Chaos slammed into his skull like scarlet entrails.
Schuldich perched on the fire escape, poised on the balls of his feet as he waited. His arms splayed over the splotched iron railing as the fight began below and he flung his shields open wild, feeling it all. Icepick punches stabbed their way through his brain; he could see each person in snapshot-sharp relief for one second apiece. Fujimiya stood tall in the dreamlike state of his mind, then melted away, out of the eye of the crowd.
Thirty feet below him, a door banged open.
Kudou’s smoky-sharp green thoughts reached him, flavored with anxiety and shaded with a hint of beautiful lust, just a little. And a boy, a beautiful boy - Jack like the deck of cards - had him by the hand. They scrambled into the alley and the sound of fighting cut off with the door, but continued unchecked inside Schuldich’s head. He stood above them close enough to spit and they had no idea.
That was the beauty of people; they never looked up.
“Explain,” Kudou’s voice insisted, rough with club-smoke and the bitter twisting of a failed mission.
“Later,” Jack replied. There was promise in his thoughts, a surprised tingling on his lips. Kudou had kissed him there and this boy was not one to deny the sensual pull of it.
Schuldich smiled, fingers tightening on iron, rust flaking under his clenched fists.
Then the Abyssinian was gliding up the alley, shadows letting go with reluctance once more, his thought bristling with anger and possession. *How DARE he, how DARE--* The distinction between Jack and Kudou in his thoughts was unclear. He wouldn’t need a shove, now, to fall into the line of Schuldich’s plans.
Instead, he forced his mouth open and spat, ““What the hell happened in there?”
Schuldich smirked from above. Assassins they prided themselves on being, still they didn’t. Look. Up. So he was privy to their little domestic dispute. Moments later the lost boy on the radio called them over to the van...poor little Tsukiyono, he was as confused as the rest of Weiss. He had been fun to play with. But there was someone else Schuldich was really interested in, someone whose pain he could crack open and feast to the marrow.
It amused him to think of Tsukiyono as a lost little kitten. It amused him to think of all of them in feline terms. He flexed his fingers around the railing. Yet even Fujimiya was no panther, which made them all prey to someone like him. They thought they were so tough but the slightest word, aimed dead-on could make everything crumble.
Open as he was, he felt the restless stirring of Crawford, a coiled obsidian snake, halfway across Tokyo. *Not yet,* he aimed the sharp thought at the man. *I have things to do.*
*People to do, don’t you mean, and things to see,* Crawford retorted, thinking in English as he often did. It was no smokescreen for Schuldich, who could think in four languages - just not all at once.
*All of that,* Schuldich agreed, obstinately thinking at the man in German.
Switching to that language, Crawford replied with something rude in German, then the black snake turned into a flinty glass-black wall. More than anyone he’d met, Crawford had a real talent for keeping Schuldich out of his mind.
*That was uncalled for,* Schuldich thought at him mildly, knowing the man was ignoring him now.
He and Crawford had never gotten along; it was hate at first sight. But for divergent reasons, they had worked side by side as Schwarz. Schuldich was still deciding whether or not he wanted to renew the alliance; it was difficult to work two alpha males into a group and come out with both undamaged. Back then, Este had kept them in check. Now, there was no such guarantee and so they circled each other like wary wolves.
The furor was dying down inside. The skittering rush across his brainpan reduced to a trickle, and he pulled his shields up, feeling the mental equivalent of loudly-ringing ears. He did *so* love the rush it gave him, courting insanity as the dozens of minds around him thrashed blindly against his naked brain.
Now, where was he…Kudou, ah, yes. The black van had already disappeared. If he opened his shields again, he could track it - but there was no need, and blood was already jerking through the tender skin of his temples so hard he was surprised that veins hadn’t opened.
All he had to do was get to his destination point, and everything would be cool.
Schuldich released the railing, staggering only slightly, then gathered himself and leapt. His forest-green coat flared around him. Grinning madly, he hummed broken lyrics of a song.
“…blow your mind game; good bye fresh dead, I feel your pain…”
This was going to be *so* fun.
Back in the mission room, everyone was more or less in agreement. They were mad at Yohji and it was his fault.
“That was definitely mission failure,” Omi pronounced, glum. “When Birman finds out-”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to write it off,” Yohji disagreed. “Something Jack said…”
“That ‘Jack’ can take whatever he says and shove it up his-” Ran began in tones of pure fury.
“Speaking of ‘Jack,’ Yohji,” Ken began at the same time, lifting up a finger.
“Hold it, hold it!” Yohji shouted. “Both of you, get off my case! There’s something a little more important at stake here, say…the mission?”
Ken subsided but there were a lot of suspended questions in his silence, and his brown eyes.
Ran closed his mouth but his plum-colored eyes glittered with venom. *He* wasn’t going to wait too much longer.
“What do you mean by that, Yohji-kun?” Omi asked, leaning forward on his couch, tone reasonable but his expression somewhat anxious. “We blew it.” The set of his mouth was tactful - he was being polite in the extreme by saying ‘we.’
“I’ve got a feeling about this guy-” Yohji began.
“Ho? Is it in your pants?” Ran interrupted.
“That’s IT! I’m not taking any more of your crap, Aya!!” Yohji lunged for him, making it halfway across the mission room in a step and a half. Ken and Omi leaped off the couch and grabbed his arms, holding him back. They had to strain and dig their heels into the carpet and even then Yohji gained an inch or two, fighting them, gnashing his teeth as he glared at Ran. “You son of a bitch! If you have a problem with me, say it to my face instead of insulting me like a coward!”
Ran stood calmly, hands fisted at his sides, eyes lowered. Then he lifted his pale triangle of a face and the flash in his eyes was frightening. “I’m no coward,” he growled. “If anyone is, it’s not me. Who was the one locking mouths with a Chinese gangster in the middle of the diversion he was supposed to use to get upstairs?”
“It was the only way to get past him!” Yohji protested, still trying to throw off Ken and Omi. They rolled their eyes and held on tighter.
