Jack repeated Match's words with a sinking feeling, dark eyes gone flat and unreadable as he processed it. "They've moved up their timetable, then."
Match shrugged, normally affable expression as cold and businesslike as Jack's. "The yakuza still don't trust us, but they're getting edgy. They've been sitting on the cargo for too long and they need to get rid of it."
Inwardly, Jack's mind was racing, considering not only what this meant to their undercover operation but what it would probably mean to Yohji's group too. It wasn't professional to care, and he couldn't even understand it himself but that 'date' he'd forced on Yohji had meant something. At least, it had to him. The tall, lanky Japanese was more than just attractive to him; his smile had been warm and that last smoky kiss lingered in Jack's thoughts.
If they acted impetuously, then Yohji's group wouldn't be set up to do their part of the operation. But there was such a very narrow window of opportunity. If Jack made the decision to ignore Match's data, the latest word that things would be happening tomorrow night, then he would be responsible for their failure. That was something he couldn't afford or accept.
"Jack," Alien spoke up, tone warning, as if catching a hint of the mental processes behind Jack's silence.
"Don't worry," Jack said, turning his stare on the kinky-haired cop. "I'm not going to screw this up." He glanced at Match. It wasn't so long ago that Match had nearly screwed up another undercover operation because of a girl, because of personal involvement. They'd come to blows then. As leader, he wasn't going to let it happen again, least of all because of a mistake he might make. Not for his own personal involvement.
"The clock's tickin'," Alien said with a jerk of his head.
Jack nodded to both of them. "Let's go."
He would call the Koneko, and let Yohji's teammates know. It was the best he could do.
The lock didn't turn over.
He stood for a moment with his lockpicks in his hands, wondering why there was no resistance. For a moment, Aya was at a loss for what to do next. Then he grasped the knob and turned it. If Yohji was gone for good, then it wouldn't have mattered to him anymore.
The door opened with the slight grating noise of wood rasping against the frame. Aya stood and stared into the empty apartment. It was true.
Yohji was gone.
The apartment was much as he had left it the other night. He didn't see any blood, only the signs of what must have been a hurried packing. Then again, there hadn't been that much blood to begin with. Stepping further in, forcing down the sense of unease that was rising in him along with his gorge, Aya noticed that the bed was still unmade. His eyes slid away, and he looked at the wall.
Omi and Yohji's apartments shared that wall, and if he put his ear to the right spot, he should be able to figure out was going on over in Omi's place. It was slightly less undignified than trying to climb onto Omi's windowsill or peering through the keyhole. Neither of those options would have worked, or Aya might have tried them, so badly did he need the information. He didn't underestimate his teammates, though. It was risky enough being here in Yohji's place. By their actions, they knew something of what had happened and he couldn't afford to be caught and crucified.
He deserved it, though.
He moved through the apartment, letting the door shut behind him, and caught sight of a filmy white stain on the floorboards. His eyes had drifted for it, already knowing where to look.
Aya faced the wall, turning his back to that spot.
At what point had Yohji's pain become more important to him than Aya-chan's happiness?
Aya-chan had been the first thing to him, the only thing, for such a long time. Now that she was alive, he...was free. It was an unworthy thought. He had taken her name and a sword for her vengeance, but she was safe and alive now.
He was free to care for someone else.
Aya moved to the wall, pressing his ear there, then shifted to seek another, thinner place in the partitioning.
He paused. He *cared* for Yohji. It wasn't a matter of preference. It didn't have anything to do with that. It was Yohji himself he wanted, the one thought he couldn't give up though he didn't deserve to love anyone, and the revelation staggered him.
There. Omi's voice reached him, and he could hear the faint sound of a clicking keyboard.
"...three times..." That was Ken, sounding frustrated. "... no point in...--essage; hell, he may not even... ...on him. We don't know..."
They hadn't found him. Aya slumped for a moment, black gloves pressed against the white plaster of the wall. What was he supposed to do? Schuldich had organized this too well. He should search the apartment, but he knew his teammates must have already done so. That wasn't to say they might not have missed something, some clue as to where Yohji might have gone. If he was never coming back, then Aya didn't know what he would do. Maybe Schuldich was never coming back either.
