Shadow Games: 4

Aya was hard to keep track of. Hard to keep track of anybody in a place where the clothes were predominately black and predominately leather, and the lights were purposefully low to create an atmosphere of sultry decadence. The music wasn’t bad. He wouldn’t mind a CD of the band they’d been playing during his whirl on the dance floor with Aya.

“Dance, Darlin’?” Yoji hit on a woman maybe ten years his senior who was people watching at the edge of the crowd. She didn’t have a black wrist band, which meant she was a member. Members would have a better grasp on what went on inside the club than the kids waiting outside, hoping for an invite. He’d gotten his wristlet from one of those kids who’d staggered outside, sick from drink or drugs or more sadism than she could handle. He’d given her 2000 yen for the bracelet, after she’d finished throwing up at the side of the building. He’d had to cut it off, but a little black tape put it back into once piece around his own wrist.

It was that simple getting in and damned amusing once inside. It was like something out of a movie. The people, the clothes, the exaggerated actions. Everybody was trying to put on a show. Everybody was trying to promote something. He wondered how many of these people wore suits and ties and sat behind desks in their everyday lives. A great deal of the members most likely. A good majority of the hopefuls outside maybe. Not all. He knew enough of street life to be able to pick out the ones that dressed that way all the time. The one’s that lived more than likely in abandoned buildings and empty stoops. The ones that came to places like this looking for free fixes or those willing to exchange sex for drugs. God knew the place smelled of sex. He figured there was an awful lot of creamed pants in the joint, via the entertainment on the various platforms, as well as the more public, hands on fun with the willing victims who’d allowed themselves to be put into bondage around the club.

“So what’s your turn on?” The woman he was dancing with asked. She had a fine, tight body, a beautiful face and long, slick black hair. Dancing close up against her didn’t do more than stir a passing interest in his nether regions. Maybe it was the little metal spikes pressing into his belly from her belt.

“Redheads, lately.” He said with a wry smile.

“Redheads, huh?” She had her hands on his ass. He returned the favor, sliding his fingers over slick black vinyl.

“Go figure. New obsession. Strange one.”

“Strange obsessions are the best.” She purred, grinding her hips up against him. That got a little more reaction. With a little less clothing they could fuck right there on the dance floor. Probably wouldn’t garner much notice. On the other hand, they might get a spotlight of their own.

“Soooooo . . .” he had to take a long breath to get ahold of himself. She had very talented hips. “This all that goes on here? The stage shows, the cage dancers, the play toys around the room?” Aya had to be here after something. Looking for something that might or might not have to do with Yoji’s missing teenager. Yoji wanted to know regardless.

“It’s a weeknight.” She said.

“Oh? It gets wilder on the weekends?”

Her smile widened. “Members and their guests only. No black bracelets off the street. The entertainment is provided by the club and the play is much, much more intense than what you see here.”

“Hmmm. Sounds interesting.”

“Could be.” She whispered close to his ear. “Do you like to be tied up?”

“Ahh – – depends on who’s doing the tying – – ow.” He swallowed the yelp as her teeth latched onto his ear lobe biting down hard enough, he was damned certain, to draw blood. He separated teeth from ear by pushing her back by the shoulders. She laughed at him.

“From your look, honey, I don’t think you’re much into being on the receiving end, humm?”

“Guess not.” He rubbed at his ear, expecting blood and finding a tiny smear of it.

“We wouldn’t hit it off then.” She sighed. “But, you’ve got nice hands luv, a firm touch, know just how to use them, I bet. I’ve got a few friends who might be interested in a little creative mastery, if you want?”

“That’s a sweet offer. If my redhead doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll take you up on those names.”

They parted company. Yoji wondered around a bit, slipping the picture of Jason Mikino out of his pocket and discreetly asking a few people here and there if they’d seen him. No one had. Discouraging. Even the bartenders hadn’t seen the boy. The only person that seemed to have any opinion on Jason Mikino, even if it was a pessimistic one, was Aya and he hadn’t even seen the boy’s picture. It might not be a terrible notion to show it to him – – at the very least it would be a good reason to hunt him down again.

But it was not to be, Aya had disappeared. Yoji had seen a few glimpses of him earlier, but there was nothing now, even after a few circuits around the club. Aya might have left out of necessity. Despite how good he’d looked, all decked out in skin tight leather and see through mesh, he hadn’t looked good in the sense of being able to hang out at a crowded club all night and not fall down in a faint. Not the smartest bean in the can, to come out so soon after being shot. Either that or there was a desperate need. It was only a matter of figuring out what that need was and whether it coincided with his own.

