Part Five

    Yohji slipped down the hallway, serenaded by drunken businessmen's wailing as he sought out Arasuka's party. The men had scattered...The women had gone to drink tea and chat, and the businessmen had divided themselves up to continue their partying. Some had remained in the large room, others had retreated to individual rooms. Yohji listened to each room that he passed, pausing for just a moment to dissect the chorus of drunken voices. A frown curled his lips as he made his way further on. Arasuka's partner had never shown up; he wasn't sure what to make of that. He had sent a notice to Omi earlier to inform him of the missing man, but the teenager had been unable to find a reason. He was still searching.

    Arasuka wasn't bothered by the absence of his companion; that meant he knew what was going on. Yohji's fingers went to his watch. He would get Karaki's location out of Arasuka if the man wanted a quick death.


    He stopped outside the door, tilting his head as he listened. Arasuka's voice carried loudly over the rest of the crowd's; they were arguing stocks. Yohji gave a soft snort of amusement. ~You really don't need to worry about how your stocks are doing, old man.~ He lifted his hand to knock. There were two ways to go about this; he could get himself invited to their group and then get Arasuka to follow him out, or he could just take the man with him now. It was nearing two in the morning, and the boat would reach dock at three. Half of the men would remain on the boat to sleep off their alcohol; Yohji knew others had cars coming to pick them up and take them home if they did not have work in the city the next day. Yohji had waited until now to make his move so that there would be less of a chance of someone noticing his absence.

    The door opened before his fist could touch it, and he found himself staring at Crawford. Balinese kicked in, and green eyes narrowed. He really didn't want the American to interfere, and he knew from the look in Crawford's eyes that the man had no intention of letting him pass and get to his target. "Move," he mouthed.

    "Ah, Himoguchi-san," Crawford said instead, moving forward. Yohji tried to hold his ground, but Crawford reached out and used a hand to help push him backwards. "I was about to come looking for you."

    "See, he wasn't so hard to find," one man offered from where he was sprawled by a messy card game. Yohji found himself the attention of several pairs of eyes. Arasuka regarded him for a few moments in drunken silence before turning back to his hand. Then Yohji was being pushed again. With so many people watching, he allowed himself to be moved back enough that Crawford could step out and close the door behind him.

    Crawford held out a hand in offering for Yohji to go first. Yohji gave him an Look and turned around, starting back down the hall. One part of him said to just try and kill the American- he had a mission and the precognitive was interfering. The other part wanted to know why Crawford was against this assassination when he said he had no connection to the target. It was that part that made him move, even though he knew such compliance could put the mission in jeopardy. He could not afford to let Arasuka live. He did _not_ fail missions.

    Crawford caught his elbow as they passed a door that would allow them out onto the deck and Yohji interpreted it to mean that the American wanted to go outside. He stalked over to the railing and whirled around to face Crawford.

    "You said you have no job with Arasuka," he said.

    "I don't," Crawford answered calmly, unperturbed by Yohji's wary annoyance.

    "Then tell me you have a good reason for interfering with my mission. I'll kill you too if you get in my way, don't think your speech about reflections and shadows means I won't try and take your head off your neck."

    Crawford looked faintly amused. "Such threats," he mused. "You look tired."

    Yohji ignored that; he had discovered a couple hours ago that there was no coffee available on this ship. The crew had retired earlier, leaving only water and alcoholic beverages around for the businessmen to drink. Yohji was tired, both from poor sleep the night before and from the sheer boredom of this ship, so he was finding it a small struggle to stay awake. He had spent the last several hours sipping water and wandering between games and dull talk of business matters. He had brought a stimulant pill, a deviant of caffeine that he used often, but he must have lost it somewhere because it was no longer in his pockets. He was tired, he was bored, and it was very cold out here on the deck.

    And he didn't want to kill Crawford tonight, but he didn't know why. He could say it was curiosity, he could say it was intrigue, but unanswered questions had never been enough to make him feel such regret over another's possible death as it did now. It bothered him, this hesitance. He knew who the man was, knew what he was capable of, but he still wasn't eager to try and take his life.

    "Get out of my way," Yohji said, taking a step back towards the entrance.

    "This is my favorite boat," Crawford said, moving in his way. Yohji frowned up at him, not understanding the significance of such a revelation. "No one dies on this boat," the precognitive told him. "A death could shut this place down, and you know it will affect the reputations of the rest of the men on board. Does Weiß want the few honest businessmen to have their images tarnished? I don't care for them, merely for the effect it will have on this place. We each have an incentive for you to delay your mission."

    "You want me to let Arasuka live just so you can dine here in the future?" Yohji cocked an eyebrow at him.

    "Kill him if you'd like," Crawford said smoothly, "but not on my boat."

    "You're absurd."

    "This is how it's going to be," the American told him.

    "Ah, I see. This is the point where I just nod my head and agree to do whatever you want." Yohji folded his arms over his chest and tilted his head back, gazing up at Crawford through hooded eyes. Was the man really serious?


