It is Thursday afternoon, or perhaps it’s near the end of the day already. Hidaka has lost track of time. He is pressed against a wall, in his ear he hears the voice of Fushimi who sends out the order to move up to the next floor. About three hours ago the alarm blasted through the hallways of the headquarters and they were sent out for a high risk Strain that was causing uproar in the shopping centre. It’s not the first time they are after this man who seems to be always one step ahead of them. They spent the past two hours driving him away from the centre of the city into an old abandoned building. They have him surrounded, but there is no sign yet of surrender. The way it stands now it seems that they did not drive the Strain out here but he led them right to this building. The Lieutenant had given the command to enter while their Third and Enomoto give out orders from inside the van. The reason for the high risk factor of the Strain is that even though they’ve been chasing him for a considerable time, they still are unsure of its exact powers which makes it difficult for them to approach. In addition to that, the Strain hasn’t actually as much used his abilities yet and prefers weapons and explosives as his defence. He is suspected to be a member of an organisation with hostile Strains that have collaborated together with their main focus on the different clans. This means that the members of Scepter4 need to take in consideration that there could be multiple Strains involved and waiting for them as they’re spreading through the building looking for their target.
“We have him in vizier, permission to approach?” Akiyama’s voice sounds in his ear this time. He makes eye contact with his partner, Gotou, who is moving on the other side of the hallway. Even in this hectic state, his roommate has a calm expression on his face. He and Gotou are exactly the opposites of each other. Hidaka is energetic and hot-headed, not always structured and he prefers actions over words. Gotou is quiet and relaxed, maybe a little odd sometimes but he has a good heart. It’s no surprise that their Captain put these two personalities together. If Hidaka thinks about it, most pairs are each other’s opposites. Where Enomoto is honest, shy and unreasonably negative with a love for comic books, Fuse is the one with the most common sense. He is direct and wouldn’t hesitate to point out one of his comrades did something incredibly stupid. Camo is the oldest, a calm and responsible man, while Domyouji is the youngest of the squad and very impulsive. Akiyama and Benzai seem to be an exception, however they complement each other perfectly and were already friends before they joined Scepter4. They are so close that there are even rumours that they’re together but –
The entire building shakes and Hidaka jumps aside to avoid the breaking glass in time. So it had been a trap all along. His thoughts are immediately with his comrades one floor above him, the next thought is that he has to get out of here. Around him he hears footsteps and several voices. Hidaka tries to reorientate— which way did they come from, where is the nearest exist, and where is Gotou?
“Hidaka! Focus!” Akiyama’s voice suddenly sounds a lot closer. “Where were you with your thoughts?” The shorter man is standing beside him. Even before Hidaka can apologise or wonder how he got here and where the hell is his partner? There’s another explosion, closer to them this time and both men get moving.
“Where are the others? I thought you almost had him?”
“Didn’t you hear? We were lured into a trap! The rest is already on the way outside! Honestly, what have you been doing?!” Akiyama yells back to him as they hurry down the stairs. Hidaka, who had been walking with his arms raised above his head to protect himself from falling pieces of the ceiling abruptly comes to halt. “You came back for me?”
Akiyama bumps against his back and when Hidaka looks around the green-haired man is giving him a glare, but it doesn’t refrain Hidaka from grinning at his superior. “Hidaka, please, there is no time for this.”
Fushimi’s annoyed voice interrupts them before Hidaka can answer something— possibly cheesy. “Akiyama, Hidaka, come out, now.”
“The building will not last much longer! We’ve managed to deactivate some of the bombs but we won’t be able to withhold the building from collapsing!” Enomoto blends into the conversation, his voice rushed. At the background they can hear their fingers rattling over the keyboards.
“Enomoto we are on the stairs to the ground floor, can we get down safely?”
“Yeah, but hurry!”
The two men nod at each other and Hidaka lets Akiyama go first. “You know, I got your back.”
Akiyama gives him a confused look but then seems to understand why Hidaka would say something like that at this moment and gives him a faint smile. Despite Hidaka’s strong urge to protect he stays behind his superior as they cross an empty room. Very briefly it reminds Hidaka of a movie he once saw of two lovers stuck in a dangerous, moving maze. Akiyama holds still, there’s a man in the doorway blocking their passage.
“Let us through.” Akiyama commands, his hand resting on his sword that they had returned into the holsters so they could move more flexibly through the building. “We have the orders to withdraw, let us go and we will not do anything to harm you.”
While Akiyama is negotiating Hidaka is guessing his chances. The Strain doesn’t seem to be much older than himself, in both age and height he seems to be somewhere between him and his superior. He stares at him with a fierce look, but the Strain only seems to have eye on the person before him.
