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Bloodstained Illusions

by P L Nunn


Chapter Nine


When Omi said he was going to do a thing, Omi did it. On time and to the tee. They had barely started moving across the cool sand of the night-washed beach when the faint whir of a motor could be heard above the ocean's constant moan. Aya's arm tightened around Yoji's middle, urging him to a faster pace and Yoji clenched his teeth and forced his throbbing leg to obey. It was still a stumbling passage, feet sinking into deep sand, head spinning more than a little, the shoulder that had been hit by the ricochet of rock starting to lose its numbness and throb in time with the ache in his leg. He was a mess.

Ken paced backwards behind them, scanning the shadowy dunes that might hide approaching pursuit. If pursuit did come while they were out where the water and sand melded and their ride hadn't reached the beach yet, there would be damned little cover and no escape save the dubious route of out to sea. Yoji doubted seriously he would be up for much swimming what with the leg and the arm behaving badly.

But for once, luck was with them and the scant moonlight revealed a black rubber raft speeding along atop the choppy waves towards the beach. Shouldering his gun, Ken tromped out into the water ahead of them to meet it, grabbing the water slicked edge of the thing and holding it steady as the unfamiliar man working the motor, idled it down and tilted it up out of the shallow water. Omi, all in black including a knit hat that covered his bright hair, leapt out into the water, taking a scant moment to grasp Ken's arm in passing, as if to assure himself that he was solid and in one piece, before splashing shoreward to urge Aya and Yoji more quickly towards the raft.

"What happened? This is off schedule? Yoji's injured."

"No shit." Ken was in the raft and reaching out to pull Yoji in over the round edge. Yoji slid in and sprawled on the bottom, shifting his legs to allow room for Omi who clambered in behind him.

"Go go go." Ken cried and Aya pushed the raft back out into water deep enough for the propellers to do their thing without hitting sand, then slithered in belly first and landed in a tumble on the floor next to Yoji.

For the first time in a very long time, Yoji felt a modicum of relief. Simple, wonderful relief to be off that island, albeit no more than a few dozen yards at the moment, with no cover to maintain, the only people in the world he cared about safe and sound around him and Aya's warm, wet self pressed out of necessity close to his side in the narrow confines of the raft bottom.

Of course it didn't last. He heard Ken's soft curse above the purr of the motor and the thump thump of the raft's passage across the waves. Ken shifted to the back of the raft, weapon braced on the edge, scanning the dark shoreline. Then the distant spray of gunfire and the plop plop as bullets hit water; the louder noise of Ken returning fire, then the added roar of Omi joining him, the both of them firing almost blindly towards the dark beach, targets only making themselves clear by the flare of gunfire. They were to far out to take a hit, and it was a very fast little raft with a suspiciously military looking man at the tiller.

"We're out of range." Omi said, out of breath, eyes so bright that even in the moonlight they gleamed. Ken grunted, hyped up and not ready to let the adrenaline fade. "When I got your signal before schedule, I was afraid something terrible had happened."

"Something terrible did happen." Yoji muttered.

"Are you hit?" Omi moved forward, half crawling over Aya and leaning on his legs, not particularly minding Aya's personal space requirements in his need to poke and prod at Yoji, as if he could see anything in the dark.

"Omi." Aya said sternly. "Let him be." Which translated meant, 'I'm agitated and on edge and crammed in a raft with too many people and if you don't back off there's going to be serious conflict between you and I.

Omi was smart enough, even in his concern to get the point and he shifted back, leaning against the front of the raft beside Ken. And for a few brief moments they skimmed along the waves in silence until the man at the tiller announced the appearance of another boat in the distance.

"Fuckit!" Ken squinted into the inky darkness made by the silhouette of the island. Yoji pulled himself up with a grunt to look himself and saw the shifting running lights of a boat against that blackness. A fast moving boat. He remembered all too well being run down by one of the Tanaka speed boats himself. He doubted this little raft would stand much of a chance, suped up motor or no. And even if the boat couldn't catch them outright . . . their rocket launchers would blow them out of the water, just like they had blown Maria and himself out of it when they'd attempted escape.

Fuck. A shiver of apprehension ran the circuit of his spine, coiling at his belly, making his hands shake just a little as all too vivid memory poured back. If they took a hit and any of them survived it, there would be no Raymond Tanaka to bargain with afterwards. There would just be the vengeful bullets of his patronless cronies. They'd end up with a quick watery death and would join Maria at the bottom of the ocean.

Aya moved up next to him, leaning on the edge of the raft, shoulder to shoulder, and maybe he felt the faint shivering that Yoji couldn't stop, for his hand curled up squeezing the back of Yoji's neck, an impersonal sort of comfort in the view of a stranger's eyes.

