Shadows

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chapter 10

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blood, part 1

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Yohji stretched his long legs and hurried towards the office. He couldn’t believe that Kira had let Aya go off with some stranger like that, token or no token. Granted, she seemed shaken up about something, but with the presents that kept showing up now wasn’t a good time to leave the redhead unattended. What did he have to do, baby-sit the man twenty-four seven to make sure he didn’t end up in trouble of one sort or another? Not that it would be such a bad thing, especially if he could manage to keep Aya in their bed most of that time….

His thoughts dwelling on his mate, Yohji began to pick up on the confusion and burgeoning lust that Aya was feeling. Not liking that mix of emotions, he quickened his pace. When they turned into anger and shock, he ran to the office. Tossing open the door, he found Aya approaching a light-brown haired stranger who was holding a staff in his hands, his lover’s face eerily inhuman and a shadow blade in his hand. That meant only one thing: the unknown bastard had done something to cause Aya to be after his blood. It was all that Yohji needed to know. Growling savagely, he reached for his weapon.

"You’re fucking dead." He tossed golden threads at the man and was surprised when the man blocked them with his staff. Yohji snarled and pulled the threads back for another toss just as Jo entered the office.

"Yohji, what the hell are you doing?"

Wasn’t it obvious? He was killing some bastard who’d done something to Aya. Sparing a quick glance at his mate, who was standing perfectly immobile with violet eyes fixed on him, Yohji threw out the strands again. For some reason they couldn’t cut through the staff, though he wanted them to, but at least they wrapped around the weapon and enabled him to jerk it forward. As he’d hoped, the bastard didn’t let go of it and came at him, as Yohji punched him in the stomach with all of his enhanced strength. Hopefully he’d damaged something inside.

The stranger let out a wheeze of pain and crumpled to the ground, Yohji falling with him being sure to pin him to the floor. He grabbed the man by the throat and started to choke him, his vision hazy with red. The scent of the man’s sweat hit him, the same scent that clung to Aya, which he could smell even while several feet away from the kage. Something inside of him snapped. Dead. The man was dead. He touched Aya. He touched _Yohji’s_ mate, had come into _Yohji’s_ house, _Yohji’s_ territory, and he’d die for it. Painfully.

There was a tug on Yohji’s hair, yanking his head back. Growling savagely, he stared at Jo, who was screaming in his face about something. But the words weren’t sinking in; all that mattered was the man beneath him, whose struggles were starting to grow weaker. Jerking his head out of the woman’s grasp, Yohji caught sight of Aya, who was still standing there, his eyes shining behind the strands of his hair and his face expressionless except for the tiny smile teasing at his lips.

The next thing he knew something slammed into him, knocking him completely off the stranger. It was more by the man’s scent than actual sight of him that Yohji knew it was Mickey sitting on his back, and that odd occurrence helped to snap him out of his rage.

"Yohji, what the hell are you doing? You just can’t kill some customer! You…" Mickey suddenly fell quiet, and with good reason. As Yohji watched, Aya went from being perfectly still to appearing at his side in the blink of an eye, the shadow blade pressing against Mickey’s throat as he snarled softly. The emotions that he was picking off the man were a maelstrom of anger and protectiveness. He shifted up off the ground, sending Mickey falling backwards, away from the blade. When Aya slid forward to finish slitting the man’s throat, Yohji snatched his lover and yanked him into his arms. As he held on to the struggling kage, he heard Mickey scrambling away from the two of them.

Stroking a hand through Aya’s hair, Yohji gazed down at the pale, expressionless face. "Aya, love, it’s okay. Mickey wasn’t trying to hurt me." He knew that what had triggered Aya’s kage nature had been the sight of him being pinned down, and he tried to reassure his mate. When Aya only stared at him, growling under his breath like an annoyed cat, Yohji tilted up the man’s chin and kissed him.

It took Aya a moment to respond, but when he did he latched on to Yohji with all his strength, kissing him back with a passion. Smelling the other man on his love awakened Yohji’s fury again, but was instantly distracted by the redhead in his arms. Aya squirmed about until he was sitting on Yohji’s lap, grinding their hips together and purring loudly. Threading his fingers through silky crimson locks, Yohji tugged Aya’s head to the side and fastened his mouth on the man’s neck, growling all the while. As soon as there was a new mark on the pale column one of his hands fell down to tear at the laces of Aya’s shirt, snapping them with ease as he set about disrobing the man. His, Aya was his, and that infuriating scent would be replaced completely by his own, Aya would be marked inside and out as Yohji’s, plainly off limits to the rest of the world….

He’d managed to get the man’s shirt off and had just ripped the laces of the grey trousers when something cold and gritty splashed over the two of them. Clutching a hissing Aya to his chest, Yohji looked around for the reason behind this latest assault.

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Masato lay on the floor with Yohji on top of him and tried desperately to pry the younger man’s hands off his throat. But his son proved to be the stronger of the two of them, and soon all he could do was paw feebly at the man’s wrists as his lungs burned for air and his vision grew dark. In the background he heard a woman screaming.

"Yohji! Stop it! You can’t kill him! Are you listening to me? Aya, _do_ something, don’t just stand there!" She fell silent for a moment. "Mickey! Koyu! Help!" The woman then rushed over to their side and grabbed Yohji by the hair, yanking his head in her direction with a strained grunt. "Stop it, Yotan. I mean it! I won’t let you murder him!"

Next there was the sound of running feet. "Jo, what the hell?"

"Mickey, stop him!"

One minute Yohji was on his chest, and the next Masato was able to breathe again. Weakly rolling over, he saw one of the biggest men he’d ever seen wrestle his son to the floor and sit on his back, pinning him down. Silently cheering the man on, Masato drew ragged breaths of air into his burning lungs.

"Yohji, what the hell are you doing? You just can’t kill some customer! You…" At the moment the man, Mickey, he was guessing, was trying to talk sense into the enraged blond, then Aya was standing next to him with a black knife descending towards his throat. Masato hadn’t even seen the man move, and as he watched, Mickey’s throat started to bleed. Then Yohji tossed the burly man backwards and gathered Aya into his arms.

Expecting to see Aya attack his son and helpless to do anything about that, Masato was stunned when Yohji whispered something to… whatever the hell the redhead was and stroked Aya’s hair. The blood rushing through his veins prevented him from hearing the words, and as Masato tried to sit up Yohji suddenly kissed the strange man.

He could only stare at the couple at the surprising development, especially when the black blade vanished into thin air. Aya wrapped his arms around the blond, and the two of them kissed each other passionately. Not even the arrival of other people into the office could distract Masato or them. He felt his hunger rise to the fore at the sight before him and ended up coughing when he tried to growl with his abused throat.

Yohji grabbed Aya by the hair and jerked his head to the side as he shifted his mouth downward. Aya purred; the sound audible even over Yohji’s growls and the hushed questions coming from the other observers then there was the sound of leather string snapping. Yohji only moved away from the smaller man’s neck when he tore the Aya’s shirt and jerkin off him, revealing pale skin and a horribly scarred back.

"Ah, Jo, did you call us in here to see Yotan fuck Aya? Not that I’m complaining, but I don’t think they know we’re even here."

"They will in about two seconds. Touya, give me that bucket. I’m not going to let things go any further."

"Spoil sport."

Masato tore his eyes off the couple long enough to see a teenaged boy hand a mop bucket to the woman, who grimly took a step closer to Aya and Yohji. She then tossed the contents of the bucket, which appeared to be dirty water, directly onto the two men, drenching them.

They broke apart immediately, Aya sounding like a cat that had just been tossed in a bath and Yohji growling louder than a pack of dogs. Green eyes blinked from behind dark blond strands plastered against his face, thankfully becoming clearer by the second.

"What the hell did you do that for?" Yohji sputtered as he tucked his hair behind his ears. He glanced down at Aya, who was still hissing and was once again holding a dark knife in his hand. The blond paled and smacked aside the hand that was holding the weapon, which immediately vanished. Yohji then held Aya close to him and stared bleakly at the assembled crowd.

Everyone was silent for a moment and the large man, Mickey, who had pretty much been hidden from view by the huge desk, shakily stood to his feet with a bloody hand clutched around his throat.

"Mick! What happened to you? Are you alright?" A young man with waist length black hair rushed over to the wounded one, ripping at the hem of his short gold robe as he did so. A slightly older man dressed in Harper red was right on his heels.

Mickey accepted the cloth and hugged the longhaired man with one arm for a brief moment. "I’m fine, Teddy, it’s just a scratch." He dabbed at the wound with the makeshift rag, smearing drying blood around his throat. Then Mickey turned to face Yohji. "Is he under control now?"

"… just give us a little space, Mick. He thought you were attacking me." Yohji cuddled a still hissing Aya to his chest, his hand combing through the man’s hair. "Don’t… don’t come near us for a bit." Yohji’s eyes hardened as he spoke, and he paused in the soothing gesture to touch two fingers to the weapon around his wrist. One that Masato recognized as the gift he’d left with Miyuki for their child. No doubt about it, Yohji was his son; only someone of his bloodline could use the magical object.

"What the hell is going on here?" Teddy shouted. "Jo’s screaming for help, Mickey’s been hurt, and you and Aya are all but fucking on the floor. And what’s with this guy over here?" A thumb was jerked in Masato’s direction.

Jo shook her head and set the bucket down. "Touya, go help Ani and Kira with the customers, and don’t let anyone back here until I say so."

"But Jo-"

"_Now_, Touya."

The teenaged boy left the room with a sulky expression on his face, his feet dragging as he looked back at everyone until Jo slammed the door shut behind him. Then the middle-aged woman took a deep breath and rested her fists on her hips. She glanced around the room, paling visibly when she looked at Yohji and Aya, then glared at Masato when her eyes rested on him. He immediately sat up straighter and held out a hand for his staff. The enchanted weapon rolled across the floor and returned to him.

"Drop the weapon now." Jo’s voice rang with authority, and between it and Yohji’s renewed snarls, Masato did as he was told. At least the weapon was close by in case someone decided to attack him again.

"I have a token, one the… former owner gave me. I was promised sanctuary here, not violence."

Jo’s brown eyes glared at him. "I know who gave you the damn token, and I know who you are. About damn time you showed up, but did it have to be at a time when we could do without any new trouble? Sit there and don’t say a word until I tell you you can talk."

He got the impression it would be a very wise thing if he just sat there quietly and did what she said. Having lived over a century, Masato liked to think he’d developed rather good survival instincts and had the sense to listen to them. They were telling him to remain still and silent at the moment.

"Jo, you know who the hell this prick is?" Yohji’s voice still contained a hint of a growl, and the glare he was giving Masato made Jo’s look friendly. For a moment Masato started to growl at his son, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end, but he stopped when the woman cleared her throat.

"Indeed I do, Yotan. Your mother gave me a description of him years ago, since she expected him to return. I’d like you to meet your father."

Masato was torn between anger at Jo for revealing his secret, amusement at the dumbstruck expression on Yohji and the other men’s faces, and confusion that the woman knew about him. If she could recognize him so easily, that meant….

His weapon was in hand before he even gave it any thought, and Masato surged to his feet. Only to have shadows scurry across the room and attach themselves to him, trapping his limbs to his side and sending him crashing to the floor. He heard Yohji quietly start cursing, Aya’s loud hisses and the gasps coming from the humans in the room. He started to curse himself, until it finally sunk in what the hell Aya had to be. The knowledge stunned him silent and motionless.

"Aya, love, stop it. Please." Yohji’s voice was thick with worry as he stroked the kage’s hair, seeming as if he was attempting to get a response from the redhead. Aya stared blankly at Masato for a moment and then closed his eyes, a low growl rumbling in his throat as he tucked his head under Yohji’s chin.

"Is he what I think he is?" Teddy asked in a quavering voice.

"I’m afraid so, Teddy," the Harper responded quietly.

"Fuck."

"Very eloquently put. ‘Fuck’ indeed. Yohji, is… is he alright?"

Yohji sighed and rested his cheek on the top of Aya’s head. "I don’t know Koyu, I can’t seem to get him to return to normal. Could everyone please stop trying to attack us or throw things at us? And if anyone breathes so much as a word of what he is outside of this room, I’ll fucking hunt you down and gut you." Emerald green eyes glared at everyone for a second and then closed. Yohji pressed a kiss to the top of Aya’s head and opened his eyes to scowl at Masato. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Now that wasn’t the reaction he’d expected from his son when they met. Then Masato scratched at his stubbled chin, wondering what he’d been expecting after all. He’d never given the matter much thought other than returning to the Koneko, finding out if his son was a bound or not, teaching him about his power and then moving on.

"I came here to see if you…" What the hell was he trying to hide at this point? Everyone in the room had to know what the two of them were, and considering that there was a kage present and no one was screaming in terror or trying to behead it, these people had to be as accepting of bounds as Miyuki had been.

"I came here to see if you’d taken after me." Masato rubbed his sore throat. "I’ll go out on a limb and say ‘yes’. You’re most definitely a succubae-bound like me, judging from the way you tried to kill me just now. I, ah, take it he’s yours?" He gazed pointedly at Aya. "That you’re lovers?"

Yohji glared at him and spat out one word. "Mates."

Shit. No wonder his son had tried to kill him. It would have been bad enough if he’d tried to infringe on the other bound’s latest meal, but his mate…. To quote young Teddy, ‘fuck’. His son was mated to a kage. Just fucking dandy. They’d all be dead in a matter of hours at this rate.

"Ah, that complicates things a bit." But it explained Aya’s intoxicating scent. The aura of a succubae-bound clung to him, mixed in with his own exotic aroma. That was why he’d attracted Masato, that and his beauty. Though it sort of repulsed Masato now to know that it was in part Yohji’s scent clinging to the kage that had aroused him so. That at least could be blamed for his nature being confused into thinking it had found a similar companion and wanting him.

"Not in the least. It’s real simple, actually. You get anywhere near him, and I kill you. You touch him again, and I kill you. Tell anyone about him, and you’ll be lucky if I’m the one who kills you." Yohji then directed his glare at the humans; the expression softening with worry as he stared at them. "Please, don’t tell anyone about him."

"We won’t, Yotan. He’s one of us." Jo spoke the words in a hushed tone of voice, and after a moment’s hesitation slowly crossed the room to stand in front of the couple. Yohji and Aya didn’t growl or hiss at her presence, which seemed to encourage her to sink down onto her knees and reach out a trembling hand to tug on a crimson eartail. At her touch Aya jerked his head to the side, his eyes staring at the woman for a moment before he blinked. The first emotion that Masato had seen since he’d kissed the man crossed the pale face, showing confusion.

"Yohji?"

"I’m here, cat. You feeling… more yourself at the moment?" Aya sighed and tucked his head back under Yohji’s chin. Jo smiled gently at the couple and let her hand fall down. Yohji regarded her calmly for a moment. "How long have you known?"

Masato was confused about the question, until Jo clarified it with an answer. "That you’re a bound? Your mother confided in me after you hit puberty and started chasing after anything on two legs, and I in return told Mickey and Teddy. The whole staff knows; we’ve only kept on the strays who don’t hate bounds because of you… and the Koneko’s policy. We guessed that Aya was a bound as well, considering how the two of you hit it off, but… we never… Yotan, we can’t let anyone else find out. He won’t be safe if they know about him." The blond sighed in relief, a wry smile twisting his lips for a moment, and then two pairs of eyes, one brown and one green, turned to look at Masato.

The feeling of danger returned, and Masato’s fingers itched for his weapon. "Well I’m sure as hell not stupid enough to tell anyone that you have a kage here, especially not when he’s mated to my son. Besides, it’s not as if you don’t have any leverage of your own. If word got out about me, I’d have a score of wizards and all of the Guards after me for my head and my blood." Yoru alone would probably tear the city apart looking for him.

"You wouldn’t have to worry about them. Like Yotan said, you’ll be lucky if he’s the one to kill you if you start spilling secrets." Teddy, who had appeared as a relatively harmless young man until that moment, suddenly had a disturbingly menacing look on his face, and his tone of voice actually caused Masato to shiver. The two other men, Koyu and Mickey, closed in behind their friend. Even with a dozen decades of fighting expertise and enhanced speed and strength, Masato didn’t fancy his odds against them. Especially not when Jo started to glare at him as well. Miyuki would have been damn proud of her staff if she’d been alive, at the way they came together to protect their own. A pain arced through his chest at the thought of his dead mate.

"How many times do I have to say it? I won’t tell a soul, my word on that. He’s my son, I wouldn’t do anything to harm him… or his mate." That would be suicide, to try for either young man. Masato didn’t think much of his chances against an enraged and protective succubae-bound or kage. The Harper could likely recite dozens and dozens of tales about what those creatures had done when their lovers had been threatened.

Yohji growled softly at the promise. "Don’t think to play the devoted father bit here, asshole. You’re several years late by my calculations. What, you finally show up because you need a free bath and meal?"

Highly conscious of his ragged appearance and tattered clothes, Masato glared at his son and started to growl back at him, his hand inching towards his weapon. It was pure instinct, one succubae-bound challenging another, and only the sound of Aya hissing again stilled his movement before he could do something regrettable, such as try to attack Yohji again.

The hiss came to an abrupt end when Jo yanked forcefully on a long strand of red hair. "Stop it, Aya. How many times have I told you and Yotan to quit with the growls? Keep it up and I’ll slap some sense into you."

Masato could only stare in wonder at the woman, wondering just when her rather painful and gruesome death would descend upon her. Judging from the shocked looks on the three young men’s faces, he wasn’t alone. As for Yohji, he just chuckled.

Aya blinked his eyes and whined softly, snatching back his hair as he did so. He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like ‘I’m sorry’ and rubbed his hands over his bare chest. Mickey stepped forward and picked up the shirt that lay abandoned on the floor and handed it to the kage. Aya accepted the clothing and nodded his head.

"Sorry." This time the word was said a bit louder and clearer, and it made Mickey smile. He waited until Aya was dressed before answering.

"Don’t be. You were defending Yohji, so I don’t have a problem with it." Mickey fingered his neck, which was no longer bleeding. "I’m just grateful that you didn’t finish what you started."

"Hey, does this mean we can’t pick on Yohji anymore? It’s not fair if he’s gonna be hiding behind Aya from now on. I thin-mph."

The Harper sighed and wrapped a hand around Teddy’s mouth, muffling whatever else he had to say on the matter. "You never know when to be quiet, do you? If the excitement’s all over here, I think we should go clean up Mickey’s neck and assure the staff that everything’s all right." Koyu chewed on his lip for a moment before continuing. "I also think… I think it would be best if the others knew about our new guest and Aya."

Yohji growled for a moment and flinched when Jo raised her hand threateningly. "Okay, I guess they should know as well, but…"

"I’ll be sure to impress on them the need for secrecy. And being a Harper, I can come up with a lot of gruesome examples of what will happen to them if they say a thing." Koyu smiled at the couple then jerked the still muzzled Teddy out of the room with him. Mickey followed at their heels.

Jo reached out and tucked back Aya’s bangs as she rose to her feet. "I think I better go as well. Yotan… why don’t you let Aya come with me? He needs to get out of those soaking clothes and wash off, and you should talk to your father alone."

"He wouldn’t be soaked if you hadn’t tossed a bucket of water on us," Yohji muttered. "Dirty water at that. Gods, we both stink now." That didn’t seem to prevent him from nuzzling Aya’s wet hair. "Wait a second, why is it alright for me to be soaking wet and not him?"

"Well, the next time the two of you decide to have sex in front of an audience I’ll be sure to toss clean water on you instead," Jo huffed. "As for Aya, he doesn’t cause me nearly as much aggravation as you do. And don’t tell me you don’t relish the chance of coming down with a cold so you can spend all your time in bed." She glared at Yohji for a moment and held out her hand to Aya.

Yohji ducked his head and nuzzled his mate’s neck. "Cat…."

"I want a bath, Yohji. Don’t be long, I’ll be waiting for you downstairs." Aya kissed his mate on the lips, the intimate gesture becoming more impassioned with each second, until Jo cleared her throat rather loudly. Both men could be heard sighing as they broke apart. As graceful as his nickname, Aya rose to his feet, one hand clutching the waistband of his pants, and he walked behind Jo out of the room. Masato couldn’t help but stare at the man, awestruck by his beauty and grace.

A savage growl snapped him out of his reverie. He glanced away from the just closed door to find his son scowling at him once more, his teeth bared. Fighting down the instinctive response that called for him to do the same, Masato crossed the room and opened a window. Hopefully fresh air not smelling like the two of them would calm them down. Why did his son have to be a succubae-bound too? He knew that one of his ancestors had been an elemental-bound, why couldn’t Yohji have taken after that woman and not him? It would make things so much easier. Gods, he’d really fucked things up, hitting on the man’s mate like that. If he was in Yohji’s shoes… it was a miracle that he wasn’t dead right now. Guess he had the humans to thank for that.

