Remembrance

*******

by nekojita

******* 

Aya had just decided to put Lao Shen’s treatise on healing on the bookcase reserved for soul gaki bound talents, based on that many of the essays within dealt with the emotional and mental well-being of the patient, when the door to the small attic library opened and closed. As he felt a rush of happiness and peace at the unexpected rival and was well aware that Yohji would not be returning home for several more hours, he was clued in on the identity of his guest. "Does Rufus know that you’re here?"

Reno made a sound that was half spitting, half hiss as he dropped down into the large, padded chair that was Yohji’s favorite in the room. "What, should I be on a fucking leash from now on or something?  Despite what that high-and-mighty bastard may think, I can do what I want!" Judging from the anger that all but crackled through the words and the way that Reno ’s aquamarine eyes had turned silver, someone was not happy.

An unhappy Reno with Rufus nowhere in sight did not usually bode well, in Aya’s experience. He could not help but note that Rude had failed to accompany the dubhach to the attic, which was another bad sign. "Please tell me that you didn’t come here without some sort of escort," Aya asked as he put the remaining books to be shelved on the nearest table and held up his right hand to stall Reno ’s no doubt furious retort before he better explained himself. "It’s not that I believe for one minute that you need any babysitters, just that Jo gets upset whenever Rufus storms in here intent on dragging you back home." As this was a rather busy time for the inn, what with the caravans returning for the fall and the many religious festivals, it was *not* a good idea to deliberately anger the inn’s de facto leader – even if one was a shinigami bound.

Reno hissed for a couple of seconds, but to Aya’s relief soon shook his head. "Rod and Cyril are downstairs, hoping to spend the day stuffing themselves with beer and food." Reno waved his left hand as he spat out the words, sparks flying about in a physical manifestation of his bad mood. "See, I’m being a good boy, even if I can’t be trusted to do much more than take a shit by myself."

Not for the first time, Aya regretted the bond link between Reno and Rufus; if not for the fact that his friend would suffer for it, he would put his talent to good use teaching Rufus that one’s mate is to be treated with respect, not bossed around despite their wishes. While part of him knew that Rufus was just trying to keep Reno safe, he felt that the lord did not need to be so heavy-handed about it.

"Eh, so where’s Yohji?" Reno asked while Aya became lost in thought, his foul mood seeming to lighten a little. "I would think that he’d be up here trying to molest you or something." There was a disappointed note to his voice that had Aya willing to bet his friend had hoped to catch the two of them in a compromising position just so he could tease Yohji for the rest of the night.

Feeling a fresh wave of annoyance, Aya frowned as he sat down on the edge of the table. "He’s out with Mickey to negotiate some new contracts with several of the inn’s liquor suppliers, considering the increased business."

While they were unable to sense each other’s emotions as they could their mates, there was enough of a bond between them because of their shinigami souls that Aya and Reno often had little trouble understanding what the other was feeling. Reno sat up in the chair, his demeanor focused for the first time since he had entered the room, his previous scowl now replaced with a thoughtful frown. "I thought that you were really good at negotiating prices." They could definitely not feel or even half the time understand the emotions of others besides their mates and fellow shinigami, but Aya and Reno had an ‘otherness’ to them that made almost everyone discomforted whenever they were focused on a matter. Aya had used that ‘talent’, along with his knack for numbers, to haggle for some of the best bargains that the Koneko had ever had.

"Apparently, there is a lot of socializing going on during these negotiations, and it was felt best that I not participate in case I received any… unwelcome attention." A hiss crept into Aya’s voice, which prompted the few shinigami lurking about in the shadows of the room to once again resume their chorus of how he – and Reno – should abandon both his controlling mate and body. It was getting easier and easier to tune out the familiar wheedling and insults, despite the fact that he had heard them often the last couple of weeks.

Reno appeared to listen to them for several seconds before shaking his head as if to clear of it of a stubborn thought. "Damn, there goes me hoping that someone forgot to tell Rufus about that bastard being caught." He grimaced and leaned back into the chair. "When the hell is Schu gonna find him? I bet that lazy asshole is just wandering around the city, checking in and out of inns with Masato after giving the beds a workout." Despite his obvious annoyance with Rufus, there was a bit of longing and envy in his voice.

"Please, don’t say that out loud again in case you give him any ideas." Aya rubbed his temples as he felt a twinge of a headache. His excursions outside might not be as forcefully curtailed as Reno ’s, but he was getting very, *very* tired of putting up with his mate’s unwarranted paranoia that Garcia would stumble across him while wandering the city. "Do you think it’s a trait of blond men to be such blithering idiots?" He had to admit that Yuushi had never come across as one to him, but then again, he did not discuss personal matters with Eri. As for Masato… well, he had willingly become Schuldig’s mate.

A surprised laugh burst free from Reno , and he turned around in the chair so he was leaning against one of the arms, his head lolling backwards. "It certainly seems that way, doesn’t it!" He laughed again, his long red hair brushing against the floor as his body shook. "Possessive, anal-retentive blithering idiots whose only saving grace is they’re good in bed." His smile scrunched up into another grimace for a few seconds. "I thought people feared us for a reason."

