PART I: VELVET UNDERWORLD
"Kisses and Coffee"
The alarm went off at seven AM, buzzing loud enough to wake the dead.
Ran drew a pale arm out from under the covers and swat at the offending mechanism drowsily, unwilling to open his eyes. Finally he struck the 'off' button, and gave a sigh, pulling his arm back into the warm cacoon of sheets and blankets. Time to get up already. Damn it. For once he wished he could pull a Yohji and sleep in. He almost smirked to himself at the thought. The others would stare at him like he had grown a second head if he wandered in late.
Sighing, he rolled over, trying to convince his body that he really didn't have time to curl up under the warm blankets like a brat that didn't want to go to school. His body was putting up a pretty good damn fight. He opened his eyes defiantly, blinking several times in an attempt to wake up.
He found himself gazing into a pair of amused, honey colored eyes.
Ran fell off the bed with a startled and rather undignified yelp.
He sat sprawled on his ass on the floor, one long leg still tangled in the sheets, and stared wildly up at the man sitting up in his bed.
Brad Crawford sat up against the headboard, blanket pooling in his lap to reveal a smooth, bare chest and the waistband of what Ran was hoping were jogging pants. The look of amusement on the American's face was infuriating. "I always pegged you as a morning person." The older man's rumbling voice had the undercurrent of a laugh. "Looks like I was wrong." His eyes took in the younger man's sprawled position, and Ran felt heat spread up his neck at the piercing stare.
"O-omae!!" Ran sputtered, angry and embarrassed all at once as he kicked frantically to free his leg. He gave the smirking American above him his best death glare. "What the hell do you think you're--"
"Doing in your bed?" Crawford finished drolly. "I was sleeping, until that annoying alarm clock of yours went off. Aren't you a little young to be dragging yourself out of bed this early on a Saturday?"
Ran bristled at the comment to his age, but before he could retort, his foggy brain caught up to the rest of the sentence. "Saturday?" he echoed.
Crawford yawned, covering his mouth politely with his hand. He wasn't wearing his glasses, Ran realized belatedly. And his hair was mussed with sleep. Ye gods, he really had been sleeping in.. in his... Ran felt heat rush to his face all over again. "Get out of my bed!" he nearly shouted, finally rescuing his leg from the tangle of blankets and springing to his feet.
Crawford lowered his hand, gazing up at him calmly. "Calm yourself, Abysinnian," he advised. "You'll give yourself a stroke if you keep hopping around like that and yelling yourself red in the face."
"What are you-" Ran hastily lowered his voice, suddenly aware that his sister was asleep in the room down the hall. "What are you doing here?" he hissed. He and Aya had decided to stay in the rooms above the shop rather than get their own place. It was more convenient, anyway. With Ken off only god knew where with Farfarello and Omi moving into a small apartment with Nagi, there was plenty of room. But Crawford sure as fuck didn't live there. "Get out!"
"You forget so easily," Crawford remarked, arching a brow. "I came over last night to assist Aya in her accounting homework."
"No one said you could stay the night," Ran accused from behind gritted teeth. His eyes flicked about for his katana-- an instinct from having sought the American's life so often in the past.
Crawford didn't miss the glance. He rose his hands to show he was unarmed. "Don't be so hasty. You wouldn't want blood all over your sheets, would you? Besides, you're wrong. Aya offered to let me stay."
"In MY bed??"
"Well..." A slow smirk played on the man's face as he met Ran's heated gaze. "I took that upon myself."
"Why the hell did you do that?" Ran demanded. He was suddenly acutely aware that he'd only gone to bed in a pair of loose but thin cotton pajama pants. He glanced around again, this time for a shirt. But when he made as if to go get one from his dresser, Crawford reached out and snagged his arm.
"Hanase, ecchi," Ran growled, trying to wrench his arm free. "Get out of my room! No- get out of this shop. I don't care if you call a cab or hobble home, but-"
Crawford had been maneuvering himself to the edge of the bed during the assassin's rant, putting his bad leg carefully over the side of the bed before giving his captive's arm a firm yank.
Ran collapsed against his chest, practically draped in his lap, with another yelp of surprise.
Crawford smirked, reaching up his free hand to tilt the man's chin up, meeting his gaze. "Kiss me and I'll leave," he murmured.