"The more you drag things out by growling at me, the longer this is going to take. You don’t want to keep Aya waiting, do you?"

Yohji snarled and huffed for a few seconds and then took a seat in the chair behind the desk. For a moment Masato remembered Miyuki sitting behind her desk, her head cocked at the exact same angle as Yohji’s at the moment, the way it always was when she would tell Masato about all the work she had to do. "Gods, you look so much like her."

"So I’ve been told. Can’t say that I’m unhappy about that, after meeting you in the flesh. Least I took after the decent parent."

Masato’s eyes narrowed at the insult, but he forced himself to calmly take a seat in one of the room’s chairs. "You know, we’ll never get anywhere if we keep on with the pissing contest here. It’s part of succubae-bound nature for two of our kind not to get along when we cross each other’s paths, unless it’s to… mate with each other. Which clearly won’t happen since we’re related." Masato shivered in distaste at the idea, and Yohji did the same. "I’m sorry that I tried to feed off Aya, it won’t happen again." No wonder the man had been able to resist him like that, considering his nature. Masato was damn lucky he wasn’t dead, after hitting on a kage. Not to mention an attached one at that.

"I don’t ever want to see you so much as touch him again, do you hear me? Relation or not, you’ll be dead."

He knew that Yohji’s nature called for the threat to be made and only sighed and nodded his head in response. "I promise to never touch him again. Can we talk like two civilized beings now?"

"No." Yohji’s eyes narrowed in anger yet again that afternoon. "You didn’t answer my question. Why the hell are you back now? I know what I am, and I don’t need your help with it. The only one here who gave a damn about you is dead, so just go away."

Biting back on his temper, Masato ground his teeth together. "I’m sorry that I didn’t come sooner, but I’ve been a wee bit busy the past two decades. You’ve been living all safe and sound here while I’ve been roaming all over the fucking country and beyond, drawing attention away from you and your mother. And don’t tell me that you don’t need me, not when you can’t control your nature. Hell, you nearly fucked the man you love in front of an audience moments ago. Jo is right about all the growling and snarling too; you can’t carry on like that. Someone who knows anything about bounds will spot you by that alone."

Yohji didn’t seem impressed with his sacrifice or his advice. "I know that, and I’m working on it. I just found out that I was a bound a couple weeks ago, no thanks to you. I’m learning how to control my nature through books and have been getting better."

That comment shook Masato out of the shock over the fact that Yohji had just found out what he was. "You can’t learn everything from a book. They can only explain so much. No, you need me, judging from your behavior back there. You were actually going to feed off Aya in front of a crowd. Do you have any idea how insanely dangerous that would have been if it had happened with anyone other than your friends? Need I remind you that if they find out about you, they’ll find out about him too?"

"Don’t you fucking pretend to care, you asshole. You left Mom alone for all those years, not giving a damn about her and me. She waited for you until her death five years ago. Do you even know she’s dead?"

Masato growled and clenched his fists around the chair’s arm, cracking the oak. "I fucking felt her death all the way in Thracia you little shit. She was _my_ mate. The woman I left, defenseless and pregnant, because she didn’t want to risk any danger to you. Do you have any fucking idea how much I suffered walking away from her? The pain involved? Just think of leaving Aya and you’ll have a clue. The only reason I could do that at all was because we were so newly mated. As it was, her death nearly killed me." After he’d felt her soul depart this world, Masato had stopped caring about everything and everyone. He’d wandered about aimlessly for several years. It was only the memory of his promise and the possibility that his child had survived that made him continue living and had brought him back to the Koneko, which was filled with memories of what he’d lost, only to come face to face with an ungrateful child.

Yohji’s anger seemed to fade at his words, and he jerked a hand through his hair as he blew out a breath of air. "The two of you were really mates? I thought it wasn’t possible to live without each other. I mean, Aya and I…." His son flushed slightly and straightened his white tunic. "I’d never leave him, never. I’d rather die first."

"Yeah, well then you must have one of the really strong bondings then. I’ve heard it’s always more… intense when two bounds mate, unlike a bound and human. But it still felt as if I was tearing my heart out with each step I took from Miyuki’s side. It never would have happened if she hadn’t been so insistent on keeping you alive and safe. She chose you over me." That was spoken with some bitterness, and Masato tried to control his anger and jealousy towards his own child. When Miyuki had found out she was pregnant and realized the danger he’d posed to the babe… she really had chosen Yohji over him. Not that Masato could hold that against the woman. She’d wanted a child so incredibly bad and had thought she’d never have one of her own. At least he’d given her that much.

He dispelled the painful memories with a shake of his head. "How the hell did you not know what you were until a few weeks ago?"

"Well… I sorta have these friends who are soul gaki-bounds." Yohji toyed with his bracelet as he tossed a significant look Masato’s way. "Who better remain safe during and after your visit, or else. They were in cahoots with Mom and kept me from figuring things out on my own. It wasn’t until I met and mated with Aya that I found out what I was."

"Which was just a few weeks ago? How the hell did you feed all this time?" Masato knew he was repeating himself somewhat, but he really needed to know if the Guards were going to be pounding on the Koneko’s door at any moment, attracted by his son’s outlandish behavior. A few human corpses bled dry of energy would certainly get their attention.

Yohji flushed again, his cheeks remaining red for several seconds. "Well, it helped that I lived in an inn. No one thought anything of me sleeping with all the customers, other than the fact that I was a slut. They just chalked it up to rampaging hormones and all."

It made sense. That was in part what had attracted Masato to the Koneko in the first place, the fact that it was an inn and he’d be able to feed from different people during his stay and not risk draining one person too much. That and he’d heard a rumor that bounds had never been turned away from the establishment or harmed during their stay there. Later on Miyuki had confided in him that his race fell under the inn’s stray policy and were to receive whatever aid they required.

"Well, you’re lucky that you’ve found a mate, and that he’s a bound. You won’t have to go whoring about any longer." He received a glare for that last bit, but Masato didn’t give a damn. _He_ still had to do that whoring around, thanks to the man in front of him, and it had gotten tiresome decades ago. For a moment he missed Miyuki so much it hurt, like a knife being stabbed deep inside his chest. "Give me a day or two to rest up and I’ll start training you properly. We obviously need to work on controlling your appetite and making it more beneficial for you. How are you with glamour and compelling?"

"What?"

"Great, I thought as much. So much for the damn books. I just hope you don’t have to unlearn all the shit they taught you. Now I want a meal, a bath and a bed."

Rubbing his forehead, Yohji sighed. "Can I convince you to stay at another inn? Or to leave the damn city completely?"

"No."

"Great. All right, give me a few seconds here." Yohji pressed his lips together and tapped his finger against his temple. "We really don’t have any spare beds, other than the one in Naoe’s room." A nasty little smile formed on the blond’s lips, one that Masato decided he didn’t like in the slightest.

"I can’t share a room with another person unless I’m feeding off them. Who’s this Naoe?" Maybe that would be a solution to his hunger. Once he had this person alone, Masato was sure he could convince them to sleep with him.

"A close friend of Aya’s."

"No fucking way then." He’d already pissed off Aya by hitting on him, he wasn’t going to do it again by feeding off the kage’s friend.

Yohji sighed, a disappointed frown on his lips. "I guess it wasn’t a good idea to begin with, Omi and Aya would kill me. All right, how about this? We put you in Kira’s room since she’s spending her nights with Mickey anyway. Just be prepared for lots of pink and frills."

Not the most ideal sleeping arrangement that he’d ever had, but Masato just grunted his acceptance. It was better than sleeping in some field or barn, which he’d been doing a lot of lately.

"I’ll take it. Just so you know - I will be feeding while I’m here. Is anyone else, other than Aya and this Naoe, to be considered off limits?"

"The Koneko’s staff and anyone under eighteen. And before you protest those rules, let me tell you that Mom was the one who set them. Don’t like them, go stay somewhere else or just go away." Yohji gazed at him challengingly.

Oh, he was sure his son would love it if he went elsewhere. Masato smiled charmingly at the man. "No, they sound perfectly acceptable to me."

"Hmph. Well, I’m off for a bath. I assume you know your way around the place, and I’ll let Mickey and Jo know about your sleeping arrangements." Yohji rose from his seat and stretched his lanky body. Masato took in his son’s appearance, grateful that Yohji was more like his mother than him. With the triangular face, lips that were made for smiling or smirking, the emerald green eyes and the thin yet muscled body; he really did look like his mother. The only thing Yohji had gotten from him, other than his bound nature, had been his height, dark blond hair and golden skin. Which reminded Masato that he had to reapply the dye to his hair the first chance he got. Yoru might still be on the lookout for a blond man with hazel eyes.

Masato rose to his feet as well. He walked over to the door, intent on treating himself to a well-cooked meal and paused in opening the door when he felt Yohji’s hand on his shoulder. Turning around to face his son, he was instantly punched in the jaw and sent crashing to the floor. As he growled softly and tried to gather his dazed wits about him, Yohji spoke in a calm and threatening manner.

"Don’t even fucking think of touching Aya again, or I’ll string your body from the North Gate’s tower for the birds to feast upon. Don’t even look at him." That said, Yohji stepped over him and went on his way.

Rubbing his sore jaw, Masato sighed and closed his eyes. One of these days he’d find out why Fate loved to torture him so. Not relishing his stay here at the Koneko, thanks to painful memories and an insanely jealous bound who also happened to be his son, he pushed himself off the ground. One thing he had to say for the boy though, he sure as hell had one mean right hook.

*******

Aya rested his head on the rim of the hot tub, wondering what was taking Yohji so long. He’d felt a flare of anger and murderous intent a few minutes ago, and then the feeling had died down, only to be replaced with a sense of anticipation and hunger. Yohji should be here any moment now, and Aya found his body tightening with arousal as he thought of what was sure to happen once his mate appeared. His kage nature purred and longed for it, for the reassurance that the man was fine and uninjured. A bit disturbed by that part of himself because of what had happened earlier, Aya shifted about in the water.

There was a clicking sound and Yohji walked into the room with a frown on his face. "You didn’t lock the door properly, love."

"Yes I did, I even heard the lock click into place." The first thing Aya had done after finding the bathing room to be empty was slam the door shut behind him and lock it before hurrying over to the hot spring. He knew Yohji had a key to the door, the man even held it in his hand at that moment.

Yohji set aside his key and his blue robe on a bench then started to pull off his soaked and dirty clothes. "It just opened when I touched it. Ah well, it’s locked now, and no one should bother us. If any of the staff comes down here, very well knowing that we’re taking a bath, it’s obvious that they want to be killed and I’ll happily oblige them." Stripping off the last of his clothes, Yohji sauntered over to the bath and pulled out a bucket of hot water. Aya watched as the man rinsed himself off, taking in the way that the water cascaded down Yohji’s golden body, his eyes riveted on his mate’s tumescent erection, which seemed to harden even more under his gaze.

Smiling wickedly, Yohji winked at him and quickly scrubbed himself clean. In less than two minutes the man was hopping into the water and making a beeline for Aya. Letting himself be pulled into Yohji’s embrace, Aya purred softly and lifted his face, his lips parted and wet. Yohji didn’t waste any time in kissing him, sucking the breath out of Aya and making him shiver in pleasure.

Normally he would protest having sex with Yohji in the bath, but the two of them were alone and Aya needed his mate too much. He ran his hands over golden skin, seeking any bruises and cuts and finding none. Yohji was fine, was more than fine judging from the crushing hold the man’s arms had around him, but Aya could still see him lying still on the floor, Mickey sitting on him. That’s what had triggered his true nature past any hopes of reining it in, revealing what he was in front of Jo and the others.

Clutching Yohji’s long hair in his hands, Aya jerked the man’s head away from his and started sucking on Yohji’s neck. He needed Yohji so desperately, needed to feel the man inside him and his sense of warmth and life. Aya grabbed one of Yohji’s hands and tugged it downward, pressing it against his ass as he wrapped his other hand around the man’s cock and began to stroke it.

"Oh gods Aya… I want you so bad."

Aya pulled away from Yohji’s neck only long enough to growl out a few words. "I’m yours. Take me Yotan, _now_." He pinned Yohji against the side of the tub and straddled his lap, his mouth back on his mate’s neck and his hand on Yohji’s cock. Wriggling his hips for added effect, Aya decided that someone was being a little slow on picking up the hint and growled deep in the back of his throat as he removed his hand from his mate’s cock. He had to have Yohji now, and if the man wouldn’t help him get ready, he’d do it himself.

As his fingers started to press against his tight opening, Yohji suddenly growled and knocked his hands away. "Mine." Yohji’s finger easily slid inside of him, aided by the water and the sex earlier in the guest bedroom, as Aya purred in pleasure. This was what he wanted, Yohji within him, but it needed to be deeper, much deeper. Thrusting his hips backward, Aya took the finger in as far as it would go, mewling around his mouthful of Yohji’s skin. He pumped his hand faster, causing the blond to shudder and moan. Another finger was shoved inside him, causing Aya to bite down on Yohji’s neck and mewl again.

Rubbing his hand along Yohji’s nipples, Aya pulled back from the man’s bruised neck and frowned. "_Yo~tan_." The word came out in a sibilant hiss as Aya’s true nature overwhelmed his control for a second time that day.

"Shh, cat. We have all-"

"_Do it_." When Yohji tried to still his thrusting hips, Aya snarled and snatched at the man’s arms. Using Yohji’s surprise to his benefit, he positioned the long limbs along the side of the tub and called shadows to hold them still. The older bound cursed softly and struggled against the restraints, only to suck in his breath as Aya grabbed his penis once more. Holding the hard cock in position, he shoved his hips downward, taking all of it inside in one fast, hard thrust.

There was a flash of pain, quickly fading as his body adjusted to the sudden invasion. It had been almost nothing and had been expected, so didn’t matter at all to Aya. What did matter was Yohji inside him, stretching and filling him, confirming that the two of them were together and always would be, that nothing would separate them in the foreseeable future. Yohji was his, always and ever, and the want and need Aya felt for him would never go away. He’d given everything up for Yohji, all for this.

Leveraging himself up with his knees on the tub’s bench, Aya rose until Yohji’s cock would have slipped out of his body if not for his muscles clenching tightly around it. Then he slammed back down again, this time tilting his hips the slightest bit. Any memory of pain was instantly forgotten as the penis rubbed against his sweet spot, making him gasp out loud. Yohji moaned in response, his breath catching as Aya lifted himself again. The feel of Yohji’s girth sliding in and out of him, aided by the hot water, was driving Aya wild with pleasure.

Repeating the frantic motions, Aya purred as he rained kisses on Yohji’s face and neck, riding the man with an ever-increasing pace. Ecstasy washed through him, stealing away his breath until he panted for air.

"Aya… please… my arms. Wanna hold you, stroke you. Gods you feel soooo good." Yohji’s words slowly making sense, Aya did as the man asked him, commanding the shadows to release their hold. He was instantly rewarded as Yohji grabbed his hip with one hand, pulling him down even harder, and the other stroked his cock. The ecstasy increased, darkening Aya’s vision as it filled his body, his skin tingling with Yohji’s magic. A mouth fastened to his neck, causing Aya to purr strongly enough that his teeth chattered together from the vibrations.

Everything was pleasure, warmth and Yohji, enveloping Aya completely. All that mattered was taking the man deep inside him again and again, feeling waves of bliss coursing through his body with each thrust. With a choked cry, Aya felt himself shatter from the pleasure, his body trembling and his vision dark with sparks of light that came and disappeared in waves.

He felt so tired and sated, only the hands on his hips kept him moving even as his upper body slumped against Yohji. Several heartbeats later more warmth flooded into him, causing Aya to shiver as his arms weakly curled around the other man’s shoulders.

The two of them remained still for a few minutes, their heartbeats and panting breaths in sync. Water flowed around and against Aya’s oversensitive skin, making him shiver ever so slightly, and the hands on his hips sliding along his back, pulling him close to Yohji’s chest.

"Cat…." A kiss was pressed against his left temple. "Fuck."

"Hn."

"I don’t know what the hell got into you just now, but I must say I liked it very much." Yohji’s breath was still a touch labored, and his tone was wry and warm. His hand tugged gently on one of Aya’s eartails, but Aya didn’t have the energy to do more than snarl, and even then the sound came out a half purr. He rested his head on Yohji’s shoulder and sighed in contentment.

Yohji started to massage the back of his neck, above where the scars started. Aya purred and rubbed his cheek against the man’s skin, his body melting bonelessly against his lover.

"Aya… my dad’s staying here to teach me about my powers. Do my blood pressure a favor and stay the hell away from him until he gives up and goes away. I don’t trust him around you."

"Huhn." Aya nipped Yohji’s shoulder for his over protectiveness, since he’d been handling Masato fine on his own before the blond had shown up. "He surprised me at first, with his scent and magic being so much like yours, but that won’t happen again." The stranger’s magic wouldn’t affect him anymore, now that he knew to be on guard against it.

"The bastard’s nothing like me," Yohji growled. "Well, other than our natures. I don’t think I want to know exactly what happened in the office before I showed up, since Jo and Ani would kill me for the mess I’d make of the man’s body. You know, I don’t even know his name, and the asshole has carte blanche to stay at the Koneko as long as he wants."

"It’s Masato. At least that’s what he told Kira and me."

"Ah. Well, it’s clear I wasn’t named after him, thankfully." Yohji kissed him on his nose. "Why did the man have to show up now? We don’t have enough problems that he has to decide that now would be a wonderful time to assume his fatherly duties?"

Aya didn’t say anything, just rested his head on Yohji’s shoulder. For a moment he thought of his sister, and how he would give anything for the girl to be alive once more. He had no one in this world besides Yohji and Nagi, and didn’t think any relatives would be making their presence known in the future.

A low chuckle had Aya raising his head and looking at his mate questioningly. The man offered him a smile as he brushed back the bangs that were falling in Aya’s eyes. "I just realized that I should be pissed as all hell at Jo and the crew for knowing that I was a bound and not saying a word. I really was the last one to find out, and that irritates the hell out of me."

Chewing on his bottom lip, Aya toyed with a strand of Yohji’s hair. "Yohji, do you think-"

"They won’t tell a soul, Aya. It’s like Jo said, you’re one of us now. And even if that wasn’t the case, they know I’ll never let anything harm you. Your secret’s safe. Besides, they had to know sometime, since you’re staying. Not that I wanted them to find out what you are by you nearly slitting Mickey’s throat."

Aya felt the blood rush to his cheeks and he lowered his eyes, staring at the dark blond strand of hair he was playing with. "I… when I… let my bound nature take control, or it snatches it away from me it’s not like I lose myself, but that I’m no longer trying to be only half a person. When that happens, I can’t stop myself; I don’t want to stop myself. All I saw was Mickey on top of you, pinning you down." All that had mattered was freeing Yohji and keeping him safe. Aya would kill almost anyone to do that and never feel an ounce of regret.

Yohji’s hand stroked through his hair before resuming kneading his neck. "I know what you mean, Aya. Hell, I nearly committed patricide because of smelling Masato on you, and I’ll follow through with it if he ever touches you again. I’m just glad you didn’t kill Mickey; I have no clue how he does the books. It would be a nightmare to figure them out if he was dead."

Rolling his eyes, Aya rested his head on Yohji’s shoulder and nipped at his mate’s flesh. That earned him having his name whined out and a tug on an eartail. Aya licked his tongue over the red mark and the huge bruise on Yohji’s neck as well, smiling slightly as he did so.

Yohji shivered at the touch, making Aya aware that his lover was still buried inside him. As the man’s cock started to harden, he mewled and pressed his hips downward. Yohji’s hand tilted Aya’s chin up and his mouth was claimed for a kiss.

When it ended Yohji returned his hands to Aya’s hips, holding him still as the succubae-bound thrust upward the tiniest bit.

"Yotan…."

"I love how you purr out my name, cat." Yohji took to sucking on his earlobe, then blowing on the damp flesh and nuzzling just below it. "I love how you feel, so tight and hot. I love how I can smell my scent on your skin, how it comes from your pores when we’re done. As soon as I’m done fucking you I want to do it again and again. You drive me to distraction. You make my heart ache from happiness, as weird as that sounds. I’ve smiled more these past few weeks with you than in the past year. I know it can’t all be good times for us -- that we’ve troubles we have to face, but I don’t care. You’re mine and I’m yours, all we need is to be together. All I want is for you to be happy."

Tightening his muscles around the thick cock buried so deep inside him, Aya moaned Yohji’s name again and closed his eyes. His head fell backwards, exposing his neck, and a sense of languidness filled him as once more he felt his energy start to flow into his mate. There were nightmares and pain lying in wait for them, battles that had to be fought and sacrifices that had to be made, but all Aya wanted were moments like this, the two of them lost in each other.