He swallowed harshly. He had driven Yohji away and it was the kind of situation where the man couldn't return, because fighting his assaulter meant fighting a teammate. They were no longer bound by Kritiker's threat of death if one of them ran. And Schuldich was going to take him instead... Aya's vision blurred with anger and the effort to hold it in and for a moment he wanted to slam his fist into the wall. He *hated* the man. Schuldich had taken away everything, and now he was going after Yohji the way Aya should have been able to.
No, more than that -- he wanted go after Yohji with honesty, not deception.
Even through the wall, he heard the knock on the door. Aya's shoulders went taut.
"Who could it be?"
A pause. Aya thought of turning from the wall and searching through the apartment until he found something, or nothing at all. Either way, he wouldn't be satisfied until he'd looked for himself.
Aya froze where he stood, breath caught, feeling like a criminal. If Birman found out, or if she already knew, he would never have a chance. He would be hunted down for questioning at the very least. Yohji had disappeared, and he was the one who'd seen him last. At worst...
He had to get out of here. If they came over to Yohji's for any reason, he couldn't afford to get caught -- not until he'd gotten his revenge. After that he didn't care what was exacted from him.
Killing without a mission, an unsanctioned kill, could cost him his life as well. They were assassins but they operated under certain restrictions deep in whatever pocket of the government Kritiker was tucked in. Maybe, just maybe, they'd be willing to make an exception for a dangerous case like Schuldich. But that was something Aya couldn't count on, and he didn't much care. He let himself out of the apartment, leaving the door unlocked as it had been.
Later he would return to search the place.
Ken bent over Omi's shoulder, looking at the screen over his shoulder, holding the ringing cell-phone in his hand. Omi could see Ken's face reflected in the monitor. He wanted to lean into that supporting warmth. It was solid, when the bottom had fallen out of everything else in his world that morning. He could only imagine how Aya-chan felt.
"He's not picking up," Ken said at last, taking his hand away and straightening. "It's just going to his voice mail again."
Omi twisted his face into a grimace. "That's no good." Unless Yohji picked up, they wouldn't be able to get a trace on his location. He stared at the monitor, then shook his head and pushed away from the desk. He was running dry of ideas.
"I know, dammit." Ken hung up his cell phone and shoved it in his pocket, leaning over Omi again. "We may have to face the fact that there's not much we can do."
Omi put his face in his hands. "Was there any point in closing the shop?"
Ken's hands closed over Omi's shoulders. "Do you think we could run it, with things the way they are?"
"No," Omi admitted. He couldn't concentrate on anything besides this frantic, illegal effort to trace Yohji. "Do you want to try again? You know, if we keep it ringing constantly, he'll pick it up out of irritation, if nothing else?"
Ken gripped the phone in his pocket, eyes faraway as he considered it. "No, we've tried three times already. There's no point in leaving a message; hell, he may not even have his cell phone on him. We don't know for sure."
"All right," Omi said, standing up. He leaned against his computer desk and looked at Ken. "So what--" He was interrupted by a knock on the door. He jumped, and Ken's eyes darted to the door.
"I'll get it," Omi said quietly. The day was running out of surprises, but it looked like there was one more left. They'd already run through the list of it, hadn't they? Jack and Aya-chan had both stopped by. Yohji was gone, and so was Ran. He had no idea who was at the door. "Just a minute, Ken-kun."
Ken looked puzzled. "Who could it be?"
"Someone from school, maybe," Omi said with a shrug. He had missed his exam that day, after all. It was a shocking thing. He moved over to the forefront of his small apartment with a feeling of resignation. Whoever it was, there would just be another person to deal with and offer explanations or lies. He was tired of dealing with it. As irresponsible as Yohji had been in leaving, Omi envied him. He had walked away from everything.
"Birman!!" Omi backed away from the door as the chestnut-coiffed woman advanced, not even giving him the option of inviting her in.