Somebody clamped a hard hand on his shoulder and he was swung around to face a thick bodied, leather clad man with more obvious hair on his body than on his head. There was another one that pressed up against his other side, more simply clad in a tight black T and black chinos. Bouncer material.

“You weren’t invited in here.” The leatherman said, grabbing Yoji’s wrist and jerking it up. The tape holding together the wristband was revealed.

“Yeah? No complaints so far.” Yoji let the man keep hold of his wrist for the moment, trying to figure out how he was getting out here without getting tossed on his ass.

“You showing a picture around, bothering people? Why don’t you show us?” The bouncer rumbled menacingly.

What would it hurt, really and it he might be able to read a glimmer of expression if they did recognize the kid. He didn’t get the chance to reach into his pocket for the photo. The leather man, wrenched his wrist, trying to inflict pain and succeeding for the most part. “You don’t come in here and take entertainment away from the members, boy. That’s a cardinal rule. Members get first call on everything.”

“And you’re in my face about this, why?”

“You were dancing with my date.”

Oh, that’s what it was. Proprietary jealousy.

“Was I stepping on toes? Sorry. She’s right over there, man. Wasn’t my type – – -”

“Not a woman, idiot. The redhead. Where did he go?”

Oh, well that figured too. The woman hadn’t seemed like the type to want a master and this man was nothing but.

“Maybe he didn’t like your company, Butch.” Yoji smiled and jammed a knee up smack dab into the man’s leather clad nuts. The grip on his wrist loosened as the man doubled, choking for breath. Yoji didn’t hesitate to immediately use that selfsame fist to smash into the startled face of the bouncer. The man had a damn hard head. He barely staggered and Yoji felt like he’d broken knuckles. Fuck. But it was enough of a distraction for him to dart into the crowd and weave his way with much shoving and shouldering towards the neon lit blue exit sign hovering in the darkness at the other side of the room. But of course they were waiting for him, alerted by the headgear the club staff wore. He swerved to avoid the big slab of beef blocking the door and another one caught him around the waist, jerking him up and off his feet. Not a bad thing really, since he was wearing boots with heels a hell of a lot harder than his fists, and jammed both of them square into the face of the slab of beef in front of him. That had a nice effect. It dropped the one and made the man holding him stagger backwards. They went sprawling into a group of clubers, the lot of them going down like a ten pin strike. Yoji jabbed an elbow back mercilessly, hoping it was his attacker’s flesh he connected with and not some innocent. He scrambled out of the mess, jumping over the recovering bouncer on the floor and making for the door. Past the last of the staff, the thin man in the suit who just wasn’t equipped to play the part of muscle and he was free of the place. It was deserted enough at this time of night – – well morning, really, that if they decided to chase him down, there’d be nobody around to see him get the shit kicked out of him. He hightailed it through the parking lot and down the street behind the club. He managed to hail a lone cab two streets down and slumped down into the back seat laughing in part relief, part adrenaline rush.

The cabby looked over his shoulder at him, waiting for a destination.

“Just drive. Give me a minute.” Yoji had to get his breathing under control. Had to get his thoughts in line.

So they were looking for Aya and not against kicking Yoji’s ass to find him, which was a damned worrisome thought, considering Aya had disappeared from the club. Not that he really ought to be worrying about the closed mouthed little prick – – it wasn’t as if he owed him anything. It wasn’t as if he were some friend, even by his own admission, that Yoji needed to go to the least amount of trouble worrying about. Other than the fact that he held the keys to all the unanswered questions about Yoji’s past, even if he wasn’t willing to hand them over. Oh, and that other little thing Yoji had discovered on the dance floor – – the wanting to fuck him into the wall thing. That needed a little clarifying too.

“Kyoto Royal, downtown.” He told the driver, recalling the name of the hotel on the room key card he’d found in Aya’s clothing.