“Oh yeah, I was meaning to ask you about that too, Yohji,” Ken said. His tone was so level and matter-of-fact and quizzical that Yohji went limp for a moment in surprise, then started to laugh. Omi and Ken pulled him back towards the couch and he shrugged them off, then sat.
“I’m ninety-nine percent sure he’s an undercover cop,” Yohji said, leaning on his knees and looking up at his teammates. Ken collapsed back onto the couch with a heaving sigh. Omi sat more sedately, bright blue eyes expectant.
“What makes you say that?” Omi asked.
Yohji told them how Jack had pulled him outside, out of the melee, then implied he would explain later.
“You idiot,” Ran growled, “if he was a gangster who knew there was going to be an assassination mission tonight, then he would have said the same thing! He just wanted you out of the way, so they could start the transaction.”
“I don’t think so,” Yohji disagreed. “Otherwise, why would the Chinese and the yakuza have started fighting like that, just because you tangled with security? Jack was right. They were on edge. They don’t trust each other.”
“Hn,” Ran grunted, but the noise was slightly less certain.
“I think we’re just going to have to wait and see before we report back to Birman,” Omi decided. “Do you think he’ll be coming here? Do you think he knows who we are?”
Yohji shrugged. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
“Ne, Yohji?” Ken scratched his head. “Why did you think it was the *only* way to get past Jack? It’s not like you tried any others.”
Yohji flipped him off.
With a maddening grin, Ken said, “You only wish, Yo-tan.”
As quietly as possible, Aya slipped the key into the lock and turned it. He winced as it clacked open, and he eased the door in. At least they didn’t have any pets to betray his homecoming at such a late hour.
He placed the keys on the stand in the apartment’s genkan, kicking his shoes off and slipping into the worn plaid house slippers Aya-chan had bought him, so many years ago. Upon her awakening she had fretted over the condition of them, promising to buy him new ones, but came up short of pocket change every weekend. Aya-chan was the original impulse buyer.
The light clicked on and he stood there blinking, raising one hand to shield his eyes.
“Nii-chan!” The anxious tone of Aya-chan’s voice was unmistakable. “Where have you been?” She padded all the way into the tiny apartment’s living room, hair twisted up in two plaits, frog pajamas looking too big on her slender frame.
He relaxed minutely. “Aya,” he uttered, feeling relief the way he did every day at the sight of his sister. There were a million things that could go wrong in the course of a single day, each one aimed at taking his sister away from him again; this time for good.
“It’s late,” Aya-chan blinked, then stared at him. “N-niichan…were you out having fun?”
“What makes you say that?” Self-consciously he plucked at the silk flowers threaded through his shirt, giving her a sheepish smile. “Well, I did go to a nightclub with the others. I told you I might be out late.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” Aya-chan nodded and flung herself over the back of the sofa. Her blue-violet eyes twinkled up at him. “It’s no fair; I’m nineteen and you won’t let me go clubbing.”
“Your ID may say nineteen,” Aya finished his half of the long-standing argument, “but your mind and body are seventeen, and I’m here to look out for you. No clubbing.”
“Hai, hai,” Aya-chan sighed, flapping a hand. “You’re an old stick, Ran-nii.”
His lips quirked. “I’m a stick who wants to protect you,” he countered. “Is that so wrong?”
“No,” Aya-chan said, voice soft and quiet. Then she bounced up and around the sofa and flung her arms around his neck. “Dai suki da yo, Ran-nii!”
“Boku mo,” Aya said back, throat suddenly tight.
He stood against the brick wall of the apartment building, cheek pressed to cold stone, sensing body-warmth within by thought alone. Schuldich clung to the sill. It was locked.
Well, now. He’d just have to be ingenious.
He spent a few moments examining the apartment and its placement on the building. Hmm, too bad the chimney wasn’t big enough by half. He was no slender Japanese-born man. Besides, the flue was probably closed and that would be baaaad. It was the sort of thing Farfarello might do for kicks.
Hmmm…then, he could start with what would freak Fujimiya out the most. By clinging to the ledge, he inched over to the other window. He peered in, one eye at a time. Like a pale doll, braids trailing over her thin shoulders, looking tiny in outsized frog pajamas, Fujimiya Aya slept. It was no longer a comatose sleep but only Schuldich could tell that kind of difference, sensing her mind deep in sleep patterns. No doubt Fujimiya-kun felt a stab of remembrance every time he peeped in to make sure his sister slept peacefully.
He checked the window and it slid up easily. Aya-chan, so trusting. He was surprised her brother hadn’t locked the window for her.
He traced his fingertips over her face, the snowy shape of her folded hands, then moved on. There was nothing in this pristine little virgin *female’s* bedroom that interested him. He stepped out to the hallway, knowing even very little movement would attract his prey.
It was a cramped Tokyo apartment, that much was apparent. Schuldich stood in the tiny living room, stuck his hands in his pockets, and admired the décor, such as it was. Aya-chan must have had a hand in this place. The way Ran had dressed prior to her awakening, that was a no-brainer, as the Americans said.
The suspicion-filled tone was low, but it carried.
Ah, Fujimiya was making an appearance. And he hadn’t even had to make *too* much noise - stomping his feet, for instance.
“I’m Santa Claus,” Schuldich intoned. “I’m a few months early.” He grinned a hectic grin.
Fujimiya stormed into the room, clad in nothing more intimidating than the bottom half of a pair of print pajamas. His eyes widened. “Schwarz. What the hell are you doing here!?”
“I’m so happy you remember me,” Schuldich drawled. “Did you miss us, Fujimiya-kun?”
“You’re not going to play the host for me?” Schuldich grinned, keeping the couch between them. “How rude, and I came here just for you.”
“What do you mean?” Fujimiya went on the defensive. “You, Schwarz, if you’re here for my sister again...”
“Please,” Schuldich flipped a hand airily. “That’s over and done with. And now...”
