Part Nine

    Yohji’s teammates were oblivious.

    Yohji had been around too long, had been through too much to let it show that something was bothering him. His conflict with Crawford was easily the biggest mess he had ever gotten into. Asuka had been a very important figure in Yohji’s life, but at least she had been female. Not only was Crawford playing for the other team, but he was male. This wasn’t your “Should I have soba or udon for dinner tonight?” type of mental debate. This was a “Shall I just throw all caution and threads of morals to the winds?” type of thing, and Yohji had never faced so difficult a decision in his life.

    But he managed to keep going; he managed to keep up with his teammates in the shop. He went through the motions of flirting and flower-arranging like the good little undercover assassin, but the interest and focus was gone. He couldn’t appreciate the curves and the smiles around him, nor could he put his attention on making his bouquets as well as normal. Everything was routine by now- the women and the flowers- just like killing. It was a second nature, and he let his body pay lip service while his mind danced a million miles away.

    Was he willing to throw so much away? Was he willing to take the risk of stepping past the line Crawford had drawn for him? Could he do it? When it came down to it, would he reach out and take what Crawford was offering? It was no longer a matter of wanting or not; he knew that he was curious and he knew that he wanted to see what it was like. For him to take Crawford as a teacher…On the one hand, considering the effect Crawford’s kisses had on him, Yohji had the feeling it would definitely be a night to remember. On the other…

    There was still the whole problem with whether or not he should.

    It was definitely…a mess.

    Lunch time; Yohji hid his relief by heaving a deep sigh and making a show of checking his watch. He raked his hair out of his face, pushed his sunglasses back into place, and offered a wave to the shop as he headed towards the back door.

    “Nic addict,” Ken called after him.

    “You’re just jealous because I look cool when I smoke,” Yohji called back.

    “All the ladies love a black-lunged man,” Ken drawled back in response.

    Yohji didn’t lower himself to respond. On any other day, it might amuse him to get in a taunting fight with the younger assassin, but today much more important things required his time and attention.

    Ken stepped out of the back door as Yohji was lighting up the first cigarette, on his way upstairs to find lunch in his apartment. He made a face at Yohji and the older man returned it easily, blowing a small cloud of smoke at his teammate. Ken made a show of waving it away, using some gagging sounds for effect, and hurried up the stairs. Yohji allowed himself a slight smile for the boy’s antics and propped himself against the wall, letting his cigarette dangle from his lips. He inhaled deeply, feeling the smoke curl in his chest, trying to let it soothe jangled nerves so he could think.

    His attempt at concentration was shattered when Ken called down one final taunt: “Omi’s going to be forced to visit your grave to scream at you for your stupidity when that habit of yours sends you to an early grave.”

    Yohji plucked his cigarette from his lips, tilting his head back to respond. Any words died on his lips, however, and he just gazed up at Ken in silence. The boy only gave him a moment for retaliation before ducking into his apartment and closing the door behind him. Yohji slowly dropped his gaze again, and his eyes landed on the smoking cigarette in his hand.

    “Due to the work we do, we'll be lucky to hit thirty. We're losing a lot of moments. What will you do with the moments that are handed to you? Will you do something with them or will you watch them slip away?”

    Yohji lived his life how he pleased. He took the work he wanted, ignored the things he didn’t want to do, and treated himself to heavy drinks and pleasurable company. His teammates chided him for living so rashly, but he had decided long ago that as long as he was going to be in this line of business with death around any corner, he would do what he pleased and enjoy the time he had. He shrugged off his teammate’s jokes about his night time conquests and his drinking habits because they were things that made him happy, because it was time doing what he chose to do. There really was only so much longer that they would last. If they lived to their thirties, they would have the privilege of feeling their reflexes slow on them with age. Omi had a way left to go, as he was only seventeen. But Yohji was just a few months shy of turning twenty-three. While he was still young, a couple more years would make him too old for this business. Kritiker would retire him, though whether that meant he would be reinstated into the real world, given a less active job within their rank, or permanently retired to save them money and time, he didn’t know.

    “You may not die next week, next month, next year. But you will die someday, and you don’t know when.”

    He had risked injuries and the like when he decided to be a private detective, but he attached a number to his years when he joined Kritiker. A part of him had always known that the time was ticking down, which was why he was such a hedonist.

