Shadow of a Doubt

*******

by nekojita

*******

Teddy sighed as he leaned against the wooden counter. It was a lovely, if a tad hot, sunny day outside but here he was, stuck with door duty. Joy, oh, joy. Times like this made him wish he was still out on the road with Koyu; at least then he'd be outside in the sun, walking about in an open market or at least listening to his lover practice. While it was very beneficial to their sex life to have a private, soft bed to return to each night, he had to admit it was a little boring to be stuck full-time back into the Koneko's routine, even though there was so much more to torment Yohji about now.

They really did need to hire some new employees. He doubted that Mick would let anyone but staff watch the door, especially not with so many new strays, most of them bounds, finding their way to the Koneko. Since the inn served as a sort of an informal headquarters for the Shadow Guard, bounds appeared regularly to leave news and information for the new organization and several of them were interested in joining. Teddy thought not a few of them wanted to see Aya, too. Guess it was something to tell one's grandkids about sharing a bottle of wine with a kage.

Usually door duty was much more interesting this time of year because of all the business, legitimate customers or not, but today it was deathly dull. It was the week when many of the caravans would be returning to the capital for the summer so the door had to be staffed at all times. Which meant he would have his head bitten off if he tried to sneak into the main room or the kitchen for a nice, refreshing pint of cider. Dammit, why did today have to be so damned slow?

Yesterday, it was Yohji's turn on door duty and he'd been busy the entire shift. He at least had a boyfriend who, with some effort, could be wheedled into bringing him snacks and watching the door when he needed a break, unlike a certain Harper who was busy running around the damned city on 'official business'. Teddy spared some thought to how he could get Koyu back for abandoning him like this. He was bored silly. He *loathed* being bored, even more than helping Jo in the kitchen on such a hot day or Ichiro organize the stable in preparations for the new addition.... For a moment, he was jealous of Aya, whose habit of snarling 'pay for something or leave' had banned him from working the door for more than ten minutes at a time, the lucky bastard. Aya would much rather be in the garden pulling some weeds than stuck up here. Count on Yohji to make sure his mate was doing something he actually enjoyed.

An hour later saw a few customers trickle in but the rest of them wouldn't arrive until after sunset since few people preferred to travel during the heat of the day. By that time Teddy was so incredibly bored he asked Touya to bring him a book from the new library... and the brat brought him one with a dialect so ancient he couldn't figure out more than one word in ten. Someone was going to get it as soon as he got off door duty. Oh yes, the one good thing about being stuck here was he had plenty of time to plan his revenge. Once he got Touya back for the book it would be Yohji's turn to pay. The ballsy bastard had run out to purchase some flavored ice from a traveling vendor for the entire staff earlier... excluding him, because 'he wasn't doing any real work and didn't need to cool down'. Oh yes, Yohji would certainly pay.

There was a tinkling sound from the door's new bell and he looked up to see if it was a customer or someone dropping off an order, only to smile when he recognized the newcomer. "Marcus!"

The tall man at the door smiled in return and brushed back the thick, brown hair that was falling into his tanned face. "Teddy! What are you doing here? I don't usually see you until we break for the winter." Marcus's hazel eyes grew worried and he looked about to say something else before snapping his mouth shut.

"I'm fine. Koyu's finished the traveling part of his apprenticeship and he's now stationed at the Koneko so that means I'm back to working full-time."

"Ah." Marcus appeared relieved - he probably assumed that something happened to Koyu for Teddy to be back at the Koneko. "Didn't he still have a few years left to go?"

"Yeah but, he did his Guildmaster a huge favor so a few strings were pulled." Teddy rubbed his eyes as he remembered of the battle at the king's wedding. "He spends a good bit of time doing errands for his guild but he's here playing almost every night."

"That's wonderful," Marcus said, his deep voice booming down the narrow hall. "He's too good to be wandering the roads. I imagine the customers are ecstatic about a Harper being in residence here. That explains the new addition being built."

"Well, it's not only because of Koyu but we are packed pretty much every single night with people wanting to hear him," he pointed out with pride. Koyu might be a deserting bastard but he was a wonderful Harper.

"Huhn. Does that mean there’re still some rooms to rent?" Marcus asked as he brushed dust from his travel stained tan shirt and black pants.

He smiled at Marcus and opened the customer ledger. "You know we always keep a couple of rooms in reserve for our regulars," - and strays - "even if it means turning away some guests. How about room nineteen?"

Marcus smiled in relief and set his bags down on the floor. "That sounds great. Besides, it's not like I'll be spending much time there, will I?" His smile turned into a lascivious grin.

Teddy almost opened his mouth to tell the man about Aya... and then closed it without saying a word. It was payback time. Let Yohji explain to his mate why a handsome man like Marcus expected Yohji to drop everything to fool around, the way Yohji always did whenever the caravan navigator came through town. It should be an interesting scene in the main room tonight. "All right, sign in and I'll take you upstairs." He handed a pen to Marcus.

"That's all right, I know where I'm going, unless you've rearranged the rooms." When he shook his head Marcus grinned some more, signed his name and picked up the dusty bags. "I'll see you later, then. I'm looking forward to hearing Koyu play." With that, he walked up the stairs.

Teddy, humming one of Koyu's songs about enraged lovers exacting their revenge, happily settled against the counter and looked forward to tonight's fireworks.

*******

Marcus set his bags down in the small but tidy room and took a deep breath. It was always so nice to stay at the Koneko. This was one of his favorite inns and not just because of Yohji. The fact that Koyu was permanently in residence only made it better. He had several days of enjoyment to look forward to until it was time for the caravan to move on.

His thoughts returned to Yohji and, with a smile, he started to strip. Teddy hadn't said anything about Yohji having any other lovers at the present, but that didn’t matter – Yohji would always ditch his current plaything whenever he came into town. Once naked, he crossed the room and emptied the pitcher of water into the washbasin. No, the last few times he came through the capital, Yohji had been blissfully unattached. While he didn't like that the blond innkeeper was clearly suffering a broken heart, he had to admit that Yohji always enjoyed his company, a feeling that was mutual. The next few days should be spent in a bliss of wonderful sex and the company of a good friend, something they both looked forward to.

He washed off the dirt from the road and pulled a clean set of clothes out of his bags. Once dressed he smiled and left the room, eager to start his vacation. His feet followed the familiar path to Yohji's room and, as always, he found the door unlocked. For some odd reason the room was completely dark. He stumbled around for a moment before reaching the windows and pulling open the curtains. There was an unfamiliar scent of lemon oil and leather in the air, not to mention the strong, soothing aroma of lavender.

Turning from the windows, he found the room altered. Gone was the huge bed he spent so many enjoyable nights in, replaced by a slightly smaller, curtained one. Bookshelves lined one wall that previously housed only a few pictures and a lovely desk was nestled in a corner, all but collapsing from the weight of books stacked on top. There was also a new dresser and some knickknacks he'd never seen scattered about. Thinking that Yohji had moved to a new room, he felt reassured when he noticed his lover's belongings here and there. The familiar blue robe, the fancy mirror above the washstand, the blown glass lamp and so on. Puzzled by the new decor, he decided that Yohji must have been in the mood for a change. There was some talk about that the last time he was in town, in early spring.