"Then fuck me, Yotan. Make me happy."

Lips brushed against his neck as Yohji moved inside him. "Yes, love."

*******

Schuldig stepped into the Koneko, eager for a few drinks, some stimulating conversation and a bite to eat. Plus it always put him in a good mood to see Naoe and Yohji fight like two siblings, with Aya sitting there with his face becoming more and more impassive but his eyes changing from violet to a stormy lavender/grey as he became angrier and angrier with the two. One of these days the kage was going to lose it and smack both idiots, if the men in question were lucky, and Schuldig wanted to be there when that happened. Now that he’d resigned himself to never having Yohji, he was starting to enjoy the other redhead’s presence. Aya might be quiet and withdrawn, but he didn’t seem to miss a thing, and when he did speak, it was usually worth the wait. He also made Yohji deliriously happy. Just being in the couple’s presence was enough to give him a buzz that helped to kill his jealousy.

Heading to their table, Schuldig sighed when he saw his new papa sitting there. Botan had a frown on his face, which meant the man must be in a bad mood over something. Well, that had officially made his night. The wizard wasn’t bad, all in all, but having stopped by at his mother’s for some scones and coffee yesterday morning and finding Botan sitting at the table, dressed in a robe and little else, well…. Schuldig didn’t like contemplating the thought of his mother having a sex life, especially with a man she’d just met. That just creeped him out, and he was used to being the focus of the woman’s life. It didn’t help matters any that he’d been celibate the past couple weeks, being too busy running errands for his father and preparing things for his departure to have any fun.

Omi and Naoe were present as well, the younger teen sitting by Aya’s side and dividing his attention between the crown prince and his friend. That left two people missing; Schuldig knew that Jei was on the other side of town, talking to a pack of flesh gaki-bounds, and his father must be busy as well. Good, he got to eat a meal in peace without the Prick harping on him to do this and do that. Technically there were a few other people missing as well, Yohji’s friends Lilla and Ken primarily, but they weren’t bounds and so weren’t privy to any private conversations. Schuldig much preferred it when he didn’t have to monitor what he said when he wanted to spend an evening drinking with friends. Once Omi left he wouldn’t have to worry about that.

He waved at Yohji as he took a seat next to Botan. Now that he was up close and past the veil of shadows that Aya cast to keep curious eyes from watching the table, Schuldig could tell that he’d be leaving with one hell of a buzz tonight. Yohji looked like the cat that had snared a plump juicy canary, his lush lips tugged back in a wide smile and his eyes sparkling. The man practically glowed, which meant he’d been snacking pretty heavily on Aya that day. As for the kage, he was paler than normal and leaning against Yohji, his head resting on the man’s shoulder. His movements were languid and his eyes heavy lidded. Hell, Aya didn’t seem to mind for once that both Yohji and Naoe kept scooping more food onto his plate and pouring him more tea the second he set his cup down. Yohji must have drained him damn near dry for him to be that complacent. Reading Omi’s thoughts, Schuldig found out the two bounds had been mother-henning the redhead since dinner had started. Botan’s mind was filled with the thought that he wouldn’t be able to talk to Aya much tonight about being a kage, as Yohji was in a fiercely protective mood and didn’t seem to want to let his mate out of his sight. There was a flash of a brown haired stranger, but Schuldig didn’t follow that thought, being much more interested in eating instead.

"Care to spare some food for this starving redhead? I’d like to think I’m just as gorgeous and even more hungry."

Yohji laughed and tossed a roll his way. "Knowing the two of you, you’re definitely the hungrier one. We’ve been saving the chicken legs just for you, though a certain little demon keeps trying to snatch them." Schuldig started salivating as Yohji slid a tray of the drumsticks his way. He loved dark meat, and was happy that his friend remembered that and watched out for him.

"Hmph. Aya likes dark meat; I was trying to get them for him. You need to take better care of him, you stupid idiot."

"You little shit, I snagged a few thighs for him instead. And shut your mouth, I take care of him just fine."

"Yeah, that’s why you had to practically carry him to the table, Kudoh."

Schuldig caught the man in question’s eye as he started to nibble on a chicken leg. Aya wrinkled his nose and rolled his eyes, which were definitely stormy. Hmm, maybe he’d see that smacking happen tonight. Good thing he had a front row seat for it.

"Omi, could you pass me the wine before these two start throwing things at each other?"

Botan groaned and whispered under his breath, "Don’t give them any ideas, Schuldig." He picked from the wizard’s mind that this had been the seventh fight to break out in the past twenty minutes. Botan was considering a retreat back to the palace to resume renewing wards just for some peace and quiet, but he was waiting for Aya to blow up as well. Schuldig hoped that Yohji had left the man with enough energy for it to be a spectacular scene.

"Schuldig, tell the little demon here that I do to know how to take care of someone." Yohji broke off glaring at Naoe to look beseechingly at him.

He just had to play the devil’s advocate tonight. "I don’t know, Yotan. I remember you killing a grand total of eleven goldfish by the time you were nine, which was two more than Teddy. It was bad enough that your mother refused to let you try to win them at the festivals anymore. Now you’re looking after a person?" Schuldig quickly jerked his feet back from what he was sure would have been a vicious kick from Yohji, if it had landed.

<Hey, what’s your problem tonight? You deliberately tried to break my leg just then.>

Yohji glared at him while Naoe patted Aya’s hand and reassured him that someone responsible was there to make sure he was looked after. Aya snarled under his breath something about being surrounded by idiots and snatched his hand away.

"I can too look after someone! Hell, if it wasn’t for me Aya would be curled up in some dark room reading a book, and never seeing the light of day," Yohji proclaimed indignantly.

"At least that way he’d have some energy left to eat, let along do anything else. I’m surprised he’s not limping by now!" Naoe leaned over Aya to glare at Yohji, who looked a hair’s breadth from snarling at him.

The sound of flesh being smacked filled their corner of the inn, quickly followed by two cries of pain. Yohji and Naoe started to rub their sore heads, which Aya had just whapped, staring abjectly at their abuser.

"You’re both idiots. I don’t need anyone to look after me."

Yohji yanked on an eartail. "The hell you don’t. I’ve never seen anyone who needed a babysitter more than you do. There’s no telling what trouble you’ll get into if someone isn’t watching out for you."

"You need protection from _him_, Aya." Naoe glared at Yohji before handing a cup of tea to Aya. "He’s determined to suck the life out of you."

Omi and Botan were desperate not to burst out laughing at the look on Aya’s face and the scowls Yohji and Naoe were receiving for their thick-headedness. Deciding this was one of the funniest nights here yet, and that Aya was about to do a very good impression of a cat spitting in anger, Schuldig started to chuckle under his breath.

"Am I interrupting something here?"

Yohji turned away from Naoe to scowl at the table’s visitor. "Yes, so go the hell away."

Surprised by how angry his friend sounded, Schuldig stopped laughing and glanced over at the stranger. He took in the tall, broad shoulders, the faded and thin clothes which did little to hide the muscles on the man’s body, and was hard pressed not to start drooling. The man had light brown hair and golden hazel eyes set in a handsome face graced with a dusting of stubble. Not his usual type, but there was something about the man that made it difficult for Schuldig to look away.

"Ignore Yotan, he’s being bested by a fifteen year old so he’s a touch grouchy at the moment. I’m Schuldig." He held out his hand to the stranger and scooted over on the bench to create some room beside him.

A tingle ran through his body when the man shook his hand. "I’m Masato. It’s a pleasure to meet you." Schuldig smiled when Masato sat down next to him. Hearing a growling sound, Schuldig looked over at his friend, who was busy glaring at Masato. When the newcomer glanced Yohji’s way, the growl became more pronounced.

<Yotan, what the hell do you have against this man? You might not be on the prowl anymore now that you have your ‘cat’, but I am and he’s sexy as all hell.> Even the man’s scent was sexy, and Schuldig tried to figure out how he could sniff Masato and not be too obvious about it. The scent reminded him of someone, but he was interrupted before he could figure it out.

‘Sexy? Him?’ Yohji’s face blanched and he shook his head. ‘Schuldig, that man is my father. He’s a succubae-bound looking for a meal, so leave him the hell alone.’

Yohji’s father? So this was the mysterious man who didn’t seem to be able to count years? Schuldig suddenly decided he wasn’t going to hold that against him. He smiled at Masato as he poured him some wine. Understanding some of Yohji’s anger at the man, as both of them had spent a good portion of their childhood complaining about absent fathers, Schuldig was still puzzled over why his friend was so hostile. Unable to pick his thoughts for the reason why, Schuldig resolved to himself to get some answers to his questions later. Right now, though, he was going to enjoy this Masato’s presence. Damn, his whole body was tingling now.

"So, how long are you staying at the Koneko?" Schuldig asked coyly, his eyes heavy lidded and a seductive smile on his face. He spared a quick thought to Yohji, who had finally stopped growling. <Masato’s your dad? Why do I get the Prick and you get the sexy beast? Do you think if I ask him nicely enough he’ll sprinkle me with sugar before he takes a bite?>

Yohji started choking on the wine he’d swallowed, his eyes bulging and staring at Schuldig with horror. Aya frowned and patted his mate on the back, glancing at Yohji, Masato and Schuldig as he started to bite his bottom lip. As for Masato, he chuckled and sipped his wine, his hand sliding under the table to stroke Schuldig’s thigh.

Schuldig had met other succubae-bounds before, and had even slept with one or two of them, but he’d never felt such a strong tingle of pleasure with them, and all Masato was doing was touching his leg through his pants. Imagining what that touch would feel like on his naked skin, he grasped Masato’s hand and placed it on his crotch. Schuldig could feel the man’s surprise at his forwardness, and then his delight at finding such an eager meal. Even the feel of Masato’s thoughts was delightful, helping to mask out the mental pressure from all the other patrons.

Masato set his wine down to turn around and look at Schuldig, and the tingle became stronger. Arching his back in pleasure, Schuldig pressed the man’s hand against him even tighter.

"Masato, remember that list I mentioned earlier? I want to add a new name to it right now." Yohji’s voice sounded frantic, and he had to pound on the table to get their attention.

"Yohji, I don’t tell you what to eat, so don’t tell me. He’s willing and over eighteen, so back off." Masato leaned in to nuzzle Schuldig’s neck. "Right?"

<Yotan, if you ruin this for me I’ll… I’ll give Aya a list of every patron in this room that you’ve fucked.> Schuldig moaned softly at the feel of a stubbled cheek brushing against his neck. Oh yes, he was going to have this man. His mother was having sex, for the gods’ sakes, why the hell couldn’t he have a little fun? Considering how Yohji was hung, he was guaranteed that at least. Assuming that Yohji took after his father. He damn well better. Unable to resist taking a peek, Schuldig did a quick mental scan and ascertained that it was indeed a succubae-bound trait, at least for this particular family. Goodie.

"Uhm, is there something in the wine tonight? I thought there was no molesting allowed at the tables until nine o’clock." Omi’s voice was wry, and something hit Schuldig on the side of his head. Snarling, Schuldig pulled away from Masato to glare at the brat, who then stuck his tongue out at him. "You better take that somewhere else before Jo dumps a pitcher of water on you."

"Omi, you genki bastard, I oughta-"

A loud sneeze cut off Schuldig’s verbal abuse, and the whole table turned to stare at Aya. The redhead was rubbing his nose, a frown on his face.

"Don’t mention Jo and water."

Yohji pulled his mate close and nuzzled him on the cheek. "Are you okay, cat? You feel a little warm. Don’t tell me you’re coming down with a cold because of Jo."

"What did Jo do to the two of you? Were the two of you making out in the garden?" Omi shook his head. "I heard her tell you that if she caught you out there skipping work again, she’d toss the both of you in the pond. Aren’t you ever going to learn some self control, Yohji?"

Yohji scowled at Omi while Aya sneezed again. "I don’t understand, I never get colds." Aya shivered slightly, his frown fading into a look of confusion.

Nagi handed him his cup of tea, wrapping pale hands around it and urging it towards Aya’s mouth. "You never had a pervert… wearing you out all the time. This is all Yohji’s fault."

"Yeah," Omi chimed in. "He probably bribed Botan to make you sick so you’d have to stay in bed."

"Listen, the both of you can go to hell. Why am I being abused tonight?" Yohji tugged on one of Aya’s eartails and pressed his mouth against the man’s neck. "We really should get you into bed, you know. The little demon can bring up a pot of tea for you, and I’ll keep you warm." The last was said in a tone of voice so husky it sent shivers down Schuldig’s spine. He felt a brief flash of jealousy and a pain in his heart.

Aya smiled, ever so slightly, and as he started to purr he tilted his head back until it rested on Yohji’s shoulder, his neck arched and exposed. Schuldig couldn’t look away from the man, snared as he was by the kage’s beauty and the irresistible sight of that bared, slender throat. Beside him he felt Masato shifting about on the bench, radiating hunger and lust as his attention rested on Aya.

Yohji seemed to notice what had his father entranced too, and stopped stroking Aya’s cheek to look in Masato’s direction. Schuldig was shocked by the expression on his friend’s face, pure hatred and anger that twisted Yohji’s visage into an inhuman mask. Before the man could even start growling, though, Aya yanked his mate’s head down and kissed him.

A cold presence pushed against Schuldig’s mind. ‘Get Masato out of here, _now_.’ Not needing Aya to repeat that order, Schuldig grabbed the older succubae-bound’s hand and dragged him away from the table. Sparing a quick thought to blur the last couple of seconds from Omi’s mind, who was wondering what had come over his friends, Schuldig didn’t stop until the two of them were out of the room. Then Masato seemed to come back to himself and started to drag him towards the private section of the Koneko.

A scan of the man’s mind revealed the events of the afternoon, with Masato mistakenly trying to feed from Aya and his disastrous first meeting with Yohji. No wonder Yotan had told Schuldig to stay away from the man. Well, he guessed it was his friend’s fault that he now found himself in Kira’s room all alone with Masato.

"You really tried to hit on Aya?"

Masato’s eyes went wide, and Schuldig found himself pushed against a wall as the man pressed against him. Rather happy with the tingle that spread through his body at the contact, he didn’t try to push Masato away. In fact he pressed against the man and purred.

Masato leaned in close to him and sniffed his neck. "You’re a bound, aren’t you? Soul gaki?"

<Very impressive. I didn’t know you could tell that by scent alone.>

Masato smiled down at Schuldig, his eyes sparkling and a wolfish smile on his lips. "Succubae-bounds rely very much on their sense of smell, on being able to read if we’ve snared our prey sufficiently enough to move in for dinner. With a bit of time and experience, one can tell more than that. Besides, Yohji mentioned having some soul gaki-bound friends."

"Yes, I can ‘see’ that." Schuldig slid his hands up Masato’s chest and rested them on the man’s broad shoulders. "That was an incredibly stupid thing to do, making a play for Aya. You’re lucky Yohji didn’t kill you."

"He sure as hell tried." Masato sighed and leaned his head closer to Schuldig’s. "Doesn’t help that I was an idiot back there in the dining room, but I’m so damn hungry."

It had tempted even Schuldig, the sight of another bound’s neck offered up like that. Smiling wickedly, he decided to do something about both of their appetites. He’d been deprived of one meal tonight, time to work on sating another type of hunger. Schuldig rested his head against the wall, baring his neck.

<Well then, why don’t you have a bite?>

The comment earned him a lustful grin. "I think I like you, Schuldig. Especially when you come up with such wonderful suggestions." Schuldig could read from Masato’s thoughts his eagerness to appease his hunger and his joy at being able to do so with another bound, someone he wouldn’t have to pretend with.

When Masato next spoke, it was in a voice reminiscent of Yohji’s earlier, husky and laden with want. "I’ve been hungry for a very long time. Are you sure?"

Growling softly, Schuldig jerked Masato’s head down closer to his. Why did the man have to be so damn tall and stubborn? "Yes, I’m sure." He’d been hungry for a while himself and couldn’t recall the last time he’d wanted someone this badly, if ever.

"I don’t want to hold back."

<Then don’t.>

Masato stilled for a second, and then Schuldig moaned as his mind and emotions were assaulted with a wave of desire so strong he became painfully hard. From Masato came the thought that he wasn’t going to hold back any longer, that he would take Schuldig up on his offer and revel in the brief period of freedom from control and illusions. That was the only clear thought in Schuldig’s head, as his mind lost it under the barrage, reduced to a primitive state of just feeling. His world narrowed down to Masato’s tongue in his mouth and the hands stroking his body.

His claws unsheathed and tore at Masato’s tunic, the sound of cloth ripping being echoed as Masato ripped the seam of his shirt apart. The instant their skin came in contact the both of them moaned as their lust increased, and their pants went the way of their shirts.

Everything was a jumble of pleasure and need to Schuldig, his mind so deep inside Masato’s, drinking in the man’s emotions as he in turn was fed from, he wasn’t aware at all when he’d been pulled away from the wall. Masato tried to steer them towards the bed, but one of them tripped, falling just short of the furniture. Someone’s arm knocked into the nightstand, sending various items scattering across the floor.

As their bodies lost contact Masato snarled savagely and grabbed ahold of Schuldig, jerking him back to his feet. They gave walking another try, but as they were unwilling to stop kissing each other the whole while, they once again stumbled along until they crashed into a vanity table.

Schuldig found himself turned around and bent over the table with Masato pressing against his back. A hungry mouth fastened onto his neck, causing him to groan in pleasure. The sound choked off when Masato’s hand wrapped around his cock and started to stroke it, causing him to shudder and push back against the man.

Teeth clamped onto his skin, a flash of pain that quickly became bliss, and his hands clasped Masato’s hips, urging him forward. Schuldig had never wanted anything as much as he wanted Masato inside him, wanted this damn hunger to be sated. They were feeding off each other, but it still wasn’t enough.

The scent of gardenias filled the room, and then Masato pushed a slick finger inside him, causing Schuldig to cry out the man’s name. The hand around his cock clenched almost painfully tight, relaxing only when another finger was added and both of them brushed against that spot inside him.

That flash of pleasure proved to be too much for Masato, and Schuldig arched his back as something enormous and hard was shoved into him, stretching him painfully. But the hurt immediately faded as Masato’s power washed through him, and within seconds he was pushing back against the succubae-bound, trying to take the thick cock in even deeper. Each thrust only made Schuldig all the more needy until he was sobbing as he was roughly shoved against the table again and again. Cosmetics and perfumes were sent flying as the vanity repeatedly smacked into the wall.

Schuldig could feel the energy flow out of him and into Masato, at an ever increasing pace as the thrusts became more frantic. The man’s mouth fastened to his neck again, sucking and biting on it as Schuldig tilted his head even more to the side. Everything was pure bliss, was nothing but that emotion and hunger. He’d never experienced anything like this, and as the pleasure coursed through him a tear slid down his cheek.

Then the world shattered, the pleasure setting him on fire until his whole body felt seared and tingling. With a hoarse cry Masato came, and the two of them slumped over the table.

It took several moments for Schuldig to separate their thoughts, and he could only bonelessly lie on the table as Masato pulled out of him. The loss of contact with the man hurt, the solid presence withdrawing and leaving him achingly empty. Large hands gently lifted him off the table and carried him to the bed.

Masato lay down next to him, nuzzling Schuldig’s neck and pulling him close. His body still tingling from the orgasm, Schuldig moaned at the feel of a stubbled cheek brushing against his sensitive skin. From Masato came an image of his very bruised neck, looking a lot like Aya’s on some mornings.

<I think you’re part flesh gaki-bound from the way you attacked my throat.>

There was a low rumble that turned into a chuckle after a moment. "No, I’m not a flesh gaki-bound. Though I’m still hungry as one."

Schuldig opened an eye and stared at his lover in shock. "You’re still hungry after _that_?" His voice was hoarse, his throat a touch sore. He seemed to remember hearing someone screaming a few minutes ago, and assumed that it must have been himself. A memory from Masato confirmed the suspicion. The man had adored hearing Schuldig repeatedly call out his name as he’d fucked him senseless.

That wasn’t the only thing he was picking up from Masato. The latest image involved the two of them on the bed, and more of him being fucked senseless and screaming. Schuldig moaned, half in pleasure and half in exasperation of having to actually move so quickly after the previous bout of sex.

<You’ve got to be kidding me. We just finished.>

"I told you, I’m very hungry." Masato kissed him on the mouth, and just when Schuldig worked up the energy to kiss him back, the man shifted away from him. "If you object to having your neck bruised any more, I guess I’ll have to find something else to nibble on." As Masato kissed a trail down his stomach, Schuldig caught the thought that he wasn’t going to be left alone until Masato’s appetite had been fully appeased. About to protest that he wasn’t sure if he had that much energy or stamina left in him, Schuldig moaned as the man took him into his mouth. With more skill than he’d ever imagined a person to possess, Masato quickly had him becoming hard again.

