The file hit the table with a flat smack. A figure shifted in the shadows, adjusting in the seat to blend better with the darkness. Thin strips of light escaping through the closed blinds cast eerie shadows across his face.
"Do you know what this is?"
The faint rattle of handcuff chains answered the question. An apathetic shrug.
"Don't make this harder than it has to be." The words were lower, sharper. A hissed warning, met with indifferent silence.
Despite his throbbing cheek and the tiny nicks along his wrist from the tight handcuffs, he couldn't resist a smile.
It was all a bit melodramatic for his taste.
"Wouldn't dream of it."
Before anyone could respond, light flooded the dark room as the door swung open. He lifted his stinging eyes, adjusting to the sharp change in environment. After a brief second of furious blinking, he squinted at the silhouette, slouched in the doorway with a hand planted on a hip.
"Wooah, it sure is dark in here! You'll go cross-eyed with all that squinting!"
And with that, the tense atmosphere burst.
He heard the telltale scrabble of fingers skirting along the wall, fumbling for the blinds pull. He narrowed his eyes, waiting for the bright onslaught of light. Within seconds, a faint zwerp of sliding blinds was accompanied by an explosion of yellowed, incandescent light pouring through the lone window. He glanced up slowly, taking stock of his surroundings.
His newest interrogator bodily threw himself into the last chair, skidding across the concrete floor with a metallic screech. Can that one be any louder? He flicked his attention back to his other captor, recognizing him instantly from his trademarked sneer.
Guren Ichinose suppressed a snort. It was only expected that the Hiiragis send the best to interrogate him. He knew of Kureto's ruthlessness through the dark rumor mill, but he could only suspect that his silver haired partner was just as dangerous.
Kureto grimaced, visibly dissatisfied to be torn from the shadows. He turned his sour stare from his partner to Guren, ready to resume the interrogation.
"As I was saying, you are not in a position to act cheeky."
Guren hoisted an amused eyebrow, feeling his bruised cheek smart with the action.
"That's the last thing I want to revisit."
He could only play the silent, stoic role for so long. He paused for a moment, shifting his gaze from a glowering Kureto to his bored partner.
"Though I am a bit curious as to why I'm being interrogated by—well, I assume—two of Hiiragi's favorite dogs." Guren forced a pleasant smile. "Judging by your fancy collars, of course."
Instead of bristling, the silver haired investigator laughed and offered Guren a lighthearted bark.
"Woof. You got us. The glowering one is Kureto and I'm Shinya. Hiiragis, both of us, of course."
The brightness of Guren's smile was knocked down a few notches. He was right. Though lesser known than his older brother, the Hiiragi silver sheep was still a whispered bane of the underworld. He didn't want to dwell on how complicated his situation had become now that both were on his case.
Kureto wrinkled his nose as if smelling something foul. "Don't play coy, Ichinose. We arrested you at the site of a failed heist operation."
"Am I officially under arrest? I don't even know my crime!"
Kureto continued, ignoring Guren's objections. "You are apprehended at Jujo Electronics, where an unidentified van escaped with several thousand dollars' worth of product."
"Yeah, but how do you know I was involved? I could've been going to buy a new laptop when that happened."
"At three in the morning?"
"Okay, so maybe I was out jogging."
"In completely black clothing?"
"Call it agility training."
"Whatcha training for? A low budget heist-slash-super-spy film?"
He could tell Shinya was enjoying their banter. Guren wasn't having nearly as much fun.
Neither was Kureto, apparently.
He interrupted them with another irritated clearing of the throat, sending a glare in Shinya's direction. Guren started to get the feeling that their partnership was not a mutually requested one.
Maybe I can use that to my advantage later.
"We are willing to work with you in order to apprehend your team."
"My team? I really don't know what you're talking about."
Shinya reached across the table and slid the file towards himself. He leaned back while lazily flipping through the various papers.
"Hmm… Lets see… Ichinose, Guren. First arrest was at age 15 for breaking and entering…followed by more Bs and Es." Shinya scanned through the lengthy list, pausing at particularly juicy records.
"Theft of a family heirloom from a Mister Ferid Bathory? Says it had been in the family for centuries." Shinya cocked an eyebrow over the file. "For shame."
"I thought my juvenile record would be sealed."
Kureto offered a humorless bark of laughter before crossing his arms. "Is that so?"
Guren pursed his lips, remembering the frightening influence his investigators held over him. It was only expected that they would dig up any dirt possible.
"With such a lovely juvenile record," Shinya continued, casually thumbing through the rest of Guren's file like it was a second-rate mystery novel, "it's surprising you don't have anything within the past five years."
Guren met Shinya's sharp, unwavering stare with a narrowed gaze of his own.
"I grew out of that phase."
Shinya shook his head with a wistful sigh. "If only I could have gone through my embarrassing high school phases as quickly as that."
"The fact remains that you were a useless punk," Kureto concluded, cutting into their banter again. "Rarely do mutts like you outgrow a past like that so easily. Either you're telling the truth—doubtful—or you've gotten better at covering your tracks."
Guren's tongue lashed against the back of his teeth as he swallowed his venomous retort.
"Alright. So I did a few bad things when I was younger. What does that have to do with whatever this is all about?"
