Chapter 1: A Method to the Madness
"Carefully," Matsukawa says, so soft that only Yahaba can hear him. It seems like he's saying it more for his own benefit, though Yahaba doesn't know why. Matsukawa had been in the business for years now, almost as long as Oikawa and Iwaizumi have, and he's not quite as clumsy and dumb as he lets people believe. He does tend to hum or mumble to himself every now and then, though, so maybe this is just one of those odd times.
"Target locked," Hanamaki's voice crackles over his earpiece. "Ready whenever you are."
Matsukawa hums his acknowledgement again, his own spirit seal projector trained on the ghost in the room. It takes the shape of a young woman, dressed in an old-fashioned yukata, and floats about five feet off the ground. Yahaba’s got the spirit box today, a large, shoebox-sized bin with the seals he and Matsukawa wrote out before taped tightly along the seams and sides. It sits open, invitingly so, and they’re here to collect.
“Fire on three,” Matsukawa says. “One, two, th—”
Something clatters in the distance, making them all jump, and the ghost swivels her head, a horror-movie worthy 180 degrees, and locks her bleeding jet-black eyes on where Matsukawa and Yahaba are crouched behind the pillar.
"Oh shit ," Matsukawa says, and the ghost screeches as it dives at them. Yahaba yells and leaps out of the way, barely avoiding the clawed hand that comes at him. Matsukawa tumbles into a planter, smashing it by accident with a groan. He sees Hanamaki leap from his hidden position and advance with a shout.
Matsukawa grunts from the floor where he's lying flat on his back, an impressive lump already forming on his forehead. He raises his spirit projector the same time Hanamaki does, and they blast the ghost together.
Ribbons of sealing energy erupts from their gadgets, catching the ghost in its crossfire, but they're out of position, and the seal doesn't close completely around her. She shrieks, tearing at the restraints, and Yahaba can see the magic start to shred.
"Quick!" He yells, dashing forward with the box. "Get her in before she can—"
The ghost whirls on him, screaming, and Yahaba almost kneels over from the force of dark energy that expels from her. Holy crap, this one is nasty.
"Yahaba!" Matsukawa barks, and Yahaba sees the clawed hand reaching for him a second too late. God damn it, he thinks, but he stands his ground, braces himself, and waits for the pain to come.
But it doesn't, because Kyoutani chooses that exact moment to come tearing into the room, launch himself at the ghost, and sucker punch her right in the face.
There's a flash as he collides with the seals, a shriek that sounds like fingernails raking down a chalkboard, and a thunderous boom as the spirit explodes and drenches them all in hot, filthy, ghost goo.
"So that was a big ol' bust," Hanamaki comments airily, much too casual for someone covered head to toe in stinking dark green muck. Something squelches in Yahaba's shoe as he walks, making him shudder with every step he takes.
The second they'd gotten back to Headquarters, spirit box empty, seals in pieces, and sticky in places Yahaba doesn't even want to acknowledge, all four of them had been sent up to Chief Irihata's office, where he chewed them out for an honest-to-god hour . Yahaba doesn't fully blame the Chief—they'd cocked this one up real bad, he admits—but they hadn't been allowed to go clean up beforehand, and had thus stood in Chief's office dripping wet ghost goo and smelling like rotten garbage whilst getting yelled at the entire time.
The only upside to this whole fiasco was that Kyoutani had gotten held back for another round of verbal berate, and it kind of serves him right, because it really was his fault they all ended up like this. They can still hear the Chief yelling even as they rounded the corner to head to the change rooms downstairs.
"Ugh, this is definitely not coming out," Matsukawa groans, inspecting the large stain on the front of his shirt. "Really wished Irihata would've let us wash before going up, damn it."
"The man loves to make us suffer," Hanamaki says sagely, peeling a nasty blob off his shoulder. He flicks it into the garbage bin, where it makes a disgusting plat as it slides out of sight. "I can't wait to go home and stand under the shower for the next five years."
"And take up all the hot water again? I don't think so," Matsukawa snorts. "I'm getting in with you."
"You are not , you gangly freak, you take up all the damn space in there—"
"Yeah, well, I'm not sitting in this shit for another hour waiting for the hot water to come back on so you're gonna have to deal—"
"Must I remind you we're two grown ass men both over six feet tall, and the shower is hardly bigger than our broom closet? Besides, I already called dibs."
"It's only dibs if you say dibs, you dickhead."
Yahaba sighs and lets Matsukawa and Hanamaki's stupidly domestic bickering fade into background noise as they clamber into the change rooms. It's blessedly empty at this hour, and he sheds his ruined jacket, shirt, and pants without much care. The cleaners will probably hate him for the amount of goo he's dripping everywhere, but it is two in the goddamn morning and Yahaba is fairly certain his nose hairs have singed off by now. He shucks the shirt and pants into the garbage because it's really not worth salvaging at this point, and changes into his street clothes.
"See you guys," he yawns, giving his two seniors a wave.
"Later," Hanamaki says. "When are you in next?"
"The day after tomorrow? Or, tomorrow, since it's Thursday already," Yahaba sighs. "Or Friday. I dunno. Whenever."
Matsukawa laughs, which is unfair because he's a natural night owl and knows Yahaba gets cranky as hell without enough sleep. "See ya," he says, and Yahaba grunts his goodbyes before shuffling out into the hallway, intent on calling an Uber because the trains have all stopped by now and he's not walking twenty minutes in the dark to get home.
But what he does instead is run nearly headlong into Kyoutani, who's evidently been released from Chief's lecture and had come stomping down the hallway towards the change rooms. And oh, he stinks .
"Ugh," Yahaba gags before he can stop himself. He slaps a hand over his nose and mouth, trying not to retch at the stench that comes off Kyoutani. Kyoutani scowls at him.
"You smell terrible," Yahaba grumbles. It made sense that Kyoutani did, though, since he was an idiot who decided to not only engage in an actual fistfight with an actual ghost, but also attempt some kind of full-body tackle while he was at it, and landed himself right in the splash zone when the ghost exploded.
"No shit," Kyoutani says. "You don't exactly smell like fuckin' flowers yourself."
" I wasn't the one who decided to sucker punch a ghost," Yahaba sniffs. "This is entirely your fault."
Kyoutani snorts. "What, for finishing her off before she could finish us? You're welcome, by the way."
"In case you forgot, we lose the commission from the Board if we don't bring the ghost in, you moron," Yahaba retorts. "So, in actuality, we don't get paid tonight."
Kyoutani, the jackass, doesn't even look sorry. "My bad. Next time, I'll just let the ghost get you."
Yahaba bristles. "I can handle myself," he huffs, and takes a deliberate step past Kyoutani. He hears Kyoutani grumble, but when he looks back Kyoutani is already walking into the change rooms, smearing the door handle with green as he goes.
When he gets in on Friday, the first person he runs into when he wanders into the lounge is Oikawa. Oikawa, who is for some reason standing in a power stance with his arms crossed over his chest, face red and exhaling through his nose like a bull when Yahaba walks in. He freezes by the door, uncertain.
"... what?" Yahaba asks, staring at his Division Leader. Oikawa isn't usually the type to get particularly riled up—that's what he does to other people—but every once in a while he can get pissed off at something they've done, like the time Kindaichi forgot a bunch of their seals and left them stranded with half a ghost writhing in the spirit box in the middle of a subway platform.
"You. Guys. Got. GOOED." Oikawa seethes, taking extra care to punctuate each period.
"Uh," Yahaba says, but before he could say anything else Oikawa dashes over to the whiteboard hanging on the wall. Scrawled amidst the random notes and doodles at the top are the words 0 Days Since Our Last Goo Incident . He doesn't remember how many days their record was at before, but someone had erased the number and brought it back to zero.
Oikawa smashes his palm flat against the board, next to a list of all the active Divisions at Headquarters, and screeches, "You guys got gooed! And look! Castle Division is now in last place !" He jabs his index at their team, which is now tucked under Crow Division.
"Oh my god," Yahaba groans. This again. He chucks his bag onto one of the sofas. Across from him, Iwaizumi is sitting and reading, though he snorts at Oikawa's theatrics. "It wasn't on purpose, Oikawa."
"We had a streak going, Yahaba!" Oikawa wails. "Ninety-eight days! We were untouched by ghost filth for over three months! We were about to overtake Ushiwaka's record! And now we're in last place!"
"Don't front, we weren't anywhere near Ushijima's record," Iwaizumi says, turning a page. "We had another two months to go at least."
"That's besides the point, Iwa-chan!" Oikawa cries. "Not only that, we're now beneath the Crows! Tobio-chan is beating me . I'm going to have to buy him drinks if we're still in last place by the end of the month! That's less than a week away!"
Yahaba rolls his eyes. If there's two surefire things that'll set Oikawa off, it's usually either Ushijima Wakatoshi, the Leader of the Special Retrieval Division (better known as the Eagles), or Kageyama Tobio, a direct-energy manipulator from the Crow Division that Oikawa has some kind of petty dislike for. And of course it's his luck that the events of Wednesday night's mission treads over both minefield-ridden topics.
"Whatever, you know it'll be another two days and Kageyama and Hinata will get dunked on again," Iwaizumi says. Oikawa sniffs delicately, but that seems to placate him.
Yahaba sighs, flopping onto the sofa. Sometimes, it's hard to see Oikawa as the legendary ghost hunter people usually whisper about. Once upon a time, Yahaba had also been curious and intimidated by the rumors and track record Oikawa had set for himself—over two hundred ghost containments in his first year as a ghost hunter, a handful of high-profile exorcisms, and his unparalleled skill as a direct-energy manipulator. Not many people can control spirit energy without the aid of seals or runes, but Oikawa was one of the few hunters that could.
But then he'd met Oikawa in person, worked with him and hunted with him, and Yahaba had quickly realized that, nah, Oikawa's probably the most picked-upon hunter by the seniors in the Castle Division because he’s a brat and isn’t afraid to flaunt it.
"By the way, Yahaba, you're gonna be with me, Oikawa, and Watari for the next couple of missions," Iwaizumi says, jolting Yahaba from his thoughts.
"Eh? Why?" Yahaba asks, surprised. He hasn't been partnered with them for a while now, since Oikawa and Iwaizumi have enough seniority and experience to handle missions as a duo. Watari is a surprise too, since his friend had been accepted into the spirit rehabilitation group a few months ago and had been spending most of his time training instead of going out on missions.
Oikawa kisses his teeth and flops onto the cushions next to Iwaizumi. "Our beloved Mad Dog is on leave," he informs Yahaba. "After that disaster of a mission, Chief wasn't pleased, but I plead his case and got him a suspension rather than a demotion. He's also on medical leave too, because the moron's hand is in pieces after his little fistfight without any proper protection, so he's out until his hand heals. I also got you guys pay, by the way," Oikawa adds, smirking at Yahaba. "Not all of it, since the ghost did blow up, but I convinced Chief that it's good practice to cover basic labour costs since you guys did carry out the mission. You're welcome."
