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Homo homini lupus

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The photo didn't mock him. It was a picture, and Woo-Fei was years past being the kind of person that let himself be mocked by a photo, let himself be drawn to it-- the calm, unyielding face of his father, Shun-Lei's a matching picture of decorum, reserved affection in both their expressions. Ideally suited, despite the age difference. The careful tenderness when his father touched the frame.

"Don't worry about the marriage," his father said. "Your position as my heir is set. There won't be any little brothers to threaten your position."

Woo-Fei had nodded at the concession. "That's... more than I would have asked of you."

His father shrugged. "It's an unsettled time. The last thing we need is any confusion."

It was rarely quiet in Shanghai, and never silent. Even inside this building, all mirrored glass and steel, only replaced the sounds of the summer, the outside roar of traffic and insects and the endless buzz of people, with the soft whirr of the air-conditioner.

It sounded a little like the sea, or what Woo-Fei had thought the sea sounded like, when he was a kid. On his father's desk, the picture of Shun-Lei smiled up at the photographer, her sleek back hair pulled back behind one ear.

Woo-Fei woke up in his bed, disorientated, displaced. Lights flickered across his ceiling, red yellow, and he could hear the sound of the air-conditioner fighting back against the humidity of Tokyo in the summertime. It was impossibly clear for a long moment, and the sound of someone speeding on the street below chased it off. The normal sounds of Kabuki-cho took over, the usual, comforting white-noise of traffic that this building wasn't built to obscure.

He got up, grabbing his cigarettes from his bedside table and went to stand against the window. The glass was cool against his forehead and he inhaled, disproportionately shaken and angry at it. It was just a dream, just his brain shoving old memories at him and not even bad ones, and it was just those few seconds when he'd woken, awake but unconscious of where he was, that had put him off balance. Just a random overlap of memory and a rare lull in the usual sounds of the neighbourhood, making him feel displaced.

Stupid. He was Woo-Fei, and this was Shinjuku, and every day he gained more territory here. Every day, it was more and more his. He wasn't lost or displaced-- he'd lived in cities all over the world, and everyone of them, while he lived there, had been his.

Too late to be worth going back to bed. Better to get up, get dressed. Maybe he'd take a trip to one of his sub-branches, remind them he was always watching, could be there at any time.

It was hot, car-fumes and clouds keeping the heat from the day close to the ground and Woo-Fei took his jacket off. He caught a glimpse of himself in a window and he looked... well, not like someone else, but not entirely like him, either. He could have been a salaryman on a night out, maybe. Some young exec from Hong Kong, taking in the bright lights and bustle of Kabuki-cho.

A familiar head caught his eye. Huh. He wouldn’t have expected D to be up and around at this time of night, but there he was, mixing in with the crowds. Perhaps it did make sense-- D knew enough of the nightworkers that he could be meeting up with them. Unless there was another reason-- some contact, perhaps, that avoided being seen in day time, some secret meeting with a client or something.

Woo-Fei pulled back, shook his hair out of his usual slicked-back style and took off his glasses. There, that difference was probably enough to stop him being spotted at a distance, if he was careful.

Shinjuku wasn't lacking in beautiful women and Count D blended in more than he didn't, Woo-Fei thought, walking rapidly through the late-night crowds. Even in the crowded Tokyo streets, he somehow managed to avoid the usual collisions, accidental and otherwise, stopping only when he ran across someone he knew. It was a poor use of his time to follow D personally, of course, but not an entirely useless one. It paid to keep up your skills-- to not become so focused on elegant boardroom assassinations that you grew fat and complacent on the streets.

Woo-Fei had no intention of ever falling into that trap, and D was observant enough to present a challenge and offered a slim chance of finding out something new, something useful. He was vaguely aware of the people around him, instinct keeping him alert, but there was something pleasing about being able to focus on someone like this, something pleasantly predatory in this. The flow of people around him seemed more like scenery than anything else.

D stopped in the street, the sudden movement making Woo-Fei wonder if he’d been spotted, but-- no, D wasn’t looking at him. There, the woman that had pushed past him and he could see why she might have caught D’s attention, as tall as he was and striking. She paused in the street to look at him, the shuffling crowds breaking around them without acknowledgement, and then they both lowered their heads in a half bow for a brief second, before they started to walk again, heading in separate directions.

