The Other Side

*******

Chapter five

*******

Schuldig felt himself drift awake, and snuggled closer to his still sleeping lover. Aya softly hn’ed and burrowed deeper under the blankets. A smile on his lips, Schuldig slowly pulled the man towards him, tugging on Aya’s shoulder until he was lying on his back. Time for a little fun, he thought.

Leaning over the slim figure, the German let his hair fall down on the pale skin, the strands brushing along it as he trailed kisses along Aya’s right temple and cheekbone. By the time he reached the smaller telepath’s lips, Aya was holding him close, waking up to the sensation of pleasure.

<Morning, kleines Veilchen.>

<Morning, Schu.> There was a rumbling purr from Aya as the taller man settled on top of him, causing Schuldig to smile some more. Desire and bliss intensified, radiating from the both of them now. Very glad that he’d finally convinced his lover to sleep in the nude, Schuldig luxuriated in the feel of silky skin all along his own. This was heaven.

Aya grabbed ahold of his hair and yanked his head down, mouth demanding attention. He was all too willing to comply. The next several minutes were spent devouring that sweet mouth, their erections rubbing against each other as the two men shifted about, hips rocking together. <God, how I want you.> Schuldig pulled back, short of breath and inflamed with passion, and stared deep into a pair of indigo eyes.

Sending an image of how he wanted to take the pale man, Schuldig sat up as Aya twisted onto his stomach. Trailing his hands down the sensitive spine, he retraced their path with his lips, his long hair once more brushing along the white skin. Aya moaned and writhed under his attention, and gasped loudly when the older man delved his tongue into the cleft of his ass. Spreading the round globes, Schuldig breathed on the moistened flesh, drinking in the strangled mewls for a moment before licking at the puckered opening. He had to hold Aya’s hips still as he speared his tongue into the tight ring, moaning himself at the sensations that poured off of the other telepath.

Unable to hold back much longer, Schuldig pulled away and tugged a dazed Aya onto his hands and knees, then grabbed a bottle of lube. As soon as his fingers were slick enough, the longhaired man twisted them inside of the pale body, his tongue busy licking its way up the smaller redhead’s spine until Shuldig felt his lover was ready for him. He nibbled on the slim neck for a moment, then pushed his way inside with one smooth motion. <Schu- ohh.> Aya pushed back, taking him in even deeper. <More.>

"So impatient." He tried for a mocking tone, but his voice was too rough and wanting. Schuldig needed more as well, and rocked his hips forward to bury himself as deeply as he could in Aya’s tight body. Ecstasy and desire echoed between the two of them, building to even greater levels as their minds were as joined as their bodies. Schuldig panted out Aya’s name, driving hard and deep inside the man, lost to everything but intense pleasure. Repeatedly pounding against the Japanese man’s prostate, he let out a yell as his lover’s body tightened around him, and climaxed right after Aya did.

He had the presence of mind to fall to the side, dragging Aya along with him, away from the mess on the sheets. Once he pulled out of the smaller man, Aya wearily turned about to face him, kissing him softly on the lips before tucking his head under Schuldig’s chin. Holding the slender man close, Schuldig hummed contentedly. "Now wasn’t that a lovely way to wake up?"

<You’re merely justifying taking advantage of an unconscious man.> Aya bit him on the collarbone, just hard enough to startle a yelp out of him, and then kissed the darkening skin. Schuldig grumbled about vicious bastards, and let out another yelp as he was punched rather hard in the ribs.

"What the hell was that for?" He searched through the suddenly irate telepath’s mind, wanting to know why he was being abused now. And let out a weak chuckle as Aya reminded him of the two times he’d taken advantage of the pale man when he had been drugged. <Sorry, little one, I just couldn’t resist. At least now I wake you up.> Schuldig got the distinct impression that Aya wasn’t pleased to recall those incidents, and would be making him pay for that stolen pleasure for quite a while to come. Ah, at least it would make things interesting. Not that his life was in any way dull for the time being.

With a sigh, Aya sat up and got off the bed, tugging a protesting Schuldig behind him. <Come on, we need to wash off. And I want some tea.>

"Oh, please don’t tell me that I fucked you senseless, and all you want after that bout of activity is a ‘cup of tea’. You’re supposed to either pass out or eat a whole horse, so you have the energy for another go." Schuldig stopped at the bathroom door and tugged Aya to him, kissing the man as he patted a sore rear end. <Maybe I should try it again.>

So of course the pale man punched him in the stomach and then hauled him into the bathroom. "You are such a vicious little ingrate, I’ll have you know."

<Whatever; I just want to take a shower. You joining me, or are you going to change the sheets first?>

Watching as Aya started the shower and then stood under the stream of hot water, Schuldig joined his lover. As if he would turn down an excuse to touch all of that white skin. And he enjoyed it when Aya washed his hair for him. "Why do I always ending up having to make the bed? I’m not the one leaving a mess in the sheets; well, at least not much of one."

Violet eyes glared at him for a moment, and then Aya shoved him under the water a bit more roughly than he needed to. Grumbling to himself, the German tilted his head back, and groaned as long, skilled fingers massaged shampoo into his scalp. <Because you are the one always starting things that lead to a ‘mess’. So, it’s only fair you clean it up.>

One just had to love the man’s logic. Having picked up on the trace of smugness that had accompanied that thought, Schuldig narrowed his eyes and trapped Aya against a tiled wall. <Oh, don’t tell me that’s why you never initiate anything serious.> He could read in the man’s mind that he had guessed correctly; Aya knew that he could never pass on an opportunity to start something between them, and remained passive, knowing that Schuldig would eventually make a move, and then get stuck with cleaning duty. <You little bastard.>

<I know.> Aya surprised him with a deep kiss, then slipped out of the shower. A smile back on his face, Schuldig turned off the water and followed. His lover was turning out to be sneaky and manipulative enough to give Crawford a run for his money; he’d best get used to it. Drying himself off, Schuldig wrapped the towel around his waist and walked back into the bedroom after getting a fresh set of sheets out of the linen closet. The smile shifted into a leer as he spied the smaller man naked, about to get dressed.

Going about changing the sheets, Schuldig paused to watch Aya pull on a pair of green silk boxer shorts, and then a pair of black cargo pants. The man seemed to think about something, his mind faintly hidden behind a shield, before selecting a red knit shirt to wear with the pants. <See, the world won’t end if you wear a little bit of colour.> Tossing the soiled sheets aside, Schuldig stepped over to the closet and kissed Aya before picking out his own outfit.

As soon as he was clothed in a pair of faded blue jeans and an embroidered green felt vest, his hair properly disarrayed for the day, Schuldig waved Aya through the door. These past couple of weeks, he had gotten very good at waking up in time to entice the other telepath into a little morning sex, and still be able to make breakfast. Though he wouldn’t have to worry about that, if Aya would just stop pretending that the world outside of the apartment didn’t exist, and they could eat at a restaurant whenever they felt like it. The stubborn fool hadn’t left their floor for over a week now, since they had gone shopping. While Schuldig could now leave Aya alone for several hours at a time, he didn’t feel like wandering around Tokyo without his lover at his side. It just wasn’t as much fun.

Surprisingly, they weren’t the last people to arrive for breakfast; in fact, they were among the first. Crawford was, as usual, sitting down and reading a paper, and was the only other person in the room. Farfie was nowhere in sight, and since Schuldig didn’t feel the man’s mind in the immediate vicinity, that meant the Irishman was either drugged or out. Aya went to his seat, immediately reaching out for the pot of tea waiting for him. One of the seldom seen housekeeping staff was setting out bowls of rice and miso soup, and another, a large dish of egg crepes and smoked salmon. With that, the silent women nodded to Crawford and left, most likely to collect the dirty laundry before leaving. While grateful for the fact that none of the team had to clean or cook, Schuldig didn’t like having strangers about in his home, even if they were there for only a few minutes at a time. He knew that they were reporting back to their supervisors on what they saw, like the good little spies they were.

<Hey, Vater, why can’t we tell these people to shove off and take care of the place on our own? I’d rather live in a pigsty and eat burned food or takeout all the time, than have them crawling about the place.>

The American didn’t even look up from his paper during his answer. <Because our employers would wonder what we are trying to hide from them, and start paying more attention to us. Which would be a very bad thing. So quit your bitching, and eat breakfast.>

Schuldig was prevented from replying by the arrival of Ken and Nagi. Both of the young men were laughing, and were dressed in jeans and t-shirts. While he was grateful that the boy had finally discarded his old school uniform, he wished that Nagi had picked a better fashion mentor than Ken. As far as he knew, the grunge look was out. Aya caught that thought, and whapped his knuckles with his chopsticks. Was the man not happy unless he was in pain?

Ken sat down and immediately began to shovel food onto his plate. "Morning everyone. Crawford, would you mind if Nagi and I go see a movie later today? And maybe do a little shopping as well; we need some new videos to watch."

"Fine by me. Just remember the rules; you aren’t to go to any establishments that you used to patronize while in Weiß, and while you’re off sneaking in a game of soccer at the park, try not to beat the other team too badly." There was actually a hint of amusement in the precog’s voice, and Schwarz’s youngest members blushed a little.

"Don’t know why we even bothered," Ken muttered, and then shared a guilty grin with Nagi. "Thanks. We really were planning on a movie and shopping; well, after a game or two, so let us know if there is anything that you want us to pick up. You interested in tagging along, Aya? Schu?"

<No.> Aya didn’t even look up from the bowl of rice he was picking at. Schuldig shook his head and bit back on a sigh, wondering how the hell he could get his lover outside in a way that didn’t include him picking up the stubborn ingrate and carrying him out there. He got the distinct impression that there would be no sex for, oh, maybe a year or two, if he pulled a stunt like that. This withdrawal bullshit had to stop; lately, besides not going outside, Aya never spoke to anyone but him, except for the occasional monosyllabic answers.

"Good morning, all. Mm, breakfast smells delicious."

Well, make that almost anyone but him. Schuldig gritted his teeth together, careful to hide his jealousy and ill thoughts behind a shield as Yohji strolled into the room, dressed in a pair of tight pants and even tighter shirt that clung to every inch of his body. Dammit, the next time he managed to drag Aya out for a little more shopping, he had to hit the store that Kudoh had bought his clothes in.

Yohji turned to look at the only person who hadn’t acknowledged his greeting, besides Schuldig. "Morning, Aya. You look nice; red suits you."

Aya barely nodded his head.