“If you’re not here as Schwarz, I don’t care what you want. Get out.” Aya made a curt gesture, blocking the hallway, presumably to protect the girl who lay beyond.
“Catch the clue train, I’m not here for your sister, Fujimiya. I’m here for you,” Schuldich repeated. He hated repeating himself; if he was in the presence of such a halfwit that needed things said twice to percolate, he was in the wrong company.
“What kind of sick game are you playing at?” Now he moved forward, further into the living room fists clenched at his sides. He was playing into Schuldich’s hands, close enough to touch though there was menace vibrating through every sinew.
“I am the puppet master,
come to make you dance, boy,” Schuldich hissed. His hand snapped
Aya’s eyes were narrowed to blazing slits. “And what makes you think you can compel me in any direction?” He slapped his hand up to free himself of the grip on his hair. Schuldich, faster by reflex and advantage of thought, let go first.
Schuldich gave him a short bark of laughter. “You are too easy, you know that? This will be fun - but trust me, I won’t be compelling you in any direction against your will. More of a gentle nudge, you might say.”
Fujimiya bristled. “What do you mean!?”
Schuldich cupped Fujimiya’s face in his hands, grinned a little, and breathed on him.
Fujimiya flinched back and away, but it was too late.
He tried to put aside drenching images of digging his fingers into Fujimiya’s scalp, clawing wide furrows to mix dark thick scarlet with the red of that hair; instead he let them flow over him and enjoyed the visual sensation without letting thought connect to his hands. The struggle in Fujimiya’s angular shoulders, the widened eyes and quick heartbeat let Schuldich know the image had been shared between them.
“Only breathe with me,” Schuldich exhaled, like sharing an air-kiss. He passed a mental hand over the ‘face’ of Abyssinian’s mind.
Fujimiya’s violet eyes turned blank. Without that hard gleam, he looked pretty.
He set to his work like a surgeon with a neuro-scalpel, digging hungrily into the painful parts of the Abyssinian’s brain. Just to make things complicated - more fun, his mind whispered, and he agreed - he threw in an extra twist. Wait long enough to see Kudou with another man and it would be that much worse…oh, he’d be feasting off this for *months.*
“Give this to Kudou when you see him,” Schuldich told the man, taking his mouth in a deep kiss as he thought about blood mixing with crimson hair until there was no difference between the two. His fingers raked with delicate precision over fragile scalp-skin. He released Fujimiya’s mouth and grinned. The man was a good kisser, when he let himself go - even passive like this.
Licking the corner of his mouth thoughtfully, Schuldich covered his tracks in Fujimiya’s muddled mind. It was not a difficult thing to do. By tomorrow, he’d be wondering ‘what the hell…’
Still in the grip of quiescence, Fujimiya let him out of the apartment, and locked the door behind him. Now there was nothing to betray his little post-midnight visit but the open window in his sister’s room...which he could have shut at any moment, but he did so like to leave a puzzle behind. Striking at the core of Fujimiya’s insecurities, the open window would drive him crazy.
Now...Schuldich sauntered up the hallway, hands in his pockets, Fujimiya’s taste still on his lips. If his real interests didn’t lay with Kudou, he almost might be tempted.
A visit to Kudou himself was in order, and his night would be deliciously complete.
Yohji was living things backwards. He disassembled flower arrangements and gave money away; blood flew away from his wires and severed skin melted into a seamless whole. He brought his victims to life. He met Aya, and Ken, and Omi, and he left Weiss with a load of fresh grief for a woman who would live soon - who had just died.
Things seemed almost sublime in stop-motion and reverse, as if, by going in the opposite direction he could highlight the worst parts of his life and take a crack at undoing the damage.
The beauty of the dream was in believing it would last past his eyes opening.
The usual reel of Asuka’s battered body slowed, halted, rewound; blood jumped into messy wounds and coursed up her skin until it disappeared and shattered scarlet points spat bullets, vanishing without a stitch. Asuka was whole. They were accepting the commission. They were taking down the license for their private investigating firm. Yohji was going home.
He and Asuka had never met.
In a way it was a relief. Without knowing Asuka, all of the pain that had been attached to her, twice, was a burden lifted. Canvas bag keeping pendulum-steady time behind him, he traced steps back to the door he’d slammed behind him so long ago...years...days...now, only minutes before. Shadowy amorphous figures began to crowd him as he moved through the streets of his hometown.
‘You can never go home again…especially not you, Kudou Yohji.’ It felt like a giant finger was stirring through his thoughts, making the shadows around him twist and dance and approach with loose-fingered hands.
“I don’t want to go home,” Yohji called back, putting hands to his head. During all that time, from sixteen onwards, he had left and never looked back.
Jeans ripped, heavy bracelets ringing his wrists, a black T-shirt layered over another, long-sleeved black shirt, Yohji hefted the bag from his shoulder down to the stoop. He ran a hand up through his hair, feeling the longer ponytail at the base of his skull, ripples of chestnut that reached halfway down his back. Heavy rings with opaque stones covered his fingers.
“God, I was a tasteless teenager.”
But he wasn’t going home, he had just left home. And soon, he would be sucked back through the doorway, flinging himself onto the narrow unrolled futon in the back room that had been his to plot his recent/future escape.
“I don’t want to be here. I don’t!” Yohji shouted, watching a pillow bounce off the floor, then the wall, and took it bemused as it jumped into his hands. “No...if I’m here now...that means...”
His uncle entered the room stiff-legged, untucking his shirt, raking a hand through his hair and turning it disheveled.
“NO!” Yohji squeezed his eyes shut.
He had never visited home, never would again, not once in all those years. His mother had never known where he went, although he had dropped a postcard now and then. He would never let her know he was unnatural, that he had failed every single one of the hopes and expectations placed upon him, that he killed and worst of all...
It didn’t count, no, it didn’t...it had only been once and he hadn’t asked for it even though he had enjoyed it, even though he’d been wanting...something...
But not like that!!
*So that’s it.* The whisper swirled around him, tugging at his disarrayed clothes, breaking apart the room around him.
