Sailor Mac

"Hey! You have to come downstairs...Manx is here!"

Ken crawled out from under the table, where he'd been hunting for a dropped order slip. "Right now?" he asked Yohji. "But we haven't even closed yet!"

"Momo's watching the shop. Come on...let's get it over with."

Ken dragged himself to his feet. Another mission. Another series of photographs of a horrendous crime, followed by names of the people they had to track down and kill. They're coming closer and closer together nowadays, he thought. What, are Takatori and Red Skies in some kind of contest to see who can commit the most atrocities?

He came down the steps, slowly. Aya and Omi and Manx were already there. "I thought you weren't going to come," she said.

"I almost didn't," Ken replied, sinking onto the couch beside Omi. His lover reached over and pressed his hand, giving him a sweet little smile.

Having him beside me, he thought, makes doing this almost worthwhile.

"Okay," Yohji said, sinking into one of the other armchairs. "Roll the tape."

"There is no tape," Manx replied. "Not today. This is a special mission."

"Special mission?" Omi repeated.

"You mean it doesn't involve killing anyone?" Ken replied, trying to conceal the touch of hope in his voice.

"No, there are targets," Manx said, standing up and starting to hand out thick manila envelopes. "It's a special mission because you're being sent out of the country. You're going to Sydney, Australia for the Olympic games."

"WHAT?" Omi, Yohji and Ken said in unison. Aya just stayed at the back of the room, arms crossed, head down.

"Why the Olympics?" Omi said. "We've never done anything outside of Tokyo before!"

"Over the past few weeks," Manx said, "there have been telephone threats made to the Japanese Olympic Committee. The police have been unable to trace where the calls have been coming from. The caller always says that if their demands are not met, Japanese athletes will be killed at the Olympics."

"What are their demands?" Ken said.

"The release of certain prisoners. The callers seem to think they're being held in jail for political reasons..."

"Political prisoners?" said Omi. "That means...Red Skies is involved, doesn't it?"

Yohji groaned and sank further down in his chair. Their last three missions had all involved the elusive terrorist squad. "Not them again. Don't they ever take a rest?"

"We don't know for sure," Manx said, "but it's a strong possibility. The police have been able to turn up no definite leads..."

"Yep, it's got Red Skies written all over it, all right," Ken said.

"And that's why Persia wants to send you. Because if it is Red Skies, you have more experience with them than anyone in the world. Including the police."

"If I see one more gryphon," Yohji groaned, "I'm not gonna be responsible for my own actions." Omi and Ken knew where he was coming from - they'd seen so much of Red Skies' symbol recently, it was practically burned on their retinas.

"I'm not going," Aya said, suddenly.

The others turned and looked at him. "Aya-kun?" Omi said.

"I'm not leaving Tokyo," Aya said, not looking up.

"Your help is required on this mission," Manx retorted.

"I'm not required to accept any mission, am I? That's been the deal since I first joined Kritiker. And I'm not accepting this one."

"But Aya-kun..." Omi began.

"Leave him be," said Yohji. "He has his reasons. You know that."

Ken and Omi exchanged looks. They knew full well why Aya didn't want to leave Tokyo. To him, it would be abandoning his comatose sister.

Omi got up off the seat and walked slowly to Aya. Putting a hand on his arm, he said, gently, "Aya-kun...Kritiker will make sure your sister is looked after."

"And who's going to look after Takatori? You think he's not going to find out we're out of the country? Do you know what he and Schwarz may do if they know we're not around?"

"You couldn't do anything by yourself," Manx said.

"I can take care of myself quite well," Aya said.

She sighed. Reasoning with Aya was, sometimes, near impossible. He was far too much of an individualist to be part of a true group mentality. This kind of thing had been going on since his time in Kritiker's non-lethal unit, Crashers.

Omi made his way back to the couch. Manx turned to the other three. "Well, the rest of you...are you in?"

They all exchanged looks. Leaving the country...having to do a mission in an unfamiliar place...it was certainly a daunting prospect.

But they were well familiar with how Red Skies worked. They knew from experience that their threats were never idle. If they said Olympic athletes were going to die...then that's what was going to happen.

"I won't let them harm the athletes," Omi said. "I'm in."

"If he's in, I'm in," Ken said.

"No surprise there," said Yohji. "What the hell, you two are going to need backup. I'm in."

Omi turned around. "Please, Aya-kun...think about it. We need you."

"Do you, really?"

"Yes!" Ken said, jumping to his feet. "We've never been able to complete a mission without you! You know that! And for a job as big as this..."

"Besides," Omi said, "you know more about Red Skies than anyone! You have more experience with them! Ever since you were in Crashers..."

A strange expression came over Aya's face when Omi mentioned Crashers...is that a flicker of pain? the younger boy thought. He never talks about Crashers at all. Granted, he doesn't talk about much, but...What happened to Crashers, anyway? Why did Aya-kun leave them and come to us?

Aya turned his back to the others and stood, motionless, for a moment...then, he mumbled something to himself, under his breath. He faced the others again, then said, "All right. I'll do it."

Manx restrained herself from letting out a sigh of relief. "Okay. We've arranged covers for all of you. Aya and Yohji, you'll be posing as security guards. Omi and Ken, you're posing as reporters. Omi, you're supposedly covering gymnastics for Electric Youth magazine, and Ken, you're with Soccer World."

"Soccer?" A little shock of pain passed through him. Soccer, he thought. I'm going to be spending all my time at the soccer fields...watching people I used to be in J-League with play for the Japanese team...I'll be so close, and yet so far...

A picture appeared of his memory of a practice session when he was in J-League. He was in the goalie box, diving for balls thrown at him from both live players and machines. He caught every one of them.

He'd heard one of the coaches approach him, applauding and saying, "Ken, at the rate you're going...the League is going to lose you for the 2000 season."

He'd stopped what he was doing abruptly, in shock. "Why is that?"

The coach smiled. "Because you're a shoo-in to be chosen as goalie for the Olympic soccer team."

He was brought back to the present, to reality, by Omi squeezing his hand. He turned to look at his lover, who was giving him a wide smile.

"Did you look in your information packet?" Omi whispered. "We're rooming together in the Media Village. We don't have to be separated at night."

"I'm glad," Ken replied, and meant it. I'm going to need to see him at the end of every day, he thought. I'll need the reminder that I was thrown out of J-League for a reason...so fate could bring Omi and I together.

Manx was finishing her instructions. "So, remember...use the cell phones and keep in touch with me constantly. All right, you can go close up the shop. Check your plane tickets...Aya and Yohji, you're leaving a few days before the other two."

They trooped back up the stairs. Ken noticed Aya in the lead, looking straight ahead, the usual stoic expression on his face.

When they were back in the flower shop, sweeping and counting the till and doing all the little things required before they could shut down for the night, Ken approached Omi. "Wonder what made him change his mind?" he whispered, pointing to Aya with his broom handle.

Omi looked thoughtful for a moment. "I heard him say something...right before he said he'd go...it sounded like, 'He'd want me to.'"

"He? Sure it wasn't she? As in, his sister?"

"No. It was definitely he."

Ken shook his head. "I haven't got a clue. I've never heard him talk about anyone who wasn't one of us or a target before"

Omi looked across the room at his redheaded teammate, who was silently cleaning out a display case. "There's so much we don't know about him," he mused.

"Think we ever will?" said Ken.

Omi was going to reply no...then thought for a moment.

I don't think that this icy mask is Aya-kun's true personality, he thought. Every once in awhile, they would get a glimpse of another side of him...a gentle, loving side.

Omi remembered when Aya had rescued him from being tortured by his own long-lost brother, Hirofumi. When he cut my bonds and told me I wasn't a Takatori, I was part of Weiss, he thought, he made me feel like I was his younger brother. I think that's his true self. What made him bury that self? What made him what he is?

He shook his head. "I don't know."

Ken slowly folded his clothes, piece by piece...shorts, jeans, T-shirts...and stuffed them in the duffel bag. He had no idea whether he was actually packing enough for two weeks plus. His mind was elsewhere. Again and again, he heard his coach telling him that he was a shoo-in to be the Olympic goalie.

"Well, that sure as hell didn't happen," he muttered aloud. It was just one month...one short month...after he said that when Kase pulled his dirty trick and got him thrown out.

Ironic, he thought, that I'd end up going to the Olympics anyway...as a reporter, of all things.

No. Not as a reporter. That was merely a cover. He was going as what he was now...a killer.

He grabbed the bag of toiletries he'd bought at the drugstore and tossed them on top of the pile of clothes, then yanked on the zipper, fiercely. Do I really want to do this? he thought. Do I really want to look people I used to play side-by-side with in the eye, knowing full well what I've become...

In the living room, Omi was taking care of electronic matters. Ken always asked him to do anything involving devices which were programmable - he could barely set the VCR. He'd already done that - programmed the VCR to tape "Iron Chef" in their absence - and was now seated at Ken's green iMac, setting up his main E-mail account to forward all messages to a Web-based account they could access from Australia. After that, he would set the lights to turn on and off automatically to discourage burglars. Ironic, he thought, that a couple of killers are worried about burglars.

He found his mind wandering to the upcoming mission. At least my cover allows me to carry around and use a laptop, he thought. I can use it to tap into and monitor their security system. If there's any breaches, I'll know.

Omi stood up and stretched. He had to admit that he was excited about this mission. He hadn't been out of Japan since...

A memory arose from the very depths of his mind, a memory of the time before his kidnapping, before his family decided they didn't want him anymore.

He was five or six, holding onto his nanny's hand as they walked down a path lined with lush, tropical vegetation. Hawaii...that was it. The Takatori family had gone to Hawaii.

He remembered his two brothers, Masafumi and Hirofumi, down on the beach...and his father coming out of the hotel...glaring at him.

He always glared at me, didn't he? Omi thought. His memory of his life before his abduction was still very patchy...but every little patch included the sight of Reji Takatori staring at him with a cold, steely glance.

Who would look at their own child like that? he thought. Did he blame me for my mother's death? I never knew her at all...it was just my father and brothers and a nanny and...

A cold chill swept through his body, and Omi hugged himself. I started life in a family that didn't want me, he thought. A family that didn't want me...and then tried to get rid of me...

"No," he said aloud. "They're not my family. They never were. I was never one of them. Weiss is my family."

He added, softly, "Ken-kun is my family."

He shook his head as if to clear it. Enough brooding, he thought. I have to get back to business. And he went over to the stereo and selected a CD, then went over to the timer for the lights.

The music began...a sensuous throb of a dance/jazz beat. He found himself tapping his fingers to the music...for some reason, he was feeling the beat in his very blood.

He finished the programming and stretched, his eyes closed, listening to the music. And then, he raised his arms above his head and started to dance.

Ken heard the music drifting in from the living room. Normally, it was the kind of thing that would make him want to dance. He didn't feel like dancing now.

Omi must have turned it on, he thought. Wonder if he's done with all the programming yet? Maybe we could go out for pizza, the change of scenery would do me good. He slowly made his way out of the bedroom - and stopped short when he took in the sight before him.

Omi was dancing...his eyes were closed, and he had a blissful expression on his face, as if he were being totally absorbed by the music. He held his arms over his head, and his hips rolled slowly to and fro to the beat. It was almost as if he were making love to the air around him.

Ken watched, transfixed. The boy obviously had no idea how seductive his dance was. He was completely in his own world, one with the beat. His red-gold hair seemed to reflect the light and glow, only adding to his allure. Like a halo, like he truly was the Angel Ken had nicknamed him...such a contrast to the sensual earthiness of his dance...

The sight was making Ken's heart pound. Suddenly, his anxieties were forgotten. There was no looming Olympic mission, no past of disgrace and ruin...just a beautiful boy in front of him, the boy who was Ken's love.

Slowly, he moved toward Omi, step by step, feeling almost as if he were floating. He reached out a hand to him, almost afraid that if he touched him, he'd shatter the lovely illusion.

Omi suddenly snapped out of his trance and turned around with a start. He blinked as reality came back into focus, and he saw his lover in front of him. "Ken...Ken-kun!"

Ken looked at him steadily, a wide smile crossing his face. He held his arms out. "Dance with me," he said in a soft, sensual whisper.

Omi glided toward him, and they wrapped their arms tightly about each other. He rested his head on his lover's chest and sighed deeply, breathing in Ken's clean, spicy scent. Their bodies started to sway to the rhythm, and Omi found himself entranced again...but this time, it was the man holding him, not the music, who had him under a spell.

I love him so much, Omi thought. We've become everything to each other over the past several months - lover, brother, helpmate, friend. He's as much a part of me as my hair or my skin or my fingernails. Or, Ken would say, my computer.

