It always started with a murder. Kurogane could pin-point the moments of greatest change in his life, and without fail, it always came down to murder. Losing his parents when he was barely into his teens had changed his life in ways he was still trying to make sense of. The first case he’d been drawn into had been full of missing children and twisted motives, but enough to start him on the path toward justice. And... today.
Years ago, perhaps, a detective’s job would include murder on a fairly regular basis. But in the technology-ridden world of today, getting away with murder was nearly impossible. And as such, all the more rare. He usually dealt in drugs, human trafficking (apparently even androids weren’t enough for some people’s appetites), and embezzlement scandals. A murder was a change of pace.
Bots of all sizes surrounded the corpse, documenting every detail, even if the cause of death was obvious. A sword protruded from the dead man’s chest, oversized, ornamental, and clearly part of the expensive decor. The man lay still, dressed just as lavishly as the office around him; designer suit, tasteful jewelry, dark hair worn long and unbound. Kurogane had seen his face on the news often enough. Ashura had been the CEO of Celes Corp, a business that thrived on cutting edge technology, marketing to a greedy public. He was still young, couldn’t have been older than his mid-forties, though he barely looked that. More of his magical tech at work, no doubt.
Even the room itself was an exercise in frustration. Though lavishly decorated and full of hidden cameras, not a single one had captured the footage of the last few hours. Of course, someone who dealt dirty business wouldn’t want all of his transactions documented, but the power outage had spread throughout much of the building, leaving a number of entrances and escape routes for the perpetrator. Best technology in the world, but so much useless junk if it wasn’t turned on. Not to mention the number of secret safe rooms and passageways he was sure the staff hadn’t told him about. He’d bet money there was some twisting bookcase or sliding wall panel hidden among all the finery.
Kurogane sniffed, the air an odd mix of cleanser and blood. The body hadn’t been more than a few hours old when they found it, for all that it would help him. Ashura had more enemies than he had designer automobiles(and he had an awful lot of those). The deceased man’s family was at the top of the list; his estranged wife Shashi had plenty to gain, as did his child(also named Ashura), inheritor of the family name. The Reed clan was full of prime suspects as well. Ashura Sr. had been known to do business with Fei Wong Reed on a fairly regular basis, and Clow Reed had been known to lurk about on more than one occasion. Add to that any number of dissatisfied employees, slighted family, or former friends, and there was a whole lot of headache to be had.
There was a witness, at least, though the frail-looking blond had yet to be very helpful. He was too shaken by the murder to get more than a few words, according to the others on the scene. He’d been the one who’d found the body, called in a panic, and let the medical teams in to finally declare it a crime scene. Fai Valeria, initial ID scan provided. There hardly any intel on him, save for a few mentions of family. His only living relative was his twin brother, Yuui, and both had been employed by Celes Corp for nearly a decade.
What business Fai had after hours in the CEO’s office, well, Kurogane could hazard a guess. Fai was beautiful in such an obvious way, it was almost like a physical blow. Scanning the profile included in the initial report brought up by his Celes Corp credentials, Fai’s golden hair and playful eyes made him seem like the sort of person who was in constant mischief.
Kurogane sighed, leaving the bots to their analysis. In a few hours they’d have a 3d rendered simulation of a dozen possible scenarios, so following up with their witness was as good a place as any to start. The room scans would take at least another hour before they were complete enough to begin processing. A computer’s memory was solid fact, but a human’s memory was a fickle thing. It was best to get an account before Fai had time to forget the details of his account of it.
Fai was sitting quietly in one of the office building’s break rooms, the situation seemingly casual save for the officer watching the door. The officer on scene gave Kurogane a nod as he walked by the entrance. The break room was spacious, modern, clearly part of one of the higher-up departments. Fai sat on a comfortable-looking couch, looking forlornly at the ground, one hand running through his hair, the other clutching a disposable coffee cup. His clothing was the wrinkled remains of yesterday’s business-wear. A pair of fitted slacks, a once-crisp white dress-shirt, now unbuttoned to the collarbone as well as at the wrists, and a dark blue vest.
“Just Fai,” came the quiet response. It wasn’t until he looked up that Kurogane caught sight of the unnatural heterochromia. Fai’s ID clearly hadn’t caught up with a recent body modification. The photo he’d seen, and the brief glimpse, had shown Fai with a matched pair of blue eyes, but the man before him had a gleaming gold left eye. Interesting. He didn’t seem the sort to go for extreme body mods, so perhaps it was an injury? A sickness? Much as he wanted to ask, it was unlikely it had anything to do with the case at hand. Besides, Fai’s eyes were red-rimmed, clearly he’d had an emotional time of things, and staring was… probably rude.
Kurogane grunted acknowledgement, though he didn’t use man’s casual first name. “I have some questions. Do you… need another coffee?”
At that, Fai seemed to realize how tightly he’d been holding the disposable cup, and quickly set it on the table in front of him. “Oh. No,” he said once, then again, more firmly, “no. If I have any more, I won’t sleep for a week. Please, have a seat, Detective…?”
“Kurogane,” he replied, taking the wrinkled cup away and brewing one for himself.
“Kurogane,” Fai repeated, seeming to taste it on his tongue in a way that made the detective glad he was occupied with the task of making coffee. “Is that a family name? Or given?”
“It’s not important,” Kurogane turned finally, setting his own coffee on the stylish table before settling himself onto a chair opposite Fai. He pulled his phone from his pocket and set it to record, in a way that was obvious to both parties before continuing. The little device scanned the room as they spoke with invisible infrared light, taking note of every small detail from Fai’s appearance, to his heart rate as Kurogane questioned him.
“Why were you here last night?”
“Straight to the point,” Fai swallowed nervously, holding his arms across his chest in a way that was surely meant to keep them from shaking. “I… it...”
“Don’t think about what happened after,” Kurogane stated, meeting his eyes, “right now, I just want to know why you were there.”
“It… was not... uncommon for me to meet the chairman… after his business for the day had ended,” Fai was unable to make eye contact at that, a clear guilty conscience and Kurogane had only a moment’s satisfaction at guessing correctly.
“I… am sure people will say so,” Fai let out a slow breath, flinching at the thought. Kurogane couldn’t imagine the man lasting long under media scrutiny. Not like this. And though Ashura had been separated from Shashi for close to… 7 years according to a quick search, it wouldn’t stop reporters from smelling blood in the water.
The question did nothing to ease Fai’s discomfort. He didn’t have to search for a number, but he pretended to, Kurogane noticed, before reciting it to him.
“Just over a year.”
So, a while, but nothing going back before Ashura had separated from his wife. Slightly less scandalous then.
“Did you notice anything strange, on your way to his office tonight?” Kurogane changed topics, moving on to more relevant information.
Kurogane took a slow sip, flinching. It still too hot, so he set the cup back down, “anything. A light was out, no one on guard, it was too quiet, Thursdays he only wears green, how the hell should I know? Anything that seemed off, out of the ordinary.”
“I… I’m not sure. I thought everyone had left for the day. It was getting close to eleven and I- I mean- the security were still on duty, but… they know me. It’s not uncommon for the tech department to have late nights. My brother and I-”
Kurogane cleared his throat, noticing the change in topic, and waited for Fai to correct it. He took the hint, luckily.
“A… anyway. I came up, heard Ashura talking, in his office, so I waited in the parlor- ah… the waiting room, I mean, just outside the office. I must’ve dozed off in my chair, I don’t remember much after that.”
What a spectacular witness this was turning out to be. Kurogane sighed, “nothing, no footsteps, no other voices, nothing that sounded like a struggle?”
Fai shook his head, “when I woke up, it was still. So still I could hear the clock ticking near the door.”
“Do you remember the time the clock showed?”
Fai nodded, “It was almost three. It’s been a long week, I must’ve been exhausted, I just-”
“And that’s when you opened the door?” Kurogane continued.
Fai nodded faintly. It added up. The call was placed at 3:02 in the morning, it was nearly seven now. He’d gotten called in just before five, though it wasn’t much earlier than his usual time to rise.
It left four hours unaccounted for. Four hours was more than enough time to murder someone, set the scene any way they liked, and be well on their way before Fai so much as stirred.
“Did you eat or drink anything? Are you a heavy sleeper?” The murder weapon had ripped all the way through the CEO, puncturing his heart and lung, leaving him to die slowly in a pool of his own blood. There was no dying message, no name in blood, but there were signs of a struggle throughout the office. Furniture up-ended, broken glass, oddly little around the body though, pinned to the floor in the middle of the room. Perhaps an argument had…
As if in tune with his thoughts, Fai began tugging at his sleeve, working the cuff’s button through in an effort to put himself back together. Kurogane’s hand shot forward, grabbing the wrist and rolling up the sleeve. There were bruises on his arm. Recent.
“When did you get these?”
“Before I got here.” A lie, he could sense the slight shift in mannerisms, the odd levity in Fai’s voice.