Yohji stood in the bathroom, razor in his shaking hands. He stared at the mirror, at the pale pretty face that haunted him. He’d been proud of his body. He would be again. Right now, he lifted the razor to cut.
With quick, incisive strokes, thick tufts of gold-threaded chestnut dropped to the cracked tile.
The pile of hair looked soft enough to bury his hands in, to rub against his cheek like it were a live thing, a kitten abandoned. He wanted to keep a lock, he missed it already, but he did this for a reason.
Yohji lifted the razor again. This time he hissed as the sharp edge cut into his skin in a long line, not too deep. Blood welled up and ran along his arm. He made another cut perpendicular to the first, shorter, then set the razor down. In the mirror, a bloody cross wept against his skin, cut into the deltoid muscle on his upper left arm.
“When you gonna learn?” Yohji muttered, not ready to meet his own eyes in the mirror.
It was the beginnings of a tattoo. He didn’t have the courage to use ink and try it at home. But he knew what he’d use for the cross. Black nails.
Yohji nerved himself and looked up; he threw his shoulders back.
“I’m not...I’m not...” He bit his lip as the words caught in his throat. “I can’t be…”
*Oh, but you are.*
“Who’s there!?” Yohji demanded, short tresses whipping his cheeks as he spun around. He combed hair out of his eyes and mouth. He froze.
“Pretty Yohji,” a voice drawled. An arm snaked over one shoulder, crossing his chest, pulling him against a bigger male body. “Such a tender, lovely young thing.” They rotated to face the mirror.
A cat’s-eye green gaze stared at him, their eyes locking in the glass. Red hair spilled over one of Yohji’s shoulders as the man turned his head to nuzzle at his ear.
“Let me lap up the blood of your sins, boy,” Schuldich grinned at him in the mirror, bending his head to lick at the line of red coursing down Yohji’s arm, weeping from the cut of the cross on his deltoid muscle.
“You want this.”
No. No. *No.*
“NO!!” Yohji heaved up and found himself in a dark room, in a real bed, naked and covered in fear-sweat and tangled sheets. “God.” He raked a trembling hand through his hair, touching the base of his neck, as if he expected to feel the spectral strands of his ponytail, long since cut off. He’d been so proud of his long hair once.
Why dream something like that? Why tonight? He hadn’t even thought of that for years.
He turned and groped for the cigarettes on the bedstand, snagging a black ashtray at the same time. He blew a cloud of smoke and felt steadier. It was because of Jack; that pretty face, those soft lips. Someone he had kissed, and it had been all his own idea, and he had liked it.
The dream made him remember there had been a boy he liked once, a long time ago. It was part and parcel of the load he had left slammed behind that door, never to return, never to open it again.
But Jack could be...
No! His hands shook. Yohji pushed himself up from the bed. Time to go make some coffee.
He glanced at the face of the clock in his kitchen as he bumped his way through the tiny room, clattering the pot in the sink to rinse it first, tapping his ashes in the ugly black ashtray he kept in the kitchen. Four a.m. It would have been a new record for sleeping in, if not for the fact that they’d gotten to bed so late.
He wondered if Jack would show up at the shop, with his pretty face and long-fingered, fine-boned hands. He wondered if he wanted him to. It surprised Yohji to recall those hands in such detail, because it meant he had noticed them, even if he hadn’t consciously thought of it at the time. And that mouth, he definitely…
Yohji jammed his cigarette in the corner of his mouth and concentrated on making coffee. He could hear music pulsing against the thin kitchen wall, which meant Omi was still up, probably buried in computer work. It wasn’t like him to play it so loud, but maybe it only meant he was sick of hearing Yohji wake up in the middle of the night.
Damn, did that kid ever sleep? He had cram school in the morning, around the same time Yohji had his shift in the flower shop.
He was grateful for today. It was Sunday and the kids had their cram sessions to run off to, and Ran was off for the day so Yohji didn’t have to deal with that. Whatever had gone wrong, it had been building up for a long time. Maybe one of these days Ran would actually let him know what he’d done.
Then again, today Ken wouldn’t be much better. Ken would tease him without mercy about kissing a Chinese gangster. And while he’d been very pretty, he was still male. This would no doubt feature prominently in Ken’s banter today. Yohji had kissed a guy, and now everyone was wondering.
*Failed the mission. Failed the mission.*
Oh, yeah, he had that hanging over his head, too. Yohji watched the black stream of liquid gurgle in his ancient Mr. Coffee and took a deep drag. Not only was everyone wondering about…Jack…but they wondered if he’d totally fucked this one up. And what would they tell Birman if he had?
He was hanging all of it on a kid he’d never met before last night.
What the hell was wrong with him? He hadn’t jumped on a gut instinct like this since his detective days. Since…
Yohji rubbed a hand over his upper arm, half-expecting to find blood on his fingers when he took them away from the tattoo. Maybe the scariest part of the dream was Schuldich. Why dream about *him?*
He grabbed a mug, set his cigarette in the ashtray, and poured the coffee - strong and black. One day all this body abuse was going to catch up to him and he’d have a boiling pit for a stomach and yellow stumps for teeth.
“Maybe I’m never gonna learn.”
With a mind-scream that set Schuldich’s temples throbbing, Kudou wrenched himself out of sleep and set Schuldich adrift, snared momentarily in a lost moment, a fugue devoid of any thought but himself. It was worse than blackout, worse than a sensory deprivation tank, not feeling the pressure of minds against his. It was thankfully brief. He came to leaning over the railing outside the Weib boys’ apartments.
Schuldich’s lips curved in a manic grin. “Kudou, I’m so flattered.” He straightened, flipping hair over his shoulders, stroking it back. The boy had been so pretty at tender sixteen, hair a cascade of gold-licked brown down his back. “I’m the scariest part of your dreams?”
The dream made him ache for the potential of the boy at sixteen, lost to time now. Hmm…though…there was an *oishii* idea, stripping away the mind and layers of memory to regress him to *that time,* only to reconstruct him later. And make him remember everything, of course. Too fun…but later, not yet.
