NB: Hello, all. This is my first Karneval fic. It's the first of a multi-series, tarot-themed group of stories. Let me know how you like it. I'm worried about characterization in particular.

There was a discernible point in time, Akari knew, when the situation had slipped from his firm control. But he'd be damned if he could pinpoint that moment with any precision, not with Hirato's eyes raking down his body in a manner not entirely appropriate for professional contexts. He made mental note to cut those eyes out with a scalpel if he should be reprimanded by the higher ups for being absent-minded during Round Table Z. Leave it to that pretty-boy bastard to drive him to the point of distraction. The doctor cleared his throat and proceeded with his report, keenly aware that those violet irises were seeing him as they'd seen him last night.

"Hirato…stop..." he said half-heartedly around uneven breaths, placing a halting hand on his aggressor's chest. Even so, the captain's lips were sliding along his neck and nipping playfully at his jaw. It was enough to send his mind reeling and his heart racing. Akari's hand clenched involuntarily in Hirato's pristinely-starched shirt as he bit back a needful moan. Dexterous fingers slipped under the waistband of his slacks and he was pulled onto the other's lap. Not one word of protest was uttered in the interim - a point the brunet happily brought to his attention.

"Are you sure you want me to stop?" Hirato whispered seductively, skilled tongue leaving an insistent trail down Akari's chest as the doctor's hands wound themselves in inky hair, gripping hard enough to elicit a strained groan. None of their coworkers would ever suspect that the second ship's commander could be so expressive. No, they never saw this Hirato. All they saw were knowing smirks and manipulative machinations, the latter of which were rarely seen and more often felt. The man whose rhinestone eyes were now trained on him, silently begging for permission - that man belonged completely to Akari. This knowledge sent a little thrill through the physician.

He tried to say the word "stop" again and found that he couldn't form the syllable. "No."

Clearly Hirato made him stupid. One of the many reasons he hated the man.

And the next thing he remembered was the captain's hands holding him steady as he came apart spectacularly, mouth open in a cry of pleasure, eyes clamped shut, and back arched gracefully as long, powerful fingers left tiny bruises along his hipbone.

No wonder it was difficult, then, to give the results of Nai's latest examination without feeling the ghost of those fingertips pressing into his hips as his lover watched him climax, on his lap, in his office, atop his own desk, while the rest of Research Tower remained happily oblivious that two of Circus' top officials had broken every protocol ever known to the defense agency.

Really, that Hirato was shameless.

Lovers. When had they become lovers? When had mutual antipathy morphed into something sharper, something driven by a need to possess and mark each other with a white hot intensity that clouded Akari's inimitable intellect and sped his pulse? A man with his genius ought to have seen it coming. The opposite of hate isn't love, after all. The opposite of hate is apathy. And whatever else they had been, Hirato and Akari had never been particularly apathetic towards one another. He was a fool for being blindsided in such a manner.

He sat down, huffily crossing one long leg over the other and trying to ignore the creeping feeling of being visually undressed. He shook his head as if the gesture might concomitantly break the spell. Akari had finally begun to catch the tenor of the conversation when he heard a chime indicating that a private message had been received. It took a Herculean effort to stop from abandoning his detached demeanor and beating the shit out of that black-haired, shifty-eyed devil.

Watching you work makes me want to take you against this desk. Now. In front of Round Table. -Hirato.

The blond kept himself from tossing disgusted glances at his interlocutor, but only just. By the time he'd taken enough deep, calming breaths to stabilize his heart rate, the discussion had turned to the mission that Circus' second ship was to undertake that very evening.

"I understand," Hirato said confidently before resuming his seat, "I will see to it." And just then, the doctor could see why his female staff were secretly hoping that the enigmatic commander would deign to look their way. Hirato really was quite gorgeous, if you liked that bespectacled, naughty professor look. And if he paid attention to the way the slim cut of the other man's dark suit made a lean figure look impossibly leaner, or how the acid green lights of the meeting room made the captain's vibrant eyes glow, he could see precisely why anyone would want to possess such a stunning and dangerous specimen.

