Disclaimer: Standard disclaimers apply: characters not mine, no money made out of this story.

Preys

Chapter 21: Loyalties

It was early in the afternoon. Tsunan hanged up his phone brutally, after a heated altercation, under the looks of the three other men, who had lifted their eyes from their work to watch his unusual display of bad mood.

Shrugging, he was about to explain the situation, yet he was interrupted.

"Hi, everybody!" said a cheerful voice, just after the door of the section had flown open.

"Misao-chan!"

Sano hurried to her and hugged her, wholeheartedly, ruffling brotherly her hair. "Missing us too much, hee?"

She smiled brightly at him, and at Tsunan who had come to hug her too, though with a tad more restraint.

Aoshi stood up. "What are you doing here?" he asked calmly.

"I heard they arrested Enishi, so of course I'm here. I can't believe they are stupid enough.."

She was fuming mad, as always going to the extreme within seconds. Tokio, who had come out of her office at the outburst, tried to soothe her: "We're going to take him out of that. You should.."

"Be there and stand up for my partner," cut off the small girl, willfully.

Tokio considered her stubborn stance intently for a minute, before smiling. "Welcome back. We need all the help we can get."

Saitoh smirked and nodded to Makimachi. The little weasel had a real cop mentality; it had to be acknowledged. He shrugged as she answered with a wink.

She then looked inquiringly at Shinomori. His gaze dropped to the laptop she was holding. He seemed to ponder on his reaction for a while, finally nodding slowly to her.

Misao went to her desk and began to install the machine.

"Takagi-san," began the profiler, "I think it's time that we talk about Shishio's career."

She glanced at him, then at Saitoh, and approved, briefing them about the secret unit. She couldn't say that she was really surprised that Makimachi wasn't paying attention to her explanations, and was already absorbed in starting her computer.

Saitoh neither, and Aoshi had to face two expectant stares after Tokio finished the story.

"Aoshi-san asked me to hack the files for him. He thought it was better to keep it inside the section," Misao said promptly.

At Saitoh's raising brow, Tokio explained: "Misao has been noticed by Kondo when she managed to hack into the CD files, and others, at the time he was still directing. She was quite famous as a hacker, back then, and he gave her the choice between the trial or the academy."

The cop contained a snort. It was more or less the deal that Kamiya had made with Sagara, as far as he knew. No wonder that Kondo had teamed these two.

"I'd rather have known, though", she finished, glaring at her friend.

"Don't be mad! He just didn't want me to have problems," Misao provided heartily.

Saitoh forgot his annoyance to grin inwardly. Wasn't that cute, the little weasel standing for Icicle..definitely something he could use.

"Once more, this whole matter is not to be discussed outside the section, literally and figuratively. Not a word about that outside these walls."

Tsunan and Sano had absorbed silently the information.

"We're on the shelf anyway," pouted the latter.

"Sagara, what's important is that we still have the right to investigate. We can work to prove Enishi's innocence. While the CD and IA are on him, the real murderer is still in the streets and is going to strike again. Protecting the citizens from the Slayers is still our number one consideration, don't forget it."

"One second, Takagi-san. What proves to us that Yukishiro is not the other murderer?"

By an imperative gesture of the hand, she stopped Sano and Tsunan, ready to jump on Aoshi. Misao was staring at him, disbelief and disappointment in her blue eyes.

"Go on, Aoshi," said calmly Tokio.

"The IA case is absolutely plausible. Legally, they don't have a lot of evidences, only circumstances, but psychologically it can be explained. Yukishiro can have turned so obsessed with his sister's death that he lost the notion of right and wrong, and got involved in Shishio's plan. Morbid necessity to recreate the trauma, it's a kind of self-destruction, in a sense. Similar to abused children becoming abusers. And during the four years he was undercover in Taiwan, nobody knows exactly what he has been doing, neither during his last undercover investigation, last year. Shishio could have used this time for his formation."

The only one not to send murderous glances at him was Saitoh. Tokio answered in an even tone.

"Thank you." She turned to the three younger cops. "When you are an attorney, you have to know everything about your case, what supports it, and its weaknesses. We know it's a possibility, and probably the CD is going to find a shrink to incriminate him and defend that point of view. Now, I know this is just, and only a theory. I've known Enishi since then, I witnessed his distress, and I know that he became a cop to avoid other people knowing what he went through. That's why I'm setting the direction clearly. Our goal here isn't changed: finding the real partner and dismissing the case against Enishi. Those who have doubts, or don't agree, can leave now."