It was in the best part of town, a short walk to the business district and Kyoto’s famous shrines and artfully maintained gardens. A pretty part of town where you came to walk on nice spring days when the flowers were in bloom and maybe you were feeling a little lost in your own head. Sometimes a little bit of quiet beauty would help chase the questions away, help ground a floundering mind. Everything was quiet now, and dark, no foot traffic on the street this late and hardly any cars. The lobby of the hotel was predictably gorgeous. Elegant and modern, and silent as a tomb, with only one sleepy bellhop and a clerk reading a paperback novel behind the long, marble counter. Yoji walked in, jangling just a little from the safety pens on his shirt and the numerous buckles and zippers and dangling bits of metal on his pants. He’d picked the clothes up second hand at a shop down the street from Sister Hisa’s that catered to the younger, wilder, poorer crowd. He looked like he ought to be somewhere listening to early Cure in the dark. The clerk must have thought so to, from the disapproving stare when Yoji strolled up to the counter.

“I’m looking for the room number of a friend who’s staying here. He would have just got back in a little while ago. Can’t miss him. Red hair, so tall, dressed all in black.”

“Name?” the clerk asked, hand hovering over the computer.


The clerk waited for more. Yoji shrugged, smiling his most charming smile. “We didn’t get as far as family names.”

“It is not hotel policy to give out the room numbers of guests to . . .”

Yoji slid the last big bill on his person across the counter top.

“Ah, that would be Mr. Hoshino. I believe I did see him come in a little while ago. Room 614.”

Yoji nodded and headed for the elevators. He pushed the appropriate button, the doors closed and it was almost as if that were a cue for his apprehensions to start up. This was dangerous, in so many ways. Seeking out a man who didn’t want to be found. Who went about armed, for good reason, apparently. Who knew things about Yoji that Yoji didn’t know and might not want to know, in all honesty. A man who upon first look/scent/feel triggered something inside him that before now had gone unnoticed. It was one thing to blame chance meeting on coincidence and quite another to hunt him down and force the issue. But it wasn’t as if he could ignore it. It wasn’t as if he could turn his back and walk away from the answers that might plug the gaping hole that was his past. Funny thing was, that before this, before Aya had shown up, it hadn’t really bothered him. He’d gotten over tearing himself up over it a long time ago.

Nothing to do but take the plunge. He rapped on the door. And waited. And waited. Rapped again, longer and harder, contemplating calling through the door and informing the room’s occupant that he damn well knew he was in there, but before he could gather breath to do that, the door opened. Aya stood there, most certainly not happy to see Yoji, if the indignant, frustrated look on his face were any indication. He was bare from the waist up, save for the bandages on his shoulder. He looked just damned tired, which he probably was, having been stupid enough to venture out tonight when he should have stayed flat on his back in bed.

“The key card.” Aya stated, disgusted, and Yoji shrugged and smiled.

“What do you want?” Aya’s fingers gripped the edge of the door so hard his knuckles were white. He was either a lot more pissed of than he was showing, or he was hiding pain. There was the stain of blood on the white of the bandage on his shoulder and the very faint sheen of perspiration on his pale skin, which made Yoji guess the later.

“We didn’t finish our dance.”

Aya’s eyes narrowed. He stepped back with every indication of slamming the door shut in Yoji’s face. Yoji stepped forward, getting a shoulder between it and the door frame, tsking softly in mock disappointment at Aya’s lack of proper manners.

“That’s no way to treat a guest.”

“You’re not my guest.”

“What am I?”

Aya glared, inches away from Yoji’s face, then quite unexpectedly the anger drained away, replaced by a sort of resigned weariness. He stepped back, clearing the path into the room.

Yoji didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the moment of weakness, striding into the room past Aya, noting the open laptop on the desk against the far wall, the shirt Aya had worn that night laid neatly over the back of the chair in front of it. The bathroom light was on, and on the counter were a small stack of sterile pads and white medical tape.

“You bleeding?” Yoji asked what he’d already seen the traces of, ducking around to look at the bandages on the back of Aya’s shoulder, which were soaked through with red.

“Busted stitches?”

Aya grunted non-committally. Yoji caught sight of the gun behind his back and arched a brow.

“You planning on shooting me?”


“Ah. You want help with the bandages?”


“Okay.” Yoji shut the door that Aya hadn’t moved to close, and strode into the bathroom to shuffle through the supplies Aya had placed on the countertop. “Well, c’mon.” He prompted, “The longer you just stand there, the more chance that you’ll fall down, from the look of you.”

Whatever Aya was thinking, it was well camouflaged. He dipped his head and overlong bangs slipped forward to hide his eyes. He moved forward though, slipping carefully past Yoji and sitting down sideways on the closed lid of the toilet. He laid the gun on the ceramic edge of the tub, out of Yoji’s easy reach and well within his own.

