"Check," Yohji subvocalized, and the tiny but efficient headgear would carry the sound of his voice back to Omi.
Somewhere in the heart of the club complex, Omi was wired in. It was a secure location, a blind spot where Omi could see everything that went on but no one could see him. From the jacked-in spot, where his lightweight laptop gave him access to every system the club had, Omi could tell them everything they needed to know.
Yohji pushed his half-full glass back and forth between his cupped hands on the slick surface of the bar countertop. He was the clubber, the man inside, dressed to the nines and fit to kill...presently. Omi was their eyes and ears everywhere, and when it came down to it, the one who called the shots on this mission. Ken was outside ready to hijack the chemical weapons before they could finish the transaction.
Everything was poised to go smooth as watered silk. That is, as long as either of the explosive elements, whether yakuza or Chinese gangsters, didn't do something stupid like spit on each others' shoes.
The plan was for Yohji to make his way to the back rooms towards the end of the deal that was going on. They had submitted their plans to Birman just that morning.
"Once the ringleaders are exposed," Omi had lectured, sounding far too young and cheerful for the gory subject matter, "Yohji will be in a position to kill them. Ken should be able to handle the cargo."
Birman had greenlighted the mission, and now was the time.
Yohji lifted his glass to a slinky babe in golden glitter, a tight little green mini-skirt, and something filmy and scarcely concealing over her breasts. She was winking at him from the other side of the bar, and pouted when he began to turn away. He wasn't really interested. The face that occupied his thoughts, when he thought at all outside of the mission, wasn't what he expected to see.
"What time is it?" Yohji hissed, hiding the motion of his lips by lifting his glass and pausing, pretending to toast a blue-haired punk girl in black fishnets. The punk sniffed and turned her back on him. The mouthpiece of his headgear was hidden in his loose hair, but people might still wonder if he was talking to himself. "Come on, Bombay, I'm dying here."
"I'm impressed, Balinese," Omi said in his ear, tone facetious. "Normally I'm the one who would be begging you to keep your mind on the mission, and not on the skirts!"
"Aww, come on." Yohji rotated on his bar stool, taking another look at the crowded dance floor. The local yakuza were more tech-modern than their traditional counterparts. This club, and others like it, were the front for their operations. The clubs were legitimate businesses. On the other side of the blade, that was where the deals went on. Here and now, the floor was a sea of tossing, writhing bodies, each bit of flesh grabbing onto the next. Each face invited another. Any port in a storm, really.
Was I really that bad?
He felt like he was seeing beyond the frenetic energy to the desperation beyond. Before this mission, Yohji had enjoyed clubbing. It took his mind off the edge they all walked, dead men serving a hidden agenda of assassination. Now, all he could see was the emptiness in the painted faces. It disgusted him.
These yakuza they hunted didn't wear business suits. They didn't break fingers and they didn't send out the hit men. They carried laptops the size of lady's purses and they looked like high school delinquents, college drop-outs, sidewalk punks who might whip out a can of spray paint and tag a subway wall. When these yakuza retaliated, they didn't kill someone; they ruined them.
Fortunately for Weiss, Bombay was better than them. The yakuza punks were all glitter and show. Omi had found their network to be patchy, and he'd taken it upon himself to thread his way through the holes. When they left tonight, Omi would pull down the whole network after himself.
"Almost time," Omi whispered to him. "You should see Jack's people entering the club right now."
Yohji rotated in his chair again, picking up his drink and making a face at the melting ice. He swirled the dregs around with the last oval bits of ice and looked around, scanning now for the sight of familiar faces. He saw Jack and kept looking, panning further around the room, too canny to dwell on any of the undercover cops for too long. Then he set down his drink and moved for the dance floor, tossing bills behind him to cover the tab.
He danced with abandon. In the flashing lights and press of bodies around him, he could forget for a little while. He didn't care if he looked empty or desperate. For now there was nothing but the pulse thudding in his veins along with the music, and the flow of one movement to the next.
He didn't want to think about Schuldich. He didn't want to think about Jack. He definitely didn't want to think about Aya.
