Shadows

*******

chapter 4

*******

Revelations

*******

Yohji lay in his bed, staring down at the man sleeping in his arms. Luckily, he had excellent night vision, which enabled him to see Aya while they lay in the curtained bed, protected from the morning sun. The redhead was curled up on his chest, a sad smile gracing the pale face. He cautiously brushed back the long crimson bangs that were blocking his view, but Aya didn’t even stir at the touch. Yohji was used to exhausting his lovers; they usually didn’t have much energy left come the morning, but he was now torn between enjoying Aya in his arms and wanting the man to wake up so they could have a little more fun. After last night, he wanted as much of his lover as he could possibly have. And then some.

He was distracted from his thoughts when Aya shifted about, a low moan coming from his throat. Aya said something, but Yohji couldn’t make out anything other than ‘-chan’. The smaller man shivered and moaned once more. "Don’t, please don’t, no." The last word was dragged out, and Aya was now trembling. Yohji stroked his hands up and down the pale man’s arms and brushed back the shaggy locks of hair, trying to soothe his lover. Whatever the nightmare was about, it was clearly upsetting the poor man.

"Aya, sweetie, wake up. It’s just a dream." The blond repeated the words until Aya woke up, slender body tense and violet eyes blinking at him, as if trying to make sense of what he saw. Then the beautiful face grew impassive, and the smaller man just stared back at Yohji. "You okay? Want to talk about the nightmare?"

Shaking his head, the quiet man started to shift off of Yohji. Not willing to let go of Aya just yet, he pulled the man back down onto his chest and using an eartail, yanked Aya’s face close to his. Yohji groaned softly as he tasted his lover, and something inside of him purred and clamored for more. Remembering how incredibly good it had felt last night, he wanted the redhead again. Hopefully the man wouldn’t be too sore from his first time. "Aya, please, don’t go. I want you."

Aya appeared stunned at the words, but after a few seconds he stopped trying to pull away and kissed Yohji back. About to roll the younger man underneath him, the playboy stopped when he felt a hand tentatively stroke down the side of his chest. Breaking off the kiss, Yohji buried his hands in Aya’s hair. "Oh, yes, that feels good."

Violet eyes stared at him for a minute, and then the other hand took to stroking his skin. Aya’s touch was hesitant, as if he was unsure of what he was doing, of what would feel good and what wouldn’t. Hell, just the feel of the pale man’s skin on his was enough to get Yohji hard; this was paradise. He whispered encouragement to his lover and let out a groan when Aya’s mouth brushed against his neck. "Gods, don’t stop."

A tongue rasped along his skin, making Yohji smile as he thought of his nickname for the redhead. Aya’s hands were trailing down his stomach, making him arch off the bed as they came nearer to where the older man really wanted them to be. The mouth was now fastening onto one of Yohji’s nipples, driving him crazy with the light pressure, and he grabbed one of Aya’s hands and wrapped it around his cock, needing to feel the man touch him. The younger man once more paused to look at him then resumed his exploration.

It was sheer torture for Yohji to merely lie there and let Aya do whatever he wanted. The shy man had clearly been a virgin until last night, and Yohji was willing to bet he was the first person Aya had ever touched like this. A hand slowly pumped him, stopping and then starting again, the grip a little different each time, sometimes tighter and sometimes not, while a teasing mouth roamed over his chest and stomach, licking and sucking on his skin. When he couldn’t take any more, Yohji yanked the man back onto his chest, devouring the mouth that had tormented him so.

It was several minutes before he pulled away, short of breath and his eyes narrowed at the sight of Aya’s swollen and pouty lips. Gods, the man could drive him crazy with a look alone. "That was great, cat, but right now, I need you." He’d let Aya play later; at that moment every part of him screamed with the need to be buried in the pale body, to make his lover cry out his name. Yohji was filled with an insatiable hunger that demanded he fuck the man that instant, to make him his. Burying one of his hands in the crimson hair, he ravished a pale neck while his other hand searched out his jar of lubricant. He didn’t want to hurt his lover, but he had to have him now.

As soon as his fingers were slick, he pushed one inside of Aya, carefully watching the man’s face for an expression of pain. "Love, does this hurt?"

"Yohji, noooo." Aya tossed back his head and tried to press down on the finger twisting inside of him. Smiling, the blond knew what the man wanted and searched out the spot that would have him writhing in pleasure. The strangled mewl let him know when he found it, and Aya’s eyes, darkened with passion, grew wide as that spot was flicked again and again.

"You want more?"

"Yes." That word came out as a purr, and Yohji groaned as he pulled out the fingers, fumbling desperately to coat his shaft as one hand gripped Aya’s hip so tightly he had to be leaving a bruise. Aya looked at him in confusion as he was urged up on his knees and moaned when Yohji lowered him onto his cock, impaling the man by inches as he drove in as deep as he could. "Oh gods, Aya."

The smaller man remained motionless, his eyes closed and his head tilted back, exposing a slim neck. Yohji pushed himself upright until he was sitting with Aya in his lap. "Ah, you have to move, love. Like this." Guiding the man’s hips, Yohji groaned as the man rode him, hesitant at first but soon growing more confident, more lost in the pleasure. For himself, the blond was finding it difficult to breathe. He felt as if his body was being filled with a crackling energy, and he couldn’t get enough of the bliss that coursed through his veins. Each touch of Aya against and around him fanned his passion until he was growling softly, his hands roaming all over the white flesh, his mouth latched on to the slim neck that was offered to him.

His desire seemed contagious as Aya began to ride him more forcefully, meeting each of Yohji’s thrusts with a slamming intensity. The hunger inside of the older man craved more pleasure, and he jerked Aya’s head down for a searing kiss. One of his hands took to stroking the redhead’s erection, and Yohji drank in the mewls and gasps he wrung from his lover. The pale man shuddered in his arms and he felt the hot flesh surrounding his cock clench tightly as the man came.

Fire coursed through his veins, filling him with heat and light, just like the night before. Yohji gasped at the impossible bliss that flowed into him and came himself from the intensity of the feeling. It was as if sunlight was pouring into him, warming him and pushing back all the pain and darkness inside of him. Crying out Aya’s name, Yohji hugged the man tightly, for a moment unable to tell where his body left off and his love’s began. It was as if they were one being made of ecstasy.

Falling back onto the bed, Yohji held Aya to his chest as he waited for his heart to stop beating so frantically. He inhaled warm air in ragged gasps for several moments, breathing in Aya’s scent, while his body calmed down. Oh fuck, that had been so damn intense. His flesh was still tingling from the pleasure. Yohji combed his fingers through damp crimson strands and gently lifted Aya’s head so he could see the man’s face.

Aya appeared dazed, his eyes wide and unseeing, his lips parted as he panted. Cradling the smaller man against his chest, Yohji bent his head to kiss the swollen lips. The touch seemed to snap the redhead back to the real world as he gently returned the gesture and shifted about on the taller man. Yohji groaned as he slipped out of the pale body and held Aya tight. "Gods, love… I didn’t think it could be better than last night, but that sure as hell was. Thank you."

The pale flesh blushed slightly at the compliment, and Aya tucked his head under Yohji’s chin as he growled. One of the man’s hands took to stroking the blond’s side, causing him to smile and capture it. He lifted it to his lips, pressing them against the callused palm, and found his attention snared by the scars that ran down the slender wrist. The happiness that filled Yohji faded at the sight; as he was reminded of the fact that somewhere out there was a person who wanted to hurt the man he loved. Lightly running his fingers down the cut marks, he was surprised when Aya jerked the wrist out of his grasp and hid it between their bodies.

Yohji shifted about, pushing the scattered pillows against the headboard then sat up making sure to keep Aya in his lap. The pale man didn’t seem to like the sudden movement considering the pair of glaring violet eyes, but even though he didn’t look like it, Yohji was pretty damn strong and held him captive. He squirmed around until he was resting comfortably against the pillows with Aya on his lap, the scarred back supported by one of his arms. He then grabbed a white arm and held it up so that both of them could look at it.

"I wish you would tell me about these. Who hurt you so badly you repeatedly tried to kill yourself?"

Aya bent his head, letting the crimson hair hide his face. "I wasn’t trying to kill myself."

Waiting for the man to continue, Yohji finally gave up after several minutes of silence. "Aya… you can tell me anything. I meant what I said last night, about protecting you and keeping you safe. But it would be easier to do that if you told me who did this to you. Please?"

When his lover refused to say anything, the blond hugged the man tightly to his chest. Of course Aya wouldn’t spill his heart out so easily; he got the impression that the redhead was used to hoarding secrets. Yohji would just have to keep working at the stubborn fool to convince him he could talk about his past. At least Aya had opened himself up enough to have sex with Yohji; it would only be a matter of time before the man completely trusted him. Until then, the innkeeper had every intention of keeping a close watch on his boyfriend; both to learn what he could about him and to keep him safe.

"So, do you like the bed?"

The sudden change of topic seemed to startle Aya as he jerked his head up and looked Yohji in the face. "I… yes… thank you." The pale man rested against Yohji’s chest, his body boneless with exhaustion. The playboy settled an arm around a slender waist and twined a long eartail around his fingers.

"Like I said, it was my Gram’s. I never knew the woman; she and my grandfather died before I was born, but my mom told me stories about her. She loved her comforts, and this bed was one of them. It’s been up in storage for the past decade or two; I’m sure it’s happy to see some action once again." Yohji smiled when Aya snorted at the comment. He couldn’t stop touching the man and was glad that Aya didn’t mind the fingers brushing along his hip, or the hand playing with his hair. If anything, the pale man was completely exhausted and seemed to have a problem keeping his eyes open. For his part, Yohji felt energized and ready to take on the world. It had been ages since he had woken up feeling this refreshed.

"I’ll have to take you up into the attic one day. Something tells me you’ll like it up there, as dark and dusty as it is. You’ll probably flip when you see all the books my granduncle Touya stashed away. The family keeps meaning to catalog them and set up one of the rooms as a library, but us Kudohs tend to get sidetracked a lot. If you’re going to stay a while in the city, maybe you could tend to that for me. I’ll give you a discount on the room, in return for the work." There was no way in hell he was ever letting the redhead leave the Koneko, but he’d tell Aya that some other day. Right now he’d probably just freak the man out.

Aya just hn’ed as he once more tentatively touched Yohji, this time playing with a strand of long blond hair. Shivering in response to the action, the older man sought a distraction, knowing that Aya was too tired and sore for any more sex, even though he desperately wanted to fuck the man again. Yohji told his hormones to go jump in a lake as he thought of a new topic.

"I told you the Koneko is a haven for ‘strays’, didn’t I?" When Aya nodded his head, the older man continued, "Well, long ago, a couple of centuries at least, my many times Great-Grandfather Shiro helped to save a queen’s life. In return, he was given a plot of land and some money to build a house. Well, Gramps was both a religious and a highly practical fellow, so he decided to have a sun priestess come out to bless what would be his new home. She told him that on this land there had once been a great temple that was destroyed during the Binding War. It had been the house of a god who gave succor to all those in need. The spring in the basement had been renowned for its soothing properties, and people used to come from all around seeking healing and sanctuary.

"When Gramps heard that, he decided he couldn’t just build a house that would be too big and fancy for him and dishonor the former god. Here’s where his practical nature came in. He decided to build an inn instead, which would both honor the god and provide some extra income for future generations of Kudohs. His wife had a fondness for cats, which runs in the family, and so they named the place Koneko no Sumu Ie, which got shortened over the years to the Koneko. All travelers are welcome, but if any are truly in need, they can stay here for free and receive the help that they need. We sorta keep that part a secret, since the place would be flooded with deadbeats. But it seems that Gramps’ plan received the favor of the old god, since the Koneko has done nothing but flourish over the years, and somehow, people in need of sanctuary end up on our doorstep. It’s a family obligation to keep the inn open and to help those people. You’ll be safe here, Aya."

The redhead didn’t say anything for a few minutes, just tucked his head under Yohji’s chin once more. "Your father left the inn to you?"

That comment startled a bitter laugh from the older man. "Hell no. I inherited the inn from my mother. She never married the man, so I’m technically a Kudoh. The bastard took off not long after she found out she was pregnant." Yet even after being abandoned by her lover, his mother had never once said a bad thing about the man. She would respond to Yohji’s questions and acid remarks about him with a quiet ‘I’ll explain it to you one day’. Then she had suddenly died, with no warning whatsoever. Yohji still missed the smiling woman.

"I’m sorry."