“Clumsy really. I tripped over a waste-bin and landed wrong. Had to go back and change my shirt,” Fai explained, shaking his wrist free with a tug that surprised Kurogane for how frail the man seemed. He’d heard these sort of excuses before, too many times to let it show on his face.
“So you were… running late?”
Fai took the excuse gratefully and ran with it, “ah- yes, a bit, you know, didn’t want to show up looking a mess.”
“But… you didn’t think that was worth mentioning as out of the ordinary,” Kurogane finished, one eyebrow raised, the first hint of suspicion in his voice.
With impossible timing, another figure appeared at the door, panting with exertion.
They really were identical, Kurogane mused. It was obvious who the newcomer was, he and Fai shared the same face, afterall. Even if Yuui wore his hair longer, in a single plait down his back, and still had both vibrant blue eyes.
“Fai! Are you alright?”
Before Kurogane could muster a protest, Yuui rushed in, squeezing his brother tightly, checking him over for injuries(though he was less experienced at hiding his tells when he saw his brother’s bruises). He looked closely at Fai’s face, matching his blue stare for a moment before finally turning to acknowledge the detective.
“Ah- my apologies Detective...”
“Kurogane,” he said once again. It was eerie how similarly they spoke.
“Detective Kurogane,” this repetition was different, at least, and Kurogane let out a sigh that was something like relief.
“I came in early to check on- and there were all the police vehicles. I thought the worst. Gods, I’m glad you’re alright, I was so worried,” Yuui said in a rush, squeezing his brother once more.
“You look a mess brother,” Yuui continued, not allowing his brother to do more than open his mouth for a brief second. “let’s get you home and-”
“I’m not finished,” Kurogane said at last, with something like a harumph.
“You’re not… oh,” Yuui seemed to take a moment to wrap his mind around the situation. Fai hadn’t said a word since his brother arrived.
“I’d like to ask a few more questions. We’re in the middle of an investigation here.”
“Investigating what? A break-in? Burglary? Surely you don’t think that Fai had anything to do with it. He-”
“I’m not at liberty to disclose that yet,” Kurogane hedged. Yuui seemed to bristle at that, glancing between Kurogane and Fai with suddenly narrowed eyes.
“What happened?” Yuui repeated, softer this time.
“I told you not to-” Kurogane growled.
“Ashura,” Fai interrupted, wilting by the second as each word escaped. “He-... Someone… He’s dead Yuui.”
Yuui stood in stunned silence, while Kurogane gauged the reaction. How much was an act? Did Yuui know anything his brother didn’t?
Fai nodded, burying his face in his hands, eyes squeezed tightly shut. Yuui looked with disbelief at Kurogane.
“You can’t think- You can’t believe that Fai had anything to do with this!” Yuui’s voice was rising in pitch, stress and worry evident.
In point of fact, Kurogane did not think Fai could murder a muffin, let alone murder his former lover, but the truth remained, there were some very suspicious parts of Fai’s story.
“Please just- can’t you see how upset he is? Let me take him home and rest and then- then you can ask anything you like. But not now. Not… not so soon after… this.” Yuui looked up with pleading eyes and while Kurogane believed even less of what this twin said, the care for his brother, at least, seemed real. Whatever he was doing, it was in Fai’s best interest. It went against his better judgement, but he had to admit, he too felt protective toward the disheveled blond. Just a tiny bit.
“If you remember anything else,” Kurogane ignored Yuui, instead reaching out toward Fai with a business card in hand. A flick of it saved his personal data to Fai’s phone, and he reached out to put a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder.
* * * * *
It was a couple hours before the bots finished with the scene and a flood of information hit his desk all at once. Cause of death- obvious, time of death- estimated to be close to midnight, and a few minor details about the rough state of the room, the last few calls Ashura had taken, when the security footage had cut out…
The computer’s 3D simulation was confusing as well. It seemed uncertain whether some of the room’s mess had been caused by a prior altercation or the one that led to Ashura’s death. Apparently his office had seen a lot of activity that night.
Either Fai was an incredibly good actor, or a completely misleading tangent in this case. Fai had opportunity, but no motive that he could place. Ashura’s enemies had motive in spades, and yet he couldn’t place a single one definitely at the scene. And the list of calls Ashura took was practically a checklist of murder suspects. Shashi, of course, stood to gain her husband’s company, Fei Wong Reed had a handful on insiders already stealing Celes Corp secrets, and Ashura’s progeny had a fortune to inherit in the very near future.
He drew up a list of people to speak with, starting with Ashura’s wife, child, and a few members of the Reed clan. He needed a lead. Anything. The family was likely to approve a meeting, but the Reeds were notoriously difficult to arrange anything with. Kurogane let out a slow breath. It was going to be a long day.
* * * * *
It was still morning when Kurogane pulled into the lot where both Shashi and Ashura’s namesake lived. The place was just as posh as he’d thought; Ashura had been one of the wealthiest men in the country, so it was no surprise that his family, even estranged, would have the best of the best of everything.
The murder was less than 12 hours old, and he was certain they hadn’t leaked any details to the media circus waiting outside Celes Corp. It didn’t give him much time, but the sooner he could speak to the suspects, the less time they’d have to surround themselves with lies and alibis. The more honest their reactions, the easier it would be to find the killer.
Or so he told himself. The downside, of course, was that he had to break the news to the family. There were many other officers and detectives better suited to that sort of sympathy, and the prospect of dropping that bombshell on the family didn’t exactly sit well, but then, neither did murder.
“Detective,” a well-dressed woman greeted him at the door, bade him sit in a waiting room, and set a polite offering of tea in front of him before scurrying off to her next task. He sipped the drink, appreciating the mild flavor for a moment before his hosts arrived.
Lady Shashi arrived moments later. The woman had the same opulent beauty that had adorned Ashura’s office. Dressed in a flowing blouse that belted at the waist to complement her slim figure, and a simple skirt to balance the look, jewelry accenting wrists and necklines, Shashi commanded the room with her presence and seated herself opposite Kurogane.
“Good morning Detective,” she began, folding her hands in her lap.
Kurogane gave a brief nod of acknowledgement, “is Ashura-”
“I’m afraid Ashura is visiting Lecourt with Yasha and Tennou. They won’t return until next week ”
“Ah.” A possible alibi, depending on when the younger Ashura had departed. The response certainly seemed rehearsed.
“I don’t mean to rush you, but if you could get to the point, Detective, I have a number of things to get back to,” she added.
“I intend to,” he began, hoping to get a bit more from her before she figured out exactly why he was here. He flashed his badge, then set up the recording device in his phone like he had for Fai. Let the suspect incriminate themselves if it came to that. “I just need to know where you were last night. Around eleven?”
Lady Shashi ran a manicured finger over her jawline, eying the device and considering the question. It was difficult to tell if she was crafting a lie, or just considering how much to divulge. Perhaps a bit of both.
“Did something happen?” she feigned concern, but it couldn’t be the first time their family had been investigated. It was, no doubt, better for them to play innocent, to draw out the information first so they could better hide behind their lies.
“Can anyone verify your whereabouts at eleven last night?” he re-phrased the question, tightening his jaw in irritation. He’d never been great at hiding his tells when he grew frustrated.
“Such a late hour, well… It’s no secret that my husband and I are no longer close, so I wouldn’t have been with him,” she explained, relaxing ever so slightly into her chair as she spoke. “I was with my lover, Taishakuten. He can, of course, corroborate that.”
Great, of course, complicated affairs everywhere. Why not just get a divorce? Rich people were so difficult to understand at times. At the end of the day it would always be about money.
“I’ll need to speak to him as well then,” Kurogane nodded.
“About? You’ve yet to tell me what crime you think I’m guilty of Detective.”
“I’m here investigating a murder,” he replied bluntly. If she was going to push for the cold facts, so be it.
“Who?” Her nails drummed quietly on the leather of the sofa.
The drumming stopped. Was it surprise? Or only an act? This job made one grow so cynical of human emotion, doubting himself and others constantly. It was… exhausting.
“I see,” her voice was quiet, a measure of the acid gone from her tone. Kurogane wasn’t heartless, he knew how difficult it was to lose a loved one, even if they had grown apart. Whether there was regret in her tone now, he’d let the computers analyze and decide.
“As unfortunate as it is, you see now why it’s important to take a statement. The sooner we can narrow our scope, the sooner we can have… closure on the matter,” Kurogane managed to sound halfway sympathetic.
Shashi nodded, though she hadn’t gone back to drumming her fingers just yet. It was entirely possible she was surprised by the news. Kurogane continued, pushing for names of possible suspects, where she and Taishakuten had met for their little tryst, and the whereabouts of the younger Ashura. The woman was surprisingly compliant and it was hard not to wonder if she was already mentally counting the fortune she might inherit. There was surprisingly little to go on despite how much information she shared.