"Omi," she responded coolly, toeing her shoes off. She looked across the room, then stepped into the apartment on nylon-stockinged feet. "Ken. We retrieved the van, but I still haven't gotten a report from Weiss."
"Ahh..." Omi hesitated, turning to Ken. They had an obligation to Birman to fulfill, but when it came to Yohji and Aya, he didn't know how much to say. And it had been days; no wonder her face was so rigidly neutral.
"You didn't tell us the Chinese government was involved," Ken said bluntly, crossing his arms.
Omi all but slumped in relief. That was a good enough explanation, wasn't it? It would buy them more time. And somehow, without Aya or Yohji, they would manage to finish the mission. After that, they could deal with whatever had happened the other night.
"What do you mean, the Chinese government is involved?" Birman repeated, showing some emotion now, face reflecting shock.
Omi and Ken shared a glance. "You didn't know?" Ken asked.
That was another relief, in a way. Whatever part of the Japanese government had given Jack and his team license to operate, they hadn't passed along the knowledge to Manx's sphere of influence. So that meant Birman hadn't sent them in knowing at the same time that there was a Chinese team to compete with.
"Yes, the Chinese government," Ken told her. "They sent an undercover team, and one of the members interfered with our mission. But afterwards, he dropped by the Koneko and told us to wait, because the Chinese and the local yakuza-types haven't even set up an exchange for the goods."
Birman tilted her head to the side. "You're serious."
"Yes," Omi confirmed, "we have the initial conversation on record, from Yohji-kun's wire tap."
Birman bent her head, pinching the bridge of her nose. "All right, I guess we have no choice," she conceded. "The mission is on hold for now -- did they say how long? And I'll want to see those records."
"Of course," Omi replied. "He didn't say how long, but he said he would let us know when their mission ended so ours could begin."
"How did he know about Weiss?" Birman demanded, looking suddenly alarmed. "Was he--"
"He didn't know us, as such," Ken interrupted. "They recognized us as...being on a mission. And their man said to wait, because he'd figured what we were after. Their job is to uncover all of those responsible for the chemical weapons, both development and distribution."
"Ah," Birman said, relaxing a bit. "That's not so bad. We'll find out what we can, okay? Until then, you've got the flower shop to run." She frowned.
"Ahh, we had to close early today because...because..." Omi waved his hands about, trying to formulate something plausible.
"Omi's got exams tomorrow, and Ran and Yohji were busy this evening," Ken said casually, dropping a hand to Omi's shoulder. "I was gonna work a double shift, but Omi wouldn't let me."
Omi summoned up a tight smile. "Yes!" he agreed, "I dragged him up here to make dinner for me."
Birman's dark brows arched, speaking volumes. "I see," was all she said.
Omi felt himself turning scarlet. There hadn't been anything particularly suggestive in Birman's tone, so it was definitely his guilty conscience pricking him. "Ah, well, I have a lot to study, and..."
"It's all right, Omi." Birman dismissed his spate of explanation with a wave of her hand. She was smiling now, and he liked seeing her warm expression. "I have to get going. I'll stop by tomorrow for the records, so don't trouble yourself. Study hard."
Omi lowered his head. "A-all right." Now he felt guilty. He might not go to his exam tomorrow, either, if they found out something about Yohji.
Ken seemed to snap to attention. Or tried to, anyway. "Yes, Birman?"
Birman gave them a gentle smile. "Take care of Omi, okay?"
"Uh..." Ken faltered. Omi glanced at him sidelong, blush starting up anew. Ken nodded. "Always."
She nodded and moved towards the door. "Don't worry, I can see myself out."
"A-aa," Omi said with a blink. He realized Ken's hand was still on his shoulder, and turned positively crimson. The door snicked shut behind Birman. "K-Ken-kun..."
"It's okay, Omi," Ken said, sotto voce. "I think she understands."
That was what he was afraid of. He thought Birman saw things a little too clearly, sometimes.
"It's okay!" Ken patted his shoulder once more, then turned to Omi's computer desk. "Shall we try Yohji's number again?"
Omi bit his lip and nodded. Right now, it was the only thing they could do.