The distinctive whizzing sound of a shoulder launched rocket proved that Tanaka's men on the boat were damned serious in their pursuit. Reflexes said to cower behind the nonexistent cover of the raft's side and Yoji did just that, pulling Aya down next to him, as if inflated rubber would protect them. The rocket passed by so close overhead they could feel the breeze of its passage. It hit the water not ten feet past them and exploded in a spray of water that rocked the raft.

Aya shook off Yoji's fingers on his collar and climbed back up to the side of the boat, gun uselessly in hand. The boat was too far away for conventional weapons to come close. The men on the boat had gauged their distance with that first shot, they'd be more accurate on the next.

Then unexpectedly something boomed in the darkness ahead of them and the whirling scream of something larger than a shoulder launched rocket passed overhead. The darkness swallowed it a split second before it hit with a cracking impact that blossomed in the span of a half a heartbeat into a billowing explosion of fire and splintering wood and fiberglass.

They weren't close enough for the debris to be a danger, but they still ducked, survival instincts stronger than the need to see the immediate outcome of the explosion.

"Jesus fucking Christ . . ." Yoji breathed, huddled under the protective circle of Aya's arms. "What was that?"

"That," Omi said, just a hint of a tremor in his voice. "would be our ride."


It was a sleek 300 hundred foot military patrol ship. Not as impressive as some of her larger sisters of the line, but sporting a nice set of big guns on her foreword deck. A Japanese ship skulking through the waters off the coast of China. That was a damn risky venture in and of itself and hinted very much just how much pull the new hierarchy of Krittiker had to engineer such a thing.

The crew was efficient and silent, getting them onboard and getting under way in a matter of minutes. They were running dark and fast and hoping to get out of treacherous waters with none the wiser. The small private army of a dead gunrunner they could deal with . . . the Chinese navy was another matter altogether.

Yoji sat sprawled against a deckhouse wall, out of the immediate path of scurrying sailors. Omi had disappeared somewhere, conferring with whatever officer was in charge of this shadow mission. He though he saw ken at the aft railing scanning the darkness for things better discovered by ships radar. Ken was stubborn that way.

Aya was stubborn in other ways. It took a while before he ventured to Yoji's side, having distanced himself long enough for perhaps a smidgen of guilt to override his annoyance. Even wet, and across cold metal decking, Aya moved silently. Yoji started a little when he was simply there, staring down with disapproving eyes at Yoji's sprawled form.

"What?" Yoji was too tired to play politics with Aya, or to even salve Aya's wounded dignity. That would have to come later, when he didn't feel as if he'd been on the loosing end of a hard fought battle.

"The ship's medic needs to take a look at you."

"Sure." Yoji didn't make any efforts at moving.

"Are you still bleeding?"

"I dunno. I'm wet all over. Hard to tell."

Aya frowned, turning his head a little away as if to hide whatever expression had crossed his eyes. As if the night and a ship with minimal lights wasn't doing a good enough job. Finally he drew a long suffering breath and held out his hand. Silent. Waiting.

There was little enough option but to take it. He could only offend Aya so much in the span of a day and not reap the rewards of the full measure of his ire. Yoji sighed and grasped Aya's hand, pushing up against the wall with Aya's help, weaving just a little once he was up, which might have been as much from lack of proper sea legs as injury.

The navy medic saw him, and ascertained that the shoulder injury was a minor one. The rock hadn't lodged in his flesh, but scored a deep enough gash to cause bleeding and require sixteen stitches. The initial impact before the thing had skipped along the flesh of his shoulder had caused the arm to go numb. He'd be sore for a few days, but it would heal nicely. The older wound in his leg was more unsettling. He'd gotten fairly competent treatment of it from the village doctor, but no regiment of antibiotics had been kept up and the ship's medic frowned in disapproval as he prodded the inflamed, newly opened wound on the front of Yoji's thigh. To Yoji's dismay, he removed the scab and sliced a neat little opening in flesh desperately, but inadequately attempting to heal itself. Under excruciating pressure, a dribble of yellow puss issued forth, at which point Yoji started counting ceiling tiles and wishing he'd stayed firmly planted above decks.

The medic cleaned the wound without benefit of local anesthetic, shot Yoji full of antibiotics and sternly told him to see his own doctor immediately upon arrival home, if he wanted to avoid a more serious infection than he already had.

He retreated thereafter to the small, closet of a cabin below decks that had been allotted to them and immediately passed out on the narrow, hard as a board, bottom bunk. He had nightmarish dreams of drowning. Of clawing desperately for a glassy surface of light kissed glass and always having it fall just out of his reach. Of sinking away from the light and into darkness stained by crimson, of Maria's bullet marred face, surrounded by the cloud of her dark hair. No, not so dark. Red. And not Maria's face at all, but Aya's, with Aya's staring purple eyes, blank and dead and free off all the accusation that should have rightly fallen on Yoji's shoulders . . .

He woke up with a gasp, short of breath, heart pounding against his ribs in blind panic. Fingers touched his face in the darkness, cool and dry against his sweat dampened skin, calm and soothing as they stroked hair away from his forehead.