It was well into the afternoon as he left Lady Shashi’s estate, but he hadn’t made it more than a few blocks away in his cruiser when his phone began to buzz with an incoming call. He expected one of the other detectives, perhaps the Chief, but it was-
“Fai?” he couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice and quickly set his cruiser to let the AI engine drive while he took the call.
“Detective,” Fai’s voice was relieved, a bare hint of a smile on his lips. Kurogane gave out his contact information often enough on assignment, but it was rare that someone took him up on it. It didn’t hurt that Fai was easy on the eyes too.
“Did you uh...” This was becoming a problem. Get it together Detective. “Remember something?”
“Can I meet you somewhere?” Fai kept glancing off-screen as if he were worried someone might hear the conversation. That alone was enough to prick Kurogane’s interest.
“The police station-” Kurogane started.
“I don’t think I better. Somewhere private maybe?”
As requests went, it wasn’t the strangest thing a witness had wanted, and he knew several places away from prying eyes. With a case as high-profile as this one, discretion was the better option anyway.
“Cat’s Eye?” the detective suggested.
Fai seemed taken aback that Kurogane knew of the place, but slowly shook his head, “too many people know me there.”
Huh. Just what kind of person was Fai really? Kurogane shrugged and ran through a list in his head. He wasn’t trusting enough to let Fai choose a place, rookie mistake that, and somewhere he could reach first would be best.
“Piffle Suites then,” he offered. Kurogane was well acquainted with the owner. The Piffle company was nearing a monopoly in the fashion industry, so they’d moved on to other businesses. While the name was saccharine sweet, the accommodations were decently refined. And it wouldn’t be difficult to bother Tomoyo into letting him use a room for a bit.
“Send me a text with the room number,” Fai nodded, eyes catching to the left as muffled voices began to shout, “I have to go, I’ll meet you there.”
“Wait!” Kurogane shouted, but the connection was already lost. Of course. He sighed, adding the call to his evidence inventory and setting a program to trace the location of the call or glean what it could from the background to identify where he’d called from. The call replayed quietly as he pulled up his contact list and selected the one marked, “Princess.”
Girl was a tech genius, even if fashion was her passion. She’d locked the name in as her contact info within seconds of toying with his phone. Luckily, they were also childhood friends and her sometimes spoiled antics didn’t bother him as much as they used to. (not sure i like this bit)
Twenty minutes later, after a quick change in route calculations, his cruiser pulled up at the Piffle Suites. He ignored the valet; there was far too much sensitive information in the car’s onboard computer to let just anyone drive, then parked and locked up the car in the underground lot. Another twenty minutes and a minor headache later, he’d called in a favor and Tomoyo had granted him one of the nicer rooms.
Luxury wasn’t his thing, but he could appreciate the spacious room and tasteful decor. Furniture was a bit too soft for Kurogane’s liking, but he slouched into the nearest chair and sent off a series of texts. Checking in with the bureau, uploading the new data from Lady Shashi’s interview, and letting Fai know what room he was in.
While Shashi’s alibi was lukewarm at best, she didn’t seem the sort to dirty her own hands. No, if she’d wanted Ashura dead, she would have hired someone. Her not-so-secret lover was a lot more likely a suspect. The man who’d seduced Ashura’s wife away? Probably didn’t have the nicest feelings toward her husband.
He’d been lost in thought for a good couple of hours, reviewing the data as it came in from the scene, forensics analysis, data on the outage, when he heard a faint tapping at his door. With a grunt, he pulled himself up from the too-soft couch and checked the outside monitors before pulling the door open.
If Fai was attractive after a sleepless night, given time to tidy up, he was stunning. His blond hair was just short enough for a messy tousle to be considered a proper style, his mis-matched eyes were more alluringly mysterious than troubling, and his clothing was perfectly tailored to highlight his trim figure.
When the door opened, Fai didn’t hesitate, he darted into the room with enough force to push Kurogane back a couple steps. Fai cast a suspicious glance at the hallway behind him before quickly shutting the door and fumbling at the lock until he heard the satisfyingly loud click of the inner mechanisms.
It was only then that Fai seemed to visibly relax. Kurogane could imagine a number of things had him on edge, but the specifics, well, that’s what they were meeting about, wasn’t it?
“Have a seat. I think this place uh- there’s drinks in the mini fridge if you want,” it’d been years since Kurogane had played host. Usually someone else took care of this sorta shit. He wasn’t exactly customer service material.
“I… I’ll be fine,” Fai seemed to heavily consider the offer of alcohol, despite finally declining. Guy looked like a bit of a lightweight anyway. Probably best to get a statement while he was sober.
“So…?” Kurogane took a seat, gesturing to the empty one opposite him. Fai had come here with purpose, the only witness and subsequently primary suspect. He didn’t believe for a moment that Fai could have done something so brutally violent, but people could surprise you.
Fai hesitated only briefly.
“I know it had all the ear-markings of a lovers’ secret tryst, but I went there last night with… the intent to break things off. W-with Ashura.”
Kurogane only nodded, resting his elbows on his knees and his chin on his knuckles. If that were true, he thought it much more likely that Fai would have been the one found on the hard marble floors, a knife protruding from his chest. And yet…
“There was too much going on. He was never going to fully break from Shashi and… his temper could be difficult to deal with,” Fai continued.
Kurogane hadn’t forgotten the bruising on Fai’s wrist or the other textbook mannerisms that spoke of an abusive relationship, but he didn’t comment, not yet. If what he said was true, Fai had already been prepared for the death of the relationship, though probably not the physical death of the man himself. It made sense, why Fai seemed to be struggling to find a middle ground for his emotions. At the scene, others had deemed him barely responsive, yet at times he’d seemed almost light-hearted. Relief was battlings with grief with no obvious winner.
“Why last night?” the detective asked, when a few moments of silence had passed. Everyone had a limit. What had pushed Fai far enough to put an end to things?
Fai was wringing his hands in his lap. His expression was clearly pained by Ashura’s death and yet, guilt (perhaps?) for what he’d been there to do? Regret for something he’d said? Last words were a powerful thing.
“It started about a couple weeks ago. We had a big fight that time. The biggest I can really recall. I told myself I wouldn’t...”
Fai started, but shook his head, “Yuui told me I wouldn’t… couldn’t tolerate that any longer. Made me promise.”
It made sense. Yuui had seemed protective, even in the few words they’d exchanged. Brothers were close, twins had to be even…
“But that was two weeks ago. It took a while to… talk yourself into it? For Yuui to convince you?”
Fai gave a helpless smile that faded far too quickly. “A little of both.”
“It’s easier to believe that someone will change… than it is to change yourself,” Fai added.
Easier to be complacent with a bad situation, because change was scary. Easier to believe that someone else really would change, that things would get better, that someone would come to their rescue and force change upon them all. But they rarely realized the change had already happened. Change had pulled them from loved ones, family, friends. Change was jealous and kept a smile on the outside while dark things waited beneath. Change was constant. One could fight it, dig out their own happiness in the world, or one could be drowned in it, pulled to the bottom feeling like there was nowhere left to go.
“You’re already changing,” Kurogane offered, attempting reassurance. Even if it had taken a murder to start it along, change was unavoidable now.
“Let’s hope it’s for the better,” Fai shook his head, as if to shake Kurogane’s words of comfort from him. “After that big fight, I… I shouldn’t have, but I let it go. He promised things would get better.”
Fai sighed, running fingers through his hair. “They didn’t. Less than a week and it escalated again. But...”
“But?” Kurogane urged.
“I stood up to him,” Fai’s voice dropped a level, as if unsure if he’d done the right thing. “Made a… demand of sorts.”
Kurogane snorted, “of sorts? That’s some diplomatic bullshit.”
Fai seemed to startle at the description, a confused smile reaching his lips briefly, “Yes, well. I suppose you’re right. I told him, unequivocally, that if he raised hand against me again, that was it. I’d leave.”
Kurogane was impressed. Standing up to one of the most powerful men in the country had to be terrifying. He wouldn’t discount that. Fai seemed pretty helpless, but…
“No shit? Good for you,” Kurogane’s grin turned ever so slightly wolfish. Assholes who picked on those weaker than themselves were the worst of the worst. If you wanted to show your strength, you picked strong opponents. Not the weak.
Fai was even more surprised by this new declaration, and a blush began to pink around his cheekbones. He seemed ill-accustomed to praise, despite his beauty.
“And? Did he?” Kurogane asked.
“No,” Fai frowned, “he… threatened Yuui.”
Ah. Even those that wouldn’t stand up for themselves would stand up for their loved ones. Kurogane chided himself for not expecting that. The admission alone seemed to dredge up shame and more guilt on those small shoulders. He wanted to give Fai a shake and tell him it wasn’t his fault that Ashura threatened his family. That he’d been doing the right thing to leave, but Kurogane knew he was shit at that sort of thing. He’d probably go in for a comforting shoulder-squeeze and end up ruffling the man’s hair. Also tempting.