Yohji danced, and the only thing that mattered was the music for now.
Omi's voice was like a spike in his ear. Yohji shrugged, annoyed, twisting adeptly out of a tall redhead's snare and giving her a passing grin. He began to make his way towards the back, to the restrooms there. Colored lights strobed across his face, a rakish artificial rainbow. He felt like he was covered in sweat already.
"This is going to be really close," Omi's voice told him. "As soon as they have trust, the information will change hands. Siberian, stand by. The cargo should be near and under heavy guard."
In that case, shouldn't I be outside helping Ken? Yohji thought, uneasy. Omi's projections estimated that Ken would be able to take the cargo alone, and he would need to because once he attacked, the yakuza and the Chinese gangsters would probably turn on each other. In that kind of chaos, it was only good tactics to have one of their men pick off the yakuza. Dammit...Aya should be here right now.
Jack and the others had already gone into the back room areas of the club. There was only one guard between Yohji and the impending bloodshed in the back. Looking good.
The only problem was making sure no one saw him.
"Well?" Yohji muttered into his hair.
He heard a sigh, then Omi told him, "They're talking...they've gotten past the threats in English and it looks like they're ready to do business."
Yohji moved casually for the lone guard.
"Don't be so impatient! The timing has to be perfect. Siberian is going for the cargo when the Chinese get their hands on it...they only have two transporters."
Perfect. Well, that was good for Ken and not so good for Yohji. The point was to create enough confusion that each group thought the other group was at fault -- that was why Yohji couldn't be seen. If either side got wind of a third party, they might concentrate on closing ranks against him.
"Just a little longer..." Omi promised.
The songs shifted, from an airy techno with dominating vocals to something heavy, metallic, with a driving bass line. It was as if, Yohji mused, the DJ had been tipped to the possibility of gunfire.
"Siberian has been deployed," Omi informed him. Yohji heard clicking noises on the other end. "Go! Go now!"
Yohji vaulted over the railing that led to the rampway in back. The lone guard didn't appear heavily armed, but Yohji knew otherwise. He was the only thing standing between the public and the yakuza's inner dealings. Before he could get his hands on the heavy-caliber handgun disguised by the cut of his jacket, Yohji's wire was out and snapped taut and it looked like the tall drunk dancer had reeled into the club bouncer. The guard crumpled under his practiced hands.
"So sorry," Yohji apologized, standing above him, making conciliatory gestures. Then he reeled for the door beyond the fallen man. There was a moment where his back felt naked and he was sure he'd get a heavy hand to the shoulder at any instant.
The door opened easily under his hand.
That gave him a start; he thought he would need the lockpicks that were so attractively arranged in his club necklace. If these yakuza thought they could bar an intruder with just the one stooge, then they really were upstarts...or they were that secure in the presumed safety of their network alerting them to anything amiss.
"You've been very helpful."
Jack's mild voice speaking in English gave Yohji pause. There was a short, dark corridor leading onto a large warehouse-type area. Yohji didn't want to get too far without making sure there was some cover he could hide behind. He flattened himself against one wall, edging towards the area where, apparently, the transaction was still taking place.
A furious torrent of Japanese reached his ears next.
"They're double-crossing us!"
"Someone has apprehended the cargo!"
"Well, we aren't giving them the money back!"
At the same time, closer to Yohji, a spate of Chinese started up. Yohji couldn't understand a word of it but he understood one thing -- unless one side or the other started shooting, they might realize both sides had been double-crossed. So to speak.
He peered around the corner, and took in a couple of things -- one, there was plenty of cover from stacked pallets scattered all over the ware-house type area. The pallets were man-height and covered in plastic and there had to be about twenty of them, creating an effective place for a shoot-out to ensue. Two, Jack was there, and Yohji hoped the other man could get himself out of this one. And third, a small dark spot was spreading crimson across the front of one of the yakuza's untucked dress shirt.
"Shit! They got Nitta!"
One of the Chinese gangsters started, then began to slump. The man next to him caught him and began to yell.
"Get those fucking bastards!"
"Siberian has it! Siberian has the cargo!"
