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Disclaimer: Weiss and Schwarz do not belong to me. I'm borrowing them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.

Author: The RCK
Website: http://www.therck.org

Pairing: Omi/Aya
Rating: R
Warnings: AU, dubious consent (Aya thinks he can consent. I'm not sure I agree), dark Kritiker, slavery, mind control, sort of a WIP
Posted: 22 August 2011

Thanks to Olna Jenn for cheerleading and to Gemais for beta reading. All mistakes and infelicities are mine.

Picking Through the Ashes
Torsion part 3
Chapter 2

Yohji felt safer with his clothes back on. He knew it was an illusion. Omi could always order him to remove them again, could always-- No. He's not interested. He won't fuck me again. I don't know why, but he's not interested in me. Aya's enough.

Putting his watch back on came as relief, like a cigarette after hours without. He picked up his shoes, trying to decide whether or not to put them back on. It's not like I'm going anywhere. He did a quick check to make sure he wasn't leaving anything in the briefing room. That's sensible of Omi, I suppose, but this was supposed to make things better. No. It is better. Omi doesn't torture people. He's taken pains to treat all three of us well.

Lacking any other place to go, he went back to the room where Omi had fucked him. He sat down on the mattress, lit a cigarette and stared at the wall. His thoughts ran in circles as he tried to decide whether or not his new situation was really any improvement over the old. At least there's no chance I'm screwing over Ken now. He has no clue how bad things can get. He blew out a cloud of smoke and watched it dissipate. Hell, even I don't really know how bad it can get. I know what Aya's file implied, but I don't know. I don't want to know.

He finished the cigarette before Aya returned.

Aya carried a bag of chips, three oranges and a powerbar. "This is everything I could find that doesn't need either refrigeration or cooking. I'll bring real food at dinner time and for breakfast tomorrow."

Yohji nodded and looked at the wall some more.

Aya cleared his throat. "Is there anything from your room that you particularly want?"

Nothing in there matters. I haven't had any important things since Kritiker took me. Yohji shrugged. "Clothes, I guess. My own pillow." He looked down at his hands and frowned. What else? Oh. "Turn off my alarm clock. It'll just annoy people." He looked at Aya for a second. "Who's taking my shifts?"

Aya shrugged. "Me, probably. Omi will work it out. There was a three person schedule before I came."

"True." Your faith in Omi is astonishing.

"I have to help Ken. He's been alone up there for a while." Aya shifted from one foot to the other then back.

Don't let me stop you.

"After that," Aya said, "I'll bring some of your things down."

Yohji's shoulders twitched. Go away. No. Stay. Talk to me. Keep me real. No. Go away. "What are you going to tell him?" No need to specify who 'him' is.

"I don't know. That ought to be up to Omi. Any ideas?"

Not the truth. Poor Ken. Not the truth. Yohji shook his head.

Aya sighed and sagged a little. "I'll bring you some paper when I can. You might want to start a map. I don't know how big the space down here is or where it goes. It would be something to do."

Yohji felt his attention sharpen as Aya spoke. Fuck. I'm looking for commands. Omi told me to obey him. I'm still stuck with that. "You'd better go. Ken will be swamped."

Aya nodded once. "I will be back later. I'll bring something hot for dinner."

Yohji made himself meet Aya's eyes. "Thank you." For believing me. For talking to Omi. For pretending this is normal.

Aya nodded again. He turned and walked away. After a moment, Yohji heard the rapid slap-slap of Aya's feet as Aya broke into a run.

He doesn't want to be here either. Yohji got up and shut the door.

*******
Ken looked more than a little relieved when Aya came out of the back of the shop, wearing his apron.

There were three customers waiting for attention, so there wasn't time for questions. Business continued at a relatively steady pace until fifteen minutes before closing time. Then, apart from Aya, Ken and Momoe, the shop was empty.

"Where's Yohji?" Ken's voice was casual, but his frown showed sharp focus.