“You! I know you!” Akiyama does not move, he doesn’t even appear to be affected by the words. Hidaka assumes it’s because of his former time in the defence force and knows he shouldn’t respond to the provoking of his opponent. However his words take an unexpected turn when the Strain points his finger to Akiyama. “You killed my brother!”
“Hah?!” Hidaka is the first to respond to the absurd sounding statement. “Akiyama-san would never kill anyone!”
“Hidaka stand down!” He gets a push in his stomach and in a split second the two men are dashing forward. Akiyama with his sword drawn, the Strain with a lead pipe he must have broken off a wall.
“Stay back!” Hidaka obtains as order, the sound of the sword crashing against the pipe follows. Hidaka stands by and watches how Akiyama lands blow after blow. He’s quick on his feet and is able to use their slight height difference to his advantage every time the Strain makes an attempt to get the shorter man to submit. Hidaka laughs, almost, despite the situation. He’s never met someone who would be able to get Akiyama to submit to them.
“Last year you and your clan infiltrated our headquarters!” The Strain yells while lashing forward. Akiyama’s respond is fast, rolls to the side and pushes the man away with his shoulder to create distance. “You attacked us only because we’re different!”
“What is happening in there?”
Hidaka knows that he should answer, listen to his superior’s command and ask for reinforcement, but Hidaka would not be Hidaka if he wouldn’t be pushing himself forward to interfere in the battle. However as he sets his step forward Akiyama’s sharp eyes immediately switch to him and he shakes his head. Hidaka grits his teeth together, his knuckles white around the sword’s hinge but he stays right where he is. He is forced to watch how his comrade gets a hard blow to the side of his leg and falls to his knees.
“You attacked us simply because you can! Because we don’t follow a King! But we did have a leader! And you…!” He grabs Akiyama by his collar and lifts him off his feet. Hidaka doesn’t know what he expected from his superior officer but as soon as he sees his face his eye falls on Akiyama’s grin, both of his eyes clearly visible.
“We are justice.” Akiyama’s voice is soft and calm. Hidaka can only stand by and watch how his superior raises his sword with an expression Hidaka has only heard of but never witnessed before. “We serve a King with a purpose, unlike your aimless leader. And the biggest difference of it all is that we never work alone.”
The Strain screams even though Hidaka hasn’t seen the other move the sword yet. He lets go of Akiyama’s collar and both man land on the floor. “Hidaka, now!”
Without hesitation Hidaka rushes forward to where the man is lying on the ground with his hands between his legs. No way. While Akiyama distracted him with his words he kicked him right in the nuts! Hidaka is unable to suppress a chuckle, he strikes the back of his sword on the man’s head to knock him out and steps over the body. “Looks like he won’t be getting back into action for a while.”
Akiyama snorts and accepts the hand of his subordinate as he stretches it out to him. “That’s really all you can think about, isn’t it?”
Hidaka laughs sheepishly while checking the shorter for any possibly injuries. He swats Hidaka’s hand away half-heartedly when he tries to pop up the collar in a similar way to how Fushimi always has it up. As he’s folding the collar back down Hidaka already got to his knees. He can be sneaky when he wants to be, distracting his superior so he can have a quick check up on the spot where Akiyama received a hard blow against the side of his leg. “It will probably bruise. Can you walk?”
“Stop fussing over me, I’m fine. I can take care of myself.” He huffs, yet the small smile that follows makes Hidaka grin up at him. They’re silent for a moment. Hidaka, who is now back on his feet again, looks down into the eyes of his superior. He sees how the dark eyes widen when Hidaka raises a hand to his face and then carefully brushes Akiyama’s bangs back over his eyes. It are always these brief moments between the two of them that makes Hidaka’s heart pound faster in his chest. The way Akiyama lowers his guard just a little and they’re standing close to each other. Even at moments when they should be paying attention to their surroundings. Especially those moments.
“Hidaka watch out—” He’s roughly pushed aside by Akiyama, who jumps in front of him when the Strain reaches out to get them. Akiyama is grabbed by the shoulders, a bright blue purple haze blinds the both of them and there’s a scream. When Hidaka can see again Akiyama is on the floor, and the Strain is nowhere to be found.
It has been about two weeks since the attack. The wounds have been healed and everyone is safe and sound back at their desks. Akiyama and Hidaka had been found by Awashima and a very irritated Fushimi who evaded Hidaka for the first few days. It’s not entirely clear who was avoiding who, as Hidaka is often easily intimidated by his superiors. When it started to become too obvious Hidaka didn’t dare to be alone at the office with him and the excuses got lamer Domyouji stepped in, in the way only he could do. He messed up his reports so badly Fushimi had to overwork an entire night. The rest quickly excused themselves that they had other places to be so only Hidaka remained. It seems the two have finally cleared the air between them, because Hidaka is a little less uncomfortable than he usually is around him.
