Part Eleven: Drowning Desires

    When Crawford returned, the three were sprawled on the living room floor, playing poker. From Ran's obvious show of concentration, it was clear he had just learned the game recently. Ran looked up, his entire face glowing when his eyes fell on Crawford. "Welcome back!" he greeted warmly. Crawford nodded in response. "Good thing you came back," Ran continued, eyes raking over his cards as he decided what to do next. "Weather man says it's going to be a stormy night."

    "I saw the clouds."

    "Temperatures will be down to around eight degrees," Schuldich continued. "Lots of rain, maybe some hail, and high winds."

    "Are you assassins or forecasters?" Crawford asked dryly.

    "Both." Schuldich set down his cards. "Full house."

    Farfarello tossed his own cards aside. "That hurt God."

    "Lots." Schuldich leaned over, catching the Irishman's mouth in a demanding kiss. Ran watched them with a mixture of longing and fascination in the back of his eyes. Schuldich leaned back away from his lover again, licking his lips as if trying to find any traces of Farfarello's taste there. He raised an eyebrow at Crawford. "Lucky there's four of us. We each have someone to share body heat with."

    "Schu..." Ran protested, cheeks coloring.

    Schuldich yawned loudly and scooped the cards into a stack. "So, Crawford?" he asked, rising to his feet. "Find out anything interesting?" Crawford lifted his eyes from where he'd been studying Ran's flushed cheeks to meet Schuldich's gaze. The German set the cards aside and motioned for him to follow. "I'm sure you have plenty to tell me about, and I want to get a drink from the lounge."

    "Will you get more ice?" Ran asked. They didn't have much that required ice, but that was what Farfarello sliced up in his blender.

    "If the thought crosses my mind." Schuldich smirked and left the room. Crawford followed. The lounge room boasted a wide variety of snack and drink machines, along with an ice container. There was a television set in one corner, a few small tables, and a door leading to a balcony. Schuldich dug a few coins out of his pocket and began shoving them into one machine.

    "It has been narrowed down to Svenska."

    "Svenska?" Schuldich paused, thinking that over. Crawford knew what he was thinking. Svenska was a foreign politician who dealt mainly with drugs. He'd brought his own workers with him to offer their services to others- services that had been refused because of the available talents of Schwarz. The man had hired Schwarz several times, however. Now it was all too clear that those times with him had been enough for him to learn about Weiß and their frequent clashings. "Damn bastard," the German murmured. His bottled drink dropped into its slot and he plucked it up, setting it on a nearby table. "Where is he now?"

    "Out of country. He's been in Hong Kong for the past three weeks. He will be returning in two days, however, and that evening will be the best time to strike." Crawford watched as Schuldich fished something out of his pocket. It was a small bottle of pills. "What are those?"

    "Pain killers."

    Schuldich dumped three or four in his hand, snapped the bottle shut, and tossed it to Crawford. Crawford caught it, reading the label as Schuldich tossed the small pills in his mouth. 'Causes extreme drowsiness. Fast acting. Side affects can include dizziness, nausea, or hormonal imbalances. Pregnant women should ask their doctors before taking this medicine. Take no more than six within twenty-four hours.' "Where did you get these?" he asked. The bottle was mostly empty.

    "Borrowed it from a store when we were looking for you." Schuldich unscrewed his drink and took a gulp, swallowing the pills with the juice. He swallowed and paused for a moment, then turned to Crawford. "Maybe you didn't suffer much except a broken arm when concrete was flying everywhere, but I got hit with enough junk to keep me unconscious for over thirty hours."

    "You ate all of these?" Crawford jiggled the bottle.

    Schuldich took it back, stuffing it back into his pocket. "Ch'. What did you think I gave Farfarello so Ran and I could go flower shopping?" He smirked and padded towards the balcony, drink in hand. He studied the door for a few moments, reading the little warnings on it. "This is Furiyasai's technology, isn't it?" he asked, beckoning to Crawford.

    Crawford went to see it. "It is." They had run a mission to make sure Furiyasai's security techniques got passed. It was an expensive system, being brand new, but Crawford wasn't surprised to see it in such a prestigious hotel. The doors had a timer for when they would lock and unlock, probably set and controlled by someone in the management office. They were virtually impossible to break into once locked. Crawford remembered that mission well. It had provided a good deal of money.

    Schuldich tried the knob. "Well, it's not closing time yet," he announced, sliding the door open easily. He stepped out, scanning the clouds. Crawford stood in the doorway, watching as the German scanned the dark skies. For several moments there was silence between them, then Schuldich spoke. "Two days, hm?" He glanced at Crawford over his shoulder, the dark of the night covering his expression. "He could have killed us."