<Just… oh fuck. Just how hungry are you?>

‘Very, very hungry. Gods, you taste so good. I’m never going to be able to get enough of you.’

Schuldig moaned again as his hips started to thrust upward into Masato’s mouth. Maybe he should have listened to Yohji’s advice after all.

*******

Yohji stroked a hand through the crimson bangs that covered Aya’s face. His mate grunted softly and tried to bury his face into the pillow, but after a minute opened an eye to glare weakly at him. Smiling in return, Yohji leaned down and kissed Aya on the forehead.

"I’m going downstairs to grab us something to eat." Aya just closed his eyes and went back to sleep, but Yohji felt better knowing that if the man woke up while he was gone, Aya wouldn’t worry over his absence.

Rising from the bed, he quickly washed himself off and pulled on a pair of dark green pants and a light gold shirt. Deciding he didn’t need to wear any boots as he’d be spending most of his day in bed, Yohji slid a pair of black leather slippers onto his feet and left the room.

He waved at several people who called out good morning to him and decided he’d get something to eat down here before taking up a tray for Aya. His cat needed the extra bit of sleep after last night, and that way Yohji could concentrate on feeding Aya and not himself. Heading for his usual table, he was surprised to find Schuldig sitting there.

The man looked like hell. His neck was one huge bruise, bearing several bite marks as well, and he looked almost as exhausted as Aya. Clothes a couple sizes too big hung on his slender frame, making Schuldig appear smaller than he really was.

"I see you didn’t take my advice."

Schuldig shot him a dirty look and sipped at his drink, which smelled like tea and honey. Then the redhead opened his mouth and croaked. "Fuck off, Yotan."

"Gods, Schu, you sound almost as bad as Aya, and he has the excuse of having a cold. What the hell happened last night?"

<Well, to help keep you from killing your father, I let the man drag me off to his room and fuck me silly. When Masato tells you he’s hungry, you better damn well believe he’s hungry. We didn’t stop until just a couple of hours ago, and I’m not sure if I have the energy to make it home.>

The image of his best friend and the asshole that was his father having sex made Yohji shudder in horror. It was almost enough to put him off his appetite forever.

"I warned you, didn’t I, to stay the hell away from him. Listen to me next time."

Schuldig just grunted and sipped his tea. Ani came over and kissed Yohji on the cheek before asking him what he wanted for breakfast, and after he told her his order he asked for a few plates to be made up for Aya, along with a huge pot of Jo’s special brew that worked wonders against colds. Considering the fact that it was half grain alcohol, Aya wouldn’t be feeling stuffy and achy for much longer. Hell, he wouldn’t be feeling much at all other than drunk, even with his bound tolerance.

Waiting until Ani was gone, Schuldig finally responded. <Well, at least Masato won’t be hungry enough to look at your cat anymore.>

Yohji growled for a moment before shaking his head. Aya wasn’t going to cheat on him with anybody, and if Masato tried something again, his mate would kill the man. That thought almost made Yohji wish his father would try something, but then his jealousy flared again and he had some difficulty stopping himself from rising from the bench, tracking Masato down and removing the man’s head from his body.

When he managed to get control of himself Yohji found Schuldig looking at him oddly. "Yes?"

<Let me guess, you were thinking about your father just then. Gods, Yohji, why do you want to kill the man so badly? Because he hit on Aya before knowing that he was your mate?>

‘It’s… I think it’s a succubae thing. Sorta like when flesh gaki-bounds get into a fight over a dead body because they can’t share a meal. I can’t stand the thought of him here in the Koneko and near Aya.’

Schuldig gazed at him wearily for a moment. <So what are you going to do, kick him out? He has that token your mom gave him.>

Yohji sighed and played with a strand of his hair. He pitched his voice low so no one could overhear them. "No, I think I have to let him stay now. He offered to teach me to train my power, and I need that, desperately. Aya’s up in bed, utterly drained and suffering a cold. Which is something, according to him, that kage shouldn’t get. I think I’m responsible for that, draining him so much yesterday until he can’t even fight off a human illness."

<Why did you drain him so much?>

"Because… gods, Schu, he’s so fucking delicious." Yohji’s voice was hoarse from thinking about Aya and the way he tasted, the sunlight that filled him when he pleasured his mate. "Add to that the fact that he’s been so worried lately, and since I can’t take him fretting I try and distract him from his fears." Schuldig made a face at the distraction comment. "I know, it’s probably just an excuse for me to ravish him silly. It doesn’t help that Masato showed up and I’m filled with this anger and jealousy the moment he looks at Aya…." Yohji rested his head on the table and thought of last night.

He really would have chased Masato down if Aya hadn’t distracted him. As tired as the man had been, Yohji had dragged him up to their room and had sex with him, and then again each time he’d thought of his father being in a room below them. It was only when Aya had curled up in a ball, worn out, coughing and his nose running, that Yohji had realized just how much he’d drained his mate. The cold had become much worse, proving Naoe correct that it was his fault that Aya was suffering one in the first place. Yohji had tried to return some of Aya’s energy, but no matter how much he took, he could only give back a fraction of it.

"I need to learn how to control my hunger. If Aya wasn’t what he was… if he was human he’d probably be dead by now." That thought had occurred to Yohji last night, and it had terrified him. There was no way in hell he’d be able to go on living without Aya. There was also no way Aya could go on being constantly drained, even if his kage nature would keep him alive. So the only option Yohji had was to suffer Masato’s presence and learn whatever he could from the other bound. He wouldn’t let his father leave until he felt assured he wouldn’t harm Aya anymore.

"I’m going to take up Masato on his offer to teach me."

<It’s the best thing, Yotan. He can teach you much better than Mom or I could.>

"Yeah, well you don’t have to sound so excited about it, Schu. Gods, you really do look like shit. Maybe you should stay away from the Koneko until he’s gone."

Schuldig glared at Yohji as he rubbed his throat. <I’m not a child, Yohji, and I was a hundred percent willing last night. Well, at least the first couple times, but I really wasn’t complaining even after that. I might be sore, bruised and tattered around the edges, but it was still the best night of sex I ever had.>

"Please, Schu, I don’t want to know the details," Yohji pleaded. "It’s gross enough just thinking about you screwing a man old enough to be your dad. Hell, for all we know, he’s old enough to be the Prick’s dad." He really, really didn’t need this in his life at the moment.

Smiling, Schuldig rose to his feet. <Well, I think I’m going to crash at my mom’s. I’ll be back later, so pass that on to Masato for me. Bye.>

Yohji gritted his teeth as he watched his friend limp away from him, courtesy of his bastard father. ‘Are you sure you can walk that far?’

<Bite me, Kudoh.>

‘From the looks of it, someone already did, repeatedly.’

Well, at least he got the last word in, as all Schuldig did was give him the finger and continued to limp out of the Koneko. That was one thing in his favor today. Then Yohji thought of Aya upstairs in their bed, Masato sleeping off draining Schuldig dry, and what Naoe and Jo were going to do to him when they found out about Aya, and he felt the sudden impulse to join Schu at Cass’. It wasn’t going to be a very good day.

As if the gods agreed with him, Yohji caught sight of Jo bearing down on him, a tray of food in her hands and fire in her eyes. Sliding down in his seat, Yohji wondered if it was an option for him to hide under the table until the woman no longer wanted his head. A whimper escaped from his throat.

*******

Cassandra looked up from her mug as Crawford and Jei walked into her kitchen. She had two mugs of coffee waiting on the table for them.

"Why did you call us here, Cass?"

"And a good day to you, Crawford. Feh, still no manners from you I see." Jei smiled at her and sat down at the table, quietly muttering a "thanks" for the coffee. Crawford glared at her for a moment before joining his partner. Both men appeared tired, and she was willing to bet that they hadn’t seen their beds for some time. They had much to do, and little time before the wedding to get it done.

"Schuldig is upstairs sleeping. He came to my house this morning with an interesting bit of news. It appears that Yohji’s father has returned."

Crawford’s right eyebrow arched at the news. "Isn’t his father a bound?"

"Succubae-bound to be exact." She sipped her tea as she waited for that fact to sink in. It didn’t take long for Crawford to frown and shove his mug away from him.

"I don’t understand, why didn’t we foresee this? You didn’t know about it, did you?" The look Crawford gave her suggested that he wouldn’t put such a thing past Cassandra.

Resisting the urge to toss her mug at the man, Cassandra gritted her teeth. "I saw nothing about him returning. I knew he would, but not when, and certainly not that it would be during all this." She sighed before she continued on. "It gets worse; he’s Schuldig’s mate."

"WHAT?"

Jei chuckled at the sight of his partner’s face. "Gods, Crawford, are you trying to wake the dead?" He got a scowl for his good humor.

Crawford then turned the look on Cassandra. "His mate? You knew he had a mate out there and you didn’t tell me?"

"I wasn’t sure when he’d come, and thought it wouldn’t happen for another couple years. Besides, nothing you do will change anything. They’re meant to be together." She wasn’t going to sit here and listen to Crawford blame her. "I didn’t tell you for that reason, and because I knew you’d only try to include the man in any future schemes."

"If they’re mates I damn well have to." Crawford jerked a hand through his hair, knocking his glasses off-kilter on his nose. "Do you realize how much the man can jeopardize our plans? What if he doesn’t want to accompany us to Esset and convinces Schuldig not to go? Shit." Falling silent for a moment, Crawford adjusted his glasses. "Maybe we can keep them apart before they mate."

Cassandra barely prevented herself from gloating as she spoke. "Too late. They slept together last night, which is why my brat is upstairs sleeping, even through your little outburst. It’s too late now."

"Sleeping is not the same as mating. There’s still time."

"Crawford, get over it. They fucked already. Do you want to drag Schuldig to Esset with a furious and jealous succubae-bound on our trail? That’s sheer suicide." Jei said succinctly before drinking more of his coffee. Cassandra smiled at the man, remembering why she’d always liked him. If she hadn’t foreseen the lovers Fate had in store for them, she would have tried to be more than friends with him. That would have driven Crawford nuts.

Mumbling, the older precog pulled his mug back in front of him and glared down at it. "This seriously complicates things. Now we have another person’s actions to consider, another person who can cause things to go awry and doom us all."

"It might not be all bad. Schuldig will have someone to look after him, and you’ll have another bound to present to the Elders in place of the kage." Cassandra tried to look on the bright side of things, too happy that her son had found his mate to dwell on the negative. Now she wouldn’t have to worry about him so.

It was Jei who vocalized her fears. "Maybe he’ll help and maybe he won’t. What has me more worried is that the two of you didn’t see this. If something as important as Schuldig’s mate has slipped your attention, what else has?"

*******

Shuuichi looked down at the seating chart before him and snarled. "Does it really matter who the hell we have seated at table fourteen as opposed to table fifteen?" For the past week they’d made absolutely no headway on the seating chart for the wedding reception, and he was ready to tear the damn piece of paper to shreds.

"Honey, you know better than that. If we snub the wrong person we’ll never hear the end of it." Manx rubbed his shoulder for a moment and then returned her attention to the chart. "Perhaps if we put the lords of prefectures twenty-four through thirty at table fourteen, and the others at fifteen?"

He had a headache. Wanting nothing more than to drag his fiancée back to his quarters for some privacy, Shuuichi returned his attention to the diagram. Once he got this out of the way, and about a dozen other matters related to the wedding, then he could relax. It was certain that Manx wouldn’t until the task was done. At least she now had a successor to hand most of her duties over to, so she wasn’t wearying herself thin between two different jobs.

"That will free up table sixteen then, where we can put the Judges together. That might work."

Manx smiled at him and kissed Shuuichi on the lips. Wishing he could deepen the kiss, Shuuichi reminded himself of the several pages and Guards in the room with them. Now wasn’t the time. Later on they could snuggle together and enjoy each other, and he could inquire about his wayward son then. At the thought of Mamoru experiencing his first love and a bit of freedom, Shuuichi felt some of his headache vanish.

They managed to make headway on the seating chart for the next hour, until the thing was almost done. Then a page nervously stepped into the room, clearing her throat to get Shuuichi’s attention. His dark eyes narrowed when he saw her trembling form, and spied Birman standing behind her, his Spymaster’s face solemn and guarded.

"Your Highness…"

"Yes, I see her." Shuuichi waved Birman inside the chamber. "You have a report for me?" It couldn’t be about his son, or Birman would be worried and not angry. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach that he knew what she was about to say and clutched Manx’s hand in his.

"It’s my duty to report to you, Sire, that your brother, his two sons and their retinue have just entered the city’s North Gate. They should arrive at the palace within the hour."

*******

Aya sighed as he sat at the table, Lilla his only company at the present. Yohji had been called upon to help bring up a new cask of wine, Nagi and Omi were out watching fireworks, Schuldig and Masato had retreated to the older man’s room for some privacy, and Jei was across the room drinking with the Guards Liss and Ken. Teddy had stayed for a while to chat, but since Koyu was about to start playing he’d gone to get a seat closer to his boyfriend.

Not that Aya minded Lilla’s company, much to his surprise. She was smart and witty and possessed a wicked sense of humor that amused him. The woman also had no problem sitting quietly when Aya didn’t feel like talking, which was often the case. The two of them were sharing a pitcher of mulled wine, silent except for a few observations on Lilla’s part. As this was his first night allowed out of bed because of his cold, Aya was rather content.

"Ah, see the young woman in the purple tunic? I’ll bet you anything that she came down here because she heard you haven’t been seen lately. She’d been trying to get her hooks in Yotan for over five months, but she’s underage and he has too much taste. Want me to go over there and spill something on her?"

Glaring at the woman in question, Aya considered the matter for a moment. With only a thought on his part he could have the shadows knock the full tankard of beer that was sitting in front of her onto the girl, but Lilla would greatly enjoy doing the deed herself. "Wait until Yohji comes back."

Lilla grinned wickedly. "I like the way you think, Aya. That will be much more embarrassing for her. Let’s finish this pitcher so I can get a full one, and the little tart will end up wearing it." She poured Aya more of the hot beverage. "How are you holding up? I haven’t heard you cough once tonight."

"Hn." Thankfully the first thing Masato had taught Yohji was how to rein in his hunger and keep it from draining Aya so much during sex. Then he’d shown Yohji how to send Aya more energy than he’d been able to in the past, enough so that Aya finally was able to fight off the cold and feel better. It was still strange, suffering an illness he’d never had before, and he was very thankful that he was better.

"Oh, look at this one. I’ve never seen her before. She’s pretty, but in a stuck up sort of way. She also has no sense if she’s letting Ilya talk her ear off, as that man is the world’s biggest gossip."

Glancing over in the direction that Lilla had pointed, Aya saw a lovely woman with dark hair staring back at him. He went still when he recognized Hell, and the woman raised her glass at him in acknowledgment.

"Aya, do you know her?"

How had Hell tracked him down? The Takatoris had no clue where he was staying, and there was no way a spell could detect his location. He should have been safe here with Yohji until the wedding. Yohji….

Aya could feel Yohji’s emotions and knew his mate was growing worried over his sense of panic and fear. Yohji was already heading for the common room. Aya had to think quickly and prevent a scene that would doom them all.

"Lilla, I need you to do something for me." Normally he wouldn’t ask a favor from anyone, but his options were rather limited at the moment.

"What, Aya?" Lilla looked at him, concern plain on her face.

"Prevent Yohji from coming near me. Hit him, kiss him, do whatever you have to, but we can’t be seen together. He’ll be here any moment." It might already be too late, but Aya had to prevent Hell from reporting to their masters that a kage had fallen in love with a ‘human’ they wanted dead.

Not saying a word, Lilla rose to her feet and hurried to the door. As she walked away from him, Aya searched out a familiar sense of magic.

‘Schuldig.’

<…….>

‘SCHULDIG.’

<What the hell do you want? Do I bother you during sex with Yohji?>

‘Schuldig, one of my masters’ spies is here at the Koneko, and Yohji is heading towards me. She can’t know about our relationship.’ Aya opened his mind to the bound, revealing all he knew about Hell and her companions, their hatred for Yohji and his fears of what his mate would do if he knew one of Aya’s abusers was here.

Just then Yohji stepped into the room. As he did so, Lilla quickly grabbed him by the arm and yanked his head down for a kiss. He struggled with the woman, plainly wanting to shove her away but not about to hurt a friend. Several people in the inn stopped and stared at the two of them, Hell included.

‘Schuldig, please.’

<Okay, Aya, I’m telling him right now, and I’ll do something about the crowd too. Just don’t expect too much from me at the moment. Masato and I will be right there in case she tries something, and I’m warning Jei as we speak.>

Yohji suddenly stopped struggling and kissed Lilla back, picking up the woman and swinging her in his arms. From his mate Aya could sense fear, anger, protectiveness and worry. Green eyes met his for a second, filled with sorrow and love, and then Yohji dragged Lilla with him over to where a furious Jei, Ken and Liss were standing. With their arrival, Jei left the group and headed towards Aya, clearly coming to guard him. For once Aya wasn’t angered at the presumption that he needed to be looked after. Not when Hell was here. He immediately began searching for Schoen and Tot.

When he failed to spot the other women he glanced over at Yohji, only to see the man whispering something in Ken’s ear. The Guard’s face calmed down after a second, his brown eyes flashing in Hell’s direction, and he started to tap something on the copper bracelet on his right wrist. Aya noted that all around the room, the various Guards, off duty and on, wrapped hands around their right wrists and seemed to be concentrating on something.

<Well, I have good news and bad news, Aya. The bad is that the bitch knows about you sleeping with Yohji. The good is that’s all she thinks it is, but it’s too late to wipe the thought from her mind. She and her fellow whores found that information out earlier today, which is why she’s in the Koneko right now. Seems to be some confusion about whether you’re really the Aya they’ve heard about, and whether you’re Yohji’s fucktoy or true love, so she’s here to get some answers.>

Aya closed his eyes in pain, wondering why Masafumi had sent the women to the capital ahead of him, and what damaging report they were going to give their lord. He caught a sense of unease from Schuldig.

<Ah, well, you see, your masters have been here for three days now. Yohji didn’t want you to know while you were sick. Apparently, as soon as they got here, the bastards unleashed the hounds after you and Yohji. Imagine their surprise to find you together.>

Aya cursed softly under his breath and had to force the shadows around him to remain still as anger and fear raced through him. ‘Schuldig, what the hell are we going to do?’

<That’s part of the good news. Yohji had Ken inform all the Guards that as far as everyone but your friends are concerned, you fall into the fucktoy category. They’ll make sure word of that spreads around town, and that should either convince your masters or confuse the hell out of them about the status of your relationship with Yohji. I’m tweaking this Hell’s mind as well, so she reports that she heard nothing more than that you spent a few nights in Yohji’s bed before he returned to a previous lover who’d been ill. Crawford’s on his way here right now, and he’ll intercept the woman and spin her a story about you staying here to keep an eye on the man for them, and his plan to use Yohji again. Don’t worry, we have this all under control. Not bad for such quick thinking, ne?> Schuldig felt proud of himself, the emotions radiating through their link.

He wished he could share Schuldig’s enthusiasm and assurance, but couldn’t shake his fear and worry. Aya suddenly didn’t want to be down here anymore and watching Yohji, however unwillingly, hold another person, or bear the confused and pitying glances being sent his way. Rising to his feet, he started heading towards the stairs. Jei, who had just reached the table after navigating the crowded room, immediately fell into step behind him.

<She’s following you.>

‘Let her.’ Aya wanted to see what she had to say to him. Once out of the room he stood in a corner of the dark hallway with Jei only a few feet to the side and waited for Hell. The woman quickly appeared, and after glancing about, stepped close to him.

"Evening, Ran."

"Hell." They’d never cared for each other, but had left each other alone over the years. While Schoen and Tot enjoyed seeing him abused, Hell only wanted Aya’s blood and the strength it could give her. She didn’t care one way or another what happened to him as long as he lived and continued to supply that blood.

"Interesting finding you here."

"I could say the same." Not wanting to drag this out, Aya cut to the chase. "Why are you here?"

Hell blinked at him and smiled, a cold expression. "To make sure that you are well, and that you remember your mission. Why are _you_ here? Do you know who the owner of this inn is?"

"Yohji Kudoh. I know what he did to Neu, if that’s what you’re wondering." A look of hatred and sorrow crossed Hell’s face at mention of the dead woman. "I’m here because Crawford brought me to the Koneko and told me to remain at this inn until the wedding. I know what I’m supposed to do then." It was so hard to keep worry and fear for Yohji from showing on his face, but Aya managed to retain his emotionless mask.

"Good." Hell glanced at Jei then stepped closer to Aya. "I’ve heard an interesting rumor or two. Is it true that you’ve slept with Kudoh?" There was no doubt how much she hated Yohji from the way she spoke about him, her eyes flashing with strong emotion.