"Hmm, most of those involving mass destruction," Aya agreed as he began to flip through one of the books that remained to be shelved. "But apparently, history must have gotten that fact wrong as we seem to need to have our hands held at all times." The room darkened in response to his turbulent emotions; he knew that Yohji loved him and only wanted to keep him safe, and at least his mate was nowhere near as over-protective as Rufus, but it still got very old, very fast to be treated as if he had lacked all ability to look out for himself.

"Yeah, and Esset’s Wizard really ended up tripping over his feet and splitting his head open one day, instead of the Captain kicking his ass," Reno snorted, sparks once more flying around his hands as he held them up to eye level. "Imagine all the history books omitting a small fact like that."

"It definitely boggles the mind," Aya murmured as he set aside the book to check to see if there was any tea left in the pot. Disappointed to find it empty, he sighed and shook his head. "I’m about to start beating people over the head with said history books."

"Now that’s something I’d like to see!" Reno chuckled for a few seconds before letting out a loud cry and jumping to his feet in a quicksilver, flowing motion. "Hey! Speaking of history… you do know what today is, right?"

Surprised not so much by the question but by who was asking it, Aya cocked his head to the side as he stared intently at his friend. "It’s a minor holiday devoted to thanking Kisei for watching over the souls in her care." All of the major gods and the more popular minor ones had at least one or two of these ‘mini-holidays’ throughout the year, though this one devoted to the goddess of death was often over-looked because of Kisei’s Night only being a few weeks away. "Don’t tell me you want to go to one of her temples and leave an offering." While Kisei’s Night had a strong effect on him, Aya had never felt any impulse to celebrate days such as this one, especially since he often left offerings for his family.

"Eh, like I give a shit for anyone I know who’s dead," Reno said with an airy, and thankfully spark-free, wave of his hand. The bluntness of his words only enforced that there were very few people in the world whom he had formed any type of emotional attachment to, and they were most likely gathered at the palace right now for some inane function or another. "No, do you know what’s the *real* celebration for the day?" There was a sly smile on Reno ’s lips, as if he was anticipating Aya’s forthcoming shock.

It was not that Aya thought Reno was lacking in intelligence, but that his friend did not seem to care for much beyond anything that kept him amused and sated. Certainly not anything that had to do with the past, as Reno had utterly embraced the ‘live in the moment’ mindset that seemed common to shinigami. "How do you know about that?"

"Rufus doesn’t have much in the way of information on the shinigami, but there were a couple of interesting books I found." Reno shrugged as if it was unsurprising to admit that he had willingly read ancient history texts. "One of them mentioned that this day used to be dedicated to the shinigami, back before Ban grew up and basically made it a bad word."

The shinigami in the room hissed and whirled about, either in mention of Ban, the Captain’s son, or the loss of their own holiday. Aya had the feeling it was probably the former that had set them off, as it was his birth that had led to the kage, fellow shinigami souls trapped in human bodies. "Well, I guess it’s difficult to celebrate the shinigami when everyone is busy exterminating kage." Aya glared at the wall opposite of him, all too aware of what humans thought of his kind. The fools always failed to realize that if they just left kage and their loved ones alone, quite a few cities would still be standing to this day. Then again, humans had largely failed to grasp what it was that shinigami did in the first place.

Reno moved to stand in front of Aya, his hair a disheveled crimson mass falling down his black-clad back and over half of his face, his visible eye a mix of green and silver and a mischievous smile on his face. "So, as two shinigami, don’t you think we should go out and pay proper respects to this day, hmm?" He rested his hands on his hips and jerked his head toward the door, a clear sign that they should leave.

Aya opened his mouth to say that Yohji wanted him to remain inside, that there was a slight chance that the wizard, Garcia, might notice them if they went out into the city and then he realized how foolish those thoughts were. He had – with Yohji’s help and encouragement – left one prison behind and refused to lock himself inside of the Koneko just because someone *might* recognize him as a kage. Not that they would have the chance to do so, when he and Reno could render themselves invisible to humans, and it was highly unlikely that Garcia would be wandering around the Western temple district looking for either a kage or a dubhach since he was unaware of their existence.

However, that was not to say that they should just leave without thinking things through first, as they had the one time they had gone off on their run.  He did not want to have another fight with Yohji over this decision and was determined to prove that this was not a ‘hair-brained’ decision on either his or Reno ’s part.  They would take into consideration the situation they were in and react accordingly.  So when he did speak, it was to fix Reno with a stern look. "You will remain cloaked in shadows the entire time we’re out, right?" That was his concession to Yohji’s concern for him, and only logical considering that Reno lived to find some new trouble to become entangled in.

The smile he got in return was not at all reassuring, even if it was followed by a promise. "Sure, I swear that no one will see us until we return back here." As if to reinforce his oath, he drew the shadows around him, several of the shinigami curling around his shoulders and back as they murmured their assent in his going outside.

Despite his misgivings, Aya did the same. "We can’t be gone more than a couple of hours." He wanted to be back before Yohji returned, and if Rufus found out about this… Aya was left with serious concerns that Reno was still trying to rid himself of his human body and soul by driving Rufus to a fatal heart attack or stroke out of apoplexy. Ah well, he had to admit he did deprive some sort of joy over Rufus being in a snit, and Reno certainly enjoyed the post-fight sex.  It also seemed to unify both of Reno ’s souls for a time, which should help his friend remain stable in the face of Rufus’ increasingly illogical demands.

