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Of Ghosts and Things

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They both had an afternoon shift the next day, most of which was spent on a terse standby.

 

Iwaizumi had been in meetings since they’d gotten in, first holed up with their Chief, then other Division Leaders, and then disappeared somewhere to the upper floors later on. That worked fine for Yahaba, to be honest, because there’s a selfish part of him that doesn’t want to see their fearless and capable second-in-command hurting and blaming himself for Oikawa’s arrest. At least he had Hanamaki with him to help out—they were a team, after all.

 

Matsukawa had taken over as a temporary Leader for the time being. He was clearly tired, but he was calm and collected as he answered questions, distributed mission dossiers, and quietly took care of miscellaneous tasks. It’s fortunate that their afternoon is an uneventful one, because Yahaba isn’t sure his focus wouldn’t be shot to shit if they were to send him out on a house call right now.

 

Kyoutani is equally unsettled, alternating his time between glaring at the wall and terrorizing junior hunters in the workout space downstairs. Yahaba tries to inconspicuously look up some basic information on the Nakacho area on a company laptop, making quick notes on the property lines and any existing spiritual energies. He’s also going to need more than just his spirit projector if they’re going to get in; extra seals, concealment talismans, and maybe even a defensive charm. That’s not something he has on hand, but there are the storage lockers in the basement.

 

Kyoutani returns from the cafeteria with some sandwiches just before they’re due to clock out, already changed into his street clothes and his leather jacket again. Yahaba accepts the sandwich gratefully, scarfing it down as he packs his things up.

 

“I’ll meet you in the lobby in ten,” he whispers. “If we hurry, we’ll be able to catch the train and make it there before—”

 

Kyoutani shakes his head. “Meet me in the underground parking,” he says instead, and before Yahaba could ask why, Kindaichi and Kunimi enter the lounge, ready to relieve them of their shift. Kyoutani books it, and Yahaba is left to say goodnight to everyone else.

 

“Have a good shift,” he tells the other two hunters. Kindaichi nods, looking like he’s been crying. “Look after him,” he adds in an undertone to Kunimi. Then, at regular volume, “See you later, Matsukawa.”

 

Matsukawa nods, his sleepy gaze trailing after Yahaba as he tries not to rush out of the room too quickly.

 

The hallways are quiet now, with most of the day shift workers gone already and the usual comradery absent in light of the recent arrests. It’s a good thing tonight, though, because Yahaba encounters no one on his way downstairs. Castle Division’s storage room is well-stocked and clean thanks to Oikawa’s near-obsessiveness when it came to organization. Yahaba doesn’t dare take anything that’s too expensive or few in amount—there’s no way he can afford to replace ghost hunting equipment on top of all the rules he’s already breaking. He pockets a handful of protection and defensive charms and he’s considering some extra-potent seal paint when the hairs stand up on the back of his neck.

 

He whirls around in time to see Hanamaki opening the door and stepping into the storage room. The hunter’s eyebrows go up when he sees Yahaba standing frozen, hand caught in the metaphorical candy jar, between the shelves.

 

“Hey, Yahaba. What’re you doing down here?”

 

“Uh,” Yahaba flounders. God, he is not cut out for espionage. “I needed, um, some new seal slips.”

 

“Oh, okay,” Hanamaki nods. “We had some upstairs in the office, don’t be afraid to knock.”

 

“I—forgot,” Yahaba fibs, and grabs a few packs of slips. Well, it’s never a bad thing to have extra seals hanging around. “I was already heading out anyway, so...yeah.”

 

Hanamaki chuckles. “Well, don’t let me keep you,” he says, and brushes past Yahaba to dig through a stack of dusty folders on the bottom shelf. Yahaba bids him goodnight and all but flees the room, rushing towards the elevators. He jabs the button for the underground parking, releasing a breath of air he didn’t even realize he was holding. When the elevator doors open, he stumbles into the lot, glancing around the dimly-lit underground until he spies Kyoutani standing by a parking spot, right next to a—

 

“Holy shit,” Yahaba splutters. “Is that a motorcycle ?”

 

“No, it’s a magic carpet,” Kyoutani deadpans, and tosses a helmet to Yahaba. He barely manages to catch it; all his focus still on the sleek, dangerous-looking silver and black vehicle between them. “C’mon, didn’t you say you wanted to get there before dark?”

 

“I didn’t know you rode a motorcycle,” Yahaba says weakly. Suddenly, the leather jacket makes a whole lot more sense, as does the sudden heat that’s pooling in his lower stomach. Jesus Christ, he rages at his libido. Not now .

 

“I don’t ride it often, but what’s important is that I can go fast,” Kyoutani hums, and that sentence should not sound as sexy as it did. “Come on, let’s go.”

