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Takaba Akihito’s Secret Part-time Job

Chapter Text

Club Sion Building, Presidential Suite, Wednesday, 9:01am

“He has a fashion photoshoot at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden from 3pm until sunset. After that, he is continuing his stakeout of Diet member Morinaga Souichi-sensei, who is rumored to be having an affair with an underage girl. Morinaga-sensei has no known ties to any organization, and our investigator has determined that the girl is an ordinary high school student.” Kirishima paused to observe the infinitesimal thinning of lips and slight swallow before Asami raised his eyebrows in feigned nonchalance. It had been ten days since Asami had seen Takaba awake, and it was beginning to fray the man’s nerves.

And when Asami’s nerves began to fray, Kirishima’s unraveled. He continued, “We could make an ‘anonymous’ tip to Takaba revealing the girl’s identity.”

“Do that.” Asami swiftly changed the subject. “What’s next on the agenda?”

“You have a meeting with Yajima-san at 9:30 and the security summit at 10. As for the lunch meeting with Otoumi-san at 1, he has an issue and wishes to reschedule it for tomorrow. Or I could get one of the alternative designers to show up at 1.”

“No. Otoumi had the most innovative design by far. If the others are more free, it’s due to the inferiority of their work. Did Otoumi have a specific time in mind tomorrow?”

Kirishima swiped on his tablet. “He said he was free between 10 and 3. If we shorten the meeting with Fujiyama-san and move the meeting with Yamane-san to evening drinks…”

“That’ll be fine.” Asami held out his hand for the stack of reports Kirishima was surely hiding.

As Asami settled to work, Kirishima bowed and left the room. He had one very important item on his own agenda before rescheduling with Otoumi. He picked up his phone. “Hello. Takaba?”

 

Club Sion Building, Executive Conference Room, Wednesday, 12:45pm

Suoh used a pointer to highlight areas on a map. “Escape tunnel 1 leads 200m northwest to Warehouse 7. Escape tunnel 2 leads 700m southwest to the basement of the Takanaga Building.” Asami smirked. “Escape Tunnel 3 leads 100m east directly into the water, and the submersible is fully equipped and ready.” Suoh set down his pointer. “I believe the new warehouse is ready for beta testing.” Kirishima tried not to roll his eyes at the way Suoh pronounced the word beta “bay-TAH.” Suoh, oblivious, continued. “I was hoping we could schedule it for this weekend.” He looked at Asami.

Asami looked at Kirishima.

Kirishima said, “You have to attend the opening of the new museum and restaurant in Nakameguro on Friday evening.”

“Will that give you enough time to prepare?” Asami asked Suoh.

“Yes, Asami-sama.” As Suoh confirmed the schedule, Kirishima started typing furiously on his tablet. He just hoped he had enough time to prepare.

 

Club Sion Building, Lobby, Wednesday, 12:55pm

“I’m sorry, sir, but unless you have an appointment, you can’t go inside,” the receptionist frostily said.

:”I already told you, I do have an appointment.”

“With Asami-shacho.” The woman’s tone dripped with skepticism as she eyed the sneakers, jeans, t-shirt, and… “Is that a camera bag? Photography is absolutely prohibited in the building. I must ask that you leave at once.”

Takaba tried not to roll his eyes. “Yes, it’s a camera bag. Because I’m a photographer.” He handed over his business card. “I’m not taking pictures; the camera is securely in the bag. If I were going to sneak in here and take pictures, believe me, you’d have no idea…” He was about to snark about how he’d done it before, but the rumble in his stomach made him think better of it. He glanced at the receptionist’s nametag. “Look, Tatsumi-san, I’m only here because Glasses – I mean Kirishima-san – asked me to meet Asami now. Just call Kirishima-san. I don’t know why he forgot to tell you I was coming… probably because he enjoys tormenting me.”

Tatsumi froze in shock at the lack of honorific for Asami, but she quickly recovered. “I’m sorry, but we only allow entry to people on the list. And –” She glanced at the name card. “Takaba Akihito is not on the list.”

At the same moment she glanced down, the elevator doors opened behind her. Takaba took his chance to sprint past her desk, joining the group of businessmen and women returning from lunch.

Unsurprisingly, Asami’s security team was quick to react as Tatsumi called, “Excuse me! You don’t have access to the building!”

Takaba stopped and raised his hands. He had his best camera and lenses in his bag, and it wasn’t worth risking them to fight Asami’s goons, even if he was in the right. “I’m just trying to get to my appointment with Asami Ryuichi. I scheduled it this morning with Kirishima-san,” he told the guard.

The guard was staring at him, gob-smacked. “You’re – you’re – you’re you! You’re amazing! I’m a big fan of your work.”

Takaba lowered his hands. “Really? That’s kind of you.” He was flustered. Criminal photography didn’t typically draw many fans (or any, if he was honest and didn’t include his mother). “Which work in particular?” he ventured.

“Oh, everything I’ve seen, really. The way you focus on the seemingly most insignificant things in the environment, be it a trashcan or a drainpipe… The way you lure people’s attention to distract them. Your use of shadow to melt away. And you move so gracefully!”

Takaba blinked. That last bit didn’t sound like he was talking about photography. “I move gracefully?”

“Yes! That film of you at that residential building in Shinjuku, when you rolled right over onto your back –“

“Excuse me! Yoneda-kun! Do you know this man? He’s trying to break into the building,” Tatsumi interrupted.

“It’s not breaking in if I have an appointment. Do you give all of Asami-sama’s guests such a difficult time?” Takaba asked.

Yoneda glanced between the two. “Did you call upstairs to confirm his appointment?” he asked Tatsumi.

“Really! He’s obviously lying. I don’t want to bother Kirishima-fuku-shacho unnecessarily.”

“What seems to be the trouble? I heard there was a scene in the lobby,” the man in question said, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Ah, Takaba. I was just wondering where you were.”

Tatsumi’s jaw dropped. “I – I’m sorry, Fuku-shacho-san. I thought he was a journalist trying to sneak in here.” She bowed deeply to Takaba. “I’m deeply sorry, Takaba-sama. I sincerely regret making assumptions about the nature of your business. It is not Sion policy. The fault lies completely with me, and I hope you’ll accept my apologies and not let my actions reflect on our company.” She bowed again.

Takaba grinned. “It’s fine. I believe that Kirishima-san here was equally responsible for neglecting to inform you of my appointment. You were just doing your job, Tatsumi-san. Right, Kirishima-san?”

No one could fluster Kirishima the way Takaba could. Not that Kirishima let it show. “Er, yes, that’s right, Takaba. I apologize for my failure to let you know of Takaba’s appointment, Tatsumi-kun.”

“You should get used to seeing my face,” Takaba said cheekily. “Not that I’ll be coming often, but I just might show up again…”

“And if he does, please inform me or Asami-sama at once. He is not to wander the building unescorted,” Kirishima finished.

Tatsumi returned to her station. As Kirishima grabbed Takaba’s arm and steered him towards the elevator, the photographer pouted. “You’re no fun.”

“Must you always cause a disturbance wherever you go?” Kirishima asked.

Just as the doors were closing, Yoneda tipped his hat to Takaba. “It was great to meet you, senpai.”

“Senpai?” Kirishima asked Takaba.

Takaba shrugged. “He said he admired my work. Maybe he’s an amateur photographer.” Then he remembered what Yoneda had said about a film. “Or maybe an amateur actor?”

:”Actor?” Kirishima asked blankly. He hadn’t heard about Takaba pursuing acting even as a hobby. The young man wore his emotions on his face and couldn’t bluff to save his life. Kirishima couldn’t imagine how he could act without his face saying to the audience, “This is all pretend, guys!”

Takaba looked confused. “He said something about me being in a film. In a residential building in Shinju…ku…” He trailed off, blushing as the rest of Yoneda’s words came back to him and he thought of the only residential building in Shinjuku he spent any time in … and what he was usually doing when he rolled onto his back in said building. “Do you know anything about that?” he asked Kirishima sharply.

Kirishima looked unperturbed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I must confess I have no interest in film. I’m sure Asami-sama would be interested to hear about your film career, though.”

Takaba’s face darkened. “I’m sure he would. But I’m more interested in hearing from him about my ‘film career.’”

 

Club Sion Building, Presidential Suite, Wednesday, 1:03pm

“Takaba! You came chasing after me?” Asami looked pleased to see him.

“What? It was you who missed my cooking so much I had to turn into a delivery service. I’m sorry if my food doesn’t taste as good reheated, but you could remedy that by coming home earlier…” Takaba blushed faintly.

“I see. You’ve been lonely.” Asami walked over and lifted Takaba’s chin.

“You should be more honest,” Takaba chided.

So should you, Asami thought but didn’t voice aloud, as he lowered his face towards Takaba’s.

“You’re just lucky I was in the process of preparing my own lunch when Glasses called. And your office just happens to be near my photoshoot today.” Takaba seemed oblivious to the mood Asami was trying to set.

Kirishima coughed discreetly. “I’ll be heading out to lunch now, Asami-sama, unless you need anything.”

Asami looked at his secretary. “No. Thank you.” Kirishima knew the gratitude was for delivering Takaba. Kirishima suspected Asami would find some thoughtful way to show his appreciation in the next few days. That wasn’t why the secretary had done it, of course, but Asami’s genuine thoughtfulness and consideration he showed towards his friends and subordinates inspired an equal show of loyalty and care in return.

Kirishima remembered the recent note in the office mail from Kuroda-sensei, thanking Asami for the limited-edition book he’d found for him. Kuroda wrote that he’d given up finding that book after high school, and Kirishima finally understood the many side-trips into used bookstores he’d made with Asami over the years.

“Wait!” Takaba said as Kirishima headed for the door. Takaba fished into his camera bag and pulled out a wrapped bento box. “This one’s yours. Unless you’d rather eat something else… I figured you must have been just as busy as Asami lately, though…”

Kirishima was surprised. He took the bento gratefully; he hadn’t had time for a home-cooked meal in ten days – not even a reheated one. “Thank you, Takaba-kun.” He shut the door behind himself, musing that Takaba and Asami were more alike in some ways than most people would realize. Kirishima went down the hall to warn the other employees to stay away from the presidential suite. While there was good soundproofing in the office, he’d learned from experience that no soundproofing was good enough.

 

Club Sion Building, Presidential Suite, Wednesday, 2:17pm

“Asami, enough! This is work,” Takaba pushed the older man away so he could get a better look at his phone.

“I can give you a job. That lunch was delicious, you know. How about you bring me lunch every day, Akihito?”

“I don’t have time for that, and neither do you. Did you have a sudden cancellation today?” Takaba snarked as he rapidly worked on his phone. “Yes!”

“Good news?” Asami asked, shifting behind to wrap his arms around Takaba’s waist and nibble on his neck.

“I was given an anonymous tip regarding the identity of the underage lover of a politician. I just found her Twitter account, and she posted a selfie with her friends at Starbucks right after cram school. I know this Starbucks!” He tilted his phone so Asami could see the picture.

“Why is that girl’s face covered with a heart?”

“I have no idea. I’ve never understood the way teenage girls’ minds work.”

Asami smirked. “Whose mind do you understand, Akihito?” He started sucking on Takaba’s neck again.

“Not yours. And would you quit it? I don’t want to go to work with a kiss mark on my neck.”

Asami smirked again. It was too late, but he wasn’t going to tell Takaba that.

Takaba was preoccupied with his phone again. “There’s only one cram school near the Starbucks. Based on when the picture was taken… and her age… cross-referencing with the cram school schedule… Yes! She’ll probably finish at 8:30 tonight. Or 7 if she’s not taking English…” He fiddled on his phone some more and frowned. “She’s a returnee. She might not be taking English. Well, I’ll get there as soon as I can. As long as Emi isn’t one of the models today, I should make it by 7. And if Emi is one of the models, I hope the company is okay with night shots.”

He sighed and pulled out of Asami’s grasp. He went into the bathroom and finger-combed his hair with a little water. “My clothes are all wrinkled now!” He griped.

“No one will notice,” Asami assured him. Asami walked over to the hidden closet and pulled out a fresh shirt.

“You know, the fact that you have a shower and a complete wardrobe in your office might be a sign that you work too much, Asami,” Takaba said, returning from the bathroom.

“It just shows I’m efficient. Are you worried about me, Akihito? Don’t be; I have a lot of stamina.”

“I know,” Takaba griped, subconsciously rubbing his sore gluteus as he knelt to tie his shoes.

“There’s plenty of room in the wardrobe. You could keep some spare clothes here, too, you know,” Asami offered.

Takaba bristled. “Why would I need to? I don’t work here. And if I need to change, I can always go home.” Finished tying his shoes, Takaba stood up. “Why are you smiling?” He didn’t realize that he’d called the penthouse “home.” But Asami did.

Asami pulled him in for one last kiss.

After Takaba left, Kirishima entered. “Shima-san will be here in five minutes, Asami-sama.”

Asami took the two-page brief from Kirishima and started skimming it. “Is Emi one of the models today?”

If Kirishima was startled, he didn’t show it. Within 15 seconds, he had the answer on his tablet. “Yes. Is that a problem?”

Asami just looked at him expectantly.

“She’s already en route to the set, and it will be difficult to find a replacement in time…” Kirishima continued working on his tablet. “Interesting.”

He made a quick phone call while Asami continued reading the brief. As soon as Kirishima hung up, Asami asked, “Is Togawa working the lunch shift today?”

Kirishima checked his tablet quickly. “Yes.”

“Have her and a few others take over an assortment of healthy snacks to the set in Shinjuku Gyoen, courtesy of Club Sion.”

Chapter Text

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Wednesday, 2:55pm

Takaba strolled across the lawn over to the busy set. The activity seemed to be even more hectic than usual, and he groaned when he heard Emi’s voice rise above the rest. “What did you put on my face? I told you I was allergic to tea tree oil!”

“I didn’t use any tea tree oil on you,” the make-up artist defended herself. “I didn’t even bring anything with it today, because I know you’re allergic to it.”

“Get it off! It itches!” Emi shrieked. The make-up artist diligently started wiping her face with make-up remover. “I can’t believe you!” Emi shrieked even louder as she saw the swollen, puffy hives in the mirror. “You’re never going to work in this industry again!”

“But this is your usual make-up palette, Emi-sama,” the make-up artist soothed. “Maybe you have a new allergy? How long have you been using that sun-blocking toner?”

“I just got it today,” Emi sniffed. “My manager stopped in a store on the way here because I was booked for a “pale beauty” shoot on Saturday, and it’s so sunny today. But that can’t be it; he knows about my allergy.”

The make-up artist picked up the toner and read the ingredients. “Apparently he forgot to check,” she said, handing the bottle to Emi. “I didn’t check because you specifically told me to use this.”

Takaba needed to start setting up his equipment, so he pulled Director Nekota aside to discuss the shots he wanted. “I don’t know if we can even proceed,” the director said. “Without Emi-chan, the balance of men and women will be off. And if I remove one of the men, we won’t have enough people in the shot. But for now, let’s get ready. Emi’s manager is getting medicine that might help.”

“You want to create the vibe that they came to the park after a wild night in Shinjuku, right?” Takaba asked, reconfirming the concept.

Nekota nodded as he watched Emi’s manager run across the lawn and hand her some antihistamines.

“Then I think we should include a shot of the Shinjuku skyline. We need to be on the other side of this pond,” Takaba stated.

“I’d have to get permission to use the buildings, but I like it…” the director mused. He ordered everyone to move everything across the bridge; the tents and equipment would be in the way of the shot otherwise.

Takaba was the first to cross the bridge. He grabbed his back-up camera and started observing the area through his viewfinder. He had his assistant sit and stand in various places, dropping beanbags to mark the spots when he’d found just the right angle. He’d only been at it for about 5 minutes when he noticed a group walking in the background on the far side of the pond, laden with tables, chairs, coolers, and boxes. When he zoomed in with the camera, he recognized the Sion logo on the boxes. He groaned. Had he mentioned where his shoot was to Asami? He couldn’t remember.

Takaba tried to focus on setting up for his shots while the group crossed the bridge. Once across, the pretty waitress leading the group came directly over to him. He recognized her from an evening he’d spent in Sion with Asami. “Hello, Togawa-san,” he said.

Togawa-san smiled, pleased that he recognized her. “Hello, Takaba-sensei. Asami-sama sends his compliments to you and everyone on the set. Could you introduce me to the director please, so we can set up out of the way?”

Sensei? Takaba knew that his first impression of Togawa as a kind-hearted girl was correct.

When Takaba introduced Togawa-san, the director’s eyes lit up. “Have you ever done any modeling, my dear?” he asked, walking around her.

“Yes, a little. I’m here on behalf of Club Sion. Asami-shacho sends his compliments to you. He thought you might appreciate some light refreshments while working in the afternoon sun.”

“Thank you. That’s very kind of Asami-san,” Nekota said. He looked over at Emi. The hives hadn’t gone down at all, and the red blotchiness from all her hysterical crying wasn’t helping matters. “Would you be willing to model right now?”

“Right now? Well, I’m working, sir,” Togawa said hesitantly.

“I’ve got to call Asami-san to thank him for these refreshments. I’ll ask if he can spare you. It’s an emergency.”

Togawa bit her lip. “I’d feel bad…”

“If Asami-san can’t spare you, he’ll say no; he’s very frank. But look, it’s past the lunch rush now, isn’t it? Or are you worried about the pay? It’s 100,000 yen. We should be done by 7.” Togawa’s eyes widened at the pay. Nekota already had his cell phone to his ear.

Five minutes later, the still-shrieking Emi was packed into a taxi and sent home, and Togawa was getting her hair and make-up done. She was a bit thinner and less curvy than Emi, but with a little hidden duct tape, the clothes fit perfectly.

Takaba was assembling the other models, who were already ready, and making final adjustments to his camera. As the light changed and the golden hour approached, he’d need to change lenses. He had the new lenses arranged in the order that he’d need them, and he made sure his assistant understood which he would need when. As he made final adjustments to the mirrors and screens he’d set up to help reflect the natural light more directly onto the models’ faces, Togawa joined the other models.

Nekota gave general instructions on what kinds of images he’d like. Takaba gave further directions to each model while looking through his viewfinder. “That’s great, Togawa-san. Hold it right there. Now pretend that Shunpei-san just farted.”

Shunpei looked surprised, but Togawa just giggled.

“That’s great.” Takaba took a few more shots, then connected his camera to his tablet so he could show the director a sample.

“That’s just what I’m looking for! You were right about adding the skyline into the background; it really matches the sophistication of the clothing line.” Nekota frowned. “But it’s still lacking a bit of the spontaneity I was hoping for…”

Takaba dug into his camera bag and pulled out the LED kendama he’d picked up for Kou’s birthday on his way to Asami’s office earlier. “What if someone played with this?” he suggested.

“Does anyone know how to do kendama?” Nekota asked.

“I can do a little,” Shunpei said. As he took the toy and started playing with it, Takaba directed the others. Except for Togawa, the models had all worked with one another a few times before, and they were able to naturally get into the scene. Fumi spread his denim jacket on the grass so that Mari’s pale blue skirt wouldn’t get dirty. The pair kicked off their shoes, and they sat on the bank of the pond barefoot, watching while Shunpei showed Togawa how the kendama worked.

Togawa was so focused on the kendama, she didn’t notice that she was inching closer and closer to the water (she kept missing to the same side). Shunpei realized it just as she teetered on the edge. He grasped her around the waist, but he lost his own footing.

He sank into the water halfway up his shin, and when he pulled his foot out, it was encased in mud up to the ankle. He looked briefly up at the director, but Takaba urged him to keep going. “Just take the shoes and socks off and roll up your pants!”

The others were laughing at Shunpei’s predicament, but he made the most of it, artfully laying out the dirty shoe and sock next to the clean ones, and then taking the kendama back from Togawa to have another turn. Togawa suddenly pointed into the water, and everyone was surprised to see Shunpei go splashing back in. He triumphantly lifted up an iridescent, shimmering Mandarin duck feather. He held it out to Togawa, who took it gently. Shunpei got a mischievous look in his eyes and playfully splashed in her direction, taking care not to actually splash her. “Are you going to let him get away with that?” Takaba taunted her.

Togawa kicked off her sandals and stepped down into the water, making sure her knee-length dress didn’t get wet. She splashed back at Shunpei, but a little too enthusiastically, getting not just him but Mari wet as well.

Fumi quickly jumped into the water to defend Mari’s honor, while Mari directed him from the bank… until Shunpei pulled her in, too. She shrieked as she splashed in, soaking her skirt. Togawa nodded from behind Shunpei’s back, and she and Mari each grabbed one of Shunpei’s arms and dunked him.

Takaba was taking shot after shot. He stole a quick glance at Nekota, but the director didn’t seem to care that all the clothes were soaked. He had asked for spontaneity, and he’d gotten it in spades. Takaba grinned. He checked the battery and memory meters, but he still had plenty of juice and space, thanks to Asami’s birthday gift of a long-lasting battery and expanded memory card.

The four models got a bit chilly as the sky darkened. Takaba’s last shots were of them carrying their shoes and the glowing kendama, heading towards the lights of Shinjuku that were just starting to come on. After a brief consultation with Takaba, the director called, “That’s a wrap!”

