From the Cup of the Worthless

by Cynus

Chapter 9

"There's a problem, Daisuke."

Daisuke looked both ways down the alley, making sure no one was watching before he answered the voice in his ear. "What do you mean?"

"Nobuyuki has left the building. He won't be here when we act."

"What!?" Daisuke whispered harshly, his eyes widening with outrage. He quickly brought his emotions under control with a meditative breath. "It doesn't change anything. We'll have to proceed anyway. I can't cancel the attack now."

"I know. Everything else is in place. We're expecting them shortly. We'll deal with the son after we deal with the father."

Daisuke slammed his hand against the wall of the hotel, furious at this new development, but he wouldn't let it destroy their plans entirely. At least Masahiro would still be dead. One problem at a time, he reminded himself. Both Masahiro and his son would be dead by the end of the day, Daisuke would make sure of that.

"Fifteen minutes until we begin," Daisuke replied through gritted teeth. "Nothing else can go wrong. Let's move."


As the call ended, Daisuke noted movement in the shadows toward the back of the building. The Russians had arrived on time and were getting into position. It was the first good news he'd received that day, and an eager grin spread across his face as his one eye sparked with malicious glee. It was about time he got what he deserved, a seat at the head of the family. Masahiro would never know what hit him.

He rounded the corner of the building cautiously, keeping an eye out for his contact among the Russians. He didn't have to wait long as the shadows beneath the fire escape shifted and a young man stepped out, a dark-haired Russian with an eager grin and an unlit cigarette hanging between his teeth.

"You the man in charge around here?" The Russian asked, fishing a lighter out of his pocket and lighting the cigarette in his mouth.

Daisuke nodded and took a cigarette out of his own pocket, indicating the Russian should light it. To any passerby they'd simply appear as two men sharing a smoke, and no one would think anything of that on the streets of Vladivostok. It was the signal Daisuke had worked out with the Russians to ensure contact was made safely, though he had no intention of smoking. He considered the habit foul and uncultured, and he'd never intentionally compromise his health so needlessly.

"Is your boss here?" Daisuke asked, scowling at the Russian.

"Yeah, he sent me to do the talking. I'm to assist you with whatever you need while he takes care of the rest," the Russian replied, taking a drag on his cigarette before casually blowing the smoke out into the night air. "The name's Alexi, by the way."

"I don't want names, boy," Daisuke growled. "I just want results. This is to be clean and quick, and no other questions asked, got it?"

"Whatever you say, bossman," Alexi said, shrugging. "What's our first move?"

Daisuke pulled out a small electronic pad, entered a quick password and then showed the screen to Alexi. It was a detailed floor plan of the entire hotel, and Daisuke used it to give Alexi quick and orderly instructions on how to reach the fourth floor, bypassing most of the security. Alexi would only have to get by one guard if he took the route Daisuke suggested, and the guard Daisuke had set at the post was one loyal to him already.

"You're sure you're the best killer they've got?" Daisuke asked, looking Alexi up and down. You're barely a man, how'd you get that reputation?"

"My boss said you wanted the best man for the job, didn't say you wanted the best killer," Alexi replied, still grinning from ear to ear. "Now, I've done my fair share of violence, but I'm quiet and can get past anything. You need someone who can get in there without a problem. I'm your man for that. As long as the rest of your plan works, Masahiro Sato is already as good as dead."

"That's what I wanted to hear," Daisuke replied with a nod. "Now get in there and make sure you're on the fourth floor five minutes from now. Everything has to be perfect."

"It will be," Alexi said, pushing back his jacket to reveal a heavy pistol tucked into this belt. "Don't you worry, bossman, I've got it covered."

"I'm glad you decided to join me for dinner," Dante said as they walked down the road toward a small Russian restaurant. Nobuyuki had been eager to eat more Russian food, as he took most of his meals at the hotel where they served a predominantly Japanese menu. He'd always found the best way to grow to understand a culture was to get to know its food, and he'd been looking for excuses to get out and immerse himself.

But something was pulling at his senses; a nagging sensation that he was going the wrong way. He kept looking over his shoulder and the gesture was not lost on Dante. When he turned back to Dante after yet another time of looking back, Dante stopped walking and cocked his head to the side.

"Something is bothering you, I can tell. What is it?" He asked.

"I don't know," Nobuyuki replied, shaking his head helplessly. There was a pit in his stomach and he'd completely lost his appetite. "It seems as if every step I take is the wrong one."

"You mean, about us?" Dante asked. "Well, it was your idea for me to become your fake boyfriend, so if you don't think it's a good idea, it's not like I'd be offended."

