“So what’s the emergency?” Atsushi asked, getting into the back of the car with Issay.
“Someone’s close to death,” Imai replied, fastening his seatbelt on in the passenger seat.
“Judging from your reaction, it doesn’t seem like someone too important to us,” Atsushi observed, slouching in his seat as Issay came in from the other side.
“Maybe not to us, but possibly to him,” Imai said, gesturing to Issay.
Issay, closing the door, looked up at them, confused. “What?”
“Someone you know is dying,” Imai said flatly.
“Stop being so cryptic. Why won’t you just say who it is?” Atsushi asked, annoyed.
Imai shared a look with Issay, who stared for a moment then nodded. “I think I know who you’re talking about.”
This time, it was Atsushi who was confused. “How would you know what he’s talking about?”
Imai huffed. “Well, you’ve been ignoring-”
“I’m still bloody pissed at you for leaving him behind that day, don’t piss me off even more with all this vagueness,” Atsushi warned.
“I told you,” Imai sighed, “you wouldn’t have survived if I took him with us. Besides, he had backup coming after I left.”
“Wait, what are you talking about now?” Issay cut in, eyes darting between Atsushi and Imai.
Atsushi folded his arms and dropped against the backrest, refusing to answer as he sulked at Imai. Hearing the silence, Imai sighed. “I’m sure you remember the day of that raid?” he offered.
“He doesn’t believe that you weren’t fatally shot,” Imai said.
Issay turned to Atsushi. “Well I wasn’t,” he said softly. “Hisashi shot that… I can’t remember his name, but that guy before he could pull the trigger,” Issay recalled, putting a hand on Atsushi’s arm. “Right after that, Hisashi took you away with him just before my colleagues arrived. Like he said, there’s no way they could’ve missed hearing his gunshot.”
“And like I’ve been saying,” Imai started, “I couldn’t take Fujisaki with us because one, I can’t carry two grown men on my own, and two, we didn’t even have enough blood for you, Atsushi. If we had to treat him as well you’d probably be dead.”
“It really does feel like some kind of miracle that you survived,” Issay muttered, agreeing.
Atsushi stared at the floor, begrudgingly holding his silence.
“Though, we’ve been wondering, where have you been?” Imai asked, turning his attention to Issay. “I heard the force dismissed you but the details have always been rather murky.”
Issay laughed. “That’s all everyone’s been asking about.”
“So what was it?” Imai pressed.
Atsushi glanced up at Issay, curious as well.
Issay took a deep breath and sighed. Running a hand through his hair, he said, “It’s a long story but I effectively toured around the country. Call it a long vacation if you will.”
“Don’t call it a vacation,” Atsushi finally spoke. “That’s not what a vacation is like”
“You know what’s happening?” Imai asked, surprised.
“I’ve seen what happens,” Atsushi corrected.
Imai frowned, confused. “When?”
“The bar. Bathroom.”
“You fucked in the bathroom!?”
“No!” Atsushi kicked Imai’s chair, making him lurch forward. “What kind of a conclusion is that?! I wasn’t even sure if he really was in front of me!”
“What am I supposed to assume?” Imai defended. “It’s not like you haven’t gone around with other-”
“Shut it, Imai!” Atsushi kicked his chair again.
Issay turned to Atsushi. “What others?”
Imai thought for a moment. “There was that foreigner-”
Atsushi kicked a third time. “Shut up!”
“Oh?” Issay leaned forward, interest piqued.
“Well there were also a couple of other-!” Imai lurched forward again. “Hey!”
“If you two want to start a fight, then get out of my car,” the driver, Junya, suddenly spoke up. “I don’t care if you break Imai but don’t break my vehicle,” he added.
Imai glared at Junya, offended. “You faithless dog.”
“Hey! Don’t call me names now,” Junya shot back. “I’m not the one provoking him.”
“I don’t think we’ve met,” Issay said, peeking over Junya’s shoulder.