Marcus sniffed at one of the blooms of lavender scattered about the room. He always liked the scent. Then, feeling tired, he removed his clothes. The new bed looked rather comfortable and didn’t disappoint on that score when he crawled inside, enjoying the feel of crisp, clean sheets. It was even better than the old bed - maybe that's why Yohji switched. The curtains would also help keep out any light that would aggravate a morning hangover. Reassured that things were fine, he stretched out beneath the sheet and closed his eyes. With luck, Yohji would return to his room shortly and find a pleasant surprise.

*******

Aya carried his last load of refuse over to the compost pile. He was done weeding for the day, the roses were trimmed and the herbs tended to, and he smiled ever so slightly as he thought of what still needed to be done. The Koneko's garden was large enough that he had something to do almost every day. Since Yohji’s mother had died it had been shamefully neglected - even with Cassandra's occasional weeding, it was going to take some time to bring it back to its formal glory. However, they already received some compliments about the garden as well as a few new customers who came to stay for it alone. He became acquainted with some of the guests and arranged for a plant exchange, offering a few shoots from the Koneko's garden for some more exotic ones. In another year or two, it would rival the capital's best gardens, he though with satisfaction.

Compost taken care of, he wandered to the stables to get some fish food. Next year he planned to enlarge the koi pond and even talked to a few earth and water elementals for help. It should be no problem to enhance the pond and the small streams running through the garden.

"What are you still doing out in the sun?"

He looked up at his mate and sighed in annoyance. "I'm done for the day and will head inside as soon as I feed the fish," he snapped, not wanting to put up with Yohji's fussing. He'd worn his cloak and gloves the entire time out here, which was made bearable only by the fact that shadows lining the material kept him cool. He looked forward to retreating inside the Koneko. The work needed to be done which was something that would never happen if Yohji limited him to only an hour or two outside each day like the overbearing idiot wanted.

Sweaty and covered with straw and cobwebs, Yohji pulled him inside the cool stables. Once in the wonderful shade, Aya pushed back his hood and removed his sunglasses with a happy sigh, the sound changing into growl as his chin was tilted up. Yohji examined him closely, radiating worry that soon faded beneath satisfaction. "Good. You don't look red so I guess you weren't out for too long." Before Aya could say he wasn't an idiot and kept out of the sun, he found himself being kissed passionately.

Yohji's musky scent and the feel of his lover's lips on his eroded at Aya’s anger until all he felt was need and desire. He slid his arms around Yohji's shoulders, his right hand tangled in straw-littered blond hair as he was pressed against Yohji's body. Energy trickled over their link, a slow flow that helped to restore him after all the time he spent in the sun. He wanted to put that energy to better use, to stumble over to one of the empty stalls and feed the strength back to Yohji as they made love. His mate seemed to read his mind as they took a few steps backward.

Then, he felt a tingle that had nothing to do with pleasure as his shadow wards were breached. He grimaced as he pulled away, wondering if one of the staff went into his bedroom for something. As Yohji frowned at him, he waited to see if any of the wards attached to his books or belongings were touched but nothing happened.

"Aya, is-"

"Oh, no you don’t." The stern words cut across Yohji's question as Ichiro, pitchfork in hand, limped over to them. "If you two want a 'private' moment, go find your lavender patch. I'll not have you fornicating in my stables, the stallions are rowdy enough as it is right now." He glared at them and gestured to the doors with the pitchfork. "You two are almost as bad as Koyu and Teddy."

"Hey, we only did it in here one time," Yohji said with an abused air. "I don't know how those two or you and Jo can manage in here, being poked with straw and all that." As Ichiro sputtered, Yohji hugged Aya close and laughed. "But if you're giving me some time off, we'll gladly go to the lavender patch."

Aya tried to hit his mate in the ribs but was held too tightly, so he had to settle for snapping his teeth in warning while Ichiro glared at Yohji. "I need you to carry those trunks up to the loft before you can have your fun."

"Okay, I'll do that right now." Yohji smiled at Aya and tugged on an eartail, earning a smack to his hand. "Well, wanna wait for me in the lavender patch?" He thought about something for a moment. "No, we really should get you out of the sun - why don't you head up to our room? I'll be there in two minutes, after I deal with the trunks and feed the fish for you." He winked.

About to call his lover oversexed, Aya felt his irritation fade as Yohji caressed his cheek, the leer fading into a tender smile. He remembered their earlier kiss and nodded, his body once again caught up in desire and need. Gods, why did he mate with a succubae-bound? He swore he spent more time in bed or in the lavender patch - not to mention the hot spring - than anything else.

Yohji chuckled at his assent and leaned down for another kiss. Quickly reminded of the benefits of being mated to a succubae-bound, Aya moaned in pleasure. Maybe it wasn't such a bad fate after all....

Ichiro interrupted them by loudly clearing his throat so Aya reluctantly pulled away and headed for the inn, leaving Yohji to be teased by the stablemaster. Tucking his gloves and glasses into an inner pocket, he entered through the kitchen and hung his cloak on a hook by the door. He waved at Jo and Ani who were busy preparing supper and allowed himself to be distracted for a moment by tasting the new dish Jo had concocted. He couldn't wait to have more at dinnertime and earned a smile from the cook when he told her so. His cheek was patted and he suffered the gesture before resuming his journey.

It was when he reached the floor of their room that he remembered about the disturbed wards. A quick check revealed that the person was still inside the room... and in their bed. He suddenly became wary and felt an echo of Yohji's curiosity as his mate picked up on his unease. Almost forming a shadow blade, he caught himself just in time and unsheathed the knife on his belt instead. Quietly, he entered the room, his eyes tearing at the sunlight streaming through the uncovered windows.

He reached the bed and yanked back the curtains, breathed in the scent of a clean, unfamiliar human man and snarled. The stranger, a large man with tanned skin and brown hair groaned and opened his eyes. "Yotan, is that you?"

They stared at each other, Aya struggling to keep himself from thrusting the knife into the man's body only through the strongest force of will, the stranger clearly confused. "You're not Yohji. Who the hell are you?" the man asked with growing annoyance as he sat up in bed, the sheets falling to reveal he was naked. "Are you in the wrong room?"

Aya’s fury spiked with each question, the shadows writhed around the corners of the room, wanting nothing more than his command to grab the man and rip him into shreds even as he knew doing so would expose his true nature. He couldn't help but note the term of endearment this stranger used for his lover, the obvious meaning of a man naked in Yohji's room, Yohji's bed, the lack of discomfort the man displayed at being caught nude in said bed. Aya couldn't hold back on a growl as his hand tightened on the steel knife, his instincts torn between killing a rival and the need to keep his true nature hidden.

They stared at each other until they became aware of the sound of running feet approaching. Even then, Aya's gaze didn't waver as the stranger looked toward the door. Within seconds, someone shoved the door open and ran inside. "Aya? What's wrong? Are you-"

"Yotan!" the stranger called out, his eyes shifting back to Aya. "I think we have a problem here."

Aya snarled viciously, his temper snapping as the stranger spoke so intimately to his mate. He dropped his knife, intent on forming a shadow blade to carve out the bastard's heart when strong arms wrapped around him. "Don't, Aya," Yohji hissed into his ear. "Um, Marcus, it's nice to see you but get the hell out of our room," he growled as he held on despite Aya's struggles to be released.

The stranger frowned and inched toward the edge of the bed opposite from them. "’Our room’? What's going on, Yohji?" he asked as he stood up.

