AN: as usual I'm writing on mobile, so please forgive typos. Reviews make me prioritize updating that work faster. I'm trying something a bit different from what I usually do with Crane fics. We will see how it goes. I made up this phone number so please uh...don't call it. Sorry to who ever might have that number if it's real and someone does call them. _
The overcrowded convention hall was abuzz with bodies, movement, excited chatter. A swarm of people in all shapes and ages and sizes, flowing this way and that. Even the sun had appeared through the usual haze of clouds, to warm the streets surrounding the convention center. Here, there was no refuse, even the homeless seeming to have been scurried away into shelters or otherwise incentivized to leave the immediate area. Tourism was in full swing here, and the city needed that tourism. So they had worked very hard to make this part of the city friendly. Open. As normal as they could. After all, what city didn't have a bad part of town? Here, the people were safe.
Or so the Mayer had foolishly promised, with the increased security and the construction changes he had made to both the center and surrounding area. It made the towering figure in the crowd smirk, as he worked to weave his way through the press of over heated bodies. A river of people prevented him at from continuing past a cross section, and this too only made him smile. He moved slowly around to the side, near a wall, to admire the inability for mobility. They were not prepared. The coming panic was going to be a massacre. Everything was already in place. Very soon now-
"Excuse me, yes, hello," he paused to look down at the girl waving to get his attention with a frown. She had a natural tan that needed no sun, the makeup on her face not quite covering the dark area around amber eyes successfully. Her long black hair was pulled into a thick braid, and her clothes were a sensible black ensemble of dress and suit jacket, tights and low heels. Edward would have been able to identify the dress as Armani and lipstick as Chanel lip laquer 154 instantly, but Jonathan Crane saw only what the clothing was supposed to present. The same thing as his own costume, polite and impersonal professionalism. Her panelist badge read "Maia Badi". Without hesitation she read his own badge and launched into an effortless conversation. She had no accent, her upbringing obviously more local.
"Sorry, I see you're a panelist too, Professor Crane, and I can't make head or tails of this map." he found the item in question all but thrust into his arms,
"I don't suppose you can tell where panel room..." He was about to chide the woman for interrupting him, when her attention switched from his person to someone in the crowd. A narrowed gaze he could almost take for a lion seeing a wounded antelope. His own attention followed her gaze without thinking, seeing a young girl stumble as best she could away from the crowd to the wall near a hallway that lead further back into the building. The girl had the unmistakable physical tells of terror, and he had to focus to keep from hissing. Had one of his canisters sprung a leak? It was too soon to have his position revealed.
"Excuse me." She moved away from him and through the crowd with a surety and ambition that made those around her instinctively let her pass. He watched the graceful creature go, wondering how she did it, and realized she had left him holding the convention map. With a sullen hiss he began to wade through the crowd towards them, in part to make sure his plans wouldn't be ruined. And in part out of curiosity. The woman had zeroed in on distress in the middle of a crowded hall the way a shark smells blood in the water. It was...intriguing.
He couldn't hear them over the buzz of conversation. He saw her shake hands with the younger girl and motion to move over to the hallway where one of the caches of his toxins were hidden. Waiting to be released. He moved all the faster, until at last he was close enough to make out the words. The younger girl looked maybe nineteen at best, her muscles tense and ample chest fighting for oxygen. Failing, by the looks of it. Her words were near feverish.
"-my anxiety medication ran out. Stupid, I know-" Maia hushed the younger girl with a soothing voice.
"It's okay, Amanda. You're not stupid, you're having a panic attack. I have them too. Here." She placed her phone in Amanda's hands, he was tall enough to see a shape on the screen that expanded and shrank.
"Focus on this. Breath out when it shrinks, in when it opens."
"But what about-"
"Breathe. It's going to be okay." The girl nodded and tried to focus, sitting down on the thin carpet floored in garish blue colors. Maia was so focused on the situation herself she didn't notice him standing there, joining the girl in sitting, folding her skirt under her as she sat on her legs.