She let her eyes rest on each face, waiting a minute for a protest.

"Very well. Now, it doesn't mean that we have to ignore the facts incriminating Enishi, only to cross-examine them AND find new evidences. Here's the tasks' repartition. Makimachi, I want you to work full time on hacking these files. Aoshi, try to get to see Seta again, you can use the reports we have on his contacts with the exterior, they only covered three months but it's already something. Sagara and Kitaoka, you do the cross- examination: neighbors, blade etc.you'll work closely with Takani-sensei, she'll give you the results of the analysis as soon as she has them. Saitoh..if you don't mind some dirty work.."

He smirked. "No I don't."

"Tsukayama and Takeda. They are all yours. Find everything you can on them. I want them down. By the way, Tsukayama was at my place too, and most of the murders have been committed in the 13th for now. A big part of the case is based on his testimony: if he looks fishy the accusation goes down with him."

He was bemused now. "He could be a suspect.." His attitude showed clearly that he didn't believe a word of it. He wasn't very keen on these tricks, but they had started with dirty methods, and he wasn't the kind that turned the other cheek. And he reminded some old rumors about Takeda, back at the Academy..If they were corrupted in any way, he would catch two birds with one stone. The faster all the police forces were focusing on finding the real culprit, the better, and if they could get rid of rotten elements in the process, that was even finer.

"As for me, I'm going to contact Kiyosato, he'll surely be in charge of Enishi's case. If the others aren't sensible about it, maybe he will let me see Yukishiro, before or with his lawyer. I could get explanations about what they found. I guess we can count on him not to say a word to them."

"He's unstable, not stupid," judged Saitoh. "A mute suspect is a cop's nightmare, we all know it."

Her phone started to ring, and she hurried in her office to answer after a quick smile. They heard her greeting Hijikata coldly before closing her door, which provoked a unanimous frown.

"What does he want again?" spat Sano.

"I think I know," said Tsunan. "I wanted to talk about it with all of you. The call I had was from Harada. He has taken over the murders linked to the LSD traffic case. You know, the setting with our mole was supposed to be tonight. But Kujiranami refuses to collaborate with the CD. He doesn't trust them."

"Harada is an idiot," answered the ex-thug, not remarking Saitoh rolling his eyes. "I told you and Enishi that you should have refused to give him the case. I've known Kujiranami for years, and it took me several months to convince him to help you already. They have no idea of these guys' way and code of honor, at the CD."

"Like we had the choice. Anyway, Kujiranami will go with it if you and I attend tonight. Harada wanted my acceptation, before asking Hijikata to settle it with the boss. I proposed that he and Nagakura traded place with us to protect her."

"I guess that they refused."

"Saitoh, you've known the guy longer than I have. I quote: "it's my case now". Hijikata ordered that he was there, and also that Misao's bodyguards were removed. The other Slayer is behind bars, and they are sure that Shishio will wait until next Wednesday to move."

"I hate that guy."

"That's very constructive, Rooster. She'll make you go," asserted Saitoh. "Hijikata will have no choice but to accept your presence. The media are too busy with the Slayers for now, but the deaths at the rave parties were making the front pages before, and will again. They can't let the opportunity escape them."

"She'd be right. Enishi and I have been on this case for so long, I don't want the guys to get away with it either. I was furious because Misao being at the hospital, we needed two teams. I guess that now, things are easier.."

"We still need two teams," interrupted Aoshi. "There are still two murderers in the streets. I think that they won't act, less simultaneously. I can't be sure, though, especially about the partner."

"Keeping two potential victims at the same place would be a mistake, yes," pondered Tsunan. "You're the pro, if you think that it makes sense."

"We could split," said Saitoh, managing to sound reluctant. He gave nevertheless a meaningful look to Shinomori, knowing where he was heading. That was fine with him.

"One to one? Hey, the Slayers aren't kids. Shinomori isn't even a real cop."protested Sano.

"I'm a cop and I can defend myself!" burst out Misao. "And Aoshi-san can use a gun! He's even an elite.."

At Saitoh's mocking glance, she blushed lightly and mumbled: "I met him at the shooting practice, a few weeks ago..That's how I know."

"Takagi-san is armed, too. It isn't like we were protecting civilians. I repeat, any action is highly improbable. It is just a measure of prevention," went on Aoshi, still impassive.

