Chapter 21-22


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 21: Den of Thieves – Part V

            Tala walked into the lounge to find his partner still sitting on the sofa where he’d left Kai a few minutes earlier.  The dual-haired man sat forward on his seat bent over his legs with his head in his hands, forearms resting on his knees.  Tala paused in the doorway and considered him, trying to decide how to deal with Kai.  After a moment, with no acknowledgement of his presence from Kai, the Russian wandered into the room and dropped down next to him, sitting on the edge of the cushion and mirrored Kai’s posture – though he stared across the room at nothing instead.

            “So…” he nudged Kai’s knee with his own.  “Anything you want to get off your chest now that everyone else is gone?”  Tala glanced over when he got no answer, and frowned when he noticed the visible tremors shivering through Kai’s form.  “Kai?  Hey, man, don’t you break down on me…”

            “S-sorry.”  Kai’s voice shuddered with barely leashed emotions.  “I just…he almost died. I almost lost him…again.  And now he’s going to be okay, he’s not going to prison, my parents accept him…” A sob escaped and the tidal wave broke.

            Tala sighed and dropped an arm across Kai’s shoulders in a supportive, friendly show of comfort.  He didn’t try to hug the guy or pat him consolingly, knowing such affections were not Kai’s thing and wouldn’t be welcome.  But he understood his partner, probably better than Kai realized, and he knew the younger agent was finally giving into all the stress, emotions, and worries that had been piling up on him.  It was a desperately needed release, and Tala simply did what he could to allow his friend and partner this moment of catharsis.  Later, it would be up to Takao to help Kai – and vice-versa – but for now, he’d have to do.

            So the wolf simply sat and waited Kai out, ignoring the shudders and quiet sounds of weeping until they stopped.  Then he gave the spot between Kai’s shoulder blades a rough rub and got up to go to the kitchenette along one wall and get a glass of water, which he handed to Kai as he sat down next to him again.

            “Here.  Catch your breath, drink this, and let’s blow this popsicle stand.  I’m taking you home.”

            Kai scowled into the water glass, but had no energy to argue.  He didn’t want to leave Takao all alone, but he was just about ready to let himself fall over comatose.  Finishing his water, he stood up, swaying a bit.  Tala’s grip on his elbow steadied him, then let go when Kai nodded.

            “You look like hell.  Splash some cold water on your face, Kai.  Need anything from your desk or locker?”

            “No.  Yes…jacket.”  Kai washed his face in the sink, drying off with paper towels.  “My keys and wallet are in the pockets.  And I want to stop by Takao’s room on the way out.”

            “Uh huh.  Look, you go see him and I’ll get your jacket.  Desk?”

            “Yeah.”

            Tala walked as far as the elevators with Kai, then split of to go up and get their jackets from their ‘office’ upstairs.

            Kai walked into Takao’s room and stopped beside the bed.  He reached down and stroked the bluenette’s brow and cheek gently.  “Takao…love, can you hear me?”

            Somewhat surprisingly, he stirred and murmured, “Kai?”

            “Yeah.  Sorry to wake you up, Taka, but I just wanted you to know I’m going home for the night.”  Kai rubbed the pad of his thumb across Takao’s bottom lip.

            “Huh?  Home…” Takao pried open his eyes and blinked hazily up at his lover.  “Leaving?”

            “Shh…just for the night, love.  Promise.  I’ll be back.  But if you need me, tell the nurses and they’ll call for me, okay?”

            Takao nodded, his eyes drooping sleepily.  “You okay?  You look…wretched.”  He frowned in concern as he took in Kai’s exhausted appearance.

            Kai raised an eyebrow, a grin flashing briefly.  “Well, you must be getting better if you can come up with a word like that.”  At the worry in the bluenette’s storm-blue eyes, he shook his head.  “I’m okay, Takao.  Just wiped out.  Tala’s taking me home to pass out for a few hours, then I’ll be fine.”

            Takao nodded, then yawned himself.  “Good.  Don’t you go getting sick, too.”

            “I’ll try not to.”  Kai agreed wryly, bending down to kiss his lover tenderly.  “Go back to sleep yourself, gorgeous.  I love you.”

            “Love you, Kai.”  Takao latched on before Kai could pull back, kissing him quite enthusiastically a couple of times more before letting him go again.  “Okay.  I’m good now.  Good night, love.”

            Kai chuckled and tucked the younger man in.  “Good night.  See you tomorrow.”  He promised, slipping from the room quietly after Takao’s eyes closed and his yet raspy breathing evened out.

            Tala was waiting out in the hall for him.  He handed Kai his jacket and led the way to the elevators.  “He’s sleeping?”

            “Yeah.  Let’s get out of here before something else happens.”

            “I hear that.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Hilary glanced down at the key in her hand for the millionth time hat evening, then gathered herself together and actually used it.  Opening the apartment door tentatively, she was assaulted by the smells of something cooking and called out hesitantly, “Tala?  Um…it’s Hilary…”

            The agent’s red-haired head popped out from around a corner down the short hall with a welcoming smile on his face.  He waved her inside then waggled his cell phone at her as he disappeared again.  As Hilary moved inside, dropping her suitcase and purse to take her coat and shoes off, she could hear him talking – though it wasn’t in a language she understood.  Trying not to make too much noise while Tala was on the phone, she padded into the flat and began to look around curiously.

            He had one very tall book case that was over flowing with books of all kinds – novels to reference texts to great literary works – and a smaller, longer bookcase that held an extensive collection of DVDs and CDs.  Eyeing the music, she decided to inspect that’s closer later.  After all, one could learn so much about a guy by his taste in music.

            “Bah.  Idiot junior agents!”  Tala groused, dropping his cell on the counter and checking his pot on the stove before going into the living room.

            “Problems?”  Hilary inquired, sitting on his rather comfy, old, and worn sofa when he gestured at it.  He shook his head.

            “Nah.  They just haven’t figured out that initiative is encouraged and they don’t have to ask for orders for every little thing they do.”  Ice-blue eyes rolled in mild annoyance.  Tala grinned, leaned down, and kissed the petty brunette softly in greeting.  “That’s better.  How was dinner in Paris, sweetheart?”

            “Divine.  But I’m sure you expected that.”  She smiled up at him, blushing a bit at the attention.  “Kai’s safely tucked away at home?”

            “Yep.  Stuffed some food into him before we left the UNA, then took him home.  I expect he’ll sleep for quite a few hours with how wiped out he is.”  The wolf sighed, shaking his head.  “I don’t suppose you’re hungry, but can I get you something to drink?  Coffee, tea, water, wine…milk?”

            Hilary laughed.  “No, thanks.  I had enough at dinner.  Anything more and I won’t sleep.”

            “Can’t have that.”  Tala agreed, heading back to the kitchen.  “Don’t mind me.  I just made some soup for myself.”  Ladling a bowlful for himself, Tala sat at the counter facing the living room to eat.  “Everyone else get settled at the hotel?”

            “Yes.  Mariah wants to go shopping with me sometime.  She and Rei don’t know how long they’ll stay in Paris, but Kenny and Max have both decided to stay until Takao is released from the medical ward.”  Hilary said, tucking her legs to the side so she could lean comfortably on the arm of the sofa.

            “And you?”  Tala asked, watching the expressions run across her face.  “You’re absolutely welcome to stay with me for as long as you want.”

            Hilary frowned a little.  Did that mean he wanted her to stay or was he just being hospitable?  Whenever she did return to Japan, was that it for them?  “Well, I work for Kenny, and so long as he’s here, I will be, too.”

            Tala nodded, chewing thoughtfully for a moment.  He had no idea how to go about this very important conversation.  He’d never felt this way about anyone before, and really wasn’t sure how she would take a confession like that after one night and zero dates.  Then again…

            “Good.  As long as you’re here, I can live up to my promise of that date I owe you, and I think we could find the time to add a few more dates in.”  He gave her his most charming smile and stood to put his dishes in the sink.

            “Oh!”  Hilary blinked in surprise, having not really expected him to go through with that.  “Um…Tala…” she fingered the hem of her skirt.

            The wolf wandered into the living room and joined her on the sofa, sprawling out with a sigh.  “Hilary.  Listen, I know it’s all a little fuzzy at the moment, and that we need to talk about…well, us.  But you need to know…I really do care about you.  This isn’t just something short term – or at least, I don’t want it to be.  I’m not sure how this whole thing is going to work out, but…I want to wait and see, you know?”  He held out a hand to her and she accepted it, letting him pull her down into his arms so that she was lying half on top of him and half on the sofa.  “And in the meantime, enjoy my time with you.”

            His serious tone and the affection and earnestness of his gaze calmed her fears easily.  Snuggling against his chest, she smiled and closed her eyes.  “Me, too.”  She said softly.  “I think…it’s the same with me, too, Tala.”

            Relief poured through him.  “Good.  I’m glad.”  Tala relaxed into the cushions and draped one arm low over Hilary’s back, his fingers slowly tracing up and down her spine.  “Start thinking about those dates, sweetheart.  Whatever you want, just say the word and I’ll get planning.”

            Grinning, she opened her eyes and propped her chin on the back of one hand on his chest to look at him.  “My, my, that’s dangerous, Tala.  Giving a girl carte blanche for a date in Paris!”

            “Well, I did promise.  I’m a gentleman!”