Keeping his eyes on the road, Junya raised a hand in greeting. “Well, I’m Junya, the resident driver,” he said, gesturing around. “You’re Fujisaki, aren’t you?”
Issay shrugged. “I suppose you’ve heard of me.”
“You’re a hot topic these days,” said Junya. “Well, even before actually, but more so these days.”
“Even you know what’s going on?” Atsushi asked, incredulous.
“Oh, you’ve missed a lot,” Junya said, nodding.
“That’s what you get for ignoring us,” Imai muttered.
Leaning back, Atsushi glowered. “And is no one going to tell me anything?” he muttered.
“Toll’s better suited for that,” Imai replied. “He’ll tell you once we get there. He’s the one who set everything up anyway.”
“You’re late,” Toll commented, staring as Imai walked into the meeting room.
“Don't blame me. They’re the ones who took their time, not me,” Imai retorted, gesturing to Atsushi who entered after him, followed shortly after by Issay.
As Atsushi and Imai settled into the chairs around the boardroom table, Issay closed the door behind him and looked around at the faces already in the room. Making eye contact with Toll, Issay cocked his head and pointed a finger at him. “We’ve met… right?”
A smirk appeared on Toll’s face. Standing up, he nodded and offered a hand to Issay. “Yes, but I guess I’ve never introduced myself properly. Just Toll will do.”
“Pleased to meet you, I guess,” Issay muttered, shaking his hand.
Toll smirked again. “Anyway, that’s Hide, and that’s Yuta,” he continued, gesturing to the two other men seated next to him.
“Wait, you’ve met?” Atsushi asked, pointing at Toll.
Toll put a hand on his hip. “I told you he lives in one of our buildings. I also said paid him a visit in the apartment,” he said. “Don’t tell me you forgot.”
Atsushi stared, confused, his jaw slack. “... When was this?”
“Uh…” Issay cast his eyes to the ceiling. “A couple of weeks ago, I think? I’m not too sure, I wasn’t very sober at the time.”
“I think Atsushi was too drunk to remember,” Toll muttered. “Hey, do you remember throwing those shochu bottles at me?” he asked Atsushi.
“I… only remember cleaning up broken bottles,” Atsushi replied, his expression growing vacant as he tried to recall. “I thought the cats knocked them over and they might get cut or something.”
Imai snorted. “The cats, of course.”
“He stopped drinking because of the cats too though, right?” Yuta said.
Issay snapped his eyes to him. “Your voice, I’ve heard your voice before,” he said.
“What?” Yuta uttered, wide-eyed with surprise.
“Have we met before?” Issay asked. “I swear, your voice is very familiar.”
“Nah, you must be mistaken,” Yuta said as he snuck a glance at Atsushi, who shook his head stiffly.
Unfortunately, Issay caught the glance and he turned to Atsushi, giving him a questioning look. Atsushi shrugged, trying to look as innocent as possible. Issay narrowed his eyes, shifting between Yuta and Atsushi with suspicion.
“Fine,” Issay said. “I’ll let this sit for now but you can bet that I’ll figure this out,” he cautioned, giving Atsushi a hard look as he sat down next to him.
Atsushi cleared his throat, looking away. “Anyway… Why are we here?” he asked, changing the subject.
“There’s a bit of explanation to go through before we get to that,” Hide said. “And for that, we need to wait for-” Hide’s phone rang and he paused to look at it. He huffed. “Well, speak of the devil, they’re here.”
“Who?” Issay asked.
“A couple of men from your household,” Toll replied casually.
Issay shot up, alarmed. “What?!” he exclaimed. “What have you done!” His eyes quickly scanned the room as his heart raced. The only way in or out of the room was that one door. He was cornered.
The door swung open. Atsushi immediately recognised the man who was knocked out by Issay weeks ago. He got up and stood in front of Issay. “Mizunaga, you’re not touching him this time.”
“Atsushi, sit down,” Issay hissed. “What did I say the last time?”
