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Playing Into the Devil's Hands

Chapter Text

“Uhhmm!”

Furihata Kouki happily dug into the soft pastry, the cream smeared all over his cheeks with a speck or two stuck to the tip of his nose. It was the pastry he preferred most, the one with lots of filling in the center, with the giant cherry on top. He would have it every other day, since he was warned the sugar was bad for his teeth, and would sit in the same chair, at the same table, at the same time of day.

“Oh, careful!” a middle-aged woman giggled, “You’re getting it all over you, Little Kouki!”

The eight-year-old scrunched his face as it was scrubbed with a wet cloth, his cheeks flopping as the baker cleansed him of any caked-on leftovers. This was one of his favorite places to be. The warm and appetizing atmosphere reminded him of when his mother used to bake when they lived together.

When Kouki was around four, his mother had passed on, leaving him and his older brother. The location of his father was unknown, and Kouki didn’t know if he ever met him. Maybe once when he was two, but it had only been by chance. He wasn’t even sure if it was him, but it did resemble what he knew about him. That had been the only time, if it was actually him, that he had seen his father. They had never spoken, and the only acknowledgement he had given that Kouki existed was a sparse glance in his direction.

His mother had done a wonderful job in caring for them, but his brother had one day found a line of work that supported them to a great deal. Especially when their mother started to become ill. When she passed, his brother had taken him to a strange part of town, a neighborhood that he claimed would take good care of them. At the time, his brother had stated this was the place the person he worked for owned.

Kouki didn’t think much of it. He was treated kindly, offered many goodies, and had a warm place to sleep. That was all that mattered to him, and he had his brother, his only remaining family. That was more than enough.

Now, four years later, he had become accustomed to what went on these parts. The numerous men in really nice suits patrolling the streets, the shiny objects they carried before they were concealed in some place on their belts, the loud noises that occurred deeper in the streets. Although he still didn’t understand why or what was happening, Kouki knew it was simply part of where he now lived.

They were a family, inviting Kouki and his brother to be part of it as well. Together, they were a larger one. Something he had always yearned to have since he lost his mother so many years back, and barely knew of his father. They took care of him and his brother, and from what he knew, his brother was happy being there. That was all that mattered, right?

The head of their family was Ueno-sama. He would take Kouki through the town, letting him go into shops and look at all the pretty trinkets. He treated Kouki nicely, as though he was actually part of his real family, and Kouki liked him a lot. Almost always did Ueno-sama have a smile on his face, a wide one that made Kouki feel right at home, where he knew he belonged.

But there were times when Ueno-sama was angry. Not at Kouki or his brother, but about other families. At least, that’s what he heard when he had accidentally eavesdropped one afternoon when chasing a wandering kitty. He didn’t know what that meant. Were there other families like his, that walked around the streets with shiny objects in their pockets and made loud noises when they removed them from their hiding place?

Kouki didn’t know.

He dusted himself off, and climbed from the chair in the bakery, carefully landing his feet on the ground. Thanking the woman, he made his exit, walking down the stairs and entering the town.

His brother would soon be returning from the job he had for the day. What job it was, Kouki didn’t know, but it was usually around the same time he came back. All he knew was it helped out a lot, and that was great to know that since it made him happy. If he was happy, so was everyone else in the family. That was how it worked, how it had always worked, and how it would continue to work.

“Over here, Kouki!”

He rushed toward a taller version of himself.

“Shouhei!”

His brother was quick to meet him, pulling him into his embrace and lifting him from the ground. Kouki instantly wrapped his arms around his neck, his head taking refuge against Shouhei’s shoulder.

“Good job today!” Kouki praised, even if he didn’t understand what he was praising exactly. “How was it?”

Kouki was too innocent. He didn’t understand anything, which was probably how he missed the frown on his brother’s face. It was quickly hidden by one of his friendly smiles.

“Ah, it was fine.” He ruffled Kouki’s hair. “What did you do today while I was gone?”

“Visited Kita-san. She gave me my favorite pastry!”

Shouhei flicked his nose. “I can see. You still have a bit of cream on you.”

“I didn’t want her to keep cleaning me.” Kouki scrunched his face. “That rag is wet and gross!”

His brother laughed. “Did you want to go to the park? I’m done with my job right now, so we can go there if you want.”

Kouki looked up at the sky. “Is it going to rain today?”

“Not that I know of. We can go for a little bit, then come back and have dinner with Fukuda-san and Kawahara-san. Would you like that?”

Kouki nodded.

They would go to the park, have dinner with the only two friends he had, and Shouhei would tuck Kouki into bed before he disappeared into the night. Kouki didn’t know where he went. All he knew was it was part of his job. He didn’t ask any questions; he knew better than to. Ueno-sama had taught him that.

Even if Kouki was clueless on what it was.

That was how it always was, how it had always been, and how it would continue to be.

No questions ever asked.

 

 

Chapter Text

Mid-autumn had settled in. The leaves were tinged with red, oranges, and golds, but remained green for the most part. The air was still rather tepid, a warm breeze tickling Kouki’s cheeks and blowing through his chestnut strands. His hazel eyes were wide, staring up at one of the large trees before him. Hand reaching skyward, he tried to grip onto the dangling fruit that temptingly hung above him.

Oof!

Kouki huffed. Why did the really nice apples have to be so high up? He poked his tongue out, standing on his tippy toes to try and reach the shiny fruit. If only he was a few inches taller, maybe he could reach it. When was his next growth spurt, he wondered?

There were plenty of trees within the decent sized garden, but only the high branches held the best apples. Small, and even rotten ones were on the level he could reach, and he didn’t want those. Who would? Peering over, he noticed Fukuda standing on Kawahara’s shoulders, trying to grip a huge apple from one of those higher branches. Maybe he should have asked for the ladder, but he knew his brother would be upset if he did.

Why couldn’t he? In a few months he was going to be nine! He wasn’t a little kid anymore, and could handle it without any problems.

They were usually allowed to pick fruit when it came in, and did so every fall. Fukuda’s mom would always bake really yummy pies. It was their job to collect the apples for it, though. Kouki didn’t mind. It was really fun, but it was a pain when the nice ones were so high up. He thought about trying to climb the tree… but last time he did that, he got a really bad scrape. His brother had lectured him, and he was never allowed to do that again.

Kouki pouted. What was he supposed to do, then?

There was then a stick next to him. Fukuda had run and gotten a broom or something similar.

“Here, Furi! Go under the tree while I hit them. We can get the higher ones this way!”

Kouki nodded. It sounded silly, but maybe it would work. It was better than struggling and then bringing back really small apples.

