Omi seemed dazed, Youji noted, keeping his distance as he watched the two men thread their way through the crowd with the young man in tow. No one seemed to notice or care that there was a boy in chains being led around through the streets. Maybe that was the reason for his lack of response.
"Slowly," Aya told him, following up on the instruction with a firm hand on Youji's shoulder. "They're changing direction. We don't want them to take note of us."
Aya, Youji had to admit, was very, very good at what he did.
"It doesn’t look like they're hitting any back alleys any time soon," Youji commented. "What do we have for a back-up plan?"
"We follow them to where they're going, and find out who hired them," Aya replied. "Then we'll be able to return later, when there are fewer people around."
"Hired them?" Youji repeated. "So you don't think they're acting on their own?"
Aya shook his head, eyes still fixed ahead of them. "They haven't touched him."
Youji felt cold. "You don't seriously think that's what he was bought for, do you?"
"Nobody pays that much for a single slave if he's being used for hard labor," was the chilling response.
"Shit!" Youji muttered. Now there was even more reason to get Omi the hell away.
Unfortunately, Omi's captors didn't seem inclined to fall in with Youji's plans. They avoided any deserted streets and continued down the main roads, all of which seemed overflowing with people. And, all too soon, they were turning to head into a huge marble structure - almost like a palace.
Youji whistled, impressed even through his disappointment. "Whoever's behind this has to be pretty important to have a place like this one."
Aya nodded. "We'll need his name."
That was an order without trying to be. Youji took up the challenge, and moved to interrupt a pretty, young thing as she tried to make her way down the street. "Excuse me," he said, with a charming smile. "Could I ask a favor of you, Milady?"
She seemed flattered - naturally. "What would you like?"
"Just a name, my dear." He leaned forward just a little. "Could you possibly tell me who owns this overwhelming building beside us?"
"Of course!" The girl smiled, turning her face down to "hide" an artful blush. "That's the home of Lord Siloneus."
"I can't tell you how helpful you've been." Youji decided to close in for the kill, sensing triumph near at hand. "It'd be even more helpful, of course, if you'd tell me where I can see you agai - "
"Are you finished?" Aya interrupted, coming up beside him. "I'd rather not linger - we might run into trouble."
"Right, right." Youji turned back to the girl, somewhat reluctantly. She really was a pretty thing… "Well, as much as it tears out my heart, duty calls. Thank you for the information." He made some show of kissing the astonished girl's hand, then turned to leave.
He almost had to run to catch up with Aya. "You could've waited."
"And waste more time?" Aya frowned, his gaze still fixed ahead with a studied indifference. "I'd rather not."
"Hey," Youji protested, only slightly offended. "Just because I don't share your view that all things entertaining are a waste of precious brooding time…"
"Well, it's about time I found you two!"
A sturdy hand clapping down on his shoulder almost had Youji spinning around and braining the unfamiliar man with his fist. He could tell from the tightening of Aya's shoulders that he was similarly effected.
"I thought we were supposed to meet at your shop," the guy continued, moving to walk beside them. "Remember? Passing messages along?"
Youji pushed aside his shock and shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant despite the confusion. "Must've slipped my mind," he lied. Damn! Are we supposed to know this guy? "You know how it is."
"Sure I do." The man snickered and elbowed him. "Especially when you've got each other as a distraction, isn't that right, Barrus?"
Barrus… must be my name here. "Distraction?"
"You wanted to be alone for once, that it?" The stranger seemed genuinely sympathetic. "Well, sorry to interrupt your lovers retreat here, but…" He shrugged. "Business is business, after all."
Youji and Aya glanced at each other.
Lovers? Does that mean…?
"Just pay attention when we get back," the man continued. "I know how you two get when you're together - hell, everyone knows Barrus and Abalus, by reputation if nothing else." He laughed.
Good fucking lord! No way…
"Don't," the stranger continued, oblivious to Youji's shock, "let it interfere with your mission - understood?"
Mission? Youji didn't look at Aya, but they had to be thinking along the same lines - for the second time that day.
