mind for very long.

"Your hair, it is the color of blood. So lovely, such a perfect reminder." Without any warning the Irishman reached out and stroked the silky strands. In the process of lifting his arm to bat the man’s hand away, Aya felt himself dissolve into madness at the touch, filled with intense pain and insanity.

*******

"Okay, Vater, what the hell is so important that you had to drag me in here?" Schuldig whined as he sat on the chair opposite Crawford’s, deliberately putting his feet on the man’s desk. Only his blinding speed prevented them from being violently swiped off by the American. "You are no fun."

"I fail to see how allowing your dirty feet to touch my desk is in any way ‘fun’. You are just annoyed that I interrupted your playtime with the boys. Or had your attention shifted to Aya, and that’s what has you so upset?" There was the slightest hint of an amused smile hovering on Crawford’s lips, and his eyes lightened as Schuldig grumbled under his breath at the hit. "Try not to wear the man out."

"I’m the poster child of restraint, not dragging //my little one// off to bed nearly as much as I’d like to."

There was the faintest hint of amusement wafting off of the American. "Ah, he hits you if you try anything too often, doesn’t he? I did wonder how you earned that black eye the other day."

He was so fucking glad that he was amusing the man. Mere mention of the shiner made Schuldig wince the slightest bit, even in memory. Note to himself, Aya did _not_ have much of an exhibitionist streak in him, and could not be enticed to having sex on the dining room table. Nor anywhere else outside of the bedroom, at least at this point. He had to remember that until last week, the man had been one hell of a repressed virgin, after all. "Huh, what was that?"

"Pay attention please, Mastermind. I was informing you that we have a mission for tomorrow night, one that will require two nights to complete. That means you’ll have to drug your boyfriend both nights, as we will be gone for more than an hour."

"Dammit, Brad, do you enjoy wreaking havoc with my love life, now that I finally have one again?" Schuldig glared at the man while wondering where he could get his hands on a suit of armor. He’d need it if he had to tell Aya that he’d be drugged for two whole nights in a row. "Are you that jealous?"

Crawford blinked at him, at a loss over the question. "Am I jealous about what, you or Aya?"

"Listen to me, Bradley Crawford. All kidding aside, you need to get laid, be it man, woman or beast." Some of his good humor restored over his leader’s confused state, Schuldig relaxed into his chair. It figured that the man had no clue what he was talking about; somehow Crawford had completely sublimated his sex drive underneath his work ethic. "I meant of me having sex while you are too busy getting off filing various reports in triplicate, not about anyone in particular." An evil thought occurred to him. "Why don’t you give Kudoh a go? Your shields should be strong enough that he can’t pick up much; fuck him senseless and relieve a bit of both your frustrations. Or let him fuck you, whatever. Hell, take turns."

"He’s not my type."

"Guess not, he’s human." Schuldig sighed and rested his arms and chin on the desk; this time the body parts were allowed to remain. "What are the specifics of the mission?" When the precog lowered his shields enough to allow him a peek, Schuldig quickly scanned all of the necessary information. "We’ll be stretching ourselves on this one, fucking gods that we are. When can we start dragging Hidaka and Kudoh along on these jobs?"

The American considered the question for a moment, checking inward as if to confirm something. "Another couple of weeks. Aya’s and Kudoh’s shields are coming along well, they’ll be ready by then. I don’t want to include Hidaka until his friends are there; he’ll react more favorably to that, I feel."

He wasn’t happy to hear Aya’s name added to the list. Schuldig had been hoping to keep his lover at the apartment, where it was safe, for as long as he could. Judging from the firm look on his leader’s face, this wasn’t a point he’d be able to argue or con his way to a more favorable answer. Damn. "If anything happens to Aya, I’ll be after your head, you do realize that."

"Yes. I’m not willing to risk the man myself, seeing as he will be the key to our freedom, but he needs to learn how to use his talent to its fullest, which he will do best when in a combat situation." Adjusting his glasses, Crawford tossed out an appeasement. "Seeing as I’m just a few weeks away from sending him out on missions, I think that sometime next week would be a good time to take him shopping, as you keep begging me to. Him and Kudoh both."

Well, that was half good, being able to take Aya outside and buy him some new clothes. On the other hand, that left him stuck with Blondie. Gah. Maybe he could borrow the car and leave Kudoh in the trunk while he and his violet hit the stores. "If you insist, and only then. Why next week, though?"

"I’d like for their shields to be a bit stronger, and-" The rest of the words faded into a pain-filled fog, and it took the telepath a minute to realize that the agony was not coming from him, but from Aya.

"Verdammt." Employing his unnatural speed, he rushed from the office, intent on reaching his lover’s side. Crawford followed, at a much more normal pace.

Entering the living room, Schuldig found the smaller redhead curled into a ball, Nagi patting his cheek repeatedly as the boy tried to talk to him and figure out what was wrong. "Aya, can you hear me? What’s wrong? What can we do to help you?" Ken stood beside the couch, blocking Farfarello from Aya. Reaching out with his mind, Schuldig roughly scanned the lot of them as he shoved Nagi aside.

As soon as he did so, the pain started to fade. Holding Aya tight, he started to make sense of the information he’d yanked from his teammates’ minds. Farfie had been attracted to the Japanese man’s hair, due to its resemblance to blood. Guess the man wasn’t as stable today as they had assumed. Ken and Nagi had noticed that something was wrong when Ken’s power was no longer checked, and had turned to see why Aya wasn’t blocking it any more. They’d found the swordsman curled up, eyes unseeing, Farfie stroking his hair. Ken had separated the two, and Nagi had tried to snap Aya out of whatever it was that had a hold of him.