There was a hotel not far from the bar, and it looked like Schuldich had already checked in. That was a good thing, because Yohji couldn't have done it if he'd had to put up with the process of checking into a love hotel, fiddling around outside with his impulse cooling as Schuldich put down money at the desk. He would have bolted, even if he was unsure where he went from here.
He wasn't sure what had prompted him to pick up on the man's offer, in the first place. Yohji's temples were pounding. He was distracted, disjointed, just plain off-balance. The one thought he could follow clearly was that Schuldich had been kind to him, that morning after. This morning...had it only been this morning?
It seemed so long ago.
Schuldich took him past the office, down a walkway lined with doors on one side and an iron railing on the other. He led the way and hadn't touched Yohji, not even in the bar. It was something Yohji was grateful for, even as it made him wonder if he'd be capable of this. Could he follow through? And this was *Schuldich.* Synonymous with Schwarz, synonymous with the enemy. He didn't know...
"If you keep thinking about this, Kudou, it isn't going to happen," Schuldich's voice echoed over his shoulder. "Just let it go, and maybe we'll get somewhere."
Yohji tried to speak up, found his throat stuck, and cleared it. "Right," he managed. *Make it sound easy, why don't you.* Schuldich was wearing an emerald-green, tailored cardigan that set off his red hair like a brush fire. He had never noticed the silky weight of it until now, while he stared straight at it. If he buried his fingers in it, would Schuldich turn and bend his head to skim lips along his jaw...he shuddered.
"Now that's more like it," Schuldich told him, voice dropping into a low and husky register. He stopped, and one green eye was fixing on Yohji. "Here it is." He unlocked the door and gestured for Yohji to precede him.
Pushing down his misgivings, Yohji obeyed.
There was something more calculating in this, an assignation with a man. It was because he was thinking about it, turning it over in his head in a way he wouldn't if he were putting the make on a pretty girl that caught his eye. His heart was pounding; he was conscious of each thudding pulse that sent blood through his body.
He had brought more than one date to a love-hotel during his time with Weiss, because Omi would have heard anything through the wall. Here and now, there was a kind of nervous energy running beneath his skin, prickling his scalp, making him reconsider his choice a hundred times. But he was still here.
Schuldich shut the door behind them, and locked it, and the sound made another tremor go through Yohji. The finality of it, of his consent to stay here, was underscored. This was calculated in a way it'd never been with girls.
"Only because you're still thinking about it, Kudou," Schuldich's smooth voice rolled over him.
Yohji turned, seeing a pale face in the dimness; the length of red-orange hair spilling over one shoulder. "I can't," he blurted, panic clawing its way through him. "Let me out, Schuldich." He'd been wrong; he couldn't do this, there was no comfort to be had in a man's touch let alone this enemy's...
Schuldich took a step closer, one hand lifting. "It's not that easy, you know."
Yohji flinched, backing up, the panic tangling his thoughts and reflexes. The bed was behind him. Schuldich was between him and the door, and he knew he'd never get past him unless the redhead let him. Schuldich was close enough to touch.
"Relax." The lifted hand framed his cheek. "That's all I'm doing. I'm putting my hand to your face, Kudou."
He shut his eyes; Schuldich was too close to think about. Touching him. There was only the warmth of a palm against his face. That was all. He let the touch soak into him and a thumb grazed across his cheek, moving across his lower lip. It was light and gentle.
"Told you before," Schuldich's whisper ghosted across his jaw. "I want you, Kudou, and I was willing to come all this way from Tokyo in pursuit of it."
He opened his eyes, and lips closed over his mouth. With a muffled noise, Yohji stared into jade green before Schuldich's eyes slid shut. He was tense all over, almost shaking with it. Schuldich held the kiss, unmoving. It was nothing more than the pressure of his lips.
It was too much. It was frightening.
This was where he said stop, he thought, feeling as if his brain and sense were packed in cotton. This was the point where he said 'no, I'm not interested, I'm sorry...you've got the wrong guy.' It was impossible to say, though. Schuldich's mouth was on his and it was soft, tender even, and a part of him acknowledged that this was what he wanted, to feel this kind of touch and know for sure that he enjoyed it because he was Yohji, because this was how he was and not because he was being forced. And if it didn't quite make sense anywhere but his mind, that was all right because Schuldich's mouth covered the rest.
