Once A Thief


Chaos notes:  If you didn’t know already, there is a prequel for this fic, called Sketches of the Past.  There will be many things alluded to in OAT from that one-shot, so you may want to read it (and review!).  Kali highly recommends it.

Disclaimer:  Kali & muses do not own Beyblade.  We mourn.  We do, however, own all OCs appearing in this fic.

Warnings:  Yaoi (means lemons, people – unless you’re on ffnet; then you get shounen-ai), language, dramatic angst, and other adult content.  Don’t like it, don’t read it!

Pairing:  TyKa; others include Tala/Hilary, Rei/Mariah

Summary:  (AU)  A thief is being chased by the law in more ways than one.  But this thief and the one chasing him have…history.  And that will affect the outcome of the chase…perhaps in a way neither would have expected.

~*~*~*~*~

Once A Thief

~*~*~*~*~

 

Chapter 01: Thief In The Night

            A masquerade ball.

            They didn’t happen as often as they once did anymore.  These sorts of events had gone out of style ages ago, replaced by parties and gala events at the most popular nightclubs instead.

            Of course, clubs and such were not usually found in private houses, nor were they the places one could find priceless works of art, jewellery, or museum-quality pieces like relics or artefacts.  Any of these items found in private homes were – in this area of the world, at least – heirlooms passed down over generations.  Sometimes they were in the hands of collectors, but that was rare.  And most times anything of real value was documented thoroughly, its whereabouts listed in several different places so that, should something happen to it, it could be found again easily or at least tracked.

            While that had its upside, it also had its downside.  Anyone and everyone could find whatever they wanted to.  In other words, it made stealing those items a lot easier.

            All this ran through the mind of the black-clad figure slinking through the halls of a chateau just outside Paris, France.  He’d left the bulk of his costume in the washroom off the kitchens with the door securely locked.  Anyone wanting to use it would have to go elsewhere and heed the “out of order” sign he’d hung on the doorknob.  He’d climbed out the window and scaled up the side of the chateau to the third floor tower library, entering through a very small window that was barely large enough to squeeze through.

            Unfortunately, his intel had been partially false.  He had been told the item he’d been sent to acquire was located in that tower.  However, it turns out that it had been moved to the main library on the second floor.  Cursing fluently and frequently – in his mind, anyway – he found the doors he was looking for and proceeded to use his…singular talents to get those doors open before slipping inside.

            It was a good thing he’d taken care of the security system before he’d locked himself in the bathroom.  He wasn’t worried about cameras or motion detectors tonight – since they were off because of the party going on downstairs.  Still, he didn’t want to risk the chance of running into heat sensors or some other elaborate set-up.  He couldn’t afford to be caught.

            Glancing around the room, he took in his surroundings as he searched for his target.  Spotting it sitting open on a table, where someone had obviously been studying it, he moved quickly over to it, opening his case to place it inside very, very carefully.

            All this for a book.  Okay, so it’s old, and valuable, and kind of pretty, but it’s still just a book.  He thought with a small amount of disgust.  Damn Gideon for making me do this.  I’ve become a criminal just to get back something that rightfully belongs to me and to save people I love.

            Locking the case, he returned to the doors and peeked out to make sure the coast was clear, then left as quickly and quietly as he’d come.

            Getting back to the tower was something of a chore.  It was getting late and people from the ball were stumbling back to their rooms.  Occasionally, he had to hide.

            Eventually he did make it back to the bathroom, where he stashed his gear and the case in a backpack that had seen better days,  and put his costume back on – one of the uniforms the catering staff were wearing.  Then he gathered everything up, made sure there were no traces of the fact he’d been there, and exited the bathroom.  With no one in the hall, he was nearly home-free.

            Out in the kitchens, he was stopped by the head chef.

            “What are you doing, young man?  You should be out on the floor yet serving my canapés.”   The man demanded in a heavy French accent.  In English, with no hint of his own accent – other than purposefully sounding British – the thief gave him a weak smile and did his best to look ill.

            “They told me I could go home, Monsieur.  I am not feeling well.”

            “Bah.  You should not have come in if you were so ill.”  The chef waved him away.  “Go.  I do not want germs near my dishes.”

            “Neither do I, Anton.  Good evening.”  The young man answered with a brief nod.  He moved slowly out of the kitchen to the servants’ entrance, where he slipped out and made his way to the parking lot.  Strapping on his helmet and gloves, he got onto his motorcycle and kicked it into gear, riding away into the night.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            “Looks like he’s struck again.”

            A red-haired man stood and dusted his hands, glancing at his partner.  “Once again, it’s like the item just vanished.  No hint or clue or evidence left behind.”

            “That’s beginning to piss me off.”  The dual-haired, greyish-violet eyed man near him muttered.  “I don’t understand how anyone could be that smooth.”

            “Planned well enough, anyone could do it.”

            “I guess.  You’re sure it’s him, though, Tala?”

            “Yes.  His scent is still in the room.”  Tala met his eyes with a pair of his own that were icy blue and highly intelligent.  “I don’t see anything out of place other than the missing manuscript, though.”

            “Damn it.  Fine, let’s get back to headquarters and let the Boss know.  The UNA (1) isn’t going to be happy with us.”

            “Like I care, Hiwatari.  It’s not our fault.”

            “No.  But we are the ones who will have to find this guy and catch him.”  Kai sighed, frowning at the world in general as they walked out of the library past the police and fellow UNA investigators.

            “Still, you have to admire the guy – whoever it is.  It takes skill and finesse to do what he’s done.”  Tala laced his hands behind his head as he sauntered alongside Kai down the stairs to the main floor.”

            “You’re warped, Ivanov.” (2)

            “Did you find anything?  Do you know who has stolen from me?”  A short, wizened little man approached them, wringing his hands.  He spoke in French, but the two UNA agents understood perfectly.  Tala, in typical fashion, gave his partner a look and continued toward the front doors, slipping on a pair of sunglasses and leaving Kai to speak with the man.

            In French, Kai said, “Monseigneur, I’m sorry to say that there was very little evidence of anything to be found – except your missing manuscript.”

            “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…my wife will be most unhappy with me.”

            “I want to reassure you, however, that we will find the thief and your manuscript.  Despite the lack of clues, we think we know who may be behind this.”  Kai continued, pretending not to hear the man.  “Please trust us to do our jobs, Monseigneur, and you will get your property back.”

            The man drew out a handkerchief and mopped at his forehead anxiously.  “Oui, oui…of course, Agent Hiwatari.  I was most reassured by Monsieur Dickenson’s phone call this morning, when he told me of your arrival.  His agents were the best, he said.”

            “We try, Monseigneur.  Someone from the UNA will be in touch with you when we have anything new to report.”  Kai shook the man’s hand and turned to leave.

            Outside, he got into the car and gave his partner a mild glare as Tala pulled out of the drive of the large estate and back onto the highway.

            “What?  I’m not good with people, Kai.  You’re better at handling the distraught victims.”

            “Oh yeah right.  You just don’t want to even try.”  Kai slouched in his seat, taking his sunglasses out of his jacket pocket and slipping them on.

            “You’re in a fantastic mood these days.  What’s wrong with you?”  Tala glanced at him, eyes studying him curiously behind his own shades.

            “Nothing.  I’m just getting supremely annoyed with this thief.  He’s making a mockery of the UNA.  This is the what?  Thirteenth item he’s stolen?  And every time we show up we find nothing to identify him nor any reason for taking whatever it was.”

            “A ‘he’ is it?  You’ve sensed something then.”  Tala gave his attention back to the road.  “I know I’ve suspected a male, because his scent tells me that much.  What have you found?”

            “I haven’t found anything.  It’s just…a feeling I get.”  Kai shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

            “If you say so.  I trust your instincts.  They haven’t been wrong before.”

            “Hn.”

            They returned to the Parisian branch of UNA headquarters without further comment.  Once there, they rode the elevator to the top floor to give their reports to the Director of the UNA, Mr. Stanley Dickenson.

            “Do you want to tell him, or shall I?”  Tala inquired, winding through the cubicles toward the offices along the front of the building.

            “Why don’t I write the report, and you tell him we know nothing more.”  Kai eyed the office door warily.

            “Uh…how about you tell him?  I’ll…go write the report right now.”  Tala was gone between one word and the next, leaving Kai blinking at the door reluctantly.

            He knocked, waited a moment, and went inside.

            “Ah, Kai…you’ve returned.”  The stout, bald man at the desk looked up from his paperwork. “How did your investigations go?”

            “Badly.  I’m sorry, sir, but all we could discern was that it’s the same culprit.  Tala’s nose still works, on the bright side…” Kai reported, trying to lighten the poor results, though he failed miserably.  He’d learned so much from someone in his past, but he didn’t have the same genki cheerfulness he had had to pull it off.

            “This has to stop.  At this rate all of Europe’s most precious treasures will be gone.  Has there been anything?  Anything at all?”

            “No, sir.  There appears to be no connections at all.  The victims of these thefts aren’t related, though occasionally they know one another through business or from their social positions.  The objects themselves aren’t related either.  They come from different time periods, different cultures, are of different sorts of objects – like paintings, sculptures, a mechanical device, jewels, and now a manuscript – and there seems to be no pattern to the thefts either.  It’s almost as if random objects just…disappear from existence.”  Kai made a noise of frustration.

            “Yes, well, I certainly can’t tell the people who want their property back that.  What do we know?”  Mr. Dickenson folded his hands in front of himself on the desk, watching Kai expectantly.

            Kai sighed and rubbed his temples, thinking.  “From Tala’s tracking and my gut instinct…it’s a male, no older than I.  He can’t be to have gotten in and out of some of the places he has.  We also believe he must be in good shape, and perhaps has had some kind of training that adds to his speed and agility.  Tala…describes his scent as a storm.”  Kai frowned, not because of the strangeness of such a description (since, coming from his Russian partner, such parallels were normal), but because the memory of someone else who smelled faintly of a summer thunderstorm still haunted him – even ten years later.

            “I see.  Very well, Agent.  I’ll expect your report by the end of the day.”  The Director dismissed him, and Kai gratefully made his escape.

            Kai wound his way through the cubicles in the bullpen until he came to the one he shared with Tala, finding the redhead bent over a stack of paperwork with pen in hand.

            “Give me some of that.  You’ll be here all night.”  Kai reached out and grabbed a part of the stack from Tala.

            “Please…help yourself.”  Tala didn’t even look up.  “What did the Boss have to say?”

            Opening his desk drawer, Kai dug out a pair of reading glasses and slipped them on.  Then he grabbed a pen out of the holder on one corner of his desk and opened the first booklet to fill out.  “Not much, really.”  He replied.  “But there was that frown of frustration.  I’m thinking we don’t find the guy soon, we’re going to be very unemployed.”

            Tala looked up and shoved one paper off to the side to move on to the next.  “I wouldn’t go that far.”  He grinned, watching Kai for a moment as he wrote, then put his pen down to look for the case file to look something up.  He pushed the glasses up his nose then blinked when he noticed Tala watching him.

            “What?”  He demanded defensively, scowling at his partner.

            “Just the glasses.  It’s cute.”

            “Shut up.”

            “No, really!  Why aren’t you dating yet anyway?  I know a few girls who’d be absolutely thrilled to get their hands on you.”  Tala wriggled his eyebrows suggestively.  “I can set you up…”

            “Haven’t we had this conversation before?”  Kai grumbled moodily.  “No, Tala.”

            “Okay, come on.  I know you’re still reserving hopes of finding this mysterious love of your life that you lost…what?”  Tala affected a forgetful expression.  “Nine?  Ten years ago?  But, Kai…your life is passing by and you’re not even a spectator.  We’ve looked since we got out of the Academy.  We have followed every clue and miniscule piece of evidence we possibly could find but…”

            “Then you don’t understand.”  Kai didn’t scowl now.  He glared, and had he not been wearing the contacts that disguised his fiery eye colour, Tala would have burned to a crisp with that look.  “I loved him, Tala.  I still love him.  All I want is the chance to tell him so.”

            “And that’s fine, Kai.  But until we find him, you are married to your career.  It’s not healthy.”

            “Hmph.  Like you’re an expert on healthy.”

            “At this point, I’m way more expert than you are.  I’ve known you for nearly eight years now.  I’ve seen you date maybe three times, and each time it only lasted a few hours.  At least then you’d go out to a club or something once in a while.  Now you just sit around at home and read – and it’s usually case files and witness statements.  Not even books!  That’s no way to live.”

            “Tala.  Just leave it.  I’m not looking for a relationship so drop it.  Besides, I’d think your wolf-y self would appreciate monogamy.”  Kai shot back, looking back down at his paperwork with a grumble.

            “I’m not all wolf, for your information.”  Sighing, the redhead picked up the next piece of paper to fill out.  “Whatever.  Live in total misery then.  See if I care.”  He muttered.

            “Tal…hey, don’t do that.”  Kai fought the urge to squirm in guilt.  “You’re acting like I ran over your puppy.”

            “You might as well have.  And don’t use that ‘Tal…’ whine on me.  You’re almost twenty seven, damn it.  No guy who is as much of a catch as you are has only gone on three, hour-long dates since his high school graduation – unless he was married right after he graduated.”  Tala grabbed Kai’s left hand and held it up.  “I see no ring.”

            Kai yanked his hand back, holding it to his chest almost protectively.  “Maybe not, but I’m still taken.”

            Tala threw his hands up in the air in exasperation.  “Fine!  I give up.”  Then he gave his partner a sly grin.  “But you have to promise me that you’ll go out somewhere – my choice – at the next opportunity.”

            “If it will end this conversation and get you off my back, fine.”

            “Done!”  Tala smiled, his grin more than a little wolfy.  “I’ll get you a life yet.”

            “Don’t count on it.”  Kai couldn’t help the tiny twitching of his mouth into a smile.  His partner was like a giddy child with an ice cream cone when he got his way.  “Can we work now?”

            “You betcha.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Six days later – Paris

            “Are you absolutely sure this time?  Because you were way off last time.  Double-check your data.”  The thief tapped his fingers on a desktop, switching ears with the phone’s handset impatiently.  “It took me nearly fifteen extra minutes to get that stupid manuscript.  I had to sneak like a common burglar through the halls.”

            There was a lengthy pause as he rolled his eyes, listening to the voice on the other end of the line, and reached for a laptop computer, flipping it open and turning it on.

            “Okay, okay!  I’m sorry!  You know I couldn’t do any of this without you, and I know how much you’re risking by doing it.  Yes, yes.”  There was another pause.  “It’s emailed?  Even the blue-prints?  Alright.  Thanks for everything.  What?  Oh.  There’s only two items left on the list.  This one and the final one.”  The thief sighed, squelching the guilt his conscious was screaming at him.  “Yeah.  That.  You’ll start researching it, then?  Okay.  I’ll be in touch when I’ve made my plans for this next one.”