He stood under the tree with one of the baskets, and Fukuda lifted the broom, aiming for one of the larger apples. It didn’t budge, so he continued to whack at it, over and over.

Until finally.

“Ow!” Kouki rubbed his head as the apple landed on him.

“Come on, Furi! You gotta get it next time! Think of it like basketball. Your head isn’t going to help get it in!”

There was a giggle. Kawahara. “I dunno. Furihata has a hard head, so maybe it’ll bounce in the basket!”

Kouki stuck his tongue out. “That was mean, Kawahara!”

“Ok, guys, enough. Let’s try again. Here, Furi. Stand over here while I hit this one.”

The broom hit another, and this time, Kouki caught it. He grinned, dropping it into one of the empty baskets, and resumed standing under the tree as more landed perfectly.

When they had gotten enough, they dragged the baskets through town. It was a bit of a journey, but the weather was still perfect for walking. The baskets were heavy, and Kouki was beginning to wonder why they hadn’t brought the wagon like last time. He knew Fukuda said one of the wheels was having a problem, but it was better than having to lug the heavy baskets.

Halfway to Fukuda’s house, they met Ueno and one of the men in the nice suits that matched what Ueno sometimes wore. The head of their family patted their heads, and then he was on his way. Kouki smiled, waving even after the man had taken his leave. He wondered where he was going. Thankfully he seemed happy, so at least he wasn’t in a sad mood.

There was a hand on his shoulder.

“Furi.” Fukuda looked serious. “Do you know what those suits mean?”

Kouki shook his head. He never really thought about it.

“They’re really bad. One of those guys came home with blood all over. I haven’t seen him for a long time. I think something happened to him.”

Frowning, Kouki looked at his friend puzzled. How could such nice suits get like that?

“How come it was like that?” he asked, curious now.

“Well, I heard that they’re used for something really bad.”

Kouki was about to ask what, when they reached their destination. Fukuda’s mom was waiting on the steps, her flowery apron covered in flour. She approached them, giving them each a hug and a whispered “good job today” before helping them bring the baskets inside.

The kitchen was warm, and smelt of all different kind of pies. Kouki climbed into one of the chairs, watching as she began to dice the apples. Fukuda was at her side, handing her what she asked for, and Kawahara had plopped himself next to Kouki.

Once the pies were in the oven, she shooed them outside. Fukuda found his basketball, and the three of them headed for the backyard. They played for a few minutes before the question from before began to really bother Kouki.

“Fukuda, what did you mean before when you said those suits are really used for bad?”

The ball bounced on the ground, flying into a nearby bush. Kawahara chased after it.

“I dunno for sure, but I know some things.” Fukuda stepped closer. “And they’re really bad, Furi.”


Early mornings were what Kouki enjoyed. It was when he would get to browse through the many books he had. Some were about animals, some about different sports, and about the trains he heard about across town. He had never gone to school, but he had learned enough through the different books he would get each week. Ueno-sama would usually drop a pile off at the end of the week, or his brother would gather some from the library.

His brother would then sit with him, teaching him about different subjects. Some were boring, and Kouki had no interest in it. Why did he need to know how many apples would be left if he ate one? He was going to eat the rest of them anyway, wasn’t he?

But they there was fun ones. Space, different animals that he had never seen, different places he would like to visit one day. Maybe when he was older, he would be able to. For now, he would just read about them, trying to picture if these places matched the images in his books.

As he came across a photo of a basketball, his memory switched to the other afternoon.

“I dunno,” Fukuda said, “I don’t trust them. I don’t think my parents do either. They’re bad guys, Furi. You shouldn’t be nice to them.”

Kouki frowned. “But Shouhei likes them! Ueno-sama takes good care of all of us, doesn’t he?”

“Maybe.” Fukuda shrugged. “But those men carry bad things. Ueno-sama carries bad things, too. You know those shiny objects you see? They can hurt people. Really bad.”

Book by book he read, but Kouki couldn’t find anything about what his friend had talked about. He didn’t see anything about fancy suits, or the shiny objects they carried. They made loud noises when they were touched, that Kouki knew, but he didn’t think they were bad. Why would Ueno-sama carry around something that was bad?

Shouhei had worked for him, for a long time. Wouldn’t he know everything? Maybe Kouki should have asked him before listening to his friend. His big brother would know so much more than Fukuda did, wouldn’t he?

Angling his gaze to where his brother was at the sink, Kouki sighed, closing his book.

“Big brother. Is it true that the men in the fancy suits are bad people?”

There was a loud crash. Shouhei’s smile had vanished, the dish he was drying shattering on the floor. Kouki instantly rushed to assist, but was gently pushed away. He watched as Shouhei swept up the broken china before tossing it in the trash. The broom and pan were placed to the side, his brother returning to the sink to clean his hands. Not once did that warm smile resurface, and Kouki wondered if he had said something wrong.  

When he had gained his composure, he pulled Kouki forward, a concern expression replacing his usual smile.

“Where did you hear that, Kouki?”

Kouki was puzzled by his reaction. “Fukuda told me that. He said the men in the suits go out every day and do bad things. He told me about one who he saw covered in blood, and he never saw him again.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Shouhei laughed nervously, “You know Fukuda likes to make up stories.”

Well, that was true. Like the time Fukuda told him there was a dragon living in one of the gardens. Kouki thought it was silly, but Fukuda insisted, and they had went looking for it. It turned out it was a cranky old man who didn’t like people running through his plants. He was so mad at Fukuda for that!

“So, they’re not bad people?”

Shouhei shook his head. “They’re our family, Kouki. Remember? They took us in and gave us a place to live. Of course they’re not bad people.”

That was true, too. Ueno-sama had given them a great home, lots of goodies, fun things for Kouki to do. All of it, they owed to the head of the family.

“Ueno-sama is a good guy then, right, big brother? He’s just talking to the guys in the pretty suits and telling them what to do to help the family, right?”

His brother nodded. “Yes, that’s right. Ueno-sama takes good care of us. He’s the one who first gave me the job to help out Mom when she really  needed it.”

Kouki frowned. “Then how come Fukuda said all that?”

 ‘I don’t know, but you know he likes to tell stories. Maybe he just wanted to play a joke on you.’

“Oh.” Fukuda did like to that, but Kawahara did it more. “I guess so. I’m sorry if I made you upset, Shouhei. I was just confused.”

Shouhei patted his head. “It’s okay to be confused. You can ask me anything if it’s bothering you. Don’t be afraid to. But only ask me. Don’t ask Ueno-sama or anyone else in the family, okay?”

“Would Ueno-sama be mad if I did?”

