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Fortune Favors the Foolish

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Chapter One

 

“Where the hell were you?!” Ken screamed at Chloe after slamming the front door.

 

“I was dispatching the target, Ken.  In other words, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  Why is that a problem for you?  Did you miss me?”

 

“I was your backup, you pompous ass.  How am I supposed to watch your back if you ignore the plan and wander off?”

 

“The target changed the plan, Ken, not me, and I had to follow or abort.  As for my pompous ass… well, it’s here now if you’re so interested.  Go ahead and stare at it to your heart’s content.”

 

“You – vain – bastard!  Don’t expect me to watch your back ever again after this.”  As he turned to face Aya, Ken added, “I’m outta here.  I need to get cleaned up.”

 

“Wait, Ken.  Yuki and Michel picked up some Chinese takeout for us.  Do you want me to save anything for you?”  Aya asked, trying to defuse his volatile teammate.

 

“No, I don’t,” Ken barked loudly in response before pausing to take a deep breath.  After a moment to calm himself, he continued, “Sorry, Aya, thanks for the offer, but I don’t think I want anything right now except a shower.”  Giving a small, weary smile as an apology, Ken turned and stalked away in the direction of the bathroom.

 

Chloe turned and took a step in the opposite direction toward the kitchen table where the familiar white containers were already laid out along with plates and chopsticks.  As he did so he muttered, “Stupid, hot-headed jock” under his breath.

 

Aya grabbed Chloe’s arm just above the wrist and stopped the blond from walking away.  “Chloe, please don’t…”

 

“Don’t what?”  Chloe interrupted.  “I didn’t do anything to him and he wanted to take my head off.”

 

“Don’t tease him like that, Chloe.  I understand that you needed to follow the target, but you should have let him know about your change in position.  He was your backup and he can’t do his job if he isn’t kept informed.  I agree that Ken shouldn’t have shouted at you that way, but I think it’s only because he was worried about you and he’s hopped up on adrenaline.  You should have seen him fighting to get to you; he was like a man possessed.”

 

“From what I’ve heard, you come from a very screwed up team, Aya, and their warped personalities are not my problem.”

 

“I come from a very capable team, Chloe, and you would do well to remember that fact.  Ken is very good at what he does.  He doesn’t deserve to be dismissed like that, nor does he deserve to be teased with your sexual innuendo.  One of these days, you may find yourself nursing a sore jaw and I won’t stop him.”

 

A long pause dragged on between the two men.  While Aya waited to see if his words had any effect on Chloe, Chloe waited to see if he would be required to gnaw his own arm off to escape the conversation.  For some reason, Ken and Chloe periodically rubbed each other the wrong way.  Granted, they didn’t have all that much in common, but those things never seemed to be the source of the volatile tension between them.  Just what the next trigger might be or when the next explosion might come seemed impossible to predict.  Chloe dealt with the awkwardness by teasing and baiting his new teammate, but his careless provocation of the emotional ex-Weiss member was leading more and more frequently to events much like what happened this evening and that could get someone hurt in the field.  Ken’s quick temper and outbursts didn’t help the situation, but Chloe was not nearly as innocent of culpability in the incidents as he pretended to be.

 

“Just think about it, Chloe,” Aya continued, “and ask yourself if you would’ve behaved any differently if Free or I had been the one backing you up this evening.”

 

With that parting comment, Aya released Chloe’s wrist and allowed him to pull away.  Chloe moved quickly and went through the motions of gathering food and tea, but his appetite had waned in the shadow of Aya’s words.  The more he poked at his food, the more he had to admit that at least part of what Aya had said rang true.  Chloe tried to imagine Free being his backup for this evening’s mission and instinctively knew that he would’ve said something.  The same was doubly true for Aya.  Free possessed an uncanny sixth sense about things and might have sensed any sudden change in plans, but Chloe still would have called out an alert, at the very least, if not the details.  Ken and Aya on the other hand would have no way of knowing the target’s change of route if they weren’t explicitly told, and Chloe simply couldn’t envision himself leaving Aya that far out of the loop. 

 

Finally deciding that he had spent enough time pushing his food around on his plate, Chloe finished the last of his tea and stood to take his dishes back to the kitchen by way of the garbage can.  As he shut the dishwasher door, Chloe heard his name being called and turned to face the speaker.  Something was flying through the air toward his head and he snatched it easily before it collided with his face.

 

“What’s this?” Chloe inquired.

 

“You forgot your fortune,” Free answered simply before he turned and walked away.

 

Sure enough, the item Free had tossed at him was one of the fortune cookies from the restaurant.  If Free had gone to the trouble to seek him out to give it to him, there was no point in returning the seemingly innocuous cookie to the table.  It would just show up later on his nightstand and it would doubtless be the self same one even though no one else would be able to tell the difference.  Free had a way about him and it wouldn’t do to argue the point.  Not really wanting to deal with it now, however, Chloe carelessly placed the plastic wrapped cookie into his pocket and walked down the hallway to try to find Ken. 