The smaller man’s mind was still a mess, fighting back against the pain and insanity. But the shields were slowly coming back, in large part due to his help. Schuldig felt a glimmer of Aya’s consciousness, a soft, wordless thanks was expressed and then the man fainted. It simply had been too much for him. He didn’t blame Aya as he searched the man’s mind, hunting down the reason for the pain. And cursed out loud when he did. Stroking the hair that had attracted the Irishman so, Schuldig’s eyes sought Crawford’s, not wanting to reach out with his mind at the moment. He didn’t trust himself. "Did you know about this?"

"About what? What happened, Schuldig?"

Taking a few deep breaths, the German decided he had to believe his friend hadn’t known a thing, else he’d gut him where he stood. "Farfie is the first one besides me to touch Aya, not counting the one time Kudoh did. Back then, I thought it was mainly Kudoh’s fault for the reaction that Aya had, that their talents were looping together. But it isn’t that."

He could sense the confusion of everyone in the room. "I told you before that his original shields had all kind of weird holes, that he couldn’t completely block anyone who physically touched him. Well, that problem should have been corrected when he started developing new ones. I thought they had. But just now, I found out that I assumed wrong. He still can’t block out anyone who touches him. I don’t know why; this shouldn’t be happening." For a moment Schuldig reached up and jerked on his own bangs, needing the pain to clear his head. "This shouldn’t be happening. If anything, it’s even worse than before. Zersplittern broke something when he was inside of Aya’s mind, that’s the only thing I can think of. He can’t block out any contact at all. Nagi’s mind hurt him as well, not as bad, since he has pretty good shields, whereas Farfie has none, but…" But anytime anyone besides another psychic touched his lover, it would be sheer agony for the man. "Fuck."

Looking up, he caught the expression on Crawford’s face. "You fucking bastard, you _did_ know." Schuldig was torn between the urge to strangle the man, but didn’t want to let go of Aya, not very sure about the unconscious telepath’s shields.

"No, I didn’t. I swear to you, Schu, I didn’t know this _exactly_. It’s just that several of my visions make sense now. If I had known this would happen, I would have ordered everyone not to touch him, or I would have shot Zersplittern before he could do any damage. You must believe me."

He pressed at the American’s mind, determined to find out if he spoke the truth. Crawford let him in eagerly. It took a few minutes, but he found out that his friend wasn’t lying. Though there were so many other memories blocked to him, he knew that there was much more going on than Crawford was telling him. <All right, I’m sorry for doubting you.>

<No you’re not, but I understand. There’s no need for you to apologize.>

Schuldig nodded his head and got to his feet, Aya in his arms. Ken moved as if to steady the slender form and him, then snatched his hands back suddenly. "Sorry."

"It’s okay." Fixing a stern glance on Farfarello, Schuldig spoke in a quiet voice. "Don’t ever touch him again. I know you didn’t mean to hurt him, but your touch… it’s like glass shards being ground into every single nerve he possesses. Saying it hurts is like saying you don’t like god. Don’t do it again."

"I understand. I’m sorry. It was just so pretty, all the strands of blood."

He started down the hall, Nagi before him, opening his door and telekinetically pulling down the bed sheets. "I’m sorry too, I didn’t think I was doing anything to hurt him."

Carefully laying Aya on the bed, Schuldig began stripping off the man’s clothes. "I know, kid. Just don’t touch him again in the future. God, just when he thinks he’s getting a remotely normal life back, we find out this. Fate is more than a bitch, she’s a fucking whore."

"Ah, Schu, why doesn’t your touch hurt him? Are your shields that much better than mine?"

"Infinitely better, Nagi. Though that’s not the reason why, or he’d be causing me pain, especially right after he had his power broken. Our talents are the same; that seems to be what spares him from any pain. Anyone who is telepathic or empathic won’t hurt him, at least not very much. Don’t ask me to explain things better than that; just know that to a telepath, there is a world of difference between the mind of another psychic and a normal. Even that of another talent." Aya’s clothes taken care of, Schuldig started stripping off his own, quickly aided by Nagi. "Thanks. We’re going to sleep like the dead for a couple of hours, be sure to save us some dinner." Thankfully, the kid got the hint and left. Schuldig let himself drift off to sleep after arranging Aya against him more comfortably.

It was late in the evening when Aya woke up again. Schuldig had been up for an hour or so, just staring at the sleeping man, trying to figure out when he had started to care so much about the little ingrate. This was just supposed to be an amplified fuck buddy relationship, the only emotion sought after being the pleasure they felt from each other’s mind and body. Yet he couldn’t deny his panic and concern upon feeling Aya’s pain. He didn’t think he would be capable of feeling anything like this for another person, yet somehow Aya was becoming more important each day. If he didn’t want the man so, and if the smaller man wouldn’t go mad without him, he’d hightail it out of here. He’d have to be very careful in the future, not to start feeling any inappropriate emotions, like love. Affection was fine, but that was where he drew the line.

As the violet eyes drifted open, the longhaired man completely forgot about his recent decision. He gently probed Aya’s mind, trying to dampen the residual pain from earlier. <Hey there. You look a bit wilted, violet.> There were bruises under the lovely eyes, the pale skin whiter than normal.

