Crawford is lead to take the subway and ends up encountering Ken right before a botched robbery.
Author's Notes: I hope ya'll are liking this. It's kind of a struggle, but enjoyable. PS- I have a horrid Midwestern accent so I can tease it all I want!
Beta Reader: My wonderful hubby, WingedPanther73. A very convenient beta-read!
Word Count = 3,130
August 29, 2010 9:45pm
“And I want you to go spy on Masafumi tonight. I've been planning on sending you for a week, now is a great opportunity because Masafumi is still out of town. Figure out what's going on at that small lab he's running on the side,” Reiji said, before swinging his golf club up. “I cut him off, and he's still getting money, somehow. I want something blackmail worthy so I can get him back in line.”
“I'll investigate it,” Crawford answered.
“Good. And, I'll be visiting my daughter tonight, so tell my chef to have everything perfect on the way out.”
Crawford's eyes narrowed while Takatori examined the end of his golf club. It wasn't often he indulged in something as base as envy, but he'd love to have Nagi's abilities at that moment so he could wrap the club around the Japanese politician's thick neck for giving him such a... mundane... task. His visualization of the fantasy murder was gently nudged aside as a vision came to his mind.
Somehow, tonight, Schreient would show up and corner Crawford in Masafumi's lab just as he was stealing a file. He and Hell would have words, and she would throw a knife at him. He, of course, would have foreseen that and easily caught it, but Siberian was going to pounce from a hiding place in the ceiling rafters and block the knife. It would be buried in Ken's chest, and he'd fall, clammy from blood loss. Seconds later, the rest of Weiss would show up and a fight between them and Schreient would break out. The vision abruptly stopped before he could foresee the extent of Ken's injuries.
He pushed his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose, now in a quandary. What would the Weiss assassins be doing at Masafumi's laboratory unless there was someone to assassinate? He hadn't seen anyone else except that cow, Hell, and the rest of her irritating bunch. Could Weiss be getting more aggressive or...
His cell phone rang softly; he glanced at the number after making sure Takatori was wrapped up with his putting. He frowned at the unfamiliar number and mashed the decline button.
He turned and left Takatori's office. Crawford paused after he entered the elevator, fingers hovering above the ground floor button as his memory recalled the piece of the vision where Ken took the knife, foolishly trying to protect him. Why shouldn't he allow it to happen, especially, to a Mundane who was, by indications from his clairvoyance, going to cause problems for his ultimate goal?
Crawford pushed the button for the ground floor, deciding Ken was getting to be too problematic and needed to be eliminated from his life. He decided to let Ken take the knife, and then help Schreient take care of Weiss. Then he'd be done with this complication he was foolish to indulge in this first place.
His phone rang again; it was the same unknown number. Crawford felt a nudge from seconds in the future; he could hear Ken's frantic, soft voice. He held it to his ear after hitting receive.
“You know better than to call me,” Crawford snapped, leaning against the back wall of the elevator.
“But you don't understand... please just listen to me... you're in danger tonight. Don't go to the lab. You're now a target,” Ken pleaded, his voice was so low Crawford could barely hear the words.
“How did you know I have a mission tonight?”
“I can't tell you. Just, please, don't go. Brad?”
Crawford stifled his slight surprise at hearing his first name being used by Ken; it had always been an unspoken taboo before.
“Please, don't go. Aya... Abyssinian is going to be there, and he's really determined to kill you.”
Crawford felt a smile come to his lips at the slight slip, but he frowned as a disturbing thought occurred to him. He then asked, “Why are you pointlessly risking this call?”
There was silence until the elevator bell sounded and the door opened. “I... don't know... I shouldn't have. I did this before, and it didn't work out.”
“Before?” Crawford asked just as Ken hung up on him. He glared at his cell phone and then left the elevator. Now he knew Ken was getting too reckless and too attached to this arrangement. Still, this could be the point Crawford could start using Ken for more leverage against Weiss. If Ken was willing to warn Crawford of a hit, then couldn't Crawford lure him to progressively larger acts of betrayal? Maybe Ken needed to be kept from Hell's knife; he could achieve his purpose in sleeping with Ken in the first place, getting leverage over Weiss.
He hit number one on his speed dial and waited for the, “Why didn't you just use your head.”
“No time to explain, Schuldig. Get over here to Takatori's. You need to go through the place for anyone who could be a Kritiker snitch.”
Schuldig chuckled and said, “I'll bring Farfarello.”
“Good, you two should be able to handle it. Don't wait up tonight.”
“Hot date with your mystery lover?”
“Actually, yes,” Crawford said, smirking wickedly because he could answer honestly. He clicked his phone off and went to go fulfill his tasks.
He knew Schuldig figured out he hadn't stopped playing with Siberian, but Schuldig knew not to spread it around or press his luck with curiosity. Crawford did wonder how long Schuldig would restrain himself.
“I did this before, and it didn't work out,” Ken mumbled, hanging up the green pay phone's handset. “Not again.”
Guilt started gnawing at his stomach; he jambed his hands in his khakis and wandered the five blocks back towards the flower shop. He had struggled with his conflicting loyalties before. First between Kase and and Weiss and then between Yoriko and Weiss.