"No," Nobuyuki said, smiling weakly. "I'm not worried about our friendship, or brotherhood, at all. I think we're doing fine. This is something else. It's like I left something behind at the hotel."

Dante nodded and replied, "I think I get it. It's the nagging suspicion you're forgetting something you really needed to remember. Or something like that."

"Yeah. It's my instincts, I just don't know what they're telling me," Nobuyuki said, sighing. "Well, maybe dinner will help me figure it out. Let's go."

Dante nodded and they started forward again, but after a few steps he stopped and put his finger to his ear. "Uncle?" He asked, eyes growing distant as he tried to focus on the conversation going on in his ear rather than the noise of the street. "Uncle, what's going on? You sound frantic."

Nobuyuki inclined his head to the side as Dante looked up at him, the color draining from his face. "Yeah, I'm with him now, actually," he continued. "No, we're not at the Casino. We're walking out to dinner right now. We're a kilometer or so away."

Dante paled the rest of the way as he reached out and touched Nobuyuki's shoulder. "You have to go, now. The Russians just moved in on the Casino. Your father is in danger."

Nobuyuki didn't need to be told twice. He took off running back the way he'd come, sprinting as fast as his legs could carry him. Worry assailed him, and he mentally forced it to become determination instead. With his father in danger, he had to keep a clear head no matter how fast his heart was pounding. For the first time in a long while he cursed his father's aversion to cellular communication.

"Nobuyuki, wait!" Dante called, and Nobuyuki pulled up short for just a moment only to have Dante almost run into him. "Be careful, okay?" Dante said quickly. "Stay alive, and call me when it's over."

Nodding his thanks, Nobuyuki then turned on his heel again, quickly reaching full speed. His heart wasn't pounding quite as hard as before, and he let Dante's words linger in his thoughts as he pressed onward. His family was in danger, but at least he had one brother he knew would be safe.

Masahiro put out the cedarw ood incense, intending to burn the rest later when he returned. He had always been taught to be mindful of leaving things burning when unattended, a lesson carried over from his childhood in Icheon. His mother was still the best cook he'd ever known, and her mastery had arisen from careful attentiveness to everything she'd done in the kitchen.

He'd applied the same principle to his own life, which had led to his survival on the streets of Seoul after his mother's death during his teenage years, and his eventual rise to power within the Inagawa-Kai. He'd always prided his own powers of perception, and had inspired the same dedication in Nobuyuki, though he worried at times that the lesson hadn't stuck.

With a sigh he thought to his son and the strange choice he had made in bonding with Dante Salvitici through the Sakazuki ceremony. While he appreciated Dante's contribution of information, he hardly considered it worthy of brotherhood. Still, Nobuyuki had not asked that Masahiro treat Dante as a member of the Yakuza, an offense which would have surely brought Masahiro's wrath down on him. At least Nobuyuki had some sense, and his instincts were normally good, so he must have had a reason for treating Dante with such respect.

The outer door of his suite opened, and Masahiro smelled the air, trying to get a scent of his new guest. All he received was the scent of the cedarwood at first, but then a soft floral scent entered his nostrils and he couldn't help but smile. Katsumi had come to join him so they could tour the hotel as he had promised. He had asked if she'd prefer to do so after a good night's rest, but she'd insisted on doing so tonight.

He heard the soft fall of her feet as she stepped out of her shoes and into the soft slippers which he'd left for her in the vestibule. She then slid the door open and stepped inside just as he was rising from his altar and turning to face her.

She was as beautiful as she'd been in the baths, though now clean and smelling fresh there was a vibrancy to her which had been absent then. He nearly laughed at the memory of the young Dante's first impression of Katsumi, and wondered how he'd react upon seeing her now. She was dressed in a bright red kimono, adorned with white and golden blossoms finely embroidered across the surface. Her makeup had been applied by an expert hand, obscuring her age but accenting her maturity, and the subtle color on her cheeks and lips allowed her eyes to become the focal point. Those eyes were filled with life and power, which called to Masahiro as the flame to the moth.

He took a step toward her before he even noticed the bottle of sake in her hands and immediately chastised himself for acting before paying attention to everything. Every man has his weakness, he reminded himself, and Katsumi had always been his. She knew it too, he realized, as she watched him with a knowing smile.

