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The Universal Measure

Chapter Text

“He's in Croatia? Are you sure?”

The leather-clad office chair creaked as the man sitting on it leaned back. The day had been uneventful so far – too much paperwork and talk of money. Taking over his uncle's criminal empire had made his life unbearably dull. Sometimes, he lay awake at night and amused himself with thoughts of what might have happened if he'd listened to his mother and gone to college.

He probably wouldn't have such a nice office, then, but at least Tony might still be alive. The bothersome squirt had always followed him everywhere like a puppy.

“Alright, that sounds convincing enough,” he said to his friend on the phone. “I want you to get him. I don't care what you have to do or how much it'll cost, but get him for me.”

He ran his fingers through his greying hair and hummed in agreement.

“Yes, in one piece, if you can. I want to do all the breaking myself.”

***

The shadows in the streets were long enough that Jigen didn't feel out of place as he strolled along the cobblestones. Lurking in darkness was a force of habit and came so naturally that it was often hard to shake the caution and gloom off his shoulders. Even in neighbourhoods like this where there was laughter and friendly conversation behind half-open windows, and people taking out their dogs, he couldn't relax. His mistrust had saved his ass more times than he cared to count.

He decided to take a shortcut through one of the narrower alleys. He'd already been out longer than planned, and there was a decent couch waiting for him at their hideout.

The sound of approaching footsteps made his fingers itch, even after he saw it was only a middle-aged woman carrying a bag of groceries. It'd be easy to hide a gun under broccoli and eggs.

They were walking on the same side of the street, so he stepped aside to let her pass. She had the same idea, and they found themselves still facing each other, she now clutching her plastic bag even tighter. They both took another step aside, in union, and Jigen couldn't help but let his lips curve into a wry smile. He tipped his hat at her.

“Always embarrassing when this happens.”

“Y-yeah.”

She almost tripped over her feet as she finally made a successful skip to get past him. Jigen shoved his hands into his pockets and continued on his way. He could hear Lupin's mocking words in his ears, telling him that the only thing he could do skilfully with women was to scare them off.

They were renting a two-bedroom apartment skirting the shadier parts of the city. Jigen didn't know why they had come all the way to Croatia, but he was sure Lupin had a plan. There had to be a reason for spending the previous week riding tour buses around the city of Crna Stina and visiting every museum they could find. Lupin would fill them in once he was ready.

He arrived at the right house. The wooden door was splintered and the blue paint was peeling off, but the lock was brand new. He didn't really see the point since he was sure a good kick or two would have taken the door off its hinges anyway.

Their apartment was on the fourth floor, which was also the highest. Easy access to the roof was among the first things they looked for when choosing a place to stay. The place came with the added bonus that the staircase was narrow and spiral, so it would be easy to take out even a large group of people who tried to storm upstairs.

He let out a tired sigh as he entered their apartment. He had gone out to get a pack of cigarettes, but the kiosk right around the corner hadn't stocked the brand he liked, and he had needed over half an hour to find one that had. Both Lupin and Goemon had been around when he'd left, but now there was nobody in the cramped space that doubled as a kitchen and a living room. The light was on, so Jigen doubted they had gone out, at least not to do more than drop by the same kiosk he had tried first.

He was thinking about throwing himself on the couch when he heard it. A female laugh, high and breathy and unrepentantly bold, made him freeze in the middle of sticking a cigarette between his lips. His mouth twisted into a grimace.

He couldn't say he was surprised that Fujiko had snuck into their hideout – hell, Lupin had probably invited her – but it made him pause that Lupin was clearly having a successful night with her. Normally, it only happened in his fantasies.

Well, he supposed Fujiko had to say yes every now and then or even someone like Lupin would give up and lose interest in the chase. And that would mean an end to the easy stream of income she got out of double-crossing them over and over again.

There was a moan from Fujiko, followed by Lupin's high-pitched giggling. Jigen put the cigarette into his mouth with an irritated flick of his fingers and headed back for the door. He could barely tolerate Fujiko on a good day, but for reasons that were dangerous to mull on, it was the hardest when she wasn't pulling Lupin's leg for a change.

Goemon must have fled already. With any luck, he might –

The voice he heard next didn't belong to either Lupin or Fujiko. It was Goemon. But that made no sense because why would he... The next thought Jigen's confused mind conjured up was that he had been wrong. It wasn't sex. It couldn't be. The three were doing something else behind that door. Except that he couldn't think of any other activity that would happen in the bedroom and drag that kind of sounds out of them.

The hell is going on here, he thought. How drunk had they gotten Goemon to make him agree to that? Should he barge in there and save him before he did something that he'd regret in the morning?

Then again, he sounded awfully happy at the moment. Jigen pulled down his hat to hide the red tint of embarrassment that he could feel on his cheeks, even though there was nobody looking.

He should leave. Lupin and Fujiko sleeping together was nothing new, but Goemon joining in was a new element he didn't know how to deal with. He had been sharing this apartment with Lupin and Goemon for a week, and yet he now felt like he wasn't supposed to be there.

They could have at least warned him. He would have known to stay away instead of having to stand there and feel like a fucking idiot. They'd have no right to complain if he shot the lock, kicked the door open and ruined their fun.

Except that he realized it was the last thing he wanted. If he faced them now, he'd also have to face the fact that the three of them were there and hadn't thought it necessary to... what exactly? Tell him to spend the night elsewhere? Apologize in advance for the noise?

Ask him if he wanted to – no, no, better not think about that.

He slipped out, needing all of his self-control not to slam the door shut in protest and decided that he and his pack of cigarettes were going to find a friendly bottle of whisky and have a threesome of their own.

He kept a cap on his thoughts until he reached the nearest pub and got a drink in front of him. The alcohol filled him with a warmth that burned more pleasantly than anger. After a while, he was no longer clutching the glass so hard that it hurt.

He didn't have a reason to be angry. It was none of his business what the others did together. It wasn't interfering with work, and they weren't bothering him with it. The remaining liquid in his glass scathed his throat as he downed it with one gulp. He grimaced and ordered another. Lupin and Fujiko had better be treating Goemon well. He was the one who'd get burned if something went wrong.

After some more time, his thoughts began to get more unfocused. Since when was Lupin into guys anyway? He'd chased countless skirts over the years, but Jigen couldn't remember him ever expressing that sort of attraction to men, except as a joke. Sure, he'd never outright denied it, but with a guy like Lupin, he had assumed that if there was interest, he'd show it loud and clear.

Again, he had to remind himself that it didn't matter. Who Lupin slept with didn't concern him. Never had. It was just... He played with the rim of his glass and wished he could have lit a cigarette to ease his raw nerves.

He was pretty sure Lupin knew he was into guys. It wasn't something Jigen liked to advertise, but they were too close, and Lupin was too perceptive. They didn't really talk about it, just like they didn't talk about most of his other private matters. He'd been fine with that. But if Lupin was into guys, too, why the hell had he never said so?

It made no fucking sense. Lupin made lusty eyes at and sweet-talked women into his bed with varying levels of success every time they met one. It was more natural to him than breathing. It never thrilled Jigen how Lupin let himself be pulled along by his dick and how much money they lost because of it, but he had learned to roll with it. That was just how things were.

And it had given him an excuse to bury intrusive thoughts that, if prodded, would make his life complicated. Now that excuse was gone, and he found himself ordering another drink, which he downed just as quickly as the previous ones. Anything to obscure the obvious conclusion he didn't want to arrive at. Right now, he didn't feel like dealing with any conflict he couldn't shoot.

Movement to his left caught his eye. A man with broad, angular shoulders and slicked-back dark hair was approaching him. He had a glass in one hand and a bottle in the other, so Jigen remained relaxed and pretended he hadn't noticed him. As expected, the man sat down in front of him.

“I can't remember inviting you to my table,” Jigen said, though one glance at the bottle made him reconsider. That was good whisky.

The man tilted the bottle to fill Jigen's glass, then his own. “I want to talk business. ”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

“Let's not do this the hard way. I even brought a gift to grease the gears.” The man took a sip of his drink. Jigen didn't touch his, not wanting to give the impression that he was willing to agree to anything.

“I know who you are,” the man continued. “My employer is interested in buying your services, Daisuke Jigen.”

Someone had been watching them – closely enough to know they'd find him here and alone. So much for being careful and not arousing suspicion. It was almost a new record. Usually, they at least got started on their plans before someone figured them out.

“Sorry, I'm here on holiday.”

“It wouldn't take much of your time. Just one night. And the pay is good. That'd make the rest of your holiday more enjoyable, wouldn't it?”

“Not interested. If I was so broke I had to accept vague job offers from strangers, I wouldn't be on holiday in the first place.” Or alive, most likely. He still worked with people other than Lupin, but only if it was someone he knew from before, or there was something particular in it for him. The days when he took needless risks just to eat were long over.

The man let out a grunt of disappointment. “You haven't even heard what I have to say.” Without giving him time for further objections, he proceeded to tell Jigen about a shipment of goods that was coming from Italy by boat the following night. His employer was suspecting one of his local associates of double-cross and wanted to make sure everything went smoothly.

Jigen felt a little insulted. “You don't need me for that. Anyone can show up with a gun and look menacing.”

“The boss only wants the best. And since you're in town anyway –”

“About that, how long have you been watching us?”

The man gave him a knowing smile that seemed unfittingly soft on his features.“It's only natural to want to know what goes on in your own city. People as famous as you can't expect to travel without anyone noticing.”

That might have been true for anyone else, but Lupin could make miracles happen. Jigen didn't know how he did it, but sometimes they just booked a regular flight and walked right through security at the airport without anyone bothering them. That they had been discovered this easily here could mean one of two things – this man and his people were extremely lucky, or they were extremely competent.

“What's your name anyway? I hate guys who don't introduce themselves,” he said. He finally reached for his glass and hoped it made his question seem casual. Lupin could use the information that someone was onto them.

“Fair enough. I'm Marko Vuković.”

Jigen weighed the name in his mind, but it said nothing to him. It could be fake, but he wasn't familiar enough with the local underworld to make a guess.

“Yeah, okay. But like I said, I'm not interested.”

Vuković dipped two fingers into his breast pocket and slid a small card over the table to Jigen. “The amount we're willing to pay is written on the other side. Take this in case you change your mind.”

“Not likely.” Jigen took the card anyway. It might prove useful somehow, and he figured pocketing it was a small price to pay if it got rid of this guy. People who ran errands for criminal hotshots weren't always good at taking no for an answer, but Vuković seemed brighter than the average goon.

“I hope you and your friends will have a good time in Crna Stina. If you don't give us any trouble, we won't bother you.”

“Thanks for the tip,” Jigen said and rolled his eyes under his fedora. He'd yet to meet anyone who was happy about outsiders showing up in their neighbourhood. Their group was particularly unwelcome because the ICPO was always hot on their trail and more often than not took down the local power players in the aftermath of the chaos that Lupin caused. With that in mind, it was a surprise he was getting a job offer. He would have rather put his money on a bullet to the back.

“Nevertheless, I still hope you'll think about our offer.”

“What, you hard of hearing or just stupid?”

The only reaction his words got out of Vuković was a chuckle and a dismissive gesture of his hand. “Don't blame a guy for trying. My boss won't be happy to have me come back with this answer.”

“That's not my problem. We're done here.”

“Yeah, I've taken enough of your time. I'm sure you're busy.”

Jigen watched Vuković get up and tried not to think about how he had nothing better to do than drink alone and feel sorry for himself. He couldn't go back to the apartment yet. He wanted to give the others time to get rid of any evidence that anything was out of the ordinary.

“You can keep the bottle. Take it as a welcome gift,” Vuković said.

“Is everyone in the Croatian underworld this friendly, or should I get ready for nasty surprises?”

“You could accept the job and find out.”

Vuković left, stopping to exchange a few words with the bartender before heading out. Jigen watched him leave but didn't relax until nothing happened for ten minutes. He took out the business card and turned it over to see the amount of money he was being offered.

Shit, he thought. Whatever those guys were transporting had to be worth its weight in gold. He'd never cashed that much on a simple security gig before. Without Lupin's mystery plan, he might have given this a shot.

He finished the whisky in his glass and decided to make it his last for the night. He didn't want to have to crawl back to the apartment, and this encounter had left a bad taste in his mouth. It'd be stupid to dull his senses any further.

***

When Jigen returned to their apartment, there was still light in the windows of the main room, but both bedrooms were dark. He'd taken the bottle of whisky Vuković had given him – anything else would have been a crime, and not the sort he was into – and put it down on the kitchen counter that was already crowded with dirty dishes, take-out boxes and empty bottles and cans.

He tried to listen for any signs of life from the others, but all he could hear was the ticking of the clock on the wall. Jigen snorted in amusement as he shrugged off his jacket and draped it over the couch. He hadn't thought they'd be so spent after their fooling around that it'd be lights out when it was barely one in the morning.

The door to the bedroom he shared with Goemon was slightly ajar. He tried to be quiet as he entered and took off the rest of his clothes, but his balance was off after all the drinks, and he hit his toe on a chair in the dark and couldn't muffle the pained “Fuck!” that escaped.

“It's me,” he said immediately after. He hadn't heard Goemon move, but the click of the Zantetsuken being pushed back into its sheath told him where he was.

“You're late. I thought you only went out to get cigarettes.”

“Found a decent pub on the way and decided to take a look. Sorry to wake you.” Jigen sat down on his bed. He realized that if the others had expected him back earlier, they hadn't tried to hide their hook-up since they'd gone ahead with it. That made him feel a little better, and he pulled on his night cap in brighter spirits. Or maybe that was just the afterglow of the great whisky. Better than sex any day.

***

He woke up later than usual and spent a moment listening to the silence of the apartment before dragging himself out of bed. As much as he liked lounging about, he was usually the one who made breakfast.

Goemon was sitting on the floor, sunk in his morning meditation, when Jigen stepped out of the bedroom. It was a common arrangement for them that if they only had two bedrooms, he and Goemon shared. Lupin always got one to himself since he was the most likely to bring someone over, no matter how many times they told him it was careless and stupid. But if the events of the previous night began to repeat themselves, maybe Jigen would start demanding the luxury for himself.

“We're out of clean bowls,” Goemon informed him.

“Tell that to Lupin. It's his turn to do the dishes. Has been for the past three days.”

Jigen's heart skipped a beat when the coffee jar felt light in his hand, but there was just enough to last them through the morning. The reason he always volunteered to prepare breakfast was that nobody else made strong enough coffee. Right now, he needed it extra thick to clear his head of the pounding that the whisky had caused. He was getting old.

“He's not going to do it. He's waiting for one of us to grow tired and cover for him.”

Now that the coffee was brewing, Jigen lit a cigarette to take care of his other craving. “Well, he can keep waiting. I'll do his dishes for him when I'm his wife, and that's never.”

“I suspected it might come to this again, so I've acquired us disposable utensils in case the situation doesn't improve.”

The only clean thing they had in the kitchen was the rice cooker that Goemon treasured almost as much as his sword. Jigen was about to prepare the usual portion, but then he remembered that there might be an extra mouth to feed.

“Is Fujiko still here?” he asked.

“As far as I know, yes. How did you know?”

“Uh... smelled her perfume when I came back last night. Nasty stench like always. Hey, you sure you don't want any bacon? Plain rice for breakfast must get boring after a while.”

Goemon didn't say anything, but the way he turned to look at him with a puzzled look on his face was enough of an answer.

“Guess not,” Jigen muttered and crouched down to see if they had any eggs in their mini fridge. He didn't want to tell Goemon the reason he knew about Fujiko was that he had heard her moan through the door. Then it might become obvious that he'd heard Goemon, too, and the less said about that, the better.

The smell of the food soon lured Lupin out of bed. He was dressed in nothing but his boxers and staggered to the kitchen side of the room, yawning and scratching his stomach.

“Two eggs for me, Jigen,” he said, peering into a few of the mugs on the counter and poured himself coffee once he found the one that was the least covered in grime. He made a face at the first sip but said nothing. Over time, he had stopped calling Jigen's coffee poison, even if it was clear he'd never grow to like it.

“You don't deserve any food until you do your share of the chores.” But even before he was done talking, Jigen had flipped the eggs on the nearest plate and handed it to Lupin.

“I'm busy. I've got a lot of stuff to plan, so you take care of it for me, okay?”

“Not a chance.”

Lupin gave him a grin, mouth full of half-chewed egg. “You always do if I wait long enough!”

“Hmph.”

The sound of one more pair of bare feet on the floor made Jigen turn around, just in time to see Fujiko emerge from Lupin's bedroom. She was dressed in a night robe that ended just below her knees, which, to be honest, was more modest than he would have expected of her.

Lupin raised his fork in greeting. “Morning, Fuji-cakes! You want eggs?”

“No, thanks.” Fujiko came over to see what Jigen had on the frying pan and wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Yuck, that looks awful.”

“Good thing I didn't make it for you.”

“You should be careful. With the way you smoke, drink and eat, it's a wonder your arteries aren't clogged all the way through.”

“If I wanted to hear that, I'd see a doctor. Having an angioplasty would be more pleasant than talking to you anyway.”

She gave him a light smack to the back of his head. “No need to get grumpy. I'm just worried about you.” She moved past him to take a look at the timer of the rice cooker. There were still some ten minutes before it'd be ready. “I could use some coffee right now.”

“There's some right over there,” Lupin said and pointed at the coffee pot.

“You know I don't drink Jigen's coffee.” She moved to stand behind Lupin and draped her arms over his shoulders, then leaned closer to nuzzle his ear with her cheek. “Lupin, won't you be a dear and run to get me something sweeter at the café down the street?”

It was a wonder Lupin didn't melt into a puddle of goo on the floor. “Of course! Anything for you, Fujiko!” And then he was already pulling on his clothes in such a hurry that he almost tripped over his trousers on his way out.

“You could have just put some cream and sugar into it,” Jigen said. The amused curve of Fujiko's lips annoyed him. It always got under his skin how she could make Lupin do anything with a quick flash of skin or empty promises. It was a game for her, and she took such delight in using him as her errand boy. And somehow, the greatest thief in the world was stupid enough to follow along whenever she tugged at his leash.

With a huff, he sat down with his breakfast and began to stuff his face.

“Fujiko,” Goemon began.

“Yes?”

“When Lupin comes back, can you ask him to do the dishes?”

“Sure, I –”

“I'll do the damn dishes!” Jigen cut her off. Like hell he was going to let her bat her eyes at Lupin and manipulate him into doing anything else for her. And Goemon was encouraging her! Talk about being shot in the back by a friend.

And then, just like that, he realized how little he wanted to be in the room alone with Goemon and Fujiko. With Lupin no longer there to draw all the attention to himself, it was all too easy to remember that this wasn't a normal morning.

At least, for him it wasn't. He kept watching Goemon and Fujiko from under his hat as he ate and tried to spot anything strange about their behaviour. Goemon should have been easy to read. He turned into a blushing mess whenever he let the thought of women enter his head, but here he was, sitting on the couch and talking to Fujiko like they hadn't just slept together.

Maybe it was nothing unusual for them. Goemon had known Fujiko before starting to work with Lupin, and it was clear they had a history. Jigen had never asked for details, but now he couldn't help but wonder. Maybe they did this often.

Goemon got up when the rice was ready and filled two bowls for himself and Fujiko. She thanked him when he handed her portion to her. Jigen tried to remember if she normally talked that sweetly to him. Or was he being paranoid?

“So, what's Lupin's new project?” Fujiko asked after a while.

“No idea,” Jigen said. He was glad that Fujiko hadn't gotten the plan out of him even though they'd slept together. Served her right.

“Like you'd tell me even if you knew. Goemon?”

“He's right. We know just as little as you.”

“It must be something big if he's sitting on it this long. You've been here for a week already. This is going to be interesting.”

“How did you know we're here anyway? Did Lupin invite you?” Jigen asked.

“Not this time, but I'm sure he would have eventually. I followed Zenigata.”

“What? He's here?”

Fujiko shrugged and put some rice into her mouth. “I have no idea why you sound surprised. He always crashes the party.”

“Yeah, but we haven't done anything to catch anyone's attention yet.” Jigen got up and began to clear the sink so that he could fill it with water and do the dishes before Lupin came back.

“Maybe Lupin has sent a note to our target without letting us know?” Goemon suggested.

Jigen grunted in agreement. “Wouldn't be the first time.”

“Goemon, did you really think I'd eat this much?” Fujiko asked and showed him the bowl that was still half full.

“I'm sorry. I didn't realize.”

She chuckled. “You don't have breakfast with women often, do you?”

“Well, I...”

“Here, have some of it.”

Goemon's answer was a choking sound that made Jigen curious, so he turned around to look – and was glad he wasn't holding anything because he was sure he would have dropped it.

Fujiko was balancing some rice between her chopsticks and was offering it to Goemon. The nightgown was in the process of slipping off her frame. When he didn't say anything, only stared at her in confusion, she edged closer and brought the rice to his mouth. He had no choice but to accept it. A furious shade of red was spreading to his cheeks, and Jigen didn't know where to look.

Christ, keep your crap in the bedroom, woman, he thought. He didn't want to see that suggestive smile on her face, or Goemon's awkward reaction to it. It was so easy to imagine that they had both looked just like that last night when she'd made her move – because it must have been her. Goemon would never start it.

Shit. He didn't want to think about his friends like that. Hating himself, he turned around and tried to focus on the dirty dishes.

“Jigen, you want some, too?”

“No.”

“You sure? You and Goemon can share.”

Goemon cleared his throat. “Fujiko.”

Jigen didn't need to turn around to know that the two were communicating silently behind his back. He tried to be gentle with the dishes because if he broke something, the others would notice how pissed off he was. There was no way Fujiko hadn't done that on purpose, just to get under his skin. And judging by Goemon's reaction, he had noticed it as well. What the hell did she want? Make him jealous? Of what?

He didn't know what might have happened if the three of them had been alone for much longer, but thankfully he never had to find out. Lupin returned with Fujiko's coffee, and with him there, the atmosphere returned to normal.

“Here you go, Fujiko! With extra cream, just the way you like it!”

“Thank you. That was so kind of you.” Fujiko took a few small sips of her coffee. “Oh, well, I have to get going.”

“What? You're leaving already?”

“I have some errands to run. I'll take a quick shower and be on my way.”

“Oh, oh, in that case I'll join you!” Lupin began to strip, but Fujiko shoved her coffee into his hands to keep them busy.

“Sorry, Lupin. I'm in a hurry. Maybe some other time.”

“But Fuji-cakes! I was hoping we could start the day with a bit more of what we had last night!”

Fujiko laughed on her way to the bathroom. “Not with me!”

Lupin slumped down on the couch, not bothering to put his pants back on. “The love of a woman is so fickle. After all we've been through, she should be a little nicer to me. What do you guys think?”

“I've said what I think a hundred times. You never learn,” Jigen grumbled.

Goemon was quiet. Normally, he joined Jigen in warning Lupin to stay away from Fujiko. It was a sudden and unwelcome change, and Jigen realized it bothered him more than anything else that had happened during the last twenty-four hours. It was like he was suddenly the last man standing on the battlefield.

This was what women did to men. A few nice words and a warm embrace, and all common sense was lost.

He finished drying off the dishes and tossed the towel down on the counter with an angry huff. At least Lupin and Goemon were acting normal. The moment they started being mushy or undressing each other with their eyes was the moment Jigen started looking into early retirement.

Good thing Fujiko was getting off their back for a while. With her gone, it would be safe to tell Lupin about the job offer he'd gotten the previous night, and maybe they'd finally get some details about their heist out of him. It had better be something profitable to make up for the headache this misadventure was already giving him.

Chapter Text

True to her word, Fujiko left soon. She took a shower, fixed her hair and make-up and got dressed in such a short time that Jigen couldn't help but be grudgingly impressed, the way he appreciated people who could put their gun back together without fumbling.

“Are you coming back tonight?” Lupin asked.

“Probably not. The standard of living here isn't really up my alley. I've got a room at the Kraljica.”

“Then maybe I'll come see you there later!”

“Hm, bring something nice with you. Anyway, bye bye! See you later!”

Lupin grinned and waved at her as she walked out the door. “Bye, Fujiko!”

To his distaste, Jigen noticed that Goemon was waving at her, too. His hand was only half-raised and the movement was stilted, like he couldn't decide if he wanted to do it or not. It was pathetic. Jigen glanced at the bottle of whisky that was still where he had left it and considered going back to bed with it.

Luckily, he didn't have to do that because with Fujiko out of the room, Lupin's IQ returned to normal.

“Okay, let's get ready. She's not the only one with a lot to do today.” Lupin reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a flyer. “I found this small museum, and we're going to check it out.”

“Something valuable there to grab?” Jigen asked.

“No, it's just a memorial to a local general who made a name for himself fighting against Napoleon. This city used to belong to the Republic of Ragusa before the French took it.”

“Then why are we going?” Goemon asked.

“Yeah, Lupin. I'm getting sick of sight-seeing. What are we doing here?”

Lupin gave them an innocent smile, but Jigen had known him long enough to be able to see through such bullshit right away. Unfortunately, he also knew that for as long as Lupin didn't want to reveal his secrets, there wasn't much he could do. Maybe if he had big tits like Fujiko, but considering that she hadn't had any better luck last night, it seemed that Lupin was being unusually tight-lipped this time.

“We're on holiday. Come on, guys, don't tell me you didn't need it after what happened in Singapore!”

“You're being a dick, you know that?”

“And you stink. What were you doing last night? Take a shower before we go out. If you smell as scruffy as you look, you'll scare off all the hot tourist girls who're looking for a holiday romance with a guy like me.”

“You'll do a fine job turning them off yourself,” Jigen said, but Lupin's words reminded him of the business card that was still in the pocket of his jacket. He dug it out and handed it to Lupin. “Take a look at this.”

“What's this?”

“You know anything about a guy called Marko Vuković?”

“I've heard of him. He's pretty high up in the local underworld, maybe even the one pulling the strings around here.”

“The boss himself, huh?” Now, that gave an interesting twist to the previous night's encounter.

Lupin examined the card on both sides. “Where did you get this? Whoa! What's this money all about?”

“It's what he promised to pay me if I do a job for him.”

“What kind of?” Goemon asked.

“Nothing much by the sound of it.” Jigen snatched the card back from Lupin. “I'd have to help his guys pick up something and make sure his partners don't get greedy and grab everything.”

“This is too much money for that. It's fishy,” Lupin said.

“I know. I'm not doing it. But this shows that we've been found out and someone is watching us. They knew exactly where to find me last night.”

“And Fujiko said Zenigata is here as well,” Goemon added. He cast a suspicious look at Lupin. “Have you been setting the scene behind our backs?”

Lupin shrugged. “I haven't done anything that should have alerted either Pops or the local hoodlums. I guess I'm just too famous and popular, like a film star.”

“Nah, you're just too annoying to ignore,” Jigen said.

“Stop whining. It's not good for your digestion. Now go take that shower and be quick, or else we're leaving without you.”

Despite how much he grumbled, Jigen always ended up doing exactly what Lupin wanted. He liked to think it was because despite having a loose screw or two, Lupin was competent and got them out of every mess alive, even if not always with profit. But he knew that he just had a soft spot for the bastard. It would be the end of him one day.

The bathroom still carried the scent of whatever Fujiko had put on herself after her shower. Jigen wrinkled his nose and hoped it wouldn't stick to him. He made his shower as quick as he could, not because he thought that Lupin and Goemon would really leave without him but because he was itching to have something to do. Something normal. Something that didn't involve thinking about everyone else in bed together.

“Okay, let's go and see this museum of yours. But then you're telling us what the plan is, or I'm getting on the next flight,” he said when he was ready.

“Where?” Lupin asked.

“Doesn't matter. Away from here.”

“You won't have to. My plan is perfect. I just need some more time to polish it.”

“If you'd tell us what it is, we could assist you,” Goemon suggested.

“Let's not have too many cooks in the kitchen, guys. Planning is my job. You two make things go bang bang and swish swish crash!”

They left the apartment and walked to the nearest bus stop. They had a car stashed a few blocks away in case they had to leave quickly, but for the time being they were relying on public transport. Jigen hated it. The three of them always got strange looks wherever they went, and a crowded bus was a terrible place for a gunfight.

They got off the bus near the cliffs that bordered the Adriatic Sea. It was high ground, and Jigen had to grab his hat to stop the wind from blowing it away. The air was salty in his nose. For now, the sky remained clear, but when they reached the highest point of the street, he could see dark clouds looming in the distance. It would rain later.

This part of the city looked even more worn out than where their apartment was. The streets were surrounded by a wall that had to be from centuries ago and had protected the people against attacks from west. Lupin led them to a small watchtower, and they stopped to look at the sea for a moment. An old cannon stood by the tower. Jigen couldn't resist the lure of a gun and walked over to give it an appreciative pat.

“Huh?” The cannon wasn't smooth under his palm. Something was engraved onto it, and he leaned closer to take a look.

However, Lupin was faster. “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro.”

“What?”

“It's Latin. It means 'Freedom is not to be sold for all the gold' or something like that. It was the motto of the Republic of Ragusa.”

“You mentioned that before,” Goemon said. “What exactly is it?”

Lupin ran his fingers over the inscription. “One of the countless European states that no longer exist. It was abolished and became part of Napoleon's France in 1808. The area has been part of many countries since then. Enough to make you really confused!”

“And why do we care? The part about gold had better be relevant somehow,” Jigen said.

“What? Knowledge isn't enough to satisfy you?”

“Knowledge doesn't buy me cigarettes or whisky.”

“You need to aim higher in life, Jigen.”

“My aim's perfect.”

Lupin snorted with laughter. “Okay, okay. You win. There might be some gold for us at the end of the line, but only if we play our cards right.”

“And?” Jigen prodded when Lupin wouldn't elaborate. But it seemed Lupin was finished with their conversation because he began walking down the street, whistling like he had no care in the world.

“Typical,” Goemon said.

“Yeah. I guess there's no use poking until he wants to talk.”

Jigen was sure there'd be some tight-ass who wouldn't let him smoke inside the museum, so he lit a cigarette as they were walking there. The street was full of people, but most of them were tourists who were only interested in the view of the sea. When they reached the museum, it turned out it was little more than a private apartment where someone was showcasing a few insignificant items.

Dammit, Jigen thought. He had put away his cigarette before he was done with it, all for this? A few drawings, cufflinks and war medals? An elderly man in a dark military uniform was glaring down at him from a portrait on the wall, as if judging him and his disinterest.

He leaned closer to read the tag under the painting. Gaspar De Angelis, 1753-1814.

“Is this the guy you mentioned?” he called out to Lupin over his shoulder.

Lupin was in the process of examining a collection of medals and didn't turn to look. “Yeah, that's him. This whole place is all about him, remember?”

Since Jigen didn't know what they were looking for, he decided to lean against the wall in a corner and not bother with the items. Lupin himself had said that his role was to shoot things. If he wanted someone to sniff around museums with him, the least he could do was tell him what the plan was.

Goemon, on the other hand, went with the flow and scrutinized the knick-knacks, not missing a single one. He probably wasn't getting much out of it. The descriptions for the items were all in Croatian, and the museum was offering only their names in English. Not that it would have helped much anyway. Goemon's English wasn't the best.

After a while, he grew tired of watching the others. The three of them were the only visitors. Even the person who had let them in was nowhere to be seen. If they wanted to steal something, now was the time, but the thought made Jigen feel like a petty pick-pocket.

He sauntered to Goemon. “What do you make of this?”

“I don't understand anything, but if Lupin says it's important, I have to do my best.”

“No, you don't. Let's ditch this place. He's the only one who knows what he's after, so we're wasting our time.”

“You may have a point.”

“Hey, Lupin, we're leaving.” Jigen waited for an answer, but none came. “I said we're leaving!”

“What? Already? You guys are ignorant pigs!”

Jigen and Goemon left the museum and went back to the street that was facing the sea. There was a bench near the watchtower they'd visited earlier. Jigen threw himself on it, draping his arms over the backrest and leaning against it.

“This whole trip is bullshit,” he said as he reached inside his jacket and pulled out a cigarette. He only had two left, but there was a new pack at the apartment in case of emergencies.

“It's not the first time Lupin doesn't tell us what's going on.”

“What, so it doesn't bother you that he's just pulling us along like idiots?”

Goemon was usually the first to grow tired of Lupin's stunts and walk away. That he was still around after a week of nothing happening was something of a miracle.

“I really thought we were on holiday until you started asking about the plan.”

Jigen lifted his hat to get a better look at Goemon. He was making that embarrassed face that showed he realized he had been duped. In the beginning, Jigen had thought Goemon was so gullible because he was younger than the rest of them, but then he had realized it was just in his nature to take things as they were presented to him.

“You never learn,” he said. It was almost to be envied that someone in their line of work could stay that naive.

“I think holiday would be nice.”

“Isn't drifting between jobs basically the same thing? Calling it a holiday makes it sound too stressful to me.” Then again, Goemon was rarely there when their life calmed down. He and Fujiko took off when there was nothing to do and pursued their own goals until Lupin called them back. Jigen tried to remember when he'd stopped doing the same and when lazy afternoons with Lupin had become such a normal part of his life that he no longer noticed them. He couldn't say.

People were giving them strange glances as they passed. Some slowed down, and Jigen was sure that if he had put his hat on the ground, they'd have gotten a few coins from the passers-by who thought they were street performers. Goemon in particular looked like a living statue. Jigen had once suggested that he should dress more ordinarily to attract less attention. The answer he had got had been the Zantetsuken pressing against his chin and Goemon telling him he'd give him a clean shave if he ever uttered those words again.

Wind began to grow stronger as they waited for Lupin. Soon it was making Goemon's hair fly in his face. When Jigen turned to look over his shoulder, he saw that the sky was getting dark at such a rate that they should hurry if they didn't want to get caught by rain.

He was about to suggest that they should forget about Lupin and return to the apartment, but that was when he showed up. He was carrying three ice creams, which all looked like they were about to slip from his hands.

“Jigen, hold these for me, okay?”

“What, wait –”

But the cones were already being shoved at him, so he took them. A split second later, his hat went flying because he was no longer holding it down.

“Lupin! You did that on purpose!”

“Sorry! I wanted to test you. You need to think faster!”

Jigen thought about sticking all three ice creams into Lupin's face to wipe off his amused grin. However, Goemon sensed the danger and snatched them before he had the chance. Jigen had to decide which was more important to him, giving Lupin the punch he deserved or running after his hat.

The hat won. Without it, he was as good as naked. He could sock Lupin when he got back.

The gust of wind that had blown the hat off his head hadn't been strong enough to carry it farther than across the street. Jigen picked it up and put it back where it belonged. When he turned around, he saw that Lupin had taken his spot on the bench.

“You really know how to be a dick,” he said when he returned to the others.

“Can't help it. But cheer up. You can have the biggest cone.” Lupin gestured for him to sit between them on the bench.

“You can't bribe me with that. Goemon's the one with a sweet tooth.”

He sat down anyway. Lupin took two of the ice creams from Goemon and gave one of them to Jigen. They licked them in silence for a while. Jigen was sure they looked stupid.

“I guess there's no point in trying to avoid the rain anymore,” he said when he felt a drop of water land on his hand.

Lupin looked up. “Perfect timing.”

“What do you mean?”

“You've got ice cream in your beard. The rain should wash it off.”

“Yeah? Maybe it'll wash your hair, too.”

“Huh? My –”

Jigen turned over his ice cream and thrust it down on Lupin's head.

“Hey! What did you do that for?”

“For pissing me off.”

“It's because of the hat, isn't it?”

“You've been more annoying than usual all day. I've had my fill, and it's not even lunch time yet!”

Goemon gave them both a light smack to the back of the head with the Zantetsuken. “Cease your childish fighting.”

“He started it,” Jigen said. But he'd end it. There was no point in wasting his time here when he could do the same at their apartment where it was warm and dry and there was a bottle of whisky in the kitchen.

He told Lupin and Goemon that the two of them could visit more museums if they wanted but that he was done. There was already an unpleasant drizzle that, together with the wind, made him want to hunch up his shoulders and lift the collar of his jacket up to his chin. He hated feeling cold.

By the time he reached the bus stop, it was pouring. Water was dripping off the brim of his hat, and he could feel his socks squish with every step he took. His shoes were leather, so he'd have to set them out to dry once he made it back. The last cigarette in his pocket was soggy and useless.

For a long time, he was the only person at the stop. Standing there made him feel even chillier. The damn bus had better come soon. The week they'd spent in the city had already taught him that the local public transport wasn't as punctual as he would have liked.

“Jigen! Jigen!”

Lupin and Goemon joined him at the bus stop, both just as drenched as he was. Goemon didn't seem bothered, but that was no surprise. Jigen figured he regularly spent days sitting under a cold waterfall somewhere in the middle of nowhere, or some other training crap like that.

“Are you still mad?” Lupin asked. He was shivering, and his smile was a little shaky. Before Jigen could answer, Lupin sneezed all over him. “Damn, I hope I'm not catching a cold.”

“Would serve you right.”

“Where's your sense of humor today?”

Jigen knew Lupin was right. He was sulking over things that wouldn't have normally bothered him. He'd have to get a hold of himself before he snapped under the weight of all the small things that were piling on him. He'd feel better after a hot shower and a good meal.

Lupin took out a handkerchief to wipe his nose. Something fell from his pocket, but he was quick to grab it.

“What's that?” Jigen asked.

“This?” Lupin showed it to him, and it turned out to be a large necklace shaped like an eagle. “I picked it up the other day. I thought Fujiko might like it.”

“Did you get it at the souvenir shop? Doesn't look expensive enough to meet her taste.”

Lupin shrugged as he pocketed the necklace again. “It's worth a try.”

“Well, she is a bird of prey, so it's kind of fitting.”

They got on the bus and returned to their apartment, only to realize that they had nothing they could cook for lunch. After a quick round of drawing straws, Goemon was sent to the closest grocery store to buy something, Lupin got kitchen duty and Jigen would clean up after him. It was the ideal arrangement, as long as they gave Goemon a shopping list so that he wouldn't be fooled by discounts for products they didn't need.

“Wow, it sure keeps pouring out there. Poor Goemon,” Lupin said as he watched their friend from the window.

“He can deal with it better than us.” Jigen had found some old newspapers under the couch and was stuffing his shoes with them. With luck, they'd dry properly and he wouldn't have to worry about having them fixed.

There was nothing the two of them could do for as long as Goemon didn't come back. Lupin said he'd take a shower to warm up. He peeled off his wet clothes and hung them over his bedroom door. Jigen didn't turn to look. Why should he? He'd seen Lupin in various states of undress more times than he could count. It was normal.

What wasn't normal was that he was thinking about it, that he was putting conscious effort into pretending that he was reading old sports news in the paper he had bought at the airport. It was pathetic. And all because he knew that the night before, Fujiko and Goemon had not only seen Lupin but touched him, too.

Jigen liked sex. He hoped Lupin would never find out just how adventurous he'd been in his younger days because he'd never hear the end of it. Some of it had been out of necessity. People who worked in the underworld and almost exlusively preferred men didn't have a very large dating pool to choose from, so he'd learned to make compromises. It wasn't until he'd started working with Lupin that he'd allowed himself to think that maybe having something stable and long-lasting in his life wasn't an impossible luxury.

That was why he wasn't sure if he actually wanted Lupin, or if his loyalty and friendship were just messing with him. But sometimes he was overcome by such longing for him that he didn't know what to do with himself. He'd always reasoned that it was better to ignore it. He could be content with what he already had.

But now that he knew Lupin had slept with Goemon, that it was possible to have more, his carefully constructed resolve was beginning to crumble. Worst of all, he was starting to ask questions that had answers he didn't like.

If Lupin was into guys, why had he slept with Goemon in particular? Why not with him? Lupin was always shamelessly clear about what he wanted. If he went for Goemon but not him... Well, he didn't need the meaning of that spelled out for him.

He relaxed somewhat when the door to the bathroom clicked shut and Lupin turned on the water. He put away his jacket and changed into dry clothes, figuring that a glass of whisky was enough to warm him up. To calm his nerves even further, he began to take his gun apart to check whether any water had gotten inside.

“You shouldn't drink on an empty stomach,” Lupin said as he returned from the bathroom. He was drying his hair with a towel and had another one loosely wrapped around his hips.

“I have worse habits.”

“Ha, like that's an excuse.” Lupin came to sit with him on the couch and took the glass from him. “Wow, this is good stuff! Where did you get it?”

“Vuković gave it to me to butter me up.”

Lupin lifted the glass and examined the liquid in it. “And you're sure it's not spiked with anything?”

“He had some himself.”

“Could have taken an antidote beforehand or right after. But since you're still okay, I guess it's safe,” Lupin said. He gulped down the whisky and let out an appreciative sigh. “This is nice. We need to savour it.”

“Then don't pour it down your throat like that!”

“Don't worry. That was enough. I want to see Fujiko tonight, and she never likes it if I'm too drunk.”

“Well, good luck,” Jigen muttered. He doubted Lupin would get any. He'd slept with her the night before, and Fujiko wouldn't cheapen her merchandise by offering it too often.

“We're going to have to do laundry soon. I only have one more pair of clean boxers,” Lupin said. He put the glass on the floor and got up to go to his bedroom. The towel shifted, and before he could grab it and pull it back up, a fresh bruise running up his left thigh and towards his lower back was revealed.

Jigen looked away, but he wasn't quite fast enough for Lupin who noticed the surprise on his face.

“Fujiko is a tiger. Roar!” he said with a cheeky grin and made a clawing gesture with his hand.

“Figures. I'm allergic to cats.”

“No, you're not!”

Before they could continue, Goemon came back with two plastic bags full of food. Lupin went to inspect their contents to make sure he had brought everything he needed.

“Oh, you got local olives, like I asked. Nice! I'll get dressed and start cooking.”

“Lupin,” Goemon said.

“What?”

There was a moment of silence, and Jigen lifted his eyes from his Magnum just in time to see Goemon point the sheath of his sword at the same bruise he'd noticed earlier.

“Oh, this?” Lupin immediately pulled the towel higher. “Fujiko was so into me last night that she gave me this. Okay? Fu-ji-ko!”

In other words, Goemon, Jigen thought. He wasn't ready for the stab of jealousy that followed and made him grit his teeth. Lupin and Fujiko being together was self-evident. It was much harder to accept that Goemon had gotten something that he had always thought was out of his reach.

They didn't speak much for a long time. Lupin got two pots bubbling on the stove, and the sound of that and him humming to himself filled the room. Jigen usually enjoyed these quiet moments when all he had to do was nap on the couch. Now, he couldn't bring himself to relax. He was overly aware of Lupin and Goemon's every movement in the room.

Even covering his face with his hat brought him no relief. It made it worse. Thoughts he didn't like were much harder to avoid when he couldn't distract himself by staring at the ceiling, or the rain in the window.

What had the others talked about last night? Had they decided to keep the whole thing a secret? Why? Earlier, he had thought that was exactly what he wanted, that it didn't matter whether the others were sleeping together or not. Bullshit. He could act like everything was normal all he wanted, but he was more and more out of sync as the day went on.

It wasn't that he necessarily wanted to be invited to join them. He sometimes had passing thoughts about Goemon that way, when he was sweaty after a battle or they were clinging into each other after a narrow escape from death. Adrenaline talking, or just the fact that Goemon was a joy to look at by any measure, he'd always figured and ignored it. He'd been sure the mere suggestion would end with the Zantetsuken cutting off a body part. Who would have thought that Goemon didn't mind?

As for Fujiko, his interest was below zero. On the rare occasion that he was attracted to a woman, it was never one like her. Her scheming was the biggest turn-off he could imagine.

The problem wasn't sex. There were so many other things to enjoy in life that Jigen was sure he didn't need to sleep with any of the others to be happy. The real problem was that the relationships within their group were changing. The others shared something that he wasn't part of, and based on the day's events, they weren't in a hurry to tell him. When it all finally came to light – because it inevitably would – would that leave him standing as an outsider?

Nothing new there. It was the story of his life. But after the years with Lupin, he had thought those days were over and that his gun was no longer the only companion he could trust.

A few hours later, Lupin announced he was off to woo Fujiko off her feet at her hotel. He took the only umbrella they had and waltzed out the door, full of hope and dreams. Jigen couldn't help but wonder how Goemon felt about that. Did he want to join him but couldn't because then they'd have to explain that somehow?

The whisky bottle was half-empty by now. Jigen whirled the remainder of his drink in his glass and glared at it. A whole week of doing nothing but being bossed around. Lupin wouldn't tell them about his new plan, and nobody would let him in on what was happening between them. Why was he even around?

Hell, maybe everyone else already knew about the plot. Maybe –

No. That was going too far. He was being an idiot. Lupin would never cut him out like that, not after everything they'd been through. His mind was just force-feeding him the worst possible scenarios because he was worried. Scratch that – he was scared. He had everything to lose.

And who was to blame? It wasn't enough for that bitch that she had Lupin wrapped around her finger. She was going for Goemon, too, and succeeding. He could act stoic all he wanted, but a pretty face and a sob story were all it took to dupe him.

Jigen threw the contents of the glass into his mouth. Fujiko's tricks never worked on him. Maybe that was why she had decided to distance the others from him. He should have expected nothing less, but he found himself bothered, maybe even hurt. He'd been through a lot with her, too, but he guessed none of it meant anything to her.

Fuck it. Maybe he should go riding into battle and put an end to this. He'd be damned if he just sat there and waited for someone else to pull the trigger. The sooner it was over with, the better. Maybe he could still knock some sense into Goemon.

“So,” he said, the alcohol giving him the final push he needed. “How was it with Lupin and Fujiko last night?”

“Wha – ”

Goemon had been meditating on the floor and stumbled over his own feet in his haste to get up. He stared at him with wide eyes and his mouth open in surprise. Jigen couldn't help but find it amusing to see him that out of his element. He'd probably regret all of this later, but for now he felt a vindictive rush of satisfaction at having caught him off guard.

“I heard you when I came back from getting cigarettes,” he explained when it looked like Goemon wouldn't be able to put two syllables together.

“Ah... Then, why didn't you...”

“What? Interrupt you? It sounded like you were having too much fun.” Jigen leaned back on the couch and hoped that he came off as more relaxed than he felt. He prided himself on having steady hands even when drunk, but now he wouldn't have been surprised if he had dropped the glass.

Goemon cleared his throat. His face was an embarrassed shade of red, and he couldn't meet Jigen's eyes.

“I'm sorry. We shouldn't have. I told them that –”

“Hey, hey, don't apologize. It's none of my business. I just thought I'd mention it so that you can let me know when you're having another date night. I don't really want to be around if you're always that loud.”

“That... well... It's not like that. I don't think it will happen again.”

“Why not? Did Fujiko realize she can't get as much money out of you as she thought?”

That was a mistake. He realized as much as soon as he'd said it. The discomfort on Goemon's face turned into anger, and he straightened his frame with all of his usual confidence back.

“She's not like that.”

Jigen let out a guffaw. “Get real! She lets you screw her once, and suddenly you're smitten like a boy having his first crush? What happened to not trusting her because of the shit she's pulled on us before?”

“I don't always agree with her or approve of her methods, true. But I believe last night was genuine, and –”

“You're an idiot. Go on believing that if it makes you happy, but don't come crying to me when she steals everything you have and leaves you nothing but a broken heart.”

Jigen wasn't expecting Goemon to take his words badly, so he was a little surprised by the growing outrage on his features. Then he realized that he was too used to talking to Lupin like this, but he couldn't do the same with Goemon. He took everything more personally and couldn't deflect an insult with a laugh.

“Whatever mistakes I might make are solely mine. I won't have you judge me for them.”

“What I'm telling you is exactly what you and I have been telling Lupin for years. Now it suddenly doesn't apply? And speaking of Lupin, you slept with him, too? What the hell is it with you guys?”

“That's... I don't wish to talk about that.”

“Fine, don't. It's not like I want to hear the details anyway.”

“Then why did you ask?”

Jigen didn't like the accusation in Goemon's voice. What, he was the problem now? He was clearly the only one who could still keep his pants on and not ruin their teamwork by creating unnecessary drama. It was rookie stuff that you didn't work and sleep with the same people.

“Maybe I don't like watching everything we've worked for go to hell because you three are being too horny for your own good! This will only lead to a disaster.”

“It's under control. We've talked about it.”

Jigen put a new cigarette into his mouth. “You've talked about it,” he repeated dryly as he lit it.

“Yes. What else should we have done?”

“Not sleep together in the first place! Don't you have any samurai code about not doing it with two people at the same time or something? Or with a man? You've threatened to commit seppuku for less.”

Goemon let out an offended sound, and for a split second Jigen was sure he'd draw his sword. He almost wished he would because a good fight might have helped him let out some steam. But Goemon only gave him a long look that made Jigen's stomach lurch with regret, and then he began to walk towards the door.

“Oh, you're just going to walk away, huh?”

“Yes.”

Goemon didn't slam the door. Jigen weighed his empty glass in his hand and fought with the urge to throw it after him. In the end, reason won and he put it down.

“Fuck me and my temper.” He leaned back and rubbed his eyes. That could have gone better. It was a long time since Goemon had got mad at him like that, and he was already beginning to feel guilty. Goemon was the one who kept him sane when Lupin got too much to handle, or when Fujiko's scheming ruined his day.

He didn't want to just sit there and let his angry thoughts circle in his head, so he decided to start doing the long over-due laundry. There was a washing machine in the basement that tenants could use. He grabbed the basket that was ready to burst with dirty clothes and started dragging it down the stairs, cursing to himself that they had picked a house with no elevator.

Jigen stuffed the machine full without bothering to check if anything should have been washed separately. It was mostly underwear anyway. He made an irritated face when he realized that there was also one pair of Fujiko's panties. She couldn't even be bothered to pick up her own mess.

He closed the door of the machine with an angry kick and began to search through his pockets for coins. He found enough to get the machine running, but spare change wasn't all that he discovered. The business card he'd received from Vuković was still there. The phone number and promised sum of money that hadn't interested him earlier made him pause now.

Vuković had said the job would be tonight. At the moment, it was barely four in the afternoon. If he wanted, he could take the gig and be back in the morning, and his friends wouldn't have to know. With Lupin trying to worm his way back between Fujiko's legs and Goemon off sulking somewhere, maybe they wouldn't even care.

Taking the job would be risky, but so was everything he did with Lupin. If Jigen had had a problem with that, he'd have never chosen a line of work where most people didn't live long enough to plan their retirement. And he could use the money. There was no telling if Lupin's mystery plot would be profitable. Even if it was, Fujiko would probably make off with the loot.

And there was a resentful part of him that just wanted to do something without the others, just like they'd been hiding things from him. He wanted more than twiddling his thumbs at the hideout and feeling sorrier and sorrier for himself as the bottom of the bottle got closer.

His decision made, Jigen took out his phone and began to punch in the number Vuković had given him.

Chapter Text

It was all his fault.

Goemon was a man who, when faced with failures, looked for the reasons for them from within. It was undeniable that his weakness of spirit was to blame for the current situation. What had happened the previous night had been a mistake, albeit one that he couldn't bring himself to entirely regret. It only added to his shame.

Everything had started when Fujiko had shown up shortly after Jigen had gone out for cigarettes. They hadn't seen each other for a while, so they'd had a little to drink, and Fujiko had tried to fish details of his latest plan out of Lupin. It had been playful at first, but by the time Lupin had started to earnestly attempt throwing himself at her, Goemon had gotten up to leave.

Fujiko had laughed as she held Lupin's face away from hers, and then she'd said that maybe she'd let him have his way with her if he slept with Goemon first and they let her watch. It had made them both freeze, and for a moment Goemon had found himself unable to breathe.

“I didn't know you had such a vile sense of humour.”

He could still hear the cold tone of his own voice. He hadn't lashed out due to disgust but because it had offended him how she'd suggest it so casually, only as a joke. Goemon wasn't opposed to such relations, but he preferred them to mean something. Lupin was a trusted comrade and an invaluable friend. The thought of sleeping with him on a whim just to amuse Fujiko sickened him.

He had thought Lupin would agree, that he'd tell Fujiko she was being ridiculous. Instead, he'd turned his derision towards him.

“Huh? Goemon, you think I'm that ugly?”

“And I wasn't joking.”

He should have left then. He could have pretended he had never heard his friends say those things, or that they had drunk much more than the bottle on the table suggested. But he'd stayed and listened to Lupin's rambling explanation of how he sometimes, not very often but sometimes, slept with men and how he wouldn't mind giving it a go with him.

“And not just because Fujiko asked,” he had added, as if guessing what Goemon's most pressing objection was. “Can't say I haven't thought about it before!”

“Come on, Goemon. You and I never made it very far. Why not fix that?” Fujiko had said.

The way everything had developed from there still made his head spin. Together, Lupin and Fujiko had worked through his defences and got him not only to agree but to become an enthusiastic participant. Much to Goemon's shame, it hadn't even been difficult. He'd been struggling with inappropriate thoughts about his friends for a long time. An inviting smile form Fujiko, Lupin's arms around him, and all his objections had melted away. He had fumbled more than his part, not having the experience or the confidence of the others, but in the end they had all been left satisfied.

Physically, at least.

He didn't know where to go from here. It was unlikely that what he felt for Lupin and Fujiko would be returned in kind. They weren't like him. He shouldn't consent to any more or he'd sully his honour by presenting himself as a frivolous plaything.

He let out a sigh and opened his eyes. He was sitting on the roof of the hotel where Fujiko was staying. Once certain that he had cleared his head enough, he jumped down, using the windowsills and drainpipe to slow his fall. He landed without a sound and walked to the entrance.

Lupin had told them Fujiko's room number during dinner, so there was no need for him to stop by the reception. Once he reached the correct floor he realized he wouldn't have needed the number at all because there was an obvious clue telling him exactly where her room was.

“Goemon!” Lupin greeted him once he saw him. He was only wearing his boxers and was trying to get in through one of the doors. “Fujiko kicked me out. Can you slash through the lock?”

“You're asking me to break into a lady's room? Never!”

“Figures. You're such a goody two-shoes. Didn't yesterday loosen you up at all?”

“I came to inform you that Jigen knows what happened last night.”

The smile fell from Lupin's face and was replaced by sudden panic. He turned back towards the door and began pounding on it with both fists.

“Fujiko! Goemon's here! Let us in! We're in trouble! Fujiko!”

It took a few moments, but she came to open the door. She had her hair wrapped in a towel and was wearing a bathrobe. Goemon guessed she had been taking a shower and had kicked Lupin out when he wouldn't let her do it in peace. He tried not to think back to what her body had felt against his the night before and was thankful that the robe was hiding her long legs.

“What is it? The other guests are going to complain soon,” she said. She stepped back and let Lupin and Goemon enter the room.

“Jigen knows,” Lupin said, gloomy as if they'd just been read their death sentences.

“Oh? How did he find out?”

“He came back from getting cigarettes and heard us. He confronted me about it,” Goemon explained. “He's angry.”

Fujiko let out a huff. “I knew it. I told you it was a bad idea to keep it from him, but did you two listen?”

“I bet he would have been upset even if we had told him right away. You know what he's like. Gets laid once in a blue moon and then bitches about other people having healthy sex lives,” Lupin said and threw himself on his back on Fujiko's bed.

“I'd be just as angry in his place. Last night shouldn't have happened,” Goemon said.

“So, you regret it?” Fujiko sounded casual, but she was watching him with eyes that made it hard for him to meet her gaze.

“No. I enjoyed it and will face the consequences.”

Lupin burst out laughing. “You talk like you knocked her up!”

“Be serious!” Goemon could feel his face burn, but he was glad he wasn't stumbling over his words. “I understand how Jigen feels. We should apologize to him.”

“For what? I don't know if you three have some agreement with each other, but who I sleep with is nobody else's business but mine. I don't have to apologize to anyone,” Fujiko said.

Lupin let out a sound of vague agreement. Goemon couldn't help but feel disappointed. He had expected more sympathy from his friends, but perhaps it had been foolish. Lupin and Fujiko could see sex as casual entertainment with no strings attached. It was harder for him. He needed something more, and he always regretted it when he let his body's needs guide his actions.

“Besides,” Fujiko continued, “I was ready to tell him right away. It was you and Lupin who got cold feet.”

Goemon glanced at Lupin, who was being suspiciously quiet on the bed. To be honest, he wouldn't have objected if they had both wanted to tell everything to Jigen. But Lupin had said no, and he had felt compelled to take his side.

“Lupin?” Fujiko called out.

Lupin snorted in irritation. “What, you're blaming me now? Like I said, he's a total spoilsport about these things. I just didn't want to tell him and deal with his tantrums, okay? At least... not yet.”

When Fujiko turned to look at him with lifted brows, Goemon knew that she had also sensed that something was off. She pursed her lips and shrugged, as if to tell him that if he wasn't going to ask, she wouldn't either.

“Well, he knows now. Let's just call him and tell him to come over. You two talk it through with him. No need to make such a fuss,” she said.

Goemon took out his phone. He'd been reluctant to get one at first, but then he'd discovered that he could buy different covers for it and had built up a respectable collection of cases showcasing famous woodblock paintings – and a few pop idols, but those were a dark secret.

“I hope he'll answer.”

“He's more likely to take your call than mine in any case,” Fujiko said.

Goemon tried to call him, but the response he got was a voice recording saying that Jigen's phone had been turned off and couldn't be contacted. It was no surprise. They were alike in that regard. They both liked to withdraw to themselves when they had problems.

“He turned off his phone.”

Fujiko sighed. “How childish.”

“I'm going back. I shouldn't have left in the first place, but he wasn't listening to reason.”

“What are you going to tell him?” Fujiko asked. She kept moving her eyes from Lupin to Goemon, an expectant expression on her face. But once it became clear that neither man wanted to take the initiative, she threw up her hands in frustration. “Well? Aren't you going to say anything?”

“I'm not sure what there is to say that would help,” Goemon admitted.

“Fine, I'll go first. I had fun last night. I mean, Lupin is getting a little boring.”

“Fuji-cakes, you can't mean that! And you almost never let me go all the way! How can you say –”

“Anyway,” Fujiko cut him off, “I wouldn't mind doing it again some time. The same rules as always. I don't do exclusive and don't expect it from anyone else. Is that okay?”

Goemon knew the question was directed at him. It was plain to see Lupin and Fujiko had had that arrangement from the start. They meant much to each other, but that didn't stop them from pursuing relationships with others. It was so very them – they never settled for less when they could have everything they wanted.

“I need more time to think about it,” he said. He had no right to expect Lupin and Fujiko to change their ways, but he wasn't sure if he was willing to become part of their agreement. He needed some time alone and relentless training to understand what the correct path was.

“Sure, do all the thinking you want. The offer stays open.”

“That's not fair, Fujiko! You're being so much nicer to Goemon than me!”

“Goemon never tries to grope me or look up my skirt!”

“Like you don't enjoy the chase.”

“Right back at you.”

“What about Jigen?” Goemon asked to direct the conversation back to the issue at hand.

“What did you tell him?” Lupin asked.

“That it wasn't planned and that it probably won't happen again. That was presumptuous, but I didn't know what else to say.”

“Doesn't sound like it helped if he's now sulking with his phone turned off,” Fujiko said. She sighed and began to unwrap the towel in her hair. “But I guess this is the best case scenario. Better now than when we're in the middle of a job.”

“So, what are we going to tell him?”

“A repeat of what you already told him, I guess. It looks like this will stay a one-time thing for now. Or what do you think, Lupin?”

Goemon realized that Lupin hadn't said much about the whole thing. It was rare for him to be that quiet. He couldn't help but think that maybe it was a sign that Lupin, too, thought the previous night had been a mistake. Maybe he'd gotten too excited about the chance of sleeping with Fujiko and had bitten off more than he could chew.

“Fine with me,” Lupin said with an irritated edge in his voice. “I have sex with people all the time. I don't see why we suddenly need to have a panel discussion about this.”

Goemon stood up to leave. “I'm going back. I'll let you know if anything happens.”

“Lupin's coming, too,” Fujiko said.

“What? But I was going to –” Lupin got cut off when Fujiko threw a bundle consisting of his clothes at his face.

“You're off to smooth things over with Jigen. Beat the crap out of each other, drink yourselves to oblivion or have sex all night long. Just make sure he's happy in the morning when I drop by because he's difficult enough to deal with as it is, and I don't want any trouble. I have important business in this city. I might need help from you guys later,” she said.

“I'm not going to sleep with Jigen!” Lupin protested as he got dressed.

“You slept with Goemon.”

Lupin finished buckling up his belt. “At this point, he'd think it's a pity fuck. That's not how I – shit, where the hell is my other sock?”

Goemon decided he wasn't going to inquire what was behind Lupin's suddenly hostile attitude. To be honest, now that he knew Lupin lay with men as well, he was surprised to hear he hadn't been intimate with Jigen. The two of them reminded him of an old engine that had been fixed up with spare parts that didn't quite fit but somehow still worked together.

It was one reason why he liked having Fujiko around. When she was there, he never felt like a third wheel in the relationship that Lupin and Jigen had built between them.

The apartment was dark and empty when he and Lupin arrived. There was no note on the fridge or under the ashtray to explain where Jigen had gone. His phone was still turned off when Goemon tried calling him.

Lupin pointed at the table in front of the couch. “He left his whisky. He'll be back.”

“You don't sound very concerned.”

“He knows how to take care of himself. He'll stumble back in the morning with a hangover from hell, and everything will be back to normal. You'll see. This happens every time I bring a girl to our hideout.”

Goemon couldn't quite shake off his worries. Lupin was making this seem too simple. But he had a point, he supposed. Jigen knew how to handle himself. A more pressing matter on his mind was what he'd say to him when he returned. The feelings he had weren't limited to Lupin and Fujiko. He also cared deeply for Jigen. He'd never planned on revealing that to any of the three, but now that he'd slept with two, it was only fair to be more honest with Jigen as well.

He took a seat on the floor and placed the Zantetsuken on his knees. He closed his eyes and sunk into meditation to block the sounds of Lupin rummaging around in the fridge and turning on the TV. He should have been stronger. If he had been able to suppress his foolish desires, nothing would have happened. Now, he couldn't help but feel that something was changing and that it'd never be the same again.

***

“I was sure you wouldn't take the offer.”

“I'd had something to drink. I'd have never taken this job sober.”

“You want to back out?”

Jigen finished his cigarette, dropped it to the ground and crushed it under his shoe. “When I say I'll do something, I stick to it.”

“That's one reason we wanted to hire you.”

“Speaking of that,” Jigen said and gave Vuković a sharp glare from under his hat, “you haven't been honest with me. You said your boss wanted to hire me, but I hear you're the boss.”

Vuković gave him an apologetic smile. “Got me. But I wasn't lying to you. I'm not the biggest player here. I run things in Dalmatia, but my partner does business all over the world. He's the one who wanted you.”

If that was supposed to be reassuring, it had the opposite effect on Jigen. A nameless international employer could mean trouble. He'd made too many enemies to count over the years. Besides, the story was coming apart at the seams.

“I thought you hired me because you suspected your partner of double-cross. But now he's the one who wants me here? Just who am I supposed to be watching out for?”

“You misunderstand. I mean my partner who is handling the matter with me here in Croatia. The one we're worried about is the Italian side. They're the sellers.”

Jigen said nothing more. He'd worked under worse conditions. It was just that years had made him suspicious and cynical. He couldn't put his finger on why, but this job had trouble written all over it.

Or perhaps he was only restless because right now, he was having a hard time focusing on work and pushing private matters to the back of his mind. He couldn't stop the furious look on Goemon's face from flashing before his eyes and wondering what everyone thought of him disappearing without a word.

Jesus Christ. He was in his forties, but right now he felt like a fifteen-year-old who had run away from home. If he was still alive and in one piece in the morning, he'd use some of the money he made from this job and treat the others to a nice dinner, even Fujiko.

The job itself was relatively simple. A little past midnight, they'd get on a boat and go meet another one that was on its way from Italy. Cargo and payment would exchange hands, and both parties would return to where they had come from. All he had to do was stand aside and make sure the other group didn't get funny ideas about taking off with both the goods and the money.

Darkness hung around the docks, and there was a strong wind blowing from the sea. Thick clouds hid the moon and the stars from sight and made it hard to see anything. Thankfully, the rain from earlier had stopped, but it had left the ground wet and slippery.

It was almost time to get onboard. Jigen had left the hideout as soon as he'd finished up the laundry, but he'd spent a couple of hours napping around the city and trying to get rid of the alcohol in his system. Showing up to work drunk wouldn't do good to his name.

He always liked to hear the details in person and to get to exchange a few words with the men who'd be there, just to get some steadier footing. He'd turned off his phone because if there was something that was both embarrassing and dangerous, it was a cell phone that rang or lit up in the middle of a job.

Apart from Vuković and him, there were five men, all Croatian. They weren't very talkative, and Jigen hadn't gotten much more than their names out of them. And those were probably fake. It was clear they didn't like him, but he didn't mind. He worked well with kindred spirits.

Vuković showed him a suitcase and told him it was the payment for the goods. The people he was dealing with preferred being paid in Euro, but, as he added with a humourless laugh, there was no telling how long that'd last.

“I'll let them have this after I've inspected the goods. If anyone makes a move for it before that, you know what to do,” he said.

Jigen grunted in acknowledgement. He stepped onboard with the others and settled in the shadows in the rear. The others went inside, but he wanted to take his position so that he wouldn't have to move when they arrived at their destination.

They were using an old fishing boat, which made him suspect that the goods they were collecting had to be large. If they weren't, he was sure they would have chosen a smaller and faster boat to make get-away easier if necessary.

“Should I have worn bib pants?” he asked when Vuković came to check up on him.

“What?”

“If something goes wrong and we're spotted, nobody's going to believe we're fishermen dressed like this.”

“Night fishing is pretty popular among tourists here. If someone stops us, we can tell them you're a gun-crazy American who wants to shoot fish in the middle of the night. I'm sure you can play the part.”

Jigen snorted in wry amusement, even as he felt gloomier by the moment. That was something Lupin might have said, and it reminded him of the fact that accepting this job in the height of his anger had been a damn stupid thing to do. Hurt feelings and anger were never a good combination with him.

They were the first to arrive at the agreed spot, so far away from the coast that the lights of Crna Stina blurred together in the horizon. The man at the helm turned off the engine. Everyone was silent and listened to the sound of the sea as their boat rode on the waves, up and down. Jigen couldn't hear another boat approaching, which made him uneasy. The other party was late.

The others exchanged a few words in hushed Croatian. Jigen didn't understand anything, but he was familiar with the tone. They were being careful, just in case he had lied about not knowing their language. He wondered what they were saying that they didn't want him to hear.

He put a cigarette into his mouth so that he could gnaw on something, but he didn't light it.

Vuković sat down by his side and put the suitcase on his knees. “It's always like this. Fashionably late every single time.”

“Why do you keep doing business with them? Punctuality is pure basics in this line of work.”

“I didn't take you for one who gets nervous easily.”

“Not nervous. Impatient.”

“Punctuality is overrated. The best things always come a little late. You should see the woman I just started dating. Wow!” Vuković said with a laugh.

Jigen found himself thinking that he didn't meet the usual stereotype of someone leading his own criminal organization. He was too laid-back. The people on top rarely came to oversee jobs like this personally, unless there was something of exceptional value involved. All Jigen knew of their goods was that it wasn't drugs – he was growing soft with age, he supposed, but he didn't like getting involved with those anymore. If he was going to play part in killing someone, he wanted it to be swift.

“There they are.”

Vuković stood up and turned to look west. After a few seconds, Jigen could hear it too. A boat was coming towards them. He got up, even though there wasn't much to be seen in the darkness. The other boat had no lights on. If there was trouble, he wondered how good his aim would be.

Perhaps Vuković had the same thought because he placed the suitcase with the money down at Jigen's feet before walking to greet the arriving men. A few flashlights were turned on. There was a brief exchange, clearly a routine, and Vuković hopped onto the other boat when it made it close enough. Nobody from it got onto theirs.

Jigen felt agitated all of a sudden. Something wasn't right. The atmosphere on the boat had tensed as soon as Vuković had joined the other party. A split second later, he realized that he was alone at the rear, that everyone else had stepped outside and moved to the bow when he'd been talking to Vuković.

Goddamit, he thought and made a dash away from the suitcase. If his instincts were wrong, he was going to look like a complete idiot. But he'd rather be embarrassed than dead, and his instincts didn't usually fail him.

He hit the deck, breaking the fall with his left arm and reaching for his Magnum with his free hand. Behind him, there was a popping sound, and he buried his face into the crook of his elbow in case of an explosion or a flash grenade going off. Neither happened. Instead, he heard a faint hiss and soon noticed the familiar, sharp smell of knock-out gas.

So much for an easy job, but he could lament over his own stupidity later. There was only one chance to get away – he had to take out everyone who was onboard and steal the boat. He'd never make it if he tried to swim. Even if there was nobody left to shoot him, he'd tire out and drown long before he reached land.

The first step was to get rid of the gas before there was any more of it. He held his breath, ran back to the rear and kicked the suitcase into the sea where it'd hopefully sink fast. Then, he turned around just in time to see the dark shape of someone lifting their gun and fired his own, not caring to shoot the gun off his hands or use any other of his fancy tricks. He was facing too many men, and he was trapped, so cutting down his enemies as quickly as possible was his only priority. A pained yell and a splash told him that one was off his list.

Unfortunately, he was stuck in the rear where there was still gas lingering. He couldn't help but inhale some of it despite his efforts to breathe through the sleeve of his suit. Shit. He could already feel himself grow woozy and his reaction time going to hell. He needed two shots to take care of his next target. The yelling and running and waves around the boats all became a muffled blur.

Why hadn't they shot him yet? There were enough of them to cover so many angles that he'd never be able to dodge the bullets. Especially not now. He was dead. Unless –

He swore under his breath and decided it was all or nothing. With the remaining strength he had left, he rushed for the helm. If he was lucky, he could turn on the engine and direct the boat back towards the city and then – if he was even luckier – deal with everyone who was still onboard before they dealt with him.

He tucked away his revolver to free both of his hands. It crossed his mind that this would have been so much simpler if he wasn't alone. If Lupin or Goemon had been there, one could have steered the boat and the other dealt with the goons. The way they usually did it. He would have even welcomed Fujiko by his side.

His feet got caught in something just as he was about to reach the helm, but he couldn't tell if there was something in the dark or if he'd just stumbled over himself. The world was swaying, both because of the waves and because of the fog in his head, and he couldn't make it back up before a kick landed into his side and knocked the air out of his lungs.

