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The Solace of a Murder

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Shoyou had been born and raised in Solace, and he figured out at a young age that the world didn’t owe him shit.  Despite the charming name, Solace wasn’t really the place you would want to settle down and start a family. More than anything, it was the place you just… ended up; when you had no place else to go.

Shoyou’s mother was a textbook example of one of these people; kicked out of her home and drifted place to place with the winds, until she inevitably ended up in Solace, the unofficial Sin Capital. Many mistakes later, she ended up with Shoyou, and then Natsu six years later.

Shoyou grew up hungry, struggling to make sure Natsu had enough in her stomach. His father only showed up to whore out his mother, who was more often than not too high to care for herself, let alone her children. Shoyou figured it was nothing short of a miracle that both Natsu and he survived past infancy.

When he was twelve, his mother fell asleep after a particularly heavy dosage, and never woke up again. The children were taken in by their father, and Shoyou was no fool; he knew what Mr. Hinata had planned for them as they grew up. So he struck a deal with his father; Shoyou would do whatever was asked of him without complaint, so long as Natsu was never expected to do the same.

Thus, Shoyou couldn’t attend school anymore, busy compliantly doing whatever his father asked. Running errands, managing the storefront of the brothel hidden behind, and allowing his body to be sold when someone expressed a sick interest. His father always made extra when that happened; Shoyou was the owner’s own son, after all. But as long as Natsu could return to him from school and jump into his arms, excitedly telling him about whatever she learned that day; it was all worth it.

Three years passed them by, and they lived as peacefully as they could manage. Shoyou was fifteen at this point, Natsu nine. Secretly, Shoyou had been saving up any spare change he could find, wanting to gather enough to escape this terror house they lived in. He wanted to get Natsu out before she was old enough to realize what Shoyou did so that she could still smile like she did. But Solace was a cruel city, and Natsu was eventually shown their reality.

One day, Natsu was late getting home from school, you see. Shoyou had grown anxious, nervously waiting for his precious little sister to walk through the front door of the store. Natsu was a smart girl, always wanting to learn new things, and Shoyou had taught her everything he could about keeping herself safe. Yet she was just one small girl against the world. Every second was agonizing.

Well after dinnertime, Natsu finally came home, but not alone. A young man walked through the door of the storefront, a small and battered girl in his arms. Shoyou choked on his sobs as he frantically rushed to his little sister, unconscious in the stranger’s arms.

“What happened?” He cried, ripping her from the man’s arms. “What did you do to her?” Shoyou cradled Natsu to his chest, listening to her soft breathing, almost shuddering in relief and horror. He tried to ignore her tattered clothes and the blood running down her bare legs.

The man shook his head quietly. “She was alone and almost unconscious, halfway behind a dumpster in an alleyway a few blocks from here. I found this address on her belongings.” He held up Natsu’s dirty, pink school bag as proof.

Shoyou wasn’t sure he believed the story, but thanked the stranger regardless, snatching Natsu’s bag from the stranger and ran up the stairs, desperate to help her, however he could.

The stranger lingered for a moment, watching the young kid rush the little girl away, before turning to leave, his black jacket with an orange stripe on the bottom hem forever etched into Shoyou’s mind.

So focused on Natsu, Shoyou forgot the features of his little sister’s savior, only remembering the wild, black hair, sharp and intense eyes, and the commanding air he had about him, regardless of the man’s short stature. Almost like a little giant.

Quietly, Shoyou cleaned Natsu up, removing her tattered and dirty clothes, tears streaming down his face as he cleaned the cuts and finger-shaped bruises on her delicate skin. He gave her a comfy set of pajamas before carefully tucking her into their shared bed.

He went back to work after that; their father would throw a fit if he found out Shoyou left the storefront unattended, regardless of the circumstances.

Hours later, Mr. Hinata had not yet returned from his ‘business trip’, but Shoyou found that he couldn’t care less, as his thoughts kept drifting back to his little sister sleeping upstairs. He sat, worrying his lips between his teeth when tiny, shaking, hands wrapped around his waist.

“Natsu! Thank goodness you’re awake!” He cried, twisting to hold her tightly, the tears again returning. She buried her face into his chest, sobbing. He stroked her hair as he pulled her into his lap, rocking himself back and forth softly. “I’m sorry,” he cried. “I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you.” This just made Natsu sob harder, clinging onto her older brother for dear life.

“They… They were waiting for me!” Natsu wailed, shaking at the memory.

“Shhh, it’s okay. Your big brother is here.” Shoyou soothed, tears still streaming down his face as he tried to comfort himself as much as Natsu.

Natsu didn’t return to school after that, nor did she leave the building unless Shoyou was with her. She shied away from physical contact, and always watched the shadows of a room, expecting something to jump out and grab her.

Shoyou worked himself to the bone, doing whatever he could to get Natsu away from her fears. He paid for online schooling, and fought tooth and nail whenever their father told him Natsu needed to earn her keep. She would do household chores, but Shoyou refused to let her work downstairs; taking on even more unsavory jobs to compensate.

By the time Shoyou was eighteen, Natsu had finally begun to come out her shell, bit by bit. At the age of twelve, Natsu was already taking high school entry level courses, having focused solely on school as not to remember anything else. She had convinced Shoyou to let her help him clean the downstairs with him, giving the boy a much needed breather everyday.

It was one of these such days that Shoyou was resting quietly at the front deskー head nestled in his folded armsー as he listened to Natsu excitedly explain the topic of an essay that she had just finished writing while she swept the floor.

An automated beep alerted the siblings of someone opening the front door, catching the pair’s attention. Three men entered loudly, and Shoyou greeting them stiffly, recognizing them as long time patrons and friends of his father’s. Natsu stared at them as they moved moved towards the frontdesk, sparingly glancing at Shoyou, which he was thankful for. Occasionally, those three were much too interested in him.

Mr. Hinata chose that moment to march down the stairs, greeting his guests warmly. They quickly swept him up in their conversation, the four preparing to move to where the bar and brothel proper was hidden.

A loud clack interrupted them, Natsu having dropped the broom to the tiles, tears silently streaming down her face as she desperately wrapped her arms around herself. Shoyou all but vaulted himself over the counter, quickly going to his little sister’s side.

“Natsu?” He whispered, putting an arm over her shoulder, but she flinched involuntarily at his touch. She couldn’t seem to tear her eyes away from the three men. “Natsu, what’s wrong?” Shoyou prosisted, his heart in his throat.

“They were… they were…” The whispered words died in her throat as she staggered backwards, pressing herself into her brother’s chest. Natsu frantically met her brother’s worried gaze. “They’re the ones who hurt me!” She wailed frantically, visibly shaking. Shoyou enveloped her in a tight embrace, hiding her face in his chest as he glared at the three men who looked like they just now recognized her.

“So the little shrimp was still hanging around?” One of them asked, turning to the sibling’s father. “Mr. Hinata, you were holding out on us this whole time! We would’ve loved to go for another round or two, right boys?” They laughed.

“It was you?” Shoyou hissed, surprised to find his father echoing him with equal venom. Their father barely cared when Shoyou told him what happened and explained why Natsu couldn’t go to school anymore. He was mostly worried about her possible medical bills.

“You were the ones who used her?” Their father yelled, spit flying from his mouth.

“Calm down, Mr. Hinata! It happened years ago!” The three men defended themselves, but their father would have none of it.

“Do you idiots realize how much you knuckleheads cost me? Her virginity was going to make me a small fortune someday! But you bastards ruined that plan! You ruined her! She’s so fucking traumatized she’s practically useless!” He raged and raged, getting up in their faces.

Shoyou saw red as he squeezed Natsu tighter, praying she was too busy crying to hear what they were saying.

She wasn’t.

Quietly, Shoyou led Natsu to the nearby utility closet. He sat her down inside and whispered softly, “Your big brother is going to protect you, so keep quiet here, okay?” Scared and confused, Natsu could only nod. “Stay here until I come back, and don’t come out until I come to get you.” Again, she nodded with uncertainty. “Pinkie promise?” He asked, sticking out his pinkie. Usually she would laugh, telling him how she wasn’t a child anymore, and that she was too old for pinkie promises. But she couldn’t find her voice to tell him. So she extended a shaking hand and curled her finger around his. Shoyou nodded, satisfied, and shut the closet door, flashing her a bright grin as he did.