"I brought this gift from Hokkaido. It's the strongest brew they produce, and by far the most expensive," Katsumi explained, lifting the sake and handing it to Masahiro as he approached her. He took it from her hands and admired the deep golden color of the wine, marking it as strong sake. It wasn't a label he'd seen before, and doubted he'd ever tasted it. While in public he always drank sake in order to present a certain image, but in private he preferred other drinks. There was no way Katsumi could have known that, as he'd never invited her to drink during their time in Kyoto together, but he appreciated her gesture all the same.

"This looks lovely," Masahiro said with a smile as he turned the bottle over in his hands. "Thank you for such a generous gift, Katsumi."

Katsumi bowed her head slightly and smiled wide, "I'd thought we might bring in the evening with sharing a bit of sake, Minjoon. I know you consider yourself a connoisseur."

Masahiro smiled at the use of his Korean name, the one he'd been given at birth. Katsumi was of only a handful of people who knew it, though how she'd missed so many other details about him he didn't know. She'd only seen who he was on the surface, the persona he'd presented to the public for over twenty years. It didn't seem as if she really knew him at all.

"I hope you aren't planning on using that name when we're entertaining guests," he said with a dangerous glint in his eye. "You know how I prefer to protect my secrets."

"I do," Katsumi said, bowing her head apologetically. "However, if I am to be your wife, I assumed you would want me to be less formal around you."

Masahiro pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Yes, I can see your reasoning. As long as you keep it between us, my dear, I'm okay with you calling me Minjoon."

Katsumi smiled in response and said, "Good. Now that we've settled that, how about we break open the sake?"

Masahiro chuckled as he walked toward his liquor cabinet with the bottle in hand. "I have a better idea. Since this is such a fine quality, how about we save it for the wedding night? As for tonight, perhaps we'll take something lighter for the beginning of our tour. Perhaps a nice glass of white wine from Italy? Capitel Foscarino, year 2017. I think you'll find it quite refreshing. It has quite the tropical appeal, with just a bite of apple to finish it off."

When Masahiro turned around his smile fell as it met Katsumi's pouting lips. "What's wrong, my dear?"

"You don't like the sake I chose? Have you had it before?" Katsumi asked with barely concealed disappointment. "I thought you would prefer it."

"My Lady Katsumi, I so prefer it that I wish to save it for a better occasion," Masahiro replied with a humble bow. When he straightened he found that Katsumi still wasn't pleased, and since he figured he was about to bring her into his family, he might as well tell the truth. "Actually, Lady Katsumi, I do not prefer rice wine, despite your experience in the past. I prefer the drinks of the West, especially the Mediterranean."

Katsumi's eyes flashed with an emotion which was gone too quickly for Masahiro to identify, though her lips turned downward slightly, betraying her anger even though she retained her composure. "You're telling me the bottle is just going to go to waste?"

"No," Masahiro said patiently. "I'm saying, I'll drink it when there's a better reason to. I don't want to get drunk right before our tour. I never drink in front of those under me unless I have a very good reason or they are drinking with me. Now, you can have a glass of white wine, or not, but I intend to have my wits about me instead of staggering around like a fool. If you want to continue this argument instead, I'd be delighted to, but I'm not going to go anywhere near my men with that much alcohol in me."

Katsumi's eyes widened with shock with each successive word, and as soon as Masahiro was finished speaking she stood in stunned silence, eyes locked on his. He couldn't read what was going through her mind, but he knew she was angry and frustrated. He'd almost considered taking a glass of sake just to placate her, again giving in to the power she had over him, but she opened her mouth and started speaking first, her voice calm and collected despite the displeasure in her eyes. "Very well, Masahiro. I don't intend to spend the rest of the night arguing with you, and we're wasting time. Let's go see the brothel, shall we? I need to see what I'm up against, and if your girls are as backward as your culture."

She turned around and walked back into the vestibule, toeing off the slippers with graceful rage before stepping back into the shoes she'd been wearing. Masahiro put the wine bottle down and moved to follow her. He found her waiting in the vestibule, her arm held out at her side as if she expected him to take it and be her escort. He quickly removed his own slippers and stepped into his shoes before taking her arm and raising a questioning eyebrow.

"Even if we're fighting like a couple, we cannot allow the others to see us in such discord," Katsumi explained, keeping her eyes directed toward the double doors in front of her. "Though I expect you to make it up to me, Masahiro."

"I will take every opportunity to do so, my Lady Katsumi," Masahiro replied, smiling encouragingly, but Katsumi didn't appear satisfied. He sighed and said neutrally, "Very well, let's get this started."

"Daisuke! We're being invaded. I have one, no, two men here in the east wing and they—" The sentence was cut off as a gunshot ended the speaker's life. Daisuke heard the gunshot in the distance as well, even though it was from across the hotel. The Russians had started their infiltration a minute earlier, and everything had gone perfectly so far.