“And when was that?”
“A couple of days ago? No, 3 days now,” Fai recalled.
Kurogane was fairly sure it was truth, that or a compelling act. The blond was no doubt keeping some things from him, leaving things out of the narrative, but…
“And that’s it? That’s what you came here to tell me?” It was a question, not an accusation, though he couldn’t be sure how Fai would take it. There was something else. Who was he worried would see him here, after all?
The question was enough to startle Fai into a momentary silence and Kurogane had to hope he wasn’t using the opportunity to weave any half-assed lies.
“You’re more intuitive than I gave you credit for, Detective,” Fai admitted, trying a smile to deflect the serious nature of the conversation. He gave a sigh and finally leaned back in his seat, unbuttoning the first few buttons of his dress shirt. Kurogane tried very hard not to find it distracting. He covered his failure by taking a long drink from his water glass.
“The Reed corporation has been a thorn in Ashura’s side for well over a decade,” Fai began, glancing up at Kurogane with a helpless sigh. “So, it should also be no surprise that the moment they found out about my… affair, they were keen to use any knowledge I might have been… privy to and-”
“You were spying for them?” Now that was a surprise. He’d known the blond was too good to be true, but he wouldn’t have thought him to be quite that conniving. If he was capable of coldly selling his lover out then-
“No! I-” Fai shook his head, and Kurogane tried very hard not to feel guilty about the suddenly stricken look Fai was giving him. “It wasn’t like that.”
“I wouldn’t have done that,” Fai emphasized. “I mean. I refused their offers, ignored them. It wasn’t until what happened with Yuui that- I wanted to make sure that… that even if things ended with me and Ashura, that Yuui’s career wouldn’t be in jeopardy. I won’t say that the Reeds didn’t have plenty of leverage and blackmail, but Ashura had his own in kind. I wanted to make sure that whatever happened, that… that Yuui’s work would be appreciated, that he could continue doing what he loves.”
Well, it gave him plenty of reason to both suspect and trust Fai, but instead left him somewhere in-between. “Do the Reeds know about…”
Fai shook his head, “I’ve only spoken with you. And Yuui, of course, but he wouldn’t- we don’t have secrets between us.”
Kurogane could have easily guessed as much, but instead he just nodded. “And, have they contacted you since… the incident?”
“The murder?” Fai clarified, trying for light-hearted and ending up somewhere between anxiety and nervous laughter. It took a moment for him to catch himself and settle on a neutral smile. “From what I can tell, they suspect, but haven’t confirmed anything yet. I… haven’t replied. N-not that that’s abnormal based on my history with them but then-”
The pieces of information began settling into a picture, if a vague one. Why would Fai insist on meeting with him when all it did was add a motive? He was already at the top of the suspect list, as the only one they could currently prove was there, but now there was motive too. First, protecting his brother, second, compensation from the Reeds. Whether his involvement with the Reeds was as innocent as he made it out to be or not, it looked bad. And for what? To protect his brother? A guilty conscience? Fai would certainly make a perfect scapegoat if things started to look suspicious on Lady Shashi or the Reed corporation.
But now, according to Fai, the Reeds still didn’t know about Ashura’s untimely death. If that were true, now was as good a time as any to strike.
“Would they meet with you, if you requested it?”
Once again it seemed he’d caught the blond off-guard. Good. Maybe it would force more of the truth to come forward.
“Ah- well. I mean, yes, I… I would think so...” Fai didn’t seem to relish the idea in the slightest.
“Do it,” Kurogane narrowed his eyes, though there was no hostility under his crimson glare. “If your involvement is an innocent as you say, it could clear you of suspicion.”
Fai seemed unconvinced, “how?”
“If they think Ashura is still alive, they’ll still try to cut a deal with you, barter for information, that sorta thing,” Kurogane explained, setting his glass down and gesturing mildly with his other hand. “If they know he’s dead, well...”
“Well?!” Fai seemed immediately distressed by the second outcome.
“One of two things. If they think you had something to do with it, they probably won’t want anything to do with you,” Kurogane shrugged, “except maybe to congratulate you.”
“And if they know he’s dead and know it wasn’t me, they’re a likely suspect,” Fai reasoned, “which is exactly why I have been taking great pains to avoid them since. You think I don’t realize how bad it looks to be the only witness? If it was the Reeds, they’re not going to let me leave alive, not if they think I saw something.”
Fai seemed to be taking that fact awfully well. It wasn’t in Kurogane’s nature to put his witnesses in danger like this, but Fai had already made at least a few connections, he already understood the risk. He’d refused to come to the station where they might be able to offer more protection and instead came to Kurogane directly.
“That’s why I’ll be coming too.”
Fai looked incredulous and it was hard to tell with him if that meant good or bad. He started to shake his head, but Kurogane persisted.
“It’s my job. I’ve done undercover work before, it’ll be fine,” he hoped.
It took a few hours of planning to convince Fai, and even then it was a messy, flying by the seat of their pants sort of plan, but the other option was accepting that Fai really was to blame and somehow that just felt… wrong.
They set the meeting for tomorrow afternoon and while reports were sure to be out on Ashura’s death by then (they could only keep it quiet for so long), he still felt reasonably confident in what they might find out. It was risky, but he’d have backup nearby to help if things went badly. It was… enough.
That just left them with what to do with tonight. Fai was apprehensive about leaving the suite before their meeting, and if he was being honest with himself, Kurogane didn’t want to just leave Fai alone in the untested safety of Tomoyo’s hotel, no matter how fancy it might be. It wouldn’t be odd to treat the situation the same as he might a witness staying at a safehouse before they had to testify.
“It’s probably better if you stay here,” Kurogane offered, waiting on Fai’s response, but preparing a few arguments just in case he wasn’t convinced.
“Oh-” Fai took the invitation with what looked like relief, “yes, that’s… that’s fine.”
“I’ll be up a bit later, I have to file these reports and- anyway, go ahead and take the bed.”
A good hour passed in relative silence as Fai got ready for bed and Kurogane made good on his reports and read up on new ones. Ashura’s autopsy was back and while the cause of death hadn’t changed, there was an injury he hadn’t anticipated. The man had been hit in the back of the head before death. Knocked out most likely. The flat of the blade that murdered him had a couple residual marks. So the murderer had used the blade to render him unconscious before stabbing him through the heart.
It made a lot more sense, but also uncomfortably raised suspicions in his key witness. Before, he’d thought someone would have to be closer to Ashura’s stature, much stronger than Fai to be able to make such an obvious attack. But if Ashura had been knocked out? It required a lot less power.
As if sensing his thoughts, Fai returned, dressed in little more than the hotel bathrobe, which was messily tied about his waist. His hair was brushed neatly back, a few strands escaping to frame his face in an obnoxiously perfect way.
“Kuro… gane?” Fai was still odd about using his name, but Kurogane glanced over, an eyebrow raised in question.
“This is going to sound stupid, but...” he bit his lip, dammit, Fai was actually biting his lip in indecision. “I really don’t want to be alone. I don’t mean- I mean...”
Shit shit shit.
“Even… when I wasn’t with anyone, Yuui and I still shared everything,” Fai sighed, leaning slightly on the doorframe to the bedroom. “That bed is huge, I’m never going to fall asleep if I’m the only one on it. We could probably fit three other people.”
When Kurogane didn’t answer right away, Fai began to ramble nervously in an unfortunately endearing sort of way. It wasn’t that Kurogane didn’t like Fai. He was attractive, certainly, but not in the right mind to be making himself vulnerable like this.
“-and we could even make a pillow wall down the middle, right? So then-”
Kurogane sighed and resisted the urge to run his hands down his face. “Alright, alright. But no funny business. Go build your pillow fort.”
It was going to be a long night.
* * * * *
The Reeds had a long and complicated history with the Celes Corporation and Ashura in particular. Several strongly worded messages in the form of threats against his company, employees, and family were just the beginning.
It had taken some persuading, but Kurogane had his lead and his inside man, and was currently en route to something extremely dangerous. Fai, on the other hand, was going to be something of a wild card. They took Fai’s car- Kurogane’s would be a bit of an obvious giveaway that there was police involvement.
“Oh- do we need code-names? Elaborate backstories would be good. You can be Kuro-pon, ex-mafia turned bodyguard and I’ll be Fai Flourite, former vaudeville magician now-”
“Okay first of all, you’re going as yourself. They want Fai Valeria, Ashura’s former boyfriend and knower of company secrets and technology. We already went over my cover story, I’m-”
“I know, I know, You-ou, a gun-for-hire I found because I was worried people might come after me after the murder,” Fai repeated. “I don’t think that name suits you.”
Kurogane grunted. Fai had been unusually cheerful the next morning. It was 100% false bravado and nerves and he had to wonder how long it was going to hold out before the Reeds grew suspicious. If the steady stream of lies and imagined backstories was any indication, Fai would have no trouble bluffing something, but whether or not it would be believable was anyone’s guess.