His brother’s lip pursed, as if he was thinking of the correct words.

“No, but he might not like that you’ve been told all these made up stories.”

Kouki nodded. “Okay. I understand.” He paused. “What about those shiny things they carry around that make a lot of noise when they’re touched?”

He could see the worry etched in Shouhei’s face.

“T-…they protect us, Kouki. If someone bad tries to hurt the family, Ueno-sama uses that to make everything better.”

Kouki’s brow furrowed, puzzled. “Does it make the bad people go away for good?”

“Y…yes.”

He could tell the conversation was beginning to take a toll on his brother. Shouhei had begun to sweat, his jaw trembling. Kouki placed a hand on him to try to calm him down, or in a form of an apology.

“I’m sorry if I made you upset, big brother. I just didn’t understand what Fukuda was talking about.”

Shouhei’s laugh was tense. “Don’t listen to him anymore, okay, Kouki? You come to me if you have any more questions.”

Kouki nodded. He could do that.


When his ninth birthday arrived, Kouki received numerous goodies. Fukuda’s mom had brought tons of yummy desserts, and the kind woman who ran the bakery that had his favorite pastry, brought him many. Someone, who he didn’t know had made his favorite omelet, and brought tons of rice as well.

He got a variety of gifts, that ranged from many types of books, a new basketball (since Kawahara had lost his last one), and even a little train from one of the shops. Kouki wasn’t sure who had given him that since it was really expensive, but he was happy to have it.

Ueno-sama had stopped by for a few moments, and with a present, before he had patted his head and left. It was possible the train had come from him since all of Kouki’s gifts were in one corner, and he didn’t open them until later on after they were sharing cake.

They had the party inside, since it was too cold, even beginning to snow a little. It was smaller than the courtyards, but Kouki was fine. Everyone who had come seemed happy and were having fun, so that made him happy.

Games were played, balloons floating throughout the room. Until Kawahara popped one, scaring one of the kitties that Kouki had taken in. It reminded him of the noise those shiny objects made, so he asked his brother about it.

There were no more balloons after that.

The games went on, until his brother was called outside. He apologized to Kouki softly, and then he was gone, heading out the front door. Kouki had peeked through the window, noticing he was talking to two of the men in those fancy suits.

Did they want to come to his party? Was he going to invite them? Kouki didn’t have a problem, but would there be enough cake then?

It was then he noticed Fukuda was next to him, a hand on his shoulder.

“See, Furi?” He pointed out the window. “That’s two of the bad guys.”

Kouki shook his head. That couldn’t have been true. His brother wouldn’t talk to bad people. He was beginning to see maybe Fukuda did like to make things up.

His other friend never said anything. Wouldn’t Kawahara say the same since he and Fukuda were always together?

It made no sense.

With a sigh, Kouki turned away from the window, instead going back to the games. Let Fukuda go on about made up stories. He wasn’t going to get in trouble by Ueno-sama. Fukuda would. 

They were a family, and family didn’t call each other bad people. Kouki didn’t understand why his friend kept repeating it. Maybe he should tell his mom that Fukuda kept making up stories. He wasn’t going to get in trouble.

Shouhei was right. Fukuda was crazy. 


Kouki waddled through the streets, the bulky attire his brother dressed him in making it difficult to run correctly. Snow was beginning to fall, encasing the neighborhood in a glistening white coat, the skies a pale gray. The kitty he was chasing had scurried into a section he had never explored. From what Kouki could recall, this was a section he wasn’t allowed to visit. But he had to get the kitty inside before the weather turned harsh. He had already caught two and had them snuggled in a pile of blankets in his house. This one needed to join so it could be kept warm from the winter, and then he would let him roam back outside when spring came.

Christmas was in a few days, and he was still thinking of what he could get his brother. He didn’t think he was fond of all the kitties he was sneaking into their house, but he never said anything. For that alone, his brother needed something special. Kouki thought of asking the woman who ran the trinket shop around the corner for ideas. She had given him something really pretty last year, so maybe she had an idea of what to do this idea.

It was then a familiar voice caused him to stop in his tracks. Ueno-sama. The man sounded serious, maybe even a bit surprised, and Kouki wanted to know why. He’d do anything to make sure Ueno-sama wasn’t upset. Maybe he could help? This was an area he was forbidden to visit, though. He would have to be really quiet and hope Ueno-sama didn’t see him. Either way, he was going to help out as best as he could, and that could only happen if he knew what was going on.

Would it be a problem if he was in an area he wasn’t supposed to be? Kouki knew that he was forbidden, but he wanted to help. Was it wrong then if he wanted to? So, with every bit of caution, Kouki peeked around the corner, listening closely.

 

“Yes, Ueno-sama,” one of the men in those fancy suits replied, “I received word of it from one of the other families. Nijimura has stepped down.”

Ueno-sama clasped his hands together. He seemed pretty pleased about what the guy in the fancy suit said. Who had stepped down? Stepped down from what? Kouki couldn’t help but wonder what they were talking about, but he knew it involved family. What did families step down from?

“Wonderful. This will make everything a bit easier.”

The intense glee in the man’s voice was alarming. From his hiding spot, Kouki could see his dull eyes were positively gleaming. It was odd, to see a man who was usually composed, always calm, showing that type of reaction. Kouki was glad he was happy, but at the same time, it startled him.

“There’s a problem, though.”

That gleam instantly vanished.

“And that is?”

The speaker was hesitating.

“Soto, what the hell is it?”

 A sigh. “He already has a replacement.”

Kouki could hear the savage growl, like how a giant cat would make. A tiger, a lion. Maybe it was better that his eyes were glittering instead.

“Who is it?”

“I don’t know the name, but he’s extremely young. Too young for the position he has been asked to fill.”

Ueno hummed. “Too young? How old is he?”

“From the information I received, he just turned sixteen.”

There was an uproar of laughter, numerous voices speaking all at once.

“You’ve got to be kidding, Soto!”

“Nijimura put a sixteen-year-old in charge of the Teiko Syndicate? Is he insane??”

“Ueno-sama, this has to be a prank!”

“Does he really think a kid is going to take over for him?”

“What was Nijimura thinking? He must not care about the syndicate anymore!”

There was a loud bang. Ueno had hit something to regain control of everyone’s attention.

“Enough! I can’t hear myself think with all you idiots talking at the same time!”

Silence instantly fell upon the group.

“Now, if this turns out to be true, Nijimura has stepped down and given the role of the syndicate to someone else. If it’s really a sixteen-year-old, then I don’t know what he’s thinking, but we can’t let that knock our guard down. The rules are the same as always. Nothing has changed.”