"Huhn? Oh, it’s not your fault, cat. I tend to forget that there are people who don’t know the story about my mom falling for a guest and getting nothing in return for her love but a brat. It’s old news and hardly worth repeating." Yohji bent his head to sniff at the crimson hair, smiling when the faint scent of roses filled his nose. "What about your family? Where are your parents? Have any siblings?"

The innocent questions made Aya go stiff in his arms. Silently cursing himself for pushing too far, Yohji was surprised when the man answered him in a quiet voice. "My parents died when I was young. I… had a sister, but she’s… gone now." The anguish in the deep voice tore at Yohji’s heart.

"Damn. I’m sorry, Aya, for asking that. I didn’t mean to make you sad." Hoping to make the man feel better, Yohji pressed his lips against the top of Aya’s head, then tilted the smaller man’s chin up so he could kiss him on the lips. It was chaste at first, but the desire he’d been suppressing these past minutes flared to life, causing him to clutch Aya close and taste the man until they were both breathless. Reminding himself of all the reasons why a third time would be a very bad idea, Yohji reluctantly pried himself away from his lover before he frightened the man. The soft mewl of protest Aya made in response did not help his resolve in the slightest, and he was hard pressed not to resume the kiss. Drawing a shuddering breath, he treated the quiet man to a shaky smile.

"I want to spend the whole damn day in bed with you, but I promised Mickey that I’d go with him and help with the shopping. Guess we’ll have to save that idea for tomorrow." Aya blinked at that statement. "What do you say to a nice soak?" The man had to need it, even if he had said earlier that he wasn’t in pain. Both times the sex had gotten a bit frantic towards the end, and since it was his first time, Yohji imagined that Aya was rather sore. Hell, he always had been after the few times he’d been the uke.

His lover considered the question for a second and then nodded his head, the pale face an impassive mask once more. "Great." Yohji reluctantly set the man aside on the bed and got up, heading for his closet as he stretched his body. Damn, but he felt good this morning. Grabbing his robe, he searched about for something for Aya to wear. When his hand brushed against silk, the blond tugged out a long forgotten garment. "Here, wear this."

Handing over the scarlet robe, Yohji watched as Aya slowly stood to his feet and got dressed. The silk was almost, but not quite, the color of his hair and it made his pale skin stand out all the more. The robe’s hem was decorated with black and gold dragons, and it was a good fit on the slender man. "One of the regulars brought me that when I was a kid. I think he was hoping to impress my mom, but she wasn’t interested." There hadn’t been any man in Miyuki Kudoh’s life other than her son. Yohji was torn between feeling guilty about that fact or furious at the man who had broken her heart so badly. "I outgrew it a few summers back, but it looks good on you. You can keep it."

Aya raised a hand to touch the luxuriant fabric, his eyes wide with surprise. Yohji got the impression that his boyfriend didn’t receive many gifts and decided he’d have to do something about that. After he slipped on his own robe, the blond went over to Aya and pulled a long eartail out from underneath the garment. "Ready for a bath now?"

The redhead didn’t say anything, just rocked up onto the tips of his toes to kiss Yohji on the lips before heading for the door. Oh yeah, he definitely had to do something about that, if his shy little cat was always that thankful. Making sure that his blue robe hid his ‘excitement’, Yohji trailed after Aya.

*******

King Shuuichi walked into the small dining room, only to see his fiancé talking to his spymaster, Birman. The two attractive women appeared deep in conversation, so he held back in the doorway until the discussion was finished. As Birman passed his way, the woman bowed in his direction and hurried on with a slight frown on her face. Glancing at Manx, he found the redhead wearing a similar expression.

"Something wrong, love?"

Manx nodded her head as she rushed over to his side and kissed him. "Nothing critical, but not exactly the best news one wants to start the day off." They sat down at the small table, and Shuuichi poured the woman some coffee. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome. What is the trouble about?"

As he watched, Shuuichi’s lover changed slightly as she sat straighter in her chair and the beautiful face became impassive. Now he sat next to his Captain of the Guards, not his soon to be wife.

"There was a disturbance last night at the Koneko. It seemed that a supporter for Kikyou started a fight with some people who are backing Yuushi. The incident could barely be called a fight as the inn’s manager quickly put a halt to things, but this is the third time it’s happened in a week. I fear I will have to make my announcement before I had planned; at the wedding."

One thought was foremost on the king’s mind, as soon as he heard where the fight took place. "Was Mamoru still there?"

"No, thankfully. He left sometime before the incident occurred." Manx glanced at her lover out of the corner of her eye. "I wasn’t aware you knew where he was yesterday."

Reaching out a hand to tug on a curl, Shuuichi smiled at the woman. "Darling, I always know where he is. Birman does a very good job of keeping me updated, usually. There was no mention of this, though."

"Most likely because she didn’t want to get the boy in trouble." Manx took a bite of her eggs then regarded the king once more. "As much as I love the boy and want him to be happy, you must realize that it would be a good idea if he remained on the palace grounds until after the wedding."

Shuuichi shook his head as he helped himself to some rice. "Technically, yes, but it wouldn’t be good for the boy, other than his physical safety. Besides, he seems to favor Kudoh’s inn, and I doubt the man will let him come to any trouble."

"But there are a lot of other-"

"Manx, no. I will not confine Mamoru to his rooms."

The redheaded woman sighed and faced her liege, a questioning glint in her eye. "Why, love? He deserves protection."

The king picked up his cup of coffee and stared into the dark depths. "He also deserves a normal life. Manx… I grew up as the second son, and my brother had his children at an early age. I never thought that I would gain the throne." He refused to think about how Reiji had become disinherited, pushing the old rage and feelings of hurt and betrayal aside with practiced ease. "I spent my life much like Mamoru, ignored by my father and running away from the palace as often as possible. I saw things that I never would have if I’d remain safe and protected here and I believe that the experiences have made me a better king. I want Mamoru to have the same opportunities and lessons as I did. Let him have his freedom as Omi; the day will eventually come when he has to take my place. I want him to enjoy his life until then."

"Shuuichi, love." Manx pressed a hand to his cheek and leaned in to kiss him on the lips. "You should let him know how much you love him. He thinks that you don’t care for him."

Mamoru and everyone else, Shuuichi was willing to bet. But it was better that way. "I have my reasons, darling." While people thought the boy was out of favor, Mamoru would have a chance to grow up uncorrupted by palace politics. It ensured that the boy would be more like Shuuichi and not like Reiji. He would do that much for his people and make sure that his heir was suitable to assume the throne.

Giving him a look that clearly said she knew more was going on than he was saying, Manx resumed her breakfast. The topic then shifted to their approaching wedding: to security, invitations, gifts and so forth.

*******

Yohji watched as a patron gathered up his belongings, the middle age man huffing all the while. He’d promised the man a free lunch in return for cutting short his soak and figured he’d catch hell from either Mickey or Jo later on. Those two had a hard time remembering that he was the one who actually owned the Koneko. Then again, considering his former career and the hole of alcohol and sex that he’d buried himself in when he’d retired, they had practically run the inn these past few years. But still, he deserved a few perks every now and then.

As the guest left, Yohji gestured for Aya to join him in the bathing room making sure to lock the door behind the pale man. He then hurried over to the pool, stripping off his robe as he did so. Pulling up a bucket of warm water, the blond dumped it on his lover as soon as the man was naked.

"Yohji." Ah, he just loved to hear Aya growling out his name, though admittedly with passion and not anger.

"Just helping you to get clean." Snatching the bar of soap from the smaller man’s hands, Yohji started to scrub the pale skin. Aya jerked away from his touch at first, as if uncertain about what his intentions were, but after casting a dubious glance in his direction let Yohji wash him clean. Hell, he swore the man was purring as he washed the crimson hair and inhaled deeply the scent of roses. The fact that Yohji was able to touch Aya all over had nothing to do with why he was being so helpful to the man.

Rinsing off the slender form, he handed Aya his bar of soap. "My turn now." As it had been upstairs in the bedroom, the redhead’s touch was hesitant at first, then grew more certain as Yohji’s muscles relaxed under the man’s ministrations. However, Aya could have given him a bit of a warning when he dumped the water on his head to rinse him off; Yohji was left sputtering out soapy water and wiping the suds out of his eyes.

The flash of anger in the violet eyes and the hint of a smile on Aya’s lips cued him to the fact that it hadn’t been an accident. Reassured that the reserved man trusted him enough to play a prank on him, Yohji smiled back and then immediately tackled his love into the pool of water.

It was Aya’s turn to sputter as his head rose from beneath the hot water, and his body was tight with tension. The room seemed to darken as panic and anger flashed over the pale face before it became a mask. Yohji looked down at the stiff form in his arms and swore when Aya flinched from the hand reaching out to brush aside the overlong bangs hanging in his eyes and shook off his hold.

"Shit, love, I’m sorry about that. I was just kidding with you, getting you back for the mouthful of suds." Damn, he should have known better. No one as scarred as Aya would take kindly to being treated so roughly.

"Shi-ne, Kudoh." Aya glared challengingly at him, inching back the slightest bit then appearing to think better of the movement, instead shifting closer. Yohji swore that the man was trying to prove that he wasn’t scared. As if he’d ever do anything to hurt him.

Smiling weakly, Yohji slowly extended his arms until they wrapped around the smaller man again, then pulled his lover into his lap. "What can I say, I’m an idiot." Aya remained stiff, but snorted at the comment. "I’m sorry; you want to return the favor and dunk me?"

"Hn."

When Yohji remained still, Aya slowly started to relax in his arms. Yohji tightened his hold on the pale man as a chin rested on his shoulder. The two of them shifted about until Aya was comfortable on his lap, facing him, and Yohji started to massage the man’s neck as he reminded himself to behave. He’d be killed if he started anything in the hot spring, and his lover was so tired that he was drifting off to sleep. The lanky man was content as all hell for the next twenty minutes, which of course caused the gods to send Mickey, Kira and Jo to plague him.

Hearing the lock click, Yohji looked up in time to see his employees enter the bathing room dressed in robes. Aya shifted against him, coming awake at the noise, and started to pull away. "Shh, it’s just the crew, relax." He then called out to the interlopers, asking them rather unkindly what the hell they were doing there.

"We thought that as long as you were keeping the guests from using the baths that we’d take advantage of the privacy and have a bit of a soak," Jo commented as she dipped the bucket into the spring. Her eyes gazed challengingly at Yohji then shifted to Aya. The brown orbs went wide as she took in the scars on his back. Glancing over at Mickey and Kira, the blonde noticed that they saw the scars as well, causing the young girl to turn her head away in horror.

Aya must have noticed their scrutiny as he shifted about in Yohji’s hold. The older man let go of his lover only long enough to let the man turn around on his lap then latched his arms around a slender waist. Aya hissed and struggled for a minute; at least until the other three people finished scrubbing off and entered the hot tub. Though it was big enough to hold five people, the redhead didn’t seem to want to brush up against anyone else, and quieted on Yohji’s lap. Everyone was silent for a minute.

"You know, this isn’t bad. It’s nice to have a soak without listening to a patron complain about his bed or ask for a certain dish for dinner. Maybe we need to set aside a time for all of the Koneko’s workers," Mickey said as he sunk down as much as he was able, trying to soak as much of his large body as possible. As the man’s legs stretched out in their direction, Aya pressed back closer against Yohji.

Combing a hand through the man’s hair, Yohji hugged the arm around Aya’s waist tighter. "That’s not a bad idea, Mick." Though why the man had to come up with it now, when he had hoped to have some private time with his lover, Yohji had nary a clue. It was clear that Aya didn’t like people staring at him, or letting anyone other than him or Naoe touch him. "But why the sudden urge to have a nice soak today?" Other than to make sure he didn’t get up to anything down here. Busybody bastards.

Kira spoke up, her blue eyes glancing in Aya’s direction and then skittering away. "We could use a soak after last night."

"Huhn, am I missing something?"

Jo started to move her arm to splash water at the blond, then seemed to realize that it would be Aya who would get wet. "If you had bothered to stick around, Yotan, you would have witnessed the beginning of a nasty fight. Someone was complaining about who would be picked to be the next Captain of the Guards, and one of the man’s followers took objection. Enough so that he threw a tankard at another Guard’s head, which caused the victim’s friends to decide that they should do something: like pound the other man into the floor."

"Shit." Yohji glanced over at Mickey. "What happened next?"

"I picked up a bench and used it to shove the men into a wall and kept them there until they calmed down and Kikyou’s supporter left the place. Still, things were pretty tense the rest of the night."