"Thanks," Yahaba grits out, feeling himself rankling at Oikawa's obvious smugness. Fortunately, that feeling vanishes when Iwaizumi reaches over and flicks Oikawa hard in the ear without looking up.
"Ow! Iwa-chan! That hurt!"
"Your goodwill is rendered meaningless if you're going to brag about it," Iwaizumi says, deaf to Oikawa's splutters. "Anyway, we're on standby until midnight," he says to Yahaba. "And since you're with us, we'll take you on any assignments that come our way for the next three days. Afterwards, we'll see what Watari's schedule is like with his training, and arrange as we see fit."
"Sounds good," Yahaba nods. "Thank god you're the competent one, Iwaizumi."
Iwaizumi barks out a laugh, and Yahaba snickers as he wanders out of the lounge in search of the vending machine, leaving Oikawa's whining behind.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said for his thoughts about Kyoutani.
Yahaba frowns to himself as he surveys the options in the vending machine before him. He isn't surprised by the suspension, and if his hunch is correct their resident wild card probably would've been demoted pretty badly if Oikawa hadn't stepped in. And Oikawa had stepped in, which makes it all the more interesting. Iwaizumi may be the only one Kyoutani shows a shred of respect for (mostly because Iwaizumi had thoroughly trounced him in everything Kyoutani had challenged Iwaizumi at, ranging from arm-wrestling to keg stands to Go Fish), but it's a generally known-fact that it's Oikawa who's going to be calling the shots; the one who's going to reign the Mad Dog in when he goes feral.
And speaking of feral, the idiot had broken his goddamn hand punching a ghost. But if Oikawa wants to keep him, everyone is wise enough to know not to challenge it.
Yahaba huffs and fishes for loose change in his pocket. There's a weird knot in the pit of his stomach, and if he didn't know better, he'd say he was actually worried for Kyoutani.
...Nah. No way.
Three days later, Bokuto Koutarou and Akaashi Keiji from the Owl Division get massively gooed when their target reacts badly to their seals and blows up in their face, just as they're boxing it in for the ride home. That resets the team records, and Owl Division is moved under Castle Division to claim the bottom for the first time in months, something that everyone unanimously agrees is a dramatic but overall hilarious upset to the status quo.
On the upside, now that it's September 30 and thus the last day of the month and they're no longer in last place, Oikawa narrowly avoids having to shell out for team drinks. And so, Yahaba, along with the rest of Castle Division, is spared from a month's worth of whining and petulant glares from their Leader.
There's an underground bar called Spikers' a few blocks away from Headquarters that they frequent. It's damp and dingy and smells perpetually of cheap vodka, and is not someplace Yahaba would voluntarily go to if he had a choice. But the drinks are cheap and the food is deliciously greasy, so their monthly team night out is usually pretty fun.
The owners know them all by now, and probably consider them some kind of ragtag gang that only serves to chalk up noise complaints, but they give them their biggest party room each time and everyone jams themselves in for chow time.
"To Bokuto!" Kuroo, Leader of the Cat Division, starts their toast with the biggest shit-eating grin on his face. "Drinks are on him tonight, folks, so don't hold back!"
"Arrrgh," Bokuto groans, plonking his head down onto the table as everyone raised their glasses with cheers. "This. Sucks. Ass."
"You are not allowed to complain," Sawamura warns, after taking a hefty gulp of beer. "I've been paying for the last four months, suck it up, Bokuto."
Yahaba watches as the guys from Owl, Crow, and Cat Division immediately whirl around to place their orders with the waiter, and privately agrees. Division Leaders don't make nearly that much dough.
Oikawa doubles over, chortling. "Holy crap, is that how long it's been? I feel bad for you, Sawamura-chan."
Sawamura grumbles and spears a takoyaki with his chopsticks. "Kageyama and Hinata are expensive."
"But it's not fair," Bokuto whines. "Shrimpy and Grumpy are rookies, they're bound to mess up! But Akaashi and I have been doing this for years!"
"There's a reason why you're only one of the top five best hunters in the region," Kuroo cackles. "I bet you got too excited and tried to jam the ghost into the spirit box again!"
"I did not!" Bokuto hollers. "It—it—something happened! We didn't mess up!"
"Bokuto is right," Akaashi says, so quietly that Yahaba almost misses it, "Something did go wrong with the retrieval."
That catches Yahaba's attention. The Leaders and their second-in-commands usually sit at a table by themselves, but they're close enough for Yahaba to eavesdrop. He gives a quick glance to the other hunters he's sitting with; Kindaichi is in the middle of a heated debate with Kunimi about some comic, and Watari is listening to them with amusement, so he allows himself to sip his devilishly fruity cocktail and sneakily tune in to the other table.
"Our seals were complete and we had the target in the box," Akaashi was saying. "They were standard ensnarement and containment seals, and our mission debrief said the target was a non-violent spirit, purely haunting the place because he hadn't passed on. But when we tried to enclose him in the box, he suddenly started screaming as though he was in pain, and his energy turned malicious."
" Malicious ?" Sawamura repeats incredulously, and Yahaba feels his blood chill. "That's not possible."
"No, it's not," Akaashi agrees. "At least not when the spirit is already contained. And it takes a lot for spirits to sink into maliciousness. The target we had was the furthest thing away from changing."
"So what happened after that?" Kuroo asks, frowning. "Did you try a cleanse?"
"We didn't get the chance," Akaashi responds. "The ghost exploded before we even had the chance."
Silence falls over the Leaders, and Yahaba lowers his glass. The sounds of the party are suddenly very far away, and he thinks back to his mission.
"Does your Chief know about this?" He hears Iwaizumi ask.
"We explained it all, but we don't think he completely believes us," Akaashi hums. "At least, the Board definitely doesn't. Our Chief is a bit skeptical too."
"And the Director had the gall to insult Akaashi, saying he wasn't experienced, and that his seals were shitty!" Bokuto shouts, heated, and slams his fist down on the table. "I almost gave him a piece of my mind!"
"I made sure he didn't," Akaashi interjects, looking slightly exasperated, and Yahaba almost laughs because he's definitely seen that same expression on Iwaizumi's face when it comes to Oikawa. He distracts himself by finishing his drink and calls for another, slightly stronger one. It arrives quickly, a deep amber colour in a heavy glass, and Yahaba takes a long sip.
"Well, one thing's for sure," he hears Sugawara, the second-in-command for the Crows, say. "Neither of you are inexperienced hunters, and what happened was very odd indeed."
"I'd advise all of you to stay vigilant," Akaashi says. "I'm hoping this was a one-off, and I did somehow make a mistake with the seals, but just in case…"
"Nonsense!" Bokuto bellows. "You're perfect, Akaashi!"
"Calm down, Bokuto-san," Akaashi says, and the conversation derails when Kuroo starts poking fun at Bokuto for being a sap, and Bokuto's volume gets louder and louder with each beer he gets.
Yahaba lets the festivities of the night wash over him and turns back to his tablemates, pushing the overheard conversation to the back of his mind, and is in the middle of advising (read: bossing) Kindaichi on his seal writing technique when the door to the party room bangs open.
Yahaba jumps and turns to look—and jumps again when he sees Kyoutani standing in the doorway, a heavy scowl on his face and a metaphorical storm cloud brewing over his head. The conversations in the room lulls for a second as everyone stares; Kyoutani's suspension and injury did not go unnoticed, even if nobody was particularly surprised.
"Ken-chan!" Oikawa cheers, breaking through the slightly awkward silence. "You made it, I'm so pleased!"
Kyoutani glares. Oikawa sips his margarita and wiggles his fingers at him.
There's a long-suffering huff and Iwaizumi leans over, clapping Kyoutani on the back.
"Go, sit," he says, pushing Kyoutani over to—oh no, their table, Yahaba realizes. Their table is the only one with an open seat, and since they're all part of Castle Division, it made sense for Kyoutani to sit with them. Besides, he barely got along with members of his own team, nevermind the other hunters.
Kyoutani drops heavily into the open seat next to Kindaichi, who flinches slightly. Yahaba has a feeling Kindaichi never quite got over the time Kyoutani literally bowled him over to grab a spirit out of thin air, and he doesn't really blame the poor guy.
But the attention on them disperses when it's apparent Kyoutani isn't about to start shit, and the noise volume in the room resets itself back to its usual obnoxious loud.
A waiter comes by, holding out a menu, but Kyoutani just glares and grunts out the brand of beer wants. Yahaba takes another long gulp of his drink and takes Kyoutani in—he looks like he usually does, scowling and pissed off. The leather jacket is new, though, or at least Yahaba has never seen him wear it before. Kyoutani's beer arrives, and as he reaches out to take a drink, Yahaba's gaze falls on Kyoutani's bandaged right hand.
"Does it hurt?" He asks, before he could stop himself.
Kyoutani looks at him, dark eyes scanning Yahaba's face, and then he shrugs.
"Nothin' I haven't dealt with before."
Yahaba scoffs. "What, you go around punching ghosts often? Somehow, I don't think Oikawa or Iwaizumi are gonna be happy about that."
Kyoutani rolls his eyes. "Don't be thick," he says, though he doesn't sound that angry. "I don't have time to fuck around with seals and runes like you do. I see it, I grab it, and call it a day."
"Just because you can grab it doesn't mean you should," Yahaba says, exasperated. Where Kyoutani lacks in the ability to draw any coherent symbols or runes for seals (he was even worse than Kindaichi, in Yahaba's opinion), he makes up for with his rare gift of being able to physically touch the spirits. Yahaba doesn't actually know how that's possible—according to Oikawa it had something to do with the individual's spiritual energy balance, or some shit. The only other hunter he knows that can do that is Ushijima, but Ushijima is already perfect at every goddamn thing he does, so it's not like that ability is a particular standout for him.
But Kyoutani is brash, bold, and just a little crazy, so of course his method of ghost hunting is to beat the crap out of whatever he comes across, to varying levels of injuries and success.
Kyoutani stretches his fingers out and turns his hand over, testing the movement against the white bandages. "I heal fast," he says simply, like that would counter all of Yahaba's points. God, he is surrounded by simple-minded simpletons .
"Hey," Kindaichi says, looking a bit miffed.
"Whoops, did I say that out loud?" Yahaba asks, unapologetic, and chugs the rest of his drink. It goes down easily, warming his throat and his stomach, and he signals the waiter for a third.
When he turns back, Kyoutani is looking at him with what might possibly be amusement.
"I'm not simple-minded."
"Coulda fooled me," Yahaba shoots back.
Kyoutani shrugs. "Got a method to my madness."
"Well, you're not the only one out there," Yahaba says, jabbing his finger at him. "There's four of us out in the field, unless you've got seniority, and you ain't got none of that, so you're—" he hiccups, and hears Watari stifle a laugh beside him. "—stuck with the rest of us. And you ain't slick, Kyoutani. Buck up, and if you can cooperate for a damn second, I'll believe you."
Kyoutani raises an eyebrow. "Is that a challenge?" He asks.
Yahaba crosses his arms, and leans back so he can stare down his nose at the other man. "It's an order ."
