Chapter 06-10


Disclaimer:  No own!  No sue!  Just borrowing it for the sake of writing 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

~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 06: To Catch A Thief – Part V

            Takao rubbed at his eyes wearily.  The short, thirty minute nap had helped, but he was still exhausted and shaky.  At least his stomach didn’t hurt quite so much anymore.

            He walked slowly along side Kai, and looked around the familiar train station, wondering if he could spot his new shadows.  He didn’t, but he did notice where Tala was, several yards behind them in the line to go through the metal detectors of the Arrivals area.

            “You don’t need to look for them.”  Kai pointed out in a low voice.  “Tala knows who it is and we’ve already got a plan to lose them.”

            “Uh…are you sure that’s a good idea?”  Takao whispered back.

            “They won’t know.  They’re going to run into some…problems with the metal detectors.”  Kai switched hands with the baggage he carried and took Takao’s hand in his own, firmly.  “Now let’s go.  You still feeling okay?”

            “I’m fine.  Better than I was before we left London anyway.”  Takao sighed, wanting to pull his hand away but conscious of the fact that he was supposed to be pretending to be ‘with’ Kai – for the benefit of those following him.  “I just need sleep.  Lot’s of it.”

            “You’ll get it.”  They passed through the metal detectors with no problem and continued on.  “Let’s stop at that café and get some tea and a quick bite to eat.”  Kai suggested, pulling his unresisting former lover along.  As they waited for their order, Kai’s cell phone rang, and he answered it.

            “They’re two ahead of me in the line.”  Tala informed Kai without preamble in Russian.  “I swear, if they were anymore obvious, they’d be wearing neon signs over their heads.”

            “That makes it easier for us then.  You know what you’re doing, so we’ll meet you back at work.”

            “Yeah.  Oh, don’t leave until security ushers our friends off for their unscheduled strip search.”  Tala suggested, before hanging up on Kai.  The dual-haired agent scowled briefly and dropped his cell in his jacket pocket again.

            “What was that about?”  Takao wanted to know.

            “Watch the action without looking like you’re paying attention to what’s going on.”  Kai nodded briefly at the line up behind the metal detectors and turned back to the counter to accept their paper cups of tea and the sandwiches they’d ordered.

            Takao took his absently and sipped, watching as two people, a young man and woman, stepped through the machines and set them off.  Both looked at each other then stepped back through as they were told by the security officers, and beeped again.

            “Huh.  I get it.  But how’d you get them to do that?”  The bluenette wondered curiously.

            “Tala called ahead.  And when security – UNA agents in disguise, by the way – spotted him in line, he indicated which were our shadowy friends and the agents made sure to make the detectors go off whenever they walked through it.”

            “I don’t think their boss is going to be happy with them.”

            The metal detectors went off again and this time the UNA agents (aka ‘Security’) led them off to be searched.  The two kept glancing behind themselves with expressions of anger, frustration, and a little fear.

            “Okay.  Let’s go.  We need to leave in case they pull something and come looking for us again.”  Kai tugged lightly on Takao’s sleeve and he nodded, following him through the station and outside.

            Kai hailed a taxi, and after stowing their bags, slid in.  The crimson-eyed agent told the driver to take them to the UNA building, and Takao settled in for the ride.

            “What about your partner?”  He asked.

            “Tala will meet us there.  He’s making sure no one else follows us – just in case.”  Kai handed him a sandwich.  “Eat that.  Looks like there’s enough traffic today that it’ll take a while to get there.”

            Takao sighed and obeyed, nibbling.  He wasn’t really hungry and wasn’t sure his stomach would appreciate food yet, either.  But he didn’t feel like arguing with his companion, and ate without a word of protest.

            They arrived at the UNA building a good twenty minutes later, and while Kai paid the taxi driver, Takao got their bags from the trunk.  Kai took up his own, and the bluenette silently followed him inside through the main doors and through the lobby to a bank of elevators.

            And there waiting for them was the ice-blue eyed wolf, leaning against the wall with deceptive casualness.

            “Took you long enough.”  He muttered.  Tala turned and pressed the ‘up’ button.

            “Stuff it, Ivanov.”  Kai shot back mildly.  “How’d it go?”

            “Wonderfully.”  There was a definite hint of glee in Tala’s voice now.  “Those two were right pissed off at the ‘malfunction.’  After all the apologies and what not, the man phoned his boss to explain.  I got the impression they’ve been ‘grounded’ for their mistake.”

            Stepping into the elevator, Kai snickered and pushed the button for the eleventh floor offices.  Takao stayed quiet, though he did find the story amusing.  At the moment he felt very alone and very self-conscious.   He was also a little afraid.  Were they going to put him in a jail cell?  Would they let him keep his medication?  Would they even care that he was sick?  Perhaps Kai and Tala cared enough, but that was no guarantee anyone else would.  Takao swallowed hard as the elevator stopped and the door opened.

            He stepped out, and the two agents seemed to morph into different people in mere seconds as they each moved up beside him, flanking him, and led the bluenette down a short hall and into the area known as the bullpen.

            The normal buzz and hum of activity slowed and abruptly went dead quiet as they were noticed – or rather, Takao was noticed.  People stared and whispers began to float around the room.

            Ignoring it, Kai and Tala urged Takao forward and took him to the office of their boss, Mr. Dickenson.  When they got there, Tala took the bluenette’s bags from him and walked away as Kai knocked on the door before opening it and gently pushing his charge inside, closing the doors firmly behind them.

            “Kai?”  Takao didn’t really know what to do or say, and looked to the only person he thought would be willing to tell him what was going on.

            “Come in, Agent, Mr. Kinomiya.”  The Director said, drawing their attention to where he sat behind his desk, in front of a bank of glass windows.  “Have a seat.”

            Takao gulped, unable to hide his anxiety very well, his hands shaking slightly and feeling chilled right through.  But he sat in one chair before the desk, and Kai took a seat in the other.

            “This is Stanley Dickenson, Kinomiya.  He’s the Director of the Europe division of the UNA.  My boss.”  Kai introduced the old man.  Takao nodded warily in greeting.

            “Well.  I must say I have mixed emotions about meeting you, young man.”  Director Dickenson folded his hands on the surface of his desk, leaning forward a bit.  “On one hand, I am intrigued and pleased to meet the one that my Agent, here,” he indicated Kai, “Has been spending all his spare time searching out for the last six years that he’s been with the UNA.  And on the other hand, I am curious and wary to meet the infamous Thief of Europe, who has been driving this office to the edge of insanity trying to puzzle out how you achieved such spectacular thefts and who you are.”

            “I think it’s safe for me to say the same, Sir.”  Takao replied softly, some of his old brazen self peeking out briefly.  The old man blinked, then chuckled.

            “Yes.  I’ve no doubt of that.  I’m sure Agents Hiwatari and Ivanov have both informed you of your rights and the charges being brought against you.”  At Takao’s shrug, he continued gravely.  “Then I won’t bother demanding explanations at this time.  Tala told me your lawyer is on his way, so it would be pointless questioning you until he arrives.  Instead, I believe we have a private room on the medical floor ready for you.”

            If it were possible for him to pale anymore at this point, Takao would have done so right then and there.  Anxiously, his eyes darted to Kai, looking for explanations or even help (though he really didn’t expect any from that quarter).  Kai looked over and raised an eyebrow in question.

            “Something wrong, Kinomiya?”

            “You didn’t tell me I’d be subject to any medical treatments…Hiwatari.”  The bluenette’s tone turned more than a little hostile.  “Or request my permission for any such thing, either.”

            “Oh don’t even start.”  Kai frowned warningly at him.  “You aren’t well, Kinomiya, and as you nearly passed out on the train with a fever while in the custody of the UNA, it is required that you get checked out so that you can make a statement.  You’ll also get some much needed rest until your legal counsel gets here.”

            “And if I refuse?”  Takao asked, closing his eyes wearily and running a hand through his hair in agitation.

            Kai muttered something harsh in Russian and abruptly stood, tired of trying to take care of someone he loved who was too determined not to let him do so.  “Whatever.  You can spend your time in a cold dark prison cell with a steel bed for a mattress then!  Do what you want Kinomiya, and don’t come crying to me about it when you’re so sick you can’t even move anymore!”  He snapped, stalking out of the room and leaving a sad and regretful Takao behind with his boss.

            “My, my…” Director Dickenson sighed and stroked his moustache thoughtfully.  “I do believe that’s the angriest I have ever seen him get.”

            Takao swallowed and forced himself to appear neutral about it.  “He’s been worse.  And he’ll get over it eventually.  It’s better…this way.”  He managed to say, though it sounded like he was trying to convince himself rather than the Director.  If it was better, though, then why was his throat tight and his chest aching painfully?

            Coughing slightly to regain Takao’s attention, the old man folded his hands in front of himself and watched the young man in front of him sympathetically.  He was a Director of the UNA, had seen and done many things that many would shy away from, and he was supposed to be at the very least neutral in this case and toward Takao – if not outright opposed to him.  Yet there was something about him that brought out the paternal, sympathetic instincts in Stanley Dickenson.  He had this unusual urge to help Takao, rather than interrogate him like he would normally a suspect in a case.

            Before he could say anything – one way or another – the bluenette spoke up first.

            “Director Dickenson, sir, I would like to say first that I know what I’ve done and that…and that I don’t regret it.”  Takao looked up and met his eyes solidly.  “If I had to do the same all over again, I would.  I have my reasons, which I will be happy to share with you and whomever else you wish, but I will not say a word until my legal counsel arrives to advise me, and I will not give up the location of the items I have borrowed.”

            “Now, son…”

            “Please, sir.  Allow me to continue?”  Takao asked, his eyes pleading.  With a small sigh, the old man nodded once in assent.  “Thank you.  I just wanted to say that, but there is something I will tell you now – if Kai or his partner have told you this already, then stop me, but…” he paused, looking down at the desktop.  “I’m being blackmailed into stealing those items.  The person blackmailing me has my father and brother hostage.  They were kidnapped about ten months ago, and the ransom was a list of items that to be obtained required I steal them.  I have fourteen.”  Takao looked back up again, determination written plainly in his expression, even now, in the face of life imprisonment.  “The fifteenth is the last item.  I don’t expect you to believe me now without a decent amount of proof, and you’ll probably dismiss my proposal outright, but please hear me out anyway?”

            Intrigued, and reluctantly amazed at this young man’s resilience, Director Dickenson could only agree.  “I admit I’m interested, Mr. Kinomiya.  I was informed of the people following you, and the apparent reasons for it by Agent Ivanov.  He tends to believe you, at least to a point.  And Agent Hiwatari…well, despite what may be going on between the two of you on a personal level, on a professional one, I’m almost certain that he, too, believes you.”  The old man smiled a little.  “I have known Kai and his family for years.  I trust his instinct and his intelligence.  For that reason, yes.  I will listen to what you have to say.”

            Shocked, Takao stammered, “T-thank you, sir.”  He blushed.  “Ah…there’s nothing much left between Kai and I, though…”

            Chuckling, Stanley shook his head and held up a hand.  “As you like.  Please…continue.”

            “Ah…okay.”  Takao floundered a bit.  He hadn’t been expecting the chance to deal with the UNA at all.  “Well, the truth is, I need help.  I may have gotten this far on my own, and maybe it wasn’t the ‘right’ way to do it, but…I want to make a deal with the UNA.”

            “A deal?”  Director Dickenson raised a busy grey eyebrow.  “What sort of deal?”

            “I will give you all the information you want – except for the location of the items until everything else is over – and I will assist in bringing the true criminals to justice, in return for the UNA’s help in getting back my father and brother, and – if at all possible – my family’s sword that was also taken.  When they are free and safe again, and you have the ones responsible in custody, I will take you to the items and return them personally, if you want.  And then I will submit to whatever repercussions my actions have gained me.”  Takao shivered imperceptibly, the thought of going to prison for the rest of his life not a pleasant one at all.  But if it got his family back, he’d put the cuffs on himself.

            After several minutes of silence, the old man finally responded.  He’d been a little shocked at the fact that Takao was willing to go to prison for his crimes, even after all the rest.  He had been sure that, as most other people in the young man’s position would and had, Takao would try to plea-bargain his way out of a sentence.  So he was pleasantly shocked, and reluctantly admiring of this man’s sense of responsibility and something that had become a rare commodity in this world.

            Honour.

            “Well.  You are correct that I would not necessarily agree outright to this proposal.  However, I will keep it in mind and as you give your statement, I will give it due consideration.  We will discuss it again once we have more evidence of what you say has happened, and what you will tell us in your statement.”

            “Yes, sir, of course.  That’s more than I could have hoped for.  Thank you.”  Takao acquiesced quietly.

            Sighing again, the old man picked up the phone and dialed a number.  “Ivanov, come in and escort Mr. Kinomiya down to the medical floor, please.”  He requested before hanging up again.  Two minutes later, Tala strolled in and gestured at Takao to follow him.

            Again, as he passed through the bullpen, Takao was subject to the stares and whispers of the UNA agents and employees in the bullpen as he passed.  This time, however, Tala got annoyed with it and gave the room one long, solid sweeping glare.

             “Get back to work!  You all have better things to be doing with your time than staring and gossiping!”  The red head’s ice-blue eyes flashed and there was a hint of a growl in this voice as he spoke – both of which sent everyone scurrying off to do their jobs.  No one here wanted to deal with a testy wolf, after all.

            Takao stared at his feet as Tala picked up his bags and led him to the elevator.  On the ride down, the bluenette found he had nothing to say to break the tense silence.  Tala, however, did.

            “So what happened?”  He asked in a resigned voice.

            “Pardon?”  Takao looked up, not sure what he was talking about.

            “I saw Kai come storming out of the Director’s office looking like he’d been kicked in the ribs.  He’s probably up on the roof swearing at the pigeons and pacing.”  Tala snickered.  “He goes up there and does that when something doesn’t go his way.”

            Takao sweatdropped and rubbed his stomach guiltily with a wince.  “I guess it’s better than going out and picking a fight with the bullies like he did in high school.”  And it sounded just like something Kai would do.  Swearing at things that wouldn’t care or answer back sounded a lot like Kai.

            Tala rolled his eyes.  “So what happened?”

            “It was nothing.  He didn’t tell me I was going to be put under a microscope, and I asked him what would happen if I refused…and he stormed out saying I could basically rot in prison for all he cared.”  Takao summarized – albeit exaggerating a little bit.  Tala stared at him with an incredulous expression.

            “You two are going to be the death of me, you know that?”  The wolf stepped off the elevator and waited for Takao to do the same, leading him past the nurses’ station and down a long hallway of hospital rooms.  “Here, take these.”  Tala handed Takao his luggage, and slapped his palm to a pad next to one door.  There was a clicking sound and the door swung open.  Tala flicked on the lights and motioned Takao inside.

            “There’s a wardrobe/closet thing over there where you can put your bags.  Bathroom is in there,” Tala pointed at another door.  “And I’m not sure if the TV is hooked up or not but there is radio on that panel next to the bed.”

            “I don’t need either, but…thank you.”  Takao dropped his bags on the floor next to the wardrobe and stood in the middle of the room, feeling very much alone and helpless.

            Tala leaned a hip against a counter that held a sink against one wall nearest the door.  “Look, Kinomiya.  I don’t know you very well, and as yet I still don’t trust you.  But I do know and trust Kai, and because he loves you, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.”

            “I…I don’t know what to say to that, Tala.”  Takao regarded him sadly.  “I don’t know anything anymore.”

            “I’m just saying it, that’s all.”  Tala shook his head.  “I also know you’re trying to push Kai away, but please rethink that idea?  He’s been a pain in the ass for years because of you as it is, and I do not feel like putting up with him after this for more years because of you again.”

            Takao couldn’t help a tiny shadow of a smile at that.  He understood what Tala was telling him between the lines, and he would take the redhead’s opinion under consideration.  Their gazes met and held for a moment with silent communication.

            Don’t give up on each other so easily.  You need each other and you’re both stronger than this.

            I don’t want to give him up.  I love him.  But can he love me?

            He does.  But you have to let him or it will destroy you both.

            I’m willing to try if he is.

            Tala grinned suddenly and straightened with a decisive nod.  Good.  He glanced at the clock on the wall above the sink.  “Alright.  Someone will bring you supper in a couple of hours, since its nearly four now.  Dr. Angelique Maison will be the doctor looking after you, and I imagine she’ll be by sometime this evening.”

            Takao sighed.  “Okay.  Just…know this is under protest, alright?  I’m fine.”

            “No, you’re not, but so noted.  FYI, Kinomiya, there are always nurses on duty, if you need anything, so don’t hesitate to use that call button next to the bed.”  Tala pointed at the small box lying on the bedside table.  “Also, the door locks automatically when closed, and can only be opened from the inside by a hand scan – like the one I used outside to open it.”

            “I’m not going anywhere.”  Takao frowned at him.  “It’s not like I’d get far anyway.”

            “I’m just telling you, that’s all.  I’ve got some paperwork to do and an irate partner to find, so I’m going to leave.  Need anything before I go?”  Tala looked back at the bluenette over his shoulder in question, his hand on the doorknob.

            Takao shook his head.  “No.  Thank you.”