"Shush. It's okay." Aya's low voice. Aya's presence looming over him, all silhouetted from the weak, shuttered night light above the door. Aya was kneeling on the floor by the bunk, one elbow on the mattress the other arm curled around Yoji's head. "You were having a nightmare. Its all right now. We're almost home."

"Home?" Yoji's voice sounded dry and horse. He cleared his throat and tried again. "We sailed all the way to Italy?"

Aya hesitated, fingers stilling in Yoji's hair. "No. Japan."

"Ah." Yoji said. "Home home. Back to work, then?"

"I don't know. We'll see. We haven't told them yet, that Tanaka was lost."

"Yeah, but we got the information they wanted."

"You can explain that." Aya said . "It's only fair."

"Yeah, since it was my fuck up."

Aya didn't jump in to contradict him, immediately, but finally he shrugged and admitted. "It was a joint effort. Any blame they place, will be shared."

Yoji sighed, pressing his face into the warmth of Aya's shoulder, and Aya shifted, getting his back against the wall more comfortably, content to take one for the team - - to take one for Yoji because, well, because that's what Aya did when he had something to protect. He got selfless and sacrificial and it hardly mattered that it really wasn't his fault that Yoji hadn't been able to keep his cock in his pants. But hell, weren't they all the same way? Hadn't Yoji run off half -cocked on the slim chance that putting himself in the line of fire might gain him some advantage over the bastard that had terrorized Aya? And ended up putting Aya in jeopardy because of it.

"I was stupid." He said softly, into the thin, dry linen of the borrowed sailor's shirt Aya was wearing. "An idiot. I wanted to help you, you know. I needed to help you - - to stop the nightmares - - I needed a way to get at him and I couldn't do it on my own - - I fucked up."

Aya didn't flinch. Didn't alter his breathing. Didn't say a word. That stillness might have been taken as a danger sign. Might just as well been Aya at rest. So hard to tell. So hard to read, even when he was in distress.

"How pissed off at me are you?" Yoji had to voice the concern, finally, tentatively. He needed to know. Needed to understand where his footing was with Aya and how to deal with it respectively.

Aya didn't respond. He might have dozed off for all Yoji knew, he was silent for so long. Aya could do that, practice long, reflective silences that just ate Yoji up on the inside. He had to know how badly it irked - - had to know and maybe even enjoyed that little bit of passive power that his silences held. But again, who the hell knew. Worse than a women, but then again, a woman couldn't have held that silence for that long without voicing her views.

"Fucking pissed." Aya said finally, soft voice belaying the words. "About three weeks ago, at any rate. I've had time to mellow. Besides which, there wouldn't be much satisfaction in chewing you out now . . . you're too pitiful."

Yoji laughed a little in relief, agreeing wholeheartedly with that observation. Aya's fingers had started their gentle stroking again.

"Yeah, I know, baby. I'm a wreck. I guess the moral of the story here is; you can take care of yourself . . . for the most part."

Aya tilted his head, maybe in query, maybe in amusement. Yoji couldn't see from his vantage.

"Generally." Aya agreed dryly. "You, on the other hand, seem to need help."

"Yeah," Yoji agreed, stretching up and over to press a soft kiss at the base of Aya's neck. "But I've got a keen sense of fashion and I can do things with my tongue that would make a Thai prostitute stand up and applaud, so I get by."

Yoji felt the soft vibration of Aya's snort against his lips, wishing against all good sense that this uncomfortable navy bunk wasn't so narrow that two would have to lie stacked instead of side by side. Even if it weren't, there would be no urging Aya into bed with him, even if Aya would have succumbed to his whining, here aboard a smallish patrol boat with far too many hands wondering about and likely to step in on them. Aya was far too self conscious about such proprieties, far too self conscious about so many things to risk embarrassment. He'd been embarrassed enough today for a lifetime. Yoji had already mostly forgotten it. Just one more critical difference between them. But differences were good. Differences made life entertaining when you could get around the annoyance. Yoji sighed and curled his good arm up to catch Aya's head and draw him down for a simple, uncompromising meeting of foreheads. Tried his luck and nuzzled at the corner of Aya's mouth, which Aya allowed for a bit, nuzzling back with an affection that only lasted until the steps of someone passing in the hallway outside the cabin made him draw back. He didn't remove his arm from around Yoji's neck, which was a comfort and Yoji felt a vague satisfaction that it wasn't necessarily the fact that it was him - - a man - - that was the issue - - Aya wouldn't have approved of being caught in a compromising position with a man or a woman under the prying eyes of strangers.

Aya's 'almost home' proved to be another three hours still, and after sleeping away the first ten of the trip, Yoji spent the last few in the uncomfortably cramped cabin with Aya and Omi and Ken. Wondering the decks was not an option, their existence covert at best and not to be bandied too lightly among the regular crew. Ken had gotten a deck of cards from someone and he and Yoji sat haunched on Yoji's bunk, with Omi on the floor next to it and played hand after hand to while away the time.