    “I’m dying,” he mused, and he felt his lips quirk into a smile. It amused him, though he didn’t know why.

    “Will you reach that point and look back at a line of things you didn’t do, or will you have lived your life moment to moment, so that you throw the conquered world a smirk as you pass on?”

    Yohji had never before turned down anything he wanted. He had considered the consequences of drinking, and decided he would die before his liver shriveled up. People chided him for chain smoking, but he doubted he would be around long enough to develop lung cancer. Easy sex…Well, Yohji had figured that if he developed something and he decided he didn’t feel like facing it, it would be all too easy to make a mistake on a mission.

    ‘Do the things that feel good,’ he had told himself years ago. ‘Do the things you want to do. Everything you don’t have is one more thing you’ll regret not having and never trying.’

    “So then…” Yohji flicked a long string of ash from the end of his cigarette and propped it back between his lips. Yohji had made a habit of doing what he wanted and getting what he wanted. There was no reason to break tradition now. “Burn me.”


    Yohji rather liked the holidays, as it meant the shop was closed. There were some holidays, however, that Omi decided would be excellent time to clean up and improve around the shop. These holidays were the ones that Yohji didn’t like, and that was exactly the time of year it was. The front of the shop was down, announcing to everyone that the shop was closed for the day. The girls probably assumed their four idols were off getting some much needed rest or perhaps socializing with each other. Instead, Yohji found himself standing in the middle of the shop by himself, a mop in one hand and the other fist planted on his hip.

    Omi was away in his room, locked in for the day with the shop’s records from the last year. Yohji knew from experience that he would not see the boy for the rest of the day. Omi had to organize and evaluate the numbers, and would make decisions then as to whether or not they would change anything about the way the shop was run or supplied. Ken and Aya had worked for a couple hours in the morning and now were off getting some supplies they would need for when they reopened in two days. They had a sale planned for their reopening, which meant the shop would be swamped. It was their job to estimate the crowd and to buy accordingly. They had been gone for too long for it to be a simple shopping trip, however. Yohji was pretty sure Ken was at fault. There were a lot of holiday sales going on, so the boy was probably slowing things down by window shopping. Unlike Aya, who would just want to get the work done with and out of the way so he could move onto other things, Ken wanted to pretend the work didn’t exist.

    And Yohji…Yohji was playing Cinderella.

    He heaved an aggravated sigh, reaching up to tuck loose strands of hair behind his ear. He wished his hair was just a little bit longer. He had pulled it back to keep it from falling in his face, but it made a small ponytail and strands were forever slipping free of his band. It was mildly annoying. On any other day Yohji might not care enough to be truly bothered, but this on top of being asked (rather, commanded), by Omi to clean the entire shop top to bottom was a little much. He supposed he’d gotten the job to make up for the chunk of days he had been too sick to work. Apparently getting four days of sleep meant he had the energy to give the shop a thorough scrub down.

    There was a knock at the back door; Ken and Aya were finally back. Yohji considered pretending he couldn’t hear it. He knew they had their keys with them, and if he ignored them it meant that they would have to put down whatever they were carrying to unlock the door. It amused him for a moment before he brushed such immature thoughts away. He instead turned his mop upside down, letting it rest against his shoulder so the thick cotton strings dangled behind him. Maybe he could just turn to lead them in and hit one of them in the face with the wet end…It would, of course, be an accident.

    Either way, he would have an audience to rant to about the injustice of being given such a workload. Aya would probably respond that Omi didn’t have it any easier, in which case Yohji could respond that at least the boy didn’t have to do any physical work. He doubted he could convince either of them to stay, however. They might protect him on the battle field and would even be willing to take a hit for him, but neither would ever agree to stay at the shop later than they had to on a holiday.

    Brats, both of them.

    He opened the door, ready to launch into his list of complaints.

    It never got spoken; both the list and Yohji’s breath got stuck somewhere in his throat.

    Crawford took a step forward. Yohji retreated before him to allow him entrance. The American closed the door behind himself and they stood in silence for a long moment. Yohji’s throat was suddenly dry. His time was up. He and Crawford had danced a strange dance around each other for a handful of weeks now, and it had reached its conclusion. His decision to go with it a couple days ago did not do much to help him now; wanting it could not stop him from being just a little bit afraid.