            He hung up and opened his email account.  He began downloading attachments and printing off the info he’d need to go after the next object on the list.

            It looked like he wouldn’t have to travel far this time, for which he was glad in a way.  He was getting so tired of jetting here and there, never staying in one place for more than a month at a time.  Although this flat was his main base, and had been for over two years, it would never truly be home.  That was, in part, what he was doing all this for – his home, his family, and the most valuable heirloom his family possessed (other than the land his home sat upon itself).

            “Back to merry old England it is.  London, here I come.”

****************

Chapter 02: To Catch A Thief – Part I

            Two and a half weeks after the theft near Paris, Kai and Tala were walking into the UNA building in Paris, prepared for another pointless day of re-reading reports and statements looking for clues that they may have overlooked – despite the fact that they new perfectly well they hadn’t missed a thing.  And in a typical morning ritual they seemed to have since they’d first met, they were arguing good-naturedly – this time over Kai’s contacts.  Tala had a penchant for pointing out Kai’s faults and picking at them.  Kai, mostly, had learned to ignore it for the most part, since the redhead’s genetics – with wolf somewhere in his DNA – dictated he thought as wolves did, and to wolves lies and false presentation of oneself made no sense.  You are as you are, to a wolf, and you should accept that and be as you are.  It was inconceivable to them that a person would try to be something they weren’t.

            “I don’t wear them for myself, Ivanov.  I’ve told you before, it’s for the comfort of others.  Most people, especially Europeans, get seriously freaked out by a person with blood red eyes – even if you don’t.”  Kai fished out his badge and ID to show the guard in the elevator that was reserved for employees and UNA agents (not the general public).  Tala wore his hanging around his neck on a nylon cord.

            “They get freaked out by wolfish, icy blue eyes, too, but you don’t see me running out to buy contacts to hide them, do you?”  The Russian replied.

            Kai leaned against the elevator wall, arms folded and eyes closed.  “Did you ever think it’s why witnesses won’t talk to you but they will to me?”

            Tala scowled.  “Unfortunately, yes.  Sometimes I wish everyone were more wolf.  The world would be a better place.”

            Kai snickered.  “Yeah right.  Frankly, I’m rather glad we’re not.

            The elevator stopped and they stepped out, only to be waylaid by an anxious clerk.

            “Agents!  Mr. Dickenson wants to see you immediately!”

            “Why?”  Tala raised an eyebrow.

            The clerk took a step back and stammered, “A…another theft, sir.”

            Tala and Kai exchanged resigned glances and headed for the Director’s office.  To do so they had to weave and thread through the flurry of activity in the bullpen.  As they reached the door, it opened and Mr. Dickenson stepped out, files in hand.

            “Excellent.  You’re here.  Get ready to go, boys.  You’re on the next flight to London.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            “Item number fourteen.”

            He placed the scrolls of ancient papyrus on the bed of straw in a packing crate with a sigh.  They were so old they were already encased in glass, but since he didn’t want to risk someone seeing them – should anyone manage to get past his own, homemade security system – he crated everything up in the storage room.

            “Only one left to go…” The thief murmured with some amount of relief.  It would be over soon.  His family would be freed, his home saved, and their most precious possession returned.  But this last item…from the data his source had collected so far, the fifteenth and final item on the list was in the possession of (and had been since the time of the Czars of Russia) the one family he’d never believed he would ever be associated with again.

            With a deep sigh he dusted his hands off and proceeded to seal the crate up, pounding the nails into the wood forcefully.  A set of tears trickled down his cheeks unnoticed.

            “Maybe I’ll be lucky for once in my life and he won’t be there.”

            He put the hammer aside, sadness welling up once more.  Sometimes he wondered why he didn’t drown in it.

            As he shut the door to the storage room and activated his own lock system with a small gathering of electricity to his palm, he sniffled, trying to put himself back together.

            “I need a drink.”  He decided, walking up the concrete stairs to the alleyway above.  “I’m going out tonight.  I think I’ll give an old college friend a call…”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

London, England

            Walking down the steps of the British Museum, Kai plucked specks of lint and dust off his clothes irritably.  “You know, for a museum, you would think they’d have an interest in dusting once and a while – even in the storage areas.”  He grumbled.

            Tala sneezed and blew his nose in a handkerchief.  “No shit.  Damn it!  All that centuries-old dust is going to screw up my nose for weeks.”  He sneezed again.  “Damn it!”

            “What in the world would this guy want with the Book of the Dead?  If he wanted it that badly it would have been cheaper to just buy a poster in the gift shop.”  Kai put his sunglasses on and looked around the area, searching for anything that could give him an idea for the motive behind this recent theft.  “Argh!  This is driving me nuts!”

            Tala scowled and sniffed loudly.  “Even in this condition I can still smell the weather.  It’s going to rain soon.”

            “I guess we should get back to the studio and report in.”

            “Yeah.”  He gave Kai a side-glance with a sly grin.  “You know, it’s really handy that your parents have apartments and flats and houses all over Europe that we can use on investigations.  I hate hotels.”  He followed Kai to the car and went around to the driver’s side.  “Since we’re in town, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to go out and have some fun.  We deserve a chance to relax and forget about the job for a few hours, don’t you agree?”

            Kai grunted, sliding into the car.  “You’re going to drag me out, aren’t you?”

            “You promised.”

            “Damn it.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            Takao sighed, for once in a very long time feeling relaxed.  He sipped his drink and looked around the pub from the table was sitting at near the railing, looking down on the first floor.  He spotted a brunette in a suit enter and look around, and Takao waved at him when he looked upward to search the second floor.

            “Hey, Wyatt!”  The bluenette greeted the other man as he sat down across from him after climbing the stairs up to meet him.  “Good to see you!”

            “Tyson!  Hey, pal, it’s about time you dropped by London again.  It’s been months!  How have you been?”  Wyatt shrugged out of his jacket and loosened his tie.  “I just got off work and came right over.”

            “This I can see.  How’s the wide, wonderful world of accounting?”  Takao grinned and sipped again as Wyatt rolled his eyes.

            “Oh fabulous.  It’s summer, after all.  Not too much excitement right now.  Come fall and the quarterlies, though, I’m sure thing will pick up at the company.”  Wyatt smiled at the waiter who came over and offered a drink menu.  “Thanks.  I’ll just have a Heineken.”

            “Glass or bottle, sir?”

            “Glass.  A pint, please.”

            “Certainly.”  The waiter walked away to get his beer.

            “So!  What brings you to town? I was beginning to think maybe you’d decided to move to the Continent permanently.”  Wyatt fixed a bright smile on his old university friend.  “Max said he hadn’t heard from you for a while but last he’d heard you were in Germany.”

            “Mmm…antique trading takes me all over the place.  But more so in Europe than anywhere else.”  Wyatt nodded in understanding.  Takao looked thoughtful.  “I’m thinking I may go home to Japan soon, though.”

            “I hear that.  Getting homesick?”

            “You could say that.”  Takao’s smile was sad.  “Things aren’t the same there anymore, and it’ll take work to get the dojo back into shape, I imagine.”

            “It’s not your fault.  You couldn’t have known your grandfather had mortgaged the place to the hilt.  And your father and brother are never home, what with their archaeology.  You were in New York with Max in university – and me.”  Wyatt winked, hoping to alleviate his friend’s sadness and stress somewhat.  “But when you get home you’ll be able to fix everything.”

            “I’m glad you can be optimistic for me.”  Takao shrugged his worries off and put a smile on his face.  “But enough depressing crap.  I noticed the ring, Wyatt.  Who’s wearing the twin to it?”

            Laughing and blushing sheepishly, the brunette studied the ring as the waiter returned and placed his beer on the table.  “Oh, yeah…you remember…?”

            And so the conversation began and continued until nearly midnight.  By that time, the pub had filled to capacity with corporate people who arrived for after-work drinks and meetings.

            In that time, two other young men walked into the pub and took seats at a table between the bar on the first floor and the stairs leading to the second floor.

            “Why this place?”  Kai asked, eyeing the crowd critically.  “You know I dislike the corporate world, Tala.  If I wanted that I could have followed family tradition and took a place in Hiwatari Enterprises.”

            “Yeah, yeah.  Shut up and order, Kai.  It was my choice and I know this place.  They have good vodka here for relatively cheap prices.”

            Kai rolled his eyes.  “You and your vodka.”

            “Am I Russian?  Or am I Russian?”  Tala grinned innocently – well, as innocently as he could, at least.

            “You are warped.”

            “So you’ve said.”  Tala glanced at the bar and stood.  “I’ll go order for us.”

            On the second floor, Takao glanced at his watch and blinked at it in the low light.  “Oh, wow!  It got late!  I was supposed to call Kenny tonight, too.”

            “Hey, you’re right.  Time flies…and all that jazz.”  Wyatt polished off his final drink and stood.  “I should head back home myself and phone my fiancée.”

            Takao smiled genuinely, happy for his friend’s good fortune.  “Then I’ll have to make sure we get together again, soon.”  They wound their way though the crowd, stopping to pay their tabs at the cashier counter before heading downstairs.

            “You had better, Tyson Granger.  Or I’ll have to call Max and sic him on you.”  Wyatt threatened, clapping the bluenette on the shoulder.  “I’ll see you around, pal.”

            “Yeah.”  Takao waved, stopping at the coat check to get his jacket and helmet.

            Not two metres away, Kai – through the buzz of the busy pub – heard a voice that sent chills down his spine.  It was different – more mature sounding, with hints of buried emotion that couldn’t quite be contained – but it was familiar.  And it was warm.

            Kai rose to his feet, time seeming to slow to a halt.  No.  No way.  It…it couldn’t be him.  Not after all this time…  His thoughts scattered as he stared in the direction of that voice and spotted a man with midnight blue hair pulled back in a ponytail, dressed in dark, faded denim jeans and a wine-coloured cotton button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows casually.  The bluenette had his back to Kai, and was speaking to a brunette in a business suit, but somehow Kai knew who he was, a sharp jolt of recognition nearly sweeping his feet out from under him.

            Forgetting about Tala and pretty much everything else, he started forward, determined to catch the man before he left and once again Kai lost him.  He saw the other, the brunette, laugh and leave with a small wave, and as he reached his goal, the coat check girl handed the bluenette a leather jacket and a motorcycle helmet.

            “ ‘Ere ya are, Mr. Granger!  It was good to see your ‘andsome self back in town.”  The girl smiled, batting her eyes at him.

            Takao laughed a little.  “Lizzy, my darling, how many times do I need to remind you to just call me ‘Tyson?’  Besides, I only came to see a friend this time.  I’m not staying.  Business, as usual.”

            “Aww…” Lizzy pouted.  “Well, seein’ how ‘twas you who found that gorgeous ‘tique desk for my no-good husband…I’ll forgive you.”

            “Very generous of you.  Oh, and let Gil know if he fancies a sea chest to match the desk, I may have a line on one.”  Takao winked and Lizzy laughed in delight.

            “Honestly, luv, you’re goin’ to make my Gil spend what schillings we’ve saved for the little ones, you are!  Go on wit’ ya, now.”  She shooed him away and walked off to see to another customer.  Takao shook his head and headed for the door.

            Kai, who had heard it all, stood frozen and stunned.  It was Takao, it just had to be.  But the woman had called him by another name.  That made no sense at all to Kai.

            Shaking himself when he realized the bluenette was out the door already, Kai hurried after him.

            …And as he nearly burst out of the doors of the pub, frantically looking both ways to spot the bluenette before running after him down the street, a red haired Russian with wolfy blue eyes returned to his table to find it abandoned – along with himself – holding two foaming mugs of beer instead of vodka.  “Hell-o?”

            Tala looked around in confusion and consternation, and swore fluently under his breath in his native Russian.

            “Fine!  More for me, you ungrateful wretch!”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            Takao tucked his helmet under an arm as he strolled down the street toward the car-park where he’d left his bike, pulling on his riding gloves as he walked.  He gave a yawn and sighed, feeling well enough that he actually thought he’d sleep half-decently that night.

            No dreams.

            He glanced up at the sky, but couldn’t see the stars – not with the light pollution of such a megalopolis as London.  It made him a little more homesick.  He was glad, at that point, that he’d decided not to drink anything alcoholic after all that night.  He didn’t need those sorts of dreams either.

            As he turned to go down a set of cement stairs to descend into the lower level of the car park, he heard hurried footsteps come up behind him and a low, smoky voice say, “Wait…” a second before a hand came down on his shoulder.

            Without even blinking, Takao’s training took over and he spun, grabbing the hand, twisting, and shoving the guy (who he automatically assumed was a street thug looking to mug him) up against a brick-building wall – hard.  Forearm pressed to the guy’s throat just enough to be a warning to back off or never breathe again, Takao began to growl out a verbal warning, too – in case the guy was dumb enough not to get the point.

            “Watch it pal.  Be careful who you…”  Takao stopped, staring directly into a familiar face – an all too familiar one.  He froze, the world gone dead quiet and all the blood rushing out of his face.  In the dark and shadowed night, out of reach of the nearest street lamp, he couldn’t see his eyes…but then, Takao didn’t need to.

            “Kino-miya…” Kai managed to gasp, not struggling against the hold out of blind instinct and pure trust.  The sound of his voice made the bluenette shudder visibly and he pulled away as if he’d been burned, staring at him with wide eyes that were beginning to have that deer-in-the-headlights sheen to them.  Kai breathed deeply for a moment, but warily didn’t move.

            “I…you…not possible.”  Takao, breathing harshly and shaking his head in denial, took a step back from his former lover.  “I’ve gone nuts.”

            “Kinomiya…it’s really me.”  Kai frowned in some concern.  “I…I’ve been trying to find you for years.”

            “You…trying to find me?”  Takao swallowed back a hysterical giggle.  “Right.  I’m hallucinating.”

            Now Kai (not the most patient one in the world) reached out and grabbed the bluenette by both arms, shaking him a little.  Takao gasped and jerked away.  “No, you’re not!  Get a hold of yourself, baka.  You act like I’m a damned ghost or some such thing.”

            “Kai…” Takao rubbed his face, trying to assure himself he was awake this time.  “You’re like one…  I mean, you disappear and reappear without any warning…and you haunt me.”

            “Then it makes two of us, Kinomiya, because you did the same – and you’ve haunted me ever since.”

            They stared at each other for a few minutes.  Just stared.  All either wanted was to bridge the mere steps between them, wrap their arms around the other, and hold on for the rest of their lives.

            “It’s really you…” Takao breathed, tears pouring down his face.  He dropped his helmet to the ground, trembling.  “You’re still here, and…Kai!”

            The older man’s mouth kicked up in a tiny smile, though his own eyes were growing moist and threatening to spill over.  “Neither have you.”  He replied in an unsteady voice.

