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Tightening Noose, The

by Viridian5

[Story Headers]

"Yoji! Yoji! Fuck, man, are you going deaf?" someone shouted in my ear as he grabbed my arm.

I yanked my arm away, spun to face him, and had my hand on my watch in seconds. That thing I did with my watch when I felt threatened was a souvenir from my dark, unknown past. What a bizarre tic to have.

I didn't know this guy, but some part of me kept my hand at my watch even though I didn't know why. He didn't seem threatening. Anything but. Just some orange-haired foreigner with a slight smile and a light in his sharp blue eyes as he looked at me.

"I don't know you," I answered. "You have the wrong person."

As much as it could suck to have a big dark nothing where people had their experiences, I liked my life now otherwise. I like my job, and I love my wife. The thought of waking up someday as someone else scared me, especially the someone else I had hints of, the one with paranoid lightning reflexes and too many scars, the one who'd etched the word "SIN" into his arm. If this stranger did know who I used to be, I didn't want to know him.

My denial didn't anger him. "Yoji, stop fucking around. There's no way there's someone else in Tokyo who looks exactly like you."

Unfortunately, my coloring and mix of features did make me distinctive. "You have the wrong person. Good night."

"Okay, Yoji. I'll play along for now. Whatever game you're running is safe with me. Nice salaryman outfit, by the way. See you tomorrow." He waved as he left.

Tomorrow?

When Asuka greeted me at the door, I didn't tell her about him. I just told her that I had a nice day at the office. A normal day.


I forgot about the orange-haired foreigner for stretches at a time at work the next day, but I kept remembering. Annoyed, I told myself that he might not show. He seemed flighty.

As I walked home, I found him waiting in the same block, just hidden until I strolled right up on him. He asked, "Are you ready to recognize me yet?"

When I forcibly removed my hand from my watch, I noticed him noticing that and smiling at it. He knew why I did it. I refused to ask him about it, because I didn't want to know. Sometimes I felt that someday my past would fall into place like dominos, that if I tapped just one memory all of the rest would quickly and noisily fall into place. I would be transformed into a stranger in an instant.

"I don't know you," I said again.

"You wanna cigarette?" He had one casually dangling off his bottom lip and offered the small box for me to choose a cigarette from.

I don't smoke, but I knew that I used to. I had the gestures. I still put my hand before my mouth at times when I would have smoked. Sometimes I felt the keen hunger for one. Like right now.

"No," I said.

"Tch! You used to be more fun." He posed a little standing there, giving off an attitude of sex and danger, giving me the odd feeling that I looked at myself as I used to be.

"Who are you?" I had to ask.

"I'm hurt that you don't remember. I'm Schuldig."

"Guilty?" I asked. How did I translate that to "guilty"? I felt a small spark in the darkness at the back of my mind, but it quickly died. "That's a label, not a name."

His smile deepened. It made him look more cat-like and predatory. "Then you're guilty too."

It gave me a shiver hearing what sounded like my recent thought read right out of my head and reported in that insinuating voice. "This conversation is over. You don't know me. I've been polite, but that's over too."

"You really don't remember me? You must not remember anything, then. I wonder what you think of that tattoo on your arm or your scars."

I didn't want to think about them. "Good night, Schuldig. Don't come back."

"See you tomorrow, Yoji."

To my relief, he didn't follow me home. I hoped that he didn't know that I lived in the area.


The next day I was so distracted and tense that I barely got any work done. I took the long way home to avoid that block, but this time he waited for me at the door to my building. "Leave me alone," I said.

"If you don't remember anything, you need help."

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. I'd worried about this since I'd gotten married, that someone from my past would show up to "rescue" me, when I didn't want to be rescued. "I don't need help. I'm happy. Leave me alone." Thankfully, he didn't follow me inside.

There had to be something illegal in what he was doing, but all I could tell anyone is that he talked to me, was friendly, and knew the building I lived in. It sounded ridiculous.


This time, a brown-haired man waited for me, and he sparked something in the darkness in my brain. "Yoji!" he yelled. "Come with me."

When I'd wanted someone from my past to find me, no one had come, but now they wanted me? They could fuck off.

A red sports car roared up beside me, and its door opened to reveal my original stranger. "Get in," he said. "You don't want to go with that guy. He kills people." There was something different about the look in his eyes today, something more intense.

"What?"

The brown-haired guy ran toward us. "Don't go with him, Yoji!"

Schuldig reached over and yanked me inside, then hit the gas pedal. I moved in more and pulled the door closed in self-defense.

"What the hell was that?" I asked.

"Ignorance is a bliss you can't afford anymore," he answered as he drove like a maniac. "That man is a killer, fresh out of prison. You worked for a secret group intent on delivering a justice that the law system couldn't give. This group did this with noble intentions but illegal means. You lost your memory in the line of duty, and some associates tried to keep you free but now people are finding you again. You're not safe anymore."

"This sounds like a movie," I said, but I felt those sparks again. He told me the truth.

"This is your life, Kudou Yoji."

I didn't want to hear anymore. I didn't-- "Turn around. If he knows where I live, my wife is in danger."

"If you go back while he's there, she's in more danger. He might use her as a hostage. You can't call her either, since they have the line tapped. You have to lie low for a while."

"She'll be worried sick."