"Several thousand dollars' worth of electronics were stolen from a Jujo factory early this morning. Your getaway van fled before you could escape, leaving you stranded at the scene of the crime." Kureto repeated the story slowly as if he were speaking to a small child.
"I still don't see how you can arrest me without more proof. So far, it sounds like all you have is circumstantial evidence."
"Oops! How could I forget about these? It looks like you didn't catch all of the cameras."
Shinya rustled through the folder before sliding several grainy photographs across the slick table surface. Guren bent over the pictures, drumming his fingers as he studied the blurry faces, one of which he recognized as his own. Guren felt his shoulders slump; he had no witty comeback this time.
Damn. I knew we missed something.
"A security camera from a nearby unit caught you and your teammates in the act," Kureto continued. "The photos were too distorted for running recognition software, but this is where you can help us out."
"They left you behind, so you clearly don't mean much to them." Kureto eyed Guren with thinly veiled satisfaction. "Whoever this team is, they have stolen property from several of the major businesses throughout the city without leaving a trace. Imperial Imports, Goshi Tech, Jujo Electronics—and of all of these, you are the only loose end we've encountered."
"They don't care about what happens to you. No one does. The best thing you can do with your miserable life is sell out their ringleader."
"That's a bit harsh," Guren slouched further in his seat, no longer attempting to deny his involvement. "So, what if I say I have no idea who's behind this, huh?"
"Then I'd say you were lying."
"Then I suppose there isn't much more to say." Guren crossed his wrists, rattling the handcuffs with the action.
Kureto glared at Guren before slipping out of his seat with an annoyed hiss. Guren tilted his head in time to catch Kureto's reflection pacing in the mirrored glass.
"Let me offer you some friendly advice, Guren."
We're on a first name basis now?
"Oh, man. Now you've done it." Shinya kept his gaze locked on his nails as he picked at a cuticle.
"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day."
"Yeah, yeah. And if you teach him to fish, he'll eat for a lifetime. Horoscope or fortune cookie?"
Kureto's hand clamped firmly down on Guren's shoulder, causing an icy shiver to rattle down his spine. Guren tried to shrug him off, but his grip was too strong.
"Abandon a man to drown and he'll never need to eat again."
"Cheery, huh?" Shinya peeked up at him from under a raised eyebrow. "They won't let him write the company newsletters anymore."
Guren swallowed. He got the message, loud and clear. "I get it. Competition's a bitch. More fish for the other guy."
"So, I'll ask you again. What happened at Jujo Electronics?"
He sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. "Lemme see the pictures again."
Shinya briefly flipped through the photos, pulling out a few while slipping the others back into the folder. "Here, these are the ones with the best quality. Remember any names?"
Guren tapped one of the blurry faces twice. "This guy—he was in charge of blowing out the security cameras. His name is Norito. Sucked at his job."
"Does this Norito have a last name? An address?"
Guren had to bite back the sarcastic laugh. "Of course I have his address—he sends me a Christmas letter each year. Let me grab my underworld address book out of my bag." Guren shook his head and reached for another photo. "This one was… I think her name was Milo…? No, Mito. She's the reason I fell off the van."
"You were pushed off?"
"Not quite." A corner of Guren's lip flicked up, pulling against the deep purple and green bruise along his cheek. "She packs a hell of a punch."
"Why did she punch you?"
"Probably like you said—to get rid of competition."
"Oh, right. The last one. Sayuri something. I didn't see her much. Didn't even know she was on last night's job." Guren crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Like I said earlier, they picked me up a few weeks ago. I've only worked a couple of nights, since apparently one of their own was unavailable. They didn't tell me much. I didn't even know we were going after Jujos until we pulled up."
Kureto made a disappointed sound in the back of his throat. "As I suspected, you were there for cheap muscle. Who knows if these are even their real names?"
Guren shrugged, unperturbed by the thought. "Technically I told you what I know. Now about that reduc—"
Kureto scoffed as his slid out from behind his chair. "First I'm going to run their names through our system. If for some miraculous reason, we get a hit, then we'll talk again."
"Hey! I held up my pa—" Guren tried to interrupt, but Kureto silenced him with a wave and a hard stare.
"Come on, Shinya. Let's go."
"Ehh? Oh, sure. Stay put, Ichinose!" Shinya waggled friendly fingers at Guren before following Kureto to the door. "I'll leave the photos to keep you company. Who knows? You might remember something." Shinya offered a wink before slipping through the door.
As the door's lock mechanism bolted shut, Guren sagged on the table, sighing as he rested his chin on his folded hands.
It had been a long day.
Twelve Hours Earlier.
"Oi! Hurry it up, will you?"
"Just because I didn't slack at the beginning doesn't mean you ca—"
"Are you two trying to wake up the entire city?"
Mito squeaked and Norito managed a sloppy salute as their leader approached them. Brushing the dust off her hands, Sayuri gave a nervous hop and hurried back towards her group when she noticed the others had gathered for an impromptu meeting.
"Ahh, yeah… My bad."
Guren pinched his nose and exhaled through his mouth. "It doesn't matter. Just…try to get one more load in the van before we move to the next stage."
Mito nodded vigorously, her red hair bouncing with the action. She turned to hurry back towards the pallets, but a humming sound in the back of Norito's throat caused her to hesitate.
"Yo, Guren. Are you sure about this? I mean, what if we got the information wrong this time?" Mito drifted towards the group, drawn back by the uncertainty in Norito's words.