He only hoped Alexi had made it into the brothel and was waiting to ambush Masahiro as was planned. There was still plenty of time for things to go wrong, but Daisuke could already taste victory. Every time fighting broke out in another section of the hotel the plan moved forward. The Russians had been hired to distract the security and pull them away from the fourth floor, falling back to the outer edges before making their escape, all to give Alexi more time to get into position.

With the fighting happening elsewhere, Masahiro wouldn't expect an assassin to be waiting for him, and Alexi would get one clean shot to take him out. He hoped the boy was a good shot, but he seemed confident, which was enough for Daisuke to trust him with the task. The only thing which remained was to keep the fight going long enough.

He tapped into the chip in his ear, making sure his message could be heard by all of the Yakuza. "There's fighting in the east wing. I need all units from the north to cut them off. They'll be going after Masahiro, and that means they'll be going up, trying to reach the top floor."

He received several responses of assent from his men, and he came back onto the com with new orders. "All units from the west and south wings, I need you to move down and make sure you cover the entrances. We need to make sure no more of them get in."

"Is anyone moving to the fourth floor?" A nervous voice asked. It was Nao, the man positioned at the front of the brothel. "The elevator's power appears to have been cut and Masahiro is here. If they're going after him—"

Daisuke's face clouded over as he interrupted Nao. "No, do not go to the fourth floor. We want the Russians to think there's nothing there, and the only way we can do that is if we keep them fighting elsewhere. We'll keep them away from Masahiro by misdirecting them."

"Understood," Nao replied. He was silent for a moment, but he again took over the airwaves and said, "Masahiro applauds your wisdom, Daisuke. Carry on."

"I will not betray the trust he's put in me," Daisuke replied. "Now, let's teach these Russian dogs not to challenge the Yakuza again!" Several of his men replied with cheers at his words, but Daisuke couldn't help but sneer as he walked casually along the outer perimeter of the building. Masahiro didn't suspect a thing, and neither did anyone else.

Nobuyuki could hear the gunshots as soon as he arrived at the hotel. Most of Masahiro's men didn't carry firearms unless they were aware of a significant threat, as it was traditional for Yakuza to use knives or hand to hand combat instead. As such, the sound of gunfire worried Nobuyuki, as he knew the Russians were already deep inside the building.

He approached with caution, not knowing if anyone would be at the door or not. Crowds were leaving the casino in droves, driven out in the confusion of the gunfire, though all of the fighting was taking place on the upper levels and away from the game rooms. Looking up, Nobuyuki saw anxious faces peeking out from their hotel rooms, trying to figure out what was going on, but since nothing was happening outside the hotel they found nothing to validate their fears.

He decided to take the less obvious route to his destination, and though he entered through the kitchen door and found the kitchen staff hiding behind the counters, he went into the casino itself rather than toward the service elevators. Only one inner set of stairs reached all of the floors except the top one, and the ground entrance was usually guarded by two men. It was an unlikely route for an invasion, but that also meant it would be unexpected.

Nobuyuki tended to expect the unexpected, as he counted on the rest of his allies to do the opposite, and as soon as he made it through the pachinko machines to the stair access, he had a feeling he'd made the right choice. One of the guards was missing, and the only sign either of them had been there was the leg of one of them poking through the open door and keeping it ajar.

He kept his back to the wall and slid along it, approaching the door from the open side. With a flick of his wrist, the small knife he kept hidden in his sleeve was in his hand, and he paused at the crack in the door and took a deep breath. Silent as death, Nobuyuki threw open the door and dashed inside, gracefully clearing the corpse of the guard, an older man named Sora, who was propping open the door. Despite his artful leap, Nobuyuki landed in the puddle of blood which had pooled beneath Sora's body. His foot slid out to the side, carried further by the momentum of his dash, and he ended up landing half on Sora's body and halfway in his blood.

Nobuyuki cursed as he struggled to his feet, slipping again in the blood as he was forced to use Sora's corpse as support. He didn't have time to think about the horror of the situation as he reminded himself there were more important things to worry about. He was further brought to the immediate needs of the present as he heard a groan from further down the hallway and looked up to see his friend Satoshi leaning against the wall at the base of the stairs. His shirt was torn and a scrap of it had been tied around his leg and was soaked with blood.

