Part Two: Kritiker's Aid

    Crawford fished around in the glove compartment of his car, searching for his wallet. He'd left it here before entering the building on the mission. Now he needed to know how much money he'd put in it. Until everything was settled and he'd managed to locate the rest of his team, he'd decided they would stay at a hotel. He couldn't exactly return to headquarters yet, until he'd found out who had destroyed the lab- and tried to wipe out Schwarz and Weiß in the blow. Then, of course, was the expense of having his arm taken care of. If this was played right, however, he wouldn't have to pay for anything, and that would be good. He eyed the thick wad of bills in his wallet. At least he had enough that he knew they'd have a suitable hotel room for a few days. He'd rather pay for a hotel than a bill.

    "Where are we going?" Ran asked, taking his eyes off the road briefly to glance at Crawford.

    "Turn left here." Crawford gestured with his good arm. Aya obeyed. "See that building?" Aya nodded. "That's where we want to go." He stuck his wallet back inside the glove compartment and shut it, then set about dusting his jacket off.

    Aya drove up to it and pulled into an empty slot. As he turned off the ignition, he leaned out the window to gaze up at it. The night breeze threw his bangs around and he reached up to brush them out of his face. "What place is this? It doesn't look like a hospital."

    "It has a medical ward. Let's go." Crawford climbed out of the car. Ran followed on his side, tucking the keys in his pocket. They went around the sides of the car to meet in front of the hood. "Now, listen to me, Ran." Ran turned curious purple eyes on him. "You work for the people in here. They like you. They can take care of you free of charge."

    "What about you?" Ran asked. "Your arm looks pretty bad. All I've got is this knock on my head." He traced the small gash.

    "They don't like me. They wouldn't help me unless you could convince them to, which I doubt will happen. So here's the plan- we'll get you taken care of here and then find a hospital."

    Ran jutted his jaw out defiantly. "If they'll help me, then they'll help you, too. I'll make sure of it." He turned to look up at the building, missing the faint smirk that traced Crawford's lips. "So...where are we going once we're inside?" he asked, and Crawford shrugged. "Ah. Well...Come on."

    They crossed the lawn side by side. The security guard at the door nodded in greeting to them, not knowing who Crawford was, and let them both pass. Aya held open both sets of glass doors for Crawford and looked around. Crawford did the same. He had never been in this building, a building where Kritiker rented a few floors to help process information and to take care of wounded agents. He only knew it existed because Schuldich had gotten the news from one of the Weiß and mentioned in casual aside, pointing it out like some tour guide: "On your left you will see..."

    Crawford wondered briefly where the others were. He figured they had all had better chances of survival than he. Nagi, of course, had his gift to shield him from the raining debris. Schuldich and Farfarello had slimmer chances than Nagi, but they had been on higher floors with left to fall on them. If they did not surface in a week or two he would have to go looking for them. If Schuldich was alive, he could trust the German to find the others and him by psychic link.

    'If Schuldich was alive'...Hm.

    Ran had moved to ask a lady at the desk where they might find some medical help. They conversed for a bit, then the lady pointed to the elevators. Ran turned to beckon to Crawford with a smile. "This way!" he announced cheerily, going to push a button to bring an elevator to them. It was quick in coming, and the two men stepped on. "So...Am I supposed to know anyone here?" Ran asked when the doors were closed.

    "I'm not sure who works here," Crawford answered calmly.

    "Good point. So, you don't work here, right?"

    "No, I do not."

    "Then I don't suppose you know what I do here?" Ran asked, turning to look in the mirrors lining the elevator. "You don't know what my job is?"

    "I could tell you, but it would take a long time to explain. It would probably be a story better told when we get to the hotel."

    Ran tilted his head to one side, meeting Crawford's eyes in the mirror. "Hotel? We're not going to your home?"

    "No. It would not be safe." When he saw Ran's mouth twitch in a confused frown, he added, "That explosion, Ran, remember? It was a purposeful thing. People were supposed to die in it."

    Ran slowly turned. "People as in you?"

    "Both of us." The elevator stopped and the doors slid open. Crawford knew as they were opening who was going to be on the other side, thanks to a vision. His lips curved in a smirk. The doors opened all the way to reveal an agitated Manx with her side to them. She was talking to an orderly.

    "I don't care what it takes. We're going to find them. At least one of them had to have survived."

    "Ano...Behind you, Manx." The orderly took a step back.

    Manx turned and froze, eyes going up and down Ran before moving to Crawford. He raised his hand in a greeting, a mocking gesture, before putting it out to keep the elevator doors open. Ran stepped forward, not enough to move out of the elevator, but to step into the doorway. "Excuse me, miss?" he asked. "Would you happen to know where the medical ward is?" He gestured to Crawford and himself. "My friend and I are injured, and he said this was the place to come to."

    And if that wasn't enough to blow the fuses in Manx's little brain, Crawford mused, Ran smiled at her.


    Crawford tested the cast on his arm, running a finger down it. He would be wearing the cast for about five weeks. How irritating that was going to be. He looked over at the nurse, who was glaring at him. It had taken quite a lot of fussing and stubborn defiance on Ran's part to make them help Crawford. Crawford had found the entire thing highly amusing. Ran was more stubborn than Manx and had demanded his way, probably because he didn't know the consequences of going against Kritiker's wishes. Manx had relented and left a few other agents to watch the two as they were taken care of, going off to contact her superiors and to probably get some aspirin for a headache sure to come when she was presented with this new problem.

