Part Three

    Yohji found it very convenient that he bumped into Crawford the next day. It had been two days since he had last seen the American. Thirty hours ago he might not have cared much if he had never bumped into the precognitive on a one-on-one basis again. Last night's mission had changed that. He and the rest of Weiß had spent almost two hours debating why Schwarz would have taken out Hirasawa. Omi had rummaged around on the computer, hoping to find any connection between the two. It had been done out of both curiosity and a sudden worry that the team had missed something important about their target if Schwarz had taken them out. They had finally decided that perhaps Hirasawa was a threat to someone Schwarz wanted to protect, which made Omi and Ken worry that there was someone worse than him out there still living.

    Yohji had a couple theories, and he had been wondering if he'd ever have them confirmed. He had spared a moment last night to wonder if he would ever see Schwarz's leader again, had wondered if he would be bold enough to confront him on the matter if it happened. It had been an interesting debate as to whether or not the American would actually answer him.

    Now he stood on a sidewalk in front of a records store, gazing across the street to where Crawford was exiting a small cafe. He studied the taller man thoughtfully, watching the way he moved. He was wearing a business suit today- perhaps speaking with clients? That would mean Schwarz had another job, and perhaps the two groups would finally be reunited on the battlefield for yet another mockery of Weiß's skills by the other team. Crawford stood out from those around him both by his nationality and his height- he towered over everyone around him.

    Crawford carried a newspaper, which he was rolling up as he moved towards the curb. He drew attention as he walked, both because he was a foreigner and because the way he moved demanded attention. He had a self-assured, flowing walk, a graceful and imperious step. His grace was very _masculine_ compared to the girls Yohji knew, but it was still impressive and eye-catching. Yohji watched him, arms folded loosely over his chest, debating whether to use the crosswalk and close the distance between them. The other assassin had not noticed him just yet, not to Yohji's knowledge, anyway. Crawford stopped on the curb, reaching up to push his glasses further up his nose with a long finger. That hand lowered to rest easily on his hip and he let the other hand dangle to his side, fingers closed over the newspaper.

    To cross, or not to cross? The pedestrian light was flashing the okay, but Yohji hesitated.

    Crawford tilted his head towards Yohji then, and even across the street Yohji could see the corner of his mouth quirk in amusement. The hand holding the newspaper lifted slightly in greeting, and the white assassin returned the gesture.

    Yohji stepped off the curb.

    "You're looking classy today," Yohji commented as he stepped up alongside Crawford. He felt short as he tilted his head back to meet the American's eyes. One hand sought out the pack of cigarettes from his pocket, another searched for the lighter. "I must say, I was starting to fear I'd run into you one night when you happened to be wearing jeans or overalls."

    Crawford's mouth twitched into the faintest of amused smiles. "I have not worn denim in over ten years. I don't think you have to worry about that."

    Yohji gave a small shrug, lighting a cigarette and perching it between his lips. He offered the pack to Crawford, who declined with a slight shake of his head. "Ah...Don't want your expensive suit to smell like smoke."

    "I don't like your brand," Crawford corrected him.

    Yohji shrugged again- a 'so be it'- and put his cigarettes away. He studied Crawford for a moment as they both let silence fall between them, searching each other's gazes for something they weren't quite sure of. A reassurance that there was no hostility, no threat right now? Evaluating their opinion and the reality of the other? Yohji was not sure what he had expected to see in Crawford's eyes, but he knew that what he found was something far different than his teammates would expect. To complete their view of the American and his team as hell hounds and monstrous bastards, Crawford's eyes should have been cold and cruel, hard and uncaring.

    The eyes Yohji saw gazing back at him were the ones he saw in his reflection every morning, save for the color. They were eyes that had seen a lot, done a lot, accepted this, and moved on. They were eyes that said he had not been jaded by what had happened to him in life or what circumstances he had met. They were eyes that said the man still had a soul, still knew how to laugh. They were eyes that were very old, but still young. Still warm, still amused, despite what Crawford had chosen to do with his life, despite the people Crawford worked for.