As soon as Nobuyuki freed himself from being entangled with Sora, he quickly rushed to Satoshi's side and gently touched his shoulder. Satoshi looked up with a start and raised the knife next to him, but as soon as he recognized Nobuyuki he let it drop. "Satoshi," Nobuyuki said, fighting to keep the panic from his voice, "What's happening? Are you all right?"

"We're under attack," Satoshi said weakly. "I was just coming to relieve Haru a bit early, thinking to surprise him 'cause I owed him a favor, when this Russian kid popped up out of nowhere and just started firing. Sora poked his head through the door and the kid shot him in the chest. I got hit next and Haru chased after him."

"What the hell is Daisuke doing?" Nobuyuki said, shaking his head helplessly.

Satoshi was becoming more alert by the second as he focused on the conversation. "He's been ordering us all over the place, trying to fight them off, but they're everywhere."

"Are you okay?" Nobuyuki asked.

"Yeah, I think so," Satoshi replied, looking down at his leg. "I have the bleeding stopped now."

"Where's Masahiro?"

"I don't know. He had a tour scheduled with Lady Katsumi and—"

Nobuyuki interrupted him, knowing that every second they talked was another second Masahiro's life was in danger. "They'd start with the brothel. Which way did the Russian you saw go?"

"He was headed up," Satoshi replied, nodding to the stairs at the end of the hallway. "Haru had to have caught him for sure."

Nobuyuki nodded and started to pull away, but Satoshi caught his arm and held him for a moment. "Be careful, Nobu," he said firmly. Nobuyuki nodded again and Satoshi let go.

He cleared the stairs two at a time, trying to make up for the time he'd spent with Satoshi, and almost ran right into Haru as soon as he reached the next floor up. The young man was the closest to Nobuyuki's age of anyone else in Masahiro's employ, though he was still two years older than Nobuyuki. He peered through the door which accessed the second floor and was anxiously looking both ways down the hallway. As soon as Nobuyuki came around the top of the stairs, Haru jumped back, knife in hand and giving Nobuyuki a threatening look.

"Haru?" Nobuyuki asked, raising his hands to show he wasn't an enemy. "Did you catch the intruder?"

Haru stared at him blankly for a moment as if confused by the question, but he shook his head a second later and said, "No, I lost him. I think he escaped into one of the rooms."

Nobuyuki nodded and rounded the corner, gripping onto the railing of the stairs which continued upward. "Okay, you search this floor and I'm going to keep on going to the brothel. Satoshi's down. We need to—" He stopped short as Haru made a sudden lunge toward him, knife leading. Nobuyuki managed to avoid a direct hit on his stomach, but the knife cut across his forearm and caused him to cry out in pain.

"What the hell?" Nobuyuki shouted as he backed away, squaring off with Haru. "Why are you attacking me?"

"Shouldn't have come back, Nobuyuki," Haru said with a scowl. "We could have avoided this."

Haru lunged for Nobuyuki again and Nobuyuki's instincts took over, his feet immediately slid into a defensive stance. Raising one hand at precisely the right moment to meet Haru's incoming strike, he gripped Haru's wrist as he spun around the outside of Haru's arm to slam him in the face with a strong palm strike. Haru's own momentum became his enemy as his jaw was dislocated from the force of the blow, and he started to topple backward.

Nobuyuki wasn't finished with him just yet, and he rotated on his heel so his right side was facing Haru. Lifting up on his left leg he kicked out hard with his right, striking Haru straight in the chest and sending him backward several feet to the top of the stairs. Haru's foot slid over the edge of the top stair and he lost his balance completely, falling backward down the stairs, slamming his head hard into the concrete steps before sliding down to the next landing.

Despite the head wound he was now sporting, Haru struggled to his feet, a dazed look in his eye as he raised his knife and waved it wildly in Nobuyuki's direction. "I'm going to kill you, Nobu! I—"

A single gunshot ended the sentence and Haru collapsed forward, clutching at his side as his face slammed into the steps in front of him. Nobuyuki cautiously descended the stairs, peering around the corner to see who shot Haru. He saw Satoshi in the middle of the hallway, his pistol raised and pointed still at Haru's corpse.

"Shit," Satoshi said, shaking his head. "I didn't want to kill him."

"Satoshi," Nobuyuki said, shaking his head with dismay as he came back into view. "I owe you one, thank you. But I need to get to Masahiro."

Satoshi nodded numbly and Nobuyuki turned around, casting one more glance down at Haru's body before he ascended the stairs again. There would be time to mourn when it was all over, and not a second sooner, especially for traitors. He put Haru, Sora, and Satoshi all out of his mind as he continued his ascent, refusing to lose his focus until he'd ensured Masahiro's safety.

