From the Cup of the Worthless

by Cynus

Chapter 18

Nobuyuki settled into the seat at the café across from Vladimir, who looked up and smiled nervously. They shook hands in greeting and Nobuyuki said, "Thank you for meeting me so quickly this morning."

"Of course," Vladimir replied, nodding once. "I'm as eager to get it into your hands as you are to receive it."

"So," Nobuyuki said, glancing around impatiently. "Dimitry is bringing the recording?"

Vladimir nodded again and replied, "Yes. He has a digital copy which our contact Nicki was able to provide to us."

Nobuyuki smiled. "Perfect. Though I am curious why you didn't bring it."

Vladimir hesitated, looking at Nobuyuki for any sign of an ulterior motive behind the remark before he sighed and said, "They don't trust me. Not after I started meeting with you alone, anyway." He shrugged and reached for the cup of coffee in front of him and took one long sip. He set the cup down and swallowed before clearing his throat. "I'm one of the youngest members of the group, and they don't trust me because of that, either."

"Isn't Dimitry your age?" Nobuyuki asked.

"Yes," Vladimir replied, "but he has significant seniority."

"I see," Nobuyuki said awkwardly. He looked around the café again, hoping he'd spot Dimitry moving toward them, indicating they'd be able to move on. Making conversation with Vladimir was proving to be more difficult than he'd anticipated, though he was sure it was just because of his anxiety to get the proof he'd been promised.

Vladimir seemed just as anxious, and it made perfect sense to Nobuyuki. They were both about to get exactly what they wanted. Nobuyuki would be able to prove Daisuke was behind the assassination, and thereby convince Masahiro to release Alexi to the Russians as a sign of good faith. Everything was going according to plan and not a moment too soon.

"How did you manage to get Dante to cooperate?' Vladimir asked after a moment. It was an obvious attempt to make their time spent waiting go faster, but Nobuyuki was glad for the distraction and gave Vladimir an attentive ear as Vladimir continued. "I've always thought of him as kind of a dick. He was never nice to my brother, and I wanted to pound his face in more than once. He never quite crossed the line though."

"It's all a front," Nobuyuki replied with a grin. "You know how we criminals like fronts."

Vladimir snorted and said, "Yeah, I guess that's true enough." He took another sip of his coffee and then stared at the cup, a pensive expression on his face.

Nobuyuki studied Vladimir's features for a moment, seeing something in them he'd never realized before, but he'd also seen the same thing in Dante before, and it made him wonder what was going through Vladimir's mind. "Maybe this isn't my place . . ." he began, but then stopped short when Vladimir looked up with a glare.

"Maybe it isn't," Vladimir warned.

Nobuyuki smirked and said, "Okay, maybe it isn't. I care about Viktor, though, and that means to some extent I have to care about you."

Vladimir rolled his eyes and finished his coffee in one long gulp. He then set the cup down hard against the table and replied, "You don't owe me anything, Nobuyuki."

"Maybe not," Nobuyuki said, shrugging slightly, "but maybe I need to take a page from Dante's book and give you something anyway, even though I don't owe you anything."

Vladimir raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"Someday, you and I might be brothers by law, Vladi," Nobuyuki said with a hopeful grin. "I'd prefer if there wasn't always this level of distrust between us."

"Do you really think my brother would marry you?" Vladimir asked quietly.

Nobuyuki blanched at the question. "Do you not think I'm worth it? I thought you had accepted our relationship."

"That isn't why I asked," Vladimir replied, raising his hands defensively. "Our father holds a great deal of influence on Viktor. Do you really think my brother will go against our father's wishes?"

"I don't know," Nobuyuki said, sighing thoughtfully. "If my father opposed my and Viktor's relationship, I'd still choose Viktor, but he and I are two very different people. Let me pose a different question to you, since we're speaking so candidly."


"Would you marry Dimitry?"

Vladimir replied without hesitation. "Yes. Definitely."

"Then why do you think our love is any different?" Nobuyuki asked.

"I see your point," Vladimir said, nodding slowly. "Viktor does seem happier."

"Yes, he does," Nobuyuki replied, smirking. "For whatever reason, he seems to like me, despite my many faults."