Aya glanced at Momoe. He had no idea where she stood in Omi's peculiar little hierarchy. "It's Kritiker business," he told Ken softly. "Omi's negotiating to open that space down there up again, and one of us needed to move down there." He shrugged. "Yohji lost the coin toss."

"Bullshit." The word came out as the barest whisper.

"I'm going to need you to help me pack his room tonight." Ken might know what matters to Yohji. "It's bleak enough down there without--" Aya shrugged, unable to finish the sentence. I can't pretend he wants to be down there. He closed his eyes for a second, searching for the right words. "Omi will fix it, I'm sure."

Ken looked dubious.

I wonder if that doubt would have been there before he found out about me and Omi?

"Why wasn't I in on this...coin toss?"

Um…. Right. "Your kids. None of the rest of us wanted you pulled away from coaching." Lie fast. Damn. Now I have to brief Yohji. Ken will visit. I know it.

Ken frowned. He opened his mouth then abruptly shut it. He looked at Aya with narrowed eyes for a few seconds before going outside to bring in the displayed plants.

Aya looked around. He met Momoe's eyes and held them.

She smiled at him and stroked her cat.

********
Omi didn't return until almost midnight. As he walked into his room, he moved with a careful precision that made Aya suspect that Omi had been drinking. He blinked once at seeing Aya sitting and waiting for him. "I thought you'd be in bed."

Aya set aside his book, stood and bowed. I couldn't. "I had to lie to Ken. He wanted to know what was going on with Yohji. I told him Yohji lost the coin toss between him and me for who would be moving downstairs. I thought.... It wasn't my place to tell him anything else."

Omi ran a hand through his hair. "I hadn't thought about Ken." He frowned. "I was busy with Persia."

"It was a long meeting." Aya wanted to ask questions, but he didn't feel awake enough. And I'm not sure I'm allowed. He bowed again. "Is there anything you need from me tonight?"

Omi took several seconds to respond. He sighed and relaxed a little. "I don't want to sleep alone, Aya-kun. Do you mind?"

Aya's hesitation came more from surprise than reluctance. "Just sleep?"

Omi chuckled. "Just sleep. Assuming you can stand the proximity to a Takatori."

There wasn't an order in that. Aya nodded. "I'll need to take care of a few things in my room." I can do this. It isn't any harder than sex.

"Wear something comfortable for sleeping." Omi waved Aya toward the door.

Aya picked up his book and went. He moved through his before bed routine rapidly and mechanically, trying not to think too much. I didn't ever offer him comfort, just sex. That is what this is, right? He put on a pair of old sweatpants and a worn t-shirt. This qualifies as comfortable for sleeping. He hesitated. He said-- He's a Takatori. No. It changes nothing. I can do this. I can think about it tomorrow. It doesn't change anything. Omi's still my-- What is he to me? He's more than team leader. Think about that in the morning, too.

Aya slept poorly. He wasn't used to having another person so close to him as he slept, and his mind kept reading Omi's movements as threats. He thought Omi slept badly, too. At least, that was how he interpreted Omi's repeated shifts of position. He hoped that his presence helped. Though how it could, I don't know. His threat sense is as hyper alert as mine.

In the morning, Aya had no idea what to do. What does he expect? He waited until Omi woke then pulled away, climbing out of the bed. He retreated to the far wall and stared at his feet.

Omi sighed. "Good morning, Aya-kun." He sounded weary.

Aya risked an upward glance.

Bits of Omi's hair stuck out in all directions. He had a pillow crease marking one side of his face.

Aya forced himself to speak. "Good morning." The words sounded rusty to his own ears. He cleared his throat. "I should take food to Yohji before the shop opens." And he needs things only you can buy.

Omi nodded. "We need to talk, you and I." He frowned and raked his finger through his hair. "Things are complicated."

Aya looked away. "More complicated than Yohji?"