Akiyama rubs his shoulder, something that’s almost become a habit these days. The bruise where the Strain held him before he escaped has a vague yellow colour on his skin. He has been thoroughly investigated after the encounter but they weren’t able to find any remnants of the Strain’s effect. Still there’s something nagging at him. When he closes his eyes he relives the last moments before pushing his subordinate to the side. He feels the strong grip on his shoulders, the burning feeling on his skin and then the bright light. “A little present as revenge” was the last Akiyama heard because he went out. What does it mean?
Hidaka said he hadn’t heard the Strain say anything, as soon as the light faded he had carried Akiyama until he ran into his superiors. He blames himself for letting his guard down, even if it had been just a small moment. They have to start all over again with tracking down the Strain and his location, since the building has been declared unusable. He doesn’t push any of the blame on Hidaka. He can’t help it he’s not always as aware of his surroundings, that he’s more occupied with personal affection and that he can look at him in a certain way with those big brown eyes of his that make Akiyama’s heart skip a beat and—
The sudden voice startles him. There’s a tall man with half-flank brown hair and kind brown eyes looking down at him with a concerned gaze. “Benzai, I was just…” His voice trails off. Both look at Akiyama’s monitor, the document that Akiyama has open for about an hour already is almost empty,
“Time for a break.”
Benzai takes him outside behind the building, both with a cigarette. They picked up this bad habit during their time in the defence force. Everyone smoked there, it took some of the stress away after a severe mission. Akiyama only lights one when he has to clear his mind, or after a heavy exercise. He would never reach for them without a reason. Benzai feels the same way about it, as they do in many aspects. He knew that this was exactly what his friend is in need of right now.
“You’ve been absent.” Akiyama only nods, his eyes following the smoke that circles in the air until it vanishes into nothing. “You know you can tell me if something is troubling you.”
He knows he could share everything with him. The size of the problem isn’t the issue, Benzai is always there to listen, but Akiyama doesn’t know where to start. That he can’t sleep because the words of the Strain are haunting his thoughts at night? He has never done anything wrong in his life— let alone be accused of murder. He did recall the incident, he knows that he injured his opponent but they were all in a terrible condition. Everyone had bruises and broken bones. Could it be that someone died because of his involvement? Merely thinking about it makes him sick to the stomach. He feels the bruise burn on his shoulder, and in addition to that there’s some other bruises he cannot explain, he often wakes up more tired than well rested after a night of sleep. There’s so much he cannot put his finger on yet, which makes it harder for him to share.
“It’s been a tough couple of days for you and you’ve been working nonstop, why don’t you ask for some time off?” He says gently, his hand on Akiyama’s shoulder. Carefully, because he had long noticed that his partner is in pain. Akiyama is grateful, sometimes it’s as if Benzai can read his thoughts, which may almost be the case because of they have been inseparable the past couple of years. The strong hand comes to rest on his head, ruffling his hair a little and Akiyama closes his eyes. He wishes Benzai could actually read his mind so he could explain without using any of these words what is eating him away.
“Akiyama-san! Akiyama-san!” Hidaka’s hard voice quickly drives them apart. The taller man who came rushing towards them comes to halt. “S-Sorry, am I— uhm…”
“No, we were— talking,” Akiyama coughs in his hand, avoiding the eyes of both men. After along uncomfortable silence in which Benzai and Hidaka are staring at each other, the oldest of the two is the one to speak up first. “What is it you need, Hidaka?”
“Ah! Uhm, the Captain is looking for you! He needs you in his office, right now. The Lieutenant said it’s urgent.”
Akiyama and Benzai share a look. Benzai shrugs his shoulders. “Perhaps you’re both getting rewarded for how bravely you stood up against the Strain.”
It was an attempt to reassure him but it doesn’t feel right. They finish their cigarettes in the ashtray and follow Hidaka back into the building to the office of the Captain. Akiyama tries to suppress the heavy feeling in his lower abdomen but it’s only getting stronger as they get closer. “Perhaps.”
Hidaka isn’t certain what he interrupted, but it certainly hadn’t been good for the atmosphere between them. The three men are standing next to each other in the office on each side of their superior. Their presence had not been requested for this meeting, but the Captain hadn’t denied them the entrance either so they’re standing by Akiyama as two bodyguards.
