Aya stared into his closet, rejecting one sweater after another. He was having a little difficulty trying to find something to wear that would cover his neck. With one mark positioned on his neck right above his collarbone, and the other a couple of inches below his right ear, the red head wondered if even a turtleneck could hide the hickeys. The marks would have been bad enough as is, but in contrast to his pale skin, one couldnít help but to notice them. Eying the livid bruises in the mirror after finishing his shower, Aya had concluded that he looked as if heíd been attacked. ĎAll courtesy of Yohji Kudoh, the human vampire.í
Settling on a blue cable knit sweater that covered him from his jawline down, the red head figured that he would be spared from answering any embarrassing questions for the day. He just hoped the bruises would heal before he ran out of wardrobe options. He didnít even want to imagine the conversation with Ken or Omi if either of them saw the marks. "You see, I got them from Yohji, whoís pretending to be my boyfriend, only it seems that he really isnít pretending. And I was the idiot who willingly let him do it, not only once, but twice"í No, Aya was more than willing to avoid that discussion as long as he could, hopefully forever.
He just wondered if that was really an option at this point. Yohjiís confession last night still had him rattled. The blond claimed to have feelings for his teammate, and Aya knew that what Yohji wanted, Yohji usually got. Now the swordsman had to figure out if he wanted to get caught or not. Judging from the dreams that had plagued him during the night, part of him was definitely voting for yes. Aya had woken up frustrated and flushed, an image of a blond head leaving kisses and more marks in a trail down his chest and stomach, fading from his mind. Now the playboy was invading his dreams, as if occupying Ayaís waking thoughts werenít enough.
Determined to think about something else, the red head pushed all thoughts Yohji-related into a dark corner in his mind, and went downstairs to help open the shop. He paused in the kitchen long enough to drink a cup of coffee, and to take a refill with him. The red head needed the added boost of energy, seeing as he hadnít been sleeping well the past two nights. At least dreaming of Yohji gave him a break from the nightmares filled with memories of his family or of his victims. ĎStop that, there you go again.í
Entering the Koneko no Sume Ie, Aya spotted Ken busy shifting some of the bigger plants around, making sure that all of them got some sunlight. Setting his coffee down, he went over to help the brunet. Ken appeared startled when he noticed him.
"Aya, what are you doing up already? Yohji left a note that you were gonna sleep in a little this morning."
Examining his non-communicative teammate, Ken noticed the other man still looked tired, as if he hadnít gotten much sleep. Wondering what time him and Yohji had returned home at, the athlete stifled a yawn. The late nights out were starting to get to him also, and with the weekend right around the corner, he knew that none of the older Weiss were going to get much rest.
"What I wouldnít give for a nice stake out or retrieval mission right now. I hate the thought of spending a lot more nights hanging out in bars, how Ďbout you?"
Looking up from the large palm he was moving, Aya nodded in agreement. Done with his task, he headed back towards his work table, and began to read through the orders for the day.
Well, so much for any conversation this morning, Ken ruefully thought, shaking his head. Not that he had expected much from his taciturn friend, but only receiving one Ďhní before being summarily ignored was rather curt, even for Aya. He picked up a broom and began sweeping. The two men stayed like this for the next few hours, Ken up front assisting the customers, Aya silent in the back.
Ken was relieved when Yohji finally made his appearance, late in the morning. He was looking forward to having someone else to talk to, the plants were being better company than Aya. "Morning Yohji."
"Morning." Instead of heading to his usual spot behind the register, Yohji made a beeline towards the tables in back. Beginning to think heíd forgotten to brush his teeth or use any deodorant that morning, the brunet watched him walk away, rather bemused.
Yohji was intent on checking up on his kitten. Heíd stopped by Ayaís bedroom to see if he was interested in any breakfast after waking up, and found the room empty. The red head hadnít been in the shower or the kitchen either. Remembering how exhausted the younger man had appeared the night before, Yohji had quickly gotten ready and headed down to the shop. "If that idiot got up early to workÖÖ"
Sure enough, Aya was busy at work, and from the amount of prepared orders, must have been working for hours. The blond tried to curtail his anger at observing the dark circles around the smaller manís eyes. Experience had taught him that yelling at Aya would get him nowhere but frozen out or in the middle of a fight. He stood next to his red head, watching the other man finish the order he was currently assembling. Aya was the best out of the four of them at arranging flowers. His graceful hands always seemed to know just where to put each stem, and which flower to pick. It was a joy to watch him, to see a work of art spring to life from those pale hands.