Yohji grinned and surged forward, wire taut between his hands, then darted off to the side. He would skirt around and pick off the yakuza as planned.
The gunfire began.
For a moment he barely recognized the sound that came from him. Something hurt. His face hurt. His skull ached, liquid pain poured onto the framework of his skin, his bones. When the pain started to make sense -- someone had a grip on his hair, they were pulling his head up -- then Aya opened his eyes.
Aya. Aya. There was nothing left of Fujimiya Ran.
"Schuldich," Aya said dully. So he was awake again, but this time the homicidal Schwarz was back.
"Did you think it was over? Did you think I'd let you go?" Schuldich's green eyes glared at him, furious, from a narrow margin.
Aya wanted to let his eyes slide shut again, overwhelmed with the haze of pain and the things he did not want to deal with but he couldn't. The gun had his attention.
Schuldich hissed at him, pressing the gun against his bruised cheek, "You, little man...you've ruined everything for me. I'll kill you before you get your chance at him." The gun slid over his cheek and pressed against the corner of Aya's mouth.
Recognizing futility, Aya closed his eyes. He knew this place. He was well acquainted with it. This was the stillness in the moment before death, and this time there would be no reprieve. Schuldich had no mercy, no compassion in those poisonous green eyes.
After so long, after his parents, after Crashers, after Weiss, after all he was really worthless.
A different pair of green eyes surfaced against the swell of dread that threatened to roll him under. Aya remembered the look in Yohji's eyes, the shock, the surprise, saw his hand beating against the plastic pane again. It was like a physical blow to his system.
I still have things to do, I am NOT going to die here!
He went from limp to body in motion in an eyeblink, ignoring the pain as it felt like his hair was being torn from the roots. He only acted, throwing himself against Schuldich, twisting his body to avoid the gunshot that he knew was coming. His arms were tied behind his back. He'd lost all the feeling in his hands, and had only a vague awareness of his arms as being flesh that he had control over.
I've had worse.
The important thing was to get out of here. He still had people to protect. He still had to tell someone the truth...
He saw Schuldich's enraged green eyes.
The gun went off.
The body tumbled to the floor at his feet.
Yohji averted his eyes dispassionately, already dismissing the corpse of the yakuza. He cleaned off his wire for the third time -- only the third, the Chinese gangsters were doing most of his work for him -- and threaded his way deeper into what was turning out to be a regular labyrinth at the back of the warehouse.
It turned out that the warehouse attached to the club was, itself, a source for fencing black market guns. The Chinese had apparently already known this, as they dove for the pallets and seized enough firepower to overcome Tokyo and the suburbs besides. The yakuza had put up a fight but most of the people in this meeting today were hackers, not gunners.
The Chinese gangsters were toughs.
"Left," Omi instructed him. "One of them escaped, the better-dressed one that I fingered for the leader. I guess I was right!"
"Yeah, yeah, make Siberian pay up later," Yohji muttered. Something crunched behind him.
Yohji whirled, wire snapped in a glimmering tense line between his hands.
Jack's brown eyes widened and he held up his hands in a non-defensive pose. "Sorry, sorry..."
"What the hell are you doing here?" Yohji snapped, taking in the Beretta tucked into the other man's waistband.
"The rest of them are sweeping the warehouse," Jack said, glancing to the side. "I'm supposed to take the back. You know, that doesn't look very threatening."
Yohji lowered the wire and raised an eyebrow at him. "It's effective enough," was all he said, turning.
"Hurry up," Bombay needled him. "This is no time for show and tell!"
"Shall we take them out together, then?" Yohji said wryly, ignoring Omi for the moment.
"I don't see why not." And there he could sense, rather than see, the grin on Jack's face. "Very smooth work, by the way. Getting them to turn on each other like that."
There was no point in denying it, and he might as well take credit for the smooth kills. "Thanks."
"Turn left," Omi directed. "There."
It was another nondescript door, and they had already passed more than half a dozen doors. "It's here," Yohji indicated tersely, easing to one side of the door.
Jack glanced at him. "You sure?"