"Yohji was ordinary Kritiker cruelty, imaginative but ordinary."

Aya didn't allow himself to flinch. It's true, after all. It was calculated and terrible, but any team leader might have done it if he or she had the possibility. He nodded. "He needs things if he's to live down there-- a way to boil water and a place to store cold food at the very least."

"I won't forget Yohji."

Aya nodded again, hoping the statement was truth. "I should go." Please let me go.

Omi face went still. He sighed then waved a dismissive hand. "You're working all day. Ken has a practice this afternoon."

And you have school. What's the point of that anyway? Aya slipped out the door, heading for his room. Once there, he threw on some clothes and brushed his hair. That done, he took a few seconds to ground himself. Deep breaths. Food for me, food for Yohji, then a day selling flowers. We have that wedding tomorrow. Yohji was supposed to make the table arrangements.

The day both dragged and sped by. Aya missed the breaks that Yohji's presence made possible. He could tell that Ken had questions. He had no answers to offer, so he was glad the shop kept them both busy.

Ken took Yohji lunch. Aya hadn't planned on that and could only hope that Yohji remembered the story.

When Omi came home, Aya felt something he hadn't realized was tight loosen. I trust him. When Ken left for his practice, Aya relaxed further. As soon as the shop settled down, Omi gave Aya a credit card and a list and sent him out after a refrigerator for Yohji.

Knowing that he'd have to carry it down the stairs, Aya bought the smallest model he could find. He arranged to have it delivered. Delivery cost more, but the thought of trying to carry his purchase on the subway prompted him to request it. Omi won't object. I think. No, he didn't put a price limit on it.

Hoping that he and Omi would have the talk Omi'd promised, Aya hurried back to the flower shop. Omi was in the process of closing down for the night, so Aya pitched in. He didn't bother with words, just started working.

Once all the plants were in and the grill was down and locked, Omi waved toward the stairs to the basement. "The rest can wait. Let Ken do some of it after practice. We need to talk."

Aya doubted it would occur to Ken that there might still be work waiting in the shop, but he didn't say anything. He simply headed down the stairs and on into the deeper basement.

As they approached the conference room, Yohji stuck his head out of the door of his room. Omi nodded at Yohji. "I'll be with you soon, Yohji-kun, after I'm done talking to Aya-kun."

Yohji waved an acknowledgment and disappeared. Aya hoped Yohji'd found his thoughts better company than seemed likely. He's had nothing to do all day but think.

Once they were in the room, Omi closed the door. "This is none of Yohji's business." He waved Aya toward a seat and sat down himself. Omi's eyebrows drew together and his jaw tightened. After a moment, he said, "It's complicated, Aya-kun. I'll explain because you need to know, but it's complicated."

Aya shrugged. "You don't owe me anything." Except what you've promised me.

Omi gave a tight smile. "There's some reciprocity." He waved two fingers as if ending that line of conversation. "The Takatori family is complicated." His smile became a grimace. "Well, my part of the Takatori family is complicated. The rest is relatively simple."

That seemed to call for a response, so Aya nodded.

Omi hesitated. "I suppose it starts with two brothers and a woman. The younger brother loved her, but the older brother married her. What she thought about the whole thing isn't clear. She had two sons with her husband then started an affair with her husband's brother. That resulted in a third son, me."

That doesn't sound so complicated. Aya didn't let himself reflect on what he was hearing. Not yet.

"I don't remember any of this, but I was raised as Takatori Mamoru, Takatori Reiji's third son. When I was eleven, I was kidnapped." Omi's voice sounded distant, clinical. "My 'father' declined to pay the ransom. My mother killed herself. Persia took it on himself to rescue me."

Aya found himself staring at Omi. "That's terrible," he said, feeling the words entirely inadequate.

Omi shrugged. "I don't remember any of it. That probably means I was terrified."

