Title: The Vampire Hunter – Side Tezuka Kunimitsu

Pairings: Atobe Keigo/Tezuka Kunimitsu, hints of Sanada Genichirou/Oshitari Yuushi, Fuji Shuusuke/Tezuka Kunimitsu and others

Rating: M

Warnings: violence, dark themes, drug abuse

Summary: A series of violent crimes shakes the country. Tezuka Kunimitsu, assigned to investigate the murders along with his partner Fuji Shuusuke, has to find the Vampire Hunter before it's too late. The mysteries he will uncover are much darker than he'd first expected.

The thing I want right now is knowing the truth

The best thrill that makes my body tremble
Where is this place I'm struggling to reach?
The end is close
The future is insignificant

- GIGS, Flower -Sakimidareshi hana-

Tezuka Kunimitsu adjusted his glasses, took a deep breath and nodded to the other members of the task force before kicking the door of the room open and storming inside, gun held firmly in his hand. He could hear Fuji Shuusuke following right behind him; knowing his partner had his back, he concentrated fully on what he had to do.

He carefully observed the dim room. Save for a big locker, a few chairs – two of them toppled, one broken, he noted, - a desk and a laptop on top of it, it seemed completely empty. The dark walls and windows, covered with cardboard, made the place look bigger than it really was. The laptop was opened and its power was on, drawing attention as it was the only source of light, a cool, blueish glow.

Tezuka ignored the computer for a while in favour of the locker, which to him seemed much more foreboding. It was out of place in this room, bringing to mind an image of a school corridor filled with kids, not a dark, abandoned warehouse in the docks. Slowly, Tezuka made the few hesitant steps it took to approach the locker and, with his gun ready in his other hand, he opened it.

But surely, a gun could neither help nor hurt, considering the circumstances. The tied up, beaten girl sitting lop-sidedly inside was already dead. Tezuka had no doubt about that. After all, nobody could live with a large wooden stake stuck deep in their chest. Or with their head chopped off, placed neatly by the corpse's side.

'We were late,' he heard Fuji say from behind him, and his words made Tezuka want to throw up or break down and cry. He lowered his gun, unable to look away from the sad, horrifying sight in front of him. 'We knew it was going to happen here, but we were still late.'

'I will check the computer,' Tezuka whispered, refusing to let his partner's words sink in. As much as he wanted to wallow in self-pity and regrets, now was not the time and place for that. He had a reputation of a stoic no matter what to upkeep; it wouldn't do for his men to see him despair. They were at war. 'Kaidoh,' he addressed a subordinate, who straightened upon hearing his name. 'Call the coroner and an ambulance. Have somebody notify her parents.'

Kaidoh obeyed without a word, and Tezuka had to concentrate on the computer. Even from halfway across the spacious room, he could already see the photos moving in slow motion on the screen saver. Photos of a girl all of them knew so well. Photos that were most likely going to adorn the front pages of many newspapers the next morning, under scandalous, shocking headlines. The girl's name was Osakada Tomoka and the photos depicted her happy moments with friends and family.

Currently, her beheaded corpse was sitting inside a misplaced metal locker in a dark warehouse in the docks. She was sixteen years old when she died.

Tezuka moved his fingers over the touch-pad. As he did it, the images disappeared and a Flash animation started showing on the screen. The graphics were nothing short of professional, but the overall layout reminded Tezuka of overly dramatic vampire horrors, or Gothic Lolita blogs. In order to play the animation, he had to click on the logo of a lavishly decorated cross and two wooden stakes, forming an "X" in its background. He knew this, because it was not the first time he was seeing it.

'Not again,' he whispered. And he clicked the logo to unlock the message the animation was hiding.

Good evening to you, Officer Tezuka.

Another night has passed and no new victims were found. Is that not suspicious? I believe, and God aids me with visions to strengthen this faith, that they are plotting against the humanity. The world will end if this is not stopped. Do you not see it as clearly as I do?

Osakada-san might have been an innocent involved in this horrible plot. If her soul was pure, she had been cleansed of her eternal curse and is now communing with God Almighty in the Heavens. Bless Him, who is Merciful!

I have found the next Immortal. Please assist me in ridding this World of the Darkness that devours it! Please come to building 13A of the old glass manufacture in the docks at 5PM on the seventh day after the full moon. There you will find the remains of Oshitari Yuushi. I beg of you to destroy the corpse completely.

I trust you will soon see the importance of our mission, Officer Tezuka. Let us purify this Godly world together!

God have mercy on us.

Vampire Hunter

Tezuka cursed softly and closed the lid of the laptop shut. This was the sixth time. This poor girl was the sixth victim, and he still had nothing. Not the slightest clue. He wasn't any closer to catching the murderer than he had been months ago, when this whole horror started. All he had were the insane messages from Vampire Hunter – the press seemed to love the murderer's self-established pseudonym, judging from the headlines – on random laptop computers with no fingerprints, and decapitated bodies. Nothing to go by.

He hated being this helpless.

'Let's go,' he said softly, picking up the computer. He didn't even bother with wearing gloves; he was sure that just like all the times before, the only fingerprints to be found on the machine would be his own. He just stopped being careful when the first three times, nothing was found. Of course, the laptop was going to be investigated by the tech department, like its five predecessors, but Tezuka had a nagging suspicion that it would be a waste of time and money. Again.

'Tezuka. What did it say this time?' Asked Fuji, following Tezuka out. They left the rest of the squad in the building to basically tear it apart in search of any possible clues; if the Vampire Hunter shed as much as a single hair inside that warehouse, those guys were going to find it.

Needless to say, Tezuka didn't harbour much hope.

'We have about ten days until he kills again,' he replied to his partner's question. Working on this case had taught him that normally useless information might prove useful when dealing with the Vampire Hunter... like the dates of full moons every month, or obscure Christian holidays. 'And the bastard still regards me as an accomplice!' He added in frustration.

This, probably, was the thing he hated most about this case. Not only did the Vampire Hunter notify the police of his future plans beforehand and always got away with it – he also knew pretty well who led the investigation, and he behaved as if he and Tezuka actually got along.

It was humiliating.

'Damn it,' Tezuka cursed under his breath. Rarely did he let emotions get the better of him, but with nobody but Fuji around, he felt more at ease and gathered that he could get away with it. 'We need to find the next victim before he does. We need to protect that person.'

'Let's go to the HQ,' Fuji said and put a hand on Tezuka's shoulder in assurance. 'We'll let the others know. This time, we won't be late. I promise.'

And even though his partner had said this same thing every time before, it still made Tezuka feel slightly better. This time, maybe they would make it.

Kaidoh Kaoru didn't like being in the spotlight. He was the youngest officer in the special unit at the moment, which didn't help him gain confidence. That was why he was currently staring at his feet, careful not to look up at his seniors, since it would most probably be seen as rudeness on his part, while presenting the results of the on-scene investigation on a mandatory squad meeting.

'There were no splatters of blood, no signs of fight or struggle and no evidence whatsoever of an attack in the room where the victim was found. Several unidentified fingerprints were taken off of various objects in the room, but it's doubtful that any of them belong to the killer. There was only one set of fingerprints on the locker, and we presume it belongs to Officer Tezuka,' Kaidoh looked up for a second to nod at his direct superior. Tezuka nodded back, almost smiling at him in reassurance. 'The inside of the locker was devoid of blood or any other substances.' He hesitated. Don't blush now, he berated himself. You're an adult, you can talk about such things without acting like a giggly kid! 'There were a few... used condoms in the room, one of them inside the locker. They were sent to the labs, but it's doubtful whether they have anything to do with the case...'

'And why is that?' Asked Fuji, and his tone was unreadable. Was he joking, or was he serious? It was impossible to guess. 'Did you assume so, or do you have any proof to back it up?'

'Fuji-senpai,' Kaidoh muttered. He was sure Fuji Shuusuke didn't like him at all, even though he didn't think he'd ever done anything to cross the man. 'It's... the most plausible theory for now. Since the beginning of his activity, the Vampire Hunter has never indicated any, uh, sexual interest in his victims. Nothing points to this time being different, which is why I believe it's safe to assume...'

'So it is your personal opinion, isn't it? It's not an established fact?' Fuji pointed out with a hint of dark satisfaction in his voice. Why was he doing this? Did he want to humiliate Kaidoh in front of the whole HQ? 'How do you even know the murderer's a he? Do you know something we don't?'

'Leave it, Fuji,' Tezuka said sharply and the self-content smile left Fuji's face at once. Tezuka didn't seem to notice. 'Continue, Kaidoh. Omit the personal opinions, please. While you are most probably right, we need the facts right now.'

'Oh... yes, sir,' Kaidoh nodded. 'Umm... The coroner estimated the time of death to be much earlier than the time we assumed. He will be sending a detailed report straight to Officer Tezuka's office. The lab results are due this evening, Doctor Inui is working overtime to deliver them today.'

'Good,' Tezuka said. 'Thank you, Kaidoh. Niou, you wanted to add something?'

The addressed officer, Niou Masaharu, straightened upon hearing his name called out. He was in the midst of texting somebody, and he didn't seem half interested in the meeting at all. Kaidoh wondered how somebody like that could make it to the top; Niou was actually superior to Tezuka in rank, despite being a lazy bum who preferred to pull pranks on his co-workers than to do any actual investigating.

'Nope,' he said casually. 'Absolutely nothing to add. I'm not even here, actually. It's my day off, so you're free to ask me out on a date if you wanna.'

'Niou,' Tezuka said in a warning tone. 'This is an emergency meeting. Could you be serious for once?'

'I'd be totally serious if this weren't the eighth "emergency meeting" this week,' Niou drawled, and this made several people start muttering in agreement. 'If you can't track down this psycho, maybe it's time you admitted defeat and stepped down from this case, so that someone more qualified might do the job?' He challenged defiantly, earning a few cheers.

'Meaning you?' Asked Fuji, voice dripping with sarcasm. Some officers laughed unabashedly.

'No way. That's too troublesome. I was thinking of Yukimura, actually,' said Niou, completely unaffected, and an uncomfortable silence fell upon the conference room.

It was Tezuka who spoke up first. He was calm and collected as always, as if he hadn't just been insulted. 'I will not give this case over to Public Security, Niou. They made it clear what they think of our unit, and I will not trust those people with anybody's lives. You are free to go and join them, however, if you believe in their superiority.'

Niou just shrugged and went back to texting. The seed of doubt was planted, though.

The lab results indeed came later that evening, but they did nothing to lift Tezuka's mood. Like before, the only thing Doctor Inui was able to ascertain was that there was a trace of an unknown substance in the victim's blood samples. Right after he left, disdained at his own inefficiency, the coroner's report came in. It was actually more of a draft, rushed in places, but Tezuka didn't mind; he appreciated Doctor Ooishi's willingness to sacrifice free time in favour of doing autopsies for the special unit. He supposed their friendship might have been a major factor in that.

The report explained, as every time before, why there was no blood in the warehouse: the victim was dead long before the stabbing and beheading occurred, either by strangulation or poisoning that caused respiratory system failure and led to suffocation. The second hypothesis seemed more likely because of the substance found in the victim's blood.

A scribbled note caught Tezuka's eye.

Possibility the victim wasn't dead before mutilation. Note to Inui: new drug based on belladonna. Investigate "nightshade"!

It wasn't much, but finally, they had a clue.

'Actually, I've been wondering,' Fuji said, sitting by his desk and turning on his computer after greeting Tezuka in the office the following day. 'I think I may know an Oshitari Yuushi.'

'Really?' Asked Tezuka. 'Get up, we are going.'

'Eh? Wait, wait, I'm not even sure yet it's him,' protested Fuji, but was ignored. Resigned, he turned the computer back off and followed his partner out.

Hyoutei Gakuen was an elite school, attended by children of diplomats and rich businessmen. Tezuka used to think each and every single student from there would be a stuck up, arrogant brat, but he was forced to change his mind upon meeting Fuji Shuusuke for the first time in the police academy. His soon-to-be partner was a graduate from Hyoutei Gakuen's High School, but he was nothing like the self-absorbed, egoistic kids Tezuka had imagined to attend there. Maybe he shouldn't have judged the whole school campus just by one particular individual he used to know...

That was all in the past now. For the moment, he needed to take care of the matter at hand.

'I'm trying to tell you, Oshitari, that you're in mortal danger,' Fuji said, exasperated at having to repeat himself. The man they approached in the halls of the middle school building of Hyoutei Gakuen, a Maths teacher by the name of Oshitari Yuushi, stood nonchalantly leaning against the wall, smirking knowingly, and the warning seemed to only serve to amuse him.

'You should know by now, Fuji, that I can take care of myself very well,' the man stated in a lazy drawl, heavy with a Kansai accent. 'I'm already late to my class. Would you excuse me?' He asked, adjusting his glasses.

'You do know that we can take you into custody even by force?' Tezuka reminded him. At times like this, it was good to be part of the special unit, which could act well beyond the boundaries of regular police work. Even if one certain Public Security special agent believed them to be fit to sweep the streets and not much more.

Oshitari looked at him with an eyebrow raised, doubtful. 'Why would you do that? You're not even sure it's me your culprit's looking for. Aren't you just acting on a message from a serial killer, anyway? You trust what he says?'

'He has never lied before,' Tezuka said patiently. 'He might mean somebody else with the same name, of course. There is always that possibility. But just to be sure, it would be better if you let us protect you.'

'Nah, I'll pass. Me being targeted's pretty unlikely. Now, I have a class to teach, really. The kids are dying to learn some Maths,' replied the teacher, completely unaffected.

'It's as likely as any other person being the target,' Fuji supplied. ' There's always the possibility he just chooses randomly from a phone book. We haven't found any links between the victims yet.'

'Atobe might know,' Oshitari said, shrugging his shoulders indifferently. 'Ask him. He knows a lot.'

It had been a long time since Tezuka's last heard that name outside of the HQ, mentioned casually. He was set on not showing any signs of recognition, however; even though the reputation of "knowing a lot" matched that person very well, Oshitari was still probably talking about somebody else by that same name. There was no chance that a middle-school teacher would know that person.

'We might do that,' Fuji agreed, feigning patience. Were Oshitari a kid, the officer would likely pat his head. 'For now, though, you should really come with us. Humour us. You have nothing to lose, and we both know that you don't have any more classes today, anyway,' he winked at Tezuka, who almost smiled. Of course they did check the teacher's graphic before approaching him. They weren't stupid.

Oshitari rolled his eyes, but raised his arms in defeat. 'Sure, I'll go with you. But one of you has to notify the principal I'm not going to come to work for a few days. I'd rather not face him with such news myself. He might just as well kill me and save your murderer the time and effort,' he joked.

Tezuka didn't think it was funny.

He watched Fuji go with Oshitari, and he finally felt relief wash over him. What usually followed a message from the Vampire Hunter was a long, difficult, full-scale police search that still ended up fruitless each time till now. Finding Oshitari Yuushi was successful. The first big step towards stopping the serial killer was made. Special agent Yukimura was so going to have to take back his taunting remarks!...

After a brief talk with Hyoutei's principal, Tezuka headed for the exit. He was getting surprisingly hungry; lately, he'd been missing his meals rather frequently. Food generally lost its appeal each time a murder took place, and since the beginning of this case, Tezuka had been suffering from a lack of appetite. He supposed he could indulge; as he reached for his mobile phone to call Fuji and let him know he'd go to lunch before going back to HQ, he noticed something small and black inside a flowerbed. A smartphone, not unlike the ones he'd been checking out lately, because he was fed up with his old flip phone. Certain that a kid must have lost it here, Tezuka reached to pick it up with the intention of bringing it back to the principal's office; only when he inspected it to learn the brand did he notice the screen saver. He paled.

On the black background, there was the sickeningly familiar logo of a cross and two stakes. As he swiped his finger over the touch screen, the logo disappeared to make place for a text message.

My Dear Officer Tezuka,

God has inspired me to follow you in search for Oshitari Yuushi, and His Word was right! I congratulate you on the first step to becoming a great hunter yourself. Thank you for aiding me in my Holy Crusade!

I will be taking the Immortal with me now. Please do not oppose me. I do not wish any harm upon you or your partner.

God speed.

Vampire Hunter

Tezuka ran.

Fuji and Oshitari were nowhere to be seen, nor was the car the two officers had arrived in. Tezuka tried calling Fuji many times, but his partner's phone was out of service. Forcing himself not to panic, he called the HQ and briefed the only present officer of the special unit, Kaidoh, on the situation. Then, relying on his subordinate to raise alarm, he looked through his list of contacts for Yukimura's number.

The name of that man was still in his phone book, even though they'd last seen each other many years ago and Tezuka promised himself he'd delete it so many times. He never did; moreover, each time he changed phones, he would copy the contact to a new device without fail. Not even once, though, had he thought of calling the number behind that name; any involvement with that man could only drag him down. He wasn't going to ask for his help. He wasn't going to be in his debt ever again. It wouldn't be worth it. It would only destroy him in the end.

Atobe Keigo was like that; his resources were never wrong and he shared information with pleasure, but he demanded a high price in exchange and Tezuka didn't want to pay.

Tezuka's phone rang all of a sudden; Kaidoh was calling to inform that the car was reported to be found on the side of a road leading out of Tokyo. The officer sent to investigate found the vehicle abandoned. There were signs of struggle - a broken window, traces of blood, a pair of broken glasses. Fuji's gun was on the back seat, it hadn't been used.

'He said he also found something weird inside, like a half-chewed lemon drop, stuck to the windshield on the passenger's side,' Kaidoh referred. 'It's all on the way to the labs. Doctor Inui is already there.'

'Good,' said Tezuka curtly. 'Keep looking. Inform me if anything else comes up,' he ordered and snapped the phone shut. He wasn't hungry anymore. Instead, he felt like throwing up. He let the killer trick him like a little child; right when he'd thought he had the upper hand for a change, the Vampire Hunter made a swift move and won again. He was probably laughing his ass off somewhere where he couldn't be found, because he had just made a fool out of Tezuka.