Jei growled and broke into the conversation. "It’s not safe to talk about certain things down here, woman." He turned to Aya and motioned up the steps. "Ran, go back to your room."

"I’m talking to him, not you," Hell spat out.

She received a smile that showed too many teeth for comfort from Jei. "He listens to me until the mission is completed, and I feel that he’s been allowed out of his room long enough for one night. Ran, go now."

Knowing that he would probably be making an enemy of Hell for it, Aya did as he was told. He wanted to be somewhere else as quickly as possible. Ascertaining that the steps were empty, he used his enhanced speed to race to Yohji’s and his room. Once there, Aya curled up on the bed, breathing in deep the scent of his mate.

<Jei’s distracting the bitch until Crawford gets here. She’s pissed as all hell at you, but even more at him. If only she knew that the feeling is mutual. The only thing that’s keeping him from killing her right now is the thought that to get at her lord, he has to take out her and the other cunts first. Jei’s really looking forward to that.>

‘That’s enough, Schu.’ Deciding he needed to be alone for a short time to collect his thoughts, Aya blocked the telepath from his mind. He laid quietly on the bed, letting the shadows crawl over him as they responded to his agitation.

It was almost an hour later when the door opened and Yohji slid inside. The blond immediately came over to the bed and pulled Aya into an embrace. Aya could feel his mate’s relief at finding him there and unharmed.

"Gods, love, I was so worried for you. Tell me you’re okay." Yohji’s voice was thick with concern.

Aya could smell Lilla all over Yohji and had to prevent himself from snarling when he answered the man. "I’m fine." Which wasn’t even close to being true, but Aya wasn’t going to put up with a fussing Yohji, not when he wanted to kill his mate at the moment. Well, maybe hurt him quite a bit. "Why didn’t you tell me _they_ were here?"

He could feel Yohji’s guilt over hiding that from him. "You were so sick and weak, and I didn’t want you to get any worse. I was going to tell you tomorrow, I swear. It wasn’t like we could keep it secret for much longer than that."

There was no thought involved, Aya just wormed an arm free and punched Yohji in the stomach. So, he’d have been told only because he’d find out eventually? The bastard. Aya really did want to hurt him at that moment. All those talks about Aya trusting Yohji, and the man had done something as stupid as hide things from him.

Yohji wheezed and grabbed him, tackling Aya to the bed. Hissing in fury, Aya smacked Yohji a few more times before his arms were pinned at his sides.

Unable to express his displeasure physically, Aya hissed at Yohji. "Couldn’t keep it a secret any longer? I have to find out something like that not from my mate, but by seeing Hell? What if I hadn’t been downstairs tonight, Yohji? What if she’d found out the truth and told Masafumi that I was in love with the man that they want dead, and that you loved me back? They’d have ordered me to kill you just to cause the both of us pain! You damn idiot!"

"Aya, I didn’t think, okay? I’m sorry. I only wanted to keep you safe and help you get better." Yohji straddled his hips and bent his head down until strands of dark gold swept along Aya’s face. "I’m worried about you, dammit. I can’t stand to see you fretting anymore, or jumping at shadows. I want you to be happy."

The fight suddenly left Aya, and he slumped against the bed. "I can’t be completely happy until this is over, Yohji. Not until my sister is safe and Naoe and I are free." Now Aya had a reminder of what exactly he stood to lose if he and the others failed. Yohji’s death would destroy him, especially if it was at his hands.

Yohji stroked a hand along his cheek. "I know, Aya, and I won’t rest until you are. We’ll manage it somehow. I’m learning about my powers, and Botan is close to figuring out the spells he needs for your sister. We’ll manage." He leaned down and kissed Aya.

Wrapping his arms around his mate’s shoulders, Aya pulled Yohji down until he was lying on top of him. "You smell like Lilla." Aya knew that Yohji and Lilla were just friends now, but he couldn’t help but be jealous on smelling another person all over his mate.

"I talked with her before I came up here and explained as much as I could. She’s gonna keep on pretending that we’re back together to keep you safe. Gods, I owe her for tonight."

Aya sighed and closed his eyes in pain. "You do realize that we have to stay apart until the wedding, don’t you, Yohji?" That thought had occurred to him as he laid up here.

Yohji’s hand grasped Aya’s chin and forced him to look into a pair of furious eyes. "No, Aya, we have to pretend to be apart until the wedding. There’s no way we’re actually going to stay away from each other until then. All we have to do is avoid each other when we’re downstairs, but nothing changes up here. _Nothing_."

Feeling Yohji’s anger and possessiveness, Aya started to purr. "Nothing changes." He hadn’t realized how afraid he’d been that something would happen to their relationship, that Yohji would want some of the freedom he’d once possessed and use this as an opportunity to get it, but he could have no doubts, not with the way the man was looking at him right that moment. Aya started to tug on Yohji’s shirt, wanting desperately to make love to the man and reassure himself of their bond. They hadn’t been able to do that much these past few days, and he needed him.

"Ah, cat, that isn’t such a good idea at the moment. I don’t feel very in control right now." Yohji’s voice was thick with lust, but he remained still, not helping Aya take his shirt off.

"Yohji."

"No, you just got better. If I drain you again today, you might suffer a relapse."

Snarling, Aya jerked Yohji’s head down. His voice sibilant, he hissed at his lover. "Then just send the energy back when we’re done. I can smell Lilla on you, Yotan. I can’t stand it, and I want the scent gone. You’re mine."

Yohji’s eyes went wide, and then he smiled, a beautiful sight that took Aya’s breath away. "You got that right, cat."

No longer facing any resistance, Aya finally managed to get Yohji’s rust colored shirt off and removed his white one. Hands stroked along his chest as he lifted his head to kiss Yohji, needing to feel the man’s lips on his.

When they broke apart Aya started to nibble on Yohji’s ear, moaning when a warm hand slid down the back of his pants. "Make this good, love. I’m gonna catch hell from the others for it, I just know it, so make me not care." There was a teasing hint to Yohji’s voice, causing Aya to nip his mate’s ear.

He let his actions speak for him as he rested his head back on the bed, tilting it until his neck was exposed in an elegant arch. As he did this he thrust his groin against Yohji’s and wrapped his legs around the man’s waist. Judging from Yohji’s moan and the way the man attacked his neck, he was doing a very good job so far.

*******

Omi tugged on the hem of his sapphire blue formal tunic and sighed. He hated these gatherings, hated being paraded around as the crown prince in front of a bunch of sycophants who wouldn’t even wait to be presented with his back before they started talking about him. What he wouldn’t give to be at the Koneko right now.

Omi felt he was needed at the Koneko, where he could keep an eye on Yohji and Aya as they tried to deal with hiding the true depth of their relationship from Aya’s master. For a moment Omi wondered who the man could be, and just how much power he had if the couple was going to such great lengths to make the man believe that his servant had only been involved in a casual fling with Yohji. No one would say a word to Omi about his identity, which bothered him to no end because Omi felt as if he was the only one who didn’t know. Not even Naoe would give him the man’s name.

Thinking of his boyfriend, Omi smiled sadly and almost hugged himself. They hadn’t had much time alone together lately, as Naoe was very reluctant to leave Aya’s side during the ordeal. The three of them had taken to spending most of their evenings in Aya’s room, sitting there quietly while Aya read a book or stared out the window into the night sky. Yohji, desperate to relieve his lover’s unhappiness, had a window seat built for Aya the other day. Omi had helped Naoe keep Aya out of the room while it had been installed by dragging Aya to a few bookstores for a couple of hours. They’d managed to help Aya relax somewhat, but all their and Yohji’s hard work had been ruined upon their return to the Koneko.

Ever since the couple had ‘broken up’ three days ago, presents for Aya had been arriving at the Koneko each evening. Omi suspected that the person sending them had heard the rumors of Yohji returning to Lilla and was now pressing their pursuit for Aya. Each time a present arrived, Yohji and Aya would disappear for a short while, then Yohji would spend the night down in the common room trying to mask a foul mood while Aya would remain in their bedroom, not speaking to anyone but Naoe.

The stress was starting to get to Naoe, which meant that Omi was affected by the situation too. He wanted nothing more than to drag Yohji aside and tell the idiot that ‘Omi’ was willing to use whatever leverage he had as Prince Mamoru to make sure that Aya remained safe and with Yohji, but he had a feeling that things weren’t quite that simple. If they were, the couple and their friends wouldn’t be going to such great lengths to keep Aya and Naoe safe. That frustrated the hell out of him, as his best friend and boyfriend were made to suffer by the situation. It hadn’t escaped Omi’s notice either that if their master could abuse Aya, Naoe could be hurt too.

That was something he refused to allow to happen. No one would harm Naoe, ever. Omi might not have been able to prevent past abuses, not having known the boy until almost two months ago, but he’d make sure things like that never happened again. The thought of Naoe being hurt filled him with pain and anger.

Omi realized that many of his friends, such as Ken, Botan and Birman, believed that he was experiencing his first love, and in a few months would move on and find someone else. But, Omi knew better. He truly loved Naoe, and it didn’t matter to him in the least if the boy was nothing more than a servant who had no family whatsoever. Omi loved him, and he’d never let Naoe go. Not even if he had to use his rank to keep the boy safe and by his side.

"Such a serious mood for a lovely party, Prince. Is something wrong?"

Omi broke free from his thoughts to see Kikyou standing before him, a worried expression on his face. He smiled at the man sheepishly.

"I’m sorry, I’m just worrying about some friends of mine. I don’t mean to put a damper on the festivities, especially since your good news was announced tonight. Congratulations."

Kikyou smiled at him and bowed. "Thank you. Even though the decision has been formally announced, I still find it hard to believe that in two weeks time I’ll be the new Captain."

"Well, Manx has made a good choice." Omi didn’t really think so, since he much preferred Yuushi to the man before him, but it wasn’t his choice to make. "I understand the other Guards found out yesterday, though." He’d had to endure an hour long rant from Liss while on their way to the Koneko yesterday afternoon, and watched as Ken yelled at the woman for so publicly denouncing Manx’s choice. Omi knew that she wasn’t the only Guard to feel that way, but the organization seemed to be taking the news rather well, if a touch sullenly.

"Thank you for saying so. I only hope that she truly did." Kikyou smiled ruefully. "I must say, the job is much harder than I ever imagined it to be. I’ve been very busy the past couple weeks trying to learn everything. I’ve barely had a moment to spare to personal matters."

"I’m sure you will manage just fine." Omi told himself not to fidget with the glass of wine in his hands. He’d only spill the beverage all over himself. Then again, that might be an excuse to get out of this awful gathering and go see Naoe.

Kikyou laughed quietly and tossed back a strand of his hair. "Yes, I’m sure I will too. I think I’m finally learning the ropes and hope to have some free time to myself very shortly. I think it’s time I took a short break for some pleasurable pursuits. The closer the wedding gets, the less likely it is that I’ll be free to do so until after the event." The longhaired man bowed and went on his way. As Omi watched, several courtiers approached Kikyou, eager to talk. The man had always been popular, thanks to his charm and intelligence, and now he had an important position to add to his accomplishments.

Reminding himself that it wouldn’t do to sigh, Omi slowly backed towards a wall, setting his full glass of wine down on one of the tables he passed. There was no way he’d be drinking tonight, not with the company around him. He’d hide in the outskirts of the room for a little longer then make his escape at the first opportunity that presented itself.

Glancing around the room, Omi jealously noted that Botan had indeed made good on his promise to miss the formal event. The wizard had begged off the function right before it had started, claiming that he had some important errands to run. Omi cattily thought that those errands would eventually lead the man to Cassandra’s house.

Birman was dressed in a simple but lovely pale blue gown, chatting away with several foreign diplomats and their guests. Omi wondered if they’d be talking so freely if they knew that she was his father’s Spymaster. As for the king, Shuuichi was standing across the room with Manx on his arm, laughing at something Lord Hajime had said. His father seemed to be in good spirits, but there was a strained look on Manx’s face, and her eyes kept glancing at the party assembled several meters away from hers.

Prince Reiji had attracted a small retinue of courtiers who were willing to risk that the king no longer held any animosity for his brother. While Omi doubted they knew the whole story behind Reiji’s exile, they should’ve known enough to keep their distance from the man. But power always attracted some people, and Reiji still held a chance at the throne, after Omi of course. They probably assumed that the pardon that Reiji and his sons had received was a full one, and that the former crown prince would be remaining in the capital after the wedding. They were a bunch of power-hungry fools.

Reiji looked up at that moment and caught Omi staring at him. He smiled and nodded his head before returning his attention to the conversation around him. Feeling slightly ill, Omi closed his eyes and rested against the wall behind him.

There was no way he could be that closely related to that man. Please, no way. They looked nothing alike, and Omi didn’t resemble the princes, Masafumi or Hirofumi, either. He had to be Shuuichi’s son.

"Here, Omi, drink this." He opened his eyes to see Ken holding a cup of tea out to him. Smiling gratefully, Omi accepted the drink.

"You don’t look so good, chibi."

"I’m tired, Ken, and I want to leave." But he couldn’t be the first royal family member to leave the party, or people would talk and Manx would be upset with him. Dammit, all Omi wanted to do was spend some time with Naoe, even if it was only to sit beside him on Yohji and Aya’s bed.

Ken shook his head. "Just a little longer, Omi. Then we can go see our friends and make sure they’re all right." Ken was very worried about Yohji and Aya; his feelings of friendship for his former partner had completely resurrected these past few weeks.

Omi sipped his tea and resumed studying the room. Gods, how he hated politics. He watched as people he knew couldn’t stand each other pretended to be the best of friends and noted all the cliques scattered about the ballroom. How he hoped Manx bore a child soon, so he could be replaced in the line of succession. Omi wanted to be free of the specter of the throne that loomed over him, free to chose his love and spend his time with his friends, people who truly cared for him.

Then his sharp eyes noted his two cousins, who were standing by the west door and appeared deep in conversation. The attractive men were causing quite a stir at Court, and he was surprised to find they weren’t surrounded by a flirtatious crowd. As he watched, Masafumi patted his brother on the shoulder and, with a huge grin on his face, Hirofumi walked out of the ballroom. Omi was hard pressed to bite back a cheer.

"Ken, Hirofumi just left, which means I can go. Come on." He grabbed the Guard’s hand and started for the nearest exit. When one of his father’s Ministers stepped in front of him, a disapproving look on the woman’s face, Omi felt tears of frustration build in his eyes. She couldn’t want to keep him here, could she? Did she really hate him that much?

"Leaving already, Prince Mamoru?"

"Yes, Lady Meara."

Ken stepped to Omi’s rescue. "Pardon us, milady, but the prince isn’t feeling well, and I’m escorting him back to his rooms."

"Too much excitement, I suppose." Lady Meara frowned some more and tilted her head in the direction of the doorway. "I’m surprised that you stirred from your rooms tonight as it is. Please keep in mind, though, that people are pleased to see you at these functions and be assured that you still live. Good night." She bowed slightly and walked away.

They literally darted through the door and into the hall. Ken moaned as soon as they were free from the ballroom. "Gods, Lady Meara always scares me. She has this look about her as if even the way you breathe is improper."

"Try having to learn etiquette from her," Omi whined. "That was the worst three months of my life."

"You poor thing."

As soon as they reached the sanctuary of his rooms, Omi stripped out of his dress clothes and pulled on a yellow shirt and brown pants. "Are you coming to the Koneko with me, Ken? You’ll need to change out of your dress uniform first."

Tugging at his collar, Ken nodded his head. "We’ll swing by Liss’ quarters on our way, I left some clothes there. She’s tagging along with us to spend some time with her ‘boyfriend’."

Omi laughed at the face his friend made. ‘Boyfriend’ wasn’t how he’d describe Farfie’s relationship with Liss, but it was a more polite term. "What about Yuriko?"

"She’s still working on her dress for the ball, so I’ve been told that if I interrupt her and prevent it from being finished in time, the Guards will be investigating my murder." Ken chuckled, not at all upset about his girlfriend giving him death threats. "I told her I’d pay for a gown, but she doesn’t want to spend that much money for just one night. Crazy woman."

Omi nodded his head in sympathy and reached for his glamour pendant. As he slid it over his head, he frowned, remembering something that Yohji had told him last night. "Ken, is the charm working properly? Who do you see, Prince Mamoru or Omi Tsukiyono?"

"Omi, of course. It’s working fine."

Then why had Yohji told him that it was starting to fade? No one else had commented on it last night, so Omi had just assumed that the man had been playing an unkind joke on him and felt reassured if a bit upset at Yohji to have that suspicion confirmed. He’d have to smack the blond for that later.

All finished, the two of them headed to get Liss and Ken’s change of clothes. On their way, the two of them passed an elderly man clad in a grey cloak. They didn’t give the man a second thought, being too interested in escaping the palace and having a good time at the Koneko.

*******

Hirofumi entered the Koneko, his brown eyes seeking out the kage’s presence. Hell’s report had placed it at a table in the corner, and it took him several minutes to find it. During that time he’d had to wave aside two servers who asked him if he wanted anything to drink.

The kage, Ran, was sitting in the shadows, a hood pulled over its head and its face tilted downward. Even so, Hirofumi recognized the creature. He had spent the past dozen years studying it minutely every chance he had. With eager steps, he hurried over to the table. As he sat down the kage snapped its head up, its eyes narrowed in what looked like anger.

Then any and all emotion vanished from the pale face. Violet eyes stared back at him, unreadable, and the kage nodded its head slightly. Hirofumi knew that the creature had seen through the glamour he’d donned to get him out of the palace and had recognized him.

"Were you waiting for me?" Hirofumi wondered out loud as he studied the kage’s beautiful features. "Why are you sitting here all alone?" He’d expected a little more emotion from the bound with his sudden appearance and was seeing none, though that brief flash of anger upon his arrival excited him. If he could rile the kage’s temper later on… oh yes. It was always more fun when his victims fought him, though the kage’s hands certainly were tied in that regard. Still, a bit of anger would spice things up. Hirofumi decided he’d have to work on that after the wedding.

"I knew you’d come." The kage’s voice was quiet and without inflection, betraying none of its thoughts or emotions. Staring into the creature’s eyes, Hirofumi thought of its name. Ran. It fit the creature, which was a thing of beauty as all kage were. Ran had a beauty that he longed for, all red and white and violet, but remained untouchable. Familiar and long suppressed lust flooded his veins, quickly followed by anger. The kage wasn’t unsullied any longer; someone had had it before him. But Hirofumi was determined that he’d have it at last. Now that they were in the capital and only a couple weeks away from the throne, he didn’t have to wait much longer.

Reaching out with his hand, Hirofumi snared a slender wrist tightly and jerked Ran toward him. He then pushed up a long black sleeve to reveal a scarred wrist. Stroking the striated flesh, Hirofumi wetted his lips. Something about the white, soft skin always made him want the creature, until he had to mar it with scars to kill the lust. Oh, how he couldn’t wait to get the kage back to his rooms and have some fun. Just a little violence to sate his appetite until after the wedding. Hirofumi was counting down the days until he could have something that had been long denied him. The kage was like a fire in his blood.

A shadow fell across the table as another person sat down. Tearing his eyes away from the kage’s arm, he turned to see the serving boy, Nagi, sitting next to him. Nagi had the audacity to look at him as if he was a piece of trash and not a prince. Furious at the way he was being glared at, Hirofumi reminded himself in time about the glamour before he struck the insolent brat. Now was not the time to punish a dimwitted servant who didn’t know better, not when it would attract attention to him. It could wait til later.

"Is this man bothering you, Aya?"

The name caught his attention, causing Hirofumi to laugh. "Aya? You really are going by the girl’s name, aren’t you?" Then his good humor faded to anger and jealousy. "No wonder you let someone fuck you, you’ve taken her place." For a moment he wanted nothing more than to hunt down the bastard who’d had his Ran before him, but Hirofumi remained in his seat, thinking of how his brother would never forgive him for killing the man. Masafumi and his women had their own plans for the Guard, which would most likely be ten times more painful than what he could manage.

"Listen you prick-"

"Nagi." The one word calmed down the boy, who had been snarling at Hirofumi. Nagi looked at the kage for a moment, then at him, and then back at the kage. The teen was clearly thinking about something, and Hirofumi duly noted that Nagi must be brighter than he’d previously thought. His suspicion was proven true when Nagi’s face became just as impassive as Ran’s after a moment. Eyeing the boy closely as he started to wonder what else he’d missed about the brat, Hirofumi started when one of the drinks Nagi had brought with him suddenly spilled onto his arm. Cursing at having wine stain his fine linen shirt, he glared around the table. The kage stared back at him from the other side, a hint of anger on its face before it smoothed to blankness once more. That explained who had knocked the drink on him, and anger and pleasure warred in Hirofumi’s chest. He really couldn’t wait to get the kage alone now. It clearly needed to be reminded of its place. Well then, why waste any more time?