"This is more dangerous than anything we've done before. I don't think we should risk the others. Shigure is—"
Sayuri straightened up and shot Mito a side-eyed glare. "If…if Guren says it's safe, then it's safe!" Her resolve wavered and she peeked back at Guren sheepishly. "Uhm, right, Guren? It'll be okay, won't it?"
"Right." Guren nodded, offering his skeptical team a blinding smile. When they didn't seem convinced, he shrugged and returned to his current task, loading up pallets of stolen Jujo technology. He wasn't one for inspirational speeches. The others returned to their own work, but Mito trailed after him, sending out rapid-fire concerns.
"I still don't think this is a good idea."
"Why are we going after the first families?"
"You know why. It's the best way to get noticed."
"Yeah, but do I really have to—"
Mito puckered her lips together, displeased by the unfolding of events. However, she remained silent as she carted more of her family's stolen property to their van. Guren watched her for a moment before turning to surveil the dimly lit warehouse. He eyed the security cameras warily, watching for the faint red pulse of light. When the light didn't appear, the camera's glassy lens remaining dark, Guren allowed himself a small smile.
Looks like that idiot finally figured out how to disable the cameras. During a previous raid, Norito had forgotten to shut down the emergency backup generator, causing the cameras to blip back to life only moments before they finished. A well-placed swing of the crowbar fixed the recording problem, but prematurely alerted the authorities to their actions.
"Are you sure you got all of the cameras?' Guren decided it couldn't hurt to be thorough.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm positive this time."
Guren shook his head and shoved his hands in his pockets as he sauntered back towards the van. This would be their biggest job yet. Everything had to be perfect.
"D'you think we should go back for—"
"I think we got as much as we could," Guren interrupted, scanning over the boxes stacked precariously in the pack of the van. "We shouldn't stick around much longer. According to the intel we got, the next patrol is due soon."
The others agreed with quick nods. Guren could tell that their adrenaline from a successful start was fading into apprehension.
"Let's head out," Guren repeated, yanking open the back door to the van. Mito and Sayuri piled in as Norito jumped into the driver's seat. In the distance, the faint howl of sirens echoed in the distance. Guren whipped his head around, trying to pick up where the sound was coming from.
"Start the van!" Norito jerked his wrist and the engine sputtered to life. He fumbled with the gear shift and pressed down on the gas. The van lurched forward and stopped with a screech. Guren winced as their boxes of stolen goods tipped forward with ominous crunches.
"Oops, still getting used to th—"
As Norito brought the van to a gradual roll, Guren raced beside the vehicle, keeping pace with it as best he could.
Clutching onto a spare seatbelt, Sayuri leaned out of the back of the van, holding out a hand for Guren to grab. With a grunt, Guren lunged forward, nearly tugging her out of the van before Mito yanked her back. He clambered into the van, panting as he pulled himself into a cross-legged sitting position.
When he looked back at his team, they refused to meet his gaze. Norito flipped the rearview mirror down, reflecting the gear shift instead of his sleepy eyes. Sayuri had jumped over the divider and slid into the passenger seat, staring wide-eyed out the window.
"I'm sorry, Guren." Mito almost looked like she meant it as she pulled her fist back. "I didn't want to do this."
Guren braced himself for the inevitable impact, squeezing his eyes in time for Mito's knuckles to plunge into his cheekbone. Guren's rubber soles grated against the van's floorboards as he bodily tipped over from the attack. He tumbled out of the open door, freefalling for a few terrifying seconds in the cool breeze caused by the slow-moving vehicle. He landed hard on his back and rolled a few feet, tucking his aching elbows closer as they scraped against the pavement.
"Shit…" he groaned, pulling himself onto his knees once his vision stopped tipping. He squinted at the flash of taillights as his chance at escaping pulled away with a screech of tires against pavement. He spat out blood, either caused by Mito's punch or his fall, and gingerly prodded at his jaw, making sure nothing else was broken.
In the near distance, the sound of sirens grew louder. Moments later, red lights flared against the warehouse windows and threw shadows across Guren's pinched expression.
Tires over gravel crunched as several police vehicles pulled up to the lot, encircling Guren like eager sharks. Guren raised his arm to block out the blinding glare from the headlights of the police car that skidded to stop, the grill a mere meter from his bleeding nose. An officer stepped out of the driver's seat, running a hand through his dark, non-protocol mohawk as he leered at Guren.
"What do we got here? Looks like someone let their stray mutt off its leash."
Part Two will be up in a few days! Thanks for reading!
Guren had just about lulled himself back to sleep when the door knob rattled. He looked up sluggishly, still nestled in his forearms, as his interrogators returned.
It wasn't a good sign, no matter where he was.
"Those names you gave us? Nothing came back. None of them were in our system. We didn't even get a hit on the prints we took at the scene."
Shinya yawned, patting over his mouth in an exaggerated gesture. "Total waste of time. I told him that, but he didn't listen."
Kureto ignored his partner, instead tossing a new file on the table. "But we did find some interesting things about your past once we dug a little deeper." Guren straightened up at the sight of the newspaper clipping.
Daughter of Wealthy Family Missing. Search for Body Called Off After a Week.
"I didn't know you were acquainted with my dear sister. I remember she used to gush about some brat named Guren…never would have guessed that was you."
