Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Katekyo Hitman Reborn or K-Project.


General Warnings: Alternate Universe, Dimension Travel, Violence, Language


Author's Notes: Tsuna would have just turned twenty-four in October (chapter 2), a year younger than Izumo (who's twenty-five, twenty-six come April) but a year older than Mikoto (who's twenty-three, twenty-four come August).

Some people have theories on what has happened to Tsuna and how he got to where he is, etc, but I won't say anything here. I've had a few people who are heading in the right direction but I won't confirm anything right now.

Not much Mikoto in this chapter but I'll bring him in gradually as the fic moves along.

Saruhiko will eventually make an appearance; not quite sure when that'll be yet.

(Note: Brunet for male, brunette for female.)


Chapter 3


~November, 1st Day~

"Half-half – that's fair."

"Three-quarters – it's not up for debate."

"But-"

"Are you going to argue about this every single time? Tatara was right; we should've just locked you in your room."

"What am I – a kid?"

"That would be an insult to kids. Anna's better-behaved than you are."

"Anna-chan's better-behaved than everyone."

"True enough. Alright, Tatara's better-behaved. What does that say about you?"

"Hmm, that I should sneak out in the dead of night the next time I want to do my shopping?"

Seri paused in the next aisle. She knew Izumo's voice when she heard it but the other didn't sound like any of the HOMRA members. Turning a corner, she paused when she caught sight of the blond standing beside a shorter brunet with a shopping cart between them. The albino girl – and Seri still couldn't understand how HOMRA could be so irresponsible as to allow a child into their volatile midst, but it wasn't her place to say anything – was standing next to the cart, now staring directly at her.

Of course, Izumo had probably sensed her the moment she had stepped into view, even with his back turned, and indeed, the blond was already turning in her direction in the few seconds it took for her to match the brown-haired man to the civilian who had been caught in the fight between HOMRA and the yakuza.

"Seri-chan," Izumo greeted, glancing at her from behind his signature sunglasses, and Seri nodded back cordially, more than resigned with the familiar address. The other man, Sawada, wheeled around, eyes widening in surprise. She thought there might've been something off about the reaction but couldn't quite say what.

"Sawada-san, you've met Awashima Seri," Izumo introduced as Seri approached. "She's Scepter 4's Vice-Captain."

"It's nice to meet you, Awashima-san," Sawada held out a hand, smiling warmly at her. "Again, I mean."

Seri found herself smiling back. Sawada seemed more open now that he wasn't in the middle of a crime scene and surrounded by bodies and police officers. "Nice to meet you too, Sawada-san."

"Doing your shopping then?" Izumo enquired, idly grabbing a box of cereal from the shelf beside them and passing it to Anna, who carefully placed it amongst the other items already piled inside.

"Yes," Seri nodded, briefly hefting the basket she was holding. "I do my shopping on Sundays."

"So do we," Izumo began pushing the cart again, lazily scanning the shelves as they strolled forward. "Or at least we do now. Tatara's usually the one who gets the groceries but Sawada-san insisted and I came as well to make sure we divide the cost."

The last bit was accompanied by a pointed look in Sawada's direction, who stubbornly scowled right back.

"I can pay for myself," The brunet huffed.

"If that's pride talking, I'm going to hit you," Izumo warned cheerfully, much to Seri's growing astonishment as she watched them banter.

Sawada rolled his eyes. "I've never been ruled by pride. Pride can't put food on the table. I just think it's only fair to-"

It was Anna who interjected next, not saying anything per usual but reaching up and swatting lightly at Sawada's arm instead. There was a brief, stunned silence as the little girl stared up at them with big amaranthine eyes.

And then Izumo snorted a laugh. "Hah, even Anna's gotten tired of your objections. Best just to drop it, Sawada-san. You're not winning this one. All arguments from this point on will be ignored."

Sawada shot both HOMRA members a rather exasperated look but his mouth twitched and he extended a hand to take Anna's into his own, dropping his complaints for the moment.

The girl didn't smile – Seri was certain that that was not normal either; she secretly thought Anna to be a bit strange – but her fingers tightened around Sawada's hand.

Now, as far as Seri knew, HOMRA hadn't gained any new members in the last month so Sawada couldn't possibly have joined up with the Red Clan, right? Unless, of course, it was very recent and Scepter 4 hadn't yet heard of it.

But from the reports her men had turned in as well as what she had seen at the bar a month ago, Sawada wasn't really HOMRA material. Was the brunet another Totsuka? She couldn't understand why the violence-prone Red King would allow this man entry. Totsuka, as she had heard from Izumo and had been mentioned in passing by Fushimi, was a long-time friend to HOMRA's King and Second, so that was somewhat understandable, but this one as well?

"Have you joined HOMRA too?" She interjected during a lull in the two men's conversation. She was off-duty but it wouldn't hurt to update Munakata about anything new in HOMRA's hierarchy.

Izumo shot her a swift, unreadable look but didn't react beyond watching her with uncharacteristically guarded eyes despite his continued relaxed bearing.

Sawada only blinked her, startled. "HOMRA? Nah, I haven't joined anything. Kusanagi-san, Anna-chan, Suoh-san, and Totsuka-san are just bunking at my place until theirs is fixed up. They should be able to move back by the end of the week actually."

It might've been a trick of the light but Seri thought that a discontented frown had passed over Izumo's face at Sawada's words, although the blond had turned away before she could be sure. Anna was as blank as ever. The girl would probably make a terrifying poker player if anyone ever thought to teach her.

But Sawada wasn't HOMRA, just someone who was temporarily putting up a few of the Clan's members. She knew, if not before then certainly now, that Izumo and Sawada were friends, and that they were all living in Sawada's apartment, but she hadn't thought that they were close enough to spend time with each other outside of that capacity. HOMRA was a tight-knit group. They had never willfully interacted with anyone outside of their Clan before, Izumo and Totsuka being the only exceptions, one because he ran a bar – and had somehow become a distant, mutually beneficial acquaintance to Seri – and the other because he was... well, Totsuka.

"I see," She said out loud, and then checked her watch. If she hurried, she could drop by her King's office and tell him of Sawada's odd friendship with HOMRA. It was worth keeping an eye on, after all. If Sawada wasn't HOMRA right now but the Red Clan still insisted on hanging around him, then perhaps it was only a matter of time, which meant that the brunet must have something of value to bring into HOMRA.

"Well, I'll leave you to it," Seri said briskly. "I'm just about done anyway."

"Ah," Izumo waved a distracted farewell. "Stop by my bar sometime once it's up and running again."

With a last nod, Seri ducked down the next aisle and headed for the checkout counter, slowing just enough to catch the beginnings of another exchange.

"You know she-"

"Yeah, I don't really mind."

"Scepter 4 can be tenacious."

"I'll manage. I've handled tenacious people before."

"Hmm. Just be careful. They don't run the country for nothing."

"Cautious of you. I thought she was a friend?"

"More an acquaintance, really. Besides, family first and all that."

"Oh, I'm family now, am I?"

"Well, we already live together..."

Their voices faded away and Seri picked up her pace again, the slightest twinge of guilt coiling in her stomach. So from the moment she had given in to the inclination of questioning Sawada, Izumo had already been on the lookout.

Still, she had a job to do, and it wasn't as if it would really hurt anyone. And she preferred Scepter 4 knowing what was going on so they wouldn't be caught off-guard at a later time, no matter how unlikely that was.