            “Suit yourself.  Crawl into bed and take a nap before Dr. Maison gets here, Kinomiya.  Either Kai or I will stop in sometime tomorrow to check up on you.  See you later.”  Tala walked out, the door closing and locking audibly with a finality that gave Takao shivers.

            Alone in the silence of the room, Takao looked around in a lost kind of way, unsure what to do with himself now.  He supposed taking Tala’s advice was as good a plan as any right now, so he dug out a pair of pajamas from his suitcase (something he didn’t normally wear to bed but packed and brought along anyway) and proceeded to change into them.

            After that, he packed everything away into the wardrobe, shut off the lights, and went to the bed.  He pulled back the covers and crawled under them lying on his side and arranging the covers over himself until he was comfortable.

            Staring at the wall and listening to the ticking of the clock on the wall, Takao sighed deeply and closed his eyes.  He’d never felt so alone in his life.

~*~*~*~*~

            The door lock clicking open was what startled Takao awake a few hours later.  Groggily, he rolled onto his back and sat up, rubbing his eyes and trying to peer through the darkness at the clock.

            “I’m turning on the lights, Mr. Kinomiya.”  An unfamiliar, female voice said from the direction of the door.  The bluenette covered his eyes with a hand hastily as the room was illuminated once more.

            “Who are you?”  He asked blindly.  Slowly, he dropped his hand from over his eyes as they adjusted to the light.

            “Dr. Angelique Maison.”  The woman introduced herself, holding out a hand to him.  He shook it warily.

            “Kinomiya Takao.”  He replied, studying her.  She wasn’t beautiful in terms of fashion magazine or movies or anything like that, but with her long, light brown hair and hazel eyes, she was pretty.  The white lab coat she wore with the stethoscope around her neck and the tray of instruments she’d set on the counter by the sink, however, overshadowed her appearance and made her scary and intimidating as hell.

            Oh how he hated hospitals and doctors and their various and sundry instruments of torture.

            “Well, Mr. Kinomiya, I’ve been appraised of your situation – concerning your health, at least.  They won’t tell me what sort of crimes you’ve committed, but frankly I don’t care.  They didn’t tell me you were cute either – and that means you couldn’t have done anything that bad.”  She informed him with a grin and a sly wink in her attempt at humour.  Takao blushed and wondered why he always got the strange ones.

            “Uh…no offence, Doctor, but can we just get this over with?  I…really don’t like tests and hospitals and stuff.”

            Still smiling, she patted his knee reassuringly.  “Oh, don’t you worry.  Nothing too extravagant tonight.  I’ll just check your vitals and whatnot, and take some blood for lab-work, and that’s it.”  She pulled out a penlight from a deep coat pocket and clicked it on, shining it in one eye, then the other, as she checked hem.  “Follow the light, please.  Good.  Okay, no problem there…ears next.”

            He sighed and sat still, obeying commands and enduring it all with what dignity he could muster.  She asked questions, he answered.  At one point, she stuck a thermometer in his mouth and wandered over to the tray to get the needle ready to take his blood.

            “So far everything seems pretty normal.  I was told you said you have been diagnosed with an ulcer, correct?”  She glanced over her shoulder at him and he nodded.  “Hmm…well, I’ll want to take some x-rays of your stomach and make my own conclusions, but for tonight, I’m just going to tell you to rest, relax, and eat.  The blood work will tell me more, too.  We’ll see about the rest tomorrow.”  Angelique walked over and took the thermometer from him.  “Temperature is normal, which is good.  Agent Ivanov mentioned you had a fever earlier today.”

            “It was just a reaction to having missed one dose of my medication, and being late with another dose.  I also drank coffee this morning, which probably didn’t help.”  Takao pushed his hair out of his eyes.

            “Right.  Almost forgot about the meds.  Give them to me, please.  I’ll keep track of them for you.”  She went back to the sink to put away the thermometer and Takao reluctantly slid out of bed and went to the wardrobe to get his medication from the pocket of his carry-case.  He handed it over and slid back under the covers, arranging them over his legs as he waited for whatever she was going to do to him next.

            …And went into pure panic mode when he saw the size of the needle she had on the tray for taking his blood.

            “Oh no.  You are not using that!”  He pressed back against the headboard and drew his knees up to his chest, hugging them tightly and glaring at the needle in her hand with stormy blue eyes.  “Uh uhn.  No way, no how!”

            Angelique eyed him and rolled her own eyes.  “Now, now.  It’s not that bad.  Once little pinch and it’ll be done…”

            “Pinch?!  No way are you sticking that thing in me!”

            The doctor made the mistake of reaching out to touch his arm, though she’d only intended to calm and soothe him.  For her effort, she got a small jolt of static electricity – enough to make her fingertips go numb and her hand tingle, and for all the hairs on her body to stand on end.

            Wide-eyed, she stepped back from the bed and shook her hand in an effort to get the feeling back into it.  “It seems they’ve failed to mention you were cute and talented.”  She huffed.

            Takao – still exhausted, ill, and freaked out by the damned needle – just glared at her silently.

~*~*~*~*~

            A few floors up, a red-haired wolf and a crimson-eyed man sat across from each other, bent over their desks, pens in hand as they went through the mountains of paperwork that had accumulated while they were gone.

            “I say we petition for a secretary to help us out with some of this.”  Tala grumbled, slapping another sheet onto the ‘done’ pile.  “We spend more time at this than we do in the field.”

            “Hn.”  Was the only reply he got.  Snarling, Tala dropped his pen and grabbed Kai’s from his hand.

            “Okay, that’s beginning to get on my nerves.  You know perfectly well why he said what he did, and why he’s trying to push you away.  Get over it, go down there, and prove to him that you aren’t letting him get away with it!”  The wolf growled in Russian.

            “Ivanov, it’s 8:45 pm, I’m tired, hungry, and extremely pissed off.  Give…me…my…pen.”  Kai glared hotly at his partner and held out his hand, replying coolly in Russian also.

            “No.  Damn it, Kai!  He’s your long lost lover, remember?  Circumstances suck, but he’s here, and you’re wasting time and energy being hurt and mad at him when he needs you!”

            Still glaring and waiting for his pen, Kai shoved his reading glasses up his nose with his opposite hand.  “Why the hell are you being like this?  What’s it to you if we’re not together anymore?  It’s none of your business.”

            “Please.”  Tala snorted, unfazed.  “My instincts tell me he’s in trouble.  And any idiot can see how much the two of you are pining away for each other.  He’s got it in his head that you shouldn’t care about him anymore because of what life’s thrown at him and the path he’s had to take – and you’re sitting here stewing in your own wrath when you damn well should be with him setting him straight.  You are my friend, Hiwatari.  You’ve been a loner and a pain in the ass without him for too long.  What do I care?  I want you to be happy for once in your life so you’ll quit raining all over my parade!”

            Kai scowled and opened his mouth to give his partner a piece of his mind when the lights flickered ominously.

            “What the…?  Is there a storm or something outside?”  They heard someone else in the bullpen ask nearby.

            “The weather report didn’t mention any storms…” someone else replied.

            “Idiots.  It’s just a power surge.”  Tala muttered, dropping the pen into Kai’s hand grudgingly.  The lights flickered again, but this time, they went out for a full two minutes before back up power was restored and they came on again.

            Kai looked around and frowned.  “There’s no construction going on near here, is there?  Maybe someone accidentally hit a power line.”

            “Not that I know of.”  Tala shrugged indifferently.  “As I was saying…”

            “Leave it alone, Tal.”  Kai warned, ignoring the exasperated glare he received in return.

            At that moment, the phone between their desks rang.  The dual-haired agent picked it up and said shortly, “Hiwatari, what?”

            “Wonderful phone etiquette.”  Tala rolled his eyes again, then blinked when his partner’s eyes went very wide and he dropped the phone abruptly back into its cradle.  “What?  Who was it?”

            Kai was too dumbstruck to speak yet, so he said nothing, pushing away from his desk and motioning for Tala to follow.  The redhead did so, and somehow was unsurprised when, in the elevator, Kai pushed the button for the medical floor.

            “Talk to me, Hiwatari.  What’s going on?”

            “Takao.  He…he’s what caused the power surge.”

            Tala absorbed that, and whistled lowly.  “I’ll be damned.  So that’s how he’s made it past all those security systems.”

            “Shit.”  Kai swore as the elevator doors opened and revealed a crowd of medical staff gathered at the end of the hall where Takao’s room was.  “Whatever set him off is only going to be made worse by that crowd.  He can’t stand to be surrounded by a crowd of people – especially in an enclosed space.”

            Tala’s eyes widened.  “Then you’d best get them all out of there before they find that out the hard way.”  He suggested, hurrying after his partner.

            “Let me through!”  Kai ground out the order sharply as he pushed his way through the nurses, orderlies, security personnel, and lab techs.  “Back off and let me through!”

            “Agent Hiwatari!”  Dr. Maison’s voice rose above the others in relief.  “Let him through!”

            Kai and Tala shoved past an orderly who looked like he’d stuck his finger in a socket.  “What the hell did you do?”  Kai demanded, looking away from her to Takao.  He sucked in a breath, taking note of the bluenette’s wild, electric blue eyes and the blind intensity of the glare he had trained on the doctor.  “Kami-sama…”

            “I just wanted to take some blood for lab work.”  Angelique exclaimed.  “He didn’t like the size of the needle but it’s not that big!  See?”  She showed him the tray and Kai pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on.  “It’s normal-sized for taking blood samples.”

            “Get everyone out of here, Tala.  The doctor can stay, but everyone else get the hell out.  You’re only making it worse.”  Kai glared at the occupants of the crowded room, and most took a step back at the blaze of crimson fury.  No one was used to seeing Kai’s actual eye colour – as most had only ever seen him with the purple contacts that gave him hazy, violet-coloured eyes instead.

            Tala shooed away the extras, firmly closing the door behind him and standing guard over the room himself.  He hoped his partner knew what he was doing.

            “Two things: one, Takao can’t stand crowds or enclosed spaces, but especially not both together, and two, he hates needles.  You could use the smallest one you had, and he’d see it as monstrously huge.”  Kai informed Angelique in a somewhat calm voice.  “You should have heard his protests when we got our vaccines in high school.  I had to work really hard to distract him long enough for the nurse to stick him and get it over with.”  Kai continued, absently.

            “Why does no one tell me these things before stuff like this happens?”  the doctor asked plaintively.  “Fine.  Now that I know, and you’re here to help, do something, please?”

            “Just stay here and be ready.”  Kai waved her back and stepped into Takao’s line of vision.  “Kinomiya, look at me.”  He said in their native Japanese.  His former lover was certainly a sight to behold in his angry, scared glory, and Kai shoved down the bolt of lust that struck him back into a corner of his mind in favour of dealing with the here and now.  HE waited for those eyes to slowly shift and focus on him before he took a step toward the bed.  “Taka, it’s me, love.  You’re fine.  No one is trying to hurt you.”

            “I’m not stupid, Kai.  She’s right behind you with that…sword in her hand.”  Takao growled.  “And I’m not some stray cat you’re trying to befriend – like that one you found on the school roof – either.”

            Kai blinked.  “Oh, yeah.  I remember her.  She made a good pet for a while until her owner wanted her back.”  He walked over to the bed and pretended not to notice the rise of the hairs on his arms and neck as he sat next to Takao.  The bluenette’s eyes darted back and forth between the agent and the doctor warily.

            “Make her go away, Kai.”  Takao whined, unconsciously shifting closer to the one person whom he’d always felt safe with.  “She can open a vein with a knife if she wants, but she’s not poking me with that…that…”

            “Completely normal-sized syringe.”  Kai said mildly in amusement.  “It just looks big.  And you know she has to take some blood from you, so you have two options here: one, you let her use the needle she’s got and it’ll be over and done with before you know it, or two, you let her poke you with several smaller needles several times to get the same amount of blood she could have gotten with one bigger one.”

            Takao went ghostly white at that idea and wordlessly held out his arm.  Kai smiled at him and clasped his other hand between his own tightly.

            “Go ahead, Dr. Maison.  Just make it quick.”  Kai said, switching back to English.  Cautiously, still wary of receiving another shock from the bluenette, she prepared his arm for the task of getting the sample she needed.  Takao looked away, fixing his eyes on Kai instead.

            “Why did you come down here?  I thought…you were mad at me.”  He asked, quietly, trying to distract himself.  He winced at the tightness of the rubber tourniquet Angelique tied around his upper arm.

            “Mr. Kinomiya,” she interrupted, not knowing what he’d said because he had continued to speak in Japanese to Kai.  “Do this a few times, please.”  She made a fist, then released it, several times as he watched.  Frowning, he did so until she told him to stop.  “Good.  Now just make a fist and hold it.”

            “I am mad at you.”  Kai stated, drawing Takao’s attention away from his arm while Angelique rubbed a spot of iodine at the bend of the inside of his arm over a prominent vein.  “Takao, I’m trying to help you as best I can under the circumstances, and yet at every opportunity you lash out at me and throw it back in my face.  I know why you’re doing it, but…”

            “I’m sorry.”  The bluenette whispered, dropping his eyes in shame to stare at Kai’s knee next to him.  “I just…how can you still love me now that you know what I’ve done?”

            “The question you should be asking is how could I not love you, Taka.  Of course I didn’t know what to think at first.  That was a gut reaction and nothing more.  But my instincts scream at me to believe you and…they’ve never been wrong when I’ve listened to them before…” Kai raised a hand to lightly brush his knuckles over Takao’s cheek bone.  “Besides which, you’re ill, and obviously you need me to take care of you when you can’t do it yourself.”

             Takao’s smile was a little watery.  “I’ve done the best I could, honestly.  But it’s all catching up to me, I guess.”

            “There!”  Dr. Maison, whom they’d both forgotten, announced suddenly with relieved cheerfulness.  “All done!”

            The younger man stared at his arm in surprise.  He hadn’t even noticed her plunge the needle in or when she’d taped a cotton ball over the wound with medical tape.  “Uh…wow.”

            “Alright.  I’m done with you for tonight, so I’ll tell someone to bring you some food and leave you alone.  Goodnight, Mr. Kinomiya.”  She waltzed out of the room.

            Silence reigned in the room.  Takao just plain didn’t know what to do or say anymore, and Kai…well, he never had much to say at the best of times (though he did speak more around Takao and Tala than any other time or with any other people).  They looked at each other for several minutes, each trying to read the other, while the only sounds of the room were the ticking of the clock, the air conditioning system, and their breathing.  Finally, exhausted once again after the excitement of avoiding the needle, Takao let out a deep sigh and wiggled down under the covers again, lying on his side facing Kai with an arm tucked under the pillow his head rested on.

            Without a word, Kai pulled up the covers and tucked Takao under them.  Gently brushing midnight blue hair out of sad, sleepy blue eyes that seemed far older than Takao’s young age of twenty-six, Kai simply offered the only comfort he could for the moment, and slowly stroked Takao’s hair as his eyes closed and sleep dragged him under into oblivion.

            As much as Kai wanted (very much) to do more – to lie down with Takao and curl around him protectively, to kiss him and hold him and promise all would be fine – there were a few very good reasons he didn’t.  For one thing, as an agent of the UNA, he could not do anything that would compromise the case being built against a suspect of crimes he was assigned to investigate.

            Actually, he was surprised Director Dickenson hadn’t pulled him off the case yet.

            On the other hand, he was restraining himself for Takao’s sake.  He could not, then, be accused of using an agent to commit further crimes, or be accused of doing something to get out of his punishment (if there was going to be any) because of his association with an agent.  Until Kai heard the whole tale, and his boss had decided what to do about it, it was just better for them both if Kai didn’t cross any lines that could get one or both of them in trouble.

            When the bluenette’s breathing turned slow and steady, and there was no response from him when Kai retracted his hand, the older man sighed and stood, looking down on the younger man who had always possessed Kai’s heart and spirit.

            Whatever it is that’s happening with you, Taka, don’t give up.  You haven’t before and now will be no different, because I won’t let you.  No matter what you might believe or how you might feel now, you aren’t alone in this.  I’ll do what I can, love, if you’ll let me.

            Stuffing his hands in his pants’ pockets, Kai whispered, “Rest well, my love.”  And turned to stride out of the room before he gave in and did anything foolish.

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

Chapter 07: Honour Among Thieves – Part I

            The next morning, Takao was taken to have his x-rays done – and for god measure an MRI and CAT-scan were done, too, as ordered by Dr. Maison with her specialty of dealing with individuals who were…special in some way.  It turned out that man of the UNA’s agents who were field rated had some extraordinary ability or even, simply, a higher than average intelligence.  The extra tests, Angelique explained to Takao, were so that she could look for anything that might be a problem caused by his ‘talents.’

            By mid-afternoon, she had come to the conclusion that everything appeared normal with Takao – except that he did, indeed, suffer from a small ulcer.  The ailing bluenette was vastly relieved to hear that – since he hadn’t even considered the possibility that it was because of his abilities he suffered, and when she’d informed him of the possibility he had begun to worry.

            Prescribing rest, relaxation, and a different medication than the one he was on, as well as providing him with a list of foods and beverages he should avoid, the UNA doctor patted him on the knee fondly and left him to his own devices once more.

            It was nearly four o’clock when his room door opened and Tala strolled in.