            Takao gave a choked laugh and leapt forward.  Kai caught him, strong arms banding tightly around the bluenette’s body, and buried his face in the curve of Takao’s neck.  At the comforting memory of the feel of that body pressed against his own, Kai lost the fight to hold onto his emotions and shuddered as tears spilled out.  Then he felt the softness of Takao’s lips on his neck and he let out a sob, fingers desperately curling into Takao’s leather jacket like talons.

            The bluenette shivered at that sound, dragging his lips over Kai’s pulse and upward to his chin.  He licked his lips, tasting the salty liquid of Kai’s tears and looked into Kai’s eyes in shock.

            “You’re crying.”  Takao whispered in awe.  He raised his gloved hands to wipe the wetness away from Kai’s cheeks, which he noticed no longer bore the face paint he’d once worn.  Kai couldn’t’ think of anything to say, so he just turned his face into Takao’s palm, brushing his lips over it.  When he looked back, Takao had brought his face closer, and he captured Kai’s mouth in a simple – yet soul-searing – kiss.

            A desperate, aching noise came from one of them (though neither knew which of them made it or cared), and Kai loosened one hand from his grip on Takao’s jacket to move it up to Takao’s head, fingers burying themselves in midnight blue hair.  They kissed like they’d never been apart – certainly not for as long as they had been – and if anything, it was more passionate, and needy, and deep because of that absence.

            When they slowed to a stop, they only parted enough to breathe, arms still curled around each other, and their fronts still pressed together from chest to toe.

            “Kami…” Takao rasped hoarsely, panting.  It had been too long.

            After a few moments, Kai found his voice – albeit somewhat weakly.  “Takao…I’ve missed you.”  He murmured against Takao’s cheek.  So absorbed in the relief, contentment, and definite euphoria, Kai didn’t even notice the immediate tension in the younger man’s body at the sound of his name.  “My Taka…”

            Takao stared at the wall behind Kai, every muscle tensing into rock.  His eyes focused on one spot as he fought not to unleash his temper – ten years of bitterness, anger, sense of betrayal, and loneliness that he’d thought he’d buried away for good.  Instead, he growled a sharp, “No.” and jerked out of Kai’s arms, putting a good two steps between them.

            Kai, in a moment of confusion, took a step forward, reaching out to Takao, but the bluenette shook his head furiously, retreating another step, his eyes warning Kai to stay away.  The older man stopped and held himself motionless a mask of resignation on his face – but not before Takao saw the hurt and loneliness he’d been living with for so long flash through Kai’s eyes.  Still, he wasn’t about to just forgive Kai so easily, not without explanation and not without a serious discussion about a few issues.

            “No, Hiwatari.  I am not.”  Takao repeated, voice shaking with barely leashed temper and emotion.

            “Taka…” Kai found his voice again and barely moved to one side in time as the blur of the bluenette’s fist glanced off the side of his face rather than taking the full blow.  “Uhn!  Shit…” He eyed Takao warily, raising a hand and gingerly poking at his cheekbone.  Kai winced.  “That’s…going to leave a mark.  Damn it, Kinomiya…”

            “You moved.”  Takao was glaring at him, seething visibly with his hands tightly fisted at his sides.  “No one’s fast enough to see me move like that.”

            “Yeah, well, I’m not that fast, otherwise you’d have missed completely.  And what do you have against me calling you by name, anyway?!  We aren’t strangers, damn it!”  Kai blinked, feeling his cheek swell painfully.  “Ow…”

            “Are you kidding me?!  I have every reason in the world to resent you calling me anything, Hiwatari.”  Takao’s glare sharpened.  “Don’t act like you’re stupid, not with me.  You should have known what would happen.”

            “Look, I understand you’re really pissed off at me, okay?”  Kai scowled, gingerly touching the bruise forming at his eye and trying to reason with the bluenette.

            “Pissed off?!  Oh…I am so way beyond pissed off.  You bastard!”  Takao closed the distance between them, radiating his emotions like a small storm.  “You fucked me then left me!  No goodbye!  No reason for leaving nor word where you were going!  I thought…we had something.  I thought…you just let me think…if I meant so little to you then why the hell did you do it, Kai?  Why?!”

            “You mean everything to me.  And it wasn’t like…that, Takao.  It wasn’t like…not at all.”  Kai said softly.  That had hurt – and deeply.  “I wanted you then, loved you.  I still do or I wouldn’t have chased you out here from that pub.”

            Takao scoffed.  “Right.  Like I’m going to believe that.  How dare you?”

            “Do you really want to talk about this out here in the streets?”  Kai looked around.  There were still people walking around, on occasion right past them – though they were smart enough to stay away from the two young men who were obviously having issues over something.

            “It’s not like these people know me, so what do I care?  Let alone that we’re not yelling at each other in English, so it’s not like they understand us either.”

            “That’s not the point.”  Kai glared back, his own volatile temper beginning to smoulder.

            “Fine.  You don’t want to talk here?  Then where?”  Takao bent and collected his helmet in one swipe, dusting it off.

            “I’m going to assume you have a hotel room or something…”  Kai waited but Takao just regarded him balefully in silence.  He wasn’t about to tell Kai anything and Kai seemed to get the hint, continuing with, “Whatever.  My parents have a studio apartment not far from here.  Tala – my partner – and I are using it while in London.  We can go there.”

            “Whatever.”  Takao echoed, seemingly indifferent.  Inside, he was mentally strangling himself because he wasn’t sure being alone with Kai was a good idea.  “I’m not leaving my bike here, though.”  He brushed past Kai and descended the steps down to the lower-level car park.  Kai followed him quietly, relieved Takao hadn’t refused to go there, too.

            Glancing at his silent, former lover, Takao frowned a bit.  “I don’t know if you know how to ride one of these.”  He said, looking down at his motorcycle.  “And I don’t have a spare helmet.”

            “I do, and I don’t need one.”  Kai replied.  “You wear it.”

            Takao shrugged and strapped the helmet on his head, then walked the bike out of its parking spot before climbing on.  Kai got on behind him, sliding forward until he was spooning Takao’s body from behind, and slipped his arms around Takao to hold on – under the leather jacket.  At first, the younger man stiffened.  It was too familiar and intimate to be nestled into the curve of Kai’s body like that.

            But the truth was that despite still being very mad at Kai, he still wanted him, maybe even loved him.  He’d been harbouring secret hopes that he’d find Kai again someday, after all.  But he said nothing, silently accepting the closeness and starting up the bike.  They rode out of the parking lot and started out through the still busy London streets, Kai occasionally pointing Takao in the right direction.  Otherwise, both were grateful that for the length of the ride they didn’t have to talk to each other.  They had a chance to think about all the things they wanted to say and all the things that needed to be said.

            Finally, Kai signalled to Takao to pull over and stop.  They got off the motorcycle, and Takao secured it, then let Kai lead him into the building – an office complex that bore the Hiwatari Enterprises insignia on the side of it high, high up, and emblazoned on the rotating glass doors.

            They passed by the night watchmen’s desk, and Kai gave the two men in security uniforms a brief nod.

            “Mr. Hiwatari, sir?”  One of them spoke up, standing and waiting for Kai to come back over.

            “Problems, William?”  Kai addressed him by name, turning to return to the desk.

            “No, sir.  Everything’s been quiet as a churchyard.  But you had three phone messages while you were out.”

            Kai raised an eyebrow and accepted the three blue pieces of paper William handed over.  “Thank you.”  He said, scanning them briefly.  He scowled when he saw that one was from Tala.  “Oh, shit…I forgot about Tala.”  Kai sighed.  “I don’t know when he’ll come back but you know him, right?”

            “Yes, sir.  We’ll buzz him in when he returns.”  The other guard (Charles, by his nametag) assured their boss.

            “Good.  Have a good evening, then, gentlemen.”  Kai went back to the elevators where Takao was waiting and pushed the button for the executive elevator.

            “Tala?”  Takao asked in as mild a voice as he could muster.  Kai gave him an interested side-glance as they stepped inside the elevator.

            “Why, Takao…you sound jealous.”  He smirked, somehow feeling much happier for that.  If Takao’d been jealous, then he couldn’t be so angry with Kai that there was no chance left to be together again.

            Takao looked away, scowling at himself.  “Should I be?”

            “No.”  Kai’s smirk softened into a smile, and he gently turned the bluenette’s head to look at him again.  “That’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about.”  Takao blushed, hating his responses to everything Kai did or said.  He was grateful when Kai didn’t make any further comment about his reactions.  “To answer your question, Tala is just my partner.  We were at that pub tonight because I foolishly promised I would go out and attempt to have a life beyond work – meaning I’d go out for drinks with him next opportunity we had.”

            “I see.”  Takao responded slowly.  He didn’t know what to think, really.  Before he could ask what they did that required Kai to have a partner (not to mention what was special enough about this Tala that Kai would allow himself to have a partner), the elevator opened again and Kai stepped off into a sort of foyer area.  “Where are we?”  He asked instead.

            “This building holds the offices for our London branch.  Every branch has a penthouse suite on the top floor that we use whenever my parents or I are in town.  It’s more convenient and comfortable than a hotel.”  Kai explained, unlocking the double doors to the studio and flicking on the lights.

            “Very nice.”  Takao stated, looking around.  However, it was said without the wondrous enthusiasm he’d once had for his former boyfriend’s family wealth.  If Kai noticed, he didn’t mention it.  Instead, he took Takao’s helmet and opened a closet near the doors to place it on a hook inside, then hung up Takao’s jacket after taking off his own shoes.

            While Takao glanced around in vague curiosity, Kai walked into the kitchen and proceeded to put on water to boil for tea.  “Make yourself at home, Kinomiya.”  He said over his shoulder, getting out two mugs.  Feeling a headache beginning to pulse behind his eye, he pulled out a first-aid ice pack from the freezer and held it to the side of his face.  It stung for a moment, then went numb, and he sighed in relief.

            Takao glanced at him, feeling a twinge of guilt – just a small one – and stuffed his hands in his pockets, wandering into the living area.  He was studying a glass sculpture of fiery reds, golds, oranges, and yellows that was sitting on the coffee table when Kai joined him, carrying two mugs of steaming tea.  He set them down in front of the couch on the coffee table on two coasters then went back for his ice pack.  He came back and sat down on the other end of the plush, oversized, cream-coloured sofa.

            “What is it?”  Takao asked finally, breaking the silence that had become deafening.  “It’s beautiful, and…powerful.”

            “It’s a phoenix.  My mother made it.  She calls it ‘Dranzer’ after an old family myth.”  Kai reached out and traced a wing with a reverent fingertip.  “it was always one of my favourites – before she stopped sculpting.”

            “I didn’t know she did.”  Takao smiled genuinely.  “She’s very good, Kai.  She could do very well as an artist.  Galleries would crawl all over each other for this quality of work.”

            “Perhaps.  Mother hasn’t done anything like this for years now, though.  She’s too busy with the company.”  Kai felt a pang of guilt for that.  It was partially because of him that she’d stopped creating her art; because he hadn’t wanted to work in the corporate world when his grandfather had finally died, and he’d left all the burden of running Hiwatari Enterprises on his father.  His mother had picked up the slack to help out – something she’d never have been able to do as long as Voltaire Hiwatari had been around.  She said she loved her work, but he knew she still missed her art, too.

            “I’m sorry to hear that.  If she ever starts up again, she should think about displaying it in a gallery, though.”

            “I’ll mention that to her.”

            Takao sighed and gave up trying to fight off his guilty conscious for punching Kai.  He plucked the ice pack from Kai’s hand before Kai noticed him moving, and gently held it up to Kai’s face himself.  Kai let his hands drop into his lap, since he didn’t know what to do with them now, and just looked at Takao sadly.

            “I’m sorry for punching you.  Even if I thought you did deserve it at the time.”  Takao said quietly.  He took the ice pack away after a moment and studied the bruise.  “Looks like the swelling’s gone down some.  Did you take a pain pill?”

            “Yes.  I’ll be fine.  Not the first time I’ve gotten punched, you know.”  Kai tried smiling, but it didn’t really come off that well.  He took the ice pack from Takao and placed it on the coffee table, reaching for his tea.

            They sat in silence once again, sipping their tea.  This time it was somewhat awkward, as neither man knew what to say next.

            Takao’s unsettled stomach made him put the half-finished mug down after awhile, and he was the one to break the silence in a ragged, confused voice.

            “Why?  Why’d you do it, Kai?”

****************

Chapter 03: To Catch A Thief – Part II

            Kai leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees with a sigh.  He stared at the surface of the coffee table, remembering in surprisingly vivid detail events as they had happened ten years ago.

            “I found out the day before grad that I was leaving.”  He began, his voice distant with memory.  Takao frowned.  He had come to the conclusion long ago that Kai must have known for a long time that he was going to leave.  It just seemed to make sense that to be so cold and uncaring had to have been premeditated, too.  But now…

            “I don’t understand.”  Takao said bluntly.  “It never made any sense to me.”

            “I know.  And I realized just what I was doing to you by not telling you anything as I was sitting in the car on the tarmac waiting for the jet to be refueled.  But by then it was too late.”  Kai glanced at Takao then away.  “Please…just listen to what I have to say?”

            “I’m listening.”  Takao curled up on the opposite end of the sofa, facing Kai and watching him intently.

            “I found out the day before grad.  Mother and Father had gone to Europe two days earlier on routine business – so I’d thought.  But that night they called to inform me of some ‘great news.’  My grandfather was pleased with the work my father was accomplishing at the time, and had decided to turn over all European operations over to my father, since they had been doing less than acceptable for some time.  Grandfather hoped Father would turn things around.  However, this would require us to re-locate…to Italy, where Hiwatari Enterprises Europe’s main offices are.”

            “Wait a minute.”  Takao interrupted.  “You moved to Italy?!  Why didn’t you just tell me all this at grad?  Instead of…of…”

            “I didn’t want to go!  At the time, I was planning to stay.  I mean, my eighteenth birthday was only two months away.  I thought I was old enough to make my own decisions, and while Mother and Father agreed with me, Grandfather did not.”  Kai’s face grew angry and bitter.  “Damned old man was so fucking old fashioned!  I was his only grandson, he said.  I had graduated from high school, I was to be of age soon, and it was time I began learning my place within the company.  He wouldn’t let me stay in Japan.  He told me if I wanted to stay in Japan, then I would no longer be a Hiwatari.  He’d disown me.”  Kai buried his face in his hands, making a low, angry noise.

            “I can’t believe he’d do that.  Just because you wanted to stay in Japan.”  Takao frowned, reluctantly feeling sympathy for Kai.  “That still doesn’t explain why you didn’t say anything.”

            “We were still young and a little stupid.  No, wait…not stupid.”  Kai held up a hand to hold of Takao’s instant protest.  “Impressionable.  I was confused and upset, not just that night, but the next day, too.  My decision making ability had been severely skewed by that.  Somehow, I got it in my head that it was better if you didn’t know.  I convinced myself that when I left, you’d never want to see me again anyway, so if you didn’t know, then when I left without a word you’d get over me and move on faster.”