If he thought about it, the reception wasn’t all that different from the one he’d received from Lady Shashi and her retinue. Cold, aloof, clearly he wasn’t the one they were here for. Fai, on the other hand, was greeted warmly, welcomed, and Kurogane, though he hadn’t been expected, was at least treated as Fai’s guest, and by extension, theirs. Though no one was rude enough to ask questions, at least not right off, there was a reasonably long uncomfortable silence, punctuated by the clink of tea cups and the occasional polite cough before any of the Reeds actually made an appearance. He’d never met any of them, but they were well known for their eccentric attitudes and the carefully cultivated air of mystery surrounding each member.
Kurogane wasn’t sure where these rich and powerful families got their staff, but it seemed some sort of requirement to have someone skilled in backhanded compliments and making their guests feel as though they were imposing, while only welcomes spilled from their lips. He hadn’t caught more than a first name from Kyle, but the slippery bastard had already insulted him twice, much to Fai’s amusement. At least he’d brought them a decent cup of tea while they waited.
It took a lot for someone’s mere presence to give Kurogane chills. He could remember it once, maybe twice in his life, but when Fei Wong Reed entered the room, he had to clamp down on any wild notions of fight-or-flight. He had a feeling Fai felt the same, his practiced smile was already beginning to crack, his expression less veiled, more obvious. No wonder the blond hadn’t wanted to meet in person, had mostly spoken with Reed over video chats and text messages. The guy had a presence, Kurogane would give him that much, and he wouldn’t put it past Reed to order deaths as easily as he might order chinese takeout.
If he had to hazard a guess, Fai was probably having second thoughts on putting his brother’s career in this man’s hands.
“I don’t like to mince words or play games Mr. Valeria,” Reed said without greeting as he took a seat. A young woman was immediately at his side, quietly sliding a tray of tea on the coffee table in front of them. Her eyes were dark, hair long black curls carefully pinned out of the way, and her dress carried minimal accents. Fei Wong didn’t even acknowledge her presence.
“It’s no secret that we’ve been in contact. If I recall, the Reed Corporation has made several bids for your employment. If I were a less generous man, I might take offense to the way you’ve run here like a rat leaving the sinking ship that is Celes Corp. But I know you still have value, child. What is it you want from me?”
Fai took the insult with good nature, though the tension in the room seemed to fluster him. Kurogane barely stirred, eyes never leaving Reed’s face.
“Ah- well, as far as that-. Nothing has really changed. As… Celes Corp’s future is rather… uncertain, I simply wished to ensure my brother’s employment in a prestigious tech development company.”
Fai shifted uncomfortably, but remembered to show just enough of his cards to lure Reed in. “Now seemed the best time. I still have the access codes you want, Ashura’s private files. It’ll be days still before the paperwork is done and a new president takes control of the company. They’re weak and ill-prepared.”
The line was well-delivered, Kurogane thought. Convincing, he hoped, but continued to sit in stoic silence. Reed considered it, taking a slow sip from his tea.
“Of course,” he said finally, “but you can’t think you’re the only one who has offered as much to me since the murder.”
From the way Fai’s smile faltered, he had surely thought exactly that.
“No, from you, Fai, I’m much more interested to know the details of what happened that night. What you might have seen, heard, witnessed...”
Kurogane’s hackles rose and his gut told him his suspicions had been correct. Reed certainly wouldn’t have done it with his own hands, but it was becoming increasingly likely that he had orchestrated it. Of course, without video footage or security footage, he wanted to know the details for himself.
“I didn’t see much,” Fai complied after a moment, though he cast occasional worried glances in Kurogane’s direction. “I went to see him after hours. He was busy with calls, so I waited outside his office. I must’ve fallen asleep, when I woke up it was late- When I found him he was already...”
“Exactly what you told the police, very good. But what else?” Reed said simply.
“I don’t want to play games Valeria,” Reed stirred a bit of honey into his tea with a deft flick of his wrist before taking another sip. “And I don’t like repeating myself.”
Kurogane did what he could to hide his tension, but the thought of Fai lying about what had happened the night of the murder was a dangerous one. He didn’t trust Reed, but could he really trust Fai?
“I...” Fai glanced nervously between Reed and Kurogane.
“We just… talked… briefly. He was upset about a call from earlier. I...”
Of course. The bruising on Fai’s wrist, he’d noticed it from the beginning. The simulation records seemed to agree that there had been more than one altercation in the office that night. If Fai had tried to speak with Ashura, especially if he was trying to break things off, then…
“I don’t know… he grabbed my arm, we… we fought, but that’s all. I left the office to cool off. I...” Fai’s smile was gone, a faraway look in his eyes as he struggled to remember. Kurogane glanced at Reed, who didn’t seem moved in the slightest by the display.
“Then you went back and murdered him?” Reed set the tea down, folding his arms neatly in his lap. “Mr. Valeria, I have nothing to offer you or your bodyguard and I think we can both agree this is a colossal waste of both our time.”
Shit. This was going downhill faster than they could recover. Either Fei Wong had access to the police records or he was intuitive as hell. As far as he knew, they hadn’t even released a proper statement. Unless he was trying to do exactly what they’d come here for, to confirm suspicions of his own.
“Your brother does excellent work,” Reed said, an agreeable smirk twisting his lips, “and I know he wouldn’t want to be employed anywhere without his dear brother nearby. But I think a hard lesson is in order.”
Kurogane rose defensively as several staff members closed in on them. Shit.
He hauled Fai to his feet, attempting to get in front of him before any of the staff could close. Things had gone… as poorly as he could have imagined. Kurogane hit the panic button near his wrist to inform any nearby officers that he needed backup, but first goal was getting them both outside without injury.
“We’ll take our leave,” Kurogane growled, attempting to herd them both toward the only exit. They had to make it down several halls and out the front door before they’d be anything close to clear, but he had to try.
“Nothing permanent for Mr. Valeria,” Reed calmly ordered, “the hard lesson is for our lovely local law enforcement. Detective. Next time you want to come after this family for murder, I sincerely hope you have more evidence than a shaky amnesiac of a witness.”
Kurogane didn’t wait for Reed to continue, he elbowed past the nearest staff member, who just happened to be the rude upstart that had served them tea. Kurogane felt the blow connect solidly with the man’s shoulder before Kyle was knocked from his feet. He dragged Fai behind him and they ran.
If what Reed said was correct, Fai would just be collateral damage. He had to get the man to safety as quickly as possible, regardless of his guilt in this case. Things were growing obnoxiously complicated. He jerked his arm forward, urging Fai to run ahead as he reached for his gun to cover them.
A gunshot rang out, clipping the marble in the hallway above his head and ricocheting down the hall. A string of curse words ran through his mind, but he’d been the one to push for this idiotic plan. What had he been thinking? Fai was probably the murderer anyway and in a risky attempt to prove the man’s innocence, he’d endangered both their lives.
Kurogane could see the main entryway. The backup officers had to be just outside, but the another shot, closer this time flew by them. Reed was ballsy as hell to order a hit like this, knowing full well he was an officer, but they’d entered the building on false pretenses and when it came to the legality, he didn’t doubt Reed could cover up nearly anything.
The woman in black from the meeting was leading the charge, closing on them as Fai fumbled with the door before yanking it open. She already had Kurogane in her sights and time seemed to stand still as she paused to squeeze the trigger.
Kurogane felt himself roughly shoved through the door as a blond blur moved in front of him. His red eyes widened as a spray of blood followed, punching through Fai’s chest and out his back. Kurogane stumbled on his feat and opened his mouth to scream, but Fai was… Fai was the one pulling him along now. Blood was oozing down the front of his dress shirt, but it wasn’t slowing him down. What the hell?!
The shots stopped as they crossed the threshold, a number of officers running to their aid the moment they were in sight. How was Fai still running? He didn’t stop until they were around the corner and Fai was being checked over by the ambulance staff. Kurogane was in shock, Fai was talking to the emergency medical personnel, but nothing he said seemed to register in Kurogane’s mind. The detective pushed them aside, grabbing Fai firmly be the shoulders as he inspected the wound. He’d seen it pierce the man’s chest.
Fai caught his arm, meeting eyes for a moment, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
As Kurogane inspected the wound, there was no scent of blood, despite the red liquid all over Fai’s shirt. There was, however, a roughly round hole over his heart, revealing bits of… metal and silicone.
“You’re an... android?”
* * * * *
Headlines were already dropping and Kurogane still hadn’t put all the pieces together. The latest hard-hitting evidence was the most difficult to wrap his mind around. Fai was… some kind of android? How had he not known? There wasn’t anything he knew of that could mimic that sort of human emotion, nevermind such realistic… everything. Fai’s hand hadn’t been cold. His skin felt real. His eyes…
He found himself avoiding those same eyes as the car took them back to the hotel. They’d given Fai a new shirt to cover the wound, but he’d have to return to Celes Corp eventually for more permanent repairs. The body’s operating systems had taken care of the injury, diverted power, and more or less put him in working order, but now that Fai was, in fact, an android and not a normal flesh and blood human, his memories and data would be collected as new evidence for the case.