    Crawford said nothing.

    Schuldich took a step away from the railing and stumbled. His hand darted out to grab the door in an attempt to steady himself, and he smirked up at Crawford. "Those things don't lie when they say fast acting."

    "Are you all right, Schu?" Both heads turned to see Ran just inside the lounge. The boy shifted positions, looking unsure of himself. "Sorry if I'm interrupting, but Farfarello's starting to get a little restless..." He trailed off, then gestured over his shoulder. Crawford stepped out onto the balcony, allowing Schuldich to move past him and enter the lounge.

    "Is he?" Schuldich sounded amused. "Nein, no interruption, kätzchen. We're done here."

    Ran smiled briefly, then peeked out onto the balcony. "Look at those clouds," he murmured, awed. All three men gazed at the sky, and Ran stepped onto the balcony beside Crawford. It was darker outside than it should have been at such a time, due to the blackish clouds that filled the sky as far as the eye could see. Lightning flashed in the distance. Ran waited, holding his breath, until the thunder came thirty seconds later. "It's still a good distance away," he said, more to himself than the others. "This will be nice to watch from our room's window."

    "Do what you like. I'm going to sleep." Schuldich smirked. "Enjoy a nice romantic moment on the balcony, ja?"

    Crawford heard Ran's voice, knowing that the boy was protesting Schuldich's teasing, but he couldn't make out the words as a vision rippled over him. It was Ran, backing away from him as if frightened. His purple eyes were practically glowing with disbelief. He was wearing something white...Then the vision was gone. He returned to the hear-and-now when he felt gentle hands steadying him.

    "Crawford?" It was Ran. The boy came into focus in front of him. The look in his eyes was worried. "Are you all right?"

    "I'm fine." Crawford's eyes went to the door. Schuldich was already gone, and had shut the door behind him- probably to give them privacy. Schuldich didn't know when to mind his own business. And yet...Crawford's gaze returned to Ran, running over the pretty face.

    Ran seemed to hesitate. "I never got around to asking you something..." He started. "I realized it when I was doing laundry with Schuldich. I had been going to ask you before, but that was when Schuldich and Farfarello showed up." Crawford scanned his memory for the event. Ah, yes. That had been when Ran had fallen off the stool. He motioned for Ran to continue.

    "I wanted to know...why everyone calls you Crawford. Even your team mates."

    Crawford digested the question. "That is my name."

    "Your name is also...Brad." Ran paused, biting his lip and tilting his head to one side. "Why does no one call you that?"

    "I do not want them to."

    "No one?" Crawford didn't answer. "Not"

    It took several seconds for the question to sink in. That had been what Ran wanted to ask him that time? If he could call him Brad instead of Crawford? In that moment, Crawford experienced a larger rush of confused emotions than he ever had before in his life. Among them was gratitude that they had been interrupted that day. If Ran had succeeded in asking him that when he'd originally meant to, Crawford's answer would have been no. And now?...What was the answer _now_?

    Ran took Crawford's silence as a cold negative and looked away. "Gomen," he whispered. "I shouldn't have asked."

    Crawford reached out, curling his fingers around Ran's chin and turning the boy back to face him. "I don't mind," the American said, his words slow. They sounded awkward on his tongue. "I don't mind if you call me...Brad." The name was hard to say. It was a name he kept for himself. Crawford was the man everyone knew. The efficient, cold assassin leader of Schwarz. The man with the clairvoyant gift. Brad was...

    Brad was Crawford's Ran.

    Ran's entire face lit up and he surged forward, wrapping his arms around Crawford's neck and hugging him. Crawford could feel waves of shock rippling through his body at the gesture. No one had dared to touch him like this in years. The last time he'd been hugged was...When? When his mother was still alive? He found his good arm had lifted of its own accord to wrap around Ran's slender form, tucking him close. He could feel Ran's breath on his neck, could feel Ran's racing heart beating against his chest.

    ~No one else...Ran.~

    ~No one but you.~

    Ran leaned back away from him slightly, his arms not loosening from their position. He gazed up at Crawford, faces mere breaths apart. His eyes were dark, but not with anger. It was a darkness Crawford found himself drowning in. He struggled for control, even as he felt the ground beneath his feet slipping. There was no coming back from this. It had gone too far.