"At least she'll be alive."

"This is a nightmare."

"You have no idea."

To my relief, he didn't have anything more to say to me for the rest of the ride. Since I didn't know what else to do, I followed him out of the car after he parked it and into a building and finally an apartment. The apartment wasn't small or cheap but looked very impersonal, as if all the furnishings had come with it, with none of Schuldig's tastes involved.

The man himself stared at me with an intensity that burned, his blue eyes trained on me with a nearly predatory look. My hand went to my watch, uselessly, but he already had me pinned against the wall as he devoured my mouth and rubbed himself against me. I have a wife, I have a wife, but my body eagerly responded to him anyway. I wanted him to stop, I didn't want him to stop, and I could only gasp as he unfastened my pants and ripped my underwear away before dropping to his knees and going down on me with incredible skill and desperate lust. Sometimes Asuka did this, but sweetly and hesitantly. Schuldig handled me as if he knew exactly what we both wanted, and we wanted it hard and fast. He wasn't wrong....

Even as some part of me screamed that I didn't have the right redhead, my hands clenched in Schuldig's soft orange hair as he worked my cock with his lips, his tongue, and the occasional touch of his teeth, dangerous and erotic. One of his hands gripped my hip while the other toyed with me, stroking and pressing. I couldn't think through the pleasure and sensory overload. How did he know exactly what to do with me? I was only recently remembering that myself.... When he hummed along the length of my cock, I came harder than I ever remembered coming.

Gasping, stupid from the orgasm, it took me a while to realize that he'd pushed me into the bedroom. I figured it out once he threw me facedown onto the bed and took my pants off. "You always liked this," he said as he removed my suit jacket and tore at my shirt.

He was a former lover of mine? But it didn't matter. "I'm married." God, Asuka. While she sat at home worrying with no idea of where I was, I was having sex with a stranger. I was guilty too.... This had to stop.

"You were married when you had your hands in my hair and begged me for more too."

Any further protests I might have made drowned and died under the touch of his hot mouth along my neck and back and the feel of slicked fingers opening me up. I groaned as my treacherous body demanded more, and he gave it to me, finally fucking me in a perfect slide of pleasure/pain. I couldn't breathe. He had his arm tight around my neck, choking me in rhythm with his thrusts. I struggled and bucked, but couldn't get him off. God, get him off. My brain was funny. My vision turned gray with sparks....

I'd done this to people. This was how I killed. I was killing myself.

"Schuldig!" a familiar/unfamiliar voice shouted, and I vaguely saw someone else's arms enter the picture and pull Schuldig off me, and I nearly screamed through my sore throat at the sudden pain of that.

Fuck, it hurt. My ass, my neck, my throat, my head. I yanked the pillowcase off and twisted it tight until I had something approaching a weapon in my hands.

A silver-haired man held Schuldig back. "What do you care if what remains of Balinese lives or dies?" Schuldig spat.

"I told you not to kill him," the other man said. "I saw something."

"I don't give a damn! Did you see what happened today?"

"Yes."

Could I reach the door? I started moving toward it, but the silver-haired man moved himself and Schuldig into my way. He wanted me alive but didn't want me to escape? "Who the hell are you people?" I croaked.

"We're killers," Schuldig said. "You're a killer too."

"No." But I had an improvised weapon in my hand.

"Do you remember Aya?" he shouted at me. "Of course you don't, not in your lobotomized paradise. I don't mind the lobotomy but the ignorant bliss has to go."

Aya? My mind sparked and popped but not enough.

"He was mine," Schuldig said with a nearly crazy look in his eyes. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to keep him that depressed but not quite suicidal? I had to calibrate my torments so fucking carefully. He was my masterpiece."

I hadn't thought I could feel sicker. I'd been wrong, and about so many things.

Schuldig was about to tell me why he held me responsible for whatever had happened to his poor victim. "I don't want to hear this."

"You think this is about what you want? First you fucked him, then you fucked him over. You gave him happiness and the dawning beginnings of trust for a while," Schuldig's voice turned venomous, "and then you showed him again just how false happiness and trust could play him. Despite everything, even without me, somehow the bastard held on. Then your murderous little girlfriend slaughtered someone he cared for almost in front of his eyes. Then you had to get heroic. Then you had to lose your memory and get out of your fucked-up life clean!" He shook his head in rage and tried to tear himself from the other man's grip. "I felt Aya become the walking dead, then he boarded a plane for the United States and went off my radar. I found out today that he was stabbed in the gut on some street in New York City and disappeared. He could be dead. I don't know. All while you were playing house with the wife."

I wanted to throw up. Some of this sounded familiar. "But you found this out today. About the... stabbing."

"I was just going to fuck with your head before. Now you really have to suffer."

The silver-haired man smiled. "I said you couldn't kill him. I didn't say you couldn't make him suffer."

Schuldig relaxed into his friend's grip and smiled. "That's different. You're so good to me, Brad."

"I know."

"Yoji, if you contact your wife or go to her, I'll make her death long and slow while you watch."

"You might want to run now, Yoji," the silver-haired man said.

I grabbed my clothes and ran.


Schuldig always found me. Sometimes it took weeks, sometimes months, once it took him two days, but he found me. He gave me some new scars but never killed me, just shook me up enough to start me running again.