Now to hope that they could go out to pay their respects and return home without causing too much trouble.  Things should be fine if they only went to the temple district, a brief excursion that neither of their mates should be able to complain about, right?

*******

Reno practically danced along the crowded street, feet constantly moving as he twirled this way and that, determined to not miss a thing. Even though he and Aya were for all purposes ‘invisible’, something about their natures spooked away humans and helped to give them a bit of space to move about in the crowd. A lot of people were out in the temple district, busy begging this god and that for some sort of favor and blessing. He snorted in derision as he stole a purse from some fat idiot who was busy talking down to a monk dressed in orange and white. "Do all these assholes really think the gods are gonna listen to them? I mean, maybe if they slaughter half the city, but to get some sort of response out of a few incense sticks and silver coins?"

Aya gave him a look that clearly said ‘don’t even think of any mass homicide right now’, then shrugged his shoulders and wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Kannon and Eisei tend to respond to requests for healing, and Chiryoku for pregnancies if she judges the supplicant to be properly fervent, but that’s about it from what I can tell." Both of them shared a mutual look of disgust over humans beseeching the gods for anything; from what Reno knew of their pasts, neither he nor Aya had received much ‘benediction’ or succor from any fucking god. No, if anything, their lives had been about seeing how much pain and shit could be rained down on them… well, at least until the last year or so. He knew that Aya was happy with Yohji, and there were times when he did not mind his bond with Rufus. Too bad the anal, controlling, possessive bastard had gone mad the last couple of weeks and refused to trust him to look after himself.

"Stupid morons," Reno muttered as he stole another purse, this one from a woman dressed more to show off her wealth than her sense of fashion. He had learned that Aya was uncaring about his thefts as long as the targets were rich, and since he never found much fun in stealing from the poor unless the person was a true asshole, he had no problem spoiling things for a select few that day. "Which one is Kisei’s temple, again?" he asked as he tossed a particularly fat purse up and down a few times.

Aya motioned toward the left, where an awful lot of people were gathered in black clothes with ashes smeared over their faces. What stupid humans would not do…. "Just look for the crowd of storm crows," Aya spat with distaste.

"What the hell’s up with that, eh?" When Aya could not give him any answer, Reno shook his head and stepped over a pile of white flowers that had been left out in front of Byakuren’s temple. "Seriously, tell me that these priests make this shit up just to see how stupid they can make people look." What had ashes to do with Kisei? She was the goddess of death, not chimneys.

"I think most of the people there are praying for Kisei to ignore them for as long as possible." Aya tilted his head to the side, and to Reno ’s surprise handed over a bulging purse of blue velvet. "At least this time Yohji can’t tease me about forgetting to bring an offering."

Reno chuckled as he added the purse to his growing collection. "You’re supposed to remember things like that when he’s around, ya know." Not that he had thought to bring any sort of offering, just as bad as Aya at remembering trivial things like that which humans and sometimes other bounds practically obsessed over. Around him, the shinigami hissed about how boring cold coins were, so he was pretty sure whatever gift they left was going to be unappreciated.

They crossed the busy intersection and made their way down the wide street, the sky overcast above and threatening to rain at any moment. Despite the potential for bad weather, people still mulled about, talking and praying and clapping their hands as they bowed in front of various temples and artifacts. Reno failed to grasp why they wasted their time here, asking for some favor that they would never receive – at least, not through any god’s intervention.

Even if he believed that there was no point in offering gifts or worshipping the gods, he had to admit it was fun to be out and about, stealing purses and sticking his tongue out at people who were oblivious to his presence. Rufus was busy at some stuffy function at the palace, the link between them stifled enough that as long as Reno did not let his emotions get out of control, his domineering mate should have no idea what he was up to out here. Aya seemed to be having a good time, too, judging from the way he smiled as he swiped an expensive looking silk scarf from some stuck-up human, only to stick it in the pocket of a young girl a few meters away. While this lacked the exhilaration of running over the rooftops, it was still fun to get away for a while and not have to act so ‘human’.

Finally reaching Kisei’s temple, Reno was unable to resist the impulse of tripping some moron who stood near the top of the many stairs, busy wailing about how Kisei would claim them all in the end. "Tell people something they don’t know already," he grumbled as he slipped inside the dark temple.

He tended to avoid temples in the past, uncaring about the rituals that most people involved themselves in to try to appease fickle as hell gods. So it was more than a bit disappointing to find what little light there was in the large, open space was either filtered through windows of dark red and blue stained glass or from candles of the same color scented with rosemary and marjoram, of all things. As his stomach rumbled in hunger, he noticed all the marigold flowers scattered about, especially around the altar up front. "Now I know why you love plants so much," he teased Aya while rubbing his nose to prevent a sneeze.

Aya shot him an annoyed look then focused his attention to the priest dressed in dark blue in front of the altar. "Why are there cats up there? I thought they were associated with Gosei, not Kisei." He motioned toward the various cages holding cats that were black or dark grey in color.

"Uhm… maybe the priests get lonely or something?" Reno offered as they weaved through the throng of worshippers to approach the altar. "Hey, you guys know anything since this is supposed to be your holiday?" he asked the shinigami that he could feel whirling around and clinging to him.

<Foolish, foolish humans, to think those minor deaths will appease us or Kisei,> a shinigami whispered into Reno ’s right ear.