            “That’s just stupid.”

            “Yes.”  Kai couldn’t help but agree.  “I never said my logic was rational.  So all day at grad, I suffered in silence, knowing what I was going to do and I kept reassuring myself that you’d be okay.  Let’s face it – I’m no expert on emotions.  What did I know?”  Kai flopped back in his seat, staring up at the ceiling.  “That’s why I said nothing, Takao.  Because I was a moron.  But as I was sitting at that dance, watching you, and Max, and Rei, and Kenny, and everyone else, I came up with a plan.  It was a good one, I’d thought at the time.”

            “And what plan was that?”  Takao asked flatly, obviously not thinking the same.

            “What did I care if Voltaire Hiwatari disowned me?  I didn’t want his damn company anyway.  I decided that alright, fine.  I would go to Europe for two months, and play along.  But on my birthday, I’d leave and come back to Japan – to you.  And there would be nothing Grandfather could do about it.  Because when I turned eighteen, I’d come into my trust fund, you see, and I wouldn’t need anything of my family’s anymore.  Grandfather couldn’t stop me either.  After that, he could disown me all he liked because it wouldn’t matter.”  Kai’s expression was fierce as he told Takao this, reliving the conviction he’d felt then just as clearly now.  “I was even going to tell you everything that night at the first chance I got.”  Kai’s face sobered and grew sad, and Takao curled into himself tighter.  “But the more I watched you that evening, the more I saw how happy and contented you were, the more I began to hesitate.  I didn’t want to ruin the day and the evening for you by telling you I was leaving – no matter how temporary it was.”  He turned toward the bluenette, leaning forward earnestly and willing him to understand.  “So I ended up not telling you anything, not even when you asked me why none of my family came to my graduation.”

            “And the rest?”  Takao whispered in a watery voice.  “Why that?”  He looked right into Kai’s eyes – now noticing the contacts that made them a more violet colour – and searched for any hint of a lie.

            Kai didn’t speak for a moment, but when he did, it wasn’t what Takao had expected.

            “I did it because I was selfishly, desperately, stupidly in love with you.  I wanted one night with you to remember for the next two months.”  Kai inched closer, his voice wavering and growing husky.  “And I wanted the memory of you to fuel dreams of when I’d come back to you.”

            “Well.”  Takao managed to get out before he had to stop and clear his throat.  In a thick voice, as he remembered that one night’s heat and passion all too well, he continued weakly, “It didn’t quite turn out that way, did it?”

            “No.  It didn’t.”  Kai stopped moving closer and seemed to slump in on himself.  “I let you walk away the next morning still intending on keeping to my plan.  But I felt your absence almost immediately, and I began to feel guilty.  I tried ignoring it, but by the time I’d packed up my belongings, I knew I had to call you.  So I did.  But I got no answer at your house, and I remembered too late that you’d gone to see your brother and father off at the airport.  I tried your cell phone, but I got no answer there, either.”

            “I…I’d forgotten it at home on my desk.”  Takao remembered, his heart clenching.  He looked away with a pained expression.  “When I got home, I saw your number and…I was so giddy yet sad because they’d left – but you had called me!  I went for a walk.  And…I ended up at your place, even though you’d told me your family would be back and not to bother until the next day.”

            Kai closed his eyes.  “If it was after six, then I was out on the tarmac arguing with my Grandfather to give me an extra day to at least say goodbye to my friends – meaning you, but he didn’t need to know that.  God, Taka, I tried so hard to convince him, and even Father tried – which was probably the first time in his life he’d ever attempted standing up to Voltaire about anything.  But…in the end, I went to Italy.”  Kai drew his knees up to his chest, feet resting on the cushion under him.  A single, silvery tear trickled down his cheek, and he swiped at it angrily.  “I did come back after my birthday and I was sure I had control of my trust fund.  But…when I got there…you were gone.  I didn’t know where Gramps was, and I assume your father was on a dig somewhere.  But when I knocked on the dojo door and Hiroshi found me there…first he decked me hard enough to dislodge a tooth.”

            Takao’s eyes went wide in shock – then narrowed into stormy, blue-grey slits, because his dear older brother had never mentioned Kai showing up on their doorstep.  “Hiroshi…”

            Kai eyed him warily.  He knew that tone and the storm brewing in those silvery-blue eyes.  “He was just trying to protect you.  I did, after all, break your heart no matter how unintentional it had been.”  Kai stated bitterly, more at himself than anything.

            “What else did he say?”  Takao demanded, silently telling his brother that he was going to have to have a little chat about some things.

            “He said you weren’t there, and even if you had been, he wouldn’t let me anywhere near his baby brother.  Then he told me to get the hell of Kinomiya lands and never come back.”  Kai smiled grimly.  “I don’t listen very well.  I tried several times to get him to tell me where you were.  And then one time I got lucky and Gramps opened the door.  He didn’t recognize me at first, and told me that you’d gone away to university with Max before recognition dawned and he kicked me out on my ass – quite literally, by the way.  I let him, though.  I was so overwhelmed with guilt by then that if he’d tried killing me I’d have let him do that, too.”

            Takao stared at him in silence, stunned, and having to do something very, very difficult.  He had to throw away all the theories and explanations he’d come to believe after all this time and start trying to accept the truth.

            And it was the truth – all his senses and pure gut instinct told him so.  Takao believed Kai completely.  So many things made sense now where they hadn’t before.  Drawing in a shaky breath, which he let out slowly, he unfolded himself and reached for Kai’s hand, taking it hesitantly and grasping it like he was afraid Kai would disappear again.

            “So…when you said you searched for me…”

            “I hired private investigators.  I tracked flight schedules and passenger lists.  I wrote letters to every post-secondary institution in Japan looking for you.  I followed every lead I came up with but they all ran cold.”  Kai gripped Takao’s hand.  “Takao…you fell off the planet.  I thought maybe Gramps had lied to me and that you’d really died instead.  I had nightmares for months.  When I graduated from the Academy four and a half years after I’d left for Italy, I used my new available resources to try again, and I haven’t stopped trying since.”  He tugged Takao closer.  “Where did you go?”

            “Max talked me into going away to university with him.  He said it would be good for me to get away from Bay City and memories.  Although…it didn’t really change much for me.”  Takao’s fingers on his free hand were restlessly plucking at his jeans as he spoke.  “I was mad and depressed for weeks – even months, though I didn’t show it as much as time went on.”

            “But why couldn’t I find you?”  Kai felt thoroughly confused.

            “You were looking in the wrong place.  We didn’t stay in Japan.”  Takao smiled weakly at the expression that crossed Kai’s face.  “You forgot Max was half-American, didn’t you?”

            Kai just stared at him, tempted to get up and go bang his head on a wall a few million times.

            “We went to Harvard, believe it or not.  Max’s mother had connections there.  I got a dual-degree in business and modern languages.  Max got a dual-degree in business and history.  When we were done, we came back to Japan and we decided to open an art and antique business.”  Takao seemed to light up a bit at that.  “It’s been great!  I’ve gotten to travel and meet new people…see things I’d only ever heard of or seen on TV or in books.”  His face fell.  “But at the same time…”

            “It’s lonely as hell.”  Kai finished, understanding and sympathizing exactly.  They stared at each other.

            “Yes.”  Takao finally agreed.  “I…haven’t been home in a very long time.”  Kai squeezed his hand.

            “There’s just one thing I don’t understand.”  He said after a moment.  Takao gave him a questioning look.  “Why did that girl in the pub call you Tyson Granger?”

            “Oh.  That.”  Takao laughed and thought quickly.  All he could come up with was the truth – as far as it went.  “It’s my American name.  My Dad got his degrees in the US, too, you see, and his American name was Granger.  So, I took it for my own.  Max was the one who came up with ‘Tyson’ as my first name.”  He smirked a little.  “For some reason the Americans have trouble pronouncing Japanese names – well any Asian names, actually.”

            Kai rolled his eyes and smiled back.  Takao’s own smile faltered and he shivered visibly before he was launching himself at Kai and wrapping his arms around Kai’s neck.

            “Takao?”  The dual-haired man curled his arm around the bluenette, holding him just as fiercely.

            “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I doubted you, sorry I’ve thought and said bad things about you all this time.  Maybe you should have told me what was going on back then, but maybe I should have known you would never have just…thrown me away like that.  I of all people should have known better.”  Takao whispered thickly into the curve of Kai’s neck, where he’d buried his face.

            “No, Takao.  Don’t apologize.  How could you have known?  It’s me who is sorry.”  Kai hugged him tighter, pulling the younger man more into his lap.  “I will do whatever it takes to make up lost time, to earn your forgiveness.”

            “I already have forgiven you.”  Takao raised his head slowly, lips trailing over Kai’s cheek until he hovered just above Kai’s mouth.  They could feel each other’s breaths as he continued in a low voice.  “I want to give you that time.  I want you back.”

            “You never lost me.  I have always been yours.”  Kai admitted in a dark, husky voice.  He lifted his mouth just a little, brushing an inviting kiss softly across Takao’s lips.  “I know we probably have other parts of our lives to rearrange for this to work, but I want to try, Taka…” he breathed the bluenette’s name in a nearly desperate plea, and Takao closed his eyes as a tremor ran through him in response.  “Stay with me…tonight?”

            Takao gave a tiny little moan and kissed Kai once, and it was just as desperate as Kai’s voice had been.  “Yes.”  He sighed breathily, running his fingers through Kai’s hair.  Everything else in the world was forgotten in that moment.  He had his one and only lover back and right then that was all that mattered.

            Kai lay back on the sofa, drawing Takao down with him to hover over him.  He stared up at Takao’s intense storm-blue eyes and shivered at the feel of the bluenette’s body pressed firmly against him.  “Be with me tonight.”  He murmured, his own eyes half-closing with the sensations and heat of their bodies’ contact.

            “Hell yes…” Takao couldn’t stand it anymore and lowered his mouth to Kai’s.  They kissed slowly, a reacquainting and rediscovery of each other.  Takao whimpered, fingertips tracing Kai’s facial features almost reverently.  Heat, comfort, and a sense of safety poured through him.  He was drowning in Kai’s taste and the heady scent of Kai’s moonlit pale skin he remembered so well.  Still, this was new.  Different.  He wasn’t the same person he had been then – and neither was Kai, he supposed.  Despite that, some things didn’t change.  Not really.  Like the fact that Kai seemed to still have a thing for his hair, since he was tugging off Takao’s hair-tie and combing his fingers through it in obvious enjoyment.  Of course, Takao wasn’t complaining.  He loved how Kai touched him, petted him, stroked and caressed him.  The older man had never been a touchy-feely person in the past, but when he did it was…special, and every time it made the bluenette absolutely melt and nearly purr in pleasure.

            Another thing that hadn’t changed was the way Kai simply took control – and that Takao didn’t mind in the least.  He may have been the one sprawled over top of Kai, but he wasn’t the one directing things.  He was perfectly happy following the crimson-eyed man’s lead, and letting him have whatever he wanted from Takao.  Somehow, even his very dominant personality (as was Kai’s) gave in to the man under him freely, naturally.  Had it been anyone else, some corner of Takao’s brain acknowledged, Takao would have been putting up one hell of a fight.  Of course, if Kai ever pushed it, he would fight back.

            Breaking away from the kiss, Takao let his hands wander, tugging Kai’s shirt from his pants as he lightly kissed and nipped along the strong line of Kai’s jaw, seeking an ear to nibble on.  Then his fingers went to work undoing the buttons of Kai’s shirt, making quick work of them so he could spread the shirt open and lay Kai’s muscular upper body bare to himself.  Kai groaned, eyes closing for a moment as Takao’s hands slid over his chest and shoulders, fingertips finding the hardened pink nubs of his nipples and teasing them even harder.  He let out a small gasp and pushed the bluenette up, so he could sit up and shrug out of his shirt and throw it aside.  Not noticing when it landed on the statuette of Dranzer, draped over it like a sheet, Kai leaned in and kissed his lover once more, deeply, before he let his forehead rest against Takao’s and he worked to get the shirt off the younger man as well.

            “Kai…lover…” Takao panted in a low voice, hands stroking up and down Kai’s back, sides, and broad shoulders as Kai flung the shirt off the other side of the couch where it landed on the floor somewhere.  “Your eyes…I want…to see them again…”

            “Hmm…” Kai licked his lips and opened his eyes heavily to gaze into Takao’s.  “I forgot I was wearing the contacts still.”  Untangling himself from Takao, he got up off the couch and held out a hand to the bluenette in invitation.  “Come.”

            Taking Kai’s hand, Takao let him pull him to his feet and lead him down a short hallway to one of the bedrooms.  Just before Kai turned away to go into the adjoining bathroom to take out the contacts, he found himself being shoved up against the wall and kissed thoroughly.  Kai sighed with pleasure and kissed back for a moment before he abruptly maneuvered them so that it was Takao pinned to the wall and being kissed.  After a few long minutes of that, Kai pulled away reluctantly and nuzzled at Takao’s neck affectionately as he spoke.

            “Give me a couple minutes to take out my contacts, okay?”  Kai moved away and Takao caught the gleam in his eyes as he turned and strode to the bathroom.  “Make yourself comfortable, lover.”

            Blushing a little, Takao looked around.  It was hot and stuffy in the room so he opened the window a bit and closed the curtains when he realized that there were many buildings that could see right into the room.  The breeze felt good against his flushed skin, and he took off his jeans and socks to drop them on a bench at the end of the bed.  Takao didn’t know why, but he was nervous and jittery – as if this was their first time together.  That is, if he had been nervous back then, which he couldn’t remember if he had been or not.

            Clad only in his boxers, Takao pulled the covers back on the bed and crawled onto it, kneeling in the middle of the mattress to wait for Kai.  He didn’t wait long.  The light in the bathroom went out, throwing the whole room into a moon-lit darkness, and Kai returned to the bedroom only to stop in the doorway and stare at Takao on the bed.  The bluenette smiled tentatively, plucking at the sheet and tilting his head in question when he heard Kai’s swift intake of breath.

            “Kai?”  He asked, crawling to the edge of the bed.  The dual haired man gave him a soft look and walked toward him, shaking his head.

            “Stay there, Taka.  I just…I was…you can’t know what it’s doing to me to see you like this again.”  Kai’s voice was husky, with a dark, smoky quality to it that made Takao shiver in anticipation.  If there was one thing he remembered about Kai it was the ultra sexy bedroom voice.  Kai stopped beside the bed, raising a hand to brush the backs of his fingers across Takao’s cheek lightly.  Takao’s eyes shone in the low light and he held Kai’s hand to his face, nuzzling his palm.  “You’re more beautiful than ever.”  Kai murmured, bending down to place a soft kiss on Takao’s mouth.