I went everywhere. I changed names constantly. But I knew I was "guilty."

I stopped at flower shops a lot. It seemed to be a tic, like that watch thing. They made me feel safe, if only for a little while.

I didn't contact Asuka. I was too scared to try. And it was easier not to....

Sometimes I strangled her in my dreams.

Besides, I had more than Schuldig on my tail. Some organization seemed to be hunting me too. When one of its agents tried to strangle me, my body took over for me so I killed him instead. So easily.... I didn't even throw up afterward. My mind might be damaged, but my body remembered.

I took some assassin jobs after that now and then, killing with a strangler's cord, since that seemed to be my weapon. Why not? I was already damned. And I had a gift for finding people.... I did many things I wasn't proud of to get enough money to keep going, things I hadn't even thought myself capable of a few months ago. The memories helped me. If I hadn't been stained with sin before, I was now.

Sometimes I wondered why I fought so hard to keep myself going if I had to destroy myself in the process.

I didn't even recognize myself in the mirror anymore with the look in my eyes and my hair grown out from neglect and tied back. Worried that others might see how close I was to breaking and what kind of person I was from my eyes, I wore dark shades most of the time. Black plastic created a kind of barrier between me and the world. It felt almost familiar.

I was wandering the streets of London looking for... something. The same something I'd been looking for since Schuldig had knocked a few small memories loose. I just didn't know what it was, though I might know it when I saw it.

My life was killing me. The lack of any sense of security, the wandering, and the constant looking over my shoulder had left me tired and listless. Some day soon, someone would try to kill me again and I'd let him, just to finish it.

I sat down on the sidewalk in front of a flower shop. Someone would probably move me along soon, but I needed a break. In a little while I'd get a hotel room and try to set up a life for myself here. I might even get to keep it for a while before Schuldig tore it apart.

"Yoji?"

Shit. Someone else who knew me. A redheaded Japanese man? With purple eyes. I felt a small explosion of sparks, but they told me nothing except that I knew him. Wait.... "Aya?" Schuldig's masterpiece, the one he thought might be dead, the reason he'd chased me across Asia and parts of Europe.

My former lover, the one Schuldig said I'd dumped hard.

Aya looked a bit tired. He didn't look surprised, by my presence or my condition. "Come inside."

Why not? I followed him. I stopped dead when I saw the brown-haired man Schuldig had snatched me away from ages ago. Aya grabbed my wrist before I could flee and said, "That's Ken. One of our teammates."

But... but.... Dammit. Schuldig had only said that Ken was a killer, not that Ken was my enemy. Schuldig hadn't lied even once, just rearranged the truth.

"Yoji! You look like yourself again," Ken said, looking pleased and somehow unhappy to see me all at once.

"Excuse me?" I answered. Who would have guessed that of all the people I'd met from my past, Schuldig made the most sense? Then again, Schuldig usually wanted me to understand what he said.

"Never mind him," Aya said, which obviously ticked Ken off. As Aya took off his apron, he told Ken, "I'm taking Yoji somewhere to debrief him. I don't want to attract Schuldig here too soon."

"You think he can't find the others on his own?" Ken asked. "He knows about the shop."

"I'd rather he work for it. I don't want to hand the new team members over to him."

"Good point." Ken started to take off his apron too.

"No, you're staying here."

"You're not facing that bastard alone."

"I'm not going after him--"

"Yet."

"You need to prepare the others."

"Why?" I asked. "What others?"

"Schuldig first tracked me down seven months ago," Aya said.

"What? He told me he's hounding me because he thought you might have died, but he's known better that long?"

"On one recent visit he told me that you're one of his masterpieces. That was last night. Do you think it's a coincidence that the both of you are in London and you found this flower shop?"

Shit. I would kill Schuldig for this.

Aya sounded so blas about it. Wait. "He hasn't been in London for a whole seven months," I said. "I know that from experience."

"He torments me when he's in town." Aya almost sounded dryly amused. By me or Schuldig, I didn't know. "He has to work for a living. Ken, I'll be back. I can't talk to Yoji here."

"You're not going to change your mind on me going with you."

"Someone who knows his tricks has to be here, just in case."

"You better come back." Then Ken kissed Aya, and it felt like him marking out his territory as much as him showing affection. Mine, it said. I thought it was obnoxious, but Ken knew my history with Aya better than I did.

Obviously aware of the ulterior motive behind it, Aya looked annoyed. "I'll come back." He moved away. "I have to get my coat."

Once he left the room, Ken and I stared at each other for a while. It couldn't have been as long as it felt, because it felt like forever. I should know him, but I didn't.

"You really don't remember much, do you?" he asked, and a lot of that passive-aggressive hostility melted away.

"No. I'm not sure I want to either."

"I don't know if you have that luxury anymore."

"I know."

Aya returned, saying, "Come on, Yoji."

As we walked out of the shop, I looked at Aya and tried to figure my old self out. I got some of it--Aya was pretty, even if I did feel the need to check for dark roots and colored contact lenses... but his eyebrows were red too....--but how long had we been involved? Why did it end? I couldn't trust Schuldig's version of things even when he told the truth.

"I don't have a room yet," I said. When Aya looked offended, I thought of how that might be taken and said, "I didn't mean-- I just meant that I don't have a place where we can talk in private. I don't think you want to discuss it in public."