The thought of Schuldich in his dreams frightened Yohji. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
With a jaunty whistle, Schuldich moved towards the stairwell. Such beautiful pain, all around him… He cupped his ear in passing Omi’s door, almost as if he could hear the thought that reached his mental sensory organ.
The lost boy’s thoughts quivered, contracting and collapsing around the moment the camera zoomed in on a beautiful face and Omi realized that Yohji was kissing another man. He played the loud music and his fingers connected him to silicon highways in a pitiful attempt at self-distraction.
Self-delusion, more like.
Schuldich smirked. This just got more interesting by the hour.
He’d leave the lost boy alone, though, and see how that scenario played out by itself. Sometimes these things were more interesting when they were allowed to develop without outside intervention. It was entirely possible Tsukiyono would do nothing.
“Hmm.” He lifted a hand to hail a cab. He was just brimming with energy; tonight had been full of big doings. He was horny as hell and he wanted to go do some fucking - some genuine deep-dicking.
Maybe he could find Jack
somewhere in this grim bustling city. Another pretty boy to writhe
beneath him…and feel like hell about it later.
“So, you’re gay, right?”
Yohji groaned and rolled his eyes and turned his back to Ken for the umpteenth time that day. He *knew* he should not have come in that morning; he should have left the younger man to open the shop and deal with customers all by his lonesome...which would have been pretty lonesome, considering they’d had all of three people drift in that morning. Under those circumstances, it was easy to open the store single-handed.
When the first pale streaks of dawn spread over the horizon, he’d felt a definite need to go to bed. Functioning on two and a half hours of sleep was not one of his favorite things. The dream made him afraid to go back to bed - normally, he didn’t remember those dreams. It was the only thing that let him climb into bed every night.
“For the last time, Ken, I am not-”
“But you kissed him!” Ken persisted.
“It was all part of the plan,” Yohji said airily. “In that kind of club, that kind of guy expects to get offers. So I drag him into the back room, give him a chop to the neck, and he’s down for the count. Besides, kissing him was the best way to distract him.”
“How would you know what goes on in that kind of club!” Ken’s eyes bugged.
Yohji groaned, fiddling with a spray of wisteria. He was only making it worse by trying to explain. “Obviously you’ve never been clubbing.”
“Well...” Ken moved through the shop, shifting plants, pulling bedraggled bouquets from displays and replacing them with fresh cut flowers. He sounded defensive. “I went to a couple of bars with Kase, a long time ago.”
“Not the same thing,” Yohji argued. “It’s not the same thing at all. There’s going out for a couple of drinks, hanging around bars - and then there’s going *clubbing.* And no matter which club you go to, no matter how het it is, there’s inevitably a few guys hanging out in the corners making out, and then they go someplace. Same thing that happens with straight couples.”
“S-so you notice this kind of thing!” Ken sputtered. His tone changed. “Really, Yohji, you can tell me if you’re gay. It’s okay. I won’t look at you funny, or anything.”
Yohji sighed, squared his shoulders, and turned around. Ken raised his eyebrows, looking expectant. It was time to turn the tables on him.
“You’re awfully stuck on this, Ken. You want me, don’t you,” he said with a flirtatious grin, and ignored the choking fit Ken had. “Hm, it’s not that I can blame you with this attractive packaging. For the last time, Ken, I’m only interested in women. Everybody’s Kudou Yohji is nobody’s fool...and besides, even if I were gay or you were a girl, you’re not my type.”
“You jerk!” Ken slapped a couple of drooping bouquets on the counter. “I am *not* interested in you, Yohji! I’m just askin’, jeez!”
“Well, you’ve ‘just’ been asking about twenty times!” Yohji shot back, letting his tone get sharp. “I’m sick of it! For the last time, let it go, Ken; I’m not gay and I’m not looking for a boyfriend!”
The shop door jingled at that precise moment.
Ken turned green and snatched up the dying flowers, holding them in front of him - for what purpose, Yohji had no idea. If this kind of verbal slip got out among the female hangers-on, the brown-haired youth would never hear the end of it.
Yohji smirked and turned towards the door. Maybe now Ken would shut up for awhile. “Irasshai-”
“Hi, Ken-kun! Hi, Yohji-kun!” Aya-chan bounced through the door, giving them both a sprightly wave. “How’s the flower business?” She was all smiles.
“Hi, Aya-chan,” Yohji said, relaxing a little. He leaned against the counter and grinned at the girl.
Sakura drifted in after her, a pale shadow of the vibrant slender girl that was revived Aya-chan. She was still hanging around, clinging to the sister in lieu of the brother, maybe hoping that Ran would notice her some day if she just kept showing up. Neither Yohji nor the others had the heart to enlighten her, even though they knew that was the case. Besides, it would embarrass her.
“A-Aya-chan, S-Sakura-chan,” Ken stammered, clutching the flowers. “Y-You didn’t hear anything, did you...?”
Aya-chan gave him a V-sign. “Nope! I didn’t hear you confessing to Yohji-kun!”
“A-AYA-chan!” Ken looked mortified, ready to bolt for the back room any second.
The girls giggled. “Aya-chan, don’t be so mean,” Sakura told her.
“Don’t worry,” Aya-chan assured them, “I won’t tell anyone.”
Yohji had his reservations about that sparkling smile. He suspected if anyone peeked into Aya-chan’s bookbag, they just might find an issue of BexBoy or two.
“What are you here for?” Ken said, curiousity overcoming his embarrassment. “Ran isn’t working today.”
“I know that, silly! I wanted to get him something special.”
“Don’t tell me you were thinking of getting him flowers,” Yohji said dryly.
“Eheheh!” Aya-chan held up her hands. “No way, Ran-nii didn’t like stuff like that even-even before...” She faltered and looked down.
Tactfully, Sakura moved across the shop and examined a display of fresh daffodils. Ken looked at the flowers in his hands and chucked them onto the counter again. There was a tense, strained little silence. Aya kept looking at her hands and twisting them together.