And Tezuka could do nothing, helpless, with his partner missing and the designated victim gone as well. It was his fault. They shouldn't have split up; they shouldn't have given the killer the possibility to strike. He hated it. He hated not being able to protect anyone. He hated having put Fuji in such great danger.

He called Atobe.

'Keigo... Yes, it is me. I need your help.'

The penthouse suite hasn't changed at all. Ridiculously big, well-lit, filled with all the modern, fashionable furniture and questionably tasteful art pieces, it looked like an excerpt from a décor magazine, placed in the most expensive part of Shinjuku.

Money had never been an issue for Atobe Keigo, head of one of the most thriving yakuza families. His Atobe Corporation owned more than half of the city's night clubs, love hotels, host and hostess clubs... and his influence reached far beyond his favourite Shinjuku. Tezuka knew of at least a few international organizations that cooperated with the King, and he was certain there were far more that both the police force and the Public Security had no idea of.

It bothered him that after all this time, Tezuka still remembered the pass code to the entry system. It was even more disturbing that it remained the same for so long; the officer didn't expect for the digits he input to let him through. Yet, they did and he entered the luxurious apartment without a problem. Nobody stopped him on the way. The yakuza was prepared for his arrival.

'You look stunning in that suit,' Atobe Keigo, sprawled comfortably in his big white armchair in what he used to call the audience room, said in terms of greeting. He was smirking in that annoying way of his that seemed to suggest he had better ideas on how to pass time than plain talking. As if those years of no contact never happened. That smirk used to make Tezuka blush, confused and embarrassed. Not anymore. 'What is it that you need my magnificent self to help you with?'

'The Vampire Hunter case,' Tezuka replied, aware that Atobe probably knew that already. 'My partner has gone missing. He was escorting Oshitari Yuushi to the HQ, that is the designated next victim. I stayed behind, and then I found this,' he handed the found smartphone to Atobe, who accepted it and put it away, barely gracing it with a glance. 'The car was found. There was blood inside.'

Atobe nodded, urging him to continue. His eyes were fixed on Tezuka's form as the officer stood in front of his throne.

'Why don't you read what the message says?' Tezuka asked, slightly impatient. He was feeling anxious. Maybe coming here wasn't the best idea after all. Atobe was like a cat playing with a trapped mouse. He desperately didn't want to be the mouse ever again.

'Tell me. I missed hearing your lovely voice,' replied the yakuza. 'You were away for so long,' he added with a hint of reproach.

'I do not have any time to play your games, Atobe,' Tezuka said icily, looking the other man straight in the eye. 'You either help me find them, or I walk out that door and never come back. I knew I should not have come anyway.'

Atobe held his gaze, unblinking. Like a predator, waiting to seize his prey. 'Don't worry. I will send my men. The person who did it must be really tough if they managed to grab Yuushi. And your sidekick as well.'

'Partner,' Tezuka corrected absent-mindedly, trying to concentrate under that persistent look. He needed to take in Atobe's words, not his appearance, no matter how strikingly perfect the other man was, because this was irrelevant to the case. What was relevant, was Oshitari knew Atobe. Atobe knew Oshitari and believed him to have some kind of super powers. Just who was that smug Maths teacher, really?

'I don't like it when you call someone that,' Atobe explained. 'It implies too close a relationship for my liking. Am I not the only one who shares such an intimacy with you?...'

'No, you are not. Stop it with this nonsense. I need your help, not your unrequited advances,' Tezuka snapped, looking away from the yakuza and at a pristinely white wall.

They had known each other since primary school, when they competed against each other in the regional school tennis tournament. That match changed his life. He was nine years old back then, still a child, but that match left him feeling restless. He somehow managed to convince his parents to transfer him to the same school Atobe was in, against his Grandfather's better judgement; and he could still remember that moment of absolute bliss when he realized they ended up in the same class. Before he knew it, they were inseparable. They attended the same clubs. They liked the same books and listened to the same music. Even their birthdays were within days of each other, so they had joint parties.

At first, he really thought it was about tennis; Atobe's skills were amazing, much like his own, so it was natural that they were drawn to each other. Only after they went to separate middle schools, which didn't really do much in terms of keeping them apart from each other, did Tezuka realize his attraction wasn't to Atobe's tennis.

He was pretty sure all of his first experiences with sexuality – the dreams that left him feeling guilty and dirty, the awkward masturbation to seemingly innocent images in his mind when he didn't even know what he was doing, the feverish frottage against his bedsheets – were all connected to Atobe. Atobe was his first kiss at twelve years old. Atobe gave him his first handjob when they were thirteen and the first blowjob not even two weeks later. They were just kids, stupidly in love with each other even before they were old enough to realize it.

It was all in the past now, though. Tezuka had moved on.

'You can do nothing but wait,' Atobe said calmly. 'My men will find Yuushi and your side...' he broke off when he saw Tezuka's glare. 'Okay, okay. Your partner, loathe as I am to use this word. Still. Why don't you sit down, have some tea? We can talk about the good old times,' he looked at Tezuka with a seductive smile that clearly showed his intent.

The officer had enough.

'I do not want your tea and your conversations. I am leading an investigation and now my partner is in danger, along with an innocent who will soon become a psycho's victim. I told you I have no time for your games!' He all but yelled. He was angry and disappointed. For a moment there, coming into contact with Atobe had seemed like a light in a very dark tunnel. Now he realized it was but an optical impression, and the tunnel proved to be a lion's den instead.

He was a fool to have come here.

'Listen, please,' Atobe ordered – no matter how soft and gentle it sounded, there was no doubt that it was indeed an order – and all of a sudden, he wasn't flirty nor playful. He was serious. 'That Oshitari Yuushi? He is our hitman. There is no way a normal person would be able to overpower him. Even for a surprise attack, it's unusual that he was kidnapped.'

'That guy is a hitman?' Tezuka asked incredulously, looking at Atobe with wide, disbelieving eyes. 'Are you crazy? He is a teacher! He teaches children!'

'Exactly. An amazing cover – nobody suspects him. He's been working for the Corporation for years,' the yakuza said, waving his hand impatiently. 'He's one of my best men.'

'You are using a middle-school teacher to kill people and you say it like it is nothing! I should arrest you,' Tezuka exclaimed. Because he could, that much was true.

However, it would cost him dearly. Atobe was too influential even for the special unit to match up; he'd probably never see a prison cell from the inside, even if he freely confessed to all his crimes, and Tezuka himself would likely be degraded to do traffic patrols for the rest of his life – in the best case scenario. There was a reason Atobe could walk around the city as if he owned it despite the police knowing him to be a gangster: he owned enough of it to be invincible.

'Yes. You can try. And I can kill you,' Atobe reminded him gently. 'It is a possibility I entertain on some lonely evenings, quite tempting in some aspects, but the overall outcome is not worth the loss of your person,' he shrugged. 'Let us talk like two professionals then, Officer Tezuka. If I help you now, will you be willing to pay the price?'

'It depends on what the price is going to be,' Tezuka replied. He had some savings, and the special unit did have a substantial funding. Some of it could possibly be used to buy information. Surely, Atobe, who had enough money to buy the world, wouldn't ask for too much?

'Ten million yen,' Atobe said, smirking, as if he'd been reading his mind. That was way too much. Tezuka didn't think he'd ever seen such a great amount of money in his life. Maybe he could gather a million. Ten million? Not in a thousand years.

He wasted enough time here.

'Or,' Atobe added smugly as he saw him turning to leave, 'you can sleep with me.'

'W... what? No way!' Tezuka yelled, blushing furiously. He should have known something like this was coming. He should have known. 'Stop joking, damn it!'

'I'm being serious,' Atobe said. 'If you're not willing to pay, I am not willing to help. Oshitari will likely come back on his own when he gets hungry, but your precious partner? Who knows.'

Tezuka hesitated. Was it worth it? Did he want to go back to that time, to the moments of his life that he'd been trying to forget, even for just a while? No. No, he didn't want to. He didn't want to and he didn't really need to, because the special unit was not a bunch of losers fit to sweep the streets. Atobe could just go to hell, along with his resources and information and teacher-hitmen.

'... I am leaving,' Tezuka said, turning his back on the other man. On the person he used to need, but didn't anymore. 'I should have known better than to come here in the first place. Shouldn't have called you.'

'When you finally change your mind, the offer stands,' said Atobe arrogantly. 'I'll see you later, then.'

Tezuka left.

'Oi, Fuji, wake up. Wake up, I'm telling you!' An urgent whisper and a semi-painful slap on his face did the trick; Fuji Shuusuke awoke from a particularly unpleasant dream. It was hard to open his eyes or breathe, and he couldn't move a muscle no matter how hard he tried, but he supposed he was awake. 'Shit. They got you good, didn't they? Made you swallow it?'

'That... sounded unnecessarily dirty,' the officer said, trying to discern which of the three Oshitari Yuushi's he was seeing in his narrow field of vision was the real one. He was willing to place his bet on the one to his left, because his face looked the least stupid as the teacher laughed at his lame attempt to joke. It was also the only one that didn't sport horns or extra teeth in unusual spots. Then again, it was an arguable hint. 'Where is this place?' He asked, because he could hardly even look around without his world spinning around wildly. He felt sick and he hated it.

'I believe it's one of the warehouses of the abandoned Yamagan Foundry Complex,' Oshitari replied with a slight frown. He wasn't wearing his glasses. That must have been why he looked so stupid. 'I don't think I got lost along the way, I was conscious the whole time, although I had to pretend I wasn't. We're most probably somewhere by the northern gate.'

'Are you hurt?' Fuji asked again and was rewarded with a low chuckle. 'What?'

'You almost died, Fuji, yet you're asking me if I am alright. That's cute,' Oshitari remarked. He leaned Fuji against the nearby wall and the officer was surprised at how good it felt to rest against something solid and cool.

'What the hell... did they drug me with... and why aren't you drugged as well?' He inquired. His vision was slowly returning to normal, the remainders of the nightmares from before dissolving, but breathing still posed a troublesome task.

'It's called nightshade and it's a popular new drug. They made you swallow a rather big pill, right? I spit mine out because I knew what it was,' explained Oshitari. His accent was annoying. Honestly, if Fuji ever had a kid going to Hyoutei, he'd never want that kid to be taught by someone with such an obnoxious accent. 'Anyway, we need to get you out of here. Your reaction to the over-dosage of the nightshade was pretty bad, a doctor should see you. I'd text Atobe, but those bastards destroyed my phone.'

There was one more thing Fuji needed to know. 'Is Tezuka okay?'

'Probably. I don't think he was targeted, and nobody but us was brought here. Now, be a good police officer and don't fall asleep no matter what. I'll take care of all the guards outside and I'll come back for you.'

'Just... don't kill them. I don't want to,' Fuji coughed and closed his eyes, then opened them again. He could still see the echoes of the nightmares in the back of his eyelids. It was unpleasant. 'Have to arrest you,' he finished, looking at Oshitari with a tiny smirk.

'Don't worry. I'm a professional,' the other man said and vanished from Fuji's sight in a blink of an eye, leaving the officer alone in the darkness.

It was so hard not to fall asleep! Even when he heard a hell of panicked yelling and gunshots breaking out outside, all he could do was to forcefully keep his eyes open. He briefly wondered who was even shooting, because he sure as hell hoped Oshitari didn't carry a gun around. He was a teacher by day. Even somebody as wholesomely indecent wouldn't probably dare carry a firearm to a school, of all places. It would be plain wrong.

An infinite amount of time seemed to pass with Fuji bravely fending off sleepiness before Oshitari reappeared by his side, looking as calm and collected as ever despite a splatter of blood adorning his face. Fuji wanted to touch the substance just for the sake of it, but refrained from it as the other man helped him to his feet. Feeling weak and inadequate as he stumbled right into Oshitari's supportive grip, the officer concentrated all his efforts on progressing towards what he supposed was an exit in slow, small steps, held gently but firmly by a man he was not sure he should even trust.

The fact that he knew of Oshitari's, ah, night job, didn't help much, but now was certainly not a time to ponder on that too much. Not when Fuji was positively sure he was going to topple to the ground and throw up not only the contents of his stomach, but also the appendage itself, along with his lungs probably, any second now.

'I want to die, Oshitari,' he informed the other man tiredly.

'I know. Don't fall asleep and you'll be alright,' Oshitari promised and gently eased him into a car that was conveniently waiting for them outside. 'Seriously, don't fall asleep, Fuji. You won't wake up a second time if you do.'

Fuji hummed something under his breath in reply. He just wanted to close his eyes and drift off. But Oshitari was right, maybe.

He didn't fall asleep as they drove into the night.

The truth was, Tezuka knew he was too proud; this pride wouldn't let him consider Atobe's offer as a viable option. He would never give in to the yakuza and his demands, which left him with no other option than to go over all of the records he had gathered on his computer since the beginning of this whole mess. There were literally hundreds of files, divided neatly into directories based on chronology. Each month's work had a separate folder, filled with reports and photos and lab results, none of which brought them any closer to a resolution.

Once again, he looked over the most recent report from Doctor Ooishi and the scribbled note. Thoughtful, he opened a browser window and typed in nightshade into the search box. The results he got weren't very satisfying; the most reliable and related one he got was a Wikipedia article on Solanaceae - apparently a name of the plant family that included common potatoes, eggplants or chilli peppers, as well as Atropa belladonna, known also as Deadly Nightshade. Other results weren't half as valid, with a description of a move in Pokemon and an infinite number of Gothic-wannabe blogs littering the first page.

So Tezuka clicked on the link under Atropa belladonna, because the alternate name sounded creepy enough, and because Ooishi scribbled it on the report. The link took him to a full article on the plant and, contrary to what he'd expected, proved actually a bit enlightening. Deadly Nightshade was apparently one of the most toxic plants in the world and had been used as a poison throughout the history. Its digestion caused hallucinations and delirium, and an overdose was likely to lead into respiratory system failure.

Why would Ooishi suspect its involvement and where had he heard of it being used in a new drug, Tezuka didn't yet know. He was very interested in learning that, however. He specifically typed it as a reminder in his phone.

He supposed he would have to talk with Yukimura of Public Security at some point. His dislike for the agent put aside, it was preposterous that Tezuka's special unit had no information on new drugs being distributed in the area. Public Security was supposed to share such things with the police force, no matter how good or bad their relations may have been. Personal feelings had no place when the safety of civilians was compromised. Didn't Yukimura know that?

He was calling the annoying special agent even before he realized what he was doing, his hands shaking in barely suppressed anger.

'I don't have time for losers,' Yukimura greeted him in his soft, kind voice upon picking up; it was actually a surprise that he even accepted the call at all. 'I might reconsider, though, if you give up the Vampire Hunter case to me. And if you make Fuji come to Public Security. We both know this is where he should be.'

'Fuji is missing,' Tezuka said coldly. 'You are intelligence, yet you do not even know that? You seem to be lacking, Yukimura,' he couldn't help but taunt. He didn't use to respond to provocations, but he made something of an exception when it came to Yukimura. It felt good to retaliate sometimes.

'... I might just come over and murder you,' the special agent informed him, the polite tone never leaving his voice even as it turned icy. 'Such jokes make me particularly angry when I hear them from someone not worthy of polishing my shoes.'

'I do not joke,' Tezuka replied. 'This, however, is not why I am calling you. What I want is information which, I believe, you have been withholding, regarding a certain new type of drug called nightshade.'

'I can give you nightmares, if you want,' Yukimura offered. 'If what you said is true, Tezuka... if Fuji is really missing and I find that it's your fault, I'll finish you. And it is your fault, because you've been useless as his partner anyway.'

'Thank you for the nice chat. I expect copies of everything you have regarding the nightshade on my desk as soon as the morrow. Otherwise, I will go public with the news that Public Security keeps vital information concerning national safety away from the police force, which considerably lowers our efficiency in surpressing the crime rate,' Tezuka warned and flipped his phone shut, robbing Yukimura of the satisfaction ending the call would bring the special agent.

Many years ago, the enmity hadn't been there between them. Tezuka supposed Yukimura's transfer from the police and the formation of the special unit without him changed their relations from those of comfortable companionship to utter hostility, although he never really pondered on it, keen on keeping the past where it belonged – behind him.

He didn't even manage to put his phone away when it started vibrating. It was a text message from Kaidoh, who apparently couldn't call because he was driving to a hospital in a suburban area. Fuji and Oshitari were found, or rather, they returned by themselves, only Fuji was in a critical condition and needed to be hospitalized at once.

'I will be there soon,' Tezuka said, and he ended the call while already slipping into his shoes and jacket.

He wasn't stopped by a police patrol on the way only because none could catch up to him as he sped down the highway.

The staff in the hospital wouldn't let him see Fuji, which was understandable, as his partner was currently undergoing rather unpleasant treatment. He had a rather good grasp of what it might have consisted of thanks to the Wikipedia article, so he ceased his demands and instead chose to have a few words with Oshitari. In private, much to the disappointment of Kaidoh Kaoru.

How was Tezuka supposed to tell his subordinate that honestly, it was for his own good if he was denied certain knowledge?

'I need you to go to Inui's for me, actually,' he said; it was not exactly a lie, since he really wanted the scientist's insight into the possibilities of belladonna and the nightshade. How would the presence of the drug affect the case? Would it affect it at all? This was something Tezuka wanted to know.

So it wasn't just a lie, fabricated to get rid of Kaidoh for the time being. The information from Inui would truly benefit the investigation. The fact that it could easily wait until the next day to be confronted with the materials Public Security were to send in was insubstantial.

He wondered for a moment why Oshitari Yuushi was even there, sat on a bench in the hospital lobby, reading a leaflet on the importance of personal hygiene, unaware or ignorant of the blood staining his face. Technically, the teacher-hitman was free to go whenever he pleased, and yet he chose to remain under the watchful eye of Tezuka Kunimitsu, the police officer who now knew his secret.