"Yeah, *our* room. Sorry, Marcus, but I'm not single any more. Marcus, meet Aya. Aya, mee- ow! Dammit!" Aya, frustrated at being restrained while his mate talked to the naked human, did the only thing he could and bit the arm wrapped around his shoulders. His teeth sunk deep but, when the arm didn't move, he bit even harder and didn't pull back. Yohji had to let go of him sometime to stop the pain.

"For fuck's sake!" His mate growled and shifted his unbitten arm for a better hold. "Marc, get the hell out!"

The man, in the process of pulling on his pants, looked at Yohji with concern, the expression only served to fuel Aya's anger. He started snarling again as shadows inched toward this Marcus person. They could tear him to shreds and hide the body in the compost. Yohji yanked harshly on his left eartail, pulling out several strands of hair when they almost reached their target.

"Go!"

"Are you all right alone with him, Yohji? He looks awfully pissed."

"He found a strange man in our bed! Marcus, please, get the hell out now," Yohji pleaded, his arms tightening around Aya when he tried to pull away. The man finally got the message and after one more worried look quickly left the room, muttering apologies as he left. As soon as the door closed, Aya warded it with shadows. The arms around him loosened so he released his hold on Yohji's bitten arm, his mouth now full of blood.

"Dammit, Aya, that fucking hurt!" Yohji snapped at him as he checked the bite. As soon as he was free, Aya produced a low growl and turned around. His rage still churning, he shoved a stunned Yohji against the wall, away from the bed that smelled of the bastard.

"Mine," he hissed as everything faded away except Yohji and the annoying human scent. Their room. Their bed. *His* mate. "*Mine*," he repeated as he slammed Yohji's upper body against the wall. Someone thought to take his mate away, thought they had claim on what was his. Never.

Yohji's eyes went wide. "Aya, calm down. He didn't know. Marc’s just someone I had fun with back wh-" he was cut off by a savage kiss. Aya needed to assert his dominance, his bond. Yohji was his.

He pressed against his mate, thwarted rage and instincts urging him to tear his mouth away from Yohji's lips to fasten instead on a golden neck. At the touch, Yohji whimpered and relaxed, his arms no longer trying to push Aya away but, instead, to pull him closer. He bit deep and sucked hard drawing more blood in his mouth, creating a mark to make the world know that Yohji was his and his alone. As he sucked, his hands tugged on sweat-soaked clothes, snapping laces and popping buttons as he sought to strip his mate of his garments. Trembling hands did the same to him and soon their clothes were gone.

His. Yohji was his. He pushed his fingers inside his mate's mouth as he started on yet another mark, their bodies rocking together as Yohji moaned in pleasure. A clever tongue lapped at Aya’s fingers as strong hands pulled him even closer, their erections rubbing together and fueling his need to an impossible heat. With a savage growl he pulled away from his mate, grabbed a protesting Yohji by the shoulder and forced him to turn around. He shoved long, golden legs apart and pushed two saliva-slick fingers inside his lover, only pausing when he heard a sharp gasp and felt a hint of pain through their link. That slowed him down, helped to calm him enough to place kisses along Yohji's taut back, to savor the taste of salt on smooth skin and the whimpers of pleasure produced as his fingers twisted inside his mate's warm, tight body.

"Now, Aya. Gods, do it now," Yohji pleaded, his hips thrusting back onto Aya's fingers. Aya could feel through their link that he wasn't the only one driven wild with desire and couldn't hold back any more. He spat in his hand to help slick his cock. Once done, he positioned himself and, with one slow motion, buried himself inside his lover.

The few thoughts left in his head immediately vanished at the feel of Yohji wrapped tight around him, his mouth on Yohji's sweet flesh. All that mattered was claiming his mate, making him his and washing away that awful, unfamiliar scent with that of their lovemaking. He became lost in the pleasure, the need, felt only their mutual bliss that rose higher and higher until....

He came back to himself, Yohji's harsh cry ringing in his ears along with his own panting breath, body thrusting one last time as he came in pulsing waves inside his mate. His mouth was clamped on the back of Yohji's neck, the teeth pressed lightly into flesh but not enough to break through. Yohji repeated his name, both hands pressed against the wall as braces. Aya noticed that his right hand was wrapped around Yohji's softening cock and pulled it away absentmindedly, lifting it to his mouth to lick clean before gagging at the smell of Yohji's seed.

"Gods, that was wonderful." Yohji groaned as he pushed away from the wall and turned. He examined his injured arm, now only bearing a red outline of teeth and smears of blood, and smiled at Aya. "Ah well, I might have a new bitemark but you helped heal it at least. It should fade soon."

Aya stared back silently, the rage and need receded inside him, his nature sated now that Yohji bore his marks and scent. The world continued to fade away, leaving him cold as pain settled in his chest. Yohji was his... for now. He could smell the scent of the man, Marcus, as he stepped away from his mate and moved closer to the bed. Even the memory of satisfaction and bliss melted away to leave him aching. Needing to get away from the room, that scent, he grabbed the first thing he found, Yohji's robe, and ran. Once he was through the door he warded it with shadows, effectively trapping his protesting mate inside. He needed some time to think, to calm down and that would never happen if Yohji followed him. He wanted to be alone right now and figure out what just happened.

*******

Teddy groaned in appreciation when his brother handed him a cool glass of fruit juice. "You’re a lifesaver, Mick," he said before taking a sip to soothe his dry throat.

"Oh, come on, it’s not like you’re being punished by standing here," Mickey snorted. "Poor Touya’s been lugging books up and down the stairs all day. "

"Yeah, and if he gets any of them out of order, Aya will kill him." Aya hadn’t spent the better part of a month sorting the books up in the attic for his system to be ruined by Touya as they were brought down for the new library. "That means they’re almost done with the first floor?"

Mickey smiled in contentment as he leaned against the hallway’s paneled walls. "Yes, at least enough so Aya can start setting up a proper library. They should be finished with the shelves tomorrow and we can decorate around the books. The builders think it’ll only be another three weeks for the rest of the floors."

Teddy shared his brother’s smile and sipped his drink. Then Mickey’s dream would come true, a new wing so the Koneko could expand its business. "Just in time for the fall festivals. Oh, Marcus showed up today. We’ll have to ask him to spread the word to the other caravans that we can accommodate more guests and about us having a full-time Harper and Guards living here." Those last two facts were already helping draw new business as people were always on the lookout for a good, clean inn with reliable entertainment and a reputation for safety. Merchants who ignored the Koneko in the past were now booking rooms, reassured by the Guards’ presence. If only they knew about Aya and the others….

"Marcus is here?" Mickey frowned and pushed away from the wall. "Does he know about Aya?" Teddy suddenly developed a strong interest in reading the guest ledger. "Theodore Kudoh," Mickey growled. "Does he know? Aya hasn’t been too happy lately and you know how upset he gets when one of Yohji’s old lovers show up."

"I don’t see what’s the big deal," he said as he pitched his voice low enough so only Mickey could hear. "They’re mates, it’s not like Yohji’s going to cheat on him." At least as far as he understood their relationship and Yohji’s comments about only being able to feed from Aya.

"Teddy…," Mickey sighed and shook his head. "Aya’s having a hard time adjusting to things here, he doesn’t need any more grief. Mates or not, he’s clearly disturbed now that Yohji’s old lovers are passing through town on business…," - it was amusing to see a hint of a blush on Mickey’s cheeks - "…and expecting to be able to pick up where they left off."