~November, 2nd Day~

As the latest report about the city's yakuza activity wound down to a close, Reisi nodded and dismissed the officer for the day. He waited until the door closed behind the man before returning to his paperwork.

He didn't bother picking up his pen as his thoughts strayed from the task at hand again.

Yesterday's impromptu meeting with his lieutenant had troubled him somewhat. He knew HOMRA, knew what a majority of them were like when it came to outsiders, yet he now had two accounts from two different people about the same Clan taking a liking to someone who fit that description to a T.

If it had just been Asanuma, Reisi would probably have brushed it off in the end. The new Scepter 4 officer was far too hotheaded and arrogant, and exaggerated his statements at times. Unreliable.

The Blue Clan was different from other Clans in this sense. Anyone could join the police-based organization of Shizume City, but Reisi handpicked his own elite, and only those he approved of received the Scepter 4 insignia and blue Aura from him. After all, it was never a good idea to give someone in power more power if they didn't have the self-control to use it responsibly.

As it was, Reisi required most members to go through training first – just like any other person who wished to apply for a job in law enforcement – before he'd so much as consider them. There were exceptions of course, like Fushimi, who was defiant and headache-inducing on a good day but did adequate work when push came to shove, not to mention that the teen already had a good grasp on the inner workings of Auras and Clans after leaving HOMRA.

But since the information came directly from his second-in-command this time, Reisi was hard-pressed to ignore it. Apparently, this man, Sawada Tsunayoshi, hometown in Amagi, graduating with enough language diplomas to put Reisi's entire Clan to shame, spent several years in Italy, ran into some money troubles, and now worked in both a bookstore and a diner here in Shizume – and wasn't it odd that he already had the name and what sparse information they had on the man memorized to the nth degree? – was confirmed as a non-HOMRA member, and had struck up quite the friendship with HOMRA's Second.

Reisi turned back to his desk and opened a drawer, pulling out the file that he had been looking over ever since Awashima had come in yesterday. Pulling out the copies of the diplomas, he scanned them carefully once more. It had occurred to him that they could be fakes, but if they were, they were certainly very good forgeries. He had even double-checked with the college Sawada had gone to and they had confirmed that the man had once been a student there. Hacking came to mind of course, but there was nothing to suggest that Sawada was proficient with computers.

Still, this wasn't the issue at the moment. It wasn't as if Sawada was even using those diplomas to his advantage. Working in a bookstore barely needed stellar Japanese, much less foreign languages, and all a chef needed was skills in cooking, something Sawada didn't have a degree for but was in fact good enough to keep his job.

No, the issue was that Asanuma had reported – ranted – about Kusanagi's absolute refusal to allow entry to Sawada's flat without an official warrant, something Reisi had refused Asanuma in the end. They had no cause to search Sawada's house – by all accounts, the man was just a good friend to Kusanagi and had offered a place for four of HOMRA's members to stay out of the goodness of his own heart.

Reisi didn't know Kusanagi Izumo as well as his lieutenant, and even Awashima didn't really know the blond either, but he had interacted enough with the bartender to acknowledge his professional efficiency and easy ability to take things in stride. If Asanuma had wanted to poke around in the interior of the bar, Kusanagi probably would've allowed a quick tour of the bottom level, if only to get rid of the Scepter 4 member faster.

So maybe it was because Asanuma had demanded to enter someone else's abode? But Asanuma had made it sound as if Kusanagi had insulted him and even threatened him, something Reisi couldn't actually see the easygoing bartender doing.

So either Asanuma had really put his foot in his mouth this time or there was something special about Sawada.

Or both.

Not to mention...

Reisi thought back to that day in the bar, when he had first pulled up outside the establishment. Suoh Mikoto had always made him want to strangle someone, preferably the Red King himself, and whenever they were within each other's vicinity, Reisi always made a point to keep an eye on Suoh at all times. In his opinion, HOMRA's King was a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off, and he wasn't going to let that happen by being careless.

But strangely enough, when he had first stepped through the broken front doors of the building, it hadn't been Suoh that his eyes had instinctively flitted to.

It had been the nondescript man sitting in the corner beside Kusanagi, by all means looking as if he was still half in shock and frightened out of his mind as he stared at the bodies around him.

But some subconscious part of Reisi had gone in there and instantly labelled the brunet as a person of interest.

He had dismissed it afterwards when, after a second and a third and even a fourth glance, the man had still retained his seemingly genuine shaken appearance, and the officer he had sent in to collect everyone's statements had come back commenting on Sawada's 'wrong place, wrong time' situation.

But now, he wasn't so sure. Thinking back, it definitely wasn't Sawada's appearance or countenance that had called out to Reisi. It had been something innate, much like how Suoh's Aura set off alarms in his head when they got within a mile of each other. Something in Sawada had brushed against Reisi's own Aura, but, perhaps the most bizarre thing of all, threat hadn't been the first thing that had come to Reisi's mind.

Dangerous was closer to the truth, and even that wasn't it, not really.

Suoh was both a threat and dangerous, mostly because Reisi could sense the Red King's Aura thrashing under the man's control, waiting greedily for the day that Suoh would no longer be able to hold it back, and every time Reisi saw the redhead again, he knew that that day was getting closer.

It was one of the main reasons that he had ordered his Clan to keep such a close eye on HOMRA, not just because of their rash actions and barely-there discipline but because Reisi knew that all it would take to push Suoh over the edge was one upsetting incident, and that would be it. The man's control would slip with no way to recover it, and it would be the Kagutsu Crater all over again. Another Red King's reign would come to an end, and the man would probably take Shizume City with him in the fallout.

Sawada on the other hand set off no such alarms in Reisi's head, too calm, too collected, with control far better than Suoh Mikoto's had ever been or could ever be. The man was no King, of this he was certain, but the brunet was... similar to a King.

At least he had been in that single moment that Reisi had taken notice of Sawada.

He sighed in a rare show of frustration, and then clapped the profile shut and put it away again before getting to his feet and grabbing his coat. The paperwork could wait – he needed to clear his head before he started thinking in circles.

~November, 6th Day~

"Again! Your movements are sloppy! I'm not teaching you the Drunken Fist here, Totsuka-san!"

Tatara cringed a little, and then yelped and ducked when a foot came flying in from his left, narrowly missing his head. Without thinking, he dropped to the ground, tipped all his weight onto his hands, and then lashed out with his own leg, sweeping it forward in an attempt to knock his teacher over.

Of course, the brunet had already sprang away, but Tatara had been expecting that (You know I'm stronger than you. Always assume I'm already several steps ahead. Do that with all unknown opponents. Overestimate them; make them underestimate you.) and he followed up with an upwards kick that only sliced through thin air as he flipped back onto his feet.

"Better," Sawada said from his right, and before Tatara could fully regain his balance, his teacher had him on the ground with his arms pinned behind his back before he could blink. "But you should never stop so close to an opponent. If you need a breather, make sure whoever you're facing isn't two seconds away from taking you down."

"What if they have a gun?" Tatara panted as Sawada released him and helped him back onto his feet.

"Find cover," Sawada said, and then amended, "Unless you're fast enough to dodge. You could block as well, with that Aura of yours, but it wastes energy, especially for you, so at the very least, you should put that off until you're on your Clansmen's levels. Taking away their gun is a good idea as well, but you're not that good yet."

Tatara nodded, shrugging his shoulders to alleviate the ache. His muscles still hadn't quite gotten used to working so much.

"You're coming along though," Sawada continued thoughtfully. "You're making faster progress than I thought you would."