Schuldich's hand was cradling his head now, gentle as the rest of him, fingers sinking into his hair and brushing over his scalp. His whole body prickled and it was just from being kissed. Lips nudged at his, urging him to part and give in, and this time Yohji let himself relax because it felt *good,* and with a moan that Schuldich sucked out of him he opened his mouth and let his body fit to the other man's.
With a wet sound, Schuldich released him after doing hardly more than brushing his tongue along the inside of Yohji's lower lip. "Better," the man breathed, tracking along his jaw, pressing a trail of kisses on the soft skin there.
"Schuldich," he said. The man wouldn't stop kissing him, though one jade eye ranged up at him. He noticed with some surprise that his hands had come to rest on the emerald cardigan, fingers kneading the cloth as if trying to pull him closer. "That can't be your real name." He wanted to know who he was sleeping with.
"We can't always have what we want," the man responded, tone curt. He straightened. "Schuldich's all you need to know."
It was a sting, and his fingers loosened their grip on expensive fabric. "Fine." *Don't touch me. If you won't even give me that much, how can you give me...*
"Kudou." That exhalation was his name, almost exasperated. Schuldich took one of his hands and kissed the wrist, his glance wry. "So emotional. It's as much for your protection as mine, you know."
Yohji kept his dignity by not trying to wrench away. They had come up against one another often enough for him to know he was in no condition to fight now. "You're that dangerous?" He tried for sarcasm and came across more angry than anything.
"Even my code-name is recognized in certain international circles," the redhead replied, wry. "In a few years, I'll move again and become someone else, again."
That simple statement affected him more than he was ready to admit. The Schwarz presence in their lives had become a reliable kind of adversary; the measured quantity they could count on to make life difficult. Without a Schwarz, what was Weiss? And then, why was Schuldich even here in the first place if...
"Kudou." Definitely irritated now. "You really need to learn when to disengage thought from action. I'll bet you've got no problem with that when it comes to the ladies."
"What!?" The outrage was enough to break through his wool-wrapped thoughts. Seething, he had to struggle for composure while he bit out, "My track record with women has no bearing on why I'm here now. In fact, I'd say it's a one-eighty in the other direction, huh? So if you're going to--"
"Good boy," Schuldich said, without mockery. "I don't want you all pliant and weepy. I thought you were here for sex, Kudou, *good* sex if it's with me, and now we're getting somewhere."
Yohji growled between gritted teeth. "Fine. But we'd better get one thing straight; I'm not a woman. So don't try to treat me like one."
A fine orange brow lifted. "Didn't I just say I didn't want you pliant? If I wanted a woman, why on earth would I pursue you like this?" A hand slid into his hair again but this time Schuldich didn't bend to kiss him. He smiled instead, a slight, knowing smile, and his eyes were so green. They were all the more unnerving in the knowledge that those eyes could see right inside him; see every little fear and doubt. When Schuldich bent his head to kiss him again, he leaned into it.
Schuldich didn't want him helpless. 'Pliant,' he'd said. Yohji had been helpless before and it was why he was here now. Unable to resist Masato, and then tied up by Ran--no, Aya. If another man could make him feel this way without forcing him, then he would know the truth. And what Schuldich wanted...
"Is for you to stop thinking," the telepath breathed against his mouth, then licked Yohji's lips. "That's what Schuldich wants, Kudou. Stop analyzing every little detail and let me damned well seduce you."
Yohji pulled back a step.
"What?" Schuldich cocked his head, looking displeased, hand still cupping the base of Yohji's skull.
"Take your shirt off," Yohji instructed.
Schuldich blurted something in German that sounded inquiring. It could have been 'what' or something far less polite.
"Your shirt," Yohji repeated with a little smile of his own, fingers going to the buttons of his own simple white shirt. He took it off in a businesslike fashion and stood naked to the waist, waiting.