Wardrobe hastened over with towels for the models. “That was fun!” Togawa exclaimed. “It was so different from the other photoshoots I’ve done.” She bit her lip. “I hope I did alright…”

“You were great!” Shunpei told her. “You’re a real natural.”

“He’s right. You’re a hard worker, you’re easy to get along with, and you’re conscientious,” Nekota said. “Who’s your agent?”

“I don’t have one yet,” Togawa stammered.

“She’ll be with us, of course,” said the manager for the other models (who were all from the same agency), handing Togawa her card.

Takaba hurriedly packed up his gear while the others enjoyed the food brought over from Sion. His assistant said, “I hope I did alright, Senpai. It was very hectic today. I wasn’t sure what I should be doing.”

“You kept those mirrors adjusted perfectly so I always had good light and could concentrate on getting the shots. That’s exactly what you should have been doing. And I know what hard work that can be at sunset. Good job,” Takaba told him.

The boy beamed. “Good job.” He went over to join the others eating while Takaba went to say his goodbyes to the director.

“Aren’t you going to eat anything?” Nekota asked.

“Unfortunately, I have another assignment to get to. But I’ll grab something on the way out,” Takaba replied as he snagged a couple of sandwiches from a tray. “I’ll send you the preliminary shots tomorrow.”

“Another newspaper piece?” the director asked, shaking his head. “I realize that takes talent, too, but I really wish you’d consider making advertising photography your full-time gig. I’d give you all the work you could want, and I know several other directors who would say the same.”

“Thanks. It can be fun, but what I really enjoy is digging up the truth people are trying to hide.” Takaba headed for the gate. “But I like this, too, especially when the models know how to relax and have fun. Call me if you’ve got another fun shoot!”

“Takaba-sensei!” Togawa called out to him when she noticed he was leaving. He turned to her. “Thank you so much. I was so nervous, and you helped me calm down.”

“You did great, Togawa-san. I’m glad you showed up when you did; the director was frantic when Emi-san broke out in hives.”

“I’ve heard of people being discovered at work before, but I never thought it would happen to me. I’m so thankful Asami-shacho decided to send you food today. I was even told to make sure I looked my best before I came! Do you think he knew?”

Takaba’s face darkened for an instant, then he smiled brightly. “How could he have? You must have already been on your way when Emi-san had that allergic reaction.”

“You’re right, of course. I feel bad that I took her job…”

“Don’t, Togawa-san. You really saved us, and Emi-san gets plenty of jobs. And now you will too!”

“I hope I get to work with you again, Takaba-sensei. Thank you again!”

As Takaba headed to the cram school, he shook his head at Asami’s actions. At least he hadn’t permanently disfigured Emi. And he did give Togawa the chance she’d been hoping for… And made sure Takaba would get to the cram school on time… Takaba wondered once again how much Asami influenced his life beneath the surface, in ways he’d rarely ever detect.

Chapter Text

Shinjuku Office Building Courtyard, Wednesday, 6:45pm

Takaba sat down on a bench and unwrapped his sandwiches, keeping a surreptitious eye on the cram school door across the courtyard. He’d stowed his camera bag under the seat of his Vespa, and he had his cell phone and two different mini-cams hidden in various pockets. He had looked at several pictures of the girl from her Twitter and was confident he could recognize her from across the courtyard. He pulled out his cell phone and texted Asami, trying to look as casual as possible.

What did you do to Emi?

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

So she just randomly couldn’t work mere minutes after I griped to you about her?

                                                What profit would I have in giving a model an allergic reaction?

Takaba snorted. He was keeping one eye on the door of the cram school. It opened, and a couple of high school students came out.

Might have to go soon.

He pretended he was still texting while keeping a careful eye out for his target. She came out of the door and looked around, then crossed the courtyard, heading towards the office building across the way. There was no way Takaba could follow her into that building without drawing too much attention to himself, given the way he was dressed. Shoot. His phone vibrated, indicating another text.

Don’t stay out too late. I expect my thanks tonight.

Takaba started typing furiously, remembering to keep one eye on the door. He hoped the girl hadn’t cut through the building to another exit. Well, if she didn’t emerge soon, he could scope out the building, figure out her likely route, and follow her another day.

What thanks? You know I refuse to believe that kind of action is necessary. The directors will figure out soon enough that Emi is a pain. And Togawa-san would have gotten discovered soon enough on her own. She did great, by the way. I got way better shots than I’d have been able to with Emi.

You’re welcome. ー( ̄~ ̄)ξ

ü(@_@)ò

Takaba couldn’t believe he was exchanging kaomojis with Asami. He remembered the first time he’d sent one to Asami, he’d gotten a message from Kirishima stating that Kirishima had better things to do with his time than figure out weird hieroglyphics, and that maybe Takaba should go back to school and learn how to use katakana and punctuation marks properly.

The door to the office building opened again, and the girl stepped out with a man. Takaba sent a super quick “oitoma” (“got to go!”) and then pretended to continue to text while he opened his camera app and hit the zoom.

He stood and angled his phone as if to put it in his pocket, taking a quick shot. Before he reached his pocket, he sighed, pretending he’d received another text. He glanced at the photo. The man was wearing glasses and his hair was combed in an unattractive slicked-back center-part style, but it was definitely Morinaga-sensei. Takaba had gotten lucky and managed to capture both of them, but two people walking on the sidewalk wasn’t enough of a scoop. He carefully followed them at a distance, looking as casual as he could.

He smiled when he saw them go into a hotel less than a block away. This was too easy. He entered the hotel lobby fifteen seconds after they did, hoping to get a shot of them as they entered the elevator. To his surprise, he didn’t see them in the lobby.

He walked up to the concierge. “I was supposed to meet my girlfriend and her father here. I’m a little late, but I thought I saw them come in from across the street. Do you know which way they went?”

“All of our restaurants are down this corridor, and I didn’t see which one they went into,” the concierge said. “Do you remember which restaurant you were to meet at, sir?”

“No, I’ll just try to catch up with them. Thanks!”

“You might want to try the family restaurant on the right,” the concierge suggested as he took in Takaba’s clothes, but Takaba was already racing down the hall.

He spotted his targets’ backs as they were led to a table on the far side of the family restaurant. It was a window table, so Takaba requested to be near the windows, too, and he was seated at a smaller table two tables away from theirs. As soon as the waiter came over, Takaba loudly complained about the air blowing directly on him from the vent, and he was moved to the table right next to the pair’s.

“Tou-san, I’ve taken the mock exam already,” the girl whined. “I know I learned my English in America, but I still placed very high. I think it’s more important that I focus on the subjects I tested worse in, like Japanese.”

Takaba froze. Dad? He wondered whether the pair had figured out he was following them and were putting on a show for him. Morinaga was the same age as Asami – exactly two days younger, to be precise. It was possible for him to have a child in high school – if he became a father when he was in high school himself. Takaba pulled out his phone again, taking occasional surreptitious pictures with his mini-cam while pretending to text on the phone.

He tried to focus on his assignment, but his mind was reeling. He’d always known Asami was older than him, but he’d never really felt the age difference before. But now a picture of himself wearing his black randoseru on the first day of school flashed into his mind next to an image of Asami in a high school blazer. Try as he might, he couldn’t imagine what Asami looked like as a high schooler, though, and he shook the disturbing image out of his head. He and Asami were both adults now, anyway.

Takaba refocused on his assignment. Mitarai would have snapped a picture of the two going into the hotel, written up the more salacious “secret underage lover” angle, and moved on to his next scoop. The paper would sell out, and Mitarai would brag about his success. But Takaba was a more conscientious reporter. He wasn’t out to sell papers; he was out to uncover the truth. Truths that would help sell papers, sure, but that wasn’t his primary goal.

Takaba started investigating on his phone, keeping one ear on the pair’s conversation as he sipped his coffee. The longer he listened, the more he was convinced that the pair really were just father and daughter, and not putting on a show for him. When the waitress came to take Takaba’s order, he decided he’d heard enough. No sense wasting money on eating out. “I’m so sorry, my friend is going to be very late, and I don’t want to take up this table any longer. Can I have the bill, please?”

When he left the hotel, Takaba dashed over to his Vespa and pulled out his jacket, hat, and a newspaper (he always grabbed the current edition on his way out of the office; it made a handy disguise). He went back to the hotel lobby and positioned himself in a chair facing the restaurant corridor, with a good angle of both the check-in desk and the elevator. His stomach started to rumble, but his dinner bento was waiting for him at the Vespa.

Takaba’s hunch that the pair were really parent and child was further solidified when they emerged from the restaurant 45 minutes later and headed straight for the door. Morinaga insisted on walking the girl to the train station because it was late. Takaba followed them, taking a few pictures of their exchanges, including the girl pecking a startled Morinaga on the cheek before running off to catch her train.

 

Asami Ryuichi’s Penthouse, Thursday, 10:25am

Takaba’s phone beeped. He turned off the timer, then stood up, rubbed his eyes, and stretched. This was why he disliked photoshoots: taking pictures was fun, but sorting through hundreds of them, selecting the best ones, and editing them were tedious. He didn’t do a ton of editing – no airbrushing the models into impossible shapes – but it was still time-consuming. He would rather spend seven hours lying on a rooftop in a February rain than spend one hour on photoshoot pictures. The uncertainty, the danger, and the adrenaline made stakeouts infinitely more interesting. And when he was done, he only had a handful of pictures to choose from – and journalistic ethics forbade editing beyond the absolute basics such as cropping.

His stomach rumbled. Takaba wandered into the kitchen to grab some food. He’d been kept up late last night, so he’d ended up sleeping until 9:30 and had decided to start working right away.

He turned his music on quietly as he prepared a traditional Japanese breakfast. When he first started living here, he’d done it out of a sense of pride, because he couldn’t afford to pay a fair rent (not that Asami let him pay any…). He didn’t want Asami to think that Takaba had given in just because Asami had stolen all his stuff. And if Takaba were completely honest, he’d done it to show off his talents a little. Asami probably didn’t respect domestic skills since they weren’t very profitable, but he certainly appreciated their results.

Takaba had meant to move out as soon as he’d saved enough for moving expenses (and the outside world was safe for him again), but moving was such a hassle, and he’d gotten used to living there. It was close to work, he had plenty of space for his work area (and even a darkroom), and Asami wasn’t too much of a pain (especially since he was hardly home).

Now Takaba looked forward to the Japanese breakfast almost as much as Asami did. It was delicious, nostalgic, nutritious, and filling – yet it was still light on Takaba’s stomach when he had to run around (to chase or be chased).

While the soup was simmering, he checked his phone to see if he had any new assignments for the day. There was one e-mail, from OSSU. He grinned as he read the contents, but he didn’t reply. Instead he kept on preparing breakfast, turning the heat off the stove and stirring the miso into the soup.

He plated the food into two servings, then glanced at the bedroom door, wondering whether he should wrap Asami’s portion for later. The door opened, and Asami walked out in his pajama pants. “Smells good,” he said as he pulled out his chair.

Takaba sat down next to him and started eating, but suddenly put down his chopsticks when he remembered he had something to ask Asami. “One of your security team thought he recognized me from a video yesterday. Are you secretly filming me?”

Asami answered, “We have security cameras at our building, yes, as do most commercial buildings. That’s hardly a secret.”

Takaba rolled his eyes. “He said it was in a residential building. And I rolled on my back in a … well, I don’t know what kind of way. An impressive way.”

Asami raised his eyebrows. “That sounds like quite a talent. But not one you should be showing off to anyone but me.”

Takaba glared at him. “The only residential building I spend any time in is this one. So? Do you have cameras here?”

Asami gave him the “Are you really that stupid?” look. “Do you think I would allow cameras in my own home?”

“I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking. Maybe for security or something…”

“There are security cameras in the building, at every potential entry point. But no, there are no cameras inside the residence. Except yours. And you know better than to use yours inside.”

Takaba huffed. “Then why did your security guard say that he’d seen me on video?”

“Shouldn’t you be asking yourself that question? You should be able to remember when and where you’ve rolled onto your back. In a residential building.” Asami grabbed Takaba’s chin and looked hard into his eyes. “So, Takaba. Tell me.”

“I don’t know!” Takaba cried in frustration. “But it’s not what you’re thinking, unless it was here.”

Asami gazed at him for another few seconds, then let him go, apparently satisfied for now.

Takaba decided to steer the conversation to a safer topic. He picked up his chopsticks again and asked, “So, what are you doing tomorrow night?”

“Working. There’s a museum and restaurant opening I have to attend as a primary investor.”

“Sounds boring,” Takaba said.

“For me, yes. For the guests? The food will be exquisite, and the interactive exhibits on Japanese liquors will be fascinating. We expect a number of celebrity guests at the opening. I think there might be a media pass or two left…”

Takaba grunted. The museum-restaurant did sound a little interesting – just not on opening night with all the hoity-toity people. “Well, I’ll ask our entertainment department if they want one.”

Asami raised an eyebrow. “Why? Do you have something better planned for tomorrow night?”

“There’s an anime marathon. I might have to follow up on my current political scandal case, but I made good progress last night, so hopefully I can catch at least a couple of the movies.”

Asami grunted. That didn’t sound interesting at all.

After breakfast, Takaba headed back into his workroom to resume the tedious task of sorting the photoshoot pictures. Before he started, he sent a quick reply to OSSU: “Friday night.”

Meanwhile, in his own office, Asami was telephoning Kirishima. “Have the security guard who spoke to Takaba yesterday in my office when I get there.”

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Tokyo Docks, Alley next to the Takanaga Building, Thursday, 2:00pm

Takaba tossed a bag of trash into the dumpster. He pulled his cap down lower as he quickly scanned the alley for the roof access ladder (more commonly referred to as a fire escape).

Bingo. There it was, above a metal fire door. The bottom rung was about 12 feet above the ground, and it had a release latch on the second floor landing. Phew. He shuddered as he remembered the raucous clanging the gravity-activated ladder had made when he grabbed onto it at that apartment mansion in Shinjuku three weeks ago. He’d had to leap from the ladder, rolling across the broken glass in the alley, to narrowly escape the security goons. That near-miss had prompted him to do this preliminary surveillance today, during the daytime, but stealth was just as important – if he set off even an inkling of suspicion now, tomorrow’s job would be even more dangerous.

Takaba eyed the rough concrete wall and the drainpipe two feet to the left of the door.

Easy peasy.

He checked the alley one more time, then ran at the wall, taking 3 steps up the wall. He pushed off the tiny ledge over the door with his right hand, grabbed the drain pipe with his left, brought his right hand to the drainpipe as his right foot gripped the ledge, and then pushed off the drainpipe with his left foot as he shot his hands straight up. He couldn’t maintain his balance long, but he didn’t need to, as his hands caught the bottom rung of the ladder.

Once he was on the ladder, Takaba pulled himself onto the second floor fire escape, quickly lying down to see if he’d been observed. The alley was empty. There were no windows on the walls on either side. He peered through his binoculars at the dock-end of the alley. There was no activity at the back of Warehouse 9, which was across the dock road from the alley.

A black sedan drove slowly down the dock road, heading north. The driver came directly into Takaba’s focus. Though the driver was in shadow, the profile was very familiar. Takaba couldn’t be sure it was Suoh, but it certainly looked like him.

Takaba held his breath, but the car continued. Once the coast was clear, Takaba raced as quietly as he could up the fire escape to the roof. He cautiously crept over to the edge and surveyed the warehouses, which helpfully had their numbers painted huge and white on their roofs.

He could just see the edge of a black sedan pulling into the parking area of Warehouse 4. He cussed under his breath. Why did his work always seem to be entangled with Asami’s?

Takaba continued to observe the situation. Asami was always telling him to do whatever he wanted with regard to his work. For now, he would follow that advice.

Most of the warehouses had some kind of activity going on around them: workers bustling around, cranes moving containers, foremen shouting. Takaba couldn’t see much going on at Warehouse 4. He could see the backs of a pick-up truck, a small tractor, and another sedan on the far side of the building, but none of the vehicles were moving. The lights were on in the few windows, but they were so dirty he couldn’t see through them (though this was apparently typical for dock warehouses, judging by the others).

Warehouse 7 was even more desolate: there weren’t even any vehicles near it, and there were no lights on inside.

After observing the daytime machinations of the dock for another hour from the roof, Takaba went back down the way he’d come (hanging from the bottom rung of the ladder, and rolling his landing – thankfully not on broken glass this time). He cut through to the inland side of the alley, then made his way south before heading back across the road to the waterfront.

As he reached Warehouse 5, the workers there were just calling it a day. “Good job,” he told them nonchalantly, falling into step with them. He kept the other workers between him and the warehouses.

A few murmured “Good job” back to Takaba, trying to pretend they knew who he was.

“Hard work today, huh?” he asked, twisting his back as he casually stretched his arms overhead. He carefully observed each warehouse as he passed it, without letting his eyes linger too long on anything as he continued to twist and stretch. Takaba smirked a little when he noticed a few of the other guys had started stretching, too.

As they passed Warehouse 4, Takaba was careful to keep his face as hidden behind the others as he could. At least his clothes blended in with the workers’, and his cap covered his hair. No one was at the vehicles, and although the loading doors were open, the people must have been far inside the warehouse, beyond the stacks of crates at the front.

The other workers cut up the drive between Warehouses 3 and 2, and Takaba decided to stick with them. From what he could observe (and smell) of Warehouses 1 and 2, they seemed to be holding exactly what their signs said: yellow-fin tuna. As the smell started to overwhelm him, he mentally crossed fish off that evening’s dinner menu.

The cut-through took them between Warehouses 6 and 7. Takaba focused on the seemingly empty Warehouse 7. The other warehouses’ loading areas were kept clean, but Warehouse 7’s was grimy and strewn with litter.

The worker next to Takaba nudged him. “You believe the rumors that it’s haunted?”

“Huh?” Takaba turned to look at the other man.

“You never heard that before? That’s why nobody stays in business there long. It’s been empty for six months already this time. But some of the guys on the late shift told me they saw some lights moving around inside a few times, even though no one ever went in or out their whole shift.”

“You think it was a ghost?” Takaba asked him.

“I don’t know what to think. But ghost or human, if they’re sneaking around in the middle of the night, I don’t want to disturb them, you know what I mean?”

Takaba nodded. He glanced at the windows as they walked past the warehouse, but he couldn’t see inside because of the grime and darkness. The guy elbowed him again. “Scared?”

“Nah,” Takaba said, pulling his eyes away at last. “Ghosts only come out at night, right?”

He split off from the other workers when they reached a parking lot. “Need a ride?” the ghost storyteller asked him.

“Nah, I’ve got mine parked a couple blocks up. Thanks anyway!” Takaba hurried to his scooter. He wanted to check the public records office for the Morinaga story (and the tags on that black sedan) before coming back to observe the dock during the evening shift.

 

Club Sion Building, Presidential Suite, Thursday, 4:45pm

Asami was impatiently going over Kirishima’s stack of reports when the knock he’d been awaiting since the morning finally came. Suoh entered with Yoneda, who was visibly shaking.

“Relax,” Asami told him. “You’ve been working here for six months, correct?”

“Yes, Asami-sama.”

: “How do you like it so far?”

“It’s – it’s very nice. I’m learning a lot.”

“Do you know why you were brought in here?”

“No, sir. Unless… Is it because I talked to your visitor in the lobby yesterday?”

“Yes. It is because you discussed Sion Corporation business with an outsider.”

Yoneda gasped. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize!”

Asami said, “The security team is our most vulnerable unit. You must assume that you are being constantly observed, on duty and off. Even a seemingly innocuous comment, a gripe about your day at the izakaya after work, could provide someone with a way to slip through our security.”

“Yes, Asami-sama. Suoh-senmu-san stressed that in training. I am deeply sorry.” Yoneda bowed deeply, maintaining the bow as he waited for his punishment. Would he be fired?

“In this particular circumstance, the mistake was understandable. And no harm was done to Sion. However, I recommend that you never talk to Takaba-kun again.”

“Yes, Asami-sama.” Yoneda continued to hold his bow and his breath.

“Training scenarios and videos can only take you so far; security is a field that you really have to experience to excel in. I believe this experience has helped the importance of secrecy sink in for you.”

“Oh, yes, Asami-sama! Definitely.”

“Suoh tells me that other than this incident, your performance has been excellent. Thank you very much for coming in on your day off. I’m sorry you had to come back so early from your trip.”

Yoneda finally relaxed, rising slowly from his bow. “It was no problem. Thank you for your understanding, Asami-sama. I apologize again for my ineptitude, and I assure you it won’t happen again.”

“The next time you’re traveling on a day off, let Kirishima-fuku-shacho know. We’ll provide you with a Shinkansen ticket to make up for your inconvenience today.”

Yoneda was startled. He blushed and smiled as he bowed again, saying, “You’re very generous, Asami-sama. Thank you.”

Suoh clapped Yoneda on the shoulder. Yoneda quickly exited with a smile on his face.

“He’d better be as good as you say, Suoh,” Asami said.

“He is.”

“Does Takaba suspect anything?” Kirishima asked Asami.

“Not yet. Yoneda’s wording made him think he’d been filmed in our home. But we’ll have to be even more vigilant from now on.”

Suoh cleared his throat. “About that, Asami-sama… Takaba showed up at the docks today.”

“Today?” Asami asked, surprised.

“It appears he’s growing more cautious.”

