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Bloodstained Illusions

by P L Nunn

 

Chapter Eight

 

"But I thought that's what you wanted me to be, the only difference being, you want me to be your cheap slut - - daddy."

Yoji got slapped for that remark. Thankfully it wasn't with the hand holding the gun or he would have taken a good deal more damage than the simple sting of palm connecting to cheek. The downside was that the gun holding hand was instead jammed against his stomach, the hard muzzle of the weapon jabbing painfully into his kidney.

Yoji swallowed, keeping his eyes on Raymond's, refusing to shudder or avert his gaze, not wanting to do anything to set off Raymond's proven short fuse.

Raymond's breath came hard and harsh, and there was the vague stench to his sweat that reminded Yoji of the smell in the hallways outside the booths of the peep shows, where men waited in baited anticipation for the chambers to clear so they could scramble in and watch the show. That's what Raymond reminded him of, a dirty voyeur watching a sex show behind a safe layer of glass, wanking off at the act, but not having the balls to participate. Not when it was adults involved instead of voiceless, helpless children.

Yoji carefully lifted a hand and touched the sting on the side of his face. "What's the matter, Raymond? You can hit me, you can shoot me, but you can't work up the courage to take up where you and me left off all those years ago? Not man enough . . ."

Raymond growled and latched a hand in Yoji's hair, jerking his head close enough to feel the tickle of the other man's wine scented breath. "You fucking little bastard, I ought to kill you . . ."

"Then why haven't you?" Yoji hissed back, wincing at hair that felt like it was coming out by the roots. If Raymond would only get that goddamned gun out of his stomach. "Too busy thinking about fucking me instead, but can't work up the balls like you did when it was you and a defenseless kid? So you gonna take offense just cause I get a little from the hired help? You're paying him well enough - - I figured it was due, so why should you care?"

He damn well knew that Raymond hadn't forgotten Aya's part in this, so try and make it as innocuous a participation as possible. Try and make it seem flippant and unimportant. No more than a meaningless fuck and maybe Raymond could hold off on his jealous rage for long enough for them to get the hell out of here.

Raymond snarled and hurled him towards the door. Yoji stumbled, got his footing and caught himself on the door frame, casting a wary stare over his shoulder as Raymond stalked after him.

"Out." Raymond growled and the thudding of Yoji's heart picked up its pace. Out meant Raymond wanted to confront the other participant of the crime he perceived had been committed against him. Yoji had seen first hand how he dealt with people that betrayed him. Hell, Yoji would lay back and spread for the bastard here and now if it would keep Aya out of his sights, but the lust that broiled in Raymond's eyes leaned more towards blind violence at the moment, than sex, and before Yoji could open his mouth and come up with a reason for them to stay in this room, Raymond had slammed him back against the door hard enough that the knob jabbed his back, robbing him of breath. Raymond did not allow him time to nurse the hurt. He grabbed his arm, jerking him away from the door, then pulled him through when he'd opened it and out onto the balcony hall. More than shadows waited out there. One of the hulking house security hovered and Yoji wondered where the hell he'd been hiding when he'd made the trip back from Aya's room.

The man nodded to Raymond, moving aside to make room for Raymond and Yoji to move down the balcony in the direction of the stairs . . .

. . .and Aya's room. The door of which was open, faint light spilling out into the hall. One of the house muscle leaned out the open door at their approach, and Yoji's stomach plummeted sickeningly. If they'd harmed Aya . . . self-preservation would cease to have meaning in the face of retaliating against that crime.

Raymond shoved him through the doorway of Aya's room. Yoji could barely catch his breath from the terrible anticipation of what he might find, the memory of how carelessly Raymond had put a bullet in Maria's head flashing insistently through his mind. Of her shocked eyes and the mess made of her forehead before she'd been tossed ignominiously overboard. If it happened to Aya . . . because of his own stupidity, his own inability to keep his dick in his pants . . .

But Aya wasn't dead. Aya didn't look happy, but he wasn't dead. Yet. He was standing in the middle of his room, wearing a robe and nothing else if the clothes still on the floor were any indication, flanked on either side by two more of the house muscle. They had their guns out, which was just damned overkill, as far as Yoji was concerned, considering Aya was supposed to be a personal assistant and either one of them outweighed him a good forty pounds. Hell, Raymond did, with his bulk and his height, but it didn't stop the man from shoving Yoji against the wall and stalking over before he could get his balance back to smash the hand with the gun against the side of Aya's head. Aya didn't make an attempt to avoid it. He just took it and went down, blood leaking from his hairline where the butt of the gun had split skin. Yoji had a man's hand on his chest and a gun in his face, forcing him back against the wall, when he wanted to do nothing so much as surge forward and rip Raymond's throat out for daring to lay hands on Aya.