“What can we do for you, Aya-chan?” Ken rubbed the back of his head.
“Is there something,” she began hesitantly, “he might like, for a gift? He’s not...I mean, he’s changed so much. Sometimes it’s almost like it used to be, but...” Aya bit her lip and fell silent again.
“Well, you’ve done a good job with the new clothes,” Yohji told her. “Honestly, that orange sweater - it’s like no one ever told him orange clashes with red!”
“It does?” Ken said.
Yohji shook his head, ignored Ken, and picked a rosebud from a small arrangement in the day’s specials. He tucked it behind Aya-chan’s ear. “Just get him something from the heart,” he told the girl. “He still likes jewelry, right? I’ve seen him wearing silver rings, a simple necklace or two, things like that.”
“Sugoi desu ne, Yohji-kun!” Aya clapped her hands. “That’s good to know! Yes, I can get him a necklace.”
Ken shrugged, eyes clearly bewildered. “You sure he wears rings ‘n stuff like that?”
“And while I’m here!” Aya smiled, pressing her hands together, “can I borrow some money? Just a little?” Her eyes crinkled up and she bowed.
“What?” Ken said in consternation.
“We heard,” Yohji interrupted. “Ken, give her a hundred thousand yen from petty cash.”
“WHAT!?” Ken yelped. “Yohji, no way! Omi would go ballistic! And besides, it’s not, I mean...”
Yohji leveled a *look* at him. “Please. If Omi brings it up, just tell him Aya-chan has rung the register often enough that we *should* pay her a little something for her troubles.”
“But...but a hundred thousand yen!” Ken whimpered. He was obviously distraught over parting from so much money, petty cash or no.
“You could always give her a loan out of your pocket,” Yohji suggested.
“Uh-uh, no way, zen zen dame,” Ken shook his head. He hesitated, then moved behind the register and dipped into the petty cash. “Just pay it back before Omi finds out, okay, Aya-chan?”
“Eheh...” Aya put on an innocent expression. “Arigato gozaimashita!”
“What do you suppose those girls are up to?” Yohji wondered, once they had said their farewells and left the shop.
Ken turned a puzzled glance on him. “What do you mean, up to? They’re just going to buy a gift for Ran.”
“Well, it’s not Ran’s birthday any time soon,” Yohji stated. “At least, I don’t think so. They’re borrowing money to get him a present. And Sakura is with Aya-chan. They’re up to something.”
“Sakura-chan is always with Aya-chan!” Ken said. “That doesn’t mean anything. And it sounds like Aya-chan just wants to do something nice for her brother.”
Yohji shook his head. “Ken, you couldn’t study to be more stupid.”
“I am not stupid!” Ken raised his voice.
“Well, do you at least know why Sakura-chan hangs around all the time?”
“She’s good friends with Aya-chan,” Ken said, “and she liked Ran, I guess.”
“You’re half right,” Yohji told him. “Sakura is still hung up on Ran. And Aya-chan, being the sweet, meddling soul she is, probably thinks that getting the two of them together is the best solution. They both seem unhappy, so maybe if they’re together they won’t be.” In Yohji’s world view, that was awfully screwed up logic. Two unhappy people didn’t automatically make a happy couple.
He had to wonder, though, why the thought of Aya-chan setting up Ran and Sakura bothered him the way it did.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Ken said with a frown.
Rejoice! Truth came from the mouths of babes and idiots. Yohji kept his smirk to himself and searched his pockets for cigarette and lighter. Then he remembered where he was and tugged the front of his apron smooth, feeling self-conscious. He wanted a smoke.
“Well, I’m going to take all these dying flowers to the compost heap,” Ken told him, and started making a bundle.
“Okay,” Yohji shrugged. He drifted over to the window and cracked it open. While Ken was taking care of that, he could have his smoke, and blow it out the window. Hopefully the heady scent of flowers in the shop would disguise the smoke-scent clinging to him.
What time was it? Almost noon, if those girls were out of their cram school class. He was gonna be in deep shit. If Jack didn’t show up, his team members - and Birman - would give him hell for the rest of his life. He had blown the mission by not getting into place - but if everybody was taking full responsibility, Ran had picked the worst kind of diversion possible!
Ken turned his back and Yohji lit up, taking that first blissful nicotine-addicted inhalation.
The door to the shop jingled. A bishounen with gold streaks in his hair, at first glance one of the numerous Tokyo punkers, stepped through the door followed by a funny-looking guy with ratted-out hair.
Yohji choked on his first drag. It was Jack.
"Ken, I'm taking five."
Ken turned around to lift a hand in acknowledgment, then stopped and gawked. "Yohji, you're smoking in the shop!"
"No shit, I'm taking five." He waved his cigarette-laden hand in the general direction of their ‘customers.’
Ken blinked, looked over, and stared for a moment. "K’so!! It's HIM!" He dropped the trash bag of withering flowers. He looked as if he couldn’t decide between getting ready to laugh or fight.
"Peace," Jack spoke in English, holding up his hands, "I told this guy I'd explain everything later. So, later is today.”
Ken’s expression turned serious. "Well, I wanna hear this, too."
They hung up the ‘CLOSED’ sign and Ken left the compost-destined flowers forgotten by the back door. Yohji dropped into a chair and smoked, keeping his eyes on Jack as the younger man seated himself, crossing one chartreuse-clad leg over the other.
“Can I bum one off you?” Jack asked, gesturing towards the cigarette dangling from Yohji’s lips.
“Huh? Oh, sure,” he replied, tapping one out of the pack.
Instead of taking the lighter Yohji extended, Jack leaned forward and pressed the tip of his cigarette to Yohji’s burning one. Their faces were only inches away. Yohji held still as Jack sucked the tobacco into flaring life. The beautiful boy sat back in his chair with a little smile on his lips.
Yohji turned away, feeling some embarrassment. The look on Ken’s face was speculative, but the youth didn’t say anything - a good thing, or he would have clocked him one regardless of who was watching.
