Disclaimer: Never mine.
Author's Notes: Because it's been more than three years since I last updated this, I figured three things are in order. One, an apology. The story was there, but the drive wasn't exactly forthcoming. I took a break from writing fanfiction, only venturing forth every now and then, mostly with fics for other series. But the better news is that the fic is back, and almost done, as it should have been two years ago. I tried to somewhat smooth out any unevenness in the tone -- two years does seem long -- but ultimately, you are the judge. Two, a recap. I've included a little 'where-were-we?' so you won't have to go through 11 other chapters trying to remember where I left you. I hope it serves its purpose.
And three? The chapter itself, of course.
12 – The Sound and the Fury
Captain Saitou brought out a piece of faxed paper from his pocket and waved it in Misao's face. "From Himura. Shall I read it?" But he didn't wait for her to answer. "Saitou," the captain said in his typical growl, "I have important information that I need to get to Makimachi Misao who, you will be surprised to know, is under your custody. Once she is released or has posted bail, please give her the addresses of these two men: Hanazawa Kazuma and Sadojima Hoji." He stopped and looked at her. "It's simple, Miss Makimachi. Answer my questions and you get the addresses. And then you can leave."
"They're following us, you know," Hannya intoned. "That's why they let you go so easily. It's been a while since the Juppongatana had conducted a public hit like yours today. You lured them out of hibernation. Captain Saitou's not going to like it if they suddenly disappeared now that he's ready for them."
"While we're at it," Misao continued in her sweetest voice, looking at the addresses in her hand, "maybe we can make a few side trips on the way."
Usui grinned. "You mean you didn't know? We were all fooled in the beginning. Even Shishio didn't suspect a thing. Shishio killed her father…"
Aoshi's technique slowed just a heartbeat at Usui's revelation.
"…Your last hit made sure that no one would find out…"
Aoshi's thoughts turned back to a pair of innocent blue eyes looking at him – sometimes burning with irritation and anger, other times flashing with wit. And of that one time, when they shimmered with tears.
Usui was wrong. Whatever Misao had found out about her father's death, he was sure that she didn't know of his involvement in it. Not yet, anyway. Otherwise, she would never have trusted him the way she did now. He had to find her as soon as he was finished with Usui. He had to make sure that she didn't find out the wrong way. Was she still with Hannya? Wherever they were, he hoped she was safe.
"Don't you worry," Usui told him, steel glinting in the night. "Shishio sent Seta after her."
Seta Soujirou hated to lose. Sure, his smile remained on his face even when the world came crashing down, but inside he seethed with displeasure and rued -- in advance -- the swiftness with which he would dispose of his next mark. When the cop in the red Honda lost track of Makimachi Misao, Soujirou was already thinking of the different ways he could make him pay.
He could see the cop reaching for his phone, no doubt to report his inequity to a superior. Soujirou's smile widened with wry amusement. Trust an idiot to announce his failings to the world in an instant; a true professional adapted to the situation and exhausted all means available before he admitted defeat.
But Soujirou knew that the Honda was his only way of re-tracking Misao. As the vehicle wove its way through the streets of Kyoto, seemingly with a renewed purpose, he could only follow and hope that the idiot now knew where he was going. Going around in circles seemed like such a waste of time.
Soujirou's hand closed over the silencer beside him. He could almost hear the poor thing crying out to be used.
The house was a traditional bungalow, nestled in a quiet and well-lit suburban street. Misao looked around as the cab came to a full stop, noting how the rest of the houses mirrored the same undisturbed façade, no doubt tucking away families laughing over a late dinner or mothers singing their children to sleep. Somewhere, a dog barked. There was no sign of Chou yet, but if Saitou was smart, then the police would know where she was headed. But right now, the neighborhood was bathed in relative calm, oblivious to the brewing storm.
And she was going to bring it trouble.
"Hanazawa Kazuma," Misao recited from memory. The last person to see her father alive. She gave a Hannya a tight grin, her hand at the door. "Here we go."