Kyoutani goes still for a second, fingers tracing the neck of his beer bottle. Yahaba is suddenly aware that he's holding his breath, and that everyone at their table is staring at them.
Kyoutani's eyes are so dark, he realizes. And he has perpetual eye bags, though that's not surprising; most of them don't get too much sleep. He sits with a slouch, but also somehow manages to look big and intimidating in his seat, a bold presence in the dingy bar. His shoulders are so, so broad. Yahaba wonders what it's like to place his palms on them, to pull Kyoutani down towards him, and let their lips—
A knock to the top of his head makes him leap upright in his seat, and Yahaba whirls around to glare at Watari, the offender. "Hey!"
"You have no business ordering Kyoutani around," Watari says matter-of-factly. "You're the same rank as he is."
"Yeah, but I'm smarter," Yahaba retorts, making Kunimi snort into his fries, and Yahaba rounds on him.
"I heard that!"
That distracts him then, because Kunimi is a sneaky bastard when he wants to be, and Yahaba is drunk enough to argue with him. But when he glances over at Kyoutani, the hunter is finishing off his beer, his Adam's apple bobbing as he swallows, and Yahaba's mind blanks just a little bit.
Kyoutani is watching him in an almost considering way, and Yahaba feels a little bit like he's caught.
By what, though, he's not sure.
Chapter 2: Feelings and Frights
Week 2, Chapter 2!
In which Yahaba develops Feelings (trademark symbol), Kyoutani buys a lot of food, and things get creepier.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kyoutani's suspension lifts after another two days, but his hand is still out of commission, so Yahaba doesn't see him until a week later. It's their first shift together since the botched mission, and Yahaba can't say that he's too upset about leaving Oikawa and Iwaizumi. Both of them are superb hunters, but that's the problem—they're too good. Hunting is almost effortless, which leaves them with a lot of time on their hands, and Oikawa complains about every little thing that happens the entire time, which in turn gets Iwaizumi riled up and pissed. And then Yahaba is subjected to another hour of non-stop banter that always ends with badly hidden sexual tension and his seniors groping each other when they think Yahaba’s not looking. And while it's great his team leads can go fuck it out together after they're done and have a grand old time, Yahaba thinks he's probably more than a little scarred by that than any ghost goo he’s ever come across.
The only saving grace was Watari, who takes the nonsense of it all like a champ and keeps Yahaba from going off the deep end.
"Oh thank fuck," Yahaba says, when he walks into the meeting room and sees Kyoutani, Kindaichi, and Kunimi on his squad for the night.
"Wow, that bad eh?" Kunimi says, chin propped up on his hand, and Yahaba makes a face at him.
“You have no idea, kid.”
“I’m literally a year younger than you.”
“Yeah, well, watching Iwaizumi smack Oikawa’s ass for the tenth time in one night has aged me by at least fifty years, so I digress.”
Kindaichi makes a terrible sputtering noise, and even Kyoutani wrinkles his nose a bit in distaste, but Kunimi just shrugs.
“Anyway, what’s the mission report?”
“An at-risk benign haunting,” Yahaba says, flipping through the dossier. Even though he and Kyoutani are the same rank, he’s got a couple more months of training and Oikawa had deemed him a more suitable squad leader. “We’re looking to bag a ghost of a thirty-five year old man at the old mill. He doesn’t seem to have any ties to the place, so he’s an untethered spirit, and it seems like he’s getting restless. Witness reports say objects are breaking, and noises can be heard at night.”
“Could he be descending into a poltergeist?” Kindaichi asks, frowning.
“It doesn’t appear so, but depending on how the retrieval tonight goes, we’ll either turn him over to rehabilitation or disposal. I want this to go quick—let’s not drag it out. Kindaichi, you and I are on seal projections. Kunimi, you’re on spirit box duty. Kyoutani, you’re the shepherd. Make sure you get the ghost to the retrieval location.”
Kindaichi and Kunimi are already wandering off, gathering their supplies and shrugging their coats on. Kyoutani stands too; he’s wearing that leather jacket again, and Yahaba is really struggling to remember if he’s ever seen Kyoutani wear it before all this when the other man steps forward, meeting Yahaba’s eyes.
“And if he runs?” Kyoutani asks, voice low. He drums his long fingers on the table. His right hand has a brace on it.
Yahaba blinks, and then grabs his own projector and pulls out his stack of pre-written seals. “Then I expect you to bring him back, by any means necessary,” he replies.
For a second he’s annoyed, thinking Kyoutani is trying to challenge him, but the thought disappears when he sees Kyoutani smile; a confident upward curve of one corner of his mouth, and the air vanishes from Yahaba’s lungs. Kyoutani looks rugged, and hot (wait, what ?), and holy shit Yahaba kind of wants to grab him by the front of his jacket and kiss the smirk off Kyoutani’s face.
“Sounds good, boss,” Kyoutani rumbles, and cracks his knuckles.
God. Yabaha is fucked .
Things both improve and decline for him from there on. Yahaba has no idea how, or why, but he and Kyoutani are actually kinda getting along.
It’s not that they were rivals or enemies or anything before, but they weren’t exactly friends either. They got along for the sake of the missions and assignments and Yahaba always knew he could count on Kyoutani to step up if they were in a jam, but beyond that, he hadn’t tried very hard to get to know the other man. It also didn’t help that Kyoutani was somewhat of a delinquent, needed a serious attitude check, and had managed to get into a fight with some older hunters from a different branch while he was still on probation and landed his ass in disciplinary action. He’d been in and out of Castle Division for the first year he and Yahaba had started, and Yahaba’s opinion of him hadn’t really evolved beyond ‘angry man with angry ghost-punching hands’.
But Kyoutani had returned, still wild but perhaps a little more restrained, and now Yahaba is really starting to take notice.
Yahaba starts getting squad leader positions for his missions, and more often than not Kyoutani is assigned to the same tasks as him. They spend a lot of shifts together too, late ones that drag into the early hours of the morning before the next group comes in to relieve them. They’ve had a lucky streak; not too many emergencies have come in while they’re on standby, so Yahaba is spending a lot of his time reading and gaming and eating and Kyoutani-watching while they wait out their shift in the lounge.
Kyoutani may be quiet, but he’s expressive in his own ways. Yahaba can tell when he’s bored by the way he lounges on the sofa, or when he’s reading something funny in a magazine by the way his left eyebrow twitches in time with the quick upwards quirk of his lips. Kyoutani’s preferred takeout dish is hamima chicken, but he’ll only order it from the restaurant down the street. He dislikes coffee, and seems especially horrified by both the whipped cream and syrup monstrosities Yahaba brings in at the start of their shift and the bitter black brew that he consumes by the time midnight rolls around.
Yahaba takes notes of the way Kyoutani twirls his pen between long, calloused fingers when he’s grudgingly doing his runes and symbols homework, and the way he just doesn’t seem to have any grasp at getting the right symbols out on paper but is rather adept at doodling pictures of random objects in the margins on his notebook. There’s a small, crescent shaped scar high on his right cheekbone, and Yahaba wants to trace it with his fingers and ask where Kyoutani got it.
He tries not to think too much of it when Kyoutani nudges him with his foot one day and makes a light jab at Yahaba for not keeping up with him at the gym, or when he slides his notebook over with a grimace on his face and shows Yahaba his crooked, but surprisingly legible runes for review. They’re teammates, Yahaba reasons. And he’s good at runes and symbols, so it makes sense for Kyoutani to ask him for help.
And yet, whenever he shows up at the gym unprompted, he gets the pleasure of seeing Kyoutani’s expressions—a mixture of surprise and satisfaction as he watches Yahaba choose one of the treadmills or a set of dumbbells for his workout. And when he drafts up quick cheat sheets and simple flowcharts to help Kyoutani memorize the symbols, his heart flutters at the way Kyoutani takes the papers and flips through them slowly, actually reading and using the material Yahaba had come up with.
He’s falling hard—knows that the second his half-formed daydreams start featuring rough palms and steel grey eyes and strong, coiled muscles means he’s beyond the point of return, but fuck, Yahaba’s nervous and just a little bit initimidated by the notion of being more than just friendly with Kyoutani.
So if he has to put in the extra effort to hold back, keep his glances wistful and secret, he blames it on the fact that he’s not quite ready to risk it all yet.
“Kunimi,” Yahaba says into the earpiece, as quietly as he can. “I need you to hurry up. This guy is not going to last.”
There’s a soft burst of static, sounds of laboured breathing, and then Kunimi pants into his earpiece, “No can do, Yahaba. I’ve been cornered.”
“What? What are you talking about? The ghost is in the master room.”
Kunimi doesn’t respond for a few seconds, but when he does, he’s even quieter than before. “Yeah, I know. But there’s a second ghost down here with us.”
Yahaba stills, hand tightening on his seal projector. He’s aware of Kyoutani lurking in the shadows on the other side of the room, and Yahaba hopes he heard what Kunimi had said. He can’t really sidle over to relay all that information right now, not when the ghost they’re originally here to collect is getting steadily more aggravated as he drifts in a small, tight circle on the other side of the room, limbs shaking and emitting low, unearthly moans.
“The hell d’you mean there’s two ghosts?”
Oh, good, Kyoutani was also in on the conversation, and he, like Yahaba, is definitely not happy about their situation.
“I mean there’s another one of them here, downstairs in the kitchen, and she doesn’t look like she’s doing too good either,” Kunimi retorts. “Also, Kindaichi is trapped in the damn pantry and I only have one spirit box. We can’t take them both.”
He hears Kyoutani growl, and Yahaba takes a deep breath.
“Calm down,” he murmurs. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Kindaichi, call for backup right now. I don’t really care for who, just get another squad in. Both you and Kunimi stay where you are. Kyoutani, you keep an eye on our friend upstairs. I’m coming down to the kitchen to see if I can contain the other ghost.”
“What? I just said we don’t have enough spirit boxes,” Kunimi hisses.
“I know , you insufferable brat, just hang the fuck on,” Yahaba retorts. He glances over to where Kyoutani is crouched, hidden behind the ornate wardrobe in the corner of the room. He’s watching Yahaba, mouth turned slightly downwards, but he doesn’t say anything. Yahaba sighs and whispers, “Don’t let this ghost leave,” before creeping out of the bedroom and down the stairs.
Something isn’t right. There’s no way mission debrief would’ve missed a second ghost in the vicinity, especially in an area as small as a two-storey, two-bedroom house. Even if they were the ones who misread the dossier, there’s no way Oikawa would’ve let them loose into the field without confirming that they know what the heck was going on. But somehow, in their silent sneaking around the house, Yahaba and Kyoutani had found one ghost and Kindaichi and Kunimi had found another.
The entryway to the kitchen is down the hall from the stairs, and Yahaba takes careful steps to remain hidden in the shadows as he slinks along the wall, seal projector at the ready. He crouches in the doorway and peers inside.
