Chapter 11-15


Disclaimer:  Still not owning…  Still borrowing…

Warnings:  Yaoi (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, mentioned Rei/Mariah

~*~*~*~*~

Chapter 11: Honour Among Thieves – Part V

            Tala dug out the set of keys to the safe house from his jacket pocket and unlocked the apartment door, shoving it open.

            “Well, here we are.  This is one of the largest safe houses we have in Paris.  I hope it will be accommodating enough for you.”  He addressed Kenny, Hilary, Max, and Judy.  “It’s not much, but for your friend’s sake, it’s better that those people don’t know you’re here.”

            “We know.  And I agree completely.”  Kenny shook his head.  “I appreciate the trouble you’re going through, Agent Ivanov.”

            “I’m not doing this for any of you, or even Kinomiya.”  The wolf returned, walking inside and turning on the lights.  “I’m doing it because I despise injustice and deceit.  And I’m doing it because my partner is busy handling his own set of issues in this mess, which leaves me to make sure the rest of it is taken care of.”  Tala folded his arms over his chest and eyed them all critically.  “Was there anything you wanted before I leave for the night?”

            “No, thank you, Agent.”  Judy replied, her hand coming down on Max’s shoulder.  The blonde was frowning at the redhead for some reason, and his mother knew her son well enough to know he would have said something he’d later regret.

            “Alright.  If you should need anything, there are UNA agents in the building at all times, and if you need anything or something is wrong, call the number posted by the telephone.  There is no outside line, however, so you won’t be able to call anywhere outside the building.”  Tala pointed in the general direction of the kitchen area.  “I’ll be by around 10 am tomorrow to get you and bring you all back to the UNA.  I imagine you’ll want to visit Kinomiya for a while before we continue getting his statement.”  Tala walked back out the door, pausing briefly. “I don’t have to remind you not to try going out or anything after I leave, do I?”

            “We won’t.  Good night, Agent.”  Judy smiled pleasantly and ushered Max away to the living room.

            Kenny picked up his baggage and went to the kitchen table to begin spreading out in preparation for work on Takao’s case.

            Hilary, on the other hand, followed Tala out into the hallway, letting the door to the apartment close behind her for a small measure of privacy.  “My I have a moment, Agent Ivanov?”  She inquired.

            “I always have a moment for a pretty woman.”  Tala winked, an easy grin forming as he leaned against a wall.  “What can I do for you?”

            “Can you tell me…what is your take on Takao’s situation?”  Hilary asked hesitantly.  “I know I shouldn’t be asking, but I’m worried about Takao especially, as well as everyone else.  I just don’t understand why someone would do this to Takao.  He’s one of the kindest, most loyal and trustworthy people I’ve ever met.”

            “Maybe.  I don’t know him well enough to say that.  If he is, though, then that just makes him that much more of a target for the unscrupulous and nefarious types in his world.”  Tala shrugged.  “I’ve seen it happen too many times to believe otherwise.”

            Hilary frowned.  “That can’t be a good enough reason.”

            “Is there such thing as a ‘good enough’ reason?  I doubt it.  Look, we will figure the whole ting out eventually, I can promise you that.  I’m not saying it will all make sense or be logical, but at least you’ll know.”

            “Oh, I have no doubt of that.”  Hilary shook her head, flicking her hair over her shoulder and out of her face.  “Honestly, though, Agent Ivanov, can you give me your opinion of everything?  Do you think…will Takao go to prison?”

            Her deep, honey-brown eyes met his own ice-blue ones and he felt a sudden urge to reassure her.  He didn’t though, because it would have required lying to her, and that just wasn’t in him to do.

            “I don’t know, Hilary.  There are too many strings that need tying up before I can know that, too much evidence that needs to be gathered – for one possibility or another.”  Tala answered honestly after a minute of thought.

            Hilary stepped up closer to him, drawn by the chill of his eyes and the warmth of his voice inexplicably.  “I guess I was hoping for too much of an answer.”  She admitted softly.  “I didn’t know who else I could ask and get an honest answer from who wouldn’t just say what they thought I would want to hear.”  She looked down at her feet, fingers absently plucking at the material of her skirt.  “Thank you for that.”

            Even though his brain screamed at him not to do so, Tala reached out and tipped her ace upward once more with a finger under her chin.  Softly rubbing his thumb pad over her ivory skin, he smiled.  “Bad things happen to good people, Hilary.  Sometimes those good people need a little help.  That’s my job, and I am very good at it.  So is my partner.  And he has a personal reason for getting to the bottom of things.  So in that respect, I can tell you honestly not to worry.  Truth will out, in the end.”

            She couldn’t help smiling back a little at his words.  As she opened her mouth to thank him yet again, Judy opened the door and stepped out into the hall with them.

            “Oh, there you are, Hilary.  Come inside, dear, and do something about Kenny?  He’s insisting on doing casework right now.”  The blonde woman sighed.

            Tala dropped his hand back to his side and nodded at both women.  “I’ll see you all tomorrow morning.  Good night, ladies.”

            “Good night, Agent Ivanov.”  Hilary returned, watching him go.  Judy watched Hilary with a tiny, knowing smile.

            “Hilary?”

            “Yes, Judy.  I’m coming.”  The brunette rolled her eyes at the sight of her ‘boss’ bent over his laptop typing so furiously it was a wonder the keyboard didn’t start to smoke.  Rolling up her metaphorical sleeves, she stomped toward him, prepared for the inevitable fight it would be to get him to go to bed and sleep rather than stay up all night – again – working on Takao’s  case.

            Where was Max?  The blonde was already out like a light bulb, sprawled on a sofa in the living room, where his mother draped a blanket over him and pulled off his shoes before going into one bedroom to go to sleep herself.

~*~*~*~*~

            There was no real reason for Kai to wake up.  No sudden light in his face, no noises (other than the soft, rhythmical breath of the bluenette in his arms and his own steady breathing), nor was there any instinct that told him to open his eyes and surface from slumber so abruptly.  Yet wake up in this way he did.  Kai blinked the sleep out of his eyes and glanced around, though he couldn’t quite make out the clock on the far wall from his place on the bed.  It was still too dark in the room, with the blinds on the small windows closed and no lights on.

            Yawning expansively, Kai stretched out his stiff arms and legs as best he could – with the sleeping younger man sprawled out over top of him like a human blanket, it was somewhat difficult.  With a tiny sigh, Kai lazily draped his arm over one of Takao’s shoulders and down his back, and tucked the other under his head.  He closed his eyes again and allowed himself to fall into a doze, feeling contented and warm just where he was.

            The next time he woke up, there definitely was a reason for it.  He wasn’t the only one awake this time, because Takao had Kai’s shirt pushed halfway up his chest while his mouth was busily mapping out the muscles and scars that made Kai more beautiful than some Greek god – in Takao’s eyes, at least.

            Groaning quietly, Kai slid his fingers through Takao’s hair and massaged the back of his neck appreciatively.  Little tingles of pleasure burned through his sleepy system, and he nearly purred with the sensations.  Smiling, Takao raised his head a little and looked up at his lover.

            “Finally awake are you?”  He murmured, rubbing his cheek against Kai’s muscled abdomen.  “Took you long enough.  I thought I might have to do something…drastic.”  The bluenette put special emphasis on that word, his voice a sleepy, husky purr of sound that made Kai shiver and shift restlessly under him.

            Kai’s eyes nearly crossed at the mental images that combination invoked.  “Tease.”  He growled, smirking down at Takao.  He let blue-black silken hair slide through his fingers idly, simply enjoying their closeness for the time they had together.

            Takao rolled his eyes and opted to snuggle up to Kai’s stomach to enjoy being petted.  “Did you get some sleep, Kai?”  He asked, tracing patterns on the rippled, hard surface of Kai’s abdomen with a fingertip.

            “Some.  Better than I have in a while.  How about you, Taka?”  Kai replied, reaching down to lay a hand over Taka’s to halt the tickling sensation.   Instead, he let the bluenette thread their fingers together and play with his idly.  “You’re the one who needs the rest more than I do.”

            “I slept well.  I always do when you’re with me, I’m beginning to learn.”  Takao brought their linked hands to his lips and brushed kisses over Kai’s knuckles.  “Can we stay like this for a while?”

            Kai frowned at the small tone of voice Takao used.  “Of course, love.  We’ll stay like this as long as possible…but what’s wrong?”

            “Nothing.”  Takao burrowed under the covers further, trying to block out the world – if only for a little while longer.

            Frowning deeper, Kai pulled his other arm out from behind his head and ran his fingers through Takao’s hair.  “No, come on, now.  Something’s bothering you, love.  I can’t help if you don’t tell me what it is.”

            Takao sighed deeply and reluctantly raised up on his forearms.  “Turn on the light, okay?”  Kai turned over a bit and looked up for the light switch, flicking it on and wincing at the sudden light – though dimmed considerably compared to the overhead halogen lights.  Settling down again, he watched his lover expectantly.

            “I’m scared.”  The bluenette said after a minute, stormy blue eyes, haunted as they were, looking back at Kai fearfully.  “I’m scared I’ll never see my Dad or Hiro again.  I’m scared that this is my last ‘free’ moment before they ship me off to prison.  I’m scared that after today I’ll never get to be with you at all, ever again…”

            Kai laid a finger over his lips, halting the words.  “I know.  God, Takao, I do.  I’m just as scared that all those things and a million others might happen.  But…” the crimson-eyed agent smiled a little.  “They are all only ‘mights’ and ‘maybes’ of a future that hasn’t played out yet.  I won’t let the ‘what ifs’ consume me or you, love.  Understand?”

            Nodding, Takao edged up the bed to curl himself into Kai’s chest, hugging him with his whole body.  Protectively, Kai wrapped his arms around Takao’s upper back and shoulders tightly, resting his chin on the younger man’s head.  After a few minutes of quiet, Kai rubbed Takao’s back as he spoke up again.

            “Since I forgot to mention it last night, and because maybe it will help to put your mind at ease a little, I should tell you what the Director and I talked about last night.”

            Takao looked up curiously.  “Yeah?”

            “He told me that he’s going to take that deal you had offered him when we first brought you in.”

            “Really?”  Takao’s eyes widened in surprise.  “I didn’t think he’d actually go for that…but I thought I’d make the offer anyway.”

            “Well, he said he’d work out the legal details with Kenny and Max’s mother, but he wants to help.  So he said it would be a good idea to release you after completing your statement today.”  Kai held up a hand when Takao pushed himself up again in amazed excitement.  “But only into the watchful custody and supervision of the UNA, of course.”

            The bluenette tilted his head sardonically.  “Meaning you and Agent Ivanov, I assume?”

            “Hmm.  I would have gone with you anyway, Taka.”

            Takao smiled softly and hid his face against Kai’s chest.  “I know.”  He responded, his voice equally soft as his smile.

            Kai’s cell phone, sitting on the bedside chest of drawers, interrupted the peaceful moment.

            “Oh for…what time is it anyway?”  Kai grumbled, reaching out to grab the little phone.

            Takao pushed himself up again and sat back on his heels.  He glanced behind himself to peer at the clock.  “Almost 9 am, love.”

            “Urgh.”  Kai flipped the cell open and pushed a button before barking, “What?”

            Over the line, Takao heard a faint chuckling.  It was Tala.

            “My, my.  As cheerful as always this morning, aren’t we?  Didn’t get any last night?”

            “You’re interrupting my quality time, Ivanov.  Spit out whatever it is you’re annoying me for or I’m hanging up and not answering again.”  Takao rolled his eyes at his grumpy, put-out lover, and slid off the bed to go to the closet to find clean clothes.

            “I think I’d better bring you some of Oliver’s coffee.”  Kai could hear the scowl in his partner’s voice.  “You’re a downright bitch in the morning, you know that?  Look, I just wanted to give you the heads-up, seeing as how you weren’t at home when I stopped by this morning and figured you were with Kinomiya.”

            “What heads-up?”  Kai sat up properly, letting his legs dangle off the side of the hospital bed.

            “Oh…just that I’ll be coming up with Kinomiya’s entourage as soon as they’re done eating breakfast here – so maybe in twenty minutes or so – and that the Boss said he’d be coming down at ten to continue and to talk about what to do next.”

            Kai’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully.  “Okay.  Thanks for letting me know.”

            “Well, as much fun as it would have been to just let everyone walk in on you and your little…” Kai growled a warning and Tala snickered. “…boyfriend and to get caught doing less than appropriate things in a hospital room, I thought I’d make sure you had a chance to put on clothes at least.”

            “If I’m a bitch then you’re an ass, Tal.  Go chase that secretary from Research, why don’t you?  Better yet, go play in traffic, wolf.”  He pushed a button on his cell, hanging up on Tala before he could respond to that with a satisfied smirk.

            Takao shook his head.  “As glad as I am that you have had a good friend like Tala all this time, I have to admit that you two have the weirdest relationship I have ever seen.”

            Kai laughed and held out his hand to the bluenette, who took it and squeezed, letting him draw Takao into the circle of his arms.  “I know.  But it works for us.  I don’t try to analyze it, not after all this time.”

            Takao hugged Kai briefly and leaned down to place a chaste kiss to his lips.  “I’m going to take a shower, love.  Did you want to join me?”  He wiggled his eyebrows at Kai and the crimson-eyed agent nipped lightly at his collarbone.

            “I would love to.  However, that may not be a wise idea.  Besides, I doubt that the shower in there is built large enough for two.”

            Mock pouting, Takao nuzzled Kai’s hair and sighed.  “No, you’re right about that.  Well, I won’t be long.”  He let go and walked to the bathroom.

            “Didn’t you take a shower last night?”  Kai asked, curiously.

            “No.  I just washed my hair.  It was driving me nuts.”  Takao poked his head out the bathroom door for a moment.  “If you need to borrow something feel free to dig through my bags.  I don’t mind.”

            “Thanks.  I should be good.”  Kai waved him back into the bathroom and the bluenette disappeared.

~*~*~*~*~

            An hour and a half later, everyone had gathered once again in the same conference room as the previous night.  Takao was dressed in regular clothes this time, however, and he sat with an ease and comfort he hadn’t felt only twelve or so hours earlier, with Kai sitting right next to him on the left again.

            “Well, Takao, I’m pleased to report that the agents in Japan that I have asked the Asian offices to assign to your case have confirmed your story.  They did some discreet digging all last night, and from what they found they have corroborated what you have told us.”  Director Dickenson smiled a little at the bluenette’s surprised look.  “We don’t waste time, son.  I’m sure that with the police reports and all that we’ll have further corroboration, as well.  On that note, we only need you to give us as detailed a statement about each of the places you…borrowed from, and then I would like to have a meeting with your Counsel and Director Judy about that deal you offered me.”

            “Sir…I…thank you.”  Takao finished lamely, stunned despite the fact that Kai had told him the Director meant to do this.  “You can’t know how much this means to me.”

            “Perhaps not.  But its there all the same.  Now,” the old man looked down at his open case-file briefly.  “Let’s start with the most recent occurrence at the British Museum, shall we?”

            “Certainly.”  Takao straightened up in his seat and proceeded to explain how he’d gotten into the building, found the item he wanted, and gotten back out again without tripping any alarms, or alerting any guards, or anything of the kind.  Four hours later, he had only three items left to explain, and the Director called a halt in order to adjourn for lunch.