<Yes, there is nothing worth feeding on from such pitiful creatures. Long ago were the days when we would be offered several human lives, brimming with energy and potential,> another one commented with wistfulness from somewhere near Aya.

"Wait, you mean they’re going to kill those cats for no reason? Don’t the priests just want some coins and incense?" Aya’s now-silver eyes narrowed. "I thought they no longer worshipped you and only were here to celebrate Kisei’s care of their deceased loved ones." His voice roughened with a hiss the longer he spoke.

<Who knows why humans do what they do. It makes no difference to us or Kisei,> one of the shinigami admitted, a confused note to its hissing voice.

Reno could well understand how his fellow shinigami felt – especially Aya, who was glaring with enough vitriol at one of the priests picking up a cage to make the man shiver and look over his shoulder. By that time, they had reached the altar and Reno had a very good idea of what his friend wanted to do. "Eh, leave the idiot who thinks he’s in charge to me."

"Don’t kill him here," was all Aya said as he stepped closer to the stacked cages; the cats inside stopped mewing and yowling as he approached, their senses much sharper than humans.

"Oh, sure, keep spoiling my fun and I’ll start calling you ‘Rufus’." He blew a kiss toward his friend when Aya turned that glare in his direction, and won a quick smile before Aya did something to the priest trying to get a cat out of the cage so the sacrifices could start.

In front of the altar, the head priest waved his arms about before reaching for a bright, sharp knife that was stuck unsheathed through his red leather belt. "Oh powerful Kisei, the summoner of souls, the guardian of the dead and collector of all life, receive our thanks for your diligent duty and endless concern for those in your care."

Reno timed things to when the asshole held up the knife so the crowd could see it in his right hand, his left held out to accept some poor cat to slice up. "We give these- AHH!"

The knife must only be coated with silver, as it certainly conducted the energy he shot into it with great effect. The priest screamed in agony, his hand clenched around the blade as Reno ’s sparks filled the air, sizzling about and causing small fires to burst out in the priest’s hair and clothes. As everyone focused their attention on what looked to be divine retribution attacking the asshole, Aya freed all the cats and used his shadows to trip the priests who rushed forward to assist their leader. Well, he had a little help from a few cats who wove in-between running feet, as if seeking a bit of revenge of their own.

"If you want to offer up a life, slit your own damn throat!" Reno snarled into the priest’s ear while zapping him a little longer. Around him, the shinigami laughed in delight and urged him on to kill the foolish priest, and only the rush of energy from far off in the audience calmed him down enough to refrain from doing just that. He looked out at the screaming and panicked crowd of worshipers doing their best to tear their way out of the temple and realized that someone had just died of a heart attack.  "Uhm, oops?"  Judging from the weak pulse of energy he had consumed, the person had to have been pretty old or sick.

As the priests dragged their still shrieking leader toward the back of the temple, Aya approached him while holding a grey and black tortoise kitten in his arms. "I would have thought that for people gathered to worship a god, they would handle the situation a bit better." He sounded as confused as Reno felt just then, his brow furrowed as he stared at the screaming crowd attempting to batter down the walls between the narrow doors in their attempt to escape. "Wouldn’t they want a demonstration that their gods are giving them some attention?"

Reno shrugged and reached down to pick up the dropped knife. "Eh, beats the hell out of me. I’m still trying to figure out why they think anyone would want a bunch of dead cats. Now chickens or ducks I can understand, you can cook them up afterwards and enjoy a good meal. Maybe even a cow or pig, if you don’t mind the mess." He tossed the knife through the air toward a wall near the doors, earning an ear-splitting shriek from some guy towards the back of the hysterical throng right before the idiot passed out. "Do you think anyone’s gonna notice anything?"  Surely the temple district was used to things like this on a daily basis.

Aya continued to stroke the purring cat in his arms as he surveyed the massive damage around them. There was a small fire on the altar, the overwhelming stench of urine from both cats and humans, several of the stained glass windows were shattered as people gave up on exiting through the doors, and very few remaining benches in one piece. "I think… we had better get back to the Koneko as soon as possible," he said in a quiet voice, his eyes no longer silver and his face paler than normal, save for the bright red spots on his cheek.  "And if anyone asks, we spent the day up in the library."

Reno snorted as he headed toward one of the broken windows. "Right, don’t need to be Gosei to know that one." As it was, he could only hope that Rufus had failed to notice that slight rush of energy from earlier.

"Less talking, more running," Aya commanded as the screams from outside gained in strength and numbers. From what they could see once they were outside, the panic from the temple was spreading through the whole district if the mass chaos around them was any indication. "Oh, *hell*."

Who knew that humans could become so hysterical?  At least the shinigami thought that this was the best celebration held for them in centuries, judging from their pleased laughter and whispers.

*******

Yohji almost choked on the wine he was sampling when he felt a very faint, familiar sense of energy and fulfillment over the link he shared with Aya, which was then quickly stifled. While not as strong as usual, he could *swear* that Aya had just ‘fed’ on energy just then, which meant that there had been a death near his mate. However, there had been no sense of hunger or rage from Aya right before the feeding, just disgust, confusion and a touch of anger. Since those emotions could occur merely from Aya observing humans around him, it made no sense to Yohji. Had a patron died from natural causes, or perhaps a horse nearby? There were times when he really wished that he could read thoughts as well as emotions.