"You mean expecting non-stop sex with Yohji," Teddy chortled. It was pretty funny when his brother’s ex-lovers found out about Aya and the fact that Yohji had no intention of being unfaithful. You really couldn’t blame them for their shock and disbelief though, not with how much of a slut Yohji used to be.

"Yes. How would you like it if you kept running into Koyu’s old lovers and they were expecting to resume their relationship with him?"

"They’d be fucking dead idiots," he snarled, suddenly not so amused. Koyu was *his*, he put up with enough people trying to get into a Harper’s pants that the mere thought of one of those sluts trying to take Koyu away instantly provoked him.

"Then you see my point," Mickey said as he folded massive arms across his chest. "So, did you warn Marcus?" When Teddy refused to look up from the ledger, he sighed. "You best tell him the next time you see him. I can’t believe you didn’t do so in the first place, you moron." He rapped his knuckles on the side of Teddy’s head. "If he upsets Aya, there’ll be hell to pay. Jo and Kira are about ready to pay for a news crier to stand out on the street to let everyone know that Yohji’s no longer available to avoid causing Aya any more hurt."

"Yeah, I know," Teddy muttered as he rubbed his sore head. "I’ll tell him." There went his fun. Then an idea occurred to him. "You know, I can tell him right now if you stay here and watch the door for me." He broke out the big, pleading chibi eyes, a look he’d learned from Omi.

Unfortunately, he didn’t seem to have mastered it yet as Mickey grunted and took a step toward the stairs. "I’d tell him myself right now but I bet he’s sleeping. You better pray that one of us catches him before he sees Yohji."

Nope, no fun at all. Oh well, there’d always be another of Yohji’s old flings showing up, maybe in a few more days when Aya settled in and wouldn’t get so upset. He didn’t like causing Aya any grief, but it was just so… amusing to see Yohji’s past come back to bite him on the ass. His foster brother caused more than his share of heartache the last few years, even if he’d just been trying to feed himself. Yohji hadn’t needed to be such a callow bastard. Besides, it wasn’t like Aya could leave Yohji over his old lovers, so where was the harm?

*******

Yohji toed the pile of bedding and velvet on the floor and sighed. He completely stripped the bed and even went so far as to pull down the curtains. He replaced the sheets but needed to fetch new curtains to hang on the bed and windows and some flowers. All the windows were open so Marcus’ scent was slowly fading from the room, except for the pile of linen on the floor. Too bad he couldn’t leave the fucking room to put it with the rest of the laundry and get the few things he needed to finish up.

He ran his hands through his hair and sighed again, this time in frustration and anger. Dammit. He could feel Aya, the sensation faint but very disturbing. His mate was pulling inside himself again, full of misery and doubts. The idiot. Why couldn’t Aya understand that he didn’t feel a single spark of passion for any of his old lovers? Aya got along with Lilla and had no problem with him talking to her - why were the rest of them any different? Granted, Lilla didn’t wait naked in their bed for him, or try to get him drunk and drag him upstairs to a guest room, or put his mate down right in front of him or touch him while bringing up his past exploits….

"Fuck." He wanted to bang his head against the wall. Aya had missed out on most of the flirting his first couple of months here because he’d spent so much time up in their room and had been worried about the wedding and freeing his sister. Now that Aya was here because of Yohji and was down in the main room every night he wasn’t working in the kitchen or out with that bastard Kikyou, he had nothing better to do than to sit there and watch Yohji’s old lovers try to woo him back. Yohji felt a stab of pain from his mate each and every time that happened.

All he wanted to do was finish cleaning their room so he could go find the stubborn idiot and reassure him that nothing would ever happen between him and his old lovers. However, it was kind of hard to do this when shadows warded the door and, despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get them to budge. The traitors.

He was debating tossing the laundry out of the window when there was a knock on the door. For a moment his heart leapt… until he realized that Aya wouldn’t be knocking on their door. He turned and opened his mouth to yell that he couldn’t open the door when he saw the shadow ward melt away. In an instant he was across the room and had the door opened.

Reiichi blinked at him in surprise. "There you are. What are you doing up here?"

"Long story," he said as he stepped into the hall, half expecting the wards to stop him. "Have you seen Aya?" It was the Guard’s day to keep an eye on his lover and him.

"That’s why I’m here. He locked himself in the library a couple of hours ago and hasn’t budged nor let anyone inside." Reiichi stared at him with reproach. "What happened now?"

"It’s not my fucking fault," he snapped, angry at being blamed. "An old boyfriend showed up and thought it would be a great idea to surprise me by waiting for me in my bed. Aya found him first." That reminded him of the laundry so he stepped back into the room. First things first, take care of that and then go drag his stubborn mate back here and make everything better.

Reiichi followed him into the room. "Is the man dead?"

Yohji looked at the older man and wondered why that mattered. "No, I got here in time before Aya did anything."

"Good, means we don’t have to hide the body," Reiichi said matter of factly, as if there was nothing abnormal about the situation. Then his eyes narrowed. "Is there any hope of the constant stream of your past conquests coming to an end soon? I know of your reputation but surely it wasn’t that bad." He snorted when Yohji, thinking of how many people he bedded in the past year alone, wouldn’t meet his eyes. "I see that the rumors weren’t exaggerated. A shame. Do something about it, Yohji."

"What the hell am I supposed to do? And why do you care so much?" he snarled, not about to stand here and listen to a lecture about how much of a slut he’d been. It hadn’t been his fault, not all of it. Between his hidden nature and his broken heart, he hadn’t given a damn about the number of people he’d bedded, nor thought that one day his past could hurt the man he loved.

"I care because I don’t like to see Aya upset. He’s a friend, Yohji." Reiichi pushed his glasses up his nose and stared at Yohji. He wanted to snap at the Guard and tell him that all he cared about was Aya being a kage and his duty to watch but Yohji knew that real affection had developed between him and Aya. He was one of the few humans Aya trusted. "As for what you’re supposed to do, go talk to him before he gets too depressed again."

"I plan on doing just that." He rubbed his tense neck and felt the bitemarks from earlier. "Listen, help me out by throwing these in the laundry." He motioned to the pile of material on the floor. "I need to finish getting the room ready and then I’ll talk some sense into Aya." How he’d manage that he wasn’t quite sure, other than fucking his mate silly for a few days until Aya got the hint that he wanted him and only him.

"All right." Reiichi moved toward the pile of laundry so Yohji left to get the last few things he needed before facing his mate. The only thing Yohji was certain of was that Aya wouldn’t be left to wallow in self-induced misery for much longer and the next ex who tried to start something with him had better run in the opposite direction real quick.

*******

Aya, sitting cross-legged on the floor, picked up a book and, after close examination, lightly rubbed the oiled rag along its leather binding. Many of the books that Yohji’s great-uncle collected had been neglected for a long time, their covers allowed to dry and crack. He gave them a light coat of oil a few weeks ago as he went through them up in the attic but a few were in such bad shape they needed another coating. The task was a pleasant and mindless one, something he could easily lose himself in as he sat in the temporary library surrounded by stacks of books.

He felt the greyness creeping back again, feeding on his uncertainty and misery. A part of him welcomed its return while another part of him held it at bay, unwilling to surrender to the despair again. He’d promised Yohji, after all, to fight against it and wouldn’t go back on his word to his mate.