He fumbled for his gun, but it was snatched away from the holster before he could reach it. Someone's hands grabbed the back of his suit and pulled him up, only to toss him back down on the deck, away from the controls. Another kick struck him, and he was momentarily grateful for the numb state of his mind because he could hear but not really feel something crack.

“The hell... is this?” he managed to spit out when a pair of shoes came to his field of vision.

“I'm sorry. Don't take it personally. There's more money involved here than you can imagine,” Vuković said.

“Fuck you. I'm –” A kick to the face shut him up. Spitting blood, he tried to struggle to his feet, but he was shoved down on the deck, and multiple men came to hold him until he couldn't budge. Someone handed his Magnum to Vuković. Jigen didn't bother to crane his neck to see what was going on. He'd recognise the sound of the cylinder being opened and closed in his sleep.

He'd always known he'd go like this. There was no peaceful death in bed for men like him. But he'd never thought it would be his own gun that blew his brains out, or that he'd die on a stupid solo gig that he should have never taken in the first place. He should have known better. He had known better. He'd just been too stubborn and proud.

Any moment now. Someone had hired Vuković to kill him. Every muscle in Jigen's body was tense and straining against the men holding him down. Why wasn't the bastard doing it already? Did he want to see him beg?

Vuković said something in Croatian and handed the revolver back to whoever had given it to him. Jigen was about to ask what the hell was going on now and whether he was such a coward that he couldn't even do his own dirty work, but something hard came down to connect with the back of his head. He was out cold before he could get more than half a word out of his mouth.

Chapter Text

Jigen didn't come back during the night. Goemon waited for him, sitting cross-legged on his bed and sunk in meditation so that he'd get some rest but still know right away when his friend returned. By morning, nobody had entered the room. He got up, hopeful that Jigen had spent the night on the couch and that he just hadn't heard him return to the apartment.

Only disappointment awaited him. The room was exactly like he and Lupin had left it the previous night. There was no breakfast on the way and nobody in the bathroom.

He was just about to try calling Jigen when there was loud banging on the door. Irritated by the interruption, he drew his blade and slashed the door into four pieces that fell to the floor and revealed the shocked face of their neighbour from across the hallway. The man still had his fist raised in mid-knocking.

“What is it?” Goemon asked.

“Uh... I just... Laundry...”

“What?”

“You did laundry yesterday and forgot to pick up the clothes! Take them away so that other people can use the clothes lines!” The man yelled his words in panic, unable to move his eyes from the sword in Goemon's hand and shaking like he was ready to bolt the second it looked like he'd lift it again.

That must have been Jigen. Goemon had already begun to wonder where most of his fundoshi had disappeared the previous day, but that explained it.

“I'm sorry,” Goemon said, sheathed his blade and walked past the man. “I will take care of it.”

He made his way downstairs where the washing room was and found their clothes hanging there. The laundry basket from their apartment was sitting in the corner. He used it to bring everything back upstairs. Their neighbour had fled back to the safety of his own apartment, but Lupin had woken up and was eyeing the destroyed door in confusion.

“Did I miss something?” he asked.

“I'm getting to know the neighbours.”

“Yeah? I bet you made a good first impression.”

Goemon put the basket on the floor. “Jigen did laundry yesterday before he left, but he never went to pick it up.”

“Huh, you mean he's not back? I was sure he'd be in bed with a hangover by now.” Lupin paused for a moment. “You think he's passed out in a gutter somewhere? Should we go look?”

“I'll call him first,” Goemon said. The result was the same as the previous day.

“That's not like him,” Lupin said and slumped on the couch. “I mean, yeah, he knows how to sulk, but he wouldn't just disappear and leave us hanging. I hope he did nothing to get arrested. I don't want to get Pops involved yet.”

“We should try to find him. I'll have a look around,” Goemon said.

“You do that. I'll get dressed and catch up with you. And I'll leave a note on the fridge in case he comes back.”

Goemon left the apartment through his bedroom window. He was going to move around from roof to roof, so he saw little point in going to the street first and then climbing back up. It took only a few swift movements before he was on top of the building. Balancing on the red roof tiles was like second nature to him, and he spent a moment examining the city around him.

The previous day's rain clouds were still covering the entire sky and making the morning grey and dull. Goemon could smell the moistness in the air and was sure that it'd rain again soon. That wasn't good. He was agile, but he didn't like the idea of running around on wet tiles.

He'd have to find Jigen before it rained, he decided. There were several pubs in the area that were a good place to start. He hopped on the roof of the next building, then on the balcony of the one after it – and closed his eyes when he realized the door was slightly ajar and a woman was getting dressed inside. It didn't take him long to reach the pub that was the closest to their apartment.

He hopped down to the street behind the establishment and considered slashing open the back door. He closed his eyes and sent a mental apology to the owner, then used his sword to open the door. A quick search turned up what he had been fearing – nothing. On his way out, he put the pieces of the door back together so that it looked like it was still intact and wouldn't attract any attention.

After the third similar place, he got a message from Lupin. He had gone to the police station in disguise and checked out the drunk tank, but Jigen wasn't there. There were a few more places he'd visit, but after that he'd return to the apartment.

Goemon decided to do the same. If Jigen didn't want to be found, there wasn't much they could do.

Lupin wasn't there yet when he arrived. Alone and with nothing to keep his mind occupied, it was harder to ignore the guilt that had been gnawing at his insides since the previous day. If he hadn't been so weak, none of this would have happened. Why hadn't he said no to Lupin and Fujiko?

There were footsteps in the hallway, and they didn't sound like they belonged to Lupin. He wasn't surprised when he saw Fujiko poke her head inside and then step over the pieces of the door that were still on the floor.

“What happened here?”

“That's not important. Jigen hasn't come back.”

Fujiko lifted her brows in surprise. “Really? Maybe he went to a hotel for the night. If he drank like usual before that, I doubt he'll get up this early.”

Goemon felt a little stupid for not having thought of that. It was far more likely than all the worst case scenarios that had been circling in his head.

“You're probably right.”

His stomach chose that moment to let out a growl. Fujiko smirked at him and gave his head a soft swat with her handbag.

“Are you so worried about Jigen that you forgot to have breakfast?”

“No, I'm fine.”

“Yeah, right. Act tough all you want, but you men are all the same. I'll make you something, but don't expect it to become a habit.”

“Thank you.”

“Where's Lupin?”

“He's still looking for Jigen, but he should be back soon.”

Fujiko set the timer on the rice cooker and came to sit on the couch. “You know, about yesterday... I thought that Lupin and Jigen were already sleeping together.”

“What?”

“Don't tell me you didn't! With the way they spend so much time just by themselves between jobs and how cranky Jigen always gets when Lupin goes after someone else, I thought it was obvious.”

“I don't think about things like that.” That was a blatant lie, and Goemon was sure Fujiko could see right through him, but she was merciful enough not to mention it. Of course he had thought the same. But it was none of his business, so he'd been careful not to let his suspicions show.

Fujiko let out a humourless laugh. “That's probably why he took off to lick his wounds. He must be thinking he's being excluded on purpose. Hmph! As if a little bit of fun was the end of the world.”

“I don't want to talk about this.”

“Why not?”

Because he didn't want to hear her say that so casually, like none of it mattered to her. All of a sudden, he felt like a little boy who was playing with things that were too much for him.

“Because he's not here. We shouldn't talk about something like this behind his back.”

“Do it to his face and he might try to shoot you.”

“That at least is something I'd know how to deal with.”

He'd been foolish enough to get his hopes up for a while, but he supposed he should be glad he'd realized the truth so quickly. People were only meant to have such deep feelings for one person at a time. Three was abnormal. It was better to retreat now and let everything settle back to old patterns before something got broken.

He thought Jigen might have understood how he felt, but he didn't know if they could talk about it after what he'd done. Even in the best of circumstances, the two of them having such a heart to heart would have been difficult. He could only hope he'd accept his apology. He'd certainly ruined his chances of anything more.

“What if he didn't go to a hotel?” he asked.

“Wherever he went, I'm sure he can take care of himself.”

“I know, but there was something yesterday that's bothering me. He was offered a job by someone in the local underworld. He said he wouldn't take it, but...”

“But what if he was so angry that he did it out of spite?” Fujiko finished.

Goemon nodded. Perhaps he should have had more faith in his friend, but the longer Jigen was gone, the surer he was that something wasn't right. At the very least, he should have turned on his phone by now.

“Even if he did, that doesn't necessarily mean that something went wrong.”

“True, but we don't know much about this Vuković. Jigen didn't give us enough details about the job.”

“Vuković? Is that the man who wanted to hire him?”

“Yes. Lupin says he's the one in charge here.”

“Hmm. Might be worth contacting him in case Jigen doesn't come back.”

Lupin joined them some time later, empty-handed and with an irritated crease on his forehead. He hogged most of the cooked rice for himself and began to stuff his face, all the while complaining about what an idiot Jigen was being and that he'd kick his ass when he returned.

“I'll smoke all his cigarettes. Let's see how he likes that!”

Fujiko sighed and pursed her lips at him. “You're being annoying. I'm off. Let me know if something happens.”

“Wait, Fujiko, where are you going?” Lupin asked.

“I'm a busy woman. Besides, Jigen may not want to come back if he sees I'm here.”

Goemon hadn't thought about that, but he supposed it could be true. If Jigen was embarrassed about what had happened, he wouldn't show his face until Fujiko was gone. Dealing with Lupin would be bad enough.

“What do we do next?” he asked after Fujiko had left.

“We wait. I'm not running after a grown man. He knows how to look out for himself. But if he's not back after a few days, then we try something else.”

“You'll wait that long?”

“Yeah.” Lupin put his feet on the kitchen table and leaned back on his chair as he took a cigarette from his pocket. “He takes off all the time. I guess you just haven't noticed since you don't stick around between jobs. He'll be back when he's had enough time to cool off.”

“And you're fine with that?”

“Why wouldn't I be?”

Goemon had no answer. Every word Lupin said made sense. But lately, his judgement had been clouded by his emotions, and he felt the desperate need to make things right again. He wanted to go back to when he only had impure thoughts of Lupin, Fujiko and Jigen but was holding onto his iron resolve not to act on them.

“Stop worrying. It's not like you. When he comes back, I'll tell him how much you were fretting. He'll laugh at you.” As he spoke, Lupin patted his pockets in an attempt to find a lighter, but he didn't have one on him. Disappointed, he slumped lower in his chair, the unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, and gave Goemon a sideways glance.

“I guess you don't have a lighter?”

“No.”

Lupin sighed, and Goemon thought he sounded genuinely sad this time.

***

Jigen wasn't sure when he'd first regained consciousness, but he knew he'd been drifting in and out of sleep ever since. Maybe he'd been given some kind of a drug because he didn't normally have trouble staying awake. Or maybe he had a head injury after the blow he'd been given on the boat. He certainly had one hell of a headache, at least.

His head wasn't the only place that hurt. The longer he was able to stay awake, the more aware he became of the pain in his chest whenever he drew in a breath. Bruised ribs, most likely. After the kicks he'd gotten, it didn't come as a surprise. It could have been worse. He'd broken his ribs twice, and this was minor compared to that.

What bothered him more than the pain was that he couldn't move. It was too dark for him to make sense of his surroundings, but based on what he could feel, he was lying on a bed, and someone had had the bright idea to chain him to it. As soon as he'd realized that, he had imagined what Lupin would say in such a situation and had snorted, only to instantly regret it when the pain in his ribs flared up.

He spent a few more moments trying to gather information about his situation. He could move his fingers and toes without problems, and nothing seemed to be broken. There was a rusty aftertaste in his mouth, but he wasn't bleeding anymore. A quick examination with his tongue turned up that his teeth were fine, or at least not worse than before. It was the biggest relief so far because he didn't want to see a dentist any time soon.

Why was he still alive? Not that he was complaining, but he couldn't imagine what these people wanted from him. There had to be something, or else they wouldn't have gone that far to set up the trap. They'd made the job seem believable, had gone out to sea – though perhaps that had been to reduce his chances of escape – and captured him without inflicting any serious injuries on him even though they could have killed him.

He tested the bonds around his wrists. They were strong and didn't give him much space to move his hands. Getting out of them would be tricky, but he'd come up with something. He couldn't just lie back and wait for Lupin and Goemon to find him like this.

It took a long time, several hours by his estimation, before he heard approaching footsteps. He closed his eyes to pretend he was still out cold and listened. There were several people, at least three. The steps came closer until he heard a door being opened to his right, then the flick of a light switch.

A few words were exchanged, but he couldn't understand them. All he could make out was that there were at least two men and one woman. One of them stepped closer, and he braced himself.

It still didn't prepare him for the punch to the gut that sent the air out of his lungs, forced him to gasp and made his eyes sting when his ribs protested against any deep breaths. Fuck! He glared at the man who'd struck him, trying to memorize his face for payback.

He blinked to get his eyes used to the light. He'd gotten the number of people almost right. Vuković was standing at the door, looking relaxed with his hands in his pockets and smiling at him. By his side, there was a goon no different from the countless brainless thugs Jigen had faced before. The man who had hit him and was still standing by his side belonged to the same category.

The woman was staying behind Vuković, as if hiding, so he couldn't see much of her. She said something to Vuković, her voice calm but firm. She didn't sound happy about something, and Vuković acknowledged her concerns with a grim nod.

“The hell's going on here?” Jigen asked.

“Sorry for the rough wake-up, but I wanted to make sure we didn't hit you too hard. It would throw a wrench in our plans if we couldn't get you awake.”

“What plans?”

“All in good time.” Vuković said a few words to the two men accompanying him and gestured towards the door with his head. The men exited and closed the door behind them. Vuković took a seat on a chair that was standing in the corner, and Jigen had to crane his neck to see him.

“I guess you aren't going to kill me yet,” he said.

“No, it was hard enough to get you here alive. I spent a lot of money on that scheme.”

“Where is here?” Jigen had no idea how much time had passed. For all he knew, they were no longer in Crna Stina, maybe not even in Croatia, though he couldn't imagine why they'd transport him that far. He glanced at the window, but it was covered with shutters and tape that prevented any sunlight from entering the room. They clearly didn't want him to even know what time of the day it was.

“You don't need that information. For now, focus on getting better.”

Jigen mulled over that. It sounded like they had no immediate plans for him but were willing to wait until he was back in top form. Surely they didn't think he'd do any work for them after this? But whatever the reason, he welcomed it. The more time he had to get ready to escape, the better.

“Are you going to tell me what's going here or not?” he asked.

“I have a friend who'd like to have a word with you. Once he heard you're in Croatia, he asked me to arrange a chat. And since I was sure you wouldn't agree to it willingly, I saw no choice but to get a little forceful.”

Things were finally beginning to make sense. Jigen could guess the rest. There was someone he had pissed off in the past, and that someone was now coming after him. This chat they had planned would end with him six feet under, wrapped in plastic. Nothing new.

There were enough people in his past who hated him to fill half a phone book, but only a handful would have the means to orchestrate something like this. However, until he got some more clues about their identity, he wouldn't know what to look out for.

He tugged at the bonds around his wrists. “You going to keep me tied down like this for long? This is annoying.”

“For as long as you're staying here.”

“What? You've got to be kidding!”

“I was warned about the zany stunts you and your friends can pull. I'm not taking any risks. And I'm concerned for the well-being of the lady here,” Vuković said, and Jigen realized he had entirely forgotten about the woman who was still in the room. Even though she had been standing there the whole time, she was the type who was easily ignored. Dull brown hair, barely any make-up, slim but with no curves to speak of and standing with her shoulders hunched like she wanted to apologize for simply existing.

“Yeah, been meaning to ask. What's with the broad?”

“This is Dr. Tomashova. She doesn't speak English, so don't bother talking to her. Her job is to look after you until your injuries are healed.”

“You got a doctor for me? Are you serious?” There was something odd about this. He hadn't been able to move much, but he could tell his injuries weren't anything so bad that some rest wouldn't heal them. Just what the hell were these people playing at?

He took another look at her, but it was impossible to read anything on her face. That could be a clue. Was she some kind of a professional killer who was supposed to watch him and make sure he didn't escape? Did they think that he'd hold back if he was facing a woman, or if he thought she was there to take care of him?

But more importantly...

“You mean to tell me I'm just supposed to lounge around here like this all day long? How am I supposed to eat? Or go to the toilet? Because she,” Jigen said and nodded towards her, “is not helping me with either.”

“Oh? You think you're in the position to make demands? That's funny. You're a prisoner, and you do whatever I say. If you behave, I'll let you have some dignity, but if I have any reason to think you're being difficult, it'll be gone like this,” Vuković said and snapped his fingers. “Is that clear?”

Jigen gritted his teeth and said nothing. If he opened his mouth, he'd probably say something that'd turn this into the most horrific experience of his life, and that included the times he'd been tortured.

“I'll take that as a yes. Now, I don't think there's much else to talk about.”

“Aren't you at least going to let me know who ordered this?”

“And ruin the surprise of a happy reunion for my friend? Never! Now excuse me, I have to get back to work. In case you're plotting escape despite everything I said, know that there are armed men outside that door at all times.”

“Wouldn't your friend be disappointed if I was already dead when he gets here?”

“We'll only shoot your knees.”

Jigen didn't get the feeling that Vuković honestly thought that he was intimidating him. Since he'd taken such care to organize his trap, he had to have enough information on him to know that he'd been in bigger trouble than this. They both knew that he'd try to get away the first chance he got. He was simply laying down the facts for him. In a way, it was nice to tell him what the risks were.

Vuković turned off the light before leaving the room with the doctor. The door made a click as it was locked.

Okay. Time to start figuring out what his next step should be.

The dark room left him at a disadvantage. Whenever someone came in, his eyes would be sensitive to light. He'd have to come up with something to work around that problem.

He'd gotten a decent look at the room during the conversation with Vuković, but there wasn't much he could gather from it. In addition to the door the others had used, there was another one on the wall opposite him. Most likely, it was either a storage room or a bathroom. Jigen hoped it was the former because the longer the way to the bathroom was, the easier it would be to escape while he was being taken there.

The only pieces of furniture in the room, other than his bed, were the chair Vuković had sat on and a small nightstand. Someone had placed his hat on it. Knowing that it had survived the ordeal made him feel a little less like he was knee-deep in trouble. Only his revolver would have boosted his confidence more, but right now he couldn't be sure if he'd get to hold it again, even if he made it out alive.

There was nothing else of note about the room, so he turned his thoughts back to what Vuković had said. He'd called the man behind this his friend. Jigen tried to recall if anyone in his past had ties to Croatia, but he couldn't come up with a single name. He guessed this friendship had happened after his involvement with the mystery man. Or maybe Vuković was messing with him.

He was sure that by now, Lupin and Goemon had noticed that he was missing. It would take a few days before they realized he wasn't coming back. They were certain to make the connection to Vuković, and with their skills and resources, it wouldn't take long before they'd track him down.

But like he'd thought earlier, he didn't want to wait helplessly for his friends to save him. He'd meet them half-way, and they'd blast their way through Vuković's hideout together. There was no better way to iron out the bumps that his fight with Goemon might have created between them.

In hindsight, he'd been a goddamn idiot. He should have just drunk himself to the brink of alcohol poisoning or shot something. Or, hell, why not both? Whatever had possessed him to act like a stupid rookie and take a job he didn't know anything about was now out of his system, and he could think clearly again.

He still didn't like the fact that the others were sleeping together, but this was not the time and place to mope about it. Pushing the issue to the back of his mind for the time being, he tried to get as comfortable as he could and started figuring out how to get out of this mess.

Chapter Text

“It doesn't look like he's coming back.”

Goemon opened his eyes and looked at Lupin, who was lying on the couch with his hands crossed behind his head. They had been waiting for a few days, as Lupin had suggested. There had been no sign of Jigen, and every attempt to reach his phone had been fruitless. Goemon had kept his increasing worries to himself, trusting that Lupin knew what the correct course of action was. But then he'd started noticing how Lupin grew more and more quiet as time passed, and he wasn't so sure anymore.

“What should we do?” he asked.

“We're going to check out this Vuković.” Lupin dug into his pocket, took out his phone and began to press the buttons.

“You know how to reach him?”

“Jigen showed us that card. I memorized the number on it. Let's see what this guy has to say for himself.” Lupin put the phone to his ear and waited. And waited. “Shit! Why isn't anyone taking my calls these days? Not Jigen, not Fujiko, not Vuković. Doesn't anyone like me?”

“Maybe he no longer uses that number.”

Lupin made a sound of agreement. “Guess so. Probably a pre-paid phone just for hiring people. Well, that just means we're going to have to do it the old-fashioned way and go see him in person!”

“Do you know where to find him?”

“I wouldn't spend this long in a city without first looking into the local big-shots. Vuković runs his business from a modest little office building, trying to look like a good law-abiding citizen.”

And so they hit the streets and took a bus to the other end of the city where Lupin said they'd find Vuković. Goemon thought they should have done it earlier. If it turned out that Vuković was somehow connected to Jigen's disappearance and that they were too late to do anything, he'd never forgive himself.

On the other hand, he could understand why Lupin had waited. Jigen wasn't a helpless rookie. He knew how to take care of himself. Going after him as soon as he went missing would be the same as admitting they had no faith in his abilities.

“What's our next step if we don't find out anything?” he asked.

“How about we report him missing? Oh, but the police are already looking for him, so it might not help. Hmm.”

“That's not funny.”

“I'm being serious. Pops is in town, remember? He should pitch in. We've saved his butt enough times.”

“Just don't get arrested in the process.”

“Ha, me?” Lupin gave him a few happy pats to the shoulder. “Now you're the one telling bad jokes. You know, we can be a pretty good comedy duo when it's just the two of us like this.”

It was bizarre, Goemon had to admit. It was rarely only him and Lupin. On the odd occasion that Jigen wasn't there, Fujiko was. It was always either one of them who drew most of Lupin's attention, but now he was talking to him, leaning into him when he saw something interesting in the window and emphasizing his words with casual touches that Goemon wasn't used to.

Had he not been so worried about Jigen, he might have found it a pleasant change. Now, all it did was make him guilty because he shouldn't have had time for such thoughts in the middle of searching for their friend. And hadn't he already decided that he wouldn't let this develop any further?

“After we find Jigen, I'm going back to Japan,” he said.

“What? Why? We're in the middle of a heist!”

“I need more training. My resolve is cracking and I'm bringing shame to –”

“Hey, look, that's our stop. Let's go. Tell me more about all that training on the way, okay?” Lupin jumped to his feet to reach the stop button and stepped out as soon as the bus came to a halt and the door opened. Goemon followed him and decided it wasn't worth it to bring the matter up anymore. Lupin wouldn't understand how a man like him felt.

Lupin led him to a building that looked like an office for a normal accounting firm. Inside, the receptionist told them to wait until someone came to greet them. They did, but after ten minutes of sitting in the lobby and leafing through magazines they couldn't read, Lupin got up and walked back to the desk.

“So, when's someone coming?” he asked.

“I'm sorry, but you don't have an appointment, so it's not that simple.”

“Not even for someone famous like me?” Lupin gave her a toothy grin and pointed at himself, but she seemed neither impressed nor able to recognize him. Perhaps she was just a receptionist and knew nothing of what was going on behind the scenes. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the international underworld would know Lupin's face.

“I'm sorry. I don't know who you are,” she said.

Lupin let out a disappointed sigh. “Oh, too bad. If I wasn't so busy right now, I'd ask you out so that you could get to know me. But call your boss and let him know that Lupin III wants to talk to him. He'll know who I am.”

He returned to his seat, but he barely had time to sit down before a man in a suit hurried down the hallway to meet them.

“I'm sorry you had to wait. Mr. Vuković just returned from a business trip.”

“That's okay. It happens.”

They were led to an office at the back of the building. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but Goemon watched everyone they met on the way with suspicion. They had few friends in the underworld, and their reputation alone might be enough reason for these people to want to kill them.

Vuković was seated by his desk when they entered but stood up to greet them. “Welcome. What brings me this unexpected honor?”

“It can't be that unexpected, considering that you've had your men watching us ever since we arrived in the country,” Lupin said.

“Merely a standard procedure. I wouldn't be where I am if I didn't keep an eye on who operates in my backyard. I assure you, your arrival wasn't unwelcome. I even reached out to your partner to offer him work.”

“So you admit you contacted Jigen?”

Vuković looked surprised. “What's there to admit? It was only business. I hope you don't think I stepped on your toes.”

“What did he say?”

“Unfortunately, we couldn't reach an agreement. He wasn't interested. I guess there isn't enough glamor in teaming up with a small-time player like me when you work regularly with the famous Lupin III.” Vuković gestured at his office, which certainly was plain and modest compared to what Goemon was used to seeing during their escapades.

“Why did you come all the way here?” Vuković continued. “Shouldn't you already know this?”

“I'm going to be frank with you. He's been missing for three days, and we have no clue where he could be. So –”

“So you thought you'd check up on me since I was in contact with him?”

“Isn't that the most logical course of action?” Lupin asked with a shrug. “What kind of a job was it that Jigen was supposed to do?”

“Nothing worth of interest. To be honest, after he rejected the offer, I was a little embarrassed that I'd made it in the first place. I've been having some trouble with my business partners in Italy, and I thought that if I had someone famous like Daisuke Jigen show up, they'd take me more seriously.” Vuković shook his head and laughed. “You must be thinking I'm a total small fry.”

“Now, now, everyone starts somewhere,” Lupin said.

“I'm afraid I have no idea what could have happened to your friend. If he had run into trouble, I would know about it.”

“And you're sure nobody is operating behind your back?”

“Please, I'm not that incompetent!”

Goemon didn't think they'd get anything useful out of this visit. Vuković seemed like the kind of man who could talk his way out of any situation, but they had no reason to think he was lying. What he was saying matched with what Jigen had told them. Perhaps he played no part in his disappearance after all.

Lupin and Vuković spent a few more moments talking, but the topic quickly shifted from Jigen to business. Vuković wanted to know if whatever operation they had planned would cause him trouble and Lupin did his best to assure him that they wanted nothing to do with the underworld while being as vague about their true goals as he could.

“You could almost say we're just sightseeing. We're interested in the rich local history,” Lupin said and walked to take a closer look at the painting that was hanging on the wall. “Flowers in a mob boss's office? Not something you see every day.”

“They help with the stress of the work.”

“Oh? Me, I find the embrace of a beautiful woman the best medicine, no matter the illness!”

Vuković let out a humourless laugh. “The most beautiful woman I've ever seen just dumped me the other day, so let's agree to disagree.”

Goemon felt disappointed as they were leaving. He had been hoping for more, for at least some sort of clue that would show them where to go next.

“What are we going to do now?” he asked.

“Let's find a decent café. I feel like having coffee.”

“Coffee? At a time like this?”

“It's a little too early for whisky, isn't it? But if you prefer –”

“Lupin! How can you act like this when we have no idea what happened to Jigen? You need to take this more seriously! We should have started looking for him earlier. It might be too late already.”

For a moment, Lupin seemed genuinely confused. “I am taking this seriously. Didn't you see me slip that bug in his office?”

“You... what?”

“Behind the painting, silly! I'm surprised I even have to point this out.”

“I'm sorry. It didn't cross my mind.”

“I guess that's why you're our swish-swish sword guy. Normally, I do these things with Jigen or Fujiko.”

“I'm not stupid.” Goemon wasn't even sure why he was suddenly so annoyed. It was exactly as Lupin said. Usually at this point of whatever operation they were working on, his role was to wait until the action started. He rarely got involved with the tech side.

“That's not what I said.”

“I know. It's... Forgive me. This is pointless. But do you think it's possible Jigen is simply avoiding us?”

“He wouldn't disappear just because we slept together. It's not like it's the first time he sees me with someone. Or you, for that matter. Or Fujiko.”

“Yes, but it was all three of us. No outsiders. I think he'd feel differently about that.” Goemon cleared his throat and tried not to look as embarrassed as he felt. “I probably would. Wouldn't you?”

Lupin made an annoyed face. “Okay, maybe, but I wouldn't just leave without a word. And neither would he. He's landed himself in some trouble, and it's time we figure out what it is.” He pulled out earphones from his pocket and put them on so that it looked like he was listening to music.

Goemon stuttered an order for them at the café. With Lupin listening in on what was going on in Vuković's office and him sunk in thought, neither spoke. Though his tea was good, he forgot to drink it, and it went cold before he'd taken more than one sip.

He couldn't help but wonder what Fujiko was doing. She had sent them a message that she had run into an old, rich bachelor who was looking to enjoy the last active years of his life and that it might be a little while before she had the time to join them. It wasn't unusual for her, but he had expected her to show more concern when Jigen still wasn't back.

“It sounds like Vuković is doing business with someone called Jimmy. Damn, I wish he'd mention his full name,” Lupin said, tapping his index finger against the table.

“Do you think it's relevant?”

“You never know. Whoever this Jimmy is, it sounds like he's got a lot of money. Makes me wonder why Vuković was acting so humble if he's got partners like this. Maybe he was intimidated since I'm so cool and famous.”

“At least it explains how he was able to promise Jigen such good pay.”

“Hmm. Good point. Oh, it sounds like he's heading out. Guess I'll tune in again later.”

“What if something happens when you're not listening?”

Lupin dug his hand into his pocket and pulled out a device that looked identical to an iPod. “It's set to record the whole time. We can look for relevant conversations later.”

“And in the meantime –” Goemon cut himself off when he noticed the man who was walking towards them on the pavement, carrying a tower of take-out boxes that was threatening to topple over. “Try to look inconspicuous. It's Zenigata.”

Lupin brought up his coffee cup and pretended that he was taking a long sip so that it covered part of his face. Goemon hid behind the menu and hoped that it'd be enough and that his clothes wouldn't catch Zenigata's eye.

As he got closer, they could hear what he was muttering to himself. “It's the fourth time this week that I have to get lunch, like I didn't have anything better to do. But I'll show them the dedication of a real Japanese man!”

Zenigata passed them with barely a glance in their direction. But then, just as Goemon was beginning to think that perhaps they'd get lucky this time, he retreated until he was standing right by their table.

“Hmm? Aren't you –?”

Lupin, realizing that the game was over, removed the cup and flashed Zenigata a wide grin. “Hey, Pops! Fancy seeing you here! Are you on holiday, too? Wait, oops, you probably can't afford holidays on your lousy salary!”

“Lupin!” The take-out boxes went flying into the air. “You're under arrest!”

Goemon was fast enough to get out of his seat and move to safety before the rain of pizza, sausages and pasta hit them, but Lupin wasn't so lucky. A bowl of spaghetti landed on his head, and he got an entire pepperoni pizza in his lap.

“Damn, did you have to? Jigen just did the laundry.”

“Don't worry! Soon you'll be wearing a clean prison uniform!” Zenigata had already handcuffed himself to Lupin's wrist, but he was more occupied with getting the spaghetti out of his hair.

“What a lucky coincidence that we ran into each other. I've been thinking about you,” Lupin said and gestured at the third chair by the table. “Have a seat and a cup of coffee. It's on me.”

“It's useless to try to bribe me! I'm taking you to the station. They'll have to take me seriously after that.”

“Are they kicking you around at work again? That's too bad. Goemon, can you believe that? An ICPO inspector who doesn't enjoy the respect of his peers!”

“It's a tragedy,” Goemon agreed.

Judging by the tight line of Zenigata's mouth, he was a little moved by their words. But not enough to bury his plans of arresting them. He began dragging Lupin away from the café, and the other didn't put up too much of a fight. Goemon left some money on the table to pay for their drinks, plus a tip for cleaning the mess, and followed them.

“When I received that anonymous message that you were in Croatia, nobody believed me because you hadn't sent an advance notice. They said there's nothing in a town like this that would interest you. So I didn't get any resources or help when I got here, and the local police are treating me like their errand boy, but now I've got you! I knew I was right!”

“Anonymous tip, huh? I wonder who sent that. This time it wasn't me,” Lupin said.

“Aren't you going to tell him about Jigen?” Goemon asked.

Zenigata turned to look at them over his shoulder. “Huh? Hey, you're right. One of you is missing! Well, no matter! I'll arrest him soon, too. So don't even think about him helping you escape.”

“Actually, it's kind of the other way around. It looks like we've misplaced him. I was hoping I could file a missing person report with you,” Lupin said.

“What?”

“Yeah! We think he ran into trouble with the local underworld. Haven't heard from him in days, so we're starting to get worried.”

Zenigata looked uncertain. “That's... awful to hear. I'm sorry.”

“So keep an eye out for him, okay?” With a swift flick of his wrist, Lupin was free of the handcuffs and attached his end of them onto a parked car before Zenigata had the time to react. Then, he took a card from his pocket and gave it to him. “If there's anything to report, you can reach me with this number.”

“I don't work for you! Don't even for a moment think that –”

“And I hate to ask this, but if they deliver any suspicious bodies to the morgue, take a look for us.”

Zenigata's rage deflated in an instant, and he turned his eyes down on the card before nodding. “I... I guess I can do that. But you aren't just pulling my leg, right? Because jokes like this aren't funny.”

“What do you take me for?”

“A man who has faked his own death several times!”

Lupin had the sense to look a little ashamed by that, but only for a split second before he waved at Zenigata and began to walk away. He was playing with the keys to the handcuffs, which he'd snatched from Zenigata's pocket to stop him from coming after them. They were accompanied by the inspector's loud promises that he was still going to arrest them and that he wouldn't go soft on them no matter what happened all the way until they got onto a bus.

“This is getting interesting,” Lupin said grimly as he leaned back on his seat. “You know who I think gave that tip to Pops?”

“Vuković?”

“Exactly. He's been watching us since we got here. I just don't know why he'd deliberately call the ICPO on his own backyard, especially if he planned to do something to Jigen. Pops isn't half bad at what he does. No second-rate criminal would want him after them without a reason.”

“Should we talk to him again?”

“Yeah, and this time we should put a little more bang into it.”

***

Vuković was startled to see that his study wasn't empty when he entered it, but he didn't let it show. It was only the doctor, the meekest little mouse he'd ever met. Women like that pissed him off, never saying what they wanted and then acting like martyrs when people walked all over them. But he needed her for the time being, and she'd come with recommendations.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“You wanted to see me.”

Right. He'd called her before leaving Crna Stina. It had slipped his mind. He did his best to act tough around Jigen, but the truth was that just having him in his hands was making him nervous. He smoked twice the number of cigarettes and snapped at everyone around him for the slightest problem. There was too much at stake.

“That doesn't mean you get to walk into my study like it's yours! Wait outside like everyone else!”

She winced and lowered her eyes. “I'm... I'm sorry. Your men let me in. It won't happen again.”

There, that was exactly the kind of behavior he hated. She was clutching her hands together and spoke in that apologetic tone he'd heard his mother use more times than he cared to count. People like her never got anything out of life, and it was their own damn fault.

“How's our guest?” he asked.

“He's recovering, but it'll be another while before he's back on his feet.”

“How long?”

“It depends on how well you want him to perform. Broken ribs typically take weeks to heal, and the internal –”

He waved at her to be quiet and walked to sit behind his desk. He didn't have that long. Lupin would find him, and if he still had Jigen, that'd be the end of him.

He needed to get him out of Croatia. Lupin would follow his partner's trail to America, and this would be over. He should have never accepted this job, old friendships be damned.

“He barks at me like a mad dog whenever I go see him. He seems fine.”

“I've been making him take painkillers. They help him breathe and move around when we let him. But he shouldn't be lying still so much. I could take him for walks in the hallway.”

“No. He'd make a run for it or send a signal to his friends. I've done my homework on these people. If those painkillers work that well, we'll just pump him full of them and send him to America,” he said.

“I can't recommend that.”

“Why? Would it kill him?”

“No, but as a doctor –”

“Don't try that with me. You aren't here because I want you to help him. If he survives the trip, that's good enough.”

“But I... Of course. As you wish.”

As much as her doormat nature annoyed him, he was grateful that he didn't have to fight with her over this. The last thing he needed was an underground doctor with morals.

He told her he wanted nothing more at the moment and watched her leave his office. She was wearing heels, but she made no sound as she walked over the floor. It was uncanny. More than once, he'd been surprised by her sudden appearance in the hallways or in the garden. She moved around like a cat.

As soon as the door had clicked shut after her, he let out a sigh and reached into his pocket for a cigarette. He lit it with trembling fingers, and though the first deep drag helped him relax somewhat, he couldn't shake off the feeling that he was headed for a disaster.

He hadn't thought Lupin would come after him so soon. He'd been sure he'd have at least a week to lie low and arrange everything, but they were already running out of time. His friend had the money and influence to take Lupin on, but he was on the other side of the world. Alone, Vuković knew he wouldn't last long.

It was time to speed things up, he decided and stubbed out the cigarette. He'd check up on Jigen and head to Zagreb to take care of the details. A day or two, and he'd no longer be his problem.

***

It didn't take Jigen long to realize that escaping might not be as simple as he had hoped. He had to give Vuković credit where it was due – he was taking meticulous care that he never had an opportunity to as much as scratch his nose without supervision. He was confined to his bed around the clock, the only exceptions being when they brought him something to eat or let him go to the bathroom.

The food was alright, and whoever made his coffee deserved a medal because it was always black and so strong it was a wonder he didn't need a spoon. They only freed one of his hands when he ate, which complicated his plans of escaping during meal times. There was only so much he could do with the plastic fork he had, and cutting through chains and killing one armed man and the doctor within the span of seconds wasn't included.

Goemon might have been able to, he thought and shoved a forkful of stewed vegetables into his mouth.

Escaping during a toilet break wouldn't be any easier. As he had feared, the bathroom was behind the second door he had spotted earlier and was nothing more than a tiny, windowless room. There was nothing to use as a weapon, not even a toilet brush.

But the worst part about his situation was how utterly bored out of his mind it was making him. For most of the day, he was kept in complete darkness with nothing to do and nobody to talk to. They refused to give him cigarettes, which left him constantly cranky and with a pounding headache. He didn't know if they did it to fuck with him, or if it was yet another way to stop him from getting away. He could hardly think straight like this.

The brief moments when there was someone else in the room were the highlight of the day, but he refused to let them know. Like he was going to crack that easily, hah! Whenever someone came into the room and turned on the light, he grumbled about them bothering his sleep, even as he kept hoping that it'd be Dr. Tomashova – or Anna, as the guards called her – with some more coffee.

She was still a mystery to him. She seemed to be there to take care of him and checked up on him every morning. She poked around his ribs, head and stomach like she was looking for something and offered him painkillers that he didn't need. When he refused them, she shook her head and said something to one of the guards who usually accompanied her. It always made them laugh.

He'd tried asking the guards about her, but it looked like they'd been instructed not to talk to him. Whenever he said anything to the doctor, she only smiled at him and shrugged to remind him that she didn't understand. It was getting frustrating.

“The hell are you even waiting for?” he asked the next time Vuković came to see him. “Where's that guy who ordered this?”

“All in good time,” Vuković said and lit a cigarette. Fuck him. If he could fire his gun for only one more time in his life, Jigen wanted it to be right now with Vuković's head as the target.

“Does the guy even exist? Maybe you just grabbed me and are going to sell me off to the highest bidder.”

“Let's not get absurd.”

“Wouldn't be the first time.”

“Well, it's not the case now. Just give us a bit more time.” Vuković got up from his chair and looked at him from head to toe. “How are you feeling?”

“Bored, and I could use a drink.”

“I can't offer you that, but you can finish this if you want.” Vuković stood up and came to stick his cigarette between Jigen's lips.

Jigen spat it back at him.

Vuković gave him a wry smile and crushed the cigarette under his heel. “Fit enough to have an attitude. Good.”

“Why wouldn't I be? If this counts as torture around here, you've got a lot to learn.”

“Bark as much as you want. You won't have the chance for much longer.”

“Too tiresome. I'll take another nap.”

They both fell into a silence. Jigen was the one to break it. “You could have killed me a hundred times already, but every second that I stay alive lowers your odds of getting whatever you're after. Unless it's not really me you want.”

“What else could we want?”

It was Jigen's turn to smirk. “Lupin, of course. If you think you can get him by keeping me here –”

“We don't want Lupin.” Vuković began to walk to the door, but before he could grab the handle, it was opened, and he nearly collided with Dr. Tomashova. She let out a surprised squeak and backed off to the hallway. Vuković turned off the light, stepped out and closed the door behind them. Jigen could hear but not understand the sharp, impatient words he threw at her. He was usually friendly with her, so he wondered what she'd done to piss him off.

He tried to kill some time by dozing off, but it was getting increasingly hard with the non-existent exercise he was having. His back ached like hell. He was itching to have something in his mouth, and now that Vuković wasn't there to fire up his pride, he found himself mourning the cigarette on the floor.

“Shit.”

That didn't do justice to the frustration that was welling up in his chest, so he threw in profanity after profanity and pulled at his bonds so that they cut into his skin, but he didn't care. God-fucking-dammit! Someone let him go or give him a smoke or tell him what the hell was going on! Anything but this prolonged boredom!

His tantrum left him shaking and gasping for painful breaths. He closed his eyes and tried to count backwards. When that didn't help, he began to imagine having his gun back in his hands and checking the rounds in the cylinder. It calmed him down somewhat.

A clank from the door told him that someone was coming. A moment later, light poured into the room, followed by the flip of the light switch and the sound of quick steps as Dr. Tomashova entered the room. She was carrying a tray with coffee and snacks and had her medical bag thrown over her shoulder.

A guard followed her and closed the door. He sat down on the chair in the corner and pointed his gun at him. What Jigen wouldn't have given to get his hands on it.

The doctor made a disapproving click with her tongue as she was releasing Jigen's left wrist and noticed the reddened skin. He rolled his eyes at her. What did she expect? If they tied him down, of course he was going to struggle.

She made a move to do something about his wrist, but Jigen let out a negative sound and pointed at the coffee instead. With any luck, she'd untie his other hand to treat it instead, and then he could throw the hot coffee at the guard, break the mug into sharp pieces against the bed frame, grab the doctor and press a shard at her throat to keep her as a hostage. Then he'd ask the guard for his gun, force him to let him go and make a run for it.

Unfortunately, that remained an entertaining fantasy. Dr. Tomashova began to organize the items in her bag and showed no signs of caring about his other wrist. Jigen sipped his coffee and tried to estimate how risky it would be to execute his plan with only one hand free.

“You really don't speak any English?” he asked.

She looked up and gave him the usual apologetic shrug. Jigen supposed that if he were Lupin, he'd already have tried to seduce her with body language. But he'd never been any good at those things. He was sure that even if they had shared a language, he wouldn't have been able to convince her to run away with him.

He snorted into his coffee and wondered if he should try it with the guard. For one reason or another, he usually had luck with bulky guys like that. It couldn't be worse than the routine he and Lupin had developed for distracting enemies. But he had nothing to serve as a punchline here, and he figured he didn't want to attract that kind of attention for as long as three of his limbs were tied to a bed.

“Hey, you,” he called out to the guard. “You up for a game of cards or something? Anything to kill the time.”

No answer, just like any other time he'd tried it. Pointless.

The break was over much earlier than he would have liked, but he knew someone would be back a few hours later to let him to the bathroom. It was the only time he could stretch his muscles a little. Perhaps he should start pretending he was constipated to get more time to himself.

Usually, the coffee helped him with the headache he was getting from tobacco withdrawal, but this time the pounding was back almost immediately, and worse than before. He was beginning to get drowsy, too.

Must have been decaf, he thought in irritation. He'd nap a bit to kill some time, then go back to finding a good angle for his escape.

The next thing he knew, he was being shaken awake by a guard with no patience to be gentle. The light made him squint his eyes and wonder why it was brighter than before, but he had no energy to finish the thought. He needed all his effort to hobble to the bathroom without a falling over. If he took too long getting started, they might decide he didn't need to go after all, and he wasn't about to to spend the night with a full bladder.

Once in the bathroom, he found he couldn't trust his legs and sat down to do his business. He felt like shit. It was chilly, and yet there was a coat of sweat under his clothes. The headache was worse now. There was no mirror in the bathroom, but he was sure his reflection would have given him nightmares. And he was tired in a way that made no sense for a man who had been doing nothing but eating and sleeping for days.

“Hey, something's wrong,” he said to the guards as he stumbled out of the bathroom and leaned on the door frame. The distance to the bed looked like miles. For the first time, he longed to get back there.

The men grabbed him roughly and ignored his protests when he tried to tell them that he wasn't faking it in an attempt to escape. He felt the first genuine stab of panic during his captivity when they tied him down and he was too exhausted to even put up a fight. What was wrong with him? How much worse would it get before these people noticed?

But he didn't have to worry about it for much longer. A few moments of dwindling struggle against the inevitable, and he knew nothing more.

Chapter Text

Their plan was simple. Lupin had been listening in on Vuković long enough to know that he'd be going to Zagreb on business. They'd ambush him outside the city. It should be child's play to take him down and make him talk. Most people started singing when they saw what the Zantetsuken could do, but if that didn't work, Lupin had a few dirty tricks up his sleeve.

They took their car and hid it among the low bushes in the countryside, some ten miles from the city. There were houses and a big supermarket nearby, but as they couldn't be sure of the exact route Vuković was taking, they had to catch him before there were any major crossroads. Lupin had calculated that the chances of him driving past their ambush were around eight out of ten, which was good enough for him.

Goemon was sitting cross-legged on top of an old stone wall that ran along the street. A scrubby tree hid him from view, even when cars passed by. He was holding the end of a rope in one hand and his phone in the other, waiting for Lupin's signal. The rope travelled across the street.

“Not this one,” Lupin said on the phone. “It's just a couple and some kids. Oh, the next one is a hot babe, all alone! Too bad we can't stop her instead.”

Goemon said nothing as he listened to Lupin babble. Normally, he supposed he might have already grown sick of him. But during these past few days, he'd seen Lupin fall unusually quiet as he stared before himself and contemplated something. Lupin worried him when he was like that, so he welcomed the usual nonsense.

“Okay, the next car is them. They'll be there in half a minute. I'll put up the roadblock and join you soon.”

“Alright.”

Goemon put his phone away and grabbed the rope with both hands. He saw the lights of the car as it took a turn, estimated the perfect timing and pulled. Immediately, a life-sized doll wearing a black hoodie flew in the middle of the street, just in time for Vuković's car to hit it and send it flying farther ahead.

There was a screech as the driver hit the brakes, and it was a miracle the car stayed on the road. Two men got out and hurried to examine the doll. Goemon and Lupin had filled it with strawberry jelly and tomato sauce to make the scene look gruesome. The head was made of papier-mâché and had Lupin's face drawn with a marker.

Before the men's horror had time to turn into confusion, Goemon dropped down and silently drew his blade. With a few leaps, he dashed across the car's headlights and disappeared into the darkness on the other side of the street. Moments later, the men who had been inspecting the partly destroyed doll let out shocked yells when their clothes and guns fell into pieces around them.

Vuković got out of the car and called out to the others, no doubt asking what was going on. The men barely had time to answer when the sound of an approaching vehicle caught everyone's attention. It was Lupin, riding a motorcycle that they'd rented for the evening. As he passed Vuković, he gave him a kick that sent him back into the car. Then he stopped the bike, slammed the car door shut, jumped over the hood and took the driver's seat. Right before he started the engine, Goemon sliced through the left back door and jumped inside to sit with Vuković.

“You've seen what my blade can do. You don't want it near your throat.”

Vuković began to put back the gun he had been about to pull out.

“Throw it out the window,” Goemon said.

Vuković hesitated for a split second, but did as he was told when Lupin pointed his pistol at him. Even if he got one of them down, the other would kill him right after.

“What's going on?” he asked.

“Where's Jigen?” Lupin asked in return.

“What?” For a moment, Vuković kept moving his eyes between them, looking puzzled. “I already told you! I don't know!”

“Okay, have another. Who sent Zenigata that anonymous tip?”

“How should I know?”

“It could have been nobody but you. You had your men watching us as soon as we got here.”

“That proves nothing! Do you think I'm the only one watching you? And why would I draw the ICPO's attention here?”

Lupin shrugged. “I can think of reasons. For example, maybe you're planning something big and thought nobody would notice if the ICPO was busy sniffing around for us?”

“That's ridiculous! I... I mean, then I wouldn't have tried to hire Jigen. His presence would have only brought extra attention to my dealings.”

“Hmm.”

Lupin grew silent. They kept driving, and every time they met a car, their faces were momentarily illuminated. Goemon could tell that Vuković was nervous, but he was doing his best to hide it. He was clasping his hands in his lap to stop them from shaking, and his breathing was erratic and shallow. It was shameful. He had expected more after his carefree attitude in his office.

“Goemon?”

“Yes?”

“How well do you see in the dark? Can you cut off a finger like this, or should I turn on the light?”

It was only thanks to his training that Goemon didn't let his surprise show. They hadn't discussed this beforehand. Lupin must have also noticed how agitated Vuković had grown and decided that one push was all they needed to get him over the edge.

“This is fine,” he said. He hoped he wouldn't have to, but it was nothing he hadn't done before. He could go much further. Anything for Jigen. “But it's a little cramped here. I can't say how good my accuracy will be.” He reached for Vuković's wrist.

“Not much of a difference between one finger and two, is there? Take the whole hand if you want to.”

“H-hey! Wait a minute! You can't do that!” Vuković struggled to pull his hand back, but he was no match for Goemon. “Please!”

There wasn't enough room to do a full swing with his sword, but Goemon knew how to use the little space he had. The blade moved faster than the eye could see, letting out almost no sound. Vuković screamed, but it wasn't his hand that fell to the floor – it was his watch, now in four pieces.

“That was a warning. Next time, I'll cut your wrist.”

Lupin sighed in disappointment. “Goemon, you're too soft.”

Goemon couldn't tell if the edge in Lupin's voice was an act, or if he was really looking forward to seeing Vuković suffer. Knowing him, it could be either way. But he wasn't being soft, only practical. If Vuković went into shock, they might not get anything out of him before he bled to death.

“Fine, fine! I tipped off the ICPO! I thought you'd be trouble and that if you got arrested right away –”

“That's not important. What about Jigen?” Lupin asked.

“I... don't know.”

“Goemon.”

“I know.”

However, that was the moment when they heard the sound of a police siren and saw the flashing lights of a squad car behind them, motioning for them to pull over.

Lupin spat out a few well chosen profanities. “What? I'm not going too fast!”

“I think the problem might be something else,” Goemon said and glanced where the back door had used to be before he had cut it open.

“Fasten your seatbelts back there. Let's see how fast this beauty can go.”

“Don't be stupid! It's dark, and this road will go up to the hills. We'll fly off the road at the first sharp curve!” Vuković said.

“Don't worry. I studied a map of the area beforehand. I know exactly how to drive to stay on the road.”

Vuković let out an irritated snort. He suddenly didn't seem so nervous anymore now that the immediate threat of losing his hand was gone. He turned to look behind them where the police car was following them. Perhaps he was hoping that they'd save him, but Goemon didn't see it as likely. Lupin was far too good a driver and could shake off anyone.

Lupin stepped on the gas, and they dashed up the road, weaving their way through the cars that they encountered. An orchestra of angry horns accompanied them, and they had two near-collisions that made Goemon feel like he was about to see his dinner again. He didn't let it show; it was a test of character to keep his discomfort hidden. Vuković, who had the disadvantage of not being used to Lupin's driving, was leaning against the door on his right, muttering something that Goemon couldn't understand.

They came to a place where the road made a curve, and just as he had said, Lupin was familiar enough with the area to know when he had to start slowing down.

A split second later, Goemon realized that Lupin wasn't the only one. Vuković opened the door on his side and jumped out, rolling to his side and disappearing into the darkness as they kept driving.

“Lupin! He's gone!”

“What the hell? Did he really jump? I didn't think he had the balls for that!” Lupin slammed his hands against the wheel. “Damn, I'm an idiot. I shouldn't have told him I knew the area. The bastard lives here. He knew exactly when I was going to slow down.”

“I should have kept a better eye on him.”

“Didn't you have time to grab him?”

Goemon hung his head in shame. “My seatbelt was fastened. I couldn't reach him.”

Lupin let out a disbelieving laugh. They kept driving until they could be sure that the police was no longer after them and took the car down a narrow side road leading nowhere. Once they reached a field of olive trees, they turned off the engine but remained in the car.

It was a clear night. Goemon could see the sky through the hole he had cut into the car's side. Since they were away from the city, the stars were bright.

Lupin lit a cigarette and offered him one as well, but Goemon refused it.

“What do we do next?” he asked.

“Try again, I guess. But he'll probably go into hiding now that he knows we're after him. The bug in his office will be useless.”

“I'm sorry. It's my fault. I should have been paying more attention.”

“It's not just your fault. I'm the one who blabbered and gave him a clue. I got cocky and underestimated him. Maybe all that snivelling was just an act, too.” Lupin blew out a puff of smoke. “We screwed this one up together.”

“Do you think he knows about Jigen?”

“I'm sure. There are too many coincidences here.”

“And... do you think he's still alive?” Goemon wasn't sure if he wanted to hear Lupin's answer. He'd been in this business long enough to learn that the faster you killed your enemy, the better. He couldn't imagine that Vuković had any reason to keep Jigen alive, and it had been days now. It didn't look good.

“If he's not, we're giving him one hell of a memorial service. Anything that guy holds dear, I'll tear down.” Lupin stubbed out his cigarette against the dashboard, and though it was a casual gesture, Goemon couldn't help but shiver. It was so easy to forget how cruel Lupin could be when someone crossed the line with him.

***

Zenigata's day could have been better. He'd come to Croatia full of energy and determination to arrest Lupin, but things hadn't started well. The police force in Crna Stina hadn't welcomed him with open arms, saying that they had no time to deal with a foreign inspector who didn't speak their language, didn't know the local situation and had no evidence that the infamous Lupin III was even there. Zenigata was used to getting a lukewarm reaction sometimes, so that hadn't been a problem.

The real issue had been that Lupin just wouldn't show himself or announce his crime. If it hadn't been for the fact that he had found him and his friends in some Zagreb Airport security footage – all in disguise, of course – he might have begun to doubt his anonymous tip. He'd visited every major museum and art collector in Crna Stina and warned them. There wasn't much else to do for as long as he didn't know the thief's target.

Currently, he was sitting at the station and taking notes. He'd finally gotten his big break-through that day when he'd spotted Lupin and Goemon in town. Just thinking back to the rush of excitement of dragging his rival around in handcuffs was making it hard to sit still and keep writing. He'd been so close. But next time, Lupin would be his.

“Hmm,” he said and scratched his head. This case was developing differently from usual. Lupin hadn't stolen anything, or announced what his crime would be. That wasn't an obstacle as he had a long list of past crimes to pay for. But what he'd said earlier before he'd escaped wouldn't leave Zenigata in peace.

He was sure Lupin hadn't been lying when he'd said Jigen was missing. Nobody in the world knew Lupin like he did, and his gut instinct regarding him was better than any lie detector in the world. That solemn look in his eyes had been genuine, not a trick.

But what could have happened? He had asked his newly assigned partners to check all the latest reports, but there had been nothing that could be connected to Jigen.

He was brought back from his thoughts when a coffee mug was placed in front of him on the desk. He looked up to see Sofija Novak, one of the people assisting him with his investigation in Crna Stina. She had been recently promoted to a sergeant, and she seemed competent and reliable. The only problem was that she wasn't taking his Lupin investigation seriously.

“What are you still doing here? Aren't you off duty?” he asked.

“So are you. The chief wouldn't be happy if I left you here all alone. I'm supposed to look after you.”

Or keep an eye on him, most likely.

“Oh. I'm sorry. I'm sure you have better places to be, but I have no time to rest. A man like me is never off duty when there's a case.”

Novak took a sip of her coffee and peered over his shoulder at his laptop. “What case? You think Lupin is in Croatia because a man sort of looked like him in some security footage. There's nothing else.”

“I saw him today! And I almost arrested him, but he was able to get away. He's not an enemy to be underestimated. He's planning something big. We have to be ready when it happens.”

“There's nothing to plan here. Maybe in Zagreb, but Crna Stina is not a very exciting place.”

“I thought you were in the middle of a big operation to catch the man running most of the illegal activities here?”

Novak flipped some of her dark hair behind her ear. Zenigata had quickly learned that it was a habit that showed she was irritated. She did it a lot when she was around him.

“Yes, but I looked through the available information on Lupin. I don't think he'd bother getting involved with our mangy dogs.”

“Yeah, Lupin's no common criminal, alright!”

“Deep down, they're all the same.”

Zenigata could understand her irritation. He'd heard she had been promised she would get to assist with the investigation into Marko Vuković's dealings but that she'd been removed from it and assigned to him instead. She was no doubt feeling that she'd been burdened with a task that nobody else wanted because she was new in her position, or because she was a woman. He'd been removed from Lupin's case enough times to know how it felt, but he didn't have the time to cheer her up. He'd arrest Lupin, with or without her help.

He kept working in silence and drinking his coffee, but he was interrupted when an officer walked into the room. He was Goran Kostov, one of the few at the station who had been friendly to him from the start. Zenigata suspected it was more because he was the type who had a smile for everyone and not because he was interested in the Lupin case. He was another fresh recruit who'd just moved in from Zagreb. Just like Novak, he'd been assigned to help him.

Kostov waved them a greeting as he entered, but his expression was unusually serious. Zenigata had seen that look on his face only once before – when he'd offered him some pastries he'd picked up for dessert. The man hated everything that tasted sweet.

“Did you already hear what happened?” Kostov asked.

“No. What?”

“There was a strange car chase out of town, straight from a movie. A patrol spotted someone driving a car that had a big hole in its side. Full speed, too. At first they thought it was group of kids fooling around, but then a man jumped out of it.”

Zenigata winced. “What? At full speed? More likely someone pushed him. Poor guy.”

“No, no, they were slowing down. He's alive, though he needs some patching up.” A mischievous look entered Kostov's eyes, and he clicked his tongue at Novak. “It was Vuković. Can you believe it? The man we've tried to catch for years, and he falls into our arms just like that. Bam!” He emphasized his words with a snap of her fingers.

“You're kidding,” Novak said.

Kostov shrugged. “No, but it's too early to celebrate. The case against him isn't solid enough yet.”

Zenigata could tell how frustrated Novak was to hear that. He didn't know the details, but he bet it was the usual story. Vuković had money and powerful friends. If everything wasn't perfect, he'd be able to wriggle away, so they couldn't make any hasty moves.

“We're only keeping him in long enough to question him about what happened. He seems to be the victim this time,” Kostov said.

“Victim my ass,” Novak muttered.

“I'm sure you'll get him. Don't give up,” Zenigata said. He couldn't help but think these two still had a lot to learn. How many years had he been chasing Lupin now? How many times had he seen the thief slip through his fingers? Too many to count, and yet he never lost hope. That was the spirit of a true officer.

He was about to get back to his work, but then he remembered something that Kostov had said.

“What did you say about the car? That it had a hole? Did it look like it'd been blown up, or was it a clean cut?”

“I don't know. I didn't think to ask. But I know there was some weird costumed guy in the backseat.”

“A costumed guy?” Zenigata scribbled a crude drawing of Goemon on a piece of paper and handed it to Kostov. “Someone like this?”

“What's this supposed to be? Some Japanese cartoon character?”

“Just show it to whoever was there! I think Lupin might have a connection to your guy after all.”

That finally got their interest, and Kostov hurried out of the room with the drawing. Only some half an hour later, he came back to tell them that there had indeed been someone matching the description in the car.

“I need to talk to this Vuković. He knows something about Lupin,” Zenigata said.

Kostov shook his head. “You can't. He's being treated for his injuries and they'll let him go once they've taken his story about what happened. We can't afford to piss him off.”

“Nobody should have that kind of rights! If this man has information, he needs to talk.”

“How will you prove he knows anything? I can already guess what his story will be. He'll probably say some random guys grabbed him in the street and were going to blackmail his family. Give it up,” Kostov said.

Zenigata slammed his hands on his laptop and deleted a few paragraphs of his report in the process, but he didn't care. The support he was getting in this city was all on the surface. The chief had assigned him two rookies just to appear helpful, but in reality, nobody cared about catching Lupin.

He leaned his chin on his hand and hummed to himself. To be honest, he didn't need to talk to Vuković to know what was going on. With Jigen missing, it was obvious that Lupin was digging into the local underworld to find him.

“Let's keep our eyes open,” he decided. “I have the feeling that there's a lot more to this. Who knows, if we get lucky, we might get to handcuff both Lupin and Vuković!” With that, he got back to work with new energy and ignored the doubtful glance that Novak and Kostov gave each other.

***

Vuković had refused anything but the most urgent medical attention at the hands of the police and returned to the villa as soon as they'd let him go. It had taken longer than he'd wanted. Even with the police chief firmly in his pocket, there were certain procedures to follow, or someone would get suspicious.

The whole time they'd questioned him, he'd only been able to think of one thing. What if Lupin had somehow found out where he was keeping Jigen and had broken him out while he was stuck in Crna Stina with the police? If he'd found his office and the route he was taking to Zagreb, anything was possible.

His relief had been immense when he'd called Dr. Tomashova and she'd told him everything was normal. He hadn't quite believed it until he'd made it back himself, just in time to limp across the driveway as the new day was beginning to dawn in the horizon. He could use some of those painkillers the doctor was giving Jigen.

“You were lucky you didn't break more than a few fingers,” she told him as she was patching him up. He was bruised all over and the skin on his face and arms had been scraped off where he'd hit the road, but he could live with it, especially when he thought back to how close he'd been to losing his hand to the samurai's sword.

“How's Jigen?” On top of his other problems, his captive had come down with a fever. And just when he'd been about to put him on a plane in Zagreb and send him off to America. He had the worst luck.

“Nothing has changed. He's been unconscious since some time last night.”

“And how the hell did that happen? It's your job to look after him!”

Her fingers paused for a moment in the middle of bandaging his arm. “It's a respiratory infection. It can happen with injuries like that. If you had let me walk him –”

“I don't care about that! Just make him better so that we can send him away. You realize that if Lupin finds him here, it's not just me who's going to take the fall, right? That guy's nuts. He'll bring down everyone involved. So unless you want Jigen to be your last patient, do something!”

“We can't send him to America like this. I need to run some tests before I know when he's fit to travel.” Her tone was quiet, but she sounded less frightened than he'd expected. She was a professional after all, he realized. Someone who couldn't take pressure wouldn't have made it where she was in the underworld.

“That's not your call. I'll talk to Walker. You just focus on keeping him alive,” he said. He paused to think. “He's not going to die, is he?” If Jigen died in his hands, he'd have to face not just Lupin but Walker as well. He honestly couldn't tell which man he'd rather deal with.

“He won't. I promise.”

Dr. Tomashova finished her work and offered him some painkillers before he even asked for them. He was going to ache for weeks, he could tell. Somehow, he found it reassuring that she was taking such good care of him. He knew she was only into this for the money, but Lupin's attack had left him so shaken that he needed the delusion that he had someone he could trust on his side.

“Thank you. You may go.”

Once she was out of his office, he grabbed his phone and estimated that it was a little past midnight in New York. There were a couple of things Walker loathed, and one was being woken up in the middle of the night, but he was sure that sitting on this news would upset him even more.

He didn't have to wait long before his call was answered.

“What is it?”

“It's me. We have some problems.”

“Oh?”

“We have to cancel the flight. He got sick, and it's not a good idea to send him over there right now.”

“Marko, what are you doing? How can something this simple be so hard?”

“I... I guess my men were rougher on him than I thought. The doctor is looking after him, but she said this could turn into pneumonia.”

“Then we'll wait and see what happens.”

Vuković cleared his throat. “That's our other problem. Lupin is after me. He knows I have Jigen, and it's only a matter of time before he finds out where I'm keeping him.”

“And you're afraid of one man?”

“He almost got me today! That man is insane! We both know the stories about him, and I no longer think they're exaggerated.”

“This is a little too late to get cold feet.”

“Jimmy, please. This is no time for joking. I did this as a favor to you, so help me out here.”

There was a low chuckle on the other end. Even though there was half the world between them, Vuković felt small and unimportant. James Walker never failed to turn him into the kind of person he loathed.

“Funny, I thought you did it for the money. But don't worry. I knew it could get tricky, so I've already made some arrangements that should win us a little time. We might have to change the plan. I'm a little tied up here at the moment, but I'll be there as soon as I can.”

“You're coming here?” Vuković wasn't sure it was a good idea. Having Lupin after him was bad enough. If Walker showed up and clashed with him, the conflict would stay at his doorstep. He might not have much of a business to go back to once everything was over.

“Let me know what his condition is in a few days. If he's still not fit to travel, I'll clear my calendar. Otherwise, send him over. As long as he survives the trip, I don't really care. He can recover here before I have a talk with him.” Walker paused, as if to think, then continued in a silkier voice, “That might actually be entertaining, watching him get better all the while he knows that I'm going to break him again for what he did to Tony.”

That was another reason why he needed to get Jigen off his hands. Vuković had to act tough to make it in his line of work, but he was squeamish about torture. He'd seen what Walker did to people when it wasn't personal. He didn't want to be there when he was motivated by revenge.

“Alright,” he agreed. He'd stay at the villa and not go out until everything was over. He'd instruct everyone who knew of Jigen to leave Crna Stina so that Lupin wouldn't get anything out of them. With a bit of luck, he might be able to stay in hiding long enough. The villa belonged to a member of the De Angelis family and it wasn't common knowledge that he had any connections to them.

He didn't feel much more confident when he ended the call. He'd been up the whole night and he was aching and exhausted, but he doubted he'd be able to get much rest until this was all over. The memory of the samurai holding his wrist and lifting his blade was too clear on his mind. He felt a pressing need to get out of his study and watch the sun on the balcony.

Chapter Text

Novak and Kostov had asked him out to lunch. Zenigata didn't like to say no to free meals, and there wasn't really much he could do at the station, so he'd agreed. Besides, he was their superior for as long as he'd be in Croatia, and he supposed it was his duty to spend time with them and get to know them a little better. These were the people who would help him arrest Lupin.

The food was alright. He wasn't a picky eater, but foreign cuisine sometimes made him pause. Eating almost nothing but instant noodles no matter what corner of the world he was in didn't help. Kostov had noticed his hesitation as he'd browsed the menu and helped him pick something that wasn't too strange or strong.

He let the others do most of the small talk. He couldn't have told them much about himself that wasn't related to work and Lupin. It was at times like this that he sometimes wondered what his life would have been like if he'd never been caught up chasing him. Maybe his wife wouldn't have taken Toshiko and left.

No, he knew himself better than that. He'd have found some other way to dedicate his entire life to his work. As long as there were criminals to be arrested, he wouldn't be able to rest. In hindsight, it had been a terrible idea to marry his childhood friend, both of them middle-aged and lonely, just because they had thought it was a convenient thing to do.

Kostov was a family man, but his wife and two sons were staying behind in Zagreb until they found a buyer for their apartment. That was why he didn't practically live at the station like Zenigata and Novak. He travelled to see them whenever he could, especially if he had the weekend off.

“I didn't want to come here at first, but Sanja convinced me. Her family is from around here, and she wants to raise the boys in a smaller city,” he said.

“Yeah, it's a lot safer here,” Novak agreed. She hadn't said anything about having family, and neither Zenigata nor Kostov had asked. Zenigata could sense that she was a kindred spirit, someone driven by such a strong sense of justice that there wasn't enough room for close personal relationships in her heart.

“I hope this Lupin case is over by the time they move here. It's too high profile for me. I can't relax,” Kostov said with an awkward laugh.

“Lupin isn't dangerous,” Zenigata said. Well, that wasn't exactly true. Lupin could create terrible collateral damage when his heists blew up in his hands, but it wasn't like him to get innocent bystanders involved. “I mean, not if you don't get directly in his way.”

“Isn't that our job?” Novak asked and waved to get the waiter's attention. She ordered them coffee and some cake, but Kostov was quick to cut her off.

“Only coffee for me.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about your oddity.”

Zenigata hadn't heard from Lupin after talking to him and Goemon. The pocket where he had the card with Lupin's number felt heavy, even though there was nothing else in it. He hadn't told anyone. It was evidence, and maybe they could have tracked him down with it, but it didn't seem right to hand it over to someone else.

Lupin had asked for his help. They were rivals, and yet it didn't feel at all out of place. Zenigata knew that if there was something he could do to bring Jigen back, he would. Then he'd arrest them both. But the others wouldn't understand. He'd have to keep the card to himself.

They got their coffee. As he was sipping his, Zenigata decided to ask the question that had been on his mind ever since they had arrived at the restaurant.

“What's with that building?” he asked and tilted his head towards the other side of the street. Both Novak and Kostov had been keeping an eye on it the whole time, even when Novak had tried to sneak some sugar into Kostov's coffee.

“Don't point. There might be someone watching,” she said.

“Oh?”

“It's one of the offices where Vuković runs his business. Now that it looks like there's a connection between him and Lupin, we have an excuse to watch him,” Kostov explained.

“Did the chief say that?”

The answer he got was Novak cutting a piece out of her cake and Kostov stirring his coffee absent-mindedly even though he hadn't put anything into it. So, no. They were acting on their own.

“Why do you want to catch that guy so badly anyway? Is it personal?” he asked.

“Does it have to be personal when a cop wants to arrest someone? It's his guys who hand out drugs to kids and traffic who knows what to Italy across the sea. Anyone would want him gone,” Novak said.

“Well, yes, but there are already a lot of people on this case. Why do you want to get involved?”

“Fame and a quick promotion?” Kostov suggested with a sneaky grin. When Zenigata turned to glare at him, he shrugged. “Hey, we're human, too.”

Zenigata didn't buy either answer. There had to be something more to why these two were so eager to go after Vuković. It probably wasn't the same reason. As far as he knew, they'd never met before Kostov's transfer to Crna Stina.

“We're on the Lupin case. Just because –” he started, but he was cut off when something caught his attention on the other side of the street.

People were pouring out of the building they'd been watching. They were pushing each other and stumbling over their own feet, like they were racing each other for who'd make it out first. A few seconds later, the windows in the uppermost floor shattered and sent a rain of glass down onto the ground. The explosion shook the whole street, and Kostov fell over with his chair, nearly taking their table with him.

“What the hell's going on there?” Novak asked.

“It's got to be Lupin!” Zenigata didn't wait for the others but leapt to his feet and ran across the street. He jumped over a few people on the ground, seeing that they were only dazed and had minor injuries. Someone else could look after them, but only he could arrest Lupin.

The first floor of the building was deserted. He ran up the stairs to the second, then the third. The explosion had happened on the fourth floor, but he was sure he'd find what he was looking for on the third. No sane man would have remained up there with the bomb going off, and though Lupin had a few screws loose, he wasn't suicidal.