Aya after a hand or two had retreated to the lower bunk on the other side of the room and lay there very possibly dozing, but more likely awake and thinking. A wise man shied away from wondering too stridently about what machinations were broiling behind Aya's eyes during such long moments of retrospection. Even though he wondered and made assumptions that might or might not be entirely accurate and might or might not always concern him personally as much as he'd like to think.

They did not dock at a navy port, instead slowing within hazy view of the shore while a large unmarked motor boat pulled up alongside and Weiss was unloaded onto her deck. Korat was waiting for them there, her dark hair caught up in a tail at her neck, in pocketless, form fitting slacks that emphasized her slim frame and flats that were not impractical for keeping one's balance on the tilting deck of a boat. No words were exchanged between anyone on the small boat and the navy patrol ship. They were simply waved on their way once all of Weiss were safely transferred, and the 30 foot private boat zipped off towards the fog shrouded shoreline of Japan.

"Do you have the disc?" Korat had her hand out, demanding that bit of hard won information before any greetings were exchanged at all. Yoji handed her the disc, walkman and all, glad to be rid of it and she let out a small, relieved sigh, even as she turned and passed the handful to a man behind her, who immediately disappeared below deck into the cabin with it, to no doubt check its authenticity.

"Good job." She cried over the wind and the ocean spray. "Longer than we expected, but good job."

Fuck you and your good job, Yoji wanted to say, but came out with the admission of Raymond's death instead. "Tanaka's dead."

Korat's smile faltered. She swung a questioning glance around to Omi, who shrugged silently, then back to Yoji.

"He wasn't to be killed. We needed him in place - - without him the contacts and information on that disc will be useless to us."

"Then you better get your people into gear before word gets out." Omi said quietly. "And don't tell me you can't trace most of the buyers from what you have even if they do go underground."

"That's not the point." She said.

"No, the point is, that you sent me into a fucking dangerous situation unprepared. In and out. Two days tops. That's what you told me." It wasn't just the noise of the boat that made Yoji yell.

"We didn't expect his coup d'état." Korat admitted. "Still, you're a professional, you should have been able to adapt."

"I did adapt. You never fucking told me that Raymond was Sonny's father or that the reason Sonny's mother ran off with him was because the son of a bitch was molesting the kid. He wanted to take up where he left off! Get it? And dealing with that goes a fucking far ways beyond the call of duty. So don't give me grief over Raymond Tanaka being dead. You're lucky I didn't kill him a lot sooner. You sent me in blind, and you expect miracles, God Damnit!"

He was right in her face, all the frustration and anger of a month's impossible cover bubbling to the surface. Someone laid a firm hand on his shoulder, urging him a step back. Aya. Implacable. Calm.

Yoji swallowed and let himself be drawn away from Korat's pink cheeked face.

"It was unavoidable." Aya said softly, barely audible above the sound of the motor and the ocean and the boat slapping along the waves. His face was deceptively void of emotion, but there was the faintest of twitches at the corner of his mouth that gave away to someone in the know, that he was not so placid under the surface. "Use what we've given you and be satisfied."

And really, when you got right down to it, there wasn't much Korat could do about it one way or another, save get her forces in gear and make what she could of the information Yoji had downloaded off the Tanaka files. Frankly, he didn't care. He wanted to be home, in his own room, relaxing in his own sinfully soft bed. He wanted Aya not pissed at him and very possibly in the same bed. He wanted a few weeks to erase the clinging scum that Raymond Tanaka had left on his skin. Injured as he was, he'd probably get it, but he had the sinking feeling that now that Krittiker had them back in its grasp, they weren't going to slip away from the duty it thought they owed it so easily again. He'd opened that door. He'd put them in more jeopardy than just saving his ass on that island. Aya, Omi and Ken had every right to be royally pissed off at him. Hell, he was pissed at himself.


They docked at a small private port south of Hagi. Korat deposited them at a house just off the beach and went off on her own, no doubt to report the success's and failures of the mission.

Showers were had by all, and Omi graciously offered to launder pungent clothing while the rest of them donned house robes and did the only thing they could do, take advantage of the soothing faculties the house offered and relax. It was a nice house. With a view of the ocean that Yoji could have lived without at the moment, with elegantly simplistic rooms and a painstakingly maintained rock garden outside the seaward facing bedroom doors. Whoever did the gardening was not in evidence.

Yoji had bummed a quarter pack of smokes from one of the nameless men on Korat's boat and tore through them in a fit of nerves and frustration waiting for Korat's return. Other than venting her displeasure at him, they had not exchanged words about the other matter at hand. Yoji's payment for the last month of hell he'd endured. Tanaka's unplanned for death or not, Yoji figured he'd more than earned the information she'd promised.

