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There were times when Kurenai Shinkurou almost wondered what the hell he was doing night in and night out, kicking the shit out of random people, occasionally getting the shit kicked out of him, stumbling (or dragging himself) home, wiping away the hours between midnight and sunrise with bloodstained cotton balls and antiseptic. He didn’t particularly enjoy the job or the idea of the job most of the time – the only things that kept him going were that shining image of a red-haired woman in white he had carried around in his heart since he was five years old, and, admittedly, the pay. The risk of injury and possibly death aside, being a dispute mediator wasn’t too bad on the financial side of things. It was also a lot more exciting than delivering ramen, or playing courier, or directing traffic by roadside construction sites. Or so he told himself, when the weariness threatened to settle into his bones and bunch itself up in the small of his back, where it would throb and ache at the most inconvenient times.

His off days naturally came hand-in-hand with his off nights, when the sound of his fists or foot connecting to flesh or the bone-crushing solidity of a debilitating blow seemed too loud and too real for him to handle and he’d wake up the morning after feeling like someone had drawn gauze over his eyes and stuffed wax in his ears. On those, he wondered and almost asked himself why he had bothered, what might have happened if Benika had not come in time to keep that goon from pulling the trigger and ending it for real. Shinkurou didn’t think it was particularly suicidal, these thoughts; it was just one of those things. Thankfully, a job always came in before Shinkurou could really, really think about it, and things would go on as usual until the next ‘bad moment’. The job to protect Kuhoin Murasaki had been one of those.

It was only later, much later, after he came to like the sound of Murasaki’s small voice or smile at the sight of her dainty feet padding across the tatami or down the street, that his bodyguard stint with her was so much more than a simple distraction, or a small assurance that maybe, he was doing things right.