Uncertain on if he should be worried or not, he gestured to Mickey that he had to step away from the table for a few minutes. His foster brother’s grey eyes narrowed a little, a mix of annoyance and concern radiating from the large man, but Mickey nodded and resumed the last bit of negotiations with Okun.

Yohji attracted a fair amount of attention as he made his way outside, needing the fresh air and relative lack of emotions to help clear his head. The threat of rain had people either gathering indoors or hurrying on their way to finish their errands before the rain started, so there was not the press of emotions as he stood in the Red Rose’s small courtyard as there had been inside the inn.

He tried to pick up any emotions from Aya, but the link between them was still blocked. There might be a number of reasons for that; Aya was annoyed by something and unwilling for his foul mood to affect Yohji or needed to shut out Yohji’s emotions so he could better understand his own. It could also mean that the redhead was up to something, a suspicion that grew stronger when Yohji felt a ‘press’ against his mind which signaled that a soul gaki bound wanted to telepathically speak to him. He sighed and answered the thought, quickly surprised when it turned out to be Rufus and not Schuldig or Eri.

<Kudoh. Are you at the Koneko?> Besides being in an obvious hurry, Rufus was really annoyed and anxious about something.

Having a bad idea that he knew what was worrying the lord, Yohji wished that he had thought to bring along a bottle of Okun’s ‘samples’ with him. <No, I’m at the Red Rose in the Western market district.>

There was silence for several seconds, as Rufus’ annoyance turned into anger. <I see. So you’ve no idea what Reno and Aya are up to right now, correct?>

Oh, fuck. Yohji banged the back of his head against the wall he was leaning against at the revelation that Reno had decided to pay Aya a visit. Normally, he liked the dubhach, but it was never a good thing to allow Aya and Reno together unsupervised. He quickly glanced around to see if he could spot any signs of smoke or hear screams of panic. <I didn’t know the troublemaker was going to the Koneko today.> Aya had told him he would spend the time apart tidying up the libraries.

<I didn’t know that you wouldn’t be at the Koneko. My understanding was that you were remaining close to Aya while Victor Garcia was in town.> Rufus came across as both pissy and worried, and only the second emotion kept Yohji from insulting the highhanded bastard.

<I’m with Aya a hell of a lot more often than you are with Reno ,> he could not help pointing out, and smiled at the wave of anger that crossed over the telepathic link. <Aya told me he was going to remain at the Koneko while I helped out Mickey.> Idiot that he was, he never thought of wringing a promise from his love to do just that. Thinking about how unhappy Aya was to have to remain behind in the first place, he winced and reminded himself that there were a lot of very good reasons why he had not done just that in the first place. <Don’t tell me that you let Reno out unsupervised.> Aya rarely got into trouble without Reno around, lately.

<Rod and Cyril accompanied Reno to the Koneko,> Rufus assured him with an iciness that made Yohji shivered. <However, he seems to have gone into the upstairs attic, which is still warded against them.> If Yohji were any judge of things, he would hazard a guess that the two gokenin were in a *lot* of trouble with their lord right now.

<So there’s no way of knowing if the two idiots are still up there, eh?> Yohji thought of Aya and Reno diving through the attic window that one day and headed back into the inn so he could tell Mickey that he was returning home.

<No.> Rufus’ annoyance turned into a hot anger as he spat the answer into Yohji’s mind. < Reno is refusing to answer me and blocked the link not long after I felt him feed from… something.> There was an ominous silence while Yohji gave Mickey a hurried explanation. <By the by, there seems to be some sort of commotion in the Western temple district. I just picked up that bit of information from Kikyou’s thoughts as the report came in to him. I’m sorry to say there’s a depressing lack of details, but at least no mention of bounds as of yet.>

Yohji swore under his breath as he ran out of the Red Rose. <What the hell would they be doing there?> Aya only went to the temple district unless there was a specific holiday, and always with Yohji.

<*I* *don’t* *know*.> If Rufus’ thoughts had been chilly before, they were down right frigid with suppressed fury, concern and disgust right now. <That’s why I’m talking to you – I’m unable to leave the palace until I’ve spoken with the queen or risk angering several important people and attracting unwelcome attention. Go find out what those two idiots have just done and send Reno home so I can throttle him! Wait – there was something about riots and Kisei, but the Guards are still confused over what exactly happened. Hurry your ass up, Kudoh!>

About to lash out at the lord, Yohji reminded himself that Rufus was ordering him about more out of concern for his senseless mate than the belief that he could boss Yohji around whenever he wanted. <I can get there a lot faster if you’re not bothering me, you know!> he snapped, and would have sighed in relief at Rufus severing the telepathic connection between them if he was not quite so busy dodging around people as he raced to the Koneko. Someone called out his name in greeting, but he refused to slow down to be social when for all he knew, an angry mob was converging on his home to lynch his mate and friend. Well, to try to lynch the two and end up as dead bodies scattered all around… which would be a bitch to clean up.

Why did today have to be one of the days when Reiichi was busy running errands for Yuushi? Yohji swore that the gods were trying to drive him prematurely grey by sending Reno to tempt Aya into trouble when he was elsewhere. The country was headed toward a war that Aya would have a starring role in, so why were the gods trying to kill off the only living kage? Oh yes, someone up there certainly loved to torment Yohji. Almost as much as his ‘cat’ loved to drive him insane.