"Thanks, Mick." Damn, Yohji wished he had been there for that. He could usually judge when a fight was about to break out and prevent it. Jerking a hand through his hair, he let out a sigh. "Fuck. It’s only going to get worse you know, especially when Manx makes her decision. My sources tell me she’s going to pick Kikyou, though Yuushi is favored by the majority of the Guards."

Rolling her neck, Jo grabbed a washcloth and draped it over her eyes. "Well, you should know, considering you were one of them. Just tell your former comrades to take the fights elsewhere."

Yohji was about to say something when Aya went stiff in his arms. The redhead struggled against his hold, and after a moment wormed his way free. He could only stare at Aya as the man quickly got out of the tub and hurried over to his towel. Getting out of the water himself, Yohji crossed over to where the smaller man was pulling on his robe. "Cat, is something wrong?"

"No."

Well that was an unconvincing lie. Aya refused to meet Yohji’s eyes and shied away from his hands. Trying to figure out what was going on, Yohji tried to snare one of his lover’s wrists, only to be dumbfounded when Aya deftly avoided his grasp and slipped out of the room. He stared at the door closing in his face. "What the fuck just happened here?"

Hurrying over to his own towel, Yohji was busy drying off when Jo called out to him. "Yotan, leave him alone."

"To hell with that, Jo. Something upset him." Green eyes glared at the three people still in the tub, plainly expressing what or whom, Yohji believed to be responsible. "I need to go talk to him."

"You need to give him a little space and let him cool down. I know what I’m talking about."

Pulling on his robe, Yohji glanced at the woman and saw the earnest expression on her face. Jo probably could identify with Aya, considering her past. "Damn, I don’t like him being upset." He sat down on one of the benches along the room’s walls after pulling on his robe.

Jo tossed aside the washcloth as she rose from the bath and grabbed her towel, patting Yohji on the shoulder when she was dry and robed. "Is it any wonder that he’s upset? Aya comes here, after suffering things I don’t even want to think about based on his scars, and gets chased after the moment he steps foot into the Koneko." Yohji glared at that comment, but couldn’t deny it. Which just pissed him off even more. "And judging from how skittish he was when we showed up, I don’t think he likes people looking at or touching him, something that is completely understandable. No wonder you let him bathe down here by himself yesterday. I’m sorry for bothering the two of you."

"Yeah, well, your timing sucks, Jo." Yohji picked up his towel and rubbed it against his hair. "But you have a point. Things have happened a little bit fast." But it still hurt that Aya felt the need to run away from him. The older woman picked up on his unhappiness and patted him once more.

"Give him a few minutes, then go see what’s wrong. It was probably too many people too close, if you want my opinion. Then drag him down for something to eat. I still have a little food in the pantry after his companions finished their breakfasts, but it’s a good thing you’re going shopping today. I’ll make you some pancakes."

Yohji smiled, knowing that Jo didn’t often go out of her way to appease people for the sheer hell of it. "Thanks, I’ll do just that." He kissed the cook on her cheek and stood up. "Give me another hour, Mick, and I’ll be ready to hit the markets with you."

"No hurry, I’m not getting out of here any time soon. Now if I could convince Kira to massage my neck, I’d be in heaven." The teenaged girl took to splashing Mickey as she giggled out loud. Yohji and Jo exchanged a look and decided to leave the two bathers alone.

*******

Ran hurried to his room, dodging the people loitering on the steps and in the hallway. All he wanted at the moment was to be in his own room. He needed a few minutes of peace and quiet to try to calm down and do some thinking. How could he have been so incredibly stupid?

Why hadn’t he checked out Yohji’s past a little better? How could he have picked a man who had been in the Guards to be his lover? Yohji was one of the killers who regularly hunted down his kind and killed them, at the very least. And to make matters even worse, the man was betraying one of his own. Ran couldn’t imagine any more damnable sin. Bounds did not betray bounds; they had the whole world against them, so all they could depend on was each other. And Ran had let such a traitor fuck him.

Furious with Yohji and even more so with himself, Ran pushed open the door to his room, only to find Nagi sitting in the windowsill, looking out on the garden below. As he entered, the younger bound jumped down and rushed over to him. "Ran, you’re back! Are you okay?"

Carefully schooling his face, the kage let his friend grace him with a quick hug. He didn’t want Nagi to pick up on the fact that he was upset, or the boy would be tossing Kudoh through the nearest wall. The abrupt change in his logic flustered Ran, as he tried to figure out why he was still feeling protective of the blond.

"What happened? Did you finally do it?"

Ran stared at the boy, trying to figure out what he meant. When the realization hit him, he ducked his head and headed over for some clothes to wear. Great, now he was being quizzed on his sex life.

"Well? Your neck is bruised again."

Gritting his teeth, Ran pulled on his pants and turned to face the pest. "Yes."

Nagi stared at him and used his power to snatch away the shirt that the kage had selected. "I want a better answer than that. Was he that lousy?"

Yohji had been anything but lousy, at least in regards to sex. Ran’s skin tingled at the memory of the two times they had slept together, and he felt an ache in his groin when thinking about what had happened in the blond’s bed. The older man had been right; last night had been unbelievable, and this morning had been even better. He could still taste Yohji’s skin on his tongue and remember the thrill he had felt when he had dared to touch the man, to try to return some of the pleasure he had felt and not just lie there the second time. "No, he wasn’t lousy." It had also surprised the kage very much that he hadn’t been kicked out of bed either when he had woken up, or when the sex was over.

Brown eyes regarded him warily. "You look exhausted. Did it hurt? I heard it does, the first time at least. If he hurt you, I’m tossing the prick out the closest window."

Ran had to be amused at how protective the younger bound was, at least until it reminded him of Yohji. Damn, he’d only spent two nights with the man, why couldn’t he get him off of his mind? "Nagi, I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account. But he didn’t hurt me." Not physically at least. Not even when, angry at being treated like a child, Ran had dumped the water on him without warning. Not even when he had snarled at Yohji, expecting to be hit for his insolence. Thoroughly confused, Ran selected another top and pulled it over his head.

"Okay, I’m sorry for being so nosy."

Straightening the cream coloured tunic, Ran glanced over at his friend. "Nagi, it’s alright. What are your plans for the day?"

"Well," the teenager shifted his weight about as he ducked his head. "Omi asked me to meet him at a park, but I told him that I wanted to make sure it was okay with you first."

About to tell the elemental-bound to stay at the Koneko, Ran remembered what Crawford had said yesterday. The success of the mission depended on Nagi and Omi being friends. As much as he didn’t want the boy to be in the Takatori’s presence, he had to respect the precog’s wishes. Especially considering the oath he had sworn. Maybe it would be for the best that the boys were friends; maybe the prince’s blood on his hands would be enough to break Nagi from his side and grant the bound a chance of a happy life, away from his presence. "Go on and have fun."

He crossed over to the window, looking out at the cloudy sky. Ran decided he would spend the day in the garden, practicing with his new sword. The kage desperately needed to go through his katas, blocking off his emotions as he exercised. His feelings were confusing him too much, making him weak when he had to think about what would be best for the people he cared for. He had to be successful on this mission, both for Aya-chan and for Nagi’s sake….

"Ran, are you alright?"

"Hn."

Nagi approached his side. "Is there something wrong with Omi? I noticed you would barely look at him last night. Don’t you like him?"

Ran glanced over at the younger bound and sighed. "… I guess I know how you feel about Kudoh now. I just don’t want you to be hurt. Humans can’t be trusted."

"Well, why did you decide to sleep with one?"

It was incidents such as this that reminded Ran just how different he was from the other bounds. He had forgotten that the others couldn’t sense magic as he could. "Yohji’s not human, he’s a bound as well. Don’t say anything, though, he didn’t reveal it to me."

"Oh." Nagi pressed the shutters open wider since the dim light wasn’t bothering Ran and stared outside for a minute. It must come as a shock to find out one’s nemesis isn’t the monster one thinks they are. Or maybe not, considering what Yohji had been. "I don’t think he will hurt me. Omi I mean. If you don’t mind, I’d like to spend some time with him. He’s showing me the city. It’s… so different here than back… at the castle." One couldn’t call that place home. "Besides, if I stay here, Crawford will make me do something. Jei was complaining all through breakfast about the errands the man was making him run. I’m not their slave."

"No, you’re not. You’re no one’s slave. Go and have fun, Nagi."

The teenager regarded him for several seconds. "Ran, are you sure you’re alright? Did you get any sleep? Was it the nightmares again?"

Ran nodded his head. Everything had been perfect until he had dreamed of his sister. It hurt so much to be reminded of her sacrifice, which had ultimately been in vain.

"Well, get something to eat then. I’ll be back for dinner." Nagi touched him on the arm and fled the room, eager to spend time with his new companion. It hurt to lose the boy even that little bit, to know that there was someone else who made him happy. For so long, it had just been the two of them. But Ran had to let go of Nagi, had to make sure that one of them had a future. He would soon be all alone again.

Staring out at the garden, Ran jumped when someone knocked on his door. Crossing the room, he opened it to find Yohji on the other side. The blond was dressed in tan leather pants and yellow lace-up top, his long hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. He looked so good, and Ran immediately felt a tingle in his body as it responded to the man’s presence. "What do you want?"

"Aya… I wanted to make sure that you were okay. You ran away and made me worried." Yohji pressed forward, forcing Ran to back up as he tried to avoid touching the man. He didn’t want the tingle to become any stronger; it tended to take over his brain and make him do stupid things, like trust the man.

"I’m fine, go away."

Yohji sighed and reached out a hand. Ran, who had been paying too much attention to the blond, failed to realize that he was backing into the bed and tumbled down onto it. Yohji fell down with him, making sure to land at the kage’s side and not on top of him. When Ran tried to get back on his feet, the older man grabbed him by the arms and pulled him into a hug, causing him to flinch. "Something’s wrong, Aya, and I can’t help but think it’s my fault. Are you mad at me? I didn’t know Jo and the others were going to join us, or I’d have barricaded the door. I’m getting sick and tired of people walking in on us."

Feeling the man’s arms about him, Ran’s body started to relax ignoring the commands he sent to it. It was so hard to think with the tingle flowing through him, and the worst of it was that he had allowed it so much control over him by taking it in last night. Two images clashed inside of the kage’s mind: one of his lover, who had gone out of his way to reassure him that he wouldn’t be hurt, and the other of Yohji in a Guard’s uniform. The blond couldn’t be one of the butchers that he had read about, could he?

"Yohji, were you really a Guard?"

"Hmm? Where the hell did that come from?" Yohji pulled Ran closer to him. "Oh, yeah, we were talking about the fight. Yeah, I was a Guard, up until about a year ago. I… retired. Didn’t think I deserved to wear the uniform anymore."

So the blond had quit? Ran wanted to ask why, but the pain in Yohji’s voice prevented him from doing so. "What was your job?"

"It was pretty boring, really. Walk about the castle all day long, attend some pretty dull dinners and balls, guard various rooms, etc, etc. Quite the glamorous life, ne?" Something in Yohji’s voice painted a different story. "Aya, what’s wrong? Why did you run away?"

The man wouldn’t leave him alone until he got an answer. "I don’t like being around strangers." It was the truth, after all.

"Well, Jo, Mickey and Kira aren’t strangers. They won’t hurt you, cat. My word on that. Nothing here will hurt you as long as I have anything to say."

It was so confusing, which Yohji did he trust? Ran closed his eyes and tucked his head under the older man’s chin, torn over what he should believe. A hand that had never hurt him stroked through his hair, the touch soothing, though he still flinched at first contact. "You know, we never ate any breakfast. Jo’s making some pancakes just for us, and let me tell you something, she is renowned for her pancakes. Why don’t you come down with me and have a bite to eat?"

About to refuse, Ran recalled the order that Crawford had given him. He was to remain at Yohji’s side as long as the man wanted him. Maybe the blond’s previous profession would change things, and maybe not, but Ran wouldn’t know until he talked with the precog. Who most likely knew more of Yohji’s past than Aya did. "Alright."

The smile he received for his assent took the kage’s breath away. Yohji took advantage of his amazement to kiss him. Without a thought, Ran threaded his fingers through the wavy, golden hair, messing up the ponytail even more, and pushed his doubts away. For the time being he would mostly trust the man he had chosen for a lover, at least until he had more answers. Maybe he could reach some sort of conclusion during sword practice. One thing was sure; it hurt too much to think about at the moment. Ran followed Yohji downstairs, his heart heavy.