            The bluenette made a small noise and reached up to cup the back of Kai’s head and hold him in place while they kissed almost lazily.  He released Kai’s other hand to grab onto his upper arm instead for balance as Kai placed one knee on the bed beside him to keep himself from falling over.  Takao dragged his lips away from Kai’s and drew them downward, descending along Kai’s chin and neck to kiss his way down Kai’s chest, stopping over his pounding heart.

            “I remember this.”  Takao whispered, trailing a fingertip over that muscular upper body with familiarity.  Kai gasped a little, but made no move to stop him from doing what he wanted, simply looking down at his lover and watching him touch and explore with heavy-lidded eyes.  Takao’s fingers traced a small scar and he leaned up to kiss it, flicking his tongue out to taste Kai’s skin.  “Hmm…I remember these, too…I love how you taste.”  He hummed appreciatively.

            “You should.”  Kai closed his eyes for a moment, breath hissing out as Takao’s hot mouth closed around a nipple.  “Uhn!  Oh god…you pestered me enough about how I got it.”  He thrust his fingers through Takao’s hair.

            Takao released the now rock-solid nub and grinned sheepishly.  “I did, didn’t I?  I guess I was a bit of a nosy pest sometimes, even though I knew you didn’t like talking about yourself.”  He shrugged and proceeded to kiss his way lazily across Kai’s chest to the other nipple, laving it with his tongue and nipping gently with his teeth to earn a sharp groan fro the older man.  “I couldn’t help it, though.  I was so in love with you!  I just wanted to know everything there was to know about you.”  He blew a cool stream of air over the wet area and earned a shudder.

            Kai tilted Takao’s face up and gazed down at him sorrowfully.  “Was?  Does that mean you don’t…” He was cut off by Takao’s fingers across his lips, silencing him.

            “I’m not just in love with you anymore, Kai.”  Takao said.  He hastened to continue when he saw the light seem to dim in the now crimson eyes of his lover, and when he moved to pull away.  “That implies that it was all just a crush.  An infatuation and nothing more.  You are so much more to me than that.  Then and now.”  Takao felt tears trickle down his cheeks and smiled tremulously.  “Even when I thought you’d been a selfish, lying, betraying asshole and I thought I hated you…I loved you.  I still love you.”

            The older man made an achingly low sound and drew Takao into his arms, holding him almost desperately and burying his face in Takao’s mass of hair.  Takao hugged back, unable to stop the sob that welled up from escaping.

            “You told me that then, and I didn’t say anything.”  Kai’s voice cracked slightly, and Takao clutched at him tighter when he felt tears that weren’t his drop on his shoulder.  “I wanted to, and damn it I should have said what I needed to, but I…Taka, please forgive me for not telling you how much I love you!  I…can’t promise to say it as often as you probably would like me to, but I want you to know I do love you, and…”

            “Shh…” Takao hushed him, rubbing his shoulders and back soothingly.  They were both crying silently, and Takao knew that had he been anyone else Kai would never have allowed himself to show nearly this much emotion.  It both awed and scared him to be the one so privileged.  He pulled Kai down on the bed with him and they lay together in one another’s arms until the tears ran dry.  It occurred to Takao that he’d never heard Kai babble like that or seen him break down as he had, and he realized that Kai really did love him, because no way would he have reacted like this if he hadn’t loved Takao.  With that in mind, he pulled back just enough that he could hold Kai’s gaze without going cross-eyed.

            “You wanted to say it then, Kai, but you didn’t take the chance.  It doesn’t matter anymore.  We’re here now, you and I, and that’s what does matter.”  Takao gently wiped away the dampness from Kai’s face with a smile.  “You have something to say to me?  Now’s the time then…”

            Kai’s voice came out raspy and rough.  “I love you, Kinomiya Takao.  Always.”  He stated, fiery eyes glistening fiercely with the passion and truth of that statement.

            Takao trembled violently, closing his eyes against a dizzying wave of emotion.  He opened them again and replied hoarsely, “I’ve waited ten long years to hear you say that and I’d wait another hundred to hear it again if I had to.”

            “You won’t.  That I can promise.”  Kai laughed, feeling so light and…free now that he’d finally done what he’d wanted to for far too long.

            Takao snuggled closer, tucking his head under Kai’s chin with a sigh.  “I know.”  He yawned tiredly and murmured softly when Kai reached down to pull the covers back up over them then slowly stroked his back in lazy caresses.  “God, I’m tired.  All this emotional chaos drains a guy.”

            “Hn.”  Kai made a noise of agreement but said nothing else.  He was perfectly content just to have the bluenette in his arms again at that moment.  Takao smiled sleepily and nuzzled affectionately at Kai’s neck.

            “Sleep well, my love.”  He whispered quietly, the dual haired man’s arms tightening briefly in response.

            They fell asleep, entwined with each other in a tangle of linens and limbs.  And it was the first night in a very long time that neither man suffered from the affliction of their dreams as they had previously.  For once, they rested peacefully.

****************

Chapter 04: To Catch A Thief – Part III

            Kai rolled over and curled around the warm body next to him in the bed, on pure instinct.  He was floating in that hazy, dream-like state between wakefulness and unconsciousness, and he didn’t quite remember where he was or the fact that his lover was snuggled up next to him.  Yet somehow Kai subconsciously knew the person was Takao.  Funny how even time and distance couldn’t change some things.

            He buried his face in Takao’s hair with a content little sigh and slowly drifted away again – which was good, because his face was beginning to throb where Takao had punched him yesterday.

            Takao, on the other hand, was very much awake.  He stared off toward the far wall at the beginnings of another day.  Light began to illuminate the bedroom, even through the curtains.  When he felt Kai shift beside him, he smiled faintly and let the older man spoon against him from behind, an arm lazily tossed over his waist and a leg trucked between his own.  He felt Kai’s breath rustle his hair faintly, a slow and steady rhythm of breathing, and Takao closed his eyes again with a tiny purr of sound.  He’d wanted nothing more than this for years.

            Some time later, a door opening and closing loudly from somewhere in the studio woke them up again.  Kai heard a familiar, aggravated voice yell, “Hiwatari!  Get your ass out of bed and get out here!” in Russian, and he snarled something unfriendly in reply, huddling further under the covers and around Takao.

            The bluenette chuckled huskily, voice rough with sleep.  “You’d better go out there, Kai, before he comes in here.”  He turned over and gave Kai a soft, lingering kiss.  “Hmm…I’ll wait right here.”

            “Fine.”  Kai sighed and stole one more kiss before rolling out of bed and away from temptation.  “Help yourself to anything you need, Takao.  I’ll be right back.”  He stated, stalking out of the bedroom after pulling on an old, faded blue tank-top.

            Out in the living area, Tala stood at the sliding glass doors that led out to a balcony, staring out at the street below and tapping his fingers impatiently on the doorframe.  He’d spotted the shirts tossed haphazardly here and there, the jacket and motorcycle helmet in the closet, and the unfamiliar pair of running shoes at the door.  While intrigued and semi-satisfied that Kai apparently had found someone to play with last night, the redhead was still incensed at being abandoned, and fully intended to yell at his partner for it.

            Then, too, there was a familiar scent in the air, and it was beginning to bother him because he couldn’t quite place it.  He felt he should know it but for some reason he couldn’t remember what or who it belonged to.

            Tala turned away from the window and gave his dual-haired partner a hard glare as he strode into the wide open room.  “You’d better have a damned good reason for disappearing last night, Hiwatari.”

            “What are you?  My mother?  Lay off, Ivanov.”  Kai growled back, moving to the kitchen and grabbing the coffee tin from the fridge.  He went to the coffee machine and flipped open the lid to dump coffee into the filter.

            “Oh no.  No way.”  Tala followed him and sat at the island counter, arms folded over his chest.  “I may have let it slide if you hadn’t a) promised me you would go out for some fun, b) let me know you were leaving at least, and c) left your wallet, badge, and cell phone behind along with your jacket!  You’re damned lucky someone didn’t run off with it all – which I rescued and left over there on the bench.”  Tala pointed toward the shoe bench near the door.  “So start explaining.”

            “I’m sorry, okay?”  Kai made a face and poured water into the coffee maker before pressing the ‘brew’ button.  “I had to leave quickly or I’d have lost him.  Again.”

            “Wait…lost who?”  Tala raised an eyebrow at the small smile that was on Kai’s face as he turned and leaned against the counter to wait for the coffee.  “Who’d you bring home with you last night, Kai?”

            Kai’s entire expression softened and he looked in the direction of the hallway to the bedrooms.  Tala’s eyes widened at the look, having very rarely seen such emotion from his friend and partner.

            “Kai?”

            “I found him, Tal.  He was in that pub last night.  I don’t know why or how, but I heard his voice through all the noise and he was …just there.”  Kai glanced back at the redhead with a grin.  “He was less than thrilled to see me, of course.”  He pointed at the bruise on his cheekbone and the beginnings of black eye.

            Tala’s jaw dropped open in shock and he stared at Kai for a full minute in silence.  “Wait a minute…you’re telling me, after ten years of searching for the guy, you just happened to hear his voice over a lot of others in a crowded pub?  And then…”

            “He was leaving.  I chased after him and caught up to him down the street.”  Kai couldn’t help snickering.  “We had a moment, and then he punched me.”

            “You’re the only person I know who would laugh about being punched.”  Tala sweatdropped and blinked.  “How did he manage to actually hit you anyway?  Even I have a hard time doing that.”

            “He’s just that fast.  He’s like leashed lightning, Tal.”  Kai walked over to the shoe bench and picked up his jacket, pulling out his wallet, badge, and cell phone before returning to the kitchen.  Leaving his wallet and badge on the island counter, he opened his cell to check for missed calls.

            Tala hummed thoughtfully.  “I’m interested in meeting him, Kai.  Why don’t you trot him on out here and introduce him?”  He got of his chair and went to rummage around for food.  “And, damn it, we have no food.”

            “We’ve only been here for two days.”  Kai pointed out, not looking up from his phone.  “Take some money and go across the street for something from that bakery.”  He shoved his wallet across the counter at Tala.  “Here.”

            Grumbling, Tala took out a couple ₤10 notes and got up.  “You’re just trying to get rid of me.  Why don’t you want me to meet him?”

            “No, I’m not.  And I do.”  Kai closed his phone and stretched out the kink in his shoulder absently.  “Eventually.  Give us a chance to wake up, would you?”

            “Yeah, yeah.  Alright.  But when I get back…”  Tala put on his shoes and opened the door.

            Kai ignored him, walking off down the hall to return to his lover.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            Takao lay in bed for a while after Kai left, his mind a chaotic whirl of thoughts.  There were things he wanted – needed – to say to the older man, things about what had happened in his life since Kai had disappeared, things about his life now.  He hoped Kai would listen and understand – maybe he’d even be able to help the bluenette somehow.

            Still, Takao decided, he would deal with it when it came up.  For now he would take it one step at a time.  He needed to call Kenny as soon as possible (since he’d forgotten last night and the brunette was probably freaking out by now), and then he needed to call Max.  There was one last person he had to contact, but right then…he didn’t want to think about it.

            Yawning, Takao rolled out of bed and sniffed the air.  The wonderful aroma of coffee had spread through the studio, and it made his stomach grumble hungrily.  With a smile, the bluenette went into the bathroom and decided a shower was just the thing he needed – especially if Kai came back soon and joined him.

            After using the facilities, the bluenette eyed the ridiculously large shower and thought, why not?  Reaching in he turned the water on and backed out to take off his boxers, leaving them on the floor.  He stretched a bit, finger combing his hair a little to get out the worst of the tangles, and turned to grab a towel.  As he did, he came face to face with his crimson-eyed lover, who was standing just behind him with his arms over his chest and one hip leaning against the sink-counter.

            “Ah!  God, Kai!  Next time stamp your feet or something !”  Takao laid a hand over his pounding heart from the start he’d gotten.

            “Sorry.”  Kai said unapologetically, smiling.  He unabashedly let his gaze sweep lazily and appreciatively down Takao’s lean, muscular form then back up again after noting away the few changes here and there as he licked his lips.  Takao blinked, looking down at himself, then abruptly raising his head again with a bright pink blush staining his face and neck.

            “And cut that out.”  He grumbled, turning around walking back to the shower – much to Kai’s delight.  One of his favourite features on the bluenette had always been the tight, rounded, sexy backside and the view it presented.  Kai felt his fingers twitch involuntarily at the need to grab, grope, and squeeze.

            “I haven’t done anything yet.”  He replied huskily, straightening.

            “Quit staring at my ass, lover, and get undressed.”  Takao couldn’t help snickering – and he couldn’t help the little, seductive wiggle of hips put into his step as he walked under the spray of water and let it soak him completely.

            Kai had never taken his clothes off so fast in his life.

            Takao sighed happily when Kai’s arms curled around him from behind and pulled him back against Kai’s chest.  He leaned into the older man contentedly and tilted his head back to rest it on Kai’s shoulder, reaching up with one hand to stroke Kai’s cheek.  Kai smiled, nuzzling his hand for a moment, then kissed Takao softly.

            “I smelled coffee earlier.”  Takao said after they’d stopped kissing.  “Did your partner make it?”

            Kai hook his head and proceeded to pour out some shampoo into his palm.   “No, I did.  By the time we’re out of here, Tala will be back with breakfast.”  He lathered up his hair then rinsed it out.

            The bluenette felt his stomach gurgle at the promise of food and grinned.  “Great!  I’m starved.”  Takao exclaimed, taking the shampoo bottle from Kai and used it on his own hair.  After a moment of companionable silence, Takao looked down at the shower floor briefly before he broke it.  “Hey, Kai?”

            “Hn?”  The dual-haired man glanced at him and heard the sombre, serious tone of Takao’s voice.

            “There’s just so much I want to tell you!”  Takao blurted, meeting Kai’s curious gaze.  “I…so much has happened, and…”

            “Taka.”  Kai lay both hands on his shoulders and squeezed, that one word halting the flood of words that Takao had been about to let out.  “I know.  We both have so much to talk about, and we will.”

            Takao nodded, wiping the water out of his face that dripped down out of his hair.  “Okay.  I just…I know.”  He finished lamely.

            “Good.  Let’s finish up here and go get some of that coffee and whatever Tala brought back for breakfast.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

            Kai managed to find a hairbrush and tie for Takao to borrow and left him to deal with the messy tangle of his midnight blue locks.  He’d also lent the bluenette a spare set of clothes – nothing too fancy or anything, just something he could wear to get back to his hotel and his own things.

            He wandered back out to the kitchen and plucked the croissant Tala had just picked out of an open pastry box right out of his partner’s hand before he could take a bite.

            “Hey!”  The redhead growled, reaching for another.  “Get your own.”