"So intelligence has it," Yohji replied, tapping a temple. Jack just nodded, taking out his gun and clicking the safety off. He used a two-handed grip, took a deep breath, then kicked the door in.
The gunfire started again, a submachine gun and a Magnum by the sound of it. Jack and Yohji dropped, hitting the floor to either side of the gaping doorway.
"This is not good," Jack groaned. Nevertheless he waited until a pause in the gunfire, took aim, and pulled the trigger.
A scream rewarded him, followed by renewed fire from the Magnum. Yohji hefted himself up, stretching out his wire. The worst part was the waiting. Eventually the bodyguard realized there was nothing to shoot at, because the two of them were staying out of sight and the office walls were twice as thick compared to normal walls. That was the kind of place this was. He stopped shooting, and Yohji sprang into action.
In seconds he was through the doorway and had his monofilament wire wrapped around the man's neck. Another coil snagged the man's wrist, jerking the Magnum. The gun went off, and the man next to him shrieked and clutched at his leg, collapsing. With two powerful tugs of his gloved hands, Yohji sent the man's head and hand flying.
"That is really gross," Jack told him, stepping up next to him.
Yohji shrugged. He spooled the wire, grimacing at the blood that flecked the floor near his feet and the fallen body. "It works, and it's quieter than a gun."
They faced down the cowering fallen yakuza, the only living remnant of the group that had tried to sell Chem8-D. With tonight's bloodspree and the data Omi would be pulling off their computers, they would take out not only the group that had tried to sell it, but pass along the data to another group that could take out the developers.
"Your turn," Yohji told the man, who was cringing and trying to drag himself around the heavy desk in the office as a shield. The Magnum had nearly blown his leg off, close range as it had been, and it was a shattered ruin of blood and meat. It was still spreading a crimson stain.
"Wh-who are you?" the man babbled, eyes rolling wide and white in his head.
"Weiss," Yohji told him coldly.
Before he could snap out a length of wire to noose around the man's neck, the Beretta roared again. The yakuza's head snapped back as the bullet blew off the top of his head.
Yohji turned to Jack, mostly so he wouldn't have to look at the dead body. He didn't normally have to deal with guns, or what they did to people.
"Sorry if I co-opted your kill," Jack said with a shrug, clicking the safety back on and tucking the Beretta into his pants.
Yohji frowned. "No, it's all right," he said, feeling distinctly odd.
"Siberian made a clean escape! Now we get the hell out of here, Balinese!"
Right. The mission.
"I have to go," Yohji told Jack, with a rueful motion.
The other man nodded, hesitated, then said unexpectedly, "Remember your promise." And, grinning, he backed out of the office. His running footsteps echoed down the hall.
"I'm pulling down the network. I'm out of here! Leave now, Balinese!"
"Leaving," Yohji confirmed, remembering the back route out of the nest of offices that bracketed the back of the warehouse.
Going, going, gone...to the tune of a successful mission. Without Aya.
"I'm going to give up on Aya."
Aya-chan blinked at the bowed head of the petite girl before her. "Y-you mean my brother Ran?"
"Oh!" Sakura jerked upright, colorless cheeks acquiring a patch of vivid red on either side. "I'm sorry! It's been so long since I slipped..."
"It's all right," Aya-chan replied, trying to reassure the girl, trying to soothe her own feelings of unease. She knew her brother had taken her name for the years she had been in a coma. For the most part, everyone had used his given name around her. There were still reminders, and now they were made more unsettling by the knowledge of what her brother had done during her time in the hospital.
She forced a smile onto her face and tilted Sakura's chin up. The girl's eyes were wide and bleak.
"It's all right," Aya-chan assured her. "I think...we all saw it coming, but it's been hardest on you, after all."
Sakura nodded miserably. "I've been a fool," she whispered.
"Don't say that! Don't ever say that. It's not silly to care for someone." Impulsively, Aya embraced the girl. Her body was stick-thin and rigid in Aya's arms, before she melted into sobs.
"I think I drove Ran away," Sakura said, shaking.
Aya-chan froze. "What was that?"
