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Disclaimer: Weiss Kreuz and its characters do not belong to me. I'm just borrowing them for my and (I hope) my readers' amusement only and have no intention of trying to make money off of them in any way, shape or form.

Warnings: Canonical levels of violence. Canonical character death. Mild AU.
Fandom: Weiss Kreuz
Rating: PG-13

Author: The RCK and Hope of Dawn
Website: http://www.therck.org
Last updated: 2 August 2013

Notes: Written for the Weiss Kreuz Reverse Fest 2013 on LJ. I'm really bad at writing combat, so I begged HopeofDawn to help me out with those sections. She obliged, and I'm extremely grateful. The action is almost entirely hers. Thanks to lynnoconnacht and Sabine for help with German titles and names. Thanks to Gemais for taking a look at an early draft. Thanks to my husband for beta reading.

The Road Taken

//If you want to upset him, kid, tell him Reiji's not his father. Tell him his mother was an adulterous slut,// Schuldig suggested to Nagi with malicious glee. //I'm sure you can angle it for maximum pain.//

Crawford frowned. "Enough." He turned his back on Nagi, the youngest member of Weiss, and the bodies of the two soldiers Tsukiyono had killed.  He took two long strides to follow Takatori Reiji around the corner. //The rest of Weiss is ahead.// He thought about reminding Nagi not to kill his opponent, but Nagi had never had trouble remembering that sort of thing. Unlike certain other members of my team. //Schuldig, Kudoh is next. Let Farfarello take care of him. That'll leave you with Hidaka. We definitely need Hidaka alive, him and Fujimiya.//

//Farfarello and the wire wielder? Hardly a fair fight.//

Footsteps behind him told Crawford that Schuldig, Farfarello, and the two surviving soldiers were following. By the sound of it, Farfarello had stopped at the corner to look back. Crawford closed his eyes for just a second and sighed. And he's frustrated because he hasn't gotten to kill anyone tonight. //If you have any doubts about leaving Hidaka alive--// Crawford brought to mind the first image that had come to him earlier that evening, Hidaka slicing his claws across Dame Abendroth's body and her collapsing, obviously dead. He kept the image clear in his mind for about three seconds, long enough for Schuldig to get a really good look. "Farfarello, get ahead of Mister Takatori." He pushed his glasses up his nose.

Farfarello darted forward, his knives held at ready. One of the soldiers also pounded forward. Crawford approved of his initiative. Too bad for him, but he'll provide cover. And-- now!

Kudoh's wire flicked out, slicing through the air, whipping around the soldier’s throat, his arms, so that he couldn't move. The wire sliced into flesh, and blood spurted; the man fell. Kudoh stepped out from a doorway, looked directly at Takatori and said, "I'm getting you back for Asuka." His tone was flat but determined.

//I still say he must have some sort of psychokinesis,// Schuldig said.

//Irrelevant,// Crawford replied, watching Kudoh and the flickers of near-future images both, making sure all was proceeding as planned. //We're not recruiting.//

Farfarello stepped toward Kudoh, a one-eyed wolf on the hunt, knives at the ready.  He lunged, ignoring the corpse on the floor.  Once people were dead, Farfarello didn’t have much use for them.  A hand flickered out, edged with razored steel as he slashed at Kudoh with one of his knives.

Kudoh twisted out of the way, body arching to avoid the slice.  He backpedalled quickly, trying to regain his distance even as Farfarello closed in, drawing more of that lethal wire out of his watch.

"Leave this to Farfarello," Crawford ordered Schuldig and the other remaining bodyguard. He waved the nameless soldier forward, moving fast. "Schuldig, take the lead."  Takatori hadn't paused at Kudoh’s attack, and his three protectors had to hurry to catch up.