"’Aya’ is coming with me. Wait for it in the garden, and one of the women will return ‘Aya’ at the end of the night." Hirofumi toyed with his ring and let his glamour fade for a brief second, just enough to make sure that the boy who knew he was then yanked the kage to its feet. There was a slight growl, but it faded quickly before Hirofumi could determine where it came from. He assumed it was from ‘Aya’, and he hurried across the common room, the kage being dragged along in his wake. The sooner they reached his coach the sooner Hirofumi could relieve some of emotions that tore at his soul.

Out in the hallway a young man with long hair stood holding a harp case. He smiled at the two of them, startled by their sudden appearance, but the expression quickly faded.

"I hope you enjoyed- Aya, what are you doing? Where are you going?" The young man reached out and touched the kage’s arm. Impatient and determined, Hirofumi yanked on the wrist in his grip. He wanted to get out of here, right now.

"Ran, we’re going."

"Aya, you’re staying here. I won’t le..." When the man fell silent Hirofumi carried on his way, not even bothering to look back to investigate the sudden quiet. Maybe the kage had killed the man, maybe not; all that mattered was getting his prize out of the inn and into his carriage. He dropped the glamour as Schoen leapt down from the back of the rented carriage to open its door, and Hirofumi tossed the kage inside before him. The creature was still little more than skin and bones; evidently eating properly hadn’t been a concern during its stay in the capital, unlike fucking some stranger. Hirofumi briefly wondered if he should do something about that once the kage was back in his care. It wouldn’t do for it to fall sick or waste away, he thought as he climbed in. Not when Ran was going to be completely his.

The kage was crouching on the floor of the carriage, crimson hair hanging down and covering its face. Sitting down on a padded bench, Hirofumi leaned forward and brushed the strands aside, savoring the feel of silk against his fingers. The creature was just so beautiful. His little orchid, allowed to live only for his pleasure. Hirofumi stroked a pale cheek until he became aware of his soaked sleeve.

Putting all his strength into the blow, he backhanded the kage to the floor. "Have you forgotten who you belong to?" He didn’t wait for an answer and instead kicked the creature in the ribs with all his might. As the kage gasped for breath he repeated the motion several more times, only stopping when he heard a crunching sound. Then Hirofumi grabbed a handful of the silky hair and yanked up the creature’s head.

Violet eyes gazed back at him, cloudy with pain. Ran was even paler than before, save for the blood that leaked from a bit lip and split cheek. Hirofumi leaned forward to lap at the fluid, shivering at the tingle it left on his tongue. It wouldn’t grant him any special powers and abilities since it hadn’t been refined yet, but he loved the taste. It was sweet, as sweet as the kage’s pain. He kissed it on the lips, forcing his way inside its mouth and flicking his tongue about. Sweet indeed.

Jerking himself away from the kage when he uttered a moan at the taste, Hirofumi reminded himself that now was not the time to indulge himself. He almost lost his resolve when he saw a hint of fear in the violet eyes. This was the first time he’d kissed the kage, and the creature had to be wondering what would come next. All the times he’d beat the lovely thing and he’d never provoked a spark of fear, not unless its sibling was threatened. But now he’d finally gotten a reaction from a monster whose name spoken aloud was enough to terrify people. Driven on by frustration and overwhelming lust, Hirofumi grabbed an eartail and yanked the creature close.

"Do you remember who you belong to?" He punched the broken ribs. "Speak."

"You." The word was little more than a whisper, and as it was said there was a spark of anger in the lovely eyes drowning out the fear. Hirofumi backhanded it again and kicked the kage’s damaged side. The soft whimpers of pain were a balm to his fury. He wanted it so badly, had wanted it for so long, that the only way to kill the lust was with anger before his father noticed his true feelings. But he wouldn’t have to do that for much longer. No, soon he could finally give in to the emotion that had tormented him for years.

Once again yanking on a long strand of hair, he pulled the kage up to its knees. "You’re mine. My little orchid. My kage. Keep being so defiant and I’ll break every bone in your body before I fuck you. But if you’re nice to me…." He stroked the pale face again, marveling at its beauty, even when bruised and bleeding.

"Why did you fuck the innkeeper?" The question took him by surprise. Hirofumi hadn’t meant to ask that, at least not now, but his jealousy tore at him and demanded an answer. If it had chosen to do so willingly he’d whip it until its entire skin was tattered scraps. "Tell me." He grabbed the kage’s chin harshly enough to leave a bruise. Seeing a new bruise, a new mark on the white flesh placed there by him, only excited him more.

"The Esset agent, Crawford… he told me to."

"Why?"

"He said we needed the man, but wouldn’t explain why." The kage closed its eyes, and as it spoke blood-specked foam formed on its lips. Its breath sounded labored, and pain was beginning to show on the beautiful face.

Licking the creature’s lips, Hirofumi moaned. He enjoyed seeing any emotion on the kage’s face, knowing that he was the one to break its cold veneer. Feeling how tight his pants were, he came to a decision. Masafumi would bleed the kage as soon as it reached the palace, and his father had said something about being there when he reminded it of its place that evening. But Hirofumi was alone with it now, and this would be the only opportunity he’d have before the wedding. If Masafumi didn’t need Ran’s blood, they’d have left the kage alone until the ceremony. Hirofumi wanted relief now and couldn’t wait that long, but he was loath to rush his first time with the beautiful creature.

Unfastening his pants as he thought of a solution, Hirofumi grabbed the bruised chin and jerked the kage’s head toward his lap. "I want you to do something for me, something to make me forget about the spilled drink and the brat back at the inn. Do this, and don’t tell anyone, and I’ll let the boy live." His cock sprung free of his pants, and the sight of the kage on its knees before him and bearing his marks was suddenly too much. Hirofumi didn’t wait for the creature’s assent. It wasn’t like it had a choice, anyway.

Grasping a handful of hair, he yanked the kage’s head down at the same time he dug a thumb into the hinge of its jaw, forcing its mouth open. Then he started to thrust inside the warm cavern, his hands clasped around the kage’s head, refusing to let it pull backwards as it struggled to do for a few seconds. It started to make a gagging sound as he shoved himself inside completely, causing Hirofumi to moan as throat muscles rippled around his shaft. Digging his fingers into the creature’s scalp, he pistoned his hips frantically, shoving himself in as deep as he could go, pulling out only to slam it back inside.

It was half pleasure, half thrill, and all bliss. Knowing that he was debasing a kage, a creature of fear and death, and that it could do nothing to him…. was as pleasurable as having such a beautiful creature. Why hadn’t he done this before? Only because his father disapproved of such a union? What nonsense. It was so incredible, such an amazing rush…. He pushed the creature backwards as he fell onto his knees, needing to be able to better thrust into its mouth. Its head started to repeatedly slam into the bench behind it as it laid half sprawled on the coach’s floor, eyes tightly shut and blood and saliva leaking from its mouth. The sight before him filled Hirofumi with so much pleasure that he came in a rush, refusing to let go of the kage’s hair and forcing it to swallow.

As he pulled away the kage fell completely to the floor, coughing and gagging. It spit out blood and seed, drawing in breaths of air that made it cry out in pain and clutch its side. Hirofumi grabbed a black clad arm and yanked Ran upright when the heaves stopped, pulling out his handkerchief to wipe the pale and sweaty face. He was a bit disappointed to not see any tears, but pushed the thought aside as he kissed the panting mouth.

Tasting himself and kage blood mingled together… Hirofumi moaned as he pushed the kage back to the floor and ground against it, provoking another moan of pain. He wanted it so badly, wanted to taste this exhilarating mix again and again. If only he could do just that right now, but it wasn’t the right time. Soon enough the kage would be his alone, and he could fuck it as often as he wanted.

The carriage coming to a halt warned him to make himself presentable. After reluctantly pulling away from the kage, Hirofumi wiped himself clean and tucked himself away. When the carriage door opened he climbed out first and held out his hand to help the kage off the floor. When the creature tried to get up on its own Hirofumi cursed and grabbed a thin arm, yanking Ran onto the ground. It seemed his orchid was indeed a stubborn one. Good. A smile teased at his lips. What fun he’d have with the creature, now that it had developed a backbone of sorts.

Another kick to its side had it gasping in pain, and Schoen had to drag Ran behind her as they hurried in through a side door. Masafumi was waiting inside the door for them, cloaking their arrival. He glanced at Hirofumi for a moment, a smile forming on his lips as he patted his brother on the arm.

"Was it a pleasant ride?"

"It would have been if it had been a touch longer." They shared a conspiratorial smile.

"Well then, let’s get started. Father is still at the reception, so if I drain it quickly enough you might have some more time alone with it."

Hirofumi shivered at the thought, images flooding his mind of what he could do next. He followed his brother to a well-lit room that held a table, two chairs and nothing else. On the table were a very large silver bowl, several glass containers, a sharp knife and several small hooks. Attached to the wall was a set of chains, which Schoen and Hell were busy using to restrain the kage. One of its arms was chained above its head, the other left to lie at its side for the moment.

Picking up the sharp knife, Hirofumi began to cut off the grey jerkin and black shirt covering the kage. He stroked the exposed skin, smiling at the huge black bruise that spread along its right side. When the clothes were rags on the floor he started to cut deep into the kage’s chest.

"What are you doing, brother?"

"Carving my name on my property."

A hand caught his, causing it to still before he’d made more than two lines. "Not now," Masafumi hissed. "We have to send it back later on, since we can’t afford to have it be found here. If someone sees that mark we could be in trouble. Save it for after the wedding."

The advice made sense, as little as he wanted to heed it. Hirofumi reluctantly backed away and allowed his sibling to take his place. Masafumi motioned for Schoen to grab the unrestrained arm and hold it steady, and after holding out a hand for the knife he sliced the wrist open along the veins.

The kage moaned softly, teeth biting into its lips as it pressed its eyes shut. Blood started to flow from the cut flesh, the hooks used to keep the wound open. Hirofumi stroked a pale, bruised cheek, watching it whiten even more as time went on. He lost himself in the feel of silky skin and hair, running his fingers through the strands only to return them to stroking the kage’s face and chest, and helped to support the creature when it started to slump from the blood loss.

"I think that’s it. You must have damaged something inside since there isn’t as much as usual."

Tearing himself away from contemplating the longest lashes he’d ever seen on a man, Hirofumi glanced at his brother. "I’m sorry, do you have enough?"

"Yes. He’s bled almost completely dry, but I have more than enough for my spells. This should last me past the wedding." Masafumi watched as Hell carefully poured the blood into the glass containers. He then looked back at Hirofumi, a smile on his face. "I’ll leave Tot outside the door, and hopefully Father won’t be here anytime soon. Enjoy."

Watching as his brother and the women left, Hirofumi reached out to gently remove the hooks from the kage’s flesh. There wasn’t enough blood left in its body to require a bandage at that point, since no blood was leaking from any of its wounds. A little cleaning with the cloth scraps and Hirofumi wouldn’t get his clothes stained from close contact with the kage. Then he chained the cut arm above Ran’s head.

"My Ran. What a fitting name." He stroked the kage’s cheek. "Open your eyes, I want to see them." It took a couple of slaps before the command was groggily obeyed, but they were soon opened. Ran knew better than to pass out until Hirofumi was done with his fun, or his sister would be made to suffer.

"Yes, so lovely. You’re mine now. Completely." Hirofumi leaned in to kiss the creature, shivering at the taste of blood on cold lips. The kage, his Ran, was ice-cold from blood loss. "Lovely, but cold to the touch."

"We’ll just have to warm you up." Ah, the fear was back in its eyes. Hirofumi felt himself grow hard again as he ran his thumb along a pair of bruised and swollen lips.

*******

Schuldig watched as Yohji paced around his bedroom, long fingers buried in strands of dark gold hair, yanking on it in time to the steps.

"If you keep that up you’ll soon be bald."

Yohji stopped moving and glared at him, but at least the hand fell from his hair and down to his side. "Why are you here again?"

"To try and talk some sense into you about your father and me. What’s so wrong about us screwing each other?" That wasn’t the real reason he was here, but Schuldig wasn’t stupid enough to mention to Yohji that his mother had sent him to the Koneko with a worried frown on her face and specific orders. Cassandra hadn’t been able to tell him anything other than to keep Yohji away from Aya, which meant that something was probably going to happen to the kage. Something that Yohji wasn’t going to like, but couldn’t be allowed to prevent. Schuldig had felt his mother’s frustration and self-loathing when she’d given him the orders. Cass had only managed to catch a glimpse of a future that she knew she didn’t want to come to pass, but she had to allow it despite her feelings. There were times he was very glad he wasn’t a precog. The woman had also told him rather sharply to not let himself get distracted from his task, but Schuldig hadn’t been able to puzzle out what she meant. How could he screw up knocking Yohji out?

Yohji snorted and reached for the bottle of wine on his dresser. "Schu, I’m disgusted just hearing about you, my father, and screwing in the same sentence. The man’s old enough to be Jo’s great grandfather, and you’re letting him…." Yohji stopped talking to pour some wine down his throat. "Why won’t you listen to my advice? Is it really worth having the man drain you each night just for sex? It’s sick and disgusting, and I wish you’d find someone else to fuck."

"Actually, he does most of the fucking." Schuldig hadn’t been able to resist saying that and hid a smile when Yohji spit out his drink and coughed. Yes, that had been rather horrible of him, but at least Yohji was distracted from worrying about his lover now. He had to keep Yohji from going downstairs and exchanging places with Aya by whatever means necessary. "I just lie there and get screwed silly. Must be something about you succubae-bounds."

Not that Masato hadn’t let him be top a few times, but lately the older bound was tossing him onto the bed or any other suitable surface and fucking him until Schuldig wanted to… he didn’t know what he wanted to do, and he knew that Masato didn’t have a clue about his own odd behavior either, but each time they came in contact with each other their emotions became more and more intense.

Getting up from the bed to pound on Yohji’s back, as the man was turning a rather startling shade of blue, Schuldig looked up and groaned when the door opened. Masato, dressed in brown and white and looked so fucking sexy that he wanted to tear those clothes off of him and take him in Yohji and Aya’s bed, walked into the room. Schuldig could already feel that stubbled chin being rubbed along his neck, the large hands stroking him and preparing him for the hot, enormous cock hidden behind the brown leggings….

"Schu, if you hit me any more you’ll break my back. And what the hell are _you_ doing, coming in here uninvited?"

Masato gazed at Schuldig hungrily for a moment before turning his attention to his son. Schuldig actually felt it when the man’s eyes left him and shivered as he suddenly became cold. He left Yohji to return to the bed and couldn’t help leaning back onto his elbows, exposing his neck and chest as he stretched out.

"I wondered if you’d like another lesson before you go downstairs for the night. I thought you might want to learn a bit more control, considering the circumstances."

Schuldig wanted to hit the man for reminding Yohji about his troubles after all his hard work: about how Yohji had to pretend to not be Aya’s lover in public, not as long as the Takatoris might be sending more spies to the Koneko. Not to mention the presents that kept arriving, and how Yohji would lose all control at the sight of them until Aya ‘convinced’ him that the redhead was still his.

Yohji thought over the offer for a moment. "… All right. I have another hour to kill before Lilla shows up, might as well do that. Aya should be fine downstairs until then." Yohji’s friend had decided that she was going to continue to help him with the charade and was pretending to be his latest lover. Schuldig had to say that the woman was doing an excellent job distracting his friend until the time came that Yohji could join Aya up in their room, and Ken or one of the other Guards could sneak her home.

Ken was redeeming himself in Schuldig’s eyes with his assistance in this matter. The man had all the Guards spilling the same story about how Aya was nothing more than a temporary fuckbuddy to Yohji, enough so that he could sense the Koneko’s regulars become confused at how a lie had quickly replaced the truth. The patrons knew that wasn’t the case, but weren’t about to dispute a Guard. They figured there had to be a good reason for the lie and kept their mouths shut, which meant that the spies weren’t finding out about how the two men really loved each other.

Thinking of how things had changed the past couple nights, Schuldig noticed that the room had become quiet. He looked up to find Masato staring at him, hunger and want naked on his face, and suddenly didn’t care about Yohji and his problems anymore. No, all that mattered was running a hand along his throat, causing the hazel eyes fastened on him to first widen and then become narrow, and Masato took a step towards him and the bed.

"Hey!! You want to work on my control? How about your own? No fucking in my presence! No fucking at all, do you hear me?" Yohji stood between the two of them, his arms held out and a frown on his face. "Schu, get the hell off my bed. I just changed the sheets."

"What a wonderful idea, Yotan." Sliding off the bed, Schuldig took a step closer to his lover, only to find Yohji’s arm blocking him. "Kudoh, get out of my way."

"Uh uh. I know how this works. I get out of the way, and you two go at it right here. The only people who are allowed to have sex in this room are Aya and me, and that means _not_ you."

Masato growled at his son. "Get out of the way." Schuldig shivered at the man’s tone and smiled. Oh yes, it was going to be an enjoyable night.

Yohji looked back and forth between him and Masato, the frown on his face deepening. "Uhm, are the two of you sure that you’re just in this for the sex? You’re acting an awful lot like me around Aya, the both of you."

The question shocked Schuldig, who managed to tear his eyes away from Masato long enough to glare at his friend. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"The two of you, always having to touch and…" Yohji actually blushed. "I refuse to think about what else you do. Masato, if you want to teach me some more, that’s fine. Schuldig, get your ass out of my room and go keep an eye on Aya while we work."

Shit, he’d completely forgotten about his mother’s orders. Schuldig smacked himself on his forehead, earning strange looks from Yohji and Masato. "Naoe’s down there with him. I want to stay for the lesson." There was a tickle in the back of his mind from someone trying to get his attention. It turned out to be Masato. Gods, even the man being in his mind felt fantastic.

‘Schu, it would help matters if you left. I can’t quite focus properly when you’re near. Go have a few drinks and I’ll let you know when we’re done.’

Schuldig bristled at the suggestion. Who the hell did Masato think he was, to try and boss him around like that? He glared at his lover and sat back down on the bed.

"I don’t feel like hanging out in a crowded room right now." <I have to stay here, something’s supposed to happen and I have to keep Yohji from acting like an idiot. Besides, I don’t jump when you speak.>

Masato glared back at him, a growl rumbling in his throat. "Stop acting like a spoiled brat, Schu."

"Uhm, guys?"

"Stop trying to be my dad, Masato. Oh wait, it’s not like you have any practice at it now, do you?" Schuldig didn’t know why he was sniping back at the man, only that something inside him drove him to do so. He needed to push Masato, to prove that he wasn’t a weakling, to make the man grab him by his throat and _force_ his capitulation…. "Then again, you wouldn’t be fucking me like you do if you were my dad. Or does that turn you on? You wanna do it right here in Yohji’s room, smelling him everywhere and imagining that I’m him? Wanna spank me for being bad?"

"Schu, what the hell are you saying?"

Yohji’s words were ignored as he focused all of his attention on Masato, on driving the man wild with lust and anger. Schuldig ran his fingers along his throat, tilting his head back as he did so. He hadn’t given in yet, wasn’t going to do so without a fight, though what he was giving into he had no fucking clue, just that by doing this he was ensuring the best sex of his life. Still stroking his throat, Schuldig ran his other hand down his chest and slid it into his pants to stroke his aching cock.

Masato snarled and tried to push Yohji out of the way to get to him. Schuldig watched with a smile on his face as the two men struggled, feeling himself grow harder at the sight. Something in him crowed at forcing Masato to lose his cool and shivered in anticipation of what would come next.

One minute Yohji was trying to pin Masato to the wall, the next he shoved his father away from him and stared at the door. "Aya…. Go on and fuck each other, something’s wrong with Aya."

The sight of Yohji walking towards the door snapped Schuldig out of his strange mood. He focused his power tightly and sent a powerful mental blow to his friend, using so much energy with the strike that he fell down onto the bed. Masato caught him, growling softly, and Schuldig feebly pushed him aside to see Yohji fall to his knees but still try to get out the door and reach his mate. Fuck, why did the man have to be so damn stubborn? That blow should have laid him flat on the floor, but it didn’t seem to have affected Yohji like it should.

"Masato, stop him. He can’t leave." The succubae-bound glanced between him and Yohji, the growl fading and his anger and lust being replaced by confusion. Masato stood to his feet and approached his son.

"Yohji, you’re hurt. Let me help you to the bed." Schuldig watched as Masato reached down to grasp Yohji by the arm. A pair of confused hazel eyes turned in his direction for some answers. ‘What the hell is going on? Why did you-‘

Yohji tossed Masato’s hand aside and snarled savagely, no trace of humanity on his face. When his father tried again to restrain him he swung back his arm, knocking Masato aside, and reached for his bracelet. Having had enough, the older bound also reached for his weapon, and not being incapacitated by a mental assault, was the quicker of the two. Before Yohji could toss out the lethal strands, Masato brought the staff down on his son’s head, and Yohji finally crumpled onto the floor.