            “Technically, they all are, since my money paid for them.”  Kai smirked and poured two mugs of coffee.  “But thanks for being a good little wolf and fetching them.”

            “You are such an asshole, you know that?”  Tala scowled darkly at him.

            Kai shrugged and picked up his cell phone again.  “You were expecting me to change suddenly?”

            “No.  Just commenting.”

            “Whatever.  I’d better call Mother back or she’ll phone me every five minutes for the rest of the day.”  Kai polished off his croissant, swallowed, and dialled his mother’s cell number just as Takao finally sauntered in.

            “Oh!  Pastries!”  He grinned and walked up beside Kai, playfully hip-checking him to one side.  “You really do love me!”

            “And I know where I rank – right after food.”  Kai rolled his eyes and gave the bluenette a swat on the butt.  “Shut up and help yourself, Kinomiya…” he said, his attention returning to the phone in his hand.  “Hello, Mother.  I got your message.”  He said into the cell and turned away, leaning against the kitchen counter as he talked to his mother.  “No, I wasn’t talking to Ivanov.  Yes, he’s here, too.”

            “Hi, Mom!”  Tala called loudly with a snicker.  He’d ‘adopted’ Kais mother (so to speak) as his own sometime ago, not long after he’d met his partner at the Academy.  Tala was the only one she tolerated calling her ‘mom;’ to Kai’s confusion, she found it endearing coming from Tala.

            “She says hi, and when are you coming to visit her again?”  Kai relayed.  The redhead grinned.

            “As soon as I can.”

            “Yes, Mother.  No, work’s still going nowhere.  We have no leads.  We’re working on it.  Uh huh.  Yes, we’ll do that before we leave London.  Alright.  Oh, I have some news for you.”  Kai said looking straight at Takao and smiling slightly.  Takao blushed and concentrated on his croissant and coffee.  “I finally found Takao.  No, it was pure coincidence.  I ran into him – kind of – at the pub Tala and I went to last night.  We’re…working things out.”

            At that Takao reached out and grasped Kai’s free hand, letting him thread their fingers together.  Tala wasn’t really paying attention to the conversation anymore – not about that anyway.  He’d caught Takao’s scent and was frowning into his coffee mug trying to remember why it seemed so familiar.

            “As soon as we can work something, I promise I’ll bring him to meet you and Father.”  Kai was saying.  Then he stopped and looked at his phone incredulously for a second before holding it back up to his ear and inquiring in mild shock, “Mother are you crying?”  He sighed and squeezed Takao’s hand.  “Well, stop worrying, okay?  Alright.  I’ll talk to you when I get back to Paris.  Yeah.  Ciao.”  He flipped the cell closed.

            Takao smiled faintly and moved close enough to wrap an arm around Kai’s waist.  Kai hugged him to his side with an arm draped around his shoulders and accepted the silent comfort wordlessly.

            “So, Hiwatari…” Tala sipped his coffee idly, hiding the smirk behind the mug in his hands.  He’d never seen this soft side of his partner before and it was vastly amusing.  He studied the pair with bright, icy blue eyes that laughed silently as they pulled apart and tried acting like they weren’t a couple.  “Are you going to introduce the elusive Kinomiya?”

            Kai shrugged and indicated his partner with a wave of his hand.  “Kinomiya Takao, meet Tala Ivanov, my interfering wolf of a partner.”

            The bluenette looked Tala over curiously, stepping forward and holding out a hand.  “Hi.”  He greeted the redhead, shaking his hand for a brief moment firmly.  “Wolf?”

            Tala shrugged.  “Somewhere one got caught up in the family tree.”  He set his mug down and reached for another croissant.  “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.  I’ve heard so much about you…”

            Kai gave him a warning glare, which Tala ignored.

            “Really?”  Takao glanced at his lover with a wry grin.  “Sounds like you and I should have a talk about that.”

            Coughing slightly when he choked on his coffee, Kai interrupted and nudged Takao in the ribs.  “Enough.  One of you picking on me all the time I bad enough, thanks.  Don’t you have phone calls and travel arrangements to make, Ivanov?”

            “Travel arrangements?”  Takao turned and looked up only slightly into Kai’s burning eyes.

            “Yeah.”  The older man didn’t try hiding his disappointment and reluctance to go anywhere.  He folded his arms over his chest and sighed.  “We’ve got to get back to Paris.

            Tala yawned and stretched, rubbing the back of his neck absently.  “The UNA never rests while crimes are being committed.”  He mused.

            Takao blinked, his blood running cold.  “The UNA?  As in the United Nations Authority?”  He managed to inquire in a steady voice.  “Wow, Kai.  That’s…impressive.”  He finished lamely.  Kai didn’t notice, however.

            “I guess.  They let us be as self-governed as we want in a way most law enforcement agencies wouldn’t.  It suits me to be a good guy this way, without forcing me to comply to other people’s rules and regulations.”

            Takao chuckled a little in agreement.  It was true, after all, that Kai was a fiery, free spirit.  It was then he noticed Kai’s wallet and ID lying on the counter in plain view, his badge glinting in the light and the bluenette silently cursed himself for being so unobservant.

            Tala’s own smile was all teeth.  “Same for me.  We wolves have a way of thinking and my viewpoint meshes well with the UNA.  So what is it you do, Kinomiya?”

            “Uh…well…” Takao thought quickly.  The truth – so far as it went – still seemed the best course he could take.  “I’m an antique and art dealer.  I run a shop with an old friend from high school.”  In an effort to move the focus away from himself – at least until he had an opportunity to sit down and have a long talk with Kai – he asked, “What are you working on at the UNA?  If you can tell me, I mean.”

            Kai shrugged, taking their empty mugs to the sink to wash them.  “I can’t give details of course, but we’re after a thief.”

            Takao swallowed, his eyes involuntarily widening as panic, despair, and fear gripped his heart and nearly stopped it from beating.  “A thief?”  He repeated numbly.  “What’d the guy or girl steal?  The Crown Jewels of England?”  He tried joking.

            Tala looked at him sharply, sensing a change in Takao’s scent that fairly screamed fear.  He watched him with hidden suspicion as an unhappy, unwanted possibility began to form in his mind.

            Kai, however, still managed to be oblivious.  “No.  At least no that we’ve been told.”  He laughed, setting the clean mugs aside and getting a towel to dry them.  “We’ve been chasing the thief all over Europe for months.  He or she has stolen all kinds of things.”

            Takao made a noise that was meant to be a show of interest but he couldn’t speak.  His mind was a whirl of chaotic thought and emotion as he fought not to bolt for the nearest exit and just run.  How can I have been so fucking unlucky?  What did I did to deserve this torture?  Kami-sama, how am I going to get out of this?  There’s just…I have too much to lose…  His wild, panicky mental tirade froze at the sudden, startled exclamation that came from Tala just then.  He met the wolf’s chilly, now deadly winter gaze and went cold all over, through and through.

            “That’s it!  I can’t believe it didn’t register before.”  Tala stood and stalked around the counter, stopping just in front of Takao and staring down at him in a way that Takao could only describe as threatening.  He felt like a cornered rabbit.  “It’s you.  You left no other hints or clues behind but you couldn’t hide your scent.  Not well enough.”

            Kai carefully put the mug he’d been drying aside and dropped the towel beside the sink.  “Ivanov…” He warned, thinking his partner must be seeing things – or in this case, selling things.

            “It’s him, Kai.”  Tala insisted sharply, never taking his gaze off Takao.  “We have our thief.”

            “You’ve got to be kidding me.  I think all that dust from the museum has messed up your nose.”  Kai refused to believe it, denying it adamantly.  He looked at the bluenette and continued, “Takao’s no thief.  “He would never…”

            “Kai.”  Takao interrupted, halting the words that were like iron fists to his conscious and his heart.  “There is an explanation.  I wouldn’t have…you know I wouldn’t do something like this without a damn good reason.”  He closed his eyes and his hands clenched into fists at his sides.  He began to tremble visibly at the disbelieving shock that began to cover Kai’s expression and the way his face went pale.  “I’m sorry.  This was not how I wanted to tell you.  It’s part of what I was needing to tell you about – I was going to tell you…”

            “No.  You can’t…I don’t…Taka?”  The bluenette flinched at the softness of Kai’s unbelieving voice.  Then a memory hit Kai, a clear one of the day he’d first learned Takao was more interested in guys than girls.  “Oh god…” he whispered, staring at the younger man in the beginnings of resigned belief.  “The locker room…you had no key but you got into your locker anyway…”

            Takao hung his head and looked away, a tear slipping out and trickling down his cheek.  “Yes.  I’ve always had a way with locks.”  He said in an aching voice.  Kai made a strange noise and brushed past Tala, radiating hurt, anger, and confusion in waves as he hurried past the living room area and out onto the studio’s balcony, where he leaned against the metal railing he gripped so tightly his knuckles went white, and breathed in gulps of air.

            Tala kicked a cupboard door and Takao jumped at the noise, shivering and crying silently.

            “This is just great.  Why oh why did it have to be you?”  He glared at the obviously upset bluenette angrily.  “I suppose I should be ecstatic that you’ve been dropped into our laps like this but somehow I find I am less than overjoyed.”

            “Please, Tala, I…I have an explanation, and I will tell you everything, I promise, but…”

            “Oh, you’re damned right you’ll tell all, Kinomiya.  You’ve had us on a wild goose chase for far too long now.”  Tala growled, glancing in the direction of the balcony.  Takao got the impression he wasn’t just talking about his recent…activities with that statement, and his already guilty conscious threatened to drown him.

            “I know.  But please just listen.  I…I need help.”  Takao hesitated for a moment when Tala looked back at him with a fierce growl.  He hurriedly kept talking, hoping the redhead would be able to sense he was telling the truth.  “I’m being blackmailed into the thefts.  I’d never…my father and brother are in his custody and if I don’t steal the items on the list he’s given me he said he would kill them!”

            Tala’s eyes narrowed and he leaned closer, an edge to his voice as he spoke quietly.  “Is that so?  And do you have any proof of this?”

            “Like what?”  Takao replied bitterly, giving him a pleading look for understanding.  “Other than the fact that my Dad and Hiro are missing, and the list I was given via an untraceable email, no!  Of course I don’t!”

            “Right.  I think you’re going to need a lawyer, Kinomiya.  In fact, I think you’re going to need a whole team of them.”  Tala turned and went to the coat closet to get his jacket – and the handcuffs from the inside pocket.  “You’re under arrest, Kinomiya Takao, on fourteen counts of international grand theft, as well as several other lesser charges that will be described for you in detail when you arrive with us at UNA Paris for further questioning.  You have the right to an attorney…”

            Takao pressed back against the counter and hid his hands and wrists behind his back, shaking his head furiously.  “You don’t understand!”  He exclaimed.  “They have someone following me and watching my every move to make sure I’m doing as I’m told!  I may have all the items safe and secure and out of that bastard’s reach, but he’s still got my father’s and brother’s lives in his greedy little hands!”  His chest was heaving with emotion as he tried valiantly to make Tala believe him.  “I’m willing to go with you and…Kai wherever you want and I’ll tell you everything but if I walk out of here it has to look like it’s under my own will and I will have to contact…my ‘employer.’”  Takao spat the description out distastefully.  Tala played with the handcuffs absently as he considered the situation.

            As much as he hated it, and as much as he would rather have been furious and cold toward the bluenette – for Kai’s sake – he found he just couldn’t.  His initial temper was dying away, and from Takao’s scent, he could tell the anguished man wasn’t lying.

            “Then I hope you have some sort of proof you’re being followed.”  Tala finally said, stuffing the cuffs into his pants’ pocket.

            “I assume this place has security cameras all over?”  Takao felt the panic loosen in his chest a little, though his stomach still burned fiercely.  He put a hand to his abdomen and rubbed absently.  “Surely they would have picked the guy up when I came here with Kai last night.”

            The redhead tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the counter.  “Alright.  That’s a reasonable idea to check on.  However, I’m not leaving you up here where you can possibly sneak off and disappear.”

            Takao growled a few choice words in Japanese before snarling, “Damn it!  I’m not going anywhere!”

            “That’s right.  You’re not.”  Kai said in a dull, neutral tone.  Neither had heard him come back inside.  Takao looked at him, not sure what to say or do.  He opened his mouth to say…something, but snapped it shut again when he saw the carefully blank, thin expression fixed on his sharply chiselled, handsome face.  Instead he looked away in shame and despair.

            “What, you’re going to stay here and watch him?”  Tala sighed, studying his partner carefully.  “I’m not sure that’s a good…”

            “Just go, Ivanov.  He’s a thief, not a liar.”  Kai cut the redhead off, fixing his gaze on his lover.  “At least he’d better not be, because I think he remembers how I feel about lies and deceit.”

            Takao closed his eyes and tears seeped out, trickling down his cheeks.  “I swear I’m telling the truth.”  He whispered in a hoarse voice.

            Left with no other real ideas on what to do with the whole mess of a situation, Tala did the only thing he could.  He gave Kai a brief nod and turned, heading for the door to go down to security and take a look at the tapes for the previous night.

            The silence left behind was deafening.

            Wanting nothing more than to curl into a ball on the floor and die, the bluenette stood there in the kitchen dejectedly without a word, hands hanging limply at his sides, shoulders slumped in defeat, and head bowed as he stared at a spot on the floor.

            A pair of blazing crimson eyes stared at him with an unwavering intensity he could feel.  Kai was still fighting to control his temper and the sense of betrayal and shock he was still experiencing upon learning of Takao’s side job.

            Several minutes passed.  And when the heavy, stiff silence was finally shattered, Takao jumped nervously and cringed away from his lover.

            “Why?  Tell me why, Kinomiya.”  Kai demanded harshly.  He brought his fist down on the counter with a loud bang in frustration.

            “To save my Dad and Hiro.”  Takao answered softly, still not looking at Kai.  He didn’t want to see the hate, the hurt, or the anger he knew was burning in those eyes.  “It’s a very long story.  I will tell it all, Hiwatari, when we get wherever it is you’re taking me.”

            “Paris.  Our Director will want to talk to you.”  Kai scowled, moving around the counter and coming to a stop directly in front of Takao.  “Damn it, Kinomiya!  I don’t understand!  I know you!  You would never do any of this!  You’re values and morality are quiet possibly set higher than mine are!”

            “Then please give me a chance, Kai!”  Takao pleaded, finally meeting his gaze.  “Let me do this my way and continue trusting me as you always have.”

            “At least tell me what you’ve done with everything you stole.”  Kai planted his hands on either side of the slightly shorter man on the counter, effectively trapping him there.  Takao swallowed and gave up trying not to tremble and shake anymore.  His ulcer was really beginning to burn, and all the tension in his body wasn’t helping.

            “It’s all together, in a storage facility I rent.  It’s safe, and I can guarantee no one is getting into that room to get at the items.”  He licked his dry lips anxiously.  “Kai…”

            “Where?”