“Lupin! Where are you?” he called out as he kept running from one room to another, finding nothing but fallen chairs, broken glass and abandoned coffee mugs. It looked like a completely normal office building, but the eerie silence and stench of smoke made it feel like the world had ended.

He froze when he reached the stairs leading to the fourth floor, or what was left of it. There was Lupin, standing with his hands idly in his pockets by the side of a man lying on the floor. He lifted his foot, as if to give him a kick or press down on his back, but then he noticed Zenigata.

“Hey! Welcome to the party.”

There was none of the mirth Zenigata had come to expect from him. His smile was like one of the masks he wore to deceive everyone.

“What's going on?”

Lupin gave the man on the floor the kick he'd been readying. There wasn't even a groan.

“Nothing much. Just trying to get back what's mine. I'm afraid these guys just aren't really seeing it my way.”

“You think they have Jigen.”

“I know they have him.”

“Well, that may be, but you're still under arrest!” Zenigata pulled out his trustworthy handcuffs and waved them at Lupin. “Let the police find him.”

“No offence, but I want results. You can arrest these guys if you're really itching for it. We're done with them. They know nothing that interests me, but they've got a pretty big smuggling operation going on here.”

Zenigata didn't care. Another day, he would have, but now all he could think about was how off everything about Lupin felt. He was like a keg of gunpowder. One spark, and everything around him would be destroyed. He'd seen Lupin like this before, vindictive and cruel, back in the early days when he'd cared for nothing but his own amusement and satisfaction.

“Be reasonable! You aren't going to find him like this.”

“Says who? I'll tear this town apart if I have to.” Lupin paused and turned to look down at the man at his feet. When he lifted his eyes again to meet Zenigata's, the expression on his face had turned sheepish, as if he was suddenly embarrassed. “Sheesh, Pops! Don't look so scared! I was only joking! Joking!”

“You –”

“I'll have to blow up a few places, and you can expect the hospitals to be a little busy, but don't worry. These are hard-boiled guys. They can take it.”

Without warning, a hole appeared onto the floor, and a round chunk of it fell downstairs. Next, Goemon began to climb up.

“You could just use the stairs,” Lupin said.

“The police have surrounded the building. We need to go.”

“Did you get anything out of your guys?”

Goemon shook his head. “It doesn't look like anyone here knows anything.”

“We need to aim higher. No more useless goons and paper pushers.”

As if he wasn't even there, the two began to make their way towards the stairs leading to the fourth floor. Zenigata followed them, yelling at them to stop and come quietly, but he went ignored. Goemon cut the wall open, not that it was necessary. After the explosion, a good kick or two would have made it crumble.

“Wait! Don't even think about it!” Zenigata said and jumped to grab Lupin's legs when he was about to make his exit.

Lupin leapt into the air and avoided him easily so that Zenigata landed on his face. “Sorry. I don't have the time to play with you today. Some other time, okay?”

Before Zenigata could get back on his feet, Lupin and Goemon had jumped out of the hole. He hurried to look, just in time to see them land on the roof of the building next door before a smoke grenade hid them from view. Shots were fired, and he retreated back inside the building to avoid being hit. And he'd thought European cops were careful with firearms!

“Are you okay, sir?”

He turned around to see Kostov run up the stairs, accompanied by two armed men in dark uniforms. They didn't look like regular police officers, and one of them already had a gun pointed at Zenigata. Kostov told him something in Croatian, and the gun went down, albeit reluctantly.

“Who are these men?”

“They're from the special unit. They got sent here immediately in case the explosion was a terrorist attack.”

“It was only Lupin!”

“Only?” Kostov asked and shot a meaningful glance at their destroyed surroundings. “I thought he was a thief.”

“I'll fill you in later. What about him and Goemon? Did you get them?”

“No, they got away. I don't think we even landed a hit. Too bad I wasn't carrying a gun. I'm a pretty good shot even if I say so myself,” Kostov said.

Zenigata doubted an officer with a gun would ever be enough to take Lupin down, but he didn't say so. No need to crush a younger colleague's enthusiasm.

“You know any martial arts?” he asked.

“I'm pretty good at boxing. Does that count?”

“Never mind. Where's Sergeant Novak? Is she alright?”

“She took over outside the building and called for back-up. There were some injured people, and she even managed to stop some of the employees from leaving. I bet they'll have one heck of a story to tell when we question them.”

Zenigata was about to ask him who was pursuing Lupin and what was the fastest way to catch up, but more men from the special unit began to pour in. They gave them a few sharp commands to get them out, and despite his protests that the incident was part of his Lupin investigation, both he and Kostov were given the choice to leave voluntarily, or in handcuffs.

“I'm with the ICPO! Don't you know that –” Zenigata's angry protests were cut off when Kostov began to pull him towards the stairs.

“This isn't a battle worth fighting. Lupin isn't even here anymore. These guys compensate for their small brains with their egos.”

“But –”

“Let's go. Who will arrest Lupin if these guys beat you up and put you behind bars? It'll take even your superiors some time to get you cleared.”

Zenigata had no choice but to agree, but he showed his unhappiness by marching down the stairs as loudly as he could, glaring at every special unit officer they met on their way. By the time they were back in the street, now full of emergency vehicles, police officers, reporters and curious onlookers, he had calmed down enough to realize what his priorities were.

He needed to speak to the chief and get more resources. He couldn't catch Lupin with just Kostov and Novak as backup. And if the chief wouldn't listen – happened sometimes when the local officers thought he was incompetent, were too proud or wanted the glory of catching Lupin for themselves – he'd tell his superiors to turn on the heat.

It wasn't only to catch Lupin. Things wouldn't calm down until he found Jigen, and if the taut anger he'd seen on Lupin's face was any indication of what was coming, there might be innocent victims next time he butted heads with Vuković.

He wouldn't let it come to that. He'd protect not only the people, but Lupin as well. He respected him too much as an adversary to let him become the kind of a man who'd uproot an entire town for selfish reasons.

“What's the situation?” he asked when he found Novak.

“We've taken some people in for questioning, but there's no sign of Vuković. It's only small fish. What did it look like inside?”

“They're going to need to do a lot of repairs before their business can start again,” Zenigata said with a shrug.

“Anyone injured in the blast?”

Zenigata thought back to the man on the floor and Goemon's words. He was sure the men he and Lupin had questioned were still alive, but it was an entirely different matter when they'd walk again.

“Yes, but I think your special unit will take care of them.” Zenigata paused to think. “Pretty effective, that bunch. They got here within minutes.”

“There's nothing odd about that. Someone must have called the police as soon as the culprit entered the building. They had plenty of time.”

“Lupin is usually more careful than that. Normally, he would have used some gadget to block all communication outside the building.”

Novak raised her brows in surprise. “Lupin?”

“Yes, it's exactly like I thought. Lupin is –”

“Not here. Let's grab Kostov and go elsewhere as soon as things calm down.”

“Hm?”

She gave him a sharp look. “I'll explain later.”

That might prove interesting. Something about this whole situation didn't seem right, and it looked like she had noticed the same thing. As a local, perhaps she could shed some light on what was going on.

***

Jigen wasn't fully aware of anything that happened around him, nor of how much time passed while he drifted in and out of consciousness. People came and went and spoke words he couldn't understand. Sometimes it was cold and sometimes hot, but both left him drenched in sweat. At times, there were hands on him, poking and prodding and moving him, but they never caused him anything more than slight discomfort.

When his mind finally started clearing enough for him to make more sense of his surroundings, the first thing he noticed was that there was now light in the room. Someone had opened the window shutters, and he could see slivers of sky through them. It was a bright day.

It was only after that that he glanced to his side and saw the IV that was connected to his arm. For a while, he stared at it, not understanding what was going on. Just how long had he been out of it?

His whole body felt exhausted and weak, and he wasn't sure he would have found the strength to get up even if he hadn't still been tied to the bed. His shirt was torn open and they'd rolled up his sleeves, but other than that and the IV, he couldn't notice anything different from before. It didn't feel like they'd been cutting into him or anything else crazy that he wouldn't like.

A couple of minutes later, the door was opened. It was the Dr. Tomashova, but this time she was alone. She let out a surprised “Oh!” when she saw that he was awake, but she was quickly just as expressionless as before.

“What happened?” Jigen asked, even as he knew there wouldn't be an answer.

The doctor put down her bag and took out a needle and three tubes, which at first made Jigen alarmed. Then he saw that the tubes were empty, so at least she wasn't going to inject him with anything. Not that the idea of having his blood drawn was much better. He hated needles almost as much as going to the dentist's.

“I'm fine. You don't need any of that,” he said as she swabbed a spot on his right arm, the one without the IV. No reaction, so he figured he'd have to get more aggressive to get his point across. He tried to move his arm away from her as much as the restraints allowed. “I said no!”

All it did was that she missed the vein.

“Shit!” he snapped, and then he got a smack to the head and a string of angry, foreign words. He figured he'd better be still if he didn't want any more unnecessary holes in his arm.

She took a new needle and tried again. He didn't put up a fight this time but kept staring at the bits of sky he could see through window. It was over quickly, and he turned back just in time to see her put the tubes into a container in her bag. He wondered what she was planning to do with his blood. Was she trying to figure out what had knocked him out for so long?

His mouth felt like sandpaper. “Hey, give me some water. Water!” Surely she understood at least that much English? Or could guess what he wanted? She was a fucking doctor!

But apparently that wasn't the case because she collected her things and began to leave.

“Bitch!” he called out after her. The only response was the door clicking shut.

God-fucking-dammit. The last shreds of his patience were gone. He'd been kept here for hell only knew how long, he was tired and aching, and he needed a cigarette, a drink, and a shower. He had no idea what these bastards wanted, which was perhaps the worst part. For as long as he didn't know what he was in for, he couldn't prepare himself for it. He was left drifting in this endless boredom and helplessness and couldn't do more than wait for something to happen.

He dozed off for another while, still exhausted after whatever sickness had taken over him, but his sleep wasn't deep. He was jolted awake by the sound of the door opening again.

At first, he didn't recognise Vuković because half his face was covered in bandages, and the other half had a few nasty bruises. Judging by his stiff movements, the rest of his body wasn't much better off.

“Ha! Looks like someone did a number on you. Tell me his name so that I can buy him a drink.”

“Don't get smart with me. I'm not in the mood.”

“That makes two of us, buddy. If you didn't come here to tell me exactly what's going on, then piss off.”

“Actually, I came here to give you this. I thought you might be thirsty after nearly a week of living off that IV,” Vuković said and showed him a bottle of water.

Jigen didn't even try to tone down his outrage and surprise. “A week? What the fuck happened? What did you do to me?”

“Try to sound a little more grateful. We saved your sorry life. That fever could have killed you.”

“You're the ones who caused it in the first place.”

“Not on purpose, I promise. Anna says your injuries led to a nasty infection.”

“My wh–” Jigen snapped his mouth shut before he could ask the question on his tongue. He didn't have any injuries. A few bruises here and there and sore ribs, which had healed pretty well while he had been unconscious. Breathing was no longer a burden. There was no way any of that could have caused him to black out for a week.

But Vuković clearly believed he had been hurt far worse during his capture. In hindsight, it explained some of the puzzling things he had said earlier and why he'd gotten a doctor to take care of him. The problem was, now he was faced with another mystery. Any doctor would have realized right away that he was fine, which meant that Tomashova had been feeding bullshit to Vuković the very moment she had gotten there. He had no idea who she was working for, but he decided he wouldn't tell on her, at least not yet.

“Am I going to have to drink that water with my telekinetic powers or what? I need at least one hand free,” he said.

“Not this time. I have three broken fingers. Untying you would be too much work.”

Jigen didn't like the idea of having to drink as Vuković held the bottle, but he was too thirsty to care. Plus, there was some satisfaction to be had from watching him struggle to open the cap with his injured hands.

“So, what happened to you anyway?” he asked once he'd had his fill of water.

“Let's just say I got into a car accident.”

“Good that it didn't kill you. I'm looking forward to having that pleasure to myself.”

“Don't hold your breath. Things are moving at a faster pace now. We changed our plans.”

“Does that mean I can finally meet this friend of yours? He can't want me that bad if it's been a week and he still isn't here.”

“You know, I told him the same thing. I don't actually like having you here. It takes up resources and time and is a bigger risk than I'm used to. But he likes to savor the best things in life, and he pays me for every minute you're here.”

Jigen snorted. “If he's into cannibalism or some weird shit, I hope he knows that someone with all my bad habits is going to taste like crap.”

“I doubt it's that, but who knows?” Vuković gave him a light pat on the knee, and Jigen wondered if that was supposed to be a reassuring gesture. “You must be hungry. I'll send someone over with some soup.”

“Yeah, and get that thing out of me,” Jigen said and nodded towards the IV. It crossed his mind that if he'd been unconscious for a week, there had probably been some undignified details concerning his other bodily functions, but at least the bastards hadn't catheterized him.

There was much to think about once Vuković was gone. What the hell were Lupin and Goemon doing? By now, they should have already drawn the connection between his disappearance and Vuković's job offer. A small fry like him shouldn't have been hard to track down.

He wasn't worried that something might have happened to them. They knew how to take care of themselves and turn every situation to their advantage, particularly Lupin. The fact that they hadn't yet blown the lid off this place and come to find him could mean only two things. The first was that they were waiting for something, perhaps for Vuković's mysterious friend to show himself. The second was that, somehow, Vuković had been able to keep his location under wraps. Maybe he had planted some damn good fake clues to slow them down.

He had the gut feeling that he'd find out soon enough, but there wasn't much he could do before that. He decided to focus on getting some solid food inside him as soon as any was offered and sleeping off the rest of his drowsiness. He'd have to be in better condition than this if he wanted to make it when the action started.

Chapter Text

The first sign Jigen got that something wasn't right was the surprised shout outside the door, then the dull thud of a body falling to the floor. Though he was expecting it, his heart still jumped when the door was pushed open with a violent bang.

It was Dr. Tomashova, looking a little more energetic than usual. Her hair was crooked in an unnatural way, and she straightened it with one pull, smirking as she did so. Jigen didn't know whether he was more surprised to learn she was wearing a wig, or to see such open emotion on her face.

Just as quickly as she had opened the door, she closed it again and locked it. She put down her bag and took out a mean-looking saw that Jigen didn't like one bit.

“Now wait a –” he started, but she didn't let him finish.

“I'll explain everything later. We have to go. Just do as I say and don't throw a fit, okay?”

Her voice was different. Jigen recognised it immediately, and he couldn't remember if he'd ever been this happy to hear it.

“Fujiko? Is that really you?” He tried to look for familiar features, but she had done too good a job with her disguise, changing her face with latex, make-up, contact lenses and the ugly wig. He couldn't help but stare at her chest, wondering where half of it had gone.

She chuckled and cut the chains around his limbs with surprising ease. “Of course it's me. Didn't you have any idea?”

“You usually look skankier.”

“Surprised by what a good sports bra can do?”

There were a hundred questions Jigen would have liked to ask, but he kept them to himself. What Fujiko had said was right. They had to get away – and damn, he was glad to put this behind him – and out of the two of them, she was currently the one better suited to lead.

“What now?” he asked and tested his legs as he got up from the bed. The fever had left him weaker than he would have liked, but it wasn't too bad. His ribs weren't giving him much trouble anymore, either. He was sure he'd be able to run.

“We'll leave through the window. There's a helicopter close by.”

“A flashy escape, huh? What if someone notices us climbing the wall?”

“You shoot them.” Fujiko reached into her bag, took out a gun and pressed it into his hands. And not just any gun. It was his revolver. Jigen could have almost pulled her into a bear hug.

“How did you get this?” he asked, unable to stop a wide grin from forming on his face. He'd been afraid he'd never see his Magnum again.

“I'll tell you later. But take note of how I bothered to get it for you. You probably won't like what's going on, so think back to this moment before you get angry at me. And now let's go.” Fujiko grabbed Jigen's hat from the nightstand and put it on his head, then went to open the window.

She had a rope and a grappling hook in her bag, and one swing later the latter was attached to something above them.

“Can you make it?” she asked.

“Of course!”

Fujiko smiled and threw her bag over her shoulder. “Just making sure. It's a long way down.”

Jigen could see that much when he went to the window. The house was standing right at the edge of a cliff so that if he fell, it wouldn't be just a few storeys down – he'd be crushed on the rocks that the waves were licking far below them.

“I'm not afraid of heights,” he said and tucked away his revolver. He grabbed the rope, gave it a few firm tugs and began to climb up. It took a little more effort than he'd expected, but he made it without feeling like his arms would give in. Once up on the roof, he had a brief moment to take a good look at his surroundings and catch his breath.

They were somewhere in the countryside. He couldn't see other houses anywhere. The sea was to their right, calm and blue in the bright sunlight. The last time Jigen had been outside, it had been rainy and dark. The world was so full of colour it almost hurt his eyes.

“Shouldn't we do this at night? Anyone can see us,” he said when Fujiko joined him on the roof.

“There's no time. We have to be out of here before the evening.”

“What's the rush? Not that I'm complaining. Even a second longer in that room would have driven me nuts.”

But before Fujiko could answer, there was a zing, and a bullet whizzed past him. He dove down and yelled at Fujiko to do the same. There hadn't been time to see where the shot had come from, but he had a general idea.

“So, what's the next stage of the plan?” he asked and took out his revolver, checking how many rounds he had. Only two. Not good, but always better than none.

Fujiko nodded towards what looked like a warehouse on their left. It was slightly higher than the main house, but there was a narrow ladder going up the wall.

“The helicopter is up there.”

“And we're taking it and getting the hell out of here? Count me in. But it'll be tricky. I bet there are more than two guys up against us.”

“You think I'm stupid enough to run away with a gunslinger and not bring any extra rounds?” Fujiko reached into her bag, took out a pouch and tossed it to him. Its weight was comforting in his hand, and he instantly felt more hopeful about their chances.

“You've got everything in that bag of yours or what? Must be all the practice with those overpriced purses you make Lupin buy for you.”

“Or maybe I'm a professional. One who is currently considering going solo.” The line of Fujiko's mouth was more irritated than amused now. “I'll go first. You cover me.”

Jigen grunted in agreement, even if there was a voice at the back of his head warning him that knowing Fujiko, she just might get into the helicopter and make a run for it without him. On the other hand, she had busted him out but hadn't gotten anything in return yet, so she probably wasn't ready to ditch him for another while.

He crawled closer to the ridge of the tiled roof and risked a brief look in the direction where the shot had come from. Luckily, the sun was behind him, so he had a clear view, but their enemies might be blinded by it if they weren't wearing shades.

As expected, there were several men hurrying to their direction. Jigen shot at the first one, blowing the gun from his hand and then taking out his knee. The man collapsed to the ground with a scream, and the rest stopped in their tracks. They clearly hadn't thought he'd be armed. But they were all professionals, so the moment of confusion only lasted a split second before they took cover behind corners, statues in the garden and cars parked on the driveway. The man he had shot was left wailing and bleeding on the ground, slowly trying to crawl away to safety.

He shouldn't have bothered. Jigen was only interested in the men who could still fight back. He loaded his revolver, his fingers so used to the routine that he didn't have to look at what he was doing. There were four men left. He didn't necessarily have to take them all down, but he should keep them busy to give Fujiko the chance to reach the helicopter.

“Are you ready?” he asked, but then he saw that she was already climbing down. Goddamit. Some warning would have been nice.

It was partly instincts but mostly luck that he was able to guess who'd be the first to fire and was able to hit the gun, but not in time to stop it from firing. The bullet hit the wall right by Fujiko's side, and she let out an alarmed squeak.

“I said cover me!”

“You need to tell me before you go!” There was no time for more bickering, so Jigen had to bite his tongue and keep his attention on the men. Lupin would never let him hear the end of it if he screwed this up because he was distracted by Fujiko, even if it wasn't the way most men were.

Fujiko was quick on her feet, so she didn't need much time to get down, close the distance between the two buildings and reach the ladder leading to the roof of the warehouse. Once up, she signalled for him to do the same. He hesitated for a moment, but he knew that he couldn't stay where he was and that he'd taken care of the men he'd spotted. He'd have to move now before more people arrived.

He made it to the ground without an incident. The dash from the main house to where the helicopter was took an abrupt halt when he saw that two more men were running towards them down the path leading to the house. He froze and dove behind a bench, cursing under his breath.

He'd have to deal with them before continuing. Once he made it to the ladder, he'd need both his hands to climb.

“Hurry up!” Fujiko called out.

Jigen looked up to where she was and saw her making impatient gestures and waving a gun at him. Right. She could cover him. For a moment, he had forgotten that she was there, and that he could probably trust her on this. Their teamwork was usually pretty good when they had a common goal.

“Jigen! Don't be an idiot! Come on!”

He put away his revolver and made for the ladder. He climbed as fast as he could, expecting to be hit and to fall every time a shot was fired. But miraculously, none hit him, and he reached the top.

“Don't do that again. We have no time to waste,” Fujiko said.

“Yeah, yeah. Where are Lupin and Goemon?”

“Not here. I told you I'd explain everything later.”

As Fujiko had said, there was a helicopter and a landing site on top of the warehouse. It was the highest place in the area, and now Jigen could see the house where he had been kept captive for over a week. It was the kind of place that travel magazine editors liked to put all over their covers. The house stood three stories high, was plastered white and had a reddish tiled roof that looked like the owner had money to maintain it regularly. Some vines were crawling along the walls and there was a large garden and a driveway with an expensive, black Mercedes and room for another.

It looked like a summer house for someone who could wipe their ass with fifty dollar bills. He hadn't gotten the impression that Vuković was doing this well. But maybe that had been a lie, too, to make him lower his guard.

Tch, he'd been so gullible.

Fujiko had opened the helicopter door and was doing something to the controls. Jigen wondered what she was up to, but he didn't want to leave his spot and take a look in case more people came after them. He was sure someone had alerted Vuković, so they had to move fast now that they had a chance.

“What's taking so long? Weren't we in a hurry?” he asked.

“I'm almost done! In fact, right now!” She sounded so pleased with herself that Jigen had to turn and look. She had attached a small device to the controls. He recognised it right away. He'd often seen Lupin use a similar one to control helicopters and small planes from a distance. He couldn't imagine what it was for. Both he and Fujiko knew how to pilot the thing.

“What are you up to? We – Hey!” He wasn't expecting it, so there was nothing he could do to stop Fujiko from snatching his hat from his head. She took it to where her bag was, and this time he followed her, not caring if an army suddenly marched to attack them.

Fujiko took several tubes from the bag. Jigen realized it was the blood she'd drawn from him earlier. He'd already forgotten all about it.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Faking evidence.” She opened the tubes and poured his blood over the hat while all he could do was stare in horror.

“Hey, stop! You'll ruin it!”

“I'll get you a new one.”

“I don't want a new hat! That one comes with a lot of memories!”

“Don't be a baby.” Fujiko tossed the hat inside the helicopter and closed the door. She took a small remote from her pocket and told him to get back. Then she flicked a switch and pressed a few buttons, and the helicopter's rotor blade began to turn.

Jigen watched the helicopter rise in the air, his hands in his pockets. “Things have gone pretty smoothly so far, but I see a small problem here. We forgot to get onto that.”

“We were never going to get onto it. We'll just make it look like we did.” Fujiko directed the helicopter towards open sea and put the remote away. “Now it's time to go. I've got a car hidden behind a few of those hills. All we have to do is make sure nobody sees us.”

“I've got enough shots left to kill anyone who does.”

“And alert everyone to the fact that we're still here?”

Jigen made an unhappy sound. She was right. So far, she seemed to have known exactly what she was doing, so he decided to follow her until they were safely away from Vuković's house.

They didn't run into any trouble as they slipped away from the estate and crawled through the bushes and scrawny trees until they couldn't be spotted from the house anymore. Jigen had no idea where they were, but when he expressed the worry that someone must have called for back-up, Fujiko said it was such a long way from Crna Stina that nobody would make it in time to catch them.

They reached the car some fifteen minutes after leaving the house. Jigen sank onto the passenger seat with a sigh and closed his eyes. Damn, he was happy to be out of that miserable place. For a few moments, he just listened to the hum of the car as Fujiko was driving and enjoyed the thought of freedom.

“Now would be a good time to start explaining,” he said then.

“Do me a favor first.”

“Yeah?”

“Grab that remote and flick the third switch for me.”

Jigen did so, figuring that there was no harm in it. “Okay, what did that do?”

“We just died.”

“Huh?”

“The helicopter is far at sea by now. It just had an unfortunate malfunction and crashed. Both you and the poor doctor either died in the impact or drowned. Take your pick.”

“Talk about dramatic. Why do we need such theatrics?” Jigen asked and tossed the remote to the back seat.

“To win us some time. You don't even know what kind of a mess you got yourself into, do you?” Fujiko grabbed a hold of her face and began to peel off the latex she had used to change her features. Then she threw away the wig, and she was beginning to look more like the woman Jigen knew, albeit without make-up and the generous bust.

“How could I when nobody's telling me anything?”

“We've got a long drive ahead of us. I'll fill you in, so ask whatever you want.”

“What are the chances of you not lying to my face?”

Fujiko shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Jigen sulked for a moment, but it was a losing battle. She had no pressing need to tell him anything, but he needed to know. He'd have to swallow his pride and ask her, but before that, there was something much more pressing.

“Do you have anything to smoke?”

“Try the glove compartment. But you've been a long time without. Why not take this as a good opportunity to quit?”

“I'll quit when I'm dead.” He found an unopened pack of Pall Malls in the compartment, along with a lighter. As far as he knew, Fujiko never smoked those. She must have gotten them for him. Any other time, he might have wondered what ulterior motive she had for being nice to him, but right now he was too grateful.

The familiar feeling of a cigarette between his lips, the click of the lighter and the first puff of smoke in his lungs after too long – he was in heaven.

“Okay, start talking. What did Vuković really want from me?” His words were half-mumble as he didn't want to take out the cigarette.

“Someone ordered your capture. Vuković is just the middleman. He was paid a lot of money to get you alive and unharmed.”

“Who wants me that badly?”

“Does the name James Walker say anything to you?”

The cigarette fell from his mouth when he exhaled in surprise. He hadn't heard that name in years and had tried his best not to think about it. “What? You're kidding! Jimmy?”

“So you know him.”

“Unfortunately. But why's he coming for me now? He's had plenty of time to do it before.”

Fujiko gave him a curious look. “Don't you keep tabs on people from your past? His uncle died half a year ago, and he took over the family business. He probably didn't have the money to come after you before. Someone who sticks that close to Lupin isn't easy to get a hold of.”

That much made sense. The last time Jigen had seen him, Walker had been only a second in command waiting to inherit everything. His influence hadn't reached very far outside east coast.

“So, you've been watching him, then. Did you two –”

“No,” Fujiko cut him off. “I heard that from Vuković. Walker is on my black list.”

Jigen couldn't blame her. He hadn't been close enough to Walker to know if the stories were true, but everyone had talked about the things he did to his women and how often he was looking for a new one. He hadn't been any kinder to his enemies, and Jigen knew he could count himself lucky that he'd made it out before the man had gotten his hands on him.

“What did you do to him?” Fujiko asked.

“Killed his kid brother.”

“Ouch. He must have taken it badly.”

“Don't know. I didn't stick around to find out. I don't want to talk about that. But what about Lupin and Goemon? Where are they?”

“Still in Crna Stina, looking for you. They've been giving Vuković hell of a time, but they never found out where he was keeping you.”

Jigen wasn't sure where this conversation was going. “But you knew, so you why didn't you tell them?”

“They would have messed up my plans. I had my eye on Vuković even before you got captured, and I wasn't about to let them ruin everything with some flashy rescue operation.”

Jigen snorted in disdain. Typical Fujiko. Whatever she'd been after was more important to her than him. It was a small miracle she had even bothered to bust him out at all.

“When did you switch places with the doctor?” he asked.

“What do you mean? It was me the whole time.”

“What?” For a moment, Jigen could only stare at her. “Let me get this straight, you let them have me for a week and just watched? You could have gotten me out any time!”

“I said I had plans!”

“I don't care! Jesus Christ, woman. You could have at least told me what was going on and that you were there instead of leaving me completely in the dark!”

“If I had told you it was me, you would have blown up at me and tried to harass me into helping you escape, just like now! You were never in danger. They wanted you alive and well.”

Like that mattered to him. For over a week, he'd had no idea what was going on and whether he'd live to see the following day. He'd been humiliated and treated like a caged animal, and Fujiko had done nothing to help him.

“Bitch,” he growled. “Stop the car. I'm walking.”

“We're in the middle of nowhere. You don't even know where to go, and you don't have a phone or money.”

“I don't give a shit!”

“Don't be stupid! I didn't risk my life to bust you out of there just to let you get yourself into more trouble because you lose all reason when you're angry! Suck on your cancer stick until you calm down.”

“Fuck you,” Jigen muttered and sank lower in his seat. He played with the idea of kicking Fujiko out of the car and stealing it. It wouldn't be to teach her a lesson about how to treat one's partners – she'd never learn. He just wanted to satisfy his thirst for revenge and show her what it was like to be totally helpless.

They drove in silence. Jigen worked his way through the pack of cigarettes so fast that he was beginning to feel a little ill, even though he'd long since tarred his lungs pitch black and should have been used to it. Maybe the time without any exercise and the fever had left him weaker than he'd thought.

“So, what was it?” he asked, sticking one more cigarette into his mouth.

“What?”

“Whatever you were after. I doubt it's worth what I went through, but humor me.”

“Vuković has a clue that will lead to a great treasure. Gold, jewels. All the usual.”

“On second thought, this is starting to interest me. Tell me more. And I'm taking a fat slice out of this treasure for all my trouble.”

“There isn't much more to tell. I didn't get it.”

“Huh?”

Fujiko took her eyes off the road for a moment to glare at him. “I said I didn't get it!”

Just when Jigen had been starting to think that maybe he couldn't be bothered to be mad at her after all, she had to pull the rug from under his feet. So, not only had she made him go through all that, but it hadn't even been worth anything in the end?

“What went wrong?” he asked. “And the explanation had better be damn good.”

“Everything went wrong right from the start. I had already lured Vuković in and was well on my way to becoming his girlfriend. That would have eventually given me full access to all the private rooms in that summer house. He's a total pushover if you know how to handle him.” Fujiko pursed her lips in annoyance and slammed her hands on the sides of the steering wheel. “But then you just had to get captured, and I was forced to change my plans. Why else do you think I disguised myself as this ugly doctor?”

“Don't even try to tell me that you did it to be able to keep an eye on me. I'm not that stupid.”

“Believe what you want. When you weren't back in the morning, Goemon let slip that you had some connection to Vuković. It wasn't hard to make one of his guys talk. There was a doctor who was supposed to take a look at you, but I paid her to stay away and went in her place. Walker wanted you in good health, remember? So I lied to them that you had broken ribs and a concussion so that they'd let me stick around and wouldn't hand you over right away. I was hoping I could still get some information about that treasure, even if it was going to be harder that way.”

“You could have gone for a sexy doctor and just seduced your way into his rooms like you were planning.”

“I considered it, but I was afraid you'd recognise me. This was safer.”

Well, she had him there. It hadn't even crossed his mind that the meek doctor might be Fujiko in disguise.

“Was it you who gave me something to cause that fever?”

“Look, I had little choice. They were about to put you on a plane to America. I had to do something to win more time.”

“Of course you had a choice. You could have filled me in, and maybe if you'd made the treasure sound appealing enough, I might have gone along with your bullshit. You should know by now that I hate it when people mess with me.”

“You were never in any danger!”

“It's not about that! But what the hell, I don't even know why I expect someone like you to know the first thing about trust.”

“You wouldn't have trusted me even if I had told you what was going on!”

“And it's exactly because you keep pulling stunts like this!”

Fujiko turned around to fumble for the wig, and before Jigen could yell at her to keep her eyes on the road and not let go of the wheel, she'd found it and thrown it at him so that it covered most of his face. Then she snatched his cigarette from his mouth and took a long, angry drag out of it.

“You could at least say thank you,” she said snippily. “I had to give up all my dreams of the treasure and get you out of there.”

Jigen parted the wig around his eyes so that he could see her. “What do you mean?”

“Lupin and Goemon have been giving Vuković hell in Crna Stina. Probably half of his operations are down. He was getting scared that they'd find out where you are at any moment, so Walker decided to come here. He arrived in Zagreb this morning.”

“So –”

“So if we had waited any longer, it would have been too late. I had to give up either you or the treasure.” Fujiko sounded calmer again, and she put the cigarette back into his mouth, although there wasn't much left of it.

She was lying. There was no way Fujiko would ever put him before money. All she cared about was getting her greedy hands on something valuable. There had to be something else going on here, something that she wanted even more than that treasure.

“Yeah, right,” he said quietly, unable to come up with a better quip. She had gone undercover to keep an eye on him, and she had abandoned the treasure to save him. He couldn't deny either fact, as much as they didn't make sense.

But then he thought of something, and he couldn't help but start laughing.

“What's so funny?” Fujiko asked.

“You! You just said that Vuković panicked because of Lupin and Goemon. If you had told them where I was, they wouldn't have given him any trouble, and then you would have had more time to find that treasure. A little bit of trust would have taken you so much further.”

“It might have worked with Lupin, but you know Goemon. I couldn't risk that he'd refuse to leave you imprisoned like that. And stop laughing!”

“No. It's too funny to watch you fall on your little butt after your attempts to manipulate everyone turn around and bite you.”

“You're such an idiot. Why did I ever bother helping you?”

“Well, why did you?”

Fujiko didn't answer. The silence in the car grew thick, and after only a few moments, Jigen began to regret the question. He'd meant it as another jab to provoke her, but it looked like she didn't have any lies ready to feed him. And he wasn't sure he wanted the truth, whatever it might be.

“Where's your phone? I'm going to call Lupin,” he said and finally pulled the wig off his head.

Fujiko handed him her phone, and he chose Lupin from her contact list.

“Not picking up,” he said. He tried Goemon next but had just as little luck. “Damn! Why do they even have phones if they won't answer them?”

“They're probably too busy harassing Vuković's men. You've made them really worried.”

“Me? You blame me even though you could have told them everything on day one?”

“You're the one who walked straight into that trap. Honestly, Jigen, I expected better of you. It's usually Goemon who gets tricked into plots like that.”

“Go to hell,” Jigen muttered, not wanting to be reminded of how and why this whole mess had started. He didn't know if Goemon had told the others about their argument, but if he had, he hoped that they'd let it be. After getting captured and finding out that there was a sadistic bastard after him, it really was the least of his worries what his friends were doing in the bedroom.

“About that night...” Fujiko started.

“Save your breath. I don't care.”

“But we –”

Jigen put the wig back over his face. “I'm going to take a nap, so I won't hear a word you say.”

Fujiko snorted in irritation. Though he couldn't see her, he was sure she was pursing her lips in anger, the way she always did when she didn't get what she wanted. It was his favorite look on her.

Chapter Text

They had failed. It wasn't the first time and certainly not the last, but Goemon didn't think any future failure would hit him as hard as this one. Despite all their efforts, they hadn't found Jigen. They had revealed several of Vuković's operations in the city, landed dozens of his men in custody or hospital, and their latest desperate attempt had most likely ended with a few deaths.

Still nothing. They hadn't caught a glimpse of Vuković after the failed interrogation in the car, and none of his men that they'd questioned had talked. Vuković had probably taken everyone who knew anything into hiding with him.

“Lupin?”

There was a tired, questioning hum from the couch. They'd been out all night and had just returned to their apartment to lick their wounds. They needed sleep, but neither was willing to lie down long enough to get any.

“What are we going to do next?” Goemon asked.

“At this point, there doesn't seem to be anyone left in town who's connected to Vuković. But I'll think of something. Don't worry.”

“After all this time, do you think –”

“We'll find him. Jigen's a tough guy. Have some faith.”

Goemon had already stopped believing that Lupin was as optimistic as he sounded. If someone had Jigen, there was no reason for them to keep him alive anymore. Even if they were torturing him for information, it couldn't have lasted this long.

“Fujiko tried to call me earlier today,” he said.

“Me, too. I called her back, but she didn't pick up. That's so mean, stringing me along like that.”

Goemon hadn't returned the call. He couldn't believe that Fujiko was still enjoying her vacation with her rich, elderly bachelor, even after they'd told her how serious the situation was. She couldn't be that cold-hearted. Even after all her betrayals, Goemon wanted to believe that she cared for all of them, even Jigen. They had to be more important to her than money.

Lupin yawned and stretched his back before getting up and walking to the fridge. “The local police should give us some kind of an award. We've done a pretty good job cleaning up the city. Hm, I guess I'll make an omelette. You want some?”

“I'm not hungry.”

“I'll make a big one, and we share it, okay?”

“You don't need to coddle me.”

“Huh, what's that?”

“I know perfectly well that the odds of Jigen being still alive are not in our favor. It's insulting that you're acting like it's not the case. I know the realities in our line of work.”

Lupin broke a few eggs and whipped them in a large glass before pouring them onto a frying pan. “You're being silly. Why would I coddle you? You've proven yourself enough times already.”

“Then what is it that you're doing?”

“Trying to stay positive. Never give up when there's still hope. We know nothing definitive until we grab Vuković and squeeze the truth out of him.”

Goemon chose to say nothing. They should have found Vuković already. He couldn't help but wonder if he'd been efficient enough, if there was anything he could have done better. When their roles had been reversed and he'd been caught and tortured by enemies, Lupin and Jigen had found him much faster.

No, this was no time to wallow in self-doubts. He had to remain strong and give Lupin the assistance he needed. Anything else would have been a betrayal of his comrades and his honor. The only acceptable direction was onwards, even if his blade felt heavier every time they returned to the apartment, just the two of them.

Lupin was ready with the omelette and came to give him his share. He sat down on the couch and turned on the TV. Goemon didn't understand a word of Croatian, but he wouldn't have been surprised to hear that Lupin had managed to pick up some during their stay in the country.

“Anything interesting?” he asked as Lupin kept switching the channel.

“I'm looking for topless chicks. But I guess it's not my day.” Lupin tossed the remote aside and settled for a channel that was showing the news.

The anchor's face was soon replaced by footage of a sea view with several police boats, then a map that showed a spot not too far away from the coast. The video and pictures were enough to tell Goemon that there had been a helicopter accident some two hundred kilometres north from Crna Stina.

“Do you know what they're saying?”

“More or less, but I don't think it's anything interesting. It looks like it happened today, so there probably isn't enough info available yet.”

Goemon nodded and focused on forcing the food down.

***

The helicopter accident that had happened earlier that day hadn't really caught Zenigata's interest. It was well out of the city and had taken place nearly simultaneously with Lupin's latest attack on Vuković, so there couldn't be a connection. Kostov had agreed, but Novak had shown strange determination to get all the available details.

“We already have our hands full with Lupin. I haven't had a good night's sleep in three days,” Kostov complained when she urged him to slip into the evidence room with her. “And it's not our case.”

“Everything has been just one big case ever since Lupin started going berserk,” she replied.

Lupin had been on a rampage all over the city and caused several explosions and so much property damage that Zenigata pitied the local insurance companies. The cells were bursting with men whose shady dealings had been discovered in the middle of the chaos. Everyone was racing against time to sort all the security footage and witness reports and stay on top of the paperwork.

He now had all the resources he needed, and the chief had personally apologized to him for calling him delusional earlier. He was in the middle of one of the largest Lupin chases of his life. And yet, Zenigata didn't feel very enthusiastic.

Senseless chaos like this went too far even for Lupin. There was always a reason for everything he did, even if it was often so ludicrous that normal people couldn't see it. But Zenigata had chased him for so long that it was as if he had learned to read the man's thoughts.

What was happening in the city wasn't a distraction from a larger plot or an amusing diversion to kill time. What they were seeing were the actions of a man who was desperate and angry. Lupin was on warpath, and Zenigata didn't want to find out how far he was willing to go. The others were saying it was a miracle that innocent people hadn't been caught in the crossfire yet. Zenigata knew it was deliberate, that Lupin was taking care to make sure people who had nothing to do with this didn't get hurt. How long he'd bother if he didn't get what he wanted, however, was another matter.

“We already have our hands full,” he said and turned his attention back to the map that marked every place where Lupin had been spotted within the past week. That was why he was entirely caught by surprise when Novak suddenly grabbed his arm and began to pull him up on his feet.

“What –”

“Inspector, I'm off to get some coffee. Care to join me?”

“But we just had coffee. In fact, I still have some right here.”

Novak let out an audible sigh and turned to look at Kostov, as if asking for help. But the blond officer was just as confused as Zenigata and could only shrug helplessly.

“If you're going out for more coffee, grab me something to eat,” he said.

Zenigata let Novak lead him out of their office. He wasn't surprised that they didn't go to the main lobby, or to the break room, but took one of the hallways leading to the evidence rooms. He didn't have to guess twice what she was after.

“Sergeant, we're not on that case,” he said sternly, beginning to pull his arm away from her.

“Inspector, please. I...” she said began to lean closer, and for a moment his mind went blank because it wasn't every day that women suddenly pushed themselves at him out of nowhere. He tried to regain control of his tongue to let her know that he was very flattered and could certainly understand her feelings but that it'd be highly unprofessional of them to do anything, but he never needed to.

Novak made a sudden annoyed grimace and stepped back, turning to look away with an embarrassed tint on her face.

“Sorry. I'm no good at this. If someone sees us here, can you just take charge and pretend that we're having a tryst?”

“What? Why?”

“It's more believable. A man like you who's been all over the world must have so much experience with women. Let everyone think you seduced me.”

“Well...” Zenigata couldn't decide whether to feel flattered or mortified. Then he realized that she hadn't actually answered his question. “What is this whole charade for?”

“I need to see the evidence they just brought in from the helicopter crash site.”

“Why? It has nothing to do with Lupin.”

“We can't know for sure. Remember what I told you after the first attack?”

He nodded grimly, not wanting to say anything in case someone was listening. Sergeant Novak had confided in him and Kostov and told them that she'd been conducting a small-scale, private investigation into Marko Vuković for a couple of years now. She suspected that the city's police force was thoroughly on his payroll, up to the highest level, and that he had backing from several powerful politicians.

Novak leaned closer to whisper in his ear, “The helicopter that crashed today was stolen from a villa belonging to the De Angelis family.”

“What?” he asked, unable to keep his voice down. That name had come up when she had told them about who she believed to be Vuković's strongest supporters. Could all of this really be a coincidence?

“Hurry, I can't wait,” she said breathily and began pushing him down the hallway towards the evidence rooms. It was their one chance, he realized. If the crash was connected to Vuković somehow, the evidence was sure to disappear or be tampered with soon.

Novak had a key, so they made it inside without incident. The evidence from the crash was spread on a table in the middle of the room, all of it stored individually within plastic bags. There wasn't much of it, only a few items that had been inside the helicopter and some pieces of it that had been floating. The actual wreck was still underwater, and it might be some time before they were able to get it up. Before that, it was impossible to say whether the crash had been an accident or caused on purpose.

“They didn't find any bodies, right?” he asked.

“No, but they could still be inside the wreck. There's also a strong current in that area that might have carried them further away from the scene.”

They watched the items carefully, neither willing to touch the bags unless something caught their interest. Zenigata hoped that Novak knew what to look for because he didn't have any idea. All of the evidence looked like junk that wouldn't tell them anything they wanted to know.

“Can you find anything?” he called over to her.

“Nothing. All I can tell is that one of the passengers was probably a man.”

Zenigata came to see what she was talking about and spotted a hat that had seen better days on the table. He rushed to it, tore open the plastic bag and examined it so closely that his nose was almost touching it.

“Hey, you can't do that! You need gloves if you –”

“I've seen this hat before.”

“What? How can you tell? It's a normal fedora.”

“No. I'm sure this belongs to one of Lupin's partners, Daisuke Jigen. I'd bet anything on it.”

Novak gave him a doubtful look. “What makes you think that? Does it have initials or something?”

“I'm an expert on Lupin, so of course I know his partners, too! And also –” Zenigata paused, not sure if he should say that he had received information from Lupin earlier. It might not paint him in favorable light. Then again, she was also snooping around unofficially. “Also, according to my... investigation, Jigen is currently missing. I believe that's the reason Lupin has been attacking Vuković so aggressively. He thinks he's got something to do with it.”

An excited gleam appeared in Novak's eyes. “If that's true, then we have a connection between Vuković and the De Angelis. When they find the body, we can prove that the family has something to hide. Why else would there be a wanted criminal like Jigen on their private helicopter?”

“Yeah, when we – what do you mean, the body?”

“Well, if that really is his hat, then he's got to be dead. Nobody could have survived that crash.”

“That's true...” Zenigata felt his spirits drop to the floor. Jigen was no Lupin, but the chase would nevertheless be different without him.

“They found traces of blood on the hat and already took some samples. Does the ICPO have any DNA data on this guy?”

“I think so. Maybe.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“Lupin likes to mess with us and leaves random hair and other things behind to make it harder for us to find out what really belongs to him and his partners. We've even found the DNA of the Pope at a crime scene.” Zenigata turned the hat around in his hands. “But if there's a match in our files, it has to be him.”

“Can you speed things up? If we go through official channels, it'll be weeks before we get results. If you say it's part of the Lupin case –”

Zenigata nodded. “I'll do what I can.” Somewhat reluctantly, he put the hat back inside the plastic bag and sealed it. There was no way he could keep it, but leaving it here in the evidence room didn't feel right. The hat belonged elsewhere.

He felt a little self-conscious when they returned from the evidence room and wondered if anyone suspected anything. The smirk that briefly flashed on Kostov's face told him that he at least thought he had an idea about where they'd been and what they'd been doing, especially since they had both forgotten they'd promised to bring him snacks. The guilty blush on Zenigata's face didn't help matters.

It was getting late, but he had long since stopped thinking of his life in terms of working and off-hours. He had only one case, and he was on it around the clock, keeping himself alive with coffee and junk food and sleeping on a couch at the station. But the people here didn't know he was that dedicated, so nobody thought it odd when he said he was off to his hotel to have a few hours of sleep.

However, sleep was the farthest thing on his mind. He took a detour to a park that was close to his hotel and sat down on a bench to have a smoke.

The years he'd spent chasing Lupin had forced him through a lot, but he didn't regret the time and effort he had put into it. He'd learned to understand his target in a way that most officers never could. He had never cared about the snide voices behind his back saying it was only because he was taking so long to arrest him. His experience with Lupin was what made him the only man who could even hope to catch him.

He stubbed out his cigarette and glanced around for a trash can, not wanting to litter. When he saw none within the lit areas, he waited for the stub to cool before shoving it into his pocket. His fingers brushed against something that he'd known was there ever since he'd left the station.

Lupin's phone number. It wasn't the first time he held one in his hands – sometimes Lupin gave him a number and told him to call if he ever felt sorry for himself after drinking too much. Zenigata always trashed them, even though he knew there was a shred of honesty behind Lupin's mocking actions.

Most officers didn't understand their targets like this, but then again, most officers didn't regularly go through life-threatening situations with the men they chased, only surviving because somewhere along the line they had developed a strange trust in each other. And it was because of this trust that Zenigata was now holding the card with Lupin's number on it and considering calling it.

He should tell him what he knew about Jigen. It was the right thing to do. Zenigata was sure most people would have disagreed and kept the information as a trump card, or used it to lure Lupin into a trap. The chase between them was full of deception and tricks, but there was an unspoken rule of what went too far, and Zenigata felt he would be breaking it if he didn't contact Lupin now.

They could fire him if anyone ever found out, but he realized it was a risk he was willing to take. If he wanted to be able to keep chasing Lupin with a clear conscience, if he wanted to feel worthy of it when he finally arrested him, he had to do this.

He punched in the number and waited. A jogging man passed him, and there was a couple taking their dog for a walk getting closer, but he wasn't worried. He doubted anyone here cared about him, or could understand Japanese.

“Hello, unknown caller! Are you the cute girl I met at the club the other night? Olga? Or was it Enia?”

“Lupin!”

“Oh, Pops! Fancy having you call me in the middle of the night. Are you lonely?”

“Be serious. You're the one who said I should call.”

There was the slightest pause. “Right, I did. Do you have something for me?”

“I think so. Did you hear about the helicopter crash?”

“I saw it in the news. What about it?”

“The police found a hat at the scene, and I have reason to believe that the people who owned the helicopter have connections to a man called Marko Vuković. Also –”

Lupin cut him off with a laugh. “A hat? That's all you've got? I said not to call me until you have a body. It probably even isn't Jigen's hat.”

“Listen, I could recognize your jacket at first glance among a hundred identical ones! My accuracy may not be as good with the others, but I'm sure it's his. And there will be a DNA test later. If we get a match with any of the countless samples we've got filed under your case, then it's final. He must have been on that helicopter.”

“If Jigen had been on that helicopter, it wouldn't have crashed.”

“Maybe he was injured and passed out. Or maybe the helicopter was shot down. We don't have enough details yet. I don't really care if you believe me or not, but you should look into this.”

Zenigata waited for an answer, but there was none. After a moment, the connection went dead. He harrumphed. A thank-you from a thief shouldn't have mattered to him, but he had just shared confidential information with him. He was too soft for his own good.

He considered what to do next. Going to his hotel just to sit alone in the empty room would accomplish nothing, so he decided to return to the station. The people in this country knew how to make good coffee, so he was sure he could work through the night and reread the latest reports on Lupin's activities in Crna Stina.

Novak was no longer there when he got back, but Kostov welcomed him gratefully.

“I hate being stuck here through the night,” he told him as he pushed away his laptop and stretched his back. “You ever feel like that?”

“Not really.”

“Japanese work ethics, huh? I'd rather be with my wife and kids. Guess I shouldn't have become a police officer.”

“It's perfectly possible to be both an officer and a family man. It just takes effort,” Zenigata said. And the ability not to always put work above everything else, which he'd miserably failed at.

“Yeah, but there are easier jobs in the world. But we all have our reasons for doing this, don't we?”

Zenigata agreed with a hum and took a sip of his coffee.

“So,” Kostov said, “you and Sergeant Novak? Do you...?”

“Whatever you're imagining, it's wrong.”

“But you did go down to the basement, right? What happened?”

“We were discussing the case. That's all.”

“Right. The case. Well, I hope you get to do a lot more of that. The whole time I've known her, she's been a stick in the mud. It's great to see she's found someone she can trust.”

“I don't want to gossip about colleagues,” Zenigata said in a tone that he hoped made it clear the conversation was over. He grabbed a couple of doughnuts from the box someone had left on the desk to make his disinterest even clearer.

After some time, Kostov got up and said he was going to the men's room. He returned some ten minutes later, walked past Zenigata's desk with a carefree whistle and grabbed one of the doughnuts.

“I'll stretch my legs a bit more. These night shifts are a real killer,” he said and took a bite.

“Sure,” Zenigata agreed, not lifting his eyes from the report he was reading. It was only moments later that he realized that something was off, jumped to his feet and ran after him.

Just as he had guessed, he found him in the evidence room in the basement.

“Lupin!”

Kostov turned around with a look of surprise. Then he grabbed his face and pulled it off, revealing his real features.

“Wow, Pops. I didn't think you'd figure it out that quickly. Am I getting rusty?”

“You didn't do your research properly. Officer Kostov hates everything sweet.”

Lupin looked at the tiny piece of the doughnut that was still left and tossed it away with a shrug. “Damn, with that personality of his? I thought he lived on sugar. But never mind. I won't be here for long.”

“Give it up. You have nowhere to run,” Zenigata said and pulled out a pair of handcuffs.

Lupin ignored him and walked over to the table with the bagged evidence. “Is this it?” he asked and picked up the hat. He turned it over in his hands with a solemn expression on his face.

“Put that back!” Zenigata did his best, but he couldn't put his heart into it, not when he could tell by the look in Lupin's eyes that he'd recognized the hat. But duty was duty. He snapped the cuffs around Lupin's wrists without feeling any of the usual triumph.

“Sorry, but I'm taking this. I'll bring it back if it turns out to be someone else's,” Lupin said.

“We both know that it's his.”

“Can you blame me for wanting to be absolutely sure?”

“Look, this is not how I wanted it to –”

Poof!

Zenigata's words got cut off when smoke suddenly filled the room and forced him to cover his mouth and nose. He didn't know what it was, but it smelled awful and made his eyes water. He threw himself at the spot where Lupin had been standing, but his hands found only empty air.

“Dammit! Lupin!” he called out, which he regretted at once when he breathed in the smoke and felt like he was choking. He dashed for the door and wrenched it open, hoping to catch Lupin before he made it out of the building.

However, he didn't get another glimpse of him, and neither did any of the officers who got alerted to the situation. All they found was Kostov gagged and tied up in the men's room, wearing nothing but his boxers.

***

It had been a busy night for Lupin. After Zenigata's phone call, he'd immediately made plans to infiltrate the station and take a look at the indiscriminating hat that supposedly proved Jigen was dead. As if. Lupin knew better than anyone that a body was the only proof that counted, and sometimes even that wasn't solid enough. Nevertheless, holding the hat in his hands and knowing that something serious must have happened if Jigen wasn't wearing it had been a little unsettling, and very few things ever unsettled him.

Almost right after he'd stolen the hat, Lupin had taken the car and driven to the De Angelis villa. The place had been such a confused mess that it had been easy to disguise himself as a hired goon and sniff around. The official story that had been told to the police was that an armed gunman had robbed the safe, taken a female family friend hostage and fled with their helicopter. A handful of injured men verified the story.

Of course, it was complete bullshit. It had taken a little more effort – a few kicks to the stomach, broken fingers and a gun to one unlucky bastard's head – to get to the real story. Jigen had been here. The mooks didn't know why, only that they'd been keeping him prisoner for someone to pick him up later. His doctor had helped him escape, and together they'd taken the helicopter and crashed into the sea.

Luckily, Vuković hadn't been at the villa. If he had, he'd probably not be alive anymore, and Lupin didn't want to kill him yet. First he needed to find out how he was connected to the De Angelis family. He'd looked into them even before they'd arrived in Croatia because of their historical significance, but he'd clearly been careless if he had missed something as big as underworld connections.

Before leaving the villa, he'd pocketed a bullet he found embedded in a bench in the garden and a letter that the head of security had been keeping safe. It was the written confession of the doctor who'd been taking care of Jigen, and it might provide a few insights into what was going on once he found the time to translate it.

He'd tried calling Fujiko on his way back to Crna Stina, but she wasn't answering. It was just as well. After the third time he'd reached her voice mail, Lupin had realized he didn't really feel like talking to her anyway. None of this was her fault, but the complete lack of concern she'd shown for the past week was starting to piss him off. It was in her arms that he was eventually going to dull his aches, but for the time being he let his anger simmer.

The apartment was empty when he got back, just as the new day was beginning to dawn. Goemon had stormed out after he'd returned from the station with the hat, no doubt to slice something to bits to let out his anger and hurt. It was better to leave him be until he was ready to come back.

“Oh, boy,” Lupin said with a sigh and sank onto the couch, rubbing his face. He was exhausted. It wasn't just from running around all night. For the past week, he'd been managing with as little sleep and food as he could. The determination to find Jigen had given him all the energy he needed. Now that it looked like their search was over, it was as if the strain was assaulting him all at once.

He lit a cigarette and drew in a deep breath of smoke to calm his nerves. It seemed plausible that Jigen was dead. Alright. He'd work around that. He was Lupin III. If something ruined his plans, he altered them. He had so many aces up his sleeve that he could make a deck out of them.

“Dammit, buddy,” he said and picked up the hat. “You got me into some real trouble this time. Just who's going to help me carry the treasure now?”

He wasn't sure what to do next. The bullet he'd picked up was the kind that fit Jigen's gun, so if the ballistic fingerprints also matched, he'd have one more piece of evidence pointing towards what he didn't like. Or he could analyze the blood stain on the hat. But with all the other information he already had, it felt pointless.

The one thing he was still curious about was the letter he'd snatched. His Russian was a little rusty, but he was able to get the gist of it once he lit another cigarette to help him focus. What was written there was so ludicrous that he couldn't help but laugh.

There was a sound at the door, and Goemon entered the apartment. “What's so funny?”

“This,” Lupin said between giggles and waved the letter at him. “You've got to read this!”

“I don't understand a word of it.”

“Haha, it's a riot! It seems there was this doctor chick looking after Jigen at the villa, and she helped him escape and steal the helicopter. This is the message she left behind. It says that – wait for it – she fell hopelessly in love with Jigen and decided to betray her employer to be together with him.”

Goemon stared at him in silence.

“Goemon! That was the punchline! Why would any woman fall in love with Jigen? She must have been so ugly that she couldn't afford to get picky!”

“And you think that's funny?”

“Yes! Good for Jigen, though. I hope he got some before they crashed. That's how I'd like to go.”

He neither saw nor heard Goemon's sword move, but the next thing he knew, the letter was in pieces on the floor. Goemon was standing before him, shaking in barely controlled anger, and clutching the Zantetsuken.

“Jigen is dead, and all you can do is laugh at your stupid jokes! Is that how little he mattered to you? You never had the right to call him your partner! I despise you.”

Lupin gave up his attempts of putting the letter back together. “Hey, hey, Goemon. That's a little harsh. Come on, take a seat and calm down.” He moved aside and patted the free spot on the couch invitingly.

“If I get any closer, I can't promise I'll be able to stay my hand.”

“Don't take your anger out on me.”

Lupin didn't mean anything particular with his words. He just wanted Goemon to stop looking like he was ready to kill because if this turned into a fight, he doubted he'd make it out with just ripped clothes and a new haircut. But the effect of what he said was more than he could have hoped for – Goemon's shoulders slumped, all tension leaving his frame with the movement.

“You're right,” Goemon said with a lowered head. “I'm wasting my efforts. First, I'll hunt down the man who did this and avenge our friend –”

“Yeah, that's the spirit!”

“– and then I shall take my own life as atonement.”

“Oh, crap. Not this again! That's no solution! And what atonement? You didn't do anything wrong.” Lupin got up, walked behind Goemon and gave him a shove towards the couch. He got him to sit down and then sank back into his own spot. He wasn't sure what to do with all the extra space to his left. The couch was for three.

“I drove him out, first with my lack of self-control and then with my words. I could do nothing to help him while he was missing. How can you say it's not my fault?”

“Listen to yourself. That's total nonsense. Jigen should have known better than get involved with those guys. It was his own fault they got him. If he could hear you talk about him like he needed a babysitter, he'd punch you.”

“How can you be so calm? You act like nothing is wrong, but he's gone. He's not coming back. Is that really alright with you?”

Lupin leaned back with a tired sigh. He could cry at will, so it crossed his mind to do so if it helped Goemon feel a little better. But the thought of shedding fake tears for Jigen felt perverse. Crying openly was something he only did when he was trying to trick people. He wasn't sure if he was even capable of genuine tears anymore.

“Of course it's not okay,” he said. “Just what do you take me for? We're taking down Vuković and his whole organization until there's nobody left. We'll make him watch everything he cares about being torn down. I'll figure out a way to make him wish it was he who was dead and not Jigen, but I need some sleep first.”

Goemon nodded in silence. Lupin found himself thinking that maybe it was a good thing he was taking this so hard. That gave him an excuse to act strong and goofy to keep Goemon on his feet. Without that necessity, it might have been more difficult to continue ignoring the fact that Goemon was right – Jigen wasn't coming back.

“Chin up, Goemon,” he said and patted his back. “I know! Jigen's whisky is still here. Let's finish it for him.”

“I don't like whisky.”

“No objections! I'll get the glasses.” Lupin jumped to his feet and went to rummage around in the cupboard until he found them somewhat clean glasses and the unfinished bottle. He poured them both generous shots and forced the glass into Goemon's hand, ignoring his protests.

“Drink to him,” he suggested and took a sip, savoring the taste. Vuković had given this bottle to Jigen. He wished he could have let him know right now that the legendary Lupin III was using it to make a toast to his approaching demise.

Goemon glared at his drink. Then he downed it with one swift gulp that left him gasping and coughing.

“That's not how you drink good whisky,” Lupin said.

“Be quiet,” Goemon muttered and covered his mouth. Lupin wondered if he really hated the taste that much. He was no stranger to alcohol, so the burn shouldn't have bothered him.

“Fine, fine. Don't let me stop you. But I'm not putting you to bed if you pass out.” Lupin poured a little more into Goemon's glass and then moved the bottle away. It was better to wait and see what his limit with whisky was and not let it hit him like a brick if he drank too fast.

They drank in silence. Goemon slowed down after his first shot, and it looked like he could take whisky after all, so Lupin didn't object to him drinking most of it. When there was only a little left, Lupin turned the bottle over and poured the rest on Jigen's hat to mix it with his blood.

“The last time it's the three of us having a drink together,” he said.

“He's not here.”

“Hey, I'm trying to be a little sentimental. Don't ruin it. It's usually you who's into this stuff. I never realized you turn into such a boring realist when you're drunk.”

Goemon looked at him, and then he lowered his head with a sniffle.

“Oh, crap, I'm sorry! I didn't mean that. You aren't boring!”

“I wish I could have apologized to him and told him he was right. What we did was a mistake.”

It took Lupin a moment to connect the dots and understand what Goemon was talking about. So much had happened that he'd nearly forgotten how this had started.

“You mean that night? No, it wasn't. I'd rate it above average any day. It's not our fault Jigen got pissy about it.”

“No, I mean... I don't usually... I normally prefer such relations with people who are very important to me.”

“Love, you mean?” Lupin made vague gestures with his hands.

“Mmh.”

“Oh. Well, I'm not surprised you're that type. But I thought you'd like at least Fujiko that way. You sure make eyes at her when you think nobody's looking.”

“That's... uh... You misunderstand me.” Goemon's face was red, and Lupin doubted it was just because of the whisky. Normally, he would have found it amusing and prodded some more to get funny reactions out of him, but now he was too tired.

“I do cherish her. She's clever, and strong, and ruthless. Everything she does enthralls me. I can't help but admire and respect someone who walks her own path like that. And... and she's beautiful.”

Lupin couldn't help but chuckle. “Just like you to say that as an afterthought. So, what's the problem? I know she likes you, so sleep with her all you want. But not more than I do!”

Goemon made a strange noise at the back of his throat. “I'm not like you. It's not enough for me if only I care. That's why it was all a mistake. I should have kept my distance when I knew it'd never be what I wanted with you two.”

Lupin was about to say something, but then his brain caught up with Goemon's words, and he had to stop and turn them over in his head for a moment.

“Huh? Me, too?”

“...and Jigen. My training takes me to far-away places, but I always felt like I was coming home when I joined up with you three. But it wasn't enough. I'm weak. I've let myself distort our companionship into this shameful perversion. Now Jigen is gone, and I can never apologize.”

Goemon grew quiet. Lupin tried to think of something to say, but for once his quick tongue felt heavy and dull. He hadn't considered that Goemon might take the whole thing that seriously, or that he was filled with such self-loathing.

It happened often with him. He'd find himself gathering his clothes and jumping out the window half-naked when the woman he'd picked up turned out to have more permanent expectations than the previous night had suggested. But he felt no such panic now. Goemon was already part of his life. He didn't want to get away from him.

He scratched the back of his head, trying to decide how to phrase it so that Goemon would get what he meant.

“You aren't seeing it quite right,” he started. “I know I fly from flower to flower, but that doesn't mean I don't care. There are just varying levels of it, you know? With some people, one good date is enough to satisfy both, and with others I like something that lasts longer.”

“Well...”

“It'd never be just sex. After all we've been through, you're more to me than a random date. Stop talking like there's something wrong with you.” Lupin gave Goemon a playful punch to the shoulder. “Though after you've spent such a long time nagging at me about my ways, it's a surprise to find out you're just the same!”

“It's not the same! I wouldn't consider such an arrangement with just anyone. Only you three.” Goemon's eyes fell on the empty bottle. “Two,” he corrected himself.

Lupin shrugged helplessly. This was going to take some getting used to. Out of their group, Jigen was his most constant companion. They went everywhere together. He was glad for the whisky that was making his head feel a little muddled because there was so much that he'd taken for granted that he'd never have again, and he didn't want to think about it yet.

“Did you love Jigen?” Goemon asked.

“What? What's with that question all of a sudden?”

“I thought... It seemed obvious.”

“It's better to think twice before you say love. People hear it, and they add 'only you' to it inside their heads,” Lupin said.

“You say it to Fujiko all the time.”

“That's because she knows what I mean. So did Jigen. He would have socked me if I'd ever said it to his face. He was old-fashioned like that.”

Lupin stretched his back and got up on his feet. The sun was peeking from behind the city skyline and promising them a bright morning. He went to open the window to let some fresh air into the room. Even though the day was only starting, the two of them needed to get some rest. He felt like he hadn't slept in years.

“You want to bunk with me?” he called out over his shoulder, but there was no answer. When he walked back to look, he saw that Goemon was already asleep. Lupin shook his head and went to get a blanket from the room Goemon had shared with Jigen.

He paused when he saw an unopened pack of cigarettes on the nightstand. Jigen was the only one among them who liked that brand. Longing cut into him like a knife, and he pocketed the pack. The apartment didn't smell right without Jigen smoking it up.

He'd have the cigarettes later, but he'd save one for when Vuković was lying dead before him.

Chapter Text

Fujiko had taken a detour and stopped the car in front of a small farm in the middle of nowhere. Nobody came to greet them, but she seemed to know the place because she found the key under a rock with the first try and let them in. Jigen was confused at first, but a moment later, he no longer cared because she shoved him into an old bathroom where he could wash himself and trim his beard for the first time in a week. New clothes were waiting for him when he was done, and though they were a little more casual than he was used to, they were clean, and that was all that mattered.

“You're starting to look like a human being again,” Fujiko told him when he walked into the kitchen. “And most importantly, smell like one. It's a good thing you smoke like a chimney or that car ride here would have been intolerable.”

“And whose fault is it that I was stuck there for that long?”

“I could have washed you when you were tied down, you know, but I didn't think you'd be happy about that.”

“Or you could have had them put me into a room with a damn shower. You were playing doctor. How come you didn't tell them bad hygiene would make me worse?”

“I did, after I gave you that fever. They were busy dealing with Lupin and Goemon, so they told me to take care of it. Like I said, I didn't touch you more than I had to.”

Jigen sat down at the table with a grunt. He had no energy to argue with her. He grabbed an apple from the basket on the table and began to munch on it. The first thing he'd do when they made it back to the city was to have a decent meal. Or maybe he'd buy a new hat first since he felt naked without one.

“Where are we? Whose place is this?” he asked.

“It belongs to one of my friends.”

“Should have guessed. How much longer until we're back in Crna Stina?”

“Actually, we aren't going there. We've been heading to the opposite direction the whole time.”

“Why?”

“Crna Stina is risky right now. That guy who wanted you will be there soon. It's better to lie low and not let them see you until we've got a plan. For as long as they think you're dead, we have an advantage.”

“Then shouldn't we get Lupin and Goemon out of there, too? And what's with this we? What are you getting out of this?”

“If you butt heads with the man from your past, there's going to be enough chaos for someone to get closer to the treasure. I'd be a fool not to use the chance.”

“Typical.”

“I'm sure it's the same treasure Lupin was after. You should thank me. I'm making this whole thing so much easier for everyone.”

Jigen snorted and leaned his chin into his palm. “And running off with all the loot in the end, I bet.”

They didn't stay at the house for long. The man who owned it wouldn't be back for a few more hours, but they both agreed that the more distance they put between themselves and Vuković, the better. Jigen didn't feel like he could take their enemies on yet. He was sure that if the years had changed Walker at all, it was only to make him nastier, and he wasn't looking forward to getting a taste.

He tried calling both Lupin and Goemon again, but neither picked up. It was getting suspicious. Lupin at least should have called back when he noticed that Fujiko had tried to contact him.

“You think Vuković got them?” he asked after handing Fujiko's phone back to her.

“No way. They wouldn't go out without a bang, and we would have heard it on the radio if something had happened. Relax. Or do you miss them that much?”

“I just want to have someone other than you to talk to. Guess I'll take another nap. Wake me up when we get to our destination, whatever it is.”

“We're going to Italy.”

Jigen opened his eyes again turned to stare at her in surprise. “Huh? Why there?”

“I've got a safe place in Bari. We can cross the sea by boat tonight and be there before tomorrow morning.”

“Now you're the one who's freaking out. We don't need to leave the country. Let's just stop in the next town and wait until we get word to Lupin and Goemon.”

“Europe is small. Leaving the country has less weight here. It's faster to go to my place. Safer, too. And I have a few more reasons.”

“Oh, yeah? Mind sharing them?”

Fujiko smiled and reached out her hand to flip him on the nose. “You should know by now that I never reveal all my secrets.”

“Yeah, that's why we don't get along.”

“But it all works out in the end, doesn't it? How many times have I helped you and Lupin out of trouble so far?”

“It doesn't count if you get us into that trouble in the first place.”

Despite his irritation, Jigen knew he was going to go along with her whims. He didn't have much of a choice. He had no money, phone or much ammunition left, and he didn't want to be alone with those odds when there was a guy like Walker after him. He didn't like having to rely on Fujiko, but he was sure she needed him or she wouldn't have gone to such lengths to help him. It was wise to stick with her, at least for the time being.

They left the car at a parking lot in a small town by the shore and rented a boat for a couple of days. They said they wanted to take photos along the coast, which was as good an excuse as any. At the very least it also let them buy enough fuel without anyone looking at them twice. Fujiko even had a camera. It seemed she had planned every detail of their escape.

“Smile, honey! The first memory of our holiday!” she told him, sitting on the boat while he was untying it from the pier post.

“Don't call me that,” he said, not turning to look at her. He heard the click of the camera behind him.

“Oh, stop being so grumpy. I told everyone that you're my husband.”

“Then I've got all the more reason to be grumpy.”

“Any other man would love to go on a boat trip with me. Lupin would give anything to be in your shoes right now.”

The image of Fujiko sunbathing on the bow and Lupin drooling all over her crossed his mind. He didn't need his day to get any worse, so he forced the thought out of his head and focused on getting the boat to move. It was only some 180 miles to Italy, but their boat wasn't as fast as he would have liked. If they got lucky with the weather, it'd still take them at least ten hours to get to Bari.

He hoped it'd be worth the trouble.

***

“There still isn't a body?”

Vuković did his best not to show how nervous the silky voice of the man sitting behind his desk made him. They were old friends, but he didn't doubt for a second that Walker would kill him if he thought he had become too much of a hindrance. He was getting dangerously close to that line.

“N-no. Our contact in the police says they've searched the wreck but haven't found anything yet.”

“Hmm. It could have been carried away by the current.”

“But for as long as it doesn't show up, we can't know for sure!” Convincing Walker of the fact that Jigen might still be alive, as unlikely as it was, might be the only thing that let him see the next morning. Walker was tired after the long flight from the US, so the news that Jigen had not only escaped but probably died had nearly made him lose it.