            Still grinning, she slid up until she was nose to nose with him.  “You did, and you are.  If you weren’t, I wouldn’t do this.”  Hilary pressed her lips to his in a very demanding, yet playful kiss.

~*~*~*~*~

            A week and a half passed by unhurriedly.  Kai took a leave of absence from work simply so that he could spend all his waking hours with Takao, though the bluenette spent most of that time sleeping.  Hilary spent most of her time visiting Takao, too, but she split her time with Tala and with the rest of her friends exploring Paris and some of the surrounding countryside as well.  She and Mariah got their Paris shopping excursion done before Mariah and Rei finally decided to return to China and their daughter, now that they were satisfied Takao was getting better and would be well soon.

            Judy only stayed an extra couple of days, as she had to return to America to get back to work.  Max stayed a full two weeks – and would have stayed longer if Takao hadn’t insisted he go home to Japan and get back to the business.

            “Besides, I need you to look after my Dad and Hiro for me, Max.”  The bluenette insisted, battling his beguiling blue-grey eyes at the blonde.  “I know Kenny’s been keeping in touch with them, but I’d feel better knowing there’s someone actually there.”

            Kai had refrained from mentioning that the elder Kinomiya men were under UNA protection and surveillance out of his own desire (a selfish one, not that he could) to have Takao more or less to himself.

            Max gave in and left the next evening amid many promises regarding his friend’s family, the dojo, the gallery, and keeping in touch through the Chief and Hilary.

            Kenny had most of his current case files archived on his laptop, and Kai set him up with an internet connection and a phone line at the UNA so that he could continue to work on his other cases at work, now that the bulk of his attention had eased away from Takao’s case.  This way he could get work done and still visit his best friend.

            One quiet afternoon approximately another week after Max had left, Kai and Takao were eyeing one another competitively across a chessboard while Hilary sat in a chair by the windows with a novel, and Kenny sat in the corner with his laptop and some work.  Kai had just made a decisive move with his rook when Tala strolled in wearing a smile and gleaming ice-blue eyes.

            “We’ve conducted a rather successful raid on one of the last of Gideon’s secret hideaways”  He declared, stopping at the foot of Takao’s bed.  “The asshole is so going to prison and never ever coming out.”

            “What was found?”  Kai asked, not taking his eyes from the board as Takao moved a knight.  “Are you sure you want to do that, Taka?”

            The younger man frowned, eyeing the board, hand hovering over his knight.

            “Well, other than a stockpile of illegal weapons and a small but impressive grow operation…” Tala rubbed his hands together gleefully.  “Files, financial records, bank account numbers…all kinds of wonderful things.”

            “Sweet.”  Kai nodded and Takao took his hand away.

            “Your move, Kai.”

            “They did find some things that the Director wants you to take a look at, though.  So when you have a few moments…” the wolf glanced at Kenny.  “He wants to see you, too, Kid.”

            When Kenny didn’t look up from his laptop, Hilary tossed a pencil at him.  “Chief!  He means you.”

            The lawyer pushed his glasses up and looked at Tala, startled.  “Me?”

            Kai frowned at the board, slid a bishop into place, and leaned away to stretch languidly.  “Check.”

            “What?!”  Takao glared at the board.  Hard.

            “What’s he want the Chief for, Tala?”  Kai glanced over at his partner, secure in the knowledge there was only one way for Takao to save his King, but even then would still end up losing it the turn after that.

            “No idea.”  Tala shrugged.

            With a heavy sigh, Takao flicked his King over, signalling his defeat.  “Fine.  You win, Kai.”  He held out a hand to his lover, who shook it.  “Good game, though.”

            “You had one last move, Taka.”  Kai felt obliged to point out.  The bluenette made a face.

            “Sure.  But then you’d take my rook, which would end up with me in checkmate anyway.”  Takao grumbled as he collected the chess pieces.  “There has to be some game I can beat you at.”

            Hilary smiled.  “I saw a Go board in the cupboard, Takao.  Want to try that?”  She grinned at the grimace on Kai’s face and at the way the younger man brightened considerably.

            “When I get back.”  Kai gave in to the pouting look his lover gave him.  “It shouldn’t take long to see this stuff the Director wants to show me.”

            “Okay.  I’ll be ready when you get back!”  Takao rubbed his hands together eagerly.  “Then I’ll kick your butt, Kai!”

            Rolling his eyes, Kai got up and put his shoes back on.  “You’ll try.” He replied.  “Come on, Kenny.  Let’s go see what’s up.”

            The Chief closed his laptop and nodded, waving at Hilary and Takao as he followed Kai out the door.

            “We’ll be back bearing snacks!”  Tala promised before disappearing after his partner.  “Later!”

~*~*~*~*~

            Ten minutes later, Kai was staring at the object on the table in front of him in wonder and confusion.  “I don’t understand…”

            “It can’t be!”  Kenny agreed, leaning in for a closer look.

            “But it’s what Gideon’s goons described as being the right one.”  Tala informed them.  “What’s wrong with it?”

            They were in the evidence vaults, standing around a table in an exam room, with Director Dickenson looking on.  Displayed on the table was a very fine example of Japanese sword-making ability.  The katana was long and polished to a bright gleam, sharpened perfectly, and resting delicately on a bamboo-wood pedestal.

            “The Kinomiya clan sword wasn’t a useable blade like this.”  Kenny explained.  “It was completely ceremonial.  More importantly, it was made of stone.  Crumbling in places, yes, since it is quite ancient, but still…”

            Tala exchanged frowns with Mr. Dickenson.

            “There were no such swords found amongst the other blades in the collection.”  Stanley said, fingering his moustache thoughtfully.

            Kai moved closer and knelt to get a better look.  At the top of the blade, just beneath the hilt and guard, he spotted an engraving, very intricately etched right into the steel in what appeared to be silver and some sort of blue metal.  It was a fierce-looking dragon that looked like it was about to leap out of the sword and attack.  “Hey, Kenny…look at this.”  He pointed it out to the brunette.  “That looks exactly like the one that was on the Kinomiya sword – from what I remember, anyway.”

            Kenny bent down and studied it.  “Huh.  You’re right, Kai.  It does look the same.”

            “Exactly how old was the Kinomiya sword supposed to be?”  Tala asked, glancing down at the report in his hands.  “Because according to this, that sword,” he gestured at the one on the table, “is apparently over 500 years old.”

            Kai straightened and shrugged.  “This could have been inside the stone one we always saw, I guess.”  He exchanged looks with Kenny.  “The Kinomiya clan is a very old family.  One of the few pure Japanese families left, these days.”

            “Yes.  That’s certainly true.  Unfortunately, such records are rare, and not always reliable.”  Kenny adjusted his glasses.  “I’ll see what I can find out, but if this really is the Kinomiya sword…”

            “Well, we can’t bring Takao down here.”  Kenny pointed out.  “Would we be allowed to take this up to him?” he asked the Director.  “If he identifies it, then I can have it shipped home immediately.”

            “I don’t see why not.”  The Director agreed easily.  “I’ll have to leave this matter to you, Agents.  I have a meeting in ten minutes.” The old man made his way to the door.  “Let me know what you discover, Kenny, and I’ll expect a memo from you, Agent Ivanov.”

            “Yes, sir.”  Tala acknowledged.  Kenny echoed that and went back to studying the blade with great interest.

            Kai frowned thoughtfully.  “We need some kind of soft, clean cloth to wrap it in to take it upstairs.”

            “I’ll go find something.”  Tala let quickly to do so, leaving Kai and Kenny to continue pondering the mysteries of the katana sword.

~*~*~*~*~

            Storm blue eyes stared in wide-eyed wonder at the gleaming blade in his lover’s hands.  They flicked upward to meet Kai’s briefly before returning to the sword.  “Kami…where did you find that?”  He asked in a whisper that was nearly reverent.

            Kai held the sword out to Takao, nodding to indicate he could take it from him.  “It was found in a collection of swords and other weapons among the stuff seized from Gideon’s warehouse hideaway.  It was the only one that came close to matching the description of your family’s sword.”

            “But…mine is stone.  It’s not a real blade like this is.”  Takao very carefully took the katana and studied it.  “No matter how fantastic and beautiful this is – and exquisite craftsmanship, too.  I’ve never seen anything…” Takao paused as he turned it over in his hands, and frowned at something that caught his eye.  “Wait…what the hell?”

            “The report we’ve got says it’s old, Kinomiya.  Really old.”  Tala said, raising an eyebrow at the sceptical shock on the bluenette’s face. “What?”

            “It’s…this engraving at the base of the blade…there’s no mistaking this.”  Takao looked up, hands dropping to his lap as they shook still cradling the blade carefully.  “It’s Dragoon.  I don’t know how, but this is my family’s sword!”

            “Are you sure?”  Hilary came closer to see the etched dragon.  “I can’t tell.”

            Takao shook his head.  “It is.  There’s no way anyone could forge that…emblem, for lack of a better word.  Only a Kinomiya clan member would know that design, and there are only three of us left.  It’s not something you can find in books or on the internet and then copy.”

            “Like I said, that sword is old.  Several centuries, according to the tests that were done for this report.”  Tala reiterated gravely.  “Kai thinks if it is your sword, then it may have been inside the stone one you always knew of all along.”

            Takao stared down at the sword, touching a finger to the blue outlined dragon in wonder.  “If that’s true…I don’t know.  I guess it is possible.”