 

This can’t be his life, Yahaba moans internally. He pushes the helmet on, feeling it squeeze the sides of his head—it smells faintly of pine and disinfectant spray—and hesitantly climbs onto the tiny backseat. It’s a small space, not totally comfortable, and the whole situation gets even worse when Kyoutani slings his leg over his seat, sans helmet, and gives Yahaba a pointed look over his shoulder.

 

“You’re gonna fall off if you don’t hold on, Yahaba.”

 

“I’ve never fucking ridden on a fucking motorcycle before, you fuck,” Yahaba retorts, and slides his arms around Kyoutani’s waist. He feels more than hears the other man laugh.

 

“Hang on then,” he says, and then they’re tearing out of the garage in a wall of noise and vibrating metal, swerving neatly into evening traffic and speeding down the street. Yahaba chokes on his breath and squeezes Kyoutani so tightly he swears he feels ribs creak. They’re pressed back-to-front as Kyoutani weaves in and out of the cars, easily overtaking slow drivers and beating yellow lights as they go. The flap of Yahaba’s messenger bag goes wild behind him. They drive pass business towers, lowkey suburban houses, and then vast, open land as they head towards the outskirts of town.

 

The phone mounted to the flat front of Kyoutani’s motorcycle is open on maps, and it’s steadily ticking down the remaining distance left to the community centre. When they’re just over a block away, Yahaba taps Kyoutani’s thigh and Kyoutani pulls over to the side of the road, turning the bike off as they stop.

 

The silence washes over them immediately. They’re in a relatively rural area, and there’s nobody else on the narrow, countryside road aside from themselves. The streetlamps are sparse and ancient, casting a warm yellow glow over the cracked pavement. Yahaba climbs off and stands on shaking legs, tugging the helmet off as he does.

 

“Uh, wow,” he wheezes, feeling like a newborn fawn taking its first steps. “That’s uh. Something.”

 

Kyoutani chuckles and takes the helmet back, hooking it onto the handlebars. He dismounts with a smooth lift of his leg, showing off powerful thighs wrapped in jeans, and Yahaba suddenly has a lot of difficulty swallowing. “Toldja we’d get here before dark.”

 

He’s not wrong, but the sun has nearly set anyway, leaving nothing but a deep, inky blue sky and a sliver of red-orange peeking over the mountaintops in the distance. Somehow, it makes the silent road even spookier than it already was.

 

Fingers enter his field of vision, and Yahaba nearly jumps. But Kyoutani just brushes his wayward helmet hair back down, smoothing the strands out of his eyes.

 

“Easy,” he murmurs, dark eyes roaming over Yahaba’s face. “It’s just me.”

 

“I know,” Yahaba mumbles, even as a small voice in the back of his mind earnestly says it’s never just you . “Come on, let’s head down there before it really does get dark out.”

 

The community centre is listed as permanently closed and out of service online, but it’s clear that there’s something going on there. The unpaved shoulders on the sides of the road have fresh tire tracks on them, and as they get closer, there’s a single, solidarity light that’s on over a side entryway. Kyoutani sniffs the air; he taps Yahaba on the shoulder and nods towards the overgrown fields around the centre. Yahaba nods, and they sneak off the road and into the concealment of the unkempt grass and weeds.

 

The air grows steadily cooler as they advance. A soft, late-autumn wind swirls around them, and the sounds of the grass bending in the breeze masks their slow, stealthy steps. Something weighs down on Yahaba’s shoulders the closer they get, heavy and prickly. They stop at the edge of the field next to a parking area, peering out from their hiding spot.

 

“I don’t like this place,” Kyoutani whispers, wrinkling his nose.

 

“You feel it too?”

 

“Yeah. Smells like garbage. Rotting garbage.”

 

Yahaba tips his nose into the air, scenting as well, and he does catch a hint of something unpleasant and sharp, not too different from the dreaded smell of ghost goo. He really doesn’t want to open that door, but they’ve got no choice.

 

“Put these on,” Yahaba says, pulling out the defensive charms. He wraps them together, bundling the energy, and motions for Kyoutani to hold out his hand. Kyoutani does, and Yahaba winds the charm around a surprisingly thin wrist, making sure it’s tight enough that it won’t fall off. Then, after a moment’s deliberation, he whips out several blank seals and writes down runes for advanced night vision, spatial awareness, and luck. “Here,” he adds, shoving the paper at Kyoutani. “Keep these on you too.”

 

“You’re good at that,” Kyoutani notes, stuffing the seals into a pocket inside his jacket. Yahaba tries not to preen too much as he puts his charms and seals on.

 

They creep up to the doorway, Yahaba taking the lead and Kyoutani trailing behind him, glancing warily out at the darkness. The metal door is cold and unyielding to the touch, and when Yahaba presses his ear against it, he can hear the hum of several kinds of defensive seals working behind it.

 

“This might take a while,” he mutters, brows furrowed. He knew there’d be protection on the entryways, but this was a lot.