He knows that I know, Tezuka realized when Oshitari looked at him, cool, calculating. His eyes looked sharper when he was not wearing glasses. Those were no longer the eyes of a slightly extravagant teacher. Those, he concluded, were the eyes of an assassin.

He was so not to be trusted.

'Officer-san, I've been meaning to talk to you,' said Oshitari softly. 'I believe Fuji is going to be alright, but he'll probably be out of commission for a while. He overdosed on lemon drops.'

It was no time for joking and he definitely didn't consider his partner's health a joking matter, so Tezuka narrowed his eyes at the other man. 'Tell me what happened,' he demanded. 'Or I will arrest you. I will.'

'Woah, no need for threats,' said Oshitari, suddenly amused. His lazy grin was annoying. Did this man ever take anything seriously? Did he somehow miss the severity of this situation, maybe? 'I'll tell you what I know, really. That's kind of why I stayed. But I can't promise it's gonna be of much help.'

'Speak,' Tezuka ordered curtly, measuring the other man with an icy glare to show authority. It earned him a knowing smirk instead.

So Oshitari related to him what happened. 'They acted fast and took me off-guard, I am ashamed to admit. I wouldn't expect to be attacked in broad daylight. They must have been following us since Hyoutei. Fuji noticed and didn't want to lead them to the HQ, so he headed in an opposite direction. Well, they had more than one vehicle. They got us, unfortunately, and got us to swallow the nightshade as they dragged us from the car. You know, it's actually a good thing they took Fuji as well. It was his first time with the nightshade, he probably wouldn't have survived if I weren't there.'

'Why were you not affected?' Tezuka asked.

'Why, because I didn't really swallow it, of course. I can recognize a drug when I taste it, believe me. I even left it for your men to analyse, haven't you found it? I thought it looked rather picturesque on the windshield.'

So that was the half-chewed lemon drop reported to have been found in the car. Tezuka suspected it might have been so. 'We found it. It's in the labs.'

'Good. I heard the Public Security wanted to get their hands on the pills many times, but they never succeeded in finding any. Atobe finds it very amusing,' Oshitari said with a smirk. Tezuka had to mentally admit that he, also, found it amusing. Sweeping the streets, huh? Well sorry, Yukimura, but it seems the special unit happened upon something you really want to have while cleaning. 'Anyway, back to the story. We got dragged into a pickup and thrown none too gently in the back. They didn't bother to, you know, tie us up, they probably thought drugging us would be enough. I managed to force Fuji to throw up on the way. He wouldn't wake up, though, so I just waited and remembered the route.'

'Where did you end up?' Asked Tezuka.

'Yamagan Foundry. Don't worry, I called the local cops as soon as I reached the hospital. There is some human trash to pick up,' Oshitari said with a shrug. 'Let me tell you, those guys were mercenaries. I used to work with some of them before Atobe bought me. I don't believe any one of them had an idea who hired them. And before you ask, no. I haven't seen the Vampire Hunter. I'm sure he wasn't there. Maybe he intended to come get me later, when the minions left.'

'Did you kill them?'

'Nah. Why would I? Nobody would pay for such garbage. My partner would probably disown me if I lowered myself to such a deed,' the hitman laughed softly. 'Now if you'll excuse me, I'll get going. I have a date with an oversized teddy-bear tonight,' he said. 'If you need anything, Fuji will know where to find me. Don't try to contact me through the school. I won't be going back.'

Going to sleep at dusk didn't exactly work wonders for a man's health, neither did it help sharpen his senses or focus. Tezuka of all people should know that, and yet there he was again, heading out of his small apartment to work at seven AM, after barely two hours of sleep. He had trouble keeping his eyes open, so he decided to take a train instead of driving – the last thing he wanted now was to get into a traffic accident.

He had finally found a link. The thread of connection between the six victims and Oshitari. No wonder he couldn't see it before, it wasn't something visible at first sight. Of course, now that he knew it, he was amazed that he'd missed it. Of all people, he should've been the one to notice it long ago.

They all worked for Atobe Corporation.

Well, obviously, only Oshitari worked for the yakuza directly; the others were employed by the clubs Atobe owned. One of the three girls was a waitress, the others hostesses; the three young men were all hosts, although one of them also worked part-time as a deliveryman. Atobe was the link. And he probably knew that all this time.

It was high time to invite one arrogant yakuza to the HQ for a little heart to heart.

'Kaidoh,' Tezuka called to the younger man an office away from his. 'Get Niou up here. Tell him it is urgent. He either comes at once, or never comes again. I will get him fired, I swear.'

'Yes, sir,' his subordinate replied and quickly headed in search of Niou, the lazy trickster, leaving Tezuka to go to his own office.

Tezuka sighed, sitting down by his desk and turning on the computer. He checked his email, rather glad to find a report from Inui in his mailbox concerning the "half-chewed lemon drop".

Exactly as Oshitari had said, it was indeed the nightshade, or at least what Inui suspected to be the new drug. It was based on Atropa belladonna, but its full composition was hard to identify on such short notice. What was of importance, though, was that the drug matched the previously unidentified substance in the victims' blood. For whatever reason, the murderer drugged all of his victims before committing his evil deed.

'Niou's going to be here in five minutes,' Kaidoh reported, red in the face from the running about the HQ he probably had to do. 'He says he has a gift from Public Security,' he added hesitantly. Tezuka nodded at him. 'Umm, I'll get going now, sir!'

Tezuka wondered if his choice regarding Niou was a good one.

Niou Masaharu was a rather mysterious individual. One day, soon after the formation of the special unit, he appeared out of nowhere with recommendations from everyone that mattered and a rank above that of Tezuka; thus Tezuka was forced to accept the man's request to join the special unit despite his reservations. Just as he had suspected, working with Niou proved to be a handful. It was hard to ascertain where that man's loyalties lay, but not with Tezuka for sure. From day one, Niou had been trying to ruin Tezuka's authority in the unit.

And he was so annoying with his habit to ignore everything in favour of texting somebody all the time.

He was an amazing investigator, however, and he had never failed to gain access to information other people could only dream of having. His methods were... unusual at best, probably illegal and most certainly dangerous, but Tezuka was willing to turn a blind eye on them as long as Niou succeeded. The way Niou could go undercover impressed him. He only wondered why Niou wanted to work in the special unit, when his preferred style was much more suitable for a field agent in Public Security. Considering that the guy was practically in love with Yukimura, it really made no sense.

'You wanted to see me,' Niou said, entering his office without bothering to knock. Not that Tezuka expected him to. Miracles like that didn't happen often. 'It better be important. It's actually my day off today.'

'You always say it's your day off.'

'Yeah, because I'm special. Oh, by the way, I don't know how you did it, but here's some stuff for you. Courtesy of Yukimura,' Niou passed Tezuka a thick folder. 'I hope you didn't sleep with him or, I don't know, whore Fuji out to him. That would be nasty.'

'No, I did not,' replied Tezuka calmly, enjoying his little victory over Public Security. 'I have a task for you, Niou. It is dangerous and ridiculously risky, just the way you like it.'

'I'm all ears,' Niou assured him even as he was typing a text message on his phone, his fingers moving swiftly across the virtual keyboard.

'I want you to find out who produces and sells the nightshade,' said Tezuka. The request obviously caught Niou's attention, because the man's fingers froze over the smart phone. 'I want you to go fully undercover and bring me everything you can find. You are free to use any means. All your expanses will be covered from the unit fund.'

'That, dear Tezuka, is the most awesome task you've ever given me,' decided Niou, smirking at Tezuka in mirth. 'I will totally rock it. I'll also totally waste so much money, you won't have enough to pay your own salary, but hell. You'll see it's going to be worth it.'

'Do what you have to do,' Tezuka replied indifferently. 'Just get it done.'

'Is this a bad time?...' Asked a familiar, heavily accented voice from behind Niou; Oshitari Yuushi stood in the doorway, a lazy smile adorning his face. He brought a bag from some fast-food restaurant with him. 'I thought we could eat some breakfast together, Officer-san,' he explained sheepishly. Tezuka frowned as Niou laughed.

'I'll leave the two of you to it, love-birds,' said the trickster and left, but only after winking at Tezuka, whose frown deepened considerably.

Oshitari had a new pair of glasses today. The round spectacles served to create an impression of geekiness, which was probably their purpose to begin with. He didn't really strike Tezuka as a teacher, however – more like a rock star, to be honest. He looked completely harmless, though, smiling like that, with a bag of burgers held out in what seemed like a friendship offering.

'So, Officer-san, how are you today?'

'Go away,' Tezuka said. He wasn't really in the mood to deal with high school teachers and yakuza hitmen. He was especially not in the mood to deal with a man who was both. On the other hand... 'Wait, do not go away,' he changed his mind. 'You will answer my questions,' he explained to the amused Oshitari. It was definitely not a question.

'I guess I can do that,' Oshitari admitted. He sat down on a chair in front of Tezuka's desk, so that now he was facing the officer. 'Since we probably will never meet again. What do you want to know?'

Everything, Tezuka wanted to say, but it would have been meaningless. Oshitari Yuushi was far too intelligent to give out crucial information for free; there had to be some catch.

'We found a link between the victims,' Tezuka said. 'I am sure you know what it is,' he added, challenging Oshitari to contradict him.

The man had no intention of doing so, though. Not directly, anyway. He had an annoying smirk on his face as he continued staring, unblinking, at Tezuka. He was like a predator. He wouldn't let go once he trapped his prey with that piercing gaze. In that aspect, he strongly reminded Tezuka of Atobe... only Oshitari was a wild card, which made him so much more dangerous.

'So, Officer-san, you basically want to know how Atobe is involved in your amazingly drawn out case. Whatever makes you believe he has anything to do with it at all?' Asked Oshitari. His face said: challenge accepted. Can you keep up?

'The victims all worked in his premises,' Tezuka explained shortly. 'Did you know any of them?'

'Of course,' Oshitari replied with an impatient wave of his hand. 'All of them, actually. See, my partner and I, we are responsible for the protection of Atobe's employees. Civilians, I mean. Those like me hardly need any additional protection.'

Tezuka really wanted to insert a snide remark on how they weren't doing that great a job about that, but instead, he asked: 'Your partner?' He was curious. He didn't know Atobe's henchmen came in pairs.

'You might have heard about him,' Oshitari said, grinning. 'His name is Giant Teddy-bear. No, it's not. I'm lying. It's actually Sanada Genichirou,' he looked pleased at the sharp intake of breath from Tezuka upon hearing the name. 'You do remember him! I bet he's going to be pretty glad when I tell him. Maybe he'll slap me,' he trailed off, somewhat dreamily for some reason.

Indeed, Tezuka remembered Sanada Genichirou like one would remember a recurring nightmare. Back in the days, the two of them were the two people who worked hardest at creating the special unit with one goal in mind: to pursue the most dangerous criminals with special investigation techniques and the best technology, previously available only to the army and, in some cases, Public Security.

They had to fight against everyone: Tokyo Metropolitan Police, Public Security themselves, greedy politicians, even the same society they vowed to protect. When Tezuka was close to giving up all hope of ever convincing anyone of the necessity in the creation of the special unit, Sanada was the one who supported him. In the end, thanks to their joint efforts, the unit started legally operating.

Their first big case concerned a yakuza group much less friendly than Atobe Corporation; drug-dealing, gun-running, prostitution were only some of their confirmed activities. And the special unit gathered enough evidence to make an arrest and get the bosses of that group prosecuted and convicted... only, it all disappeared one night, and along with it vanished Sanada Genichirou.

What happened later was a blur of shame and humiliation that Tezuka had to face alone. Yukimura of Public Security called the special unit a spectacular failure and he was not the only one. It was pure determination on Tezuka's part that kept the unit up and running, but thanks to his stubbornness, they prevailed. Still, it took them years to recover even a small part of the trust they'd had before the fiasco. It took years for them to be assigned a serious investigation again.

Sanada Genichirou... yes, Tezuka remembered him very well.

'I am going to arrest you,' he told Oshitari, trying to contain the cold fury that threatened to overwhelm him. Rarely did he get this angry, but the memories of that time, of the helplessness and hopelessness and disappointment never stopped being painful.

'You won't do that. You would end up seriously wounded in the best case scenario. And honestly, I'm only willing to share information as a free man. Imprisonment gives me a serious migraine,' said Oshitari. Tezuka wanted to wipe that smirk from the man's face, to punch him, to beat him to a bloody pulp. The urge terrified him. He'd never considered violence appealing before.

'You might want to control yourself, Officer-san,' Oshitari commented. 'You look positively murderous. Want a burger? They're not bad once you get over the fact you're eating flavoured toilet paper.'

'Get out, Oshitari. Just... get out,' Tezuka all but begged. It was still morning, and he was already exhausted.

'I suppose I can do that. You might just want to go and meet with Atobe. He would like to see you,' said Oshitari casually, getting up.

'He is very welcome to come here, then,' snapped Tezuka. 'I am not his servant to come whenever he calls.'

Oshitari regarded him a moment. 'You're cute,' he remarked, amused. 'Well, farewell, Officer-san. Let me just give you a hint as a farewell gift: The yakuza is a vampire, sucking all life out of this country. Do you remember these words? Inspiring, aren't they?' He smiled and shrugged. 'I don't really get it, myself. Anyway, as I said, you won't be seeing me again. Tell Fuji I'm going to miss him, okay?'

'I am not telling Fuji anything. And where do you think you are going?' Asked Tezuka, agitated.

'Who knows? Life is an adventure, you see. Completely unpredictable,' replied Oshitari with a wide smile. Just before he left, though, he gave Tezuka a serious look. 'Watch out, Officer-san. Yukimura is watching you closely, and believe me, he's not your friend.'

He grabbed his bag of burgers on his way out, leaving Tezuka to ponder on words that had been said and memories that shouldn't mean anything.

The canteen in the HQ was a life-saver to people living a similar lifestyle to Tezuka's, which involved little to no sleep, lots of coffee and quality food that could be eaten while browsing reports. The owner and only worker, Taki Haginosuke, had many ideas for recipes which often proved delicious, and even though he was sometimes a bit weird and produced literal catastrophes in forms of food, nobody could deny that he made the best coffee in Tokyo.

Tezuka showed up in the canteen about twice a week. He generally didn't eat a lot, so he ordered coffee instead.

'Hi there, Officer Tezuka!' Taki chirped when Tezuka arrived there and immediately lead him to his favourite table – in the corner, away from prying eyes of just about anyone. 'I was worried. You haven't come up for coffee in ages!'

'Sorry,' muttered Tezuka, who wasn't sorry at all. The thing about Taki was, he was a bit nosy and liked to know everything about everyone... and for some reason, he really loved to share that knowledge with Tezuka. It was torture more often than not.

'Coffee, black, no sugar?' Asked Taki with a small smile, brushing some of his hair aside with his fingers. It was a gesture he seemed rather fond of, to the point that he was sometimes ridiculed for it behind his back.

'Yes, please. And a salad, please,' Tezuka ordered. He was hungry. Damn that Oshitari and his nice-smelling burgers.

'I have grilled eel today, though, maybe you would like to try that instead? I'm quite proud of how the new recipe turned out,' Taki suggested and Tezuka cursed mentally. Grilled eel. His favourite food, all of a sudden. And he just wanted to drink coffee and get back to work.

'I will have that, then,' he said, unable to resist, and he just hoped this time, whatever Taki made wasn't going to be a culinary disaster.

When he was a child, his Grandmother made a special sauce for grilled eel. Even thinking about it now made his mouth water. He doubted Taki's recipe could compare even if it turned out edible this time, but he was willing to try it anyway. He was very hungry and a warm meal once in a while would be a nice distraction from all the grim details of his work.

As Taki headed for his kitchen, humming softly, Tezuka observed other people in the canteen.

At this time, there weren't many of them around; most other officers in the HQ were busy with one task or another. In parallel to the Vampire Hunter case, they had two other big investigations going on: a terrorist case, which threatened to get out of hand real soon, and a serial kidnapping case, fortunately almost at its end, because a suspect was caught. Work in the special unit was a burden, it required a man's full attention, all his time and energy put into trying to catch a criminal, and the gratification was close to nothing. Even the pay was abysmally small in comparison to what a Public Security agent would get for half the effort. That's why they only had thirty-two people working for the unit. Thirty-two excellent, dedicated people, divided into three difficult investigations. The unit was desperately understaffed.

Somehow, recruiting new members had been so much easier with Sanada Genichirou around.

Shaking his head at that thought, Tezuka continued his observation of the inside of the canteen and its occupants.

He noticed Kaidoh Kaoru at the table in the far corner, all alone as he ate a burger with an expression of utter disgust; it looked weird, especially since there was an inexplicable sadness to the younger man, a sadness that couldn't have anything to do with he quality of the food. Chewing slowly, Kaidoh was staring, unblinking, into space, seemingly lost in some unhappy thoughts.

Tezuka looked away. He realized how little he knew of his subordinate, how little he knew of all of the people he was working with. In fact, he didn't even know that much about Fuji, whom he considered one of his friends, alongside Ooishi and maybe Inui. Was he, by any chance, antisocial? He didn't consider himself as such, but as he thought about it, this seemed to be the case. He didn't talk to people on matters not concerning work. He didn't go out after hours. He never asked anybody about their lives.

It was because, after his experiences with Atobe, and then with Sanada, he didn't want to become attached to anyone. Being too close would just mean that he would be more hurt in the end.

'Food is ready!' Taki exclaimed, suddenly appearing out of nowhere with a tray in hand. Tezuka's attention was drawn to the greyish, suspicious-looking goo in one of the small bowls. It certainly didn't look appetizing. At least the eel pieces on an enormous plate were recognizable. Maybe the dish was going to prove edible, after all. 'This is the eel, and I've made six sauces to choose from, and here's rice. I won't let you go until you eat everything!' He winked as he sat down by the table, directly opposite of the officer.

