Part Five: Foreign Intrusion

    Ran opened the door to see two men standing in the hall. One was dressed in ragged looking jeans and a vest. He had hair cropped close to his head that was gray with dust. His face had a smudge of dried blood on it, and there were several scars adorning every part of his skin that was showing. A patch covered one eye. The other eye was amber colored and it narrowed when he turned it on Ran. The other wore jeans and a v-neck t-shirt. He had fiery orange hair that was filthy from days without washing, all of it pulled back into a messy ponytail. He had bandages, days old, wrapped around his arms. Ran could see more poking out through the low neck. His eyes were jade and they widened slightly in surprise as he took in Ran. Neither were Japanese.

    "Well, well," the orange haired one clucked to his companion. "Looks like a stray kitten followed him home."

    "Who are you?" Ran asked.

    Jade eyes widened just a bit more before turning to look at something past Ran. Ran turned. Crawford had just entered the room, brown eyes taking in the two strangers with an intensity that unnerved Ran. "There you are!" orange-head greeted.

    "Schuldich." The name was spoken calmly, but Ran could see the man's shoulders relax visibly, as if a heavy weight had been removed from them. In the backs of his brown eyes was something that wasn't quite relief as much as it was gratitude.

    Schuldich? Why did that name sound familiar?...

    "What's up with the cat?" Schuldich asked, stepping past Ran into the room. His silent companion followed but kept a hungry look locked on Ran. Ran involuntarily stepped back. "Decide to get yourself a pet?"

    "_Ran_," and Crawford stressed the name, "has amnesia. Keep your games away from him."

    "Oh ho?" Schuldich turned to study Ran again. "I wondered who was with you. I could feel your presence, but I kept turning up with an extra mind. A washed out one." He smirked, an expression of condescending amusement covering his face. "How cute."

    "Schuldich..." Crawford said warningly.

    And it hit Ran then, who Schuldich was. Crawford had mentioned him. Ran's face lit up in surprised delight. "You're who Crawford mentioned!" he announced. "You're his partner, right? Oh, good!" He clapped his hands once in delight. "He thought you were killed in that exploding building!" Schuldich burst out laughing. Crawford pinched the bridge of his nose- a gesture Ran had learned to identify as his way of searching for patience. Ran tilted his head to one side. "What's so funny?" he demanded. Schuldich wouldn't answer. He reached out, tugging on Schuldich's shirt sleeve. "It's not nice to mock people, you know. We were worried."

    A pale hand smacked Ran's hand sharply. Ran yipped and yanked his hand away from Schuldich. The gray-haired one had fixed a glare on him. "Hands off what doesn't belong to you." The words were spoken calmly, but Ran heard the death threat that they carried. He retreated, eyes wide.

    "Jealous?" Schuldich asked the man at his elbow. His amusement was rewarded with a one-eyed glare.

    "Sit down," Crawford said. Ran paused, digesting the authority in that voice. It wasn't an invitation, nor a firm command. It was an order. And by the way the two in front of him automatically headed towards the couch, he got the distinct impression that they were used to taking orders from the American. Crawford turned back to Ran. "Your bacon is still on the stove."

    It wasn't just a reminder- it was a pointed dismissal.

    Ran nodded and left the room.


    Crawford watched as his team mates sat down. Schuldich sank lazily against the back of the couch, sighing in appreciation of the softness of its cushions. Farfarello sat right beside him, their sides touching. Crawford could only study them for several moments, could only gaze at the team mates he'd thought to be dead. He'd thought he would never see their faces again. To know that they were alive and breathing...He was more relieved than he cared to acknowledge.

    "Where have you been?"

    "Everywhere," Schuldich answered glibly.

    "You didn't answer," he said quietly, referring to when he'd lowered his mental shields.

    "Ch'." Schuldich gave a small shrug. "Not my fault. I woke up yesterday afternoon. Farfarello had taken us both out of the rubble and found us shelter in some squatter's place. I had been unconscious since the blow came. Why don't you tell him what you did to the squatter, Farf?"

    "Not now," Crawford cut in.

    Schuldich gave an aggrieved sigh. "You're missing the best part. Anyway...Farfarello said that I'd said something when I was unconscious, that I was speaking to you and asking where you were." He lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "We spent the rest of the day looking for any traces of where you'd been. I've been in and out of a couple hundred minds looking for your ugly mug." Schuldich raked his fingers through his hair.

    "And Nagi?" Crawford asked.

    Schuldich paused in the middle of a stretch, then shrugged. "I can sense him."

    "So he's alive and functioning?"

