The holidays and buying a house totally pwned me...sorry, I'm back to writing again!

"We're not satisfied that he's dead, Absinthe."

Gin looked out the deliberately darkened window of the dusty, abandoned Black Organization-owned warehouse after he finished speaking, not even giving his subordinate eye contact due to his total disgust with the situation at hand. He cleared his throat in an attempt to get rid of the damp, musty smell mixed with ocean that pervaded the place before he took a long drag on his cigarette, the fiery red tip about the only color or light in the immediate vicinity. Gin didn't say anything more, deciding to let Absinthe speak if the other man had anything to say. He refused to speak the name of either of the detectives that they'd killed- or at least that they'd thought they'd killed, which is why Gin had summoned Absinthe in the first place. At this point, Gin had a firmly seated belief that one of the two had escaped that night- the escapee being Takagi Wataru-keiji.

So that's why he called this meeting. They just can't be satisfied even though it's been over a month now..."He burned to death! They had to identify him by his dental records!" The slightly heavy-set, middle-aged Absinthe took a deep breath or two after the protestation, his cultured voice laden with fear at the moment. "We also opened his girlfriend's mail for almost three weeks after the fire, remember? And there was never anything from him. Surely he would have communicated with her sometime in those three weeks." His light brown eyes tried to peer into the darkness towards his superior as he frowned, worry almost radiating from him even as he tried to suppress it. Gin had always been a wolf to Absinthe, an excellent predator very capable of picking up on and singling out weakness in his prey or potential prey. Absinthe ran a hand nervously through his brown and white close-cropped hair as he continued to mull the situation over.

"We gave you an assignment to permanently remove some drug smugglers from these docks- quietly, because they were probably going to draw police attention to our warehouses here eventually if they kept up what they were doing. Then, you somehow managed to recruit a pair of undercover cops to help you with it." Gin shook his head as he continued to stare out the window towards the moonlit harbor, the quiet sea gently swaying and reflecting the moon above. The gentle dings of buoy bells accompanied the rhythmic movement of the water, though the sound was somewhat muffled thanks to the walls of the warehouse.

"I didn't know they were policemen!" Absinthe looked down at the oil-stained concrete floor, the wonder if it would be the spot where he died foremost in the back of his mind. He should have known that something was wrong when Gin summoned him to one of the Organization's disused warehouses on the harbor...the 'disused' buildings they owned usually served a singular, bloody purpose for the Organization. "They were very convincing- you know how convincing they had to have been to fool me." Absinthe knew it sounded like he was begging for his life, but...well, he was begging for his life.

Gin let out a derisive snort. "You're just lucky Vodka and I were able to save your ass before you got arrested." He flicked his cigarette and let the ash fall to the floor, the hot embers falling to the floor and winking out instantly on the cold, hard floor. "We had our suspicions, so we tailed them to the meeting and saw them hooking up the portable police radio in their car, as you well know." He narrowed his eyes at Absinthe before he looked around the room, as if his eyes could detect bugs or unwanted visitors in the constantly moving shadows. "Although we had to kill, or try and kill, two cops thanks to your stupidity. The police are also being relentless even if officially they're classifying it as a freak fire. He's definitely not happy at all." Gin glanced over at Absinthe. "The kind of publicity that killing a cop brings is something we really don't appreciate."

"What do you mean tried to kill two of them? They were both dead when we left, and you gave them that poison stuff too to make sure they were dead!" Absinthe could feel the sweat trickling down his brow as he asked the question. "That stuff is undetectable and a hundred percent effective, right?"

"We had to leave after we fed them the poison and set the place on fire with them in it, remember?" Gin shook his head before studying his cigarette for a moment. "Don't you find it strange that they only had dental remains to work with for one body when they were able to have a full open-casket funeral for the other?" Absinthe had long noticed Gin's habit of trying to dehumanize his victims as much as possible, never referring to the names of any of them.