    "You're an arrogant bastard," Yohji informed him, starting towards the door. He wasn't sure whether to be amused, confused, or insulted that Crawford really thought he would do what the American wanted. He shoved past Crawford, their arms brushing as he went. "That isn't a good enough reason for me to rewrite a mission that Omi planned out for me, especially considering who is requesting it. I'm going to kill Arasuka tonight and then I'm going to go home and sleep. The mission works, so I'll go with it."

    "The mission assumed that both Arasuka and Karaki would be here," Crawford reminded him just as he reached the doorway to get back inside.

    Yohji paused, glancing back. "I don't suppose you had something to do with that."

    Crawford held out a hand, examining his fingernails for a moment before lifting his eyes back to Yohji's. Something mingled with amusement in his gaze, something darker, something that put that strange sort of uneasiness back in Yohji's stomach. They weren't Yohji's eyes this time; they were...something completely different. He approached Yohji with slow, even steps, stopping only when he was _too_ close to the younger man. Yohji felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up as he stared up at the precognitive, unconsciously leaning backwards from him. "Perhaps I gave him some advice to stay home."

    Yohji took a swing at him. Maybe it was the late hour that made him do it, maybe it was that that was all he knew to do when Crawford was coming so close. It had nothing to do with Crawford's demands for the mission and everything to do with the way Crawford was looking at him. The gleam in Crawford's eyes set off a warning deep inside and he lashed out, fist going for Crawford's face. It was a punch that was doomed to fail even before it had been launched.

    Crawford caught his wrist easily, yanking him to one side before sending him back against the doorframe. Yohji grunted as the corner of the wood bit into his back, his other hand flying up instinctively, as if to shove the American away. That hand was grabbed also and suddenly Yohji's arms were pulled above his head, the backs of his hands digging almost painfully into the doorframe.

    "Arasuka has a limosine coming to pick him up at three," Crawford informed him. His words were soft, his eyes intense. His eyes...They made Yohji want to hide away. There was something in that gaze that he didn't want to see, that he wasn't ready to see, that sent a chill down his spine. He reminded himself who he was dealing with, who he had allowed himself to become so flippant with in the past few days. "I arranged for one to come, but it has no driver. You will find the keys on your bed and the uniform in your closet. The directions are in the pillow case. That is where Arasuka wishes to be brought, and that is where Karaki is staying. Kill them there, not on my boat."

    "It's not yours," Yohji protested, but it came out quieter than he intended it to. Crawford didn't answer; those golden brown eyes just held his gaze intently, searching for something. "Let go of me."


    Silence fell between them; Yohji wondered why he was not struggling to get away, wondered why the pain in his back and hands had dimmed under such scrutiny. He was nervous, very nervous, with Crawford this close to him. The amusement was completely gone from Crawford's gaze, replaced by something quieter and calmer- something dangerous.

    He opened his mouth, not sure what he was going to say but needing to say something. Whatever he thought he had been going to say was instantly forgotten, for suddenly Crawford closed the distance between them.

    Yohji managed a startled noise as another mouth touched his. Pinned effectively between Crawford's hard body and a harder doorframe, hands kept in place by someone who was stronger than him, he could not fight back. Thoughts evaporated; Yohji's mind went completely blank as he stood rigid in shock. He was not sure what to do-

    -but then it was over, and Crawford was straightening. The amusement was back in the honey eyes that studied him. Yohji could do nothing but gape up at him, brilliant emerald eyes wide open as he struggled to figure out what the HELL had just happened.

    "It's cold out. We should go in," Crawford said simply, as if he had not just kissed Yohji- another assassin and another man. He released Yohji's wrists. "You'll drive the limosine, won't you?" he inquired, though the way he said it made it into less of a question and more of a reminder. He took a step back, gesturing for Yohji to precede him into the interior of the boat.

    Yohji stared at him for a moment longer before his mind gave up and he did the only thing he could think to do under the circumstances.

    He fled.


    "Why am I doing this...why am I doing this..." Yohji wasn't even aware that he was talking to himself as his fingers fumbled on the buttons of the uniform he had found on his bed. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath and holding it. He just needed to calm down again...That's all he needed. It was hard; his entire concentration had been shattered. He just couldn't figure out what motives Crawford had had for kissing him.

    His breath was shaky as he exhaled and he opened his eyes again, finding himself staring at the mirror to see very confused green eyes staring back. He would like to tell himself that he had imagined it. After all, it didn't fit anything he had ever been taught or told about the people he would meet in his line of work. It certainly didn't match what he had thought up about Crawford, and it was just another sharp reminder that he had no clue how the American thought.

    What had he meant by kissing Yohji? There was a good chance it had meant nothing. Perhaps it was done just to throw the assassin's mental balance. That was the most likely explanation Yohji could think of.

    Was Crawford gay?

    How could he be? He had the prettiest lady on the boat on his arm. It was clear that she was fond of him; it was almost too obvious that the two were well acquainted. Yohji would have bet his next paycheck that they'd been in each other's beds at least once by the way they were acting around each other. One could not dance with another like they had danced with each other if they did not know the base, primal rhythm that guided each other's soul. Was his sense of judgement that far off?