If Tezuka didn't know better, he'd think Taki was flirting with him. It was a ridiculous thought.

Tentatively, he took a bite of the eel and was relieved to learn that not only was it edible, it was actually quite delicious. So he proceeded to try it with different sauces, even the suspicious-looking greyish goo. To his surprise, he liked that one best. It tasted somewhat similar to his Grandmother's recipe, if a bit spicier.

'I thought Officer Tezuka might like it,' Taki said with a small grin. 'It was your Grandmother who taught me the recipe. I still can't get it right, though...'

Tezuka frowned. 'You knew my Grandmother?'

'Yes. And your Grandfather, of course. Everybody knew Tezuka Kunikazu. You see, my parents were murdered when I was a little kid... your Grandfather caught the man who did it, but that wasn't all he did. He kind of took care of me,' Taki smiled to his memories. 'Even though I was an orphan, I didn't feel so lonely, because he visited me and told me all kinds of police stories. You might not remember, but once, he took me over to your house for the whole summer. We were six or something? I think you decided I was a girl, because I spent so much time in the kitchen with your Grandmother!' He laughed softly.

Tezuka found out that, no matter how much he wanted it, he couldn't recall any events from his life before Atobe waltzed in. He looked at Taki and tried to visualize anything the other man was talking about in hopes of bringing up recollections, but all he could conjure in his mind were images of a nine-year-old Atobe, grinning in self-satisfaction after a particularly good serve. Past didn't seem to exist before that match in primary school. It had to, of course, but to be perfectly honest, Tezuka had no way of distinguishing if what Taki was telling him was true or not. It could be.

'As I thought,' Taki said after a minute, when Tezuka didn't react to his words in any way, 'you don't remember. Well, it was over twenty years ago. I was stupid. Sorry for bringing this up,' he muttered as he moved to get up.

Without even realizing what he was doing, Tezuka grabbed his wrist to stop him. 'Wait. I apologize. It is true I do not remember... so why don't you tell me? I would like to know about it.' He did. He wanted to hear about his Grandfather, because sometimes, he didn't remember much of him. Just words, the same words Oshitari brought up earlier, the words that seemed threatening even now, years after they had been said:

I warn you, Kunimitsu: do not be fooled. The yakuza is like a vampire, it sucks the blood out of this country and its people.

And yet, it was all distant, distorted. Sometimes, he wondered if this man of legends had indeed been alive, once... that he had had a family, once upon a time.

'Ah...' Taki hesitated, but he settled back down on his chair. 'Well... it was the best summer of my life, to tell you the truth. Everyone was so nice to me. You taught me some tennis and let me read your manga. Once, your Grandfather took us both fishing. We caught a big wooden log, and we both fell into the lake,' the memory brought a smile back to his face. 'In Autumn, I was adopted by a nice family. Despite that, Tezuka-san still kept in touch. I believe it's thanks to him I was able to go to Hyoutei Gakuen to high-school with my foster brother... I wish I hadn't let him down,' he sighed.

'What happened?' Tezuka asked.

'I wasn't good enough for that school. I couldn't deal with the pressure. Everyone just kept pushing me, the teachers, my foster parents, the other kids...' Taki looked away, as if ashamed. 'I started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Alcohol, soft drugs, that kind of stuff. Your Grandfather found out and tried to help me, but I didn't want help. You know, I ran away from home three times and each time, he brought me back. The fourth time, he didn't, because he was no longer there...' He closed his eyes. 'When I learned of his death, something changed within me. I realized I was sixteen and had no future unless I worked hard to create one. My foster parents forgave me, they were amazing to me. Thanks to them, I went to a really good gastronomy school. I learned so much. I found something I was fairly good at. I just wish Tezuka-san could see me now. I wish I could have made him proud...'

'You do,' Tezuka said softly. 'I believe you do.'

He didn't expect Taki to burst into tears at this, but then again, Taki had always been overly dramatic. So Tezuka felt it necessary to abandon his food for a moment to try and cheer the man up; after all, it was his fault he was crying. He felt a bit sheepish as he embraced Taki awkwardly, and he wondered what the other people in the canteen must think when Taki clung to his front, hiding his face in Tezuka's chest.

It was fortunate that Niou wasn't around. Otherwise, the gossip of an epic love story would be repeated all over the HQ for months to come.

Fuji was apparently well enough that he wanted to leave the hospital at once, despite his doctor's advice to stay under observation. He was bored. A bored Fuji Shuusuke meant trouble. However, a Fuji that was not completely healed after the ingestion of a dangerous drug was, in fact, quite useless for the special unit. Since that was the case, Tezuka decided to lend the man his laptop with all the documents concerning the case – he had a higher level of access to the databases and it was, coincidentally, tied to his IP number.

'You can prove useful while bed-ridden,' he explained. 'You are a genius, Fuji. I need a genius' insight on these files. If anybody can find something new there, it is you.'

'It's very nice to be believed in, Tezuka,' said Fuji, irritated, 'but I have seen those files a thousand times and there's nothing in them. Nothing. If you think me so useless, maybe I should consider transferring to Public Security, after all.'

'Speaking of Public Security, you have not seen these yet,' replied Tezuka calmly as he handed Fuji the folder he had received from Yukimura. 'This is all the information they have about the nightshade. We will have more, of course. I sent Niou to find the source.'

Fuji blinked as he accepted the folder. 'You had Yukimura give these to you and you made Niou actually work? Tezuka, I'm impressed! How did you do that?'

Tezuka just glared at him as Fuji giggled.

It was always like this; Fuji would tease him all the time and Tezuka would pretend to take offence, but in the end, they both knew it was just all in good fun. Maybe Tezuka didn't know much about his partner, about the things he liked and was good at beyond work, but it didn't matter – they were still friends who trusted each other and laughed together.

'I heard from Oshitari,' Fuji suddenly said. 'He's supposedly left Tokyo. He reminds you of your date with Atobe Keigo,' he shot Tezuka a piercing gaze. 'Is there something I should know about you and Atobe?' He asked, demanding answer.

'No,' replied Tezuka quickly. Maybe too quickly.

It was the truth, though. There was nothing Fuji should know. There was nothing anybody but himself should know.

Tezuka's phone started ringing. He procured it from his pocket saw a familiar number on the screen. Kaidoh. He gave Fuji an apologetic look and accepted the call. He didn't get to say much before Kaidoh interrupted him with news he never wanted to hear. He was sure his face went deathly pale.

'Thank you for calling,' he said finally, when Kaidoh was finished. 'No, do not tell anyone else. Yes, I will handle it myself. I will be there shortly,' he flipped his phone closed and turned to Fuji. 'The Metropolitan Police found a dead body just now. Staked and beheaded. I have to go,' he explained as he got up and headed for the door.

'It's... it's not Oshitari, right?' Asked Fuji.

'I don't know,' replied Tezuka and left.

The body was found in a classroom of an old private school, abandoned for a few years now after it had been ruined by a flood. The police was contacted by a guard, who came to work early in the morning and noticed a hole in the fence that he was sure didn't use to be there before. A patrol was sent, expecting to find a fornicating couple of high-schoolers at most.

Instead, they happened upon a crime scene.

Tezuka, led by a man from the Metropolitan Police he didn't know, could smell something weird in the air throughout the building. A mix of humidity and decomposition, underlined with something else, something much more dangerous. When he finally entered the classroom, he suddenly realized what the smell was and it took all of his determination not to throw up.

Blood. There was blood everywhere. On the walls in thick splatters, pooling on the floor, colouring the ceiling. There was even blood on the windows, staining the glass and making the light in the room look crimson red. This was the first time Tezuka was seeing something like this. So much blood. So much senseless violence and gore.

The corpse was placed in the centre of the classroom. It was mutilated, massacred in a way the Vampire Hunter had never done before. And yet, the stake was there, sheathed in the victim's chest, and the head had been severed. Tezuka couldn't see it anywhere near the body, though, until somebody showed him.

It lay, face down, on the floor under the blackboard, the blood-stained hair messy as if the head had been thrown or kicked there. Blonde. The hair had been blonde. The victim was not Oshitari Yuushi.

'There's a message on the blackboard,' said the officer who led Tezuka there. He didn't need to speak at all, since the big, red letters on the board were all Tezuka could see.

They were written in blood.

When you get in the way of God's plans, this is what happens! Blood of innocents is spilled! Your fault. Your fault! Nobody is to blame but you! You are at fault. You are at fault.

You did this, Tezuka!

Tezuka barely managed to run out of the classroom. He threw up in the corridor, where there was no evidence he could damage.

According to the ID found on the corpse, the victim's name was Oshitari Kenya. He was twenty-six and worked in a hospital in Osaka, that was also where he lived. It was impossible to tell why he had been suddenly found dead in Tokyo, much less why the Vampire Hunter chose him as his victim. Tezuka didn't learn much from the man's parents, who'd come to the HQ on the first train they could catch; through their shock, they were unable to do much more than a recognition of the victim. He would have to be heartless to try and ask them questions while they were in such a state.

You did this, a malicious little voice whispered in the back of his mind. You caused them this pain.

He checked in the labs to see if maybe Inui had something, anything at all. The scientist wasn't there, however. According to his colleagues, he went somewhere for a consultation. Tezuka didn't know where to go next. What could Ooishi tell him that he didn't yet know or suspect? What could anybody say to him that would rid him of this pointless guilt that threatened to consume him? Somehow, by failing to capture the Vampire Hunter, he had become an accomplice to the murderer. For a long time, he'd been trying to deny it, but now he clearly saw the truth for what it was.

He was lacking. He could have just as well killed those people himself, with his own hands.

'Come with me,' said a deep voice behind him and a hand on his arm steered him towards the exit. Tezuka let himself be led, hardly noticing what was going on, so engrossed he was in his guilt. Only when he was forced inside a car did he realize something was amiss. He looked at the driver in suspicion and frowned as he saw Kabaji, Atobe's right hand man and good friend, as well as personal bodyguard.

'Where are you taking me?' He asked, although he already had a pretty good idea.

'Atobe-san requested your presence,' said Kabaji and left it at that.

Tezuka, for once, didn't protest. Atobe... held many answers. Maybe, just maybe, he could make it all end. He could make it right. It was always Atobe who could save him from bad things. Always. How could he have made it this far without Atobe?...

'I do not want to go back to that,' he whispered to himself even as he let Kabaji take him to that ridiculously overpriced apartment in the middle of Shinjuku.

Oshitari Yuushi was there, waiting for them downstairs. He thanked Kabaji for his service and took over the task of leading Tezuka to the elevator and onwards. He looked as if he'd been crying for hours, but his expression was devoid of any emotion as he regarded Tezuka coolly and nodded his greeting. He remained silent the whole time, even as he typed in security codes to the apartment door (they were different from what Tezuka remembered) and let him in.

Atobe was in his audience room. He stood by the large window and didn't turn to look at them when they arrived.

'This city looks so peaceful from up here,' he said softly, his voice unusually deep with emotion. 'I look down and I can only see little silhouettes moving about, chasing dreams. You and me, Tezuka, we might be different, but in a way, we do the same thing: we protect this peace as well as we can through means available to us. But we are both helpless against the predators that hide in the shadows and hunt at night. We will remain this helpless, Tezuka, if we refuse to work together.'

'You are a criminal, Atobe,' Tezuka replied, his voice merely a whisper. 'You are yourself one of the predators you are talking about.'

'You know as well as I do that it is not the truth,' Atobe protested as he faced him at last. 'I've never turned against this society, no matter how many times it has turned against me. You are aware of how many charity foundations I own, how many hospitals have been the beneficiaries of my generous donations. You must be aware that your own special unit exists solely because of the financial support I provided, because even though you wanted nothing to do with me anymore, I believed in the rightness of your cause. I am not one of the predators, Tezuka. I am the guardian of peace, the one who stands in the shadows.'

'You... what are you saying?... My special unit was not bought with your dirty money,' Tezuka argued weakly. He didn't want to be having this conversation. 'No, it was not. I would know.'

'You would not if I did't want you too,' said Atobe. 'You're still so naïve, Tezuka. You haven't noticed yet that I am a major factor of your life, whether you want it or not? I am the one who sent Sanada Genichirou to befriend you and help you create your unit. I was also the one who ordered him to steal that evidence back then. I did it to protect you. You didn't know what you were doing, taking on that group. They would have killed you before anybody got convicted. I could not allow for such a thing to happen.'

'And so, you almost ruined it all! Do you know how hard it was to keep going after that? I was the laughing stock of the whole Metropolitan Police, not to mention the Public Security!' Tezuka snapped.

'I know. I know, but the choice was that or your life. I could not bear to lose you, Kunimitsu,' said Atobe and all of a sudden, he was too close, his arms around Tezuka, who could do nothing but lean against him and breathe in, because he missed this so much.

'Should I leave you?' Oshitari asked. His voice was cold, empty, just like his eyes and Tezuka felt a chill run down his spine. What had happened to have caused such a change? Not a day ago he was an irritating bastard who thought his lame jokes very amusing. Now... he seemed dead inside.

'Stay, Yuushi,' Atobe requested as he let go of Tezuka and motioned to the big leather coach. 'I believe an explanation is in order,' he went on when Tezuka sat down obediently. 'Today's victim, Oshitari Kenya, was Yuushi's cousin. They were very close.'

The revelation hit Tezuka like a physical blow; he didn't know what to say and he couldn't even look at Oshitari in fear of the hatred he would no doubt see on the man's face. That's what happened. The red eyes, the cold expression, the voice devoid of any emotion. He had lost somebody precious to him because of Tezuka. It made sense.

You are to blame. Nobody will be on your side. You did this. You killed them.

'Tezuka, don't think it is your fault,' Atobe said, kneeling in front of him. 'You did nothing wrong. Stop blaming yourself for something you could not have predicted.'

'I don't blame you,' said Oshitari softly. 'I blame the bastard who did it. I'm going to repay him a hundredfold for each second of Kenya's suffering. I will kill him. I will,' he finished with such ferocity, Tezuka looked at him. What he saw was indeed hatred, burning like fire in the man's dark eyes, but it was not directed at him. That was when he realized something.

They had the same enemy. They had the same war to fight.

'Tezuka, I want you to give this investigation over to Public Security. I want you off of harm's way,' Atobe demanded all of a sudden. It was so ridiculous, Tezuka almost thought the man was joking, but one look into his eyes was enough to convince him otherwise: Atobe was serious.

'I cannot do such a thing,' the officer replied. 'You cannot ask me to. I will not be defeated like this, I will capture that degenerate and I will bring him to justice. It is my job. I have to.'

If he thought Atobe would understand, he was mistaken when the man got up to his feet and stormed off, leaving Tezuka confused.

'He is scared you're going to be the next victim,' Oshitari explained softly, even though the officer didn't ask. 'He just wants you to be safe.'

'How do you know what he thinks?' Tezuka questioned as he got up from the coach. He didn't follow Atobe, even though he desperately wished to, because he knew what this meant: it was all coming back. He was willingly going back to what he'd been trying to forget for so long. In this time of crisis, all he could do was crawl back to that man he had been so addicted to in the past.

'I don't. I only know what he tells me,' said Oshitari. 'He loves you too much, Tezuka. He will go to any lengths to protect you, and he will accept it if you hate him for this. He told me you left because you felt like you depended on him too much, like dependence was all that your relationship was about. You might not know this, but he cannot live without you. That's why he can't bring himself to stop meddling with your life. Don't throw it away. One day, it might be too late,' he looked away. 'It was supposed to be me,' he whispered. 'I was supposed to be the mangled corpse in the morgue, not him. He was an innocent. He died that way because of my poor life choices. How's that fair?...'

It wasn't, and Tezuka once again didn't know what to say, so he simply squeezed Oshitari's arm in a way that he hoped was reassuring. He could somewhat understand the man's feelings; losing somebody close, losing family was hard. After his Grandfather's death, he was an emotional mess and it took Atobe months to make the pain lessen. Oshitari Kenya had been found that morning. Tezuka was surprised Yuushi was able to keep a straight face for so long.

'Go to him,' Oshitari spoke again after a moment. 'Talk to him. He needs you.'

So he did.

Atobe was sitting on the floor of his terrace, a lit cigarette in his hand as he stared at the sky. He didn't notice Tezuka until the officer sat down next to him and removed the fag from between his fingers to inhale some smoke himself. The taste of tobacco was repulsive, but it had never been about the taste.

'I thought you didn't smoke,' he said, and Tezuka nodded, offering the cigarette back. 'Just like me, huh? I haven't smoked for years. I picked it up again when you started risking your life for nothing.'

'It is not nothing to me,' Tezuka protested softly. 'You said it, Atobe. You call yourself a guardian of the society, right? I am the same. I cannot back out now, because then that psycho would win. I would be safe, yes, but I would not be able to look at my reflection in the mirror.'

Atobe exhaled a cloud of smoke. The corners of his lips turned up as he gave Tezuka a small, sad and tired smile. 'You and your sense of honour. I believe it's one of the things I love most about you. Your loyalty to the matters your heart is set to resolve.'

'Why are you unable to let me go?...' Asked Tezuka, leaning back against the slightly cool wall. Already, he was feeling more at ease. Falling into the old pattern might have not been so bad. At least he knew how things worked here. He was safe when they were like this.

'You are my whole life, Kunimitsu,' said Atobe and brought the cigarette to his lips again. Tezuka found that he couldn't force himself to look away from those lips as they closed around the stick and then opened slightly to exhale smoke again. 'I don't even remember myself from before I met you. You are what each of my actions revolves around. All those years when you wanted nothing to do with me... I was not alive. I existed, and I waited for the day to come when you would willingly come back to me,' the yakuza laughed bitterly. 'That day will never come though, will it? You'll never come back. It is time I gave up,' he raised his hand with the cigarette again, but Tezuka stopped him by kneeling in front of him and grabbing his wrist mid-move.