To be fair, he reminded himself as he jumped over some goods waiting on the sidewalk to be carried into a small fruit stand, it was not as if Aya thought up ways to drive him crazy with concern like this. Ever since their fight over Aya running off with Reno that one day, it was clear that none of the two shinigami bounds’ excursions were premeditated. And if Yohji had been around the Koneko or taken Aya with him on his errands lately, most likely nothing would have happened.

The problem was, Yohji was unwilling to allow Aya outside of the Koneko while there was a wizard wandering about who recognized the signs of a kage. His demon nature railed at him to keep his mate safe from any possible discovery, even if his rational sense realized that Aya would not go along with that for much longer. Aya may dislike most interactions with humans, but he did enjoy his hard-won freedom and ability to go where he wanted. Trying to placate his demon soul and his lover was a balancing act that Yohji realized he had stumbled in today, and knew that it would make matters even worse if he arrived home ranting at Aya. Dammit.

Even with keeping his speed within barely human limits, Yohji managed to reach the Koneko in under twenty minutes. As he barged through the kitchen, he spared the breath to tell a startled Jo and Maddox that Reno was hanging out with Aya. That was all the explanation that was necessary, as a rush of fear and concern washed over him as he ran out of the room.

He came across an anxious Rod and Cyril as they made their way down from the attic. "Did you see them?" he asked, breathing heavily as he waited for an answer.

Rod growled in the back of his throat and shook his head. " Reno eventually yelled at us to go away and stop banging on the door, so we know he’s in there. But it took him a minute or two to answer."

Yohji thought of the distance to the temple district and how fast Aya could run, then remembered his mate’s penchant for using windows instead of doors. "Just fucking great. Wait here, I’ll be kicking Reno out in a minute so you can drag his ass back to Rufus." He liked Reno, really he did, but he would be *very* happy if Rufus locked the dubhach in their bedroom for the next few weeks or however long it took for Schuldig to track down that damn wizard. Nothing would have happened today if Reno had stayed home… or if Yohji had taken Aya with him.

Running up the last few steps three at a time, he charged down the attic hallway and hit the library’s door hard enough to almost knock it off of its hinges. Two pairs of silver eyes glared at him for his intrusion, Aya busy reading a book and Reno lounged in the padded leather chair, busy playing with several strands of his long hair.

"Eh, what’s the rush? You that desperate to get laid or something?" Reno was the perfect picture of nonchalance, whereas Aya gave the dubhach a dirty look for a few seconds before resuming reading. The idiots were trying too hard to appear as if they were just enjoying a quiet day in the library.

Yohji’s eyes narrowed as a grim smile curled his lips. "You know me, I’m always up for sex." That seemed to put both redheads at ease – until he continued. "But right now, I’d rather know what the hell happened at the temple district a short while ago."

"What makes you think we know anything about that? You should be asking the Guards," Aya mumbled as he closed the book in his hands and went over to shelve it. "Not all of us are allowed to wander around the city, in case you forgot." His deep voice contained a biting edge of disappointment and simmering anger.

Okay, Yohji was getting the hint that he never should have left Aya alone like this, and could only hope that he had learned his lesson while parts of the city were still standing. However, he was *not* going to let his mate slide on this one, no matter how sexy the man was, considering that ‘riots’ had been mentioned in conjecture to Aya’s possible outing that day. Few things panicked people like a kage….

"Look, yell at me about being an overprotective bastard later, just tell me right now what the hell happened and if a lynch mob is about to descend upon us!" Yohji put all of his concern, fear and love for Aya into the words as he could, and felt the link between them begin to open up.

Aya and Reno shared a look between them, and rather than give in to his anger, Yohji took a deep breath and tried to make the idiots see reason. "Rufus and I felt you feed, and don’t try to tell me that you couldn’t have been to the temple district when I know how fast the two of you move." He turned toward Reno . "In fact, I’d suggest that you get your ass home as soon as possible, because once he’s done at Court, you’re going to have a furious as hell mate ready to drag you out of here."

Reno jumped to his feet, hissing and tossing off sparks as he stalked back and forth. "He can’t boss me around like this! I’m not some fucking artifact that he can keep locked up because I have some value to him!" His long hair waved about in the charged air around him.

Unconcerned about the sparks, Aya approached his friend and put a hand on his left shoulder to calm him down. " Reno , you’d better go. I won’t stand by and watch him take you from here, so…." He made it perfectly clear that if Reno wanted his mate to live past today, that Rufus better not show up at the Koneko in a foul mood.

Reno hissed for several seconds before giving Aya’s right hand a squeeze. "Okay, I’ll go." He turned toward the door, moving quickly now that his mind seemed made up. When he neared Yohji, he slowed down for a few seconds. "Look, it was my idea, okay? But no one saw us."

" Reno !"

"Aw, you know they’re not gonna shut up about this until we tell them something. Next time, we need to block the links before we go out and have some fun." Unrepentant in the least, Reno flashed Yohji and Aya a wide grin before slipping out of the room.

Now that they were alone, Yohji approached Aya in three long steps and pulled his mate into a tight hug. "I’m really, *really* trying very hard not to be pissed off here, but it would help if you tell me what the hell happened and swear to me that you’re not going to deliberately go out and cause trouble with Reno!" He would panic each time Aya stifled their link in the future, he just knew it.