Akari's mind flickered to some singular organisms he'd encountered once in a woodland not very different from the Niji Forest. They were flowers of the brightest pink - lush, alluring blossoms that gave off the most intoxicating scent. They were also carnivorous. Hirato, he noticed, was very similar to these blooms - just as breathtaking and just as lethal.

Only when the meeting concluded did his typically-acute perceptive faculties return to him. He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed wearily. It was bound to be a long day, and he'd better gather his scattered wits immediately. Certainly, he would have pulled himself together forthwith were it not for the fact that Hirato discreetly groped his behind while walking past with Tsukitachi. Irritation narrowed his vision. The last thing he saw was the tip of a silk hat and a jaunty wave over the other man's back.

The day progressed as any other day at Research Tower. About a dozen examinations of Circus personnel were conducted. In fact, Akari wondered if Circus had any able-bodied individuals left in its employ. He chased Yogi around the facility in hopes of scaring the young man into being ever more vigilant about his so-called allergy patch before sending him off to Hirato for their mission. The doctor then saw a very tipsy Tsukitachi back to Circus ship one. Honestly, was everyone affiliated with this agency a feckless layabout? Finally, he snapped at the nurses to get back to work. But this time it was different. This time he felt a sting of jealousy as he overheard their very fervent desires for the "strong gentleman" that commanded the second ship. He stalked off, swearing to murder said commander with his own necktie when next they met. It was enough that Hirato kept the blond from accomplishing anything during this morning's meeting, but now he seemed to have a deleterious effect on Research Tower staff as well.

Hours passed in a similar haze. It was late. Akari was exhausted. He'd almost fallen asleep on the office couch when distress calls sounded throughout the tower. Hirato's expedition had gone horribly wrong, apparently. New, mutated Varuga had appeared out of nowhere, leaving the ground team both outnumbered and out-powered. Emergency situations of this caliber were rare, so the entire staff was placed on standby. Injured personnel were being brought to the facility for immediate treatment. Akari leapt into an adrenaline-fueled alertness, his efficacious professionalism taking over in almost automatic fashion.

He watched as more and more combatants were brought inside, searching frantically for a mop of unruly black hair to no avail. That Hirato had not been admitted was a relief; it meant he was unharmed, at least physically. Yogi and Tsukumo had finally been stabilized, but several of the lower-skilled fighters were far too gone to be saved. Akari would have liked to mourn them, to feel the despair that overwhelms all physicians in the face of helplessness, but these emotions were quickly smothered by his sense of duty. There was no time for such things when Research Tower was practically overrun with casualties.

Just what sort of mission were you on, Hirato, to need so many ground crew? He felt a deep, unyielding guilt for not paying closer attention at Round Table this morning, for not being mindful about the sorts of dangers facing Hirato, for being more concerned with how foolish he felt under the other's gaze than what would happen if he never felt that electricity crackle between them again, for not caring more. Even as his mind whirled in a mad attempt to make sense of the chaos that had been let loose upon the nation's defense agency, he worked. Akari's expertise saved many lives that night. Everyone expected as much, and while no one was foolhardy enough to offer congratulations when they'd simultaneously lost several colleagues, they were aware that the losses would have been catastrophic were it not for the inordinately gifted physician whose opaline eyes remained alert and focused even when tired bags formed underneath them.

Many hours later, most of the frenzy had died down. But there was no rest for the weary strawberry blond. He had one more patient to see.

Sheep received him as he arrived on deck of the second ship. He greeted them tersely and made his way down the eerily silent corridors. Nai and Gareki had been aboard during the battle; it was likely that they were asleep. Tsukumo and Yogi were still at Research Tower for observation. He was fearful of what he might find in the captain's quarters. Akari might have bristled at Hirato's brashness, insulted him even, but he never earnestly wanted the man's defeat. Not like this anyway.