Ran's face was unbearably hot as he sputtered, trying vainly to escape. He pressed his hands against the man's smooth chest for leverage, then hastily withdrew them, flustered. "H-hentai! Not that again..!"
Crawford chuckled, amused. "The very picture of the skittish virgin," he tsked. "Come, Abysinnian, it's just one kiss. Or do you want to argue about this all day?"
Ran's eyes darted down. So much for his hopes on the American sleeping in jogging pants. They were black boxers. Shiiit. He tried to pull away, twisting his wrist painfully in the process. "Hanase!"
Crawford pulled his face down forcefully, fingers still digging into the young man's chin in a vise-like grip. He cut off the flustered man's protests with a deep kiss, plunging his tongue past teeth. Ran gave a strange half whimper, half moan, squeezing his eyes shut and trying to pull away. Crawford released his wrist, only to wind his arm around the slender man's waist and pull him more firmly up against him, still kissing him.
Ran finally managed to jerk his head away, and gasped for air as he glared furiously at the smug-faced assassin. "Kisama," he sputtered. "Let go of me!"
"Did you know you talk in your sleep?"
Ran went very still at the unexpected question. He stared into the older man's calm eyes and took in a careful, deep breath. "What are you talking about?"
Crawford's eyes flicked over Ran's face, searching. "Do you have nightmares often?" he asked bluntly.
Ran wrenched away, glaring at the other man. "Mind your own fucking business," he snapped, furious. "How dare y-"
Crawford rose smoothly so that he was facing Ran; invading his personal space to the extreme. Ran took two quick steps back.
"What do you dream about?" Crawford demanded quietly. "I heard Tsukiyono mention to Nagi once how he and Ken used to stay here because the nightmares used to get so bad." He arched an elegant brow. "Did it ever occur to you that talking about them might make them go away?"
"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard," Ran snapped. "What the hell do you care?"
The hint of desperation to his voice did not escape Crawford. He reached out, but Ran flinched violently away from his touch.
"Don't touch me."
Crawford lowered his arm obediently. They stood in a staredown for what seemed an eternity, the tension so thick Ran was positive he could cut it with his katana. The phone rang suddenly, jarring him back to reality and making him jump a little.
"Jumpy?" Crawford murmured, amused.
Ran scowled at him and reached for the phone by his bed. Crawford snagged his wrist and pulled him up against his body snugly. "Ignore it," he advised, and pressed his mouth to Ran's once more.
Ran went limp in the older man's arms, heat spreading throughout his body as Crawford coaxed him into submission with skilled tongue and lips. He had just started to timidly respond when there was a knock on the door.
Ran sprang away, mortified. "N-nani?" he called quickly, wiping hastily at his mouth and glaring daggers at Crawford. He knew he was blushing furiously, and hated it. Crawford smirked at him smugly and sat down on the bed to wait.
"Phone for you, 'niisan," Aya called sleepily through the door. "It's Ken-kun."
"I'm going to make breakfast. Did you want anything?"
"Ok." He heard his sister move off down the hall. Keeping as far away as possible from Crawford, Ran picked up the phone and answered brusquely. Silently he told himself he would have to thank Ken for the interruption. "Hai."
"Did I wake you up?" Ken's voice came across the line, achingly familiar. Ran realized with a jolt that in the five months since the fight with Agammedo, they rarely heard from Ken, and Ran had actually missed the hot tempered soccer player.
"Iie." Ran turned his back on Crawford, wishing the phone was cordless. Feeling the American's eyes boring into him made his skin tingle. "What is it?"
"I don't have Omi's new number, and I think Yohji's either ignoring his phone or he forgot to pay the bill." That certainly sounded like Yohji. "I need to see you guys today. It's important. Bring Schwarz, too."
Even after they had separated from Rosenkreuz and had started working with Weiß on some of Kritiker's harder cases, the group's name had stuck. Ran frowned, his earlier embarrassment forgotten. It couldn't be a new mission; Manx would have called him. "Is something wrong?"
"Hang on." Ken's voice sounded fainter as he lowered the phone and spoke to somebody in the background. "I said stop it." Something unintelligable was said in the background, then someone else laughed wickedly. "Prick," Ken muttered, then spoke into the phone again. "I'd rather fill everyone in at once," he said a little apologetically. "Could all of you meet me in an hour at Kitty's?"
Ran's frown deepened. "I've never heard of it."