The song ended, and another one began...a slow, sensuous groove. They resumed their dance. Omi found himself starting to move his hips again, slowly swaying to and fro, and a small tremor of excitement passed through him as he felt Ken doing the same thing, pushing right when Omi did, then left.

Ken paused, and then pushed his hips into Omi's a bit, begining to move left when Omi moved right, creating friction, heat...When Omi gasped a bit, Ken pressed harder, pushing his pelvis against the other boy's and grinding his hips, slowly. Omi began to move his own body faster, rubbing harder, generating more and more heat until he thought they were both going to burst into flame.

Omi felt his breathing start to come heavily, his heart race, a light veneer of sweat breaking out on his skin. He raised a leg, and hooked it over Ken's hip, grinding his hips harder, rubbing their swelling members against each other. Both of them moaned deep in their throats, and Ken leaned over, claiming Omi's lips with his own, the kiss deepening rapidly, their tongues pressing eagerly together, sliding, twining...

Ken felt dizzy with desire. He tightened his arms around Omi, as if to pull the younger boy into his own body. His lips moved on his lovers', again and again and again, seeking and finding sensitive spots that would make him moan even louder. Oh, gods, how this innocent beauty drove him mad! He reached down and grasped Omi's bottom, squeezing it hard, releasing, squeezing it again. ..His lover's lips broke from his with a startled gasp. "Oh! Oh, Ken! Yes...ohhh..."

"Is that good, sweetheart?" he whispered. "You like this, don't you? You like feeling my hands there..."

"Yes!" Omi was near-crazed with passion, grinding his hips against Ken's harder and harder, pleasure radiating from front and back...

"Darling..." Ken's lips were on his again...and then, another wave of dizziness swept through him, and he lost his balance. He let go of Omi and stumbled a couple of steps back, landing in a chair.

Without missing a beat, Omi turned around and sat in Ken's lap, so his lover's erection was pressing between the cheeks of his bottom. He began to move his hips to the music again, to wriggle around, creating delicious, maddening friction for both of them, the denim and cotton between them feeling like brick walls.

Ken leaned his head back and gasped. Once, when he was in J-League, a bunch of the guys had dragged him out to a strip club and paid to have a woman give him a lap dance. That hadn't felt like this! Every movement Omi made set fire to Ken's entire body. Delicious sensations were running through every part of him, just enough to make him mad...oh, he wanted to come, but he couldn't, not until he felt flesh on flesh, buried himself in his lover's mouth, in his body...

One of Ken's hands strayed up under Omi's shirt, moving up the flat, hard stomach and chest, feeling for the little knot of a nipple...When he found what he sought, he squeezed it gently, pulling on it ever-so-slightly, and Omi whimpered, feeling pulses of heat course through his blood. The whimper became a cry when Ken's other hand slipped to the front of his pants, finding his erection, caressing it, moving slowly up and down its length. Omi pumped his hips faster, harder, without regard of the beat of the music now, just seeking to give and receive pleasure, and Ken was writhing himself now, in time with the other boy's thrusts, his hands stroking, caressing faster.

"Ken...oh, please...I need it...I need it so bad..."

Ken felt the same way...but he played as cool as he possibly could, kissing Omi's neck, his ear, teasing the lobe with his tongue, making the boy let out a hoarse cry that was almost a sob.

"What do you need, love?" said Ken in a husky whisper.

"I need to come! I'm burning up! Please, oh, please..."

And then, Ken pitched forward, tumbling both of them to the rug. Omi rolled both of them over so that he was on top, and his mouth claimed Ken's firecely, his tongue probing deeply, caressing and teasing. He grabbed the bottom of Ken's T-shirt and yanked it upward, trailing his hand over the heated skin, feeling the throbbing of his heart under his fingertips. He slid his tongue out of Ken's mouth and teased his tips with it...flicking it quickly over the top one, then the bottom...before licking down his neck. When Ken felt the boy's teeth nip lightly at his throat, he cried out, his hips jerking upward in a mute plea to do more, to bring him satisfaction, to end this delicious torment...

Omi lowered his head further, and brushed his lips lightly over a nipple, barely touching it. Ken shuddered beneath him, moaning, a moan which grew louder as the younger boy's tongue snaked out, lapping at the bud over and over.

"Omi," Ken moaned, "do something...oh, baby, I'm going to explode. Please, please make me come..."

Omi would have just kept teasing him...if his own body wasn't at the point of spontaneous combustion. He turned himself around so his mouth was at Ken's manhood, and he was straddling his lover's head. Both of them fumbled with buttons and zippers, pushing pants and underwear away so fast and hard the fabric almost tore.

Hands reached for erections, fingers fluttered, caressing hard, heated flesh. Tongues moved along shafts, slowly stroked heads...Soft moans and heavy breathing filled the air.

Then, Ken's mouth devoured Omi, drawing him in as deep as possible, sucking at him as if to draw the very essence of life from his body. Omi cried out, and then followed suit, pulling Ken in, pleasuring him...Ken's hands were on Omi's bottom, squeezing one buttock, then the other, kneading and massaging in time to the younger boy's sucking, making him purr deep in his throat and writhe...Faster and harder they moved, trying to draw each other in deeper, and deeper still, pushing each other closer and closer to the edge...

Ken was the first to stiffen, then shudder, crying out in his throat as one hot spasm after another wracked him, releasing himself in the hot, wet velvet of his beloved's mouth. He didn't let go of Omi, continuing to move him in and out, sucking harder and faster, until the younger boy gasped...and gasped again...and finally let out a scream as he was flooded with white heat over and over, raising his hips off the floor to push himself deeper and deeper into Ken, then finally collapsing with a shuddering sigh of bliss.

Ken moved up and tenderly kissed Omi, who was still shivering and making little cooing noises. He opened his wide, blue eyes slowly and looked at his lover.

"I love you, Angel," Ken said.

"I love you, too."

They snuggled into each other's arms, and Omi purred, basking in the afterglow, feeling warm and content and loved.

And then, he realized something. There was something different about what just happened, compared to the other times they'd made love to each other with their mouths.

"Ken-ken," he whispered, "I did it."

"Did what, Angel?"

He raised his head. "When you...you know, when you finished...I swallowed it. I was so into what we were doing that I guess I didn't even notice it." He smiled, looking proud of himself. "I was never able to do that before!"

Ken laughed and hugged him closer. "That's great," he said, and he meant it.

"Mmm." Omi put his head back on Ken's chest. "I want to stay just like this."

"We do have to move into the bedroom, you know, Angel. I don't think you want to sleep all night on the floor like this, and we have to go to sleep soon. Early flight tomorrow, you know."

"We can sleep on the plane," Omi said...but he yawned immediately after.

"Come on, Angel. Time to hit the sack." Ken stood up, then helped Omi to his feet. They fixed their pants, then, with their arms around each other's waists, they headed for the bedroom.

"Not as glamorous as you thought it was going to be, is it?"

Ken and Omi stood at the threshold of their room in the so-called "Media Village." Omi's eyes swept around the room - not that it took very long, as the room was little bigger than a closet - as Ken made his pronouncement. It was definitely not glamorous. Two plain twin beds, a nighttable between them, a closet, a well-scuffed desk, a small bathroom with a shower stall - but no tub - off to the left...

"So much for the high life of a reporter," Omi replied. He put his bag down, and frowned at the twin beds.

"Easily enough pushed together," Ken laughed. He went about moving the nighttable out of the way as Omi pulled out his laptop. Good thing I've got a wireless modem, he thought, because I don't even see a phone jack in here.

Booting up the machine, he quickly dialed into a special BBS Manx had set up for Weiss communications and read the instructions she'd left for them.

"Our headquarters is right behind the track and field stadium," Omi reported. "A tin shed. We're supposed to be meeting with Aya-kun and Yohji-kun there at six tonight. The opening ceremony is tomorrow, and the events begin the day after that. And then...oh!" A pink blush spread over his face.

"What's wrong?" Ken said, coming over to him.

"Do you see what Manx wrote?" Omi said, pointing to the screen.

"Don't let those gymnastics girls take advantage of you," Ken read. He laughed. "Well, it's definitely good advice."

"KEN-KUN! I wouldn't do that! I don't want anyone but you!"

"I know, Angel," he said, hugging his lover. "But you do attract female attention in droves. And I don't blame them one bit. You are hot."

"But...but...these girls have to concentrate on what they're doing! They wouldn't have any time to watch boys...would they?"

"Ooh, there's the cute Japanese boy again!"

Omi sighed and hunched down over the laptop. Americans this time, he thought. The last group of gymnasts who had come to drool over him had been Russians. Before that, the Chinese team.

It's like I never left Tokyo, he thought. These highly trained world-class athletes were acting just like the giggly schoolgirls who congregated in front of the flower shop every afternoon. And he couldn't shy away from them, like at home...he had to play the smiling, friendly reporter as part of his cover. He sighed. Time to put on the act.

He gave them a big smile and a wave. "Good afternoon, ladies!" he said in English, and watched as they giggled, then gathered in a huddle, whispering to each other. One ponytailed girl broke away from the pack and approached Omi.

"You're a reporter?" she said.

"Hai! - I mean, yes!"

"I don't think I've seen you on the circuit before. What's your name?"

"My name is Omi. I'm with a Japanese teen magazine."

"Oh? Do you have a...girlfriend back in Japan?"

"No. No girlfriend." Well, it wasn't a lie...he didn't have a girlfriend.

"Really?" The girl boldly leaned over the rail around the press box. "What a coincidence...I don't have a boyfriend, either."

Omi felt panic rising. His eyes swept around the room...landing on the other girls in the group, who were whispering and giggling, a couple of girls from other teams who were looking at them with interest - and jealousy? And then, around him, reporters from other publications, giving him "You GO, boy!" looks...

He groped for something to say, and came up with nothing.

Fortunately, he was saved by the voice of a coach across the room, shouting, "LADIES! You're losing practice time!"

The gymnast made a face. "I gotta go. I'll see you around." She rushed back to her teammates, who clustered around her like chickens around a feed trough, chattering and giggling. Omi exhaled a deep breath and turned his attention back to his laptop, where he was typing a message to Manx:

"Third day of the games. Still nothing unusual to report. Balinese and Abyssinian are on the security duty directly supervising the Japanese team; they have seen no one or nothing suspicious. Siberian and I also have noticed nothing remarkable at the venues. I am continuing to analyze the security system here; I may be able to hack into it directly so I can see the pictures from the various cameras around the venues. In the meantime..."

He heard a female voice shout, "Oooh, look at the cute little blondie!" This one had an Australian accent. Great, he thought, now I'm going to get hit on by the home team.

"I'm following your advice," he wrote. "I'll file another report tomorrow, unless something happens. Bombay out."

He pushed the "send message" button, and turned his eyes up to see another pixie in tights being pushed toward him by her compadres. He sighed and prepared to put on the act again.

Is this the Olympics, he thought, or some kind of dating contest?

"So...what are you doing after the event?"

Yohji looked down at the woman sitting on the grass, wearing the uniform of a rowing crew member. He thanked the gods he remembered enough of his high school English to be able to carry on some sort of conversation with an American woman. There were so many beautiful Americans...Of course, there was something to be said for the Aussie women, as well. And the British, the Canadians, the Irish...

"Sorry," she said. "I've got a photo session after the race with my team."

"Photo session?" Yohji said. "Well, I don't blame them for wanting to take your picture. You look like you could be a model when you're not rowing."

"Nice try," the woman said with a laugh. He's pretty obvious, she thought. But still...there's something charming about him. "Hey, look...after I get my picture taken, I'll look for you. You're still going to be in this area, right?"

"I'm not going anywhere, darlin'."

"Okay, then...I'll see you around." She got up and rushed off to join her teammates.

Yohji watched her go. This was definitely the best part of this assignment, he thought. In the three days since the games had started, he'd had six dates. They were for a purpose, of course. To pump the women for information, and find out if they'd seen anything out of the ordinary.

And if it resulted in a very pleasant lunch or dinner with a charming lady...so much the better.

A voice at the back of his head said, "Who are you kidding? You invented this part of the assignment. Pump them for information? All you want to do is pump them, period. You just want women, Kudou...the more the better."

He wandered along the shore of the lake, watching the women get into their boats, test their oars. That one's cute, he thought. And that one. And that one...

Ken had teased him about the high number of ladies in his life, calling him a "he-slut." That's entirely wrong, Yohji thought. I'm not a slut. I like to be around women because I genuinely enjoy their company. Can I help it if I love women, and want to protect them?

