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The case of the Knights of Hanoi is really annoying at best and impossible to solve at worst.

Shouichi has bags under his eyes, downing what's probably the third cup of coffee that night. He's stopped keeping track.

Akira just woke up from his power nap, the second one. "You should sleep."

"Yuusaku said he'll investigate on his own. I don't have time to sleep."

And as much as Shouichi would love to just convince Yuusaku to leave this to the police, it's very clear Yuusaku won't rest until Hanoi are behind bars.

Akira sighs. "You've been staring at the same ten lines of code for the last hour. Let me handle it."

Hell, no.

Shoiuchi narrows his eyes ever so slightly. "I can do this on my own. Can you check in with the newbies?"

Akira frowns and checks his phone. "They're... posting pictures?"

Shouichi laughs lightly, leaning back in his chair a bit for the first time that night. "At least they have a sense of humor."

The newbies and the Barian guys are the single reason why Shouichi can still make jokes about this case.

Personal? Sure, but brooding won't lead him anywhere.

(Meanwhile, Akira's as stiff as a noodle and at this point Shouichi considers buying him a drink, if only so he loosens up a little.)

Strict nap times for maximized output, genuine confusion over people not having secure passwords. An insistence on wearing a suit even when it's just the two of them in Shouichi's shitty apartment.

"Still a textbook cyber security guy, I see."

"Just as much as you're still a hacker."

"Except I switched sides, so it's all legal now. Besides, you're a hacker now, too."

"That's true." Akira lets out a chuckle. He rarely does.

Shouichi slides him the remains of the pizza they'd ordered. "So, are they in there yet?"

'There' being the headquarters of a gun manufacturing company that doubles as the base of operations for the Knights of Hanoi.

Why are we sending newbies there again?

Akira seems to be just as displeased. "Seems so. But it also seems like we won't actually need them."

"Let me guess. Vector and Nasch never needed the distraction?" Those two could probably take care of the case alone if casualties were allowed.

Akira nods. "Given Nasch's background, I'm not surprised."

Shouichi can't help but to be amused. "You're still wary around them, aren't you?"

"You're not?"

"Did you forget who you're talking to?"

Akira's expression looks like he'd bitten into something sour. "Don't remind me."

"Hey, not all criminals are bad people. I bought you pizza." Shouichi nudges Akira a little, causing Akira to drop the pizza on his shirt.

Akira pulls a face at the stain.

"Oh no. Guess you'll have to wear one of my hoodies now," Shouichi says contently.

"That was on purpose, wasn't it?"

"No way, I'd never want my partner to wear something comfortable while working. No way." Shouichi smiles. "Now let's get back to turning those cams off."

~*~

"Hey, I could kill them and blame it on you." Vector fidgets with the gun he stole from a guy Ryouga had previously knocked out.

"Any person with eyes knows that you don't need a criminal record to be the scum of earth," Ryouga hisses, stepping over the trail of unconscious bodies they've been leaving behind themselves.

"Kaito seems to disagree." Vector giggles. "He put us together so I keep in check, you know."

Ryouga audibly crushes a can under his foot. "Kaito can fuck off."

Tenjou 'constantly on solo missions like the giant idiot he is' Kaito.

Ryouga sighs, because Kaito's plan— or the lack thereof— is why they're stuck with the newbies and the guys from Den City.

From above, they hear loud thuds.

Vector wolf whistles. "That Veils guy sure is a loose cannon."

"Seriously, stop encouraging him. We'll end up having to clean up their mess, too." Ryouga kicks open another door with a loud clattering sound.

"It's not like they can possibly fuck up their job, so—"

From above, high-pitched voices. "We're with the police!"

"Are they dumb?" Vector and Ryouga stop to glare at each other for speaking the same words.

They sprint up the stairs, with Vector occasionally trying to make Ryouga trip— 'so that the job isn't too easy'.

"You can try to kill me after we're done here," Ryouga hisses.

"With pleasure." Vector turns on his transmitter. "Are the security cams off?"

From the tiny headpiece, Akira's voice, "Yes. You'll have to hurry though."

Vector turns the transmitter off and slips into the office, dragging Ryouga with him. "Alright, look for evidence that Dr. Kogami is involved with Hanoi. Anything regarding his son is fine, too."

From outside, they can hear one of the new kids— Candles, Ryouga presumes— trying to stop the violence that has started.

"They take the whole distracting thing way too seriously," Ryouga says, pocketing as many incriminating documents as possible.