Sakura went stiff, too, her white face going even paler. "I...I said I think I scared Ran away. He left. He's left Tokyo. I followed him to the subway."
Aya's eyes flared wide, and she gripped Sakura's arms hard. "Tell me everything," she ordered.
Sprawled out on dirty concrete, Aya's hair was like a fresh spill of blood against the gray.
Schuldich's lip curled. The gape of the gun barrel seemed to go on forever.
Aya stared at the muzzle of the gun, expressionless, then his eyes shifted to focus on Schuldich, furious face atop the expensive emerald cardigan. Behind Aya's head a crater of concrete had been born of the bullet that Schuldich had fired. A bead of blood slid down Aya's unbruised pale cheek where a single flying chip had stricken him. Tension gathered and twanged along his nerves, pooling in the deadly silence.
Muted, a phone rang.
Schuldich's murderous look melted into incredulity. "You have got to be kidding me." The phone kept ringing, though, and the German pointed his gun at the ceiling, growling at Aya, fishing a tiny cell phone from his tight back pocket.
It left Aya to wonder, and flop around like a convulsing fish. His arms were prickling in the dull way that let him know if he got much more back, he would be in a world of pain as the blood returned.
Who would be calling Schuldich? Better yet, why would the German answer when he was so obviously poised to kill him?
"What!?" Schuldich barked into the phone after flipping it open and thumbing it on. He listened, still fixing Aya with a rage-driven look, until his expression melted into stark expressionlessness. It might have been his imagination, but the German actually got paler.
"You've got to be joking," Schuldich ground out, waving the gun around though it was still pointed in the air. "I've got him right here, I'm going to KILL--" He bit off the exclamation and his nostrils flared.
Aya thought he could actually hear faint, but forceful expostulation from the cell phone.
"I understand," Schuldich said, looking anywhere but Aya. He added something that sounded gutteral and vicious, presumably in German. Then he clicked the phone off with a savage jab and whirled on him.
"Guess what, Weiss?" the German said with a brittle veneer of cheerfulness. "This is your lucky day."
The words were barely sinking in as Schuldich flicked the safety on his gun, tucking it into his pants and pulling out a knife instead. He lunged.
Aya fell to the floor again when Schuldich released him, stunned. The German had cut his bonds neatly and dumped him back on the concrete floor. The German spat a curse and turned his back on Aya, stalking off.
"You'll never make him happy, you know."
The words floated back to him. Aya couldn't see Schuldich anymore. He began to shake as the life rushed back into his blood-starved limbs. All he could feel was the pain.
The pain meant he was alive, though, and now he was free to make his amends.
"Weiss, my sincerest congratulations."
The newspaper hit the table with a smack. The headline stared up at them all: POLICE CRACK DOWN ON BIO-WEAPONS CONSPIRACY.
"Thanks to your work, we were able to find the suppliers behind the yakuza's fencing operations," Birman told them, leaning against the shadowed wall and crossing her arms. Today she was in an immaculate white suit, her hair pulled up in an inverted herring-bone french braid. Her pale pink lipstick matched her frosted nails.
She looked alluring, and very feminine. Yohji found himself admiring her for the sake of aesthetics, but not sexually.
This was different. This was disconcerting. He'd thought, at least, that some of his aggressive pursuit of the fair skirt was due in part to desire.
He was chartering into territory he didn't want to touch yet.
"Good," Ken declared from the sofa. He was seated beside Omi, dark eyes boring into Birman. "The pictures of what those chemicals did to people..." He trailed off and shuddered, and Omi leaned towards him and patted his shoulder.
"We got them," Omi said reassuringly. "Not just the yakuza who wanted to sell the weapon, but the people who developed it for sale in the first place."
Birman nodded in a businesslike manner. "The usual payment has been deposited to your respective accounts, plus a hazard pay bonus for the absence of Abyssinian when he'd committed to the mission."
Ken and Omi made shocked noises, while Yohji considered that statement in a detached fashion. As always, Kritiker seemed to know exactly what was going on. Not that he wasn't grateful for the money, but he'd rather know where the man himself was right now.
"Birman," he said slowly, "if you know that much, then Aya..."