Interesting. He made a mental note to give her description to Chin and see if he could run anything up on her and-- yes, there, a security camera that might have video. Anyone that made D stop like that could be worth finding out more about, especially since the last time D had reacted like that, the woman had been a Yakuza boss. D-- shit! There, the empty space where D had been standing. Woo-Fei looked around, and D shouldn’t have been able to hide in the crowd, should have stood out like a pillar of flame even in Kabuki-cho, but no, he’d somehow slipped away.

There was a tap at his shoulder and he didn’t have to look around to know who it was.

“Taizuu,” Count D said. “As happy as I am to see you, if you’re going to keep heading in the same direction as me, you can certainly help carry my shopping”

~+~

When they returned, Woo-Fei found himself mobbed by dozens of the cats D let run loose around the shop. They brushed against him, leaving multicoloured fur on his suit and attempting to climb up his leg. He dropped the pile of shopping -and how the hell had D found that many places open at that time of night?- on the floor and tried to avoid tripping over the blue-eyed cat winding around his ankles.

“They probably smell the catnip on you,” D said serenely, taking off his little cape. “I assume you’re staying for tea?”

Woo-Fei didn’t answer, focusing on detaching the cats from him as he sat down. The familiarity of the sight of the Count preparing tea, the delicate taps and chimes as he laid out the crockery and silverware, was oddly calming. He found the tension of the day, of his odd dream and the accompanying sense of displacement, start to wear away. That fact alone was annoying, but... well, he could deal with that another time.

Maybe it was just because this place, this building, was his in a way he couldn’t remember anything else ever having been. Everything in it was something he’d made-- not his father, not inherited or given to him. This place with his people, people who were dependent on him and under his rule, that worked here. His work that had made it, his ideas. Kabuki-cho had been a testing ground when his father sent him over here, and he’d triumphed, was still succeeding in dozens of small but crucial ways every day.

The doors in Count D’s shop were too thick to allow sounds in from outside, but he knew the other businesses would be starting to open open now. The ticket office for the theatre first, the cafes and shops next. He leaned back in his seat and for a moment, the lack of sleep hit him and he thought, just for a second, that he could go to sleep right then. On D’s sofa, in the Count’s shop in his building, in his city (temporary and adopted, but his-- no other home for him to be called to) and just rest.

The sound of the door opening startled him and he sat up and tried to recover. He hadn’t actually dozed off, he was almost certain-- no, the tea was still steaming in front of him.

“Hello? I was wondering if you could help me,” a woman said. She glanced briefly at Woo-Fei, then focused on D. “I was told that you could.”

There were people who’d desperately wanted a favour from Woo-Fei. He’d been offered money, women, drugs, guns-- he’d been begged by people who only had desperation to offer him or cajoled with the promise of future favours in return. Woo-Fei knew the kind of figure he cut, tall and attractive, yes, but more than that, powerful-- knew it was obvious enough that people got out of his way, opened doors and carefully averted their eyes.

But not here. Woo-Fei had never found himself dismissed as often as he was in D’s shop. It wasn’t just D-- for most of the customers, he was something they could happily ignore-- it wasn’t even the obvious shunning of an outcast or a rival. He was just far less important than a new hamster or choosing one goldfish from a tank filled with hundreds of identical fish.

It was insulting, but as humiliating as it was standing on the sidelines while D and some dull office-worker cooed over a moth-eaten ferret or something, doing anything to stop it-- pushing in on the conversation, making his presence felt- would have been even more humiliating. Besides, there was always the vague hope that someday, D would forget he was there too and let something slip, give Woo-Fei a glimpse of what was in the cage before he covered it with a cloth and sent it away with a giggling schoolkid.

“People say you can find anything anyone asks for,” the woman said. “Animals that are rare or even extinct, or dogs just like the puppy someone had when they were a kid.”

D smiled with, Woo-Fei thought, patently false modesty. “When possible, I always try to match someone with the pet they most deserve. What are you looking for? A companion, perhaps, someone to make your house warm?”

“I’m looking for someone specific. My sister,” the woman said firmly. “Aki.”

“Madam, this is only a pet-shop,” D said. “I am not a detective.” he gestured around the room. “I do have some tracking dog-types, but...”