“I know, I know,” Walker said. “I wrote him off as dead once before without seeing the body. I'm not going to make that mistake a second time. If the police find nothing, I'll get my own search team on the case. In the meantime, I assume you're watching every place where he could be?”

“The airport in Zagreb and the best places to cross the border are under my eye.”

Walker snorted. “He's not the type to run if there's unfinished business. He'll be back for you after what you did to him. It'd be more fruitful to watch his partners. They'll be the first to know if he's still alive.”

“That's why we haven't made a move on Lupin even though we know where he is. But it doesn't look like Jigen has been in contact with him.”

“It could be an act. He's Lupin III. You've been underestimating him since the start.”

That much was true, and Vuković had already paid for it dearly. His organization was in shambles and most of his best men in custody, hospital or the morgue. His competitors were already starting to sniff around to make a move to fill the void. The only reason he hadn't called it quits was that he had come too far. Sticking with Walker to the end was the only way to survive and have something to show for it.

“Shit,” he said and ran a shaky hand through his dark hair, only to wince. He was so used to that nervous gesture that he could never remember some of his fingers were broken before he was already sticking and bumping them everywhere.

“Relax. All's not lost yet. I haven't been fostering my hatred for him all these years for nothing. We'll get him. And when we do, I'll make sure it has been worth your time.”

And if they didn't... He'd rather not think about that. Even an easy death might be too much to ask for then.

“What do you want me to do next?” he asked.

“Keep watching Lupin. If nothing happens within twenty-four hours, kill him. Jigen doesn't take it well if you mess with his friends, so if he's still alive, he'll come to us.”

Killing Lupin had become a necessity. Despite the man's reputation, Vuković had never imagined how badly he'd react when someone stepped on his toes. He wouldn't leave them in peace until he'd avenged his friend. It was him or them. To do it right now would have made more sense.

Walker had to know that, too. Perhaps he was hoping to keep his own involvement in the affair a secret so that when Lupin came for revenge, Vuković would have to face him alone. That way, he'd both be rid of Jigen and wouldn't have to pay Vuković any of the money he had promised him.

The thought made him feel like there was a noose around his neck and he was standing on a wobbly stool. Getting involved in the matters of Lupin and his gang had been a great opportunity, but it was also starting to feel like the biggest mistake he had ever made.

He should have been satisfied with his lot. His business hadn't been the biggest in the country, but certainly fruitful enough to keep a man happy. He had friends in high places. But he'd never been one to settle for what he already had. No matter what he got, he always needed more.

“Or perhaps we should capture him alive,” Walker mused.

“Why?”

“Don't you want him to suffer after what he's done to you? Your organization is in ruins, your body battered. Men have sought revenge for far less.”

“I'd rather just have him off my back.” Revenge wasn't his thing. If he could get to rebuilding what little he had left with the knowledge that he'd never again see Lupin III in his life, that'd be enough for him.

“You have no imagination or passion. It's an exquisite feeling to hold someone's life in your hands and chip it away bit by bit until there's nothing left. I imagine Lupin would be a very interesting man to know personally.”

“Just take him away from here, and never let him go,” Vuković said. “And that awful samurai as well.”

Walker smiled, then leaned into his palm to hide it. “By the way, have you made any progress with your other project?” he asked.

“I haven't had any time to think about it.”

“What a shame. I always thought that tale was awfully romantic.”

“That's all it probably is. For all I know, the box has nothing inside it and my family has been passing it down to feel important. And with the key lost, I guess I'll never find out.” To be honest, he didn't even care. The strange box and the story attached to it were only good for impressing people who liked mysteries. The woman he'd dated briefly right before they'd captured Jigen had been all over him once he'd promised to show it to her.

“No need to make it sound so humble. I'm not after your treasure box. All I care about is making Jigen pay for what he did to Tony.”

Vuković knew to stay silent. Men had died after uttering one wrong word about Walker's brother. He hadn't known him back when Tony had been alive, so he wasn't sure what the whole story was, only that Jigen had killed him.

“I'll let you know as soon as there's anything new,” he promised and excused himself. Getting out of the room – his own office, goddammit – made him breathe more freely again. He shouldn't, but he needed a drink to calm down and to forget the mess he had gotten himself into.

He dug out his phone to call one of his men. “If you want to save my day, tell me you have good news.”

“Sorry, sir. Nothing.”

“What's Lupin doing?”

“He knows we're watching them. He had a bouquet of flowers and a card delivered to where we are.”

“A card?”

The man coughed nervously. “It said he doesn't like people taking things from him.”

Shit. If Lupin had given up on finding Jigen alive, Vuković might just as well pick a date for his own funeral.

“Don't tell anyone. Just keep up the good work,” he said. He fumbled with his phone when he ended the call, both because of his fingers and the feeling of nausea that was overtaking him.

***

This was going to be harder than Lupin had thought. He'd sent Goemon out to keep an eye on Vuković's men who were in turn keeping an eye on them, but it was mostly to give his friend something productive to do or he'd mope around all day. What he hadn't expected was that he'd have trouble focusing on his plans once left alone.

He'd lit one of Jigen's leftover cigarettes, but he'd been able to take only one drag out of it. It was disgusting and made his eyes sting. He'd always told Jigen that Pall Malls were bland and that only old farts smoked them. Now, the flavor assaulted him so strongly that he couldn't get rid of the taste even by washing his mouth with alcohol.

He wondered if this was what it would have tasted like if he had ever made out him. It was a depressing thought, and yet it made him giggle to himself as he gave up and stubbed out the cigarette.

He should have done it when he still had the chance.

Jigen was his partner and best friend, and for Lupin, sex was a natural part of any relationship. Men didn't normally turn him on, so he rarely approached one just for the hell of it, but he could have gotten it up for Jigen. Heck, sometimes when he'd been lonely, he'd thought of him and not Fujiko.

For a long time, he had wondered if Jigen would've been up for it. He'd been so annoyingly tight-lipped about his personal matters that Lupin hadn't been sure if he swung more than one way. All he ever talked about was guns and sports and how women couldn't be trusted. Lupin wouldn't have been surprised to hear that Jigen was a member of an alien race that reproduced asexually.

And yet, sometimes he'd caught Jigen looking at him in a way that made him wonder, or felt his fingers linger on his shoulder longer than a mere friendly gesture required.

He'd finally found out on their last adventure in Singapore. Getting the handle of a gun struck to his face and losing two teeth had hurt like hell, but it had been a small price to pay. Plus, the guy who had done it had needed help leaving the scene, so Lupin considered it a victory in every area. Too bad he never got to do anything with the information.

“I need someone to kick some sense into me,” he muttered and forced himself off the couch and to the window. Vuković had his men in the building next door, but so far they'd been quiet. He wondered what they were waiting for. If they wanted to kill him – and surely they did – they could have just gotten a sniper to deal with him.

No matter. It was more fun to be the one to strike first. He'd bugged the flowers he'd sent to them and had one earbud on so that he'd stay up to date on the enemy's plans. So far, he'd learned nothing useful, other than that Vuković was nervous about something and that he was now working together with the Jimmy Walker person he'd heard about earlier. An American, and by the sound of it, not a pleasant one.

Jigen would know more, he thought. He always had useful snippets of info on the worst lowlifes in the criminal underworld. Lupin could dig up everything he needed on his own, but the fact that he couldn't ask Jigen irritated him.

He could go a long time with no contact with Jigen, but there was always the certainty that when they went separate ways, it wasn't to be forever. Jigen always came back, even when he left shaking in anger and swore he was through with him.

“Fuck it,” Lupin muttered, grabbed another one of Jigen's cigarettes and lit it against his better judgement.

***

Jigen was exhausted by the time they arrived in Italy. They'd taken turns driving the boat, but he hadn't been able to get much sleep because of the noise and the bumpy ride. They reached the shore safely just as the sun was beginning to peek from behind the horizon.

From there, it took a few more hours before they arrived in Bari. Fujiko seemed to have everything figured out because she led him straight to a small two-storey apartment in a quiet neighbourhood. She got a key from an old woman living one floor below them and exchanged a few happy words with her. Jigen watched the scene play out and wondered just how many languages she could speak.

“I hope you didn't tell her, too, that I'm your husband,” he said as she let him inside.

Fujiko laughed. “She's too perceptive to fall for that. I told her nothing. She can believe what she wants. I've brought men here before.”

“And what's this place anyway?”

“One of my safe houses. I own it under a different name. Nobody should bother us here, at least for a while.”

Jigen made appreciative faces as he inspected the apartment. The couch was soft, and there was a big fridge waiting to be filled with food. Owning that kind of a place to retreat to was a luxury for people like them who spent so much time on the run. Fujiko was taking a risk by inviting him there when there was someone as powerful as Walker after him. One mistake, and she'd never be able to come back to the apartment again.

“And now what?” he asked.

“Now we regroup. I'll try to contact Lupin and tell him to get here as soon as he can. There's something I want Goemon to do in Crna Stina for me, but we'll all be back there soon anyway.”

Jigen got the feeling that she still wasn't telling him everything he needed to know, but he decided not to question her. She'd never tell him if she didn't want to, and he realized that all he cared about right now was getting the whole group back together. If he had to tolerate her whims for another while to achieve that, so be it.

Fujiko said she'd go out to get them groceries but that he'd have to do all the cooking. It was fair enough, and it gave him a well-needed chance to be alone for a while. He tried to doze off on the couch while she was out, but it was impossible with all the thoughts that were circling in his head. A week had passed, but he'd spent most of that time in feverish daze, so it was hard to get his bearings. At least he now knew why Vuković had captured him and kept him alive for so long.

In hindsight, facing Walker was something that was long overdue. It was almost ten years since Tony had died and he had kissed goodbye to ever finding work in certain corners of the east coast. It had been a pretty sad affair, but that was normal for the criminal underworld. Just like making enemies who wanted you dead. He'd managed to get away with the help of some friends who had made it look like he had paid for what had happened, but that hadn't lasted long. When you worked with Lupin, it was impossible to avoid attention. The only surprise in the situation was that Walker had needed this long to come after him.

Fujiko came back some half an hour later, carrying two bags of groceries that made Jigen a little suspicious. That was an awful lot of food for their short stay.

“Did you call Lupin?” he asked.

“Yeah. He'll be here soon. Probably tomorrow morning.”

“Did he say anything else?”

“Like what?”

“You know... About what's going on.” Or about him, dammit. He'd been gone for a week. The least Lupin could do was ask if he was okay. Then again, he had been talking to Fujiko, so it came as no surprise that his brain didn't have room for anyone but her. But knowing that and having been through the same countless times before did nothing to soothe his anger. Just once he'd want Lupin to think of him first and then Fujiko.

Fujiko shrugged and started filling the fridge. “Not really.”

“What about Goemon?”

“Couldn't reach him.”

“What's his problem? Did he forget to charge his phone again? Well, Lupin will let him know what's going on.”

He heard her walk closer but didn't react.

“Take off your shoes if you're going to lie on my couch.”

“There's a crazy guy after me. If he finds me, it's better to be ready to run.”

“He's not going to find you here that fast. By the time he realizes you're still alive, we'll be back in Crna Stina. You can be the one to take him by surprise.”

Fujiko left the room. She came back a few moments later and dropped something on Jigen's face.

“Here, in case you can't breathe easy without one.”

A hat. Jigen picked it up and turned it over in his hands. It was a pink women's sun hat, complete with a ribbon on the bond. “Hmph. Not my style. The brim isn't wide enough.”

“Quit whining. It's a Helen Kaminski. Take it or leave it.”

Jigen decided he couldn't afford to be picky, put the hat on his head and got up to make them an early lunch. Fujiko had bought mostly vegetables and other crap he didn't like, but he could do something with the pasta. No good meat, though, and he was sure she'd done it to piss him off.

Well, he'd return the favour by being generous with pepper. She hated it.

The kitchen was small, barely more than a corner with some cupboards, a stove and not enough counter space. He figured she didn't use it a lot since the type of men she liked to date could afford their own cooks.

“Do you have to be here?” he asked when he realized that she was planning to sit there and watch him work.

“This is my apartment.”

“Then go be elsewhere in it. I haven't gotten a decent break from you for the past twenty-four hours. Throw me a bone and leave me alone.”

“Do you really hate me that much?”

It sounded like a genuine question without any of the usual amusement or mockery that layered her words when she spoke to him. He wasn't sure how to reply. She was probably being honest. It was a long time ago that she'd last tried any tricks with him because she knew he wouldn't fall for them.

“You know what I think,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah, you hate all women and especially me. I've heard that a million times.”

“Then why did you ask?”

“Because I think you're being unfair.”

“What? How?”

“You hold ridiculous grudges against me even though I'm only trying to look out for myself.”

“Look out for yourself? Yeah, right! You only work with us when it suits you, and the moment a better offer comes along, you betray us without a second thought. And when that gets you into hot water, you come crawling back, and Lupin forgives you instantly. Then, if there even is any loot, you take most of it and leave us hanging. That's not looking out for yourself. That's being a selfish bitch.”

“Oh, like you're one to talk! Half the trouble we get into is because you've made an enemy out of every other dangerous criminal in the world. Like right now! We wouldn't be here if you hadn't killed Walker's brother. What did the poor guy do? Have a sense of fun?”

“You don't even know what happened, so keep your mouth shut! And that's different anyway. I make a lot of enemies, yeah, but I never betray my friends. I'd rather have someone blow my brains out.”

Fujiko crossed her arms on her chest with a huff. “Spare me. It's not really about that. If you were such a goody two-shoes, you wouldn't be in this business. What really gets under your skin is something else.”

“Like what?”

“You said it yourself. Lupin always forgives me.”

This was dangerous territory. Jigen turned back towards the stove and tried to act like her words didn't matter. He could play it cool. The only problem was that he was alone with Fujiko. No Lupin or Goemon to guide the conversation elsewhere.

“So?” he asked. “Of course it bugs me. Every time he forgives you, it just means that you'll be back to ruin everything when there's another heist.”

He didn't have to turn to look at her to see her smile. Her voice was slick with it.

“It bugs you because Lupin loves me.”

“Ha! You've got a screw loose! You –”

“I'm not stupid or blind. I saw through you a long time ago.”

Jigen tried to come up with something to say, but his tongue felt too big for his mouth. He could have denied it, or fed her some bullcrap about how Lupin was his friend or how he was only protecting his own interests. But he knew that any struggle at this point was futile. He'd never been the kind of man who grovelled before the inevitable.

“Why are you bringing this up now? What the hell do you want? Blackmail me or you'll tell him? Or just mock me? Do your worst.”

He should have guessed that if someone figured him out, it'd be Fujiko. She knew how to sniff out men's weaknesses. He'd thought he was safe, if only because his weakness wasn't her. He'd screwed up.

“What would you do if I said I'm not going to laugh at you?”

“I'd wonder what you're plotting. I wouldn't ask since I know you wouldn't be honest with me.” The food didn't really need his attention anymore, but he found it easier to keep himself together when he wasn't facing her. He couldn't bear to look at her. Fujiko was holding his most vulnerable secret in her hand, and she could throw it at her feet and crush it with her heel any moment she wanted to.

“You always see the worst in me. I brought this up because I love Lupin.”

“Ha! That's a good one!”

“And he loves me. It may not be the kind of love that most people share, but it works for us. There's nobody else like him.”

That was almost word for word what Lupin told him whenever he asked why he always let her back after she screwed them over. Lupin enjoyed the thrill and the chase, the uncertainty and excitement that came from not knowing what would happen next in their rickety relationship. Jigen had never been able to understand. He'd lived through so much mistrust and betrayal that he couldn't imagine why anyone would ask for more.

Maybe that just proved that Lupin and Fujiko were meant for each other. Maybe that was what she was trying to tell him. He wondered if she'd brought him over to Italy just for that because getting a chance to talk to him alone was nearly impossible when the whole gang was together.

“Why are you telling me this?” It wasn't like she needed to protect what was hers. She had Lupin firmly in her clutches, and Jigen would never be able to take him away.

“I'm trying to kick some sense into you. The only reason you don't like me is because you're jealous. Anything else is an excuse to protect your pride.”

That was it. Jigen threw the wooden spoon into the saucepan so hard that it splashed red mush all over the stove. He finally turned around to face her.

“Fine, so what? That changes nothing. I don't like seeing him be so mad about you that he'll throw away all common sense and follow you in a leash. If you love him so much, you could at least treat him better!”

Her lips curved into another smile. At first, he could feel it worm into his flesh to eat away at the walls he'd built around himself. But then a stupid thought crossed his mind and he found himself thinking that Fujiko didn't look like she was making fun of him. Her smile seemed almost affectionate. That only made it worse.

“You and Lupin aren't so different,” she said. “You forgive so easily when it's someone you love. How many times has he lied to you, ditched you for some woman, knowingly put you in danger, not told you about his real plans until the last moment, or broken your heart by faking his own death?”

“That... It's not the same!”

“How many years have you known Lupin now? He's a selfish thrill-seeker and not above using the people around him to get what he wants, or just to amuse himself. At least I never double-cross you for anything except money.”

Jigen didn't want to hear this. It was nothing new, and Fujiko didn't need to spell it out for him like he was an idiot. The only effect her words were having was that they made him feel pathetic. When she put it like that, it was so obvious. And yet he'd done nothing about it. He'd only holed up in his resignation and hoped that nobody ever noticed.

“Make your own lunch,” he said, took off his apron and tossed it on the table in front of her. He knew he was running away, but he didn't know what else to do. Nothing could have given him the upper hand here, and he wasn't such a masochist that he'd just stand there and let Fujiko make him feel like shit.

“How mature,” she called out after him, but he didn't bother to respond. He went out to the balcony and leaned on the railing to have a smoke. Thankfully, Fujiko didn't follow him, and he felt a little better with some more toxins in his system.

He wondered how much he'd have to pay her to keep her quiet. It'd be awkward if Lupin found out, and he didn't want anything to change between them. He was content like this. It wasn't worth the risk of losing everything to try to scrape together more. He'd made that mistake in the past.

Some time later, he heard Fujiko stop at the door.

“Eat something before it gets cold.”

“Hmph.”

She let out a sigh and came to lean on the railing as well. Jigen pretended to be interested in the view around them so that he wouldn't have to look at her. They were higher than most other buildings in the street, and the house stood on top of a small hill. Red-tiled roofs and thin alleys as far as he could see. The house couldn't be reached with a car, but it'd be easy to get away with a motorbike or by running on the roofs of the neighbouring buildings. He had to admit Fujiko had chosen well.

“Are you just going to sulk forever and ignore what I told you?” Fujiko asked.

“Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.”

“And you think you can keep it up when we go back to Lupin and Goemon? That everything will be the same as before?”

“It would be the same if you hadn't decided to talk about this and if you two hadn't slept with Goemon back then. Don't try to shove the blame on me.”

“I didn't force him into it. He has always liked me. It did surprise me a little that he was into Lupin, too, though.”

“And what did you promise Lupin to make him go along with it?”

“Nothing much. You know him. He'll sleep with anyone he finds attractive.”

Jigen took his cigarette from his mouth and stubbed it out on the railing. It was his second one, and he'd only just lit it, but it tasted awfully bitter.

“What do you want? You said you weren't going to make fun of me, but I can't see any other reason why you insist on drawing this out. Just get to the point,” he said.

She didn't speak right away, so he turned to glance at her. Fujiko was looking at the city, too, with an unusually solemn expression on her face.

“I'm just trying to keep the group together. I know you won't believe me, but I like you guys. You know that people like us can't get close to too many people. I don't want everything to end with this heist.”

“You mean, you don't want us to stop stealing crap for you? Don't worry. Lupin will always get you anything you want, with or without me and Goemon.”

“I'd be lying if I said I didn't care about the money.” A hint of a smile touched her lips but was gone almost immediately. “But that's not all of it. It just wouldn't be the same without all of you. And Lupin wouldn't be the same if the group fell apart. He needs you more than he realizes.”

Jigen leaned his chin into his palm and hummed thoughtfully. There was a chance that everything Fujiko was saying was a lie, but he couldn't help that her words soothed his wounded ego somewhat. There had been a time when she'd been more hostile towards him and treated him like a bothersome thug who was in her way. She'd told him that Lupin never kept his partners around for long, but here he was.

“Oh, and one more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“You should talk to Lupin.”

“I thought you were trying to keep the group together.”

“You think him knowing would break it? He's not going to freak out. Did you forget that he already slept with Goemon? And that wasn't his first time with a man.”

That wasn't the problem, not anymore. It was true that before Jigen had stumbled upon his friends, he had never seriously entertained the possibility that Lupin might be into guys, too. But he was starting to think it had been an excuse he had given himself so that he was justified in sitting on his ass and doing nothing. His real problem was that Lupin just might not be into him specifically.

“If he were interested, he would have said something by now,” he said. He didn't really want to admit such a weakness to Fujiko, but he had the feeling that she had already guessed.

“But – ”

“You know he would have. So if you're planning something, drop it. I don't want or need your help. When Lupin gets here, let's just act like we never talked about this, okay?” He turned around and walked back inside the apartment. He wasn't hungry anymore, but having some of the pasta that Fujiko had finished cooking gave him a reason to end the conversation.

“I have better things to do than play matchmaker for two grown men! Look, I didn't mean to make this more complicated. But Goemon thought you might be feeling left out, so I wanted –”

Damn, she had followed him into the kitchen.

“What do you care if I'm feeling left out?”

A frustrated look crossed Fujiko's face. “I care about you, okay? Business is business, but I don't enjoy seeing you unhappy. I'm really trying to be honest with you here, so can't you cut down on the snark and do the same?”

“My trust is hard to win and easy to lose. Your actions speak for themselves.”

“What about just now? Doesn't it matter that I ditched the treasure and saved you? You still haven't even said thanks, by the way.”

“Maybe if you'd let me in on the plan.”

“Don't expect too much. I never said I was a saint. But I'd never go so far that it'd bring any of you into real danger. I trust that Lupin always has a back-up plan. He knows that, and that's why –”

He was getting tired of this. There was some truth in what she said. He just didn't want to admit it out of deep-rooted stubbornness, but perhaps that'd be better than listening to this the whole day.

“Yeah, yeah, I get it.”

Fujiko frowned in surprise. “You do?”

“Yeah.” Jigen stabbed a few pieces of pasta with his fork but didn't eat them. “I've known that for a long time. You just get on my nerves too much. There, was that honest enough for you? Will you leave me alone now?”

“Fine, if you keep insisting that my company isn't wanted. Most men would be thrilled to have me.” Fujiko pursed her lips in thought. “You know, I've been wondering. Are you –”

Jigen pulled the hat over his face. “None of your business.”

“Alright, no need to get mad. I'm just teasing you.”

It wasn't that he wasn't into women. It just didn't happen every day, and he had a type. Fujiko was the opposite of it. He always found himself drawn to women who were vulnerable or left so broken by life that they wanted someone to protect them. Sometimes, he didn't even have any interest in the women he got involved with. He just liked knowing that someone needed him.

He had no idea how to deal with women like Fujiko. She took what she wanted and left when she'd had enough. Getting involved with someone like her would mean constant worry that she'd grow bored and dump him for someone better. He didn't know how Lupin could live with it.

But Lupin was just like her. Jigen had lost count how many women he'd had over the years, and he didn't even know about all of them. He certainly didn't know about any of the men. If the impossible happened and he did tell everything to Lupin and something became of it, would he be able to share him with all the other people who caught his eye? He'd never be enough for him.

“Hey, Fujiko,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Promise me you won't say anything to Lupin.”

“Do my promises actually mean anything to you?”

“I'm tired of this. Just say you won't tell him.”

Fujiko walked to the fridge and put a can of beer on the table in front of him. Maybe she meant it as some kind of a peace offering. “Don't worry. I won't.”

Jigen accepted the can with a grateful nod. All he could do was trust her, but the thought didn't fill with him with the usual foreboding. He had the feeling that this time, she'd keep her word.

Chapter Text

Goemon had spent the entire day sitting on the red-tiled roofs of the city. He'd moved twice when the people living in the houses had come to tell him that he was unnerving them, but other than that, he'd been still as a statue and alone with his thoughts. He was avoiding Lupin.

He had awoken to the sound of Lupin in the shower and had used the chance to slip out without having to exchange any words with him. He needed more time before he was ready to talk to him again. The non-chalance that Lupin was showing towards Jigen's death didn't sit well with him. Lupin was acting as if it'd be so easy to move on, like they'd just shrug it off and continue as before.

But there'd be only three of them. Who'd have his back in battle from now on? Who'd remember to keep the first-aid kit stocked? Who'd share a drink with him and listen to his censure when Fujiko had taken what she wanted and left, and Lupin had run off to the night with some woman? It was impossible to think of their group without Jigen.

Once this was over and they'd avenged their friend, he'd go back to Japan. He needed to decide which path to choose from here, and only solitary discipline would show him the way. For the first time in years, he couldn't say if there'd still be a place for him somewhere in the world when he came back from training.

He opened his eyes and looked up. It was the most beautiful day he'd seen in Crna Stina so far. There was hardly a cloud, and a pleasant wind was blowing from the sea. The sun was slowly travelling west and painting the sky with an orange brush. It was no weather for mourning. He wanted thunder and cold rain running down his face.

It was beginning to get dark when his stomach let him know that going the whole day without food wasn't a good idea. He decided to return to the apartment for a break before resuming his brooding.

He was about to jump to the roof of the closest building, but then he thought that maybe he should get some take-out. Lupin had a habit of getting consumed by his work, so he might not have eaten either. So, he leapt down to the street instead and went to look for a restaurant that served something he could eat. It meant he'd have to walk back – he'd once stepped on a loose roof tile while carrying a family box of noodles and didn't care to repeat the experience.

Some half an hour later, he was walking down the street with two boxes of local food whose name he couldn't pronounce, but the smell was promising. It was always risky to try something that wasn't Japanese, but he was too hungry to care. He decided to take the bus or the food would get cold, but there was a surprise waiting for him in the crowd at the bus stop.

He and Zenigata stared at each other for a long time before either said anything.

“It's you! Goemon!” Zenigata jumped over the mother and stroller that were between them and put handcuffs on Goemon's wrist before he could react. “Ha! I've got you! Take me to Lupin! He has a lot to answer for.”

Goemon threw the boxes into the air, unsheathed his blade and cut the handcuffs. Then he held out his hands and caught the food.

“I don't know where Lupin is.”

“Don't lie! You two have been sighted together all over town this week!”

“Fair enough. But I don't know where he is right now.”

“Oh? Then why do you have two boxes of food?”

“...It's all for me.”

“Yeah, right. I'm not stupid. And I've got more than one pair of handcuffs, so get ready!” With that, Zenigata pulled three more pairs from his pockets and leapt at Goemon.

Flight was something that easily stained a warrior's honor, but Goemon knew there were some battles better not fought. Such as there was something to protect. Right now, he was sure that if he stayed, it would end with his food as a casualty. It was a price he wasn't willing to pay, so he turned around and started racing down the street as fast as he could.

“You! Wait!”

Unfortunately, all the years chasing Lupin around the globe had made Zenigata a fast runner. Goemon tried to shake him off by leaping into traffic and running on top of moving cars, but to no avail. Zenigata was like glued to him.

He wasn't going to get away like this. Goemon jumped down to the pavement from on top of a bus and pointed to his left.

“Lupin! You go that way!” he called out and ran right while Zenigata was briefly distracted. A few moments later, Goemon was sure he'd gotten rid of the inspector. He allowed himself a self-satisfied smile. That had been easy. The food was still safe and warm, and it wouldn't take too long to get back to their apartment.

He turned around and was about to change direction, but it was at that exact moment that a pair of handcuffs came flying out of nowhere and clicked around his ankles. As if in slow motion, he felt himself lose his footing and how the food boxes slipped from his hands, falling down and splattering their contents all over the pavement.

“No!”

Zenigata popped his head from behind a trash can. “Did you really think I'd fall for that? It takes a far better distraction to fool me. You're no Lupin.”

“Look what you did!” Goemon snapped and pointed at the food.

“If you didn't want your dinner all over the street, maybe you shouldn't have entered a life of crime.” Zenigata gave the ruined meal a sympathetic tip of his hat. “Then again, this happens to me all the time, too. But chin up. If you tell me all about Lupin, I'll have them bring you something to the interrogation room.”

“You can't bribe me with food! I'll never betray Lupin.”

“Oh, yeah? The other day I spotted a little Japanese shop close to the main station. They've got pickled plums. Imported.”

“...the answer is still no.”

Zenigata nodded grimly. “I respect your resolve, but I will get the truth out of you.”

“I couldn't tell you where Lupin is even if I wanted to. We've been a little disorganized after what happened to Jigen.”

“Oh... So, it really was him in that helicopter?”

“Everything points towards that conclusion. There's no reason to doubt it.” As he spoke, Goemon drew his blade and cut the handcuffs around his ankles into pieces. He did it without the usual bravado. Zenigata didn't even react.

“I'm sorry. I was hoping it wouldn't be him. I mean, not that I knew him all that well, but I've been chasing you guys for years. I would have much rather seen him behind bars than dead.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that.”

Lupin had told him it was because of Zenigata that they had gotten to the truth. Without him, it would have taken them much longer to connect Jigen to the helicopter accident. They might have clashed with Vuković without ever learning the full extent of what he'd done. Now, they'd be able to have revenge. He'd always feel indebted to the inspector for that.

“How's Lupin taking it?” Zenigata asked.

“Relatively well. He's already plotting our next heist.” It wasn't like he could tell Zenigata what they were planning to do. He'd probably understand their need for vengeance, but he'd do everything in his power to stop it and bring Vuković to justice through legal means.

“That's good! It's always better to look on the bright side, and in this case it's... well...” Zenigata drifted off, his triumphant expression slowly falling off his face. “I guess there isn't one. This isn't just a set-back. Nothing will be the same anymore, huh?”

“Most likely.”

“And how are you taking it?”

Goemon coughed and turned to look away. “I'll manage.”

For a moment, Zenigata looked like he was caught in the fires of an inner battle, but then he slapped Goemon on the back and forced a new smile on his face.

“You know what, let me buy you a drink!”

“I'm sorry?”

“Just this one time. We'll go to the station afterwards, make no mistake, but before that, let's drink to all the years we've known each other and all the memories we've made! You look like you need something to cheer you up.”

Goemon wasn't entirely sure how it happened, but somehow Zenigata was able to usher him into a bar where they found a quiet corner for themselves and ordered the table full. He wondered if this wasn't a creative plot to render him defenceless and arrest him. Zenigata pushed a full glass into his hands and wouldn't stop glaring at him until he had emptied it.

“What are we doing here?” Goemon asked. He refilled his glass with the weakest alcohol available. He hadn't eaten, so he had to be careful.

“You've lost a friend and I an enemy worthy of respect. Isn't it only natural that we put our differences aside for one night and sit together as normal men?” Zenigata took a long gulp of his drink and sniffled, then wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

He was crying. Barely after just one drink, Zenigata was shedding tears for Jigen. Goemon had done his best not to. Lupin was focusing on vengeance, his brilliant mind busy weaving the cruellest way to destroy Vuković. He had no time for sorrow, not his own and not Goemon's.

Watching Zenigata made him realize how much he had wanted to do it the whole time, just once. The past week had been hard, the feeling of something tightening around his chest growing stronger with every day that they got no news of Jigen. He'd suffocate if he had to keep this up for much longer.

He lowered his head and raised his glass. “You're right. This part of my path, I shouldn't walk alone.”

“That's the spirit! Drink and drown your problems, just this one time! There's no shame in that!”

He'd tried the same with Lupin the previous night, but with Zenigata he didn't feel like he had to hold back his emotions. He wouldn't be a burden. In fact, it was already beginning to look like Zenigata would be the one to spend the night weeping. He always wore his heart on his sleeve.

“And just where is Lupin? Shouldn't he be here, too?” Zenigata asked.

“He has his own way of dealing with this.”

“Shameful. He should be having his friend's back. I'll add this to his list of crimes. It'll be number one!”

Goemon let Zenigata talk and drink until his words turned into babbling about Lupin. He got the feeling that, in the end, this whole thing was more about Lupin than anyone else. Zenigata wanted to know how Lupin was doing, if he had gotten any sleep, if he was eating enough. It mattered not, Goemon decided. It was good enough to hear someone recall an old adventure and say a few fond words of Jigen. He needed that more than he needed the alcohol.

Some time before midnight, they had quieted down. Goemon was swirling the rest of his drink in his glass and contemplating what to do with it. He wanted to be able to walk out of the bar on his own feet, and he was beginning to get close to that limit. Zenigata was nearly passed out and in danger of slipping under the table. Goemon decided to leave an anonymous tip with the police to have someone pick him up.

He was already half-way into punching in the number when his brain caught up with him and he realized that it might not be a good idea until he had left. Getting arrested drunk and having to explain it to Lupin would be embarrassing.

“I'm leaving,” he said, but he got no reaction from Zenigata who was mumbling something to the empty bottle in his arms. He was about to get up and test his balance, but that's when his phone began ringing.

It was Fujiko. It felt like forever since he'd last spoken to her. And she didn't know yet. She had no idea what had happened to Jigen.

“Hello,” he stammered.

“Hey, Goemon!” Fujiko sounded happy as ever. He wondered what she had been doing the whole time. Probably drinking champagne by the pool at some rich man's estate and having the time of her life before making off with her pockets full. Later, he'd tell her how much it upset him that she hadn't been with them through this, but now was not the time. He had to break the news to her.

“Fujiko, listen carefully. There's something I need to tell you.”

“You sound pretty drunk. This isn't going to be an awkward confession, is it?”

“No, not now. I mean, not that I will ever... It's Jigen. He never returned, and we just now discovered that he's dead. He's gone.” He was doing his best to act stoic in case Fujiko took it badly and needed someone to comfort her, though a part of him was wondering if she'd care at all. However, he failed miserably, and his voice broke only after a few words. It hurt to tear the rest from his throat.

There was a moment of silence on the other end. When Fujiko spoke, she sounded unlike he had ever heard her.

“Oh, Goemon. You silly. I didn't realize you'd take it so hard. Look, it's all fine.”

“No, you don't understand. He's –“

“He's sulking on the balcony because I'm not letting him smoke inside. Wait a moment. I'll give him the phone.”

“What? Fujiko?” But she didn't answer. All he heard was her distant voice as she handed the phone to someone.

“It's Goemon. Talk to him.”

“Yeah? What's up?”

He was sure his heart stilled for a moment. It couldn't be.

“Jigen? Is that you?”

“Who else?”

“But... we thought... you... Can it really be you? We thought you're dead!”

“Huh? Who told you crap like that? But if – hey, hey, are you crying?”

“I'm sorry. I've had too much to drink. I... I'm having some trouble keeping myself together.” Could it really be that the despair of the past two days had been for nothing? It wasn't the first time that one of them came back from certain death, but this time, he'd been sure it was real. Lupin hadn't let it show, but he'd been devastated, too.

“Take your time. I'm not going anywhere. Fujiko's paying the bill.”

A worrying thought crossed Goemon's mind. Had this been some kind of a trick that everyone else had been in on? Lupin often lied to them to serve some bizarre plot of his. Had he let him think Jigen was dead, even after he'd blurted out how he felt about him? Was that why Fujiko hadn't been in touch? Had Jigen been hiding, not missing?

“Where have you been? Why are you with Fujiko?”

Jigen let out a tired sigh. “That's a long story. You've got time to listen? Maybe we should do this when you've sobered up.”

“No, no, I'm fine. I can follow.” And the shock he'd just gotten still had his body so full of adrenaline that it'd be a while longer before the alcohol took over his mind again. He was having trouble sitting still.

Jigen told him the whole story, how he'd accepted a job from Vuković that had turned out to be a trap, how he'd been kept captive, how Fujiko had saved him and why she hadn't told anyone else anything, about the man called James Walker who was after him and how he and Fujiko had fled to Italy. It was a lot to take in, but convoluted things happening was normal to them.

“For a moment I thought you had faked the whole thing on purpose,” he said.

“What? You know I'd never do that!”

“Yes, but I was sure that after –”

“Just what's going on over there? Is everything okay?”

“Yes, I'm fine.” Goemon paused. “...now that I know you're alright.”

Jigen let out an embarrassed laugh. “Damn, how much did you drink? Go to bed. Oh, wait, looks like Fujiko wants to talk to you again.”

“Goemon?” Fujiko asked. “Are you okay?”

“How could you keep it from us that you knew where Jigen was? For over a week, we did everything we could to find him, and when there was that helicopter crash –”

“I'm sorry, but I had to. It was the only way.”

“The only way to achieve what? Never mind. I don't want to talk to you. I'm going to find Lupin and tell him all about this.”

“He's not there anymore.”

“What?”

“I called him earlier today and asked him to come here. By now, he might have already left Croatia.”

“And why not me? Why am I the only one still here?” The stab of betrayal burned more than he'd expected. Why was he the only one who didn't know anything?

“Don't be mad. I'll explain everything to you.” There was a pause and the sound of a door closing, and Goemon realized that Fujiko didn't want Jigen to hear what she had to say.

“Alright,” she continued. “First, I want to ask you for a favor. Please don't contact Lupin and tell him anything.”

“What do you mean? Didn't you already call him?”

“Yes, but what he didn't ask, I didn't tell.”

“So... so he doesn't know about Jigen?”

“No, and don't you tell him either. He'll find out in the morning. A few more hours won't kill him.”

Goemon let out an offended sound. “You can't expect me to be an accomplice in this. Your plans always lead to more trouble than they're worth.”

“Goemon! I can't believe you'd say that! I've got everyone's best interest in mind. Or what do you think will happen once we're all back together? You three will keep acting like nothing's off until things blow up again and someone does something stupid.”

He supposed she had a point, as reluctant as he was to admit it. The disaster that had been the conversation he'd had with Jigen before his disappearance was proof enough. “Then what is it that you're planning?”

“It's nothing bad, I promise. I just want to give Lupin a taste of his own medicine and have Vuković lower his guard when he sees that he's left the country. In the meantime, I have a second favor to ask. How do you feel about some breaking and entering?”

Goemon weighed his options. The alcohol was beginning to reclaim its hold on his mind and was making his thoughts crawl. Not enough to cloud his judgement over what the honorable thing to do was, but enough to make other choices tempting. He should end the call and warn Lupin. Only that was right and just. And yet...

“Goemon, listen,” Fujiko said, probably guessing what he was thinking. “I know you're upset, and I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you. I promise that in two days' time, you'll see that everything was for the better.”

It took him a while to understand what she was getting at. He was so happy to have Jigen back that anything else past that had escaped his mind. He imagined what it'd be like if there was no awkward tension and dancing around the obvious when their group got together. Maybe Fujiko could undo their mistake.

“What do you need me to do?”

He'd apologize to Lupin later. Besides, he had left him behind without even leaving a message. Getting tangled in Fujiko's net would be his just desserts.

“I knew I could count on you!” Fujiko made a kissing noise on the phone. “I'll send you the details later. You don't sound like you're in the condition to do anything right now.”

“Can you promise me something in return?”

“What is it?”

“Don't ever keep me in the dark like this again. Not about something so important. If you do this one more time, I don't know if I can trust you ever again.”

Fujiko chuckled, but she didn't sound happy. “You've trusted me up until this point? That probably makes you the only one in the world.”

“Well...”

“No, don't say anything. I know. But I didn't want to hurt you with this. There just wasn't any other way to get what I want, and you know how I am when I have to choose between honor and profit.”

“Jigen told me that you abandoned the treasure to save him.”

“That's not strictly true. I still plan to get it.”

She could say anything she wanted. As far as Goemon was concerned, her actions revealed what had truly mattered to her. It was one more reason why he was willing to play her game for a while. Even if he didn't like her rules, he was sure that she wasn't working against them this time.

“You never said if you'd promise me what I requested or not,” he reminded her.

This time, Fujiko's laughter was definitely amused. “Listen to yourself! Aren't you supposed to be a thief and an assassin? You need to start considering a career change if honesty is so important to you.”

“That's different!” Goemon couldn't stop a tint of embarrassment from appearing on his cheeks. “I cannot accept such treachery among friends. In a life like this, it's even more important to have something to believe in.”

“You sound just like Jigen. The two of you would be really cute but really boring together.”

“Please, now is not the time.”

“Right, right, my bad. But I have to go now. I'll send you all the info you need soon. Bye, bye!”

Even after she had hung up, Goemon spent a moment holding the phone against his ear. Once he put it down, the first thing he did was check his call history to make sure the conversation had really happened and wasn't a fantasy conjured by his desperation and the alcohol.

There it was, the confirmation that Fujiko had called him.

“Hey,” he said and began shaking Zenigata's shoulder.

“Hmm?”

“Jigen is alive.”

“What? Let me sleep...”

“Lupin is here!”

At once, Zenigata was on his feet, sober like he'd never drunk a drop in his life. “Where? Where is he?”

“My apologies. I deceived you. I only wanted to let you know that I'm grateful for your company, but I no longer require it. Jigen is alive after all, so it looks like everything will go back to normal. As such, we should part ways now.” Goemon picked up the Zantetsuken, got on his feet and gave Zenigata a brief bow before turning to leave the bar.

It took a moment before Zenigata digested his words, but once he did, he rushed after him to the dark street.

“What do you mean, he's alive? What about the hat and the blood and –”

“I think it'd be best if you returned to your hotel. I'm sure you'll get the full story sooner or later.”

“Wait! You can't just –”

But Goemon had already leapt onto a windowsill and begun climbing the wall of the closest house. He wasn't as silent as he would have liked and slipped once, but Zenigata had no hope of following him. Once up, he let his eyes adjust to the darkness and ran, choosing a safe path from one tiled roof to another. He didn't care about where he was going, but once he found a safe spot, far away from the busy streets, he sat down to collect his thoughts. Whether the unsteadiness of his feet was from the alcohol or the emotions churning inside him, he couldn't tell.

Jigen was alive. He was somewhere beyond that sea, together with Fujiko and soon Lupin. Goemon couldn't help but feel a little lonely as he thought about everyone else together, but the joy of knowing that everything was going to be fine far overpowered it.

***

When Jigen got up the next morning, he found that he was alone in the apartment. Fujiko had left him a note on the fridge, saying that she had important business in town and wouldn't be back until late in the afternoon.

More of her annoying secrets, he figured and flipped a cigarette into his mouth to give the day a good start. Maybe she had arranged to meet Lupin and would spend the day with him to butter him up and make him go along with her plans.

He fried some eggs for breakfast and went back to nap on the couch without bothering to put his shirt on. There was a lot he should do. He needed a new phone and to replace his credit cards so that he wouldn't have to rely on Fujiko for everything. For the time being, he figured he'd borrow some money from Lupin when he arrived.

It had been good to hear from Goemon the previous night. He'd needed the reminder that he wasn't alone in the world with Fujiko. And perhaps it was a little selfish, but he'd been glad to hear Goemon had been worried about him. He couldn't wait to get back to him and drink until they were both passed out under the table.

He could always rely on Goemon, he thought as he fished another cigarette from his pocket. He put it between his lips but didn't light it. Fujiko had been right about one thing. Lupin would never stop lying to him and messing with him if the plan required it. And yet he never left, like the sucker he was. Hopeless.

“Hmph.” No point in turning over thoughts that only made him mad at himself. He hoisted his form off the couch and sauntered over to the balcony to smoke. There was a sun lounger, and he settled on it to enjoy the morning before it got too hot.

Some time later, he heard the front door open and close. Then, eager steps from room to room.

“Fujiko, where are you? You said you have a big surprise for me! But I hope that by big you meant small and that you're wearing it!”

“Quit your yapping! She's not here.”

Surprisingly enough, Lupin did just that. Only the sound of his approaching footsteps revealed that he was still there. Jigen lifted the summer hat enough to get a look at him once he arrived at the balcony. There was a stunned expression on Lupin's face that made him look even more like a monkey than usual.

“What?” he asked when Lupin still didn't say anything. “If it's the hat, then you can shove your comments up your ass. I like this hat.”

“What are you doing here?”

“What do you mean? Hey –” He was cut off when Lupin climbed to sit on top of his knees, snatched the hat from his head and tossed it to the floor. “That's a Helen Kaminski.”

“What the hell, Jigen? We spend a week worrying about you, and then I find you having a secret, hot Italian vacation with Fujiko?” Lupin's voice was shaking with anger that Jigen couldn't recall hearing ever before. It was thick, and yet every word that rolled off his tongue sounded like it might be the one to make him break down in tears. It was frightening. He knew Lupin cried sometimes, but never to anyone's face. He felt an almost unbearable urge to wrap his arms around him and pull him down to help him calm down, but he didn't know how Lupin would take that. It was one thing to offer him a cigarette and throw a few sentimental words of wisdom in his direction. Embracing him and burying his nose in his neck was something else.

"Is that it, huh?" Lupin pressed, and Jigen couldn't help but be pulled into his anger. Like hell he'd ever go with Fujiko behind his back!

“What? I'm not – Get off me!” He tried to push Lupin away, but they both ended up falling to the floor. Lupin chose that exact moment to grab Jigen's beard and pull, and the pain made him yelp out loud. He was about to go for Lupin's weak spot – his crotch; it was always his crotch no matter the situation – when Lupin froze, stared down at him for a long time and finally let go.

“What's your problem?” Jigen asked, rubbing his chin and watching how Lupin got up and walked back inside the apartment. This wasn't how he had expected this to go. He had imagined Lupin would pat him on the back and congratulate him for yet another close call, and then they'd have a drink while they exchanged tales of what had happened during their time apart.

He grabbed the hat and followed Lupin inside. He was sitting on the couch, one arm draped over the side, a lit cigarette in his mouth.

“You shouldn't smoke inside. Fujiko will have a fit.”

“I don't care.”

Jigen spent a brief moment doubting his ears. Then, a grin spread on his face, and he threw himself on the couch by Lupin's side. He put his feet up on the living room table for good measure. Lupin was mad at Fujiko! This was too good to be true.

“Yeah! Let's smoke!” He grabbed a cigarette and offered it for Lupin to light since he already had a lighter out. However, Lupin didn't even turn to look at him. After a while, Jigen started to feel awkward and put the cigarette into his mouth. Seemed like it wouldn't be that easy to get through to him this time.

“What, you're mad at me, too?” he muttered while he dug out his own lighter.

Lupin said nothing. Jigen decided to follow the example. He knew how to deal with Lupin when he was being obnoxious, but when he got quiet, he became too unpredictable even for him. It was better to wait until he'd calmed down a little. He did his best to act like he didn't notice anything when Lupin occasionally reached up to wipe at his eyes. This was so new he wasn't sure what Lupin wanted him to do.

After a while, he got up to get them the ashtray from the balcony.

“Let me guess,” he said when he came back and put it on the table, “Fujiko forgot to mention that I'm here when she called you?”

Lupin turned to give him a sharp glare before leaning to stub out his cigarette. That was as good as a yes. Jigen felt like throwing up his hands. He had no idea how that woman's mind worked or what she was hoping to achieve.

“You disappeared for over a week with no word and let us think you're dead. You had better have a good explanation for that.”

“You don't even know what happened! That Vuković bastard held me captive. And for your information, the first thing I did when I got out was try to call you, but you never answered!”

“Bullshit, you never called!”

“Of course I did! Fujiko lent me her phone, and...” Jigen drifted off, realizing that perhaps that was where the entire problem lay. He asked Lupin for his phone and began flipping through his call history. Sure enough, the only phone calls from Fujiko were the very first one he'd made in the car and the one she had made the previous day to invite Lupin over. Nothing else. “I'll be damned. She must have messed with me somehow. Maybe she changed your number in her contacts so that the calls went somewhere else. Goemon's, too.”

“Crafty,” Lupin admitted.

“But why? What's she getting out of screwing with us?”

“Beats me.” Lupin leaned back on the couch, but the cigarette had shed most of the tightness from his form. The beginning of a smile was playing on his lips. “But she got me good! I really thought you were gone. I slipped to the police station and stole your hat from the evidence room and poured whisky on it with Goemon. How sappy!”

Lupin broke into laughter and threw his arms over Jigen to give him the pat to the back he had been looking forward to. And not just that; for a brief moment he squeezed him so tight that Jigen was sure he'd never let him go. He couldn't bring himself to hug him back. The sound of Lupin's laughter was so fake it was horrifying, like someone he didn't even know. He was trying to play the whole thing off as a joke, like it was funny and not something that had torn his chest open. And seeing him like that made Jigen feel like the same was being done to him. When Lupin's laughter turned into a wail, he finally brought up his hands to his back and hair.

"Hey," he muttered. "Look, I'm here. Whatever you think happened, didn't."

Lupin nodded against his shoulder. Jigen didn't know how to show his comfort any further than this. He didn't trust himself. Words that he'd sworn he'd never say out loud were dangerously close to getting out. It wouldn't take more than a slight movement of his head to press his lips against Lupin's temple. The urge to show affection beyond this and prove to him over and over that everything was fine was almost too much.

It was almost a relief when Lupin let go. Jigen turned away to pick up his shirt from the floor and put it on to let him get himself back together in privacy. When he turned back to Lupin, he managed to look like himself again. He was even smiling a little.

"Do you want to hear what happened?" Jigen asked.

"I'm all ears."

Jigen filled him in on everything. Lupin listened with a thoughtful expression on his face, but he couldn't hold back a tired giggle when Jigen got to the part where Fujiko had saved him.

“Wow, Fujiko played doctor games with you for a week? I'm getting jealous.”

“Scrap whatever mental image you have. She wasn't hot.”

Lupin looked like he was about to say something, but then he thought better of it. He hid his mouth into his hand, but not fast enough to stop Jigen from seeing the new smile on his face. It was infectious, and he was sure they looked like total idiots as they sat on the couch, grinning from ear to ear. It was so easy to slip back into that even though he'd had Lupin crying in his arms only a moment ago. This was how Lupin was supposed to be. He wished they could have spent the whole day like that, doing nothing else.

“I haven't had any coffee yet. You want some?” he asked.

“Why not? I didn't stop to get anything at the airport.”

Lupin wasn't smiling anymore when he returned from the kitchen. He'd turned his attention to the living room and the expensive paintings and furniture and was eyeing them with some interest.

“Nice place,” he said as he accepted his mug.

“It's Fujiko's.”

“I didn't know she's got a place like this.” Lupin took a sip of his coffee and stuck out his tongue. “Oh, yuck. This is even worse than I remembered.”

“Then don't drink it.”

“Kind of missed it, though. We tried to make gunk like this with Goemon, but it wasn't the same.”

Jigen hummed into his mug. He'd missed them, too, and more than he cared to say out loud. It was almost pathetic how a grown man could be so attached to his friends.

“Why didn't you bring Goemon with you?” he asked.

“Fujiko told me not to. She said she has something for him to do in Crna Stina. Wait a minute! Does he know about you?”

“Yeah, I talked to him last night.”

“That's good. He said he was going to kill himself after avenging you, you know. Imagine what it'd be like if he did that when you were alive the whole time.” Lupin was smirking as he spoke, but Jigen failed to find the humour in the situation.

“Jesus Christ. He's got problems.”

Lupin shrugged. “He thought the whole thing was his fault. You know how seriously he takes that honor crap.”

“I'll deal with him when we get back.”

“Come on, don't be too hard on him.”

“After he said he'd kill himself over me? I'll kick his ass so hard he'll remember it for the rest of his life.”

Lupin let out a long hum as he turned something over in his head. Even when he didn't do or say anything, Jigen could feel the relaxed atmosphere slip away from them. There were things he didn't want to think or talk about, but Fujiko had probably been right. He couldn't fight back forever, and even a complete disaster might be better than having to balance on the edge forever, wondering when they'd fall. And after how Lupin, who never cried when someone could see it, had wept because he'd been too torn up after getting him back, he couldn't help but wish that maybe it wasn't as hopeless as he thought.

He got up to rummage around Fujiko's liquor cabinet. He took his time with the bottles, reading the labels carefully even when he didn't understand more than a word or two of the French or Italian descriptions. The whole time, he could feel Lupin's eyes on him.

“Give me some, too,” Lupin said and reached out with his mug.

Jigen did so without a word and sat down by his side.

“Where did Fujiko go?” Lupin asked.

“Beats me. She left a note saying she'll be back in the afternoon.”

“She pulled a really nasty trick on me,” Lupin said with a grim expression that eventually melted into a wary smile. “I believed it was the end of our adventures. Can you imagine?”

“I've been there.”

“Makes you think, doesn't it? About how to live so that you won't have any regrets?”

He'd been there, too. He'd stood by Lupin's grave, clinging to the hope that maybe this time was just another trick, and refusing to think about all the things he'd wanted but never had the courage to ask for. Telling himself that if he could get another chance, he wouldn't waste it, and yet he always did.

“Give me a break,” he said. “You live every day like it's your last. What regrets could you have? That you didn't get to score with even more broads?”

Lupin shot him a curious look. “I wasn't talking about my death, Jigen.”

“Yeah? Then you're making even less sense than usual.” He didn't want to keep talking, so he stuck a cigarette into his mouth and began to dig into his pocket for his lighter.

“No, I'm making perfect sense. And don't you dare smoke,” Lupin said and snatched the cigarette away before Jigen could light it.

“I don't give a crap about what Fujiko says.”

“That's not it. I just think it'd be a shame to waste that cigarette. I've got other things for your mouth to do.”

Lupin was making eyes at him. Jigen didn't know how else to describe it. He was looking at him with a knowing smirk on his face, so damn smug that it probably didn't even cross his mind that Jigen might do something other than accept the invitation. If it was supposed to be reassuring, or make him happy, or get him in the mood for whatever he was after, it failed miserably. He'd seen this before. When Lupin was upset, he threw himself at anyone who was willing to make him forget about his problems for a while.

Maybe that was why he'd shown up at Fujiko's place with such enthusiasm, said a vindictive voice in his head.

“The hell are you going on about?” he asked and put some distance between them on the couch.

“Hey, now. After all the effort I put into that line, you can't say I leave you cold,” Lupin said.

“What?”

“Don't you 'what?' me, Jigen. You aren't that dumb. You know what I'm getting at.”

Suddenly, anger came bubbling to the surface. He'd been keeping his feelings to himself for years and watching Lupin jump to bed with anyone who had decent tits. He'd kept the booze coming and offered him a shoulder when Esmeralda or Dorothy or whoever dumped him. And now Lupin had the balls to not only tease him but tell him it was he who was holding them back? He would have said yes any time if Lupin had just given him even the slightest hint, if he'd –

“Don't mess with me,” he growled.

“What makes you think I am? You think I'm so cruel that I'd play with you when I know how you feel?”

“You don't know a damn thing!” He couldn't know. Jigen had been careful. And if Lupin did know, why hadn't he said anything before? “Did Fujiko say something to you?”

“Fujiko? What does she have to do with anything?”

Jigen wanted to laugh, but no sound came out. How could he even ask that? Fujiko was everything. When she was in the room, she was all Lupin could think of. Every promise he made to him or Goemon was broken if Fujiko batted her eyes at him. She was the only woman Lupin always went back to, no matter what happened between them.

The condescending words she'd thrown at him the day before stung even more now. Did Lupin really think it'd be that easy for him to add himself to that equation? That he'd be happy with the scraps Fujiko left him?

“I'm not going to become your plan B for when she's not around. I have more self-respect than that.”

“That's not it. Don't say that.” Lupin looked heartbroken, all the previous confidence gone. Jigen used the chance to grab his cigarette back and get up to go to the balcony with it. He lit it with shaking fingers and took a long puff to calm his nerves, but that's all he had time to do.

Lupin marched after him, stole the cigarette again, and this time he tossed it over the railing to the street.

“If you really think that, then you have zero self-respect!”

They bickered all the time, and sometimes he left with doors banging to clear his head when he found out he'd been tricked into another heist with no other purpose but to make some woman happy. But Lupin never got this angry at him. He didn't often get angry, period, because the stakes had to be really high for someone to sway him so much. And now he'd seen it twice on the same day.

“Where is this suddenly coming from?” he asked. “Don't tell me you had some kind of a grand revelation because you thought I was dead.”

“Nothing that dramatic. I've been thinking about this for a while.”

“Bullshit. When you think about someone like that, you show it. I've seen what you get like.” Jigen didn't want to sound as irritated as he did, but it was hard not to put up that defensive wall around him. Lupin had never told him he was interested, not even hinted it. He had no right to act like it had been obvious, that he'd just been too dumb to notice.

Lupin shrugged. “I was being careful. I knew this would get hard, and I didn't want to do this at a bad time, like in the middle of a heist, or right after Fujiko walks out on me, or when I'm drunk and you might not take me seriously, or...” He stopped counting with his fingers and wrapped them around the railing, then turned to look at the city around them.

“Or?”

“You probably won't believe me, but I was a little nervous, too,” Lupin went on.

Yeah, Jigen didn't believe that, but he'd let him humour him for now. If he started his story like that, who knew what even more convoluted crap was to follow.

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Lupin said with an impatient tone. “Rejection isn't such a big deal when you're after a brief ride with someone who'll be nothing but a nice memory soon. Happens to the best of us. It stings a lot worse when you want something more.”

In any other situation, Jigen might have agreed and raised a glass to such words. But not now. This was absurd. Lupin was so full of it that he couldn't help but sit down on the sun lounger and laugh.

“What's so funny?”

“The idea that you think I'd have ever said no if you'd just asked. Shows how little you know,” Jigen muttered. This was a bad joke.

Lupin snorted. “You just told me no about a minute ago.”

Well, shit, he had him there. Everything was so much more complicated now after what Fujiko had said to him. And yet it was entirely thanks to her that they were even having this conversation. Jigen didn't know if he wanted to thank her or tell her to take a hike.

“I never intended to create a situation in which I'd ask. I wanted to let things move on their own so that one day I'd just lean in to kiss you and say 'Happy anniversary!' and then 'What do you mean you didn't notice we've been dating this whole time, dimwit?' I had it all planned and everything.”

“A typical plan for you. One where only you know what's going on.”

“Sorry, I love to surprise people.”

“Someone's going to punch your teeth in for that one day.”

“Funny thing, but that's actually how I found out for sure that you like guys.”

“Yeah?”

“Remember the guy we met in Singapore?

“There were a lot of guys. You have to be more specific.” Not really. There was only man Lupin could mean, but he didn't want to come off like it was that easy to connect the dots.

“The one with a Beretta Px4?”

“Right. Him.”

Lupin smirked knowingly at him. “Mm-hm. When he was holding it to my head, he told me some of the things you're into and asked if I'm now the one who's doing them to you. He got pretty jealous when I told him we do that and more!”

“So that's why you came back with your face fucked up like that.”

“A pretty nasty piece of work, that guy. I hope he's not an indication of your taste.”

In some ways, he was, but Jigen wasn't about to change the subject to how he usually liked his men with more muscle than Lupin had on him. It was bad enough that Lupin had met an old flame who wasn't above using nasty tricks like that to get back at him.

“Too bad that he went down with the ship, though. Sorry,” Lupin said.

“I wouldn't have shot him if I cared.” He'd have done it even faster if he'd known that the ass had talked to Lupin. He could deal with people who tried to off him, but not those who blabbed his secrets all over the place.

“I think it's pretty sad to have to take down someone who used to be important. Ruins all the memories,” Lupin said with a shrug.

“Let's not talk about him.”

He supposed that parting on good terms with the people he slept with was a talent he just didn't have. The whole concept of having something nice to think back to was foreign to him, but Lupin practically lived by it. It had to be their different approaches. Lupin never planned to stay with someone forever, so it was easy to move on when the time came.

He? Even when he knew it was hard in the life he lived, some part of him was always hoping for something long-term. If he couldn't have it in relationships, then at least in his employers. To go for both would be just greedy.

“Good idea,” Lupin said. “Let's talk about us. I've revealed my hand. You know what I want. Don't give me any of your tough guy snark. Be honest with me.”

“I only have two questions. I want to know how serious you're being.” He could be content without ever having Lupin, but not if he became just another name on a long list of people.

“Just think back to all the times we've pulled each other from death's mouth, or spent the night sharing a bottle of good scotch. That's how serious. It's not like I'm only now realizing that you're important to me.” Lupin licked his lips, and suddenly he looked more nervous than Jigen could remember ever before. "You know I don't like letting people see me vulnerable. You're holding my heart in your hand right now."

And how many times had Jigen felt exactly the same? He searched within himself to find some anger that he could use to avoid the real issue, but he knew it wasn't fair. He'd never voiced his hopes. He had no right to act like it was wrong that Lupin hadn't reacted to his passive-aggressive griping about how Fujiko was a back-stabbing whore. He should have said something, like Lupin was doing right now.

“And when you get bored?”

“What makes you think I will?”

“You always do. I'm not going to play hard to get like Fujiko. It's not going to be exciting.”

Lupin sighed and scratched the side of his head. “This is the problem with you. You're always so pessimistic. Sure, I can't promise that it'll be forever, but so what? I also can't promise that I won't get shot tomorrow. If you're always thinking about what could go wrong instead of enjoying the good things when they're there, you're going to end up looking back to a pretty empty life when all is said and done.”

It wasn't the first time Lupin told him that, but usually it was to nag at him about how he didn't help himself to the women they encountered on their adventures. The words struck differently now. This time, he wanted to take the advice. His own approach was doing nothing but making him miserable. He just wanted to be happy, at least for a while, and not worry about a damn thing.

“I guess,” he admitted. He wanted to grab another cigarette, but he only had two left, and he was worried Lupin might throw them away, too.

“That's more like it,” Lupin said. He pulled his hands from his pockets and came to sit with him on the sun lounger, giving him a bump with his butt to make him move aside. Jigen wondered if the rickety thing would carry them both for long.

“So, if Fujiko isn't coming back until the afternoon...” Lupin continued.

“That should give you enough time to air out of the living room if you don't want her to find out we smoked up the place.”

Lupin sighed. “That's not what I had in mind, but I guess we had better.” But instead of getting up, he leaned closer so that he was resting his head on Jigen's shoulder. It couldn't be anything but an invitation, so Jigen didn't think twice about reaching out his arm over Lupin's back and letting his hand end on his hip. They'd sat close countless times, but this felt strangely intimate and new. His thoughts briefly went to Fujiko and what she'd say when she came back, but he forced that worry away for now. He could complain and yell and feel out of place later.

"You know, 'I guess' is not exactly the most romantic thing to say. Don't you have anything else?" Lupin asked.

He looked so irked that Jigen couldn't help but laugh at him. It sent a comforting tremor through him that began to melt away the tension and wariness that had been hanging onto him ever since the whole mess had started in Crna Stina. He'd have to disappoint Lupin, though. I-love-yous and other sappy things slipped out of him by accident, never because he was planning it.

"Have you had breakfast?" he asked.

"Are we counting that coffee and whisky?"

"I can fry you some eggs."

He moved to get up, but Lupin grabbed him by his shirt and wouldn't let go. Jigen wasn't all too surprised when he felt himself pulled into a kiss. It was sloppy and wet, and there was eagerness in it that caught Jigen off guard. It was like he cared more about doing this than doing it well. It was a familiar feeling, that desperate ache to have something before it was too far for you to reach, and he returned the kiss with the same need.

"I've thought about you so much," Lupin said, and something about his breathless tone made Jigen feel like he'd be the one to cry next. There was no way Lupin could have thought about this more than he'd done. How many nights had he spent glaring at the light playing on the ever sinking surface of the alcohol in his bottle and torturing himself with images of what he'd thought he couldn't have? Even now, a part of him was scared that he'd wake up and this was just a drunken dream. He needed more of him to drive away that fear. The noise Lupin made when he moved the hand on his hip to his other side to grab the thigh closer to him was what he wanted to hear.

"Your beard is really scratchy," Lupin said in-between gasping for breath.

"It's not going anywhere, if that's what you're suggesting."

"It's okay. Fujiko doesn't shave either."

That was what convinced Jigen that this was real. In his fantasies, Lupin only had eyes for him. He didn't feel as upset as he'd expected, however. In reality, Lupin might never push Fujiko away from his life, but the Lupin in his fantasies could never be as good as these warm, skilled lips and tongue and the hands that were beginning to unbotton his shirt.

Chapter Text

“Is there something I can help you with?”

“I'm fine, thank you. I know exactly what I'm looking for.”

“Certainly, but don't hesitate to ask if there's anything I can do for you.”

Fujiko watched the shop assistant return behind the counter. She was the only customer in the store, so she could feel his eyes on her as she inspected the rows of designer suits. Over time, she had learned to guess what men wanted from her. This guy's interest was completely professional.

The outfit and attitude that she'd decided on revealed that she had style and money to spend. And that she would. How else was she supposed to entertain herself for a good half of the day while the others sorted out their problems?

After some consideration, she picked a smooth, dark suit and a few dress shirts and ties to go with it. Jigen's taste was simple but classy, apart from the brief period when he'd thought that green and orange were a good combination. She knew his exact measurements, too, since she'd disguised herself as him more than once.

She spent much longer choosing the hat, knowing that he'd turn up his nose at anything that wasn't just right. He might do it anyway, just because it was a present from her. After everything was paid for and packed, she left the shop to look for a good café where she could have a late breakfast.

It was a wonderful morning. She ordered a small slice of carrot cake and a latte and took a seat outside to enjoy the sun on her face. The street was buzzing with people, but nobody seemed to be in a hurry. She watched them from behind her sunglasses but lost interest soon. Lupin could do it for hours and see something in every face, but she didn't have the patience to deal with people who meant nothing to her.

She glanced at her watch. Almost half past ten. By now, Lupin had to have made it to the apartment. She wished she could have been there to see the look on his face when he found Jigen alive and well, but she knew it was better to stay away.

To be honest, she wasn't entirely sure what she was doing. Whether Jigen was miserable or not was none of her business. She had never before considered getting involved in the sorry mess that was his affection for Lupin. Anyone who shied away from risks didn't deserve what they wanted, nor did they have the right to complain.

And yet, here she was, actively worsening her own hand. If something started between Jigen and Lupin, she'd lose the the only ace she had to make Jigen do what she wanted – threatening to spill the beans to Lupin. Who knew how much more open his hostility towards her would grow with nothing to keep him in check?

Fujiko frowned at her coffee, annoyed that she was even bothering to think about him. What one grumpy relic of a man thought of her shouldn't have mattered. There were far more important issues to consider, such as the treasure. Goemon had contacted her early in the morning to tell her that he could get her what she wanted. Everything was going smoothly.

She took another glance at her watch. Only ten minutes had passed. It had felt longer.

Alright, maybe she was a little nervous. Not because of Jigen but Lupin. She loved the arrangement they had, how she could come and go as she pleased and keep one corner of her heart reserved only for him while the rest went to the highest bidder. There was no doubt that if they'd promised to be exclusive, they would have grown tired of each other, or the excitement and passion would have turned into resentment as they tried to suppress their yearning for adventure.

The thing was, she'd never shared him long-term. Brief romances with women they never saw again, sure. A few girls he sometimes visited more than once because there was something special to them, no problem. They didn't matter. But Lupin and Jigen were hardly ever apart. If things changed between them, would she start feeling like an outsider who was walking into someone else's relationship?

She imagined Jigen rubbing it to her face with small gestures – picking up two sets of clothes from the floor, leaving doors open to show her how messy the bed was after two people had slept in it, casually asking for how long he'd need to remember to set the breakfast table for three. The thought made her uneasy.

Bizarrely enough, perhaps that had been one reason why she'd pushed him so aggressively the previous day. She'd been watching Lupin for a long time. She knew that he'd make his move sooner or later. If she could say she had played a part in getting them together, she could convince everyone that she wasn't feeling jealous or threatened – including herself.

On the other hand, Jigen's position wasn't one she wanted for herself. He would be there to see every girl who caught Lupin's fancy. On nights when he didn't come back to the hideout, he'd know exactly where he was and what he was doing. It took guts and self-confidence to be in a relationship like that, and she wasn't sure if Jigen really understood that admitting his feelings to Lupin wasn't where the trouble would end.

She finished her coffee and picked up her bags. There was plenty of time for her to go to another store and find something nice for herself, too. Then, maybe a brief visit to a museum or two, just to look at pretty things and kill some time.

Fujiko knew a man or two she could have called and asked to accompany her, but she found she wasn't in the mood for the typical things that entertained her. No idle conversation over art, usually leading to her companion comparing her to the piece they were discussing – always in her favor, of course. No rides in luxury cars, tours through family manors or lunch at restaurants where there was a waiting list to get on the waiting list. It all felt empty, somehow.

If there was someone she'd have taken with her at the moment, it was Goemon. She imagined showing him around and taking him to places she knew would awe him, but he'd do his best not to show it. Instead, he'd attempt to impress her with some profound comment that'd only reveal how little he knew. He was still such a boy sometimes.

She slowed her steps as she thought back to how upset he'd sounded on the phone the previous night. It wasn't every day that she felt a twinge of guilt at her actions, but Goemon had that effect on her. He went along with her whims even when he knew she was hiding something, and he never asked for anything in return. There was no thrill in playing with someone who was expecting it and didn't fight back.

Someone would have to make sure Goemon didn't get swept up in the drama that might follow. Like Jigen, he didn't always take what he wanted, but his reasons were different. Jigen kept his distance because deep down, he was afraid of losing what he had if he asked for more. Goemon, on the other hand, might decide that there was already enough trouble and that everyone else would be happier if he stayed out of it.

She could clearly see it happen. After the heist, he'd say he needed more training, leave the group and not come back until he was sure enough time had passed for the rest of them to figure things out without him. The mere thought of such disgusting self-sacrifice made her want to drop her shopping bags and give him an angry call. She wouldn't let him.

Back when he had accepted her and Lupin's invitation, it had been one of the few times she'd ever seen him so openly relieved and happy. It was rare for him to be that honest about what he wanted, and she wouldn't watch him give it up out of misguided guilt.

After a few more hours of exploring the boutiques and a small gallery of modern art that she hadn't visited before, she made her way back to her apartment. The house was still standing and the neighbor living one floor below greeted her with a smile as they passed. It was a good sign, but she still readied herself for an extra second before opening the front door.

“I'm back!”

She was welcomed by the smell of something good on the stove – it had to be Lupin cooking – and Jigen lounging on the couch with her summer hat covering his face. He lifted it to take a glance at her when she arrived and snorted at her shopping bags.

“Important business, huh?”

“For you,” she said and tossed all the bags on the couch. She went to snatch the summer hat from him. “I'll be taking this back.”

“I was growing fond of it.”

“Sorry, it's a limited edition, and you aren't pretty enough to wear it. I got you a new one that's much better for skulking in shadows.”