"Morning, Aya. You look nice; red suits you." Yohji then repeated the statement a third time, smiling all the while. When he started to utter it again, Aya looked up, a scowl on his face.

"Morning, Yohji. Thank you. You look like a slut." The swordsman’s voice was hoarse from disuse. He only ever spoke out loud to Yohji, who would repeat any question posed to Aya again and again, until the man finally gave in and answered him, as would a normal person. Any telepathic statements were ignored; Yohji wouldn’t acknowledge anything that Aya mentally sent to him, until it was spoken out loud. This had been going on for a week now, and while the blond was earning his teammate’s ire, Schuldig had to grudgingly admit that the tactic worked. He hadn’t managed to force Aya to speak out loud, not when use of their talents felt so damn good.

Any gratitude he might feel towards Kudoh for this feat, however, was burned away as the man reached out a hand to brush aside Aya’s bangs. The fact that his lover didn’t flinch away from the touch had Schuldig snarling under his breath. Even though Yohji was wearing his gloves, he had no right to touch what belonged to him. It galled Schuldig that Aya didn’t shy away from the gesture, only hn’ed and returned to his meal when the blond was done tucking back the long, crimson strands.

Dammit, why the hell did Blondie have to be the only other person who could touch Aya? Schuldig had never thought about how the man’s talent was so similar to telepathy; the main difference was that it required a medium of sorts to make a mental connection. That little difference apparently wasn’t enough to cause Aya any pain upon contact, just a bit of discomfort that faded away the more Yohji developed his shields. Which the prick was working day and night on, strengthening them more and more.

Oh, he knew why the man was doing it. Yohji wanted Aya, and since their shields were now strong enough to keep them from being lost in each other’s mind and talent, the prick actually had a shot at him. At least a better one than almost anyone else would ever have, since their touch would fill Aya with pain. And the worst part of it was, Schuldig could feel Aya’s confusion over the blond, and knew that deep down, his lover wanted Kudoh in return, but was too afraid of being hurt by the man, of being treated like a one night stand, to give in.

Well, the simple fact of the matter was, Aya was _his_ now. And Schuldig did not feel like losing the younger telepath. Not when he had the man in his bed and willing, had created that sense of affection that was ever-present, even when Aya was annoyed as all hell with him. He’d never had someone like the swordsman care for him before, and he most definitely hadn’t had a chance to care for someone like he did Aya. Schuldig wasn’t going to let that go, not without one hell of a fight.

*******

Yohji looked over at Aya, who was nursing a cup of tea; the redhead was letting half of his breakfast grow cold in front of him. The stubborn idiot; he didn’t need to lose the weight that he’d just gained back. Marshalling his thoughts, he tried to telepathically talk with his quiet friend. <HEY! Oops.> Aya and Schuldig turned to look at him, the younger man with a puzzled expression on his face, and the German with an angry scowl. <Sorry about that, just want to talk with Aya for a little bit.>

Schuldig appeared about to say something, but Aya elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to become quiet and sullen. <Impressive, Kudoh. You finally got the hang of it. But why are you talking to me like this, when you harass me for not speaking out loud?>

<I didn’t think you’d want me to yell at you in front of the others about you not eating. Breakfast is delicious as always; why don’t you try eating it for once?>

Violet eyes narrowed in anger. <I don’t see what->

<He’s right, kleines Veilchen.> Schuldig broke into the conversation, once more glaring at Yohji. <You need something more substantial in you than a pot of tea. You’re still working on your shields, and there’s all that special activity we get up to now, you need your strength for that.> The foreigner smiled evilly at Yohji while stroking Aya’s hand, making it very clear what activity he was referring to.

Refusing to let the bastard get to him, Yohji kept a smile on his face and just nodded his head. His restraint was rewarded by the pale hand yanking on a long strand of reddish hair, and the confused look Aya tossed his way before resuming his meal.

Relatively happy with the world, the blond sank back in his chair and asked Nagi to pass him the pot of coffee. He even added a please, earning him another confused look, this time from the telekinetic. Ken just beamed at him, pleased that he was remembering his manners when addressing the youth. The man was a pedophile; there was no doubt in Yohji’s mind anymore.

Returning his attention to Aya, Yohji hid a smile behind his coffee mug. His plan was proceeding wonderfully. He’d spent the last few days harassing the redhead, forcing him to actually talk occasionally, and not use his talent. Yohji was the only one to have managed that miracle; both Schuldig and Crawford had failed to get him to speak out loud. Now he had the redhead eating as well, and thoroughly off-balance. Carefully masking his thoughts, he resumed his meal.

Aya had no clue what to think of him anymore. Which was what Yohji wanted. Let the man believe he was a pain in the ass, annoying, meddling bastard. It was so much better than the image he knew Aya had held of him for the past year or so. Once Yohji had the man thinking of him as something other than a playboy who would break his heart, he could steal Aya away from Schuldig.

Catching a glare from his rival, Yohji smiled sweetly and took to surveying his teammates. Ken was rambling on about the movie that Nagi and he were going to see, and about the videos they hoped to track down. Nagi added his two cents worth every now and then, mainly when the athlete was shoving food in his mouth. Farfie was not present this morning, a fact that Yohji didn’t really mind. It was nice to have a meal without listening to the man rant about how various things hurt his god. Crawford would glance up from his paper occasionally, holding out his mug for a refill, taking a few bites of his eggs, or just to glance at the men assembled around the table, a smug look on his face. Yohji just bet the precog was rather pleased with himself at the moment; he had finally broken Weiß of their dreams of freedom. There weren’t any more plans for escape on their parts at all, and the man seemed to know it.

Nope, for various reasons, the three of them had decided to throw their fate in with Schwarz, and ride it out until all of them were free. It had helped, just the slightest bit, to find out just how nasty Kritiker was prepared to be, in order to get them back. Thanks to Yohji’s last escape attempt.

So with the death of that last obsession, there was nothing for Yohji to do but work on his shields, and worm his way into Aya’s affections. He had to have the man as his lover. It had felt so incredible the one time they had touched last week, that he wanted more of it. No wonder Schuldig snarled at him whenever he came close to the pale man, but it wouldn’t do the German prick any good. Aya was going to be his.

But first he had to do something about the way the man refused to leave the apartment. It couldn’t be good for the redhead to lock himself up in here and have no desire to go outside. Yohji needed Aya to open up, not retreat further back into himself. "So, Aya, did Ken tell you about the bookstore just down the street from us? It looks really nice, and it’s huge. Bet you could find a ton of stuff in there to read."

For a second the redhead seemed interested, but then just shook his head and poured himself some more tea. Yohji wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. "Oh, that’s right, you have so many better things to do, like lay around and sleep. Or something. Even Farfie gets out more than you do; you expecting us to wait on you hand and foot? You probably just want to give Ken a list of books you want, and not be bothered with getting them yourself." Time to break out the big guns, and hope it didn’t get him killed. "It’s such a big change; the Aya I used to know actually believed in doing something, and wasn’t such a lazy bastard." One.. .two… three…

"Kudoh," Aya growled, low and dangerously. <I am _not_ being lazy. I am working on my shields, just like you’ve been doing lately.>

Pressing on with the argument, Yohji ignored the fact that the last statement had been sent telepathically; he’d focus on one battle at a time. "Well, how the hell are they going to get any better when you won’t go outside? Too afraid of the pain or something?" Ah, scored a direct hit. Yohji knew that he’d gotten to Aya from the way the smaller man’s brows were all scrunched up. Now to see if he’d pissed Aya off enough to get him past the self-pity trip or bout of denial he was suffering over there being a world outside and get him out of the apartment, or if he was about to be killed. Odds were good either way.

Aya pushed away from the table and stormed out of the room. Schuldig got up to follow him, but Crawford’s voice made him come to a halt. "Schuldig, leave him be and sit back down." A look was exchanged between the two foreigners, but the German sat in his chair, a frown on his face. Yohji got the impression the man was extremely unhappy about the situation. Poor baby.

"Kudoh." He looked over at the precog, wondering if he was going to be yelled at or lectured. "The elevator’s code is four-two-seven-nine. I want the two of you back within three hours, and you’d best believe that someone will be observing you while you are out." Crawford took a sip of his coffee, while Yohji sat there stunned, along with the rest of the table. "And thank you."

Yohji didn’t know what to say to that, and waited for Aya to return, once more wearing Schuldig’s black fedora as well as a pair of gloves. "Now, Kudoh." Even with the amount of venom in the man’s voice, hearing it still caused shivers to run up and down Yohji’s spine.

"Wait a sec, we need some cash."

Schuldig muttered and pulled his wallet out of a pocket. Aya crossed over to him, and the older telepath grabbed his chin and yanked his head down for a kiss. It was a couple minutes before they broke apart. <Remember, Kudoh, you’re nothing but a slut of a friend to him. Anything happens to Aya while you’re out, and I’ll fuck with your mind until you are even crazier than Farfie.>

<Whatever. At least I can get him to go outside.> Knowing that he’d scored another hit, Yohji rose to his feet, a smile on his face. "Let’s go, Aya. We’ll be back in a little bit." That said, he ushered his friend towards the elevator.

It was almost a surprise when the codes worked and the door opened. Yohji shook his head, trying to adjust to the fact that Oracle apparently trusted the two of them enough to let them leave the place unsupervised. Guess they really had resigned themselves to their new life. Which wasn’t all that bad, now that he had someone he could touch, and it appeared as if he and his teammates were going to be trusted and given a bit more freedom. "Mind if we stop for some cigarettes while we are out? I hate asking Ken to get them for me, what with the lecture I have to hear each time."

Aya shook his head. Yohji let his silence pass, seeing that, even though the redhead was trying to hide it, he was nervous as all hell about leaving the apartment. For a moment, the older assassin thought that no matter how bad he had it when his power kicked in at an accidental touch, swamping him with memories and feelings, that it was nothing compared to the agony that Aya went through.

"You’ll be fine."

That reassurance earned him a shi-ne glare. Yet when the elevator opened up in the building’s lobby, the pale man shifted closer to him. Yohji linked their arms together, and walked through the crowd.

"Which way?"

A blond eyebrow lifted at the sound of Aya’s voice. "Uhm, I think Ken said it was past the ice cream parlor, so we hang a left here." Keeping a firm grip on Aya’s arm, Yohji steered him in the proper direction. It took them twenty minutes to reach the place, with a brief stop at a convenience store for Yohji’s cigarettes.