 

“What about that?” Kyoutani asks, pointing. He’s looking around the corner of the building, and when Yahaba peers over, Kyoutani is pointing at what looks like a basement window. They crawl over, and Yahaba presses his palm against the glass. The hum of energy is still there, but it’s significantly weaker. He grins and pulls out a piece of chalk.

 

“Give me a second.”

 

There are lots of different ways to break seals—there is, of course, the proper counter-seals and counter-runes that are supposed to undo each kind of seal and prevent any energy recoils, but they take too long and Yahaba is good enough at seal-writing to forgo that nonsense. He’s familiar with shortcuts he can take and strokes he can skip, and he’s careful to balance out the unwinding energy to keep them undetected. He also takes a page out of Kozume’s book and completely rewrites over some of the runes, condensing the energy and dispersing it over other parts of the building, even if some of his symbols aren’t quite Headquarters-approved. When it’s weakened enough that anything passing through it would go undetected, Yahaba pulls out a small, lightweight crowbar from his bag and jacks the window open.

 

Kyoutani watches him work, eyebrows climbing steadily higher and higher on his forehead as Yahaba progresses.

 

“Okay, I may be more brawn than the brains of this operation, but even I can tell that nothing you did just now was legal.”

 

Yahaba grins and slips his hand inside, carefully lifting the frame up. “Well, this was technically my profession before I became a hunter.”

 

Kyoutani’s eyes widen, and he looks like he’s reconsidering everything he knows about Yahaba. “What, you were a cat burglar?”

 

“What? No—what the fuck, man? I did unofficial seal-writing and seal energy experiments. The crowbar thing was just a hobby.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Kyoutani says, squinting, and Yahaba smacks him lightly on the leg.

 

“Alright, focus . I’m going in first.”

 

“This conversation is not over,” Kyoutani whispers, but he dutifully takes Yahaba’s bag when it’s handed to him. “Be careful.”

 

Yahaba nods. He sticks his feet in through the narrow frame and lowers himself in.

 

It’s not much of a drop, and the room he slips into is thankfully empty. It looks like it might’ve been a storage area, but the shelves are empty and dusty. Thanks to the night vision charm, everything is weirdly warped and shaded, but visible. Yahaba tiptoes forwards and presses his ear against the door. When he hears nothing on the other side, he goes back to the window and gestures for Kyoutani to follow.

 

The smell of rotting garbage intensifies when they sneak out of the room, thick and heavy in the air. Kyoutani twitches beside Yahaba, and when he glances over Kyoutani points towards the stairs at the end of the darkened hallway, and then at the ceiling.

 

Well, they are in the basement, after all. Nowhere else to go but up.

 

They take the stairs, careful not to make too much noise, and when they reach the landing Yahaba reaches over and slides the door open.

 

He almost wishes he didn’t.

 

Dark energy slams into him with the force of an oncoming train. Yahaba’s knees buckle at the onslaught of malicious energy, nearly toppling him over. It absolutely reeks in there, and no amount of training could have prepared him for the sight of all the ghosts lined up in a row down what appears to be an unused room, each of them trapped in containment circles painted onto the floor. There are also different runes and sigils drawn all over, some of them smudged, some of them fresh and active. Yahaba’s eyes darted around the room frantically, taking it all in—about a dozen ghosts in varying states of decay and what looked like experimental runes and potions set up on shelves and carts.

 

The abandoned community centre isn’t abandoned at all—they had just broken into some kind of a ghost experimenting laboratory.

 

Kyoutani grabs his arm, nearly scaring the life out of Yahaba, and points, expression twisted in horror. Yahaba’s gaze falls on the clipboard lying on the table next to the closest ghost.

 

At the top of a complicated form are the words Izanami Project . Stamped across the page are the words FOR DISPOSAL—SUBJECT FAILURE, and what looked like an address. Yahaba creeps over, Kyoutani following close, and slowly picks up the clipboard. Inside the containment circle, the ghost shifts, as though sensing them, and hisses menacingly. Yahaba flips through the pages, taking in the words like testing and decay and relocation , and wonders if he’s dreaming.

 

“Creation and death,” Kyoutani chokes out, staring up at the malevolent ghost swaying in the circle. “Yahaba, I think they’re trying to create life after death with actual ghosts .”

 

It clicks inside of his head all at once. The exploding ghosts, the rapidly deteriorating spirits. There were never just regular ghosts, a small voice in the back of his head whispers. All of them were dumped at random locations, masqueraded as normal spirits in need of retrieval, and the hunters from Headquarters were dispatched to take care of the failed experiments. The one that blew up with Matsukawa and Hanamaki, the one that busted with Bokuto and Akaashi, the two ghosts that appeared at the house, and possibly even more—none of them were haunting those locations. They were all malicious spirits planted there.

 

“And they’re throwing out the unsuccessful ones,” Yahaba breathes. The clipboard falls from his numb fingers and clatters loudly onto the floor.