Aya sighed and hugged him back for several frantic heartbeats, before pushing against his arms to get him to loosen them a little. "It’s not like we intended to cause any trouble in the first place. All we wanted to do was get out for a little bit and give observance to the shinigami on their holiday." The last bit confused Yohji, until he remembered that the day was dedicated to Kisei. Hearing that the shinigami were involved somehow made him scowl at the shadows gathered in the room and feel a little less upset with Reno .

"Cat, you better start explaining things faster than that," he said as he tucked back the bangs falling onto his lover’s face. "Why is there mass panic in the temple district, hmm?"

Now violet eyes downcast, Aya nibbled on his bottom lip for a few seconds before answering. "We were cloaked in shadows the entire time, so no one saw us. When we got to Kisei’s temple… they were going to kill a bunch of cats for no reason, Yotan." He looked up, his eyes shadowed and his emotions confused and angry. "I don’t understand it, cats aren’t associated with Kisei so the sacrifice made no sense. And the shinigami don’t care for animals. It’s human energy they prefer to feed on."

"Eh, cats?" Yohji knew that some gods preferred animal sacrifices, but few of them were worshipped that way within the city limits, other than the occasional goat or bull on certain high religious holidays. Too much blood and death could attract flesh gaki, which *no one* wanted. "Maybe they thought that no one would notice if they killed a bunch of strays." He had a feeling that the Guard would need to pay close attention to the temple districts as the war approached; people were growing aware that there was trouble brewing between Kritiker and Esset, and their worshiping would most likely take on a fervent and desperate edge. That might be what had prompted Kisei’s priests to offer up sacrifices in the first place.

"So you found a bunch of priests about to kill some cats, what happened next?" Yohji was almost afraid to ask that question, but knew he needed to hear the answer.

Aya sighed before waving his right hand about. "I let the cats out of their cages while Reno used his talent on the head priest." A hint of a smile hovered on his lips. "It really did look like some sort of divine retribution. I think he was trying to convince people that Kisei was displeased with the offering."

More like Reno just enjoyed zapping people, Yohji thought but kept to himself. "No shadows were involved?" Aya shook his head. "What about the death?" The fact that Aya was telling him the truth without a fight helped to calm his anger, and proved that his lover had learned something from their fight a few months ago.

"There was an elderly person among the worshippers, as far as I can tell. I guess the shock of seeing ‘Kisei’ interact with her priests was too much of a shock." Aya was the slightest bit upset over that fact, but Yohji was unable to tell if it was because a human had died or that the death had led to Aya and Reno ’s antics being discovered.

For a moment sharing in Rufus’ urge to throttle his mate, Yohji took another deep breath. Part of him was jealous that Aya kept running off with Reno like this, even if not all of – well, a few of… okay, only one or two of their adventures did not end in relative disaster. Aya should only want to have fun with him; he should have been there and helped Aya do something silly and relatively normal like save a bunch of poor cats. Upon hearing the truth, he doubted that anyone would suspect that a kage and a dubhach were involved in the mess, since a dubhach’s power was relatively unknown and Aya said there were no shadows involved other than to hide the two suicidal idiots from sight. He still wanted to drag Aya off to their bedroom and keep him locked up there, safe from any harm. Only the fact that he would hurt Aya by doing that a lot more than an angry mob or blood-hungry wizard ever could prevented him from doing so.

"So what happened to the cats?" he asked after a minute or two of silence, his curiosity getting the better of him.

The tender smile he received from his love made him feel much better about not going off on a rant about idiotic behavior. "All but one of them ran away as soon as they were free. I brought that one home, since Ichiro and Jason were talking about having a cat around the barn to keep the horses company."

So at least there would only be one cat in his bedroom for the time being. For a moment, Yohji worried about how Aya was more concerned about a cat than the majority of humans out there, only to remind himself that too many people had hurt his lover. "Only you would create such chaos over saving a bunch of cats." He tugged on an eartails to take the sting out of his words. "And you wonder why I call you ‘Cat’ so much," he teased.

"Idiot," Aya mumbled as he batted Yohji’s hand aside. "We really didn’t mean to cause so much trouble. Humans never react like we think they will." Confusion shaded Aya’s voice, his brow furrowed as he obviously tried to make sense out of the day.

Yohji sighed and held his lover close. They had been together for over a year, and in that time Aya had moved past some truly heinous trauma to become strong and independent. Yet with all that Aya had learned to love and trust people once again, he still had trouble understanding humans. Yohji was left with the sinking suspicion that Aya would never be able to grasp them, their motives and reactions more than he could right now.

Knowing that he would never be able to explain things adequately enough to someone who possessed a shinigami soul, he held Aya cradled in his arms and kissed him with all the love, passion and understanding that he could. As for his own demon soul, it was pleased that his mate was safe and sound.

Aya kissed him back, confusion and upset flaring into need, relief and love. He had probably thought that Yohji would be distant with him again because of what happened, but all that did was hurt the two of them in the long run. Yohji could try to teach his lover a lesson that would never be fully understood, deprive them both of sex for a few days and only give Aya more of a reason to run off with Reno for a bit of fun, or he could accept that things were the way they were.

He meant to show that he was no longer angry about Aya’s actions that day when his hunger and desire for his lover gradually overwhelmed him. How could he yell at Aya for not thinking things through when all it took was a wave of delicious sunlight pouring into him, a rush of love and need from his mate blazing across their link and Aya in his arms, utterly willing and smelling so incredible for him to lose control? A growl reverberated in the back of his throat as he clenched his arms around his mate, his legs shifting apart so he could rub his arousal against Aya’s black-clad hip.