 

Chloe still wasn’t certain what he ought to say to his teammate, but he admitted to himself that something likely needed to be said.  After finding the bathroom door standing open and the room empty, he assumed that Ken had retreated to his bedroom to dress and sulk, but failed to find him there as well.  Now thoroughly puzzled, Chloe stood in the hall and wondered briefly where to search next.  Aya’s door stood open and so he knocked softly before poking his head inside the room.

 

“You wouldn’t happen to know where Ken disappeared to, would you?”  Chloe inquired.

 

“That depends on why you’re looking for him, Chloe,” Aya answered warily from his chair by the window where he sat reading a book.

 

“I suppose I deserve that given the way this evening went, but I’m actually wanting to mend fences a bit if that makes a difference.”

 

“In that case,” Aya stated, “you can find him in the laundry room taking care of his equipment.”

 

“Thanks, Aya, for the info… and for the talk.”

 

“I’m glad you found it helpful,” Aya answered, being deliberately vague as to which conversation he was referring to spare his friend any embarrassment.  “Let me know how it goes.  Ken’s a good man, a loyal friend.  I’d like to see you two get along better and not just for the sake of the missions.”

 

Chloe nodded at Aya to acknowledge the offer and backed away from the door.  As Chloe made his way to the laundry room, he wondered what exactly to say to his teammate.  Should he apologize?  Should he just offer to talk?  What was the best way to handle this?  Chloe knew he should say that he was sorry, and he was, but there was still a certain amount of pride getting in the way and he was desperate to save face while he calmed the waters. 

 

All too soon, Chloe was standing in front of the laundry room door and found himself frozen in place.  Taking a deep breath, he pushed the door open, too forcefully as it turned out, since Ken had been standing at the utility sink and not by the washer or dryer. 

 

The rapidly moving door connected with Ken’s back, unbalancing him and pushing him forward over the sink.  As he struggled to keep from hitting the wall, the faucet, or the dunking his head in the dirty water, Ken grabbed the edge of the large basin to catch himself.  In the process of doing so, however, Ken also caught the edge of the towel he had wrapped around his waist when he had gotten out of the shower. 

 

After Chloe felt the door connect with Ken’s solid form, he stepped through the doorway with an apology on his lips for having hit the man and then froze in place.  When Ken righted himself and turned, the hand still snagging the edge of the towel trapped one side behind him and the towel pulled open and fell off.  Chloe now found himself face to face with a completely naked Ken who was growing more and more red-faced by the second.  Chloe knew that he should turn away, knew he should speak the apology that had stopped at his lips, knew that he should, at the very least, close his gaping mouth, but found that he could do nothing except stare. 

 

Utterly mortified, Ken looked down at himself in stunned disbelief .  Closing his eyes and gripping the sink behind him, he silently prayed that if he just wished hard enough, he might magically wake up and find that it had all been some sort of bad dream.  It was not.  When Ken opened his eyes and glanced back up at Chloe, he found that the man was still in the room with him and that the blond’s eyes had followed Ken’s own downward glance and had stayed firmly fixed on Ken’s all too exposed groin. 

 

Chloe knew he was in trouble.  He could sense that Ken’s eyes had shifted to his face and it was painfully obvious exactly where Chloe was looking.  He should have closed his eyes, left the room, said something, anything, but by now it was far too late.  Ken’s original state of shock gave way to a fast rising anger.  The tension of the whole day from the preparation for the mission to its near failure and culminating in their argument after returning home had finally gotten the best of him and now the object of most of Ken’s frustrations was standing two feet away and staring openly at his naked body.  Chloe managed to look up just in time to see the dam burst in Ken’s eyes and the next thing he knew, he had been pushed up against a wall with an arm against his neck and with a very angry Ken right up in his face.

 

The force of his back hitting the wall knocked the wind out of Chloe but also seemed to loosen his tongue.  “I…”, Chloe tried to croak out around the pressure of Ken’s arm over his windpipe.

 

“You…”, Ken cut him off.

 

Whatever it was that Chloe wanted to say, the look in Ken’s eyes made him hesitate.  Ken was deadly serious right now and saying the wrong thing would be disastrous. 

 

“Sorry,” Chloe managed to whisper.  The word came out more as a hissing breath than a recognizable apology but Ken’s focus had shifted from Chloe’s eyes to his lips and Chloe hoped he’d understood.  Somehow though, the tension still felt high and Chloe was acutely aware of the man’s powerful body, tightly strung and pushed up against his own.

 

Ken read the word shaped by Chloe’s mouth as he struggled to speak and was close enough to have felt the breath from it against his own lips as well.  His brain loosely processed the fact that the other man had apologized but Ken’s body was hyped on adrenaline and he wasn’t giving ground.  The laundry room was cool and accentuated the heat coming from the body he currently had pinned to the wall.  Chloe’s breath was warm against his face and the lips right in front of his eyes were… Ken felt himself push forward to savagely claim those lips and moved his grip to Chloe’s shoulders.  All the intensity of his emotions burst forward into the kiss which quickly transformed from angry and violent to possessive and animalistic. 