"Well, now that you point it out...but what do you want me to do about it?" Absinthe was still peering in the dark in Gin's general direction, desperately trying to read the other man's face in the small amount of dull moonlight that was creeping through the window and throwing ever-changing shadows on the walls. Give me a chance to do something...that means I'll still be alive after this. Well, it would mean a much better chance of him being alive, at any rate. Absinthe held no delusions about how disposable all but a very few select members of the Black Organization were.

Gin leveled a glare at him after taking another deep puff of his cigarette, polishing it off before letting go of it and stomping on the butt after it hit the ground. "Did you really just ask that question?" His displeasure with his subordinate's lack of insight was made plainly obvious in his tone as he reached down to pick up the butt and place it in a plastic bag he always carried on him that had a few other similarly crushed butts.

"You want me to make sure he's dead then- the one that they said burned to death." Absinthe nodded in understanding, though he also found his curiosity piqued. "I thought that that had been done already though, Gin. That's why I didn't understand what you were asking at first." The Organization did one thing above all else- try and cover up its tracks and existence from the world.

"Of course it's been checked- by more than one person, as usual. But I want you to take another look anyway." Gin turned his attention to the window again. "I've got my reasons. Start looking into it immediately, and report your findings directly to me. We want absolute proof, one way or the other, and don't bother contacting me until you've got it."

"Aniki, do you want me to help him?" Absinthe's neck hair pricked and a jolt of fear ran through him as he recognized Vodka's deep voice coming from an unlit corner of the room where the moonlight wasn't dancing. He was there the entire time? Dealing with Gin by himself was bad enough. Gin with Vodka usually meant one thing and one thing only: death to whoever they were speaking to.

"No." Gin's tone was flat as he directed his attention to the shadows behind him that Vodka had spoken from, addressing the other man. "If Absinthe screws this up, I don't want him to have anyone else to place blame on." Gin looked over at Absinthe. "You'll be working alone with no support. Fail this job and you're dead."

Absinthe knew that this had been done purely as a power play and to knock him off balance a little. He could hear Gin's I could have had Vodka kill you at any time during this meeting in his head very clearly even though it went unspoken. Absinthe was a little resentful, but he also knew that the Organization very, very rarely gave an operative that shed any light into the darkness of the Organization -accidentally or purposefully- another chance. Usually, such failures turned into an unidentifiable body whose method of death could never be solved. The wave of relief that washed over him when he realized he'd be leaving the warehouse alive was massive, though he was also still very suspicious. "I assume you've found or heard something that prompted you to want me to look into this again?"

"Of course I did." Gin turned to Absinthe, his tone carefully neutral. "And that's the first part of your job, Absinthe. Finding what I found." He took a few steps towards Absinthe as he lit another cigarette, knowing that Absinthe was a nonsmoker and didn't like the smell. "Consider it a test from Him, and you'd better pass." Gin then waved his arm in a 'come on' motion as Vodka stepped forward and fell in beside the shorter man. "Let's get out of here, Vodka."

After both men exited the warehouse, Absinthe slumped to the ground, the sheer fear and adrenaline that had been coursing through his body finally leaving him- and leaving him exhausted. He slowly stood up on somewhat shaky legs, looking around before quickly departing the warehouse and getting into his car. He felt his heart in his throat as he inserted his key and turned on the ignition, another wave of relief washing over him as the car started normally and didn't explode with him in it.

Aniki, here's the stuff. It's a brand new batch too.

Takagi woke in a cold sweat, the voice of one of his assailants still ringing in his head he stirred from sleep and sat up in his futon. That voice, and the feeling of a pill being crammed down his throat along with water to force him to swallow, were his only two clear memories of the night he'd been...well, he supposed shrunk was the best way to put it. Or maybe de-aged? What else could you possibly term becoming what seemed about 10 years younger overnight? He sighed and got out of bed after glancing at the cheap alarm clock he'd purchased, realizing that he'd woken up only a minute or two before it was due to go off. He popped the futon back into a couch with a yawn after he clicked the clock off. Time to get ready for school...