As soon as they stepped into the bookstore, Aya relaxed the slightest bit. He strode over to the poetry section, barely pausing to snatch up a basket on the way. "Here." Aya thrust it at Yohji, who bemusedly accepted his status as a human shopping cart. Then Aya let go of his arm, but before Yohji could move too far away, he grabbed the blond’s hand, interlacing their fingers together. A huge smile on his face, Yohji happily trailed after his friend, for the first time in his life very happy to be in a bookstore.

********

Ken and Nagi chose to make their escape right after Yohji and Aya did, clearly not wanting to remain for long around a highly upset Schuldig. As soon as they left, Schuldig turned and snatched the newspaper out of Crawford’s hands. "What the hell are you playing at now, letting Aya out there with Kudoh unsupervised?! You have any idea what could go wrong? What if Kritiker finds them again?"

"None of those things will happen, or I would never have let them set foot out of here. Relax, Schuldig, and use your brains for once."

Not appeased, Schuldig growled at his calm teammate. "Might I remind you that you didn’t foresee what happened to Aya two weeks ago, oh noble Kaiser? I’m going after them."

Crawford immediately barked out an order. "No you won’t. Schuldig, do that and you’ll lose him. I mean it."

That caused the telepath to stop in his tracks, and then to whirl around to face the American. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

"There’s a very good reason why I let them go out today; several good ones in fact. The first is to reassure our superiors that we have ‘broken’ our new recruits, and that there is no threat of them trying to run away. Secondly, Yohji made an excellent point. If Aya is to be a functioning member of Schwarz, he has to get over his phobia of being around people, and get used to being in public. Which will never happen, as long as you continue to coddle him."

That comment stung. "I don’t-"

Blue eyes stared at him, filled with derision and a touch of sympathy. "Yes you do. It must be hard, to be so closely connected to someone who is so vulnerable, and to feel their pain. You protect him, if only to protect yourself." Crawford made it sound so ruthless and impersonal, his need to keep Aya safe. Yet Schuldig wasn’t sure if he was ready to admit that his feelings were anything more than that. It was foolish to let another person matter so much to him; it left him open to so much hurt and abuse. Yet his link with Aya brought him so much pleasure and amusement.

"I don’t coddle him; it’s just that I have to be extra-careful with him, because of his talent."

His friend graced him with a pitying glance. "I never thought the day would come when you would stoop to justifications, Schu." The telepath was puzzled by what Crawford meant by that, and of course couldn’t read his mind for the answer. Schuldig spared yet another curse over the man’s too efficient mental shields. "But we won’t argue over the matter any more. Aya needs to be outside; he will be participating in a mission soon, and he has to get used to functioning out in public, without using you as a crutch."

"Brad, he’s not-"

"Yes, he’s ready. Or at least will be, in a couple more weeks. All of them will be. Ken is using his talent as if it had always been a part of him, and Yohji’s shields are progressing quite nicely. It will only be a few more months before he can limit his power to just his hands. And all Aya needs to do is to learn how to deal with being outside, and he’ll be unstoppable. It is unfortunate, the failure of his shields at tactile contact, but as long as someone is always near him for protection, it won’t be much of a liability. The simple truth of the matter is, you can’t always be that person. Yohji’s touch doesn’t hurt him, so get used to the man escorting your boyfriend around."

"Fine then, but if you want him near my Aya, I get to ‘tweak’ his mind a little." Schuldig wanted to make sure that Yohji didn’t try anything with his lover, and the best way would be scrambling his mind a little.

It really didn’t surprise him when Crawford vetoed his idea. The man seemed to be against him today, for some reason. "You’ll do no such thing; we need the man just as he is, if we want to be free of Esset. Besides, he knows Aya better than you do." At the German’s scornful snort, Crawford shook his head and fixed the man with a stern gaze. "Telepathy or not, he’s had over a year’s experience with the man; you haven’t. He knew which buttons of Aya’s to push to get him to speak and go out shopping. You didn’t."

Schuldig had enough, listening to this bullshit. "What are you getting at, you manipulative bastard? You’ve seen something, I know you have, and now you’re just toying with us all, getting us to conform with your vision." Schuldig paused for a moment to glare at the precog, who didn’t seem inclined to disagree with his accusation. "First you tell me that Aya is all mine; now it’s as if you are handing him over to Kudoh. This is what gets you off, isn’t it? Messing with your teammates’ lives? You were never like this in Germany." It was his anger and frustration speaking, but Schuldig needed to vent before he did something regrettable, like track Kudoh down and shoot the interfering prick.

The large hands resting on the dining table clenched into fists for a moment, and a flash of anger crossed Crawford’s face. "Because we never had a shot at freedom before. Now we do, and I refuse to let you jeopardize things. Listen to me, Schuldig. Aya is critical to our dream, and everything I’ve done is so he, and the rest of the team, will be prepared for that time to come. Telling you my motives will only ruin things. I’m sorry if you no longer trust me."

"It’s not that…." Something suddenly occurred to Schuldig. He leaned forward, shoving his breakfast aside, and gazed levelly at his best friend. "Tell me, Brad, what happens after we break free? You’ve only ever said that we will. What happens to us, and Aya, Kudoh and Ken? Why haven’t you said anything about that?" The answer was suddenly very important; Schuldig had a bad feeling about Crawford’s silence. "Does something go wrong? Does someone die?"

The American looked off in the distance, seeing something that was only visible to him. "I wouldn’t say that. I see us all alive at the end of this, though there is always the possibility that I might be wrong. Schu… there is so much that has to occur between now and then, that I don’t want to risk it by saying too much. But don’t worry, we should all still be here when the dust settles. And as long as you give Aya some space, help him to stand on his own two feet and be strong, you will still have him when this is over." There was a sudden twist to Crawford’s lips, and the wave of amusement that slipped past those shields told Schuldig that the bastard was still holding something back from him. But he was damned if he could figure it out, and he didn’t want to risk their friendship to find out.

The truth of it was, Crawford had never lied to Schwarz. Hidden things, yes, but lied to them, no. He would have to trust the man he had chosen to follow. All that really mattered to Schuldig was that his team became free, and that Aya remained his. Not to mention that there was some sort of mischief to get himself into, to keep him from becoming too bored. "Ah well, sorry to snap at you, Papa. Guess all the sex is affecting my brain. I promise not to kill Kudoh, though I say nothing about a couple of broken bones and contusions."

Schuldig yawned and rose to his feet, figuring he might as well spend the next hour or two watching some television; it would be nice to be able to pick out a program without having to argue with at least four other people as to what they would be watching. Speaking of his roommates… "Where’s Farfie today? I don’t sense his mind at all, so that means he’s either doped to the gills, or out."

"He’s taking care of a personal matter at the moment." At the telepath’s concerned expression, Crawford shrugged his shoulders and reached for the coffee pot. "It’s something that I promised him years ago, and this has been his first chance to find her. It’s almost as if fate planned it out." When Schuldig frowned at that statement, the man added, "Don’t worry, I won’t let him go off on one of his killing sprees. I doubt our recruits would approve, and soon we’ll be more than occupied with missions, allowing the man enough of an outlet for his urges."

Ah well, Farfie would be happy after shedding a little blood, so who was he to argue? Waving a hand goodbye, Schuldig left the suited man alone in the dining room, and went to see if he could catch any cartoons. He needed something to distract him from how empty the apartment felt without Aya in it. And from thinking of whom his lover was out with.

*******

Nagi leaned against a wall in the workout room, attention focused on the embattled young men across from him. Beside him on one side was Yohji, sitting on the floor and smoking a cigarette, while on the other stood Schuldig, also smoking. It was getting hard to breathe, what with the lack of untainted oxygen.

Ken and Aya had been fighting for at least twenty minutes, and it was becoming obvious that this match would come down to endurance rather than skill. Both were armed with their old weapons, and their mental talents were fully engaged. That was what made the fight so even, that and the fact that the swordsman was allowed to use only half of his newly acquired speed, and couldn’t block the younger man’s power. Ken could predict Aya’s moves, but Aya could read his mind, pick up on his visions and change things at the last minute, or use them to anticipate what the athlete would do. The two men were sweaty and bleeding from slight scratches, but it was obvious that they were enjoying themselves; Ken was smiling, and Aya wasn’t frowning for once.

The mock combats had been going on for almost two weeks now, with everyone but Crawford participating in the events. It was helping Schwarz’s newest members to hone their powers and regain their fighting edge, but Nagi was still upset about the naked blades. Even with all of their skills, the young men often ended up bloodied somewhere doing the fights; he was starting to get sick of patching Ken up.

<Vater ordered it so the newbies get the hang of using their talents despite pain; plus it’s more proof of how much we trust them, allowing them to have their weapons back. Besides, I would think that you’d like any excuse to get your hands on Hidaka. Ah, I remember when you were my little boy, and not interested in fooling around with someone.>

Nagi didn’t even bother to look over at the German, and just reached out with his power to pull the bandana holding back most of the man’s hair down over his eyes. Schuldig let out a loud squawk, but Ken and Aya continued fighting, not even noticing his outburst.

<Damn little brat!>

Yohji chuckled under his breath, then resumed staring at his teammates. "Dammit, Aya is getting tired. Ken has more stamina; I think today’s fight will be in his favor."

"It pays to spend your days running around after a ball," Nagi commented dryly, feeling a spark of pride over the fact that his friend was going to win this match.

<Friend my ass. Geez, Nagi, admit that you want the man to jump your bones already; why do- ow! Hey, only Aya can abuse me like this!> Schuldig rubbed his sore ear that had been telekinetically yanked on. "I’m only trying to help you come out of the closet, you know."

"Schuldig…" What made the situation even worse was Yohji smirking at the two of them and then coughing ‘pedophilia’ into his hands. Nagi spared the blond a smack on the back of his head, and then turned to watch Ken fight some more. He immediately pushed away from the wall when he noticed the older brunet lying on the ground. "Ken! Are you ok?" Nagi lightly shoved Aya out of the way with his power. "What happened, Ken?"

"Hey, Nagi. I’m ok, just tripped over my own feet." Ken offered the teenager a smile, and held out a hand for assistance. Aya stared at his friend for a moment, and after a low ‘hn’, walked over to the two smokers. Yohji scrambled to his feet, handing over the swordsman’s sheath, while Schuldig draped a towel over his lover’s head. For a moment, Nagi was envious of the fact that both men could so openly show their affection for Aya, while here he was left trying to figure out how Ken would react if he admitted he had… feelings for the older boy. Maybe Ken would tell Nagi that he felt something for him as well, or maybe Ken didn’t think of him as anything more than a buddy.