“Not cautious enough if you noticed him.”

“Well, I’m very familiar with his appearance. None of my men noticed him. The security cameras captured all of his movements.”

Suoh pulled up the video feed on his laptop, projecting it on the overhead screen so they could see the 12 simultaneous feeds more clearly. As they watched, Asami inhaled sharply. “He recognized you.”

“What?”

Asami backtracked the video and paused it. “Right there. Look at his face. And look at where your car is.”

Suoh wasn’t convinced, especially with Takaba’s face half-covered by the binoculars. “I think he was just worried about being seen by the people in the car.”

Asami paused the video again when Takaba cussed on the roof. “Are you sure about that?” he asked, tapping the video showing the car pulling up to Warehouse 4.

Suoh cussed softly. “I’m sorry, Asami-sama. I didn’t even consider that he would do preliminary surveillance. He never has before. I guess the last job spooked him.”

“Could he see you exit the vehicle from that angle?” Kirishima asked.

“I don’t think so. The camera on the roof of the Takanaga building is about 20 feet to Takaba’s right. The car would have been even more obscured from his angle, and you can only see my feet from the building camera.”

They watched the rest of the video in silence. Asami spoke up, “If he sees me, I’m sure Takaba will let me know what he’s thinking, whether he intends to or not. Kirishima, rearrange my evening schedule so that I can get home at a reasonable hour. I’ll keep you both informed. For now, we’ll proceed as planned. Suoh, make absolutely certain you are not seen tomorrow night. And I think we should plan to bring out your body double. As long as Takaba didn’t have a clear view of you today, seeing your double up close should convince Takaba that he was mistaken.”

 

Asami Ryuichi’s Penthouse, Thursday, 11:30pm

Asami knocked on Takaba’s workroom door. He paused for just a few seconds before opening it, knowing (based on the loud Melt-Banana music) that Takaba would be too engrossed in editing to hear the knock, if that were even possible over the noise rock.

Asami watched Takaba meticulously crop the image so that its parts lined up with the intersections of gridlines crisscrossing it. When Takaba scooted back to check the results, Asami walked up and put his hands on Takaba’s shoulders.

Takaba tilted his head back to make eye contact. “When’d you get home?”

“Just now,” Asami said.

“You hungry?” Takaba asked as he stood and stretched, removing his computer glasses.

“A little,” Asami said. “Are you?”

“A little,” Takaba echoed. “I’ll make us a snack.”

“We could order something instead. I don’t want to pull you away from your work.”

“Nah, I need a break. I think that was the last picture, but I’ll need to look again with fresh eyes.”

Asami glanced at the picture. Togawa was holding a feather in her cupped hands, gazing down as if she were seeing an entire universe in its shimmering surface, while the sunset reflected on the water behind her, Shinjuku’s lights twinkling in the distance. “Wow, this is really good,” he said.

“Don’t look! You have to see them in order!” Takaba pressed a few keys, and a slideshow started. “You can watch that while I get the food ready.”

Asami watched the story unfold in 20 pictures, set 30 seconds apart: Shunpei teaching Togawa how to use the kendama, his gallant effort to save her, his sheepish exit from the water, the feather, the splash fight, and the return to civilization. He found himself chuckling over the mischief, and he felt a bit nostalgic for freer days by the time he finished.

Takaba returned just as the slide show was finishing. “Food’s ready. I set up in the living room.”

“These are really amazing. Are they going on a billboard?” Asami asked.

“No. It’s for a magazine. They said they’d only use 3 or 4 images, tops. They wanted me to pick out the ten best, but I couldn’t reduce the story any more than that.”

“Present it just like this. They’ll change their mind,” Asami suggested.

“Of course they will… You know, normal companies have this thing called a budget.”

“We have that, too, you know. There’s no sense spending money unless it can earn you more.”

Takaba rolled his eyes as he led the way to the living room. “But I am planning on sending them all 20 pictures. They can decide which ones they like best.”

As they settled down to the hiyayakko and namasu, Takaba started casting sidelong glances at Asami.

“Something on your mind?” Asami asked.

“Ummmm…” Takaba stalled.

Asami waited.

“Ummmmm…. Hmmm….”

Asami just looked at him.

“Do you know the Onusi Company?” Takaba finally asked.

Asami raised his eyebrows. “I can’t say I’m familiar with that one. What’s their business?”

“I don’t know,” Takaba grumbled. “I haven’t been able to figure that out yet. But apparently it’s something that uhhh, the government… and the media! – of course the media – are interested in. Most likely.”

“Takaba…” Asami drawled in warning. “Why were you suddenly so interested in my plans for tomorrow night?”

“I thought you might be interested in the anime marathon.” It sounded lame even to Takaba’s ears. Asami? Anime marathon? He snickered at the image.

“I knew it. Anime marathon sounded too childish, even for you.”

“Hey! I was serious. You know, a lot of anime is geared to adults, you know…” Takaba defended.

“You’re going to have a guard tomorrow night. If you step one foot outside…” Asami trailed off, leaving Takaba to fill in the blank.

“That’s not fair! I told you I have to work on the Morinaga story!”

“And this… Onusa story?” Asami questioned.

“Onusi. And no, there’s no story there. Just a lead, right now. I don’t even know where the company is or what they’re up to, so how could I be working on a story regarding them?” Takaba was glad he could tell mostly the truth; Asami always seemed to know when he was lying.

Asami picked up his phone. “Kirishima, prepare a report on the Onusi Company.”

Takaba raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Depending on what Kirishima finds out, I might let you pursue that lead.”

Takaba furrowed his brows in confusion. He knew the Onusi Corporation owned a car that was driven by a man who looked like Suoh to Takaba’s current target today. He also knew that the company was a front for someone, probably to cover up illegal dealings and make things untraceable. He’d hit brick wall after brick wall in his investigation: addresses that were empty lots or fallow fields, owners and representatives that had died in the Showa or Taisho periods before the company had even been created.

Takaba could not tell if Asami was bluffing about not knowing anything about Onusi. At first he thought Asami was warning him to stay away. But now Asami was going to investigate… Was that just to throw Takaba off track?

At any rate, Takaba had delivered a warning to Asami that the government was investigating something related to that company. If it was Asami’s, he apparently wasn’t too worried. Yet. Takaba took a deep breath and started eating his snack. If Asami wasn’t worried, Takaba would proceed with his assignment.

Takaba glanced furtively at Asami again, but Asami was eying Takaba suspiciously. Was Asami simply worried Takaba was getting into something dangerous again? Takaba knew that the more he tried to figure out what Asami was up to, the more suspicious Asami would be of Takaba, and Takaba couldn’t afford that with the OSSU job on the line. He turned on the TV and put in his Death Note DVD. “Watch this. You’ll understand that anime is not just for kids.”

Asami pulled out the stack of reports Kirishima had sent him home with, but his attention kept drifting to the show – not that he would ever admit that to Takaba in a million years.

Takaba fell asleep five minutes into the third episode. When the ending credits for the fifth episode started, Asami roused himself and went quietly into his office. He glanced back from the door, but Takaba was still asleep. Nevertheless, Asami closed the door and dialed Kirishima from the far side of the room, speaking quietly and in code as much as possible.

After his phone call, Asami returned to the living room. Takaba was in the exact same position on the couch. Good.

Asami turned off the DVD player, then shook Takaba awake. “Do you want me to carry you to bed, Akihito? Or do you still have work to do? You said you were taking a break.”

Takaba rubbed his eyes and looked around, then groaned. “I need to finish editing those pictures and send them over to Director Nekota. Thanks for waking me up.”

He trudged off to his workroom while Asami headed to his office to finish up his own stack of work, muttering, “Do you know shinigami love apples….” Takaba smirked.

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Outside the Diet Akasaka Dormitory, Friday, 7:00am

Takaba fell into step with Morinaga as he left the dormitory. “Morinaga-sensei, I’m from The Metro Meteor. I’d like to interview you sometime today, if you could spare the time.”

“Why are you ambushing me at the dorms like this? You should make an appointment with my secretary,” Morinaga protested, walking faster.

“I would, but the story I’m interested in is of a rather personal nature.” Takaba briefly showed him a picture on his cell phone, making absolutely certain no one else around could see it.

Morinaga paled. “My private life is private. What makes you think I’d cooperate?”

“You’re a public official, and this picture was taken in public. Look, I’m not the only reporter after this story, although the rest of them are rather misinformed about the nature of your… involvement. I did my homework. I know the truth. I could publish the article today, if I wanted to.”

Morinaga looked at him miserably. “What do you want from me?”

“I want to give you a chance to tell your side of the story. We could negotiate about keeping certain details – details concerning others – private.”

Morinaga pondered for a moment. “Okay. I’ll have my secretary make room in my schedule. Expect a call from him.”

Takaba was turning to head back to his Vespa when his phone buzzed. It was Director Nekota.

“Takaba-san, great job on the pictures! There are just a few small changes to make. The company wants to exercise their billboard rights, but we’ll need the changes by 1pm today. Can you make that?”

“As long as they’re not too involved, I think I can squeeze them in. I do have my other jobs…”

“I understand. We’ll give you an extra 50,000 yen for the rush. I’ll wire that over with the first billboard royalties right away. It should be in your account by midnight. Oh, and Takaba-san? You ever heard of Club Dracaena?”

“Yeah,” Takaba said noncommittally.

“You might want to swing by there this evening. Anytime after 5.”

Takaba wondered what Asami was up to now… especially since it certainly involved Sudou. As he raced back to his workroom on his Vespa, he decided not to worry about it. He simply didn’t have the time.

 

Club Dracaena, Conference Room, Friday, 10:00am

“It was a good idea, Sudou, but your execution was lacking. If you can’t find this level of quality, it’s better to remain in the dark,” Asami said.

“I agree, Asami-sama. This is exactly what I had envisioned when I proposed the project. Thank you for helping me find the necessary quality.”

Asami waved his hand. “I’m here because I want to make sure you capitalize on this. If you don’t strike while the iron’s hot, this will become a once-off, and the investment was too high for that to happen. If you play this right, your club will be the leading story every Friday night.”

“I’ve already arranged for the designer, the director, and the models to be here tomorrow night.”

“Good, but you’ve got to make it bigger. And you forgot the photographer.”

Sudou frowned. “The photographer? Don’t tell me it’s –”

Asami interrupted him. “The media will want to talk to him. You need Club Dracaena to be the place to get all their information. And you need a theme.”

“A theme?” Sudou asked skeptically. “Isn’t there enough of a theme already?” Asami just looked at him expectantly. Sudou furrowed his brow. “What are you thinking?”

“Kendama party,” Asami said.

“Kendama?” Sudou thought about it for a second and started to grin. “But they have to be the light-up kind.” His face fell again. “I’m sure those are limited edition.”

“You’ve got your work cut out for you, then. You have until 5 o’clock today, or you’ll be out of luck. Contact Kirishima if you need more manpower.”

Asami stood to leave. He paused by the door. “Sudou, I expect a proposal on my desk by 9 o’clock Monday morning detailing your plans for the next 6 months. Make sure every component is of the same high caliber as this weekend’s.”

“Yes, Asami-sama.” Sudou bowed low until Asami closed the door. When he straightened up, he grabbed a pillow from off the couch and flung it across the room. “Doesn’t he know that weekends are our busiest time, even when we don’t have an event? Between tonight and tomorrow night, I won’t have time to even think about a proposal until we close Sunday morning… and I won’t have slept in over 48 hours by that point.” He stalked to his phone and started issuing orders.

 

Club Sion Building, Security Command Center, Friday, 4:15pm

Suoh looked sternly at the 18 men and 3 women before him. “A final reminder. Stealth is critical to this mission. If the site is compromised, there is no purpose to our beta testing. However, this test is critical to making the security airtight, so you should work as hard as you can to thwart the Tester. The Tester will do his absolute best to make you fail. He will pretend this is not a test, and you must do the same. Expect to be kicked, punched, jumped over, and distracted; you’ve seen what the Tester is capable of. You may attempt to use necessary force in exchange, as long as stealth is maintained and the Tester does not sustain any permanent injuries or serious wounds of any kind. There will be absolutely no tolerance for even a slight mistake here – there will be no “accidents.” I repeat: you may not injure the Tester, or your life is forfeit. Is this understood?”

“Hai!” the team replied in unison.

One of the more nervous-looking, fresh-faced recruits raised his hand. “What if the Tester is risking seriously injuring us? Can’t we defend ourselves?”

Suoh looked at him sternly. “The Tester will be unarmed. You have received the best training in defensive tactics, including how to neutralize attackers without causing damage. You have had several months of practical application in real-life, uncontrolled situations. If you feel your training has been deficient, you are free to participate again in Sion Boot Camp, Yashiro.”

“That won’t be necessary, sir.” Yashiro bowed.

“Now go get ready. Be back here at 1645 for final inspection.”

As the team filed out, Suoh called out, “Yoneda-kun, one moment, please.” After the others had left, Suoh continued, “You will be observing the exercise from the mobile command center. Wear your baseball cap and glasses.”

Yoneda was surprised and disappointed at this news. “Is this because of the incident in the lobby Wednesday?”

“Well, yes. It’s not a punishment, but the fact remains that you cannot be recognized for your association with Sion. If it makes you feel any better, I’m in the same boat.”

 

Club Dracaena, Main Entrance, Friday, 6:30pm

Takaba parked his Vespa behind a dumpster in an alley that he knew would provide a good vantage point of Club Dracaena. He wasn’t here to see what Asami and Sudou were up to. Takaba hadn’t had time to think about that since this morning. He’d barely finished the requested edits by 1pm, just in time to rush to his two-hour long interview with Morinaga and his daughter. He’d been at a government building fact-checking Morinaga’s story and searching for more details on the OSSU assignment when the call from his editor had come in.

The entertainment photographers were already at the usual Friday night concerts, plays, shows, exhibitions, and museum-restaurant openings. The sports photographers were busy covering the baseball playoffs. Mitarai was M.I.A., pretending to be on a stakeout, but probably gorging on another indigestion-inducing all-you-can-eat buffet.

That left Takaba to somehow get close enough to Club Dracaena to capture images of whatever was causing the gridlock for blocks around the building in all directions. There had already been five fender-benders and three bicycle crashes.

Takaba glanced at his watch and cursed. Even with the Vespa’s maneuverability through traffic and alleys, it’d taken an hour to get here. He hoped this stupid assignment didn’t mess up his OSSU mission.

Club Dracaena’s front came into view, and Takaba gasped and then laughed. He’d never been his own story before. He took out his camera and snapped pictures of the building and the crowd staring up at it. The entire front of Dracaena had been turned into an electronic billboard, displaying one of the images from his Shinjuku Gyoen photoshoot.

He interviewed a few people in the crowd, recording their interviews on video as well as snapping pictures. He couldn’t write this story himself; journalism required neutrality. He tried to keep his tone calm and professional, but it was hard not to get swept up in the crowd’s enthusiasm. A few had been watching since the first image appeared at 5, and they were nearly at the end of the 24 pictures (Nekota had asked for more to be added to Takaba’s original selections, focusing on Togawa and Shunpei’s feather exchange, and adding in a close-up of their faces when Takaba had suggested they pretend Shunpei had farted). Takaba called his editor, explaining the situation.

“I already have Yagami on the way,” the editor told him. The writing staff was much larger than the photography staff.

Takaba sent his pictures and videos along with Director Nekota’s contact information and the names of the models and photographer to Yagami before calling the editor back. “I’m going undercover now on a covert assignment. I think I gave Yagami-kun enough information, but if he needs anything else from me, I should hopefully be done by 1am.”

“Stay safe, Takaba. I worry when you go silent,” the editor said, resigned.

Takaba knew they were both thinking about the time he had vanished without warning, when Feilong had kidnapped him. His editor had made a joke about him getting sucked into some video game at the time, and Takaba had chosen to go along with it, but now he wondered if the editor suspected something closer to the truth. “Don’t worry. I’ll be careful. The assignment’s not dangerous,” Takaba promised.

That lie had gotten easier with practice, especially since he wasn’t looking into a pair of golden eyes while saying it.

As Takaba rode away, he passed several news vans and increasing throngs of people rushing to the scene, many in club attire.

 

Tokyo Docks Vicinity, Alley two blocks west, Friday, 8:00pm

Takaba parked his Vespa two blocks away from the docks, behind a dumpster in an alley. He needed it close enough for a getaway, but far enough that it wouldn’t be discovered and raise suspicions.

He opened up the seat and placed his cell phone inside, swapping it for a prepaid one that had a decent camera. He’d gotten the second one when he’d first started working for OSSU. It was clean of personal data (he reset it after every mission), and Asami didn’t know about it, so he couldn’t tap into the GPS and observe Takaba’s movements. He kept the phone, along with a pair of sneakers and a second jacket, in a locker at a train station. Takaba had grown paranoid that Asami might have tagged some of Takaba’s belongings because he kept ditching his bodyguard.

Takaba pulled on his dark blue jacket over his dark blue clothes. He checked that his gloves, umbrella, flashlight, and mini-cam were secure inside the jacket, tugged on his dark blue baseball hat, and stashed the rest of his gear in the Vespa’s seat and locked it. “Let’s rock and roll,” he muttered to himself.

As he left the alley, he noticed a large white, unlabelled delivery truck, but no one was inside. He took a quick, surreptitious picture of the license plate.

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, two blocks west of the Tokyo Docks, Friday, 8:00pm

“Here we go,” Suoh said, pointing to the dot that had stopped practically on top of their own location.

“Where is he?” Yoneda asked, looking at the various video feeds.

“In that alley.” Suoh pointed to a monitor as he switched off the GPS feed with his other hand.

“Why did you do that?” Yoneda asked, surprised.

“He’ll be stashing the location transponders in his vehicle. They won’t help us anymore.”

“Oh.” After a pause, Yoneda asked, “Aren’t you going to warn the team?”

“No. This is a live simulation. We wouldn’t have any warning for an unknown intruder. As it is, they already have more warning than they really should. But we need to get ready to capture everything we can.” Suoh checked the settings on the various monitors. Yoneda had been taught how to control some of the cameras, in case things moved quickly, but his job was mostly to observe and learn.

“There he is!” Yoneda said excitedly, pointing to a monitor.

Suoh sent a prepared text to Asami.

The kitten is in the yarn.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 8:02pm

Asami felt a buzzing in his pocket and politely excused himself from his conversation to get a drink. As he took a glass of umesho from a passing waiter, he read the text and smiled, taking a big sip. His polite mask nearly slipped at the sickening sweetness of the drink, and he placed the offending glass on an empty tray.

“Asami!”

He inwardly groaned before turning his professional smile on Takanaga. Asami kept his left hand on his phone inside his pocket, ready for the next message.

 

Tokyo Docks, Friday, 8:07pm

Takaba pretended to hasten to the hustle and bustle of Warehouse 1 and 2’s loading dock, inwardly cursing his luck that he’d missed the shift change. Once he was on the north side of Warehouse 6, somewhat hidden from the road and the dock (and more importantly, the other warehouses), he darted into its shadow, pulled his gloves on, and backtracked, following the wall around until he was across from Warehouse 7. Sticking to the shadows, he raced across the drive to Warehouse 7.

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 8:08pm

“Is he taking a leak?” Yoneda asked. The way the Tester was standing so close to the wall, with his legs spread, just standing there… His question was quickly answered when the door swung in less than ten seconds later, but it raised another. “Why Warehouse 7?”

Suoh quickly brought up the feeds from the cameras inside Warehouse 7, including the three infrared ones. “Yoneda, try to figure out where he has his camera. He’ll either need to use a light or take a long exposure.”

Yoneda strained his eyes, but he could barely see.

Suoh picked up his secure short-wave radio. “Doumeki, change of plans. You’ll need to interrogate the Tester. Remember, do not give away that this is a test. You’ll have to tread carefully. I’ll give you further instructions later.” He paused and listened. “You know I won’t tell you whether he’s on site yet or not. Just stay on your toes. And keep a close eye on Yashiro.”

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 7, Friday, 8:09pm

Takaba stowed his lock picking tools back inside the hidden compartment of his umbrella. “Easier than a ‘Vette’s lock,” he muttered. He could hardly see anything by the faint light coming in from the grimy windows, but that same grime meant that it was difficult for others to see inside. He turned on his low-powered flashlight, keeping it carefully focused on the floor.

He scanned the floor at his feet before stepping any farther inside. There was some dust on the floor, but not nearly as much as you would expect for how long the building had been empty. Whoever had swept it had been thorough, not leaving any dust behind to leave a clue as to where they’d been.

Takaba started with the perimeter, searching the two corridors on each level lining the north side to survey what was there. There were soaps, toilet paper, and paper towels in abundance in a closet next to the bathroom. In the backs of the cabinets in the kitchen, there were cans of soup with peeling, dusty labels. However, when Takaba pulled one out, he noticed the expiration date was still over a year away. The cans were obviously a lot newer than they looked.

After discovering a working hotplate (it was surprising the warehouse had electricity to run it…) and a can opener in the foreman’s office upstairs, Takaba started investigating the various crates and shipping containers around the main room. He discovered false bottoms in several of the abandoned, half-broken crates. Inside were bags of clean men’s clothing, packaged foods, drinking water, and first aid supplies.