Takagi also still remembered vividly the first time he'd snuck into a restroom to look at himself in the mirror. For some reason, the dream almost always triggered him thinking about the first time he'd laid eyes on himself somehow being a teenager all over again. He'd been convinced at first that the reason they didn't want him looking into one was that he'd been horribly scarred or burned thanks to the fire. When he'd asked about it and been told that wasn't the case at all and he realized the next day that the doctors weren't treating any burns on him, it had really gotten him wondering.

Excuse me, are there any mirrors around here?

After Takagi had realized that the teenaged boy he'd been addressing in the hallway was mimicking his movements perfectly, he'd approached him only to realize that once again, the boy was perfectly aping him. And then he realized that he seem to be almost right at eye level with the boy...a boy that reminded him very strongly of himself in his late teen years. A realization mixed with puzzlement and complete shock had begun to filter into his mind as he slowly approached the boy...who he was pretty sure now was him. In fact, he had then realized that the entire left side of the hallway was a giant mirror. Takagi then finished approaching his reflection slowly, the puzzlement and shock evident on his face.

Well, I guess you know now. Takagi could still recall Megure-keibu's quiet voice as he'd approached Takagi. Yeah, that's you.

Takagi sighed as he forced himself to refocus on the present. He quickly showered and got dressed in the only other cheap suit he'd managed to find in his size with the cash he'd had available after he checked out of the hospital. He also decided to bring everything on the list that his classmate Hakuba Saguru had told him about the other day. He couldn't risk having his only other suit get dirty, after all. What did he say again? An umbrella...two lunches...and an extra pair of shoes. He made a face as he realized he didn't have an extra pair of shoes. I also need to talk to my parents about helping me out with a school uniform or two...and figuring out how to get my paychecks cashed. He was sure at this point that Megure-keibu's superiors were wondering why the man was dragging his feet about removing the deceased Takagi Wataru-keiji from thier registers.

He walked into the sparse kitchen and pulled out the lone frying pan he had- borrowed from Chiba in haste after he found that the apartment had not come 'turn-key including pots and pans' as advertised. He quickly made himself a hot breakfast and put the pan in the sink before heading out the door.

When Takagi arrived at school, he gave his desk and chair a very close inspection. After a live fish waiting for him in his desk drawer when he had come back from lunch yesterday, Takagi was taking no more chances. He was in the process of making sure the seat would actually hold weight when he heard an amused, low-key laugh behind him.

"I see Kuroba already has you inspecting things before you use them now. Not surprising, and probably very wise knowing Kuroba's past history in this classroom." The tall blonde then sat down at his desk after giving it an inspection of his own and pulling out a thermos. "Sorry to say that as the new person in class, Kuroba's attention will probably be particularly focused on you when it's not on me." He then pulled out a teacup from his coat pocket and poured some tea from the thermos into it.

It was then that Takagi noticed a smell...a very rotten, stinking smell that caused his nose to wrinkle. "Um, do you-?"

"Smell that? Yes, and it's coming from my desk drawer." Saguru gave his desk a suspicious glare as he stood up and went to open the window closest to his desk. "I don't think I want to open the lid." He shook his head as he finished opening the window. "That explains why I saw Kuroba walk into the classroom several minutes before the bell and then duck out again. I had wondered." After he finished the sentence, the meitantei held his nose and gave his desk another baleful look.

The rest of the students filed in, comments on the rancid odor almost immediately becoming the main topic of conversation. As soon as the sensei came in and got a noseful, she immediately ordered everyone out of the room. It was then noticed that a certain magician trickster was missing from the morning roll call.

"Probably fled to spare his nose," sighed Saguru under his breath before he turned to Takagi. "He's not the best ambassador of this school, I'm afraid, Takenaka-san."

It was then that the sound of tires squealing out front could be heard, followed by a very loud sound of metal crunching and glass tinkling.