            “Hey, Kinomiya.  So I hear the doctor has given you a clean bill of health except for that ulcer.”  The redhead leaned against the sink counter, folding his arms over his chest as he studied him critically.  “How are you feeling?”

            “Alright, I suppose.  Better than I was.”  Takao eyed the wolf suspiciously.  “Why?”

            Tala rolled his eyes.  “Because whether anyone likes it or not, Kai is worried about you.  And because I came to see if you were well enough for visitors.”

            Takao blinked, sitting up a little straighter.  “Visitors?”

            The redhead nodded.  “My partner is on his way up with your lawyer and, apparently, an entourage of ‘assistants.’”

            “Kenny’s here?  Already?”  Takao’s eyes widened a little, and he even smiled a bit.  “That was fast.  And what do you mean, assistants?  I imagine he brought Hilary, since she’s his legal secretary, but…”

            “Yeah, she’s one of them.  Your friend brought along some guy, too, but Kai didn’t tell me who he was, and an older lady with blonde hair.  I think she’s American.”  Tala shrugged.  “Kai said the lawyer hopped on a plane two hours after you called him yesterday on the first available flight.  Unfortunately, there were a few stops along the way or he’d have been here sooner.”

            Takao shook his head, not knowing who the mysterious man and woman could be, and marveled at Kenny’s ability to simply drop everything and ride to his rescue whenever he needed it.

            He was going to have to do something extra nice for his oldest friend.

            “Did Kai pick them up at the airport?”  He asked curiously.  He would have thought that would be against some sort of UNA rule (fraternizing with a suspect’s legal counsel or some such thing) but it was something Kai would do for a friend – if Kenny and Kai would still call each other that.

            “No.  He met them downstairs when the guards wouldn’t let him or the others through.”  Tala snorted.  “Someone forgot to inform the guards that your lawyer was coming and to let him through.”

            “Oh.”  Takao plucked at the coverlet of his legs absently, when there was a knock at the door a few seconds before it swung open.

            “Takao!”  Kenny rushed into the room, looking as if he’d rolled out of bed minutes ago (his clothes and thick, brown hair rumpled and mussed) and had consumed more than a few too many cups of coffee in a short amount of time but nothing else.  The petit lawyer skidded to a halt next to the bed and looked his friend over.  “Kami, are you alright?  Is your stomach getting worse?  Are they taking decent care of you?  What can I…?”

            “Chief!”  Takao laughed, waving his hands at his friend to halt the bombardment of questions.  “I’m fine.  Slow down and breathe, Kenny, before you hyperventilate.”

            Kenny sucked in a breath and let it out slowly.  “Sorry.  I was just worried.  You’re really okay, though?”

            “Well, its nothing we didn’t already know about.  And the doctor gave me a different prescription for now, so I’ll be just fine.”  Takao replied, then sighed at Kenny’s expression.  “Honest, Chief!”

            “Okay.  I guess I’ll believe it for now.  Just…take care of yourself, Takao.  Please?”

            “I’m trying, Kenny.”

            Nodding, Kenny’s demeanor shifted into lawyer mode.  “I’ve been going over everything I was given, and…” he stopped, looked over at Tala, and blinked.  “Who are you?”

            “Agent Tala Ivanov.”  Tala introduced himself, mouth turned up at the corner in a slight smile.  “I’d be the one who sniffed out your client – so to speak.”

            “He’s Kai’s partner, Kenny.”  Takao added quietly.  “He’s a good man.”

            Kenny huffed and crossed his arms.  “Huh.  Well, he’d have to be something for Kai to allow himself to be partnered with him.  No matter what I might think of Kai now, I never had a problem with the guy’s integrity – at least not until he left you like that.”

            “Don’t, Kenny.  We talked about that and it’s over.  Forget it.”  Takao reached up and laid his hand on Kenny’s arm.  “Please?”

            “I won’t bring it up.”  The brunette agreed reluctantly.  “At least, I’ll try not to.”

            “Thank you.”

            Turning back to Tala, Kenny looked around the room.  “Are there any recording devices in this room?  Audio or video?”

            “No.  The doctors won’t allow them in the rooms.  Something about making their patients uncomfortable and stressed.”  The redhead clearly thought the idea was ridiculous.

            “Good.  Then you won’t mind sending in my associates so that we can discuss our case with my client in private.”

            Tala raised a red eyebrow, winter blue eyes narrowing.  “Fine.  You have until after supper to discuss whatever it is.  Director Dickenson has scheduled your client to give his formal statement at 7:30pm this evening.”

            “Fine.”  Kenny echoed, agreeing and bravely standing his ground under that cold, penetrating gaze.  Tala gave a short nod and walked out swiftly.  A couple of moments later, he came back with Kenny’s ‘entourage’ in tow.

            Takao’s eyes went very wide when the mystery of the two others the Chief had brought with him was solved.  His jaw dropped open in shock, and the second the door closed behind Tala, Takao found himself being hugged to death by a distraught, energetic, blonde Mizuhara Max.

            “Takao!  Oh my god, Takao!  I’ve been so worried about you!  Kenny told me – us – everything, and I just had to come, too!  Are you alright?  Have they said anything to you yet?”  The Japanese-American man released his best friend and sat at the foot of the bed his se-blue/green eyes glistening.  “Why didn’t you tell me what was going on?  I could have helped you somehow!”

            “Oh, Max…” Takao’s own eyes began to water.  “I’m so sorry…I didn’t want to drag you into this mess!  I didn’t want to put you at risk in anyway.  But…I’m still so sorry I never told you what was happening…”

            “That would have been my decision.  And I would have taken the risk, Kinomiya Takao, to help my best friend when he needed me.”  Max declared sternly.  “From now on tell me these things, okay?”

            Takao gave him a tentative smile.  “I promise.”

            “Good.”  Max nodded, then glanced up at the blonde woman.  “I brought reinforcements to help out, too.”

            “Mrs. Tate.”  Takao greeted Max’s mother gravely.

            “That’s ‘Judy,’ Takao, remember?  Don’t go formal on me.”  She stepped over to the bed and gave him a small, firm hug.  “Dear boy.  What have you gone and gotten yourself into now?”

            Tears welled up and slipped out.  Judy Tate had pretty much ‘adopted him when he’d gone with Max to university in America, and had been the mother he hadn’t known during his time there (as his own had passed away not long after he’d been born).  Takao shuddered and let the tears come, his weeping a release of all his bottled up stress and emotions from the last several months.  Judy ended up sitting beside him and holding him while he wept, giving him the reassurance and comfort only a mother can give.

            When it was over, he sat up and Hilary appeared on the other side of the bed with a damp cloth for his face and a box of tissues for his nose.

            “Here, Takao.  Clean yourself up a bit, and I’ll get you a glass of water.  Or should I go and find tea for us all?”  Hilary offered, glancing around at everyone.

            “That would be perfect, Hilary.”  Judy smiled at her.  “Thank you.”

            “Alright.  I’ll be right back.”  She gave Takao a little pat on the shoulder and slipped out into the hall.

~*~*~*~*~

            Out in the hallway, the brunette heaved a sigh and straightened, fortified with a purpose.  Hilary marched down the hall, stopping at the nurses’ station to ask where she could get tea for the group.  She was given directions to the building’s main café/restaurant.  As she made her way down to the café, her mind was very busy piecing together what she knew of the situation with Takao and the other bits and pieces she had picked up in conversations (that she’d happened to overhear – really, she wasn’t eavesdropping…much) between Kenny and Max.

            She had known Takao for some time now.  In fact, she’d graduated with the four boys that had been as closely knit a group as brothers – plus the enigmatic Kai.  But, as in most high schools, one couldn’t know everyone they attended classes with.  And the five teens had been of the kind of group that everyone knew of rather than knew personally.  Such had been the case with Hilary.

            And then, a few years after they had all graduated, Kenny had come to work at the law firm where Hilary had been a legal secretary/paralegal for almost three years already.  It was then that she ended up being assigned to the brilliant – but scatterbrained and somewhat jittery – young lawyer.  It did not take long for them to get to know one another or become friends, and Hilary soon wondered how Kenny had functioned in his life without her around to keep an eye on him and make sure he remembered important things…like eating, sleeping, and doing laundry so he had clean clothes to wear to work.  The petite genius was usually so absorbed in his work, his computers, and (later) whatever he was doing for Takao, that he would often forget about himself.

            Through Kenny she had gotten to know the others of the group – Takao, Max, and Rei.  Somehow it hadn’t surprised her that they had remained as close as (if not closer than) they had been in high school.  And since she pretty much went where Kenny did, she ended up being absorbed into the group of friends by default.  Yet it felt as if she’d always been part of it.

            One thing that did surprise her was that Kai didn’t seem to be included in their world anymore.  They hardly spoke of him, and if one of the did mention him, it was never when Takao was around.  She hadn’t thought much of it – until she had (since she didn’t know any better) mentioned his name during a conversation about high school and gotten three separate death glares, while Takao suddenly remembered he had to be somewhere else, hurrying away without even finishing his meal.

            Aware she’d obviously inadvertently said something wrong, she had inquired about it and apologized profusely.  It had been Rei, with a heavy sigh, who had said simply, “Kai is gone.  Of all of us, it was Takao who was…closest to him.  We don’t speak of him around Takao because of that.  It’s not your fault, Hilary.  You couldn’t have known.”

            Lesson learned, she had never mentioned Kai again.

            And then one day only a few months ago, Takao’s older brother, Hiroshi, and their father had gone missing.  The police searched, investigated, abut found nothing.  Takao’s grandfather, the wily old Kinomiya, had only just passed away quietly in his sleep (though in the hospital at the time after he’d suffered an accident at home) a couple of months before this and Takao had come home to try and deal with the estate Gramps had left behind.

            At one point, an exhausted, haggard-looking Takao had dragged himself into Kenny’s office, and while Hilary would normally have been privy to Kenny’s cases and clients, this time she was shut out of the hours-long conversation that went on behind a closed and locked door.  When the bluenette had finally re-emerged, Kenny told her only that they would be handling the Kinomiya estate and that under no circumstances was she to go into Takao’s own files (since he already handled both Takao’s personal affairs and the affairs of Takao and Max’s art and antiquities business).  It was odd, but she had obeyed.

            Months passed.  Takao’s remaining family members were never found.  And then bluenette moved to Europe, saying he needed a change of pace and it just made more sense to be closer to where the business got its stock of art and antiques from.  “What about your father and brother?”  She had asked.  His face had become carefully neutral at the question, and his eyes told her nothing.  In reply he’d said only that the police were still investigating, and that neither his father or brother would want him to waste his life.  Of course he still hoped they would be found or come home, but he couldn’t sit around and wait any longer.

            Still, Hilary had wondered where this coldness in the bluenette had come from.  Stress, worry for his family, and all that aside, she still thought he wasn’t behaving as how the Takao she’d come to know well should have behaved.  The warmth of his eyes had disappeared.  His voice was devoid of emotion – even though his tone hadn’t changed when he spoke.  The openness he’d once shown everyone and anyone had abruptly closed off.  All Hilary knew was that something was going on, and Kenny knew what it was.

            However, she refused to pry.  She could see that whatever it was, it was big, and very important.  No matter how much she wanted to know what was going on and wanted to help, she never asked questions when Kenny made odd requests for information that had nothing to do with…anything, really.  She simply did the research and turned over the results.

            And behind the scenes, she did he r best to take care of them both.

             Now, here she was in Paris at a UNA facility, still in the dark about what exactly was going on.  It was apparent that Max now knew the entire situation (and no doubt his mother did, too), and that Takao had been involved this whole time in something illegal – but completely against his will.  Hilary’s curiosity was soon going to be satisfied, she knew.  And that thought gave her the much needed patience to just sit back and wait for it.

            In the meantime, she had tea to fetch for the group.  Striding into the café, she went up to the counter to place her order.  A green-haired young man in a pristine white chef’s uniform took her order with a charming smile and only slightly accented English.

            While she waited, Hilary sat at a table nearby and frowned as she thought back to their arrival at the UNA.  The guards wouldn’t let them through for some reason, and Kenny had – in an uncharacteristically commanding way – stepped forward and said, “Call Agent Hiwatari and tell him I and my assistants are here.  Let him vouch for us.”

            Hilary had just barely managed to stifle a startled squeak at Kenny’s use of that name.  The guards obviously knew who the young lawyer was talking about because they looked at each other, paling, and without another word called for instructions from upstairs.

            Kai had appeared moments later to escort them inside.  He hadn’t changed much, from what she could see.  His hair was perhaps a bit thicker and wilder than it had been, and he was a little taller and leaner muscled than she remembered.  But he still had that aura of silent authority, that seeming impassiveness toward his surroundings, and the cool, unapproachable personality he’d always had.  And his eyes definitely hadn’t changed.  They still burned crimson and his gaze still scorched.

            The dual-haired agent had stopped in front of Kenny and there had appeared to be some kind of silent communication going on for a moment as they stared at each other unflinchingly.  Then that fiery gaze swept over the rest of them briefly – widening only a little as they passed over Max (who glared back and remained silent) – before returning to the Chief.

            “Kenny.”  He had said in greeting, voice grave and low.

            “Hiwatari.”  Kenny had returned.  “Where is my client?”

            “Medical floor.  The doctor has checked him out and he’s fine now, except for that ulcer which Dr. Maison is treating.  When she gives the all-clear, I will take you up there.”

            “Thank you.”  Kenny had acknowledged in a somewhat shaken voice.  He hadn’t expecting that news, obviously.  Kai had merely nodded before moving on.

            “Who are they?”

            “Oh.  Ah…Hilary is my paralegal, secretary, and personal assistant.”  Kenny, Hilary remembered with a large sweatdrop, had floundered for explanations – but he wasn’t a genius for nothing.  “Uh…Max is…articling under me, and…”

            “And?”  Kai’s voice turned dry and amused.

            “Judy is…a colleague of mine who specializes in…” the brunette had thought so quickly Hilary wondered how anyone ever managed to keep up to him.  “…uh, international law, of which I know little, and requested her assistance.”

            For a moment of tense silence, Kai had said nothing, looking each of them over again, then meeting Kenny’s gaze with a tiny, imperceptible smile.

            “Your client is in deep water and sinking fast.”  The agent had finally said.  “He needs all the help he can get.”  He’d then turned and beckoned them to follow him, not waiting to see if they would or not.

            On their way through the halls, Kai had gotten a quick phone call on his cell.  When he had hung up, he stated only, “You’re all cleared to see Kinomiya now.” and taken them to an elevator.  It had been the first and only time he’d said Takao’s name.

            But it was his final parting words that had made Hilary even more positive something more was happening between the group of friends.  Kai’s words, Max’s frown at them, and Kenny’s suddenly thoughtful gaze as the elevator door closed between them and Kai had had Hilary suspecting the truth between the lines of what he had said.

            “Your client is fortunate to have you at his side.  Take care of him and good luck.”

            Shaking herself out of her thoughts, Hilary brushed her hair over her shoulder and scowled to herself.  It really irked her sometimes hat those boys seemed to have this way of communicating with each other and understanding it without anyone else knowing it.  They could say one thing and be saying something else entirely, or conveying their thoughts and opinions with merely a look or a single noises that could mean anything (Kai’s ‘hn.’ of seeming indifference came to mind immediately).  It just baffled her.

            She blinked and looked up to meet winter-blue, wolfish eyes as a voice broke through to her whirling, jet-lagged mind.

            “Whatever you’re scowling about, I hope it isn’t permanent.  You’re much too pretty to be so angry.”

            It was the agent who had let them into Takao’s room earlier.  She didn’t know his name, and she hadn’t really had a chance to get a good look at him before, but it didn’t seem to matter right then as he sat down across the table from her and gave her an easy grin.

            “Ah…are you always this forward?”  She wondered, staring at him and not quite knowing what to do or say.  He was certainly not shy, and his movements had an easy – if predatory – grace to them.  His hair was very red and thick, and his eyes – those surreal blue eyes – were fixed on her with an intelligence she’d say wasn’t all human.  His voice was open and friendly.

            “Forward?  I don’t think I’m being ‘forward.’  I merely sought to distract a pretty young woman from whatever it is that’s making her frown like that.”  The agent replied, slender fingers tapping absently on the tabletop.  “I’m sorry if you didn’t want to be distracted…”

            Hilary rolled her eyes.  He was blatantly flirting, and yet it didn’t seem to bother her as it usually did when men sought her attention.  Shrugging it off as some random thing, she smiled politely and shook her head.

            “It was nothing.”

            “Good!  I’d have hated to start off on such a dubious note.”  The redhead held out a hand across the table.  “Agent Tala Ivanov, at your service.  You were with the lawyer, correct?  The one here for Kinomiya?”

            Immediately sliding into a professional, neutral expression and tone, Hilary cautiously shook his hand.  “That’s correct.  Hilary Tatibana.  Nice to meet you, Agent Ivanov.”

            He raised an eyebrow amusedly.  “No need for formality.  Please call me Tala.”

            Hilary, still smiling politely, just nodded, intending to do no such thing.  Over Tala’s shoulder, she could see the café doors open and a familiar dual-haired UNA agent enter.  Kai glanced around and spotted her – she assumed at first.  Then she realized it was Tala he was looking at when an expression of disbelief, followed by consternation, fell across his face. He stalked toward them and Hilary had difficulty hiding a giggle when Kai stopped behind Tala and thwacked him across the back of the head.