*******

Mickey glanced aside at Yohji, who was practically bouncing along at his side. "You seem to be in a pretty good mood."

"I feel great, business is booming, and oh yeah, Aya is my lover. I’d say that life is good, but fate just loves to smack you around for saying things like that."

Very true. Biting back on a smile, Mickey decided to prove his friend right. "Teddy should be showing up either today or tomorrow."

The smile on Yohji’s face instantly vanished. "See? I knew it. Damn," the blond wailed, pressing the back of a golden wrist against his eyes in a melodramatic manner. "Fate is already sending a vile plague my way. Ow, watch it, Mickey, Aya will be crushed if I’m not in excellent shape." The lanky man rubbed his sore ribs while glaring at his manager.

"Hmph. I don’t know about the redhead, but a horde of patrons will be pissed off if I damage the goods. Are you really serious about loving this man, Yotan?" Mickey ignored the bustle of traffic around him to stare intently at Yohji.

Who stared right back at him. "Hell yes. I thought we went over this yesterday, Mick. I truly do love him."

He’d heard that before. Something of that thought must have showed on his face, as Yohji’s manner became agitated.

"I know, I also said I loved… Asuka, and look where that got me. I really thought I did, at the time. But… it’s nothing compared to what I feel for Aya, just the dimmest shadow of the emotions, an echo of the same taste. I wanted to keep the woman safe, to make her happy. With Aya," Yohji stopped his speech as he halted before a booth that sold a variety of candies, and bought a tiny box of expensive, delicious sugar cookies formed into the shape of flowers. Mickey didn’t think the purchase was for the Koneko.

"What was I saying?"

"That with Aya…"

The mere mention of the pale man’s name had Yohji smiling. "Ah yes. With Aya, I feel as if I’d gladly die for him, if it meant sparing the man any pain. Or kill anyone who tries to hurt him." Green eyes narrowed on the burly man. "Try to remember that, as the feeling now extends to anyone who disturbs us, considering how upset he was this morning. It took me over half an hour to calm him down and keep him from flinching whenever I tried to touch him."

Mickey sighed as he gestured to a wine shop that he wanted to investigate. "I’m sorry, Yohji, really I am. It was Jo’s idea anyway, and I can tell you that she regretted it as soon as Aya became upset." The younger man glared at him a little longer, then sniffed to indicate the apology was accepted and turned to talk to the wine vendor.

Bearing in mind that alcohol was Yohji’s area of expertise, Mickey primarily focused on making sure the blond didn’t spend the Koneko’s entire budget on liquor. Which was a much easier task than it had been lately, considering that Yohji was keeping to his promise of not drinking himself unconscious anymore. Though, this Aya was probably helping in that regard, serving as a distraction if nothing else.

He still didn’t know what he thought of the man. Something about the redhead gave him a chill, but Mickey couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Maybe it was Aya’s beautiful looks, almost too perfect to be human, or how quiet he was. The man was clearly a stray, considering the scars he bore and how spooked he was around anyone other than Yohji or his traveling companions.


Teddy would know what to make of the redhead, Mickey told himself. His brother had a way of instantly gauging a person and knowing if they were to be trusted or not. Hell, look at the way Teddy had reacted to Yohji and his mother when they had shown up on the Koneko’s doorstep after the death of their father. All a six-year old Mickey had been told was that his father had been killed in the line of duty, and that a former Guard had agreed to take in him and his four-year old brother. He had been so scared when confronted with Miyuki Kudoh and her son, but Teddy had instantly clung to the woman and had immediately begun to torment Yohji.

It had taken Mickey a while to realize that no matter how much of a pain his younger sibling was, Yohji and his mother never harmed the boy, or him for that matter, though the blond child had taken to running off to his friend’s Schuldig’s house to avoid Teddy as much as possible. They had been accepted into the Koneko’s family, and their lives had flourished as a result. Teddy had found the love of his life, and Mickey was more than content running the place. Now his best friend was happy once again, which was a large weight gone from his chest.

Once the wine was purchased, the two men headed for the butcher shop the Koneko patronized. "So, have you thought about how the customers will take you being removed from the market, so to speak?"

Yohji stared at him as he puzzled over the comment, then snarled savagely. "Well they better get fucking used to it, and if anyone even thinks to treat Aya like a few of them did Asuka, they’re dead."

Someone certainly had been snarling a lot lately. Mickey could still recall the look on his friend’s face when he had entered his room yesterday morning. It had been frightening, to say the least. Yohji was definitely protective of Aya, more so than he had ever been with anyone else. How had the pale man gotten such a strong hold on Yohji in such a short time?

Maybe Jo had the right idea about keeping a close eye on the couple. The last thing that Mickey wanted was another Asuka incident, especially considering how badly the blond had fallen for his new lover. If he was worrying for nothing, then good. He sincerely hoped that Yohji had found his happiness. But if this was another trick, another person seeking to use the blond in some way… Mickey and Teddy would make this Aya understand that they did not appreciate in the slightest anyone hurting their family.

*******

Keeping to the shadows, Crawford watched as an old man with a sparse head of white hair handed a wineskin to a man little older than a child, at least to the precog’s eyes. Ah, so that was what Yoru was up to. He had wondered how the wizard and Lord Hajime were going to circumvent the palace wards. Due to the kage’s presence, his visions weren’t as detailed as they normally were, and he had been left in doubt in regards to a few points.

Things were beginning to come together for the dark-haired man. Crawford could now understand how things were connected to each other forming an intricate web of destiny. The culmination of this particular design would be the king’s wedding. It promised to be a night of blood and magic, and he would have his role to play. Shivering, Crawford found himself thinking of how it would be but a precursor to what was to come in the years ahead.

So much depended on his actions here and now. He had gathered his son and the elemental-bound to him, and the kage was sworn to him. Crawford could count on the succubae-bound as well, as a faint vision teased at him, informing him that Kudoh’s fate would be irrevocably tied to ‘Aya’s’ after this night. It annoyed the precog that he couldn’t see just how that would happen, and why tonight and not last night, but knew he had to wait for things to happen in their proper time.

Tonight would bring the wizard to them as well, which would drive his partner into fits. Poor Jei, to have to rely on one of that ilk; two, actually. But it couldn’t be avoided, and the man was already tied to them, thanks to Kaede. Crawford told himself not to forget to get the token from Berserker this evening; he wasn’t sure when he would need to show it to Botan, but it would be soon.

Nagi was off with ‘Omi’, another thread woven into the tapestry that would hold back the encroaching darkness. So many elements to consider, that it made Crawford’s head ache to think of all that he had to do before he could face his masters and circumvent their grand plans. Hints of the future promised him little respite after that task was done. But he was up to the challenge and would see his world greatly changed by his efforts. A smile on his face, the precog resumed trailing the old wizard.

*******

Ran felt someone cross the shadows he had placed around the edges of the garden and slowed down his workout, flowing through the katas that would bring it to an end. When they were finished, he sheathed the metal sword and turned around to see who had disturbed his practice.

Cassandra stood there watching him, an empty wicker basket on her arm, garbed in a simple peach colored dress that made her skin glow. Ran realised that she wasn’t wearing her old lady glamour and raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"Well, I didn’t see the need to look all ‘old and wrinkly’, as Yohji would put it, when the effort is wasted on you. May I speak to you, kage?"

The woman knew what he was. Ran took a step towards her as he dropped the metal sword and called a shadow katana into his hand. "How did you know?" Had someone betrayed him? He would get his answers before killing the woman.

The female bound stood her ground, though her slight form trembled. "I don’t see how anyone could not know what you are, if they but have the eyes to see. Though it helps to be a precog and to have had visions about you. I mean you no harm, Aya, and would merely like to talk. I swear to you, I mean you no harm." The last rushed from Cassandra’s lips as the blade pressed against her throat. "You know what my son and I are, and I wouldn’t betray another bound."

Remembering that Yohji held this woman in high esteem, not to mention affection, Ran lowered the blade as he sank down to the ground. Cassandra sighed in relief, a hand held at her throat as she joined him on the ground.

"I am sorry. I have been told I am impetuous, but believe it not did I until this day."

"What do you want to talk about? And how can you have ‘seen’ me?" The only good thing about Ran’s nature was that magic did not affect him, at least not if he didn’t want it to. He had kept that second part a carefully guarded secret, for if the Takatoris ever found that out… Aya-chan would be held against him until he gave in to spells that would bind him to his master more so than he already was.

"You mean because of what you are? It was not easy, and I did not see much, but I am powerful enough to know that a kage would come to the capital, in the company of two men that I know. Oh yes, I am very closely acquainted with Crawford and Jei, though I haven’t seen them in over twenty years. That is yet another thing you can hold against me, if I seek to betray you. Which I don’t."

"I assumed that you knew Jei, as you knew his name when Yohji brought me to your shop." Ran almost smiled when it was Cassandra’s turn to be surprised. "What do you want?"

The woman hissed slightly as she played with a ribbon on her bodice. "I came to talk as I said. Do you not know any pleasantries? There is more to a conversation other than ‘what do you want?’." Cassandra snorted as she plucked at a few strands of grass. "I thought you might have a few questions and came to supply a few answers. I imagined that you might be a bit curious as to why your lover knows so many bounds."

Refusing to blush at the word ‘lover’, Ran rested his chin on his hand and regarded the soul gaki-bound solemnly. "He’s a bound himself, though he hasn’t said anything about that to me."

"No, he wouldn’t. Poor Yotan, he believes that he is a mortal human and does not know he is a succubae-bound. It’s a good thing he isn’t a flesh-gaki."

Snorting himself, the kage let his curiosity drag him into the conversation. He had wondered what type of bound Yohji was, though now it made perfect sense. No wonder the sex had been so intense. Guess one couldn’t do much better in choosing a lover than to find a succubae-bound. It also explained why he was so tired. "How can he not know?"

Clever hands began weaving the grass together and reached out to pluck a few daisies as well. "Because of what he is. Succubae-bounds are the most normal seeming of our kind; they do not shun the light, nor crave blood or large amounts of food. They seek out human contact to sustain them, especially contact… of an intimate nature." Cassandra blushed for a moment and refused to look up from the crown she was making. Ran was grateful, as his own cheeks felt a bit warm. He wondered how he had tasted to the blond. "Yohji’s occupation ideally suits him, since his lovers never remain with him long enough to notice that they constantly feel drained while in the man’s presence."

"Which occupation do you mean? Innkeeper, or killer?" His voice harsh, Ran felt his doubt and anger from earlier rage inside him once more. Trust him to pick a Guard as a lover; he truly was cursed.

Cassandra stopped in her task to stare at him in wonder. "Killer? Do you mean his time in the Guards?"

"Yes." The word was hissed out, and Ran instinctively called a pair of shadow blades to his hands as he often did when stressed. "He was a Guard. They hunt down and execute bounds-"

"You think Yotan did such a thing? Truly? Do you imagine that my son and I would have anything to do with a man who would kill our kind?" Cassandra’s voice rose in anger, and she seemed to become aware of that as she fell silent and glared at Ran. "Think so little of your lover do you?"

"He’s a-"

"_Was_ a Guard. He was a Guard, as each generation of Kudohs have been, since before the Binding War. While I cannot vouch for his earlier ancestors, ever since the Koneko came into being, the Kudohs have used the royal favor bestowed on them to serve the reigning monarch and their family. Yohji’s service was in the palace, keeping King Shuuichi and his son safe. And the Guards have not hunted down any kage since the time of the king’s grandmother. Yohji has never harmed a bound and never would. He does not believe in killing a person because they are not mortal, cursed from birth to be something different."

He shouldn’t be so happy to have his fears about Yohji laid to rest, yet Ran willed the blades away, only to rub at his scarred wrists. "Bounds are not always killed; only the lucky ones are."

The other bound knew what he was referring to. "That was why the Guards were given the task to hunt down bounds, didn’t you know? Once the wizards figured out what our blood could do for them, they conspired with the Takatoris and came up with the lies that have slandered our people. That we are monsters, unable to control our dangerous appetites. The Guards have indeed hunted down bounds and killed a few in public executions. But the majority of our kind have been hidden away, drained of their blood to fuel the spells of countless generations of wizards. We are priceless commodities." Cassandra’s voice was bitter and harsh, her eyes filled with grief.

"Never think for a moment that Yohji was a part of that. He is a good man."