A tall man stepped forward, bowing slightly.

“Ueno-sama, leave him to me. I’ll get rid of him before he causes any trouble.”

A round of multiple whispers began.

“Are you sure you’re up to that task, Kaboyashi?” Ueno didn’t seem too certain about the sudden ordeal. “We don’t know anything other than his age. Don’t you want to find out more before taking action?”

The one called Kaboyashi laughed.

“How good can a sixteen-year-old be? One less threat for us. It’ll be an easy task.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nightfall had approached, the once gentle snowfall now layering the streets. The accumulation made it difficult to travel. Shopkeepers rushed home to escape any misfortune they risked being out late. The town had shut down for the most part. Hospitals, of course, remained open, as well did a few supply stores if needed. Though, the owners would probably tuck in soon.

Ueno sat at his desk, a cigarette in one hand, and a glass of whiskey in the other. He leaned back in the leather chair, eyes drifting close. The papers he had yet to even glance at lay untouched on the mahogany wood. Why he continued to hold meetings in the courtyard instead of in the manor was beyond him. Especially now with the winter approaching more swiftly.

There was a higher chance they would be discovered, but who the hell was he kidding? If those who lived within the area were still clueless on what truly was transpiring, then they were complete idiots. He’d take no blame.

 A rapid, urgent knocking caused his eyes to slide open. He ignored it in favor of downing his glass and taking a drag, but it only increased, the pounding beginning to move the objects next to the door.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake! See who that is, would you?!”

His second in command moved from where he was stationed at the side of his chair, and toward the door. As he twisted the knob, the door flew open, slamming against the shelves next to it.

“It’s Soto.” The second in command’s voice was blank. “I believe he has something to tell you.”

Ueno rolled his eyes. “What was your first clue?” he muttered, “Yes, Soto. What is it?”

Soto was wide eyed, hands trembling violently.

“Kaboyashi… he… he…”

Ueno took another drag.

“He… he…”

“Spit it out already!”

“He’s been killed!”

Well, shit. He hadn’t been expecting that. Not this evening, that was.

“How do you know he’s been killed?”

Soto was still trembling, face ghostly white.

“He’s… he’s in the…”

The man never finished, launching for the nearby trashcan, and uncontrollably purging himself of his evening meal.

Ueno sighed, annoyed. “Are you through?” Soto rose from his knees, nodding. “How did you find this out?”

“He’s in the alley way by the bar.” Soto took the glass being offered to him. “He’s been…”

The yakuza boss snarled.

“I swear if you fucking vomit again.”

“I’m okay.” Soto took a sip of water. “His throat has been slit, but there’s more. His clothes are completely bloody, and it’s not because his throat is torn. I’m-I’m not sure if he’s been gutted, but there’s a lot of blood.”

Ueno pinched the bridge of his nose. “Well, we’re going to have to go find out. Now won’t we?”

He took another drag, balancing the cigarette in between his lips, and rising from the leather chair. As he began to make his exit, he noticed neither of the two other men in the room were leaving their posts.

“What the hell are you waiting for, you moron? Lead me to where he is!”

Soto jerked forward. “Y-yes, sir!”

“Just what I wanted. To go out in this weather,” Ueno muttered before slamming the door closed.

 

 

 

 

 

Due to the heavy snow, many of the streets were barricaded. Trying to search through a blinding sheet of white within the night was next to impossible, his visibility becoming fuzzy. However, the vibrant crimson splotches soon revealed Kaboyashi’s location. Beneath him, the snow was caked in blood, fresh droplets still trickling from the corpse. Ueno dropped his cigarette to the pavement, crushing it with the heel of his boot before approaching his slain associate.

The second in command stood close by. His queasy expression was enough proof he didn’t wish to move any further. Soto chose to stay off to the side, already having plenty of his fill for the night. Ueno, however, didn’t bat an eye as he took in the appalling scene.

Kneeling down, he noticed a perfectly placed slash mark against Kaboyashi’s throat. Whoever had done so, knew exactly what they were doing. Leaning in closer to inspect the soiled clothing, he carefully pushed aside the torn material, expecting to discover innards dangling or possibly even absent. His fingers brushed against deep lacerations, but that wasn’t what had surprised him.

Words, or what it felt like, had been etched into Kaboyashi’s chest. Upon further examination, he realized there was indeed writing, possibly done by the same blade or whatever sharp object it was that had slit his throat wide open.

“Do you think you can defeat me?” he read aloud, “I am absolute.”

“What does that mean?” his second in command asked.

Ueno scowled. “What the fuck do you think it does?”

It would have been a mystery to who could have committed such a grisly murder, if it wasn’t for two obviously glaring features. One, Kaboyashi had recklessly taken on the mission, and had gone to assassinate the Teiko Syndicate’s new leader. And two…

“Is that… is that a symbol?”

Indeed, it was the symbol that Ueno had seen on Nijimura in one of the times they had unexpectedly crossed paths. The symbol of the Teiko Syndicate. Not even Nijimura was this ruthless. Never had the yakuza boss committed such gruesome slayings. A quick shot to the back of the head, and it was over. There were never any blades involved, nor had any of the victims had their throats exposed in such a graphic display.

“Is he playing with us, Ueno-sama? What kind of childish message is this?”

Childish message, or not, he clearly had skill, on a level he would never expect a kid to have. How good could a sixteen-year-old be? That answer lied in front of him… brutally murdered. He was slowly realizing that this was the beginning of his newest nightmare.

And possibly his worst.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Kouki knew something was wrong when he was awoken that night. From outside his window, he could hear voices, footsteps crunching in the snow. The voices sounded panicked, confused, and really worried. What could have happened so late in the night? Had someone not gotten a Christmas present?

That would have been awful, but it was really late at night, so the shops were all closed. Were these people sad and worried because they couldn’t get into the stores and buy presents? Kouki could give them one of his if they really needed it. He didn’t mind sharing, no matter who it was.

Lifting the blankets, Kouki sat up in his bed, gripping onto the window still to look outside. The glass was fogged, and the snow continued to fall, so it was really difficult to see outside. He wiped it with his hand, hoping it would be enough for him to see outside, but he still couldn’t see anything.

The voices weren’t far. It was almost as if they were right outside his window. Were they?

Another thundering set of footsteps rang in his ears. This time, they were from inside his own house. Kouki turned away from the window in time to see his brother running into the room. Shouhei appeared worried, really worried, and Kouki was wondering if maybe he knew the person who needed a present.

“Big brother,” he said, “I think someone is sad outside.”

Shouhei nodded. “Yeah. Something happened, but don’t worry about it. I’m going to go check to see what it is. You stay here, okay?”