            “I wouldn’t want Dr. Maison to be giving me grief for not letting you eat properly.”  He chuckled, pushing to his feet and picking up his walking stick.

            “No, sir.”  Takao agreed.  In truth, he was famished and a little worn out by all that talking.  Kai held his hand firmly in his own and led him out the door.

            “I think it’s safe to take you down to the café and let Oliver feed you.”  the older man said as they led the group to the elevators.  Kenny agreed from behind them.

            “I highly doubt that Gideon will have any spies in the UNA that will report your presence here.  Besides, you have to try that place’s food, Takao!”

            Max laughed and slapped the young lawyer on the shoulder.  “He’s not kidding, pal!  It’s pretty fantastic grub.”

            “Can’t wait, then.”  Takao smiled.  “I’m hungry.”

            “Good.”  Kai placed a kiss to Takao’s temple, lingering a moment.  “I’d be worried if you didn’t get some of your appetite back.”

            That earned a few agreeing chuckles from Kenny and Max.  Hilary just rolled her eyes and Judy smiled affectionately at the group.

~*~*~*~*~

            Finally it was all out.  Takao felt light-headed as he rode back up to his hospital room with Kai and Tala.  Kenny and the others had gone to work out the logistics and legalities of his release while he packed up his stuff and got ready to leave, and Kai was true to his word.  He was sticking to Takao like white on rice.  Tala, now that so many of his questions had been answered about the hows and whys of this case, decided he was just going to follow Kai (and subsequently Takao) around to see this strange drama through to the end.

            “I can’t believe how much better I feel after just telling you all about everything.”  Takao murmured, leaning against Kai’s side.  “Feels like a boulder got removed off my back that I didn’t know I was carrying.”

            “I imagine so.  You’ve been silent about the whole debacle for months, Kinomiya.”  Tala reasoned, yawning.  “I’m still not sure who this Gideon character is.  It’s obvious that whoever it is knows you, knows your talents, and knows just how to get you to do what he/she wants you to do.”

            “Yes.  I’ve tried coming up with a name, too.  ‘Gideon’ is just a pseudonym for whoever is behind this.”  Takao frowned, his face darkening.  “He or she has to pay for everything.”

            “They will.  I promise you, Taka, we’ll find the person and they’ll find out what justice means the hard way.”  Kai slid his arm around Takao’s waist and hugged him tightly.

            “Thanks.  Both of you.”  Takao sighed and let Kai lead him out of the elevator and down the hallway to his room to pack up his stuff.  Tala followed at a slower pace, stopping by the nurse’s station to give them the paperwork for Takao’s release.

            Kai watched the bluenette stuff his belongings back into the suitcase he had from his seat on the bed next to it.  “You’ve certainly mastered the fine art of travelling lightly, haven’t you?”  He teased.  Takao stuck out his tongue and zipped up the main compartment.

            “Had to.  Besides, whenever I left to…go borrow an item, I was only gone for a couple of days.  You don’t need to pack an entire closet for two days.”

            “True.”  Kai smiled at the little picture that slipped out of a book that Takao tossed down on top of the suitcase.  “I remember that picture.”

            “What?”  Takao looked up from the closet where he was checking for any missed items and turned pink.  “Oh.  Yeah, I thought it was the best picture I had of you so…and I guess I just…”

            “You don’t have to explain why you have it, love.”  Kai picked up the book and the picture, and neatly tucked it safely away between the front page and front cover.  “I’m flattered that you still thought enough of me all these years to even have kept it.”

            Takao walked up to Kai and looped his arms around Kai’s neck, leaning down to rest his forehead against the older man’s for a moment.  “Even when I was hating you for leaving me, I still loved you.  I still hoped that someday maybe we’d get another chance.  That maybe I would get to see you so peaceful like that picture again someday.”

            Kai separated their foreheads and tilted his head back a little further to press his lips to Takao’s softly.  “You will.  I’ll make a point of it.”

            Takao kissed back, a little more forcefully in his emotional state.  “I’ll hold you to it.”

            “God!  Would you two love-birds quit with the sugary sweetness already?”  Tala’s voice cut through the moment like a well-honed blade.  “Be sappy and fluffy on your own time, please.  Here, Kinomiya.”  The redhead tossed a pill-bottle at Takao who caught it neatly out of the air.  “Those are your meds from Dr. Maison.  You’re to take them as it says on the bottle, and there should be enough of a dosage to last at least a month.  If you need more, you’re to call her immediately and she’ll authorize a refill.”

            “Thank you.  Tell her thank you, too.  For everything.”  The bluenette secured the bottle in his suitcase and put the baggage on the floor.  “Well, I’m all packed.”

            “Then let’s get the hell out of here.”  Kai held out his hand to Takao, who grasped it and linked their fingers together, then picked up the laptop carry-case with the other hand to carry himself.  Tala led the way back down the hall to the elevators again.

            Down in the car-park of the UNA building, Takao let Kai put his bags in the trunk of a car, while Tala watched.  “So where exactly are we going anyway?”  Takao asked, curiously.

            “We’ll go to my place first, so I can get some clean clothes and a few things of my own, but then we’re going to go to your apartment, Takao.”  Kai responded.  He glanced over at his partner.  “Tala is going to follow us again, to see if anyone is watching your building to see if you come back again.  We thought that if they see you – with me, still – then it will be easier to make up a story about where you have been all this time.”

            “Uh huh…and that would be?”  Takao raised an eyebrow.

            “Simple.  Kai was worried about your health, what with your stomach and all, and he decided that after you got back into Paris, he was going to whisk you off to a fancy French hostel where you could be treated for your condition and get some rest.  Since you can’t really ‘tell’ him anything, you couldn’t protest either, and had to go along.”  Tala grinned wolfishly.  “We have all the details planned out for you already, and if they call the place we picked to find out if you were there, they’ll find more than enough evidence to suggest that you were.”

            Takao’s eyes were wide.  “That’s amazing.  I will never get over how fast you UNA people work when you get started on something.”

            Tala laughed and waved over his shoulder as he turned and strode off.  “I’ll be in touch.  Keep it low profile, you two.  Play along, at least when you’re anyplace where your admirers can see you.”

            Kai grunted and slid into the driver’s seat of the car.  Takao got in beside him and sighed.  “It feels good, yet strange to be going home after all of this.”

            “It’ll be fine, love.  I’ll be with you.”

            “I know.  You have no idea how grateful I am for that.”  Takao covered his hand on the gearshift with one of his own and left it there.

            Kai turned his hand over and held it tightly as he drove out into Paris traffic.

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

Chapter 12: Thick As Thieves – Part I

            The minute Takao opened his apartment door and stepped inside, he knew he hadn’t been the last person in that apartment.  He paused on the threshold of his front door and took a moment to fight back the feeling of…violation that knowledge inspired in him.

            “Takao?”  Kai’s voice ran through him and washed away the unpleasant feeling in his chest and stomach.  It didn’t stop him from growing angry, though.

            “Sorry.  Come on in, Kai.”  Takao ushered him in with a false cheeriness that made Kai pause for a moment before moving inside and closing the door.  Takao dropped his bags by the wall and moved to the kitchen immediately, where he grabbed a pen and a scrap of paper from by the phone and scribbled a quick message as he spoke.  “Make yourself at home.  I’ll see if I have any coffee left, though I suspect I need to go shopping.”

            Kai warily followed his lover’s voice to the kitchen, where he had a note shoved in his face the minute he came in.  Grabbing it as Takao let go and began stomping around not only the kitchen in a mild huff, but the living room and small dining area as well, seeming to search for something.  Scanning the note quickly, his own crimson eyes darkened and he crumpled it up.

            “Place is bugged.  Can feel the foreign electrical currents from all over.  Keep pretending while I find them and kill them.”  The note had read.  Kai didn’t question how Takao knew there were listening devices scattered around the apartment, but he played along as he watched the bluenette search out the sources of those ‘currents’ and proceed to do something about them.

            “If you want, I’ll go for you.  You should b resting, anyway, Takao.”  Kai faked a normal, concerned voice.  Sometimes Takao would slap a hand to the wall over an outlet or a light switch and there would be a brief buzzing sound before something crackled and smoke curled out from behind the plastic panel.  Other times the same would occur from a lamp or some other clever hiding place.  The younger man was systematically combing through his home, eliminating the devices that had invaded his privacy.  “The doctors did only let you go because you promised – and I promised to make you – get a lot of rest.”

            Stomping back to the phone, Takao unplugged it from the wall and proceeded to take it apart, searching for the wiretap he knew had to be there.  Sure enough, he found the little device in the receiver, and carefully plucking it out, he set it on the counter with a fierce glare.  “I know, I know.  But surely doing a little grocery shopping isn’t stressful enough to aggravate anything.”  He replied, trying really hard not to clench his jaw in anger.  Instead, he picked p the bug and fried it with a small jolt of his own body’s electric current before dropping it on the counter.

            Kai raised an eyebrow, as if to ask, “Is that all of them?” and Takao shook his head.  He motioned for Kai to follow him and moved down the hall to his bedroom, office, and the bathroom.  All the while they continued to have a made-up discussion about Takao’s trip to the hostel and what the doctors had told him.

            “…and he also said that coffee was out of the question, so there’s no point in buying…” Kai stopped in mid-sentence as Takao held up a hand where the last of the bugs lay dead in his palm.  “That’s it?”

            The bluenette dropped the electronic device in the wastebasket and dusted his hands.  He blew a stray lock of hair out of his eyes and nodded.  “Pretty sure.  I’ll sweep through one more time to be sure though.”  Takao glanced around the bedroom.  “Two rooms are clear for sure.”

            “So you wanna explain or shall I guess?”

            Takao made a face and scowled darkly at a wall, counting to a hundred, slowly.  “Obviously ‘Gideon’ was determined to figure out where I disappeared to.  No doubt he’ll be in contact sometime soon to try and yell at me for doing so – not that it matters.  He’ll shut up when I tell him a few things I’ve been storing up.”

            Kai crossed his arms over his chest and leaned a hip against the dresser.  “Elaborate?”

            “Well…” Takao sat on the end of his bed and looked thoughtful.  “I have an affinity for things electrical, right?  So I know what everything, uh, feels like in my apartment – because I spend so much time here and because I am the one who plugged in every appliance and electronic device there is here.  When something changes from that, I know it.  As soon as I opened the door and walked inside I could feel a significant difference, and since no one but myself is ever in here…”

            “Ah.”  Kai nodded.  “Logical.”

            “Yeah.  Each of those bugs were emitting their own small currents of electrical energy.  That’s how I knew.”  Takao looked around the bedroom with a frown. “And now I’m a little creeped out by the fact that some stranger was in my living space – not to mention listening in on my life like that.”

            “I’m pretty sure you’ve found them all, but as a precautionary measure, I can have a team sent over to sweep again, if you like.”  Kai shrugged at the grimace of distaste on the bluenette’s face.  “Or if this place makes you too uncomfortable, you are more than welcome at my place.”

            Takao got up and went over to the crimson-eyed agent, enveloping him in a grateful hug.  “Thank you, Kai.  I really appreciate it.  But let’s try here for one night.  If I can’t deal…well, then I’ll take you up on that.”

            “Alright.”  Kai nodded and wrapped his arms around Takao in turn.  “That’s reasonable.”  He smiled as the younger man settled against him comfortably.  “Shall we go get the bags?  And then we really should do something about food.”

            “I suppose.  We’re going to need at least some basics, after all.”  Takao separated himself from Kai but took his hand and led him back down the hallway to the living room and kitchen as he began listing off grocery ideas.  “Coffee for you, tea for me, milk, eggs, bread, some vegetables and fruit, maybe some pastas?”

            “Whatever you like, love.  As long as it doesn’t aggravate your stomach, that is.”

            “Oh.  Right.  I’ll need that list of dos and don’ts from Dr. Maison.”  Takao went over to their bags that were still sitting on the entry-way to dig out his list.  Kai followed and picked up their bags easily.

            “I’ll put these in the bedroom.”  Kai said, giving Takao a sideways glance.  “If that’s okay?”

            Takao blinked and smiled.  “It’s where they belong.”

            The older man couldn’t help but smile back at the unspoken acceptance in that statement.  He gave a quick nod and moved off at an easy pace, as if he’d always lived there.

            Takao, while he waited for Kai, quickly made one last sweep of the kitchen and living room for bugs.  He found one behind the television, which he’d missed because its frequency was a little different than the other devices he had found earlier.

            He stood there looking at it, lying there inconspicuous in his palm for a few minutes – long enough that Kai found him there still staring at it.  Before Kai could alert Takao to his presence, the bluenette began to speak.

            “If you think I don’t know you’re out there listening, Gideon, you underestimate my intelligence.  This is a warning: remember the deal we made – you stay out of my way and I’ll get your items in any way I see fit to do so, in return for my brother and my father, alive, safe, and healthy.  If you don’t stop trying to spy on me, if I have any more interference from you or your little minions, I swear I will destroy the fourteen items I already have.  Oh, and one last thing: I am working on number fifteen, and I haven’t had any proof of my family’s health and safety since item eleven.  You know how to contact me, and I’ll expect to be hearing from you soon – as in the next 48 hours – otherwise I’ll be assuming my father and brother are dead and I’ll be walking through the UNA’s front door immediately.  Have a pleasant day, creep.”

            Takao’s final word was punctuated by a tightening of his fist around the device and a sudden surge of pure electrical energy.  Smoke curled from his hand and there was only a small pile of ashes left of the listening device.  Kai blinked at the smouldering pile of ashes, a little astonished at the power display that had been, and watched Takao walk to the kitchen to dump the ashes in the garbage can.

            “That was the last of them.  But if it will make you happy…give Tala a call.”  Takao dusted his hands off and grabbed his wallet and keys.  “Let’s go get the shopping over with.  I just…want to be able to lie around and be lazy for the rest of the day.”

            Kai nodded, taking out his cell.  “I’ll ask Tala to have our friends came in and make a clean sweep.  They’ll get rid of the bugs you fried, while they’re at it.”

            “Okay.”  Takao waited while Kai sent for the team that would do the job while they were out getting groceries.

            After he hung up, Kai put the cell back in his pocket and ran a hand through his hair.  “Done.  You’ll have to tell me what all that was earlier that you said to Gideon before you destroyed that bug, but it can wait until tomorrow.  Our first priority is food.”

            Takao couldn’t help being a little surprised at that, thinking he’d have to explain then and there, but smiled in weary gratefulness and headed for the door.  “It’s a deal.  Come on, love.  Let’s go shopping.”

~*~*~*~*~

            They were walking past a pharmacy on the way back when Kai suddenly stopped and looked at the building thoughtfully.

            “Kai?  Something wrong?”  Takao, when he noticed that Kai wasn’t beside him, stopped too and turned around, walking back.

            “No.  Not at all.  Wait here a moment, okay?  I’m just going to go in here quickly.”  Kai handed Takao his grocery bag and smiled in assurance.  “I won’t take long.”

            “Alright.”  Takao watched his lover go inside, a bit perplexed as to what he could be going into the pharmacy for.

            The agent was true to his word.  He was in and out in five minutes.

            “That was quick.  What did you buy?”  Takao tried to see what was in the small bag Kai carried, but the dual-haired man tucked it into his jacket pocket.

