Chapter 16-20


Disclaimer:  Don’t own it.  Kali & muses are just borrowing the wonderful characters and all that goes with them from their creator.

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 16: Thick As Thieves – Part V

            Kai was sure that his hand was going to have a permanent imprint of Takao’s on it after tonight.  The bluenette was gripping it as if it were the only thing anchoring him in place.  His knuckles were white – Kai’s were turning blue from lack of circulation – and Kai could feel the tremors passing through his lover like small earthquakes.

            Kai’s father, Hiwatari Susumu, looked Takao over once and nodded in acknowledgement of the supremely formal greeting.  “It is something I regret also, to have missed the opportunity to meet the boy my son felt strongly enough for to dare risking his grandfather’s wrath.”  The man replied as Takao stood more upright, spine ram-rod straight.  “He was willing to risk losing everything for you, and that intrigued me to no end.”

            “Now, Susumu, dear…” Masumi laughed lightly and pulled her husband away, handing him a flute of champagne.  “Don’t try intimidating him like that.  You’re as happy as I am that Kai found him after all this time and that they’re working out their differences.”

            “It’s alright, Masumi-san.  I can understand our husband’s feelings about me.  I can’t say I wouldn’t feel the same in his place.”  Takao said, another tremor shooting down his arm, the only outward indication of his inner turmoil.

            “Yes, well, he still needs to cut it out.”  Masumi smiled and led the group from the room.  “Come along, everyone.  Dinner is served.”

            Kai extracted his hand from Takao’s and slid an arm around his waist instead.  “Relax, love.  Please?  You’re way too tense.”  He whispered in the younger man’s ear as they walked behind Tala and Hilary toward the adjoining dinning room.

            “I can’t help it.  I…this is killing me, Kai.”  Takao murmured back.  “My stomach is all in knots.”

            Kai frowned, pulling out a chair at the table for him and gently nudging him down into it.  “You need to eat something, Taka, but you don’t have to eat a lot.  Everything’s fine, love.  Don’t worry about my father.”

            “…”  Takao wished it was that easy.  “I’ll try.”

            “So, Kinomiya Takao, what is it that you do?”  Susumu inquired as the staff began serving them.  “If I remember correctly, your family owned a dojo, yes?”

            Takao took a fortifying sip of water before answering.  “Yes, sir, I do.  However it isn’t functioning as such at the moment.  My father and brother…” Takao paused, swallowing against a flash of burning in his stomach.  “…their work takes them away from home more often than not, as does my own.”

            “Takao and another schoolmate of ours, Mizuhara Max, own and run their own business, father.”  Kai spoke up, keeping an eye on the bluenette who was looking queasy and pale – to his eyes anyway.  If any of the others noticed, Kai couldn’t tell by their expressions.  “It’s an antique and collectibles gallery.”

            “Oh?  How interesting.”  Susumu nodded.

            “It’s wonderful to see someone as young as yourself taking an interest in the past and seeking to share it with others, Takao.”  Masumi added, picking up her knife to cut a piece of her breadstick off.  “Have you always been interested in that sort of thing?”

            “Well, my expertise is more toward languages, Masumi-san.  Max is the historian.  But I do know some as well, as my father and brother are archaeologists and anthropologists.”

            “History was your best class in high school, wasn’t it, Takao?”  Hilary asked.

            “That and literature, I guess.”  Takao responded, trying the soup that was placed in front of him.  “This is very good, Masumi-san.  You’ll have to congratulate your chef.”

            “Yes, I will.  He’s done a marvellous job this time, hasn’t he, dear?”  Masumi asked of her husband, who agreed.

            “Quite.  Eat up, everyone!  Let’s not insult the man by not enjoying it.”

            To Takao’s relief, the topic of dinner conversation moved away from him and on to more mundane things over the course of their meal.  It did not, however, make his stomach any happier or lessen the guilt that was eating at him.  He liked Kai’s parents, or at least his mother.  Susumu…he wasn’t so sure of yet.  The man was more enigmatic than Kai was, and Takao couldn’t read him at all.  It wasn’t helping that he was worried about acceptance by Kai’s father on top of the guilt at having to steal from him.

            When the meal was done, Takao had to escape or he was going to implode.

            “Kai,” he murmured, tugging on his lover’s sleeve as they adjourned to the sitting room for an after-dinner drink and dessert.  “I need to go lie down or something.”

            Kai studied him in concern.  “That bad?  Okay.  Go on.  I’ll just say good night and be right behind you, love.”

            “No…you stay and visit with your family, Kai.”  Takao smiled weakly, rubbing at his stomach absently.  “You don’t get to see them often, and…I know what it’s like to regret that, so…”

            “Oh, Taka…” Kai pulled him into a careful embrace, as if he’d break into two.  “It’ll be fine.  I know it.  Don’t you worry about me, okay?  Now go lie down and rest.  I’ll be there soon.”  He pressed a kiss to the bluenette’s temple and watched him leave in concern.  Then he joined the others.

            “Where’s Takao?”  Hilary asked, noticing his absence immediately.

            “I sent him to bed.  His stomach is acting up again.”  Kai replied.  “He’s sorry to leave like that, he told me to tell you, Mother.  Father.”

            “Oh dear.  I do hope he feels better soon.  You tell him it’s perfectly all right and that I’m sorry he’s unwell.”  Masumi frowned in concern.

            “Stomach ailment?”  Susumu shook his head.  “In one so young…that’s a shame.”

            “Ulcer.”  Tala informed him with a sigh.  He raised an eyebrow at his partner, silently asking if Takao was alright.  Kai shook his head subtly.  “Nasty problem to have, that’s for sure.”

            “Kai, why don’t I go keep an eye one him?”  Hilary stood and moved toward the door.  “That way you can visit and not worry about him being alone.”

            “Thanks, Hilary.  I appreciate it.”  Kai gave her a grateful look and she smiled in return.

            “Thank you for the most excellent meal, Masumi-san.  Good night, everyone.”  Hilary said her farewells and left quietly.

            “You’ve done well, Tala.”  Masumi winked at the redhead, who actually blushed a little.  “She’s a lovely young lady.  I hope you won’t let her slip away.”

            “So do I, Mom.”  Tala agreed smoothly – but honestly.

            Kai excused himself for a moment, on the pretence of using the washroom.  Now, he decided, would be the perfect time to retrieve something from the safe he’d had stored for safe-keeping until he found Takao – the same safe that protected the Fabergé Egg.  While he was retrieving his property, he could confirm the Egg was still there.

            It was time to get this over and done with.  He couldn’t stand seeing Takao in pain and angst any longer.

            The Egg was still there, thankfully.  Kai breathed a sigh of relief and grabbed his item from the safe, slipping it into his pocket and closing the safe again before going back to his parents.  He ran into Tala just outside the doors to the sitting room.

            “Oh, hey.  I’m going back to the guest house.  I’ll see you in the morning, Kai.”  The redhead passed by him and walked off.  Kai shrugged and went into the sitting room.

            “Kai, son, I want to talk to you for a moment.”  His father gestured at an armchair across from himself and Kai blinked, sitting down obediently.

            “What about, Father?”

            “I want to ask you how much you know about this young Kinomiya you are…seeing.”  His father stated, lifting a sharp eyebrow in question.  Kai stared at him in slight confusion.

            “Quite a lot, actually.  I’m not sure what you’re getting at, father.”  Kai managed to respond after a second.

            “Listen, son, I know you’ve spent a great deal of time and energy in the pursuit of this young man, and that you cared for him in the past, but that was quite a long time ago.  How well can you know each other from ten years apart?”

            Crimson eyes narrowed, a frown marring Kai’s brow.  “I know him just fine.  What are you trying to say, father?”

            Susumu sighed and took a sip of his wine.  “I’m not trying to tell you who you should and shouldn’t have a relationship with, Kai.  I’m just advocating some caution.  I’ll be honest, however.  I had the boy checked out, when your mother told me he’d been found, and the results make me wary.”

            Kai went very still, eyes flashing in temper, and stared hotly at his father.  “You had him investigated.  What right do you have to do that?  And why would you?”

            “Susumu!”  Masumi gasped at her husband in disapproval.  “Honestly!  What got into you?”

            “Calm down, the both of you.  Kai, you are the heir to the Hiwatari family.  Whether or not you want it, it’s all yours one day.  And I had the right to investigate anyone who might have the influence over you to abuse the relationship in order to somehow get at that inheritance.  I am doing what a good father should and protecting you and your inheritance.”  Susumu stated firmly, ignoring the dangerous flaring in Kai’s eyes.  “I’m sorry if that somehow offends you but you’ll just have to get over it.”

            “But you’ve seen for yourself he’s a good boy.”  Masumi huffed, tapping one foot expressively on the floor.  “He is polite, kind, respectful, and humourous.  And he loves our son, there is no doubt.  Why are you even bringing this up?”

            “Because of the results the investigators brought to me.”  Susumu replied, handing the file that Kai hadn’t noticed before sitting on the coffee table to Masumi.

            “And what results were those?”  Kai inquired in a tense, unhappy, and down-right frosty tone.

            “To begin with, Kinomiya Takao inherited a great deal of debts from his grandfather, debts that are not easily paid off.  He’ll be trying to pay off the mortgages on his property for decades unless he somehow finds a great deal of money somewhere.”  Susumu ran a hand through his grey hair – dark grey like one shade of Kai’s own mane.  “That alone set off warning bells, but I also have information that says his father and brother have both mysteriously disappeared, along with a family heirloom.  An ancient sword, I believe it was.”

            “Disappeared?  How strange…” Masumi frowned.

            “That’s it?”  Kai folded his arms over his chest.  “That’s what this is all about?  Well, sorry, Father.  But I already know about all of it, all the details.  Takao told me everything.  I promised him as soon as I caught that thief I would do everything I could to help him find his family and the sword.”  Kai stood and glared at his father.  “As for his grandfather’s debts, I had planned to do something about those without Takao’s involvement because he would never ask me for money.  Not ever.  It would go against his honour and it just isn’t the kind of person he is.

            “While I appreciate that you want to protect me, I’ll thank you to have a little more faith in my judgement and stay out of my personal life like that, Father.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to check on Takao and make sure he’s alright.”  Kai stopped long enough to give Masumi a quick kiss on the cheek.  “Goodnight.”  He said, striding out of the room and letting the door close behind him with a loud bang.

            “You really ought to think these things through, Susumu.”  Masumi chided, shaking her head.  “I think you’ve seriously put Kai off, and now you’ll have a lot of making it up to him to do.”

            “I knew he wouldn’t be happy, but I thought he’d have a little more sensibility about it.”

            “Dear, he’s in love.  Sensibility goes right out the window.”

            “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Hilary was just coming out of the bedroom when Kai entered the guest house.  She closed the door quietly and smiled reassuringly at the scowling agent.

            “He just fell asleep, Kai.  I think he’s feeling a little better than earlier.”

            Kai took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm down.  He really hadn’t expected his father to do such a thing as have Takao investigated.  He sighed in frustration and gave a strained smile to Hilary in return.

            “Thanks, Hilary, for staying with him.”

            “Of course.  I’m worried for him, too.”  The brunette gathered herself up and made for the front door.  She stopped long enough to lay a hand on Kai’s arm.  “I think we should do what we came here to do as soon as possible, Kai.  I don’t think he can take much more of this.”

            Kai patted her hand awkwardly.  “I was thinking the same thing, Hilary.  This is killing him, and it’s killing me to watch his suffering.”  He met her honey-brown gaze solidly.  “Check everything over one last time.  We’re doing it tomorrow night.”

            “Leave it to Tala and I.  For now, you take care of Takao, and the both of you get some rest.”  She let his arm go and left.

            Kai closed and locked the door, turning off the lights and heading for the bedroom.  He slipped inside quietly and began to undress.

            “Kai?  That you?”  Takao’s sleepy voice made Kai jump a bit.

            “Yeah.  Go back to sleep, love.  I’ll join you in a minute.”

            He heard a yawn then a sleepy, “Okay…”

            After finishing in the bathroom, Kai slipped under the sheets with the bluenette and propped himself up on one elbow to study his lover in concern.

            “You alright?”  He asked softly.  Takao rolled onto his side and snuggled up to Kai.

            “Yeah, I’m okay.  I just…I don’t know if I can do it, Kai.  Your mother is wonderful and your father seems to be a good man.  I…don’t think I can steal from them like this.”

            Kai’s heart clenched and he curled an arm around Takao, gently stroking his hair in comfort.  “I know.  I know this is hard, but we have to do it.  Just keep telling yourself that it’s only temporary.  We are returning the Egg eventually.”

            “I know!  I just…I hate this.”  Hot tears spilled out and dripped down Kai’s chest.  The dual-haired man wrapped Takao securely in his arms and let him weep quietly, expunging the pent up grief and guilt that was slowly eating away at him.  Takao clung, needing that offered strength and support desperately.

            “We’re doing it tomorrow night.”  Kai said after the tears had stopped and Takao simply lay there, exhausted and limp.  “Let’s get it over with, and go get your family back.  I promise that it will all work out, Takao.  We’ll make it turn out well.”

            “Thank you.”  Takao whispered hoarsely, sniffling.  “For everything, Kai.  Thank you.”

            Kai smiled fondly at him, tilting his chin up with a finger.  “I love you.”

            Those three simple words always made Takao warm and tingly.  He slipped a hand to the back of Kai’s head as his lips were claimed in a deep, heartfelt kiss.

            “I love you.”  He murmured against Kai’s lips when they separated just enough to breathe.

            “Go to sleep, my love.”  Kai shifted a bit for comfort and relaxed, keeping Takao close as he let himself drift into slumber.

~*~*~*~*~

            Kai wasn’t surprised that his father was gone from the estate the next morning.  ‘Gone away on business’ was what the staff member had informed him at breakfast.

            When his mother joined them at the breakfast table, she announced that she was taking them all to nearby Naples to do some shopping.  Both Kai and Tala wore pained expressions at the idea, but Hilary was sparkling with excitement.  And Takao…well, he was happy but mostly indifferent.

            “Come on, Kai.”  He admonished his grumbling lover as they made their way down to the docks to catch a boat to the mainland.  “It’s not your thing, I know, but it’s a way to get out, relax, and clear our heads for a bit, don’t you think?”

            “I know…but shopping?”

            Takao chuckled and climbed onto the deck of the boat.

            By the time they returned to the island, Kai wasn’t sure they would have enough room left in Hilary’s suitcase and carry-on luggage for the extra equipment they’d brought for the heist, not with how much stuff she’d bought.

            “You really know where all the good deals are found, Masumi-san.  I really enjoyed today.”  Hilary smiled happily at Kai’s mother, who returned the smile.

            “That’s good.  I’m happy that you found such nice things for yourself and for your family back home, Hilary.  It was fun, wasn’t it?”  Masumi replied.  She turned to Kai and set the bags containing her own purchases down.  “Are you really leaving tomorrow, son?  It’s such a shame you all have to leave so soon.”

            “I know, Mother.  But Hilary has to return to work, and Tala and I have a thief to catch.  And Takao has a business to run.”  Kai replied smoothly.  “I promise we’ll come back and stay longer next time, though.”

            “Well, I guess that’s only fair.”  She laughed and waved it away.  “Go put your things away and come back to the main house for dinner, kids.  I had something special made for dessert since this is your last meal with me.”

            “Sounds good, Mom.”  Tala gave her a fond hug and started carting off Hilary’s purchases.  “We’ll be back!”

            Kai and Takao followed, helping carry Hilary’s bags.

            Once out of hearing range of the main house and any staff people, Takao gave Hilary hell for buying so much.

            “Honestly, Hil!  You aren’t going to have enough room to take all this stuff back!”

            “I know!  Some of it is going to be boxed up and shipped home in the mail, Takao.  I’m not dumb.”  She retorted.

            Supper was relatively calm and peaceful.  The special dessert was a tiramisu cake – which Takao decided was his new favourite, even if he could only have a small piece at the moment.

            When supper had finished, it was already nearing nine o’clock.

            “I think I’ll say good-bye now, Kai.”  Masumi declared sadly as they prepared to return to the guest houses.  “I’ll be leaving very early tomorrow morning for Sweden for a very important business meeting, so I won’t be seeing you off, I’m afraid.”

            “Oh.  Well, then.”  Tala gave her one big bear hug and planted a kiss on her cheek.  “Have a safe trip, a good meeting , and miss me lots, okay?”

            She laughed and hugged him back.  “Of course, Tala.  And you take care of my son, and the lovely Hilary, too.  If you don’t, I shall have to have your head examined.”

            Hilary blushed and ducked her head.

            Takao swallowed nervously and held out a hand to the Hiwatari matriarch, clasping hers firmly and squeezing.  “Don’t worry, Masumi-san.  I’ll take care of Kai – as much as he lets me, anyway.”

            “Ah, and that is why you and my son are such a good match.  You understand one another so well.”  Masumi drew Takao into a motherly hug.  “I do hope you feel better soon, Takao, and that you come back to visit as soon as you are able.  You will always be welcome in my home.”

            “Thank you, Masumi-san.”  Takao wanted to cry, but held it back admirably.  He hated the whole situation thoroughly.  “I will.”

            “I’ll phone you in a couple days, then, Mother.”  Kai stated, taking Takao’s hand in his own and gripping it tightly in silent support.  “Have a safe trip.”

            “Thank you, and the same to all of you.  Goodnight, everyone.”  Masumi nodded and made her way up the stairs, disappearing from view.

            “Well, shall we?”  Tala led the way outside and back to Kai and Takao’s abode.  Once inside, Tala began setting up the equipment again.  “Let’s run through the checks, Hilary.  One last time.”

            “On it!”  She picked up one laptop computer and booted it up.

            “We’ll go change and be right out.”  Takao said, pulling Kai toward the bedroom.  “I can’t wait until this is done.”  He muttered, half to himself.

            Kai closed the bedroom door behind them and watched the bluenette pull out several articles of black clothing from his suitcase.  “Take it easy, love.  You’re too wound up.”

            “I can’t help it.  I get like this before every…well, every time I’m about to go ‘borrow’ something.”  Takao stripped down to his brief underwear, beginning to put on the black clothes.  “And this time it’s all that much worse.”

            Kai sighed and took out his own clothes – ones that Takao had rummaged through Kai’s wardrobe and picked out himself.  “I know, Taka.  It’ll be over soon.  Do you have some way of calming yourself before you actually…do this?”

            “Meditation.  The one thing of Gramps’ teachings that has been of most use to me all these years.”  Takao finished pulling on black socks and pulled his hair into a ponytail with a black hair-tie.

            “Good.  Because if you don’t do something we aren’t doing this tonight.”  Kai held up a hand at Takao’s instant protest.  “Ah!  No.  People who are all wound up like you are right now make mistakes.  You can’t afford it, Taka.”

            The bluenette cursed and wished he had something to kick.  “You’re right, and I know it.  I just…sorry.”

            “Don’t be.  Just do what you need to prepare for this.”

            Takao took a slow, deep breath and released it even slower.  “Yeah.”  He crawled into the middle of the bed and got comfortable, sitting cross-legged and closing his eyes.  “Eleven o’clock, Kai.  First check to make sure all the staff are gone away or to bed for the night, as well as your mother.”

            “Check.”  Kai nodded, pulling his black turtleneck shirt over his head.

            “At 11:15, we start the security loop and make sure everything’s working properly.  Then at 11:20 we leave here and go get that Egg.  We’ll have thirty minutes to get in and out before the security loop will be discovered by the system and the alarms will go off.”  Takao continued running through the basic plan.  “After that, we’re either safe or screwed.”

            “We’ll be fine.”  Kai was trying really hard to be optimistic.  And he had to admit that Takao was impressing him with his know-how and careful planning.  It was…kinda hot, honestly.  He shook himself and shrugged off the amorous thought for some other time.  “Meditate, Taka.  I’ll come get you at 11:00.”

            “Thanks, Kai.”

            Kai left him sitting on the bed doing some breathing exercises to begin his mediation.

~*~*~*~*~

            Promptly at 11:20 that night, two figures clothed entirely in black carefully snuck across the grounds from the guest house to the main house.

            “Tala.”  Kai said in a voice barely above a whisper.  “Deck doors.”  He was speaking to the small communication device that they’d commandeered from the tech department at the UNA just for this.

            “Working…there.  Go!”  Tala’s voice returned, audible only to Kai and Takao.  There was a soft click as Takao grasped the door handle and opened the door, pushing it open enough to slip inside.  Kai followed soundlessly, heart pounding in his ears.

            Together they slunk through the breakfast room, down the hall, and carefully up the main stairs to the second floor, with murmured requests to their partners back in the guest house to open locks on doors and to turn off security lasers and such so they could pass smoothly.  Takao let Kai lead the way to the double doors that belonged to the library where the safe containing the Egg was located.

            “Tala.  Library.”  Takao murmured.  There was a moment of silence, then, “Go.” as a soft click released the lock.  The two men hurried inside and shut the door softly.

            “I’m going for the safe.”  Takao whispered quietly.  He moved over to the safe and revealed it from its hiding spot behind a self of fake books.  He studied the safe’s lock mechanism carefully, then rubbed his fingertips together.  Tiny sparks of electricity flashed in the darkness and Kai blinked.

            “Don’t you want the code?  It’d be faster.”  Kai suggested.

            “Maybe, but then it wouldn’t look as real as if we really did break in.”  Takao murmured back, setting his fingertips, encased by black leather gloves, to certain spots around the dial of the combination lock.  He closed his eyes to concentrate, and with his other hand turned the dial very slowly.  “This won’t take that long.”

            Kai watched in fascination as Takao worked.  It appeared that he was using his electric abilities to manipulate the tumblers of the lock by magnetism.  Every time he turned the dial over one of the numbers of the combination, there was a distinct ‘click’ of sound from the tumbler moving.  As each one was hit, Takao was slowly reciting the code aloud.  “4, 18, 1, 14, 26, 5, 18.”  Then the safe door popped open, and Takao smiled faintly, looking inside for the Egg.

            The bluenette quickly removed it, putting it into the small, black velvet drawstring bag that he’d brought along and closed the safe again.  “Time?”  He asked Kai.

            “We have ten minutes to get out of here.”  Kai whispered back.  “Let’s go.”

            Takao nodded and gestured for him to lead the way.  They snuck back out the same way they’d gotten in, and this time each murmured request to Tala and Hilary was to relock the doors and turn on the security devices they’d locked and shut off on the way in.

            With only a mere three minutes to spare, they managed to slip back into the guest house without any hang-ups.

            As soon as they did, Tala and Hilary set to stopping the feedback loop on the security system and setting everything back to normal, cleaning up the equipment.

            “Here’s the case, Takao.”  Hilary brought the transport case they’d brought along for the Egg to him and he carefully placed the delicate valuable inside.

            “Thank god.”  Tala breathed a sigh of relief.  “That was bloody nerve-wracking from our end.”

            “Same for us, if not worse.”  Kai retorted, watching his partner and Hilary gather up their stuff.  “Leave it all here and get it tomorrow.”  He said after a moment.  “Go to bed and try to rest.”

            “Yeah.”  Tala agreed, piling everything near the front door.

            “Good work, everyone.”  Hilary tried to offer a reassuring smile, even though she didn’t really feel like smiling.  “We’re one step closer to ending this, Takao.  Try to remember that.”

            “Thanks, Hilary.  For everything.”  Takao replied.  “You, too, Tala.”

            “Sleep, you two.”  Tala ushered Hilary out the door and let it slam behind himself.

            Kai followed Takao to the bedroom after turning off the lights.  He was tired, all the excitement having drained him.

            But at the same time, he felt like he could do anything at all.  He was restless and filled with indescribable energy.  He’d had adrenaline rushes before, but this was a new kind of experience that induced such a reaction from him.

            So really, as when he was in hot climates, and filled with similar restlessness, he couldn’t be blamed for taking one look at his lover and hiving all that energy turn toward the one foreseeable outlet.

            Takao entered the bedroom, his mind flying a million miles a minute and blood humming with energy and adrenaline, as it usually did.  He knew he was going to need sleep, but in his condition it wasn’t going to be possible.  Normally he’d have an idea of what to do to wear off that chemical rush and then crash, but this time he was at a loss…

            …Until he turned around and saw Kai standing in a sliver of pale moonlight, a shadow within a shadow and an intense fiery gaze burning from those crimson eyes.

            There was the answer to both their problems.

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

Chapter 17: Den of Thieves – Part I

            Smiling to himself, Takao knew just how to get the ball rolling as he sauntered (with a sexy roll of his hips) over to his suitcase and began to take his clothes off.

            Correction – it was more of a slow, teasing strip show for Kai’s benefit than the mundane movements of preparing for bed.

            “So, lover…” he began in a sultry voice.  “How was your first experience being a thief?”

            Kai, understanding the game perfectly well – since he had seen the instant shift from adrenaline to lust in Takao’s stormy eyes – grinned and without consideration for the condition of his turtleneck yanked it off over his head to toss it in the general direction of his own suitcase.  “Hn.  How shall I describe it?”  He pretended to ponder the answer, pulling his belt from his pants loops and from around his waist, dropping it on the floor with a heavy clunk.  “Exciting?  Thrilling, even.”