Possibly more than terrified. Aya tried to remember what little he'd heard about memory loss. "Persia rescued you?"

"I started Kritiker training immediately. That's the first thing I remember."

Eleven years old. Aya wanted to vomit, but he thought Omi wouldn't appreciate it. "Why didn't he tell you?" That came a little too close to criticizing Persia. Aya closed his eyes against the pain and did his best to rationalize the question.

"He says he didn't want to risk my remembering the past and maybe going looking for my parents or my brothers. Apparently, I seemed happy and was doing well on the management track." Omi still sounded distant, as if none of it really mattered.

Aya opened his eyes. "Why tell me?"

Omi took a deep breath. "It's prologue. The Takatori family is a mess, and Persia wants us to clean it up." Omi stood up and started to pace. "The problems are proof and deniability. My grandfather is still alive and technically owns everything, including Kritiker. The old man won't sanction violence against the family unless the target is harming the family."

So the first step is killing the old man. I suppose Persia won't go there. Aya kept his expression neutral. "What sort of mess?"

"I don't have all the details yet. Persia has files, but I'll have to read them in his office. The things Persia said suggest that what happened to your family is relatively typical and-- I'm sorry-- a minor event in the scale of things."

Aya looked down at his hands. "You're not one of them." You have honor.

"Aya-kun-- There are advantages to being a Takatori. At least, there are if I time it right. Being Persia's heir is the least of it." Omi moved into Aya's space and put a hand on Aya's arm. "I've been taught to be ambitious, and now I'm seeing more than Kritiker."

Aya studied Omi's face. He swallowed hard. "I'll follow where you lead." Can you kill them all? That's what you'll need to do. "I chose that."

"Thank you." Omi stepped back. "I'm wondering if I should try to get those memories back. The old man will be easier to convince if I remember being Mamoru."

You need to kill him, too. "The memories will make things harder." Aya was sure of it. "Your-- call him your uncle-- Takatori Reiji-- We have no idea how he interacted with Mamoru. You might have good memories." Particularly of your brothers. Your brothers complicate things immensely.

"I doubt anything will outweigh abandoning me to die. I'm an adult."

You don't remember being a child. Children think about things differently. But there's no point in telling you that, is there? "I said once that I'd give up on revenge if you told me I had to."

"You won't have to. I heard enough last night-- I've found enough in my private digging, too-- to have no doubts about what needs to happen to Takatori Reiji."

Aya bowed his head. "As you think best." I'll follow where you lead. Please be careful.

Omi sighed. "I'll let you know more about the Takatori family as I find it out. Persia seems to feel that matters are heading for a crisis. I can't evaluate that yet, but we'd be wise to be prepared."

Aya bent his head again.

Omi rubbed the side of his face. "I still need to talk to Yohji." He stepped toward the door without taking his eyes off of Aya.

"That would be a kindness." Aya didn't want to think about Yohji. But the way he deals with Yohji tells me a great deal about the lord I've chosen to follow. I almost wish I could be there, but it's going to be an awkward enough conversation without witnesses. "There are still things from his room to bring down. Please let me know when I can do that."

Omi frowned. "You might as well do it now. Just put everything in here. Yohji and I will be down the hall. He can move things the rest of the way later."

"Everything?" Aya could only imagine trying to haul Yohji's bed down the stairs unaided. Please not 'everything.'

"I apologize for being vague. Use your judgment about what to bring down. Stop at a reasonable hour. Take breaks as needed. If you find Yohji moving things, you may choose to help him or to talk to him. Feel free to talk to Ken, too."

Aya sighed in relief. "Thank you." He headed for the door. I should go out first. Not that there's any danger down here, but none of us will survive if anything happens to Omi, even without considering what Persia would do to us. Persia's son. Omi is Persia's son. "You ought to have a bodyguard," he said as he moved past Omi.

"That would be limiting." Omi made no move to stop Aya.