'I never stopped loving you,' he whispered and before he knew what he was doing, he was kissing Atobe gently on the lips. After the initial shock, Atobe returned the kiss, took control, and everything that came later was bliss and Tezuka didn't feel like caring about anything else in the world.

Inui Sadaharu had never seen anything like this before. What had been delivered to him a few days ago, labelled as "half-chewed lemon drop", was in fact something so ingenious, he didn't believe nobody was willing to own up to it. It was a complex combination of chemical compounds mixed with blends of natural toxins, with Atropa belladonna being the most prominent of the ingredients. As a recreational drug, the substance was rather useless and potentially disastrous, since the risk of death upon continued digestion was abnormally high.

The whole ingeniousness of the nightshade was in the way the various components complimented each other to bring out the more interesting qualities; as far as Inui could discern from his own research and from Fuji's account, the drug caused particularly unpleasant hallucinations, eventually deepening into delirium, high fever, problems with breathing. No doubt, with a high enough dosage, it could lead to a coma and respiratory failure, ending ultimately in death. All the symptoms of Atropa belladonna poisoning, increased tenfold by the other factors in the mix – that was what the nightshade caused to a human subjected to it.

This drug wasn't created for kids to have fun with, that much was certain.

What was the most disturbing, Inui concluded, was that the coma induced by the drug on mice was so much like death. At first, he had been certain he had miscalculated the dosage that would cause the coma; angry at himself and desperate not to waste resources, he decided to dissect the presumably dead animals. He set to do just that and upon cutting the first mouse open, he learned with mild horror that the mouse was, in fact, still alive.

Its heartbeat was way below the minimal frequency and the movement of the lungs could hardly be observed, but it was definitely there. With morbid curiosity of a scientist, Inui checked the vitals of the other mice before cutting them up as well upon finding none. Yet, they, too, weren't dead.

Suddenly, that note from Ooishi about the victims possibly being alive when the mutilations took place made much more sense... and provided much more nightmare fuel than Inui cared for, even though the data he collected from this experiment was really interesting, science-wise.

When he finished with the mice, he called a familiar number on his phone. Just as he expected, he had to wait all of five seconds before the call was accepted.

'Renji, I will be coming over with some data. I am a hundred per cent certain you will find it absolutely fascinating.'

Kaidoh was already waiting for him when Tezuka came to work on the following day. He looked as serious and somewhat tired as always, but there was something about him that seemed slightly different. He requested a day off due to personal reasons and Tezuka supposed it wouldn't do any harm to give it to him. The investigation wasn't likely to show any progress in one day, and it wasn't as if Kaidoh was absolutely essential to the unit.

Especially since he was being too observant.

'You were not home last night, Tezuka-san, were you?' He asked like it was a generally acceptable thing to ask a superior about. 'I actually went to talk to you, but you weren't there...'

Tezuka hoped the sudden embarrassment didn't show on his face. It wouldn't do to feel embarrassed now, in front of his subordinate who looked as if he knew. He couldn't know, of course; Tezuka was pretty certain nobody saw him this morning when Atobe personally drove him to work a good hour too early. He also didn't remember seeing any familiar faces last night, during their spontaneous midnight stroll around the neighbourhood and a tennis match on the street courts, an idea that came from Atobe and was approved of by a very drunk, very light-headed and very happy Tezuka.

Last night was crazy. It was like a dream, one of those dreams that felt too real and left the dreamer with a feeling of loss upon awakening. It also could absolutely never happen again.

'... I was out,' Tezuka said and it sounded defensive in his ears. 'Now if you want the day off, you'd better go before I decide I do have some meticulous errands for you to run.'

So Kaidoh just looked at him and nodded, then left. There was something worrisome in that look on his face right before Tezuka lost sight of it, though. It took the officer a while to realize what it was that he saw there, reflected in Kaidoh's expression.

Hatred. Fury.

What?... Why would Kaidoh Kaoru, the young, ambitious and very promising police officer fresh from the Academy, harbour such violent feelings for him? There certainly was no reason for this. Tezuka couldn't remember ever being unnecessarily harsh or doing anything to anger his subordinate. To be honest, he might have been somewhat too soft on him at times, because he'd believed scolding him for failures would be redundant when the kid was already ashamed each time he did something below expectations. What was it about, then?... Or maybe it was just an illusion, a visual impression, the light pulling pranks on his eyes?...

Must have been.

What did he really know about Kaidoh Kaoru, though? Not much, when he actually thought about it. The young man got accepted to the unit not that long ago, surely when the Vampire Hunter case was already ongoing, nightmarish as it was. Tezuka never bothered to look through his files, because he had some much more pressing matters to get to. Like murders. He trusted that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police wouldn't have sent Kaidoh to the special unit, had there been anything wrong with him in the first place.

But on the other hand, he himself had believed that Sanada Genichirou was a trustworthy man. Look how well that one turned out.

He picked up his phone and dialled a number from memory. After the Sanada fiasco, he had used this number so much, he still remembered it pretty well. The human resources department of the Tokyo Met.

'Hello, Ryuuzaki-san, this is Tezuka. I have an urgent request. I need some files up here as soon as possible, yes. Email is alright, if you have it all in digital form. Everything on a Kaidoh Kaoru. Thank you, I will be waiting.'

He sighed as he hanged up. So many things remained unclear around him! So many things. He was still trying to figure out the mystery of Oshitari Kenya's murder, the most cruel one of them, the act of revenge by the upset Vampire Hunter. There were more questions than ever in that single case; how did the Vampire Hunter find out Oshitari Yuushi had a cousin, how did he track down said cousin, how did he capture him? And what did he plan to do next? Usually, the murderer would straight out tell them what he was going to do. He refrained from it now.

Was it part of the punishment? Or did he still plan to go after Oshitari Yuushi?

'I hate this case,' Tezuka muttered under his breath as he turned to check his inbox, although he didn't think that old hag Ryuuzaki would actually send him an email. It was much more probable that she would make some poor intern bring the thick folders over to him from the other side of Tokyo. She always did that.

'If you hate it so much, why won't you drop it as Atobe suggested?' Asked the familiar voice, heavy on the Kansai dialect, almost giving Tezuka a heart attack.

'How did you get in here?' The officer asked, because he was sure he would have noticed anyone coming in by traditional means – the door was right in front of him, he'd just have to look above the computer screen.

'Details. That is irrelevant now. I've come to warn you, Officer-san,' said Oshitari Yuushi, no trace of the usual amusement on his tired face. He had dark circles under his eyes, a tell-tale sign that he didn't get much sleep last night. 'What you're looking for is closer than you think, but you should stop looking. When you find the truth, it will most likely kill you. Atobe can't protect you forever.'

'What... is the meaning of this?' Asked Tezuka, furrowing his brow in confusion. It was unlike Oshitari to talk in riddles, he had learned this much from previous encounters with the man. 'Do you know something I do not, Oshitari? About the case?'

'I know everything,' replied the hitman slowly. 'That's why I know it's better for you as it is now. Don't go any further. Don't try to find the truth.'

'I will arrest you for withholding information,' said Tezuka, but Oshitari just glared at him and headed for the window. He opened it wide, as if to breathe in the air of pollution and decay of the Tokyo metropolis down below them.

'You will not. I am going to disappear now. Atobe has decided I am way safer away from Japan for now. This time, I hope, for your sake, that I will never see you again, Tezuka,' the hitman whispered the last part and... fell.

But when Tezuka ran to the window, scared and helpless and oh my God he killed himself dead, there was no trace of the other man anywhere. The officer looked down at the undisturbed crowd walking the streets and found no sign of a commotion that a suicide victim would undoubtedly cause.

Oshitari was gone. Where to, how?

What had just happened?... Was it even real?

Tezuka sat back down by his desk. He was certain of one thing: he was going crazy.

Inui looked at his best friend and colleague, Yanagi Renji, who returned the look sternly. What Inui was proposing was, and he knew it, against all reason and morality; and yet, they both knew they would be eventually left with no choice, as this whole ordeal was a race against time itself.

'I will not allow you to do something this dangerous,' Yanagi informed Inui after what seemed like an eternity of just staring at each other. 'You may think yourself immune to most substances, but this? Sadaharu, Atropa belladonna can, and will, kill you if anything goes wrong. Believe me, I would know.'

'And you also know that the probability of that is less than fifty per cent,' Inui retorted as he turned to the laboratory table. He looked at the inconspicuous white powder they had managed to procure as they reproduced the drug. 'According to my data, the dosage is not lethal. It would defeat the whole purpose if the potential user of this drug died after taking it for the first time. You must not forget that the nightshade is considered a recreational drug.'

'That is still not reason enough to try and take it yourself. Sadaharu, we should stick to the proper procedures. What is it that you want to discover by means of dosing yourself?' Yanagi asked, shaking his head. 'What do you want to prove?'

'You are right, this experiment would have no meaning scientifically,' Inui agreed softly. 'The only thing it can produce is proof that the murderer we are dealing with is particularly cruel in his deeds, nothing else. Can you not see it, Renji? If his victims are under influence of this drug, still alive when he proceeds to mangle their bodies, it means the victims can be retrieved and detoxified before he commits homicide. It gives us a much bigger chance to save them.'

'This is exactly why you weren't given a spot in Public Security,' Yanagi said softly. 'You either over-think something, or you do not consider the consequences of your actions at all. At least listen to me: you may die if you take the nightshade. I lack the necessary equipment here to monitor your life functions if, or when, you are comatose. Such an experiment should be conducted in a controlled environment, under the eye of medical staff.'

'I know the procedures,' Inui said. 'However, Renji, we have no time. If I were to abide by the rules, we would proceed to testing the drug on humans sometime in the next decade. You are as much aware of this as I am – volunteers are not easy to come by when it comes to medical experiments. Ours is not a medical experiment. Nobody would volunteer to test a drug that might be lethal just to determine a killing method of one psychopath,' he looked at Yanagi seriously. 'I need you to observe me after the initial intake, Renji. I need you to register everything I might do or say under the influence of belladonna. Also, I need you to cut me. No, don't say anything. It's necessary that you ascertain my reaction to pain.'

Yanagi, who was about to speak, closed his mouth and just glared at Inui. This was obviously a very bad idea, one that had the potential to end in a disaster. However, he knew his friend had a point. Any information on the influence of the substance over the victims would be useful not only to Tezuka in the special unit; for months now Public Security had been trying to get their hands on anything regarding the nightshade. Up until now, not only were they unable to collect a sample; they also hadn't managed to track any confirmed users of the drug. He trembled as a thought he had been trying to bury rose to the surface of his mind: there was that kid... He shook his head. It was nothing but suspicion on his part. Nothing worth worrying about. He had to stick to facts.

And fact was, it was as if the nightshade was just an urban legend. Even Yukimura was close to giving up on his investigation, despite receiving new tip-offs about the drug's existence from the criminal underworld here and there. All of their sources talked about the nightshade in hushed whispers; the new, terrifying drug that gave you nightmares and made you want more, the deadly candy, the lethal lemon drop. But nobody ever managed to acquire a sample. Nobody ever managed to get to the source.

That was all before yesterday.

Now, thanks to the man Yukimura deemed as useless – Tezuka Kunimitsu of the special unit – a sample had been obtained. Of course, it was evidence in possession of the special unit, but Inui made a point of sharing everything he'd found out – along with the drug's assessed composition – with Yanagi, the toxin specialist. Science, it seemed, had no need for the barriers created by enmity and rivalry between their respective workplaces. What mattered in science was the result.

The result of this cooperation could save lives.

'I can monitor your heartbeat rate and breathing patterns,' Yanagi said after some time passed in silence. His tone of voice was resigned; he gave up on trying to persuade Inui to change his mind, although it was clear he still did not like the idea of he experiment. 'The risk of respiratory failure is very high when dealing with belladonna. Simple detox may not be enough if you shall be poisoned. Sadaharu, there is a high possibility that you fall into a coma and I may not be able to bring you back.'

'I am conscious of all the risks, Renji,' Inui offered with a small smile. 'We both are. But this needs to be done. Let us proceed.'

Tezuka learned absolutely nothing from the files, few as they were. Well, that was not true; he learned a lot, like the fact that Kaidoh used to play tennis at school, or that, upon entering the Academy, he passed his physical exams with the best results in years. He liked jogging and traditional Japanese food. He didn't have a favourite colour. He was in perfect health and there were no genetic diseases in his family.

But none of these were of importance, none of these could explain the hatred he'd seen on Kaidoh's face before. It was as though he was missing something, an important piece of information that would help him see the whole picture.

For once, Tezuka wished he weren't an antisocial bastard when it came to his subordinates. Maybe, if they'd been somewhat closer, he would have been able to guess what went on in Kaidoh's mind. As it was, the officer was left clueless. He sighed; he had just wasted some priceless time on reading files that not only had nothing to do with the investigation, but also proved absolutely fruitless. He hated it.

His phone vibrated just as a soft ping from the computer announced a new mail in his inbox. A text message from Fuji to visit him later was soon forgotten as he read the short email.

Sadaharu is in a coma. See me in the PSIA Research Facility ASAP. - Yanagi Renji

The day was gradually taking a turn to the worse.

He didn't find time to visit Fuji on that day.

The next week was as uneventful as ever, which was both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, there were no new murders, no signs of the Vampire Hunter or the nightshade anywhere. On the other hand, however, this peacefulness was making everybody nervous, like a calm before the storm. It just couldn't last. Sooner or later, something big was bound to happen. The Vampire Hunter was going to strike again. It was a matter of time.

It was almost night when Niou came back that Saturday, looking thinner, paler and more exhausted than Tezuka had ever seen him before. And he brought something back with him from wherever he'd been – a name.

Usually when Niou gave him any information, it led Tezuka on a wild goose chase that ended in nothing but loose ends that refused to tie in with the main investigation. There was no reason this time should be different; Niou still treated Tezuka with the same irritating disrespect and still gave him looks of disdain when he thought he could get away with it. But he seemed to be doing that out of habit. He lacked a certain conviction.

This was why at eight in the morning on Sunday, when normal people were still asleep in their beds, Tezuka Kunimitsu was dealing with a rather tired-looking suspect in the only interrogation room in the HQ.

Shiraishi Kuranosuke, former dealer, now turned babysitter, who was rumoured to maintain friendly contacts with the criminal underworld. Niou tracked him down based on gossip that the man had returned to his old job. Too many of his old associates were involved in the distribution of the nightshade to ignore this. Shiraishi didn't much look like a drug dealer, though; rather, he reminded Tezuka of a model or a popular boyband member. He spoke with a Kansai dialect and had a warm voice.

'I have the right to remain silent, don't I?' Was the first thing Shiraishi said, right after introducing himself politely. He sounded sleepy, but self-confident. He wasn't nervous in the least; most people would be, given the situation.

'Yes, you do,' said Tezuka. 'However, you do claim innocence, in which case it is advised that you tell me everything you know. The sooner you do, the sooner you may go home.'

'I kind of hoped Fuji would be around. But he's still in the hospital?' Shiraishi asked and sighed. Tezuka wondered where the man knew Fuji from. It seemed like he was meeting an incredible amount of Fuji's acquaintances during the course of this investigation, all of them connected to the underworld in one way or another. He'd have to ask his partner about that later.

He left Shiraishi's question unanswered. The man probably didn't expect otherwise.

'Let me do the asking, please,' the officer said simply. 'Might I remind you that everything you say may be used against you? Good. Let us begin.' He reached for a small evidence bag that had been sitting on top of the table, inconspicuously, this entire time. The nightshade inside looked like half-melted candy.

'Do you know what this is?'

'Dunno. Lemon drop? Cough pill? Looks like something you'd give a kid for a sore throat,' Shiraishi said with a shrug.

'Somebody has been doing just that, regardless of the soreness of throats. You claim to have no idea what this is? Does the name nightshade ring any bells?' Tezuka asked and immediately noted how Shiraishi paled upon hearing it, how his eyes widened.

'Shit. This?... Woah. Wait, no, I know what you're trying to do. Officer, look. I have never seen this thing before. I'm done with this business, I learned my lesson in jail. Ask Akaya. Kirihara Akaya. He's a, a good friend, he's Yukimura Seiichi's adoptive little brother. Just ask him, he'll tell you I'm through with this stuff.'

'I will be sure to talk to him,' Tezuka promised, writing down the name for future reference. 'Let us go back to the subject. Have you ever seen this man?' He showed Shiraishi a photo.

'Uh, yeah. That's Atobe Keigo of Atobe Corporation, right? He's kind of on TV every day,' replied Shiraishi. Of course, he had a point. Tezuka mentally berated himself for failing to form his questions clearly enough.

'Let me rephrase that. Have you ever met this man in person?'

'Yes, once,' said Shiraishi after a moment of thought. 'He offered to donate a large sum of money for the charity organization I volunteer for. Me and Kenya, we talked to him about it. In the end, we had to refuse his generosity, because it kinda collided with the main aim of the organization – you know, to stop kids from turning to drugs. The big boss decided that since yakuza is generally associated with drug trafficking, we can't get involved with them, no matter if they're part of the business or not.'

Tezuka nodded. 'You mentioned a Kenya. Would you leave his contact information so that he could back this up?'

'I doubt anyone in the world has his current contact information, Officer. He's dead. Oshitari Kenya,' Shiraishi looked blankly at the table as he said this. 'Officer, tell me please... is it true that he was murdered?... By that Vampire Hunter?'

'Yes,' Tezuka admitted. 'I believe it is in the newspapers.' He knew it was. Along with the accusations against the police that did nothing while young, promising citizens were being murdered under their noses.

'Who'd believe those journalists? All they care about is selling. Would you believe any bullshit just because it's written down?' Shiraishi asked bitterly. 'I had to ask a reliable source. Newspapers lie.'

'That is beyond the point. Let us not stray any further from the topic,' said Tezuka, when he really wanted to say, People lie. Get over it. He was about to ask another question when his phone started vibrating.

