A/N: A new story coming! It'll unravel in a handful of chapters, I think! I'll try to update once a week. Hope you like it!

Chapter 1: Messenger of Death

It was so late in the evening, under the pouring rain, yet Ryo Saeba was on the threshold, ready to knock at the door. A messenger of death, he was. He had just watched and felt his best friend die, in his own arms, and after that he had cleaned the headquarters of the dreadful Teope Union, the new drug cartel in town. But now, now the most difficult task was ahead of him. He had to tell Kaori, his partner Hideyuki Makimura's younger sister. It was the first time he would see her, and most probably the last.

He was hesitating on the doorstep, so long that the rain stopped falling without him noticing. Mustering his courage, he knocked softly and opened the door right away, not waiting for an answer. He was carrying a heavy suitcase full of money for her, some compensation from the drug dealers, and he hoped she would see reason and accept it.

And there she was, expectant and surprised at the same time. She was so beautiful, he thought immediately. In spite of everything, he couldn't help noticing her sensual yet innocent stance, her warm and kind brown eyes, her delicate features, her appealing mouth, her generous curves. A warm feeling spread out from his beating heart to every inch of his body, and his skin tingled as if sparks were running up and down his limbs. He fell in love, hard, for the first time in his life. And here he was, a messenger of death. She would hate him.

Silence was thick, and he was still mesmerized by her, but after a while Kaori spoke, looking both flushed and a little worried.

"You're Saeba-san, aren't you?"

Ryo only nodded, tongue-tied. His blood was singing in his veins, and he couldn't say a word. He didn't dare spoil this unique moment. But he had to.

She bowed slightly at him, then frowned and looked expectantly behind him.

"Nice to meet you, Saeba-san. But where's my brother? Weren't you supposed to come together?"

It was her birthday, and the gift he would give her... Shaking himself he put the suitcase down, then extracted the box with Makimura's ring from his pocket and handed it to Kaori. She took it, nonplussed, and opened the box. She frowned deeper when seeing its content, and stared at Ryo.

"Your brother asked me to give you this for your birthday, just before he died", he said gravely.

He watched as Kaori, turning white, put a hand to her mouth then dissolved into tears, slumping down against the nearest wall. He could only watch, his heart breaking. Words were meaningless here. He didn't know her, and he was a messenger of death. Why would she seek comfort from him?

He tried to hide his own grief and guilt, and he had trouble breathing normally, but she didn't seem to notice. She was too wrapped up in her own sadness, and he really couldn't blame her. At last she raised her head and met his gaze. She was even more beautiful with her eyes shining with tears, he thought. It wrenched his heart to see her so unhappy, and he felt remorse yet again for having let his partner going alone to these criminals.

"How did he die?" Kaori asked with a trembling voice. "Who did it?"

"A drug cartel killed him", he answered her as calmly as possible. "They wanted to hire us. He refused. So they killed him."

She sobbed again, her arms around her legs and head on her knees, and he waited for her. Minutes passed by, and he stared at her with sorrow and love fighting in his heart. He wanted so much to take her in his arms and hug her, but she had just met him, the man who couldn't protect her brother, so he guessed this gesture wouldn't be welcome.

She suddenly rose to her full height – she was a head smaller than him – and wiped her tears away forcefully.

"What now?" she asked him seriously.

"The drug cartel will be after me now", he told her, as fear gripped his guts. Not for him, but for her. He didn't want her to die too. He had lost a brother, he didn't want to lost a love, and his best friend's sister. "And they'll probably track you down too."

"Why?" she asked in disbelief, looking a little scared.

"No witnesses", he said sadly. "I can take care of myself. But you are in danger now, Kaori-chan. It's best if you leave."

"What?" she exclaimed, outraged, a fresh wave of tears cascading down her cheeks, making Ryo shudder and cringe from within. "These bastards kill my brother, and I have to leave?"

"Yes", he said, his heart torn apart. "I don't want you to die too, Kaori-chan. Maki-chan's dying wish was for me to protect you. But I'll soon be targeted by the cartel. I don't want you to be endangered by me. It's best if you leave and settle somewhere away from Tokyo for a while. Here", he reached down for the suitcase and opened it, showing her the bank notes. "I took this money at their headquarters for you. It'll help you."

