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An Unearned Gift

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Chapter 1 - First Impressions

Monday, October 29th

"You do know staring and eating aren't the same thing right?" Chizuru looked up from the toast she'd been unintentionally contemplating to find Sen, her childhood friend and now roommate, frowning at her. "Seriously, you have to eat something. First impressions are always the most important and you can't be your best on an empty stomach."

She looked back down at the toast and immediately felt her stomach twist. Nope, breakfast definitely wasn't going to happen this morning. She sighed and pushed away from the breakfast bar. "Sorry Sen, I really can't. I'll just have some tea."

Sen grinned as she leaned on the bar and sipped on her coffee, watching as Chizuru began filling a travel mug with hot water. "All right, all right. I don't know what you're so nervous about anyway. The first day is always the most fun!"

Chizuru couldn't stop a small snort from escaping. Yeah, fun. She really had no idea how Sen could be so relaxed. It was her first day as well, and at one of the largest legal firms in the city no less, but Sen didn't look worried at all. She, on the other hand, had tossed and turned most of the night and had finally given up on getting any more sleep a whole hour before her alarm had been supposed to go off. She glanced again at the clock on the wall. She was still early, but she couldn't stand just sitting here any more. Maybe the nerves would go away if she actually started doing something productive.

Tightening the lid on her tea, she gathered her things before turning back to Sen. "Do I look okay?"

Sen rolled her eyes, "For the thousandth time, yes. Now quit worrying and just enjoy the new experience."

Taking a deep breath she nodded, "Right…"

Just as she opened the door, Sen leaned around the corner, her eyes sparkling. "Don't forget, first one back starts dinner!"

Chizuru couldn't help a smile as she tossed back, "Then you'd better hope I make it back first."

She hadn't been driving for more than a minute, when she heard her phone start to ring. Trying to keep her eyes on the road, she clumsily felt around her purse.

"Where are you?" She was starting to worry she might miss the call entirely, when she finally got a hold of her phone and checked the screen. Kodo? What was her uncle doing calling her right now? Had something happened? She quickly hit accept and put the phone to her ear.

"Hello?"

"Oh, Chizuru. I was starting to worry you weren't going to pick up."

She pulled back slightly and hit the speaker button before setting the phone down in her lap. "Sorry, I had some trouble digging my phone out of my purse. Did something happen?"

"No, no. Nothing like that. I just wanted to hear how you were settling in."

"Um, well Sen and I are settling in fine. We just got the last of the boxes unpacked last night and I'm on my way to work right now."

"I'm glad to hear it. But Chizuru… Are you sure this is what's best for you?"

She tipped her head back against the headrest and suppressed a sigh. Were they really going to go through this again?

"You should be using your degree to get a real job, not this investigative consultant nonsense. There are plenty of opportunities to use your skills back home."

"Uncle…" she tried to get his attention, but he seemed oblivious.

"And, of course, you would have my full support if you wanted to go back to school and get a different degree. Maybe a medical degree? I'm sure I could get you into my alma mater…"

As his voice trailed off slightly, she hurriedly took the chance to stop his monologue. "No Uncle, I'm not going to go back to school. I really am happy with my criminal justice degree. Besides I can't leave Sen. You know things are more expensive here. She needs a roommate to afford the apartment and this is a much safer option than trying to find a stranger to room with."

She heard him sigh on the other end. "But you could be doing so much more than investigative consulting. I know you worked with our local department during college, but shouldn't you be looking to move beyond that?"

She couldn't help but frown slightly at his last comment. "I can't just back out of this job. Chief Inoue went out of his way to recommend me to Chief Kondou. How would that look if I just dropped everything and came home? I mean, Chief Kondou hired me without even an interview, solely on Inoue's recommendation."

"I'm sure Rintaro would understand your situation."

She didn't answer. She'd worked hard to prove herself useful while she'd worked with Inoue Rintaro's department and she couldn't just throw that all away.