    It was a strange feeling, this swirl of apprehensive anticipation. It twisted in his stomach and he couldn’t think of anything to say. Finally he turned on his heel, heading back to the shop. His thoughts were racing in little circles. Now what? Now what would happen? They were in the flower shop. Would they leave? Yohji couldn’t go to his apartment… If Omi heard them or found out that Yohji had abandoned the work he had been assigned, the boy would come looking for him.

    If Omi heard them…

    The thought made him pause as he was setting the mop down; it brought an odd flush to his cheeks.

    “I trust you are doing much better now,” Crawford’s voice said at his ear.

    I don’t want…

    “No thanks to you,” Yohji said. He sounded calm, even if he didn’t feel it. He tilted the mop so the handle rested against a nearby table, insuring that it would not fall over and make a mess. Gathering his courage, he turned to face the American.

    …to regret anything.

    They gazed at each other in silence again. Yohji had the feeling that Crawford was waiting on him. Crawford had courted him thus far, had sought him out and made it plain what he wanted. The ball was in Yohji’s court now, and what he did now could forever change things between them.

    He reached out, fingers touching Crawford’s dark gray shirt. It was a tentative touch at first, almost as if he thought he might be burned. But then, wasn’t that what he wanted? He wanted the promise that had been in Crawford’s eyes that night. He wanted that fire to tear him apart, wanted to feel that raw heat for himself.

    This is…my time.

    His hand skimmed up Crawford’s shirt to his chin before sliding to the back of the precognitive’s skull. Green and gold met, searching each other. Yohji saw himself; saw his eyes on Crawford’s face. Crawford allowed Yohji to draw his face downwards and their lips touched.

    This is my moment.

    Yohji’s actions gave Crawford his answer. Two hands slid down Yohji’s sides to his hips; Yohji laced his other arm about Crawford’s shoulder as the kiss deepened. Any second thoughts, any doubts, melted away. This was what lust tasted like; it was a familiar taste if the edge of it was different. Yohji took all of his concerns and threw them out the window, allowing Crawford to press him against the table. Hands slipped up his shirt, fingers running along bare skin. Yohji twisted to give him better access, his own fingers curling into fists in the back of Crawford’s dress shirt.

    Crawford had managed to hook Yohji’s shirt over his shoulders, exposing his back and abdomen to the room. Fingernails raked down the muscles of Yohji’s back and the white assassin moaned into Crawford’s mouth, sliding his hands down the American’s back to find the hem of his shirt. Their legs were entangled, but Yohji wasn’t sure which one of them had moved. He was too caught up in their kisses, in the teeth that skimmed his throat, in the fingers that laced along his skin, in the warm flesh beneath his own fingers, to pay much attention to their surroundings. He was not altogether surprised to soon find himself sitting on the table he had just wiped off, one hand cupping the back of Crawford’s head as the American kissed a trail down his bare chest. His shirt was off to one side on the floor, and Crawford’s was unbuttoned. His other hand was turned, his palm running down the flat planes of Crawford’s chest as he allowed himself to feel the difference between a woman’s soft curves and a man’s hard angles.

    He was drowning, lost in a sea of gold as Crawford tipped his head up for another kiss. He had never felt this way with a woman. There was excitement with women, but it was a familiar sort of thrill. This…this was something new, something that was more primal and pure. Women were to be respected; women could be fragile. Women…brought emotions into the mess. And this…This was something that was purely physical, and it was like nothing he had ever had.

    There was the sound of something hitting the ground, and Yohji’s head popped up at the sound of the back door closing.

    “Yohji, you here?”

    Ken and Aya.

    Yohji hissed a curse, sliding off the table as if the surface suddenly burned him. He grabbed at his shirt, though he knew even if he put it on and managed to hide Crawford somewhere that he looked horrendously disheveled. Green eyes popped around the room, searching for someplace for Crawford to go. With the shop’s front guard down, the only exit was in the storage room…

    He grabbed Crawford, pushing him towards the closet. The American allowed himself to be propelled backwards without protest, though Yohji was aware of the dim amusement on the American’s face. He didn’t appreciate the precognitive’s entertainment. There were some things his teammates would kill him for, and this was surely one of them!