Tatara beamed. It wasn't often that the brunet complimented him – usually, it was just instructions on what he should work on and how he should improve.

"Yata, watch the-"

They both looked up at the sound of splintering wood and cracking plaster, blinking after the now burnt doors swinging squeakily after a certain skateboarder.

"-door," Izumo finished with a sigh.

A frozen attendant was standing by the gym doorway, and the exasperated bartender quickly made his way over as he pulled out a wallet to pay for the damages.

Tatara sighed as well, running a hand through his hair.

"Yata-kun has been even more short-tempered lately," Sawada remarked casually from beside him.

Tatara smiled half-heartedly, feeling tired from more than just the training session. "Maa, it was like this last year too. Kusanagi-san had to go and bail Yata out from Scepter 4's holding cells after he left a trail of unconscious thugs all over the city. HOMRA used to have one more member than we do now but he left about a year and a half ago. He's in Scepter 4 now."

"Hmm," Sawada cocked his head, staring in the direction Yata had stormed off in. "And Yata-kun took it especially hard?"

Tatara shrugged helplessly. This had been one problem he had never really been able to assist Yata through. "The person who left was Yata's best friend. It's his birthday tomorrow."

Sawada's eyebrows rose but he didn't ask anymore. "Ah, I see," Was all he said, before ushering Tatara off in the direction of the change rooms.

Tatara paused briefly just before he ducked into the showers, glancing back over his shoulder. Sawada was still standing in the same spot, a contemplative look on his face.

~November, 7th Day~

"I'll take that," Yata said brusquely, whisking five of the cardboard boxes out of Bandou's arms and stalking away, pushing roughly past Anna who stumbled a few steps to the side, almost losing her balance as Yata disappeared through a doorway without a backwards glance.

Bandou took two steps forward to steady her, frowning after Yata but shrugging it off and shepherding a slightly tense-shouldered Anna back outside instead.

Izumo watched the exchange with a frown. If this continued, they might have to point Yata in the direction of some small-time gangsters soon. Yata in this foul a mood had never been something any of them wanted to deal with.

Absently smoking his third cigarette of the day, he turned back to the counter, carefully opening a crate of cocktail glasses and proceeding to put them back on the rack. The bar would be fit to open tomorrow since the entire Clan was pitching in to move everything back into their headquarters.

"These go here?" Sawada entered his peripheral vision, hoisting another crate onto the counter, this one filled with margarita glasses.

"Aa," Izumo nodded at the racks beside the ones he was filling. "Just start stacking them there."

Sawada nodded and began removing each glass methodically. They worked quietly for several minutes, the murmur of voices behind them rising and falling as the other HOMRA members came and went.

"Thanks for letting us stay at your place," Izumo was the first to break the silence. "I don't think we ever did thank you for that."

"As I recall," An ironic smile curled at Sawada's mouth. "You conned your way into my flat."

Izumo couldn't hide a small grin. "'Con' is such an extreme word. I'd prefer 'coming to an agreement'."

"Con," Sawada maintained with a roll of his eyes, but the smile remained. "It was no trouble. Kinda nice having people around again. I've almost forgotten what it was like."

Izumo could sense their conversation veering towards depressing territory and hastily steered it to something else that had been bothering him for a while now. A part of him was curious about Sawada's past but he respected the other man enough to know when to back off and not pry.

"So about you getting itchy feet, so to speak," Izumo glanced sidelong at the brunet. "You said you would leave in a few weeks, maybe a few months, and that was a month ago. Are you still...?"

"Well, I made an agreement with Totsuka-san," Sawada reminded. "So I won't leave until he can defend himself to a satisfactory degree, which, considering his progress, actually won't be more than a few months more. He's picking up my lessons quite fast."

Izumo was tempted to have a word with Tatara and tell him to slow down. Heck, the brunet would probably agree the moment he found out Sawada's future plans, but Izumo quashed the urge. If Sawada left, it might even be safer for him. As far as he knew, the black flames were only appearing in Shizume City and the yakuza wouldn't bother pursuing one guy across the country.

"Well then, in the meantime, you'll still come by for an evening drink, right?" Izumo reached out and tapped a bottle of Talisker already on the shelf. He didn't particularly like the way Sawada consumed alcohol like water on such a daily basis but he couldn't really talk what with his smoking habits.

Sawada chuckled, but a regretful expression surfaced. "Might try to... cut back a bit. Two or three glasses every single night isn't exactly healthy."

Izumo hummed in agreement. That was true enough. He had made a note of observing Sawada's drinking habits over the last month and had realized that, in the few times that the brunet brought something alcoholic back to the flat, Sawada never drank it inside, always sitting on the front stoop instead and never enough to even get tipsy. Granted, Sawada had once drunk five glasses of Talisker in his bar back in September and had still left looking perfectly steady, but Izumo had soon grasped the fact that the brunet never drank in front of Anna, not when the two were living in such close quarters.

"You don't drink around Anna," He pointed out now. "At least not back at your place. She's been at the bar a few times when you came by regularly back in September."

"I don't like drinking at home in front of children," Sawada explained, his tone deliberately light. "Bar's one thing, especially since this place is a lot bigger and Anna-chan's usually across the room and distracted by the others, but..."

The brunet shrugged, picking out another two glasses and placing them onto the rack with a soft clink. "My dad – he was... he worked overseas for most of my childhood while I lived with my mum in Japan, but when he did come back to visit, he always- he always lazed around in the living room in nothing but a pair of boxers with a crapload of beer cans around him while he watched TV or napped. My mum was the one who had to clean up after him, and it was..."

He trailed off again, and Izumo caught the briefest flash of bitter resentment on the man's face.

"I hated it," Sawada finished quietly, staring avidly at the margarita glass he was holding. "A bit stupid to hold onto something like that after all this time but I don't ever want to do anything remotely like him, especially around other children.

"Besides," Sawada added with a wan grin. "I don't even like beer."

Izumo stayed silent, digesting this new information. He barely knew anything about Sawada – it was nice to hear something about the brunet's life, if not what his father was like. Sawada's old man sounded like the sort that people should divorce at the first opportunity.

"When I was thirteen," Sawada continued, and Izumo tried not to look too interested at his good fortune of catching the brunet in a talking mood. Or maybe they were simply closer now and the shorter man felt he could confide. "A few kids came to live with me and mom. Two five-year-olds and one nine-year-old. My dad came back for business shortly after, and God, I wanted to hit him when he broke out the alcohol right there in front of the children, half-drunk off his ass and snoozing on the floor in his boxers."

Izumo mulled this over, and then assured softly, "Anna's got a good head on her shoulders. She understands more than your average kid, especially since a few of the others swear when they think I'm not looking and more than one of us smoke quite a bit."

Sawada grimaced. "All the same, now that Anna-chan hangs around me as well, I probably won't be able to sit by myself in the corner and drink."

"Probably not," Izumo agreed. He paused, and then revealed fairly, "I don't have any siblings myself. My parents are normal people – they both live in Kyoto though. I still keep in touch with them – visit them when I have time."

"Sounds nice," Sawada said, looking somewhat wistful as his gaze roamed around the room. "You've got a nice family."

Izumo almost asked where Sawada's family was now but he had already made that mistake once. He chanced a fleeting glance over at Mikoto who was halfway up the stairs with an armful of his belongings. "You... You're not looking to join HOMRA, are you?"

Sawada smiled enigmatically at him. "I'm afraid Suoh-san knows what he's talking about."

