Part Four: Blushing Clumsiness

    Ran trotted ahead of Crawford down the sidewalk, hands stuffed in his pockets. Crawford touched the sling on his arm, moving slower than the redhead so as not to jar it. The painkillers were beginning to wear off and small throbs of pain were beating throughout the broken limb. He did his best to ignore it. After all, pain was a state of mind. He was stronger than that. Therefore, he could ignore it.

    A particularly strong stab arched up the muscles of his arm and he winced, clenching his teeth. It seemed it didn't want to be ignored.

    Ran turned around to walk backwards, giving him a teasing smile. "Are you always this slow?" he asked.

    "I see no reason to rush." Unless, of course, rushing would take them back to the hotel room where the painkillers were. But that would be a loss of dignity and a blow to his pride, and he wouldn't accept that. "Enjoy the night. You're alive."

    Ran pivoted to face forward again, pausing to wait for Crawford to catch up. He matched the older man's pace, inhaling the cool evening air. He let his gaze travel over the brightly lit signs. As they passed doors they could hear noises from inside: laughter and shouting from the bars, jingling of bells on store fronts, loud music from the clubs...

    Ran tilted his head to one side, pausing by a door. "That's the song that was on the radio earlier," he observed. Crawford stopped, listening. It was indeed the song Ran had been humming. The redhead glanced back at him. "Is that a club?" he asked.

    "Yes, it is." Crawford studied the building, already seeing what Ran wanted. A tacky sign announced the place to have the name "Wing Dots", the lights curved into the kanji in a lazy looking scribble style. He sighed inwardly as Ran got a hopeful look. While he could see what was coming, and had seen many of Ran's responses throughout the day, he'd kept his mouth shut and waited for it to play out. He didn't want Ran to know of his power yet. It would be a complication.

    "Can we go in?" Ran asked. "Just for a moment, maybe?"

    Crawford considered the different points. He'd only been in clubs twice. Both times had been to fetch Schuldich. They weren't his type of place. He hated the people in them. Hated their filthiness, their stench, the music they listened to, their drunkenness. He hated the atmosphere. He felt dirtied when he even thought about stepping in among them, felt dirtied just imagining lowering himself to their level, to stand in the same room as such hollow people.

    On the other hand, Ran in a club presented some interesting oppurtunities for observation. Besides, it would give him a place to sit down.

    "Only for a little bit," he conceded.

    Ran's smile lit up his entire face. He reached out, snagging Crawford's good wrist eagerly, and turned towards the bouncer. "Can we go in?" he asked.

    The boucer made a noise that sounded like a mix between a snort and a laugh. "First time, hm?" he asked, raking beefy fingers through stringy hair.

    "I think so."

    The man shook his head, amused by Ran's cheerful naivete, and opened the door. "Try the Bartender's Special," he advised. Ran blinked, thinking this over, then nodded and went past him. Crawford followed close behind. If he lagged, he'd probably end up having his wrist popped out of socket by the excited Ran.

    They were immediately assaulted on all sides by the atmosphere of the club. The bass of the music was turned on loud enough that Crawford could feel it soaking through him, could feel the ground vibrating wildly beneath his feet. Close to the door were tables. To the left was the bar. Over here there were a few bare bulbs, white light. In front of them, however...About fifteen feet in front of them was a railing to stop people from stepping off a six foot drop-off. Stairs were at one end, leading down to the dance floor. Ran brought Crawford straight to the rail, gazing out with wide eyes. The lights above the dance floor were flashing neon colors from all angles. There were white strobe lights close to the DJ's stand, where three men operated between two seven foot tall speakers.

    "It's loud," Ran said to Crawford, shouting to be heard.

    Yes. It was. Crawford hid his disgust, merely nodding in response. It was time for him to retreat to a table and wait for his arm to quit screaming.

    Ran said something, but Crawford couldn't make it out. The boy leaned closer to him to repeat it and was bumped by three drunks that were clinging to each other as they tried to make it to the stairs. Crawford knew it was coming and held out his good hand, catching Ran as the boy stumbled against him. Ran stared at the three in annoyance before turning back to Crawford. He paused, violet eyes going wide. They were mere inches from each other, now, with Ran's hands closed on Crawford's shoulders from where he grabbed for balance. Crawford gazed calmly at the younger man, studying his face with interest. Ran's eyes were wide with surprise, and as Crawford watched, he thought he saw the boys cheeks darken.

    Was Ran blushing? Impossible.

    Ran got himself under control again and leaned forward so his mouth was close to Crawford's ear. "I asked if you wanted to dance," he repeated.

    "No. I don't." Ran gave a disappointed sigh. "You go."