    He gave Crawford one last shove to get him all the way in the closet, his other hand on the doorknob as he prepared to close it. But Crawford grabbed hold of his wrist at the last moment, and Yohji stumbled forward under the force of his own shove. The closet door was yanked shut behind them, and Yohji was aware of Crawford’s other hand snapping out just in time to keep it from slamming. It clicked softly into place and everything went pitch black around them.

    Yohji was pressed up against Crawford, rocked up on the balls of his feet from his stumble. He held onto the American for balance, his shirt hanging limply from his fingers as he strained to hear any sounds from his teammates. He wanted to lower himself to the flat of his feet, but he wasn’t sure of the layout of the closet. He had never paid much attention to the inside of it, save to grab his apron and the cleaning tools. It was a small place, large enough for him and Crawford to stand with a foot of space between them. He did know that it was currently a mess, and he didn’t want to kick anything and alert his teammates to their whereabouts.

    So he remained where he was, pressed up against the American, struggling to control his ragged breathing so he could listen. He could feel Crawford’s chest rising and falling calmly against his own and squashed the small bit of irritation that Crawford was always so damned calm about things. Someone who was bold enough to smoke at a gas station next to a pump surely didn’t care about getting caught fooling around with the enemy.

    He struggled to make out the shapes of everything around them, but the only light came in through a small crack under the door. Time ticked by, agonizingly slow, but the light was not strong enough or bright enough to help him adjust to the darkness. It barely lit the outline of his shoe.

    There- Ken’s voice. Yohji couldn’t make out the words but the tone was exasperated and loud. The two had entered the main shop and most likely were arguing about the abandoned mop and Yohji’s absence. Aya’s voice; the man had just walked by the closet.

    Just leave, Yohji willed them. Go away. You don’t want to be here. It’s a holiday.

    But there was a scraping, the familiar sound of the legs of a stool getting dragged across the ground, followed by the creak of someone settling their weight upon it.


    Crawford slowly ran his hands down Yohji’s forearms, giving him a light push. Yohji took it as encouragement to straighten and he lowered himself, painfully slow, to the ground. He held his breath as he went, hoping he wouldn’t knock into anything. When he was standing on his own feet again without a noise to betray him, he allowed himself a soft sigh of relief. He gazed into the inky blackness ahead of him, his hands on Crawford’s arms telling him the precognitive was right there even though he couldn’t see him.

    Just his luck…

    He gave a near-silent groan, dropping his head to rest it against Crawford’s chest.

    Lips brushed against his forehead; a hand traced down his arm to find his waist. Fingertips dipped beneath the waistband of his pants. Yohji lifted his head, half-turning to try and dislodge the fingers. Lips touched his cheekbone and found his mouth next; Yohji pulled away from the touch.

    “No,” he whispered, almost too quiet to be heard. “Not here.”

    The hand on his pants tugged him back, and a second hand touched his bare skin, fingertips tracing up his ribcage. Crawford found his mouth again; placing him by his voice. Yohji decided that the American was a little too good at that, and he allowed the kiss for a moment before breaking it once more. He shook his head even though he knew the other assassin couldn’t see it. His mind was screaming caution, his body was ready to throw all worries to the wind and just go with it. It was still tingling from their kisses and touches in the shop and was quite ready to continue. Yohji struggled with the warring desires, reaching down to try and detach Crawford’s fingers from his skin.

    “They won’t catch us,” a voice whispered at his ear before teeth lightly closed on his earlobe.

    He froze, mind slowly processing those words.

    “You saw that?”

    “Do you think I’m interested in dying in your closet, Kudou?” Crawford murmured. His breath sent a shiver down Yohji’s spine and green eyes slid closed against the sensation. He tried to make a responsible decision; he gave it an honest effort. But the majority of him was reminding him that Crawford was a precognitive and that if he said they wouldn’t get caught, it was a trustworthy prediction.

    That didn’t change the situation…There was something ultimately wrong with screwing Schwarz’s leader when his teammates were right next door.

    Teeth closed on his throat lightly before Crawford gave the skin a light suck.

    And Yohji decided that that was enough. “Okay.”

Part 10