In truth, he was not supposed to have his phone in the interrogation room, but the circumstances were special and he was obligated to carry the device with him wherever he went for swift contact. He didn't like this clear disregard for proper protocols, but he understood the need for such measures. After all, the Vampire Hunter could strike at any moment now and he was in charge of giving orders if that happened. He needed to be reachable at all times.

The display screen was showing Kaidoh's name and number.

'If you will excuse me,' Tezuka said to Shiraishi and exited the interrogation room. Before he accepted the call, he had somebody take over the questioning for him.

'What is it, Kaidoh?' He asked as he answered the call, already on the way to his office. Just in case.

'I need to meet you tonight, sir,' said his subordinate without as much as a hello. 'It's very important. I know. I know his real identity.'

This stopped Tezuka dead in his tracks. He almost dropped the phone. 'What do you mean, you know? Kaidoh, I want to see you in my office in three minutes!'

'That's impossible, sir. I'll tell you everything if you meet me tonight at ten, somewhere nobody can overhear us... The old car park. At ten at the old car park. Can you make it, sir?' Kaidoh sounded nervous. He was talking quietly, as if afraid he might be heard by a wrong person. He was certainly not at work; Tezuka could hear a noise in the background, a noise that might have been the sound of a departing train. 'Sir?'

'I will be there, Kaidoh,' the officer promised. 'Be very careful until then, alright? Do not share this information with anybody,' he said softly. He looked at his watch; it was barely half past eight in the morning. 'Will you be safe?' He asked, concerned.

'Don't worry, sir. Don't try to find me until then,' Kaidoh replied and hanged up.

Listening to the beeping sound of the ended call, Tezuka released a breath he didn't even realise he was holding. His heart was beating faster as two thoughts kept playing on loop in his mind, making him dizzy: is this the end? and please be alright, Kaidoh!

Interrogating Shiraishi suddenly seemed like the least important thing in the world. He supposed it could be finished by somebody else who was not him. He dared not dwell too deeply on this, but the hope and anticipation he was experiencing were overwhelming. Kaidoh knew. Somehow, he managed to find out the identity of the elusive psychopath that had been like a nightmarish ghost up until now, terrifying and downright invisible, almost as if he didn't even exist. Did Kaidoh come across a hint Tezuka had somehow missed? Maybe, because he hadn't been a part of the investigation team since the beginning, he was able to give the whole case a fresh look that led him to the answer. No matter the method; if Kaidoh's information proved true, more than just a promotion awaited him. And the special unit would regain its honour. Finally...

In the excitement that he was trying hard to contain, Tezuka didn't notice the person crossing the same hall until he basically walked into them; the person, Taki Haginosuke, fell and landed rather comically on his butt with a small sound of pain. He looked up at Tezuka, who looked down at him.

And both of them laughed.

'You need to be more careful or you're going to step on somebody, Officer Tezuka!' Taki exclaimed between fits of manly giggles that didn't seem quite that manly. 'And you could really stop laughing at me, you know. You could help me get up!'

'Sorry, sorry!' Tezuka apologized and, still chuckling to himself, reached down to help Taki stand. 'Is this a new apron?' He asked after he actually looked at the other man.

True enough, Taki was wearing an apron Tezuka hadn't seen before – pink and frilly, with a big, cute bow on the front. It was about just as manly as flowery shirts and rainbow ponies.

'Yes! I got it from my brother,' Taki replied happily. 'He thought it matched my personality.'

Tezuka didn't ask what it meant. It would have been rude. He certainly didn't want to be rude; Taki was a nice person, so positive all the time, and the officer had to admit he liked his company. Truth be told, today, right now, he liked everybody and everything he normally didn't much care about. That's how excited he was.

'I gotta go, the food is not going to prepare itself! Please come by today, I'll give you a discount!' Taki called over his shoulder as he was already hurrying away.

Tezuka smiled to himself. Maybe he would even drop by the cafeteria later to taste Taki's latest culinary experiment.

Yanagi called him later to inform that Inui's state has not changed; he was still comatose and didn't respond to treatment – mainly because there was no successful treatment for Atropa belladonna poisoning this long after the initial contact with the toxin. It was, according to the doctors, just a matter of strength: if Inui was strong enough, his system would eventually get rid of the poison. This would not, however, guarantee a full recovery. In fact, it wouldn't even mean the man would awaken. Just that the poison would be gone.

A week ago, Tezuka had been shocked to learn of Inui's experiment and its results; upon meeting with Yanagi in the hospital, he had heard the whole story and received a small recording device.

'Take this. It holds the answers Inui was seeking,' Yanagi told him.

Tezuka listened to the recording in his office that evening.

(...) Breathing hurts. The shadows are longer now. It looks as though they are reaching out for me. As though they are coming alive before my very eyes, deeper, fuller, scarier. Hands and eyes. That's what they're made of, Renji, hands and eyes. They are watching me and reaching out for me. Don't let them get me. Don't let them reach me.(...)

(...)Breathing hurts even more now.(...)

(...)Where is this place? It's... so dark. Renji. I think this... might have been a bad idea. Breathing hurts. Living hurts. I can't see. Do they see me? Do you see me?(...)

(...)They are coming for me(...)

I... can't... breathe!...

Kaidoh looked nervously around; it was dark in the old, forgotten car park. The only source of light was a flickering bulb in an abandoned shed. This might not have been the wisest choice for a meeting place, but Kaidoh knew his choices were limited. If he wanted to drive out the murderer – to trick him into revealing himself, to bring him down – he needed to take risks.

Although he was starting to regret it. He wasn't a coward, but this place was getting to him. It would get to anyone, the vast emptiness covered in darkness, silent but for the wind. A storm was coming, Kaidoh could feel it in the air. Probably the last storm of the year; with it, summer was ending. The darkest summer...

'Soon,' he whispered under his breath.

He thought he could hear footsteps more than once, but nobody was there either time as he stared into the darkness, or even when he used his phone as a flashlight. Mentally berating himself for being unreasonable, he dialled Tezuka's number. In the corner of his eye, he noticed the light of the phone's screen reflected in something; it was his only warning before pain pierced through him as something hard and sharp buried itself between his shoulderblades, and he fell.

It was agony. It was beyond anything he'd ever experienced. It was unbearable and it was overwhelming, and he knew now it had all been in vain. He was going to die, screaming and writhing on the ground in the empty darkness.

The realization had an unexpected effect; instead of paralysing him with fear and hopelessness, it gave him an additional push to act. The pain didn't subside, but suddenly, it didn't matter, and Kaidoh was scrambling back to his feet. Shakily, he took a step towards his attacker, who was just standing there, just looking at him, as if he'd won, as if everything was already over; another step, and one more, and they were face to face, finally, and nothing could be hidden between them, and they both knew.

'It's... you... I knew it,' Kaidoh whispered, voice hoarse from screaming, wheezing, because he couldn't breathe properly. He risked one more step and grasped the other person's shirt with one hand to steady himself. With the other hand, he reached into his pocket for the gun... only to realize it wasn't there.

He must have lost it when he fell.

He stared in horror at the other's widening grin. Then, pain came again, mind-numbing, maddening, as another sharp something was driven into his chest. He could taste blood and pain and death, and that was it, he could not hold on any longer, he fell to his knees, and his own blood on the other's clothes made him sick and triumphant at the same time, because you can't possibly run with this much blood on you and they will catch you.

The other was still grinning.

'Sleep,' he said, and his voice was different than Kaidoh was used to, and he was so different, and all of a sudden, Kaidoh knew everything he hadn't known before.

He crawled. He needed to get the message to – to someone, anyone. He crawled, despite the pain and the light-headedness, and the fear and the darkness, and even as he heard laughter, even as he felt eternity, he didn't give up, he didn't-

It was still dark outside when Tezuka woke up, still tired, disappointed and very worried. Something must have happened; Kaidoh never showed up last night. Tezuka remembered having waited well past midnight, trying to contact his subordinate by phone. No answer.

Something must have happened. It was unlike Kaidoh, to not appear to a meeting, much less one he had arranged himself. He wasn't also known for ignoring phone calls from superiors, especially the important ones.

All of this was wrong.

He didn't remember falling asleep last night, he actually didn't remember anything past the point he had decided waiting any longer would be futile. Exhausted... he had been exhausted after a long day filled with urgent work. He supposed having heard Inui's voice recording from just before the man had fallen into a coma also didn't help. He'd had a lot to think about. It was surprising he managed to get any sleep that night with all the nightmare fuel he'd acquired.

He woke up with his glasses still on, crooked and digging painfully into his cheek. He was also partially dressed – in his haste to finally lay to sleep, he must have grown impatient mid-stripping, so he was still wearing a pair of jeans, fly and button undone. He probably looked like a zombie again.

Hopefully, he wouldn't run into Taki today. He didn't want to cause the man to worry, as he found himself growing surprisingly fond of him.

Slowly getting up, the officer stretched his sore muscles and yawned. The blinking display of the broken alarm clock was as unhelpful as ever in telling the time, so he found his mobile phone. It was barely past four, and yet he didn't expect to fall back to sleep if he tried. Something would keep him awake, the same something that woke him up in the first place – anxiety, fear? For Kaidoh.

He wished for nothing more than to take a long bath to relax the tenseness in his muscles, but he limited himself to a hot shower and a couple of good, old painkillers. He dressed quickly, dried his hair and cursed repeatedly (albeit softly) when he failed to find his car keys.

'The jacket,' he remembered all of a sudden. He did a lot of driving around yesterday and he always kept the keys in the inner pocket of the jacket, a habit picked up only after having lost the previous set. Where was the jacket from yesterday, though? He had to have been really exhausted last night when undressing, for no matter where he looked, the jacket remained mysteriously missing. Along with the shirt and, funnily enough, socks. What had he done with them?

He forgot about the matter quickly, though, when he found the keys, laid down inconspicuously on the kitchen counter. He mentally berated himself for his own carelessness and grabbed the keys before heading out. He'd wasted enough time already.

He did actually run into Taki, which seemed a little weird considering the early hour; the chef was accompanied by a man Tezuka didn't recall having seen before, a man with long hair tied into a pony-tail. Taki looked thrilled to be in the man's presence, even more so as he spotted Tezuka.

'Officer! So lucky to find you! I really wanted to introduce you. This is Shishido Ryou, my, um, brother. Ryou, this is Officer Tezuka!' He all but exclaimed all of this in a single breath, as if afraid one or both of the men would escape if he paused. Tezuka had never heard a person talk so fast before.

'Pleased to meet you,' said Shishido, smiling crookedly as they exchanged business cards. He was a reporter. Tezuka didn't like him already. 'This guy never shuts up about you. He's your regular fanboy,' he fondly ruffled Taki's hair a bit. Taki blushed at this and Tezuka nodded politely.

'I am sorry, I need to get going. Urgent business,' he excused himself before wishing the two a good day and leaving them to whatever it was they were going to do.

Once he was in the office, he immediately called the Tokyo Metropolitan Police to ask about any unusual occurrences in the area. It was a hit; it seemed a patrol had just returned from a round near the old car park with a terrifying report.

Tezuka didn't wait for details over the phone. He was out the front entrance to the HQ before he even informed he was on his way to the scene.

The scene wasn't much unlike the one where Oshitari Kenya died, at least at first sight. Blood appeared to be everywhere on the ground, but Tezuka noticed that from one point where it pooled into a puddle, it was smeared on the asphalt, as if something was being dragged from there.

All became clear when he saw the corpse.


Lying face-down on the ground in an awkward position, the corpse was giving off an impression of crawling – which was what Kaidoh must have been doing in the last minutes of his life. But the trail of his blood didn't seem to make much sense. It was as if Kaidoh hadn't been trying to escape and find help, to save himself, as much as to leave a pattern on the ground. He hadn't been crawling towards the exit, but rather more deeply into the deserted parking space.

Tezuka shuddered at the disturbing thought. It was impossible, wasn't it? People on the verge of death didn't behave so rationally... did they? He looked towards where Kaidoh seemed to have been heading and noticed the old storage shed. The height of it seemed enough, but there was no ladder.

'Hey, you there,' he called to the nearest officer. 'I need to climb you.'

The officer gave him a bewildered expression. Tezuka sighed and wordlessly dragged the protesting man to the shed. It would have been easier, he realized, if he'd learned how to explain things to people before he acted. Well, it was too late now.

'Help me get up there,' he ordered. This seemed to get through, even if the man thought the idea appalling or pointless or whatever else. He wasn't there to share opinions, as far as Tezuka was concerned.

Once up, Tezuka carefully moved to the edge of the roof and looked down at the trails of blood. There, appearing even redder in the first rays of the rising sun, were three symbols, making up the blood-written dying message of Kaidoh Kaoru.

Two. Man. Inside.

Futari. Naka.

Tezuka was deathly pale when he climbed down from the roof without help.

'Have a photographer take pictures from above,' he ordered sharply. 'I will personally contact the victim's family. He was a cop. Nobody is to talk to the press, is this absolutely clear?'

'Yessir,' was the reply. Satisfied, Tezuka headed back. He lost his composure and started shaking only when he was sure he was out of sight.

He didn't go back to the HQ, not just yet. The state of his mind... he didn't really know what it was. How was he feeling? What was he experiencing? The numbness, the cool indifference, so unlike that time when Oshitari Kenya had been found... it scared him more than his own helplessness. He had just lost a subordinate, a man that held the key to victory. At the same moment, he had lost a battle, possibly the whole war, against a personified nightmare. And yet, he didn't feel anything besides resignation.

It was as if even grief would be too much. As if feelings, any feelings, would destroy him.

Because it was, again, his fault. He had failed, like he always did, and lives of innocent people had been lost as a result of his incompetence. He should never have been promoted, he should never have been given the chance to lead a special unit of his own, because he was no leader. Atobe was...


Without realizing it, Tezuka had found himself in that apartment in Shinjuku, going past the security code as always. Raised, familiar voices, however, stopped him from proceeding from the hall; he stood, as if rooted in place, as he heard arguing from Atobe's audience room.

'Atobe, I am not going to guard that guy for you. I'm not, and you can't honestly be doing that to me!' Yelled Oshitari Yuushi angrily. Tezuka listened. 'He fucking killed Kenya, he fucking killed my cousin and that's where I draw the fucking line! So fuck you, but I'm not gonna guard that degenerate for you any longer! You want someone to watch him? Well do it yourself!'

'Don't take that tone with me. You do that again, I will kill you,' Atobe threatened, barely loud enough to be heard in the hall. He sounded... scary. Tezuka had never heard him like this before. Was that his business tone? 'You swore an oath, Oshitari. Are you going to break it now? Are you really the worthless scum, the traitor everybody's been telling me you were?'

'I have always obeyed your orders without question,' Oshitari said hotly. 'Always! No matter who was the hit, I never hesitated, I never failed you! Even this, I even would do this, I would be his shadow, but I can't, because Kenya is dead, and I just can't pretend it doesn't affect me anymore!' Hearing him like this, so desperate, so mournful, made Tezuka feel guilty all over again. 'Atobe, if you wish to call me a traitor for refusing to fulfil your order this once, so be it. I am not doing this, not anymore. You think you can protect him, fine, do try. But without me. I'm out.'

'... I should have you executed,' Atobe said, softly this time, so softly that Tezuka almost didn't hear him at all. 'I should have Sanada shoot you right now for disobeying a direct order. But... You are right, Yuushi. I... I shouldn't have made you do this. You've never been good enough to handle it,' Tezuka could hear the bitterness, the disappointment in these words and he could almost feel the pain they aimed to inflict. Atobe always did that when faced with disagreement; he searched for the opponent's weak spot and aimed for it to destroy. 'No, Yuushi, I will not announce you a traitor. Just... Go away. Somewhere I won't have to look at your face. Sanada, I trust I can count on you to keep him away?'

There was no reply; Tezuka could have felt a shiver run down his spine at the thought that Sanada Genichirou, the man he'd hated for so long, was possibly just a door away. He could just walk in there and make an arrest...

But it would be meaningless now. At this point, everything was meaningless.

It felt like an eternity of standing there, rooted to the spot, before the door to the audience room opened. There stood Atobe Keigo, and he had the nerve to smile at him, warmly, lovingly, as if he wasn't a traitor, as if he wasn't a two-faced bastard, and Tezuka was furious.

'I heard you,' he hissed, and to his dark satisfaction, the smile vanished quickly from Atobe's face. 'Were you ever going to tell me? I bet you were not. You are protecting a murderer, Atobe, a psycho, a degenerate who gets off on torture, who just killed my subordinate, and you were going to hide him from me forever!' He raised his voice, although he didn't intend to; but it was a good thing he did, because Atobe looked hurt, and Tezuka wanted to hurt him, to cause him pain. He deserved it. He deserved it.

'Kunimitsu, calm down. Just calm down and I'll explain...'

'No. I do not need an explanation. I really do not. Because your pretty words will not make that psycho stop killing people. I almost had him. Kaidoh knew who he was. He was killed. If only you had told me, if only you had done the right thing this once, he would still be alive. But he is not. And more will die because of you.'

'Tezuka,' Atobe began in a pleading tone, but Tezuka shook his head.

'I do not want to hear it. You know, when you said I was the most important person in your life, I actually believed you, stupid as I was. It turns out a murderous psycho is all you really care about,' he said softly. Then, he turned to the entrance and left.

'... Please don't call him that,' Atobe whispered to the empty hall. He closed his eyes as he fought the tears that threatened to fall. 'I can't bear to hear it... Please just don't call him that.'

It took him a few minutes to regain his composure; as he did, he procured one of his phones. He called a number he didn't have on any of his contact lists in case any of his phones were to be interjected, but he knew the digits by heart. He supposed it was the same for the one he was calling.

'Seiichi... Yeah, it's me. It's happening. The plan needs to commence now or it'll be too late.' He listened to the reply and let out a little sigh of relief. 'Thank you. I'm counting on you.'