<What happened?> Aya started to sift through Schuldig’s memories, thankfully skimming past the most recent in his search to find out what had laid him low. Schuldig felt the man’s shock when he discovered the cause of his problem. <Can’t we fix it at all? What about those defenses you didn’t teach me?>

<They won’t work, they are for when someone gets past your shields. You don’t have any barriers to speak of, at least when someone touches you. All they would do is hurt the person who is in contact with you, which would in turn hurt you right back if they failed to stop touching you. I’m sorry.>

He pulled Aya closer, stroking a hand through the shaggy hair. <It’s like…> Schuldig sought out an appropriate analogy. <What Zersplittern did to your mind is like what would happen if you prune a tree or flower too young. Since it’s so delicate, you do more harm than good, damaging it past the point it can regrow. Your normal shields came back after being broken, because you’d had them for years, your mind knew how they were supposed to be and react. But the defenses you need to keep out a person’s mind when in close contact… well, you’d never done more than develop the most rudimentary wall, for some reason. When that was wiped away, your mind had no clue how to rebuild it. It’s not something that I can teach you, either, or else you’d know how by now. It should all be part of the same shields you already have, but… I’m sorry.> He was so damn sick of hearing that word today. It wasn’t going to change the fact that anytime someone other than him or a handful of people touched Aya, the man was going to be in agony. "//I’m sorry.//"

The smaller man remained still for a moment, then started to pull away. <It’s nothing, really. It always hurt when someone touched me, now it just hurts even more. I’m used to being in pain.> The broken hopes and sorrow that filled Aya tore at Schuldig’s heart. He wished more than anything that he had that Austrian monster in front of him, he’d cut him into pieces. Farfie had been too easy on him. Then Aya’s thoughts caught his attention. The man was thinking that he had to push him away, to cut off their relationship before he started to depend on his touch too much. That he’d only be hurt again when Schuldig went away, much like he had when his sister had died.

<I’m not going anywhere, you little ingrate. You’re stuck with me forever.> Schuldig yanked Aya back, refusing to let him go. <I’m not losing you now, and I won’t die on you. I’m too damn stubborn.> Aya didn’t seem to be buying his promise any, but at least stopped struggling.

<Everyone dies, Schu. Just like everyone leaves me at one point or another. Let it end now, before there is too much pain.>

"You are such a fucking pessimist. No way. I always keep my promises, which is why I almost never give them in the first place. I swear to you now, I’m not leaving you. Not when you feel this good. Tell you what, if I start to die, I’ll kill you first. That make you feel any better?" Wonder of all wonders, he got a very weak chuckle from Aya, and a barely stronger jab to his ribs. "About damn time you realized who was in charge here. OW!" When would he learn not to pick a fight with Aya when he was so naked and ‘exposed’? <Guess sex is out for the next couple of hours, huh?> he sent through the pain.

*******

"Aya, get your skinny ass into gear, you hear me?" Yohji stood impatiently by the elevator, waiting for his friend to show up. Beside him Schuldig snorted in amusement, but before he could give in to the urge to strangle the prick, Aya showed up, busy stuffing a piece of paper into his pocket as Ken trailed behind him, calling out a few more things that he wanted. "Ken, you get to go shopping with Nagi tomorrow, just wait your damn turn." The athlete glared at him, then turned around and headed for the living room. "Okay, can we go now, please?" He wanted out of the apartment so bad he could taste it.

"Of course, " Schuldig replied mockingly, punching in the elevator codes and waving him into the device. "Your chariot awaits." Yohji stepped inside, being careful to leave plenty of space for Aya.

Ever since last week, everyone but Schuldig had been on their guard around the slender redhead, making sure not to get too close. Yohji had missed out on the excitement, busy working on his shields at the time, but had heard about how bad Aya had appeared during the ‘attack’. And had seen him later that night, looking washed out and so incredibly delicate, as if made of spun glass. He’d kept working on his shields after hearing the bad news, that no one but Schuldig could touch the swordsman without causing him pain, for two reasons. First came from the desire to cause the man no more pain than he had to, and the second was for his plan today. Carefully marshalling his thoughts, Yohji sought about for something to distract his attention.

Aya was dressed for the outing in his black knit sweater and black jeans, and had on a matching pair of leather gloves. Covering his hair was a black fedora, of all things, and he wore a soft, dove grey jacket over the ensemble. The jacket and hat were courtesy of Schuldig, a means of more protection and camouflage, making Aya stand out less in a crowd than he would with that bright hair.

Yohji’s skin was covered as well, tan gloves covering his hands, a pair of blue jeans and the lightest sweater he owned that covered him from neck to hips. Not his sexiest outfit, but as soon as they stepped out of the elevator he was glad for it. The lobby was filled with people; someone even accidentally bumped into him. Eager to get out of the crowd, he started for the door, only to have Schuldig yank back on his arm. <Careful now, you don’t want anyone to think that you’re making a break for it.> Yohji then noticed that several people were watching him closely, including the two young men stationed at the doors. They nodded to Schuldig and held open the doors.

Out on the sidewalk, it wasn’t much better. Aya pressed closer to the other telepath, his face paling. Yohji flanked his other side, trying to prevent anyone from bumping into the man. "Explain to me again why we aren’t driving?"

"Something about me not being able to resist temptation." The comment made no sense to the blond, but for some reason earned Schuldig an elbow to his ribs. "Ouch. We’ll catch a cab a few blocks from here."

It entered Yohji’s mind that maybe this was a lesson of sorts for him and Aya, at how uncomfortable it was to be out among people. He found himself twisting about, desperate to avoid any contact, even though his skin was covered. Yohji felt extremely grateful when Schuldig indicated for them to stop, then gestured for a cab. The man had to have used some telepathy as well, since he’d never seen a taxi stop so suddenly before, almost causing an accident over the manner in which the driver slammed on his brakes. "Get in."

