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Gokuben

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     A line of men with flashy sunglasses, flashier suits, and a tendency to sneer in ways that made the scars on their face gouge as deep as possible swaggered in through the side door -- the one Shin liked to call "stage left". For a family as prone to theatrics as this one, it made perfect sense that the audience chambers were set up like a stage: visitors coming in facing the show from the main hallway, and cast entrances from the courtyard door in the wings. Yankumi never understood what he was on about. She said all the families were like hers (only hers was the best, obviously), and she was probably right. He'd seen with his own eyes how gangsters across the prefecture jumped when she said ace, or fell silent when her grandfather walked into a room.

     And there came the Rising Dragon now, arms crossed, letting his kimono sleeves hang down. He'd even strapped a katana to his waist for the occasion, and Shin didn't doubt he knew how to use it. When the gray-haired kumicho knelt on his cushion, he could see the subtle patina of well-cared-for metal that shone with use instead of just polish. At a nod from the old man, one of the flunkies set down a tray with a steaming pot of tea. Not sake, of course, and with two cups. Nobody was being hasty.

     To bow or not to bow, that was the question. Not that Shin hadn't bent at the waist when the third head of the Ooedo Clan, Kuroda Ryuuichirou himself, had walked in the door. Idiots don't graduate top of their class from Tokyo Law. But, now that he was on his knees in front of one of the most dangerous men in Japan, watching the Rising Dragon's eyes go narrow, he was starting to wonder if the assembled players expected a full-on dogeza from him. Even Kyo-san, the second-in-command who'd decided to drag him out drinking while Yankumi still thought she could keep him out of the life, was twitching at his gun, waiting for a false word.

     The family hadn't changed a bit, and they never would. If Shin didn't know better, he'd think they put on the hackneyed yakuza movie act for kicks, but when Yankumi talked in her sleep, she'd said one too many things about settling differences like men under the scatter of falling sakura blossoms. It was bred in the bone.

     And they'd never liked him because he was polite.

     "You know why I'm here, Grandfather."

     "Brat. You're not married to Kumiko yet. If you have a request, Red Lion, make it or get out." As if he needed the reminder that this was no place for civilians. But he'd long since decided that, if anything, the name Young Master Red Lion would look badass in the newspapers should word ever get out, and it was the perfect excuse to keep dying his hair while all his classmates had to look 'professional'.

     Shin pushed the wooden box holding a signed and sealed scroll over the floor. "Not a request. An offer. You need a lawyer. I am a lawyer. I'll be the best you ever had."

     "You'd find Shinohara-sensei a tough act to follow -- if I were to let you try. I expect you think it's funny, the kind of row it'll raise when the police chief's own son walks in to argue for my men." He'd heard from Shinohara-sempai how much pushing it'd taken to talk the old man into hiring a freshly graduated lawyer with so-called 'bright prospects' before. But Kuroda hadn't gotten anyone else on retainer in the past few years, and as far as Shin was concerned, that meant the place was already his. "What'd your father have to say about you shilling for our organization?"

     "The same thing he said when I proposed to your granddaughter. And I won't take no for an answer this time, either."

     "How da~are you...!" Kyo-san growled, foot thundering down on the tatami as he drew a blade out of his sleeve. The gesture was normally a more convincing threat, but today the tough couldn't hide that he was grinning like a loon, not gritting his teeth. That was the other way Shin knew it wasn't an act. These clowns couldn't act for shit. Clearing his throat, the wakagashira tried for a snarl this time. "How dare you talk to the kumicho that way! Why, I ought to spit on the day I ever gave you your name, Red Lion. When I think of all this family has been to you--"

     With a flick of his wrist, the kumicho sent the man back to stand quiet in front of the wall of thugs.

     "So let me be something to this family," Shin countered.

     "We don't need some wet-behind-the-ears kid straight out of school as our lawyer."

     "You won't say that when you see me in court."

     "The hell I won't."

     Then the swish and crash of a sliding door ramming into its frame drew everyone's eyes back to stage left -- to two flying pigtails like he'd never thought he'd see (let alone like) on a grown woman, and a face that was sweetly familiar, except for the milky white glaze clouding her eyes.

     "Oh god!" His fiancee faked a stagger over to the nearest pillar in the room, tapping it twice with her hand before she fell against it and swept her hand up to her brow. "I've gone blind!" She'd even got the family dog to kneel nearby, shaking his head in his paws. Dogs weren't supposed to be able to do that, but no one told Fuji what he could and couldn't do.

     So much for the imposing wall of thugs provided for his benefit by the third generation Ooedo Clan. A wave of suited gangsters with biceps the size of his head stampeded over to crouch and cringe and wail like babies -- half of them ripping off their shirts to complement their manly tears with a tableau of their tattooed backs. "Ojou!" At least three of them were threatening death to whoever had done this, five offering their blood to heal her, and one throttling one of his companions, demanding to know why he hadn't gone to fetch a doctor yet.

     Most of his high school class had gotten suckered by her, too, back when she'd been nothing but a rookie homeroom teacher who was a little too good at stopping pachinko balls thrown while her back was turned. It didn't mean she was convincing from an objective standpoint, just that most of the world was idiots. Shin already knew that, and had never cared.

     Only one man besides him hadn't run over. One Rising Dragon, with his hakama skill in perfect order and a teacup in his hand, eyebrow frozen in a mirror image of Shin's own disbelief. The old man noticed him looking, and settled back into impassivity while the ruckus went on by the door.

     "You know, I trust you to keep her out of trouble."

     "She's fine. And she'd kill me if I ever tried to protect her from herself."

     "Hmph." Booming in a voice loud enough to make all the keening gangsters freeze in a knot of limbs, Kuroda yelled, "Kumiko! Get your boytoy out of my sight before he makes me cut his throat!"

     "What the..." She climbed out of the knot of scars, muscles, and quality silk-wool blend -- without a hitch, despite the lack of focus on her face making it clear that she really had no vision at the moment. Yankumi had trained too long at being a martial arts cliche to need her eyes to see. She stomped right up to him and gaped in surprise over his head. "Shin?! What're you doing here? You graduated. You should be out looking for a job!"

     He pulled on her pants, and she got down in seiza like the rest of them. "I have a job. Here."

     "No, you don't," Kuroda corrected him. "Now drink your tea. And somebody bring another cup for my granddaughter!"

     All the gangsters vanished in an instant, leaving only a cloud of dust.

     "Nice contacts," Shin said, stopping himself from dropping an arm around Yankumi's shoulders before the kumicho really did think he'd crossed the line.

     "Thanks! They just came in. This summer, our haunted house is going to own the festival! All those punks who think they can step up to our level are going to cry tears of blood and run in shame back to the mothers who bore them!"

     Somewhere behind the pose she'd jumped up again to strike, halfway between the attitude of a vengeful demon lord and hand-waving of a traffic cop, Fuji picked up a pair of woodblocks and clapped them between his paws. At least the dog was aware enough of their theatrics to provide kabuki sound effects.

     Did they really think he'd marry into this family without knowing what he was doing?