As he explored, Takaba snapped pictures with his cell phone, with no flash. For most of his shots, he used his own body to create a steady platform for the long exposures necessary, but for a few of them, he set up his mini-tripod (part of the modified umbrella) on the floor.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Foreman’s Office, Friday, 8:15pm

Doumeki was getting antsy. The Tester should be here by now. Suoh wouldn’t have changed to an interrogation scenario unless the Tester had done something unexpected, discovered something he shouldn’t have. Where was he?

He looked out the window, checking on the ten agents along the waterfront. He picked up his radio. “Everyone, keep a sharp watch on your area. If you so much as think you see a fly out of the corner of your eye, let me know at once. Just one moment of inattention from one of you, and the perimeter will be broken.”

Doumeki went into the security room to observe the monitors over Yashiro’s shoulders. Yashiro had done a good job setting up the cameras; there were few angles unexposed. He pointed to one. “This is the northwest upstairs corner, correct? You couldn’t cover the roof access stairs, too?”

“No, Bucho-san. Not if I wanted to cover the entire upstairs corridor, the stairs, and the entries to all the rooms. I have the roof well-covered with these two monitors, see? No one can get in through there without me seeing. But Warehouse 3 is close, and there are a couple of windows in some of the rooms. The camera on the north side of the building is focused on the doors and lower windows. It’s not likely he’ll be able to get to the upstairs windows from 3’s roof, but I want to cover all the bases.”

Doumeki grunted in approval. “It’s a pity we couldn’t use all the cameras, but losing Yoneda at the last minute, I really couldn’t spare anyone else to watch the monitors with you. You’ve got a lot to keep an eye on.”

“I can manage 12,”Yashiro said.

Doumeki surveyed the monitors again. Yashiro hadn’t been able to reposition most of the outdoor cameras today, but he had initially positioned them with enough redundancy that even though they were only using half the number planned, they still had excellent coverage. And the five interior ones were covering nearly all the floor space (with the exception of the walled off rooms, though all their doorways were covered). It was really impressive.

Doumeki hoped it was enough. With Suoh and Asami watching, he really wanted tonight’s mission to go smoothly. He knew the tester would find a way in – they had to let him, in order to interrogate him – but he hoped they were able to at least detect it quickly and control the situation.

Doumeki went downstairs to set up for the planned interrogation, stopping at every door leading outside. When he was done, he radioed the team. “Schrödinger’s box is set up.”

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 7, Friday, 8:27pm

After he’d finished taking pictures, Takaba used a measurement app to calculate the sizes of the rooms along the north wall of the building. As he suspected, there was an unaccounted-for area measuring 8’ by 4’ on the bottom floor and 8’ by 10’ on the top floor. He quickly searched the walls and cabinets of the kitchen adjacent to the hidden area, but he couldn’t find any obvious way in.

Takaba meandered back through the rooms, out into the main area, and then into the other section of rooms to the bathroom in the back. The sink and toilet were both on the wall adjacent to the hidden area. He squeezed inside the cabinet under the bathroom sink, letting the doors close behind him. He closed his eyes and snapped several pictures with his flash, then crawled back out into the bathroom to look at them.

“Bingo,” he whispered, spying a keyhole at the back of the sink. He zoomed in on the picture to read the lock manufacturer: Medeco. “Guess I’m not getting in there,” he muttered.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 8:37pm

Asami had just managed to get away from Takanaga when his phone buzzed again. The text read, “In case you’re bored.” Asami ducked into the museum workers’ area to watch the attached video, which showed Takaba lithely wriggling on his back into a cabinet. The flash of toned stomach where Takaba’s shirt had ridden up beguiled Asami, but the video abruptly ended when the cabinet door closed Takaba off from view.

Asami took a moment, then went back out to the museum. He made eye contact with Kirishima across the room, silently asking how long he had to stay. Kirishima gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head. Figures, Asami thought, resigned to several more hours of boredom.

In a sudden flash, he realized that the video could not have been taken in Warehouse 4. He texted Suoh. “Where is he?”

When the reply “Warehouse 7” came back, he grabbed a glass of awamori from a passing tray and gulped it down. It went down a lot smoother than the umesho.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 7, Friday, 8:39pm

Takaba had deliberately left the largest container, located near the southeast corner of the warehouse, for last. The floor of the warehouse was a large concrete slab. There was no way to hide seams in concrete, and the walls were too thin, so a secret tunnel’s entrance would have to be underneath one of the containers or inside the secret room. The large container could easily hold several men semi-comfortably, and it was the only one with a lock on it. Plus it was closest to Warehouse 4. While the infill material used in the construction of the docks was a relatively soft clay, Takaba reasoned that they would still make the tunnel as short as possible.

He shone his light over the padlock on the container and jiggled the lid. The padlock seemed to hold. Someone looking for people hiding in this warehouse would move on, because it would be impossible to lock oneself inside… unless the lock wasn’t actually holding the lid down. Takaba closely inspected the mechanism and discovered there was actually a latch behind the lock. When he released it, the lid swung open easily, bringing the lock and its pretend latch with it. There was a release lever inside, so that someone could easily exit the container whenever they wanted to.

Takaba hopped inside the container, landing as quietly as possible. It was doubtful anyone was in the tunnel, but he couldn’t be too careful. He lightly knocked on the floor of the container. It sounded hollow underneath. He couldn’t find any way to lift it, but he hadn’t really expected to. Escape tunnels were one-way valves; otherwise they would become a liability instead of an asset.

Takaba snapped pictures of the ledges built into the inside of the container, one near the ceiling and the other about halfway down. By eyeballing it, he figured the bottom of the container swung up. There was probably a ladder leading right to the top of the tunnel, and people could climb onto the ledge and work their way around the inside of the container so more people could escape while the container was still closed.

After exiting the container, Takaba grabbed the broom in the corner and swept the whole floor. He’d left a lot of footprints, and he could only hope that by the time someone else inspected the warehouse, enough dust would have settled again to keep them from getting suspicious from the cleanliness.

Before leaving the warehouse, he sent all his files from it to OSSU (and the one personal one to himself), then cleared his phone. The next part of his mission was much more dangerous, and the less evidence he carried with him, the better.

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 8:42pm

“Have you figured out where his camera is yet?” Suoh asked tersely, his eyes never leaving the monitors in front of him, even though the Tester was merely sweeping the floor.

“He’s only using his phone,” Yoneda replied.

“He’s got another camera; you can count on it. Keep a sharp eye out.”

“Why are we trusting such a sensitive test to an outsider, sir?” Yoneda asked hesitantly.

Suoh was silent for so long, Yoneda began to worry he’d overstepped his bounds. Just as he was about to apologize, Suoh spoke softly. “In my entire career, I can count on one hand the number of people who have escaped from me on my own turf. In the past five years, I can count on one finger. And yet I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times that one has escaped from me.”

Yoneda gulped. The Tester sounded like more of a loose cannon than ever. But Yoneda waited for Suoh to continue.

“It’s taken me nearly two years to convince Asami-sama that this could work. The Tester has no idea whom he’s working for; he thinks he’s doing secret missions for the government.”

Yoneda’s eyes widened. How could anyone be that naïve?

“Of course, that puts certain restrictions on the work he can do for us. For example, we can’t use him to test security in any of the clubs. Asami believes in having the best security possible, but our need for warehouses is variable, and they’re costly to maintain. After our upgrades, we’re able to rent or sell them to some of our closest allies. The beta testing has vastly increased our profit margins, enough that it’s become a lucrative side business. Not to mention the invaluable training it has provided. It’s worth the hassle of the ruse.”

Suoh skated the truth smoothly; Yoneda didn’t know the full gamut of Sion Corporation’s businesses, and he didn’t need to know that some warehouses were only used one to three times.

Yoneda asked, “But wouldn’t he grow suspicious if none of the investigations led to any arrests? And how do you know he’s not selling the information to anyone else on the side?”

“The Tester has a high sense of integrity. For some reason, he scorns money. All of his evidence is sent directly to me, and he erases it as soon as he sends it, in case he gets caught. Besides, there have been arrests. A few of our sales have been to companies that had the audacity to betray us, and also happened to have illegal enterprises on the side.”

Yoneda raised his eyebrows. The layers of complexity were amazing, and he was sure Suoh was simplifying it substantially for him. But he was still confused about something. “But if you trust the Tester so much, why have you tried to capture him so many times? I don’t get it.”

Suoh let the silence grow again before answering, “Yoneda, you’re asking all the right questions. You really do have a good mind for security. You’ve passed the background screenings, and I think you’ll go far in our organization. But as of right now, you don’t have the clearance to hear the answer to that question. I’m sorry.”

“I understand, Senmu-san.” Yoneda’s brain was racing. He felt he had all the pieces of the puzzle to solve it himself. How could the Tester have escaped from the talented Suoh so many times? Sure, he was athletic and wily, but so was Suoh – and Suoh had substantially more training and considerably more strength. Yoneda’s thoughts drifted back to Suoh’s instructions that evening. They couldn’t injure the Tester.

Yoneda didn’t know the Tester’s real job, but he remembered that Tatsumi had thought he was a journalist, and he was carrying a camera bag. To an appointment with Asami-sama. To which he’d shown up in jeans and a t-shirt. At lunchtime.

The Tester’s only use of an honorific with Asami’s name was dripping with sarcasm. Yoneda had learned five minutes into his first interview that Asami was always to be referred to with “sama,” except maybe when talking about him to someone from outside the company, and using his official title instead.

The media weren’t allowed in Sion. That was rule number 2, second only to the ban on police. And yet Kirishima had come down to personally escort the Tester upstairs. And yet… Kirishima had said that the Tester was only to be allowed inside the building when he was with Kirishima or Asami.

Yoneda glanced at Suoh again. He knew that Suoh often served as Asami’s personal bodyguard. And while he hadn’t seen the recipient of the texts Suoh had occasionally been sending tonight, Yoneda had observed that the images captured from the screen were not the kind one would typically see in a report.

Suddenly it clicked. Everything pointed to the Tester having a personal relationship of some sort with Asami. That could explain both the trust and the repeated interactions with Suoh. Maybe the Tester was a relative, but Yoneda remembered the rumors that Asami swung both ways… and the rather rumpled appearance of the Tester when he left his meeting with Asami.

Before Yoneda could ponder any further, Suoh started pulling up photos, videos, measurements, and notes on a few of the monitors. The images were amazingly clear given the low lighting. “He found everything except for the bedding in the rafters!” Suoh exclaimed.

They didn’t have any more time to examine the fresh data, however. The Tester was back on the move.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 9:04pm

Asami feigned a laugh at the senior Diet member’s joke. His phone buzzed. He excused himself for a moment, glancing at the picture of Takaba flying through the air, lithe arms raised, his usual joyful grin gleaming. He took in the picture for a moment before returning his attention to the politician.

“Your lover?” The politician teased, trying not to let on he’d noticed the tightening of Asami’s trousers.

Asami apologized.

“Oh, no need for that. Ayano does the same thing to me when Diet sessions run late. I can’t even count how many times I’ve nearly been caught out on the floor!” They chuckled together, as the politician waved his wife over for introductions.

Across the room, Kirishima frowned. He sent a quick text to Suoh: “Stop testing Asami’s patience. You know he doesn’t have any.”

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Tokyo Docks, Drive B, Friday, 9:02pm

When he finished relocking Warehouse 7’s door, Takaba took his gloves off, then stepped back out into the middle of the drive, once again pretending to be a Warehouse 2 worker late for his shift. Once he had crossed the drive that ran between the two rows of warehouses, he darted into the shadows of Warehouse 3, tugging his gloves back on.

Takaba quickly climbed on top of the first dumpster and leapt, catching the vertical metal poles of the railing that lined the small balcony on the second floor, which wrapped around the north side to the dockside so that the foreman could observe the dock during working hours. He pulled himself up onto the balcony, then climbed onto its railing, from which it was an easy climb onto the roof of Warehouse 3.

He crouched and darted across the roof to its south side, facing off with his target: Warehouse 4.

 

Tokyo Docks, Waterfront, Friday, 9:04pm

The seat of the van parked outside Warehouse 3 was starting to feel cozy. The guard focused his eyes more intently on the loading doors, struggling to stay awake. Suddenly his radio crackled.

“Tanihara! Look alive! Keep an eye on that balcony, too!”

Tanihara glanced at the balcony, but there was nothing to be seen. He sat up straighter and resumed his watch.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 3, Roof, Friday, 9:04pm

Takaba shoved a piece of gum in his mouth and frowned as he studied his dilemma. It was only about eight feet across the alley to Warehouse 4, an easy jump. The trouble was that based on what he’d observed of the inside yesterday, Warehouse 4 likely had two levels of rooms on its entire north face, just like Warehouse 7 had. And there were lights in all the upstairs windows.

There were only a truck and a van parked outside Warehouse 4, but there were vehicles in front of some of the neighboring, non-night-working warehouses, too. There was no way to know how many people were inside, nor where they were. Based on the amount of noise he could hear inside Warehouse 7, he had to assume Warehouse 4 was equally non-soundproof. If he jumped onto the wrong section of the roof, he’d be found out.

His other option was to climb across. But there was nothing connecting the two buildings, so he’d have to throw a rope across. There was risk there, too: if one of the 5 guards he’d noticed stationed outside (including the two making rounds every ten minutes) looked up and noticed the rope, he’d be found out. Worse, he could be deep inside, completely oblivious to the sudden danger.

Unless he brought the rope across with him…

But there was nothing to anchor the rope to on either roof. At least nothing close enough to where he needed it, considering he’d only brought about 20 feet of rope, coiled into a belt.

Takaba would have to jump.

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 9:03pm

“Why is no one watching the roof, given that the buildings are so close together?” Yoneda asked.

“They’re watching the doors of Warehouse 3. They didn’t consider the possibility of accessing the roof without entering the building,” Suoh explained.

“Did they count everyone going in and out? Did they inspect every single container that entered Warehouse 3 today? Someone could have easily hidden inside Warehouse 3, biding their time until night to make their move,” Yoneda retorted.

“It’s a vulnerability,” Suoh agreed. “Do you spot any others?”

Yoneda’s eyes flashed between the monitors. Some of the guards were hiding in the shadows, nearly invisible. Several were posing as dockworkers, working at docks 2 and 5. Two were dressed as dock security, making rounds.

Yoneda pointed to one of the monitors. “Here. A dock vehicle could go down the drive between the rows of warehouses. If it were going slowly enough, someone could jump out of the passenger-side door. The vehicle would block them from all our agents, and if they had a bump key, they could be inside the back door before detection.”

Suoh nodded. “Excellent. Anything else?”

Yoneda looked but couldn’t see anything.

“How would you overcome these two vulnerabilities?” Suoh asked.

“The easiest way would be video surveillance, like what we’re doing now,” Yoneda said. “But people’s attention can wander, and you’d need to be close enough to react quickly. And there’s always the vulnerability of a power outage.”

Suoh switched a monitor from a view of the south side of Warehouse 4 to a view inside the warehouse’s security room. There were two cameras focused on the roof. Yoneda had to scan both carefully before he decided that a faint blip in Warehouse 3’s roofline in the distance might be the Tester. The blip suddenly disappeared. “Where’d he go?”

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 3, Roof, Friday, 9:05pm

Takaba scurried back over to the north side of Warehouse 3’s roof. He opened the handle of the umbrella, removing some firecrackers and a smoke bomb. He lit them and dropped them into the open half of the empty dumpster. He raced back across to the south side of the roof, keeping an eye on the alley. He waited until the guards on patrol had changed direction towards the noise before leaping across the roof. He hurried to the roof access door. Instead of entering, he clipped something onto each wire that fed in through the corner of the door. Then he pulled himself onto the top of the roof access hut, flattening himself out, as he watched the scene below.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, East Stairway, Friday, 9:05pm

The metal stairs clanked as someone started to descend. Doumeki paused at the door to the warehouse and looked up. “Yashiro! What are you doing?! Return to the security room at once. Do not take an eye off those monitors! This is almost certainly a diversion!”

Yashiro hurried back to the security room. Except for the flurry of activity around the dumpster (including three Sion agents and several curious dock workers), the monitors were as silent as ever. The rest of the agents were still at their posts. Yashiro yawned.

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 9:05pm

“What did he attach to the wires?” Yoneda asked.

“Compare our roof feed to the security room’s,” Suoh replied.

Yoneda watched as Doumeki ran from Warehouse 4 to the smoking dumpster, and the Tester climbed down from his hideout. As he was picking the lock, Yoneda glanced at the security room feed. The roof appeared empty as ever. “How did he do that?” he gasped.

“He jammed the signal, capturing a single image and feeding it in a continuous loop. It only works in an empty area such as the roof. The guards won’t notice until either someone goes up there and doesn’t appear on the feed, or the sun rises.”

“Where do you even get something like that?” Yoneda asked.

“From me,” Suoh said. “The government has an unlimited budget, after all.”

“Wait, so you’re deliberately making the test harder?”

Suoh grunted. “But it might be getting too easy for our Tester. We can’t let it go to his head.” He picked up his radio and issued orders to Doumeki.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Friday, 9:07pm

The stairs leading down from the roof were empty. Takaba slid the roof access door open a crack, taking the now-flavorless gum out of his mouth. He removed his jamming devices, allowing the door to close again slowly. He pocketed the devices and descended the stairs cautiously, hugging the wall. The corridor beyond was empty, but he used the periscope in his umbrella to peek around the wall.

There was a camera in the corner. It seemed to be focused on the hallway leading to the rooms as well as the stairs going down, but he couldn’t be sure if it could detect the roof stairs, too. His eyes followed the wire leading from the camera, which was anchored to the ceiling, tracing along the wall and…

Takaba had to stifle a laugh. There was no doorframe leading to the roof access stairs; the wire went right above his head! He reached up and clipped a jamming device to the wire. Even if someone had been watching, they would have seen just a tiny black spot in the corner of their screen. By the time they blinked, it’d be gone.

But he needed to be, too. His current location was too exposed. He quickly scanned the warehouse, then climbed the railing that kept people from falling off the side of the stairs, pulling himself up onto a rafter.

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 9:08pm

“He really likes to climb, doesn’t he?” Yoneda asked.

Suoh grunted.

Yoneda zoomed in and captured an image of the Tester’s flexed glutes as he squatted on the rafter, holding onto a support beam with one arm while he fanned himself with his shirt with the other. “I think Asami-sama might like this one,” Yoneda said, showing it to Suoh.

Suoh fish-gaped at him. After a moment he closed his mouth and said, “I’m going to have to review your background check. There’s no way you’re as inexperienced as your résumé says. Who are you working for? And how old are you, really?”

Yoneda laughed. “I’ll take that as a compliment, Senmu-san. But I think it’s just that I was trained by the best.” Suoh just looked at him. “I mean you, Senmu-san.”

“Oh, don’t be a kiss-up,” Suoh said gruffly. He prepared to send the message, but at the last moment remembered Kirishima’s request to not test Asami’s patience. Suoh grinned as he sent the image to Kirishima instead.

“I wasn’t trying to be, but everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from you. And don’t forget my screw-up two days ago. I know I won’t. I’m just so grateful for another chance,” Yoneda said softly.

“Don’t waste it,” Suoh said, but his tone was brotherly.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 9:47pm

Asami strode across the room, brusquely excusing himself from the seven people who tried to approach him, including one Diet member and two Global 500 senior executives. Kirishima inwardly cringed.

“We’re leaving,” Asami ordered.

“We can’t do that, Asami-sama,” Kirishima protested.

“I haven’t heard anything in over an hour. Takaba’s probably hanging from the rafters by now. Get the car.”

Kirishima held out his phone sheepishly. Asami browsed through the ten pictures that had been sent over the last forty minutes. “Wow, that’s a good angle,” he said, admiring the view. “See? I told you he’d be hanging from the rafters.” He showed the picture to Kirishima, chuckling.

“Technically, he’s on top of the rafter; it’s his camera that’s hanging from it,” Kirishima pointed out.

“And technically, you ordered Suoh to withhold information from me,” Asami retorted.

Kirishima gulped. “Technically, I did no such thing. Suoh decided to send the pictures to me instead on his own.”

Asami quickly peeked into Kirishima’s message history. “Oh, I have no patience, do I?”

Kirishima wanted to sink into the floor. “I apologize, Asami-sama. I just thought you were getting distracted. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Asami chuckled again. “Well, it’s true. But it seems you were the one who’s been testing it. Don’t.” He gave Kirishima a cold stare.

“Yes, Asami-sama.” Kirishima gave a deep bow of apology. “I’ll instruct Suoh to resume sending the updates directly to you.”

Kirishima began texting Suoh as Asami sought out the Diet member he’d just snubbed.

Jerk!

Hey, you were the one who told me to stop texting Asami.

I never told you to send them to me instead!

He was going to want to see them eventually.

I’m busy here, you know. This isn’t exactly a party.

Neither is this. But I’m sorry.

Actually, it is. (^v^)

Send them directly to Asami, please?

Oh, I get a please? I feel spec

ikl./

Everything alright?

Suoh?

Asami was across the room, apologizing to the Diet member for brushing her off earlier. He noticed Kirishima staring at his phone, the worried line between his eyebrows threatening to show. Asami was about to snub the Diet member again to find out what was wrong. Kirishima waved him off, smiling. Asami was still suspicious, but Kirishima started texting again, chuckling to himself. Asami relaxed.