With a shrug, Schuldich began to strip. The set of his mouth was wicked as he pulled the cardigan over his head and dropped it to the side, then opened the front of his button-up shirt. It wasn't precisely a strip tease, but there was definite flair in the way he pushed the shirt off his shoulders and let it slide down one arm to heap over the cardigan.
Yohji hadn't realized he was holding his breath until he let it out.
The bed was just behind him, and he sank back into sitting position. This put him on a level with the seam of Schuldich's khakis, he realized at once. Before he could jump to his feet or get flustered, Schuldich was leaning over, putting hands on his shoulders and kissing him again with slow insistence, drawing tongue into his mouth.
He was so wrapped up in it, Yohji didn't resist as he was eased onto his back. Schuldich followed and as long as he didn't break the kiss, it worked out. He could go along with it, taken up with the energetic muscle invading his mouth.
Those busy lips disengaged. "Kudou," the familiar voice rasped in his ear. Sucking kisses pressed down his neck.
Yohji froze up inside, feeling Schuldich's broad hands move over his chest, gently tweaking his nipples. Wrong. This was wrong. Schuldich was...
His hands were fisted on the other man's shoulders. "If I asked you to stop," he said hoarsely, "would you do it?" If the answer was no, how would he fight? *Face it, Yohji, you're weak right now.*
Schuldich's hair brushed over his chest. Lips moved lower, then paused. "The door's locked from the inside, Kudou."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Yohji lifted himself onto his elbows, glaring at the other man. That was a mistake. The way Schuldich looked now, hands splayed over Yohji's belly, the seductive look in his eyes...and he was almost pretty as a woman.
Yohji's groin throbbed. Schuldich was a man, and he knew it, and he didn't care.
"If you got up now, you could walk out that door," Schuldich told him. "You think I'd stop you? Heh. This is only fun for me if you offer yourself, willing. Taking you by force is too easy."
Yohji closed his eyes. How long could he lie here without making a decision? It had to be his choice, or it wouldn't have any meaning. Not much of a choice, after all.
"I'm here, aren't I?"
For a moment, he remembered the look on Aya's face. At that time, for half a second, maybe, the look on Aya's face before that first kiss. *I can't!* Yohji turned his face away, and felt Schuldich's breath on his cheek.
"...fine." The bed creaked as Schuldich sat up, straddling his thighs. "That's enough. I'll give up."
"No!" With a convulsive movement, Yohji turned. He reached up and grasped a handful of red hair. "Don't. I'll give you a straight answer." Be a little more understanding, he wanted to say resentfully. Wasn't it natural to be nervous, under the circumstances? His cheeks felt warm, aware as he was of their respective positions.
Schuldich leaned in, his lips scant millimeters away. "You'll do it."
In reply, Yohji tilted his head. He closed his eyes again, this time reaching forward. His choice.
The German tipped him back on the bed, touching and lifting him, stripping his pants away with deft movements. For a moment Yohji let him, lying passive, then he couldn't stand it. He reached up, grabbing Schuldich's face, the back of his neck, responding the way he needed to. Schuldich had slid between his thighs and naked skin was a shock against his.
Yohji tightened his legs, lifting them higher as Schuldich's fingers moved over his face, trailing over his lips, thumb rubbing along his jawline. The strain-shock traveled through his thighs. "More," he pleaded. "Deeper..."
It wasn't enough. It almost was, he could feel it, if only Schuldich could reach deeper...not just inside his head, but inside his body too.
*Take away the pain.*
And Schuldich reached between their bodies with a slick hand and tweaked his needy erection, rubbing up and down with almost painful glossed friction, so much pleasure crowding his body he thought he would split; no human skin was designed to hold so much inside.
*Make this feel not just good, but _right_.*
Omi had dropped his exhausted head into the cradle of his arms and appeared to be dozing at his computer desk. With a smile, Ken smoothed over the dull-blond hair, then took a seat on the couch-arm next to the boy. None of them had ever been a touchie-feelie bunch -- they were guys, after all, and that meant little to no deliberate contact -- but it was nice to touch Omi, he'd discovered. Now he was allowed.