            “Ow!  Damn it, Hiwatari!”  The red head snarled, giving the other agent a glare that rivaled any of Kai’s that Hilary could remember.  “What was that for?!”

            “Leave the nice paralegal alone, wolf, and go fetch supper.”  Kai pointed at the counter, unfazed by Tala’s glare.  “In case you’ve forgotten, we have an appointment in less than two hours, and we have things to do before then?”

            “I haven’t forgotten, and we have plenty of time.”  Tala, stubborn as usual, stayed where he was.  After shooting Kai another glare, he turned another engaging smile on Hilary.  “Forgive my partner’s lack of…well, anything.  He’s no fun.”

            “Tala, quit fraternizing with the enemy.”  Kai demanded, switching to Russian.  “Put your damned hormones on hold.”

            “Since my partner is so impatient, I’m afraid I have to leave you for now.”  Tala stood just as the green-haired man came up to the table pushing a cart laden with tea and small, delicate French pastries on a platter.

            “Here you are, Mademoiselle.”  He smiled at Hilary and allowed her to take the cart from him.  “When you are done with the cart, simply leave it out side the room and I will have someone retrieve it.”

            “Of course.  Thank you very much.”  Hilary nodded at them.  “It was nice meeting you, Agents.”  She added, before wheeling the cart away.  As she left, she heard Kai ask in a weary voice, “Oliver, please say you still have some of that coffee of yours made…”

~*~*~*~*~

            After the door had closed behind the brunette female, and Oliver had disappeared into his kitchens to find Kai a thermos full of coffee, the dual-haired agent rounded on his partner in exasperation.

            “What the hell was that all about?!  Are you trying to compromise the case?”

            Tala gave him a baleful glare and stuck his nose in the air, sniffing.  “Whatever, Hiwatari.  I’ll thank you not to question my integrity like that ever again.”

            Kai scowled and subsided a little.  “I’m not questioning any such thing, Tal.  You know that.”

            “Really.  ‘Cause it sure sounds like it to me.”  Tala looked back at the other man with a frown.  “Forget it, Kai.  I know.  I was just introducing myself and trying to cheer her up.  She looked really upset and worried about something.”

            “Just…be careful.  We’re stepping on thin ice with this case as it is.  I don’t want to risk getting thrown off, that’s all.”  Kai looked down at his hands.

            The wolf sighed.  “I said I know.  In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve developed a small attachment to this one myself.  It’s eating you up inside to be involved, and I don’t like that.  I wish it could have been anyone else other than him, Kai.  I really do.”

            “So do I, Tala.”  Kai closed his eyes and shivered.  He was tired and emotionally drained.  Trying to push aside reality for the moment, he opened his eyes again and pinned his partner with his ‘interrogation gaze,’ as Tala often called it.  “You immediately zoned in on the female of the group.  You really are a wolf.”

            “Um, duh.”  Came the ultra-sarcastic reply.  Ice blue eyes didn’t flinch away.  Kai’s gaze didn’t affect him anymore.

            “So are you really interested or are you just being you?”  Kai wondered.

            Tala shrugged.  “She’s interesting.  Feisty, too.  I can sense that already.  Besides which, she’s a cutie.”

            “Gods you’re pathetic.  Go get laid tonight, why don’t you?”

            “Shut up, Hiwatari.”

            Good naturedly, and happy to be back into their usual, bickering friendship, Kai flipped him off with a small grin.

~*~*~*~*~

            Back upstairs, after stopping at the nurses’ station to ask one of them to open the door to Takao’s room for her, Hilary wheeled the tea cart inside with a smile.

            “Tea for everyone!”  She declared cheerfully, beginning to pour it out for each o them.  “And pastries, too!”

            “I can’t have the pastries, but tea sounds great.”  Takao thanked her, accepting his cupful gratefully.

            “Oh!  I’m sorry, Takao.  I forgot.  Do you want me to go find something else?”  She offered.  He shook his head.

            “No, Hilary.  It’s okay.  I’m not really hungry, actually.”

            “Well, I guess we should talk about what you’re going to say, Takao, in your statement.”  Kenny spoke up thoughtfully.  “Since you’ve already confessed that you did it, it is going to be very difficult to…”

            “I’m telling them everything.”  The bluenette interrupted.  “Everything except where I’m storing the items.  They are my trump card for everything.”

            “But…I really don’t think it’s wise to just…” Kenny protested.

            “No.  I’m not going to lie or leave any convenient information out.”  Takao said emphatically.  His hand tightened around his teacup and he stared into its depths as if all the answers to his troubles could be seen there.  “I can’t.  Not to Kai.”

            “It wouldn’t be like that.”  Max tried to convince his friend to listen to Kenny.  “You would tell them all of it eventually.  It’s just that if you withhold enough information you may be able to work out some kind of a deal to get out of here long enough to finish this and get your father and Hiroshi back.”

            Hilary’s eyes went wide.  So there had been more going on, after all.

            “Director Dickenson has already heard my offer of a deal.”  Takao murmured softly, wincing at the expression on Kenny’s face.  “I know, Chief, I know.  But I’ve been thinking, and I think I have a plan that will work for everyone involved.”

            “And what, pray tell, would that be?”  Kenny asked sarcastically, very put out with his friend.  “And what the heck do you need me for anyway if you’ve got it all figured out.”

            “I’ll talk about it once I get my answer from the Director.”  Takao gave Kenny a pleading look.  “Please, Chief…you’ve trusted me this long.  Don’t stop now.”

            Kenny sighed and slumped back in his chair.  “Fine.  We’ll do it your way.  Is there anything else you’ve neglected to tell me?”

            “No.  Honest.”  The bluenette looked at Judy.  “I…I know I’ve screwed up, Judy, but…I want you to know it means a lot to me that you’re here.”

            “Takao, you silly boy.”  She smiled fondly at him with that mothering expression of exasperation and resigned disapproval.  “You have always done things your own way, always taken everything upon yourself even when you could have used a little help.  It’s true this time is infinitely more serious and you could truly mess up your life with how you’ve done things, but I know you.  And I was there yesterday when Kenny came  by Max’s to tell him what was going on, so I know what kind of trouble you’re facing.”  Judy reached over from her seat and took his hand.  “You are strong, resourceful, and intelligent.  Whatever you’re planning, I know it will work out.”

            “Thank you.”  Takao squeezed her hand, sniffling.

            “You’re welcome.  Now…” Judy released his hand and fixed a questioning gaze on him.  “What kind of deal did you offer the Director?”

            “It’s simple.  I will tell him what I know, except the location of the items I…uh…borrowed,” Takao hedged, “And if, after hearing my story, he believes me enough, then I will be released on the contingency that I deliver the real criminal to the UNA for trial and then return everything I…borrowed.”  He scratched his head sheepishly.  “Um, details to be hammered out once he’s heard what I have to say, with my legal counsel present.”

            Poor Kenny looked as if he was ready to keel over from the shock.  Hilary fanned him with a paper plate, sighing.

            “I see.  Very well.  Let me think on it, Takao.  When it comes time to deal, I will try to work something out on your behalf – if Kenny doesn’t mind my assistance?”  Judy glanced at him.

            “Oh, please do.  I just can’t keep up with him anymore.”  Kenny grabbed the plate from Hilary and fanned himself with a groan.  “I give up trying.”

            Max laughed, and Takao pulled the brunette into a one-armed hug, ruffling his hair fondly.

            “You’re a saint, Chief, for putting up with me for this long.”

            “Yeah, yeah!  Cut it out, Takao!  AH!  My hair!”

            Hilary giggled, grinning at the three friends.  Takao seemed to be somewhat lighter and relieved than he head been.  And she was glad.  No one, in her opinion – especially a bright, courageous soul such as Takao’s – should ever be burdened so much by life that it weighed them down and dimmed that spirit from sharing its warmth and light.

            Still chuckling, Max pried Kenny away from Takao’s attacks and flopped down in a chair next to the bed.  “Alright.  The suspense is killing me.  Spill it, Takao.”

            Confused, the bluenette tilted his head in inquiry.  “Huh?”

            “Dish the dirt, dude.  What’s up with you and he-whom-shall-never-be-mentioned?”

            Blinking, it took Takao a minute to puzzle that one out.  “Oh!  Kai!”  He finally exclaimed in realization.

            Then he turned red, blushing like a love-struck school-girl.

            Hilary choked on her tea.  “Say what?!”

            “Max, what is this?  Junior high school?”  Takao grumbled.  The blonde just laughed gleefully.

            “In all seriousness, Takao, what did happen with Kai?”  Kenny asked tossing a pillow at Max.  “Shut up, Mizuhara!  I’m serious!”

            “I did promise to tell you, didn’t I?”  Takao, still a little pink, wrung the sheet of his bed in his hands, slightly embarrassed.

            Max hugged the pillow, leaning forward with great interest, and blue-green eyes gleaming with glee.  “Do tell!”

            Judy rolled her eyes, setting her teacup back on the cart.  “I’m going to go up and speak to Mr. Dickenson, kids.  I’ll meet you at the briefing, okay?”  Leaving them to their discussion, Max’s mother walked out quietly.

            Hilary grabbed the vacated chair and pulled it over, closer to the bed, eagerly.  The three males blinked at her.  “What?  I’m dying to know what’s going on!”

            “You mean…no one told you?”  Takao said in surprise.  “You guys didn’t tell her?”  He gave the two young men disbelieving looks of reproach.

            “No.  Why would we?”  Max frowned.

            “Because she’s our friend, baka.”  Takao gave her an apologetic look.  “I’m sorry, Hil.  I thought they’d have told you by now.”

            “It’s okay, Takao.  But please don’t keep me in suspense now!”  Hilary waved away the apology.

            “Ah, well…”  The whole story came flooding out, beginning years ago in high school with Takao’s poor math grades and Kai’s suffering literature grades.  Hilary listened with wide, sparkling, honey-brown eyes, leaning forward as she listened.  It was all like some horribly clichéd romance novel or one of those bad soap operas on TV that the other secretaries and assistants at the law firm were always gushing over.  By the time Takao reached the end, about how Kai had seemed to simply disappear, Hilary had tears in her eyes and she was sniffling.

            “And now you’ve run into him again?  Oh…” She dug into her purse for tissues.  “What happened when you found him again?”

            Takao sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I punched him.”

            “So that’s where that bruise came from.”  Max blinked, grinning.  “I should have known.”  Kenny just sighed and shook his head.

            “And you said you had talked about what he’d done…” the lawyer prompted, hoping to get the bluenette to continue.

            “Oh.  Yeah.”  Takao smiled faintly at the memory, and gave them the short version.

            Just as he was finishing, and before anyone could open their mouths to ask any other questions, the door opened and the UNA agent in question stood there himself.  Kai blinked and raised an eyebrow as the other occupants of the room – minus Takao – stared at him with sly, amused, and curious expressions.

            “What?”  He demanded, a small swath of red sweeping over his cheeks at the stares.

            “Nothing.  Nothing at all.”  Kenny shook his head.

            Takao met crimson, carefully neutral eyes as they landed on him with his own stormy blue ones, tensing up involuntarily.

            “It’s time.  Let’s go, Kinomiya.”

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

Chapter 08: Honour Among Thieves – Part II

            The silence in the room was so thick, one could have sliced it up into sections and served it on a plate.  But for the ticking of the clock on the wall, the barely audible breathing of the people in the room, and the soft shuffling of papers, it was quiet.  Too quiet.  The kind of quiet that weighed heavily on Takao’s nerves and made him fidget in his seat.

            He sat in a conference room at one end of a long table, Kenny and Hilary on his right, Max and Judy on his left.  At the opposite end of the table sat Director Dickenson, with Kai on his left and Tala on his right.  Dr. Angelique Maison was also in attendance, standing near the Director with Takao’s medical file tucked under her arm.

            Takao stared at his hands on the tabletop, fingers linked tightly to keep them from any restless movements that would betray how insecure and nervous he was at that moment.  He felt very out of place sitting among everyone with their business-like appearances, and semi-formal attire.  The bluenette was still only in his cotton pyjamas, consisting of a long sleeved, buttoned shirt and drawstring jogging pants.  At least he still had his shoes on, though.

            Director Dickenson’s voice startled him out of his reverie and broke the deep silence effectively, making Takao jump slightly.

            “Alright.  Let’s get started.  For the record, Dr. Angelique Maison will giver her opinion of one, Kinomiya Takao of Japan, and the state of his health.”

            The doctor cleared her throat and stepped forward, placing the file on the table at the Director’s elbow.  “As Mr. Kinomiya’s physician in the past few days, I have had the opportunity to examine and treat him for what I have concluded is an ulcer, most probably brought on by poor diet, lack of beneficial sleep, and extreme stress.  The other tests I conducted were to rule out the possibility of some malfunction of his unique talent to manipulate electricity.  Such unique individuals have been known at times to develop health problems due to their abilities, as their bodies are unused to dealing with the extra stress on them.  Mr. Kinomiya, however, is quite lucky to not be one of those.”

            “Thank you, Dr. Maison.”   Director Dickenson nodded.  “And your opinion of his health at this time?”

            “He is capable of participating in this…interview.  However, had this not been insisted upon as necessary,” she gave the two UNA agents and the Director a disgruntled glare.  “I would have preferred that Mr. Kinomiya had at least one week of bed-rest with no stressful situations or discussions.  His condition remains stable, treatable, and manageable, but he is nearing his body’s limit to just how much it can stand.”  Angelique planted her hands on her hips and gave everyone in the room a solid stare.  “That said, I strongly advise that, if this interview should take a while, breaks be taken and he is given a chance to relax and have something to drink, maybe even eat.”

            Takao sighed and looked dolefully at the tabletop.  Just another reason he avoided doctors and hospitals as much as he could – they all thought they knew his body better than he did.

            “We will keep that in mind, Doctor.”  Director Dickenson agreed.  With a final nod, Angelique walked briskly out.  “Now, Agent Hiwatari, please state the charges that we are here to discuss.”

            Kai looked like he’d much rather be elsewhere, thank you, but stood and pulled a paper from the case-file he had on the table in front of him.  In a voice as neutral as he could make it, he proceeded to read off the long list of laws his former boyfriend had already confessed to breaking.

            He would never admit that each one caused a pang in his chest – it physically hurt Kai to voice each one.

            It was the same for the bluenette.  Each crime and offence listed, in Kai’s semi-monotonous voice, was a blow to both his heart and his conscious.  By the time Kai came to the last one, trailing off in obvious relief and nearly collapsing back into his chair, Takao was gripping the arms of his chair so hard his knuckles were white.

            “Thank you, Agent.”  The old man reached out and pushed a button on the console of the recording system that sat on the table between them.  “Before we proceed, was there anything that anyone wanted to say off the record?”

            Takao shook his head.  He’d have his say – but only on record.  Kenny and Hilary shook their heads, too, since they would have their as the bluenette’s legal counsel.  Max didn’t say anything either, simply reaching over to pry Takao’s fingers loose from the chair arm and pat his hand reassuringly.

            Judy remained silent also – for now.  She had already spoken to Director Dickenson about her presence and her opinion of the evidence that had been gathered.

            Surprisingly, it was Tala who leaned forward and spoke up.  “I do.”

            Everyone looked at him in question, and the Director waved a hand, indicating for him to continue.

            “I release that any unique talents I possess, being part wolf as I am, are far from admissible evidence – for the defence or prosecution for the case.  I only recognized Kinomiya as the thief we were looking for by his scent, after all, and while I know the difference between one person and another by scent alone, others usually do not.”  Tala shrugged.  “But that’s not what I wanted to say.”

            “You are unusually long-winded Ivanov.  Get to it, already.”  Kai scowled in impatience, and Tala just stared back impassively.

            “It’s my opinion that he’s been telling the truth – so far as events have proven, at least.  There is definitely something bigger – more – going on than just your average (though unique) string of thefts.  Kinomiya is being followed, and it does seem that there is someone else pulling the strings.”  Tala folded his arms on the table top and looked down the expanse of it at the bluenette.  “I believe him.  And if he is being blackmailed with the lives of his family as he says, then I want the blackmailer.”  Ice-blue wolf eyes sharpened and glinted.  “I will hunt him down and throw his ass in prison.”

            Takao gaped in shock.  He was not expecting support like that so quickly and easily from Kai’s formidable partner – even though, he was sure, it probably hadn’t been easy for Tala.

            Director Dickenson coughed and gave his agent a mild frown.  “Alright, Agent Ivanov.  Duly noted.  Anyone else?”

            Kai, who had been staring at the open case-file in silence, glanced down the table at his only love.  “What the wolf said.  Only it’s a promise.”  His crimson eyes flared slightly and met stormy blue-grey solidly.

            Takao gave him a short nod, expression grim.  He heard what Kai wasn’t saying aloud; no matter what the Director decided, Kai was going to help the bluenette in anyway he could, despite what could happen to himself.

            “Well, it’s nice that the two of you have such instincts and believe you can afford to indulge in getting emotionally entangled in this case,” the old man frowned at the two agents in reproach.  “But I can’t afford such a luxury.  I must have some concrete proof upon which to base my decision, even if I, personally, would agree.  That is what we are here for – to get Mr. Kinomiya’s statement and use it to try and find some of that proof.”