    Ran pulled away from Crawford to look over the railing again. Finally he nodded, flashed Crawford a smile and small wave, and headed towards the stairs. Crawford watched him go until the throbbing in his arm demanded he find a seat. He chose a table close to the railing in an attempt to keep an eye on Ran. A waitress came over, tugging a pencil out of her apron and wiggling a notepad in his face.

    "Can I get you anything, sir?"

    Crawford eyed her for several moments. He did not drink the type of alcohol that they offered in places like this. If he were to take in any alcoholic beverages, they would be the expensive wines and champagnes served at the social parties of the upper class. "The mildest drink you have," he finally said. She nodded and flounced away. Crawford removed his glasses, setting them in his lap because he didn't like the idea of setting them on the table- who knew when was the last time it was cleaned? He pinched the bridge of his nose, thinking.

    Those parties were important social gatherings. He usually went alone, but sometimes brought Nagi along so the boy would get an idea as to how things were run. That was, of course, because Nagi was the only one on his team with a brain in his skull. It was a bit rattled, but not like Schuldich's, and definitely not like Farfarello's. Nagi had also been the best choice because he was quiet and obedient. He would trail behind Crawford like a servant as the American drifted through the crowd, searching for new people to give them assignments. There had been other freelance assassins there, but it had been Crawford the social heads had turned to.

    Crawford remembered the hateful looks in the others' eyes as time and time again Crawford took their jobs, took their source of income- and therefore, survival- away from them. It was possible that one of those groups had taken them down, but there was no intelligence among them. If someone had organized them, however, someone who wanted to get rid of Schwarz...There was little doubt in his mind now that Schwarz had been the real targets in that explosion. The fact that Schwarz had been fighting Weiß had been the perfect distraction. So now all that was left was to find out who knew they would be fighting in that building. The man who had hired them, Oroku Sai, was too simple minded a man to organize something like that. He had merely sent them to destroy some disks. Weiß had come to save those disks.

    All he had to do was figure out who would have known Weiß needed those disks.

    His drink arrived. He nodded to the girl and she bobbed away again. Crawford took a sip of it. Disgusting. Absolutely revolting. Lower class people had such horrible drinks. He set the cup back down and turned his attention to the lowered dance floor, eyes sweeping over the writhing crowd. The search was in vain. He sighed inwardly and began to run his fingers over the cast, hoping Ran would return soon. He did not look forward to the prospect of going down there among that bumping and dancing with his bad arm.


    Ran sifted through the crowd, eyes darting everywhere in fascination. He didn't know why this scenery was so intriguing to him. It was almost as if he'd never been to a place like this, as if he'd never seen so many people just letting life go and giving themselves up to music. What had he been doing his twenty years of his life that was so important he couldn't come to a place like this? At that thought, he sobered slightly. Ah. Right. He was an assassin.

    Did assassins not know how to have fun? Didn't they know how to slack off and call it quits and just live?

    A flash of emerald green flickered in his mind, followed by a face that was there long enough for him to recognize it before disappearing too quickly into the recesses of his mind. He froze in his tracks, digging through his mind. Who? Who had that been? Now none of the details would come back to him. He was left with a blank, desperate mind, and the feeling that that image he'd just lost was somebody he knew. But who??

    "Hey," a voice purred by his ear. Ran jumped, turning to see a woman there. She was practically pressed up against him, dressed in glittering clothes and wearing about three pounds of make-up. She offered him a sultry smile. "You a good dancer?" she asked. "You look like one." She reached out, running her hands down his sides. "Nice and slender."

    "I don't think I've danced before," Ran told her, speaking loud to be heard.

    "There aren't any rules to it, you know." She smiled and began to dance against him. "You just let it all go. Your body follows the music. Try it." Follow the music? That was easy enough. He began to dance, and her smile widened. "Perfect. Just like that."

    She looped her arms around his neck. Their bodies were slaves to the pounding bass and screaming guitars, slaves to the frenzied rythmm that sucked at them and everyone else in the place. Ran relaxed, letting his thoughts scatter.

    Time passed without meaning until he realized he was tired. When he stepped back away from her with an apologetic smile, she followed. "No, no, don't leave so quickly! Come home with me tonight. Show me if you're that good at dancing under the covers."

    Ran felt his cheeks heat up at her blunt words. "Ah, gomen...I don't..." His eyes widened and he swirled around. "Crawford! I forgot about him!"

    The girl clucked, a disappointed sound. "Oh, you're here with another man?"

    "Aa. Crawford's my-"

    "No, no, you don't have to tell me. I get it."

    He blinked at her. All he'd wanted to say was "friend"...

    She stretched up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "Thanks for the dance, sexy. If you ever get tired of your Crawford guy, come and find me here, ne?"