"Where the hell could they be?"
Ken stalked down the huge hallway, muttering irritably to himself. "They've got to be around somewhere! This is ridiculous." He scowled. "If I'm dreaming, I'll be waking up soon, right? If I'm not and they're back at home relaxing while I'm stuck here…"
No good. He was too worried for death threats.
Worried and confused. What kind of place was he in, anyway?
Wherever it was, his status was obviously a lot higher than it had been. People kept bowing when he passed, calling him 'my Lord' and 'Master', and refusing to engage in simple conversation, even long enough to answer questions. Was everyone in the place afraid of him?
And people acted like they saw him every day! He'd never seen any of them before in his life, but they behaved as if he was a fixture in theirs.
"This is nuts," he muttered. Two servant girls paused to give him weird looks, then quickly moved on when he noticed them.
Goddamnit! Can't I get an answer out of anybody here?
"I wish I could talk to Omi." Nothing made sense to him, but if anybody could figure it out, Omi certainly could. Turning facts into a conclusion was a skill Ken respected in the younger boy. He'd probably be handling the situation better than Ken was, too. Then again, the soccer player had a lot of trouble when dealing with things he didn't understand. He tended to just get frustrated and irritable.
Like I am now.
He'd spent all afternoon trying to ask people if they knew where his teammates were, and all he'd got in return were a bunch of blank looks, a couple of 'No, my Lord's, and a good deal of frightened gazes accompanied by 'Forgive me, my Lord's.
It was enough to send someone to the nuthouse.
If I'm not already crazy.
He was starting to seriously wonder if he really had gone insane. Maybe he'd actually lived there all his life and Tokyo was a rambling delusion. The thought was enough to give him a headache.
I really wish Omi was here!
Ken resisted the urge to snap out something rude. "Yes?"
"Your men have returned, my Lord. They've brought news on Senator Aristaeus."
"Oh." Ken tried to make it look like he knew what that meant. "Good. Great. Where are they?"
The servant looked startled. "In your Lordship's audience room."
"Oh, right." He thought fast. "Um… lead the way, then."
This seemed to confuse the man even more, but he proceeded to do as he was told. "Of course, my Lord."
I'm going to have to learn where all the rooms are, Ken decided, trying to get things set in his mind as he followed the servants to what must be the audience room. It was gigantic and ornately old-fashioned, as he'd more or less expected. There were two men waiting for him when they got there. Both bowed slightly.
"My Lord," the first said. "We bring news on the Senator's condition."
"Uh… excellent," Ken answered, wondering how he was supposed to react. "Why don't you tell me all about it. How is he?"
"Not well, my Lord," the second man told him. "He is old, and his fondness for strong drink has aged him. It is likely a matter of days only before your Lordship will replace him on the Senate."
Ken froze. "What?"
"The Senate, my Lord," the second man reminded him. "You will be sitting in soon enough, surely. Senator Aristaeus is in poor shape. In a very short while you will be Senator in his place."
"Great," Ken said without enthusiasm, faking a weak smile. Senator? I don't even know what the Senate here is for! "Is that all? I think I need some fresh air…"
"Your latest acquisition was brought in today," the first man told him. "It will be ready and waiting for you tonight, my Lord."
"Thanks. That's good," Ken said, not really paying attention. He gave the men another feeble smile, and stumbled out in search of the nearest exit.
Once outside, he had to take in more than a few gulps of fresh air before he could calm down enough to seriously think about what he'd just learned. Senator! I'm going to be a fucking Senator! What do I know about Senate-ing in Rome!
"Shit," he muttered, under his breath. "Where the hell is Omi when I need him?"
The strange newcomer - Peleus, they'd learned - hadn't said any more about their mysterious "mission" since they'd started to head back toward the little shop they'd started out at. Currently, he was engaging "Barrus" in small talk, to which Aya only half-listened. If the man was any kind of conspirator at all, he'd know not to say anything important in public.
I wonder how this is going to play out.