            Takao chuckled knowingly.  “Oh yes…” he purred, bending over at the waist to pull off his socks.  “It is that, even if one doesn’t like having larcenous intent…” he heard a muttered curse and turned to see Kai lose his balance trying to tug a sock off one foot while watching the bluenette.  Kai landed on the bed, a little flustered and embarrassed at his lack of grace.  “Are you okay?”

            “Fine.”  Kai choked out, ripping his socks off violently and throwing them over at his suitcase.  “You were saying…?”

            Smiling, Takao turned back to his suitcase and slowly undid the button and zipper of his black pants, even more slowly sliding them down past his hips, over his butt, and letting them pool at his feet.  He heard a small groan and grinned wickedly.  “Oh, it was nothing.  I just was curious how you found your first theft, that’s all.”  In just his boxers, Takao turned back to Kai to find him already nude – gloriously so – and sitting on the edge of their bed with the covers drawn back invitingly.

            “The thrill of the job…” he continued, voice dripping want as he raked his gaze over Kai’s form hungrily.  “The way it makes your blood race…your heart pounds…”

            Kai was mesmerized as Takao walked toward him, every step teasing with the flow of muscles under golden-hued skin.  The bluenette’s words and voice were melting away coherent thought, and Kai was sure the night was going to be wild and long.

            Frankly, he couldn’t wait.

            “You’re filled with an indescribable energy that makes you feel like you could do anything…”  Takao stopped just out of arms’ reach of the older teen and spun, giving Kai his back.  He hooked his thumbs under the elastic waistband of his boxers.  “It’s the adrenaline rush, but still…and then you’re so restless that you need an outlet.”    Eyes closing as he slowly drew his boxers down and off, giving Kai a direct eye-full of his…assets, he sighed in pleasure and kicked the last item of his clothing away before facing Kai again.  A wide smirk flashed briefly at the decidedly lustful expression on Kai’s face.

            Kai dragged his eyes upward to meet stormy, electric blue eyes, his tongue darting to lick his suddenly dry lips.  “That’s…about it, yeah.”  He sucked in a shuddering breath when he realized he’d been holding it since Takao had bent over.  “Kinomiya, are you trying to seduce me?”

            The bluenette shook his head, midnight blue hair still held back in a ponytail.  “No, I’m not.”  He took a step closer, eyes pined to his lover.  “Fair warning, Kai…tonight will not be about seduction,” he stepped closer again, every movement a graceful, predatory one.  “Nor will it be slow or soft.  Tonight I am in my element.  I rule this night.”  His footsteps came to a halt in front of the older man, and he abruptly reached out and pushed Kai backward onto the mattress.  “Tonight, lover, is about sex.  Hot,” he straddled Kai faster than he could sit up or protest.  “…wild, and raw.”  On his hands and knees above the dual-haired agent, he nearly purred the last word.

            Kai, a little stunned, stared up at Takao in astonishment – and lust – as he spoke.  He had half-wondered when Takao’s dominant personality would exert itself in their sex life, but he hadn’t expected it so soon.  Then again, he shouldn’t be that surprised because, as Takao said, he was in his element tonight.

            Oh but he was not complaining.  It was probably the chemical and hormonal cocktail coursing through his bloodstream, but damned if this side of Takao wasn’t turning him on.  He could feel himself harden with each of those last three words, and he briefly wondered if he could match the bluenette’s intensity before ignoring his brain and concentrating on Takao above him.  He understood exactly what Takao was suggesting and this time it suited him just fine – though he’d make the reluctant thief work for the seme position.

            The promising glint in Kai’s crimson, burning eyes told Takao he was in for a fight – the kind they’d both enjoy – as Kai slowly pushed himself up onto his elbows to a reclining position.  Takao backed off a little, allowing the movement, as he wasn’t ready to initiate the encounter just yet.

            “Is that so?”  Kai’s eyes thinned and focused on Takao’s mouth.  “Feeling dominant are we?  Well then.”  He sat up more fully, stopping just shy of meeting those luscious lips with his own.  “What would you suggest?”

            They weren’t even touching yet and their pulses were speeding up, their skin tingling and body heat rising  Takao shivered in anticipation, rubbing his nose against Kai’s in an Eskimo kiss of affection.  “Kai…lover…” he stared directly into Kai’s eyes from centimetres away.  “Let’s fuck.”

            Kai might have laughed at that very blunt suggestion…but he was suddenly a little too busy.

            Takao brought his mouth down on Kai’s forcefully, insistently kissing his lover while his arms curled around Kai’s shoulders and neck.  Kai made a throaty sound of pleasure and wound his own arms around Takao, trying to draw him more fully against himself.  The bluenette wasn’t cooperating though, and instead of moving closer, moved back.  His tongue flicked across Kai’s lips and his hands skimmed down Kai’s chest and back up again.  Takao grinned at the rumble from that muscular chest and winked playfully at his lover.

            Kai’s answering smirk held world’s of promise and before Takao realized what he was up to, had the younger man flipped off himself to the side onto the bed, flat on his back.  Kai was still smirking as he crawled up Takao’s prone form.

            “I think there’s a lot of a shameless tease in you, Kinomiya.”  He commented, one hand smoothing its way down Takao’s side to his hip, where it  gripped to hold him still.  “And you didn’t think it would be easy, did you?”

            “Hmm…not at all.”  Takao smiled, eyes half-closed.  “In fact, I was counting on a little resistance.  Just to make everything that much more fun…”

            “Oh really…?”  Kai dipped his head and captured Takao’s mouth in a hot, passionate kiss, his tongue tangling around the bluenette’s in challenge.  “Well.”  He said, breathing deeply.  “Bring it.”

            “Oh, I intend to.”  Takao growled playfully – and at the same time quite seriously.  “Lube?”

            Kai rolled away briefly to dig out the lube from the bedside drawer.  Then he rolled back and dangled it in front of Takao’s face before he dropped it onto the pillow.

            “Good.”  Takao reached up and pulled Kai down to meet his kiss, one hand burying itself in Kai’s hair while the other stroked deceptively up and down Kai’s spine.  Attempting to distract the agent, Takao’s lips and tongue and mouth played and teased Kai’s into a passionate duel of kissing whereby air became a useless, forgotten necessity.  Kai groaned and kissed back hungrily, his hand holding Takao’s hip down to the bed while the other held his upper half propped up above the younger man.  Since he couldn’t move his hips well, Takao slowly raised a leg to rub against Kai’s side and hip before springing his attack on the agent.

            A quick movement had his lover rolled over onto his back with a smug Takao hovering over him, straddling his waist.    Kai let out a growl of consternation and tried to wrestle the smirking bluenette back down to the mattress, but had little luck.  He may have been a little stronger and bigger physically, but Takao’s speed and agility gave him an advantage. “Taka…” he ground out as the younger man’s mouth descended on his chest and nipped none too gently at the creamy ivory skin.  “Damn it!”  Kai cursed.

            “Mmm…you taste really good here, Kai.”  Takao licked the spot he’d just nibbled on and earned a hiss followed by a tight groan.  “And here…” he slipped downward, delivering teasing licks and nips softened by tiny kisses as he went.  He flicked a fingernail across a hardened pink nub and watched the muscles bunch in reaction, licking his lips before he swooped in and gave the nipple one long lave with this tongue.  “Maybe I should refresh my memory and find out if the rest of you tastes as good as this.”  Takao mused, rubbing the other nub with his thumb absently.  Kai moaned a little and fought not to squirm.

            “Not if I get tot you first.”  He retorted in a husky voice, reaching down to grasp Takao’s shoulders.  But his lover was already slinking downward and trailing hot, damp kisses in his wake, just out of reach.  “Kinomiya…”

            Takao buried his face against the soft skin of Kai’s pelvis to hide the grin that formed at the petulant, pouting tone in Kai’s voice.  Instead of responding verbally, he turned his head and rubbed his nose against the hard base of Kai’s raging erection, one hand moving to grasp it and steady it.  Kai gasped and unconsciously lifted his hips into the touch, moaning as Takao’s hand roughly slid up and down in a circular motion, his hot breath fanning across the sensitive skin all the while.  Takao leaned in and ran his tongue from base to tip, making a little humming sound of approval and pleasure.

            Kai sighed deeply and ran his fingers through Takao’s thick, midnight blue bangs, pushing them out of his eyes while the reluctant thief gave him a full out demonstration of his oral skills.  Takao didn’t give him time to build up or to tease his lover to orgasm.  Instead, he took Kai deep into his mouth and carefully right down his throat, swallowing and humming while his hand traced patterns all over the older man’s sensitive skin around his pelvis and hips, along the crease where leg met hip and the inside of Kai’s thigh.

            It was too much stimulation when he was already extremely worked up, and Kai lost it under the sensuous assault.  He cried out on a startled groan and curled forward in release.  Takao paused and let he flood of slightly salty liquid fill his mouth before he swallowed it down and let Kai slip from his mouth with a ‘pop’ of sound.

            Kai flopped back to the mattress gasping and shuddering in stunned bliss.  Takao licked his lips greedily and studied his lover while Kai caught his breath.  He knew Kai and all the things that body language could tell him, and because he knew his lover that well, he knew exactly how to get what he wanted.  First he needed Kai slightly out of it and pliable – hence an intense, sudden orgasm.

            “Uhn…wow.”  Kai moaned, giddy on endorphins.  “That was new…wow.”

            Takao chuckled knowingly and rubbed his palms slowly up and down Kai’s upper legs.  “Hmm…I’m not done yet, either.”  Takao promised, urging Kai to sit up with a crooked finger.  Kai pushed himself up, smiling quite fondly at the bluenette.  He reached for his lover, needing contact, and  found himself being shoved back down to the bed with an enthusiastic Takao kissing him senseless.  Then he was rolled over onto his stomach before he realized it and Takao was attacking his back with the same tactics he’d used a few minutes ago on his front.

            Not that Kai could find a reason to complain about it…  He was a little overwhelmed but at the same time it felt like being worshipped with Takao’s entire being.  His hands were everywhere, never lingering in any one place too long (and often not long enough for Kai’s liking), and his mouth was like a brand all over his shoulders, back, and neck.  The length of Takao’s front slid and rubbed against Kai in a full-body caress that drew a long moan from him unwittingly.  He buried his head in his arms, folded on the pillow, and shuddered deeply when Takao’s mouth followed in the wake of ghostly light touches over his bare backside.  “God…” he sighed then gasped as a hand slipped between his legs and found his reawakening erection, fingers lightly curling around it and coaxing it back to full0hardness.  “Taka!”

            “You have no idea how sexy you sound like that, lover.”  Takao informed him, encouraging Kai’s legs to part further while distracted by the teasing fingers on his cock and the hot mouth on the smooth, silken ivory skin of one globe of Kai’s butt.  “I could eat you alive, you taste so good.”  The bluenette added, setting his teeth and biting gently to emphasize his words.  Kai made a sound crossed between a growl and a yelp then murmured as Takao soothed the mark with his tongue.  “Mine.”  He claimed in a gruff, possessive voice, his hands sliding to Kai’s hips and thumbs spreading Kai open.

            Head spinning somewhere between awareness and blissfully horny, Kai only registered what the bluenette was about to do half a second before he cried out, squirmed in Takao’s grasp, and moaned unabashedly as his lover’s tongue stroked and dipped and licked and generally drove Kai insane with pleasure.  “Oh god!  Tak-ao…god!”  Kai gripped fistfuls of sheets and pillow, twisting the linen desperately to hold on and not lose it completely.  Sweat broke out all over his body and the room was becoming unbearably hot.

            Takao made pleased humming noises and shivered in anticipation at the sounds coming from his beloved at his attentions.  But the way Kai was moving his hips and body at the pleasurable ministrations was rapidly wearing Takao’s control thin, and he finally stopped, grabbing the tube of lubricant from the pillow that was in danger of being ripped to shreds by Kai’s formidable grip.

            It took Kai a minute to regain enough of his senses to realize Takao had paused and made to glance back over his shoulder at the younger man, panting for breath.  He saw Takao’s hand a millisecond before it closed on his hip and drew him up to balance on his hands and knees as a slick finger pushed easily inside him.  Kai moaned softly and bit his lip as the bluenette quickly prepared him – no real stretching or lazy strokes, just enough to spread the lube to ease Takao’s way and be a warning of what he intended for Kai.  By this time, however, Kai was beyond caring about dominance.  He’d liked everything Takao had done to him so far – a lot – but it wasn’t enough now.  He was craving something far stronger, deeper – something to fill this empty ache Takao had created in him.  H loved Takao, trusted him with his whole being, and right now…he wanted the bluenette inside him, filing him completely and pounding him into the mattress as hard and fast as Takao could manage.

            Smirking at the ecstasy and urgency in Kai’s expression as he removed his fingers, Takao yanked the older man up to sit on his lap, bent knees just to either side of Takao’s own knees.  Kai actually mewled at the feeling of the bluenette’s hard, slick tip bumping his opening and rocked his hips in demand as Takao’s arm curled possessively around his waist and held him poised and still.

            Takao kissed a damp shoulder blade and nipped lightly at the nape of Kai’s neck, just below the hairline.  “Tonight you’re mine, Hiwatari, and I’m going to fuck you until you’re blind, deaf and dumb to everything but me,” he growled a little and nuzzled Kai’s neck as crimson-eyes crossed and the two-toned head lolled to the side lethargically.  “And then I’ll do it again until you’re screaming my name.”

            “God, Taka, please…” Kai nearly swallowed his tongue hastily stopping humiliating plea to yes, please, do just that.  He was Hiwatari Kai, damn it!  He would have the last word – or try to.  “Promises, promises…” he gasped out, shifting restlessly in Takao’s grip.  The bluenette blinked and gave a sharp bark of laughter before he simply pulled Kai back to meet his first thrust and pushed himself into Kai with one forceful stroke.  It was as if he knew he belonged there and there was nothing to stop him from taking what he wanted.

            Kai choked back a thin moan and would have fallen forward if Takao hadn’t had an arm around him, anchoring him in place.  “Fuck!”  He swore succinctly once he got his breath back.  Takao didn’t give him a chance to decide if that had hurt or felt good.  He pulled out then slammed back in forcefully, groaning thickly in Kai’s ear while Kai mewled again and threw pride out the window.  “Fuck yes!  Again, Kinomiya!  Come on…”

            Takao grinned in smug triumph and obliged happily.  His next thrust made Kai’s teeth clack and the agent pushed himself back onto Takao’s thick, hard erection to met the next thrust.  A rhythm built up quickly and neither man was entirely sure where he left of and the other began.  The bluenette’s arm around his writhing, gasping lover held tight while his free hand stroked any area of sweat-slicked, trembling flesh he could find in a frenzied need to touch.

            Kai let himself be swept away by the storm named Takao and gave himself over to every tingle, flash, and flood of pure unadulterated pleasure.  A strangled cry emerged from deep in his throat as Takao shifted just so – hitting his very sensitive prostate at the same time as his hand wrapped around his aching cock which leaked copiously with precum.  Two hard thrusts and a couple sharp pulls with his hand and Kai was exploding, his whole body shuddering and jerking at the force of the orgasm that ripped through him.  Sticky white rivulet coated his and Takao’s thighs and the bluenette’s hand, the evidence of Kai’s release  painting two different shades of creamy skin.

            Takao moaned darkly at the sensation of Kai’s inner self clenching and contracting around him, and he growled in approval sinking his teeth into the fleshy part of the curve of Kai’s shoulder and neck as he thrust one final time and erupted deep, deep inside his lover.  He clutched the older man to his chest, locking them together in the throes of the aftershocks of their wild passion and rode out the ecstasy together with Kai twitching and gasping in his arms.

            When they’d caught their breaths and their pulses stopped racing through their veins at light-speed, Takao chuckled to himself and nuzzled Kai’s neck and shoulders affectionately.  Still buried deep, he felt Kai shudder as his hyper-sensitive body responded to the yet full sensation.  “Hell, lover…”  Takao dropped loving kisses across Kai’s shoulders.  “Do you have any idea how much I’ve wanted to do that?”

            Dazed, Kai had to swallow a couple times to find his voice again, clutching at Takao’s arm around him in some strange need of reassurance as he came down from the orgasmic rush.  “You…never said anything before..” he managed to reply between gulps of air.  “Fuck…I don’t know that…I could handle this too often…”

            Delighted, Takao snickered, decidedly giddy and drunk on endorphins.  “Don’t worry, lover.  As much as I enjoy screwing you senseless, we’ll stick to you being seme the majority of the time.”  He assured Kai, who turned his head slightly to raise an eyebrow at him and smirk wickedly.

            “That so?  Well, since you seem to be reneging on that promise you made earlier…” Kai moaned softly, feeling the bluenette shift under and inside him.  “…and you have such wonderful stamina to still be hard after that…”

            Takao raised an eyebrow in return and bucked his hips testingly.  Kai let out a whimper before he could catch himself.  “Lover, I’m not done yet.  I’ll remind you of just who is filling this wonderfully sexy ass of yours right now, and to just whom it belongs.”  He bucked again and Kai let out a delicious purr, leaning back into Takao’s chest, damp with sweat, and deliberately clenching his inner muscles around the bluenette’s cock to tease.

            “Fuck you, Kinomiya.  You wouldn’t be there if I didn’t want it.”  To hide the blush and the breathlessness that still gripped him, Kai reached up with both hands and drew Takao’s mouth towards his with one while the other drove fingers into midnight blue locks and gripped to hold him in place.  They kissed deeply, tongues tangling and lips drawing demandingly at each other.  After a few sensuous moments of kissing, Takao pulled back and smiled fondly at his lover.

            “Kai, my love, you have a point.  However, I’m not reneging on anything tonight.”  A warning glint flashed through Takao’s surreal blue-grey eyes and Kai shivered at the promise held there.  “Are you up for another round, Hiwatari?”

            “What do you think?”  Kai retorted, grabbing one of Takao’s hands and curling his fingers around his own erection, which was beginning to wake up yet again.

            “Good, because I know just how I want you this time.”  Takao carefully pushed Kai forward a bit and slowly guided him off his lap, watching as his glistening cock emerged from its home inside Kai, a small stream of his own essence dribbling out after him.  The sight just made him want to do it all over again that much more – especially when he heard the low whine that came from Kai as he withdrew.  “How can you sound so sexy like that?”  Takao wondered aloud, half to himself, and pushed Kai down on the mattress on his back, legs spread enticingly, silently begging for his lover.

            “I’m not doing it on purpose.”  Kai remarked distractedly, deeply sighing as the bluenette settled between his legs.  “Oh yes…”

            “Me thinks someone enjoys being uke more than he’s willing to confess.”  Takao admired the expression of sultry pleasure in his lover’s face as his hardness slid against Kai’s and came to rest against Kai’s entrance.

            “I…uhn…like anything and everything we do, lover.”  Kai figured that was close enough to agreeing without having to say it.  “So get on with it, damn you!”

            Takao chuckled and leaned down to kiss the crimson-eyed man thoroughly, tongue tangling with Kai’s with deceptively lazy strokes.  His hand slipped between their bodies, caressing teasing fingertips across moonlight-pale flesh and rosy, dusky nipples, then lower to Kai’s abdomen.  While his fingers drove Kai crazy tracing patterns and memorizing his lover’s body by touch, he took his mouth away from Kai’s and buried his nose behind Kai’s ear, nipping and sucking at the exposed column of his neck that Kai offered him by tilting his head away.

            Kai lifted his hips slightly off the bed, trying to get more solid touches, moaning softly.  He was beginning to feel feverish and oh so restless again as Takao’s hands and mouth played his body like a finely tuned instrument.  The noises he made were certainly musical to Takao’s ears and he was getting just as much enjoyment out of them as he was the feeling of that silent strength and powerfully courageous spirit writhing under him and rubbing himself against the bluenette at every opportunity.

            “Say it, Kai.”  He demanded darkly, his hot breath fanning over Kai’s damp skin seductively.  “I want the words from you this time.”

            “I…won’t…beg.”  No way in hell.  Kai affirmed, fighting not to squirm as fingers brushed not close enough to his aching erection.

            “I can do this all night long, lover.”  The bluenette warned, lifting himself up so he could look Kai in the eyes.  “Remember, I said I’d have you screaming my name.  You’ll say what I want to hear, Kai, I promise.”

            “You…little…” Kai gasped and shuddered as Takao’s tricky fingers curled around his thick length.  His hands grabbed onto Takao’s shoulders and kneaded desperately, encouraging more contact.  “Not very…likely!”

            “Still resisting, huh?”  Takao licked away a drop of sweat that beaded on Kai’s skin, relishing his lover’s salty spicy flavour with a dark purr of a hum, undulating his hips against Kai’s.  “How long do you think you can do that?  Until you want to come badly enough?”  Takao’s stormy eyes were nearly block with want as their pierced Kai through from above.  He pushed himself up onto his knees and smiled down at his lover wickedly, raising both his hands to his head.  Fascinated at the exotic picture he made, Kai watched, totally mesmerized, as the younger man pulled the hair tie from his hair and shook out the midnight blue mane to let it drape over his shoulders in a framing halo.  He bent back down and kissed Kai hard, grabbing the hands that reached for him and raising them above their heads, pinning them there with one hand while he ravaged Kai’s mouth.  Kai struggled against the hold but found he was effectively bound.  The feeling of helplessness washed through him, mixing with the restless energy and pleasure already singing through his body, making him light-headed.  He moaned and unconsciously shifted his legs to hook around Takao’s hips, leaving him fully open and exposed to his lover.

            “Mmm…you’re mine, Hiwatari.”  Takao murmured possessively.  “I know you’re aching, Kai, starved for me…tell me what you want, lover.”  He shifted lower, letting his hair brush over Kai’s skin.

            “You are…so…ah!”  Kai cried out as teeth tugged at a hard, dusky nipple sending shocks of pleasure spiking straight to his already aching centre.  “Damn it, Taka!  Just..”

            Takao grinned smugly, hearing surrender begin to saturate Kai’s raspy voice.  “Just what?  More of this?”  He dipped his head and attached himself to Kai’s chest again, an answering shiver rippling through him at the older man’s mewl.

            “Uhn!  Yes!  Oh god, no!  Not…I…want..” Kai tried to shake off the blissful fog blanketing his mind.  “Fuck!  I can’t…”

            “I want you, too, lover, and yes, you can.  You will.”  Takao slid himself back up to kiss Kai coaxingly.  “Come on, my love.  Is it really so hard to tell me what you want of me?”

            “I…will not…beg!”  Kai somehow managed to gasp out stubbornly.

            Takao sighed and stopped the teasing, waiting until Kai was looking at him solidly, confusion and frustrated lust in his flaming crimson eyes.  “I don’t want you to beg.”  He assured Kai, mentally adding, Not this time, anyway.  He gave his lover a quirky smile.  “I just want to hear you tell me what you want to do, how badly you want me, Kai.  I’m not interested in breaking you of your dominant self one bit.”

            Kai bit his lip and wrestled with that for a moment.  “I know…I just…” he faltered, blushing hotly.  “I’ve never…”

            Takao blinked, admiring the way Kai’s pale skin glowed red in embarrassment.  “You’ve never willingly submitted to anyone, I know.”  He smiled sadly.  “Okay.  I’m not going to force you to…”

            “Fuck me, Taka.”  Kai interrupted, face flaming and gaze turned away as he said in a near whisper, “Take me, fill me, make me yours…before I change my mind.”

            Storm blue eyes widened and Takao sucked in a sharp breath.  “Kai?  I…”

            “Please.”  Kai demanded with a quick uplift of his hips.

            Takao didn’t waste any more time, he just brought Kai’s legs up over his shoulders and thrust inside him easily, even deeper than he had before.  “Oh, Kami-sama…” he moaned, his head foggy at the sublime sensation of heat and tightness surrounding his cock.  “Oh god, Kai…”

            The older man didn’t hear him.  This was…he wasn’t going to last long, not in this position.  His cock throbbed in pleasurable pain, and he let out a deep, throaty moan of his lover’s name, followed by, “Move!  Gods, please…”

            Takao didn’t have to be told twice.  He pulled back then slammed himself back in, over and over again.  His breath came in deep gasps, his pulse pounded in his ears, and all his attention was singularly focused on the feeling of slipping in and out of his lover’s tight heat.  The bluenette forced himself to open his eyes and watch hungrily as Kai’s orgasm broke over him and made him cry out hoarsely, “Takao!”

            White light and intense ecstasy flooded through Kai and he surrendered to it completely, writhing and arching up to meet the continuously thrusting strokes of his lover as he rode out the tidal storm of release.  His toes curled, his nose went numb, and his fingers bit into his palms for lack of anything to hang onto, pinned as his hands were.

            Kai was too dazed to be aware of Takao shoving his legs back to his chest with a growl and pushing himself into Kai as hard and fast as he could until that shining abyss claimed him also.  Takao’s whole body jerked and quaked at the force of it, a long, low moan escaping as he filled his lover to the brim and beyond with his essence.  Kai felt that as he began to regain his senses and it nearly made his eyes cross.  He shivered in aftershocks of sensation and watched the blatant euphoria on Takao’s face with sleepy, satiated fondness.

            “Taka…love, let go of my hands, please?”  Kai tugged at the restraining hands pinning his wrists above their heads after a moment.