There was muffled yelling, only getting louder once the door was shut securely. Something shattered on the ground. Natsu covered her mouth with her hands when someone screamed. There was a lot of bumps and grunts under all the shouting and swearing, followed by a singular gunshot, making Natsu jump in fright. Another shout and crashing noise. Then it was quiet, Natsu’s own sobs surrounding her as she tried to stay quiet like Shoyou told her to.

The utility closet door opened, and Natsu flinched, fearful of who might be behind the door, but then Shoyou’s hand was held out to her, and she squeaked in relief. He was splattered with bloodー it matted his hair and dripped down his jawline, his shirt had bloody handprints where he hastily wiped his red smeared handsー but she leaped into his arms and wrapped him in a tight hug regardless. “It’s okay,” Shoyou promised, holding her tight. “They won’t ever hurt you again. Neither will Dad.” He looked over his shoulder briefly, but his body obstructed Natsu’s view of what he was looking at. He twisted back to her.

“Close your eyes for a minute and keep them shut, okay?” Natsu gave him a worried look but compiled, and Shoyou scooped her up in his arms. She bounced against his chest as he ran up the stairs, desperately fighting the urge to open her eyes regardless. She could only imagine what she would see if she opened them.

Shoyou set her down once they were in their room, and Shoyou was ripping open their mattress.

“We have to get out of here, someone is sure to have heard the fight. The window is our only option. Open it, and kick out the screen.” He spoke quickly, but smiled calmly when Natsu watched him panickedly. She opted to trust her brother instead of her fear and set to work, while he found the small bag of cash he had been saving. He stood up to find Natsu had done as he asked.

Hand in hand, they climbed out of the window onto the roof ledge, and Shoyou made Natsu sit with her feet over the edge. He lowered himself over the ledge so he was hanging by his hands, and dropped down, grunting as he landed. “Now it’s your turn. Do exactly what I did.”

Natsu stared at him uncomprehending what he wanted her to do. “Natsu, please. Imagine you are on top of the monkey bars at the playground, and now you have to get down.” Natsu nodded, and slowly did so. When she was hanging by her hands, she froze. “I’ll catch you, Chickadee, I promise. Let’s count down from three, okay?” Natsu laughed a little despite herself at the old nickname, and nodded.

“Three…” Shoyou started, holding his arms out.

“T–two…” Natsu continued as she braced herself, screwing her eyes shut.

“One!” They both called, Natsu yelping as she let go. Shoyou caught the brute force of her landing; falling backwards to the ground with Natsu sprawled about on top of him.

“See?” He wheezed, the air knocked out of him. “Easy.” Natsu got off him and helped him up, tears shining in her eyes. “You good?” She nodded. “Great. But we gotta get out of here, okay?” He held out his hand and she laced her fingers in his. They set out running into Solace’s dark streets, either not daring to look back.

 

They ran as long as they could, only stopping when they both couldn’t breathe anymore. After quick breaks, they jogged on, sticking to the shadows and following random sideroads, just trying to put distance between themselves and Shoyou’s body count.

Eventually, Shoyou had to sit down as the edges of his vision were getting blurry and his body felt unusually cold. They stopped after having been on the move for almost two hours. The adrenaline had worn off forever ago, and Shoyou tried to ignore the burning pain in his side.

Shoyou leaned against the alley wall, hissing as his hand flew to his side.

“Shoyou?” Natsu asked, worried. She focused on the hand at his side, red with fresh blood. She yelped, hands rushing to his pale cheeks. “Shoyou you’re really hurt! We have to get to a hospital!”

“No good,” Shoyou screwed his eyes shut in pain. “Hospitals ask questions… Very expensive…” he laughed weakly through grit teeth. “Just a little bullet…” he opened his eyes and struggled to focus on his little sister despite the fact she was inches from his face. “Your big brother is tough, you know? I just need toー” he hissed again through his teeth. “ー rest, a minute.” His eyes fluttered shut again.

“But on tv they always say not to fall asleep!” Natsu protested, but Shoyou didn’t respond.  Shaking him, she cried,“Shoyou? Shoyou!”, but his head just rolled to the side. She yelled his name, her panicked voice echoing off the walls of the alley that seemed to be closing in on her. Breathing became difficult as her entire body shook with tremors. She was alone in an alley again, but this time it was her brother who was hurt. She hugged her brother tight, hiccuping. What was she supposed to do? There wasn’t going to be another gentle stranger with a warm chest that would carefully pick her up and bring her back to her brother. She would never be that lucky twice.

Help. She needed to get help.

Carefully, still struggling to breathe, she leaned Shoyou against the wall, and staggered towards the streetlamps, the tiny bag of cash Shouyou had clutched to tightly now held tight in her fist. She froze a step or two away from the sidewalk, paranoia grabbing her by the throat. What if she can’t find anyone? What if someone finds her first? What if they don’t help her precious brother? What if they let him die, or hurt her too?

Terror’s cold fingers raked against her skin, pushing at the backs of her knees, making her stumble. Her brother was going to die. He was always protecting her, doing stuff she couldn’t even think about without getting queasy. And he was going to die.

Someone passed out in front of her, dressed in all black, looking more like a shadow than a person in the darkness. Their jacket was completely black, save for a single, orange stripe along the bottom hem. She knew that jacket. This was her only chance.

Her tiny hand latched onto the jacket, tugging with all her might. The person swivelled, alarmed, and found a shivering, sobbing, little girl clinging onto his jacket. “P–please. My brotherー he’s really hurt.” She cried, struggling to form words around her gasping breaths. She held up a tiny bag. “I have money, just pleaseー help my big brother.” She pleaded, trying to give him the bag of money.

“Show me where he is.” Is all the person said. Stunned, it took her a moment before jumping up and staggering back to her brother, the stranger in pursuit. “He–he’s here. Please, help him.” She collapsed in front her brother, quietly weeping. The stranger swore, rushing to Shoyou and checking for a pulse as he started calling someone on his cellphone. He shrugged off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, phone pinched between his shoulder and head. Natsu fell backwards when she saw a gun tucked into the back of the man’s waistband, reminding him she was there. Wordlessly, he wrapped his jacket around her shoulders, ignoring how she flinched when he got close.

“Finally! What took you so long to answer?” The man started talking, presumably on his phone. “Nevermind, I don’t care.” He said, and pulled out a pocket knife. Natsu shrieked and scooted forward between the man and her brother desperately.

“I won’t let you hurt him!” She cried, trying her best not to let any fresh tears fall. The man looked at her, at this petrified little girl with a quivering lip readily jumping in front of a knife for her brother. His heart swelled at this brave little girl.

“I’m a doctor. I only want to help him, I promise.” He answered earnestly, meeting her terrified gaze.

“Pinkie swear?” She asked, holding her pinkie out. He simply smiled, reaching out to meet her hand. As he did, Natsu couldn’t help but think he looked like an angel, with his ashen hair and pretty, soft and gentle smile. “Pinkie swear.”

Natsu nodded, and got out of his way. If he was willing to pinkie swear, he couldn’t possibly that bad a person, right?

“I’m not talking to you, idiot!” The man snapped, slicing open Shoyou’s shirt. “Shut up and listen to me. I need immediate backup at 50th and 3rd, southside. I’ve got two kids, one’s unconscious with a bullet wound.” The man started wrapping strips of Shoyou’s shirt around her brother’s waist, and Natsu had to look away after she saw blood immediately soak through the fabric.

The man young hung up and dropped his phone on the ground, still focusing on Shoyou. “What’s your name, miss?” He asked, and Natsu wiped tears from her eyes.

“Hinata Natsu.” She replied, her voice quivering.

“Okay Natsu, my name is Suga. My friends are going to be here any minute, and we are going to take him someplace safe.” Suga talked as he worked, only watching Natsu out of the corner of his eye. Natsu focused on Suga’s profile instead of his busy hands, now covered in Shoyou’s blood.

“No hospitals!” Natsu demanded. “Shoyou said no hospitals.” She sniffed, swallowing audibly. Suga just nodded.