            “Something for later.  Let’s get back and sat shall we?”  Kai replied, taking back the grocery bag and leading the younger man away.

            There was a domestic sort of cozy companionship in the atmosphere of Takao’s apartment that evening while they put away groceries and threw together a fast meal.  They ate without saying much, but then, that was normal, too.  It was certainly reminiscent of their time together ten years ago, when they’d often spent hours together in silence, yet completely at ease with each other.

            Kai watched the bluenette finish drying off the last dish and put it away with darkened crimson eyes, calculating.  A soon as the cupboard door closed and Takao had put down his towel, the agent struck.

            Takao had a brief chance to blink before he was pressed back against the counter and descended upon by his lover’s hands and mouth.  Helpless to do anything but surrender and allow himself to be consumed under the onslaught, he made a muffled groaning noise and lifted his arms to hook them around Kai’s shoulders and neck.  Kai’s hands fell to Takao’s hips, gripping and pulling the younger man as close as he could, holding him there while he kissed Takao deeply, hotly, and with al the emotion he could find in himself.

            The bluenette understood and kissed back just as fervently and as passionately as he could.  Oh how he’d missed this; the heat, the desperation for touch, the overwhelming desire for Kai to be with him, on him, around him, over him, in him – any damn way he could get Kai was enough to send his rational mind reeling.  Their tongues tangled and Takao’s hands delved into the older man’s hair as his body unconsciously shifted restlessly to press more fully and tightly to Kai’s, every curve and angle melding as if they were one body.

            When they broke apart briefly to catch their breaths, needing that pesky necessity for life (air), Takao’s hands roamed and touched any part of Kai he could conveniently reach while Kai’s hands busied themselves working the shirt off and over Takao’s head, then reaching for the fly of his jeans.  He let out a whimpered moan of Kai’s name when Kai’s hands brushed continuously over his increasingly hardening erection through the material of the pants and his underwear.  “Kai…oh gods…”

            “I don’t know about you, Taka,” Kai murmured, letting his lips teasingly brush against Takao’s several times while he worked at unclothing the younger man.  “But I fully intend to make use of the precious time alone that we have.”  He shoved the denim off over Takao’s hips and butt, then worked them down his legs to pull them off completely.

            “Hell yes.”  The bluenette sighed as the majority of the restriction of his aching cock was released, now constrained only by his brief underwear.  He wasn’t about to let the crimson eyed man get away with remaining clothed, however, and somewhat roughly began unbuttoning Kai’s shirt and the button-fly of his jeans.  “Aren’t we going a little fast?”

            Kai gave a small grunt as his jeans were practically ripped off his body and flung aside carelessly.  He shrugged out of the shirt and let it drop to the floor heedlessly, letting Takao draw him back into the embrace of his body and wrapping his arms around the bluenette as his head bent to capture Takao’s mouth once more.  “Hmm…we can go slow later, lover.  Right now I just want…I need to…” he gave up trying to articulate what everything in him was crying out for at that moment.  Takao understood anyway, responding by kissing Kai fiercely, with an intense, unbridled passionate desire that went beyond merely hormones and pheromones.

            A deep all-over body shudder ran through Kai and he pulled back suddenly, panting, as a wave of uncertainty washed through him.  “Taka, love…if this is too much, too soon…if we are going too fast then please tell me to stop now because I don’t think I can stop if we keep going like this, and…”

            Stormy blue eyes gleamed and narrowed, through there was a softness to his expression, and Kai suddenly found himself spun around so that he was the one pressed to the kitchen counter and kissed breathless once more.  When Kai was released he sucked in air hastily and met Takao’s gaze with his own, slightly dazed, crimson one.

            “That is so you, love – giving me a chance to end things before they go too far like that.  But as much as I appreciate the gesture and love you that much more for it…” Takao’s voice was husky with want and he leaned into kiss Kai deeply, once, before breaking away again to continue speaking. “It’s been ten years, Kai!  That’s too long between, and I’ll be damned if you quit now.”  With that, Takao dipped his head to kiss the older man again, this time slowly and thoroughly while his hands slid from Kai’s dual-shaded hair down to his shoulders, then skimmed them open-palmed downward over firm pecks and the washboard abdomen.

            Kai groaned and let Takao’s hands and mouth do whatever they wanted.  It felt much too good just sitting back and enjoying the younger man’s ministrations than it would have to stop him and proceed to vent his sexual frustration on his lover.  So he closed his eyes and stroked the back of the bluenette’s neck as Takao drew his mouth questioningly along the line of Kai’s jaw and down his neck while his ever-busy hands found the waistband of Kai’s boxers and fingers slipped under it.

            So much for lying around and being lazy that night.

            Teeth nipped lightly at the pulse beating quickly beneath his lips. “So sexy…” Takao purred, and Kai shivered, one hand moving to help Takao take off his boxers as the bluenette’s fingers curled into the material and pulled them off over his hips and butt. Kai shoved them the rest of the way off and kicked them to the side, sighing at the cool air on his heated skin. Takao nuzzled the clock of Kai’s neck and shoulder before dropping kisses as he descended down the length of Kai’s body. Kai opened his eyes and bit back a moan as that hot mouth closed over a nipple and sucked like it was candy, Takao’s hands gripping his hips to hold him up against the counter.

             The dual-haired agent looked down and watched with burning eyes hooded from lust as Takao slowly dropped to his knees and kissed a path past Kai’s navel to the soft skin of his pelvis. Kai made a deep guttural noise of pleasure when Takao finally wrapped his dexterous fingers around his lover’s thick erection, and lightly pumped it. Impossibly deep blue eyes glanced upward to watch Kai’s expression and reaction as Takao guided the tip to his mouth and flicked his tongue across the silken smooth head once, twice…and finally took him into his mouth.

             Now Kai moaned, hands quickly grabbing onto the edges of the counter for support as his knees trembled and he fought to keep from just thrusting himself into Takao’s throat. “Shit! Taka…lover, I don’t think I can take much more of that…” he rasped thickly. Takao just smiled around his mouthful and kept up his excruciatingly blissful torture. Kai’s knuckles were turning white, he was gripping the counter so hard, and he was darkly flushed from the pleasure that swept through him with every little motion and movement of Takao’s hands and mouth.

              And then Takao made a humming sound, the vibrations thrumming straight to Kai’s centre and setting off white fireworks in his mind. Orgasm crashed into him and rolled over every one of his senses, and he cried out hoarsely, the only warning he could give Takao before he plummeted into release. “Tak-ao!”

              The bluenette wasn’t quite prepared, but he still managed to catch most of his lover’s essence. Licking his lips with unabashed greed, Takao looked up and watched Kai, waiting for the crimson-eyed man to come back down and caressed his pale, ivory legs that were holding Kai up a bit shakily in a soothing way.

              “Hey.” He said after a couple of minutes. “God, you’re beautiful, Kai.” Takao rested his head against one of Kai’s legs, his cheek pressed to the soft inner thigh. Kai was always hot in his opinion, but he was down right other-worldly in these types of moments – chest heaving and breathless, droplets of sweat beading everywhere on moonlight pale skin that gave him a slight shimmering sheen, and burning crimson flame for eyes that were half-closed and dilated in the wake of the endorphin rush that orgasm brought.

              A hand unclenched itself from the counter and dropped to Takao’s head, fingers tunneling through silky midnight blue hair lethargically. Takao sighed and nuzzled his nose against the inside of Kai’s thigh, kissing the spot softly. “You okay?” He inquired, smiling at the suspiciously giddy snort of laughter. “Oh yeah. You’re blissed out.”

              “Hmm…if I am, it’s not my fault.” Kai sighed, blowing a damp lock of hair out of his eyes. “Get up here, lover.” He said in a mock-commanding voice and drew Takao back up to his feet. He wrapped his arms around the younger man and claimed that talented mouth in a lazy kiss that belied the yet burning need in his blood for more. Takao had only taken the edge off, given him a bit of relief, but his desire hadn’t waned yet, hadn’t been calmed, and he was going to give back as much as he could to the bluenette.

              Takao shifted against him restlessly, achingly hard and hoping Kai would do something about it soon. Kai kissed him again, and he mewled wantonly into Kai’s mouth, clutching at the taller man’s shoulders and grinding against him suggestively. Growling something in Russian, Kai hoisted Takao up and started moving toward the bedroom, stopping to grab the bag from the pharmacy along the way. Takao wrapped his legs around Kai’s waist as best he could and hung on, still kissing and nibbling at Kai’s ear and neck lustfully while he was carted off to the bedroom.

              Kai unceremoniously dropped the bluenette on the bed and Takao made a startled noise as he bounced a little off the mattress. Twin, stormy blue eyes stared up at his lover in question, desire burning in those depths. The older man smirked and bent to yank Takao’s underwear off forcefully. The young thief sighed and held out his hands to Kai, welcoming him as Kai knelt on the bed on either side of him and dipped his head to kiss Takao slowly with leisurely thrusts of his tongue against Takao’s. One hand tunneled fingers through Takao’s long mass of hair, the perpetual ponytail coming undone and setting the silken locks free to cascade down Takao’s back and shoulders. Takao made a husky, purring noise and fell backward, pulling Kai down with him as they continued to kiss each other with deepening need and urgency.

               Takao’s scent was heady and intoxicating to Kai. He’d always loved the unique scent that his lover emanated, that fresh, airy smell like a summer thunderstorm, mixed with the very slight scent of Takao’s hair from whatever he used for shampoo and conditioner. And under that the distinctly scent that could only be described as Takao. That combination was wafting up from creamy skin now and inflaming Kai’s senses with little effort. Memories of the last time, so very long ago, they had been like this – skin-on-skin, bodies melded so close they could barely tell where one began and the other ended – surfaced in each of their minds and a dual set of low moans murmured through the quiet.

               Kai finally found the will-power to break away from his lover’s delectable mouth and sat up on his knees again breathing hard. Takao whimpered at his sudden loss and pried open lust-heavy eyes as Kai moved off of him. “Kai? Why’d you stop, lover?”

               “Move back up the bed to the pillows, Taka. I want you comfortable.” Kai gave him a reassuring smile as one hand stroked up and down the inside of Takao’s inner thigh while the other hand reached for the pharmacy bag.

               Takao licked his lips and rolled over to crawl up the mattress to the head of his bed, lying down again on his back after grabbing the covers and flipping them half-off the bed. He watched Kai expectantly and propped up his head with one bent arm underneath. Kai threw the bag over his shoulder carelessly after he took out his purchase and broke the seal on the new tube of lubricant.

               “Ah ha! So that’s what you got.” Takao snickered, feeling a little giddy with the lust burning in his groin and pumping with his blood through his entire being. “I wondered about that, though I should have thought of that myself.”

               Kai, to Takao’s amused delight, flushed darkly from his cheeks right down his neck and even the tips of his ears. “Well, I remembered you had said you hadn’t…hadn’t for a long time, so…I don’t want to hurt you, Taka.”

               The bluenette’s smirk softened into a loving smile and he motioned the crimson-eyed man closer to join him again. Kai moved up the bed to cover Takao’s body with his own muscular self and let out a small groan at the contact. Takao wrapped an arm about Kai’s upper body to hold him close and traced his features with a gentle fingertip. “My love, grad night was my first and only time. There’s been no other. Just you…” he tilted his head to accommodate Kai as the agent brought his mouth down on Takao’s reverently. “Mmm…Kai…” he nearly purred as that hot mouth left his and cruised over his cheek to seek out his ear and that spot just behind it that always drove him crazy… “Ahh! Uhn…Kai, please!”

                 “I honestly never expected you to…remain single after I left, you know – but I should have known your loyalty and expected it.” Kai let his hand slide down Takao’s arm and his fingers tangle with his lover’s, raising their joined hands up to the pillow beside Takao’s head. “Especially since I haven’t been with anyone since that night either…”

                 Takao chuckled, rubbing his cheek affectionately against Kai’s. “Mmm…It’s a wonder we haven’t pinned each other to a wall several times yet then.” He let a leg raise to curl around one of Kai’s and ground his hips upward into his lover’s, feeling the heavy, hard erection Kai had regained by then rub against his own throbbing cock.

                 Kai growled something and settled himself more completely over Takao. He stared down into gleaming, fathomless depths and responded, “Don’t look now but you are pinned, my love.”

                Takao smiled. “So I am. What are you going to do with me?” He winked teasingly and Kai’s smile was instant and a touch wicked.

                “Oh…” he murmured in a deep, passionate voice. “I thought I would make love to you until neither of us can move…” Kai pulled his hand free of the bluenette’s and traced the length of Takao’s body until he could curl his exploring fingers around Takao’s erection, stroking in light, feathery touches that made Takao squirm and mewl. “I’m thinking you haven’t got any complaints about that, lover.”

                “I…gods no!” Takao gasped out, his eyes rolling back as Kai’s hand tightened and moved a little faster. “Ughn…please!” HE pushed at Kai’s shoulders insistently and the older man rolled off him.

                “Turn over, Taka.” Kai sat up on his knees, straddling one of the bluenette’s legs after he’d flipped onto his stomach. The dual-haired agent opened the tube and used some of the slick gel-like substance to coat his fingers really well. Then he moved up behind Takao, drawing him up onto his forearms and knees. He felt a tremor of anticipation run through the svelte body before him and a small moan when his slick fingers rubbed the lube against Takao’s entrance before one digit pressed into him slowly.

                Takao cried out a little at the intrusion – expected but nonetheless unused to such strange sensations. Kai made a soothing noise and rubbed Takao’s stomach and abdomen in reassuring little circles with his other hand, leaning down to place loving kisses to Takao’s shoulders.

                “Sorry, love. Tell me if I hurt you, okay?” Kai murmured against dampening golden-hued skin.

                “Doesn’t…hurt. It’s just weird…” Takao pushed his hips backward against the finger inside him and made a gasping noise of pleasure. “In a really good way…” he moaned softly. “More, please…Kai…”

               Kai moved his finger a few more times before carefully adding a second. A sharp groan and jerking of Takao’s hips was the result, and he paused. “Still okay?”

               “Yes-sss…” came the reply. “Damn it, I’m not fragile!” Takao ground out, closing his eyes and fighting to hang on long enough for them to finish this together. As it was he was rapidly losing control and he’d come before Kai even entered him. He opened his eyes, which glazed a little as Kai’s fingers started moving again, and turned his head as best he could to try and look at Kai. “Don’t…shit! Don’t you dare…stop!” he managed to growl out. Then Kai’s fingers found that sweet spot deep inside him that hinted at an explosion of pure ecstasy and he moaned loudly, bucking his hips and ass sharply trying to get more of that sensation. “Ahh…gods!”

               Kai licked his suddenly dry lips and decided he couldn’t wait anymore. They could play more later. He removed his fingers and grabbed the lube hastily, using it on himself quickly.

               Before Takao could wonder where his lover had gone all of a sudden, he found himself flipped back onto his back and a hot and bothered Kai over top of him situated between his spread legs. The bluenette blinked dazedly up at him and wriggled a little, stopping at the crimson-eyed man’s warning growl. “Kai?”