            “I can’t tell you.  Not even you.  And even if I did, you couldn’t get in.”  Takao’s blue-grey eyes narrowed stubbornly.  “Those items are my only insurance, Kai.  They are the only thing I have to protect Dad and Hiro.”  His eyes flicked to the cell phone Kai had left on the counter.  “Do I get to phone my lawyer?”

            Kai stiffened, finding that he was extremely hurt by that request.  “You don’t trust me at all?  You think I’m just going to throw you in prison and never look back?  Not give you the benefit of the doubt?”

            “That’s not what I said.  Kami-sama!”  Takao glared, having regained some of his inner strength and will at the prospect of a good argument with his former boyfriend again.  “I’m not stupid, baka.  Whatever is left between you and I on a personal level, Hiwatari, I am still a thief who has been caught by the legal authorities – you.  I have the right to a lawyer – especially when he can also be considered a witness to everything I will eventually tell you!”

            “Witness?  More like accessory to the crimes – all fourteen counts of it – and that’s just for starters.”  Kai growled back.  Takao straightened, standing toe-to-toe with the older man now.  “Don’t forget the breaking and entering, damage to private property…”

            “Don’t you think I know what fucking laws I’ve broken?!”  The bluenette snarled, getting into Kai’s face.  “I’ve given up everything, Hiwatari!  Every bloody, goddamned piece of my life and my honour!  Just so my family can have their lives and home back!”

            Having no real answer to that, Kai wordlessly backed off and grabbed his cell phone, tossing it at the furious bluenette and stalking toward the balcony again.  As chaotic as his emotions were right then, he hoped Takao could see and understand what he was trying to convey with the gesture.  He was giving him a chance.

            Fuming, Takao stared at the cell phone, then glanced at the open balcony doors.  He felt his temper slowly draining away as he watched the muscles in Kai’s back, shoulders, and arms tense when he gripped the railing so hard it was a wonder he didn’t crush it.  One crisis at a time, Takao.  One day at a time.  He reminded himself, looking away and flipping open the cell and dialling a number he knew by heart.

            It rang twice before someone answered on the other end.  Takao listened to the greeting and replied in a sad, somewhat lost voice.

            “Hello.  Is Kenny still working tonight?”

****************

Chapter 05: To Catch A Thief – Part IV

            Takao winced and held the phone away from his ear.

            “Hilary, would you lay off and let me…” he tried, but the female voice screeching at him from the other end didn’t let him continue.  After a couple more minutes of that, a headache forming behind his eyes to match the ache in his stomach, he shouted back, “Hilary!  Shut up and listen to me!”

            Out on the balcony, Kai frowned and turned to look back inside at the annoyed yell from the bluenette.

            On the phone there was sudden silence, much to Takao’s relief.

            “Thank you.  Now…yes, I was supposed to call Kenny two days ago.  No, I couldn’t call before now.  Yes, I’m okay – sort of.  And no, I don’t have time to talk business right now.  I need to talk to Kenny, Hil.  Is he still there?”  Takao sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly as he listened to the answer.  “Then please put him on.”

            “I can’t interrupt him, Takao.  He’s in with a client right now.”  Hilary informed him primly, still stung from being yelled at.

            “It’s what?  Nearly 6 pm there?  He’s not with a client…it’s his mom, isn’t it?”  Takao smirked when he heard her grumble under her breath.  “That’s what I thought.  Look, let him decide if I’m worth interrupting him, okay?  Go in, tell him I’m on the phone, and tell him its an emergency – that I need to speak to my lawyer.”

            “Fine.  Hold, please.”  There was a soft click and he got an earful of boring elevator music.  As he was waiting, Kai strode back inside to eavesdrop.

            “Kenny is your lawyer?”  He couldn’t help inquiring, and he was unable to keep the curiosity out of his tone.  “I thought he’d go into computers or something.”

            “He did.  He specializes in electronic thefts, computer crimes, frauds, etc.”  Takao informed the older man absently.  He straightened when his old friend came on the line.  “Whoa!  Easy, Chief!  Breathe, buddy, breathe.”

            A deep breath let out slowly preceded the reply.  “Sorry.  Hilary said it was an emergency and I panicked.  Are you alright?  You’re not in a hospital or anything are you?”  Kenny wanted to know, worry and concern lacing his voice.

            “No.  I’m okay, Chief.  My stomach’s acting up again, but other than that, I’m healthy enough.”  Takao sighed as his eyes met Kai’s.

            “Take some of your medicine if it’s bothering you again, Takao!”  Kenny admonished.  “You’re supposed to be trying to keep your stress levels as low as possible.”

            “Yeah, well, if you were where I am now, facing life imprisonment, you’d have difficulty doing that, too.”  Takao scowled, looking away from Kai with a pained expression.

            “Say what?!  Where are you, Kinomiya Takao?”  Kenny demanded to know.

            “I’m still in London, Kenny, though I’m told I’m going to Paris very soon.”

            “Why didn’t you get the hell out of there when you were done at the museum?  Are you crazy?”

            “Because I needed to forget for a few hours, okay?  I met Wyatt at a pub and we had a good chat over some drinks and finger-food.”  Takao ran a hand through his hair in agitation.  “Listen…” he paused when he heard the distinct sound of clicking keyboard keys.  “What are you doing?”

            “I’m tracing the call because I want to know where you are and why you’re trying to give me a heart attack.”  Came the somewhat snarled reply.  “What the…Hiwatari Enterprises?!  Are you completely INSANE?!  What are you doing there?!”

            “Uh…long story, Kenny.  To make it short, I found Kai last night.  Well, actually, he found me…”

            There was a loud silence on the line for a moment then, “KAI?!  The son of a bitch finally reappeared after this long?!  What the hell, Takao?!”

            Kai’s crimson eyes narrowed, having heard that quite clearly, and reached out to swiftly pluck the phone from Takao’s startled hand.  “Care to say that to me personally, Kenny?”

            Takao snatched it back and glared at him.  “Suck it up, Kai.  He doesn’t know.  And I’ll thank you not to interrupt my conversation with my lawyer.”  He waited until their youngest of friends wound down his angry ranting before speaking again.  “Chief, I’ll tell you everything later, I promise.  But right now, focus, please?”

            “Sorry.”

            “Look, I need my lawyer – you – to pack up and fly over to Paris as soon as possible.”

            “Why?  Did something go wrong at the museum and they found you?”  Kenny had become abruptly serious and lawyer-like.

            “No.  That went smoothly, and you can be sure to tell Gideon in the email you send him that I acquired number fourteen and I have plans for fifteen.”

            “Fine.  But why need a lawyer?”

            “Because Fate hates me, Chief.  I’ve been caught by two UNA agents – totally out of the blue.”  He could almost hear Kenny’s brain working.

            “Oh.  Well, shit, Takao.”  Kenny swore.  “How’d they know it was you?”

            “One of the agents is part wolf.  He recognized my scent.”  Takao gripped the phone in his hand tighter.  “What advice do you have, counsellor?”

            “Say nothing until I get there.  No doubt they’ll tangle you up in red tape to delay releasing you – and they’ll have to because last I checked, scent is not enough evidence to make a case on.”

            “Uh…they have a confession, Chief.  That’s enough for a case.”

            There was another long, distinct pause before Takao had to hold the phone out in front of himself while Kenny blasted the airwaves with curses.  “WHAT?!

            Kai raised an eyebrow at the particularly nasty obscenities the brunette was tossing out.  “I didn’t know he had that kind of vocabulary.”

            “I’m wishing he didn’t.”  Takao sighed, sweatdropping heavily.  “Kenny!”  He finally shouted back, a vein beginning to throb at one temple.  “Shut up and get over it!  What was I supposed to do?!  Lie?!”

            “Yes!  Kami-sama, you moron!”

            “NO!  I’m not a liar.  And I wasn’t about to lie to Kai.”

            “Agh!  Do you realize just how much you’ve screwed this up?!”  Takao could picture Kenny in his office at his law firm, resisting the urge to bang his head on his desk and probably trying really hard not to yank out fistfuls of his hair.  “What do you mean about Kai?  Are you saying you told him, too?  Kai and the two UNA agents that caught you?  Why not just take out an ad in every newspaper in Europe?!”

            “What’dya mean ‘too’?”  Takao shot back.  “Kai is the agent that caught me!  Pay attention, Kenny.”

            “Oh…bloody hell.”  Was all the young lawyer could say.

            “Look, just come to Paris, Chief.  Please?  And…call Max and tell him…I don’t know what to tell him.”  Takao slumped backward, letting the island counter support him and keep him on his feet.  He just felt exhausted now, any energy he might have had left drained away.  Running a hand through his hair, he continued, “Tell him I’m okay, but things are going a bit slower than expected and I don’t know how long I’ll be, that I’ll be in touch when I can, and…could he please keep watering Gramps’ bonsai trees for me?”

            “I’ll call him.  Takao…” Kenny hesitated.  “I should tell him the whole truth.  Maybe there’s some way he can help.  His mom is UNA, too…”

            “I thought we agreed not to drag him or his family into it.  Same with Rei.  He has Mariah and Rin to think about.”

            “That was then.  This is now.”  Kenny responded seriously.  “You’re too close to setting everything straight again, Takao.  You need allies now…friends.  I really think we could use the help.”

            Takao closed his eyes.  “I don’t like it.”

            “I know.  This whole mess sucks.  Let me talk to Kai, please.  I need information – you know, lawyer stuff.”

            “Yeah.  And Kenny?”

            “What?”

            “Thank you.”  Takao said softly.  “For everything.  I’m so sorry.”  He held out the phone to Kai, ignoring Kenny’s protests, and went into the living room to curl up on one end of the sofa.  Kai watched him for a minute, speculatively and fighting his first inclination to go over, gather the bluenette into his arms and just hold him.

            But until he had the whole tale, he couldn’t risk getting any more attached to Takao than he already was because it could only end in more heartache and pain – for them both.

            The front door opened and Tala walked in, face grim, just as Kai was hanging up after his conversation with Kenny.  The dual-haired man rubbed his face wearily before inquiring, ‘What did you find?”

            “Where’s…?  Oh.”  Tala spotted the bluenette, who appeared to be (in a word) broken.  He was staring at the fireplace distantly, knees drawn up to his chest and chin resting on his knees as he hugged them defensively.  Tala frowned and looked back at his partner.  “I don’t think he’s lying.  I studied the tapes, and the security cameras from the first floor offices that look down on the street caught an unmarked black car with tinted windows parking across the street a minute and a half after you and Kinomiya entered the building.  No one got in, and no one got out.  It was still there when I went across the street this morning for breakfast, and I’ll bet if you go look down from the balcony, it’s still there.”

            Kai shook his head.  “Why bother?  So what do we do about it?”

            Tala crossed his arms and went to the living room, taking a seat in the sofa-chair adjacent to the couch.  Kai followed and sat next to Takao, who looked back and forth between them with an expression of defeated resignation.

            “Whatever we do, it has to look like nothing is going on.  I would suggest sneaking out somehow, but I don’t think we want to do it that way.  Too risky.”

            The bluenette unfolded himself and rubbed his sweaty palms on his pants’ legs.  “So there is someone out there?”

            “A very suspicious car, yeah.  Doesn’t mean we completely believe you about the rest of what little you have told us, but we’re going to act as if we do.”  Tala replied in a warning voice.  Takao nodded his understanding with a tiny smile of gratitude.

            “Thank you.”

            “Don’t thank us yet, Kinomiya.  When we get you to Paris without incident…then maybe you’ll have time for gratitude.”  The redhead eyed him consideringly.  “So how do you plan on getting out of here?”

            “I need to get my stuff from my hotel before we leave London.”  Takao said quietly.  He looked down at his hands and shifted in discomfort.  “I need my medication or I’ll wind up in the hospital.  Again.”

            Now Kai got concerned.  “Medication?  Hospital?”  He reached out to turn Takao’s face toward him, but the younger man shrunk back away from him, and his hand froze in mid-air.  “Taka?”

            “Don’t.  I can’t…I don’t think I can handle your kindness or concern.”  Takao looked at Kai with pleading stormy-blue eyes.  “Because of all the stress, the near complete lack of sleep I’ve been getting for the last ten and a half months, and the amount of travelling and bad eating habits I’ve formed because of it, I developed an ulcer.  There’s medication I take regularly that helps alleviate everything, but…”

            “Alright.  So you stop off and get your stuff.  That’s reasonable.”  Tala spoke up before his partner could demand explanations.  As much as he was on Kai’s side and wanted to do whatever he could for his friend, he was unwittingly beginning to want to help Takao as well.  There was no way the bluenette could be this excellent an actor and be faking everything, not with Tala, at least.  Maybe he could have been fooling Kai, but not the wolf.  He met the bluenette’s gaze and tried to sound neutral and reassuring at the same time.  “What do you suggest we do?”

            Takao thought for a moment, staring at the Dranzer statue on the coffee table.  “I will go with Kai to the hotel to get my stuff.  I think we should take the Chunnel train to get to Paris.  So Tala, because he won’t be recognized by anyone following me around, can meet us on board the train.”  He said eventually, thinking out loud.

            “That has merit.  Then I can follow whoever it is following you around all over instead, and maybe catch a glimpse of them.”  Tala nodded.  “I’ll do that.  Are you okay with this idea, Kai?”

            “Hn.”  Kai stood up and turned to head for the bedroom.  “I’m going to pack up.  Call the Director, Tala, and tell him we’re coming home – with a solved case.”  He said without turning around, before walking away with two pairs of blue eyes fixed on the spot between his shoulder blades.

            Tala looked away from Kai and watched Takao watch his partner.  There was an expression on the bluenette’s face that made the redhead want to sigh.  Takao looked…unbearably sad, lonely, and almost helpless.  His eyes widened as Takao reached out and opened his mouth as if to call Kai back, then froze, seemed to change his mind – or give up – and retract his outstretched hand to cradle against his chest, looking down at his feet.  The wolf schooled his face to be neutral and stood up, moving to the coat closet again and digging out his own cell phone.

            Takao ignored his conversation, too lost in his own miserable thoughts at the moment to care.  At least they believe me enough to let me do this my way.  And I’m sure Kenny will be able to help somehow.  I have to believe that.  I…I have to.

~*~*~*~*~

            Strapping on his helmet, Takao got onto his motorcycle and waited as Kai did, too.  He had to suck in a breath and let it out slowly as Kai’s arms encircled his waist and his hands gripped his jacket as the dual-haired man nestled securely behind the bluenette.  Once he’d gotten his body under a semblance of control, Takao kicked the motorcycle in gear and sped away.

            From the shadows, out of sight and sitting in an idling car, Tala watched the car with the tinted windows slowly pull away from the curb and follow several cars behind Takao and Kai.  He waited until he could just barely see the car, and sent his own into traffic to stalk his prey in turn.