    "Alive, yes." Schuldich hesitated before continuing, jade eyes locking with patient brown ones. "There are no coherent thought patterns in him. No thoughts at all, in fact. It's like he's breathing, but just a shell. Sort of like the sister of ol' cheerful one over there," he jerked his head towards the kitchen to mean Ran. "I don't know where he is. I didn't have time to find him because we came after you first."

    Crawford let this sink in. Out of all eight assassins that had been in the building, Nagi was the one he had decided had the largest chance for survival. He had his power to shield him and clear the way to make an exit. Since he only had himself to shield, he should have found it no strain to guard himself and move rubble at the same time. It wasn't like when he'd had to shield all of Schwarz the night Estet had fallen. Covering more than just himself in such conditions had been too much, and it had thrown the boy into an almost coma-like state for a little over two weeks.

    "Locate him," Crawford ordered.

    "Ja, ja, but after I shower. My hair hasn't been washed in three days." The German made an expression of disgust. "I sure hope you have plenty of warm water."

    Crawford lifted a broad shoulder in a small shrug. "We have a jacuzzi, in fact."

    Schuldich was on his feet in an instant, jade eyes snapping in anticipation. "Now _that_ is what I like to hear. Come on, Farf." He beckoned to his lover and set off.

    Crawford turned to watch them go. "Schuldich." The name was out of his mouth before he could stop it. Schuldich turned, arching a thin brow at the hesitation in his leader's voice. They gazed at each other across the room. Crawford knew what had made him stop Schuldich- words that were churning inside his minds, words he would never allow to pass his lips to where anyone could hear. Instead, he said, "We'll save you some breakfast, so take your time."

    A faint grin tugged at Schuldich's lips. The younger assassin knew Crawford had changed what he had been going to say last minute. Perhaps he knew what Crawford had wanted to say. Perhaps he knew how Crawford felt. Crawford would never know. The German didn't reply to Crawford's words. He merely continued on his way, bringing Farfarello with him.

    Crawford sighed quietly, allowing himself to send words towards the German since the younger man would never hear them past Crawford's shields. ~Thank you for being alive...~


    He turned to see Ran in the kitchen doorway. "Yes?"

    "Breakfast is ready." Ran unfastened his apron, folding it over an arm. He leaned against the doorframe with boneless grace. "Where did the other two go?"

    "They needed to get clean. It's been a while since they've had the opportunity to bathe. We'll just set some aside for them."

    "All right." Ran smiled in agreement, then beckoned for Crawford to come. "I hope I made these right," he said, disappearing back into the kitchen. Crawford stepped into the room and was assaulted by the familiar aromas of bacon and pancakes. Ran draped his apron on the back of his chair and sat, serving himself and Crawford some of the food. "The pancakes didn't come out like they look in the picture," he complained.

    Crawford began to butter his. "The appearance doesn't matter as much as the taste," he assured Ran calmly. As he cut it, he realized he was being watched. He looked up to see Ran's eyes following the movements of his knife. "Is something wrong?" he asked.

    Ran grinned a bit sheepishly. "I wanted to know what you thought of them," he admitted.

    Crawford chose to humor the boy and lifted a bite to his mouth. He chewed on the buttered piece slowly, his eyes locked with Ran's. After chewing sufficiently, he swallowed. "Well done," he said. He was not the type to embellish his compliments- the rare ones he chose to give out, that is- so it was spoken in a neutral tone. That didn't matter to Ran, who was obviously just listening for the words, and possibly making sure that Crawford wasn't choking on his attempt at a Western dish.

    The boy beamed and began to cut his own. There were no words spoken for several minutes as they ate their breakfast. As background sound they could hear water running from the bathroom. Ran stood to check up on the progress of the next pancake. As he pushed at it with a spatula, he asked, "Will you tell me about them?"

    "There is not much to say on them."

    "They are foreigners." The three words were both a soft press for more information and a question.

    "Aa, they are. Schuldich is from Germany. He has been my partner for many years. The man with him is his lover, an Irishman named Farfarello." If Ran was bothered by the mention of the sexual relationship between the two men, he did not show it. Crawford considered his next words carefully. "Be cautious of Farfarello. He is territorial and unbalanced."

    "Unbalanced?" Ran slipped the pancake to a paper plate that was waiting nearby, then scooped more batter onto the pan. It sizzled. He turned his back on it.