               “You’re too damned sexy, Taka.” Kai’s voice was raspy and held a note of waning control. “Here I’m trying to prepare you so I don’t hurt you and all your little noises and movements make me lose my mind.” He moved a little bit and watched those smoky blue eyes go almost blind as he felt the tip of Kai’s leaking cock nudge his stretched opening and slide partially inside. Takao forced himself to focus on Kai’s face and shivered when he saw how tightly strung every muscle in the older man’s body was with the effort to hold himself back.

               He felt a similar tightness form in his groin, and the swell of urgent need began to burn through his bloodstream like a drug. Kai’s hands grabbed at his hips and pulled him up and toward Kai as he thrust into him in one hard, deep stroke. Takao cried out and gripped Kai’s upper arms against the shockwave of suddenly being penetrated like that – just taken without warning.

              Oh but he liked it. It didn’t hurt – maybe a tad uncomfortable at first but that was rapidly disappearing and becoming nothing but a sweet burning pleasure that was making his toes curl and sweat begin to trickle down the sides of Kai’s face as the UNA agent began to move within him.

              “K-Kai…” Takao whimpered his lover’s name and reached up to grip at his back and shoulders, fingers kneading the muscles encouragingly. “Oh yes…yes, more!”

              The tightness around Kai’s length contracted and Kai let out a thick moan as he gave up what little control he had left and started pounding himself in and out of his long-lost beloved Takao with abandon. It was hot, and tight, and every little sound Takao made shot straight through him, making his ears buzz and skin tingle. “Ta-ka…” he almost couldn’t form the name he was so far gone.

              He needed to do something to speed Takao along before Kai came – again – too soon and left his lover behind. Pausing only long enough to hook his arms under Takao’s legs and push them up, splayed wide on either side of them, and allowing Kai to somehow slip even deeper into the bluenette than before, Kai began thrusting even harder and faster than before, striking the younger man’s prostate with every stroke.

             Takao let out a choked wail and dug his fingers into Kai’s shoulders desperately as a white wave of bliss rolled over him in ever-increasing waves until the pressure at his centre broke and he came hard, his essence coating their stomachs and chests in a flood. His spine curved, his head tossed back and his body shuddered at the force of his orgasm while a hoarse, quiet cry of completion echoed in the humid room. “Kai!!

             Kai didn’t even feel the pain in his shoulders from Takao’s fingers – sure to leave marks of not welts. He thrust twice more into the welcoming heat that was spasming around him and let go of himself, spiralling beyond pleasure and plummeting into pure white ecstasy. His voice cracked on Takao’s name and his whole body quaked as he loosed his essence deep within his lover. Release left him weak and completely spent, and he collapsed on top of Takao with a groan.

~*~*~*~*~

             Seconds…minutes…hours…neither man knew how long they lay there in bed, totally blissed out and desperately gulping in air as if they’d sprinted a mile flat out.  Kai, his face tucked against Takao’s shoulder, shakily managed to move first, propping himself up on a forearm.  Still feeling dazed and shaky, he brushed the damp locks of Takao’s hair out of his face and rubbed a thumb-pad over his bottom lips.  “Still alive, gorgeous, or did I kill you?”

            “Nurgh…” came the unintelligible moaned reply.  Kai sniggered and closed his eyes, using what little energy he could muster right then to slowly unsheathe himself and untangle their contorted limbs so they were at least able to sprawl comfortably to recover.  Takao made a whimpering sound of loss and rolled over to curl against Kai’s side, an arm and a leg tossing themselves over the dual-haired man to keep him from going very far.  “Don’t leave me…” Takao muttered, snuggling closer.

            Kai wrapped his arm around the bluenette tightly and held him close, running his fingers through his messy midnight blue hair over and over again lazily.  “Hn…I won’t.  Go to sleep, my love.  I promise I’ll be here when you wake up.”  He kissed the top of Takao’s head and closed his own eyes, pleasantly exhausted.

            “Love you.”  Takao murmured, already half-asleep.

            “I know.”  Kai’s arm tightened around him possessively.  “I know, and I love you, Takao.”  He whispered in reply as darkness covered his consciousness and he fell asleep, content and satiated, in his lover’s arms.

~*~*~*~*~

            The insistent ringing of Takao’s telephone jolted them both awake rather rudely the next morning.  Grumbling like the non-morning person he was, Takao blindly reached out and felt around for the cordless receiver on the bedside table, grabbing it and taking it with him as he pulled the covers up over his head to block out the rest of the world.  Kai, not in a mood to be awake either, muttered something in annoyed Russian and tried to ignore it as the bluenette answered.

            “Kinomiya Takao…” Takao announced in a sleepy, gruff voice that was attempting to be polite.

            “You’re not awake yet?  Takao, its nearly noon!”  The all too familiar, nagging voice of Hilary came over the line in response.  “We’ve been sitting around here expecting you to call for hours now!  Get up!

            “Bloody hell…” Takao, released from any politeness he felt compelled to have when he answered, cursed fluently at the girl for several minutes before continuing.  “I’m supposed to be getting what rest I can, remember?  What the hell do you want anyway, Hilary?”

            “We have to start making some sort of plan, don’t you think?  Have you told Kai what the next item is yet?”  Hilary, used to the grumpy, caustic bluenette when he first woke up in the morning by now, remained unfazed and ignored his tone and cursing.  “Oh, and tell him to call Tala…I mean Agent Ivanov, soon.”

            Takao may have been half asleep yet, but he was awake enough to catch that slip.  Interesting.  He thought idly, yawning expansively and sighing in pleasure when one of Kai’s hands began rubbing the soreness out of his lower back.  “Yeah, yeah…we’ll wake up and let you guys know, okay?  Now go away.”  He hung up and shoved the phone out of the bed and onto the floor before Hilary could say anything else, rolling onto his stomach to enjoy the massage.

            “That was Kenny’s secretary?”  The older man inquired, fingers kneading skilfully.  He smiled with heavy-lidded eyes as Takao stretched in decidedly feline pleasure under his ministrations.

            “Mmm…yeah.  You’re supposed to call your partner.”  Takao muttered, so released he could fall asleep again quite easily.

            “When I feel like it.  Damn Wolf’s probably called my cell a hundred times by now.”  Kai frowned and brushed Takao’s hair out of his eyes.  “Hungry?”

            “Some.  I need a shower first though.”  Takao yawned again and pushed back the covers, rolling over and sitting up.  “Want to join me, lover?  No point in wasting water, right?”

            Kai nodded, missing the mischievous glint in the younger man’s eyes as he swung his legs out of bed and stood up.  “Fine with me.  Then I need coffee.  Desperately.”

            Takao laughed and led him into the bathroom by the hand.  “Let’s get showered then, lover, and I’ll get out my espresso machine.”

            Kai barely managed to swallow back a moan.

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

Chapter 13: Thick As Thieves – Part II

            A good forty-five minutes later, they finished their shower and padded out to the kitchen to make brunch and espresso – and tea for Takao.  Unsurprisingly, the lovers hadn’t been able to keep their hands to themselves in the shower and ended up having a hot and steamy make-out session that had nothing to do with the hot water pouring over them at the time.

            They were just cleaning up the dishes when Takao’s doorbell rang.  He dropped the towel by the sink and went to answer it.

            “What the…?”  He frowned as he opened the door and found no one on the other side.  As he stepped out into the hallway to see if he could see anyone, his foot landed on something and he looked down.  A plain manila envelope lay on the floor, addressed to him.  Takao’s frown deepened and he picked it up, going back inside with a feeling of dread forming a knot in his stomach.  Kai stood in the kitchen entranceway, waiting for him.

            “Who…what’s that?”  Kai switched questions when he saw the envelope in Takao’s hands.

            “I don’t know.  There was no one at the door.  Just this.”  Takao responded dully.  “I…I’m afraid to open it.”

            Kai plucked it from his lover’s fingers and went back into the kitchen.  He held it up to the light, in an attempt to see if there was something dangerous inside, then set it on the counter. Takao followed him and watched silently.

            “Do you have a letter opener or something?”  Kai asked.  Takao nodded and pulled one from a pen holder near the kitchen phone, handing it to the agent.  Kai slit open the top of the envelope and emptied the contents onto the counter carefully.

            Takao glimpsed the photograph that fell out and made a low noise before he snatched it up immediately to get a proper look at it.  Kai went over to see what it was that was distressing the bluenette, and then let out a heartfelt, “Shit.” when he saw what it was.

            “Dad…Hiroshi…” Takao’s hands shook as he stared at the picture, tears burning in his eyes.  Kai wrapped an arm around Takao’s waist in support and took the picture from him to study closely.

            “They look fine.  Maybe a little worse for wear, but still fine.”  Kai tried reassuring Takao as the bluenette turned in his arms and buried his face in Kai’s shoulder with a sob.  “Hey…that’s good news, isn’t it?”

            “But…who knows if that picture is fake or not?”  The bluenette cried, trembling with emotion.  “It’s so easy to fake pictures these days…”

            “Well, there are ways to check that out.  But that newspaper they’re holding up between them could be all the verification we need.”  Kai kissed Takao’s forehead and went to grab his cell phone.  He could barely make out the newspaper’s name, the date, and the headline of the front page story, but that was all he needed to begin with.  “Put the picture beside the envelope for now, Taka.  I’ll have Tala take it all to the lab for testing.  You never know…they may find out something useful.”

            Takao swallowed hard, fighting off tears, and nodded.  Kai dialed his partner’s number and waited for the red-haired agent to pick up.

            “About time you called!”  Tala unceremoniously yelled for a greeting.  “What took so long, Hiwatari?!”

            “I was busy.  Shut up and listen, Ivanov.”  Kai snapped back, then proceeded to tell his partner about the envelope.  “Are there still people watching Takao’s building?”

            Tala, all business now at the tone of his partner’s voice, made thoughtful, serious noises.  “No.  Not that we could pick out.  The agents on duty tried following the ones that were watching him yesterday, but they lost them at the train station.”

            “Damn.  Well, to be on the safe side, bring Kenny, Max, and the ladies with you through a back entrance, and come up here so we can start making a plan of some kind.”  Kai drummed his fingers on the kitchen counter.

            “Fine.  I’ll go round them up and we’ll be over in about an hour.”  Tala agreed and hung up.

            “Are you sure it’s a good idea to bring the others here?”  Takao asked, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth in concern.

            “It’ll be fine.  Tala knows what he’s doing.”  Kai said assuredly, walking over to his lover to enfold him in a hug.  After a moment, when the bluenette stopped shaking with emotion, he released him and picked up the pictures very gingerly to slip them back into the envelope.  “I’ll get these to Tala, and he’ll let the labs run all their tests on them and get a definite answer by tomorrow.”

            Takao nodded, watching the envelope like a poisonous viper.  “Thanks, Kai.”  He spotted a piece of paper that had come out of the envelope with the pictures but hadn’t been noticed before.  “Oh…there’s a note…”

            Kai caught the unenthusiastic tone and reached to pick it up.  “Do you want me to read it first?”

            The young thief closed his eyes briefly and shook his head.  “No, I’ll do it.”  He held out his hand and Kai dropped the paper on his palm.  “But thanks for offering.”  Takao looked down at the paper as he opened it up, then proceeded to read aloud.

            “As you can see, your family is alive, and have been treated well.  Continue your job as you have been and you may even see them alive again in person.  Do not presume to threaten us without considering consequences, for we will not hesitate to do something drastic to these two men.”  Takao stopped reading and snarled at the paper angrily.  Kai squeezed his shoulders and looked over one shoulder to see if there was more.

            “You have your confirmation.”  He continued reading aloud while Takao seethed.  “And you will notice, out of our good faith, that we have removed our people from watching you, as you so brashly ‘requested.’  For your information, they were there to find out where you disappeared to.  We do not like being kept in the dark on things, and we will remind you that our agreement included a stipulation that you would inform us of your plans and movements.  Refrain from disappearing again or we will be forced to take action against our ‘guests.

            Kai let out a soft whistle and took the note, placing it carefully back in the envelope with the pictures.  “Try to ignore it, Taka.  They’re still trying to play at being in control of the situation, and you know they aren’t.  It’s our game now.”  He stated in a firm voice, looking down at the bluenette’s stormy blue eyes.  Takao sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, nodding.

            “I know.  I know…but it still makes me mad.”

            Kai bent and kissed Takao lightly on the lips before hugging him close.  “Be mad.  You have every reason to be.  Just don’t let your temper rule your head, that’s all.”

            “I’ll try.”

            Kai’s cell phone went off, startling them.  The agent grabbed it from the counter where he’d let it and answered it.  “Yes?”

            “We’re about five minutes away, Kai.  By the way, a pizza delivery guy is about to deliver your pizza any time now.  Give him the envelope and whatever, and he’ll deliver it back to the labs.”  Tala graciously informed his partner.

            “Pizza?”  Kai made a face.  “Couldn’t you have picked a nice Chinese place instead?”  Takao perked up and glanced at the phone in Kai’s hand.

            “Tala’s bringing us pizza?”  He asked, happily.  Kai rolled his eyes.

            “No.  We don’t have a Chinese restaurant on the roster.”  Tala replied, and Kai could hear the smirk in the Russian’s voice.  “Deal with it and eat like the rest of us lowly humans.”

            “Whatever.”  Kai chose to ignore it and walked over to Takao’s apartment window that looked down on the street below.  “That you in the Central Air van?”

            “That’s us.  We’re going around back and we’ll be up in a few minutes.”  Tala hung up – again.

            “They’re here.”  Kai informed his boyfriend, who’d joined him at the window.  “And when the pizza guy shows, give him the envelope and he’ll take it to the labs.”

            Takao blinked.  “The pizza guy?”

            “It’ll be an agent in disguise.”  The crimson-eyed man took the younger man’s hand and led him over to the sofa, flopping down onto it, and pulling Takao with him to sprawl over top of him.  “Trust me.”

            “You know I do.”  Takao sighed and snuggled in comfortably.  “We can’t get too cozy.  The others will be here soon…”

            “We can until they do.”  Kai rubbed a hand up and down Takao’s back.  “I don’t feel like being all professional at the moment.”

            Takao laughed softly.  “Good point.”

~*~*~*~*~

            “You lot look absolutely ridiculous.”  Takao stated, holding open his door and staring at the group of his friends and their disguises.  “I mean an air conditioning repair crew?  How very unoriginal.”

            Tala gave the bluenette a dirty look and walked past him.  “I’ll have you know that the UNA paid good money to buy out this company and make it a front company for our use.  It works every time.  Haven’t you noticed your AC isn’t working?”

            “Ha.  Ha.”  Takao glared back and allowed the others to troop into the apartment.  “Welcome to my humble abode.”  He welcomed them blithely.

            “Wow.  This is really cool!”  Max bounded around the living room with his usual youthful energy.  “You’ve got great taste, buddy!”

            “Thanks, Max.  I figured you’d appreciate it.”

            In the kitchen, Kai was showing the envelope and its contents to his partner, while making tea and coffee for the group and their brainstorming session.

            “What’s your thoughts on it, Tala?”  He asked, plugging in the kettle for tea and flipping the switch on for the coffeemaker.

            “Generic everything, to the point where it’s probably untraceable.  Probably made on one of those PCs at some internet café somewhere and just left on your doorstep, so to speak.”  The redhead sniffed the letter curiously.  “Didn’t even leave a scent on it.  All I smell is paper and ink.”

