Ankh was certain that this was how it would all end.
Not even twenty five and on the losing end of a fight with a man who thought cats were the highest evolved life form on the planet. Pathetic. Had it really come to this, losing to Kazari of all people?
The Kougami Museum was as deserted at this time of night as it ever was; the building had been abandoned once the new Kougami Art Foundation had opened up across town. Ankh had never liked it- the strange detritus of sculptures and furniture that hadn’t been removed made it annoying to navigate whenever meetings were called there- but at this moment he’d give anything for a handy Roman bust to crack these numbskulls over the head with. Where was the exit?
The corridors morphed from white to concrete as he left the usual meeting point, evaded the idiot guards and kept a wary eye out for Kazari. He was further in than he’d been in the building before- even the safe was still within the confines of the old viewing galleries, and as far as he knew Kazari only kept the laboratory itself in the other levels.
The sound of muted footsteps on the concrete floor was the only warning he had before a body tackled him to the ground. Ankh threw his head back, the satisfying crack of cartilage on bone letting him know he’d hit home, and tried to wiggle free and a kick flashed in his peripheral vision and pain exploded in his side.
The goon let go to clutch at his broken nose now that his friend had arrived and he though Ankh was finished. Ankh would’ve snorted if breathing didn’t make him want to pass out. He cautiously rolled onto his front, pretending to be sick and luring the uninjured guard-dog closer.
He hated to admit it, but he wasn’t pretended as much as trying to cling onto consciousness.
“Kick him again,” the first moron said through his broken nose. Now he knew they were Uva’s personal recruits, only he could consistently hire such morons. Ankh gave up any pretence of submission and grabbed the leg incoming to his face to throw the goon across the room where he lay stunned against the wall before growling and coming back twice as angry.
But now Ankh was ready for him, up and already aiming punches. The world was lost in a blur of knuckles and blood and grunts of pain.
Ankh spun around, carrying through the punch, only to be met by a kick on the jaw that sent his head reeling back, world exploding in pain and swirling colours as his consciousness drifted in and out. He dropped unsteadily to the floor unable to fend off the rest of the blows that followed. Ankh’s vision faded to black and back again, only to see Kazari standing over him as if through a distorted fairground mirror. He was unlikely to get a hit in with that sort of depth perception. Ankh tried to kick him anyway.
The goon he kicked instead paid him back immediately with a blow to his already aching ribs.
“Pick him up,” Kazari ordered, jerking his head at the goons.
Ankh felt his arms being yanked up as he was dragged backwards along the corridor. He watched the scuff marks his shoes made along the peeling linoleum and thought about kicking Kazari repeatedly in the face with them.
The massive concrete room he was dragged into had clearly been a warehouse of sorts before Greeed had gotten hold of the building. Grey concrete walls were visible, lit up by a series of powerful fluorescent floodlights ringing a section in the middle of the room covered in clear plastic. The stark lighting did nothing to hide the dark brown stains on the wooden table.
Kazari certainly knew his classics.
One of the thugs slipped as they hauled Ankh onto the table he’d been admiring and nearly dropped him again when he realised he’d stepped in a puddle of blood. Ankh snorted at him.
Kazari walked into view and glowered at both of them, widening his eyes until the goons reached for Ankh’s arms and held them down. Ankh struggled futilely to throw them off.
“Now, now, Ankh,” Kazari scolded. “That’s not very nice. We just want to play. Look at all the toys I brought.”
With that he whisked a sheet off the small table by Ankh’s feet, unveiling a perfect view of the bladed instrument arrayed out across it. Kazari grabbed a handful and splayed them out like claws.
“I’ve always wanted a chance to get you here, Ankh,” Kazari told him, stroking a scalpel down his cheek before rending his shirt in two with a swipe of his ‘claws’. Ankh could feel the sting where the blades had cut through flesh. He wondered if this would end with him looking like he’d been mauled by a giant cat. That was probably the reason Kazari did it, there were much more efficient ways to torture and slowly kill someone but this one certainly sent a message.
“And here I thought you just wanted to see me shirtless,” Ankh spat at him.
Kazari’s smirk faded and he pushed off the goon holding Ankh’s right arm so he could yank the sleeve up and tap the blood-stained knifes against his wrist.
Ankh forced himself not to tense and stilled his attempts at getting free. Too much pressure on those blades and his escape plan would have to be put on a distinctly faster timescale.