Yohji crawled into the car, followed by Schuldig and then Aya. Resting his head against the back of his seat, Yohji let out a hiss as a series of images filled his mind, lost in the memories and emotions. Then he felt a shield slam down, and came back to reality. <Be careful, you Dummkopf.> Glaring at his savior, Yohji pulled up the collar of his sweater, careful not to come in contact with any part of the cab again. He _hated_ this.

Forty minutes later they pulled in front of an extremely trendy collection of shops. Whistling appreciatively, Yohji got out of the cab. "Just how well do our ‘employers’ pay us, if we’re shopping here?" He’d never set foot in a place like this before; even with his additional pay from Kritiker, this was a bit out of his league. "Hey, you’re not expecting us to pay for any of this, are you?"

"Relax, Kudoh, this shopping spree is at the company’s expense. Here." Schuldig handed over a thick wad of cash, all ten thousand yen bills. "You see something, pay for it. Let me know if you run out of money, Crawford was generous today. We’ll be in the clothing stores, getting the ingrate here a new wardrobe." That said, the German tugged Aya into one of the shops. Violet eyes remained fixed on him until the door blocked Aya’s line of vision. <Don’t do anything stupid, Kudoh.>

Surprised as all hell that he was being left to shop on his own, Yohji decided to see just how much of the money he could blow through. Picking the shop that looked the trendiest of the lot, he walked in. Yohji was instantly besieged by several rather attractive women who wanted to help him spend said money. After outlining his needs, something sexy and tight that didn’t reveal a lot of flesh, he found himself herded to the dressing room with several armfuls of clothes.

Eying the cute employee in a mini skirt, Yohji regretted the fact that he wouldn’t be able to carry through with any of his flirting. Which was a damn shame, because the girl most definitely appeared to be up for a little fun, judging from the way she kept holding pairs of pants against his body, brushing her fingers along his ass as she did so. "These look great, think I’ll try them on." Shooing the girl and her older partner out, Yohji set about trying on the new outfits, excited about the prospect of a new wardrobe. At least until he pulled on the black leather pants that he knew would look so damn good on his lanky build, and felt his mind be once more flooded with images and emotions.

The girl, Miki, if he was reading this right, was indeed very taken with him. She was hoping for a night out on the town, being treated to an expensive restaurant and club. She figured if he could afford to buy all these clothes, Yohji must have some serious money. Also, he could tell that the last person to try on the pants had no ass to speak of, and had decided on a pair of pants a little less tight. And on and on. Shuddering from the feel of all those lives, Yohji waited for the sensation to pass, verified that he looked like a sex god in the pants, and ripped them off.

There was no way in hell he was going to be able to try all these clothes on. Maybe one or two other pieces, but he’d go mad if he tried them all on. Yohji had all but forgotten about that little fact due to the excitement of being allowed out of the apartment, and the thought that his wardrobe at least could return to something resembling normal. Pulling his jeans back on, the blond carefully sorted through the clothes selected for him.

Fortunately, he was enough of a clotheshorse to figure out what would fit him and what wouldn’t, just by looking at the clothes. Yohji held all of the pants up to his waist, mourning the loss of Miki’s long fingers. He picked out the tightest ones with the highest waistbands; they would still ride down on his hips, but not as badly as the pants he already owned. Next came the shirts; he chose soft, clingy ones with long sleeves, and after remembering the incident in the cab, high necks. If Yohji couldn’t show off his skin, he could at least make sure that people knew there was one hell of a sexy body under the garments.

Once he’d made his choices, Yohji returned the clothes to Miki, informing her of what colors he wanted for each. Then he turned his attention to accessories, picking out some belts and shoes. Last stop was the glove counter, where he regrettably picked up several more pairs. Yohji muttered a curse when he thought about how much he’d need the damn things over the next couple of years, until he could train his talent to only kick in when he wanted it to. Right now he wished he could kill that old prick who’d activated his power, and wouldn’t mind in the least if the rest of Schwarz was included as well. Especially Schuldig.

When he was done with his shopping, Yohji had Miki ring everything up. Lucky for him that Schuldig and Crawford had been feeling so generous, the amount raised even his eyebrows. Needless to say, Miki was a very, very happy saleswoman. For a moment, Yohji was tempted to buy a few more outfits, but decided to get on with his plan. Which meant having a little spare cash would be a good thing. He asked Miki if there was a bar anywhere nearby. She gladly gave him some directions, and pouted when he wished her a good-bye, clearly upset about not being invited with him.

‘Hey, Aya.’ Not quite having gotten a handle on projecting his thoughts, Yohji mentally concentrated on reaching his friend, and was rewarded for the developing headache after a minute or two.

<Yes?>

‘I’m off for a couple drinks, got my shopping all done. I’ll be back here in an hour, okay?’

There was the sensation of something brushing along his thoughts; Yohji made sure to keep his shields up. <I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Are you really done? I can’t imagine you turning down a shopping spree.>

‘Ah, come on Aya, I already have lots of clothes, I’d rather have a drink instead. I promise to behave.’

Schuldig’s mental voice answered him back, rather than Aya’s. <Go on, have fun. I’ll be busy convincing a certain vicious bastard that there are more colours out there besides shades of black.> Yohji felt Aya’s indignation through the link, then was left alone in his head once more. Gathering up his bags, he made good his escape.