“No hospitals. Is this Shoyou?” Natsu hummed an answer, words too much work at the moment. “Alright Natsu, I need you to stand at the end of the alley there, okay? Just so my friends can find us faster. Can you do that?” Determined to help, Natsu stood up and scurried to the end of the alleyway, figuring that was a good enough answer to Suga’s question. She wrapped Suga’s jacket tighter around herself and stood proudly in the middle of the sidewalk, mentally daring anyone to tell her to move.

She didn’t have to wait long, but not being able to see her brother from here made the seconds tick by painfully slow.

A big, black van came screeching around the corner, and sped down the road, slamming on the brakes in front of Natsu. The back door flung open, and three people spilled out. They looked around with heads on swivels, sparing Natsu a quick once over before they spotted Suga in the shadows of the alley. With a shared look, two of them jogged away to find Suga, while the third stood in front of Natsu with a friendly smile on his face. He was about the same height as Shoyou, with dark, spiky hair, and little blond bangs hanging in his forehead. He stuck out his hand.

“Hiya! I’m Nishinoya, a friend of Suga’s, but you can just call me Noya if you want.” Natsu studied him for any sign of danger, but found that he was wearing the same jacket as the one wrapped around her shoulders, and his grin reminded her of Shoyou’s smile so much it made her tear up again. She carefully reached out to shake his hand.

“Hinata Natsu.” She sniffed, hoping the tears weren’t too obvious. Thankfully, Nishinoya didn’t comment on it, and released her hand.

“We’re gonna take you and your friend someplace where we can treat properly treat your injuries.”

“I told Mr. Suga no hospitals.” Natsu declared, trying again to put up a brave façade.

“No hospitals.” Nishinoya agreed. “Me and you will climb into the front with Ennoshita there behind the wheel.” Noya pointed to the driver, who waved shyly in response. “We just want to give Suga enough space to keep your friend alive.” Natsu nodded.

“He’s my best friend,” she corrected, feeling it was important to make that fact known. “And my big brother!” Natsu grinned with pride, but quickly deflated. “Who might die because he was protecting me.” She whispered, shoulders shaking.

“Don’t worry, Natsu. If anyone can save your big brother, it’s Suga.” He nodded towards the alley, and Natsu turned to see her big brother being carried by three people. One had a shaved head and a grimace on his face, Suga was somehow tending to Shoyou while carrying him in the middle, and the last was a man taller than everyone, with long hair tied in a bun atop his head.

Noya tapped Natsu’s shoulder. “Let’s get out of the way, shall we?” He nudged her to the side so the trio could rush past and get about settling Shoyou into the van. Gently, Noya guided Natsu to the van as well, and opened up the front door for her. She climbed in, and Ennoshita flashed her a reassuring grin as she scooched over so Nishinoya could squeeze in too.

As soon as the back door slammed shut, Suga yelled, “Clear!” and Ennoshita shifted gears, sending them barreling down the road. Natsu squeaked in surprise, but stayed as still as possible, praying to any god that would listen and begging them to let her big brother survive. She heard shuffling and whispered voices in the back, but couldn’t bring herself to turn around, fearing what she might see.

Tears were falling down her face again, and she was surprised she had any left at this point. They travelled down the tear-carved tracks on her cheeks, dripping into her lap. Noya softly bumped her elbow with his, and she looked over to see him offering his hand, palm up. Silently, she squeezed his hand tight, and tried to hold her head high. Her big brother was the strongest person she knew. He wouldn’t leave her alone.

Soon enough, they pulled into the parking lot of a condo complex–like building, surrounding the parking lot and small green space three quarters of the way around. Ennoshita pulled right up into the loading zone, and the large metal door opened at their arrival. They pulled in and parked, and then Ennoshita was out and opening the back door, ready to help Suga and the others.

Natsu twisted back to see, but Nishinoya took her by the shoulders and angled her so she couldn’t watch. “We need to give them space so they can save your brother.”

“But I want to be with him. IーI’m always with him!” Natsu protested.

“I’m sure he appreciates it, Natsu. But you want him to get better right? So we need to let my friends take care of him.” Noya looked in her eyes, almost begging for her to understand as his fingers curled tighter into her shoulders.

“Okay.” She whispered. Noya smiled reassuringly as the van bounced, the weight in the back exiting the vehicle. “Mr. Suga will save him, right?”

“He’s going to try his hardest.”

They waited a few extra minutes, until they couldn’t hear any more voices or rushed footsteps, and then Noya clapped his hands. “I’m sure you’re hungry. Let’s go get something to snack on!” He hopped out of the van, and offered his hand to help Natsu down which she took gratefully. He led her out of the garage and down a long hallway, similar to one in a hotel. There were numbered rooms on either side, but Noya walked on. They came up to a heavy back door on the side, and Nishinoya held it open for her, the darkness of the night gaping open for her. Still unsure of where they were going, Natsu nervously walked outside. Noya followed her and took her hand to guide her down a path only he seemed to see in the chilly darkness.

They came up to a small little diner illuminated with a soft yellow glow, and Nishinoya led her around to the front door. A soft bell chimed when they opened the door, and the warm atmosphere almost put Natsu to sleep right there.

“I’m back, Boss!” Noya shouted with much more volume than necessary in the quiet eatery, making Natsu jump. A man with bleached hair and wearing a white apron came out of the kitchen with a glare.

“Noya! I’ve told you to keep it down in here! I’m trying to run a reputable business!” He scolded, making Noya laugh sheepishly and earn a few chuckles from patrons within the diner. The man shook his head, then noticed Natsu half–hiding behind Noya. “Found a friend, have you?” He walked up behind the counter bar and waved them over. Natsu looked at Nishinoya uncertain of what to do, but he just nodded and nudged her forward. Wringing her hands behind her back, she nervously walked up to the counter, horribly conscious of the many strangers watching her out of the corners of their eyes. She hopped up onto one of the cushioned stools, and Noya frog leaped up onto a stool next to her.

“Hot chocolate, on the house.” The man said, placing a mug each in front of the pair. Noya excitedly reached for his, but was smacked in the hand by a dish towel. “Yours isn’t free, Nishinoya.” The spiky headed kid visibly deflated, and reached for the mug with less enthusiasm. Natsu watched him curiously, looking back and forth between the other two.

“Don’t worry, little Miss. Go ahead.” The man behind the counter encouraged. Natsu did so, and squeaked when she had a sip.

“It’s delicious!”

“I know, right?” Noya agreed, already finished his own mug. “Boss makes the best hot chocolate in the world!” Natsu giggled at him, the ladder sporting a mustache of whip cream. Noya grinned even bigger, glad to had made her laugh. A dish towel smacked him in the ear.

“You slob! You dare have your face like that in front of a lady?” The man scolded again. Natsu had a feeling that this man scolded Nishinoya on a regular basis. She couldn’t help but giggle again, catching the man’s attention.

“Sorry about him, little Miss. He has zero tact or common sense.” The man apologized as he placed a small plate of cookies in front of her, gesturing her to help herself. Natsu shook her head.

“No no no, I’m thankful for Mr. Noya being so kind.” She smiled sadly. “Mr. Suga too…” Nishinoya exchanged a glance with the man, something passing between them.

“What’s your name, little Miss?” The Man asked.

“Hinata Natsu.” She replied, thankful for the distraction from her thoughts as she picked at a cookie. She hadn't eaten in hours, but she was sick to her stomach with worry, even now.

The man hummed in response. “Hinata, hmm?” he leaned back, pondering for a moment. “Nice to meet you, Natsu.” He offered his hand, and Natsu shook it without hesitation. “Most people around here just call me Boss.”

“Mr. Boss, it’s a pleasure.” She replied, earning a chuckle from the man.

“Likewise.”

The soft bell jingled, and they all turned to see the man with a shaved head enter, hands in his pockets. “I’m back, Boss!” He yelled with just as much volume as Noya had, and the Boss just sighed tiredly, looking like he wanted to bang his head against the counter.

Before Boss could even scold him however, natsu was already on her feet and running at him. The guy with a shaved head was caught off guard as the little girl charged at him, unsure how to respond.

