Certain parts of Tokyo were models of the industrial ingeniuty of the human race. Teeming with modern architecture, their streets were paved evenly, their windows had no boards obscuring the view, and all their streetlamps worked. Everything there, though covered with the dirt and grime that accumulates with cities, could still be considered 'clean'; not in the sense that one would want to eat off the sidewalks, but in the sense that simply standing on the streets didn't make anyone run to wash his hands at the first available sink.
And then there were certain parts of Tokyo that were rat-infested shitholes. Or so Schuldich had once said; Crawford was reminded of this particular description, walking through one of the latter districts. Being precognitive, he mused, had its distinct advantages at times like these; he had avoided both potentially unpleasant humans on the street. Everyone else either asked for money or ignored him.
Ordinarily, Crawford would not have ventured anywhere near this part of Tokyo for any reason at any time of day, much less four minutes after midnight. He'd had his fill of dirty city streets back in America. But tonight, in deference to his precognition -- 'spidey sense,' Schuldich had called it once, before Crawford had hit him in the head -- he scoured the streets, waiting for an event.
Sometimes the futures he Saw were definite and clear -- this will happen at this time, resulting in this, and so on and so forth. Mostly, he Saw generalities, suggestions that could be focused more carefully, with a little effort, into definite futures. Every now and then, however, a generality could not be made more specific. He had noticed that most of these fuzzy futures involved others with those special talents. So he made of his earlier vision a self-fulfilling prophecy, walking through the streets with clothing and shoes far too nice for this area. Particularly the shoes, he mused, as he stepped in another slime puddle. He always forgot about the shoes.
All around Crawford, the night life proceeded at its usual frenetic pace. Here, in an alley, a man looked over his shoulder as he handed over a thick wad of yen, accepting a small bag in return. There, outside a club, two women dressed in what could only be called "heroin chic" lounged against the side of the building, talking in bored, jaded tones. And there -- right in front of him -- there was a shadow against the side of the alley, thin and slender body leaning against the wall. All he could make out, in the dimness of yet another exploded light bulb, was a pair of tight, ragged pants and two small feet clad in boots that had clearly seen better days. "Hey, mister," came the voice, reedy tenor still stamped with the throes of adolescence. "We don't see many gaijin here in this part of town."
Crawford raised an eyebrow at the voice. "Most probably have better sense than I." Or worse sense, he thought, but made no extrasensory jokes. Not yet, anyway. The vague sense of purpose was starting to evaporate, and he wasn't sure if that meant that he'd found what he was looking for, or if the opportunity had passed.
A soft chuckle, and the possessor of the voice moved a little further out of the shadows; Crawford's eyes adjusted, making out the figure of a young man -- boy, really, on second look -- standing there, leaning indolently against the wall with a kind of unleashed grace that could only be possessed by the street-children. "You speak Japanese well," he murmured, looking up at Crawford with eyes that were curiously, oddly dead. "You like the language, hmm? Maybe you like other things that are Japanese, too."
Ah, Crawford thought. A proposition. How cute. Pushing his glasses up his nose, he was about to tell the kid to go fuck one of his own when the precognition returned, and he Saw another flash -- the sight of the boy dressed in a school uniform clean and well-fed felt a month down the road maybe two -- and paused. "How old are you, boy?"
The boy cocked his head to the side, looking back up at Crawford. "Does it matter?" He pursed his lips, lips that -- Crawford noticed with a detached sort of aesthetic appreciation -- were dark and lucious in a lovely, innocent face. He spread his hands and ducked his head, looking up at Crawford with those large, dead eyes. "Do you like what you see?"
The thought struck Crawford as funny, and he chuckled suddenly, inappropriately. "You have no idea what I 'see,'" he quipped, "but that's beside the point." Folding his arms across his chest, he took in the boy in a long glance. He was obviously thin and dirty beneath his clothing, though he looked like he at least made an effort to keep clean; nothing, though, could disguise the ribs plainly visible beneath the ragged shirt.
All Crawford got in return was a raised eyebrow and an artless pose, one that had obviously served the boy well in the years he'd been on the street; hands out to the side, spread wide and inviting, eyes dropped to Crawford's shoes, one hip slightly higher than the other. A generous estimate would put him at thirteen. An honest assessment, were it not for the voice, would most likely weigh in at around eleven. "Are you here looking for a good time, gaijin-sama?" he purred. "Or are you just lost?"
"I'm afraid I know exactly where I am," Crawford answered. Yes; the strange sense he could not define was confirming that this little brat was the reason he was here having this conversation. Fabulous. Often he had wished that these more vague sensations could be refined; he could have avoided this. Pretty though the boy was, he could not yet See any potential beneficial outcome of this meeting.
The boy looked up at Crawford through his badly-cut hair. "That wasn't an answer," he whispered.