Aya glanced up to meet green eyes when he was finished with the arrangement. Yohji was standing beside him, eyes oddly tender. As he watched, the blond lifted a hand to brush back crimson bangs that were falling in his face. "Did you get any sleep last night?"
The blond sighed tiredly. "You know Aya, one day you are going to realize youíre just human. You canít keep working all day in the shop, then wait tables all night, and be in any shape to take on the target. What are you planning to do, subdue the man by collapsing on him? And if you think itís been busy at the bar the past two nights, wait until the weekend starts tomorrow. Youíre not going to have much luck spotting anybody if you keep falling asleep."
The red head could only blink back in response. He wasnít used to being taken to task about his health by his teammates. Not even Omi, the fusser of the group, would have talked to him like Yohji just had. He wasnít used to being concerned over. He was about to retort back he was just fine when his stomach, tired of only coffee, decided to protest loudly. Aya quickly looked back down at the flowers on the table.
Yohji just sighed again upon hearing the rumbling. "When was the last time you ate, Aya? Last night? Yesterday?" He wasnít surprised when the red head refused to answer. Torn between the urge to strangle the man or hold him, the blond stalked off to the shopís front.
"Uh, Yohji, what are you doing," Ken inquired, as he watched the taller man open the register and take out some cash.
"Itís almost noon. Iím heading out for some takeout. Want anything?"
"No, Iím okay. Listen, if itís all right with you guys, I need to get out of here early today. I promised the kids Iíd be there for a soccer match today, and help them practice a little before the game."
"Itís fine with me, and as long as Mr. Chatty there doesnít say anything, you can take off when I get back with lunch." Yohji wasnít about to complain over having Aya to himself for a couple of hours.
"Great!! I really appreciate this."
Aya was starting one of the last few orders left, when a bag was plunked down on the table in front of him. He looked first at it, and then up at the waiting blond.
"Lunch is here. Now eat it before you pass out, youíre too skinny as it is." Not waiting for a response, Yohji left.
Stomach rumbling again in anticipation from the wonderful smells, Aya began to open the bag. He was surprised to see several takeout cartons from one of his favorite restaurants. Each one contained a dish he was rather fond of. How did Yohji know, especially since he didnít order from the place very often? Heíd never realized that the blond must of taken note of his likes and dislikes. He was unsure how he should feel about that fact. Grabbing a couple containers and some chopsticks, he headed up to the register, where Yohji was busy eating.
Noticing the curious look Yohji was giving him, Aya held up a box. "Do you mind if I eat up here with you?" The blond smiled in agreement, and shifted over on the counter, making some space. Aya leaned back, settling beside the taller man. They both ate in silence, shoulders touching.
"Hey, Aya, you gonna to eat all of this or what?"
"I thought you said you werenít hungry, Ken. Why donít you get some food of your own."
"Geez, Yohji, I hardly doubt the guy is gonna be able to finish all that you brought back. Right, Aya?"
Stepping away from the counter, Aya shouted back at Ken. "Itís alright, help yourself." Looking at Yohji, the red head shrugged. "You really did buy too much. Iím already full. Might as well not let the food go to waste." About to return to his table, the red head paused. Softly touching Yohji on the arm, he quietly said "Thank you," and walked away.
Heart lightened by the whole exchange, Yohji softly replied back. "Youíre learning, Kitten."
Quickly wrapping the flowers in paper, Aya handed them to the woman. "Thatís 2,100 yen. Yohji will ring you up at the register." Watching the customer pay for the lilies, he was amazed at how the blond merely smiled at the pretty woman, and wished her a good day. Usually the man would be flirting up a storm, intent on gaining her phone number. But the blond had been extremely well behaved all day long. One could even say subdued. Oh, he had been polite and friendly to all the female customers, but no more so than he would have been to the few men who came in. Several of the women seemed to notice this, and spared the blond some worried looks. Yohji had simply told them good bye and went back to work.