            “Would either your father or brother know?”  Kenny asked.  The bluenette shrugged.

            “I don’t know, Chief.  Probably not.  Neither of them were…’groomed’ to be the Kinomiya like I was.”  Takao sighed heavily, gently and professionally re-wrapping the sword.  “They don’t know everything of our history or how things were done, necessarily.  Gramps always intended for me to take over as head of the family someday.  He said my Dad was to interested in other cultures – other people’s pasts – to take on the responsibility of our own, and Hiro was too much a free spirit.  My brother would never settle to one place long enough, particularly home – the dojo.”  Takao smiled sadly.  “Crazy old man believed from the moment I was born that I was destined to be the Kinomiya.  Dad said Gramps had everything changed in his will the day after I was brought home so that everything would be left to me when Gramps died.”

            Tala raised an eyebrow yet again.  “And your brother and father didn’t mind?  I mean…it’s unusual for such things to skip a generation entirely, let alone to be passed on to a younger son, isn’t it?”

            Takao shrugged.  “That’s the Kinomiya way.  It isn’t what order you’re born, it’s your spirit that counts – or something.”  He chuckled.  “Gramps told me this crazy legend about the sword – or rather our clan’s guardian spirit, Dragoon – choosing the next Kinomiya somehow, but I never really believed it.”

            “Well, I’ll keep this safe at my place until we go back to Japan, Takao.”  Kai took the sword from the bluenette.  “I’m no expert, and certainly not related to you, but I’m inclined to believe it’s the right sword.”  He stared down at the well-wrapped blade, strangely.  “It’s weird but something tells me it is.”

            Takao tilted his head at his lover curiously and smiled.  “Your intuition is normally correct, so that’s enough for me.”

            “Cool.  The last mystery solved.”  Tala grinned wolfishly and dusted his hands dramatically.  “I love it when that happens.”

~*~*~*~*~

            It was a right, sunny morning the day Dr. Maison finally decided Takao was well enough to be released from her care.  She breezed into the room in the middle of the lovers’ quiet breakfast – a ritual that had formed out of a need for some quality ‘alone time,’ as the others tended to be around most of the rest of the day.

            “Good morning!  How are you feeling today, Takao?”  Angelique inquired (her standard greeting first thing in the morning).  “Sleep well?”

            “Mmm hmm…” the bluenette mumbled around a mouthful of toast.

            “Excellent.”  After studying his chars and the last test results, the doctor planted her hands on her hips and smiled at him from the end of the bed.  “I’m about to make your day even better!”

            Swallowing a quick swig of juice, Takao turned a wide-eyed blue gaze on her.  “What?  I’m off the meds?” he asked hopefully.

            Angelique shook her head ruefully.  “No, not that.  I’m afraid you’ll be on them for a while yet.  However,” she held up a hand when he opened his mouth to protest.  “You don’t have to be here to continue taking them.”

            That brought Kai’s head up with a carefully hopeful expression on his face.  “Pardon?  I thought I just heard you say – however obliquely – that he could go home.”  If possible, Takao’s eyes widened even more.

            “Too subtle for you?  How’s this: be one with the wind and blow this joint, young man!”

            “Home…Kai?”  Takao looked at Kai, who looked back, and reached out to grab the older man’s hand tightly.  “Home!”

            “That’s what the lady said.”  Kai squeezed his hand then leaned in and planted a hard, slightly sloppy kiss on Takao’s mouth.  “How fast do you think we can back you up?”

            “Well…” Takao, dazed at the knowledge that he was finally free, that he could truly move on with his life now, struggled to answer his lover without simply bursting into tears and emotions all over Kai in his joy and relief.  “We do have all those slaves…I mean friends to help us out.”

            A wicked glint in his eyes, Kai nodded in mock-solemnity.  “Yes, we do, and I fully intend to use them.”

            Dr. Maison shook her head and dropped some papers on the blankets at the foot of Takao’s bed.  “I’ll leave you gentlemen to scheme, then, but here’s a few things for you to read over, Takao.  There’s a prescription for your meds and instructions for taking them, a new list of ‘dos and don’ts’ for food and beverages that I expect you to follow for at least another four months,” Angelique waggled a finger at Kai, “and that I expect you, Agent, to make sure he does follow it.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”  They chorused obediently.

            “There’s also a list of doctors I know in Japan that I want you to pick from and schedule a check-up in a month.  They’re all either exclusively UNA doctors or consulting for the UNA on a regular basis, and they have experience and knowledge of people with special talents such as yourself.  Once you’ve picked one, there’s a referral form in there that you just need to fill in the name and they’ll pull you r records from the system.”

            Takao nodded, sighing a bit.  He’d half-seriously hoped he would be done with doctors and tests once he got out of here, but that wasn’t particularly realistic.

            “Any more questions?”  Angelique wanted to know, glancing back and forth between the two.  Kai shook his head ‘no.’

            Feeling his ears burn, Takao cleared his throat and chose his words carefully – hoping to minimize the embarrassment.  “Um…any restrictions or recommendations on…ah…physical activity?”

            Kai blinked slowly, then shot the bluenette a dark glare – even though he realized it was a good question.

            “Ah…physical exertions should be kept to a minimum far at least another month.” The doctor smiled and kept it professional, despite how she wanted to giggle at their obvious discomfort.  “Though small amounts of regular exercise are encouraged, as long as they aren’t too intense.  So don’t go running any marathons or anything like that!  As for…other pursuits, don’t go wild, and no marathons there either!”  She winked at their beet red faces and turned on her high heels to march for the door.  “That kind are encouraged, also, boys!”  Stopping at the door, Angelique raised a hand to give Takao a little wave.  “It’s been a pleasure, Takao.  Try not to land yourself back here again, okay?”  With that, she left.

            Takao sputtered helplessly with embarrassed laughter, leaning back into his pillows.  “Some doctors the UNA manages to pick…”

            Kai chugged the last of his coffee, hiding his expression for long enough to clamp down on his flustered emotions, not really responding to the younger man.

            The silence stretched out between them for a while, and, comfortable though it was, Takao realized it had to be broken in favour of a serious discussion.  There were a lot of things about their future that needed to be talked about.  They’d been putting it off for a long time now – even though there was no uncertainty left to hinder their relationship.

            “Kai?”  The former thief questioned softly.  Kai looked up from his newspaper at the hesitant quality of his lover’s voice.

            “Yeah?”

            “What happens next?”  Takao stared at the covers of his bed, somehow unable to meet the agent’s gaze.  “To us?”  He added after a slight pause.

            Kai sighed and began slowly folding his newspaper back into neat folds.  “I wondered when you would get around to asking.  I was beginning to think maybe you wouldn’t want anything..long term.  At least, not any longer.”

            “What?”  Surprise was swiftly followed by a dose of panic.  “Of course I still want to be with you!  I love you, Kai!  Do you not want…me, any longer?”  His voice cracked, and a hand shot out to clutch at Kai’s arm.

            “Don’t be stupid, Kinomiya.”  Crimson eyes burned softly, gentling his rebuke.  “I love you, too.  And I don’t think you’ve ever been this insecure about anything in your life, so cut it out.”  Kai got off his chair and moved to sit on the bed next to Takao, facing him, and lifting a palm to cup the bluenette’s check tenderly.  “We’ve got some life-situations to work out, but it’ll happen, and whatever we decide, I’m not leaving you ever again.”

            Storm blue eyes closed and Takao held Kai’s hand to his face, nuzzling the rough skin before turning his head to kiss the palm.  Kai’s breath hissed out and the bluenette smiled.  “Okay.  Good!  I…ah…had to check, you know.”

            Kai rolled his eyes.

            “How are we going to make this work?”  Takao wondered, bringing a knee up to his chest and resting his arms across it.  “I mean…your life is here.  Your parents, your career…”

            “Takao, my life is sitting right in front of me.”  Kai stared at his lover pointedly.  The younger man had the grace to flush.

            “That was…sappy.”

            “Too much?”

            “Sounds ridiculous, coming from you.”

            “Ah.  Well, the sentiment is still there.  MY point being, Kinomiya, that I don’t plan on a long distance relationship.  When I first joined the UNA, I always know what I would do whenever I did find you and if you would still have me.  As much as I hate to admit to it, Tala was telling to truth about my reasons for signing up for this career – you.  And now we have the chance to have the life together we both wanted to back then and still want today.”

            “So…what?  You’re just going to tender your resignation and move to Japan?”  Takao stared at him incredulously.  “Kai…I have no doubt you’re good at your job, and a valuable agent to the UNA.  They won’t just…let you go…”

            “They can’t force me to stay, Takao.”

            “Well, no..but they won’t be happy about it.  And do you really want to alienate such a powerful and influential organization?  Not to mention leaving behind all your friends and colleagues here?”

            Kai snorted at that.  “Don’t really have any of those, Taka.  You know how anti-social I am.  Besides, Tala’s the only one crazy enough to put up with me on a regular basis – other than you, of course – so it isn’t like I have close working relationships either.”

            “You know, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that.  How can you stand being so…alone all the time?”  Takao searched Kai’s eyes sadly.

            “I always have been, love.”  Kai reminded him gently.  “And it’s just the way I am.  But I’m not ‘alone’ any more, am I?”  He got a rather sappy, fond grin at that.

            “Are you really going to quit, Kai?”  What will you do with all your spare time?”

