Part Seven: Aired Crush

    Ran stepped into the hotel. "Crawford?" he called hopefully, pushing the door open the rest of the way. It was not the quiet American's voice that greeted him, however, but a harsh scream.


    "Verdammt!" Schuldich hissed. Ran was suddenly shoved to the floor in a rough move. He yipped as his shoulder banged painfully against the carpet, looking up as Schuldich caught Farfarello. The Irishman looked furious, single amber eye blazing. A knife was gripped in his hands, one of the kitchen knives. Schuldich had him by the wrists, and they were both shoving against the other- Farfarello, trying to get to Ran, Schuldich, trying to keep him away. "Farfarello!" Schuldich barked. "Stop it!"

    "Lying angel scum of God!" Farfarello snarled, struggling against his lover's hands. "Carve your eyes out and spit upon them!!"

    "Get out of here!" Schuldich snapped at Ran, who was staring at Farfarello. Ran didn't hear him. There was a deep horror and fear in his veins. This Irishman, so quiet yesterday, was a demon today. Hatred and death radiated from him in choking waves. Muscles rippled against smooth skin as he and Schuldich fought to move each other. "Ran!" Schuldich said again, and this time it felt as if someone had smacked Ran across his mind.

    Ran's gaze jerked to Schuldich, then he scrambled to his feet and darted from the hotel room. Schuldich reached out with a shoe and kicked the door closed. Ran leaned against the far side of the hall, staring at the closed door. He was breathing heavily, and his thoughts ran in confused circles. ~The sword where's the sword where is my sword take him out take him out now kill them both!!~

    Something glass broke inside the hotel, and the door shuddered as two bodies impacted against it. He could hear a voice yelling, but it was not a tongue he recognized. It wasn't German, for he'd heard Schuldich speak his native tongue at other times. This, then, was Farfarello's language? Every word was twisted with hate.


    Ran nearly jumped out of his skin. He whirled around to see Crawford standing there. A choked sound of relief forced its way up Ran's throat and he sagged towards the ground. ~Crawford's here...Everything's going to be all right now.~ "Farfarello...He's wild..." he said frantically, gesturing towards the door. The door had stopped shaking, so Ran guessed the fight had moved away from it.

    Crawford's glasses flashed as he stepped forward, catching and reflecting the ceiling lights. "I know." He had his hotel key in his hand. "Stay out here until I come to get you," he said. His voice was cold, dangerous. It made Ran's breath stop in his throat. The brown eyes that met his contained none of the mild amusement he'd seen there in the past few days. They were steely in silent, icy anger.

    He nodded dumbly.


    /Farfarello! Farfarello, stop it!!/ Schuldich twisted, trying to pin the younger man's hands down on the mattress he pushed them both onto. He'd managed to get Farfarello to the bedroom, the farthest room from the front door. The knife was still clutched tightly, the blade now pointed towards Schuldich. He ignored the blood that leaked slow and hot down his face from one of Farfarello's attempts. Farfarello had been aiming to scalp him. Only his speed had kept most of his flesh intact. /Farf!!!/

    The man was yelling at him, words spilling out of his mouth quicker and freer than they had ever come before, liquid and flexible in their native language. Farfarello was angry at him. Not at Ran. At him, for drugging him and leaving with Ran. Farfarello was furious that Schuldich had spent time with the ex-Weiß. Couldn't the Irishman see that Schuldich had just been having fun?

    He'd never seen Farfarello so angry.

    It was unnerving.

    /It was a _game_, liebe!/ Schuldich told him, grunting aloud when Farfarello's knee made contact with his abdomen in a solid blow. He sagged slightly, his grip loosening enough for Farfarello to free a hand. Fingernails clawed at Schuldich's face and the German cursed, trying to grab the wrist and twist his head away from range. Farfarello writhed under him, his kicks getting more freedom and accuracy.

    A fist flew into Schuldich's line of vision, connecting solidly with Farfarello's head. The German froze, head jerking to the side and eyes jerking up to see who had struck his lover. He was just in time to watch a fist slam into his own face. Warmth flooded freely down his face he scrambled backwards, further onto the bed, clapping a hand to his bleeding nose.

    Farfarello jerked into a sitting position, raising the knife.

    A gun was cocked, and the man came to a stop, noticing the barrel that hovered barely an inch from his forehead. Both men looked up to see Crawford.

    "Put down the knife." The words were spoken slowly, with no inflection.