The first clawing stung, a vicious rending of flesh by his elbow that was over so quickly Ankh barely felt it until the blood started gushing from the wounds, rivulets of crimson dripping onto the table top.
“Don’t worry, Ankh,” Kazari smirked at him. “You won’t bleed out until I’m good and ready for it. Death is no escape for a Greeed.”
Ankh glared at him and Kazari laughed as his thrust one of the knives clean through his hand.
“Oh, over already?” Kazari sighed at the curtailment of his fun as the writhing stopped. Ankh really hadn’t lasted as long as he’d thought.
He flicked off his knifes, spraying Ankh’s blood across the room. A fleck hit his cheek and he wiped it off with a finger then slowly licked it off. Delicious. It had taken a lot of damage for Ankh to finally pass out at least, even if the pitiful screaming had gotten annoying.
A choked off groan brought his attention back to his prisoner. The guards were down on their knees, both gasping and clutching at their crotches. Of Ankh there was no sign.
Kazari massaged his forehead, the beginnings of another Ankh-induced headache forming. When he saw Ankh’s rotting corpse he swore he’d fucking dance on it for all the trouble he put him through.
“Get up,” he snapped at the morons Uva had hired. Shakily, they obeyed.
Kazari laid down his briefcase and opened it up. He glanced up at the idiots that were still standing there instead of chasing after Ankh and tilted his head to the side considering his options. Certainly no-one would miss them, and while the others frowned on the breaking of toys that only applied when he was breaking theirs and frankly Uva wouldn’t even miss them.
Kazari smiled at the thugs.
“Here,” he said, offering a tiny grey pill to each of them.
Kazari kept smiling at them until the idiot closed his mouth and accepted the pill. That one, he decided, could be sent after Ankh. Even dying of blood loss, stumbling round an abandoned building with a broken rib, Ankh would have no problem easily dispatching this trash.
To the other he handed his briefcase and left him there, looking bewildered and losing touch with reality as the pill kicked in.
“Stay here,” Kazari ordered, and walked casually out through the concrete maze to the nearest exit.
He came out into the sunlight, smirked, and clicked the switch in his hand just once.
The building exploded.
Ankh leaned against the pillar now wholly propping him up too hard and slid inexorably to the floor as gravity won out over adrenaline. He muffled his cough, wiping away the blood absently, trying to hear if Kazari was still tailing him. Had that last corridor cut him off? Had he even chased after him once he’d escaped his makeshift torture chamber? Did he think Ankh would die slowly from the knife wounds he’d inflicted, the little blade-obsessed freak?
Well fine. Let Kazari underestimate him, let them all think he was one of the useless turncoats that inevitably came to light every now and then, and got eliminated just as routinely. Let Greeed think he was dead and buried in a traitor’s grave. He’d show them.
Ankh reached into his jacket and pulled out the disc.
“Didn’t find that,” he mocked. “Did you, Kazari?”
He forced himself upright; oblivious to the bloodstain he left behind. His cough returned and he tried to hold his ribs and stem the blood flow from where Kazari had gone to town on his arm, flaps of skin and tendon hanging limply from his forearm. He had to get help. Somewhere Greeed couldn’t find him, somewhere he wouldn’t be arrested on sight.
Ankh caught sight of his mangled reflection in the broken glass of the window. His face stared back, and Ankh bit back a snort.
“Family, huh,” Ankh grimaced. “Shingo.”
Time to see where his brother was.
The building exploded.
Ankh thought, through the haze of pain, that it was typical of the way his luck was going as of late.
Debris lay everywhere, remains of walls turning what was once a sizable museum into an alien landscape.
Eiji remembered going there back when the museum was still open. The tombs of ancient kings and antique pottery side by side. Seeing it destroyed was bizarre.
“Hino-san, are you alright?”
“Hmm?” Eiji looked up from his perusal of the wreckage and saw his partner looking quizzical. “I’m fine, Izumi-san, just looking for an entrance that hasn’t collapsed.”
Izumi Shingo looked unconvinced but didn’t say anything. They’d been working together for a few years, partnered when Eiji came back from working abroad and Shingo newly promoted to detective. They’d hardly had a chance to work any cases together before being thrown into the Greeed taskforce, most of the first few months had been spent getting Eiji settled into the department and going through all the paperwork, the true bane of policemen.
“Certainly makes a change from cold cases, huh, Izumi-san?” Eiji said, picking his way through what was once a loading area for the museum.
“I wouldn’t call the Greeed syndicate a cold case, Hino-san,” Shingo said. His voice sounded disapproving and Eiji rushed to reassure him.