One that wanted to take care of him. A part of Ran longed to take the blond up on that offer, but the rest of him knew how foolish that would be. Ran would not repay Yohji’s concern and affection with certain death. He was relieved though, to find out that his lover did not betray his kind, that Yohji could be trusted. "Why was he never told what he was?"

Finished with the crown, Cassandra started to weave another one. "His mother was in the Guards until she became crippled. Such a lovely woman she was, with Yotan’s eyes and always a smile on her face. One day, a succubae-bound came to the Koneko seeking refuge. There was a wizard on his trail desperate for his blood. Miyuki, Yohji’s mother, gave him sanctuary. During his stay, the two of them fell in love. Deeply and truly. It is very rare that a succubae-bound will do that and only when they have found their true mates. I said they seemed the most normal of our kind, but they are by no means human.

"Anyway, one day Miyuki found herself pregnant. It came as a shock to them both, as bounds aren’t the most fertile creatures, and the woman had believed herself barren. Maybe it had something to do with her lover’s nature after all. But she was ecstatic to find herself with child. That was the happiest news of her life.

"But her lover could not stay with her any longer, not unless he wanted to endanger her life and that of their child. His presence would be a drain on both of their strengths; only his love for Miyuki had enabled the woman to remain his lover for so long. That emotion was strong enough to sate his hunger. But he still had to feed, and if he remained near his mate, it would be from her. And too there was the danger from the man hunting him down, and all other wizards. So he told Miyuki that he had to leave. It broke her heart, but she understood why. He left a gift for the child and promised that he would return one day to find out if the child was a bound or not. If so, he would teach the child of its true nature."

Cassandra paused in her story to grace Ran with a smile. "Enter two months later one very pregnant, very scared precog. My story is a long one, but let me just say that I fled Esset, looking for a safe place to have my child, who I knew would be a bound as well. The Koneko called to me, and I arrived at its doorstep, days short of giving birth.

"Miyuki, several months pregnant herself, took me in. She herself presided at my son’s birth, as I was too afraid to call for a healer, since my power was uncontrollable due to pain and stress. She found out my secret and to calm my fears, confided in me that her lover had been a bound, and that her child might be one as well. After Schuldig’s birth, my powers returned to normal, and I informed her that her son would indeed take after his father. She decided to leave it to her lover to tell the child the truth, and she became a true friend to me, helping me to find a home and a profession. The saddest day of my life was when my sight revealed that her months of loving a succubae-bound had indeed taken it’s toll on her, and she would die young.

"With her death, I was uncertain if I should tell Yohji the truth, but he had found a way to subconsciously manage his hunger when it awakened after puberty, and something held me back. I feel that one day soon he will find out the truth, and am content to let fate work as it will." Finished with the second crown, Cassandra leaned forward and placed the one with purple and gold daisies on Ran’s head.

Remembering the times when his sister had done the same thing, Ran felt his chest fill with pain as he touched the adornment. "You said loving a succubae-bound killed Yohji’s mother?" Would he share the woman’s fate? A part of him desperately wanted that to be true, but where would that leave Aya-chan?

"She was mortal, you are not. As a kage, you are ideally suited to be Yotan’s lover. You are immortal, and the energy he drains from you will always be replenished. Have no fears there."

Ran started when a hand touched his cheek. "But that did not frighten you, did it? What have they done to you, child, that you long for death? I am afraid for you to answer that question. I was a slave to Esset’s secret masters ever since my power developed, and I was treated as a cherished pet. But I know that is not often the fate of our kind. You are safe here; calm your fears and try to live for once."

He didn’t want to mention what the Takatoris had done to him, not while sitting in a beautiful garden, having one of the most open conversations of his life. Ran had more than enough nightmares to last him an eternity, let them plague him as they usually did, in his sleep. Like his dream of this morning, of seeing Aya-chan falling through the sky once more. "I don’t want to think about that. You see the future, Cassandra; you should know what lies ahead of me. I fear it will be nothing compared to my past."

The hand continued to stroke his cheek, much as his mother used to soothe him when he was a child. Ran tilted his face into the touch, grateful that the woman was a bound and he could relax around her, as he could never do around a human. Not after suffering abuse from their hands the past twelve years.

"You cloud my vision, kage. I see glimpses only where you are concerned. But it isn’t all darkness. There is hope and happiness, if you will but trust your heart. I wish for you to find it, you and my Yotan."

Disbelieving of those words, Ran stared back at the precog wondering if she was lying to him. Trying to gather his scattered wits, he was surprised once more when she cloaked herself in glamour, moments before Yohji joined them. He had been greatly distracted, if the man could breach his wards with no warning.

"Ah, there you are. What brings you for a visit, Cass?" The blond sat down next to Ran, taking a moment to straighten Ran’s crown of daisies before wrapping him in his arms.

"I came for more herbs and plants, Yohji. Are you getting so old that you can’t see my basket? Feh, you deserve no gifts, but I will grace you with one anyway." Cassandra placed the other crown, the one with pink and blue daisies, on the man’s head. She muttered a few words in a foreign tongue, looking pleased all the while. "There you are, a matching set. What a fine couple you make. I like this lover of yours, Yotan, be sure not to lose him."

Yohji crushed Ran against his chest as he kissed the redhead on the lips. "Don’t worry about that, Cass. I won’t. Now do you need any help with your scavenging, or can I take Aya back inside and ravish him silly?"

Ran hissed and cursed at his lover while Cassandra laughed and waved them away. "Go and enjoy yourselves; you are only this young once. Aya, I hope to be able to talk to you again. I plan to have your and Naoe’s new garments done very soon and will see you then." With that, the woman rose to her feet and started to pluck various plants.

Another kiss was pressed against his lips, and Ran found himself being tugged to his feet. Yohji smiled down at him and kissed him again, this time for several minutes, until Ran felt weak in the knees. Reminding himself that it was the older man’s nature making him feel like this, he still found himself responding to the tingle that hummed in his blood and bones. He had let Yohji’s succubae nature deep inside him and would have to ask Cassandra what that meant during their next conversation.

"Gods, love, you taste so sweet." Yohji feathered kisses all along his jaw, pausing to blow in his ear before holding Ran close once more. "What were you doing out here?"

"Practicing." Pulling away from the blond, Ran reached down to pick up his abandoned katana.

"You really know how to use that thing?"

"Yes."

"Huhn." Yohji eyed the sheathed sword and shrugged his shoulders. "I never was any good with the weapon, much preferring my own." A golden hand touched the bracelet on his left wrist. "All of us Guards had to go through training, though. Got stuck with some woman instructor who thought that screaming at her students would help them learn better. Needless to say, we didn’t get along. Ah well, I survived it anyway. You like practicing?"

"Yes." It was his only escape, outside of reading. Ran could lose himself in the motion of the katas, drained of thought and emotion.

Yohji shook his head and wrapped an arm around Aya’s waist. "To each their own. Though maybe I would like the weapon better if I’d had a good instructor. The old-timers told me about one the Guards used to have, before he disappeared one day. His name was Shin, or something like that. Was supposed to be the best in the country, at the very least."

Caught by the tricks fate played on people, Ran remained quiet, not trusting his voice. Surely Yohji couldn’t be talking about his sword master, Shion? He only knew that the man had been trapped in the Takatoris’ service, just as he was, until the bound had vanished two years ago. He knew that his master thought the man was dead, but Ran had his doubts. Shion was too good to die during a simple mission like that.

"You hear a word I said, Aya?"

He blinked up at Yohji, wondering what the man had been talking about.

"Guess not. Ah, I think you owe me recompense for being so rude." Yohji pinned him against a maple tree and kissed him breathless once more, and then kissed him again. The man smiled at him as he brushed back Ran’s overgrown bangs. "I said, would you mind staying by me tonight? I can’t vanish like I have the past two nights, not with the fight from last evening. I need to help Mickey out in case there’s any more trouble, and I’d appreciate your company."

Ran nodded his head. He was to remain by Yohji’s side for as long as the man wanted him there. Though it amazed him that the blond was planning on spending yet another night with him. Shouldn’t Yohji be growing bored with him soon, or did he taste that good to the man?

"Good. As much as I wish we could sneak away again, we’ll have to wait til things calm down." Yohji leaned in close, his hand stroking along Ran’s neck. "But… we can sleep in tomorrow, and spend the whole day in bed. I told the staff that if they bother me any more, I’ll sic Naoe on them." Snarling a bit at the threat, the redhead tried to hide his confusion and worry. Another day now? When was the playboy planning to move on to someone new? Not that Ran minded the attention quite so much, considering the pleasure that filled him at Yohji’s touch.

When the older man tugged him into the kitchen, where they were greeted by loud cries of welcome and begged to sample various treats, Ran glanced at Yohji. The blond kept a firm hold on his hand at all times and always made sure that he was standing between him and anyone else. The man’s protective nature reminded Ran of Nagi. Was it normal for a person to be so concerned about someone they were just having sex with? Feeling a pair of watchful eyes on him, the kage pressed closer to Yohji, not liking the fact that he was attracting attention and couldn’t do anything about it. It was hard to control the impulse to call the shadows around him. His observer turned out to be Jo, who stared at him the entire time they were in the kitchen. Ran was so grateful to escape her notice when his lover dragged him off to get ready for dinner, he forgot about his previous train of thought.

*******

Crawford brushed the sleeve of his white tunic and looked over at his partner. "Ready for dinner, Jei?"

"When have you ever known me to turn down a meal?" the gaki-bound inquired, an eyebrow raised at the question.

"Never. Yet nothing seems to keep you full for long, you bottomless pit."

Jei flashed his fangs at him. "Well, I haven’t had a chance to eat a precog yet, maybe that would do the trick."

"You know where Cass lives, go and have some fun. But you better be meaning it in a literal sense and not sexual, or I’ll be very disappointed."

"Ah, the mighty Oracle upset at someone moving in on his territory? Come on, admit that you are crazy about the woman."

He glared at his friend, making it quite clear that the statement was purely ridiculous. Crawford then decided it was time to ask for the token and get a little teasing of his own back. "Jei, where’s the necklace that Kaede gave you? I feel that we will be meeting her father soon, and I want to have it in my possession. And no, you can’t eat the man." The other bound loved nothing better than wizard flesh.

Grumbling a bit, Jei fished inside of his shirt and pulled out a long silver chain. Dangling from the strand was an odd looking charm, in the form of a paper flyer. It had been crafted with care and glowed with a soft magic. In the right hands it would hover in the air, as it was doing right this moment. Kaede really didn’t have much sense to have chosen Jei as her mate. Foolish girl.

As soon as he touched the chain, the flyer stopped hovering in the air. Crawford smiled sweetly at his partner as he tucked the charm into a pocket. "Ah, I see I am not so blessed. So, when is the wedding?"

"She’s a fucking child, Oracle, as well you know. Drop it."

Crawford continued to smirk at the other bound. He loved being able to ruffle Jei’s feathers, and referring to the elemental-bound’s affection for the scarred man never failed to do so. "Ah, I think it fair to warn you that I’ve had a vision of you and a lovely Guard here in this room. Better be careful that Kaede doesn’t find out about it, or she’ll burn you to a crisp. You know how short tempered fire elementals can be."

Jei snarled as he yanked a comb through his cropped hair and stormed out of the room. Feeling smug, Crawford followed him. It was a good thing the man was getting some sex tonight, as it would distract him from the wizard’s presence. As he stepped through the door, a glimpse of a vision rushed into his head, leaving him dazed. That… hadn’t made much sense, which meant that it dealt with the kage. Whatever was going to happen, it would be tonight, and it would be very powerful, twisting fate about like a kite on a string. There wouldn’t be any more amusement for him this night, as Crawford had to focus his attention on monitoring the situation, to make sure that the future followed the path he had chosen for it.

*******

"Over there."

Omi glanced in the direction that Naoe had pointed in, and sure enough, the boy’s companions, along with Yohji, were seated at a corner table. The brunet certainly had good eyes, as the men were obscured by shadows. Holding onto Naoe’s hand, Omi headed over to them.

"Evening Naoe, Omi. Did you two have fun?" The question came from Crawford, though the prince noticed that Aya was gazing intently at his friend. Resolved to make the redhead like him, Omi nodded his head and flashed the man a smile.

"Yes. I showed Naoe around the east end of town, and we spent a good part of the time exploring some of the temples there."

The scarred man, Farfie, chuckled at the bit of news. "I imagine that the two of you also made quite a few vendors happy as well. There are always a dozen or so hawking treats for the hungry devout." The man made some room on the bench for the teens, and Omi found himself relieved when Naoe decided to sit next to the stranger. For some reason, Farfie made him nervous. Maybe it was the odd gleam in the golden eye, or how the man never showed his teeth when he smiled.