    Schuldich slowly wiped his hand under his nose, the blood smearing on his hand as he did so. His jade eyes were locked on Farfarello now. He didn't want to look at Crawford. He'd figured that the man would foresee the outing he took the stray kitten on, and had known the older assassin would be furious. This fuss Farfarello was putting up now could only make Crawford angrier. An angry Crawford was not a good Crawford. Their leader was usually cool and collected, keeping his emotions and expression calm. Schuldich had never seen Crawford truly angry like he was now.

    He decided he had better survival chances with the furious Farfarello.

    "Home so soon, Crawford?" And there went his big mouth.

    Crawford didn't bother to answer, didn't even acknowledge the flippant comment with so much as a bat of an eye. The American was involved in a staredown with Farfarello. "Put. The. Knife. Down," Crawford repeated. "_Now_."

    "This isn't your fight," Farfarello hissed at him, incensed that they had been interrupted.

    "It is now," Crawford answered steadily.

    "Farfarello...Put the knife down," Schuldich tried.

    Farfarello shot him an angry glare. "I don't listen to God's whores."

    Schuldich went rigid in shock for several heartbeats, digesting the insult Farfarello had just thrown in his face. The sneering word that echoed in the Irishman's mind was "Slut", aimed directly at him to make sure he heard. Schuldich opened his mouth to try and say something, but no sounds left. Farfarello thought he was a slut? He, who had not even _looked_ at anyone else in a sexual manner after courting Farfarello? He had even given up his playful flirting with Crawford and Nagi. Pain he refused to acknowledge rippled within him, melting into anger. "You!! How dare you say such things to me?"

    "Deny them if they aren't true," came the flat response.

    Before the urge to jump up and beat Farfarello was fully realized, Crawford spoke. "If you move towards him, I will shoot you."

    "Damn your clairvoyance, anyway!" Schuldich spat at Crawford. "Where was it when we needed it? Where was it back in the Yokama Industries building when it exploded on us? You could have gotten us killed!"

    "Assassins get killed."

    "That explosion wasn't supposed to happen!"

    "Assassins make mistakes."

    "NOT YOU!!!" Schuldich exploded.

    For several moments the only sound in the room was Schuldich's harsh breathing. Schuldich and Crawford had their gazes locked, jade and chocolate clashing and sliding against each other. It was a staredown like many they'd had in the past. This staredown would end like all the others, but with one minor difference that made it crucial: Schuldich looked away, but it was not with an arrogant sniff or amused toss of the head. He lowered his gaze to a point past Crawford's elbow. He held his breath, making the silence complete.

    He waited for one of the others to say something, anything, but they didn't. Finally he could stand it no longer and slid from the bed. "I'm going out," he said over his shoulder.

    "So go," came Farfarello's retort.


    Schuldich left the hotel, considering slamming the door closed even as he clicked it softly into place. As he turned to head down the hall, his gaze fell on Ran. The younger man was leaning against the wall, sitting on the ground with his legs tucked up against his chest. Ran raised purple eyes to meet his gaze. "Daijoubu, Schuldich?" the ex-Weiß leader asked quietly.

    "You're more trouble than you are amusement," Schuldich told him calmly, turning his back on the man.

    "Was Farfarello angry at you because of me?" Ran wanted to know.

    "Farfarello's always angry about something or other," the German answered, trying to keep his voice nonchalant.

    "I'm sorry..."

    Schuldich wasn't sure he could stomach the pity and sympathy swirling in that man's mind. Where was the hate? Where was the anger? The icy mask? Where was the man he had held with so much amused contempt, who had burned for Schuldich's death? Where was that man? Was he gone, or was he buried beneath the naive man who huddled there? "In the end, there are two kinds of people," Schuldich told Ran. "Those who pretend against what they are, and those who give in to what they are. Which one are you?"

    Ran was surprised by the question. "I...don't know."

    "Figure it out."

    Schuldich headed away.


    Ran rapped his spoon on the cabinet nearest him. "Dinner's ready!" he called. In a few moments, he was joined in the kitchen by Crawford. "What about Farfarello?" he asked when he noticed the Irishman wasn't following. "Haven't you let him out yet?"


    Ran gave a quiet sigh. Crawford had called Ran into the hotel that morning and had him remove everything from the bathroom that wasn't bolted down, then locked Farfarello in it. Ran had expected the Irishman to revolt against his prison, but he hadn't. After that outburst and fight, the man had been very quiet. When Ran had asked Crawford if the two had had a lover's quarrel, Crawford had merely gazed thoughtfully at him and gave a shrug.

    He scraped the rice into its bowl, carrying it and the platter of shrimp tempura to the small table. "I'm surprised Schuldich's not back yet."