            “Huh?  Oh, yeah.”  The bluenette blinked away his hazy mind and let Kai go as he fell forward onto his forearms.  He sighed and let his forehead rest against his lover’s, panting for breath as he tried to regain a little strength.  “Are you…okay?”  He asked between gulps of air.

            Kai brought his arms down, feeling them tingle a little from being up over his head for so long.  He draped one arm lazily around Takao’s shoulders while the fingers of his free hand reached up to thread through midnight blue hair like water.  Eyes hooded he breathed deeply of the scent of their passion – the sweat, the sex, and the mixture of their own unique scents that mingled with the briny sea breeze from the open window.  “I’m fantastic, lover.  You’re amazing, Takao.”  His voice rumbled thickly.  Grinning goofily, Takao carefully and slowly removed himself from where he was still buried and captured Kai’s mouth in a sloppy, affectionate kiss.

            “No, Kai, you are the amazing one.  You are so beautiful in your pleasure…” the younger man nuzzled Kai’s neck with his nose and lips, purring and humming with afterglow.  “So sexy…” his hand slicked over Kai’s chest and trailed fingertips down to his stomach, playing in the pearlescent evidence of Kai’s release idly.  “And all mine.”  Takao claimed Kai’s lips in a deep, possessive, passionate kiss, not letting up until they needed to come up for air.  He buried his face in Kai’s shoulder and murmured, “I love you.” quietly, over and over, punctuated by soft, butterfly kisses to any available patch of skin.

            After several moments had passed and they had their pulse back to a normal pace.  Takao sighed contentedly and untangled himself from his lover.

            “You up for a shower, Kai?  I don’t think you want to sleep sweaty and…sticky.”  He wiped a bit of cum up from Kai’s abdomen with a finger and stuck it in his mouth with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

            Relaxed and completely uncaring for his messy, naked appearance, Kai stretched languidly and tucked an arm behind his head, running his other hand up and down the bluenette’s upper leg and inner thigh.  “It doesn’t bother me at all, gorgeous.  I feel more than good right now.”  And he did.  His body was tired and sweaty, and in a few significant places, sore – but the good kind.  He felt well-loved, marked in all the ways he could ever ask for as Takao’s.  Kai found…he didn’t mind the role-reversal so much, even liked it a great deal.  It might take a while for his pride to get a clue, but letting Takao top him was an experience he hoped to repeat often.

            The bluenette laughed.  “I’m glad. But trust me, even if you don’t mind sleeping this way, you will mind waking up like this.”  Takao grabbed his hair tie from the sheets and swept his hair back into a loose ponytail, climbing off the bed and stretching out the kinks of his own satiated body.  “I’ll go run a bath for us.”  He said, bending down over Kai to give him a quick kiss.  “Be right back, love.”

            “Hn…I’m not going anywhere.”  Kai watched the ultra-sexy movement and wiggle of the reluctant thief’s backside as he padded toward the bathroom.  One of his favourite views.

            Forty minutes later, they’d scrubbed themselves and each other clean, washed their hair, and were preparing to go collapse into bed with the knowledge that their partners would be awake in the morning wanting to leave.  While Takao combed the knots out of his hair and quickly plaited it or the night instead of blow-drying it, Kai changed the sheets on the bed and opened the bedroom window a bit more to let in the cool night sea-air to the humid, hot room.

            Kai was already lying on the bed under the sheet on his back, staring at the ceiling with his arms folded under his head, when Takao finally emerged from the bathroom and padded over to join him there.  Crawling under the sheet, he snuggled up to Kai’s side with a sigh of contentment and smiled at the arm that draped itself over his shoulder and down his back.

            “You okay?”  He inquired, his voice husky and sleepy.

            “Hn.  Never better, love.  We should get some rest.”  Kai ran his hand up and down the bluenette’s spine idly, encouraging sleep.

            “Yeah.”  Takao agreed, eyes closing.  “Love you.”  He murmured.

            Kai kissed the top of his head and cuddled the younger man closer.  “Me too.  Sleep well, love.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Hilary leaned against the door after closing it behind herself and heaved a huge sigh of relief.  “I am so glad that’s over.”  She looked down at her hands, giving a mirthless laugh.  “Kami…I’m still shaking.  If this is what it felt like for him, all this time…  How did he cope, Tala?  How could he not go absolutely insane?”

            Tala came toward her and clasped her hands in his own, tugging her toward the small kitchen.  “Sheer will, Hilary.  He’s operating on will power alone now. His health is a big red light that he’s not coping at all.  He just continues to plough forward toward his goal, locking everything else away until it’s accomplished.”  He sat her down on a bar stool at the island counter and rubbed her hands soothingly.  “You need to calm those nerves, sweetheart.  I’ll make us some tea.”

            “But…that can’t be good at all!  How long can he keep doing that before his body has had enough and forces him to take the rest and whatever he requires?”  Hilary watched the Russian fill the tea kettle and set it on the stove.  “And what will happen when he does accomplish his goal?”

            Pulling out two mugs and searching for the teabags, Tala frowned, not sure he should tell Hilary his opinion on the matter.  Sensing his reluctance, the brunette reached out and gripped his sleeve as he walked by.  “Tala?  Please.  I want to know what to expect so I can do whatever I have to in order to help him however I can, even if all I can do is call the others and tell them to get her immediately.”

            “Sweetheart, Kinomiya is very, very lucky to have good friends like you.  Because of that…I think it’s the one thing that will keep him alive – and Kai.  My partner will not let him go, no matter what.”  Tala drew her into a comforting embrace, and she accepted it willingly.  “Kinomiya…I think that after tonight, he’s got one last good shot of ending everything before his mind and body simply implode.  And after it’s all said and done…”

            “What?”  Hilary clutched at his shirt, looking up at him with molten, honey-brown eyes that shone with tears.  “Tell me, Tala!”

            “I think we’d better have a medical team standing by, because I’ve seen extreme stress and body-breakdown before.  Likely he’ll just shut down until his mind decides he’s been repaired enough to cope again.  He’ll need time, a lot of it, and quiet rest to even begin to regain his health.”  Tala stated quietly, closing his eyes and holding her close at the shuddering sob that answered.  “But like I said, he has you and all those other friends of his, and he’ll have Kai.  So in the end, though it will be a long road to recovery, he’ll be okay.”

            Hilary sniffled and nodded, smiling shakily.  “Thank you, Tala.  For being honest with me.  I…as soon as we have caught the one or ones behind all this, I’m calling Kenny and telling him to get everyone to come here as soon as they can.  Takao…will need to rest knowing his family is safe and his friends are here with him.”

            “Good.  Now…” Tala pulled back and went to pour their tea.  “You drink this and try to relax some, Hilary.  We need the rest, too, and you’ll never sleep wound up as you are.”

            She nodded and obediently sipped her tea after letting it steep in silence.  Half a mug later, she broke the quiet again.  “What about Kai?”

            “What about him?”  Tala leaned against the counter next to her, sipping his own tea slowly.

            “Should we tell him what might happen?  Don’t you think he should be prepared?”

            Tala shook his head.  “If he doesn’t already suspect the possibility – and I think he does, he’s just pretending otherwise for his lover’s sake – then I’m not going to tell him.”

            “Why not?”

            “Because I can see what his reaction would be to the possibility that anything worse could happen to that man.  He’d freak and try to bundle the poor guy off some place safe and where Kinomiya would go insane being unable to do anything to get his family back safely.”  The wolf explained.  “I may not have known him long, but even I can see how that would affect Kinomiya, even though Kai would be intending to protect and help him.  He wouldn’t be happy at all, and it could damage their fragile relationship beyond repair, this time.”  He shook his head.  “No.  Better to let the kid do what he needs to and pick up the pieces after, when they’ll have all the time in the world to fix all the wrongs in their lives.”

            Hilary sighed.  She had to agree with him on that point.  He’d pegged Takao’s stubbornness down exactly.  Telling the bluenette he couldn’t do something was almost guaranteed to make him do it.  “Alright.  So what do we do, then?”

            Tala downed the last of his tea and shoved his mug toward the sink for the next day.  “He’s pack.”  He replied matter-of-factly.  “Like I told Kinomiya, Kai became pack somewhere along the lines of our strange relationship.  He wasn’t just a partner or an acquaintance anymore.  I would fight for him, I would fight with him against his enemies, I’d protect him with my life, if I had to.”  Tala shrugged, ice-blue eyes calm and accepting.  “It’s just how it is for a wolf.” He tilted his head curiously at the strange expression of thoughtfulness on her face.  “What?”

            “Nothing.”  Hilary shook her head and smiled, reaching out to cup his cheek with her hand.  “You’re truly amazing, Tala.  I’ve never met anyone quite like you.”

            An easy grin took over his features and he stepped closer, tilting her chin up with a finger.  “Is that a good thing, or should I be worried?”

            “It’s good.  I…get the feeling even after a lifetime of getting to know you, I’d still have a lot of things to learn about you.”  She blushed but didn’t look away from his steady, surreal gaze.  His eyes, she decided absently, were his best feature and probably her favourite one, too.  They didn’t intimidate or scare her at all, as she imagined most people were.  There was a great degree of intelligence in those eyes, and despite the chill blue colour they were always so warm when they looked at her.

            While she mused over his eyes, Tala was trying to figure out just how receptive she would be to a kiss or two.  He wanted to, badly, but he didn’t want to push anything.  After all, circumstances were strange and they hadn’t even gone on a date yet.  Then again, they were in a unique situation, and she was one of very few people he’d ever met who could meet his gaze unflinchingly and repeatedly.  Without fear or revulsion.  It was rare enough that his lonely need for acceptance screamed at him not to let her slip away.

            Testingly, he leaned in closer, and when she didn’t pull away, he asked softly, “Hilary?”

            “Hmm?”  She looked at him questioningly, either not registering how close he was or not caring.  He stroked her jaw with his thumb and inched closer, still wary of rejection of disinterest.  Hesitantly, he paused again.  “Hilary, sweetheart…I…”

            She smiled softly at him and brought her arms up to rest on his shoulders.  “As much as I appreciate your chivalrous sentiment with me, Agent Ivanov, I would just like to know why you haven’t kissed me yet?”

            He blinked, momentarily surprised, then swooped in and swiftly set his lips to hers before she changed her mind.  Her arms curled around his neck welcomingly and he swept his hands downward to grasp her waist and pull her against him, tingles of warmth making him shiver in pleasure.  Hilary made a murmuring sound, her lips parting beneath his and Tala pressed his advantage, running his tongue along her lower lip before stealing inside.

            Hilary threaded her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck and hung on as her world spun pleasantly and something deep in her centre roared to life.  She opened her mouth to his, accepting and inviting without hesitation, pressing herself against his front with the new sensation of hunger welling up inside her for him.  She had been kissed before but it had never felt like this, never made her crave the next wave of feeling from simply a kiss before.  Even though her rational brain was telling her this was probably a mistake and she was going to end up hurt in the end, she kissed him back passionately and told that rationality to go take a flying leap.  Somewhat shyly at first, her tongue met his then more readily twined with and stroked his in return.

            Tala’s head spun dizzily with want of this woman in his arms.  Instinct and lust were rapidly overpowering his control and common sense.  He tore his mouth from hers, panting, and nipped along her jaw to bury his nose behind her ear.  He inhaled her scent deeply, his wolf side registering it as someone he’d never thought to find, registering it as someone he’d never thought to find, someone he hadn’t dared hope for.  Something in him from his lupine genetics clearly defined Hilary Tatibana as a mate and it scared him, if only a little and only for a moment.

            Then desire took over and he shook off the uncertainty with difficulty, pressing her back against the counter and remaining there, his face buried in the crook of her neck, and their arms wrapped around each other desperately.  He could feel every breath she took and he could hear her pulse rapidly flowing in her veins as quickly as his own did, and he growled softly, flicking his tongue over that pulse in her neck in silent communication of how close to the edge of his control he was.

            Hilary kept her eyes squeezed shut, shivering excitedly at that growl.  She held still, breathing heavily while she waited to see what he would do next.  Truthfully, she wasn’t sure just what she was going to do next, now that her mind was working a little more clearly.  This need for him aside, she was interested in him and a relationship would be very welcome.  However, she didn’t know if this was going to end the minute the entire situation with Takao was over, and that uncertainty was unpleasant. Yet she couldn’t ask for guarantees.  That would be both unfair and unreasonable to either of them.

            With a somewhat tenuous hold on his control again, Tala raised his head enough to brush his lips against her ear as he spoke, the growl still in his throat making his voice thick and rough.  It sent sparks down her spine and she gasped lightly, unconsciously pressing closer.

            “Hilary, sweetheart…you have no idea how badly I want you right now.”  He rubbed his lips against the shell of her ear, a nuzzle, and grinned at the tremor that ran through her.  “It’s up to you.  If you aren’t ready for that much yet, don’t hesitate to say so.  I won’t push and I’ll respect that.”  The growl escaped again and he shifted restlessly, his hardness now pressed blatantly obvious through their clothes against her. She moaned and it was one of the most exciting sounds he’d ever heard.  “Oh god…but if you want me to back off tell me now.  Tell me to stop, sweetheart…”

            “Tala…” She moaned breathlessly, her whirling mind and heart feuding over her answer.  There was no denying what she felt right then, that she wanted him just as much in return, but could she risk her heart?  Could she enjoy her body’s desire and keep her emotions out of it?  “I…”  She fought the battle out and turned her head to meet his penetrating gaze that begged for an answer, holding his head between her hands with fingers slipping effortlessly through silky, flame-red hair feverishly.  “Yes.  Take me to bed…”

            Holding out for her was its own kind of torture, and Tala didn’t waste time once he’d gotten what he wanted.  He scooped her up into his arms and carried her toward the bedroom where he slowly set her back on her feet by the bed.  Watching his hand reach behind Hilary’s head to unfasten the hair clip that held her rich, mahogany hair up and back out of her face was almost surreal.  Looking back down into her eyes, he carefully surreal.  Looking back down into her eyes, he carefully set the clip on the bedside table and ran his fingers through her hair, taking the time to enjoy the feel of it slipping through his fingers.  He stared into her eyes with enigmatic ice-blue eyes.

            “Last chance, sweetheart.”  He warned softly, as if speaking too loudly would ruin the moment.  She smiled up at him and slid her hands up his chest to his shoulders.

            “I want this, Tala.  I want you.”  She replied in assurance.  Standing up on her tiptoes, Hilary brushed her lips across his.  “So please…”

            Tala captured her mouth once again in answer and acceptance, pulling her flush up against his front end proceeding to devour her hungrily.  His hands dropped from her hair to her waist, stealthily pulling her shirt up from her skirt and slipping them underneath to touch bare skin – though he didn’t raise them from her sides yet. Tala had every intention of going slow and savouring this, and he didn’t want to rush her since he suspected she was relatively new to sex.

            To his pleasant surprise, she didn’t object when he finally did draw the shirt upward and off over her head.  Before she could find embarrassment at being partly nude in front of him, he took her hands in his and guided them to his own shirt front, encouraging her to undo the buttons and remove it herself.  Obligingly, Hilary fastened her eyes on the task, biting her bottom lip as she fought to concentrate and keep from trembling.

            Once his shirt joined hers on the floor, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her deeply again.  “Don’t be afraid to touch me, sweetheart.”  He urged, guiding one of her hands to his chest after breaking the kiss and trailing a hot line of kisses across her jaw to her ear.  Her other hand gripped his shoulder as a gasp escaped and a shiver ran through her body.  He smiled and flicked his tongue across her pulse again, trailing fingertips down her spine lightly to brush the clasp of her bra.  The damp palm at his chest rubbed up and down experimentally, occasionally brushing his nipple.  “Ahh…” he groaned at the sensation, turning his head to kiss her appreciatively again.

            Hilary kissed back, openly enjoying the way this was going.  She was grateful he seemed to know she was nervous despite that she wanted him, and as such sought to reciprocate the pleasure he was giving her.  She hadn’t known that she could have this effect on a man, let alone this wild and enigmatic soul that was treating her like a precious gem.

            Tala left off kissing her and murmured against her kiss-swollen lips, “I’m taking this off now,” as he unclasped her bra and reached up to slip the straps off her shoulders and down her arms, following his fingertips with his mouth on each bared shoulder.  He removed the lacy bra completely and dropped it on the floor, smiling at the bashful blush that turned her creamy skin a pretty shade of pink.  Dipping his head to kiss her deeply again, he turned and sat on the side of the bed, drawing her down onto his lap without breaking away.  Keeping her thoroughly distracted that way, he unzipped her skirt and slowly slid his palms down her sides, under the waistline of the skirt to her hips, thereby shoving the skirt off enough that with a few guided movements allowed him to simply pull the garment right off and leave it on the growing pile of clothing on the floor.

            Hilary blushed again when the kissing paused and he pulled back enough to look at her.  She had a ridiculous urge to cover herself, but the lustful gleam in his chilly eyes held her immobile.  She made a thick whimpering sound in the back of her throat as Tala traced one finger from her cheek slowly down her neck and over her collarbone, then even lower to curve over the swell of her breast – all while he stared into her eyes from inches away, the other arm circling her waist to hold her in his lap.  His touch was hot, making her skin tingle, and she let out a gasp as his finger teasingly rubbed her nipple lightly.

            “You’re so beautiful, Hilary.”  Tala sighed, finally breaking their eye contact to look down at what his finger was doing and to see her glory for himself.  When she shook her head to deny that, he simply cupped her breast fully in his hand and flicked his thumb back and forth over the rosy pink nub.  “Yes, you are.  I’ll prove it to you, if you still want me to.”

            Swallowing thickly, she nodded.  “Yes.  I just…don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

            Tala grinned and leaned in to plant a worshipful kiss to the flushed swell of flesh in his palm.  Hilary could feel his lips moving over her skin as he replied, making curious shivers of sensation tingle through her system and pool at her centre.

            “Sweetheart, you can do whatever you like.  I’m yours to explore.”  Tala nuzzled his nose against her breast, then captured a nipple in his mouth, manipulating it with teeth and tongue to earn a startled moan from the woman in his arms.  He released it and moved to do the same to the other. Hilary unconsciously arched into the touches and feeling of his hot, wet mouth surrounding that bundle of nerves, keening throatily.  Her hands clutched at his strong shoulders, nails pressing into his skin, and leaving indentations.

            The wolf growled something in Russian under his breath and in a quick movement lifted her and rolled her over him and onto the bed on her back until he hovered over her, perfectly positioned between her legs so she could feel the hard length of his erection, confined yet by his pants and underwear, pressed right against her most intimate flesh.  Hilary gasped, her thighs squeezing against his hips as they instinctively tried to close.

            “That’s what you do to me, sweetheart.”  Tala rocked his hips to emphasize his point and she gasped again, shuddering.  He cupped a breast once more and squeezed a little, massaging it gently but firmly before leaving it to stroke down her flat abdomen and over her side to her hip.  Leaning in, he captured her lips briefly and smiled to reassure her.  “Still okay?”

            Pulse pounding in her throat, she could only nod, running her hands up down his arms restlessly in encouragement.  Tala kissed her deeply again.  “Good.”  He said, pushing himself up and away from her.  “Be right back.”

            Confused, Hilary half-sat up, wondering why he was leaving her.  Then she turned a bright shade of red as he abruptly stripped off the last of his clothes and turned back to her, his arousal erect and blatant before her.  At her expression, Tala couldn’t help but laugh lowly, the ultra-masculine kind of males everywhere who have just felt their masculinity had been confirmed.  But, not wanting to scare her, he crawled back onto the bed with her and situated himself where he’d been before, hiding his lower body from her view.

            Tala kissed her again until she was pliant and willing in his arms once more, and she’d forgotten her embarrassment and nervousness.  Then he propped himself up on one forearm and brought her hand to his lips, bestowing soft, affectionate kisses to her fingertips and knuckles in between his words.  “Hilary, I’m not asking this to pry into your personal life but because I would like an idea of the extent of your…sexual activities so I don’t scare you or hurt you, so…how far have you gone?”

            Blinking dazedly up at him, mildly surprised at the question, she licked her lips.  “Ah…not so far as this, I’m afraid.”  She admitted with a slight flush.  “I mean, I’ve dated but never…”

            He smiled, an awed expression taking over his features.  “Really?  Well…I’m honoured you’ve chosen me, of all people, to share this experience with then.  I’ll have to try my best not to disappoint, won’t I?”

            “Well, you haven’t so far.”  Hilary smiled back shyly.  Tala gave a sharp bark of laughter and kissed her lightly.

            “I promise it only gets better from here, sweetheart, so just enjoy.”  The wolf pulled her against him and rolled onto his back, looking up at her with a satisfied smirk.  He could feel her body’s warmth pouring off her against his whole front, and from where she now straddled his hips, she could feel the dampness and female heat against his thick and heavy hardness.  She obviously didn’t realize how sensuous she actually was, but that just made her more charming and sexy in Tala’s eyes.

            Hilary watched him under her, a perpetual blush staining her cheeks as his eyes roamed over her freely.  She suddenly wanted to kiss him, like he had been kissing her until now.  Swallowing the nervousness that welled up in her throat, Hilary bent down until her lips barely brushed Tala’s.  Then, flicking a quick, assessing glance at his face and finding no reason not to continue in his expression, Hilary kissed him fully.  She felt a full-body shiver run through him before his arms wrapped around her to clasp her close to him and he answered her kiss with one of his own.

            Tala had been a little startled when she’d kissed him but then was inordinately pleased she’d taken some initiative.  He held her against him while they continued to kiss with building passion and need until any hesitancy Hilary had couldn’t be found in her kisses.  At that point, Tala began running his hands over every inch of bare skin he could reach, attempting to get her accustomed to his touch but also to find out where she liked to be touched most.

            Somewhere in the haze of pleasure, Hilary lost her panties without even noticing.  It wasn’t until she felt his fingers in the most intimate of places that she realized how open and vulnerable she was, how naked and exposed, to his eyes and touch.  Hilary was still hovering above him when she felt his rough, calloused fingers part her and slip into her, and she froze for a moment, a breathy little gasp of shocked pleasure escaping.  She heard a faint chuckle from Tala and squeezed her eyes shut helplessly when those fingers found a small bundle of nerves that set her whole body on fire.

            “Oh!  Oh…god…” Hilary moaned, trembling at the sparks of sensation that gathered at her core in an ever tightening ball of heat.  “Tala?  I…you…please!”  She didn’t know what she was asking for – to quit or to give her more – but he seemed to understand anyway.

            “Shh…sweetheart.  I know.”  Tala continued to tease her as he slowly sat up, forcing her to a sitting position as well, which allowed his fingers to plunge deeper.  It brought a thick moan from the brunette.  His eyes nearly crossed.  He wasn’t going to be able to hold out much longer.  “Damn.”  He swore, a growl making his voice rough and low.  Hilary shivered and clutched at his arms and shoulders, dropping pleading kisses here and there as her body involuntarily began to rock against the digits buried inside her.

            “Tala…uhn…Tala…I want…you.  Now.”  Hilary whimpered, pressing herself against him and flicking her tongue over the pulse beating rapidly in his neck where she buried her face.  She would never forget the scent of him, like the crisp, fresh air after a snowfall in winter with a hint of musk.  Nor would she forget the slightly tangy taste of him on her tongue.

            Tala growled something in response and suddenly his fingers were gone.  Shuddering at the loss, she pulled back from him to find out what was wrong – only to be swept up in a soul-searing, passionate kiss as he picked her up slightly and lay her down once more on her back.

            He had to muster up what little control he had left to end the kiss and roll away from her long enough to dig out a box of condoms from his suitcase by the bedroom door.  Quickly pulling one out, he tossed the box back into his luggage and padded back over to the bed, carefully opening the packet and taking out the protective sheathe.

            They were both clean, he knew (he had regular checkups and her virginity didn’t leave room for STDs), and though Tala was already beginning to think of this woman as a mate he was certainly not going to chance getting her pregnant.  He was not ready for cubs and fatherhood, and he was pretty sure neither was Hilary.

            Tala dropped the wrapper on the bedside table and knelt on the bed with Hilary, holding out the condom to her.  “Here, sweetheart.  Do the honours?”

            Blinking, Hilary took it and failed miserably at fighting not to turn bright lobster red.  In the end, Tala (grinning mischievously the entire time) helped her to roll the condom on over his erection smoothly.  For a few moments longer, he let her explore him with her hands where she’d been too shy to touch him earlier.  But it was just too much right then and before long he was gently pulling her hands away from his now leaking cock and urging her to lie down again.

            Tala followed, settling over her like a big blanket with her legs on either side of his hips, poised at her entrance.  “Absolute last chance, Hilary.  Do you still want this?”  His icy-blue eyes pierced through her honey-brown ones and he waited for her answer.

            Smiling shakily with nerves, Hilary licked her suddenly dry lips and nodded.  “Yes.”  She whispered, raising a hand to brush his flaming red hair from his face.  “I trust you, Tala, and…I want this.  I want you.”