The whole time he walked the couple of blocks to the bar, Yohji wondered if maybe Schuldig and Crawford knew what he was up to. But, wouldn’t they try to stop him if he did? Just how much could the precog really predict? The man was human, wasn’t he? Couldn’t even someone like Crawford make a mistake? Well, there was only one way to tell.

Finding the bar, Yohji walked in and set his bags in a booth across from the payphone. A green eye remaining on his purchases, he dialed Omi’s cell phone, praying the whole while that the boy hadn’t changed his number. After several rings, someone picked up. "Hey, chibi, is that you?" He held his breath, waiting for an answer. There was a pause, in which Yohji heard what he swore to be a bunch of girls in the background, calling out various names of flowers. "Omi?"

"Tsukiyono is busy at the moment, can I take a message for him? Your name, please?"

Someone who sounded a lot older and colder than Omi was asking him the question. Yohji remembered Crawford mentioning that the teenager had several new teammates now; he was willing to bet that he was talking to one of them right now. And that the Koneko was back in business. Dammit. "Nah, that’s okay, I’ll try him later. Just wanted to get a homework assignment off of him." As if he sounded like a kid in high school, what with his smoke roughened voice. "Bai."

Hanging up the phone, he dejectedly returned to his booth. No wonder neither of the Schwarz had tried to stop him; if they’d foreseen his latest escape attempt, they’d have known it would fail right from the beginning. Yohji didn’t trust Crawford more than he could physically throw the man, but he didn’t trust Omi’s new teammates either. It was either talk to the boy or no one at all. And he wasn’t ready to just take off on his own, that would be a mistake. Yohji had counted on his old friend to help hide him away somewhere, and come up with a plan for rescuing Aya and Ken as well.

Before Yohji sat down, he pulled out of his pocket the comb he’d snatched this morning. There was still a strand or two of crimson hair threaded through the plastic teeth. Lifting the object to his face, and as it touched his cheek, he could feel a building headache, along with discomfort, irritation and worry. It seemed that Aya wasn’t too happy about going shopping, and the redhead’s thoughts kept drifting towards him. Yohji felt Aya’s impulse to scan for his mind, to make sure he wasn’t doing something stupid, and a confusing mix of longing, regret and anger when the man thought of him. It took his breath away, and firmed his resolve to get Aya away from Schuldig and his friends. The man did care for him, did want him back, even if they could never touch. Yohji swore under his breath and carefully tucked the comb inside one of his bags, not sure what exposed contact with him would do to the sense of Aya that clung to the object. He wanted to be able to sense Aya’s memories and thoughts several more times, even if Yohji couldn’t now use the comb to track down the man’s presence, as he’d been hoping to do before.

The plan had been to call Omi to his rescue, hide away somewhere while he worked on his shields, and then the two of them would come up with a plan to snatch Aya and Ken away from Schwarz. Maybe leave the country afterwards; it would be best for them to flee someplace that didn’t know them very well. All that had crashed down when Omi hadn’t answered his phone. Yohji didn’t want to chance calling back again, in case that strange man answered again. It hadn’t been the most foolproof plan to begin with, but he’d felt the need to try something soon, before his two friends got so enmeshed by Schwarz that they no longer wanted to escape.

As it was, Ken refused to even talk about the subject anymore, just looked at Yohji as if he’d lost his mind whenever he raised the topic. And Aya was never very far from Schuldig, even though they didn’t need to touch all the time now. Something had happened to the swordsman when he’d found out that he’d never be able to touch anyone again; Aya had started to shut out the world outside the apartment, not wanting to watch any television or even read the newspapers as he used to before. The man barely spoke to anyone anymore either, not even mentally. It saddened Yohji, to see his friend withdraw a little more each day, and he could tell that even Schuldig was starting to be worried over the matter. This afternoon was the first time he’d heard the German call Aya an ingrate in days; usually he was cajoling the smaller redhead, trying to make him smile or show any other emotion.

When the waitress came over to his table, he ordered a couple of shots all at once. She graced him with an odd look, but when he showed her some money, happily went off to oblige him. Yohji leaned back in his booth, remembering just in time to be careful about resting his head on the wooden back of the booth. It almost made him wish he’d gone to a more traditional bar, one with tatami floors. That way he wouldn’t have to worry about accidentally touching anything.

In a remarkably short amount of time, Yohji quite happily realized that he was well and truly drunk. Which shouldn’t have been that much a surprise, considering how many empty shot glasses cluttered the tabletop. Maybe he’d just stay here and wait for the telepaths to come and get him. He sure as hell didn’t feel up to walking back to the shopping center; if Schwarz wanted him so badly, they could pick his ass up. Maybe literally, if he kept slamming back the shots of tequila like he was.

"You okay, mister? This is an awful lot of alcohol to have in so short a time." Yohji, realizing that he had closed his eyes, opened them and smiled at the waitress.

"Don’t worry, I’m a professional." Though one a wee bit out of shape at the moment. He handed over the money for the latest round of shots, downing one of them immediately afterwards.

The server, a woman in her mid-forties, smiled sadly at him. "A bit of advice, you are too young and cute to be an alcoholic. Whatever has you in here, drunk on a Tuesday afternoon, can’t be all that bad. It’ll get better." She reached out and patted him on the cheek.

Yohji gritted his teeth as he felt her concern and sorrow over a handsome young man wasting his day in a bar, her aching back and feet, the worry that she wouldn’t have enough money to help with her grandson’s private school bills. He couldn’t be happier when the woman left him to wait on another customer, and immediately had another shot.