Ken made another startled noise.
Birman pointed a pink lacquered nail at him. "Our last fix on his location indicated he should be returning safely some time tomorrow."
"Safely?" Omi repeated, picking up on the essential bit of that statement.
Birman inclined her head, then languidly began to walk towards the door. "That's all for now. We'll let you know when we have another mission."
Omi and Ken blinked at each other, then looked at Yohji with mirroring quizzical expressions. Yohji leapt up from the couch.
"Birman!" he yelled. "What the hell happened?"
Birman swiveled, expression disapproving. Still, she unbent enough to say, "He had a run-in with Schwarz."
Then she was gone.
"Schwarz..." Ken muttered. "What the hell!? They're alive? This isn't good..."
Yohji sank back down onto the couch, feeling numb.
"It's late," Omi said, dragging himself to his feet with a sigh. "Why don't we all get some sleep?"
Yohji considered it. For some reason, getting drunk sounded more appealing. Under no circumstances did he want to go back up to that room alone. And it would sound unmanly if he asked Omi if he could bunk at his place.
"I think I'll crash here," he decided, and promptly rolled over onto the couch.
Ken and Omi stared at each other in bafflement.
The next day had dawned bright and early, so very early after a long productive night of assassination and chemical weapons seizure. Hidaka Ken trained the hose on a series of outdoor flowerpots, water set to a gentle spray, and tried to keep the goofy smile off of his face. It was a treat to wake up to Omi, late night mission the night before notwithstanding.
It had been an easy morning, and the day was working its way into an easy afternoon. Since it was exam season, the usual crush of girls was absent from their typical beseigement of the Koneko II. Yohji had showed up around eleven and he was responsible for the closing shift. That was even better, because it meant Ken got to spend the evening with Omi again, even though the boy would likely be cramming for exams. Every little bit of Omi he could get was fine with him.
Ken started, jolted out of his light daydreaming by the sight of a mail delivery bike across the street. He turned off the hose.
"Hey, Yohji!" he called, half-turning to peer into the shop.
The lanky chesnut-haired man was sprawled out over the counter beside the cash register, leisurely dissecting the morning paper. He glanced up, an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.
"You'd better not light that in here," Ken warned him. "Do we have any deliveries today?" The thought had given him a moment's start. He'd forgotten to check.
"No, I already looked," Yohji replied with an indolent wave of his hand. "It's going to be a boring day, Ken-ken. Give in to it."
"Don't call me that," Ken said hotly, then glanced over the plants arranged on the front display. That should be good enough.
As Ken was coiling up the watering hose, the phone rang. He glanced up at Yohji. Yohji was still perusing the paper, and didn't bother to look up even as the phone rang again.
"Fine, I'll get it," Ken muttered, and sprinted for the phone on the far side of the shop. Yohji didn't even twitch an eyebrow. He answered the phone in a tone of forced cheer. "Koneko no Sumi Ie 2, how can I help you?"
It was Omi, and his voice over the line crackled with barely-suppressed cheer.
"Good news?" Ken said eagerly, anticipating. This morning had been Omi's plea to re-take the exam. Yohji had gone in to corroborate their fabrications, but the tall brunet had come back noncommittal, saying that the principal had wanted to talk to Omi alone after hearing them both out.
"I get to re-take it!" Omi exclaimed joyfully.
"That's wonderful!" Ken burst out, swinging around to look at Yohji. The other man gave him a grin and a thumbs-up. "So, when do you get to re-take it?"
"After regular exams are over," Omi told him. "Which is good, because I don't think I could have pulled it off if they said I had to take it tomorrow along with my other exams!"
"Good," Ken said, then continued gently, "You're almost done, aren't you?"
"Yes, thank goodness. It looks like this is almost over. I'm so relieved."
"Well, we're glad to hear it," Ken said, grinning foolishly again he was sure.
"I'd better get going," Omi said after a pause. "I'll see you after school?"
"Yeah, I'll be here."
After the tone sounded in Ken's ear, he carefully replaced the phone in the cradle. Yohji was looking at him curiously when he turned around. "What?" Ken said defensively, crossing his arms.