He reached the fourth floor landing and found that this guard, too, had been dispatched like Sora had. Nobuyuki hadn't known Isao well at all, but he still regretted being forced to add another name to the list. Isao had been stabbed to death, and Nobuyuki doubted it had been a Russian who had committed the crime. Haru was just as likely to have done the deed as anyone, now, and Nobuyuki wondered how many more of his family he'd find dead along the way, killed by traitors.

He paused at the door which led into the brothel, hearing Masahiro's voice. Masahiro and Katsumi passed the door, heading in the direction of Masahiro's office. It was as good a room as any for Masahiro to retreat to, considering it was the most fortified room in the building, but now that Nobuyuki knew he couldn't trust anyone, he wondered if it were really as safe as it would normally be.

"Masahiro," an unseen Yakuza reported, "we've cleared out the upper levels of the building. We think we've got them all, as we haven't encountered any further resistance."

"Very good," Masahiro replied. "You stay here and keep watch. We're going inside. Come and report to us as soon as a full sweep has been conducted. And escort Daisuke here personally as soon as he shows his face, I'd like a word with him. Please tell Ryo and Kenji to look for him."

"I think we should make sure the girls are okay before we go to your office, Masahiro," Katsumi said. "We must ensure our people's safety, after all."

"A noble idea, Lady Katsumi," Masahiro replied. "I have no intention of hiding, at any rate, I merely wish to ensure your own safety before I hunt these bastards down myself."

Masahiro and Katsumi passed out of earshot and Nobuyuki waited for them to disappear from the room entirely before he opened the door. Although he'd been looking for Masahiro, he didn't want to tip off any would be assassins to his presence until he was sure they were gone. As long as they didn't know he was there, he still had a chance to get to them first.

The Yakuza who'd been speaking with Masahiro, whom Nobuyuki now recognized as Nao, was startled at Nobuyuki's presence at first, but when he saw who it was he began to relax. Nobuyuki watched him carefully, however, not knowing whether he, too, would turn against him. He put his finger to his lips to shush him and then surveyed the room, making sure there were no more witnesses. The room was a common antechamber which gave no indication of what waited beyond. On one side was a service door which led back toward the service elevator, and the one through which Masahiro and Katsumi had likely entered the room. Directly across from the stairs were the double doors which served as the entrance to the brothel, and which were guarded by Nao. Another grey service door sat directly across from the first one, and this was Nobuyuki's destination.

"Has anyone checked back here?" Nobuyuki asked.

"I've been holding this post the entire time, and I didn't notice anyone. I would have stopped them if I had," Nao replied.

"I'm going to check it out anyway," Nobuyuki said with a nod. "Can't be too careful."

He started down the hallway, which was similar to the one which skirted along the outside of the private baths. Only the doors along one side of the wall fed into the private bedrooms which the brothel offered to its guests. Nobuyuki crept along the wall, quiet as a mouse until he reached the point where the hallway turned to the left. He peered around the corner and saw a man crouched down at one of the doors, which was opened just a crack. Nobuyuki studied the man for a moment and noticed the pistol held steady in his hands as if he were waiting for something specific to happen.

The man was waiting for Masahiro, Nobuyuki knew, and it was up to him to make sure the hunter never saw his target. Nobuyuki stuck to the wall, which kept him directly behind the crouching gunman, and he sidestepped slowly, one leg crossing over the other, maintaining constant balance as he moved with perfect footwork until he was just behind the gunman. With a flick of his wrist he had his knife to the gunman's throat. "Don't even think about pulling that trigger," Nobuyuki warned with a deadly whisper. "Drop it and stand up slowly, then kick it to the side."

The gunman complied with Nobuyuki's orders in succession, and once he was standing Nobuyuki started to lead him back down the hallway. The gunman didn't try to speak, and Nobuyuki was glad for it, for had a single word escaped his lips Nobuyuki's rage would have peaked. The gunman would be dead and they'd be left without answers. That simply wouldn't do.

When he arrived back at the antechamber Nao seemed genuinely surprised and ashamed that the gunman had slipped past him. That was good enough for Nobuyuki, and he quickly made a decision to trust Nao. "Look what I found," he said with a smirk. "Go tell Masahiro I'm here, and that I've captured one of them. I'm sure he's going to be very interested about what I've learned so far."

Nobuyuki kept his knife tight against Alexi's throat as Masahiro entered the room, a distraught Katsumi in tow. She was particularly bothered as she looked at Alexi, but said nothing, instead waiting for Masahiro to speak.