There was no going back now. The Vampire Hunter had to disappear forever.

Futari. Naka.

Tezuka stared at the crime scene photos blankly; his mind was spinning with questions that had no answers, with theories and guesses that carried no meaning, because they just didn't match up. Nothing made sense anymore, not in the case, not in his life, and he was once again left at the point where it had all began, with three symbols written in blood of a dying man as his only clue.

Two. People. Inside.

Kaidoh died to deliver this message. He died believing Tezuka would work it out. But he couldn't. How could he?

Two, people, inside. That could mean anything. Two, people, inside. Two people, inside. Two, people inside. Did it even mean anything at all?... For all Tezuka knew, it might have been a trick, a cruel joke from the Vampire Hunter. He didn't think it was, but it might have been; either way, he couldn't figure it out by himself.

He was by himself, though. There was nobody left. Kaidoh was dead. Fuji was hospitalized. So was Inui. Ooishi wouldn't know how to help, plus Tezuka didn't want to burden a friend with something like this. Atobe... could just as well cease to exist after yesterday's revelation. Tezuka was truly alone for the first time. Betrayed.

Futari. Naka.

Inside what?... Tezuka shook his head. This was clearly leading him nowhere. The message remained random no matter how long he stared at the photos, and no amount of thinking could possibly bring him any closer to figuring out anything. He knew he should just give up, pass the case over to Yukimura and simply leave it all behind. He had lost enough already.

And yet... Kaidoh left it for him, this message. Kaidoh wanted him to know, to solve this. Kaidoh trusted him with the precious key to the mystery of the Vampire Hunter. He couldn't just walk away from this; it would feel too much like running away. He had a job ahead of him and he needed to do it properly. He needed help on this, though. He couldn't do it alone.

He decided to finally pay a visit to Fuji in the hospital.

'Stop pacing around, you're driving me mad,' his partner said, observing Tezuka as he walked back and forth in the middle of the small hospital room. 'Also, this won't help. You know it won't.'

'I need to figure this out,' Tezuka replied, halting his movement. 'I need to understand what Kaidoh meant, and fast. Before anybody else has to die because of me.'

'Why don't you sit down by my bed and show me those photos? Really, I might be able to help,' Fuji said and laughed at Tezuka's dubious expression. 'You do know I'm a perfectly capable investigator, right? Genius, stuff? Even hospitalized.'

'Sorry,' muttered Tezuka, feeling sheepish. He passed Fuji the photographs. 'They are clearly letters, right? I am not seeing things?'

'Well, if you are, then I must be seeing the same things,' Fuji agreed. 'Two. Person. Inside. Huh. Two people inside? Inside the HQ, maybe? Do you think Kaidoh somehow found out that Vampire Hunter is actually two people instead of one individual, and at least one works in the HQ?'

Tezuka stared at him.

'You are not seriously suggesting that one of us is secretly a psychopath who murders innocent people, are you, Fuji?' He asked, honestly shocked at the possibility. 'Look, this is preposterous. I refuse to believe such accusations without hard evidence.'

'It's logical, though,' Fuji argued. 'With access to our databases, the Vampire Hunter can be completely untraceable. Who knows what he could have already hidden from us!'

'I will not accept this,' Tezuka stated. 'If I cannot trust the people I work with, who can I trust? Look, Kaidoh was one of us. He was not betrayed by his colleagues. Can we agree on that?'

But a small voice in the back of his mind told him Fuji was right, no matter how hard he wanted to believe otherwise. The theory that the Vampire Hunter might be somebody from the HQ had actually crossed his mind before; it seemed like there was no other explanation for the lack of progress in the investigation, for the constant failures. Only once before had something like this happened in the special unit: when Sanada Genichirou turned out to have been a traitor. Since then, it had been extra hard to get accepted in the unit, but once a person was accepted, Tezuka trusted them fully.

Yet again, here he was, faced with a possibility too scary to seriously consider: somebody used his trust to hide a horrifying truth. And again, just like before, it was all connected to Atobe Keigo.

'Instead of being in denial, you could always focus on finding out who it could be,' Fuji suggested. 'I know it's hard, but we are beyond the point where we can ignore a possibility just because we aren't comfortable with it. I'm with you, Tezuka. You're not the only one who's not happy about it, but we have to act. We have to do something.'

'No, Fuji. I have to do something. You have to get better. I trust you understand that your health concerns me,' Tezuka said, shaking his head. 'The nightshade is potentially more dangerous to you because of your heart condition.'

'My heart condition has nothing to do with this,' Fuji quipped, sounding and looking rather irritated. 'I'm going to be released from here today, so don't you dare stop me from returning to work. I'm the only person in the HQ right now that you can trust.'

'Actually, no. You are just as suspicious as everybody else. Even more so, to be honest,' Tezuka said, the thought out in the open before he knew it. Now that he said it out loud, it sounded ridiculous... but strangely plausible. 'You could be the Vampire Hunter, you know. You knew Oshitari right from the start. He disappeared when under your care. You drugged yourself to maintain an alibi, and because you've been using the nightshade for a long time in your murders, you know the symptoms well enough to fake them even after the drug's real effects wore off. It is fairly easy to slip out of here unnoticed, especially for someone as trained in techniques of espionage as yourself. You could have sneaked out many times and done your deeds.'

'That's all very interesting,' Fuji admitted with a small smile. 'But don't you think if I were such a mastermind, I wouldn't have brought all this up?'

'This might be a ploy. A way to divert my attention,' Tezuka stated. He shrugged. 'I do not, however, really think it is you. While it does seem possible, I am certain this is not the case. Yukimura would know.'

'What has Yukimura got to do with this?' Asked Fuji, confused.

'He has been watching you,' replied Tezuka calmly, pointing towards the security camera in the corner. 'That thing is connected to Public Security's servers, if I am not mistaken. You have been monitored twenty-four/seven since the day you were hospitalized. The official version is, it was out of concern for your safety. I figure, however, that the thought of you being the Vampire Hunter must have crossed Yukimura's mind as well.'

'That bastard,' Fuji muttered under his breath, much to Tezuka's satisfaction. 'I'm going to have a serious talk with him, that's for sure.'


They sat together in silence for a while, both looking at the photographs, lost in thoughts that were none too cheerful. Tezuka wondered. Who, among their companions, was a dangerous criminal? Who could be trusted and who could not? Once he wrapped his head around the possibility, it suddenly seemed to present too many options. Everybody could be the Vampire Hunter, for all he knew about his people. All he had ever cared about when accepting them in the unit were references. If they were outstanding officers and could present a folder of verifiable references from their previous workplaces, Tezuka took them in. He didn't care about them personally. Often times, he didn't even know their first names.

Finding the Vampire Hunter didn't seem much easier now than before. At least not to him.

'Tezuka, I know you'll hate this,' Fuji said all of a sudden. 'But I think it's time we accepted Public Security's help. Yukimura might be a bastard, but he's got more resources than we could dream of having. And he's able to check the background of every officer we have around without as much as lifting a finger.'

Tezuka scowled, but he had to admit Fuji was right. It had always been a matter of time before he would have to give up. Now, he could no longer afford to keep his pride. What did he have to lose? All that remained important was catching the Vampire Hunter.

'You call him. I am not talking to him if I do not have to,' he said eventually.

So Fuji did.

Yukimura acted fast.

Akaya Kirihara looked like a scared kid; Tezuka thought bringing him there was a mistake at best, but Yukimura insisted. The special agent felt right at home at the HQ as he took over the case – but he was good, Tezuka had to give him that. It took him less than a few hours to find and explore a lead, and after that time, he proudly announced he had found the Vampire Hunter's accomplice.

Kirihara seemed like an odd choice for interrogation, though, as far as Tezuka was concerned. He was, for one, Yukimura's own adoptive little brother. He had no records or previous law violations. The only thing Tezuka could think of to ask him was, 'Is Shiraishi guilty?'

Yukimura, however, had other ideas and unfortunately, he was the one in charge.

The interrogation was held in the HQ, deemed sufficient by the special agent; besides Tezuka and Yukimura, two other people were present: Niou, who appeared as interested in the case as ever, and Fuji, as determined to see the case solved as Tezuka himself was. Kirihara looked like scared child surrounded by evil people among them.

Tezuka wasn't surprised; the kid had been literally pulled out from his bed at dawn and dragged to the HQ by a bunch of Public Security agents on his own brother's orders. No wonder he seemed about to cry.

'I didn't do anything,' he kept whispering repeatedly.

Tezuka looked at Yukimura inquisitively.

'Kirihara Akaya. You are held here under suspicion of production and distribution of a dangerous substance, known under the name of nightshade. Are you familiar with this substance?' Yukimura asked and Tezuka was surprised both at the accusation and the cold tone.

'I didn't do anything!' Kirihara cried and looked wildly around, as if searching for a place to hide, for a friendly face. His eyes locked on Tezuka's face and the officer thought he saw a brief expression of relief cross the kid's features.


'Answer the question,' Yukimura demanded.

Kirihara sat back, still staring at Tezuka, as if he was waiting for something. As if he was expecting the man to do something.

'I've heard of it,' he muttered almost under his breath. 'The nightshade. They say that wacko murderer's been using it. But I don't make it! I wouldn't even know how!'

Tezuka pulled Yukimura aside for a moment to voice his own doubts. 'Even Inui said the drug was really complex. I do not think a child...'

'You'll have to trust me on this. I know what I'm doing,' the special agent said, cutting him off. Then he went back to Kirihara.

'Tell me about your relationship with Shiraishi Kuranosuke,' he ordered and was met with a defying glare.

'I don't want to,' the kid said.

'Let me tell you, then. The two of you met three years ago in that club I specifically told you not to visit. He bought you a drink when you lied about your age. He may have or may have not slipped something in that drink; he then took you to his apartment and fucked you,' Yukimura said.

Tezuka felt sick.

'I wanted it,' Kirihara protested. 'He slipped me nothing. Didn't need to.'

'You being a whore is certainly an interesting plot twist, but it changes nothing,' Yukimura said pleasantly. For one moment, Tezuka was painfully aware of the similarities between the special agent and his own partner. Both could tell people the meanest insults with the nicest smiles... and neither held the proper protocols in high regards. 'What followed that night was an unhealthy new hobby you have developed: frequenting clubs in search of that man. In the meantime, you learned about his drug-dealing past and his oh-so crystal-clear present. Well, you of all people knew he was hardly crystal-clear: you weren't even fifteen yet when he slept with you. You used that knowledge as leverage to get what you wanted once you found him: connections. It took you a whole year to develop the perfect formula behind Shiraishi Kuranosuke's back, but once you did it, you used his connections to distribute the drug among youngsters.'

'I did nothing wrong,' Kirihara insisted. 'I'm super bad at chemistry, how would I make a drug? Please, I'm innocent. Somebody's setting me up or something. I'm innocent!'

'That is not true,' said Fuji. Tezuka looked at him, surprised. 'You are quite knowledgeable in chemistry. I have to admit, it wasn't easy to connect the facts... Honestly, it couldn't have been done if not for Inui. He came across a few interesting files and brought them directly to me, risking a long-term friendship with this action. Do you know a man named Yanagi Renji, Kirihara-kun?'

'...You know I do,' Kirihara muttered. 'He's a friend of Seiichi's. He taught me when I needed help with school work.'

'He taught you well beyond the school level of chemistry, since you were so enthusiastic and learned so easily. But he never told me that, because you forced him to keep it silent by blackmailing him,' Yukimura said. 'I don't know whether he slept with you because he initiated it, or you seduced him. When you decided he had nothing to teach you anymore, you stole his research and used my ID and password to erase it from PSIA's databases. It was perfect: my level of access cannot be overridden. Nobody would question me. Yanagi suspected you when everything disappeared, but he was not willing to come forth with no evidence – especially since you could easily make it seem like he was trying to discredit you, who had proof of his wrongdoings.'

'Seiichi, please. This don't add up, it just... I'm your stupid little brother, right? Not some criminal mastermind!' Kirihara pleaded. Tezuka couldn't help but feel sorry for him.

'I found the files on a pendrive in your room. I had Niou here break the passwords and encryptions. Here. Do you recognize this pendrive?' Yukimura held out a silver USB stick.

'No. Dunno. I had six pendrives, I might have one like this. Is that a crime?'

'Yanagi confirmed that it contains his research data. Many things were changed, however; while Yanagi had been merely trying to inquire about the hallucinogenic effects of Atropa belladonna toxin, this here contains specific research on maximizing the effects and reducing the lethality of said toxin. The research varies in levels of complexity, from the utmost basics dated earliest, ending with what is basically the complete formula for the nightshade.'

Kirihara shrugged. He was staring at Tezuka, still. The officer didn't understand.

'Now, normally even this finding in your room wouldn't make me go this far. You know how I know it's you, though?' Yukimura asked, smiling kindly. It was scary that he was able to smile like that in such a situation. Tezuka supposed that the man would probably smile the same smile at his own brother's execution if he ever witnessed it.

'Enlighten me. I wanna know where you get your brilliant ideas,' Kirihara said, sounding tired and resigned.

'It's because I've had you tailed for months. Since the day Shiraishi Kuranosuke told me you were having mood swings again. He didn't know what this means, but I do. You've stopped taking your meds, Akaya, haven't you?' Yukimura asked. For some reason, he also sounded tired. 'I have seen your underground laboratory. I have it under constant surveillance. I have seen you at it, Akaya, and you cannot deny it. When have you stopped taking your meds?'

And suddenly, Kirihara started laughing. The sound was so different from what Tezuka could expect from the kid, it startled him. He looked at the boy, who was no longer a scared child; he was laughing a strange, high-pitched laughter, hysterical, scary, scared.

'I never took 'em!' He all but screamed, still laughing, but it didn't sound amused, it sounded terrified and pitiful. Then, the laughter suddenly stopped and Kirihara looked straight at Yukimura with wide, reddening eyes. 'I never took 'em, I threw 'em away and I made myself throw up when you forced them down my throat, and I never took 'em! You wanted me to be your perfect little brother, but I'm not, I was never your perfect little brother, you know? I am so much better than that. But no matter what I'd do, you never accept me, I'm never enough. So I never took 'em.'

'Oh, that's sweet. My little crazy brother is so broken-hearted, he went even more crazy,' said Yukimura, faking a kind tone. The kindness didn't reach his eyes. It never did. 'You're in big trouble, Akaya. I will not let this matter go. However, I will try to plead for a less severe punishment if you help us out. You know who the Vampire Hunter is, don't you? Tell me.'

For a moment, the adoptive brothers stared at each other, one with a kind smile and the other with a half-sneer; then, Kirihara broke the silence.

'No,' he said as he looked past Yukimura at Tezuka. 'I'll tell you nothing. You're never gonna find him. You're never gonna catch him. I don't care what happens to me. I'm not helping you.'

He laughed, but Tezuka thought he seemed about to cry.

The interrogation didn't take much longer than that; Kirihara wouldn't say anything beyond some nonsense babbled under his breath and he didn't respond to threats nor pleas. When Yukimura told him he was officially under arrest, the kid just started laughing and wouldn't stop even when he was being dragged away in chains.

He never stopped staring at Tezuka.

'He was diagnosed with ADD and severe bipolar disorder when he was eleven,' Yukimura explained later, calm and composed as if nothing ever happened, as if his brother hadn't just lost it in front of him. 'He was supposed to be on stabilizing medicine, but I guess I didn't keep an eye on him as well as I thought. I never expected he'd turn out like this, though. That's too bad.'

After all of this, Tezuka wasn't really sure if he was up for doing any more work that day. How could everything go so wrong? A kid, barely eighteen, turned out to have been the creator of the nightshade. Who could have suspected something like this? Ah... Of course, Yukimura did. Tezuka wondered if that man had anything in his life that he cared about, seeing as he didn't seem to have any warm feelings for his younger brother.

Even though the special agent was efficient, Tezuka still didn't like him. For some reason, he couldn't stop sympathising with Kirihara. Something about the kid... about the way he shifted from one personality to another... It was just so sad. So pitiful.

'I bet you're hungry,' Fuji said suddenly, turning Tezuka's attention away from depressing thoughts. He sounded cheerful. He was also smiling. This bothered Tezuka more than it should. 'I know I'm starving. Want to go for some sushi?'

'I am not hungry,' Tezuka replied. He really wasn't; even though he hadn't eaten yet, he wasn't sure he could force anything down... or keep it in. Not when that hysterical laughter kept repeating itself over and over and over in his head. 'You go ahead. I will just go to the cafeteria later.'

He wanted to be alone. Just... alone, in his office, where he could think. There were too many things he needed time to understand, and Fuji in his cheerfulness wasn't helping.

'Okay then. Don't work yourself too hard now. We're finally having some progress, thanks to Yukimura, so you can relax a bit. You know smiling doesn't hurt, don't you?' Fuji joked as he headed for the door.

'I will smile. Once that psycho is caught, I will smile myself stupid.'

It was a lie, but Fuji didn't have to know that.

He went down to the cafeteria later and ordered coffee and a sandwich from a rather gloomy-looking Taki. Seeing the chef so down was unusual and very unexpected, so Tezuka found himself asking before he knew what he was doing:

'What is wrong?'

'Ah... Officer Tezuka...' Taki smiled. He always did smile at Tezuka, but this time, it was weak and entirely unconvincing. 'It's... It's just family troubles. It's nothing, really.'

'I can hear you out,' Tezuka offered softly. He supposed listening to somebody else's problems might take his mind off of unpleasant things it kept on repeating through and through. So he was willing to listen.

'No, I don't want to bother you... It's just a stupid fight, it's really nothing. I'm silly to get so upset over this...' Said Taki, serving him coffee. 'It's just that, I've been a little stressed out lately, I'm over-reacting and... It's really nothing.'

'I do not think it is nothing,' Tezuka replied seriously. 'If it makes you unhappy, it is most likely important. Maybe talking about it will help.'