Protect them...like I couldn't protect her...

A picture ran through his head, one that had played in his mind over and over. A dark alley...an ambush...a gun...

And then, Asuka tumbling to the ground, shot. Asuka, his detective partner, his roommate, his friend and confidante. Asuka, the love of his life.

From the moment they had met, they had done literally everything together. He felt closer to her than he had to anyone who'd ever been a part of his life before - friends, families, lovers.

Losing her had nearly killed him. He'd just stumbled around, getting drunk every single night, smoking like a fiend, trying to drive away her memory. But that was something that could never be driven away. She'd been a part of him. Losing her was an amputation.

When he had been approached by Kritiker about joining Weiss, he hadn't thought twice about it. What difference did it make if he became a killer? Without Asuka, he had no soul anyway. He would devote the rest of his life to destroying those who harmed women.

Like the people who had shot her...

No. He wasn't going to think about that anymore. He had a mission, right? Olympic athletes to protect (including a large number of female ones). He had to focus on that.

Besides, there was that cute rower to meet later. And after that...who knew how many other women?

On the other side of the lake, Aya disconnected the call on his cell phone. Sakura-chan had confirmed that his sister was doing all right. Thank the gods. He'd been worried that Schwarz would find out about his absence and take advantage of the opportunity to grab her, hold her hostage, force him to come after them...

He wondered why he'd changed his mind and agreed to take this mission. It certainly wasn't because his knowledge about Red Skies was going to help Weiss catch them any easier. The main thing there was to know about Red Skies was they were totally unpredictable. They'd been the bane of his existence during his time in Crashers.

He'd joined Kritiker as an information-gatherer shortly after his parents had been killed and his sister went into the coma. Not long after that, he'd been reassigned to Crashers, a group that didn't kill criminals, but "crashed" them...captured them and delivered them to the authorities.

And it was in Crashers that he had met...him.

An image filled his head of a day, seemingly years ago, at Crashers headquarters...a handsome, blue-eyed blond about his age sitting at a table, going through report after report on Red Skies activity.

"First a bombing, then a shooting, then people being ambushed and stabbed. Well...you do have to give them points for creative thinking, right?"

Only he could find humor in something like Red Skies, Aya thought. He found humor in everything. Maybe that's what drew me to him...an opposites attract kind of thing.

He certainly had been buyont, Aya thought. Another image filled his mind of the young man lecturing his teammates like a college professor...

"Red Skies," he'd said, "from what we can tell, is run from a central base. Some unknown nutcase with an axe to grind with the world. We can't figure out who it is. And their thing is trying to get various political prisoners released. They've got goon squads all over Japan who take orders from the head guy. Think of the head as a squid, and the goon squads as tentacles...and our job, gentlemen, is to make sushi out of them."

I can't imagine anyone in Weiss describing Red Skies as "sushi," Aya thought. I can't imagine anyone in the world doing that. But...he was one of a kind...

He paced the riverbank, keeping an eye peeled for something unusual. After having served on two anti-crime squads, he was well-versed in the signs of what to look for. A person who seemed edgy, who kept looking around them. . .

But in his mind's eye, he still saw the image of the young man at the table, the person he had known for months only by his code name - Knight.

They'd fought like cats and dogs when he'd first been recruited for Crashers, over anything and everything. He could still remember their teammates Pawn and Bishop rolling their eyes and groaning whenever they realized that he and Knight were going to be in the same room together, because they knew a brawl was coming.

I fought with him, Aya thought, because I was fighting my feelings for him. Just like he told me that he was fighting his feelings for me...but when we stopped fighting them...oh, gods, it was the only time in my life I've been happy. Really, really happy.

He shook his head as if to clear it. I can't think of him, he thought. It's useless. He's dead.

Another memory passed through his head...he had returned from the hospital where his sister was to find Crashers' headquarters blown up, in flames...off to the side, someone was telling the police, "There were three people in there. Two young guys, a teenage kid. They were all blown to bits."

He had stood, listening. The emotions had welled up in him...sorrow, rage, a desire to scream aloud and run around smashing things...like when he'd found his parents dead, murdered by Reji Takatori.

But he quickly pushed the feelings down, and buried them under tons of ice. He wasn't going to feel anymore. He'd feel nothing except the desire for revenge.

I loved two people in my life, he thought. Him...and my sister. When I lost them both...there was no longer any reason to feel anything.

The rowers were moving out onto the lake now, their boats gliding across the water like immense swans. He watched without interest. He didn't care much for the Olympics, hadn't cared much for sports at all.

Better move ahead to the finish line, he thought, just to make sure there's nothing about to blow there. He made his way through the crowd, headed for the Jeep that had been assigned to his security unit...

And then, his eye caught a glimpse of someone else quickly moving through the hoards. A young man, blond, blue-eyed, dressed all in white...

He stopped short. It can't be, he thought. It can't be! He's dead! It's an illusion...I saw him because I'd just been thinking of him...

He started to move toward the Jeep again...then found himself turning in the direction he'd seen the young man. He walked a few steps...then broke into a run...

Not a sign of him. He'd vanished without a trace.

Aya pulled up to a halt. What am I doing? he thought. I'm chasing after something that doesn't exist! Just my mind playing tricks on me! I have to get back to the mission. Nothing, but nothing, is more important than the mission...

He made his way to the Jeep and pulled away, pushing his feelings down. I can't let anything get in the way of what I have to do...punishing the people who killed my parents, my former partners, my...my love...

A voice in the back of his head said, "Did they kill your lover? Didn't you just see him, or at least someone who looked just like him? Isn't there a chance he may still be alive?"

He tried to push the thought away...but it wouldn't stop. What if...what if Knight were still alive...

Ken sat in the stands of the soccer stadium, watching the scene unfold before him. Young men in uniforms, lining up one by one to take practice shots into the goal. They'd take a couple of steps back, then run up and kick the ball, which went screaming toward the young man in the net. He leapt sideways, stretching his arms out as if to receive a hug from a lover, and caught the ball, tumbling to the ground.

"Great catch!" someone shouted at him. The goalie merely smiled and booted the ball out of the box, then took his position to await the next player.

That was me, once, Ken thought. I used to be very good at those sideways diving catches. Caught a couple of balls where people said later they had no idea how I could have done it.

Another player was kicking a ball at the net, and it ended up sailing right past the goalie. I can't believe he missed that! Ken thought. That shot was so easy...gods, if it were me down there, I'd show them...

A flash of anger passed through him. Why isn't it me down there? he thought. Why are those people down on the field, and I'm up here in these bleachers, pretending to be a reporter when I can't put five words together to write a decent sentence? And even that is a cover for what I'm really here for.

He sighed. I should stop being bitter about it, he thought. I should just accept it as my lot in life. Omi does. But then again, he can't remember doing anything else. He deserves so much better than this...

And then, a voice on the field shouted, "Hidaka! Ken Hidaka! I can't believe it!" He looked down, and there was someone rushing toward him...a muscular young man with black hair and a mustache to match, about Ken's age.

Oh, gods, he thought...Toru Mishima. The center for my team. I haven't seen him since I left J-League. Hell, I haven't seen any of them since then.

"Toru!" he said. "Long time no see!"

"I thought you were dead!" The other young man ran up until he was directly below Ken. "All we heard was you were involved in some sort of a fire after you were kicked out of the League, and then, you seemed to drop off the face of the earth!"

"Oh, I didn't," Ken replied, leaning over the railing. Right now, he thought, I'd like to.

"So what are you doing here?"

Without missing a beat, Ken said, "Writing assignment. I freelance for the soccer magazines."

"Really? You're kidding! That's great! So you're making a living at it, eh?"

"Well, not exactly. I do have another job."

"Oh, yeah? What's that? Coaching? I know you were always good with little kids..."

Gods, I wish, he thought. "No. Not quite. I'm working in a flower shop."

The minute the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them. And he regretted them even more when he saw the look on Toru's face...a look that could only be interpreted as pity.

"Flower shop?" the other man said. "Well, that's certainly...interesting."

Ken suddenly felt flooded with anger. I don't want your pity, he thought. I don't need it. You have no idea what my life has been like since I left J-League.

"It's been nice talking with you," he said, "but I have an interview to do, and I'm sure you have to get back to practice."

"Sure thing. I'll see you around."

"Okay," Ken said. He got up, and started to leave the stands...

"Oh, Ken? Once more thing..."

He stopped, and turned around slowly. Just let me go, he thought, so I can get away from you.

"Yes?" he said.

"Whatever happened to Kase?"

And the familiar whirlpool of images and emotions swelled within him. Kase admitting he'd set him up and drugged his water...Kase shooting at him, over and over, and saying, "Why won't you die?"...Kase on the ground, dying, after being struck by Ken's bugnuks, saying, "I'll see you in hell."

His response had been, "This is hell." And he'd meant it.

He looked at his former teammate and said, steadily, "I don't know."

In another Olympic venue, two figures huddled in the doorway of a boathouse, clinging to each other, kissing fiercely, their hands starting to slide over each other's bodies. The woman rubbed up against the man, gasping, her hips starting to grind in the age-old rhythm of love...

"Easy, now," Yohji said. "We can't go any further...not right here, at least."

The pretty rower in his arms sighed. "Where can we go, then?"

Good question, Yohji thought. That dorm they've got the security force in is not an option. You can hear a pin drop in the next room through those paper-thin walls.

And then, an idea occurred to him. He'd been given a certain key, hadn't he? "Just in case of an emergency," he'd been told.

Well, nobody had to know it wasn't an emergency, right? And the occupants of the room wouldn't be back until the late afternoon, early evening...

"Don't worry," he said. "I know a place."

Omi continued to stare intently at his laptop screen, occasionally clicking various keys. Any casual observer would have thought he was merely taking notes on the preliminary rounds of the gymnastics competition.

Instead, he had managed to completely tap into the Olympic security system, and now had access to the system of infrared cameras throughout the village.

No TV network has a view of the Olympics like this, he thought, switching from camera to camera. Of course, they wouldn't want to see what I'm seeing right now. Cracks in the floor, fissures in the wall...He examined all of them for signs of anything unusual, indications that they might be freshly made, or concealing something else.

So far, he thought, nothing. If Red Skies has any secret passageways, or tunnels...they've concealed them really well.

He began to wonder, not for the first time, whether this whole mission was a false alarm, whether the person who made the telephone threat had no connection to Red Skies at all and was just a troublemaker. Maybe someone who deliberately wanted to get Weiss out of the country so they could wreak havoc in Tokyo. If that's the case, he thought, we could return home to a disaster.

His fingers moved on the trackball, clicking on more images from cameras, and more, and more. Still nothing, he thought. Okay, maybe it's time to just pack it in and...

And then, he saw something. Right in the back room of that very arena was something in the floor...it looked like a hollow area...

I have to check this out further, he thought. If this looks like it's really something, we have our first major clue.

He stood up and yawned, then left the press box, strolling casually, hoping he appeared to bystanders like a reporter in search of a soda machine, or a bathroom. He heard the giggles of various gymnasts who were waiting their turn to perform as he passed. He ignored them.

Back here, he thought. This room...looks like one of the locker rooms...

There was a sign on the door that said "Restricted Area," but no visible guards. If I'm caught, he thought, I'll just say I was supposed to interview one of the athletes in her locker room, and I went to the wrong one.

He pushed the door open and slipped in. Sure enough, he was greeted by the sight of rows upon rows of metal lockers. A couple of them were ajar, and were filled with coats and street clothes looking like they could be worn by a small, slim young woman.

Over here, by the corner, he thought. That's where I saw it.

He edged closer to the area, and then got down on his knees, running his fingers over the floor. There's a seam here, he thought. Someone has definitely cut out a piece of the floor and then fitted it back into place. Something is up around here. We're going to have to come investigate it tonight.

Quickly, quietly, he got to his feet and made his way back over to the door. Ken-kun will be thrilled when I tell him this, he thought. Finally, it looks like we have a mission!

Ken was less than thrilled.

He'd come back from the soccer venue feeling disgusted, dejected. All he'd wanted was to be able to lie down a few minutes and gather his thoughts.

But when he opened the door, there was the sound of female laughter, and then a moan...

Oh, gods, he thought, someone broke in! He dropped into a fighting stance, wishing like hell he had his bugnuks...

Then, Yohji emerged from the sheets, along with a startled-looking blonde. "You know," he told Ken, "you really need to learn to set your daytimer better."

Ken stood there, stunned. "Hey! Who the hell said you could use our room for..."

"Don't worry, I'll give it back in a little while."