It was curious that they'd been sucked into some historical memory only to be thrust back into the same cycle of "completing the mission" that had ruled their lives back in Tokyo. From the seriousness implicit in Peleus's tone and expression, he suspected that they'd be doing about the same thing they had been in their own time.
Except without Ken and Omi.
Aya let that take over his thoughts. Omi's current position had a high amount of physical danger involved, and not being able to do anything about that was frustrating. Like the other two, he'd always somehow felt that Omi's place as the youngest in the group made him the most vulnerable - which may or may not have actually been true. The thought of where the younger boy was currently was gnawing at him - no matter apparent it had been made in the past that Omi was capable of taking care of himself. He knew what the smartest course of action was, and there was no chance of his deviating from that - but it still bothered him.
Not knowing where Ken might be was nearly as irritating. He couldn't do anything about that. Aya despised feeling helpless. It was far too close to weakness.
That was him. Aya let his gaze slide sideways.
"Off in daydreams?" Peleus smirked. "Bet I could guess what those were about, huh?" He elbowed Youji again, snickering.
Aya looked forward again, disdainfully.
Of all the positions in society… It made sense, though. That would explain why they'd woken up where they had. Why it had been the two of them was anyone's guess. If he'd been asked to choose which two members of Weiss would be best situated as lovers, the answer would've been Ken and Omi, not himself and Youji. Considering Youji's relationship with women, Aya had a sneaking suspicion that the idea was actually some great cosmic joke.
"Hey… you two aren't fighting, are you?" Peleus actually sounded concerned. "I think the world would come to an end if you ever had a serious falling out."
This needs to be played carefully… Aya considered for a moment. The fact that they were involved in whatever "mission" Peleus had been talking about made their position dangerous. Doing anything out of the ordinary would draw suspicion, and if what they were doing was anything like what they'd been doing in Tokyo… suspicion was fatal.
"No," he said, to answer the man. "No problems." To prove the point, he made some show of linking their arms. Youji's twitching and the flicker of shock across his face indicated that he hadn't put together the same conclusions as Aya.
"Oh yeah," the blond said after a minute, recovering. "Us, have problems? You're talking to the wrong guys. We don't have problems - not serious ones, anyway." Then, probably as revenge, he ran his free hand over Aya's and smirked.
Aya smiled briefly. As long as he does what he's supposed to.
"Well, that's a relief." Peleus sighed theatrically. "I'd hate to see the end of the world so soon. Ah!" He moved ahead of them, in time to enter 'their' shop first. "Here we are! Now we can speak freely."
Aya waited until they were in the room behind the shop. "What's the message?"
Peleus abruptly turned serious. "We're going to be moving soon - probably in a few days. Euryalus has secured the help we need, but it'll take some… maneuvering… to get that help in place."
Youji casually moved around behind Aya to massage his shoulders - the man knew how to play a lover, that was certain. "And I'm guessing we're the ones who'll be doing this maneuvering - am I right?"
Aya actually felt better as the tension was worked out of his shoulders.
"You're the best." Peleus shrugged. "Our helper needs a fairly influential position - in the Senate, naturally - in exchange for providing us with troupes and an opportunity. You'll be freeing up the right position for him, but it has to be at the proper time. Understand?"
"Perfectly." They'd be killing a Senator; that was obvious. "Who?"
How coincidental. Aya would've smiled, but it wouldn't have been appropriate. "In a few days, you say?"
"No more than two or three." Peleus shrugged. "I'll be in contact with you. Don't forget we're having that drinking party tonight. And," he added, more seriously, "don't lose sight of our objective."
"I have a terrible memory," Youji said glibly. "What was that objective again?"
"Don't even joke," Peleus answered, still serious. "Speculating about an assassination attempt on the emperor would get us hung for sure." When he turned to look back at them, there was an idealistic glow in his eyes. "We're revolutionists, my friends," he told them, reverently. "And it's all for the glory of Rome."
"Dirty little rat!" The man glared at Omi with pure hatred, one hand nursing an angry bruise on his cheekbone. "I'll teach you your place right now!"