And speak he did, in a neutral tone and with eyes which told Nobuyuki nothing. "Nobuyuki, you came back,"

"I forgot something," Nobuyuki replied, matching Masahiro's tone and expression perfectly. "When I came back I heard gunfire. Haru Watanabe was kind enough to lead me to search for this guy, who was waiting to ambush you in the brothel."

"Haru?" Masahiro asked. He patted Katsumi's arm and stepped away from her, moving toward Nobuyuki. "Nao, please take over custody of the Russian, and tell everyone to report back as soon as they've finished their sweep of the building."

Nao nodded and took a step forward, keeping his pistol trained on Alexi and indicating that he should stand in the corner. Nobuyuki withdrew his knife from Alexi's throat and gave him a little push in the right direction. Alexi shot Nobuyuki a glare before following Nao's instructions and standing in the corner.

Masahiro waved Nobuyuki forward and he complied immediately, leaning toward his father and speaking quietly, "Haru was a traitor, Father. He attacked me in the stairwell. Unfortunately, Satoshi and I were forced to kill him."

"I see," Masahiro said and then switched to speaking Korean as he led Nobuyuki to stand on the opposite side of the room. "Have you uncovered any other traitors in our midst?"

Although it had been a few months since he'd used his Korean, Nobuyuki quickly made the switch in his mind and replied, "Not yet, though there must be more."

"I agree," Masahiro said with a stern frown. "Daisuke owes me an explanation."

"More than one, I fear," Nobuyuki replied. "Who knows if he's a traitor or not?"

Two more Yakuza entered the room, the first to arrive from their search of the building. Nobuyuki reasoned they must have been on their way already if they had made it so quickly, which made him more inclined to trust them. At least these two were concerned enough for their leader's safety to come and find him.

"You'd best have some evidence to back up that claim," Masahiro said, keeping his neutral tone though his eyes were smoldering. "Daisuke has always been loyal to me, even if he has not always liked you. He will be punished for failing in protecting the Casino, but he will accept it as always."

Nobuyuki bowed his head and replied, "I apologize, Father. I meant no offense. What should we do with the prisoner?"

Masahiro looked up at the two Yakuza who'd just entered the room, and quickly made the switch back to Japanese. "You two, take this Russian and lock him up in the store room. Tie him to a chair and make sure it's tight. I want both of you to inspect the bindings to make sure he can't move. He's to be interrogated and then held as our guest; a little insurance to help the Russians think twice before they attack us again. Make sure there are two guards outside his room at all times, and for the moment that means you two."

The service door which led back to the elevator opened just as Masahiro was finishing speaking. Ryo, Daisuke's second in command, was in the lead, followed immediately by Daisuke, and then Kenji, third in command of security, brought up the rear. Several others followed after them, but Nobuyuki stopped paying attention as he focused on Daisuke.

"You wanted to see me, Father?" Daisuke asked with a blank expression.

Masahiro looked Daisuke up and down, analyzing his stance, his expression, and his eyes. After nearly a minute had passed with no one speaking, Masahiro asked, "Daisuke, how did this attack happen?"

"They attacked us where we were blind, Father," Daisuke replied smoothly, as if it were rehearsed. "They must have spies in our ranks."

"Oh?" Masahiro asked. "And why were there blind spots in our defenses at all?"

Daisuke's eyes smoldered but his expression remained humble as he bowed his head and replied, "I'm sorry, Masahiro."

"These people came to kill me, and it is your responsibility to protect me," Masahiro said, shaking his head slightly. "I cannot let this slide. Ryo, Kenji, make sure Daisuke learns his lesson."

Ryo took Daisuke's pistol and Kenji took Daisuke's knife, handing the weapons to the men behind them. Then Kenji grabbed Daisuke's arms from behind and held him as Ryo punched Daisuke hard in the stomach, followed immediately by a strong punch to the face. Daisuke took the beating stoically as it continued with Ryo alternating where he struck Daisuke, making sure every part of Daisuke's body would feel the torment of his failure.

Masahiro watched for only a moment before he waved Nobuyuki's attention back to him and switched to speaking Korean once again. "Nobuyuki. You are now the only one I trust completely. Find out who is a traitor and who isn't. I don't like having to look over my shoulder."

"I will do my best, Father," Nobuyuki said, glancing back at Daisuke for a moment to remind himself of the price of failure.

"See that you do," Masahiro replied firmly. "Take a few days off school if you have to. And don't forget to have Doctor Yamaoka look at that cut on your arm. We don't want it to get infected. Infections are nasty things, and must be treated immediately and aggressively. Do not forget that, Nobuyuki. Ever."