            Sniffling a bit, and rubbing his eyes wearily, Takao graced the room with a smile that was a shadowed hint of the smile he’d once worn all the time.

            “Thank you, sir.  Even being willing to listen to me is more than I had ever hoped for.”

            “I abhor injustice, Mr. Kinomiya, and everything about this case lights up all kinds of warning bells.”  Director Dickenson waved the gratitude aside.  “Moving on, as we don’t all want to be here all night, I welcome my North American counterpart, Director Judy Tate, to this interview.”

            Kai (and Tala) started and stared at Max’s mother in surprise.  “Say what?  I knew she was your mother, Max, but…a UNA Director?”  Kai’s gaze flicked back and forth between the two blondes and Takao.

            “Eh heh…well, when Kenny came over to tell me what was happening, Mom was on vacation, visiting me in Japan.  And when she heard the story, she insisted on coming along, so…” Max grinned disarmingly.  “I can hardly tell my mother ‘no’ can I?”

            “I am not here to influence UNA policy, just to support and counsel my son’s best friend and a young man whom I have grown to admire and respect.  Nothing more.”  Judy squeezed Max’s shoulder.

            “Of course you aren’t.”  Director Dickenson reached for the console again.  “Was there anything further?”  At everyone’s silence, he nodded and said, “Alright then, Mr. Kinomiya.  Let’s begin.”  He turned on the recorder once more.

            Takao took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and began his sad and sorry tale in a steady voice.

~*~*~*~*~

            “It started, I guess, a few years ago.  Max and I had only been in business for…three or four years.  By that time we had already expanded a great deal, and I had been spending more and more time away from home – mostly in Europe, though occasionally I went to places like India, Australia, and even South America once or twice.  My Dad, and usually my older brother, Hiro, were gone most of the time also.  Hiro had finished his Masters degree in archaeology by then, and he went on digs with our dad all the time.  He was just starting work on his PhD.

            “Anyway, since we were all off running around the globe, that left my grandfather home by himself a lot.  He had always been so healthy and, uh, energetic,” Takao sweatdropped and Max, Kenny, and Hilary smiled at their memories of Gramps.  Kai just rolled his eyes.  “…that we didn’t really think much about how often he was alone.  We also trusted him to tell us if he wasn’t feeling well or needed help around the dojo or something.  In retrospect, we should have known better.”  The bluenette sighed, looking down cast.  “Gramps was a proud man – with good reason, I suppose.  And even at the end of his life he never considered himself ‘old.’  He always used to thwack me with his training sword if I used that term to describe him.

            “But he was getting up there in years, and I wish I’d paid more attention to things then.  It was my responsibility, after all, to look after the dojo, and Gramps, and…hell my whole family, really.”  Takao said, his voice tinged with regret and bitterness.  “I did notice the odd strange thing Gramps would do, but I just shrugged those off as Gramps being Gramps.  You see, he began to forget things – just little things, and only once in a while.  Stuff like training appointments with his kendo students, watering his bonsai trees, making himself dinner…that kind of thing.  I don’t think Dad or Hiro noticed anything either because it all seemed like a pretty big shock to them when they found out, too.”  Takao stopped, staring at the table top with a small sigh.

            “Business began to pick up, and it became more practical for me to live part of the year – at least – here in Europe, rather than always flying back and forth and all the expenses we’d incur with hotels and stuff.  I talked it over with my family, and Gramps was adamant that everything was fine, that he could handle it all on his own.  So Dad and Hiro went off to Central America to dig up some Mayan ruins, and I went to Belgium.  I didn’t stay there long, though, and ended up here in Paris.  We – Max and I – also began leasing the business suite at that hotel in London, and I divided my time between the two.

            “But while I was gone, Gramps’ memory loss got worse.  I didn’t know about it until he was already gone, but he had stopped taking on students and giving lessons.  And without the income from that, he was having a hard time keeping up the dojo and the house.  So he acquired a mortgage and used the money to hire various contractors and such to make repairs and bring certain things up to code – like the faulty electrical system in the place.

            “A few months later, and he’d forgotten about the mortgage.”  Takao’s hands clenched tightly, remembering what the lawyer had told him, Hiro, and their father shortly after Gramps’ funeral.  “So when the bank came around wanting payment, Gramps was confused and extremely embarrassed.  But somehow he managed to work out something that kept them off his back for a little longer.  I found out later that he’d sold the only truck he’d ever owned – and he got ripped off on that, by the way.  He used that money to make payment.  And that’s pretty much how it continued until I cam home almost seven months later.”  The bluenette paused, swallowing hard and glancing at Hilary.  “Hil, could you get me a glass of water, please?”

            “Of course.”  The brunette quietly rose and went to a sideboard to pour a glass of water for him from the pitcher that had been set there.  She came back and set it in front of him.  “There you go.”

            Takao sipped gratefully and thanked her.  “Thanks, Hil.”  After drinking half the glass, he set it aside and gathered his thoughts to continue.

            “I was in London when I got the phone call from my Dad. He told me to come home because Gramps was in the hospital and it didn’t look like he’d last much longer.”  Tears pricked his eyes and he stared blankly at the far wall behind Director Dickenson.  “I got on the next plane I could get, but I still got back too late.  He had passed away before I had the chance to see him and say goodbye.”

            Kenny, prepared as always, pulled out a small box of tissues from his briefcase and gave them to Takao. Grabbing a couple, Takao sniffled and blew his nose, composing himself.

            “Thank you, Chief.”  He took a steadying breath and kept on talking.  He wanted to get this out and over with.  “Hiro told me what had happened when I got to the dojo.  I’d already noticed how badly the place had gotten run down.  Floorboards needed replacing, there were shingles that were falling off the roof, the windows were cracked and even some of the boards of the walkway outside that goes all around the entire building were warped, broken, or just plain missing.  I didn’t know what to think, already upset at losing Gramps but now feeling mega-guilty on top of it.

            “See, the contractors Gramps had hired before hadn’t done very good work.  And Gramps…well, he forgot he’d hired someone to do repairs once already.  Hiro told me that there was a stack of letters in the kitchen on the counter from the bank.  I went through them and discovered Gramps had taken a second mortgage – this time on the land itself.  I didn’t know about the first mortgage on the dojo and house until the lawyer told me after Gramps’ funeral.”  Takao took another fortifying sip of water.  “Dad and Hiro had no idea about it either.  And since Gramps had left it all to me – which we’d all known and agreed on a long time ago – he had also left me holding the bag, as it were.

            “Dad and Hiro wanted to help.  And between the three of us, we managed to pay off most of the second mortgage on the land with what little savings we had.  My father gets paid fairly well for his field work, but Hiro doesn’t get much at all, being a student and a junior archaeologist still.  And I didn’t have very much of my own left after university and then what I’d funnelled into the business.  Most of what I made there went right back into it.”  Takao sighed and brushed hair out of his face.  “Gramps hadn’t left us with much to sell off, either.  Most of the furniture was gone, except for a few bare necessities – and my own room.  I guess Gramps didn’t feel good about selling my bedroom furniture or something.  Hiro and Dad didn’t have anything, really.  Their person al belongings were all boxed up and in the storage room for safe keeping.  They tend to live out of their luggage.”

            As Takao talked, Kai found it extremely difficult not to get up, go over and wrap his arms around his lover.  He couldn’t believe how much the bluenette had gone through in these last few years – alone, for the most part – and he wanted so much to be able to hold Takao and assure hi that everything would be all right.  That Kai would make it all right, no matter what.  It was making his chest ache to sit there neutrally and listen to the fatigue, sorrow, guilt, and anguish in Takao’s voice.  It was then Kai knew – without a shadow of doubt – that he still loved Takao enough to throw away everything else for the chance to be with him.

            If it meant quitting the UNA and going into hiding with his one and only love, then so be it.  But first they had to see how everything else turned out.  Until then however, his mind began to plan and scheme.

            “So what happened to your grandfather that landed him in the hospital?”  Tala asked.  Kai blinked and put aside his ideas in favour of hearing the rest of Takao’s story.

            “Gramps foolishly tried fixing a loose shingle himself.  He set the ladder on a not-so-stable part of the walkway, and climbed up on it – but the ladder fell through the rotted boards and he fell off.  He hit his head, broke his leg and hip, and wasn’t found for a couple of hours.  It was one of our neighbours who found him and called 911.  She’s a middle-aged lady who used to play Go and chess with Gramps, and she’d started bringing him home-cooked meals every now and then.”  Takao frowned at the nearly empty glass of water in front of him.  “The hospital somehow managed to get a hold of my Dad through the bad connections and long distance to somewhere in the Yucatan via satellite phone.  Dad and Hiro came home immediately but I couldn’t seem to get there in time.

            “So, like I said, we paid off most of one mortgage.  But we still had the rest of it, and all of the other, to deal with.  Dad even managed through his connections to museums and universities all over Japan, to get a small grant to pay for the most dire of the repairs that were needed to make the house, at least, liveable again.”

            “How?  I mean, a grant?”  Tala interrupted.  “They don’t give out personal grants like that.”

            “No.  It was because our family has owned that land for centuries, right back to feudal times.  And the dojo, if not the house, also, is a historical building.  Except for the addition of water, sewer, and electricity, the place hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.  It’s the only thing saving my ancestral lands and home from being repossessed by the bank and sold off to some developer.”  Takao scowled at the very thought.  “And even with that grant, there’s still so much that needs fixing our outright replacing.

            “Dad came to the conclusion that until the mortgages were paid off, it would be best if he retired from active field work.  So he took a position at the university in Bay City – as a professor.  He actually gets paid better there than he did for field work.”  Takao leaned back in his chair wearily.  “Hiro still had  to keep going, though, since he was still working on his doctorate.  And as for me, I went back to Paris to pick up business where I’d left off.  Any extra money I made, I sent home to Dad for the mortgages.”

            At that point, Kenny reached over and laid a hand on Takao’s forearm, halting his tale.  “I think it’s time for a small break.  My client could use a few minutes to relax and I’m sure everyone could stand some tea or coffee.”

            “I’m fine, Kenny.”  Takao protested.  He was summarily ignored of course.

            “Very well.  We will take fifteen to twenty minutes to allow him to recuperate.”  Director Dickenson agreed, switching off the recorder.  “Agent Hiwatari, would you call down to Oliver and request some tea, coffee, and some sandwiches or something?”

            “Yes, sir.”  Kai, while not really wanting to leave, got up and reluctantly left the room.

            “Kenny, you’re all tense.  When will you learn to relax a little bit?”  Hilary scolded the petit brunette as he tried working out the kink in his neck.

            “I’m not tense.  I’m just  a little sore from sitting so long on the plane ride here.”  He said plaintively.  Takao and Max rolled their eyes and tuned them out, having heard them argue like siblings (with Hilary as the older sister) so many times before they could almost predict exactly what each would say next.

            “How are you really, Takao?”  Max asked quietly.  The bluenette shrugged and gave him a tiny smile.

            “Of course I’ve been better, Maxie.  But I’m okay.  It’s late, I’m emotional, and I’m tired, but I feel better than I did yesterday.”

            “Well, I’m glad.”  Max smiled back, though concern was still evident in his eyes.

            “Takao…” Director Dickenson came over, leaning on an ornate walking stick as he stopped beside Takao’s chair.  “When you were speaking of your father and brother, I couldn’t help having this nagging feeling that I should know them.”

            The bluenette blinked.  “Sir?  I couldn’t tell you.  I hardly know of everyone that they know.  I’m sure my Dad has made contacts with the UNA before, through work and stuff, though.”

            “Hmm…yes.”  The old man stroked his moustache thoughtfully.  “I saw in your file that you went to university in America, with Max, here.  Correct?”

            “Yes, sir.”  Takao eyed him questioningly.

            “And that you studied abroad under a western name rather than your given name.”

            “Yes…” Takao frowned in confusion.  Max piped up.

            “Oh!  I get it!  He thinks he knows your Dad and Hiro by their western names, Takao.”  The blonde declared, nodding sagely.  “In America, Takao adopted his dad’s western name as his own – Granger.  And I’m the one who dubbed him ‘Tyson’…”

            “Tyson Granger…Granger!”  The Director nodded and chuckled.  “Of course.  I have consulted with your father on many different occasions, young man.  I have never known him by ‘Kinomiya’ however, and so did not recognize it until now.”

            Shaking his head in disbelief, Takao couldn’t help smiling a little.  “Small world, sir.”

            “Indeed.  I must admit that I had heard a prominent Japanese archaeologist and his son had gone missing several months ago, but I didn’t really pay enough attention to have made the connection since it would have been handled by UNA Asia and perhaps by Director Judy’s North American UNA section.”

            “We received a memo about it, certainly.  But we had no evidence to suggest either had returned to the US or Canada since the last recorded date they’d flown back to Japan.”  Judy gave Takao an apologetic look.  “I didn’t want to say anything before because I had nothing to offer for hope – and I had hoped you would come to me on your own for help.”

            Takao sighed and ran a hand through his bangs, pushing the locks out of his eyes.  “I’m sorry, Judy.  I didn’t tell you or Max because I was so afraid that if I involved anyone else something bad would happen to them like it had my dad and brother.”

            “As I said before, you always try to take on the world by yourself and refuse help.”  Judy admonished lightly.  Takao looked abashed and sheepish at the same time.

            “Well, knowing what I do now,” Director Dickenson sighed.  “I am very eager to hear the rest of this story.  I’m anxious to find out what has happened to you and to someone I quite respect.”

            “You will, sir.”  Takao assured him.  “I want to get this all out and over with just as much.”

            Director Dickenson nodded and looked toward the conference room door as Kai returned, followed by a green-haired man in a chef’s uniform, pushing a tea cart.

            “Excellent, Oliver!  Thank you for going through this trouble before you left for the night.”  The old man greeted and thanked him, walking over.

            “It was no trouble, sir.”  Oliver smiled and pulled the cover off one of the trays to reveal small sandwiches, and another that had more of the little pastries Hilary had brought to Takao’s room, earlier.  “Please enjoy these little morsels, everyone, and do not worry about the cart.  One of my nit-staff shall remove it later.”

            “Thank you, Oliver.”  The Director thanked the chef once more as he was leaving.  “Now, everyone get yourself something teat and drink, and we will continue this interview shortly.”

            Takao eyed the cart with a small sigh.  He still wasn’t hungry, and he didn’t know if his stomach would accept anything stronger than water at that particular moment.

            “Can I bring you a sandwich, Takao?”  Hilary asked kindly, hovering at his elbow attentively.

            “Thanks, but no, Hil.  I don’t know if..” he began to reply but abruptly stopped when a plate with sandwiches was slid under his nose and a mug of steaming hot tea that smelled both mint-y and flowery at the same time was set in front of him.  He blinked at both for a moment then looked up to his other side to meet Kai’s crimson eyes, which were silently commanding him to eat or else.   “Uh…”

            “You need to eat something.  And the tea is a chamomile green tea that’s really light and easy on the stomach.”  Kai crossed his arms in a familiar, imperious stance, gazing down at the bluenette watchfully.

            Pouting, Takao grumbled.  “I’m not hungry, Kai, but thank you for the effort.”

            “Eat or I’ll have Dr. Maison hook you up to an IV for the night.”

            Takao’s gaze whipped up to stare at Kai in horror, his expression incredulous and his face paling considerably.  On this, however, Kai was not going to budge, despite the flash that he just barely caught in Takao’s stormy-blue eyes.

            “You wouldn’t.”

            “Is that rhetorical?”

            “You can’t!”

            “Don’t be stupid, Kinomiya.”

            “I hate needles!  Remember what happened last night?”

            “Eat and it won’t be an issue.”

            “But Kai-i…”

            “Kami.  Don’t whine either!”

            “I’m really not hungry, though…”

            “Tough.”  Unsympathetic (well, kind of), Kai pointed at the plate and issued a final command.  “Eat!”

            Without another word, Takao reluctantly picked up one of the little sandwiches and cautiously nibbled, watching his self-appointed meal enforcer out of the corner of his eye.

            Neither noticed that the rest of the room had gone silent and was watching them in amusement with strange expressions on their faces.

            Judy leaned over and whispered to her son, “Are they always like this?” she asked with barely contained laughter.  The blonde stifled a giggle of his own when Takao poked at a second sandwich unenthusiastically and Kai pinched him on the shoulder in warning, watching him like a hawk – or over him like a mother hen, depending on who’s point of view one considered it from.

            “They were in high school, yeah.”  Max managed to reply, swallowing down a chuckle.  “Sometimes the roles were reversed, though.”  He picked up a sandwich of his own and nibbled, frowning thoughtfully as he watched his best friend slowly eat a decent amount of food under Kai’s watchful supervision.  It wasn’t really Takao the blonde was considering, however.  It was Kai.  Even though he knew the whole tale, now, and had basically given the dual-haired man a second chance at making Takao happy, Max still had reservations and doubts – especially with Kai being the UNA agent he was and Takao’s position.  That Kai cared for the younger man’s health and well-being wasn’t in question.  He obviously loved Takao a great deal.  But how was he going to handle being, in essence, the enemy?  Would Kai risk it all and help Takao or would he hold his career and the UNA’s ethics above his love and his own morals and ethics?  Max didn’t know, and he was going to make very sure Kai didn’t ruin this last chance for happiness and life for Takao.