She skid to a stop just before crashing into him, and grabbed onto his jacket, matching with the one still on her shoulders. “My brother!” She huffed, trying to sort out her words. “Iー you brought him back, right? He’s okay, right?” She tugged on his jacket like she was trying to coax an answer out of him.

“Suga’s doing surgery now.” He shrugged, trying to act like he wasn’t offset by her pressing against him desperately. “I was kicked out.”

“Surgery…?” Natsu whispered, fabric slipping from her fingers as she stumbled back, panic blocking her airways. She fell to her knees. “He needs surgery?”

“Ryu!” Noya scorned, coming up to sit next to Natsu. She was shaking, tugging at the jacket around her shoulders, using it to keep herself from falling apart.

“What? That’s all I know!” The shaved headed man defended himself.

Boss came up on Natsu’s other side, placing a comforting hand on her back. “I swear, the both of you. Tact , Tanaka. Tact.”

Natsu didn’t know what was going on anymore, but there was a warm hand on her back, and she wanted more. She leaped into Boss’s arms yelling and pounding at his chest, angry at the world. Strong arms encircled her, and the powerful heartbeat against her ear reminded her how to breathe. She was still shaking, but the warmth that surrounded her made her realize how tired she was. She would just close her eyes for a moment, then she would find her brother.

Natsu was asleep in minutes.

“Poor thing,” Boss cooed as he scooped her up in his arms, careful not to jostle her. He walked over to a booth in the far corner and rested her in the corner of the bench. Even in her sleep she clutched a tiny pouch to her chest. He made sure Suga’s jacket was securely wrapped around her, and told the entire diner, “You’d better keep it down, you lot. She’s had a long night.” He pointed at Noya and Tanaka with a glare. “Especially you two. You’d better be whispering the rest of the night if you’re staying in here.”

“Yes, Boss.” They grumbled, sulking off to the bar. The Boss sighed, returning to his post behind the counter. “So,” He leaned against the counter propped up on his elbows. “Who are they?”

The delinquent pair exchanged a look. “We don’t know. You were here when Suga called.” Noya shrugged.

“Suga told me the little girlー”

“Natsu.” Noya interrupted, making Tanaka glare at him.

“Natsu grabbed Suga as he walked by and begged for help. The brotherー”

“Shoyou, apparently.” Noya again corrected.

“Can I finish or do you want to keep interrupting me?” Tanaka huffed. Noya just gestured for him to continue. “Shoyou was already unconscious at this point. The bullet only grazed his side, but he’d lost a lot of blood, and he had a bunch of bruises ‘n shit.” Tanaka shrugged, leaning back in his seat as far as he could without falling over. “My guess? They were running.”

Boss nodded, digesting the information. “And the boyー Shoyou?”

“Suga should be finishing up by now. Something about stitches and a blood transfusion. He should be fine.”

Nishinoya smacked Tanaka upside the head. “You should’ve told her that!” He gestured a thumb over his shoulder to the snoozing Natsu.

“Oi,” Boss interrupted. “Keep it down, remember?”

“Sorry.”

Boss waved him off. “The question is, what now?” The boys knew he was asking himself, and let him think in peace, slinking off to a booth as far from Natsu as possible as to limit the chances of waking her up.

 

About an hour later, a tired and weary Suga came through the diner door, Asahi and Ennoshita trailing behind. Suga plopped down at the bar, and before he could order, a hot espresso and large mug of black coffee was placed in front of him, steaming hot and welcoming.

“Good work.” Boss nodded as Asahi and Ennoshita flopped down too. Ennoshita was given a coffee and bailey’s, which he downed all in one go. Asahi got a caramel iced coffee, and he sipped it happily.

Nishinoya leaped onto Asahi’s back, clinging to him like a koala. “Asahi! Is Shoyou okay?”
Asahi gripped the edge of the counter in a desperate attempt to not fall backwards and crush the smaller man on his back.

“He’s fine, Noya.” Suga yawned. “Just resting.”

“Where’s the little girl?” Ennoshita asked, trying to pry Noya off of Asahi.

“Sleeping over there.” Boss pointed with his thumb, resting his chin on his hand. Suga followed his directions, and saw a tiny tuft of orange peeking up from behind a booth in the back corner. Downing the rest of his coffee, Suga pushed off the stool and made his way to the sleeping girl. Quietly, he crawled into the next booth over, and gripped her shoulder, nudging her awake.

Natsu grunted, shoving his hand away and snuggling deeper under his jacket. Suga tried again, firmer this time. Natsu blinked, bolting upright as she swatted away Suga’s hand. Her head swivelled, panic setting in as the night came rushing back.

The three men.

Shoyou’s burning anger.

Her father yelling.

The fear shoving claws down her throat.

Running in the darkness.

A gunshot.

A gunshot wound.

A black jacket with a singular, orange, stripe.

“Hey, easy there.” Suga soothed, and Natsu whipped her head around to face him. “Take a breath, Natsu. You’re safe, remember?”

She focused on him, taking a few extra moments to recognize him. “Mr. Suga!” She cried. “Shoyou, how is he? How is my brother?”

“He’s going to be fine. Just resting.”

Natsu sagged in relief before jumping and scrambling out of the booth, bowing deeply to him. “Thank you so much Mr. Suga!” She held out the pouch of money to Suga, who sat at the edge of the booth, hands half stretched out to Natsu awkwardly. “Please accept this as payment for your hard work!” Suga cleared his throat, sending a look to Boss for help, who just shrugged and went back to drying dishes.

“I, uh… couldn’t possiblyー”

“Please take it! It’s all I have to show my gratitude for saving my big brother!” Natsu insisted. Suga stuttered. “Please!” She cried.

Suga sighed, exasperated. “Very well.” He took it from her hands and pocketed it. Natsu grinned at him, relieved. “Now,” he started, standing up. “I assume you want to see your brother?”

“Yes please!”

“Come on.” Suga waved her over, and together they disappeared through the door, the soft bell sending them off. A few seconds later, the door opened again, and Natsu reappeared in the doorway, cheeks flushed.

“Thank you Mr. Boss for the yummy hot chocolate! Thank you Mr. Noya for being so kind! Thank you Mr. Driver, Mr. Shaved Head and Mr. Scary Guy for helping my brother!” She called to them with a wave, before hurrying back out the door. The group at the counter exchanged a look.

“Who’s ‘Scary Guy’?” Asahi asked.

“I think she meant you, Azumane.” Boss chuckled.

“ME?” He cried, making the rest of the diner rumble with laughter.

 

Suga led Natsu back into the large building through the back door, and up three flights of stairs. Then they walked down the hall, and stopped at a door without a unit number, the word ‘Infirmary’ sprawled on the door in sharpie instead.

“He’s not going to wake up for a while yet, because he’s very fatigued. But you can stay with him as long as you want.” Suga explained, opening up the door.

The entire apartment had been gutted and refurbished to mimic a hospital room. Shoyou was on the furthest most bed, wires running under the hospital gown to monitor his vitals, and a bag of blood hanging nearby, going into his arm.

Natsu rushed to him, grabbing his hand and squeezing tight. Suga pulled up two chairs, and placed one right next to the bedside, leaving the other a bit further off. Natsu pressed her brother’s hand to her forehead, listening to the steady beeps representing his heart.

“Thank you, Mr. Suga.” She said again, a tired but relieved smile on her little face. “Oh!” She exclaimed, carefully replacing Shoyou’s hand at his side and shrugging off the jacket still on her shoulders. “I guess I should return this to you as well.” She offered it to him sheepishly, and Suga took it with a nod and hung it over the arm of his chair. They sat in silence for a bit, Natsu still trying to comprehend the fact that her brother was going to be okay.

“Natsu,” Suga started, jolting her out of her thoughts. “Can I ask you a few questions?” She swallowed nervously, but nodded anyways.

“How did Shoyou get shot?”

The three men’s faces flashed behind her eyes, and she curled her hands into fists to stop them from shaking. “Shoyou has always protected me.” She started. “He was the one who raised me. He was the one who would lay with me when I had nightmares, or make sure I brushed my teeth, or made me lunches when I used to go to school. Not our parents. Mom died of an overdose when I was six. And Dad…” Natsu shook her head. “He only took us in after that. Shoyou was twelve when he dropped out of school. Dad made him work to earn our keep. I got to go to school, and he had to…” Natsu shivered. She lifted her head to look at Suga.