“Sooo that shooting me thing – -that’s you with a sense of humor, right?” Yoji stepped close, picking carefully at the edge of tape around the bandages on Aya’s shoulder. For some reason, he didn’t think Aya’s sense of humor was that honed.

“Don’t give me a reason.” Aya said softly and Yoji didn’t know whether it was an idle threat or one he ought to take seriously. He rather preferred regarding it as the former.

The neatly stitched bullet hole was seeping a little blood, but most of the fresh bleeding had crusted. It needed to be cleaned. Yoji wet one of the gauze pads and gently washed away the dried blood, revealing warm pink edges around the wound. He pressed carefully and a little bit of pus oozed out with a fresh trickle of blood. Aya twitched, swallowing a large lung full of air, but otherwise made no sound of discomfort.

“This is getting infected. Sister Hisa can give you something for that.”

“No. I’m not going back there.”

“I know its on the wrong side of town and all, but she won’t ask questions.”

“I said no.”

“God, you’re stubborn. Let it go sour on you. Get blood poisoning. See if I care.” He slapped a few clean gauze pads over the wound and Aya flinched half turning his head to glare.

“What do you want, Yoji?”

Yoji fixed the pads in place with new tape. Okay, he could either ask what was really, really at the heart of the matter, or state the more obvious reasons for tracking Aya down. He decided on the later for the moment.

“I want to know what you know about the kid I’m looking for. You seemed damn sure it was a lost cause. I want to know why.”

Aya relaxed a little, shoulders slumping when Yoji had finished with the taping, maybe relieved that Yoji had chosen that path of questioning as well, instead of going for the other more personal route.

When Aya didn’t answer, Yoji pulled out the picture and held it so Aya could see it. “He was last seen at Zero G. Then come to find out from one of his street friends, he got an invite to go to ShadowDance. You were skulking around both places, which is just way too much coincidence for me to be comfortable about.”

“Why do you care so much?” Aya looked at the picture for a moment, then his eyes shifted away, fixing on the tile of the shower guard. “Do you know this boy?”

“No. But he’s sixteen and his parents are worried and want him back and they’re paying me to see to it.”

“If it’s the money, I’ll pay you to leave it alone. . .”

“Oh, Jesus Christ! Its not just the money. Its the right thing to do. Is that such a freakin’ foreign concept for you?”

Aya swung around and stared at him, brows drawn, eyes searching Yoji’s face for something . . . and it occurred to Yoji, with that odd feeling of deja’vu that sometimes swept over him when he wasn’t expecting it, that this issue had come up between Aya and himself in the past.

“We’ve had this argument before, haven’t we?” He asked and Aya’s eyes flinched away, caught in the act of staring too long and too hard

“You’re gonna make me guess, aren’t you. About every damn thing. Why the fuck won’t talk to me? What the hell was so terrible about me – – that you don’t want to tell me – – hell, was it so bad that I blocked it out?”

Of a sudden, Aya reached for the gun and Yoji’s instinct cried out to make a grab for it, wrestle it out of Aya’s hand, which he doubted would be that difficult, with as much damage as the man had taken recently. But, no threatening move was made towards him, Aya rising instead and stalking out of the bathroom. Yoji followed warily. Aya put the gun down on the table by the far wall, next to drawn drapery that hid the earliest hours of morning. He leaned down and typed something into the open laptop sitting there, then turned the screen around to face Yoji.

From across the room, it was hard to make out. Some sort of porn, maybe, but as he walked closer, the details became clearer and it looked more like a crime scene photo, only with better staging.

Aya moved to the bed, sitting down at the head, waving his left hand at the laptop. “That’s the end frame. Go ahead, hit play and see it from the beginning.”

It wasn’t going to be pretty. He knew that in his gut. Just like he knew in his gut that it hadn’t been staged and that the blood was real and the last twisted grimace of pain on the face of a dead girl had been real. He sat down carefully at the desk and hit the play button anyway. He got five minutes in and stopped it. Sat there for a moment trying to keep the bile from rising at the back of his throat, trying to keep the helpless anger at bay, trying to pretend that the scene he’d just watched a small portion of had been some rape/torture fantasy video and that all the players had been actors who’d gone home at the end of the day, sick and degraded, but alive.

“So,” He said softly, so he wouldn’t scream it. “Tell me this isn’t your idea of entertainment.”