<You’ll never know until you try, now will you?>

<Get out of my head, Schuldig. I’ll tell him when I’m ready.> "You tripped over your own feet? Ken, that’s bad, even for you."

<I don’t know; someday I’ll have to show you some of the accidents that happened when Aya and Ken worked together in the flower shop. And->

There was a hint of pain and another loud yelp, and Nagi and Ken looked over to see Schuldig rubbing his ribs. <Schu, leave him the hell alone.> Aya looked back over at his younger teammates and nodded his head, then grabbed his boyfriend’s arm and dragged him out of the room. Yohji trailed after the couple, calling out suggestions of where the pale man could hit Schuldig next.

"Man, never a dull moment here, huh Nagi?" Rising to his feet, the soccer fanatic let out a couple of ouches, and then stared at his ripped jersey rather mournfully. "I thought I was going to fight Schuldig today, or I would have worn something I wasn’t so attached to. Ah well, I think I better go get washed off and have you patch me up."

Nagi tried not to let his face betray his emotions as Ken wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Aya was supposed to fight with Farfarello this afternoon, but Oracle had an assignment for him instead. Now why did you lose? You should have been able to wear Aya down."

Ken shrugged his shoulders, wincing as the movement pulled at a shallow cut along his collarbone that had already started to scab over. "Would have taken a while longer to wear him down to the point that he’d mess up, and that would have made me miss the beginning of the game." Making a sound of disgust, Nagi used his power to jerk Ken’s battered soccer jersey over the idiot’s head. "Hey! Don’t tell me you’re gonna start treating me like Aya does Schuldig! At least he gets-" The older boy broke off his statement, a blush spreading over his face.

"At least he gets what, Ken?" Nagi asked hopefully.

"Nothing, Nagi. Nothing at all. Listen, why don’t you grab us a spot in front of the tv, while I wash off? It would suck if we show up to watch the game, and Yohji is watching music videos for the scantily clad women again. I think I can patch myself up just fine."

Nagi watched in frustration as Ken literally ran down the hall. If he didn’t know he’d be teased unmercifully by the man for it, he’d ask Schuldig to take a peek inside Ken’s mind for him. With a sigh, he turned the other way in the hall, setting off to do what his friend had asked him to.

*******

Aya grasped the finger that was brushing softly along the back of his neck, squeezed it rather painfully for a few seconds, and let it go. <Not here, Schuldig.>

<Ah, why not?>

He sent his lover an image of the man nursing a couple of broken ribs for trying to start something in the living room, where everyone but Crawford was gathered to watch a movie before dinner. Not particularly interested in the plot, which seemed to involve a bunch of cars exploding, several unrealistic fights, and various ridiculous reasons for attractive women to be in bathing suits or lingerie, if not nude, Aya had curled up against Schuldig, his head resting on the man’s shoulder while he worked on his shields. He might not ever be able to make them strong enough to block out the thoughts of someone touching him, but Aya had noticed during the past couple of trips outside that he was less uncomfortable as the barriers became stronger. As long as he covered as much of his skin as he could, and Schuldig or Yohji kept people from crowding him, the excursions had become bearable.

<You are no fun.> Schuldig let his disappointment echo through their link, and once again focused his attention on the movie after tugging Aya closer towards him. The man had been rather attentive to him lately, especially after Aya spent some time out shopping or eating with Yohji. Schuldig’s possessiveness was getting on the swordsman’s nerves, as were the constant fights between his lover and the playboy.

Yohji was sitting on the couch next to him, smoking a cigarette and chuckling about something. About to concentrate on his shields once more, Aya was surprised when the man stubbed out his smoke and picked up Aya’s feet, then settled them in his lap and started to massage them. At first indignant at being touched without his permission, the redhead almost started purring as strong fingers kneaded the bottom of his feet, provoking pleasure and relief. Aya had fought Farfarello earlier that day, which had involved using his enhanced speed to stay as far away from the man’s knives as possible. He’d finally managed to take the insane man down and win the match, but only after a lot of running and jumping about, making Aya exhausted and sore. Add to that the headache he’d gotten from trying to decipher Farfie’s thoughts enough to anticipate his moves, and any bit of pleasure that wouldn’t lead to embarrassment was welcome.

A flash of jealousy indicated when Schuldig picked up on the fact that Yohji was touching Aya. Letting his enjoyment and relief wash through their bond, Aya shifted downwards, until he was lying with his head in the German’s lap, and his feet firmly in Yohji’s.

<You’re like a damn cat, you know. Scratching someone for touching you one minute, then purring in pleasure the next, kleines Veilchen.> Schuldig’s hands stroked through his hair, and started to massage his scalp and tense neck muscles.

Not dignifying the comment with an answer, Aya just let his body melt under the soothing touches. He was grateful that for once a fight wasn’t breaking out between the two longhaired men, and was content to allow them to continue what they were doing in favor of making sure things remained peaceful.

A part of Aya reflected on how strange it was to find himself in this situation, to actually be letting someone touch him. Not to mention it being two someones, at that. By rights, he should be snarling and glaring at the men then storming off, hiding behind his icy shield. But Schuldig had changed him too much, melting his defenses with caresses that caused the exact opposite of pain. After fifteen years or so of isolation from almost any intimate human contact, for fear of the agony it produced, Aya found himself refusing to reject the bit of bliss Schuldig and Yohji offered him. There were so many daily reminders that he could never lead a normal life, or enjoy the things that almost everyone else could, that Aya took what he could get.

He had a lover now, something that he had been so sure would forever be denied him. Schuldig was infuriating and annoying and kept what little bit of sanity that he had left intact. The man was an excellent lover, not that Aya had any basis for comparison, and never failed to satisfy him. However, a small voice inside the swordsman warned him not to let his emotions get any more out of hand than they already had; he was distinctly aware of the pain and heartache that awaited him for letting someone get too close again. Aya-chan’s death had taught him that lesson, as well as Weiß’s dissolution. Everyone might be cooperating at the moment, presenting a unified Schwarz, but that would only last until the team was free from Esset’s control. Then Aya would be left alone once more.

Burying that thought behind a shield, Aya let out a low moan as Yohji dug his thumbs into the pad of his left foot, forcing a tense muscle to finally relax. Whereas he was sure of Schuldig’s attraction to him, for the sex and understanding only another telepath could provide, the blond had Aya thoroughly confused. He was sure that Yohji was mainly interested in him as one of the few people he could have sex with at the moment… but why the concern, affection and protectiveness that he sensed in the man’s thoughts? Yohji had never showed that much emotion on his previous flings. The man’s feelings bore so much resemblance to what he picked up from Schuldig that it didn’t make any sense. On any given day, Aya’s telepathy would show him an image of Yohji’s latest sexual fantasy involving him, then a wave of worry that he was neglecting himself once more, or anger over one of their teammates being too close to Aya, risking an accidental touch of flesh. It confused him, trying to figure out what exactly was going on in the playboy’s head.

All that Aya was sure about anymore was that his life currently had very little in common with the way it had been a few months before. He was forced to conclude that most of the changes were good, but a part of him mourned the icy aloofness that he’d once possessed, that had let him keep the world at bay. While he was, on the whole, still reserved, Schuldig and Yohji had wormed their way past the defenses he’d used to keep himself from caring for anyone ever again, and to hold people at bay. And in the long run that would only lead to more pain for him, no matter how pleasurable the present was.

There was another round of laughter, which caused Aya to open his eyes and abandon his train of thought. Ken and Nagi were seated on the floor, pointing at the television screen, which showed a rather preposterous fight sequence. Farfie started a running commentary, critiquing the way the actors fought, and the special effects of their wounds. Yohji quietly chortled as he yanked more of Aya’s legs into his lap, and started to massage his calves after pushing up the black jeans.

"What a bunch of idiots. You stab a person there, and the blade will be deflected by the ribs. And you wouldn’t get a spray of blood like that either…"

"Uh, thanks, Farfie." Nagi glanced worriedly at his exuberant, scarred friend, and scooted closer to Ken.

Ken was the next one to scoff. "Ah, come on, I took a hit to my knee like that once, and fell down to the ground screaming like a little girl. And I couldn’t walk for at least a week, right Yohji?"

There was a pause in the massage for a moment, and the click of a lighter. "Yeah, I remember that. We nearly killed you while you recovered, since you spent the whole time on the couch watching soccer, and tossing a damn ball at anything that would move." The skilled hands resumed their task as the scent of tobacco once again filled the room.

"… would break right in half, like a twig, if you hit it right there. Now _that_ would bleed like a stuck pig, what with a fractured bone sticking through your leg…"

"Really, Farfie, thanks, but we’re trying to watch the movie."

"Hey, Blondie, give me a damn cigarette."

"No, you have your own."

The two laps that Aya was resting on jostled about a bit, and the massages stopped. Aya snarled out loud, and the fight ceased immediately. There was another click of a lighter, and once more his stiff shoulders and sore feet were being kneaded.

"…heads don’t bounce like that; they are mostly bone…"

There was the sensation of Farfie’s madness, calmer than usual, Ken and Nagi’s affection and frustration, and satisfaction and jealousy from Schuldig and Yohji. Aya could use his power to probe further into the men’s minds, but was reveling in the fact that he was able to block so much out, for the first time in his life. He didn’t want to know what his teammates were thinking of at the moment, and concentrated on his own pleasure instead.

A buzz of concentration warned him of Crawford’s approach. A minute later, the man’s smooth voice rang out. "Not to disturb your fun, but I would like to speak to everyone in my office, if you will." No one moved for a moment, since they were so comfortable. The precog let a hint of irritation enter his voice. "Now, if you please."

With a sigh, Aya sat up and rose to his feet, which now felt much better than they had before. He nodded his head at Yohji in thanks, and allowed the man to brush his bangs out of his eyes. One of these days, he would get his hair cut. Schuldig wrapped an arm about his waist and placed a kiss on his now relaxed shoulders, then nudged him forward. Schwarz went to see what Oracle had in store for them.

As soon as they entered the room, the men noticed the three large white boxes resting on the office’s couch. Crawford stood beside the furniture, his arms across his chest. The man was dressed in dark blue slacks and a white and blue striped shirt with coordinating tie; in the paneled room, he appeared more like a banker than an assassin.

"I have here the uniforms for our newest members. Yohji, you first." The American picked up one of the boxes and gave it to the blond.