It was well into evening before she returned and Aya and Omi had delved into the house's cabinets for supplies and made a palatable super. They were just cleaning up and breaking into bottles of sake Ken had found under one cupboard when she returned. Aya and Omi wanted to pin her down about Weiss and Kritiker's plans for them, which granted, should have been of paramount concern to all of them, but all Yoji could think about was his own personal bargain.

Ken slouched down next to him, offering an empty shot glass and filling it with clear liquid when Yoji took it, the both of them observers to what was very obviously Korat's and Omi's show. The kid was a better negotiator than Aya by far. He didn't loose his temper or nurse perceived insults as easily, nor radiate threat quite so clearly when he was displeased by something Korat had said. Krittiker wanted them back on more than an occasional freelance basis. Krittiker had coddled them long enough. Krittiker was not above threats itself, even if they were voiced by a young, pretty woman.

Weiss had paid in blood and pain and loss any debt owed to the organization. There was very little blood on Weiss's hands that had not been at the order of the organization and though Krittiker might have considerable mountains of dirt on each and every member of Weiss, Weiss, Omi informed Korat very calmly, just might have equally damning information about the organization ferreted away someplace . . . just in case.

So they were at odds, but Korat was not unreasonable, nor were they, both sides knowing that some leeway had to be given to gain personal advantage. Korat was half smiling when they finally decided to leave the rest of this conversation for another day and Omi looked smugly satisfied, and very happily bounced over to the couch to flop down next to Ken when sake was offered.

Aya didn't look so pleased, but then Aya was ever so much more comfortable with action over words, and he retreated to the garden overlooking the beach to cool down in the privacy of his own thoughts.

Yoji pushed himself up off the couch with a grunt and limped towards Korat in the kitchen, catching her as she was pouring mineral water over a glass full of ice cubes.

"We need to talk."

She lifted a dark brow at him and shrugged. She had to have been expecting it. She beckoned and he followed her towards the front door and out onto the broad porch. There were low chairs at one end of it and a small bamboo table, where she sat her glass. The breeze off the ocean here was more salty than sweetly tropical. It was a nice change from the island.

"You owe me," Yoji said bluntly. "And don't try and give me shit about offing Tanaka . . . because I've already told you it was unavoidable."

"I wasn't planning on reneging." She said simply. "I'm aware that you carried out the mission to the best of your ability - - and will even take some blame that we did not send you in with all the information you needed - - but in our own defense, Sonny Tanaka never told us about the relationship with his older brother . . . father."

"Can you blame him? I'd have blocked it out too. He wouldn't have known about the father thing. Listen, I don't want to throw stones, I just want the information we agreed upon."

"Schwartz is not an easy bunch to pin down, you realize?" Korat sipped her water. "Like Weiss, they are master's at hiding their trail. Better than Weiss, actually, because we found you and we couldn't find them. We know where they've been. Jobs they've had a hand in, but their ghosts other than that."

Yoji frowned, dreading what was coming. A big, fat zero. "I don't want to hear that you have nothing."

"I can give you a history of Schwartz sightings for the past year, though I imagine you're aware of some of that travel history. I can give you locations and times where we think Shuldig himself was personally involved in an operation. I can't give you Shuldig. We don't know where he is. Schwartz's benefactors have resources that span continents and they protect their assets. You know this."

"So you're telling me . . . what?"

"So I'm telling you that I can't help you get your hands on the man you want, but . . . I can help you hurt him where it counts."

Yoji cocked his head, waiting.

"We traced a bank account. A personal, hidden account that leads back to Schwartz's resident telepath. Quite a large amount of money squirreled away there."


"So, through a little digging and a little putting together of timeline puzzles, we've figured out that he's been funneling resources out of places he shouldn't. Out of several Estet subsidiaries that he's had access to through jobs. A little here, a little there that in the end amounts to a lot. The people he works for don't look fondly upon their agents stealing from them. You may not have to lay a hand on him. If the right information is slipped to the right person then Estet may do it for you."

Yoji sucked thoughtfully at the inside of his cheek, mulling over the concept. He'd wanted Shuldig's downfall to be a personal thing. A thing he could get his hands around and bleed the life out of in repayment for the pain and suffering Aya had gone though . . . was still going through in the throes of a trauma his subconscious wouldn't let go of. Yoji had wanted to feel the life slip out of that German bastard's flesh, but then again, Yoji at heart was pragmatic and the chances of going one on one against Shuldig were never good, even with the advantage of surprise on his side. One of the drawbacks of your enemy being telepathic and traveling in the company of clairvoyants.

"Give me the information."

Korat cocked a brow. "I could have this done for you."

"No. I do my own dirty work, even if it is long distance." Besides which, he wasn't making a move on this without discussing it before hand with Weiss. With Aya in particular. After going off on his own on the Tanaka thing, they'd never forgive him if he did this behind their backs. Aya would never forgive him and Aya's forgiveness was a thing of great concern to Yoji.