Tucking his left leg under him, he set the oiled book down and reached for another one, placing it on the stack beside him when he noted that it was still in good condition. The shadow wards had vanished almost half an hour ago, freeing Yohji from their room. All he could sense from his mate was that Yohji was concentrating on something, his mood focused and worried. There was a hint of hunger as well, one that echoed in himself. It was approaching dinnertime and he’d missed lunch but wasn’t ready to leave his sanctuary just yet. He’d just sit in the common room if he did, surrounded by loud humans and seeing lust for Yohji in several of their eyes, watching as Yohji’s old lovers tried to win him back while he sat there torn between rage and fear and some unknown emotion he couldn’t place. It was just too confusing and painful.

He finished another four books before he heard someone approach the library’s door. This time, the sound of footsteps didn’t pause for a moment and carry on like before. Instead, they stopped right outside and he felt his mate’s familiar presence. For a moment he debated warding the door and then Yohji, with the ability he’d gained from Aya, unlocked it and entered.

"Gods, it’s dark in here," Yohji muttered. Aya blinked and noticed, for the first time, the room had darkened as the sun slowly set. It was nowhere near dark enough to hinder his sight so it hadn’t bothered him. Nor Yohji it seemed, considering how skillfully he managed to navigate around the stacks of books while carrying a tray laden with food, tea and… flowers.

"You haven’t eaten since breakfast, I can sense it. Neither have I," Yohji said as he sat down, the tray still in his hands. He set it on a pile of books, earning a glare that he ignored with practiced ease as he poured some tea. He held out the cup to Aya, along with a tray of almond cookies. "Take it."

Aya was set to refuse the offering when his stomach rumbled, quite loudly at that. He did the ignoring this time, of Yohji’s irritatingly smug grin and accepted the food and drink. His mouth started salivating when he picked up one of the cookies, shaped like a violet and frosted with purple sugar.

Yohji watched him eat several before picking up his own cup of tea. "Jo’s saving some of the stew for you but said you have to go to the kitchen if you want a bowl." He bit on a cookie and finished his drink. "She’s not happy about you hiding in here all damned day, you know. I got an earful the moment she saw me, never mind I was locked upstairs all afternoon because of you."

All Aya did was grunt in response and nibble on another cookie. Yohji sighed in annoyance and poured them more tea. "Yeah, obviously you’re real upset about that. Maybe you’ll be pleased to hear that, as pissed off as she was with me, it’s nothing compared to how she feels about Teddy. She found out he checked Marcus in and didn’t tell him about us." When he just swallowed some tea Yohji leaned close. "You know, the guy who was naked in our bed?"

"I haven’t forgotten about him," he snarled and set the cup aside. Anger started to replace the misery. "Perhaps Teddy gets tired of having to tell everyone who walks through the door that you’re seeing me now." That strange feeling returned with the thought of someone thinking all they had to do to win his lover was to take off their clothes and lie in *his* bed.

Yohji was silent for a moment as he picked up one of the lovely pink roses he’d brought. Aya could sense the anger and concern his mate felt but was careful not to show it. "First off, it’s not everyone who walks through the damned door-"

"Certainly feels like it," he muttered.

Yohji glared at him for the interruption. "As I was saying, it’s not everyone and you know it. But Teddy should have told Marcus something since we were lovers for a few years but he didn’t know that was over now." He twirled the rose between his fingers as he stared at Aya. "Cat… he’s a friend and someone who was only in town for a few days a year. We enjoy each other’s company and a relationship with no strings attached. Or at least we did." He leaned a little closer. "I love you," he said as he held out the rose, brushing it along Aya’s cheek.

The texture of the silky petals on his cheek reminded him of Yohji’s caresses, soft and gentle. Even when he wanted to bat the flower aside, he couldn’t do anything but grasp its stem, its heady aroma filled his senses. "I know," he whispered. He could feel Yohji’s love for him through their link and knew it was the reason why his mate stayed with him for so long, through so much pain and hardship.

"Do you?" Yohji asked, his voice just as faint. "Then why are you so upset right now, Aya? I can feel the darkness creeping up on you again, could feel it upstairs where you locked me up." There was a spark of annoyance just then. "Why did you run away?"

*******

Yohji watched as his lover struggled with the question, Aya’s brow furrowed and his lips pressed tightly together, his hand clutching the rose. "What the hell are you thinking? That I’ll leave you or something? Haven’t we gone through this enough times?" he asked, utterly exasperated. It seemed they went around in circles over this, both of them doubting that the other really would be there for all time. "We’re mates, Aya," he said, his hand reaching out to brush back the long, red bangs, reveling in the strands’ silkiness and just how good it felt to touch his mate. He softened his voice to take the edge off his words. "Quit being such a stubborn idiot and remember that for once. I’m not going to run off with someone else, not ever. We’re mates, I don’t feel a spark of lust for anyone but you."

The room was quiet for several minutes, save their breathing and, as Aya’s pain grew, so did Yohji’s anger. Not at his lover but at the fact that something was still bothering Aya and he couldn’t do a damned thing about it if he didn’t know what it was. "Aya, please, tell me what’s wrong. We’re not leaving this room until you do, I *promise* you that." He got a surprised look for oath and felt Aya’s shock. "I’m willing to stay here for as long that takes so you better tell me now and save yourself the bother."

There was more silence, and just when he despaired that they’d be here for a week or even a month, it finally broke. "You can’t feed from anyone but me, you mean," Aya said, his head bowed and voice so faint that Yohji almost missed the words in his preoccupation. He had been busy thinking that it was a good thing he’d dethorned the roses, considering how Aya was holding on to the one stem.

He took a moment to think about what his mate just said. "No, I can’t feed from anyone but you. I don’t *want* to feed from anyone but you." For once he longed for Schuldig’s talent, to be able to get inside Aya’s head to figure out what the man was thinking. Aya’s emotions were too confusing by half as some of the time, he didn’t seem capable of many pure emotions. They were more jumbled wrecks of feelings that Aya and he had to puzzle through, other than love, happiness, desire, sorrow and pain. Those came through loud and clear but there was too much of the last two lately.

"There’s just me now," Aya mumbled into the rose’s petals. "You had all those people before and now you’re stuck with just me. I… I never realized that until recently."

"What?" Part of him was happy that they were finally getting to the root of the problem and the rest of him… the rest was trying to figure out how the hell Aya’s mind came up with that nonsense. In one smooth motion he had his arms around his mate and pulled back, yanking Aya into his lap. "Don’t you dare tell me that you think I’m going to get bored with you." Aya hissed and tried to wiggle free but Yohji wasn’t having any of that. He captured his lover’s chin and made Aya look at him. "Listen to me, you stubborn cat, I’m never going to get bored with you. *Never*."

He was glared at for his troubles, Aya’s fingers scratching against his hand in an attempt to break his grip. "You might not but what about your hunger? Can you honestly say that will never happen?" Aya’s anger faded and the misery returned. "It seems like I can barely keep it sated now as it is, what will happen in a few more years?"

Yohji could only stare in shock as he tried to digest that little trinket of information. Then, he leaned down for a kiss, as intense and convincing as he could make it, putting all of his need and desire into the gesture, not letting up for several minutes. While Aya gasped for air, he fell back onto the floor, knocking over a stack of books. Settled on his back, he made sure his cat was tucked against his chest, his fingers buried in crimson hair. "Aya… gods, where the hell do you get these ideas?" If Teddy was behind this, he’d make sure the pest suffered for the rest of his very short life. "Nobody, and I mean absolutely *nobody*, tastes half as good as you. If I’m insatiable it’s only because I can’t get enough of you." He lifted his head for a quick kiss. "Every day I just want you more and more, not less. I swear to you that’s the honest truth and that it’ll never change."