"What does he think about you skipping school?" Vladimir asked, absentmindedly rolling his empty cup between his hands. "His education has always been very important to him."

Nobuyuki shrugged. "He knows the urgency of what I'm doing. The quicker we get this taken care of, the sooner our lives return to normal."

"We live normal lives?" Vladimir asked with a sarcastic grin. Nobuyuki laughed in response and some of the tension dissipated. Then Vladimir grew quiet for a moment, until his smile faltered slightly and he asked, "What were you going to say earlier, when you said it wasn't your place?"

Nobuyuki hesitated, still unsure if he should ask the question or not, but then decided to go for it. "Have you considered pursuing a life outside the mafia?"

"Why would I do that? Dimitry is there, Alexi is there . . ." Vladimir shook his head, eyes wide as if he'd never even thought of the possibility. "Everything I've ever cared about is in that life."

"Not everything," Nobuyuki said, smiling empathetically. "What about Viktor?"

Vladimir frowned as the thought struck a chord with him, but he did not immediately reply. He didn't get the chance as Dimitry walked through the door of the café and headed immediately toward their table. "Hey, I came as quickly as I could," he said, sliding into the chair next to Vladimir and giving him a quick peck on the lips before reaching into his pocket and retrieving a small external drive. "Sorry, Nobuyuki, but it seems Nicki's boss had to confirm the Villa di Rosa had been completely shut down before he was willing to give up the recording."

"As long as we have it now," Nobuyuki said as he reached for the drive and Dimitry placed it in his palm. "With this in my hand, I'm sure I can buy Alexi's freedom. Maybe one day we'll trust each other enough to be able to handle this at the negotiation table, instead of meeting in secret like this."

"Maybe," Dimitry replied with an encouraging smile, which didn't match the anxiety in his eyes. "Now, I don't mean to be rude, but the sooner you get that to Masahiro the better. I want to see my cousin tonight if possible."

Nobuyuki stood and closed his hand around the drive with a determined nod. "You've got it. I'll call you as soon as I know, okay?"

"Certainly," Vladimir replied, then he caught Nobuyuki's eyes for a moment, and they shared a silent understanding. "Thank you," Vladimir said after a second, "we'll look forward to hearing from you."

Daisuke walked into the room, which he had left well-lit for once and had added a small space heater for Alexi's comfort. It had all been in the interest of misleading Masahiro should he choose to come down and investigate Alexi's condition. There was more than one advantage to making Alexi healthy enough to talk again, and Daisuke was here to make sure he was the one who gained that advantage.

"We've run out of time, Alexi," Daisuke said after closing the door behind him. "It's time you held up your end of the bargain."

It had been a risk to allow the doctor into the room to fix Alexi's wounds, but it had also been necessary. Alexi's swelling had decreased considerably, and some of the vitality had returned to his flesh. He'd been fed and given plenty to drink, and he didn't appear as broken as he had before. Daisuke had to hope he was broken enough.

"You'll just kill me when it's over," Alexi said with contempt. "Why would I want to help you?"

"I can torture you some more," Daisuke replied with a sneer.

Alexi cackled mirthlessly and hung his head, defeated. "Do you think there's something you can do you haven't done already?"

"I haven't tortured you since yesterday," Daisuke said, keeping his tone emotionless. "I would think you'd be a little more amiable."

"Think again," Alexi said, "You can't take anything else from me."

Daisuke knew he was losing his grip on Alexi and decided to try a different tactic. He forced a smile to his face and said, "I'm going to free you, Alexi. Don't you want your freedom?"

Keeping the smile on his face was torture, but it paid off as Alexi studied his features for a minute and a glimmer of hope entered his eyes. "What do I have to do?" he asked softly.

"Masahiro has asked me to bring you to him," Daisuke explained, turning around so Alexi wouldn't see the look of relief on his face. "I'm going to take you up there so he can interrogate you. Then, we'll kill him together and I'll let you escape."

"All I have to do is help you kill him?" Alexi asked skeptically. "Then you'll let me go?"

"That's it," Daisuke replied, nodding. "Distract him for a moment so I can get him from behind, and then your debt to me will be repaid." Daisuke held his breath as silence overtook the room.