    Crawford ignored the comment, instead saying, "He took you to the flower shop."

    Ran paused in his serving at the calm, cold words. "Aa." He passed the rice to Crawford and the two sat. "...Why did he?"

    "Schuldich is a risk taker. He was seeing how far he could go, seeing if he could give your memories a jar." Crawford served himself rice and accepted the platter of tempura. Ran watched as he neatly transferred a few to his plate. Their tea was already poured, and Crawford took a sip from his glass. "Did he mention any girls to you?"

    Ran rummaged around in his memory. "On the way home. He said..." Ran paused, thinking about it. "A friend of his is in the hospital, a young girl. She has a coma. He wanted to go see her tomorrow." He gave a sorrowful shake of his head. "I can't imagine such a thing happening to someone so young...It's so sad."

    "I doubt you will be going."

    Ran paused, tilting his head to one side. "Why not?"

    Crawford set his glass down. "Do you want your memories back, Ran? Think on it. Think hard, and tell me." The American sat back, clasping his hands and setting them in his lap. The gaze in his eyes was unreadable- a mix between patience and curiosity.

    Ran closed his eyes, relaxing and letting his thoughts flow.

    ~Do I want to remember?~

    ~The man at the shop...Do I want to know who he is? Do I want to know why he was so desperate for me to come back, why he thought Schuldich had done something to me?~

    ~The girl in the hospital...Do I know her?~

    ~My team mates...Do I want to remember them?~

    There was a whirling within him, a sudden panicked, painful flurrying. ~You and I fight for opposite sides, Crawford. You said we met for negotiations at the building. Did we go for talks or for a bloodbath? Schuldich...Do I hate him? He's sarcastic and condescending, but he's not a bad person. Farfarello...Creepy, but Schuldich obviously feels strongly for him, and vice versa. The Nagi boy you went to see today- what is he like? What is it like between the two of us?~

    ~You and I are enemies, Crawford, aren't we? Aren't we? You and I...~

    ~...are enemies...~

    Ran's eyes flew open, a strangled sound that was a combination of a choked sob and whimper grinding its way up his throat. "No..." he whispered.

    "And why?"

    "Because I am afraid of being an assassin." Ran ran his fingers through his hair. "I am afraid of knowing how many people's lives I ended. Of how many women I made widows, how many children I made orphans, how many parents, children-less couples. Because I do not trust the red-haired woman who is supposedly an ally of mine. Because there is pain that I feel, that I am not entirely sure I want to take back..." His voice softened. "Because I know...It will change things between us."

    Crawford lowered his chopsticks. "Oh?" he inquired quietly. "What do you think will change?"

    Ran found himself unable to lower his eyes from Crawford's gaze, as much as he wished he could. "I don't...I don't think I'll like you anymore," he admitted. Crawford was silent. Ran fiddled with his chopsticks awkwardly.

    ~Say something. Berate me. Laugh at me. Put me down. Please...I just can't stand this quiet.~

    But Crawford said nothing. The American instead raised his glass and took a sip of his tea. Ran finally managed to pull his eyes away and began to eat. It was hard getting the food to go down. It was thick and hard to chew in his mouth, and scratched on the way down. He gulped at his tea, trying to force the errant food down. Finally he stood and began to clear away his dishes. He didn't think he'd be able to eat any more of it.

    As he rinsed his plate in the sink, a hand lightly touched his elbow. He looked up to see Crawford standing right beside him and released his plate.

    "You should be careful, Ran," the American told him. "You do not know where you are coming from."

    "I don't have to," Ran told him as he wiped his hands on his apron- an apron Crawford had picked up as a small joke two days ago- "to know what I feel now."

    "Ah. So you have a memory blank and decide you wish to be my friend." There was amusement in that tone, but none in his eyes.

    "I never said _friend_," Ran stressed quietly. There was a small spark in the depths of those eyes- surprise, maybe? Or recognition? Ran couldn't tell, because in the next moment he was leaning towards the older man, lips finding Crawford's for a small kiss. The other man went still in surprise. Ran tilted his head back from Crawford, meeting the man's gaze. His heart was beating a panicked rythmm in his chest.

    ~I did not just do that I did not just do that oh my god I _did_ just do that~

    "Finish your dinner before it gets cold," Ran managed to get out, then left the room. He headed straight to the bedroom, where he flopped himself on the bed. He rolled onto his back, raising his fingers to lightly brush them against his lips. They were tingling. How odd.

    In the kitchen, Crawford mirrored the movement.

Part 8