            Kai shrugged.  “Didn’t think that far ahead, actually.  It isn’t like I actually need to work, after all.”

            Takao chuckled ruefully.  “Maybe not, but I do.  I have a business to run – two, if you include the dojo.  So I can’t spend the rest of my days in bed…”

            “Or on the sofa, or in the kitchen, or the bathroom, or the dojo…” the dual-haired man drawled his voice a suggestive, husky tone.  Takao couldn’t help laughing, scandalized but amused and admittedly quite interested in all those possibilities.

            “Kai!  You horny, kinky little asshole!  The dojo?”

            “What?  And I protest the ‘little’ comment, lover.”

            Takao stared up into glittering crimson eyes as Kai propped himself up to loom above him, a wonderfully wicked grin on his face.  “Fine.  I rescind my former statement – except for the horny and kinky parts.  I’m quite interested in exploring those sides of you.  Thoroughly.”

            “Really now?  I look forward to that.”  Kai’s voice was a sultry purr.

            “See, now, it’s too bad we’re in a medical facility and I’m still not quite up to playing yet.”  Takao mourned.  Making out with Kai would have made him even happier than he already was at the moment.  “They make these beds sturdy, after all.”

            Kai laughed.

~*~*~*~*~

            While Takao packed up his things in preparation to leave the UNA, Kai went up to the ‘office’ he shared with Tala to let him know about Takao’s release.  There was also the matter of telling his partner his intention to either transfer or retire (a decision he hadn’t mentioned to his lover because he wasn’t sure transferring was going to be an option until he’d talked with the Director).

            Tala looked up when a can of Coke was placed on the file open in front of him on the desk’s surface.  “Hey.  Thanks.  I was just thinking I could go for something full of sugar and caffeine.”

            Kai cracked his own Coke open and took a healthy swig, dropping down into his chair across the expanse of their desks, leaning back and propping his feet up on the corner of his desk.  “I figured.  Where’s Kenny and Hilary?”

            “I believe Kenny actually found some free time so Hilary dragged him out for some souvenir shopping for the kid’s parents.  Something about Eiffel Tower key chains.”

            Kai’s eyes rolled once and he nodded.  “Well, can’t blame him.  As far as I know, he’s the first member of his family to ravel beyond Japan, let alone Asia or Europe.”

            “Ah.”  No offense to Kenny or his family, but Tala couldn’t really find enough interest to care.  “How’s Kinomiya?  Doc sick of him yet?”

            “Apparently.”  Kai smiled and took another drink.  Tala blinked at him.  “She’s released him.  Said all his tests came back good enough to satisfy her.  He’s got a whole bunch of lists about dos and don’ts, a couple prescriptions, and such, but he’s back on track.  He’s packing up right now.”

            “Cool.  That’s good news.”  Tala dropped his pen and sat back in his chair, too.  With calculating ice-blue eyes, he added simply.  “So.  You’re leaving then.”

            It wasn’t a question.

            “Well…I’m not entirely sure yet.  I still have to talk to Director Dickenson, but I’ll probably either transfer to Japan, or retire completely.”  Kai explained, not at all surprised that his partner wasn’t surprised, either.  “After I take some of my vacation time, I’ll have to see what happens.”

            Tala nodded.  “You realize there’s no one else I’d ever be able to work with here, right?”

            “Your point being?”

            The wolf pulled out a few sheets of paper from his desk drawer, sliding them across to Kai.  “I figure we have some concessions owed us for all the hard work we put into this last case – and all our past ones – not to mention our overwhelming success.  The higher-ups shouldn’t have too many issues with a dual transfer to their Japan branch.  There’s our transfer requests, all ready to go.  Yours just needs a signature.”

            Now Kai was blinking looking down at the forms, then back at Tala. Then the light bulb went on in his head, and Kai gave Tala a shrewd, knowing look as he pulled a pen out to sign his forms.

            “You are so gone on her, aren’t you?  I’m just the perfect excuse to follow her to Japan.”  He signed his name with quick and practiced ease before handing the papers back to Tala.  “Just give Takao and I enough notice before the wedding so we can find an appropriate wedding gift, okay?”

            “Hey, hey!  Don’t go getting ahead of things!”  Tala stared at him, annoyed.  “And for the record, I’m not using you as a convenient excuse to chase after Hilary.  You both are two good reasons for me to move, and that’s it.”

            “Relax, Ivanov.  I’m pushing your buttons on purpose.”  Kai finished off his soda and smirked.  It quickly morphed into a more serious expression, however.  “Seriously, though, Tala.  You’re falling for her pretty hard, aren’t you.”

            Grunting, the Russian sipped his Coke thoughtfully.  “Falling?  Nope.  Already there.  Everything in me screams ‘mate’ at me about her.”  He admitted quietly. Kai raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.  “We’ve talked.  She knows I’m not looking for short-term, and neither is she.  She knows I really care about her, that I want her, but I haven’t explained just how much yet.”  Tala’s grin was sardonic.  “Too soon for that, I think, even though I know it’s real and true.”

            “Maybe.  Just…take my advice and don’t hoard how you feel to yourself for too long.  I…learned that lesson the hard way.”  Kai reminded his friend.

            “Oh, I know.  I just think we should know each other longer than a couple of months before I go declaring undying love and proposing marriage.  Besides, there are a few other things to take care of before I go off on that life-altering path.”

            “Good point.”

            “Excuse me, Agents.”  A voice interrupted their conversation.  They looked up to find the Director’s secretary just outside their cubicle.  “Mr. Dickenson is requesting you both in his office.”  She gave them a small head bow when they nodded, then left.

            Glancing at each other, they moved as one to get to their feet and make their way to the Director’s office.

~*~*~*~*~

            “Well, Agents, thank you for coming so promptly.  I hope I wasn’t interrupting any of your work, Agent Ivanov?”

            “No, sir.  Kai had just come by to chat before he left the building.”  Tala shook his head.

            Stroking his moustache, Stanley nodded sagely.  “Yes, of course.  I received notice that our young Kinomiya has been released finally.  Please tell him how glad I am he’s feeling better and I hope his recovery continues.  Agent Hiwatari.”

            “I will, sir.”

            “As for why I’ve asked you to join me, today, there is a very special offer I have been authorized to make to you on behalf of the European and Asian Chairpersons of the UNA.” The Director sat forward, folding his hands before himself on the desk.  “As you may or may not be aware, there has been a great deal of restructuring in the Asian branches in the last few months.  Three new offices have recently been created in China, Thailand, and Singapore, and some of the senior staff and agents were pulled from existing positions to fill the new administrative openings in these new offices.”

            Kai and Tala slowly looked at each other, understanding what the other was thinking because he probably was thinking the same thing.  A transfer was looking like a definite possibility after all.

            “As you can imagine, that left more than a few holes to fill in our existing offices.  I’ve had several requests for suitable transfers sitting on my desk for months.  Until very recently, I couldn’t fulfill any of those requests from this office because I didn’t have anyone with the experience or rank that I could afford to lose.”  Stanley smiled a little.  “Thanks to Director Judy Tate, I now do.  Apparently we’re setting up a new ‘exchange program’ with the NA branches so that Agents have more options as to where they want to be placed upon graduating from the Academies.  So we’ll be welcoming several new Agents in the coming months, and this frees some of my first ranked Agents – including the two of you – to pursue other paths in their UNA careers.”

            “I guess now would be an excellent time to mention that we were planning on putting in transfer requests.”  Tala drawled, placing their forms on their boss’ desk.  “Right after we both take some personal leave and vacation time.”

            “I see.”  Stanley accepted the forms, flipped through them briefly, then gave them a highly amused smile as he unceremoniously dropped them in the waste-basket.  “Unnecessary, I believe, Agent Ivanov.  What I have to offer you would mean a transfer anyway.”

            “Sir?”  Somewhat confused, Kai questioned their superior.

            “You see, after reviewing your records and personnel files, it was agreed that you are both due a promotion – one of rank, and one of position within the UNA.”

            Crimson red and winter blue eyes went wide in surprise, and this time Tala was the one to issue a confused, “Sir?” in question.

            “As I said, there are many holes to be filled, particularly in Japan.  There are, in fact, two open positions in the offices in Kyoto…which I believe in the closest UNA branch office to the Kinomiya dojo?  I understand the commute is reasonable.”  Stanley winked at Kai, whose jaw threatened to hit the carpeted floor if it unhinged and dropped any farther.  “Therefore, it is my pleasure to inform you that you are, firstly, promoted to the field rank of Special Agent, and secondly, to the position of Assistant Director.”  He picked up two files from the corner of his desk and handed one to each man.  “These are your proposed assignments.  I’ve already approved an undesignated amount of leave for you both.  I see no reason to use up your vacation time unnecessarily.  So please look those over on your leave, think about it, and when you’ve decided let me know.”

            “I…you…how did you…”

            “Know?”  The old man smiled, finishing Kai’s question.  “Your relationship and the true extent of it are quite evident, Kai.  I’ve known for some time now that you were not likely to want to remain here if Takao returned to Japan.  As for your partner, here,” the Director nodded at Tala, “I’m perfectly aware that Agent Ivanov is not easily partnered with other agents.”

            Tala scowled but said nothing, since it was perfectly true.

            “Other than that, the fact is you are both excellent, clever agents and have proven yourself with skill, truth, and just hearts.  You’ve earned the promotion, Agents.  But for now, put the job aside and go away on your leave.  Relax!  Enjoy it and rest.  You deserve it.”