He sees Kunimi hiding behind a large china cabinet, clutching the spirit box and looking mildly annoyed, and notices that the large white door of the pantry is slightly ajar. Hovering by the stove in the other corner of the room, closest to the doorway, is a female ghost. Her faint, raspy breaths could be heard as she bumps against the appliance, and Yahaba can see some kind of tremor go through her body every now and then. An oppressive sort of pressure is coming off her in waves, and Yahaba can feel the hairs stand up on his arms.
Static crackles in his earpiece again, and a moment later, Kindaichi says, “Kuroo and Kozume from Cat Division were close by. They’re on their way. Oikawa and Iwaizumi are also coming from Headquarters.”
“Good,” Yahaba breathes. “How long till the Cats get here?”
“Five minutes. They were answering a house call on Third and Main. They don’t have any collection material on them though; just personal seals and whatever else they use.”
The female ghost suddenly gurgles, and a trickle of black liquid spills out of her slightly open mouth. It drops onto the grimy tiles and smells strongly of roadkill on a summer afternoon.
“Alright,” Yahaba says, making his executive decision. “Listen up, you three. These two ghosts are not looking good, and we can’t wait for backup to arrive. This is the plan: Kindaichi, on my count, we’re going to launch an ensnarement trap on Miss Ghost down here. Kunimi, while she’s contained, you’re going to go upstairs to the master bedroom. Kyoutani, I want you to box Mister Ghost.”
There’s a pause, and then Kyoutani says gruffly, “You sure about that? You know I can’t write seals for shit, Yahaba.”
“Did I stutter?” Yahaba asks. “I said what I said. I want you to box him.”
He hears Kyoutani shift, and then a low, baritone rumbles directly into his ear: “I gotcha.”
A shiver goes unwittingly down his spine, and Yahaba has to physically fight back a little sigh that threatens to escape him. He squeezes his eyes shut and wills himself to focus. “Don’t blow up my ghost,” he says instead, and grips his seal projector. “On three, Kindaichi. One, two, THREE!”
Kindaichi bursts out of the pantry, waving his seal projector, and Yahaba slides into the room with his own as well. They fire simultaneously, activating the entrapment seals, and the ghost shrieks as the ribbons tangle around her and anchors quickly into the ground.
“Kunimi, now!” Yahaba shouts, just as he feels the ceiling above them shake.
Kunimi darts out from his hiding spot, blowing past Yahaba as he dashes for the stairs. The house rattles on its foundation, shaking dust on them. Yahaba clenches his teeth and keeps his projector trained on the ghost, but she’s writhing angrily, with more black liquid spilling from her mouth. There’s a loud bang from upstairs, a ghostly howl, and what sounds like a monstrous scuffle.
“What’s going on up there?” Kindaichi shouts, fighting to be heard over the ghosts’ screams.
“Focus!” Yahaba yells back, because he can see the seals unravelling. Shit, it’s not enough to contain her—
Another bang makes the floorboards rattle and cabinet doors swing open, and one of Kindaichi’s seals gives out.
The ghost lashes immediately; Kindaichi is thrown to the ground by the force of the strike and lands heavily on his side. The movement jostles the seals, and Yahaba can see them start to break apart, and he gets sudden déjà vu; the same thing had happened to Matsukawa’s and Hanamaki’s seals when they weren’t in position.
But things are different this time. Kyoutani is fighting the ghost upstairs, Kunimi has their only spirit box with him, and Yahaba can’t let this ghost get away.
The whole house seems to shudder, and Yahaba suddenly feels like he’s been thrown into a freezer. His eyes widen as he watches the ghost jerk, stiffen, and then malicious energy is pouring out of her, tearing down the connection of his seals and blowing his projector into pieces.
“NO!” Yahaba bellows, and does the stupidest thing yet: he chucks the ruined projector to the ground, seizes the shredded ribbons of his seals with his bare hands, and tries to anchor it down himself.
The pain is instantaneous. His palms burn, and he feels like his arms are splitting open. But even as Yahaba drops to his knees, he clings on, almost desperately at this point. Distantly, he hears Kindaichi yelling, and he’s suddenly thrown back to his first year as a ghost hunting trainee, where he listened to his instructor warn them not to touch their seals with their bare hands when they’re activated. Only direct-energy manipulators can pull off such a feat, and even then, it takes a lot of training and an incredible amount of focus to do so.
Well, Watari did like to call him a super-idiot sometimes.
The front door of the house bangs open, and Yahaba has never been happier to see a familiar, crazy bedhead and the introverted seals specialist from the Cat Division.
Kuroo, bless his soul, takes one look at the disaster that has become the dinky little suburban house and immediately takes over.
“Kenma, get the seals!” He shouts. “I’m going upstairs!”
Yahaba groans, his world narrowed down to the searing pain that are his hands. But he hears swift footsteps behind him, and then Kozume is crouching by his side. He’s holding a stick of red pastel, and he only has to take one look at Yahaba’s half-shredded seals before he starts drawing on the tiles, connecting his runes and symbols to Yahaba’s and Kindaichi’s with firm, quick strokes of crimson. Yahaba is vaguely impressed—it’s one thing to know the basics of runes and symbols and another to design your own, but it’s a whole other level to take another hunter’s work and come up with compatible designs on the spot. If his hands weren’t presently burning off, Yahaba would probably be a little more appreciative of that fact.
There are thundering footsteps, and Kyoutani nearly crashes into him as he comes skidding into the kitchen, only barely managing to hold himself back. He sinks to his knees by Yahaba’s side, and looks from Yahaba’s hands to the ghost in the trap with wild desperation glazed in his eyes. He’s got a split lip, Yahaba realizes. It’s a little bit sexy.
“Fuck, fuck—fuckin’ do something —”
“Stop it,” Kuroo says, hurrying into the room with Kunimi, who’s clutching the closed spirit box like a lifeline. “Don’t touch anything, Kenma is making sure your friend doesn’t get any backlash when he releases.”
Kozume’s quiet voice cuts through the shrieking, rattling, and banging. “I’m done. Yahaba, let go of your seals.”
But Yahaba can’t—his brain is not cooperating, and neither are his hands, and it feels like he’s got electricity coursing through his veins and he can’t unclench his fingers because he needs to make sure this malicious ghost can’t get out and get anybody else—
“Yahaba,” Kindaichi says, urgent and scared. “Yahaba, stop, you’re hurting yourself—”
Warm, solid hands close around his biceps, and he hears Kyoutani’s voice by his ear, low and direct. “Let go, Yahaba. I got you.”
Yahaba closes his eyes.
He lets go.
“You are an idiot,” Oikawa says. “A giant, bonafide, bone-headed idiot. A whole ass moron. The dumbest, stupidest, craziest—”
“Is this gonna stop anytime soon?” Yahaba asks Iwaizumi, bland. Iwaizumi shakes his head, and Yahaba groans, dropping his head back onto the chair, and resists the urge to cover his face with his bandaged hands. He's just left medical, his whole body is the verge of collapse, and all Yahaba wants to do is sleep for the next week and a half instead of listening to Oikawa's debrief. “Christ.”
“— biggest butthead in the entire universe ,” Oikawa rants, but he’s run out of air so he stops and sucks in a deep breath, like he’s trying to take all the oxygen in the meeting room for himself. Yahaba expects him to continue, but Oikawa’s shoulders just drop and his Leader sighs. “But you were also very brave, Yahaba. You did something very dangerous, but very brave back there.”
“Whoa,” he says. “Please go back to your insults, I don’t think I’m ready to experience genuinely nice Oikawa Tooru yet.”
“Oh, shut it,” Oikawa says, but he’s smiling. “Savour it, I’m never gonna show you this side of me ever again.”
“Anyway, I didn’t call you in here just to heap insults and praises,” Oikawa says. He twirls one of the chairs around and sits down next to Iwaizumi. “Have you ever thought about applying for the senior hunter partnership program?”
“Uh,” Yahaba says, taken aback, because this definitely isn’t what he’d expected Oikawa to say. “No? Not really?”
“You should,” Oikawa says, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I think you’ll do great.”
“ Two compliments in a day? Holy shit, who are you and what have you done with my jackass Division Leader?”
Iwaizumi doubles over, laughing until he's actually wheezing, and Oikawa rolls his eyes. “Quit dodging the question, Yahaba! I’m trying to show my support for you here!”
“Alright, alright,” Yahaba sighs, deciding that he can pull himself together for ten minutes and work with Oikawa. “Look, that’s really nice of you, for real, that you think I’m good enough to apply for a senior program, but, uh, in case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have a hunting partner.”
Oikawa and Iwaizumi look at each other, and Yahaba has the distinct feeling that they’re talking shit about him telepathically.
“I didn’t honestly think we’d have to say it, but it seems like you’re more in denial than we originally thought,” Iwaizumi chuckles. “You should apply with Kyoutani, Yahaba.”
Yahaba nearly chokes on his own spit.
“You two would do great together,” Oikawa adds, beaming, and Yahaba waves his bandaged, mummified hands in the air.
“Whoa, whoa, back the hell up. Kyoutani ? You think I’d work well with Kyoutani?”
“I really don’t see why not,” Oikawa says. “I mean, every mission you’ve done since the first goo incident has been with Ken-chan, excluding the ones with yours truly and Iwa-chan. And if I’m not mistaken, and I know I’m not, all of your missions have been successful since then.”
“Well,” Yahaba starts, and then he has to stop and think about it for a second, because Oikawa is right, that smug bastard. He has been working with Kyoutani non-stop since the beginning of the month, and things have actually gone rather well.
"To put it frankly, you're the only one who can handle him," Oikawa says. "And honestly, probably the only one he listens to aside from Iwa-chan."
"Bullshit," Yahaba says reflexively. "He doesn't listen to me."
But he knows Kyoutani does—and for some reason, it makes some kind of dumb, smug pride swell in his chest, because Kyoutani doesn't even listen to Oikawa or their Chief half the time. Iwaizumi is the exception, but so is he, it seems.
“Yeah, sure,” Iwaizumi says, and Yahaba can tell that he doesn’t believe a word Yahaba had just said. “It’s not like he’s been taking directions from you on every mission where you’re the squad leader, and even if you’re not, he defers to your judgement call when it comes down to it.”
“Also, he boxed a ghost without punching it to pulp,” Oikawa adds. “That’s a hell of an improvement from what he was doing before.”
“And you think...it’s because of me?” Yahaba asks, incredulous. “I think you’re giving me too much credit.”
“I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough,” Iwaizumi counters, and Yahaba falls silent.
“We’re not telling you to make a decision now,” Oikawa finally says, gentle. He picks up a clear manila folder from the desk beside him and hands it to Yahaba; he can see a brochure titled Senior Hunter Partnership Program - Apply Today! and what looks like an application form tucked behind it. It takes some fumbling, but Yahaba manages to get it into his bag without dropping it.
“Think about it,” Oikawa says, and he’s giving Yahaba this look , the kind that makes Yahaba feel like he’s a jigsaw puzzle Oikawa is on the cusp of solving. “And maybe talk to Kyoutani about it. I have a feeling he’d be interested in the program if you were there with him.”
He leaves the mission debrief feeling more confused than ever.