"I'll have it sent over."

"Good." He rose stiffly, done with her, and ready for the more daunting challenge of talking with Aya.


There was the superficial courtesy of a knock and Yoji opened the door before Aya had the chance to respond with an invitation. But then, Yoji hardly ever waited for an invite, always assuming welcome even in the face of reservation. Sometimes it took more than an aloof word or two to discourage him if true solitude was high on the agenda. Yoji's idea of solitude involved a bottle and a night of wallowing in past misery that could only be enjoyed fully alone. He didn't go there as much as he used to, and therefore, being Yoji and assuming far too many things far too easily, he could hardly understand Aya's frequent desires to enjoy no company but his own. Sometimes the healing of internal bruises and chagrin's required silence. Yoji had never had a talent for silences. Aya didn't resent him for it as much as he used to.

Hard to resent him at all when he edged into the borrowed room with such an uncertain look on his face and such a pitiful limp in his gait. They'd have to see a specialist about that leg and soon, if Yoji didn't want the limp permanently, but then Kritiker had specialists to spare, and none of them would ask questions. One of the various benefits Weiss might reap allowing the organization to become their patrons yet again.

"Hey." Yoji ducked his head a little, like a child with a guilty admission to confess.

"Come in." Aya said dryly, after the fact. Yoji's mouth twitched a little at that, not completely oblivious to the opposite natures of their predilections.

"Sorry. Can we talk?"

Aya lifted a brow. Talk was not usually what Yoji came to his room seeking after dark. Aya shrugged and laid the three month old magazine he'd found in the living room aside, indicating Yoji sit down at the foot of the bed. Yoji did with a grunt then a sigh after he'd scooted back and stretched out the wounded leg.

"Tomorrow. We see about that tomorrow." Aya said, intending to tolerate no argument on the subject.

"Sure. Whatever. Look, I just finished talking with Korat . . ."

"And?" Aya prompted a little warily when Yoji trailed off. There were relatively few things that Yoji and Korat could safely converse that would not be of interest to all of Weiss.

"I asked her to live up to her side of the bargain. And for the most part, she did, even though the information she gave me falls a little short of being entirely helpful. Not what I expected at any rate."

Aya went very still, right down to the breath stalled in his lungs, like someone had hit him in the gut and knocked it out. Thoughts momentarily bogged down by the white haze of panic that could still effect him at the mention of certain things, even after all this time. But it never lasted long anymore, just a few seconds before he could gain control and push back the bone deep distress that memories of Shuldig brought with them. Funny how he'd suffered pain just as bad, terrors just as vivid, and yet the one that stuck with him, the one that wouldn't let him completely escape its grasp was the time spent in Shuldig and his certifiably insane comrade's care.

"It doesn't matter what she told you." He said flatly, the moment passed, his body his own once more. "We're not going after them."

"I don't give a shit about 'them'. I want him." There was vehemence in Yoji's voice. Righteous anger because of what had been done to him and Aya hated it. Hated being someone's charity case. Hated the fact that Yoji had just gone through hell in some fool hardy, misguided attempt to protect him.

"I don't. Leave it alone." It had to be left alone, because not to, meant dredging the past up, it meant talking about it and debating it and knowing that other people were actively thinking about it and him and his weaknesses and his shames and his failures . . .

"Just leave it the fuck alone, Yoji!" The magazine hit the wall not far from Yoji's head and Aya hadn't even realized he'd picked it up to fling. Yoji blinked, but didn't flinch, all the uncertainty gone from his face, replaced by grim determination. A determined Yoji was a damned nuisance. Aya hissed and rose, knowing very well he could end this unpleasantness by simply walking away. Fast. And Yoji in his present state couldn't chase him down.

"Yeah, I can see how much you've put it all behind you." Yoji drawled. "Imagine being on the receiving end of that every time you have a nightmare about him and wake up fighting tooth and nail. I've got scars."

"Then don't sleep with me. I never asked you to."

"You think he's going to let you be? You think he's not going to come after you again, if we don't try and take him out before he has the chance?"

"You think we can?" Aya snapped back. "We've always had such spectacular luck taking Schwartz on in the past."

Yoji made an abortive motion with his hands, frustrated and angry. "Well, that's a Goddamned pessimistic view point. We can't have fared to badly, we're all alive. I don't fucking understand you, Aya. You used to live for vengeance. You take offense at the littlest nothing. You hold grudges forever. You don't take shit from anyone and yet, you won't consider going after the sick bastard that rap - -"

"Don't." Aya snarled. They didn't talk about this. Yoji damn well knew they didn't talk about this if they wanted peace. Aya had let the details slip in a moment of weakness, had uttered the words and relived the memories out loud once. Only once and it had been no cathartic relief. No lessening of the shame and the guilt and the . . . fear. The only thing it had brought him was Yoji, but even Yoji wasn't enough to keep away the nightmares. But as long as the nightmares stayed in his subconscious, it was okay. He didn't walk around in the light of day dwelling on it and he refused to have it aired by anyone else. It wasn't Yoji's place, no matter how much Yoji liked to think it was.