As Hannya paid the cab driver, Misao alighted and rang the doorbell twice. A young woman a few years older than her opened the door. "Yes?" she asked politely.
"I'm sorry to intrude," Misao began, "but I'm looking for Hanazawa Kazuma-san. He knew my father once, and I was wondering if--"
"Tell whoever it is that it's too late for a social visit," a voice grumbled loudly behind the woman.
"But, Dad," the woman protested, shooting her an apologetic glance, "she says she's the daughter of an acquaintance."
"What? Who--?" The grumbling sounded louder now, as heavy footsteps approached. The door swung wide open.
The man was in his mid-sixties, with thin silver hair brushed forward to hide a receding hairline. He squinted at her through a pair of thick black glasses perched on his nose, but the eyes behind it were sharp, and widened with surprise as he breathed a name.
Misao almost clutched the man's arm at the flurry of hope that beat inside her chest. "You knew him. You knew my father."
Hanazawa sighed and gestured her inside. "I suppose so, or else you wouldn't be here right now, would you? Weren't you taught not to state the obvious? Reiko, go prepare some tea," he instructed his daughter. Just as he led Misao into the house, he paused to peer at something behind her. "Hmmm. Strange. Thought I saw someone there."
Misao glanced back at the empty street. "Maybe you saw my friend, sir. My bodyguard, if you will. He wouldn't mind staying outside while we talk."
Hanazawa looked at her up and down, as if trying to figure out what a young woman would need a bodyguard for. Thankfully, he didn't ask any more questions. "If you say so. I'm guessing you want to learn more about your father. Where are you from, girl?"
"Tokyo. I was raised by one of your former colleagues, Kashiwazaki Nenji…" Misao began.
"Ah. Okina. Didn't he tell you what you needed to know?" Hanazawa snorted. "Apparently not, or you wouldn't be here. I'm a fountain of logic these days." He pointed to the couch. "Sit. Sit. Let's get this over with.
"He was a gutsy man, Ichiro," Hanazawa revealed without much preamble. "Once he sniffed out a story, he never let it go. Used to stay all kinds of late -- or early, depending on how you see it -- hours on the job. Wasn't content with just handing in his articles; sometimes he waited for the paper to come out before going home. Thought that was just stupid. But he loved his wife even more. Her death just killed him." The man took a long drag on his cigarette before continuing. Even with the sensitive topic they were discussing, Misao took comfort in the fact that the older man minced no words with her, as hard and direct as the facts he was giving out.
"The day he went missing, we were supposed to do an interview with the Minister of Finance. We were there at the Ministry when your father thought he saw someone familiar. He excused himself, and that was the last I saw him," he said. "You must know that I'm used to that kind of behavior from Ichiro. Those days he was so wrapped up in a story that I figured he left because of it. I went to do the interview on my own. Next thing I knew, he was found dead."
"What story was he working on?" Misao asked dully. It seemed that no matter where she went, there was an expensive price for the life they chose, an expensive price for the truth.
Hanazawa grunted. "Girl, that was more than twenty years ago. Do you honestly think I can still remember what a colleague of mine was working on?" He sighed, took off his glasses, and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"I had my suspicions, of course. We were journalists; we were all trained to think. Damn shame no one thinks much these days. Place is crawling with headline-hogging rumors masquerading as news," Hanazawa complained. His daughter came up to them and offered them tea, but while Misao took hers, the old man brushed his away. "Gah. Not even tea can calm my nerves now."
Misao bowed her head. "I'm sorry for being a trouble, sir."
Hanazawa waved off her apology, slipping his glasses back on. "Never mind that. I knew this time would come. Anyway, like I said, there's no way I can be sure what Ichiro was working on those days, but I had my suspicions. We all saw shadows of the Juppongatana; you couldn't work in a Kyoto newspaper and not hear about them. But Ichiro was convinced he had proof, but he never said what it was. It could have been anything from a file to a photo to a witness. I never did find out."
The Juppongatana. Misao felt the hollow sensation in her stomach growing to envelop her in a frightening numbness.