 

It’s a perfect, theoretically undetectable plan. A simple cloaking spell, perhaps, or an aura-stabilizing potion to disguise the ghosts. And had all of them been less competent at their jobs, the Board might’ve been able to continue passing the failed experiments off as ghosts that combusted from poor hunter handling.

 

Something bypasses the fear that’s seizing his heart; it takes Yahaba a second to realize it’s rage. It’s a hot, burning, fiery rage, and it’s strong enough to unlock his limbs and force him into action. This is what Kozume and Oikawa are being jailed for? This horrible, despicable project that somehow involves the Board and the Director and has been fucking up everyone’s hunts? This is what his friends are taking the fall for?

 

“Kyoutani?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Grab everything you can,” Yahaba says in a rush. He tries not to focus on how badly his hands are shaking. “A report, a seal, fuck, take all the damn clipboards; anything for evidence. We’re going to get the fuck out of here. We’re going to go back, find Iwaizumi, report this, and we’re going to get Oikawa and Kozume out.”

 

Kyoutani exhales. He gives Yahaba’s arm a squeeze before letting go. “Okay. Fuck it. Let’s go.”

 

“Yeah,” Yahaba whispers, and then they’re off, like wild animals.

 

Yahaba turns his phone on, flipping it to video mode and turning on his flash. The stark, white light throws the ghosts into even sharper relief and barely lights up the room—it’s bigger than Yahaba thought, but he takes off, holding his phone as steadily as he could while he shovels as many clipboards as he can into his bag. The ghosts groan and rattle ominously in their confinement, and the rotting smell grows stronger. 

 

He makes it all the way to the end before a side door flies open, light streams in, and what looks like uniformed guards burst inside.

 

“YAHABA!” Kyoutani bellows, and Yahaba doesn’t even think; he spins on his heels and books it. But it’s easier said than done, especially when there’s about a half dozen clipboards banging about inside his bag and he’s clutching his phone for dear life.

 

He gets about ten steps in before something nails him in the back and sends him toppling into the ground; he barely manages to throw a hand out to break his fall, and Kyoutani rushes forwards immediately. 

 

NO! ” Yahaba yells, the noise angry and nearly unintelligible from his mouth, and flings his phone across the floor. It clatters its way over to Kyoutani, who dives for it instantly. God, the footage is going to be incredible.

 

“Run, you idiot!” Yahaba shouts. Hands wrench him up by the underarms, and Yahaba kicks and writhes. Someone pressing something against his back, and it releases a burst of shock. Yahaba shouts, jerking as the pain rockets up his spine. Someone else tries to slap a restraining seal on him but he wrenches his hands away, his elbow catching someone in the eye. They lose their balance and stagger back as one, falling right into a confinement circle and breaking the runes etched on the floor.

 

The cold gust of wind and the unearthly shriek that rips through the air is a terrible one.

 

The guards drop him. Yahaba bangs his head against the floor and groans, smarting at the temple, but he immediately tries to crawl away even though every limb in his body is quaking. There’s a wretched sort of gurgling noise behind him, and he makes the mistake of looking back.

 

The ghost, now free of its confines, has got a guard trapped in its spindly grasp. Something slimy and rank drips from its rotting fingers, and even though it’s more than very dead, the evil energy pouring off the ghost in waves is enough to paralyze the man with fear.

 

Yahaba doesn’t think twice before digging through his bag, frantically fumbling for his spirit projector with frozen fingers. It’s going to be useless; it takes two hunters to properly trap even a normal ghost, but he can’t just lie on the ground and do nothing—he’s a hunter, damn it, and if he doesn’t act now they’re all fucked.

 

Yahaba grits his teeth, takes aim, and blasts the ghost.

 

Half the seals wrap around it, and the other half burns and fizzles, falling uselessly to the floor. Yahaba’s breath stops short in his throat when the ghost drops the guard and rounds on him instead, empty sockets where its eyes should be. Its jaw unhinges, sagging and revealing rows of cracked, jagged teeth, and black liquid trickles past its lips. The lights coming from the hallway flicker erratically, like strobe lights. It illuminates the ghastly being in flashes as it advances on him, and Yahaba swears his heart stops beating. The seal projector gives one last, pathetic whir in his hands and dies out.

 

Footsteps thunder across the concrete behind him, and a second later Kyoutani comes tearing across the room, leaps into the air, and clocks the ghost as hard as he can across the face with a wet splat .

 

He’s gotten even better at it, Yahaba notes dimly. The punch is tightly controlled, and he only hits from the hardest part of his knuckles instead of throwing his whole body into the ghost. Kyoutani lands and shifts to stand protectively in front of Yahaba, who takes the opportunity to scramble to his feet. There are narrow strips of papers wrapped around Kyoutani’s hands; badly-scrawled runes for protection and strength are etched all over them.

 

“Kyoutani,” Yahaba whispers, but his voice is lost in the ghost’s shrieks of pain and the guards’ panicked yells.