            As far as he was concerned, Kai was going to have to prove himself – and it wouldn’t be easy.

            Once Takao had consumed enough food to satisfy everyone (particularly his former lover), everyone returned to their seats with full mugs of coffee or cups of steaming tea, and Director Dickenson nodded at Takao once as he turned the recorder on again, signalling the time to continue.  Taking a deep breath to settle his nerves and the tiny ache of his stomach, Takao picked up where he left off.

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

Chapter 09: Honour Among Thieves – Part III

            “It happened about ten months ago.”  Takao began, fingers curling around his tea cup to absorb its warmth into his own body.  He could still feel the same chill spreading its icy tendrils through him as the one that had poured over him that afternoon he’d gotten the phone call that would change everything in his life.  “I was back in Japan, and so was Hiroshi.  My brother and  I had made an agreement when Gramps passed away that we would always come home to celebrate Gramps’ birthday with Dad.  It was supposed to be a reason for the last of our family to get together and spend time with each other – from no matter where on the planet we all may have been.  So Hiro and I came home the week before Gramps’ birthday and we made plans to make a small feast and invite our closest family friends to join in.”  Takao looked sideways at Max.  “Max had already left for America by then.  I think he’d been there for about two weeks already, or we would have invited him as well.  As it was,” Takao turned and glanced at Kenny and Hilary.  “We’d invited these two, and Kenny’s parents, and some people Dad knew.  Oh, and a few neighbours and a couple of Hiro’s friends he’d gone to school with.  Of course these people brought a date or whatever with them, so there were a few strangers in the group.  But everyone seemed so normal and happy that we’d never notice anything suspicious.” 

            “What happened?”  Director Dickenson asked gently when Takao seemed to fall silent and get lost in his memory.

            Takao shook himself and sighed.  “It all happened kind of fast.  Most people were gone.  It was getting late in the evening, and it was a Sunday.  Hilary had gone home, too, right Chief?”  Kenny nodded and Hilary frowned, trying to remember  the night herself.  “Yeah.  As far as I know Kenny was the only one still around.  He’d stayed to help us tidy up after the party.  I was also staying at his place for the week I was in Japan, since the house was in such bad shape, my old bedroom and Gramps’ room – now Dad’s – were the only two liveable bedrooms there were.  Hiro was staying in my room for the duration of his stay, which was going to be somewhat longer than my own.  I could have slept on the floor, I didn’t care, but my two elders ganged up on me and told me to find somewhere else where I’d at least get a decent night’s sleep.  So…Kenny’s apartment, on his pull-out bed sofa.

            “But anyway, Kenny and I finished cleaning and we said goodnight to Dad and Hiro and we left.”  Takao’s hands began to visibly shake and both Kenny and Max reached out and took one hand between their own, silently gripping and lending him their strength.  Swallowing, the bluenette continued in a rough voice tinged with the helplessness he’d felt then and still felt even now.  “I had this weird feeling as I walked away, and I kept thinking I’d forgotten something or that I was being watched.  But I shrugged it off.  I shouldn’t have.  I should have turned around and went back…I…”

            “Easy, Takao.”  Kenny squeezed his hand, interrupting.  “Breathe, now.”

            Takao closed his eyes for a minute.  When he opened them again, the stormy blue-grey of his eyes, normally so vivid and bright, had dulled and held a wealth of despair and self-flagellation.  “There was still some tidying to do so Kenny and I went back early the next morning.  When we got there, the main doors to the dojo – which Dad, Hiro, and I had boarded up to keep anyone from going inside where it was dangerous to walk, what with the holes in the floor-boards and the rotting ones, too – the main doors had been torn open, completely trashed, and there was no sign of my Dad or brother.

            “I freaked out.  Kenny had his hands full for a while until I had calmed enough to speak coherently and phone the police.  While we waited for them, we did a quick walk through the house to see if anything was missing other than my family.  Nothing in the house seemed to have been touched, which was odd, but in the dojo…” Takao trailed off, going pale and shaking with emotion.  “Dragoon.  They had taken my family’s sword.  It’s older than anything you can think of, and family legend is that a blue dragon named Dragoon once was saved by an ancestor however many centuries ago, and in gratitude the dragon chose to become the Kinomiya’s Guardian spirit.  Supposedly, to always watch over the head of the Clan, Dragoon sealed himself into my ancestors’ sword.  I don’t know why anyone would want to steal it.  It’s not useful, it isn’t really that pretty to look at since it’s so old it’s crumbling a little, and other than maybe its historical value, the only people it’s worth anything to is me and my family.  Gramps…” Takao choked back tears.  “Gramps left the dojo, the land, the house, and the sword to me.  I’m supposed to be the head of the family now, the protector and keeper of my ancestors’ home.  And now, not only have I lost the Dragoon sword, but I failed to protect my family and care for the lands generations of Kinomiyas have lived and died on!”

            Kai couldn’t take it anymore.  He reached out, turned off the recorder, and got up to move around the table to the distraught bluenette.  Swinging the chair around so that Takao faced Kai and gave his back to the room (a startled Max and worried Kenny being forced to release his hands), Kai crouched down and looked up into Takao’s eyes, overflowing with tears of shame, guilt, and deep, deep sadness.

            “Takao, you listen to me.”  He ordered, keeping his voice quiet and steady, though the steel in it was enough to scare the bluenette into confused attention.  “This is not your fault.  Things happen that are beyond our control sometimes, and no matter what sort of things we come up with that we could have, or should have, done or said that may have prevented something from happening, the fact remains that ‘what ifs’ get us no where.  There is no blame to be placed.  This is not your fault.”

            “I’m not placing blame!  Not on myself!  I didn’t steal the sword or kidnap my family!  But I ignored my intuition, and I have failed my responsibilities that Gramps trusted me with.  Me.  Not Dad, or Hiroshi.  Me!”

            Kai shook his head, eyes hard as he grabbed Takao’s shoulders and proceeded to try and knock some sense into him.  “You haven’t failed anyone, damn it!”

            “But…”

            “No!  Have you, or have you not been doing everything you can with the situation you face to get back the sword and your father and brother?”

            “Kai…”

            “Answer!”  Kai demanded sharply, not letting his lover say anything but a response to his question.

            “Yes.”  Takao whispered, staring down blindly at his knees while tears poured down his cheeks.

            “Haven’t you given up everything to try and save them?  Your reputation, your career, your happiness, even your personal honour?”  The younger man’s head whipped up and he glared, furious – just as Kai had intended with that question.  He didn’t really believe what he was saying, but it was getting results.

            “Yes!  Damn you, yes!  I’d do the same fucking thing all over again if I had to!”  Takao shouted, his chest heaving with emotion and his eyes suddenly shifting from dull to flashing rage.  “What are you trying to get at, Hiwatari?!”

            Relief rippled through him and Kai dropped his hands to rest on Takao’s knees as he sat back on his heels with a small smile.  There was the fighter he’d fallen in love with.  There was the never-give-up, risk-it-all spirit that had drawn him like a moth to a flame so many years ago.

            “Taka, my love, you’re going above and beyond the call of duty to your ancestors.  Gramps couldn’t be any prouder of you than I am, knowing what I do now.  And for the record, you still have your honour.  Ah!”  Kai held up a hand when Takao opened his mouth to refute that.  “Shut up.  Your honour, if anything, has probably become greater than it had been.  Had you bemoaned the situation, sat around doing nothing, and never done your best to try and get them back, then I think you’d have failed, and I would be supremely disappointed.”  He met Takao’s gaze and smirked, squeezing Takao’s knees affectionately.  “After all, the man I fell in love with is no coward.  He’s a warrior.  His heart is wider and more open than the skies, and out of all the other people on this planet that are far more worthy of him, he chose me.”

            By this time, they’d both forgotten everyone else in the room, and Takao’s eyes had gone wide.  He couldn’t believe that such…poetry had just poured out of Kai’s mouth.  Kai.  His lower lip quivered, and with a hoarse cry of the older man’s name, slipped out of the chair to throw himself into Kai’s arms, weeping uncontrollably.  Kai caught him and pulled him close, burying his face in Takao’s mass of midnight blue hair and wrapping his arms around him tightly.

            Takao clung to Kai, face buried in his shoulder as sobs wracked him.  He could hear Kai murmuring something into his hair, and although he didn’t quite hear the words, he recognized that they were meant to soothe and calm.  Added to that was the way Kai was slowly rubbing his back.  After several minutes, which felt like an eternity, his weeping subsided and Takao sucked in a few shuddering deep breaths, remaining slumped against his lover and not willing to move ever again.  He snuggled into Kai’s warmth with a sigh, one hand still clutching Kai’s shirt in a fistful, and eyes closed.

            He felt Kai’s lips brush across his forehead briefly before Kai spoke.

            “Taka?  Talk to me, please?”

            “I’m okay.  I’m sorry, Kai.”  Takao responded, somewhat embarrassed.

            “For what?”  Kai tipped up his face and gently wiped away the moisture still clinging to Takao’s cheeks from his tears.  “I’m glad you’re not trying to hold all that in any longer.  How’s your stomach, love?”

            Shrugging imperceptibly, Takao licked his lips and sighed.  “It’s burning a little, but it’ll go away.”

            “Can I take you to a washroom to wash your face and stuff?  You’ll feel better…”

            “Okay.”  Takao didn’t feel like arguing about anything anymore.  He was too tired.  Compliant, he let Kai help him to his feet, an arm encircling his waist to hold him upright.  Blinking the grit away in his eyes, Takao looked around.  “Hey…where’d everyone go?”

            “They probably went outside to give you a few minutes.”  Kai smiled a little and brushed a light kiss to Takao’s temple affectionately.  “Come on Kinomiya.  Let’s get you cleaned up.”

            “Wait…” Takao stopped him just as he was about to open the door.  “Kai…”

            “What is it?”  The crimson-eyed agent asked, studying him questioningly.

            “What you said…did you mean that?”  Takao was blushing, something that had Kai raising an eyebrow in surprise.

            “You know I don’t say anything unless I mean it.  What exactly are you wondering about?”  He leaned against the door, arms folding over his chest.

            Takao shuffled his feet, staring at the floor.  “I, ah, well…all that stuff about being a warrior…you don’t really think that, do you?”

            Laughing shortly, Kai couldn’t resist reaching out and ruffling the younger man’s hair affectionately.  “Love, aren’t you the one who took on that dumbass kid in high school who thought it would be fun to bully me in the hallway?  Even though I didn’t need the help?  You’ve lived in a dojo all your life.  I can’t count the number of times I watched you train with Gramps after school.  If you’re not a warrior, then I don’t know who would be.”

            Smiling a little, Takao looked up and nodded.  “Thanks.  I…guess I needed to hear that.”

            “Come on.”  Kai took his hand and moved to open the door, pulling Takao close to him again in an unconscious need to protect.

            Takao leaned into Kai and nodded, letting him assist him.  “Yeah.”

            Out in the hallway, everyone’s quiet conversations immediately ceased and the group gathered around the two in concern.

            “Takao!  Are you okay?”  Kenny asked anxiously.  Takao smiled a little and patted his friend on the shoulder reassuringly.

            “Yes, Chief.  I’m okay.”  The bluenette looked around at everyone and blushed in embarrassment.  “I’m sorry I got so emotional.  I’d like to finish making my statement, if that’s okay with you, sir?”  He met Director Dickenson’s eyes steadily, and the old man nodded in agreement, stroking his beard.

            “If you are certain you feel up to it, then of course we would like to hear the rest of it, Mr. Kinomiya.”

            “Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir.”

            “Director, I’m going to take him to the washroom for a moment.”  Kai tugged Takao away from the group and led him away.  He paused outside the door when he noticed Tala had followed along behind them.

            “What?”  Tala blinked icy blue eyes at his partner in an attempt to appear innocent.

            “Takao doesn’t need both of us to help him.  Shoo!”

            Intervening, Takao squeezed Kai’s arm around his waist to gain his attention.  “Kai?  Would you do me a huge favour?”

            Kai looked down at him suspiciously.  “Okay.  What do you need?”

            “I would normally have my night time dose of medicine about now, so I was hoping you would go get it for me so I can take it now before I start talking again?”

            “But I…”

            “Please?”

            Kai couldn’t say no to those eyes that were so tired, sad, and unbearably ancient for his age.  “I’ll be right back, then.”  He said, glancing at Tala.  “Stay with Tala until I get back, okay?”

            “Sure.  Thank you.”

            The dual-haired man grunted and hurried off with purposeful strides.

            Takao sighed and looked at Tala inquiringly.  “You wanted to talk to me?”

            The wolf raised an eyebrow.  “Aren’t you astute.  Yes, I do.”

            Weary, Takao made a sweeping motion with his hand, a gesture to ‘please, regale him.’  He really just wanted to clean up, take his medicine, finish his statement and go to bed.  But the red haired agent had this determined spark in his icy-blue eyes that said plainly he wasn’t going to be put off.

            “Alright.  I’ll make this quick.  I believe you.”

            Takao goggled at him.

            “Yeah, okay.  Don’t go getting all sappy or anything.  Just because I believe you doesn’t mean I trust you.”  Tala held up a hand before the bluenette could open his mouth.  “Kai’s my partner.  He’s also my best friend.  I’ve known him for nine years now.  We met at the UNA academy in St. Petersburg, both of us trying to pass the tests to become full field agents.  I’d been there for a year and a half already, training and doing what I could to further myself.”  Tala’s mouth turned up in a grim sort of smile.  “I’m Russian, Kinomiya.  We tend to be suspicious and paranoid of our own mothers at the best of times – our history is long, bloody, and full of intrigues that make most spies look like Inspector Gadget.  And on top of that glorious heritage, I’m wolf.  We are pack animals and we are quite distrustful of anyone or anything that isn’t pack.”

            Tala leaned against the wall, crossing his arms as he spoke.  Takao mirrored him, his back to the doorframe of the men’s washroom, though he didn’t cross his arms.  Instead he had them tucked behind his back, clasped loosely as he listened with a glimmer of interest.  He had wondered how Kai had met this strange man, and it sounded like Tala was going to share that information without being asked.  So he nodded to show he was listening and waited for the wolf to continue.

            “My point is that I have many reasons for not trusting you so readily.  It took me a few years to even trust Kai enough that I would agree to be partnered with him.”  Tala shook his head.  “And I, at that point, already thought of him as a friend.  But anyway, where I come from, it is difficult – extremely – to make something of oneself beyond the class and position one is born to.  Being part wolf – enough that I couldn’t even try to hide it – and to be born of a poor, low-class family of peasants, made my choices for betterment that much shorter a list.  It didn’t help that I was orphaned at five years old.  I’d been in and out of state-run children’s homes, Church-owned orphanages, and yes, delinquency ‘homes’ most of my life.  I have family but none would acknowledge me or my parents because of our wolf blood.  So the only true choices I had were to join either the army or the Church.”  Here Tala grinned, a wolfish, toothy grin of vast amusement.  “Well, I happen to enjoy life and the things that make it worth living – all of which option B would have demanded I give up.  Which left me with option A.  I signed up with the Russian army at sixteen, and I trained hard to rise through the ranks to a Captain.”

            Takao blinked, mildly surprised.  “You’re a Captain of the Russian army?  Huh.  You don’t look like a Captain to me…”

            Tala started, somewhat taken aback.  Then he laughed, delighted.  “Thank you!  I appreciate that.”  He snickered a bit more then composed himself.  “I’ve been working at trying to lose the formality and stiffness being a soldier and an officer of an army had drilled into me.”  He got a small smile from the bluenette at that and shrugged.  “It was never my idea of fun, either.  But it beat the hell out of the priesthood option.

            “Anyway, when I was twenty, I was recruited by the UNA.  They routinely scout and recruit new agents from among the educational institutions, military, and administrative offices of its member nations, and the Russian UNA scout took notice of me.  I was still quite young to have already become a full Captain in an army the size of Russia’s.  I will admit that it was partly due to my wolf DNA that I advanced so far, so fast, but whatever.  I got recruited and found a better life, a better career, and a better path for my life to go on, and I seized it.

            “At the Academy, I was one of the youngest recruits there.  Normally, they make recruits – with assistance financially – go to university and get at least some kind of degree first, if they haven’t already, but they do make exceptions for military experience.  Lucky me.  I’m not so sure I’d be able to do the whole university thing.”

            “Tala, as interesting as all this is, what’s your point?”  Takao wondered.  He could feel his eyes getting heavy with the need to sleep, and this story deserved his attention.  Half-asleep on his feet as he was, Takao couldn’t give the redhead that attention very well.

            “I’m getting there.  As I had said, I’d been there for a year and a half, training, when Kai showed up.  If I was a star to the Academy’s program, he was a fucking prodigy.  I’d just turned twenty-two when this silent, way-too-serious, eerily confident nineteen year old kid of undeniably mixed heritage – most obviously partly Asian and the rest Caucasian – pops up out of bloody nowhere at the entrance exams required before formal field agent training is granted.  I’d never seen him before in my life, and I knew everyone else at that exam because they, too, had all been there for several years of training and preparation.”  Tala shook his head, remembering his rather annoyed amazement at the skill and ability his younger partner had displayed at those exams.  “We were taking the same exams.  I was a desk agent –as are all recruits unless they specifically branch off into field agency.  The kid completely blew us all out of orbit.  No contest.  Most of us still passed, of course, since it’s not a competition, but he simply wowed the Academy dumb-struck.