Kurogane picked up his things, then made sure the robot knew he was to report back shortly. Kurogane was back at the beginning again and every answer just led to more questions. If Fai was an android, it was impossible for him to have killed Ashura. Literally impossible. There were all kinds of laws and codes and internal shit that made them obedient, made them protect humans, all that fine print nonsense, but in the end, it left a gaping hole in his suspect list.
The events at the Reed manor just proved it. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. It was as simple as the laws of robotics. There was no deeper reason… right?
Emotions were a complicated mess and Kurogane had no desire to open that door and think on it just yet. He’d need at least a few drinks before that was anything close to an option. The android itself though, solid facts and a goddamn explanation, now that he could seek out completely sober and still angry as hell. Right back at the Celes Corp tech department.
* * * * *
Fai’s twin was so like him in looks, and nothing like him in manner. The blond turned at the sound of his voice, calm and impassive, a faint smile on his lips.
“I did imagine you’d come see me eventually,” Yuui confessed. “Fai told me-”
“What the hell is going on here, Yuui?” The case was barely 36 hours old and Kurogane was running on fumes and old coffee and a lot of bubbling anger.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific,” Yuui took a few steps forward, concern creasing his brow. “You look like you’ve had a long couple of days. Fai said...”
“Hn,” Kurogane grunted. Of course. They hadn’t been apart for more than a few hours, but it didn’t surprise Kurogane in the slightest that they shared… basically everything. “He told me some things too. Namely, that you’re some kinda tech wizard. A prodigy. I’m gonna take a wild guess you had something to do with making him.”
As if mortally offended, Yuui bristled. Apparently he’d pushed the right buttons. Maybe, just maybe, he’d get a clue as to where to go from here. Much as he hated to admit it, today left him at a complete loss.
“It’s much more complicated than that.”
“I’m sure,” Kurogane shrugged. “But at this point, all I need to know is how it relates to the murder. And if your… Fai was there, is it possible to recover the data from that night?”
Yuui shook his head, “that was my thought as well. But whatever knocked out the security for those few hours, well, it’s the same thing that made Fai fall asleep. Or- at least that’s how he processed a system shut down.”
“Yeah,” Yuui agreed.
“So there’s nothing he would’ve picked up? Sound, sight, scent- I mean, we’ll have to get a copy of the times he was out, make sure they line up,” Kurogane was already running through the possible options. Fai was 100% out if he was an AI. Everyone knew they had to follow the 3 laws of robotics. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Clearly, if Fai had been consciously aware, his programming would have made him run to Ashura’s defense. It was hard to shake the feeling that Fai was different though. He was so much more than just a robot. The small nuances in his expression, the sense of humor, odd personality tics…
“I’ll get you everything I can, of course,” Yuui nodded, “it’s not much more than what the police are downloading right now, but it’s yours.”
To have someone actually consenting to help was refreshing after the day he’d had. He let out a slow breath, running a hand through his dark spiky hair.
“Just… shit. Every time I think there’s a lead, it’s nothing but dead ends,” Kurogane shook his head.”
“You thought… it might’ve been Fai?” Yuui’s expression was nervous, his eyes carefully downcast.
“I don’t know what I thought,” he confessed, though, he had to admit, it was a relief to know that Fai hadn’t done it, AI or not. “I have to follow any reasonable lead and he was the only witness. It made sense on paper. And why-”
Come to think of it, why hadn’t Fai shown up on the initial report? To go around chasing false leads like this, it’d skewed his entire reasoning for the case. All androids were on file, so Fai should’ve been immediately dismissed from the records as a possible subject, his memory files scanned, body treated like… evidence. Dusted for prints, checked for blood, kept in a dark room…
“Why isn’t Fai registered?”
Yuui sighed, sitting wearily in his office chair, “that’s the hard part, isn’t it? Fai isn’t exactly… a typical android. I wasn’t kidding when I said matters were complicated.”
“Not like I have any other leads right now. And if it interferes with the case results, I need to know,” he added.
Yuui nodded a few times, as though trying to convince himself, or talking himself into something. “Follow me. I think it’ll be easier if you see for yourself.”
Kurogane hated this sort of veiled game of secrets, but Yuui had been forthcoming so far, hopefully this would continue the trend. He followed the man through a series of doors, security growing more intense the deeper they went. Kurogane had to leave his weapons and recording devices behind and it was odd, everything was so automated, he didn’t think he’d seen a living human for a good while when they finally arrived, but Yuui assured him he’d be able to come again, updating the security protocols as they went to accept Kurogane’s identification.
When the last door opened, it looked… it looked like a fairly normal hospital room. The walls were a clean, pale blue, the steady beep of equipment told him the patient was alive, at least, and a ceramic pot of blue and purple flowers sat on the table beside the bed.
The patient was-
“Fai?” Kurogane found his throat had constricted suddenly, making the word sound strangely soft. He cleared his throat, shaking himself loose from any lingering hesitation. It wasn’t the Fai he’d met at the beginning of this case. The body that lay still in the hospital bed was thinner, if only just, hair grown out a bit longer, face a shade or two paler.
“That’s right,” Yuui walked to the other side of the bed, briefly taking his twins’ hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. “This is the real Fai. Which… isn’t to say that the one you met was false.”
“So he’s what, like a remote controlled doll?” Kurogane frowned.
“In the crudest terms, I suppose,” Yuui sighed. “I’d been working on making improvements to the android tech Celes corp already produces. The body you met Fai in has been… a pet project of mine for quite some time.”
Kurogane had a million new questions, but Yuui seemed to be in the mood to explain, so he let the man continue.
“I’m not sure if Fai mentioned the fight he had with Ashura a few weeks ago, but...” Yuui bit his lip, finally looking away from his brother and toward Kurogane. “Ashura had the brazen nerve to tell me he’d just fallen down a flight of stairs. Clumsy fool.”
Yuui’s hand seemed to subconsciously brush the hair from the left side of Fai’s face. The android’s mis-matched eyes… could it be coincidence? A remnant of the incident? Something before?
“My brother always felt indebted toward Ashura. He paid our college debts, took a chance on my research, long before he and Ashura were ever involved. Fai never seemed to see the darker side in others, he was too busy condemning his own shortcomings.
I thought that maybe I could help. I couldn’t let my brother continue to be hurt by that… monster. I had to do what I could.”
Made sense. Kurogane supposed he would be quick to jump to another’s defense at that kind of abuse as well. So much more so if it were family. Fai’s motivation to finally leave Ashura had been much the same reason.
“So you made a fake?” Kurogane offered.
Yuui shook his head, a sad smile remaining. “Complicated, remember?”
The blond dropped into a chair beside his brother, idly toying with the braid that fell loosely over one shoulder. “It was Ashura’s money paying the bills, and the last thing he wanted was a… disfigured coma patient on the payroll. He wanted to pull the plug, so to speak, sweep it all away with money, as only the rich know how to do.”
The last was said with no small amount of venom, and if Kurogane had had any doubts about Yuui’s feelings on Ashura, this easily confirmed it. What kind of cold-hearted bastard put his lover into a coma, then tried to pull the plug? It was despicable. And of course, since the assault hadn’t been reported, completely legal.
Yuui looked about the room, eyes falling on his brother’s face, “and yet, here we are. Ashura doesn’t… didn’t know about this room. I told him I was trying a new procedure. He granted me some cosmetic surgeons, who fixed… most of what had been done. But he still wouldn’t wake. I had a new interface I thought might work and...”
“Are you saying that… that Fai is controlling the android, remotely? In a coma?”
“More or less,” Yuui nodded.
A few weeks then. From the handful of coma victims he’d seen in his time as a detective, he knew that the first few weeks were the most important, as far as recovery went. It could mean the difference between Fai ever waking or drifting into a vegetative state. He had to hope that if there was enough brain activity for him to control the android, that meant his mind was still active, still aware, didn’t it?
“It was easy to make the cosmetic changes to my android, to make it look like my brother. But technology has yet to bridge the gap between what is true intelligence and the merely artificial. Fai’s linked mind was that bridge. Ashura got what he wanted, and I… I had more time to devote to Fai’s recovery.”
It certainly sounded simple and easy on the surface when Yuui explained it, but there were so many deeper questions that he dearly hoped Yuui had considered. Clearly Yuui was doing what he thought was best for his brother, but how warped was that perspective?
“And Ashura couldn’t tell the difference?” Kurogane was nonplussed. It was a lot to swallow. The man’s own lover and he couldn’t tell the difference?