She had them too. She must have recognized the symptoms of an on-coming attack in this child. Not a lion running to wounded prey, but rather to an abandoned cub. She knew to pull the girl from the crowd, and had an assisting app pulled up without thought. She had done this before. After a few minutes Amanda started to breath more normally.
"T-thank you." Maia took the phone back with a warm smile.
"Would it be okay if I texted you this app? In case you would like to use it again? Do you have some friends with you today?"
"I...yeah. We got seperated is all. I can text them to meet up. I think I'll be okay now. Um, my number. 512-859-6547. Thanks again, you didn't have to do that. Usually people just kind of-"
"Don't care. I know. Things are changing though, you'll see. There. And now you have my number, too. If you need anything at all, please don't hesitate to text me, alright?"
"Sorry I'm such a mess. I'm glad you were here."
"No need to apologize, I-oh!" She finally noticed Crane, who held up the map.
"You left this behind." He calmly interjected. If body language could show a blush without color hers did it.
"Right! I was looking for..." She had to dig through the laptop bag at her side, finally drawing out the folded schedule of panels.
Keeping with his cover, his beady blue eyes skimmed the map, and he pointed to the location for her.
"It's down one floor. Right here." He pointed as the child busied herself with a flurry of fingers to produce texts to her friends. He only gave Amanda a cursery glance to the side. It didn't look like the effects of even a small dose of his toxins were present in the child. Good. His plan was still secure.
"You didn't say what you are presenting on, Miss Badi." Her face light up with an excitement that instantly made her look at least five years younger.
"Today, I'm covering for Professor Garber's Magic Spirituality and Religion lecture." He raised a sharp brow. That was...not what he anticipated.
"Cultural anthropology." She provided.
"I know the area of study. I was expecting you to be more in line with my field. Psychology."
"My friends are on their way. Your panel sounds pretty cool." Amanda's smile had small dimples, and Maia returned the expression gladly.
"You and your friends are welcome to stop by. It's- wait, what time is it?" She glanced at her phone in sudden panic, yelping and jumping up to her feet.
"There's just enough time! I-wait. Are you going to be okay until your friends get here?"
"I'll be okay." Maia didn't look so ready to abandon her post.
"I'll stay with the child, if it's alright with both of you, until her friends get here." Maia looked to Amanda for approval and got a nod.
"Okay. Text me if anything happens, okay?" Amanda gave a dutiful nod, and Maia turned that dazzling beauty pageant worthy smile back to Crane.
"Give the professor here my number if he wants it, we can finish our conversation later if he likes." A solute from Amber, and Maia waved at the two and all but ran to her panel room.
What a trusting individual. He wasn't sure what to think other than the woman was clearly an idiot. An idealistic idiot who went out of her way to help a complete stranger. An idiot who didn't have a professorship but could sub for a professor at this convention. Cultural Anthropology. What a joke of a "science". He wondered how well a mind like that was going to hold up when his toxins turned this place into a nightmare. He wondered if she would survive. She had them too, she had said. Panic attacks. But what ever about? He collected that phone number after all, if she did manage to survive it would make the following interview that much more interesting. Amanda tried to be friendly and ask him about his panel. He made something up as if he would be around that long, and her friends came to collect her. Which left him to make his way from the building.
Accross the street, he checked the panel schedule. She would be in the middle of it now. Up in front of a room full of people. His first bomb went off. There was a panicked shout as people instinctively ducked, herd reaction despite no one here being near the small blast. A lull of silence. The other bombs went of quickly, small things that they were, and accompanied by the thick green smoke of his toxins rolling out the doors, all hell broke lose. Predictable. He had seen it so frequently by now. He checked his cell phone, logging into his mobile bank account. After two minutes of refreshing the page the money was there. He smiled with a hum, a successful day, and idly paused on the contact added in. Why not? He typed the words: "It's professor Crane. Are you okay?" He smirked, and set the phone in his pocket. If she survived, it would make a follow up conversation that much more interesting. And if not, oh well. The world was never kind to those so neive and easy to trust a stranger. He glanced up at the sun as he walked. It was still shining.
Never mind the cloud of death and destruction he left behind him.