“Circumstances and motivations are a little different this time, Sakurai,” said Mizunaga, approaching the table. “You can relax. Issay, you too.”
Issay remained defensive, still tense and standing. “How’s the nose?” he asked.
Mizunaga tilted his head back, offering Issay different angles to look from. “Healed pretty well, don’t you think?” he said.
“Hey Issay,” another man piped up as he strode in. “Long time no see.”
“Otsuka?” Issay muttered, surprised. “What are you doing here? The old man never lets you stray far from- he’s not here is he?” Issay suddenly stepping further back.
“No, no, no. He’s out cold in a hospital bed. He can’t say anything if he can’t respond anyway,” the man, Otsuka said, shrugging as he pulled a chair out for himself.
“Oh…” Issay muttered, stepping forward again. “That’s… good, I guess,” he said, putting an arm around Atsushi and leaning on him.
“You seem… familiar with each other,” Atsushi said to Issay, barely turning around.
“Ah, well, we pretty much grew up together,” Issay explained. "We were friends for a long time."
“Until this asshole,” Mizunaga pointed at Issay, “ran off to the police academy.”
Issay grinned and laughed. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said.
“How and why do you know them?” Atsushi asked. “I don’t quite understand,” he muttered, looking at Issay.
“Long story short, Fujisaki is the sole heir to the operations in the Southern islands,” Toll said.
Atsushi turned around, staring at Issay. “Wait… what?”
Issay simply nodded, an apologetic smile on his face.
Atsushi shook him off. “ What?! ” He turned to Toll. “What?! And when did you find out about this!?”
“Only just, some weeks ago,” replied Toll. “We’ve been trying to tell you but you weren’t in the mood for it, apparently.”
Atsushi ran a hand through his hair and held it back. Looking at Issay, shaken, Atsushi muttered, his voice low, “And you never mentioned this. In all the years I’ve known you…”
“No one knows, not even the ex-colleagues,” Issay reasoned. “The only ones outside of the organisation who knew were the senior commissioners and superintendent general who approved my acceptance into the force.”
Atsushi stared at Issay, expression unreadable.
Sighing, Issay sat down in the chair again and faced Atsushi. He took Atsushi’s hands into his own, looked into his eyes, and said, “Look, I’ve never wanted anything to do with that life. I thought I was rid of this whole… inheritance thing when I joined the police.”
“It might’ve worked if you stayed there until retirement age,” Mizunaga said suddenly.
“That was the plan,” Issay stressed, still holding on to Atsushi’s hands.
“But you got dismissed,” Hide suddenly piped in from the other end of the table. The others turned to him, startled by his contribution that came out of nowhere. “What? I hear lots of things running the bar,” he said, indignant. “Anyway, I’ll let you talk about it yourself,” Hide said to Issay, waving a hand dismissively.
Issay cleared his throat. “Well…” he started. “So after that shootout, that raid thing? The crazy guy who tried to kill me was arrested, and he spilled that he was in cahoots with the new Commissioner who transferred in not too long ago at the time.”
“Ah, I see where this is going,” Atsushi muttered to himself.
Issay nodded. “Cleanup. They decided to do a cleanup in the force and remove all personnel with known connections to criminal organisations. I was the first to go. Despite deliberately blinding myself from these things, I was still the first to go. Thanks to my honesty about my family background,” he concluded bitterly.
“The moment that happened, the old man caught wind of it, and on that very night, he sent a few men to dear Issay’s place,” Otsuka said, crossing his legs. “But he wasn’t home.”
“I had a feeling you guys were keeping tabs on where I lived,” Issay confessed.
“Of course, you were in plain sight, but untouchable, until that day,” Mizunaga affirmed. “However, his mistake was that he didn’t keep tabs on what you did, so when we realised you weren’t home, we couldn’t figure out where to find you.”
“Thank god for that,” Issay laughed. “Anyway, because of this, I had to… disappear.”