“Oh, Fujiko!” Lupin poked his head from the kitchen and walked over, wiping his hands on the apron. “You're finally back!”

Fujiko glanced at Jigen from the corner of her eye, but he was busy digging into the shopping bags to find his new hat. She had no way to guess what had happened during her absence. Lupin was all smile, as if he had no care in the world, but his hands weren't slipping closer to say hello to her breasts or thighs. It was better to keep her guard up.

She pulled out the pin that was keeping her hair up and shook her head to let it fall on her shoulders. “Did anything happen while I was out?”

“Was something supposed to happen?” Lupin asked. Then he noticed the hat that Jigen had just pulled from its box and hurried to take it from him. “Let me see! Wow, what a smooth hat!”

Now it was Jigen's turn to glance at her. She wanted to laugh. Something had happened, and now they were both trying to find their way through unknown waters. There'd be little help coming from Lupin. He probably got a kick out of watching them fumble with each other.

“Hand it over,” Jigen grumbled and grabbed the hat from Lupin. He covered his face with it and went back to making himself comfortable on the couch.

Coward, Fujiko thought. She shouldn't have given him a hat to hide under before this was over.

“Hey, Fujiko?” Lupin asked.

“Yes?”

“I'm a little mad at you.” She didn't like the way Lupin looked at her, the way his eyes seemed to burn holes into her skin even though he was still smiling. He was standing behind the couch, closer to Jigen than her, and she hated how such a small detail could put her on the defensive.

“Oh? What did I do now?”

“You forgot to tell me that Jigen was here when you called me.”

“You didn't ask.”

“Why would I ask? I thought he'd seduced the Russian doctor and they'd crashed and drowned!”

Fujiko snorted and pointed at Jigen. “If you honestly thought he'd be able to seduce anyone, it's your own fault!”

“Hey! Not fair hitting a man's weak spot! Just because some things are true, you shouldn't say them out loud,” Lupin protested, then looked expectantly at Jigen. “And aren't you going to defend yourself?”

“What do I care what she thinks? Go have your spat elsewhere. I'm trying to nap.”

“You have no pride as a man. No wonder girls don't like you.”

Jigen's only answer was to let out a disinterested sound. Fujiko wondered if he was acting that relaxed because he and Lupin had figured everything out during her absence and he no longer had anything to lose, or because nothing had happened after all and he was stubbornly sticking to normalcy.

She hoped it wasn't the latter because then she'd be breaking her promise to him.

“Did you have enough time to work things out?” She went to put away her shoes to make her question seem casual.

“Hm?” Lupin tapped Jigen on the knee. “You have any idea what she's talking about?”

“Cut the crap. I'm not in the mood for games.”

An irritated frown flashed on Lupin's face, and he put enough force into the last tap to make Jigen yelp. “You could show a little more sympathy! I've been cruelly tricked and lied to!”

“Doesn't she do that every other day?”

For a moment, it looked like Lupin didn't know what to say. He glanced at her, but she only sat down on an armchair without a word. She wanted to see what he'd do next without any prodding.

“Oh, I see how it is,” he said in an overly outraged tone. “Fujiko, did you seduce him while you were here alone?”

“Don't be stupid,” Jigen said.

“Yeah, what does he have that I'd want?”

“Wouldn't it be the cherry on top? To end this whole charade by telling me that oh, by the way, I got him first?”

Fujiko was too surprised to even laugh. She waited a moment, staring at Lupin and expecting the punchline to come at any second. He had to be fooling with her. He couldn't seriously be suggesting that she'd sleep with Jigen just to piss him off, or that Jigen would go for it?

“Hey, what's with you?” Jigen asked, hauling himself up to a sitting position.

“If you think this is funny – ” Fujiko started, but Lupin was quick to cut her off.

“It's not funny. That's the whole point!”

Fujiko looked at Jigen, but he only shrugged at her, just as confused. They watched how Lupin began to pace between the balcony door and the entrance to the kitchen, hands tugging at the apron until he finally tore it off and tossed it on the floor. Angry wasn't the first word that crossed Fujiko's mind – more like frustrated, or even lost. She would have known how to deal with anger, as she'd soothed Lupin's ire after countless betrayals, but this was new ground.

“You lied to me and Goemon the whole time and didn't tell us where Jigen was,” he finally said, not turning to look at her.

“That was business. If we'd busted him out, I wouldn't have been able to sniff around Vuković's villa. I didn't get what I wanted, but I didn't leave empty-handed. It was worth it.”

“And which part of your plan required that Goemon and I think he's dead?”

Fujiko hesitated for a brief moment. Lupin's words were roughly strung together, like he was forcing them out individually. She couldn't remember if she'd ever heard him sound like that before, like he was actually wounded by what she'd done.

“I didn't want to make Vuković suspicious. The man he's working with is more dangerous than you realize. Just ask Jigen. It had to look like you were still searching for him. You could have faked it, but not Goemon.”

That, at least, he had to understand. If Goemon had been the only one who didn't know, he might not have ever forgiven either of them. Letting him believe that Jigen was gone and watching him mourn alone might have been a tough act even for Lupin.

“It was a little over a day. We've all been through worse,” she pointed out. “You've put us through worse.”

Jigen coughed into his hand. “Yeah. Look, it's not that I want to take her side or anything, but this is nothing out of the ordinary. Why are you making this more dramatic than it needs to be?”

“You two just don't get it, do you?” Lupin drew in a breath, as if he wanted to say more, but then he thought better of it and pressed his mouth into a thin line. He picked up the apron from the floor, tied it around his waist and marched back into the kitchen. Fujiko was sure that if there had been a door, he would have slammed it shut loud enough for the entire house to hear.

She turned to glare at Jigen. “What did you do to him when I wasn't here?”

“Me? He was mad at you, not me! He was doing just fine before you got back.”

“Exactly! He never gets mad at me like that! Did you tell him your side of the story with a few creative additions, hm?”

“I don't need to add anything to make you look like a back-stabbing hussy!”

“Oh, I get it. Now I know what this is all about.” Fujiko brushed a strand of hair behind her ear and put her most confident smile on her face. “Didn't think you'd get started right away, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised.”

“And what's that supposed to mean?”

“You and Lupin worked something out, right? And with that boost of confidence, you're trying to turn him against me. It never worked before, but maybe you think that now –”

A loud noise from the kitchen cut her off, and they looked at each other in surprise. Perhaps quarrelling by themselves wasn't the best thing they could be doing at the moment. They got up and approached the entrance.

“Lupin?” Fujiko called out. When she got closer, she saw that he had removed the pan from the stove and thrown it into the sink, which was what they'd heard.

“I wasn't paying attention for one minute, and it's ruined. Sorry, but you're going to have to buy a new pan.”

Lupin was pressing both of his hands against the sink, leaning forwards and holding up his upper body with his arms. He was glaring at the burned sauce, angry lines all over his face, but she doubted it was the food that was bothering him.

“What's gotten to you? You're acting weird,” Jigen said.

“I'm just... really mad right now.”

Fujiko and Jigen glanced at each other. Despite his words only a moment ago, Fujiko was sure Jigen was just as puzzled as she was. There was nothing out of the ordinary about what had happened. She and Lupin set traps for each other all the time. They'd both faked their own death before.

“At me?” she asked.

“Both of you.” Lupin sighed and turned to look at them with eyes that made Fujiko think they'd just let him down spectacularly. “You know, given the right circumstances, it can be really hot when two people fight over me. But not you two. Never.”

“Nobody is fighting over you,” Jigen said.

“Oh, yeah? That just now didn't sound like you were whispering loving words to each other.” Lupin made wobbly gestures with his fingers and grimaced in annoyance. “Or was that some kind of freaky foreplay? You two like to do it rough, huh?”

“I'm not listening to this.” Jigen tried to walk past Fujiko and back to the living room, but she grabbed his arm and stopped him.

“I'm just as fed up,” she said, “but we can't go back to Goemon like this. What will he think?”

Jigen pulled his arm free, but he let out a grunt of agreement and returned to take a seat at the kitchen table. He leaned back on his chair so that one wrong move would make him fall over and looked expectantly at Lupin.

“Okay, what's going on? You weren't like this earlier.”

Fujiko decided to stay by the entrance, her arms crossed over her chest. If it was only her presence that was making Lupin this jumpy, then she wouldn't like what he had to say, and she felt she could take it better if she remained standing.

“I meant it when I said I'm mad at you both. At you because you pulled this crap on me at a time like this,” Lupin said, pointing a finger at Fujiko, then at Jigen. “And at you because you're dumb.”

“I'm not a mind reader, you know. You have to tell me what's bothering you.”

Fujiko resisted the urge to snort. Like Jigen was one to talk. Getting a string of two sincere words out of him when he didn't want to talk was harder than breaking into a Swiss bank vault.

Lupin took off his apron again and threw it over one of the empty chairs. He hopped to sit on the counter. There wasn't enough room for anyone to be comfortable there, so he had to grab the edge with his hands and stop himself from slipping to the floor.

“This was the worst time to pull that ruse on me,” he said. “You must have known that it'd hit me twice as hard now, after what happened in Crna Stina. And yet you still did it.”

“Lupin –”

“Sure, sure, business is business. I get that. But... I really thought he was gone, that he'd walked to his death because I couldn't keep my pants on. I kept telling Goemon it wasn't his fault, but I kind of wish someone had done the same to me.”

Fujiko nodded towards Jigen. “He's a professional. He can blame only himself for falling into that trap.”

“Yeah, that was dumb. Is that why you're mad at me?” Jigen said.

“No, it's because you just don't get it. How do you think I felt when I thought I'd messed up and would never get the chance to make it right again, huh? You two are acting like this is nothing more than business, but to me there was so much more at stake!”

Jigen didn't look like he had an answer for that. He shifted on the chair so that all four legs were back on the the floor with a clank and put his elbows on the table. Fujiko couldn't blame him for his silence; even she wasn't sure what to say. Half of Lupin's affections and good-hearted I-love-yous could be easily shrugged off, but when he lost the merriness, he meant what he said.

“I didn't think you'd take it like that,” she said. Perhaps she should have. She'd known that there was something lurking under the surface after the way Lupin had reacted to Jigen figuring them out in Crna Stina. She didn't usually make mistakes like this. She should have been able to read him better.

She wanted to tell him she was sorry, but she didn't know if she could as long as Jigen was there. He was probably having the same problem since he hadn't reacted to Lupin's words in any way. Was this what it was going to be like from now on? Both of them watching each other and calculating their every move and word and, in the process, growing more distant from Lupin?

Should they start reserving turns? If Fridays were all hers, Jigen could have Lupin on Sundays. It was an absurd thought, and she couldn't hold back a laughter.

Lupin gave her an offended look, and she waved at him to let him know she wasn't laughing at him.

“I'm sorry,” she said. The amusement was gone just as quickly as it had taken over her, and she found herself feeling exhausted. With a heavy sigh, she pulled herself a chair by Jigen's side and followed his example of leaning on the table.

“I bet Goemon would understand how I feel,” Lupin grumbled.

“We get it. No need to act like that.” Jigen pulled out a pack of cigarettes and stuck one into his mouth. He was about to flick his lighter, but then he stopped and glanced at Fujiko.

“Only if you give me one.”

He did. He even lit it for her when she kept staring at him expectantly.

“You don't have to make such a fuss,” Jigen went on. “There's not a scratch on me. Fujiko's kept the ball rolling so that we're one step closer to the treasure. Which reminds me, if you'd told me and Goemon about that right away, I probably wouldn't have taken Vuković's stupid job in the first place.”

Lupin looked a little embarrassed. “Ahaha, that's fair enough...”

“I think we can agree that everyone has done something stupid this time around,” Fujiko said.

“Not Goemon,” Jigen was quick to point out.

“Yeah. He's too good for any of us,” Lupin agreed.

Fujiko stubbed out her cigarette on a saucer without finishing it. Smoking was an occasional form of stress relief for her. Too much, and it would have started to show on her skin.

“Speaking of Goemon, you didn't even tell him you were leaving the country. When I called him yesterday, he had no idea he was the only one left in Crna Stina.”

This time, Lupin looked more than just a little embarrassed. “I was going to tell him... eventually. I just wanted a headstart.”

“A headstart?”

Lupin pouted. “Yeah. I thought Jigen was dead, okay? I wanted you to make me forget it for a while. I feel kind of rotten about it now, but I was all too glad when you said I should come without him. I wanted you all for myself.”

With his pompous theatrics, it was easy to forget that Lupin was only a man, that even he could be hurt. That side of him was perhaps his most guarded secret, and Fujiko knew she and Jigen could count themselves lucky that he was admitting this to them. The frown on his face made him look so miserable that she felt the sudden need to have him close and stroke his head. She wondered what Jigen would have said.

A day ago, she wouldn't have hesitated. But she'd played her part in creating this situation, so she supposed it was only fair if she waited until they had laid down some rules. The petty bickering from earlier was embarrassing. She couldn't believe she'd felt so threatened that she'd given into it.

She turned to Jigen. “Will you make him feel better, or should I?”

“What?”

“I don't think we're getting anywhere before he's gotten enough attention to soothe his wounds.”

“Why not both?” Lupin asked. “I was mad at you both!”

“Someone has to order take-out since you burned our dinner.”

“I'll do it,” Jigen said and stood up. “Uh, get some food, I mean.”

Fujiko tossed her phone at him, and he was out of the kitchen in a hurry. It was the outcome she'd hoped for. Now she had her chance to patch things up a bit.

“I kind of wish he wouldn't try to act so tough all the time,” Lupin said with a small smile.

“Well, you'll have plenty of chances to train that out of him, won't you?”

“Hm? Is that a jealous tone I hear in your voice?”

“Don't make me laugh.”

Lupin dropped to the floor and came to sit on the kitchen table. It occurred to Fujiko to point out that there were chairs in the room, but on second thought, she decided to be glad that he was getting that close after how hurt he'd been earlier.

“Then why were you fighting with him?”

“It was nothing. We bicker all the time.”

“Yeah, bicker. You never scream at each other like that.”

“This'll just take some getting used to.” She hoped Lupin would never guess how she'd had her claws out and been ready to defend her place when she'd returned. She had friends and even family outside this group, but over the years she'd grown to care about them as something more than co-workers and occasional rivals. She'd never thought she'd lose them, but for a brief moment that day, the possibility had made her afraid.

“You sure you're okay with this?”

That surprised her. Asking for permission had never been part of their relationship. They both knew they were free to do whatever they wanted. That Lupin was bothering to ask, that he was looking at her with what she could only describe as concern both frightened and calmed her. This was going to be something new, and it might change everything more than she'd prepared herself for.

But he wanted to know how she was feeling. She hadn't thought a gesture she'd laughed at in the past would ever mean so much to her.

“I'll be fine. Really.”

She hadn't had a problem with Goemon getting involved with Lupin. She loathed to admit it, but it had to be because she could wrap Goemon around her little finger whenever she felt like it. They worked well together, and she was fond of him. Goemon posed no threat; having him open up to them only meant that she got to have something more.

Jigen was a different story. He didn't want her, not her body and not the thrill of being involved with her. He had little faith in her teamwork. The only reason he tolerated her was that she was important to Lupin and he couldn't hope to get rid of her without making him mad. But now, with things changing, he had gotten her worried.

She'd have to figure out how to deal with Jigen now that they were standing on more equal ground, but she'd leave that for later.

“I thought someone was supposed to make me feel better,” Lupin pointed out and leaned closer with an inviting smile.

The thought of Jigen walking in on them making out on the kitchen table was amusing, but in the end not worth risking the truce they seemed to have reached. Fujiko ran her fingers through Lupin's hair once and let him get close enough to almost be able to kiss her.

“I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to hurt you on purpose.”

“Oh, I'm sure I can forgive you if – hey!”

Fujiko slipped away from her chair so that he had to grab the backrest to stop himself from falling face first to the floor.

“Work first, fun second.”

“Hmph, always the same song.”

It crossed her mind that he could have told her that if she wouldn't give him what he wanted, he'd just go and get it from Jigen. He was childish enough that she was sure he'd pull that card on her one day, but she appreciated that it wasn't now.

***

Jigen had thought about using Fujiko's phone to find a place that delivered and calling them, but then he'd decided he needed some fresh air. He remembered seeing a small restaurant at the bottom of the hill when he and Fujiko had first arrived.

He raided her purse since she had conveniently left it in the living room. He pocketed enough to pay for their food and a new pack of cigarettes but left the rest untouched. She'd already bought him new clothes and had bothered to consider what he liked.

“I'm going out for a bit,” he called over his shoulder at the door.

He didn't wait to hear if he got an answer. It'd only take a moment before he was back, and for all he knew, the others were too busy making up to even hear him.

To be honest, Lupin getting mad at Fujiko had been cathartic. He hadn't seen it coming, and at first he'd thought Lupin was faking it to hammer in the point that he cared about him, or to beg for attention from Fujiko.

Even if it had lasted only for a moment, it had been real, and it brought an uncharacteristic skip to Jigen's steps as he strolled down the stairs and to the street. Most people might have called him petty, but as far as he was concerned, he'd been through so much shit lately that he deserved to enjoy that brief moment of vindictiveness to the fullest.

It wasn't like he was going to rub it to Fujiko's face – unless she gave him a perfect opening and he was in a bad mood – but just the knowledge that Lupin wasn't so dizzy with her that he was blind to everything else made him feel like this could work. It was one thing for him to gab about love and make promises when it was just the two of them, but Jigen wouldn't have been surprised if he'd forgotten all about it once Fujiko came back.

Perhaps he needed to work on some trust issues, too. Lupin had been right. He hadn't really grasped how much the whole ordeal had shaken him until he'd spat it out. He'd never seen the point of making a fuss about his own death.

He harrumphed at himself as he found the restaurant and stopped outside to read their menu. He was an embarrassing hypocrite. Whenever it looked like Lupin had bitten the dust, he could hardly keep himself together.

For a moment, he played with the thought of only ordering food that Fujiko wouldn't like, but he knew being a dick wouldn't take him far. He didn't trust her and didn't get well along with her, but at some point he'd learned to tolerate her. She was part of the set, and things would feel incomplete for a long time if she ever left for good.

He returned to the apartment with his arms full with a little bit of everything. It was more than they needed, but it had been hard to choose, and he figured they could have the leftovers for breakfast. He found himself wishing that Goemon was there, too. Making him eat something that wasn't Japanese and widening his culinary horizon was almost a hobby by now.

Unlike he'd thought, he didn't find Lupin and Fujiko in each other's arms or various states of undress when he arrived. Lupin was in the kitchen, trying to scrape clean the pan he'd ruined, and the open door to Fujiko's bedroom suggested she'd gone to change into something more comfortable than a dress that followed every curve of her body.

“That's a lot of food,” Lupin said when Jigen dumped everything on the table.

“No need to cook breakfast tomorrow.”

“Right. Good thinking.”

Jigen enjoyed eating take-out so that there was lots of stuff on the table and everyone just took what they wanted straight out of the box. No dishes to do that way, and he thought that kind of thing was a good ice-breaker. It was hard to keep sulking at someone if you'd just shared a pizza with them. Or at least his mind worked that way, but he'd always considered himself to be on the simpler side of men.

Lupin put the pan away and started opening the boxes with him. One of them made him lift his brows in surprise.

“Salad? You thinking about eating better?”

“I didn't want Fujiko to nag at me if there's nothing she likes.”

“Well, well, well.”

Jigen didn't acknowledge Lupin's irritating smile and began to stuff his face. Fujiko showed up a little later, wearing a red blouse, her hair wet. She wrinkled her nose at the some of the greasier food, but didn't say anything before returning to her room. Soon, the sound of a hair dryer filled the apartment.

“I wish she wouldn't,” Lupin mused. “She looks great with her hair stuck to her back and water dripping down her neck.”

“It's a good look if you want to catch a cold.”

“We're in southern Italy, and not everyone is old and sensitive like you. But it's a good look on you, too. How come you never swim when we're at a pool?”

“I don't want to get my hat wet.”

“Most people would just take it off.”

“Not me.”

“Oh? Does that mean you're going to keep it on all the time?” Lupin's face turned suggestive, and he punctuated his words with a few wiggles of his eyebrows. Then, he became thoughtful as something occurred to him. “I kind of want to see your eyes, though. No hiding under that thing. I want you to really look at me when –”

“Do we have to talk about this when we're eating?”

“Why not? You make it sound like it's gross.”

“Some of us have manners!”

“Says the man who won't take off his hat at the dinner table!”

Fujiko reappeared, more polished than a moment ago, and took a chair at the head of the table. Jigen wondered if it was a tactical move since Lupin was closer to the entrance, so it would have been simpler to sit by his side. Maybe she didn't want to seem possessive.

“Figure that stuff out on your own time, okay? We have more important business to talk about,” she said, reaching for the chicken salad they'd put aside for her.

“Right, we've got work,” Lupin said. “You have to fill me in on a few things. What exactly are you going after, and what have you planned for Goemon?”

“That's pretty simple. Vuković has something that'll reveal the location of a great treasure. He keeps it in a secret safe in his study in the villa where Jigen was being held captive. I was going to have him invite me there as his guest and grab it, but as you know, I had to drop those plans.”

“And what exactly is this something?” Jigen asked. There was finally a sense of normalcy in the air, and it made him feel more at ease than the wine they were having with dinner.

“It's a music box. If you get it to play, it'll do something to show you where the treasure is. But it needs some kind of a key, and I haven't figured out what or where it is yet. All I know is that Vuković doesn't have it.”

Jigen snorted. “Then this is pretty pointless, isn't it? The key could be anything and anywhere.”

“Exactly,” Lupin said and tapped his chin in thought. Then he reached inside his jacket and placed something on the table, a grin threatening to split his face into two. “Like this eagle figure in my pocket!”

It took Jigen a moment, but then he recognized the eagle as the necklace that Lupin had dropped the day they had visited the museum in Crna Stina. He took it and brought it closer to get a good look.

“Didn't you say you picked this up at the souvenir shop?”

“I might have lied a little. I didn't want to let you know I'd found the key to something when I didn't know who had the box. That would have been embarrassing.”

“Idiot! Is that why we wasted so much time going to boring museums? If you'd just talked about your plan, then Fujiko would have realized you were after the same thing, and none of this mess would have even happened!”

Lupin gave him a confused look. “What, you're saying you would have wanted me to tell everything to Fujiko?”

“Well, no, but...”

“It would have saved us a lot of trouble. The treasure would already be ours,” Fujiko said with a sigh.

“You mean, you would have already run off with it?”

Lupin was quick to jump in before Fujiko could return his vitriol. “Hey, hey, let's not start this again. It's still not too late. That's why you made Goemon stay in Croatia, right? He's going to steal the box for us tonight.”

“Right.”

“You think he can do it alone?” Jigen asked.

“We more or less took down Vuković's operations while we were looking for you. He's lucky if he has two men there to guard the thing,” Lupin said.

“Yeah, but it's not Vuković I'm worried about. Jimmy's there now, too. He's got enough money to hire the best hitmen in Europe if he wants to.”

“Goemon can handle it. I bet that right now, he's the best in Europe anyway,” Lupin said.

Jigen agreed with a grunt, but he couldn't quite shake off the unease. He knew it was ridiculous. Goemon worked alone all the time and no doubt took assignments more dangerous than this. Maybe he wasn't really worried that anything would go wrong. It just annoyed him that he was sitting here in safety while Goemon was facing an enemy who was only after him.

“What's the story behind this treasure? What is it and where did it come from?” he asked.

“That's a romantic little tale. They aren't very powerful these days, but the De Angelis used to be hot stuff back in the 19th century. The head of the family had lots of pretty daughters, and the third one, Maria Anna, was the most beautiful. Wait, I think I've got a photo of a painting somewhere on my phone...” Lupin said and began to flip through his galleries.

That could take forever, Jigen thought. The number of pictures Lupin had of women on his phone was impressive.

Fujiko had to have realized the same because she took over the explanation. “Sounds like we've been looking up the same sources. She caught the attention of one Franz Andreas Schönborn, who had a brilliant future in the Austrian court prepared for him. They became lovers, even though both were set to marry someone else. They only spent one summer together, but kept secretly in contact for the rest of their lives. That's the interesting part.”

“Why? I can't imagine sappy love letters are worth anything.”

Fujiko smiled knowingly. “Franz Andreas was my favorite kind of man. With every letter, he sent her a little something to prove he still held her dear. You know, necklaces, rings, brooches, hairpins, bracelets... All decorated with gems and gold.”

“Yeah, the guy spent a fortune on her. He kept it up for well over thirty years. Can you imagine? I don't know if I'd be able to shower a woman I can't touch with money for that long.” Lupin glanced at Fujiko and gave her his most obnoxious grin, but she acted like she didn't even notice. “I'm not entirely sure what happened after that, but I knew the eagle was somehow important.”

“I can fill you in,” Fujiko said. “She was just as hopeless and kept all of the presents without ever selling any. She didn't want her family to get them after her death, so she hid them and placed a clue for the location inside the music box. Only her loyal servants who had helped her keep her secret knew about it.”

“How do you know that? I didn't see a word of that anywhere,” Lupin said.

“Vuković told me about it on our date. He's a descendant of one of the maids, and the box has been passed down in his family for generations. However, he didn't seem to think the story was really true. I think he was just trying to impress me.”

“Either way, I bet he'll start believing it once we take the box. He'll realize it's worth something,” Jigen said.

Lupin shrugged. “So what? We'll be taking him and his buddy Jimmy down anyway. They'll pay for messing with me.”

“It's me they're after.”

“Same thing.”

Their plans for the following day were simple. They'd leave early and go back to Crna Stina where they'd meet up with Goemon and start looking into the mystery of the music box. It was a given that Vuković and Walker would come after them, so, if necessary, they'd deal with them first. On the surface, it was nothing new. They'd been through countless heists just like it.

But what was bubbling underneath gave Jigen a strange feeling, not entirely unpleasant but like he'd taken a wrong turn in a town he didn't know very well. He wasn't lost; his gut was telling him that he'd find his way where he wanted, but it'd take a bit more roaming around than he'd expected. He just wasn't sure if he wanted to do it when they were in the middle of a job. Getting his personal matters mixed in his work had rarely led to anything but disaster.

Then again, if things stayed on this course, it was likely his work and private life would never again be separate. That was something he'd have to give some extra thought to.

Chapter Text

The clock on the wall kept ticking. It was a designer piece, maybe a present from one of Fujiko's rich boyfriends since Lupin didn't think she'd buy something like that herself. It wasn't his style, either, but he kept staring at it and watching the hands move closer to midnight as he pondered his current situation.

He was sure the others were similarly occupied. Jigen was taking his time with his cigarette on the balcony. Fujiko kept turning the pages on her fashion magazine and going back to articles she'd just finished.

The silence unnerved him. He wanted to talk, but they'd already been through the plans for the following day. Any other topic felt artificial, like he was just blabbing about nothing to avoid what they all knew the real issue was.

He'd never meant for this to get complicated. He should have waited until the heist was over and taken Jigen somewhere, just the two of them, so that he could grease the gears and make the inevitable conflict with Fujiko smoother. That's what he had planned to do, before all this had started.

He prided himself on always having an ace up his sleeve. There was always a way out when something went wrong – and if there wasn't, he made one up on the spot. But no plan B in the world had helped him when he'd thought Jigen was gone, so having him right there when he walked into Fujiko's apartment, a cloud of cigarette smoke around him and the familiar rumble of his voice chiding him... He'd lost it, just a little bit. Suddenly, he'd had everything back, and first the anger that he'd been tricked and then the joy that had rushed straight to his head had made him forget every carefully constructed plan and word he'd prepared.

And now they were here, trapped between a job, enemies who wanted them dead and the raw reality that nothing was ever going to be the same again. He hadn't wanted for Jigen and Fujiko to have the chance to clash without him. Neither was saying what had happened, but, boy, he could imagine. He found himself resenting her a little for how she'd forced everyone to make a move. Surely she'd done that only so that the game moved at her pace.

On the other hand, everyone was still talking to each other, and they seemed to have built a shaky truce. Perhaps it was better that the worst was out of the way. Whatever came next could only be an improvement, right?

There was a clank as Jigen pulled the balcony door shut behind him. He walked over to where Lupin was and stopped right in front of him, his hands in his pockets.

“What?” Lupin asked.

“I'm going to hit the sack.”

Sensible enough, Lupin figured. They had an early morning ahead of them, and it had been an emotionally tiring day. He didn't think he'd be getting much sleep, however. His mind was going to be busy trying to find ways to mend the patchwork quilt that was his love life.

“Okay?”

Jigen's mouth twisted into an annoyed grimace. “So move it.”

Oh. He wanted the couch. Lupin hadn't really thought about it until now, but of course he did. They only had the couch and the double bed in Fujiko's room, and this was the only sensible arrangement. Neither of them would make Fujiko sleep in the living room in her own apartment, and he doubted anything good would follow if he suggested that Jigen and Fujiko share the bed.

He sighed theatrically and got up. “The bed's big enough for three, you know.”

The snort Jigen let out told him what he thought of that idea. Lupin let it be. As much as that arrangement would have made his life easier – not just when it came to tonight, but in general – he knew better than trying to push Jigen and Fujiko into something they didn't want.

Fujiko tossed her magazine aside and got up to slip into the bedroom. She didn't say anything, but the look she gave him and how she flipped her hair over her shoulders told him all he needed to know. He'd seen that snippy attitude on her a few times when he was busy romancing someone else.

Spend a moment with Jigen if you must, but then you had better follow me.

He rubbed his face and sat down in the armchair opposite the couch. Finding a functioning balance was going to take some time. He'd had many lovers over the years, but it had always been simple. They both got something they wanted, and then it was over. Sometimes they parted as friends, sometimes with vague promises of more in the future, sometimes with heartbreak and tears. Most relationships weren't meant to last forever, but he wanted to treat them as the centre of his world while they were in full bloom.

He'd had his share of adventures, so being with more than one person at the same time was hardly new, but it was usually restricted to experimenting in bed. Even those of his lovers who accepted that he had a traveller's heart wanted to be his one and only for the short period of time he was with them. What was he supposed to do with two people that he never wanted to let go?

“You look like you're thinking about this too hard,” Jigen said. He'd found a blanket in the closet and was in the process of peeling off his clothes to slip under it.

“I wasn't thinking about it enough before.”

“Well, as long as you turn off the lights when you're done.”

Lupin stuck out his tongue, but Jigen had already settled on the couch and covered his face with his hat. It wasn't that simple. The idiot was only acting like that because he wanted to be cool. Or perhaps to protect himself because if he acted like it wasn't a big deal, then it wasn't, right?

“I don't want every little thing I do to look like I'm choosing between you two.”

“That's not what I think. I doubt she does either. Give us some credit.”

“It's hard not to feel like that when I know you're going to start sulking the minute I walk out of here!” Lupin wasn't a stranger to feeling jealous. There'd been times when Fujiko chose someone else over him – because of money, or to remind him that he couldn't afford to slow down if he wanted to keep her interested. Most of the time, he could deal with it because he knew those guys didn't stand a chance against him, but every now and then, she found a man who made him wonder, just for a moment, what would happen if someone else could offer her more.

But this was different. He wasn't playing with anyone. There was no “Once this heist is over, we'll never see this person again” clause to keep someone's temper in check. How was he supposed to make it fair? And then there was Goemon, blissfully ignorant of what they were figuring out right now. If someone was going to feel like they were being left out, it was him.

Was he supposed to keep all these relationships in balance alone, just because he was in the middle? No way. The others would pull their weight, and sulking and pretending that the problem didn't exist wasn't going to cut it.

“We're going to talk about this again,” he said and got up.

“Mm.”

Fujiko was already in bed when he arrived. He closed the door out of habit, then wondered if he should have left it open. And then he got mad at himself because if he wanted to do something with her, it was nobody else's business and he didn't need anyone's permission.

“You're awfully tense,” she said when he crawled under the covers.

“Everything's pissing me off.”

“Why? Because things aren't going exactly like you imagined?”

“No, it's –”

“If you wanted things to stay the same, then you shouldn't have said anything to him. But you did, so now you have to deal with it.”

“Just me? This isn't only about me, but you two are making me feel like there's now a line on the ground and I have to keep hopping back and forth to keep you both happy. I can't do this alone!”

“It's been a day,” Fujiko said in a soft voice. “This is going to take time. What did you think was going to happen? That we'd all jump to bed together and live happily ever after?”

Lupin began to play with his fingers. “It worked with Goemon.”

“That's... You know, to be honest...”

“Yeah?” That was curious. It wasn't every day that he saw Fujiko suddenly turn uncertain, and it was even less frequent that he got the feeling it was genuine.

“I think that with Goemon, it's less about us as individual people and more as a group. I don't know if he'd go for it if he could only have you, for example. Maybe if it was me, but I think he wants everyone more than anything.”

“Huh...” He'd never thought about that. After Goemon's drunken confession, he'd just figured he was a wandering heart like him, only that he was doing everything he could to hide it because it was in conflict with his strict sense of honor.

“What makes you think that?” he asked.

“It's just a feeling. I mean, we don't know anything about where he goes and what he does when he's not with us. But he's an assassin, so I doubt he's got a happy family waiting for him at home. If we're the only stable thing he has, then it makes sense that –”

He grabbed the pillow from under his head and covered his face with it. “Stop right there! That sounds messed up! This is all too complicated for me.”

“You're the one who wanted this.”

“And you're the one who pulled the strings to make this happen when it was most convenient for you, so don't try to act innocent. You wanted it just as much.” He hoped that Jigen wanted it, too. There was an ache somewhere inside his ribcage that Jigen had only agreed to this because he knew it was that or nothing.

He didn't need Fujiko and Jigen to get involved with each other, but he wanted them to exist peacefully together. This wouldn't work long-term if there were two separate relationships that never crossed, especially if Goemon was going to be in the mix as well. It'd destroy their teamwork.

“Let me ask you something. Did you only do this so that you'd have some control over what happened? Do you care one bit about Jigen?”

“Of course I care about him. If I didn't, I wouldn't have busted him out of Vuković's villa.”

“Yeah? But maybe you only did that because you knew I'd never forgive you if you left him there.”

Fujiko gave him a small smile. “You underestimate me if you think I couldn't have cleaned up after myself. If I had wanted to, that would have been the perfect opportunity to make him disappear.”

“Damn, you know how to make a guy shiver, and not always in a good way.”

“I didn't do it,” she reminded him. “I didn't even consider it.”

“Why not? You use people all the time.”

The look she gave him was actually offended, and he wondered if he'd made a mistake pressing this issue.

“My game is scamming someone out of his mother's jewellery or a slice of his inheritance. I have standards. If I thought Jigen was a threat, I'd up my game until you forgot he exists. I don't kill people for petty reasons. Just what do you take me for?”

“Hey, hey, I was kidding!” He knew she could be ruthless, and she'd stabbed him in the back enough times, but there was always the underlying understanding that it was just business. When it was personal, she'd never betray him.

“I don't mind him. I just think pining is pathetic,” she went on.

“That's not fair. It's not easy being into another guy. It's asking to have your heart broken. Your nose, too, sometimes.”

She let out a sound of acknowledgement and fell silent.

He tried to get comfortable on the bed. The sheets were satin and pleasantly cool. He had a taste for luxury, but it wasn't often he got to enjoy something on this level. Maybe they should get the Fiat's seats upholstered like this for those nights when they had to sleep in the car. But then Jigen might drop his cigarette on the fine satin and –

Fujiko brought him back from his thoughts with a hand on his arm. He didn't do anything as she shifted closer until she was pressed against him, her body so warm that suddenly the sheets felt chilling. This time, the shiver that went through him was the good kind.

“You know, I can hardly believe that I'm saying this, but... I'm not really in the mood,” he said, even as he craned his neck to breathe in the scent of her hair.

“Neither am I.”

“Then what are you doing?”

“Being a little selfish.” Her hands moved across his stomach and back in a way that made him feel like he certainly could get in the mood if she kept this up. Even if he couldn't, there was no reason why he shouldn't cop a feel and make a happy memory since she was being so generous and inviting.

But before he could get his hands where he wanted, she gave him a push that sent him on his butt on the floor.

“Hey! What was that for? You have no right! You came onto me!”

Fujiko leaned over the edge of the bed and gave his nose a gentle tap. She was smiling and looking so pleased with herself that it took all of Lupin's self-control not to jump right back to bed and show her a good time. Whenever she had that look in her eyes, she was plotting something.

“You got me thinking. Maybe you're right,” she said.

“Right about what?” Lupin got on his knees and rubbed his behind. The bed wasn't high, but damn, that had hurt. He could have broken his tailbone.

“Jigen looks like a guy who's had both his heart and his nose broken one too many times. Maybe I've been just a little too hard on him.”

“And why's that a reason to kick me out of bed?”

“I've had you in my bed for years, but maybe you two have some catching up to do before things start looking even.”

“Since when do you care about even? If you said something nasty to him when I wasn't here, you should apologize yourself and not send me to do your dirty work.”

She snorted. “I'm not going to apologize for anything. All I'm trying to say is that the couch can be folded into a bed.”

“What? Since when?”

“Since the start. I thought it'd just make things difficult if I told you. But maybe it's for the best if you spend the night with him. Make his edges a little smoother.”

Yeah, he was going to need more than one night for that. He also wanted to make a quip about whether Fujiko thought they were children if she'd thought being honest about the couch would have caused problems, but she probably would have said yes.

Instead, he chose to focus on a practical issue. “Why do you even have a couch like that? Wouldn't any guest you have staying over be here in bed with you?”

“Yes, but I thought that if it's you, I should be prepared in case I need to kick you out.”

He huffed. “You know, sometimes I get the feeling you don't love me at all!”

“If I didn't, I wouldn't be giving you the push to work things out with him, would I?”

Lupin got on his feet with a sigh. He appreciated what she was trying to do, and he knew that it was foolish to expect anything more at such an early stage, but he wished they could have worked these things out together.

“Can I ask you something? And can I get an honest answer?”

“Yeah?”

“I know you like Goemon, but what about Jigen?”

“Oh, please.”

“Not even a little bit?”

“At least not the way you think. He's not my type. Don't try this angle. It's not going to work.”

So much for that, then, but it was no surprise.

“I know, I know.”

Fujiko watched him for a moment, then shifted back to her side of the bed. She gave his spot an inviting pat. “So, are you going, or are you coming back?”

Lupin couldn't say it wasn't a tempting thought to slip under the covers again. He had the feeling that if he did, this would be a night when dreams came true. Then again, he also had the feeling that Fujiko was playing with him to see what he'd do and that if he took that bait, he'd get his satisfaction but lose the game.

“I'm going for a smoke,” he said diplomatically. Better keep his options open in case he was wrong about Jigen and found him slacked out on the couch.

He slipped out of the room and closed the door with a quiet click. There was no sound other than his bare feet on the floor as he made his way to the living room. As he'd guessed, Jigen wasn't there, but the faint breeze coming from the balcony told him where to find him.

“Here again? Fujiko's got you whipped,” Lupin said, leaning on the railing. He held out his fingers until Jigen placed a cigarette between them and lit it.

“I like the view.”

Lupin snorted as he exhaled his first drag, but he couldn't argue with that. The view was nice. The streets here were narrow and sprawled in every direction, surrounded by countless lit windows. The sea was to their left, so far away that he couldn't smell it. Or maybe that was just because of the cigarettes.

“We should get a place like this,” he said.

“Hm?”

“A safe house with a view. Why do we always stay in crappy apartments and cheap motels?”

“You tell me. You're the one who picks them.”

“Guess you're right.” Lupin draped his arms over the railing and gnawed on his cigarette in thought as he watched the city. “But you're the one who always says anything's fine as long as there's a couch.”

“So? I'm okay with the way things are.”

“Oh, really? That's not the feeling I'm getting right now.”

“I was doing just fine before you and Fujiko started pushing me around.”

Lupin flipped his cigarette down to the street. “Okay and fine don't cut it, Jigen. If you aren't going to ask for more, who's going to do it for you?”

“I've already gotten this lecture from Fujiko. I don't need to hear it again.”

Lupin ran his fingers through his hair and tried to find something clever to say. This wasn't really going like he'd imagined.

He could sit months in prison doing nothing and wait for the perfect opportunity to make his escape, but now he was running out of patience when it hadn't even been a full day. Normally, he and Jigen understood each other without words. A small nod from him, a tip of Jigen's hat, removing his hand from his pocket – that was all they needed. Now it was like they weren't even speaking the same language.

“What are you doing here anyway? Did you get handsy with Fujiko and she kicked you out?”

“I just didn't feel like going to bed yet. It's been one hell of a day.”

“Mm.”

“And you? Weren't you the one who drove us out of the living room because you wanted to start snoring?”

“I'm thinking about Goemon.”

“Oh, he'll be fine.” When it came to the heist, at least. Lupin wasn't looking forward to the awkwardness that might grow between them once Goemon realized that he and Jigen were getting involved. He wouldn't raise a fuss, probably not even acknowledge it in any way, but that was actually the worst outcome he could think of. Just more stubborn silence and not talking things through.

He knew better than to tell Jigen about Goemon's drunken blabbing in Croatia. It was tempting, but he didn't want to have the Zantetsuken get too close to vulnerable body parts, or for Goemon to run away in anger and embarrassment and not come back until who knew when. At most, he'd give him an encouraging nudge so that he'd talk to Jigen later.

“I know,” Jigen said and fished another cigarette from his pack. Lupin doubted he really needed it right after the first one – or maybe that had been a second, or a third – but he couldn't drink because they had work in the morning. Jigen always dealt with stress like that, getting more than his fill of his bad habits and never saying a word to anyone about what was bothering him.

To be fair, it wasn't all that different from how he dealt with problems, too, so he was in no position to judge. His bad habits just tended to have a pair of nice boobs.

“Come on, what's eating you? You're starting to make me think you aren't one bit happy,” Lupin said.

Please don't say Fujiko, he thought. If that was the case, there was no way out without hurting someone's feelings. He had no idea what he'd do if Jigen said he wasn't okay with Fujiko after all. He couldn't choose between them. He might think twice about all the random hook-ups, but this was a choice he wouldn't let anyone force him into.

“You know,” he said quickly before Jigen had the chance to answer, “I'm beginning to think that maybe this isn't what you wanted.”

“I would have said no.” Jigen's voice was muffled as he lit the cigarette between his lips.

“Would you, really? The way you've been acting... I mean, I guess it's not much different from before, but this isn't going to work long-term if you and Fujiko treat each other as a necessary evil. The tension's been through the roof today! You should be able to stay in the same room without keeping an eye on each other like you're fighting over the same territory.”

The unhappy frown on Jigen's face made Lupin think that perhaps he was asking too much. At least he was asking it too soon, but he hated what was going on with them at the moment and how he had no trick to deal with the problem.

“I know that. I'm not stupid,” Jigen said. “And I know she's not going anywhere. I'd have left long ago if that was a problem.”

“Fair enough. But there's one thing you need to tell me before I'm satisfied. And no lying or holding back.”

“What?”

“I know you. As much as I wish otherwise, I don't think an arrangement like this is your top choice in relationships. You aren't forcing yourself into this, are you?”

Jigen exhaled a puff of smoke in irritation. “I'm not some stupid kid. I don't need anyone to babysit me or keep bugging me about if I'm doing the right thing. I'm doing what I want, and that's all I care about.”

“Yeah, but –”

“Just drop it, okay?”

Lupin didn't want to start fighting, so he sat down on the sun lounger to think. Talking wasn't getting him anywhere, and he doubted Jigen would have reacted well to him reaching out physically. He wanted to kiss him, maybe throw him on that damn couch and have more of what they'd done earlier, but it just didn't feel right when they were dancing around each other like this.

“We need to be sharp tomorrow. Let's get some sleep,” he decided and got back on his feet.

“I'll finish this.”

Lupin walked inside and turned on the light so that he could inspect the couch. It wasn't obvious from the outside, but when he lifted the pillows, he could see that it could indeed be turned into a bed.

He doubted Fujiko's reason for getting it was the one she'd said. Maybe she'd planned ahead and thought that one day, the whole group would be sharing her safe house. It was kind of a nice thought.

“Help me move the table,” he said when Jigen came in to see what he was doing.

“Didn't know the couch could do that.”

“I'm surprised you didn't notice since you're the expert among us. Hope you don't mind me hogging half the space.”

“So, she did kick you out.”

Lupin gave him an exasperated look. Well, she had given him a kick, but it wasn't the way Jigen was thinking. He decided this was something he'd have to keep an eye on, this assumption that he'd only choose to be with him if Fujiko said no first. It could be just Jigen's wry sense of humour, but it brought back echoes of how he'd called himself a plan B earlier.

This side of Jigen was new to him. Normally, he knew his worth. He was the best hired gun the world and took crap from nobody. People were afraid of him for a reason and he could name his price when he took a job. Humble resignation didn't suit him.

“You'll have to ask her to find out,” he said and dove under the blanket.

“I'll pass. She'll think I'm jealous or something.”

Now there was a clear amused tone in Jigen's voice that helped Lupin relax somewhat. He watched him flip the light switch to wrap the room in darkness and then listened to him come back and join him.

He was happy that the budding changes between them weren't creating any unwanted physical awkwardness, at least. They'd shared the bed before and slept curled up under the same blanket in the backseat of the Fiat when it was a cold night. It was nothing strange to lie side by side, but it did make him wonder for how long Jigen must have wished for it to be more than just that.

“You could have smoked a little less. These sheets will smell like someone turned over an ashtray on them. I bet Fujiko's going to make us do laundry in the morning.”

“That's tomorrow's problem.”

“I'm not complaining. Can't say I love this smell, but it's kind of reassuring. At least I don't have to smoke your shitty cigarettes myself anymore to... you know...”

The mattress shifted when Jigen turned his way in the dark. At first, Lupin was sure he wouldn't do anything, but then he felt the weight of an arm over him and gladly pressed himself tighter against the body offering it. He'd meant to find a way to reassure and comfort Jigen, so the relief that washed over him and made his throat tighten at the contact took him by surprise.

Then, “We were sure you wouldn't be coming back.”

He wanted to finish that with some joke, maybe about how Goemon had been so sad he'd almost cut off his finger when polishing the Zantetsuken. Just to make himself sound a little less pathetic. He found he couldn't.

Jigen let out a thoughtful hum. His voice was deep, and Lupin was sure he more felt than heard it with Jigen's chest pressed against him. He guessed it was no wonder that desperate women were drawn to him – as frightening as he could be, there was something about him that made people feel safe if he was on their side. And Jigen had a thing for taking vulnerable people under his wing, even when he knew arrangements like that rarely had happy endings.

“I'm here, aren't I?”

But less than a day ago he hadn't been. In the world Lupin had lived in, Jigen had been dead after going through things he didn't want to imagine and never hearing anything Lupin had wanted to say to him. He'd put all his energy into chasing Vuković and keeping Goemon together, then into making sure Fujiko and Jigen didn't bite each other's heads off. He was the head of their group – their family – but this heist had pushed him to a corner, and he hadn't even noticed how far.

“And you had better stay. No more getting kidnapped unless I say so.”

“I'll see what I can do.”

“It'd be much more romantic if you swore that nothing will ever go wrong again.”

“Hmph, I'm too much of a realist to say crap like that.”

“I've heard you say that stuff to chicks before.”

“Yeah, well they needed to hear it, and they didn't know any better. You really think I'm going to feed you that kind of cheesy lines?”

Lupin let out the laughter that was bubbling inside him, but as soon as the sound faded, he found himself back to feeling somber.

“You don't think much of your own death, do you? You make a fuss when it's someone else, but never bat an eye when you get in a tight spot. That's not fair.”

“I worked too long as a hit man. If you don't accept the reality that one day you won't walk back from a job, you get careless, and that's just as well as putting the bullet in your head yourself.”

“Jeez, that's morbid. Lighten up.” Lupin reached behind his back to ruffle Jigen's hair, but it was hard to bend his arm the right way in his position, and he figured he'd rather not poke out Jigen's eye by accident. He turned around and used the chance to shove both of his hands into the coarse mane on top of Jigen's head. It was a rare treat as his hat was almost always in the way.

“But guess what?” he continued, glad that Jigen was letting him have his way with his hair without complaints. Better not touch the beard, though, he decided. Too early.

“What?”

“You know what's going to happen that day when you don't walk back from a job?”

“Hmm?”

Lupin hadn't thought that getting his head scratched would turn out to be a thing that turned Jigen into mush, but he was pleasantly surprised by the discovery. It made him think of a dog, but he knew better than to say it. Jigen was the kind of guy who'd have no problem calling himself a mutt, but he wouldn't like it if someone else did it.

“You've got three people to carry you.”

Jigen mused on it for a moment. “And you tell me I'm morbid.”

“What? Hey, hey, I didn't mean we'd carry you back in a body bag or anything! That was supposed to be a real emotional moment, and look what you did to it.”

“You were asking for it.”

Lupin couldn't see it, but he could hear the grin in Jigen's voice. That's what he'd wanted all this time. That was the Jigen who had such a meaningful part in his life that he no longer knew what he'd do without him.

“And you're asking to have your ass kicked! But I'll spare you this once. Fujiko won't think I'm cool anymore if she sees me beating up an old man like you.”

“She'll think you're not cool, alright, but not for that reason.”

“Oh, yeah?” Lupin challenged, but the counter-attack never came. At first, he was worried that mentioning Fujiko had brought them back to square one, but he'd spent enough time around Jigen to know when he was sulking and when just thinking something over.

“About what you said earlier... It's pretty embarrassing, but she's already carried me back once. Probably should have thanked her, but I guess I don't like admitting she's not as bad as I want her to be.”

Lupin had no answer for that, at least not one that didn't come with the risk of getting himself kicked out of bed for the second time in one night. It wasn't often that Jigen said anything that left him so exposed. Usually, he managed something like that only in the early hours of the morning when they'd been up all night, unable to sleep after a draining heist and thinking too much about problems they couldn't solve.

“She can be a handful,” he said. Not many had what it took to keep up with her, but that was one of the reasons why he felt a surge of excitement whenever their paths crossed. There was always something new, something she had discovered during their time apart and was bringing into their game. He loved the excitement of having to be on his guard – just like most people couldn't keep up with her, there weren't many who could offer him a challenge.

Not that he needed a challenge to be happy. Reliable and secure might not have been as exhilarating, but he had reached an age when he was beginning to understand that life couldn't be just one thrill after another. He wasn't getting old, of course, just wiser.

Jigen was the kind of man who liked to grow roots. Not so much to places as his work kept him on the move, and men with so much blood on their hands weren't good at settling down, but to people and principles. Once someone earned his trust, he never turned his back on them. There were things he refused to do no matter the pay, which Lupin was sure had gotten him into more than his share of trouble before he'd made a name for himself.

As much as he enjoyed running from one adventure to another and getting to know new people and places, only to leave them behind and take only the memories, it was comforting to have something constant by his side, someone he could always rely on. Of course, he could always count on Zenigata being around, but it wasn't quite what he had in mind.

Since Jigen wasn't saying anything, he decided to drop the topic. The fact that he'd gotten something half-positive about Fujiko out of him was a step forwards. Jigen was stubborn. It took time and effort to make him adjust his opinion on anything, sometimes simply because he was too proud to admit he'd been wrong.

He wished they didn't have to be anywhere in the morning. There was nothing in particular he had in mind, just the kind of typical quiet day when nothing happened and they just sat around, not even talking much. Leftovers for breakfast and lunch, dinner out at some homey restaurant. Even more than that, he wanted to make the night into something new.

“Damn,” he said with a sigh.

“What?”

“If I keep thinking about what I want to do right now, I'm going to get really horny.”

Jigen let out a self-satisfied snort and swatted his hands away from his hair. “Then don't think about it. It's all in your head.”

“Well, it's rapidly moving downwards.” He was looking forward to trying out more than pawing each other on the balcony. Sex was always different with a new person, but there was more of a generally accepted plan of what went where when he was with women. With men, there were a few more things to figure out, though he supposed he already had some idea of what got Jigen going after the run-in with his talkative ex.

He wondered if Jigen had ever slept with someone and thought of him. Or how many times he'd jerked off with him on his mind. Lupin had no idea what he'd had been doing all the countless times he'd ditched him and run after a new conquest, but he had a vivid imagination. Jigen was the type who kept everything bottled under a tight cork until the pressure made him snap.

There was a strong urge to just dive under the blanket and make up for all the wasted time and hurt feelings. He was proud of the things he could do with his mouth. Goemon certainly hadn't complained afterwards, and he always got pretty far with Fujiko that way.

But sadly, not tonight. He doubted he could get Jigen in the mood with Fujiko sleeping behind only a wall. He'd get all huffy and self-conscious. He could count himself lucky if he got even a kiss out of him when she was around.

He let out a forlorn sigh and tried to sink deeper into the mattress. For a fold-out couch, it was pretty comfortable, but right now it was only making him mourn things that were to remain a fantasy for a little bit longer.

Chapter Text

“Here. Have some coffee.”

Novak didn't look up from her laptop, so Zenigata placed the mug on the desk and took a seat opposite her. He hadn't seen her at the station much after their visit to the evidence room. She'd told everyone she was dealing with a family matter and couldn't work overtime, but he had his suspicions about that. After everything she'd said, it was more likely that she was working on something in secret.

He took a sip of his coffee and wondered how to get the truth out of her. Would she trust him that far, or should he try to bargain? He hadn't told anyone about his encounter with Goemon or that he had reason to believe Jigen was alive. He felt guilty about wasting resources since the ICPO had someone analysing the DNA on the hat at the very moment, but he was a little embarrassed by how he'd let Goemon go, and he was sure this information would be useful as a trump card.

“What are you working on?” he asked.

“Finishing up some paperwork. Your thief left a big mess behind, but we're almost done with the reports and witness statements.”

“My thief? Yes, I like the sound of that,” Zenigata muttered and smiled at the thought of dragging Lupin to the station in handcuffs. If Jigen was still breathing, he wouldn't even have to feel bad about it. He'd give them all nice cells next to each other.

“There hasn't been another incident for a while. You think he got what he was looking for?”

“No. We haven't seen the last of him.” Lupin's heists never ended like this, fizzling out without a climax. He was lying low for now, but something would happen, and it would happen soon. They didn't have long to find the missing pieces of the puzzle if they wanted to be there to see it – and clean up the mess, most likely.

Novak reached for her mug. “So, you don't think he got Vuković?”

“We'd know if he did. He would've delivered him to us.” Vuković was one of the few leads he had. Lupin would go after him and take him down, both to have revenge and to send a message to anyone else who might want to mess with his crew. If he kept an eye on him, Lupin would land in his arms.

“I guess that's just as well. I'd rather see him in prison than dead.”

Zenigata grunted in agreement. To be honest, only a day before he would have thought Vuković was a dead man walking. But if Jigen lived, perhaps Lupin's vengeance would know some limits.

“How's the DNA analysis coming along?”

“I asked a friend for an urgent favor, so we should have the results in a few days. But, to be honest...”

“Yeah?”

Zenigata glanced around. There wasn't anyone else, but he was starting to think that he'd been fooled since the day he'd arrived in the country. His gut instinct was telling him he could trust Novak, but he wasn't sure of anyone else. Just what was going on within the police force?

“Do you want to grab some coffee?” he asked.

Novak looked at the mug in her hand, then at him. Zenigata felt like an idiot, but he wasn't about to retreat now that he'd started.

“I mean, outside. We could... stretch our legs a bit. It's been a long day,” he stammered, and he hoped that if someone was listening in on them, they'd think he was nervous about asking her out. Might just as well keep up their cover story.

“Oh. Oh!” She put the mug down with a sheepish grin. “Let me get my coat, Inspector.”

The sun hadn't set yet, but once it did, it'd get cooler. It was a lively time in the city, the restaurants and cafés full of people having dinner. The streets were brimming with life and conversation, and Zenigata and Novak had some trouble wading their way through the busier parts of the center. By the time they reached a quieter alley, most of the orange tinge was gone and the shadows had melted into an even blackness.

They found a café that was just getting ready to close and received dirty looks from the cashier as they ordered two coffees to go.

“What is it that you wanted to tell me?” Novak asked.

“This is something that could get you into trouble, so first I need to know if –”

“If it'll help bring down Vuković, I'm ready for anything.”

He looked at her and tried to see through the determination on her face. Was she really that dedicated, or was she part of the web that had been prepared for him when he'd arrived in the country? He liked to think he was good at reading people after spending some time with them, but he'd been tricked by dirty colleagues before.

“Why is it so important for you get him?” he asked.

“Didn't we already cover this? It's my job.”

“Strictly speaking, no. You aren't on his case, and from what I've managed to find out, you've never been.”

Novak let out a short laugh. “That case is a farce! Anyone who gets close to it soon finds their hands tied. And if they try to do anything –” She snapped her fingers for effect. “Some have accidents, some get removed from the force or are given meaningless assignments. I've been watching it from the sidelines for years.”

Zenigata wanted to believe in the anger in her voice. Other than his devotion to catching Lupin, what kept him going despite the countless setbacks and defeats was following the thief's trail from country to country and seeing that there were people like him everywhere – men and women who were driven by their sense of justice rather than money or glory.

It could be fake. Lupin would know how to pull just the right strings to make him fall for an act like this, and so would Fujiko. But he decided to believe Novak. If he didn't, he'd be taking one step away from the path he'd chosen to follow. And if she was lying and stabbed him in the back, he wouldn't let it stop him. The next time a colleague talked to him with that spark in their eyes, he'd believe them, too.

He nodded. “Fine. I'll tell you what I know, but in return, you need to fill me in on a few more things.”

“Sounds fair enough.”

“Right, so... We probably won't even need those DNA results. I already know more than they can ever tell us.”

“And what is it?”

She didn't ask him how he knew.

“It's Jigen's hat and blood, but he's not dead. I don't know the details, only that Vuković was holding him captive at the villa and that he was able to escape.”

“Is your source reliable?”

“He's... Yes. I have no reason to believe he's lying.” Goemon was many things, but a good liar wasn't one of them. The two of them had that in common.

Novak covered her mouth with her hand as she thought over what he'd said. “That means there's a clear connection between the De Angelis and Vuković. Can we use your source to bring that to light?”

“I wouldn't count on that as our first option...”

“So, the ICPO also has shady methods to obtain information?”

“I assure you, I didn't bribe anyone or anything like that!”

“Hey, no need to explain anything. No police force in the world is spotless. Some are just a little better than others.”

“Mm,” Zenigata agreed with a nod. He dug into his pockets and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He offered her one, but she said she had other means to deal with stress.

“My mother smoked all her life and ruined her lungs. I'd rather live a bit longer.”

“That's wise. Probably too late for me, though,” Zenigata mused.

Novak dropped her coffee into a trash can when they passed one. Zenigata had finished his long ago, but she hadn't taken more than a few sips. She often did that, he realized, and thought back to all the unfinished snacks and drinks that littered her workspace.

“Looks like I'll have to dig deeper to find the proof I need. That could be tricky. I need something that's so big that no amount of money can get Vuković out of trouble,” she said.

“You've mentioned before that he's got powerful people in his pockets. Just how bad is it?”

For a moment, he didn't know if Novak was going to answer him. Her shoulders were stiff, and she was looking at him with a calculating look on her face, like she was second-guessing whether she should believe him after all. It was the same debate he'd been having with himself earlier.

“Bad enough that normal measures won't help.” With these words, the tension disappeared from her frame. She'd made the same decision. There was something liberating about choosing trust over doubt. “The investigation into his dealings hasn't seen any progress in years. Whenever something comes up, it gets swept under the rug and the officers are removed from the case. It's all very hush-hush. Vuković has a lot of money and powerful friends.”

“Like the De Angelis?”

Novak made an impatient click with her tongue. “They haven't had much influence here for over a century, but they made it big in Italy after the family relocated there. For a long time, I've suspected that they're the power behind most of the operations Vuković runs.”

She shoved her hands into her pockets and gave an impatient kick to a stone by her feet. “With you and Lupin here, I think there's finally a chance to make a difference. Don't think too badly of me, but I'm going to use you two to the best of my ability.”

Lupin's crusade against Vuković must have come in handy for her, Zenigata thought. Just like the ICPO's involvement. The Croatian police wouldn't have an easy time investigating someone in Italy without more evidence, but he had the authority to open a case if Lupin was involved and ask the Italian police to assist him.

However, this seemed to create even more questions for him. Lupin had said he wasn't behind the anonymous tip this time. If that wasn't a lie, the only other person he could imagine doing it was Vuković. He had a good reason – with Lupin busy with the ICPO, he'd have less time to help Jigen out of his predicament.

But that was where things stopped making sense. If he'd been lured into the country to distract Lupin, why hadn't he been given any resources to work with? Why had the chief treated him like an unwelcome guest and only assigned him two officers, both rookies in their position? If Novak was telling the truth, Vuković controlled the police. He could have given him half the force to keep Lupin busy.

Then again, he had gotten those resources, but only after Lupin had gone after Vuković. Maybe they hadn't taken him seriously before that, but then Lupin had become a major threat to the city. Only a fool would have let him run free.

“I'm missing something important,” he said after explaining his thoughts to Novak. Either Vuković didn't have as much influence as she said – in which case she had to be lying – or there was something about the plot that was still in the dark. Right now, he didn't think he had enough to work with to figure it out.

A beep came from Novak's pocket, and she pulled out her phone. She rolled her eyes at the message and showed it to Zenigata.

“Kostov's kids,” she said.

“Oh, nice boys. Is he off in Zagreb again?”

“Yeah, he always sends me these photos when he's there. It's nice, I guess, but I don't really like kids that much.”

Zenigata let out a neutral hum. He liked children himself, but he wasn't very good with them. He supposed it was for the best that Toshiko had quickly started calling her mother's new husband her father. She'd been young when they'd separated, and there probably weren't too many good memories to have of a father who was more at work than at home. He always felt guilty about sending her a New Year's card, like he had no right to do so.

“Maybe I'm a little jealous of his enthusiasm. Sometimes I don't know why I even bother with this job anymore. It feels so pointless,” Novak said.

“Yeah, it can get you down, but you've just got to keep doing the right thing.”

“That's easy to say. I'll end up just like everyone else before me.”

“And yet here you are, determined to reach a goal that seems impossibly far away. Nothing can stop an honest officer of the law.” He could understand her doubts. He'd lived through moments of weakness when it felt pointless to keep going, when nobody appreciated him for what he was trying to do – when it felt like Lupin respected him more than anyone on his side.

He knew it was naïve to expect everyone to have the same drive. Not everyone was ready to give up so much of their private life and travel across the globe chasing a man who always slipped away in the end. A colleague he'd gone drinking with had once called him Sisyphus. He'd had to look up what he meant by that, and he completely disagreed. He wasn't chasing Lupin because he had to.

“Except powerful people with money, crooks with guns and knives... Possibly even running out of coffee on a night shift.”

“I've faced all of those, and I'm still here.”

His pride was somewhat dampened when Novak started laughing, but he could tell it wasn't to mock him. It wasn't a happy laughter, either, but there was something honest about it that he liked.

“You're starting to remind me of my father. Stubborn, old goat,” she said. “Him. Not you, sir.”

“Was he on the force as well?”

“No, he was a truck driver. These days he looks after his vegetable garden and my brother's kids. He says he's never setting foot outside his little village again. That's the dream he always wanted to come true.”

“Oh. Well, good for him. Being surrounded by family is a good way to spend the rest of your days.” Zenigata didn't like to think about his own retirement often, but he was pretty sure his sister's offer for him to come and stay with her family was still open. They were living in the house inherited from her husband's great-grandparents in the countryside, and it had more than enough room for any extended family they wanted to invite over. He could hardly imagine his life without Lupin, but if that day ever came, he'd know where to go.

She snorted half-heartedly. “He thinks he can guilt me into leaving this job and coming back home. I don't visit him anymore.”

Zenigata searched his mind for something to say, but he wasn't very good at this type of conversations. He coughed into his hand and decided to turn the topic back to work.

“We need to start preparing for the big event,” he said. “My gut says that something will happen within a few days. Do you know any people in the force that we can trust?”

“I can vouch for a few officers. I've talked about this with them before.”

“Good! Let's talk with them and see what we can do. We need a tight group if we want to be able to do anything when we're needed.”

Zenigata could tell his excitement wasn't contagious. She was determined, sure, but she lacked the enthusiasm he felt whenever he got a step closer to reaching his goal. She was only a little over half his age, and yet she'd already become so frustrated. He supposed it was no surprise, though. He loved his case. Chasing Lupin wasn't as glamorous as others sometimes assumed, but he wouldn't trade away a minute of it. As absurd as it sounded, he'd made some good memories with Lupin.

She, on the other hand, was dealing with a much more mundane, a much uglier, case. There was no charm or adventure in corruption, violence and destroyed lives. It broke his heart a little to see her walk on her path without believing that it'd take her anywhere, but the important part was that she hadn't turned back.

He decided against saying anything. It was easy for him to talk when he could move from country to country with his case, always meeting new people and ever-changing circumstances. She was stuck here in this city, and if they failed to use the situation with Lupin to their advantage, she'd be dealing with these exact same problems long after he'd followed his thief somewhere else in the world.

***

Goemon remained still in the darkness for another moment. The world was asleep around him. Even the house that stood before him was lifeless. During the day, the area was crawling with police, but at night, different men took their place. The De Angelis villa was a crime scene, so members of the family had been asked to stay away. However, they had been allowed to hire men from a private security company to guard the place at night now that the police was done collecting evidence. Goemon was sure each of them was on Vuković's payroll.

Fujiko had sent him a floor plan of the villa with his target clearly marked. He was to enter the study in the eastern wing, break into the safe and take the music box that was inside. It was nothing out of the ordinary.

This was the place where Vuković had been keeping Jigen captive, but he wasn't the owner. That at least explained why he and Lupin hadn't discovered it during their hunt. Goemon wondered what the connection was and why the summer house of an influential family was being used for such purposes, but these were only fleeting questions on his mind.

He was the hired sword, not the mind behind the operation. He didn't need to understand.

He made no sound as he approached the villa. There was light at the main entrance of the house, but he avoided it and circled to the other side where he began to climb up the wall. An armed guard was making rounds in the garden, but Goemon decided to leave him be. He could get in and out without being seen. Only a day earlier, he would have silenced him forever, but his thirst for unnecessary blood was gone with the knowledge that Jigen was alive.

He entered the house through a balcony door and found himself in an empty bedroom. There was no light coming in from under the door, but he spent a moment crouching by it and listening for sounds of someone moving in the hallway. Nothing. They probably weren't expecting anyone since Lupin had already broken in once.

If only they'd known about the importance of the music box at the time. Everything would have been so much smoother if Lupin and Fujiko had shared their plans with him and Jigen from the start. All of this drama and heartbreak had been pointless.

He pushed the door open and stepped out. The study was on the other side of the house, but he'd memorized the floorplan, so the darkness didn't bother him. His footsteps were silenced by the carpet that covered the entire length of the hallway.

It took him less than a minute to reach the study. Everything was so calm that he didn't think he'd run into anyone, and it was better to move swiftly. If there were cameras, more men could already be on their way. The only method he knew to deal with modern security systems was to slice them open, so without Lupin or Fujiko to assist him, there wasn't much he could do.

He cut out the lock and then put it back in place after entering so that the door looked intact. Just like the rest of the villa, the study was dark and empty. Fujiko had told him that there were two safes, a decoy behind one of the paintings and the real one on the floor under the desk. To move the desk, he had to press specific spots on it in the right order.

Goemon did so, but nothing happened. He frowned at the unmoving piece of furniture and tried pushing it, just in case he'd understood Fujiko's instructions wrong. Still nothing.

Annoyed, he considered taking out his phone to make sure he was doing the correct thing, but he knew it'd be a waste of time. This wasn't like cooking when he could afford to check the recipe every half a minute because he couldn't remember even the simplest of instructions. He pulled out his sword and cut the desk into half, kicked the top off and cut once more to reach the safe. Once it was within reach, he knelt down to pick up the music box.

The door banged open before he got back on his feet. Light poured into the room, and Goemon had to shield his eyes against the brightness. The voices and footsteps told him that three men had burst inside.

He couldn't understand the words that were being shouted at him, but he caught Lupin's name. It made sense they'd reach that conclusion. Not everyone had a samurai in their team. He slipped the music box into a bag he was carrying under his clothes and raised his blade for the inevitable combat. His eyes still weren't used to light, but he didn't need them.

The first shots that were fired were immediately followed by the clinks that the bullets made when his sword deflected them. It was routine; his blade moved without conscious effort, more like part of his arm rather than something he was holding.

His actions left the men in a brief state of confused shock, and Goemon used it to leap out the window before anyone fired another shot. Broken glass cut into his feet and chest that weren't protected by fabric, but they were small scrapes that didn't matter. He landed without twisting anything, even though the study was on the third floor.

Now, he only had to disappear. One jump behind a decorative bush, into a tree and back down, and he was almost out of the garden. There were shouts and guns firing behind him, but these men were no match for him. Most of them were going in the wrong direction, assuming he was headed for the road. It was almost a shame how easy this had been. A man could only improve himself by fighting worthy opponents.

There was a fence that separated the garden from the surrounding countryside. Goemon didn't bother climbing over it – he slashed his way through with a few quick swishes of the Zantetsuken.

Right then, he found himself stumbling and almost dropping his blade when pain flared up in his right arm. At first he thought he'd been careless with the fence and that a sharp edge hat cut him, but when he brought his hand back from his arm, he saw that there was too much blood on it.

Goemon turned to back to look over his shoulder, but he couldn't spot who had shot him. There were now lights and more noise at the villa, and both were moving to his direction. So much for a swift escape, but he supposed he deserved that after his earlier arrogance. He used his blade to cut a scrap of cloth from his hakama and tied it around the wound as well as he could with only one hand and the limited time he had. It wasn't perfect, but it'd do.

It was only a scratch and wouldn't slow him down unless he let it bleed for too long. It was his pride that had suffered a worse blow as he'd have to admit to the others that someone had hit him. He hoped Lupin wouldn't make fun of him.

Someone had just gotten lucky, he decided. He hadn't been careless.

He'd taken the car and hidden it among the undergrowth a couple of miles away. Unlike Lupin and Jigen, he didn't go weak in the knees when he saw a well-maintained classic car and didn't enjoy driving, but it was a necessary evil in this line of work. He'd tried to object at first, but the others had succeeded in forcing him to driving school after one too many heists had turned into a disaster because he couldn't drive. After multiple attempts, he'd even gotten a licence.

Facing the enemy when he was injured and alone wasn't something he wanted to risk unless necessary, so he decided to go into hiding until Vuković's men thought he had left the area. He chose the direction opposite the car, just in case someone was on his trail. If they discovered it, getting back to the city would get much more complicated.