    And that was not quite Yohji was expecting, though he was not sure what he had intended to find there. He felt a little disturbed to recognize everything in Crawford's eyes. Perhaps he too had expected something harder, something sharper, from a man that could see the future, that worked to protect the bastards of Tokyo's underworld.

    "It is a job," Crawford said, and Yohji realized only then that he had looked away, lowered his gaze to somewhere past Crawford's elbow. "There are lawyers who work to lock the moralless away, and there are those who fight to keep them free. It is the same with everything in life."

    Crawford was a little too good at reading him, and that bothered Yohji also. He flicked the long ash off the end of his cigarette, exhaling smoke to one side before speaking. "I think most everyone would agree that some people shouldn't be protected. We can't fix this broken world of ours but at least we could give it a band-aid so people can sleep easier at night."

    "We're not superheroes, Kudou." Crawford sounded amused. "People like me and my team are not born to use our gifts for the greater good. We are back to the matter of circumstances. You understand it even if you don't think you do; let your curiosity guide you through it tonight and you will see."

    Yohji thought perhaps he should go. He didn't want to get started on this conversation, not now, because there were too many questions he would need to ask and perhaps too many answers he didn't want to hear. There had been a reason he had come to talk to Crawford, however, and he struggled to remember it now. Suddenly he saw a mangled body in his mind.

    "You killed Hirasawa," he said, forcing himself to meet Crawford's gaze again. "Why?"

    "We were assigned to guard him, but he ran out of usefulness. He had to be terminated."

    "You were his bodyguards and you killed him?" Yohji cocked his head to one side. "Doesn't that strike you as just a little strange? Who would want to hire you if you kill your employers?"

    "What is better, Kudou? Bodyguards killing their employer or allowing their employer to be killed? We do not come across as an efficient team if the man we are working for is killed by another assassin group. People fear us, true, but they should. They will still work with us at some point or another, whether they want to or not."

    Yohji considered this. Crawford waited as he thought this over. Finally Yohji inclined his head. He did understand. Schwarz needed the reputation of fear over incompetency. If they had allowed Weiß to kill the man they were employed by, it would be hard for them to prove that they had wanted it to work out that way. Hirasawa had been killed in a way that was undeniably Schwarz. No one else could have done what their telekinetic had done to that man's body.

    A car pulled up to the curb right beside them. Yohji glanced towards it, more out of instinct than anything else. The first thing he noticed was that the driver's wheel was on the wrong side of the car.

    The second was that it was Schuldich at the wheel.

    A lazy smirk curled on the foreigner's wide mouth as Yohji stared at him, his cigarette frozen halfway to his mouth. Unlike Crawford's formal appearance, the German was wearing worn jeans and a white poet's shirt. His orange hair was free from its yellow headband to spill freely around his face, though his pink sunglasses were still perched high on his head. The simple change in outfit made him look very different than he looked on the field. He looked...normal, despite the wild hair. He looked younger...safer. It was a strange illusion; Yohji knew the man was not safe in any sense of the word.

    "My ride is here," Crawford said. He sounded amused- Yohji knew it was because he was staring at the telepath. "You remember Schuldich?"

    "Yeah," Yohji answered, and for a lack of anything better to say, he said, "Hi."

    Schuldich laughed at that. //Rubbing elbows with the boss, Kudou?//

    Yohji had dealt with the man's gift enough on the field that it didn't startle him now to hear the man's voice slide easily through his mind. ~Just had a question.~

    //Bold one, aren't you?// Schuldich tilted his head to one side, letting his temple rest against the windowframe even as he idly tapped his fingers on the outside of the car door. Finely manicured nails beat out a soft rhythm up and down the dark red paint. //But I suppose that's all right.// He looked past Yohji to Crawford, saying something in a language Yohji couldn't understand. It definitely wasn't English. German, then? It had a mocking tone to it even though Schuldich's blue eyes were amused. Yohji studied his gaze, noting the way that his amusement was different than Crawford's. This was a colder sort of amusement; what Schuldich had been through had jaded him more than his superior. Perhaps it was the gift- being privy to people's thoughts was probably worse than seeing the future.