“Why didn’t you come to me?” Atsushi asked.
“Ah, well, you never told me where you went,” Issay said. “And your phone number changed, didn’t it?”
Atsushi frowned, perplexed. “It changed?” he muttered. Standing up, his exclamation grew louder. “It changed!?” Staring daggers at the other four heads of the Takasaki family, he snarled, “Who the fuck changed my number?”
Toll, Hide, and Yuta pointed at Imai at the same time. “Hey, it wasn’t entirely me!” Imai protested. “All of you agreed it would be better!”
“You initiated the idea,” Hide said.
“You changed the cards,” Yuta added.
“All I said was ‘do whatever you like’,” Toll muttered.
“You’re all ganging up on me!?” Imai yelled.
“Imai!” Atsushi started to move around the table but he was stopped by Issay grabbing his hand.
“Hey, hey. Just sit, sit down,” he said, pulling Atsushi back to him. “It’s long past now, forget it,” Issay coaxed. “Besides, he’s the one who prevented me from getting killed, remember?”
“Hah, I can’t even imagine what the old man would do if you did get killed,” Otsuka remarked. “He’d be devastated, for sure.”
“Why would he?” Issay spat. “He hates my guts.”
“ You hate his guts,” Otsuka corrected. “And you should know by now love and hate are two sides of the same coin to him, Issay,” he drawled.
“How’s that any excuse for leaving me half dead every so often?” Issay spat.
Otsuka sighed. “I’m not saying that justifies anything he did. I’m just saying that it’s why he expressly said that only you are allowed to take over his role,” he said. “Not any of your other siblings, nor his aides, but you.”
Crossing his legs and folding his arms, Issay pursed his lips and turned away. “I already said it a million times. I. Don’t. Want. To.”
“Look, I know that. We know that,” said Mizunaga. “If there was an easier way, we would take it, but this is the path of least resistance.”
“How’s chasing after me easier than… The infighting. It’s the infighting, isn’t it?” Issay muttered, realisation dawning on him.
Otsuka nodded grimly. “To be frank, it’s already started.”
“There’s no safer bet for you either,” Mizunaga continued. “Whoever usurps the spot will hunt you down to make sure there’s no chance of you suddenly turning up and taking it away from them.”
Leaning back into his seat, Issay sighed, his expression turning bleak as he stared into the distance, thinking. “Yet… It’s been quiet these few weeks…”
“Ah, we were forbidden to touch you,” Otsuka said.
“Hm?” Issay turned to him, brows furrowed in confusion. “By who?”
Making a general overall gesture at Toll and the others, Otsuka said, “These people, them.”
The line between Issay’s brows deepened. “And you just agreed to it?” he asked, not feeling particularly enlightened.
“Well, they said abductions and the like were forbidden in their territory. Then they divulged what happened the last time it occurred,” Otsuka explained. “Funny how the target was also you, Issay.”
Issay continued to frown, even more perplexed than before. “How were all of you involved in that?” Issay asked, turning his attention to Atsushi.
Atsushi stared intently at the ground, avoiding eye contact with Issay.
“Atsushi?” Issay called gently. “Atsushi, look at me.” He brought his fingers to Atsushi’s cheek, turning his face toward him. “Confirm my suspicions for me, won’t you?”
At that question, Atsushi’s eyes darted to Issay. “What… suspicions…?”
Issay grinned. “Ti… ger.”
Atsushi took in a sharp breath and shifted out of Issay’s reach. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t worry, it’s telling enough,” Issay smiled, patting Atsushi's hand. He then turned to Yuta. “And you, you sat on me didn’t you?”
Lips pressed thin into a wide smile, Yuta blinked and shrugged, not saying a word.
“Suit yourself,” Issay said, laughing as he shook his head in resignation.
“Anyway,” Otsuka suddenly spoke, drawing the attention back to himself. “Part of the agreement to not touching you was the arrangement to hand you over to us to bring you back if it was absolutely necessary,” he informed. “And considering how your father is on his deathbed, there’s no more necessary time than now.”