The woman shook her head. “No-one can find Aki unless she wants them to, but... I’d hoped Aki might come here looking for a companion for herself. I thought if she was going to find anything that could match her, it’d be here.” She took a photo out of her handbag and handed it over.

D’s eyes widened. “This is--”

“My sister. I know we don’t look alike, but...”

D took the picture and looked at for long enough that Woo-Fei took note. “I regret I cannot help you,” he said with something that sounded suspiciously like sincerity. “Tokyo is a large town. If your sister doesn’t want to be found...”

“You think she’s working in Kabuki-cho?” Woo-Fei said, leaning forwards. The woman blinked -yes, hadn’t noticed he was there- and he resisted the urge to scowl. “If she’s not a kid, you can’t stop her. If your sister’s an adult, she’s allowed to do adult things,” he added. Cheap shot, but she shouldn’t have ignored him.

The woman looked at him like something that had crawled out of the gutter and he wondered if he should mention that he could ask around his clubs and bars and see if she’d made a name for herself there. “My sister isn’t like that,” she said. “And you don’t know anything about her.”

“Yeah? Let me guess. Back home, she was a bit wild, but pretty enough to get away with it. Probably moved to Tokyo to rebel, or thought she’d be an idol or an actress or something, but ended up as working in one of the businesses here-- hostess or bargirl or living off some guy your parents would have crossed the street to avoid. There are thousands of girls like that in Tokyo.”

“Please forgive him.” the Count said, giving Woo-Fei a glare that suggested he wouldn’t be. “This is the landlord of this building. Unfortunately, he tends to see the lowest side of things. He patted at the seat. “Tell me about your sister. Maybe there will be something I can for do for you.”

The woman sat down with a thump that made it clear she was more tired than she looked. She leaned forward, head in her hands and elbows on her knees and inhaled deeply, before looking up. “I’m sorry too. It’s been a difficult time. I don’t even know where to start... You can probably tell that she isn’t my actual sister, physically, I mean. My parents found her in a box. She was-- well, we don't know exactly how old. She didn't walk, she didn't speak. When they took her to the doctor, he said she might never be able to communicate properly, that she would always be feral. Babies that aren't raised by humans don't grow up to be human, just animals. He said they shouldn't take her in, not when they had two kids of their own to look after"

There was a pause where Woo-Fei thought D would say something, something cold and superior about the animal nature of man. Instead, he offered the girl some tea. She took it with a grateful smile, but didn't drink it, curling her hands around it instead and Woo-Fei realised he was leaning back against his seat. Not falling asleep, exactly, but tired enough to feel slightly disconnected from this, like everything the woman said was just pushed into the background. "But they couldn’t do that. The moment they found her, she was ours. And he was wrong. Aki was clever and she learnt-- it was like a sponge, like she'd just been waiting for an example of how to be human.”

He pictured it, Mowgli from the Jungle Book, but as a girl, with the head of the sponge and... had D lit his incense?

“And she was beautiful,” the woman was saying, “and loyal and even when we fought, we fought because she was my sister, not because she wasn’t, you know? When my parents died in a car crash--”

There was a cat on his lap, purring loudly when he petted it, another perched across the back of the seat and half on his shoulder. Cats purred, he remembered reading, at their kittens. Or to their kittens or for them or something-- that the kittens grew better maybe.

The woman had stopped speaking and when he looked over, she was leaning over her cup, inhaling the steam. "But she was still... what she’d learnt from before we found her, that was there too. She didn’t always get things, why she shouldn’t do something, when she had to stop... She learnt how to act around people, but she still wild, sometimes. Her head knew the rules, but her instincts were...”

“Different,” D suggested. Woo-Fei remembered how surprised he’d been, the first time D spoke, at the richness of it. “--can see how worried you are for--” Deeper than he’d have guessed from his appearance, flawless language and only the vague trace of formality that said it wasn’t his own-- something Woo-Fei had noticed whatever language D spoke, Japanese or Shanghainese or Mandarin or English. “--that if she is looking for...”

Always slightly foreign, slightly other. Woo-Fei’s head hit the back of the chair and he decided to leave it there, just for a moment.