“There were these men who… hurt me, when I was younger.” She started, trying to ignore the phantom hands on her skin. “We were never the same after that. I was too scared to leave the house on my own. So instead I helped out around the house and eventually, I would help Shoyou at the storefront. I wasn’t downstairs very often, so I guess that’s why I never…” She choked on her words, their faces swimming in her head. She reached for Shoyou’s hand, bringing it close to her heart.

“They were friends of Dad’s, apparently. Dad didn’t know what they had done either, but once I saw them…” She watched the gentle rise and fall of her brother’s chest. “They laughed, saying they wanted to do it again.

“Shoyou was angry. Dad was too; but more so because they took my virginity without paying him than anything.” She laughed bitterly, trying not to sob. She focused back on Suga, who sat with a mask of calmness about him. “Shoyou is the most caring person in the world! His smile could melt ice! He would never hurt anybody!” She cried, defending her brother.

“But those men, Dad included… Shoyou hid me in the utility closet. There was a fight. A gunshot. I didn’t realize it hit him. He came for me, and we ran and we ran and we ran.” She turned to look at Shoyou’s face. “I’m sorry, Big Brother. I’m sorry I didn’t notice you were hurting. I’m sorry you always have to protect me.” She enveloped him in a hug, as tight as she dared without accidentally hurting him. “I’m so sorry.” Dry sobs racked her body. Suga sat back in his seat, pressing his lips together.

“Don’t apologize, Natsu.” Suga said after a while. “I’m sure Shoyou wouldn’t want you to be sorry for all his hard work to keep you safe.” She stopped crying after that, and carefully crawled off of her brother. Suga stood and stretched, slinging his jacket over his shoulder. “Natsu, we have to tell Boss about this, just so he knows what’s going on. I’ll leave some of the sensitive parts out, but I do have to tell him about what Shoyou did.”

“Is Shoyou in trouble?”

“Probably.” Suga said, and Natsu took a deep, shuddering, breath. “That’s why we need to tell Boss; so he knows how to protect you two.”

“You’ll… protect us?” She asked shyly.

“At least until Shoyou gets better.” Suga confirmed, making Natsu sag in relief. “I’ll be back in a bit to check on you two.” Suga waved, heading to the door.

“Mr. Suga, wait!” Natsu cried, making him pause. “Your jacket. I uh… recognize it. When I was left in the alley by those men, I thought I was going to die. But someone wearing a jacket just like yours found me and brought me back to Shoyou safely. That’s why I reached out to you. Mr. Noya and Mr. Shaved Head also had matching jackets. Are you… do you all belong to the same group?” Natsu asked sheepishly.

“More like a family.” Suga answered with a soft smile.

“Does that mean you know the man who saved me when I was little? He had black, wild hair, and very scary eyes. Me and my brother call him the ‘Little Giant’ because he was really short, but he was really big, you know?” She described him with big hand gestures.

Pressing a hand to his lips, he thought for a moment. “I don’t know anyone active like that,” he spoke more to himself than Natsu. “I’d recommend you ask Boss; if this person had one of these jackets, Boss will know him.” Suga opened the door, shooting Natsu one last look. “Try to get some rest so you can see your brother when he wakes up.” he said as a way of bidding farewell, closing the door behind him and hurrying back to the diner to report to the Boss and get another coffee. On the way, he passed a short, bespeckled man.

“Takeda-sensei!” Suga greeted. He pulled out the little bag Natsu had given to him and tossed it to the man, not once slowing in his steps as he walked by. The man fumbled with the bag, but caught it in his fingers eventually and looked to Suga curiously. “I’m leaving this with you!” Suga called over his shoulder with a wave as he went, leaving Takeda looking after him in confusion.

Natsu settled back into her chair and fussed with Shoyou’s blankets, making sure he was completely covered.

“Did you hear that, Shoyou? We might be able to finally thank the Little Giant for that day. Hurry and wake up so we can do it together, okay?” Natsu yawned, resting her head on the bedside. “Then you can meet Mr. Suga and Mr. Boss and Mr. Noya! Mr. Boss makes the best hot chocolate in the whole wide world, and Mr. Suga is the super-doctor who saved your life. Maybe I should call him Dr. Suga? Mr. Noya is silly, but I think you will get along with him just fine. Mr. Driverー Enno… something, I thinkー seems nice too. Mr. Shaved Head is just as loud as Mr. Noya! But he worked hard to help Dr. Suga; same with Mr. Scary Guy. Mr. Scary Guy is really tall, like if–I–were–to–stand–on–your–shoulders kind of tall!” Natsu lulled herself to sleep talking about all the wonderful and silly people she had met, and soon the siblings were sleeping soundly.

 

Suga returned and as usual, Boss had a cup of coffee freshly made waiting for him.

“Did you get some answers, Suga?” Boss asked. Suga sipped his coffee with a nod. He opened his mouth, but then Kinoshita burst into the diner.

“Boss! We got four dead bodies and two missing kids on our old territory currently in possession of Seijoh! The owner of the brothel along with three others were found with their heads smashed in earlier tonight, and the owner’s kids are missing! It sounds like a nasty sceneー Oh, and the cops are freaking out, because apparently the ownerー a Mr. Hotaru? Mr. Haruka? Whateverー was this big shot in the brothel scene, and had a lot of blackmail on the authorities! They’re worried whoever killed him now has all his information!”

Everyone in the diner stood up, looking to the Boss, waiting for directions. “Was it a Mr. Hinata?” Boss asked.

“Yeah, that’s it! Did you know him or something?”

Instead of answering Kinoshita, the Boss just looked at Suga. “I’m guessing whatever you were about to tell me lines up with what Kinoshita just reported?” Suga nodded, frowning. “Alright boys, I want no one near the crime scene or engaging the police. I want every move the authorities make reported back to me. We need to keep them off our scent, especially if they’re looking for the kids. And stay away from Seijoh; they’re sure to be sniffing around too, and might suspect us for what happened since it’s our old turf.”

The diner rumbled with cheers, and everyone quickly filed out the door, leaving Suga, Boss, and Kinoshita.

“Did I miss something while on surveillance?” Kinoshita asked, confused.

“Get Ennoshita or Noya to explain it.” Boss bent down for a moment and stood back up with a wrapped meatbun in his hand. He tossed it to Kinoshita who caught it excitedly. “Good work out there.”

“Thanks Boss!” Kinoshita waved as he disappeared into the night.

Boss just shook his head, wiping his hands on the dish rag slung over his shoulder. “So?” He asked Suga, pulling out a cigarette.

“Shoyou and Natsu are most definitely the kids in the report.” Suga sighed, finishing his coffee. “Long story short, those two are the only family they’ve ever known. Some guys hurt Natsu when she was little, and years later she discovers they were close with her father.” Running his finger along the rim of his mug, Suga continued. “Their father feels betrayed by his friends for not paying him, and Shoyou protects his little sister, like he’s always done.” Suga shrugged, a bitter grimace on his face. “Shoyou was the one who raised her, and worked in the brothel just to protect her from their father. There weren’t any signs of outright abuse on the kid’s body, but after what Natsu told me…” He looked up at Boss. “A lot of things added up.” Suga scoffed. “I just can’t believe the kid held his own against four; at least one of them armed. Can’t say I’m upset about the body count though; sounds like they had it coming.”

Boss blew out a puff of smoke. “Good work today. Go get a couple hours’ sleep; you’ve earned it.”

“But I need to go check onー”

“I’ve got it covered. Go home, Koushi.” Boss urged. Suga admitted defeat and dragged himself to the door, giving Boss a final wave as he disappeared to the sound of the gentle bell.

“Now, what to do about the Hinata siblings?” Boss wondered aloud to himself, finishing up with his cigarette.

Someone popped their head through the kitchen doors, catching the Boss’s attention.

“Boss? I’ve finished cleaning the kitchen.” The raven haired boy reported. Boss grinned, snuffing out his cigarette.

“Kageyama, perfect timing. I’ve got another job for you."

