Yoko's head aches. The blooming pad of pain pounding at the back of his skull feels like he was hit--probably with a 2x4--there's dirt on his cheek, and it's dark. At least he's not tied up, Yoko figures, and forces himself upright, wincing all the while.
"What hit me?" he asks, blearily, blinking owlishly around him, and when no one answers him he tries again over Yasu's psychic link.
Which doesn't seem to be there. Slowly, panic starts to set in, and Yoko grasps blindly for the connection over and over again. Nothing. There isn't a shred of any of his brothers in his head. This hasn't happened since the last time Ryo lost control of his dampening powers and cut the link by accident, and suddenly Yoko feels a lot less comfortable than he did before. He forces himself up on legs that are shaky with fatigue and draws the pistol still holstered at his hip.
He feels like he's lost hours and hours. It's a feeling he's not used to, as a time traveler, and it sets panic running low in his belly. He's outside a shoddy apartment complex, hidden in the dark shadows of the alley, and his grip on his pistol tightens as he steps carefully out onto the sidewalk.
He relaxes a fraction when he recognizes the neighborhood. He hasn't been in the Market District of Akai in nearly a year, since the Brotherhood's headquarters moved across the city to the Entertainment District, centering where most of their employment came from, but they'd spent five years here before that. Yoko thinks he even recognizes the street--it's down the block from the grocery store where Yasu would drag him shopping.
The block is dimly lit by street lamps, but the houses are mostly dark and there isn't really anyone around. Yoko holsters his gun and reaches for the cell phone in his inner suit pocket, and furrows his brow when he realizes it's not there. He pats himself down, increasingly desperately, and then turns around to inspect the ground.
"Nothing," he says, "I get knocked out and they don't even bother to steal my gun, but they take my cell. Great." After a moment of thought, he pats for his wallet, and sags in relief when he realizes it's there. After a moment of rifling through it, there isn't even anything missing.
There is, however, a business card from 'Storm, Inc.'. On the back is a phone number. Yoko turns it over and over, but he doesn't recognize it, and he slides it back into his wallet to show Hina. Maybe he could trace it. (Or, more likely, he could remember when they met anyone from a Storm, Inc. Yoko is crap with this stuff, but Hina's got a mind like a steel trap. Probably comes with the territory of being a vampire, or whatever he is.)
At least he has enough money to get home, he figures, and shoves his hands in his pockets to start trudging toward the bus stop. Hopefully something is still running.
There's one bus running toward the Entertainment District. It's not the usual bus--it runs wrong, he's going to have to walk five blocks to headquarters--but it's better than walking the whole way, and he's the only person on the bus, so things go fast. At least it's cool out, he decides, and walks briskly across the neighborhood after his stop. At the front gate of the house is the stone Maru set to recognize members of the Brotherhood, and Yoko presses his palm to it. He expects it to pulse white and the gate to swing open, but nothing happens. The stone remains cold and unresponsive.
Yoko furrows his eyebrows, confused, and after two more fruitless attempts to activate the stone he leans over to hit the doorbell. He hears it ring, 'ding dong ding dong' just inside, and then a voice he recognizes as Erika's answers.
"Who is it?" she asks, and she sounds grumpy (or tired, he can never tell).
"Uh... Yoko," Yoko offers, "the gate stone isn't reacting...?"
There's the sound of a shout, and then the front door swings open. Yasu thunders down the steps and down the path to push the gate open, and he wraps his arms tightly around Yoko's body, pinning his arms to his sides and ducking his head against Yoko's throat.
"I thought you were dead!" Yasu manages between a couple of blubbering sobs, and leans back, fingers too tight on Yoko's biceps as he gets himself under control. "It's been two days, Yoko, and the link just--snapped! Where have you been?"
Yoko feels almost like a hole is opening up under him. "Two days?" he asks, "I don't--I don't remember anything, Yasu, literally. I don't have any idea what happened to me."
Yasu swallows, and glances around. "Come on," he says, "we'll talk inside."
The ward around Headquarters shivers over Yoko's skin, but Yoko ignores the sudden chill, letting Yasu's firm grip on his wrist drag him along.
Erika and Riisa are inside on the L-shaped couch that dominates the front room, Riisa asleep on a pile of pillows (and what looks like one of her massive technicolor faux fur coats) at the inside corner and Erika cross-legged at the corner. Erika glances up from a heavy, thick old book, and shuts it with a snap before she forces herself up from the couch and approaches.
"Don't move," she says, lifting her right hand and tapping Yoko's chest, over his heart.
Erika's magic feels wrong, somehow; Yoko's used to her casting spells before missions, but it's never been like this. He glances at the cover of her large purple spellbook, but it's not a volume he's ever seen before. He knows she's got plenty of different spells in her library, of course, but most of her spells come from the core book that lets her manipulate the powers of her enemies and boost those of her allies. Whatever she's doing now feels like it's being forced under his skin, shoving out and out until Yoko feels overfull in his skin.
He's on the edge of whining at her stop when she pulls away, and the feeling fades. "It's really you," she confirms, but her mouth is in a flat line Yoko recognizes as trouble. "But... Yoko you were dead. There's no doubt about it."
"I don't feel very dead," Yoko says.
"That's reassuring," Erika deadpans, "let us know if you start feeling any urges to eat flesh. I don't know what happened, but you were dead, and now you're not. Something hit you--" she reaches out and brushes her fingers over his belly suddenly--"here, and you died from it."
Yoko looks down, and unbuttons his suit jacket. His white button-down is nearly clean, but there's a familiar faint yellow-brown stain across his stomach. Blood, but it looks like someone had taken the time to wash his shirt. Yoko pulls his shirt out of his pants and unbuttons it.
There's a bullet scar at the curve above his pants. Yasu bends to look it over, and Erika stoops too.
Which is exactly when the front door slams open, and Hina leads the way inside. "Have you heard anything?" he demands, as he steps out of his heavy boots.
"He's not dead anymore," Yasu says, leaning around Yoko, and then there's a rough arm tugging Yoko away from Erika's focused expression and into a hug that's equal parts Hina's gruff affection and Subaru's steely desperate grip.
"Guys," Yoko manages, patting them both, "come on. I'm fine. I'm not even wounded anymore!"
Hina leans back. "You smell wrong," he says, "kind of faint."
"I was dead for two days," Yoko points out, "according to our magical advisor over there."
"One and a half, maybe," Erika corrects.
"One and a half days too long," Subaru says, "who did this to you?"
"If I could tell you, I would," Yoko says, "for now can I just--go to bed?"
Hina and Subaru share a look. It's a look Yoko knows--it's a look Hina and Yoko have made at each other a lot. It's that one where 'I don't know if you should be left alone, but you look like shit so I'm tempted to say get out of here'. "I'll sleep in the back room," Yoko says, which is more than Subaru's ever given either of them.
Hina relaxes a shade. "Go," he says, "you really don't remember anything? Is there anything out of place?"
Yoko fumbles around for his wallet. "Just that there was a card in my wallet. Do you remember meeting a 'Storm, Inc.'?"
Hina shakes his head, his cheeks puffing up in thought. "Does it say anything else?" he asks, and takes it from Yoko's hand, lifting it up to sniff it. Then he looks at the phone number.
He looks at Subaru. "We'll handle this," he says, and suddenly he's himself again. "Yasu, stay with Yoko. You need to readjust the link to add him back in, but that can wait until tomorrow. Erika, you're on the horn. If Maru or Ryo call to check in, tell them to continue as planned. If they ask about Yoko, just tell them he's been found. Wake Riisa up around 6 and then take a nap. Then I need you looking into whatever's going on with Yoko suddenly gaining immortality powers. See if there's anything to track, if you can. And Yoko... go to sleep. We'll be back."
Yoko feels very weary all of a sudden. "Okay," he mumbles, and lets Yasu lead him up the back stairs to one of the tiny bedrooms where they all sometimes stay when they're on shift. Yasu settles into the desk, and ignores Yoko shucking his suit and stepping into sweatpants. "Night," he mumbles, and is asleep nearly before he gets the quilt pulled up over his shoulders.
Yoko wakes up to insistent, hissing conversation outside the door. Yasu is gone, his sketchbook left open and his colored pencils strewn over the desk. Yoko can make out Maru arguing with Yasu in tones he probably thinks are stealthy. "Sho-chan, is he okay?"
"I'm fine," Yoko calls, "I'm going to kill you, though..."
"Yuu-chin!" Maru trills, and then the door is swinging open, Maru pushing past Yasu and dropping onto the foot of the bed. Ryo is behind Yasu, and he leans into the doorway to offer a smile, but his face looks as tired as Yoko felt the night before. Only Maru is this energetic right after a job, Yoko thinks, and forces his attention back on Maru's mile-a-minute recounting of his and Ryo's adventures in casino embezzlement.
"Maru," Yoko finally manages through a smile, "your ward is crackling."
"Whoa, really?" Maru asks, and glances down at his body. "Whoa, really!" The ward he habitually wears over his skin to protect himself from danger is buzzing with faint energy shocks. It's making the hairs on Yoko's arms stand up from proximity.
"You are definitely over-tired," Ryo says, "come on, we're going home."
"Good to see you too, Dokkun," Yoko teases, and Ryo looks at him. Really looks, the way that makes them both a little uncomfortable.
Then his mouth quirks up at the corners, and he ducks his head. "Good to see you, too, you ass," he says. "Don't die anymore."
Yoko salutes, and then Ryo and Maru are gone, heading back to their apartment at the edge of the Red Light District. Yasu waves goodbye, and then settles heavily at the foot of Yoko's bed. He looks tired; Yoko shifts forward to get a closer look.
"Go to sleep," Yoko finally orders, "I'm gonna go downstairs and have breakfast."
Yasu looks momentarily like he wants to protest, but then he nods, and Yoko slides out of the bed to let him fall sideways onto the mattress. "I'm glad you're back," Yasu mumbles as Yoko closes the door.
Yoko is halfway through a plate of eggs a la Riisa when Subaru and Hina come back. They seem in good humor when they arrive, and when Hina follows his nose into the kitchen, he grins toothily at Yoko. "D'you want the good news or the great news?"
"The good," Yoko decides, after chewing it over.
"You're not a zombie," Hina says.
"And the great?" Yoko asks.
"We're gaining a partner!"
Yoko chokes on the last of his eggs, and hacks, beating his chest to clear it. "What the hell does that mean?!"
"It means exactly what it means," Hina snaps, like this is self-evident and Yoko is an idiot, "we met the guys from Storm, Inc. They're, uh, guys like us, from across the country. They were 'convinced to relocate', and they're looking for work here in Akai."
"What does that have to do with me being dead?" Yoko asks, rolling his eyes. They've picked up new guys before, but besides Erika and Riisa none of them have ever stuck, and Riisa and Erika are kind of a special case, being magical agents of the underworld or whatever the hell they are. (Every time he remembers their origins, Yoko is reminded of how very much he doesn't like magic. Powers are one thing, but magic seems to have an entire other set of rules.)
"One of their guys brings people back from the dead. That's his thing. Apparently he found you bleeding out and dragged you back to his place, fixed you up and resurrected you."
"Did he literally drag me? My head is still killing me," Yoko grumbles.
"Ah, no, that was from when Nino shoved you off the bed and Oh-chan opened the door on you," says a voice from behind Hina, and then a brown-haired, bright-haired young man pops up into the kitchen doorway. "Sorry about that."
"I thought I got hit with a pipe," Yoko complains.
"He's very sorry, I promise!"
"Tell that to my head."
"Oh-chan and I are very sorry, Yokoyama-kun's head," the man repeats dutifully.
"My head is considering your apology," Yoko says, and then his face screws up in confusion. "Who are you, anyway?"
"Aiba Masaki, nice to meet you!"
"Hi," Yoko says, "are you the guy who brought me back to life?"
"That's me," Aiba says, nodding along.
"Well then, uh, thanks," Yoko starts, "for that. That was. Nice of you."
Aiba laughs. (So does Hina, but Yoko ignores him.) "I try!"
"To be nice?" Yoko asks, "in our line of work?"
Aiba shrugs. "Have to make up for that somehow, right?" he offers. "Are those eggs?"
"They're my eggs," Yoko corrects, but then Aiba is across the table from him, examining them.
"I haven't had eggs in forever," Aiba breathes, "Matsujun handles breakfast and he never makes eggs."
Yoko already knows he's lost this battle before Aiba even turns the puppy dog eyes on him; he slides the plate across the table to Aiba and tilts his chair back to get a hand awkwardly into the drawer of cutlery. There's an awful, stomach-thrumming moment where he thinks he'll tip right over, but he manages to hold on, and sits up to pass Aiba a fork, only to find him already using Yoko's.
"Oh come on," Yoko whines, and Hina claps in amusement before he plucks the fork from Yoko's fingertips to get a bite of eggs for himself.
"So Storm, Inc. is a powered group specializing in assassination?" Yoko summarizes. "You guys. Are assassins."
"What's so hard to believe about that?" Aiba demands.
Yoko looks at him. "Your power is to bring people back to life."
"Or kill them," Aiba says, after a moment. He looks momentarily subdued, but then he brightens up again, shrugging. "Work's work," he says, "and life's life!"
"Yeah, I guess," Yoko agrees, eventually.
Aiba's eyes are serious when he meets Yoko's gaze. "Nino always says I'm a little too good at compartmentalizing, but I sleep better at night, so I'll take what I can get."
Yoko wonders what kind of things this Nino sees, and what exactly Aiba's responsible for, that sleeping is a concern. The Brotherhood doesn't kill, often, and if they do it's left up to Hina, or Subaru, or Erika. Yoko's activities are limited to theft and blackmail. He's shot people, but never to kill. His powers are usually enough to threaten people.
"I've got to--I've got to go," he says, mind racing. "Hina, arrange a meeting. And make sure Ohkura's awake, will you?"
"Fat chance," Hina says, "but yeah. Go home and shower or something, you smell like dead person."
Yoko rolls his eyes. "At least I'm not undead," he teases, and gets a smack for his trouble.
"How many times do I have to tell you I'm not an actual vampire?" he demands.
"Until the joke stops being funny," Yoko says, from the safety of the hallway, and leaves Hina behind.
It's only when he's stepping into the portal that leads to his apartment that he remembers his cell phone. He'll have to ask about it.
It feels like he's been away from home for far longer than three days. When Yoko steps into his bedroom, the place smells the kind of stale Yoko's learned to associate with leaving his laundry for too long or being away for a month or more. He forces open the window over his bed and sets about changing out of his now-wrinkled suit and into one that's at least fresh. He packs a t-shirt and pants for later, shoving them into his duffel bag, and pops open his much-abused laptop, catching up with his emails. He ignores mission reports--he leaves those Hina, and he doesn't really have the attention span needed for making sense of Ryo and Maru's joint reports.
Instead, he plays World of Warcraft. His guildmates are mostly offline, but the mindless buffing keeps Yoko from thinking about the fact that he still can't remember anything from the night he kicked the bucket. From thinking about that fact that they're about to partner up with a bunch of assassins. From the fact that he was dead for a day and a half and he's still here.
His phone rings, dragging him out of his video game stupor, and he answers it, logging out with one hand as he tucks the phone under his chin with the other. "Hello," he says.
"Yoko," says Subaru, "they're on their way over. You should get over here."
Yoko shuts his laptop, and shoves it into his duffel. "I'm on my way," he says, and hangs up. Magic--even rudimentary magic like Riisa's portals--didn't get along with his cell phone calls. One short walk later, Yoko is at the top of the stairs, leaving the small room dedicated to portals behind and jogging down the stairs. His brothers are there on the couch, and when he settles down at the corner, he grins so wide his cheeks hurt.
"It's been a while since we've all been together," Hina says.
"We almost never were," Subaru says, and winces out from under Yasu's scolding elbow.
"Don't be depressing," Yasu scolds. Then he turns back to the group. "And since we're here, I'm going to pull Yoko back into the psychic link, if that's okay?"
"My head feels empty without you assholes in it," Yoko says, and sits forward.
The sudden avalanche of their voices welcoming him back in is nearly staggering, and Yoko's glad he's sitting down, shutting his eyes against the link settling back in in the back of his head. He settles it with the ease of practice until it's background noise again, and feels complete.
When he and Hina and Subaru decided they wanted to be blood brothers, they never meant a psychic link to be part of the equation. None of them were psychics, and it was only when they met Yasu and he offered to connect them all that the link became their initiation ceremony. To be honest, it was why Yoko didn't blame any of their failed near-candidates; it could be overwhelming being connected like they were. At first, it had been, and they'd finally had to have Ryo dampen the link as much as he could until they were all slowly able to grasp the mechanics of shutting people out when necessary.
Still, no matter what Yoko does he can't tone down the wall of feeling surrounding him, and he flushes dark red when he realizes they're doing it on purpose. "Guys," he says, looking down, "stop!"
After a moment, it does, but they're all sharing evil smiles.
"Are Riisa and Erika at their place?" Yoko asks, to keep them from embarrassing him further.
"Erika was making that face she makes when she's considering flaying people with her mind, so yeah, I sent them back," Hina answers.
Then the doorbell rings.
"I'll get it," Yasu declares, and climbs bodily over Ohkura to get to the foyer.
"Welcome to EIGHT," Yasu says, as he leads a trio of men inside. Yoko's glad he wore a suit when he sees the three of them are dressed to the nines, and sits up straight.
"This is Ohno Satoshi, that's Nino, and you know me," Aiba explains, "our other two members are out on a job, they'll be by soon!"
"I'm Murakami, this is Yoko, this is Subaru, and these are Maru, Ryo and Ohkura. You've already met Yasu. Take a seat and let's get this hashed out, shall we?"
"Oh-chan's our leader but you'll be dealing with me or Aiba mostly," says Nino, as he stretches out on the floor. "Jun and Sho-kun are our active agents, they have a lot more work than we do, and Aiba's kind of on sabbatical. I've got--specific talents, let's go with that--and don't get much on my own. And Oh-chan is busy with painting or fishing or some combination of both, right Oh-chan?"
The sleepy-looking man smiles. It's a peaceful-looking smile, and it sets Yoko at ease.
"That sounds fine," Hina says, "we don't provide housing, but we can direct you to cheap, discreet places, if you need a hand, and we have a magical consultant who can set up a direct portal. We're not looking to break into the assassination business--we're a little more specific focus--but we've got contacts that need those services, and we'd be happy to set you up with them in return for help on jobs if necessary. Our skill set is a little imbalanced right now."
Nino leans forward. "Obviously you know what Aiba can do. Oh-chan communes with animals. I use luck. Sho-kun's an empath and Jun can't be hurt. You guys?"
"Yoko's got up to an hour of time travel either way, I'm an energy vampire, and Subaru's a shapeshifter. Maru has wards, Yasu's a psychic, Ryo's a dampener, and Ohkura's a lazy-ass speedster. And we have a pair of underworld agents working for us. One uses chaos magic and the other's a portaler."
Nino whistles. "Defensive imbalance is right," he says, "but we can work with that. What d'you say we combine forces? Do some heavier jobs than our usual MOs and see if we can handle being a unit?"
Yoko frowns, and glances at Hina. This is usually where things fall apart. "We--we use a joint psychic link," he says, "all the time."
"All the time?" Aiba squawks, "isn't that noisy?"
"Yes," Ohkura says, still managing to sound put out about it even nine years later, "but you get used to it."
"We won't ask you to link in," Hina says, "not all at once, it'd drive us all crazy. We'd have to go one at a time."
"Can we try that now?" Aiba speaks up. He's looking right at Yoko. "Maybe one and one?"
Yasu glances between Yoko and Aiba. "I can do that," he agrees, "if Yoko's okay with it?"
Yoko's mouth is very dry, but he knows he can't say no. Not when he remembers Aiba saved his life. "All right," he says, "after this is over. I'm addled enough with you idiots right this minute." It's a kind of weak excuse, but no one calls him out on it, and Aiba smiles anyway.
Yoko drags his eyes away. "I have a question," he says, "for you guys."
"Shoot," Nino says.
"How did you find me?" he asks. He knows it was the right question to ask because all three of them go still, sneaking looks at one another.
‘Nice one,' Yasu compliments inside his head.
'I try,' Yoko responds.
"We were on a job for the same target," Ohno speaks up, jolting them all with surprise; Yoko had nearly forgotten he was there. "Our orders were shoot to kill after you picked up the briefcase, but then you got shot and we had to change parameters."
'I'd bet a hundred bucks that's where Sho-kun and Jun are,' Hina says over the link. Then he repeats himself aloud. "That's where your other agents are, right? Finishing the job?"
"We took a contract, we have to finish it," Ohno says, blandly, and Yoko wonders if Aiba's not the only talented compartmentalizer.
"We don't typically take assassination contracts," Hina says, "so if you guys want to work with us, you need to understand we usually only take missions that aren't a direct order to murder everyone in our way. We make a lot of noise and a lot of trouble, but we aren't really known as killers."
"Which is why you've got us," Nino drawls, and smiles, slow and dangerous. "Don't worry, we'll take care of that end."
Yoko feels a flood of worry from Yasu, and sends something soothing back at him. "If you guys take on any killing contracts, our names stay out of it," he says, "we have a reputation for not leaving behind a mess of bodies, and I'd like to keep it that way."
"We wouldn't dream of anything different," Nino says.
"Don't worry, you can trust us," Aiba interjects, grinning.
Somehow, Yoko isn't terribly calmed by that.
When Sho and Jun arrive, the awkwardness has already started to dissipate. Maru and Ohno are already getting along famously, and Nino's half-strewn over Ohkura's thighs, playing his DS and sniping at Hina. Yoko, for his part, finds Aiba's a lot less nerve-wracking to deal with when they're not talking about work, and already Aiba is telling him all about the time he tried to bring a plant back to life, only to find that every time he did the cats from next door would eat them. (He's also a lot more nerve-wracking in some ways, since he keeps scooting closer and closer and laying a hand companionably on Yoko's knee.)
It's Aiba who lets them in, pushing up off of Yoko's thigh and greeting them. Jun looks tired but accepts Aiba's enthusiasm with a pat to the arm, and Sho looks like he's trying to be serious but his lips keep quirking up at the corner when he glances at Nino, who's thrown one leg over the back of the couch and is rubbing his toes over the back of Ohno's head. (Ohno doesn't seem to have noticed, for his part.)
"I'm Sakurai Sho, and this is Matsumoto Jun," Sho introduces himself, pointing between the two of them, and Hina musters up some sense of professionalism to do another round of introductions. Then he coughs, and reaches over the back of the couch for a briefcase.
"So," Hina says, "I have a job to look over, if you'd like."
They all gather around the coffee table as Hina lays papers out. "Erika got a call from Joshima of TOKIO this morning. They got contracted to move some cargo around for one of their usual suppliers, but when Nagase showed up to haul things, he called their HQ to tell them their cargo was human. Well, the rest of Joshima's boys mounted a plan to get the humans safe back home, but apparently they were outmaneuvered. So now Joshima's stuck at HQ and the rest of his team's been taken hostage. He's gathered a ransom, but he's called EIGHT in to make sure things don't get out of hand. By which he means 'help me bust out my boys and the humans'. It's looking like a pretty cut-and-dried 'blow shit up, shoot some slavers, go drinking with TOKIO' mission. You in?"
The members of Storm, Inc. share a glance, and if Yoko didn't know better he'd think they had a psychic link from the way they didn't speak before Ohno nodded. "Let's do it," he says.
From there, it's simple enough to divide them all up. Yasu and Sho bookending Joshima to deliver the ransom money. Hina and Jun leading Ohno, Maru and Ryo around back, breaking heads. Subaru, Ohkura and Nino coming in from the front to back up Yasu and Sho.
"Aiba and I will arrive on site and I'll rewind time to find us a way in," Yoko says, after Hina tries to suggest they handle the escape route. "I'm not made of glass, you idiots."
Then the front door swings open, and Erika and Riisa come inside. They're both suited up in the black-and-gray uniform of their Agency, and Erika's bound back her hair. She's got a red spellbook under her right arm, and she looks all business. "Boys," she says, "I just got a call from Joshima that the ransom time's been moved up two hours. We'll be outside offering support where we can."
"Then let's do this," Yoko says, rising. He, at least, is ready to be back on the job.
Yoko leads the way inside, his fingers tight between Aiba's. Contact's the only way to drag Aiba along with him, but his palms are slick with nervous sweat. Slowly, Yoko comes to a stop, and then he flicks the switch inside, pulling Aiba with him through the time stream. When they've backed up, the factory is still dark--it's been closed since work ended at seven, and Yoko thinks their kidnappers probably pull in around 11:30 to meet Joshima at midnight. Which means they have an hour to find a place to hide.
"What do you think about the back storeroom?" Aiba asks, lifting his PDA to show Yoko the digital map.
"No, we need somewhere close to the getaway route," Yoko says, looking, "maybe the girl's bathroom...?"
Aiba leans around and peers at the map. "Oh," he says, "the machinery bay!"
Yoko glances up. "We can try it," he says.
It turns out the machinery bay is perfect for their purposes. The garage door is locked, but Aiba manages to impress Yoko by wiggling it open and leaving it half-latched. There are plenty of weird machines around, and Aiba ducks under a work table, behind some mini-crane-looking thing, pulling Yoko in with him. They're hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder, hands wound together in Aiba's lap, when Yoko winds time carefully forward, minute by minute.
'Guys,' he calls, at 11:30, 'there's a getaway route through the machinery bay.'
There's a group acknowledgement, and then it's time to wait, listening carefully for sounds.
"This is kind of boring," Aiba complains.
Yoko agrees. "This is glorified getaway duty," he complains. "I'm sure I didn't enjoy dying the first time, for the record!"
"You still don't--remember anything?" Aiba asks, carefully.
"I remember walking into the rendezvous spot, and then nothing," Yoko says.
Aiba seems to deflate, and he nods, slowly. Yoko wonders why, but then he's distracted by the sound of Hina's voice challenging someone to fight. Outside, there's the dim thunk of fists on flesh. Yoko pokes at Ohkura over the link; of all of them, Ohkura's mind moves the fastest, so he's least likely to get distracted and choked out, or something similarly awful. 'What's happening?' he asks.
'Hina-chan is knocking out the guards, Ryo is making sure any metahumans are neutralized, and Ohno is talking to the fish in the bay,' Ohkura reports. Somehow none of that surprises Yoko, and he shakes his head around a chuckle.
'Wait--' Ohkura's mental connection goes strange and gray, alien. It's faint when he speaks again. 'Yoko, they're using mind control!'
"Mind control?!" Yoko gasps, and Aiba jerks, staring at him. "Ohkura says they're using mind control!"
'Ryo!' Yoko calls, 'There's a controller on site. Find him!'
'Working on it,' Ryo says. He sounds stressed, like he's trying to dampen too much at once. Like he's forcing his power range wider, perhaps. Yoko pulls mostly away to let him work and switches toward Maru.
'Maru, are you there?'
'Protect Ryo, you hear me? We're all in trouble if you don't.'
'Always.' The pulse of warmth that comes with it is kind of embarrassing, Yoko thinks.
Aiba's looking at his phone when Yoko's awareness slides back into focus. From the furious staccato typing he's probably typing out a message to his teammates. Yoko wonders how anyone works without a psychic link.
'Yasu,' Yoko calls, 'do you have a location on the controller?'
'Yes,' Yasu says, 'Ryo has it now, but we're kind of in the middle of a gunfight so I have to go!'
'Good luck,' Yoko sends back.
Then he frowns at Aiba. "Let's go," he says.
Aiba's already reaching for the gun in his shoulder holster. His smile splits the dim light of the room. "I thought you'd never ask!" he says, and lets Yoko lead the way.
Yoko stops at the regular door onto the main factory floor, and hears the obnoxiously familiar sound of TOKIO attempting to speak quietly to one another.
"Are you free yet?" Nagase is hissing.
"No, you idiot, phasing is a delicate operation!" Taichi sounds irritated.
"I'll give you a delicate operation," Nagase grumbles back.
Yoko swallows down laughter, and taps the door with his knuckles, twice. Aiba is blinking at him, but Yoko lifts his finger to his lips, and waits.
Mabo doesn't disappoint, responding with a bounce of his heels on the floor beneath him, or at least that's what it sounds like. Once, twice, three times. 'The coast is clear, but hurry.'
As if Yoko's ever needed to hurry in his life. "Aiba, wait for the break-in group and lead them this way," he says, and then reaches for the timestream. Stretching seconds out is a process that makes Yoko's head hurt, but when he pulls the door open, everyone is moving at infinitesimal speeds. Yoko moves across the floor and unties Taichi first, then Nagase and Mabo and Gussan. The group of kidnapped humans is across the floor, in a huddle, but Yoko already feels better with TOKIO's particular talents behind them.
Then Yoko ducks behind the four of them, and lets time catch up.
The effect isn't immediate--Nagase's mind takes a clear minute to realize his hands are free--but then TOKIO is in motion, charging toward the armed guards. That particular avalanche taken care of, Yoko reaches for Ryo and Maru. They both feel clear and confident, which is comforting. 'Maru, Ryo, come inside. The kidnapped humans are huddled up across the room. We'll take care of the gunmen, you take care of this mind controller.'
Sometimes, Yoko forgets what it's like to fight as a unit, they've all been doing individual or pair missions for so long. Maru has a wide ward set around both Ryo and the huddle of humans, who's still got the focused tilt of his eyebrows that says he's concentrating.
Yoko winces at a sudden psychic clamor--Yasu and Sho seem to be combining their powers to knock out nearby gunmen, and Nino and Subaru have dropped in out of nowhere to back them up. Subaru's shifted into his favorite form--some kind of perverted Doraemon, with a chainsaw arm--and Nino seems to be manipulating luck on the fly. Yoko sees three guns misfire, only to be scooped up by Ohkura during one of his short-lived active periods.
Aiba saunters in to join Yoko. "Murakami-kun and Jun-kun are outside with Oh-chan," he says, "meanwhile, we should try to take down that controller!"
Yoko smiles, grimly. "Let's do it," he says.
Aiba leads the way up the stairs; Yoko's not sure how he learned the location, but he thinks it has to have been from Maru or Hina. Either way, he looks like he knows where he's going. Yoko draws his gun, and lets Aiba force an office door open.
"Hi there," Aiba says. The controller's some oily, scrawny guy, older than them, and his jaw is slack with shock when he looks between Yoko and Aiba.
"You were dead," he gasps at Yoko.
"I got better," Yoko answers. He doesn't know how this guy knows him, but he's wanted to use that line like all day.
Aiba approaches the man on feet that are suddenly cat-like, silent. The lanky, cheerful young man seems gone, taken over by the assassin. Yoko ignores the feeling to level his gun on the controller.
The man backs up around his desk, back against the wall, and Aiba has him cornered.
"I’ve been looking for you for a long time," Aiba says, "I was asked to find you five years ago! That's a long time to follow someone, don't you think?"
Then he leans forward and taps his fingertips to the man's forehead twice.
"Did you just kill him?!" Yoko squawks.
Aiba turns. The smile is back. "No," he says, "I mean, for a minute, yeah, but then I brought him back. He'll just be out for a while!"
"Who was he?" Yoko asks.
"A missing person," Aiba says. "I used to be a P.I.! But I was pretty awful at it, especially with my powers activating. That's when I met Oh-chan and Nino, and joined Storm, but I hate leaving a job unfinished, you know?"
Yoko snorts. Then he turns to the link. 'We're done here. You guys?'
'All targets neutralized,' Yasu reports.
'Good,' Hina breaks in, and Yoko lets him take over the logistics stuff. Letting Erika bind the controller's powers and Riisa portal him back to a meta-human facility immediately passes by in a blur. Maru switches to containing the slavers, and by the time Yoko's done more than helped Subaru bandage a minor scrape on his forearm, the police have arrived, and they all fade back to the getaway cars guarded by Ohno. TOKIO are raucous and invite them all for a drunken escapade, but Hina sends them off, taking a rain check.
"Man, when'd you guys get all serious?" Nagase asks, putting one arm around Ohkura and the other around Yasu. "Anyway, we owe you one! Call us up if you need anything blown up."
"Don't worry, Naga-nii, we'll call you," Nino says, grinning saucily.
"I like this one," Taichi says, and then he and Nino are trading wicked glances while Nagase grumbles about midget troublemakers. Yoko's sure that alliance is going to end in trouble sooner rather than later. (He hopes he's around to see it. He hopes there's actual explosions.)
Yoko only realizes that Storm, Inc. has followed them all the way back to headquarters when Aiba nearly trips stepping out of his shoes and needs to hook a hand over Yoko's arm for balance.
"Whoa," Yoko says, steadying him.
"You still don't remember anything?" Aiba asks.
Yoko shakes his head. "What's there to remember?" he asks, finally, drawing his lower lip into his teeth.
"You'll see," Aiba says, but he doesn't look happy about it. "Yasu-kun, can you--link me and Yokocho?"
Yasu immediately turns around, brightening at someone else using his nickname for Yoko, and grabs their hands.
The effect is immediate, and Yoko staggers back. Memory flares, and Yoko presses the heels of hands to his temples.
"He mind controlled me," Yoko manages, "and then I shot at you, and you shot me back. You shot me."
It's all very clear now.
"Gentlemen," Yoko says, forcing his twitching fingertips still, "the briefcase?"
His contact is a partner of the casino where Maru and Ryo are getting to experience the fun of gang embezzlement; Yoko's kind of glad he's not them, since at least the enemies here are clear. She's a tall, pretty woman with long hair bound back, wearing stilettos and a pants-suit. Yoko is terrified of her.
"Hand it to him," she says, "your end of the bargain, Yokoyama-san?"
Yoko bends to pick up the briefcase full of money. "As agreed," he says, and pops it open for her to inspect.
Her eyes sweep over the bills inside, and she nods. "Leave it on the floor," she says, "and hands where I can see them."
Yoko lays the briefcase out, and lifts his hands wide so she can be sure of his cooperation.
The switch goes off without much more than some cleverly-worded threats from his contact's goons, but Yoko's suddenly very, very glad to be out of there when he steps out.
Then gun shots ring out behind him, and Yoko turns to throw the door open again. If someone is hoping to tarnish the reputation of EIGHT they've got a problem on their hands.
He freezes in the doorway. The five men in the firefight aren't anyone Yoko knows, but they work together too well to be normal hitmen, and when one of them hauls off and punches a man, he goes flying across the floor. Definitely meta-human. Are they trying to blame murders on EIGHT?
"What are you doing?!" he demands.
"Why are you still in here?! Go!"
Yoko scowls at the short man who'd spoken--Nino, his current mind supplies.
Then he feels his body moving, and he can't seem to stop it. The controller. Watching his hand draw his gun in his own mind is a harrowing experience, and he only manages to gargle a 'no!' before he shoots at the nearest man in a suit--Aiba.
Who ducks out of the way, casting his eyes around in what is clearly a search for someone. Then he turns back, and points his gun at Yoko. "Let him go," Aiba says, sounding serious.
Yoko can't move; his finger twitches on the trigger, and then Aiba fires, what is clearly a reflexive shot, his eyes wide in horror a minute too late.
The rest is all pain and bleeding and Aiba's hands over his belly, trying to stop the flow of red over his hands, and Aiba's fingers drifting gently over his hair before tapping his forehead.
Yoko comes back to himself to find that he's sitting on the floor in the foyer, Aiba drawn up across from him looking wet-eyed. There's a bruise high on his cheek Yoko doesn't remember.
"Hina-chan hit me," Aiba supplies, helpfully.
Oh yeah, they're linked now, Yoko remembers, a beat later. "He does that," he says, and leans forward to brush his fingers over it. "At least he didn't kill you?"
"He threatened it," Aiba admits, but he seems remarkably upbeat about it. "Are you--are you okay? With me?"
Yoko sighs. "It's not like you did it on purpose, right?" he asks.
Aiba nods, furiously. "I'd never shoot you on purpose," he says, "Storm's--Storm's been in Akai for about six months, following after you."
"So we've basically been business partners this whole time?" Yoko asks, "you've been killing people for EIGHT this whole time?"
"No, mostly you," Aiba admits, "the others don't really deal in gang blackmail, you know."
"I don't know when I became the 'gang blackmail' guy, but it sucks," Yoko complains, "it's all doom and gloom and being afraid I'm gonna die all the time. I guess it figures the one time I do is the guy who's on my side!"
"It was an accident," Aiba protests.
"You're an accident," Yoko teases, and Aiba reaches out to smack him.
'Guys,' Yoko calls over the link, 'dinner's ready. Apparently.'
'Yoko, why did you let Aiba cook?' Nino demands, 'what part of 'he kills people with his meatloaf' did you not get?'
'Stop being a whiner,' Hina says.
'Besides, it's good!' Ohno supplies.
Yoko rolls his eyes, and goes back to setting the table in their new Headquarters.