"What happened to his files, his work?" she wanted to know.
"A journalist's notes are sacred, but our editor couldn't do anything against a warrant. Police got everything they thought was important. In the end, they said he was caught in a gang war. No arrests were made. A lot of good that warrant did them," Hanazawa said.
"But I saw the police files on my father," Misao protested. "There was no mention of other documentary evidence aside from the police report…"
Hanazawa gave her a hollow laugh. "Grow up, girl. Do you think the chain of custody would still hold true if Makimachi was really marked by the Juppongatana? They have men everywhere, even in the precious police department."
Misao's hand crumpled over the piece of fax paper.
"A shame," Shishio said without much regret. "Seta?"
"Hasn't reported since he lost track of the girl."
Shishio rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He had no doubt that Seta would be more successful than Usui; the boy rarely disappointed. "Where's the professor now?"
"East of the Takano River. There's no doubt he's heading here."
"Tell Seta that there's been a change of plans," he growled. "Bring her in. I need her alive -- for now."
Aoshi cursed himself for not thinking straight. Misao should have been with Hannya by now, safely waiting for his instructions. But if Seta was after her, then no one -- not Hannya, not even Kyoto's famous Saitou Hajime -- could protect her. He hoped she had enough sense to keep out of sight, although he seriously doubted that. For a brief moment, he toyed with the idea of contacting Hannya and making sure that the girl was out of the city before he challenged Shishio, but he quickly discarded the thought.
Because right now, he had enough things to worry about.
One of Shishio's men left his motorcycle by the pavement, helmet hanging askew, a cold and hard thing in the moonlight. Aoshi strapped the helmet on, kick-started the bike to life, and sped away. Finders keepers. Such a convenient little rule. But just before he could leave the dark narrow street, two vehicles came out of nowhere and blocked his escape.
Shishio wasn't taking any chances.
Aoshi murmured a short expletive as five men alighted and began shooting. Rather than turn around and make his unprotected back their target range, he gunned the motor and charged headlong, the bike's headlights flashing at full speed. Disoriented bullets flew everywhere, but one caught the side of his arm, an angry line of liquid fire. He ignored the lancing pain that shot through him as he closed the distance between them.
The bike skidded into the men. With the momentary distraction, Aoshi unsheathed his kodachis and tore into the nearest man, carving a deep line across his target's chest. The other kodachi he buried in the next man's stomach. But that didn't stop the endless rain of bullets. Another bullet grazed his left abdomen, and Aoshi spun sideways at the impact.
He caught himself before he fell, and pivoted, his kodachis forming a deadly whirlwind around him. One of the men foolishly flung himself at Aoshi, and paid dearly for the mistake. His kodachis plunged deep into the man, and he used them to throw his now dead opponent into the others.
As the other men fell in a tangle of limbs, Aoshi jumped back on the motorcycle, keeping his unsheathed kodachis gripped in either hand. Blood dripped where he moved; whether they were his own or his victims', he wasn't sure. Instead, he concentrated on getting away, taking the corner at top speed. He leaned hard on the front brake and cradled the rear one, giving him enough control to tackle the turn at a sharper angle.
This was suicide, he knew.
But what else was there?
He took the main thoroughfares, weaving and wheeling through the thinning rush of vehicles. Aoshi kept his eyes north. The mountains of Kyoto loomed ominously before him, dark witnesses on a dark night.
The cop had posed a problem for Soujirou.
Temporarily, at least.
The Honda had parked at a quiet little street, and for a brief moment, Soujrou wondered if the cop was making a short pit stop at his own home. It was only when he caught sight of Hannya lingering beside a fire hydrant before blending into the shadows that he realized that this was where Misao had gone.
The blond cop remained in his seat, looking practically harmless as he lit a cigarette, but Soujirou knew better than most that danger lurked in even the most innocent surfaces.
He took aim.
The gravity of Hanazawa's words descended upon Misao and lingered long after she had thanked the man and left. Outside, the street was still, as if the world was holding its breath for something to come to shatter its waiting. "Hannya?" she called out tentatively.