Listening to him, Issay managed a weak laugh. He stepped back and leaned against the table, giving Atsushi a dismal look.
“You agreed to this without me!?” Atsushi roared, turning to his associates as fury raged in him.
“I told you he’d get upset,” Hide muttered, folding his arms and rubbing his forehead with a hand.
“Well, none of us were expecting things to happen so soon, were we?” Toll said.
“You would’ve never agreed to it,” Issay mumbled.
“Of course I wouldn’t!” Atsushi seethed. “And what are you getting out of this?!” he asked, directing the question back to Toll.
“We’d be merging operations in our overlapping territories, streamlining a few things too,” Mizunaga shared, aware that none of the others wanted to be the one provoking Atsushi now.
“What is he? A bargaining chip?!” Atsushi snapped, slamming his palms on the table.
“Give me a moment with Atsushi,” Issay said suddenly. He was strangely quiet, pensive, staring at his feet as he rested an elbow on his folded arm and covered his mouth with a hand. No one moved. “If none of you are going out then I’m leaving with him.”
At Issay’s threat, everyone started moving, streaming out of the meeting room and leaving the two men alone.
Several lighters clicked together and cigarettes were lit. The displaced men took to smoking outside the building while waiting for a conclusion to their meeting.
“That went well,” Mizunaga muttered sarcastically, sucking on his cigarette.
“Frankly speaking, it went as expected,” Hide said, taking a puff. “It would’ve never gone quietly. Not unless Atsushi had a change of heart.”
Imai scoffed. “Do you think he ever will?” he asked, flicking the ash from his cigarette.
“Doubt it,” Yuta said, shaking his head.
“When did this thing between them start anyway?” Otsuka asked.
“Hmm…” Imai’s eyes wandered as he thought about it. “Officially, it was five-ish years ago but… Maybe even before that…?”
“That long ago?” Mizunaga muttered, raising his brows as he shared a look with Otsuka.
A thought suddenly occurred to Imai. “Hey, Fujisaki’s father isn’t in the hospital because he found out about them, is he?”
Otsuka burst out laughing. “Actually, no,” he said. “Bursting a blood vessel from losing his temper again put him in this state. If we told him about them two… We might as well just bury him alive.”
Mizunaga nodded in agreement. “He really wanted Issay to give him a grandson too.”
“Probably never happening in this lifetime,” Issay’s voice came from behind. He was alone.
“Where’s Atsushi?” Yuta asked.
“Upstairs. Thinking,” Issay answered simply. Without much of an expression, he beckoned Mizunaga and Otsuka. “Let’s go, there’s much to do.”
Imai raised a brow in surprise. “Atsushi’s letting you go?” he asked, disbelieving. “And you’re just going to agree to this?”
“I have my plans,” Issay answered, divulging nothing.
Otsuka shrugged. “Works for me,” he said. Walking towards a red vintage car parked on the curb, Otsuka unlocked the doors and said, “This is our ride.”
Issay snorted. “You stole the old man’s car.”
“Silence means consent,” Otsuka insisted, getting into the driver’s seat.
“You’re one fucked up bastard,” Issay muttered, shaking his head. Before he entered the back seat, Issay looked up the building facade, staring.
“You getting in?” Mizunaga asked, sticking his head out from the passenger’s seat window.
Snapping out of his trance, Issay glanced at him and nodded. Turning to Toll, Hide, Yuta, and Imai, he gave them a quick wave, bidding them farewell, before closing the door after him.
Upstairs, Atsushi stared out the window, watching the men interact outside the building on the first floor. His hands were stuffed in his pocket, one fidgeting with the ring around his fourth finger. When Issay looked up in his direction, Atsushi put his free hand to the glass and pressed his forehead against the window. His sullen mood only grew darker as he watched the car that Issay was in drive away and out of sight.