He found a low rock formation that looked like the remains of a collapsed house. It shielded him from sight and gave him a place where it'd be easy to ambush anyone who came looking for him. He began to adjust the makeshift bandage and inspect the wound. Blood had run down his arm, as if to mock him. The only blood on his blade tonight was his own.

Disappointed in himself, he leaned against the stone wall and began to wait.

***

“There was a what?”

Vuković listened to the explanation on the phone a second time, but it didn't make things any clearer. Another incident at the De Angelis villa. Was everything going to take place there? They should just move in for good and wait for Lupin to come and get them.

Not a bad plan B, actually, if nothing else worked. He could plant explosives all over the building and press a button when Lupin walked inside. When the family complained, he'd just blame Lupin and hope that they swallowed the lie.

He didn't think they'd be too mad anyway. They were rich enough that one villa in the middle of nowhere didn't mean much to them, especially if its loss helped to preserve their business in Croatia. Heck, he was sure that he'd feel more regret over losing the house. He'd grown quite comfortable spending his time off there, playing master of the household in a place where his family had used to serve.

“Alright, alright. I believe you,” he said to cut off the man talking to him. “There was a samurai. That's actually the part that makes sense, so go on. What did he do?”

“He broke into the study and stole something from the safe.”

“What was it?”

“We aren't sure, sir. Some kind of a box.”

It had to be the old music box. He hadn't thought it'd be in any kind of danger since Lupin had already been to the villa and hadn't tried to grab it. If his gang had any interest in the box, surely he would have taken it then.

“And you let him get away?” he asked.

“Sorry, sir. He was too fast for us, and it's dark outside.”

“Dark? Don't you know how to use a flashlight? What do you think you're getting paid for?”

“But –”

“Get out there and find him!”

He ended the call and tossed his phone on the couch. Dammit. Another problem was the last thing he needed right now. He was itching for a smoke, but Walker thought it was a nasty habit, so he hadn't lit up one ever since he'd arrived. He wondered if karma was giving him a knee to the groin for not letting Jigen smoke when he'd had him.

“Something the matter?”

Vuković wiped the angry frown off his face before turning around. He was walking on thin ice, and every second that passed without good news sounded like a tiny crack in his ears.

Walker was sitting by the window and reading a book. He was the personification of patience and calm, not lifting his eyes from the pages. It turned out he liked to read murder mysteries to pass the time, which Vuković considered a somewhat odd hobby for a mob boss.

“That samurai from Lupin's gang was at the villa. He took the music box.”

“You said it's not important, didn't you? No harm done.”

“Yeah,” Vuković agreed hastily. The less Walker knew about his growing suspicions that the story behind the box was true, the better. He could say he wasn't interested in it all he wanted. Anyone would develop interest if it turned out there was a real treasure, and he wasn't willing to share. It was rightfully his.

“Then chin up. We've got other matters to deal with.”

“I know, but the box has a lot of sentimental value. I got it from my mother, and I'd like to have it back.”

Walker turned a page on his book. “Well, we're going after Lupin, so I'd say that's relatively likely if you're going to do your job well. Then again, if your men let Goemon slip through their fingers...”

“That they suddenly show interest in the music box must mean that Jigen is alive. Otherwise they'd be coming straight for me, like they've been doing until now.” At least, that was what he desperately hoped. Please, let that bastard be alive so that Walker could get his kicks from offing him and go back to New York. This friendship worked best when it was long-distance.

“It's possible. Lupin has been suspiciously quiet. If this was still only revenge for getting his partner killed, he wouldn't have targeted your family's worthless odds and ends. Maybe they've re-grouped and decided to go on a little treasure hunt.” Walker's voice was pleasant, but the way he smiled at his book made Vuković wonder if there wasn't a gruesome murder taking place in it that very moment.

“I doubt anyone will go back to the apartment they were staying at, but I'll have my men watch it just in case. We'll also keep an eye on all the roads leading here. Goemon won't be able to get back to Crna Stina without us noticing,” he said.

He hadn't had the guts to admit it to Walker, but the men watching the apartment had let Lupin get away. Their logs included two notes that made no sense. The next door neighbor had left the house at 8.30 and then again at 11.15 without coming back in-between.

He'd almost shot the man leading the stake-out, but he'd come to his senses just in time. There had been no reason for anyone to suspect anything until that second incident, and they'd immediately checked whether he really was the old man. He was. The first one in the morning had been Lupin, and by now it was too late to find out where he'd gone. Goemon was the only lead left, and they couldn't afford to make any more mistakes.

“I'll put someone to work. As it happens, my best man is free of his other responsibilities tonight. As soon as Goemon sets foot back to this city, we'll have him. If he has any useful information for us, I'll get it out of him. I could use a little warm-up.”

“Your man? Oh, that's... Sure, go ahead.” The whole time, Vuković had thought Walker had arrived alone. He hadn't seen anyone with him. This new knowledge didn't boost his confidence. If he didn't know who Walker's men were, he'd be an easy target as well.

Perhaps it was time for him to start plotting his plan C, one that would leave him alive, rid him of Lupin forever and get him back his mother's box. And if it was the only way to achieve that, there was no reason why he shouldn't be ready to shoot Walker in the back.

“I need to check up on a few things,” he said, picked up his phone and excused himself. He instantly breathed a little easier once in the hallway.

He didn't think he'd ever forget the feeling of his triumph turning into panic when he'd been at the airport and his men had called him to inform him of Jigen's escape just as Walker's plane had started landing. He'd almost given in to the temptation to run and go into hiding, but he knew he didn't want to make an enemy out of him. If it was just business, Walker had the patience of a saint as long as you did your best, but the moment you betrayed his trust, you were dead.

If it turned out he'd let Jigen die, he'd be punished no doubt, but he'd probably live through it. Walker knew it wasn't on purpose and that he'd been away from the villa when it had happened. But if he did anything that counted as betrayal, even gave him any reason to think he'd done something, he'd get the privilege to experience whatever it was that he'd planned for Jigen.

It crossed his mind that he hadn't told his men they should try to get Goemon alive. He began to search for the correct name on his contact list. It might have been kinder to leave it that way, but mercy had no place in circumstances like this.

***

Goemon hadn't heard anything in two hours. It'd be safe to move now. He rubbed his legs before he did, not wanting to stumble and make noise. He was cold and numb from sitting in one spot for too long. The bleeding had almost stopped, though he'd had to sacrifice more of his hakama to bandage the wound tighter. He'd probably need a few stitches.

It was hard to see where he was going as there was no close source of light. Even the moon was covered in thick clouds. He could see small spots of light in the direction of the villa, which was what told him which way to go.

For a moment, he considered returning to the car. It'd make his return quick and comfortable, and he'd have time to tend to himself before the others came back. But the sensible side of him knew the car was a lost cause. The odds that Vuković's men had found it and were ready to ambush him were too high. He'd have to walk.

He moved slowly, both because of the unfamiliar terrain and because he felt a little light-headed. He'd kept track of his bleeding while hiding, and he was sure it wasn't bad enough to do more than slow him down a little if he had to fight. But even that could be fatal when he was up against firearms, so he'd rather lie low.

The road was deserted when he reached it. The De Angelis villa was the only house within a few miles, but there was a village behind the hills. Goemon chose the opposite direction, the one leading to Crna Stina. If he walked the entire way, it'd take him the whole night and most of the following morning, but he'd make it.

He remained alert and left the road whenever he spotted a car approaching from either direction. No ordinary person had a reason to be driving in the middle of nowhere at three in the morning. They had to be Vuković's men, looking for him.

Or so he thought until he heard another vehicle approaching from behind him and turned to look. The lights were too high to belong to a regular car. It was a bus. He stopped walking and stood by the road as it passed him. Then the brake lights turned on, and the bus came to a slow halt.

Someone stepped outside and called out to him, waving at him to get closer.

“I'm sorry. I don't speak Croatian,” Goemon said as he reached him.

“Oh, that's okay! I think most of us are too drunk to speak anything. What are you doing here in the middle of the night? Is something wrong? Was there an accident?”

“I'm headed to Crna Stina.”

“Wow, that's a long way! Do you want to get on?”

“That'd be preferable, but I don't wish to trouble you.”

“It's no trouble at all!” The man patted the side of the bus, and Goemon turned to look. It was bright red with a coat of arms featuring a blue chess pattern, a football and the text NK Crna Stina. A football fan club, out here at a time like this? He wasn't sure what to say.

“We're returning home from a friendship game in Bjelovar. And lucky for you, we beat the shit out of them, so we're in good spirits. I might have run you over otherwise! Get in!”

The man shoved him inside the bus before he could reply, but he decided it was fine. A stroke of luck such as this was too good to turn down. He'd be back in the city in only an hour and a half.

Most of the people on the bus were asleep or about to pass out, and there were beer cans and snacks everywhere. A few heads were raised when he got on, but apart from some drunken hellos, nobody acknowledged him. There was a free seat right behind the driver.

“Glad we ran into you. The others haven't been very good company for a while now. The rest of the way will pass swiftly with someone to talk to. I'm Petar, by the way. What are you doing here in the middle of the night?”

“I'm... I lost my tour group.”

“Pretty bad luck, that. Are you hoping to find them in Crna Stina?”

“Yes, that was our next destination.”

“Where are you from? You kind of stand out.”

Goemon was glad it was so dark that Petar hadn't noticed the blood staining his right sleeve or the sorry state of his hakama. Bloodied and a sword in hand, he probably looked like a deranged murderer.

“We had a costume party. I drank too much and passed out, and the others left without me.”

“Oh, that makes sense. We almost did the same just today with the guys at the back. With kids you pay more attention, but you kind of expect grown-ups to be able to look after themselves.”

Petar babbled non-stop for the hour that followed. Goemon didn't mind. It was a good distraction to pass the time, and the more the other spoke, the less he had to tell him about himself. He fell into a lull in which he replied to Petar's comments and questions with hums and one-word answers. His mind was elsewhere.

The music box was safely under his clothes. Its weight was a reassuring reminder that even if the night hadn't gone like planned, he'd still fulfilled the task Fujiko had given him. Now everything was ready for the treasure hunt she and Lupin had been after from the start.

Personally, he wouldn't have minded if they'd abandoned the effort and left the country. He wanted to be somewhere quiet where he had a moment to think but where the others were close by for when he desired their company. Maybe a real vacation this time, like he'd told Jigen.

He needed to see him. He now had a moment when he didn't have to focus on his assignment, and the longing for companionship that overcame him was alarming. He'd been alone for most of his life, as was fitting for a man like him. No home, no lasting relationships, not even family. It had to be that way because his work would destroy anything permanent that he tried to build. That mindset was one of the first lessons he'd been taught.

It was also partly to blame for why he never stayed with the others for long. The main reason was simple practicality. His assignments took him all over the world and often included periods of planning and hiding after the deed. He didn't want his work to follow him when he joined up with the others. They knew what he did and didn't have a problem with it, but he sometimes worried that if they saw with their own eyes how bloodstained his hands were, their smiles when he came back might become forced.

At least, Lupin and Fujiko's might. Both had taken lives, but killing wasn't their trade. For them, it was an occasional but unpleasant necessity.

Jigen understood him better, but he didn't often talk about his years in that line of work. Goemon wished to respect his privacy, so he never asked if it wasn't connected to a current heist – which, to be fair, wasn't all that rare as Jigen's past had a way of catching up with him. The whole incident with Vuković no doubt had its roots there as well.

Goemon was sure it was for that same reason that Jigen never asked him what he'd been up to when he joined the others. That, and he didn't have to. He already knew. Just once, he'd told him that he'd grow tired of that kind of work when he got old enough and that he should just become a thief full-time to spare himself some trouble. Goemon had been offended at the time, but later he'd understood what Jigen had tried to get at.

The words had turned from an insult to a comfort. He didn't know if he'd ever want to give up the life he'd been raised to live, but should that happen, it wouldn't be a free fall into nothing. He had somewhere to go.

“Hey! Hey, you?”

Goemon looked up and saw that one of the other passengers had approached him. It was a woman, maybe around his age or a little older, covered in fan clothing from head to toe. She gave him a shove to move him to the window seat and then sat down by his side. Her giggling and the smell of her breath made it all too clear how drunk she was.

Goemon pressed himself against the window and hoped she wouldn't follow. He didn't like the way she was looking at him, nor the way her hand had come to rest on his knee. After he'd torn up his hakama, he was showing more skin than he wanted.

“Please control yourself,” he said, took her hand and moved it away gently.

“Come on. You don't even know me.”

“That is precisely my point.” Unfortunately, his words only had the effect that she leaned closer until he had to hold her upright to stop her from falling into his lap. She wasn't doing anything, but drunk or not, she was bound to notice the blood on him sooner or later.

“Can you tell her to stop?” Goemon asked, hoping that Petar would jump in. He wasn't very good with women who pushed themselves on him. A firm no didn't always seem to work, and he wasn't sure what else to do since he didn't want to hurt their feelings.

“Hey, Monika. Let him be.”

“Aw, you never let me have any fun! It's your fault I don't have a boyfriend!”

“You don't need a boyfriend. You're married!”

Monika took off the team's scarf from around her neck and began to wrap it around Goemon's. “Here. Think of me when you wear this.”

“No, I shouldn't. It's –”

“Take it!”

Goemon's attempts to keep her away came to a halt when, without a warning, Petar hit the brakes. The bus stopped, most of the people inside jolting awake and bottles and bags falling to the floor. Monika wasn't wearing a seatbelt, so Goemon had to grab her to stop her from flying through the windshield.

“Petar! What the hell?” she asked. “Are you so damn jealous that –”

“It's the police.”

Goemon turned to look out. Petar was right. There was a police car by the road, and they'd only now turned on the emergency lights. An officer was approaching the bus. Petar opened the door and got out to talk to him.

“Excuse me,” Goemon said and pushed Monika off him.

“Huh?”

“I must leave. I apologize for the damage. I'll pay for it later if I'm still alive.”

“What dam–”

Swish! Crash!

The Zantetsuken moved in a large arch and cut through the front of the bus so that it fell off right at their feet. The crash woke up everyone who had somehow remained asleep through the sudden stop, and there was chorus of confused and angry voices. Goemon used the chaos to climb out and landed on the road right beside the officer.

Or rather, the man who was posing as an officer. He'd had his gun out even before Petar had stepped outside and wasn't even trying to hide it. The Croatian police were only allowed to use firearms in exceptional situations, and pulling over a bus didn't fit the description. This man was working for someone else.

Another swish of his blade, and the man's uniform and gun fell to the ground in pieces. Goemon turned to bow at Petar, who was staring at him with his mouth so open that it was a wonder his jaw hadn't dislocated itself.

“Thank you for giving me a ride. I'm sorry for all the trouble.”

“It's... no problem...”

“Don't think you're getting away this easily!”

That was English. Another clue that the officer wasn't what he looked like, though it left Goemon feeling a little confused. If he was working for Vuković, why English?

He could think about it later. Now, it was important to make it back to the city. He sliced the tires on the squad car so that the man wouldn't be able to follow him and took off into the darkness. Only a few moments later, he had to jump off the road and roll into the undergrowth. There was a shot behind him, and not from a handgun.

The man was shooting at him with a rifle. And judging by how good his aim was, he had to be using some matter of infrared goggles. As soon as Goemon realized that, he made another dive and scraped his knee raw, but he barely noticed. The shot that followed came too close.

The next one rang out, impossibly loud in his ears and making him feel like there wasn't any more distance between him and his enemy than before. It took him a brief moment to realize he hadn't been hit, and he wasn't sure if it'd be his mind or his body that realized it first should it happen.

When there was a further shot, he could already tell something about his enemy. The man could have fired the shots closer to each other, but he was taking the time to aim carefully. He wanted to stop him, not kill him. It gave Goemon a slight advantage as it meant that his enemy was likely to try to hit him in a limb, and those were a moving target.

Not that he could afford to lower his guard. He had to get away as quickly as possible and move in such an unpredictable pattern that it'd be hard to guess where he'd be the next instant. He couldn't see, so even one wrong step might send him falling. Somehow, he managed to avoid getting hit, but he was sure he lost some hair and got a few holes on the sleeves of his clothes. He hoped the music box was still undamaged.

He made it beyond a small hill, finally putting something concrete between him and his enemy. His lungs were in agony, and he kept drawing in breaths that were never enough as he forced his trembling legs to keep going. He wasn't safe yet. Men who brought that sort of equipment to a fight were the type who'd pursue their target.

His wound was bleeding again, but he had no time to worry about it. He could already see the lights of Crna Stina in the horizon. It shouldn't take him longer than half an hour to get there, provided that he didn't fall prey to his hunter. Fujiko had told him the address of an apartment where he could wait for the others.

Goemon spent a brief moment mourning the comfort of the bus before continuing on his way through the prickly underbrush and rocks. He'd have to avoid the roads, but there was a river that flowed through the northern part of the city. It might be easier to enter that way.

It didn't take long before he arrived at the river bank. The dark water wasn't inviting, and he made an annoyed face as he trudged into it until it reached up to his waist. He held the music box and the Zantetsuken above his head to keep them dry and wondered how bad he'd smell once he made it out of the water.

And all this just to make Fujiko happy.

Chapter Text

When Fujiko woke up, she spent a moment listening to the silence in the apartment and making a mental bet with herself over what she'd find outside her bedroom. She'd stayed up for a while after Lupin had left, but there'd been no fighting and no steamy sex, so she didn't think there was anything revolutionary waiting for her. On the other hand, Lupin hadn't come crawling back to her bed, so the night couldn't have been a complete disaster.

She flung a bathrobe over her shoulders and pulled the curtains aside to take a look out the window. It was still dark and silent. The neighborhood was quiet even during the day, but that early in the morning, it felt like the rest of the world didn't exist. It was one of the reasons she'd bought the apartment, even though it was hardly luxurious. It was perfect for when she needed a break from everything.

She spotted Lupin asleep on the couch in the living room, clutching a blanket to his chest and one leg draped over the edge. He was snoring, and though it was tempting to go and pinch his nose, she didn't want to wake him up.

The smell of food drifting from the kitchen told her where Jigen was even before she went to look for him. He was frying the previous day's leftovers on a pan and didn't turn to look when she arrived. He hadn't bothered to put on his shirt. Fujiko wondered how much body hair she was going to find on her plate.

“Good morning,” she said and opened the fridge for some orange juice.

He acknowledged her with a grunt but still didn't turn. That was friendly enough. Even in normal circumstances, the two of them hardly had the habit of engaging in friendly chit-chat. Fujiko sat down to drink her juice and browse a magazine. For a while, they kept ignoring each other, but then she decided enough was enough.

“There's one thing I want to make clear,” she began.

“Yeah?” Only one word, and yet he managed to make it sound so defensive. She might have rolled her eyes at him only a day before, but after what Lupin had said to her, she found herself thinking that maybe he wasn't being quite as unreasonable as she'd thought.

“I never said anything to Lupin.”

He turned around to look at her, clearly having expected something else.

“Did I say you did?”

“No, but you always suspect me. I just want to be sure you know that I didn't break my promise.”

She supposed it didn't matter to him whether she'd broken it or not. It would have been only one more on a long list of reasons why he didn't like her. But it was important to her that he knew, much more than she'd realized at first. If it was business, she didn't care what he thought of her, but now that they were building this new arrangement, she felt that any deceit would have given him too much of an advantage. She didn't need tricks, and she didn't want to give Jigen the chance to look down on her.

“I guess that's something,” he said, and she knew it was the closest to a thank-you she was going to get.

“There was a message from Goemon last night. He got the box,” she said. She'd never feared otherwise. He was good at what he did, perhaps better than either Lupin or Jigen gave him credit for. He was often reduced to the role of the dumb muscle when the whole group worked together, but Fujiko had done enough jobs with him alone to know what he was capable of.

“Good.” Jigen showed her the charred remains of what had once been food on the frying pan. “Are you having any of this?”

“Don't make me laugh. I'm much too young to die.”

“Mocking my cooking stopped being funny ages ago. Come up with something else.”

“I'm not doing it to be funny. This is the only form of teasing that gets a reaction out of you, so blame yourself.”

“You could just leave me alone.”

She snorted at that. Jigen was such a simple man. In his world, it no doubt made perfect sense to avoid people with whom you had less than a desirable relationship, but she'd never been able to let things be. If there was a potential for conflict, she had to go and poke at it.

“Never. A woman has to have her fun.”

“What, Lupin and Goemon not enough for you?”

She was glad he wasn't facing her because she was sure her surprise was obvious on her face. Never in a million years had she thought that he might direct the conversation there. Or maybe he didn't realize how his words could be read. She had just finished thinking how straightforward he was, after all.

“You should know by now that I'm never satisfied,” she said. She hoped her tone sounded neutral enough. She wasn't sure if they were ready to have an honest conversation about this, and she also didn't want to give him the impression that she was flirting with him. She'd tried that, back when they'd first met. It hadn't turned into one of the great success stories of her career.

To be honest, she didn't think they even needed to talk it over. His disinterest was loud and clear. She couldn't say she was repulsed by the idea, but there was nothing about him that she found attractive, either. It worked in everyone's best interests if nothing complicated happened between them.

“No woman ever is,” he grumbled, but there was enough humor in his voice that she supposed they were standing on safe ground. She had to bite her tongue to stop herself from pointing out that maybe he just wasn't very good at satisfying them. That'd probably ruffle his feathers too much.

Thankfully, any further temptation to provoke him was dealt with when Lupin walked into the kitchen, yawning and stretching his back.

“Hey, hey. Are you having a spat this early? There are better ways to start a day.”

“Yeah, like breakfast,” Jigen said and removed the pan from the stove.

“Oh, let me see.” Lupin came to lurk over his shoulder. Fujiko could guess what he had in mind long before his hands slipped down to Jigen's hips, but his poor victim was entirely unprepared for it. Jigen yelped and dropped the pan so that all of his carefully burned food flew all over the counter and floor.

“What the hell, man? Don't do that!”

“Sorry, are my hands cold?”

“That's not the reason! And you're cleaning that.” Jigen circled around the table so that he could take the seat that was the farthest from Lupin and grabbed an apple to munch on. Fujiko didn't know which amused her more, Lupin's confused and heartbroken pout, or how hard Jigen was trying to act like he wasn't embarrassed.

“I can give you a few good tips on how to avoid his wandering hands,” she offered.

“No, thanks. I've got it covered. Next time he does that, he's taking a bullet.”

“I'm not feeling very loved right now,” Lupin said with a sigh as he knelt down to pick up the pan. “And with two lovers in the room!”

“Don't call me a lover,” Jigen muttered.

“Why not?”

“It's dumb.”

“Then what do you want to be called?”

“I have a name. Let's not turn this into a road show, okay?”

Lupin raised his head to look at him over the table, then glanced at Fujiko. “Do you think I'm being annoying?”

“Yes, but it's nothing new. We were actually having a pretty nice chat before you waltzed here.”

Now he was pouting at her, too, but surprisingly, he let it go without further comments. She had no idea what had happened between Lupin and Jigen the previous night, but it seemed to have gotten him to see that he couldn't force this.

Lupin spent the next few moments picking up the food from the floor, hissing and cursing under his breath because it was still hot and he couldn't be bothered to use anything but his fingers. It was amusing for a while, but then Jigen grew tired of it and tossed him the spatula.

“We can still eat this,” Lupin said.

Fujiko wrinkled her nose. “Don't be disgusting.”

“It's okay. We've eaten canned stuff that expired years ago.”

“I wouldn't admit something like that in such a proud tone.”

“Oh? Your pretty stomach isn't hardened enough for that? I guess that's one reason why I love women. You all have a soft side somewhere, no matter how prickly you are.”

“Actually, I meant that if you talk like that, I'm going to start thinking you're poor.”

“So? Fujiko, darling, you can't mean that you're only after money and treasure! What about the fires of our love?”

“Even the hottest flame goes out if there's nothing to burn.” She moved one leg over her knee to make the bathrobe shift so that there was a more generous view of her thigh. Lupin was still on the floor, so if she wanted to, it'd be easy to give him a good show.

“You two sure know how to ruin a guy's appetite,” Jigen said. “Just get a room.”

“Hm, I don't think there's enough time before we have to be at the airport,” Lupin said thoughtfully.

Fujiko pretended that she was considering it. “I don't know. You can be pretty quick.”

“Hey! Shh! You'll make him think I'm no good!”

Jigen harrumphed and dug a half-empty pack of cigarettes from his pocket. “That'd explain why you need to find a new broad every other night.”

“Oh, haha,” Lupin said dryly and reached to grab a cigarette from the hand that was offering. “You two are awful when you team up. I need to warn Goemon.”

Fujiko didn't bother reminding them that she didn't want them to smoke in the kitchen. She hadn't thought that Jigen would take her and Lupin's banter so lightly. He was making an effort, too, she supposed.

She couldn't help but feel a little impressed. Part of her had been sure that once Jigen had had enough time to think things over, he'd suggest that they'd keep their relationships completely separate. When she was with the group, Lupin would be all hers like there was nothing going on between him and Jigen, and as soon as she left, they'd pretend she didn't exist.

To be honest, the previous night she'd entertained the idea of suggesting it herself if Jigen didn't, but she now found herself a little repulsed by what she could only call a moment of weakness. It would have been too perfect of an arrangement for her, one that put all the power in her hands. She could have taken everything she wanted and shut Jigen out whenever she felt like it.

She was better than that. She didn't doubt that some level of rivalry was always going to remain between them, but so be it. That could be fun. She didn't want a boring, clean solution that was like sweeping their problems under the carpet.

“Speaking of Goemon,” Lupin went on, “we should grab him something nice on the way. There was trouble last night.”

“What? How do you know that?” Fujiko asked.

“He sent me a message.”

“The message I got didn't say anything like that!”

Lupin laughed. “I bet he was too embarrassed to tell you he didn't do a perfect job!”

“Hmph! Men!”

“Is he okay?” Jigen asked.

“Yeah, nothing out of the ordinary. But he said we should be careful when we get back. I guess something's brewing in Crna Stina.”

“Well, Walker's still there. This could be about him,” Fujiko said and looked at Jigen for confirmation.

“Yeah, but he wasn't really the type who went after your friends if he had a bone to pick with you. But I guess years can change a man.”

Fujiko remembered Jigen telling her that he'd killed Walker's brother. That was something that'd change anyone if it was left to fester long enough. Then again, from what she understood, Walker had always been nasty, even by the standards of the underworld.

She watched Jigen finish his cigarette and stub it out on the expensive porcelain saucer in the middle of the table. It didn't seem like they'd be getting any details about his past with Walker at this point. She hoped he'd learned his lesson and wouldn't try to face him alone without telling them where he was going, but such a mule of a man just might do the dumbest thing.

“Let's get going. I'm not about to let Goemon deal with what's entirely my problem,” he said and got up.

It crossed Fujiko's mind then that Jigen might not be very useful in the treasure hunt for as long as he hadn't faced Walker. He might even say he wanted no part in it. It'd be just like him to choose personal business over riches. She wondered if it'd be a good move to let him deal with Walker first. If he and Vuković were out of the way, there'd be nobody to stop them from helping themselves to the treasure.

That was the sensible option, she supposed, the one from which everyone benefited. However, she'd been hoping that they'd go for the treasure first and that she might be able to slip away with more than her share when the others were busy with the demons from Jigen's past.

“Hey, Jigen. That Walker guy, he's not an ex, is he?” Lupin asked.

Jigen looked surprised at first, then his mouth twisted into a grin. “What? No.”

“Oh? Then how come you're smiling like you just recalled some really nice memory?”

“Because you of all people shouldn't be asking questions like that. Stop being dumb. Let's get to Goemon,” Jigen said and walked out of the kitchen.

Lupin sighed and fell down on his back on the floor. He crossed his hands behind his head. “I guess I shouldn't grope him whenever I feel like it.”

“How generous. I can't remember when you last asked me for permission.”

He shot her an offended look. “We both know that if you had a problem with it, you'd have done something ages ago.”

She agreed with an amused snort and got on her feet. Jigen was right about one thing. They had to go. It was a while since all four of them had had a job together, and she was looking forward to it – to the teamwork but especially to the profit.

***

Heeding Goemon's warning that there were professionals involved, they took their time preparing their disguises and left the apartment separately. They didn't interact at the airport, safe for Lupin getting up to offer his seat by the gate to Jigen who was pretending to be an elderly man. After landing in Zagreb, they changed into new disguises and left for Crna Stina at different times.

The apartment where Lupin and the others had stayed wasn't safe anymore, so they were headed to a hideout that Fujiko had prepared in advance, long before she had had to change her original plans. She'd meant it for herself, so it wasn't big enough to house four people for a long period of time without some discomfort. However, she didn't think they'd need it for more than a few days, and she was sure she could talk the guys into bunking on the floor.

Fujiko was the first to arrive. She wanted to see the music box before Lupin to get a head start. She now regretted that she hadn't used the earlier drama as a distraction to snatch the key off him long enough to make a copy.

The door was locked. She had a key, but she knocked five times to let Goemon know it was her. He came to let her in almost immediately.

“It's been a while,” she said and smiled at him, but her eyes gave the room a quick scan to find the music box. And there it was, in plain sight on the table, which was the only piece of furniture apart from a chair and a bed. “I see everything went according to plan.”

“It wasn't difficult. Where are the others?”

“They'll be here later. Vuković probably has someone watching the airport, so we didn't want to come together.” Fujiko pulled off her black wig with a sigh of relief and let her hair fall in waves on her shoulders. Some work in the bathroom, and her face would be rid of the darker tone and wrinkles.

However, before she had the time for that, she noticed the bandage that Goemon was wearing on his right arm. Her thoughts had been so focused on the box that she'd forgotten there had been trouble. She hadn't even realized he wasn't wearing more than his hakama that had seen much better days. His arms and legs were covered in bruises and scratches.

“What happened to you?”

“It's nothing. The enemy got lucky when I was leaving.”

“Show me anyway. I doubt you could do enough about it by yourself.”

She went to the cabinet she'd stocked with first aid supplies. Goemon stood and watched her, an unhappy frown on his face, but then he accepted his fate and sat down on the floor with a long-suffering sigh.

“Good boy,” she said as she knelt by his side and began to unwrap the bandage. “It's your sword arm, so you shouldn't be careless. You've got to be able to use it when we go after Walker.”

Goemon gave her a doubtful glare. “You can't expect me to believe you have any interest in that.”

“Why not?”

“Because you're only after the treasure that this box will lead to. You don't care about Walker or what he wants from Jigen, unless you can use it as a distraction.”

Fujiko's hands stopped at his tone. It wasn't unusual that Goemon was suspicious of her. Sometimes he was openly hostile about it because unlike Jigen, he couldn't resign himself to the fact that she kept going solo when it best suited her. Every betrayal felt like it was the first. But this level of anger was new.

After a moment, she resumed her work until she'd unwrapped the bandage. The lower layers of it were stuck to the wound and caused it to start bleeding again when she removed them.

“I'd say you're the one who got lucky, not them,” she said. A little to the side, and he wouldn't be using the arm for a long time, maybe never again properly. The thought made her stomach twist, but she wasn't sure who she was upset at, Vuković's men for shooting him, Goemon for being so reckless – or herself for asking him to do this all alone.

“I've been through worse.”

Fujiko huffed, but she couldn't deny it.

She decided she'd patch him up a little after cleaning the wound. Two or three stitches should do it. It'd restrict his ability to use his sword, but hopefully not so much that it'd matter.

“Is this still about how I didn't tell you and Lupin that I knew where Jigen was?” she guessed. She'd thought they had already put that behind them when she had called him, but perhaps he was taking it harder than she'd expected, just like Lupin.

“It was the cruellest thing you've ever done to me.”

Fujiko withdrew her hand in surprise. “Is that how much he matters to you?”

Goemon bowed his head and wouldn't answer.

Well, Fujiko thought. Goemon was in deeper than she'd imagined, but she supposed she should have seen it coming. He never did anything half-heartedly.

She thought carefully over her next words. “You know, Jigen's into Lupin...”

“Ah.” He didn't seem very surprised, or maybe he was good at hiding it. “I suppose I should have guessed that.”

“They've been working something out,” she said. Perhaps it had been cruel to leave Goemon behind all alone. She didn't want him to feel like an outsider or an afterthought. “But it's not like it's too late for you to –”

“It doesn't matter,” Goemon said, waving his hand to cut her off. “I expect nothing. I'm just glad he's alive.”

Fujiko rolled her eyes and went back to work on his arm. He was always trying to be so noble, like he had the perfect ideal of a man on his mind and was desperate to live up to it. She didn't know how he could stand it. Didn't that attitude just make every mistake twice as hard to bear? Nobody was without flaws.

She turned her thoughts back to the task at hand and imagined what it'd be like if she was doing this to Lupin. He would squirm and whine melodramatically all the way through in hopes of getting a little bit of affection for his troubles. Goemon was the exact opposite. Not a muscle twitched on his face as Fujiko worked in a few stitches.

“There we go,” she said when she was done and ruffled his hair. Even if his approach was different, she was sure his goal was the same.

She left Goemon to clean up and went to examine the music box. It was made of dark wood, perhaps oak, and had no other decorations on the surface than the carved initials of the owner and her lover. It was locked tight, and Fujiko didn't dare try to force it open. Vuković had told her that if the story was true, the contents would be destroyed if it was opened using an incorrect method.

“We'll need Lupin to get any further. He's got the key,” she said in disappointment and put the box down.

“We should first deal with the man who is after Jigen. No treasure is more important.”

“Don't be so dramatic. There's no reason why we can't do both at the same time.”

“His men are good, and they have access to police equipment. We shouldn't underestimate him.”

“Police, huh? I guess that's no surprise if Vuković really has them in his pocket. Any news on Zenigata?”

“Well... yes,” Goemon said, glancing to the side. “He invited me to drink to Jigen's memory. I think he was also shaken by what happened.”

“Oh, that's a good trump card for us. If he thinks Jigen is dead –”

Goemon cleared his throat. “I'm sorry. I told him. I didn't think it was right to keep him in the dark.”

Fujiko didn't known whether to laugh or smack him over the head. “Why not?”

“He contacted us when he had information on Jigen. I thought returning the favor was the honourable thing to do.”

“You sure are something,” Fujiko said with a shake of her head. She pursed her lips as she imagined what it said about her that she could lie to the most important people in her life about anything, and Goemon couldn't do it to an enemy. Then again, Zenigata wasn't just an enemy. At this point, he was more like that annoying neighbor who came to all their parties uninvited but whom you couldn't bring yourself to hate because he always loaned you sugar when you asked.

“But it doesn't matter. Everything is going exactly according to plan,” she went on.

“Whose plan? Yours?”

“Don't say that like it's a bad thing. My plan is good. We'll all leave the country with our pockets full.”

Goemon's silence said more than any words could have. Perhaps she should stay with the group this time and not give him more reasons to be angry at her. But then they'd just be in this situation again the next time she did something that didn't agree with his morals. It'd get bothersome fast. She didn't want to have to watch her every move and word whenever she was around him.

“Look, I'm sorry about Jigen. I guess I went too far with that. But everything's fine now, isn't it?”

“That's how you justify everything. I cannot bring myself to agree that any means are acceptable as long as the end result is what you want. If we have no trust in each other, what purpose does our group serve? Even from a strictly professional perspective, we gain nothing if we have to be on guard in case one of our comrades decides to stab us in the back. It's inefficient.”

“I know what lines I can't cross. I'd never go so far that it'd cause real harm to you three. That's why I altered my original plans to help Jigen, remember?”

Goemon gave her a sharp look. “I don't recall agreeing to play these games with you. And I cannot understand why you do this. If it's money, I'm sure you'd make more if you remained loyal to Lupin. Whenever we lose everything, it's usually because you pull the rug from under our feet at the last minute.”

She couldn't think quickly enough to find a good answer. When he put it like that, it was true. A lot of times, it was Lupin's fault as he kept dragging his friends into heists that she'd asked him to do and didn't let them know all the details until they were knee-deep in trouble, but just as often, it was her who dragged the others into her schemes or made the cup overflow because she just had to have a little more.

“It's not just money. Lupin and I have fun doing this. If we always worked together, it'd be too much like a normal day job, or marriage, or –”

She hadn't thought his words would get under her skin like this. After everything she'd been through with Lupin and Jigen the previous day, she'd been looking forward to reuniting with Goemon. His anger was easy to soothe. And yet, he was turning out to be the most difficult man in the group to deal with, both because he wouldn't calm down and because he made her feel like she had to defend herself.

“I don't need a lecture on commitment,” she said.

“I wasn't going to offer you one.”

“Then what is this all about?”

“I'm starting to think it's of no concern.”

“Of course it's of concern!” She returned from the table and the music box to where he was sitting on the floor and knelt by his side. His face revealed nothing, but there had to be something pressing on his mind if he was acting like this. She tried to think back to everything she'd said during the past few days. What had she done that was upsetting him so?

Unless it was something that had happened even before that.

“Is this about that night when we slept with Lupin?” They'd never wrapped that up properly since Jigen's disappearance had needed all their attention.

The shade of red on Goemon's face was an answer enough. Well, if it was just that, then these weren't such unfamiliar waters to navigate after all.

“We had fun, didn't we?” She gave him a bit of a smile to encourage him. It had been a spontaneous thing, something that she'd entertained the idea of but had never thought Goemon would agree to. It'd be a shame if he decided that was to be the end of it. He'd been so happy for a moment, and a smile was such a rare sight on his face.

“It was agreeable.”

“Then what's the problem?” She traced two fingers up Goemon's arm, careful not to touch the bandages.

“That night, I let not only my body's but also my heart's desires lead me astray. It is shameful enough that I did it once, but considering the current circumstances, I have decided I do not wish to pursue something that can never reach full bloom.”

Should he ever grow tired of this type of work, she'd encourage him to become a poet.

“Is that your fancy way of telling me that you love me?”

Goemon lowered his head further. “Yes. But it won't have an effect on our work. I can keep it under control. It shall be a test of my character.”

“You and Jigen should both learn a lesson from Lupin. If you want something, there's nothing wrong with taking it. Isn't that what being a thief is all about, hm?”

“That isn't something one can directly translate into relationships.”

“Maybe not in general, but in this specific case, why not?” Fujiko's let her hand drop down to grab Goemon's. Being sensual was her thing, but she knew it'd only make him overheat. She wanted him able to talk.This was cute in small doses, but it was something she'd rather see him grow out of. “Why do you think I let it go that far? You don't have much to offer me, other than yourself.”

“That's rather blunt,” Goemon said, with more than just a hint of irritation in his voice.

“It's a compliment.” There was no shortage of men who wanted to sleep with her, many of them more skilled at it than Goemon. If that or money was all she was after, she wouldn't have given him a second glance.

“This doesn't have to be so difficult,” she continued. “There's no reason why two people shouldn't indulge in each other. It's not wrong. We haven't made any promises to anyone.”

It wasn't often that men loved her. They all said they did, but most of them just wanted to sleep with her. It was fine. She didn't love them either, and as long she walked away satisfied, what they really thought didn't matter.

She wondered if he was waiting for her to say that she loved him, too. It was a phrase she used so often that it had lost all meaning. A tool of her trade. She never said it to Lupin unless she wanted him to do something for her. There were other, far more meaningful ways to show how she felt.

But just as she was about to ask, Goemon spoke.

“I can't help but feel that I'm using you.”

Fujiko burst out laughing. She leaned against his arm and buried her face into his neck because she was sure that if she had to keep looking at that completely earnest expression on his face, she'd never stop. Out of all the possible things he could say!

“What's so funny?”

“Ask anyone, and they'll say I'm using you,” she said. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“It's perverse to entertain such thoughts about you when I cannot accept so many of your actions. If I truly loved you, shouldn't I be able to embrace your flaws as well? Who can say if what I see as love is only lust? It requires careful thought.”

“You've done enough thinking, silly. Come here.” She reached for his chin to turn his head her way and gave him a kiss, not much more than a peck to the lips. He let out a surprised sound but didn't resist when the next kiss was deeper and longer.

It was she who broke it, a fit of giggles threatening to take over.

“You're mocking me,” he remarked. He let out a sigh and got on his feet. There was a kettle in the tiny kitchen corner and he went to fill it.

“Sorry, I can't help it. It's been such a long time since any man who knows me at all said something like that.“

She walked over to where he was and leaned against the counter. “It's a pointless worry. Besides, I don't bother with mindless lackeys. If you never questioned what I do, I wouldn't give you the time of the day.”

It wasn't that Goemon was a challenge. Far from it. Things were straightforward and predictable with him, and as much as she liked to say she never wanted to have such elements in her life again, she appreciated having someone to lean on for those moments when things too hectic even for her.

She watched his back as he peered into the cupboards in search of something to put in the hot water and how his shoulders dropped in disappointment when there were only strawberry-flavoured teabags. She shouldn't take him for granted, she found herself thinking. She wouldn't always be able to kiss his distress away.

If something had happened to Jigen because she had kept Lupin and Goemon in the dark for too long, she was sure neither of them would have ever forgiven her. Any time she chose to deviate from their agreed plan or sell them out to the enemy for momentary gain, that was a risk she took.

It hadn't mattered much, once. She hadn't always thought of their group as something that she wanted to come back to. Not even Lupin had been more than a nuisance to suck dry and then crush under her heel at first. The world was full of people with heavy pockets and empty heads. Moving from one to another and never looking back was the simplest thing.

Except that it wasn't enough anymore. Fujiko frowned thoughtfully as she looked over the small room and imagined how things would have turned out if she hadn't had to change her plans, if she'd gone after the music box alone.

“There's only one mug,” Goemon informed her.

“Oh, right. Someone will have to go out and get some paper cups.”

“And better tea.” Goemon began to count with his fingers. “I don't think the food here will last long, either.”

“Hopefully we can get out of here before that's a problem. This place is going to get cramped when those two arrive. And we only have that one tiny bathroom. What a nightmare.”

Chapter Text

The heavy, dark clouds that hung over the city looked like it'd rain soon. Sitting on a park bench and fanning himself with a newspaper, Jigen welcomed the thought. His shirt was sticking to his back and he wanted to rip off the latex on his face that was making him look like he'd shaved. He was sure his usual dark suit would have boiled him to death. The thick smell of the greenery around him was nearly suffocating.

He wondered if Lupin and Fujiko had already joined up with Goemon. They'd left the airport before him, and he had no idea what route they'd taken. He'd arrived on a tourist bus, which had seemed bothersome and slow at first, but now he missed the AC. He didn't remember Croatia being this hot.

Lupin had loaned him enough money to get him through the day if he wanted to take his time, so he decided to buy something cold to drink and sit in the shade for a little longer. This could be the last chance he had to be by himself for the next few days, and he wanted to make the most of it.

He'd have liked nothing more than a beer, but that would have required walking somewhere to find a place that sold any. The farthest he could force himself at the moment was the little stand in the park that offered ice cream and soda. He grabbed a bottle of a local brand of coke and sauntered back to his bench under the tall elm tree.

It being only a little after noon on a normal Monday, he didn't have much company. A family with small children was feeding ducks by the pond to his right, a few elderly people were having a walk, and there were some people loitering about on the grass with books. It looked comfortable enough that he wished he had time for a nap.

Once this was all over, he wouldn't take another job for a damn month. He'd go somewhere with nice weather, good food and even better booze and spend his days playing pool and going to boxing matches – both to bet on them and to enjoy the view. Sports events where it wasn't weird to look had saved him from a lot of migraine when he'd been younger and more self-conscious.

Lupin had teased him about it many times. Jigen had always shrugged it off, figuring he was just joking to get a reaction out of him. He was usually quick to drop the issue, especially if Jigen pointed out that he never turned down an invitation. But that had been before all this. If they went to see a match together now, it'd take more to make him shut his mouth.

Perhaps he should take Goemon with him some time. As a warrior, he was one to appreciate well-trained bodies and any annoying comments he was likely to make would be about betting on someone who fought dirty.

Then again, he had new liberties to make Lupin quiet, and it'd be a fat lie if he said he wasn't looking forward to using some of them. Just not yet because they all had their hands full. But once things calmed down...

He smiled into his knuckles and let himself ride a rare wave of high spirits. He didn't want to get carried away, especially in the middle of a job, but it was hard not to feel like there was a spring in his step. Just a few days ago, he hadn't had even hope, only worry that he might lose what he'd learned to accept as all he could get.

He tossed the empty bottle into the trash can on the other side of the path and decided that it was time to drag himself to the address that Fujiko had given him. He had to make sure Goemon hadn't been hit too hard. The fool had too much pride for his own good and might downplay his injuries to look cool.

Fujiko's hideout was located in a nice part of town where the buildings looked like they couldn't be older than a few decades at most. There was none of the Mediterranean romanticism that appealed to Jigen's sense of nostalgia, but he guessed he could live without tiled roofs and narrow alleys for a while. Easier to stay professional when there were no old taverns to slip into.

The apartment was on the second floor. He knocked rather than using the doorbell, as Fujiko had told him, and the door was opened almost immediately. It was her, half-way in the process of fixing her face back to normal.

“Oh, it's you,” she said and returned to the bathroom.

“Lupin isn't here yet?”

“No, seems like he's taking the scenic route.”

“Hmph. Typical.” Jigen tore off his mask and tossed it away with a sigh of relief. He hated those things. His beard made wearing them itchy.

Then his eyes fell on Goemon who was sitting on the floor. Jigen smiled in greeting and was about to ask him how he was doing, but the look on Goemon's face made him swallow his words. He was staring at him in wonder like he'd never seen him before, but he quickly turned away once he realized he'd let it show.

Jigen flipped a cigarette between his lips and took another look around the room. No couch. His approval of the hideout dropped to zero. He sighed in resignation and turned back to Goemon.

“Hey, there. What's bugging you?” he asked.

Goemon's hand shot up to play with the bandage around his arm. “I'm fine. It's barely a scratch.”

“No, I meant...” He glanced towards the bathroom. The door was closed and there was the sound of running water. Even if she was listening, Fujiko probably wouldn't hear what they said. He took the cigarette from his mouth and offered it to Goemon. “You want a smoke?”

Goemon gave him an offended look. “You know I prefer a pipe.”

“You looked like you needed it,” Jigen said with a shrug.

“It's not that I'm troubled by anything. Quite the contrary. I'm glad to see you back.”

“Glad to be back. That was one hell of a mess.” Jigen sat down on the floor, crossed his legs and tried to get comfortable. He didn't know how Goemon could do this for hours and not have his feet fall asleep.

“You know,” he went on after a moment of silence passed between them, “I bet I can tell exactly what you're thinking right now.”

“You can?”

At first Jigen, was a little surprised by the alarmed tone of Goemon's voice, then he wanted to laugh. Maybe he actually thought he could read his mind. Goemon fell for the most idiotic tricks.

“Yeah, it's been all over your face ever since I walked in. You –”

“In that case, I apologize! I promise to keep my distance and not cause problems for you and Lupin.”

Jigen almost choked on his cigarette in surprise. He had figured that Goemon might already know since Fujiko had arrived before him, but he hadn't expected him to bring it up. It was better this way, he supposed, since it saved him the trouble of coming up with how to slip it into their conversation naturally.

“Uh, that's nice, but actually not what I had in mind.”

Goemon's face flushed the deepest shade of red that Jigen had ever seen on him, and he hastily lowered his head so that his hair hid most of his features from view.

“Ah. W-well, if that is so...”

“Hey, hey, don't go apologizing, okay? What you said... If you meant that you're going to stop pursuing Lupin, don't. If he's what you want, I'd feel like shit if you held back because of me.” Goemon already did more than his share of repressing himself. If it was about being into another man, Jigen wouldn't let him tie that noose around his heart.

He'd never be Lupin's one and only, but Goemon wouldn't be a problem. Heck, it wasn't even that bad of a thought, now that he considered it. But the further in the gutter he let his mind sink, the more he felt like a dirty old man, so he forced the images of the two away.

“That's not quite...” Goemon drifted off, remained silent for a few seconds, then straightened his form and brushed his hair back. “Never mind. What is it that you thought, then?”

“That you're blaming yourself for something that's not your fault. The whole mess with Vuković was my mistake, so don't go around thinking you've got something to make up for. I screwed up. Sorry for making you and Lupin worried.”

Goemon thought it over and nodded. “Alright. Let's forget about it and move forward from here.”

The sound of running water stopped. A moment later, Fujiko emerged from the bathroom, looking like herself once more. She'd taken a shower, dried her hair and changed into a sleeveless blouse and a long skirt, much more suitable for the hot weather than what she'd worn at the airport.

“I have your clothes in my bag if you want them,” she told Jigen.

He made a dismissive sound. He was in no hurry, especially if he had to go out again that day. Maybe it was because their enemies didn't usually take her seriously, but Fujiko had a much easier time blending in, even though she was as notorious as the rest of them. He was ready to bet that she could go out just like that, walk past Vuković's men, and the only thing that'd happen was that they'd whistle at her.

The small apartment was starting to feel stuffy. There was no air conditioning, but it was facing east, so it'd hopefully get a little cooler as the sun began setting. Fujiko went to open the window, but there was barely a breeze.

He noted the scrapes and bruises all over Goemon's body. It looked like he'd run through a rosebush, stumbled and rolled down a hill. If he was in any pain, he wasn't showing it. Jigen didn't know whether it was because of his training, or because he was still young. If it had been him, he was sure he would have kept a bottle by his side to dull the ache in his bones.

“So, what happened to your arm anyway?” he asked.

“Someone managed to get a shot at me in the dark. It's not serious.”

“Like hell it's not. Let me take a look.”

“Fujiko has already taken care of it.”

Jigen froze in the middle of reaching for Goemon's arm. He glanced at Fujiko, but she was doing something on her phone, or at least pretending so.

“Probably Jimmy's men. It's me he's after. Sorry that you had to deal with his goons.”

“It was inevitable.”

“Hm?”

“If he's after you, then he's my enemy. Simple as that.”

Jigen smiled around his cigarette and took his last drag before butting it out on the floor.

“Furthermore,” Goemon said, “I cannot forgive him for misleading me into thinking you were gone. I will assist you however you wish.”

“Thanks, but let's hope it doesn't get so serious that we need us both to take him down.” He didn't like involving the others too much when he had to deal with ghosts from home coming to haunt him. It always got messy.

“Why is that man after you?”

Jigen made a face. What a dumb question, especially coming from someone with a side job as an assassin. There weren't many reasons why someone would want to take revenge on a man with his past.

“I shot his kid brother.”

“Oh. Was it self-defence?”

“Does it matter?”

“I suppose not. I'd seek revenge in his place as well.”

“Yeah,” Jigen agreed. Even total scumbags had someone who cried for them. When he'd given up his life back home, he'd left behind a fair number of fatherless children who dreamed of killing him when they grew up.

“Not that I'll stay my hand when we face him.”

“Mmh. I'm not in a hurry to die.”

Fujiko snorted. “I hope not, after what I went through to save you.”

“Nobody asked you to do that.”

“And yet I did.”

Goemon looked at her, then at him. “Wouldn't we all risk everything for each other?”

Normally, Jigen would have had a snide comment ready. Actually, he had one even now, about money and backstabbing and never learning a lesson, but he couldn't bring himself to voice it. He was in no position to get petty.

“Guess we're in too deep,” he muttered.

“I love you, too,” Fujiko said.

Jigen let that go without a comment so that she wouldn't feel encouraged to tease him some more. He reached into the pocket of the jacket he'd been carrying over his arm the whole day.

“Hey, Goemon, I just remembered. I got you something at the airport.”

Goemon stared at the bag of candy that he pulled out with what looked like a worried frown.

“Am I a child to you?”

“Don't be so literal. Look, it's caramel.” Jigen tore the bag open and put it on the floor between them. Sweet things weren't for him, but he popped one into his mouth to give himself something to do.

It took less than a minute before Goemon reached for some as well.

“It's better than I expected, but not as good as daifuku.”

“You're just saying that because you can't admit that Japan isn't number one in everything.” Jigen took one piece of candy from the bag and threw it at Fujiko, who caught it without lifting her eyes from her phone.

“There's nothing but sugar in these,” she said. “Aren't your teeth rotten enough?”

“They're just fine!”

“I hope so. Otherwise I'll have to feel sorry for Lupin. Maybe I can give you a gift card to my dentist for your birthday.”

“Sure, and you can have a discount coupon for a liposuction.”

“Real funny. The difference is that I don't need that.” Fujiko unwrapped the piece of candy and tossed it into her mouth as an act of rebellion.

“I wonder what's taking Lupin so long,” Goemon said.

That was obvious enough, Jigen guessed. “He's probably off scheming something behind our backs so that he'll have a few aces up his sleeve later.”

Fujiko sighed. “Well, I'm not going to let him have all the fun. I think I have a pretty good idea where he might have gone. I'll go and tail him, and you two can go do some shopping. We need more food and maybe sleeping bags if we're all going to stay here.”

“And tea and toilet paper. Also, some effective laundry detergent because water wasn't enough to get the blood off my clothes,” Goemon said. He thought it over for a moment and went on, “In addition, I tore up my hakama for make-shift bandages, so I require something to wear.”

“Sheesh, the two of us aren't enough to carry all this stuff. Do we still have that car?” Jigen asked.

“I left it near the villa.”

A lost cause, then. So was everything that they had at the apartment where they'd been staying at first. All their clothes, most of his bullets and gun parts, Lupin's gadgets, everything. There was no going back there because if one place in the city was going to be under constant surveillance, it was that. He hoped Lupin knew someone who sold ammunition and wasn't too interested in permits.

***

Going to the police station to contact their lost and found service wasn't perhaps the smartest move when both the underworld and every officer in the city were after them, but Lupin had never been able to resist a good thrill.

He'd bought nice stockings, heels and a designer dress at the tax-free shops before getting on his flight in Italy. Once in Crna Stina, he'd entered a public toilet and combined his new acquisitions with the make-up, some silicone and a wig he always travelled with and walked out with a nice look, even if he said so himself. Nobody would ever suspect that the busty, blonde tourist asking about her lost bracelet was actually him.

Well, maybe Zenigata might have guessed something was off, but Lupin was sure he could fool him long enough to make it safely out before everything clicked into place. If he could get his hands on the good inspector, that was.

“I think I spoke on the phone with someone else,” he said when the man behind the desk explained to him once again that no item matching his description had been turned in. “Do you have any foreign officers here? Like, interns? We had some trouble communicating, but he said my bracelet was here. Maybe he reserved it for me and that's why you can't find it. Please get him.”

It took a few more rounds of arguing before the officer grew tired and realized that the only way to go on his coffee break was to give this woman what she wanted. Lupin tried not to grin as he was being led to Zenigata's work station and saw it overflowing with scribbled notes, folders, empty coffee cups and snack wrappers. He wondered if poor Pops even knew how to use a laptop or a tablet. Maybe he should teach him one day.

“There's someone here for you,” the officer said.

“Unless it's Lupin, it can wait. I'm busy.”

“My bracelet is the most important matter at hand!”

His outburst made Zenigata lift his head from his work and see him for the first time. For a brief moment, his eyes widened in surprise – Lupin was willing to bet he didn't get to see such gorgeous chicks up close very often – but then he was back to basics.

“Did Lupin steal your bracelet, madam?”

“No. And it's miss. Madam sounds so old! May I sit down?” Lupin glared meaningfully at the officer who'd brought him in until he snapped into action and offered him a chair. The man excused himself right after, leaving Lupin alone with Zenigata.

“Look, I'm sure that whatever this is is important to you, but I'm in the middle of a case here, and I didn't come to this country to look for missing trinkets. I have a heinous villain to arrest.”

“This Lupin character you mentioned?”

“You needn't concern yourself with the likes of him. He's the kind of man who'll steal both your valuables and your heart, and you'll never have either back.”

That was a nice way to put it. Who'd have thought that Zenigata had such words for him? If he wasn't in such a hurry, he would have tried to fish for more.

“Oh, he sounds absolutely dashing! I bet he's even more handsome than you!”

“Hm?”

“This Lupin. But I'm sure such a competent inspector will have no problems catching him soon.”

Praise from a beautiful woman always went to Zenigata's head faster than good alcohol. He blushed and nearly knocked over his coffee mug in an attempt to busy his hands with something.

“Um... Well... It's not that you're wrong, miss, but what exactly do you want? I know nothing about your bracelet.”

Lupin crossed his legs so that Zenigata could see a flash of his thigh and then reached inside his purse to grab a business card. He placed it on the desk and slid it closer.

“I just wanted to make sure the best man is on the case. Who knows, maybe this Lupin took my bracelet after all. If you find it, please call this number,” he said.

“I really don't think so...” Zenigata said, but he took the card anyway and looked at it sceptically.

There was a secret to the card, but it wasn't the right time yet. As long as Zenigata kept it on him, everything would go exactly according to plan. To ensure that, he'd put in a clue that would tell him who had really given it to him. Once he knew it was relevant to his case, Zenigata would sleep with the card under his pillow.

“And if you don't find it, feel free to call me anyway. I like men who work hard.”

“Miss! This is getting highly inappropriate! I'll keep your card in case I hear anything about your bracelet, but only for that. Now, if you have no other official business, I must ask you to leave.”

“Of course. You have to catch your dastardly criminal!”

It was hard to suppress a giggle as he got up to leave. Poor Pops. He'd jump at least two months closer to retirement once he found out that he'd had him right there in front of his desk at a crowded police station. The temptation to stay a little longer to keep playing with him was strong, but he'd finished what he'd come to do.

“One moment, miss.”

“Hm?”

Lupin turned to look over his shoulder. Zenigata was still holding the card and glaring at it with such intense eyes that it was a wonder it didn't suddenly catch fire.

“Something the matter, Inspector?”

“This card...”

Lupin didn't think he'd done too shady of a job with it. Nothing glaringly obvious like decorating it with lupines or wolves. As much as he had wanted, he hadn't chosen April Unseen as his fake name. He didn't want to insult Zenigata that badly.

“The card says your name is Elena Hunter, and you have a Los Angeles e-mail address. So, why is it that there's an Italian coat of arms here?”

“That? Oh, I... married and moved to America, but I'm still proud of my roots, you know? Especially when you're so far away, you can't cut your ties to home.”

Zenigata gave him a disapproving look. “You're married.”

Aw, shit, now all that lovely flirting made him look bad.

“My husband is dead. That's why I'm here. Visiting some cousins in Crna Stina. It's hard being recently widowed,” Lupin said, turning his face away but not so quickly that Zenigata wouldn't see the tears in his eyes. There, that should pull straight at his heartstrings and win him some sympathy points.

“Oh! Ah, I'm sorry.”

Now Zenigata looked embarrassed, the poor thing. Lupin hid a smirk in his hand by pretending that it was a small sob and continued on his way out. He was already half-way out the door when Zenigata spoke again.

“I'm sorry if this is insensitive, but you said you're a miss. But even if your husband has passed away, shouldn't you still...” Zenigata's eyes widened, and he climbed over his desk and pushed his coffee mug to the floor.

“Let me check something real quick!” he bellowed.

“Pops, that's an incredibly sexist and old-fashioned way of thinking!” Lupin slipped out of the room and pulled the door shut just in time for Zenigata to crash against it face first in pursuit.

The eyes of all the officers in the hallway were on him. No use for any pretence anymore. He gave them a charming grin and started running towards the closest exit before any of them figured out they were supposed to catch him.

The door behind him opened and Zenigata stumbled out.

“Stop that woman! She's Lupin!”

“Hey! I was nice enough to come and visit! Be a little more hospitable!”

At once, everyone at the station was moving. Lupin had to dive under the arms of an officer who came to grab him, nearly twisting his ankle – curse high heels! – and shoved another one at the water fountain. It fell over and splashed its contents all over the floor, but that only gave him about a second of extra time before everyone's attention was back on him.

“Kostov! Don't let him escape!”

There was a blond man in his path, but it took him a moment to react to the words Zenigata yelled at him. Lupin dismissed him as a rookie or a particularly slow type. It was the same guy whose place he'd taken when he'd come to steal Jigen's hat, and he'd been easy to fool back then, too. He was already past him when the man finally moved and reached for him.

He shouldn't have been able to grab him. Lupin prided himself on being fast and slippery, and no normal cop had the skills to keep up with him. That was why he was so surprised when he felt a hand around his arm, even more so once he realized that it wasn't that easy to wriggle free.

Huh, just proved that appearances could be deceiving. He'd taken this Kostov guy for a softie.

Thankfully, he never showed up at a police station without a few tricks in case of situations exactly like this. He reached into his purse, pulled out a smoke bomb and smashed it at Kostov's feet. Instantly, the room was filled with a nasty stench that burned the throat and eyes, so Lupin made sure not to breathe it in as he dashed away from the now useless officers.

He pressed a hand against his nose and mouth to keep himself for laughing. The oldest trick in the book, and it worked every time. He made it to the front doors and rushed out, allowing himself that chortle only when there was enough fresh air.

“Not so fast!”

Aw, damn. Zenigata was still up. Well, Lupin guessed it had been naïve to expect him to go down with the others when he'd just used the same kind of smoke bomb on him a couple of days before.

“Give me a break, Pops! I came to do you a favor, honest!”

“The only favor I need from you is for you to give me your wrists so that I can arrest you!” Zenigata already had his handcuffs out, but unlike usual, he wasn't making a move to get any closer, not even when Lupin took one step backwards on the stairs.

“What?” Lupin asked, then struck a pose for him. “Shocked by how good I look in this dress?”

“Goemon told me that Jigen is alive. Is it true?”

“Oh, he did? I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Such an honest guy. But yeah, it's true.” Lupin couldn't help but smile, a toothy grin that probably didn't look very attractive with his current get-up, but there was no holding it back. The last time he'd seen Zenigata, he'd been exhausted, the implications of his phone call and the hat threatening to pull him into dark waters from which it would have been tough to struggle back up.

Now, he could have kissed him. Zenigata had given him information even though it could have gotten him into trouble. He'd been there even before that, when he and Goemon had been wreaking havoc all over the city. His presence had been one of the factors that had stopped him from crossing a line that he would have regretted now.

When there was a better time, he'd treat him to a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, probably in disguise because otherwise Zenigata wouldn't accept it. But for now, he could do him a favor that was beneficial to them both.

Relief brightened Zenigatas's face. “Good! Then I don't have to feel bad about taking you in!”

“Sorry, I don't have time to stay longer. Some other time! Bye, bye!”

He'd come prepared for a chase, so the smoke bombs weren't the only ace he had. He'd rented a car on the way, a sleek, little green thing that wasn't the fastest around but could get into narrow alleys where squad cars didn't fit. He jumped into the car, slammed the door shut and waved at Zenigata as he turned the key and got the engine to purr.

It was a given that Zenigata would follow him with every available officer and police vehicle, so as soon as he was a safe distance away from the station, Lupin ditched the car and slipped into the crowd, as if he was just another woman having a nice day in the city. He smiled at his reflection in the window of a bookstore. There, one stage of his plan complete.

He turned away from the window, and just then he felt someone catch his arm. Startled that he'd been found that quickly, he reached for another smoke bomb, but his purse was snatched from him before he had the chance.

“None of those smelly things here.”

Surprise and relief made him let out half a laugh. “Fujiko! Don't scare me like that! We've got bad guys after us, and I just came from the police station!”

“I know. I saw you go in.”

“How did you find me here this quickly?”

Fujiko shrugged and flipped a strand of hair behind her shoulder, looking pleased with herself. “I didn't. I broke into your car and hid in the back seat while you were at the station. Don't be careless like that. What if I'd been one of Vuković's men?”

Lupin opened his mouth to say something, but he was out of words. He hadn't checked the car, sure, but he'd had no reasons to believe that anyone would see through his disguise and ambush him like that. He suddenly felt a little less proud of his handiwork and crossed his arms on his chest with a pout.

“Okay, okay, but how did you know I'd be at the station?”

“Where else? When you didn't show up at the agreed place, we knew you were plotting something. Of course it'd have something to do with Zenigata, so I came to check.”

“What about Jigen and Goemon?”

“I sent them shopping. And don't change the subject. What did you want with Zenigata?”

“Just to say hello and thank him for the tip he gave me about Jigen.”

Fujiko smirked and shook her head. “Please. I'm not dumb. What are you planning?”

Well, there was no use trying to deceive her, but that didn't mean he'd just cough up all his secrets.

“Why don't we discuss that over coffee? Hey, why not make it a date? We're both all dolled up!”

Fujiko pursed her lips as if to give it some thought, then slipped her arm through his and began to lead him down the street. Lupin grinned in victory and pressed himself against her to let everyone know this wasn't just two friends taking a walk.

“Do you have to be so clingy?”

“It's been a while since I had you all to myself.”

“Well, you could have had me last night, remember?”

Lupin only smiled at her. He knew she wasn't upset. She just wanted to remind him that whatever choices he made had consequences and she wouldn't wait patiently on the side for him to have time for her. If their needs didn't meet in the right time and place, there'd be nothing. Good thing he had something she wanted, and she had something he wanted right now.

They found a small café and took a seat at one of the tables outside. Lupin would have preferred a solitary corner inside where nobody would see him sneak a hand up Fujiko's skirt, but as she pointed out, if they had to run, it was better if they weren't in an enclosed space.

They ordered coffee and two slices of carrot cake.

“So, why did you go see him?” Fujiko asked.

“Call it insurance. It's good to have back-up, just in case.”

“Did you bug the station?”

Lupin let out a thoughtful hum and put a piece of cake into his mouth. Sure, he'd fixed the card with a chip that let him listen in on whatever was going on around Zenigata if he wanted to, but that was just routine. If Fujiko wanted to know more, she'd have to dig deeper.

She let out a long sigh. “Is it going to be the same thing as always? Are you going to lure him after us to take care of clean-up duty after we're done?”

“You make it sound like it's a bad thing!”

“No, but it's boring. And it'll make getting away with the treasure more difficult.”

“There's nothing boring about what I've planned. It's not just the treasure I want. I need to get back at those guys for what they did to Jigen.”

A doubtful look entered Fujiko's eyes, and she straightened her back so that she was no longer leaning her elbows on the table.

“I'm not interested in revenge,” she announced. “If you're going to make this more complicated than it needs to be to satisfy some primal thirst for vengeance, count me out. I just want to do business. You boys can play your stupid games without me.”

“Hey, don't give me the cold shoulder! The treasure's not in danger, I promise. Just... look, I can't let this go. Otherwise there's going to be a line of guys with a grudge coming after us, and not just because of Jigen. We all have people out there we've crossed.”

“They'll come after us anyway.”

“I know. But if I can convince even one not to by being hard on these guys, it'll be worth it. I'm not going through something like this a second time, Fujiko. Not with any of you.”

She pursed her lips, then sighed. “Fine, do whatever you want. But it had better not cost us the treasure, or I won't forgive you, okay?”

“I'll try to keep that in mind.”

“Let's go back and take a look at the music box,” Fujiko suggested, leaning over the table. She placed a hand on his arm and her let fingers travel down towards his elbow. He enjoyed her touch for a moment, then grabbed her hand before she reached his purse.

“The key isn't there,” he said.

“Hmph. Worth a try.”

He didn't think she was really after the key, not at this point. It served her much better if they unlocked the box and found the treasure together. If she was going to make a move, it'd be then. Now, she was only teasing. It was what she did best.

“If you're going to stab me in the back, put a bit more effort and style into it,” he said and kissed the back of her hand.

Fujiko pulled her hand back and flipped him on the nose, hard enough to make him yelp. “Don't get cocky. You aren't the only one who can weave a secret plan B. If you won't tell me yours, I won't tell you mine.”

Fair enough. Lupin was sure she wouldn't have given him all the details anyway. Women always had to have secrets. Besides, he'd already gotten what he'd come for, a chance to have coffee with her and look at her. He hoped he could have more once the heist was over and everyone had their pockets full and was in a good mood.

He was about to say as much, but a loud rumble from above caught his attention. He looked up and saw that what had been a layer of gray had turned aggressively dark. Fat, bulky clouds looked ready to roll over the city.

“Guess we should go, Fuji-cakes. I don't want my mascara to run,” he said.

***

“Just our damn luck.”

Goemon didn't reply. It was his fault they were stuck at a desolate bus stop while the rain came pouring down around them. Such a thing wouldn't have been a problem otherwise, but all their groceries were in paper bags because he'd insisted that it was friendlier to the environment. If they got wet, everything would fall to the street.

He sat down on the bench and closed his eyes. The roar of the rain was so strong that it was easy to get lost in it and ignore everything else. It wasn't the wisest action to choose as they were wanted men, but he trusted Jigen to be vigilant enough for them both.

Goemon didn't feel comfortable in his clothes. He'd borrowed Jigen's shirt and dress pants so that he wouldn't stand out. They were new. Apparently, Fujiko had bought them for him only a day before. And yet he could have sworn that Jigen had worn them for a week, the smell of cigarettes and cologne threatening to shut down his lungs. Not because he hated it, but because it was too much of him, much too close. Every breath made his mind tumble down a hill of forbidden thoughts and desires that he should have been able to control.

He couldn't believe how pathetic he was.

There was a sigh, and he felt Jigen take a seat by his side.

“I'm sorry,” Goemon said.

“Never mind. It can't rain like this for long. Give it five minutes, and I bet it'll stop.”

“It's not that.”

“Hm?”

Goemon wasn't sure if he wanted to do this. His decision not to say anything had been firm that very morning, had grown even more resolute after Fujiko's visit, and now only a few hours with Jigen were threatening to turn his determination to dust. It made him angry at himself to see how much he still had to learn and grow.

There was nothing to be gained by saying anything. Life was settling back to how it was supposed to be. At the very least, he shouldn't say it now when they had their hands full with the heist and didn't need any added distractions.

And yet he found himself playing with the words on his tongue. Lupin knew. Fujiko knew. Everything that had gone wrong had happened because they'd kept secrets from Jigen. Whatever the consequences, would it not be better to get it out of the way when he had a chance? He didn't want to spend another night holding back his tears and regretting something he hadn't done.

“I must apologize for being a coward earlier.”

“Huh? You mean that chili sauce you didn't want me to buy? Was probably a good call.”

“No,” Goemon said in irritation. “I mean even earlier than that. When we were talking about you and Lupin.”

“Ah. What of it?” Jigen sounded hesitant, so Goemon opened his eyes to stop hiding. Jigen had no hat to cover his face with, so it was only fair that he got out of his comfort zone as well.

“I should have said something else then, just like I should have chosen my words better that night when all this started. But I'm afraid I'm not very skilled at expressing myself.”

“You don't have to apologize for that. That's just you being you.”