            “Damn.  I was hoping for a little more.  What about the picture?”

            “I’m not a photography expert, but it looks real.”  Tala shrugged.  “Unfortunately, using the London Times as the newspaper of choice doesn’t tell us much since you can find it all over Europe, let alone the world.”

            “Yeah.  That’s what I thought.  Still, the labs may find something.”  Kai glanced over at the door when a knock sounded and a voice called out “Pizza delivery!”

            “Good timing.”  Tala gathered it all up and went to the door.  He opened it and passed along the envelope after accepting the pizzas.  The ‘Pizza Guy’ slipped the envelope into the insulated carrier he’d had the pizzas in and nodded at Tala.

            “Enjoy your pizzas, sir.”

            “Thanks.”  Tala closed the door with his foot and took the stack of pizza boxes into the kitchen, setting them on the counter.

            “Well, I guess we should eat this and start planning.”  Kai mused, turning to the direction of the living room.  “Takao!  Bring everyone to get some of this pizza before it gets cold!”

            The bluenette strolled back into the kitchen sniffing the air hungrily.  “Smells really good.  I’ll get the plates.”  He said with a smile, moving around Tala and Kai to dig out plates from the cupboard.  “So the letter and everything is gone?”  He asked.

            Kai nodded and hooked an arm around Takao’s waist after he put a stack of plates down on the counter.  “They are.  Put it from your mind for a little while, love, until we hear something from the labs.”  He kissed Takao lightly on the cheek and released him to pick up a plate and grab some food.  “I think you’re safe eating this pizza, Taka.  I don’t think it breaks any of your rules.”

            After everyone had claimed their share of pizza and were settled in Takao’s living room, it was Hilary that started off the brainstorm session.

            “So where do we go from here?  I mean, the people that are behind all this think Takao is already working on the last item, right?”

            Takao sighed and took a careful sip of his hot tea.  “Yeah.  I made sure Gideon thinks that is why I’m around Kai and…uh…risking my neck by doing so because he’s UNA.”

            Kai paused in his eating, looking at his lover with a small frown on his face.  “Hold on.  Why would being with me be part of your next item?  I don’t have anything like antiquities or jewels or manuscripts.”  Crimson eyes narrowed suspiciously.  “What exactly is the last item on your list, Takao?”

            The reluctant thief put his teacup down and fidgeted under the steady heat of his lover’s gaze, glancing at Kenny for help.  “Ah…well…”

            “The last item was a gift to a certain family in the late 1890s from Czar Nicholas II.  The head of the family had saved a relative of the Czar after some kind of accident.”  Kenny explained, adjusting his glasses and nearly squirming when Kai’s scrutinizing gaze turned on him.  “Russian history books are a little difficult to delve through.  The Czar had the item commissioned from a Russian goldsmith/jeweler designer who had become quite famous at the time….Fabergé?  Maybe you’ve heard of him…”

            Kai frowned a little more.  “Yes.  I know of Peter Carl Fabergé…” he stopped, the frown disappearing as he put pieces together and came up with the only possible conclusion.  “Hell…it’s an Egg, isn’t it?”

            Takao looked down at his feet with a deep sigh and a tiny nod.  “A Fabergé Egg that was given to the Hiwatari family by Nicholas II, and has remained in the Hiwatari family’s possession ever since, despite numerous occasions they could have lost or sold it…”

            Without any sort of intelligent response that Kai felt he could make, he stood and went to stare out the window from Takao’s sliding glass doors that led out to a small balcony.

            Tala’s blue eyes flicked back and forth from Takao to his partner to Kenny and back again.  “Alright.  So we know the last item.  What were you intending to do to acquire it, Kinomiya, before Kai found you in London?”

            Takao winced and laughed, though it held no humour.  “Pray he wasn’t around when I stole it…” he answered, running a shaky hand through his hair.  “I didn’t really have a plan yet.  I’d only just finished at the Museum, after all, and I needed more information before I tried coming up with a game plan.”

            “Point taken.”  Tala acknowledged.  Thinking, he asked another question.  “Do you know anything more now?  I mean where it is, how hard it would be to acquire?”

            “It’s in the vault in the third floor library at my parents’ estate in Italy.”  Kai said from his stance at the balcony doors.  “To get it, he’d have to somehow find a way to get there, then have a way to get inside and get past all the security – not to mention my parents.”

            Takao slowly raised his stormy blue eyes to meet the sharp, heated crimson set Kai had pinned him with.  “Like I said, I needed more information than that.”  He repeated, softly.  “But I’d probably do as I had with a couple of the other items – I’d get on the staff somehow to gain access to the place and when I had the opportunity I would get the Egg and leave.”

            “And now that you’ve been discovered and the blackmailer’s have seen you with Kai…?”  Tala inquired.

            “It’ll be seen as Takao using me to get inside and near the Egg long enough to steal it and get out again without being suspected.”  Kai answered for the bluenette, who hung his head and fidgeted under that hot gaze.

            “Oh.”  Tala said in an ‘of course’ kind of tone.  “Right.”

            “Ah…” Hilary spoke up, trying to dispel some of the tension in the room.  “Since that’s what Gideon thinks we should just let him keep thinking it and in the meantime do something else, right?  I mean, Kai could ask his family if he could borrow the egg for a while or something, couldn’t he?”

            Kai gave her a strange look and shook his head.  “No way would that work.”

            “Why not?  Takao wouldn’t have to steal it that way.”  Hilary crossed her arms, put out that they wouldn’t even consider the idea.

            “Aside from the fact that my father would never agree to loan me a precious, valuable family heirloom like that…” Kai retorted dryly.  “I couldn’t tell him why I want to borrow it either, when I couldn’t guarantee it would be returned – and returned in tact, at that.”

            Hilary subsided.  “Oh.  Didn’t think of that.”

            Kenny sighed and took off his glasses, polishing the lenses with a corner of his shirt.  “It also has to appear to be stolen, or Gideon and his people will be suspicious, and that’d be too risky to Mr. Kinomiya and Hiroshi’s lives and safety.”

            Judy tapped her fingers thoughtfully on her leg.  “So you’re saying that basically Tyson will have to steal the Egg somehow, and there’s no other way to obtain it without making the blackmailers suspicious.”

            Max groaned.  “What a mess!”  He flopped back against the cushions of his sofa chair.  “What do we do, then?”

            Tala ran a hand through his hair.  “Well…we’re going to develop a plan to steal it, I guess.  Getting in to the Hiwatari estate won’t be hard, since we’ve got all kinds of excuses, but actually stealing the Egg…”

            Kenny flipped open his laptop.  “I’ve got floor plans and security details, and now that we know where exactly the Egg is located, we should be able to formulate a workable way of getting near that library and getting the Egg.”  He glanced at Kai hesitantly.  “If Kai is willing to help us, since he knows the place best of all…”

            Takao looked up and met Kai’s eyes, silently asking for help.  He had to do this, to save his family and he hoped Kai would forgive him.  “Kai, I…”

            “Don’t look at me like that, Kinomiya.”  The dual-haired agent rubbed a hand over his face and went to sit down next to his lover again.  “I said I was going to help you however I could, and that’s what I’ll do.  I just…” Kai growled a curse and kicked at the unoffending coffee table (without actually making contact) in frustration.  “You’re asking me to steal from my own family.  That’s pushing it.”

            Takao flinched guiltily and hesitantly curled an arm around Kai’s waist.  “I’m so sorry, Kai.  I don’t want to do this either.  If there were some other way I’d take it in a heartbeat, but…”

            Kai closed his eyes and turned, gathering Takao into his arms and pulling him close to hug him.  The thief buried his face against the inside of Kai’s shoulder and hugged him back.

            “Shh…it’s not your fault, Taka.  I’m not mad at you for this.  I don’t like it, but I’ll do it.”  Kai pressed a kiss to the bluenette’s forehead, holding him against his side protectively.

            “Thank you.”  Takao murmured, snuggling into his lover’s warmth gratefully.

            “Alright.  So…what have we got to start with?”  Judy went over to Kenny and gestured at his laptop screen.  “Are those blueprints to the estate?”

            Kai ignored the others as they gathered around Kenny to look at the plans.  “What had you come up with for a plan, Takao?  Now, I mean.  I can practically hear the gears grinding in that head of yours.”

            “Well…” Takao ran a hand through his hair and blew out a deep breath.  “First off, how would you suggest we go about getting into the estate?”

            “You mean an excuse for going?”

            Takao nodded.

            “Like Tala said, we have several good ones.  I want to take you to meet my parents, for one thing.”  Kai smiled a little at that, and Takao blushed.  “And my mother did want Tala to come visit more often.”

            “Alright.  That would work.  From there, once we’re on the inside, it’s a matter of having the opportunity to get into that library.”  Takao frowned thoughtfully.  “I think this time around, I may have to wing it and play it by ear.  I’ve never had a personal relationship with the people I’ve stolen from before, so this is all new.”

            “Hn.”

            “I can tell you that you may need some help in this one, Takao.”  Kenny’s voice drew their attention.

            “What do you mean?”

            “If you want to make this appear to be a true robbery for Gideon’s benefit, then your best bet would be to do it at night, sneaking past all the security systems and breaking into the vault.”  The petit genius informed him.  “And this time, you won’t have time to memorize where all the cameras and motion detectors and everything else are before you go in.  You’re going to need someone to hack the system and tell you where and when to go.”

            “And why can’t I just take out the security system?”  Takao asked, lifting an eyebrow at this opinion.

            “It’s the way it’s set up.”  Kenny pointed at his screen.  “See, even if you shut down the major power source here, there’s another power station here that you’d also have to shut down – at the same time.  You can’t be in both places at once, Takao.”

            “Why at the same time, Chief?”  Max wondered.

            “There’s a fail-safe.  If the power doesn’t go off all at once – like in a power outage or blackout – then the alarms will be triggered.”  Kenny looked up and met Takao’s gaze, his expression deadly serious.  “The Hiwatari family is the wealthiest, most socially prominent family or personage that we’ve had to deal with, Takao.  Their security is also that much more elaborate and…secure than any other, also.  This time, you are going to need back-up on site.”

            “Well…I’ll have Kai and Tala.”  The bluenette pointed out.

            “Yes.  But can either of them hack a security system?”

            Kai and Tala exchanged looks, then shook their heads.

            “I can’t.”  The dual-haired agent sighed.

            “I can use a computer fairly well, but I don’t know about hacking a security system.”  The icy-blue eyed wolf frowned.

            “Then I’ll have to come along.”  Kenny closed his laptop decisively with a ‘click.’

            “You can’t, Kenny.”  Takao stated, voice firm.  “You, and Max and Judy, all have to go home and continue as if you’re oblivious.  And it’s too dangerous for you, Kenny, to be involved any further in this than you already are.”

            “What?!  Takao, I am up to my eyes and sinking fast in this debacle!”  Kenny retorted.

            “Besides which,” Kai added, “We wouldn’t have an excuse for having you along to tell my parents.”

            “We could come up with something!”

            “No, I agree with them.”  Jody set her hand on Kenny’s shoulder.  “You provide them with as much info and data as you can, then go home, Kenny.  You do have a job to get back to, as well.”

            “But…”

            “What about me?”  Hilary suddenly asked, looking a little put out at being forgotten.

            Tala studied her for a moment.  He wasn’t sure he liked getting her further involved in this, but…there were possibilities – for more than one reason.  “How are your computer skills?”  He asked, ignoring the stunned expressions on Takao and Kenny’s faces.

            “Well, I was pretty handy with one to begin with.”  She replied, tossing her hair over a shoulder proudly.  “I have some mad secretarial skills, you know.  But I’ve been around Kenny for a long time now, and I’ve picked up a few…techniques.”

            Kenny’s jaw dropped.  “What?!  Since when?!  And why haven’t you said anything before?!”

            Hilary scowled at him.  “You never asked!  And I had to use my skills fairly often to research some of the stuff you had me looking for to help Takao!”

            Kai hid a smile at Kenny’s shocked expression (he looked like he was going to have a heart attack).  Takao looked as if he didn’t know whether to laugh or frown, and Tala…had a delighted smirk on his face.  “Ivanov…what are you thinking?”  Kai inquired, seeing a definite gleam in those surreal eyes to be wary of.

            “Well, we can’t justify the brainy one, there.”  Tala drawled, stretching his legs out in front of himself and crossing them at the ankles, hands folding behind his head.  He looked positively smug.  “But Ms. Tatibana…well, that’s a different story.”

            Hilary blinked at him, baffled.  “I don’t understand.”

            “Simple.  It may require some acting from us, but it shouldn’t be too hard to pretend we’re dating, right?”

            “Uhh…” Hilary blushed, speechless.

            Takao smothered a laugh, Kai rolled his eyes to the heavens seeking divine intervention, and Kenny…

            “What?  Are you insane?  That’s incredibly risky!”

            Kenny nearly had a fit.

            Max frowned in concern.  “I have to agree with the Chief on that.  And I don’t know that Kai wants to lie to his parents any more than absolutely necessary.”

            Kai glanced at Max with a raised eyebrow.  He hadn’t expected the blonde to care, not with the recent hostile and untrustingly attitude.  “No.  I do not.  However, this could be very necessary.”

            While they all argued for and against the idea, Tala leaned over and asked Hilary quietly, “It’s your decision, Hilary.  I only made a suggestion.  Don’t let us make your decisions for you.  Do you think you can pretend and help us, or would you rather not take the risk of getting so involved.”

            She met his gaze unflinchingly, feeling something warm rise in her chest at the seriousness with which he asked.  Tala…was truly unique, and she was beginning to appreciate him as she never had anyone else before.

            “I’ll go.”  She stated decisively.  “I can do it.”

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

Chapter 14: Thick As Thieves – Part III

            “I feel like a celebrity or royalty or something.”

            Kai glanced at his lover as they walked across the tarmac from the car to the small, private jet waiting for them.

            Tala grinned and shoved his sunglasses up his nose.  “Fun, isn’t it?”

            Hilary grabbed onto her skirt and hat as a breeze came up and threatened to whip them around or off.  “Ah!  Actually…I’m a little nervous about this.”

            “Worried about your role?”  Kai inquired, slowing to a stop at the base of the stairs leading up to the plane’s door.  “I’m sure you’ll do just fine, Hilary.  Tala will look after you, even if he doesn’t seem like he’s dependable.”

            “Hey…”

            “No.  It’s just hit me that…well…” Hilary blushed and looked down at herself.  “I’m afraid I won’t fit in very well with the rich and powerful as I’m sure Kai’s family is.”

            Kai blinked, somewhat confused.  “What makes you think that?”

            “Yeah, Hil.  I think I’m the one that needs to worry about getting approval.”  Takao gripped Kai’s hand.

            “I don’t have designer…anything, really – let alone clothes or shoes or whatever – I don’t wear expensive perfume or jewellery…” the brunette looked positively horrified with herself.  “And my hair!  You don’t think I’m wearing this hat for fun, do you?  And my…”

            Completely helpless – not to mention mystified – in the face of Hilary’s bout of female crisis, the three males glanced at each other and exchanged looks of “do something!”

            “I’m…sure my mother won’t even notice.”  Kai finally spoke up, not knowing what else to say.  “She’s much more practical and down-to-earth than one might think.”