The Captain is sitting behind his desk with a stern expression on his face, behind him his Lieutenant and Third in Command. On the side of the room there’s two men who look vaguely familiar to Hidaka, both in Scepter4 uniform. One has a black eye and bruised lip, the other has his arm in a sling. Both of them are glaring at the man in the middle. The blonde woman with her icy eyes has a worried expression over herself, Fushimi seems to be unreadable. Hidaka wouldn’t call himself an expert in reading the Third’s emotions but he’s had practise over the years and he did get quite good at it, however this moment he couldn’t possibly tell what the younger is thinking. Hidaka tries to offer him a smile but he only gets a click of the tongue in respond. It seems to be the sign for the Captain to begin.
“Thank you for coming in this quickly, Akiyama-kun. There is something I would like to discuss with you.” As if pre-arranged Fushimi takes a step forward, presses a few buttons on his tablet to project a video. Hidaka assumes it’s from surveillance cameras since the time and date are shown. An of average height figure is clearly displayed. He moves through the corridors until he reaches a door with two night warders. They seem to have a short conversation. Then the figure grabs both of their heads and slams them together, knocking them out with ease. One of them rises again, but before he could as much reach for his sword the attacker grabs him by the arms and twists it behind his back so far they can almost hear the crushing of the bones. The screen shows a difference room that Hidaka recognises as the storage area where all folders and old documents are stored. With open mouths the men watch how the intruder, clearly in uniform and dark green hair extracts some of the documents after a brief search and then leaves the room.
“What is the meaning of this, Captain?” Hidaka is the first to break the lingering silence when the screen goes black.
“These are from last night’s security cameras. Normally I would ask Akiyama-kun to explain himself about the situation, take his side into consideration and I would put him on temporarily suspension, however due the circumstances I’m afraid I cannot.”
As on command, Fushimi plays the next video. Several burglaries over the past two weeks, mainly firarms, money, explosives and a suspicious amount of oil. On top of that, in every video Akiyama’s face is clearly visible. The man is frozen on his spot between his two comrades, his face paler than usual and Hidaka wonders if he’s still breathing.
There’s a sound of a knock on the door and two other members in uniform step inside. “Sir, we have searched the room as you requested and found the documents.”
“In the basement we found the items you told us to be aware of, Sir.” The other continues.
“Is that so?” The Blue King remarks calmly, leaning back into his chair. “I think the evidence speaks for itself. Thank you, men.”
“What do you mean the evidence speaks for itself?! Akiyama-san would never do such a thing, right?” Hidaka turns his face to Akiyama who seems to be on the edge of a mental breakdown.
“We know what we saw last night, it was him! He knocked us out!” The one with his arm in the sling speaks up this time.
“You weren’t trained very well then if you let yourself be overmanned by one person!” Hidaka brings into defence, even though he knows that if it had been his superior even four men wouldn’t have stopped him. “Benzai-san why aren’t you saying anything? You know him longer than all of us! Fushimi-san, Lieutenant! Akiyama-san has never done anything wrong in his entire life! Everyone here knows that!” The rest looks away, shoulders hunched, defeated. They are aware that Akiyama would never break the law, but all of the evidence is currently against him.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself, Akiyama-kun?” The Captain is patient, offering him one of his smiles. All faces in the room turn to him.
“I-I think I killed someone…” The oldest in the room is visibly shaking on his legs, his eyes focused on the ground. If there’s anything that could have gotten him out of this situation it certainly wasn’t this as defence. Even Hidaka is staring at him in shock.
“I see.” Munakata nods at the two men behind them. “Based on the evidence all witnesses have seen I hereby take Akiyama Himori into custody for thievery, violence against officers in uniform, suspect of murder and being a thread to not only society but to himself. Please take him away.”
The two officers hold Akiyama’s hands behind his back and put him into handcuffs like a meek lamb, his gaze still on the ground as if he hasn’t been able to process all of this yet. His brain might have shut down as soon as the video started.
“Captain! You can’t do this!” Hidaka wants to push the men away from his friend but Benzai and Fushimi immediately come into action and grab Hidaka by the arms. “Why aren’t you helping him?”
“Hidaka! You are not helping Akiyama-kun nor yourself right now!” The sharp voice of the Lieutenant cuts through the room. “If you don’t want to go right after him I suggest you stand down this instant!”
Hidaka is about to protest again and push his comrades away when he hears a familiar voice hissing in his ear. “You won’t be able to help once you’re inside a cell, Hidaka.” It seems to calm him. He ceases his protest, his comrades still holding a tight grip on him as they drag Akiyama out of the office in case the hot-headed man attempts something again.
“Akiyama-san! I’m coming for you! I promise you! I will prove your innocence and get you out of there!”
A promise he does not fulfil until three days later, when Hidaka himself gets pushed in a cell and the heavy door closes behind him.