Kodo sighed again, and she could almost see him, eyes closed as he rubbed his forehead. "I hope you can understand that I'm just worried about you. A large city like that isn't safe."

"I know, but that's exactly why Sen needs me here. We'll be fine if we're together."

When he didn't respond, she continued. "How about this? If in a few months things aren't working out and Sen can either make it on her own or find a good roommate, then I'll come back home and find a more respectable career."

There was another long pause, but that was as far as she was willing to bend on this.

"That is… acceptable."

She let out a small sigh of relief. "Thank you. I love you uncle."

"Me too, Chizuru. Goodbye."

She heard the click as the line went dead, and she tossed her phone somewhat frustratedly back into the depths of her purse. Why did their conversations always have to go this way? Ever since she'd graduated, no, ever since she'd chosen her degree, he'd tried to get her to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor. He couldn't seem to understand that while she had a good head for medicine and even enjoyed it, it wasn't what she needed to be doing.

She was so caught up in her thoughts that she almost missed the turn for the police headquarters. Trying to shove her conversation with Kodo to the back of her mind, she made her way through the parking lot to the visitor parking.

"Come on, Chizuru. You have to focus" she told herself sternly as she tugged nervously at the hem of her shirt and gathered her things. Taking a deep breath, she made her way into the building and to the receptionists desk.

The young officer behind the desk smiled at her. "Is there something I can help you with, Miss?"

She could feel her earlier nerves starting to resurface. "Um, yes. I'm Yukimura Chizuru and I have an appointment with Chief Kondou."

He clicked through several things on the computer in front of him. "All right, looks like you're good to go. He left a note saying that you could just head on up. Here is a visitor pass, please keep it on at all times, and here is a card that will let you access the elevator."

He handed her a badge and what looked like a hotel keycard. "Chief Kondou's office is on the third floor. Once you exit the elevator, turn left and head straight. You won't be able to miss it."

Clipping the badge to her shirt, she nodded. "Okay, thank you."

That's kind of weird… They were just going to let her wander freely through police headquarters? She somewhat hesitantly approached the elevators and scanned the card, but relaxed when the little light flashed green and the doors opened. This didn't seem too hard. She hit the button for the third floor.

Nothing happened. She hit it again, but it stubbornly remained unlit. Why wouldn't…? Oh... She noticed another card reader located just above the buttons. She scanned the card and this time the button lit up when she pushed it. The doors closed and she could feel the elevator start to rise. She was glad when she reached the third floor and could step out into the hall. Hopefully she wouldn't run into any more problems.

"Okay, left and then straight." She mumbled to herself.

Double checking that she had the right direction, she turned and headed down a wide hallway. On one side, the wall was almost entirely glass and had expansive views of the city, while the other seemed to be broken into several large rooms. She noticed people in them, but didn't pause to try and figure out what they were doing. One room she passed did catch her attention for a brief moment. She was pleasantly surprised to find that they had what appeared to be a full kitchen instead of the usual kitchenette.

Finally she came to a door marked 'Chief of Police: Kondou Isami'. Could this really be his office? Chief Inoue always kept what felt like a fleet of secretaries between him and everyone else. It had been a good day if you only had to explain yourself three times before finally getting in to see him. Well, I won't know unless I try. She took one more steadying breath before knocking on the door and almost immediately heard a voice telling her to come in.

She opened the door to find an older looking man sitting behind a desk. "Ah, you must be Miss Yukimura. I've heard nothing but good things from my cousin about you." He smiled kindly and offered her his hand.

As she hesitantly took it, she couldn't help but ask, "...Your cousin?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm Inoue Genzaburo and Rintaro is my cousin." He motioned toward a door at the opposite end of the room. "Isami is expecting you, so you can head right in."

"Um, thank you."

Okay, so maybe Kondou had one secretary… or at least an assistant. Thankfully unlike Chief Inoue's secretaries, Inoue seemed more like a helpful father/grandfather figure.

She gave herself a mental shake at the thought as she approached the door to Kondou's office. At least in her head, she was going to have to start calling them by their first names if she was going to keep anything straight.