“People are just objects to him. Possessions. He never cared for more than the surface, and my reproduction was flawless,” Yuui countered.
“If Fai was piloting it,” Kurogane said after a moment, “who’s to say he couldn’t have been the one who murdered Ashura? A human being isn’t beholden to the 3 laws of robotics.”
Yuui shook his head, “Even if we discount the fact that it was most likely an EMP that put Fai and the security both out of commission for the duration of the murder, Fai’s body, as any robot, was hardwired to obey the three laws. Even if Fai wanted to over-ride them, and I assure you, he would not, it would’ve been impossible for him. The three laws would have taken over as a fail-safe. I can vouch for the code myself. If you truly believe he would murder someone, you hardly know my brother. He would much rather allow himself to be hurt than to ever raise a hand to someone else.”
A few beeps and clicks at the door sounded before it slowly opened, and the android Fai poked his head in. He still hand bandages here and there from his earlier injuries, but he seemed well enough. Kurogane felt foolish for having worried at all.
“Not at all Fai,” Yuui replied, embracing the cybernetic duplicate of his brother. “I hope it’s alright, I was telling the detective about our… circumstances.”
“It’s fine,” Fai was quick to wave it off, even if the slip in his expression said otherwise. “With how clever our Kuro-sleuth was, it was only a matter of time.”
Kurogane didn’t reply, but gave a quiet grunt of acknowledgment.
Yuui paused a moment, releasing his brother, before turning his shoulder to face the detective. “Fai? I want you to… break the detective’s arm. It doesn’t matter which, I’m not picky. Oh, and it’s an order.”
Kurogane took a step back, startled enough to reach for his weapon, only to realize he’d left it all at the last security checkpoint. “The hell?!”
Fai took a single step forward before the light seemed to fade from his mis-matched eyes. “Protocol error.”
Kurogane’s eyes met Yuui’s, who gave a quiet nod. Fai blinked a few times before coming out of the strange trance, then seemed confused by the odd atmosphere in the room.
“Did I miss something? Sorry I think I spaced out for a moment.”
“Everything is fine Fai. I was just telling the detective about some of the boring specifications on the android model we used. I know how your eyes glaze over at that sort of thing,” Yuui ribbed his artificial brother with a gentle elbow and Fai seemed to relax. Kurogane let his hands drop to his sides and nodded.
“Some demonstration,” Kurogane muttered. His brief glimpse at a suspect was once again shattered by fact and reality. Not that he wanted to think of Fai as a suspect again, but where did they go from here? After a moment of quiet contemplation as the brothers spoke amongst themselves, Kurogane spoke.
“Did anyone else know about this?”
The twins met eyes and Kurogane was certain there was a word spoken between them with nothing more than a glance.
“Who?” he pressed, more insistently this time.
“Ashura,” Fai chewed his lip.
Ashura? Yuui had just told him Ashura had no idea! He was sick of being pulled in eight directions by this idiotic logic. He-
“The younger,” Yuui amended. “The child of Ashura and Lady Shashi.”
Oh. Well then.
“But that Ashura has been overseas. They wouldn’t have the slightest idea-”
“Is that what Lady Shashi told you?” Yuui interrupted, gaze clearly skeptical.
Yes. In no uncertain terms. He’d been fairly put out at the time. The idea of the kid taking revenge on a deadbeat parent checked several boxes. But Shashi had claimed definitive evidence to the contrary. And a witness to corroborate. Ashura’s half-brother. What a mess.
“We’ve known the younger Ashura just as long as the senior,” Yuui explained. “They stand to inherit everything in the event something should happen. Which… clearly has. Lady Shashi, of course, owns a generous portion of the company as well, though it’s not near enough to half to make a difference.”
Fai had kept oddly quiet about the whole thing, Kurogane observed. Had he been friends with the younger Ashura? He had a hard time imagining that the relationship would be good, given that Fai had been involved with their father, but stranger things had been known to happen. Still, something about the talk was making Fai uncomfortable.
“I just don’t think Ashura would...” Fai said at last, though he refrained from glancing up to assert the opinion. “There was no love lost between them, but Ashura wouldn’t have...”
Yuui shook his head, “I don’t want to believe it either. And perhaps we’ll never know. But… the Detective has to check into every possibility.”
* * * * *
It had been nearly a week(has it??) of long silent car trips and today was no different. It seemed Fai and Yuui could differ in opinion from time to time. He honestly hadn’t expected Fai to volunteer so readily to join them in verifying Ashura’s alibi, but here they were(??).
“I’m sorry,” came the quiet apology. Kurogane wasn’t entirely sure what it was for, but Fai seemed in the habit of giving them, all the same.
“What now, you’re a wizard maybe? An evil clone? Wait, let me guess. Vampire? No, too cliche, right?” Kurogane’s tone was flippant, tired, but it wasn’t harsh.
“For not telling you sooner. You must hate me. I couldn’t- I mean...” Fai shook his head, sighing.
He understood, though it had been a hard truth to swallow. He wasn’t sure he’d have believed it, not unless he’d seen it firsthand.
“I don’t… hate you. I think you’re lucky,” Kurogane said after a moment.
Fai let out a startled laugh, “I don’t see how.”
“I’ve never heard of a coma patient who could get up and walk around, talk with people, keep on living and dreaming at the same time,” he shrugged.
“More like a curse than a blessing. Yuui is in agony over it. I have to be there for him,” Fai sighed.
“That’s just it. You can. That’s not… something to take for granted,” Kurogane countered. “I’m sure Yuui wants nothing more than to see you wake again, but even so. You’re here. And he’s not the only one who’d care. There’s plenty of people wishing for it, even if they don’t realize it yet.”
“...are you flirting with me, Detective?”
Kurogane jolted from his relaxed posture, sputtering at the response, “th-the hell are you saying?!”
Real or not, there was something magical in it, and rather than bluster, he hid a smile of his own, “I don’t flirt with robots”
“I’m sorry, I’m afraid this week would be evidence to the contrary, Ku-robo~”
“Trust me, if I were flirting, you would know it,” Kurogane couldn’t keep an edge of amusement from his voice.
“And if I do know it?”
Kurogane coughed a bit, using the excuse to turn away from those teasing eyes, “like I said, I’m not into robots. Guess you’ll have to wake up if you want that first date.”
“Is that a promise?”
* * * * *
Finally something went right. As they pushed their way in to Lady Shashi’s estate, staff bustled forward with myriad reasons to stop them. But Kurogane wouldn’t be moved. He nearly kicked in the door to the dining hall, interrupting a late dinner between Lady Shashi…
The youth couldn’t be much more than twenty, but they shared their father’s dark hair and eyes and their mother’s soft bone structure. Kurogane could immediately see the family resemblance.
“How was LeCourt?” Kurogane asked flatly.
“Detective, you will explain yourself immediately,” Shashi stood, enraged and nearly shaking. Her eyes went from him and on to Fai, where they became liquid venom.
“I certainly will,” Kurogane said, “we followed up on your whole farce. Flights, hotel, none of it matched up. You’re protecting Ashura and we want to know why.”
“Mother,” came the young Ashura’s soft voice. “Please. Leave us a moment.”
Shashi leveled a flat stare at her progeny, but didn’t argue. The glare intensified once more as she raked over Kurogane and Fai, but after a cold silence, she left. The tension in the room remained, if slightly different from before.
“Detective,” Ashura nodded once in his direction, then looked at Fai, a relieved smile breaking over the androgynous features.
“Fai, I’m glad to see you well.”
“Ash, it’s good to see you too.”
For once, Kurogane was relieved for the nicknames Fai was throwing around. He was getting a little sick of the confusion between the older and younger family members. Ash seemed to have a much more casual, easy charm about them and Kurogane settled in for what he hoped was an informative talk.
After all the difficult conversations this week, the friendly small talk between Fai and Ash was refreshing. Disappointing, maybe, since it meant that either Ash had nothing to do with the murder, or that Fai was going to be terribly upset that his friend had murdered their own father.
He took a deep breath, “I hate to break up this reunion, but we’re here on business. Lady Shashi attempted to… derail our investigation by telling us you were in LeCourt at the time of the murder. Just a wild guess, but either your real alibi is pretty weak, or she thought you might have actually had a hand in it and tried to protect you.”
“I would imagine she’s more concerned about any political or financial backlash. It wouldn’t exactly be the best for our company if the heir was accused of murdering the former president,” Ash explained.
Kurogane nodded, “Any… light you can shed on what you were doing the night of the murder could help us avoid that.”
“Of course,” Ash sighed. “As I said, it wouldn’t be the best to be accused of murder, but I’m afraid the alternative is a bit… embarrassing.”
Fai grinned and Kurogane gave them both a quizzical look.
“I may have been celebrating the end of semester with a 3-day bender,” Ashura mumbled, looking sheepish. “My mother wasn’t wrong, I was with Yasha and Tennou, but… she was probably worried I’d gotten a DUI or something.”