Schuldig obediently put himself in front of Takatori. //I'd rather let the grunt take the lead. I don't fancy steel in my gut.//

//I'll warn you in time.// Crawford wanted desperately to stop and sort through futures-- He needed to find the path that led to the death of the elders. He'd never looked for such a thing before because it had never occurred to him that it might be possible.  And now he couldn’t afford to take the time, now matter how much he wanted to.  Instead he did his best to cast his vision towards the future, trying to sort through flickers and fragments as they ran. But if Hidaka kills Dame Abendroth and Fujimiya kills Herr Zimmermann-- If that happens, Schwarz can deal with Herr Schoepke. It's possible.

As they approached a corner, Crawford Saw Hidaka waiting just beyond. //Stay back,// he told Schuldig, //and keep Mister Takatori back for a moment.//

Schuldig obediently halted, putting out an arm to stop Takatori's forward progress.

Takatori opened his mouth to object but was forestalled by Hidaka charging around the corner.  The other soldier hadn’t stopped when they had, and Hidaka didn’t hesitate, ripping his bugnuks through body armor and underlying flesh in a vicious slash.  Clutching at the wound, the man collapsed, blood and viscera spilling out onto the floor.  Hidaka glared at Takatori, bloodied hands closing convulsively into fists. "My friend is waiting for you in hell!"

"Now, now," Schuldig said. "I'm the one you'll be playing with." With blinding speed, Schuldig darted forward, tweaked Hidaka's nose, then danced out of reach before Hidaka's answering slash could connect. Drawing his gun, he gave Crawford a quick glance, even as he dodged another attack.  //I have this.  Go.//

"Mister Takatori, it's best we move on." Crawford led Takatori around the circling pair to the door they'd been aiming for. "The only member of Weiss left to appear is the one with the sword."

As they passed through the door, Takatori squared his shoulders. "I have a sword, and I know how to use it."

Crawford blinked. He could See Takatori fighting Fujimiya with some success until Takatori's overconfidence gave Fujimiya an opening. Never turn your back on an enemy. He blinked. But that looked as if I weren't there. Am I likely not to be? "If you'd feel better armed, we can certainly detour to retrieve it. The last assassin will be waiting on the roof." That will give me time to look at futures.

Takatori changed direction, no doubt to get his weapon, but most of Crawford’s attention was on the visions unfolding in his mind.  He followed on autopilot, letting Takatori lead as he focused inward, reaching--

"Takatori Reiji!" Fujimiya leaped down from above, sword drawn.  Drama queen. Look further. That part isn't going to change. Unless-- They could avoid the roof entirely, if they chose; it appeared that they had been able to avoid the fire as they descended through the building, and exiting caused no problems. Blinded by his single-minded vengeance, Fujimiya stayed on the roof until he asphyxiated. Not that one.

Fujimiya attacked Crawford with single-minded fury, trying to get past him as Takatori climbed the rope ladder to the waiting helicopter. Sword against gun had only one outcome, really, as long as Crawford had enough space to keep out of the range of that blade.  But he was hampered by trying to keep the redhead alive.  He fired a couple shots, enough to give himself some breathing room and keep Fujimiya at bay.  Then Crawford turned to climb the ladder-- and took the sword through his chest. Definitely not.

Crawford continued to battle Fujimiya, letting the helicopter fly away without him, ensuring Takatori’s escape. He could keep Fujimiya at bay, but the redhead’s single-minded madness meant he couldn't disengage, and the fire was spreading. He called the rest of his team for backup. They came, but the rest of Weiss came, too, turning the burning rooftop into a lethal melee as the two teams regrouped. Stalemate, unless he was willing to kill them. Try something else.  Nagi... Thinking of the telekinetic, Crawford pushed in that direction.  What if--?

Nagi knocked out each member of Weiss as he went toward the roof.  All it took was a bit of unseen pressure on the carotids; something Nagi’s control was more than good enough to accomplish. Farfarello, never one to pass up an advantage, carved an inverted cross on an unconscious Kudoh's left cheek. That will scar. Crawford's team regrouped, each carrying their particular Weiss opponent.  Fujimiya roared in outrage at the sight, charging;  with a flicker of a thought, Nagi knocked Fujimiya out. Schwarz pulled out, their mission complete, hauling Weiss with them as they descended down through the building. Schuldig blurred the minds of the surviving guards they encountered, hiding Weiss' presence, and they dumped Weiss in an alley. Possible. Very possible. What happens next?