He woke up with a start to see what looked like, for a second, disturbingly like a fairy-tale illustration. He blinked, and the scene from Little Red Riding Hood cleared itself into a girl with a dark pink coat and... well, it still looked like a wolf.

"Selling wolves now?" Woo-Fei asked. He sat up in his chair and pulled out a cigarette. "Seems a little risky, even for you. Hey kid, didn't your mother ever tell you about big bad wolves and little girls?"
D made a moue of distaste at the cigarette, which made Woo-Fei smirk. "Really, Taizuu."

The girl blinked. "It's not a wolf," she said. "It's a Sarloos wolfhound." Pronouncing the foreign word carefully. “And you shouldn’t smoke. It’ll kill you,” she said with some glee, before frowning. “And me and D-san, and Rosie too, a little. My mama said.”

“Rosie?” Woo-Fei blinked. The not-actually-a-wolf tilted its head up in way that looked oddly resigned. “Right, Rosie.”

“Perhaps you can smoke at the window,” D said. “And the bathroom is just there, too, if you wanted to...” he gestured at him and Woo-Fei looked down and-- yes, he looked like he’d been sleeping in his clothes while a parade of animals shed all over him. “To clean yourself up, a little.”

Smoking with one arm out the window made him feel like a teenager, though he’d never done it when he had been-- never felt any need to hide his smaller vices. The bathroom in the petshop was typically grand and Woo-Fei made a futile attempt at trying to match it to teh blueprints of the building, before giving up. He splashed water on his face, tried to brush as much of the fur off his his suit as he could and combed his hair back into place.

When he got out, the little girl had gone.

"Wolf-hound, huh?" Wu--Fei said, sitting down and nodding when D gestured atthe teapot. "Someone I knew at Harvard had an Irish wolfhound. Didn't look anything like that."

"Perhaps that's because an Irish wolfhound was bred to hunt wolves. A Sarloos Wolfhound was bred from one." Woo-Fei jumped despite himself and saw D's pleased expression. "Dogs suffer from a disease, sometimes, which can strike without warning and leave them wasting away. A German professor bred a wolf and an Alsatian dog together to try to create something that wouldn't suffer from it. They can be marvellous pets, if raised by people who know their nature."

"And you're telling me that little girl does?"

D's shrug was casual, careless. "I cannot predict the future, Taizuu."

"They'll put it down if it attacks anyone," Woo-Fei said, watching D's fingers to tense around the cup. "With a beast like that, it won't even need to hurt anyone. If it even growls at someone..." He shrugs, "Especially if it's near a little kid like that."

D put the cup down, the sharp sound showing his reaction better than his face. "Really, Taizuu. I think you underestimate how protective of their pets people can be."

“Right. What happened to that other woman,” he asked. “the one looking for her sister. Did you send her off with a gerbil to fill in the void?”

“No,” D said, holding out the cup for Woo-Fei to take. “No, Natsumi only wants to find her sister. Any pet I could find for her right now would be wasted.”

Woo-Fei took a sip of the tea-- slightly floral, perfectly brewed. “That dog, is it really half-wolf? Or is it a dog that just looks like one?”

“Do you think that would make it any less dangerous?” D said. “Humans have been breeding dogs to fight or hunt for millenia, after all. The Wild Painted Dogs of Africa are thought to be the most successful predator at bringing down their kill. ” D paused and tick a sip of his own cup.
“But then, wolves still have a fascination for humans. Most people will never see one outside of a zoo, but you still tell stories about them as if they’re waiting to hunt you the moment you step outside your house. ”

Woo-Fei shrugged. “Evolution, maybe. Hundreds of thousands of years of watching out for wolves when you’re guarding the sheep. Or Hollywood, maybe. But you’re not telling me that something that’s half-wolf is as safe as a pet as a proper dog.”

"Mmm," D said, a polite noise that indicated neither agreement nor refusal. "There is still something in the wolf that draws and repels humanity at the same time. How many of your ancestors, do you think, witnessed the pack surround its prey and tear it to shreds? How many hunted and were hunted by the wolves, before they started breeding their own, changing them into something more controllable. You could say that every dog is a cross between a human and wolf.”

Woo-Fei shrugged. “Then why breed them back with wolves?”