"You are in such fucking denial."

"You need to mind your own business."

"How did you feel a few days ago out in the Tanaka gardens when you thought Raymond had been at me?"

Aya swallowed, off his balance as unbidden memories came back of the calculated rage that had simmered under the surface when he'd seen the state Yoji had been in under Tanaka's care, when he'd thought that Tanaka had touched him . . . he would have killed Tanaka himself, without hesitation or reservation if Yoji hadn't told him that the man had kept his hands to himself.

"See?" Yoji asked softly. "Not so easy to mind your own business, is it? Not when somebody you love is hurting."

Aya cast him a look that had to be sullen, just had to be childish and pouty and he couldn't stop it. "Don't you mean 'lust'?"

He shouldn't have said it, but sometimes hurting Yoji was his only defense against things that terrified him more than memories of rape and torture. Yoji frowned, flinching a little, and nothing had even hit the wall next to his head this time.

"Maybe," Yoji said softly. There was only so much he could take before he got his back up and started hitting back.

"I'm sorry." Aya said and it was like pushing a boulder up hill, the admittance of that mistake, the suggestion of things always unsaid between them. "I didn't mean . . . that didn't come out right."

"It came out just the way you wanted it to, baby. But it's okay, I understand." There was bitterness in Yoji's voice finally and wasn't that what Aya had been aiming for. Piss off Yoji enough that Yoji forgot the crusade?

No, you don't. Was what Aya wanted to say. But he couldn't get it out. Just didn't have the practice to verbally express it. He sank back down onto the bed, scooted to the wall next to Yoji and sat there, head down, hair obscuring his vision of Yoji's face. Yoji's silence was a clear enough indication of his offense.

"What did she tell you?" It wouldn't hurt to at least hear what Yoji had gone through so much trouble to have Korat find out for him. Yoji sighed, laying his head back against the wall, and began explaining.

"That's not much." Aya finally said when Yoji wound down.

"No." Simple agreement. "But it might work. Estet never struck me as being real forgiving. And the way you feel about this . . . long distance assassination might be just the thing."

"Yoji, I'm not afraid of him." Aya felt the need to clarify that, even though in all brutal honesty it might not be true.

"Okay." Yoji said, dipping his chin a little so he could peer up under Aya's bangs, a very earnest, questioning look on his face.

"You don't understand." Aya murmured.

"That's because you won't ever explain."

Pulling his knees a little closer would have been a sign of weakness and Aya did not wish to portray that just now. Oh, but he wanted to draw them up and wrap his arms around them in a futile effort at shielding himself from . . . what? Yoji? Memory? Truth? How could he explain anything to Yoji when he refused to seek the answers himself. When he systematically turned his thoughts away from it, refused to contemplate unwelcome things, pushed them back to the darkest, deepest corners of his mind until the only outlet they had were the nightmares that plagued him months and months after the fact.

"It doesn't need explaining. I understand." Yoji released him from the effort, leaning in against him, shoulder to shoulder. And maybe Yoji did know, Yoji being far more perceptive than Aya sometimes gave him proper credit for. Yoji facilitated that cavalier facade very deliberately, his own brand of protective armor against all the hurt and loss and violence that surrounded them. But Yoji had been bruised a great deal lately and it was starting to show and that bothered Aya in a bone deep way that made him uneasy. It made him regret the harsh words that his own defensive instincts had initiated. Yoji didn't deserve them.

Aya shuddered a little and relented, tilting his head to rest it against Yoji's soft hair. It was still dark from the dye job the mission had required, but lighter roots were beginning to show through. "Let me think about it, okay? Just don't do anything yet."

"I won't." Yoji promised with a relieved sigh, patting Aya's thigh.

They sat for a while in companionable silence, listening to the faint sound of the television in another room filtering in through the closed door. To the even more distant rush of the ocean outside the window. A very simple room with a polished wooden floor and large windows looking out towards the ocean. He probably wouldn't see it another night, depending on what plans Korat had made for them. He wondered idly whether they'd even return to Venice and the things they had collected there. There was nothing they could live without. Everything they had, had been bought within the last few months anyway, all their former possessions having gone the way of fire and ash, victims of Shuldig's bomb. He'd liked Venice. There were good memories there. Quiet times and laughter and comfort and the simple warmth of . . . well, family.

Yoji's dormant hand twitched to life, sliding up Aya's thigh with the casual innocence he was so good at when he had ulterior motives in mind. He brushed his lips across Aya's temple, feathersoft touch of skin to skin enough to make goose pimples to arise on the back of Aya's arms.