She stared at the money for a long time, indecision, anger and sorrow appearing on her face, and she stared at him for an even longer time, but then she sighed and her shoulders slumped. "I don't feel I'm left with any choice here."

"Believe me, it's best like that."

"What about you, then? You've lost your partner."

"I'll manage."

It has been a little miracle for him to run into Makimura and having him as his partner, he thought with pain in his heart. And now he was alone, again. Again he lost a partner and a friend. He was so tired of all this. So tired and discouraged. But he had to stay upright, in front of Kaori at the very least. He would grieve and crumble later.

She was still staring at him with her intense, beautiful brown eyes, and he couldn't read her expression. Obvious pain, regret, sorrow, indecision maybe. She was a mystery he wanted to unravel, he wanted to get to know her, he wanted her to fall in love with him like he himself fell just moments ago. But she would leave. Leave Tokyo and any future with him. It was for the best, he told himself firmly. But then, why his heart was screaming out this loud? Why did he feel so dizzy and torn?

Taking a deep breath, he summoned his last bits of strength. "Where will you go?"

Kaori considered him for a moment, eyes shining with tears, and said with a broken voice "I have a very good friend in Sapporo. She often offered me to come live with her and study at the university there. I'll go with her."

"Good", Ryo nodded, trying to remain neutral while his guts were twisting and wrenching unpleasantly. "I'll drive you to the airport tomorrow. Get in touch with your friend and book a plane."

"Are you going to leave me now?" she asked, her voice quivering.

Never, he wanted to shout. But he simply said no. "I'll stay here tonight. I'll sleep on the couch, if it's okay."

She nodded, and they fell silent. It was kind of awkward, but mostly sad. Ryo could see her sorrow in the tears still clinging to her eyelashes and her quivering breath. But he stayed silent. For the very first time in his life, he wanted to take a woman in his arms and hug her just to ease her pain. No sexual thoughts occurred to him. Only a fierce desire to be there for her, to share her pain, to ease her burden.

But he couldn't. He was a messenger of death. She was a young woman with her life ahead of her. He couldn't. A guy so tainted like him had no place in her pure life. He had too much blood on his hands. He couldn't bring her to his dark world, nor show her the darkness within him.

"Please sit down", she finally said, gesturing at him to follow her.

He sat obediently at the loaded table, but he couldn't eat anything. She offered him every dish she had lovingly made, but he refused kindly, and she didn't eat anything either. The only thing he accepted was a beer, and before drinking he raised the bottle in front of his eyes, and murmured "To your memory, Maki, old friend."

His throat was so constricted he didn't believe Kaori had heard him. But she had. She shed some bitter tears while toasting too, and ended up sobbing with her head in her hands.

He wanted to comfort her so badly he felt his heart breaking. And he almost jumped to his feet and ran to her. But he restrained himself with a tremendous effort. He had no right to do so. She would soon go away from him, for ever. Better not to get too close, for her but mostly for him. He was aching enough already. So he stayed silent and remained seated, hating himself.

He did this to her, he knew it, he gave her this pain. By letting Makimura go to these drug dealers, he had condemned him. By accepting him as his partner, he had destroyed his sister's life. It was his fault.

No, he couldn't protect her otherwise than sending her away from him. He had no right to fall in love with her, none at all. But everything inside of him was screaming at him to comfort her, to make the first move, to make her stay with him. He could invite her to stay at his place , protect her every day and every hour, be there for her even if he would have no right to do more, to be more. But he shut his feelings down, drowning the sound of his breaking heart with the ruthless logic of reason.

She calmed down after a while, and stared at him. Her eyes were hypnotizing, a rich and inviting brown warmth within which he could easily fall. But he had to stay strong and neutral. It was killing him. She was wearing her heart up her sleeve, and he admired her for that. But she was too good for him, and he knew it.

After a while, she rose and went to the phone in the corner of the room. He heard her book the first plane to Sapporo, possibly the farthest place in Japan she could go, the farthest from him. His heart twisted in dismay. Only a little longer, he told himself firmly. One more day to hold on, and then he would be able to break down in peace. He would break down to pieces, he could feel it. This time, nothing – no one – would encourage him to stay alive.