That was when Goemon realized that Jigen had no idea what he was trying to get at. The way he was talking to him, the encouraging half-smile on his face... Goemon wasn't very familiar with fatherly affection, but he was sure it was supposed to look something like that.

It made him feel like a complete fool. He had been preparing himself for rejection ever since he'd realized what he wanted, but he didn't know if he could take it if the reason was that Jigen thought of him as a boy. He was only half his age, give or take a few years. When he'd been born, Jigen had already been making a name for himself as a hitman. It wouldn't be any wonder if he saw his feelings as a silly infatuation or misread respect.

Lupin and Fujiko were also older than him, but not so much that they could be his parents. He'd never thought that age was anything but a number, but he'd fallen into the pitfall of not understanding how other people worked too many times to trust only his own judgement.

“What's wrong?” Jigen asked. He set aside the bag of groceries in his arms so that he could better turn towards him.

“In hindsight, you never answered my question from earlier. Why did you bring me candy?”

“Huh? I thought you'd like it.” Jigen scratched his beard in confusion. He hadn't bothered hiding it when they went shopping. The enemy couldn't be watching every spot in the city, and without his trademark clothes and with his hair pulled back, Jigen didn't look much like himself. It was good to be careful, but they had no need for paranoia.

“I did. It's just...” To be fair, he'd also offered him a smoke, so maybe it wasn't as bad as he thought. “You see me as a man, don't you?”

“Well, yeah. Last I checked, you aren't a woman.”

“In that case, if I expressed interest in getting intimate with you, would you turn me down because you don't share that desire, not because you think I'm too young?”

Jigen let out a croak. Goemon turned to look at the rain and the water that was running down the street as the drains couldn't gulp it all down quickly enough. He needed an answer, he realized. It didn't matter what it was. He'd walk onwards and make the best of it. There was no growth without pain, so even if he received an answer he didn't like, it'd be alright.

He heard nothing from Jigen. Even that was an answer, he supposed.

Finally, Jigen cleared his throat. “Are you serious?”

“Would I joke about this?”

“Guess you wouldn't joke about anything,” Jigen muttered. He put his hands on his knees, found it wasn't good and started digging through his pockets for cigarettes, only to remember that he was out of them and the new pack was somewhere among the groceries.

For a moment, Goemon watched him search aimlessly in the bag by his side. Then he reached into the one he was carrying and pulled out the cigarettes.

“We put them in this one,” he said and handed them over.

“Right.” Jigen took the pack and began to tear it open. Having something familiar to do seemed to help him relax, and he went on, “To be honest, I don't know what to say. Why on earth would you think of me like that?”

Why not, Goemon wanted to ask. What was there not to love about a man who was so loyal to those he cared about, so true to his ideals, ready to sacrifice so much when he thought the cause was worthy, and hadn't lost all that despite living most of his life in darkness and having so much blood on his hands? Fujiko said he was pigheaded and old-fashioned, but Goemon couldn't agree that they were entirely negative qualities.

It had been pure admiration at first, he was sure. Jigen was amazing at what he did, and not because his gun was somehow the best in the world. It was skill and years of experience. Goemon sometimes doubted himself and wondered if he deserved to carry the Zantetsuken at such a young age, whether he wasn't just a foolish novice who'd gotten lucky with a sword beyond his abilities. He wanted to be like him, learn from him, have him say that he'd rather have nobody else by his side in battle.

But he voiced none of that. No need to embarrass himself when it was becoming clear that it wasn't something that Jigen wanted to hear. Not from him.

“Then, it's safe to assume that you've never thought of me in such light?” he asked.

“Ah, well... It's not really...”

“There's no need to be vague about it to protect my feelings. I'll see it as an insult.”

Jigen took a long drag out of his cigarette and blew out the smoke, slowly, watching it grow thinner.

“Don't you think it'd be gross? An old guy like me, having thoughts like that?”

“Why would I bring it up if that was how I felt?” It hadn't even crossed his mind. He let his eyes wander over Jigen and tried to find something that he was supposed to see as disgusting. He liked the hair on the back of his palms, the lazy line of his back as he leaned against the bench and how he kept one hand close to where his gun was. Goemon wanted to see more, not less.

“And won't you have your hands full with Lupin and Fujiko? What makes you suddenly want even more?” Jigen asked.

“This isn't sudden.” Goemon breathed in and pulled all his hair over his right shoulder. He could play cool for a little longer. Get this all out, face the consequences, and meditate to learn from them. “I've thought about you like this for long. All three of you. I wasn't going to say anything because I thought you'd see me as perverse, but then Lupin and Fujiko...”

“You told me that was a mistake.”

“The only mistake that night was that you weren't there.”

He heard Jigen take in a gulp of air. “I had no idea you could be that direct,” he muttered into his cigarette.

“The past two weeks have taught me it's the only way not to have regrets. I'd rather suffer through some embarrassment and clumsy words than mourn something that never had a chance because I was too afraid.”

There were many responses that he considered plausible, but the one he got wasn't among them. After staring at him for a split second, brows raised in surprise, Jigen started to laugh. They were cheerless chortles that sounded like they were in danger of getting stuck somewhere in his throat. Goemon didn't get the feeling he was laughing at him.

“What is it?” he asked.

“That's real funny,” Jigen said. He tried to get another drag out of his cigarette but ended up coughing when his laughter got in the way. “That you fear I'll see you as a child when you've already figured out something like that. Do you think I walked up to Lupin and told him what I wanted? Ha! He and Fujiko had to roast it out of me.”

“Ah, well...”

Jigen waved at him not to bother. “Never mind. Let's not talk about them. You wanted to know if I've ever thought about you the same way.”

“Yes.”

“Of course I have. You're a good-looking guy. But honestly, I've never allowed myself to imagine it'd go anywhere. I didn't think you'd be interested, and I didn't want to feel like a creep.”

“But –”

“And, look, the idea of sleeping with a guy one night and then going to someone else's bed the other isn't news to me, but I don't know if I could try something serious with more than one person at the same time.” Jigen scratched his head and shot him an apologetic look from under his hair. “I guess I'm the odd one out, huh? Sorry.”

“No, don't apologize. This is the answer I was expecting. Thank you for being honest with me.” Goemon bowed his head, grateful for his training that made it possible for him to speak without stuttering. He'd expected this, yes, but that did little to numb the disappointment and heartbreak.

“Sorry,” Jigen muttered again, turning to look away. “It's not that there's anything wrong with you, you know. I just don't –”

“You don't have to explain anything.” Goemon was sure he could guess what Jigen would say. He'd seen it the romantic dramas that he sometimes marathoned when he had questions about relationships. It was always the same.

It's not you, it's me. You're wonderful and will make someone else very happy one day.

He didn't want words like that directed at him. Not from someone who meant so much to him.

Relax, he told himself. He should be able to make his heart stop throbbing in his ears with sheer will power. He had no reason to complain. Fujiko had accepted him. Lupin... He didn't know where he stood with him, but he had a good feeling. This was no tragedy. Every main character who'd ever been rejected said that it made them a stronger person in the end.

Goemon cleared his throat. “One more thing.”

“Yeah?”

“I don't want you to think that you have to act neutral towards Lupin in my presence to preserve my feelings. Your happiness doesn't offend me.”

“Goddammit,” Jigen said. “You could act a little more pissed off at me. I'm starting to feel like total crap.”

Goemon cocked his head. “I believe this is the mature way to react.”

“To hell with what you believe! I know more about getting turned down than you ever will. If you don't drink or fight it out of you, it'll bug you much longer than it needs to. I know I've got no right to tell you what to do when it's my fault –”

“No, it's not. It's –”

“Shut it. Come over here.” Jigen moved aside the bag of groceries between them and took its place. He brought up his arm to wrap it around Goemon's shoulders, and at first Goemon didn't know if he wanted that or if he should push him away. Having him that close might be nothing but salt in his wounds. But then he thought of how many times he'd seen Jigen do the same to Lupin after he'd had no luck with some woman. It must have chafed him, but it was what friends did.

With that realization, he flung himself at Jigen and clung to him, not caring that he'd feel foolish later. Jigen didn't love him the way he wished, but they were friends, brothers in arms. He wanted him to know that they could still talk like usual, drink together, spend hours in comfortable silence on a stake-out. This wasn't going to ruin anything.

“I'll buy you a drink when this is all over,” Jigen muttered against his ear.

“I'll kill that man for you.”

Jigen's laughter shook them both. “You know how to butter up a guy. Sure, the honor is yours.”

The one who let go first was Goemon. He coughed into his hand and searched his mind for something to say, but then he decided that the shade of his face probably said more than enough about how he was feeling. He took a deep breath, then another.

“We should return to the others,” he said.

“It's still raining. Maybe I should run back to the store and grab some plastic bags. You can wait here with our things.”

Goemon agreed with a nod and watched Jigen take off and how he tried in vain to avoid the biggest puddles to protect his shoes. When he was out of sight, Goemon leaned against the backrest of the bench, uncharacteristically listless.

So much for that, he thought, running both hands through his hair. The disappointment was still burning in his chest, making him feel that his lungs weren't big enough for the breaths he needed to take. It was tempting to throw himself into self-pity and begin wondering what about him wasn't good enough, why Jigen didn't see him the same way. But he couldn't go down that path. He knew what he'd find there.

Goemon suspected he had volunteered to go so that he could give him some time alone. It would be at least twenty minutes before he came back. It was more than enough for him to pull the collar of Jigen's shirt up to his face and cry.

Chapter Text

In the end, they didn't catch Lupin. They returned to the station several hours later, cold, drenched and in low spirits. Zenigata grimaced as he sat down behind his desk and his wet underwear clung to his butt. He'd been running around the streets and alleys of the city non-stop until he had had to admit that Lupin had probably crawled into his hideout to get away from the rain as soon as it had started.

He sneezed violently and reached into his pocket for a tissue, but it was too soggy to be of any use.

“Bless you,” Kostov said and placed a mug of hot coffee in front of him. Zenigata wrapped his fingers around it for a few seconds until the burn turned from pleasant to painful.

“Thank you,” he muttered. Kostov had accompanied him on the chase, along with a large number of officers, but he'd been wise enough to stay in the car when the rain had started pouring down for real.

He glanced at Lupin's business card that was on his desk. It was a good thing he'd left it behind, or it would have no doubt gotten ruined in the terrible weather. Lupin had come to see him just to hand him that card, so there had to be something to it.

“I'm sorry I let him go,” Kostov said.

“What?”

“In the hallway. I almost had him, but then poof!” Kostov emphasized his words by opening both his fists before him like he was throwing around fairy dust. “I've never had a smoke bomb thrown at me before!”

“Well, now you have a cool story to tell your kids.”

Kostov chuckled and brought up a hand to suppress a yawn. When he'd come to work in the morning, he'd told them he'd spent most of the night driving back from visiting his family over the weekend and hadn't gotten much sleep. Zenigata hoped he'd get everything sorted out and that his wife and sons could move to Crna Stina soon. It had to be draining to live separated from them.

He could still remember how, some time after his divorce, he had often found himself feeling guilty that he'd once again worked until the early hours of the morning. Then he'd remembered that there was no longer anyone waiting for him. Though he'd made sure to arrange everything in his wife and daughter's favor, it had taken a long time before he'd stopped feeling like a failure.

“Where's Novak?” he asked. She'd taken part in the chase as well, but he hadn't seen her since they'd given up and returned to the station.

“Went to change. She was crazy enough to go knee-deep into the river just to check something suspicious. And then it turned out to be a bag of trash.”

“And you stayed behind in the car.”

Kostov's sheepish grin told him that at least he had the sense to feel ashamed of himself. Good. Zenigata wasn't in the mood for tearing into anyone, especially after he'd had Lupin right here in front of his desk and hadn't figured him out until he'd had time to make a complete fool of him.

But at least he now knew that everything was back to normal. Lupin wouldn't have come prancing around in drag if Jigen was dead or still missing. He was sure he could breathe a little easier from now on and not fear that the next piece of news they got was that civilians had gotten killed in Lupin's attacks.

He sneezed again and started peeling his coat off his shoulders. He wasn't quite so drenched under it, and the coffee helped him warm up. By the time Novak entered the room, wearing a dark sweater she'd clearly borrowed from one of the male officers, he was starting to feel that he might manage without dropping to his hotel for a change.

“Any news on Lupin?” she asked.

“Nothing. We lost him.”

She groaned a slumped into a chair. “Perfect. Our first lead in days, and... What was he even doing here?”

“He came to give me this.” Zenigata pushed the business card over the desk for her to look at.

Novak took it into her hand and turned it over a few times. “Is the contact info here relevant?”

“I doubt it.”

“Then he's just playing with us?” Kostov asked.

“If he just wanted to play with me, he'd.... do something else,” Zenigata said, though he supposed the disguise Lupin had chosen might be reason enough for the thief to show up. If they weren't in the middle of a case that had given Lupin such a personal wound, he might have considered the possibility that he was just messing with him. But no. There had to be some meaning to this.

“This coat of arms is wrong,” Novak said.

“What?”

“Look, this is clearly St. Mark's Lion. It's a symbol that's usually associated with Venice.”

“Yes?” Zenigata had recognised the lion as something he'd often seen in Italian contexts, but he'd been unable to name any specific place.

Novak turned the card over so that he could look at it. “The lion is holding a book. And what does it say?”

“Sub Rosā,” Zenigata said, leaning closer. He didn't know Latin, but this was simple enough. His eyes moved to the large, red rose that dominated the center of the image. He'd thought it a little strange, but heraldry wasn't his field.

He took the card back and began poking at the rose, and he immediately realized it was possible to peel it off to see what was underneath, like a sticker. He did so, but what he found didn't make him much wiser.

“There's an angel,” he said.

“Let me see!” Novak snatched the card back. Her eyes widened in recognition and excitement. “I can't believe I didn't see it right away.”

“What?”

“The rose fooled me. It was too flashy. But like this, this is the De Angelis family coat of arms, apart from the text on the book. Let me show you,” she said and dug into her pocket to get out her phone. A moment later, she had pulled up a coat of arms that was exactly like the one on Lupin's card.

She was right. Zenigata had done some research into the De Angelis once it had become clear that they had to be involved somehow. They were originally an old Venetian family but had moved to what was now Croatia during the Middle Ages, then back to Italy after the first World War. Novak had told him they had little influence in Crna Stina now, but their name kept coming up in history, and they still owed some property both in the city and outside it.

It was no good as evidence, but Lupin's card was another sign that something was up with the family. He'd have to contact a colleague in Italy and request some information, but Novak's theory that the De Angelis were the real power and money behind Vuković's criminal activities was his number one bet.

“Then this is –” he started, but he was cut off by Kostov who was looking at them in confusion.

“What's going on?”

Right, they hadn't given him all the details. The station wasn't the best place to do so as there was no telling who might be listening to them. At this point, it was a given that at least part of the police force was corrupt, so they were currently on enemy territory.

He exchanged a glance with Novak. Good. They were on the same page.

“Probably nothing,” he said. He took the card back from Novak and slipped it into his wallet, into one of the slits that most people had filled with credit, membership and discount cards. He had little more than a driver's licence, an old Japanese library card that probably wasn't valid anymore, and some photos of Toshiko and Lupin.

“But –”

“You were right. He's just messing with us. Let's fill in the paperwork and start figuring out our next move,” Zenigata said. He hoped Kostov had the brains not to argue. He'd tell him everything later, but they had no reason to leave the station when they'd just come back after the failed Lupin chase. Someone would get suspicious.

The next two hours went by quickly. He had to explain himself to the chief who was upset that Lupin had been right there and they'd failed to capture him, then report to his superiors and get another dressing-down, and there was even some time to get started on writing a detailed report on what his next step would be. Normally he found this type of work frustrating as every minute he spent in front of a monitor was a minute he wasn't chasing Lupin, but it served as a logical distraction this time.

“Hey, Kostov,” he said once the evening was drawing nearer. “I don't think I'm going back to the hotel tonight. Will you come and get some take-out with me?”

“What? Oh, sure! How about that Indian place I've told you about?”

Anything was fine as long as it gave them a reason to leave. Zenigata grabbed his coat that was still nowhere near to being dry and shuddered at its cold, wet weight on his shoulders.

“Wait. My wife's calling. I'll take this and then we can go,” Kostov said. He greeted her with a happy string of Croatian and left the office to get some privacy.

Zenigata went ahead to wait for him outside. The rain had turned into a drizzle, but it was too long to walk to the restaurant Kostov had picked. They'd have to take a car.

“Sorry for the wait!” Kostov said a moment later as he stepped outside, throwing his car keys up and down in his hand. “One of the boys came down with a fever, and Ana wanted to let me know.”

“That's fine,” Zenigata said. But when Kostov left him alone again for a moment to get his car, his thoughts turned grim. Was it really a good idea to pull Kostov into this? He and Novak were already bending rules by contacting the people who'd been laid off or pushed aside for getting too close to Vuković, and it'd only get more serious from here. Getting Kostov involved when he had a wife and two young children made him feel a little rotten.

Novak was all for more support, but Zenigata knew how much Kostov had to lose. And what his family would lose if he became a casualty in a conflict between Lupin and the underworld.

Kostov brought over his car, and Zenigata got onto the passenger seat. It was a very tidy car, he noted, with no trash or personal items lying around. Kostov's desk was very much like it.

“Ah... Is this real leather? Maybe I shouldn't sit on it when my clothes are still –”

Kostov cut him off with a casual wave. “It's alright, Inspector. I don't mind.”

They drove in silence for a moment. The rain on the side windows made Zenigata's view of the city a blur, so he didn't bother trying to distract himself with looking outside. The regular squeak of the windshield wipers was the only sound in the car.

“You know... There's something I should ask you, but whatever answer you give me, this needs to stay between us.”

“That's very ominous, Inspector.”

“It's a serious matter. Also know that you can say no to me at any point if you don't want to hear more. Getting involved in this will no doubt land you in trouble, and you have your family to think about.”

The amused smile fell from Kostov's lips. “Go on.”

Zenigata told him what he and Novak had figured out, that most of the police force in the city was corrupt and taking orders from Vuković, that in turn he was most likely on the payroll of the De Angelis family, and how Lupin had gotten involved with them when they'd captured one of his partners.

“What we still don't know is why this all happened, but it doesn't matter. Probably some underworld clash. Happens a lot with Jigen,” he said. “But what's important is what we're going to do next.”

“Do you have a plan?”

“More or less. But before I tell you anything, you need to decide –”

“I'm in.”

“That was fast. Don't you need to think it over?”

Kostov laughed. “I thought it over when I chose this career. There's only one good reason to do this job.”

That was exactly what Zenigata had wanted to hear. So much in fact that Kostov could have been quoting his own words back at him. It was a strange contrast with what he'd said earlier when they'd gotten to know each other, but he guessed that might have been his sense of humor talking.

“Let's get some food first,” he said.

There was a supermarket with a big parking lot on the other side of the street from the restaurant. Kostov took the car there. The rain was picking up again, and even though coming to this place had been nothing but an excuse, Zenigata was looking forward to having hot food in his stomach. It wasn't even that it was too cold – it wasn't, since it was summer in Croatia – but wet clothes had that miserable effect on a man's mood.

The light for pedestrians was green, and they began to cross the street. Right in the middle of it, they passed a businessman who seemed to be struggling with his suitcase. It refused to close properly, and the man wasn't looking where he was going while he fought with it. Zenigata tried to step aside, but the man bumped into him anyway, with enough force to send him stumbling.

He frowned at the lack of an apology but kept going. Out of habit, his hand slipped inside his coat to where his wallet was – or where it was supposed to be.

“Hey!” he bellowed and turned around.

The man realized that he'd been noticed already. He dropped his suitcase and began to run, and at that exact moment the light turned green for the cars. There'd been worse obstacles in Zenigata's life, so he jumped into traffic and navigated his way between the vehicles, ignoring the angry honks and shouts.

“Inspector! That's dangerous!”

He spared no thought to Kostov. The pickpocket had a headstart, but Zenigata hadn't spent years chasing Lupin to let some amateur get the best of him. He realized that the man was heading to the parking lot, meaning he had to have a car there for an easy getaway. If he managed to do that, it'd be impossible to catch him.

Zenigata ran as fast as his legs would take him, jumped down the stairs to get to the parking lot and nearly slipped on the wet asphalt. The man was already in his car, and the sound of the engine starting gave Zenigata the last desperate push he needed. With an angry roar, he threw himself against the windshield as the car was about to pass him. He registered the wide, shocked eyes of the driver, and then he went flying as the car swerved and hit a street lamp.

He'd ache like hell the next day, but nothing was broken. Before the man had time to recover from his surprise, Zenigata had pulled open the car door, handcuffed him to the steering wheel and retrieved his wallet from the passenger seat.

“You chose the wrong man as your target,” he said, and he didn't mean just that he was an officer. The contents of his wallet were so sad that robbing him was more trouble than it was worth.

A sudden thought crossed his mind. He opened his wallet to feel assured, then closed it again and put it back into his pocket. What he was thinking weighed heavier on him than he'd expected, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. First, he'd deal with the problem at hand.

“Inspector!”

He turned to see Kostov approaching, out of breath.

“We're putting this man under arrest.”

“I can take him to the station in my car.”

“No, we're calling someone who's on patrol. Got to do it right.” A crowd was already beginning to gather, and they didn't need any photos of them not doing things by the book. Plus, if he was right, he'd have to consider his next move very, very carefully.

He waited for the squad car to arrive and returned to the station together with the pickpocket, careful not to let him out of his sight. He saw him put into a cell to wait for questioning, filled in the paperwork, and received a few compliments for his quick actions. It turned out the man was wanted for much more than picking pockets.

Once back behind his desk, he opened his wallet and took out Lupin's business card. He put it down, stared at it and then turned it over. It wasn't telling him anything new, but he was sure there was more to it than the hidden coat of arms.

Furthermore, he was very interested in finding out whether his culprit would still be in his cell the following morning.

***

As luck would have it, the rain calmed down the moment Jigen and Goemon entered the block of flats where Fujiko's hideout was. They were both drenched, but they'd wrapped their groceries into so many plastic bags that Jigen was sure they were fine. If only everything else was.

“I've had it. I'm not setting foot outside until the sun is shining again,” he grumbled as they were waiting for the elevator to come down.

“Before the rain started, you were complaining about the sun.”

Jigen didn't know what to say that wouldn't make him sound like he was having a low-key tantrum, so he decided to keep quiet. Better not do anything that might push Goemon's buttons. They hadn't spoken another word about what had happened, but it wasn't as uncomfortable as he had feared. He guessed Goemon just needed time to lick his wounds.

And he needed a drink. Of all the things that this situation could have led to... He couldn't deny that he was kind of flattered. Who wouldn't get an ego boost from someone so much younger finding him attractive? He just didn't want it to go beyond that.

The easy option would have been to dismiss Goemon's feelings as superficial. He could tell him that he was mixing friendship and love because he didn't know any better. Feeling like a coward, he found himself wishing that were really the case. Then this would be over quickly and without any real effort from him when Goemon realized his mistake on his own.

But he knew Goemon too well. He wouldn't say something like that without first thinking it through over and over to be sure. Jigen could imagine it all too well – Goemon being ashamed of himself at first and sinking into his training to get rid of intrusive thoughts, then trying to hide it because he thought he was ruining their friendship, and finally making the decision to get it out of his chest. Only hell knew how long he'd been keeping it bottled up.

It was exactly what he'd done with Lupin – except that Goemon had the balls to make the first move. He wished he could have given him an answer that made him happy, if for no other reason that he liked people who had guts. Goddammit. He felt like shit. He'd never realized how much he didn't want to see Goemon miserable, and now that he was the cause, he didn't know what to do.

“Hey, there you are!” Lupin greeted them when they stepped inside. “We were starting to wonder if you got lost.”

“The rain slowed us down,” Goemon said. He went to put away the groceries, and Jigen let him, even though he also wanted something to do to distract himself. Lupin had taken the only chair in the room, and Fujiko was on the bed. Was he supposed to sit on the floor again?

“We've got a lot to do. Here's the music box – thanks, Goemon! – and we need to decide what we're doing about the guys who're after us.”

“Jimmy's only after me. You don't need to get involved.”

“You promised me I could kill him,” Goemon pointed out.

Lupin let out an offended sound. “Hey, Jigen! Since when do you let others kill your guys? Stop playing favorites.”

“Stop being an idiot.” Jigen put enough menace into his words that he was sure Lupin and Fujiko could guess that something was wrong. They both lifted their brows in surprise, glanced at each other and then at Goemon. Watching them react in perfect unison might have been funny in any other situation, but now it only made Jigen want to turn around and go back outside.

He walked to open the window so that he could smoke with his back to everyone else.

An uncomfortable thought was beginning to plague him. Suppose that Goemon had talked to him before Lupin. And he was sure he wouldn't have said yes even then, but what if he had, and what if Lupin had talked to him after that? Would he have been okay with dating two people then? Or would he have found some excuse to dump Goemon?

“Anyway, about that treasure,” Fujiko piped up after a brief moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Yeah, yeah, treasure! Let's go find it tomorrow, all of us together!” Lupin added.

Jigen inhaled his lungs full of smoke. It sounded like neither Lupin nor Fujiko was going to ask what had happened. Good. He didn't want to discuss this with them. It'd be up to Goemon to fill them in if he thought it necessary.

“Let's open the music box and see what's inside!” Fujiko suggested.

“Wait, not so fast! If we do it wrong and something breaks, it's all over.”

“But you've got the key, right? What could go wrong?”

Jigen turned around to see the others around the table. Lupin was holding the music box, a protective hand on the lid, while Fujiko looked ready to grab it if he didn't open it soon. Between them was Goemon. On the floor, with his hands on his knees, his eyes closed, as if he didn't care about the treasure one bit. But the fact that he'd moved to sit with the others meant that he was at least curious.

The scene before him was so normal. He tossed his cigarette out into the street and closed the window, maybe with a little more force than was necessary. He was the only one over-thinking everything, but he was also the only one who'd had no choice but to deal with what the others wanted. They'd had all the time in the world to figure it out, and then they'd bombarded him with it, one after another.

He wanted to stop feeling so fucking petty all the time. He'd have another cigarette later, but for now he sat down on the floor, facing Goemon, so that there was someone on each side of the table. Lupin placed the music box in the middle, dug into his pocket and pulled out the key.

“Here we go, then. Everybody ready?”

“Just do it. What's the harm? It's not like an old piece of junk like that is rigged to explode,” Jigen said.

Lupin shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe Vuković knew we'd come for the box and put a fake in its place.”

“Like you haven't already tinkered with it to make sure it's the real deal.”

Lupin chuckled and inserted the key. It was a perfect fit, with just about enough sticking out so that it was possible to turn it.

“Fujiko, you never came across anything saying that you have to turn it a certain number of times or anything?” he asked.

“No, nothing.”

“Good, then there's probably no system to it.”

Lupin turned the key until they heard a faint click. Nobody dared to breathe for a couple of seconds, then Lupin slowly opened the lid. What they found was the mechanism with a few gears and the cylinder visible. At first, nothing happened, and Jigen was starting to think it was broken and the whole damn thing had been for nothing, but then it started to play.

It was a slow melody. Jigen would have called it anticlimactic, even considering that it was only an old piece of junk, but he couldn't bring himself to say anything as they listened to the sad plink-plonk of the box. It made him feel self-conscious, somehow, and he wished someone would do something to stop it.

“Well, that was depressing,” he said when it was finally over. “Can't imagine why anyone would want to keep listening to that.”

“It spoke to me,” Goemon said.

“Oh? Did it say where the treasure is?” Lupin asked.

“Uh... no. I only meant that it was touching. Rainy weather makes a man's heart thoughtful.”

Fujiko grabbed the box and looked inside. “Isn't there anything else? I thought the clue was supposed to be here!”

“Well, there are some possibilities,” Lupin said, leaning his chin into his hand. “One, we aren't the first to open the box and someone already found the treasure. Of course they wouldn't advertise that. Two, maybe the melody was the clue.”

He turned the key to get the tune to play again. Jigen had the patience to listen to the half-way point before he got up and returned to the window. He wasn't very musical, but he could tell the box was just repeating the same short bit over and over. That did make it likely that it was a coded message instead of a real song.

“Let me know when you figure it out,” he said.

Lupin played the tune two more times, then Fujiko told him to stop. “You're going to break it. That thing is some two hundred years old.”

“They made things last back in the day,” Lupin said. “But okay. It doesn't matter. I memorized it already anyway.” And to prove his words, he began to hum the melody.

Lupin closed his eyes and began to think. Then, a moment or two later, he suddenly jumped to his feet.

“Hey, wait a minute! Are you guys just going to let me do this on my own? Pull your weight!”

Goemon got up from the floor. “I believe it was you who said that you're the brains while Jigen and I make things go bang bang and swish swish crash. Besides, I'm hungry.” He retreated into the corner with the stove and began to prepare something to eat.

“Thanks a lot. Fujiko? You've got a bright head on your shoulders.”

“I'm thinking about it, alright?”

Lupin laughed. “Just don't forget to tell us, too, if you figure it out.”

That was his line, Jigen thought. If he'd said that, she would have thrown something callous at him, or just smirked to let him know that bantering with him wasn't worth her time. Lupin got no such treatment. There was something playful about the way she chuckled and ruffled his hair as she walked past him to help Goemon.

For a while, Lupin watched the two of them, humming the tune again. It had been been sad earlier to mimic the box, but there was an affectionate tone to it now. Jigen liked it much better this way. He turned towards the window and fished out the second cigarette he'd craved.

He'd barely had the time to light it when Lupin pushed him aside to get half of the window to himself.

“Give me one. It'll help me think.”

“Haven't you got any of your own? You've been mooching off me for days now.” Jigen offered him one anyway, and Lupin took it from between his fingers with his mouth.

“I guess I developed a taste for these after all. Besides, you're living on my money right now, so don't whine.”

“Any idea about the treasure yet?”

Lupin leaned out the window to look down at the street. “Too many to count. I'll have to start eliminating the false leads. First I'll find out if that's a real song and if yes, if it has lyrics. That could take us somewhere.”

“That might take a while.”

“Mm.”

“In the meantime, I'm going to deal with some personal matters.” This quiet period was the perfect chance to get rid of Walker. He had plenty of time to find out where he was staying, take care of him, and wash his hands before the others were ready for the treasure hunt.

“Like Walker?”

There was something off about Lupin's voice. Jigen glanced at him, but he couldn't guess what was bugging him now.

“Yeah,” he said and took his cigarette from his mouth to tap it with his finger and let some ash fall to the street.

Lupin glanced behind his shoulder, then leaned closer to whisper into his ear, “Did you really promise Goemon that he can have him?”

“I kind of meant it as a joke, but I guess he took it seriously. If he wants him, fine. It's no skin off my back.”

“You never let others stick their nose into your business.”

That was a question and not a statement, Jigen realized, but he didn't have time to think about what to say. Lupin was already pressed against him so that they could share the window, and he needed little more than a turn of his head to bring his face close enough to search for a kiss.

Jigen leaned into him without thinking. Lupin was warmer than he'd expected, but maybe that was because he was still wearing his wet clothes from before. A hot shiver travelled down his spine, and he realized how easy it'd be to just let go. A little relief in the middle of all this. He sneaked his hand to hold Lupin's hips to his, and there was an appreciative hum against his mouth.

Then his brain caught up with him, much to his dismay because he wanted to keep this up. More Lupin, more of his disarming smile and the confidence that he was radiating. Lupin always turned every situation around to his advantage. After everything in his life had suddenly become so unstable, Jigen wanted to bask in that feeling. If everything else went to hell, at least he could believe in Lupin.

And yet...

“Hm?” Lupin had to have noticed his sudden hesitation. He pulled back and looked at him with questioning eyes.

Jigen turned to look over his shoulder to where Goemon and Fujiko were. They had their backs to them and were chatting about food, but they weren't idiots. Jigen was sure they had noticed. That alone wasn't the problem. He wasn't the least bit shy once he got going. And he didn't need anyone's permission to do whatever he damn well pleased with Lupin.

But he found himself thinking about Goemon and what they'd just been through at the bus stop. Goemon had said it was fine, but Jigen wasn't dumb enough to buy that. Making out with Lupin when Goemon was right there was a dick move. He'd spent too long simmering in his jealousy when he'd watched Lupin and Fujiko to do the same to him.

“You said you wanted to think. You'll need your blood in your brain,” he said.

“Well, aren't you a tease,” Lupin muttered. He patted his pockets until he found his own packet of cigarettes and lit up one. The one he'd gotten from Jigen was probably lying unfinished somewhere in the street below.

For once, Jigen was the one without an appetite for more smoking. He figured he'd check what Goemon and Fujiko were cooking. Hopefully they hadn't gone for an all vegetarian menu like they sometimes did if nobody was keeping an eye on them.

He was already turning away when Lupin caught his arm and tugged at it to keep him there. Jigen waited a second to hear what he wanted, but Lupin didn't say anything right away, nor did he turn to look at him. He was staring out the window, moving his cigarette around with his lips.

“At least help me think,” Lupin said.

“I'm not smart enough to solve riddles.”

“That's okay. I'll do the solving.”

“Then what...” He decided he didn't need to know what was going on in Lupin's head. He took back his half of the window with a sigh. It was cramped and uncomfortable, and the view could have been better, but he found didn't mind.

“It's pretty dumb to keep hanging out by the window. We're really easy targets for a sniper like this,” he said.

“They don't know where we are.”

“They could find out. And then they'd put a man with a rifle on top of that water tower.”

“Yeah, right. That's way too far away. There's only one you.”

“Okay, how about the roof of that –” He cut himself off when Lupin plopped his head against his shoulder. Jigen took that as his cue to stop talking about work, but he kept watching their surroundings, just in case.

“Hey, you two! Food's ready!” Fujiko announced maybe some half an hour later. Jigen was glad, and not just because he was hungry. His back was starting to ache from the bad position. He hoped Lupin had gotten enough thinking done to justify it.

“Oh, oh, what did you make?” Lupin rushed to lift the lid on the biggest pot on the stove.

“It's only rice. You can put shrimp or vegetables on it,” Goemon said.

“That doesn't sound too bad. What's with the long face?”

Goemon sighed, looking heart-broken. “It's because of what happened when Jigen and I went shopping.”

Jigen was sure his heart would break, too, under the weight of his guilt.

“Jigen, you dick. What did you do?” Lupin asked.

“He made me buy frozen vegetables at the store.”

“Cheer up! When we have the treasure, I'll treat us all to a dinner in a really good restaurant! All you can eat, and only the best stuff!” Lupin said, pulled Goemon a chair and guided him to sit on it. Then he did the same to Fujiko, and Jigen figured he was going to act as their server to reward them for making the food. It was amusing enough, and it gave him a chance to fill his plate before anyone else as they were distracted by Lupin's fawning.

“There's one thing I want to know before we make another move,” Fujiko said when everyone was almost done. She pointed her chopsticks at Jigen. “You keep saying that you killed Walker's brother. Chances are we're going to face him before this is over, so give us the full story.”

“Yeah, I'm curious, too. I guess you must have already told Goemon since you're letting him kill him, but that's no reason to keep me and Fujiko in the dark!” Lupin added.

“He hasn't told me anything.”

“Then why –”

“When did you all get so nosy? I'll tell you, okay, but it's not a fun story. I'm the bad guy in it.” He supposed that was why he'd been putting off sharing the details. The others had no illusions about what kind of work he'd done. They'd seen him kill more than enough. But there was always some way of looking at it that made it seem a little justified, or like he had no choice. He didn't like letting them see those stains on his hands that'd never come off.

“I'm all ears,” Lupin said.

“This was before I'd met any of you, so it's been a while. Jimmy's family had this growing business, but they weren't big yet. His uncle was in charge at the time. I'd already made a bit of a name for myself, so I could choose who to work for. I was with them for a while and left as soon as I could.”

“Why? Better money elsewhere?” Fujiko asked.

“Yeah, but that wasn't the reason. Jimmy just gave me a bad feeling right from the start. Killing is part of the job, but it's better to avoid people who get a charge out of it.”

Goemon hummed in agreement. He picked one of the remaining pieces of shrimp and dipped it into soy sauce. Nobody else was eating anymore, but Jigen found it somewhat reassuring to see him so casual, like his entire character wasn't going to be judged on this story.

“Did they have a problem with you leaving?” Lupin asked.

“Yeah, but that has nothing to do with this. Jimmy had this brother, Tony. He was a dumb kid, but they had a soft spot for him and let him do anything he wanted. He was always sticking his nose into things that weren't his business and hanging out in the wrong places. You know the type. But the one thing they wouldn't let him do was start working for the group. He was too young.”

Jigen made a face at the memory of the scrawny lad who'd thought he was hot stuff. It was easy to feel invincible when you were young, just because you'd gotten lucky a few times. He would have liked to think he hadn't been that dumb, but some of his oldest scars proved otherwise. Everyone ran out of luck at some point, and then it was only a man's skills that mattered.

“The brat was always following me around and begging me to teach him to shoot. He took it pretty badly when I left and called me a traitor. Then he got into his head that if he took out someone like me, Jimmy would start taking him seriously and let him join the business.”

Lupin grimaced. “Yikes, bad idea. So, he challenged you and lost? Is that it?”

“Come on. He was fifteen. I was just going to teach him a lesson.”

“What, you're telling us it was an accident? That you missed?” Fujiko asked.

“Fifteen?” Lupin asked at the same time.

“I didn't miss!” Jigen snapped, not bothering to hide how much her suggestion ruffled his feathers. It gave him an excuse to ignore Lupin. The kid had been a nervous wreck and probably would have shot off his own foot if he'd been able to pull the trigger. Jigen could have hit him blindfolded.

“Then what?” Fujiko challenged.

“I wanted to show off and get him off my back, so I shot his gun from his hands. I don't know where he got that piece of junk, but nobody with any common sense would have brought it to a fight. My bullet made it blow up in his face.”

There was a moment of silence at that. Even Goemon's chopsticks stopped moving.

“I don't know if any doctor could have patched him up after that, but there was no time to find out. He'd caught us at a bad moment, and we didn't need attention. He was making a lot of noise, so I shut him up.”

He was glad he was sitting at a table under which to hide his hands. They weren't shaking, but he didn't want to risk it as he kept thinking back to the screams of a dying child and how quickly he'd made the decision to put a bullet in him. Right after, he'd convinced himself he'd done it to end his suffering, but the honest fact was that he'd hated looking at what he'd done and wanted to make it stop.

“Hmm,” Lupin said and leaned his chin on his hand. “That's a downer story, alright.”

“I warned you,” Jigen said, as if that was some kind of an excuse. He'd fucked up and killed a kid for no good reason. Out of the countless names he had on his conscience, this was one of those that still bothered him. He liked to think that he had a code of honor and lines he wouldn't cross. Deaths like this made him feel like he was only deluding himself because he didn't want to look at the man in the mirror.

He needed a whole pack of cigarettes. Or better yet, a bottle to momentarily wash away the wretched memories.

“Well, now we know what happened. It might be something to use on Walker if we face him. From what I've heard, he's easy to anger,” Fujiko said.

“Only if you hit a sore spot. Otherwise, he's patience personified,” Jigen said.

“Oh, then this should be a good ace.”

“Sheesh, woman. Don't use a man's dead brother to get a reaction out of him.”

The look Fujiko gave him was beyond irritated. “You're the one who killed him, and that's why we're in this mess. I'm just being practical. Don't take it out on me if you're feeling like crap.”

“I've said a million times that none of you have to get involved! I can deal with this myself!”

“Hey, hey, hey, let's not fight,” Lupin hurried to say. “We'll see where this goes. Maybe we won't even have to deal with him at all.”

Jigen didn't buy that for one second. This would end with either him or Walker dead. It should have been that way years ago. He'd killed people for far lesser offences than this, so he couldn't blame Walker for coming after him. But that didn't mean he'd go out without a fight. He was too selfish to give up his life like that.

“This changes nothing. I might have some sympathy for him, but my blade will still cut him down,” Goemon said.

It began to rain again. They kept the window open to let cooler air in, and the drum of the water gave their thoughts a quiet soundtrack. There was nothing to discuss. They all had enough time and experience behind them to be familiar with the ugly side of their work. And yet Jigen could feel that the atmosphere in the apartment had grown more discouraged. The tune Lupin was humming was back to sounding wistful, and any attempt at conversation between the rest of them led nowhere.

The lack of a couch was seriously starting to piss him off, but he refrained from calling Fujiko out on it. She hadn't meant this place for anyone but herself. And she was right. He only had himself to blame for the current mess.

He spread out one of the sleeping bags he and Goemon had bought and tried to get comfortable on it. A good nap wouldn't get rid of any of his problems, but it'd make him feel a little better.

***

Goemon didn't dare breathe easily until he had closed the door leading to the roof. It was the middle of the night and finally a little cooler. The rain had left the air moist and fresh, and he drew his lungs full to help the stress slide off his shoulders.

He was proud of himself. He'd kept his feelings under control and hadn't let them disrupt the dynamics in their group. If someone had noticed anything, they hadn't said so, and he liked to think it wasn't just because they were being considerate. He was handling this well.

Nevertheless, he wanted a moment alone. The apartment had become cramped with him, Lupin and Jigen sleeping on the floor in such a way that there was a clear route to the bathroom. During the day, it had been reassuring to have everyone around him and see how they still worked as a group, but the longing and uncertainty were overwhelming at night.

The door to the roof had been locked, but he'd taken care of it with his sword. He hadn't made a sound when he'd left, so he was sure nobody would notice he was gone for a while.

He found a somewhat dry spot and sat down, placing the Zantetsuken by his side. He closed his eyes to escape the street lights and few lit windows. The wind on his face soothed his worries somewhat, and he felt himself begin to relax.

He needed this. Solitude was sometimes all that helped him put his thoughts together so that his feelings didn't interfere with choosing the right actions. It was one of the reasons why he often took off on his own and made no contact with the others. He didn't want to slow them down with his problems.

The memory of catching a glimpse of Lupin and Jigen getting affectionate by the window made it tempting to clench his fists or jump to his feet, anything physical to distract himself. But he forced his body to remain completely still and played the scene over and over in his mind. In time, perhaps he'd get used to it so that it no longer caused him to ache like this.

What other choice did he have? He'd be seeing it again. Lupin and Jigen spent so much time by themselves that it'd take only little effort before they had smoothed the creases between them. Goemon was sure that the next time he left the group and came back, he'd find his friends' everyday life changed from what he knew. He had to get used to it.

Goemon breathed in a regular rhythm and tried to reason with himself. He could be happy with Fujiko and Lupin. If he managed to act right, he'd get to keep his friendship with Jigen. It wasn't a bad lot.

But there was so much that friends didn't get to do. He let his imagination run wild and thought about Lupin lifting Jigen's hat just enough to look at his eyes, pulling him closer by his tie, touching his beard, being touched in return and having his hands all over him. Goemon wasn't sure if he could ever bring himself to be that bold even if he had permission, but he enjoyed thinking about scenarios like that. It was as if he was even more attracted to him now that he knew he couldn't have him.

What worried him was that it was so tempting to feel as if he'd been wronged. Everyone else had gotten what they wanted. Only he had been left with a hole in his heart that'd never be filled. But if he let himself wallow in those thoughts, he'd need someone to blame.

It'd be Lupin. He'd only be jealous at first, then angry that everything always worked in his favor even though he had so many disreputable habits and was more often than not motivated by pure self-interest. He'd treated Jigen terribly more times than he cared to count, and yet Jigen had chosen him. He'd forget how noble he could be, how he'd turn the world upside down to help those he cared about, and how much he loved life.

That was what he feared the most. If he was too weak to follow the right path, he'd end up losing everything that was important to him. He had to find peace and learn to be happy with what he had. He couldn't let this corrupt him. He'd... He'd just...

A sudden click startled him, and he was on his feet with his blade drawn even before the door opened. The lock he'd cut open fell to the floor, and the intruder clicked his tongue in surprise.

“I'll have to teach you to pick locks the normal way,” Lupin said.

Goemon sighed and put his sword back in its sheath. He resumed his earlier position, hoping that Lupin would take the hint and return to their apartment.

“What's going on? I got up to take a leak, and you were gone.” Lupin walked over to where he was and stopped to stare down at him with his hands on his hips. He was only wearing his boxers, but since it was a summer night, Goemon doubted he was feeling cold.

“I'm here to meditate.”

“At three in the morning? And why here?”

“Yes, well... I didn't want to bother any of you.”

Lupin laughed and sat down, side to side with him. “Yeah, right. That's real fishy.”

Goemon didn't need to open his eyes to see the grin on Lupin's face. It was clear in his voice. He wondered if this wasn't yet another test of character for him, having him sit here with him after what he'd just been thinking.

“I have something to reflect on. Alone,” he said.

“Alone? We're finally back together, and you want to be alone?” Lupin paused. “Is it because of what Jigen told us? About the kid?”

Goemon considered saying yes. He couldn't say he was perfectly fine with the circumstances, but he could look past them. He was sure Lupin was the one most bothered by Jigen's story, but so far, he hadn't raised the issue. Goemon decided he didn't want to use someone's death as a shield to spare himself some embarrassment.

“Today, I told Jigen what I wish from him.”

“Oh! Well done!” Lupin slapped him on the back. “So that's why he's been a bit weird today. Don't worry! He was really prickly with me at first, too, but –”

Goemon took Lupin's hand and removed it from his shoulder. “You misunderstand. He turned me down.”

“What? You're kidding! What a moron!”

“Please, you –”

“Don't worry! I'll talk some sense into him.”

“No! Stay out of this!”

Lupin let out a startled sound at his outburst, and Goemon realized he must have sounded angrier than he'd meant.

“Sorry. I mean...” he started, trying not to show how awkward he suddenly felt. “He respects me enough to be honest with me. The least I can do is not cause him any more discomfort than I already have.”

“I wouldn't call it discomfort to hear that someone's into you.”

“Well, you're you.”

Lupin sighed. “No need to sound that judgemental, you know?”

“I'm sorry. This is why I have to be alone. I have to think long and carefully before I trust myself not to take this out on any of you.”

“A broken heart's not fun.” A hand slid behind his back to rest on his hip. “And you're way over-thinking this. Sulking by yourself is not some magic cure. Besides, why are you hiding it? You said Jigen was honest with you, so you can do the same and show him you're sad.”

“He knows. He was kind enough to offer me some comfort. I'd rather not cast a shadow on his happiness with you.”

Lupin leaned a little closer and reached for his own hand so that he had Goemon trapped between his arms. “I bet he's been feeling guilty all day, and you acting like you don't care doesn't help.”

“But if I behave as if everything is fine –”

“He's never going to buy that. He knows you.”

Goemon let out a frustrated huff. Lupin was right, of course. Perhaps he had convinced himself that this was the right path because it was the easiest. But even if it offered him a simpler route, it'd lead him nowhere where he wanted to be.

“But you know what always helps me when someone turns me down?” Lupin asked.

“Yes?”

In hindsight, perhaps he should have gone to Lupin for advice right away. He had seen and done so much more. Surely he knew the most straightforward way to deal with rejection as well, considering the number of women who refused his advances during their travels.

He had kept his eyes closed the whole time, so he wasn't prepared for the lips that were suddenly on his neck. He yelped in surprise, even as he knew that he should have guessed this was what Lupin had in mind – did he ever have anything else in it?

“Don't squirm so much,” Lupin said. He pulled down Goemon's collar to get access to more skin to nuzzle against. He moved one hand up to grab Goemon's hair, lightly enough that it didn't hurt but with enough force to turn his head towards him. Not that he should have. Goemon found himself moving along with everything he did, so much so that he dipped his head lower to claim a real kiss from him.

Lupin crooned into his mouth and grabbed Goemon's hands to bring them to his stomach. With so much of his body visible, there was no limit to what he could touch. It was nearly overwhelming, the heat of his body and the warm, quickening breaths on his face.

“And this will help?” Goemon asked then. “Isn't this just seeking physical gratification to distract myself from my emotional problems?”

“That's more or less my definition of feeling better.”

“It doesn't seem fair towards you.”

“Why not? You thinking of Jigen when we do this?”

“What? Of course not! I'd never... I mean, you... I care so much about you that –”

Lupin's laughter cut him off, but he had no time to wonder if he'd said something stupid. There was one more kiss on his lips, and then Lupin pushed him down on the concrete. Better that way, Goemon thought, for he was the one wearing something on his back.

“I don't want to sleep with you just to forget about Jigen,” he said.

“I wouldn't have a problem with it.”

“Oh?”

“No, no, don't take it like that! I just meant here, right now. I don't mind. Just say what you want. I'll do it.”

Goemon thought it over. He was already feeling like he was boiling in his clothes, and yet he yearned for more. The weight of Lupin's hands on his knees as he sat between them was comforting. But even more than that, he treasured Lupin's words.

“I don't think I need anything else.”

The eager grin fell from Lupin's face. “What? Come on! What do I have to do to get someone in this group to fuck me? I wish I had a mirror so that I could show you what you look like right now. It's enough to get a guy going. Look.” Lupin pulled down his boxers to show himself to him.

“I don't know how to respond.”

Lupin covered himself once more. “Normally, I'd say it's your fault and you have to take responsibility, but since I'm being a selfless lover tonight, I guess you're off the hook. But are you really sure you don't want to keep going? Hmm?”

Goemon patted away the hand that was moving higher between his legs. “Yes. It'd only be the second time. It shouldn't be in such sad circumstances. I want to burn with passion for you.”

Lupin got a funny look on his face and turned up to stare at the sky. Goemon did the same. It was covered in clouds, so not a single star was visible in the darkness.

Then Lupin suddenly let out a giggle and covered his face with his hand.

“What is it?” Goemon asked.

“What you just said, that line about passion? Nobody ever talks to me like that. It's always me wooing others with sentimental stuff.”

“Does it make you uncomfortable?”

“Nah, just something new.”

Suddenly, Goemon got the feeling that something was wrong. He couldn't tell what it was at first, but then he recognised the sound of several cars getting closer. It was strange in such a quiet neighbourhood in the middle of the night. From the way Lupin had frozen, he could tell that he had noticed the same thing.

Even stranger, the cars stopped right by their block of flats. Lupin rose to his feet and hurried to the edge of the roof to take a look, but before he made it that far, an explosion shook the building and sent him back to the ground.

“What's this?” he yelled.

“Somebody found us!”

“Only two possibilities, and we can count out the police!”

Goemon recalled the special unit that had been summoned to the city after he and Lupin had started their rampage. They had the means for an attack like this, but he couldn't imagine that they'd go against a house with innocent civilians inside with such force only to capture criminals. It had to be Walker and Vuković.

“What about Fujiko and Jigen?” he asked. He didn't wait for Lupin's answer but ran to the stairs. He nearly flew downstairs until he reached the floor where their apartment was. The door was open, and there was a complete mess waiting for him inside.

The explosives had been directed straight at their hideout, but the worst damage was restricted to outside of the apartment. Where there had once been a window was now a gaping hole, most of the wall gone. He rushed to it, just in time to see Fujiko's unconscious form being shoved into the backseat of a car.

Fury cut into him deeper than any blade. Not thinking, he prepared to jump down and slice through the car before it started. They were not taking her. Not when he –

He was pulled back inside the apartment before he could make his leap, and the force of it sent him stumbling and nearly losing his balance. His sword was out and he'd taken a swing at his assailant before he even realized what he was doing.

“Hey! It's me!”

Goemon froze. Lupin was leaning against the bathroom door, holding his arm. Goemon couldn't see blood, but the mere possibility chilled him.

“Lupin? Did I hurt you?”

“No, but be careful with that thing! And what were you thinking, trying to jump out? You'd have broken your bones!”

“But they have Fujiko!”

“And Jigen. I was watching them from the roof. They had grappling hooks and everything to get inside. Damn fast, those guys. They must be pros.”

“All the more reason for us to go after them!”

Lupin ran both his hands through his hair and groaned in frustration. “We have no car. We'll never catch up to them now. We have to do some planning before we –”

“Planning? What if they kill them while we plan?”

“If they just wanted to kill them, they'd have blown up the whole apartment and not bothered taking them alive.” Lupin began to pace around the room, collecting whatever pieces of clothing he could find. The explosion had sent the furniture in the room flying, so everything was a mess. Goemon joined him in searching among the destruction. The police would show up within minutes, so if they needed something, now was their only chance of getting it.

“Do we even have a basis for a plan?” he asked.

“I think we have a pretty good one,” Lupin said. He kicked a chair from his way and lifted something from the floor. After a moment, Goemon recognised what it was, or what it had used to be.

“The music box?”

“Yeah,” Lupin said and tossed the broken box away. “I don't know if those guys realize it yet, but the clue to the treasure's location only exists in my head now.”

“But does Walker even care about the treasure?”

Lupin found his jacket from under the bed and put it on. “We'll make him care. We may have to use our imagination a little, but he's going to want that treasure so badly that he'll dance exactly to our tune.”

Chapter Text

“What... what happened here?”

Zenigata turned to look at Novak who was standing at the door and gaping at the damaged apartment. At first, he thought there was something major that he'd missed among the destruction, but then he realized this was enough to shake her. A hole in the wall, charred around the edges, and overthrown furniture. It surprised him a little, considering that she'd been there to see it, even if a child, the last time there'd been war in her country. Maybe she'd been lucky.

But then, maybe it was the opposite. This could be bringing back something she'd seen a long time ago.

“Just an explosion, and it seems to have done more damage outside than here.”

Just an explosion?”

“I've seen buildings collapse and flying castles go down in flames when Lupin is around. This is standard.”

“Not for us.”

“Is anyone injured?”

“An elderly man hurt himself when he fell down, but other than that, nothing. Most of the residents are in shock. Can't blame them. We're evacuating them to a hotel so that the building can be inspected tomorrow.”

Zenigata nodded. Not having any casualties was a relief that allowed him to focus on just figuring out what had happened. Lupin's group had been here. That much was obvious just from the number of sleeping bags plus one bed, and some of the items that were scattered all around the room. Picklocks, latex masks, tracking devices and bullets weren't normal things to own.

And if Lupin and the others had been staying here, it meant they weren't behind the explosion. Someone had attacked them. The only person with a reason to do it was Vuković, perhaps with support from the De Angelis. Whatever had caused them to go after Jigen had to be the motivation behind this. The real question was, had the attack been a success? They'd found a little blood on the scene, but not enough to suggest that anyone had been killed or even seriously injured. Either Lupin and the others had been taken alive, or they had escaped before the police had arrived.

“Do we already have the security camera footage from down the street?” he asked. None of the houses near-by had surveillance systems, but a little further towards the center there was a bus station with a camera. It might not help much, but any clue was vital at this point.

“Not yet, but it shouldn't take too long.”

“And where's Kostov?”

“At the front door, trying to keep the media away.”

Zenigata frowned in confusion. He hadn't given that order. “I thought we already had someone else there for that.”

Novak gave him a long look but said nothing. Perhaps it was because of the other officers currently in the room, taking photos and collecting evidence. He wanted to think that she had noticed something strange as well. Otherwise, it might be hard to convince her of his suspicions. He had nothing to share with her except his gut feeling.

“Let's take a look at the roof,” he said and gestured for her to follow.

“The roof? Why?”

“Got to be precise. You never know.”

The door to the roof was open, which was a little strange at first, but then he saw the clean cut around the lock and knew what had happened. It eased the weight on his shoulders. Perhaps Lupin and the others had run to the roof and escaped that way. He clung to that possibility.

“There are some things we need to talk about,” he said. “First, this explosion. It can't be a coincidence that almost right after Lupin brought that card to me, his hideout became a target. The De Angelis and Vuković must be behind this.”

“Then... Do you think the purpose behind Lupin's card was to show us the link between them?”

“Hmm...” Zenigata supposed it was possible, but it didn't feel like the right answer. There was no need for Lupin to put up such a show just for that. A simple message would have been enough if he wanted to give him a tip.

“I don't think so,” he said.

Novak laughed. “Silly me. Of course not. He's an international criminal mastermind. Why would he try to help us?”

“He might,” Zenigata said, trying not to feel offended on Lupin's behalf. “He's done some good on the side, too. Of course it doesn't erase any of his crimes, but...I wouldn't put it past him to give us a hint, especially if it also benefits him. I just don't think that's the case now. We already knew about the connection between the De Angelis and Vuković long before Lupin's card.”

“Then what is it?”

“I think the whole family crest was a decoy. Lupin wanted everyone to think that he was hinting at that connection so that they'd stop looking for anything else. He knew I'd see through that and find the real meaning.”

“But why would he do that?”

“That's the kind of men we are. Eternal rivals, but bound together by mutual respect.”

“You need to read fewer romance novels, Inspector.” The look she gave him was more than a little doubtful. It was always like that. The people he worked with only had the surface details and a list of Lupin's crimes. They didn't know the man. They didn't understand him.

“I'm not joking,” he said and shoved his hands into his pockets.

“Then, what's the real meaning behind Lupin's message?”

Zenigata felt his face go warm. Perhaps he shouldn't have talked quite so boldly. “Uh... well, I'm still figuring it out. Won't be long now.”

Novak was merciful enough not to keep commenting, but he was sure she was thinking that he was only bragging. No matter. She'd see and learn.

“What was the other thing you wanted to talk about?”

Zenigata hesitated for a moment. He wasn't sure if this was the right thing to do, but he felt that he had to put this out there. He could apologize later if he was wrong, but if he was correct and kept quiet, it might end up with someone dead.

“It's about Kostov. How well do you really know him?”

“Not very well. We only talk at work, and he hasn't been here more than a few weeks. But I like him.”

“But he sends you photos of his kids?”

Novak shrugged. “That's just the kind of guy he is, I guess. Why? Is something up?”

“I've been thinking... I wonder if we can really trust him.”

The smile on Novak's face vanished, and Zenigata felt a little bad. He recalled their earlier conversation and how tired she was of not having many colleagues to trust. Here he was, shaking what little she had.

“What do you mean?”

“Before I say anything, remember that this is just a hunch. I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. But the pickpocket from today got me thinking. I don't look like the kind of man whose wallet is worth stealing. Nobody has tried to grab it before even though they probably think I'm some dumb tourist. But the moment I step outside with Lupin's card, someone is on me.”

“That could be just a coincidence.”

“But if it's not, the only people who know about the card are –”

“Me and him. What makes you think the traitor isn't me?”

He was surprised by the hard tone of her voice and the anger in her eyes. She wanted proof, he realized, not wild speculation based on his gut feeling. He couldn't blame her. With so much corruption around her, she had no choice but to be suspicious of everyone, and it had to be tiring if there was nothing concrete.

He touched the brim of his hat for some moral support. “I've decided to trust you. Besides, you didn't know that we were getting take-out, so you couldn't have gotten anyone there to swipe my wallet.”

“But you think Kostov arranged that?”

“He could have. He was on the phone right before we left. But this isn't all of it. It's just what got me thinking. Has he ever sent you a photo of himself with his boys, or with his wife?”

“No, but that's not so strange. What, you think he just sends me photos of some random kids?”

“Going to visit them in Zagreb is a great reason to take time off and fulfil his other duties if he's working for someone else on the side.”

“Other duties? Like what?”

“You know that strange incident last weekend? When that football club's bus got cut in two? The driver said two interesting things. One, they picked up a Japanese tourist on the way, but he disappeared after destroying the bus. It can only have been Goemon. Two, the whole thing happened when they were stopped by the police. But everyone who was on patrol that night has an alibi, so we have no idea who the officer was.”

He had her attention with this, he could tell, so he went on, “We know that Lupin's gang is somehow involved with Vuković. If he controls the police, as you say, it makes sense he could have sent someone to kill Goemon. And if he has something against Lupin, of course he'd want to get someone involved in my investigation. What's better than presenting one of his men as a fresh recruit from another city? He'd have the perfect excuse to snoop around and ask questions since he's new.”

“I can't believe it,” Novak said. “Sure, when you put it like that... But none of this is evidence.”

“I'm not asking you to do anything except be careful. I'm sure we're going to see the end of this case within a few days. If I'm wrong, there should be no trouble. But if I'm right...”

Novak let out an amused snort. “Are you going to give him a similar speech about me? Just to cover every possibility?”

“No,” Zenigata said, not quite sure why she'd even suggest that. “I already told you that I trust you. You've given me no reason to suspect you.”

She gave him no answer. Somehow, he found himself thinking back to one of the few times he'd seen her relax, when she and Kostov had invited him for lunch and she'd tried to sneak sugar into his coffee to annoy him. He had thought it strange, but perhaps that had been a glimpse of the person she would have been if her work didn't keep her on the edge all the time.

“I don't want to believe that he'd be a part of this. He means the same to me as you. He's an outsider, so I thought I could trust him, except that he won't leave once the Lupin case is closed.”

Now he felt even worse about bringing this up.

“I could be wrong,” he reminded her. He didn't think he was. He'd been doing this long enough to know that a lot of people thought they could use him as a pawn in their game. They saw a bumbling fool who tripped over his own feet. They laughed at him behind his back. But after Lupin's wave of destruction had crashed over them and Zenigata was the only one left standing, they all knew there was a reason he had been the leading man on this case for years.

Novak took a deep breath and turned away. “I'll think about this. It wouldn't be the first time that people I thought were on my side were lying to me.”

Zenigata got the feeling that her words applied to him, too. He hoped that by the time this was over, he could have a happier conversation with her. Maybe they'd both arrest their man. They'd go out for dinner to celebrate, maybe drink a little too much. They'd exchange contact information and promise they'd stay in touch about new, interesting cases.

Life without Lupin. It was a solemn thought and not one he often allowed himself to mull on. It wasn't good to think too far ahead. He had to focus on the matter at hand. He'd think about his next case only when Lupin was behind bars and had received his sentence.

“Hey, you two! What are you doing here? The investigation is downstairs.”

They turned when they heard Kostov's voice at the door. He was poking his head outside and gesturing for them to get back inside. When they didn't immediately move, he walked over to join them.

“What's going on? Did you find something here?”

“The door has been sliced open, so we decided to check the roof,” Zenigata said. “How's it going downstairs?”

“We're still combing through the rubble to find something. Oh, and I got the media to leave.”

“How did you manage that?” Novak asked.

“They wanted to know if Lupin was behind this attack, and I couldn't really say yes or no, so they decided it was him and rushed off.”

“What? You let them think Lupin did this? But we know it can't have been him! This was Vuković!” Zenigata said. But he couldn't really blame him, he knew. After what Lupin and Goemon had done, anyone would think this was just more of the same.

“What about the eyewitness?” Kostov asked.

“What eyewitness?”

“One of the residents of the building. When she ran out of the house after the explosion, she saw Lupin and his samurai partner fleeing the scene.”

“That's the first I hear of it!”

“Oh, I thought someone already told you. We've got her statement, but I can tell her to drop by the station if you want to question her yourself.”

“Do that,” Zenigata muttered. He glanced at Novak from the corner of his eyes and wondered what she thought of this. If it was true that someone had seen Lupin and Goemon, it at least proved that they hadn't been captured or injured. He wanted to believe that, just to feel assured that Lupin was fine. At the same time, it was such a perfect coincidence that he couldn't help but think that if Kostov was working for Vuković, he was making this up to pin the explosion on Lupin.

“I want to talk to everyone who lives in this house, even if they say they know nothing. Arrange for them to show at the station first thing tomorrow,” he went on.

“Everyone? But that's going to take –”

“Just do it.”

Zenigata told Kostov and Novak to oversee the rest of the investigation at the scene while he remained on the roof to call his superiors at the ICPO to inform them of what had happened. He also made a request to receive the contact details of the person who owned the building and whoever was in charge of managing the apartments. Once he had a complete list of tenants, it'd be easy to check if Kostov's eyewitness was a real person or someone planted to give them false information.

When he was done with the phone calls, he remained on the roof for a moment longer, his hands in the pockets of his coat. There were too many emergency vehicles and people below to call it a peaceful night, but it was the kind of background noise he was used to, so he barely took notice of it.

It was normal that someone went after Lupin, but Zenigata didn't like how there was still so much in the dark. Why was this happening? What was Lupin even doing in Croatia? Had he come to commit some crime and had become sidetracked by a clash with the local underworld?

How was he supposed to arrest him before anything bad happened to him when he was missing so many important details?

His next move would be questioning Kostov's eyewitness, he decided. If that story held together, Lupin and Goemon were on the loose but something might have happened to Fujiko and Jigen. And if so, he wouldn't have to worry about finding Lupin. All he had to do was find Vuković, and Lupin would be there.

***

The ride was bumpy, and somebody's hands were rough against her skin, but Fujiko kept still and pretended to be unconscious. Any details she could gather would come in handy when it was time to flee. Her hair was in her face, so she dared to open her eyes for a moment to take a peek at her surroundings. However, all she could see was the knee of the man holding her. The smell of tobacco and leather on him was nauseating, but maybe she was more sensitive than usual because of the hit her head had taken.

One thing she could be certain of, and what mattered the most, was that her captors had no immediate plans to kill her. Otherwise, they wouldn't have bothered taking her with them. They were after something. That alone would give her the edge she needed to turn the tables to her favor. Her greatest weapon was her ability to fool others into thinking she was going to give them what they wanted.

The men in the car were talking in Croatian, which she could understand only a little. What she could make out was that they were headed somewhere within the city and that they weren't satisfied with how their mission had turned out. Two out of four, but no names mentioned.

She hoped that Goemon had avoided capture. He was the best equipped to execute an escape plan from the outside. Whether she wanted to be held captive together with Lupin or Jigen, she didn't know. If Lupin was free, he'd need very little time to figure out where they were being taken and come get them. But that'd leave her with Jigen, and since he was the primary target, they might decide she was worthless to them after all.

What could she bargain with? She'd be able to bluff and say she knew where the treasure was for a while, but if she couldn't escape before they started demanding concrete answers, that'd only make her situation worse. And that was only if they cared about the treasure in the first place. She supposed she could offer to betray the others in exchange for her life. If they didn't have Jigen, that was probably the best card to play.

But if they knew she'd disguised herself as the doctor and helped him escape in the first place –

Her plotting came to a halt together with the car. Calloused hands pulled her out and forced her on her feet. She decided to show that she was awake before anyone got the idea to hit her to make her walk. There was wet asphalt under her bare feet, a faint wind blowing her hair from her face – and a salty smell, so they had to be by the sea – but the lights of the two cars were blinding enough that she couldn't see much.

“Fujiko? Is that you?”

Damn, that was Jigen. Time to find a new ace and quick, especially if she wanted to see them both get away. She couldn't imagine that Walker would waste his time after Jigen had already slipped through his fingers once. They had to come up with something immediately.

“Yeah. You okay?”

“Other than this gun pointed at my back, yeah.”

“And here's one for you, too,” the man behind her said. The cold metal that pressed against her side made her push aside the thoughts she'd had of kicking his feet from under him and making a run for it.

The man's fingers around her upper arm dug into her skin, but she swallowed the angry words that were on her tongue. No need to draw extra attention to herself by having an attitude. It was better to keep her options open in case she needed to be a weak little flower who'd been pulled into a game that was too much for her.

The inside of the warehouse was dark until someone flipped a switch. Bright industrial lights turned on, and after her eyes got used to it, she scanned the room to take in as many details as she could. There was a row of wooden crates standing against the walls. They blocked all the windows, so it'd be hard to notice from the outside that the lights were on. Miscellaneous machinery and a forklift took up most of the space in the middle.

There was a total of five men with them. Two had been in the car with her, three with Jigen. Just from a brief glance, each looked like they had brains to match their muscle. The years of experience in dirty work showed in the lines on their faces, in the lack of nervousness as they talked to each other, and the ease with which they carried their weapons. They knew what they were doing. It came as no surprise. They'd blown up their apartment, been in and back out so quickly that she couldn't help but be a little impressed.

Not Vuković's men, she decided. If he had people like this working for him, he would have set them against Lupin and Goemon when they'd been causing trouble. These had to be Walker's guys.

Jigen looked fine. It was a warm night, so they had both been caught in nothing but their underwear. His hat had gotten lost somewhere on the way, and he looked stark naked without it. It crossed Fujiko's mind that it would have been so funny if he'd been sleeping in his usual grandpa nightgown, and she would have laughed if she hadn't been sure it'd earn her the butt of a gun to the face, or at least a painful yank of her hair.

One man walked aside to make a phone call while the others began to tie Jigen and Fujiko's hands behind their backs. It was thin nylon rope that bit nastily into skin, so she didn't put up a struggle and encourage them to make it any tighter than necessary. Cutting off circulation to her hands for a long time would only cause trouble.

“This doesn't look like a place where they'll keep us long,” Jigen said under his breath.

“You think that means they'll gun us down here, or take us somewhere else?”

“Who knows?”

“I heard them talk in the car. They were after all of us, not just you.”

Jigen gave her an unimpressed glance. “That's pretty obvious, since you're here. But just as well. Better chances of getting out of here if they want to catch the rest before they do anything.”

He'd figured out the same she had. With Lupin and Goemon out there, they were practically rescued already. Unless...

“I hope they're okay. The reason they didn't bring them could be that they got caught in the explosion.”

“If we barely have scratches, they've got to be fine. Except if the table flew on them and flattened them, I guess. I can't really remember much of what happened when the bomb went off.” Jigen gave her a questioning look as he spoke, but she could only shrug.

“Don't look at me. It was too chaotic to notice much. All I'm saying is that maybe we should be prepared in case they don't show up soon.”

“It's me they want. If you just keep your mouth shut and do nothing, maybe –”

“I doubt it. They bothered to bring me this far.”

Jigen acknowledged her logic with a grunt and sat down on one of the wooden crates. Fujiko followed his example so that she wouldn't stand out. With the way things were at the moment, there was nothing to do but wait. She wasn't about to risk five armed men when she couldn't use her hands. But if they left them alone, even for a bit, she had a trick that could get them out of this.

They didn't have to wait for long. The small side door they'd entered through opened and two more men stepped inside. Fujiko recognized both. The first she'd only seen in photos. She always did careful research before choosing a target because her work so often put her into positions where one miscalculation could mean her death, preceded by the kind of violence that the rest of their group usually didn't have to worry about. James Walker had been cut from her list almost immediately, even though he was known for spoiling his women. He was also known for the other things he did to them.

The other was Vuković, but she wasn't worried about him. He was easy to handle. He'd fall for the treasure story right away if they tried it on him. Even more importantly, he was pragmatic and not a sadist.

Walker walked over to them, slowly with his hands in his pockets. If he was eager to meet them, he wasn't showing it. The regular click of his shoes was the only sound as he approached, and Fujiko found herself glad that it wasn't her he wanted.