Suoh, what’s wrong?

Kirishima gave up on waiting for a response from Suoh. It would be quicker to tap into the video footage himself, but for that he needed privacy. He gestured towards the restroom so Asami wouldn’t follow him. When he reached the restroom, he went past it, through the “Employees Only” door into a small workroom. He was halfway through the decryption protocol on his tablet when Asami strode into the room.

“You can’t hide anything from me, Kirishima. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know yet,” Kirishima answered. He finished the decryption protocol, and videos began popping up on his screen. Kirishima selected them one at a time. Asami crowded behind him, watching over his shoulder. Both pairs of eyes widened at what they saw in the third video. Asami tried to inhale, but ended up making a sound like a dog’s reverse sneeze.

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Security Room, Friday, 9:40pm

There it was again. Yashiro blinked. Nope, there was nothing there. This was the tenth time in the past half hour he thought he’d seen something on one of Warehouse 4’s monitors, but by the time his eyes focused on the monitor, it was gone. He shivered.

He really wished Doumeki would come back. There were only two other guards inside right now, and they were downstairs near the more vulnerable entrances. Yashiro glanced at the southside outdoor monitor. Doumeki had finished making his rounds outside, and he was finally making his way back inside. Phew.

Yashiro’s eye caught a flash on one of Warehouse 4’s monitors again. Again, there was nothing there by the time he focused. The hair on the back of his neck rose. Ghosts aren’t real, he told himself.

“It was a diversion.”

Yashiro jumped at the unexpected sound of Doumeki’s voice right behind him.

Doumeki frowned but continued, “But we couldn’t find any sign of the Tester anywhere. Did you pick up anything unusual on the monitors?”

“N- no, Bucho-san,” Yashiro said hesitantly. His paranoia about ghosts didn’t count.

 

Sion Personnel Transport Van, Friday, 5:30pm

“Man, I hope we’re done by midnight tonight,” Tanihara said.

No one else said anything. They were all a little keyed up, ready for the beta test.

“I mean, I really hope we’re done by midnight,” Tanihara said a little louder. After another pause, he added, “Don’t you, Yashiro?”

“I guess. You got a hot date tonight?” Yashiro asked.

“No, man. But I don’t want to be anywhere near that warehouse at the witching hour.”

Yashiro laughed nervously.

Yoneda cut in, “You gonna turn into a gremlin or something? I’ll make sure not to feed you, Senpai.”

Tanihara elbowed him. “No, haven’t you heard? The warehouse is haunted. It was used by the yakuza to torture people, and you can still see the ghosts wandering around, out for revenge.”

Yoneda rolled his eyes. “Oh, come off it. It’s just a warehouse.” He turned to Yashiro, who was starting to look a little ghostly himself, and said, “They’re just trying to scare us. It’s some kind of hazing ritual, I’m sure. Don’t worry.”

Yashiro laughed again. “I knew that,” he said, wishing his voice wasn’t quite so high-pitched with nerves.

The others had laughed, and they continued to make ghost jokes until they parked a few blocks from the docks and unloaded. They had to wait and go to their assigned locations in ones and twos. Yashiro was the last pedestrian. Tanihara patted Yashiro’s shoulder. “Watch out for the ghosties!” he warned as he hopped back into the van to drive it to Warehouse 3.

Yashiro fell in behind a couple of dockworkers who were returning from a break. As they were passing Warehouse 7, one shivered. “I’m glad I’m off the night shift,” he said. “This place gives me the creeps at night!”

“You scared of those ghost stories?” the other asked. “They’re just talk.”

“No, they’re not! I saw it myself! There were lights moving around in there, and no one had gone in or out, all night! We even tried to peer in through the windows, but we couldn’t see anything but the light.”

“Probably just someone with a flashlight,” the other scoffed.

“You weren’t there; you don’t know! It was too dim to be a flashlight, too diffuse. And the lights were too high.” He gestured towards his head to show how high the lights were.

“Then it was a headlamp.”

“No, it wasn’t!”

Yashiro turned off at that point and didn’t hear any more of the conversation. Anyway, he’d heard enough to know he didn’t want to hear any more.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Security Room, Friday, 9:44pm

“That had to be a diversion… but why didn’t anyone see anything?” Doumeki was muttering. He was sitting in front of an additional monitor, reviewing the footage from the various cameras, one at a time, starting at 8:55pm.

He was still scanning the first video, from the waterfront near Warehouse 3, when an agent entered. “No sign of anything downstairs, Bucho-san,” Saji said.

Doumeki noticed that Yashiro jumped again. “Why are you so jumpy?” Doumeki asked, frowning.

“I just wasn’t expecting it,” Yashiro said. He didn’t want to admit he was scared of the ghost stories.

Doumeki’s eyes narrowed. “But you have both stairways monitored. Didn’t you see him come up the stairs?”

“No,” Yashiro said, his eyes widening in surprise. He checked both stairway monitors, but the images looked normal.

“Which stairs did you come up?” Doumeki asked urgently.

“The west ones.”

“Stay here. Keep an eye on those interior monitors!” Doumeki ordered Yashiro before rushing with Saji to the west stairs.

Yashiro watched the upstairs corridor monitor, but Doumeki and Saji didn’t show up. He focused on the monitors for downstairs. This time, he was watching when the flash of something appeared on the monitor. It was a small glint of light, at about head height. And it was located practically beneath where he was!

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Rafters, Friday, 9:47pm

Takaba heard two sets of footsteps running along the upstairs corridor. Apparently, his time was just about up. He’d captured a lot of the warehouse on camera, though not as much as he’d have liked. He hadn’t found the entrance to the escape tunnel yet, and the interior footage of one of the open crates hadn’t revealed much. Because of the long filament he needed for the mini-cam’s close-ups (it couldn’t zoom), he just couldn’t get a long enough exposure in this light, especially underneath the top layer of medicine balls, and he couldn’t use a flash.

Or at least, he couldn’t until now. But given that they were running to the one security camera he’d jammed, he knew he’d be discovered soon, anyway. He set the flash, then lowered his mini-cam down as deep as he could into the crate. To his surprise, the medicine balls moved aside fairly easily – they must not be filled with weight. After lowering his mini-cam through a layer 2-3 balls thick, the mini-cam landed on something solid. It made a tiny clink

Takaba held his breath, then took a few pictures, raising the mini-cam slightly and rotating it around various angles. The light was barely visible from straight overhead; hopefully it wouldn’t be visible at all from the side, where the security cameras were.

“Hey, what’s this?” The voice came from the upstairs corridor. They’d found the jamming device.

Takaba pulled his mini-cam up quickly. It spun as he lifted it, and the light pouring in from a security lamp outside the window glinted on the lens for an instant. He stashed the mini-cam inside the hidden compartment of the second button of his jacket, then jammed the filament spool back into the umbrella and stashed the umbrella inside the inner pocket of his jacket.

“Hey, what are you doing? Don’t move!” he heard a voice call from the upstairs corridor railing.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 9:49pm

Asami yanked the tablet out of Kirishima’s hands. He was squeezing it so hard, his knuckles were turning white, and Kirishima was thankful he’d gotten the ultra-indestructible case, or the tablet would have broken, and they’d be in the dark.

As it was, they could only watch as the two probes shot out of the taser clutched in Yashiro’s hands, aiming for Takaba. Yashiro’s mouth was moving, but there was no sound on the security cameras, so they couldn’t make out what he was saying. Tears were streaming down his face.

One of the probes made contact, but the other missed. Takaba knocked the probe off his left deltoid and scurried behind a beam connecting the rafter to the roof. He locked his arms and legs around, trying to make himself secure as Yashiro loaded another cartridge into the taser.

“That’s not going to work,” Kirishima muttered. Asami emitted that inhuman noise again that made the hairs on the back of Kirishima’s neck stand on end. He never wanted to hear that level of helplessness and despair again. Asami knew as well as he did that if the taser connected, Takaba would lose all control of his body and fall two stories onto the concrete floor. None of his parkour training would be of any use. The fall would almost certainly be fatal.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Upstairs Corridor, Friday, 9:48pm

Doumeki checked the rooms along the corridor as Saji raced ahead to the stairs landing where the camera was. Saji called out, “Hey, what’s this?” and Doumeki started to head towards him when his radio crackled.

“Doumeki! Stop Yashiro! Now!” Suoh barked urgently.

Doumeki immediately turned and headed back to see Yashiro with the taser in his hand, trying to load the second cartridge with shaking hands. “Yashiro! Stop!” he yelled.

Yashiro didn’t even seem to hear him. As he drew closer, Doumeki heard what sounded like a Shinto purification ritual streaming out of Yashiro’s mouth.

Yashiro finished loading the second cartridge and aimed at the Tester again. Doumeki leapt to tackle Yashiro, but the probes had already shot out by the time Doumeki made contact.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Rafters, Friday, 9:49pm

Takaba gripped as hard as he could as he hid behind the support beam. Thankfully, the guy’s hands were shaking, and one of the probes went sailing past his right ear while the other bounced off the rafter. He had no idea why the other guy stopped the would-be taserer. Maybe they didn’t know how to get rid of a dead body, or they were already suspicious the cops were on their trail. Whatever. He wasn’t going to stick around and find out!

Takaba scurried across a support beam to the far side of the warehouse. He quickly unclipped the carabiner holding his rope-belt on, wrapped the end-loop around the beam, and dropped the rest of the rope through the loop. He clipped into his ATC belay device and started lowering himself to the ground. He’d have to leave the rope behind, but he’d add it to his expense report.

He raced over to the emergency exit door and pushed. It was locked. He went to throw open the bolt, only to discover that it was a double-sided lock. And he didn’t have a key.

Takaba started to reach for his umbrella, but a clattering at the bottom of the stairs told him he didn’t have time.

“Hands up if you want to live,” a voice said.

Takaba quickly contemplated his options. They obviously didn’t really want to kill him, not after what he’d witnessed upstairs. At least not yet. And if they did… Well, a moving target was harder to hit. Besides, adrenaline was the fight-or-flight natural drug, not the give-up-and-surrender drug, and Takaba was flying high. He pretended to raise his hands, then dashed over and grabbed his rope, hoping to climb back to relative safety – though he didn’t have time to clip into his safety gear.

The guard tried to grab his leg, but Takaba pulled it up to his chest and kicked down as hard as he could, clipping him on the shoulder. Takaba scurried out of reach, but the guard started shaking the bottom of the rope. Takaba held on tight, clamping his legs around the rope, his eyes scanning his surroundings for a way out.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 9:50pm

Asami let out a shaky breath. He tried to fumble through the various feeds for one that showed the ground floor of Warehouse 4. Kirishima gently took the tablet back. At first, Asami resisted, but Kirishima said, “He’s fine. I’ll show you,” and eventually Asami relented.

After finding an appropriate feed, Kirishima handed the tablet back to Asami, then went over and locked the door. There was no sense in trying to make Asami schmooze any more tonight. He’d be worse than useless at it.

I should have known, Kirishima thought, back when he got shot. It simply wasn’t like Asami. Kirishima had given Feilong too much credence at the time.

If not then, he should have known when Asami rushed to Hong Kong, still injured. Once again, Kirishima had thought it was about Feilong. He definitely should have known after hearing about Asami emptying his gun into Arbatov’s messenger on the cruise ship. Kirishima had been too out of it himself to observe how Asami had carefully escorted Takaba back to their boat, but he should have known based on what he saw on the island. When Asami had Kirishima pack all of the photographer’s things and move them into Asami’s own home.

He should have known the first time Asami dragged the photographer into his penthouse.

He should have known when Asami smiled to see the boy running freely down the street, three days after Asami had him drugged so that Asami could “teach him a lesson” alone.

He should have known the moment he saw the look in Asami’s eye when the boy leapt from Sion’s roof.

He watched the video feed over Asami’s shoulder, knowing now that he was looking at the one person who could – no, who almost certainly would – bring about the death of Asami Ryuichi. The only person in Tokyo who had no idea he held that kind of power. And the only person who would be more devastated than Kirishima himself when it happened. He made a mental note to increase Takaba’s guards fifty-fold.

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 9:49pm

“Yoneda, go meet Doumeki at the western door of Warehouse 4. Escort Yashiro here. Expect the Tester to try to take advantage of the chaos. Don’t let him escape, but don’t let him see your face. Or hear your voice.”

“Hai, Senmu-san,” Yoneda said. He changed out his baseball cap for a light woolen balaclava.

“Don’t go out like that!” Suoh barked.

“I know,” Yoneda said, rolling up the front part so it looked like a regular wool cap. “How does this look?”

“No good. Seeing someone in a balaclava will just make the Tester more suspicious that it’s someone he knows. Stick to the baseball cap.”

“Hai,” Yoneda said, leaving the truck at a trot, tugging his cap low on his forehead.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Upstairs Corridor, Friday, 9:50pm

Slap! Doumeki tried to keep the slap at a professional, startle-the-freaking-out-person-into-calming-down level, even though he really just wanted to deck Yashiro. Doumeki wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth before stating as calmly as possible. “There is no ghost. There is a human intruder. He messed with the surveillance cameras, that’s why you couldn’t see him – or me or Saji.”

Yashiro just blinked. “But what about the twirling light? I saw it! And the dockworkers said that’s what the ghosts look like!”

“Trust me. The intruder is human. He is not a twirling light. But regardless, would you like to leave now? You can go back to the command center and wait for the rest of us.”

“No! I don’t want to go out there alone!”

“You won’t be alone. Yoneda will walk you back.” Doumeki sighed as he led the way to the back door of the warehouse. He glanced over the upstairs corridor railing to see the Tester clinging tightly to a rope as Saji tried to shake him off.

Doumeki pointed. “See? Perfectly human.”

Yashiro glanced over and nodded, not looking particularly convinced.

: “He’s going to try to make a break for it as soon as I open the door. If you let him escape, Yashiro…” Doumeki let the threat trail off. He had wanted to shove Yashiro out onto the roof and leave him up there to calm down on his own, but Suoh thought he might draw too much attention to himself from the other docks in his agitated state. Or worse, panic and fall off, rendering the warehouse useless.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Climbing Rope, Friday, 9:50pm

It’s a lot harder to shake a 20-foot long rope with a full-grown man on it than you would think, so Takaba wasn’t actually moving that much. Still, he knew he’d tire before the man shaking the rope, so he had to make a decision quickly before gravity made one for him.

He climbed a little higher first to assess the potential exit points. He had to assume the other doors were locked the same as the emergency exit he had tried. He wouldn’t be able to work his way over the rafters quickly enough to exit the way he came, and he didn’t want to face off with that taser-wielding guy again. The roll-up loading doors would be too slow. That left the windows. The upstairs ones were out for the same reason as the roof, but there were a few on the south side of the main floor, plus a few on the north side inside some of the interior rooms. They were probably locked, just like the doors. Still, Takaba had to escape somehow.

He made a decision.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Main Floor, Friday, 9:50pm

Saji was keeping a close eye on the Tester. Shaking the rope wasn’t doing much. He considered running back and forth, but that could give the Tester enough momentum to land on top of one of the containers and attempt another escape. He wondered where Doumeki, Yashiro, and Sakuragi were.

He glanced over his shoulder to where Sakuragi was posted near the loading doors, and suddenly remembered Suoh’s voice reciting from The Art of War: “All armies prefer high ground to low.” Too late, he returned his attention to the Tester, to see a pair of sneakers inches from his nose and coming too fast to completely dodge.

Saji snapped his head back so hard, it strained his neck, but he managed to take the full impact on his chest. He crashed to the ground, and the Tester immediately sprinted away, rope still in hand. Saji lay gasping on the ground, trying to recover his wind as quickly as possible.

Sakuragi came rushing from the northeastern hallway that contained the bathroom, quickly assessing the situation. He ran towards the Tester, but the Tester quickly climbed on top of a crate, immediately jumping off, swinging like Tarzan. Sakuragi was only 5 feet from him, and had no chance to dodge the kamikaze feat.

Saji struggled to his feet, but the Tester kicked off another container, increasing the momentum of his swing. Saji staggered out of the way, observing the Tester’s actions, trying to figure out his objective. Every other swing was off the southern wall, and he was moving closer and closer to the window.

Saji stepped back and let the Tester continue, radioing a warning to those outside, just in case the explosion-proof glass didn’t hold up.

The Tester’s feet made contact with the glass as Doumeki and Yashiro reached the bottom of the stairs. Doumeki withdrew the bolt from his pocket and slid it into the keyhole of the warehouse’s back door. He glanced one last time over his shoulder as he opened it, trying to shove Yashiro through as quickly as possible.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Climbing Rope, Friday, 9:51pm

As soon as his feet hit the glass, Takaba realized that he wasn’t going to escape that way. The warehouse was a giant steel box, designed to trap dead-and-alive people until they were dead-and-dead. He knew his time was running out, so he spun as he bounced off the glass, wildly searching for a way out. His eyes caught the most beautiful moon he’d ever seen, and he ricocheted off crates, aiming for the sliver of sky behind the open door.

He mowed over the man in the doorway who was trying to close it, and then he was free. He landed awkwardly and dove and rolled to his right, hoping he could make it to the bustle of Warehouse 2 before the outside guards closed in on him.

Before Takaba could regain his feet, someone jumped on his back. Takaba squatted down, hoping the man’s momentum would carry him past where Takaba was, but the man seemed to have anticipated it, grasping Takaba tightly around his upper back.

Takaba threw his head back, hoping to catch his attacker in the chin or nose, but the man had anticipated that, too, tucking his head down next to his arms. Takaba reached over his shoulder, hoping to grab the man’s hair, but the man stood up, yanking Takaba up with him.

Even as he reached a foot back to try to scrape it along the man’s shin, Takaba was pushed forward and off-balance. He curled his legs and hands up under him, so that as he landed, he could absorb the impact like a compressed spring. But the man grabbed him in a chokehold with one arm, fingers tightly grasping Takaba’s hair, while the man grabbed one of Takaba’s ankles with his free hand, yanking it back towards his head.

Takaba collapsed onto his stomach. He turned his face into the crook of the man’s elbow so he could still breathe, then reached around, attempting to grab the man’s groin. The man was wearing a cup! The man dug one knee into Takaba’s back and ground the other into Takaba’s wrist on the ground.

Takaba knew that attempting to punch or kick behind him would be ineffectual, so he tried to break the hold through sheer stubbornness, twisting this way and that. But the man was apparently some kind of Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist or something, and Takaba was just a stubborn self-preservation artist. The martial artist grunted in syllables: “—shi-ro. Cuffs. Left. Pock-et.”

Another man – “Shiro,” apparently – approached warily from Takaba’s left, the side on which his arm and leg were effectively pinned. “Hey, no! Let me go! Somebody help!” Takaba called helplessly. He knew that the heavy machinery and the stiff sea breeze would mask his cries.

Shiro snapped the cuff onto Takaba’s left wrist. Takaba flailed his right arm wildly, and Shiro stepped back warily. “Hold his legs,” The martial artist wheezed. Shiro jumped on Takaba’s right leg and sat on it, then took the left one and yanked it further back.

“Ow! That hurts! Lay off!” Takaba protested. He could feel his hip flexor stretching nearly to its limit.

“Right there is good,” the martial artist said. He kept his knees and elbow lock in place, but used his free hand to pull Takaba’s right closer to his left. Takaba tried to resist, but really, against two it was hopeless. The pair also put him in leg irons before hauling him back to the door of Warehouse 4, so that even if he managed to get away, he would be slowed down.

Takaba caught a glimpse of Shiro’s face. It was his would-be taserer. Takaba hocked a loogie and aimed it for the man’s face, but the man ducked. Takaba tried to pull away, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master was not to be distracted. He kept himself in the shadows, and no matter how hard Takaba tried, he could not catch a glimpse of the martial artist’s face. Something about the man’s voice had seemed familiar, but it was hard to tell because of how out of breath and strained they both had been.

Takaba gave up his struggles when he was handed over to the man who had saved him from the taserer earlier and the lock snapped shut behind them ominously. Takaba would have to switch gears and trick someone into uncuffing him before he had any chance of escaping this Schrödinger’s Box again.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 9:55pm

“Who is that?” Asami demanded.

Kirishima didn’t have to ask which person Asami meant. “Yashiro Eiji. Hired 6 months ago.”

“Yashiro?” Asami asked sharply.

“Yes, Asami-sama. He’s that Yashiro’s son.”

Asami grunted. He understood what Kirishima left unsaid: Yashiro Eiji was untouchable. It didn’t even matter that his uncle was one of the highest ranking police officers who had never accepted so much as a free doughnut from Asami, one of the few squeaky clean cops who couldn’t even be moved by family loyalty. Or perhaps it was family loyalty that kept Yashiro Kentaro so opposed to Asami. Regardless, Asami could not touch Yashiro Eiji because of who Yashiro’s father, Kousuke, had been.

Asami would have to tread very carefully, but he would still make Yashiro pay. Somehow.

“The other one is Yoneda. Suoh has been very impressed with his performance so far, barring Wednesday.”

“Ah, yes. Now I understand why Suoh was so insistent on me giving him a second chance. I wonder why he chose Sion over the police or military.”