Aya stared at him for a few seconds, his cheeks flushed and his eyes glinting silver in the faint light. "You really mean that?"

He decided that the time for words was over. He let his hunger take over as his hands stroked Aya’s body, his lips pressed against Aya’s for a kiss that quickly put the earlier one to shame. Yohji let the hunger Aya was so worried about convince him that he’d always be wanted. He was thankful that all his beloved wore was his robe as it was very easy to slide down pale shoulders to reveal a slender neck and lovely chest.

Once he had enough of how his mate’s kisses tasted, he fastened his mouth on Aya’s neck, his pleasure spiking at the artless mewl the touch provoked. He couldn’t help but purr at the way Aya tilted back his head, eyes closing in bliss and crimson eartails trailing down to tickle Yohji’s face. He wrinkled his nose and gave in to the urge to mark his mate just as deeply as he’d been marked earlier, sucking and biting hard until Aya cried out his name.

He regretted the fact that he was still dressed and strove to remove his shirt and pants one-handed, his mouth and other hand roaming all over Aya’s delectable body, overwhelming them both with pleasure. It hurt to shift Aya off him even the little bit necessary to remove his clothes, both of them moaning softly until their bodies came into contact again.

The feel of flesh against flesh, of sunlight burning through him, Aya’s pleasure tangible and utterly delicious… he took a shuddering breath and licked Aya’s neck as they settled on their sides, facing each other. Long fingers tangled in his hair, held his head in place as he set about creating another mark then clenched, tugging on his hair when his hand found Aya’s cock, hot and hard and slick. He could feel the pulse beneath his tongue and his fingers, feel it quicken as he sucked and stroked.

Aya’s breath came in shallow pants, interspersed with strangled gasps of Yohji’s name. He smiled at each one, his hands invoking more moans and gasps, more blissful sunlight.

Remembering the oil, he forced a hand off that lovely, glowing flesh, so taut and smooth like silk stretched tight over steel to search for the bottle. Aya whined and pressed against him, as lost in the passion now as earlier. Yohji could feel the darkness and pain fade away, replaced by love and ecstasy and a need that was as great as his. As much as he wanted his mate, Aya wanted him just as much, something Aya needed to remember in the future. It wasn’t just his hunger but theirs, he thought as he rolled Aya onto his back.

Slick fingers pressed inside Aya, provoking another strangled moan that he drank in with a smile as he leaned close to lick a pale ear. "It’s even stronger than earlier, this hunger. You’re an addiction; the more I have of you, the more I need. I swear on my soul that I’m not lying."

Aya opened his eyes to stare up at him, his lips moving for several seconds before producing a word. "Mine."

"Yours. Always." He stroked his fingers along his own cock, spreading precum and oil quickly as he thought about being buried inside his mate with a desperate need. He pushed inside, sheathing himself completely and groaning from the spike of bliss Aya radiated at being filled. "Mine," he couldn’t help but growl.

"You-ah!" Aya couldn’t complete the word, could only toss back his head and moan as Yohji moved inside him. Unable to resist the offer before him, he sucked on Aya’s neck as he continued to thrust, the movements growing more frenzied as his nature took over. His. Always. Sunlight and love and ecstasy. Hands stroking slick flesh, warmth clenching around him, caresses down his back, making him shiver in pleasure….

Aya’s orgasm hit him in an overwhelming wave, drowning him in light and heat and emotions so strong they seared. It triggered his own release, shuddering wracks of bliss coursing through his body until he felt squeezed dry. He fell forward onto his mate, his arms wrapped around him as he held him tight.

It took them both a few minutes to recover and even when he reluctantly pulled out and sat up, he kept Aya cradled in his arms. "How can you ever think I’ll be bored with that?" he teased as he tugged on an eartail.

Aya hissed faintly and tried to bat his hand away, only to twine their fingers together. "I don’t know, Yotan. I…" Aya sighed and tucked his head under Yohji’s chin. "I know you love me but when I see them touching or flirting with you… this pain develops in my chest and I just want to tear them to shreds at the same time I want to hide away."

He thought about that for a moment, a smile spreading across his face as he realized what Aya was describing. His cat was jealous. How sweet… and about damned time. Yohji’d been jealous as hell of anyone who got within five feet of Aya, excluding their closest friends, ever since he met the man. The only time his mate had ever shown the slightest hint of jealousy had been that one time in the palace, and that was nothing compared to what Aya felt now. Trust Aya though, to have no clue what he was feeling and make them both miserable.

"It’s all right," he soothed as he kissed his mate on the temple. "Now you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they don’t interest me anymore." He got an elbow in the ribs for the pun and an amused snort. "Unless you need more convincing, in which case I suggest we move up to the bedroom." He’d wait till later to explain to Aya what he was feeling. "I got rid of everything that smelled of Marcus. What it needs now is you up there so it smells right."

"Hmph." Aya shifted until he was straddling Yohji’s lap. "I’m going to ward the room to keep everyone but the staff out. If another of your old lovers gets the same idea as this Marcus, I won’t hold back from killing them." His eyes glowed pure silver and the threat was spoken in a sibilant voice. Yohji wondered if Marcus would ever realize how close he came to death today.

"That’s fine with me. And I think Teddy’s going to remember to mention us to any old flames that show up from now on, especially after Jo and Mickey are done with him." He grinned at the thought and leaned in for another kiss, one that lasted until Aya’s stomach rumbled. "Ah yes, I might be feeling pretty full right now but you’re obviously not." He binked his mate on the nose and allowed his finger to be gnawed on in retaliation. "Let’s go try Jo’s new dish and then spend the night upstairs. How does that sound?"

Aya tilted his head to the side as he considered the suggestion. "Wonderful." He nipped Yohji’s chin and slowly stood up, a smile on his face that quickly faded when he found the disturbed stack of books. "After we straighten up this mess."

Yohji sighed as he reached for his clothes. Aya might not have any more fear of ever losing him but he wasn’t as lucky. If he wanted to keep his mate for himself, he’d have to avoid libraries for the rest of their lives, dammit. He felt some jealousy of his own but it was directed toward a stack of paper, ink and leather.

*******

Aya purred in happiness as he curled up against Yohji. They were snuggled in their bed, its curtains mostly drawn so the air they breathed was permeated with the scent of their lovemaking. He reveled in the utter languidness that left him feeling boneless and sleepy, a sign both of Yohji feeding from him and a wonderful release after great sex.

"Don’t fall asleep just yet, Cat," Yohji whispered as warm, tingling energy slowly flowed into him. Some of the exhaustion melted away but he still felt languid and sated, in no mood to leave their bed any time soon.

"Still hungry?" he asked as he rested his chin on his mate’s chest. He loved hearing Yohji’s heartbeat, feeling their bodies pressed together and hands stroking through his hair.

Yohji chuckled and tugged gently on one of his eartails. He was too content to snap or complain about the treatment so he settled for giving his mate a warning glare… and then received another tug for his troubles.

"I know, ‘stop it’," Yohji laughed as he made a show of holding both hands up in the air. Aya bared his teeth but allowed himself to be mollified when nimble fingers combed through his bangs and kneaded his scalp, making his whole body tingle in pleasure. He truly didn’t mind his hair being tugged on, it was more of a game between him and his lover and they had their roles to play. It was very comforting, in a way.