"That would be a good idea."

We went to a hotel Aya suggested, and my heart sank. "Aya, I don't think I can afford this."

Aya looked surprised. "It's not expensive."

"Maybe not by your standards. Still..." how embarrassing, "can we go to something cheaper?"

"I'll make up the difference."

"Aya--"

He grabbed my arm and led me to the check-in desk. "I'll make up the difference." His expression suggested that he'd beat the shit out of me if I argued, so I didn't. I wasn't as proud as I used to be. At least he let go of me when we reached the desk. He didn't seem to notice the looks we were getting from the people around us, so I tried not to notice too.

In the elevator and hallway, once in a while I caught him watching me and looking confused and upset. I understood. It would be like thinking I'd lost Asuka, and then having her come back but not remember me, which would hurt like hell.

Not having her the way I didn't have her now hurt like hell. I missed her, but I was so ashamed....

As soon as I had the door unlocked, I walked to the bed and sat down, feeling utterly drained. Too much had happened in such a short time. Aya looked down at the carpet with his hands in his pockets, then pulled something out and said, "Here."

It was a watch. I felt light-headed as I took it from him and substituted it for the one I had on. My hand went to it as it always did and this time pulled out a length of strangling wire. That was the story behind the gesture. My body remembered. It gave me such a feeling of relief to have it.

Keeping your lover's weapon safe for him had to be an assassin's idea of romance.

I really realized it then that Aya must have loved me. Maybe he still did. It boggled my mind, because we were killers, but....

"Thanks," I said. "I missed this."

He nearly smiled, a small movement of his lips, and I wanted to touch him. Instead I said, "C'mon, have a seat here. It's annoying looking up at you." It didn't sound like me at all.

Aya gave me a nearly fond look, then sat on the bed near me but not too near. Not close enough to touch unless one of us worked at it. He shot a quick sideways glance at me and said, "You look so much like your old self. I didn't know if it meant that you'd remembered yourself or not."

With him refusing to look at me for long, I could watch him without him catching me at it. "Ken said something like that to me."

"For most of the years I knew you, you wore sunglasses and your hair long. One day you came back, and you were different." As if he sensed what I was dying to ask, he said, "That was about the time you broke off our relations."

I wouldn't have asked. What kind of asshole would a person have to be to ask an ex why you broke up with him?

"I get the feeling that I wasn't happy before... I lost my memory." It felt wrong, like I was prying into another man's secrets. But they were mine....

"You weren't. You resigned yourself to your life, but you weren't happy. When you awoke with no memory, it seemed better to give you a chance at the life you wanted. There were other, extenuating factors. We had to be dead for our own safety. We'd hidden you the best of all of us. Or so we'd thought." Anger flashed across his face, inspiring sparks in my mind. "I never thought Schuldig would hunt you down and drag you back in. It can't be coincidence that you're both in London right now. He must be planning something."

"He started messing with you again seven months ago?"

"The dreams started again then."

"The... dreams?"

Aya looked at me. "I never told you because he promised he would destroy anyone I told about them."

"Wait a minute. He sent you dreams. Are you saying he's some kind of... telepath or something?" That was crazy.

I saw pity in his eyes as he looked at me. And honesty. "Yes."

Son of a bitch was a mind reader? It explained so much. All the ways he'd played with my head had come from an inside knowledge of it.

And how long had he been toying with Aya? "What did he mean by 'destroy'?"

"I told someone about the dreams once, after a botched mission. A Kritiker psychiatrist. I was at a low point and injured. Weak. She cracked me. For my own good, she said. She didn't even believe me about telepaths who could send dreams." Aya stared straight ahead, at the door. "He probably had Farfarello rip her apart for him. They left only her face untouched, no doubt to make sure that Kritiker could identify her."

I wanted a cigarette. Fuck. I don't smoke. "Does Ken know about the dreams?"

"He figured it out. I didn't tell him. Since he's still alive, I suppose that Schuldig doesn't consider that to be against the rules."

"You didn't tell me."

"You're still alive, aren't you?"

I probably dumped him over this, while now I knew all too well what he'd been going through. I really hated my life. "You're with Ken now?"

"He tries to understand me. It's not something I'd wish on anyone."

Suddenly I knew that Kudou Yoji had a vulnerability for people in trouble. I didn't even have to think about it. "Don't put yourself down."

Aya seemed amused. "You really don't remember much."

"What? Was I an asshole?"

"No," he said softly. "You weren't."

Somehow we'd moved closer together, close enough for our thighs to touch, and Aya looked so lost.... He smelled like flowers, metal, and ink. When I moved even closer to kiss him, he responded like he hadn't been kissed in years and had been dying of it. His hair felt so soft beneath my fingers, but I knew it would. My lips and hands remembered the way he felt. The rest of my body probably did too, and it wanted the chance to prove it.

Being wrapped around him felt good and familiar, in a way nothing had been for a very long time.

But then he sighed, "Yoji...." and I remembered that I was married and wasn't the man he'd been in love with and that he had somebody else now anyway. Pushing him away had to be the hardest thing I'd done recently.