Behind Crawford, almost inconsequentially, the two women who were lounging against the building were joined by a third; strident, angry voices cut the night, then quieted again, and then flared up. Just another territorial war. Crawford ignored it and shrugged enigmatically. Without moving from where he stood, illuminated by what little light there was on the street, he looked the boy straight in the eye. :Aren't you a little young to be turning tricks?: he asked telepathically, waiting for a response.
The boy's head snapped up, all pretense at detachment lost; his eyes narrowed, and he took half a step forward. "How did you do that?" he hissed, darting a glance behind him.
Crawford smirked, both at the reaction and the fact that he had proven himself correct once more. Everyone could send thoughts like that, if they tried. It took a special sort of hearing to pick them up. :How did I do what?: he asked innocently.
The detachment was regained quickly; you didn't live long on the streets being startled at every occurrence, Crawford knew, even if it happened to be a telepathic gaijin you were trying to pick up to earn money to eat tomorrow. Those eyes flicked back to being dead, and the boy spared a glance over Crawford's shoulder for the escalating catfight; perhaps one of the three women involved meant something to him, perhaps not. "I heard you." Pause, a half-second as he flicked eyes back to Crawford's face. "In my head."
:You did?: Crawford's smirk turned into something approaching a grin. Budding Sensitives were so cute. :That's pretty strange. Hearing voices is a sure sign, you know.:
The boy suddenly smiled. At least, Crawford suspected the expression was intended as a smile; it had a lot of teeth in it. "Of what, being crazy? I know I'm crazy. Did they send you to try and take me back?"
Crawford's own grin morphed into a more appropriately interested look. "What if they did?" he asked, playing along with the scenario, though he had no idea what the boy talking about. The feint was a calculated risk, but he didn't See the boy's bolting on him. Yet. And perhaps it would offer more information as to why he was supposed to be here.
He got a calculated, assessing look in return, even as the argument behind them turned up another notch. "Then you can damn well tell them that I'm not going back. No matter what they pay me." He narrowed his eyes a little more. "But I don't think they sent you. You're not sleazy enough."
:I think I've just been complimented,: Crawford thought; loudly enough, pointedly enough to be heard. He shrugged, his motions perfectly in time with his words, though he did not speak aloud. He knew that soon he would have to return to verbal communiation, as he was out-of-practice with sending. Schuldich usually read more than he should anyway. :You say you know you're crazy.:
The boy leaned back against the wall; his sudden panic was gone, replaced by a curious fascination behind the dead of his eyes. It was deeply hidden, but Crawford was used to looking for that sort of thing. "Everyone on the streets is crazy," he said, shaking the hair back out of his eyes to reveal a sweet, lovely face marked by hard living. "Crazy to be here. Crazy to stay here." He ran his eyes over Crawford once more, and lifted the eyebrow again, wordlessly offering.
Crawford let the silence between them hang for a good minute before shrugging. "How much?" he asked.
The boy cocked his head to the side again. "For you? Fifty US for a blowjob; a hundred if you want to fuck me." He smiled, slowly, though it didn't reach his eyes. "Two hundred if you want me all night long."
Before Crawford could react, the boy's eyes flicked over his shoulders again; something in his face twisted as one woman went to attack the other two. Blue-white flash, visible only to Crawford's other eyes, and the woman rebounded against an invisible wall; she landed on her ass, screeching as if to raise the dead. Crawford laughed, deep and long; he thought for a moment that it might have been the funniest sight he'd seen all day. "Telekinetic," he mused aloud, pronouncing the world as a speaker of English would.
The boy's eyes narrowed again. "What?" he asked, sharply, dragging his gaze back to Crawford's face.
"Telekinetic," Crawford repeated, this time with the Japanese pronunciation, if not translation. He resettled his glasses on his face. "But we weren't talking about that. Yet. You said it was $100 to fuck you?"
Crawford could tell that the boy was beginning to wonder if this man would be a wise target to pick up. But -- the thought was almost tangible -- he needed to eat. "Yeah. You pay for the room. Unless you want to do it right here." One of the boy's hands dropped to his hip, splaying his fingers out over the bones so visible beneath the ragged clothing.
Dropping his arms, Crawford walked over to the boy. Long fingers grazed over the slender chin, tipping it up. "How old are you?"
Those dead eyes slitted shut at the touch, head tipping back with a move that could be calculated, could be simple pleasure. "Does it really matter?" he whispered. "I'm old enough to know what I'm doing."
Crawford's fingers closed tighter. "Eleven. Am I right?"
Soft laughter. "I'm eighteen," he lied, knowing that Crawford could see the lie, knowing that it didn't matter. "Or not."
Were he not so intrigued by the prospect of a telekinetic, Crawford thought, he would probably shoot the petulant brat in the head and put him out of their -- the boy sitting on his lap giving a smile that almost looked authentic naked skin against naked skin head thrown back pleasure written across his face -- collective misery. "It matters," he assured the youth, tucking away the Sight. "There is a point after which training is useless. You'll see what I mean when you meet the Irishman."