Which was an other odd thing about the playboy today. He was willingly working. Usually it took a series of complaints from Ken and Omi, and threats from Aya, to get the man to do anything but lean against to counter and flirt with women when he wasnít ringing up the orders. Today, however, Yohji was voluntarily helping to restock, clean up the clippings, and tend to the plants. He bustled around the shop, whistling and singing to himself. It was actually quite pleasant to work with the man today. Aya was beginning to wonder if the man was ill.
Aya had been worried about how the blond was going to react towards him after last night. He had been nervous when Ken had left for the day, leaving the two of them alone until Omi came home. Bracing himself for the worst, either an irate Yohji or a lust-crazed one, he had gotten neither. The man kept himself busy, but was always eager to lend a hand when Aya needed it. Each time he was near the red head, he would make an affectionate gesture; brushing hair out of Ayaís face, touching his hand, briefly massaging his shoulders, and so forth. Nothing inappropriate, but still rather intimate considering Aya was not used to being touched. As a result, the younger manís skin was constantly tingling from the caresses, and he seemed super-aware of where the blond was at all times. Yohji never pressed the issue, but it was obvious that he was trying to prove to his teammate that he was still interested.
As it was, the swordsman felt a mild stab of disappointment when Omi showed up from school. It meant an end to the quiet intimacy between the two older men. Aya didnít have much time to think about the matter anymore, as the store soon became packed with romance-minded school girls clamoring for attention and service.
"Aya! Yohji! Dinnerís ready, you better get some before Ken returns."
Setting the dish of stir-fry on the table, Omi waited for the two men to appear. Yohji sauntered in from the living room, and Aya came from upstairs, apparently fresh from the shower. Oddly enough, he still had his blue sweater on.
"Dig in. Ken should be back any minute, and I thought we could go over a couple more things tonight before you guys head out."
"Thatís fine by me. Mmmm, smells good, kiddo."
Aya merely nodded, and scooped some food into his bowl. As soon as he put the spoon down, Yohji grabbed it, and scooped some more food into the red headís dish. Ignoring the violet glare directed his way, the blond retorted "Youíre still too skinny."
"Like you have room to talk," Aya mumbled back.
"Yeah at least I eat though. Canít help it if it all gets burned off."
Omi eyed his two friends with interest. Yohji usually didnít concern himself with the eating habits of others, and Aya normally bit the head off of anybody who tried to tell him what to do. Before he could comment on the odd situation, Ken burst into the room. Still hyper from the game, he commenced to give a play-by-play recount for the next ten minutes. Willing to indulge the brunet at first, Omi decided he had had enough, and finally interrupted the soccer fanatic.
"Iím glad your kids won Ken, but maybe you can tell us the rest of the story later. Right now I want to talk about whatís going on tonight, and go over any new leads." Looking at Weissí leader, Omi inquired, "Aya, did you get those names for me?"
Finishing up his dinner, and quickly jerking his dish away before Yohji could try to refill it, Aya nodded. However, his eyes stayed glued on the older blond, glaring into the innocent expression Yohji was giving him, serving spoon still in hand. "Iíve written up a list of names, distinguishing features, and any background information I could find. Iíll drop it off to you before I leave."
"Good, good." Turning to look at Ken, Omi found the brunet struggling with Yohji over the spoon. It seemed that Yohji hadnít given up on serving Aya seconds, while Ken was hoping to finish off the stir-fry. It reminded Omi of similar fights the two had over the remote control. "Ahem." Both men turned to look at the teenager, and Aya used the opportunity to grab the utensil and hand it to Ken. Shaking his head at the odd dinnertime antics, Omi continued on. "How about you Ken, still doing okay?"
"Yeah. I pretty much got some info on all the victims. Iíd thought that maybe Iíd stay home tonight, go over my notes and see if anything stands out. There are a couple of guys I want to track down over the weekend; they tend to stay away during the week. It would help if I had something specific to ask them about, and not play Twenty Questions."
"Let me know if you need any help looking for a pattern. Your turn, Yohji."