            Exchanging glances, Kai and Tala stood and reached across the desk to shake their boss’ hand in gratitude.  After offering their thanks once more and making promises to keep in touch, the two took their assignment folders and left Director Dickenson’s office.

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

Chapter 22: Thief of Hearts

            The new job status didn’t really sink in until Kai and Takao were alone at Kai’s flat a few hours later.  Tala and Hilary were out seeing a movie, and Kenny left the couple under the pretence of making travel arrangements for himself back to Japan, and to pack up his things from the hotel.

            Takao was happily lounging on the floor in front of Kai’s fireplace while Kai made up a shopping list.  Having spent nearly all his time at the UNA with Takao for weeks on end meant his fridge and cupboards were bare.

            “We don’t need much, love.”  Takao pointed out, staring up at the ceiling as he spoke.  “I mean, we’ll have to leave in a couple days anyway.  We need to…I need to give the Egg back to your parents before we go back to Japan, and…”

            “Um…yeah.  About that…” Kai set his pen down carefully, setting aside the list.  “I got called into Director Dickenson’s office before we left today…”

            “Oh?  Does he want you to come back to work now that I’m gone?”

            “No.  He actually gave Tala and I an unspecified amount of personal leave.  Said he didn’t want us to use up our vacation time when we didn’t need to.”

            “Really?  That’s really nice of him.”  Takao rolled onto his side to face Kai, who sat near him at his coffee table.  “What else did he say?”

            “Well…I had a brief conversation with Tala just before,” Kai frowned to himself, still unable to believe the day’s events, “And that partner of mine somehow managed to get ahead of me – either he’s smarter than I give him credit for, or he’s learned to read minds.”

            The bluenette chuckled.  “I think he probably just knows you well enough to make accurate, educated guesses.  What’d he do?”

            “He already knew I was planning on leaving – either a transfer or full retirement.  He had the transfer request forms all ready, too.  But not just for me…”

            Takao raised an eyebrow.  “Him, too, huh?  Let me guess: Hilary.”

            “Yeah.  That’s half the reason he gave.  The other half is that he can’t work with others like he does me.  He’d be less effective partnered with someone else or operating as a lone agent – which would be a loss of a good agent’s skills to the UNA.”  Kai shrugged.  “Whatever.  He decided to go where I go, and the fact that he’s totally gone on Hilary only makes him more eager to do so.”

            “Love does that to a guy.”  Takao mused, idly grasping Kai’s hand and studying their linked fingers.  “I’m glad for them.  Hilary deserves a good guy, and Tala deserves Hilary.”

            Kai grinned.  “Oh yes.  That wolf needs to settle down and I think the lady is the perfect one to do it.”  He moved, stretching out on his stomach beside Takao.  “Anyway, we got called to the boss’ office so we went, intending to hand over our requests for transfer.”

            “Which you did.”

            “Yes.  Only to watch the old man dump them in the trash.”

            “What?!”  Outraged, Takao sat up abruptly.  “That…that’s…”

            “Easy, lover.”  Kai soothed, tugging him back down.  “That’s what he did…right before he promoted the both of us and gave us new assignments to look over and decide if we want them during our leave.”

            Storm blue eyes lost some of their ire and went wide.  “Promotion?  To what?  And what new assignments?”

            “To promotions, technically.  One as a field agent – I’m now a Special Agent – and one for position.  I’m also an Assistant Director.  So is Tala.”  Kai smiled at the pleased, proud look on Takao’s face.  “As for the new assignments, well…”

            “Japan?”  Takao asked eagerly, almost bouncing with happiness at the prospect.  It would solve a lot of their issues, after all.

            “Yeah.  There’s been restructuring in Asia, and three new branch offices opened, so there are now administrative holes that need filling in Japan.  Specifically…Kyoto.”

            Letting out a whoop of glee, Takao glomped his lover with a joyous laugh.  “Yes!  Ohhh…I’m so proud of you, Kai!  So proud to be able to love you!”

            Flushing, Kai wrapped his arms around Takao snugly.  “Now who’s a sap?” he grumbled, though with no real annoyance.  Then he wasn’t able to think about anything – couldn’t – because all his brain cells died instantly as the happily wriggling bluenette on top of him claimed his mouth in a feisty, fiery kiss and rubbed his body against Kai’s with unabashed, wanton abandon.  After they’d run out of air Takao abruptly sat up again and stared down at his lover with storm-blue eyes gone nearly black with lust.

            “Kai…” his voice worshipped the name as his hands made like lightning and began unbuttoning the older man’s shirt – which he didn’t bother to remove, just shove out of his way to bare Kai’s chest and stomach – before making quick work of his belt, button, and zipper.  The agent’s hips arched up into Takao’s touch when his hand brushed the growing bulge under the soft cotton material of Kai’s underwear as Takao yanked and pulled and generally tore the offending garment off Kai.

            Crimson eyes followed the movements of his own hands as they returned the favour of ridding Takao of his clothes, taking in the sight of every bared inch of skin and the soft, eager moans and sighs his efforts and touch evoked.  As he helped the bluenette struggle out of his pants and boxers, Kai’s head had cleared enough to remember Dr. Maison’s orders and make the token protest to their activities.  “Weren’t you supposed to be taking it easy?”  He grunted as his breath was knocked out of him when Takao – now gloriously naked – shoved him back to the floor and proceeded to get Kai’s underwear off him.  “Resting?  No strenuous activity?”

            Huffing impatiently, Takao tossed the briefs over his shoulder and slid up Kai’s body, stretching himself out alongside him.  “I’ll nap later.  Right now…I missed you, lover.  Missed this…” his mouth descended on Kai’s, tongue invading but being welcomed by its counterpart without hesitation.  Pulling back just enough, Takao’s hands carded through Kai’s mane of dual-shaded hair and he gasped, “Need this…need you!”

            Smirking, but no less needy, Kai tucked his hands under his head and gave his lover his best smouldering, lust-filled gaze.  “Well, it certainly looks like you’ve got me, gorgeous.  What’re you going to do with me?”

            “You are such a tease, Hiwatari!”  Takao growled but grinning at the playfulness in his lover that no one else ever got to see.  He wriggled downward, insinuating himself comfortably between Kai’s legs.  He pressed an open kiss to Kai’s navel and rimmed it with his tongue lightly, flicking across it once and was rewarded by a low groan followed by a quick inhalation of breath on a gasp.  Smiling, Takao ran a palm slowly down and up Kai’s side from waist to knee and back while the other hand gripped Kai’s hip as he rained teasing, tender kisses and bites all over Kai’s abdomen.  The bluenette himself was already hard and eager, just from the foreplay – though it had been so long since he’d been able to do any of this, so being primed so quickly was understandable.

            “Taka!  God, so good…” Kai moaned, pulling his hands from beneath his head to shove his fingers through the silky, soft strands of Takao’s hair as he was taken deep into the younger man’s mouth.  His cock buried so deeply, surrounded by heat and wetness, coupled with the clever tongue and strong suction was almost too much for Kai to stand.  Pushing on Takao’s shoulders, he drew the bluenette away, pulse racing and breath coming fast and hard.  “Stop, love!  Won’t…fuck!  Won’t last long if you keep that up.”

            Takao pouted.  “Maybe I didn’t want you to.”  He whined, but crawled up to kiss Kai passionately anyway.  The older man’s hands roamed all over Takao, wherever he could conveniently reach, as the kiss passed from passion to pure, unadulterated lust and need.  Takao gasped loudly when Kai released his mouth to bury his face in Takao’s neck and rolled them over suddenly.  Their legs tangled and Kai, now lying on top of Takao, began to move with slow, deliberate, thrusts.  Hazily, Takao realized this wasn’t going to take long (for either of them) as his own body responded to the controlled movements and moved in sync with Kai.  Their erections, lubricated with sweat and Takao’s earlier oral ministrations, slid perfectly against one another with glorious friction that caused a familiar burning ache to begin the journey from Takao’s stomach, down to his toes, then suddenly rush back up to his balls and groin, where everything coiled tightly like wire in imminent release.

            Kai pushed himself up far enough that he could see Takao’s blue eyes go obsidian with desire, then blank as orgasm crashed into him.  With a rough yell of Kai’s name, the bluenette jerked under him and Kai lost the last threads of control of his movements, giving into his body’s demands.  The pulses of Takao’s cum smoothed his way further and the hands that suddenly grabbed onto his ass and kneaded encouragingly were enough to make the crimson-eyed man cry out and come wildly.

            Still a bit dazed from his own ecstatic moment of bliss, Takao managed to keep Kai mostly above him, in his arms, while his body continued to twitch and shiver in aftershocks.  He stroked Kai’s back soothingly with one hand while he waited with sated patience for coherency from his lover.

            After a few moments, he gave Kai a sleepy, fond grin and brushed the damp strands of hair out of Kai’s eyes.  “Oh my, that was a good one.  I think you needed that more than I did, lover.”

            Grunting in a way that could have meant agreement (or not), Kai nuzzled his lover’s collarbone lethargically and shifted more of himself off Takao to the side so he wasn’t crushing the younger man.  Glancing down at the sticky mess they’d made, he sighed contentedly.  “I think we were saving up for just such an occasion.”  He drew a finger through the mixture of their essences then snuggled up to Takao.  “Rather impressive, really.”