    It was a game. It had to be a game.

    Yohji made a small face at himself. So he had just had his first kiss from a guy. He wondered if he should feel disgusted, but he was too startled and confused to feel anything else. He turned away from the mirror, fumbling once more with the tight buttons down the back of his neck. It was a good thing the businessmen were so drunk and it was dark out...There wasn't much Yohji could do to hide his appearance from people he had just stayed with for several hours. He pulled his hair up under the hat, letting the bill of the hat cast a shadow on his face and hide his eyes. He turned back around, tilting his head back to eye his reflection. It would have to do.

    "Why am I doing this...?" he asked himself again.

    Why was he rewriting the mission for Crawford? Why should he care that Crawford didn't want blood running on this boat? The man had a point- the men on board would be bothered if one of their number were to vanish. And he had the distinct feeling that Crawford would fight him if he made an attempt on Arasuka. He sighed again, rubbing his eyes and turning away from the mirror. He wasn't changing the mission for Crawford...He was changing it because it was safer this way and because Crawford had presented a valid argument as to why this was not the best spot for an assassination attempt.

    Besides...Karaki wasn't on board, though for all Yohji knew the directions he had been given would lead him to an ambush.

    'This is my favorite boat'.

    It was hard to find something permanent to cling to as assassins. At the risk of being found out and tracked, they were encouraged to not form many attachments- both to places and to people. Weiß was a lifelong commitment, and everything else was expected to be sacrificed for it. For a while Yohji had done as Kritiker had requested and drifted, never lingering anywhere too long. Clubs were visited in a cycle...A couple nights at one, then move onto the next, and when he ran out of places it started over. He had been with Weiß for three years now, however, and he had been unable to stop himself from growing fond of certain places. The cafe he went to for morning coffee was a nice spot to visit; he liked the smell and the feel of the place, and nothing Kritiker said about risks would stop him from going back.

    'This is my favorite boat'.

    Crawford was an assassin too, and Schwarz was more active than Weiß was. Yohji's group had an average of a mission a week, sometimes more than one in a week and sometimes missing one altogether. There were those they had not touched yet, those that were still out of their reach. But Schwarz...Omi had once tried to graph everywhere the black group had been that they could find. The assassins flowed like water through the ranks of the underworld; there were few that had not been affected by them at some point or other. It was amazing. Where Weiß was a commitment, Schwarz was a life. There was no flower shop during the day that would act as supplemental income and an alibi for existing. Schwarz _was_ Schwarz.

    Could one in a group like that afford to form attachments? It seemed Crawford had. Yohji told himself he should not be surprised that Crawford was able to frequent such an expensive place enough to grow fond of it, not with how much money it was obvious the man was making. To each their own...His little coffee shop and this grand boat with a live band.


    Okay, maybe he was changing the mission for Crawford.



    Some of the crew stirred at three to dock the boat, and limosine drivers were invited on board to collect their drunken clients at that time. Yohji waited until they were all on before leaving his room and heading down the hall. He checked the room Arasuka had been in previously and wasn't surprised to see he hadn't budged from his spot on the floor. Crawford was two men to his right, and the girl was at his side, her head lolled to one side and resting on his shoulder as she slept. She was pretty even in sleep and Yohji couldn't help the small regret that he couldn't have her.

    He steadfastedly ignored Crawford, moving his eyes from the girl to Arasuka as he stood in the doorway. "Arasuka-sama," he greeted.

    The man squinted up at him. "Who're you?" he asked, slurring his words as he struggled to focus on Yohji.

    "I am the driver hired to take you home tonight, sir. The boat has touched shore."

    He thought about this for a long moment, then gave a long "Ohhh." He tilted his head to one side, looked at his hand of cards, and looked up at Yohji again. "We're on shore?"

    "We are, sir."

    "Feels like we're still moving." Arasuka dropped his hand and started struggling to his feet. Yohji moved to help him, easing him up with such concern that it was almost laughable. In just a short time, the man would be dead at Yohji's hands...the same hands that were helping him up and off the boat. Arasuka flapped a hand in farewell at the rest of the eight, two of whom were asleep, and Yohji guided him out of the room. One man further down the hall was protesting very loudly and rudely against being woken up, and he didn't care if he had hired the man to bring him home, he was sleeping and didn't the driver understand that you just didn't wake a sleeping man?

    "What's all that ruckus? Someone's making too much noise. Make it stop." Arasuka demanded, head lolling to one side as he shuffled along beside Yohji. An arm was draped over Yohji's shoulders and Yohji had an arm about the other man's waist to make sure he stayed upright.

    "Don't worry, sir, it will all be quiet soon."

    "It'd better be," Arasuka said, sounding disgruntled.

    A ghost of a cold smile curved Yohji's lips.

    ~I am the angel of death, guiding you forward to your just rewards...Repent now or forever hold your sins.~

Part 6