He runs into Kuroo and Kozume as he gets off the elevator on the ground floor. Or, rather, he stumbles upon them unintentionally, because they’re standing off to the corner of the lobby, quietly talking amongst themselves. Yahaba opens his mouth to greet them—he ought to, given the fact that they’d basically saved his bacon back in the house, but then he sees Kozume’s irate expression, and the tightness of Kuroo’s shoulders under his jacket, and inadvertently tunes in to their conversation.
“—I don’t know , Tetsurou, I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary—”
“I get it, Kenma, I’m not saying—”
“Well, the Board is,” Kozume snaps. It’s weird to see him angry; Kozume has always been calm to the point of looking bored, like Kunimi. “My runes were— are fine. And legal. But there’s something wrong with—” he catches sight of Yahaba, and stops abruptly, mouth turning down into a frown. His eyes flit quickly to Yahaba’s bandaged hands before he looks away. Kuroo turns, and when he sees Yahaba, the pinched expression on his normally relaxed face smooths into something half-calm.
“Hey, Yahaba,” he says, giving a wave. “How’re your hands?”
“They’re fine,” Yahaba says, looking down at his white mitts. “Gonna be a pain in the ass trying to shower, but the bandages can come off within the week.”
“Mmm, good,” Kuroo hums. “You Castle Division kids are relentless. No wonder Oikawa’s getting grey hairs.”
“Oikawa’s got grey hairs?” Yahaba asks, trying and failing to mask his glee. Kuroo laughs.
“Don’t tell him I said that,” he winks. “By the way, there’s someone waiting for you over there.”
“Eh?” Yahaba turns, and stops short when he sees Kyoutani is sitting in one of the armchairs by the front of the building, donning That Leather Jacket, and is now watching Yahaba with a piercing gaze. Yahaba swallows, throat suddenly dry.
“Don’t let us keep you,” Kuroo says, and Yahaba has a gut feeling that they’re trying to hightail it out of there after that weird-as-hell conversation he’d just walked in on. He hasn’t worked much with the Cats, but he knows Kuroo and Kozume, and rarely has he seen either hunter particularly worked up or angry, especially at each other. But he doesn’t press, and figures he’ll find out the details later with some digging.
“Thank you,” he blurts out, before Kuroo and Kenma could leave. “For—coming in back there and saving us.”
“Hm? It’s no biggie,” Kuroo says, but his smile is less of a smirk and more of an encouraging one. “You lead well, Yahaba. And your friend there did a bang-up job boxing in the ghost. Besides, it’s never a bad thing to have a lil’ something to gloat over Oikawa.”
“Right,” Yahaba says, and listens to Kuroo chuckle as he and Kozume take the stairs down to the underground parking lot. He sighs, shifts his bag, and looks over to the lobby.
Kyoutani is standing now, waiting for him, and Yahaba walks over.
“Hey,” he says. “How’re you?”
Kyoutani shrugs. “Fine,” he says. “Few scrapes here and there, nothin’ I’m not used to. Question is, how are you ?”
Yahaba raises his hands blandly, and wiggling the very tips of his fingers, which are the only appendages visible underneath the gauze. “Can’t wait to sip smoothies for a week because I can’t hold anything.”
Kyoutani exhales, and to Yahaba’s eternal surprise, he reaches forward and takes Yahaba’s hands in his own. Yahaba freezes, heat rushing up his face, but Kyoutani doesn’t seem to notice. He turns Yahaba’s hands carefully, inspecting the bandages and medical work. Something warm settles in the bottom of Yahaba’s stomach, and he takes the opportunity to indulge in Kyoutani’s face.
There’s a few plasters slapped over Kyoutani’s knuckles, plus a couple of welts and scratches on the backs of his hands. He’s got a magnificent bruise blooming on the side of his forehead, and the cut on his mouth has made his bottom lip swell, puffy and purple, and Yahaba wants to soothe it with a touch. Or maybe a kiss.
“You’re dumb as shit,” Kyoutani declares, releasing Yahaba’s hands, but there’s no heat to his words and there’s a glimmer of mirth in his eyes. Yahaba, who feels like his brain has short-circuited at the unexpectedly playful look on Kyoutani’s face, latches onto indignant defense and tries to force the wild thumping of his heart down to a more manageable beat.
“Excuse you, I was the genius that came up with a plan that bagged us two ghosts,” he huffed, all but ready to plant his hands on his hips.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re a genius alright,” Kyoutani snorts. “Grabbing all those seals with your bare hands? I thought I was supposed to be the reckless one for slugging ghosts.”
“I had to make do,” Yahaba sniffs. There’s a pause, and then he says, “But just so you know, Oikawa was pleased that you got the ghost intact.”
Kyoutani arches an eyebrow. “Yeah?” he asks. “And you?”
Kyoutani scowls, and scuffs his shoe against the floor. “Are you pleased? That I got the ghost?”
Yahaba stares, but when he sees Kyoutani’s expression start to shutter, misreading his silence, quickly blurts out, “Fuck yeah. Fuck yeah, I’m—I’m proud. But I’m not surprised.”
Kyoutani jerks ever so slightly, eyes roaming Yahaba’s face, and Yahaba presses on, even as he wishes the ground would swallow him before he could deliver his embarrassing, cheesy admission. “I wouldn’t have asked you if I didn’t believe you could do it.”
The stunned look on Kyoutani’s face was worth it all.
He gets medical leave for the week, but by the second day of waking up late, lounging around in sweatpants, and binge-watching Say Yes to the Dress , Yahaba is already antsy and restless as hell.
He tries to fill out some of his work reports at home, but the walls are thin and the stay-at-home mom next door clearly doesn’t care that the entire floor can hear her soap operas blasting at full volume on her television. So on the third day, Yahaba sets his alarm for ten and makes his way down to Headquarters by noon.
He mingles with the shift change and lunch crowd as he walks into the building, greeting friends and waving off concerns about his hand. Crow Division's Hinata and barrier seals specialist Nishinoya seemed particularly interested in how he managed to hold the seals for so long, which prompted Kageyama to go off on his tiny teammate about proper seal maintenance and protection. During all the fuss, Yahaba quickly excuses himself and catches the next elevator upstairs; he has no idea how Sawamura handles them, but by the gods are they loud .
Watari, Matsukawa, Hanamaki and Iwaizumi are camped out in the Castle Division’s lounge when he walks in, and react to his arrival with general astonishment.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Hanamaki drawls. “I thought you were supposed to be dead till next Thursday!”
“Don’t be stupid, that's clearly Oikawa in a wig, trying to get out of his turn for lunch pickup,” Matsukawa replies, and Yahaba can’t stop the scrunch to his face that makes everyone burst out laughing.
“I’m so offended. I come in here, minding my own business, and all I get is attacked? By my own teammates? The betrayal.”
“ Et tu, Brute ?” Matsukawa quips, and Hanamaki rolls around laughing. Yahaba sticks his nose in the air.
“It’s not that funny if only your boyfriend is laughing.”
“Oh, gross, I do not want to be Mattsun’s boyfriend, what the fuck,” Hanamaki says, almost managing to keep a straight face. Like they hadn’t probably been sucking face in the broom closet downstairs ten minutes ago, or whatever. “Ugly unibrow ogre.”
“Ogre? Please, have you looked in the mirror lately, you bubblegum-haired gremlin?”
Hanamaki poses and bats his eyelashes nauseatingly. “Why yes, I have, and I’m a total stud .”
“Fuck yeah you are.”
“Anyway,” Iwaizumi says, turning to Yahaba with a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, “It’s nice to see you, Yahaba. Couldn’t stay away from work, huh?”
Yahaba shrugs and pulls out one of the chairs. “My neighbours are noisy and my walls are thin. Can’t focus on getting any work done.”
Watari laughs. “Who are you and what have you done with my friend? I never thought the day would come where you’d actually do paperwork.”
“Fuck you, I’m great at paperwork,” Yahaba snarks back. He shakes his mission report free from his bag and tries to take a pen in his mummified hands. “It’s just a total pain in the ass to do.”
“Can’t argue with that,” Watari agrees, and then they’re interrupted by the return of Oikawa and Kyoutani carrying large cardboard Lawson takeout containers.
“Yahaba! What’re you doing here?” Oikawa cries. “I thought you had the week off!”
“Wow, someone in Castle Division is working through their medical leave? No way,” Iwaizumi deadpans, staring Oikawa down, and Oikawa has the decency to blush and flash a sheepish victory sign in his boyfriend’s direction.
“Argh, who cares if Yahaba is back! I want my chicken lunch!” Hanamaki shouts, and chaos descends upon them as everyone pounces onto the takeout containers. Yahaba rolls his eyes, but before he could go back to his papers, Kyoutani steps around the table to stand beside him.
“You should be resting,” he says, blunt as ever. Yahaba shrugs.
“Had stuff to do. Plus, I can technically come and go as I please.”
“Dunno why anybody would voluntarily come to Headquarters on their day off,” Kyoutani snorts, and then says, “You eat yet?”
“Huh?” Yahaba blinks. “I—kinda? Can you eat a smoothie?”
“If you try really hard, probably,” Matsukawa calls, and Yahaba sticks his tongue out at him. But then Kyoutani reaches into the takeout container, pulls out a large package of fried chicken bits, and thrusts it into Yahaba’s face.
“Uh,” Yahaba says, thrown. When he doesn’t move to take it, Kyoutani just grumbles and sets the package down on top of his papers, likely getting grease stains all over them.
“Eat,” Kyoutani says, and turns on his heels, strolling out of the lounge. “Smoothies aren’t actual food.”
Yahaba stares, a little dumbfounded, at Kyoutani’s retreating back, and then down at the chicken pieces. The cute kara age kun wrapping stares innocently back up at him, with an enticing aroma of fried food and spices, and what the hell, did Kyoutani just give Yahaba his own lunch ?
“Ah, young love,” Hanamaki sighs, and Yahaba throws his pen at him.
Kyoutani gets paired with Watari, Matsukawa, and Hanamaki during Yahaba’s leave, but they’re on daytime standby for the most part, so it’s slowly becoming routine for Yahaba to pop by during lunch, get ribbed by whoever’s in the room about how he should be resting, and then accosted by Kyoutani trying to not-so-subtly feed him.
Yahaba honestly doesn’t care that he can only really work a magic bullet with his bandaged hands and blend a handful of random fruits and vegetables together for a meal, but Kyoutani clearly did. The chicken pieces were followed by large, pan-seared gyoza from a food truck down the street (Yahaba managed to eat relatively well with a fork), and then Kyoutani brings him a pack of onigiri from the cafeteria for lunch again (one with grilled tarako and the other a hearty tuna with seasoning). They sit together and eat; Yahaba usually finishing up paperwork or writing seals for his new projector, and Kyoutani grumbling through his runes homework.
One day, Yahaba goes and orders drinks for Kyoutani, and seesaws between all the complicated options at the juice bar before getting a sweet strawberry and mango shake for himself and an acai and protein drink for Kyoutani. It was a precarious trip for the tray balanced in his hands, but he makes it up to the lounge with the orders intact and relishes in the look of surprise on Kyoutani’s face when he slides the drink over.