    "He is mentally deranged. The extent of his illness is not known. Since he has been with Schuldich he has seemed to calm down a bit. Despite that, he will always be dangerous and a threat to all other lives." Ran was silent. "I told you we are assassins. So are they. Farfarello is one of the most ruthless ones I've seen, and he takes complete pleasure in the hunt and kill." Ran shifted uncomfortably. Crawford knew he was making the younger man uneasy, but he wanted Ran to understand just how dangerous the bleach haired Irishman was. He didn't want to wake up and find Ran slashed to bite sized pieces. Despite the fact Farfarello was being extremely calm and quiet for some reason, the threat remained. "Do you understand me, Ran?"

    "...I do."

    Crawford continued to gaze at the younger man. "If you are ever find yourself alone with him, or if he ever is holding a knife in your presence, I want you to call to Schuldich. It doesn't matter if he's far away from you. He'll hear."

    Ran frowned faintly. "He won't hear if he's outside the hotel room."

    "He will hear," Crawford repeated, stressing the words. "Believe me on this."

    Ran was still obviously skeptical, but he nodded, and that was enough.


    "Farfarello, come to bed."

    Ran looked up from where he was brushing his teeth in the bathroom. The door was open, giving him a clear view into the bedroom. The two new arrivals were wearing extra clothes of Ran and Crawford's, since they had none of their own. Now Schuldich was stripping down to his boxers. The clothes were discarded carelessly to the ground, where Schuldich kicked them away. Farfarello entered the room from whereever he'd been, going to stand in front of Schuldich. The man hadn't spoken much that day. He'd spent several hours just staring at a blender Schuldich had acquired somehow from one of the hotel staff, stirring up vegetables into a liquidy mess.

    Ran found himself oddly fascinated by them. Schuldich was loud, brash, sarcastic. He didn't walk- he either saunted or strutted. His eyes remained cold unless they were colored with condescending amusement. His wide mouth was generally pulled into a smirk that gave Ran chills. Ran couldn't shake the feeling that Schuldich knew what he was thinking, that Schuldich could see inside him. It was ridiculous, he knew, but he couldn't get rid of it.

    Then there was Farfarello. The man moved with a liquid grace that contained lethal intent. His single eye held a predator's gleam, and every time he looked at Ran it was as if he was deciding what would be the best way to kill him. He hung close to Schuldich the entire time, except for when he'd been blender-watching. The times he had spoken and Ran had heard it, he had muttered about kittens and pretty blood and hurting God. The scars that adorned his body were things Ran found himself staring at time and time again. Schuldich had caught him at it and had said with a smirk that they were all self-inflicted.

    Ran leaned over the sink to spit and rinse his mouth out. How Crawford ended up with such strange people, he didn't know. He dried his hands and face on the small hand towel and padded into the bedroom. Schuldich had been undressing Farfarello, and now both turned their heads to look at him. Schuldich's smirked widened and he tilted his head foreward so his forehead rested against the side of Farfarello's head. They said nothing, however.

    Farfarello turned away first, crawling onto the bed and flopping bonelessly on the mattress. Schuldich crawled on after him. "Now this is nice," the German said to himself. "A real bed..." He yawned loudly and stretched out behind Farfarello, reaching out to wrap his arms around the man's waist. Farfarello instantly pressed backwards to burrow himself against Schuldich's front. He draped his arms over Schuldich's, single eye glaring at Ran in a clear warning.

    "Lay off, liebe," Schuldich murmured drowsily. He reached up with a hand and traced his fingers over Farfarello's single eyebrow. Obediently Farfarello closed the eye, and Schuldich lowered his hand back to its original spot.

    Ran gazed at them as they fell asleep, something inside him twinging at the sight of their intimate position. He looked up as Crawford entered the room, allowing his gaze to trace over the man's features while the man studied his team mates. He didn't look at Ran, merely headed towards the bed. Ran yawned and turned towards the living room. "See you tomorrow," he said softly.

    "Where are you going?"

    "The couch." Wasn't it obvious? Where else was he supposed to sleep?

    "The couch isn't going to be comfortable enough for a night's rest. You can sleep on one half of the bed. I'll sleep on the other half."

    Sharing a bed with Crawford...Was that such a good idea? When Ran realized Crawford was waiting for an answer, he turned back. "All right." He crossed the room back to the bed. Crawford slipped onto the half that was closer to the other bed, putting himself between the new arrivals and Ran. Ran crawled onto the other end of the bed, wearing only that day's pants. He slid between the sheets, gazing up the ceiling and aware that Crawford was stripping down to his pants. The clothes he removed were folded neatly and set on the ground by the bed. Ran closed his eyes as Crawford climbed into bed, feeling the mattress shift beneath him.

    It was going to be hard to fall asleep.

Part 6