Chapter Text

Kageyama Tobio had lived in foster homes his whole life. Orphaned in his infancy, he bounced from place to place, never having anything to call his own. He never had someone teach him how to do almost anything, instead learning it by himself. Because of this, his emotional growth was… stunted, to say the least, and his social skills were almost non-existent.

Eventually, he found himself in Solace, as all wandering souls do. His foster family didn’t hurt him, nor did they fail to provide the necessities required for a growing child, but they didn’t pay attention to him. So he ran away; a ploy to get someone, anyone, to notice him.

However, Kageyama quickly found himself lost on Solace’s cruel city streets. Whether it was pure luck or sheer misfortune, Kageyama was found by Aoba Johsai, who quickly took him in. Kids were easy to manipulate and great for acting as couriers, after all. Kageyama wasn’t the first child to go missing in Solace’s streets nor would he be the last; it was a common enough occurrence for everyone to turn a blind eye here in Solace.

Just happy someone wanted him, Kageyama eagerly did whatever was asked of him. He was agile and quick, and his instincts had to yet lead him astray. And after an unfortunate incident, it was discovered that Kageyama was a natural when it came to firearms. So of course the yakuza poured all their resources into his promising future.

The other children didn’t like him much. He was the adults’ favourite; always getting special treatment and attention. Pair that with the fact that he was just weird , being no good at playing with the other children, often becoming brash and even violent with others. So, true to preteen coping skills, they excluded him, took things from him, tormented him whenever they could get away with it. Kageyama, emotionally stunted and antisocial as he was, just couldn’t understand why they were being so cruel to him.

There was a member of Seijoh that Kageyama admired greatly. Not only was he one of the best shots Aoba Johsai had and an excellent strategist, but he also defended Kageyama from the other children on multiple occasions.

“He follows you like a baby bird.” Iwaizumi Hajime would always observe.

“It’s because he has good taste, Iwa-chan.” Oikawa Tooru would laugh, patting Kageyama on the head. So what if Kageyama wanted to follow Oikawa? He was the only person Kageyama felt he could connect to. “You’ll make a great Yakuza someday, Tobio-chan!” Oikawa always told him. So why would Kageyama believe anything different?

Wanting to prove his worth, Tobio worked harder than any of the other children, only distancing himself from the others further, and getting more attention from the affiliated members. He thrived off of the attention.

He was officially sworn in when he was only sixteen. He couldn’t wait to show his new affiliation tattoos to Oikawa, who had been away for some time at this point, and proudly tell his mentor, “You were right!” But Oikawa had other things to worry about at the time.

Kageyama barged into Oikawa’s room, too excited to think any better. He found Oikawa in one of his moods, furious and irrational.

“Oikawa!” Kageyama grinned, already rolling up his sleeves. Oikawa whipped around to see who had so rudely barged into his room without giving him time to collect himself and growled. “I don’t have time for games right now, Tobio!” he snapped, stomping to the doorway.

“But Oikawa-san, look!” Kageyama protested, gesturing to his arms. But Oikawa didn’t notice. Instead, he snarled, and slammed the door shut, leaning against it with all his might. Kageyama had a hand left in the doorframe, and screamed with the bones in his fingers shattered.

It took months of rehabilitation for his left hand to heal, but his mind never did. His left hand was all but uselessー he was useless. He was handicapped, and every task he was given was minor; the risk of him messing up the important jobs was just too high. Instead of looking at him with praise or admiration, the others looked at him with pity.

It was suffocating.

He became more reckless, more prone to act out. It got to a point where he wasn’t given any tasks at all; he was to sit and behave until he was called on. It was meant to cool him down; it only pushed him over the edge.

Oikawa felt awful, of course, and tried to apologize many times. But Kageyama refused to listen to him. He felt betrayed and broken by the one person he thought he had connected to; it was too much. He didn’t know how to tell Oikawa that. He didn’t know how to tell himself that.

Eventually, Kageyama’s bitterness grew contagious, and Oikawa stopped trying to reach out to Kageyama. The bitterness they held flourished in the isolation, and it grew into a vicious hatred.

It was only a matter of time before Kageyama had enough. For two years he spiraled into chaos, and he had long since fallen back into old habits. Much like he did as a child, Kageyama Tobio ran away trying to get someone to notice him, to notice he was still capable. He ended up in a neighbouring organization’s territory; a gang that had long since declined in power. He couldn’t bring himself to care about the politics of it all. He couldn’t really care about anything. He was just angry.

Late into the night, he stood pressed against the wall of a quiet eatery in an attempt to get away from the pouring rain. It was shabby and looked a little worse for wear, but the soft yellow light it gave out seemed welcoming enough.

A soft bell sang as a middle aged man in a white apron stepped outside, moving away from the door before leaning on the window and lighting a cigarette.

Kageyama pressed himself closer to the wall trying to stay unseen. He watched the man with bleached hair with a haunted disinterest. The man breathed out a puff of smoke, his features mostly silhouetted by the dim light of the diner.

The man flicked his cigarette butt into the shadowed rain in front of him and took a deep breath, leaning his head against the window to look up at nothing in particular.

“Yow wanna come in for a bit, Kid?” His voice made Kageyama jump. Was he talking to Kageyama? When had the man noticed him? “Well?” the man asked, turning his head to look lazily in Kageyama’s direction.

Kageyama held his breath, unsure of what to do. The man sighed, pushing off the window.

“I’ll make you a cup of hot chocolate. Unless you’d rather stay out here all night, freezing your ass off?”

Cautiously, one hand halfway to his concealed firearm, Tobio stepped forward. The man grinned and stepped towards the door, gesturing for Kageyama to follow. He entered the diner without looking back to check if Kageyama followed behind him, and disappeared from Kageyama’s limited view from outside. Now that he thought about it, the chilly, damp air had long seeped into his bones, making him shiver. Despite what might've been better judgement, Kageyama opened the door to be greeted by the gentle bell.

Immediately the warm atmosphere melted the chill from his body. The diner had quite a few patrons considering it was well past two in the morning, but then again, Solace wasn’t the type of city to lull in activity at night. If anything, it became more lively under the cover of darkness.

The man in the apron was behind the counter bar along the side, occupying his hands with something Kageyama couldn’t see. Hesitantly, Kageyama took a seat at the counter in front of the man awkwardly, fingers still itching for his gun.

The man placed a steaming mug of hot chocolate and whipped cream in front of the teen, wiping his hands on a dish rag that hung over his shoulder. “Drink up, Kid.” He grinned, leaning up against the counter.

Kageyama fidgeted in his seat. “I… don’t have any money.”

“Obviously.” The man snorted. “It’s on the house.” This just made Kageyama more skeptical. The man’s shoulders sagged. “Either drink it or don’t. It’s not drugged or anything; I try to run a reputable business here.” He paused, eyes flicking to kageyama’s hand right hand, still drifting towards his hidden weapon. “I wouldn’t touch that, either. A lot of my regulars don’t like strangers coming in here and making trouble. So sit quietly and drink your fill, and they won’t bother you.”
Alarm must’ve been evident on his face as Kageyama stiffened, because the man just laughed quietly to himself as he wandered away to busy himself with some dishes.

Slowly, Kageyama turned to watch the people in the diner around him, quickly realizing they were watching him out of the corner of their eyes. They chatted quietly with each other, but hands were resting just inside their coats as they studied him, ready to react to however Kageyama did. Starting a shoot out here would get him killed. Especially with his hand slowing him down.

Kageyama reached for the mug, and brought it to his lips with only a moment’s pause. It did look tasty after all. A quick taste had Kageyama’s eyes snapping wide. He hastily chugged the whole thing, smacking his lips together in contentment. Just has he set the mug down, a new one replaced it. Kageyama eagerly took another gulp, but only sipped the rest sparingly, intending to savour the taste.

“ Good, right?” The man grinned proudly.

Kageyama could only nod. “Amazing. Thank you… uh…?” He drifted off awkwardly.

“Most people around here just call me ‘Boss’.” He shrugged with a grin still on his face, extending a hand. Kageyama took it in his left, struggling slightly to make his fingers bend the way he wanted them to, but Boss didn’t comment on it, barely sparing the injured hand a glance. “And you are?”