“That’s not what I meant! I just meant it’s good to have a current lead on something, the Greeed use abandoned buildings round the city, right?”
And, Eiji carefully didn’t say, a chance to actually try and do some police work. After three years, the taskforce had dwindled down to just them; a lonely office where the other detectives foisted off reports into the ongoing drug trade and any particularly unsolvable murders. The Greeed taskforce was a joke.
“You may be right,” Shingo said. The ringing of his phone interrupted whatever he might have been about to say next and he looked over at Eiji, who nodded, before taking the call.
“Captain? Yes, sir, I understand-“
Eiji didn’t catch any more, Shingo moving off to somewhere quieter than the creaking debris field, and he doubled his efforts to find an entrance. His luck paid off when he saw the dark hole of what must’ve been an underground carpark once, half covered by a dented metal shutter.
“In here,” Eiji yelled, heading towards the hole.
Shingo made his way closer, “That was the captain, he says there have been some new reports on Greeed incidents near the Kougami offices. He thinks it might be to do with this,” he waved his hand at the remains of the building, “They used to own the place.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Eiji offered, already making his way back towards Shingo.
“Someone has to stay here and figure out what caused the explosion, Hino-san,” Shingo told him. “The crime scene technicians will be here shortly, so you can just wait for them and then head back to the station.”
“Ah,” Eiji prevaricated. “I was just going to see if there’s anyone left inside first.” He pointed at the hole behind him.
Shingo frowned. “Are you sure that’s safe?”
“It’s fine,” Eiji grinned. “Go deal with the captain before he blows a gasket.”
“If you’re sure,” Shingo trailed off. “Get the emergency services to stand by, just in case, alright?”
“They’ve already cleared the building for collapses, but I’ll let them know,” Eiji promised. “Now, go.”
“I’m off!” Shingo called, heading to his car.
Inside was dark, with the odd working light casting eerie shadows across the walls. Eiji quickly hurried through the car park and found the staircase leading to the rest of the underground complex. It was only a single flight down; Eiji wondered if it was where the museum used to restore items, surely it lead into the main building somewhere.
The stairwell opened onto a long corridor and a door near the end that had light shining through.
“Hello?” Eiji called out. “Is anyone there? I’m a detective, I’m here to help.”
A roar came from the end of the corridor and a large crash. Eiji rushed forward to the door, which was stuck half open and tried to peer inside. All he could see was burnt remains of plastic sheeting and blood. “What on earth-“
With a crazed bellow a man came out of the room, bleeding profusely from a head wound and chest clearly burnt from the explosion, and punched a hole clean through the door Eiji was leaning against.
“Are you alright? That’s dangerous,” Eiji said, easing aside the door now hanging forlornly from just the one hinge. The next punch almost caught him on the jaw before he ducked and rolled. “Oi, what’s going on?”
The man didn’t answer, animalistic roars the only sounds escaping his throat. Eiji had seen his bloodshot eyes when he went in for the punch and almost got his head taken off by the man’s knuckledusters. Could this man have been involved in the explosion or did he just happen upon a thug’s drug den in his investigation? Either way, he had a duty to stop him causing any more damage. It was a crime scene after all.
“Police! Stand down and we can end this without anyone getting hurt.”
The man growled, mouth opening to let loose a scream of blind rage-
-and a body dropped on top of him.
Shingo’s phone rang again. He sighed, but eased to a halt to answer. The road was completely deserted outside the stadium, which was odd for the time of day, Shingo mused, but at least he wasn’t inconveniencing any motorists.
He flipped the phone up, “Hello?”
“You should have stopped investigating, Detective.”
“Hello? Who is this?”
The voice was clear and clipped, sounding clinical and disinterested.
“You were warned, detective. The OOO investigation was closed for a reason.”
Shingo clutched at the phone, “What do you know about OOO? Who are you?”
“We don’t let anyone know what Greeed really is.”
Underneath him the car made a loud click.
“Good bye, Detective.”
Shingo’s eyes widened and he scrambled for the door. He got halfway across the road before the force of the explosion flung him into the air.
‘Hina,’ he thought, world growing dim, ‘Ankh.’
The dead body groaned.
Eiji thought about how ridiculous that sentence sounded, even in his head, and mentally revised it.
The injured man who saved him from a potential suspect groaned.
He nodded, and then rushed forward to help him.