“You keep getting me food,” Yahaba says, preemptively cutting Kyoutani off when he senses a complaint coming his way. “This is the least I can do.”
The latter harrumphs, passing a large chicken wrap over to Yahaba, and takes the drink without further complaints. Yahaba silently cheers.
“Really, though, I’m alright with making smoothies,” he adds. “It’s less of a hassle to clean than a pot or whatever.”
Kyoutani takes a huge bite out of his own wrap and gives Yahaba a look. “There’s stuff you can eat that doesn’t involve using your hands a lot,” he says through a mouthful of food. “All the food I’ve been getting have been pretty easy to hold, right?”
Yahaba pauses—huh, Kyoutani’s right. He feels a little dumb, and it must’ve shown on his face, because Kyoutani huffs out a laugh and takes a long sip of his drink.
“Trust me, I know this shit. My hands get fucked up every other week. I’m used to it.”
Yahaba’s eyes dart down to Kyoutani’s hands—his long fingers, the areas where his cuts have healed and have left new, pink skin on his knuckles, and the flat, broad expanse of his palms. His brain comes up with truly unhelpful images of those hands wrapped around his own, or trailing down his thighs, grasping and squeezing and—
Oookay. That’s enough for now.
Yahaba suppresses a sigh and files all that into his “Gay Thoughts; Deal With Later” pile and takes a bite of his wrap.
“Thank you,” he says instead, a smile tugging at his lips. “I appreciate your help.”
Kyoutani meets his gaze, and Yahaba is really learning to read between the subtle, nuanced expressions that flit over the other man’s face. Kyoutani looks a little hassled, but underneath is satisfaction and maybe even a hint of fondness.
“We only need one ghost-punching sucker in this damn Division,” Kyoutani says, and Yahaba grins.
Things are, despite all the shit that went down, pretty good right now. He’s catching up on work, Kyoutani is opening up to him, and his teammates are doing well—all of them out and about and closing up missions without much complaints. He momentarily remembers the senior hunter partnership program application, Oikawa and Iwaizumi’s suggestions, and Yahaba’s in a good enough mood that he’s actually starting to consider it.
Once he’s officially back to work, Yahaba decides. Once he’s officially back, and things return to their usual hustle and bustle again, he’ll talk to Kyoutani about it.
And then the Board decides to fuck it all up by issuing an arrest for Kozume Kenma.
scooby-doo voice: ruh-roh
thank you for reading!
Chapter 3: The Problem Project
Happy March, and happy chapter 3! :)
In which a ghostly problem is addressed, Yahaba and Kyoutani do some sleuthing, and someone else gets into trouble with the Director and the Board.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The lobby is dead silent save for three things: the Director of the Board reciting his statements, Kuroo’s snarls and swears, and Bokuto and Sawamura’s grunts as they struggle to hold Cat Division’s Leader back.
“—an issue hereby taken over by the Special Investigations Unit regarding the Misuse of Symbolic Artifacts and Scriptures—”
“Don’t touch him,” Kuroo growls, eyes alight with fury. Kuroo isn’t on the overly muscular side, but he’s putting up a fight so strong that both Bokuto and Sawamura, who are both built like literal brick shithouses, have to dig their heels into the ground and push Kuroo back.
“Kuroo, shut up—”
“—from hereon suspended from all active duties and quarantined during the investigation period. You may not—”
“Get your filthy hands off him!”
Kozume is surprisingly calm amidst the kerfuffle; he’s standing off to the side, flanked by two outlandishly bulky officers with his hands wrapped in restraining seals behind his back. His expression is almost bored as he shifts his weight from foot to foot, waiting as the Director drones on and on about his arrest.
The tension that blankets the rest of the hunters is palpable, though. There’s something about the tall, lanky, white-haired Director that sets them all on edge; an air of wrongness and weirdness seems to swirl around him, like a poisonous fog. All the members of Cat Division are clearly confused and furious; it’s only by the sheer power of Yaku’s warning glare that pins them all down in their spots. Hinata, who’s apparently good friends with Kozume, is all splotchy from his crying—he can barely stifle his angry sobs and clings to Sugawara, who’s got an uncharacteristically hard look in his eye. The hot-headed guys of Crow Division look ready to fight, too, but nobody moves a muscle.
Yahaba can see Oikawa standing in the front, hands on his hips, with Iwaizumi by his side. There’s a cold, considering look on Oikawa’s face that’s making the hairs stand up on the back of Yahaba’s neck. Next to Yabaha, Kyoutani is glaring down the Director with an angry tic in his jaw, fists clenching and unclenching restlessly by his sides. He's anxious, and it's upsetting to see, because Kyoutani is a lot of things but he’s rarely ever fearful or nervous.
But Yahaba doesn't blame him. He, too, feels like he's seconds away from cowering or running in the other direction.
“—the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have—”
“Kuroo, stop it,” Sawamura barks, barely keeping Kuroo from launching himself forward. “Pull yourself together!” He is largely ignored.
“ Fuck you ,” Kurro spits venomously at the Director, and for a second it looks like he might just tear free.
The Director falters for a moment in his speech. He turns coal-black eyes towards Kuroo, and the very air seems to curdle around him.
Swift as an arrow, Oikawa takes two steps forward and slams the flat of his palm into Kuroo’s chest, hard. There’s a sharp crack and a flash of blue, and Kuroo crumples, out like a light. Lev makes a noise that sounds like a yelp and a sob.
“Thank god,” Bokuto murmurs, hoisting Kuroo back up, and from the other side of the room, Kozume’s shoulders slouch a fraction. For the first time, he looks wary, but he makes pointed eye contact with Oikawa and mouths a very small thank you .
Oikawa stands, terse. Iwaizumi places a hand on his back, eyes darting between Oikawa and the officers.
The Director sniffs. His eyes are dark brown now.
“Let’s go,” he rumbles, turning on his heel, and then Kozume is taken away, leaving them all in the lobby of their Headquarters, thinking the same thing: what the hell is going on?
They don't have to wait long before they're given the details.
"Come again?" Hanamaki asks, incredulous. " Illegal seals? How—what?"
"That's the Board's official statement," Oikawa says. He looks tired, hair ruffled and collar crooked. Everyone from Castle Division is sitting in the meeting room, and the atmosphere is tense and anxious, Kozume's arrest from yesterday still fresh in their minds. "At this time, Division Leader Kuroo will be on a temporary leave of absence and Nobuyuki Kai will be the substitute Leader for the time being. You can reach out to him and Yaku Morisuke if there's anything you need from the Cats. Furthermore—"
"Sorry, can we just go back to the part where Kozume got arrested for allegedly writing illegal seals?" Hanamaki interrupts. “Cat Division’s seals specialist? Y’know, the guy whose job is to know the rules and literally master seal-writing ?”
Matsukawa elbows him, sharp. "Calm down, Hiro."
"No! Seriously? Is anyone else not getting a weird vibe about all this? All those weird goo situations and now, an actual error in a mission debrief, and after our hunters managed to pull through and do their jobs, they're making an arrest?"
"I know, Makki," Oikawa sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I just have to go through these bullshit statements the Board wants me to—actually, you know what, screw this, we don't have time."
He chucks a large, stapled package into the garbage bin behind him and squares his shoulders, arms crossed and expression stern. Everyone stares. Yahaba is suddenly starting to understand why Oikawa was one of the most feared and revered ghost hunters of their generation—he’s absolutely crazy when he wants to be.
"I'll give it to you straight. We're having a problem with the ghosts. As you may have heard, at the end of last month we had a goo explosion happen to Mattsun's squad. While it's not uncommon for such instances to happen, especially with inexperienced hunters or volatile ghosts, we've had an alarmingly and steadily mounting number of ghosts where, in the process of containing them, simply explode on the hunters before they could be captured."
Yahaba swallows. That night at Spikers' feels so long ago, but he vaguely remembers Akaashi and Bokuto from Owl Division's mishaps, and Bokuto's indignation that the Board had implied Akaashi's seals were incompetent. Yahaba won't say he knows Owl Division well, but based on what he's seen of Akaashi, he's pretty sure the quiet second-in-command is the furthest thing away from incompetence.
"Not only that, almost each and every one of these ghosts that have exploded were deteriorating rapidly before containment," Iwaizumi adds. "We're talking low-risk, benign hauntings that suddenly descend into malicious ghosts just as they're about to be sealed."
"That's...not possible," Matsukawa says, but his eyebrows are drawn, and Yahaba can tell he's thinking of the mission where Kyoutani jumped the ghost. He sneaks a glance beside him; Kyoutani is sitting with his arms tightly crossed on his chest, burning a hole into the ground with a glare.
"Possible or not, it's happening," Iwaizumi says. "And it's not good. We're talking about a transition process that takes a lot of negative energy and time to foster happening in a matter of seconds. Most ghosts aren't inherently evil. But right now, that's the problem we're having, including the one that Kuroo and Kozume assisted our team with last week."
"But we boxed it," Kindaichi protests. "We—we got the ghosts, didn't we? Even though the female one turned malicious in the end."
"No," Oikawa says heavily, and a chill shoots down Yahaba's spine. Next to him, he's aware of Kyoutani straightening up. "After we turned the second spirit box in for disposal, the ghost exploded."
" What?! "
Everyone jumps at Yahaba’s shout, the volume of his voice shattering the tense air in the room like a canon, but there's no way, because the whole point of the spirit box is to preserve and hold the ghost in its current state. A ghost has never exploded in containment before.
"I know ," Oikawa cuts in, preemptively cutting off what probably would've been an impressive tirade from Yahaba. "Upon investigation, the Board deemed that the seals Kozume wrote to ensnare the ghost after she destroyed Yahaba's projector were illegal and thus the cause of the explosion."
"Kozume's seals saved Yahaba," Kyoutani snarls unexpectedly, the anger in his voice so palpable it makes a few rookie hunters curl away from him fearfully.
"And they were classified as unofficial seals," Iwaizumi says, flat. "Kozume customized them. And that's where the grey area is, and what the Special Investigation Unit is targeting."
"We modify seals all the time," Yahaba retorts. "And he just wrote the seals in conjunction with mine and Kindaichi's so that I wouldn't, I dunno, blow up or something after I try to let go!"
Kyoutani twitches so hard next to Yahaba he's not sure if it was a muscle spasm or an aborted punch.
"Look," Oikawa sighs. "I don't have the answers either. But this is what's happening, and all I can do right now is to warn you and try to prepare you for an increase in possible ghost explosions. Stick to the training regimen, stay calm, and if you need to, call in a senior hunter for help. The Leaders for all the other Divisions are giving the same information to their groups. We're all working together, so don't be afraid to reach out for help, understood?"
A murmur of affirmation floats around the room; nobody seems particularly placated or comforted by those words. Oikawa rubs tiredly at his eyes.
"Alright, I've kept you long enough. You're all dismissed. Be careful out there."
Slowly, the hunters get up and start trailing out of the meeting room; Yahaba stays sitting in his seat, unease churning in his stomach.