She opened the door to find a man who appeared to be in his early thirties sitting behind a large desk. He immediately stood and smiled as he made his way toward her. Chizuru was surprised by the overwhelming sense of cheerful exuberance that seemed to radiate from him. She'd expected someone more along the lines of a stern disciplinarian, like Rintaro had been.

He extended a hand to her, "You must be Yukimura Chizuru. I am so glad we finally get to meet. I've heard nothing but great things about you."

With a jolt, she realized he was waiting for her to say something. Real smooth, Chizuru. Quickly she took his proffered hand, unable to hold back a smile. "Thank you, I'm honored to be here and hope I can be an asset to your department."

"From what Rintaro told me of what you were able to do for him, I have no doubt you will be a great help to us." He gestured to one of the chairs in front of his desk, "Would you like to sit down?"

"Thank you." She sat in the chair he'd indicated, but was surprised when instead of returning behind his desk, he sat in the other chair beside her, turning it slightly to face her. Some of her confusion must have shown on her face, because his smile slipped slightly.

"Oops, sorry. Toshi is always telling me I need to have more consideration for my position." He moved to get up from the chair, obviously to go sit behind his desk.

"Oh, no! Please, it's not a problem!" He halted and looked at her somewhat quizzically as she blurted the first thing that popped into her head. "Please, I don't mind. In fact it makes you seem more approachable."

His smile beamed back to full brightness as he sat back down in the chair. "That's what I keep telling Toshi. I want my people to be able to come to me for anything," He laughed, "But I guess he wouldn't be Toshi if he wasn't worried about something."

Chizuru had no idea who he was talking about, but his laugh was infectious and she couldn't help a small giggle. He was nothing like she'd expected, but she could easily tell that this was a man she could respect and trust. Someone who didn't let the power of his position get in the way of his care for others.

"Anyway, I'm not sure how much you've heard about what you'd be doing here, but basically we've got a detective team that has been flooded with cases. They've managed to solve most of them, but with the vast number, they could use a second opinion on some of them." He leaned back slightly, his face pensive. "Don't get me wrong, they're my best team, but these cases just seem to be missing one or two key details. And from what I've heard from Rintaro, you are the best when it comes to finding missing details."

She couldn't help the blush that spread across her cheeks. "I don't know about being the best, but I can promise that I will give this my all."

His eyes lit up as he stood. "Wonderful! There will of course be some paperwork for you to fill out, but for now we can start with introducing you to the team!"

She gathered her things, and together they made their way back down the hallway, finally stopping in front of one of the large openings. Down the center of the room were six desks pushed together in two lines of three. The wall space on either side of the opening was filled with filing cabinets and shelves. Against one wall was a couch, but the majority of the wall space was devoted to whiteboards, most of which had photos and notes from different cases. She could also see a door at the back to what she assumed was an office.

While her mind registered all these details, what truly had her attention was the five pairs of eyes that had locked onto her as soon as she had walked through behind Kondou.

A man with spiky brown hair, ice blue eyes, and looking to be in his mid twenties whistled and grinned at her. "Hey, who's the cute girl? You finally get a real secretary, Kondou?"

What?

Almost immediately the red haired man next to him, who had gold eyes and looked to be about the same age, hit him over the back of the head. "Idiot, that's no way to speak about a lady."

"See Shin! This is why women don't like you!"

The man apparently called Shin turned to glare at a… well… young man, if she was being generous, with expressive teal eyes and tousled light brown hair. "Aw shut up Heisuke. You're just jealous that women always fall for my gorgeous muscles!"

A man who seemed only a few years older than her with sharp green eyes and auburn hair, grinned and leaned back in his chair. "Well they certainly don't like you for your brain."

"Oi, not true! My brain is just as fabulous as my muscles. You all are just too dumb to realize my genius!"

Chizuru could only stare at them, her mouth half open and what she was sure was a shocked expression plastered on her face. She felt like she should be upset that he'd assumed she was a secretary, but in a weird way it seemed that the others, especially the red haired man, had already taken care of that for her.