Aya shrugged. It's still true. He opened the door and looked in both directions. Nothing. Of course there's nothing. He stepped into the hallway and waited for Omi to emerge.

***********
Yohji had been waiting all day for Omi. He'd done some exploring and had talked to Ken and Aya when they brought him food, but mostly he waited for Omi. I can still feel where he-- No. I asked him to do that. I chose it. But I didn't. I had no choice. The alternative was worse. He chewed his lip and wished for a cigarette, but he'd run out early in the day.

When he finally saw Omi, Omi was with Aya, heading for the conference room. Omi nodded at Yohji. "I'll be with you soon, Yohji-kun, after I'm done talking to Aya-kun."

Yohji simply nodded. Not much else I can do. And of course Aya comes first. What the hell is so special about him? Apart from that he's fucking Omi. He came in and changed everything. No. That's unfair. He made it possible for me to get out from under Manx. I even-- He tested the thought carefully as if he were touching the edges of a wound. I think I'm even out from under Persia. It's just Omi. Just.

He went into the room where he'd spent the night and sat down on the mattress. He picked up a cigarette butt and tried to figure out if he could salvage enough tobacco from it and the three others he had to make something worth smoking. Maybe. Though what I'd roll it in, I don't know.

He adjusted his pillow and lay down, stretching his feet toward the door. I wonder what they're talking about. Neither of them will tell me. I hope we have a mission soon. Killing someone might help.

He hated himself a little for wanting to kill. There was a time when I couldn't have imagined killing. Now-- His hands tightened as he imagined wrapping his wire around the neck of some bastard who really deserved it. Kritiker has made me a murderer.

He closed his eyes and forced his breathing into evenness. Don't think. Let it go until it matters. Let it go until you can actually do something. If only I had some music.

He remained still until he heard a soft knock on the door he'd left ajar.

"May I come in, Yohji-kun?" Omi sounded as if the question were genuine.

Yohji sat up. "I haven't got a chair to offer you." And you're not welcome on the bed. Not.

Omi stepped inside. He looked around, seemed to consider for a moment then shut the door behind him. "I can always sit on the floor." He remained standing. "You can take a different room if you prefer."

One where you didn't fuck me, you mean. Yohji nodded. "This is convenient, though. Aya and Ken know where to find me."

"There is that." Omi rocked back and forth once then stilled. "Apart from a chair, is there anything you need?"

To get out of here. "Cigarettes. Food." Yohji flicked a butt with one finger.

"I'd prefer you take the opportunity to quit smoking." Omi didn't quite frown.

That wasn't an order. "I'd prefer not to." Yohji wanted to look away, but he was afraid he'd miss something important.

Omi shrugged. "You're lucky to be alive. I'd have predicted that Aya would kill you." He paused for a moment, looking thoughtful. "He surprises me."

Yohji shuddered a little as he inhaled deeply. "We were in public." I wish I had a cigarette. "Besides, he didn't have to."

"Something changed yesterday, but he knows as well as I do that we can't be sure you're fully mine. Later, when it won't attract the wrong sort of attention, I'll take you to Persia and have him formally transfer control, just in case, but we can't do it yet."

And you won't believe it when you do it. Persia could still have given me secret orders, could still-- "What do I have to do to prove it?"

"You can't. I'm sorry for that, but it's true."

Omi did look sorry, but Yohji had seen him lie convincingly before. That doesn't mean he is lying. He does care about us, me and Ken and Aya. I don't know why, but he does.

"I'm sure you'll be relieved to know that I decided not to send you back to spy on Manx. It would have been useful, but the cost to you would be too high."

Yohji felt for a second as if something large and heavy had landed on his shoulders. Back to Manx? He tried to speak but only managed strangled sound.

Omi waited.

Yohji sagged a little. "Thank you." It came out as a bitter whisper. I hadn't even thought-- How could he-- "I barely know you."