Vector takes any valuables he sees. "I'm pretty sure Veils just wanted to beat something up."

"Someone has to put him on a leash."

"Isn't that Candles job?"

"Not happening, ever." Ryouga sighs in relief when he finally finds something regarding Hanoi. "We're splitting the proceeds in half."

"You're getting 30%." Vector says, snatching the documents from Ryouga's hands.

They're not supposed to be doing this in the first place, so Vector has an advantage. Ryouga tries anyway. "45%."

"40%."

"As usual, greedy asshole." Ryouga makes a mental note to steal from Vector later. "Let's get out of here."

~*~

"Are you sure this was a good idea?" Candles drags an unconscious body out of the way.

"Absolutely." Over his transmitter, Veils can hear the guys from Den City complaining that they weren't supposed to engage in physical violence this close to public areas. Veils takes the plug out of his ear and crushes it under his foot. "Much better."

He moves in for the punch on the reinforcements.

Candles is less fun about it. He takes out his phone. "—Yeah, he broke it. Don't worry, we're fine. Really. The other two are leaving through the main entrance. No, no casualties. At least not on our end— Veils, please don't use your gun."

Veils barely bothers hiding his annoyance. "No one will notice, this place sells guns. I haven't shot something in forever."

"I'm sure Iron would take you up on a fight once we get back."

"Don't even joke about that."

"Fine, fine." Candles laughs, lowering his own gun he'd had pointed at the staff room— the safety's still on, because this is Candles and when has Candles ever made a serious attempt at killing something?. He looks to the door. "Do you think we should—"

Veils shoves Candles out of the way and knees an incoming attacker in the face. The guy immediately collapses, and Veils smiles in satisfaction before turning back to Candles. "Watch out."

"Thanks, Veils." Candles has that happy-go-lucky grin again.

"No need to thank me. I just wanted to break someone's nose."

Candles' expression makes it obvious that he doesn't buy Veils' bullshit. He barely holds the laughter.

Veils scowls. "I think they gave up already."

"Well, you did say you could handle twenty of them alone."

"Did you doubt it?"

Candles grins. "No. But you should really do something about that cut."

Veils stares at his bleeding hand and rolls his eyes. "I'll do something about it la—"

Of course, Veils doesn't actually get a say in this because Candles simply moves to tie his handkerchief— or rather, Veils' handkerchief which he lent to Candles and never asked to have back— around Veils' hand.

"There we go."

From Candles' phone, Shouichi's voice is on speaker. "Are you guys done? Vector and Nasch are already on the way back. We're getting pizza."

"More pizza, he means." Akira corrects from the side. "By the way, we erased all the camera footage."

The way he says it, it sounds like a scolding.

(It likely is.)

"Let's get going, it's starting to rain."

Veils nods and takes out his umbrella, just for Candles to take it from him. "It's easier if I hold it."

Tall people are terrible.

Veils sighs. "Fine."

~*~

Veils and Candles return to their base of operations— Shouichi's apartment— just to realize the group is one person short.

"Where's Nasch?" Candles tilts his head in curiosity. Veils can guess the answer already, but he says nothing.

"Ditched him." Vector is sprawled across Shouichi's couch, helping himself to some pizza. "But I got all the documents, so it's fine."

As if on cue, the window opens and Ryouga climbs in. "Vector!!"

He leaves a trail of muddy water on the floor as he lunges for Vector, with Vector dodging too fast for this to have been the first time.

Shouichi grabs Ryouga by the hood. "You should eat something first."

Ryouga gives him that look that spells out 'we're-both-adults-don't-baby-me' and sits down to eat anyway, soaking the couch in the process while taking Vector's spot.

Vector sits down next to Ryouga, snatching away the last slice of pizza that doesn't have onions on it.

Ryouga scowls.

Veils sighs. "Can we go?"

Veils can think of a hundred things better than being here. Such as stealing something and going home. He likes to think of himself as not picky. He'd even hang out at Wines' bar if it would allow him to skip out on the incoming lecture.

Of course, life isn't that merciful.

"No. Not yet." Akira makes his best attempt to show authority as their senior investigator. "I know it might seem easier to just beat everything up." He gives Veils and Ryouga a stern look each.

Shouichi continues, almost reluctantly, "Or turn a blind eye on your partner doing it." He looks at Vector and Candles. "But sadly we're professionals, and if we want to remain credible and funded-"

His phone rings and he curses. "You know what I mean. Sorry, I gotta take this." He takes the call. "Yeah, Yuusaku? Yeah, we did fine. So, you didn't do anything rash, right?..."