Kirishima didn’t answer. Asami’s attention was riveted to the screen as Doumeki, Saji, and Sakuragi strapped Takaba into a chair. Kirishima moved across the room on the pretense of pulling up a second chair, affording his boss a modicum of privacy (mostly for Kirishima’s own sake – often Kirishima wished that Asami had even a slight sense of modesty).

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 10:00pm

“Good work, Yoneda,” Suoh said as he swung the door open to let the pair of agents enter. “Did he recognize you?” Suoh turned back to the monitors without acknowledging Yashiro.

“I don’t think so. I was careful to keep him from seeing my face, and when I was speaking, I was out of breath. Besides, I only saw him the one time.”

“He’s trained to recognize voices and faces, even of people in disguise whom he’s never met in person before. But you did good. He seemed too busy trying to break your hold to worry about who you were.”

Yashiro was checking out the array of monitors in the truck. When he realized Suoh was zooming a camera in for a closer shot of the Tester, he exclaimed, “Woah! These are so much nicer than the ones I was using! I could have caught the Tester when he sneaked in if I’d had these!”

“What you had is standard field equipment. And you did well enough with them. Not knowing where the Tester was going to enter, you needed static surveillance equipment, especially since you were alone.”

“But I missed his entrance.”

“Only because you abandoned your station at the exact moment the Tester jumped to the roof.”

Yashiro gulped. “Am I going to be fired?”

Suoh remained silent, while Yoneda just gave Yashiro a sympathetic look.

“I deserve to be fired,” Yashiro sat in a chair and buried his face in his hands. “I totally freaked out.”

“What about ‘no weapons’ wasn’t clear to you?” Suoh asked icily.

“It was non-lethal! You said non-lethal force was allowed!” Yashiro defended himself.

Suoh just looked at him as if he were a cockroach on his shoe. Yashiro cast a questioning look at Yoneda.

“Yashiro, what happens when someone is hit with a taser?” Yoneda asked quietly.

“They lose all control of their muscles. And if they’re a ghost, they get sent to the ectoplasm, like in Ghostbusters!”

Suoh glared at him for attempting to joke at a time like this, but Yashiro just looked at them wide-eyed. It slowly dawned on both Suoh and Yoneda that Yashiro was not joking.

“And what happens to a human – not a ghost, but a real, live human – when they lose all control of their muscles two stories above the ground?” Yoneda asked.

Yashiro’s face turned ashen. He leaned over, grabbed the trashcan, and hurled. He started sobbing uncontrollably. “I almost killed someone! I didn’t – I – I – I didn’t – mean to!”

Yoneda patted him on the back. “You didn’t. He’s alive. It’s okay.”

“But I c- c- could have! I don’t want to do this anymore!” Yashiro sobbed.

Yoneda handed him a tissue and massaged his shoulders, whispering soothing words until he’d calmed down some.

“Why did you go into security, anyway?” Yoneda asked Yashiro. “Even during training, it never felt like you were really giving it your all in simulated combat. It’s like you don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Of course I don’t!” Yashiro said. “Do you?” he asked incredulously.

“Well… No. I mean, I don’t get my kicks from it, but I like being able to be in control of a situation. Some things are worth defending, worth getting hurt and even hurting others for, if they’re trying to hurt you or someone else.”

“I know that. But… well, it seems like there should be a way to do it without really hurting anyone. That’s why I like the taser,” Yashiro said. “I wanted to be a cop, like my dad and uncle. But I didn’t pass the tests. Asami-sama really helped my family out, at first when I was really sick when I was little. He helped pay for all the things not covered by insurance, like providing my mom with a place to stay near the hospital, and private tutors so I didn’t fall behind in school. And then he helped even more after my dad died. So I thought if I couldn’t be a cop and protect everyone, I could at least help protect Asami-sama, who has done so much for my family. Though now I think I’ve just been a burden to him.” He looked at Suoh. “Did I actually qualify for Sion’s security force, or was this just another way that Asami-sama was helping me out?”

Suoh pulled his eyes away from the monitor, which just showed the Tester struggling ineffectively against the ropes that fastened his arms, legs, and chest to a chair in an otherwise-empty storeroom on the ground floor of Warehouse 4.

“You were on the fence. We never really know how someone will turn out after training. Some have a rough start but become stellar guards after training. Others get more scared and hesitant as it feels more real to them. We thought you might be in the first group, given your family history. But losing your dad violently so young… I didn’t factor that into the equation.”

Yashiro gave a jerky nod. “What am I going to do?” he moaned.

“Well, you tried something and realized it’s not for you. I’m sure your dad would want you to follow your own path and find something more suitable for you,” Yoneda said. “Is there anything you like to do?”

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Yashiro said. His eyes were drawn to the monitors in front of him. “Have you thought about moving the camera like this?” he asked, fiddling with the controls.

Yoneda tied up the garbage bag and took it outside to the dumpster down the alley. He noticed the Vespa parked next to it. The Tester’s got a nice ride, he thought. I wonder how long before he’ll be back in the saddle. He was looking forward to seeing how the Tester would escape – and whether that would happen before or after the planned interview.

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Storage Room, Friday, 10:15pm

They hadn’t searched him thoroughly. They’d done a cursory pat-down, removing the umbrella, phone, flashlight, lighter, and second camera-jamming device from his pockets. Then they’d tied him to the chair and left him alone. Takaba had pretended to cooperate, but he’d managed to twist his hands and feet so that there was a bit of space between them and the chair. By relaxing, he could move just a little.

But it wasn’t enough. Takaba gritted his teeth as he strained against the rope holding his chest, lifting himself as high as he could. He then lowered himself, and the rope settled an inch or so lower on his torso. A few more times, and he might have enough freedom to reach the rope around his wrist with his teeth.

Takaba stopped struggling when he heard someone approach the room.

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 10:10pm

Suoh noticed that the rope around the Tester’s chest was starting to slip down. Apparently his struggles weren’t so ineffectual, after all. Suoh picked up his radio. “Doumeki, bring Tanihara in to guard the Tester while you continue to prepare for the interrogation.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to use Sakuragi or Saji, Senmu-san? We’re nearly done reviewing the footage.”

“No. It’s got to be Tanihara. And let the Tester cool his heels for another thirty minutes. He’ll be more honest when he’s angry.”

Yashiro asked Yoneda silently, Why Tanihara?

Yoneda shrugged. “Why Tanihara, Senmu-san?”

Suoh glanced at the two of them. He pursed his lips, then said, “Skills assessment. After missing the Tester on the balcony…”

Yashiro seemed satisfied with this response, but Suoh could tell Yoneda wasn’t quite buying it. Dang, but he was sharp. And he had done such a great job predicting the unpredictable movements of the wildcat… Yoneda would be a real asset to the Takaba team. There was just one potential stumbling block.

“Have you ever been attracted to a man?” Suoh asked bluntly.

“W- what?” Yoneda spluttered. He wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.

“Have you ever found a man attractive? Any man…”

“No. Why are you even asking?”

Suoh shrugged. “Just trying to figure out where you’d fit into the organization.”

“What would that have to do with security work?” Yoneda was still flustered, but his mind was racing. “Oh, are you asking if I could pretend to be interested in a man, like for an undercover assignment?” He thought about it for just a moment before shaking his head. “I don’t think I could. It would feel too unnatural, and I’d feel like I was cheating on my girlfriend.”

“What about the Tester?” Suoh pressed. “Or guys like him? Bishounen…”

“What? Still no.” Yoneda looked at Suoh, puzzled. Why was he being so insistent? Then Yoneda remembered what he’d figured out about the Tester’s and Asami’s relationship. “Oh, wait a second. No, no, no, no, no. No way. I mean, yes, I said I admired the way he moved, but I meant it in the way you appreciate any athlete’s movements. I’ve learned a lot from watching him. But – just, no. Rest assured, Senmu-san.”

Suoh chuckled. “I believe you. Just keep it that way.”

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 10:15pm

Asami watched Takaba bat his eyelashes and cry crocodile tears at the impassive guard. “Can’t we get an audio feed?” he asked irritably.

“Not right now. I’ll see if Suoh can network one from that room.” Kirishima texted Suoh. “Asami-sama, now that we know Takaba-kun is safe, perhaps we could continue our business here? There are five more people you’re supposed to talk to…” Kirishima trailed off at the withering look Asami gave him. “I’ll set up appointments with them for tomorrow.”

“Monday,” Asami corrected, his eyes returning to the screen.

“Yes, Asami-sama.”

“I wouldn’t mind some more of that awamori, though,” Asami said.

Kirishima left to get a bottle. He suppressed a shudder at the predatory gleam in Asami’s eye, wondering once again how Takaba could meet that gaze with such fiery defiance.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Storage Room, Friday, 10:40pm

“Come on. I’ve really got to use the bathroom. I promise I’ll be good if you’ll just take me to a toilet. Or I can go outside; I’m not too picky,” Takaba begged, fidgeting in his chair.

“I already told you, my orders are to leave you tied up. You can piss in your pants if you’re that desperate.” The man who had introduced himself as Tanihara stood with his arms crossed.

“Would you?” Takaba asked, doe-eyed. “Look, I’m really sorry. I didn’t steal anything, and I was just having fun. You guys really don’t need to make such a big deal out of this. If you just let me go, I won’t tell anyone what happened here.”

“Of course you won’t.” Tanihara snorted. “You were the one caught breaking in.”

Takaba slumped his shoulders. “You’re right. I’m sorry. But I really didn’t mean any harm. Look, if I’ve got to go here, could I at least have a bottle or something? And open my fly?”

“I’m not untying you. And no way am I helping you piss.” Tanihara’s eyes drifted to the door. What was taking Doumeki so long? He closed his eyes to rest them for just a moment. He was standing, so he wouldn’t fall asleep.

Takaba took the opportunity to try to reach the knot at his wrist with his teeth again. Success! He’d gotten just loose enough with all his squirming.

He didn’t have any time to work on the knot, though – if he’d even been able to work up the courage with the guard right there – because he heard footsteps in the hallway. He slouched back into the chair, trying to look like he was still tightly bound on top.

Tanihara’s eyes snapped open. “Bucho-san,” he said.

The man frowned at Tanihara. “My name is Mecha,” he told Takaba.

Takaba snickered. “Like the giant robots? No wonder you were so easy to knock over. The trick is to always knock them off balance.”

Mecha glowered at him. “Do you find your situation funny?”

Takaba stopped laughing. “N- no,” he stammered.

“I’m going to ask you some questions. Things will go a lot easier for you if you answer honestly.”

Takaba shrugged.

“What’s your name?”

“Togawa Shunpei,” Takaba lied promptly. “Age 23. Resident of Akihabara.”

Mecha looked him up and down. “Twenty-three? I told you to be honest.”

“I am!” Takaba said hotly. He was glad he hadn’t given his real age if they wouldn’t even believe 23.

“And what were you doing here?” Mecha asked.

“Well, see, do you know what Assassin’s Creed is? It’s the coolest video game ever. And the latest release is already out in America, but for some reason it’s taking forever for Japan to get it. And I just couldn’t wait any longer, you know?” Takaba gushed.

Mecha just stared at him. “What does that have to do with you breaking into this warehouse?”

“I was getting to that! So you know that Techno Electronics owns the warehouse next door, right? Or maybe you don’t know, but they ship their everyday games and things through Warehouse 3. Except they always use a secret warehouse for their big new releases, for enhanced security. So I figured they must be using a warehouse near their usual one. Now, the one to the north has fish, and I’m sorry, but fish and electronics just don’t mix. Besides, they’ve been processing fish there for years.”

“Get to the point,” Mecha growled.

“So! This warehouse 4 is under new ownership. And it’s all secret, right? No signs out front? So obviously, it must be the secret Assassin’s Creed warehouse for Techno!” Takaba finished in a rush, obviously proud of his deduction skills.

“Obviously. Except it’s not.”

“Are you sure about that? I didn’t really get a chance to look around that much, but you guys have a lot of security, which I would expect for such a hot game release. And they wouldn’t tell you that’s what you’re protecting, because who could resist? I bet underneath all those medicine balls, there are actually copies of Assassin’s Creed!”

Mecha pinched the bridge of his nose. “Could you just shut up for a second?”

Takaba complied. For all of two seconds. “Look, could you just peek under those medicine balls and see? If the game is there, I could teach you how to play. I mean, if your security computers can handle it. I just really really really really need to play that game already!”

Mecha’s eyes narrowed. “Speaking of security cameras, where did you get these?” He pulled the two jamming devices from his pocket.

“Duh, I told you I live in Akihabara. I can’t tell you the name of the shop, because it doesn’t have one, but I can tell you how to get there. But it’s kind of complicated. It’s located down this alley that branches off another alley, which branches off another alley. Maybe I can draw you a map? If you’d just untie my hands…” Takaba trailed off at the withering look Mecha was giving him. “Or not?” he added sheepishly.

“You expect me to believe that you climbed a roof and jumped across a gap two stories up for a video game?” Mecha asked incredulously.

“You must not be a gamer,” Takaba said. “You play any games?” he asked Tanihara.

Tanihara nodded. “I’m more of a Call of Duty fan, myself.”

“So what would you do to get the latest release?”

“Umm, I stood in line for 16 hours once, when I was 18,” Tanihara admitted. “Overnight, in January. It was raining.” He smiled, as if it were a fond, happy memory.

Mecha shook his head in disbelief. “Still. Come on. That ninja crap you pulled – you’re obviously a highly skilled agent. Who sent you?”

“Me, skilled?! Thanks for the compliment! Wow, I’ve been practicing parkour since I got the first Assassin’s Creed game, but nobody’s ever called me skilled before. I mean, all I did was climb up a balcony and make a short little jump, really. Nothing like what real assassins do!” Takaba gushed.

Mecha looked at Tanihara for a translation. “The game he’s a fan of has characters scaling buildings and running across rooftops.” He shrugged.

Mecha grunted. This fake interrogation was more grueling than an actual interrogation, because he had to pretend to go along with what the Tester said to a certain extent, while still pretending that it was a real interrogation. The Tester was very good at pretending the whole thing was real. Doumeki still didn’t understand why Suoh couldn’t just ask the Tester himself how he figured out certain things. He supposed this was just part of the training.

Doumeki reviewed what Suoh wanted him to ask the Tester, but decided to push the Tester a little further before getting into the meat of things. “Why is your phone so empty? No contacts, no games, only one selfie, which could have been taken tonight.” Doumeki placed the phone on the floor next to the jamming devices.

Takaba’s face flushed. “I don’t have a lot of IRL friends, okay? Or any, if I’m honest. I’m an otaku. And I’m sorry, but phones are not gaming devices. Please.”

“IRL?” Mecha asked, then shook his head. “Never mind. What about family?”

“They call me. I don’t need to call them. And they usually call on the computer. I’m more likely to answer there.”

Mecha tried not to roll his eyes. This guy had a smooth answer for everything. He pulled the next item out of his pocket: the lighter. He was about to set it down, when he brought it back up to examine more closely. Weird. It was the same brand as Asami’s, and he knew Asami didn’t do cheap for anything. This kid didn’t smell like a smoker. Why was he carrying such an expensive lighter? Mecha waved it in the air. “And this?”

“For the diversion.” Takaba shrugged. “I guess I should have brought more firecrackers and smoke bombs. I was so focused on getting the game, I forgot to plan my escape.”

“But where did you get it?” Mecha pressed.

Takaba blushed faintly. “It was my… dad’s,” he mumbled.

Mecha was surprised. Of all the things to trip him up… It didn’t really matter where he got the lighter. Maybe that was one thing he just hadn’t planned? He decided to press further. “Dad? Really? I said to be honest.”

Takaba glared at him. “Fine. It was some rich old perv’s. I stole it from him.”

Mecha raised his eyebrows, but let it go.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 10:50pm

Asami was smirking throughout Takaba’s interview. He seemed to enjoy watching Doumeki squirm. Sadist, Kirishima thought. He was glad Suoh had gotten the audio connected in time.

When Doumeki brought out the lighter, Asami said, “So that’s where that went. I was looking for it last week; it matches my red floral Armani tie the best. When I asked Takaba if he knew where it was, he said I must have left it at work. Someone’s been a naughty boy.”

He looked like the cat that had swallowed the canary.

And then they heard the “rich old perv” comment.

Kirishima was really glad that look in Asami’s eye wasn’t directed at him. He wished he had just let Asami stay at home and watch the proceedings alone from the privacy of the penthouse, as Asami had requested. Kirishima should have known they’d end up watching it here; the same thing had happened for the last three OSSU missions as well.

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 10:50pm

“Is that one of Asami’s lighters?” Yoneda asked Suoh.

“Probably.” Suoh shrugged. He had leaned back from the monitors and was relaxing in his chair. Yashiro had saved him by eliminating the feedback issues and pulling in quality audio from the storage room. Yashiro had also taken over all the cameras. Suoh had to admit that Yashiro was a much better cameraman than he himself was. Suoh was competent, capturing the necessary material for training purposes, but Yashiro had angled two cameras so that they could see how every shift of the Tester subtly loosened the ropes on him.

Yashiro’s shots had an artistic feel to them that Suoh had never bothered trying to achieve. It seemed to come effortlessly to Yashiro.

“That would be a nice shot for Asami-sama,” Yoneda said, gesturing to the view that showed the rippling muscles in Takaba’s back and glutes.

Suoh rapped him lightly on the head. Yashiro cast Yoneda a questioning look.

“Asami-sama is watching the live feed. He doesn’t need any additional photos taken at this time,” Suoh said primly.

Yashiro could tell there was subtext there that he was missing, but he wasn’t going to ask. He knew that he no longer had a need – or a right – to know.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Storage Room, Friday, 10:55pm

“Last but not least. Why an umbrella?” Mecha asked.

“There’s a 10% chance of rain tonight! I couldn’t risk the game getting wet!” Takaba exclaimed.

“10%? Are games really that fragile?”

“Look, it’s already getting cloudy out. Besides, it’s a long walk to the station. Didn’t your mother ever tell you to be prepared?”

Mecha shrugged. “Let’s talk about what you don’t have on you. It’s a long walk to Akihabara. And you mentioned the station. Yet you don’t have a rail pass. Nor any money. Nor any form of identification. Nor even a key.”

Takaba shrugged. “You think I want a record if I were to get caught? I put that stuff in a railway locker.”

“And where is the key to this railway locker?”

“I hid it. I’m not telling you where,” Takaba clamped his mouth shut determinedly.

Mecha sighed. “Fine. Railway station key. You really thought this whole plan out, didn’t you? But how did you get through the locked roof access door? With no key. And no lock-picking tools.”

Takaba looked at him quizzically, seemingly confused by the question. “The door was unlocked.”

“I locked it myself. This evening. While doing my rounds,” Mecha countered.

“Did you check to make sure it was latched?” Takaba countered. “Locks don’t work if the doors aren’t closed all the way.”

He hadn’t, but Mecha didn’t let that show. “It was latched. Besides, how were you planning to get inside through a latched door, anyway?”

Takaba squirmed. “Well… Okay. Fine. I saw a video that you could open emergency exits – you know the kind that just have a little latch instead of a deadbolt? – you can open it just by using the prongs of an umbrella. That’s really why I brought the umbrella. I wasn’t sure if the video was legit, but I was lucky and didn’t need to find out. Or unlucky, since I got caught.”

Takaba gave Mecha a challenging look. “Again, I’m sorry. Apparently it was a misunderstanding. I’m sorry I sneaked into your warehouse, but I didn’t take anything or see anything I shouldn’t have, and I’d really like to be on my way now, if that’s okay. I mean, if I’ve answered all your questions?”

Mecha shook his head. “I’ve got two more. Maybe more, depending on how you answer those. What were you doing in the rafters for so long?”

“It wasn’t that long,” Takaba said, shrugging. “I was trying to find a way down.”

“For forty minutes?” Mecha asked incredulously.

“No way! Was it really that long?” Takaba asked, wide-eyed. “No wonder you found my jammer. Man, I suck. I always time out in-game, too.” He shrugged. “I couldn’t figure out a way down, not without your other two guys seeing me. And I had no idea where the game was. I knew I wouldn’t have much time to grab it once I was detected, so I was just trying to spy down from the rafters, using the zoom on my camera phone.”

“And what about the other warehouse you broke into tonight?” Mecha had saved this question for last; it was the whole reason for the interrogation.

“What other warehouse?” Takaba asked innocently.

“I checked with the dock security. They reviewed their footage and saw you enter another warehouse.”

“Oh.” Takaba’s face fell. “Well, there’s another warehouse right behind Techno’s, right? And that one has been sitting empty for forever, except that recently, some of the dockworkers have been seeing lights on inside it, even though they never saw anyone enter or leave. So I was thinking maybe there was a secret tunnel connecting it to Warehouse 3, and that’s where Techno was storing the Assassin’s Creed games. I mean, I obviously wanted to cover all my bases. But it was totally abandoned. That place was creepy!” Takaba shivered. “I began to believe the dockworkers’ theory that it was haunted by ghosts, so I got out of there. But I couldn’t totally abandon my quest, so I had to check out Warehouse 4, too. I’ve got to get that game!”

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 10:58pm

Yashiro gesticulated wildly at the monitor. “See? He knew about the ghosts, too!”

“What?” Suoh asked sharply.

Yashiro related what he had overheard on his way to his assignment.

“Did they ever say which warehouse was allegedly haunted?” Suoh asked.