"I hope you enjoyed it." Raymond said, face frozen in lines of neutrality, even though jealous passion burned in his eyes. He put the muzzle of the gun to Aya's head and Yoji felt the bottom of his world drop out from under him. The fear coalesced in his belly like a huge, leaden lump of ice. The fight or flight adrenaline surged through his veins making his heart thump in rapid, painful cadence behind the fragile cage of his ribs. He'd get a bullet in the chest before he could get two feet and Aya would still be dead. He had to do something. Anything to keep that finger from squeezing the trigger. Denial wouldn't work. Lies wouldn't. Maybe a little truth would.

"Yeah, I enjoyed it. Nothing like a good fuck and it'd been way too long. Weeks and weeks with nothing but Mrs. Palm and her five daughters . . ." he held up his hand to emphasize, then drew it back, sliding his fingers across his jaw and down the line of his neck to slip inside the neck of his shirt to his chest. Slow, deliberate, provocative. One thing Yoji Kudou was good at was knowing how to go about a seduction.

"Can you imagine?" he added softly. "I bet you can."

Raymond was staring at him, attention drawn unerringly to the path Yoji's hand was drawing. Aya was, albeit a little dazed from the recent pistol whipping, face absolutely, predictably unreadable.

"If I'd known you were still interested, I'd have invited you to watch. I can put on a good show. Can again, if you want . . ." He trailed off, sliding his hand onto the wrist of the man holding him back, and gently disengaging the hand. Since Raymond didn't order otherwise the muscle dropped his arm, eyes wary and gun still pointed in Yoji's direction.

Yoji knew how to bait the hook. Knew damn well how to exude enough sex to snare even the coldest fish. Case in point was sitting on the floor at Raymond's feet, one hand gingerly testing the bleeding lump above his temple. Raymond was a sure bet, already housing a deep interest in his illegitimate son. He knew Raymond had taken the lure the moment he stepped out into the room. Could tell by the glimmer of the man's eyes and the nervous flicker of tongue wetting dry lips.

He rolled up to Raymond with a gait that spoke sex and predator all rolled into one, ignoring Aya and brushing close to the only man in the room that presently had the last word on whether they lived or died. "What do you want to do with me?" he said so softly that Raymond wouldn't have heard at all if Yoji hadn't been so close that the wind of his words tickled the skin of Raymond's neck. Not quite touching, but close enough that the body was entirely aware of another living breathing thing next to it. He met Raymond's eyes from under the fringe of his lashes, trailing his tongue along the rim of his upper lip, drawing his bottom one into his mouth, scraping it along the underside of his teeth. Raymond's gaze fixated on that action, on his mouth and he could well enough imagine what was going on inside the man's head. Memories, desires, hesitation, fear . . . lust for the forbidden fruit that he had plucked so many years before. Damned sick bastard.

"Or did you want to watch?" Yoji purred, sliding his hand down and across the front of his pants, watching Raymond's gaze follow the movement. He thought Aya's did. "I think you want to watch."

Eyes still on Raymond's face, Yoji reached down and snagged Aya's arm under the shoulder, urging him up. It was vital to know how much that blow had fucked him up and what he would be capable of, circumstance allowing. Aya could stand on his own, though he swayed a little and his skin was snow pale against the auburn of his hair and the darker red of blood. Aya would do what Aya needed for them to survive, but depending on how far Yoji had to take this, he might not like it much. And that all depended on Raymond and whether Yoji had guessed the right buttons to push. He thought he had. The man wasn't ready for hands on participation yet, though eventually he would be . . . right now he was the pervert behind the glass window getting off on the show, hence the nighttime visits when he thought Yoji was asleep. Just convince him that Aya meant nothing other than a convenient fuck, convince him that Aya was simply a tool for father and son to get off with and Aya's life would start to hold value again.

"You made him bleed." Yoji said and grasped Aya's face, tilting his head to the side and running his tongue up the side of Aya's cheek from jawline to temple. Aya shuddered just a little, hands tensing at his sides, but going along docily enough. He had little choice at the moment. Yoji had blood on his lips and he turned to smile lazily at Raymond as he licked it away.

Hand still on Aya's chin, Yoji pressed against him, and covered his mouth with his own in a kiss that had nothing to do with passion and everything to do with putting on a show for his audience. Aya didn't return it. Didn't fight it. Just stood there and let Yoji plunge his tongue down his throat with his eyes shut and his body tense. All of which was understandable, considering Aya's intense dislike of public affection - - hell public emotion - - but standing there like a cardboard dummy wasn't going to win them points in the sex show category. Yoji squeezed his ass - - hard - - and Aya made an involuntary sound into his mouth, eyes slitting open and shifting a little in an effort to escape it. Yoji tightened his arm around Aya's waist and urged him backwards, one step away from Raymond and his thugs. Another. Until they'd reached the island of the bed and he shoved Aya not gently backwards onto it. Aya hit with an exhalation of breath and a surprised glare and a quickly covered desperate question in his eyes. Yoji crouched over him, not having an answer, knee between his legs, hand on his belly just under lean, heaving ribs. He pulled at the knot in the robe's belt, but didn't move aside the edges of the cloth, turning a heavy lidded glance back over his shoulder at Raymond instead.