Taki looked at him strangely, but smiled gently. 'Well, if you insist... It's about my brother. Ryou – you met him. We had a terrible fight over his... girlfriend, kind of. I just thought I'd warn him, you know? I heard some, ah, weird things about that girl, so I wanted Ryou to know... But he got terribly mad at me. Told me stuff. Said he didn't want to see me anymore. Now he won't even answer the phone,' the man sighed. 'Well, like I told you – it's nothing, really.'

'He will get over it,' said Tezuka, hoping he sounded reassuring. 'He just needs to understand that you told him that for his own good and not because you have some secret agenda to make him unhappy. It is going to be okay soon.'

'You think so?' Taki visibly brightened. 'I just hate it when he's angry.'

Tezuka just smiled softly at that. He took a bite of his sandwich in a considerably better mood. He didn't pick up his phone when it started vibrating, figuring that whoever it was that was calling could probably wait. Especially if it was Yukimura. Or Atobe.

He can wait forever, I'm never calling him back, Tezuka thought spitefully as he bit into the sandwich again. It was delicious.

'We found him,' said Yukimura at the emergency meeting sixteen hours later. He seemed exhausted and feverish; his eyes shone in the sickly pale face of a person who hadn't slept in days. But there was a dark kind of triumph in his expression as he announced the news, a dark kind of satisfaction that did little to reassure Tezuka of the man's sanity, especially since all that satisfaction seemed directed at him, as though Yukimura had searched out his face in the crowded room on purpose. 'Akaya finally broke. We have a name.'

The excited chattering was unnerving; Tezuka felt anticipation and dread build up in him at the same time, as if he equally wanted to know and didn't want to know. The moment of triumph was near, the moment of victory over the nightmare that haunted all of them for so long, but it wasn't his victory and he couldn't help the anxiety. One of them. It was one of them, of the people that stood around him, of the people that were supposed to serve the society, not disrupt its ways.

One of them was a monster in the guise of a man.

He felt Fuji grasp his arm. Looking at his partner, he saw the same excitement, the same bright eyes everybody seemed to show at Yukimura's announcement. That was when he knew he had lost. There was no coming back to the position he used to have around here. Yukimura had taken his victory. He would never be able to gain back the respect of his subordinates. He didn't suppose he even deserved it.

'I need to go,' he excused himself to Fuji and headed for the exit without waiting for a reply. Nobody stopped him. Nobody probably noticed him.

Atobe kept calling him. Tezuka hated him for it, hated himself for wanting to answer. In the end, he never picked up the phone as he continued packing up his things to a cardboard box. It was almost funny how little there was to pack. A photo of his family, a few newspapers that he would throw out later, a spare tie that he'd left there some time or another, a coffee mug he had received as a police Christmas gift just like the others, a ball pen. Nothing personal. Nothing of real import. He had spent the last few years in that office room, but there was not a single thing in there he would miss. All his belongings could be packed in a single, small box.

Some people could be described with details just by looking at their workplace. Looking at his own desk, the one he'd spent years at, Tezuka could only wonder: who am I? What can be said about me?...

It is time to start from scratch, he thought.

To be honest, it had always been a matter of time before he would have to give it all up. The unit, his position... It had been an illusion all this time, it had never been him who made it possible. It was Atobe. Everything in his life so far was thanks to Atobe. Now, he had a chance to finally change it. To break out and finally live by himself.

Whether or not it will make sense, does it matter?... He thought as he folded up his resignation letter. He didn't suppose anyone would oppose his decision. It was logical – he had been in charge of the Vampire Hunter case, but he had failed to solve it. As simple as that. There were no more second chances for him. He'd used them all up a long time ago.

His phone rang again and it was, surprisingly, not Atobe. Or maybe it was, but he had never seen the number on the display before. He eventually picked it up, just to stop it from vibrating, which was slowly getting on his nerves.

'You finally picked up,' said Oshitari Yuushi on the other side of the line. 'I've been trying to get a hold of you forever, but you wouldn't answer.'

'Were you calling from Atobe's phone?' Tezuka asked rhetorically. He had half a mind to hang up.

'I need to meet you, Officer-san. It's important, it's about the Vampire Hunter,' said Oshitari. Tezuka could hear the noises of a train in the background. He wondered briefly where the hitman was. Definitely not as far away as Atobe wanted him to be.

'You are too late. Yukimura is probably arresting him as we speak,' he replied, shrugging and realizing Oshitari couldn't see him. 'And I am no longer an officer. I quit.'

'Yukimura's got the wrong guy. He probably knows that. Hell, he's probably framing some poor bastard,' Oshitari snorted with contempt. 'Listen, if you don't come, I'll just off that guy. Atobe's going to have my head for this, but I don't care anymore. If I can't have you deliver justice for Kenya's death, I'll be content with revenge.'

'No, wait, I never said I will not come,' Tezuka assured hurriedly. 'Just... tell me where and I will be there.'

'The Yamagan Foundry Complex,' Oshitari suggested. 'It's deserted, nobody comes there and we'll be able to talk safely with no interruptions. Also, I know the layout of the warehouses there. You know where they used to store the waste products? The smallest warehouse?'

'Yeah,' Tezuka admitted. 'Right by the eastern gate.'

'Meet me in there in an hour. Can you make it?' Oshitari asked. He seemed rushed.

'I think so,' said Tezuka, looking at the clock on the wall. It was nearly two in the morning, which meant he hadn't slept in over forty eight hours. But this was much too important. 'I'll be there,' he promised and hanged up. He grabbed his car keys and left the office, leaving the box of his belongings right next to the resignation letter.

Running down the stairs, he felt an unusual kind of anxiety. As if something was about to go terribly wrong. He ignored the feeling.

The Yamagan Foundry Complex looked ominous in the darkness of the pre-dawn sky. In the chill of the night, Tezuka found himself trembling, but he honestly couldn't tell whether it was from the cold or from something else. He regarded the steel gate of the eastern entrance to the old compound, mentally berating himself for having come to the middle of nowhere, for a meeting with a yakuza hitman, without back-up.

But this was his last chance. If Oshitari was telling the truth, the real Vampire Hunter was about to get away again and somebody else was going to be set up for his crimes. Tezuka was not going to let that happen. He was going to learn the murderer's identity, and he was going to catch him. Even if he had to risk his life. His life was nothing, compared to all the lives he could save.

He entered the compound, wincing at the horrible wailing sound the gate gave when it was pushed open. If this was some kind of trap,

Why would it be?

whoever awaited him was already aware of his presence. Tezuka closed his eyes and mentally counted to ten before heading towards the smallest building to the left of the gate, using a flash-light. He noticed the door to the storehouse weren't completely closed, which was suspicious: he thought all buildings around here should be locked up. As he cast the light of his torch to the ground beneath the door, he saw a broken padlock and a long piece of chain there. He sighed. He didn't like this; however, he supposed it made sense that Oshitari had to break in. It was perfectly logical; who knew where the keys to these buildings were held at the moment. Tezuka had no idea who even owned the compound nowadays, if it even had an actual owner.

He was trespassing on someone's property. He could get arrested.

He chuckled at the thought, but he still felt nervous. He entered the building either way and was mildly surprised to see the inside cast in a dim light. He could hear the buzzing of a generator somewhere in the back. He pocketed the flash-light and looked around for Oshitari.

Instead, he found Atobe standing there, his back turned to him.

'You're here,' the yakuza said very softly. He was perfectly audible in the empty room, though. 'I'm sorry for this deception. You wouldn't have come to meet me.'

'… I am leaving,' Tezuka replied sternly. He heard movement behind him and turned swiftly enough to see Oshitari and Fuji there, blocking the exit. Both held guns. Their expressions were unreadable. Tezuka was at a loss. 'What is this supposed to mean?' He asked, brows furrowing in confusion.

'You will hear me out,' Atobe stated. Tezuka looked back at him and was startled when his eyes met the man's piercing gaze this time. It was hypnotising, drawing him in like he was just helpless prey to a dominant predator. It scared him as much as it made him feel safe. This was something he knew so well. This was something that wouldn't hurt him. 'You need to hear me out, Tezuka. This is more important than anything.'

'I have no choice, do I?' Tezuka asked, shrugging. 'Say what you want to say and get on with it.'

'Have patience,' Atobe pleaded, closing his eyes. 'This will take some time. I'll make it as quick as possible, though. Tezuka, what do you remember of the night your Grandfather died?'

'Eh? What does that have to do with anything?' The officer asked. This was a waste of time.

'Just answer the question, please. I promise it's important.'

'I...' Tezuka hesitated. What did he remember? 'There was... this guy, right? From some gang. I do not know. I think I was not at home, was I? Were you not with me? Were we not... doing something together?' It was frustrating how fogged the memories were. When he tried to concentrate on them, the only thing that came to mind was a memory of being in Atobe's embrace, so warm and secure.

'I had you believe that. It's what I hoped you would remember,' said the yakuza, nodding his head. 'Yes, there was a guy. His name's Akutsu Jin, I have no idea where he is now. I had him take the blame for murdering your family. But he was not the one who did it, Tezuka. That night, the Vampire Hunter murdered for the first time.'

'What?' Tezuka asked incredulously, eyes widening as he stared at Atobe, frozen on the spot, disbelief clearly painted on his face. 'But... but that was years ago... The Vampire Hunter's only been around for a few months...'

'Your family died at the Vampire Hunter's hands, Tezuka. I know. I saw it with my own eyes,' Atobe said, his voice trembling for a moment before he visibly forced himself to calm down. 'I did everything in my power to prevent you from learning the truth back then. I hid it from you. I succeeded in erasing it from your memories, somehow. But I remembered. And when, years later, I learned of the Vampire Hunter's first murder... I instantly knew. It was the same person. I just needed confirmation, because even though I knew, I refused to believe it. I had people put around that person. People I trusted not to hide even the harshest truth from me. In the end, even with all the evidence I had handed to me... I still decided to protect that person,' the yakuza shook his head, smiling bitterly. 'When that Momoshiro kid died, I was almost close to changing my mind. He was the first victim that I really knew by name. Nice kid. Had this friendship-rivalry with a police guy, Kaidoh. I didn't think his death would affect me much, but it did. But I just... I couldn't do anything. I had to protect that person.'

'Why?' Tezuka asked, frustrated. 'Why is that guy so important to you?' He wasn't jealous. He was... sad, more than anything. Scared, maybe. And confused. What was the point of this story?...

'I am heading there,' said Atobe. 'You know, I would have continued with this charade. Forever if I needed to. But then, Oshitari Kenya died. This was getting too out of hand. I felt pressured now, to do something. I hesitated and unintentionally, I let you find out about my involvement. That was when I realized this has gotten too far. I let it go on for far too long. I asked Yukimura for help and he provided. He... owed me a favour or two. That kid, Akaya... His confession was the final proof, and I couldn't deny it anymore. I realized I needed to end this. I had to arrange a meeting with the man known as the Vampire Hunter... and here you are.'

Silence. Then,

'Atobe, what... are you saying?' Tezuka asked, voice barely above a whisper.

'It's you. It has been you from the start. From the day when you found out your Grandfather, your hero, had been working for the yakuza and so you killed him along with the rest of your family who just happened to be there, it has always been you. I saw you do it, I saw you covered in their blood. Yes, I sent a fairly innocent guy to jail for that. Yes, I pretended you never did it. But it was you all the same. And then, years later, you were the one who murdered the kids. You went after whoever was connected to the yakuza, in hopes of finally getting to the bigger fish, and the kids had the misfortune of working in the wrong places or associating with the wrong were using the nightshade, and I don't want to know how you even got your hands on that, to daze them, then, as they were barely able to breathe and had trouble telling their nightmares apart from the reality, you murdered them,' Atobe said, as if he was stating facts. Much like Yukimura had done with Kirihara the day before at the interrogation. But there was so much emotion in his voice. Regret. Pain. 'Kunimitsu... I couldn't tell you this before. I had to protect you,' the yakuza muttered, taking a step towards him. 'I still have to.'

Tezuka shook his head violently and did the only thing he could think of doing at the moment: he ran.

'No, don't shoot!' He heard Atobe calling behind him even as he pushed Fuji away from the door and stumbled out into the darkness.

He didn't know how long he was running or how many times he fell into the dirt, just to pick himself up and run blindly ahead again. It was increasingly hard to breathe, as if his lungs were being set ablaze with every step forward, but Tezuka kept running, kept lying to himself that this was some kind of a horrible nightmare, because they were after him

and he did it.

No, he did not, they were crazy, Atobe was crazy, blaming him as if he was guilty, but he was obviously not a murderer, he was not a psycho-

Oh, you are, Officer Tezuka. You are me. I am you. We are one, and we did it. We killed them all.

The voice in his head stopped him dead in his tracks, scared him senseless, because it was his voice, but it was not. More than a thought. It was not a mere thought, it was sentient, it was individual, it was separate from him as much as it was a part of him and he wanted to scream to drown it out, to drown out the sound of his heartbeat, and he wanted it out!

I did not do it, I did not do it, I did not...

You did. We did. All of them, you killed them all, the kids, the little subordinate, the doctor from Osaka, your Grandfather, your lovely mum and dad. You did it. Remember? The yakuza is a vampire, it sucks all the blood out of this country. Vampires need to be killed... but don't worry. If they were innocents, they will be purified through death. Or not. Does it really mattter? You did it anyway.

He could hear Atobe's voice, calling him in the distance well beyond the thick fog of his mind. There were others, too, but Atobe was the only one that mattered now, no, not now - ever. He was calling and Tezuka couldn't answer, couldn't, because he did it, they did it and Atobe hated him and I am the monster he had been protecting behind my back and I should have known...

That moment was when suddenly everything made sense. Never before had the world been this clear to Tezuka, so beautifully uncomplicated. The events fell into place in chronological order as he tried to recall them in his mind and he knew, now, that the mystery was finally solved. The murderer has finally been caught. Everything was explained now. All the nights when he woke up in his bed, not fully aware of how he'd found himself there when the last thing he remembered doing was working on files in the office. All the missing clothes. The money he didn't remember spending. Kaidoh's hatred. Kirihara Akaya's expectant gaze.

Two people inside. Inside of him. In some way, he had always known.

Even as he found himself surrounded by men he knew capable of shooting him without as much as a second thought – Oshitari, Sanada (he still looked the same, stern and big and trustworthy), Yukimura and even Fuji – he still had it in him to smile weakly. Because at that perfect moment of clarity, as Atobe Keigo stood before him in the darkness, he knew what to do.

He pulled out his gun and raised it to aim directly at Atobe's head. The yakuza did nothing and his eyes were still the same as always, piercing and loving and intense, and so, so guilty. Nobody moved, undoubtedly following Atobe's earlier order, and it was funny and sad at the same time. The yakuza must have known – thought – Tezuka wouldn't harm him.

I will kill you, Tezuka thought. And, I will free you.

The hand holding the gun rose even higher until the cold barrel touched Tezuka's temple. A shiver went down his spine, a shiver of anticipation and fear and triumph. He saw the realization dawn on the yakuza's face, he saw it turning into panic, but it was already too late.

Goodbye, he thought, looking Atobe straight in the eyes. And, I love you.

He pulled the trigger.

In the end, the blame fell on somebody else. Yukimura arranged that himself. He was a master at fabricating things – IDs, references and evidence, and it was too easy to frame somebody once he put his mind to it.

The news spread out like wildfire. Footage of Taki Haginosuke's spectacular arrest was featured on every channel, during the same informational block that showed the funeral of Tezuka Kunimitsu, now known as a national hero who single-handedly solved the hardest murder case in the history of Japan, but fell victim to the Vampire Hunter's evil scheme. Atobe's involvement was completely omitted from any reports. It was the biggest lie Yukimura had ever sold to the public; but in the end, who could reveal the truth? That Taki guy was labelled the most terrifying criminal of the decade. Kirihara Akaya was currently undergoing compulsory therapy and wasn't likely to tell any truth from delusions for a long time. Atobe left Oshitari in charge of the Corporation and left to Europe, possibly forever.

As far as the PSIA was concerned, this was all a version of the truth. So long as the public believed it, Yukimura called it a success.

Which it wasn't.

Fuji Shuusuke sighed as lifted the box of his belongings he gathered from the office he used to share with Tezuka. He looked around one last time and headed for the door. As far as he knew, he was the last person leaving. Tomorrow, the whole building would have a new owner.

'It was fun, working with you. I hope we meet again,' he said softly to the empty space and shook his head. He turned off the light and left, closing the door behind him.

He hated to keep Yukimura waiting. His boss was many things, but patient was not one of them.

A/N: It's finally finished! This story took a good five months of writing, plus about two years of planning. Yes, that long. Even though it's barely 30k+ words (making it the longest fic I've ever written), the planning of events made the whole writing process so incredibly drawn out (that, and the fact that I'm a working adult... can't write all the time).

The story actually started out as something for a different fandom, but then I encountered Prince of Tennis in my life and, instead of abandoning the work in progress, I adapted it into this world. Picking characters to fit them into each role, twisting them slightly so that everything would eventually make sense, it was a challenge, but I had lots of fun.

I started out with a clear idea of the ending. It's not something I came up with along the way. From the beginning, it was going to end like this. That's what I'm the most proud about - I didn't stray from my initial concept, and it came out just like I hoped.

Big thanks go to Anowi, who supported me throughout the writing of this piece and suffered patiently through my being annoying. Also, execute-the-dream from tumblr - for proof-reading and helpful suggestions, thank you!

Please note, the story of the Vampire Hunter is far from over, even though it may seem so. A sequel is already in the works; many things not covered within this instalment will be explained - or further complicated - in the sequel. The whole story, I believe, will be told as a trilogy of sorts, although additional side-stories might pop up here and there to add depth to side characters (as these are aplenty even here).

If you read the story and enjoyed it, please be kind enough to devote a little more of your time to it and leave a comment. It will keep me motivated.

Thank you for reading!