"Okay," Alexi said after a moment, and Daisuke felt a wave of relief wash over him. "Let's do it. When is this going to happen?"

Daisuke turned back around and faced Alexi with a determined nod. "Right now. We're going to do it right now. Nobuyuki is at school, and we won't have to deal with his interference. It's the perfect opportunity."

Alexi nodded and pushed against the ties holding him to the chair. "Okay. Untie me."

Daisuke stepped forward, drawing a knife from his belt and started to slide the tip under the zip tie around Alexi's wrist. Before he cut it, he met Alexi's eyes and warned, "Don't even think of trying to run or I'll kill you right here."

Alexi shook his head and replied, "I won't."

"Good," Daisuke said before cutting the first tie. He cut the rest of them in quick succession and then took a step back, looking Alexi up and down. Alexi still looked as if he'd been through hell, and his clothing still hung in tatters, but for Daisuke's purposes it would do. "Okay, stand up."

Alexi stood on shaky legs which had barely moved at all in a week. He nearly fell over and stabilized himself on the chair, hissing in pain. Daisuke wondered for a moment if Alexi was really going to be very useful at all, but then Alexi took several shuffling steps forward as he regained circulation in his legs. After he'd reached the wall and steadied himself again, he turned up to Daisuke and asked, "Where are we going?"

"To the top floor," Daisuke explained as Alexi started to massage feeling back into his arms and legs. "We'll go straight toward Masahiro's suite and you'll break away from me, acting like you're trying to get at him. As soon as Masahiro's focus is on you, I'll kill him. You'll go out through the fire escape, and when the other guards come to investigate, I'll tell them it was you. I'll have what I want and you'll be free. It's as simple as that."

"Okay," Alexi replied, nodding at the question. "Do I get a weapon?"

"Of course. Masahiro won't believe it otherwise," Daisuke replied, pointing to the two knives at his belt. "I'll hand you one of my knives once we're there. I'm going to have to bind your hands until then. I'll tell them you took it off my belt."

Alexi nodded again and presented his hands to Daisuke. Daisuke pulled Alexi's wrists back behind him and tied them together with another zip tie he'd brought for this purpose. He was glad Alexi's back was to him, keeping him from seeing the relief he felt. There was still a chance for him to kill Masahiro, and then Nobuyuki would be simple enough to handle afterward. He could still win.

He opened the door and nodded at the guards who stood outside. One was loyal to him, the other had never seemed to have much of an opinion, though he looked at the prisoner with surprise. Daisuke knew the best way to avoid him explaining himself to his men was to avoid pretending he needed to, and so he simply escorted Alexi into the hall without saying anything to either of them.

Alexi kept his mouth shut as well, and allowed himself to be led toward the service elevator. They walked entirely through the hallways the hotel staff would use, though Alexi could occasionally hear patrons enjoying themselves in the brothel as they passed by closed doors, and Daisuke watched him carefully at these points, making sure he didn't attempt to break away from him and seek help. But Alexi maintained his silence, and was complacent the entire way.

When Daisuke nodded at the receptionist at the desk, she too gave Daisuke a strange look, but he ignored it and continued on. The same strategy he had employed against the guard worked here as well, and she let him pass without a word. He was the man in charge of the clan's security, and that was all there was to it. No one would question him except Masahiro himself, and the brat Nobuyuki.

They rode the elevator in silence all the way to the top, and then stepped into the red carpeted hallway leading to Masahiro's suite. Daisuke scowled as he saw who was standing guard at the doors. Satoshi had been particularly difficult to deal with since the night of the attack, and Nao hadn't been much better. Neither had ever held much love for Daisuke, and he made a special note to be rid of them as soon as Masahiro was dead.

"Satoshi, Nao," Daisuke said as he stopped in front of the door and met both their gazes. "I am bringing the prisoner as Masahiro requested."

Satoshi looked at Nao who seemed uncomfortable by the declaration. "He did not mention this to us," Satoshi said when he turned to face Daisuke again.

Daisuke's scowl deepened as he growled, "He visited the prisoner last night, and requested to see him today. Stand aside. As he knew I would be escorting him, I'm sure he didn't bother to tell you."