"Well", she said after cleraring her throat. "My plane takes off at 10 am tomorrow."

"I'll drive you", he offered, clearing his throat too.

"Thank you", she said, looking disappointed, crying some more. "I... I'll go to my room."


She retreated to her room, and soon reappeared, carrying a blanket and a pillow. She put them on the couch and asked with a trembling voice "Is it okay?"

"Yes, don't worry", he answered gratefully.

She nodded and walked back to her room, closing the door silently behind her. He knew she had been expecting more from him. More comfort, more words, more grief. But he couldn't give her that. He was a sweeper, a murderer. He had nothing to give her. He was a nobody, a living ghost. No, nothing to give to this pure angel.

Sighing wearily he took off his jacket, his pants and his holster, then lay down on the couch, covering himself with the thick blanket, putting his Colt Python 357 Magnum under his pillow. He was exhausted and in pain, but he never found sleep. He tossed and turned restlessly all night, badly wanting a cigarette, wondering if things could be different, if he would've been able to love her provided Makimura didn't die, if she really would hate him from now on.

In her bed, Kaori couldn't sleep either. Sorrow was raging in her body, making her sob yet again and clutch her pillow in despair. It was the worst birthday she could've ever had. In a few hours, she had lost her beloved brother to some awful criminals, she had lost her future in Tokyo because of said criminals, and last but not least, she had met Ryo just to leave him in the coming morning.

It had been love at first sight for her too, but for her it had happened a few days ago. On the 26th, five days ago, when her life was simple and her future bright. When she still had her brother to rely on. Pain tightening her guts, she recalled that encounter.

It was during the afternoon of the 26th, she had decided to follow her brother to his meeting point with his mysterious partner, Ryo Saeba. Kaori couldn't guess why his brother was so reluctant to introduce her to the sweeper, but she imagined worse and worse reasons every day, driving her crazy. So she had followed him to the Shinjuku park, hiding in the bushes, and there she had been surprised.

Instead of the cold, dangerous, middle-aged man she had always pictured in her mind, on the bench sat a young, very handsome man. He was idly staring at the sky, smoking a cigarette, looking lost in his thoughts and quite normal. But when Hideyuki sat next to him, she caught his stare. His dark eyes were deep black wells, reflecting nothing except well-hidden secrets. He had half a smile on his lips, and a soft breeze was playing with his curly hair.

He's so handsome, she had thought, feeling her cheeks go madly red. She had never felt what she immediately felt, but she read enough to know. She was in love. Irremediably and deeply in love. No man could ever steal her heart from now on, as it belonged, and would always belong, to Ryo Saeba.

Confusion raging in her, she had stayed a long time within hearing range, and his deep calm voice soothed and mesmerized her. And then, after a long conversation with Hideyuki, he had surprised her even more. When a young woman walked in front of their bench, Ryo got to his feet, a lecherous expression on his face, and he jumped at the poor woman's breasts, asking her to go to a love hotel with him. He got a slap on his cheek, but, quite undeterred, he jumped at every woman passing in the alley, harassing them. Kaori, appalled, watched in disarray. She saw her brother's jaded but resigned face, and left.

For five days she didn't know what to think of this. There were two sides of Ryo Saeba. First, the pervert, the useless stalker, seemingly only interested in his mokkori, attracted by beautiful women like a moth to a burning flame. But she also saw the serious professional, the dreaming guy staring at the sky, and that side of him intrigued her.

But all this attraction was useless, she told herself dejectedly, burying her head in her pillow. This evening, he showed her nothing but indifference and coldness. He had seemed genuinely affected by her brother's death, her aniki, but he had said nothing to comfort her, nor done anything. She wasn't important to him. He didn't care about her at all. She was just Hideyuki's little sister. A liability. And now he was sending her away. For her protection. Really? she snorted, half-mad half-sad. He just didn't want to have to look after her, that was clear.

"Aniki", she moaned, trying to be strong.

