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Bloodstained Illusions

by P L Nunn


Chapter Three


Yoji was gone. Had been gone for far longer than his professed 'little while'. Aya hadn't worried the first week. Yoji had the capacity to take care for himself in most situations. Yoji was a professional and Yoji knew what he was doing.

For the most part.


When women weren't involved or his sense of morality hadn't kicked into overdrive to distract him from the grim necessity of their way of life.

The second week, Omi started asking if Yoji had called, a worried furrow between his wide eyes, and the instinctive need to play mother hen beginning to assert itself now that one of his flock had gone missing.

"What does going home mean, exactly?" Omi pestered Aya, when Aya refused to voice concern of his own. "Did he mean Japan in general or was he more specific?"

Aya didn't know. Aya hadn't asked and Yoji had been content to leave it at that, Yoji being very intent on avoiding the subject. Omi was upset with him for his apparent disinterest. Ken was giving him odd looks; a little disgust, a little frustration over Omi's growing alarm, a little apprehension of his own. As if Yoji's desertion were Aya's fault. But perhaps, a niggling little voice hinted in the back of his mind - - just maybe perhaps it was. But no, he wasn't going down that road just yet - - so he veered his thoughts away from that dangerous avenue of self-doubt and steered them towards Omi's very reasonable query.

Home? When Aya thought the word, the first thing that came to mind was the house in the suburbs where he'd lived for all his young life, up until the point that that life had been ripped away from him. But that was just the pretty, postcard version of the word, the meaningless one that could never be returned to and was far more attractive in his memory, he was sure, than it had been in reality. Real home, he supposed was - - well, here. Where Yoji was and Omi and Ken - - because with his self-imposed separation from his sister, they were the closest thing to family that he had. An attachment which wasn't safe and wasn't sane really, considering the business they were in. Emotional attachments just got in the way. He knew that so well it was a litany in his brain sometimes - - but the knowing of it hadn't stopped the feelings. It hadn't stopped Yoji from getting in, nor Ken and Omi in their own ways.

It never ceased to amaze Aya that he was capable of feeling again. For a very, very long time - - that ability had been dead to him. So when Omi badgered him about just where this 'home' that Yoji had referred to before he'd left was located - - Aya pressed his lips tight and retreated, silent and offended that Yoji had seen fit to spew a lie, when he knew perfectly well where home lay.

Yoji was gone. Almost three weeks and Aya began to get antsy, loosing sleep at night because the unease wouldn't go away, only growing and lurking about his subconscious, invoking uneasy dreams that he'd rather not remember when he woke. He slipped into Yoji's room, the stale memory of smoke still clinging to the sheets what with the windows and door closed to keep it in. He sat on Yoji's soft feather comforter and went over in his mind what Yoji had said to him that last day, word for word. He'd let nothing slip but his evasiveness and that told Aya exactly nothing. That and his desperation for Aya's good will. Which he'd needed for his own peace of mind, knowing very well it was no short departure he'd be making and very likely not an entirely safe one.

Damn him, Aya flopped back onto the bed, sinking into soft, linen covered goose down, surrounded by Yoji's faint scent. There was no reason for it, going off without explanation and leaving them - - leaving Aya - - to worry over it. Not knowing - - not being in the loop was more frustrating than the actual knowledge of danger could ever be. It was just damned thoughtless and he had every intention of driving that fact home when Yoji got back. If Yoji got back.

He shut his eyes and groaned, annoyed at himself for that bit of realism. He lay there for a moment more, thinking about possibilities and mishaps and blood - and death - - before he hissed and pushed himself up, padding over to the dresser to shuffle through things he'd already looked through days and days ago. But he hadn't made a particularly critical search, not wanting to admit to himself that the need was there. It was one thing if a clue to Yoji's whereabouts just happened to catch his eye in passing, but quite another to snoop. Aya did not feel comfortable with that label attached to himself. He'd place it on Omi, who might have already been in here for all he knew - - but most certainly he knew how to mind his own business. Well, unless he was paid to do otherwise.

There was nothing on the dresser or in the drawers, or within the bedside table or the amoire that roused suspicion. Aya felt the fool for rifling Yoji's belongings. Even more so for absently throwing dirty clothes in the hamper to be added to the wash, for picking up an empty cigarette package left undiscarded and tossing it in the trash as well as emptying the mostly full ashtray after it.

He paused in the doing of that, the cigarette package having dislodged the tissue that had half covered the thin edge of a mini diskette. A very small round disk, shiny blue on one side and silver on the other with no other markings to identify it at all. But he recognized it regardless - - or its ilk at any rate. It was the media Krittiker traditionally used in their transfer of information that was too detailed or too widespread to take in over a single, person to person conversation. Yoji, as far as he knew, didn't have the equipment here to read it. He wasn't even certain if Omi's new computer would take this particular sized disk.

He held it between his fingers very much like he might a piece of chewed food he'd plucked from the trash, with disdain and unwillingness. A little knot of annoyance began to grow, spreading out its fingers to become full fledged anger. He stalked out of the room and down the hall to Omi's open door and Omi himself, slim back hunched over his laptop, chin on his palm while he resolutely did the things that Omi did on-line for hours each and every day.

Aya smacked the disc down on the desk top and Omi flinched, looking down at it in confusion, then up at Aya with a worried line between his brows.

"What's this?"

"Take a guess."

Omi frowned, biting his lip, gingerly picking it up and turning it between his fingers. He knew. Oh, he knew perfectly well what it was and what it meant.

"Where did you get it?" softly asked.

"Yoji's waste basket."


"Find out what's on it."

"Aya, I don't have a machine capable of reading it."

"Then find one."

"The disk may have self-erased after the first reading. A lot of Krittiker info discs do that. It may be encrypted. It may - - -"

"Omi. Just. Do. It." Aya had to take a breath and grasp after calm that was slipping away. "Find a way. I want to know what he's into. And while you're at it find a contact channel to whoever the hell is playing go-between for Krittiker now."

Omi shut his eyes, gears spinning inside his head, absorbing all the implications and their meanings and what they were likely getting themselves into by opening the channel to Krittiker again. He looked back up at Aya and nodded.

"Okay. I'm on it."

"My name is Korat." She introduced herself holding out a slim, ringed hand as if she expected Aya to take it and engage in pleasantries. Aya didn't care what her name was - - as if it were her true given one anyway - - and he didn't want to take her hand or exchange idle conversation. He held up the small disk. The ruined disk that Omi proclaimed had erased itself of all information once Yoji had read it.

"Where is he at?"

Korat smiled at him. A patently false smile. They were at a cafe overlooking one of the narrower, less traveled canals in Venice. Ken was somewhere along the avenue, close enough to cover them, not close enough to be casually spotted. Omi had taken the seat that Aya had refused and was trying at civility.

"Thank you for meeting with us."

"Of course." She smiled at Omi. A little less fake. "We always like to keep our options open and - -" she looked up at Aya. "- - he came to us. Not the other way around. So calm down and have a seat, because we're not going to have this conversation if you insist on drawing a crowd."

"Yoji approached you?" Omi asked.

Aya sat down, forcing himself not to clench his fists, forcing himself to don the same calm veneer that this Krittiker agent wore. She had the sure advantage otherwise and they were in a bad enough position already.

"Why?" He asked softly.

She tilted her head and looked at him. She was pretty, like every contact they'd ever had with Krittiker. "He wanted something of us. We were willing to trade."

"What did he want?" Omi inquired and she kept looking at Aya, not answering.

"You've had quite a long hiatus. We've allowed this. One, because you needed it - - the lot of you - - some of you more than others. Two, because you have value and valuable assets ought not be wasted out of hand. Have you pulled yourself together, Fujimiya Aya, enough to be trusted?"

Aya drew in a soft, hissing breath, narrowing his eyes and meeting her stare unflinchingly. Of course they knew he'd been wavering on the brink. They might even know why. He wouldn't put it past their avenues of information, though he cringed to think of that oh so personal information in their oh so impersonal hands.

"He's not the issue here." Omi said. An irate Omi, who leaned forward and frowned at her, not at all happy with the change in subject. "Yoji's the issue. Weiss is a team. We work as a team. You split us up - - in secret - - and you jeopardize us all. Is Yoji in trouble?"

She sipped delicately at her wine, eyes back on Omi now, gauging him. She shrugged finally, a graceful movement of silk covered shoulders.

"Yes. He's in trouble. It seems the mission took an unexpected turn."

How had things gone so wrong . . . ?

In a moment of haze-filmed clarity, the question bounced around Yoji's mind. Had it been the onset of the storm? Storms, really. Onslaught after onslaught that pounded in from the sea as if the gods of the ocean were out to destroy the little chunk of stable earth that Yoji had found himself on. Typhoon season, he'd been told. The island always shook this time of year. Damned old man had picked an inconvenient time to die. But - -maybe he hadn't picked it himself at all - - maybe there had been a helping hand - -

Or perhaps the bad luck had started the first time he'd stepped into the foyer of that oh so expensive, so high-tech house and looked up with causal belligerence into the eyes of the man who's long lost brother he was playing. Damned cold eyes that had fixed on him and saw the lazy challenge - - it was a look Sonny Tanaka would have given anyone, so he was told - - and absorbed it silently and with a quark of emotion that Yoji couldn't quite put a finger on, and smiled with what might have been genuine pleasure at seeing him.

"Its been a long time, Sonny. You're all grown up."

Maybe that's where the luck had started to go bad. Or maybe it had been the girl . . . he never failed to evict some response from women - - good or bad. He just couldn't pin point the exact moment when the mission had gone south and he'd been dragged in over his head in water's too dark to navigate.

Of course he could have jinxed himself, leaving as he had, with things not so smooth with Aya. Sneaking about like a thief in the night because somewhere in his mixed up reasoning, it had seemed the right thing to do. The proper thing to shield Aya from the necessity of having to deal with the situation himself. To protect Aya - - when Aya goddamned well would have smacked him down for suggesting that he needed a fucking hero.

Ah, Aya - - he could close his eyes and sink into the memory of pleasant sensation - - of cream smooth skin and long, clever fingers, hard and lean and soft and pliable all at once, if such a thing were possible.

And Yoji's.

And damnit, a man protected what was his - - even it if meant delving into moments of insanity.

This, Yoji supposed, thoughts fading again, chased in circles by tracers of lingering pain and the dulling effects of drugs - - qualified.

How exactly had things gone so damned wrong . . .?



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