Properly chastised, Satoshi and Nao bowed in unison and Nao replied, "Yes, Commander. Of course." Then the two stepped aside, giving Daisuke access to the doors. Another obstacle between him and his prize had been bypassed, and there was only one to go. He shoved Alexi forward roughly, and then opened the door a crack before returning his grip to Alexi's bindings. He then shoved Alexi against the door, using his momentum to open the door into Masahiro's anteroom.

Once they were inside, Daisuke shut the door behind them and locked it in the same movement, disguising the sound of the sliding lock as the door clicked shut. With any luck, neither Satoshi or Nao would be able to get through the door before it was too late.

The wood-paneled sliding wall which separated the anteroom from the rest of the suite was shut, and Daisuke suppressed another sigh of relief. He drew his knife from his belt and cut Alexi's bindings, giving him a moment to massage his wrists.

"Okay, you're free," Daisuke said, handing the knife to Alexi while drawing his other one. "Here's a knife. Now go get him." He pointed toward the sliding wall and Alexi turned toward it with a determined nod.

Before Alexi could move forward, Daisuke wrapped his hand around Alexi's mouth and pulled him back roughly, impaling Alexi on the second knife near his kidney. Alexi screamed into Daisuke's hand and Daisuke let him fall to his knees, pulling away from the knife in his back. Alexi screamed again as Daisuke placed his boot on the knife wound and pushed him forward, though this time there was nothing to muffle the sound as he landed in a heap just before the door.

Daisuke stepped over him. He no longer cared about what happened to Alexi; his duty was done. There was only one thing left, and that was to kill Masahiro.

Masahiro looked up from his meditation at the sound of screaming as a body hit the floor. He rose quickly and turned as the door to his suite opened and Daisuke stepped forward, bloody knife in his hand.

"What is going on out there?" Masahiro asked, readying himself for anything. He could just see the hand of another person through the open doorway, and it was also holding a knife. Beyond his anteroom someone was trying to open the doors but was having trouble doing so.

"Father," Daisuke began, stepping forward and away from the doorway and giving Masahiro a chance to see the face of the Russian youth laying in the anteroom. "I was bringing the prisoner as you requested yesterday, and he managed to steal my extra knife and tried to come after you. I caught him quickly and dispatched him, but as you can see, he nearly made it through the door."

Masahiro looked at the boy with disgust as he tried to assess the situation, but then the boy looked up and met Masahiro's eyes with ones filled with tears and pointed toward Daisuke with his knife. "Eye . . ." he whispered, "Smo–" he cut off with a scream of pain and buried his face in the floor again as Masahiro realized what he was trying to say just in time to round on Daisuke who was charging toward him, knife hand leading.

It only took a subtle shift of Masahiro's footwork to line himself up with Daisuke's stabbing arm, and he moved fluidly to the side and precisely the right instant, knocking Daisuke's hand away and slamming both of his palms into Daisuke's chest, reversing his momentum and sending him stumbling backward several feet.

As much as Masahiro wanted to end this quickly, his betrayed soul demanded some form of answer for this outrage and so he shouted, "Daisuke! What is the meaning of this?"

Daisuke took the opportunity to ready his stance again as he squared off against Masahiro, glancing nervously toward the door as if expecting others to come through at any moment. But Masahiro gave him no immediate opening in his defenses, and so he took the time to answer Masahiro's question. "You brought that boy into our clan," he spat, fueling his anger with images of Nobuyuki. "You put him higher than me and made him your heir. I was loyal!"

Absolute rage contorted Daisuke's expression as he charged forward, kicking out toward Masahiro's knee. Masahiro shifted to deflect the strike only to find it had been a well-played feint as Daisuke pulled up short and slashed out with his knife instead, cutting Masahiro across his bicep then pushing forward for a second slash at his throat.

Masahiro grunted in pain as he shuffled backward across the floor, a practiced movement which allowed him to get out of the range of the second slash and then the third. As Daisuke's momentum started to slow, Masahiro went on the offensive. He delivered a swift jab toward Daisuke's face, which Daisuke dodged by a hair's breadth. Masahiro flicked a punching dagger from his sleeve and slashed out under Daisuke's arm, barely nicking him as Daisuke darted backward.