Yohji shrugged and grinned. "I didn't say anything."
You didn't have to, Ken thought sourly, but didn't say it. Even to his own ears he sounded infatuated. He would have to be careful. Omi was still young. But he couldn't think of anyone else in his life that he wanted more than this, or had ever felt this strongly about. This was right. It had to be.
"Be careful," Yohji said.
"You don't have to say anything to me that I haven't already thought of myself, okay?" Ken exclaimed, rounding on him.
"Whoa." Yohji held his hands up, palms facing outward. "I wasn't going to say anything else, all right? I just don't want to see either of you hurt."
Ken glared at him narrowly from the corner of his eye. After the Yuriko debacle, he wasn't inclined to take advice from Yohji on matters of the heart. Even if he *had* been right, the way he had said it had been all wrong. "I won't lecture you on your love life if you stay out of mine," Ken told him, casting about for something else to do.
"H-hey!" Yohji sputtered. "What was that for?"
"Never mind." Ken picked up a pair of cutting shears to check the indoor plants for their pruning needs.
He could feel the prickle of Yohji's eyes along his back for awhile, then from the rustling sounds the other man returned to his paper.
The front door jangled open, and Ken finished pruning, "Welcome--" dying on his lips. He switched tacks. "What are you doing here?" Yohji appeared fixed in place over by the register, mouth half-open.
Jack, the Chinese gangster -- well, no, the undercover cop -- had sauntered into the shop, leather jacket slung over his shoulder. His dark eyes were fixed on Yohji.
"Have you got a minute?"
The question was clearly addressed to Yohji and not to Ken, but Ken answered. "Yeah...Yohji, go take your smoking break."
Yohji unfolded his rangy limbs and stood, plucking the cigarette from his lips. The glance he gave Ken was annoyed, but at least he was annoyed enough to move now. "Jack...good to see you."
Jack looked at Ken. "Thanks for all your help," he said in English, inclining his head.
"Yeah, no problem," Ken replied. He was peripherally aware that this was part of the 'love life' to which he'd referred, but he really didn't want to know the details. Diligently Ken returned to pruning while Yohji left the shop with the Chinese man.
Prurience was for those with too much time on their hands, he thought piously. After he was done pruning he'd go over Omi's checklist for daily and weekly activities.
For the second time today, the door swung open with force and a shrill report from the bell as it banged along the glass.
"Oh...sorry," Fujimiya Aya-chan said, but her expression was pitiless. "So you're the one I get to grill today."
Scary...a woman with that kind of expression was scary!
"What do you want?" Ken blurted, barely before realizing how rude it sounded.
Aya-chan didn't seem to notice. She came straight up to him, then extended a hand, index finger nearly touching Ken's nose as she thrust it in his face. "Where's my brother?"
"H-huh?" Ken said, bewildered.
Her violet eyes seemed to grow enormous, crackling with some kind of unearthly energy. At least, so it seemed to Ken as he was sucked into a kind of bottomless pit. "Where...is...my...brother?" Aya-chan repeated, separating each word and adding more emphasis behind each one, punctuating them with a jab of her fingernail against Ken's nose.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Ken told her, routed completely. If he had known, he would've spilled the information completely.
Aya-chan...no, it was impossible. Girls didn't growl like that.
"Sakura told me she saw him getting on the subway," Aya-chan said, visibly seething. "So he was just here. Now, you tell me, where is he right this instant?"
"I'm sorry," Ken began, suddenly afraid for his manhood, then he was caught up in a fragment of recollection. Hadn't Birman said something about that last night? "I don't know anything other than that he'll be back soon...probably today."
"Today?" Aya-chan repeated doubtfully. "How is that possible, when you were just saying..."
"I wish I knew," Ken replied honestly, rubbing at the back of his neck with his free hand. "I...I'm sorry for what I said the other day."
Aya-chan shrugged, deflating, suddenly looking small and young and helpless. "It's all right. I'm glad someone finally told me the truth."
The door opened loudly yet a third time, and they both swung around.