Kudoh opened it, revealing a black leather jacket that resembled his old mission coat, minus the white crosses on the arm. This one would fit close to his body as well, and had the same high, simple collar, but only went past his hips. The box also held a pair of leather pants that matched the jacket; black as well, but with an iridescent sheen to the material. Completing the outfit were a black silk knit shirt that wasn’t his usual crop top, black ankle boots, gloves, and a new watch that was a touch sleeker than Yohji’s old one.

"You guys taking the literal translation of Schwarz too far here, or what?" The blond quipped.

Crawford ignored him, and merely pushed his glasses up his nose as he stared calmly at the playboy. "Your new codename will be Munin."

Yohji’s face scrunched up as he tried the foreign word on his tongue. "Munin. Munin. Isn’t that a European city?"

Several people groaned at the question, which only caused Yohji to frown some more. "Well, what the hell does it mean then?"

Aya spoke up. "Memory." He felt his teammates’ surprise at his show of knowledge; everyone’s but Crawford, that is. Schuldig scanned his thoughts, and chuckled in his ear. "Quite the bookworm, aren’t you."

Still not having received an answer that pleased him, Yohji sighed as he tried on his jacket. "Hm, nice tailor. You wanna explain a little better, Aya?"

"Munin was one of the Norse god Odin’s crows. He had two of them, Munin and Hunin; memory and thought. He would send them out as messengers and spies."

"Huhn." Yohji thought about the name for a minute, then shrugged his shoulders. "Memory. Guess it makes sense, considering my talent. Much more so than Balinese ever did." He nodded his head, showing his acceptance of the codename.

"So glad you approve," Crawford commented dryly, and handed over the next box. "Ken, this one is yours."

There was another leather coat, cut in the style of a blazer, in a dark grey. Black cotton pants, a thin grey jersey, and black steel toed boots comprised the rest of the outfit. At the bottom of the box was a new set of gloves, also in dark grey leather, that were less bulky than Ken’s old bugnucks, but, judging from the sharp claws that a slight flex of the wrist revealed, were no less deadly. "So what am I called now?"

"Banshee."

Farfie snorted at the word, while Ken appeared perplexed. "Banshee? Wasn’t there some action hero named that? One who screamed? I had a friend who was into foreign manga."

"A banshee is a creature that foretells one’s death," Farfie told the athlete. "Usually by wailing at night and washing one’s death shroud." A smile crossed the Irishman’s face for a moment. "The name means ‘woman of the sidhe’, and the creatures are always female in appearance."

"Thank you for that bit of knowledge, Berserker. I believe our superiors were focusing on your ability to predict the outcomes in fights, Ken, which will lead to your opponents’ deaths," Crawford explained.

Ken didn’t seem to hear a word of it. "But… but, I’m not a girl."

Yohji burst out into laughter. "Oh, this is just too funny! Guess you need to convince a few people of your manliness, Hidaka. ‘Woman of the sidhe’ indeed! Ha!"

"Well at least I’m not some smelly old crow," the soccer fanatic retorted. Yohji, however, just kept laughing.

"Hahaha, we need to find a nice dress for you to wear during missions now." Yohji ducked, avoiding the boot that was thrown at his head. "Maybe a wig as well, until you can grow your hair out. You want some make-up, Kenken?" Still laughing, the blond darted from the room, with a very irate Ken hot on his heels.

Aya shook his head in disgust over his teammates’ antics, then reached for the box that Crawford held out to him. Upon opening it, he uncovered yet another leather jacket, made from the softest, blackest hide he’d ever seen. Trying the coat on, he found that it fell to his ankles, and had a full hood that would cover his head and the sides of his face. While it would obstruct his field of vision somewhat, Aya knew he could make up for the handicap with his talent. There was a pair of black leather pants, knee high black boots, a black nylon shirt that fastened with several straps around the high neck, and a pair of gloves. Only his face would be exposed, and the leather material should hold up better than fabric, preventing any holes for enemies to come in contact with his skin during a fight. Taking off the long coat, Aya glanced over at Oracle, and ignored the crashing sound coming from the living room as he once more nodded his head in thanks.

"Your codename is… Vortex." The precog appeared uncomfortable when he spoke the word, and was not forthcoming with any explanation for that choice

"NAGI! Come help me here, I can’t get ahold of the bastard."

The telekinetic swiftly left the room, and Yohji’s yells could be heard moments later, complaining about how the two young men were cheating. Ken’s laughter filled the apartment, along with the blond’s curses.

<No new weapon, as with the others?>

Crawford shook his head at Aya’s question. "No, we know of your attachment to the blade, and it is unlikely that Esset could find a better katana. It will remain untouched."

The redhead nodded again, grateful that his gift from Shion would remain in his possession, and that he didn’t have to become used to a new weapon. Though he didn’t want to think of how his old sensei would react, to find the katana used for missions not associated with Kritiker. <The new outfits… I take it we have an assignment?>

Schuldig stopped examining Aya’s new wardrobe and looked over at Crawford. "Do we?"

"Yes. In two days time, all of us will be required to take care of a matter that could cause some difficulty for Esset. We are to eliminate a group of immigrant smugglers who have attracted undue attention to themselves by taking on jobs on their own. They will be returning to Tokyo with a new shipment of people at that time; we are to kill everyone involved in the ring, and make sure that no information regarding their connection to Esset is to be found. You, Ken and Yohji will have your first experience as Schwarz." The tall man fell silent for a moment, then fixed Aya with a calculating look. "We will be facing Weiß."

<Are our orders to kill them?> There was no time for sentimentalities or regrets; Aya would worry about that after the mission was completed. All he cared for at the moment was ensuring his teammates’ safety, and success of the mission.

"No. We need Weiß alive; they will factor into our plans in the future. Which is not to say that you can not engage them; I think they will be rather hard to avoid. Just do not kill or maim any of the team."

Picking up his new uniform, Aya nodded his head in acceptance and left the office. Two days wasn’t a lot of time. He would try the clothes on, and get in a little practice before dinner. He sensed Schuldig wandering out to the living room, curious to find out Kudoh’s punishment.

Back in his bedroom, Aya was pulling the leather pants on when Schuldig finally joined him. "Hee, they’ve got the prick dangling from the ceiling, while Ken is braiding Kudoh’s hair. They even improvised ribbons by ripping up a few napkins." The German laughed for a few seconds, and then a gleam of lust entered his eyes. "Those look good on you."

<Not now, Schu.> Aya turned to pick up his new shirt, but his arms were grabbed and his body twisted around, forcing him to look at his lover. Now it was concern and curiosity that shone in the jade green eyes.

"Would you really be able to kill them, if it came down to it?"

Feeling Schuldig in his mind, Aya knew that he couldn’t lie. <If I had to… yes. Tsukiyono’s death would hurt, I won’t deny that, but if it meant you or the others…> He had always done what was needed, and paid the price later. Usually by sacrificing a chunk of his soul. Aya was surprised to have discovered he still possessed such a thing, after all he had been through, but he would do whatever was necessary to keep Schuldig and Kudoh safe, and the others as well. They were his team. The emotions that had been reawakened in him would allow him no other choice.

Schuldig read those thoughts, and kissed him gently. <You really are Schwarz now. I won’t let anything happen to you either; to hell with Crawford’s visions.> The kiss deepened, and Aya shivered at the feel of the other telepath’s hands on his skin. <Hmm, you feel so good. I like the pants, and will like them even better when they’re on the floor. You can practice after dinner, meine kleines Veilchen.>

Moaning as he gave his consent, Aya tugged the older man over to the bed, suddenly just as eager to be rid of the garment. <You’re going to have to change the sheets again, Schu.>

<I don’t give a damn. Though I think it’s really your fault this time, for looking all cute in black leather.> Schuldig’s mouth roamed down Aya’s neck, nibbling gently on his skin as the smaller man shivered in pleasure. <Wait ‘til our opponents get a look at you. They’ll be too busy trying to get inside the damn things to even think about fighting you. Good thing they look pretty tight. Such a tease, you are.> Aya bit down rather roughly on his lover’s earlobe.

"Vicious little bastard."

********

Omi hugged his half-sister goodbye and wished her well, but she didn’t appear to be taking the hint. He needed to get her out of the shop, and soon, but the girl just wasn’t cooperating.

"But Omi, wouldn’t you rather have dinner with Mother and I? I doubt the restaurant you and your roommates are going to is any better than my mom’s. Really." Ouka sniffed, signifying her opinion of any other dining establishment.

Wishing he really could eat with the girl and her mother, as he normally did, Omi smiled guiltily. "I’m sure the food won’t be anywhere near as good as what your mother makes, but I promised the guys we’d do something tonight. We really need to go out a little more, and get to know each other better."

"Hmph. What’s to know about these guys? Dayu is too shy for words, Jou is a flirt and a prankster, and Kai is even more of a block of solid ice than Aya was. Can’t you do this silly male bonding stuff another night?" Ouka batted her eyes, a pleading look on her face. Omi almost caved in, until he remembered the real reason he had to beg off dinner with her this night.

"I’m sorry, Ouka. Tell you what, I promise to make it up to you this weekend; I’ll take you to see that movie you’ve been talking about. Is that a deal?"

Ouka threw her arms about the boy’s neck and kissed his cheek. "I guess that is acceptable. But you owe me dinner as well, since I’ll need my strength to fight off all the girls who’ll be trying to steal you away that night." Giving Omi another kiss, she twirled around and skipped to the door, grinning when Jou blew her a kiss.

"Glad to see you stuck to your guns and didn’t cave in to the girl for once," Jou commented archly. Omi stuck his tongue out at the stocky young man, and then ordered him to finish sweeping up the Koneko. Glancing around the shop, he found Dayu standing in the corner, a slight smile on his face, and Kai busy putting the leftover cut flowers in the coolers. In a matter of minutes, the four assassins had the shop closed and cleaned.

Just as the last plant was put away, the door chimed. Manx walked into the shop, dressed in her usual short skirt and high heels, and smiled at Omi. "I see I timed it just right." She stopped in the middle of the store, while Jou quickly pulled down the rest of the shutters, effectively closing the Koneko for the day. "Let’s head on down to the mission room, shall we?"

The young men followed the redhead downstairs. Omi felt a nervous tingle in his stomach, as he wondered what this mission would entail. Weiß was newly reformed, and had only completed three other missions before this one. The team was still learning how to fight together effectively.