            Startled, Takao burst into laughter.  “I’m so glad your ego is in tact, Kai.”

            Smiling in smug satisfaction, Kai kissed Takao firmly.

~*~*~*~*~

            For the next three days, Kai and Takao stayed closed up in Kai’s flat after their one foray into the markets for supplies enough to last for the duration.  On the forth day, they were up at the crack of dawn and out the door with all their luggage.  They stopped by Tala’s to pick up the wolf and Hilary (and their baggage), then made one final stop to pick up Kenny from the hotel.

            “I can’t thank you enough, Chief, for all you’ve done.  I swear, if you need anything at all, you just say the word.”  Takao said fervently, squeezing the life out of the petit lawyer with a giant hug.

            “Ta-ka-o!  Breathe!”  Kenny gasped out.

            “Ooops!  Sorry.”  Takao released him quickly.

            “It’s okay.”  Kenny fixed his glasses and straightened his clothes.  “And it was nothing I couldn’t handle, Takao.  You don’t owe me a thing.”

            “Maybe he doesn’t, but I do.”  Kai stated from where he was leaning casually against a pillar.  They were seeing Kenny off, and were at the last security point in the Charles de Gaulle airport that they could go to as non-travellers.

            “What?  No you don’t.”  Kenny turned to look up at him in confusion.  “I’m just glad you’ve found each other again, and put things right – the way things are supposed to be.  You’re my friends, and I’d do whatever I could to help a friend in trouble.”

            Kai gave a precise nod of his head, and though he agreed (he really was starting to get the hang of the whole friendship thing) he also didn’t because in his mind he owed Kenny for taking care of his lover, protecting him, when Kai hadn’t been able to.

            “Long flights home, Kenny.”  Hilary reminded her boss, fussing over him and rechecking his carry-on bag for the tenth time.  “Are you sure you have all your stuff?  Snacks?  Water?”

            “Yes, Hilary.  I’ll be fine.  I’ll see you all in less than a couple of weeks, you know.  I can function just fine without my assistant for that long.”

            Takao hid a snicker as Hilary floundered.  “Have a safe trip, Chief.  I’ll let you know when our flight gets in.”

            “You bet, Takao!  Bye, Kai!”  Kenny waved at his friends and turned to leave, picking up his carry-on.  As he passed by Tala, leaning up against another pillar while he watched and waited patiently, the mild-mannered, seemingly meek young lawyer paused and looked up at the intimidating Russian.

            “It was a pleasure to meet you, Agent Ivanov.  Thank you for helping Takao and Kai as you have.”  Kenny held out his hand, which Tala accepted (though with a raised eyebrow, as if to say, ‘and why are you thanking me?’) and shook vigorously.  Kenny didn’t even flinch at the strength of Tala’s grip, and retracted his hand easily.  “However, I wish to warn you.”

            “About?”  The other eyebrow went up curiously.

            “I may not be as…scary as Kai or in-your-face powerful like Takao, but if you should hurt Hilary…  Well, let’s just say you’ll find I’m much more dangerous than they are, and leave it at that.”  With a blinding flash of a smile, Kenny straightened and moved along.  “See you in Japan, Agent.”

            Tala watched him walk away, a surprised look of stupefaction on his face.  Hilary’s hand slipped into his and his partner and Takao came up beside him on his other side.

            “What’d he say, Tala?  I didn’t hear.”  Hilary asked, made infinitely curious by his expression.

            “Just warned me not to hurt you.”  He huffed out a self-conscious breath.  “Who knew the kid had guts?”

            Takao burst out laughing – drawing the attention of most everyone around them with the joyousness of it.  Even Kai had an uncharacteristically wide grin on his face.

            “What?”  Tala demanded, embarrassment causing a flush to rise up his neck.  “And would you please cut that out?”

            “Never mind, Ivanov.”  Kai clapped him on the back.  “Let’s just get on with our own travel plans, shall we?  Mother is expecting us for dinner tonight.”

            Grumbling, Tala kept Hilary’s hand in his and allowed his partner and Takao to lead the way through the airport toward the private boarding areas, where one of Hiwatari Enterprises’ Lear jets was awaiting them.

~*~*~*~*~

            Twenty minutes from landing in Naples found Kai watching Takao change his clothes from comfortable casual to sort of comfortable formal in the small separate compartment of the jet’s main cabin.  The bluenette was standing in front of a full-length mirror, adjusting his collar and the sash at his waist that doubled as a belt – thanks to this weight-loss over the past several months, many of his clothes were now too large.  He wore a pair of soft, grey chinos that had an almost metallic sheen to them, making them appear to be silver-like, and a crisp, white, buttoned-down shirt.  He also wore a deep blue tie and the sash was a similar shade of blue.  All in all, it was his modern, business-like version of formal attire (even if he rarely wore it), and Kai thought he looked rather…powerful in it, as if he’d just walked off Wall Street or some other high-powered financial area.  Except for the sash.  That was just Takao’s way of making a personal statement, as it was embroidered with his family’s name and a small, silver-threaded insignia of Dragoon.

            “Cuff-links, do you think?”  The Kinomiya asked, fiddling with his shirt sleeves and glancing at Kai in the mirror over his shoulder.

            “Takao, I told you that you didn’t need to do any of this, and I told you the tie was probably overkill, so…no.”  Kai replied with a slight roll of his eyes.  “They know the whole story now, love, and they’re not angry or anything.  I don’t get why you’re putting yourself through unnecessary stress.”

            “It’s not about that.”  Takao looked away and focused on folding up his old clothes and stuffing them into his suitcase.  “I’m trying to regain my honour, Kai.  For me.  You can scoff all you want, but I need to do this my way so I can stop feeling guilty.  And I know your father is less than pleased with your choice of me over…whoever else he might have though was more appropriate, so I’m also doing this to try and show him I am at least a little bit worthy of you and deserving of his respect.  I’m trying not to look weak, Kai.  Can’t you understand that?”

            Kai sighed.  Unfortunately, he did understand.  All too well.  He just didn’t like that Takao felt it was necessary, and didn’t see things as Kai did.  Because to Kai, Takao had an overabundance of honour, and he already knew that his father had accepted Takao completely, as well as had a great deal of respect for him.  But if this was something his lover had to do to feel better and begin to put all of this behind himself, to be able to move forward, then Kai wouldn’t stand in his way.

            “Do what you have to, then.”  He said, reaching out and snagging Takao around the waist, pulling him over and down onto his lap.  “Hey, look at me, Kinomiya.”

            Blue eyes looked directly into Kai’s own crimson set and blinked.  “I know you don’t want me to, but…”

            “Taka, I want you to be happy.  That’s all.”  Kai leaned in and kissed him slowly, soothing frazzled nerves with his deepest affections.  “I love you.  Mother and Father have been just as worried about you as any of your friends.  So you’ll give the Egg back, and we’ll spend a couple days enjoying the Mediterranean sea air and sun.”  A wicked glint lit up the agent’s eyes. “And the nights…I’ll make such love to you…”

            Takao shivered at the promise in his voice and kissed his lover back, deeply and passionately.  “I’ll hold you to that, beloved.”  He smiled as Kai’s hand slid down his back, over his hips, and gripped his butt possessively.  He sighed happily as those hands kneaded and grasped.  “Hmm…yes, that’s yours, Kai.”

            “Damn right.”  Kai smirked and nibbled at Takao’s neck, contemplating whether or not he wanted to mark that golden-hued skin now or later.  Takao decided for him, wriggling away and right off his lap.

            Flushed, Takao straightened himself out and brushed out his pants to smooth any wrinkles.  “Okay.  Enough for now.  I just put on my clothes and I don’t want to have to do it again so soon.”

            Kai just gave him a smug, satisfied smirk and watched the bluenette with sultry, flaming eyes.  “Too bad.  I have such fun watching you take them off.”

            Laughing, Takao pulled Kai to his feet.  “Come on, tease.  We should be landing pretty soon.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Stepping off the jet, the two couples gathered their luggage and made their way to the harbour to take the Hiwatari ‘ferry’ to the Isle of Fire.

            As they climbed the steps to the main house from the docks, Kai paused and opened up the case containing the Egg.  He gently passed it to Takao.

            “There you go, love.  You ready?”

            “As ever.”  Takao looked very pained, a slightly pinched look around his eyes and mouth, and he held the Faberge Egg gingerly.  He took a very deep breath, held it for a minute, then let it out slowly as he turned and started up the remainder of the steps.  Kai smiled, proud of his lover, and hurried to catch up, falling into step beside him.  Tala and Hilary were right behind them.

            At the top, they were met by Kai’s parents.  Masumi had suspiciously bright, wet eyes and she stood beside her more composed, stoic husband with her hands clasped in front of herself.  When Takao stepped forward, she moved toward him anxiously.

            “Oh Takao!  Welcome, son.  You look so much better than you did in the medical ward – or even than when you were here last!”

            The bluenette stopped, colour seeping into his cheeks.  He bowed deeply at the waist, missing the look Kai gave his parents that warned them to just let him do what he needed to do.

            “Masumi-san.”  Takao greeted the kind woman softly.  “Hiwatari-sama.”  He also greeted Kai’s father, still bent over.  Takao held out the Egg, respectfully refusing to straighten until he’d said what he needed to and returned the damn thing.