    Schuldich glanced at him, just a quick slant of blue eyes as his smirk faded slightly. Crawford responded to him then, even if he didn't have the German's full attention. He spoke just as fluidly as Schuldich had, though he did not sound quite as amused. Yohji was impressed that he knew a third language. Schuldich snickered, perhaps in response to whatever Crawford had said to him, and drew his hand back into the car. Crawford inclined his head to Yohji. "Until next time."

    ~Will there be a next time?~ Yohji wondered, even as Crawford offered him a faint smirk. It was not the cruelly amused smirk that he and his teammate sometimes used on the field; it was something safer than that. Golden brown eyes met Yohji's and held for just a moment, and Yohji wondered at what he saw in them.

    Crawford knew something that Yohji didn't, something that privately amused him.

    He knew then that there _would_ be a next time, and wondered why he wasn't worried. He had no promises that the man wouldn't kill him, and Yohji knew the American would succeed if he wanted to.

    Even so...He inclined his head to Crawford and turned his attention back to Schuldich as the precognitive moved around the car to the passenger seat. Schuldich was studying him thoughtfully. At last he gave a little shrug and wiggled his fingers at Yohji in farewell. Yohji dipped his head to the other man in a slight bow and Schwarz pulled away from the curb, sliding into traffic easily and disappearing down the streets.

    Yohji gazed in the direction they had gone, turning the encounter over in his head.

    He almost wished he could tell his teammates about it. They would never believe it, would never believe that he had spoken to both Crawford and Schuldich and walked away unscathed and in a good mood.

    The world was a strange place, he decided as he dropped his cigarette and ground it out with the heel of his shoe. He turned and started down the sidewalk, whistling a light tune as he made his way back towards the shop.


    Soft classical music spilled from the speakers. Yohji was stretched out on his back in his room, his fingers laced together and propped under his head. He stared up at the ceiling- a very boring expanse of white paint- without really seeing it. His eyes were unfocused as he allowed his mind to wander. He had a date with Kimiko tonight; he was taking her to one of raves on the far side of the city. He knew which one was her favorite- she talked about it with her friends almost every time she was in the shop and in his hearing range. Yohji's lips quirked in amusement.

    At the feel of the half-smile, he reached over to his bedside table and lifted his small mirror, holding it above him so he could see his reflection. A green gaze stared back, the smile crinkles around his eyes disappearing as his face smoothed into a thoughtful expression.

    Had he been imagining things when he had seen his eyes on Crawford's face? Had he exaggerated in his mind what he had seen there? He didn't see Crawford now...He saw Yohji. He saw the man he had found staring back at him for three years.

    He sighed, giving the mirror a light toss to land further down the bed, and draped an arm across his eyes as his thoughts turned inevitably to the last time he had see the American. He had seen Crawford three times in the last week, all outside of business. What he'd seen had not been what he had expected, though he did not know what he'd thought he would see if he ever ran into him.

    ~Okay, so take it from the top...~

    Crawford was clairvoyant. What was it like to be privy to the future? How did the sight come? Were the visions in dreams? During the day? Thoughts or images? Could Crawford control what he saw or was it random? It must have come in handy when he was in school...There would be no surprises on the report card. Maybe he had been able to see the answers to the tests he was taking if he could have a vision of his teacher grading them. Yohji grinned to himself. He would have abused a gift like that.

    Crawford did dress down from his business suits, but not far. He had been in the park in the middle of the night in nice casual clothes. He had said today that he had not worn denim in over a decade. Crawford couldn't be that much older than Yohji, which meant that he had to have attended schools that either required a uniform or were so prestigious that no one dared wear casual clothes. Either way, Crawford probably came from a rich family. Hell, he had to be wealthy now. The suits he wore were nicer than most businessmen could afford; Yohji had seen the intricate care that oozed money from the threads when he had been close to Crawford.

    Crawford spoke Japanese fluently, with barely a trace of an accent. He would have had to be in Japan for many years to be able to do that. When had he come over here? Why? Had he been raised here? Perhaps his father was in the international business market. There was the slight chance that his father was American military, but no servicemen he had ever bumped into could afford to produce children that turned into Crawfords.