The man stepped out of the shadows. "No sign of the police yet, but I'm starting to think that this was a bad call. They know about this place. It would be easy for them to track you down here so we better start running." It was only then that he noticed the forlorn expression on her face. "What happened? Did you find what you need?"
Misao nodded wordlessly. "There was nothing in the end. No witnesses. No evidence. Everything that could have pointed to the Juppongatana, everything that could have told me what really happened to my father… all gone now."
Her words hung bitter in the air. In the end, all she had left were speculation and lies. To come this far… Maybe that was all she was meant to know. Maybe that would be enough. Misao sighed. "What happens now?"
Hannya shrugged. "Then you go back to Tokyo and live the life you once had, Misao. There was nothing you could have done for your father anyway." He paused briefly, but when he spoke again, his voice was surprisingly gentle. "Perhaps it is time to lay the dead to rest."
The sound was but a muffled thud. Hannya's face crumpled even more grotesquely, and he looked down with surprise at the blossom of red that slowly spread across his chest. Another whiz, and another bullet buried itself in the base of his throat. Horrified but not quite understanding what was happening, Misao caught Hannya as he fell, crouching low to the ground.
"No hard feelings, Misao-san," a voice said, almost contritely. Soujiro walked up to her, his innocent mask in place as he leveled the gun at Misao.
"Juppongatana," she whispered.
Soujirou almost fell sorry for the girl. It was a shame it had to end like this, really. He wished he could just kill her right then and there to spare her from whatever it is that Shishio had planned. But orders were orders.
"Hannya's right. Let's leave the dead alone, shall we?"
Misao only had time to register a descending gun butt before darkness overtook her.
"I must apologize for the frightening lack of decorum with which we brought you here," a deep voice rasped as Misao's eyes fluttered open. Her head throbbed painfully as she struggled to sit up from the wooden floor.
The place looked like a formal training hall, judging from the wide expanse of polished wood that stretched before her. Through the dim light, she could make out the wooden blocks and scrolls that sparsely decorated the walls, with an assortment of weapons and training gear displayed in the back.
Her eyes focused on a heavily bandaged man in a purple kimono who had begun walking towards her. "Who are you? What the hell would you want with me?" she demanded.
The man chuckled. "I'm surprised that the professor didn't tell you all about me. Call me… an angel of mercy, if you will." When Misao showed no signs of recognizing him, he shook his head ruefully. "You truly have no idea," Shishio said, almost in wonder. "Well, then, no matter. I only wanted to see what you knew before I disposed of your body. I'm trying out a new motto: If you want something done right, do it yourself."
Something in Misao's brain clicked. "It was you, wasn't it? Whoever you are, it was you who killed Makimachi Ichiro all those years ago," she lashed out. "You paid the police to bury the case. You made sure there were no witnesses left. You did everything to make sure no one would find out."
The man clucked his tongue playfully. "Ah. The little kitten has some claws. A little too late now, Makimachi-san. And I'd advise you to validate your sources.
"I'm not quite the monster you're making me out to be," he continued. "You see, I plan to turn in all the information I have on your father's killer. When they find your dead body tomorrow, killed by the same gun that put an end to your father's life, all evidence will point to a certain doctor who is going on a rampage even as we speak."
He pulled out twin kodachis. "Familiar with these? Kodachi nitouryu. The exact kind Professor Shinomori uses. I would have preferred using a gun -- quick and painless, you know -- but I need to be believable."
Misao scrambled to her feet. Keep him talking, she said to herself. Keep him talking and find a way out. She tried calculating how many steps she could take to reach the door on the upper right corner of the room before he would strike her down. "Believe me, no one's going to think that Aoshi-sama killed me. And Captain Saitou will be out looking for me; it won't be long until he finds you."
"The police has had more than a lifetime to find me. You're almost amusing, Makimachi-san," the man told her, his smile glinting in the darkness. "Almost."
The kodachis flashed silver.
:to be continued:
End of Chapter 12 – The Sound and the Fury