            “I wish to return this…valuable family heirloom that I recently…borrowed without your permission.  I know you already know of the circumstances of why I did it, but the fact is that I have wronged the Hiwatari family, betrayed your trust and hospitality, and dragged your only son into my mess.  I apologize for my actions and any harm I must have caused.  Please accept this,” Takao held up the Egg a little higher, “and I hope I can someday make up for my misdeeds and that I might be found worthy of Kai.”

            All through his speech (not one he’d practiced, though it did have that sort of tone to it, for all his sincerity and remorse) Masumi had tears trickling down her face and Susumu had a mixture of admiration and mild exasperation on his face as they listened.  It was Susumu who plucked the Egg out of Takao’s hands – with very little regard for its fragility – and dropped a heavy hand on Takao’s shoulder.

            “Consider the slate clean, Kinomiya Takao.  Now please, straighten up and let Masumi fuss over you.  She’s been worrying about you for weeks.”  Susumu stated gruffly, awkwardly patting the young ex-thief on the shoulder consolingly.

            Takao stood up just in time to catch the small, elegant woman as she flung her arms around him and held him tightly.  The bluenette looked a tad stunned and completely out of place, but he hugged her back, never able to turn away affection when freely given.  He gave Kai a helpless look, but Kai just smiled and mouthed, “She likes you.” with a shrug.

            Susumu snagged a passing staff person and dumped the Egg unceremoniously into her hands with instructions to put it in his office on his desk.  With a nonplused “Yes, sir!” she hurried off with the treasure in her hands.

            “Well, son, your mother has ordered the chef to prepare one hell of a feast and I believe it should be on the table any minute.  Why don’t you all go freshen up and come in to join us as soon as you’re ready.”  The elder Hiwatari suggested in a kind voice Kai had rarely heard.

            Nodding, Kai extracted his lover from Masumi and steered him in the direction of the guest houses.  “We’ll see you both in a few minutes.”  He waved over his shoulder and led Takao away.  He heard Tala and Hilary greeting his parents behind them, but he didn’t wait for the couple to follow.  “Hey,” Kai hooked an arm around Takao’s waist.  “It’s done.  Feel better now?”

            Leaning into his lover, Takao nodded.  “Much.”  He stopped abruptly, turned to Kai, and pulled him into a searing kiss that left Kai’s head spinning.

            “Not that I’m complaining, but what’s that for?”  Kai licked his lips and nuzzled the younger man’s temple contentedly.

            “For being so supportive and understanding – which is code for putting up with my weirdness and the annoying shit that I do.”  Takao captured his mouth again, kissing Kai’s breath away.  A little breathless himself, he pulled back and murmured against Kai’s lips, “And that was because I love you.”

            “Hmm.  You really are a sap.”  Kai grinned.  “Love you, too, Takao.  Shall we?”  He pulled Takao along the rest of the way to their guest house.

~*~*~*~*~

            They stayed for five days, and Kai’s parents even took the time off from their usual busy schedules to spend time with their son and his lifemate.  Masumi spoiled Takao at every opportunity (much to his exasperated embarrassment), and Susumu had the chance to really get to know the man who was, effectively, his son-in-law.

            The evening of their second-to-last night, Kai, Takao, and Tala sat in Susumu’s study with the Hiwatari patriarch.  Hilary was off with Masumi in Naples, having yet to return from their ‘Girl’s day of shopping,’ as Hilary put it.

            It was a ‘guy’s night’ of sorts, then, for the males.  The drinks flowed freely – sake and vodka for Susumu and Tala, Sencha green tea for Takao and Kai (out of sympathy for his lover’s inability to have alcohol).  At first their conversations revolved around mundane topics such as business anecdotes, the weather, current affairs, etc.  But soon Kai brought up the subject of his (and Tala’s) dual promotions and their decision to move to Japan.

            “Father, Tala and I have some good news to share.”  Kai spoke up during a lull in the conversation.

            “Oh?”  Susumu raised an eyebrow curiously.  “What might that be?”

            Tala raised his glass of the finest of Russian vodkas.  “We are the newest Special Agents of the UNA.”  He declared grandly, winking slyly at both his partner and Takao conspiratorially.  Takao hide a grin with his teacup.

            “Really?  Well, that’s fine news, boys!  Congratulations!”  Susumu raised his own glass of sake in salute.

            Kai smiled slightly, adding, “We’re also the newest Assistant Directors of the UNA.”  His grin widened at the surprise on his father’s face.

            “My god!  A double promotion for the both of you!  That’s very good news, indeed.”  Susumu reached out, offering his hand first to Tala – who shook it with a smug smile – and then to his son.  He held onto Kai’s hand a bit longer, squeezing just a little.  “Congratulations doesn’t seem enough, son.  But I will say I’m proud of you.  Very proud.”

            Flushing at the uncharacteristic praise and affection, Kai retracted his hand and murmured, “Thank you, Father.”

            “You must tell your mother when she and Hilary return.”  Susumu admonished lightly.  “Why didn’t you tell us sooner?”

            “I didn’t want Mother to make too big a deal about it.”  Kai confessed, shrugging and picking up his teacup.  “She’d want to throw a party or some such nonsense.”

            Tala laughed, shaking his head.  “Oh, antisocial one…”

            “Shut it, Wolf.  Like you’re a social butterfly.”

            Takao smiled.  “Compared to you, he is.”  The bluenette got a mild swat on the arm for that.  “What?  It’s true!”

            “Hn.”

            The Russian flicked a look at Kai.  “Are you going to tell him the rest of it, or shall I?”

            Susumu’s greying eyebrow went up once more.

            Kai shifted in his seat, crossing his legs and leaning back into the leather sofa, his expression becoming almost defiant.  “With our promotions, the Director offered us a transfer to Japan, in order to fill some new administrative and field personnel positions that have become open recently.”

            “Due to the opening of some new offices in Asia, and subsequent shifting of currently employed agents.”  Tala added helpfully.

            Susumu nodded in understanding.  “Ah.  I see.”  He gazed back and forth between the two agents.  “And what have you decided?”

            “I decided that if Kai goes, I go – which is not to say that I don’t want to go even if he decided not to accept.”  Tala declared, sipping at his vodka.  “Hilary is enough reason for me to go.”

            Takao rolled his eyes.

            “Then it’s safe to say we’re going to accept.”  Kai stated, reaching for Takao’s hand and clasping it firmly.  “Because no matter what else, I’ve always planned to go back once I found Takao and we worked things out.”

            Susumu studied them a moment (long enough for Takao to start sweating), then smiled in a fatherly way, getting to his feet.  “Well, that’s certainly you decision, son, and your mother and I will always support you with your decisions.”  He moved over to an intercom on the large desk in the room to call for a staff person.  “And I’m afraid we must do something to celebrate all this wonderful news.”

            Kai winced.  “Oh, no…Father…”

            “Cake!”  The Hiwatari declared, sounding for all the world like a little boy.  “We at least need cake!”

            Tala and Takao began to laugh while Kai just groaned and gave in.

~*~*~*~*~

            It came to pass that the couples finally had to leave the Isle and return to Japan.  After a tearful farewell with Kai’s mother (and a much less emotional one with Kai’s father), Takao, Kai, Tala, and Hilary caught a flight bound for Hong Kong, then switched planes to continue to Tokyo.  They arrived late in the evening, too late to conclude their journey to Takao’s hometown.  They caught a cab from the airport into the city, and checked into one of the many hotels owned by Hiwatari Enterprises.

            By the time Kai and Takao reached their room, Takao was so tired he didn’t even take off his clothes or shoes before he crawled onto the bed and simply collapsed.

            Kai followed him after drooping their bags on the wardrobe and quickly going through his own night time toilette.  He gave his lover a hard shake on the shoulder.

            “Come on, Taka.  Wake up for a couple of minutes.  You need to get out of your clothes, love.”  He proceeded to strip the practically unconscious man of what he could until Takao complied enough to help get rid of the rest of his clothes.  Shoes and socks first, then Takao’s jacket.  With a whole lot of grunting and huffing, the agent manhandled the bluenette (uncooperatively limp as a ragdoll the entire time) to get his shirt and pants off.  And as much as Kai preferred sleeping naked – as in both of them – he was too tired to bother fighting with a passed out Takao to get his underwear off.  Instead, he worked the covers down the bed from under Takao then joined his lover in bed, tucking the sheets around them loosely as he spooned up to Takao’s back.

            Takao slept on, oblivious.  Kai smiled and kissed the back of the bluenette’s shoulder, snuggling in comfortably.  Takao murmured something then fell silent again.

            “Sleep well, gorgeous.”

~*~*~*~*~

            Mid-afternoon.  The Kinomiya dojo.

            Kinomiya Hiro placed the load of brand new floorboards onto the pile near his father, who knelt pounding nails into the ones he had already cut to size to replace the ones that had rotted out or were broken.

            “Thank you, Hiro.”  Kinomiya Tatsuya looked up at his oldest son with a smile.  He set his hammer aside and wiped at his very sweaty face with the hem of his work-shirt.  “Hard to believe this is nearly done.  We’ll have this place nearly good as new in no time.”

            Hiro looked around the dojo proudly.  They’d already repaired the walls, the ceiling didn’t leak anymore, though the contractors that Kenny had found for them had yet to arrive to completely replace all the tiles on the roof.  Once they were done with the floor, the dojo itself would once again be as it was when Gramps still taught kendo.  Sure, there were still plenty of things that needed doing outside – like the boardwalk that wrapped around the dojo and residence – but this was a good start.