Guren reached towards the grainy photograph, carefully snipped from the article. Mahiru's taunting smile, her sharp gaze. He could only imagine what she'd do if she saw him chained up in this interrogation room.
"H—how did you?"
Shinya held another file, but instead of answering, he passed it off to Kureto. Judging by his adverted gaze, he seemed just as uncomfortable as Guren felt.
Unsurprisingly, Kureto flourished in the strain.
"According to the teachers, you and my sister were quite close in school. They always worried about the influence you had on her. After all, what would a smart girl like her be doing with a useless punk like you? Nothing good, I bet."
Guren remained silent.
"You were one of the first suspects called in for questioning after she disappeared." Kureto paused, reevaluating his words. "Well, the first nonfamily member, at least."
"I didn't know anything then and I don't know anything now."
(Guren, we could be free. Come with me!)
"No, you couldn't provide any more details, that's true," Kureto agreed, flipping through Guren's original testimony. "It's like she vanished in thin air."
(Let's run away! Just you and me!)
"No one knows where she went…until now."
"Huh?" Guren stiffened. He knew his reactions were playing into Kureto's sick game, but he couldn't help himself.
"As you know, Ichinose, we run this city. It's been controlled by the Hiiragi family for decades. With such…responsibilities come certain privileges, like access to confidential information. Anyone with the Hiiragi name is privy to these secrets—even adopted sons like Shinya."
At the mention of Shinya's name, Guren flicked his gaze in his direction. Shinya was uncharacteristically silent, staring blankly at the same file he had opened at the start of their conversation.
They were supposed to get married, right? That's what she said.
"Everyone knows that about the Hiiragis. What's your point?"
Kureto tilted his head, studying Guren with a narrowed eye.
"Mahiru was a Hiiragi. She knew how to access this information like the rest of us." Kureto rose out of his chair and slowly circled around Guren. Guren followed Kureto's reflection in the dark glass.
"Looking through the details of all these heists—there was something that bothered me. Some of the information your team used, it wasn't public knowledge. No one would have known how to disable those security cameras or when those major shipments were coming in. Well, no one except for the first families and the Hiiragis."
"I told you—I don't know how they knew!"
Kureto stopped right behind Guren. Guren forced himself to stay still and not try to twist around to face his accuser.
"Either your team was consistently lucky…or there's a mole in the major families. I'd say it's someone in the Hiiragi family, otherwise you wouldn't have had known about all the other companies too. Seishirou's too dumb to pull this off and Shinoa doesn't involve herself in the family businesses. There's only one person who could have given you this information."
"So, tell me, Guren. Where's Mahiru?"
(Come find me, Guren!)
"I. Don't. Know." Guren gritted his teeth.
Shinya spoke for the first time, visibly perking up as he entered the conversation. "If Mahiru is the mole, we can stop these thefts by tracking her down. If you tell us where she is, you'll be rewarded, much less released. I'm sure you'd love to have feeling in your wrists again."
"Doesn't that sound like a better deal?" Guren could practically hear the leer in Kureto's voice.
"I don't know where she is," Guren repeated. "I haven't heard from her since she disappeared."
"I find that unlikely."
Guren crossed his arms, rattling his handcuffs. "You overestimate her affection for me then."
Kureto hummed, considering his words, before crossing back into Guren's line of vision. "That's entirely possible. It's not like you two would ever be together."
"I honestly can't see the appeal either," Shinya quipped with an upturned flick of his lip. Guren shot him a glare, preferring the sulking Shinya to this chipper one.
"If you do—" A tentative knock at the door cut Kureto off. He glanced over at the door sharply as it opened. A dark-haired girl tentatively poked her head through the crack.
"Who are you?"
She blinked once, twice, her heavy-lidded eyes widening in alarm. "I'm the new intern," she explained in a soft voice, adverting her gaze. "Detective Sangu asked me to bring you coffee."
The girl nodded quickly. She pushed the door open further with a shoulder, revealing two cups of steaming coffee in her hands. "Two sugars and cream for Lieutenant Shinya and straight black for you, sir."
"Oooh! Excellent! Tell Aoi she's a lifesaver. I'm exhausted!" Shinya reached for the cup and brought it to his lips before the intern stopped him.
"Lieutenant! It's still too hot!"
"Eh? Ah, you're right. It'll have to wait then," Shinya sighed, setting the steaming styrofoam cup just out of reach of Guren's fingertips.
"Did Aoi say anything else?"
The intern shook her head. "No, sir."
"Very well. Dismissed."
"Yes, sir." The intern set Kureto's coffee on the table, avoiding Guren's narrowed stare as she slipped out of the room.
There was a beat of silence, then:
"Where's my damn coffee?"
Kureto snorted, amused despite himself as Guren's bold declaration.
"Do you think you're a guest, Ichinose? No wonder your teammates tried to get rid of you."
Guren rolled his eyes. "I've put up with your bullshit interrogation for long enough. I'm tired and I want something to drink."
One of Kureto's eyebrows darted upwards. His good-natured smile started to slip. Guren was playing a dangerous game.
"Aww, come on, Nii-san. He's been up as long as we have. Getting caught red-handed is exhausting work, you know." Shinya winked at Guren. "Besides, you might remember something important. Right, Guren?"