    Crawford glanced over at Ran, who had refused to be helped unless he was in the same room as Crawford. The redhead was sitting on a countertop. ~I can't wait to see the look on your face when you get your memories back and realize you helped me,~ the American thought.

    The nurse scribbled something on her clipboard. "I will be right back," she told them, a warning in her tone. She headed out of the room.

    Ran watched as the door swung slowly shut behind her. When it clicked into place, the redhead looked over at Crawford. He was frowning slightly and leaning backwards, his arms supporting him and placed behind him. Crawford met his gaze and waited for the boy to speak. "I don't like it here," Ran said after several moments of hesitation. "That woman with red hair...the one wearing socks with high heels...I don't trust her."

    "You don't?" Crawford asked calmly, the corners of his mouth twitching.

    Ran shook his head. "There's something about her I don't like. In fact," and he crinkled his nose in thought, "I don't like anyone here. This whole place gives me the shivers. Something about it tells me that this is a very dangerous place. I know I'm probably just being silly, but I can't shake that feeling. Can we leave now, or do we have to stay?"

    "Leaving might be a bit difficult as these people will want to keep you. They won't let us just stroll out."

    "Can we sneak out?" the younger assassin asked hopefully. His violet eyes darted towards the door.

    Crawford had known before entering the place that they'd make it out, otherwise he wouldn't have suggested it. One did not just step into enemy territory when unarmed and sporting a broken limb. He pretended to give Ran's suggestion great consideration before nodding. "Yes. We can try." He slid off his chair and moved towards the door. Ran hopped off his own perch and followed, reaching out to touch the fresh cast on Crawford's arm.

    "Does it hurt?" he asked worriedly.

    "No, it does not." ~Not anymore.~ Crawford paused with his hand on the knob, waiting to see if his visions would give him any useful information. Nothing. He opened the door a crack and peered out. The only people he saw were two security guards and one agent, who were at the other end of the hall talking to the nurse. One was loading a gun. ~I have a feeling their plan is to step into the room, shoot me, and put Ran someplace until his memories return. Crude.~

    He opened the door the rest of the way so it would not slow them, then turned his gaze towards the elevator. A secretary was waiting to get on. "When she steps on and the four at the other end are looking the other way, we leave this room and go. Do not move quickly or you'll attract the others' attention. Is that clear?" Ran nodded, looking a bit nervous. They watched, gazes going back and forth between the elevator and clump at the other end of the hall. The elevator dinged, and the guards glanced back to see who it was.

    "Going on break, Mika?" one called cheerfully.

    "Iie. This copy machine's broken." She paused in the doorway, holding up her thick folder.

    "Everything's breaking around here," one of the guards said in disgust, and the four turned away again.

    Mika stepped into the elevator, humming to herself and examining her hair in the mirror on the back of the elevator. As one Crawford and Ran stepped out of the room. Crawford held up his good hand to signal to the girl. She noticed and turned back around to face the doors, pressing down on the "Open Doors" button. Crawford and Ran stepped on, nodding to her as the doors closed behind them. When the elevator started they deemed it safe to speak, and Ran smiled at her. "Thank you, miss."

    "No problem, cutie." She winked at him. She gave him a look-over, then turned her interested gaze on Crawford. "That arm looks bad. You hurt it while working with the mess?"

    "Mess?" Ran asked.

    "That building that collapsed." She shrugged, reaching up with a finger to feel her lipstick. "Teams were sent out to try and dig it out, see if they could find anyone. Reports have been coming in all morning." She sighed and wiggled the folder in her arms. "So far all they've found are security guards and such. No sign of Weiß. I wonder if they found that other group. What was it called?..."

    "Schwarz," Crawford replied calmly.

    "Yeah, that's it!" she agreed brightly. "So you are an agent. Why do you guys always pretend like you don't know what's going on when you know all the good dirt? Come on, I need _something_ to talk about on my breaks." She gave them each a pleading look. "Any survivors of the two groups yet?"

    "Two, so far," Crawford answered as the elevator stopped on the fourth floor- the secretary's stop, obviously. "One Weiß, one Schwarz."

    "I hope they kill the Schwarz man," she declared, stepping off the elevator and giving a toss of her head to emphasize her statement. "How a scum like that survived that collapse I don't know." As the doors were closing she turned to wave. "Bai bai, you two, and thanks!" She blew them a kiss before the doors closed.

    "Is this part of what you're going to explain to me?" Ran asked. He looked confused. "She didn't make much sense. And maybe I'm slow, but it didn't sound like some of the words she used were Japanese. Byce? And what was the other one?"

    The elevator stopped on the bottom floor, and the two set off across the lobby. "Weiß, not Byce," Crawford corrected as the same security guard from earlier that morning opened the front door for them. Ran gave the man a grateful nod as they continued on. "It's German for white. The other one is Schwarz. German for black. And as towards what I will tell you when we get where we're going...I will tell you what you need to know, and that is it."

    Ran paused before opening the door to climb in Crawford's car. He briefly met Crawford's gaze and gave a small smile. Something about the expression disturbed the American. He brushed it away at Ran's next words:

    "I trust you."

    Three simple words that proved just how much control Crawford now had over the one-time leader of Weiß. Crawford smirked before climbing in his car. "Good."

Part 3