"I repeat, what the hell is happening? First you taunt me, then you attack Yohji, and have me attack him as well. And what’s gotten into him? I think he was serious about killing me," Masato glared at Schuldig as he lifted his son off the floor. "He said something about Aya, why didn’t you let him go?"

"Because I was told to keep him here, you moron! Didn’t you hear me?"

Masato grinned wolfishly. "Someone was doing a very good job of distracting me at the time." Then his face grew serious. "Fuck, we’re all acting insane tonight. Is Aya okay?"

"I don’t know." Schuldig didn’t try to scan for the kage’s mind, since he wouldn’t find anything. Instead he ran his fingers through Yohji’s hair, checking the extent of the injury. Yohji should be down for the night due to that blow. "I think you cracked his skull."

"It was either that or let him kill me. I’ve seen that look on a bound’s face before, and you either take them down or die." Masato tucked back a strand of Yohji’s hair and resumed staring at Schuldig. "I’ve got a bad feeling about things, and I’m worried about Aya. Yohji wouldn’t act like that unless something has happened to his mate."

At those words Schuldig grew bitterly jealous. He’d lost Yohji to the kage, and now Masato was going on and on about the man. "Why don’t you fuck him instead, then?"

The hazel eyes narrowed, the only warning Schuldig had before a hand reached out and grabbed him by the throat. Masato yanked him close, his face clouded with passion and fury once again. The sight made him purr. In the back of Schuldig’s mind was a faint tickle, but it was quickly forgotten when Masato started to talk.

"Listen to me, you brat. I don’t want Aya, I want you. You’re mine. If you would just realize that you’d stop driving me crazy. You’re mine, you belong to me."

He wanted so badly to give in, but Schuldig’s perverse nature had him say the opposite of what Masato and he wanted to hear. "I’m not yours, and I never will be."

There was another growl and Schuldig was shoved down onto the bed, almost falling on top of Yohji’s unconscious form. Then Masato was on top of him, grinding against him as a tongue thrust into his mouth. Adoring the way the man tasted, the way their bodies fit together, Schuldig moaned and clutched him tight. Yes, this was what he wanted, Masato on him, soon to be in him, claiming him and draining him until the pleasure became too much. He tore at his lover’s leggings, trying to free the erection that was rubbing against his, wanting to have it inside him as soon as possible.

Masato jerked his head up and fastened his mouth to Schuldig’s throat, biting down hard for a moment before starting to suck. One of the man’s fingers pushed at his lips, and Schuldig let it in his mouth, sucking on the digit for a moment before moaning and rocking his hips upward. There was a tickle in the back of his mind again, but it didn’t feel like Masato so he ignored it.

The damn pants frustrated the hell out of him, refusing to open. A large hand batted his away and tore at the brown leggings, then the ones he was wearing until they were ripped down one side. A moment later the ruined pants were yanked off and Masato’s cock was pressing against him. Schuldig braced himself for sudden penetration, but he’d quickly heal from any damage, and pleasure would quickly replace pain. He needed Masato too much to wait to be made ready.

When a wet finger pushed inside him instead, he whined and yanked on Masato’s hair. "Now, dammit!"

"Schu-"

"Now!" He pushed at the man, trying to get him off him, and that caused Masato to snarl and shove his way in. Schuldig let out a moan of pain at first at being stretched too much too fast, but then Masato’s magic filled him, washing away the pain as pleasure took over his mind. His bound body adjusted to the intrusion, and he wrapped his legs around his lover’s waist, urging him to move. This was what he’d wanted so terribly bad.

"Mine, you’re mine." Growling out the words, Masato punctuated each one with a thrust that pushed Schuldig deep into the bed. Then the mouth was back on his throat, and Schuldig felt on fire from the bliss as he arched his neck, exposing more of it to the hot mouth. Masato’s thrusts made his vision go dark; each one so forceful that the man buried himself completely inside Schuldig, wringing cries of ecstasy from him until Schuldig’s throat grew hoarse. The barrage continued until he felt like sobbing in bliss, and all Schuldig could do was spread his legs wider in a vain attempt to get Masato in even deeper.

A loud crashing sound startled the both of them, and then Masato was forcibly jerked off him and sent flying across the room. Snarling, Schuldig pushed up on his elbows and found Teddy and Naoe looking at him with disgust. Then something grabbed hold of him, lifting him off the bed and slamming him into the floor.

"The Takatoris have Aya, and you’re up here screwing around? I tried to get you to help but you ignored me!" Naoe’s face was a mask of fury, and he picked Schuldig up and slammed him first into the ceiling, then let him fall back to the floor. Dizzy and in pain, the last of the lust-crazed fog left Schuldig’s mind.

"What… Aya?"

Teddy walked over and knelt beside him. "Stop for a moment, Naoe. No sense in killing him just yet. Now listen, Schu, before I let him finish you off. Some guy, Prince Hirofumi to be exact, came and took Aya. When I tried to stop them Aya used his power to prevent me. I want to know why the hell is Yohji knocked out and why were you fucking right on top of him when you were supposed to be keeping an eye out for any more spies?"

"Shit." Schuldig rubbed his aching head and cautiously sat up. He felt like one big bruise and his ass hurt. He looked over to find Masato slumped unconscious against a cracked wall, and something in him raged at the sight. Readying his power to strike Naoe, Schuldig moaned when he couldn’t find the energy. He’d used most of it against Yohji, and Masato had sucked away the rest. Guess he’d have to do it the old-fashioned way. When he tried to rise to his feet to dismember the bound with his bare hands, an invisible force prevented that.

"Gonna fucking kill you."

"Hn." Naoe tightened his telekinetic grip until Schuldig felt all the air being squeezed from his body. He was on the floor wheezing when his mother entered the room.

Grey eyes lighted on him, filled with concern at first, and then became angry. "Naoe, stop that this instant. We need him alive to keep Yotan unconscious until Aya comes back."

The pressure stopped, and Schuldig gasped as the damn brat hurried to his mother’s side. "Did you see something? Is Aya alright? I couldn’t stop him, he wouldn’t let me."

Cassandra ran a soothing hand over Naoe’s head, brushing back his hair. "I don’t know what is happening, only that Aya will be returned to us. We can’t do anything but wait. Don’t worry." She hugged the teen for a moment and glared at Schuldig. "Cover yourself and watch over Yotan. Fool I was to think that you’d let sense win out over hormones. He would have wakened while you dallied and gone after the kage, and then the future would have become black."

Moaning as he rose to his feet, Schuldig realized that his pants were lying on the floor and hastily pulled them on. Masato had ripped them apart, so he had to hold them up with one hand. His body ached abominably as he crossed over to the bed and settled down beside Yohji. A quick scan revealed that the man was indeed struggling to regain consciousness, which would be a very bad thing. Schuldig tried to focus his power on preventing an enraged Yohji waking up, but failed until Cassandra lent him some strength.

‘You would have more if you hadn’t let the succubae-bound drain it from you. Fool you are, a thrice-cursed fool. You are _his_ son, not mine.’ Cassandra’s thoughts were furious and in turmoil, and Schuldig knew he’d have to work hard to gain her forgiveness. But something inside him took over whenever Masato was near him, and all he could think of was how much he wanted the man. It only grew worse each passing day, and tonight…. He shook his head at thinking of how badly he’d needed the man, had to have him, to give in to him and make him his. It didn’t make any sense.

<Mom, I’m sorry. I did what you told me, and then…. I didn’t know Yohji would wake so quickly, not after I drained myself knocking him out. Even then he didn’t go all the way down. How can he be conscious after a blow like that?>

Cassandra frowned as she stroked a hand through Yohji’s hair. ‘His mate was in great distress, of course he wouldn’t allow himself to fall.’

That didn’t sound right, but Schuldig had other things to worry about. <What’s happening to Aya? You see anything else yet?>

His mother shook her head. ‘No, nothing but blood and pain. I fear for him, Trouble, very much so. We mustn’t let Yotan wake until Aya is back by his side.’

<And then what? If anything has happened to Aya, Yohji will want the bastard dead at his hands.>

He could feel the worry and fear that Cassandra radiated. ‘I… don’t think he’ll be able to leave Aya’s side to do that. I have a very bad feeling, one that compelled me to bring my healing kit.’

The woman was terrified of what shape Aya was going to be returned to the Koneko in. Cursing as he shifted about on the bed, trying to find a comfortable position for his sore ass, Schuldig gazed down at Yohji. The man was going to kill him for knocking him out while Aya was basically kidnapped and abused. Hell, but it wasn’t his fault. Cass had ordered him to, and none of them had thought that a Takatori other than Omi would step foot inside the Koneko.

"Naoe, what did the prince say to you?"

"To wait for Aya in the garden. One of Masafumi’s women will bring him back."

"Then go and wait for him. I don’t think he’ll be gone for long. Teddy, I need you to fetch me lots of clean water and bandages and gather all the opiates that Jo has.." Cassandra tapped Schuldig on the shoulder. "As for you, keep an eye on Yotan and soothe your lover when he awakens. Try not to mess that up. I need to get things ready so I’m forced to rely on you to handle Yotan."

Teddy headed for the door, dragging Naoe with him. "I’ll fetch water from the spring downstairs; it has some healing properties, though I don’t know if they’ll work on a kage. And I’m only going to say this once; Yohji definitely takes after his father." The longhaired man spared a glance at Masato, who was still slumped against the wall, his pants at his knees. Then Teddy shook his head sadly. "Damn, I’m so worried I’m not even in the mood to take any potshots at Yohji or anyone else. Cass, I’ll be back soon."

"Good."

Resisting the urge to go over to Masato’s side was incredibly hard, but Schuldig didn’t want to piss off his mother any more. Besides, Yohji was once again fighting the compulsion to remain asleep. Sighing as he rubbed his aching head, Schuldig concentrated on not screwing up again that night.

*******

Aya bit into his bottom lip again, deeply enough that his teeth met together. The pain distracted him from the feel of hands roaming all over his body before slipping down inside his pants. Hirofumi pressed against him, rubbing his erection against his rear, and continued to grope him. The touch did nothing but make Aya want to shudder in horror, but he couldn’t even move that much, due to the bleeding. As it was, each touch and movement was a world of pain, sending flares of agony through his battered body.

"I guess he really didn’t leave you with much blood. Oh well, next time I’ll make you hard." Hands fumbled at the laces of his pants, making Aya wish he had the strength to cry. The taste of Hirofumi still lingered in his mouth, making him want to gag. He felt so incredibly filthy at the moment. Now his misery would be complete, one of Aya’s greatest fears become reality. He’d be raped, and just like Aidan, he’d be helpless to stop it.

Just as his laces started to give there was a knock at the door. Hirofumi jumped away from him as if scalded by his touch, and Aya gazed wearily at the sight of Prince Reiji walking into the room with Tot at his side. The older man stopped in front of him, and without any warning punched him in his injured side.

The pain was so great that he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything but close his eyes and wish for death. For a moment Aya spared a thought for Yohji, but since he couldn’t sense the man, his mate must still be unconscious. The thought cheered him a bit, making him happy that Yohji wasn’t feeling this pain despite the odd fact that he wasn’t awake. Then Aya became aware that the princes were speaking and focused on their voices, desperately trying not to pass out. He knew they were far from done with him.

"… been bled -- what were you doing with it?" Reiji’s voice was suspicious, and Aya was sure the man had a very good idea what his son had been up to.

"Teaching it its place."

"I’m sure you were." A hand grabbed Aya’s chin, jerking his face upwards. "Let me tell you something son, this is nothing but a demon encased in tainted flesh. It’s even worse than other bounds. There is nothing human about kage; they are pure animals. But they are lovely, as most bounds are. Something about their demonic nature creates bodies without blemish, and the kage are the most perfect of all. It’s said that to track down a kage you just have to find the loveliest, most perfect creature alive. An exaggeration, but close enough to truth. They are beautiful, but it’s only a guise to draw you in. Don’t be fooled by its looks, it would be like being attracted to a dog or a snake. Or even worse, as the things aren’t in the least bit natural." Strong fingers dug into his jaw, causing Aya’s vision to darken from the pain until he had to close them.

"Are you speaking from experience, Father?"

There was the sound of flesh striking flesh, but Aya didn’t feel any new pain. Still, he couldn’t open his eyes to find out if he was just too numb or if someone else was being abused. Please, he beseeched the gods, don’t let it be Aya-chan or Yohji or Nagi….

"I’m sorry, Father. I spoke without thinking. It must be the creature’s influence."

There was a moment of silence. "Yes, most likely it was. Bounds are vile things, they destroy your common sense. They’re a weakness. If we didn’t need the thing I’d destroy it right now, much like I did the swordmaster, but it still serves a purpose. Now to remind you of an appropriate use for it. Girl, fetch me the brown leather case in my room."

There was the sound of feet running and the door opening and closing. Remembering what was in the leather case Reiji had asked for, Aya sighed as he was turned around to face the wall. The impulse to call on the shadows to kill the two humans almost overwhelmed him, but the thought of Aya-chan stilled the impulse. All too soon for his liking the servant, most likely Tot, returned. Of course she’d be quick about the request, Tot always enjoyed a whipping, almost as much as Schoen.

"Here, son, I leave the honors to you. After all, you did want to teach it its place."

"Thank you, Father."

There was a slight rustling sound, and someone approached him. If he’d had any energy left Aya would have tried to brace himself for the blow, but could do nothing as the whip cut into his flesh. A low moan escaped his lips when it descended again. Fire raced along his back, replacing the cold he felt as he was hit again and again. The pain became unbearable, causing him to bite into his lip again as he struggled to remain conscious. He heard Reiji’s soft goading, Hirofumi’s panting breath, and Tot’s delighted giggles as she counted the strokes.

"… fifty-seven, fifty-eight…"

"Watch the spine, it takes longer for that to heal. I must admit, I prefer watching this before Masafumi bleeds the thing. It just doesn’t look as effective without the blood."

"…eighty-three, eighty.…"

It was too much. Hirofumi wasn’t going to stop, was going to go on and on, and Aya couldn’t take it any longer. Then he remembered Aya-chan and the pain she would suffer if he fainted, and he barely forced himself to remain conscious.

"…one hundred…"

"Enough son, we do need it to be able to fight when the wedding comes. Feel better now?"

"Yes, Father…."

The rest of the words faded as Aya finally gave in to the darkness.

*******

Nagi sternly told himself not to fidget and forced his hands to remain clasped in his lap. He was sitting in the dark, not far from the garden gate that led to the street. The entrance was used for unloading goods, and something told Nagi that was where one of the bitches would be bringing Aya. His slender form tensed with hatred at the thought of Masafumi’s women. Though lovely to look at, they were as insane as their master and loved to inflict pain as much as Hirofumi did. He’d done his best to avoid them as much as possible back at the castle and was still furious at Hell for showing up here the other night and causing Aya pain and worry about what she would report back to the Takatoris. Hopefully the bastards were be fooled by the falsehood that Yohji meant nothing to the kage, and vice versa.

He let his head fall against his chest as he thought that Aya’s concern for him was what had made his friend quietly leave with Hirofumi. The look in Aya’s eyes when Nagi had tried to use his power…. It was the same one Aya always had when he would leave his room for some mission, a bleeding or to be otherwise abused. Pleading and worried for both Nagi and Aya-chan’s sakes, but never Aya’s….

Huhn, when had he started to call Ran "Aya", even in his thoughts? Nagi wasn’t sure, but smiled slightly when he remembered his friend asking him not to call him Ran anymore. He never could tell the man no, not after everything Aya had sacrificed for him. He knew Aya had spilled the drink because Hirofumi had been too interested in him, and that Aya would pay for that this night. Had probably already paid for it, as it had been two hours now. Nagi shivered as he worried about what the human would do. Hirofumi could do a body a lot of abuse in that amount of a time. Most bleedings only took a half hour or less, so now the sadistic bastard had to be hurting Aya.

The sound of footsteps approaching him made Nagi stand to his feet. They were coming from behind him, so it couldn’t be Hell. Then he caught two familiar scents: Omi and Ken. He instantly began to worry.

"Naoe, you are out here! Miko said she saw you duck out here a little bit ago, but I didn’t believe her. Why weren’t you waiting for me in the dining room?" Omi rushed over to hug Nagi, and he went stiff at the touch. He’d never noticed how Omi’s scent was similar to the other Takatoris before, but with Hirofumi’s stench fresh in his mind he could tell that the two men were from the same bloodline. The one that hurt Aya so terribly much.

Omi pulled away and frowned, a touch of sadness in his eyes. "Is something wrong, Naoe? Am I bothering you?"

For a moment he almost said "yes", desperate to get the teen and his keeper away from the garden before Aya came back, but the look of sadness and hurt in the blue eyes prevented Nagi from speaking. Instead, he shook his head.

"What are you doing out in the garden alone, Naoe? It’s not safe out here, especially after what happened to Aya. Why don’t you come back in with us?" Ken placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to steer Nagi towards the door. He suspected the Guard had followed Omi out here in case there was another would-be rapist lurking in the garden, waiting for a victim.

"No, I want to stay out here where it’s so much quieter." He pulled away from the Guard and sat back down on the bench and was hard pressed to swallow a groan when Omi sat next to him.

The teen hesitantly laced their fingers together and scooted closer to Nagi. "Yes, it’s so crowded in the dining room tonight. I’ve never seen it so packed. No wonder you prefer being out here."

Ken leaned against the back of the bench, his white shirt and blue leggings making him stand out in the light of the half moon. Nagi was grateful that the man had shed his uniform before coming to the Koneko for the night, just in case Hell or the others caught a glimpse of his friends.

"So where are Yohji and Aya? I know they can’t be seen together downstairs, but is it really a wise thing for them both to be missing at the same time? I thought Yohji was spending nights in the common room trying to convince people he’s back with Lilla," Ken asked

Omi turned to face Nagi, his face alight with curiosity. "Yes, I was wondering about that too. I thought he was really worried about Aya’s lord finding out about the relationship, though I don’t see why. I was talking to a mutual friend today about the situation. You might remember her, her name is Birman." Nagi became tense at the mention of the Spymaster. "She said that there is no way Aya’s lord can force him to leave Yohji and the Koneko, not if Aya wants to stay. Especially not if it can be proved that the man abuses him. Any Judge would issue a warrant for the lord to leave Aya and you alone."

"We’re just waiting for the proper time," Nagi muttered, wondering if things could get any worse. "Omi, why don’t you go fetch us some mulled cider? I’ll wait here." Hopefully Ken would go with the teen to keep an eye on him.

Omi frowned at him for a second but rose from the bench. "Are you alright, Naoe? You seem tense. And I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to stay out here by yourself."

There was the sound of a horse out on the street, and Nagi started to panic. For a moment he thought of using his power on the two humans and shoving them back into the Koneko. "I’ll be perfectly fine. I’m barely three meters from the inn. I’ll sit here waiting for you, and if anyone approaches me, I’ll scream."

"As if anyone would hear you over Koyu playing his harp. Speaking of which, I don’t think he’s taken a break yet tonight. The man’s starting to go hoarse from all that singing, but the crowd is loving it. You sure you wouldn’t rather listen to him play?" Ken frowned at him, his eyes squinting slightly to see him in the dark. "I doubt he’ll be at it for much longer."

Nagi almost told Ken he could hear the Harper all the way out here, but stopped himself just in time. Fear and anxiety were making him stupid, causing him to almost reveal his bound senses. The horse had gone past the inn, just like the last twenty-three, but he heard another approaching right now.

"I don’t want to be around a bunch of people right now. But something warm to drink would be nice." Why couldn’t they get the freaking hint?

"Then come with us," Omi wheedled. "All we have to do is drop into the kitchen, and Jo or Kira will be more than happy to feed us. Aren’t you hungry?"

Nagi instantly replied no, but his stomach, empty and demanding food to replace the energy he’d used up in Yohji and Aya’s room, decided it would be a great time to rumble very loudly. Omi smiled at him once the noise died down and didn’t move to leave. Meanwhile, the horse was getting closer.

"See, you’re starving as usual. Let’s go and raid the kitchen. I want some tarts, myself."

Growing desperate, Nagi barely managed to suppress a growl. "Omi, no. I want to stay here!" He shoved his boyfriend away from him, refusing to feel bad about the pain on Omi’s face over his actions. The other teen opened his mouth as if to say something, and Ken took a step closer to them, a frown on his face. Suddenly, the garden gate swung open.

A dark clad bundle was tossed into the garden, and immediately afterwards a horse could be heard galloping away. Nagi dashed over to the bundle, Ken following him but was unable to keep up with his enhanced speed. Falling onto the ground near the object, Nagi apprehensively peeled back the coarse blanket.