            “If you need me to stop or something, just say so, alright?”  Tala leaned into her, dipping his head to capture her mouth with his and slowly pushing into her.  Once fully seated, he had to pause and collect his willpower again.  She just felt way too good, her damp, tight heat driving him crazy.  He could feel every ripple of sensation run through her with the clenching and relaxing of her body around him.  “Oh god…”

            Hilary had no idea that it would feel this good.  Sure it stung a little bit right at first – and she’d expected pain – but it wasn’t too bad, and now that little hurt was fading and getting lost in the much more pleasant sensations of Tala’s kisses, the soothing and exciting caresses he gave her and the simple feeling of full from having him buried in her to the hilt.  Cautiously she let go of his shoulders where she’d been grasping tightly to curl her arms around him and cracked an eye open, followed by the other.  She hadn’t even realized she’d closed them.  Tala’s expression and the tightness of every muscle insight told him how much he was working to hold back, for her sake, and she giggled giddily.

            Tala blinked, startled, and looked down at her, “Uh…” he raised an eyebrow at the sparkle of amusement in her eyes.

            “Sorry!  I was just…laughing at myself.”  Hilary swallowed back her giggles.  She was oddly touched by his gallant care for her, and it made her laugh because it was an odd thing to be touched by – not to mention at a strange time.  “Blame it on the happy-hormones…”

            Tala quirked a smile and shook his head.  “You’ll have to tell me what was so funny someday, sweetheart.  But for now…”  He shifted, withdrawing partly and smirking at the sound of loss that escaped from her.  “…let’s find some more of those ‘happy-hormones’ shall we?”

            Before Hilary could reply, Tala thrust back in, kissing her deeply again.  She groaned and hung on as he built up a rhythm.  His hand slipped down her arm to her chest and cupped a breast in his palm, rubbing the hardened pink nub with his thumb.  Hilary gasped into his mouth, arching into his body as heat began to pool in her core and tighten like a spring.  Unknowingly, her hips began to move in answer to Tala’s thrusts – which were becoming less controlled and more erratic.

            Then suddenly he pulled her tight against him and rolled onto his back so that she was on top of him and he was still buried within her – only now more deeply.  Shuddering with helpless pleasure, she continued to move over him, his hands falling to her hips to guide the movement of their bodies.

            Tala watched pleasure take over the brunette completely with glittering blue eyes.  She was so incredibly beautiful above him, like this, and he was sure it was the most beautiful sight he’d ever see.  Her hair fell in rich mahogany waves, tumbling down past her shoulders, her pale, ivory, sun-kissed skin was painted in a delectable pink flush, and her eyes were huge and molten brown as they stared down at him unseeing.

            “So good…gorgeous…” Tala gasped out, letting one hand leave her side to the inside of her thigh, tracing a path teasingly to where their bodies were joined.  “Come on, Hilary, and let go for me.”

            “Uhn…god…Tala!”  Hilary cried out, lost in the swirl of passion and lust.  That ball of heat was expanding, and it felt like she was going to explode if something didn’t happen soon.  She didn’t know what, but she asked for it anyway. “Please!  I…I…”

            “Yes, sweetheart.”  Tala slipped a finger between their joined bodies and found her clitoris one more time, ruthlessly using that button to push her over the edge before he lost it himself.  Her whole body paused, trembling, before she shuddered tremendously and threw her head back, grinding down onto him as she cried out his name.  He growled a thick curse in Russian and thrust up into her one final time before letting go and following her into orgasm.

            Dizzy with the afterglow, Hilary let her seemingly boneless form collapse over her prone and panting lover.  Distantly she felt him easing out from her and his arms wrapping around her to hold her to him.  Breathing hard and trying to calm her frantically beating heart, Hilary simply lay there, not really caring if she ever moved again.

            Tala nuzzled her neck affectionately, brushing her hair out of her face.  “Hey.”  He greeted her softly when she opened her eyes and smiled at him fondly.

            “Hi.”  She brushed her fingertips across his cheek.  “Wow.”

            He chuckled.  “Hmm…yes, that’s a fairly accurate description.”  Hilary blushed and punched him lightly in the arm.

            “Shut up.  My mind’s all fuzzy.”

            “You’re okay then?”  He inquired, savouring the feel of her pressed against him and lightly stroking one hand up and down her spine.

            “Are you kidding me?”  She rolled her eyes and stretched languidly.  “Though…I think I understand why so many people get into so much trouble because of this now.”

            Tala blinked then laughed, kissing her on the nose.  “Oh, sweetheart.  There are definitely reasons.”  He kissed her again, this time on the mouth.  “I’m going to go clean up a bit and I’ll be right back.”

            She nodded and let him separate their tangled forms to roll away and get off the bed.  While Tala was in the bathroom, she snuggled under the bedcovers to wait for him.

            Hilary had nearly fallen asleep by the time he returned and slipped under the covers with her, spooning her from behind with his body.

            “Get lots of rest, Hilary.  Don’t want to be dead on our feet tomorrow, right?”

            Yawning, she shook her head and cuddled his arm around her waist.  “Nope.  ‘Night, Tala.”

            Smiling in the darkness, more content than he’d ever been, Tala closed his eyes to sleep.

            “Goodnight, sweetheart.  Sweet dreams.”

~*~*~*~*~

            The day dawned somewhat gloomy and grey, hinting at a storm.  The four conspirators didn’t waste time gathering up their belongings in preparation to leave the island and head back to the mainland and their waiting jet after a light breakfast.

            Takao noticed Kai’s mood shift almost immediately that morning.  But he waited until they were safely on board the jet and in the air before he confronted his lover about it, away from any prying ears (other than Tala and Hilary).

            “What’s wrong, love?”  Takao inquired in concern, taking Kai’s hand in his own and squeezing.  “You’ve been out of sorts all morning.”

            Kai sighed, rolling his shoulders to ease the tension that was making him stiff and uncomfortable.  “I had…a bit of any argument with my father a couple nights ago.  It’s still bugging me.”

            Tala raised an eyebrow from where he sat next to Hilary, an arm still draped around her shoulders casually – still, because they had no reason to pretend any longer, even if they really hadn’t had to act much in the first place.  “What?  Is he trying to get you to come back to Hiwatari Enterprises and take your place again?”

            “No.  He knows I won’t.”  Kai shook his head with a slight smile.  “Mother wouldn’t approve of that either.”  He glanced down at Takao.  “Father confronted me with the results of an investigation into Takao.  He knows all about your Grandfather’s debts, and the mysterious disappearances of your Father and brother – but not the circumstances of that, thankfully.”

            Takao’s eyes widened in shock and dismay.  “He had me investigated?  Why?”

            “…the hell, Kai?”  Tala stared at his partner.  “Why…?”

            “He said it was to protect me and my inheritance.  He wanted to make sure Takao wasn’t trying to use me somehow to get at the fortunes my family has amassed over nearly a century of business.”  The crimson-eyed agent’s tone dripped sarcasm and deep annoyance.  “I told him he had no right, that I knew everything I needed to know about Takao, and that he could shove his investigation – in a round-about manner.”

            Takao winced, looking away.  He knew Kai would give him hell for it, but he felt immeasurably guilty.  This is all my fault.  He mourned, staring blindly out the small window of the jet.  If it hadn’t been for me…Kai is suffering so much because of me.

            “I’m so sorry, Kai.”  Hilary said softly.  “This…entire situation is causing so much turmoil!  I hope when its over, everything can be fixed.”

            “Maybe.  Father and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, Hilary.”  Kai looked at Takao again, noticing the lack of response.  “Taka?  Look I know it’s a shock, and I don’t like how he’s digging around in your life like this, but it doesn’t change anything between us.  Kinomiya?”

            Haunted, storm-blue eyes turned to meet his own.  “I’m so sorry, Kai.  I…I’ve turned your whole life upside down, and caused so much grief for you and…everyone.  I swear I’ll make things right again, somehow!  You should…you should just move on and let me go…I wouldn’t blame you for it at all…”

            Smack!

            Takao fell back against his seat with the force of the slap, his cheek stinging painfully where Kai’s hand had connected.  He blinked in stunned shock as Hilary gasped and Tala merely watched in silence.

            Kai stood over his lover, hands on hips with fiery eyes blazing as he absolutely fumed.  “That was for expecting me to just give up on you and the love I have spent years trying to find again, Kinomiya Takao.  That was for implying that I would even think of abandoning you or allowing you to suffer even one second longer alone in this confounded mess.”  Kai glared hotly as Takao stared up at him with blue eyes rapidly filling with tears, a hand hesitantly reaching up to touch his own injured cheek.  “Didn’t you hear what I said two minutes ago?!  Nothing has changed!  God damn it, Kinomiya!  I love you!  And if you think for one minute that I’m going to let you give up on us, I swear I will toss you out the window!”  He slumped suddenly, his anger drained away as quickly as it had been ignited.  Kai dropped down to his knees in front of Takao and gently wiped away the silent trickle of tears that fell from the bluenette’s eyes.  “Have you gotten that through this stubborn, thick skull of yours, Taka?  Please don’t make me slap you again.”

            The bluenette sniffled inelegantly and nodded sheepishly in apology.  “Sorry…Kai, I…must have lost my mind for a moment, there.”

            “Hn.  As long as you’re back to your senses and you never say anything like that again.”  Kai lightly touched his fingertips to Takao’s red cheek.  “I hope I didn’t bruise you.  Do you want some ice?”

            “No.  I’m alright.”  Takao nuzzled Kai’s hand, holding it to his face.

            Hilary shook her head, relaxing against Tala’s side once more in relief as the tense confrontation was diffused.  “I swear they’re the only two people I know who can tear a stop off each other one minute then make cow eyes and cuddle the next.”  She murmured half to herself.

            Tala snickered into her hair, kissing the top of her head affectionately and sneaking in a few nuzzles of his own.

~*~*~*~*~

            They split up at the airport once they reached London.  Tala took Hilary to the studio flat at Hiwatari Enterprises, while Kai went with Takao to the business suite.

            After setting their bags down in the bedroom, Takao began setting up his laptop at his desk, preparing to make final plans with Kenny.

            “So what exactly are you thinking of doing, Takao?”  Kai inquired, reclining on the sofa and watching the bluenette be busy.

            “I had planned all along to use the items as the bait for a trap.  My original idea was to give the location and pass for the storage to Gideon as soon as my father and brother were released, then to have an anonymous call to the police made by Kenny to have them all captured at the storage area red-handed, as it were.”  Takao explained, turning the computer on and sitting in the office chair.  “Now, though.  I think I’ll have to change my plans a little.”

            Impressed somewhat by the simplicity – yet thoroughness – of the plan, Kai nodded.

            Takao glanced at the clock and did a quick mental calculation.  “I hope Kenny’s still up.”  He said as he picked up the phone and dialled.

            Kai pulled out the storage box that housed the Egg and set it on the desk.  “Shall I make tea for you, Takao?  And maybe order something to eat?”

            The bluenette nodded absently as he heard someone pick up on the other end of the phone line.  “Hey, Chief.  We’re back in London.”  Kai wandered into the kitchen and began making tea.

            “Takao!  I’m glad.  Everything went okay, then?”  Kenny’s voice sounded much more relieved than any other time Takao had talked to him after a hit.

            “Yeah.  We’ve got it and we’re ready to end this.”  Takao signed in to his laptop.  “I’m taking the picture of the Egg now, and I’ll send it to you so you can pass it on to Gideon.”

            “Right.  So how are you going to do this, Takao?  Please don’t take risks if you don’t have to.”

            “It’ll be fine, Kenny.  Listen, here’s what I think would be best: I’m not handing over anything to that bastard until I’m satisfied my Dad and Hiro are safe.  Make sure you put that in the email – there will be no negotiations about how we make the exchange – it’ll be my way or he’ll never see any of these items at all.”

            “Of course.”

            Kai set a steaming mug of tea near Takao on the desk dropping his hands on his lover’s shoulders and working the tense muscles into relaxation.  “Put it on speaker, love.”

            “Huh?  Oh.”  Takao reached out and pushed a button on the phone base before hanging up the receiver.  “You’re on speaker, Chief.  Kai wants to get in on things.”

            “Certainly.  Hello, Kai.”

            “Kenny.”  Kai returned the greeting solemnly.

            Takao turned and looked up at Kai.  “That same statement goes for the UNA, Kai.  My way or no way.”

            The agent frowned, sensing a catch somewhere in his words.  “I would agree to that, but why do I think I won’t like your plan?”

            “Because you won’t.  We’ll take whatever precautions you think are absolutely necessary, but the whole thing is going to happen how I say it is.”  Takao’s storm-blue eyes flashed, daring Kai to challenge him on it.

            “Tell me what you’re going to do first, Kinomiya.  Why won’t I like this?”  Completely on edge and resentful that Takao didn’t trust him – as Agent Kai of the UNA – Kai’s frown deepened.

            “Ditto.”  Kenny’s tone agreed with Kai’s expression.  “I doubt I’ll like this any more than you, Kai.”

            “Kenny, you’re going to fly back out here, but to London this time instead of Paris.  Do it quietly.  I don’t want Gideon or his people to know you’re gone until the exchange is made.”

            “Alright.”

            “Here’s what’s going to happen: Gideon will meet me face to face to claim the items, but he’ll release my family to you – and some bodyguards we’ll have ‘hired’ – first.  Some UNA agents in disguise, perhaps.”

            Kai blinked.  “Done.  Get to the part I won’t like, Takao.”

            “Shut up, Kai.”  Takao replied mildly.  “Kenny will call my cell from the car or whatever after he’s driven away with my family safely and without being followed.  When I get that call, I will go with Gideon to the storage site and open the place I rented for him, at which point the UNA can swoop in and arrest him and any others.”

            “Wait.  You are going to meet this guy somewhere, get in a vehicle with him and go to where you’ve got everything stashed?”  Kai’s hands fell away from Takao’s shoulders, and he scowled.  “No way!  That’s way too risky!”

            Takao folded his arms stubbornly, meeting Kai’s blazing eyes with his own solidly.  “My way or no way, Agent Hiwatari.”  He stood slowly, nose to nose with his lover.  Kai could feel the static building around them, the hairs at the back of his neck and on his arms beginning to rise. He reached out to set a hand on Takao’s arm but quickly snatched it back when a sharp jolt, stronger than a static shock, crackled through the air the instant his hand was too close to Takao’s skin.

            “Ouch!  Damn it, Kinomiya!  What was that for?”

            “He won’t touch me, Kai.  No one will.”  Takao raised an eyebrow when Kai tried to touch him again, and released a little more static.  Kai yelped and took a step back, shaking his tingling hand to try and get feeling back into it.  “What did I just say? Look,” Takao gave an exasperated sigh at the wounded expression on Kai’s face.  “I know you love me and want to protect me but you need to put it aside, Kai, and help me to help myself.  If you don’t work with me on this you’re just going to hinder me and nothing will get accomplished.”  He held out a hand to Kai.  “Please?”

            Wary of being shocked again, Kai stared at the offered hand.  “I don’t like it.”  He stubbornly reiterated.

            “I don’t either, Kai.”  Kenny interrupted, making them both start.  They’d almost forgotten him.  “But I agree with Takao, and his plan will be one that Gideon will be more inclined to agree to.”

            “Then explain to me why, Kenny.  I need to understand the reasoning behind this risk before I agree to it.”

            Takao let his hand fall back to his side, but he watched Kai anxiously, suddenly afraid Kai wouldn’t see reason and then where would he be?  “My plan is such that it sees my family free and safe from any further harm, and keeps Gideon believing he’ll still be in control of things.  He won’t need my Dad and Hiro any more because he’ll have me.  And he’ll need me, Kai, because he won’t get into the storage room unless I let him in.  There’s an electric field around it, one that requires my talents to dispel and to allow someone to pass through it.”

            Kai mulled that over, still seeing all the ways that something could go wrong.  He absolutely hated that Takao had a point though.

            “Kenny?”  Kai’s voice held a bit of desperation.

            “I’m sorry, Kai.  Takao’s right.  It really is the best solution.”

            Kai closed his eyes for a moment.  “It’s so much more difficult to organize a sting on the move, you know.”  He stated, defeated.  “And, damn it, you are wearing a tracking chip and Kevlar!  I won’t let you do this otherwise!”

            Takao smiled faintly and held out his hand again.  “Fine.”  He agreed easily. He let Kai grab his hand and yank him into his arms, holding onto the older man just as tightly in return.  “Thank you.”

            “Don’t thank me for this, Taka.  Please don’t.”

            “I promise that we’ll do whatever we have to for me to stay safe.  And you’ll be watching over me the whole time.”  Takao stroked Kai’s cheek with the backs of his fingers and ran them through his hair.  “Right?”

            “Like a hawk.”  Kai promised fiercely.

            “I would say you’re more like a phoenix, Kai.”  Kenny chuckled.  “You have a temperamental, fiery personality, and the way you seemed to be reborn after all this time you’d disappeared for…”

            Takao smiled at the image.  “Sort of like that sculpture your Mom made.”

            “You guys are entirely too sentimental, you know that?”  Kai shook his head wryly.

            “Anyway!”  Kenny did his best to get back to the subject.  “Kai, you’ll handle the UNA end of things?”

            “Yeah.”  Kai agreed, though reluctantly.

            “Good.  I’ll start composing the email, Takao, then I’ll let you look at it so you can tell me to edit however you want.”

            “Alright.  We’ll get started on things here, Kenny.  Thank you.”  Takao reached out and hung up with the press of a button.  He glanced at his lover to see that Kai had already whipped out his cell phone, getting ready to start making calls.  “Kai?”

            “Hmm?”  The agent glanced at him questioningly.

            “It’ll work.  I’ve had months to think this through and plan.  And now that you’re with me – and Tala and Hilary, too – things will be a lot easier and safer.  I’m very grateful for that.”

            “I’m just worried about you, love.”  Kai sighed and draped an arm around Takao’s waist.  “And this Gideon character makes all my instincts light up neon signs in warning.   Something keeps poking in the back of my mind about this whole thing.”

            Takao nodded, taking Kai’s hand in his and leading him to the kitchen.  He was hungry.  “I know.  I keep asking myself a lot of questions, too.”  The bluenette pulled out a phone book and began searching its pages for a take-out/delivery place that fit (as closely as possible) Dr. Maison’s rules.  “Like who did my Dad and brother annoy so much that they’re willing to do something like this to all of us?  Why the items that were chosen?”

            “Mine is…why you?”  Kai pointed at a page absently.  “Sushi.  Why you, Takao?  And you think it was an enemy your father and/or brother made?”

            “I can’t think of anyone I know that would be my enemy and hate me enough to do this.  So that leaves Dad and Hiro – and Gramps.  But he was a harmless old man, and kind.  He wouldn’t hurt anyone, so I doubt it was because of him.”  “Maybe not.  But you see, I don’t see the connection between you and me – or at least, my family.”  Kai mused.  “It’s the Egg that really bothers me, Taka.  Think about it, someone is trying to ruin your life, and possibly worse.  Yet the Egg my family has – had – is only one of many such artefacts in existence.  But this Gideon wants the Hiwatari one, so…”

            Takao blinked.  He hadn’t even though of that.  “Good point.  If you follow that line of logic, then that means it’s someone who has a beef with either both you and I, or both the Kinomiya and Hiwatari families.”

            They stared at each other for a moment.

            “I can’t think of anyone.”

            “Me neither.”

            Stumped for the moment, Takao ordered food.  When he’d hung up the phone, he smiled as Kai pulled him into a deep, lazy kiss.

            “And that was for…?”  Takao asked when Kai let him go.

            “Just because.”

            “I like those kind.”  The bluenette curled his arms around his lover and snuggled in, contented.

~*~*~*~*~

            Two days of planning – meticulous, careful planning – and Takao finally gave his approval to what they’d come up with.  Whoever ‘Gideon’ was, he/she agreed to the terms Takao set out for the exchange of the items for his family, and the Kinomiya sword.  Kenny had flown in immediately, and was staying with Tala and Hilary at the studio above Hiwatari Enterprises.  The petit lawyer looked slightly more flustered than he had the last time Kai had seen him, but he couldn’t blame Kenny.  If Kai had been the sort of person to show such chaotic stress, he figured he’d look much like Kenny did.

            But it was Takao that Kai was most concerned for.  The bluenette had this eerie calm air about him, as if there were nothing at all wrong.  It spooked Kai.  When he mentioned so to Takao the evening before the exchange, he almost immediately regretted it because a bleak, very un-Takao expression passed over his lover’s face and Takao turned away from the older man to step out onto the balcony and grip the railing.

            “I’m not calm.  I’m just trying to pretend and keep it together for a little while longer, Kai, because if I don’t…” Takao said in a quiet, harsh voice.  “There is no alternative for me.  My family needs me to be strong, so that’s what I will be.”  There was a finality there that nearly broke Kai’s heart.  He’d never wanted to see or hear this forced severity from Takao.  In high school, Kai had appreciated the younger teen’s exuberance and gaiety – even when it got on his nerves.

            So all Kai could do was to join Takao on the balcony and wrap his arms around him from behind and hold the bluenette.

            “Not alone.”  He murmured into the midnight blue hair tickling his chin.  “Never again.”  Kai promised, staring out at the city of London under a setting sun.

            Takao let out a deep sigh and relaxed, holding Kai’s arms around him as if he were afraid the dual-haired man would disappear.  They stood together there for quite some time in silence, Kai lending his strength and support and Takao absorbing it like a sponge.

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

Chapter 18: Den of Thieves – Part II

            “Is everything in place, Tala?”

            “That’s the five hundredth time you’ve asked me that in the last half-hour.”  Tala complained, giving his partner a cross look.  “Yes, everything’s ready.”

            “Sorry.  I can’t help it.”  Kai began to pace back and forth in the living room of the Hiwatari Enterprises’ studio, where UNA agents had gathered and set up their surveillance equipment.  They would be basing communications from the studio, while Tala and Kai trailed after Takao’s signal from the tiny tracking chip they had sewn into his pants.  Kenny was sitting beside two other agents – the ones who would pose as his “body-guards” at the exchange – looking uncomfortable and nervous.

            “We’ve done what we can, so just relax.”  Tala glared as his partner tread past him on another circuit.

            “Kai, love, you’re making everyone else nervous.”  Takao appeared from the bedroom where he’d been changing.  “I’m not going to be the only one with an ulcer at the rate you’re going.”

            The agent paused to study the reluctant thief with a critical eye.  “You look like a biker.”

            Takao raised an eyebrow, grinning a little.  “I kinda am.  My bike is waiting downstairs as we speak, remember?”  He headed for the door, preparing to leave.  His face went serious as he grabbed his helmet and gloves.  “Alright.  Kenny, you get moving to the meeting spot, and I’ll go meet the bane of our existence.”

            Kai and Tala followed him, but Hilary pulled Tala aside briefly before the red-haired Russian could get out the door.  The feisty brunette pulled him down to meet the kiss she planted on his mouth.

            “Be careful.  And take care of them, Tala.”  Hilary said, kissing him again before shoving him out the door.  “Yell if you need anything.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”  Tala gave her a carefree grin and winked, sauntering after his partner.

            Kenny and the two agents slipped out next, leaving Hilary behind.  She had protested at first, but gave in when Takao emphatically told her he didn’t want anything happening to her – and Tala had been the first to back him up on that.  The lone female of the group capitulated fairly easily, another thing she wasn’t too pleased with.  It seemed she wasn’t able to separate her emotions from what she and Tala had done after all, and she didn’t really know what to do about it.  So she put it aside to deal with later and let her desire to be more involved go.

            Closing the door after they’d gone, Hilary sighed deeply and went back to the living room to put on the audio headset Tala had set her up with so she could listen in to the flow of UNA agent chatter and hear what Kai, Tala, Kenny, and the other agents were saying in order to keep up with what was going on.

~*~*~*~*~

            Takao pulled on his gloves and got on his motorcycle, starting the machine.  It roared to life with a throaty purring hum from the motor.  Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Kai and Tala settling in to their car in order to follow him (from a discreet, safe distance).  Reassured that they were going to be right nearby the entire time, Takao drove out of the underground parking lot and into London traffic.

            It was evening – still early on, however – and yet it was growing quite dark.  Takao glanced upward at the sky to see dark clouds hovering.  No surprise.  He thought.  It’s probably going to rain tonight.  He wasn’t looking forward to displacing the electric field he had established around the container in the storage yard that he was keeping the items in with rain pouring down on him.  Chances were good that he might accidentally attract lightning doing that, and despite his abilities even he was not able to withstand a lightning strike unscathed.  Still, it had to be done, so…

            It was a really good thing he hadn’t mentioned such a possibility to Kai.

            Takao paused in traffic at a round-about that was backed up and barely moving.  He was near the agreed meeting spot for himself and Gideon, and thankfully he was somewhat early so this traffic probably wouldn’t make him late.  Moving slowly through traffic and weaving his way along, Takao sighed deeply and tried to calm his nerves before speaking into the com that some enterprising UNA techs had installed in his jacket collar.

            “To all you guardian angels out there keeping an eye on me…I’m approaching the place where I’ll leave my bike.  After I park, I’ll walk to the meeting place.”  He said, hoping the agents, Kai and Tala, and Hilary and Kenny could hear him over the noise of the motorcycle, the traffic, and the wind as he moved.  He pulled into a nearly empty parking lot and left his bike secured.