The man next to the one with green eyes was the only one not to have spoken. Like the guy called Heisuke, he looked around her age, but where Heisuke seemed like a boy, he seemed far more mature. His dark blue eyes and expression remained completely neutral as he watched their banter. Well, what she could see of his expression behind his heavy indigo bangs anyway.

His gaze met hers and he gave her a small nod. "Miss Yukimura."

Wait, how did he know my name? Apparently everyone else had the same thought because they all turned to him in surprise.

The man with green eyes raised an eyebrow at him. "You know her Hajime?"

Hajime gave a slight shake of his head. "No, I have never met Miss Yukimura before today."

The man with red hair frowned at him. "If you've never met her, then how do you know her name?"

While Hajime's expression didn't change, something in his tone gave her the impression that he thought it should have been obvious. "The Commander mentioned that the consultant from Chief Inoue's department would be arriving today, and the only consultant working in his department was Miss Yukimura."

The man called Shin turned back to her, his eyes wide and voice rising. "Wait! You're the consultant?!"

Before she could respond, the door at the back of the room slammed open and a loud voice caused all of them, except Hajime, to jump.

"What the hell is going on out here?"

A man stood in the doorway, arms folded and violet eyes narrowed dangerously. He seemed maybe a few years younger than Kondou, but definitely older than any of the other men. She was glad she was on the other side of the room from him. As it was, she still had to fight the urge to flee from the room. What had she gotten herself into?

Kondou laughed awkwardly and rubbed the back of his head. "Ah Toshi, there you are. I wanted to introduce Miss Yukimura here to the team, but we seem to have gotten sidetracked slightly."

His violet eyes focused on her and she felt herself wilt slightly under the weight of his stare before he returned his gaze to Kondou.

"This is her? She's awfully young. Are you sure she's capable?"

Ok, that ticked her off a little bit. He did realize she was right there, right? Sure she was young, short, and honestly lacked most womanly curves, but she wasn't a child. And capable? From the way he'd asked, it had sounded like he was asking if she was literate or something. She opened her mouth, but before she could say anything, Kondou spoke.

"Of course she's capable Toshi! Rintaro told me himself that she's the reason they were able to bring down that drug cartel they'd been trying to root out for years."

She felt her cheeks warm as all eyes focused back on her, some obviously reevaluating, while others just seemed surprised. She noticed that one pair in particular had hardened to sharp green daggers and she felt a small shiver run down her spine. The man Kondou called Toshi snorted lightly. "And you just took his word on that?"

Before Kondou could say anything, she took a hesitant step forward. "I-It's true! I was able to analyze the locations of all they drug related incidents that they had connected to the cartel and used that information to find the epicenter of their distribution. That epicenter led to the discovery of their main lab and drug stores, as well as the arrests of nearly all of the cartel's high ranking members and most of their distributors." She took a deep breath and fought to meet his hard gaze. "Please, I may be young, but I do have a degree in criminal justice and I am capable. If you give me a chance, I will prove I can be useful to you and your team."

For a long moment his violet eyes bored into hers and it took all she had to not look away and stand her ground.

Finally, he gave a sharp nod. "Fine."

Chizuru felt most of the tension leave her shoulders and she let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Kondou, on the other hand, appeared completely oblivious to the tension that had just filled the room and grinned brightly.

"Great! Oh, right. I never actually introduced anyone." He quickly listed off a string of names, gesturing to each man as he went. She could only hope that she would be able to keep them all straight.

The young man with the teal eyes was Toudou Heisuke. Next to him, the man they'd called Shin was Nagakura Shinpachi, and the redhead next to him was Harada Sanosuke. Across from Harada was the impassive Saito Hajime, and next to him was the sharp eyed Okita Souji. Finally the commander of the team, whom Kondou had called Toshi, was Hijikata Toshizo.

Kondou clapped a hand on her shoulder. "I'll be right back with the paperwork you'll need to fill out."