Akira sighs as Shouichi walks out of the room.

"Jealous?" Vector grins.

"Worried," Akira corrects. "I don't want that boy to get involved even more."

"He's only three years younger than us, you know," Candles points out.

"You shouldn't be doing this, either." Akira clenches his fist.

Vector rolls his eyes. "There he goes again, acting like he's our grandpa."

"What you don't get, Zaizen," Ryouga gets up, causing Vector— who'd been half-leaning on him— to fall over mock-dramatically. "Is that they'd do this regardless of their age. Everyone has their respective reasons to be here. I do. You do. I'm sure even Veils does."

"I don't," says Veils. "I hate this place."

"You could've left long ago, they already think you're reformed." Vector laughs. "But you got attached to your partner."

Veils bites his lip. "I'm going home."

He walks out as graciously as he can manage, and Candles gives an apologizing nod to everyone before following.

Ryouga sighs. "As I was saying. We all have reasons."

Akira nods slowly, then. "What is yours? You could've left long ago, too, right?"

"Isn't that obvious?" Ryouga raises an eyebrow. "These people piss me off. Sitting in their companies, playing with our lives like we're chess pieces. And the police was getting in my way of stopping them, so I figured I'd stay for the time being."

"That's just like you." Vector giggles. "It'll get you killed."

"Before it does, I'll kill you."

"Ooo. Scary."

"You bastard—"

Akira interrupts their argument by nodding. "I see. I don't like it, but I understand it a little better now."

"I'll be going, too, then." Ryouga sneezes.

"Aw, is Nasch having a cold?" Vector giggles.

"Whose fault do you think that is?"

"Yours, for trying to steal my loot."

"You can sleep on the floor tonight." Ryouga pulls Vector up from the couch.

"Loot...?" Shouichi returns to the room.

Vector and Ryouga rush out immediately.

~*~

"These two..." Shouichi sighs. "But they're kind of nice, in a way. Ghost Girl would like them."

Akira laughs lightly. "She would. That's precisely why we can't tell her about them."

"I'm sure she has her ways to find out," Shouichi changes into more comfortable clothes and moves to cleaning the couch.

"I can do that," says Akira, "since I'm sleeping there."

"We already established that I'm taking the couch."

"Why?"

"You're not used to it."

"Kusanagi—"

Shouichi sighs. "First Yuusaku, then you. Why does everyone insist on my last name?"

"Why do you call me by my first name?" Akira takes the cleaning rag from Shouichi's hands.

"Because we're friends, right?"

There's a bit of a pause.

Then Akira smiles. "I think I can be your friend while still calling you Kusanagi."

Shouichi returns the smile ever so slightly. "Should I call you Zaizen then? Zaizen-san."

"Please don't do that." Akira makes a face like he's bitten into something sour.

Shouichi laughs. "Fine, fine, I won't. But I'm taking the couch. And you're calling your sister."

Akira blinks. "Eh?"

"She worries about you."

"But we have to watch the footage we stole from the security cams—"

"That can wait. Your loved ones go first." Shouichi is firm.

Akira nods resignedly and takes out his phone. Then, after a short moment of staring at it, "Thank you. Shouichi."

~*~

"Can't we stop by at Wines' to do something about your wound?" Candles catches up with Veils easily.

"No," Veils says determinedly. "I gotta... go do something."

"I usually don't mind your vigilante justice thing, but you're wounded on your right hand."

Veils doesn't like when people call it a vigilante justice thing. Mostly because he does this for sport. The good deeds are just an irrelevant side-effect.

(He doesn't wanna be lumped in with the likes of Edo Phoenix.)

He never told Candles about this. "How do you—"

"I tend to wake up at night."

"Oh."

Candles laughs it off. "It's fine. So?"

"—Fine." Veils has to acknowledge that Candles is right on this one.

Last time Veils'd hurt his hand, he ended up hospitalized in the night after.

Better not repeat that, getting showered with candles and roses by Candles was terrible.

(Wines and Apples are a bad influence.)

Candles smiles. "Alright, let's go. I'll buy you a drink."

"Black Wings' Absinthe."

"As usual."

~*~

"Jya-jyaan~" A freshly showered Vector greets Ryouga with Ryouga's giant shark-shaped sleeping bag. One of the few things Ryouga didn't steal and actually bought himself.