Perceptive, Izumo thought rather gloomily as he closed up the emptied crate. If even Sawada personally declined entering HOMRA, then there really was no chance.

"These go in the back, right?" Sawada asked as he placed the lid back onto his own crate. "I'll take them."

"Thanks," Izumo handed his over and watched the brunet walk away, only remembering that Yata was in the back as well when Sawada had turned a corner.

"Oh well," Izumo muttered. "What's the worst that could happen?"

He thought of Yata and his shorter-than-usual fuse and, just the other day, his explosive temper towards Rikio for 'breathing too loudly', and then heaved a sigh and headed after Sawada. The bar had just been fixed – he didn't want scorch marks on the wall anytime soon.

~N~

"Hello."

Misaki glanced up sharply at the greeting, the scowl on his face deepening when he caught sight of the brunet in the doorway, weighed down with a few crates. He grunted noncommittally and turned back to the boxes he was cataloguing.

Behind him, he could hear Sawada enter the room, footsteps shuffling somewhere to his right as the clunk of the crates against the ground echoed off the walls. The rustle of bubble wrap sounded next and Misaki clamped down on his rising ire.

Kusanagi preferred his boxes and crates wrapped up, Misaki reminded himself. It prevented spiders and dust from getting inside.

("Wrapping up empty boxes? That's just plain weird, Kusanagi-san.")

Misaki kicked at one of the containers in a sudden fit of irritation. Damn that monkey – bothering him even when he wasn't around.

("I joined Scepter 4.")

He kicked aggressively at the box again, and a wild burst of his Aura burnt a hole through the side. He released a string of curses. Kusanagi was going to kill him.

"What did the box do to you?" A mild voice enquired from behind him.

Misaki twisted around, a snarl already twisting his expression as he finally found an outlet for his resentment. "Shut the hell up! What the fuck are you still doing here anyway? You're not even HOMRA!"

His temper rose even further when Sawada only arched an eyebrow, as unperturbed as Mikoto and Kusanagi combined.

Misaki leapt to his feet, scattering containers and plastic sheets everywhere as his hands balled into fists. It didn't do his anger any favours when Sawada only half-turned in his direction, not even bothering to get to his feet.

Do something! Misaki raged silently. Do something so I can punch that condescending look off your face!

"Oi! I asked you a question!" Misaki barked, trying to antagonize the older man. He needed to hit something, preferably something that would hit back and he could get into a proper brawl with them.

Sawada tilted his head and raised the hand holding the bubble wrap. "Wrapping up the crates. Kusanagi-san is kind of weird about this sort of thing."

("That's just plain weird, Kusanagi-san.")

Misaki had surged forward and hauled the brunet up by the front of his shirt before his brain could catch up, and before common sense could kick in, he had slammed Sawada up against the shelves, the other items already stacked there thunking and rattling against each other.

"Are you mocking me, you bastard?!" He seethed, momentarily forgetting who he was even talking to.

Infuriatingly enough, Sawada only stared down at him with calm eyes, making no move to even struggle.

Fight back, damn you! Misaki urged angrily, giving the man a forceful shake.

"If it'll make you feel better, go ahead and hit me," Sawada said blandly. "Though I daresay it'll still be about as satisfying as kicking a box."

Misaki's eyes narrowed, his other hand all but shaking with a desire to just throw the first punch.

Sawada's gaze suddenly cooled into something more calculating. "Your friend must've meant a lot to you if you're still this worked up about it a year and a half later. Betrayal always hurts the most-"

Misaki watched with a clinical sort of fury and hollow satisfaction as Sawada crashed into the stool he had been sitting on and skidded across the floor in a limp heap. He shook out his hand. The bastard should be grateful he hadn't activated his Aura.

"Shut the fuck up!" Misaki spat out as the brunet pushed himself into a sitting position, a sizeable bruise already blossoming on one cheek. "What the hell would you know? You've managed to make Kusanagi-san and Mikoto-san pity you enough to let you hang around but you're just some outsider who can't mind his own damn business!"

"And you're a brat throwing a temper tantrum," Sawada shot back bluntly, one hand coming up to sweep a few wayward bangs out of his eyes. "Now I don't know how you were raised, but in my world, when people bump into someone, it's common courtesy to apologize, especially when they're children. If you won't talk through your issues with your family, then at the very least, keep them to yourself and don't take them out on your friends."

Misaki saw red. How dare this intruder tell him what to do? Anna knew he was sorry! He hadn't meant to bump into her earlier, and it hadn't even been that hard!

He lunged, and this time, the familiar surge of heat rushed through his veins and exploded from his body, lashing out in Sawada's direction with all the ferocity of a forest fire.

Sawada dodged (and later, much later, Misaki would be very grateful for that), rolling to the side and bouncing back onto his feet as he avoided the flames. Misaki whirled and released another burst of his Aura at the man's chest to knock him on his ass, but Sawada only evaded nimbly, dancing away on light feet.

Misaki snarled wordlessly, baring his teeth, but just as he tried to attack again, the brunet was suddenly there, right the fuck in front of Misaki, and before he could blink, the older man had kicked his legs out from under him, flipped him onto his front, yanked one of his arms behind him, and pinned the other under one knee, all in the span of a heartbeat.

"Hey," Sawada began, but Misaki was struggling too agitatedly to take notice. A glancing blow to the back of his head, more shocking than painful, made him jerk to a temporary halt.

"Hey!" Sawada said again, sharper this time. "Put away the flames, or Aura, or whatever you call it. Kusanagi-san won't be pleased if you burn his storage room to the ground. And calm the fuck down, kid."

"I ain't a kid!" He snapped, but while he still tried to free himself against the weight pinning him down, the whack to his head earlier had cleared some of the rage clouding his mind and he now made an effort to diffuse his Aura.

"You'll be a kid so long as you act like one," Sawada retorted shortly. "Calm down. Now."

Misaki growled and made one last valiant attempt at bucking the bastard off before falling limp. Damn it, how the hell was Sawada so strong? The man was just an ordinary civilian, albeit one who knew martial arts, but still.

"Thank you," Sawada said with the slightest trace of sarcasm, and released him.

Misaki wasted no time rolling away, rising to a crouch and flexing the arm that Sawada had restrained. His shoulder ached a little but nothing else seemed amiss. He stayed hunkered down, watching Sawada warily. The man had taken him down even when Misaki's Aura had been activated, so he wasn't going to chance anything now, not to mention that – now that Misaki was thinking clearly – Kusanagi just might get even more pissed about this than the burnt box.

Sawada made no move to attack, already on his feet with his frame relaxed and his hands in his pockets.

"Feel better?" The man enquired nonchalantly.

"You just decked me!" Misaki yelled. "What do you think?!"

"You hit me first," Sawada pointed out reasonably.

Misaki flushed red, pissed off and embarrassed. "You were askin' for it! Who the hell told you to stick your nose into my business?"

"You almost knocked Anna-chan over," Sawada said quietly, but there was a steely quality to his voice that made Misaki instinctively straighten up. "And Kusanagi-san, Totsuka-san, and even Kamamoto-kun have been following you around with a wallet for the past week."

Misaki reddened even further, bristling outwardly but feeling the first stirrings of guilt on the inside.

"...They haven't said anything," He finally muttered, scowling off to the side.

"So?" Sawada challenged indifferently. "Should they have to? You said yourself – you're not a kid, so stop acting like one. Leaving a trail of destruction behind you without even apologizing for the damage you've caused isn't exactly what you'd call the height of maturity, is it?"