 

Chloe should have been surprised by the kiss, should have been shocked, but he was enjoying it too much to care.  He had been openly admiring the body in front of him and now the smell and feel of Ken was intoxicating.  He had no thoughts about ‘Ken, the teammate,’ he only saw and felt a beautiful, muscular man plundering his mouth and holding him tightly.  Feeling adventurous, Chloe moved his hands away from his sides, grabbed Ken’s hips and pulled him closer.  As they crushed their bodies against one another, it quickly became apparent that both men were growing very aroused by the frenzied kiss. 

 

The feel of Chloe’s erection pressing insistently back against his own finally snapped Ken back to reality and he pushed himself away.  Quickly retrieving his towel from the floor, Ken tied it back around his waist and leaned heavily over the sink facing away from Chloe and the door.

 

“I’m sorry, Chloe,” Ken finally said, his tone breathless and tinged with a note of despair.

 

Chloe took a step toward his teammate and reached up as if to put a hand on Ken’s shoulder, but then changed his mind and let it drop back to his side.  Could this possibly get any worse?  Afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing, Chloe turned and silently left the room.  The need to flee, to think, was suddenly overwhelming and he found himself in his bedroom only a few hazy moments later packing a small bag with enough toiletries and clothing for a few days. 

 

As Chloe headed for the door, he spotted Free standing next to the key rack and holding Chloe’s car keys in front of him.  Wanting nothing more than to be far away as quickly as possible, Chloe extended his hand and silently demanded the keys.  Free extended his hand but, instead of simply dropping the keyring onto Chloe’s waiting palm, he waited for Chloe to reach for them.  When Chloe closed his hand around the keys, however, Free continued to hold one end tightly and pinned Chloe’s eyes with his own. 

 

A cryptic, “Tiger, Tiger, burning bright,” left Free’s lips before he finally relinquished the keys and moved away from the door. 

 

From behind him, Chloe heard another voice ask, “Going somewhere?”

 

‘Damn,’ Chloe cursed his ill-fortune mentally.  It was Aya.  He was never going to get out of here, at least not with his sanity intact.

 

“What makes you think…” Chloe started to bluff before he realized his keys were dangling in his hand and his small case was sitting on the floor next to him in plain sight.  Fighting back a weary sigh, Chloe abandoned escaping in secrecy for Plan B.  “Yes.  If it’s all right with you, I’d like to go down to KR’s place for a few days.  Will you cover for me in the shop?”

 

Chloe’s nonchalance was well practiced but little escaped Aya’s piercing gaze and that included the fact that what little color Chloe ever possessed was well and truly gone from his face.

 

“What happened?” Aya finally asked, not at all certain he truly wanted to know the answer.

 

Deflated and defeated, Chloe admitted, “I wish I knew.”  In the wake of his answer, Chloe could almost see Aya thinking; see the agile mind at work as their leader weighed what he knew and tried to formulate a strategy to deal with the situation.  At his limit, Chloe resorted to pleading, “Please, Aya?”

 

Chloe looked almost desperate, like an animal in a trap, and Aya hated seeing him like this.  It was so unlike his friend, and he had no wish to cause him any more stress than he was obviously already under.  He would have to trust that Chloe knew what was best for himself right now. Aya hated that it had come to this though.

 

“Two days, Chloe, and when you get back…” Aya left the statement unfinished.  Chloe would know what it meant.  This had to be dealt with.  Aya knew better than any of them just how bad running away could make things and he was determined to protect his new team from his old mistakes.

 

Chloe nodded.  He knew Aya wanted to help and some part of him wanted to reach out for that help but, for now, he needed distance and time.  He would have something to tell his friend by the time he returned, he just wondered if Aya would want to hear whatever it might turn out to be.  Chloe grabbed his bag and walked out the door without a backward glance.  As he sat down in the car, Chloe heard a crackle and crunch in his pocket and realized that he still had Free’s fortune cookie with him. 

 

By the time Chloe had driven halfway to his destination, the lure of the fortune cookie had proved greater than his resolve to ignore it.  He pulled off the road, lowered the window and, in the light of the car’s overhead lamp, Chloe opened the small package.  The cookie had broken into tiny pieces, probably during his encounter with Ken, and what damage that didn’t do, sitting in the car certainly had.  Chloe put a few of the larger pieces into his mouth, suddenly feeling the hunger from going without eating earlier, and tossed the crumbs to the ground outside the car.  The paper rolled inside was small and the red ink printed on the tiny slip of paper was difficult to see by the car’s small dome light, but he eventually managed to read the fortune.  “There will be many surprises, unexpected gains are likely.”