The fingers slid through his right eartail so he braced himself for another tug, this time working up the energy to bat Yohji’s hand away, when the long lock of hair was brushed along his neck very lightly. He shifted enough so he could look up at Yohji and warmed at the smile on his mate’s face.

"I’m sorry, they’re just so much fun to play with," Yohji said as he abandoned the eartail to cup Aya’s cheek with his hand. "As for my hunger…," his hand slid along Aya’s neck and, with a light grip, slowly coaxed him upward for a stunningly ardent kiss that left him dizzy with bliss.

"I’m *always* hungry for you. If I had my way, we’d never leave the bed," Yohji said as he helped Aya settle on top of him, a warm, silken hardness pressed against Aya’s stomach. "The only way I can send some energy back to you any more is because I know it’ll soon return in such a delicious manner." His voice slid into a purr, almost as deep as Aya’s and twice as loud, a rumbling sound that vibrated through Aya’s body. "So there’s no reason for you to be jealous."

Dazed by Yohji’s voice and wonderful, warm body, by the ravenous hunger he could feel through their link and the promise of more ecstasy to come, it took a moment for the meaning of those words to sink in to Aya’s head. "Jealous?" he asked as he pushed himself up onto his arms to stare at his mate.

"Jealous." Yohji smiled with obvious delight and pulled Aya back onto his chest. "That’s what you’ve been feeling lately, love. You’re jealous that my exes are trying to win me back." The smile lost some of its smugness and Yohji caressed his cheek. "They haven’t a chance in hell of doing that, you know. I have you now."

He was still trying to figure out the ‘jealous’ comment. "But… I thought…." He remembered Yohji calling him that before, when he’d been upset at the attention Birman’s page paid his mate after the wedding. "You must be wrong, it feels nothing like that time at the palace."

"Because then you were just pissed off that a kid was giving me goo-goo eyes." A blush started to slowly creep up Yohji’s face. "He didn’t try to shove a hand down my pants or wait naked in my bed so that’s why the feeling’s much stronger now. Besides, you were pretty out of it then."

Aya thought about things for a moment and frowned at his mate. "So that’s what jealousy feels like? It’s not the same as when you get upset about my dates with Kikyou or someone asking me out." Yohji had to be mistaken, the odd feeling probably had to do with his bound nature, that was all.

"Yeah, well not everyone feels things the same," Yohji pointed out. "Trust me, Aya, you’re jealous. You only feel that way when someone’s hitting on me and you almost killed someone earlier today because of it." He rubbed his hands soothingly up and down Aya’s arms. "You shouldn’t be so surprised since it’s part of our natures to be protective of our mates."

The last thing Aya needed was a lecture on their true natures from Yohji. The man hadn’t even known he was a bound until just a couple of months ago. Yet, as much as he hated the fact, he couldn’t deny the truth of Yohji’s words. Jealousy. That was one emotion he could live without feeling. He hated the way it tore through him, part pain and part fury, and the way it stripped him of his better sense. If his mate hadn’t shown up when he did earlier, he would have killed that man, Marcus. The last thing he needed was to lose control and risk revealing his true nature but the new emotion didn’t leave him with much choice.

He glared at Yohji as he sat up and straddled his mate’s lap. "This is all your fault."

"How is that? I sure as hell don’t tell you to be jealous," Yohji huffed as he tried to pull Aya back down.

"No, you’re just the person that every time I turn around has some stranger trying to get into your pants!" he snapped as he shrugged off his mate’s hands.

"Like I want them to keep hitting on me," Yohji said as he captured both of Aya’s hands with one of his. "Let’s not argue about this, all right? I don’t want them, I just want you and sooner or later the word will spread around that I’m no longer single and they’ll leave me alone." Yohji scowled with displeasure and resisted Aya’s efforts to pull free. Then he smiled, a breathtaking sight, before his eyes became heavy lidded and he arched his neck. "Until then, you’ll just have to keep proving that I’m yours, like you did earlier," he said, his voice husky with desire.

A part of Aya stilled at the offer of his mate’s throat, urged him to bend down and take it between his teeth, bite down hard enough to leave a mark of ownership. He even found himself leaning forward before some small bit of logic clamored that Yohji was manipulating his nature to get out of the argument. He paused for a moment, halfway to Yohji’s throat, and resumed his descent.

Yohji moaned in pleasure as Aya sucked on his mate’s neck. A shiver of bliss flowed through his body everywhere their skin came in contact, creating goose bumps and urging him to lean even closer until he completely covered Yohji’s body with his own.

"Gods, Cat…." Yohji shuddered and wrapped strong arms around him, hips rocking against his own. Aya felt his control begin to slip away, slowly overwhelmed by his shinigami nature. Before he lost himself completely, he trailed his mouth along Yohji’s neck, stopped here and there for a quick nibble before his lips pressed against his mate’s shoulder.

"OW! What the fuck?" Yohji yelled as he jerked upright, a thin stream of blood flowing down his chest from the bite on his shoulder. "Why did you do that?"

Aya pulled away and jerked open the bed’s curtain. "You wanted me to mark you, didn’t you? Now when people ask you how you got the scar, you’ll have a good excuse to tell them about me." He smiled at his upset mate and slipped off the bed. "I think it’s much better for me to bite you when I’m jealous rather than risk exposing what we are by killing your old lovers," he said sweetly as he looked around for his robe. Maybe he couldn’t control his emotions but he could teach Yohji a lesson or two about trying to use them against him like that.

He spied his robe in a wrinkled heap on the floor but Yohji’s arms wrapped around his waist before he could bend down to retrieve it. He allowed himself to be yanked back onto the bed and into Yohji’s lap. His mate glared at him but gently tipped his chin up. "Tomorrow I’m going to the market to buy the biggest box of almond cookies I can find so you have something to chew on other than my poor shoulder. You’re such a grouchy cat."

He was prevented from arguing by a passionate kiss. The faint, bitter tang of jealousy and the hot anger inside him faded beneath two emotions he absolutely adored: love and desire. He gave in to them willingly. He could always continue Yohji’s lesson later, if need be.

*******

"Don’t forget about the plum brandy!"

Teddy turned and saw Aya and Yohji headed toward him. Yohji looked over his shoulder, in the direction of the kitchen and Jo’s yelled comment. "I know, at least three bottles. Gods, Jo, contrary to what you believe, I do have a brain!"

The only reply from Jo was a loud snort of derision, followed by Yohji’s aggrieved sigh. He shook his head and reached for the cloak in Aya’s hands. "You could defend me, you know," he said as he yanked on a crimson eartail.

Aya swatted his hand and hissed in annoyance. "I’m not arguing with her when she’s busy sharpening knives."

"Coward," Yohji retorted before coming to a stop. He held out the cloak and draped it over his boyfriend’s shoulders and, as Aya fastened it closed, he fussed with the hood. "I’ll let you make it up to me later, though." He leaned in for a kiss, one that made Teddy sigh with envy. He hadn’t had so much as a peck on the cheek the past few days and no hope of that or anything else any time soon. Whenever he managed to piss Koyu off, his lover stayed furious for at least a week.

Yohji must have heard the sound because he pulled away from Aya, an irritated look on his face. He barely glanced at Teddy before ignoring him again. "Make sure to keep the hood pulled low, it’s rather sunny outside today."

"Now who thinks who is an idiot?" Aya snapped as he was tugged toward the door.

"What can I say, I like your skin nice and white, not red like a cooked lobster. Sunburn clashes with your hair."