The pounding at the door was becoming even more frantic as Satoshi and Nao tried to get through the door, and it seemed as if someone else had joined them, though Masahiro couldn't take the time to be sure. He pushed his offensive, stabbing forward with his punching dagger in a series of quick jabs, trying to drive Daisuke back and into the couch behind him.

Daisuke matched Masahiro stride for stride, but seemed to sense what was happening, and just as he was about to run into the couch he jumped to the side. Masahiro lunged forward, overcompensating for his moving target, and ended up stumbling into the couch himself. He started to turn toward Daisuke but then cried out in pain as Daisuke's knife snuck under his extended arm and pierced between his ribs.

"And now you die, Masahiro," Daisuke growled, leaning into Masahiro and twisting the knife, "and I will take what is mine."

Masahiro met Daisuke's eyes as he felt his life starting to fade away, and tried to slash out with his punching dagger but found his arm no longer had strength. Daisuke growled with triumph as he twisted the knife again and let go of Masahiro, letting him fall against the couch in front of him.

Daisuke raised the knife again as Masahiro stared at it with muted horror, waiting for it to descend, but it never did. The door to the suite burst open and Nobuyuki led the charge through it, followed immediately by Satoshi and Nao who both had their guns drawn. Daisuke knew he'd taken too long and was caught, and there was no way he could fight those three at once, and with a growl of frustration he turned on his heel and charged into one of the adjoining rooms, slamming the door behind him and locking it. Satoshi and Nao both managed to get off several shots as the door closed, splintering the wood of the door as they rushed after Daisuke, but none of these found their target on the other side.

"Nobuyuki!" Masahiro managed to shout as he struggled to a sitting position, clutching at his side and desperately trying to close the wound there. He could feel his blood seeping through his slick fingers and his consciousness was beginning to fade along with it. He wasn't sure if Daisuke had hit anything vital, but the damage he'd done was extensive.

"Father! Are you all right?" Nobuyuki cried as he dashed to his father's side. He opened his father's robe and saw the wound, glaring red through the jungle tattoo on his side. Daisuke had stabbed Masahiro right through one of the tiger's legs on Masahiro's ribs. "Shit! Stay there, and keep pressure on that. I'm going to go get bandages."

He rushed away as Satoshi and Nao followed Daisuke, but couldn't get the door open. After a moment, Satoshi pulled Nao back and then took aim at the lock before shooting it with his pistol. He then kicked the door open and entered the room, though he came back cursing a moment later. "Daisuke made it to the fire escape," he growled. "He could be anywhere in the building by now."

Masahiro nodded numbly as Nobuyuki returned to his side, carrying the first aid kit which Masahiro kept in his washroom. "Nao," Masahiro said as Nobuyuki started to go to work, "help the Russian. Get the doctor up here and make sure the boy lives. He tried to save my life."

"Yes, Father," Nao replied, but hesitated only for a moment to ask, "What about Daisuke?"

Masahiro coughed, spitting blood across his chest before he replied, "Satoshi, you are temporarily in command of my forces. Get whatever units you can trust out there hunting for him. He can't have gotten far, yet."

Commotion in the antechamber drew everyone's attention as they turned to see Katsumi walking in through the double doors, her face contorted with worry. "Masahiro! Oh my God, what happened?" She cried, rushing toward him and kneeling on the opposite side from Nobuyuki. She inspected the wound herself before looking at Nobuyuki expectantly.

Nobuyuki handed her a clean cloth dabbed in rubbing alcohol so she could help clean the wound as Masahiro explained, "Daisuke attempted to kill me. He was the traitor who ordered my assassination."

"Did you kill him?" Katsumi asked as she began dabbing at Masahiro with the cloth.

"He escaped, Lady Katsumi," Nobuyuki said, looking at the needle and thread and wondering if he should attempt to sew Masahiro up himself or wait for the doctor to arrive. "Satoshi is currently looking into the matter."

"We must hope he is apprehended soon," Katsumi replied, shaking her head in dismay. "Can I get you anything, Masahiro?'