"Yohji probably has. It's a coffee shop on 16th Street. Can you come?" That person in the background spoke again. This time Ken ignored them.
"Aa. I'll let the others know."
"Arigato." Ran could hear the smile in his old teammate's voice. "See you then." He hung up.
Ran turned around and lowered the phone slowly into its cradle, musing darkly. Something was up. Ken certainly hadn't sounded too uptight, but he had sounded serious. Businesslike; more like Siberian. And those voices in the background... Since almost all of Ken's companions were Vampires now due to his role as the Vampire Lord's little "pet", this probably had something to do with Tokyo's undead population. Or maybe even the dead; Ken had been a necromancer ever since his near-brush with death five months ago.
Crawford's look was no longer smug. He had put his glasses back on and was gazing up at Ran solemnly. "Bad news?"
Ran folded his arms over his chest, shaking his head slightly. "Ken wants to meet us- all of us -at a place called Kitty's in an hour."
"Kitty's as in the coffee shop?"
Ran arched a brow. "You know it?"
A slight smile played at the edges of the American's lips. "Despite what the name implies," he said drolly, "they have excellent coffee." He rose to his feet and walked with a slight limp over to where his cane was leaning against the wall. It had been a gift from Talon before the Hunter had returned to the States- from one American to another. Once weilded by a slain Hunter called Tatiana, the sturdy cane served as both support and weapon with a silver stabbing tip. Watching the man limping- even if only a little -was a sharp reminder to Ran that it was his fault the tall assassin would forever be handicapped. Crawford had taken the blast from a shotgun in his place, right in his kneecap. It was a miracle he could walk at all.
Crawford felt his eyes on him and turned to look at him. Ran looked away hastily and strode over to his dresser to find a change of clothes, flustered once more. "Get dressed and get out," he muttered. "Have Aya-chan make you breakfast or something. I'm going to call Omi."
Crawford didn't argue; he collected his slacks and sweater from a chair and walked to the door. "I will dress in the bathroom," he offered gravely. The effect was ruined by the dry humor twinkling in his eyes. Ran scowled at him, watching distrustfully until the other man had left the room and shut the door behind him. Ran strode over and locked the door, then picked up the phone and dialed Omi's number. He wedged the receiver between shoulder and chin as it rang, tugging on his jeans. Nagi picked it up on the fifth ring, sounding grumpy and half asleep. "Moshi mosh'."
"It's Fujimiya," Ran said shortly. Having Yohji move in with that bastard German had been bad enough, but Ran still could not bring himself to approve of Omi and Nagi moving in together- and sleeping together -at their age. "Put Omi on."
"Yes, Your Majesty," Nagi muttered a little sharply before setting the phone down. Nagi knew how Ran felt, and it seemed to irritate the young boy. Not that Ran gave a flying flip. There was a rustle as the phone was retrieved, then Omi's sleepy, childlike voice mumbled, "Ran-kun?"
Ran wasn't one for beating around the bush. "Ken just called," he said as he stepped into his shoes. "He wants to talk to us in an hour at Kitty's coffee shop. Do you know where it is?"
He had Omi's attention now. "Ken-kun?" There was a rustle of cloth and sheets as Omi sat up in bed, trying to wake up. Nagi murmured something in the background, and Ran's jaw tightened. Sleeping in the same bed and everything. Schuldich and Yohji he could understand- even if he didn't like it. The two were horndogs from hell, and they didn't care what anyone thought about it. But Ran had always resented the fact that Nagi had seduced their youngest, most innocent teammate.
"I think I know where that place is," Omi said. "Did he say what he wants to talk about?"
"He said he'd tell us when we get there." Ran forced himself to finish the message. "Bring Naoe with you."
"Nagi," Omi corrected quietly. "All right. We'll be there. See you then."
"Aa." Ran hung up and pulled on his shirt. He dialed another number from memory and ran his fingers through his crimson hair to get rid of the tangles as he waited for Yohji to pick up the phone. He let it ring eight times before he gave up in disgust. Yohji had never been a morning person, but it was unlikely he could sleep through a phone going off that long. He probably had forgotten to pay the phone bill. He tried to reach them the other way, even if he didn't like it. He wasn't even sure if it would work if the German was asleep, but Yohji lived twenty minutes away, and in the opposite direction of 16th street. Ran wasn't about to drive all the way out there just to kick the man's lazy ass out of bed.