            “I remember watching as he underwent the physical testing, and I can still see the freaky, unrelenting determination in his eyes to succeed.  I had my reasons for being there and doing what I did, but so did Kai.  It was in every movement, every breath, ever expression he wore.  For a while I wondered that it didn’t consume him and eat him alive.  He bordered on obsession – the not-so-healthy kind.”  The wolf tapped his fingers against his arm thoughtfully.  “I was sure if he kept going as he was, he was going to burn out and burn up.  But he persevered.  And in the end he was the absolute best there was at the Academy.

            “When the testing was done, and the results came in, we were given two months to choose where we wanted to be assigned and to make arrangements to move and stuff.  By this time, my curiosity had gotten unbearable.  I had to know what was driving him.  I’d gotten to know him a little over the testing period – as much as one could claim to ‘know’ that guy, I suppose.  He didn’t say a whole lot, then.  He still doesn’t but he’s a lot more talkative then he ever was altogether, I suspect.”

            We were in the locker room at the gymnasium, cleaning them out and packing our stuff up when I finally got nosy and asked why the hell he was there and what was motivating him through all that.  His answer was simple and completely unexpected.  I figured it was because he had something to prove to someone or as a way to bring some bad guy in his past to justice – or vengeance even.  But I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

            Takao raised an eyebrow.  “What did he say?”

            Tala’s eyes met the bluenette’s head on and he replied in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, “To find the person he loved more than anything and tell them hoe much he loved them.”

            Takao’s breath hitched and his eyes went very wide, growing shiny with moisture.

            “I thought he was crazy, honestly.  But I didn’t give it much thought after that – for a while, anyway.  It wasn’t until after I discovered we’d both picked the European UNA offices to work with that I began to take an interest.  He intrigued me  We eventually began our formal training as field agents, and occasionally we’d run into each other on ‘missions’ and in training exercises.  We seemed to work well together.

            “Then one evening after a particular exercise – based on missing persons scenario, by the way – that Kai seemed to show signs of burn out.  I wasn’t surprised, not after how hard and fast he’d been pushing himself.  So I told him there was a bar I knew that was quiet, cheap, and served quality beverages and food.  He gave me that ‘fuck off’ glare of his, but I just shrugged it off and invited him to join me.  I even offered to pay.  He was wary, suspicious, and not a little bit curious.  I could tell.  It took some persuasion – in the form of a logical argument that he needed to eat sometime so why not there? – but he finally followed me to the bar.”

            “I think I see where this is going.”  Takao couldn’t help snickering.

            “Oh you bet.  You want someone to let down their guard enough to pry into their lives, you get them wasted.  Though, I didn’t have to do much.  He pretty much did it to himself of his own accord that night.  I got quite happily buzzed along with him, of course, but I’d fully intended to in the first place.  Anyway, Kai was in that liquored fog that makes you talk without knowing it, and the whole tale of his long lost lover comes pouring out like a bad teenage soap opera.”  Tala shook his head at the memory.  “Poor kid had it bad for you, Kinomiya.  And I couldn’t help feeling for him, especially in my own wasted state.”

            Takao was smiling to himself, picturing his lover drunk, talkative, and somewhat mussed.  I wonder if he’s as adorable drunk as I think he’d be?  He mused silently with a blush.  Then he shook himself out of dream-mode at Tala’s, “Ahem.”

            “Sorry.  I was picturing Kai drunk.  Was he cute?”  Takao couldn’t help asking, blushing even more.

            “I guess.  You should see him in his reading glasses, though.”

            Takao sighed.  “Someday, I hope.”

            “Listen, my point in telling you all of this…” Tala tried getting back on track before Kai showed up again and he lost his chance to talk to Takao.  “I got to know Kai well after that.  He needed someone to talk to and occasionally unburden himself on when the going got tough.  He joined the UNA with the sole purpose of gaining access to UNA resources and sources in order to go out and search for you.  I respected his talents and skills as an Agent first, and later I respected and admired his determination and pure will to find you.  It was what got him up in the morning and made him keep living.

            “So what I’m trying to say is that he loves you.  Never doubt it.  And because he does, and because somewhere along the lines he became my friend, my partner…pack, Kinomiya, I want you to know what I will stand with him through this thing, no matte what happens or what he decides – even if I think it’s a mistake.  I’m already pretty sure I know what he’s willing to do and how far he’ll go, and I’ll follow.”

            Takao raised his gaze to meet Tala’s once more, and the bluenette gave a slow nod of acknowledgement.

            “Thank you, Tala.”  He said softly.  “I’m glad Kai has a friend like you at his back.  I’m glad he hasn’t been alone all this time and I’m glad he won’t be alone should things go awry.”

            Tala shrugged.  “Like I said, Kai is pack.  I take care of my pack even if they don’t want me to.”

            “Still, thanks.”

            The two men stood there for several minutes longer in companionable silence, waiting for Kai to come back.  When he did, he looked from one to the other suspiciously, as if he sensed some kind of change in their attitudes toward each other.

            “Alright.  What kind of nonsense do I have to deny?”  He asked with a huff.

            “Nothing!”  Takao replied, brightening at the sight of the little pill box in Kai’s hand.  “Is that my medication?”

            “Yes.  Here.”  Kai held it out to him and gave his partner one last questioning glance over his shoulder as he followed Takao into the washroom.  Tala just shrugged and grinned mischievously.

            Let Kai think he’d told Takao something embarrassing.  It would do his partner some good to loosen up a little.

            Takao swallowed the pills Kai gave him and grimaced at the taste.  “Yuck.  Those are gross.”

            “That’s how you know they work.”

            “I’m sure.”  Takao rolled his eyes and turned on the water at one sink to wash his face.  “Thanks…for getting it for me.”  He said, splashing water on his face and reaching for some paper towel to dry off with.

            “Hn.  What were you and Tala talking about?”

            Takao winked at him with a grin.  “Nothing special.  I just wondered how you two met, and he told me.”  The grin widened when he saw Kai pale a bit and his crimson eyes wider.  “Relax, Kai.  It wasn’t humiliating.”

            “Says you.”  The older man grumbled, staring at the floor.  “I must have been a complete fool then to him.  I don’t know why he stuck around.”

            The grin faded into a soft, affectionate expression, and Takao stepped up to his former boyfriend, raising a hand to brush his fingers along Kai’s cheek.  “You weren’t a fool.  You knew what you wanted and you did what you had to in order to achieve your goals.  And you had the most powerful motivator there is spurring you on – love.”

            Kai looked down into silvery blue eyes that spilled over with emotion and sighed deeply, catching Takao’s hand and pressing that palm to his cheek firmly.  “Yeah.  I did.  I had screwed up big time, Takao.  I wanted a chance to set things straight and…to prove that I deserved you.  I don’t know why, out of the far more pleasant people around you, you chose me but I was…content.  I had never felt like that before in my life, but whenever I was with you something inside me calmed and burned at the same time.”

            “Kai…I want you to know…I mean, even with all this chaos…I still…”

            “Taka…” Kai whispered hoarsely and bent down a little to capture Taka’s lips in a fiercely tender kiss.  With a low sound, Takao’s hand slipped back to hold the back of Kai’s head as they kissed, his fingers sliding through the dark grey strands and gripping.  His other hand clutched at Kai’s shoulder while Kai’s arms wrapped around him in an oddly protective way.

            Neither wanted to, but eventually they slowly managed to separate from each other, and take a step back from one another.

            Heart pounding, Kai unconsciously licked his lips and tasted Takao there.  He closed his eyes against the rush of excitement and worked to steady his emotions.

            “Kai?”  Takao hesitantly asked in a yet breathless voice.  Kai opened his eyes and let the bluenette see just what he was feeling then – no barriers or excuses.  “Oh, Kai…”  The younger man offered a tentative smile and held up his hand.  “I can’t believe you went through all that just to find me.”

            “I’d do it again.”  Kai accepted the hand, lacing their fingers together, palm to palm, and squeezing lightly.

            “I know.  I promise not to disappear ever again.”

            “I promise never to leave without telling you everything ever again.”

            “I know.”

            Before either could say or do anything else, the moment was interrupted by a polite knock at the door and the blonde head that poked inside cautiously.

            “There you two are.  Everyone’s waiting for you guys.”  Max told them, stepping inside briefly.  “You okay, Takao?”

            “Yep.  I’m fine, Max.  We’re coming.”  Takao smiled and the blonde tilted his head in curiosity at them.  But whatever he was thinking, he didn’t share it or say anything more.

            “Okay.  Director Dickenson wants to end this at ten o’clock, no matter if you’re done your statement or not.  He wants you to get your rest, pal.”  Max waved.  “So hurry back!  I’ll see you there.”  He left them to themselves again.

            “Are you done here?”  Kai asked.  Takao nodded and let him lead the way back  to the conference room.  Outside the doors, Takao paused and took a deep, settling breath, releasing it slowly.  Kai watched him and raised an eyebrow in inquiry as he reached for the door.

            “I’m ready.  Let’s get this over with.”  Takao said.  Kai pushed open the door.

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

Chapter 10: Honour Among Thieves – Part IV

            Once Takao was settled into his seat again, Kai turned and gave Max a steady stare as he waited expectantly.

            “What?”  The blonde demanded, uncomfortable under that gaze.

            “Move down one seat, please.”

            Max blinked at him in astonishment, and everyone else in the room stared at Kai in surprise – except Takao and Tala.  The wolf just looked on with a resigned, knowing expression on his face and Takao…well, he tried not to just burst out into a goofy grin, smothering a smile behind a hand as Max and his mother both complied and moved down the table allowing Kai to take up the chair beside the bluenette and fold his hands on the table top in front of him.

            There was no one in the room who didn’t understand what the action meant.  Kai was taking Takao’s side – for better or worse, no matter what.  He was risking his career for Takao, whether anyone liked it or not, including Takao himself.

            “Well.  If you’re all ready?”  Director Dickenson glanced around the room in question then nodded.  “Excellent.  We’ll pick up where Takao had left off.”  He looked down the table at the bluenette.  “You said you and Kenny had gotten to the dojo with the intention of cleaning up from the night before, and you’d just found the doors that had been sealed closed wide open…”

            “Yes.  And my father and brother were missing, as was our family sword.”  Takao continued the story.  “After I’d calmed down some, Kenny and I went through the house to see if anything else was missing.  There wasn’t.  Kenny convinced me to wait until evening to call the police, in case Dad and Hiro had just stepped out to…go to the grocery store or something.  But time passed and they never came back.  So I phoned the police, and they came over to check things out immediately.

            “There wasn’t much that they could determine.  The detective who came with a team of forensic investigators told Kenny and I that it appeared that sometime early that morning, either Dad and Hiro caught someone stealing the sword, and were taken, too, in order to prevent them from phoning the police or perhaps identifying the thief or thieves, or that it was a deliberate kidnapping and the sword was taken to cover it up.”  Takao ran his fingers through his hair, sweeping it out of his eyes.  “It turned out to b a third scenario, but the police didn’t know that of course.  Anyway, after the initial investigation, the detective told us that they would continue to search for clues and for information that could help them find my family and the sword.  He was sorry there wasn’t much they could do yet, and he told me to call him anytime at all if I should think of anything that might help or if I found out anything.”

            “This detective,” Director Dickenson interrupted.  “Do you remember his name?”

            “Uhh…not off hand, sir.”

            “ I have all the information and copies of the case-files in my briefcase, sir.”  Kenny spoke up.  “I will make copies of everything and give it to you, if you like.”

            “Yes, thank you.   That would be greatly appreciated.  Please continue, Mr. Kinomiya.”

            “The police left, and…I couldn’t stay in the house.  It just didn’t feel right to me.  So I went back to Kenny’s place with him.”  Takao glanced at his oldest friend and the brunette gave him an encouraging smile.  “He insisted on it, actually.  I don’t know what I would have done without the Chief through any of this.”  He coughed to clear his throat, as it had grown thick with his emotions and the words wanted to stick there and not come out.  He’d been holding all of it in for so long now that he had difficulty taking about it.  “Anyway, we heard nothing for a couple of days.  The police hadn’t found anything yet, and I was faced with the idea that I might have to begin calling people to tell them my father and brother had disappeared.  People like the ones Dad and Hiro worked with at the university.

            “But about three or four days later, I received a strange phone call.  It sounded like a little kid, and he said he’d seen some strangers outside the dojo early one morning.  He asked me to meet him so that he could tell me about it.”  Takao sighed, shaking his head at himself.  “I didn’t question it, though I should have.  Kenny wasn’t hoe at the time.  He’d continued to go to work and keep an eye on matters from there, as the law firm he works at is quite large and has any connections with the police, apparently.

            “So anyway…the kid.  I went to meet him at the pack down by the river, at the old sakura tree in the middle of the park.”

            Kai smiled just a little.  He remembered that tree.  It had been one of his favorite places to go and be by himself to think.  The old tree was also the place where his tentative friendships with not only Takao but also Max, Kenny, and Rei had began.  For a tree, it was a most special one for so many reasons.

            “What did the kid have to say?”  Kai asked crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back in his seat.  Takao frowned at the memory.

            “Nothing.  There was no kid.  I found an envelope with my name written on it – nothing else – pinned to the tree trunk.”  Takao closed his eyes, almost like he was in pain.  “There was a picture inside, along wit ha plain white business card that had only a website address on it.  The picture…” he swallowed hard and ran a trembling hand through his hair.  “It was my father and brother, sitting side by side on a pair of metal chairs that they were obviously tied to, in a room that was completely non-descript and unrecognizable with no windows or doors that I could see from that angle.   They were gagged, but not blindfolded, and…their eyes…I could see quite plainly that they were afraid.”  The bluenette had to stop, his hands clenching helplessly into fists on the table in front of himself.  Kai reached out and laid one of his own hands over Takao’s fist, drawing his attention.  Their eyes met and Takao turned his hand, so that their hands were palm to palm, and threaded his fingers through Kai’s, gripping hard and absorbing the older man’s strength greedily as it was offered.

            “There wasn’t anything in the picture to help identify where they were being kept, and there was no trace of anyone else visible, either.  I took it back to Kenny’s, intending to let him look at it and see if he could see anything that perhaps I couldn’t, before we called the police to let them know.  When Kenny got home, he couldn’t find anything either in the photo, so he tried the website instead.”

            Kenny held up a hand to interrupt.  “I’ll take this part.  Takao, while quite bright in most areas no matter what any of us had ever thought before, is still not that proficient with computers and the internet.  I’m the one who put in the address on my home PC.”  He blushed a it, tapping his fingers a little nervously on  the table.  “And…ah…I admit I tried tracing the site, not always heeding…shall I say…the exact letter of the law?”  His blush deepened.  “Ahem.  I was trying to help.  Anyway…”

            “Go on, Kenny.  It won’t be held against you.”  Director Dickenson waved aside the questionable actions easily.  “I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same.”

            “Yes, sir.  Thank you.”  Kenny replied in a slightly startled voice.  He continued quickly, anxious to move past it.  “The site was from a secured server that was programmed for one thing only – to host that website for a limited period of time – which was from the moment Takao opened the page until one hour after he’d done so.”

            “How did you figure that out?”  Tala wanted to know.

            “The page said so – and a little finger-work was all it took to confirm it.”  Kenny responded.  “The webpage was as basic as you can get – anyone could have made it – and it was essentially a letter of instructions for Takao to follow if he wanted to get his family back.”  He glanced at the bluenette suddenly.  “Come to think of it, it had made no mention of the sword, and neither did any of the other communications.”

            Takao’s eyes widened.  “Yeah.  Now that you mention it…”

            “Okay.  So no sword but your family?”  Tala frowned and leaned forward.  “What were the instructions?  What did it say?”

            “I printed off the screen.”  Kenny dug through his briefcase.  “Let me find it…”

            “In short terms, it told me that I had one hour upon reading the page to respond, via an email address that was given, and if I ever wanted to see my family again, I would not report any of this to the authorities.  I was to pretend that nothing was going on, and keep quiet that I’d been contacted.”  Takao picked up the story again.  “Kenny tried working his magic on the webpage and the email address but both were completely untraceable.  Actually, I should say it was useless to try.  He kept mumbling about bouncing IP addresses and some other techno-mumbo-jumbo that I didn’t get.”

            “The email was an open, public, completely generalized and free email address – that first one was a Yahoo! Address.  Takao and I – well, me, anyway – stayed up all night trying to track it down.  No luck, though.  And when I tried going back to the website, it was indeed gone – like it had never existed.”

            “So you responded to the email address, and then what?”  Director Dickenson inquired.

            “There was no reply until late the next afternoon.  This time it was the ransom demand.”  Takao laughed humourlessly.  “The demands were outrageous.  I mean, the Book of the Dead?  A manuscript that supposedly was commissioned by Charlemagne?  How was I supposed to meet these demands?  It was terribly unrealistic – or so I thought.”

            “The kidnapper obviously thought otherwise, though.”  Kai said quietly, squeezing Takao’s hand.  “Still, even knowing what you’re capable of, Kinomiya, even I find the items you’ve…borrowed to be on the unreasonable side.”