He didn't knock. There was no need; the door opened with a soft click. All the lights had been extinguished, lending an abandoned air to the room that crept under his skin and troubled him for reasons better left unarticulated. Hirato was slumped in his desk chair, head resting in one hand, while a half-unwrapped bandage trailed from the other hand to the floor. He'd removed his overcoat and jacket and loosened his tie, giving him a disturbingly disheveled look that was not nearly as sexy as it would have been under more pleasurable circumstances. A glass of scotch was perched atop his desk, the condensation slipping down its side betraying the fact that it had not been touched. Moonlight glinted off the pool of water that coalesced at its base. The captain didn't acknowledge the doctor's approach. Akari could see him trembling under what could only be staggering self-disappointment and fury. He hesitated briefly before settling a hand gently on Hirato's back.

"How many died?" the commander asked, his voice a harsh whisper. This too, the blond thought, they don't see this Hirato either.

"Fourteen," he replied quietly. Hirato only offered a solemn nod.

"Tsukumo and Yogi?" And that voice, the one that was always so confident, nearly broke on the names of his subordinates. Akari swore that he also heard the delicate shattering of his own heart, a heart whose existence even he questioned from time to time. Casting these thoughts aside, he trailed his hand from Hirato's back to his injured palm, and taking it in both of his, he began to unwind and reapply the bandage that had been hastily bound around a rather deep cut. It had stopped bleeding, he noted. A fuller examination could wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow, when Hirato would once again be himself.

"They will be fine." In hopes of offering reassurance, he looked directly into tired, bloodshot eyes that had been impish and teasing only this morning.

"It's my fault. I should have -" The thought was cut off as Akari crushed his lips against Hirato's. A small sound of protest was beat back by the blond's forcefulness, and after several minutes Hirato stilled.

"Enough now." Akari said, wrapping his arms around shoulders that felt too fragile all of the sudden. He threaded a hand through Hirato's hair and held him together even as he wordlessly fell apart. They remained like that, motionless and silent as time slipped by unmarked.

Morning found the physician watching the sunlight stream through the ship's high windows, falling in shafts along the bed and causing the brunet's porcelain skin to catch fire in the light. Yes, Akari concluded, he really is breathtaking. Hirato had gone to sleep less than an hour ago, and only after a rather insistent Akari had seen him to bed with threats of sedation. The captain's fingers had remained clenched in the doctor's lab coat until he drifted off. It was a small, almost imperceptible sign of need, and like many things, it was rendered solely to the man at his side. And while the blond himself could also benefit from a several hours' rest, his immediate concern was making sure his lover didn't wake.

And if he suffered a sharp crick in his neck and a sore back from maintaining so stiff a posture while Hirato slept peacefully in his lap, he'd do so without complaint. He regarded the other man. You're going to find novel ways to work this tension from my body, he thought mischievously, brushing aside stray hair that had been caught in an eyelash. When you're up for it. And you will be up for it. I promise you that. Because he would reclaim his crafty bastard of a lover who shredded every ounce of his patience and sent heat coursing through his body all at the same time. That much was certain.

Lovers, Akari considered, barely feathering a fingertip along the dark circles forming under Hirato's closed eyes and realizing with startling clarity that their long history had always been forged by anything but chance. To choose you, to keep you - this is what it means to be a lover.

AN on 'Lovers': In a tarot reading, the card representing the lovers typically signifies choice vis-a-vis a romantic interest or relationship. This choice is one with long-term ramifications and consequences. I felt that Akari and Hirato were perfectly-suited to this particular card because any romantic relationship between them would have to be predicated on such a choice. Hate isn't the opposite of love, in my opinion. Hate and love are both driven by intense feeling towards another person, a desire to capture that person's attention (in a negative or positive way). As such, it seemed that shifting Hirato's incessant teasing and Akari's cold brusqueness into something that resembles affection would require a choice on both their parts.