Frowning, Kouki stood up, the blanket wrapped around his shoulders.

“Is someone sad they didn’t get a present? Because Christmas is soon?”

Shouhei laughed softly, but Kouki could tell he was nervous about something.

“Maybe. I’ll go find out though, okay?”

Kouki seemed hesitant.

“Okay, but bundle up. It’s really cold out, big brother.”

His brother gave him a small smile, and then he was gone. Kouki went toward the window, blanket protecting him from the cold that was seeping in through the cracks. He frowned, still unable to see outside, but could hear more voices down within the streets.

Wanting to know more, he jumped from his bed and headed down the steps. Maybe if he stood by the door, but stayed inside to keep warm, he could hear something and find out who was sad. If he couldn’t, Kouki knew his brother would return and then tell him.

It was then he heard Shouhei’s yell.

Panicked by this, Kouki pulled his jacket from the hook and zipped it quickly. He stepped into his shoes, hurrying to put his gloves on, and then stumbled outside. What had made Shouhei yell like that? Ignoring the snowfall, he listened for where the voices were coming from, and headed in that direction. He could hear how scared his brother sounded, and Kouki was confused to why.

Running down the street, he tried not to slip. Kouki could still hear talking, his brother’s voice scared. What was wrong that kept making his brother like that? Kouki had to find out, even if he wasn’t listening when Shouhei told him to stay inside.

He ran, and ran, until he slid across a slicked surface. Kouki frowned, peering down at his shoes where the toes were now stained with some red. Was that blood? There was another yell, and then he realized he was by his brother and Ueno, along with a few other people.

“Kouki!” Shouhei looked scared, really scared. “Why are you here? I told you to wait inside!”

There was a chuckle, Kouki’s eyes wandering to where Ueno was standing.

“Ah, let it go, Shouhei. He has to learn sometime, doesn’t he?”

Learn? What did he have to learn?

“W-well, yes,” his brother fumbled, “B-but not now! He’s too young!”

Ueno puffed on his cigarette. “He’s eleven years old, for Christ’s sake. He’s not a child anymore, Shouhei.”

“He’s nine,” his brother argued, quietly, “Nine is too young for Kouki to be seeing anything like this.”

See what? What was it they saw that Kouki didn’t?

Kouki then noticed more red, the same red that was on his shoes. It led to a white sheet, that was stained the same color. What was under that sheet?

“Bah.” Ueno knelt down before him. “You’re not a child anymore. Are you, Little Kouki?”

Kouki nodded. “I’m nine now. Not a kid, Ueno-sama.”

“Atta boy!” He placed a hand on Kouki’s head. “Your brother needs to understand that you’ll be a man soon.”

Shouhei fidgeted, reaching for Kouki’s small hand.

“Come on, Kouki. Let’s go home.”

They made their way back through the snowy streets, Kouki stopping every now and then to catch a fluttering snowflake. When they were back inside, his brother instantly ran to the kitchen for a cloth, kneeling down to clean the red off his sneakers. Kouki then removed his jacket and hung it back on the hook.

He was still very confused.

“Big brother, what was under the sheet? And why was there so much blood? Did someone get hurt?”

Shouhei stared at him, expression still sad.

“Yes. Someone was severely hurt, Kouki.”

Kouki frowned. So it wasn’t about a missing Christmas present after all. Had they been running through the snow and fallen? Did they hit their head on the street, scrape their hand on the pavement?

“Are they gonna be okay?”

His brother was silent, finishing the cleaning of his shoes before tossing the rag aside.

“Yeah,” Shouhei laughed softly, tensely, “They’ll be just fine.”

Kouki nodded. That was good to know.

 


 

“So did you hear?” Fukuda leaned forward, close to Kouki’s ear. “Someone was killed last night.”

Huh? Who was killed? Kouki remembered the blood and the white sheet, but he never heard anything about being killed. His brother had said that person was really hurt, but he was going to be okay. So where was Fukuda getting this person was killed from?

Was it another one of his dumb stories?

Kouki frowned. “Killed? Shouhei said they were hurt, but they would be just fine.”

“That’s what he wants you to think, Furi. The guy was killed by those bad men. Remember what I told you?”

“He’s not going to fine then,” Kawahara muttered, “He’s dead.”

Kouki bit his lip. “He’s not dead! Shouhei said he was fine!”

“Well, Shouhei is lying! Furi, there is blood still on the street! That guy is not fine, and he’s not coming back!”

No, that had to be wrong. Shouhei would never lie to him. Maybe Shouhei thought the guy would be okay last night, and then this morning he died. That would make more sense to Kouki, since he knew his brother would never lie to him. He would ask Shouhei later about it when he came home.

“It was the men in those suits. I don’t think it was ones from around here, but elsewhere. Ueno-sama doesn’t like them.”

Kouki’s forehead scrunched. “How could they come in here, though? Ueno-sama wouldn’t just let them.”

“I don’t know.” Fukuda seemed nervous. “But they somehow got in. It’s really scary to know that they could get us at any time now.”

Kawahara rolled his eyes. “Stop making up stories, Fukuda. They can’t come in just like that.”

“Oh, no? Then how do you explain last night? They got in, didn’t they? They can get us anytime then!”

Puzzled, Kouki tuned out from the conversation. How come he never heard of this? Their neighborhood was peaceful. They were all one big family. Happy. Aside from Fukuda’s dumb, weird stories, this had been the first time he had heard of anything bad happening. Why was it happening now, or had it been happening before and he never knew? That didn’t make any sense since he knew his brother would tell him everything.

Wouldn’t he?

“I think you’re just dumb,” Kawahara said, “Ueno-sama never talked about what you’re saying. Someone just happened to get in, and someone is dead. I don’t get anything else you’re saying, Fukuda.”

Kouki sighed. The conversation was getting annoying. His two friends were getting annoying. Being in the house with them was getting annoying. He needed to leave. It was no longer snowing, so he could walk around the neighborhood without being too cold or slippery.

Maybe when he came back, his friends would want to talk about something better, nicer. Like Christmas. Why wasn’t anyone talking about Christmas when it was only three days away? Why did they have to talk about something so scary and sad? Kouki that’s what happened last night was, but why did they have to keep talking about it?

“I’m gonna go for a walk,” he announced, “I’ll be back in a little while.”

Fukuda shook his head.

“I wouldn’t, Furi. Those bad men might come back.”

Kawahara scowled. “You need to stop with your dumb stories.”

“They’re not dumb, and they’re not stories!”

“Then how come you’re the only one who knows about this?  No one else does! Last night was the only time something actually happened!”