"His seals," Kyoutani says suddenly, voice so low Yahaba has to strain to hear it. "What the hell made them so unofficial?"
Yahaba frowns, trying to recall what Kozume had drawn. "He—he tried some kind of layering technique, I think. It combines pre-existing seals by grouping them into one and then draws the energy into a new stream, one that he could use and re-brand for a different purpose." At Kyoutani's blank stare, he adds, "It can be a problem if you don't know what you're doing. Certain energies don't mix, like the ones for a barrier seal and a propulsion seal, which are naturally opposing forces. It can compromise the integrity of the seal and then the energy it contains might have a negative reaction."
"Not only that, there was the dark energy from the ghost mixed in there."
Yahaba looks up. Oikawa is walking over, Iwaizumi, Kindaichi, and Kunimi in tow. "The Board certainly isn't happy about that, but I think they're even more threatened by the fact that Kozume was skilled enough to write over it and successfully neutralize the dark energy. The layering technique itself isn’t actually an illegal method."
Kindaichi frowns. “Isn’t that a good thing? That Kozume knew what he was doing?”
“Generally speaking, yes,” Iwaizumi says. “But that means that he’s probably capable of tracing the ghost’s energy shifts, and all this bullshit is making me wonder if the Board and the Director already knew something about these problem ghosts before we even started reporting goo incidents and just didn’t want to admit it.”
Kyoutani scowls. "This is stupid. If they'd briefed us right from start then none of this would've fucking happened."
“And how very convenient that they somehow didn’t,” Kunimi mutters, and Kindaichi shoots him a nervous look.
Oikawa's smile is sharp. "Well, we can't always get what we want, right, Ken-chan? In any case, I need to speak with the four of you. You're going to get called in within the next few days to provide your testimony regarding the events that transpired on your mission. And I want you all to be wary. State the facts, don't get defensive, and don't. Provoke. Them."
The last part is directed partially at Yahaba, and partially at Kunimi, which is sort of hilarious. They're such shits sometimes, and Oikawa knows it.
“This isn’t fair,” Yahaba mutters. He thinks back to Kozume, in cuffs, Kuroo, hanging limply between Sawamura and Bokuto, and the look in Kyoutani’s eyes as he watched the Director, like a cornered dog.
Oikawa looks away. “That is, perhaps, the understatement of the year.”
They fall back into routine, but it's a terse, uncomfortable one. Everybody at Headquarters is on edge, the hallways are too quiet, and there's a shadow hanging over them all.
Yahaba's bandages come off, revealing fresh pink scars that run from the tips of his fingers, down through his palms, and up to the crook of his elbow, jagged and etched like lightning strikes. He's cleared for field work without much fanfare, and Kyoutani seems pleased to have him back, if Yahaba's reading into his grunts and mumbles correctly. They hurry into their next mission without further ado, taking refuge in the exhaustion that comes with their line of work to avoid overthinking the situation.
The application remains in Yahaba’s bag, untouched.
It's a dull, quiet Wednesday night when the last testimony is conducted. He's sitting in the lounge with Kyoutani, Kindaichi, Iwaizumi, and Oikawa when Kunimi finally returns. Oikawa looks on expectantly; Kunimi gives them a tired look and shakes his head.
"Same as the others," he says. "They weren't interested in hearing what I had to say, and their questions were leading. They just wanted to conduct the interview to say they did it and move on with the process."
"Damn it," Oikawa sighs, tipping his head back. He looks more drained than usual; dark bags sit under his eyes, and his pallor is paler than it normally is. "We're running out of time."
Kunimi takes a seat beside Yahaba, and they share a grimace. When Kindaichi had returned from the first round of questioning and tipped them off on the Board’s dirty plays, Oikawa had instructed the two of them to stall for as long as they could, hoping to extend the process. Clearly, it hadn’t worked.
"Calm down," Iwaizumi says, giving their Leader a nudge. "They're pushing ahead, but we can too. Watari dropped the official transcripts off before clocking in, we can take a look at them and try to figure out where the proceedings are headed and what they’re hiding behind all that legal jargon.”
Oikawa hums thoughtfully, but his lips are set in a pout. “Are they official official?”
“So most of the file is definitely gonna be redacted.”
Iwaizumi grimaces. “Exactly.”
Oikawa groans and rubs his eyes in frustration. “This doesn’t make any fucking sense. All of the units have had ghost problems long before Kozume got caught up in all this. It almost feels like they’re using him as a scapegoat.”
“But for what?” Kindaichi asks.
“God knows,” Oikawa grumbles. “It’s not about the number of ghost explosions, because the Board would’ve complained about that a long time ago. Actually, I’m surprised they haven’t. We lost a lot of ghosts to goo incidents this past month, but they didn’t seem surprised at all—”
He stops short, eyes widening slightly, and for a second everyone stares at their Division Leader mouthing words to himself, blinking rapidly.
“Uh, Oikawa-san?” Kindaichi prods, tentative.
“Unless they already knew,” Oikawa breathes, and then scrambles upright in his seat, making them all jump.
“Oi,” Iwaizumi starts, but gets cut off.
“We can’t sit around waiting for the Board and the Special Investigations Unit to indict Kozume, especially when they seem so desperate to do so,” Oikawa declares. He bounces to his feet in an uncharacteristic show of energy; there’s a slightly maniacal gleam in his eye that makes Yahaba a little nervous. “Iwa-chan, I need you to retrieve the original, unredacted file for me, and then we’ll take a crack at it. It’s probably still available on the records database. I’ve got to look into something. And I have to visit Kuro-chan later tonight.”
“How? I don’t have access,” Iwaizumi says, but Oikawa just winks and tosses his Division Leader’s credentials to him.
“You know my codes,” he chimes, and Iwaizumi looks like he’s torn between admitting he does know Oikawa’s very super-secret-Division-Leader-only passwords and denying it altogether, but he takes one look at Oikawa’s expression and deflates.
“Yeah, alright,” he grumbles. “None of you saw this,” he adds, as if they all needed reminding.
“No sir,” Kindaichi splutters, and Kunimi stifles a snort with little success.
Kyoutani is sitting in the lobby downstairs again when they leave, and Yahaba knows he’s waiting for him. He stands when Yahaba walks over, and for a moment they stand in grim silence, the day’s events weighing heavily over them.
“Ah, fuck this,” Yahaba groans, scrubbing a hand through his hair. He’s exhausted. “I’m going to Spikers’ . I need a goddamn drink.”
“You’re not the only one,” Kyoutani rumbles, and they fall into step with each other as they walk. He’s only ever gone to Spikers ’ when it’s been drinks night, so the bar is uncharacteristically silent and still when they enter. They take their seats at the bar, and the bartender walks over, polishing a glass.
“What’ll it be, boys?”
“Whiskey, neat,” Yahaba says, and Kyoutani rattles off another brand of beer Yahaba doesn’t know. The bartender nods and returns moments later with their drinks. It goes down hot and heavy when Yahbada takes his first gulp—he knows he should be sipping it, but whiskey has never been his happy drink, and he’s definitely not happy right now.
“Think they’ll really jail Kozume?” Kyoutani asks, after a moment.
Yahaba runs a finger around the rim of his glass. “I wouldn’t put it past them. The Board has a lot more authority than they let on. I’m also getting a strong feeling they’re working hand in hand with the Special Investigations Unit, even though the whole point of that unit is to conduct their investigations separately. Hell, the Board isn’t even supposed to get involved at Headquarters; they’re only technically supposed to handle commissions and independent cases. And why is the Director himself issuing Kozume’s arrest? That’s suspicious as fuck. They must be hiding something.”
Kyoutani takes a long gulp of beer, and silence falls on them for a second before he says: “The Director was the one who issued my suspension.”
Yahaba nearly drops his glass. “ What? ”
“Well, he wanted to demote me first, but Oikawa fought them so hard on it they settled on a suspension instead.” He takes another thoughtful sip. “First time I’ve seen Oikawa nearly lose his shit, actually. I thought he was actually gonna punch someone.”
Yahaba stares. He’d known about Kyoutani’s near-demotion and suspension, but the way Oikawa had talked about it, he never would’ve guessed it took a fight to keep Kyoutani in Castle Division. He also didn’t know the Board had been involved; he thought it had been the Chief’s decision.
“Why...why the hell was the Director there?”
Kyoutani shrugs, scraping at the damp label on his bottle. “Probably because I called them out on their bullshit during my meeting with the Chief. Said it wasn’t my fault the ghost blew up, and that there was something off about it, because I ain’t some wet-nosed brat on my first mission. I know how to pull my punches, and I didn’t actually hit the ghost that hard, but it still exploded…” He trails off and sighs in agitation. “Anyway, long-ass story short, they didn’t like my tone, and dunked me for it.”
Yahaba sits, slack-jawed, and tries to organize his thoughts. First of all, what the fuck , and second of all, Kyoutani...knew? That something was off with the ghost when he made the hit? And then the Director had immediately tried to get rid of him?
Unless they already knew , Oikawa had said. Unless they already knew that something was wrong with the ghosts.
“But I think you’re right,” Kyoutani says, interrupting Yahaba’s thoughts. His eyes are dark, like a storm. “The Board is up to some wack shit. And they’re trying to hide it.”
“No kidding,” Yahaba breathes. He’s thinking now, thinking back to all their missions, and what else the Board isn’t telling them. How could they already know that normal ghosts with benign hauntings would blow up on the hunters?
Something was up, and he was going to get to the bottom of this.
But, all in all, it was just a little too late.
The Special Investigation Unit bulldozes their way into Castle Division’s lounge Friday evening just as the overnight shift is coming in; Yahaba and Kyoutani have just dropped off their things to relieve Matsukawa and Hanamaki, and Oikawa and Iwaizumi have been sitting quietly at the tables talking amongst themselves, papers, books, and a map scattered around them. None of them were prepared.
There’s a bang as the door flies open and a flurry of movement and shouting; Iwaizumi leaps to his feet, but Oikawa takes one look at the officers and whirls around to grab hold of Yahaba. Inexplicably, he jams his hand into Yahaba’s bag.
“ Keep it hidden ,” Oikawa hisses, eyes blazing like an open fire before he’s wrenched away from Yahaba, and then hands are on him too and he’s being wrestled to the ground. Yahaba grunts in pain as his arms are pulled back, stricter than necessary, and from his poor vantage point on the floor he sees the others being pushed down as well.
All of them, except for Oikawa, who’s getting dragged towards the door. An officer walks up and takes out the same restraining seals they used on Kozume. Yahaba stares up in horror, but Oikawa’s attention is fixed directly at Iwaizumi. The faintest hint of blue flashes across his eyes, and Iwaizumi’s shouts for them to let go of Oikawa cuts off. His jaw clamps shut with an audible click, and a look of panic blazes across his face. A second later, the officer slaps the seals on Oikawa’s wrists.
Matsukawa makes eye contact with Yahaba across the room; confusion evident on his face. Oikawa had used a silencing spell on Iwaizumi? But why?