Turning to regard Aya once more, Omi noticed that Yohji was the only one sitting close to the pale man and had an arm wrapped firmly about his new boyfriend’s waist. Wow, that made it three days in a row that the playboy had stayed with the same lover, an unprecedented event this past year. He began to hope that Yohji truly cared for Aya, which meant that Naoe might be sticking around for a while, or at the very least wouldn’t be mad at him when the blond broke his master’s heart.

The redhead seemed to notice his attention and tensed while nodding his head politely. Now that was a mixed reaction. Ah well, the man had acknowledged him at least, which was better than last night when Aya hadn’t even looked his way. Omi snuck a glance at Naoe, who was glaring at Yohji. "So, is everyone hungry?"

He got four disbelieving looks for his question, and a couple snorts of amusement. Omi understood things better when Ani and Ishiba approached the table, both servers laden down with food. "Oh, I take it that’s a yes."

Naoe flashed him the hint of a smile before the boy started to reach for the food. The prince blinked when he swore he heard Farfie growl slightly at the boy, but considering how Naoe merely continued to heap food on his plate as if nothing had happened, maybe he had imagined it. For their part, the older men kept serving themselves food, so it had to be just him. Omi then gulped when he realized that if he wanted to eat, he had better get some dinner while it was available. "Hey, save some for me."

"Sorry, chibi, you snooze, you lose. You want some more of the fish, Aya?" Yohji reached for the plate that held the sawara, having noticed that Aya had finished off all of the fish that had been on his plate.

Omi quickly snatched up the fish and held it out to the silent man, foregoing to take a few slices for himself. And Farfie had definitely growled that time, at him no less, as he had beaten the one eyed man to the plate. Aya accepted the dish and nodded his head in thanks. Feeling pleased with himself, the teenager turned his attention to his own dinner.

"Naoe, pass me the mutton."

"Learn some manners first and then I will."

"Damn little-, ah, never mind. Please pass me the mutton." Omi glanced up to see Yohji staring at his lover out of the corner of his eye then glare at Naoe when the boy handed him the meat. It seemed that his two friends still didn’t get along. The meal passed by quickly, interspersed with requests for food and the occasional snarl or two. Brad would every now and then ask a question or make a comment, mainly to be answered by Farfie, whose responses made Omi smile. The two older men sounded like a married couple.

It was weird, but he felt as if he fit in with the group, somehow. The day with Naoe had been perfect, one of the best he’d ever had, and Omi felt that the boy was beginning to trust him. Naoe had been less guarded with his smiles today, though there had been a time or two then the brunet had withdrawn inward, a cold look on his face. Omi couldn’t make sense of what caused the reaction and hoped to prevent it in the future.

When the food was all gone, plates of cheese, pastries and fruit were ordered, along with several bottles of wine. Omi didn’t object when a goblet was pressed into his hand, even though he didn’t normally drink. The talk turned towards the day’s events, and he felt comfortable sitting here at this table. Yohji would glance his way and wink at him occasionally, and Farfie told a few dirty jokes that would never have been uttered in the palace, most likely. Brad continued to make his observations, dry comments that never failed to carry a barb or two, and Naoe was a warm presence by his side. Aya had spoken a time or two, mainly to Naoe or Yohji, but Omi smiled when the redhead answered a question of his concerning one of the more obscure temples they had investigated.

Keeping an eye on the door, Omi noticed that more and more off duty Guards were trickling into the Koneko. When Ken’s partner Liss entered, along with some friends, the woman flashed him a smile and a wink, attracting Farfie’s attention as she did so. The scarred man snagged a bottle of wine off the table and headed in the woman’s direction, and when the prince glanced their way some time later, he found him sharing a glass with Liss.

That was good; if Farfie managed to suitably distract the Guard, maybe he wouldn’t be hauled away early tonight. Ken had been livid when he had found out about the fight at the inn the previous evening, even though it had occurred after Omi had left. He’d manage to escape from the palace before the mother hen managed to wring a promise out of him to stay away from the Koneko. If it weren’t for the fact that Ken avoided the place since Yohji had retired, Omi wouldn’t be surprised to see the man coming across the threshold.

More wine was called for, and Omi felt himself start to get tipsy. It wasn’t surprising that Yohji could put the liquor away, but even Naoe was managing to hold his own. Frowning slightly, the prince reached for one of the snack plates to get something in his stomach to soak up the alcohol. His hand brushed against Naoe’s who had been grabbing a slice of apple, and somehow their fingers became entwined. Looking over at the boy, Omi was surprised to see him blush slightly and smiled in response. The food forgotten, their hands remained as they were. When he glanced about the table, Omi found Yohji and Crawford grinning at him, though Aya’s face was an impassive mask.

Wondering why the pale man didn’t seem to care for him, Omi leaned against Naoe, feeling the need to rest against something solid. He didn’t look up again until a hush fell over the room and he immediately investigated the cause. Omi then groaned as he watched Birman and Botan walk towards him and tried to sink down under the table.

*******

Botan walked into the Koneko with Birman at his side and instantly searched for Yohji and Omi. It was no surprise that the two young blonds were at the same table, along with three other men. Gesturing in the right direction, he led the spymaster back to the corner.

"Evening, all. I hope it finds you well."

Yohji turned his attention from the pale man seated at his side and smiled at the wizard. "Botan!" The smile faded a bit when he saw who was with him. "Birman. What brings you two here?" No doubt the former Guard thought Birman was going to harass him about his retirement once more.

Sitting down across from Yohji’s companion, who was half obscured by shadows, Botan glanced at the other two strangers at the table. One was a man who looked to be in his late twenties, dressed in white and wearing glasses and a cool expression. Beside Omi was a youth a little younger than the prince, his face carefully blank. The boy was cute, and had a sense of frailty about him that he had no doubt attracted the other teenager. For a moment he reminded Botan of his missing daughter, and the wizard winced in pain.

"I was wondering the other day how some of the spells around the Koneko were doing, and came down here to find out."

"And to spend the night drinking on the house, I imagine." Yohji laughed for a minute as he pushed a plate of food towards Botan. "You are lucky that several need reinforcing, or I’d show your mooching ass the door. Wanna handle them now or later?"

Deciding that he was tired from a day of renewing the palace wards, the older man shook his head. "I’ll come back tomorrow or the day after, if you don’t mind. It’s been a long day."

"Ah, I can imagine." Yohji waved at one of the servers running about the room, holding up two fingers. "Oops, I’m being a lousy host. Botan, Birman, these are my guests Brad," the man with the glasses, "Naoe," the boy, "and Aya." The blond wrapped his arm around the shadowed figure and hugged him close. Botan nearly dropped the piece of cheese he was nibbling on when he saw the man. White skin, blood red hair and pale purple eyes in a face that was simply gorgeous. Where did Yohji find his lovers? This Aya wouldn’t look out of place in court. Though something about the odd colouring should be familiar…

"As for these two, the old fellow is Botan, and Birman, I must say you are looking as beautiful as ever. Why you put up with the old grouch is beyond me, but you are a true friend. Ask me to reconsider my decision once more, and I’m tossing you out onto the street before he can chant a spell."

Birman glared at the blond, probably upset to have her agenda derailed before even having a chance to take a stab at it. Yohji waggled his brows at the spymaster.

"Kudoh, you were too good a Guard to waste your life sitting in an inn, but I won’t pursue the issue tonight. Now where is the wine?"

"It’s coming." Yohji didn’t pay Birman much attention after that, seeming occupied with his latest lover who had pulled away from the blond during the conversation. Botan caught a few hushed whispers, which mainly sounded as if Yohji was asking Aya if something was wrong, but was shortly distracted by his friend talking to the other man at the table.

"Brad, is that it?"

"Yes it is."

"May I ask what brings you to the city?"

The dark-haired man rested his arms on the table and graced Birman with a bland smile. "Business, mainly. I’m here to make an acquisition or two and hope to see a royal wedding while in town." A young man arrived with more glasses and wine and left with an order for more food. Birman continued to ask Brad questions, which the stranger managed to answer in such a manner as to appear polite but to relay the least amount of information possible. The spymaster seemed to have found a suitable challenge for the evening.

Yohji appeared to have appeased his lover, as the blond made small talk with the wizard as they shared a bottle of wine. Omi seemed to be trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, speaking in a hushed voice with his new friend, who had taken to glaring at Yohji for some reason. Especially, when the former Guard tried to drag Aya onto his lap. The pale man hissed out a refusal, and Yohji let out a yelp and bent forward to massage one of his legs under the table. Botan exchanged a puzzled glance with Omi, who merely shook his head and continued to sip his wine. From the looks of it, the heir to the throne was the slightest bit tipsy.

An hour passed that way; Birman and Brad carrying on their verbal sparring, Omi getting drunker while Naoe continued to glare at Yohji, who couldn’t keep his hands to himself while he and Botan discussed a few mutual friends and the king’s latest foreign policies. It was turning out to be a rather pleasant evening, a nice way to wind down from the tension of the past few days. Only two things bothered Botan: the first was the nagging voice in his head that kept commenting that Aya seemed familiar somehow, and second, the evil stare he was receiving from a one eyed man who spent his time flirting with a Guard and scowling in his direction.

Working his way through another bottle of wine, the wizard spilled some on the table when Birman elbowed him in the ribs. Glaring at the woman, Botan then glanced in the direction she had nodded her head in. Entering the Koneko’s common room was Yuushi Honjyou, candidate for Captain of the Guard. Several Guards cheered his arrival and invited the blond man to sit with them.

"Well, I don’t know if I should be honored that Yuushi has deigned to enter a lowly place like the Koneko, happy that he’ll keep his followers in order, or worried that one of Kikyou’s supporters will start something," Yohji mumbled as he twisted a long strand of crimson hair around the fingers of his left hand.

"I believe that the second would be proper; my understanding is that Yuushi was quite upset to hear about another fight in his name. He tracked down the ones involved last night and smacked some sense into their heads," Birman told him.

Omi spoke for the first time that night. "Why would Yuushi not like the Koneko, Yohji?"

"Because, chibi, it’s not the most honorable place around. You know how he is; all work and honor, and getting drunk and fooling around for the hell of it is a no-no in his book." Yohji grimaced to show what he thought about that. "Don’t get me wrong, he’s one of the best Guards out there, and a damn fine fighter, but he needs to take life a bit more easily."

Birman wasn’t one to miss out on an opportunity, never mind the earlier threat. "Yes, he is very good, but you were better. There wouldn’t be people fighting over who’ll be picked as the next Captain, if you would rejoin the Guards."

His face angry, Yohji turned to say something to the woman before becoming distracted. "Ah hell, this really is the night for trouble."

Puzzled by this comment, Botan caught a glimpse of dark green and fiery red and recognized Kudoh’s friend Schuldig. Who, if rumor had it right, had no business being friends with a Guard, even a former one, as he spent most of his life avoiding being caught by them.

"Well, this looks like a cute little party you have here, Yotan. Can anyone join?"

"Yeah, as if you would go away if I told you to, Schu. Grab a seat. I think you know everyone here but Brad and Naoe."

The longhaired man sat next to Botan, and after offering the wizard a smile, directed his attention at the other redhead sitting at the table. "And how are you, Aya? Getting bored with Yohji yet?"

There was a low rumble that turned out to be Yohji growling. Everyone but Brad and Schuldig looked at the innkeeper in surprise. The man jerked Aya closer to his side, and a second growl was heard, this time from the redhead.

Schuldig laughed out loud. "I’m only kidding, Yohji. Stop being so sensitive. Pass me the wine, and I’ll leave your boyfriend alone. Did anyone hear that the ambassador from Cretia arrived in the past hour?" The thief went on to describe the middle-aged man and his entourage, earning laughs from Botan, Omi and even Birman on occasion.

While telling of how the ambassador couldn’t pronounce the name of the street his quarters resided on, Schuldig paused for a moment. It was then that Botan noticed that there was a lull of quiet in the room that could not be accidental. Before he could turn around, a cultured voice rang out.

"Birman, Botan, I didn’t imagine I’d run into you two here. Would you mind terribly if I joined you?"

*******

Yohji gritted his teeth as Kikyou stood there waiting for an answer. It was his damn inn, yet the prick was asking the people with the highest ranking in court present if he could sit down. Same old Kikyou. He couldn’t stand the man, and he bet the Guard knew it. The two of them had never gotten along.