What he'd wanted to do was yank Yohji out of that bed and deck him but good. But he restrained himself...he didn't like the idea of brawling with someone who was naked and in a state of coitus interruptus. So he'd just stalked out of the room.

"I'm confiscating that key of his," he mumbled, storming out of the dorm and into the Media Village. He passed two other dorms, a combination convenience store and laundromat...

And then, he came across the Village Tavern. He hadn't been there yet. All he knew was it was a 24-hour bar, perpetually filled with drunken journalists.

I'm not a drinker, he thought. Never have been. You can't be, if you're an athlete. But right now...a crowded, noisy bar might be the perfect place to lose myself. Maybe I can just get a soda or something.

He opened the door and walked in. The place was definitely trying for a folksy, homestyle feel...paneling on the walls, curved wooden chairs, a fireplace at the far end of the room. But a second glance revealed just how contrived that look was - the paneling was obviously closer to plastic than wood, the so-called fireplace was made of painted plaster. Ken took a seat on one of the few unoccupied stools, beneath a huge, glowing neon monstrosity trumpeting Foster's Lager.

The blond-surfer-dude type bartender approached him. "Whadya have, mate?"

Ken frowned. Figuring out English was hard enough without it being spoken in a thick Australian accent. Not for the first time, he wished he had Omi's seemingly effortless command of that language. "Coca-cola," he said, figuring that word was pretty much universal.

"Ah, you're the designated driver, eh, mate? Not too many people come in here havin' Coke with nothin' in it, ya know?"

This was going completely over Ken's head. "Ne?"

"Never mind. One Coke, comin' up."

Ken sat quietly, listening to the babbling in foreign tongues all around him. Am I the only person in this entire bar who speaks Japanese? he thought. Oh, it wasn't the first time he'd been in an international atmosphere - when he'd been in J-League, his team had done a tour of various foreign countries, playing their champion teams. But it was the first time he'd been alone in an atmosphere like that, without anyone to interpret.

The soda was set down in front of him. He pulled a couple of Australian bills out of his wallet and threw them on the bar. He didn't think he'd ever get used to Australia's money, either. He wondered if Kritiker were insane for sending them into such a foreign atmosphere. There could be Red Skies agents all around us, he thought, and we'd never know it.

He didn't notice when the door flew open and a woman with red-gold hair came breezing in, a camera bag slung over her shoulder. "Hi, Bill," she called to the surfer dude. "How are you doing?"

Ken raised his head. That voice...speaking English with a Japanese accent...it was familiar, very familiar.

"Hi, love!" the bartender replied. "Same as yesterday?"

"Mineral water with a twist of lime, yes. And plenty of..." Suddenly, she stopped short. "Oh, gods...Ken?"

He turned his head toward the woman, and his eyes flew open.

It was her. The woman he had once thought was the love of his life. The woman he had almost left Weiss for.

He'd met her right after Kase's death, and for a month or so, he'd spent every moment when he wasn't in the flower shop, or on a mission, with her. She was the only woman he'd ever made love to.

The last time he'd seen her, she was getting on a plane to start a new life. A plane he was supposed to have gone on as well...

He got off the barstool. "Yuriko?"

"Yes!" She rushed toward him, arms open. "Oh, I can't believe it's you!" And suddenly, he was enveloped in her embrace, breathing in the scent of jasmine he once knew so well. Time seemed to fall away, and suddenly, he was back in those dark days right after Kase's death, when she had been his only light...

Back in the days before he and Omi had fallen in love.

As his lover's face filled his mind, he slowly eased away from the woman. That was then, this is now, he thought. I know who the true love of my life is. But his action didn't seem to disturb her. She gave him an incandescent smile and said, "What are you doing in Australia?"

"I've started freelance writing for soccer publications," he said evenly. "One of them sent me here."

"What a coincidence! I'm freelancing, too!" She patted the bag over her shoulder. "Photography, that is. I took it up right after I moved here, and I was able to turn pro a few months ago. It's a great way to make a living. I get to do something I love, and on my own schedule. I can work for a solid week and then go cycling in the Outback!"

That was why she'd come to Australia, he thought. To ride her motorcycle in the wilderness. I'd found that wild and free spirit of hers so exciting, so sexy at the time...

"So, you're living there? Around the Outback, I mean," he said.

"Yeah, I'm living out in the country. But I come into the city a lot. Sydney is where most of the work is."

"Living alone?"

"Well, now I am. I had a...roommate for awhile. But that's over now."

A man, he thought. She probably took up with someone on the rebound from me. Just like I took up with her...lost myself in her, really...to help bury my pain over Kase. A small pang of guilt filled him...did she suffer a lot, after he decided not to come to Australia with her?

But he pushed it aside. What's done is done, he thought, and it was for the best. Had he come here with her, the relationship would have fallen apart eventually - you can't built a permanent love on running away from your problems, he thought.

And then, there was the inescapable thought that if he'd gone with her, he and Omi would have never gotten together, and he never would have known happiness.

"I'm sorry to hear that," he told her.

She shrugged. "Just one of those things. But it did make me think, for awhile."

"About what?" he said, staring into his drink knowing full well what the answer was going to be, not wanting to hear it.

"About whether I should have left Japan and come to Australia in the first place. I didn't realize at the time what I was throwing away. I should have gotten off that plane and chased after you."

"Yuriko, I..."

But she cut him right off and kept talking. "I told myself that it was going to be all right, that I was chasing my dream...I was going to find happiness in Australia. But I didn't. There's nothing really wrong with my life. It's just that, well...it's felt so empty. I thought I had everything I ever wanted...sun, sky, the open road, freedom...and, well, I didn't."

She looked at him with large, melting eyes, a look filled with love and devotion. Oh, how he used to love to see that look...over the dinner table, across a tennis court, on the pillow next to him in bed...

"I'm giving some serious thought to moving back to Japan. And seeing you again, I think, has helped me make my decision."

He shook his head as another image filled his mind's eye. Omi in his backwards baseball cap and apron, dodging female admirers...

"Yuriko...I've changed since then."

"So have I. I think I'm less selfish now. I'm willing to try to make the relationship work. Whatever it was that drove you away from me, I want to work on overcoming it." Her hand played idly with her camera bag. "I can be a freelance photographer anywhere. I already have some contacts with the Japanese press corps. Maybe you could even help me get assignments with your soccer magazine."

Good gods, he thought, she was always forward before, but this takes the cake! Five minutes after seeing him again, she was ready to chuck her entire life and go back to Japan to be with him...

"I don't think it can be overcome. We're best off keeping things as they are. We've both built our own lives, and..."

She leaned toward him. "Please, Ken, just give me a chance. I can make it work, you'll see. You're worth any sacrifice I'd have to make. I love you."

He tried to pull away, but before he could, she had captured his face in her hands and pressed her lips to his.

Omi came out of the dorm, frowning. Ken hadn't been in there, their room had been empty.

Maybe he's gone away from the Village, he thought. Or he's stuck at the soccer venue...Oh, well, might as well look around here before I travel there.

He peeked into the convenience store...no sign of him...Then, he caught sight of the tavern. Could he be in there? he thought. It's not like Ken-kun to drink, but...you never know.

He pushed the door open, walked in - and gasped.

There sat Ken, on a barstool. And he was engaged in liplock with a redheaded woman sitting next to him.

Omi just stood rooted to the spot, trembling. His eyes were seeing it...but his mind wasn't quite taking it in...

Why? he thought. Oh, gods, why? He swore he'd never abandon me, for any reason! And yet, here his is, kissing someone else...

He turned abruptly on his heel and fled the tavern, tears burning his eyes.

Ken managed to get himself disentangled from Yuriko just in time to see Omi slam the door behind him. "Oh, NO!" he cried, leaping from the stool. "Omi!"

"Omi?" the woman said.

"Dammit, he saw us!" Without another word, Ken ran out of the bar.

Yuriko just sat there for a moment, stunned. This was definitely not the Ken she'd known. That Ken had put her at the center of his universe, was willing to do anything and everything for her. She had been fantasizing for some time about seeing him again...and this was not how she'd imagined the reunion to be.

Who is this Omi? she thought. It can't be that little blond guy who just flew out of here like a bat out of hell, is it? No, it can't be! Ken isn't gay! He sure as hell wasn't gay when he was with me!

But then, she remembered what he'd just said...that there was an insurmountable obstacle in the way of their being together again, that he'd changed...

He couldn't have changed that much, she thought...could he?

Ken dashed through he Village. Where did he go? he thought. He rushed back to the room, but it was empty. He searched all the public areas, stores...no sign.

He ran back out to the main thoroughfare. "Omi!" he called aloud. "Where are you?" No answer.

Oh, gods, please don't let him have run away somewhere where I can't find him, he thought. Please don't let him be hurt, don't let him have done something stupid.

He nearly crashed into a slight little brunette wearing the warmup suit of a Russian gymnastics team member. Maybe this kid knows him, he thought. He said all the gymnasts were always coming over and talking to him...hopefully, she speaks English...

Ken reached back for his meager command of that language and said, "Excuse...seen Omi? Blonde Japanese boy reporter..."

The girl paused, apparently running these words through her own mental translator. When she had figured them out, she pointed toward the street. "He got on Number 6 bus."

Just as I was afraid of, he thought...he's taken off somewhere. "Arigato!" he said, running for the bus stop. I don't know where the hell this bus goes, he thought. I have no idea where he might have gotten off...all I can do is ride around and around and hope I catch a glimpse of him.

He stood there, impatient, watching a Number 2 bus come and go, and a Number 4, and a Number 8...If I knew where the damn bus went, I'd run after him right here and now, he thought. Finally, a 6 pulled up, and he leapt on it, just pulling out a handful of Australian money and tossing them into the collection box. He moved toward the back of the bus, where he could get a seat by the window.

The bus pulled away, and headed through a downtown area. Ken scoured the faces in the crowd - nothing, absolutely nothing This is foolish, he thought., and began to feel even more foolhardy when the bus pulled out of town, and began making its way through a wooded area.

Great, he thought. Even if he's here, there's no way I'll...

And then, he caught sight of it. A familiar jacket hanging from a low-hanging, bristly tree branch. His hand shot up to push the "stop" button.

The driver pulled the bus to a halt. "Sure you want to get off here, mate?" he said. "There's nothin' out there!"

"I'm sure," Ken replied. Hopefully, he thought, there is something out there. "Thanks."

He got off the bus and examined the coat. It was Omi's, all right. Probably caught it on a branch, he thought, and took it off rather than try to disentangle himself, if he was running along in a blind panic, crying...

Disentangling it, he walked straight back from where the jacket had been. Soon, he heard the sounds of soft sobbing.

Omi sat on the ground in the middle of the forest, crying.

He was sitting right where he'd fallen. He'd barely remembered getting on that bus, getting off at the woods...he'd started to run, gotten his jacket caught on a branch, shrugged out of it, kept on running...

He couldn't blank out the mental picture of Ken kissing that woman. Who is she? he thought. Where did she come from? Oh, gods, how could he do this after everything we've been to each other?

More images rushed through his mind. Ken and himself starting to eat lunch together, then getting in a fencing match with their chopsticks, laughing...Ken risking his life to save Omi's during a mission...Ken chasing him around the flower shop, ticking him, laughing...Ken's sleepy, blissful face after they made love, his soft voice whispering "I love you, Angel"...

"How could you?" he murmured, then stood up, the words coming again as a scream of rage - "HOW COULD YOU?"


Was it him? No, it couldn't be! Not all the way out here! He was imagining it.

"Omi, please look at me."

He turned around, slowly. It was Ken, all right, Ken holding his jacket, his eyes filled with love and concern...No, he can't love me, Omi thought. He couldn't really love me and do what he did.

"Go away," he said in a cold, little voice.

"Let me talk to you." Ken was moving toward him, slowly.

Omi backed up several steps, quickly, like a deer skitting away from a hunter. "I said, GO AWAY. I have nothing to say to you."

"Please, hear me out. It wasn't what it looked like."

"Then what was it? It looked like a man and a woman kissing, if you ask me!" Omi's hands gripped the bark of a tree, as if he was trying to draw the massive, ancient oak's strength into his own body.

"I didn't kiss her! She kissed me!" Ken moved toward Omi again, and he backed up again.

"What difference does it make?"

Ken's face was bearing a look of desperation now. "Omi, she means nothing to me. Not anymore."

"Not anymore? You mean, she's an ex-girlfriend?"

"Do you remember right after...the Kase mission...I was involved with a woman..."