The lights were dimmed, and as Omi sat next to Dayu on the couch, a silhouetted figure with his uncle’s voice showed them the cargo holds of several ships, each one containing many bodies. Weiß was informed that the dark beasts they had been selected to slay were smugglers that specialized in humans, bringing them into Japan from China and North Korea, among other places. Up to half of the illegal immigrants died on the voyage, due to the cramped and unsanitary conditions, and the rest were sold into slavery. Their mission was to kill all the smugglers, and to find out all the information they could on the group backing the ring. A new shipment of immigrants would be arriving tomorrow night.

That wouldn’t give them a lot of time to prepare. Omi would have to spend the whole night going over schematics of the dock and warehouse the smugglers resided in, and would most likely have to skip school tomorrow as well. At least if things went right tomorrow night, he’d be able to keep his promise to his sister.

The lights suddenly came back on, making the youth blink at the brightness. "Who is in for the mission?"

"I am," Omi said, and a similar answer was echoed by his three new teammates. Manx passed out several folders, then wished the young men goodbye.

"Be careful tomorrow night; there is more to this group than we were able to find out. Omi, will you walk me to the door?"

He readily agreed, and as soon as they reached the first floor, touched Manx on the arm. "Have you found out anything about them yet?" There was no question about whom he was referring to.

"I’m sorry Omi, but no. We are certain that Esset has them now, but they are keeping them well hidden, somewhere here in Tokyo. To tell you the truth, Kritiker suspects Esset’s involved with the smuggling ring you are to take down tomorrow, and are hoping that you might uncover a few leads during the mission." The woman sighed unhappily, and gave Omi a hug when they reached the door. "Be careful. I worry about you, what with the team being so new. Don’t do anything stupid, and I will keep trying to find something about the others for you." That said, Manx swiftly departed down the street.

Watching the woman walk away from him, Omi leaned against the doorframe, a frown on his face. It had been a couple of months, since his friends had been abducted, and he knew that the longer they were captives, the less likely it was that he would get his old teammates back. It wore at him, to do nothing but wait for leads that never came. If tomorrow night presented the best chance at information, then he would make sure that things went perfectly during the mission.

Turning around, he headed back down to the mission room, where an ongoing debate raged between Dayu and Jou over where they would order takeout from. Over in the far corner, Kai watched the two men quietly, and Omi felt the weight of grey eyes upon him as he settled the fight, deciding on sushi for dinner, and also as he started to sort through the information that Manx had left behind. The man disturbed him, but Omi had yet to figure out why.

*******

Ken stared at his image in the mirror for a minute, taking in the new outfit. He looked more together in it than in his old one, what with the bulky jacket, goggles and orange shirt. He looked… grown up and professional. Unsure if that was good or bad, the brunet brushed back his bangs and left his room to join the others in the hallway.

Farfarello stood near the elevator doors, dressed in white. His sleeveless arms were covered with various bandages, and the man literally glowed with excitement. Crawford was dressed in a dark suit, and Schuldig had on a pair of white pants and a dark green blazer. At his side was Aya, a pool of darkness, with the long, flowing coat and the hood pulled over his head. The only splash of color was from his katana and a long eartail that hung down the front of his coat. Yohji was another black spot, and looked as if he could blend into any crowd now with his new outfit. If anything, one would assume the blond to be going to an exclusive club or something, instead of to the docks to kill people.

A touch to his hand turned out to be Nagi, dressed in his grey school uniform, who was the last to join everyone. Crawford promptly punched in the codes to the elevator at his arrival, and ushered them inside of it. They crammed into the car, making sure that Aya and Yohji had some space around them, and descended to the garage, where two sleek, black BMWs awaited them.

"Munin, you will drive one car; take Mastermind and Vortex with you. Berserker, Prodigy and Banshee, you are with me." Crawford tossed Yohji a set of keys, then slid behind the wheel of the car on the right. Ken chose to sit in the backseat with Nagi, and in a matter of moments, they were on their way.

Telling himself to remain calm, Ken took a few deep breaths. Tonight would be a mission just like the hundreds he’d taken part in while in Weiß. Bad men would be killed, and innocent people saved. It didn’t matter that he was doing it for an evil organization; only the end result mattered. Besides, they would be making sure that Esset didn’t have much longer to exist, so it would all work out.

But a part of him did not relish the thought of facing Omi as an enemy; they had been such close friends for the past couple of years. Ken was startled from his thoughts by Nagi’s hand patting his reassuringly. He looked over at the boy, who was trying to smile at him. "It will be okay."

Nagi’s face was so beautiful when he smiled, and the image distracted Ken from his troubling thoughts. He clasped the boy’s hand, relishing the contact and the concern that Nagi radiated. "I know it will." The rest of the ride passed in silence.

Crawford pulled the car over to a shadowed spot near the wharf, and all four of them exited the vehicle. Yohji pulled in beside them, and the team congregated around Oracle. "What now?" the athlete asked.

"Vortex." Aya shifted closer to the American, and lifted back his hood enough so everyone could see his face. "I want you to link all of us together. I know you have some practice doing this." There was a slight frown on the redhead’s face, and Schuldig reached out a hand and rested it on his shoulder. A moment later, Ken felt a tickle in his brain. <Very good. I want you to maintain this during the entire mission. Do you feel up to it?>

<Yes.>

It was the weirdest sensation; Ken could, very lightly, sense Aya’s concentration, Schuldig’s pride in the quiet man, Yohji’s anticipation, a disturbing tingle that he somehow knew to be Farfie, and Nagi’s concern. There was a blank buzz that had to be Crawford, as his emotions were the only ones missing.

<Good. Keep track of Banshee’s visions, and relay them to the rest of the team. You, Mastermind, Munin and Banshee will deal with anyone here on the dock, and keep Weiß occupied while we achieve our objectives. Berserker and Prodigy, you are with me. We will deal with any remaining targets inside the warehouse, and make sure there is no information to be found linking the operation back to Esset. Is that perfectly clear?> There was a feeling of assent from all of the assassins, soon followed by more concentration on Aya’s part.

<There are twenty-three targets that I can sense.> A rapid flash of images showed Schwarz where all the smugglers were located in the warehouse and about the docks.

Not to be outdone by his lover, Schuldig was the next to speak. <And an additional eleven on the ship, which will be docking in eight minutes. The majority of them will be concentrated here; we’ll handle them, while you take care of clean up, Oracle.>

<Agreed.> Crawford walked briskly to the warehouse, a gun in his hand, and was followed by Farfie and Nagi. The boy looked over his shoulder at Ken. <Be careful.>

Nodding his head, Ken sent the same message back to his friend. He took a deep breath of air, as Yohji stubbed out his cigarette, and Schuldig kissed Aya briefly for luck. The four of them started toward where they knew several of the smugglers were congregated, and Ken felt a rush of adrenalin in his blood.

Visions of what lay in store for his team assailed the brunet. Aya saw them as well, and shared the predictions with the rest of Schwarz. Forewarned that three of the smugglers possessed semiautomatic weapons, the assassins dispersed into the shadows.

Ken came at one of the armed guards from the back, swiping out with his bugnucks and severing the man’s spine. At the same time, he knew that Yohji had taken his target out with his wire, and that Aya was standing over a headless corpse. His vision shifted, revealing a close fight between the smugglers and his friends. Schuldig’s gun fired, taking care of the two remaining smugglers in possession of firearms, and Ken dove to the right, anticipating one of the criminals running in his direction in an attempt to flee. He quickly gutted the man, then made sure to turn around in time to kill another person. Ken’s talent showed how the rest of the smugglers would react to the noise, and Aya used the visions to warn the rest of Schwarz.

It was the most efficient mission Ken had ever been on, and a part of him reveled in the carnage. Alongside of him, his friends were focused on tracking down and killing all of the smugglers. Aya was close to the edge of the dock, fighting two men armed with clubs, while Yohji and Schuldig made sure that no one else engaged the swordsman. Knowing that a man was creeping up behind him, Ken ignored him as Schuldig shot the man dead, then flashed a smile his way.

Nagi was in one of the warehouse offices, wiping out the computer system as a smuggler lay in a broken heap near his feet. Farfie was dispatching the last target still alive in the building, radiating joy as he slashed out with his knife again and again, enjoying a slow kill. Crawford was following his own visions, tracing down all the incriminating paperwork linking the ring to Esset, and incinerating the data.

With one final twist of his wrist, Ken ignored the corpse dropping to the ground in front of him, and realized that all of the smugglers on the wharf were dead. Looking out over the water, he saw the ship approaching, and was surprised that his visions hadn’t warned him of that fact. The soccer fanatic winced when he made out a couple of people moving about on the deck, preparing to dock, and waited for one of them to let out a shout over all the dead bodies littering the wharf.

<Not to worry; meine kleines Veilchen is preventing them from noticing the carnage.> Schuldig’s mental voice carried hints of amusement, awe and concern, all of which Ken sensed were associated with Aya. He himself was surprised that the man could manage so many feats with his talent at the same time, with the link between all of them and now this. <Look alive, we’ve got company.> About to question Schuldig as to what he meant, Ken had another vision, this one concerning Weiß. The team had arrived at the docks, and would be here in another minute or two.

*******

Sharing Ken’s vision with the rest of Schwarz, Aya turned to face the direction that Weiß would arrive from. On his one side was Schuldig, facing the docking ship, while Yohji was on his other, pulling out a new length of wire as he stared off into the distance.

Crawford, apprised of the situation, sent out a new series of commands. <Mastermind, clear a path for us. Prodigy, Berserker and I will take care of the ship while you four deal with Weiß. Keep them occupied until we complete the mission.>

Aya’s lover acknowledged instructions, and relayed to the three assassins where he sensed all the smugglers to be on the ship. Ken joined Aya, Yohji and Schuldig along the edge of the dock, where they would block Weiß from boarding the ship. Aya corrected his position when another of Ken’s visions showed the group’s direction of approach, and the silence was broken once more by the sound of Schuldig’s gun.

Aya could sense when Weiß heard the weapon, and knew that they were hurrying to Schwarz’s location with utmost speed. He felt Tsukiyono’s concern that something was happening to the immigrants, and Yasukawa’s eagerness to confront him. The other two new agents, Burmese and Angora, were nervous yet eager at the same time, although there was a focused edge to Burmese’s thoughts that made Aya wary. The man was more than he seemed, and he warned Schuldig to be careful when dealing with him.

Tsukiyono’s shock ripped through the redhead when he recognized two of the four figures waiting for Weiß. The intense emotion shifted to joy, and the boy recklessly ran ahead of his team. "Yotan! Kenken! You’re safe! Where is Aya?"