"What do you want to see . . . Daddy?"

Raymond's breathing was harsher than Aya's. His eyes glazed with a carnal light. His breath hitched a little at Yoji's question and his gaze flickered warily to his henchmen.

"Out." He said hoarsely, jerking his gun hand towards the door.

They didn't question or look back, making haste for the door in their eagerness to escape what must have been an excruciatingly uncomfortable situation for them. God knew what rumors would be flying around the guard's barracks after this. Like it would matter.

Yoji kept staring at Raymond, waiting for his answer, idly stroking the taut flesh over Aya's lower ribs with his thumb, aware of the flaccid heat between Aya's legs through the knee he had pressed against Aya's groin.

"Shirt." Raymond said huskily, once the door was shut. He moved back against the far wall, leaning there as if his legs were too shaky to hold him. Damned inconvenient spot. Too far away to take down without having to sprint across the room and chance taking a bullet before he got there. He needed the man closer and distracted.

"Take off the shirt." Raymond repeated and Yoji shrugged, lifting his hands to the buttons and sliding it off his shoulders. He let it fall to the floor and peered back again.

"What now?"

"Use your mouth . . . on him." Raymond motioned with the gun, his other hand rubbing slowly at the bulge in his pants.

Yoji leaned forward, catching his weight with hands on either side of Aya's shoulders, staring down for just a moment and begging cooperation with his eyes. Aya's own were dilated and just a little panicked. Too scared and embarrassed to be properly furious, but that would come. Yoji bent down, lapping up a new, much smaller trickle of blood. The cut was already coagulating, blood clotting in the fine hair at Aya's temple. He moved down to Aya's jaw, to the side of his mouth. Aya wasn't so pliant this time, lips pressed shut, tense and oh so very, very unhappy. Necessity or not there was going to be hell to pay after this. If they got out alive.

He nibbled a little at Aya's bottom lip before moving down, inching his way past the thrumming pulse at Aya's neck, lapping at the slight sheen of sweat at the dip between his clavicle and proceeding on to a flat nipple only just beginning to bud from the cool of air-conditioned air. He sucked the tiny, fleshy bulb into his mouth, anchoring it with his teeth and biting enough to make Aya gasp and arch a little. Aya did love his pain/pleasure, body responding a little, even if his mind was firmly entrenched against it.

Yoji slid downwards, positioning his body so that Raymond's view was blocked, mentally urging the man to creep closer and closer still . . . said the spider to the fly. Mission parameters be damned, the only way out of this that he could see was killing Tanaka now and making a run for it. Even if Raymond decided he liked what he saw and wanted repeat performances - - Aya couldn't carry it off. He wasn't wired that way, to put on sexual shows even at the cost of life and death. He wasn't Yoji and as depressing and shameful as the notion was that he probably could have carried out the sham flawlessly - - it still made Yoji's stomach turn at the mere contemplation. There was something about Raymond Tanaka that made his skin crawl.

He pushed the edges of Aya's robe aside, exposing the pale flesh below his navel, the limp, only slightly pinker organ nestled under dark auburn pubes. Aya's thighs tensed a little, and a muscle in his cheek ticked. He had to be at the beginnings of a true freak out right about now, vulnerable and naked in the presence of an enemy and helpless to do anything about it without getting the both of them shot.

It's okay, baby, it's all good. Yoji channeled at him mentally, soothing subtly with his hands atop Aya's hips. Closer. Closer, you know you want to, got sent to Raymond. You know you want to see what it is I'm doing, you sick fuck. You know you want to touch me. Yoji took Aya's soft cock into his mouth, working baby soft, loose flesh, not particularly surprised that he wasn't getting the reaction he usually received. Didn't matter much, considering he wasn't getting much from the contact either. The only thing making his blood rush was the pre-kill tension that always hummed through his veins at the culmination of a mission.

He didn't sense Raymond's move, but Aya must have caught it, for his hand shifted minutely, squeezing Yoji's wrist in warning. Yoji kept up what he was about, mouthing pliable flesh, nuzzling the soft sacs of Aya's balls, biting a little and getting an ever so tentative reflexive twitch from Aya's cock for his trouble. Even furious and embarrassed, the body liked what the body liked.

He sensed Raymond behind him, saw the man's shadow fall across Aya's torso, felt the heated hesitation. Fingers tentatively touched his shoulder and he refused to flinch,, refused to acknowledge the twinge of nausea curling in his gut. He didn't know where the gun was. It might be pointed at the back of his head or at Aya. He needed to know where the gun was.