Omi thought back to that time period, before he and Ken fell in love...Ken was absent from the flower shop then almost as much as he was there. It had bothered Omi, for reasons he couldn't figure out back then. And when he'd announced he was planning to leave Weiss, and go to Australia with this woman...Omi had been devastated.

"Oh, I remember, all right," he said. "You almost left us for her once and now you're doing it again."

"I'm not doing it again! I'm not going to leave anyone for her!"

"But you were kissing her! I saw!"

"Dammit, she grabbed me and forced her lips on mine! Why won't you believe me, Omi?"

But the boy had turned tail and started running through the woods, away from him. "KUSO!" Ken swore, and took off in pursuit, his strong, swift athlete's legs helping him overtake Omi quickly...

He's gaining on me, Omi thought. I won't give him the satisfaction. He put on an extra burst of speed and found himself running faster than he ever had on a mission, or during running races at school, the trees flying past him in brown and green blurs. He was oblivious to any shortness of breath, or cramps in his muscles...

And then, a small animal rushed across his path. He tried to stop in time, but one foot caught on it, sending him sprawling. He hit the ground with a painful thud, rolling over and over, feeling like he was going to keep rolling until he landed in Sydney Harbor.

"OMI!" Ken shouted, and ran to his fallen lover's side. He was lying on the ground, his eyes closed, his breathing shallow...Ken knelt beside him, gently touching his face...

Then, suddenly, Omi's eyes shot open and he sat bolt upright, lashing out at Ken with a lighting-quick right fist. Ken, who was well trained in handling these situations, grabbed the arm and twisted it behind Omi's back. Omi howled in protest.

"Listen to me!" he said. "Yuriko doesn't mean anything to me. There was a time when she did. When Kase died, Omi...I just needed someone to hold onto. She came into my life, and was sweet, and fun-loving, and was into the things I was into...and I thought I was in love. Thought I was in love. I wasn't."

"How do you know you weren't?" Omi's eyes were still burning at him, with the kind of look Ken usually only saw during missions.

"Because I didn't know what real love felt like until the first night I spent with you! Omi, I was in love with you from the day we met, but I didn't know it...or wouldn't admit it to myself..."

He saw the other's eyes start to soften. He relaxed his hold on the arm. Omi brought it back quietly to his side.

"I didn't think you'd ever love me, Omi," he said. "I didn't feel worthy of you. Especially after what happened with Kase. I never felt truly worthy of Yuriko, either."

Now, his eyes had softened almost all the way back to normal. "Ken," he whispered. "Just now...what I saw..."

"She approached me in the tavern. She's a freelance photographer in Australia now. She came on to me and told me she wanted to go back to Tokyo with me. I was starting to tell her that it was impossible, that I've changed. I was going to tell her about you. But she grabbed me and kissed me."

Omi's hand reached up...but this time, it was to grasp Ken's hand. "Oh, Ken..."

"I said I'd never abandon you, and I mean it. You're everything to me, Omi. I love you."

There was a pause, during which Omi trembled with emotion, seeming on the verge of tears again.

Then, he flung his arms around Ken, crushing his mouth against the other boy's. Ken's arms surrounded Omi, enclosing him, as his lips pressed on Omi's, hard, insistent, letting him know without words that he was loved, so loved...His tongue began to probe into his lover's mouth, and they began to stroke and caress each other, holding onto one another tight, tighter, never wanting to let go.

Ken grasped the bottom of Omi's T-shirt, pulling it up slightly. Omi pulled away just long enough for the garment to be removed and tossed away, then flung himself at Ken again, holding him close, closer, his lips caressing Ken's as he felt the other boy's hands start to move over his bare back. Omi yanked at Ken's shirt, feeling like he could never pull it off fast enough, and he rubbed his body against his lover's, moaning as bare skin slid over bare skin. Ken moaned as well, writhing in Omi's embrace, feeling his manhood swell until he thought it would burst right through his pants.

As he rolled Omi beneath him so the younger boy was lying on the ground, the first raindrops began to fall, splashing against their bare skin, cool against hot. One rolled down Omi's neck, and Ken lapped at the trail of wetness it left, feeling his lover's strong, rapid pulse beneath his tongue. More droplets sprinkled across his shoulders and back, and when he pulled away from Omi for a second, one landed right on his left nipple. Ken lowered his head and licked the water, and kept licking, the bud swelling and hardening, inviting him to take it in and suck.

Omi cried out as Ken suckled his nipple, his hips jerking upward, wanting to rub, to caress, to create hot friction and strike sparks and burn down this entire damn forest. The rain was falling faster and faster and it was delicious, the contrast of cool and hot exiting him all the more. He reached down and found the snap of Ken's jeans, undoing it and pulling down the zipper, sliding his hands inside, finding his erection and stroking it.

Ken groaned, Omi's fingers fluttering over him, making his blood feel like lava. Oh, gods, he needed to feel all of him against all of Omi... He pulled back, hearing the other boy groan in disappointment. "Just a minute, love," he whispered, unfastening Omi's pants, yanking them down and off, getting rid of his own...Ken lay full-length atop Omi, the boy's arms gripping him, pulling their bodies together, and he started to move, sliding back and forth, their rain-soaked skins gliding against each other effortlessly. He shifted a bit so their manhoods were touching, and just held still a moment, savoring the feel of it, heat on heat, hard on hard... .

"Ken," Omi groaned. "Oh, Ken!"

"Omi...Angel..." Ken began to pump his hips, rubbing them together, and warm heat was spreading in his belly, and both of them were moaning loudly, their cries mingling with the murmur of the forest, the patter of the raindrops. Omi raised his hips to match Ken's every thrust, over and over, burst after burst of pleasure shooting from his erection through every cell, every pore...

"Ohh..." Omi groaned. "So good...so good..."

"Darling...if only I could be inside you..."

"Get my pants," Omi whispered.

Ken stopped thrusting, looking puzzled. He reached for the pants he'd pulled off Omi, and handed them to him. Omi fished in the pocket for a second, and came up with a small tube of KY and a condom.

"I've been carrying them with me," he said with a smile, "ever since those few times when we didn't quite make it to the bedroom. We can be very spontaneous."

"What makes you think that?" Ken said with a laugh, feeling the raindrops wash over his face as if they were cleansing him of all the unpleasantness from before. He opened the foil package, opened the tube and prepared himself. Omi positioned himself on all fours, tilting his bottom upward, and Ken bent over, gently kissing and nipping at the right cheek, then the left. He coated a finger with lubricant and began to gently massage his entrance, coaxing it to let him in.

Omi sucked in his breath at the little bit of pain that followed, but it faded quickly, and was replaced by warm pleasure. He moaned as the finger slid around inside him, moving in and out, and then moaned again as it was joined by a second. He wondered if he could come just from having Ken's fingers inside him, without Ken touching his manhood...but he didn't want to find out just now. He wanted Ken to finish opening him up and just take him.

"Please, Ken," he moaned. "Oh, please..."

"Almost ready, honey," Ken said, sliding the two fingers out...then back in again a few moments later, joined by a third. He was impatient as Omi was, but he wanted to make sure the boy was properly prepared to receive him. He wanted no pain involved, just pure, wild pleasure.

Omi moaned in anticipation as the fingers were removed, and he felt Ken grasp his hips, then the tip of his maleness pressing on his opening. He thrust backward, trying to impale himself on his lover.

"Easy, baby, easy," Ken whispered. "Take it slow...make it last...I want to love you for a long, long time."

Omi pushed backward again, but slower, and Ken pushed forward, and they felt themselves becoming one, melding together by degrees. Ken's arms tightened around Omi, and he pulled them both backward, so Ken was sitting on the ground with Omi in his lap. The younger boy tilted his head back, and they brought their lips together, kissing tenderly, their tongues flickering against each other.

"You're in control," Ken whispered. "Move however you like."

Omi began to move up and down, slowly, shifting the angle a bit this way, then that. His hand groped for Ken's, which he took and led to his own manhood. Ken grasped the organ, stroking it gently to the rhythm of Omi's thrusts, his lover's soft, husky moan like the sweetest music in his ears. He slid his other hand up Omi's stomach and chest until his fingers encountered a nipple, which he began to caress.

Omi flung his head back, letting out one long, low moan after another, feeling enveloped in heat. He thrust harder, faster, wanting Ken deep, so deep within him, wanting his lover to fill every little bit of emptiness in his entire being...the fingers on his manhood teased, danced, caressed, swirling over the head, teasing the opening, stroking the shaft down, up, down again...At the same time his nipple was being gently squeezed, then rubbed, then tickled...

Ken raised his hips off the ground, again and again and again, Omi's passage gripping him, squeezing him, sending one wave of delicious sensation after another coursing through his body. He bit his lip, struggling to hold on, to make it last, oh, how he wanted this to last forever, but he needed release too, needed it so bad...

"Angel...oh, Angel...oh, gods, I think I'm almost there...

"Me too...oh, Ken, it's so good, it's so good, oh, yes, ohhh, yes..."

They thrust together, and thrust again, and then Omi felt the sweet eruption deep in his soul, letting out a loud cry as spasms of heat wracked his body, and Ken felt the same delicious fire consume him seconds later. He cried Omi's name as he hit his peak, his entire body writhing as he shuddered in ecstasy.

Ken collapsed onto the ground, Omi on top of him, clinging to him as the last shivers passed through them both. "I love you," Ken whispered. "I love you so much..."

"I love you, too."

Omi reluctantly moved so Ken slipped out of him, then turned over so he was lying with his head on Ken's chest. He purred contentedly, and purred again as Ken stroked his rain-slicked hair.

"Omi, honey..."

"Mmmm." He kissed Ken's chest and snuggled against him again.

"We have to get out of here, Angel. For one thing, it's still raining like hell. For another, we have to get back to the Village, we have a meeting with the others."

"I don't want..." Then, suddenly, he remembered what he had run into the tavern to tell Ken in the first place, and he sat bolt upright. "Ken-kun! I have so much to tell you! I was looking through the security system and I. .."

"Tell me on the way back to the bus, sweetheart." He gave Omi one last kiss, then stood up, reaching for his discarded clothes.

His discarded, mud-soaked clothes...

We're going to cut quite a figure at the meeting, he thought.

Aya sat alone in the tin shed that was their temporary headquarters. He was a bit early for the meeting, and didn't expect the others to turn up right away. Ken and Omi, he knew, had to make their way back from various Olympic venues. And Yohji...was Yohji. There was one clock for the rest of the world, and another just for him.

He wondered why they were having this meeting, anyway. Unless the other two had found anything, there would be nothing to talk about. He had certainly noticed nothing unusual.

This whole mission is shaping up to be a waste of time, he thought. We should be back in Tokyo, where I can keep an eye on my sister - and on Takatori. He still had a nagging suspicion that the corrupt politician and crime lord was committing some particularly heinous acts in their absence.

Not to mention Red Skies themselves, he thought. Did Kritiker take into consideration that the whole threat might have been a bluff to get the police - and us - to go off to Sydney on a wild goose chase, leaving them free to blow up half of Tokyo? These people don't know how Red Skies works as well as I do.

As well as he and I did...

He leaned back against the wall, listening to the rain drum on the roof. It was bringing back memories of another tin shed, another rainstorm...

They were hiding in a tin shack near a college football field. They'd gotten a tip that a couple of Red Skies leaders would be meeting at the field after midnight. But it was already well after midnight, and there was no sign of them.

"Maybe they had the good sense not to go out in this weather," Knight said, pulling his white jacket tightly around him. He was always dressed all in white, in contrast to Aya's own black. Pawn, the youngest member of Crashers, had remarked that they looked like a set of salt and pepper shakers.

Aya snorted. "If they had any kind of good sense, they wouldn't be members of something like Red Skies in the first place."

"Oh, I don't know. Might fill a real need in their lives. Some people just have to deal with their deprived childhoods by blowing innocent strangers up."

Aya smiled a bit. Knight was one of the few people who could get him to do that. "They must have been very deprived to want to do that."

"Hey, there've been times when I wanted to blow people up," Knight said. "Like that guy with the huge boom box who walks past my window every single morning and wakes me up."

"I've never heard him."

"You're lucky," Knight replied. "I think you're the only person in the house who hasn't." He blew on his white-gloved hands...the temperature in the shack had bypassed "chilly" and was headed toward "arctic."

Aya smiled again. "I just get woken up every morning by you, stomping down the hall mumbling about being woken up."

"I don't stomp down the hall, do I?"

"Louder than Godzilla."

"Ah, well. My sister used to tell me that, too."

Aya's ears pricked up at that. "Sister? You didn't tell me you had a sister."