 

“DON’T TOUCH HIM,” Kyoutani roars.

 

Yahaba grabs the back of Kyoutani’s jacket. There are a million thoughts flying through his mind right now, but the only thing he can think about is what he can do to get them both out alive.

 

Kentarou .”

 

The front doors of the abandoned community centre blasts open with a sound not unlike a cannon, and everybody jumps about ten feet into the air.

 

A group of people burst in, armed with seal projects and magical artifacts, and never in Yahaba’s life is he happier to see Iwaizumi at the forefront of all the hunters—Karasuno, Nekoma, and Fukurodani—storming into the building like a reigning guardian angel. If guardian angels look like they’re ten seconds away from committing mass homicide, that is.

 

“Seals!” he barks, pointing at the ghost Kyoutani’s squaring off against. Matsukawa, Hanamaki, and Kindaichi dash over instantly, seal projectors at the ready. Someone rolls in flood lights and turns them off, finally shedding some much-needed light over the entire room.

 

“God, did you jump the ghost again ?” Matsukawa demands, though he sounds unreasonably delighted instead of angry. “You should join the WWE, Kyoutani.”

 

All three of them take aim again and this time, the seals wrap properly around the ghost, whose screams sound like metal dragging across metal. Yahaba watches with an open mouth as Kunimi and Watari hurry forwards with a giant spirit box at the ready, and they make quick work of the malicious ghost.

 

“Yahaba-san,” someone says, and he turns to see Yamaguchi, one of the medics from Karasuno. He yanks on a pair of gloves and holds up a gauze pad. “You’re bleeding.”

 

He is, Yahaba realizes, when he reaches up to touch his forehead and it comes away sticky and red.

 

“Stop touching it,” Kyoutani says, reaching over to grasp his wrist. Yahaba turns to look at him, dazed.

 

“What the hell is going on here?”

 

“Dunno,” Kyoutani shrugs, and it’s hard to tell, but he looks as relieved as Yahaba feels. “Can’t say I’m upset the cavalry has arrived though.”

 

And that’s another million dollar question, isn’t it?

 

“How—how did you all know where to find us?”

 

“About that,” Hanamaki says, sauntering over. He reaches over and plucks something from the back of Yahaba’s collar.

 

“A tailing charm,” Yahaba splutters, flabbergasted, staring at the little piece of paper. “But when—how—fuck. The storage room . You followed me in.”

 

“Mhm,” Hanamaki smirks, twirling the tiny slip over paper in his hand. “That, and you’re a terrible liar, Yahaba.”

 

“Hiro saw Oikawa hide something in your bag yesterday night, right before he got arrested,” Matsukawa adds. “We didn't know at the time, but after Iwaizumi realized Oikawa's USB key hadn't gotten confiscated we figured you two might have something to do with it. But you sneaky brats ran off before we could ask, so we decided to tail you and find out what's up.”

 

“What’re you, a bunch of nosy grandmas?” Kyoutani asks, and Yahaba digs his elbow into Kyoutani’s side.

 

“What he means is sorry, for not saying anything. But we had no time.”

 

Kyoutani ducks his head, grumbling, but Yahaba can tell he’s just embarrassed.

 

“I know, I know,” Matsukawa says, waving them off. “Oikawa would be proud, y’know. His two most troublesome juniors cracking the case with his clues. Now everything is suddenly making a whole lot more sense.”

 

“Scandal of the year,” Hanamaki hums, tapping his seal projector against his shoulder. Nekoma and Fukurodani have formed a half-circle around the remaining guards while Karasuno scrambles all over the room, quickly breaking confinement seals and hustling the ghostly experiments into spirit boxes. Sugawara is trailing close after Kageyama and Hinata, the biggest goo offenders in the history of their Division, looking thoroughly hassled.

 

Meanwhile, Kuroo stands before the guards, arms crossed as he recites the charges and rights to the offending men. Karma is a mean, mean bitch.

 

“You are from hereon suspended from all active duties and quarantined during the investigation period. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,” he says to the sea of scowling faces, and then, like an afterthought, says with a voice like ice, “And in case you’re all wondering, we’ve apprehended your boss as he was making his way over as well. So if I were you, I’d do my best to cooperate. I don’t care how much power the Director thinks he has; you guys aren’t going anywhere. Now, round ‘em up,” he calls, and Nekoma and Fukurodani move in.

 

“You’re good, Yahaba-san,” Yamaguchi says, and Yahaba blinks. He feels a bandage over the cut on his forehead. “Take it easy, alright?”

 

“Thank you,” he says, and Yamaguchi nods, hurrying back to the rest of his team.

 

Kyoutani’s hand is still around his wrist, loose enough that Yahaba could pull away if he wanted to. Hesitantly, he turns his palm over, gently twisting out of Kyoutan’s hold until he could lace their fingers together. Kyoutani startles, but he just looks down at their entwined hands and then looks back up, his cheeks dusting faintly red.