Misaki glared hard at the brunet. "What's it to you anyway? Don't tell me what to do! You're not HOMRA-"

"No, I'm not," Sawada interrupted. "But I do consider Kusanagi-san a friend, and if he won't say anything, then I will. HOMRA's none of my business, true, but this doesn't have anything to do with HOMRA. This is just you being a brat."

Misaki's knuckles whitened but he managed to keep a lid on his temper this time. For now.

"What would you know?!" He burst out indignantly as he rose from his crouch, kicking the nearby fallen stool right-side-up again before dropping down to sit on it. "You don't even know what today is-"

"Your friend's birthday," Sawada cut in once more. "Totsuka-san mentioned it."

Misaki glowered darkly at the brunet. "He's not my friend."

Sawada had the gall to chuckle. "'Course he is. You wouldn't be anywhere near this hung up on it if he wasn't."

Misaki opened his mouth to throw back a scathing retort, only to close it again when the words didn't quite make it past his throat for some reason. Saru wasn't his friend anymore, damn it! Misaki had said as much when he had cut ties with the monkey that day.

For the next few seconds, he sat fuming in silence, only looking up when he heard Sawada move. The brunet only returned to his previous task though, snagging the other stool instead and starting on the bubble wrap again with his back facing Misaki.

"If you want to talk about it," Sawada suggested offhandedly after several minutes. "I'm as good as anyone to vent on."

Misaki scoffed, crossing his arms. "Why would I wanna talk to you about anything?"

"Because I'm an outsider," Sawada quipped without turning around. "I don't even know your friend's name, much less anything else. Impartiality usually makes the best listeners."

Fuck off! Misaki's mind yelled.

"Saru," His mouth said. "Fushimi Saruhiko. He's not my friend."

What the hell am I doing? Misaki asked himself dully even as the last of his anger faded and sullen exhaustion replaced it.

Sawada hummed in acknowledgement, still not turning around, but there was an air of I'm listening around him.

Strangely enough, it was easier like that, and Misaki found himself talking before he could stop himself.

"Bastard walked out on m- on us a year and a half ago," He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. "Didn't even say anything before he up and joined Scepter 4. This here-!"

Misaki yanked aside his collar and waited until Sawada had craned his head around before continuing, pointing at his HOMRA tattoo. "This is HOMRA's pride, and that damn monkey scratched his out!"

He dropped his hand and adjusted his shirt with a shrug of his shoulders, scuffing one foot against the floor in growing aggravation.

"He said he hates this Clan," Misaki finished bitterly. "Loathes it to its core. And that he went to Scepter 4 to be something more than the punks and gangsters that HOMRA's apparently made up of."

A long silence ensued and Misaki fought against the urge to fidget.

"Well?" He snapped when a minute ticked by without response. "Aren't you gonna say something?"

Sawada turned a thoughtful look on him, dropping his head into one hand as he rested an elbow against one of the crates he had wrapped up. Misaki braced himself for sympathetic platitudes at worst and a brush-off at best.

"I had a group of friends once," Sawada said, and Misaki blinked in confusion. "Much like yours. We became part of an organization, a bit like HOMRA. However, one of my friends despised the organization, mostly for what it stood for back then, not to mention he wanted to use it to further his own goals."

"And he betrayed you?" Misaki guessed, more mesmerized than he would admit. It wasn't every day that Kusanagi's friend-from-nowhere talked about himself.

Sawada adopted an odd smile. "Betrayed might be a bit too strong a word. He wasn't like Fushimi-kun in numerous ways, the first being the fact that he and I started out as enemies."

Misaki scowled at him. "Which is it then? Enemies or friends?"

Sawada's smile widened. "Enemies at first, and then friends later on. Of course, it wasn't as easy as that. He almost killed me and a few of my other friends the first time we met. To be honest, I was downright terrified of him back then."

Misaki stared incredulously at the older man. "He almost killed you and then you became friends? What the hell?"

Sawada snickered. "It was... complicated. After that first time, he helped us out of a sticky situation, partially for his own gain. He alternated a lot. Things came up, new people wanting to kill us came along, we got into more fights, and he became an enemy again."

Misaki sweatdropped. "Why didn't he just stick with one?"

Sawada shrugged. "I'd like to think I had something to do with it. The last time I really fought against him, he was more a... an opponent than an enemy. After that, I talked to him and convinced him to work with me, and he agreed. He's threatened me with death quite a few times ever since but I think he was just bored. I mean there's only so many times you can listen to death threats before you stop freaking out about it."

Misaki snorted. "You've got weird friends."

"Hmm," Sawada nodded, a fond expression surfacing on his face. "They're all absolutely insane."

"Better than Saru," Misaki grumbled. "Bastard became an enemy the moment he even thought about joining Scepter 4."

"Can't he be both an enemy and a friend?" Sawada asked idly.

"No he can't!" Misaki barked. "It's either one or the other. How do you know your so-called friend isn't gonna stab you in the back one day if he's already switched sides and threatened you so many times?"

Sawada quirked a tiny smile this time and merely said, "Because I trust him. Because he's shown to be a reliable friend, even if some of his actions did have ulterior motives. And because I simply don't want him to be my enemy."

"That's bullshit," Misaki declared. "Just because you don't want him to doesn't mean he isn't."

"One decides these things for themselves," Sawada said, not minding Misaki's judgment. "If you decide that Fushimi-kun is an enemy, then he could renounce Scepter 4 tomorrow and come back to HOMRA and still be an enemy. You'll never fully trust him again unless you choose to, no matter what he does."

Misaki's brow furrowed, trying to makes sense of what the older man was saying. He was beginning to realize that Sawada could be a cryptic bastard.

"...How would I know?" He tugged at his hat uncomfortably. "Even if I woke up one morning and decided to forgive that damn monkey, how would I know I could trust him again?"

Because just saying something didn't necessarily make it true. Misaki knew that firsthand, no matter how much he tried to deny it when it came to Saru.

Sawada jabbed a thumb against his own chest, right over his heart.

"Leap of faith," The brunet said, and Misaki caught a flash of flame in typically brown eyes. "Take a deep breath, count to three, and jump. Forget all the complicated things and just go for it."

Misaki twitched violently. "...That's not a reason; that's a cop-out! If you're trying to sound like some wise guru, you failed. Miserably. Besides, I can throw gurus farther than I trust them."

Sawada huffed a laugh. "You're no fun, Yata-kun."

Misaki almost facepalmed. Now the bastard reminded him of Totsuka.

"The only thing you need to decide," Sawada continued on a more somber note that made Misaki pay attention. "Is whether or not you value your friendship with Fushimi-kun more than his betrayal. If you can't let go of the bad blood between you, if you can't let go of the past, then yes, you will stay enemies for the rest of your lives."

Misaki flinched. Quiet and evenly delivered, the words still sent a chill down his spine. He and Saru had grown up together, had been friends long before they had even heard of HOMRA, which only made that damn monkey's betrayal hurt even more, ditching Misaki after all they'd been through.

"Did Fushimi-kun leave just because he wanted to be something more than what HOMRA could make him?" Sawada asked abruptly.

Misaki blinked. "Yeah. Crap of a reason."

Sawada only looked speculative. "Ne, Yata-kun, you admire Suoh-san a lot, right?"

Misaki drew himself up. "Of course! Mikoto-san is a great King! I'd follow him anywhere!"

Sawada nodded as if Misaki had confirmed something. "Ah, well, that might be the problem."

Misaki frowned. "What? I don't get it."