"Takagi wants you to work with Makimachi," said Saitoh, deciding to send the elevator back to the profiler.

"Yes, I was thinking that it would be the most convenient."

Saitoh wondered how Shinomori could keep a straight face while uttering the words. I bet that you find it convenient, he thought, containing his own bemused grin.

"That leaves Saitoh to look after the boss," remarked Sano.

"I guess so."

"You don't sound very enthusiastic."

"And why should I be, Rooster?"

He found this little game very entertaining. Especially when things were going conveniently for him, too.

"You don't need to be, but she doesn't need you to make remarks all the time. She's having a hard time."

"Keep cool, Sano."

"Yes, don't worry. I'm sure that he won't be mean to her," smiled Misao. "You won't, will you?" she added, a bit worried.

"I promise I'll be nice," he answered, sarcastically. His grin widened at the smug light he saw in Shinomori's icy eyes. Nice work, partner.

"You see? You and Tsunan just have to go and catch these guys, and we'll be fine."

Lighting a cigarette, Saitoh stared at Takagi, coming back into the main room. She wouldn't be very happy that they settled things without her, but it was the most sensible solution anyway, and he could count on Shinomori to present things acceptably for her. Anyway, she wouldn't regret it, he thought, amused. He was going to be very, very nice to her.

Sano and Tsunan had decided to wait at Kamiya's until the time for the last briefing and the setting came. It was supposed to be by midnight. Walking towards the exit of the central police building, Tsunan was yawning, as Sano was complaining that they were going to stay for hours in a pub without drinking alcohol, when a feminine voice called them.

"Kitaoka, Sagara!"

"Oi, Fox. More bad news?"

"The forensics need to rest and sleep too, sometimes. They'll go on with the analysis on Monday. Where is Tokio? Weren't you supposed to be with her?"

"Change of plans. We were in charge yesterday. Cops happen to need rest and sleep too, sometimes," answered Sano in the same disdainful tone. That woman was really getting on his nerves. Usually he found entertaining to piss her off, in response to her haughty attitude and comments, but today he wasn't in the mood, and she was overly aggressive.

"Who is she with?"

"Hey, are you deaf or what? It's not our problem tonight."

"Saitoh. Don't worry, she is safe," reassured Tsunan, as she was grimacing. "Why don't you have a drink with us? We were heading to Kamiya's."

Sano was lying, pretending he didn't care about Takagi, Tsunan knew it, and he gave his friend a warning glance. The Doc seemed to have problems lately, her behavior was changing, she was tensed and aggressive. She could be a precious ally for demonstrating Enishi's innocence. She had influence among the forensics and could have the analysis speeded up. It was not the moment to bother or turn her against them.

Megumi was about to refuse when she noticed Sagara's pouting face. Well, if it pissed off that stupid rooster head.. Moreover, she could get Kitaoka's opinion before talking to Tokio. He was sensible.

"I thought about having one with her so, yes, why not."

Aoshi was quite satisfied with the way things had turned out. He indeed thought that working with Makimachi was the most convenient solution, and he had wanted to make sure that she'd be looked after correctly. He knew better than trying to get her back to the hospital, but it had been foolish of her to check out of it so early. The fact that she had actually asked for his approval, before revealing what he had requested, had confirmed that he had some authority over her, maybe more than Tokio. She was less willful when she addressed him. And he could always manipulate her, anyway, better than any of the others. He could arrange that she didn't do too much.

Yet, an unexpected event upset his plan. They had been at her apartment for less than an hour when the bell rang.

"Masu?"

"Misao-chan...I'm sorry to bother you, but.."

"What happened?"

Aoshi could see the face of the woman standing in the entrance. She was in her late twenties, pretty, but looked so tired. Not far away from a nervous breakdown, it was obvious to his trained eye.

"It's work again. I have to go soon, and I don't know when I'm back..Can you take care of them? I'm sorry, with what happened to you..If it was not for the girls, I'll never ask you but I have nobody else and.."

"Bring them here. I'm working home all weekend, anyway, and you know that I always enjoy their company."

"Really? Oh, thank you!"

Masu hugged impulsively Misao, and she spotted him.

"You have company..are you sure?" she asked, worry filling her voice again.

Aoshi noticed the swift pink blush on Misao's cheeks, before she answered, smiling brightly.

"Oh! Let me introduce you. This is one of my teammates, Shinomori Aoshi. He's here to work with me. Aoshi-san, this is my friend Genzai Masu; she lives downstairs. Her daughters are going to spend the night here."