            “We’ve done a lot.  Takao will be so shocked.”  He replied after a moment.  Then his face fell, and he sat down next to his father as a weariness that hand nothing to do with all their hard work washed over him.  “Gods, Dad…”

            “I know, son.”  Tatsuya dropped a heavy hand on Hiro’s shoulder.  “We’ve been through a lot.  But Takao…” shaking his head, the Kinomiya elder laughed dryly.  “Your grandfather would be so proud.  And absolutely insufferable with it.  Not that I blame him.”

            Hiro smiled faintly at the memory of the spunky old man.  “Takao is a true Kinomiya, Dad.  Gramps knew it all along.  You and I would never have lived up to his expectations, but Takao has.  And after all he’s done…”

            “This is the least we can do.”  Tatsuya picked up his hammer and fiddled with it.  “We’re really, really lucky that the Historical Buildings Society decided the dojo was worth the investment of restoration.  I don’t know that we ever could have afforded it on our own.  Not so soon, at least.”

            “Yeah.”  Hiro frowned to himself.  He was a tad suspicious about that in truth.  But…he wasn’t about to turn down a good thing like this.  Shrugging off his insecurities, Hiro got back to his feet.  “Why don’t we take a break, Dad?  We haven’t even had anything for lunch, yet.”

            “I just want to get these last boards done.”  Tatsuya shook his head.  “I’ll eat later, but I could use a cold drink.”

            “Sure.  I’ll just…”  Hiro was interrupted by the sounds of someone entering the dojo and two familiar voices.

            “…I don’t know, Max.  Takao didn’t tell me.”  Kenny sounded exasperated.

            The blonde rolled his eyes and smiled at his friends family as he sauntered into the main room.  “Hey, Kinomiya-san!  Hiro!”

            “Hey, Max.  Kenny.”  Hiro greeted them.

            “Boys.”  Tatsuya added with a wave.  “Come to give your hands a work-out helping?”

            “Actually, we came to be the welcoming party.”  Max said, grinning sheepishly.

            “He’s coming home?  Today?”  Hiro asked, surprised.  They hadn’t expected Takao for a few more days.

            “Apparently.”  Kenny looked vaguely annoyed.  “All he said was he’d be home today, and he wanted Max and I to be here.”

            Tatsuya looked mournfully at he unfinished floor.  “Damn.  I was hoping to have this done first.”  He looked back up at his son’s friends.  “How is he, guys?  I mean, his health?”

            “I believe he’s fine, sir.  The doctor overseeing his care at the UNA wouldn’t have released him if he wasn’t, and…Kai wouldn’t let him do anything to cause a setback or relapse, so…” Max glanced at Hiro anxiously, hesitating slightly over Kai’s name.  Despite having heard the entire story from Kenny and Max, Takao’s older brother was still more on the angry, over-protective side than the forgiving one when it came to Hiwatari Kai.

            “No, you’re right of course.”  Tatsuya agreed.  “Don’t mind me.  I’m just…” he waved a hand expressively.

            “It’s alright, Kinomiya-san.  We completely understand.”  Kenny assured him.

            “The dojo looks great!”  Max exclaimed brightly, hoping to lighten the mood some.  “Takao will be absolutely thrilled.”

            “I was just about to grab some water from the fridge.  Did either of you want…”

            Hiro was once again interrupted, this time by a loud, yet hesitant knock at the dojo’s main doors.  Max reacted first.

            “I’ll see who it is.”  He said, hurrying out to answer the knock.

            A moment later, he came back looking uncharacteristically sombre.

            “Max?  What’s wrong?”  Kenny inquired.  It was unnatural to see the genki man so serious.  Max just shook his head and stepped aside.

            A gasp and a startled, “Takao!” came from the two Kinomiya men farthest from the door, for behind the blonde stood their youngest, dressed in a traditional, formal Kinomiya clan kimono, all white, with the only splash of colour being his hair and eyes.

            He stood straight and tall, almost stiffly, at attention, and his face was as blank as he could make it – though everyone caught the thick swallow just as he stepped into the room at the sight of the nearly fixed-up dojo.  Takao kept his eyes focused directly ahead of himself, trained on the shrine at the opposite end of the dojo where the Kinomiya sword had been displayed in state for centuries, but was now sadly empty.

            Taking another step into the room, Takao stopped and waited as his companions filed in behind him quietly.  Hilary, with Tala in hand, slipped around her friend to move over to where Kenny and Max stood watching.

            Then one last figure moved around the bluenette.  A low growl from Hiro earned him a quelling look from Tatsuya and a fatherly hand of warning on the arm.

            Kai faced Takao and, crimson eyes looked with emotion-filled stormy sapphire ones, he carefully unwrapped the elegant blade in his hands and held it out to his lover, hilt first.

            “Return this to its rightful place, Kinomiya Takao.  Restore your name and the honour of your family with this final act.”  Kai said in a commanding yet wholly compassionate tone of voice.  Then he added, “Even if there isn’t a soul that would believe you’d ever lost that honour.”

            Takao frowned at him for the ad-lib and took the sword, eyes flashing warningly.  Kai shrugged and stepped to one side, allowing the youngest Kinomiya to move freely toward the shrine where he carefully replaced the sword.  It gleamed with polished steel in the light, and the magnificent blue dragon etched into the blade so mysteriously seemed to light up like blue fire for a split second.

            Ignoring the room completely, Takao backed away and went down on his knees before the shrine.  Staring at the blue dragon, Takao took a deep breath before finally speaking.

            “It’s done, Gramps.  Dragoon is home.  I found Hiro and Dad, and they’re home now, too – safe and sound.  I did many bad things in my quest, tarnishing the family name and disgracing my own honour.  I offer my most abject apologies and, humbly, will work for the rest of my life to live up to your example as the Kinomiya.”  Takao felt the tears fall freely down his face, but he ignored those, too.  He bent right over, forehead meeting the floor with one hand lying conversely over top the other in front of his head on the floor.  After one brief moment of humility, he raised his upper body again, repeating, “It’s done.”

            Kai stood back, leaning against the far wall, and watching as Tatsuya moved over to his younger son and knelt down next to him, drawing the bluenette into a strong embrace.  He heard a strangled, “Dad…” from his lover, and then Takao was a little boy all over again as he turned into his father’s arms and cried.  Hiro joined his family on the floor, reaching out to rub his little brother’s back soothingly while their father rocked with him.

            Motioning to the non-family in the room, Kai signalled them to follow him outside to give the Kinomiya family a chance at privacy.

            Outside in the bright sunshine, he took a deep lungful of fresh air, lifting his face to the warmth of the sun.  It felt wonderful, and he was so very glad to be back.  To be home.

            Max was sniffling as much as Hilary was when they joined Kai outdoors.  Tala solicitously offered his mate a handkerchief while Kenny merely handed Max a tissue with a huff.

            “So that’s it then.”  The blonde declared, shoving his hands into his pockets.  “Happy ending, Kai?”

            “Yeah, Max.  Happy ending.”  Kai glanced over, a wry smile quirking at his mouth.  “For now.  Life is unpredictable, after all.  But for now…”

            “Happy ending.”  Max decided firmly.

            Tala waltzed up to stand next to his partner and looked up at the sky, mimicking Kai’s posture.  “I knew he was going to do something formal again like he did at your parents’, Kai, but I wasn’t expecting all that.”

            It was Hilary who answered quietly, “In our culture, Tala, family honour is everything, particularly when one’s family is as old and pure as Takao’s.”

            “It wasn’t that long ago that it was possible only to reclaim that honour from the Emperor or something.”  Kenny added.  “Things are different now, but as you saw…Takao still takes that part of our history very seriously.”

            “Yeah, I did catch that, Kid.”  Tala drawled.

            “You’ll learn, Tala.”

            “Going to have to, if I’m expected to work here.”

            After several minutes, Takao emerged from the dojo.  His eyes were red-rimmed from crying but they were bright and shone with an inner peace Kai hadn’t seen there since they’d been awkward teens.  His smile out-shone the sun when his eyes landed on his lover.

            “Come back in, guys!  Dad and Hiro went to get cleaned up, and then we’ll BBQ a feast!”  The former thief beckoned his friends into the dojo.

            Max thumped his friend happily on the back as he passed.  “Sounds great!  Welcome home, Takao!”

            “Yeah, welcome home.”  Kenny agreed as he followed Max.  Hilary bestowed a quick kiss on his cheek in welcome as she passed, and Tala…just held up his hands and said, “I’m not kissing you, Kinomiya.”

            Takao made a face.  “I wouldn’t want you to!”

            Laughing, Tala went after Hilary.

            Alone and looking at Kai, the bluenette held out a hand.  “We’re home, Kai.  Finally.”

            “Finally.”  He agreed, not looking at the dojo at all.  Instead, his eyes never left his beloved’s face.  “I love you, Takao.”  He smirked mischievously.  “Thief of my heart.”

            Takao chuckled, absurdly touched, and leaned in for a kiss.  “I love you too, Kai.”  He returned, brushing his lips across his lover’s.  “And you know what they say…”

            “What?”

            Blue eyes sparkled with love and contentment.

            “Once a thief…always a thief.”

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

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