    Now he was confused. He agreed nonetheless, thanked her for the dance, and set off towards the stairs. The trip to the stairs was harder than the trip from the stairs to the middle of the dance floor. Now people reached out, brushing their hands against him and trying to pull him into their arms- girls and guys alike. He apologized to each one, detaching himself from their grips. One man refused to let go, instead tightening his hands on Ran's upper arms so that the boy hissed in pain.

    "Don't go no where too fast," the man murmured, words slurred from too much to drink.

    "Let go of me," Ran insisted. "I need to leave."

    "Stay and dance a bit."

    A hand closed on the stranger's wrist, and both Ran and the man turned to see Crawford. The American's glasses glinted strangely in the flashing lights, giving him an eerie appearance. Ran could feel the man holding him hesitate, and without thinking, took advantage of the sudden weakness. He brought his foot up, kicking it into the offending man's stomach. The man staggered backwards, choking, before collapsing on the ground on his rear, his arms wound tightly around his abdomen.

    Ran looked to Crawford. "Ready to go?" the foreigner asked calmly.

    "Aa." He followed Crawford up the stairs without a second glance back. The walk back to the apartment was in silence. Ran paused as Crawford locked the door behind them. "Are you coming to bed?" he asked.

    "I'm going to get a drink first. You go on."

    Ran hesitated before reaching out in the darkness to squeeze Crawford's good wrist briefly. "Tonight was fun. Thank you." Then he released Crawford and padded away.


    Bacon sizzled in the kitchen. Crawford could smell them as he watched the morning news. When they had gone shopping, he had made sure to pick up some American food. Now Ran was in the kitchen, trying to figure out how to make it. Crawford had been in there earlier to make it himself, but Ran had shooed him out saying that he liked cooking. Crawford had let him take over and returned to the living room to watch television.

    Ran was humming again. Crawford could hear it over the newscaster's voice as she talked about the exploded building again. They repeated this story three times each day as they found new clues or uncovered anything about it. It was a long, hard job to clear the rubble away. She was saying something about finding crushed bodies of ex-workers for the building. So far they'd found nineteen dead guards.

    A vision passed over him. He turned off the television set and headed into the kitchen. Ran had moved a chair from the dining room into the kitchen so he could reach the back of the top cabinet- which was _just_ out of his reach on tiptoes. The man was standing on the very back edge of the chair cushion, rummaging around. Finally he pulled out a small bag of oatmeal and grinned, swaying backwards on the balls of his feet. "Ah ha!"

    As the words left his mouth, the chair tilted backwards. Ran yipped as he fell. Crawford stepped forward, turning to catch Ran around his shoulders with his good arm. He grunted at the weight and strain on his arm, then lowered himself to his knees and bringing Ran with him. Ran stared up at him with wide eyes from where his head rested on Crawford's lap. When he realized what had happened, he laughed softly- an embarrassed sound. "Arigato, Crawford. I'm clumsier than I thought." His cheeks were colored lightly with a faint blush.

    Crawford gazed down at him, studying the tinged cheeks with interest. Aya would never blush. The expression looked so alien on that face that was usually carved into a cold mask. The small, sheepish smile that curved those lips was even more foreign. Crawford was fascinated. He'd known Ran had blushed last night, but with the strange lights in the club it had been hard to make out the color well enough. Now he could see it perfectly.

    Ran's eyes turned questioning as he searched Crawford's gaze. He seemed to have noticed he was under inspection. "...Crawford?" he asked softly.


    "Is that your whole name?"

    That wasn't quite the question Crawford had been expecting. He saw no harm in answering the question, though. "My name is Brad Crawford."

    Ran digested this for several moments as the silence stretched between them. "Ah," was all he finally managed to say. His purple eyes ran over Crawford's face as if taking in every detail he saw there. It was a scrutiny that Crawford didn't quite understand. Ran seemed to hesitate, then opened his mouth to ask something else.

    Knock knock knock!

    Ran's head swiveled in the direction of the door. "It's probably just a maid," Crawford told him. Something inside of him _wanted_ to know what Ran had been going to say. He was irritated when Ran scrambled into a sitting position. The place where Ran's head had just been seemed cold without the warmth Ran had given.

    Ran climbed to his feet. "I'll go get it," he said quickly, scrubbing at his still pink cheeks, and darted from the room.

    Crawford gave vent to a frustrated sigh, picking himself to his feet. He could hear the bolts turning as Ran opened them with what sounded like frantic motions. He reached up to adjust his glasses before realizing that they weren't loose. They hadn't been loose since Ran had tightened them. He dusted off his outfit and adjusted his sling as the door opened.

    "Can I help you, sir?" he heard Ran ask.

    "Well, well," clucked a familiar nasal voice. "Looks like a stray kitten followed him home."

Part 5