Tae and Sae greeted Sano, Tsunan and Megumi warmly, and announced that the first drinks were on the house. Tsunan noticed the weird looks on them from the other tables. The temperature had gone a few degrees down when they entered the pub.

"What are the rumors at your place, about Enishi?" he asked Takani, his green eyes not totally concealing his deep interest.

She sighed. "The same as everywhere, I guess. The news went at the speed of light. That's why I wanted to talk to Tokio. This attitude is not natural."

"What do you mean?" Sano was serious now.

"When the rats are investigating, everybody is supporting the subject, at least officially, even if he's a dirty cop. Seems to be a basic rule. Remember Usui?"

Tsunan's mouth twisted in disgust. "No one can forget that."

She turned to face him.

"When he was arrested, everybody knew it was justified, and was relieved. But did you talk about it frankly, other than with your partner, or people you really trusted?"

"Of course not."

"Well, I overheard several conversations this afternoon, between assistants, doctors, guards..They were enumerating the reasons why Yukishiro could be guilty, as they could have discussed the weather, and some of them didn't make a mystery about their believing he is. It's fishy..I mean, Yukishiro can be off-limits and unstable, but he's not corrupted and has never crossed the line..He's a good cop and everybody knows it."

The men's fists tightened in stereo, the same disgust written on their face.

"I tried to know why they were talking so freely. As they wouldn't have told me, I sent Beshimi, I know I can trust him. It seems that they just follow the trend of the police department. It's even worse there, reportedly."

"Bastards..how come.." spat Sano.

"That's why I wanted to warn Tokio about it. I think some people are trying to use Yukishiro against the section. One of the rumors was that he's stalking her, and I heard some disapproving comments about her ability to lead, too. And that all the members were on the edge with legality and sanity..I think it's only the beginning. You should watch your back."

"Who can it be? Hijikata? He wanted the lead," guessed Sano.

"No. It's not his style. He probably let the rumors flow, but he'd attack more directly," corrected Tsunan. "I think it's more in the style of Takeda. Did you see him this morning?"

"I just wanted to kick his sorry ass to the moon."

"I think that the problem goes further," added Megumi. "The Narcotics are still pissed, the CD is pissed, that makes a lot of people..And I'm afraid that it won't be possible to take the journalists away from that very long."

"Thanks for the warning. You didn't have any problems with that, I hope?"

Megumi stared at Tsunan in amazement. "Oh, no.." she finally answered, bemused. "And believe me I won't, otherwise.."

"You'll make their life a living hell, I can imagine," provided Sano, shuddering heavily.

"Well, it's the only reason why I regret you don't have enough brains to be a scientist, Rooster. I'd like to make your life a living hell.."

"You already do, Fox.."

Tsunan smiled smugly. They were only teasing each other now; that was better. Sano was terribly sensitive to his friends' problems, and Enishi's arrest had been playing on his mood the whole day.

"Your drinks." Kaoru was obviously upset as she put the tray on the table. Tsunan and Sano had ordered soft drinks, as the setting with Takahashi was near, and Megumi some white wine.

"Hey, Jo-chan. You heard?" asked gently the ex-thug.

She shook her head. "Yes..It's terrible. I don't know what to think."

"What?" Tsunan had hissed so venomously that she took a little step back.

"He shouldn't have been on this case.." she began.

"You're telling me you think that Enishi, a man you dated for years and lived with, is a murderer? You know, more than everybody, how Tomoe's death has hurt him, and you believe that he could do the same to other women?" He didn't raise his voice, yet it had dropped one octave and the effect was perfectly scary.

"No, but.he's so violent sometimes.."

"Tsunan.stop it," murmured Sano.

"With you? He did almost everything you wanted but quit to please you, he endured your spoiled brat's tantrums, but you still dumped him for a bigger fool. In spite of that, has he ever laid a finger on you?"

"You don't let me speak! I never said that he was guilty! But.."

"But? You didn't look like you believe he's innocent, either. He would defend you if the role were reversed. You have no loyalty, and I can't believe he still has.."

"Tsunan, stop it now!" exclaimed Sano.

"She has no excuses! How can you."

"Hey! I said stop!"

The two men were facing each other, with glaring hostility.

"It's not the moment for a public altercation," whispered Megumi to Tsunan. He turned to her and nodded.

"You're right. I'm leaving. I'll catch you at the briefing, Sagara. If you need somebody to drive you home.."he added for Takani.