One of Schuldig’s bullets arrested Bombay’s approach. "Oh, he’s here as well." Aya lifted his head until his face was revealed, and gripped his sword tight. According to Ken’s vision, Tonkinese would push past his leader in less than a minute, and engage him in battle. Already the man was unsheathing his katana, and was staring at Aya hungrily. The redhead shivered at the emotions he sensed from the man: jealousy, hatred, obsession and eagerness. "Be a smart boy, and take yourself and the fellow kitties home. There is nothing here for you now."

"But…" Blue eyes stared beseechingly at the former Weiß. "Don’t you know who I am? What have they done to you?"

Ken and Yohji tensed, preparing for the inevitable fight. "We know who you are, chibi. It would be best to do as the man says, and just go home." Yohji’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet, as he knew his advice would not be heeded. As soon as he finished speaking, Tonkinese launched himself at Aya.

Parrying the man’s blade, Aya concentrated on his private battle, while in the back of his mind he kept relaying Ken’s visions to his teammates. Crawford’s voice whispered that he needed another couple of minutes, while Yohji let out a curse as Angora swung his spear at the blond. Bombay’s voice could be heard pleading with Ken to stop fighting him, as the brunet dodged the teenager’s darts, swiping out with his claws to keep his former leader occupied. Schuldig was dashing all over the dock, leading Burmese on a merry chase.

"You joined the enemy, didn’t you, Abyssinian? What, did you relish the opportunity to betray another team?" Tonkinese asked as he brought his sword down in an overhead blow, trying to knock Aya’s weapon out of his hand. Reading the tall man’s thoughts, Aya realized that Yasukawa held him responsible for what had happened to their master back in Sendai.

Knowing he could never convince the man that he hadn’t betrayed Shion, Aya merely pressed his lips together and continued parrying Tonkinese’s sword. The man had an obvious advantage in reach and strength, but he was faster and more skilled. It was a chore to keep his return parries slow enough not to break through the man’s defenses, almost as much of keeping Tonkinese’s thoughts from making Aya sick. The man wanted to best him in combat, to prove he was Shion’s rightful heir, and return him to Kritiker, where the grey eyed man was promised he’d be allowed a part in breaking Aya until he and his talent could once more be used by Kritiker. Tonkinese looked forward to having an obedient toy to torture and order around, and taking Aya’s blade as his own.

<There was a reason Shion gave the blade to me and not you. You are insane.>

Tonkinese’s eyes went wide when he heard the voice in his head, then narrowed with hatred. "Ah, a telepath, are you? Now I know how you tricked Shion into favoring you over me."

Kicking out with his foot, Aya sent an empty crate tumbling into Tonkinese’s path, forcing the man to jump back to avoid tripping over it. During those few seconds of reprieve, he checked his teammates’ progress. Yohji was smirking at Angora, who was trapped in a web of wire, and Schuldig was mocking Burmese’s inability to strike him with his chain. Bombay was still trying to reach Ken, who felt more and more uncomfortable at fighting his old friend. Aya scanned his former teammate’s mind, and shared the knowledge with the brunet.

<Banshee, don’t let him distract you. He plans on killing the others, and sedating us so Weiß can take us back to the Koneko. Give Bombay an opening, and he will use it without qualm; he believes we’ve been brainwashed.> Aya then had to concentrate on his own opponent, as Tonkinese once again bore down on him.

*******

Acknowledging the information that Aya had just sent him, Ken stiffened his resolve as he raised his right hand, using his blades to deflect the darts Omi had tossed at him. The boy had to run out of the damn things sooner or later.

"Ken, listen to me, please. I’m not your enemy, I’m your friend. I don’t know what Esset has done to you, but you don’t want to fight me. All I want to do is take you home, where you belong. You’ll be safe at the Koneko, I promise you." Omi’s voice pleaded with him, and for a moment, Ken wished things were as they had been. But it was a forlorn dream, and he was Schwarz now.

He tried once more to make his friend see reason. "Omi, listen to me, I know what I am doing. None of us have been brainwashed, we’ve chosen to join Schwarz. If we go back to the Koneko with you, Kritiker will be the one messing with our heads, until we are a bunch of good little assassins." Ken heaved a sigh when he recognized the look in the blue eyes; Omi didn’t believe a word he said.

One of the new Weiß, the one Yohji was fighting… from Aya’s thoughts the word Burmese came to Ken’s mind, called out to Omi. "Bombay, stop trying to reason with him; Schwarz have tampered with their heads to make them believe that they joined the team willingly." Gritting his teeth together, Ken mentally sent to Schuldig that the man needed his mouth shut. The German agreed, and putting his blinding speed to use, swiftly had Burmese’s weapon, a long length of steel chain with a sharp point at one end, wrapped around a utility pole. Now able to get within arm’s reach of the man, Schuldig punched him in the mouth, making Burmese stumble backwards with his hands covering his bleeding lips.

<We’re done here.>

Aya finally used his enhanced speed to knock his opponent to the ground, and then kicked the man’s katana across the docks. Yohji walked over to the redhead’s side, and shortly thereafter, Schuldig joined the two of them as well. Burmese let out a curse, stumbled over to his bound teammate, and used Angora’s weapon to cut him loose. Facing Omi once more, Ken backed up so as to join his friends. While Weiß readied their weapons for another assault, Crawford, Nagi and Farfie disembarked from the ship. Seeing themselves clearly outnumbered, the other team remained still.

"A wise choice," Crawford remarked dryly, as he gazed at the battered assassins, then glanced at his own team. Farfie was covered with blood, none of it his, but other than some ruffled outfits, Schwarz showed no signs of having been touched during all the fighting. Ken heard Nagi approach him, and shifted over so the teenager could stand at his side. "Now to make another one. You can fight us, and lose, or you can board the ship while we leave, and save the people locked in its hold. It seems there is a fire spreading through the ship, and you don’t have long to decide.

Angora let out a curse, and Omi stared at Ken, a look of hurt on his face. Ken knew the boy couldn’t believe that he would take part in anything that would harm innocents, but the athlete knew from his visions that Weiß would board the ship and save them. "Go, Omi; there is nothing for you here anymore. I’m sorry." He walked towards the cars, leaving everyone behind. Nagi fell in step beside him, and he heard Burmese restrain the man who had been fighting Aya, and tell him they would have their chance to fight Schwarz later, but at the moment, they had to save the immigrants. Ken knew that Omi was staring at him still, and refused to look back. All that was back there was an old friend who was being misled; there was nothing he could do at the present time, but make sure that his team safely made it home.

It wasn’t long before everyone was seated in the vehicles and on their way back to the apartment. Crawford was actually smiling as he drove, while beside him Farfie licked his blades clean. Grimacing in disgust at the madman’s actions, Ken sighed loudly. "So, how did we do for our first time? "

"You did fine. All in all, a perfect mission." The American smiled back at Ken in the rear view mirror.

Ken shook his head and recalled what Omi said during their fight. "Bombay mentioned Esset; he knows who we work for, and will probably connect the organization back to the smugglers now."

"Don’t worry about that. What is important is there is no actual physical evidence that can be used to trace Esset’s secret accounts or agents here in this country and abroad. Kritiker knew from the beginning that Esset was involved, which was why they sent Weiß instead of another team. They most likely hoped you, Aya and Yohji wouldn’t be able to fight your former teammate, and would be easily captured. You three proved otherwise."

Indeed they had. Ken knew that the next time Weiß faced Schwarz, the team would be all the more determined to capture them, especially Omi. The boy would never give up on his hope that he could get his friends back. But that would never happen, the brunet realized. The three of them had closed the door on the past, had severed all ties with Kritiker and Weiß, and there was no going back. No matter how many times he had told himself this the past month or so, Ken acknowledged that his decision to join Schwarz was now entirely irrevocable. Yet, with Nagi by his side and Crawford smiling at him, somehow, the hurt he was waiting to arise with that revelation failed to materialize.

*******

Yohji stifled a yawn as he stepped out of the elevator, then sent a thought to Aya. <Can you spare a moment? I’d like to talk to you.> The pale man nodded his head.

Crawford stopped walking down the hallway, and turned to face his team. There was a slight smile on the man’s face, which caused Yohji to stare at him and grow worried. Those smiles often meant bad things for him.

"Let me once again say ‘good job’. I believe our superiors should be pleased with this mission, which will benefit us greatly. The more they believe us to be willing little lackeys, the more room we will have to maneuver." Crawford ran a hand through his bangs, pushing the thick black hair out of his eyes. "Now, Nagi, please tend to Farfarello. The rest of you, good night." That said, the American made for his office.

Nagi used his power to force the Irishman back to his room, and Ken paused to stare at the two of them for a moment before heading to his own room. Schuldig yawned loudly and started to walk down the hallway as well, only to stop when he realized that Aya wasn’t following him. He stared at the smaller redhead, and Yohji knew the two of them were talking telepathically, especially when Aya growled softly and Schuldig shot him a dirty look before storming off for the couple’s bedroom.

Aya turned to look at him, his face drawn in a glare. "Listen, if you would rather go soothe your boyfriend, I’ll understand."

<Don’t be an idiot, Kudoh; you wanted to talk, let’s talk.> Aya walked into the kitchen, and Yohji warily followed him.

The pale man reached into the fridge and pulled out a container of juice, then set about pouring himself a drink. For his part, Yohji leaned against the counter and lit a cigarette. <Well, you wanted to talk; what the hell do you want?> Oh, someone was in a bitchy mood. Staring through a cloud of smoke at his friend, Yohji noted the shadows under the violet eyes, and realized that Aya was exhausted.

"Okay, I’ll keep this short. You look like you’re ready to fall asleep standing up." He had forgotten about how much Aya had used his power tonight, and knew that was why the man was so grouchy at the moment. It was never smart to keep a sleepy Aya out of bed against his will. Yohji also knew better than to try and make the redhead speak out loud at the moment, unless he wanted to see his own internal organs. "Just how much trouble do you think Omi is going to cause us? You were in the chibi’s head; I think you can form the best opinion out of all of us."

Pausing to take a sip from his drink, Aya closed his eyes for a moment. <He strongly believes we have been brainwashed, and doesn’t know about Yasukawa’s attempt to kidnap you last month. I didn’t see the point of informing him of that event tonight; it is likely he wouldn’t believe me anyway. Count on him to keep trying to free us from Schwarz, and for Kritiker to send Weiß after us. I picked up some information from Yasukawa and Burmese’s minds tonight; they have explicit orders to bring us back to the organization, regardless of the cost. I don’t know why the other man chose the immigrants over us this evening.>

"Huhn." Yohji stared at the end of his cigarette for a moment, lost in thought. "I think… that we need to let the chibi know the truth, or Kritiker will keep on using him. You think Crawford will let us contact him?"