At first, Aya went still in his arms, and just as Yohji expected to be pushed aside with a ‘not in the library’, there was another intense wave of sunlight. Not one to turn down an opportunity like this, he moaned in delight as he took stumbling steps backwards toward the comfy chair. Aya kissed him back with such a fervent intensity that it was as if Aya was the succubae bound of the two of them, and even released a rare laugh when they tumbled into the chair.

About to say something along the lines of how his mate was breaking one of his most obsessively observed rules, Yohji decided to nibble on Aya’s exposed neck instead. Oh yeah, there was something to be said for not yelling and over-reacting, even if the western Temple district was barely still standing at the moment. What the hell did he care about a bunch of old buildings, when he had a squirming cat in his lap trying to remove his shirt? Rufus could learn a thing or two from him....

His thoughts lost any coherent order when Aya hissed in annoyance and tugged the shirt over Yohji’s head, his eyes a swirling mix of violet and silver. Yohji felt it was only proper to return the favor, and barely remembered in time that the dark grey shirt was a favorite of his mate and so not to be ripped. Upper bodies taken care of, he set to work undoing the laces of Aya’s pants, and refused to feel guilty when he ended up snapping the thin leather strands.

"Idiot," Aya muttered in response to needing to repair his pants later, and seemed to make a show of undoing Yohji’s without any incident. Was it sad that a word that most people considered an insult only got Yohji even more hot and bothered?

He was about to remove his lover’s pants when he realized that, thanks to Aya’s nonsensical ‘no sex in the library’ rule, there was a depressing lack of lube on hand. Growling once more, he settled for pushing the pants as wide apart as possible and spitting in the palm of his right hand before reaching for his mate’s hard cock. The rush of sunlight filling every inch of his being washed over the faint twinge of pain from sharp nails digging into his shoulders in response.

Tugging Aya closer onto his lap, he opened his hand enough that he could grasp both of their cocks, a slight hiss escaping him at the feel of smooth skin and friction rubbing against him. He buried his face in the crook of Aya’s neck, for a moment left heady from the addictive scent of the man he loved. He could feel Aya’s warm and the strong pulse racing beneath thin skin, could taste sweat and passion as his tongue lapped against the thundering blood. Each and every action of his only sent that pulse beating even faster and the sunlight to burn into him even hotter, his and Aya’s emotions hopelessly entwined and all the more powerful for that union. It was as if their bodies were in synch as well, shuddering breaths exhaled at the same time, each movement a compliment to the other’s, all pleasure and lust and desperate need for release. As the ecstasy grew with each stroke of Yohji’s hand, each fraction of pressure as his teeth pressed against Aya’s neck, each sharp ache of nails along his shoulders, Yohji wondered if he was the only one driven on by hunger. Aya seemed just as desperate for completion as he did, for that searing maelstrom of emotion and energy.

Sensing that they were both close to the edge of their endurance, Yohji’s hand stroked faster and harder against their cocks, the increase of pressure and friction an explosion of sensation that wonderfully became too much. As tied as their emotions were just then, they came together, Yohji’s body feeling incinerated by the rush of ecstasy that filled it completely.

The only downside to such powerful orgasms was that it took Yohji a minute or two to regain his senses afterwards, as overloaded as he felt with energy and emotion. He was certain he lived up to Aya’s assessment of him being an utter idiot at those moments, especially when it took him some time to remember to return some of that exquisite energy to his mate. He received a sharp dig of nails into his left shoulder in return, along with the adorable sight of Aya all flustered and tired, eyes drooping closed and emotions languid from the release.

"Okay, you can destroy however many districts that you want as long as things end up like this," Yohji teased after a few minutes of silence. His laughter was tinged with a hint of pain as his shoulder was abused again, but there was a clear sense of relief from Aya over his acceptance of the situation.

"We didn’t try to destroy it in the first place, just stopped a bunch of morons." Aya snapped his teeth together in warning, but sounded too tired to carry through with the threat. He looked about for a moment, then leaned back to grab Yohji’s shirt to wipe them both clean.

Figuring that a dirty shirt and the missed opportunity to wallow in anger at his mate was well worth the sunlight tingling through his veins and *finally* being able to get some action up here, Yohji merely smiled as he cleaned up. "I’m not even going to attempt to explain the proper definition of ‘destruction’ to you until I’m wearing a suit of armor and you’re suffering from a toothache." He smiled in pure happiness at the dreadful glare being directed his way. "As I always told Schu, ‘just make sure you don’t get caught’."

Aya snorted in derision either at mention of Schu or that bit of sage advice. "I’m a kage. The only time people know it’s one of us doing the destroying is when we want it that way."

It was rather hard to argue with that, so Yohji just hummed for a few seconds while wrapping his arms around Aya’s lower back and pulling him in close for another kiss. Being a very intelligent person, he knew a lost cause when he saw one, and figured it would be much, much more amusing to let Rufus tackle that mission one night than him end up with a pissy mate and no sex for a day or two.

Now not to give into the urge to call the new resident in the stables ‘Aya Junior’ while his lover was around, and things should be fine for the time being.

*******

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