            Stopping at a red light sometime later, Takao rolled his shoulder absently as he waited.  There was a crick in his neck from being curled in a ball all morning, with all the tension in his muscles making it that much worse.  And then he went even more stiff when one of Kai’s arms was removed and a gloved hand slid under the collar of his jacket to grasp the tendons of his neck and shoulder and massage the sore area skilfully.

            “Ah…” Takao let out a small gasp and shuddered, his head lolling forward involuntarily at the relieving sensation.  Then he remembered just who was making him feel that much better and shrugged the hand away.  Or at least, he tried.  Kai stopped massaging, but he didn’t remove his hand. “Kai?  What?”  Takao stammered, confusion lacing his tone.  He didn’t understand why Kai was doing this, when he couldn’t possibly still care about him anymore.

            “I’m just trying to ease a little tension, Kinomiya.  If you’re ill, then you shouldn’t be so tense.”

            “I know that.  But…I thought…why do you care?”  Takao stared at the traffic light ahead, his voice betraying his sadness and bitterness.  “I’m a thief, remember.  I have no honour.  I’m not someone to care about.”

            Startled, Kai stared at the back of his former lover’s head.  It was true he didn’t really know what to think of the situation anymore, but of course he still cared.  He couldn’t just stop loving Takao.  Before he could open his mouth to tell the bluenette that, however, the light turned green and he head to hastily pull his hand out of Takao’s jacket and wrap his arm around his waist once more to hang on as Takao and the bike took off again.

            To the crimson-eyed man’s surprise, the place they pulled up to resembled more of an apartment building than a hotel.  “What is this place, Takao?”

            Takao took off his helmet and left it on the seat of the bike.  He shook out his hair with a sigh and looked up at the building.  “It’s a business hotel.  There are suites here with offices that companies and businesses can lease or rent for their use whenever they have business here in London.”  Takao glanced over his shoulder at Kai.  “Coming?”

            Nodding once, Kai followed Takao inside.  There was a front desk in the lobby, and his younger companion waved briefly at the three clerks behind the desk as he made his way to the elevators.  After the doors closed behind them, and Takao pushed the button for the fifth floor, the bluenette spoke again.

            “Max and I rented a suite for our business, once we got established and it was clear we’d be coming here often enough, since we get a lot of our stock from Britain – not to mention the auctions and estate sales.  It’s easier for me to get here, though, than for Max to, because I live in Paris and he still lives in Japan.”  The elevator stopped and the exited onto the fifth floor.  Takao led Kai down the hallway until they reached a door that had a sign with ‘Kinomiya-Mizuhara Art & Antiques’ boldly emblazoned on it.  As he unlocked the door and pushed it open, he continued, “Well, Max lives most of the year in Japan.  Three or four months out of it he lives in New York near his parents.”

            Kai made an interested noise – which was non-committal sounding at the same time – and looked around curiously as Takao flicked on the lights.  There was a sitting area with a couple of comfortable sofa chairs and a couch, some bookshelves loaded with books and various objets d’art along one wall, and a desk with an open laptop, phone/fax machine, and a printer sitting on it.  A filing cabinet stood near the desk in a corner.  On the wall opposite the bookshelves was a kitchenette, and two doors – one that Kai assumed was a bathroom, and the other that probably led to a bedroom.

            Takao watched the dual-haired agent wander over to the bookshelves to study their contents, trying to appear as if he wasn’t really that interested.  Takao knew better, of course.  Hadn’t he been the one to tutor Kai with his literature class in high school, after all?  He knew Kai’s love of books and reading.  “I’ll just pack up my stuff, Kai.  It won’ t take me long.”

            “Hn.”  Kai forced himself to ignore the bookshelves (for now, anyway) and pulled out his cell phone to dial Tala’s number.  He wanted to know how the chase was going.  Takao disappeared into the bedroom and grabbed his suitcase, stuffing his clothes and things into it without really caring about folding things neatly or whatever.  He went into the bathroom to get his toiletries and medication then returned to his suitcase and placed the toiletries on top of everything else before closing the baggage and wheeling it out into the office area.  He walked over to the desk and picked up the carry case he had for the laptop, proceeding to unhook everything and pack it away.

            “…So they still haven’t gotten out of the vehicle?  Geez.”  Kai was saying.  Takao half-listened to what he was saying.  He didn’t really care who it was following him, only that if their tail reported back to Gideon that Takao was in the company of – or worse, custody of – a UNA agent, then any hope he had of fixing everything was lost.

            Kai listened to his partner for a moment then sighed.  “Okay.  Yeah, Takao’s packing up his things so we shouldn’t be long.  We’ll see you on the train, Tala.  Alright.  Call if anything happens.”  Kai flipped the cell phone closed and turned to see Takao shaking out two pills into his hand before closing the pill bottle and dropping it into a side pocket of the leather laptop case.  “Almost ready?”

            “Yes.  I’m just going to take these and then we can go.”  Takao went into the kitchenette and poured himself a glass of water downing the medication in one gulp.

            “What are you going to do with your motorcycle?”  Kai wanted to know.  Takao finished his water before answering, moving to pick up his carry-case and grab his suitcase.

            “I’ll have the clerks move it into the storage area in the basement.”  Takao headed for the door.  “And before you even ask, no, it’s not the same place I’m keeping the stuff I stole.”

            “I didn’t think it would be.”  Kai replied mildly, in response to the testy, bitter tone of Takao’s voice.  The younger man scowled at him with a disbelieving ‘yeah, right’ sort of expression, and opened the door.

            “Let’s just go.”  He said shortly, turning off the lights and waiting for Kai to exit so he could close and lock the door once again.  Then he led the now silent UNA agent back to the elevator and out to the front desk, where he left instructions to have his bike secured again.  At that point, Kai took over, leading him outside to the street to hail a cab.

            Kai, in a completely casual way, looked up and down the street as he waited for Takao’s luggage to be loaded in the cab’s trunk, and for Takao to slide into the backseat first before he did.  He’d spotted the suspicious car, but gave no outward indication that he had, as well as taking not of his partner father down the street in his car following their tail.

            “Where to, blokes?”  The cabdriver asked in a cheerful, thickly accented voice.

            Glancing at Takao when the bluenette failed to speak up, Kai did so.  “The nearest Chunnel station, please.” (3)

            “Right you are.”  The cab driver nodded and turned on his meter, pulling out into traffic.

            Five minutes later, stuck with many other vehicles in slow moving traffic, Kai’s cell rang again.

            “Yeah.”  He answered, recognizing the number as Tala’s.  “Something up?”

            “Thought you’d like to know you’re still being shadowed.  Besides, this traffic is so damned slow I’m getting bored back here.”  The wolf’s voice replied, mildly annoyed.  “I could have run to the station by now.”

            “Patience, wolf.”

            “Yeah, yeah.  How’s it going up there?”

            “We’re as well as can be expected.  I’m wishing we’d grabbed some coffee or something for the road, but otherwise, we’re just peachy.”  Kai couldn’t help the small hint of sarcasm in his voice.  Sitting in traffic, it was beginning to heat up and get muggy in the confines of their cab.  Kai didn’t mind the heat – he actually revelled in it – but this humid, muggy kind he did not like so much.  And it was making him testy again.

            “I had the foresight to grab a bottled water from the fridge before I left the studio, at least.”  Tala was smug.  Kai grumbled.

            “Shut up.  We’ll get something at the station.  You did remember to bring my stuff, right?”

            “Of course I did.”  Came the indignant reply.  “Oh goody!  We’re moving.  I’ll see you in a few.”  Tala hung up on him and Kai scowled at the phone in his hand.

            “Wolf my ass.  He’s a damn puppy.”

            Takao barely spared him a glance.  He knew perfectly well not to bother the dual-haired man when he was cranky – and no doubt anything he said at this point would be like setting  a match to a pile of dry straw.

            The traffic was indeed finally moving, and sometime later they finally arrived at the station.  They got out and took Takao’s luggage from the cab, then made their way inside.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            They were leaning against a large stone pillar at the boarding area when Tala appeared and approached them.  Kai accepted his own baggage that his partner held out to him with a raised eyebrow.

            “I thought we agreed to meet on the train.”  He said in a low voice.  Tala shrugged.

            “Doesn’t matter now.  When they figured out you were both taking the Chunnel, they left the station in a hurry, cell phones in hand.  “I watched him watch you since you got up to the ticket counter.”  Tala studied his nails in a bored way.  “They were standing not two feet away from you then, and heard every word you said.  They heard you were going to Paris, and when they left, they walked right past me and started talking into their phones.  Apparently they were talking to someone who cared.”

            Takao sighed.  “Did you hear enough of the conversation to know whether or not I’m telling the truth yet?”

            “Uh…no.  I did hear the shadows receive their marching orders, though.  And march right off out of the station after that call they did.”  Tala smiled, all teeth.  “We’re free and clear until we get back to Paris, where we will be ‘picked up’ by a new set of shadows.”

            “Figures.”  Takao glanced at a huge clock and sighed.  He shifted his wait in an effort to get comfortable.  Was it getting warm or was it just him?  “Our train should be here any time now.”

            “Did you hear names or anything?”  Kai wondered.  Tala shook his head.

            “Nope.  Just a lot of ‘sirs’ and ‘Boss.’  What was interesting was that he spoke in German.”

            “Well, that’s something, I suppose.  And you got a good visual of them?”

            “Visual, scent, and voice patterns, yep.  I’ll run them through the database when we get in.”

            They fell silent, and the three men stood around waiting as patiently as they were capable of for their train to Paris.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

            Twenty minutes after they had arrived at the train station, they boarded the train and found seats in one corner of one of the cars.  Since the seats faced each other (two by two on each side of the train car) it was much more comfortable and conducive to conversation.  However, Kai still insisted Takao sit on the inside, against the wall and window – despite the fact that there was really nowhere to go once the train started moving.  To his surprise, though, Takao didn’t object or protest at all.  He simply obeyed without a word, and seemed to space out completely once the trip to Paris had gotten underway.

            The bluenette closed his eyes after a few minutes, not feeling very well at all and deciding to try and get some sleep while he could.  His medication was beginning to kick in, but because he had missed a dosage the night before and had been late taking it this morning, his stomach was very unhappy with him.  Chilled now, rather than boiling as before (yet sweating at the same time), he curled into himself as best he could in his seat, trying to get a little warmer through his own body heat.

            Tala frowned, noting the slight change in Takao’s scent because of his illness.  “Are you alright, Kinomiya?  You don’t look so good.”  He questioned in a mildly concerned voice.

            Kai looked up from his shoes (which he’d found just fascinating while lost in thought), and glanced from his partner to Takao with concern of his own.

            “I…I’m fine.”  Takao lied, his teeth chattering minutely.  He didn’t even open his eyes, but he did curl up tighter.  “J…just a little…cold.”

            Kai moved the armrest between their seats up and turned a bit to face the younger man, studying him critically and reaching out to place the back of his hand against Takao’s forehead under his hair.  Takao tried flinching away and batted weakly at Kai’s hand, but Kai just caught it and held it down.

            “You’ve got a small fever.”  He pronounced, slowly taking his hand away.  “Why didn’t you say you weren’t feeling well earlier, Takao?”

            “I’ll be fine.  Just a reaction to…” Takao had to pause and catch his breath.  He knew it was getting worse if he was beginning to have troubles breathing.  “…missing medication yesterday.  Nothing to worry about…”

            “Baka.”  Kai admonished, trying to sound annoyed but failing miserably, unable to hide his growing worry.  “Lie down, Takao, and try to get a little rest.”  He made a mental note to have the UNA’s medical department take a look at him when they got there.  There had to be something more they could do for him.

            “Lie down?”  The bluenette repeated, looking hazily at the seat.  “How?  There’s not enough room…”

            With a noise of frustrated exasperation, Kai reached out again, only this time he pulled Takao closer and made him lie on his side with his head pillowed on Kai’s lap.  Then he took off his own jacket and draped it over Takao’s legs and waist, ignoring the younger man’s protests.

            “Kai!  Please don’t…”

            “Don’t care?  I can’t do that.  Even though it would make everything simpler, I just can’t.”  Kai said, urging the bluenette gently to stay lying down when he tried to sit up again.  He ran his fingers through Takao’s midnight blue hair at the front near his face, sweeping the slightly sweat-dampened locks out of fever-glistening blue eyes that drooped.  “You need to rest.”

            “But I…”

            “Taka, love, shut up.”

            Takao gave in, unable to fight himself or Kai any longer – especially when he used the endearment Takao had wanted to hear from him for so long now.  He just didn’t have the strength now.  His eyes slid shut and he became limp as a wet noodle as he abruptly fell asleep.

            Kai sighed, a small wave of relief washing through him.  He continued to stroke Takao’s hair in a soothing way – for himself or the bluenette was anyone’s guess.

            Tala echoed the sigh a moment later before asking in Russian, “Is he really going to be alright, do you think?”

            “I’m going to do my best to make him get better.”  The crimson-eyed man responded in a low voice in Russian, also.  “I don’t like the situation, I don’t know what’s going on with him, but…”

            “You still love him.  Yeah, I can see that.”  Tala’s icy blue eyes dropped to watch the sick and exhausted man take in laboured, yet even, deep breaths as he slept.  “he’s trying to push you away.  I think he thinks you won’t forgive him or want anything to do with him anymore after all this.  So he’s trying to protect himself from more pain and heartache.”

            “I know.  I wish he would stop that.”  Kai looked down at Takao and watched him sleep with a tiny frown of annoyance.  “Even though I can hardly blame him for it.”

            “Are you going to have the medical staff look at him?”  Tala asked.  His partner nodded.  “Good.  I don’t think he’s going to be well enough to give his statement for a little while anyway.”

            “No.  We’ll keep him in the medical ward – at least until his lawyer gets here.  He can rest and feel safe there, hopefully.”  Kai ceased his stroking and simply held the bluenette, keeping him warm with the heat of his own body.  He had to smile when Takao murmured and snuggled closer in his sleep.

            “Shall we ditch the shadows we pick up at the station?”  The wolf asked.  “If so, I have a good idea how to do it without making them suspicious.”

            “Do tell?”

            Tala outlined his plan and the dual-haired man’s smile turned into a smirk.  “Technology has its uses.”  Tala’s final comment was a little smug.

            “Better call right now, then.  We’re nearly there.”

            Kai’s partner whipped out his cell phone and began setting up their unsuspecting foes.

****************

Chaos Notes:  (1) UNA = United Nations Authority.  It’ll be explained later on in the fic.  (2) I don’t know what Tala’s real last name is, but I’m using Ivanov for this fic.  (1) I don’t actually know much about the Chunnel, but yes, I do know that’s not what it’s actually called.  It’s what I know it as.

Next Section:   https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/beyblade/once-a-thief/chapter-06-10/

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