The two men who'd brought him into the elaborate house seemed to take that as a signal. One of them slammed him into a wall and the other kicked him hard in the ribs a few times. Stars swam in front of Omi's vision; he wasn't a stranger to pain, but the rough treatment didn't help with his shock.
That didn't mean he was about to sit back and take it, though.
"Bring him," the well-dressed man instructed curtly, making an odd little gesture with his hand as he moved into the next room. Omi was hauled after him, held more tightly than before. He probably wasn't going to be allowed any sort of freedom now, not after that.
I shouldn't have been hasty like that!
"Chain him for now, but leave some slack." The fancy man walked over to where two plainly dressed women knelt beside a crude tub full of water. "You can leave the girls to take care of him, but stay in the room."
The guards - if that's what they were - dragged Omi toward the water.
"I'll return later to take him to his Lordship's chambers." The well-dressed man left the room. "Make sure he's ready," he ordered them, without turning.
One of the guards looked down at Omi. "Strip."
"What?" Of all the things they might've said to him, he hadn't expected that.
"Remove your garment," the guard repeated.
Omi clenched the fingers of both hands around his single article of clothing. "You must be kidding!"
His arms were roughly pulled away, and one of the guards tore away the loincloth. "Now get in the water!" he ordered, shoving Omi in the direction of the tub.
Cheeks hot and too shocked to do anything but obey, the youngest member of Weiss climbed into the almost overflowing tub. As he'd been half expecting, considering what he'd just been ordered to do, the girls immediately began to scrub at him with cloths and various scented oils.
Omi let them do what they wanted, knowing he'd be ordered to anyway. The girls weren't the ones doing this to him, really, so there was no reason to give them trouble. They were just following orders, after all.
One girl lifted his limp right arm to wash it. "What's your name?" she asked, quietly. The guards didn't appear to take any notice.
"Omi," he replied, just as quietly. Having a friend could only make things easier.
"That's a strange name," the second girl said. "Not Roman. Mine is Ilene."
"That's not Roman either."
"Hardly any of the slaves are Roman," the first girl told him. "My name is Vena."
Omi managed a small smile. "Are you slaves… like me?"
"No." Vena caught his meaning. "Lord Siloneus prefers male slaves for that. We're just cleaning and kitchen workers. It isn't so bad." The look she gave him was clearly sympathetic.
"Is he…?" Omi frowned, not sure how he wanted to phrase the question. "I mean, what's he like? Not really bad-tempered, I hope."
"We don't know for sure," Ilene told him. "Slaves don't associate with the nobility."
"He's short-tempered sometimes," Vena supplied. "But he's pretty young and very handsome. I think he's usually fair - that's what the others said."
"Others?" Omi repeated.
"Body slaves he had before you." Ilene finished with him, and dried her hands on a towel. "They work at other places now."
Vena leaned back. "When his Lordship is finished with you, come down to the kitchen. We'll show you all the safe places around here."
Omi opened his mouth to ask her what she meant by 'safe places' but when they noticed he was finished, the guards came over to pull him out of the tub. He was given another loincloth to wear and ropes were tied around his wrists instead of the chains. By the time that was finished, the girls had left.
"Ready, is he?" The fancy man had re-entered the room. "Bring him along then - we'll want to have him in place before Lord Siloneus returns to his chambers." He turned and walked out, with Omi being forced to follow.
The young assassin had been entertaining some half-formed escape plans for when the guards left him, but those fell apart when they reached the noble's room. There was a sturdy block by the bed which the well-dressed man tied Omi's wrists to, quite securely. Then he took out two long, thin strips of cloth.
"Just for assurance," he said, smirking, and tied the first around Omi's eyes, effectively blinding him. The second was stuffed into his mouth and knotted tightly at the back of his head.
Dimly, Omi heard their footsteps moving away. He tugged sharply at the bonds holding his wrists, but they didn't budge. Trying to undo the knots that held him was just as hopeless; he couldn't see them, and his movements were already jerky and panicked.
If it hadn't been for the gag, Omi would've screamed.