    So he went with it, tilting his head down to close the distance between them. His lips found Ran's. Ran accepted the kiss, his mouth soft beneath Crawford's. Crawford darted his tongue out lightly, tasting that mouth. Ran parted his lips, an invitation. Crawford found his way inside, probing the recesses of Ran's mouth. Ran tasted of all the pleasures in life Crawford had denied to himself. He tasted of youth and abandon, of darkness and pain. Ran and Aya, mixed together. He felt Ran's tongue brush against his own, shy at first but eager to learn. The fingers on one of Ran's hands moved up Crawford's neck to bury themselves in Crawford's hair; the other five trailed downward until they were lightly pressed against Crawford's back. Crawford raised his own good hand to cup the back of Ran's skull.

    Time lost meaning. Seconds stretched to hours, hours to years, years to lifetimes and infinity. All that mattered was the taste of each other as they stood locked in intimate embrace on that balcony. Rain began to fall, soft in its first stages of the storm. The icy drops were ignored as they fell on and around the two assassins.

    In the end, lungs won over desire, and they pulled away to breathe. Ran slid a cheek across one of Crawford's, fingers digging in. "I want you so much," he whispered, voice hoarse. "Please, Brad?"

    "You will regret it," Crawford answered quietly, his own words strained. Never had he felt such a desire and need consuming him. He _wanted_ Ran. He had to have him. He wanted this man, wanted to make all of him his. He wanted the dark Aya, the loving Ran, the beautiful Fujimiya. He wanted to take all the man had to offer and more. He didn't understand it, couldn't understand it- could only feel and need.

    "I won't."

    Flickers of earlier visions washed through Crawford's mind. He hesitated. The risk...

    "Please. Brad..." Ran pressed soft kisses to Crawford's throat, moving up from the hollow of his collarbone.

    "Yes," Crawford whispered, dipping his head to catch Ran's mouth again. Ran freed one hand from Crawford, searching for the doorknob while still locked in a searing kiss with the American. Crawford heard the door slide open. He turned, backing into the lounge and bringing Ran with him. They had to break the kiss for Ran to turn and close the door. The rain had flattened Ran's hair against his head, and Crawford watched drops from the tendrils plastered against his forehead slide down his face and throat. Ran followed right behind the older man as they crossed the lounge and headed to their room.

    As soon as the door was closed safely behind them, Ran darted forward to steal another kiss, fingers working under Crawford's rain-soaked shirt to find bare flesh. Fire seemed to curl up the clairvoyant when Ran's fingers succeeded in finding his abdomen. His own hand dipped under the back of Ran's wet shirt, running along the younger man's flesh. It felt like silk to the touch like Crawford had suspected, making him yearn to touch and see more. They moved across the room, half stumbling, towards the bedroom. Lightning flashed, lighting up the entire living room and bedroom. In the light, Crawford noticed that the second bed was empty. Schuldich and Farfarello had left the hotel.

    He felt a rare smile trace his lips as he and Ran dropped onto their own bed. His hand steadied him briefly against the mattress, and he came in contact with what seemed to be a bottle. His fingers traced the form. It was small, the perfect size for lotion or something. The bottle and the empty bed clicked. It was the lotion he'd refused earlier. That Schuldich...

    When he felt nimble fingers tugging at the countless buttons on his shirt, he turned his attention back where it belonged- on the beautiful creature beside him. Ran made a frustrated sound. "Why are there so many buttons?"

    "To annoy you," Crawford breathed.

    Ran mock-glared at him, then reached up and snatched his glasses from him, tossing them towards the empty bed. That done, he began to work on the shirt again. Crawford snaked his hand under Ran's shirt, tracing the lines of muscle in that finely packed chest. Ran shuddered as Crawford's fingers brushed against a small nub- a nipple, the American noted. He swirled his index finger around it before gripping it between finger and thumb, teasing at the sensitive flesh. Ran gasped, arching slightly to the touch, hands stilling in their work. "Brad," he whimpered through clenched teeth.

    "Yes?" Crawford wished he had both hands. There was too much of Ran that he wanted to feel, that he wanted to trace, to have just one hand. His fingers skimmed across Ran's skin to the other nipple, shaping it into a hard nub like the first. Ran squirmed slightly, uttering a short sound of pleasure and desire. Crawford lowered his hand, grabbing the hem of Ran's shirt, and yanked the wet thing off. The redhead tried to work on the buttons again, but his hands were trembling now and made it impossible. Finally he just gripped it in both hands and yanked, sending buttons everywhere.

    Crawford chuckled softly, helping the man remove the shirt from around his sling. "Impatient, are we?"

    "I _want_ you," came the whispered response.

    Crawford pressed Ran against the bed, moving to straddle him. He leaned down, fingers briefly twining in Ran's hair, and caught Ran's lips for another kiss. The storm that broke loose above the hotel would cover all sounds of their lovemaking.

Part 12