Stepping away from his friends, Kouki went to get his winter stuff. He wrapped the long scarf around his neck before tossing his jacket on and zipping it up. Peering down at his sneakers, Kouki frowned at the faint red that still stained them. Shouhei had tried to remove it, but couldn’t do it completely. He wondered how long it would stay.

The brisk, winter afternoon air felt nice after being in a stuffy house. Kouki sighed, wandering down the path and passing a few of the shops. Everyone seemed to be how they normally were. There was no scared people like his friend had said. No one looked like they knew anything about last night. It was probably nothing like Fukuda said, and the guy was at the hospital recovering from whatever it was that happened to him.

Kouki stopped on the stairs, choosing to sit down and not let his thoughts bother him. He knew if he had any questions, his brother would answer them. But Shouhei had seemed so scared when he had gone outside. He had taken Kouki’s sneakers the next morning, and cleaned them for what felt like to Kouki about twenty times. His shoes were already dirty; Kouki didn’t mind if they had more stains on them.

But his brother did.

The door behind him opened, and then there was a set of footsteps.

“You look troubled.” It was Ueno. “What’s on your mind, Little Kouki?”

Kouki frowned. Should he ask? Ueno-sama would tell him the truth, right?

“Ueno-sama, is that person really dead? Not hurt?”

The man sighed. “’Fraid so.”

Kouki’s eyes watered. It was true. How come his brother didn’t know?

“I know. Sad, isn’t it? He was one of my friends.”

That made it even worse. He didn’t know it was one of Ueno-sama’s friends!

“I’m sorry you lost your friend, Ueno-sama. I’m really sad.”

The man nodded. “Yeah, he was a good friend, but he also delivered a lot of letters to people for me.”

Kouki’s nose scrunched, confused. “Like a mail person who was a friend?”

Ueno chuckled. “I guess you could say something like that.” Another sigh. “Now I’ll have to find someone else to do it. It’s a fun job, you know. You get to visit a lot of cool places.”

“That sounds like a lot of fun.”

Ueno hummed. “It sure is.”

“Do you have any other friends that can do it, Ueno-sama?”

The man shook his head. “Nah. I can’t trust anyone like I did Kaboyashi.” A pause. “Say, how about you? You wanna do it, Little Kouki?”

He was surprised by the question. To help Ueno-sama and visit cool places? Kouki liked the idea, but at the same time…

“Shouhei says I’m not allowed to go places. Only around here.”

“We won’t tell him. It’ll be our little secret.”

A secret? Between him and Ueno-sama? Kouki liked the idea, to have something special with the head of the family, but would his brother be okay with it?

“I don’t know if Shouhei would like secrets.”

“You’ll be helping him out, though. You want to help your brother out, don’t you?”

Kouki nodded. He always wanted to help his brother. That was for sure.

“Besides, it won’t be far places, but this will stay between us, alright? Your brother doesn’t need to know.”

“How come?”

Why did he have to hide it from Shouhei? How come his brother couldn’t know about the secret? Was it bad? Was Shouhei not allowed to know the secret? It didn’t make any sense to Kouki, so he looked to Ueno for answers.

“It’ll be a surprise. He’ll be happy when he’s surprised. Don’t you think?”

Oh, so it was a surprise for Shouhei! He’d be helping out both Ueno-sama and his brother, and Shouhei would be happy being surprised? Kouki liked it all. Plus, he’d be visiting some cool places!

Kouki nodded. “Okay. I’ll help you, Ueno-sama.”

The head of the family grinned widely, ruffling the brown locks of his hair.

“Atta boy! I knew I could count on you!”

Kouki beamed at the praise. It felt nice to help Ueno-sama. After all, he had done so much for him, so now Kouki could repay him for all of it.


 

Helping Ueno didn’t start until after the holidays had passed. Kouki hadn’t understood as to why, but he had hoped it wasn’t someone’s Christmas present he was supposed to be delivering. If so, they would have been getting it really late, and that was sad to think about. No one should have late presents, especially for Christmas.  

That morning, he waited until Shouhei left at his normal time for work. His brother had expected him to stay around the bakery for most of the day, or to go to Fukuda’s house. That was what his day was. Or sometimes he’d go to “school” at the old lady’s house on the corner. Kouki wouldn’t be doing any of those today, but he couldn’t tell Shouhei that.

It would ruin the surprise!

He waited until he no longer saw his brother, and then headed down a different path. Ueno would be waiting at the shop, with a bag and directions. They had already gone over before what he would be doing, so Kouki didn’t need to be told again. He just had to go and pick up the bag and the addresses where each of every one would be going. It sounded easy, and that was what he was hoping it would be.

After meeting Ueno, Kouki was on his way. The bag on his shoulder wasn’t heavy like he thought it was going to be. In fact, it was pretty light. He didn’t look to see what was inside. Most likely, he would know when he had to hand it over to the person that he would be delivering it to.

The first place wasn’t too far from the shop, but it was a house he didn’t recognize. Kouki held his breath and knocked lightly, waiting for a response. When he didn’t receive one, he knocked a second time, this one a little bit louder than he intended. He didn’t want to seem like a bother, but he couldn’t leave the letter outside. Ueno had strictly told him it had to be given to the person’s hands. Even if he had to keep knocking to get to them.

What if they were asleep? It was still early, and Kouki had thought a lot of people might still be in bed.

A large man then answered the door, cigarette in his mouth. He took one look down at Kouki and scowled.

“Ueno has a kid delivering his stuff now?” The man clicked his tongue. “Lazy son of a bitch.”

Kouki frowned, reaching into his bag to hand over the letter that was for the man. The man snatched it from him, tossing it back into the house before glaring down at Kouki. Then, he shuffled through his pocket, kneeling down and handing Kouki a small sack.

“Here, kid. Take this and buy yourself some warmer clothes. I’m sure that bastard won’t do that for you.”

Kouki looked at the small sack. It made a clink when he shook it, and he wondered what it could be. However, he was more concerned on why the man was so mean toward Ueno-sama.

“T-Thank you, sir, but U-Ueno-sama is good to us.”

The man scoffed.

“You keep thinking that, kid. Whatever makes you happy.”

Kouki flinched when the door slammed closed, and he was alone again. Why was that man so rude? Maybe he had been sleeping and Kouki had woken him up. Did people sleep with cigarettes? That was dangerous, wasn’t it?

He shook the small sack, and then put it in his pocket. There were more letters to deliver, and what it felt like, a package or two. Kouki would have to see what was in the sack after he was done. Maybe it was candy. Did candy make a noise like that when it was in a small bag?