“There are people connected to ShadowDance and its sister club that make a business of doing what you just saw. Snuff films for the new age, on-line and live as well as private sessions for those with enough money. Its run by a man we only know as The Reaper. He was the man in the mask you saw in the mpeg. He operates in a great many places around the world, never staying in one location long enough for the locals to start putting two and two together. For the most part he and his associates prey on the desperate, the lost, people who use places like Zero G and ShadowDance as a means of escape. They might only do one or two livefeeds from any given location before they move on, but they’ll have scheduled more private sessions.”

Yoji sat slumped before the frozen laptop screen, thumb on his jaw, fingers over his lips, trying to wrap his mind around the concept of something so grisly. Knowing there was so much more – – there had to be so much more – – that Aya wasn’t telling.

“Are you a cop?” He had to fit Aya into this twisted picture somehow. Had to make sense of it as a whole and couldn’t without knowing that vital bit of information.




“Which leaves, what? What are you gonna do if you find these creeps?”

“You don’t need to know.”

“Why tell me the one, without the other?

Aya didn’t answer, but Yoji knew. It had been a diversion away from the things that Aya really didn’t want to reveal. A calculated loss of ground to save face in another arena.

“They were looking for you, you know? After you’d gone, club muscle – I guess – stopped me asking where you were. Got nasty about it.”

Aya’s mouth twitched a little in what might have been a frown. It was hard to tell with only the lamp on the table with the laptop illuminating the room. “And what did you do?”

Yoji shrugged, suddenly feeling intensely justified for the sore knuckles he was sporting. “Said I didn’t know. Loosened a few teeth when they got in my face.”

“In other words, made sure they noticed you. They’ll remember your face.”


“Don’t go near there again. The people who back the Reaper and protect his interests do not play within the law, understand? One more body is not a problem for them.”

“That’s all fine and nice, but I still have a kid to find.”

Aya drew in a frustrated breath of air between his teeth and with a grunt, pushed himself up, stalking over to the desk, leaning past Yoji and typing in another website address. A password box came up and he typed in a word before it let him onto the front-page of what looked to be another violently sick site.

“I think these are stills from some of the private sessions.” Aya said tightly. “The latest ones were very likely taken somewhere in Asia, if the victims are any indication.” He backed off a step and let Yoji take control of the computer. The pictures were predominately female, but there was the occasional young man thrown in. The insertion dates were posted. The ones during the last week were indeed all young Asians. Each cover photo lead into a set depicting what had happened to the model. The predator or predator’s were always masked, but they were clearly different men from set to set. In the next to the last set he caught a hint of familiarity in the grimace of the victim. Young. Male. Scrubbed free of the black make up he’d worn in the picture his parents had handed over to Yoji. Jason Mikino. It was only just that he open the set and see just what had happened for himself. Maybe two dozen photo’s. He clicked on one of the thumbnails near the end and sat staring silently, nausea churning in his gut.

“There’s no reason for you to have anything more to do with this.” Aya said from behind him, sounding like he’d just proved a point in the face of the brutality Yoji had just seen. Like the pictures meant nothing more to him that pieces of a puzzle he was trying to put together.

“You son of a bitch . . .” Yoji growled and spun, knocking over the chair, slamming into Aya hard enough to send them both crashing backwards against the corner of the bed. Yoji was too overwhelmed by anger and helpless grief over a kid he’d never actually known – – over a dozen victims he’d never known – – to feel the impact of his knees against the carpeted floor. He leaned his weight into the forearm he pressed against Aya’s neck, pinning him back against the side of the bed, shifting to straddle his body, even as Aya tried to push him off with his good arm. Yoji pressed harder, cutting off air and Aya’s eyes widened and he changed tactics, clawing at Yoji’s arm instead, trying to get him to let up so he could breath.

“You knew. You fucking knew and didn’t tell me.” Yoji growled.

“I didn’t.” Aya gasped, succeeding a little in getting air. “How could I, until you showed me the picture?” Which was only reasonable, if Yoji had been open to reason at the moment.

“All you’ve been doing is lying to me. . . or avoiding the truth, which amounts to the same damn thing!!”

“You can’t even handle this . .” Aya hissed at him. “What makes you think you can deal with the past now, when you couldn’t even deal with it then?” He jammed his knee up and would have scored fabulously if Yoji hadn’t been straddling him so closely. As it was he got the inside of Yoji’s thigh and close enough to the edge of a nut that Yoji yelped and instinctively shied back to protect the rest of the goods. Aya slammed his left arm out, catching him in the center of the chest and knocking the air right out of his lungs.