    Maybe Crawford had been sponsored over here or adopted. Yohji's feet idly moved to the music as he debated. Perhaps Crawford had been raised or at least spent a good portion of his life here in Japan with a host family. Or perhaps he had been raised in the States, gone to school in the States, and just studied Japanese long enough that when he finally came over to Japan he knew exactly what to do and how to say what he wanted to say.

    So many possibilities...Yohji knew he hadn't even scratched the surface of what Crawford's past could have been like. He wished he could just ask Omi to look the man up on his computer, but he already knew they would find nothing. The only one of Schwarz they had found concrete information on had been Farfarello, and that had been very little. The other three were ghosts, most likely due to their employers.

    Yohji frowned, rolling over onto his stomach and picking at the loose threads on his pillow case. Their meeting with Estet had been blessfully brief. He still wasn't entirely sure of what had gone down during that mission. Manx had told them that the three old people had been the leaders of Estet, a corporation whom Kritiker identified as Schwarz's employers. Yohji was glad that they had only seen the three for a short time...They had been wicked people. Yohji didn't like to judge anyone quickly, but he had seen in their eyes a cruelty and coldness he had found in no one else.

    And those three had owned Schwarz...

    They had had powers, just like Schwarz. Perhaps that was what had drawn the seven together. But if those three had had any say in what the other assassin group had become, it was no wonder that Schwarz was on the side of the corrupted. Perhaps those three and their Rosenkreuz had been what had made Schwarz into what they were.

    But those three were gone, and Schwarz was still intact. So what led Schwarz now? They were still working, obviously. Were there more in Estet that were still guiding them? It was improbable to think that the whole thing had collapsed when the three elders had died. So Schwarz was still owned, then? Perhaps. Weiß would always have Kritiker; perhaps Schwarz would always have Estet.

    Crawford had said Yohji would understand why Schwarz was the way they were, and perhaps he could. If they had been used by people like the Estet elders...Well, it was no wonder that they were on the other side of the battle field.

    But to see his own eyes on Crawford's face...

    Yohji wasn't quite sure what to make of that.


    Yohji had the gate almost closed all the way when a red shoe poked under it. No one else had shoes like that....And no one else Yohji had ever met wore socks with high heels. "Manx," he greeted warmly, rolling the guard back up. She had her arms crossed over her chest, tucked under her breasts to give them a nice lift. It wasn't like she needed the help to get attention; Manx was very nicely built. She had an awful taste in clothes, but a nice body, so Yohji would continue to flirt with her. He knew he would never be successful, but still...It was almost instinct now.

    "My, my, looking as beautiful as always." In a red suit that no one else would ever dare wear.

    "Evening, Kudou." She stepped past him, heels clicking against the door. Yohji wondered if she timed her arrivals; she showed up when he was trying to close up too many times for it to be coincidence. He grinned to himself as he rolled the gate back down, reaching over to slide the lock into place.

    "The others?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder at him. Her hair bobbed around her face, kept in place by who knew how much hair spray.

    "They're upstairs. I'll get them." He took her sniff to be an acknowledgement and headed towards the back door, knowing that she would be downstairs and ready when the four showed up. He let himself out onto the sidewalk behind the shop and stuffed his hands into his pockets against the evening chill as he started up the stairs to the second landing. Another mission...He wondered what the target had done this time. Child pornography... black market selling of people... murder... drugs... It was all the same, really.

    Omi and Ken would even agree, though their reasons would be different. They would agree because it classified all of them as scum not worth the air they breathed. And Yohji would agree that they were bastards, except that they generally had at least one redeeming quality that made someone's life how one of their other targets had used some of his money to fund a cancer charity, or how another had bought a huge plot of land to raise an endangered species he favored, or even Morisawa's child.

    He wondered if that redeeming quality was what helped Schwarz do their job. He wondered if they even cared.

    Yohji made a mental note to ask next time he bumped into the American.

Part 4