Aya lay inside it with shadows crawling over him, his skin appearing completely white where it wasn’t bruised. The kage’s face was battered and swollen, with black circles around his eyes. The stench of Hirofumi clung to him, making Aya reek of the man’s sweat and…. Nagi cursed as he smelled the human’s seed on Aya. His friend was naked to his waist, a huge bruise covering his whole right side and several cuts along his chest gaped open, completely bloodless. The laces of Aya’s pants were half undone, and trembling violently, Nagi carefully rolled Aya over to see if he’d been raped.

Only to stop when he caught sight of his friend’s back. It was completely shredded, with strips of flesh dangling from the abused back. He could see bones in several spots. Nagi felt sick, and as his hand clenched around Aya’s arm, the man moaned very softly.

‘SCHU! AYA’S BACK, AND HURT REAL BAD! HE NEEDS HELP.’

<Holy shit, you little brat, don’t yell so loudly! I’m sending Mickey to help you.>

"Oh gods, what the hell happened to him?"

Nagi whirled around to see Ken and Omi standing behind him, looks of horror on their faces. He’d been so worried about Aya he’d never heard them approach.

"That’s… that’s Aya isn’t it? Who… how…" Omi looked as if he was about to be sick.

Snarling at them, Nagi flowed onto his feet, pushing the humans back with his power. He was gentler than normal, unwilling to hurt Omi, but not about to let them anywhere near Aya. Then he used his power to gather the blanket and started to lift it into the air. Aya moaned again, a breathless sound as he rose into the air, jostled about since Nagi couldn’t grip him directly. Aya breathed out his name.

"It’s okay, Aya, you’re safe now." Completely forgetting about the humans, Nagi ran for the Koneko, Aya floating in the air behind him. He heard more moans of pain and knew that Aya had to be in agony to let the sounds slip from him like that. Using his power, the door leading to the inn was slammed open, startling Mickey, who was just behind it.

The manager’s eyes went wide when he saw Nagi and his cargo. "Shit, let me take him."

"_NO_. He’s hurt bad, and you’ll only do more damage." Nagi wasn’t going to let Aya out of his sight or grasp, not for the foreseeable future.

"Okay then, get him up the back stairs to his room. Teddy and Ani are making sure no one comes around that way, but we need to hurry."

Nagi didn’t need to hear anymore and took off at a run. It only took him a few seconds to run up the stairs and reach the bedroom.

Jo was standing at the door, a worried look on her face. She stepped aside when she saw him, and Nagi soon deposited Aya as gently on the bed as he could, right beside Yohji. The blond stirred in his enforced sleep, rolling over closer to his mate as Cassandra made a soothing sound, gently peeling back the blanket.

"Sweet gods, what have they done to him?"

Nagi’s voice trembled as he answered the sobbing woman. "Bled him dry and whipped him, but I’ve never seen him this bad. Will he be alright?"

Cassandra looked at Nagi, her eyes bright with tears. "I’ll do my best. Schu, keep Yotan unconscious until I finish."

"I’ll try, Mom, but he’s really fighting it now. Somehow he knows Aya is near him." Schuldig stroked a hand through Yohji’s hair, a look of intense concentration on his face.

The door opened, and Nagi turned to see if it was Mickey entering the room. The man had finally arrived, but brought a grimfaced Ken and a shaken Omi with him. Nagi immediately hissed at the two men as he gathered his power.

Cassandra’s hand on his arm prevented him from flinging the humans out of the room. "Naoe, behave and let them in. It’s time for them to know the truth."

He stared at the precog as if she had gone crazy. What good would it do them for a Guard and the crown prince to know about Aya? Nagi didn’t want to hurt Omi, but he wasn’t going to let Aya be abused anymore.

"What’s going on, Naoe? What did you do to us back in the garden, and why is Aya hurt so bad?" Omi’s eyes were wide and filled with tears, his voice pleading. Chewing on his lip, Nagi almost took a step near his boyfriend, and then Aya moaned. He immediately turned around and ran over to the bed.

"Cassandra?"

Grey eyes gazed up at him, filled with worry as Cassandra grasped a handful of the coarse blanket that Aya was wrapped in. "I need to shift him off this cloth, it’s filthy. Then I need to wash his wounds. Can you help me?"

"I can’t lift him with my power, it doesn’t work with him. I’ll have to physically pick him up." Eyeing the bruised and battered body of his best friend, Nagi reached out his hand to stroke Aya’s hair. Even that touch made Aya moan. "Can’t you do something about his pain?"

Cassandra clutched her hands anxiously, an ashen tone to her gold skin. "I was going to give him something once I tended his wounds, but I don’t see what choice I have now. They’re too extensive to leave him undrugged as I do so. I don’t have much though. Botan is to bring me more opiates since I couldn’t find enough in such short time, but hopefully there’s enough present to ease his pain."

"Why can’t you use a healing spell on him?" The sound of Omi’s voice had both bounds jumping in their skins and snarling. Omi stepped backwards at the twin snarls Nagi and Cassandra bestowed on him. "What are you?"

"They’re bounds, chibi," Schuldig replied in a weary voice. "Cass, Naoe, Aya, Yohji, Masato and I, we’re all bounds. Aya’s masters just bled him dry for bound blood, and beat the shit out of him because who the hell cares if such a filthy creature is treated like that?" Schuldig’s voice took on a bitter tone, and Masato started to rub his hands on his lover’s shoulders. "We’re all fucking demons, only interested in first fucking and eating you humans, so shut the hell up and get out of our way. Damn humans, you’re the filthy ones."

"Schu."

"No, Masato, I’m not going to shut up. His own fucking family did this, and he’s looking at us with horror. We really should kill the lot of them, just like they fear we’ll…."

"Schuldig." Cassandra cut short her son’s tirade. "You’re not helping matters, and Yohji is waking up. Should he find Aya like this, there really will be bloodshed. Do not fail me again this night." She stared at Schuldig until he guiltily looked away, and then resumed pouring several bottles of opiates into one large mug. "Naoe, you must lift him for this."

"What did he mean, my family did this?"

"Not now, Omi. Ken, take another step toward the door or reach for your knife, and you’ll die. We’ve not the time to worry about nonsense at this moment." Cassandra never looked up from her task, but Nagi glanced over to see Ken standing by the door, his face flushed. Jo and Mickey instantly blocked his method of escape, and Jo removed the knife from the Guard’s belt.

"You’re going to kill us, aren’t you?" Ken’s voice wavered slightly as he spoke. "Let Omi go, he doesn’t deserve to die."

Cassandra waved a hand in his direction. "Feh, few do, but death is indiscriminate. We’ve no plans to harm you, though. Not unless you seek to harm us. Now, Naoe."

Nagi slid an arm around Aya’s shoulders and tried to gently lift the injured man. At his touch shadows ran across the room and covered Aya, making Nagi jerk his arm back. The limb felt frozen, as if encased in ice, and he knew from experience that he’d never be able to touch Aya while the darkness covered him.

Omi moaned low in his throat. "Ohhh, I don’t think he’s just a bound."

Glancing away from Aya, Nagi turned to face his boyfriend. "No, he isn’t, and if you try to kill him for being what he is…." Blue eyes stared at him with shock, in part because of his threatening tone of voice. "I can’t allow that to happen, Omi. As much as you mean to me, I won’t. I’m partly to blame for him being like this, so no one will harm him again while I live." He desperately wanted Omi to understand that Nagi had no choice here. It would break his heart to hurt or kill the teen, but nothing could be allowed to harm Aya. They were tied together by race and blood.

Then he turned his attention back to Aya and Cassandra. "I can’t do anything while he’s like this."

Cassandra set the mug she’d been holding aside and tried to touch the shadow armor, only to jerk her hand back at contact. "Aya, you must vanish it away. We seek to help you, Aya, not harm."

Kneeling beside the bed, Nagi gritted his hand and stroked the armor, not thinking of how chilled his hand felt. "Aya, listen to me, the pain will go away if you let us help you. Don’t you want it to?" He glanced at Yohji and a thought came to him. "Let us take the pain away before Yohji wakes up and suffers it as well." After a few more strokes the shadows vanished, and violet eyes slowly opened to look at Nagi. He tried to smile reassuringly at his friend.

Trying again, Nagi cautiously lifted Aya enough for him to drink without choking. The redhead mewled in pain, his head lolling weakly to the side. When Nagi slid his fingers into Aya’s hair to help steady him, Aya flinched and weakly growled.

"Here here, drink it all down. It will make the pain go away." Cassandra urged Aya to drink all of the opiate, holding the mug to his lips as he sputtered and coughed. It took several minutes of coaxing for all the medicine to be gone, and no one spoke the whole time.

The opiate took effect almost immediately, and Aya’s form went limp in Nagi’s arms. He lifted his friend so Masato could spread a clean blanket on the bed then laid Aya down as gently as he could. Shadows skittered around the bed, stroking Aya’s flesh before settling on Yohji, forming a protective shield over most of him.

Cassandra immediately set to work cleaning Aya’s wounds. "I’ll have to cut away the strips, and there’s nothing I can do for his lung. From the sounds of his breathing it’s been punctured. The best I can do is clean everything, rub some salve in the wounds and let his nature heal them. I just hope the opiate lasts until I’m done."

Jo walked over from the door to help the woman, as Nagi and Masato backed away from the bed. The sight of Cassandra cutting away Aya’s torn flesh was too much for them.

"How can it not be enough? You gave him enough to kill two men." Jo spared Nagi and Masato a disgusted look and picked up a cloth, then soaked it in a bowl of water. "I’ll clean his front, you focus on the back. Oh! The poor thing’s bitten through his lip. Explain to me again why you’re not letting Yotan kill the bastards who did this?"

"Because their deaths now will place all in jeopardy." Cassandra handed Jo a small glass jar. "This should help prevent any scars, but his back is a lost cause."

Feeling a touch ill, Nagi turned his back to the bed and looked at Omi. His boyfriend gazed back at him, tears glittering in his eyes.

"Naoe, please, tell me what’s happening."

Debating the question for a moment, Nagi decided that Cassandra was right. It was the time for truth. "My name isn’t Naoe, it’s Nagi. As Schuldig said, we’re all bounds, with the exception of Mickey and Jo. Aya’s a kage and I’m an elemental-bound. We came here under orders to kill your father, though we’re not planning on doing it." Nagi held out a hand and prevented Ken from leaping at him, holding him suspended in the air and keeping the Guard’s mouth shut as well. "Be quiet and hear me out."

Omi wavered where he stood and then straightened his back. "You know who I am?"

"I guessed." It hurt to see Omi’s face twist in pain, but Nagi had had enough with the lies and cover-ups. "We were ordered here by our masters, Prince Reiji and his sons. It was Prince Hirofumi who hurt Aya tonight. He took Aya for his blood, and then ‘played’ with him. The bastard is very good at hurting Aya, and particularly loves to whip him. He likes to hurt a lot of things. The only reason I don’t have as many scars as Aya is that he’s protected me the past four years, but I do bear a few, courtesy of your family." For a moment Nagi closed his eyes and thought of all he owed Aya.

"Do… do you hate me?"

Nagi’s eyes snapped open and he stared back at Omi, rendered speechless by the tears that slid down the boy’s face. "No, I don’t hate you. I never could have… I never would have been your friend if I hated you. Nothing changed for me when I found out the truth. Can you say the same?"

Omi rubbed at his eyes. "It should matter what you are, you and Aya. I should be upset or scared… but I’m more worried about you leaving me. Nao- Nagi, I’m so sorry for what happened." Omi took a step towards him, and when Nagi didn’t move away he came closer and hugged Nagi. "I’m so sorry. Nothing will hurt you or Aya again. I won’t allow it." A tear stained cheek pressed against his, and Nagi found himself kissing Omi, desperate to believe the teen.

The bedroom door opened and a dry voice spoke. "Is there some reason why Ken is suspended in air?" Nagi looked over Omi’s shoulder at Botan, who was flanked by Teddy and Koyu, carrying a large bag in his arms. The wizard’s eyes narrowed when he realized whom Nagi was holding. "Is everything all right, Omi?"

"So you know too, eh Botan?" Omi turned to face his friend, one hand wiping his nose and the other holding Nagi’s. "Is this why you were researching kage and bounds?"

"Something along those lines. Are you all right, Omi?"

Omi smiled, a bit shakily but the expression was genuine. "I’ve just learned what kind of bastards certain members of my family really are, and a friend’s hurt, but yeah, I’m okay. Just don’t expect too much sense out of me until all this sinks in." He squeezed Nagi’s hand. "Could you let Ken-kun down now?"

As soon as the Guard was back on his feet Omi fixed a stern gaze on Ken. "I’m ordering you not to say a word about anything we’ve learned tonight. These are our friends, and I refuse to let you try and hurt them."

Ken glared back at him and Nagi for a moment, then rubbed his jaw. "Are all of you really bounds?"

"What the hell else do we have to do to convince you of that, Kenken?" Schuldig’s voice at least sounded exasperated and not angry anymore. "Slam you against the ceiling a bit? Trust me, that’s no fun at all, but maybe it’d be a laugh to watch it happen to someone else."

"Bite me, Schu," Ken snapped.

Schuldig smiled, revealing a mouth full of sharp teeth, and held up his hands with the claws unsheathed. "Not a wise thing to say to a roomful of bounds. I’m not a flesh gaki-bound, but just tell me where, and I’ll gladly see how bad you taste." He chuckled evilly when Ken paled.

"Trouble, behave for once. How much did you find, Botan?"

Botan hurried to Cassandra’s side, kissing her on the cheek and gazing down at Aya’s back. "Sweet gods, did they leave him any blood at all?"

"Not much. Only his nature is keeping him alive at the moment." Cassandra sighed and leaned against the wizard.

"Well, I think I now have a reputation of being an opiate addict, but I scavenged several liters of the stuff."

"Good. That should be enough to properly dose Aya, and Yohji as well. We’ll need to keep both of them unconscious until tomorrow night, at least." She gently patted some salve on Aya’s back, murmuring softly when Aya mewled. "I know, little one, I know. I’m almost done." She tried to stroke a hand through his hair, but Aya again flinched from the touch. "I wish it could be for longer, but we dare not make them addicted to it."

Botan kissed her cheek again. "It should be enough."

Masato nodded his head and returned to the bed. "Once Yohji wakes up he can send Aya some energy and help speed up the healing."

Teddy’s laughter filled the room. "Bright idea there, Masato. Tell me, is he supposed to do this before or after he leaves to kill Aya’s masters?"

"Yohji’s really a bound, isn’t he?" Ken asked in a small voice.

"For the gods’ sakes, _yes_ Hidaka. Get it through your thick head!"

"Go to hell, Schuldig! How’d you like to find out your friend was a bound, and almost all his friends as well?" It took a moment for Ken to realize what he’d just said. "Huh, guess you can’t, can you? Well pardon me if it takes a while for me to get used to the idea. Bounds were only something my Gram told me stories about to get me to go to bed on time or to eat my vegetables. I didn’t expect to meet one, let alone six."

Schuldig opened his mouth to respond, but Cassandra’s hiss stopped him. "I’m done now. Schuldig, let Yohji wake up, but be prepared to knock him out if he leaves the bed."

"How the hell am I supposed to do that when I could barely take him down in the first place?"

"I’ll ready a spell, then." Botan stepped over to Yohji and held a hand over the man’s body. He muttered under his breath for a moment, his brow furrowed, before letting his hand fall aside. "I don’t understand, it’s as if he’s not here. The spell won’t take."

"We don’t have time for this," Cassandra hissed. "Naoe, Masato, and Schuldig, be prepared for him. Now let him wake up. We must chance his rage for Aya’s sake." Cassandra reached out and grabbed one of Yohji’s hands and settled it on Aya’s arm.

One moment Yohji was asleep, the next he was sitting up in bed and snarling. He tried to pull Aya closer to him, causing his mate to moan in pain. That seemed to kill Yohji’s temper, and he fell back on the bed and stroked a hand along Aya’s cheek, oblivious to everything else.

"Yotan." Cassandra waited for a reply, and after a few seconds tried again. "Yotan, can you hear me?" She stepped closer to the bed, only to have golden wires form around her, trapping her still. Botan and Schuldig immediately began to curse, and Nagi ran over to the bed.

"It hurts, it hurts so fucking much, and I can smell some bastard all over him." Yohji snarled as he ran his hand over Aya’s body, flinching each time his mate mewled in pain. He tried to pick Aya up but immediately stopped, moaning in pain himself. Shadows raced over the two of them and the bed.

Cassandra tried again. "Yotan, you have to give Aya some energy. He won’t heal unless you do. Give him some energy, and I can make him go to sleep so the pain ends." She repeated the words until Yohji stopped snarling and looked her way.

"Who hurt him?" The words were spoken with such menace and repressed rage that Masato and Schuldig growled softly. Nagi felt his lips pull back from his teeth.

Shaking her head as much as the wires allowed, Cassandra sighed. "Aya needs you, Yohji, not revenge. Help him."

Yohji stared at her for a moment, his face impassive then let the wires return to his bracelet. "What do I need to do?"

"Give him energy. We need to heal his lung first, so concentrate on his side. Once that’s done, I’ll give him enough opiate so he sleeps, and the pain will go away."

Yohji lay down beside Aya, stroking his mate’s face for a moment. Aya’s eyes fluttered open and tried to rasp out Yohji’s name. A quick kiss was placed on his cut lips, followed by Yohji’s fingers, and then Yohji moved his hand to Aya’s broken ribs. The couple remained still for several minutes.

Masato, a frown on his face, stepped closer to the bed. "Yohji, stop already." When his son didn’t listen to him he reached out to touch Yohji, who snarled savagely at him and knocked his hand away.

Nagi used his power to push Masato away from the bed, and when Schuldig jumped towards him sent the redhead across the room as well. He then sank down on the bed.

Yohji snarled again, but stopped when he glanced up at Nagi. "Keep them away." His voice sounded weak.

"Yohji, don’t drain yourself like that!"

"Shut up, Masato." Everyone stared in wonder at Cassandra, startled by the furious tone she had taken with the succubae-bound. "Aya needs all that Yohji can give."

"How the hell is he going to replace the energy then? He’ll be…." Masato’s voice drifted off. "Oh. Well, it will only delay things, you know. Yohji will wake up ravenous and unable to feed, on top of pissed off and bloodthirsty."

"We’ll deal with that when the time comes," Jo commented quietly. "One emergency at a time."

Watching Yohji, Nagi hissed softly when the man’s hand fell from Aya’s side. Cassandra and Jo rushed towards the bed, and between the two of them managed to lift Aya enough so he could have more of the painkiller. Yohji growled the whole while, but appeared too weak to even move. As soon as the women were done they carefully laid Aya down on the bed next to the blond, propping up his sore side with pillows. With a great deal of effort Yohji managed to shift over until he could thread his fingers through one of Aya’s eartails.

"Get the hell out of here." Yohji’s voice was very weak, but contained a hint of threat nonetheless.

Cassandra quickly gathered her things, leaving a pitcher of water by the bed. Everyone but Nagi moved towards the door.

Omi called out to him. "Nagi, aren’t you coming?"

"No, I’m staying here." When Yohji opened and eye to glare at him, Nagi curled up on the bottom of the bed. "Look at you, Yohji. You’re in no condition to protect Aya, which means I have to. Argue with me and I’ll toss you out the window."

"Huhn. Little demon. Stay then." Yohji sighed and lifted his wrist a couple of centimeters off the bed. "Everyone else get out of here." Shadows tugged at golden strands, draping them around the bed until it was encased in a net of black and gold. Nagi barely had time to jerk the pitcher of water onto the bed before he was sealed off inside the protective web. He needed something to eat, but the water would have to tide him over for now. Once the net was finished Yohji sighed again and closed his eyes. "Keep us safe."

"I will, Yohji. My word on it." Nagi sipped some water and sat cross-legged on the bed. He could see the worried faces of his friends through the glittering web and nodded at them. "Blow out the candles and go. We’ll be fine."

"Masato and I will stand guard outside the door. If you need anything, just send a mental shout." Nagi didn’t let his doubts show on his face when he remembered how Schuldig had let them down already that night, but the telepath must have read his thoughts because he saw Schuldig blush before he blew out a candle.

Darkness filled the room as the people finally left, Omi calling out that he’d be back in the morning, and then everything was quiet. Aya still wheezed faintly, but he didn’t cry out in pain anymore, which was a good thing. No longer restrained by their master’s wishes, shadows converged on the bed and covered Aya and Yohji completely. Nagi gazed in wonder at the sight before him and leaned against a bedpost. It was going to be a long night and even longer day tomorrow. He knew from past experience that Aya wouldn’t be able to get out of bed for at least a couple of days because the blood letting alone. Yohji however….

Faced with the prospect of an enraged bound out for blood, Nagi wasn’t looking forward to the next morning.

*******

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