Knight nodded. "She's blind. One reason I joined Crashers was to get money to pay for the special school she goes to. When my parents died, they didn't leave us much money."

"Where is she living now?"

"With our grandmother. I try to see then a couple of times a year, when I can get away from Crashers business."

Aya looked down. "Then we have more in common than I thought."

"What do you mean?"

"I'm in Crashers because of my sister, too."

He watched the other boy's face as he relayed the terrible story...coming home from a festival to find his parents dead, watching Reiji Takatori run his sister over...Knight's eyes were stunned, then sorrowful, seeming on the verge of tears.

When Aya had finished speaking, Knight sat in silence for a moment. Then, he said, quietly, "You never told me this."

"I never told anyone. I didn't think they needed to know."

"I needed to know. Because I..." Knight broke off abruptly, as if he were about to say something he would regret later. He paused a second, then chuckled. "Well, there's plenty of things we don't know about each other, is there? Like our real names."

"Crashers members always use code names."

"That's always Queen who insisted on that, isn't it?" he said, referring to one of the group's two leaders. "And...Queen's not here. We can tell each other."

Knight leaned over closer to Aya, and Aya felt his heart start to pound. Why? he thought. This is just Knight, just my teammate who I see every day...the guy I fought like cats and dogs with when I first joined this group...this isn't like me, I don't get like this with anyone, male or female.

"My real name," Knight said in a soft voice, "is Yuushi. Yuushi Honjou."

Yuushi, he thought. The name fits him. He answered back, feeling a bit breathless, "Mine is Ran. Ran Fujimiya."

Yuushi leaned over more, his hand covering the other boy's. "Nice to meet you, Ran," he said in a near-whisper.

As if in a dream, Aya found himself leaning forward slowly, closing the remaining space between them, and then their lips were touching, brushing against each other very lightly, then coming together in a sweet kiss. Slowly, their arms came up and around until they were locked in a tight embrace, lips breaking apart, coming together, breaking apart again. Aya felt suspended out of time, out of space, as if the entire world had fallen away, leaving just the two of them. He found himself tipping his head back, inviting the other boy to kiss his jawline, his neck...

And then, they heard the voices outside. The targets had arrived. They eased apart, their hands still clasped.

"Showtime," Yuushi whispered, a slight blush spreading over his face.

Aya smiled, a bit wider than he had before. "Yeah," he whispered.

They let go of each other's hands, slowly, reluctantly, and crept out of the shed...

Our first kiss, Aya thought. Far from our last. He remembered stolen pecks when Queen wasn't looking...long kisses on the beach at night...Yuushi's lips on his as they pressed their naked bodies together on Aya's bed...

Gods, thinking about him hurts so much, he thought. I've tried to keep myself from feeling anything...especially after I lost him...but he is the one thing that's ever made me feel deeply. He always has been.

Again, he remembered the blond man he'd seen in the crowd. Was it him? he thought. Is Yuushi still alive? And if he is...why did Kritiker convince me he was dead all this time?

If he's alive, he thought...if we were to find each other...I'd feel like a person again, and not just a murderer.

He heard the door of the shed open. He looked up and caught a shock of blond hair. His heart sped up...

It was only Yohji.

"They're not here?" he said. "Geez, I thought they'd be the first ones!"

Aya shook his head. "I haven't heard anything from them."

"This isn't like them. I'd like to think it's because they're onto something. 'Course, someone's probably onto them. Like those little gymnastics girls who seem to like Omi. I've heard that they hang all over him like..."

The door of the shed opened again. There stood two young male figures, hair completely plastered down, clothes splattered with mud, soaked to the skin, with telltale dazed, happy looks in their eyes...

The other two just stared at them for a moment. Then Yohji said, "I am not saying a single word."

"So what we should do is this," Omi told the others. "We go there after hours, open the floor and go in. With luck, we'll be able to apprehend them. At the very least, we'll probably be able to find some concrete clues as to what they're up to."

"What makes you so sure it's not just some kind of delivery chute?" Yohji said.

"I'm not sure. But it does look suspicious. If it were something legitimate, there'd probably be some kind of markings as to where the trap door was. This was so well-concealed you wouldn't know what it was unless you looked for it."

"You mean they just go around cutting holes in floors to..." said Yohji.

"Yes," Aya interrupted, abruptly. "I've seen them do this kind of thing before. We found a hole like that cut in the floor of the American Embassy once."

"So what happened?" said Ken.

"We caught a couple of their guys," said Aya in a curt tone of voice that implied he didn't want to discuss the matter further.

He's always like that when he talks about Crashers, Ken thought. Or rather, talks about what he did with Crashers. We know nothing about the group themselves. He acts like talking about it would be an invasion of his privacy. Geez, what the hell could they have been up to he won't talk about? It sure as hell can't be worse than what we do!

"All right," Omi said. "Tonight, then. We'll meet back here at midnight." And now, he thought, I need a shower. A long, hot one. And I think Ken-kun does, too.

One by one, they left the shed, first Omi, then Ken, then Aya, with Yohji being the last.

Omi stood under the shower, vigorously scrubbing his hair. He was feeling more refreshed already. He knew he'd be up to the mission that night.

I just want what I found to pan out, he thought. He knew that his initial enthusiasm about the Australia trip was waning fast, between the gymnasts throwing themselves at him and the Yuriko incident from earlier that day.

"This is more anxiety than I need during a mission," he muttered aloud as he rinsed out the suds. "I have to focus."

But focusing would be a bit easier now that he'd been assured Yuriko was no threat to his relationship with Ken. I can't lose him, he thought. If I lost him, I'd die.

Outside, in their room, Ken was rummaging in a drawer for his shampoo, powder and razor, aniticipating his own turn in the bathroom. He also had the Yuriko incident on his mind.

I hope I don't see her again he thought. He'd certainly been shocked, running into her. He'd known she'd moved to Australia, but the Olympics was the last place he'd expected to find her...she'd been a wild and free spirit, and "establishment" institutions like the Olympics were definitely not her thing.

That's why it could never work out in the end, he thought. She was a free spirit, and I'm bound to duty. Much as I don't want to admit it sometimes.

From the shower came the sound of a clunk, like a bottle being knocked over, and a soft voice muttering to himself. Ken smiled.

Besides, he thought, I was destined to belong to someone else...

Aya headed back toward his security post, turning up the collar of his coat as if to block out the memories.

He knew that was fruitless. It was impossible for him to do a mission involving Red Skies without Yuushi entering his head. As far as he was concerned, the two were linked.

And seeing that guy earlier wasn't helping things...

But he knew he had to fight it, had to push it aside. Brooding wasn't going to help him get his revenge. Nothing was more important than the missions, and making sure his sister was safe.

I have to devote myself entirely to getting my revenge on Takatori and all the scum like him, he thought. I can't rest until every last one of them is punished, until my sister is avenged. There is no room for love in my life. Not anymore.

Yohji lingered in the shed for a moment. He knew there was still several hours until the mssion, and he was trying to think of the best way to fill that time.

He considered finding Mimi, the rower, again. Or finding that basketball player...or that sprinter...or those two pretty photographers from the women's sports magazine.

There's an endless amount of possibilities for the hours before the mission, he thought. I could line up dates for two or three of them in the same evening, if I really wanted, and the idea certainly sounds tempting...

He felt a small pain deep in his heart. He was doing it again. He was using multiple women to try to fill the hole in his heart caused by the loss of one woman, the one woman he had truly loved, the woman he would never see again.

It was midnight in the Olympic Village.

The taverns were bursting at the seams with hard-drinking journalists, partying tourists, and the occasional athlete sneaking a forbidden libation. A few people strolled in the streets, going from bar to bar, or just wanting to see what the facilities looked like when they weren't under constant seige from the media and piles of visitors.

Nobody noticed the four figures slipping through the shadows, who seemed to have melded with the very night itself.

They approached a side door of the gymnastics arena. "It's an electronic lock," Omi whispered. "You need a special master key to get in..."

"Like this one?" Yohji said, holding up one of the key cards he'd been issued as a security officer.

"Bingo," Omi replied.

Yohji used the key, and they slipped in. "It's in this room over here," Omi whispered.

"Um, Omi...aren't the cameras which picked up your hole in the floor going to pick up us?" Ken asked.

Omi shook his head. "I've hacked into their system again and jammed the signal coming from the cameras in this area. We're safe for at least two hours."

"Is that going to be enough time?" Ken replied.

They had reached the locker room, and Omi shone his flashlight around the floor, looking for the precise spot. "Right...there!" he said, kneeling down next to it. Looking up at Ken, he said, "My gut feeling is if we're going to find something out, we're going to find it out fast. These people don't fool around."

Aya knelt on the other side of the area, running his fingers along the floor until he found the seam. He drew his katana and jammed the tip of it into the crack, tipping it backward to pry the floor up. He grasped the piece of wood and started to lift it out of the way, the others helping.

Ken shone his flashlight into the hole. "Not a very long way down. We can jump easily." He demonstrated by leaping in. The others followed.

They looked around them. They were apparently at the end point of an underground passageway. Stone walls surrounded them on three sides. The fourth side was a dank, stone-lined corridor.

Omi shone his light over the walls, closely scrutinizing them. He was looking for any small markings on the wall, any seemingly innocent blots of paint. He knew that Red Skies had a habit of marking things with near-invisible gryphons, their most commonly used symbol.

Yohji started to walk down the hall. "Not exactly Studio 54, is it?"

"See anything?" Ken said.

Omi shook his head. "Nothing unusual. Let's walk..."

They followed Yohji down the corridor. It took a turn, and another turn, and yet another. They looked around for any seams in the walls that may betray a hiding place, any markings, anything that may have been carelessly left behind...

"Nothing," Omi said. "Absolutely nothing!"

"Not nothing," Ken replied. "Look up there...see those seams in the ceiling? This looks like an entranceway into another building...Yohji, give me a boost, will you?"

Yohji grasped Ken about the waist and lifted him until Ken could press upward on the panel, pushing it out of the way. He grasped the lip of the exit and hauled himself up until his torso was out of the hole. Leaning forward on his elbows, he glanced around. In the very dim light, he could make out lockers, and there was a scent of chlorine in the air.

"This seems to be the swimming arena," he said.

"Get down out of there, Ken-kun!" Omi said. "The cameras there aren't jammed. You could get caught!"

Yohji lowered Ken until he could slide the panel back into place. "There's probably some other exits like this," he said.

They continued down the corridor, scrutinizing the ceiling, and, sure enough, the telltale seams showed up in several more places. Three of them led into other locker rooms. Two others, however, seemed to end up in...

"It's another storage area!" Ken said. "Nothing but a bunch of sacks of some sort."

"Sacks?" Omi said. "Anything in them?"

"Nope. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just...potatoes, it seems." Ken lowered himself out of the hole and dropped to the floor. "And since this looks like the end of the tunnel, that's the last one."

Omi shook his head. "Then we found nothing concrete. Dammit!" He slammed his fist against the wall in frustration.

"Hey, at least we got somewhere! Yohji said. "We found the openings, right? We just keep a close eye on those buildings, see if there's anything unusual..."

"I had hoped...there would be more," Omi sighed.

Ken put his arm around him. "They're always like that, hon. Remember, we've had plenty of problems trying to catch up with them before. Most of the time, it's been just pure luck."

"The only constant with Red Skies is their unpredictability," Aya said as they started to work their way back.

"I wish we could just find whoever's behind them and put them out of business for good," Omi sighed.

Aya winced at that. He remembered Yuushi saying those exact words one night after a particularly grueling mission, one which had left Yuushi with a black eye and a nasty gash on his hand. He remembered kneeling in front of Yuushi's chair, bandaging his wounds, then getting up and carefully embracing him...

No, he thought. I have to put those thoughts out of my mind completely. Yuushi is gone. The man I saw was just someone who looked like him. I have to believe that. Because if I start believing he's alive, and he isn't...He shoved the thoughts and feelings aside, steeling himself, focusing on the mission, always the mission, always killing and revenge, so he'd never have to feel again...

"Oh, there's the cute blonde boy again!"

"He was looking at you before, you know that?"

"No, he was looking at you. He couldn't take his eyes off you when you were on the beam!"

Omi tuned out the voices of the pixies in tights. Every day, they sounded more and more like the flower shop girls. He was finding it increasingly hard to keep up the pretense of being the cheerful boy reporter. Especially since he was getting increasingly frustrated with the mission.

He was checking and rechecking all floor plans and data on the buildings where they'd found the openinings. I can see why we found them in the locker rooms, if Red Skies is planning to attack the athletes, he thought. But why in storage closets? It just doesn't make sense! Why not the Athletes' Village, or one of their dining halls...

