Cat's Cradle

Disclaimers: Some things just cannot be bought.

Author: Avium

Rating: PG-13

Pairings: Crawford x Ken

Fic length: One-shot

Timeline: Indefinite

Author's note: Muses are evil – they demand to be heard at all the wrong times. More Crawford x Ken for you guys. Yay for you, boo for my bad writing and characterisation.

/ … / - denotes thoughts

-@-@-@-@-

Ken decided that he had to engage in those crazy games with Yohji more often, especially if the situations will all be as favourable as on that day. Aya's temper always proved the most interesting and unpredictable to wager over, even if it did seem like rather risky business when the stakes were initially placed. There had been a sizable amount of egging on, taunting and name-calling before the first cards were flipped over. Subsequently, Aya developed a scowl on his face that resembled the hand gesture known in not-so polite society as 'flipping the bird' and promptly presented Yohji the grandest first prize ever that consisted of a mop, old rags and a bucket before he went back to the front of the store.

Next time – Yohji had called out to Ken as he ran off scot-free – they wouldn't play their games so near Aya's Porsche. And that they should use swap the food dye in the water-filled nuclear weaponry for freshly boiled germ-free water as well.

Still, it had been grand listening to Yohji's crumbling self-defence at the crime scene:

"Hey hey, Aya. I swear your car wasn't there until I pulled the trigger. Then whoosh – your car appeared right in the line of fire like magic or something. I am telling you… wait, is that a mop? And those… those are the rags we use for cleaning the vehicles, right? Shit! Not the bucket too? But, but… it wasn't only me! Ken was playing with the goddamned food dye too! And he had them in humongous water balloons!"

"Ken didn't hit my car. You did, Yohji. And we didn't close shop for you two to have a water fight – it's so that we can do our annual stock-taking."

"It's just food dye, Aya… Oh wait, I knew it! I just KNEW it! Ken gets off without a penalty but I have to wash your car for you? Oh, I soooooo knew it! You're evil! You're EVIL! You're EVIL without a doubt! Say it! Admit that you are!"

"I'm evil. Now clean my car."

Ken had spent the entire time hiding behind Yohji's car, choking back stifled snickers at the blonde's plight. He didn't need to have visual to see the expression on both teammates' faces – Yohji was likely to be gaping at Aya at that moment, mouth hanging open in bewilderment while jade eyes were blinking stupidly at the sheer nonchalance written all over the redhead's face. Aya, on the other hand, probably had his arms folded across his chest and was most likely to be wearing his no-nonsense glare of doom. The chance of the encounter turning into a fight featuring video game bloodiness was next to Aya letting Yohji off, which meant that good old Kudou would have to sigh, nod and take the arsenal of cleaning tools from the redhead *and* get the job done.

"You're no fun… and no fair." Ken heard the blonde muttering before his voice faded away into the distance together with the sound of an empty bucket bottom being dragged across uneven ground – Yohji probably went out back to get some water before embarking on his task. The brunette bounced a little on his bent knees, readying himself to bolt right out of the thin alleyway and towards glorious freedom. It would have been the case for him within three seconds had Aya not bent over around the vehicle and looked right at him. The amethyst gaze fell upon Ken like those of a predatory feline, and it made Ken feel very much like a cornered mouse in an instant. The only difference was that he didn't have a hole to duck into, and if he tried squeezing himself under Yohji's car he would probably get embarrassingly stuck.

A hand was raised feebly and fingers twitched slightly as Ken mustered up his most friendly grin and murmured, "Er… hi, Aya."

"You've ten seconds to get out of here alive, Ken."

He was out of sight within five.

The brunette's record-breaking run had slowed down to a trot when he reached the minimum safety distance of four blocks from the flower shop, and it had gradually wore down to a slightly springy walk as he neared the park. As his body recovered from his exertions, time was devoted towards working out why he had gotten out of the mess so easily. He had failed to realise that his feet had taken him to the park until he reached the arched entrance. Since it didn't seem likely that he would be welcomed home until that evening at the earliest, he nodded to himself and agreed that the park was the best place to be in for now. A thought did managed to perk him up, though – he might even manage to catch a game of football or two with the children that usually played there. A quick check with his watch reminded him that most of the children were probably still at classes, so he would have quite a wait before a game could commence.

/Still, it isn't as if I have another place that I can go to now…/

Ken didn't stop walking until he reached one of the quiet corners of the park. The shadier boughs seemed to gather themselves in the corners whereas the trees in the middle of the park appeared to have been scorched bald by the midday sun. And said sun was beating down on the streets now, so the choice had been an obvious one. Shaded by the tall giants was a well-worn wooden bench – empty of occupants for now. When he had found the shadiest spot to sit down on, he also came up with two likely explanations for his lucky escape:

One – left alone with Yohji, they might continue their water fight and make the mess worse.

Two – Aya was in a good mood today.

Only one option seemed humanly possible, so Ken went with the first.