"Hey, Omi," he said softly, hating to wake the boy but he had to. "C'mon, kiddo, time to wake up."
"Hmm?" A blue eye peeked over the curve of one forearm. "Whozzat? 'S it time for breakfast?"
"Dinner, maybe," Ken said with a laugh. "You want me to make something?"
The blue eye lidded again. "Hmm."
Ken poked him. "C'mon, we've got to have something to show to Birman tomorrow."
With a doleful sigh, the blue eye opened again. "I don't want to," Omi informed him. "I want to be like Yohji and walk away from everything, and not have to worry about any of it."
"You really think he did it like that? You think it's not tearing him up?" Ken said skeptically. "I think he left because he couldn't bring himself to kill Aya, even though that's what he deserved after what he did." He clenched his hands, feeling angry and helpless in equal measure. If he'd known, if he'd understood at the time, he could have done something right then.
Omi shook his head, pushing himself up straight. "You said 'Aya-kun.'"
Ken shrugged. "Ran, then." He sighed. He wasn't really hungry, but he'd fix something for Omi. Or go out and get something, if he wanted. "You ask me, it's Ran who's walked away from everything. He walked out on his sister, he walked out on taking responsibility for what he'd done, from his place in Weiss...everything."
"Well, when you put it that way..." Omi looked troubled.
Wasn't that what he had done before? At that time, when Weiss had broken up Ran was the one who walked away without second thoughts. It had taken somebody's death for him to finally get serious about coming back.
"Hey." Ken snagged him in the crook of one arm. "Don't look so serious, kid. Let's go get dinner, okay? Then maybe we'll be thinking more clearly, and we can figure out a plan of action."
"Right." Omi stood, looking just as exhausted as he'd been before his nap. "We should've asked Jack when he was here earlier today."
Ken shook his head. "I donít think so. He would've said something, if his group had finished their operation."
They snagged shoes, jackets, and money and Ken took Omi's arm as the teenager bumped against him, still clumsy with sleepiness. As Omi locked the door, Ken glanced at the apartment next door. He wanted to see Yohji again. He had something to apologize for.
A cold breeze cut their faces as they descended the concrete steps. The day was darker now as evening dropped its dark coils around Tokyo. Ken was starting to feel hopeless, but he still had Omi beside him.
There was a narrow alley running between the brick buildings, transformed into a dark passage at this time of night. He glanced up it as they passed, moving for his bike in the cramped backlot parking area.
There was someone walking up the alley. Ken let go of Omi's elbow.
"Hey! Hey, you!"
The voice called out in English, and they both paused in surprise. Then, "Let's go!" Omi said to him urgently, and they hurried for the bike.
"Wait, it's me!" The man burst out of the alley. He was garbed in club-casual gear, leather pants, a tight high red tee, and a red and white leather jacket -- and he was familiar.
Ken had his foot on the kickstand; Omi was hopping onto the bike behind him. He gave the man a flat look. "Oh, it's you." The Chinese cop who'd kissed Yohji. "Don't you ever give up?"
Jack was expressionless, but his nostrils flared. "Out of professional courtesy," he said, tone sarcastic, "I thought I'd let you know the sting is tomorrow night."
"'The sting?'" Ken repeated, bewildered.
"The mission, Ken," Omi prompted, winding his arms around Ken's midsection.
"I couldn't reach you at the shop," Jack said matter-of-factly. "So I thought I'd drop by. Have you heard--"
"We're still looking for him," Ken interrupted. "Sorry."
The man lowered his head. "I...I see." There was no mistaking the concern in his tone, and Ken felt more sympathetic.
"We're worried, too," Omi put in, some of the strain breaking into his voice. "But we have to trust Yohji, right? It's not like him, but something has come up. All we can do is wait for him to let us know when we can help him."
"Omi..." Ken blinked, oddly touched by the boy's faith. He could still feel that way after what had happened?
"Thanks," Jack said, lifting his head. "Well...tomorrow, okay? It's not at the same club. I can't tell you any more than that." He bit his lip, looked at them somewhat uncertainly, then loped off down the alley again.