The future fragmented. Weiss had many options, and Crawford had no way of controlling or predicting which they would choose. They'd live to see dawn if they listened to Kudoh. He apparently knew how to go to ground. A definite reason to keep him alive. How long they lasted after that depended on how they decided to come after Takatori. They would. That was certain. It was a question of whether they'd wait for a good opportunity or take the first possible chance.

Crawford couldn't tease out the most probable course of events. Fujimiya seemed to have no sense of self preservation, and Hidaka was happy to follow him on a kamikaze run. Kudoh seemed to want to cut his losses and bide his time. Given opportunity, Tsukiyono would look for information, resources and allies. But loyalty might override both Kudoh and Tsukiyono’s survival instincts, if Hidaka and Fujimiya decided to pursue their vengeance to the end.  The only thing that became clear quickly was that Fujimiya and Hidaka would only live if Takatori died. Specifically, if he died soon. If Takatori lived long enough to consolidate his power, his successor would hunt Weiss into oblivion.

Crawford shook his head to clear out the visions.  Ahead of him, Takatori opened a door, entering a particular room.  His personal quarters, from the looks of it.  Crawford followed him in and found Takatori lifting a sword from a display rack. "We should head for the roof, Mr. Takatori, before the fire spreads," he suggested, watching the potential futures narrow.  Dying from smoke inhalation in some dingy stairwell was not an acceptable outcome.

Takatori held the blade with an ease that spoke of much practice. "The helicopter will wait for us," he said arrogantly, still sure of his power.  But he gestured for Crawford to lead the way.

I don't like Weiss making decisions. It's too uncertain. What variable can I change? Crawford wasn't sure exactly where the stairway to the roof was, but he figured it couldn't be too hard to find or too far from the main stairway.  He was right.  And it's well marked. Crawford pulled open the door, thinking.  I can’t control what Fujimiya does--what about Takatori?  Takatori trusted them, to an extent.  Could he be the leverage Crawford needed?  Fujimiya would certainly do anything to see out his revenge on the man. "When we get to the top, stay in the stairwell. I'll deal with the assassin, Mr. Takatori." He stretched briefly, rolling his neck and shoulders, swinging his arms a few times. I might as well have some fun tonight. Nothing else has been remotely enjoyable.

At the top of the stairs, Crawford pushed open the door, and hung back, waiting for Fujimiya to make his leap from above.  Just as he had seen, the Weiss swordsman didn’t wait to to verify his target, dropping down in an overly-dramatic entrance that impressed no one but himself.

"Takatori Reiji!" Fujimiya slashed at the spot where Crawford would have been if he'd stepped out of the stairwell, his katana gleaming silver in the darkness.  Crawford took advantage of Fujimiya’s surprise, stepping onto the roof while the redhead was still off-balance from the lack of a target.  The Weiss assassin tried for a clumsy, backhanded slash, trying to regain lost ground; Crawford twitched sideways, evading it with bored ease.  Pathetic.  It was almost an insult, these rank amateurs who called themselves assassins.  But then, vigilantism required a certain amount of stupidity as well as fanaticism, in Crawford’s estimation.

Wheeling, Crawford jabbed a short, sharp punch into Fujiymiya’s back, right over the kidney, sending him stumbling forward.  Refusing to allow the other man any room to recover or to think, he pressed his attack, sliding out of the way of Fujimiya’s increasingly frantic sword attacks, slapping away the flat of that lethal blade, hammering punch after punch home.  Advancing, always advancing, driving the Weiss assassin around the roof.