The hand spread out on his skin of his back, between his shoulder blades, a careful exploration that firmed as Raymond slid his fingers around, under Yoji's armpit to his stomach. H couldn't help the minute rolling shiver of revulsion that fanned across his skin. Maybe the repugnance showed on his face. Aya was looking up at him from under the brush of his lashes, eyes unreadable and glittering. Then there was weight on his back and a gusting sigh of longing/relief as Raymond leaned down against him, the gun hand sprawling out to support his weight on the edge of the bed.

That was it. Yoji twisted, jamming an elbow sharply backwards, at the same moment latching hold of the wrist attached to the hand holding the gun. Raymond let out an 'ooofff' of air and jerked back. Strong. Damned strong man, but Yoji had speed and training and desperation on his side. He lurched up, putting all his strength and panic behind it and smashed the top of his head into the underside of Raymond's jaw. It hurt. Yoji saw stars. It didn't stop him from twisting as the man staggered, blood blossoming from his mouth and slamming the palm of his hand up into Raymond's nose before he could get a cry of alarm past his bloodied mouth.

Crunch. Bone and cartilage shattered, driving upwards in a simple, efficient act of killing. Raymond dropped without a sound and Yoji rushed forward and caught him before he could make too heavy a sound hitting the floor. He eased the big man down and knelt there, overcome by the dizziness that he'd forced himself to ignore a second before. His hands were shaking. Stupid that his hands were shaking. He was a professional and he ought to be able to deal with miserable situations without coming apart at the seams.

"Yoji?" Aya's soft query chipped at the shell of dismay that had been forming. Aya's hand on his shoulder broke it completely and he took a sharp breath and latched onto Aya's wrist to pull himself up.

"So I guess this means a change in plans, huh?"

Aya gave him a look, whatever concern for him that had lingered in his voice, fading into disgust.

"Was that entirely necessary?" It was a low voiced hiss, the both of them well aware that Raymond's muscle was more than likely right outside that door.

"There were other options?"

Aya's teeth clicked shut, biting back an answer to that, though Yoji was sure he hadn't heard the last of it. Aya swept past Yoji to pull open drawers, drawing out clothing. To his credit he didn't stalk into the bathroom to dress in privacy, but shucked off the robe and quickly stepped into underwear and pants, and a dark T-shirt over them. By the time he had his shoes on, Yoji had pulled his shirt back on, checked the ammunition in Raymond's gun and stood ready at the door.

"This is going to be messy. And loud." Yoji mouthed and Aya nodded in grim agreement.

"We need to get to my room and get the CD." They'd killed Raymond Tanaka against Kritiker's wishes, the least they could do to make it up was to deliver the information Yoji had been sent here to collect in the first place.

He motioned Aya to the side of the door that would shield him from immediate sight when it opened, then hesitated, touching his own temple to indicate the lump on Aya's. "You okay for this?" he mouthed the query.

Aya's lips thinned and he nodded. Yoji took a breath, preparing himself, then shifted the gun behind his hip, shielding it with his body and snatched the door open, quickly assessing what was waiting for them outside it. The three house security muscle were still there, talking quietly among themselves by the balcony rail. All their heads swung towards him and the open door. Raymond's body was visible behind him, but it was too dim inside the room to make out the blood from the distance they stood.

"Help." Yoji put a proper amount of dismay in his voice. "My brother's had a heart attack."

They jerked into motion, concern for their employer and initial shock overcoming natural wariness.

"I'll call a doctor." One announced, starting down the hall. Fuck. Yoji let the first one pass him by before putting a bullet in the second one's head. He didn't wait to see how the first one reacted, instead darting out into the hall and shooting at the third. The gunshot had robbed him of surprise and his target suddenly became difficult.

A shot was fired towards him and Yoji rolled, squeezing off two of his own, knowing damn well one of them hit from the aborted, muffled thump of bullet into flesh. The man went down, but not out, trying to get into one of the rooms off the hall. Yoji hit him again before he could get the door open. This time he stayed still. He whirled back towards Aya's room, but Aya was coming out the door, a gun in his hand and another stuffed in his belt.

"Go. Go" Yoji waved him down the balcony ahead of him, running for his own room and the all important stolen information. The whole of the house would be roused and after them in short order and there were limited routes out. He ran to his dresser while Aya stood guard at the door, and grabbed the entire portable CD player that the disc was protected within, hooking it onto his pants as he joined Aya at the door.

The alarm pierced the nighttime quiet and Yoji hissed through his teeth. The security at the barracks would be roused now and they'd have a small army after them. Well, a small army minus one. Please, please, please let Ken get his hands on some sort of major weaponry to help even the odds.