In the alleyway around from the Koneko no Sumu Ie 2, the smoking break he'd been given was low on the priority list of one Kudou Yohji. Questions or promises or plans, all had taken a back seat to the unexpected spike of desire that shot through him on seeing Jack again. With the complications out of the way, Yohji was free to do what he wished.
All he wanted, for the moment at least, involved a great deal of lip- and tongue-action as he grabbed the edge of Jack's low-riding jeans and pulled him even closer.
Jack kissed him again, hungrily, messily, hands running through Yohji's hair and combing out the hair-tie that had kept his hair pulled half-back. Their tongues were wet and slickly entreating against one another, Jack's tongue coaxed and he followed, Yohji's retreated and Jack's gave chase. They were wrapped around each other in heat and mouth and tongue and it was almost enough...until Yohji had to break away, panting, overwhelmed by the intensity.
"Sorry," Jack apologized, breathing heavily too. "I just...I had to..."
"It's okay, I feel the same way," Yohji told him, looking back into Jack's eyes and feeling like he should look away. It was too much, it was too intense and intimate, just the look in his eyes. Even kissing him didn't feel this naked.
"Then...do you want to...tonight?" Jack asked, eyes burning up into Yohji's before he glanced away, looking out the alley-way. Fortunately there was no one gawping at their blatantly public display.
"I'm sorry," Yohji said with heavy regret. "I'm on the closing shift, and I've already missed too much work this week to impose on Ken now." And after that, he added silently, I've missed too much sleep and I need to catch up.
"I understand." Jack took a breath. "Tomorrow, then."
He nodded. "You can meet me at my apartment."
Jack's grin flashed briefly white. "I remember where it is."
Yohji's look turned wry. "Yeah, I know...I got your note."
They stood for a moment. Jack made a small motion as if he wanted to lean forward and kiss Yohji again.
"With the mission over," Yohji said abruptly, "are you out of here? I mean, are you going back to China soon?" This was already awkward enough without being pressured by time constraints. He didn't know what he wanted out of this but...well, he'd had enough one-night stands with women. He wanted to explore his feelings about this different side of himself with just one person.
"No," Jack replied, relieving that anxiety at once. "There's still loose ends to tie up here. The Japanese government has already arrested participating gangsters -- I'm sure you knew that -- but our end of things is still held up here. Red tape, you know."
"Yeah, I remember red tape," Yohji said with a smile. He'd stumbled over enough of that in his detective days.
"So I'll be around for awhile longer...we don't know how long yet," Jack finished, tilting his head.
"That's good news." And, instead of fumbling for another inane thing to say, Yohji matched the expectancy of that move, angling in to kiss Jack again. Anything else that he wanted or feared was submerged in the immediacy of Jack's lips capturing his.
Tomorrow night. He could do that.
"Kudou Yohji has returned," Yohji proclaimed grandly, shouldering open the shop's front door. He felt more like himself than he had in a long time. It was more than making out with a pretty face. There was a new awareness in him. He didn't know if he could carry through...yet...but the one thing he knew was his willingness to try.
He stopped in a parody of dead calm, taking in the tableau before him.
Ken and Aya-chan were near the back of the shop, wearing equally poleaxed expressions. What really captured his attention was the long black trench coat thrown over the counter, that familiar piece of leather, custom tooling, small shiny silver buckles gathering the sleeves. A good kind of coat to hide weapons with, and blood.
"Aya," Yohji uttered, before his eyes traveled to the tall figure leaning in wearied pose against the countertop.
Ken made some sort of small movement at the corner of his vision. Yohji ignored it.
The redhead straightened, turning, the pale triangle of his face rotating in Yohji's direction. A dark cluster of bruises overlaid one cheekbone, vivid purple and ugly green. He looked haggard and even more bloodless than usual. "I'm back," the man said after a strained pause, recognizing that Yohji would not speak first.
Yohji's fist clenched.
"I see," Yohji said evenly. Then, to the backdrop of Ken's wordless exclamation and Aya-chan's startled cry, he rushed across the floor of the Koneko at a breakneck pace.
Putting all his force behind it, he smashed his knuckles into Aya's other cheek.