“K–Kageyama.” He offered, stuttering briefly as he released Boss’s hand. Kageyama immediately wondered if he should have given a fake name; the yakuza were surely looking for him. However Boss only nodded, settling himself against the counter again.

“So Kageyama, what’s a kid like you doing out on Solace’s streets so late at night?” Kageyama coughed, opting to glare at his lap instead of answering. He heard Boss click his tongue. “Shy, all of a sudden? Fine, let me guess.

“You were injured a while back, and have been left on the backshelf by the yakuza because of it. You got sick of it eventually, and ran away to prove yourself.”

Kageyama’s head shot up, hand on his gun in panic. “H–how…?”

“Easy, Kid.” Boss held his hands up in a placating gesture. “I told you some fellas don’t take well to strangers making trouble, didn’t I?” Kageyama swallowed, feeling eyes digging into him from all directions, the air in the diner having gone taut with tension. Slowly, he eased his hands into the air in surrender. The entire eatery itself seemed sigh in relief.

Boss nodded at Kageyama. “Good call.” He leaned back. “I saw your affiliation tattoos under your sleeves, you know your way around a gun and obviously have combat experience in a possible hostile situation.” Kageyama tugged at his sleeves, flustered he was so easy to read. “Oh, and there’s also the fact that Aoba Johsai is willing to pay a huge sum of money for any information about a kid matching your description, all the way down to your injured left hand.” Kageyama jolted in his seat, ready to bolt for the door. Boss only shrugged. “It’s not any of my business, of course. I’m not interested in Seijoh’s money, and honestly I’d rather not get mixed up with them again.” He ran a tired hand through his hair as he spoke, and Kageyama watched him, beginning to wonder who the hell the man in front of him actually was.

“I understand sir. Thank you for your kindness.” Kageyama bowed his head, deciding it was best to get out of there.

“You going back to Seijoh?” Boss asked as Kageyama stood.

“No.” Kageyama answered truthfully. The Boss didn’t seem surprised, and only sighed deeper, muttering under his breath. Kageyama took that as his que to leave, and he quickly made his way to the door before he was interrupted.

“Kageyama, wait.” Boss called, making the teen pause. “I’m assuming you don’t have a place to stay?” Kageyama swallowed thickly, casting his gaze to the ground. He had spent the last three days on the streets sleeping in fitful slumbers, wary of every noise the wind made or the sharp barking of a guard dog.

“We’ve got a uh… spare room out back.” Boss gestured with his thumb behind him, sighing like he himself couldn’t believe what he was offering. “You can stay hereー for the night at leastー and Aoba Johsai will be none the wiser.” Kageyama blanked as the offer. He could stay? And they wouldn’t tell Seijoh?

Kageyama knew he was in trouble with the yakuza; he had a fountain of information on their members and inner workings. They weren’t really the type to forgive and forget, and it was only a matter of time before they found him.

“Why?” He asked instead. “Why bother with me at all if you know I’m going to bring you trouble? Why not just sell me out to Seijoh anyways?”

“Because someone in this god damned city needs to show a little humanity. Lord knows how much we need it.” Boss declared boldly with a fierce stare, taking Kageyama by surprise. Such a mentality was rare in Solace, and often ended up getting you killed.

“And no one will say anything to Seijoh?” Kageyama asked, eyeing the other patrons in the diner who were watching him carefully.

“I guarantee it.” Boss crossed his arms over his chest and addressed the entire diner. “Right, everyone?” A general grumble of agreement answered him.

Kageyama eyed the Boss suspiciously, wondering if this was all some trap. Finding someone willing to show compassion to a stranger is rare in the world, and almost impossible in a city like Solace. But Boss had an earnest look in his eyes; a look that told Kageyama’s instincts that the man was being truthful.

And Kageyama’s instincts had not led him astray yet.

“Fine.” Kageyama nodded stiffly. “I’ll take your offer if you'll have me.”

Boss grinned widely. “Can someone wake up Takeda-sensei?”

 

“Takeda-sensei” turned out to be the small, bespeckled man, passed out a couple seats down from Kageyama. His head was resting on the countertop in a small pool of drool as he snored softly. One of the diner’s patrons nudged the man gently, and spoke low enough that Kageyama couldn’t hear the words.

Takeda blinked blearily at Kageyama as he wiped the drool from his chin, nodding slowly with whatever the diner patron was saying. Kageyama watched the whole time, sipping his hot chocolate idley.

Takeda hopped off the bar stool and walked over to Kageyama, who waited to see what the man would do. But he didn’t spare Kageyama a glance, instead leaning over the counter, catching the Boss’ attention.

He stared at Boss, who seemed to whither under the bespeckled man’s gaze. “Again, Ukai?” Takeda spoke quiet enough that Kageyama could barely hear him; despite the man was standing right next to him. Boss only shrugged and smiled weakly. Takeda shook his head, pinching the bridge of his nose with a sigh. In the back of his mind, Kageyama was sure that he had heard the name ‘Ukai’ before, but couldn’t remember when or where.

“Kageyama, was it?” Kageyama jolted, turning to see Takeda looking him over with a scrutinizing gaze. “Follow me,” he started to the door before he even finished talking. He called without looking over his shoulder, “Ukai, you better not be smoking inside again!” and as Kageyama scrambled after Takeda, he watched Boss cough and drop his newly lit cigarette onto the tiled floor, feigning a look of innocence that fooled no one.

There was a rumble of laughter throughout the eatery which was cut off by the door swinging shut behind Kageyama as he followed Takeda. The man in question did not say another word, or even cast a glance to see if Kageyama was in tow. He followed the man in the shadows of Solace’s streets; around to the back of the diner, and along a path in a small series of alleyways, which Kageyama was sure to have gotten lost in if he were by himself. Kageyama wondered if Takeda was taking a detour to confuse Kageyama, but they came out to a dingy apartment complex before he could verify.

Takeda walked up to a back door, touched a key fob and heaved open the heavy door. He ushered Kageyama in, and lead the way up a stairwell onto the third floor. He then lead the way down the long hall lined with doors, each wearing numbers and words in permanent marker.

The jingling of keys caught Kageyama’s attention, and he watched as Takeda fiddled with a keyring until he found what he was looking for and unlocked a room labelled “TA3”. He pushed inside, flicking a light on as Kageyama hesitantly followed. Inside was a one bedroom apartment with a kitchenette, small living room, and not much else.

“You’ll live here for now. It’s not pretty, but it’s definitely better than wherever you were planning on staying otherwise.” Takeda announced, doing a quick sweep of the apartment to check if everything was in order. He turned back to Kageyama, once again looking the boy from head to toe with scrutiny. “We don’t have a lot of rules here, but until we figure out what we are going to do with you, stay in your room. Someone’ll come get you in the morning and show you back to the diner, so just stay put until then.”

Kageyama nodded. It’s not like he had much choice but to go along with it, especially this far into the ordeal. Takeda Pushed past Kageyama to the door, looking back at the much taller man. “Boss is a sucker for sob stories,” he stated matter of factly, “so he’s sticking his neck for you.” Takeda’s eyes bored into Kageyama with a fierce intensity. “If you mess this up, it won’t just be bad for you. Boss is the type of guy who stands out anywhere, but especially in this shithole called Solace. He’s helped a lot of folks, and sometimes they turn on him.” Takeda opened the door and stood in the doorway, watching Kageyama with venom in his eyes. “What I’m trying to say is… If you cross us,” he paused, knuckles going white on the doorframe. “Seijoh will be the least of your worries.” The door shut behind him, leaving Kageyama alone and in silence.

 

Someone knocked on Kageyama’s door at 8:30 the next morning after a long and restless night. He had been sitting by the front door since 6 o’clock, anxiously waiting for whoever was coming to get him. He had investigated the apartment after Takeda left, checking for wires, traps, cameras; everything he could think of that the Yakuza used to no avail. As far as he could tell, it was just an empty apartment.

After that, Kageyama flopped into the bed in the bedroom, all senses straining for the sounds of Seijoh coming for him after they were tipped off by those in the diner. All night long, he waited, but no one ever came.

Hesitantly, Kageyama answered the door to find a thug waiting on the other side with a nasty grimace on his face. He all but growled at Kageyama.