The older man didn't clarify, smiling at him again and pushing off the crate he was leaning against. "Figure it out yourself. In the end, you should know Fushimi-kun better than anyone."

Misaki scowled and pushed himself to his feet. "Tch. Fine, be that way."

He glanced at the remaining three boxes that had yet to be wrapped (truth be told, he had only been wasting time so he wouldn't have to go back out so soon). His mind involuntarily pulled up his recent encounter with Anna. Had he bumped into her very hard? God knew the girl was already kinda small for a nine-year-old, and everyone was at least several times her weight.

"I'll finish up here," Sawada offered, inclining his head at the door. "Anna-chan's been carrying things in and out all day. You could give her a hand."

Misaki nodded appreciatively but paused in the doorway and glanced back over his shoulder, awkwardly shifting in place.

"Uh..." He gestured at his own cheek and mumbled, "Sorry 'bout that."

Sawada looked surprised, but the expression rapidly faded into another smile. "It's alright. I've had worse than a mere punch."

Misaki nodded again and scooted out the door before he could get any more self-conscious.

His shoulders felt lighter though, and the simmering rage that he had been struggling with for days seemed to have at least diminished if not disappeared. He'd never admit it, even on pain of death, but Sawada was a good listener. The man's advice might – might – be worth considering as well.

He stopped again in the hallway five steps from the storage room, inhaling deeply before cringing.

Oh no – that was Kusanagi's brand of cigarette smoke, and he wasn't so out of it as to not realize that the second-in-command hadn't been anywhere near the storage room since September.

Biting his lip, he sidled into the front of the bar, gaze automatically finding Kusanagi, but the blond wasn't even looking in his direction, conversing with Totsuka instead. Maybe the bartender had just passed by earlier when Misaki had been outside?

He took the opportunity to slink out the front doors, almost crashing into Anna in the process. This time, he caught Anna's hunched shoulders and the annoyed tick of Bandou's eyebrows as his fellow Clansman stopped behind their youngest member, but before either of them could do or say anything, Misaki clapped his hands together and bowed.

"I'm sorry I bumped into you earlier, Anna-chan!" He blurted out hastily. "I'll be your pack mule for the rest of the day to make it up to you!"

A rather astounded absence of sound ensued, compelling Misaki to peek over at Anna.

"Wow, there's a first," Bandou muttered, and Misaki was instantly upright again, scowling moodily at him.

"What's that supposed to mean?" He growled, but it was half-hearted at best.

Before Bandou could retort though, a small hand had caught the hem of his shirt, and Misaki swiftly looked down again, smiling crookedly when Anna handed him one of the bags she was carrying. Without a word, he grabbed another two of the three out of the girl's other hand as well, hooking them easily over his shoulder before slinging a gentle arm over her shoulders and leading her inside once more.

"Ow!" He winced when he walked right into a finger that poked him hard in the forehead. "What- oh. Er... Kusanagi-san..."

The bartender wasn't quite glaring – Misaki was fairly certain Kusanagi had never glared a day in his life – but there was definitely something sharper behind the blond's purple shades that made Misaki shift guiltily. He hadn't meant to attack Sawada, but his temper had gotten the better of him and he was almost one-hundred percent sure that the brunet had been goading him into it anyway.

But all Misaki received was a whack to the head before Kusanagi motioned for him to continue on his way. Somewhat bewildered but not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, Misaki beat a hasty retreat, ushering Anna along with him.

Kusanagi could be scarier than Mikoto on a good day.

~N~

"You're an idiot," Izumo announced as he stepped inside the storage room and closed the door behind him, locking it for good measure.

"And you're an eavesdropper," Sawada retorted without missing a beat, not bothering to turn around as he continued to work.

Izumo rolled his eyes but didn't prolong the banter as he approached. "Show me."

"Hmm?" Sawada carried on working, back still turned. "Show you what?"

Izumo exhaled through his nose before pulling up a chair beside the brunet and knocking the first-aid kit he had brought against the man's shoulder. "Your hand – show me."

Sawada finally raised his head, and Izumo startled even himself when his jaw unconsciously tightened at the sight of the discoloured swelling on the shorter man's left cheek.

"Ah," Sawada looked sheepish. "You noticed."

Izumo didn't even bother replying to that, only taking off his sunglasses and tossing them onto a nearby crate before reaching out and snagging the brunet's right wrist. Sawada resisted for a brief second before relenting.

The palm of Sawada's hand was red and blistered, the skin stripped away after coming into contact with Yata's Aura.

"You're an idiot," Izumo repeated as he broke out the necessary medical supplies but ignored them for the time being and got to his feet instead. "Up. This used to be a bathroom so there's still an old sink at the back. Come on."

Sawada trotted after him, removing and pocketing the silver rings from his fingers and not even wincing when Izumo carefully stuck the injured appendage under the tap and cool water gushed out.

"Doesn't it hurt?" Izumo glanced sidelong at the brunet.

Sawada tilted his head, features mostly blank.

"...Yes," He said after a moment, and then tacked on, "Ow."

Izumo snorted. "Convincing. But seriously, it should hurt."

Sawada shrugged, stilling again when Izumo shot him a reproachful look. "I've had worse than a burn, Kusanagi-san, and this isn't even that bad a burn. You worry too much."

"Says the guy who ticked off one of the most impulsive people on the planet just so he'd stop taking out his frustrations on the rest of the Clan," Izumo pointed out dryly.

"You didn't say anything," Sawada said, and there was something resembling reprimand in his eyes.

Izumo sighed wearily, peering down at the injury before shutting off the water. "We usually just wait until this blows over. Last year was worse when Yata went on a rampage through the city. Scepter 4 only released him back to us without much of a fuss because their King's got a head on his shoulders and knows how to use it. Putting Yata in close quarters with Fushimi is just asking for something to happen – to this day, I still don't understand why some of them decided that arresting Yata and handing him off to Fushimi to put in a holding cell was a good idea. This year, we decided to keep him with us until the week is up."

"And talking never came up as an option?" Sawada enquired wryly as Izumo steered him back to the front of the room.

"Mikoto's strongpoint has never been talking," Izumo said matter-of-factly. "That's Tatara's job. And mine, to an extent, but when it comes to Fushimi, Yata's never listened."

Until you, Izumo added silently as he pulled out a roll of gauze bandage from the kit and began wrapping the wound.

"There," Izumoo tied a knot on the inside of the brunet's wrist. "Try not to use that hand for the next few weeks."

"Mm," Sawada carefully contracted his fingers before lowering his hand into his lap. "Thank you."

Izumo inclined his head in acknowledgement before sliding his sunglasses on again and packing away the medical supplies.

"You can get this done one-handed?" He asked, eyeing the last few containers critically. "I could finish up-"

"Nah, it's alright," Sawada waved at the door with his good hand. "I can handle it. You better head back out before someone breaks something."

Izumo grimaced because that was a very real possibility-turned-nightmare. "Yeah, okay. If you're not done in ten minutes max, I'm sending Tatara back here to give you a hand. Don't push it – burns can get nasty."

Sawada made a sound of acceptance at the back of his throat and Izumo headed for the door. Much like Yata had, he paused in the doorway and glanced back at the figure already getting back to work.

"Thanks for talking to him," He added quietly as Sawada turned to meet his gaze again. "Yata can get a bit wild, and sometimes, even we can't handle him. HOMRA's... well, Fushimi wasn't entirely wrong when he said that our Clan's made up of punks. With the exception of Tatara and Anna, fighting is what we do best. Taming our members is rather counterproductive."