Aya finished his drink and washed the glass, then dried and put it away. Yohji knew he used the time to complete the task to think over the question. <Maybe. He knows we won’t do anything to endanger the team now. His prime concern would most likely be making sure we don’t walk into a trap.> Violet eyes regarded the playboy intently for a moment. <If you want to arrange a meeting with Tsukiyono, I will help you. Though I think we should try asking Crawford first, since we’ll put the others at risk as well.>

For a moment, Yohji was stunned at the changes Aya had gone through the past couple of months. The man who had always acted on his own was actually thinking of the good of his team for once.

<Don’t be so shocked, Kudoh. I never intentionally endangered Weiß as a whole.>

"No, just yourself." Yohji tossed his cigarette into the sink, and stepped closer to the smaller man. "I kept an eye on you during the fight, you know. I wanted to make sure you didn’t do anything stupid, like let that asshole take you down." Aya glared at him for that comment. "Hey, come on, I know if Schuldig was my lover, I’d be looking to end it quickly. But I’m glad you’ve decided to stay with us."

There was a flash of something in the lovely eyes, but it was hidden when Aya tilted his head downwards. Yohji lifted the telepath’s chin back up, so he could see Aya’s expression. "Thank you for offering to help me. It means a lot to me, really." Before he could lose his courage, Yohji bent his head to kiss the pale man on the mouth.

For a few precious seconds, all he was aware of was the way Aya tasted, so sweet from the papaya juice. Then he became aware of his talent, and of the other man’s thoughts. The annoyance Aya felt at Schuldig for his jealousy; his exhaustion, shock, and, deep down, a flash of pain that once more he would be the one left behind when Schwarz finally managed to free themselves from Esset.

Aya hadn’t been kidding before; while he had endangered himself, or a mission, he’d never done anything to risk his teammates when back in Weiß. The team had been all he’d had left, after his sister had died. And Yohji, Ken and Omi had hurt him very badly when they had walked away. Guilt tore at the blond, that he had caused a friend so much pain, and never been aware of it. He also sensed that the fear of being left alone once again was why Aya refused to acknowledge his feelings for Yohji. Why open himself up to more heartache? At least with Schuldig, Aya could delude himself into believing the German’s claim of never letting him go, and enjoy the pleasure while it lasted. But it would eventually come to an end, when Schuldig left him like everyone else did, but at least it wouldn’t be Yohji breaking his heart.

Deepening the kiss, Yohji pulled Aya into his arms, concentrating on how much he wanted the man, and how he would never hurt Aya like that again. He could feel the swordsman in his mind, and knew that he had to be sensing his thoughts and emotions as well. Yohji was desperate to convince his friend he wouldn’t leave him. Not bothering to hide his desire for the smaller man, Yohji felt an answering spark from Aya.

With a gasp, the telepath broke off the kiss and backed away from Yohji. <You just want someone in your bed, Kudoh. I’m not a fucking one-night stand.>

"No, Aya, you most definitely are not." Yohji reflected on the thoughts he had discovered in the other man’s head. "And I think that’s what has you so scared."

Aya didn’t bother answering him, just turned around and fled the kitchen. Yohji remained in the room for several minutes, smoking another cigarette, as he pondered the fact that he had been completely honest with Aya when he had tried to convince the stubborn fool that he would never leave him. That meant somewhere along the line, he had come to care for his teammate a hell of a lot more than he’d ever thought possible.

*******

Schuldig walked out of the bathroom, and found Aya removing his work outfit. The smaller redhead didn’t say a word, but just stripped to his boxers, and after grabbing a fresh pair, entered the recently vacated room. Thinking about how much he wanted to kill a certain blond, Schuldig sat down on the bed and smoked a cigarette.

Several minutes later, a damp but clean Aya came into the bedroom, and rubbed his hair a few times with a dry towel, then hung the fabric on the closet’s doorknob and curled up on his side of the bed, facing away from his lover. Now that was not a good sign, nor was the fact that Aya was shielding his thoughts.

"You gonna tell me what Kudoh wanted with you? Or are you going to keep hiding it behind a shield?"

<He wants to meet with Tsukiyono, and let him know what Kritiker is up to.>

Growling softly, Schuldig stubbed out his cigarette and yanked his hands through his hair in frustration. "Really? Seems an awful little to talk about for such a long time."

Aya’s body tensed, and the man pulled the covers tighter about himself. <He kissed me as well.> The pale man curled up under the covers, and his thoughts remained shielded from Schuldig. Swallowing his anger, the German shifted about on the bed until he was spooned behind the smaller man, and wrapped his arms around him.

It was time to make sure the little fool realized certain truths. "Listen to me, Aya. I know he wants you, and I know a part of you wants him as well. But I want you too, and I’m not letting go of you. It’s as simple as that. I told you that you were mine, and I meant it." He waited for the man’s temper to explode.

As if on cue, Aya nailed Schuldig in the ribs with his elbow, and turned around to face the wincing man, his eyes glowing with fury. <I’m not a possession, Schu. I’m here because I want to be, do you understand? And sooner or later, this relationship will come to an end, and you can feed this shit to someone else.>

"What the hell do you mean, ‘sooner or later’? Are you planning on leaving me? Are you? You think that Kudoh cares for you as anything other than someone he can fuck?" It was Schuldig’s anger speaking, since he couldn’t think straight with the thought of Aya leaving him stuck in his head. "Time to move on, is that it?"

The sorrow in Aya’s voice shook Schuldig out of his temper, that and the fact that the man was actually speaking out loud. "I’m not going anywhere, Schu, I never do. It’s everyone else that leaves. You will, and so will Yohji."

"Aya…" Pulling the man into his arms, Schuldig held him tight until Aya stopped struggling to shift away and eventually relaxed against him. <You are the most stubborn little ingrate I’ve ever come across, I’ll have you know. But I can be just as obstinate as you. I won’t be the one to walk away, I know that much. You gonna stick around to see which one of us is proved right?>

The two of them remained quiet for several minutes, then Aya slowly let his mental shields down. Schuldig felt his lover’s exhaustion, confusion, and fear that he’d be left alone once more, just as he’d been so many times in the past. The past few months, he’d focused on getting Aya past his death wish and his shields developed, and had forgotten about convincing the idiot that he wasn’t alone anymore. As much as he wanted to kill the prick at the moment, at least Kudoh had brought that oversight to his attention.

<Well?>

<I said I’m not going anywhere, Schu.>

But the man remained doubtful that Schuldig would be sticking around. Tucking Aya’s head beneath his chin, he stroked his fingers down the man’s spine. "Good, neither am I. I’ll win this bet, just you wait and see, meine kleines Veilchen."

Aya merely grunted and drifted off to sleep. Schuldig hugged his lover tight and sighed into the crimson hair. He wasn’t letting go of the man, it was as simple as that. Aya was his; there wasn’t some other complex reason behind his decision other than that simple fact. It was a matter of fantastic sex, mental compatibility, and plain logic, and a perverse desire not to let Kudoh win. What other possible reason could Schuldig have for refusing to let Aya leave him? He was an assassin and a telepath; emotions were useless things that couldn’t be allowed to affect his judgment. Falling asleep himself, Schuldig imagined that he heard Crawford’s voice, laughing in his head.

*******

Sitting in front of his computer, Omi rubbed at his eyes for the fifth time. Every time he tried to complete the mission report, the screen became blurry. Tears threatened to spill forth as he put into words Weiß’s failure that night. While the illegal immigrants had been rescued from the burning ship, his team hadn’t been responsible for the smugglers’ deaths, nor had they found any solid leads on Esset or Schwarz. All they had discovered was that the organization had to be involved with the operation; why else would they send a team to silence the criminals. He could report that, along with the fact that there would be no easy rescue of his friends.

It had hurt so much, to have his pleasure at seeing Ken, Yohji and Aya alive and well be dashed when the men had fought against his team. Dayu’s words rang in his head, about how the men had been brainwashed. And it was all his fault. Maybe, if Omi had kept better track of them after Weiß had disbanded, or had kept the group together after his uncle’s death, his friends would be safe and themselves. But he hadn’t done either of those things, and now the men regarded him as an enemy.

There had to be a way to win his teammates back. There was no way Omi was going to allow them to remain with Schwarz and be made into vicious killers. He’d rescue them somehow, and Kritiker could reverse the damage done to them. Once that happened, he’d have his old team together, and they would make Esset pay for kidnapping the men and messing with their minds.

Forcing himself to write the report, Omi kept finding his thoughts drifting back to the fight. Ken had appeared so normal; nothing about the athlete made him suspect that the man’s mind had been tampered with. He had recognized Omi and acknowledged their past together, and then had sadly kept on fighting him. Yet the blond hadn’t been seriously injured at all during the battle, which was odd. Ken was a skilled fighter, and many of his blows should have landed. And how had he guessed each of Omi’s moves, and been able to counter them? Was that Ken’s power?

Concentrating on the encounter, Omi realized that none of his new teammates had been seriously hurt. The foreigner that Dayu had fought had actually seemed to be highly amused at their battle, and had laughed and mocked the man as he made him run around in circles. Yohji had been downright playful with Jou as well, even going so far as to smoke a cigarette while the man had been caught in his wires. And Aya… Omi knew how talented the redhead was as a swordsman, yet he had done little other than block Kai’s attack until the very end, when he had moved so fast as to appear as a blur. In retrospect, it was clear that the men hadn’t been trying to kill or seriously harm Weiß.

Confused by this realization, Omi stared at his screen. Was the brainwashing not effective enough to make Ken, Yohji or Aya go against their nature? But why had the other man not hurt Dayu then? It didn’t make sense to allow Weiß to live; surely Schwarz realized that the team wouldn’t stop coming after them as long as they held his friends hostage. Something was going on here, but Omi didn’t know what. He needed more information before he could figure out the proper answer. Shaking himself, the teenager focused his attention back on the mission report. There would be time to find an answer after he turned this in, then he could start a few searches that would hopefully provide him with the information he needed. Omi also resolved to have another discussion with Manx very soon.

*******

Thanks to Lilla and Kabuki for helping me w/ the codenames.  You ladies are so great!

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