Thoughts aside, he headed down the block, searching for the next address that he would drop the first package off to. Ah, good! This was one he recognized, and the lady who lived there was really nice. He didn’t know about the person who the package was for, but he did know the house when he saw it.

Kouki knocked once, waiting, and then the door opened.

“Oh, Kouki!” It was the lady he liked. “What are you doing here?”

Carefully, he handed her the package, her forehead scrunching as she took it.

“For my husband?” Kouki nodded. “From Ueno?”

He nodded again.

“Oh.” She didn’t seem happy by this. “Well, thank you for bringing it. Can I get you anything? A cookie, maybe?”

Kouki shook his head. “I’m okay, Hata-san, but thank you anyway.”

“Are you delivering more mail for Ueno?”

“Yeah. I’m helping Ueno-sama out.”

The woman tried to smile politely, but her smile seemed tight.

“You’re a good boy, Kouki. Maybe too good.”

That was okay. He liked being good.

“You be careful now, okay?”

How come he had to be careful? He was only going around the neighborhood. Did Hata-san believe Fukuda’s dumb stories? Kouki hoped not, but her expression had been one of worry.

It was difficult for Kouki to get that out of his head.


 

After a little over a month, Kouki was in full swing of being the mail person for Ueno. There were times when he got lost, but he usually found his way to his destination. He was learning more places around the neighborhood, meeting new people. Some were nicer than others, while a few were rude, and sent him on his way without a word toward him. Kouki didn’t pay it much mind. He was helping Ueno out, and that was all that mattered to him.

When it struck eight, Shouhei headed to work, waving goodbye as he took his leave. Kouki waited another ten minutes before he slipped on his shoes, and headed out the door, down a different path than his brother had taken. He couldn’t wait for the day his brother found out about the surprise!

It was almost February now. There was still a bit of snow on the ground, but it wasn’t as cold as it was before. He didn’t need as many layers or to be bundled up to where he couldn’t breathe properly. That was a relief since it was a little difficult, if not, a little embarrassing, having to deliver mail to all these people he didn’t know, and couldn’t see them correctly.

Even if they didn’t really acknowledge him.

Fukuda and Kawahara questioned him where he went through the day, but he would shrug and say he was visiting the other shops. He didn’t know how long they would believe that, but it seemed to be working for almost two months now. Kouki would have to think of another excuse soon.

There had been no other attacks from the group that was against his family. No one had been hurt, or worse, found killed, and Kouki was happy for that. Everyone was happy. Ueno was in a good mood almost every day, and Kouki was thinking because no more of his friends had been hurt. Hopefully none of them would be ever again.

He headed to the meeting spot where he knew Ueno was waiting. The man had the usual small bag at his side, Kouki already seeing it stuffed with a few packages. Curious as he was, he never questioned what was in those packages. It wasn’t his business. He was only helping Ueno out by delivering them to their correct destinations.

“Here.” Ueno handed him the bag. “Just so you’re aware, though, one of them is going to a pretty good distance. I left a note attached. If you don’t mind. If you can’t do it, then come back, and I’ll find someone else.”

Kouki frowned. “I can do it, Ueno-sama.”

“I know you can, but I had to tell you before you head out.”

A bit confused, Kouki left the shop. How far was it that Ueno-sama was thinking he couldn’t do it? Kouki had been the many places in the past month, so why would this be any different? Was it further in the neighborhood, and Ueno-sama was worried it would be too much?

Putting that aside, Kouki made his rounds, delivering mail to the others close by. Most he knew, so they weren’t rude to him when he arrived that morning. But there were still others who took the packages and letters without saying anything to him, and then slamming the door.

The others were nice, offering him sweets or a warm drink and letting him inside for a bit. These people he knew, so it made sense why they were so nice to him. Kouki didn’t understand why the rest were so rude.

Morning soon became afternoon, the winter sun hanging above him, blinding him with its bright light. Maybe he should have worn a hat to keep his eyes from hurting. It had been cloudy for the past few weeks, so the sun hadn’t been seen much. Today, however, it was, and it really hurt his eyes.

When he was down to the last package, Kouki saw the note attached to it with a map and written directions under it.

You need to take the train for this one. Ueno’s note read. Follow the directions I wrote down.

He had only taken the train a few times with Shouhei, but that was about it. Kouki’s nerves trembled. No, he could do this. He had told Ueno-sama he could, so he was going to!

It was a bit of a walk to the station, but he knew how to cross the street and watch out for strangers. Shouhei had taught him all of that. It was a bit scary going into a place he didn’t know, but he wouldn’t be there for long.

All he had to do was deliver the package to the place Ueno wrote down.

Riding the train was fun. It made him feel more of an adult, and Kouki was happy to be doing it. At the age of nine, he was seeing what the world was like outside their neighborhood. It wasn’t much different than his, but there were different shops. Maybe one day he could go and visit them to see what was inside.

Aside from a few looks that came his way, the train ride was quiet. It wasn’t crowded since the work hour already passed, but there were enough people to make it somewhat busy. They would look at him as though confused before returning to what they were doing. Kouki thought it was because he was a kid being an adult, that they kept staring at him. It made him feel weird, but at the same time, proud.

Exiting from the station, he followed through the streets until he came across the address written down. Kouki looked around the neighborhood, knocking a few times before waiting for someone to answer the door. He didn’t know this person, but hopefully they wouldn’t be rude. Kouki didn’t understand why they would be to him. He wasn’t doing anything wrong.

The man that came to the door didn’t seem happy to see him, at all.

“Really? The bastard sent a kid? What the hell was he thinking?”

Kouki rocked on his heels. It wasn’t the first time he heard that. Almost every delivery he had done, if he hadn’t seen the person yet, he was asked the same question. Why did it matter if he was a kid, and why did they keep saying so many bad words about Ueno? He was a good person!

“Kid, do you know how dangerous it is around here? The Teiko Syndicate roam these streets.”

Dangerous? The Syndi…cate? What was that?

“You know nothing about the syndicates, do you?”

Kouki shook his head.

“Do you even know that Ueno is head of one?”

Now, that he could answer!

“I know he’s head of our family.”

The man didn’t seem to like his response, continuing to glare at him.

“You know absolutely nothing, and that selfish fuck has you doing this. You need to get out of here as quickly as possible, and if Ueno asks you to come back here, don’t.”

He wasn’t allowed to help Ueno anymore? Kouki couldn’t tell him no! He had been helping him for almost two months now!

“You understanding me?”

Still confused, Kouki could only nod. The door then shut in his face, and he was left alone once more. He didn’t understand why, but something in him was telling him to hurry back to the train.