Kurogane wanted to scream. Not only was this a dead end, it was a pathetic, awful mess of a dead end. He’d made a fool of them all by bursting in here like a maniac and for what? A few twenty-something college idiots on a drug and alcohol fueled adventure. Great.
“Tell me you have proof of it so I don’t have to do any more research into this idiocy,” Kurogane groaned. Fai was trying very very hard not to erupt into giggles at his friend’s discomfort.
Ashura winced and nodded, pulling a phone from their pocket and making a few swipes on the screen. The image was projected in miniature hologram, but as Ash continued to skim through pictures(a series of selfies from what looked like a pretty raucous party), it became increasingly unlikely that Ash had anything to do with the murder.
After making arrangements with Ash to submit the photos to their investigation record so they could be thoroughly checked for proper time stamps and editing, Kurogane was ready to admit defeat. He’d followed up on every lead, even this ridiculous one from Yuui and-
The moment the thought registered, he could feel the pieces begin to fall into place. Dammit. Yuui would have had nearly the same access as Fai throughout the building. He wouldn’t have been out of place there. Kurogane hadn’t even followed up on his damn alibi.
I thought that maybe I could help. I couldn’t let my brother continue to be hurt by that… monster. I had to do what I could.”
“People are just objects to him. Possessions. He never cared for more than the surface, and my reproduction was flawless.”
The soft laughter cut through his thoughts, bringing him back to the here and now. Fai and Ash were looking through past photos and chatting amiably. It was… nice. He knew he couldn’t break the news to Fai just yet, not before he confirmed it himself. Kurogane glanced at his own phone, weighing the options.
“Fai, I… do you know where Yuui is? I just got the report back from everything he sent in earlier and I need to follow up.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, but he could feel his stomach twisting as he said it.
* * * * *
Yuui. It was Yuui. How had he been so oblivious? The man’s name repeated like a heartbeat in his ears as he marched into the Celes Corp building where it’d all began. It was getting late, but Fai had been sure his brother would be here.
Kurogane had been careful not to reveal too much to Fai before he left. The younger Ashura seemed to be capable of taking care of him, and after things fell into place, he was less concerned with the new heir to Celes Corp and more with the one who had murdered the former president.
He pushed through the last door, feeling a bit naked without his weapons and communication devices, but Yuui wasn’t exactly an intimidating sort. Sure enough, the man was sitting at his brother’s bedside, taking notes, checking vitals. He hardly even seemed surprised when Kurogane bustled in.
“Fai told me you were on your way. Said something about a break in the case, that I shouldn’t leave before you arrived. He was very concerned,” Yuui said carefully, jotting the last few notes before looking up at Kurogane. “What did you need from me?”
“It was you,” Kurogane said quietly, as if the only one he feared might overhear was the one sleeping quietly a few feet away. “You messed with Fai’s programming so he wouldn’t remember, but you made that android body murder Ashura,”
“No,” Yuui frowned, “as I said before Detective, it’s more complicated than that.”
“I’m not leaving. Take your time and explain it then. Use small words, you know how hard complicated things are for me,” he growled, eyes glancing from Yuui to his brother.
“If anything, Detective, Ashura was responsible for his own death,“ Yuui began.
Kurogane barked a laugh, but allowed Yuui to continue.
“Have you heard of the concept of Ilunga?”
“It’s... bit hard to translate,” Yuui explained.
“I’m not here for a creative writing course. Get to it.”
“You might equate it better with the rule of three strikes? At any rate, Ilunga is a way of looking at relationships. A person may forgive any abuse the first time, tolerate it the second, but-”
“Murder on the third?”
“I prefer to think of it as a self defense mechanism. When I created Fai’s android body, yes, the Ilunga protocol was part of his code. He hurt my brother many, many more times than I can count Detective. Giving him three more chances was nothing short of merciful.”
Three more chances. Now that he knew what he was looking for, the moments stood out like beacons in his conversations with Fai over the past few days. Three strikes...
“A couple weeks ago. We had a big fight that time.”
“I stood up to him, made a… demand of sorts.”
“I don’t know… he grabbed my arm, we… we fought, but that’s all. I left the office to cool off. I...”
Kurogane’s fists were clenched so tightly his hands were starting to shake. “And your brother? Did you even consider what it might do to him if he knew?”
“It’s not the first secret I’ve kept from Fai. It won’t be the last. Smiles like his… are worth protecting, don’t you agree Detective? I… I had to do something. And Fai will never have to know.”
“You forced him to murder Ashura. Whether or not he remembers. And you think he’ll just be fine when you’re the one going to jail for it? You’d really throw away your life behind bars for your brother?”
Yuui looked at him coldly, despite the smile on his lips, “I would, easily, but I don’t have to.”
“And how exactly do you figure that?”
“Because the only evidence, outside of this conversation- oh and I believe your recording devices are all still on the second floor- is a scrap of code that no longer exists. You can search Fai’s memory banks, the android’s operating systems, everything, and never find it. There’s yet to be an override for the three laws of robotics, you think anyone will believe you without the slightest hint of proof?”
Each fact was another nail in the coffin for any hope of winning this case. He knew it and Yuui clearly did as well. It was sure to come out in Fai’s defense that he was an android. It was the only thing that could clear him of the crime without question. There was nothing linking the murder to either the Reeds or the survivors of Ashura’s family because neither had a hand in it. It was practically a locked-room murder.
“Think what you will of me, but you can’t say it wasn’t justified,” Yuui shrugged.
“Justice, huh,” he replied quietly.
“Android or not, Detective, I know you care about my brother as well. Knowing what you know now, would you have let things continue?” Yuui was shaking too now, his contempt for Ashura only outweighed by concern for his twin. Fai had been hurt multiple times, things had gotten worse, to the point that Fai was comatose. If it was his family, he’d probably have done the same, only much less carefully planned.
Yuui opened his mouth to continue, but the machines near Fai began to beep in strange patterns and he dropped everything to run to his brother’s side. Kurogane could feel the panic and joined Yuui on the other side of the hospital bed.
Before Yuui could respond, the still form on the bed winced at the shout, fingers twitching weakly at his sides as eyes began to blink slowly open. Kurogane could feel his voice catch in his throat as Fai began to wake. Had he heard? Did he know? Did it matter? Fai was awake. Real and whole in his own body.
Yuui seemed to feel the same, he stopped checking screens and clasped his brother’s hand, tears already forming in the corners of his eyes, “Fai?”
“Yuui,” the voice came out scratchy and weak, thick with sleep and nearly a month of disuse. “I’m sorry for-”
Fai didn’t even get the apology out before Yuui threw his arms around his brother, holding him tightly. Fai returned the gesture as well as he was able, giving Kurogane a helpless smile over his brother’s shoulder.
It was several minutes before either twin was calm enough to separate, but when they did, Kurogane was taken back by the sly look Fai was giving him. He had to fight down the blush rising at the tips of his ears. What was that about?
“Looks like you owe me, Kuro-tan,” Fai smiled weakly, even if his eyes told a different story.
“That first date.”
Kurogane was stunned for a moment before he remembered their conversation earlier in the car. He swallowed hard and nodded once, mostly just relieved the idiot was finally awake.
“Guess I do.”
Simple eye-contact was enough to keep either Yuui or Kurogane from going into details of the case and where it had lead them. Kurogane didn’t intend to leave the conversation half finished, but now was probably the worst time to discuss it, not in front of a weak and newly awakened coma patient.
It was a while before Kurogane finally made to leave, once he was certain the twins were stable, that Fai was on the way to recovery, and Yuui was…
Fai’s brother met him at the door, shutting it behind them both and leaving Fai to his first real meal in weeks. The hallway was quiet, the hour was well after midnight, and Kurogane was absolutely done with Yuui’s mindgames. He’d thought around every angle, but any accusations lobbed in his direction were like trying to catch water with his bare hands.
“I trust we both want what’s best for Fai,” Yuui said finally.
Kurogane narrowed his eyes, but nodded, though he planned to go over every small detail of the case with a fine-tooth comb just in case Yuui had left any loose ends. Doubtful, but he was grasping at the few straws he had left.
Yuui nodded in reply. “I know my brother is… fond of you Detective, despite my own feelings.”
That was- well- it was possible but- if Fai was serious about that whole dating business and-
“I may have done questionable things… for my brother’s happiness,” Yuui began, “but he’ll make whatever choices he likes, no matter what I say.”
Yuui shook his head, unsure if his words were even following a logical path, “what I mean to say is, I wouldn’t get in your way. I feel like you’re the sort of person who would treat him well.”
“Of course, I’m not-” Kurogane started, feeling a bit defensive. There was no relationship to speak of just yet, but…
“I believe you,” Yuui cut him off, eyes going a colder blue than Kurogane had yet seen from the blond. “And believe me when I say… I’ll know if you don’t.”
Kurogane had absolutely no doubt of that.