Aya's lips looked wet and irresistibly kissable, and he had a dazed look in his purple eyes. I wanted to grab him again, but instead I ran my thumb along his cheekbone and through his hair. Some weird thing inside me said that he shouldn't have a small stud in his ear, that it should be a long, dangling bar that I could run my tongue along....

That made me jump away. I couldn't deal with all the vague, half-finished memories that kept popping up in his presence. It made me feel even more like I didn't really exist, like Yoji would eventually strip me off like an ill-fitting coat and toss me aside.

Aya closed his eyes. "I told myself that I wouldn't do this."

"I was doing the kissing there too."

"Good. I prefer to spread the blame around."

Overwhelmed by muddled emotions and a clear surge of affection for Aya, I hugged him tightly. At first he stiffened, making me curse myself for an idiot, but then he relaxed and hugged back.

I'd been in hell alone for ages, and now I had someone in it with me. As much as I hated to see him suffer too, his understanding of my situation gave me such a sense of relief that I could barely breathe. From first-hand experience he knew how fucked up my life had become, and he cared about me. I cared back, even without remembering him completely.

Why did we break up, anyway?

"You were a haunted soul who was a slut to try to avoid caring about people, while I'm a moody asshole. You fought hard to take nothing seriously, while I take everything seriously," Aya answered softly. "The blame falls on both of us again."

Shit. "I didn't mean to ask that out loud."

Aya moved away from me and stood up. "He must find this very entertaining."

Schuldig. "Do you think he'll attack?"

"He might attack. He might show up and rub our noses in it and leave. It depends on whether this is just pleasure for him or business too. We'd suffer more if he made us wait, but patience isn't one of his virtues. I think he'll try something tonight."

"But you don't know."

"How can I?" He looked frustrated. "We should discuss our next move with Ken."

I realized that he didn't trust himself to be in a room alone with me. It made me smile in a way that felt unfamiliar to my face, but Aya must have recognized it from the way his stance changed and the look in his eyes heated up. Then he cooled again and looked annoyed.

"Yeah, let's go see Ken," I answered. He'd be just the bucket of ice water we needed. Maybe being around him would stop my body and the echoes in my mind from flirting with Aya.


When we returned to the flower shop, Ken looked at us for a long moment, then said, "I'm glad you're back." I briefly wondered if he thought he could tell whether I'd had sex with Aya or not before I dismissed the thought as being too mean. He'd changed clothing, and some part of my mind labeled the new outfit as "mission uniform." Ken handed Aya a sheathed sword. "I encouraged the others to go out tonight. With any luck, they'll stay away."

"So you think he'll take a shot at us tonight too," Aya said.

"It's better to be safe than sorry, right? I wish we had some secluded place we could draw him to, but I don't have any ideas."

"I'm new in town, and I'm not the strategist," I said.

That made Aya's mouth curve into a small smile, which gave me a pang of warmth that I didn't want to feel because I would not fall in love with him. Would not. Falling in love with him had to be the worst thing I could do to either of us.

"He's most likely to come here no matter where we'd rather face him," Aya said. "After I change, we'll strategize."

"You don't have to dress up for me, Aya," a too familiar voice said from behind us. Shit.

I'd drawn a length of wire out of my watch as I turned, all instinct. The sounds of moving metal beside me told me that Aya and Ken had drawn their weapons as well. Something in my head told me that Ken's claws had changed since I'd last seen them.

Schuldig looked amused, possessive, and not at all intimidated as he watched us. "Were you feeling left out, Ken? Are you that desperate for me to fit you into my favorite circle of toys? Are you really that desperate to be a part of Aya's life?"

Ken let out a deep breath, then said, "No. I'm just eager to get you out of it."

"Why are you here, Schuldig?" Aya asked in a low growl, the anger in his voice sparking such a sense of familiarity that I nearly relaxed.

"I think I should introduce myself to your new friends, especially the kids. That Michel is so cute that I could just eat him up. And of course Yuki. He should meet me, since I've had such an impact on your life, Aya."

I grabbed Aya's arm before he could run at Schuldig. Even with his sword drawn, he might not be able to take the telepath down, especially not while in a mindless rage.

Pure happiness glowed from Schuldig's face. "This is what I missed. You're alive again now."

Ken threw himself forward to slash with his claws, but Schuldig moved faster than anyone I'd ever seen before to dodge them. By the time Ken stopped at the other end of the room and turned to face him, Schuldig had a gun in each hand, one pointed at Ken and the other at me and Aya. Every time any of us moved, his guns moved with us.

"Three against one? Hardly fair odds," the silver-haired man I'd seen before said from the doorway. He also had a gun. "Three against two would be better."

As Aya muttered something nasty about the shop's security measures, I finally remembered that this man, Crawford, could see into the future. So everybody here had powers except for us. They also had guns, while we had these bullshit antique weapons. This really didn't look good. Did we ever defeat these guys?

"Not really," Schuldig said. "We let you live."

"Schuldig, stop that!" Ken shouted.

"Letting you live?"

"You know."

"C'mon, Aya likes it. Do you ever make him look like that?"

When I turned to look at Aya, I saw him shake his head like he was trying to shake something off. From his deep breathing and the look in his eyes, I could guess what Schuldig was making him feel. I wanted to break the bastard's neck for it.

~ If you won't give it to him, I will, ~ that hated voice said directly into my brain. ~ You know how good I can be. ~

"Stop playing around," Aya growled.