“So who the hell are you?” Ken spoke up first.
“I’m Jack,” Jack said, focusing on Ken for the first time, and pointed to the frizzed-out kid with the bony face. “This is Alien. We shouldn’t even be here, but I figured we should explain to Yohji and offer him what we could.”
“Damn right, you should explain!” Ken slapped an open palm on the table. “You totally blew that operation! Now, we have no idea where the-er, the product has gone, and-”
“It hasn’t gone anywhere,” Jack said calmly. “Nobody trusts anybody yet. The money hasn’t changed hands, and the cargo is still waiting until that happens.”
Ken exchanged a look with Yohji.
“So we still have a chance,” Yohji said, taking a drag on his own cigarette.
Jack scooted his chair forward, uncrossing his legs and leaning elbows on knees. Unconsciously Yohji inclined towards him and Ken leaned in, too. “Here’s the deal,” Jack said quietly. “We’re cops from Hong Kong, and we’ve been deep undercover for about three months already. This is some heavy shit.”
“No kidding,” Ken widened his eyes, “so you’re after the same thing we are?”
“Not exactly,” the weird-looking kid - Alien was a good name - disagreed. “We’re working here with the cooperation of your government to ferret out the Japanese buyers for this product. We already know who all the Chinese suppliers are, but to take ‘em all out at once, we need to find out who the other end of the market is.”
“Cooperation of what part of the government?” Ken knit his brows.
“Classified,” Alien said with a smirk.
"So you see, it would be a bad idea to go ahead with your assassination mission, until we know everything about these guys - these ones are only the middlemen we're dealing with right now. We're trying to gain trust all around, so we can find out who the real bad guys are," Jack explained.
"Who says we're assassins?" Yohji said guardedly.
Jack gave him a hint of a teasing smile. "Please. There's no need to be coy."
“So,” Yohji leaned forward, “why are you telling us this? If you’re that deep undercover, you must be risking-”
“There’s such a thing as professional courtesy,” Alien interrupted him, and Jack gave him a look.
“Ignore him, he was dropped on his head a few times at birth,” Jack said, looking only at Yohji. “All I had to say was I met someone at the club I wanted to hook up with today.”
Ken went into a coughing fit. Yohji glared a line of wakizashi at him.
"So that's how it is," Alien finished up, slapping his thighs. "We just wanted ta make sure you didn't kill the good guys along with the bad - and that you waited 'til our mission was done to start yours."
"Who says anything about missions?" Ken hedged.
Alien rolled his eyes. "Puh-lease."
They all looked at each other warily for a few moments. Yohji felt a peculiar sort of tension when he met Jack’s dark eyes, and glanced away. Alien’s expression was unreadable. Ken looked serious.
“So, does that square us?” Jack caught Yohji’s eye again. Even solemn, he was lovely - like a sculpture, his features were that perfect.
“When do we know you’re done?” Ken demanded, chair scraping over concrete as he pushed away from the table.
Jack inclined his head. “I’ll let Yohji know.”
Yohji would *not* meet Ken’s eye at that one.
“Yeah...yeah, I guess I’ve heard all I need to hear,” Ken was nodding, standing up. “I’d better get back to the shop. Yohji, you handle the rest.”
“Handle the rest?” Yohji groaned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Alien bounced up out of his chair. “Gotta run. Told ’em I was just going out for a quick lunch.”
Yohji shifted in his chair and looked at Jack. Jack was looking right back at him, not smiling but the potential was there.
“What are you doing for lunch?”
“Um...nothing,” Yohji admitted. Was Jack asking what he thought?
“Good, they might have someone tailing me,” Jack said with a small smile. “I’d like to take you out. Is that okay with you?”
Yohji shifted in his chair and pulled out his pack again. He offered a cigarette to Jack, who accepted. This time, he leaned forward and flicked his lighter on. Jack cupped his hands around Yohji’s and took his first drag.
His hands were tingling as he sat back and lit his own cigarette. “Yeah, that’s okay with me,” he decided. He was surprised to realize that was true.
“Do you want me to pick you up, or meet you?” Jack asked, blowing a puff of smoke.
“Ah, well...” Yohji foundered. He was okay with vague agreements but these hard facts made him struggle. It was real; he was agreeing to... “Do you have a car?”
“Well, no,” Jack admitted.
“So you can’t exactly pick me up,” Yohji grinned. “Let’s try it this way, can you get to my place?”
Jack nodded. There was a gleam in his eye.
“My shift’s over at noon. Meet me there-”
“Why not here?” Jack interrupted.
“Ah-no, not here,” Yohji winced, looking over his shoulder. He nearly jumped out of his seat. Without warning or a single betraying noise, someone had appeared behind him. A familiar redhead stood there, wearing a green T and black pants and a glare fit to kill. “Yabee~!”
“Uh-oh,” Jack got to his feet, “I better get out of here; your boyfriend looks like the jealous type. I’ll see you at noon.”
“He’s not my-” Yohji swung between Ran’s death-dagger look and Jack’s departing back. He slumped in his chair and put his head in his hands, burning cigarette precariously close to his hair. “Ah, shit.”
“What the hell was that?” Ran’s voice was ice-cold.
“I thought you weren’t working today,” Yohji hedged, trying to change the subject.
“I’m not,” Ran snapped. “I stopped by to see if-well, I see he already has.” With that, he stormed into the shop.
Yohji shook his head. If he didn’t know better, he’d say Ran actually *was* jealous. He *could* go into the shop and explain things to Ran; the fact that Jack was an undercover cop, and Yohji was going out to lunch with him on what only looked like a date, but was in fact a cover. He was sure Ken would explain the cop part.
On the other hand, he didn’t consider Ran to be anything approaching a friend. He could explain. But he didn’t think he owed Ran any explanations.
Anyone looking at Fujimiya Ran-kun could clearly assess the fact that he was in a bad fit of temper. The reason why, though, was usually anybody’s guess.