Omi smiled. "You know me, Yohji-kun. I'm the same person I was yesterday. I've just done my best to keep you and Ken insulated against  some of the harsher realities of our situation." His face hardened. "We will still keep Ken insulated. He has no need to know how badly rotten Kritiker is or what we've been forced to do."

Ken. Yohji's thoughts stopped dead. Ken. He blinked. After a few seconds, he nodded sharply. "Ken needs something to believe in."

"Ken thought he needed to protect me from Aya." Omi shook his head.

"Protect you?" Somehow the conversation had gotten away from Yohji. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. "Protect you?"

"Indeed. It was sweet but just a bit too ignorant."

Yohji nodded. "There's protecting him, and there's leaving him vulnerable." He swallowed hard as a thought occurred to him. "You should warn him about Manx. She can be charming, and she's going to want information on what you're doing."

"She's a difficult enemy, especially while she's still doing our briefings. Unfortunately, nothing short of my dying is going to ease her enmity now. Persia still values her."

"He sees her as a test for you." Yohji was certain of this. The way he talks sometimes, he has lots of tests for Omi. And expects him to pass them all.

Omi gave him a sharp look. "Did he say that?"

Yohji nodded. "He expects great things from his son."

Omi laughed, a harsh, grating sound.

"Weiss' success rates are better than those of any other Kritiker team." Yohji hesitated for a moment then added, "He was dubious when you took Aya on."

Omi shrugged. "Anyone who's still sane after that many rounds of conditioning deserves better than the labs."

"Manx was quietly ecstatic. She thought he'd kill you. I think she's still hoping." Yes. I know things about Manx and Persia.

This time, Omi's laugh sounded amused. "Aya doesn't want me dead. Even if he did, I have no intention of setting up a situation in which he can choose to watch me die. He didn't kill his last team leader, just declined to save him."

"I know. I've seen his file." And Ken's.

"Yes, his file." Omi frowned. "Speaking of which-- Your file says you agreed to join Kritiker."

For a moment, Yohji couldn't speak. The desire to scream at Omi fought with Yohji's certainty that he needed Omi's goodwill. Finally, he managed to speak more or less calmly. "I was never asked." He looked away from Omi.

Omi remained silent for several seconds. "Your file lies. We'll have to look at it together to see what else it lies about."

"Why would they even lie about that?" Yohji made himself look at Omi's face again. It's trivial by Kritiker standards.

"Because I said I only wanted people who'd said yes. We're trusting each other with our lives every mission. Giving my back to a person coerced into serving would be beyond stupid."

"Does that mean you'll be leaving me home from now on?" Please say no. I don't think I could handle never coming out of this hole again.

"Only if you'd prefer it. Weiss works better with four than with three, especially when you're the one who can reliably kill quietly."

Yohji fingered his watch. "Quietly but slowly. Ken and Aya have more speed."

Omi nodded. "It balances. Now-- I need to know what orders Manx gave you."

Yohji took a deep breath and held it for a couple of seconds. I knew this was coming. "She wanted to know what you did, not every detail. I tried burying her in trivia, so she ordered me to filter. She wanted to know if you did any research into the Takatori family. She wanted to know about friendships and romances. She wanted to know about any orders you gave that didn't relate directly to missions and what you said about Kritiker. She ordered me to make sure you didn't catch me snooping-- That gave me some latitude not to snoop. You pay attention. She ordered me to have sex with her and to--" The words were hard to get out. He made a face and forced his lips to keep moving. "She wasn't pleased with my skills. She ordered me to practice--"

Omi held up his hand, stopping Yohji's words. "Yohji-kun, does that mean that all those times-- all those women-- were under orders?" He sounded appalled.

Yohji looked at the floor and nodded once. "It was a casual order, but she didn't give it lower priority than the spying." And I'd really rather not talk about it.

"Consider that order-- all of Manx's orders, really-- cancelled. You are to have sex only when you want to and believe the time is right. Do you need me to word that more carefully?"