Schuldich, he called silently. Wake up. It's important.
He got no response. He sent the next call as a mental shout, irritated. SCHULDICH
Jesus, butthead, lay off, Schuldich's tired voice griped in his mind. What the hell do you want at this ungodly hour in the morning?
Ran scowled, continuing the conversation as he left his room and headed downstairs towards the kitchen. I just got a call from Ken. He wants to talk to everyone at a coffee shop called Kitty's in half an hour. It's on 16th street.
I know where it is, Schuldich retorted grumpily. Crawfish goes there for his daily dose of caffeine. What does he want to talk about that's so damn important?
How should I know? Ran snapped back impatiently. But he wouldn't have asked if it wasn't important, so make sure you and Yohji are there on time.
Don't get your nuts in a twist, Schuldich grumbled. We'll be there. Then he was gone.
Muttering to himself about German attitude problems, Ran entered the kitchen where Aya was chatting animatedly with Crawford as she made omelettes on the stove.
She kissed her brother affectionately on the cheek as he came over to snag the milk. "Ohayo," she greeted cheerfully. Unlike her brother, she was undoubtedly a morning person. It mystified Ran, and was annoying some of the time. "You sure you don't want breakfast?"
"Iie." Ran poured himself a glass of milk. "I'm meeting the others in an hour to talk to Ken. I'll be back for lunch, though."
Aya looked a little disappointed that she wouldn't be able to see her adopted "big brothers", but she knew about their profession, and knew Ran preferred to keep her mostly in the dark about the details to keep her safe. "All right," she said reluctantly. "Tell them all hi for me."
"And tell Farfarello if he doesn't visit me soon, I'm going to be mad at him."
"Aa." Ran tactfully kept the distaste from his voice. He still had not forgiven the Irishman for his games with Aya when she had lost her memories, and the fact that she was so fond of the madman infuriated him.
Crawford was reading the paper and eating an omelette. Ran glanced towards the man's glass of milk and arched a brow, leaning back against the counter. "No coffee?"
"I'll be drinking it in an hour anyway," the American pointed out, eyes never leaving the paper. "Besides, Aya-chan and the coffee maker seem to have a disagreement with each other."
Aya looked half sheepish, half exasperated. "That stupid thing never works right," she declared, shooting the object a spiteful look. "Crawford-san is too nice to tell me how bad it tastes, but he won't drink it anymore." She grinned ruefully. "Schuldich-san told me it tasted like burnt donkey shit. I think that was a hint."
Ran scowled. He was going to have to remind Schuldich- forcefully -to quit using such language around his sister.
"Did you get ahold of the others?" Crawford asked, turning the page smoothly. Ran watched, feeling an involuntary smile quirk at his lips. Ken had never had much luck reading a paper; it was too awkward. He would try to turn a page and drop half the paper, or bend the page wrong and have to lay it flat and smooth it. Eventually the impatient man had just gotten in the habit of tugging the sports page free and ignoring the rest of it.
"Aa. Omi knows where it is, and Yohji and Schuldich should be on time for once."
Crawford's eyes flicked up towards him, shining with amusement despite his straight face. "You lied about the time, I take it."
Ran shrugged. "I told them half an hour."
"Why are they always so late?" Aya wondered, scraping the omelette from the frying pan and sliding it onto a waiting plate.
Ran tried to think of an answer. "Boink," Crawford murmured, face hidden by the paper. Ran stared at him incredulously.
Aya laughed, blushing a little. "That makes sense," she admitted, sitting at the table across from the American. Ran was still gaping at the older man. "Oniisan, daijabou?"
Ran closed his mouth with a click of teeth and scowled, feeling his neck heat up a little. "That's not table conversation," he said shortly.
Aya tsked at him as she cut her omelette. "Don't be such a prude, 'niichan."
"He can't help it. He is the only one not getting laid around here," Crawford said calmly, still reading. "Aside from you, Aya-chan."
Ran sputtered, feeling his face heat up.
Aya looked expectantly at Crawford with raised eyebrows, but whatever she had been about to say or ask, she wisely kept to herself.
"Aya!" Ran finally managed to blurt, face flaming.
She looked up at him innocently, popping a piece of egg in her mouth. "Nani?"
Crawford lowered the paper enough to smirk at him.
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