"Perhaps a glass of something strong," Masahiro said with a weak smile. He laughed, forcing more blood out through his mouth and groaned. "Maybe now is a good time for sake." Katsumi nodded and walked toward Masahiro's liquor cabinet and opened it, causing Masahiro to say, "I'm sorry, Katsumi, I thought you knew I was kidding. I wouldn't want to bleed out."

Katsumi forced a smile and closed the cabinet doors, turning back toward Masahiro. "What happened to the bottle of sake I gave you?"

"I'm sorry, Katsumi. I read the label the other day and noticed it contained lemon," Masahiro explained. Nobuyuki was starting to grow more worried as he noticed a delirious look in Masahiro's eyes as he continued speaking. "I'm afraid I'm allergic to citrus, mildly so, but enough to be a hassle. I passed it off to Nobuyuki, hoping he'd be able to make good use out of it. I hoped you wouldn't notice, but it seems I owe you an apology."

"Yes, well, it's just as well you got rid of it. I wouldn't have wanted you to get ill," Katsumi said, bowing her head momentarily. "I'll need to do better at remembering these things about you, Masahiro."

"Thank you, Katsumi," Masahiro mumbled as his head started to droop. The last thing he heard before descending into blackness was Nobuyuki shouting his name, though he couldn't completely understand why. He was just going to sleep; why was Nobuyuki so worried?

Nobuyuki was sitting by Masahiro's bed, waiting patiently for some change in his condition. After Masahiro had lost consciousness, the entire room had become frantic as they waited for the doctor to arrive. Doctor Yamaoka had just reached the level and heard them shouting, and he ran to Masahiro's side to take over from Nobuyuki and Katsumi.

Stitching Masahiro up hadn't taken as long as Nobuyuki would have expected, but it was almost too late for Alexi. Dr. Yamaoka reached the Russian just in time to save two lives that day, but by the time all was said and done, everyone was exhausted, both physically and emotionally.

Daisuke had disappeared into the city, and Nobuyuki doubted they would see him again at the hotel. None of the Yakuza would trust him now; Nobuyuki had had the word spread immediately about the failed assassination attempt. As soon as Masahiro was well enough to make the order, a zetsuenjo would be made for Daisuke: an irreversible excommunication from the Inagawa-kai. He would never be able to join the family again, and would be considered a traitor of the worst caliber.

That should be enough for any man to give up, but Nobuyuki knew Daisuke well enough to suspect he would try to get revenge. It was almost a guarantee he'd be back in the future, ready to take advantage of Masahiro whenever the chance appeared. It was only a matter of time.

But Masahiro had to get better first before going anywhere. Dr. Yamaoka had made it clear Masahiro would eventually recover, but he had lost a lot of blood and it would take a while for the damage inside of him to heal, even with the help of the nanotechnology Dr. Yamaoka normally employed.

Masahiro's eyes fluttered, drawing Nobuyuki's attention. "Father!"

Masahiro turned to look at him, blinking in the bright light of the room. Katsumi entered the room then, smiling down at Masahiro as she walked up to take his hand. Nobuyuki reached up and took the other one and then asked, "What would you have me do, Father? You went unconscious before giving me instruction."

"Why did you come to see me?" Masahiro asked, more lucidly than Nobuyuki would have expected him to be. "You showed up just in time. How did you manage that?"

Nobuyuki smiled weakly and said, "It's unfortunate I did not arrive earlier." He reached into his pocket and withdrew the external drive Dimitry had handed him that morning. "I was coming to bring you this. It's a recording of Daisuke's dealings with the Russians. It's the whole plan, down to every last detail, even how their operatives were supposed to recognize Dante. I was able to listen to it on my way here. Apparently he met them at the Northeast corner of the building and was carrying a cigarette so Alexi would know it was him."

"Eye smoke," Masahiro mused with a dry chuckled. "Alexi, was it? How do you know his name? Was that on the recording as well?"

"No," Nobuyuki said, shaking his head before hanging it in shame. "I must confess, father, I've been working with two Russian operatives in order to obtain this information. Alexi is cousin to one, and adopted brother to the other."

"I see," Masahiro said quietly, then asked with a sly smile, "Friends of young Viktor?"

Katsumi looked between Masahiro and Nobuyuki then asked, "Who is Viktor?"