It was very hard to slam the Koneko no Sumu Ie’s door, but Aya managed to do just that. It banged against the metal frame, making the glass rattle. The sound was viscerally satisfying but not enough.
I’m going to kill him, Aya seethed inside, I’m just going to kill him, then I won’t have to look at that infuriating face of his anymore.
*No,* dark coiled threads of desire stirred, *better to fuck him.*
Aya paused in the middle of the shop, confused.
“Oi, Ran-kun,” Ken’s voice hailed him from a corner of the shop, and he turned automatically at the sound of his shadow’s name. That was how he thought of it. “You aren’t supposed to be here, aren’t you off today?”
“Aa,” Aya agreed, “but I stopped by to see if there was any word. Besides, Omi shouldn’t close the shop alone when he has school tomorrow.”
Ken nodded. “Didn’t think of that. Who scheduled it that way?”
“Omi,” Aya lifted a thin eyebrow.
“Ah.” Ken rubbed at his head. “You should make him do it alone, if he’s the one who painted himself into a corner.”
“Probably, but he’s got exams coming up,” Aya acknowledged. He let his voice harden. “What was *he* doing there?”
“’That guy…?’ Oh! The guy who kissed Yohji,” Ken nodded his comprehension.
Aya’s lips thinned. Was that how everyone was looking at it now? When he had glanced Yohji’s way across the dance floor, what grabbed his attention and held it was Yohji bent over the slightly smaller man, hands on his shoulders, mouth on his…no, it had certainly looked like Yohji was the one doing the kissing.
Kudou Yohji was a flirt, a connoisseur of women, a playboy. Aya could stand things as they were, barely, with that being the situation. More than the fact that Yohji wouldn’t welcome his attentions was that Aya-chan would find out, and he couldn’t bear to see a knife of accusation in her eyes for more than one brutal crime. Hunting the guilty was bad enough; hunting Yohji…
But there Yohji was, making plans with that pretty boy - probably a whore, the darker corner of his mind whispered - and that made him feel…he didn’t know. Angry.
*If he likes men so much,* that whispering darkness said, *there’s no reason not to fuck him the way you want to so badly.*
Aya didn’t bother trying to deny *that.* Part of the great appeal, even, was that Yohji looked as if he’d resist any such attempt. He was lithe, gorgeous, and muscular. Well-toned. And flamboyantly heterosexual, so he’d thought, despite that beauty - only the masculine line of his jaw saved him from ‘prettiness.’ Yohji was one of those things he desired so much, he wanted to rip it to pieces with his bare hands just to expiate the agony of wanting. Aya wanted to batter him down, he wanted to dominate him, let him know whom he belonged to-
“Ran? Hey, Ran! Snap out of it!”
Aya blinked and craned his head. “What?” he barked, irritated with Ken.
“Have you been listening to a word I said?” Ken rolled his eyes. “It looks like Yohji didn’t blow the mission, after all. Those guys are undercover cops from Hong Kong, and they’re working here with permission from the government, probably pretty high-up, to uncover the whole thing.”
“Ah. Sou,” Aya said absently, watching Yohji through the window as he finished his cigarette, then flicked the spent butt towards the curb.
“You sound like you don’t care,” Ken said, picking up a spray bottle and moving around the shop.
“It doesn’t matter,” Aya said. “We can’t do anything now, can we?” Thus he proved half an ear had been listening to Ken’s monologue.
“Well…no,” Ken grudged.
“Then there’s no point in worrying about it.” Aya started towards the door with a panther-like motion. Yohji was coming back inside. There was something he had to do.
“So, how did it go?” Ken inquired in sugary tones as the shop door jangled and Yohji pushed his way back inside.
Reason enough, in Aya’s estimation, to kill him. He found himself striding forward.
“It’s not-” Yohji was saying, when Aya seized him.
He stopped that voice with his lips and wound an arm around the lean body, trapping it against him. Yohji made a noise of protest, maybe shock, and Aya took advantage of his startlement to force his tongue into the hot mouth, taking him in a deep kiss. Yohji’s tongue thrashed against his, briefly, then the older man was wrenching away.
“Holy shit,” Ken mumbled.
“What the HELL was that!?” Yohji demanded from a safe distance away - more than half the shop - while glaring and breathing hard.
“I…” Aya stopped and looked around the shop as if expecting to find answers in the rhodesias. To tell the truth, he really didn’t… “I don’t know.”
“No, that’s not good enough!” Yohji snarled. “Why the hell did you do that? You freakin’ kissed me, you pervert!”
*Oh, like you aren’t begging to be thrown against something and ravished,* Aya wanted to snarl back. He kept his mouth shut and strode into the back of the shop.
When Yohji would have followed, fists clenched, Ken shook his head.
“I wouldn’t,” he warned. “Ran’s…in a really *strange* mood.”
“I can see that,” Yohji said, nostrils flaring.
Schuldich braced himself against the brick side of the building, rocking with laughter. Kudou hadn’t taken his little surrogate ‘present’ very well; but then, it was Fujimiya who had kissed him. He pressed fingers to his own mouth, then took them away and licked his lips. He could almost taste Kudou’s flesh there, so intently had he focused on Fujimiya’s thoughts.
He wasn’t into this to pair up Fujimiya with Kudou, though; oh, no. That’d be no fun for *him.* Using Fujimiya to tear up Kudou and leave someone else to pick up the pieces, though…he could have fun with Kudou’s pieces. Maybe he’d fit him back together in whatever way pleased him.
He wondered how Kudou would react to Schuldich’s direct kiss. He’d probably struggle at first; in fact, Schuldich was counting on it.
It hadn’t even any kind of ‘push’ at all, urging Fujimiya to make the rationale to fuck Kudou based on the reasoning that if he was willing to go for a ‘slut-boy’ like Jack, he should be able to take a rougher hand.
He wanted to feel Kudou’s pain as he fucked him.
“Time to play,” Schuldich murmured, and pushed away from the wall.