She had to get over it really soon, she told herself firmly. She would have to take care of herself from now on. And she would live her life like her brother wanted, calmly and happily. Vowing not to fall into despair and shedding her last tears, she gave herself this only night to mourn her dear brother and the life she could've had with Ryo, waiting for the sun to rise.

At the crack of dawn she got up, going to the bathroom and preparing her suitcase. She knew she would have to leave most of her belongings behind her, and wondered what would become of the apartment. She would have to ask Ryo about it. So she packed her favourite and warmest clothes for the cool weather of Hokkaido, her new ring and the photo of her brother and herself. That was all she would take with her in this new life she had to live.

When she entered the living room, as quietly as she could, she saw Ryo at the open window, his back on her, smoking. He turned and eyed her with the same mask of indifference on his beautiful features. I'm nothing for him, she reminded herself as her heart squeezed in dismay. Get over it.

"Good morning, Saeba-san", she said, forcing a smile.

"Good morning, Kaori-san", he said calmly.

She stayed there for a few seconds, wanting to make small talk, but his dark eyes reflected nothing, effectively shutting her out. So she went to the kitchen and busied herself with making breakfast. Soon she brought the dishes on the table of the living room and looked around her. She would miss this place for sure, but on the other hand these walls and furniture retained too much memories. Bittersweet ones, with her father and her brother, making her sad.

She was jerked out of her reverie when Ryo abruptly crossed the room and sat across from her, looking famished. She quickly offered him the food, and he piled it up high in his plate, soon swallowing it. The guy had quite an appetite, she noted, and he seemed to enjoy the food. It brought some comfort in her torn heart.

They ate in silence, she didn't dare disturb him. She was surreptitiously observing him, and she liked him more and more, even if he was eating like a pig. A fresh wave of sadness hit her, and she fought hard to remain impassive, forcing down the food into her tightening throat.

When he finished his second large helping, she abandoned the food she had been toying with for the past five minutes and pushed her plate away. He met her eyes, looking like a dark angel, beautiful but out of her reach, still indifferent. Mustering her courage, she asked about the apartment.

"What do you want to do with it?" Ryo asked right away.

"I don't know", she said, frowning. "I guess it depends."

"What about?"

"Well, is this travel of mine to Sapporo a definitive one, or can I come back to Tokyo sometime?"

She had sounded harsh, but he just shrugged. "I really don't know. Depends on me, I suppose."

"What do you mean?" she said, her stomach churning unpleasantly.

"I have to do my job", he explained, looking at her in the eye, looking sombre and more serious and dangerous than she had ever seen. " The cartel, the Teope Union, they're after me. I won't stay idle and wait for them patiently, that's not my style. I'll track them down, one by one if I have to. I don't know how much time it'll take. So I really can't answer your question."

"You'll do it... all by yourself?"

Fear gripped her guts. She didn't want him to die. But one lonely man against a drug cartel... what could he do? They would kill him. He wouldn't survive. And if he died...

"Let me help you", she said suddenly.


For the very first time since they met face to face, she saw something fugitive appear on his features, a passing emotion she couldn't name, but it had been there. And even if he regained his composure almost immediately, she had seen the chink in the carefully builded armour. He wasn't indifferent. But then, why was he behaving like that? She had no answer to that.

"I could help you", she repeated more firmly. "I could be your partner."

He stayed silent for a few seconds, apparently thinking about his answer. And he shook his head.

"Thanks for the offer, Kaori-san. But no. You don't know what you're talking about. My dark world isn't yours. I would break my promise to your dying brother if I kept you with me, you'd be too close to be left untouched. And I don't want to put you in danger."

She studied him closely while he spoke, but the mask was on again. Only a spark of emotion (regret? hope?) crossed his eyes, but he was master of his every reactions. And she felt crushed yet again, he was pushing her away again. Well, this is it, she thought.

She nodded and rose, and looked around her. "Could you have the apartment emptied of everything except the things in my bedroom, please?" she asked with a trembling voice. "I can't face... Aniki's clothes, his things... I just can't. And I don't want to keep anything. I already have all that I want to keep with me."

"Okay", he accepted calmly. "And your things...?"

"Please rent a storage unit. I'll pay for it. When I'm settled, I'll send you my address."