No matter how far away he went, there would always be reminders that he couldn’t escape what had happened to him. Yohji was never going to be able to have anything resembling the life he wanted until he got his power under control. Even with all his hard work the past two weeks, he was nowhere near that goal. He’d have to lock himself away from the world if he didn’t want to go mad from all these accidental contacts, which would kill him. Yohji knew that he needed other people around him, someone to take care of him and that he could take care of in return. He just wasn’t the solitary type. Not like Aya.

Reaching into his bag, Yohji once more pulled out the comb. Aya was in pain, yet refusing to return home until he had all the things he needed, unwilling to go shopping again anytime soon. The man was irritated at Schuldig and worried about him; Yohji realized that his hour was almost up. Oh well, he was sure that either the bastard or Aya would telepathically seek him out when he failed to show, and then they could take his drunk ass home. All he wanted to do right now was crawl into a bed that wouldn’t show him what the last person to sleep in it had been up to or was feeling at the time, and sleep for a few days. His one desire, to be safely away from Schwarz, had been shattered; he might as well give up on the escape attempts for a while and concentrate on keeping Aya from withdrawing from the world.

Reluctantly letting go of the comb, he tucked it back in one of the bags, then gathered all of them close. As soon as Schuldig and Aya arrived, he wanted out of here, before anyone else tried to talk to him, or gods forbid, touch him. Spilling one of the shots of liquor, onto the tabletop, Yohji started to draw designs in the liquid with a gloved fingertip to amuse himself. When someone bumped into the table, he grumbled angrily, sorry to see his work of art be destroyed.

A hand rested on his shoulder. "Come on, Kudoh. We’re leaving."

Yohji looked up at the man touching him, then looked up some more. What a tall bastard. Grey eyes regarded him coldly. "Sorry, but you’re not my type." It dimly registered on his drunken senses that the man had known his name. "Who the hell are you?"

"A friend of a friend. Tsukiyono is very worried about you, and sent me to find you."

Bullshit. Omi would have come here himself. Drunk or not, Yohji knew that for a fact. Also, he finally placed the man’s voice as that of the man on the teenager’s phone. Damn, it had never occurred to him that they would trace the call; he really was losing his edge. And he hadn’t even been drunk at the time. "Well, sorry to put you through all this trouble, but I’m quite happy where I am. Tell the kiddo I said hi." Yohji stood to his feet, hands full of the bags as he tried to brush past the stranger. As soon as he got out of the booth he was jerked towards the door. "Get your damn hands off of me." Dropping the bags, he knocked aside the man’s grip on his arm.

Only to have the man’s hand grab him by the throat, his reflexes no match for the tall man’s, not when he was this drunk. "You are coming with me; continue to struggle and I will knock you out." There was a low hum and the smell of ozone; Yohji dazedly realized that the bastard had a taser of some sort. Dammit, it was going to be a toss-up over who killed him first, Aya or Crawford. Both men would tear into him for being this stupid.

"Go to hell."

The hand around his throat tightened, shifting over the sweater’s high neck to settle against his skin. Yohji was assaulted by a barrage of emotions: fury, disgust, hatred, jealousy, and anticipation. There were flashes of the Koneko, an apartment that was Aya’s yet wasn’t, Manx’s image, a traditional building filled with flowers and a man with long hair who wielded a sword that looked just like Aya’s. Next came blood, a burning lust for death, and an image of Aya. The hate, jealousy and anticipation centered on the redhead, and he felt his skin crawl at the emotions and the accompanying pictures of what the bastard had in mind for his friend. The man expected to find Aya’s whereabouts through him, and wasn’t going to be denied his quarry. Yohji also picked up the fact that Omi had no clue that he had called him, or that his newest teammate had left to find him.

Suddenly the mental assault stopped, as the tall prick stumbled against him, letting go of his throat. There was a flash of grey and black, too fast for him to see, and the man went flying across the room. The stranger looked up at his assailant, growled out the name ‘Fujimiya’, and was then knocked unconscious. Aya stood over the still figure for a moment, then kicked the man again before returning to Yohji’s side. <I told you this was a bad idea.>

"Yeah, well, you know me. I have to learn everything the hard way." Yohji felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to face Schuldig, who held up his bags. "Don’t tell me you knew about this."

"Afraid so. I think this was the reason that Vater let you out in the first place." Schuldig paused to look around the bar, at the dozen of people who were staring back at the assassins. "Pay attention, //little one//; thanks to Blondie here you’ll get to learn how to erase memories." Yohji watched in wonder as the two telepaths, well, Schuldig at least, became quiet, and the small crowd soon dispersed, returning back to their seats or jobs. No one seemed to notice that they were still standing in the middle of the bar, or that there was an unconscious man sprawled on the floor. "There. Now let’s get the hell out of here."

*******

Aya frowned at the bright red shirt that Schuldig was holding up to show him. <No way in hell.> He had a headache bordering on migraine intensity, and Schu was being an asshole. The shopping trip was not going very well.

"Come on, Aya. I refuse to buy you nothing but black and grey. For someone whose name symbolizes a variety of colour, you sure don’t live up to expectations."

The frown only intensified, earning him a pout from the German. "Okay, let’s try this. I refuse to buy you any more black clothes."

<Fine by me, can we go get Yohji and leave then?>

<Dammit, Aya! You weren’t supposed to call my bluff. Why the hell won’t you pick out something a little less dour than black and grey? You wore that awful orange sweater how often? And red will look so much better on you than tangerine.>

Aya winced at the memory of the sweater his sister had made for him, the last thing he’d gotten from her before the accident. He’d worn it all the time to remind himself of happier times, when Aya-chan had been alive and smiling all the time.