He nodded slowly, reluctant to be roped into any of Shinya's promises.
Kureto hesitated before relenting. "Fine. I'll call that intern back—" He turned towards the door and frowned, mashing his lips together.
"You don't know her name, do you?"
Rather than admit it to Shinya, Kureto brushed it off as one would brush off crumbs.
"No matter. Shinya is right—"
"Ichinose has been in here for too long. Perhaps the chance to stretch his legs will remind him what freedom is like." Kureto leaned forward and unbolted the handcuff chain from the table with a flash of a metal key. Leaving Guren's personal shackles on, Kureto gestured for Guren to follow him.
"Doesn't that break protocol?" Shinya's head jerked back and forth as he followed the action.
"Even he's not stupid enough to try anything here."
"Are you sure about that?" Shinya didn't look convinced.
Guren forced his most complacent expression as he wobbled after Kureto. Even though he had stretched his legs out under the desk, putting weight on them was a whole different sensation. It felt like he was shaking ants from his toes and heels as he took each tentative step.
They made an odd trio as they moved down the hall. Kureto led the way, glaring ahead as if daring anyone to ask about his prisoner. Guren shuffled behind, clanking and jangling with each hobbled step as the nerves in his feet painfully caught up with him. Shinya brought up the rear, pausing every so often to chatter with other officers. Guren watched him out of the corner of his eye, catching his waving reflection in the mirrored glass lining the hallway. The distance between Kureto and Shinya was growing with Guren stranded somewhere in the middle.
Kureto noticed too. "Hurry up, you idiot," he muttered under his breath, so low that Guren almost missed it.
Apparently, this was standard procedure for the two Hiiragis, as neither looked particularly perturbed. "Coming~!" Shinya called out, his voice lilting as he picked up his pace, nearly passing Guren with an embarrassingly ostentatious skip.
With a deep breath to steady his nerves, Guren made his move. Clasping the handcuff chain with his fingers to muffling the rattling, he swung his arms over Shinya's head. He jerked his elbows back, yanking Shinya towards his chest. Shinya barely managed a startled squawk as his fingers scrabbled against the metal biting into his throat.
Kureto turned, his narrowed glare widening as he processed the shifting situation. Guren eyed him over Shinya's shoulder, tugging against the handcuffs as hard as he could without seriously incapacitating his new human shield. A conscious shield was much preferred to unconscious deadweight.
"Ichinose," Kureto started in a low tone. It was so emotionless and frigid that Guren felt himself shudder, wondering for the first time if he had made a mistake in testing the Hiiragis.
Guren dragged Shinya back as Kureto took a slow step towards them. By now, the other officers had noticed what was going on. Several crowded behind Kureto while others formed a loose ring around Guren, effectively blocking him off from any visible exits.
"Deputy Chief Kureto—your orders, sir?" Detective Aoi approached Kureto, her hand hovering over her weapon holster.
Kureto tilted his head as he studied Guren and his new hostage.
"Really, Shinya? I'm a bit disappointed in you."
Shinya offered a strangled cough. "He caught me by—ack—surprise."
"Your orders, sir?" Aoi repeated, unsnapping the leather loop over her holster and withdrawing her gun. She aimed it at Guren and flicked the safety off.
"No, Aoi. Lower your weapon." Kureto placed a hand over her gun and she immediately flicked the safety back on. She dropped her elbows, but maintained her cool stare.
"Sir? He's...taking your lieutenant."
"He can have him." Guren could practically feel Shinya's eyeroll in response to Kureto's quip, but he didn't feel like playing along with the jokes. Kureto's monotone humor was more frightening than his ultimatums.
"Let's see how far Guren plans to go. I doubt he had the forethought to come up with anything better. Let them pass…for now."
Guren wrinkled his nose and yanked Shinya back a few more wobbly steps. Immediately the loose line of officers behind him broke as they scattered to escape Guren's path. Guren kept his gaze locked with Kureto's cold stare.
"You," Shinya paused to cough and Guren loosened his grip around his throat. Shinya sucked in the air with a toothy smile and deep gulp. "Heh, you made the right…choice."
Guren hesitated before moving again. "Right choice?" He tried to sound as gruff as possible. "Why's that?"
"You managed to grab the best damn shot in this whole building. If you had tried it with anyone else, he would have ordered me to put a hole between your lovely eyes. Nothing personal, of course."
Although Guren didn't doubt Shinya's boasts, he still didn't like the way Kureto was watching them. If sought to quickly enough, he knew bullet wounds didn't have to be fatal. Shinya would be rushed to the hospital. Guren…probably would be left to bleed out on the tile floor. He only had a few moments before Kureto decided to cut his losses.
"Also, nothing personal about this either."
Before Guren could tighten his grip around his hostage's throat, Shinya simultaneously swept Guren's feet with a knock of his own ankle and jerked backwards, tipping their balance. Guren tumbled backwards, striking the tile with a stunned grunt. Shinya landed on top of him, knocking the air out of his lungs in a gasping whoosh. Shinya wriggled out from under Guren's grip and rolled Guren over with a flip of his foot. He yanked his handcuffed arms back behind him, popping his elbows with the sharp action. Guren hissed at the jarring pain and writhed before Shinya pressed a knee in to his spine to silence him.
"Better luck next time, pal," Shinya panted before patting Guren on the back. Guren could hear the smile in his voice.