He nodded, then extracted a pen and a piece of paper from the pocket of his jacket, and scribbled down something. He handed her the thing. It was a tab from a nightclub, but she saw his awful writing and read aloud the address and phone number to be sure.

"That's right", he said. You can contact me if you need it. If I don't answer the phone, leave a message."

"All right."

He shot a look at the clock on the wall. "Are you ready to leave?" he said with a soft voice, one which could make her cry. She simply nodded, not trusting her voice anymore, and returned to her room to fetch her suitcase. She took a last look around her, not wanting to dissolve into tears again, and gently caressed the wood of her bed, the one her brother had offered her.

"Goodbye, Aniki", she whispered. "Thank you for everything. I'll stay alive for you."

When she came back to the living room, Ryo was finishing clearing the table. He caught her guilty expression and said "We don't have time to spare. Don't worry, I'll take care of this."

He then took the suitcase from her hand, and the brief contact made her skin tingle, as if some electricity was running up her limbs, warming her throughout her whole body. He quickly withdrew his hand and turned to the door. Sighing deeply and miserably, she followed him and locked the door behind her, handing him the keys.

The trip to the airport was a short one, and time seemed to speed up as Kaori watched everything from the passenger window of Ryo's car. She wanted to have a last look at her beloved city, at the neighbourhood of Shinjuku she had got used to love in spite of its bad reputation.

But most of all she wanted to look at the man who – not knowingly – would keep her own heart away from her. She knew already that she would never be able to feel whole, a grown-up woman again, while she was away from him. It was crazy, it was stupid, but it was like that. She was in love. No reason in love, she thought with a bitter smirk on her lips.

She felt tense, but she noticed she wasn't the only one. Next to her, hands gripping the wheel hard, Ryo seemed vaguely ill-at-ease, although he was obviously trying to keep his cool. And he didn't say a word. Nothing at all. Kaori remembered her brother saying that Ryo was a man of action, not good with words, but...

But maybe it was the last time she would see him, she realized abruptly. Maybe she would settle in Sapporo with her old friend Miki, never to return to Tokyo. Maybe Ryo would get killed in his war against the Teope Union. A violent shiver ran down her spine, and she clutched the hem of her duffel coat. She couldn't break down now. In the plane maybe, if she was left well alone. But not now. Not in front of him.

At last Ryo parked in front of the terminal. He grabbed her suitcase and escorted her to the counter. She checked in, and her suitcase disappeared, to be loaded in her plane. She would take off fifteen minutes later. Silently they walked to the gate and there she turned to face the man she loved.

He was still like a marble statue, his eyes reflecting nothing, and she lost all hope. It was useless, he would never love her. He would never be interested in her. She was nothing to him, just his late partner's sister he was sending away to honor a promise and be left well alone, with his guns and his nightclubs and the women he chased.

"Well, goodbye, Saeba-san", she said, her voice quivering.

She saw him swallowing uneasily, but his voice was firm as iron when he said "Goodbye, Kaori-san. Take care of you. And please send me your address and phone number as soon as possible. I want to keep track of you. And I'll send you the money."

She nodded, her heart sinking. Nothing caring in his tone, he just had to keep a bloody promise. And then she turned away from him. She handed her ticket to the lady in the uniform who wished her a pleasant flight, and then, on a sudden impulse she couldn't muster, she turned round. She wanted to see him a last time.

And she saw him, all right. He was almost turning his back on her, not looking at her anymore, but she saw it clearly. His eyes had lost their cold look, and pain, real pain, showed. But what made her shudder was the single tear shining from the corner of his eye and running down his right cheek.

She stopped, rooted to the spot. He was gone, now, but had he really...? A tear? Dumbstruck, disbelieving, she stayed there, unable to think, until the lady urged her to board the plane. And while sitting down on her seat, oblivious to the bustling people around her, she felt a smile making its way on her lips. No, Ryo Saeba wasn't indifferent, after all. He felt something, and it had showed.

And that was all she needed for now. She would go to Sapporo, she would live there for some time, she would wait for him to clear the place until he told her she could come back. And she would come back, one day. To her brother's resting place, to Shinjuku. But most of all she would come back to him.

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