            Hilary frowned, chewing her bottom lip thoughtfully.

            “Besides, Hilary,” Takao grinned and caught her hat as it did fly off her head on another gust of wind. “You’re capable of being rich and powerful without all that aren’t you?  You boss the rest of us around without difficulty and you can ignore the rest of us just as easily, too.”

            “Are you calling me a snob, Kinomiya Takao!?”

            While Hilary vented her frustration at Takao’s comments on the bluenette by trying to strangle him to death, Kai glanced at his watch and looked at his partner.

            “Kenny and the others should be in the air by now, right?” he asked.

            Tala glanced at his own watch and nodded.  “Yep.  I’m sure they’re all relaxing in first class watching one of the in-flight movies by now – along with whoever the Boss sent along to keep an eye on them for us while they’re gone and we’re in Italy.”

            “That’s what I figured, too.  Then I suppose we should be leaving now and get this production on its way.”  Kai extracted his lover from Hilary’s grip and pulled him up the steps to the jet.  “Time to go, Taka.  Here,” he gently pushed the younger man in the direction of the seating cabin.  “Go settle in while I talk to the captain and I’ll be right there.”

            “Okay.”  Takao obeyed, admiring the interior of the jet openly as he moved.  Tala and Hilary followed him, taking their own seats and getting settled for their flight.

            Kai popped his head into the cockpit of the plane.  “Hey, Captain Ferretti.  We’re all ready to go as soon as you’ve got clearance.”

            “Sure thing, Mr. Hiwatari.”  The captain chuckled, shaking his head.  “Still sounds odd to be calling you that.”

            Kai rolled his eyes.  “You’re the one that insists on it, not me.  Anyway, let’s fly, huh?”

            “We’re as good as airborne.”  Ferretti began flipping switches and dials, checking last minute flight details, and preparing to take off.  Kai left him to it, heading back to the passenger cabin.

            He paused, shaking his head at his partner who was bent over and digging through the mini-refrigerator in the small galley area at the back corner of the cabin.

            “Found the alcohol already, I see.”  The dual-haired agent commented, dropping into the seat next to Takao’s and stretching out his legs in front of himself comfortably.

            Tala peered over his shoulder and stuck out his tongue in a childish gesture.  “We may be working, but we can have a little fun and enjoyment in between, can’t we?  Besides,” he pulled out a bottle of wine and dangled it in front of himself as he turned around.  “We all need to relax and just chill out for a couple of hours – especially sparky over there.”  The wolfish agent gestured at Takao with the bottle and turned to find some glasses.

            The bluenette scowled and repeated, “ ‘Sparky?’” in a deadly tone that had Kai running a hand up and down his arm in a soothing manner.

            “Ignore the mutt.”  Kai stroked Takao’s fingers to distract him and let the younger man thread their digits together.  “He’s forever trying to aggravate people that way.  He’s not being mean – just annoying.”

            Even though he was itching to send one of his ‘sparks’ in Tala’s direction, Takao subsided and managed to refrain.  Instead, he settled back into the seat and closed his eyes with a small purr of comfort.

            Hilary hid a giggle behind her hand and got up to help Tala carry the three glasses of wine (and one glass of fizzy lemon-lime flavoured spring water for Takao) he’d poured for them.

            “Here you are, my lady.”  Tala handed her a wine glass with a grand flourish before walking over to Kai and Takao to dangle their glasses in front of them carelessly.  Kai took both and shook his head again, not saying a word.  The redhead smirked and went back to take his seat near Hilary just as the jet began to move.  “Ah…finally taking off.  As much as I like Paris, I’m looking forward to Italy.”

            “I’ve never been.”  Hilary mused, sipping her wine.  “Maybe that’s another reason I’m so nervous.  Italy is such a…glamorous place and I’m…not glamorous, really.”

            Tala raised an eyebrow, taking a sip of his own wine.  “What makes you think you have to be ‘glamorous’ to go to Italy?  Besides the fact that it also depends on one’s definition of glamorous.”  He added, winking at her and earning a rosy blush he found endearing.

            “Oh…stop!”  Hilary stared down into her wine glass to avoid looking at him and letting him see her red face.

            “It’s true, Hilary, all the glitz and glamour is for the paparazzi and gossip slingers, and you don’t really care about all that, do you?”  Tala asked.  Hilary shook her head.  “There you go.  That shiny, sparkly lifestyle isn’t real.  You’re much more real than all that fake crap you see on TV or read in the magazines.”

            Not sure what to say to that, she just smiled and fought off another fierce blush.

            “Did you want this water, Taka?”  Kai asked, tuning out the conversation between his partner and the brunette.

            “Not right now, thanks anyway.”  Takao responded, curling into Kai’s side as comfortably as he could and yawned.  He burrowed his face into Kai’s shoulder with a little sigh. “I actually might nap for the flight, if that’s alright.”

            “Hn.  Of course.”  Kai curled his arm around his lover’s shoulders and softly stroked his hair.  “Still tired?”

            “Yeah.  I can’t seem to find the same energy these days that I used to have, though I’m sure it’s understandable, considering.”

            “This will all be over soon, Taka.  And until – and even after – it is, you have me.  Always.”

            Takao smiled and opened his eyes, sitting up a bit and leaning in to brush a light kiss to Kai’s mouth.  “I know.  I’ll never stop being grateful for it, either.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Hilary gawked.  She didn’t mean to, but it was extremely difficult not to when one is unused to such surroundings.

            “It’s an island?!” she gasped, awed.

            “Yep.  It’s not very big, but it’s an island.”  Tala glanced at his partner and the bluenette.  “Hence the reason it’s a little difficult to get in to the place.  By air or by sea is the only two ways.  Taking a boat, as we are, it’s only a fifteen minute ride from Naples.  If you fly, by helicopter, it’s about ten minutes.”

            “Wow.” was all she could muster.

            Takao watched the gem-like glitter of the blue-green Mediterranean as the boat sped along toward their destination.  He had to admit, albeit silently, that he was just as impressed as Hilary was.  But at the same time it meant nothing to him.  Kai’s family wealth and power had never affected how he saw his lover, never coloured their relationship in anyway.  He looked away from the water as they slowed, and raised a hand to shield his eyes from the bright sun so he could see Kai.

            “Welcome to the Isle of Fire.”  The crimson-eyed agent said as he piloted their small boat in to dock where several people were waiting for them.

            “Isle of Fire?” Takao asked curiously.  He had to wait for an answer, however, until Kai finished speaking to the servants while Tala tossed the boat’s mooring line to them to secure the skiff to the dock.  The wolf then leapt nimbly out of the boat to the dock, turned, and held out a hand to Hilary.

            “Allow me.”  He said with a grin.  “It’s slippery and the boat’s still rocking a bit.”

            “Thank you, Tala.”  She smiled and accepted his assistance.  Takao shook his head and leaned in to whisper in Kai’s ear in quiet Japanese.

            “I don’t think they’ll have to do much acting while we’re here, do you?”

            Kai grunted and carefully climbed out, giving Takao a steadying hand to help him out.  “No.  Though I don’t know her as well as you do, I think she may actually be good for him.  He needs to settle down a little.”

            “We’ll see.”  Takao snickered, then looked back at the boat as two of the servants jumped in.  “The bags?”

            “They will be brought to the house, though I imagine we’ll be bout in the guest houses as I usually stay there when I come to visit.”  Kai took the bluenette’s hand in his own and tugged him forward to begin walking.  “Let’s go.”

            “You don’t stay in the main house with your family?”  Hilary inquired.  It was Tala who answered her.

            “Nope.  My partner likes his privacy, and he usually has work with him so he needs to keep it under wraps, you see.”  The redhead explained.  Kai just shrugged.

            “I see.”

            “So why is it called the ‘Isle of Fire?’”  Takao asked again as they walked down the dock and up a set of stairs.

            “If you look back toward the mainland, though today isn’t the best day for the view,” Kai paused at the top of the stairs and turned, pointing in the direction of the mainland.  “You can see Naples, there, and a little to the south you can barely make out a mountain.”

            Hilary squinted, nodding.  “Oh yes!  I can see it.  What’s so special about it?”

            Takao’s eyes went wide.  “Vesuvius!  Whoa!”

            “You got it.  Doesn’t get much more fiery than a volcano, right?”  Kai squeezed his lover’s hand.  “No worries though.  If it does blow its top, we’ll have plenty of warning and plenty of time to ditch this place in a hurry.”

            He said it so cavalierly and dismissingly that Hilary went a bit pale and swallowed the lump in her throat.

            “But it’s not likely to erupt while we’re here so don’t even think about it.”  Tala rolled his eyes, trying to reassure her.

            “Uh…yeah.”  Takao shook his head and continued walking alongside the slightly taller dual-haired agent.  “Hey, Kai?”

            “Yes, love?”

            “Are our meals going to be fancy?  Like, will I need to get dressed up, and know which fork to use when, and stuff like that?”

            “Oh.”  Kai blinked, thinking about it.  “If father is around, probably.  But only for evening meals.  If he’s not, then no.  Mother won’t make us get all formal.”

            “Will a dress shirt and a pair of black jeans work?  Because I don’t have a suit, and I hate to make a bad impression.  I mean, these are your parents, and…”

            Kai stopped and clasped Takao by the upper arms, giving him a slight shake and interrupting.  “Kinomiya!  You’re babbling, lover.”

            The bluenette snapped his mouth shut and flushed.  After a moment, he nodded.  “Right.  Sorry, I’m fine.”

            “Yeah.”  Kai smiled and pressed a solid kiss to Takao’s mouth, lingering just a little.  “Relax, Takao.  You’re just going to aggravate your ulcer.”  He took the younger man’s hand firmly once more and pulled him along again as Takao expelled a deep gust of breath.

            Hilary watched the pair with interest and amusement from her vantage point slightly behind them as they approached the Hiwatari villa.  She could see, now, what the others had told her about Takao and Kai’s relationship, could see for herself what Max, Rei, and Kenny had all seen back in high school that she hadn’t been aware of.  The two men complemented each other in so many ways, fit together like puzzle pieces that gave a complete picture when together and an incomplete picture when apart.  Their personalities, where they would sometimes rub up against each other in the wrong way, also meshed seamlessly at the same time.

            “Hilary?”  Tala’s quiet inquiry broke her out of her contemplative thoughts.  “What are you thinking about so seriously?  I can see the gears winding.”

            “Oh, it’s nothing.”  She smiled and looked around the grounds as they reached the front doors of the main house.  “Just reflecting, is all.”

            Tala tilted his head in interest, but didn’t have a chance to ask any further questions.  The door opened before Kai could do it himself and a petite, dark-haired, elegant woman stood in the entrance, a welcoming smile for an expression.

            “Kai!  Welcome home, son!”  She held out her hands to him and he smiled back, taking her hands in his and leaning down to kiss her on both cheeks in greeting.

            “Hello, Mother.  You’re looking well.”  Kai squeezed her hands before releasing her and stepping to the side next to Takao.  “I hope you don’t mind that I brought company.”

            “Of course I don’t mind!” she replied, turning to his partner.  “Tala!  It’s about time you came to visit me, young man!”  Kai’s mother gave the redhead a mock scolding and laughed when he grinned and actually engulfed her in a bear-hug that lifted her off the ground briefly.

            “Aww…I’m very sorry it’s been so long, Mom.”  He laughed and set her down again gently.  “Work’s a slave driver, and all that.”

            “Well, that’s alright.  You boys are off saving the world in your own little way, so I can forgive you.”  She reached out and hooked an arm through both agents’, turning to greet Takao and Hilary.  “And as my boys have forgotten their manners, I’ll introduce myself.  Hiwatari Masumi.”  She gave them a short bow of greeting.  “Welcome to my home.”

            “Mom, this is Tatibana Hilary.”  Tala introduced the brunette first, before Kai could even open his mouth to do so for Takao.  “We met through work.”

            “Hello.”  Hilary gave the older woman a respectful bow.  “It is a pleasure to meet you, Hiwatari-sama.  You’re home is very beautiful and I am honoured to be here.”

            Masumi blinked, then laughed lightly.  “Thank you, my dear.  Hilary, was it?”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

            “Please, there is no need for such formality.  You may call me Masumi, Hilary.  When in Rome, as they say…and I dare say we are close enough!”  Kai’s mother smiled at Hilary, who returned the smile with a nod.

            “Thank you, Masumi.”

            Masumi looked at Tala and winked at him.  “It’s about time, cub!  You’ve been philandering for so long now I was beginning to believe you’d never settle down.”

            The icy-eyed wolf actually squirmed in place and flushed bright red.  Takao hid a grin behind his hand when Hilary, not entirely acting, raised an eyebrow at her ‘boyfriend.’

            “Do tell.”  She said, eyeing Tala.  Not wanting to get into any such topic of discussion, he flashed a winning smile at them all and ushered Hilary into the house.

            “Well, I’m dying for something cold and liquid after all that travelling today!  Let’s go raid the refrigerator in the kitchens, Hilary!”

            Kai grasped Takao’s hand as the attention was finally turned on the bluenette.  The moment Takao’s eyes met Masumi’s, he knew where his lover had gotten his own pair of surreal eyes.  Not the colour – as that was completely unique to Kai alone – but the shape of them, and the same vivid, burning intensity that Kai always seemed to possess.  And maybe it was just his nerves, but this gaze was stronger, and seemed to pierce right through him.  He felt like his very soul was laid bare to her, and he swallowed the thick lump that had formed in his throat to be able to speak.

            “It is a great honour to finally meet you, Hiwatari-sama.”  He managed to say in a somewhat rough, but clear voice.  He didn’t even notice that he’d tightened his hand around Kai’s in a veritable death-grip.  His bow of greeting was a deep one that bent him right over at the waist.  Maybe he was going overboard, but he couldn’t afford to screw this up, not for so many reasons.

            “Mother, this is…” Kai began, wanting to help the bluenette out and ease the tension that thrummed through him strongly enough that Kai could feel it.

            “Kinomiya Takao.  Yes, I recognized you immediately.”  Masumi stepped forward and nearly shocked both young men spit-less when she enfolded the bluenette in a great hug, her face buried in Takao’s shoulder.  “Kai has told me all about you, Takao, and over the years I have hoped and hoped that he would find you again.  Nothing and no one has ever made my son happier than you, and I can not tell you…there aren’t words…” she pulled back from him and wiped at the tears that were falling down her cheeks with a smile.  “It is such a relief to know that he can finally be happy again.”

            Kai just stared at them both, shrugging helplessly at Takao’s expression that read, “What do I do?  What do I say?!”

            “Ah…well…thank you, Hiwatari-sama.”  Takao floundered, then said the only thing that he could – what came straight from his heart.  “I love Kai, and I feel much the same as you do.  I…am very grateful to have a second chance.”

            “Oh!”  Masumi dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and smiled tremulously at them, taking both their hands and pulling them into the house.  “Please think of me as your own mother, Takao, and don’t stand on formality with me?  All this time I feel I’ve gotten to know you as Kai did – does – and I have thought of you as my own child, so please…”

            Touched, and a little awed by the strong sentiment and complete acceptance, Takao could only smile back and take her offer.

            “Thank you, Masumi-san.”