 

“You good?” Yahaba asks.

 

“Yeah,” Kyoutani grunts. He casts a sidelong glance at Yahaba, dark eyes roaming over his face. “Not gonna lie, I thought we were goners for a second there.”

 

“I’m just thankful everybody in Castle Division is just as nosy as we are.”

 

Kyoutani snorts, and squeezes Yahaba’s hand. There’s going to be so much explaining afterwards—Yahaba’s not looking forward to facing the Board, or the Director, or anyone else, to be honest, but right now there are plenty of witnesses. The cat is out of the bag, and this is going to take a lot more than a few faked reports and exploding ghosts to cover up.

 

“We did it,” Yahaba whispers. Something unfurls in his chest; it’s relief. “We—we solved it.”

 

“Yeah,” Kyoutani nods, and a tired but genuine smile splits across his face. He looks satisfied. “Fuck yeah we did.”

 








Two Weeks Later

 

Welcome back!

 

“Fuck!” Kyoutani swears, leaping backwards and away from the lounge as an epic pop! goes off, sending a shower of streamers and confetti over them. Yahaba bursts out laughing, even though his heart is also going a mile a minute at the surprise, and earns a hard punch to his shoulder for his efforts.

 

“Our heroes!” Hanamaki cooes, waving his party favour in his hand. It clacks obnoxiously every time he spins it. “Distinguished sirs—”

 

“Stars of the show,” Matsukawa adds.

 

“O incredible hunters—”

 

“Alright, cut it out,” Yahaba yells, pushing Hanamaki so the older man topples backwards off the back of the couch, landing on the cushions with a squawk. “You guys are so embarrassing.”

 

“I told you all this would be wasted on them!” Oikawa huffs, crossing his arms. He’s wearing a bright pink and sparkly party hat. “My juniors are so bratty!”

 

“You are the last person I want to hear that from,” Iwaizumi warns, but there’s no bite in his tone. In fact, he’s standing even closer to Oikawa than usual, with an arm draped around Oikawa’s waist. Perfect, Yahaba thinks. Oikawa goes to ghost hunter jail for a night and a half and it’s already managed to send Iwaizumi into hyper-protective mode for the next month or so.

 

“Dunno why you’re all so happy about this,” Kyoutani grunts, brushing pieces of shiny plastic off his shoulders. “We were suspended for the last two weeks. Shouldn’t you be reprimanding us?”

 

“A small price to pay for this wonderful chance to throw a welcome back party on the company card,” Hanamaki sniffs, pretending to wipe away a fake tear before he leaps up from the couch. “Alright! We’ve got cake! Fried chicken! And ice cream in the fridge!”

 

“Neapolitan,” Watari adds, giving Yahaba a knowing look. “Your favourite.”

 

“Oh thank god, you’re the only one who matters in here, Watari,” Yahaba sighs, to several predictable noises of indignation around the room.

 

But it is good to be back. Yahaba had a lot of time to lament the mark on his otherwise spotless track record, but it was to be expected. Unauthorized removal of Division property, unauthorized usage of Division equipment, and technically breaking and entering on Yahaba’s part—all of it grounds for a justifiable dismissal, if anything, but after the dramatic unearthing of the Izanami Project and the scandal surrounding the Director’s involvement, the suspension was really more of a half-hearted slap on the wrist. Iwaizumi had also yelled at them for ten minutes straight and then bundled them into a tight hug, shouting furiously at them to never scare him like that again. When he released them, Kyoutani looked like he’d seen a new light.

 

While he was suspended, Oikawa and Kozume had also returned to active duty with no lasting damage. Oikawa had swung by Yahaba’s apartment one night after work, a blubbering mess of tears and snot. They’d spent hours talking and working their way through a large cheesy pizza for dinner, and it was a relief to hear that Oikawa had been reinstated as Division Leader almost immediately. Kozume had also returned from containment unharmed; just largely annoyed by all the paper work he’d have to go through for the next few weeks. It sounded like a very Kozume-like reaction.

 

When Yahaba returned the USB key, he hesitated for a moment before asking, “Say, Oikawa, when you told me to keep it hidden, did you mean it? Or were you expecting me to try and solve the case? I hadn’t gone through your files, you’d still be in jail.”

 

Oikawa had shrugged, simply pocketing the little UFO. “Maybe. But let’s be real, you and I both know that no one gets into Castle Division without being a little bit nosy from time to time.” He winks, cheeky. “Maybe I was counting on that, and a bit of luck, perhaps.”

 

And now, the case had moved even further up the hierarchy, out of their reach to an International Panel that Yahaba didn’t even know existed, but it felt good to know that the Director, the Board, and the Special Investigations Unit wouldn’t be involved anymore. Yahaba’s had enough of adventures with office politics, thank you very much.

 

He’s sitting on the couch, munching on some truly delicious fried chicken when Kyoutani drops onto the seat beside him.