“Are you alright? Hang in there!” Eiji said, easing his unexpected rescuer over so he no longer crushed the unconscious man beneath him. Eiji turned him over, mindful of any injuries, and his blond hair parted to reveal the man’s face.
Knowing it wasn’t his partner there in the hospital bed didn’t help. Shingo had left the crime scene, Eiji had seen his car pull away, yet the man who’d saved him looked so much like his partner even the rescue crews standing by had thought it was the ‘nice detective’ they’d met earlier.
Even if it could be Shingo, when did he get the time to dye his hair?
A quick search of the man’s jacket in the ambulance had revealed no wallet, no identification of any kind, nothing but a mini-disc, the kind that had gone out of fashion years ago. Eiji had helped fill out the paperwork for Shingo enough times when he got in an accident (Hina was a wonderful sister, but her strength could cause problems every so often, not that Shingo ever complained) that he signed the man in as Izumi Shingo in a daze.
Eiji looked around the lobby, until the man was checked over properly it wouldn’t be right to question him, and a drink would do him good. There had to be a vending machine around somewhere.
A flash of white flew past him.
None of her calls had been answered.
Hina wasn’t one to worry but her brother always mailed her back even if he couldn’t answer his phone. It was niggling at the back of her mind even before the hospital called to let her know they had a patient who had her listed as medical proxy.
“B-but my brother was out investigating,” Hina had protested. “He can’t be in the hospital.”
“The ambulance was called to a car bombing roughly an hour ago, Izumi Shingo was the only casualty, no-one else was brought in with him,” the nurse sounded strained.
“Is my brother okay?” Hina asked heart in her throat.
“That’s what we’re trying to ensure, but you need to come to the hospital right away. As his proxy there are some decisions you’re required to make regarding his treatment.”
Hina listened to the information in a state of shock. Although she’d been out shopping with Tomoko-chan she didn’t remember what she told her, if she told her anything. The entire trip to the hospital was a blur of car horns and fear.
The sight waiting for her at intensive care didn’t relieve any of it.
Shingo was lying pale and swaddled in bandages, connected to machines that breathed for him and beeped and told Hina again and again that her brother might die.
She’d never hated anything as much as those merciless beeps- until they suddenly stopped.
“He’s coding,” one of the doctor called. Nurses rolling machines rushed into the room and Hina stood there, tears blinding her to everything, until one of the nurses pushed her out of the room and pulled the curtains closed.
“Hina-chan?” she heard, distantly. “Hina-chan?”
Hina spun round and took in his
Eiji spun round. “Hina-chan! Are you here for your brother?”
Hina ran down the corridor and hugged Eiji, burying her face in his chest and trying not to let any more tears escape.
“I just don’t know what I’d do without him,” Hina managed after a deep breath. “Seeing him lying there and the doctor’s say they don’t know if he’ll make it-“
“What do you mean, Hina-chan?” Eiji pulled back and looked quizzically at her. “Izumi-san is going to be fine. The nurse just said so.”
“What? But-“ Hina whirled round to stare back the way she’d come. Had she really been so out of it she didn’t even notice the nurse overtake her?
Eiji placed his hands on her shoulders and smiled reassuringly. “He’s going to be fine, Hina-chan. She said his ribs were only bruised and he didn’t lose that much blood. All he’s got is a lot of stitches and a cast on his arm.”
Hina gaped at him.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Onii-chan…was in an explosion,” she said slowly.
“There was a bomb in his car and onii-chan was caught in the blast. He’s…in intensive care. The doctor’s say he might not survive.”
Eiji backed against the wall and looked disbelievingly between Hina and the door.
“That can’t be.”
“What is it, Eiji-san? What’s going on?” Hina demanded.
“It can’t be. Because if Izumi-san is in intensive care,” Eiji gulped and looked at the bed just visible through the doorway, “Then who is in there?”
Hina forced her way past him, pulling the door open with maximum strength, leaving Eiji to subsequently try and prop the doorframe against the wall in a suitably convincing manner.
Only to discover the spitting image of Shingo on the bed.
“Ah, it does look just like Izumi-san, doesn’t it?” Eiji tried to justify his confusion, filling the shocked silence. “I’m still trying to work it out myself, you see, there was this explosion- not that explosion!- and he sort of saved me-“ and when Hina interrupted him, his mouth running by itself, that he didn’t hear.
“- really is, what did you say, Hina-chan?”
“Ankh,” she growled out and threw herself at the figure on the bed, fists flying furiously until Eiji came to his senses and dragged her back.