If he had been forced to admit it, Ken would have agreed that the water fight with Yohji had been a gratifying one. He had found it odd when the blonde approached him an hour ago, handed him a bag of balloons and challenged him to a naval battle to quench the summer heat. They had mutually agreed to up the stakes up adding food dye to the tap water that filled their weapons, although Yohji had cheated by picking all the darker colours to fill his pistol with. Now, good old Kudou was paying for it in soap, filthy rags and raisin-patterned hands. That served him right.

Ken took a glance down at his own clothes – fortunately he had chosen to wear darker colours today, so most of the dyes didn't show up on his T-shirt. Well, except for that darkish purple blot smack on his stomach. But it should come off quite easily later on when it goes into the wash.

Closing his eyes as he slouched against the back of the bench, he was ready to settle down for a nap when his fingers closed around a thin object in his jean pocket. Automatically, Ken tugged the object out and brought it before his line of vision.

It was a reasonably long length of string – he had been using it to tie up the open ends of his water balloons while building up his stockpile. Fingers continued to yank at the string until all of it emerged from his pocket. A moment was spent staring at the object and wondering what was to be done with it before a small grin formed on his lips.

Taking both ends of the thread together, he started to die dead knots one over the other. A few test jerks were made before Ken leaned back from his handiwork, satisfied that it wouldn't unravel halfway and stop his plans. But he only had time to stretch the string around his hands before the sound of a car door slamming jerked him back to awareness of his surroundings. He had turned to follow the sound, only to have his gaze settle disbelievingly over an all too-familiar figure approaching from the park entrance that led to the car park.

The brunette leaned away from the nearing figure, appearing quite unsettled by the unexpected arrival of a raven-haired man. The approaching figure was clearly eyeing him as he paced determinedly towards a balking Hidaka Ken. It was only when the man had came within three feet of him that Ken finally found his tongue to state, "Schwarz doesn't come out to the park in broad daylight for no good reason."

Crawford's lips thinned – whether it was in annoyance or suspicion Ken couldn't tell – before the unwavering amber gaze came to settle over the boy. "I believe you have confused us with vampires, Weiß – they are the nocturnal ones that never come out during the day. And I could ask the same of you: Weiß isn't usually found sit in parks playing with strings either."

"It isn't string," Ken retorted, "It's cat's cradle – it's a game of dexterity and patience that involves the use of a piece of specialised string."

"It's still a string."

Ken bit back his tongue before his could lash out his reply to Crawford – he still had no idea what their enemy was doing out here in a public park in the middle of the afternoon, still smartly dressed up in his suit and looking completely out of place against the relaxing background encircling them. Uninvited, Crawford took a seat at the other end of the bench where Ken was sitting on, his body language suggesting very explicitly that he had no intensions of going any neared unless welcomed.

Amber eyes pulled away from the boy, Crawford adjusted his posture such that he was now staring straight forward as he replied to a question Ken had yet to say aloud – "Contrary to popular belief, Weiß, bad guys still need to go out shopping for groceries or catch a breathe of fresh air once in a while. I am here for the latter, and have no intention of killing you – the stench of blood is going to taint all the fresh oxygen that I hope to get from the park."

Ken goggled; he had meant to ask Crawford what in the world was he doing out here, but Crawford had already answered it before he could even come up with a way to structure it…

"No, I'm not a telepath. That would be Schuldich, whom I'm sure your young friend is quite well acquainted with. I'm a clairvoyant. I can see the future, so I will always know what I have to do next. I saw your question ahead of time – that was all."

"Okay, I know that you know… But how do you know that you know that you have to be at this park among all the known parks that you know you could be at?"

The American raised an eyebrow before bringing his palms together in a bout of mocking applause, lips forming a pretentious smile.

"Impressive. I didn't know that you knew haiku."

Ken frowned – this man was impossible to talk to. Something about this Schwarz member just spelt "royal pain in the private plumbing" in bright neon yellow letters. Biting his lip, he returned to his game of cat's cradle while keeping one eye on Crawford the entire time. This was Schwarz that they were talking about here – /you never know when he might just pull out an automatic on you and show you the inside of the barrel…/

Crawford, on the other hand, didn't seemed to be bothered that he had a Weiß assassin sitting right next to him on the bench at all. Ken deduced that it probably had something to do with the fact that both his hands were tied up with string at that moment, thus clearly posing no threat to the American unless he decided to try and choke him with his string. But that would be Yohji's speciality. /Besides, how the hell do you play cat's cradle by yourself if you want to make more than just a stupid star?/

"Hey, want to play?"

Surprised amber met equally shocked turquoises. Crawford had unknowingly backed several inches away from Ken in the meantime and was in danger of dropping smack against the grass, both eyes fixed on the boy warily. The brunette had to deal with his own inner struggle as well to find out why he had been compelled to make such a bizarre suggestion. It was Crawford who broke the awkward silence between them.

"Play? With that string? I don't have time for such meaningless, childish pursuits – I have better things to do," his lips curled dangerously, challenging Ken to try and refute him.

Ken did just that, naturally, with a jaunty drawl in his tone no less, "If you really do have better things to do, Schwarz, then why are you wasting your time away here? Expecting a new load of smuggled guns to arrive under this tree at 6 o'clock sharp? Or are you waiting for a signal from one of your cronies so you know when you can press the detonator and blow up Tokyo Dome?"

Ken had spent the next few days wondering where in hell did he ever get the balls of steel from when he came up with that rakish response.

If Ken had expected the man to walk off, verbalise his outrage or whip out a gun at his temple Crawford had failed to fulfil all his misgivings. With a suspicious smile dancing on his lips the man reached over, causing Ken to winch away in expectation of a strangling hold around his throat. To add to his increasing shock level for the day, Crawford had wound his fingers around the taunt threads and twisted them several times before lifting the string away from Ken.

When Ken finally had the sense to re-hinge his jaw and look over to Crawford's hands, he found a new pattern formed within the previous.

"Yes, I have once wasted time on such foolish games in my pre-adolescent days, Weiß. I do happen to know how to play this silly game of yours."

"Ken, Hidaka Ken."

"Excuse me?" Crawford looked to the boy as if he had just spoken a foreign tongue, although he had heard perfectly what Ken just said.

"Hidaka Ken – that's my name. You've got to stop calling me Weiß right now. It's getting on my nerves, Mr. American Dude."

There had to be a politer way for the boy to get his point across, Crawford noted with a disapproving shake of his head, "Crawford will do for now, Hidaka."

"Cool. So it's Mr. Crawford American Dude?" Ken didn't miss a beat at all despite the silly grin plastered across his face.

"… It's Brad Crawford. Do not make me demonstrate the Sacred Art of Manual Strangulation out in the open, Hidaka."

"Touché." Ken shuffled closer to the man and bent over to study the pattern in his hands. A minute was spent thoughtfully staring at the formation before he reached over and began twirling the string around his fingers.

/This is pretty damn odd,/ Ken mused to himself.

-@-@-@-@-

"Ever wondered why they call it cat's cradle?" The brunette thought aloud as he took the string into his hands for the 8th time that day. Crawford had given him this look that implied he was now staring at an extremely rare species of man-eating flower after Ken had spoken. At that moment Ken chose to look up at him, smiling his disarming smile.

The raven-haired man swallowed once before adverting his gaze down to the intricate pattern in Ken's hands, fingers carelessly brushing across the boy's hands as he reached down to grasp the thread pressed against the open palms. There was something odd about this boy – he completely lacked the common sense to not mingle too much with one's enemies…

"Because when done right, you can cradle a cat on top of it," he replied with the first answer that came to his head.

"… That would be something, wouldn't it?" The boy had laughed. Crawford didn't know if the laughter had been genuine – it was hard to read Ken's expression when the boy sat with his back facing the setting sun. Ken was now no more than a shadowy sheen bathed against the sea of red; all the sun's dying rays were shining into his eyes, causing him great discomfort as he squinted against the glare while working the string around his fingers.

With a breath of relief Crawford pulled back, the most delicate pattern yet stretched out between his hands. He turned to Ken and nodded for the brunette to take his turn in the game.

In the 9th round, the game came to an abrupt end when Ken's finger slipped and stole the magic from the string.

Left with a sad-looking, limp piece of string between them, Ken held it in front of his eyes, gawking a little before he finally turned to face Crawford. He offered the man a sheepish grin and a helpless shrug, but nothing more. Then he began pulling the string back towards himself, unwittingly dragging Crawford's entangled hands along until the American coughed politely to alert Ken to his plight.

"Sorry – I was trying to make the 'Universe'. Guess it was a little too complex, huh?" He offered up his explanation ahead of time, not quite knowing if it was expected from him while he busied himself with the untangling of the string.

Freed, Crawford pulled his hands out of the mess and rubbed at the back of his hand while casting an offended look at Ken.

"You cannot make a new universe with this flimsy length of cord." Rising from his seat, he cast his gaze towards the entrance where he came from as waiting for someone. But a second later he turned back to Ken, face as deadpan as when he first came to the park.

"It's just a string, Hidaka."

He offered but a simple nod to Ken – his way of acknowledging the fact that they have met and not warred today – before he began walking towards the car park where he would find the vehicle to return him to his world.

Exhaling deeply, Ken pushed himself off the bench and stretched lazily before he headed for the other entrance. There were children playing in the park right now. There were even a few black and white balls rolling around the grounds, but he had walked on – he had no care for football now.

Halfway out of the park, he suddenly whirled about and cupped his hands around his mouth to form a makeshift megaphone. Then he proceeded to holler to the retreating white figure.

"It may be just a piece of string to you, Crawford; but to me it is the cat's cradle!"

Ken watched as the American stop in his purposeful walk; he watched as the man half-turned around to offer a false polite smile before he continued on his way.

He wondered about the odd little bounce he had in his step when he headed home that day, but never gave it any more thoughts afterwards.

Ah well – life will always seem a little strange after you have spun a whole new universe inside of it…

~ End

-@-@-@-@-

Author's notes: Frankly, I've no idea why the game is called cat's cradle. Do you know that I only learnt this game's proper name less than a week ago from my dad? ^_^;;