"I can if I want to, but I don't have to?" I can't imagine wanting to. That alone is worth the cost.

Omi nodded. "I can't promise I'll never ask it of you. I can't predict everything our missions will entail, and I refuse to offer a promise I'm not sure of keeping. I won't do it trivially, however."

Better the truth. Yohji closed his eyes. Change the subject. "Do you still want me to obey Aya? He hasn't given me any further orders, but he could." Accidentally, too, which would suck even more.

"You need not obey Aya any longer. That was intended to keep you from a sudden need to talk to Manx." Omi sighed. "It's inconvenient that we can't simply kill her."

I would volunteer for that. "Will you ever let me out?" Yohji hadn't meant to ask that.

"I've persuaded Persia that I'm ready for more responsibility. I have to finish high school first, but once I do, there will be more people down here."

That doesn't answer the question. Yohji remained silent and kept his gaze steady on Omi's face.

"I don't know, Yohji-kun. I'm improvising. I'll return loyalty for loyalty, though, and leaving you trapped isn't part of my plans."

"I chose you."

"I know. I also know what your other choices were. I'm not taking any pride in being the least of the evils."

Yohji opened his mouth to protest then thought the better of it. I know he's not stupid. I'd say anything right now, and all it would do is prove he can't trust me. He shook his head. "I despise Kritiker."

"You have no reason not to." Omi's expression became distant, as if he weren't quite seeing Yohji any longer. "Kritiker could be something quite different, something to be proud of."

"Weiss isn't Kritiker." Abuse is business as usual in Kritiker. You're the aberration.

Omi focused his attention on Yohji. "Do you despise Weiss?"

Yes. No. Yes. Maybe. What is Weiss? Yohji hesitated. "I don't despise the members of Weiss." Truth. "I've learned to take pleasure in death." His fingers twitched. "If it was just Weiss, I wouldn't--" He cut himself off and shook his head. "Kritiker is poisoned. You'd have to start from scratch."

"I don't remember anything but Kritiker."

That surprised Yohji. Then how are you so different? Kritiker made you. His stomach twisted. What don't I know about you?

"Besides, starting from scratch isn't a viable option. Kritiker is what we have. None of us has the option of leaving while alive." Omi frowned. "If you're ever that desperate to escape, if dying starts to seem better, tell me. We'll work something out that doesn't endanger anyone else."

Yohji felt the command settle over him, one more weight added to his burden. He nodded and looked at the floor. "Persia told me to stay alive unless doing so endangered you or the mission. No running from danger."

Omi sighed. "Do Persia's orders still hold?"

"I don't think so." They ought to, right? "He ordered me to be yours and yours only if he won his bet with Manx. Then you ordered me to consider everybody else's orders in abeyance." Yohji waved one hand. "His orders went with Manx's."

"What were his orders?"

"To report on what you did. To protect you. To obey Manx before you. He left me a lot of latitude. He expected me to decide what was important."

"He trusted your judgment, then." Omi nodded firmly. "He trusted your skills, too. Given time, I will probably do the same."

"Am I starting from nothing?" You know me pretty well. Do the last few months mean nothing?

"Not nothing, not exactly." Omi ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not sure where we're starting. I don't know what you want, that is, what you want that I can actually provide."

"I want to live. I want to get out of this basement." I want to really have the team you thought we had. "I want to be able to make my own choices."

"Perform missions well, show me that you're still part of the team, and I'll do what I can."

Yohji spread his hands. "I've got nothing else. I'm not going to screw over Ken and Aya just because I'm pissed."

Omi smiled. It made him look dreadfully young. "That's something. I'm not asking you to be happy about any of this. Just work with me."

How many more ways do you want me to agree? Yohji nodded. "Of course." Maybe he's not sure what to do either. He can't ever have done this before. "You won't notice a change in my performance." I can still fight and kill and obey.

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