"Would you rather we killed you?"

What the hell were they doing? It almost seemed like they were waiting for something.

"Nice of you to leave the security down," someone new said. What the hell was going on here? "Not that it was necessary. Put the guns away." This one seemed to be in his late teens and looked very pissed off. The air around him seemed almost heavy.

Crawford and Schuldig smiled. Oh fuck, not another one. But they put their guns away. "Don't move, Ken!" the boy shouted, and Ken bounced off what could have been an invisible wall.

"What the hell is going on?" I asked.

The boy looked at me, then said, "Schuldig, you--"

Schuldig grinned. "If I'd done that, he'd be dressing like a slut again too. I had nothing to do with it, but it amuses the hell out of me. Maybe there is such a thing as destiny."

"We wanted to contact Persia," Crawford said.

"There's this invention known as a phone. I'm sure you've heard of it," the boy said.

"We didn't want to have to go through the layers of flunkies. This gets Persia's direct attention."

Aya looked like I felt, like he wanted to kill something. We'd been, what, a means to an end and added playtime for Schuldig?

~ The playtime was the big incentive. The rest just worked out. ~

"And draws unwanted attention on Ken, Aya, and Yoji."

"Shit happens," Schuldig said, then his head rocked to the side as if he'd been hit by someone. Glaring, he spat blood. "Nagi, you little fuck--"

"We worked together once, but don't trade on it. You're fucking with my current job, and I can't let that happen."

"Your 'job'? Does Omi pay to fuck you now?"

I'd never felt so overlooked in my life, though I'd gotten used to feeling this helpless.

Wait, Omi? Omi was with this... boy now? Our Omi?

"Don't confuse me for you, Schuldig. How are you going to fix this?"

"We haven't drawn any Kritiker eyes to this location aside from yours yet," Crawford said. "And you and Takatori Mamoru know simply because you keep a closer eye."

"I already have an organization chasing me," I said. That got the attention of the super-powered crew. "They tried to kill me."

"Did they tell you they were from Kritiker?" Nagi asked.

"They didn't say, but they called me a traitor."

"We had nothing to do with that!" Schuldig said.

"Besides giving him enough of a scare to shake him out of his life and set him running, which must have gotten their attention? Shit."

"Aya," I said, "I thought you said you were with Kritiker."

"We were, but now there are at least two factions, one of which would want us dead if they realized we were still alive."

Nagi said what I was thinking, "Yoji, you can't stay here."

I had to start running again. Whatever security I felt here would only be false, and I'd bring Aya and Ken and their new friends down with me. Like a child, I wanted to scream that it wasn't fair. I saw pain flicker in Aya's eyes before he fixed his inscrutable expression back on.

"We want to talk to Persia," Crawford said.

"I could just kill the two of you," Nagi answered.

Crawford actually smiled. "That wouldn't be easy. As good as you are, you still can't risk the collateral damage."

"This time I'll take you to see him, but don't start thinking that you can toy with Takatori-sama's associates to get his attention. There will be consequences." Nagi smiled. "Painful ones."

Crawford bowed his head. "I know."

"What?" Schuldig asked.

"Later."

"Now. I didn't read anything about--"

"That's it?" I asked. "Schuldig fucks with Aya's head for years, fucks with mine for nearly a year, menaces the three of us, and threatens our other teammates, and his punishment is a slap on the wrist and a pass to see your boss? Meanwhile, I have to go back on the run for the crime of doing absolutely nothing? That's not fucking good enough." As much as my personal nightmare man, his cold friend, and this boy scared the hell out of me, I'd had enough.

"He has a point," Nagi said.

Schuldig lit up a cigarette, giving me a spasm of wanting. If anyone needed a cigarette, I did. "You knew I was doing this for years," the telepath said.

Nagi smiled again. "Yeah, but now my affiliations are different. Yoji, we'll work on it. Persia will be informed about Aya's predicament immediately."

"Son of a bitch," Schuldig snarled.

"Persia is completely invested in alleviating any unnecessary stress his former associates may feel. Yoji, I'll pay for your passage out as well."

How sad that my few hours in London still didn't count as the shortest stay I'd had somewhere since I started running. "Thanks. You're a pal. I have to pick up my stuff."

"We'll all put our weapons away and go together." His smile seemed too pleasant and a little brittle. "It's a short walk to Yoji's hotel. We can do that. It's also a short walk to the train."

I didn't want to know how he knew about my hotel.

Aya slammed his sword into its sheath and put a long coat on so he could carry it disguised with him. Ken didn't sheathe his claws until Aya finished that. Did we really have to take this shit?

I remembered how Nagi had bounced Ken and smacked Schuldig without any effort. It looked like we had to take this shit.

I doubted that we looked like a group of friends as we walked, not with the tension hanging thick among us, Aya and Ken glaring daggers, and Schuldig grinning at Aya and sometimes me. Crawford and Nagi seemed cool and professional. Nagi spoke into a cell phone, making arrangements for me, sounding like a mini-mogul. My few returning memories of him didn't work with the person I saw now. Sometimes I caught Aya watching me.

I just wanted to sleep. I could never go home again, not to Asuka or to Aya. I sure as hell couldn't lead a gang of killers to my wife.