            “Ah…give him a chance to get used to you, Mother.”  Kai ran a hand through his hair, wondering where she’d been keeping all this emotion on his behalf hidden all this time.

            “Of course!  I do apologize, Takao.  I’m just so excited and happy!”  Masumi let them go as Tala and Hilary reappeared, each carrying a tray of glasses and a pitcher of lemonade with an assortment of cookies and biscuits.  “Excellent idea, Tala!  Come!  Bring those and follow me.  We’ll sit outside in the shade and have a nice visit before my husband returns.”

            “I’m going to change out of this shirt, first, Mother.”  Kai interjected, looking at his watch.  “Are we out in the guest houses, as usual?”

            “Yes, dear.  The one you and Tala usually stay in has been prepared for you and Takao, and the one next door for Tala.”  Masumi stopped and glanced between Tala and Hilary.  “I didn’t know you were bringing anyone, Tala, but it won’t take long to have another room prepared for Hilary…”

            Before Tala could even say a word (under the slight blush creeping up his neck), Hilary beat him to it.

            “Thank you, Masumi, but there’s no need to go through such trouble for me.  I’m sure Tala won’t mind sharing.”  Hilary gave Tala a side-glance, colour staining her own cheeks a dusky pink.

            Tala outright blushed this time and smoothly declared, “If it’s alright with you, Mom, it’s fine with me.” And added a mischievous wink.  Masumi’s eyes held a bright twinkle of laughter as she nodded with mock gravity.

            “That’s quite alright.  I’m not so old-fashioned that I have problems with you two sharing the same quarters.”  Masumi patted Tala on the cheek fondly.  “You’re a good boy, Tala, when you want to be.”

            “Which is once in a blue moon.”  Kai muttered under his breath to Takao, who frowned.

            “Well he’d better be a good boy or we’ll find out how a wolf responds to shock therapy.”  Stormy blue eyes flashed briefly and Kai felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up with static.  The dual-haired agent ran a hand soothingly up and down Takao’s arm.

            “He’ll be a gentleman, Taka.  Come with me?”

            Takao nodded and let Kai lead him away.

            “We’ll be back soon, Mother.”  Kai called over his shoulder.  She waved them off.

~*~*~*~*~

            “Hey, this is really nice.”  Takao commented, following Kai inside the small guest house toward the bedroom.  “And it isn’t that far from the main house, so that’ll make it easier for us…”

            “Here are your bags, love.  Did you want to put on some cooler clothes than those jeans?”  Kai asked, tossing open his own suitcase and digging out a very light, loose, cotton buttoned shirt.

            “Yeah, I suppose so.  I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this hot, though I should have known.”  Takao agreed, wryly.  He went to his bag and looked around for a pair of shorts and a cooler shirt.

            “How are you doing, Taka?  Stomach alright?”  Kai inquired, shrugging into the new shirt but not bothering to button it up.  He folded is old shirt and packed it away neatly.

            “I’m fine.  I was a little twitchy earlier, but it’s gone now.”  Takao tugged off his jeans and donned his shorts.  He sat on the bed and pulled of his shirt.

            Kai crawled onto the bed behind him and dropped his hands on the bluenette’s shoulders, kneading and massaging.  Takao’s eyes closed and he leaned back into the touches, his head lolling forward and a soft moan escaping him.  “Uhn…Kai…”

            “Relax, lover.”  The older man smirked at the happy, pleasure-filled little sighs that came from the younger.  “Feels good, does it?”

            “Y-yeah.”  Takao snuggled back into Kai’s arms as he wrapped them around him.  “Hmm…thank you, love.”

            Kai nuzzled his nose into Takao’s neck, rubbing affectionately and softly kissing him on the neck and ear.  “If I thought we had time, I’d keep you in here and we wouldn’t need clothes.”

            Takao laughed, smiling and half-turning in Kai’s embrace.  “Well, what’s got you all amorous, lover?”  He nearly purred as a wandering hand slid tantalizingly slow up his thigh to slip under the material of his shorts’ leg.

            “You.”  Kai replied, nibbling on his ear.  At Takao’s disbelieving snort, he rolled his eyes and just held the bluenette.  “Alright.  It’s probably this Mediterranean heat, not just you.  Whenever I’m in warm climates I tend to have much more energy and now that I have you…here…”

            He turns that excess energy to sex.  Takao nodded.  In a way, he understood.  Thunderstorms – and being near power lines or power plants – made him restless and hyperactive.  Usually he just worked out, went for a long jog, whatever, but he could see how it could be turned to something sexual instead of the usual.

            Kai let out a deep breath and reluctantly released the younger man.  “Sorry, Taka.  Didn’t mean to jump on you like that…”

            “Whoa, whoa!”  Takao grabbed Kai’s arm and rolled them both over so he was hovering over the agent, sprawled on his back on the bed.  Kai blinked up at him.  “I wasn’t complaining, Kai.  Just making an observation.”  Takao leaned in, lips a hair’s breadth away from Kai’s as he continued, “Feel free to ‘jump’ me anytime…”

            Kai lifted his head just enough to make the connection and drew Takao down to kiss him thoroughly, running his fingers through the bluenette’s pony tail to curl around the nape of his neck and knead.  Takao splayed his hands over Kai’s bare chest, stroking, while he let the gorgeous creature under him kiss him as passionately as his nature could muster.

            Just then Kai’s cell phone made a beeping noise, signalling a text message.  Takao sat up and blinked slightly glazed eyes in the direction of Kai’s jacket, tossed over his suitcase.

            Kai let out a frustrated growl and moved Takao off him to roll off the bed and get his phone.  He flipped it open, pressed a few buttons, then cursed fluently at his partner.

            “What?”  Takao asked, partly amused and partly concerned.  “What’d he do?”

            Kai tossed him the phone and proceeded to finish getting dressed.  Takao looked down to read the message.

            Quit making out and get back here!  Facing the Inquisition!  HELP!

            Takao burst into helpless laughter and handed the phone back to Kai to finish getting his own clothes back on.  “Come on, love.  Let’s go rescue our partners before Tala starts howling.”

            Kai couldn’t resist a snicker.

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

Chapter 15: Thick As Thieves – Part IV

            “That…was extremely hard on my nerves.”  Tala complained with a huff as he flopped into an oversized armchair in the living room of Kai and Takao’s guest house.  “I never thought that concealing the truth would ever be this hard.”

            “You’re telling me?”  Kai just gave him a look and settled down next to Takao on the sofa, draping an arm around the bluenette’s shoulders.  Hilary sat down next to Takao on his other side and smothered a yawn.

            “It was certainly nerve-wracking – for all of us.”  She tried diffusing the tension level diplomatically.  “I think we did fine, though.  We didn’t reveal anything we shouldn’t, and it seems like my performance was at least believable…”

            “You did great, Hilary.”  Takao smiled at her.  “You’re a much better actress than I’d have thought.”

            She blinked at him, not sure if she should be insulted or feel complimented.  “Um…thanks.”

            “Well, we got through the initial hours smoothly, but now comes the hard part – doing what we came here to do and getting away with it.”  Tala sat up and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.  His ice blue eyes flicked over each of them, lingering on his ‘girlfriend’ surreptitiously as he continued.  He was trying to ignore the weird feeling that tickled the back of his mind and made his chest ache a little at the idea that Hilary was only acting and didn’t really feel a thing toward him.  “How long should we stay for?  It’ll be easier to plan if we have a time frame to work with.”

            “I think it’ll be best if we take it the night before we leave.”  Takao stated.  “That way, the chances of someone finding that it’s gone before we get away with it are much lower, and I’m sure if Kai’s parents do find out it’s gone, they’ll be calling Kai immediately to come in and investigate, right?”

            “Yeah, probably.”   Kai had to agree with that.  “Then Tala and I would have to come back and make a show of investigating.”  He frowned, sighing.  “I really don’t want to have to do that.”

            “If we’re lucky, we won’t have to.  We just need to do this right.”  Tala pulled out his laptop computer from its bag and turned it on.  “Hilary and I need to go over the blueprints and the layout of the security system a couple more times, just to be safe, before we go ahead with the plan.”  He glanced at his partner.  “Kai, you need to find out for sure if the Egg is where it’s supposed to be.”

            “Please.”  Takao agreed fervently.  “I don’t want a repeat of the manuscript incident, thank you very much.”

            “Oh…right.”  Tala nodded, remembering Takao’s statement detailing that particular item.  “Yes, let’s not repeat that.”

            Kai ran his fingers through his hair and decided enough was enough for one day.  “We’ll discuss it more tomorrow.  For now, I’m tired, and Takao needs to rest, so pack it up, Tala.”

            Takao let his head fall against Kai’s shoulder and snuggled in with a sigh.

            “But…”  Tala frowned in protest, though he didn’t finish the complaint.  “Okay.  Let’s leave these two, Hilary.”  He put the computer away and got up, Hilary following him.

            “Hilary?”  Takao called her back for a moment.  “Are you sure you’re alright staying next door with Tala?  Alone?”

            She smiled at the genuine concern in his voice.  “Yes.  I know he’ll be a gentleman, Takao.  But I appreciate you asking.”  Hilary gave him a small hug.  “Get some rest, Takao.  We’ll see you in the morning, okay?”

            “I will.  Good night, Hilary.”

            “That goes for you, too, Kai.”  The brunette admonished.  “You need the rest just as much.”  She waved over her shoulder.  “Good night, guys.” She said as she closed the door behind her, leaving them alone in the guest house.

            Silence fell over the room like a blanket, and Takao smiled to himself, cuddling Kai like an oversized pillow.  The fire-eyed agent smothered a yawn and lazily ran fingers through Takao’s hair.

            “Let’s go to bed, lover.”  Takao pushed himself up and away from Kai, and got to his feet.  “I don’t think I can keep my eyes open much longer.”

            “Right behind you, Taka.”  Kai got up and moved to lock the door and turn off the lights before he followed his lover into the bedroom.

~*~*~*~*~

            In the other guest house, Tala was busily setting up his computer equipment again.  Hilary sat on the sofa, watching him amusedly.

            “I take it you’re not ready to go to sleep yet, Agent Ivanov?”  She observed, resigning herself to the upcoming late night.

            “Not yet, no.”  Tala answered, plugging several cables into the laptop, and then plugging directly into the phone jack nearby.  “I want to be ready for this.  I want to be as familiar as possible with the security here as I can get before Takao and Kai do their part.  You’re going to need to do the same, Hilary.”  He stated decisively, finally looking up at her.  “Between the two of us, we should be able to handle everything well enough that our partners can do what needs to be done with ease and little worry.”

            “Of course, Tala.”  Hilary nodded in agreement.  “I understand that.  I’m just thinking we need our sleep, too.”

            “We will.  But now, this time of night, is the only real opportunity we’ll have to practice and scope out the situation.  During the day we’re going to be busy playing the happy couple and socializing with one or both of Kai’s parents.”  Tala explained.  He sat down beside Hilary and turned on the laptop.

            “Alright.  So what do we do first?”  Hilary couldn’t really argue that point, so she gave in gracefully and watched the screen intently to study what Tala did.

            “We’ll use the phone line to hack into the system.  Get those scans of the layout of the interior Kenny gave us, would you?”

            “Okay.”  Hilary dug through the carry case for the laptop until she came up with several pages.  “What am I looking for?”

            “Hmm…can you see which route would be the fastest, easiest way to get in and out, without a security system to deal with?”

            “Well…” the brunette traced a path on the first page with a finger.  “If they leave from their guest house, and go this way, enter here…” she paused, turned the map and frowned.  “Actually, I’m wondering if climbing up to his second story window that opens to the room next to that library wouldn’t be easier than trying to sneak upstairs from the inside.”

            “How so?”

            “Less likely that they’d accidentally run into Kai’s parents, or a staff member, or whatever.”

            “Ah.  We’ll run it by Kai and Takao later.”  Tala looked back at his screen and began trying to hack the system.  “Now let’s see…”

            For the next three hours they plotted, experimented, and worked out a tentative plan of action for their counterparts next door.

            The redheaded agent smothered a yawn and finished saving the data they’d collected, shutting the laptop down for the night.  He blinked and glanced down when he felt a soft, warm body suddenly fall against his side and saw Hilary’s mahogany hair spill across his shoulder as her head dropped to rest there.  His lips quirked upward in a small smile.  She’d fallen asleep on him.

            Tala reached over and turned off the table lamp, tossing the room into darkness, then carefully, in an effort not to displace or jar Hilary and wake her, slid down onto the sofa onto his back and pulled her with him so that she lay atop him comfortably.  Her head pillowed on his chest, and he draped an arm around her to keep her from falling off the sofa to the floor.

            Hey, he wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity like this if he could help it.  No matter that he was supposed to be pretending to be dating the pretty young brunette, but he actually did like her and respect her.  He wouldn’t have minded much if she returned the sentiment and interest.

            Relaxed and comfortable, Tala allowed his eyes to close and for sleep to claim him.

~*~*~*~*~

            When Hilary woke up the following morning, she remained as still as possible the second she realized where she was and with whom.

            Or on whom.  Whichever one prefers.

            Pulse racing a mile a minute, she wondered if she should move – and risk waking Tala up – or if she should pretend to be still asleep and wait until he woke up on his own.

            She didn’t have to make the decision.  Tala’s voice, rough and low with sleep, interrupted her thoughts.

            “Relax, sweetheart.  You’re perfectly safe with me.”  An arm draped itself over the back of her shoulders and effectively pinned her to his chest, which moved in a deep sigh.  “Go back to sleep.”

            “Ur…Tala…I…” Hilary blushed furiously and wiggled, trying to escape.

            “Damn, girl.  I’m not going to jump you.  I just want a few more minutes of sleep.  Is it really so bad to want you here with me?”  Tala grumbled, cracking open one eye to stare at her.  “Besides…I already owe you one very nice, romantic date since we slept together last night, and if we did anything else I’d have to marry you.”  He grinned at her horrified expression.  “Since neither of us are ready for that stage of the relationship yet, how about we just go back to sleep and settle for that date.”

            Giving up – and giggling a little – Hilary let herself fall back into the relaxed position she’d been in when she woke up.  For a moment, she listened to his heart beating strong and steady before she finally curled an arm around him in return.

            “Are you always this persistent and sure of yourself?”  She asked.  “And what date?  Don’t I get a say in this?”

            “Me?  Persistent?”  Tala’s tone was full of amusement.  “I suppose.  When I find someone worth the pursuit, I usually do everything I can.  As for the date…well, I usually date a girl before I sleep with her – or anything else for that matter – so since we’re doing this all backward, I owe you a date.”

            Oddly enough, Hilary found that to be quite logical.

            “Alright.”  She said softly after a moment of silence.  “When everything’s over with, I’ll hold you to that.”  She hid her blush by snuggling against him.

            Tala smiled to himself.  Score.

~*~*~*~*~

            The afternoon found the four young professionals enjoying the Hiwatari swimming pool.  It was sweltering hot, for a nearly autumn day, and since both of Kai’s parents were unavailable that day they were left to their own devices.

            Takao was perfectly content in the water.  He frolicked, he paddled, he splashed and generally had a blast.  Kai, for the most part, just sat on the edge of the pool and watched him with a small, tell-tale smile of indulgence and amusement.