"Ch'!" Ken spat. "That's all he can do?"
"Enough, Ken!" Omi said firmly, tightening the arms around him. "It's enough for us to go on, even with the two of us. Okay?"
"All right," Ken gave in, revving up his bike, still muttering under the growl of the engine.
"Besides," Omi continued somewhat plaintively. "I'm starved so let's eat, okay?"
In the crowded lot of the parking area two blocks from the Koneko, Fujimiya Aya made the discovery he had only half-expected to make. It was early evening but getting later by the minute, and traffic swirled in the lot as salarymen and bustling career girls came and went, picking up their cars and leaving, exiting the train station in a steady flow, going in to buy their tickets in a ceaseless wave. The number of commuters was staggering.
This car, Aya felt sure, had been here all day. Yohji's Jeep was parked askew, taking up one and a half parking spaces in a flagrant lack of consideration. Of course, the real reason was to ensure that Seven's pristine chassis remained untouched by less-considerate drivers parking beside him.
With a tiny smile of triumph, Aya moved towards the ticket windows.
A tall playboy-type with wavy chestnut hair was hard to forget. A cheerful ponytailed girl -- it was hard to believe she'd already been standing on her feet for seven hours -- revealed to him with stars in her eyes how the handsome man had brushed her hand when he took the ticket from her.
"You're sure that was the nine o'clock train?" Aya pressed, eyes boring into hers.
"Oh, yes, I'm very sure!" she affirmed, ponytailed head bobbing. "I relieved Ayako-san at eight-thirty, and Mr. Handsome was my very first customer!" She blushed and looked down.
Aya was grimly vindicated that his legwork had paid off. He didn't need a mind-reader to follow Yohji; all he had to do was find the trail of swooning girls.
"Give me a ticket," Aya ordered. "The same destination."
"Come on," Schuldich crooned in his ear, twining around him like a dragon entangling him in its coils. "You know you want this."
Realization was a cold frisson. Yohji gasped and tore away from the hands caressing him. "No." This was all wrong. "*You* want this."
"Of course," Schuldich mumbled, planting his lips down the side of Yohji's neck. "And so do you." He reached down to grip Yohji.
"No, I DON'T!" Yohji freed himself with a minor scuffle and twisted away, gaining space. His brain was still pounding with shock. "It was you."
Schuldich tossed him an irritated, still sex-laden glance. "What? You're babbling."
Maybe so. But certainty was leaden in his gut. "You did it. You forced Aya to...to..." The words stopped and he was staring at the German, choking on unfairness. The wrongness of it all. Everything had been reversed. Aya had raped him and this...this facade of tenderness that Schuldich was giving him...it should have been the other way around. This whole exploring afternoon of gentle touches and trust and...and the fantastic sex he promised wasn't genuine feeling, but control. The way rape was about control.
And Schuldich had been controlling Aya.
Schuldich rested his cheek in the hollow of one palm. "Forced him to what? To rape you?" The man lolled in the sheets like a lazy feline. "Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds after what we've started here?"
"No, it's true," Yohji said, pulling away from him, feeling a thick sense of disbelief descend on him like smothering cloth. He jerked, half-falling, half-vaulting out of bed. "Stop it! Sick bastard, get out of my head!" He gathered up his clothes.
Schuldich's eyes slitted. "You think you can leave like this? After what I've shown you? And after how you left?"
Yohji was shaking. "I'm going back."
"You can't." This was said with supreme confidence.
"Watch me. I'm going back to Tokyo," Yohji told him. "Then at least Aya can realize it wasn't his fault."
Schuldich pushed himself up, looking more than just annoyed. "Are you so sure? Have you developed sympathy for your *rapist,* then?"
Yohji flinched. Then he regrouped. "Stop pushing my buttons, damn it! You're so good at it, aren't you? You can't do anything *but* manipulate people, I'll bet. Well, what I can do is leave. I've made things right with my past. And now, I can make things right back home." If they let him, he amended.
It was time to stop running.