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing!” Kyoutani yells. The officer holding him presses his knee painfully into Kyoutani’s back; Yahaba snarls, and then gets his face mashed into the floor for his troubles.
“Division Leader Oikawa Tooru,” a cold, familiar voice says. The Director walks into the room, every bit imperious and ominous as he had been at Kozume’s arrest. “You are hereby under arrest by the Special Investigations Unit for accessing the files relating to the arrest of seals specialist Kozume Kenma in a restricted folder without clearance or authorization—”
“ WHAT? ”
“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. Additionally, from this point onwards, your credentials and position as Division Leader are hereby suspended, and you are effectively stripped of your titles until further notice.”
“He didn’t do anything of that sort!” Hanamaki shouts. There’s a massive bruise forming on his forehead from where an officer had tackled him into the coffee table. “What proof do you have?”
The Director slots a truly chilling glare at Hanamaki. “Division Leader Oikawa’s credentials were recorded accessing said files. That is proof enough, I believe.”
Hanamaki slumps, stunned, but Iwaizumi jerks forward. His jaw works furiously against the silencing spell, a truly wretched look on his face, and Yahaba’s blood runs cold as he remembers. The credentials. The files. Iwaizumi had been the one to access them, but they showed up under Oikawa’s name. Fuck. Fuck .
Oikawa’s head is bowed, but his eyes gleam with untapped rage. Nobody knows what to say. Nobody knows what to do.
“Confiscate those materials,” the Director says, glaring down at the supplies on the tabletop. “And take him away.”
There was nothing crueler than forcing them to sit and watch Oikawa go.
Yahaba clutches his bag to him for the rest of the evening, refusing to part with it for even a second as the entirety of Castle Division on shift is herded into the meeting room and told to wait. He doesn’t let go when Matsukawa returns hours later, grim and harried and hunched as he announces Oikawa’s arrest, doesn’t let go when they’re dismissed preemptively for the night, and doesn’t let go when he snags Kyoutani’s arm on their way out.
Kyoutani jerks and stares at him, questioning. Yahaba shakes his head minutely, and drags the other hunter down the street, all twelve blocks until they’re back at his apartment. They’re both panting by the time they stumble into the dark foyer, struggling to catch their breaths. Yahaba squeezes his eyes shut, willing his heart to calm, and when he looks up again Kyoutani is looking at him. Belatedly, Yahaba realizes he’s still holding onto Kyoutani’s arm, and he forces his numb fingers to unclench and let go. But Kyoutani doesn’t move away.
They’re standing close. So close that Yahaba can make out the small crescent scar on Kyoutani’s cheek despite the dark, smell the faint scent of pine aftershave, feel the soft puffs of air as Kyoutani exhales. Kyoutani’s eyes meet his, searching, and Yahaba wants to fall in them, drown in them.
But not now. Not right now.
“Oikawa left me something,” Yahaba blurts out. Kyoutani blinks. “Before—before they took him away. He put something in my bag. He told me to keep it hidden.”
Kyoutani looks down to where Yahaba’s got a death grip on his bag, understanding flashing across his face. “Let’s see then,” he says, voice rough.
They hurry into Yahaba’s kitchen, and while he isn’t a messy person he certainly wasn’t expecting to have guests over. There are dirty dishes in the sink, an overflowing recycling bin in the corner of his room, and his table was home to a hoard of empty water bottles and coffee mugs. Yahaba shoves everything aside with an embarrassed excuse the mess before making an even bigger mess by dumping everything in his bag onto the table.
“Holy shit, how much stuff do you have,” Kyoutani says, staring at the collection of pens, gum packets, blank seals and ritual paints that came tumbling out.
“It pays to be prepared,” Yahaba mumbles, chucking a portable seal torch aside. He does a mental inventory, trying to figure out what was amiss. Next to him, Kyoutani slowly shifts things aside, pushing them into pseudo-piles of items. He lingers over the folders and picks one up, glancing at Yahaba, but Yahaba knows that whatever Oikawa put in his bag, it wasn’t as big as that.
Finally, he spots it: a little USB key in the shape of a UFO.
“Of fucking course,” Yahaba breathes, snatching the key up. He can’t help but sigh in relief, because even with something as crazy as malfunctioning spirit boxes and exploding ghosts and unlawful arrests, Oikawa will always remain their nerdy Division Leader.
“What’s that?” Kyoutani asks, peering at said object.
“What the Director and his goons were probably trying to keep Oikawa from finding,” Yahaba replies, and scrambles to find his laptop.
They hunker down on the lumpy sofa in his den, forgoing the lights in favour of powering up Yahaba’s ancient laptop. The poor thing makes a choked whirring noise that prompted Kyoutani to make a small grunt of alarm.
“Oh, shut up, you,” Yahaba huffs, to both the hunter and his laptop, and plugs the USB in.
The window pops up, and there’s not much to it at first glance. There’s the usual folders for photos and movies, one labelled ‘real estate’ and another titled ‘resumes and uni work’, and a final one titled ‘SUPER REAL ALIEN CONSPIRACY THEORIES DO NOT LOOK!! THAT MEANS U IWA-CHAN!!’
“Could he make it any more obvious,” Kyoutani says, pained. Yahaba snorts and clicks on the folder.
It opens to reveal a much more serious plethora of files. There are word documents, PDFs, and some random, mostly untitled notepad files. Yahaba finds the one with Kozume’s name and credentials, labelled UNREDACTED, and opens it up.
But it doesn’t provide any real additional information from what they already know. There are timestamps and notes and fully details in a cold, detached tone the way Cat Division answered the SOS call, how Kozume neutralized their seals and the dark energy, and the charges laid against him.
Unauthorized seal magic techniques used on pre-existing spells.
Unauthorized attempts to manipulate dark energy.
Unauthorized methods against a spiritual entity, causing decay and their descent into maliciousness.
Yahaba frowns, reading that last line over again. Kozume didn’t cause further wreckage to the spiritual makeup of the ghost—it had already gone malicious when the Cats showed up on scene. The wording is so deliberately wrong and leading, and Yahaba scowls. They were trying to pin the blame on Kozume.
“Hey,” Kyoutani says suddenly. He points at the screen, at a notepad file labelled THIS ONE in all caps. “What’s that?”
Yahaba clicks on it, opening it up. It’s blank, save for a single sentence on the screen.
Izanami Project ver. 4 - experimentation, masking, and secret disposal. 44 Nakacho Community Centre
“Izanami,” Kyoutani says slowly. “The goddess of creation and death. What the fuck does that mean?”
There’s something about the words experimentation and masking and secret disposal that doesn’t sit well with Yahaba. And the community centre—
“Nakacho is a restricted area,” Yahaba says, and fumbles across his coffee table in the dark for a notepad and a pen. He scribbles the name and address down. “D’you remember when they briefed us on the new reclassified low energy areas last year?”
Kyoutani shifts. “No,” he mumbles, scratching at the back of his head. “I was, uh, failing probation at the time.”
Yahaba blinks. He’d almost forgotten about that. “Oh. Right. Well, um, last year, they did a topographical scan of spiritual energies over the low-population density areas in the region. In order to keep a balance between spiritual cleansing and naturally-existing ghosts and spirits, they categorized some areas as ‘restricted’. That means we can’t hunt there unless we get explicit permission from the Board, and even then we have to go through a ton of paperwork and hearings in order to get approval. But, that also means no one—”
“No one can go there except the Board,” Kyoutani finishes, realization hitting him. They stare at each other in the dark, slowly and tentatively piecing the puzzle together.
“How much do you want to bet there’s something about this ‘Izanami Project’ going on in the Nakacho area? And that Oikawa was more than halfway to figuring it out?” Yahaba asks, wry. Kyoutani snorts.
“How much do you really wanna bet that the Board realized Oikawa was poking around the files, and restricted Kozume’s document so they could arrest him?”
“Fuck,” Yahaba says, tracing the tip of his finger over the address. His brain is going at top speeds, trying to figure something out, anything out, with the scraps of information he’d been given. Kozume was, without a doubt, the first scapegoat for the exploding ghost problem. Oikawa was the second, pulled in because he’s narrowed everything down to the name of a mystery project and a location only accessible by the Board, and he was on the verge of busting their asses. Oikawa had, purposefully or not, entrusted this to him. He needed to solve this mystery.
“You’re already trying to figure out how to break into the goddamn community centre already, aren’t you?” Kyoutani deadpans. Yahaba flushes. “Y’know, when I first met you, I thought you were a shallow kinda guy.”
“Excuse me?” Yahaba splutters, but Kyoutani just shrugs. He leans back against the sofa, smoothing his hands idly down the length of his thighs, and Yahaba has to work very hard to not look down.
“Alright, to be fair, I thought all of you were a bunch o’ scrubs, and you seemed like such a pompous schoolboy who wanted to hog all the glory. But really, you’re just as crazy as the rest of them, aren’t you?”
Well. When he says it like that…
“This is a team thing,” Yahaba replies. “Even our most senior hunters hunt in pairs. So yeah, maybe I am kinda shallow, but everything I do affects the team. Whether I bag a ghost or cock a mission up good, everything ultimately reflects on Castle Division. I’m not so proud or narrow-minded that I’d do something to damage the team’s reputation.”
Kyoutani is quiet for a while. “I understand,” he says, slowly. “Believe it or not, I feel the same way too.”
Yahaba grins. “Does that mean you’re gonna come with me and break into the restricted area, Kyoutani?”
“Do I have a choice?” Kyoutani retorts, and it makes Yahaba laugh. It feels surprisingly good to do so, especially after such an exhausting, draining day.
“Kyoutani?” He waits until the other man sighs, shifting his attention back on Yahaba. “I’m glad I can count on you.”
Kyoutani huffs and looks away. “Don’t mention it,” he grumbles, and was it Yahaba’s imagination, or did Kyoutani look a little red? “You’re just gonna go and get yourself all beat up again. Someone’s gotta watch your back.”
Me, sipping on a piña colada and gesturing madly at my conspiracy theory web: ok, but what if i re-write the yahaba/kyoutani moment from the Seijoh vs. Karasuno match in a ghost story
thanks for reading! next week will be the last chapter!
Chapter 4: Kyoutani Kentarou and Yahaba Shigeru Bust Some Ghosts
This is it!! Last chapter of the seijoh ghost story, and a little bit ahead of schedule and coincidentally on Friday the 13th too, yahoo :) Thanks for sticking around for this spooky tale!
In which buildings get broken into, a ghostly scandal is revealed, and Yahaba finally (finally!) gets the guy.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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?
“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.
here we are, at the end! I hope you all had as much fun reading as I did writing!
I actually started this story long before any of my other works, including the other stories I've already published. Sometimes writing really does take you everywhere lmao. The hardest part was trying to explain without over-explaining the ghost experiments and stuff, so I hope it came across alright.
Also, I hoard all of your generous comments and kudos in the depths of my heart to keep me going when the WIPs start piling up :') thank you for sharing all your thoughts on the chapters! I really appreciate all of them!
Hope you guys are all keeping healthy, and as always, thank you for reading :)