"I guess there is still some space. What brings you here, Kikyou?"

The only good thing about the longhaired man sitting at the end of the table was that Aya shifted closer to Yohji to make space for the man. It was the first time his lover had touched him in the past couple of hours. Wrapping an arm around Aya’s waist, Yohji waited to hear the high-born’s explanation for slumming it at the Koneko this evening. It wasn’t a coincidence that he was down here the same night as Yuushi that’s for sure.

"I heard about last night’s incident and wanted to make sure it wasn’t repeated." Kikyou finally graced Yohji with a look. "I am sorry, Kudoh, for what happened." Blue eyes stared at him for a moment, waiting for his apology to be graciously accepted, then shifted to look at Aya. The blond growled when he saw the blue orbs widen in interest. "Who do we have here? I don’t believe that we’ve met. I am Kikyou."

It came as a bit of a shock when Aya mumbled out his name, the first time he had spoken to anyone other than Yohji almost all night, and hell, he’d been practically ignored this past hour or so. Something burned inside of the blond, something dark and jealous, urging him to pick his lover up and haul him upstairs and fuck him silly.

"Do you live here, or are you just visiting?" Kikyou leaned in closer to the pale man, and only seeing Aya move away from him kept Yohji from decking the Guard.

"No."

Kikyou smiled, a look that normally had people falling on their knees before the handsome noble. That was one of the things that Yohji hated about the man; people seemed to lose their common sense around him, and Kikyou would often take advantage of that. It was how he’d risen so high in the Guards in such a short time, and despite the disadvantage of having noble blood. The Guards was one of the few organizations connected to the court that favored commoners.

"Well, which is it?" The man leaned forward even more, and this time Aya didn’t move away. Glancing down at his lover, Yohji found a confused expression on the pale face. Why the hell wasn’t his cat snarling at Kikyou or something? Even Naoe picked up on the fact that something was wrong and stared evilly at the new arrival when Aya shivered.

<Yotan, you are growling. Stop it.>

Hauling Aya onto his lap, Yohji glared at Kikyou and realized that his friend was right. What was up with him tonight? He wasn’t drunk; in fact he felt as far from inebriated as possible. No, rage and jealousy filled him at the moment, and Yohji’s fingers itched to grasp some of his bracelet’s strands and wrap them around the slim neck left exposed above the collar of a blue silk robe.

<Killing him might be a little too much. You really hate this fellow, don’t you?>

<You don’t know the half of it.> All that kept him from homicide was the fact that this time Aya wasn’t fighting the embrace, but had allowed himself to be settled on Yohji’s lap. <Kikyou’s always been an asshole, at least as far as I’m concerned. He’s hated the fact that the Kudoh family name means a hell of a lot more than his as far as the Guards are concerned. And now he’s bothering Aya.>

Kikyou was still trying to get an answer out of his lover, who would only stare back at the highborn and shiver. Yohji found himself growling once more and knew that he was attracting attention. Everyone else at the table stopped talking and stared at him. <Schu, what the hell is going on here?>

<Well, you are acting like some sort of wild beast, and Kikyou is picturing what Aya would look like sprawled out on black silk sheets. You know, you really should stop snarling, that can’t be good for your throat.>

<What the hell does Aya think?>

There wasn’t a response from the bound, so Yohji repeated the question.

<Well… he’s kinda hard to read. You know, still waters run deep and all that shit. Besides, it’s hard to concentrate with you thinking of how many pieces you can chop this fancy boy into, and him trying to figure out if Aya is a natural redhead, and just how flexible he is. Though Kikyou doesn’t think much of the man’s taste, if he lets you paw him.>

About to set Aya aside and use his weapon to dice Kikyou into tiny little cubes, Yohji was stopped by Omi’s voice, conditioned over the years to obey his charge’s needs.

"Oh, I don’t feel so good. Yotan, can I go lie down in one of your rooms?"

Green eyes tore away from blue to glance at the prince. Taking deep breaths, Yohji tried to calm down the rage inside of him. He just knew that Kikyou had been taunting him back there. "Sorry, they’re all booked at the moment. But _Aya’s_ bed isn’t being used, why don’t you go up there? Naoe can take you up." The chibi looked like shit; how the hell had the boy drunk that much wine? Yohji usually kept a better eye on the boy who used to be his responsibility, but he’d been distracted too much by Aya’s upset mood tonight to monitor Omi’s drinking. "Go on, before you’re sick."

Watching the two teens leave, the blond felt that the tension at the table had relaxed somewhat. He pressed a kiss along the side of Aya’s neck and reached for his glass of wine. "I think someone is going to be a bit hungover tomorrow."

"The boy needed to learn to watch his own liquor sometime; this should teach him good," Schuldig commented with amusement, only to have the sentiment echoed by Birman.

"Better he does it here than at home. I need to get going, and I’m sure Botan does as well," she nudged the wizard in the ribs, making him grunt sleepily. "But I’ll be back, Kudoh, you better believe it. And I’ll ask one of the Guards to make sure that Omi gets home safely."

He waved at his two old friends as they rose to their feet. "Don’t forget, you old grouch, that you owe the Koneko for several bottles of wine. Those spells will be waiting for you." A withdrawn Aya and Kikyou aside, it had been a nice evening. He hoped that the two of them stopped by more often for some other reason than free drinks and pestering him about rejoining the Guards. As much as Yohji had hated retiring, he still felt it had been the right choice to make. Besides, he would have his hands full with his lover for the foreseeable future, making sure the man stayed with him and was safe.

Yohji’s feeling of contentment did not last long, as the burning feeling returned when Botan gazed at Aya for several seconds before shaking his head and following Birman to the door. Dammit, he was going to make sure that Aya wore one of his jerkins with a hood the next time they ate. He couldn’t take anyone else staring at his lover, wouldn’t let the bastards try to take the man away from him. Pulling Aya close, the blond wondered just how much longer he had to stay down here before retiring to his bedroom. Things looked as if they were perfectly in hand.

About to ask Schuldig if he sensed any trouble brewing, Yohji stopped when he felt Aya move in his arms for the first time in minutes. He looked down to see the man gaze about the table, confusion plain on his face. Smiling at that look, he bent his head to nuzzle his lover, at least until Kikyou moved. The man reached out a hand and _touched_ _his_ _Aya_. The burning rage and jealousy once more consumed Yohji, until all he could see was red.

*******

Ran watched from the shadows as yet another stranger asked to sit at the table that evening. This one was a handsome young man, several years older than himself, dressed in a fine blue silk robe decorated with red camellias. The man had blue eyes and long black hair, and something about him snared Ran’s attention, distracting him from the fact that a wizard, a Takatori, and the king’s spymaster were sitting at the table already, and that half of the patrons in the Koneko tonight seemed to be Guards. He was on edge over those facts, and still trying to get used to the idea that Yohji had once been a Guard himself. All he wanted to do was retreat back to his room, but was kept by Yohji’s side since each time he shifted away the man would haul him back. Not to mention the looks Crawford would direct his way. It was a very unpleasant evening.

The stranger chose to sit at the end of the table adjacent to Ran, causing the kage to shy away from him as he came close. Yohji wrapped an arm around his waist, not protesting his proximity at all. Ran first believed that the tingling he was feeling was due to touching the succubae-bound, but soon found out differently.

"Who do we have here? I don’t believe that we’ve met. I am Kikyou."

He stared at the man, wondering why he was being addressed, and found that he couldn’t look away from the blue eyes. The tingling sensation only became stronger. Surprised by the situation, he answered the stranger in a quiet voice. "Aya."

"Do you live here, or are you just visiting?"

It was like when Yohji touched him, but was somehow different. This tingle was subtler, but just as invasive. It puzzled Ran why he was feeling this hint of magic, why it was affecting him so. Humans held no interest for him, so why couldn’t he stop staring at the man? Perplexed by his reaction, the kage didn’t stop to think about his answer. "No."

"Well, which is it?"

Stunned that he had spoken out loud, Ran started to shiver. He felt something press against his mind, but being occupied by trying to figure out what was going on, he ignored the soul gaki-bound’s probing. He distantly realized that Yohji was growling, and shifted closer to his lover, seeking comfort from his confusion.

The blond hauled Ran into his lap, and it was all the kage could do to prevent himself from calling the shadows down on the two of them. He wanted so much to hide from those blue eyes, and soon lost track of what was going on around him. Ran was trying to figure out why the magic was affecting him, and more importantly, how to stop it.

There were several hints of magic surrounding him, emanating from the various bespelled items scattered about the Koneko. There were the other bounds, of course, and Botan’s presence was almost overwhelming, and the man’s magic also echoed from Omi. Wait… that had a different feel to it, that which was coming off of the boy. It felt like Botan’s, mostly, but… it was like a song that was a note or two off, and it added to Ran’s bewilderment. While trying to unravel that mystery, the pale man caught a very faint trace of magic.

It came from Kikyou. The magic had a bound feel to it, but like that which radiated from Omi’s pendant was altered somewhat. There was a hint of wizard’s magic below it, which was how he’d picked up on it in the first place. The feel of the magic was similar to Yohji’s power, but for a taint that carried pain and a coldness that Ran associated with wizards’ spells. Glancing at the longhaired man under his lashes, violet eyes caught sight of an ornate ring with a red stone. That was where the magic came from.

Ran was willing to bet that it was a spell fueled with a succubae-bound’s blood. He shivered a little more in revulsion. If that was the case, by allowing Yohji’s magic to affect him last night and this morning, he had made himself susceptible to Kikyou’s spell. That was why he was attracted to the human. Or at least he had been, before finding out about the spell. Turning his head away from the enchanted ring, the kage was surprised to find that half of the table had left. Wondering where Nagi had gone off to, he was caught by surprise again when Kikyou extended a hand and brushed back his bangs and couldn’t prevent the touch.

"You should get those trimmed, you-"

The Guard was cut off by a violent snarl. Yohji set Ran on his feet and then started to drag him through the dining room, growling at anyone who got in his way. After what had happened last night, no one was foolish enough to try and stop the blond. Allowing himself to be hauled up the stairs, Ran bemusedly wondered if this was going to be repeated each and every night that Yohji was his lover. He was getting a little tired of being dragged about. But the feel of tainted bound magic lingered on his skin, and the kage wanted it burned away as soon as possible. The best way seemed to be to replace it with Yohji’s.

It wasn’t until they entered the room and Yohji first locked the door behind them and then shoved Ran against it that the pale man began to be worried. The kiss was savage in its intensity, shaking him to his core. This wasn’t like last night, not by a long shot. Yohji’s human nature was completely gone, leaving Ran with an uncontrolled succubae-bound. Yet instead of being afraid, the shinigami soul inside of him stirred, drawn to Yohji’s power. A power he had let inside of him last night and again this morning a power he was now learning he no longer had any defenses against. The kage could only stare at his lover when the kiss broke off and wait for whatever came next as he gave in to the magic.

*******

Schuldig watched as his friend actually dragged Aya away from the table, snarling at anyone who got in his way. The Koneko’s patrons warily cleared a path for the enraged blond. Wondering if he should try and stop Yohji before he did something he regretted, like hurt his lover, the telepath jumped when a hand clamped down on his shoulder.

"Come on, I don’t think you want to be here for this."

"What?" He stared at his father, who was tugging him out of his seat. "You know what’s going to happen? Is Yohji going to hurt Aya?" It would be his fault if that happened, considering that he had egged Yohji’s temper on. But he hadn’t been able to resist the jealous impulse.

<Schuldig, we need to get out of here _now_.>

Rising to his feet, the longhaired man decided to humor the precog, and as soon as they stepped out into the hallway, pored through Crawford’s mind, looking for an answer to his question. He had to know if Yohji was going to harm the kage. Cass would kill him if that occurred.

The answer came to him as the two bounds reached the street. <What, you’re acting like this just because Yohji is going to fuck Aya’s brains out? You bastard, you had me worried back there that something bad was going to happen.>

"Schuldig… clearly you did not inherit my intelligence. What we have back at the Koneko is one enraged, passionately jealous succubae-bound who thinks the person he’s chosen as his mate is attracted to someone else. There are only two outcomes to a situation like that: he either kills the rival in a spectacularly bloody fashion, or he makes the object of his affection his beyond any shadow of a doubt. Since Kikyou is still alive, that means the second choice. The inn is about to be flooded with more pheromones than the entire royal army in a whorehouse, and it’s a very bad idea to remain there until Yohji either makes Aya his mate…"

"Or?" He wanted to smack the man for pausing like that.