"Don't tame them then," Sawada countered plainly, turning away again. "Let them run free, but teach them restraint. Teach them when to draw the line, and that going over that line is unacceptable."

Izumo shifted, body half-turning back. "Wouldn't that be taming them anyway?"

"No," Sawada straightened and his gaze cut across the room again, a glint of molten gold slipping into its depths. "Because it'll be their choice to hold back, their choice to show mercy. Maybe they won't want to, but they will, however reluctantly, because they believe it's the right thing to do.

"There's a fine line though," Sawada added almost as an afterthought. "Between being merciful and being soft. The latter shows weakness, the former shows strength. Weak or kind - if your Clansmen can tell the difference, there might be less situations involving violent behaviour."

Sawada wasn't just talking about cases like Yata's anymore, Izumo noted. The showdown back in September hadn't happened solely because the yakuza wanted Anna. The fight had screamed of revenge on the side, even if no one had actually said it. More than once, HOMRA had stormed a yakuza headquarters in what their Clan termed as 'Clan territory' and beaten most of the thugs up, sometimes even killing them. Granted, the gangsters were normally in the process of doing something illegal, but in the privacy of his own mind, usually ignored or rationalized away, Izumo had always questioned whether bulldozing down everyone in their way was the best idea.

He sighed heavily, leaning tiredly against the door for a moment. "'Is it better to be loved or feared', huh?"

"Now you're getting it," Sawada smiled, but the expression held no humour, and his eyes had saddened. "The second one's safer, and easier. But the problem with being feared is that the loyalty is shallow. It only lasts until someone stronger comes along."

And that's our whole problem, isn't it? Izumo thought ruefully. Some bastard's handing out a power that none of us can properly defend against, and suddenly the Clans are Enemy Number One.

"HOMRA's nice though," Sawada remarked with something close to admiration that sent a thrum of pride through Izumo. "You're family, not just a Clan."

"That's what we try to do," Izumo agreed. "Some of the others have less than satisfactory families or no families at all. HOMRA gives them a place to call home."

Sawada didn't say anything this time, only nodding before reaching for the bubble wrap again, and Izumo departed a few seconds later, mind still pondering the brunet's words.

He stopped near the stairwell, glancing to the side at the dark alcove under the staircase. "You realize that gets creepy sometimes, right?"

Mikoto slanted a fleeting look in his direction but only shrugged in response.

Izumo studied his best friend for a second, picking up what little nuances Mikoto's body language showed. "He'll be alright. Minor second-degree burn to the hand."

Mikoto grunted. "You didn't cut in."

"Neither did you," Izumo countered. "I wasn't the only one standing outside the door."

Mikoto shrugged, pushing off the wall and prowling forward with a tiger's lethal grace. "Sawada handled it."

"Exactly," Izumo nodded, though he had come very close to barging in when Yata had released his Aura. The rare spike of irritation that had welled up in his chest hadn't gone away until Yata had apologized to Anna and Izumo had gotten a good whack in afterwards.

He scrutinized Mikoto, recognizing the frown on the redhead's face as one he always took on when deep in thought, and lifted the first-aid kit to Mikoto's eye-level.

"I'm going to put this away," He said, and headed back to the front of the bar once Mikoto had nodded in acquiescence.

As he stored the kit away, Izumo wondered if Sawada had known that Mikoto had been listening as well, and the things he had said to Izumo had really been for HOMRA's King.

~November, 13th Day~

Reisi had no idea how he had ended up here of all places at eleven at night. It couldn't be curiosity because, while there was some of that in this situation, he had never been ruled by personal interest.

But the fact remained that his feet had somehow taken him here after a late night at work instead of back to his spacious apartment for a good night's sleep.

A gust of wind swirled past and Reisi burrowed deeper into his coat. The nights were getting colder by the day, and there were no Clansmen around to act invincible commander to.

"Good work today, Sawada!"

"He always does good work, idiot! It's a wonder we ever managed to stay afloat without him around. See ya tomorrow, Sawada-san!"

"Mm, have a good night, Tsumura-san, Okuma-san."

Reisi said nothing as he watched the door of the diner slide open and the man he had been trying to figure out for the past few weeks step out. He stayed motionless in the shadows cast by a nearby streetlamp, taking in the thin, shabby jacket that Sawada had thrown on to ward off the chill, as well as the hand currently swathed in distinct white bandages.

For a moment, Reisi considered staying silent and allowing the brunet to pass without disruption. He hadn't a clue what to say anyway – coming here wasn't something he had planned, which was highly out of character for him.

The option was taken out of his hand when Sawada took two steps to the left and then stopped, head turning and gaze slicing through the darkness to seek out Reisi with disconcerting ease.

"Hi there," Sawada took a step in his direction, expression tired but polite. "You're... Scepter 4's King, right? May I help you?"

Reisi frantically wracked his brain for something to say even as he stayed outwardly calm and moved forward.

"My apologies," Reisi started smoothly. "I was taking a late-night walk and happened on this diner. I just remembered you worked here when you came out."

He couldn't quite tell whether his half-lie had been believed but Sawada only nodded, absently pulling up the collar of his coat. It didn't look like it helped much.

In unspoken agreement, they fell into step with each other and headed down the street, neither wanting to stay still in the November weather.

"...Before things get awkward," Sawada spoke up first. Reisi glanced sideways in time to catch the embarrassed smile on the brunet's face. "I'm going to have to ask for your name. I don't remember it."

Reisi stared for a few seconds and then had to fight a rising huff of laughter. Well, this was new. Even some civilians knew the name of Shizume City's police force captain. One would think that hanging around HOMRA would ensure that knowledge, if only because certain members of that Clan might be partial to cursing him out.

"Munakata Reisi," He revealed, and then added for courtesy's sake, "And you are Sawada Tsunayoshi, yes?"

"Yeah, that's me," The shorter man nodded. They passed under another streetlight and the harsh fluorescent glow only served to highlight the bags under Sawada's eyes and the exhaustion creasing his brow. There also seemed to be a fading bruise marring the man's left cheek.

Reisi frowned surreptitiously. Wasn't HOMRA all about family despite their many shortcomings? He thought that Totsuka at least would be all over something like this.

He gave himself a mental shake. It was none of his business.

"You work pretty late," Sawada commented next. "Scepter 4's the police force around here, right? Don't you have people on night shift?"

Reisi inclined his head. "Yes, but unfortunately, the captain's paperwork never ends."

To his surprise, Sawada instantly looked sympathetic to his plight, thorough understanding thrown into sharp relief. "Ugh, paperwork – bane of all mankind."

Reisi couldn't quite suppress a smile this time. "Indeed. You've had experience with it?"

Sawada's grin held a measure of dread. "I used to have a desk job of sorts. No matter how much I finished, the paperwork just kept piling up and piling up until there were literally stacks of the stuff on my desk. Just looking at it made me want to jump off a bridge."

Reisi snorted rather inelegantly, resisting the automatic urge to check his surroundings to make sure none of his men were within hearing range.

"I know the feeling," He commiserated, thinking back to the piles of desk work that Awashima couldn't seem to stop bringing him every time he turned around.

They reached an intersection, and both of them stalled when they realized that the other was going the opposite way.

"Well, I guess I'll see you around," Sawada said, turning to the right with a wave. "It was nice meeting you, Munakata-san."

"Likewise," Reisi returned, and before he could stop himself, he tacked on, "Do be careful around HOMRA, Sawada-san, if not because of their volatile natures then because the yakuza will most certainly attack them again."