“You’re the one Boss took pity on, eh?” He spoke in a lofty manner, the same expression on his face the whole time. Kageyama nodded. “What’re you waiting for then? Takeda an’ the Boss are waiting for you at the diner.” He turned down the hallway, leaving kageyama to scurry after him.

Kageyama followed the shaved head as it disappeared down the stairwell and out the same backdoor Takeda took Kageyama through the night previous. Then they walked through the maze of alleyways; except the trip was much shorter this time around, with only two turns before the diner was in sight. It seemed that Takeda had indeed taken Kageyama the long way around in the night previous.

Before he could dwell on the fact, he found himself being pushed through the back door of the diner into the kitchen. Kageyama whirled on the thug who had pushed him, but the heavy, metal door was already closed behind him.

A hand landed on his shoulder, and Kageyama spun wildly, smacking the hand away instinctively. He met the eyes of his ‘attacker’, and flushed at the sight of the woman in front of him. She had gorgeous blue eyes hidden behind delicate glasses, long, dark hair that framed her porcelain complexion, and a cool and calculating expression on her face. Kageyama’s face went hot as she studied him, holding the hand he had smacked away close to her breaー chest.

“Sーsorry, I didn’t see you there, I wasn’t expecting…” He drifted off as her expression remained neutral. They stood in an awkward silence as it stretched longer and longer.

Eventually, she shifted her weight on her feet and spoke up. “Decent reflexes. Polite manners.” She spoke softly, like she was filing away her observations for later, looking him up and down. “Good balance, steady handsー hand.” She corrected herself, eyes flicking to his injured hand. Kageyama fought the urge to hide his crippled hand behind his back. This was some kind of test, Kageyama realized.

She brushed her hair over her shoulder. “Follow me. Boss is waiting for you.” She lead him through the kitchen and through the swinging double doors to the diner Kageyama remembered. Tacky red and orange leather seats, worn and grungy tiles on the floor, and a bright, fluorescent yellow tinge of lighting that seemed to stay with the eatery in the day just as it did in the night. Unlike last night, however, was the lack of people.

Boss was on one side of the counter, leaning on his elbows and looking at Takeda on the other side, who looked to be scolding the thug that had brought Kageyama to the diner. Other than them, no one else appeared to be in the building.

Takeda seemed to dismiss the thug, who was quick to slink towards the front door. He didn’t get very far, stopping in his tracks when he was looking in Kageyama’s direction, only it wasn’t Kageyama he was looking at.

“Kiyoko!” He cheered, all but vaulting over the set of booths that stood between him and the woman. He barreled towards her, but she just calmly held up a hand, and the thug lurched to a stop, nose inches away from her hand.

“No, Tanaka.” She said calmly, barely sparing him a glance before focusing on Boss and Takeda. “It’s your turn for rounds, isn’t it? Best not to keep Daichi waiting.” Tanaka paled at the mention of the name, and scrambled for the door, blowing kisses to Kiyoko the whole time. To her credit, she didn’t seem phased, and strode over to Boss and Takeda, leaving Kageyama to awkwardly trail behind. She settled into a spot on the far side of Takeda, and kageyama stood a few feet away, shuffling nervously on his toes. He had no idea what was going on.

“So?” Takeda looked at Kiyoko, ignoring Kageyama completely.

“Tobio Kageyama,” She started, “Orphaned as an infant. Solace resident for at least 10 years, affiliated with Aoba Johsai for at least 10 years. Roughly 17 years old. Currently wanted by Aoba Johsai, bounty currently at $70 000.” Kageyama winced. “Proficient with firearms and strategy. Good reflexes. Athletic and fit, good center of balance. Polite. Yakuza affiliation tattoos, permanently damaged left hand.” It wasn’t possible to get all that information from just looking him over for a couple minutes in the kitchen, and Kageyama paled as more and more information spilled out of her lips, like she was reading out a list in her mind. It was terrifying, how this stranger knew so much about him.

It was at this point Kageyama noticed that both Takeda and Kiyoko wore the same leather jacket. It was completely black, save for a single, orange stripe along the bottom hem of the jacket. The more he studied it, he quickly realized that the thugー Tanakaー also wore the same jacket, and the patrons of the diner from last night also wore similar jackets, if he recalled correctly. This could only mean one thing; these people were members of a gangー one with a black and orange banner. There was something familiar about those colours, but Kageyama couldn’t remember any organization or group matching them.

He decided he would piece the puzzle out later, once he knew for sure as to whether these people were going to kill him, let him go, or hand him over to Seijoh.

Boss and Takeda listened quietly to Kiyoko the whole time, both not sparing kageyama any attention. Kiyoko’s voice lulled, and she waited for either Takeda or Boss to say something. “What’s the verdict, then?” Boss asked, finally looking at Kageyama with a guarded expression.

“Beneficial, if he wasn’t a wanted man.” Kiyoko concluded.

“I agree. We don’t need Seijoh breathing down our necks any more than they already are. And $70 000 could sway anyone to rat us out.” Takeda hissed quietly, but not hushed enough to hide his words from Kageyama. Boss just continued to watch Kageyama.

“I don’t want to cause trouble,” Kageyama butt in, figuring now was as good a time as any. “I am thankful for your uh, hospitality.” He directed that mostly to Boss, who was the only one to treat him like he wasn’t gum stuck onto the bottom of their shoe. “But I don’t want to overstay my welcome. I’m grateful there even was a welcome.” He finished, resisting the urge to fidget under the three intense stares.

Something seemed to soften in Boss, as he dropped his head with a sigh. He looked up to meet eyes with Takeda, and they seemed to have a silent exchange of words. Finally, Takeda threw his hands up in defeat and swivelled in his chair to face Kageyama.

“Looks like Boss gets his way, as usual.” Takeda grumbled under his breath. “You can stay for now, Kageyama. You’ll work here in the diner or the apartments without complaint, and we’ll shield you from both Aoba Johsai and Solace’s streets. Am I clear?”

“Yes.” Kageyama nodded stiffly.

“One toe out of line, and I’ll hand your corpse over to Seijoh myself. Understood?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

“Great, Kageyama!” Boss finally smiled that huge grin of his, one that was surely infectious. “You can help me and the kitchen staff in the afternoons and evenings. Mornings will be spent helping out wherever an extra set of hands is needed. That should keep you plenty busy; there’s always work that needs to be done around here.” Kageyama nodded along.

“I’ll take him to the garage to meet Ennoshita and see if he needs any help before I head to the bank.” Kiyoko offered, rising from her perch on the barstool.

“Please,” Boss nodded. Kiyoko gestured for Kageyama to follow her, and Kageyama did so, leaving the diner with an awkward wave towards the two men left at the counter bar.

The pair watched the youngsters leave, and then sat in a silence, content with each other’s company.

“You’re such a sucker for sob stories, you know that?” Takeda spoke to the coffee he was nursing in his hands.

Ukai sighed, placing heavy hands on the counter. “He’s just a kid, Ittetsu.”

“I know, and I feel for him; I do. But there are tons of kids just like him; many we’ve already taken in. And none of those ones had bounties on their heads!” Takeda reasoned.

“We’ll figure it out. He’s a good kid; I’m sure of it.” Ukai let out a soft chuckle. “I don’t think your tough act was necessary.” Ukai laughed as he watched Takeda’s cheeks turn pink.

“It works! It takes a lot out of me, sure, but it gets the point across. And I mean what I said! I won’t be afraid to feed him to the dogs if he takes advantage of your fragile, maiden heart.” Takeda accused, making Ukai scoff.

“I’m a sensitive guy!” Ukai defended himself, both sharing knowing grins. They lapsed into a comfortable silence, until Ukai spoke up. “Do you think I made the wrong decision?”

Takeda sighed, casting a glance to the world outside the diner windows. “You know I’ll support you in your decisions, even if I don’t agree with them.” He looked back at Ukai and smiled softly.

“I know,” Ukai whispered, leaning forward. “And I’m grateful for it.”

“You’d better be.” Takeda mumbled, meeting Ukai halfway for a sweet and gentle kiss.

Maybe this Kageyama kid would end up being trouble, maybe he wouldn’t. Either way, they’d figure it out.

The crows would rise again.