The lanky blond leaned back in his chair as he lit a cigarette. He ignored the glares his teammates were sending his way for the action with long-practiced ease. "Like Ken, I dug up some information on the guys, things they were doing the night they were grabbed, stuff like that. Iíll go over Kenís report tomorrow, see how it compares with what I found out. Still no clue on the target, though. Guess Iíll just keep my ears open, hope to catch something that way."
"In other words, youíll sit in a bar all night eavesdropping while having some beer. How much different is that from what you normally do?"
"Donít worry, Omi, no offense was taken. Not everybody is in a mood to talk to strangers, Kenken. My way helps catch the things that your cub reporter routine misses. You can learn a lot of things by keeping a low profile and listening."
"Besides, thatís not the main agenda for tonight. Iím hoping to meet up with someone later at the Velvet Room, maybe see about an introduction with a member."
Omi brightened up at the last comment. "It would be great if the lead works out, Yohji-kun. I went through the membership database for the club, and I think there are several people who could be our guy. Theyíre all marked down as interested in bondage, S/M and erotic asphyxiation."
"Where did our sweet, innocent chibi go? How fast they grow up nowadays. What have you been looking into during that search, you naughty boy?" Yohji winked at the younger man, causing him to blush furiously.
"That information was all there in the database, Yohji. Each member profile is rather detailed in the personís likes and dislikes. However, for security reasons most of the members are listed under an alias. There must be a master copy with their real names in an isolated hard drive somewhere, I canít get into it from online. Iíll give you a list of men to be on the look out for, you can see if they match the targetís physical description. If you come across any strong possibilities, I can track down the system and copy the files the old-fashioned way."
"Letís see if itís worthwhile first before you do some breaking and entering, Chibi. Wouldnít want to chance the bastard finding out that the clubís being investigated and scare him away."
"Well, if thatís all, Aya and I need to get ready for work." Yohji grabbed the red head and began to usher him out of the kitchen. "Since youíre going to be a good boy and stay in tonight Kenken, I guess that means youíll be free to do the dinner dishes. Taa."
"Hey, get back here Kudoh, itís supposed to be your turn to clean up after dinner, not mine. Where are you going?"
Gathering up the dirty glasses, Omi just shook his head. "He got you this time, just give it up. Here, Iíll help."
Yohji followed Aya up the stairs, wanting to talk to the smaller man in private. As the red head opened his bedroom door, Yohji shoved him into the room and followed. The blond closed and locked the door behind him.
"What the hell do you think youíre doing, Yohji?" Aya glared up at the taller man, who was leaning against the door, clearly blocking the exit.
Shrugging his shoulders, Yohji gave the room a quick study. He hadnít had many opportunities to investigate the swordsmanís room before; the other man was intent on his privacy and didnít invite the others in. Omi was the only member of Weiss to spend anytime in Ayaís room, and that was just to patch him up after missions. Yohji wasnít surprised to find the room obsessively neat and lacking in personality, other than being filled with books.
"I wanted to see if youíd prefer for me to give you a ride again tonight."
"And you couldnít have asked me that in the hallway?" Aya snorted in disbelief.
"Yeah, well, this way I figured Iíd be sure to get an answer. So, yes or no?"
Aya walked over to his window, intent on putting some space between the two of them. "Why shouldnít I drive myself tonight? Iím not running late again."
Yohji tracked the manís movements with his eyes, noticing how he was fidgeting with the blinds. "Maybe because it makes sense to just take one car since weíre going to the same place. Besides, I think your friends at the bar are sort of expecting it. Wouldnít want them to think Iím neglecting my kitten."
"Iím not your kitten, Yohji." Aya focused his attention on the traffic outside. He was trying to think of an excuse for him to drive to work by himself. He couldnít come up with any that wouldnít make it seem as if he was avoiding the playboy. He was not about to let Yohji think he was affecting him that much. Besides, Aya wasnít that crazy about the idea of leaving his Porche parked all night in that section of town. He allowed himself few luxuries, and the car was one of them. "Alright, yes."
Hearing the man stand up, Aya was expecting him to leave the room. He was startled to feel a hand settle on his shoulder, and an arm circle his waist. "What now, Yohji?"