            “Yes.”  Takao blew out a tired breath.  “The ransom letter stated simply that the list of fifteen items included with it was the ransom to free my family unharmed.  How I accomplished gathering them was up to me, but if I got caught or they even suspected I was under suspicion by the authorities for the thefts, I would never see Dad and Hiro alive again.”  He pursed his lips as he tried to remember what else it had said.  “Oh.  I also had to keep in contact with the kidnapper through email addresses that would be provided each week, which would only exist for one week at a time before dying.  I was to let them know whenever I had acquired an item, and what plans I had made for the next.  Each time I would be provided with some proof that my family was still alive and unharmed.”

            “There’s a few things I don’t understand about all this.”  Tala shook his head.  “First, why go through all that trouble?  And why those items?  Why not others?”

            “I don’t know, Agent Ivanov.  If I did, I’d have a better idea of who was behind this and where to find my Dad and my brother.”  Takao didn’t flinch away from the redhead’s penetrating ice-blue gaze.

            “Hmm…well, one other thing I don’t get is why you?  Have you made any enemies that are capable of this debacle?  Or your father or brother, perhaps?  Maybe your grandfather?”

            “I don’t know!  If you think I haven’t thought long and hard about the possibilities, then you must think I’m cold and unfeeling, and that I’m stupid.”  Temper flashed through storm blue eyes and Takao’s hand tightened in Kai’s.  “Sure there have been plenty of people I didn’t always get along with, all through my life, but none that I can think of that were ever this vengeful or even hated me enough for this!”

            “Shh…Taka.”  Kai attempted to soothe, rubbing the younger man’s hand between his own.  “It’s a question that had to be asked.  Tala didn’t mean anything by it.”

            Subsiding some, the bluenette scowled down the table at the wolf and said nothing.

            “Now, now, boys.”  The Director hastily intervened, wiping at his brow with a handkerchief.  “Let’s not lose our cool.  We’re all tired and our emotions are running high.  Perhaps it is best if we leave off further questioning until tomorrow afternoon?”  He suggested, inquiring of everyone’s opinion with a look around the room.  “Alright then.  Let’s pick up where we left off tomorrow at one o’clock.  I will leave my Agents, here,” he indicated Tala and Kai.  “…to see to any arrangements that need to be made and what not.  I will be making phone calls tonight to get an investigation started into this new development – discreetly, Mr. Kinomiya.”  Stanley Dickenson hastened to assure the bluenette when a look of panic immediately fell over him.  “I promise you that our foe will not know the UNA is involved now.  For tonight, return to your room and get some rest, please.”

            “I’ll try, sir.”  Takao nodded, though not particularly reassured.

            “Agent Hiwatari, may I speak with you in my office, please?  Let Agent Ivanov escort Mr. Kinomiya back to his room.”  The old man beckoned Kai to follow him and walked away, expecting Kai to be right behind him.

            The crimson-eyed man sighed.  “This shouldn’t take long, Kinomiya.”  He said as he stood, releasing Takao’s hand.  Leaning down, he spoke quietly into Takao’s ear.  “I’ll be by later, Taka.  Wait up for me?”

            “Sure.”  The bluenette felt his face heat up at the request and he murmured back, so the others couldn’t hear.  “You’re not in trouble are you?”

            Kai shook his head.  “I don’t know, but I don’t think so.”  He glanced at the clock on the wall, leaned in farther and gave Takao a swift, solid kiss before moving away.  “I’d better get going.”

            With a small noise of acknowledgement, a little dazed by the sudden affection, Takao watched him stride out with a silly little smile on his face.

            “Takao.”  A voice called, highly amused.  “Earth to Takao…”

            “Hmm?”  He barely responded, quite happy to be day-dreaming.

            “Kami-sama…he’s worse than he was in high school!”  Another voice exclaimed in exasperation.  A hand waved in front of his face breaking the bluenette’s dreamy focus.  “Kinomiya Takao, wake up!”

            “Huh?  Oh.”  Takao scratched his head sheepishly and blushed under his friend’s knowing gazes.  “Ah…sorry, Chief.  What’d you say?”

            Rolling his eyes, Kenny waved it away.  “Nothing.  Come on, pal.  Let’s go back to your room and get you settled, okay?”

            “Oh yeah.  Sure.”  Takao stood and allowed the group to usher him to the elevator.

~*~*~*~*~

            “You wanted to speak to me, sir?”

            Director Dickenson nodded, gesturing for Kai to sit as he took his own seat behind his desk.  “I’m sure I’m not completely off when I assume that you’ve decided to believe Kinomiya’s story, even without proof?”

            Kai schooled his features to go carefully neutral.  “My instincts tell me he’s being completely truthful, Director, so yes.  I believe him.  I also believe in him.  He has shown a resilience that I’m not sure I could ever claim in myself.  I respect that.  He wants to take responsibility for his actions.  I respect that, also.”  The dual-haired agent met his boss’ gaze without flinching as he spoke.  “If this is going to affect the case or if you believe I have lost any objectivity to proceed with the investigation, then pull me from the case.  I wouldn’t blame you for it – in fact, I’d probably do the same thing.  But I will warn you that I will still help Takao as best I can, in any way I can, no matter what you decide to do, so…”

            “Stop, Kai!  Please.”  The Director held up a hand and chuckled, his eyes sparkling with great amusement.  “There is no need to get worked up.  I have no intention of pulling you from the case.”

            Kai snapped his mouth shut, blinking in confusion.  “I…sir?”

            “Kai, I have known you since you were a little boy, and I’ve known your family for a very long time.  Ever since you rose up in the ranks of the UNA to this office, I have followed your work and watched your progress with pride as if you were my own grandson.  I trust your instincts, and I trust in your level-headed, logical, and careful consideration of any and all factors of a situation.

            “On the same note, I have my own thoughts and instincts about your young friend.  I know his family, also, and have worked with both Takao’s father and brother before.  Knowing what I do now, I would like nothing more than to assist in bringing them back safe and sound.”

            “What are your intentions then, sir?”  Kai wondered, unable to hide his amazement.  He had been prepared to be suspended from duty and to stand up for Takao if he had to, not to be told he was still on the case and that his boss wanted to help, too.

            “Takao offered me a deal.  I intend to take it.”  the old man folded his hands in front of himself.  “We will work out the details in the next few days, but I think it would be best if Takao was released tomorrow after we’ve finished getting his statement – under the strict supervision of the UNA, of course.”

            Kai’s mouth kicked up at one corner wryly.  “Of course.”

            “Well, then.”  Stanley nodded.  “That’s settled for the moment.  On a more personal note, have you and Takao worked out your…issues?”  He inquired, suppressing a grin when Kai flushed red.

            “We’re working on it.”  was all Kai could manage to say, embarrassed.

            “Good.  Good.”  Not wanting to make the younger man any more uncomfortable than he already was, the Director didn’t pry further.  “I must say I’m relieved and happy to see you finally in a content and less darkened mood than you have been in the last few years you have been searching for him.”

            “Thank you, sir.”  Kai got up and nodded briefly in farewell, deciding that now was an excellent time to escape before he ended up completely humiliated in front of his boss.  He paused at the door and glanced back when the old man spoke once more.

            “Love is a powerful emotion.  It is the one thing that can drive a person to either extreme of happiness or sadness in the blink of an eye.  But it is a rare and precious thing to have someone to share that experience with through thick and thin, over whatever span of time one is given in life.  Hang onto it, Kai.  Fight for it, and refuse to let it go.”

            Opening the door, Kai stared ahead of himself as he quietly left, a small smile gracing his face as he considered those words.

            No.  He thought.  I will never let go of that which is most precious to me.  Taka, my love, I hope you’re willing to keep me and give me another chance.

            Kai made his way down to the medical floor.  His cell phone rang in the elevator and he answered with a roll of his eyes when he saw Tala’s number.

            “What, Ivanov?  I’m on my way down to the medical floor.”

            “Just thought I’d let you know, oh bitchy one, that I’m taking your group of friends here to a safe house.  Our better half is in his room getting ready for bed, and we’re leaving, so I’ll see you tomorrow.  Go home and sleep, Kai.  Maybe it will improve your disposition – though I highly doubt it.”  With that, Tala hung up on his partner, a habit that was beginning to get on Kai’s nerves.

            With a muttered Russian curse under his breath, Kai stepped off the elevator and walked down the hall to his lover’s room.  Now that he had an idea where his boss’ thoughts on the situation lay, there was no reason to continue acting as neutral as he had been with Takao.

            He had no intention of going home that night.

            Placing his palm on the security pad by the door, he pushed it open when the lock clicked and went inside.  The bathroom door was closed and Takao wasn’t in the room so Kai knocked on the bathroom door to announce his presence.

            “Who is it?”

            “Me, Taka.  Take your time, love.  I’ll be out here when you’re done.”  Kai responded, taking off his jacket and shoes, draping the jacket over the back of a chair.  He proceeded to undress down to his boxers and the black tank-top he wore under his shirt, then took up a comfortable, thoroughly relaxed position on the bed, sitting up with his back and shoulders propped up by the pillows against the headboard.  He heard a hair dryer turn on and smiled to himself, relaxing in contentment.  Kai knew Takao would take a few minutes, since he had all that hair to dry.  So he remained as he was, enjoying the peace and quiet he hadn’t been able to find for several days and nights now.

            Eventually he heard the hair dryer stop and a few minutes later, the bathroom door opened and the light went off.  Takao appeared, and as he turned the corner and spotted Kai on the bed, he stopped in his tracks and stared in shock.  He certainly hadn’t been expecting to find the dual-haired man in his underclothes and on the bed, after all.

            Kai, on the other hand, was studying the bluenette idly with warm, hooded crimson eyes.  Takao’s midnight blue hair, which had been thick and fairly long ten years ago, was now thicker and a little longer than Kai remembered it to be.  It made him want to run his fingers through it.  He’d always linked Takao’s mass of hair.  And then there was the soft, sleepy, rumpled look the younger man had achieved with his baggy cotton pyjamas that were a size or two too large for him (as they hung off of him and didn’t appear to be something he normally would wear to bed), the tiredness around blue-grey eyes, and the hair.  In all, Takao had this adorable cuddliness going on that made even Kai want to hold him, and – dare he admit it – huggle the bluenette like a teddy-bear.

            Of course he wouldn’t dare admit any such thing, and instead raised an eyebrow and laced his fingers behind his head in a totally relaxed repose before speaking.  “What?  Are you just going to stand there staring at me, Taka?”

            “Huh?”  Takao blinked in confusion, taking an unsure step toward the bed.  “Oh!  No…but, Kai…”

            “What’s wrong?”

            “Nothing!  I just…take it you’re staying?  The night?”  He didn’t dare to hope, didn’t want to risk it and suffer the letdown and consequent heartache.  Takao didn’t think he could take it, even though he knew Kai still cared about him a little.

            Still, there was hope in his voice, almost a plea, and Kai heard it.  With a small frown, the crimson-eyed agent sat up a little in concern.

            “Yeah…unless you really don’t want me to…” Kai reluctantly replied.  “I mean, if you’re not comfortable with it, I can just…” he sat up and swung a leg off the bed as if to get up.

            “No!  Stay!”  Takao cried, eyes widening in panic with the thought that Kai was going to leave.  “Please stay, Kai!”  He hurried across the short distance of the room and leapt up onto the bed, throwing himself (practically) over Kai and cuddling into him, clutching at his upper arms fearfully.  “Don’t leave…”

            “Hey,”  Kai took his hands out from behind his head and curled his arms around Takao securely, hugging him to his chest tightly.  “I’m not going anywhere, love.  I just meant if you weren’t comfortable with sleeping with me again so soon, that’s all.  Taka?”

            Takao sniffled and buried his face in Kai’s shoulder.  A tiny smile kicked up the corner of his mouth.  “Sorry.  I just…panicked.  I know you’re not leaving again.”  He raised his head and offered the hesitant smile.  “And there’s no way I’m letting you out of this bed now, so forget it.”  The smile held and turned into a mischievous grin when Kai chuckled and ran his fingers through the bluenette’s hair, brushing it out of his fathomless blue eyes affectionately.

            “Is that so.  Well, since I’m not going anywhere, what were you intending to do with me?”  Kai teased, a fierce glint igniting in his crimson gaze as it met Takao’s.

            “Hmm…let me think about that…” Takao pretended to ponder the situation seriously, and just when Kai was about to suggest something, a playful growl rumbling through the dual-haired man’s chest, Takao flashed a grin and slid his arms under Kai to hug him.  He snuggled in, wiggling into the most comfortable position he could find, and let out a deep sigh of contentment.  “I’m going to sleep, just like this.”  He murmured, closing his eyes.

            Kai rolled his eyes and reached up to flick the light-switch off, plunging the room into darkness.  “I’m not a teddy-bear, Kinomiya.”  He grumbled, half-heartedly, without any real heat to his words.

            “No.  But you’re warm, and comfortable, and you smell good.”  The bluenette replied, his voice muffled somewhat by Kai’s shirt.  “Deal with it.”

            Kai smirked and didn’t say anything else, instead simply freeing a leg from under Takao and hooking it around one of the bluenette’s legs like an anchor.

            After a few minutes, Takao’s voice rose up softly in the silence, surrounding a little hesitant.

            “Kai?”

            “Hn?”

            “I…no.  Never mind.”  Takao pulled out one hand from under Kai and laid it over his heart, feeling the strong, steady heartbeat pound against his palms.  It was soothing – calming him and his thoughts like nothing else.  Kai, however, had had his curiosity peaked, and he wanted to know what his lover wanted to ask.

            “Oh no you don’t.  What is it, Taka?” he inquired gently, stroking his hair with one hand.  “Whatever’s bothering you, it’s best to get it out.”

            “It’s okay.  Honest.  I was going to ask if whatever the Director had to talk to you about was what got you to be here…with me.  But it doesn’t matter.  I’m just happy you’re here, and that’s good enough.”

            “I’d already decided I was going to be here before then, Takao.”  Kai informed him wryly.  He felt the bluenette shift, his other arm slipping out from under Kai, and his body raising up a little as Takao propped himself up so he could look up at Kai from where he lay, chin resting on his folded hands over Kai’s chest.  The older man stroked a hand of his own up and down Takao’s spine, enjoying the way the fabric of his night-shirt slid over the younger man’s skin smoothly.  “Director Dickenson just wanted to make sure I was still willing to work on the case, that’s all.”

            “Really?”  Takao tilted his head suspiciously.  “But if you’re still on the case, Kai, then why are you risking your career by being here with me?  Shouldn’t we be…”

             Kai laid a finger over Takao’s lips, cutting him off.  “You don’t really think a little thing like that would stop me, do you?  Besides,” he smiled as Takao kissed that finger reaching up to grasp his hand and lazily continue planting kisses here and there all over it.  “I believe I said something about giving you back lost time – or something like that.”

            Takao made a soft sound and let go of Kai’s hand in favour of leaning down and kissing Kai on the mouth.  At first the older man was a bit startled, but it didn’t take long before he was relaxing into the bed and returning the gentle, slow kiss leisurely.  Here was something he’d missed greatly – just being with the bluenette, holding him, kissing him…the quiet moments were as memorable as the exciting, action-filled ones to Kai.  There had been many evenings, after their study sessions or the weekends when it was raining outside and there was nothing else to do that they’d spent in Takao’s room or in Takao’s living room on the couch, wrapped in each others’ arms and snuggled together.  Sometimes they made out, sometimes they just talked, and sometimes they did nothing at all but be.

            As hundreds of such memories flashed through the back of his mind, the dual-haired man drove his fingers through the bluenette’s hair to curl around the back o Takao’s head and knead rhythmically.  He could feel moisture stinging his eyes behind the lids, as his eyes were closed, and he abruptly broke away from the familiarity of Takao’s mouth, breathing hard and shuddering with emotion.

            Sensing the sudden desperation and wondering at the abrupt change, Takao opened his eyes, blinking in confusion, and looked down at his lover in concern.  “Kai?  What’s wrong, itoshii?”  His eyes widened when a small sob escaped the older man under him.  “Kai?!”

            “Taka…” Kai opened his eyes and they glistened in the low light of the moon shining through the tiny barred windows.  He had to swallow back the tears as he met the younger man’s worried gaze.

            “What is it?  Did I hurt you?  Did I do something wrong?”  Takao began checking him over frantically when Kai didn’t answer.  Giving a choked laugh, Kai caught his hands and drew them to his chest, holding them there.

            “I’m okay, Taka, I’m just fine.”  He reached up and stroked Takao’s cheek.  “I just…I’ve missed you love.”  Kai explained in a thick voice, brushing his hair out of smoky blue eyes.  “I can never say how much I have missed you.”

            Takao melted.  He smiled and dipped his head to kiss Kai once more tenderly.  Then he wiggled down so that he could cuddle up comfortably with his head resting on Kai’s chest again.

            “So have I, Kai.  I’ve imagined this for so long now…remembered it.  And…even if we don’t get the chance to be like this for long, I…”

            “Shh…” Kai hushed him, wrapping his arms around the bluenette tightly.  “We won’t think of that.  We’ll just take things one day at a time, alright?”

            Sighing, Takao nodded and closed his eyes.

            “Alright.”

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

Next Section:  https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/beyblade/once-a-thief/chapter-11-15/

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