            Walking slowly, Takao took in his surroundings.  There were some people still about in the streets, though fewer than during normal day hours.  His shoulders hundred inside his jacket a little as he tried to huddle against the chill of the weather.  When he reached a safe distance of a few hundred metres from the set of benches in Hyde Park that he was supposed to meet Gideon at.  And he had no doubt that some of the people were Gideon’s people – despite Takao’s rules to the contrary.

            Then again, it wasn’t like Takao was playing by the rules either.

            Shoring himself up for the task at hand, Takao made his way to the bench and took a seat, gloved hands still in his jacket pockets, one booted foot and ankle resting casually on his opposite knee.  The bluenette appeared as cool and calm as a cucumber to the outside world while he waited for his…employer.

            He wasn’t waiting long.  Two people – rather familiar people, as in the same two who had followed Takao and Kai before – appeared in front of him.  “Tyson Granger…or should we say, Kinomiya Takao?”

            Takao looked up at the man and woman, dressed in black business suits and trench coats, and tilted his head at them, looking all the while like he was bored and completely disinterested.  “Well, well.  If it isn’t my shadows.”  He smiled, all teeth, and it was neither friendly nor amused.  “Where’s Gideon?  I’m surprised he let you off your leashes.”

            The man frowned disapprovingly, and the woman simply glared. “Do not concern yourself, thief.  Our employer is awaiting your presence in his vehicle nearby.  We were instructed to bring you to met him in person.”  The man spoke English with a heavy accent, not quite German, not quite Russian.  “If you would come with us…?”

            “Uh no.  I go nowhere until my family is released to Kenny and they leave unharmed without being followed.  I go no where until I receive word from him that this has happened.”  Takao’s blue grey eyes turned to steel, glinting in the low light.  A distant roll of thunder echoed quietly.  “That was the agreement.  If Gideon doesn’t keep to his end of it, then his precious items get destroyed.”

            “Do that and you’ll never see your family alive again!”  The woman threatened, waving a fist at the bluenette.  Her accent was definitely British.

            Takao just stared at her disdainfully.  The man hushed the woman and nodded at Takao warily.

            “Pay no attention to this one.  Gideon wished me to reassure you to your family members are quite safe and well.  And that he has already ordered their release as you instructed.”

            “Good.  Then we just have to wait for Kenny to call me.”  Takao drew his hand out of his jacket pocket, a cell phone in his grip.

            The woman was scowling impatiently with ill concealed frustration, but her partner merely inclined his head in agreement.

            They waited in silence for about only five minutes longer when the cell rang and Takao answered.

            “Takao!  It’s done, and we’re on our way to the airport.  I’m taking your father and brother to Paris.”  Kenny’s voice sounded vastly relieved and greatly worried at the same time.  “Are you alright?”

            “Good.  Thanks, Chief.  So far everything’s fine. How are they?”  The bluenette felt tears sting, but he didn’t let them fall.

            “They’re exhausted, weak, and hungry and thirsty, but otherwise they’re both doing well.  Don’t worry about them anymore, pal.  We’re all safe and sound, so you just take care of the rest, and I’ll see you really son.”

            “Yeah.”  Takao glanced at the two goons in front of him and said goodbye to his oldest friend.  “I’ve got to go now, Chief.  Bye.”  He hung up and put the cell back in his pocket, standing slowly.

            “Are you satisfied that our employer has held up to his end of your agreement?”  The man inquired.  For a flunkie, at least he was being polite and reasonable.

            “So far.  Lead the way, then, so I can do the same.”  Takao replied quietly, really, really wishing he could just walk away. But he had to see this thing through.

            The woman stepped forward with a sneer.  “Raise your hands above your head and stand still.  We will search you first to make sure you are unarmed.”

            Takao rolled his eyes but allowed the man to search him quickly.  He was never unarmed, because of his abilities and Gramps’ thorough training, but even if he hadn’t had either of those he wouldn’t have been dumb enough to attempt carrying a gun or a knife or whatever.

            “He is clean.  Let us go to our employer now, Kinomiya.  Follow me.”  The man led the way, while the woman took up a position behind Takao and trailed along after them.  On the way, the man spoke into what looked like a walkie-talkie in a language Takao didn’t recognize but to whom he assumed was Gideon.

            They walked up to a sleek, black Mercedes limo with tinted windows, and the woman rushed to open the back passenger’s side door.

            “Please get in.”  The man ushered Takao toward the vehicle.  “Gideon anxiously awaits you.”

            Takao frowned, not liking that he had yet to confirm that Gideon was even in the car, but slowly climbed inside since he really had no choice.

            The interior of the limo was dark, but Takao could make out two figures sitting opposite him as the door closed behind him and the limo began to move.  “Gee, you mean my shadows don’t get to come along?  How disappointing.”  The reluctant thief tried to peer into the dark to see who his companions were.  “So which of you is the infamous Gideon?  I mean, after all this time I think you have few reasons to be shy.”

            “Patience, Kinomiya.  We’ve waited…a very long time for this.”  The figure in the corner, the one mostly covered by the darkness, replied.  He sounded quite pleased with himself, smug, and it was as if he totally believed he had the upper hand.  That was fine with Takao.  The bastard would have his karma come back on him in many, many ways very soon.  The man’s voice was unfamiliar, and unremarkable – excepting that he spoke flawless Japanese, rather than the English Takao had spoken in.

            Takao raised an eyebrow, sticking to English.  “That depends on what you think I’ve been expecting.”

            “Tell us where the items are.”  The other figure commanded, a dim light switching on behind him on that side of the car.  Takao blinked as his eyes adjusted, but he still couldn’t see the one who’d answered him in the corner.

            “Not until I know which of you is Gideon – if either of you really are Gideon.”  He eyed them with suspicious stormy blue eyes.  “He could be deceiving me, couldn’t he?”

            “’Gideon’ is not my real name, of course, but that is the name I go by these days.  In the circles I frequent I’ve earned that title.”  The shadowy one assured Takao, sounding for all the world like he was indulging the young man with details as if he didn’t care if Takao knew.  “Even the authorities don’t know about us yet.”  Now he sounded triumphant.

            “How nice for you.  If you expect me to be impressed by the achievements of a low-life and his golfing buddies, you don’t know me very well.”  Takao yawned.  “And you’ll have to give me more than that if you expect me to believe you’re really ‘Gideon.’”

            “The boss doesn’t have to prove anything to you, kid.”  The other man said, pulling out a gun from under his suit jacket and pointing it at Takao.  “Where are the items?”

            “Kid?  Honestly.  Can’t you do better than that?”  The bluenette stared impassively at him for a moment, then looked back at the shadowed figure.  “You’re not going to shoot me.  And if you did, you can be damned sure I won’t tell you a thing.”

            “Put the gun away, Franco.  It’s too soon to kill him.”  The thug, Franco (apparently), put the gun away reluctantly.  “As for you, Kinomiya, you will tell me where we must go.  I have no way of proving I am who I claim to be.  But I’m afraid you’ll just have to live with that – unless you know of some way?”

            Takao frowned.  He supposed the guy had a point.  And if this guy wasn’t Gideon…well, there was nothing to be done about it.  “Fine.  I’ll play along.  Tell your driver to leave London and make for Portsmouth on the A3.  I’ll give directions as we go.”

            Franco relayed the information to the driver of the limo, and Gideon pressed a button on a console between his seat and Franco’s.

            “Perhaps you’d like something to drink, Kinomiya?”  A mini-bar opened up under the console.  “You look very pale.”

            “If you had an ulcer, you’d be pale too.”  Takao answered, glaring at the shadows.  He was seriously beginning to dislike being unable to see Gideon.  “So thanks anyway.”

            “Oh.”  Gideon chuckled, finding his heath amusing, apparently.  “How silly of me!  I forgot you were so delicate.”

            Takao grit his teeth and stayed silent.  Franco poured a glass of wine and handed it to his boss.

            “Is there some reason you’re being mysterious or are you afraid of something when I see what you look like?”  Takao asked, smiling as the glass paused in its path toward Gideon’s mouth.

            “No.  Your patience hasn’t changed, has it?  All in good time, Kinomiya Takao.”

            “Well, if I can’t see you, why don’t you finally tell me what this is all about?”  Takao eyed his adversary with stormy blue eyes narrowed in quiet fury.  “Why the hell would anyone go through all this trouble to kidnap some people and blackmail their family member into stealing a bunch of ancient artefacts and priceless artwork, and then expect to get away with it all?”

            “You might call this my ‘initiation.’  I have colleagues watching very closely.  I may go by ‘Gideon’ but I have to completely earn it, for reasons you don’t need to know.”  The man drank his wine.

            “So,” Takao stared at the shadowed corner with growing anger.  “This is just some…adolescent initiation rite to a group of thugs and criminals?  You’d put people who have nothing to do with you through hell just for that?”  He could not believe it.  “That makes no sense at all!”

            “Please.  You’re underestimating my intentions.”  Gideon snapped, obviously upset at Takao’s statement.  “This is more than just my initiation, though that was the main reason.  I can’t believe you haven’t figured it out yet, Kinomiya.”

            “Sir?  We’re on the highway, Boss.”  Franco interrupted, looking at Takao expectantly.  “Where to know, kid?”

            The bluenette regarded him for a moment, wishing he could just spark the both of them and be done with it.  He gave the final directions, crossing his arms over his chest as Franco relayed them to the driver.

            “Figure out what, Gideon?  Enlighten me, since you’re so pleased with yourself and I’m so dumb.”

            Gideon poured himself another glass of wine and raised it in a toast as he answered.

            “Revenge, Kinomiya.  Revenge.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Kai watched as UNA agents hauled the two shadows that had been tailing Takao away, and others swarmed all over like busy little bees.  He could hear Takao’s conversation in one ear over his com, and the constant chatter of the UNA in his other ear.  He wasn’t really listening to what either was saying, but as long as he could still hear Takao’s voice, he was able to stay sane.

            Tala finished his conversation with two agents and hustled over to his partner.  “Hey!  They’ll be on a plane back to Paris and thoroughly debriefed, Kai.  Hopefully they’ll spill their guts.”

            “Hn.”  Kai nodded and glanced back at his watch.  He could hear Hilary’s voice in his ear relaying info to the agents she was with back at the studio.  She was saying something about directions.

            “We should get going if we’re going to catch up, don’t you think?”  Tala eyed the other agent.  “Is he still on the com?”

            “Hn.”

            “Then he’s fine.  Come on, Hiwatari.”  Tala sighed and tugged on Kai’s arm, trying to get him to move.

            “Wait a second.”  Kai didn’t budge, but reached up to push a small button on the ear bud that would allow him to speak to Hilary.  “Say that again, Hilary?”

            “Kai!  Takao’s given directions to Gideon!  They’re getting off the highway!

            “Where are they headed?”  Tala joined in with his own com.

            “Hold on…  An agent is checking the area with the satellite…” Hilary paused then continued, rattling off an address.  “It’s a storage yard near the Portsmouth harbour, a ‘MacGregor Commercial Shipping Ltd.’”

            Kai cursed at the name, but nodded.  “Okay, thanks Hilary.  I know it.”  Hiwatari Enterprises often used the company itself for shipping.  He straightened and began giving orders.  “Attention all units!  This is Agent Hiwatari.  The target vehicle has started in the direction of its destination.  This is a mobilization order!  All units converge on the coordinates and prepare for the sting.”  He gestured at Tala and began working his way back to their car as he heard the team leaders of each unit respond with confirmations and their ETAs.  He hoped Takao could stall and keep Gideon busy for the hour and a half it would take him to get there (thankfully, being an agent got him through traffic and toll stops much faster than your average driver).  Then he had an idea, and stopped outside the car instead of getting in.

            “Tala, you go join the studio team and I’ll meet you at the storage yard.”  Kai reached into his pockets and pulled out a pair of leather driving gloves, slipping them on.  Then he grabbed his jacket – also leather – from the car and shrugged into it.

            “What?  Where are you going?”  Tala called after him as he walked away.  “How are you getting there?”

            “Takao’s bike!  It’s faster!  Go on!”  Kai yelled back, starting to jog.  He dug the set of spare keys from his jacket pocket that he’d swiped from Takao’s place that morning.  He was supposed to have had someone use the keys to take the machine back to Hiwatari Enterprises for safe-keeping, but Kai decided this was a much better idea.

            An hour later he was getting closer to Portsmouth, with yet constant UNA chatter in his ear.  It seemed everyone was converging on the storage yard.  That was fine.  Now he wasn’t really paying attention to the other agents.  Now, he was focusing on the voice of his lover, and the barely audible replies he was getting of their conversation in the limo.  He couldn’t be more than a half hour, maybe even less, behind them now.  Zipping through the freeway traffic was considerably easier with the bike, and Kai was thankful for the fact that it was a Japanese model, that Takao had filled the gas tank before going to meet Gideon, and for the riding goggles Takao left with the bike.  Otherwise the wind would have given him one hell of a burn for as fast and long as he was going.

            Kai frowned as he heard a particular word burn into his ear from the com.  Revenge?  He thought.  Well, we’d already assumed that.  But for what?  There wasn’t much else said after that.  No matter what Takao tried, he couldn’t seem to get Gideon to explain anything else.

            He looked up as he went flying past the sign warning of the exit to the Portsmouth harbour.

            “Hang on, Taka.  I’m on my way…” Getting as much speed as he could and still be in control of the motorcycle, Kai hurried toward the harbour.

~*~*~*~*~

            The window of the limo rolled down smoothly as it pulled up to the guard booth at the entrance of the storage yard.  Takao pulled a key-card out of his wallet and handed it over to the night guard.

            “Mr. Granger, sir.”  The guard nodded in greeting.  No motorcycle tonight?”

            “Nope.”  Takao flashed a smile that he hoped didn’t show any strange emotions that would make the guard suspicious and want to get involved somehow.  “I’m with clients, tonight.  Business is booming, Tony.”

            “Congratulations on that, sir.  Here’s your card back.  Sign here, please?”  Tony the guard, whom Takao had met several times coming to the storage yard in the past, handed the bluenette a clipboard and pen.  Takao signed the sheet and handed it back.  “Alright.  I’ll open the gate for you.  Call if you need anything!”

            “Thanks.  See you later, Tony.”  Takao wished he could warn the poor guy that he was going to be swarmed by UNA agents very, very soon.  The limo pulled ahead as the gates opened up, and the window rose back into place.

            The storage yard was filled with piles and piles of shipping crates – huge ones.  The kind that travel by sea rather than by air or train.  Toward the back of the yard, however, were a series of old ones that had been converted into storage sheds.  They stood piled one on top of the other, two crates high and four crates to a block.  It was one such block of storage that Takao had rented from the shipping company.  The CEO and current owner of MacGregor Commercial Shipping Ltd., Johnny MacGregor, was an old classmate of Takao and Max’s from Harvard.

            Takao gave directions through the storage yard, internally preparing himself for the confrontation and for the use of his abilities it was going to require to turn off his homemade security system.

            “Stop here.  That’s it there.”  Takao gestured at the block that was sitting behind a high, wire fence that was adorned with signs that warned of high voltage – and barbed wire along the top.

            “Very well.  Franco.”

            The thug opened the limo door and got out, motioning for Takao to follow.  Takao got out and walked over to the gate door of the wire fence.  He turned and waited.

            Franco had gone around to the other side of the limo and opened the door for Gideon.  Takao cursed the yet low light of the yard, and the fact that the storm rolling in had followed from London to block out any light from the moon and stars.  As Gideon walked around the limo and stopped beside it, his back was to the single yard light in that back corner of the storage facility.  All Takao got was a flash of dark hair and a trench coat, much to his frustration.

            “Why the high voltage signs?”  Franco demanded.  “Hurry up and give the boss what he wants, kid.”

            Takao bent and picked up a pebble from the ground.  “Why?”  He repeated mildly, tossing the pebble up over his shoulder and the top of the fence.  There was a sharp ZING of sound and a flash of intense blue light as the pebble struck the electric field that pulsed around the block of crates as an invisible shield.  “That’s why.  It’s the reason you needed me so badly to get into the storage crate where I’ve got the items.  No one gets in there without me.”

            “You’ve always been too clever.”  Gideon didn’t appear to be very happy with Takao.  “And being such a freak only made me despise you more.  Now if you’ll do whatever you have to?”

            Takao nodded, ignoring that comment, and turned to swipe his key-card through the box beside the door.  A little light on the box turned green from red and the lock slicked open.  The low rumble of thunder briefly distracted Takao and he looked off in the direction it came from.  In a brief flash of distant lightning a few seconds before the next rumble, Takao thought he saw three dark helicopters flying in his direction against the backdrop of the storm clouds.  He hoped they were the UNA units as he turned back to slip through the door.

            “Yeah.  Let’s get going before that storm gets any closer.”  He said, shivering as the deceptively gentle sensation of pure electric current touched his skin.  All the little hairs on his arms and the back of his neck were rising at the latent static in the air, and he slowly raised his hands, palms up and outward to the field.  He took a few calming breaths and concentrated on the current, reading it carefully before he reached for it.

            “Hurry up, Kinomiya!”  Franco’s voice sounded impatiently from behind him.

            “Unless you want me to accidentally call down lightning from that storm, you’d better learn patience.”  Takao snapped, closing his eyes so he could simply feel what he was doing and not get distracted again.  “So shut up!”

            “Why you…”

            “Franco.  Sprechen Sie nicht.”  Gideon’s voice (in German) cut him off, a very dark, deathly tone that Takao hadn’t heard the man use until now.  That tone was one that made Takao believe that he really was dealing with the Gideon who had turned his life into pure hell for months.  “Whenever you’re ready, Kinomiya.  But please – speed it up.”  And that was a warning.

            Takao frowned in concentration.  He pushed his hands against the field and stiffened as the current briefly pushed back against him, then relaxed as it pulsed through him instead, a steady throb that was as if he were merely part of the circuit now.  Drawing in a deep breath, Takao pulled that energy directly into himself and with each pulse fed the energy into the ground beneath him until the field dissipated completely.  Lowering his hands, he stepped forward and used his key-card to open the door to the container.

            “There.  Everything’s inside.”  Takao gestured at the open door.

            “Come away, Kinomiya.  Stand with the limo, please.”  Gideon ordered.  Takao shrugged and did so.  The driver got out of the limo, a gun trained on the bluenette steadily.

            “And here I hoped that we could part ways on neutral terms.”  Takao frowned at the driver, then looked at Gideon.  “Is this really necessary?  Everyone got what they wanted.”

            “Not yet, no.”  Gideon disagreed.  “Franco, you and I will go check the items and make sure they are all there as promised, while Reynaud here keeps an eye on our…guest.”

            “Yes, sir.”  Franco disappeared into the storage container and light spilled out when he turned the lights on inside.

            “Reynaud, if he so much as twitches, kill him.”  Gideon walked by and entered the container also, quickly enough that all Takao managed to see of him this time was the dark brown, neatly cut head of hair Gideon sported.  Huffing in frustration, Takao folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the limo.  In the distance, he could hear the familiar hum of a motorcycle engine, and the steady eats of the helicopters’ blades in between the roll and rumble of thunder.

            It seemed the cavalry had caught up to him at last.  He just hoped Kai and Tala made their move sooner rather than later.

            Then he blinked, glancing over at the storage container in contemplation.  Why was he waiting?  He could handle this easily.  With that in mind, he dropped his arms and looked back at the driver.  First, he had to do something about him and the gun.

            “Tell me, how did you get caught up in this?  How does any one of you suddenly decide to become career criminals?  Don’t you have better things to do?”

            Reynaud frowned and shook his head.  “Je ne parle pas anglais.”

            Takao smiled engagingly.  The hand nearest the limo, hidden mostly from view between his leg and the black car, curled into a loose fist, and the bluenette carefully focused enough power into that fist to stun a human and put him out for several hours.

            “Ah.  Pardon.”  Takao replied in perfect French.  “I was just wondering how you got into this business.  But…” He released the energy with a quick flick of his wrist and fingers directly at the driver, and Reynaud went down with a hard thud.  He didn’t even have time to cry out.  “…I don’t really care.  Sorry.”

            The reluctant thief shivered as rain began to fall, a soft pattering of sound that hid the even quieter shuffle of his foot falls as he snuck over to the wire fencing and pulled the gate door closed.  The lock engaged automatically and Takao grinned to himself as he sauntered back to the limo and leaned against it.  Glancing back along the path they’d driven on arrival, Takao blinked and raised an eyebrow as the motorcycle – now recognizable as his – bearing his lover quietly rode up to stop behind the limo, any noise smothered by the thunder.

            “Took you long enough.”  Takao commented in a quiet voice and winked at Kai, who got off the bike and took off the goggles.  “And who said you could ride that?”

            “Better me than some agent you don’t know.”  Kai retorted, vastly relieved to see his lover completely unharmed.  He looked down at the body of Reynaud dispassionately.  “Who’s this?”

            “Driver.  Gideon and minion are in there.”  Takao jerked a thumb in the direction of the container.  “Gleefully going through the items to make rue they’re all there, no doubt.  Can we please spring this trap?  I’m exhausted.”

            Kai nodded, eyeing the bluenette as he reached for his ear.  Takao was pale, and there was a heaviness  around his eyes that spoke of how low on energy he was.  “You okay, otherwise?”

            “I’m fine.”  Takao wasn’t going to mention that the limo was probably the only thing holding him up at the moment, though.  He dug his cell out of his jacket pocket and opened it.  He had one last little contingency ready.

            “Tala, is everyone in position?”  Kai asked.  There was some static buzzing in his ear before he caught the reply.

            “Yep.  Just say when and we’ll illuminate Gideon on the error of his ways.”

            “Good.”  Kai met Takao’s gaze and gave a short nod.  “We’re ready.”

            Takao raised his voice and yelled to be heard over the rumbling thunder and pouring rain.  “Hey, Gideon!  I think your driver is feeling a tad under the weather!”

            Franco appeared first, stepping out into the darkness and rain.  “What are you shouting…shit!  Reynaud!”  He moved forward, gun coming out and pointing at Takao through the fence.

            “Franco?  What is it?”  Gideon came out in a hurry when he heard the thug curse.  But he stopped just outside the container door when he saw that the wire gate was closed and locked.  He looked toward the limo at Takao, drawing his own gun.  “Kinomiya!”

            “What?  You didn’t really think I was going to play nice, did you?”  Takao tilted his head as the distinct sound of two guns being cocked and the safeties on them being released split the moment of silence between thunder from above.  “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

            “Let us out now, or we shoot you where you stand.”  Franco glared threateningly.

            “Shoot me and you won’t get out.  Sorry, but you’re trapped.  And there’s nothing I want to do about it.”  Takao shrugged and pressed a button on his cell phone.  It dialled a number, which was actually a command code programmed to close the container door remotely.

            The shadowed figured of Gideon visibly jumped when the door behind him swung shut abruptly with a ‘clang’ of metal noise.

            “And now you have no access to the items.  You have nothing to bargain with, and nowhere to go.”  Takao put his cell phone away, and held his hand out to the darkness behind hind him, where Kai stood hidden from view.  “Is that about how you wanted it, lover?  Hope you like my gift to you.”

            Kai grasped Takao’s hand and stepped forward.  “Gee, for us?  What a nice present.  Don’t you think so, Tala?”

            Light suddenly flooded the scene, banishing any and all shadows and darkness as the UNA agents surrounding them turned on search lights and such, revealing themselves to the captive criminals.  A helicopter came to hover overhead, low to the ground, and allowing Tala to drop with a predator’s agile grace to the ground near his partner and Takao.  He joined the two and cast smug, ice-cold eyes over the two caged men.

            “What?  No bow?”  He commented, earning a snort of laughter from Takao and an eye-roll from Kai.

            “Sorry.  Didn’t have time to wrap them up all pretty.”  Takao responded wryly.

            “Oh well.  It’s the thought that counts.”  Tala folded his arms and turned a no-nonsense, all business glare on the criminals.  “You’re surrounded by the UNA!  You will drop your weapons and hold your hands up where they can be seen at all times, and surrender!”

            Franco looked like he wanted to take his chances, but Gideon dropped his gun and raised his hands.  “Franco.”  He said, and it was all that was needed before the thug did the same.

            Kai squeezed Takao’s hand before releasing it and going to the fence with Tala, a dozen other agents appearing out of nowhere to cover them.

            “What’s the code, Taka?”

            “Grad.”  Takao replied, watching as Kai paused for a moment, his eyes closing briefly in pained remembrance before quickly punching the date on the key-pad and scanning Takao’s key-card.  Then he left Tala and the others to swarm the place and capture Gideon and Franco, and deal with the unconscious Reynaud, in favour of returning to Takao’s side.

            “Why did you choose that date?”  Kai asked.

            Takao smiled sadly.  “Because it’s a date I’ve never been able to forget.”

            Kai shook his head and reached out to brush the wet locks of hair out of Takao’s eyes.  It was beginning to pour, and lightning was crackling across the black skies.  “Well, maybe now you can forget.  At least the bad parts.”

            Takao’s smile turned a little brighter.  “Yeah.”

            “How are you doing, love?”

            Before Takao could reply, two agents marched by with a shackled Gideon between them.

            “Kinomiya!  Hiwatari!  This isn’t over!  I swear I’ll have my revenge for all that you’ve done to me!”