"You're in no shape." Aya said, practical despite how warm Yoji's fingers were, making little circles against the thin material of the house robe that clung to his thigh.

"Ummm." Which might have been agreement or assurance or simply an appreciative sound as Yoji tilted his head and latched lazily onto the lobe of Aya's ear.

"Yoji." Aya caught the hand and pulled back, staring into quizzical green eyes. "You're in no shape."

"I can handle it, coach. Besides, its make up sex. Imperative after a fight."

"We didn't have a fight."

Yoji snorted and leaned in again, not bothering to fight the grip Aya had on his wrist. "The only problem I see here," He murmured, just sort of slumping against Aya and letting gravity take its course. "is you making me work for it."

Aya shifted, controlling the sideways slide backwards with an arm around Yoji's middle and ended up sprawled half under, with Yoji lying on his upper body, staring down with a certain smug satisfaction.

"I missed you." Yoji whispered.

"We've been together for the last three days, idiot."

"No, before that. Bad. Really bad. There wasn't a day went by I wasn't thinking about you." Yoji could say things so easily, they slid from his tongue like butter and for the most part they echoed of stark truth. And Aya . . . Aya could hardly collect the words inside his own head, much less have them escape from his mouth.

"Me too." Aya murmured, the best he could do, but he tightened his arms around Yoji to make up for it. Pressing his face against Yoji's warm neck and breathing in the clean scent of him, Aya realized how very true those two simple words were, how very desperately he had missed Yoji, how terrified he'd been at the prospect of Yoji not coming back. It made him angry again, just thinking of it, and he gripped a fist full of Yoji's hair and pulled his head back, staring narrowly into his eyes.

"Don't do it again, Yoji."

"I told you - - oww - - I wouldn't. Let go, Aya."

Aya gave the hair one more less than gentle yank for emphasis, then loosened his fingers, stroking instead. Yoji settled, finding a comfortable position beside Aya, with only a little grunt of effort as he shifted the wounded leg and arranged a deeply bruised shoulder. He was not so easily deterred in his pursuits and stretched his neck out for a kiss, which Aya allowed, and another which Aya encouraged with a hand to the side of Yoji's face. Yoji tried to lift a leg to curl over Aya's thighs and made a grimace at the effort, giving up and pressing his face close to Aya's shoulder instead with a weary, frustrated sigh.

"Hurts?" Aya murmured into his hair, fingers skimming circles between Yoji's shoulder blades.

"Mummm. You might be right . . . 'bout the not being in shape thing." It was a dire admission from Yoji. An unexpected and miserable sounding one.

"You can survive it." Aya smiled into his hair. He dragged a pillow over and arranged it under Yoji's head and Yoji sighed, turning onto his back with a frown of disgust and the hint of a half rigid erection showing through the material of his house robe. Aya had an answering hopeful twitch between his own legs, but he was better at ignoring the call than Yoji and contented himself with pressing close against Yoji's side, sharing the pillow and Yoji's warmth, figuring correctly that unattended it would go away. And soon enough exhaustion and the quiet that had descended between them saw to just that. Yoji had gone from lazily lascivious to drowsing in a matter of minutes, but a good deal of that was due to the slight fever that radiated from his leg and overall exhaustion. His sleep on the boat had not been an easy one, plagued by nightmares that kept him murmuring and tossing the entire time. Aya hadn't even gotten that dubious rest, sitting watch over Yoji the duration of the trip, wary of the authorities under who's care they traveled, wary of the reception once they got to where they were going. It was probably just as well that sex had been aborted. They would both have made embarrassing showings for themselves and Yoji, far more so than Aya, prided himself on his stamina and performance. Aya hated to have him mortally embarrass himself.

That mental image made Aya smile, the second time in so short a while, which made him realize that it had been a very long time since he'd had reason to find amusement. To allow himself anything other than worry and tension. Since Yoji had left on his fool's errand with illusions of finding some miraculous answer to a problem that Aya would just as well pretend didn't exist.

He sighed and rested his cheek on Yoji's uninjured shoulder where the robe had eeled back to uncover naked flesh. Warm and wonderful and human. Precious, because for a while Aya had convinced himself that there was nothing human left that he valued other than a girl he'd promised himself to sever all contact with. It was nice that Yoji had made him see differently. And through Yoji, Ken and Omi. Loosing any of them would have been . . . difficult. But loosing Yoji . . . that didn't bear dwelling on. And it had come too close to happening and all for his sake. He wouldn't let it happen again. If he had to bite the bullet and face his German problem head on to prevent someone he . . . loved . . . yes, loved Damnit . . . from doing it for him he would. And Kritiker or no Kritiker, they'd find a path that they could all tolerate and find a place that brought as much contentment as they'd had in Venice and they'd fight tooth and nail to keep it.

What other choice did a sane man have, when his family was at stake?



The End of Bloodstained Illusions.

This arc will be continued . . .





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