 

“Hey,” he says, voice low. Yahaba swallows around a huge bite of chicken and discreetly wipes his hands on his jeans.

 

“Hey,” he replies. Unprompted, his mind wanders back to the way he’d held Kyoutani’s hand back at the abandoned community centre—arrgh. Yahaba blames the adrenaline high and his minor head injury (alright, a scrape, whatever) for the impulsive action. He clearly wasn’t thinking straight, and part of him wants to curl up in embarrassment and yell what the hell were you thinking, you gay disaster! But then, there’s another part of him that revels in the fact that Kyoutani actually held his hand back, and then the whole cycle and existential panic starts all over again.

 

“I have something for you,” Kyoutani says, abruptly, and doesn’t wait for an answer; he shoves his hands into the pocket of his leather jacket and holds something out. Yahaba opens his hand, and Kyoutani drops something small and rectangular into his palm.

 

It’s a protection charm, handmade from the looks of it, with several evil-warding beads looped into the little golden tassel dangling from the bottom of the charm. Yahaba holds it up, eyes wide.

 

“Did you—did you make this yourself?”

 

“I had help,” Kyoutani mumbles. He suddenly seems very interested in a spot on the floor. “My grandmother is a Keeper of a shrine up north. She helped me pick out the runes and the beads, and stuff. I had some time to see her, since, y’know, suspension and shit.”

 

“It’s beautiful,” Yahaba swallows, closing his hand around it. He can feel the pulse of peaceful energy behind it, a comfortable warmth against his skin. His heart pounds in his chest, and he tries very hard to make it settle. “What’s the occasion?”

 

Kyoutani looks over at him. “Well—for good luck, I guess. Somethin’ to take with you when you move up the ranks, or wherever it is you’re going next.”

 

Yahaba blinks, flummoxed. “I’m...not going anywhere?”

 

The other hunter sighs, tired and deep. “You don’t have to lie, you know,” he mutters. “I wasn’t tryin’ to snoop, but I saw it in your bag that time we were looking for Oikawa’s USB key. The hunter partnership program.”

 

Yahaba almost drops the charm. Kyoutani continues, oblivious to Yahaba’s shock. “Even though they put our asses on suspension, you’ll get into the program,” he says, matter-of-fact. “You busted a whole illegal operation from under their noses—if that doesn’t get you into the program, then they’re goddamn fools. And I dunno who you’d end up with, but make sure they’ve got your fuckin’ back, you hear?”

 

There’s a gleam in his eye, so wild and fierce it makes Yahaba’s heart hurt. “You better find someone who can hunt as well as you can, Yahaba.”

 

“You—” Yahaba splutters. He leaps to his feet and grabs Kyoutani by the arm, dragging him upright with a grunt of surprise. “You—absolute dumbass , oh my god, we are not having this conversation here .”

 

“What?” Kyoutani asks, but Yahaba is already pulling him from the lounge, ducking out into the hallway and all the way into an empty meeting room. He pushes Kyoutani in and locks the door behind them, because this is not something he needs someone to interrupt.

 

“What are you doing?” Kyoutani asks, wary. Yahaba stalks forwards, forcing Kyoutani to stumble backwards, an uncharacteristically alarmed look in his eye until he bumps into the conference table at the front of the room.

 

“First of all, I am totally and completely offended that you’d think I’d just bail out of Castle Division like that,” Yahaba snaps. Kyoutani blinks at him, confusion clear on his face. “After telling you all that cheesy shit about us being a team and working together, did you seriously think I was just gonna up and leave? Fuck off and find some other random hunter from another Division or Branch to partner up with? After we fucking busted a whole underground operation together?!”

 

Kyoutani scowls and glares off to the side, face red, but doesn’t reply. Bingo.

 

Yahaba leans in and plants his hands flat on either side of Kyoutani’s hip. The other man immediately swivels back to stare at him, lips parting in surprise. They’re so close Yahaba can smell the pine aftershave again, the heady scent of the leather jacket, and something distinct that’s just—Kyoutani.

 

“Oikawa and Iwaizumi gave me the application because they wanted me to apply with you.”

 

Kyoutani’s jaw drops. “ What?

 

“I’ve been waiting for a good time to ask you,” Yahaba continues, huffing. “In the beginning, I was too nervous. I didn’t think you’d be interested. When I did think I should give it a shot, the exploding ghost fiasco started, and everyone was panicking, and everyone got arrested , and I never got the chance to. I never intended to keep it a secret. There just wasn’t a good time, until now. Also, you're a bigger idiot than I thought if you think I'd ask anyone other than you.”

 

Kyoutani is staring at him. He licks his lips, clearly nervous, and Yahaba has never wanted to kiss him more.

 

“You...wanted me? To apply with you?”

 

Yahaba nods. “I wanted to hunt with you,” he says. “I don’t want anyone else—I want you to be my partner.”