Guren pressed his swollen cheek to the ground, relishing the cool sensation despite his churning gut and screaming joints.
He heard the soft click click of Kureto's boots as he approached.
"I don't know why you had to drag it out so long. Your stalling wasted five minutes."
"Aw, Nii-san," Shinya pouted, rising from his perch on Guren's back. "I thought I did a good job handling it~!"
Kureto flicked an unimpressed eyebrow as he hauled Guren to his feet. Guren glanced back at Shinya, a bit pleased to notice the rising red welt from his handcuffs staining his throat.
"So, what's our next step?"
"Since you were careless enough to get caught, you are going to explain what just happened."
Shinya's shoulders slumped. "That's no fun. Can I at least drop by the infirmary first?"
"I don't care what you do. Just have that report on my desk by midnight."
Shinya nodded, submitting to Kureto's demands with a half-hearted shrug. He offered Guren a cheery wave before disappearing down the hall, oblivious to (or basking in) the hushed whispers that followed him.
"Come on, you useless mutt," Kureto growled as he yanked Guren's arm and forcefully towed him back towards the interrogation room. He shoved Guren towards his seat and slammed the door, hovering in front of it with arms crossed.
"What did you hope to gain by that little show, Ichinose? There's no way out."
Guren glanced at the twin cups of coffee on the table. It's probably cold by now. With his handcuffs no longer chained to the table, Guren reached towards Shinya's cool cup unrestricted.
"Answer me," Kureto seethed, irritation tinging his tone more vividly than it had during their earlier conversations.
Did I get under his skin? He didn't seem shaken earlier.
Guren sloshed the milky brown liquid around before taking a sip. He grimaced at the lukewarm taste before returning his gaze back to Kureto.
I don't know how he can drink this sweet crap. It's hardly coffee anymore.
"I didn't have anything left to give you. You were going to lock me up anyway, so I figured I might as well try."
"I hope you're prepared to spend the rest of your life rotting away then." Kureto offered him a wicked smile. "If you don't give me anything else of value, you'll never leave this place alive."
Guren drummed his fingers against the table before sighing and leaning back. "Okay, fine. I don't know who their ringleader is, but I know where they're striking next. I overheard their plans when we were loading up last night."
"What makes you think I'll trust you after that stunt you just pulled?"
"Nothing I can say will make you trust me, but gamblers don't tend to lie right after they've been called on a bluff."
Kureto nodded once, perhaps impressed by Guren's logic. "Very well. Proceed."
"Sangu Publishing. I'm sure your detective can tell you more, but they're due to receive a large shipment of valuable scrolls in a few hours. My team—ergh, the group I used to work with—plans to attack the warehouse by the docks later tonight."
Kureto narrowed his eyes before disappearing through the door. Guren grinned at his chance for a moment alone. He plunged his fist into Shinya's coffee cup and fished through the tepid liquid. Kureto reappeared just as Guren buried his still damp hands in his lap.
"Aoi confirmed what you said about the incoming shipment. We're sending a team to intercept them. If what you said turns out to be true…we'll reevaluate where you stand."
A rapid round of knocks sounded at the door. Aoi appeared a moment later and flicked her wide-eyed gaze towards Guren. "Sir! I contacted my father to warn him and he said his shipment was never delivered."
Kureto cursed under his breath before glancing at Guren. "It seems you were right about the target, but not about the time." Turning back to Aoi, Kureto waved a hand, slicing the air with a horizontal cut. "Take as many men as we can spare and comb the city. This is the last time this little gang makes a fool of the Hiiragis."
"Yes, sir!" Aoi disappeared and Kureto sighed, sinking into the chair opposite of Guren. He pinched the bridge of his nose, seemingly indifferent to Guren's presence.
Guren waited for the clatter of racing feet to die down in the hallway before opening his mouth.
"You asked me what I hoped to achieve."
Kureto studied him impassively, unsure of what kind of conversation Guren was trying to start.
"I really wanted a cup of coffee and the chance to stretch my legs."
"Is that it?"
"No, not the full reason." Guren's lip pulled upwards. "I also wanted Shinya to shut up. He was starting to get on my nerves."
Kureto uttered a sharp bark of laughter and leaned back in his chair. "I can't say I blame you," he chuckled, appraising Guren with a twisted sense of respect. "You got your wish—he isn't with us anymore."
"No, he isn't," he agreed, the words tinged with an underlying emphasis.
"Still, you could have done something less rash than attack a member of the Hiiragi family."
"Adopted member," Guren corrected.
"Shinya's an adopted son." His smile broadened, the expression taking on a sharper glint. "But that doesn't stop him from having access to all of the Hiiragi's nasty secrets. You said it yourself."
Kureto froze, the residual smirk from Guren's past comment still plastered across his face.
"You think Shinya is the Hiiragi mole? He would never do something as foolish as work with the likes of you."
"I don't think you give him enough credit. The whole diversion was his idea."
Kureto's expression finally slipped, leaving behind a cold stare. "What are you talking about?"
"As much as you find him annoying, you still wanted to keep him involved in the investigation. You can't risk missing out on the small details he could catch while you interrogated me. The only reason you'd send him away was if there was an unexpected complication. Like an injury received from an escaping prisoner."
"He's not going to the infirmary. He's finishing the job."