Since I hadn't unpacked anything, it took only seconds to check out of my hotel. At least everybody else stayed outside while I did it.

My tickets for the train waited for me when we arrived at the station. Sad again how quickly and neatly I could be shoved back out into the cold.

I stared at the terrible trio and said, "I want to say my goodbyes in private, all right? You can give me that."

Nagi grabbed Schuldig's arm and pulled him away, saying, "All right." Crawford simply looked uninterested and walked with them of his own will.

~ You don't really think this is the last you'll hear of me. I like you and Aya too much. ~

I didn't expect anything different.

"I'm sorry, Yoji," Ken said, looking almost guilty.

"Yeah." Not that it made a difference. To change the subject, at least for a few minutes, I said, "I can't believe that Omi ended up with Nagi."

"I guess you don't remember him as Mamoru, just Omi."

"What?"

"It's a long story."

I had to ask.... "Were we all gay?"

Ken snorted. "Omi always was. You and me, we were bisexual."

Making Aya what? Aya said nothing and looked lost in some angry misery. It looked so familiar that I felt a pang of near dizziness seeing it. I wanted to touch him....

"You don't look at Aya the same way Yoji did," Ken said suddenly, sounding surprised. That snapped my and Aya's attention to him. "I'm just saying."

"I don't know which me does anything anymore," I answered.

If I could stay, if I took up with Aya again, would all of the memories return until I became fully Yoji again? Would I become the person who'd left him before... and leave him again? The thought scared the hell out of me.

"This isn't right. This is such bullshit," Ken said suddenly.

"I could come visit for a little while sometimes. Maybe." It all hurt too much to think about.

Nagi came back to say, "We'll try to send some money to help you along now and then, Kudou."

"If your people could find me to help me, wouldn't the other group be able to find me too?"

He smiled. "Losing your memory seems to agree with you."

"Yeah, great. But could you find a way to protect my wife?"

"Yes. That will be easier."

That was some relief, at least. "Thanks. What do your friends want to talk to Persia about?" I deserved some information.

"They claim they found a dangerous remnant of Eszett, and they want cash and personnel backup to wipe it out."

"I hope that pays off for them," Ken said with all sarcasm.

"They're not saying who's involved or where it is until they get to Persia, of course. It might be for real. We'll probably be taking out little nests of this for years."

It meant nothing to me. "Great."

"Our people have psionics of our own now. We'll work on preventing Schuldig from fucking with your heads." He looked at Aya, who stared back with a sullen expression. Having been in Schuldig's company, Nagi had apparently known for ages that the telepath had been mindfucking Aya but said nothing to Omi until it had come up now. That had to be no comfort for Aya.

Or maybe he didn't like people knowing. I had some impression of him being a very private person.

Aya had been open with me, but he'd been talking to Yoji.

"Your train is boarding in 15 minutes," Nagi said, then walked away.

"I want to talk to you alone before I go," I said to Aya. "Ken, please. I want to say a private goodbye to the only person I know who's befucked in the same way I am."

Ken obviously wanted to say no but didn't. He just nodded. Maybe some notion of fairness stopped him. After all, he got to keep Aya, while I had to go on the run.

"All right," Aya said. We walked to a semi-secluded corner not so far away. "Yoji-- Wait, what name should I call you?"

He was the first person involved in this mess who'd even thought to ask. "Call me Yoji. I'm living his life, so you might as well." I'd been using fake names for about a year anyway.

I really couldn't go back to my normal, happy life. I knew too much, and I had too much blood on my hands.

My normal, happy life had always been a lie.

I felt something stroking down my back and a shudder of pure lust. From the way Aya arched a little, he must have gotten the same. We both glared at Schuldig's back. It showed another reason why Aya and I couldn't stay together. Separate, we split Schuldig's attention. He'd been less omnipresent in my life over the last seven months, which must have been because he'd found Aya.

"This is not what we wanted for you," Aya said, his voice sounding deeper. Something in my gut reacted to it instantly, because I knew it was his sex voice.

"I know." I grabbed and held onto him, and he let me, fitting his body against mine. I wanted to drag him onto the train to leave with me. If we couldn't find a seat for him, he could sit on my lap, thanks.

This couldn't be healthy. I didn't even know what the hell "this" was: my affection, the echoes of Yoji's affection, Schuldig's meddling, all of the above? Was it just that only Aya understood what I was going through or that I felt so damned lonely? No, I couldn't believe that.

Aya nuzzled my neck, then sucked hard at one spot, sending a bolt of lust through me. That would leave a mark. I let go before the temptation to take this further became too strong.

"I don't want you to go," Aya said softly.

"I hate to break this up, but your train's going to leave in two minutes," Nagi said from behind me. Maybe he didn't want to give me a chance to have second thoughts.

"Yeah. Thanks." I turned back to Aya and wanted to say more but couldn't, not with an audience. "This isn't goodbye."

"I know. You keep coming back somehow. Stay safe, Yoji."

"Did I ever?"

His small smile looked like a painful thing.

As I walked past Nagi, he surreptitiously set a wad of bills into my hand. After everything his former teammates and Kritiker had put me through, I took it as my due. I waved to Ken, then got onto my train and found my seat. To my relief, I didn't have anyone next to me. I didn't bother looking out the window.