Masahiro stormed back into his suite and headed straight toward his liquor cabinet. A second later he had a bottle of vodka in one hand and a shot glass in the other, pouring it as he turned toward Katsumi. She watched him from where she toed off her slippers, and Masahiro did not miss the concern in her eyes. They'd just escorted the police through the building, and it had been nearly as draining as the failed assassination had been, especially as they deflected the police away from the fourth floor.

But eventually they had managed to get rid of the policemen and begin to clean up the mess. It had taken several hours, and it was well into the next day, but at least things were beginning to settle down.

"Are you all right, Minjoon?" Katsumi asked, stepping away from the entry room and walking toward him. Masahiro drank the shot quickly and then set the alcohol aside as she approached. When Katsumi reached him she put her hand gently on his arm, shaking her head with dismay as she said, "I can't believe they almost got to us."

"Yes, I'm fine," Masahiro replied, taking a deep breath. He looked into Katsumi's eyes and saw the frantic disarray within her. She didn't know how to handle the situation at hand, but it wasn't the first time Masahiro had been threatened before, and he was already beginning to calm down. He was glad to have Katsumi with him, however, as at least he'd have companionship this time. "You appear sincere. I hope this means you're no longer angry with me?"

"Of course not!" Katsumi protested, eyes widening in surprise. "You were almost killed tonight; I'd have hated for that to have happened before we'd even had a chance to regain our relationship."

Masahiro snorted as he saw something else in her eyes, behind the concern. Ambition. He'd seen that emotion more times than he could count, reflected in the eyes of his subordinates and his own eyes in the mirror. He didn't mind the emotion, and certainly didn't fault Katsumi for it. Ambition was what made the world move forward.

That didn't mean he was going to let her off the hook so easily, however, and he asked, "You mean, before you're my wife and would inherit my position?"

"You're too perceptive for your own good, Minjoon," Katsumi replied, chuckling before leaning up to kiss his cheek gently. "But I'm definitely happy you're still around. What would I do without you?" They shared a smile, but after a second, Katsumi's gaze darkened and she bit her lip with a troubled frown. "You don't think they may have been coming after me, do you?"

"Why would they have?" Masahiro asked, his own smile faltering. "You've barely arrived."

"Yes, but is it any coincidence they attacked after I joined you?" Katsumi asked, taking a step away from Masahiro and glancing toward the door of the suite with worry. "Maybe we were both targets. We would have been together when the assassin shot you, do you think he would have left me alive?"

"You have a point," Masahiro said thoughtfully as his anger started to rise again. "I will make sure they pay for threatening your life as well as mine."

"What do you plan to do?" Katsumi asked.

"First, we'll send the Russians a message, letting them know we have their man and won't be giving him back any time soon," Masahiro explained. "A hostage will hold them at bay, at least for a while. Eventually we'll either have to kill him or trade him back, depending on what is more useful to us at the time. If they will not listen to reason, we may have to go on the offensive, but I would rather not resort to that, not while we're still attempting to gain a foothold in the city. We don't want any more attention than this has already brought to us."

Katsumi turned toward Masahiro with surprise and asked, "You plan on keeping the boy alive?"

"You think I shouldn't?" Masahiro asked.

"I simply expected you to exact revenge," Katsumi replied. "You've clearly thought about this more than I would have."

"Oh, believe me, the boy will pay for his crime," Masahiro said dangerously. "I'll let Daisuke have his way with him. After the beating Daisuke received, he'll need something to take his rage out on."

Katsumi nodded and replied, "A wise decision. I'm sure Daisuke will be able to handle the prisoner's interrogation on his own."

"Yes. I'm not sure I can trust anyone else to the task," Masahiro said, shaking his head firmly. "We had one traitor at least, but I doubt Haru acted alone. There must be more hidden in the ranks, but I'm not sure how to weed them out. For the time being, I will have to let Daisuke do what he can to determine who betrayed me. After that beating, he will not be so eager to let discipline slide in the future."

"I can think of no one better suited to the task," Katsumi said as she returned to stand with Masahiro, wrapping her arm around his waist and pulling him close. "With Daisuke protecting your assets, I'm sure we'll all be safe from now on. No one gets the better of him more than once, or you, for that matter."

"Indeed," Masahiro replied, feeling tension leave him as Katsumi began massaging his back gently. "Now, how about we take both our minds off our problems? My bed has been feeling rather empty of late."

Katsumi smiled and met Masahiro's lips with a passionate kiss, then whispered, "I was just waiting for you to ask."

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