Reflex took over. Despite the lack of proper breath, despite the stinging ache of his thigh, he lunged forward, overlooking the pain in favor of regaining the advantage. Aya scrambled backwards, getting enough room to kick out at Yoji with one bare foot. The impact of foot to flesh sent Yoji back against the edge of the bed and Aya into the beside lamp table which met the back of his head with a solid crack. Aya cried out, cringing and curling in his body’s instinctive attempt to avoid more pain. It occurred to Yoji, even in the midst of his rant, that Aya was already sporting a concussion and bullet score to the skull. This latest impact had to have hurt like hell on top of that.

“Shit.” He sat back, slump shouldered, feeling guilty as hell for loosing his cool with a guy who, though he might deserve it, wasn’t in the shape to properly defend against it. “I’m sorry.”

“Fuck you.” Aya cast him a wary glare, arm curled around the back of his head, fingers very carefully prodding the hidden stitches under his hair.

“No, I mean it. You didn’t do – – those things to those poor bastards in the pictures. I assume you’re trying to stop it, even if you’re going about it all smoke and mirrors. I was upset. I lashed out. You didn’t deserve it. When I kick your ass it’ll be for something you do deserve, like hiding things about me from me.”

Aya snorted in what might have been a moment of wry amusement. It dissipated when he touched the wrong spot on his head, turning into a wince of pain instead. Yoji got up and held out a hand. Aya stared at it for a moment, like it was a big deal accepting a simple offer of assistance or an honest attempt at apology. He took it finally, but only long enough to get a hand on the edge of the bed so he could push himself up on his own. Aya had no grace at all in accepting his own weaknesses. Typical.

Yoji tilted his head, intrigued by that bit of insight. Aya gave him a look, an arched brow, silent question, very wary at the moment of Yoji and what Yoji might do. Yoji shrugged, allowing the ghost of a smile.

“Nothing. Just another little revelation about you and your annoying habits.”

Aya opened his mouth. Shut it and frowned. Between the dark red of his hair and the black of his pants, his body was very pale. Hard, smooth, skin and flesh and muscle over a lean frame. Broad shoulders, narrow hips, long legs, incredible skin, gorgeous face and all of it so familiar Yoji could almost imagine the taste of him, but all the elusive details still hovered tauntingly past his reach.

But Aya wasn’t. Aya was too damned close for comfort, no matter the conclusions Yoji had reached about his own sexual predications. Admitting he liked guys – this guy in particular – using it to get under Aya’s skin in the heat of the moment, that was all fine and good in the abstract, incredibly titillating in fact, but damned if he wasn’t nervous now. It was the sudden silence after the violence. The tension that hovered in the air, caught in that same expectant silence, fused between wary stares, waiting for something to break it.

“You’re going back there after they’ve closed up, aren’t you?” Yoji spoke first, since it didn’t seem like Aya was going to initiate anything, least of all conversation.

Aya’s mouth twitched a little, tightening. He was hemmed in between Yoji and the bed and the overturned chair. It would take effort to maneuver past without getting too close to Yoji, so he stayed where he was, very seemingly at ease. Yoji didn’t believe the pose for a moment, not any more than he believed his own easy smile was anything for a cover for a bundle of nerves and frustration.

“I’ll go with you.”

“You will not!” That got immediate response. It got Aya’s eyes flashing very nicely and his good hand stabbing in Yoji’s direction.

“I’m not the one who needs looking after here, baby.” Yoji drawled, having no slightest intention of backing down. Aya had to be deluded if he thought showing Yoji those pictures a method of discouraging him from this case. “I don’t have bullet holes in me.”

“You are not equipped for this. Do you even have a weapon?”

“I don’t need a weapon. I’m not planning on shooting anybody.”

“Then you have no business going after these people, because they won’t hesitate to shoot you.”

“And you have no business going anywhere in the shape you’re in. Least of all without backup.”

Aya’s mouth snapped shut at that and Yoji thought he’d scored a valid point that even Aya couldn’t contest. He took a shuddering breath, then lifted a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose.

Yoji spotted the bottle of aspirin on the table by the laptop. He tossed them at Aya, who snatched them out of the air a foot in front of his face.

“Take an aspirin. Take four.” Yoji suggested. “Get a few hours rest. You need it. Then we’ll catch a little breakfast and go visit ShadowDance without all the leather getting in the way.”