"Tsunan, wait."

Sano had tugged on Kaoru's hand so she sat next to him, and was patting her shoulders. She was teary-eyed, but she was red with anger and the outburst was near.

"Come on, you see she is shocked. Jo-chan, you don't really believe he's a murderer, do you? Think about it. It's Enishi..He can be weird, but he's not crazy.."

She looked up at him, then at Tsunan. Her face retrieved her usual paleness, determination slowly replacing uncertainty and anger.

"No, I don't," she finally said. "I'm sorry, it's just all the rumors the clients were talking about today..it confused me..I believed he couldn't be, but I was so afraid to be wrong. Sometimes, I have the feeling that I don't know him at all."

Megumi glanced sideways at Tsunan. He nodded. This was a problem, and they had to warn Takagi.

"Tsunan, please excuse-me."

"It's all right, Kaoru. I jumped to conclusions, too. Just don't get confused again."

She smiled. "If you see Enishi, tell him I'm with him. And that I joined Tae and Sae's game.."

She stood up. "..of persecuting discreetly anyone saying here that he's guilty. You're next drinks are on the house, too. Thanks, Sano," she finished, her smile sunny.

"You're welcome, Jo-chan," he grinned.

Tsunan and Sano turned to each other again, their expression serious. Megumi feared that they would argue again. But they smiled slyly after a few seconds.

"Sorry, I always forget that you owe her father," began Tsunan.

"I do, but it's not the point. She's my friend; in fact she's been my friend for longer than any of you. She's a strong girl, you know. Since the old man has passed, she's just more vulnerable, that's why she reacted this way. She's on Enishi's side."

"Hoho, Rooster, I didn't know you were a knight in shining armor.."

Tsunan didn't listen to their following, endless bantering. If people who knew Enishi weren't sure of his innocence, the media were going to crucify him. They had to do something, the faster the better.

To be continued.

Author's notes:

As always, thanks a lot to Firuze, L.Sith and Mary-Ann, for their comments, corrections and support.(-).

I really wanted to make a single mother out of Misao. I'd like to present a more mature face of her, as I think that there is way more to her than her cheerful appearance. I had one problem: the runaway/dead/absent father. Though I like Misao in other pairings (Enishi, Saitoh (Morgane's "Wolf and Weasel" is wonderful), Sano), it would have been too complicated to have her children fathered by one of her teammates (yet.. lol), and an OC was an unsatisfying option. I don't see either Misao not remembering who was the father of her children (-). It ended up this way, but finally, I have found a good manner to exploit the Genzai family later (-).

I use the name of Genzai for Masu (Omasu: the "o" was added in front of women's name until Meiji), as it is the name of Ayame and Suzume, and gave the name of the manga, Oguni, to the doctor of the hospital (chapter 5 and 15), who isn't related to them here.

At last I have an occasion to show more of Sano's qualities. I really have a soft spot for him, and until now, he only appeared in his shallow image (I will explain it later, of course (-)). This is one of the reasons why I'm writing a sequel: the plot doesn't leave me enough opportunities to develop all the characters like I would want to in this one (-).

If you have a feeling concerning Meg and Tsunan..you are right (-). I wanted a Sano/Meg pairing, but things turned out differently, again.

About Kaoru, I hope it's clear that she is only confused. I personally think that she would never doubt about Kenshin, her love interest in the manga, in a similar situation. Nevertheless, Kenshin and Enishi are very different persons. Kenshin is better at concealing his feelings and secrets, when Enishi, though he can be manipulative, has uncontrollable outbursts of emotions. Kaoru would hence not question Kenshin's behavior, but be puzzled and worried at Enishi's. This is only my interpretation (- ).

An announcement, hehehe! For my birthday (I'm too old to say my age, lol), I had a wonderful present from Firuze: a website! (thank you SO MUCH!) For now, only the fanfiction part is active, though not complete yet, but you will find there the uncensored versions of my stories, as well as Firuze's Moonlight Shining over Snowfield (Enishi-fans and Saitoh fans must know it, but A/M fans, check it out, too, you won't be disappointed by the direction it takes (-)), Mary-Ann and L.Sith's fics. The link is on my profile.

Lots of un-Saitoh-ish hugs to Michaela and Bianca.

Next chapter: Golf clubs and rabbits, early calls and late visits, more bad news, conspiracies, Tokio in the middle and Saitoh on the hunt.