            Kai held up a hand.  “Hold on.  Bring him here.”  The two agents complied and dragged the struggling man closer.  “What the hell are you going on about?  And who are you anyway?  I don’t recognize you.”

            “He looks kinda familiar but I can’t seem to place him, either.”  Takao scowled at Gideon, who began swearing dire revenge and spewing threats instead of answering Kai’s questions.  “At this point…I can’t even bring myself to care.”

            Kai waved the agents away and they hauled Gideon off.  “Well get the story out of hi, don’t worry.  For now, he’ll be taken to Paris and held until Mr. Dickenson decides how to prosecute the case, and…” Kai stopped and reached out to steady Takao when he noticed the bluenette seemed to be swaying slightly on his feet.  “Hey, Kinomiya…whoa!”  He barely managed to catch Takao when he suddenly pitched forward.  “Takao!  What’s wrong?”

            The bluenette groaned as Kai rolled him over onto his back so that he lay half propped up in Kai’s lap, the gent having knelt on the ground with him.  “I…sorry, Kai.  I’m…so tired…and I don’t…think…” he coughed, a wet, thick sound that scared Kai boneless.

            “Taka, love…oh god!”  Kai looked around frantically until he spotted his partner a few yards away issuing orders to other agents.  “Hold on, alright, Takao?  Just…  TALA!

            Hearing his name in a voice that held panic, the wolf glanced around until he spotted his partner on the ground with Takao in his arms.  Worry and dread shot through him and he began to shout for the medical unit as he hurried over and knelt next to them.

            “What happened?  Kai…hey!”  Tala snapped his fingers in his partner’s face when Kai didn’t reply.  “Hiwatari, answer me!”

            “I…he just collapsed.  Taka?”  Kai swept the soaked mass of Takao’s hair out of the way.  Dull blue-grey eyes looked wearily up at him as another harsh coughing fit wracked his body.  “What’s happening to you?”

            “Just…tired.  I’m…fine, Kai.”  He wasn’t, but Takao didn’t like that scared look in Kai’s eyes and wanted to erase it.  “It’s over…now, right?”

            Kai shuddered.  He didn’t like that wording very much.  “Gideon’s in custody and your family has been rescued, yeah.”  He assured Takao, pretending he hadn’t thought the worst with that statement – that he was dying.  “You’re safe, and I’m safe, and everyone else is fine.”

            “Good…” Takao’s eyes drooped shut, unable to stay open any longer.  “Can’t…stay…awake…Kai?”

            “I’m right here.”  Kai felt the tears slide down his cheeks and he gripped Takao’s hand tightly.  The medical unit was approaching on the run, and Tala was getting up to move around to Kai.  “What can I do, love?”

            “Stay…don’t leave…me.”  Takao murmured.  Everything hurt, and it was all so dark and wet. He just wanted to sink into the ground and sleep, but there was something important he had to tell Kai.

            “I won’t.”  Kai promised fiercely, gripping his hand so tightly he had to be cutting off Takao’s circulation.  “Never, Takao.”

            “Kai…” The medical unit had arrived and began looking their patient over, but Takao didn’t notice.  He couldn’t feel anything at all for some reason.  “I…love you…” he whispered before he lost the fight and everything ceased to exist.

            “Taka?”  Kai’s heart stopped when the bluenette went limp and his head lolled to the side.  “No…” Tala’s hands dropped down on his shoulders and were trying to pull him away to let the medical unit do their job.

            “TAKAO!

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

Chapter 19: Den of Thieves – Part III

            Kai refused to leave Takao’s side after he collapsed.  The medical unit – after a great deal of quick talking from Tala – grudgingly allowed the distraught agent to side in the helicopter with Takao as it rushed him to Paris.  Dr. Maison and a team of nurses and orderlies were waiting for them as the helicopter touched down on the landing pad on the rooftop of the UNA headquarters.

            Tala stayed behind to see to the little clean-up details and the transport of the items to Paris as evidence.  And to later escort a very concerned Hilary back to Paris.  She’d heard among the agent’s chatter the requests for medical personnel and surmised the reason for it.  It seemed Tala’s prediction had come true; Takao had managed to hold on long enough to get the job done, then fell into a deep unconsciousness from exhaustion and stress.

            That was bad enough, but what scared Kai the most had been that weak, wet coughing that shook Takao’s body so badly his bones rattled.  Angelique confirmed that Takao had come down with a cold – which, combined with his weakened immune system and the state his body was already in, quickly morphed into pneumonia.  Being out in the cold rain, and the massive use of his abilities in the last 24 hours had just been too much, the doctor explained to Kai a full five hours after Takao had arrived and undergone treatment.

            “The next couple of days are crucial.  It’ll be touché and go, Agent Hiwatari.”  Angelique didn’t try to down play the situation, and Kai appreciated it even if he didn’t like the truth of it.  He stood on one side of the bluenette’s hospital bed, facing the doctor over the still, hardwired form of his lover.  Poor Takao was hooked up with all kinds of tubes and wires to various machines and IVs, monitoring his vitals. He was very pale, and Kai could hear the rattle of his breathing thanks to the pneumonia.  “If the fever comes down tonight, and his breathing loosens up, he’ll have a good chance at making it through.”

            Kai nodded in acknowledgement.  He felt as pale as Takao looked and as fragile.

            Angelique studied the agent with a critical eye.  “I’m guessing that you’re going to object if I kick you out of here, Agent.  So I’ll allow you to stay here in the ICU with him.  But you have to promise me you’ll get some rest and eat well, or else I’ll admit you as one of my patients.”

            Kai blinked at her, a tiny smile kicking up the corners of his mouth.  “Yes, Ma’am.”

            “Good.”  Angelique turned and headed for the door.  “Because as bad as Mr. Kinomiya looks, you look like death warmed over.”  Sticking her head out the door, she called for a nurse.  “Nurse!”

            “Yes, Doctor?”  A young woman appeared quickly at the summons.

            “Find a comfortable chair for Agent Hiwatari, please, and have a cot set up over there by the wall for him.  And until I give the okay, no one but medical personnel, myself, and Agents Hiwatari and Ivanov are allowed into this room.”  The doctor gave Kai a short wave.  “I’ll check in every so often, Agent.  And the staff will be monitoring him every minute.  Perhaps you would like to go home, shower, eat, and pack a few things for yourself?”

            Kai shook his head.  “I’m fine.  When Tala gets here I’ll ask him to get some things for me.”  He reached out to carefully cover Takao’s hand with his own.

            Angelique sighed and moved aside as the nurse returned with a chair, followed by two orderlies hauling a cot.  “Suit yourself.”  She left the room.

            After the nurse and the orderlies had vacated the room, Kai sank down gratefully into the cushioned chair, watching the unconscious Takao silently, wishing there was some way he could fix the bluenette himself.

            “I’m here, Takao.  I’m here and I promise I’ll be here when you wake up.”  Kai felt his eyes water and his chest begin to hurt from the pent up worry and emotion.  “And you’d better wake up, Kinomiya!  Don’t you leave me!  Not when we finally have the chance to be together!  I won’t let you…go…” his voice cracked.  “I love you, Takao.  So fight and come back to me.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Tala and Hilary came in late the next morning. Angelique cleared Hilary as a visitor, and the brunette took up a watch at Takao’s bedside while Tala pulled his partner outside the ICU room to brief Kai on all that he’d missed in the meantime.

            “All the items are in the evidence vaults, including the Egg.  Every one of them was there, so at least all those people he borrowed from will get their property back safe and sound.”

            “And Gideon?  His people?”  Kai folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the wall.

            “His people are singing like canaries.  Still, they have no idea why their boss chose to pick on Kinomiya – or you.  We’ve got addresses and names for places and people that Gideon is associated with, and Director Dickenson is passing the word around to the rest of the UNA offices globally.  Raids will be conducted as soon as warrants can be issued.”  Tala frowned, glaring up at the ceiling.  “As for Gideon himself…as a true crime boss, he’s not saying a word except to demand his lawyer.  He won’t even give us his real name so we can book him properly!”

            Kai’s crimson eyes flashed dangerously, and he pushed himself away from the wall.  “Where is he now?”  He began walking in the direction of the elevator.

            Tala hurried after him.  “In lock-up.  Whoa, now hold on, Hiwatari!”  The wolf quickly stepped into the elevator and blocked the panel.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go anywhere near him at this point.  You’re not in a calm, level-headed frame of mind right now, and he’s liable to end up dead before we get answers out of him if you do.”

            “Move, Tala.  I’m not going to kill him – yet.  But I think he’ll be more inclined to talk to me over you or some other agent.”  Kai faced his partner unfazed, and unimpressed by the cold flash of warning in the surreal blue eyes of the Russian agent.  “You’re not going to fight me, either, Ivanov, so either come with me for this little chat or get the hell out of my way.”

            Tala growled under his breath and held up a hand.  “At least tell me what you plan to do, and whether or not you’re going to get fired for it.”

            “Push the button and I’ll fill you in on the way down.”  Kai said.

            Warily, Tala did so, and on the way to the wing of the UNA building that served as a medium-security prison, Kai outlined how he intended to go about the interrogation.

            “I doubt it’s going to work.”  Tala shook his head as they approached the guard station.  “But we’ll see.”

            “Agents.”  The guard greeted them and they held up their IDs for him to see.  “Ah.  Going to try again, Agent Ivanov?”

            “Yes.”  Tala nodded as the guard came around the booth to unlock the sealed doors and allow them to pass.

            “I’ll have the prisoner brought to the interrogation room, then.  And I hope you get something out of him this time.”  The guard leaned in conspiratorially, murmuring, “Word’s come down that his lawyer is expected to arrive in a few hours from Munich.  The powers that be couldn’t deny him his phone call any longer, so he called in the cavalry.”

            “Fantastic.  Thanks for the head’s up.”

            The guard shrugged.  “He’s a real piece of work.  None of us down here on guard duty are overly concerned about his comfort – if you get my meaning.”

            “Crystal clear.”  Tala’s grin flashed teeth in a predatory gleam of white.  “But it’s not me the asswipe’s got to worry about.”  Tala jerked a thumb at his partner, who was already half-way down the corridor and heading for one of the interrogation rooms.  “Do me a favour and make sure there’s plenty of fire extinguishers on hand.”

            The guard nodded, confused by the request and not understanding what that had to do with the other agent – as Kai had rarely interacted with the prison guards, and they were unfamiliar with him.

            Tala followed Kai into the observation room next to the interrogation room, where they waited for Gideon to be brought in.  “Are you sure you can keep your cool on this, Kai?”

            “I won’t make promises, Tala.  Don’t ask me for that concerning this bastard.”  Kai’s expression darkened as he watched the man – now dressed in bright orange prison clothes and shackled (hands and feet) – be shuffled into the interrogation room on the other side of the one-way mirror wall and chained to the table by his feet.  “I will get him to talk, one way or another.”

            “Fine.  But keep in mind that we won’t get any justice out of him if you do anything that can be used against the UNA when he goes on trial.”

            “Believe me, I know.”  Kai replied grimly, opening the door to the interrogation room and stepping inside.  Tala closed the door behind himself and motioned for the two prison guards to step outside and wait.

            “Well, well…so his majesty Hiwatari finally decided to come and visit.  Lucky me.  Should I be honoured?”  Gideon sneered at the agents.

            “No.  You should be scared.”  Tala leaned against the wall near the doors, arms crossed over his chest.  “You’re up on several international charges, Gideon.  And until your lawyer gets here, you have no protection and no rights with us – the UNA, that is.  We don’t play by the same rules as local authorities.  Cooperation will get you somewhere but withholding anything we ask of you will get you a world of pain and suffering.”

            Gideon scoffed.  “I don’t think so.  Even the UNA can’t torture its prisoners to get what it wants out of them.  You can’t threaten me like that.”

            Kai reached into his pocket and pulled out his badge and ID, handing it to Tala.  “You’re right.  The UNA can’t.”

            Tala opened the door to the observation room.  “Five minutes, Kai.”  He stepped through the door and let it close behind him.

            “I won’t need that long.”

            “Wait…” Gideon frowned, looking back and forth between the door and Kai with the beginnings of real worry.  “What’s going on?”

            “Simple.  The UNA doesn’t condone the use of violence to obtain statements or information from prisoners or witnesses.”  Kai flexed his fingers and cracked his knuckles.  “But Tala just took my badge and ID.  Right now, Gideon,” his voice grew dark and smoky, while his eyes burned with unholy fire in the low light of the room.  “I’m not UNA.  So the rules don’t apply.”

            Gideon’s eyes widened and he shook his head.  “You can’t  You’re bluffing me.  Badge or not, you can’t just…”  He tried to stand up and move away, but couldn’t because of the chains.

            Kai’s fist lashed out, catching the man straight in the jaw and knocking him back into his chair.  “You think I care?  After what you’ve done to him?”  Kai hauled Gideon up by his shirt and punched him again, this time hearing the satisfactory sound of breaking bone.  Gideon’s nose gushed and his head snapped back with the force of the blow.  “You pathetic piece of shit!  So help me, if he dies, you will know the true meaning of pain, and I won’t care if you spill your guts about your reasons for what you’ve done!”

            “Fuck you, Hiwatari!”  Gideon snarled back, a little muffled and garbled thanks to his broken nose and the blood that poured out of it.  “You and that little freak boyfriend of yours deserve it!  You ruined my life!”

            Kai’s eyes narrowed dangerously.  He raised a hand, clenching his fingers slowly into a fist.  “Oh really?  Well, I don’t have a clue who you are or what you’re talking about.  Nor do I care.  You’ve caused Takao enough suffering.  His family were innocent bystanders.”  A glow encased his fist, slowly growing brighter and becoming tinged in reds, oranges, and yellows.  “You used them, and turned Takao into to a thief.  For what?  The right to be some big-shot in the criminal world, and revenge?”  He opened his fingers and the glow became a brightly burning, flickering ball of flames.  His eyes reflected the light and flared with the use of his abilities, something he rarely did because of the potential for destruction and injury to others.  “You dare call him a freak, when you set up such elaborate and ridiculous schemes such as this one you’ve used on Takao?  And by association, me?”

            Gideon’s eyes were wide again, this time in real fear.  “Wh…what are you?!”

            “I am the one who will introduce you to the flames of hell.”  Kai brought the flames in his hand close to Gideon’s face, letting him feel the heat of it.  Gideon instantly began to sweat, and try as he might, he could not move away from them, anchored to the table as he was.  “Refresh my memory, ‘Gideon.’  How did we ‘run your life,’ and who the fuck are you?”

            “Thanks to your lover-boy I got kicked out of school!  And thanks to your family, my family was destroyed when Hiwatari Enterprises fired my Pop!”  Gideon flinched as the flames got so close to his face he could feel the burn tingling his skin – like a sunburn.

            “Keep going.”  Kai demanded, holding on to the fire in his hand with waning concentration.

            “I can’t believe you don’t remember me, Hiwatari.  I’d have beat the shit out of you that day if that…gay freak, Kinomiya, hadn’t shown up and interrupted!”

            Kai pulled back a little, satisfied they were getting somewhere.  He heard the door open behind him and Tala’s footsteps as he entered the room, but ignored his partner.  “Excuse me?  I don’t remember ever being in danger of being beaten up.”  He lashed out with his other fist, socking Gideon in the solar plexus and knocking the wind out of him.  “And I recommend you stop calling Takao names, or I’ll shove this down your throat.”  He held the fireball up threateningly and Gideon shied away, wheezing.

            “Kai, your five minutes are up.”  Tala said from the sidelines.  “The guards will be back any minute.”

            “Keep talking, asshole.”  Kai let the fireball dissipate, then tossed a handkerchief at the man.  “And clean yourself up.  You’re a mess.  What’s your real name?”

            “Schwarz.  Jacob Schwarz.”  Gideon managed to get out, groaning and holding himself in pain. “You’ll pay for this, Hiwatari!  I’ll make sure you end up in jail alongside me for assault.”

            Kai ignored the threat and studied him with a deep frown, trying to place the name.  German names were not uncommon in post-World War II Japan, but they still weren’t common enough to run into them so frequently that Kai would recognize it immediately.  “Schwarz…Schwarz…oh.”  Recognition did dawn after a few moments of deep thought, and Kai stared at him disbelievingly.  “Jake.  The one who thought it would be fun to bring his gang of losers along and try to bully me.  I remember now.  Takao was on hall monitor duty that day and hauled your ass to the VP’s office.”  He blinked at Jake.  “Strange…you’re intelligence doesn’t match your little scheme very well.”

            “Why you…” Jake snarled something quite unflattering in German, and Kai just laughed – though not like it was funny.  There was a very nasty tone to that laugh, one that made Tala decide the interrogation was over.

            “Okay.  Come on, Kai.  Let’s go relieve Hilary.  This loser is going away for the rest of his life so you needn’t waste anymore energy on him.”

            “One last question.  The sword.”  Kai slammed his hands down on the table in front of himself and leaned across it to glare right in to Jake’s face.  “Where is it?”

            He received a sneer and a feeble attempt at spitting on him as an answer.  Kai wiped the spittle off his face and lashed out once more.  Then he turned on his heel and stalked from the room as the guards came back.

            Tala eyed the mess of a man with contempt.  “Reset his nose and get him cleaned up.  He had an accident.  Fell face first into the cement floor trying to escape, dumb bastard.”  The guards chuckled in understanding and went to haul Jake out of his chair.

            “Yes, sir, Agent Ivanov.”  The one guard held out a sheet of paper as he passed.  “Director Dickenson is looking for you and Agent Hiwatari, sir.”

            Tala sighed and took the paper.  “Yeah, thanks.”  He unfolded the paper and scanned the memo quickly.

            “You’ll all regret this!  I’ll have my revenge!”  Jake continued to shout and swear as the guards dragged him out of the room.  Tala ignored him and went after Kai.

            He caught up to his partner at the elevators.  “Kai!  The director requests our presence as soon as possible.”  Tala waved the memo at the dual-haired agent.

            “Whatever.”  Kai rubbed at his eyes wearily.  Tala frowned.

            “Maybe you should hit the locker room, first.  Shower and change, okay?  You’ve got the loser’s blood on you.”

            Kai looked down at himself and made a face.  “Ugh.  As good as that felt, it’s always so messy.”

            Tala snickered, following his partner to the locker room in the training hall.  “Maybe.  But you succeeded in getting enough information out of him to figure the mess out.”  He sat on a bench and crossed his arms while Kai opened his locker and dug out spare clean clothes, a towel, and some bath supplies.  “So you know him from high school, huh?”

            “Hn.” Kai stripped down and wrapped the towel around his waist, turning and heading for the first shower stall.  “Unfortunately.”

            “What’s the story?”

            “I only know about how he tried to gang up on me with his group of loser friends once, intending on beating me up for – apparently – being gay and having sex with Kinomiya Takao.”  Kai related the entire tale from his memory over the noise of the water as he showered.  “It was the first I’d ever heard of any rumour about us, and there wasn’t ever anything like that going on at that point, either.”

            “So he’s just a bully and a homophobe who holds a grudge.  How quaint.”  Tala shook his head.  “What is the world coming to?”

            “Yeah.  Takao was on hall monitor duty that day, and he was the one who hauled Jake down to the Vice Principal’s office for trying to bully me.”  Kai, towel wrapped around his waist again, stepped out of the shower and went to put his clothes on.  “Not that I needed his help or anything, but he did it anyway.”

            Tala grinned.  “Of course not.”

            Kai shot him a dark look.  “Don’t even think of making the comment I can see brewing in that head of yours.”

            Ice blue eyes widened in mock-innocence.  “Wouldn’t dream of it!”  Tala grew serious again.  “I take it you don’t remember seeing him around after that.  He did say he got kicked out of school.”

            “I guess.  I didn’t pay any attention.  Why would I, anyway?”  Kai paused in the middle of pulling on his dark purple, long-sleeved turtleneck shirt, a slight smile crossing his face.  “Though…it’s strange…”

            “What is?”  Tala glanced up at him.

            “Now that I think about it, that little event resulted in Takao and I turning that rumour into reality – sort of.”  The crimson-eyed agent flushed and hurriedly pulled the shirt over his head to hide his heated face.  “We started going out not long after that, though minus the torrid sexual affair.”

            The wolf made a face of his own.  “Okay, I get the idea, thanks.  Say no more on that subject, please.”

            Kai rolled his eyes and stuffed his things into his locker.  Except for the shirt.  Eyeing it, he decided to just throw it away.  Tala handed him the badge and ID he’d been holding onto and Kai clipped the ID to his black jeans’ belt loop, stuffing the badge in one back pocket and his wallet in the other.

            “Let’s go, Tala.  I want to check in on Takao before we go up to Mr. Dickenson’s office.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Hilary looked up as the two agents quietly came into the room.

            “Hey.”  She greeted them softly.  “Everything go okay?”

            “For us, yes.”  Tala moved to the end of the bed and Hilary got up out of the chair, allowing Kai to take his place.  “For Gideon – otherwise known as Jacob Schwarz – not so much.”

            Hilary went to stand with him, her hand automatically reaching for his.  She frowned in thought, not noticing when Tala threaded their fingers together to hold her hand more tightly and intimately than a simple hand grasp.  “Schwarz…?” her accent couldn’t quite wrap around the different sounds, but it was close enough.  “Why does that name sound familiar?”

            “You wouldn’t know him personally, Hilary, but he was in high school with us.”  Kai responded, Takao’s hand gently clasped between his.  He raised that hand and pressed the back of it to his cheek.  “The guy was a bully and complete loser.”  Was it him, or was Takao a little cooler to the touch than before?  He sighed.

            “Oh.  That jerk.”  Hilary sniffed in feminine disgust.  “He was always trying to get a couple of my friends to go out with him – though we all knew all he wanted was sex.”

            Tala growled something nasty in Russian and Kai glanced at him with a raised eyebrow of amusement.

            “How very noble of you.”  Kai commented in Russian, a very confused and suspicious Hilary looking back and forth between them.  “Next you’ll be riding a white horse and wearing armour.”

            “Shut up, Hiwatari.”  Tala advised, flipping him off with a raised middle finer.

            “Hey!  It’s rude to speak in another language around someone who doesn’t understand!”  Hilary scolded and scowled at them, nudging Tala none to gently in the ribs with an elbow.

            “Tala was just saying how he’d have liked to…” Kai began translating only to be hastily cut off by Tala.

            “…been there to defend your honour!”  The red-headed agent declared, grinning a little.  He shot his partner a warning glare that meant ‘keep the part about ripping his balls off and stuffing them up his ass to yourself, Hiwatari!’

            “Ri-ight.”  The brunette didn’t fully buy that, but she let it slide.

            “We should go, Kai.”  Tala glanced at the clock on the wall.  “Mr. Dickenson’s waiting for us.”

            “Yeah.”  Kai stood up and leaned over to lightly brush his lips over Takao’s cheek, which was the only part of his face other than his forehead that wasn’t mostly covered by the oxygen mask.  “I’ll be back soon, love.  Rest well.”  He murmured, brushing Takao’s hair out of his eyes affectionately.  He laid Takao’s hand back on the bed and made his way to the door.

            Hilary followed them out.  “He’s doing better, Kai.  The nurse that checked on him last said his fever seems to be going down.”

            Kai nodded, smiling a little in relief.  “Good.  Thanks, Hilary.”

            “No problem.  Don’t worry.  I’ll stay here with him until you come back.”  She waved goodbye to them as they walked off, then turned and went back to the bluenette’s bedside.

~*~*~*~*~

            “Well, Agents, first of all I’d like to commend you on your work on this case.  You’ve been working tirelessly with great effort for months now and I’m glad to say it has paid off.”  Director Stanley Dickenson clasped his hands in front of him on his desk as he looked across the expanse of it, cluttered with paperwork and files, and stacks of newspapers, at Kai and Tala.  They regarded him in return, seated in the two cushioned chairs for guests.

            “How is the young Kinomiya, Agent Hiwatari?”

            “Still unconscious, sir, and still in the ICU.  His fever seems to be coming down.”  Kai answered, leaning back in the chair.  He was tired, and would prefer to be sleeping right then instead of working.  But…there was still things that needed doing – if only so that when Takao woke up, he would have nothing to worry about.

            “Ah.  I see.”  Mr. Dickenson nodded sadly.  “What does Dr. Maison say about his condition?”

            “She is hopeful that if his fever breaks he can make a full recovery.”  Tala replied when Kai remained silent.  Glancing at his partner for a second, the wolf continued.  “Personally, I think he’ll be fine.  He’s got…too much unfinished business.”

            “Hmm…yes.”  The old man stroked his moustache thoughtfully.  “I do hope that is the case.  In the meantime, I wanted to release the statements of Gideon’s people, and of Kinomiya Tatsuya and Hiroshi, to you and to give you a summary of the conclusions that we’ve reached based on these statements.”  He pulled several folders from the piles on his desk and handed them over to Tala.  The two agents proceeded to flip through the pages while their superior spoke.