 

Kyoutani surges forwards, kissing Yahaba hard on the mouth, and Yahaba gasps. He stumbles back for a second, but he immediately throws his arms around Kyoutani’s neck and pulls the other hunter against him. In turn, Kyoutani buries a hand in his hair and tugs, urging Yahaba to tilt his head and deepens the kiss.

 

It’s messy and hot, on the side of a little rough, and Yahaba almost loses his balance at Kyoutani’s full weight against him. But Kyoutani just grabs Yahaba around the waist, hauling him close, and Yahaba rakes his nails up the back of Kyoutani’s jacket with a muffled groan, bunching the material in his grip. He fucking loves the feeling of Kyoutani’s arm around his waist, the press of Kyoutani’s thighs against his own, boxing him in. They kiss and kiss and kiss, frantic and passionately, until Yahaba actually starts to go light-headed.

 

They finally break apart after what feels like hours, panting hard and staring into each other’s eyes.

 

“I take that as a yes, you’ll apply with me?” Yahaba says, breathless, and Kyoutani laughs. It’s a pleased, happy laugh.

 

“Yes, you moron , now shut the hell up and kiss me again.”

 

Yahaba doesn’t need to be told twice.

 


 

The earpiece crackles as the line activates.

 

“Courtyard Squad to Tower Squad and Moat Squad. We’re getting an increased read on spiritual movement up here. Anything from you guys?”

 

Another crackle, and Kindaichi’s voice says, “Moat Squad. Nothing so far.”

 

Beside Yahaba, Kyoutani taps his earpiece and grunts, “Tower Squad. Nothing from us either.”

 

An irritated huff makes the sound pop and crinkle with static. “Ugh. Mattsun, are you sure this machine is reading right?”

 

“I dunno, man. It is just a prototype though.”

 

“Great,” Kyoutani mutters, thunking his head quietly against the window frame. “We’re four hours into this stupid nighttime stakeout, with several confirmed malevolent spirits on the premise, and now is the time to we decide to question our equipment?”

 

Yahaba snickers quietly, trying his best not to jostle the carefully arranged long-range spirit projector. It looks more like a sniper rifle than anything else, and Yahaba isn’t totally fond of its bulky nature, but he has to admit the energy-reading scope is actually pretty dope. “Kentarou, quiet.”

 

“We’re gonna get fuckin’ gooed and Oikawa is going to throw the biggest bitch fit known to man.”

 

Yahaba snorts unattractively. “Shut up , Kentarou.”

 

The earpiece crackles again. “We’ve got a spike by the outskirts of the building. Anything from above?”

 

Yahaba peers through the scope. “Nothing,” he murmurs.

 

“This is a waste of time,” Kyoutani hisses. “Matsukawa, can we please just fucking storm the building? We know they’re hiding in there.”

 

“Patience,” Matsukawa says, and Kyoutani groans.

 

“I could’ve gone through so many rounds with Shigeru by now. Eight, probably.”

 

A low chorus of annoyed voices and complaints immediately flood his earpiece. Yahaba nearly kneels over from laughter.

 

“Oh my,” Matsukawa titters, like a scandalized old lady.

 

“I really didn’t need to know that,” Kindaichi whines.

 

“This is an open line,” Kunimi hisses. “Take your gross personal conversations elsewhere.”

 

“You guys are cute and all, but I’m gonna have to stop y’all if I hear you two going at it over the comms,” Hanamaki says lazily. “I won’t report you to Iwaizumi though, because I’m just that nice.”

 

“We’re very sorry,” Yahaba says, tapping his own earpiece. Kyoutani snickers, not at all apologetic, and actually sneaks a hand down to give Yahaba’s ass a squeeze. Yahaba swats him away, chuckling. “What Kentarou said was wrong—he could’ve gone ten rounds, at least.”

 

“Fuck yeah,” Kyoutani grins, wicked and sharp and delighted all at once.

 

“Guys!” Kindaichi cries.

 

“I’m texting Oikawa,” Matsukawa says, bland. “I need to know if he knows you’ve always been this nasty, Yahaba.”

 

“No, guys ,” Kindaichi interrupts. “I’m getting a strong reading—we’ve got company! Northwest corner of the property, moving in fast!”

 

Yahaba perks up and swivels his scope over; sure enough, there’s a blur of dark energy, and the shape of a twitching, jerking malevolent ghost as it skims across the lawn towards the courtyard.

 

“Time to play,” Hanamaki drawls. “Everybody ready?”

 

Next to him, Kyoutani shrugs off his coat and cracks his knuckles, activating the brand new seals wrapped around them with a grin on his face. He leans over, gives Yahaba a quick kiss to the temple, and jumps onto the windowsill. “See ya, Shigeru.”

 

“Give them hell,” Yahaba smirks, and watches as his boyfriend leaps from the ledge to meet the ghost below.

 

It’s time to go to work.