Yohji didn’t even look at Teddy as he walked past but Aya waved his hand slightly in goodbye, which made Teddy smile. If Aya forgave him for the Marcus incident, it would only be a matter of time before Yohji did too. Yohji couldn’t deny his lover anything.

Unlike a certain Harper. He sighed again and leaned against the counter. As if two months of double shifts and indefinite door duty weren’t bad enough, once Koyu found out what had happened the other day he took to spending his nights at a friend’s apartment. When he was at the Koneko, he gave Teddy the silent treatment. That was even worse than having Jo call him an idiot and mean it every time she saw him or the way Ani and Kira mumbled about ‘poor Aya and Yohji’ whenever they came near. Talk about a joke backfiring.

He winced at the thought of all his punishment and started to scribble in the margin of the guest ledger. There was nothing like having Jo, Mickey and Reiichi ream him out about the pain he caused Aya and Yohji, not to mention nearly setting off Aya’s kage instincts in a rather explosive and bloody manner. All he’d wanted was to make Yohji squirm for a few minutes, not nearly cause a homicide or to have Aya hide from everyone for most of the day. Rubbing his still bruised jaw, he knew he was lucky that Yohji had only punched him once after finding out about him not warning Marcus and almost making Aya depressed again. He still wasn’t able to chew much, something that Jo was very well aware of and enjoyed tormenting him about by cooking his favorite dishes. He was sick of staring at food he wanted but couldn’t eat and having to sip broth.

Wallowing in misery to pass the time, he almost jumped out of his skin when the door’s bell chimed. He sighed when he recognized the two people who entered, a young man and woman with the same dark brown hair with golden highlights and dark brown eyes.

"Teddy, what are you doing here?" Miriam asked as she approached the counter.

"It’s a long story, sweetie, and the gist of it is; Koyu and I are back at the Koneko for good. How are you and Jonas doing?" It figured that the siblings would come through now, right after he got in trouble and wouldn’t be able to spend any time during their stay to share some drinks and idle chat. They assured him that they were fine and inquired about any available rooms.

"We have a double available right now, after tomorrow a few other rooms will be open so you won’t have to share for long." The two siblings frowned at the news but announced that they’d share a room… for now. They always insisted on separate rooms during their stays.

As they signed the book, he took a deep breath and started his prepared speech. "I hope you enjoy your stay here. You’ll have to catch Yohji one evening and offer to buy a drink to congratulate." He couldn’t help but notice how the mere mention of his brother immediately grabbed their attention. "He finally found someone crazy enough to settle down with him and he and Aya are very happy together. Just wait til you see them together."

Most of the time, his little speech to the Koneko’s returning patrons elected gasps of shock and delight. It surprised him how many people in the last two days were happy to hear that Yohji finally found someone to love. It soon became obvious that Miriam and Jonas weren’t of that type. They both stared at him in shock.

"Yohji… he has a… girlfriend?" Jonas asked, his voice heavy with disbelief.

"Boyfriend," Teddy corrected. "Aya’s a man." Even though he knew he shouldn’t, he took some amusement in their reaction. Miriam was standing there with her mouth wide open, her usually calm demeanor completely shattered. "And a lovely one at that. He’s the gorgeous redhead you’ll see helping out."

Miriam snapped her jaw shut so forcefully her teeth had to be aching. "They’re serious?"

"Oh yes. They’re living together and everything." He bit back on a smile at how the two siblings digested that little nugget of information. As he watched, identical looks of jealousy, dismay and sadness crossed their faces. Then, at the same time, they glanced at each other… and didn’t like what they saw.

As the brother and sister took to glaring at each other, he thought that it was about time they found out that they’d been sharing the same lover. Maybe being on door duty wasn’t as bad as he’d thought, as he listened to the siblings start to yell at each other.

*******

"What, Yohji’s in a serious relationship?" Haruyuki said in stunned disbelief. He hadn’t been at the Koneko since before the wedding because of his own nuptials. Teddy noted with delight that he must not have told his new wife the main reason he always stayed at the Koneko when he was in town on family business.

"Who’s Yohji and why are you so upset?" she asked, her voice waspish and her eyes narrowed in suspicion.

*******

Well, the tears certainly were unexpected, he thought, as Fujii led his weeping daughter up the stairs to their rooms. He was willing to bet, however, that a certain young woman, traveling with her father for on-the-job training, wasn’t going to be left unsupervised for hours at a time any more.

*******

He shook his head in amusement as Yuushi and Ken had to literally carry a distraught and still shouting guest off the premises. Making threats in an effort to gain Yohji’s attention was so not a good idea, especially when there were Guards in the next room trying to enjoy their lunch.

*******

Mickey peered suspiciously at his brother’s back as Teddy led two guests, one of them with an utterly crestfallen expression on her face, up the stairs. He shook his head and walked into the kitchen, where he found Jo and Aya busy making cinnamon buns. "I’m not entirely certain but I don’t believe that that Teddy minds his punishment any more."

Jo looked up from the dough being kneading, a frown on her face. "Why? What is he doing now?" She glanced at Aya as her lips pressed into a grim line. "Don’t tell me he’s being an idiot again."

"No, at least, not that I’m aware of," Mickey said as he pinched a bite of the sweet dough. "He just looks a bit too happy lately."

"That might be from Koyu finally forgiving him," Aya pointed out as he spread the cinnamon and sugar mixture on rolled dough.

"Maybe." Mickey gave the matter some thought. Maybe… but most likely not, considering it was Teddy they were talking about. His brother was up to something, he just wasn’t sure he wanted to know what that was.

*******

The tears were a bit more common now… but they were not expected from a man who was old enough to be his father….

*******

Leading the ninth person that month to be stunned silent to their room, he decided that, while this was not as much fun as tormenting Yohji, breaking the news to his brother’s many ex-lovers was good fun. And, considering how many of them there were, he’d be amused for months to come. Who knew that there’d come a day when he’d be happy that Yohji was such a slut?

*******

Aya lifted his head from Yohji’s shoulder and looked at his mate with concern. "Are you all right?" That had been a rather loud sneeze, Aya thought as he brushed back his damp bangs so he could see Yohji better, hot water flowing around them as they relaxed in the hot spring.

Yohji, busy rubbing his nose, sniffed and nodded. "Yeah, I’m fine." He gave his nose another rub before leering at Aya. "But maybe you should feed me a little more, just in case." He threaded his fingers through Aya’s hair and pulled him close for a kiss.

*******

Teddy peered over the oak stand and down at the floor where a guest was sprawled out amidst her luggage, unconscious. Well that was a first; nobody else fainted when he broke the news about Yohji but he must admit it was a pretty amusing reaction.

"Teddy! What happened?" Ani asked, her arms full of clean towels for the guest rooms. She quickly set them on the steps and knelt by the woman to pat her face.

"She took the news a wee bit hard," he said as straight as he could, which wasn’t easy considering how much he wanted to chuckle right now. "I’ll go fetch something to wake her up." He stared at the poor woman for another moment and then headed for the kitchen in search of some smelling salts. Despite his best efforts, a smile teased at his lips. He loved door duty. Maybe there was some prank he could play on Yohji, something that wouldn’t hurt Aya, to ensure that Mick and Jo kept up his ‘punishment’ for a few more months. There were quite a few of Yohji’s lovers who wouldn’t return until winter and even the first of spring, after all. He had lots more fun to look forward to and didn’t want to miss any of it.

*******

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