"Oh god." Ryouga tries to hide the dread in his expression and fails spectacularly, even moreso when he has to sneeze.

(The rain was terrible today.)

"You're not using it and you said anything that's not your bed is fair game, soooo~" Vector proceeds to place the sleeping bag on the floor. "I can take it, right?"

"I hate you." Ryouga sits up in his sleeper sofa and scoots to the right. "Get in here."

"Oh, I'm flattered. How kind of you, Nasch." Vector drops the bag immediately and drops himself on his usual spot to Ryouga's left.

"Where did you find that anyway?" Ryouga doesn't look at Vector.

"In that corner where you throw all your kitsch. You know, the corner with the guitar and the photo album."

"You bastard." Ryouga says it almost casually for his standards, if only to hide he's actually affected.

(There are memories of Rio telling him that even if he goes down the wrong road, she'll support him. Memories of Rio saying that if he does ever buy anything, it should be shark merch.

Memories of deciding to break off contact with Rio to avoid her getting into even more trouble due to Ryouga's issues with the Arclights.

But Rio is fine now. That's what matters.)

"Everyone knows you're a softie." Vector laughs.

"Fuck you." Ryouga turns around, giving Vector an angry look.

Vector smirks. "An invitation?"

"I'll kill you one day."

"You wouldn't. You have no deaths to your name, but countless stories of you saving street children."

"You did your research."

"You clearly didn't, if you're still partnered up with me."

Got you, asshole. Now it's Ryouga's turn to smirk. "I did. Your name's Shingetsu Rei, ran away from a rich home ten years ago. At the same time, a bunch of crimes ranging from vandalism to murders started up, all marked with the greek letter gamma. That continued for eight years, then they stopped. One year later, you showed up at our department."

Vector blinks, then he sits up slightly. "—Then why? Are you stupid?"

"You're a bastard. An annoying bastard. But a competent bastard. That's enough."

"How eloquent."

"One more comment about that and I'm smashing your face in."

"How forward."

Vector doesn't move when Ryouga punches the spot left from his head, leaning over him.

Ryouga scowls, Vector giggles.

"You expected me to dodge, right?"

"You—"

"Weak, Nasch, weak." Vector pushes Ryouga back down to his spot. "Odds are you're into this."

Ryouga raises an eyebrow. "You're the one straddling me."

"Oh no, I'm straddling you, whatever shall we do?"

"You shutting up would be cool."

Vector leans in and stops before Ryouga's lips, his bangs in Ryouga's face. "Now what?"

"Not tonight." Ryouga speaks quietly.

(Too cold to be in the mood. Running in the rain didn't do him any good.)

Vector rolls his eyes and plants his head on Ryouga's chest. "Boring."

Ryouga pulls the blanket over himself and Vector. I should steal more, he muses, given how cold it is. He pauses for a bit.

Then. "Do they know you're here?"

"Probably." Vector doesn't look at Ryouga. "Why else would I take up a job?"

"Then make it less obvious who you are. If I can find out, anyone can." Ryouga absentmindedly runs his fingers through Vector's hair. "Dye your hair or something."

"Hey, listen, I switched back to my natural hair color so this place takes me." Vector talks into Ryouga's shirt.

"They took me despite the three investigations that run against me."

"You've never killed."

"Veils has."

"He's only 19."

"You haven't killed me yet, and they have proof you haven't."

"Actually, that's not a terrible idea. Does that mean I only get to kill you if I quit the job?" Vector looks up, grinning.

"Yeah." Ryouga is not satisfied with that insurance, but it's better than nothing. "Well, you get to try."

Vector scowls. "I'll make you choke on those words."

"It's still a while 'til then. Tell Kusanagi I'm skipping tomorrow."

"But I'm skipping, too."

"Then call him and tell him we're skipping. You always disappear before I get up anyway."

"Stop making me sleep on the floor and I'll consider it."

"I made you sleep on the floor once."

"Once too often." Vector digs his nails into Ryouga's sides, if only to inconvenience him.

Ryouga tugs at his hair to stop him. "I'm too tired for this shit. Shut up and sleep."

Vector actually does shut up for once.

—Doesn't shut up for long.

"You won't rat me out, right?"

"I've known about this for ages, why would I rat you out now? The only one who'd do that is you."

"You might be right about that." Then, quietly, "Thanks, Nasch."

"Don't get mushy." Ryouga ruffles Vector's hair, if only to annoy him.

"Fuck you, Nasch."

"Good night, Vector."