“Hina-chan! Stop this!” he yelled, yanking her back from the bed where the man- Ankh, presumably- was now awake and curled over in pain.
His eyes flickered from Eiji, taking him in and dismissing him in a moment, to Hina, and Eiji knew now that he could never have confused this man for Shingo had he been conscious. The wariness in those eyes, the look that screamed ‘survivor’ as loud as any Eiji had seen, was something he’d never glimpsed in his partner.
“Who…are you?” Eiji forced out.
Hina went limp in his arms and he forced his attention away from those eyes that spoke to him on so many levels, draping her on the chair and looking for a glass of water.
“Hina-chan? Are you okay?”
A noise from the bed dragged Eiji’s focus back.
“Heh, little Hina all grown up? Unbelievable.”
Hina pushed Eiji off and looked to be gearing up to hit the man again.
“What’s unbelievable is you being here, Ankh. Why are you here? What’s going on? What did you do to onii-chan?”
By the end she was gripping Ankh’s t-shirt and screaming in his face, before bursting into tears and shaking the now-silent man as sobs wracked her form.
“You ruin everything. Why did you come back, aniki?”
Eiji shook his head. No, that couldn’t be right.
“You’re her brother?” Eiji blurted out.
“Shingo’s twin brother, the one the family likes to pretend doesn’t exist,” he answered eventually. He pushed Hina away and Eiji had to reach out to steady her before she toppled over like a puppet with its strings cut.
Ankh sat up, one hand braced on his shoulder, grimacing in pain even as he glared at them.
“Now what’s this about Shingo.”
Ankh wouldn’t listen to reason- or the doctors who told him to stay put and not bleed out again all over their nice clean floors- and made them show him into Shingo’s room.
Eiji and Hina were left waiting outside. Only one visitor at a time, the nurse had told them. Just in case.
Eiji didn’t like to think in case of what exactly.
“Is he really your brother? This Ankh,” Eiji asked. “I mean, he looks just like Izumi-san but-neither of you ever mentioned him.”
Hina’s hands balled up into fists and Eiji worried for the state of the walls if she let loose.
“He’s not my brother! He left us. He left onii-chan,” Hina told him, “Even though my brother was always there for him. How could he do that to us if he still considered us family?”
A nurse passing by glared at Hina for yelling; she blushed and continued in a whisper.
“Ankh left years ago. He was always like that,” she jerked her head towards the figure just visible through the glass, “Never paid attention to anyone, but was happy to use onii-chan. My brother loved him all the same and wouldn’t hear a word against him. I saw how miserable he got every year that Ankh never contacted him and he still believed! Idiot…”
Hina brushed away her tears. Eiji thought about offering Hina his handkerchief, but he’d used it earlier to mop up Ankh’s blood and hadn’t had time to get a clean one.
“I don’t think he was an idiot,” Eiji said quietly.
Hina looked enquiringly at him.
“Izumi-san,” he elucidated, “He wasn’t an idiot or a bad judge of character. If he thought there was something worth believing in he was usually right.”
Eiji smiled at her.
Ankh slammed open the door and pulled a face when he realised they were still outside.
“…Although there may have been some bias towards family.”
Ankh stared at the body lying there in the hospital bed. No, not a body. This was Shingo. Ankh stared and the longer he looked the less he could deny that this, this explosion, was clearly a message.
“T-This wasn’t because of me,” Ankh managed to croak.
He cleared his throat.
“This wasn’t because of me, you stupid detective.”
Ankh had meant to shout it at him, to wake him up with just the force of his anger the way he had when they were kids and Shingo fell asleep whenever he was ranting about the injustices he had suffered that day, but it came out as whisper.
“Tell me you weren’t hurt because I left Greeed,” Ankh said, reaching out a hand to shake Shingo awake. He bumped a wire and something beeped at him; Ankh yanked his hand back, hunting around to see if anyone had come to scold him. No-one. He sighed and stepped back near the foot of the bed.
“We don’t match any more,” Ankh told him; running a hand through his hair and watching the blond curls catch the light at the edges of his vision. “No-one’s mistaken me for you in years. Although none of them know you exist.”
Ankh stood there silently for a bit waiting for Shingo to answer the way he always did: ‘The right people can tell us apart, Ankh. That’s all that matters’, smiling that big stupid grin of his.
Shingo lay there.
Ankh turned and stormed out, quashing the tiny part of him that had believed him being here, the power of their bond and every moment they’d spent being the mirror image of each other, would do anything to change that.