"Where . . .?" Aya asked.

"Raymond's office. He's got a balcony over the back garden."

Aya nodded, taking a quick look down the hall before darting out and running low and close to the wall towards the back of the house where the office was. Yoji took off after him, just as the figures of several security came pounding up the steps. Yoji spun onto one knee, shoulder to the wall and fired down the dark balcony, hitting one man full in the chest and bowling him backwards into the men behind him. He took the opportunity of them getting their balance to sprint after Aya towards the office. He heard the shot as Aya took the lock out and kicked the door open and was on his heels as he ran across the room to the balcony doors. It was a one story drop to the garden below. Aya clambered over without hesitation, dropping into the darkness. Yoji looked over his shoulder once and climbed over the railing with a little more care, knowing that his recently gunshot leg would protest the landing. It did, giving way under him with a sharp ache and not cooperating fully when he tried to prod it back into motion. Aya dragged him up, not caring one way or another at the moment about the state of Yoji's mobility, just wanting them away from the open area under the balcony. Yoji limped along at his side as fast as he could and they reached the shelter of thick brush just as the pursuing security reached the balcony. They heard the chatter of men communicating over walkie talkies and figured a net was being set into place. The only thing he and Aya had going for them was the night. And even that might work against them in their efforts to traverse uneven, tricky footing.

Down the slope leading to the edge of the property before it sheered off into cliffs overlooking the ocean. God forbid they head for the road. Yoji had already been shown the error of that route, which left going through the forest on the other side of it, down towards the beach along the far side of the Tanaka docks.

"How's Omi gonna know to pick us up?" Yoji asked.

"Ken has the signal transmitter." Aya said and Yoji hoped to hell he'd triggered it as soon as the barracks had been roused by the gunfire in the main house. They'd had surprise on their side in the house. Once security got their act together and got organized, they had overwhelming numbers and weaponry on their side, not to mention familiarity with the surrounding island. It would be just a matter of time before he and Aya were hunted down. At least Raymond wouldn't be around to prod them along, which might work to their benefit in the long run. Once his men realized they were free agents they might give up the chase and start looking out for their own interests.

They came to the road leading down to the docks and crouched warily in the brush beside it, scanning the darkness for the movement of pursuers. There was the faint sound of an engine that grew steadily closer. They pressed close to the ground, clutching weapons and watching the jeep pass by, heading down towards the docks, no doubt to increase the security around possible escape routes. Once it was well down the road they rose and cautiously crossed the road into the woods at the other side.

"Where's the pick up point?" Yoji asked, trudging along behind Aya, eyes scanning the shadowy forest, as wary of human pursuit as he was of native nasties such as venomous snakes. Not that he'd see one in this darkness until he stepped on it.

Aya didn't answer immediately, busy forging a path through hanging branches and root snarled ground. When he did, his voice held a little uncertainty. "About a mile north of the Tanaka compound . . . but, I'm a little turned about . . . are we heading north?"

Yoji almost laughed. If it had been light enough to see Aya's face, he was sure it would be flushed with embarrassment. Aya's sense of direction was usually impeccable. Getting pistol whipped had screwed with his equilibrium. Either that or he was still mightily flustered over Yoji's little show for Raymond. Maybe a combination of both.

"It's a possibility." Yoji said warily, none too certain himself. They'd crossed the road and as long as they hadn't started veering back around towards the house then they were probably heading north, though god knew the path they were taking was a meandering one.

"According to aerial specs, there should be a village between here and there." Aya said. "If we find sign of that then we're going in the right direction."

"Yeah. I've never seen it. Didn't get out from the house much - -" Yoji trailed off, canting his head and listening as the faint sound of barking broke through the nighttime noises of the forest. "Oh . . . fuck! You hear that?"

Aya apparently did. He hissed something under his breath and picked up the pace. But human feet were not nearly so fleet as canine through the obstacles tropical foliage presented. Very soon he heard the crashing of heavy bodies through the underbrush. He recalled seeing the huge black mastiffs quartered in the kennels beyond the guard barracks and had no desire whatsoever to meet the business end of them. That type of dog could take a bullet or two and still keep coming, getting in a killing strike of its own before it died.

"Go go go go go." He shoved at Aya, urging him into an all out run despite the dangers darkness hid underfoot. Yoji felt the immediate pull in the half healed hole in his leg, but there was nothing for it. They splashed through a small brook and up the other side and then amazingly enough through a thick wall of vines and onto a narrow, pitted dirt road. It had to be the road leading towards the village, which meant they were on the right track. Even though it made for easier flight, it also held the inherent danger of vehicular traffic.

The dogs burst out of the woods and onto the road, three heavy, black shapes against the night background. They hesitated briefly great heads swinging this way and that, getting their bearings, registering the smell of many humans along this roadway, then they focused on the two humans at hand and began their lumbering rush towards Yoji and Aya.

Aya didn't say a thing, just stopped running and turned, panting softly from the flight, strands of dark, sweat dampened hair clinging to the pale of his face. He brought up the gun waiting until the dogs got close enough to get in a killing shot. Yoji did the same, hand trembling a little from exertion, leg aching all the way to the bone. If it came to much more running he'd be a liability.

There was a shrill whistle from out in the woods and a man appeared at the place the dogs had exited. Another whistle and he dropped to one knee at the side of the road. The dogs faltered, ears twitching, focus shattered as their attention wavered towards the whistled summons. With a chorus of growling whines and ominous, threatening glares at Yoji and Aya, they skittered to a halt and turned, trotting back down the road, gathering around the crouching man, the nubs of their tails wagging furiously.

Yoji lowered his arm, casting a wary glance at Aya, who still stood tense and ready, hand as steady on his gun as if he'd just sit down a cup of tea instead of running hell bent through the woods with toothy death on his heels.

The man down the dirt track stood up, adjusting what looked in the darkness like an automatic weapon on a strap over one shoulder, but not aiming it at them, and started walking their way, the dogs clustered at his heels.

The gait gave it away. The easy, slightly cocky roll of the stride. Aya lowered his arm finally, a faint sigh escaping his lips.

"Jumping the gun a little bit, aren't we?" Ken stopped a few feet away from them, armed to the teeth, hands on the collars of two of the dogs who were growling at Aya and Yoji.

"Yeah . . . well. Couldn't be helped." Yoji shrugged, and felt Aya give him a dubious stare even if he didn't actually see it. There was a grain of truth in the statement after all. Getting his hands on Aya had been imperative to his sanity and it was only bad luck that Raymond Tanaka had found out about it and snapped. "You're right friendly with the mutts."

Ken grinned, dropping down again and wrapping two thick necks in twin bearhugs. The third dog whined at the neglect and crowded close, demanding its own share of Ken's attention. "I'm always friendly with the dogs. Better than shooting them.

"Did you signal Omi?" Aya asked the more important question, impatient and wary.

"The very moment word came down that the two of you were in deep shit. I thought we weren't supposed to kill the guy."

"Yeah, well that couldn't be helped either." Yoji grunted.

Ken shrugged and stood, shifting the gun hanging off his shoulder again so he could unfasten the thick black watch at his wrist. A familiar watch which wasn't, and Yoji caught it with profound relief when Ken tossed it to him, happy to have his weapon of choice within reach. Ken dug into his back pocket and came up with a pair of black gloves.

"Sorry, three foot blades aren't so easy to smuggle in." Ken clapped Aya on the shoulder. Aya flinched from the contact, twitching out from under the familiarity, glower darkening marginally.

"I'm aware." Aya said shortly. "How close are we to the pick up point?"

"Not too far as the crow flies." Ken gestured down the road. "But we're going to have to avoid the village, which will take a little more time. They're all loyal to the Tanaka's and the words out."

"I'm supposed to be a Tanaka." Yoji groused. "If the word's out Raymond's dead, shouldn't they be looking to the next of kin as a paycheck source."

"Shoulda woulda coulda." Ken started down the dirt road at a fast walk. "Once they cool off and If they had time to think about it and you were willing to spend the time and effort to face them down, maybe. What, you lookin' to pick up a little black-market arms empire?"

"Would the both of you shut up and listen for guards." Aya was stiflingly efficient at the best of times when a mission was in full swing. He had certain other irritants swirling around behind his narrowed eyes, that made his voice harsher than usual. Yoji and Ken exchanged looks and shut up.

The dogs were ranging ahead of them, stopping here and there to examine the foliage at the side of the road. They were better equipped then human's to pick up approaching company. Still, as Ken had proved, the dogs were accustomed to a good number of the island security force, and might not raise an alarm at the approach of a scent they recognized.

Two dozen paces down the road, only the sounds of the dogs rustling in the undergrowth and the ever-present background cacophony of tropical forest noise breaking the silence and Ken couldn't take it any longer.

"So what happened with Tanaka. Who freaked out on who?"

Answering that here and now would be delicate to say the least.

"I fucked up." Which was true enough and covered a great many things. "It was him or us. I chose him."

"Hey, I wasn't finding fault. As long as you explain it to the new Kritiker chick, I'm cool with it."

"You're so generous . . ."

"Shut up." Aya hissed at them snatching at both their arms and hauling them towards the roadside. The very faint sound of a motor could be heard coming up the road from the direction of the native village and soon enough the heralding sound produced an ancient, battered pickup.

Yoji crouched in the brush between Aya and Ken, waiting for it to pass and it might have merrily chugged along its way if not for the natural canine instinct to chase cars. One of the dogs broke the cover of woods bounding onto the track despite Ken's desperate hissing for it to stay. Its bark was no meek thing and could easily be heard above the misfiring truck engine. When a second and then third dog joined the first, growling and barking in the truck's wake, the brakes squealed and the vehicle skidded to a stop. There must have been close to a dozen men in the back, all of which scrambled for footing at the sudden stop. The telltale glow of moonlight glinted off a good many rifle stocks.

Fuck. Tanaka's security had enlisted the aid of local muscle. Running seemed the logical choice. Not running as a pack seemed even more reasonable. With a set of silent signals, they split, melting into the woods as quietly as they could, Aya disappearing in a matter of seconds to Yoji's right, Ken melting away into the darkness in the other direction. Woodcraft had never been Yoji's strong point, but even he made less noise than the yelling, crashing men that piled off the truck bed and mulled around the edge of the forest, waiting for instruction. Someone must have given it, for soon enough men waded into the undergrowth in pursuit.

Yoji retreated from the roadside as quickly as he could, using the cover of his pursuers racket to cover the noise of his own escape. His leg was throbbing terribly, a hot, deep seated ache. There was no way he could outrun a healthy man. Which meant cheating and hoping to hell the searchers had scattered and were not traveling in clumps of more men than he could reasonably handle.

Branches raked at his face and hair. Roots tangled with his feet. Ignore the hurt in his leg, ignore everything but the awareness of the forest and the sound of heavy bodies moving in his wake. There was the sound of a branch snapping at close range and Yoji put his back to the bulk of a tree, pulling wire and winding it a gloved hand. There was a man with a rifle and Yoji couldn't afford to consider that this man was probably only a native villager with a family and a job other than protecting Tanaka interests. The only thing that could be considered was that this man and the men like him were a threat to him and to Aya and to Ken. They'd made their bed when they'd taken up arms to chase them down.

The man moved a step past him and Yoji flung the wire, ever so accurate in his aim, mind blanking out for the second it took to jerk the wire, going cold and emotionless and focused. The world turned greyscale and flat. The blood was just a darker stain across paler gray skin. He crouched and spun at the click of a shotgun shell being chambered, pulled out the gun in his waistband with his free hand and fired unerringly into the body of the man that had been a dozen steps behind the one who lay on the verge of decapitation at Yoji's feet.

Damn. The gunshots were unfortunate. He'd have to run and run fast now to clear the area. He shook the wire free and fled into the woods, the world gradually fading back into shades of color, his perceptions leaving that place they went when he killed.

He heard the rapid patter of gunfire in the distance. Someone else giving up their position. Ken from the sound of automatic weapons fire. Wherever Aya was, he wasn't making noise, which Yoji dearly hoped meant he'd avoided notice and pursuit.

Darkness clad roots tangled with his feet and he staggered, thumping down an incline that led to a small brook with an alarming lack of anything resembling grace. He made the bottom in a serious of uncontrolled leaps and came down on the bad leg with a jarring pain that seemed to run all the way up the side of his body. The leg crumpled in protest and Yoji went down to his knees in the cool water, seeing little pin pricks of blood colored lights behind his eyelids. He took a breath, trying to will away the dizziness and pushed himself to his feet. The wound in his leg protested, scabs barely mended to scar tissue pulling relentlessly, deeper tears no doubt reopening from the excess.

He struggled up the other side of the embankment, using roots and vines as handholds to help pull himself up. His progress was a limping one after that, no matter how important speed was. There was no help for it when his body refused to cooperate. He heard the crashing sound of pursuit and pressed his back to the nearest tree large enough to hide him, wire held ready and taut in his hands. But the hunters veered away from his position and after the sound of their passage had faded, Yoji let out a soft breath of relief and continued his own way. He hoped it was the right direction. He could hear the rush of the ocean, but the sound was so invasive that it was hard to tell if he were heading towards it or merely perpendicular.

The woods thinned out and he came to the edge of their shelter to find himself looking out over what might have been fields of sugarcane. To his left was the edge of a cliff looking out over the vast darkness of the ocean. To his right were the distant, faint lights of what might have been the village. He was going the right way then. Past these fields and onto the beach and he'd eventually find Aya or Ken and very hopefully both, since he hadn't a clue really where the pickup point was.

The cane was tall enough camouflage his passage in the darkness. He waded into it at as fast a limping walk as he could manage, listening intently for the sound of pursuit, but it was hard to hear anything over the twin rushing of the sea and his own racing heart. The cane was abrasive, with insidiously sharp leaves that left him with dozen of paper thin slices along his bare arms and hands. Something rustled and slithered away in the dead leaves before him and Yoji drew breath and made a painful leap over the spot, cursing the luck that let him avoid venomous snakes in the forest only to almost step on one in the fields before his destination. He picked up his pace despite the hurt in his leg, desperately aware that he was sockless and his ankles were damned vulnerable to ground strikes.

The cane diminished abruptly stopping short at a narrow dirt track. It seemed to run along the edge of the dwindling cliffs towards the pale strip beach. Yoji trotted down the road, gun in hand, leery of the lack of cover, wincing at each hitch from his leg, wanting very much just to stop and bend over, pressing hands to the ache in efforts to massage it away. But the beach wasn't far and he'd have a chance to work at it soon enough. Maybe he could even gain a little sympathy from Aya. His suffering would be a small price to pay to elevate some of Aya's irritation with him. Yoji imagined there was a damned large reserve of annoyance that Aya hadn't even skimmed the surface of just waiting to be unleashed and most of it was justifiable, regardless of Yoji's good intentions. He'd gone behind Weiss's back - - Aya's back - - and made a stupid deal in the hopes of garnering a ghost of a chance of getting information to help Aya. Aya didn't want his help. Aya didn't want anyone's help and got pissy when it was offered, whether he needed it or not. Score one against Yoji.

Score two was the fact that the mission had gone sour due to no particular fuck up on his part and Aya had had to sit on his hands for weeks with no word and with nothing to do but get more and more angry over the silence. Aya didn't take being left in the dark well.

Score three was the fact that Yoji had fucked up and put them in jeopardy because of it and then embarrassed the hell out of Aya in the process of getting them out. Aya didn't handle embarrassment any better than he handled charity.

Any way he looked at it, he was screwed.

It was only when he left the road and his shoes started sinking into the sand of the dunes that topped the beach that he realized just how true that was.

The shot rang out before he heard the engine or saw the headlights of the jeep and there was no place to go but down, with his back to the sandy slope of the dune, rolling to avoid the spray of bullets and trying desperately to scramble up loose sand to reach the other side of the dune and some degree of cover. He reached that safety by the good graces of luck and rolled haphazardly down the other side. He came up short against an outcropping of rock, and braced his back against it, feet digging into the sand as the jeep topped the dune with a roar of engine and went sailing over Yoji's position. He brought the gun in up both hands, tracking . . . waiting for that moment when he could see more than the underside of the jeep and have a chance of the flesh and blood bodies inside it. It hit the sand with a spray of sand, tires spinning and spitting up more, effectively clouding Yoji's clear shot. He fired anyway, on his stomach, half behind the stubby slab of jutting rock and heard bullets ricochet off of metal. Chips of rock flew and sand gysered up as shots peppered the area around him. Something thumped against his shoulder dully and he ignored it, figuring it for a chunk of rock. The jeep spun around, creating a circular rut in the beach. Men jumped off and Yoji took one down immediately, before the others ducked for cover. He twisted to get a better aim and his left arm refused to cooperate. There was wetness winding its way down his upper arm towards his elbow. Fuck.

He rolled back behind his minimal shelter, breath harsh and hands shaking. Check the bullets left in the clip. Three. Three and he was done with nothing but his wire against three men with God knew what sort of weaponry. And the wire wouldn't be much use if he couldn't shake some mobility back into the dully aching arm.

More gunfire. More sand spraying up near him. The sound of lead hitting the jeep, the hiss of air escaping a blown out tire. Silence.

"Yoji?"

Yoji barely dared to let out the breath of relief at the sound of Aya's voice. He registered the movement of narrow darkness against the paler background of beach. He should have answered immediately, but the spinning of his vision prevented it. He heard the sound of sand rustling under the weight of footsteps. Heard the last of the air escaping the jeep tire in a hissing whine. Heard the rush of the ocean.

"Yoji?" Aya's warm hand touched his face and he recalled that an affirmation was needed.

"Yeah?"

"Are you hit?" The hand slid down his neck to his torso, feeling for a wound. There was the slightest hint of a tremble in Aya's touch. Aya had run hard and fast for this beach too, after all, and was most likely as winded as Yoji.

"Shoulder. Maybe a ricochet of rock. Arm's sorta numb."

Aya's hands shifted there, sliding under his shirt and slipping in the blood.

"Damn, Yoji . . ." Ken appeared from somewhere in the darkness on the other side of the jeep. ". . . but you make a fine diversion."

"Fuck off . . ."

"Help me, Ken." Aya got an arm under Yoji's shoulder and Ken shifted his gun and stooped to support the other one. It hurt like hell getting up. The world tilted a little before he got his bearings and wasn't in danger of toppling back down.

"Tell me our ride's here." Yoji tried to keep the whine out of his voice.

"Soon." Aya murmured.

"Better be sooner than soon." Ken said, looking back over his shoulder. "There are a helluva lot more where these guys came from, and God help us if they bring out the big guns."

Not an inspiring thought. They trudged down towards the water's edge, hoping against hope that Omi had picked up the signal and help was on the way.

 

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