<I’m sorry, little violet. I didn’t mean to make you feel sad.> Schuldig wrapped an arm around him and nuzzled the side of his neck. Aya felt his skin redden at the display of affection while they were in public, then wondered why no one seemed to notice that two men were hugging each other in the middle of a store. <Because I’m making them not pay attention. Let me buy you the red shirt, and I’ll teach you how to do it.>

<You’ll teach me how to do it regardless, or I’ll find out on my own.> In contrast to his stark tone, Aya tilted his head to the side so his lover could nibble on his neck.

<True. But don’t you want to learn how to do it now?>

Debating the matter for a minute, Aya nodded his head. He felt Schuldig’s grin against his skin, and the man set about teaching him the trick. It was surprisingly easy, similar to him baffling Ken’s power, and would be very useful in the future. If his head weren’t hurting so badly at the moment, Aya would try out the trick here and now. However, all he wanted to do was track down Yohji and go home. <We’ve gotten me some footwear, several jackets, gloves, clothes and underwear. I think we are done now.> Aya felt he had been more than patient, letting Schu drag him around various stores and trying on the clothes, only protesting over the colours, as with the shirt. He’d even given in on the issue of boxers, letting the man pick out a variety in silk, all in different colours. It wasn’t as if many people would see him in them other than the German.

Right now he wanted to go home, though. He’d suffered enough, not complaining until he had all the things he needed. And then some. <Schu, let’s go. Yohji should be back in a minute.>

"Let me pick out a few more shirts, and then we’re done. We’ll have to go collect the Dummkopf, I doubt he can walk even a few blocks without wandering into traffic, he’s that drunk at the moment." Aya punched the man in the ribs when he caught Schu’s sarcastic thought about what a tragedy that would be. "Grrr, I’ve never met anyone even remotely as vicious as you, I’ll have you know, and I’ve met quite a few psychopaths in my day."

<Pay for the stuff and let’s go.> Aya let some of his pain and discomfort leak through the mental link, needing to go home and curl up on his bed more and more with each passing moment. He’d had it with being out in the open, not even the thought of the bookstore down the street could tempt him to remain in public any longer. It felt as if bugs were crawling all over Aya’s skin, and his head hurt so bad.

Schuldig pressed his lips to the pale man’s forehead and steered him towards the register. Just wanting to go home, Aya didn’t comment on the violet, blue and cream coloured shirts that had crept into the pile. As soon as the outfits were paid for, he snatched the bag away from the cashier and headed for the door, Schuldig behind him. <What bar is he in? Do you know?>

"Yes. Let’s take a cab, we’ll need it to get him home." Schuldig snatched the bags from his hand and headed for the street. Aya felt him snare a taxi driver’s attention, making the man pull over for them. As much as he didn’t want a new wardrobe or to leave the apartment, Aya had to admit that he had learned several new ways to use his talent today. Though he had no great desire to leave the apartment again in the foreseeable future.

Sitting inside the cab, Aya pressed himself against the other telepath, grateful for the presence that helped to drown out the voices that hadn’t left him alone from the moment he stepped out of the elevator and into the lobby. His body relaxing as Schuldig’s shields helped to strengthen his, Aya noticed that the older man was tense. <What’s wrong?> Searching the man’s mind, he found some blocked thoughts. <Schu?>

An arm wrapped around his waist, creeping underneath his black sweater. <Kudoh’s in trouble. You should stay in the cab.>

Pressing at the blocked thoughts, Aya didn’t relent until Schuldig let him see what he’d been hiding since this morning. Crawford hadn’t called him into the office only to give him money for shopping, but to inform the telepath about Yohji’s latest escape attempt. For a moment, Aya wasn’t sure who he was more pissed off at; Schu for keeping this a secret from him or Kudoh for being such an idiot. Since Schuldig was the one beside him, Aya decided to punch him and worry about showing his displeasure to Yohji later.

Distracted by the pain in his ribs, Schuldig failed to grab hold of the smaller man before he could exit the car, heading straight into the bar. Aya tossed open the door and found Yohji being held by the throat by the man in Crawford’s vision, Yasukawa Kai.

Putting his newly acquired speed to good use, Aya rushed over to the two assassins, punching Yasukawa in the kidneys to make him release Yohji . Once the man did so, Aya treated him to a roundhouse kick, knocking him across the floor. Grey eyes stared at him venomously for a moment, and the man growled out his name, only to be silenced when Aya kicked him in the head. What he wouldn’t give for his sword at the moment, feeling the need to gut the bastard before he harmed his friends again.

<Aya, stop it. Oracle says that we need him alive.> Not quite done with the bastard, Aya kicked him one more time. <A~ya, I mean it.>

<Very well.> Aya wondered why Crawford didn’t want Yasukawa to be killed; he knew the bastard would be trouble. Instead, he turned his attention to Yohji, who appeared barely able to stand on his feet unaided, and reeked of alcohol. <I told you this was a bad idea.>

"Yeah, well, you know me. I have to learn everything the hard way." Yohji whirled about unsteadily when Schu tapped him on the shoulder and handed over some shopping bags. "Don’t tell me you knew about this."

"Afraid so. I think this was the reason that Vater let you out in the first place." Schuldig paused to look around the bar, at the dozen of people who were staring back at the assassins. "Pay attention, //little one//; thanks to Blondie here you’ll get to learn how to erase memories." Once more Aya learned a new use for his talent, and marveled at Schuldig’s deft mental touch, that he could erase the past few minutes from a dozen people’s memories, causing no damage that he could tell. "There. Now let’s get the hell out of here."