"The boy who was here the other day," Masahiro explained. "The one Nobuyuki allowed to escape. He's the one my son has his eye on."

"Yes. One of the Russians I met with is Viktor's brother by blood," Nobuyuki said. His smile faltered as he said nervously, "I should mention now, Father, that I have also performed the Sakazuki with Viktor."

Masahiro chuckled and replied, "I'm sure you did. It doesn't matter much, now. As this new data comes into play and everything becomes clear, it is only a matter of time before we will clear up this business with the Russians. They'll crawl back into their holes and we'll resume the usual tension between us. Things will be back to normal. Once this happens, Viktor will be able to come back here." He wiggled his eyebrows and said, "After all, he isn't really mafia, is he? You told me he's the son of the police chief, yes?"

"Yes," Nobuyuki replied, a knowing look in his eye, "But he's much more complex than just that."

"Ah . . ." Masahiro said, grinning back at Nobuyuki before giving his son's hand a gentle squeeze. It was strange to see all of this lighthearted tenderness from Masahiro, but Nobuyuki decided it was just the painkillers talking. He decided to enjoy it for what it was, even though Masahiro still seemed completely lucid as he said, "I see. Things have progressed?"

"You might say that," Nobuyuki said, grinning wide. Before he could say anything else, Satoshi poked his head into the room and bowed to Masahiro.

"Father," Satoshi said respectfully. "Daisuke has disappeared. We were unable to track him."

"Not even by the chip in his ear?" Masahiro asked.

"He appears to be masking his signal somehow," Satoshi explained apologetically.

There was no doubt about Masahiro's lucidity now as he withdrew his hands from Nobuyuki and Katsumi and used them to slowly push himself into a sitting position, grunting at the strain it put on his weakened body. "No matter," he said once he was sitting up. "He will be found. He is an exile, now, and has no place in the Yakuza. Even if traitors remain among us, with their leader now gone, there is little they will risk. They will fall back in line, and realize loyalty is their only choice."

"It's over. We've lost," Daisuke spat, looking around the darkened street as if he expected someone to jump out at him at any moment. He was hoping someone would. He desperately needed to kill something in order to expend the rage which had been building all day.

"Speak for yourself," the voice in his ear said in an annoyed tone. "You're the one who was caught. What were you thinking, anyway?"

"Masahiro was onto me, I could tell," Daisuke replied, growling in frustration as he kicked at a pebble on the sidewalk. "I could either run, or try and kill him and pin it on Alexi. I don't run unless it's the last option I have."

"But now you have nothing," the voice chastised.

"Only because you took none of the risk on yourself," Daisuke growled. "You should be the one who is out here, running for their life, not me."

"Oh please. If you hadn't been so sloppy, we would have succeeded."

Daisuke's entire body trembled with fury as he said, "I'll have my revenge on you, I swe—"

"Before you swear anything," the voice interrupted, "you might want to consider who you're challenging. I am the only one who can help you. Do you want to know how to hurt Nobuyuki or not?"

Daisuke took a deep breath to avoid responding in anger. His associate was right, and knew him well. Hurting Nobuyuki would make him feel better, even though it wouldn't fix his problem. "What do you know?"

"Viktor Karimov," the voice replied. "I've done my research. He's the one you want."

"Who is he?" Daisuke asked.

"The son of the police chief. He's also Nobuyuki's lover. Nobuyuki helped him escape the hotel a week ago."

"How did you acquire this information?" Daisuke asked, wondering if he was being sent on a fool's errand. He remembered the boy Nobuyuki had let escape, but hadn't realized they were friends. He had simply assumed Nobuyuki was as incompetent as usual.

"I know how to pay attention, Daisuke. It's the most important skill to have," the voice said. "Have you learned nothing from Masahiro?"

Daisuke gritted his teeth and replied, "And where is this Viktor?"

"I'm already sending you his address. It only took a little digging. You can repay me by not screwing this up. I can't afford to have that perceptive little bastard around for much longer, and you'll have a chance to get back at him."

"My thoughts exactly," Daisuke said, feeling his anger reduce to a simmer for the time being. "Thank you for the tip. Perhaps I won't kill you yet."

The voice chuckled dryly and said, "As if you could."

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead