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where your loyalties lie

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People move out of the way as Chuuya walks. It doesn't matter that everyone in his path is yakuza, that they are all more than used to standing their ground against an enemy. They all know better than halt this particular brisk stride, the one where his shoulders are rigid and his jacket is billowing at his back.

Even if he isn't the boss, he is a Nakahara, and that still affords him a level of respect that most of the komon don't receive.

Rounding a corner, Chuuya notices a flash of tan and pivots on his heel, dodging the young woman walking in the opposite direction, her nose shoved in a stack of papers that obscure her vision. Even with his quick reactions, she manages to trip and dive forward, only his arm at her waist prevents her from landing on the wooden floor.

"I'm so sorry!" The woman's voice is little more than a squeak, her cheeks flaming red as she rights herself and steps back from his grip. Fixing her glasses, she continues, "I should be watching where I'm going."

Despite his foul mood, Chuuya can't help but smile. It never fails to amaze him how ill-suited to this life the senior advisor is. She looks like she should be teaching in a classroom, not the being the right-hand of a powerful mafia boss, "It's fine, Alcott-san. Nobody got hurt."

At his voice, her eyes flick up to meet his and her blush darkens. "Chuuya! This must be the fifth time this month I nearly ran over you!"

"Not meaning any disrespect, but you're not exactly in the fighting condition to cause me much harm." His gaze shifts to the papers. "Is that the new strategy forecast?"

Louisa hugs the papers to her chest and gives a hesitant nod. "The kumichō ordered me to start from scratch after what happened with..."

A dark flash in Chuuya's gaze makes Louisa trail off, and she swallows heavily before switching tracks. "Are you on your way to see her now? We can go together."

The offer hangs between them, Chuuya considering it for much longer than he usually would. Technically, Alcott is his senior in rank, which means that she can simply order him to wait for her to finish meeting with the boss. The fact that he's being offered a chance to speak his concerns now is a bit of a blessing. On the other hand, there are things Chuuya can get away with saying to the kumichō in private that he can't say in front of others.

His silence drags on long enough for the senior advisor to shift on her feet, and she murmurs, "If you need to speak to her in private, I suppose I can-" 

Chuuya holds up a hand. "No, I don't want to make her wait for your reports. Without you running our strategy the clan would be in a tighter spot than we are. Shall we?"

She smiles at the praise, she always does. Sometimes Chuuya is struck with the sensation that Louisa Alcott finds her place in the clan unearned, as if she and her ability are not crucial for their continued success. Just the fact that the kumichō arranged to have her brought from a fracturing mafia in the West  should have been enough to prove how much she is valued.

They walk in silence, Chuuya doing his best to keep from falling back into his rage now that he is in the presence of his (easily flustered) superior. Once at the door to the kumichō's office, Chuuya steps back and lets Alcott take the lead, eyeing the men on guard outside the door.

"I have Chuuya with me." Alcott's voice floats through the cracked door of the study easily.

"Send him in."

Chuuya doesn't wait for Alcott to relay the order. He steps through the doors and closes them behind himself, scanning the room for others. Fortunately, the only people present are Alcott and the boss, and Chuuya sweeps her a bow as soon as they make eye contact.

The boss chuckles. "How many times have I told you not to bother with that when we're in private, Chuuya-kun?"

"You're the kumichō, not paying you proper respect is unforgivable." His reply is just as worn as the kumichō's request for casualty. "Besides, I'm sure the rest of this conversation won't be as formal, Ane-san."

Turning from where she was half-turned toward the window, Kouyou graces Chuuya with a grim smile. "Yes, I assumed as much. Would either of you like tea?"

It isn't really a question. When the kumichō offers tea, the only correct response is to accept. Chuuya knows it is Kouyou's way to pre-empt his temper. By forcing him to sit down and handle her delicate drinkware, she is also forcing him to calm down in turn so he doesn't seem unruly or unreasonable.

With a sigh, Chuuya nods and follows Kouyou through a side door into a small sitting room. A table and four chairs are inside, teapot and cups for three already waiting. Sometimes Chuuya wonders if the boss is also gifted with some sort of precognition.

As always, Kouyou pours; Chuuya has long ago given up on insisting that the boss should never be the one to serve. Now, he simply waits for her to finish before picking up his cup and nodding at Alcott, indicating that she should speak first.

Alcott’s eyes immediately drop to the reports in her hand. "I finished the current forecasts, boss. It's a little difficult considering we don't know much about this new faction."

"Are there any signs that the Mizushimas are involved with them?"

"No. They're being targeted as well. Besides, they don't need deception if they want to cause us trouble."

Her statement is blunt, and Chuuya busies himself with his drink, trying not to be irritated with Alcott for simply stating the truth. There was a time, long before he was born, when the Nakahara-kai was the yakuza group that monopolized Japan's ports. But with time came competition, and the rise of the Mizushimas wiped out nearly every other organization in the region. Only the Nakaharas' political connections and predisposition for covert strategy allowed them to survive, and most of those in the kumichō's upper circle know the group would not survive another direct assault from their rivals.

The Mizushima clan is larger, and better financed. If they want to get into a bloody war with the Nakaharas, they have no need to get a third party involved.

"A pity." Kouyou's words are spoken into her teacup, as if they aren't meant for the others to hear. "At least I know how the Mizushima boss operates. We don't even have a name for this new group."

"We have to do something." Chuuya finally breaks his silence, putting his cup down with more force than is necessary. “They're sending our people back in body bags, Ane-san. We haven't had these sorts of casualties since my grandfather's time. Let me lead the offense."

"No."

It is exactly what Chuuya expects to hear, but it doesn't sting any less. "I'm our best fighter, the men listen to my orders. I can prevent more casualties."

"As your boss, I am telling you no. To argue further is treasonous." Kouyou's voice is firm, eyes glinting from across the table. "As someone who cares about you, I am telling you that the clan can't risk your life, particularly not so early in the conflict."

"I'm just a komon, one of half-a-dozen advisors. I don't command any of the gangs and no one answers to me. My death would not have more impact on the organization than any of the others who have already died." Chuuya doesn't add the fact that he's being wasted here, locked up in headquarters. He doesn't point out that his combat skill is unparalleled in the Family, that his ability can turn the tide in a helpless battle. Kouyou already knows those facts. 

"Regardless of your position, you are the only member left who carries the Nakahara name. You should not throw away the significance of that. My decision is final, Chuuya-kun."

Chuuya slumps back in his seat, biting his tongue to keep from arguing the point further. There isn't much point in pushing back, not when he knew this would be the outcome. But the sheer number of losses they were handed is unforgivable. Chuuya can still see the reports that sent him rushing to see the boss, trying once again to do more than his relatively safe role at headquarters.

The shuffle of paper plays in the background of his attention—Kouyou fingering through the latest forecasts. Occasionally, the turn of pages is accompanied with the clink of a cup being set on the wood, or the sound of Alcott’s skirt rustling as she shifts in her seat.

After several minutes, Kouyou speaks again, "Louisa, all of these forecasts are for unilateral action."

"Unilateral action?" The phrase tugs at a chord in Chuuya's memory, from the time when he was being groomed to take over his father's place, before they learned he was ill-suited to the title of 'boss'.

Kouyou glances at him. "They only include the Nakahara-kai acting alone."

"There are no other organizations to take into account." The words stream out of Alcott's mouth, as if she's rushing to say them before being berated. "Despite the clan’s extensive trade partnerships and political reach, there isn't any understanding with a group that would lend firepower to our efforts."

The stack of documents is passed back across the table. "Run the numbers again, this time include the possibilities present if an alliance with the Mizushimas is forged."

Chuuya must be hearing Kouyou wrong. He rubs his ears, wondering if he needs to get them checked. After all, there is no possible way the head of the Nakahara-kai might be considering an alliance with their sworn enemy.

Luckily, he isn't the only one in disbelief. Alcott clears her throat. "Kumichō, I didn't grow up in Japan, but haven't we been at odds with the Mizushimas for generations?"

"Yes, but this new threat cannot be underestimated. I don't take kindly to their attempt to take over the docks. I assume that man leading the Mizushimas feels the same way."

Just the idea of approaching the other yakuza group sets Chuuya on edge, and it takes all of his self-restraint to keep from the sort of outburst that would get less-favored members gutted on the spot. Suddenly he's grateful for Kouyou's instance to have such conversations over tea because he can focus his attention on his cup, he can concentrate on keeping his hold loose enough that he doesn't shatter the ceramic: it keeps him grounded.

"I will run the numbers right away," Alcott says, standing and dipping her head in a slight bow. "Do you have a timeline for when you might be reaching out to the Mizushimas?"

"Yes." Kouyou's response is firm, an entire answer in just one word, with no intent to explain.

Message received loud and clear, Alcott nods again before rushing from the room, eyes focused on her reports just like before. Chuuya spares a moment to sympathize with whatever soul would end up colliding with her on her trip back to her office.

Kouyou moves to the door behind Alcott and locks it. The frown on her face is solemn, and Chuuya sets his cup down, not sure he's prepared for whatever conversation the kumichō wants to have privately. "Do you really think we can form an alliance with them?"

"I do. Since neither of our organizations are run by a direct relative of our founders, it is possible we can move past the blood feud. However, it will take some sacrifice on your part, Chuuya-kun."

"Sacrifice?"

She sighs and leans back in her seat, hands settling on her lap. "What do you know of Dazai Osamu?" 

 


 

The numbers are unsettling, to say the least. It has been decades since any type of organization has been able to strike this kind of blow against the Mizushima-gumi. Names accompanied the list of losses, but the faces of those who failed to keep the Mizushimas' assets secured mean little to Dazai. If even one member had been foolish enough to turn rank and flee to safety, they would have lived long enough to give him a report before he lodged a bullet in their head. 

"You have no information on who is behind this?" The boss' voice is cool, even, his attention focused out the window of his office. He studies the Yokohama city line as if he has never seen it before, an indication of how much thought he is putting into their current problem.

"So far I have been able to confirm who it isn't," Dazai admits. The taste of the confession is sour on his throat; information has always been his forte. "None of our past conflicts come into play."

"A new challenger. Fascinating. What do you propose, Dazai-kun?"

It is the type of question better suited for one of the boss' advisors. At that moment, Dazai imagines there are probably four of them waiting outside the office doors, clamoring for a chance to impress their superior with a 'brilliant' strategy. As the kumichō's left-hand, Dazai's job is technically that of carrying out orders, not suggesting their course of action. However, Mori has never been a typical yakuza head.

Dazai drums his finger on his thigh, his unbandaged eye shifting to study the scene outside the window. "We need more information, better information gatherers."

"The time it will take to train our people is too significant. By the time we have answers it may be too late," Mori hums. "Our organization has always excelled at the more overt strategies, I have not been kumichō long enough to balance our skill set." 

There is a hint of satisfaction in Mori's voice, at odds with the words of resignation leaving his lips. It pulls Dazai's attention away from the city to study his boss. "You already have a plan."

"For once, this plan is not my own." Mori reaches into his blazer and pulls out an envelope, passing it to Dazai as a slight smirk crosses his lip.

Curiosity now piqued, Dazai turns the envelope over in his hands, trying to determine its contents before opening it and pulling out the note. It is handwritten, the script elegant and steady. It reads, for all the world, like an invitation to a local tea house. The signature is what sends Dazai's mind into overdrive.

He lets out a low whistle. "An alliance with the Nakaharas? Half of our people will lose their minds."

"Which is precisely why I have already informed the advising council that I am opposed to such action. It is unfortunate that my lieutenant is so ambitious and stubborn that he attended the meeting in my place." The smirk on Mori's lips takes a sharp edge. "While you speak with the Nakaharas I will assign the most avid protesters to command the doomed efforts against our mysterious enemy."

Dazai considers the proposed date on the note, just two days away. It is not much time to prepare a negotiation tactic with the Mizushima-gumi's oldest rivals. "Their information gathering abilities are unparalleled, as is their political reach. Combined with our numbers and money we could drive this new group out of the ports with minimal losses. Of course, if they turn on us there will be many calling for our heads."

"The woman who leads them now is an astute negotiator, I do not believe she will pick a fight she cannot win. I also assume she has a strong offer, otherwise, she might have waited for us to possibly reach out to her." Mori leans back in his seat, raising an eyebrow at the younger man. "I leave this in your hands, Dazai-kun. Consider it good practice for the day when I am no longer around and you have taken my place." 

Being the kumichō who formed an alliance between the two strongest yakuza groups in the port region would be an impressive statistic. If Dazai can pull this off, there would be no contest to his claim to the title upon Mori's eventual death. If Dazai fails, he will likely die in a blaze of fire.

It sounds like a win-win situation for him.