            “After reviewing the transcripts that were taken of the conversation between Takao and Gideon during the operation, I contacted several branches of our offices world-wide to inquire if there had been any new criminal elements that appeared to be coming into play recently.  There’s rumours of an organization forming, made up from leaders and bosses of the old Underground – Mafia, Triad, Yakuza…it goes on and on.  According to the statements of Gideon’s people, these crime bosses were once very powerful and important people within their organizations.  But lately they’ve become disillusioned and dissatisfied by their ways and results, and so they are attempting to break away and form a new organization.  There are supposed to be 13 heads of the new group, but it’s still in the process of being formed, and so…”

            “Hn.  They’re still determining their pecking order and earning their memberships.”  Kai slapped the folder in his hands closed and dropped it on the desk in disgust.  “These criminals are all the same no matter what they try to say otherwise.  And they’re all lame and juvenile.”

            “How true.”  Tala agreed, adding his folders to Kai’s on the desk.  “You forgot pathetic.  Still, at least we know Gideon wasn’t full of crap when he told Kinomiya about his ‘initiation.’”

            “Yeah.”  Kai regarded the old man warily.  “So what are your plans for him, anyway?  I think his story has been completely corroborated and proven.”

            “Quite so.  And I am more than willing to release him as soon as he’s healthy, with no charges.  However, there is one issue that stands in our way.”  The Director suddenly looked as tired as Kai felt.

            “Issue?”  Kai didn’t like the sound of that.

            “What sort of problem?”  Tala asked, frowning.

            “Some of the victims of the thefts are adamant that all those involved be brought to justice.  I have been in contact with all of them, and there are a few who are so very upset that they are insisting that even if Mr. Kinomiya was being forced into it, he still committed serious crimes and deserves to be punished for it.  I’m afraid that unless these few can be convinced that the charges should be dropped, it will be very, very difficult to absolve the young man and give him freedom.”  Stanley explained grimly, watching Kai in concern.  The crimson-eyed man was eerily, coldly silent at the news.  Stanley pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped at his brow.  “I have an idea, if you would care to hear it.”

            “By all means.”  Tala nodded.

            “I think the best way to convince these dissenters is to show them that the young man has – is – suffering for what he’s done.  Perhaps, if they see that he is truly ill, they will be easier to convince that his crimes are forgivable and to let him live with his choices.  Outside of a prison.”  Director Dickenson mused.

            “You mean to appeal to their sympathetic sides and make them feel more of an empathetic connection to him so they’ll be more inclined to drop the charges?”  Tala thought about it for a moment.  “It may work – if they have sympathetic sides to appeal to, that is.”

            “And how would you do that anyway?”  Kai wanted to know.  It sounded like pity more than sympathy to him, and he wasn’t sure Takao would like that when he woke up and found out.

            “Have them come here and see Takao looking all sick and fragile, one step away from a near-death experience…” Tala thought aloud.  “We know he’ll be fine but we don’t need to tell them that.”

            “Yes.  That is exactly what I had in mind.”  The old man agreed.  “What do you think, Agent Hiwatari?”
            “I don’t like it, and I know Takao won’t like being pitied.”  Kai replied bluntly.  “However…I think we can swallow our prides long enough if it keeps him out of prison.”

            “Takao had offered to apologize and return the items he…borrowed in person, however we – the UNA and his legal counsel – agreed that it wasn’t a good idea, even if it was a very nice, noble one.”  Stanley continued.  “In this instance, though, I feel we can use the intent to his benefit.”

            Tala’s eyes narrowed deviously.  This sounded like fun.  If there was one thing he enjoyed, it was messing with people who were obstructing justice.

            They hammered out a plan of action, and the two agents left their superior to make a long list of phone calls while they went to finish up some paperwork.

            Kai pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket to check his calls.  “Oh…shit.”  He sat heavily in his desk chair and looked up at his partner.

            “’Oh shit,’ what?”  Tala sat in his own chair across from Kai.

            Setting the little device on the desk, Kai slowly pushed it away.  “Mother.  I’m hoping she’s not trying to call me because they found the safe empty.”

            “Oh.  Shit.”  The wolf echoed glibly, running a hand through his hair.  “You’d better call and find out.”

            “I really don’t want to.”

            “Well, you have to call her anyway, to get those employee files and information from Hiwatari Enterprises.”

            “Shit.”

            “Yep.  Look at it this way – no more secrets, right?”

            Kai sighed and dropped his head to the desk top with a thread.  “I hate this.”  He complained, coming perilously close to a whine as he reached for the phone on his desk.  Tala watched him covertly, under the pretence of looking busy with paperwork.

            “Kai, sweetheart!”  Hiwatari Masumi’s voice came over the line and Kai winced.  “I’m glad you called me back so soon…”

            “Hello, Mother.  I’m sorry I haven’t been calling.  We’ve…made a lot of headway in the case and we’ve been very busy.”

            “Oh.  I’m glad to hear that.  And Takao?  How is everything going with him?”  Masumi inquired.  “How is he feeling?”

            Kai closed his eyes in pain, and Tala stopped writing to watch and listen closely.  “Ah…things between us are going well, Mother, thanks for asking.  Ouch!”  The crimson-eyed man glared at Tala, who had kicked him in the chin under their desks.

            “Kai?”

            “Sorry.  I banged my knee on my desk.”  Kai scowled and covered the exclamation.

            “Are you busy, son?  You can call me later if you like.”

            “No, it’s fine, Mother.  Who knows what kind of time I’ll have later.”

            “How is Takao feeling?”

            “He’s…not doing so well at the moment.  He’s here at the UNA medical wing.”  Kai informed her in a quiet voice.

            “Oh dear.  That’s not good.  Is it serious?”

            “It is.  But he seems to be improving under the best care we can provide for him.”

            “I’m so sorry to hear that, dear.  If there’s anything we can do…”

            “I know.  Thanks, Mother.”

            “Listen, the reason I called earlier…something strange happened the other day.  “Masumi’s voice turned more serious and slightly confused.

            “Something strange?”  Kai frowned, sitting up straighter.  Tala leaned closer over his desk.

            “I decided that I wanted to have my mother’s rubies taken out of their old settings and have something new made, so I put them in the safe in the library, but when I opened it up I noticed something was missing.”

            Kai tensed and swallowed hard.  “The Fabergé Egg.  I know.”

            There was a pause.  “Actually,  I was going to say the rings we were keeping for you until you found Takao…  I just wanted to make sure it was you who’d taken them.  But now that you mention the Egg…”

            “Uh…yeah.  I have the rings, Mother.”  Kai had to fight off the urge to hide under the desk.  He could almost feel the motherly disproval and stare over the phone.  “The Egg, too.”

            “Alright.  What’s going on, Kai?”

            “Uhhh…”  He cast a pleading look at Tala, who smiled faintly and shrugged in a way that said, “I haven’t got a clue.  She’s your mother.”

            “What did you do?”

            “Nothing!  Well, not anything that wasn’t…” Kai flushed.  “Um, would you and Father have time to come to Paris for a day or two? Two days from today, preferably?”

            “I’m sure if it’s necessary we can arrange our schedules to do so.  Why?”  Masumi sounded rather suspicious and wary.

            “There’s a lot of things to tell you, Mother.  About the Egg, and Takao…  If you would, I would be very grateful.”

            “Hold on, Kai.  Your father just came in.  Let me ask him.”  Kai waited patiently – as much as he could, considering how nervous he seemed to be at the moment.  He could hear his mother speaking to his father in the background.  “Susumu, dear, our son wants us to come to Paris for the weekend.  He says its important.”

            “That’s quite short notice.”

            “Yes, but I think we should go.  It’s about Takao and…” Masumi stopped.  “Well, he’ll tell us more when we get there, I’m sure.  I don’t really know what this is all about.”

            “I’ll have to check my schedule and talk to a few people first.”  His father’s tone was slightly disgruntled, but curious.

            “Kai, son, you heard that?”

            “Yes, Mother.  You can call me when you know for sure, if you like.”

            “The files.”  Tala reminded his partner.  Kai nodded at him.

            “Oh, and could you have someone get some information for Tala and I, Mother?”

            “What kind?”

            “We need old employee records on a former employee in the Japan branch.  I only have a last name, but it should be enough.  Schwarz.”  Kai requested.  “And we need whatever you can send us on MacGregor Commercial Shipping…”

            “MacGregor?  Certainly, dear.  For the case?”

            “Yes.  We could do the legwork and such ourselves, but this will take less time and be much easier.  Thank you.”

            “Of course.  I’m happy to help.”

            Kai glanced at this watch.  “I have to go, Mother.  I’ll expect your call soon, though.”

            “Yes.  Take care, Kai.  I hope Takao gets better soon, and say hello to Tala for us.”

            “So.”  Tala leaned across his half of their shared desk with his usual playful smirk as an expression.  “How’d it go?”

            “You are truly a pain in my ass.”  Kai scowled and got up.  “I can’t work on this stuff right now.  I’m going to sit with Takao for a while.”  He left his partner with their paperwork.

            Tala’s bemused expression faded as he watched the crimson-eyed agent walk away.  He’d hoped his usual humour would help ease some of the tension in Kai, but it didn’t seem to work.  He knew of a another way, but…he decided that he’d do this paperwork first, and let the man spend some much needed time with his hospitalized love.

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

Chapter 20: Den of Thieves – Part IV

            Kai nearly ran into Dr. Maison as he opened the door to Takao’s room and went inside.

            “Oh!  Agent Hiwatari!  Hello.”

            “Angelique.”  Kai stepped aside to allow her to pass.  “Good evening.”

            “You’ll be happy to know that Mr. Kinomiya’s fever seems to be breaking.  We’ll keep monitoring his temperature of another 24 hours, of course, but as of now,” she gave him a smile at the relief on his face.  “He seems to be on the road to recovery.”

            “Good.  Great!  Thank you for letting me know.”  Kai looked into the room at his bedridden lover.  “When can we move him?  He should…he should be in a room with sunlight when he wakes up.”

            Angelique patted him on the shoulder.  “We will.  As soon as I know he’s truly over the fever and stable, I’ll have him moved to one of our regular rooms.  For now, though, why don’t you sit with him a bit then get some rest yourself?  You look exhausted, Agent.”

            Smiling weakly at the admonition, Kai nodded and went inside.  He knew Takao couldn’t be moved until after their little plan had a chance to work.  Still, it was a vast relief to know the bluenette was on the mend.

~*~*~*~*~

            For the next two days, Kai and Tala organized their plan with Mr. Dickenson, prepared for it, and spent their spare time in the medical ward with Takao and Hilary – who had refused to return to Japan until Takao could go home, also.  And because Kenny was staying behind, as he still needed her as his assistance.

            Takao’s father and brother had been taken back to Japan, escorted by a couple of UNA agents who would stay with them until the rest of the criminals in Gideon’s circle had been found and brought down – just in case of any retaliation b y those people for Gideon’s failure and capture.

            Kenny was very busy himself.  He’d been handling Takao’s legal affairs, of course, but he’d also taken it upon himself to deal with his personal ones, too.  He kept in contact with the elder Kinomiya men, so that they always knew how their youngest was doing.  He also made several calls to a few old friends, all of whom were on the next available flights to Paris when they heard the news.

            Also over the next two days, Tala dragged his partner to the UNA’s gym facility for at least three hours each day to work out and or spar.

            It was the wolf’s answer to stress-relief, and it seemed to work wonders – at least for Kai.  Tala knew just how dangerous Kai was when under extreme stress, tension and emotion.  It fed his abilities, and unless relieved those abilities had the potential to explode out of any control.  It was the downside to being pyro-pathic and pyro-kinetic, Kai had once explained to his then – new UNA partner.  After all, if they were going to work together, it was only fair that Tala knew what he was getting himself into – at least, that’s what Kai believed.  He’d neither told nor shown many people just what he was capable of, for the safety of others and for his own protection.  As Gideon – Jake – exemplified, there were still many people who did not except that people such as himself existed.  He had good reason to went that knowledge kept quiet, as it was very rare that when someone like him used them talents for a good reason it ended up on the six o’clock news.  Usually it was when someone did something bad that it made a newsworthy segment for the media.

            Friday arrived quickly enough, and with it the engagement of the plan to get the victims of Takao’s “borrowing” to agree not to press charges.  The bluenette remained in the ICU for the plan – though Kai and Dr. Maison agreed he’d be moved to a normal room immediately after, should all go well because Takao was on the mend.  His fever had disappeared and stayed gone for the past two days, so he was deemed to be improving significantly by Angelique.

            The day also brought Kai’s parents to Paris.  He made one trip away from Takao’s bedside to pick them up at the airport, drop off their luggage at his flat (where they would stay while in Paris) and bring them to the UNA.

            “Son, I really wish you’d tell us what this is all about.”  Susumu sighed at the unhappy expression on his son’s face.  Kai was still angry with him for the investigation into Takao’s life.

            “Leave him be, dear.  I’m sure there’s a very good reason he’s not telling us the whole story.”  Masumi caught the tightening of Kai’s grip on the steering wheel of the car and the firm line his mouth made at her tone of motherly disapproval and mild chastisement.

            “Look.  I’m sorry to be cryptic and mysterious, but it’s the way it has to be for now.  Once you’ve met with my boss and heard the tale from him, we can talk about it all you like.”  Kai promised grimly, pulling into the parking garage underneath the UNA building.

            “Can’t you tell us why we need to be here, at least?”  Susumu asked.

            Kai parked the car and turned off the engine.  “it’s to keep Takao out of prison.  You just have to trust me, and Tala, and especially Takao.  Come on.”  He ignored the shock on his parent’s faces and led them toward the elevator.  “Tala will be waiting for us, and he’ll be with you for a while until this little plan of ours works.  We hope.”

            His parents frowned, but followed him into the elevator.  Susumu, at least, was curious enough to not make any comments while Masumi simply studied her son with great worry and concern.

            After Kai passed them on to Tala, he went to stand at his post – outside Takao’s door, and to let Hilary and Kenny know the show was about to begin.

~*~*~*~*~

            Upstairs in one of the conference rooms, Tala covertly cast his gaze around the long table at which several people sat, including the Hiwataris.  He’d sat in on the very brief meeting Kai’s parents had with Mr. Dickenson just before this, and he hadn’t been at all surprised by the reactions of either Hiwatari to the news of Takao’s circumstances.  Masumi had been horrified and sympathetic – and outraged on behalf of the entire Kinomiya family.  Susumu hardly expressed any emotion at all, but Tala was certain he could see a vast degree of relief and maybe even the faintest glimmer of concern appearing in the man’s eyes.  At least now he understood the results of his little investigation into Takao’s background.  Maybe now father and son could find some way to reconcile their differences.

            Tala straightened and let his hands fall to his sides as his boss entered the room and greeted the table full of people, the quietly took a seat at Mr. Dickenson’s left.

            “Ladies and gentleman, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to join us today.  I’ll try to keep it as short as possible so that we can resolve the matters I have requested your presence here today to discuss.”  The UNA director opened a file folder in front of him on the table, and gave Tala a nod to signal his assistance.  Picking up a remote control, Tala pushed buttons to turn the lights down to low, and start up a projector that displayed a picture of Takao and all the current charges being brought against him on the screen behind the old man.

            “This is Takao Kinomiya.  As of four days ago, he’s been a guest of the UNA and a patient in our medical facility where he is in serious condition thanks to a number of factors which have adversely affected his health.  For nearly a month, he has been working with the UNA in order to bring down those who are responsible for the list of charges you see here.”  Stanley folded his hands on the table and looked around the room at each person.  “This discussion is to explain the circumstances of what lead to the unfortunate…borrowing of the items that each of you reported stolen.”

            “I don’t really care why he did it.”  One scruffy looking man in an old tweed suit scoffed.  “The fact is he is a thief and deserves punishment.  Is the UNA in the habit of letting criminals go free now?”

            “No sir.”  Tala answered coolly, before Mr. Dickenson could respond.  “We are in the habit of exacting justice and maintaining peace and order internationally.  If you will allow us to explain our findings in this case’s investigation, you will see that there is no justice to be found in imprisoning a man who did these things against his will.”

            The Director held up a hand.  “Please.  As Agent Ivanov says, allow us to explain.”  At the acquiescent nods from around the table, Stanley began at the beginning, giving them a shortened version of the tale Takao had given in his statement.

            Tala pushed a button on the remote and the screen changed to a mug shot of Jake and a bunch of other information – personal and legal.  “This is the true criminal, ladies and gentlemen.  His name is Jacob Schwarz, aka ‘Gideon.’  He is the mastermind behind the kidnapping of Hiroshi and Tatsuya Kinomiya, and the subsequent blackmail of Takao Kinomiya which forced him to steal your possessions in order to ransom his family.  Schwarz is only one of several crime lords the UNA is even now pursuing around the world, and thanks to Takao Kinomiya’s cooperation – at the expense of his own health and well-being – we have Schwarz in custody.”  Tala turned the lights back on and the projector off.  “This man and his underlings are the ones the UNA wishes to bring to justice, not an innocent man who was only doing what he could to ensure the safe return of his only living family members.”

            “So do that.”  A haughty woman in designer clothes sniffed inelegantly.  “That is your mandate.  I fail to see what we have to do with it.”

            “Ms. von Heid, we wish to drop the charges against Mr. Kinomiya.  We feel that he is suffering enough – has been suffering for many months – and as he took responsibility for his actions and helped us to bring Schwarz and his ilk down, we believe he has redeemed himself to society.  However, we don’t have the authority to drop the charges unless all of you are willing.”  Mr. Dickenson explained calmly.

            “The fact is, ma’am,” Tala added in a frosty tone, “All the items have been recovered and are all in the exact condition they were in when Kinomiya borrowed them, and he was always intending to return them that way.  But those things he took – despite the value of them culturally, artistically, and in monetary terms – are just things.  He wasn’t taking them out of greed, he was attempting to save the lives of two people who did nothing to deserve being kidnapped.  It’s also a fact that he came perilously close to dying in his efforts to bring Gideon down.  He is currently lying in a hospital bed in our medical ward, in ICU, hooked up to all kinds of machines and fighting for his life.”

            There was a moment of uncomfortable silence until the Director coughed and stood up.  “Well, perhaps we will take a short break so that you may consider your decisions?”

            “Director…” Susumu stopped him before he could leave.  “Before we do that, could you tell us the exact nature of Kinomiya’s condition?  Why is he so ill?”

            “Ah.  Yes, of course. Without going into great detail…”

            “It’s a combo of stress, malnourishment, and lack of sleep, sir.”  Tala said in a quiet voice.  Everyone looked at him as he spoke.  “He developed an ulcer, but recent events compounded in a steep decline in his body’s ability to cope.  The operation we undertook to apprehend Gideon and recover the items resulted in Takao succumbing to a bad case of pneumonia.  With his already weakened immune system, he was unable to fight it off and collapsed.”

            “You must understand, he’s been suffering stress and that ulcer for a very long time, now.  Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Angelique Maison, has done her best to take care of him.  She is hopeful for his recovery, but is fearful that real damage has already been done.”  Stanley added.  Then he looked thoughtful for a moment.  “Perhaps you would all like to see for yourselves the seriousness of his condition?  If so, I can arrange for Agent Ivanov to escort you to the ICU.”

            Murmurs filled the silence as the group discussed it amongst themselves.  Masumi leaned closer to Tala and whispered, “Can we get in to visit him later, Tala?  After this, and after Susumu and I speak with Kai?”  Her gaze flickered to her stoic husband.

            Tala nodded, winking at her.  “Of course, Mom.  It’ll mean everything to Kai, you know.”

            She gave him a small smile.

            “Very well, Director Dickenson.  After the break, I would like to visit this young man.”  The scruffy man stated above the low chatter.

            “As would I.”  Ms. von Heid agreed.  The others also stated their desire to see Takao, and the Director quickly agreed.

            “Agent Ivanov, please let the ICU know we will be coming through in…half an hour.  Until then, let’s break for coffee.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Kai was infinitely glad he was inside Takao’s room, his back to the door, unseen by the people who were lined up outside peering in through the one-way glass window at his prone, unconscious lover.  He hadn’t liked this particular part of the plan the most.  It was like his lover was on display as some sort of freak for the gawking amusement of those Takao had been forced to steal from.  He felt somewhat better knowing Tala was on the other side of the door, and that none of those people were going to be allowed inside (it was an ICU, after all).  Kai only hoped this would all be worth it in the end.

            After quite some time, a soft knock on the door drew the agent from his thoughts.  Turning, Kai opened the door to find Hilary standing there, along with Dr. Maison.

            “They’ve gone back upstairs, Kai.”  The brunette informed him.  There was a hopeful expression on her face.

            “I think it’s safe to move Mr. Kinomiya, Agent Hiwatari.”  Angelique added.  “The sedative I administered earlier was light, and he just any wake up on his own soon.  I think a nice, private room with lots of sunlight and windows would do wonders, don’t you?”

            Kai gave a faint smile and moved out of the way to let the doctor and her team of nurses pass, joining Hilary in the hall.  He watched them unhook machines and wires from Takao through the observation window in silence for a moment, then glanced at Hilary.

            “I want to thank you, Hilary, for everything you’ve done for Takao.  No matter what else, thank you for being there for him when I wasn’t, and for being here and now through all of this.”  Kai folded his arms over his chest in a kind of self-hug.  “You’ve done so much more than either of us would ever have asked of you.”

            “Oh Kai…” Hilary gave him a somewhat misty smile and laid a hand on his forearm, squeezing in comfort.  “Silly!  It’s what friends do!  Besides,” her eyes met his in complete seriousness.  “Takao is a very special soul.  He did nothing to deserve these things that life has tossed at him, and we all will do whatever we can to alleviate some of that darkness.”

            Kai nodded, covering her hand on his arm in acceptance with his other hand.  “Damn right.”

            Two nurses wheeled a gurney with Takao on it out of the ICU, followed by the doctor.  Angelique paused before continuing after her patient.

            “I’ll see that he’s settled in comfortably before I go on my rounds.  His fever seems to be entirely gone, and his lungs sound much better, by the way.”  She smiled brightly, hooking her stethoscope around her neck.  “He’s going to be okay, though weak and easily tired for quite some time.”

            “When can I see him?”  Kai wanted to know, relief evident in his voice.

            “I’ll send a nurse for you when he’s settled in his room, Kai.  It’ll take a few minutes, so you may want to go and find out what the situation is otherwise.”

            Hilary gave him a push, “Go on, Kai.  I’ll be here.”

            Kai sighed and nodded to both women, then made his way upstairs to wait in Mr. Dickenson’s office.

~*~*~*~*~

            Tala stood at attention next to Director Dickenson as the room of Takao’s – no Gideon’s – victims filed out with brief words of gratitude and parting to the old man.  They would be escorted to the evidence vaults where their belonging s were being held so that they could either claim them now or make arrangements for the larger items to be transported.

            The wolf was relieved that the hardest part of the whole ordeal was finally over, and that justice would truly be found for the youngest Kinomiya and his family.  And for Kai.  While they may be called to testify at Gideon’s trial, their part in bringing him down was over.

            The last to leave were Kai’s parents.  Susumu shook the Director’s hand briefly before speaking.  “Stanley.  I must admit, we had no idea what was in store for us when Kai requested we come to Paris.  I must congratulate you and your agents on a job well done, however.”  He glanced at Tala with a slight smile.  “And I believe I have a great deal of apologizing to do.”

            “Susumu-san, I want to thank you for your words earlier.  I believe if you hadn’t thrown your support in with Kinomiya, a few of the others would not have consented to dropping all the charges against him.”  Stanley chuckled, brushing his moustache with a finger thoughtfully.  “I’ve always admired your lawyer-like skill with rhetoric and logic.”

            “Tala, will you find Kai and tell him the good news?”  Masumi asked.  “And is there somewhere we might speak with him before we go down to visit Takao?”

            “Sure, Mom.”  Tala gave her a wide smile and pulled out his cell phone, speed-dialling his partner.  At Kai’s less than welcoming tone of greeting, Tala scowled.  “Well aren’t you just full of sunshine.  It’s done, Kai.  The charges are dropped.”

            “Thank god.”  An infinite weariness filled Kai’s voice.  “Thanks for letting me know.  What’s going on now?”

            “Everyone’s gone off to reclaim their stuff.  Your parents want to talk to you, then go see Kinomiya.  Where are you?”

            “In the Director’s office.  I thought you’d come here when it was done and I wanted to know what happened.”

            “Ah.”  Tala looked at his boss and adopted parents.  “Hold on a second.”  He covered the phone and spoke to them.  “Sir, Kai is waiting in your office.”

            “Why don’t you take the Hiwataris there so they may have their discussion in private, Agent Ivanov.  I have several other things which require my attention for an hour or so.”  Mr. Dickenson smiled genially and shook Susumu’s hand once again.  “Susumu-san, Masumi-san, it was good to see you again.  Thank you once more for your assistance, and I hope to see you again under much more pleasant circumstances.”

            “As do we, Stanley.”  Susumu answered.

            Tala nodded to his boss as the old man walked out, and went back to Kai.  “I’m bringing our parents up there, Kai.  Stay put.”  He ordered and hung up on the immediate growl from his partner.  “Follow me!”  He cheerfully invited Kai’s parents, leading them down the hall to the elevator.

~*~*~*~*~

            Kai hung up and put his cell in his pocket with a few choice names for his Russian partner.  Then he stiffened and looked up when the office door opened, thinking it was his parents.

            Instead, a rumpled, slightly flustered Kenny barged into the room.  “Kai!  Oh good, you’re still here.  I had a hard time tracking you down.”