Kureto narrowed his eyes, refusing to be beat in Guren's game. "Even if what you're saying is true, you're still here. Unless you want to roast alive, you'll tell me everything you know."
"Everything you needed to know is already in those files. You had it all from the beginning."
With a jagged, darting swing of his arm, Kureto dragged the files towards him. The files that were touched last by Shinya.
"You were so focused on the Jujo Tech raid that you didn't even bother to look at the other photos." Guren was talking more than he normally would. It felt so wrong, so childish to outline the plan like a B-movie villain. After all, Kureto was a big boy who could figure things out. However, he needed to make sure he stalled long enough for Shinya and the others to act.
Kureto squinted at the grainy photos before swearing. One of thieves lurked in the corner of an earlier photo, swaddled in black with a scoped rifle tucked over his shoulder. The only identifiable feature was a tuft of fair hair, poking out from under the dark cap. In the distorted, monochrome photo, Kureto had assumed the thief was blond when he caught a glimpse of it over Shinya's shoulder.
Kureto thought back to the start of the investigation, of Shinya deliberately feeding him the information that would shield him from blame. He did not receive this picture during their briefings.
"Damn him," Kureto breathed again, lip rising in a sneer as he glared at the photos.
"He oversaw gathering intel for these cases, right? He didn't do a very good job if he kept this much information from you."
"If you think confessing will save you, you are sorely mistaken. We'll catch that traitor and the rest of your pathetic team with the Sangu scrolls and you'll all pay."
"Sangu scrolls?" Guren cocked an eyebrow. "I'm afraid your men are chasing after another red herring. You sent them after the wrong fish. It'll take them a while to swim back to shore."
Kureto surged to his feet and lurched towards the door, yanking it open and shouting for Aoi in the abandoned hallway.
Instead of Aoi, the dark-haired intern appeared, wriggling her shoulders uncomfortably as she kept her arms tucked behind her back.
"You! Contact the others! Tell them to returned to the stat—"
"Sir?" she interrupted, staring over Kureto's shoulders at Guren. "It's time to go."
"Yeah, yeah," Guren sighed, rising out of his chair. His unlocked handcuffs dropped from his lap, striking on the concrete floor with a metallic rattle. "Let's get out of here." He stepped around the table, dropping the stained key back into Shinya's cup of coffee.
Kureto snarled and reached for his holster, but a glint of light under his chin caused him to stiffen. With eyes blazing and small blade gripped between her fingers, she dared Kureto to make another move. Kureto's cold fury shifted to a grudging smile, as if acquiescing to Guren's victory.
"Congratulations, Ichinose. I'm not easily beaten."
Guren tipped his fingers in a mock salute. "I'll take the compliment. Come on, Shigure. Let's go before the others screw up the rest of the plan." He skirted around Kureto and Shigure, slamming the heavy interrogation door closed after Shigure slipped through. He jammed a chair under the door knob, sealing Kureto in the room as effectively as any lock could.
With the hard part completed, Guren yawned and stretched his shoulders, wincing at the muted burn from Shinya's forceful takedown and the strain from the handcuffs. He and Shigure walked down the precinct's hallway unhindered, wide and open without any milling officers.
He eyed his rescuer with an upward quirk of his lips. "I didn't expect you to be so…passionate about Shinya and his coffee. You sounded like Sayuri."
Shigure slumped her shoulders and glanced to the side, finally free from her role as an unassuming intern. "I didn't want him to choke on the key by accident. It would have ruined everything."
"Still, it was hard to keep a straight face."
"But speaking of that idiot," Guren trailed off as he fished through his sleeve. "Let's see where we're going next." He pulled out a folded scrap of paper, delivered by Shinya during their tangle in the hall.
"You got to be kidding me…"
Guren sighed before passing it to his companion.
Shigure eyed the paper curiously as they pushed through the back doors of the station and stepped out into the midafternoon sun.
Chapter 3: Epilogue
Here it is. The cheesy little end. Let me know if you'll want to see another "episode" of these dorks stealin' stuff they shouldn't.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Do you know how much I hate you right now?”
“Those words don’t quite have the same effect when you’re smiling, Guren.”
Guren rolled his eyes and crossed his arms—a mistake on his joints, but the sentiment was worth it. Their harebrained scheme had been worth it, despite the bruises and familial betrayal (or maybe because of it).
But Guren sure as hell wasn’t going to tell Shinya that.
“All that work and what did we get for it?”
“I’d say he’s having a pretty good night’s sleep. The whole crew is. I’m pretty proud of us.”
Shinya gestured over his shoulder with a thumb at a gently snoring Norito. When Guren and Shigure had pulled up to their rendezvous point, he didn’t expect to find a nearly comatose team. Safely out of danger, Guren realized with a sag of his shoulders that it had been nearly 24 hours since he last slept. He couldn’t blame his equally exhausted team. Sayuri and Mito were passed out on the tattered couch, learning against each other. Shigure had nodded off in a nearby chair as soon as they arrived, her tilted head resting on the edge of her shoulder.
“He’s using a bag of ¥10,000 notes as a pillow.”
Shinya grinned. “And there’s plenty more where that come from too. We got everything.”
Guren shook his head in mock disgust. “Forget Seishirou—you’re the rottenest cop on the whole police force.”