            On the one side of the pool, Tala spent some time swimming leisurely laps – away from Takao so as not to accidentally run into him.  He didn’t like the heat so much, so he preferred staying in the relative coolness of the waters of the outdoor pool.

            Hilary, on the other hard, was soaking up the rare opportunity to relax and do absolutely nothing – not to mention the sun’s rays.  She lounged on a chair in her two-piece, dark green bathing suit, a pair of dark, delicate sunglasses protecting her eyes as she let the sun give her pale skin a much – desired bronzing.

            To top off their paradise, the Hiwatari staff kept them supplied with icy cool drinks, snacks to nibble on, and necessities like sunscreen and towels.

            The sun was high overhead and beating down on the poor humans below when a dripping wet Takao heaved himself liquidly out of the deep end of the pool, a mischievous, wicked glint on his blue eyes, and made his way toward an unsuspecting Hilary.  Kai shook his head, watching, and debating whether he should attempt to be gallant and warn the girl or pretend he wasn’t paying attention.

            Tala reached the end of the pool where his partner had his feet dangling in the water and ceased his laps, ready for a break.  He tread water a moment to push his sopping red hair out of his eyes before moving to the stairs and climbing out.  Grabbing a towel, he began drying himself off and plopped down with a squelching sound next to Kai.

            “Aren’t you going to swim, Kai?  Take advantage, partner.”  He suggested, draping the towel around his shoulders.

            “Maybe.  At the moment, I’m waiting for the hurricane to hit.”  Kai gestured toward a still oblivious Hilary and the expertly creeping Takao.  “€10 says he manages to get her in the water before she realizes what’s happening.”  Tala blinked then smothered a laugh.  He was male enough to appreciate what the bluenette intended to do, but on the other hand, he really should be defending her as her…could be, one day soon, boyfriend.

            Shouldn’t he?

            Then again he was a wolf, with that trickster’s mischievousness that his fellow wolves – human and animal – often displayed.

            “€20 says he gets his ass handed to him.  Royally.”  Tala responded after a minute.  There.  That was defence, in a round-about way.

            “Deal.”

            Two minutes, a loud splash, and vehement cursing of Takao in full voice later, Kai was smugly and proudly watching his lover make a life-or-death run for it as the infuriated brunette chased him down, promising a world of pain for getting her hair wet.

            “You owe me, Ivanov.”

            “Shut up.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s my cue to go a be a knight in…well, white bathing trunks, and go rescue the princess from the dragon.”  Tala rose and padded off, waiting nearby until Takao dashed past with a laughing squeal, closely followed by Hilary.  The wolf snagged her around the waist as she passed and ended the chase neatly by handing her a clean, fluffy towel.

            “Here you go, sweetheart, dry yourself.”  He smiled benignly at her scowl, unfazed by her attempts to free herself and murder Takao.  “Would you like some help re-applying your sunscreen, Hilary?”

            Hilary gave Takao (who had ducked down beside his lover to hide from her wrath) a final death glare then smiled up at Tala with a nod.  “Thank you, Tala.  I always miss a few places on my back when I put it on myself.”  Then she blushed and tilted her head at him.  “Sweetheart?”

            Tala winked and led her back to her chair, but didn’t say another word.

            “My, my…aren’t you brave.”  Kai drawled, tossing a towel at Takao’s head.  “You could have had your eyes clawed out for that.”

            “Nah.  She knows I’d never hurt her.  It was just a bit of fun, Kai.  And she’ll forgive me.”  Takao grinned and wrung out his hair before towelling it dry.  “Someday.”

            Kai rolled his eyes again, taking the towel from him to do it himself.  Takao’s grin was replaced by a happy smile, his eyes closing to enjoy his lover’s touch and treatment.  Then Kai threw the towel to the side and pulled the bluenette closer to sit between his legs and proceeded to gently finger-comb the tangles out, earning an approving purr of sound from Takao.  After a few blissful moments, Takao abruptly twisted in Kai’s arms and ran his fingers through Kai’s own hair.

            “Kiss me, Kai”  He murmured just before Kai, already leaning in the second he’d turned, did just that.

            Tala slowly rubbed the sunscreen lotion over Hilary’s pale, smooth skin, taking care not to miss any spots on her back.  He was mesmerized by the sight of that ivory flesh that (other than the slight sun-kissed tone of it) was nearly as pale as his own skin.

            Hilary sat in front of him on the deck chair, eyes closed and a faint blush painting her cheeks.  Even though he was being a perfect gentleman and not trying to cop a feel (as most would have done, she believed), it was still a very new experience for her to be touched this way.  Truthfully, the entire strange relationship that was developing between them was new to her.  She’d dated, but none of those had ever lasted very long.  Then, too, his silence was unnerving her the longer it went on.

            To that effect, she cleared her throat and glanced over her shoulder at him.  “You’re very quiet, Tala.  Something on your mind?”

            His hands didn’t pause as he leaned forward just enough for her to feel his body heat – even on a day like it was…though it could just be her mind playing tricks on her.  A wicked grin spread over his face.  “All kinds of things, sweetness.  But mostly you.”

            The brunette blushed and hastily looked forward again with a giggle.  Then she blinked and looked away from the private moment going on across the pool between Kai and Takao.  “Oh my…”

            “What?”  Tala sat up on his knees to peer over the top of her head.  “Geez.  The lovebirds are at it again, I see.”

            “Yes, but leave them be.”  Hilary smiled to herself, unconsciously leaning back into him.  “They’ve got a lot of lost time to make up for.”  Then she spotted a garden hose lying on the grass near a bunch of shrubbery.  “Of course, payback’s a bitch…”

            Tala looked down at her in confusion, hearing a note of steely vengeance in her voice that he wondered if he should be concerned about.  “Huh?  What are you…?”

            “Shh.”  Hilary slipped over to the hose and picked up the business end with a particularly evil grin.  “Turn this on, would you?”

            Comprehension dawned and Tala was all too happy to go looking for the switch.  He cranked it up and went back to Hilary with an equally evil grin.

            “And you don’t even have to get that close to them.  Nice.”  He commented in appreciation. This was a female with a spirit of mischievousness to match his own.  “I think the heat needs to be turned down on those two, don’t you?”

            “Amen.”  Hilary turned the hose in their direction and let the forceful spray of cold water launch toward Kai and Takao.

            The dual-haired agent was definitely feeling the heat – to the point where he was about ready to pick his blue-haired lover up and cart him off to the guesthouse – when he was abruptly interrupted and cooled down by a startling spray of cold water.

            Yelping, Takao broke away from the addictive attentions of the older man and tried to see what was causing the sudden torrential downpour.  He had a hard time, having to fend off the hard spray of water, but he managed to see the hose – and then the person holding it.

            “Ahh!  Hilary!”  He squawked.  “Turn it – argh – off!”

            After a few more blasts for good measure to make sure they were completely soaked, Hilary stopped the hose and set it down, dusting her hands off.

            “Ha! And now we’re even, Takao!”  She declared in satisfaction.  Tala laughed outright at the sight of his soaked, bedraggled partner and the reluctant thief.

            “What the hell did I do?!”  Kai complained, getting up to look for towels.

            “Sorry, Kai.”  Hilary batted her eyes at him sweetly.  “You were an innocent victim of friendly fire.”

            “Just admit defeat quietly, Kinomiya.  You can’t compete with the female mind.”  Tala advised, still snickering.  One storm blue pair of eyes and one pair of fiery crimson red pinned him with disgruntled glares.

            “Traitor.”  Kai accused, handing Takao a towel.

            “You bet.”  Tala responded blithely.

            “Ah!  There all of you are!”  Kai’s mother appeared for the direction of the main house.  “Have you had a good day, children?”  Masumi asked as she stopped next to Tala.

            “Hi, Mom!  Yeah, we were just enjoying the pool.”  Tala bent and gave the petite woman a kiss on the cheek.

            “How are you today, Masumi-san?”  Takao asked, smiling.  Kai’s arm draped around his shoulder and he nodded.

            “Hello, Mother.”

            Masumi smiled at them, pleased.  “I’m very well today, thank you, Takao.  I actually came out to let you all know that supper is at 6:30 tonight.”  Her eyes met her son’s.  “My husband will be joining us tonight, also.”

            Takao tensed up immediately, and Kai’s arm tightened protectively around him.

            “Thanks for the heads-up, Mother.”  Kai responded, glancing at his watch.  “In that case, we’d better all go get cleaned up and dressed.  It’s nearly 5 pm now.”

            She nodded and went to Takao, giving him a motherly pat.  “Don’t worry, my dear.  Susumu can be intimidating but he’s really a big teddy bear once you get to know him. He’s not that bad.  And he’s quite anxious to meet you.”

            Takao didn’t really know what to say to that except, “I look forward to meeting Kai’s father, Masumi-san.”

            “You’ll be fine.”  Masumi clapped her hands sharply together.  “Go on, now!  Time’s marching on!”  She shooed them off to get ready.

~*~*~*~*~

            Kai stepped out of the bathroom and stooped dead.  Their bedroom was a disastrous whirlwind of various articles of clothing.  Shaking his head, he stepped gingerly over the ones on the floor and walked over to the mirror where the midnight blue-haired thief stood studying his appearance.

            “Having issues, Kinomiya?  Or did a tornado pass through unexpectedly?”

            Takao glanced at him in the mirror’s reflection and glowered.  “Hardy har har.  Is this shirt alright, or should I wear a tie?  I brought ties…”

            “Love, you don’t have to wear a tie.  It’s not formal…just a family dinner that we have to look presentable for, that’s all.”  Kai stood behind Takao and straightened the collar of his dress shirt, smoothing the edges down and pulling the mass of blue-black hair out of Takao’s face.  “Just be yourself, Taka.  My father respects those who are self-confident and comfortable with who they are.”  Kai tied the hair back with an elastic hair-band and let his hands rest on the bluenette’s shoulders.  “Let him see what I have always seen.”

            A weak smile passed over Takao’s features.  “I’ll try.  Sorry I’m such a wreck, love.”

            “You’re not a wreck.  You’re just nervous.  I was terrified when you first introduced me to Gramps you know.  And then when I met you father and brother at Grad…I was petrified.”  Kai admitted wryly.  Takao’s eyes were wide and he shook his head.

            “You?  No way.  If you were, you sure hid it well, Kai.”

            “I was.  And I don’t think your brother approved of me, either.  He kept staring at me all day like he wanted me to disappear or he’d make me.”

            Takao gave a startled laugh.  “Sounds like Hiroshi.  He and I are going to have to have a long chat when this is over with, I think.”

            Kai kissed him on the cheek and moved away.  “He’s going to have to get used to me because I’m not going anywhere ever again.  Now, let’s get going, love.  The sooner we get this over with, the sooner you’ll feel better.”

            “Yeah…” Takao gave himself one final once-over then followed Kai from the room.

~*~*~*~*~

            Entering the dining room together, the four young conspirators were greeted by Kai’s mother, holding a tray of champagne flutes filled with sparkling, bubbly champagne.

            “Good evening!  Have a glass of champagne, each of you.  My husband will be down any minute and we can sit down to dinner.”

            Takao took the glass, though he hesitated because he didn’t know how to turn it down without insulting her.  Kai came to the rescue, however, and plucked it from his fingers.

            “None for you.  No alcohol, Kinomiya.”

            “Kai!”  Masumi scolded.

            “Doctor’s orders, Mother.  He’s got an ulcer, and his medication wouldn’t agree with the alcohol.”  Kai explained, sipping it himself.  “Do we have any of that non-alcoholic cider around?”

            Masumi was immediately sympathetic and concerned.  “Oh!  Yes, of course.  You poor young man.  It’s such a shame that the youth of today must suffer such stress as to fall under such health problems.  One moment and I’ll have the staff fetch something more appropriate for you.”  She gracefully whisked away before Takao could say anything.  Instead, he whined at his lover in embarrassment.

            “Kai…”

            “What?  You know you can’t drink it!”

            “I wasn’t going to!  I just didn’t know how to say ‘no thank you’ without insulting her!”

            “The truth works, you know.”

            “Now I feel bad for requiring special consideration like that.”

            “As adorable as it is and as much as I would love to kiss away that pout of yours, please turn the puppy look off?”

            “You’re the least sympathetic person on the planet, aren’t you?”

            “No.  That’s Tala.”

            “Hey!”  A scowl was directed at Kai from his partner.  Hilary smothered a giggle.

            “I hate you, Kai.”  The bluenette pouted more.

            Kai smiled and kissed him on the cheek before taking another sip of champagne.  “I love you, too, Taka.”

            Takao sighed, losing the inane argument to those three, most meaningful words.  “Yeah, yeah…”

            Still frowning, Tala shook his head.  “Were they like that in high school, too?”  He asked Hilary.  She thought about it for a moment.

            “Well, in a way, I suppose.  Back then I didn’t know they were even dating each other, though.  I just thought it was bickering among friends.”

            Tala blinked.  “How could you not tell?”  He asked incredulously.  “They absolutely drip with ‘coupleness!’”

            “Now.  Then they sure didn’t act as most couples do.  They didn’t hold hands al the time, they didn’t act affectionate in public – not so as to be noticed, at least – and they were hardly ever seen together alone, without any of the others around, so..” Hilary shrugged and sipped her champagne.

            “Odd.  And yet…not.”

            “Exactly.”

            Kai’s mother returned with a member of the staff in tow who was carrying a bottle of cider and an empty flute.

            “Here, now, Takao.  It’s non-alcoholic, but I wouldn’t drink too much anyway.  The acidity may not agree with your stomach.”  The staff person handed her a full flute of the cider and Masumi handed it to the bluenette.

            “Thank you, Masumi-san.  You really needn’t give me any special consideration though…” Takao accepted it and obediently took a small sip.  “This is very good, however!”

            Masumi laughed and gave him a mild scolding.  “Of course I wouldn’t want you to ingest anything that might aggravate your stomach, son.  I’ve made sure we have plenty of tea for you instead of coffee, and if there’s anything else you shouldn’t eat or drink, you can let me know later, alright?”

            “Yes, ma’am.”  Takao bowed in acquiescence, not knowing what else to say at such acceptance by Kai’s mother.

            Kai just smiled into his champagne, silently thanking his mother for the same reason.

            “Ah yes.  Here is everyone!”  A new, male voice declared as Hiwatari Susumu appeared at the double doors of the dining room.  “Kai, you’ve finally come home, have you?”

            “Father.”  Kai nodded in greeting.  “Yes, only for a visit, I’m afraid.”

            “Still working on catching that thief, are you?”  Susumu walked over to where Kai and Takao were, and Kai slid an arm around the bluenette’s waist, giving him a nearly imperceptible squeeze of reassurance.

            “Yes, sir.  He’s just very clever, but we’ll get to the bottom of it.”

            “Good, good.”  The Hiwatari patriarch looked at Takao, his face revealing no sign of what he was thinking or feeling.  “You must be the Kinomiya.  Takao, was it?”

            Nervously, the bluenette cleared his throat and gave a deep bow from the waist.  “Yes, sir.  It is a great honour to finally meet you, Hiwatari-sama.  I regret having missed the opportunity to do so years ago before your family moved from Japan.”  He said in as steady a voice as he could with a very formal tone, speaking his native Japanese.

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

Next Section:  https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/beyblade/once-a-thief/chapter-16-20/

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