The memory of Manx's words about deciding where his loyalties lay played through his head. But he had thought Kase was innocent, and he knew Yoriko was pure; he didn't disillusion himself about Crawford. Still, he made the choice to tip off the American even when he was clearly an enemy.
He dug his fingernails deeper into his palms, trying to figure out why he had ran to the phone and told the man. One moment, Crawford would be kind and actually show a dry sense of humor, but the next he would be aloof and distant. It kept Ken perpetually confused and fascinated.
He wanted to learn more about Crawford, but he revealed so little. Ken also could tell Crawford had been trying to coax him into revealing things about his life, but he still couldn't trust the Schwarz assassin's intentions, even thought he desperately wanted to. All of his teammate's lives could be in jeopardy, and so many other things if he misplaced too much trust.
Ken took a deep, cleansing breath before entering the flower shop again. He hoped Crawford would bring along the others tonight so his mind could stop whirling around how to prevent Aya and the others from killing the Schwarz leader.
Crawford turned the borrowed car down a winding road. It was now a dark and unusually warm summer night. He finally found a wooded place to park a distance from the laboratory. He checked his cell phone and noted, with irritation, Schuldig and the unknown number had popped up a total of twenty-thee times during the afternoon. Not only that, Schludig's incessant buzzing was edging him towards a slight headache.
Crawford had wanted to deal with this alone, which was a rare choice for him. He and Schwarz were always of the same mind, but he wasn't so sure a three way fight with Weiss and Schreient would be in his teammates' best interest. He was still trying to maintain a low profile, so they could build their influence behind the scenes for the elimination of everyone who would use Talents like soulless tools, including the upper echelons of Eszett.
He shook his head in irritation as a memory of Ken came to him. It happened early on in their encounters and only once. Ken had been propped up on his elbow looking at Crawford with innocent curiosity; he was on the extreme opposite edge of the bed they were sharing. They were both sweaty and still catching their breath after an intense sexual encounter.
The Siberian had dared to ask the Oracle why he'd work for criminals when he could do so much good for people. Crawford felt his body stiffen with malice; he told Ken he was too simple to understand. What he had meant to say to Ken was that he couldn't understand what it was like being used as a cheap Ouija Board by greedy sociopaths.
How could he tell that to Ken, why should he tell that to him, anyway? Ken had willingly handed himself to be Crawford's toy, at best. It made Crawford wonder if Ken thought he was going to play him and gain leverage over Schwarz. This was how Crawford saw Mundanes, as tools or as users; what bothered him is Ken didn't fit nicely in either category.
Crawford didn't have Schuldig's telepathy, but he certainly knew he'd hurt the young man with that particular rebuff. After that, Ken tried his hardest to maintain things as a cool arrangement for unattached sex. Crawford knew now, it was beyond Ken's abilities to not attach himself. It seemed the more frigid he was towards the young man, the more insatiable Ken became.
As he made his way to the laboratory, he shoved Ken out of his thoughts so his mind could focus. He'd need his clairvoyance with nothing tainting his visions, especially emotions.
“This assignment is isn't too great,” Yohji admitted, picking the lock to the small, countryside laboratory. Ken kept his eyes moving, ignoring Yohji's assessment. Aya seemed focused on the door, very impatient, in spite of Yohji's speed and grace.
Omi caught Ken's eye and gave him a worried glance. Ken turned away and scanned the darkened woods around the laboratory. For a split second, he wondered if he saw a dim light in the woods.
“Come on,” Yohji whispered after he swung the door open. Ken took a deep breath and started praying he would find Crawford before the others. What he really prayed is that Crawford heeded his warning and would stay away.
“Let's split up,” Omi whispered. “But be careful and keep hidden.”
Ken didn't wait to be told twice; he took off down a hallway to the right, having no real clue if Crawford was in this place. All he knew was he wanted this situation to have a peaceful outcome, but knowing the history between Weiss and Schwarz, he doubted there could be one. It only made his mind swirl in recrimination for let himself get in a vulnerable position.
He snuck into a dark room carefully. It reeked of bleach, but he felt lucky. He saw a bank of computers and knew this room would likely be Crawford's target. His job was to call Omi to gather the information, and then they would all wait for Crawford and kill the man.
Instead he froze, not able to get Omi over their com link. He felt torn, not really amazed he had allowed himself to develop some loyalty to Crawford, in spite of his efforts to use their rendezvous to satisfy something he couldn't define: an addiction to danger, a need for punishment, or the challenge of facing an opponent. It wasn't making sense any longer.
Ken looked up to the low ceiling and took the leap upwards to the rafters. He pulled himself into the shadows and decided to wait. He figured Omi, Aya, and Yohji wouldn't come around, since he was supposed to scout this area.
He still wasn't sure about what he was going to do if, or when, Crawford showed. He didn't have long to wait before seeing the American, dressed in a white suit, stride into the darkened room. He watched Crawford walk over to the computers and start one up; his fingers flew over the keys in an effort to break in. Ken could tell their was success by the smug look lighting up Crawford's face. He quickly popped in a blank disk and began downloading information Omi should have had access to.