“Wolves and dogs are related," D said, "but their nature is not the same. A wild dog and a wolf could raise a child, perhaps, but..." he paused, setting the teapsoon down with a precise chink, "It would be difficult for them to live together. Wolf-dogs have the instincts of both. Still, if their family knows how to look after them, those traits can be very useful. “There are three other wolf-dog breeds, aside from the Sarloos Wolfhound” D said, leaning over to take a biscuit. “In both China and Czechoslovakia, the military deliberately bred wolves and dogs to create their own breeds. In Italy, they’re used to track lost people in the mountains, to find people buried in avalanches and so on. In American and Europe, people breed the Sarloos as beloved pets.”

Woo-Fei shook his head and stood up. “Wanting a wild animal in your home, just because you think you can train it right... People like that are usually crazy or stupid. Or arrogant, thinking that just because they want it to, it’ll somehow behave differently for them.” He thought about the woman, Natsumi, looking for a sister that didn’t want to be found. “And they wouldn’t want it so much if it did.”

“You’re a cynic,” Count D said.

“I’m a realist,” Woo-Fei said, reaching for his coat. “And I’m not wrong. You’ve sold enough pets to know that.” He checked his phone-- two messages from Chin, both suitably discreet, but suggesting something was happening that Woo-Fei should be aware of. Better than the tea or cigarette, that woke him and he felt his mind sharpen, like tracking D through the streets last night.

He headed straight to his office and sent Chin out for a spare suit, going over the reports from his managers and underlings-- all the stuff that was safe on paper, carefully referenced and of course, his more legal business.

“Two deaths in the Hirutagumi’s areas,” Chin said. “Brutal, but not professional by the looks of it.”

Woo-Fei shrugged. The Hirutagumi had good connections and good territory, but sloppy workers. “Something personal?”

“It’s assumed so. The Asahigumi may be more willing to negotiate with us now, if the Hirutagumi is becoming too obvious.”

“Right. Set up a meeting, but not urgently-- tell them we’re interested, not desperate.”

Chin nodded. “And the Sunshine Club’s manager has said some of the girls are being harassed more, threatened on their way home-- he wanted a little more protection, if we can...”

The day filled up, busy in a good way. He passed the description of the girl that had caught D’s eye onto Chin-- maybe they could made use of her-- sorted out the problems they’d had with shipping and cursed whichever immigration office had a grudge against him and kept going through their workers for illegals. He’d have to see if he could be bribed or threatened, but in the meantime, he’d have to make sure he’d...

“Taizuu, the Hirutagumi boss wants a meeting,” Chin said, bursting into the room.

Woo-Fei raised an eyebrow. “What?” Kazamichi hated him on principle, a mixture of xenophobia and old-man’s anxiety at a young-man’s hunger. “Why?”

Chin shrugged, helplessly. “Perhaps it’s a trap?”

Or they were in a worse situation than they thought... “Get me the police reports on the two deaths, and see if there have been any more. And move the meeting with Tetsubi-san to tomorrow.”

~+~

Woo-Fei woke up feeling rested. A quick walk around his more legitimate businesses this morning, he decided, and then the meeting with Tetsubi later. He got breakfast from one of the cafés in China and dropped in on D on the way out.

He was with a customer, and after a second Woo-Fei realised why she looked so familiar-- she was the woman on the street from the night before. Disappointing that-- if she’d just got D’s attention because she was a customer, she wasn’t a potential weakness.

They stopped talking when he came into the room and he sat down, pulling out a chair. D’s disgruntled expression was particularly satisfying this morning.

“Didn’t your family ever teach you that it’s rude to barge in on people,” the woman said. She put her hand on D’s arm. “Especially when they’re in private conversation?”

Woo-Fei snorted. “Anything that happens in here is my business?”

“Oh, really?” she said, raising an eyebrow.

"This is Woo-Fei Rau, the owner of this building," D said, gesturing at Woo-Fei. The woman looked him over and Woo-Fei found himself cataloguing her expression as something between the mama of a hostess club and a body-guard.

"You're the boss, huh?" She said. She laughed at his expression. "Relax, I'm not here looking to tread on any toes. And I’m just leaving anyway.”

“You don’t have to,” D said. “You could stay here a little longer. Or I can help you go home.”