Yohji pulled the smaller man closer towards him, reveling in his armful of Aya. Heíd wanted to do this all day, but had restrained himself. He was trying to prove to the red head that he was after more than a quick fuck, to build some confidence in the younger man towards him. Heíd carefully planned out his every move in the shop earlier, intent on expressing concern and affection, not just desire. He knew he was getting under Ayaís skin by the way the man reacted towards him, nervous and uncertain, but not pushing the blond away. Yohji had even felt Aya relax under those touches, just as the man was doing now, leaning back ever so slightly.
"Just wondering what is so interesting outside the window. When do you think youíll be ready?"
"In about fifteen minutes, if youíll let go of me."
"Hmm, we got a few minutes still." Yohji continued to stand there, arms wrapped around the red head, breathing in his scent. The younger man smelled so good, a mix of roses and musk. Yohji had never smelled anything like it before. After a minute, he felt Aya rest his head back on the blondís shoulder, and smiled. He stood there a little longer, not doing anything more than hold the swordsman. "Guess we better get ready." He kissed his kitten on top of his head, and let him go. He noticed that the confused look was back in the red headís eyes as he left the room.
Thatís right, Yohji thought to himself. Keep Aya off balance; make him think that maybe he doesnít know Yohji Kudoh as well as he thought. Make him wonder if maybe a relationship would work after all. Make him realize how good it can be to have someone there for him, looking out for him. Make him wonder just how much better you could make him feel. Keep it up, and Aya wonít stand a chance.
Fifteen minutes later, Yohji was back at Ayaís bedroom, knocking on the door. "Aya, you ready yet?" Not hearing a reply, the blond tried turning the doorknob. Finding it unlocked, he opened the door and entered the room. "I thought you said youíd be ready by now Aya." Yohji paused, noticing the clothes strewn around the once immaculate room. He looked towards the closet, where the smaller man was burrowed into, obviously searching for into. "Something wrong, Aya?"
The red head spun around at the question, clutching a shirt to his chest. He wasnít wearing anything other than a pair of red vinyl pants that zipped up either side. For a moment he stood there self-consciously in front of the other man, drinking in how good Yohji looked in brown leather pants and a loosely laced up bronze velvet shirt. As the reason for his current dilemma returned to him, he angrily stepped towards the blond.
"Yes, something is wrong. What am I supposed to wear to cover these?" Aya gestured at his neck.
Yohji stood there eying his handiwork, feeling a certain amount of male smugness. Heíd managed to mark Aya pretty good last night, and if anything the hickeys were more impressive the next day. He hadnít realized the red head bruised so easily. "The point of Ďthoseí is to not cover them. You want those lechers in the bar to notice that youíre obviously seeing someone, and so are not available. Just wear whatever it is that youíre holding."
"Yohji, I am /not/ going out into public looking like this. Itís embarrassing, and cheapening as well."
"You certainly werenít thinking that last night." The force of the glare Aya turned towards him actually made the blond take a step back. "Relax already, Aya. You canít tell me that you somehow failed to notice that there were a lot of other men walking around with hickeys at the bar. No one will think twice about yours. I mean, really, even that guy in a skirt had one on his neck."
"Itís a kilt, not a skirt," Aya said automatically. "His name is Teddy. And, well, thatís Teddy."
"Aya, youíre going to be late if you keep this up." Going through the shirts scattered across the bed, Yohji picked a silky black knit that buttoned in the middle. "Here, put this on, we gotta get going." He handed the shirt to Aya.
Giving up in defeat, the red head took the shirt and put it on. Yohji kept staring at Aya as he dressed, marveling in the manís white skin and toned physique. ĎDown boy, down." The shirt only accentuated the manís paleness, making the bruises stand out even more.
Aya made sure to button up his leather trench coat all the way, and even turned the collar up. He wasnít taking the chance of the younger members of Weiss spotting the love bites on his way to the garage. He quickly got into Yohjiís car before the man could try and open his door.