Rushing down the street, Kouki avoided the traffic, pausing to look at the map and directions in his bag. Was he supposed to go right? Or left? Maybe straight? No, was it back the other way?

How was it that he had forgotten so quickly?!

His eyes burned, tears gathering at the corners. No, he wouldn’t cry. He was doing adult things now. He couldn’t get upset! Somehow, he was going to find his way back to the train station. But first, he needed to rest over in the alleyway that was coming up. Maybe he had read the map and Ueno’s directions wrong. A little break wasn’t going to be a problem.

But wasn’t it dangerous? That man had said that to him.

Cheeks burning from the cold and exhaustion, Kouki headed down the pathway. He stopped near a fence to look down at the map, becoming more confused. Where was he on the map? Was it that little red speck in the corner? Was it the piece over in the other corner? He looked around for a street name that would match the one on the map, but found none.

Could he go back to the rude man’s place and ask? No, the man wanted him to leave really fast, so Kouki doubt he’d be able to help. Was there a police station nearby? A store he could go to and ask? He had passed a couple on the way, hadn’t he? Or had that been on the train? Or had it been…

One look at the map told him the answer. It seemed like he was in the middle of nowhere.

Becoming frustrated, Kouki leaned on the fence. What was he going to do? He was already running late, and both Ueno and his brother would wonder. Kouki thought of Shouhei’s scared expression, and instantly felt sick. He was trying so hard to make his brother’s surprise really great, and he was already messing up.

That wasn’t what he wanted.

It was then he noticed movement on the other side. Panicked, Kouki ducked, hoping he wasn’t seen. What if it was one of the dangerous people the man had spoken about? Kouki didn’t know what a syn…di…cate? was, but the man didn’t make it sound good.

Peering through the holes, he noticed a man… no, maybe it was a teenager, in a long coat leaning against the wall. His hair was a dark red, head tilted back, and eyes closed as he exhaled a round of smoke. Kouki continued to stare at him, never seeing someone other than Ueno so sharply dressed. Was he someone Ueno knew because of how he dressed?

But compared to Ueno, this teenager was really pretty.

He stood up, gripping onto the fence for a better view, staring at the teenager curiously.

The teenager then lowered his head, eyes slowly opening. They narrowed in his direction, and Kouki once more ducked behind the fence. He resumed to watch the scene by peeking through the holes, hopefully undetected, but the teenager must have noticed because he decided to ask.

“Do you happen to be lost?”

His voice was cold, mean sounding, but there was something about it that soothe him. Even if he sounded really mean, something in his voice made Kouki’s heart race.

Rising from his hiding spot, Kouki shakily nodded.

The stranger put his cigarette between his lips and walked over toward the fence. He seemed tall to Kouki. Not as tall as his brother and Ueno, but he was tall. Maybe because he was much younger than him, but to Kouki, he looked like a giant right now.

“Where is it exactly that you are trying to go?”

Kouki fiddled with the papers.

“If you do not speak, how do you expect me to guide you?”

“T-to the train s-station.”

The redhead hummed. “Ah.”

Kouki refused to meet his gaze, finding it embarrassing that he kept wanting to look at his eyes. They were pretty, he found. One was red, the other gold, and he didn’t understand why he had two different colors. Did anyone else have that?

“You are not too far from it. You have to go a few blocks back, and then make two more rights.”

That sounded easy to get to, but what if he got lost again? Still, Kouki didn’t want to bother the stranger anymore, so he simply bowed his head.

“T-thank you.”

The stranger exhaled another round of smoke, mismatched eyes narrowed, and staring down at him.

“You should not be wandering alone around here. Especially someone of your age. It is extremely dangerous.”

Kouki frowned. “I-I was told that.”

“Then what is it that you are here for? Get moving, and don’t come back to these parts.”

Squeaking, Kouki nodded and dashed from the fence, heading back toward the entrance to the alleyway. He paused to turn behind him to see the redhead staring at him strangely, but then decided he didn’t want to be in a dangerous place anymore.

He followed the redhead’s directions, breathing a sigh of relief when he saw the train station come into view. It wouldn’t be long before he was back in his own neighborhood, and away from the dangers that he had been told.

And probably would have met if the stranger hadn’t been nice enough to help him. He looked mean, sounded mean, but he had helped him find his way home.

So he couldn’t have been mean.


 

 

When he arrived back home, Ueno was waiting for him at the shop. His brow was raised, his sleeve rolled up, and his finger pointing to the watch on his wrist. Uh oh. Did Kouki upset him? Or was he showing him something he had bought when Kouki was away all day? Kouki was sure he had seen that watch before, so it couldn’t have been new.

“You’re late. Did you miss the train?”

Kouki swallowed the lump in his throat. He knew Ueno wouldn’t be mad at him, but he looked a little mad right now. Was he supposed to deliver another package after he came back from these?

 “I-I got lost, but this stranger helped me.”

“A stranger, hmm? You were lucky you didn’t run into someone dangerous.”

Oh, so Ueno knew that the place he went to was dangerous? Kouki tried not to frown. Why would he send him there if he knew it was dangerous? Or maybe because he was late, Ueno thought it was dangerous? Kouki didn’t understand anything, but he was glad to be home. Maybe the other man was right, and he would have to tell Ueno no if he asked him to go there again. Especially now that he was beginning to wonder if Ueno knew it was dangerous all along.

He nodded. “Yeah. It was a man with red hair and different color eyes. He helped me get-”

Ueno nearly stumbled off the steps.

“What did you say?!” He gripped Kouki, shaking him lightly. “Mismatched eyes? What color were they?”

Kouki froze. Why was Ueno panicking so much?

“U-um, I think one was red and the other was gold. They were really pretty, and-”

The head of their family gripped his shoulders.

“That is a very bad man. He’s the one who hurt my friend.”

Kouki’s eyes widened. No, how could that be? The stranger had been too pretty to do something like that. He had helped Kouki when he was lost, so how could he have done that to Ueno-sama’s friend??

“We never cross paths with him. Do you understand? That is a very bad man, Kouki.”

Kouki nodded, feeling ashamed that he had talk to the man who hurt their family. That was the one who hurt, who killed Ueno-sama’s friend? Then Kouki wasn’t going to like him. They would never be his friend. Not when they hurt his family.

“Y-yes, Ueno-sama.”

He felt dirty, wrong, having talked to that man. At the time, though, Kouki didn’t know who he was.

But how could someone who helped him be like that? Someone who had really pretty eyes. Kouki didn’t understand, but if Ueno-sama said they were bad, then they were bad. Kouki knew he wouldn’t lie, and he would listen.

That was how it was, how it always had been, and how it would continue to be.