<What about Yasukawa?>

"We leave him alone, orders are orders. How do you know his name?" Feeling the other telepath probe at his mind, Aya reached out a gloved hand and grabbed Yohji’s sleeve, dragging the man behind him to the cab.

"Yeah, Aya, you know that guy?"

Cursing his slip, Aya crawled into the backseat, and found himself sandwiched between the two older men. Schu had snuck around to the other side when Yohji had entered the car behind him. <He’s an old student of the man who taught me how to use my sword. Yasukawa… parted on bad terms with him. I know him mainly by reputation, and only met him once before in person.> Schuldig was not happy to find the memory of that meeting to be blocked to him; Aya knew the man would only search it out later when his shields were down, either during sex or afterwards, but didn’t care. He just didn’t want to think about the other swordsman any more right now. <Can we please go home now?>

*******

Stumbling out of the elevator, Yohji jerked to a halt when Aya grabbed his arm and tossed it over the slender man’s shoulders. He heard Schuldig hiss behind him, telling Aya to leave him the hell alone. So he hugged the smaller man closer, just to piss the bastard off. Not that he would have been able to reach his room unaided; this was just an added bonus at the moment.

For his part, Aya hadn’t said another word to him after the revelation about Yasukawa, and Yohji got the impression that Schuldig had been ignored as well. The smaller redhead radiated displeasure, and when those violet eyes had glanced at either him or the German, they had been glaring evilly. Well, at least if he was in the doghouse, so was Schuldig.

Crawford stepped out of his office just when Yohji thought he’d make it to his room without a lecture. "I take it you had an interesting afternoon?"

"Hm, you could say that. What happens now, you confiscate my smokes? Twenty lashings? Bread and water- ow." Yohji rubbed his sore ribs, which had just been viciously pinched by Aya.

Blue eyes regarded him levelly. "I’ve been rather generous with you, Kudoh, allowing you a bit of a learning curve over the matter. This is your last ‘get out of jail free’ card, as it were. Any further attempts at escape, and I will finally let Schuldig into your head to make sure you never try it again. Need I tell you how much he would look forward to that? Surely I’m making perfect sense to you, even as inebriated as you are at the moment."

Yohji nodded his head. "Any more attempts, and bye bye Kudoh." As if he stood a chance anymore, having nowhere to turn, and finding out just how accurate the dammed American’s talent had proven.

"Good. Schuldig, I’d like a word with you." The German tossed him a dirty look before stepping into the office; Yohji was willing to bet that the man was upset that he was being left in Aya’s presence unsupervised.

Not that being alone with Aya was a good thing. Yohji found himself tossed onto his bed a bit roughly when they reached his room. "Hey, easy there, I’m delicate."

<You’re a fucking idiot who deserves to have his brain scrambled. Do you have any idea just how bad it would have been if Yasukawa had gotten his hands on you? Try anything like this again, and Crawford and Schu will be the least of your worries, I’ll kill you myself. You endangered us all.> During the tirade Aya was busy stripping the blond of his clothes, roughly yanking off his shoes, jacket and jeans.

Yohji struggled out of his sweater on his own. "Aya, I’m sorry. All I wanted to do was get in touch with Omi, have him hide me somewhere safe and come back for you and Ken. We would have been free then." For some damn reason the sweater didn’t want to come off, and Yohji found himself trapped in the garment. "Help."

<It’s not as simple as that anymore, Kudoh. I really do think it’s in our best interests if we remain with Schwarz. We’ll be free soon enough, if we cooperate with them.>

"I’m sorry." With the younger man’s help, Yohji was free of the sweater and ready for bed. He grabbed the redhead, hugging him close. "Thanks for not killing-"

Their skin came in contact as Yohji pressed his head under Aya’s chin, startling the both of them. Both psychics braced themselves for the pain and mental assault, but all there was on Aya’s part was a dull ache, as Yohji’s mostly shielded drunken thoughts filled his mind. Yohji felt the man’s shock, and the residual anger and irritation that had been directed at him. The shock slowly faded as Aya pressed closer to him, and Yohji found himself frantically tugging off a glove and threading his bare fingers through the crimson hair. The emotions intensified, the ache growing a touch stronger, but was now more along the lines of uncomfortable rather than painful.

Confusion reigned foremost in Aya’s mind, then joy and surprise at finding another person who could touch him, especially the fact that it was Yohji. Then came doubt and regret, that the playboy would now renew his efforts to get Aya into bed with him, wanting to have a body to fuck. Yohji was shocked at the image his friend had of him, and didn’t think to move when Aya pulled away from him. Lightning quick, the smaller man fled the room, leaving a dazed blond in his wake.

It was a bit sobering, to realize that in the year he’d known Aya, the man had been aware of his lust for him, and had felt if he gave in to it, if that had even been an option in the first place, that Yohji would treat him just like one of his casual flings. It was even more sobering when Yohji had to admit that Aya had been mostly right. All he’d ever thought about was fucking the man; how to get the redhead in his bed, and not what would happen afterwards. No wonder his friend had held him at arm’s length.

Well, that was going to change, as of now. Aya wanted him, that had been made obvious. Yohji sure as hell wanted the man in return. Now to try and make the stubborn fool realize that he would be more than a one night stand to him. Much much more. Still a bit buzzed from the alcohol, Yohji curled up between his sheets. He’d come up with a plan tomorrow, when he was sober. Hopefully, this plan would be a much better success than his last two. It better damn well be.

 

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