Riko held himself proudly as he made his way up the final stairs to the East Tower, flanked silently by two men with numbers on their cheeks. They were always a step behind him, walking in a formation that had been carefully cultivated as a show of power, a trio that had terrified hundreds of Ravens over the last decade. From the outside, they were a perfectly crafted machine, steps in tandem, the kind of well-oiled efficiency that only comes from almost a decade of careful training.
But they were not here to intimidate today. There would be no intimidating the new head of the Moriyama empire, instead a careful flattery and Riko’s pledge to his older brother. The two men flanking his side were there simply to remind Ichirou about the investments he had in Exy, and to stay silent.
They reached the top of the stairs, and Riko couldn’t help but smile, despite Jean’s stony expression- barely a curl of his lips; you did not let your true feelings show in meetings such as this before the doors had even closed behind you. But it was a smile nonetheless, triumph oozing from every pore of his being.
Riko did not notice when the men that had flanked him for far too long silently stepped back, flattening against the wall at the right side of the room. Immersed as he was in his little show of grandeur, he bowed low as the doors closed behind him. His respect had to be unquestionable, had been unquestionable, and it had finally paid off. Ichirou would welcome his brother back into the main branch of the family, and Riko would finally get to show that his talents, his team, that he had honed and shaped for years, were not just a threat to Ichirou’s position that had to be eliminated.
He slowly rose from the bow, keeping his gaze on the floor until the moment he looked up into his brother’s eyes.
Nathaniel Wesninski did not flinch when the shot rang out. He watched as the bodyguard lowered his gun, and he watched as Riko sunk to the floor, the bullet wound in the right side of his head gaping. No, he did not flinch.
You did not let your true feelings show in meetings such as this, but Nathaniel couldn’t help himself as the corners of his mouth twitched up, or when his face split into the kind of grin that promised nothing but violence, the spitting image of his father.
He could see that Jean was as outwardly impassive as ever beside him, and Nathaniel almost marveled that he couldn’t see a flicker of the emotion he showed in private on his face. But then, Jean had learned the hard way how to hide. It was a lesson Nathaniel had never truly managed to master, and it did not avoid the notice of the man in the white suit who stood before him.
Ichirou Moriyama only pushed forward a stack of paper. They made their way around the room carefully to avoid the body that was still sprawled on the carpet in it’s best suit. Nathaniel could appreciate the way the kill had been set up; the left side of the room had been left empty, and Riko’s bloodstains spattered the walls undisturbed. The angle of the shot and the careful placement of every person in the room meant no one had a drop of blood on them. He could see how easy it would be to place a gun in Riko’s right hand, and leave the body for the police to find, none the wiser that almost 20 people had been in the room with him when he died.
It might have scared him, had he not drawn out the floor plan of the room in a letter to Ichirou less than a month ago.
The man in question produced two pens, and waved a hand at the papers in front of him. His voice was smooth, and showed no trace of emotion after watching his brother die.
“Release of contract forms. You are free men.”
Silently, Nathaniel signed his name on the page, Jean signing an identical contract beside him. The contracts were whisked away by a Japanese woman in a white dress that matched Ichirou’s suit, and new pages of text were laid down on the desk by a small man holding a briefcase.
He scanned the text, then signed his name again. A deep bow, and then they were done. Ichirou tapped the desk with his pen as the small man swept the contracts into his briefcase, eyeing Nathaniel closely.
“80%. And we will be contacting Kevin shortly with his own contract. I do hope that this will be worth it, Wesninski. Riko may have been a liability, but he was valuable. For your sake, I hope you will make yourself as valuable as he could have been.”
It was a threat, and they all knew it. Nathaniel let some of that Butcher’s madness seep back in as he gave a tight smile.
“You kept your half of the bargain, Lord Moriyama.” A gesture to the corpse bleeding red into the carpet. “We will keep ours.”
Nathaniel led the way out of the room, but stopped when Jean hesitated by the door. The French man turned back to Ichirou, then pulled a folded piece of paper from the inside of his suit. The woman in white took it from him, and Ichirou trained his eyes on Jean, obviously waiting for an explanation.
“A suicide note.” The words were halting, his accent thick, but he stood upright, his chin lifted.
“I can assure you it will be very convincing. You can copy it in his handwriting.”
The room was silent. Jean bowed, and they left the crime scene.
The tower was oddly quiet as they made their way back down the stairs. It was almost surreal to be walking freely, to know that they were descending into the Nest for the last time, and for the first time without Riko’s presence hanging over them.
There was no one in the lower levels, as practice was in full swing, no prying eyes to question them as they walked to the room they had shared for almost half their lives.
It was not sentimental. Nathaniel would not miss this room. He pulled the suitcase from under his bed, the Edgar Allen Ravens logo matching the one on Jean’s identical black suitcase. He wanted to shred them. God, he wanted to tear this entire room to pieces, from the black walls to the black furniture to the black covers on the bed he never slept in anyway, not when Jean’s was right beside it.
But they could not afford people asking questions. So Nathaniel picked up Jean’s bag as well as his own, leaving the taller man to lug their suitcases, and walked out of Evermore for the final time.
They were not free, would never be free, but with the sun shining down on them and plane tickets tucked into Jean’s bag, it almost felt like the worst was behind them. It was an illusion of an idyllic alternate world, but it was an illusion Nathaniel would cling to with all the strength he had left. No, they were not free, and never would be, but it was a start.