A hand landed on his shoulder, and a familiar deep voice said, "I hear Bela Karolyi wants you thrown out of Sydney for distracting his girls."

Omi jumped. "Yohji-kun! Don't startle me like that!"

Yohji leaned close to him and whispered, "Find anything else?"

Omi shook his head. "One dead end after another."

"Keep looking. Meanwhile, I'm going to do some special investigating."

Yohji left the gymnastics arena and got onto a motorcycle. He looked around him, scrutinizing the area, then kicked the bike into gear. He roared down one road, then another, then another, until he had reached his destination.

Yes, he knew this site well. And he knew exactly what would be waiting for him.

He gazed into the doorway. It was the entrance to the track and field stadium. At this point in the games, the heavy competition there had not yet kicked into gear, and there was no one there but some athletes who were practicing.

He watched from the shadows, not wanting to be noticed. No, right now he was just going to observe, until...

"Yohji!" a melodious female voice cried. "You did come! I didn't think you would!"

He smiled to himself. Ah, yes, it was her, the lovely Japanese sprinter he'd met in one of the dining halls the previous day.

"I wouldn't have missed seeing you run for the world," he said, smoothly. "You didn't disappoint. You were beautiful out there - graceful as a bird in flight."

The young woman just stared at him, sun glinting off her short, brown hair, indigo eyes ablaze with stars. "Yohji...that's beautiful!"

"And so are you, my dear Marika," he said, steadily. "If you've got a break in your training, I would love it if you'd come share a cup of coffee with me."

She looked back at her trainer with a worried expression which said that cup of coffee would not come easily - he'd want her to train and train and train some more - but she was going with Yohji anyway

"Sure," she said. "I'd love to!"

She ran off to talk to her coach, and Yohji relaxed. Working like a charm, he thought. Oh, I'll ask her some questions about whether she's seen anything usual while we're out, of course. I haven't forgotten the fact that I'm on a mission. But there's no saying we can't have any...side distractions.

The athlete came back. "Okay, let's go!" she said happily, zipping the top of her track suit over her practice gear. "I've got an hour."

"An hour?" He made a face. "That's not nearly enough time to spend with you. Want to have dinner with me tonight? I've gotten a tip about an adorable little bistro a couple of miles from here. It's got soft music, candlelit tables, an intimate atmosphere..."

Now her eyes were really lighting up. "Really?" she said. "I'd LOVE that!"

He smiled to himself. I'll bribe Aya and Ken and Omi so that he'll stay in their room tonight, he thought. And then, I'll have our room, and her, all to myself...

"I'd LOVE to have dinner out!" she continued. "The food in the Olympic Village has been simply terrible!"

He stood for a second, just frozen to the spot. I can't believe that! he thought. I've been...shot down...

"Of course," she said, "it may get better after tomorrow, you know. The people who run the Olympic Village are bringing in a real Japanese chef to cook for us. Finally, we'll get real Japanese food!"

He forced a smile. "That's great," he said.

"So...what time should we meet? About seven, at my dorm?"

"Sure." Suddenly, the evening didn't look as exciting as it once did.

"Terrific!" She started to leave...then turned around and came back...

"Oh, and Yohji?" She moved close to him...very close...and ran the tips of her fingers down his arm. "I'm really looking forward to tonight."

Suddenly, the evening was looking up again. "So am I."

"You want me to do WHAT?" Aya said.

"Come on, it's just for one night!" Yohji replied, as he paced around their shared room. It didn't take long...it was so small it make Ken and Omi's room look the size of a football field. "I just want a bit of quality time alone with her, that's all!"

"Doesn't she have a dorm room?"

"She's rooming with three other Japanese athletes. Not happy with the living arrangements, either. She said the dorm is lousy and the food is lousy. Well, it will be until tomorrow. They're supposed to be brining in some chef to cook for the athletes..."

Something was suddely triggered in the back of Aya's mind...half a memory, struggling to come to the surface and become whole. Something in the past about chefs, and food, and poison...

"What else did she said about it?" he asked Yohji.

"What, about the chefs?" Yohji said. Strange question, he thought. "Just that the administrators of the Olympic Village had arranged to bring them in to give the Japanese athletes some real Japanese cuisine." He picked up his jacket. "I have to go meet her. Now, about our deal..."

Aya gave Yohji one of his trademark glowers. "I'll think about it, but I can't guarantee the room will be empty when you get back."

"Fine," Yohji said, and left.

Aya watched him go. Bribing me to stay out the room so he can have it for a love nest, he thought. Unbelievable. In the middle of a mission, he does this...

Again, the nagging thought arose in his head. Something about chefs that he had heard before...

He found himself reaching for something under his bed, a cardboard accordion-shaped box. It was his portable Red Skies filing cabinet. Pulling out mission reports and photographs, he began to review them...

I remember this mission, he thought as he looked at a photograph of what looked like an old mansion. Crashers...There was a big garden party, and we disguised ourselves as waiters...Yuushi ended up spilling a drink on some old guy and...

"Enough!" he said aloud. "Yuushi isn't still alive! My mind was playing tricks on me! I have to finish this mission!"

He went through the box again and again. Nothing that rings a bell among the documented missions. Maybe I was wrong, he thought.

Then, he came across a file called, "Incidents Which May Have Red Skies Involvement." The ones where they thought the terrorists might have been the perpetrators, but they weren't sure. No "crashing" of the crime ring was done at the end of these.

He started to flip through them, when something caught his eyes.

"Ten people were found dead after the party. All had eaten food prepared by master Japanese chefs who were brought in to cater the affair..."

A few pages later, something similar: "The victims were all said to have eaten a meal prepared by the evening's special guest chef..."

And again. "All of those who collapsed had attended a buffet prepared by a special guest chef..."

Red Skies...and food, Aya thought. Just like them to use food as a secret weapon. Everyone would expect a notorious terrorist group to use bombs, or guns, or something equally showy. They wouldn't expect them to quietly slip poison into food.

He remembered Weiss's first Red Skies-related mission. A classmate of Omi's had been poisoned - they had snuck it into bags of trail mix.

Yes, he thought, this is looking more and more like that's what they have up their sleeves.

Maybe I'll go to Ken and Omi's place after all, he thought. Have Omi look up a few more similar incidents, do some research on just how they booked the guest chef...

If this pans out, he thought, we may have found the clue that ends the mission.

Omi shook his head and looked up at the other two. "No record at all," he said. "Absolutely no sign of anyone on the Japanese or International Olympic Committees hiring a guest chef."

"Well, it could be that they just haven't filed the report yet," Ken said. "After all, these people have just a few things on their minds right now."

"Still," Omi said, "it just doesn't seem right." He sat deep in thought for a few moments, looking down at the screen of his laptop, then looked back up. "Ken-kun...when you went into those storage rooms...what was there?"

"Um...well, one of them had a stack of potato sacks, and the other one...just some crates piled up..." Suddenly, something snapped into his memory. "And the crates said...that they contained cans of vegetables."

"Food storage rooms," Aya said.

"That's what the tunnels were for!" Omi said, leaping out of the seat. "To deliver poisoned goods to the food storage rooms! The outlets into the locker rooms were probably just a bluff...so if anyone were to discover the tunnels, they'd think Red Skies was planning to plant a bomb under one of the locker rooms!"

"When did Yohji say the chef was supposed to arrive?" Ken said.

"Tomorrow," Aya said. "Which means that if they're going to bring in poisoned food, it's going to be done tonight."

Ken pulled out his cell phone. "Then Yohji's date is going to end early," he said. "We're going to take care of these bastards tonight."

"I can't believe I had to just leave her sitting there," Yohji grumbled as he picked the lock on the back entrance of the kitchen of the athletes' main dining hall. "I don't think she bought the excuse, either. Probably thinks I'm off to meet another woman."

"I think this is slightly more important than your interrupted date," Aya said in an icy tone.

"Besides, it's not as if you'll never attract anyone else," Ken added.

The door opened, and the four assassins crept in. "Notice anything that wasn't there before?" Omi whispered.

Ken glanced around the room. The sacks of potatoes were the same, and the racks of cans on shelves...

"There," he said. "By the wall...I don't remember seeing that stack of bags."

They moved in the direction he was pointing. "Rice," Omi said. He took a magnifying glass with a light attached out of his pocket and began to scrutinize the surface of the top bag. At first, it looked ordinary, nothing to be concerned about...

Then, he saw it. The red dot that would look ordinary to your average observer...but he knew otherwise. He'd seen something like it before. His mind went back to the poisoning of his classmate Midori, the symbol he'd found on the bags of tainted trail mix...

He reached into his jacket, into one of the many pockets that had been sewn into the lining, and pulled out a small digital camera and a palmtop computer.

"I'll tell you in a second if this is anything," he said, hooking the two devices together. The others watched as the dot appeared on his palmtop screen, then began to get bigger, and bigger, until it took on an all-too-familar shape...

"That's it," Ken said. "The gryphon."

"They put it on the bags of rice so their 'chef' would know which ones to use," Omi said.

"Which means they've been here already, and we missed them," Yohji said, sounding a bit disappointed.

And then, there was a sound below them...a bumping, a scraping...

"I wouldn't be too sure of that," Ken said.

Quickly, quietly, they departed for four separate areas of the room, blending into the shadows expertly. They dared not breathe, lest they betray their presence.

The panel in the floor lifted and swung aside, and a short, stocky man with a face like a human bulldog climbed out. "Okay, hand it to me!" he said.

Someone below handed him a bag of rice like the others, grumbling, "How much rice are they going to need, anyway?"

"Hey, do you know how many athletes they have to knock off? That's a hell of a lot of sushi they have to make!" The man started to carry the rice over to the pile...but never made it. A wire flew through the air and wrapped around his upper body, making the bag tumble to the floor. "What the..." he shouted.

"What's going on?" shouted the voice from below. A second head poked up, a man with a craggy face and crewcut, and shouted, "Oh, SHIT!" The man leapt out of the hole and drew his gun, aiming it at Yohji, but before he could fire, an arrow flew through the air and landed in his chest. With a strangled cry, he tumbled back into the hole, where a chorus of yells were heard.

There's a whole squadron down there, Omi thought, charging for the hole, Ken at his heels. He heard the last gasp of the first terrorist as Aya finished what Yohji had begun. Peering into the opening, he saw a group of five or six of them, all armed...

He reached for a dart, making sure his lover saw what he was doing. They nodded at each other, communicating without words what they were going to do.

Omi grabbed a handful of darts from within his jacket and sent them shooting into the hole like guided missiles. One terrorist fell to the floor, dead, the others scattered. Kenj umped into the hole, bugnuk at the ready, and slashed at another, who fell to the ground. A third leapt at him with a karate kick aimed at his head, and he ducked, sending the goon crashing into the floor.

"I've said it before and I've said it again," Ken said, "never doubt the reflexes of a former goalie."

But then, an arm was wrapped around his neck, choking him, and the cold steel of a gun barrel was pressed into his temple. He struggled to get away, but the terrorist only held him tighter, cutting off his oxygen. Omi must have aimed his crossbow at the attacker, because Ken heard a gruff voice just behind him say, "Drop it, or he dies."

Bastard, Ken thought. He kicked backwards...only to find the grip on his neck tightening even more. He felt dizzy, weak...felt himself losing consciousness...

Dimly, he heard Aya's scream of "SHIIIINEEE!!", then felt the grip on his neck slacken. He fell to the floor, gasping, beside the body of the terrorist who Aya had just stabbed from behind. There was no time to take inventory on possible damage to himself, not when the others were still at large...

One of the remaining terrorists ran down the hall, planning to make an escape into one of the locker rooms. He jumped up, pushing aside the floor panel, grabbed the edge of the hole and started to haul himself up...

And then, a wire wrapped around his body and yanked him right back down, and onto the waiting blade of Aya's katana. Yohji and Aya looked at each other, coolly, and nodded.

Two more terrorists remained, both of which had fled further down the hall. There was no sound of their pursuers...they had managed to elude them. They chuckled to themselves, feeling quite self-satisfied.

"Gimme a boost," the one with the hawklike face said to his squinty-eyed companion, "and I'll have us out of here in no time."

The second lifted the first up, toward the panel. He pushed it aside, started to haul himself up...

There was a whooshing noise, as if an arrow had been fired from a crossbow, and the terrorist felt his support suddenly drop out from under him. He lost his grip, and slid down...

He never hit the ground alive. Ken was waiting with steel claws drawn.

The two assassins just stood, catching their breath, for a moment.