Again, Ken froze, being as still as he could, even thought anger hit him. He couldn't understand why Crawford would ignore his warnings, but he wasn't surprised the man was egotistical enough to think he could handle all of Weiss.
Then again, was the rest of Schwarz lurking nearby? And if so, would Crawford take as much care at keeping Schwarz at bay from Ken as he was keeping Weiss at bay? His disturbed thoughts were interrupted as the four women marched in. Ken stifled his gasp at Schreient's unexpected appearance.
“What the hell do you think you're doing, Brad?” the raven-haired leader shouted.
Crawford turned around with lazy grace and pushed his glassed high on his nose. “Doing you a favor, Hell.”
She looked baffled, then worried, when Crawford drew his gun. He looked directly at Ken, even thought he was shrouded in total darkness. He took aim and said, “You have a pest problem.”
Horror ran thought Ken as three shots didn't quite kiss his left cheek. More shots ran out as Ken's instincts took over. He felt his balance change, and then he plunged to the floor. He landed on his feet and quickly had his claws ready.
“What is Weiss doing here!” Schön shrieked, her red whip flashed bright in the corner of Ken's eyes, but his direct sight was locked on Crawford's impassive face.
“Grab him!” Hell shouted. Ken prepared for Schön's onslaught, but he was relived to see the gleam of Aya's katana as he rushed into the room. Yohji soon followed with Omi trailing behind. Everything became a whirl as Ken did his best to fight off Schön. He caught sight of Crawford lofting a computer disk and nodding at him before he disappeared out the door.
Ken turned his fury and sense of betrayal on Schön. He swept her legs as Hell shouted, “Damn it, Brad! You come back here.”
She made the mistake of turning her back to Aya, and he was able to get a swipe at her arm. Tot then lunged at Aya and threw him off balance. Hell ordered, “Forget Weiss! Go after Crawford!”
Schreient obeyed and retreated out of the door, leaving Weiss winded and a little bloody. Ken ran to the door and watched the women go after Crawford. There was a part of him that hope Hell would kick the snot out of Crawford. He shook that initial thought off and was dismayed to feel anxiousness over Crawford underneath it all.
Crawford strode into Schwarz's high-rise apartment and slammed the door in aggravation. The image of Ken's hurt eyes wouldn't leave him the whole way home. Fortunately, Schuldig and Farfarello were in the living-room, both looking rather pleased with themselves.
“Did you find the leak?” Crawford asked, refusing to engage Schuldig.
“We did, and I don't think you'll be surprised.”
“You'll get a chance to hear that horrid American Midwestern accent you happen to have.”
Crawford gave him a baffled expression, but quickly followed Schuldig down the hall to the locked room they kept for just such emergencies. Farfarello flung the door open; Crawford couldn't miss the wicked, hungry gleam in his amber, left eye. He knew he needed loosen Farfarello's leash soon, but only slightly.
Crawford marched into the dim room and saw the shapely blond tied to a chair. She was still in formal business attire, a nice blouse and skirt in shades of purple, but now they were ripped and rumpled. Her hair was usually swept up and piled high on her head, but now it tumbled around her shoulders.
He gave her an annoyed expression before forcing her chin up so her blue eyes met his. He sneered and said in English, “Why Miss Josie Camron, what have you done?”
“Liar,” Schuldig said with a low growl. “She's your snitch.”
“Who would have suspected a former Miss Iowa, turned translator, would ever be working for a covert Japanese organization bent on destroying criminal activity? Pretty cleaver choice on Kritiker's part,” Crawford mused. “Of course, this poses a problem.”
“What problem?” Schuldig snapped.
“We need our hands clean... for now. Go take her to Hirofumi, with my compliments. He'll think we're being generous, but I'd rather have Kritiker after him,” Crawford said, avoiding the fear and hatred in her eyes. He could tell his two teammates weren't immune to her emotions; they were relishing them.
Farfarello started cutting her loose from the chair when Crawford turned to leave. Schuldig caught his shoulder and asked, “Where are you going?”
“To make an apology,” Crawford said.
“Be careful. Cats like to bite when they're angry,” Schuldig said, with a smirk.
Crawford quickly left and got down to his car. His got out his cell phone and hesitated for a half a minute. He could foresee he was going to have to do more than just apologize to woo Ken back. He reached in his jacket pocket and dug out the disk with the stolen information. Crawford sighed and thought quickly of a suitable lie for Takatori, right before dialing Ken's cell phone number he hadn't used in two months.
“It's you?” Ken answered.
“So you can finish the job?”
“No, so I can give you the information Weiss was after... and to apologize. It was necessary.”
“Necessary! You could have killed me.”
“Listen. Meet me in an hour, or I hand the information over to my employer.”
There was a long pause, and then he asked “Where?”
“Shibuya Elmitaju. Just in front of the theater.” Crawford hit the disconnect and got into his car. A brief glimmer of a vision told him Ken would more than forgive him before the dawn broke.
To be continued.