"Or if he fails to do so, Kudoh is going to hunt Kikyou down and make it look like a pack of gaki attacked the Guard."

"Fuck." Schuldig turned on his heel and headed back to the Koneko, only to be yanked in the opposite direction. Dammit, Pops had the advantage of strength. <Let me go, you prick. I have to make sure that doesn’t happen.>

"Maybe Cass did cheat on me; you are too stupid for words." Schuldig glared at his father. "The second outcome will not come to pass, or I would have seen it. Kikyou has his own part to play in the future. Trust in your friend; I think he is up to this particular challenge. He’s gotten the kage in bed before, he’ll manage it again."

Probing Crawford’s mind, Schuldig caught the snippets of visions the precog had that centered on the couple. Glancing over his shoulder, he stared at the rapidly diminishing Koneko. "Well, if things are about to get as hot and heavy as you think they are, maybe I should go back there and have some fun."

The bespectacled man growled under his breath. "Please tell me that your mother repeatedly dropped you on your head when you were a child. No offspring of mine could be so appallingly stupid."

*******

Yohji dragged Aya into his bedroom, barely pausing to lock the door behind them. Once that was done, he pressed the smaller man against it, kissing him savagely. Something in him snarled at him to make the redhead his, to make sure that Aya knew that simple fact and could never refute it. Could never look at another person with a spark of interest again. He was _Yohji’s_.

His hands tore at his lover’s clothes, ripping seams as he violently tore them off and threw them to the floor. Yohji pulled back to remove his own and caught the look in a pair of wide violet eyes. Tossing his shirt aside, he stroked Aya’s cheek. "I won’t hurt you, love, I’ll never hurt you. Why can’t you believe that?" It was one more thing to fan the raging hunger inside of him that demanded that Aya be his. He pulled the smaller man to him as gently as he could, kissing his doubts away. The redhead slowly relaxed in his embrace, and Yohji picked him up and carried him to the bed.

"Yohji, what the-"

No questions. The blond didn’t want any questions; he just wanted Aya pleading beneath him, calling out his name. So he silenced him with a kiss that left the pale man gasping, taking advantage of the respite to yank off his pants. Once that was done, Yohji fell on the man, touching the long white limbs, ravishing the sweet mouth that tasted like wine. The feeling of sunlight pouring into him returned ever so faintly, and he wanted more of it. He wanted that almost as much as he had to make Aya his.

Kissing the redhead with all of his considerable skill, Yohji let his hands wander over the pale body, stroking and pinching and lightly running his nails down the skin that he brought to an oversensitive peak, making Aya moan out loud. He had to have the man begging for him, had to break down the reserve that let his lover hold him at arms length. Yohji felt as if he was in a frenzy, and it was all because of Aya. Daring to run away from him. Daring to look at another man. Daring to block him out. It wasn’t going to happen again. Not if he could help it.

Tearing his mouth away from Aya’s, Yohji trailed it down the man’s neck. He smiled for a moment as the man mewled in pleasure, and he let his hands skim down a slender waist, teasing his navel as he sucked on pale flesh until it was bruised, only to move to a new patch and begin again. His fingers brushed through red curls, making Aya jerk his hips as the digits came closer and closer to the man’s erection. Yohji bit softly onto a collarbone just as his hand wrapped around the shaft, making the redhead cry out his name.

Yohji continued to kiss his way down his lover’s chest, running his lips, tongue and teeth over all the lovely flesh his hands had tormented before, making Aya writhe beneath him. The man was drawing in air with loud gasps, tossing his head about as a tongue swirled in his navel, and all the while a hand slowly pumped him. It was so nice to see, to know that he could provoke such a reaction from Aya, but Yohji needed much more. This wasn’t enough yet; it wasn’t what he hungered for. It was driving him mad.

Sliding between a pair of white thighs, Yohji blew on the dripping cock that his hand was stroking. He bent his head, flicking his tongue along its tip, tasting the bitter fluid that was dribbling out. It was such a contrast to the sweetness of Aya’s mouth and the saltiness of his skin, just one more taste for him to become addicted to. Fingers gripped his hair as Aya arched beneath him, choking out his name. Ah, now that was what he wanted. But it was just the beginning.

Taking the shaft into his mouth, something inside of Yohji purred as Aya gasped and chanted out his name. He fumbled for the jar of lubricant, slicking the fingers on one hand as the other reached up to tweak the smaller man’s nipples, bringing in a hint of pain to make the pleasure that much more powerful. Sucking on Aya’s cock, he worked the shaft with his tongue as his head bobbed up and down; Yohji teased at the man’s tight opening, pushing in slightly before withdrawing. He wrung a sob from his lover when he pulled back his head at the same time he pushed his fingers in, as the man was torn between thrusting back onto those fingers or thrusting up into his mouth. Continuing with the torment, he lightly raked his nails down pale skin, trying to make his lover feel so many things at once.

Aya was writhing on the bed, pleading with him in a soft voice, trying to force his head downwards. Using his free hand, Yohji gathered the dazed man’s wrists and squeezed the slender bones forcefully. He was in charge here, and Aya needed to know that. The hunger inside of him flared, crying out for more. Starting to hum, Yohji shoved a finger deep into the smaller man, making him come with a ragged cry. Sunlight rushed into the blond once more, but instead of sating his appetite, it only made him crave more.

Swallowing the pale man’s seed, Yohji pulled his finger out as he lay back on top of Aya. He released his lover’s bruised wrists and attacked the panting mouth, making Aya taste himself. "You’re mine," he rasped out when he broke off the kiss, needing to see the lovely face. Violet eyes gazed back at him, dark from passion and unfocused, and the hunger cried out for more. Aya wasn’t his yet; he couldn’t stop until he had broken down the man’s defenses. Just the feel of his lover lying under him, their skin in contact with each other’s, the air smelling like roses and musk made Yohji growl out the words again before resuming the kiss.

His whole body felt as if it was on fire, the sunlight dancing through his veins as Yohji devoured the sweet mouth. Yet the craving wouldn’t go away; it was worse than the ache between his thighs, the need to be buried in Aya as deep as he possibly could. The hunger drove him on, made him bruise the pale skin in an attempt to leave marks the whole world could see, brands of ownership which declared that Aya was his alone. The madness in him was terrible, and his world narrowed down to hearing his lover cry out his name, to knowing that the claim had been acknowledged. Yohji growled at the thought and couldn’t stop, not as long as he was in this much pain and was filled with an uncontrollable need.

 

Fingers once more twisted inside the slender body, barely flicking against a tiny nub again and again until Aya was sobbing once more. "Yohji, please. Please."

"Mine. You’re mine, Aya. Say it."

The redhead tossed about on the bed, biting his lips as sweat soaked hair fell onto closed eyes. Fuck, but Aya was so beautiful. Yohji felt the hunger as if it was pain, making his body hurt so bad. The only thing that could appease it was Aya and the sunlight that radiated from the man. Yohji stroked a hardening shaft, ignoring the pain of his own as he teased his lover some more, until a tear crept down a pale cheek. He bent his head to lap it up, kissing the smaller man on the cheek. "What do you want, Aya? Tell me, or this will go on." His voice was rough and low, almost unrecognizable from all the growling it had been doing.

The torment continued; almost imperceptible flicks and slow, loose strokes that added to the pleasure in minute bits, but not enough to grant Aya the release he needed. Yohji growled some more, desperate for the words.

"You, Yohji." Aya’s voice was soft and broken, the words barely more than a whisper. "Please."

That was what he wanted to hear. Yohji released the smaller man’s cock, wringing another sob from him as he did so. But he needed to make himself ready, had to keep his promise to never cause Aya any pain. Greasing himself, he bit back a moan at the thought of how soon he would be buried in his lover. Spreading the pale legs, Yohji nestled between then, tilting Aya’s hips up as he pushed in the slightest bit. "Is this what you want, love?"

"Yes."

"Who do you belong to?"

There was no response, only a strangled mewl as Aya tried to thrust his hips downward, but was prevented by the hold Yohji had on them. Growling once more, Yohji felt the madness and hunger consume him. Aya was going to be his; he had chosen his mate, and he wasn’t going to be gainsaid by the willful fool. No more defenses, no more thinking of another lover. HIS. His alone. He shoved his way into the redhead, buried himself deep with one thrust and then stopped.

Aya’s upper body arched off the bed, until only the crown of his head touched the mattress. He cried out Yohji’s name as his hands twisted the sheets, and the blond couldn’t resist running his tongue along the sweaty chest before him. All of this was his. The taste that burned on his tongue, the skin that made his tingle just with the lightest of contacts, the tight, clenching heat that surrounded him as did the scent of roses. All of this was his. Yohji wanted it all, felt as if he would die if he didn’t have it. "Who do you belong to, Aya?"

More mewls, so Yohji started to thrust into the slender body so incredibly slowly. He dragged each thrust out for seconds, pulling back until almost completely out and then even more slowly pushing his way back in preventing Aya from moving by the bruising grip he had on the slim hips. He never would have been able to keep to this agonizing pace but for the sunlight that was streaming into his marrow, flooding him with heat and energy, giving him the pleasure he was denying them both. There was only the sunlight, the hunger, the madness and Aya.

"Yohji, oh… Yohji, please."

"Mine, Aya, you’re mine."

The same words over and over as the torture dragged on, leaving them both covered with sweat and incredibly frustrated, feeling as if each nerve in their skin was exposed, so sensitive that they could feel the air moving along their flesh. Yohji pushed in so slowly, barely brushing against that spot before shifting back, staring down into a pair of sightless violet eyes.

"Yours."

If he hadn’t have been waiting for the word, Yohji would never have heard it as soft as it was.

"You’re mine."

"Yes…"

A feeling of rapture filled Yohji making him shiver in bliss. The madness faded away, but the hunger rushed forward to fill its void. Snapping his hips forward, Yohji found he couldn’t do anything but give into it completely as even more heat and energy flooded into him. He pounded into Aya, each mewl and sob from the man one more drop that filled the ravenous cavern inside of him, that filled him with more of the feeling of sunlight. Aya’s arms were tight around his shoulders, nails were biting into his flesh as he couldn’t stop the frenetic thrusts that were shaking the bed. All that mattered was Aya and the sunlight, and the pleasure making the blond dizzy with ecstasy.

Aya arched beneath him again, gasping as he came, the pale body clenching around Yohji until he cried out for his lover. As the older man came himself, feeling as if a star had been placed inside his chest, filling his every fiber with light and energy, it felt as if more than just his seed flowed out of him and into Aya. He knew that he was marking the man yet again, in a way that wouldn’t fade in a few hours or few days’ time, but would be with the redhead for all eternity.

Falling forward, Yohji buried his head in the crook of his lover’s neck, his tongue flicking out to lick at the drops of sweat on the bruised flesh. The hunger finally faded away, leaving him dazed. Everything became a blur until all he could remember was the intense bliss. Instead of feeling exhausted, he was rejuvenated, so full of life and energy that his body thrummed with it.

Yohji lifted himself up onto his arms and stared down at Aya. The redhead was unconscious with crimson strands of hair plastered to his face. He gently brushed back the hair so he could kiss the closed eyes and parted mouth. "Gods, love…" What had that been about? It had been so fucking intense, and Yohji still tingled with pleasure. He stroked a hand along the bruised neck, wondering who would kill him first in the morning, Aya or Jo. Gods, it looked as if the pale man had been attacked.

Kissing the darkened flesh, Yohji trailed his hands down the narrow chest and felt a warm, sticky fluid. Lifting the fingers to his mouth, he licked them clean, then with a smile bent his head and lapped at the cum that covered Aya’s stomach. His. All of this was his, and he was never going to let the man go. Never. A voice inside of him, sated and pleased, echoed the sentiment. For a moment Yohji felt disoriented, felt part of him worry as he recalled a flash of the hunger and madness, but this felt so natural he pushed the concern alive. This was love: obsessive, protective, demanding. He loved Aya so incredibly much that the emotion burned him with its intensity.

Cradling the sleeping man in his arms, Yohji rolled onto his back dragging Aya on top of him. The redhead shifted about slightly and tucked his head underneath the blond’s chin. Yohji swore that there was a crackle of energy along every inch of his skin that was in contact with his lover. "You’re mine, you know. Always, love, always." Stroking his hands through the silky hair, Yohji couldn’t tear his eyes off of Aya.

*******

Return to Archive

Next Chapter