Then, Omi said, "We'll go out of this hole here, and catch up with the others later on." Ken nodded and gave him a boost, and he hauled himself up into the locker room.

It's fitting, he thought, that this mission is ending where it began...in the locker room of the gymnastics center. He helped Ken climb out as well, then fitted the piece of floor back in place.

Tapping his headphones, he said, "Abyssinian, come in, this is Bombay. We're in the Superdome. Mission accomplished."

"Um, Omi," Ken said, "haven't you forgotten something? We still have to take care of Iron Chef Arsenic."

"Oh, I haven't forgotten," he said. "Yohji told me he'd stake out the door of the kitchen and take care of him personally. A bit of personal revenge for ruining his date last night."

"Only Yohji would think like that," Ken said, rubbing his still-aching throat.

"How are you doing?" Omi asked as they slipped out of the arena and back into the night.

"A bit sore, but I'll live."

Omi slipped an arm around Ken's waist and hugged him. "We'd better get back to the dorm and grab a couple hours' sleep. We both have meets to go to in the morning."

Ken groaned. "Meets? But the mission's over..."

"We still have to retain our cover. It would look suspicious if we both suddenly dropped out of sight at the same time. And remember, Yohji-kun and Aya-kun are still working security. They can't just disappear."

Ken sighed. I was hoping to get out of Sydney right away, he thought. I was hoping not to have to risk seeing her again. I've been on edge about that ever since the first talk. If I stay here...it's unavoidable.

Maybe, he thought...I should just accept that it's unavoidable. Maybe...instead of just running away...I should talk to her, confront her, let her know she can't be a part of my life anymore.. .

"Yuriko...I need to talk to you."

The strawberry blonde woman brightened when she saw who was walking toward her seat in the tavern. Ken! Perhaps he'd thought it over, perhaps he was willing to begin anew with her.

"Oh, yes!" she said. "Please, sit down! What would you like to drink?"

"Same as you, mineral water with a twist. Look, Yuriko, it's about that talk we had the other day."

Bingo, she thought. He does want to get back together with me again! Her head began to fill with visions of the two of them back in Tokyo, riding motorcycles together, going swimming, strolling through parks, making love...

"Sure, Ken," she said, smiling. "You talk, I'll listen."

For a moment, when he saw that smile, he remembered the way things used to be. I was so in love with her then, he thought. Or it felt like love at the time. A line from Pink Floyd's song "One Slip" popped into his head - "Was it love, or was it the idea of being in love?"

And compared to what his life with Omi was like...it was like comparing a single match to a brushfire.

"Yuriko...I'll never forget what we shared together. It'll always be a cherished memory for me. But...I can't go back there. I've moved on with my life. I'm a different person now. We...we just wouldn't make it anymore."

She sat there, stunned, for a moment. Ken saw her look down, studying her own fingernails, biting her lip...For a moment, he felt guilty.

Then, she looked up and said, slowly, "There's someone else, isn't there?"

He wasn't going to lie. "Yes. I've found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with."

Another long silence, during which she took a swizzle stick and stirred her mineral water, watching the bubbles rise to the surface and burst...burst, like her dreams of a reunion.

Finally, she said, "What's her name?"

He took a deep breath, and said, "His name is Omi. One of my colleagues at the flower shop."

"I...I see." She was having trouble digesting this. Her fears from the other day had bee confirmed. Ken. .. gay? He certainly did not seem gay when he was with her. He'd been the most satisfying lover she'd ever had. He'd never said anything about being bisexual, about being involved with men in the past...

"I'm sorry, Yuriko. You're a special person, and I'll always think of you as a dear friend. But with Omi...he and I are true soul mates. It's just meant to be."

He couldn't tell her that there was one bond he and Omi shared that he could never share with her, with anyone in the outside world...the fact that they were both part of the bloody brotherhood of Weiss.

She stood up, pushing aside the rest of her mineral water. "Well...I'm very glad you found happiness, Ken. Maybe, if I'm ever in Tokyo again...I'll look you and Omi up, and we can do something. Seeya." She turned and fled the bar, tears in her eyes.

Ken started to run after her, but stopped himself. He sat down on the barstool, slowly.

It's for the best, he thought. She's free now to pursue her own happiness, rather than holding onto a dream of finding happiness with me.

Again, a memory flashed in his head of him sitting on a beach with her at sunset, his arm around her, her head on his shoulder...

And then, he remembered being on the same beach several months later, in the same position...but this time, it was Omi beside him.

I know where my heart belongs, he thought. And I sincerely hope she finds out where her heart belongs, as well.

It was one of the last days of the Olympics.

Freed from his gymnastics duties now that that part of the competition was over, Omi sat beside Ken, the two of them huddled under a blanket, watching the finals of the soccer competition.

"I can't believe Japan didn't even make the semifinals!" Ken said. "And we had a good team, too!"

Omi was going to ask what he meant by "good team"...but he knew that meant a lengthy speech in "soccerese," all of which was complete gibberish to Omi. Just like Ken just stared at him blankly when he tried to explain anything about computers.

It was a boundary they'd discovered, and accepted, in their relationship. Whenever a soccer game came on TV, Ken went into one room and watched it, Omi went into another and surfed the Net, or chatted with his cyberfriends. When the match was over, it was the end of "me time," and they went back to "us time."

But today, Omi didn't mind watching soccer. He was outdoors, even if it was cold. He was with Ken. He was enjoying the Olympics, not as a "reporter," not as an assassin on a mission, but as just another spectator.

Oh, he'd be glad to get back to Tokyo for a couple of reasons...mostly, because of the bed situation. Those pushed-together twin beds left a lot to be desired, especially when it came to making love. Most times, they'd just given up trying to keep the beds together through all the writhing and shaking and dragged their pillows and blankets onto the floor.

But for the most part, he was finally able to enjoy traveling...being in a foreign country...feeling normal.

He shivered a little and pulled the blankets tighter around him. It was cold, and getting colder by the minute. Whoever planned a summer Olympics in Australia didn't take into account that it's winter here right now, he thought.

Ken picked up on this. "Chilly, love?"

Omi nodded in the affirmative.

"I'll go get us some hot coffee," Ken said, getting up. "I'll be right back."

Omi just sat, watching the game and pulling the blanket even tighter around him...

And then, he noticed the woman watching him, with obvious interest in her eyes. She was about Ken's age, slim, strawberry blonde...

She began to approach him. Do I know her? Omi thought. Is she one of the gymnasts? No, she's too tall to be a gymnast. One of the other reporters, then? She looks familiar...

"Excuse me," she said, "is your name Omi?"

I must know her from somewhere, he thought. She's speaking Japanese...she must be another reporter. "Yes," he said.

"I really wanted to meet you," she said. "Ken told me about you...I'm Yuriko. Did he ever mention me?"

Yuriko...the name did ring a bell...he searched through his memory banks...and then, it hit him. It was her. The woman who had been kissing Ken. Emotions boiled inside him...but he kept them in check.

"You were his girlfriend at one time," he said evenly.

"Yes, you're right. There was a time...when I thought I loved him. He and I were very close, we did everything together."

"I do remember him talking about you, but I don't think we ever met," he said. He managed a smile and added, "I'm sure I would have remembered you."

"We didn't," she said. "When he and I were together...well, it was just us, you know. Just us, and nobody else around. At the time, it was all I wanted in the world. And...I still wanted it. I moved to Australia, and I thought I had gotten over him. I hadn't. But now...I think I can put the affair behind me, move on, and get on with my life." She smiled. "And I just wanted to meet the person who captured his heart."

The picture flashed in Omi's head again of this woman kissing Ken, and he remembered Ken telling him how she'd practically forced herself on him...But the picture didn't seem as threatening now.

"He told you about me?" Omi said.

She nodded. "He said you and he were true soul mates. Which I thought was sweet. .."

Ken headed toward his seat, two cups of coffee in hand. When he saw who was there, he almost dropped them.

Yuriko, he thought. What's she saying to Omi? Oh, gods, please don't let her be giving him a get-away-from-him-he's-mine speech...He looked at his lover's face. Omi didn't seem upset. In fact, he seemed to be quite relaxed.

As he drew closer, he could hear Yuriko saying, "I'm glad he's in such good hands. You're absolutely charming. You're a very good match for him."

Omi smiled. "Arigato, Yuriko-san."

"And now, I'd better go before he gets back. Take care of him, will you?"

"Don't worry, I will."

Ken arrived back at the seat just as Yuriko disappeared back into the crowd. "Who were you talking to?" he said, handing Omi his cup of coffee.

"Oh...just an acquaintance."

Ken nodded. She's made peace with him, and with herself, he thought. She can get on with her life...just like we're getting on with ours.

He reached over and squeezed Omi's hand. The two smiled at each other, saying volumes without words.

Then, they turned their attention back to the game.

The closing ceremony was in full swing.

Bands were playing, fireworks were bursting overhead, and athletes were dancing around the field of the track and field stadium, celebrating the conclusion of 16 days of competition.

Aya and Yohji watched from their post near one of the exits. "See that one?" Yohji said. "That's Yuka."

"The rower?" said Aya.

"No, Mimi was the rower. Yuka is a swimmer."

"I thought the swimmer you dated was named Ami."

"No, Ami was a rhythmic gymnast. I met her through Omi, believe it or not. I met Michelle through him, too. She was one of the other reporters, an English girl..."

Aya just tuned him out. He had no desire to hear about Yohji's love for all the women of the world. He just couldn't relate to it. For him, there was only one person he'd ever love...

His eyes scanned the crowd again, as they had every day since he'd caught that one fleeting glimpse. But there was nobody who even vaguely resembled Yuushi anywhere in sight.

Was that really you, Yuushi? he thought. Are you still alive, and out there? If you are, I'll find you again...and maybe you can help me learn to feel once more.

In the press box, on the lowest level of the stands, Ken and Omi leaned over the railing. "See anyone you know?" Ken said.

"Most of the gymnasts went home," Omi replied. "I haven't seen any of them in..."

Just then, a small group of petite teenage girls in warmup suits which marked them as members of various countries' gymnastics squads ran toward him. "Omi!" they squealed as one voice.

"Of course," he said, "there always could be a few left behind..."

Before he knew it, the girls had seized him and, with their powerful arms, dragged him over the railing and onto the field. "Come on, Omi!" one of them shouted. "Dance with us!"

"I...I don't want..."

But two of the girls grabbed his arms and began pulling him this way and that, and before he knew it, his feet were moving.

Well, Ken thought, I'm not going to let those girls steal him from me. He vaulted the railing, ran over to Omi, wrapped his arms around him and planted a huge kiss on his lips. Omi's arms came up around Ken, and he responded to the kiss, their lips softly caressing each other...

...just as one of the TV cameras on the field picked the image of them up and broadcast it onto the screen within the stadium, and to televisions throughout the world.

Yohji stared at the screen, open-mouthed. "Did you just SEE that?" he asked Aya. "He just KISSED him on international TV! How are we going to explain THIS to the girls at the flower shop?"

Ken and Omi broke apart, and Omi turned around to see the girls staring at him, eyes and mouths wide open.

"Ladies," he said, "I'd like you to meet my boyfriend."

They all looked at each other. "He's...he's...GAY?" an American gymnast said.

"Humph. I knew it all along," said an Australian.

"What do you mean? You were chasing him through the whole games!" the American retorted.

"Oh, like you weren't?"

Ken and Omi laughed and hugged each other. "Aren't you going to miss them?" Ken whispered.

"Miss them?" Omi replied. "I'm going to have the exact same thing back home, aren't I?"

They laughed and kissed again, slowly walking away from the field, putting their Olympic mission behind them.

Author's Notes

I realize I took a few liberties with the layout of the Olympic venues in this story. In real life, the buildings were much further apart then they are here...in some cases, several towns away from Olympic headquarters in Sydney. But hey, never let reality get in the way of a (hopefully) good story, right? ~_^ (However, according to the sports reporters at the New York Daily News, the Media Village and its 24-hour tavern were very much real).

Ken and Omi's dance-into-lemon scene was inspired by a scene in Sexylyon's Sailor Moon lemon "Interlude," which, as far as I'm concerned, is still The Greatest Lemon Ever Written Bar None.

Many thanks to my friends Cheyne and Sailor Star Love, and my dear friend and editor Steve Savage (check out his original fantasy series, Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai) for their help and input on this story.

E-mail me at sailormac@wjjz.com. My Web page is at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/sailormac.

Weiss Kreuz is owned by Koyasu Takehito and Project Weiss. These characters ain't mine, I'm just borrowing them for a little while.