Fujimiya pivoted, trying to break free from a desperate defense, going on the offensive with a low cut to the knees.  Not that it did him any good;  Crawford, warned by his precognition, was no longer there, stepping just outside the sweep of Fujimiya’s blade.  Takatori is getting impatient.  He’s not used to being ignored.  But I can’t let him kill Fujimiya.  Not yet.  Crawford considered the possibilities before him.  Their orders were to keep Takatori alive.  Still his usefulness to the Elders was limited-- to Schwarz even more so-- and quite frankly, Crawford was getting tired of chivvying this particular bit of bait around.  He stepped back, deliberately leaving open one side, allowing Fujimiya to attack.  Ducking under the resulting upward cut, Crawford lunged inside Fujimiya’s guard, binding his sword arm and hammering a punch into the other man’s solar plexus.  He could have finished him then and there; instead he leapt backwards, letting the younger man gasp for air. "What exactly do you think you're going to accomplish?" Crawford said mockingly, letting his disdain show.  

Fujimiya snarled something between gasps; Crawford couldn't make out the words.  Not that he cared.  He needed Fujimiya to stay angry, to keep reacting instead of thinking.

"I'm curious about that myself," Takatori said. Ignoring Crawford's instructions, he had left the stairwell to stand on the roof, sword at ready.

Overconfident idiot.  Takatori can’t stand not being the center of attention--he just has to complicate things.

In an instant, Crawford was forgotten.  Fujimiya spun on one heel, hurling himself at Takatori. "I am the son of Fujimiya who you killed!"

Takatori parried Fujimiya's blow effortlessly, metal ringing against metal. "Fujimiya? That name doesn't sound familiar."

Fujimiya pressed forward, launching a flurry of angry strikes.  He was skilled enough with a sword, but his fury made him sloppy.  "We were a happy family!"

Parrying, Takatori locked their swords hilt to hilt.  He threw his greater strength and size against Fujimiya, sending the assassin flying, his sword spinning from his hand.

Catching Fujimiya before he could hit the ground, Crawford spun him around and rammed a knee into his gut. "What a waste of time,” he said contemptuously, letting Fujimiya drop to the ground.  He followed with a kick, slamming one polished shoe hard into the younger man’s side, easily evading Fujimiya's flailing attempts to grab him.  He could feel the telltale give of bone beneath the kick--cracked ribs, at least, if not broken.  And this isn't nearly as much fun as I hoped.

Wheezing for air, Fujimiya scrabbled at the ground, trying to get up.

Crawford kicked him again, this time catching him on the shoulder.  No point in breaking more ribs; internal injuries could be tricky, and he didn’t want Fujimiya dead.  He drew his gun, knowing what Takatori expected him to do. Pity about the helicopter pilot. Ah, well. We've dealt with inconvenient witnesses before.

"That's right! Shoot him!" Takatori was watching avidly.

"Are you certain you don't want to do it yourself?" Crawford stepped back from Fujimiya, glancing over at Takatori and allowing a victorious smile to show on his face.  The last few pieces were almost in place...

Takatori took a step forward, sword lifting in one hand.

In a single fluid motion, Crawford lifted his gun and shot Takatori twice. Good riddance.

Takatori staggered, sword falling with a clatter to the ground, then crumpled. He didn't even have time to look surprised.

Fujimiya was on his hands and knees, wobbling, trying get to his feet.  His face was a pale mask of impotent rage, streaked with blood and angry tears.

Crawford thought about kicking him again.  But what was the point?  He was no Farfarello, to indulge in sadism at the expense of all else.  A few taunts would drive Fujimiya’s shame deeper than any physical wound.  "See where your revenge has led?” Crawford said mockingly.  “All that fuss, and you didn't even draw blood. I had to do it for you. Find your playmates, Weiss, and run along home." He turned and headed for the stairway.

In his mind's eye, he saw Fujimiya stagger to his feet, straighten and rush at his back. Crawford turned just in time to catch that desperate lunge, redirecting it and throwing the other man contemptuously across the roof. "You aren't worth my time." Then he was through the door, taking the steps two at a time.  His gambit had worked; now Fujimiya would chase Crawford as long as Schwarz needed, desperate to taste some scrap of his vengeance.

//Schuldig-- Tell the others we're done. Let Weiss find their own way out. We're leaving.//

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