Sawada stared intently at him for a long second, and for once completely out of his depth, Reisi had no idea what the man was thinking. But the brunet only nodded his head and continued agreeably, "Aa, I'll be careful. Goodnight, Munakata-san."

"Goodnight," Reisi echoed, and while he turned away to the left, he also slowed his steps and peered back over his shoulder until Sawada disappeared into the night.

Overall, it had been a rather bizarre night. There had been absolutely no point in seeking out Sawada, and Reisi wasn't in the habit of acting without a point. Yet he had done so anyway, unintentionally, and they had somehow-

Bonded over mutual hatred for paperwork, Reisi thought with mildly perplexed amusement as he made his way home, air fogging with every breath.

He had gotten something out of it though. The spark of powerstrengthauthority that he had sensed that day in the bar had smouldered like a tightly reigned inferno beside him all throughout their short walk together.

(Not to mention Sawada's personality hadn't really fit the interrogator's account, but Reisi had already suspected that much. No one that shocked and terrified would willingly put up with the same people who had gotten him into a dangerous situation with the yakuza in the first place.)

If only Suoh had that control – it would be fewer headaches for everyone involved.

Still, was that why HOMRA had taken such an interest in such a seemingly ordinary man?

Briefly, Reisi considered putting a few tails on Sawada, but dismissed it again a heartbeat later. He could already picture the devastation that would follow when – not if – HOMRA found out.

With a sigh, he turned down his street and quickened his pace. He had another long day at work to look forward to tomorrow. He could think about this mystery at a later time.

~November, 25th Day~

"Kusanagi-san? Anna-chan?"

Izumo glanced up from his perch on a bike rack opposite the diner, Anna balanced beside him. "Hey."

Sawada blinked owlishly at them, frame momentarily outlined by the light behind him before he closed the door. The brunet only had time to sling his bag over one shoulder before Anna had hopped back onto flat ground and trotted forward to meet him.

"Anna wanted to see you," Izumo explained as he also pushed himself back onto his feet, a cigarette dangling between loose fingers as he rifled through his bag and drew out a scarf. "And for God's sakes, put this on. It's like you have a death wish or something."

Sawada looked somewhat bemused as he gave Anna a one-armed hug but obediently tucked the scarf around his neck and under the already zipped-up collar of his coat. "Is something wrong?"

Izumo arched an eyebrow, putting out his cigarette and tossing it into a nearby ashtray before stuffing his hands into his pockets as Anna tucked one of hers into Sawada's good hand. The burn was healing well but the injury was still tender.

"I told you," He reminded. "Anna wanted to see you."

Sawada glanced down curiously at the girl walking between them. "You saw me a few days ago, Anna-chan. Did something happen?"

Anna only shook her head minutely, tightening her grasp instead.

"She missed you," Izumo expanded. "We don't see you as often anymore."

Sawada shrugged, his free hand coming up to rub at his forehead as if trying to push away a headache. "I said I'd cut back on the drinks."

"You could still come around," Izumo half-admonished. "Even Yata's asked where you've been. In his own roundabout way. Only Tatara ever sees you for any length of time nowadays."

Sawada shot an apologetic look at him. "I've been busy. Took a few extra hours at the bookstore again."

Izumo said nothing for a moment, inhaling a lungful of smoke to occupy a few seconds. If he opened his mouth now, he might say something along the lines of offering the brunet money, and not everyone took that well. He had settled for shoving various pieces of clothing and necessities on Sawada instead as the weather steadily worsened over the past month. At this rate, they would probably get quite a bit of snow this year.

They walked in silence for the next several minutes, a rare moment of peace for Izumo who was surrounded by chaos most hours of the day.

His gaze drifted lazily to the side, scanning their surroundings out of habit, and then did a subtle double-take when his eyes caught a dark shadow against a pale patch of skin, revealed when the scarf shifted with Sawada's gait and the jacket collar fluttered open.

That wasn't just a bruise, fresh and ugly, splotched against the base of the brunet's neck. That was a goddamn handprint.

Izumo gave himself a mental slap and yanked his gaze forward again. Sawada had an almost sixth sense about people so much as glancing at him. Staring for too long would undoubtedly attract attention.

But that- Where had Sawada gotten that injury? Far too recent to be anything leftover from the man's encounter with Yata, and too brutal for anything Tatara could or ever would dish out to his mentor.

What did that leave? No scorned lovers, no estranged family, no vengeful friends, no particular enemies.

Wait. He wasn't quite sure about that last one.

Enemies. Did Sawada have enemies? He recalled what he had overheard from the confrontation between Sawada and Yata a few weeks back – Sawada had had enemies once. Whether he still did was another matter.

Or...

He chanced another glance at the injury but it was covered up again.

Or it could be more yakuza who had seen Sawada spending time with HOMRA and had tried to attack him. Izumo hadn't heard anything from Seri though, and Scepter 4 would be all over any unconscious thugs found in back alleys.

Anyone would have a hard time getting the jump on Sawada, but if someone came at the man with those black flames...

"I turn off here, Kusanagi-san," Sawada said, distracting Izumo from his thoughts.

"Ah," Izumo nodded, taking Anna's hand as the brunet passed the girl back to him. "'Night then. Come by the bar tomorrow."

Sawada hesitated but nodded in the end. "I'll come by at six. Oh, do you want this back no-"

"Keep it," Izumo interrupted as Sawada made to unravel the scarf. He paused, torn between wanting to call the brunet out on his injury and staying silent in case questions would only serve to make Sawada cover up any future wounds.

"We'll see you tomorrow," He said at last, choosing the latter. He needed to talk to Mikoto about this, weigh his options.

Sawada smiled and nodded, waving at Anna before hurrying away down the street.

"Flame," Anna suddenly spoke up.

Izumo glanced down at her. "What was that?"

Anna craned her head up to peer up at him with bright eyes. "He has a beautiful flame."

Izumo blinked, baffled, but Anna said no more and he didn't press her. Things Anna said usually made sense sooner or later.

"Let's go home," Izumo said instead, somehow feeling more drained than a full day working at his bar and keeping order amongst his Clansmen. "Mikoto will be waiting for us."

~November, 26th Day~

"Someone tried to choke him, Mikoto. I only caught a glimpse of his throat but I know what I saw."

Mikoto frowned heavily, staring up at the ceiling. "...He hasn't said anything about it?"

Izumo shook his head. "No. I'm beginning to realize that he's the type to take care of his own problems, or at least not ask for help until things become dire."

Mikoto mentally scoffed. Attempted murder wasn't dire?

Then again, he didn't think attempted murder was dire either, mostly because nobody had ever succeeded in getting close enough to him to do the deed before Mikoto had crushed them.

"Do you want me to drop a word to Seri-chan?" Izumo continued. "I could ask her more thoroughly if she has anymore leads on the yakuza."

Mikoto closed his eyes. Awashima had probably already told Izumo everything she could – anything she kept back would be confidential or simply unknown.

"No," He finally decided, but didn't clarify.

Izumo released a long-suffering sigh. "Alright, but Mikoto, I'm worried about this. Sawada-san lives alone and works late. Martial arts isn't going to do much against a face full of those black flames."

Mikoto nodded in acknowledgement, not opening his eyes until Izumo had moved away.

HOMRA owed Sawada Tsunayoshi. Mikoto owed Sawada Tsunayoshi, and he'd never been one to forget his debts.

He grimaced inwardly. He supposed it was time to bite down and pay Munakata a visit.


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