Again, that flash of alarm in the back of the boy's eyes; quick and hot, disturbed, concerned. You didn't last long on the street, Crawford knew, without an instinct of self-preservation. Perhaps the curiousity would override it, perhaps not. "What sort of training are you talking about?"
Crawford tapped the boy's forehead, right between his eyes, and smiled a little mocking smile. "I have a feeling that even if we wanted to train you as a whore, we couldn't teach you much more than you know already." He shrugged. "You're good, kid. Young, but that can't be helped. Why, in three years or so, you could be turning as many tricks a night as you wanted. Maybe have a couple of regular customers. What a life, ne?"
The boy pulled back from the touch and looked Crawford in the eye again, cool dark gaze meeting the other man's directly. "Better than lying dead in a ditch somewhere."
:Boy, if I wanted you dead, you'd be dead already. Relax.: His companion's dead eyes unnerved Crawford in a way that he couldn't quite explain. "Or you could be using your gift. Your power. Whatever it is that you did back there." He pointed to the place where the woman had taken her rather unfortunate spill. :Being a little poltergeist, as it were.:
Something in the boy's gaze seemed to snap. "Stop talking like that," he hissed, flashing dark and feral again for half an instant before calming down again. "What do you know about it, anyway?"
Crawford smirked and shrugged, looking perfectly innocent, enjoying himself more than he could say. :A bit,: he answered.
The boy hissed a little more, lowly, and took a step forward; it would be laughable, this attempt of his to crowd into Crawford's space and disturb him, if there were not something odd to back up the vague hint of menace in his stance. "Stop playing games with me, gaijin-sama. What, precisely, are you offering?"
"A decent meal, for starters," Crawford said, glancing down the boy's gaunt frame. "And a job that doesn't involve spreading your legs for pay. Maybe. If you've got the mind for it."
The barest hint of interest sparked in the boy's eyes. "Doing?"
"Nothing special, really. Killing people, mostly." With that parting shot, Crawford stuck his hands in his pockets, starting back the way he came, back to the parts of Tokyo that were a little more hospitable to humanity.
Blue-white flash. He hit an invisible wall of air, able to go no further; the voice behind him was soft. "How much?"
He was glad that his back was to the boy; his grin could not be seen. "More than you have now," he answered without turning around. "Is that enough?"
The boy's presence behind him was a nearly tangible weight. "Depends. What if I want to leave?"
Crawford raised an eyebrow. Standing there, nearly motionless in the middle of the street, he knew that he looked laughably like a bad advertisement for a designer brand of men's suits. "Leave?"
"Once I see what you have to offer. If I don't want the job."
Shrugging, he turned his head so he could see the boy. He couldn't See any danger, but that could always change. "Then we'll probably kill you." His tone was so matter-of-fact that he could have been discussing remodeling a house.
The boy tilted his head, thinking this over; Crawford could see the wheels turning, could see each of the possibilities flicking quickly past. No; there was nothing wrong with this one's mind. "Will you fuck me?" he asked, as if inquiring what color his room would be.
Crawford chuckled. "Before I kill you?"
The boy smirked. Ah; sense of humor, too. "No. In general."
Crawford turned a little more. "Maybe. Once it got to the point where it wouldn't be like fucking a bag of bones." Smiling, he straightened and prepared to walk again. "If I say yes, will you drop the plane?"
The boy moved like a panther, all grace and casual sexuality, a walk far too old for someone his age. He stepped around the invisible barrier, to stand in front of Crawford. "Maybe," he said, in exactly the same tone that Crawford used. Then, abruptly, "What's your name, gaijin-san?"
"Crawford." He lifted his right hand, then shrugged at the barrier he knew was still there. "I'd shake your hand, but...." He shrugged. "You have a name?"
"Ko-ra-fa-ru-do." The youth tasted the name on his tongue, rolling it over carefully, and then smirked a little more. "Nagi. They call me Nagi."
Crawford nodded. "This way, please; I have places I can be right now more pleasant than this fetid street." He gestured in the direction of his car.
Nagi's eyes narrowed, and he looked Crawford over once more; carefully, assessingly. Potential futures slipped through Crawford's fingers like sand; this, then, was the decision point, the moment where it would be revealed which set of futures would be followed -- the boy lying dead on the street bleeding out his life in a pool of crimson haze the boy sitting behind the keyboard of a computer that was not yet on the market and frowning at the screen the boy slipping back into the shadows and melting into the life of the streets the boy curled in bed next to Schuldich all planes and curves and pale soft skin the boy holding the body of a young girl in his arms and screaming to wake the dead but she doesn't wake and the walls begin to quiver and quake --
And then Nagi nodded once, slowly. He flashed a sign to one of the women he had protected earlier, and slipped up to Crawford's side. "Lead on, Crawford-san," he murmurred.
Crawford looked down at the little telekinetic. The future ran through the back of his mind like a river, as always, and now the river looked most interesting. "With pleasure."
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