A few hours down the line I would switch trains, though I wouldn't decide where I would go until I'd left London far behind me. What I didn't know couldn't be read out of my mind, and I hoped to be out of Schuldig's range. Not that I knew what that range was.

I couldn't stop thinking about Aya. For a little while, I hadn't been alone anymore. In some ways I still wasn't, but not in the way that counted most to me.

Suddenly a memory struck, and I remembered keeping him in bed with me one morning by tickling him into breathless submission. I'd never heard him laugh like that.... He'd made me promise to never, ever tell anyone about it.

~ Ticklish? I have to keep that in mind. ~

Fuck!

~ I wanted to let you do that, but Brad changed the timetable. Aya really is beautiful, isn't he? I knew you'd want him. ~

From the way Schuldig's "voice" softened, some people might have thought he was in love. But I could hear the feeling of possession in it. Pride of ownership, not love.

~ What would you know about it? You're barely two years old. ~

Get out of my head.

~ But you were so worried about being alone.... I had a great time tonight. I got so much done! ~

Disgusted, I didn't want to hear it.

~ Tough. I screwed with your head some more. I put Ken completely on the defensive. And Aya... he is the epitome of the inability to move on, but he'd started to put Yoji behind him and try to get something going with Ken. Then you walk in, and you're better than Yoji! ~

He'd stopped making sense.

~ You're just too limited to understand me. Listen: He likes you more than he liked Yoji. You. This is fucking beautiful. ~

He did? That was--

And I couldn't have him.

~ Exactly! ~

I slid further down in my seat. At least Schuldig couldn't torment Aya if he kept paying this much attention to me.

~ Ah, martyrdom. ~ He stroked me on the inside, making me twitch. ~ You get off easy, you know. I've given Aya dreams in which I echo all the worst things he thinks about himself and then help him put his katana against his throat. I've killed his sister in front of him. I've made you... Yoji kill him, though it hurt him so much more when I had Yoji kill his sister. I've so overloaded him with such excruciating pleasure that his mind couldn't form the words to beg me to stop. All I do to you is talk to you and chase you around a bit. ~

I felt ill. I wanted to kill. If shoving a knife into my own brain could destroy Schuldig, I would do it, damn the consequences to myself.

~ You're such a heroic bad-ass. ~

Go away.

~ I could go badger Aya some more. ~

Shit. Could you at least not talk to me, then?

I could almost feel him smile. ~ Sure. I'll be kind. ~

For the next two hours he said nothing, though I felt him sitting in my brain like a greasy, itchy shadow. As a further indignity, it made me horny. But his presence slowly faded, getting fainter like a radio signal as I traveled farther away from its source, until finally I was alone again.

Alone again. And, at least for now, thankful for it.

THE END


"The Noose" by A Perfect Circle

     So glad to see you well
     Overcome and completely silent now
     With heaven's help
     You cast your demons out
     And not to pull your halo down
     Around your neck and tug you off your cloud
     But I'm more than just a little curious
     How you're planning to go about
     Making your amends 
     To the dead

     To the dead

     Recall the deeds as if they're all
     Someone else's atrocious stories
     Now you stand reborn before us all
     So glad to see you well
     And not to pull your halo down
     Around your neck and tug you to the ground
     But I'm more than just a little curious
     How you're planning to go about
     Making your amends 
     To the dead
     To the dead

     With your halo slipping down
     Your halo slipping (down)
     Your halo slipping down
     Your halo slipping down
     Your halo slipping down
     (But I'm more than just a little curious
     How you're planning to go about
     Making your amends)
     Your halo slipping down
     (But I'm more than just a little curious
     How you're planning to go about
     Making your amends)
     Your halo's slipping down
     Your halo's slipping down to choke you now


More Viridian5 stories can be found in The Green Room version 2.0 at http://viridian.mrks.org/

No-frames but no-frills access available at http://viridian.shriftweb.org

Fandoms represented: Weis Kreuz, Saiyuki, Andromeda, due South, Hard Core Logo, Twitch City, X-Files, Once a Thief, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, Angel, Two Guys and a Girl (was Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place), X-Men, Smallville, Doctor Who, Fight Club, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

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Fandom:  Weis Kreuz
Title:  Tightening Noose, The
Author:  Viridian5   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  NC-17  |  46k  |  04/20/04
Pairings:  Yoji/Schuldig, Yoji/Aya, Ken/Aya
Summary:  Yoji doesn't remember his past, but it's come back to get him.
Notes:  My _Side B_ knowledge comes from a few scattered bits of translations and a few pictures on the internet, so I'm declaring this fic AU to keep me covered on the things I've missed. Inspired by A Perfect Circle's "The Noose."
Spoilers: "Mission 21: Trane-- Memories," "Last Mission 9: Mellow Candle," "Last Mission 12: Epitaph," and "Last Mission 13: Tomorrow," with a thin veneer of _Weis: Side B_.
Disclaimer/Other:  All things _Weis Kreuz_ belong to Koyasu Takehito, Project Weis, Polygram k.k., and Animate Film. No infringement intended.
Rating: NC-17; Yoji/Schuldig, Yoji/Aya, Ken/Aya. If m/m interaction bother you, pass this by.
Archival/distribution: Anywhere, as long as you ask me first.

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