The woman smiled, a brilliant flash of white teeth. “And you know I can’t do either of those things. I’ve got a family to look out for.”

Woo-Fei looked at D when he shut the door. “You’re being oddly charitable lately,” he said. “that woman yesterday, this one today... Are you missing your family? is that what’s making you so sympathetic to this.”

D looked at him and Woo-Fei couldn’t read his expression-- anger, possibly, or loss or regret, or something else so intense that the shade of what emotion it was got lost.

“Unfortunately, I won’t be able to have tea with you today,” D said. “I have something else to take care of. And you, you must be very busy as well.” He smiled, that smug smile that was Woo-Fei’s least favourite. I know more than you, it said.

He opened his mouth to day something and his phone range. Chin. “What is it?” he said, pushing out of the room.

“Hirutagumi have found out about the meeting with Tetsubi,” Chin said. “They’ve asked to make a counter-offer. Boss, they sound desperate.”

Woo-Fei stopped where he was. Desperate? Something must have changed, something fast and brutal or possibly slow and secretive, but... “Make arrangements now. Someplace on our territory.

Sitting in his car on the way to the arranged meeting, Woo-Fei could feel it again. That same sense of excitement, the thrill of the chase-- being able to sense the weakness in his prey. He fought the urge to laugh, satisfied himself with a smirk and leaned back as his driver took him through the city streets.

If this worked... His father appreciated his work here, true, but this would give him more reason to keep Woo-Fei here, to build on his success. And the other families, the warring factions would be forced into respect. He could branch out more, if Kabuki-cho was secure.

The building was a simple tourist shop from the outside, deceptively modest. No guards outside. He knocked on the door and it swung open in front of him.

He smelt it before he went in any further. Blood and fear, the faint traces of gunfire and nothing else. Woo-Fei pulled his gun out and kicked the door in, gesturing for his two bodyguards to go on ahead.

Inside, it was dark and silent, but he could see his men had picked up on it too-- tense, guns drawn. the corridor was long, white-plaster walls leading to the main room and he nodded when one of them gestured at the door to it.

one pushed at the door, slowly easing it open, then went in and they could hear him scream. His second charged in, and Woo-Fei followed, crouched low.

For a moment, he couldn’t make sense of what he saw-- the dead bodies, half-gutted, smashed tables and there, crouched over one of them, it. Her.

Still a her, red blood dripping down from her face, those impossibly sharp teeth visible in the extended jaw, hair dark with blood or worse, matted into her coat, distorted fingers curling around the handle of a knife. His gun was out before he realised and he’d fired, only he’d missed, somehow he’d missed even if he couldn’t tell how. Just that she was unharmed and turning around to look at him. One of his men was backed against the wall, the other on the floor, dead or unconscious in a pool of what used to be a human.

She tilted her head and Woo-Fei froze, something built into his bones telling him to freeze, to run, to do anything that would keep him safe from those impossibly long teeth. The knife in her hand was nothing compared to them-- knives were normal, were human and could be dealt with easily, but this was different.

He’d never make it to the door in time, but-- there was a chair, there, he could through it at the thing, hold it back for just a second and--

It started to growl.

“Aki!”

The door slammed open and Natsumi ran in, Count D following behind her. “Aki! Are you-- it’s okay, it’s okay...” And she run over to her, ignoring the bodies, ignoring the teeth and claws to touch her. Woo-Fei stepped back, ready to run when he had the chance-- run and come back men with machine guns and fire, but instead of biting at the girl, it lowered its head.

Natsumi made soft, soothing sounds, and hugged her, petting her back and the thing, the beast, turned its head and Woo-Fei blinked, because oh. He recognised her, and didn’t know why he hadn’t before. “You’re not safe yet,” she said, clinging to her sister. “I have to make sure they’re all dead.” She rubbed her head against Natsumi despite the words. “Please, let me do this.”

“We’re safer with you with us than out here alone. I’m not letting you run away again, we need you, we missed you, you’re my little sister,” Natsumi said, the words running in to each other as she petted Aki’s back. It shifted under her touch, looking more human when she did. “Shh, you’re coming home with me...”