            Relaxing somewhat, Kai blew out a tired breath.  “What is it, Kenny?  You look like you were hung out in a windstorm.”

            Flushing, Kenny glanced down at himself.  “Oh.  Well, I haven’t had a chance to shower and change for a couple days.”  Looking back up, he tried with futility to smooth out the wrinkles in his shirt and straightened his tie.  “At least with the charges being dropped, my job is pretty much done.  But that’s not why I was looking for you.”

            Kai merely raised an eyebrow.

            “Max just called me from the airport.  He and a few others just arrived and as soon as they rent a car, they’re coming here.  Can you clear them to come up and see Takao?  And would you know of a decent, inexpensive hotel?”

            “Max and who else, Kenny?  I need names so the guards downstairs know who to expect and issue visitor badges to.”  Kai reached for Director Dickenson’s phone on his desk.  But before Kenny could respond, Masumi’s voice interrupted.

            “They can stay at the Grande Luxor, on the house.”  She stated, glancing up at her husband with a smile.  “Isn’t that right, dear?”

            “Certainly.  Hiwatari Enterprises owns the hotel, so it won’t be a problem.”  Susumu agreed easily, meeting Kai’s eyes across the room.  “Anything we can do to assist friends of my son and…his lifemate.”

            Kai stared at his father in shock and a giddy relief that made him sit down heavily in the chair he’d just risen from.

            Tala beamed and clapped his hands once in glee.  “Excellent!  Hey, Kenny!  Come with me and we’ll go get things in order, huh?”  He latched onto the petit lawyer’s shoulders, steering him out the door and closing it behind them, leaving Kai and his parents alone to talk.

            Silenced reigned until Masumi broke it with an exasperated, “Really, the two of you!  He is truly your son, Susumu.  Same stubborn, thick-headedness, same lack of willingness to compromise.”

            “Hmph.”  Kai schooled his expression to one as close to neutral indifference as he could.  “I’m not the over-protective one who had my only child’s lover investigated behind his back.  I’m not the one who doesn’t trust his only son to live his own life and make his own choices and decisions.”

            Chagrined, Susumu ran a hand through his hair in a gesture that Kai recognized as one he seemed to have inherited from the man – much to his self-disgust.  “Kai, son, it wasn’t like that.  I didn’t mean for it to come across that way.  I know it wasn’t my greatest idea ever, but…”

            “He was just looking out for you, Kai.”  Masumi said gently, moving over to her son.  “We do trust you.  We are so very proud of everything you’ve done, chibi!”

            Kai winced at the childish endearment.  “Mother…please.”

            “We love you, Kai.  And after learning everything about what Takao was doing, the courage and honour he has shown…well, if I wasn’t positive before – which I was – I am now positive that you couldn’t have found anyone more worthy of you.”  Masumi drew her son into her arms and held him close with the motherly instinct that said her child needed the comfort.  “And that you are the luckiest man alive to have won his affections in return.”

            Sighing, Kai gave into the embrace, hugging her back.  “Don’t I know it, Mother.  But you’re wrong about one thing – I’m not worthy of him.”  Kai gave a rueful grin.  “However, I’m totally selfish enough to hang onto him with everything I’ve got.”

            Masumi laughed, eyes sparkling.  “Good.”

            Kai released his mother and looked at his father, who had moved closer unnoticed.  “Father…”

            “Kai, your mother said it well; we love you, and we are proud of your accomplishments. Maybe I should have said that more often, since you seem to harbour the impression that we…I am disappointed with you since you refused to take your place in Hiwatari Enterprises.”

            “Well, you were.”  Frowning, Kai folded his arms defensively.

            “No.  Never in you, son.”  Susumu looked away for a moment awkwardly.  He wasn’t very good at these conversations, and he really didn’t want to say anything that might drive his son farther away.  “Yes, I was disappointed for a while that you didn’t follow my path, but…that disappointment was not because of the same desire my father impressed on me to follow in his footsteps, but because…” he floundered a bit, but pushed on relentlessly.  “I was resentful, I suppose, that you had the strength to go your own way and I did not.  I was angry with myself for not fighting Voltaire harder on your behalf, especially after what happened when you graduated high school.”  Susumu turned back to Kai, whose eyes were wide with incredulous surprise, and a dawning understanding.  “I realize I haven’t done a very good job of being a father, but..I do care, Kai.  And I do trust you and your abilities, even if I’ve done a horrendous job of showing it.”

            Kai had an awkward moment of his own where he couldn’t seem to meet his father’s eyes or find any appropriate words to say.  Finally, though, he cleared his throat and said the only thing he could (albeit feeling it was quite lame, considering).

            “Thank you.”  His voice was rough, but steady.  “For that, and for…Takao.”

            Susumu smiled and clapped his son on the shoulder.  “I expect you both to come by and visit as often as you can, you know.”  He insisted gruffly.  “If he’s going to be part of the family, then we all need to get to know one another better.”

            Masumi rested a hand on her husband’s arm.  “I just want to see my sons as often as possible.”

            Kai smiled, for what had to be the first genuine smile in weeks, and rubbed a hand over his face tiredly.  “Of course.  When Takao’s well enough I’m sure the Island will be one of our first stops.”  He sighed.  “He’s going to want to go home, and to see his own family.  For now, though,” Kai motioned for them to follow him.  “You wanted to go visit Takao before you left?”

            “Oh, yes.  Definitely.”  Masumi nodded as she and Susumu allowed their son to lead them to the elevators and through the medical wing.

            Kai waited outside with Hilary while his parents looked in on his lover.  They sat just outside the door in two comfortable chairs.  Kai gave a long, gusty sigh and slumped back into his seat, his weary crimson eyes closing shut heavily.

            “Kami, I’m tired.”  He groaned.

            Hilary glanced at him sympathetically, taking stock of the damage that last few weeks had wrought on the agent since she’d first seen him.  He was pale, his clothes were a bit rumpled, his hair a tad on the wild and unkempt side, and there were dark circles under his eyes.  The clincher was the more pronounced frown lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth, and the deeper lines of his forehead across his brow.

            “I know.  I can’t imagine how it’s been for you, Kai, even though I know.  You’ve been so strong for Takao – for all of us, really.”  Hilary leaned back into her own seat, smiling.  “Everything’s going to be the way it should be, once Takao gets better, and he’ll finally get to come home and see his family safe and sound.  I know he’s going to be here for a while yet to recover, but he will get better, and you’ve found each other again…it’s a happy ending!”

            Kai chuckled appreciatively at the sentiment.  “You’re right.  It is.”  He popped one eye open and gave her a side-glance.  “What about you and my wolf of a partner?  Any happy endings there I should know about?”

            Hilary scowled and blushed prettily.  “We weren’t keeping it very secret, were we?”

            “Nope.”  Kai agreed.

            The brunette plucked absently at her skirt.  “Actually, we haven’t really talked about…us.  Things have just been too crazy, and Tala’s been very busy trying to help wrap your case up.”

            “Hn.”  Kai felt a twinge of guilt for leaving most of his work for Tala to deal with.  He’d have to make it up to his partner somehow.  “Well, things will slow down soon enough and you’ll have time.  But Hilary,”  He gave her a mild grin, “Kick his ass if he even thinks of letting you slip away.  I think you’re perfect for that job.”

            She blushed again, but sat up straighter with a fierce gleam of determination in her eyes, and gave him a sloppy salute.  “Aye, aye, Captain!”

            The door opened then, and Kai’s parents came out.  Simultaneously, Kai noticed Tala and Kenny heading down the hallway toward them, so he rose to his feet and smothered a yawn.

            “We’d stay longer, son, but we really need to be going.”  Susumu said regretfully.  “I’ve got a business meeting in Prague tomorrow morning.”

            “You will call us when Takao wakes up, though, won’t you?”  Masumi requested.  Kai nodded.

            “Of course, Mother.  Dr. Maison will probably keep him here for some time to recover, anyway, so maybe you could drop by and see him when he’s better and awake.”

            “Perhaps, yes.”  Masumi agreed, turning to Hilary.  “It’s good to see you again, dear.  I trust you and Tala will be by to visit again, soon, too?”

            The redheaded wolf sidled up beside Hilary and slipped an arm around her waist, answering before she could.  “We will, Mom, with bells on!  Sorry you have to leave so soon, though.”

            “I’ll come down with you, Mother.  Father.”  Kai glanced at Kenny.  “You get everything you need?”

            Kenny nodded.  “Yes.  Tala can be very efficient, you know.”

            Kai rolled his eyes.  “When it suits him.  He’s lazy.”

            “Hey!”  Came the indignant expression.

            Smiling, Kai offered his arm to his mother.  “Shall we?”

            Shaking her head at the antics of her son and his friends – but smiling – she accepted his arm and allowed Kai to escort his parents down to the building’s main entrance.

            “Oh!  I nearly forgot about the Egg.”  Kai realized as they stood waiting for the car Susumu called for from the elevator, outside the UNA.  “I should run in and get it for you.”

            “No, Kai.”  Masumi stopped him as he turned to do so.  “When Takao is released, why don’t you and he bring it back to us then?”

            “I think it will make him feel better to return at least that item in person.”  Susumu added sagely.  His grey eyes twinkled with mirth.  “Besides giving you the perfect excuse to satisfy your mother and come to visit.”

            Kai laughed.  “Very true.  Alright, we’ll do that.”  A fancy black BMW car pulled up to the curb, and Kai opened the passenger door for his parents.  “See you later, Mother, Father.”  And thank you, again, for coming to help Takao.”

            “Goodbye, son, and no thanks are necessary.”  Susumu gave his son a brief, gruff hug before slipping into the back seat.

            “Take care and give our love to Takao when he wakes up.”  Masumi hugged Kai hard and gave him a soft peck on the cheek.  “We love you, and don’t forget to call!”

            “I won’t!”  Kai replied as she slid in next to her husband.  Kai closed the door and waved as the car pulled away and drove off.  Then he turned and slowly made his way back inside.

~*~*~*~*~

            When he reached Takao’s room, he found a few more people than he’d been expecting.  Tala, Kenny, and Hilary were there (though the agent stood apart and back from the others gathered around Takao’s bed and prone form on it), as were Max and his mother, Judy.  But the other two people Kai almost didn’t recognize, as it had been so many years since he’d last seen them.  Warily, Kai stepped quietly inside and allowed the noisy ‘click’ of the closing door to announce him.

            “Oh!  Kai, there you are!”  Max greeted him with a smile – though it was at half its usual Wattage.  “We wondered where you’d disappeared to.”

            Kai shrugged, shoving his hands in his pockets and remaining near the door and Tala.  He felt very much like an intruder in the room full of people who were Takao’s friends – people he felt he’d forfeited all right to also call friends after what had happened 10 years ago.  “Max.  Director.”  He returned the greeting neutrally, hiding his insecurities behind a careful mask of cool indifference.

            His eyes met two distinctly feline, golden sets of eyes and he tensed.  If there was anyone out of the group who could possibly have a chance at happily kicking his ass, it was Kon Rei.  His petit, feisty, pink-haired mate, Mariah, would probably give him a run for his money, too.

            “Hiwatari.”  Rei intoned, a fierce spark of protectiveness glowing in those eyes, chasing the minute growl in his voice.  Kai felt Tala tense beside him, and he nudged his partner with an elbow surreptitiously in warning.

            “Rei.”  Kai gave him a slow, half-bow of his head.  “Mariah.”

            Kenny, the ever-diplomatic peace keeper of the group, hastily intervened, sending a pleading glance Max’s way for help.  “Ah, I told Rei and Mariah everything, Kai.  I couldn’t…not tell them.”

            “Everything?”  Kai raised an eyebrow at Max, who nodded solemnly.

            “Then and now, Kai.”

            “Ah.”  The dual-haired man acknowledged.  “Fine.”  He frowned and planted his feet, pulling his hands from his pockets to let them fall loosely to his sides as Rei slowly padded around the bed and came toward him.  Kai said nothing and remained where he was, refusing to back down or be intimidated by the lithe, cat-like grace and power in the man’s movements.

            Rei stopped just inches away from Kai, very much in his personal space, and looked him directly in the eye.  “It’s been a long time, Kai, and although Kenny and Max have, indeed, told me all about the fiasco you created ten years ago out of your relationship with Takao, and that you’ve apparently reconciled your issues now, I want to hear it from you.”  The raven-haired man poked Kai in the chest none to gently, a flash of fang warning Kai not to take him lightly.

            “Rei…” Max sighed and stepped closer, ready to pull his friend away from Kai.  Let it go, huh?”

            “No, Max.  Not this,”  Rei gestured the blonde away.  “Maybe it was a stupid decision not entirely his fault, but the fact is he truly hurt Takao.  We couldn’t even say your name around him, Kai.  He’d either close up and refuse to speak for hours, or he’d run away.  And it was my shoulder he soaked in tears over you when he found out you’d left for good!  I tried at first to give you the benefit of a doubt because I honestly didn’t believe you were that cruel.  That you really loved him.”

            “I did.”  Kai interrupted, glaring into Rei’s face without fear.  “I do.”  Not even Rei would be allowed to question his feelings for Takao like that, even if it was how it had seemed then.  “Always will.”

            Rei’s yes searched Kai’s.  “I want to believe it, Kai.  And I suppose I can’t stop either of you from making another mistake that will end up causing him more pain and suffering he does not deserve.  I guess what I want to know is…what are your intentions?”

            Kai blinked.  “How…medieval and paternal of you.”  The sarcastic remark came out before he could stop it.

            Max actually let out a bark of laughter before he could smother it.  “Well, he is a daddy now…”

            “Shut up, Max.”  Rei frowned.  “I’m serious!  What do you intend for Takao now?”  He demanded.

            “That’s not my decision.  It’s Takao’s.”  Kai replied in a downright frosty tone.  “I get that you are concerned for him and that you dislike me being in his life again, but Rei…” Kai leaned in just enough that Rei’s eyes nearly crossed from being too close to see him properly.  “Our relationship is between Takao and I.  So fuck off.”

            Golden eyes narrowed to slits.

            Judy intervened before anyone came to blows.  “Alright.  That’s enough, the both of you.  If you have further issues to discuss, do it elsewhere, please.”  She shot a stern frown at Kai when his hand lashed out and grabbed a fistful of Rei’s shirt before he could move away.  “Agent!”  She snapped in command, hoping to jerk him back to his surroundings.

            “No offense, Director, but stay out of it.”  Kai warned, not even sparing a glance for her.  He didn’t take his eyes from Rei.  “You forced me into this confrontation, Kon, but I’m not dumb enough, nor insensitive enough, to kick your ass right here and now for even suggesting that I’m so arrogant as to believe I own and control Takao’s every decision and life.  All I want is to be with him, to be allowed to love him as I wanted to ten years ago, and every damned day since.  But if he doesn’t want me, then I let him go and learn to live with myself.  It’s his decision, understand?  Think whatever the hell you want to of me, I don’t care, but stay out of what’s between Takao and I.”  Kai released Rei and took a deliberate step back, eyes burning with an intensity Rei hadn’t seen for years, pure challenge in that gaze.

            Raising a hand to his head, Rei scratched an ear ruefully.  “Actually, I was kind of hoping you’d fight to keep him, not just let him go.”  He shook his head.  “But it’s enough for me to know that you get exactly what you did to him back then.  And you never make the same mistake twice.”

            The blaze was banked somewhat and the tension in the room seemed to ooze away.  Kai’s expression softened a little and he gave an acknowledging tilt of his head.

            Maybe they weren’t entirely happy with each other, nor back to the mutual respect and tentative friendship they’d had before, but there was a truce.  For now, it was enough.

            With a loud, exaggerated sigh, Max thwaped Rei on the back.  “Rei, old buddy, you’ve got some balls getting into Kai’s face like that.  I’m just glad I don’t have to plan a funeral for you.”

            Rei gave him a mild glare.  “Gee, thanks so much for the confidence Maxie.  I’m touched.”

            “He impressed me.”  Tala muttered, loud enough that Kai heard but not the others.  Kai shot him a look.

            “What are you bitching about, wolf?”

            “And I thought we wolves were prone to alpha tendencies.”  Tala drawled, smirking at both Kai and a bristling neko-jin.  “Seems firebugs and cats are, too.”

            “Do you want me to rip your head off and stuff it up your ass?”  Kai inquired in a deceptively lazy tone, flipping his partner off.  “Go play in traffic, Tala.”

            The Russian shrugged and grinned playfully.  “Hey, I admire anyone who has the guts to tell you off, just as I do.  Don’t be such an ass, Kai.”

            Kai pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes closing against the headache he felt coming on.  “Why me?”

            Rei, who’d gone back to sit with Mariah and Judy by the windows, snickered at Kai’s predicament.  Max was trying – and failing – to hide his own giggles of mirth.  Hilary, who had gotten used to the strange banter between the two agents, just shook her head at them and went to stand next to Tala.

            “Okay, enough baiting Kai.  We’re all being really loud when Takao’s supposed to be recovering.  Have some sense!”  she scolded.

            Suddenly, Kenny exclaimed, “Hey!  I think he’s waking up!”

            Everyone looked at the bed, saw movement under the sheets, and heard a raspy, hoarse, nearly incomprehensible voice murmur, “Kai…”

            Kenny sidestepped out of the way before Kai could trample him when he practically crossed the room in one leap.  Leaning down over his lover, who was struggling weakly against the blankets covering him, Kai brushed the hair out of Takao’s face gently and said, “Right here, Takao.  I’m here.  You ready to wake up, love?”  Kai stroked the bluenette’s cheek with a finger coaxingly.  “Come on, Takao.  Open those eyes…”

            Takao’s eyelids fluttered for a moment then opened heavily, hazy but clear azure eyes peering out then looking around for Kai.  When they found him, Takao sighed and smiled a tiny bit in relief.  “Kai…” he rasped again, frowning at himself.  Everything hurt and nothing wanted to do what he told it to.

            “Hold on.”  Kai glanced at Kenny.  “Can you get him some water, Kenny?  His throat’s probably killing him.”

            “Ice chips!”  Pronounced Hilary, already moving.  “I’ll get some.”

            “And I’ll track down the doc.”  Tala strolled out after her.

            “The rest of us will go to the waiting lounge.”  Judy began ushering everyone else from the room.  “Come get us when the doctor’s done, Kai.”

            “Yeah, sure.”  Kai agreed distractedly.  He put a hand to Takao’s chest when he tried to sit up and see who else was in the room.  “Aht!  No, you just stay there, Taka.  They’ll all be back.”

            Frowning more, Takao managed to get one hand free from under the covers and shoved ineffectually at said covers.  “Hot.”  He managed in complaint, and Kai immediately pulled off the top layer completely, then rolled the rest back some more so Takao didn’t feel so constricted.

            “Better?”

            Takao nodded.

            “Let me raise the bed a bit so you can sit up.”  Kai moved to the bed’s foot and found the button that moved the head of the hospital bed.  Once Takao was propped up comfortably in a reclining position, he moved back to sit on the mattress beside him and took his hand between his own.  “You gave me one hell of a scare collapsing like you did, Kinomiya.  Think you can refrain from doing that ever again?”

            “…try.”  The younger man croaked, clenching his fingers around Kai’s as tightly as he could.  “…happened?”

            “Everyone’s safe and well, first off.”  Kai hastened to reassure him.  “Your father and Hiro were escorted back to Japan, and they’re being taken care of by the UNA there until the rest of this is wrapped up completely – which I’ll tell you all about later.  It’s not important right now.”  He rubbed Takao’s hand reassuringly, and Takao nodded in acceptance. “We have Gideon and his goons in custody.  They’re been questioned, and you won’t believe the rest of that story, but that’s for later, too.”  Kai raised their hands to his lips and kissed the back of Takao’s hand.  “The important things are that you and your family are safe, and free, and for now all I want you to worry about is getting better, okay?  Rest and heal, Kinomiya.”

            “Sound advice, Agent.”  Dr. Maison declared as she came bustling into the room, followed by Hilary with a small container of ice chips.  “Welcome back to the world of the living, Takao!  I’m quite happy to see you awake and aware after such a close brush.”

            Kai took the container from Hilary, who waved at Takao with a happy, relieved smile before slipping out.  He fed a couple ice chips to his lover, who made a throaty, pleased sound at the cool, wet relief to his sore throat.  Angelique proceeded to check him over, all the while explaining what had happened to him.

            “Well, I pronounce you to be on your way to a full recovery!  You’ll stay here for a couple of weeks, until I’m sure your lungs haven’t been adversely affected by the pneumonia, at least.  Until then, rest, lots of liquids, more rest…and did I mention rest?”  Angelique repeated blithely, adjusting Takao’s IV and making notes in his charts.

            “I’ll make sure of it, Angelique.”  Kai grinned at Takao, whose eyes were already drooping shut.  “I doubt there’ll be much argument for quite a while, however.”

            “Indeed.  I’ll be back in a few hours.  Sleep well, Takao!”  She breezed out, leaving Kai alone with the bluenette.

            “Go to sleep, love.  I’m going to go let the others know you’re okay, but I’ll be back, alright?”  Kai bent and kissed Takao lightly on the mouth.  “Promise.”

            “Hmm…” Takao hummed in exhaustion.  “Love…you…” he murmured, already falling asleep as he spoke.

            Kai smiled as everything in his universe slipped into place, righting itself within his very soul.  “I love you, my Taka.  Sleep well, lover.”

            He made sure Takao was out again before he left, heading for the waiting lounge almost dazedly.  His mind was as exhausted as the rest of his body, and the iron control he exercised over his emotions was beginning to rust away.  Kai needed to get the group of Takao’s visitors to go away for the night, then escape himself.  He’d promised Takao he’d be back, and he would be, but he desperately had to get out of the UNA and find some solitude.  His studio flat would have to do.

            As he walked into the lounge he was met with anxious stares and questioning gazes – and one icy blue look of intense study from Tala, who Kai was certain could tell just how close to the end of his rope he really was.

            “Kai?  Is the doctor finished with Takao?”  Kenny asked hesitantly, unsure of how to deal with a Kai who appeared to be about ready to collapse himself.

            “Yeah.”  Kai shook himself mentally and pulled himself together a little.  “Yeah, Kenny, she’s done.  He’s recovering nicely, she said, but she’s keeping him for a few weeks, anyway.”

            A collective sigh of relief filled the room.  Max was smiling happily at the news, and asked, “Can we go see him now?”

            Kai dropped down onto a vacated seat on a huge, cushioned sofa, shrugging indifferently.  “For a while, I guess.  But he’s asleep again – not likely to wake up until tomorrow, either.”

            “Visiting hours are nearly up anyway.”  Judy pointed out gently at the expressions of disappointment on the others’ faces.  “Maybe it would be best if we came back tomorrow.”

            Rei squeezed Mariah’s hand.  “Yes, that’s probably for the best.  We’re all tired, too, so why don’t we go find a good restraint, have a meal, then go get some rest?”

            There were murmurs of assent and they began to file out the door slowly, speaking in quiet voices amongst each other.

            Kai didn’t move.  He had no intention of joining them, invited or not.  One glance at his immobile partner and Tala decided he’d just hang around and make sure he didn’t fall apart.

            Hilary paused at the door when she noticed they weren’t following.  “Aren’t you two coming?”

            Tala shook his head and made a gesture in Kai’s direction to indicate he was going to look after the weary man.  Hilary nodded in return.

            “Thanks anyway, Hilary.”  Kai refused, managing a small smile.  “I’m just not up to it.”

            “Alright.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then.  Get some rest, Kai.  We don’t need you in the hospital, too.”  Hilary waved and left.

            Tala glanced back down at Kai, then hurried after her.  “Don’t disappear.  I’ll be right back.”  Kai didn’t even look up.

            Out in the hall, he caught up to Hilary and the others.  “Hilary!  A word?”

            She stopped, waving everyone else along.  “I’ll catch up at the elevators.”  She looked up at Tala.  “Something wrong?”

            “Oh no.  Definitely not.”  He gave her a rather suggestive grin and pulled a business card with a key taped to the back of it.  “Kenny and the others have rooms reserved – Kenny’s got the details – but I was hoping…” he held out the card and key to her.  “…you’d spend a little time with me?  It’s my address and spare key.  Kai lives across the river from me, actually, so I figure I’ll take him home, make sure he eats something, and passes out for the foreseeable future, and meet you back at my place?”

            Honey brown eyes widened and Hilary looked from the key to his earnest, hopeful – yet anxious – expression.  “Really?”

            “Of course!  I mean…I know tonight is about sleep and all, which is perfect, and I know you and I have stuff to talk about…but I’d really like to…that is, I’d very much enjoy your company, Hilary.”

            He really was rather endearing when he stumbled nervously over his words like that, she thought with an inner smile.  She reached out and accepted the key, smiling in acceptance.  “Okay.  So, I guess I’ll see you after I eat?”

            Relief cleared his expression and he swept her into his arms for a hug.  “You bet.  Take your time, and have fun, sweetheart.  It’s Paris, after all!”

            Hilary stood up on tip-toe and kissed him lightly.  “I will.  Later, then.”

            Tala watched her leave, then went back to find Kai in the lounge.

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

Next Section:  https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/beyblade/once-a-thief/chapter-21-22/

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