Yashiro thought about it a moment. “No. I just assumed they meant 4 because of what Senpai had said in the van. But I think we were passing 7 at the time.”

Yoneda explained about the ghost stories in the van.

“Who started it?” Suoh asked.

Yoneda hesitated a moment. Suoh looked at him expectantly. “Tanihara. But he was obviously just joking. A few of the others played along, but it was obviously a joke.”

“I tried to tell myself that, until I heard the dockworkers,” Yashiro agreed.

Suoh grunted. Tanihara had been the correct choice to guard Takaba. “Expendable,” he muttered.

Yashiro and Yoneda looked at him, but Suoh appeared not to realize he’d said anything aloud.

Suoh received a text. He read it, furrowed his brow, but radioed Doumeki anyway, making sure to use his voice changer. “One more question: ‘Do you know shinigami love apples?’”

“What?” came back on the radio.

Yashiro and Yoneda busted up. Suoh looked up at them. “Somebody’s been watching Death Note,” Yashiro chortled.

“What? What’s that?” Suoh asked.

“Senmu-san? What was that again?” the radio buzzed.

“Never mind,” Suoh growled. This kind of situation was exactly why he scheduled the beta tests on evenings when Asami was busy. He texted Kirishima.

Can’t you keep him occupied?

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Storage Room, Friday, 11:15pm

Takaba stared morosely at Tanihara. Mecha had left about 10 minutes ago, saying he had to check with his supervisors about what they should do with him. Takaba had begged and pleaded to be let go, to no avail. “I still have to take a leak,” he said to Tanihara.

“I already told you, piss in your pants.” Tanihara didn’t even look at him. He had begun to play a game on his phone. But Takaba noticed Tanihara was subtly shifting his weight, as if he needed to use the restroom, too.

Takaba continued to talk about going to the bathroom. After five minutes, Tanihara said, “Would you shut up already?” He was practically starting to dance. Takaba smirked.

After ten more minutes, Tanihara radioed for permission to go. “You can’t leave the prisoner,” the answer came back.

“He has to go, too, but what if he tries to escape? Can I have assistance?” Tanihara asked.

“Use the leg irons and handcuffs,” the order came back.

Tanihara snorted. “It’s not like anyone else is busy right now.” He fastened the leg irons while the Tester was still tied to the chair. “You try any funny business, I’ll piss on you,” he warned as he clamped the handcuffs to one wrist.

Tanihara untied the other wrist and brought it closer so they could be cuffed together. Takaba was docile and compliant, for now.

“You don’t have to push,” he complained as Tanihara shoved him roughly towards the bathroom.

“Hurry up. Get in there.”

The bathroom was a single-person facility, just a toilet, sink, and mirror. Not really a ton of extra space, and no window. Takaba was surprised when Tanihara followed him inside.

“Turn and face the wall,” Tanihara ordered.

Ah… He didn’t want to leave Takaba alone outside the room. Takaba complied, but as soon as he heard Tanihara unzip his fly, Takaba turned around and leaned over Tanihara’s shoulder. “It’s kind of small, isn’t it?” he asked.

“What are you doing?" Tanihara spluttered, trying to pull away.

“Want to compare?” Takaba asked, unzipping his jeans.

“No! Just let me piss in peace!” Tanihara said. But he couldn’t help glancing over at Takaba’s pants.

“Oooh, you are interested. You’re kind of cute, you know,” Takaba teased. “Here, let me help you; you’re missing.” He reached down as if to grasp Tanihara’s member with his handcuffed, still-gloved hands.

“I can do it myself!” Tanihara protested, pulling away and dribbling on the floor.

“Really? You seem to be doing a rather poor job of it.” Takaba smirked.

“Just – go back over to the wall! Please!” Tanihara let out shakily.

He finished peeing, and was just about to tuck himself back into his pants when he felt a breath on his ear. “You don’t have to put that away just yet. We’ve both got time.”

Tanihara shuddered. “No…” he said weakly.

“Really? You ever imagine one of those commandos from Call of Duty taking you from behind?” Takaba pushed up behind Tanihara, nudging Tanihara’s bottom with two extended fingers from each hand.

“Woah,” Tanihara breathed. He obviously thought Takaba’s fingers were something else.

“I was so happy when they sent you to guard me. I’ve been trying to get you alone in here since you first showed up, remember?” Takaba murmured. He awkwardly massaged Tanihara’s bottom with his hands. “Man, I can’t touch you the way I want with these cuffs on…”

Tanihara pulled the key out of his pocket. Before he knew what was happening, the key had been snatched from him, and he was wedged awkwardly face down between the toilet and the wall.

“Thanks,” Takaba said as he quickly uncuffed his hands and feet. He moved the cuffs to Tanihara, fastening the leg irons around the base of the toilet (so he had to straddle it) and cuffing his hands behind his back. Tanihara was too startled to even cry out at first. Takaba took Tanihara’s shoes and socks off, then jammed the socks inside Tanihara’s mouth.

 

Nakameguro Spirits of Japan Museum and Restaurant, Friday, 11:32pm

A feral growl was emanating from Asami’s throat.

Kirishima gulped.

“Name?”

“Tanihara. Two years on the team.”

“Any foreign languages?”

“I’m not sure, Asami-sama.” Kirishima was puzzled by the question.

“Well, see that he learns Russian. Weren’t you saying we needed more men on the Arbatov team? Tanihara just earned himself a one-way ticket to Siberia.”

“Yes, Asami-sama. I’ll arrange it for tomorrow.”

“Within 12 hours, Kirishima.”

 

Sion Mobile Command Center, Friday, 11:32pm

Yoneda gulped. “Oh. That’s what you meant by ‘expendable.’ And why you asked me…” He trailed off.

Yashiro looked back and forth between Yoneda and Suoh. “What?” Neither man answered. Suoh just continued to observe the monitor. “Oh, never mind!” Yashiro turned back to the monitors.

 

Tokyo Docks, Warehouse 4, Friday, 11:33pm

Takaba rushed back into the storage room and shoved his belongings into his pockets. He then quietly but quickly ascended the northwestern staircase. As soon as he was high enough, he mounted the railing and peeked along the upstairs corridor. So far so good.

When he reached the upstairs corridor, he quickly darted up the roof access stairs. He pushed, and the door swung open. The idiots hadn’t thought to check it, even after he’d warned them. He suppressed a chuckle, removing the gum from the doorjamb.

By the time someone came to the door, Takaba was already at the edge of the roof.

“Stop!”

But Takaba was already flying through the air.

When he got to the balcony of Warehouse 3, he saw two guards underneath it. He raced instead to the back of the warehouse, where he hang-dropped onto the two-foot wide ledge that protected the back door from the rain. He hung from that, landed on the ground, and was off up the drive between Warehouses 6 and 7 before anyone could say boo.

Takaba retrieved his Vespa’s key from the back of the dumpster (where it was held on by a magnet), then rode off into the night.

He grinned.

Mission complete.

He rode to a train station, where he locked himself inside a bathroom stall. He reviewed the data from Warehouse 4. He got goose bumps when he saw the last 3 pictures, taken inside the container underneath the medicine balls. The first showed a metallic ring. The second showed a narrow metal cylinder. The third showed a trigger.

Takaba sent the data to OSSU, cleared the memory on his mission phone and mini-cam, and then deposited his spare gear in a locker, waiting the four minutes until after midnight to save 300 yen, trying not to think about how lucky he had been to escape unscathed tonight.

Only after leaving the station did he turn on his own cell phone. Eleven missed calls and twenty texts.

He skipped the messages from Asami for now, and cringed at the increasing desperation in Yagami’s.

Takaba called Yagami back. “Takaba-kun! You’re killing me! You’re the story tonight, and you just disappear on me? If I don’t make this deadline…”

Takaba sighed. Would this day never end? He’d been working non-stop for over 17 hours already. “What do you need?”

 

Club Dracaena, Main Entrance, Saturday, 12:47am

Takaba groaned in frustration. “How hard is it to keep the camera steady?” he asked, erasing the fifteenth blurry photo of himself across the street from the club, with the electronic billboard and the crowds still hoping to enter in the background.

“I’m not a photographer!” Yagami protested.

“You’re using a tripod!” Takaba snapped. “And I fixed all the settings for you!”

“I’m sorry. I’m trying,” Yagami said. “By the way, your fly is open.”

A limousine rolled up in front of them, blocking the shot. Takaba groaned.

“Having trouble?” a man drawled as he opened the back door.

“Yes! Move your giant car out of the shot, please!” Takaba snapped. Yagami was shocked at his colleague’s rudeness, but the man in the limo just looked amused.

The man stepped out and waved the car forward. “That better?”

“Yes, thank you,” Takaba said sarcastically. “Try again,” he called to Yagami as Asami stepped into the shadows.

“You shouldn’t look so pissy in front of your work,” the man said.

“It doesn’t matter anyway; the picture won’t come out,” Takaba groaned, examining the most recent shot. “See?”

“May I try?” Asami asked. Yagami waved him forward enthusiastically.

Takaba sighed. “This is the only time I’m letting you touch my work camera. All you have to do is push this button. And try not to move the camera when you do it. It’ll be a long exposure, but just let it do its thing after you press the button, and it should be fine.”

Takaba went back to his position. “Is this the right spot?” he asked.

Yagami peered through the finder. “Yeah, that looks like the sample you showed me with me in it.”

Asami peered through the finder, too. “No, move a little to your right. A little more… Right there.”

Takaba waited for him to press the shutter.

“You want that mug on the front page?”

Takaba glared at him. “This is the only face I’ve got.”

“Well, don’t look like you’ve been scampering down alleys and digging through dumpsters all day.”

“I didn’t dig through any dumpsters today!”

“Oh-ho, not today? Maybe yesterday? I hope you weren’t dumpster-diving for food!”

“What? I’ve never gone dumpster diving! But if you find a perfectly edible, sealed container of yogurt, still cold and apparently thrown away because the lid was cracked, even though it was still sealed…”

“Oh, wow, seriously? I was just joking, but you’ve actually eaten from the dumpster?”

Takaba froze, glaring. “You tricked me!”

“Oooh, nice look. Glare at me some more.”

Takaba pouted, crossing his arms.

“Oh, you want to look like that on the front page?”

Takaba stuck out his tongue.

“Even better. But seriously. Turn around. Look at what you’re doing to people.”

Takaba turned and took in the scene. The people waiting in line were smiling and laughing. Instead of anxiously peering to see how long it would be before they could get inside, they were watching the story unfold on the screen above them.

He smiled.

“That’s it.”

Takaba turned back around and faced the camera.

Then Asami said the words Takaba had been yearning to hear from the man since they’d first met.

“Good job.”

When the exposure finished, they inspected the image. “This is perfect!” Yagami crowed. “Thanks, mister!”

Asami finally understood why Takaba was obsessed with capturing Asami in his viewfinder. The picture was the essence of Takaba, standing tall and proud, fierce determination and mischief commingling in his eyes, shining bright against the darkness of the night.

 

Chapter Text

Map of the Tokyo Dock. There are 5 warehouses along the east side next to the water, numbered 1 to 5 north to south, with a larger building to the south. There is a second row of warehouses starting next to warehouse 2, numbered 6 through 9. To the west of building 9, there is an alley that runs between an unnamed building to the north and the Takanaga building to the south. There are 3 lines leading from Warehouse 4, one due east to the water, one northwest to Warehouse 7, and one southwest to the Takanaga building.

Asami Ryuichi’s Penthouse, Saturday, 11:00am

Takaba groaned as he turned off his alarm. As he tried to slip from the bed, Asami pulled him closer. “Sleep a little longer.”

“I can’t. Which I told you last night, before you decided the end of an 18-hour workday was the perfect time to use the secret room.”

Takaba sprang from the bed and cruelly lifted the window shades. Asami groaned, shielding his eyes with his hands as he buried his head under the covers. “If you were anybody else…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Takaba said. “I’m not making breakfast. You can eat cereal when you get your lazy self up.” He moaned as he hobbled into the kitchen, pouring himself a bowl of sugary goodness before locking himself in his workroom to finish writing the Morinaga story.

He rubbed his eyes blearily. At first he’d thought it was sweet of Asami to insist that Takaba ride home in the limo, because he was so tired it would be unsafe to ride his scooter. But as soon as the guard roared away on the Vespa, Takaba realized his mistake.

He thought that if he let Asami get handsy in the limo, that would be the end of it.

He should have known that was never the end of it. His protests were met with Asami’s usual indifference, until finally Takaba succumbed to the exhaustion. At least this time, Asami was kind enough to clean him up a bit and move him to the bedroom, so that he’d actually hear his alarm.

Asami had seemed more possessive than usual last night (which was really saying something). Takaba tried to remember why. Oh, yeah, he’d slipped the guard he hadn’t realized he’d had. And then shown up with rope marks. And… Asami had seemed even more persistent with the “remember who you belong to” talk, but that was just Asami being Asami, he supposed.

His phone rang, interrupting his thoughts.

“Aki! I just saw the paper! That’s amazing! When I saw the news last night, I had no idea those were your pictures!”

Takaba smiled to hear Kou’s voice. And then he remembered.

“Uh, Kou? About your birthday tonight… I suddenly have work.” He explained the situation, then asked, “I’m not sure I can, but do you want me to try to get you and Takato tickets? I won’t be able to hang out with you guys much…”

“That would be awesome! They’re having a kendama party! Aki, this will be the most amazing birthday ever!”

“Calm down a little. I’m not sure I can get the tickets. I’ll text you when I know for sure, okay?”

Takaba hung up and focused on his article.

An hour later, Asami knocked. Takaba opened the door. “There’s nothing to eat,” Asami said.

“There’s cereal in the cupboard.”

“You mean this?” Asami grabbed the box and started reading the nutritional contents. “Sugar: 23 grams. This is dessert, not breakfast.”

Takaba grumbled, but he was getting hungry again, too, so he cooked a proper breakfast. It was like a sport, keeping Asami at bay while focusing on not burning anything.

“We’re going shopping this afternoon,” Asami announced as they sat down to eat.

“If you’ve got a certain cereal you’d like, add it to the list. I’m going tomorrow.”

“No, we’re getting you a suit for tonight.”

“I’m a photographer. I don’t need to wear a suit tonight.”

“Club Dracaena has a dress code.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen. I can get in with a nice pair of jeans and a t-shirt.”

Asami just looked at him. “You’re not just getting in; you’re one of the celebrity guests.”

Takaba folded his arms, snorting at the idea of him being a celebrity. “I’m not wearing some stuffy suit. And especially not a choking tie.”

Asami looked at him as if he had six heads. “A tie? Who would wear a tie to Dracaena?”

“Oh.” Takaba thought about it a moment. “Well… maybe I could find something a little nicer than jeans. But you’re probably busy, so if you could just recommend a couple of cool, cheap shops…” He trailed off. Asami didn’t do cheap. Or cool.

“It’s my fault you’ve got to get new clothes, so I’ll get them for you. As a congratulations,” Asami said.

“I have money! I just got a nice bonus from the photoshoot.” And another job he couldn’t mention…

“I’m sure you can afford your own clothes. But would you please just accept a present besides food for once?” Asami snapped.

Takaba looked at him. “Well, thank you. Just as long as I have time to finish the article beforehand. And nothing too expensive.”

 

Narita Airport, Terminal 2, Saturday, 12:00pm

Tanihara gulped as they called Flight SU263 to the gate. Kirishima went through his stack of papers one final time, then handed them to him. Suoh clapped a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Ono will meet you at the airport in Moscow. You’ll be spending the next year assimilating. On your university breaks, you’ll go home to Kansai, where you’ll receive additional training in undercover assignments. If you need to contact me, go through Ono.”

“Your additional luggage will be shipped to you Monday. We’ll send the rest of your belongings to your family home. Thank you for volunteering for this last-minute assignment. If you run into difficulties, contact your ‘sponsor,’ the Tachibana group. Their information is in the packet.” Kirishima shook his hand and bowed.

Tanihara’s head was spinning. He’d been awakened by a telephone call at 6am, explaining that the agent assigned to this 3-year undercover operation in Russia suddenly couldn’t make it. He’d been selected as the replacement, but he had to leave today. He was glad he’d applied for his passport earlier this year, hoping to take a ski holiday to the Asian continent this winter. Well, he’d get plenty of skiing in now.

And those tall, strapping, handsome blonds… No. Tanihara shook his head. He’d nearly opened that door last night, and it was time to make sure it was closed again. And the new Russian laws would help him keep it closed. Another reason it was good to go, besides the skiing and career opportunity.

Tanihara squared his shoulders and put his earphones in, beginning track 1 of “An Introductory Course to Spoken Russian.”

After the flight took off, Kirishima called to report to Asami. “The Siberian husky is safely in the kennel.”

“You’re a half hour late, Kirishima,” Asami teased.

“This was the earliest flight to anywhere in Russia! And he did need at least a little time to pack and get to the airport,” Kirishima protested.

“I know. I was joking. Did you get any sleep at all last night, Kirishima? Take the rest of the day off.”

 

Club Dracaena, Main Entrance, Saturday, 6:00pm

Takaba deliberately laid down double lines of rubber as he pulled up in front of the valet at Club Dracaena. He hadn’t been able to resist when Asami tossed the Corvette’s keys to him. It was his first time driving a sports car legally. And really, he couldn’t pick up Kou and Takato on his Vespa, and there was no way he was riding in a limo.

The Corvette was more his speed.

Takaba tried not to smirk as Sudou himself opened the driver’s door for him and bowed solicitously. “Takaba-sensei.” Sudou couldn’t quite keep the sarcasm out of his voice or the sneer off his face as he said it. “Nice car,” he added, with a look that showed he knew exactly whose it was.

“Thanks!” Not even Sudou could wipe the grin off Takaba’s face tonight. Besides, ignoring his snobbishness just seemed to irritate him more.

The three friends walked along the red carpet to the club entrance. There were already crowds thronging the block, even though the club wouldn’t open to the public for another three hours.

Takaba waved at Mitarai in the press box, who looked like he’d swallowed a lemon. To be shown up by the young upstart in this morning’s paper was one thing, but to have to cover his big break?

The trio entered the club and were escorted to a VIP skybox, where they were greeted by Asami.

“You’re the guy who picked up Aki that New Year’s he got really drunk!” Takato exclaimed.

“Which one?” Kou asked.

“The one where he was making those prank phone calls and wearing the kagami mochi on his head.”

“Oh, yes, I do remember being awakened by some prank phone calls,” Asami said.

“I don’t remember that,” Takaba said.

“You wouldn’t,” the other three all said at the same time.

“Did Aki take some advertising pictures for one of your clubs?” Kou asked.

“I can’t believe you would prank-call a business acquaintance!” Takato punched Takaba’s arm playfully.

“I didn’t!” Takaba protested. Kou and Takato just looked at him disbelievingly, while Asami watched their interaction with an amused smirk.

Takaba was spared from further awkwardness by Sudou’s entrance into the room. After a short briefing on the evening’s schedule, the pre-party started.

As they waited in line for food, Takato nudged Takaba. “Did you bring it?”

“What? Oh, yeah!” Takaba pulled a wrapped present from his ubiquitous camera bag. “Happy Birthday, Kou! This is from both of us!”

Kou unwrapped the LED kendama. “Woah, this is awesome! After I saw it on the news last night, I started looking for one of these, but they were already sold out. This is just like the one in the photoshoot!”

“Well, actually… We kind of needed a prop, and I just happened to have it with me…” Takaba said sheepishly.

“No way, seriously? This is so cool! Do you think they’d sign it?” Kou asked, eying the models – especially Togawa. “Er, and you, too, of course,” he added as an afterthought.

“Sure.” Takaba laughed.

But Kou didn’t head towards the models; instead he started playing with the kendama.

“There he goes,” Takato said.

“At this rate, he won’t even get any food,” Takaba agreed.

“Maybe we should have given it to him later.”

“Takaba! You clean up nice.” Director Nekota clapped him on the shoulder. “Nice suit.”

“This old thing?” Takaba said with a grin, glancing down at the suit. The shop Asami had taken him to didn’t have any Asami-style three-piece suits. Takaba’s suit was a charcoal gray. The single button gave it a relaxed feel, especially combined with the bright, open-collared shirt that perfectly matched his eyes. Asami had even bought a suit for himself there, which he was wearing right now – with no vest or tie. He somehow still looked every bit as elegant and well-to-do, though not out of place nor as much older than the rest of the crowd as he was.

Takato rolled his eyes. “I always wondered what it would take to get him into a suit… Though I’m not sure that one counts. No tie.”

“We can’t all be office drones,” Takaba teased.

Takato stared at him in mock horror. “You’re right. You would probably have cavalry races on the office chairs.”

“And photocopy inappropriate body parts,” Asami added, joining the group. He brushed his hand lightly against Takaba’s back and smirked at him before standing next to Nekota.

“Asami-sama. Thank you for arranging the billboard and this event,” Nekota said. “And thanks again for the refreshments the other day. And especially for the loan of the lovely Togawa-san. I’m afraid we may have stolen her from you.”

Asami waved his hand. “We always knew that her employment at Sion was temporary. And thank you for all the publicity!”

Nekota laughed. “It was mutually beneficial, eh?”