The red head was his usual quiet self on the way to the bar. Yohji contented himself with smoking a cigarette as he sang along to a cd. Aya pretended to be interested in the passing scenery. Instead, his thoughts were centered on the man sitting next to him, trying to figure out the change of attitude. Aya couldnít anticipate his moves. Whenever he expected the blond to pounce on him, he instead found himself gently caressed or embraced. And then there was this sudden concern with his well being. About whether he ate or slept enough. He just didnít know how he was supposed to react anymore, and the loss of control was starting to get to him. He was beginning to wonder if this was some elaborate test engineered by Kritiker to see just how long it would take before he went insane. Proof of this was a small niggling voice that asked if it would be so terrible of him to let go and allow the older man to care for him. He was a murderer, for crying out loud, what right did he have to a relationship?
Noticing that they had pulled up in front of Bacchus, Aya shifted in his seat so he could face Yohji.
"Here you are, door to door service. Iím going to go find a parking space, and then head over to the Velvet Room. Iíll be back around midnight, so tell any baka that tries anything they better leave you alone or your boyfriend will kick his ass."
"Yohji, first off, I am perfectly capable of kicking ass on my own. Secondly, you arenít my boyfriend."
Reaching over to brush the red headís ever-present bangs away from his face, Yohji let his hand slide down til it was resting on the back of Ayaís neck. "Kitten, if you wanted to you could cut up everyone in that bar into little pieces, without even breaking a sweat. I know that. You know that. But they donít, and itís for the best that nobody figures that out. So I am going to keep on being your jealous, protective boyfriend. Itís safer for everyone that way."
Trying to ignore the way Yohjiís affectionate gesture made his scalp tingle, Aya couldnít stop himself from asking, "Including me?"
Yohji only smiled, and pulled him in for a kiss. This gesture was totally different from the desperate, hungry kisses that Yohji had given him before. This one was slow and gentle, teasing in nature. When the blond made to pull back, Aya found himself leaning forward, trying to prolong the contact. Yohji nipped the red headís lower lip in return, running his tongue over it and sucking on it to soothe. Deepening the kiss, the older man brought up his other hand to gently caress Ayaís cheek.
As if on cue, there was a sudden knocking on the carís windshield. Expecting to see Kei or Seiichi, Yohji dazedly noted that this time it was the youth with the skirt. He was grinning from ear to ear. "Should I just start selling tickets, or what?"
Aya glared first at him, and then at Yohji. "Great. Now I have to put up with him for the rest of the night."
"You know Aya, if you just so happened to kill a co-worker or two, Iím sure Kritiker really wouldnít mind. I know I sure as hell wouldnít," Yohji mumbled.
"Donít tempt me." Aya got out of the car, and walked over to the American. "Donít you have anything better to do?"
"Oh, nothing half as much fun as that." The longhaired man followed the swordsman into the club. They found their co-worker Seiichi waiting for them just inside.
"Sorry, Red. I tried to drag him inside but he said it was his turn to have some fun."
"Hn." Aya was taking his coat off when he felt his chin being grabbed from the side. Barely controlling the urge to strike out, Aya quickly stepped back, and glared at the American. "What the fuck are you doing?"
"Oh, calm down. Just checking to see if you got anymore love bites on you today. Iím down for two."
"What?" Aya vaguely recalled the man mentioning something about a bet the previous night. "You were serious about that?"
"Hm, you mean the bet? Damn right I was. Looks like I lost though. Shit. I could of used the extra yen. Oh well." Teddy reached into the pouch he wore on the front of his kilt, and handed several folded yen over to Seiichi. Aya could only stare in amazement.
"Seiichi, you were in on this too?"
Looking a bit ashamed, the brunet nodded his head. "Hai."
"But how could you win, I mean, there are no newÖÖ"
Teddy began laughing out loud. Seiichi, grinning a bit sheepishly, tried to explain it to the red head. "Well, you see I bet that you wouldnít show up with any today. That is, on your neck at least."
It took a moment for the implied part to sink in, and when it did Aya turned an impressive shade of red. Seeing this, the other two men jumped to the wrong conclusion.
"Ohhh, and you call me the hentai one. Come on Red, show us those hickeys. Letís get another bet going for tomorrow night!" Teddy continued laughing as the red head stormed off to the bar. "He is just so cute when heís angry, donít you think?"
Shaking his head, Seiichi began to go after his new co-worker to apologize. "You know what Teddy, I think Iíve been working with you for too long. Youíre starting to rub off on me."
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