It’s back was to them now and Woo-Fei still had his gun. He’d seen a tiger, once, in the wild. Safe behind a jeep with guides keeping their tranq guns on it, and it had been beautiful and deadly and he’d thought, in that moment, that something like that should always be alive, wild and free, and that he wanted just as much to take a rifle and shoot it. Some combination of fear and challenge, and that had been nothing like this. This was just the pure knowledge that, more than anything else he’d seen, this was something that shouldn’t be. Something that was made to hunt and kill his kind, something that needed to be exterminated, removed utterly from anywhere he might be.

“We should leave them to their reunion,” D said.

Woo-Fei turned to look at him. “What? That-- that thing can’t be left here!”

Count D’s expression was cold, superior. “Why Taizuu, I wouldn’t have thought you’d care. Aren’t these men rivals?” He stepped forward, holding up the skirt of his cheongsam in a disconcertingly delicate way as he stepped over a pool of something dark. “Isn’t your wealthy nurtured just a little more by the blood of these people?”

Woo-Fei opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again. Of the bodies he could see, there was no-one here that he wouldn’t have drawn a gun on someday. His plans had included their deaths. Not yet, of course, but in a few years, if his organisation had kept it’s rate of success, some carefully targeted murders would have been inevitable. Sooner, perhaps.

Count D’s hand was on his arm. It was suddenly, abruptly disorientating-- the sort of gesture one of his girlfriends would do to get his attention. “She’s finished her hunt,” D said. “Her family will keep her with them now.”

Woo-Fei looked over. Natsumi’s short, stocky body was still wrapped tight around her sister’s taller one. “How can she be safe with her?” He said, meaning how can she touch her, how can she not scream and run, the way everything in me is still telling me to do, now now now.

“Familiarity can overcome instinct,” the Count said. “Natsumi can take care of Aki.” His hand curled around Woo-Fei’s arm, pulling him way. “Come back with me to my shop.”

~+~

The shop was quieter than it normally was and Woo-Fei sat down and watched D’s rituals, incense, tea. It was, Woo-Fei had thought, a testament to his resilience and flexibility that he could acknowledge the peculiarities of Count D's pet-shop. He’d prided himself on the fact that he could accept the things he had seen, without falling prey to mindless superstition-- he could let them fall into the background and into the shadows, where he could be aware of them without letting them distract him from what was important. Most people, he suspected, would either responded with mindless superstition or blanket denial. He was able to keep a healthy balance between the two, to have the sense to be cautious without becoming fearful.

More than that, he’d witnessed violence before. He’d killed before, he’d seen corpses that used to be people, and that...

It was the sight of her, that moment when his brain couldn’t decide if he was seeing a tall girl, teeth-bared and fingernails bloody, or something else, fur and claws and teeth. Something that couldn’t be fought like another person, or killed like an animal, but something that was both or neither. The fear was turning into anger at the edges.

“What was she?” Woo-Fei said. “A werewolf? Something else from your backroom?”

D looked at him, hands folded in his lap. “Something that was neither a human, nor a wolf, but with the nature of both.” He looked calm, now, as he usually did. “Aki was raised with Natsumi’s family as part of it. You know the importance of that.” He smiled slightly. “All of her instincts, everything she felt in blood and bone, shaped and given purpose by her family, until there was nothing she wouldn’t do to protect it”

“Are you talking about Aki or Natsumi?” Woo-Fei said after a moment. Ordinary, mundane Natsumi, walking into a slaughterhouse because her sister was there-- not even blood, just something her parents had picked up and taken in one day.

“Even the most civilized, the most well-trained of animals can kill to protect what’s theirs.” D raised an eyebrow. “Surely, Woo-Fei, you know how dangerous any animal, even those in suits, is when threatened, or hurt, or hungry.”

There would be chaos, Woo-Fei thought, with the death of so many of the Hirutagumi’s top men. Suspicion and fear, too, at the way they died, as every criminal organisation in Tokyo and beyond tried to to decide what it meant, if they were threatened too. How they could take advantage of the sudden power vacuum.

How many people knew they were there to meet him? Would he implicated?

Did anyone else know about it yet, or... “Tea,” he said suddenly. The Count sat back, surprised by his sharp tone.

"Taizu?"

“Or coffee, get me some coffee-- And I need to make some phonecalls...”

There would be chaos and a reshuffling of power and opportunity, and he probably had only a few hours to prepare for it.

 

end.