Kou’s kendama skills had attracted considerable attention. During the rehearsal, they asked him to do a solo act in the middle of the dance number. The coordinated movement of the 20 dancers was impressive, especially considering that they had to contend with darkness and occasional strobe lights to show off the lights of the kendamas and glowing hula hoops. Kou had a thirty-second freestyle solo in a lull in the music, and he would have a steady, low level of light.

“This has turned into the best birthday ever for him,” Takato told Takaba as they watched Kou shyly teach Togawa a few kendama tricks.

 

Club Dracaena, AV Room, Saturday, 8:00pm

Yashiro selected 5- to 30- second snippets of the dance number and the pre-party to insert into the slide show on the outside of the building. He still couldn’t quite believe he was here. Suoh had called him at 7 o’clock this morning and told him to report to the office by 8. He had expected to be fired, but instead had somehow ended up here.

Sudou hadn’t seemed to want the help when Yashiro had shown up, but Sudou had introduced Yashiro to his other AV people when he’d been told it was Asami-sama’s orders. The other two workers had been a bit overwhelmed; the most video they’d shot before was short snippets to put on the Club’s social media pages.

They’d been impressed by Yashiro’s Niconico channel. And when they’d started brainstorming, Yashiro had kind of ended up taking over. He kept apologizing, but the pair assured him that he was doing great. They would shoot footage with the handheld cameras, while Yashiro controlled the wall-mounted ones and edited it all for display.

He was previewing the footage when Sudou entered the room. Sudou watched over his shoulder for several minutes. “This is good. This is very good.” Sudou smiled. “I should have known Asami-sama would send me competent help.”

Yashiro stammered at the praise. Sudou’s eyes were suddenly drawn to one of the smaller monitors. His expression darkened. Yashiro followed his gaze to a view of the VIP lounge. Nearly everyone had gone to the main dance floor for the rehearsal, but there were still two people left in the room: the Tester and Asami-sama, tucked into a corner behind a large potted plant. Yashiro blushed at their intimacy. He suddenly understood the subtext between Yoneda and Suoh last night.

Yashiro decided to draw Sudou’s attention away from the scene. “Sudou-san, I had a –”

“That’s Jomu-san to you!” Sudou snapped.

“Yes, Jomu-san. I’m very sorry.” Yashiro bowed deeply. “Excuse me, Jomu-san, I had a few ideas for future uses of the billboard. I know now is not the best time to go over them…” He trailed off.

Sudou studied him. “I’ll listen to them tomorrow. 10am sharp.”

“Yes, Jomu-san.” Yashiro bowed again as Sudou strode from the room.

A moment later, Asami entered. Yashiro immediately sunk into full seiza, lowering his head to the ground. “Asami-sama, I am so sorry for my conduct last night. I should have never let those ghost stories spook me. Or carried any kind of weapon against Senmu-san’s orders. Especially not against… well, I didn’t know your relationship last night, and I didn’t stop to think who he was, but that’s still no excuse.” Yashiro held his bow, not daring to look up at Asami.

Asami clenched his jaw, a vein pulsing in his temple as he fought to control himself. Begging was cowardly and reprehensible… and yet Yashiro wasn’t actually begging for anything. Somehow, he was reminded of the time Takaba had bowed before him. “Get up,” he snarled.

Yashiro rose, trying to hide his trembling. He waited for Asami to speak.

Asami tried to check himself. Suoh had shown him the video from the Mobile Command Center. He knew that Yashiro’s regret was sincere. And if Takaba knew, he would tell Asami to forgive him. But Asami wasn’t used to forgiving so easily. Or at all, really.

After a long silence, Yashiro spoke up. “I have always wanted to thank you personally for all you’ve done for my family, Asami-sama. I realize this may not be the appropriate time, but I don’t know if I’ll get another chance.”

Asami relaxed, letting out a long breath. “No need to thank me. Your father saved my life. Twice. And the second time it cost him his own. It is a debt I never can repay.”

Yashiro’s eyes widened. All he had known was that his father died in the line of duty. No wonder his uncle didn’t like Asami. But Yashiro knew what his father would say. “It was his duty and his honor. He would be glad to know that he was successful in protecting the public, even in his final moments.”

Asami shook his head, then changed the subject. “I just came here to see how the preparations are going.”

Yashiro showed him the preview. Asami nodded in approval. “Suoh was right about your skills. You make a much better videographer than security guard. Not that that’s hard.”

“Yes, Asami-sama.” Yashiro hesitated then said, “Asami-sama, Sudou-jomu-san was here earlier. He saw… er, an intimate moment between you and – the Tester? And he looked rather unhappy about it.” Yashiro flushed.

Asami looked at him. “Thank you for the information.”

“Should I erase that footage from the back-up, Asami-sama?” Yashiro asked.

“Thank you for the offer. That may not be a bad idea,” Asami mused. “Yashiro-kun, I think you’ll be a real asset to Dracaena for this electronic billboard launch. Just remember who you work for. And report directly to Suoh anything else you think might remotely be of interest to us. No need to inform Sudou.”

“Hai, Asami-sama.”

“It won’t be easy working with Sudou. Think of it as your penance. But you won’t be stuck here forever. We’ll need your skills in other departments.”

Yashiro stifled a laugh; he’d already figured out that much about Sudou himself. He bowed once more. “Thank you, Asami-sama. I won’t let you down again.”

 

Club Dracaena, Dance Floor, Saturday, 10:00pm

Takaba did not like the interview part of the evening. He was sitting on a stage with Nekota, the models, and the designer, facing the huge crowd, answering questions from a few of the bigger media outlets. Takaba was way more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. Thankfully, most of the attention was focused on the others.

Until the reporter from NHK decided it was his turn.

“Takaba-sensei, this is your first big fashion photoshoot. Where did you learn your photography skills?”

“Well, I’ve actually done several other photoshoots, weddings, advertising pictures… but mostly, I’m an investigative reporter for the Metro Meteor. I actually have a big story coming out in tomorrow’s paper.” He knew his editor would be pleased with the plug.

“What’s it about?”

“You’ll have to read it and find out the details, but I can tell you it involves Diet member Morinaga-sensei.”

The reporters were clamoring now.

“Can’t you tell us anything?”

“Is Morinaga-sensei involved in corruption?”

“Is it a scandal?”

Takaba just shrugged and grinned impishly. “You’ll have to read the article yourself! It’s only a few hours away.”

“Tell us about your love life. A cute photographer like you must have a girlfriend,” the NHK reporter said.

Takaba froze. He hadn’t been expecting this. He could feel the magnetism of one man’s gaze on his face, and his eyes met golden ones. His face flushed at the heat of the gaze, and he ducked his head, embarrassed.

“Oh, you must! Is she here?” Some of the cameras swiveled in the direction Takaba had turned, but Asami had melted back into the crowd.

One of the girls in that section called out, “I’ll be your girlfriend, sensei!”

Takaba’s face burned, and he buried his face in his hands. He knew he would be in for some teasing from Kou and Takato later. They’d ask if the “rich lady” he was living with had been here tonight after all, and when Aki would finally introduce her to them. They had been bad enough when he’d shown up in the obviously borrowed Corvette.

One of the reporters mercifully changed the topic. “Director Nekota said that the kendama was your idea. What made you think of it?”

“I just happened to have it because I’d picked it up that day for my friend’s birthday – which happens to be tonight. Happy Birthday, Kou!” Takaba called out.

Takato hooted and said, “It’s this guy right here!”

When everyone turned to see who they were talking about, the eagle-eyed NHK reporter said, “Weren’t you the solo act in the dance number? Come on up here!”

Takaba was grateful that the attention turned to Kou. He was relieved when the press conference was over, the lights were turned off, and he could melt back into the crowd.

He had to admit Sudou had put together an amazing theme night. Apparently he’d managed to buy up over half of the 1000 limited-edition LED kendamas. Between them, the light-up hula-hoops, glow sticks, glow necklaces, and the LED gloves that pulsed to the beat of the music, the air was filled with an ever-changing rainbow of colored lights. Takaba retrieved his camera from his bag in the VIP lounge and started taking pictures, until Kou and Takato made him put it away and dragged him onto the dance floor.

The kendamas and hula hoops were banished to the perimeters, because the club was filled to fire code capacity, and everybody seemed to be crammed on the dance floor tonight. Bodies were pressed together, so that you couldn’t help bumping against those near you. Takaba tensed when he felt a hand linger on his butt, but he instantly relaxed when it moved in a familiar pattern. He knew this hand almost as well as his own. A body pressed full against his back for just a moment. A voice whispered in his ear, “Let’s dance more later – when it’s just the two of us.” And then the heat at his back was gone.

They stayed at the party until 1am. Kou was an early riser, so this was an exceptionally late night for him. “This was the best birthday ever! Thanks, Aki. Thanks, Takato.” He hugged his autographed kendama, then pointed at one signature. “I got her number!”

“Just don’t spend all your time teaching her kendama,” Takato warned.

“I told you in high school, didn’t I? That kendama was a great way to meet girls?”

Takato punched him lightly on the arm. “One girl in ten years hardly counts as great.”

“It does if she’s a keeper.” Kou grinned hopefully.

As they waited for the car at the valet station, they watched the billboard. The still images from the slideshow were shown 90% of the time, but short snippets from the club interior were interspersed: the “celebrities” arriving at the red carpet, the pre-party, the dance number, the interview (Takaba was mortified to see his embarrassed face), the crowds dancing, Kou’s solo… and even footage of the crowds outside, waiting to get in. The people outside seemed to be having almost as much fun as those inside. Even though they couldn’t hear the music, many were dancing or waving glow sticks.

Some of them recognized Takaba and Kou from the footage and started cheering. As the trio drove away, they saw that the line to get in was still several blocks long. It had to be some kind of record. The ones farther away were watching the footage on screens mounted at every corner. They all cheered as they recognized the Corvette from the footage. The trio were riding with the top down, and Takaba drove slowly so that Takato and Kou could wave at everyone and bask in the excitement.

 

Asami Ryuichi’s Penthouse, Sunday, 1:00pm

Takaba’s stomach rumbled loudly for the fourth time. “I guess we’d better get you some food,” Asami said, regretfully relinquishing his hold on Takaba.

Takaba stood and stretched. “Stay here. I have an idea.” Five minutes later, he was back with a tray of toast, fruit, and scrambled eggs. He set the tray on the bed, then crawled back under the covers next to Asami.

“It’s nice to have a day off,” Asami sighed contentedly as he fed Takaba a strawberry. “What do you want to do today? Shall we just stay here?”

Takaba thought about it for a moment. He had finished the Morinaga investigation. He had a few more press interviews for the photoshoot (including one with the prestigious Photography Today), but he’d scattered them throughout the week – and he’d only agreed to a handful. The OSSU mission was nearly complete; there were just two things he had to check. One would have to wait until the government offices opened tomorrow. The other… “It’s such a nice day, and with fall around the corner, this might be our last chance to celebrate summer,” he said. “I want to be on the water.”

“You want to swim?” Asami asked.

“No, it’s already too cold for that. Maybe we could rent a boat?”

“Sail or motor?”

Takaba thought for a moment. “Isn’t Tokyo a busy port? Don’t they have rules about where you can take sailboats?”

“You have to keep them out of the main channels. But that’s true for smaller boats, regardless.”

“I want to take pictures of the city. I’ve never gotten it from that perspective before,” Takaba said.

Asami picked up his phone. “Suoh, have the motorboat prepared for me to take it out this afternoon.” He paused. “For fun. It will be Takaba and I.” He paused again. “Yes, that’ll be fine.” He hung up and told Takaba, “It will take a little time to prepare; it needs fuel. Suoh will pick us up at 3.”

Takaba glanced at the clock. “That’s just enough time for me to pack a picnic if I hurry.”

First, he packed his camera bag, making sure to include his longest-range telephoto lenses.

 

Motor Boat, Tokyo Bay, Sunday, 5:00pm

They had finished their tour of Tokyo Bay, from the waterfront hotels and skyscrapers at the north down to the shipyards in the south. Takaba had taken all the photos he wanted.

The sun was low in the sky, playing peek-a-boo between the buildings. The clouds, the buildings, the water – everything was tinged gold, pink, orange, red, or purple.

Asami shifted the engine into neutral so they could just watch the changing colors. Takaba snapped one or two more pictures. Asami pulled him down into his lap, and Takaba put the camera away. For once, Asami didn’t try to turn up the heat. He just held Takaba, resting his chin on Takaba’s shoulder as they watched. “It’s beautiful,” Takaba sighed.

Asami’s gaze shifted to Takaba’s contented face, angelic in the golden light. “It is,” Asami agreed.

 

Metro Meteor Building, Conference Room, Monday, 9:00am

“Most of you know that Saturday’s issue set a new sales record thanks to Yagami and Takaba’s coverage of the Club Dracaena billboard. But I’m happy to report that yesterday’s issue blew that record out of the water with Takaba’s story on Morinaga-sensei. We had to do three additional print runs!”

Everyone cheered. Takaba felt so many hands pounding him on the back, he nearly stumbled as he ducked his head.

“However, we can’t sit on our laurels. We’ve got to keep building on this momentum. The Meteor is finally being taken seriously for its journalistic prowess. It doesn’t matter how many papers we sell if we later have to issue a retraction and develop a reputation for being a cheap tabloid out to make money rather than uncover the truth.”

Takaba froze. Was he being accused of misconduct?

The chief editor continued. “So follow Takaba’s example. Don’t just take a picture and put any old caption that fits the scenario on it. Make sure you dig deep and get the real story!”

“What was that about?” Takaba asked Yagami as they left the conference room.

“Didn’t you hear? Oh, you had yesterday off, and you turned in your story early Saturday. Mitarai showed up late Saturday night with pictures of Morinaga and his daughter, except the article he wrote claimed that she was his underage lover! Because the editor already had your story and knew it was B.S., he went ballistic. Mitarai will be getting all his stories independently fact-checked for a while.”

 

Club Sion Building, Presidential Suite, Monday, 11:00am

Doumeki finished his report. “Togawa Shunpei!” he snorted, throwing a newspaper featuring a picture of the models on the table. “He was good, I’ll give him that. I had no idea how far to push it, knowing that it wasn’t real.”

“You did fine,” Suoh assured him. “We got the information we needed.”

Doumeki wrinkled his forehead. “If you say so.” He shook his head. “I guess it was good practice.”

“Thank you for your report,” Asami said. Doumeki bowed and excused himself. Once the door was closed behind him, Asami, Kirishima, and Suoh got to work discussing the vulnerabilities and strengths of the new warehouse, as well as the performance of the various agents.

Kirishima reported, “The extended background investigation on Yoneda has been completed. He was recruited by Saji and Sakuragi, who were his senpais on the kendo team at his high school. He lives a simple life, well within his means, and he has no excessive behaviors such as drug use or gambling. I see absolutely no cause for concern in appointing him to the Takaba team.”

After they’d finished the debriefing, Asami leaned back in his chair with both hands behind his head. “It’s a pity we can’t have him check the security system of Club Sion Building,” he mused.

“Maybe we could let him in on it,” Suoh suggested. “It would be easier than staging all these fake stakeouts. And we’re running out of security officers he doesn’t recognize…” His voice trailed off as Asami gave his best, deadliest “You can’t possibly be that much of an idiot” look.

“Have you met Takaba, Suoh?”

Suoh met his gaze and deadpanned, “Actually, we’ve never been formally introduced.”

Kirishima nearly choked smothering a laugh. He shifted further behind Asami’s chair so the man wouldn’t see his reddening face, thankful that Asami’s sadistic smirk was directed entirely at Suoh.

“Really? That can be arranged.”

Suoh suddenly remembered why he had become the “strong, silent” type.

 

Final Report and Additional Expense Report, Warehouse 4 Mission

Monday, September 21, 2015, 2:00pm

To: OSSU

From: Takaba Akihito

The warehouse is well guarded. There were at least 5 agents inside and 7 outside. There was an unlabeled “delivery” truck parked two blocks west belonging to the same company as other vehicles at Warehouse 4. Windows are reinforced glass, difficult to break. Emergency exit doors are illegally double-locked. The roof is the most vulnerable entry point, though that may be compromised now thanks to my use of it. The west door also looks vulnerable. Warehouse 7 appears to be a safe house, with food and clothing stored in it. However, the secret areas could contain illegal goods. The tunnel from 7 to 4 could be an entry point, but I was unable to ascertain its endpoint inside Warehouse 4.

The interrogator seemed to believe my “searching for a videogame” cover story. They had no cameras watching the rafters, and they did not discover any of my cameras or tools (besides the jamming devices, as mentioned in the last report). Long-distance surveillance yesterday from the east showed no apparent heightening of security or exterior changes, though it of course does not rule out interior changes.

If I may be so bold as to make security suggestions for OSSU, I would recommend not just swapping syllables in the names of things when creating aliases. Once one of the codes is broken, others will be as well, and evidence will mount regarding real identities. Additionally, if one aims to make use of a doppelgänger to convince someone that they saw said doppelgänger instead of the person in question, one should select a doppelgänger with a similar profile as well as straight-on appearance (i.e., tell “Mecha” to get a nose job, or choose a different doppelgänger).

Given the extreme danger highlighted by this mission, combined with recent enlightenment regarding aspects of OSSU’s financial solvency, I humbly request a raise for all additional missions of 50000 yen per mission.

Please see the attached receipts for the following additional expenses. Consult Samia Ichiryu for more details regarding all but the first item:

20’ Climbing Rope 10000 yen

1 pair of vintage jeans 6500 yen

1 t-shirt 5000 yen

1 pair of boxer-briefs 2000 yen

4 hours lost wages 8000 yen (this is being extremely generous, thanks to my resiliency and willingness to work at less than 100%)

P.S. Yes, I did know that shinigami love apples. Do you like Death Note?

 

Club Sion Building, Kirishima Kei’s Office, Monday, 2:30pm

Suoh handed him the signed expense reimbursement authorization without comment. Kirishima glanced down at it, noting that several clothing items were assigned to Asami’s personal account. “He figured it out, eh?”

Suoh grunted.

“Are you going to tell Asami?”

“Are you?”

They just looked at each other for a long moment.

“There’s also a request for additional pay per mission.”

Kirishima snickered. “You going to approve it?”

“He’s worth ten times what he’s asking for now. The kid undersells himself. So yes, I think he’s earned it.”

 

Asami Ryuichi’s Penthouse, Monday, 11:00pm

The light was still on in Takaba's workroom. Asami knocked, but there was no answer, so he opened the door. The room was empty.

Asami was about to check the bedroom when a piece of crumpled paper under the work table caught his eye. He reached under the table and picked it up. As he was about to throw it away, he decided to examine it instead (to make sure it was really trash, of course).

A wrinkled sheet of paper, showing various potential pronunciations based on the kanji for OSSU and Onusi, with the conclusion that OSSU = Suoh and Onusi = Sion. At the bottom, the name Asami is written next to an angry kaomoji.

Asami casually re-crumpled the piece of paper and placed it back where he had found it. He would wait and see what Takaba decided to do with the information.

He went to the bedroom to find Takaba already in bed. "There's dinner on the table," Takaba murmured.

"Thanks," Asami went to the dining room, slightly confused. He ate the meal suspiciously. It tasted fine.

Asami was further confused by the prepared bath, complete with rubber ducky. Is he trying to lower my defenses? I must stay on my guard, Asami mused.

 

Tokyo Docks, 6 months later, Monday, 2:00am

The submersible was guided carefully into the tunnel. Two men wearing night vision goggles exited and went down the tunnel to warehouse 4. They waited for the signal that the cameras had been jammed successfully, then entered the warehouse. They hurried down the tunnel leading to Warehouse 7. At the apparent end of that tunnel, they opened a secret door and continued the rest of the way, emerging into a crowded 8’x4’x8’ space. They squeezed between the pallets of weaponry to an electronic panel, where they jammed that warehouse’s security cameras. Then they crawled out to the cabinet under the sink.

One of the men ran to the backdoor to let their 2 helpers in, while the first lowered the pallet-laden dolly down into the tunnel using the hydraulic lift. The two helpers quickly wheeled the dolly to warehouse 4. This process was repeated until all the pallets had been moved, and their contents carefully hidden deep inside several of the containers already in Warehouse 4. In the meantime, one of the men swept Warehouse 7 thoroughly to eradicate their tracks.

After they were finished, everything was locked back up, jamming devices were removed, and all tracks were erased. It looked like no one had been there.

 

Tokyo Docks, 6 months later, Monday, 11:00am

The SWAT team swarmed around Warehouse 4. Between the tear gas and stun grenades, no one had any chance of escaping. A thorough investigation led them to discover the hidden cache of illegal guns. Thanks to their anonymous tip, they were able to find the escape tunnels that led to both the Takanaga Building basement and to Warehouse 7’s container (though they didn’t think to check for the secret extension). The simultaneous raid on the Takanaga Building meant they were ready to take the Takanaga Company bigwigs into custody as soon as they had the necessary evidence.

As he was escorted to the police car, President Takanaga kept saying, “I have no idea about any guns in my warehouse! I wouldn’t keep them so close to my building. I’ve been set up!”

Of course, the prosecutor was able to find a paper trail proving that Takanaga and his chief aids were all culpable, and their organization was completely shut down. Ace reporter Takaba Akihito covered the entire scandal, from police raid to sentencing.