“What? It’s not like they were using all those jewels and priceless coins in the Hiiragi vault. It was such a waste~!”
“I can’t believe we did all that just so you could steal from yourself.”
“Hey! We could have stopped with the Jujo trip.” Shinya held up a finger with a hoisted eyebrow. “We could have gotten through that without you being ‘caught.’ I think you wanted to stick it to Kureto.”
Shinya sighed wistfully, rolling his eyes upwards, almost as if he could see Kureto’s fuming expression in the rafters. “It would have been nice to see you beating him. Well, that and Mito decking you in the face. She was still upset about it afterwards.”
“He wasn’t that angry. He was…calm about the whole thing.” He decided not to comment on Shinya’s second wish. It had been a necessary precaution to make their story as believable as possible.
“Hmm…. I suppose he would be. He’s always like that. That’s what makes him so scary, I think.”
Guren scoffed and collapsed into a seated position on the ground. He had been sitting for too long, but he was too tired to stay standing. He compromised by leaning against the concrete wall behind him, savoring the cool rock against his sore shoulders.
Shinya took the unspoken invitation and dropped next to Guren, close enough that their knees brushed together.
“He was scarier when he tried to be funny.”
“When that Sangu detective told him that I was ‘taking’ his lieutenant,” Guren clarified. “And he said I could have you.”
Shinya rolled his eyes, this time less fondly. “Oh, right. The amount of verbal abuse I suffered while maintaining my cheery, righteous sidekick role was unbearable. I’m the real victim here.”
“If I were him, I would have thanked me for taking out the trash.”
“Ehh?! That’s so mean! I should have taken you down harder than I did.”
He declined to respond. Quite honestly, Guren was grateful that Shinya was on his side. That gamble could have been much riskier without a complying “victim.” Having someone work behind the scenes to sweep away any incriminating evidence was equally beneficial. He glanced to the side and caught sight of Shinya’s splotchy throat, still raw from Guren’s attempt at escape. Immediately, his comfortable smile disappeared.
“You got a little quiet when he mentioned Mahiru. I could almost hear myself think.”
Shinya offered a little hiccup-y laugh. “When Kureto found that information about your tie to Mahiru, he was so convinced that there was a Hiiragi mole. I mean, he was right, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. I figured he’d probably forget about me if I stayed silent, you know? Didn’t want to give him any ideas.”
“You and your loud mouth could have ruined the whole thing.”
There was a beat of silence, then:
“Do you think she’s still out there?”
Guren nodded once, twice. “Yeah, I do,” he admitted with a gusty sigh. “I don’t know where, but I doubt she’s gone. She’ll hear about this somehow. Maybe your bratty sister will tell her or she’ll see it on the news.”
Shinya shook his head, the smile on his face not quite reaching his eyes. “They won’t tell anyone about this. I’ll…oh, I don’t know what they’ll say about me, but I won’t be a traitor. Their image won’t allow that. I’ll just go missing in the line of duty and no one will be the wiser about the missing Hiiragi heirlooms.”
Shinya fell silent again and Guren waited for the moment to pass. Soon enough, Shinya’s faded frown melted into a conspiratorial flick of the lips.
“Yeah, but you? Your ugly face will be plastered on every police board for the rest of time. Kureto won’t rest until he finds you.” Shinya laughed, his eyes crinkling as his shoulder knocked against Guren’s; the sound felt natural again and Guren smothered his smile. “After all, you did assault a Hiiragi in the middle of a police precinct.”
“Adopted Hiiragi,” he clarified, not particularly concerned with his new notoriety. They were due to move soon anyway.
“So, bossman, where are we going next?” As if reading his mind, Shinya waited patiently for an answer.
Guren eyed his partner suspiciously. “It hasn’t even been an hour and you’re already planning our next job? And you said I was an adrenaline junkie.”
Shinya offered Guren a grin but said nothing to defend himself.
“Well, whenever you figure it out, wake me up.” With a loud, mocking yawn, Shinya leaned against Guren and closed his eyes, shimmying against the concrete wall to get comfortable. Guren would have shrugged him off if a sharp shift in Shinya’s breathing hadn’t stopped him.
He’s seriously already asleep? What the hell?
Trapped by Shinya’s deadweight, Guren sighed and made himself as comfortable as he could as he reminisced over their success. It had been their longest, riskiest job. Guren was, understandably, in the most perilous spot (he wouldn’t have allowed anyone else to take his place), but Shinya and Shigure were in danger of having their cover blown prematurely. Mito and Sayuri were crucial for rendezvousing with Shinya; any lapse in contact could have ensnared all three of them. Likewise, the entire job would have crumbled if Norito hadn’t been able to get out of the Sangu district before Kureto’s hungry dogs chased after his decoy.
As guilty as he was of feeling that same rush of adrenaline, Guren was still concerned for his ragtag team of troublemakers. His gaze traveled from Norito to the three girls slumped on the stained furniture to Shinya, lips faintly parted as he leaned against Guren’s shoulder. A rueful smile pulled on Guren’s mouth. He wanted to permanently retire, but his team would throw a mutiny at the announcement. They all loved the rush.
Maybe our next job will be something slower…a nice, low maintenance one.
Surrounded by his friends and the riches of their success, Guren allowed himself to finally drift off to sleep.
He damn well deserved it.
Thank you for reading!