“Jigen,” Walker said, stopping a couple of steps away so that he had time to react in case either of them decided to kick him. “I'm so happy to see you. For a while, you had me worried that you'd died in the helicopter crash.”

“Wish I could say the feeling's mutual.”

Jigen sounded casual, but he wasn't leaning back against the stack of crates behind him. If he was bothering to put in the effort to sit upright, he had to be expecting something to go wrong at any moment. Or maybe he was just out of his element without his hat. Fujiko wondered what he was thinking, face to face with a man whose thirst for revenge was perfectly justified in his world view.

“It's alright. I'm sure I'll enjoy this for both our sakes.”

“Why'd you bring her?” Jigen asked and tilted his head towards her. “She's got nothing to do with this.”

“Why do you care? Is she your woman?”

“Jimmy, come on.”

Walker laughed. He turned his eyes to her, and though she was used to men looking at her, it wasn't often that it made her feel queasy. He wasn't interested in what she had to offer, only what he could take. It made a world of a difference in how he'd treat her.

“True, you never had a lot of women, and definitely not her kind. She's more my type.”

“Oh, you want her? Be my guest. She's never been anything but a pain in the ass.”

Fujiko let out an indignant sound, but she caught herself before she said anything. For a brief moment, she felt a stab of panic that Jigen might be using the situation to get rid of her, that the ceasefire of the past few days had been a lie, that he he hated her that much. If he made it out alive, he could go back to Lupin alone and say there was nothing he could do. Lupin would believe him.

But that wasn't like Jigen. He wasn't a schemer. He'd see it as sinking to her level, and if there was one thing she was sure of, it was that he didn't want to think of them as having anything in common.

He was trying to do her a favor, she decided. He knew Walker was the type who might enjoy making him watch as he broke the people closest to him. If he could convince him that he didn't care about her, he might lose interest in her. She didn't think it had high chances of working, but it decent of him to try.

Fujiko snorted. “Look at you. What a coward, trying to distract him with me. Not so tough without your gun, hm?”

“Shut it,” Jigen grumbled. He refused to look at her. Maybe he didn't realize she'd seen through his ruse immediately.

She responded with an all-knowing smirk, but the confidence wasn't mirrored inside. With their hands tied and so many guns in the room pointed at them, there wasn't much they could do to fight back. If someone decided to hurt them, there was nothing to stop it.

Walker was watching the two of them with his lips curved into the beginning of a smile. “I wish it had been all four of you, but two will be enough. I'm not going to waste any time trying to track down the others. One hour from now, we'll be on our way to Zagreb.”

“Why? You could just off me here,” Jigen said, and Fujiko wanted to throw something at him for giving him ideas.

“And make it that easy for you? I don't think so. I'm taking you home, and when I eventually kill you, it'll be on Tony's grave. I've been planning this for years.”

Fujiko was glad to hear that. It was a point in their favor. The longer this took, the better their chances that Lupin and Goemon would bust open the wall and come for them. An hour should be more than enough, but there were countless ways to play for time should they need more.

Vuković cleared his throat. “Where's my music box?”

“Back at the apartment that your guys blew up,” Jigen said.

“What? I thought we agreed I'd get it back!” Vuković turned to look at Walker with more irritation that Fujiko had expected from him. She'd written him off as spineless half-way into their first date, but maybe he had some guts after all.

“Calm down, Marko. The police will find it. All you have to do is ask one of your friends to hand it over.”

Jigen snorted. “It's probably in pieces now. Tough luck.”

“Still that cocky? An hour's more than enough to beat that out of you. It'll make the flight more pleasant if you aren't talking back to me the whole time.”

Fujiko pressed her lips together. She wasn't sure if she could expect Jigen to keep his cool. He always got too snarky for his own good when he was the underdog. It'd be harder to escape with him if he got himself hurt and she had to drag him along, so she'd have to stop him from getting into even more trouble.

“How did you know where to find us?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.

“We have the police in our pocket. One of our men spotted you and Lupin as he was being hunted, followed you and kept the information to himself. Nothing more complicated than that.” Walker gave her a thoughtful look, then turned to look over his shoulder at Vuković. “Do you want her?”

“What?”

“The woman. If the music box is broken, take her as compensation. I'm not sure it's worth the trouble to bring her to the States with me.”

“I don't think I have any chances with her after something like this.”

“Then I guess we'll just kill her and dump her in the sea when the boat gets here.”

“If you touch her, Lupin won't rest until you're dead at his feet,” Jigen said.

“What, now you care? Which is it? And is that supposed to be a threat? I've seen what he and the samurai did when they thought Marko had killed you. He'll come after me in any case, so it makes no difference what I do to her.”

“Tch. I always knew you were a piece of shit. Should have shot you along with your snotty brother.”

“Hey –” Fujiko began to say, but she snapped her mouth shut and jolted back when there was a blur of motion and the smack of Walker's shoe connecting with Jigen's face and sending him to the floor. She wanted to kick him, too, for being that dumb, but she knew he wasn't. He was doing it on purpose.

She was surprised by how much it frustrated her. At first, she thought it was that she hated feeling indebted to him. They'd been awful to each other the whole time they'd been working together. On occasion, she'd found herself loathing him more than she ever thought possible. He was always glued to Lupin's side and whining to him about her, exaggerating things and making her seem worse than she was. He'd tried to poison what she had with Lupin, just because he didn't understand or approve. It was none of his business.

When he'd asked why she'd saved him from Vuković, she'd told him she cared about him. It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't quite the truth either. She cared about the things she could get through him and about the effect he had on people who mattered to her.

He was the best marksman in the world. They needed him for their heists. Lupin and Goemon would mourn him for longer than she had the patience to watch. They'd never forgive her if they found out she had let him die. She'd wanted to feel the satisfaction of him admitting that she'd done something for him even though there was nothing in it for her. The list was endless.

It was petty, but so was his stubborn view of women as inherently unworthy of trust. It was unfair. The tricks she used were tools of the trade. It was common sense that if the situation got sticky, the best way out was to betray the others and immediately start working on a plan B while the enemy no longer considered her a threat. They thought she was weak, greedy, selfish and fickle, and it was exactly that which allowed her to make them her pawns without them realizing it.

She was the only one in their group who could do that. She had a reputation, and she knew how to use it. The others would probably never understand the game she was playing, but Lupin came the closest. Jigen was the type who'd rather take a bullet than pretend he'd double-cross his friends. She didn't know how such a sentimental fool could still be alive.

But maybe some of it was her fault. Even when her hatred had faded into irritation and then tolerance, she hadn't seen any reasons to let him see under the surface. It had been her petty attack to counter his. If he was so sure she was a back-stabbing whore, so be it. She didn't need his approval.

During the past few days, however, she'd probably shown him more of herself than through all their years of knowing each other. He'd done the same. She felt like she could understand him a little better, and she was sure that with enough time, the roughest edges would wear off. The wall between them, that they both wanted to keep Lupin away from the other, was gone.

She watched him lie on the floor, coughing and spitting blood, and bit her tongue. She had to seem indifferent, or that hit he'd just taken would go to waste. Walker wouldn't kill him here. Jigen could take a few blows, and Fujiko was going to make each of them count. She'd have an escape plan ready long before Lupin and Goemon showed up.

***

Lupin had reasoned that since their new hideout had been attacked, there was probably nobody watching the old one anymore. Their enemy had to be busy with Fujiko and Jigen and whatever they planned to do to them, so seeking momentary refuge in the apartment the three of them had been staying in was the safest option.

Goemon thought it was a gamble and that it was just as likely that their enemy would be waiting for them there. But he knew part of his reluctance was because of the apartment itself. There was too much there to distract him. Jigen's old hat on the table, the empty whisky bottle, the brochures from the museums they'd visited, the food that was still in the fridge; it was all exactly as they'd left it. It was surreal to come back when the last time he'd been there, he'd been choking on tears over losing someone he loved.

On the plus side, there was an extra set of clothes, so he could discard the shoddy replacements and feel like himself again.

They didn't turn on the light, just in case someone was still watching the place. Lupin was lying on the couch so that he could smoke without his cigarette being visible through the window. He hadn't spoken in twenty minutes, and Goemon was starting to get restless. They were wasting their time. Fujiko and Jigen could be dead already, and then they'd have to sit and mourn in this very room again.

“Lupin,” he whispered. “What are we doing here? We have to go and look for them. If we don't hurry –”

“I know!” Lupin snapped, and Goemon winced at his loud voice.

“Lupin –”

“I know, okay? What do you think I'm doing here? Taking a nap? I'm thinking! We have no idea where they are, so it's better if we come up with a plan rather than running around without a clue!”

Goemon didn't know what to say. It wasn't just that Lupin was yelling at him, which he didn't do often, but the tone of his voice chilled him. He sounded not only desperate but frightened as well. Lupin wasn't supposed to be that vulnerable or at loss. He was always one step ahead and gave the rest of them a reassuring smirk when things got rough.

He had sounded so confident right after the explosion. What had happened to his plan? If Lupin didn't know what to do, then truly they had lost.

“So, it's hopeless?” he asked.

“Did I say that?”

“They've had more than enough time to kill them by now. And after the trouble we caused them earlier, surely they wouldn't sit around doing nothing.”

“Like me?”

“I wasn't implying that.”

Lupin spat out his cigarette and sat up on the couch. “No need to. You already said it loud and clear.”

“Ah.” Goemon hesitated, not trusting himself to say the right thing when the situation was so unfamiliar.

There was a sigh from the couch and the sound of Lupin settling back down on it. Goemon tolerated the following silence for only a moment, its weight on him quickly growing too heavy to bear.

“I'm sorry. It's unfair of me to expect you to always have all the answers. I know you must be worried as well,” he said.

Lupin didn't acknowledge his words in any way, and at first Goemon thought he was angry at him. He didn't want to push it, so he tried to retreat back into his meditation. Maybe he'd remember something that could be useful.

“I bet they'd be mad at us if they saw us fretting like this,” Lupin said then.

“What?”

“They won't go down without a fight. It'll be really embarrassing if they ever find out we spent even five minutes moping around like this. Promise you won't tell?”

“If this ends well, I'd rather not talk of most of the events of the past few weeks at all.” Goemon leaned to his side to pick up Jigen's Magnum that they'd taken before they'd fled the scene of the explosion. “I wonder, how much of a fight can they put up when they have no weapons?”

“Enough to win us some time. I'm already half-way into our plan.”

“You are?”

“I told you I'm not just sitting on my ass here, didn't I?”

Goemon was a little embarrassed by how relieved he was to hear that. He was a professional. He wasn't supposed to rely on anyone or anything but his own blade. His solo missions and the long periods of time he spent training by himself were supposed to be the proof that. But, and it was suddenly clear to him, he was content with that life only because he knew there would always be a day when he returned to the others.

“You aren't only saying that to reassure me, are you?”

“No, I'm serious. We know the location of two more places that Vuković owns. It's unlikely they took them there, unless they're really dumb, and I don't think Walker is. But there should be someone there who can tell us where they are. Then we offer the treasure in exchange for them.”

“Will that really work?” Aside from the obvious fact that they didn't have the treasure and therefore nothing to bargain with, Goemon didn't think even Lupin could make the treasure enticing enough for Walker. A man who was this determined to get revenge for his brother even after so many years wouldn't give up that easily. And Lupin had to know that. He wasn't stupid. Was he planning an ace in secret? Goemon found himself both hoping and dreading it.

“Have you solved the clue for the treasure?” he asked.

“That's the half that's still missing. But I can do it on the way. I feel like I'm close. Or I can bullshit my way through it, whichever has to come first.”

Goemon slipped the Magnum into a pouch in his sleeve. It was heavier than he remembered, not that he'd had many chances to handle it. He'd look after it until he could give it back. There was an extra packet of bullets in the nightstand drawer in the room he'd shared with Jigen, and he took that as well.

As they exited the building, he thought to suggest that they'd forget about the treasure. If they found someone working for Vuković, it wouldn't take more than his blade on the man's throat to make him talk and tell them where Walker was keeping their friends. They could march in and take them back. But then he realized why Lupin didn't see it as an option. If they were too aggressive with a man like Walker, he might decide to kill his captives to avoid the risk of losing them.

It was hard for him to try to understand the man. Had he been him, Goemon would have already killed them. No prolonging it to play with his victims. It was a relief to know that he and Walker weren't very alike.

Then again, when he thought back to his heartbreak and rage from only a few days before, it wasn't so puzzling anymore. He didn't want to empathize with a man who was seeking to hurt someone important to him, but there was no denying that Walker's reasons resonated with him. He'd allow him a good death.

They found a car that was old enough to hotwire without effort and took off in it, probably waking up most of the street with the noise the piece of junk was making. Goemon clutched the Zantetsuken in his hands and mused on how strange it was to sit on the front seat.

“The closest place is by the river. We'll be there in ten minutes if we take a short-cut,” Lupin said.

“Through what?”

“This park.” Lupin's hands danced on the steering wheel, and the car made a sudden turn off the road and through the locked gates to their left. Goemon let out no sound, but he double-checked his seatbelt, just in case.

The engine screeched as Lupin drove them up a hill in the middle of the park. Goemon was surprised and impressed that the car didn't fail them, but he had no time to voice that because Lupin stepped on it as soon as they reached the highest spot. It sent them flying into a fountain, the horn blaring all the way down.

“This will attract the police,” Goemon said.

“What, you wanted me to hit that family of ducks? I had to warn them. Besides, by the time any cops catch up with us, we'll want them there to clean up after us anyway.”

“Is that why you went to see Zenigata?”

“Something like that.”

“What does that mean?”

Lupin was quiet for a moment. “Pops doesn't need my help in finding us. I just thought, maybe we'll need his help this time.”

“That's surprisingly somber coming from you.”

“Cut me some slack! We've been through a lot. He's the only one we can trust outside our little group.”

Goemon let out a sound of agreement. The local police was corrupt, as evidenced by his run-in with the sniper disguised as an officer, and the underworld was after them. If something went wrong, Zenigata would be the only one willing to drag them out of the fire.

They made it out of the park and bounced down the road towards the river. They dumped the car at a small parking lot and went the rest of the way on foot so that they wouldn't lead the police to their destination. The closer to the river they got, the fewer buildings there were, and most of them looked abandoned and were surrounded by gates and locks. It was a good place to run a shady business from, especially since there was easy access to the sea.

“I hope there's someone here,” Lupin said.

Goemon said nothing, but he shared Lupin's worry. They had taken down so many of Vuković's men that it was possible he no longer had anyone to remain at every location, especially at a night like this when he might need every man elsewhere. If this was a dead end, they'd just wasted precious time and maybe the lives of their friends.

They climbed over the fence and approached a small warehouse by the river. There was a pier for loading boats and some crates and barrels, but they looked like they'd been there for years. The windows were dark, and tall grass was growing along the gravel path that led to the building. But there was none on the path itself, and when they got closer, they could see a parked car.

Lupin gave Goemon a pat on his arm. No other instructions were needed. Goemon drew his blade and cut the door into pieces. He entered first, not caring that it was even darker inside. Lupin followed, but the first thing he did was flick a light switch.

There was indeed someone inside, but not what Goemon had been expecting. An old man was getting up on what appeared to be a dirty mattress in the corner, shielding his face against the light. At first, Goemon thought they'd stumbled upon a homeless person, but then he caught a glimpse of the gun that the man was about to pull from under his blanket.

He moved, and the gun was in pieces on the floor. Next, he had the man pinned down and his blade on his throat.

“I wouldn't move an inch if I were you. That sword is sharp,” Lupin said behind Goemon's back.

“What do you want from me? Who are you?” the man asked.

“Like you don't know,” Lupin said good-heartedly. “I bet you've heard all about us from your buddies who work for Vuković.”

“I have no idea who that is. I'm just bunking here because my wife threw me out.”

Lupin kicked at the pieces of gun on the floor. The sound they made was all the argument he needed. Goemon didn't have to turn around to know that Lupin was smiling smugly down at their prey. The dawning apprehension in the man's eyes was enough of a clue.

“Where are Vuković and Walker?” Lupin asked.

“H-how should I know? Do I look like someone important? Look, I'm just an old nobody they keep around because someone has to man this place. I know nothing!”

“You must have a way of contacting him.”

“I... I only speak to a middleman, and he's dead. You killed him last week.”

There was a dramatic sigh from Lupin. “Oh, then we came here for nothing. Thanks for wasting our time. Goemon, slit his throat.”

“Alright.”

“Wait!” The man began to squirm, and Goemon had to draw his blade back so that he wouldn't accidentally kill him. He was frail with age, so he had no trouble holding him where he was, even with one arm. He hoped he wouldn't have to get rough with him to get him to talk.

“Oh, did you remember something?” Lupin asked.

“I don't know where he is, but my phone has his number! I was never supposed to call him, but –”

He never finished because Lupin came to poke and prod at him until he found his phone in his pocket. Then he gave him a kick to make him spit out the code to unlock the screen.

“If you're lying, you're dead,” Lupin said, and Goemon was sure that he wasn't bluffing this time. Lupin spent a moment playing with the phone until he decided he was satisfied and slipped it into his pocket.

“Let's go,” he said and started walking towards the door, but something on the wall caught his attention. Goemon turned to look, then shook his head with disgust and disappointment. It was a girl calendar.

“April is long over,” Lupin said.

The man laughed weakly. “Uh... I know, but I like Elsa Hirschl...”

“I can see why. Damn nice tits.”

“We don't have time for this,” Goemon said when it didn't look like Lupin was going to tear his eyes from the calendar any time soon.

“Quite the contrary. I think this is the best thing that has happened to us all day,” Lupin said. He took the calendar off the wall. “I'm taking this. Hope you don't mind. We're also taking your car. You can keep your life in return, okay?”

“What was the point of that?” Goemon asked when they were outside. His fingers were itching to slice the distasteful calendar into shreds, if for no other reason than to show his unhappiness with Lupin's priorities.

“A little personal reward because I just figured out something important. Here, take a look.”

“No, thank you.”

“Hmph, spoilsport. But I bet you'll change your mind when I tell you that this babe here,” Lupin showed him the picture of a very busty woman dressed in red and white, “just told me where the treasure is.”

“You can't be serious. How?”

Lupin chuckled and swatted him over the head with the calendar. “Not telling since you didn't believe in me. You'll know when I tell Vuković. Let's get into that car and go. Now that we have the last piece of the puzzle, it's time to make an appointment.”

***

Zenigata had had no plans of returning to the station that night. He'd wanted to be on the move so that he'd be ready to go as soon as they received news of Lupin – and they would, he was sure, because Lupin wouldn't rest if something had happened to his friends. He'd been hard enough to deal with when it'd been just Jigen, but if Vuković now had Fujiko as well, who knew what'd happen?

But then Kostov had provided him with a surprise. Despite his grumbling, he'd gotten his eyewitness out of bed and in the interview room within an hour. Zenigata had offered him some praise for effective work, but inside he'd been wondering if his only motivation wasn't pinning the whole thing on Lupin and Goemon as quickly as he could.

And then he felt guilty immediately afterwards. Only a day before, his compliments would have been genuine.

The woman had turned out to be the real thing, unless Vuković had grandmothers on his payroll. She'd been living in the house for a decade and a quick background check brought up nothing suspicious. Her story was exactly as Kostov had already presented it as – she'd run outside as soon as she'd picked herself up from the floor after the explosion, and soon afterwards, she'd seen Lupin and Goemon fleeing on rooftops.

He wasn't sure he could do anything with these details. It was good to have the confirmation that Lupin was alive, but this told him nothing that brought him closer to catching him. In a way, he felt that he'd taken a step back because now he was forced to consider the possibility that Lupin and Goemon were behind the explosion, even though he was sure they weren't. But his gut feeling was no good against a testimony like this.

He allowed himself a few chosen profanities in Japanese and leaned back in his seat. He felt spent, and his body was stiff and aching after the bump the pickpocket's car had given him. The wise thing to do was to keep moving and hope it wouldn't get worse, so he forced himself up and decided to see how the man in question was doing. They were still detaining him at the station.

Or so he thought.

“He's not here anymore. They moved him a couple of hours ago,” the guard behind the reception desk told him.

“Who moved him? And where?”

“The people from Zagreb. Apparently that guy was wanted for something bigger there. They had all the necessary documents. And Kostov seemed to know them.”

It was exactly as he had thought. That had been no random attack. The man had come for Lupin's card, and the only link between all these coincidences was Kostov.

“I see,” he said with practised calm. He wandered back to his desk and sat down, wondering what to do. He had the card on him, no longer in his wallet but in a secret pocket sewn on the inside of his coat.

Only a moment later, Kostov came to bring him coffee. He'd done it countless times, and Zenigata always thanked him. Now, he wondered if there was something in it. If they still wanted the card, they'd have to get rid of him first.

“I'm so tired that this won't have any effect on me,” he said and ignored the mug.

“Maybe you should get a few hours of sleep, Inspector.”

So that they could bomb his hotel next? He wasn't about to put innocent people at risk like that, so he'd stay right here at the station for the time being.

“No. I feel like I won't be getting up again if I lie down.”

Kostov laughed. “That's a little morbid.”

“I meant that my muscles will be so stiff that I can't move anymore.” Zenigata watched Kostov's face and tried to find any signs of deception or danger, but there was only the tired smile of a man who'd been on his feet for too long. Was he really that good of an actor?

He wished Novak was there, but he'd left her in charge of wrapping up for the night at the scene of the explosion. She wouldn't be back for a few more hours.

“I hear the pickpocket got transferred to Zagreb,” he said.

“Yeah. He's a prime suspect in some beating that led to a death, so they came to get him.”

“Hmm.”

“What? Did you want to be notified? I didn't think it was important. That guy has nothing to do with Lupin.”

Zenigata didn't push it. Kostov wouldn't cough it up like this anyway, and he didn't want to make him suspicious. Having him this close was dangerous, but it was also a big trump card because Kostov had to know everything that was going on. If he kept playing dumb and cornered him at the right moment, he'd have all the answers he wanted.

He had to stay a step ahead. His colleague from Italy had sent him all the information he legally could about the De Angelis. He pulled up the file on his phone and began reading it again to check how much property the family owned in Crna Stina. If something more was going to happen that night, it'd be at one of those locations. And this time, he'd be there before it was over.

Chapter Text

Jigen heard more than felt the thud of his head hitting the floor. Luckily, he had enough experience with that to keep his tongue from getting caught between his teeth. He couldn't see for a moment when the pain caught up with him, but his vision cleared just in time to see the next kick coming.

Walker's shoe hit him in the shoulder, which was merciful enough. His nose wasn't broken yet, but it was bleeding, and the blood was starting to seep into his mouth. Every instinct was telling him to roll aside to avoid the kicks, but he knew there was little point in it. He had nowhere to go.

He caught a glimpse of Fujiko. She was watching them with a blank face. Good. He didn't want her to react and draw the attention back to herself. It wasn't so much that he was worried they'd hurt her. He just liked to think of himself as the kind of guy who'd take a blow for a woman, and damn her if she ruined the only comfort he had.

Walker stopped after the fourth kick. “You were the one everybody with a gun looked up to back home. My uncle didn't put a hole in you when you left us because he respected you too much. And now look at you.” He pressed his foot down on Jigen's shoulder and forced him to roll over on his back.

“Let me get up and fight, and we'll see who's on the floor.”

“Hmph.” The pressure on his shoulder increased, but Walker would have to step on it before it really started to hurt or he dislocated it. He didn't, but knowing that he could made Jigen uneasy. There was a limit to what he could take, and he didn't want to fall into pieces when Fujiko was watching.

“Even after what you did to Tony, he refused to hunt you down. Said we didn't have the money or influence to put a hit on someone who'd left the country. Can you imagine how much I hated him?”

Jigen felt like he'd swallowed a stomachful of gunk and wouldn't be rid of it no matter how many times he threw up. He didn't have a brother, but if he did and if someone killed him, he was sure he would burn the whole world down if that was what it took to have revenge. He'd gone after people for far less and thought his actions justified.

“Of course, it was nothing compared to how much I hated you.”

More than anything, Jigen wished he had his hat. Without it, he had no choice but to glare up at Walker's enraged features. He couldn't remember ever seeing him like that, face flushed and strands of his hair having fallen out of place, hands shaking. He'd only heard of it. Walker was tidy and meticulous, reserved and pleasant, until something set him off. Though he didn't want to keep looking, Jigen was unable to turn his eyes away. Doing so would have been an act of admitting his guilt, that he deserved this.

If he tumbled down that hill, he wasn't sure where it'd land him. More than any torture, even death, he was frightened by Walker's words. For most of his life, he'd drawn a line between himself and everyone else in the underworld. Perhaps he was slogging up to his knees in the blood of the people he'd killed, but he was different. He had a code of honor. He only did what a bodyguard had to do. When he spoke of his past, it was with a wry sense of wariness that never painted him as the bad guy, just a man who lived in a hard world that knew no mercy.

“Do you want to know what I've got back home that I'll use to kill you when I'm done?” Walker asked.

Jigen spat out blood, not so much out of defiance but so that he could talk. “Sure, humor me.”

“A straight razor. The really fancy kind, with his name engraved on it and everything. I got it for him and was going to teach him how to use it, but I never got the chance because you killed him before he had to start shaving. You piece of shit!”

The kick that hit him right under his ribs was the hardest yet and made him try to double over with a groan. His arms strained against the rope, and if they weren't bleeding yet, they would be soon. His fingers were going numb. If this went on for much longer, he doubted he could aim straight for a while. Panic was beginning to tighten around his throat, and he tried to swallow it along with the blood in his mouth.

Walker let out a breathy chuckle. “It has never been used, so it's still sharp. It'll be a quick death, and you'll be begging for it.”

“I don't beg.”

“There's a first time for everything. I've had years to come up with ideas.”

“Oh, yeah?” Jigen challenged. “What gives you the right to act so high and mighty? Your family deals in nothing but shady business. Just how many lives do you have on your conscience?”

Walker paused, but Jigen knew there was no reasoning with him. If anything, his words seemed to have stirred even more hatred in him, and at first he was sure he'd get another kick. But the anger fell from Walker's face. For a moment, he was back to looking like the controlled man Jigen remembered working with.

“To think that you'd even try that angle. Ha. Of course I've killed people and left behind grieving families. I don't care. And unlike you,” Walker's lips curved upwards in a smirk, “I don't pretend that I'm something I'm not. I know you've turned down most of the jobs that have been offered to you since you started working with Lupin. But do you really think you can leave a past like that behind? Who are you trying to fool? Hopefully not yourself!”

“Just slowing down and getting ready for retirement. I'm not sure I could quit cold turkey.”

Walker's smile turned his stomach. The man understood him too well, and Jigen could hear the cracks as the sentimental half-truths he'd relied on for so long threatened to crumble.

He could dress in fine suits and drink the best whisky in the world all he wanted. Ask anyone, and they'd call him the dreck of society. He was no better than the other mutts who took money for the ugliest job that existed. Having principles like not getting bystanders involved or not killing children weren't honorable traits, just basic human decency that deserved no praise. He knew that, had always known, but admitting it was something else.

“You killed my brother. You robbed me of getting to watch him grow and become a man. I had to convince my mother not to open the casket because of how he looked. What do you have to say to that?”

Not much, which was why he kept his mouth shut and turned to glare at the floor, choosing to give up some of his earlier defiance. Walker was right. He couldn't hide behind a convenient excuse. He'd killed someone who didn't deserve it, and his only options were to decide he didn't give a damn and that all of his big talk about having a code of honor had been bullshit, or bow his head and accept what was coming.

“Hmph. Stubborn bastard. I'll make you talk. You'll beg and cry by the time I'm –” Walker never finished, like he was suddenly so overcome by his anger that he couldn't find the words. What he could do was move, and the kick that struck Jigen in the side left him breathless and trying to turn aside to avoid the next one.

Walker had said he wouldn't kill him until they were in the States, but if he lost it, he might get the job done right here, right now, perhaps without even meaning to. Jigen's sides were burning from the impact, and with every blow, he was expecting to feel the blaze of a rib cracking. He couldn't breathe; the air war forced out of his lungs before he'd had the time to draw a full breath, and after a while it hurt to even try. Spots of black were beginning to dance before his eyes, but he couldn't afford to pass out now. It might make Walker stop if he noticed, but Jigen wasn't sure if Fujiko would try to bother waking him up if there was a chance of escape.

An involuntary chortle tried to escape from his throat, but it turned into a cry of pain when Walker chose that exact moment to kick him one more time. He was pitiful. He was getting the shit beaten out of him because he'd killed a child, and he still clung to his stubborn view that Fujiko was the bad apple in their group.

Sure, I take money for killing people, but at least I'm loyal to my friends. If that was the best he could say about himself, he didn't have much going. And yet it was exactly what had helped him live with himself for most of his life. It was so convenient. He had decided that loyalty was something that measured a person's worth because it came easy to him. It had given him the perfect excuse to act like Fujiko was scum because she didn't meet the criteria that he'd thought up.

And if she was so terrible, worse than him, even, and Lupin still loved her, then there had to be hope for him. Before this heist, he would have punched anyone who dared to suggest that was what had been brewing in his heart, but now he found himself thinking it, and he didn't know if he wanted to laugh or cry at himself.

Maybe that was even the root of his attraction to Lupin. He was so different from the other men, from the work he'd done. With him, it was easy to say that he'd turned over a new leaf. Lupin lived for the moment, and if he ever thought about the past, he didn't show it to anyone. There was some truth in what Walker had said; he loved following Lupin from one exciting heist to another like life was nothing but an adventure and he didn't leave a trail of bloody footprints behind him everywhere he went.

The kicks stopped, and he could finally try to draw in a lungful of air. Almost at once, he began to cough up vomit and blood and almost choked on it in his desperation to breathe. He had to look like hell, and he felt worse. His vision was blurry with tears. And to complete his humiliation, Fujiko was there to see everything.

At first, he thought that Walker had just gotten enough for now, but when he twisted his neck to see what he was doing, he saw that Vuković was holding him back by the arm. His other hand was holding a phone to his ear, and by the bewildered look on his face, there must have been an unexpected development.

Jigen decided he didn't care what it was. It had given him a break, and he could use it to put himself back together.

“What?” Walker asked.

“It's... it's Lupin. He wants to make a deal.”

“Oh? What does he have to offer?”

Vuković hesitated, but only for a moment. “The De Angelis treasure.”

“That's real funny, trying to give us back what was yours anyway. In theory. I wonder what the De Angelis would say about this. You never told them about the music box, did you? Hm?”

“What should I tell him?”

“I assume he wants these two back? Sure, we can make an exchange in an hour. But not here or he'll storm this place in five minutes.”

Jigen closed his eyes and listened to Vuković repeat Walker's instructions to Lupin. No way were they going to go through with that deal, but he was sure Lupin knew that. Both sides were trying to bluff. Lupin didn't have the treasure, and Walker would never hand him over. If he wasn't hurting all over and feeling like shit, he might have been interested in watching them try to outsmart each other. Now, he just wanted his hands free and to get off the floor. It was cold, and the concrete had scraped raw splotches into his back and legs.

Still, it made him feel a little better to know that Lupin was coming for them.

“We aren't really handing them over, right?” Vuković asked after the call was over.

“Of course not. But this will buy us time. I'll be on my way with Jigen before Lupin realizes that the whole deal is a ruse.” Walker paused to think. “Actually, let's give him the woman. We don't need her. And if Lupin does bring the music box with him, it's a good opportunity to have it back. Consider it part of your payment.”

“But it's already mine!”

“You let that samurai steal it. I'm getting it back for you. Show some gratitude.”

Vuković let out an indignant sound but didn't argue. There was the click of a footstep, and Walker's shoe pressed against Jigen's shoulder once more.

“Open your eyes.”

He did, and he expected to receive another blow, but Walker only looked down at him. His face was marred by loathing, in the way his lips were curled and how angry his eyes were, but he seemed to be back in control of himself after the conversation with Vuković. Maybe Lupin had saved his life without knowing.

Walker bent over to grab his arms and dragged him up. Jigen didn't have the time to put any weight on his legs before he'd already been tossed aside so that he collided painfully with the wooden crate he'd been sitting on before. He swore under his breath, but he was glad the worst seemed to be over for now.

“I'll go change my shoes and make sure everything is ready. We're going to Zagreb in half an hour,” Walker said. He pointed at one of the men who'd captured them. “You. Stay here and watch them. The woman is merchandise, so don't touch her.”

“Should we really leave only one man here?” Vuković asked.

“Jigen can't put up a fight, and she won't bother. You know her reputation. She has no reason to risk anything since we're delivering her to Lupin.”

“Fair enough.”

Everyone left, save for the man who was to watch them. He was one of the dark suits who'd been in the car with him, not the more flexible guys who'd fished them out of the apartment. Not that Jigen doubted his skills. It was clear he was carrying a gun, and he could probably pack a mean punch, too.

Then again, right now anyone could have kept him down without much effort.

“You look awful,” Fujiko said.

“Thanks. You aren't exactly a sight for sore eyes, either.”

On second thought, he didn't really want to go down this path and be nasty to Fujiko only because he was feeling like crap. It was just so easy because it was what he always did. Nothing that had happened here was her fault.

“But one of my eyes is swelling shut, so I guess that's part of it,” he muttered, almost sheepishly.

She let a out a snort through her nose. “Do you still have your teeth?”

“Is this really the right time for this?” He hissed and tried to find a comfortable way to sit against the crate, but his body protested against every bit of movement. He could only imagine what'd it be like in the morning, especially if he was forced to have his arms bound like this. He was too old to be tied up all night.

“I'm serious. I need your teeth.”

“What?”

Fujiko glanced at the man who was only some fifteen feet away and could hear everything. They were speaking Japanese, but there was always the chance he could understand.

“We can escape. I've got a fool-proof trick.”

“Yeah? I'm all ears.”

He had already decided he wouldn't hold it against her if she wanted to sit back and wait for Lupin to come for her, even as he'd known that she wouldn't. Walker's offer was too good to be true, and Fujiko wasn't dumb enough to fall for it. The only way out alive was one that they made themselves. Just for a moment, though, he'd imagined what a lasting impression he'd make if he sent her off to Lupin with a resigned smile on his face and stayed behind to wait for a certain death.

“We need to get rid of that guy first. Just play along, okay?”

Jigen didn't have the time to do more than grunt his agreement when Fujiko suddenly jumped to her feet and kicked him in the stomach. It wasn't a hard kick, but after what he'd just been through, he was sore enough that the yell he let out was of both surprise and pain.

“Hey! What's your problem?”

“Look at the mess you got us into! I worked so hard for that treasure, and now we're losing it again because of you!” She kicked him one more time to get him down on the floor, but after that it was all show. Jigen caught on what she was trying to do and bent over with a mouthful of profanities, trying to make it look like he'd broken something.

“Hey, you!” the guard snapped and began marching over. “Back off and stop being hysterical!”

Fujiko showed no sign of having heard him. She kept spitting insults at Jigen and making a fuss around him like nothing else mattered. When the guard got close enough to attempt grabbing her by the arm and pulling her away, she whirled around and struck him in the neck with her foot. He never let out a sound as he slumped to the floor.

“And now?” Jigen asked, dragging himself up, a little wobbly since he couldn't use his hands.

“Now we need your teeth.” Fujiko swayed her body forwards to make her hair fall over her shoulder to cover her breasts. “You've got to unhook my bra and pull out the clasp. I normally use it to threaten to poke out the eyes of anyone who becomes a handful in bed, but I think it's more than sharp enough to cut through these ropes.”

“Oh, you're kidding me.”

“I wish. Can you do it or not?”

Jigen guessed he had no choice. And really, if he had to choose between a slow death and getting his mouth that close to Fujiko, well... Neither was pleasant, but it was an easy pick. He sighed in resignation and circled behind her.

She was wearing one of those strappy lace things that didn't look like they were any good at supporting anything. They had to be pretty sturdy, though, he guessed, since she was packing more than most women he knew.

“You know how to do it, right?”

“I'm not an idiot,” he muttered. It wasn't rocket science. And heck, he'd worn something similar more than once when a heist had required creative disguises. Fujiko knew that. She was just making fun of him, knowing how little he liked this.

Though after his first attempt resulted in nothing, he had to admit that doing this with his mouth was a lot different from using his fingers. He didn't want to get too close. He'd never thought there'd be a day when he had to touch her with his lips. There was something unreal and wrong about the whole thing.

“Just grab it and pull. I don't care if you scrape me. Lupin would be done already.”

“Lupin would enjoy this!”

He'd half expected her to complain about his beard, or squirm. She always did when Lupin had his hands all over her, but maybe she wasn't at all ticklish and just put up the act for him. Maybe Lupin liked that.

He had to pull harder than he'd thought to unhook the clasp, but he got it done. The bra slid down Fujiko's shoulders but didn't fall off since her arms were tied. As far as Jigen was concerned, the worst was over. It wasn't hard to slid out the clasp – damn, it was more like a knitting needle – and hold it between his teeth with his tongue firmly enough to cut into the rope around her arms.

Fujiko let out a sigh of relief when the rope was loose enough that she could wriggle herself free of it. Her skin was reddened and raw, but she didn't complain.

“That was pretty good. I'm so proud,” she said and snatched the clasp from between his lips.

“Don't belittle me. That was easy.”

“I mean that you didn't grumble even once that surely I'd run as soon as I'm free and leave you here.”

“If I'd had my mouth free, you bet I would have.”

Fujiko's reply was an amused hum. She worked fast and helped him out of the rope. Sensation returning to his arms was anything but pleasant, but it was welcome pain. He opened and closed his fists a few times until he felt it didn't take too much effort.

“Let's get out of here,” he said, refusing to look how Fujiko hooked her bra again with the only clasp that was left. The door was a risky choice since he was sure there was someone there, but maybe they could climb on the crates and make it to one of the windows.

“Are you sure you're okay?” Fujiko asked.

“Nothing's broken. But I'll feel like shit tomorrow.”

“No, I mean what he said.”

Jigen had been about to inspect the guy on the floor and grab his gun, but he stopped to glance up at her. For a blessed moment, he'd forgotten the reason they were here. Suddenly, he didn't want to be alone with her. She was too perceptive with people. She'd notice right away that something was wrong, and he knew he didn't want to tell her that he was starting to think that he'd been unfair to her for so long. He was barely ready to admit it to himself.

“I'm fine.”

If he couldn't keep up his distaste and griping, what was he supposed to do with her? It was a long-term problem that he didn't have the time or energy to worry about right now. Later, when this was all over and he could sit back with a glass of anything that'd get him drunk and not move from the spot for hours, he'd give it some thought.

He tried not to feel like he was just running from his problems. He had too many. He couldn't deal with them all at once.

They stole everything they could from the guy Fujiko had taken out. Jigen grabbed his gun, wallet and phone while she undressed him. It was hard to guess when they'd get back to Lupin and Goemon, and neither wanted to be that long in just their underwear. Fujiko took the man's shirt, which reached just down to her mid-thigh, and Jigen made do with his suit jacket. The pants were too big for them both, so they left them.

“Doesn't feel right, somehow,” he muttered.

“What?”

“Going to work without pants.”

“I'd be more worried about how you can barely stand straight from that beating you got, but that's male pride, I guess.”

“Hmph. I bet that you –” Thankfully, his brain caught up with him before he said that Fujiko was no doubt used to doing work without much on. He had to do something about this habit. It shouldn't have been this hard to just say something decent to her every once in a while.

“You bet that I what?”

“Nothing.” But judged by the irked look on her face, she'd already guessed what he'd been thinking. It was no surprise. Half the things he'd ever said to her during the years they'd known each other could be summed up as “I think you're a whore”.

Getting out of the warehouse was easier than Jigen had expected. Compared to the gunfight and chaos with the stolen helicopter they'd caused the last time they'd escaped together, this was anti-climatic, but he couldn't complain. He couldn't see well since one half of his face was busted, his chest ached with every breath he took, and there was no strength left in his arms and legs. In his younger days, he was sure he could have shrugged off a beating like that with one good drink, but now he found himself fantasizing of a bath and a nice bed. He was slower than he would have liked, and almost slipped when it was time to climb down the drain pipe that was right by the window.

“That took you long enough,” Fujiko said when he finally made it down.

“I never asked you to wait for me.”

“Okay, then I won't.” She flipped her hair at him as a sign of defiance and started walking away. There was nobody in sight, and the only light was on the other side of the building, but Jigen couldn't believe she'd act so careless.

“Wait, where are you going?” he asked and limped after her.

“To the apartment that you three were renting before this all started. Even if Lupin and Goemon aren't there, there's some stuff that'll be useful.”

“Do you even know how to get there?”

“Once I get to the streets, yeah. I've got this city pretty well memorized, just in case.”

They reached a wire fence that separated the area with the warehouse from another identical one. Fujiko was quick to climb over it and landed safely on her feet on the other side. Jigen eyed the fence warily, not sure if his battered body would take him over it. But it wasn't like he'd ever voice those doubts to Fujiko, so he had no choice but to follow her example and begin climbing.

“Maybe you should start thinking about retirement,” she said as she watched him.

The only reply he could force through his gritted teeth was an irritated growl, and then he had to focus on getting over the fence because the longer he stayed on it, the more the wire cut into his feet. He usually had his shoes on when he was doing this kind of thing.

“Hey,” Fujiko said then, no doubt having noticed the lack of a cross come-back. “Do you need a hand?”

Lupin wouldn't have even asked. He'd have grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him down on his side of the fence, and Jigen wouldn't have thought twice about it. It was their routine, taking turns dragging each other from whatever jam they ended up in. With Fujiko, it just didn't click into place. He didn't want to show any weaknesses to her – she might use them to her advantage, make fun of him, or maybe it was just too bitter to swallow that he had to rely on her for anything and that she kept proving herself reliable.

How long would it last? If he let his guard down, surely there'd be a day when she sold him to the highest bidder. This heist was special since it was so personal, and so much within their group was changing and trying to find new shape. They could exchange friendly chit-chat at breakfast and tease Lupin, but was that really genuine? It wouldn't take them anywhere if they tried to get along only because of Lupin. They'd fall back into old habits sooner or later, except he wasn't sure if there was a comfortable crook left for low-key distaste and shaky tolerance anywhere in their group.

He made it on top of the fence and fell down like a sack of rocks, but at least it was on the right side. Fujiko didn't offer him a hand, but she waited for him to pick himself up and didn't say anything.

Everything couldn't be about Lupin. Something would have to change between them, and it had to be something that had nothing to do with anyone else.

They had to put as much distance between themselves and the warehouse as they could before their escape was noticed, so they didn't talk more. Jigen was sure that Fujiko kept her pace slow so that he didn't fall behind, but he made no comment on it. He was the one with the gun, so it was the logical choice for her to stick with him, he reasoned.

Then again, when he was in this state, she could have overpowered him and grabbed the gun if she wanted, so that excuse did little to protect his pride.

When they made it out of the industrial area, the first thing they did was grab a cab that was passing by. Fujiko made up some funny story about a party that went too far and asked the driver to take them to a street that was close enough to where their old hideout was, but not so close that he'd be able to guess what street they were headed to. They paid for the ride with the money they found in the guard's wallet.

All things considered, going back to the old hideout was probably the dumbest thing they could do since it was the first place where Walker would look for them. But there was nowhere else that they could get supplies, and they weren't planning to stay long anyway. It was a risk they had to take.

The first thing they realized when they stepped inside was that the others had been there recently. The room smelled faintly of Lupin's Gitanes. Maybe they'd just missed them. If they'd been there only a little earlier – if he wasn't so damn slow, Jigen thought – maybe the group would be back together already.

His frustration vanished as soon as he realized what was on the table.

“My old hat!”

“Ugh, it's filthy.”

“Blood and whisky. The story of my life.” Jigen put the hat on his head and felt like he'd been reunited with an old flame. If this was an omen, things just might turn out okay after all.

The apartment had everything they needed and more. For one thing, they could toss the clothes they'd stolen. As the last thing he'd taken care of before walking out on the others was doing the laundry, Jigen could change into his own clothes. Fujiko found an extra shirt and a pair of pants that Lupin had left lying around.

She looked like his girlfriend, not just someone he was sleeping with. Jigen felt a dull sense of possessiveness. He'd thought there was nothing left that'd get a jealous reaction out of him, but he guessed there was still new ground to cover, even after everything that had happened.

“We should contact them before they meet up with Walker,” he said. The phone he'd swiped from the guard was locked with a password, but Fujiko said she could get past that if Lupin had left some of his things at the apartment. Jigen understood nothing about technology of that kind, so he let her tinker with the phone while he sank into the couch. He'd had cigarettes here before he'd walked off, but they were gone. Lupin had taken them when he'd thought he was dead, he guessed.

“What is it now?” Fujiko asked after a long silence.

“Hm?”

“You're staring at me.” She shot him an amused look and pursed her lips at him. “You like it when I dress like Lupin?”

He hadn't noticed that he'd been staring, and he wondered how she could tell when he had his hat over his face.

“Give me a break. Just surprised to see you covering so much skin.”

“Very funny.”

They fell into silence again. This time, Jigen was fully aware that he was looking at her. The phone screen cast a pale light on her face as she worked. She had the phone connected to a small device and was pressing buttons on it, but it could have been magic for all he knew. She was frowning in concentration. He realized he didn't get to see her like that too often, or maybe he'd never cared to notice.

He should have just kept his mouth shut and not let her teasing get under his skin. She knew he wasn't into her, so he didn't have to bother getting defensive. Just... She should keep her mouth shut sometimes, too, and not go for every opening he gave her.

Now that there was no immediate danger to distract him, he found himself thinking back to everything that Walker had said. It made him wish the couch would swallow him. He didn't give a shit about any treasure anymore. All he wanted was to get so drunk he couldn't remember his own name, least of all how much he didn't like himself right now. Just for a moment.

He thought about what he'd have regretted the most if Walker had put him on a plane back home. Not getting more time with Lupin. Not fixing things with Goemon and letting that fiasco at the bus stop be the last time they talked.

As for Fujiko... If he was going to die, he didn't want it to be in front of her, and not like that. It would have been a pathetic way to go if he'd croaked back at the warehouse. Not because of the beating, but because of the ugly truths he was beginning to realize about himself. He was weak. At his age, he was still making excuses and blaming others for his own shortcomings.

The last time they'd been alone, Fujiko had forced a few words of honesty out of him, but it didn't look like she cared for more. It left him irritated at first, how she could get him so riled up and loathing himself and how she wasn't making a move to talk him out of it. But then again, it wasn't her job. If he wanted to make something right, there was no reason why he couldn't take the first step.

He played with his fingers like he was rolling a cigarette between them as he weighed his choices. She'd already seen him at his worst when she'd confronted him about Lupin. Nothing could drag him that far down again. He didn't have anything to lose apart from his pride, and he wasn't sure how much of that was left at this point.

“Hey,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Back there, you didn't need to bust me out. You could have just sat on your butt and waited for Lupin.”

She didn't say anything for a moment. Then, a sigh that sounded more defeated than frustrated. “Is this going to be another interrogation about my hidden motives?”

“What? I just –”

“Just thought that there's no way I'd bother otherwise? Didn't we already have this conversation last time? I'm tired of this. If you need to rationalize that somehow, we both know they wouldn't have let me go.”

“That's not what I was getting at!”

“Then what?” she asked, eyes glinting with challenge in the little light they had.

It was hard to shrug when he was lounging on the couch, but Jigen tried anyway. “Just thought I'd say thanks.”

“I didn't realize he beat you up that badly. We need to get you checked after this.”

“I'm trying to be serious here. Can you do the same for just one moment?”

She put down the device with a defiant clack against the table and glared at him. “Fine. What is it?”

He wrestled with the urge to just tell her to go to hell and reminded himself that he had started this. Something had to change. Otherwise, his life with Lupin would always be shadowed by the knowledge that she could show up any moment she pleased and that when she did, things would turn sour.

“Look,” he went on, “I've never given you many reasons to give a damn about me. You could have just left me there.”

“Lupin and Goemon would never forgive me.”

“They'd never have to know.”

Fujiko snorted and picked up the phone again. “So, you think it's worth a thank-you that I wasn't a complete back-stabbing bitch this time? Like that takes special effort? You really don't think very highly of me.”

That wasn't it. It was like she was misunderstanding everything he said, or reading the worst possible meaning in his words on purpose. Was she doing that to get him mad? Maybe, but perhaps she was a little justified in that. Didn't he always do the same to her?

She sounded tired and disappointed, he realized. He thought back to all the bickering they'd done in the past few days and how there had been a few moments of peace, of some sort of mutual sympathy. Perhaps she was motivated by the same feelings he was. There had to be something better than this between them, but they wouldn't get far without more effort.

“I'm sorry,” he forced himself to say.

She looked up from the phone. “What?”

“You heard me just fine.”

“Yeah, but I'm doubting my ears. And getting kind of scared.”

“What? Why?”

“I always thought the only time I might have even a chance of hearing that is when you're on your deathbed and feeling more wistful than usual. Should I worry that you're not getting up from that couch?”

“He didn't hit me that hard!”

“Not with his feet, sure. But I bet he got to you with his words. Tell me. Do you actually mean that, or are you saying it because you want me to make you feel like you're a decent guy after all?”

She was fiercely perceptive, even more so than Lupin, but he guessed she had to be.

“I mean it,” he said, his voice so low he could barely hear himself.

He swore he could feel her eyes on him and was glad she wasn't asking him to go into detail about what exactly he was sorry for. He didn't think he was ready to say that much yet.

“Alright. You know, that hat doesn't hide your emotions half as well as you think.”

“And what's that supposed to mean?”

“By the time you make up your mind and say something, I've usually guessed what it's going to be.”

“What, so there's no point in saying anything? Is that it?”

“No. The point is that I think you're too much of a stubborn mule to ever reconsider anything. I'm glad to be proven wrong sometimes.”

He did plenty of reconsidering. Lounging around all day long left him with a lot of time to think. It was admitting that he might have been wrong about anything that was the hard part, and the years had made him a master of coming up with convenient excuses not to do it.

“So...” she went on, “is this because what Walker said got to you?”

“Not entirely.” If it was just that, he would have never talked to her about it. Not to Lupin, either. Perhaps to Goemon, if he was drunk enough or could disguise it as a withered veteran passing on knowledge to a new skill.

“I wish you hadn't heard all that,” he said.

“Why? You already told the story to us. He added some dramatics, but the facts are the same.”

That was something to hold onto. He was sure Fujiko had meant that as a retort and not advice, but she wasn't wrong. They didn't have all the details, but his past was no secret to his friends. They wouldn't make a big deal of this if he didn't. If he wanted, he could kill Walker and bury the issue with him.

“How do you live with yourself?” And then, because he realized this would lead to another offended outburst if he didn't explain himself, “I mean, you say you love Lupin. Fine, I can buy that. But don't you ever feel guilty when you sell him out and run off with the loot? He puts his trust in you and –”

“He doesn't,” she cut him off. “When he acts like he's completely gaga over me, it's just part of the game to make me think he fell for my scheme. You really don't understand how this works.”

“You're right. I don't. If you'd stop that dumb game of yours, we wouldn't have to fight all the time.”

“But then Lupin and I would get tired of each other.”

Was that a warning? Would Lupin grow bored of him, too, if he didn't jump through the hoops to keep his life interesting? In the middle of all this, he hadn't given that a single thought. Lupin loved fiercely but never for long. Fujiko came and went as she pleased. Just how long would he be interested in someone who was always there?

“He won't get tired of you,” she said, as if reading his thoughts. “You've become part of the furniture. I don't know if you've noticed, but you're the only stable element in his life. Even someone like him needs something permanent to come back to when he's had his fill of thrills.” She stopped to reconsider. “Then again, you might have to fight Zenigata for that spot.”

“What's stopping you from being the same?”

“What makes you think I'd want that?”

It was what he wanted. It was what he'd always thought that every human being wanted, and if they said otherwise, they were lying, or there was something wrong with them. If she'd told him that the reason for everything was that if she stuck around and made things too easy for Lupin, she'd become just another woman that he'd leave behind with a kiss and a few sentimental words, Jigen would have believed her. It made sense in his world that she'd walk away first and leave Lupin wanting for more because it was a guarantee that he'd take her back.

“You know, I almost feel sorry for you.”

She gave him an exasperated look. “That's very sweet, but I don't need it. You think there are only two kinds of women, evil whores and tragic victims. Just because you're starting to see me as something more than the first doesn't mean I want to be moved to the second category.”

He chose to ignore that jab. She wasn't entirely wrong. It would have been so much simpler if he could have stuffed her into one of the boxes he had for different types of people in his head, but after the recent events, she no longer fit anywhere. She wasn't an enemy. She wasn't a friend. She was something more than a casual acquaintance or partner in crime. Just what was he supposed to do with her?

“How's that phone coming along? We should talk to Lupin.” He felt like a coward for changing the subject, but he didn't know what else to do. There was much he knew he should have said, but it was too early. He had to mull on it a little longer until he felt confident enough to walk onto that minefield.

Besides, they were running out of time. Dealing with Walker was all that mattered right now.

“Almost. Give me another half a minute.”

Fujiko was merciful – or perhaps practical – enough to let the matter drop. She kept working with the phone for a while longer until she got past the protection. She began to put in Lupin's number, and Jigen forced himself off the couch to check how much it hurt to move.

He couldn't wait for this to be over. The weight of the gun he'd stolen from the guard was unfamiliar in his hand, and his aim was going to be crap with one eye swollen shut. At the same time, he couldn't even consider sitting this one out. The whole mess was entirely his fault, and he would have to be the one to clean it up.

Chapter Text

Walker wanted to meet them outside the city, near what turned out to be an abandoned farm. Lupin and Goemon had headed there well before the agreed time so that they could scout the area and be ready in case the whole thing was a trap. And it most likely was.

Lupin had considered telling Goemon to stay back. If Walker and Vuković were too much to handle, having Goemon ambush them might be the last ace they had. No holding back. At the first sign of trouble, the gloves would be off. They'd be out of the country before anyone found the bodies.

But in the end, he didn't have the heart for it. It didn't show on Goemon's face, but he was anxious. He was playing with the Zantetsuken, following the small line between the sheath and the handle with his thumb. It was barely noticeable, but it helped Lupin not lose sight of what was important. Blind revenge was tempting. Given the chance, he would have loved to grind their enemies to dust at his feet. He could almost taste the satisfaction of watching them realize what a mistake they'd made when they'd tried to take something from him.

He was always a little unsteady on his feet when Jigen wasn't there to remind him that giving in to every impulse wasn't wise. It was especially so now when he knew that one wrong step might take him on a path where he'd never see him or Fujiko again. The higher the stakes, the more it excited him, even if it was partly terror that made his heart beat faster.

However, he wasn't alone in this. If he walked into the fire, Goemon would follow him. Knowing that helped him think straight, and there was an unfamiliar burn of protectiveness inside his ribcage. Or maybe it was just possessive greed. He wouldn't let them have Goemon, too.

They had parked their car off the road where it was hidden by a partially collapsed barn. It was likely they'd have to make a hasty escape, so leaving the car away from the agreed meeting place was risky. However, it'd serve them better if their get-away held an element of surprise to it. More importantly, since they had wanted to arrive first, they'd be blocked by the vehicles of their enemies if they left the car on the road.

“There is nobody here yet,” Goemon said.

“Huh, that's odd.” Lupin had been sure that since Vuković and Walker had chosen the place, there'd be some sort of an ambush waiting for them. He strolled inside what had once been the main house. The door was gone, so he only had to walk in. When he looked up, he saw that there was no second floor or the ceiling, either, just the endlessness of the dark sky with a few splotches of stars where the clouds had begun to move. He rubbed his arms and shivered. It wasn't cold, but the wind was picking up and blowing in through the broken windows.

“Perhaps we should ambush them,” Goemon suggested.

“I have to at least try to make a deal.”

“I can't help but feel it's pointless. If I was seeking to sate my thirst for revenge, I wouldn't be taken in by vague promises of trinkets.”

Lupin made a displeased face at Goemon, even if he wasn't sure he could see it in the dark. “Don't underestimate my ability to talk my way out of anything. And not everybody has your resolute spirit. Most men are weak and greedy.”

The only answer from Goemon was silence. Lupin was a little surprised. After everything that had happened, particularly after what they'd been talking about right before Fujiko and Jigen's capture, he would have expected him to argue. “No, my spirit is as weak as my flesh, blah blah blah” would have been the most natural thing to come out of his mouth.

He hoped that Goemon wasn't thinking any of this was his fault. Not just because it absolutely wasn't but also because he wasn't in the mood to try to talk him out of it. To be honest, Lupin wouldn't have minded if somebody had decided to pamper him a little bit for a change. It was tiring to be the one who kept the group together, always thought ahead to avoid catastrophes, and acted like he was holding all the cards when they were balancing on the edge to doom.

He crossed his hands behind his head and sighed dramatically. Just once, it would be nice if someone told him that everything was going to be fine. Maybe, if he did everything right, he could squeeze some kisses and sympathy from Fujiko when this was all over. Or from Jigen. Or Goemon. Or... To be honest, the best would be if they'd just get to catch their breath for a moment, all four. Have a good dinner and wine. Not worry about anything.

“They are coming,” Goemon said.

Lupin swatted the pleasant thoughts away and turned to look. The lights of three cars were getting closer. Depending on their size, they might have to face up to fifteen men. Nothing unusual, but if they could get out of this without a fight, that'd be the best.

He placed his hands on his hips and looked into the approaching lights so that they wouldn't blind him when the enemy arrived. Goemon stood a few steps behind him where he could comfortably draw his blade if needed. That was where he always was, but it struck Lupin how great the distance felt.

Jigen should have been standing between them, he thought.

He watched how the cars stopped and Walker and Vuković came out. Everyone else stayed inside. It was impossible to see how many men there were. But even if it had been an army, Lupin wouldn't have cared. He regarded Walker with a long look, taking in every detail he could. The graying hair that wasn't getting any thinner, the perfect cut of his suit, the broad shoulders, and especially the pleasantly neutral look on his face. At first glance, he didn't seem like the type to run anything more threatening than a printing business, but Lupin had learned long ago that those who didn't look the part were usually the best.

This was the man who had ordered the hit on Jigen. It was his fault that he had seen his world in pieces that he couldn't put back together. Now Walker was holding the same power again. For just a moment, Lupin neither heard nor saw anything but the vivid fantasy of killing him while laughing at him about how his brother would never come back while he still had everyone he cared about. It was terrible and beneath him, but it soothed his growing anxiety and made him feel like he was in control.

“You guys are late. What took you so long?” he asked.

“We got lost on these useless country roads,” Walker said. Lupin didn't know much more about him than what Jigen had told him earlier, but he'd checked a few of the guy's photos before they had headed here. It'd be pretty embarrassing if he started talking to the wrong person.

“What, you're kidding me. You've got a local guide, and I bet there's a GPS in that car that the military would be happy to have.” He kept his voice chipper and wore his most disarming smile, the one that he used when he wanted people to think he was a goofball who didn't deserve his reputation. It was laughable how often it worked, even with hardened criminals who should have known better. Feeling like the most powerful man in the room was something not many could resist.

The response he got was a smile that looked eerily like his. Lupin only needed a second to realize that cheap tricks wouldn't take him far. He let the line of his lips fall down.

“Where are Fujiko and Jigen?”

“In the car.”

“Let me see them.”

“After you've fulfilled your part of the deal.”

He should have told Goemon to stay hidden. They'd come to this meeting with a disadvantage – they wanted this deal so much more than the opposing side – and this slick bastard was perfectly aware of it. He had to want the treasure since he'd bothered to show up, but he knew all the real power was in his hands.

“Why is that?” he challenged. “How do I know you actually brought them if you won't let me see them?”

The real question, which made his tongue feel so heavy he couldn't bring himself to voice it, was whether they were still alive. Walker had had enough time to do anything he wanted. Maybe there were only corpses or body parts in his car. Was that why neither Fujiko nor Jigen had tried to call out to them or make noise?

The thought made his head spin. Danger was nothing new. Lupin wanted to see what more life had in store for him and felt a healthy stab of fear whenever he stopped to look back at a feat that had come a little too close to ending his thieving days. But he could file that feeling in the fun and exciting categories in his mind. His own death was the ultimate stunt. He was sure someone like him couldn't die in bed or back alleys. When his time came, it would put him in all the papers and news channels in the world, and for that reason alone it'd be worth it. The shining grand finale.

The others, though, they couldn't die. A master thief who lost his crew only made for sad stories.
Lupin didn't think of himself as a celebrity, but he enjoyed the idea that his adventures might stir some suppressed desire in people who were too weak to break away from their boring lives. If the next headline about him came with photos of Fujiko and Jigen in bodybags, his image would be shattered.

So would his heart, too, but he tried not to think about that.

Walker acknowledged his words with a smirk and snapped his fingers. A man got out of the first car and went to open the trunk. He dragged two figures out of it, both stuffed into black plastic bags and tied crudely with rope.

“Those could be anyone,” Lupin said. “Show me the faces. Or at least Fujiko's legs. I'd recognize them anywhere.”

“Give us the music box.”

“Hahaha, about that... It's gone. You guys blew it up.”

If there'd been more time, he would have made a fake and handed it over. He hated making deals with people like this. It was degrading. It made him feel like he'd broken a promise he'd made to someone.

Vuković pushed past Walker, earning himself an irritated scowl. “What? That was important! I needed it to –”

“To get the treasure? I know. Doesn't seem like you were really putting effort into that. It took me less than a day to get it open and solve the mystery.”

Walker put his foot on one of the bagged prisoners, like a hunter posing with his catch.

“Enough talk. It's your turn.”

Lupin thought about it. Most likely, those people weren't Fujiko and Jigen. Walker would have shown them to him otherwise, just to rub in the fact that he had them and could do anything he wanted. The man who had gotten out of the car was holding a gun, and it'd take the blink of an eye to put a bullet in the prisoners. Even Goemon wouldn't be able to stop it.

Then again... What if they were them? What if Walker was concealing that on purpose because he knew he'd be too suspicious to bend to his demands, and then he'd kill them right in front of his eyes? He'd have to live knowing that he could have saved them.

“I only have a rough estimate of where the treasure is. I'll give you that if you give me the prisoners. You'll have to go and get the gold yourselves.”

Walker shrugged. “That's fine with me. But it's still your turn.”

“Before I do that, tell me something. You must have spent a lot of money on this operation to capture Jigen. I can understand why. Your buddy there knows all too well that I, too, am a man with a thing for revenge. But what I don't understand is why you're here to give Jigen back to me when you finally have him.”

“Well, we –”

“Is that how little your brother's memory means to you? You'll let his murderer go in exchange for some jewels?”

“Lupin...” Goemon said in a low voice behind him, but Lupin ignored him. He couldn't tell Walker what he knew about the treasure. The moment he did that, they no longer had a reason to keep him alive. By extension, they'd kill everyone else, too. There had to be a way to keep this going until there was an opening to strike.

If only they'd let him see the people in the plastic bags. They were moving, so they had to be alive, but for as long as Lupin wasn't sure if they were Fujiko and Jigen, he couldn't take a risk. He wished it hadn't come to this because he was the underdog no matter how he looked at it, but this deal had been his only way of reaching Walker before he did something to his prisoners.

“How dare you?” Walker made a move like he was about to jump over the prisoners and come strangle him, but Vuković put a hand on his arm to keep him back.

“If that's not the case, why are you here?”

“I've waited years. A few more hours won't make a difference.”

Even if that was a lie, the hate in his voice wasn't. He didn't want to, but Lupin couldn't help but feel a twitch of kinship with the man. In different circumstances, he might have shown him some sympathy. But not when he was after Jigen. The need to stand between them was stronger than anything else.

“Do you have siblings?” Walker asked.

“Not that I know of. But being a bit of a playboy runs in the family, so...”

“Then, do you think of Jigen as a brother?”

Lupin couldn't help but laugh at that. “Not really. It'd be a little awkward.”

“Ah. I see how it is. That's why he's so important to you that you ruined Marko's life to have revenge. You didn't try to just kill him. You nibbled at his organization because you wanted to make him watch everything fall to ruin. Isn't that right?”

Lupin didn't bother arguing. It wasn't quite so as he'd done everything because he thought Jigen might still be alive, but that was a technicality. He knew what Walker was getting at. For a moment, he'd been looking at a life without one of the people who were the most important to him. He had been ready to do anything.

As he was now.

“What guarantee do I have that you won't shoot me and keep both the prisoners and treasure?” he asked.

“What guarantee do we have that your information is correct? You could name any random place in the city.”

“Looks like we aren't getting very far, then.” Lupin shrugged like it didn't really matter to him. He was sure Walker would suggest some solution next. There was no way he'd come to this meeting without a plan that'd let him take away the full prize. And where there was a plan, there was a way to ruin it.

“I have something in mind. How about this? You take me and Marko where the treasure is. Your companion stays back with the prisoners and my men. If everything is as it should be, we trade.”

Lupin turned over the words in his head. That made perfect sense if Walker really was planning to commit to the trade, but since he was sure he wasn't, there had to be something else to it. Maybe they thought they'd be able to kill him once they had the treasure if he didn't have Goemon with him. Ha. They'd be in for a surprise.

“Sure,” he said and put an agreeable smile on his face. “Sounds fair enough.”

“So, where's the treasure?”

Time to jump and hope that the bottom wasn't too far down.

“You know that tower by the sea? It's close to the museum that –”

Pi-di-di-di-dii!

Everybody jumped at the sudden song that started playing. It took Lupin a moment to realize that it was coming from his pocket.

“Probably a telemarketer,” he said as he fished out his phone. “They always have the worst timing, huh?”

He already had his finger hovering over the red phone icon to end the annoying call. Then he thought, what the hell, if it really was a telemarketer, he could say he was in the middle of a hostage situation and couldn't buy anything. If it was something else, he might not want to miss it.

“I'll take this real quick,” he said and answered the call. “Yeah?”

“Lupin? Where are you?”

Lupin wondered if the others could see the color drain from his face. He could certainly feel it like never before. It was a miracle his knees didn't give in.

“Fu... Who is this?” He caught himself just in time and tried to act like there was nothing odd about the call.

“What? Don't tell me you don't recognize my voice. Or, wait...” She seemed to catch on that he wasn't free to talk. “If you and Goemon are up to something, forget it. Just get out of there. Jigen and I are fine.”

Lupin allowed himself a second to let Fujiko's voice and words travel through him and fill him with relief. He felt light-headed. It was one of the greatest struggles of his life not to burst into laughter right there, or tell her that he wanted to kiss her, or ask her to give the phone to Jigen. They were fine. No matter what happened now, it wouldn't be their dead bodies at his feet.

“Sorry, but I don't need anything to improve my sex life. I can forward you to a certain inspector I know, though,” he said and ended the call. He shook his head and gave Walker an exasperated smile. “Can you imagine? They call at all hours.”

“You were saying something about some tower?” Walker said.

Lupin resisted the urge to hiss like he'd stubbed his toe. If only Fujiko had called him ten seconds earlier. Now he'd blabbed the location of the treasure. Even if it wasn't exact, it was all he had, and their two groups were now on equal footing when it came to finding it.

“Right, I was.” Lupin went over the situation. Somehow, Fujiko and Jigen had escaped. That explained why Walker was suddenly interested in this treasure. He was trying to use this chance to get Jigen back because he knew he'd show up if his friends were in trouble.

He wouldn't slink away with his tail between his legs, Lupin decided. He'd come here like that, ready to grovel if necessary, but now he was already rearranging the situation in his mind to turn it to his advantage. As long as Walker thought he didn't know that, he could keep milking this mockery of a peace agreement. When the new day dawned, he'd be the one holding everything in his hand.

“I'll show you where the treasure is,” he went on. “We need to go to the tower in the old part of town. It's owned by the De Angelis family, as far as I'm aware. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.”

Walker cast a questioning glance at Vuković.

“Yes, I know the tower,” he said, sounding reluctant. Lupin was ready to bet anything that he didn't want Walker anywhere near the treasure. Before the music box had become part of this farce, the treasure would have been all his, provided that he had ever found it.

Lupin was no longer worried that they'd try to kill him once they knew about the tower. Vuković might, but he was in Walker's leash. And Walker only wanted Jigen. It took all the self-restraint Lupin had to keep the smile on his face inviting and not let it twist into mockery. Laughter was building up in his chest like steam. Twice already, that asshole had had Jigen within reach, and both times he'd slipped away.

There'd be time for laughter later. He'd pick a moment when it'd really bite, and –

“But wait,” he said, and a sudden realization brought him back to earth. “Treasure hunting is dangerous. Let me say goodbye to my friend, just in case.”

He couldn't leave Goemon here without telling him that everything was fine. He'd been through enough heartbreak, and there was no telling what Lupin might find when he came back if he left Goemon alone with the enemy and two prisoners that he thought were Fujiko and Jigen.

“Goemon,” he said and whirled around. Goemon had been standing behind him in silence the whole time, letting him take care of everything. It was amazing how much trust he had in him, even though the first rule any assassin learned was not to trust anything but his own weapon.

If he had wanted, he could have used Goemon for anything. It was such a powerful feeling that it frightened him sometimes, but he knew better than to cross certain lines. Goemon wasn't like Jigen. He wouldn't forgive him every time.

“You can go without fear. I'll make sure nothing happens to them. I'll guard them with my life,” Goemon said.

Yeah, that was exactly what Lupin was worried about.

“I know.” He stepped closer, grabbed the front of Goemon's clothes and pulled him into a kiss that he wished he could have given him in different circumstances. Forceful and so long it left his world swaying. It had to look like it might be their last. He guessed in advance when Goemon would try to back off in surprise and followed him. When he broke it off, he immediately moved to place another kiss right under his ear. Goemon's hands were on his arms, but he wasn't trying to push him away.

“Lupin! What –”

Leaned close like this, Walker and Vuković couldn't see his lips move. “Get out of here. Trust me.”

A second of hesitation, and then Goemon relaxed. Lupin was sure he understood that he'd never ask him to leave if Fujiko and Jigen were in danger. He gave him a last peck on the cheek to make sure he knew everything was fine and turned back to Walker and Vuković with a cocky grin.

Vuković looked like he'd bitten into a lemon, but as expected, he didn't say anything. A weak man like him wouldn't pick on anyone if he wasn't sure he could hit a sore spot. Lupin found himself hating him a little bit more, which he considered an accomplishment after everything that had already happened. But he pushed it aside and reached up to make sure his tie was in perfect order.

“So, shall we?”

***

Zenigata was glad he was used to nights like this, or else functioning on so little sleep and having only coffee and some sandwiches in his stomach would have been a struggle. But he'd done this before, and even age wasn't enough to slow him down when there was that humming certainty that something would happen soon prickling under his skin.

He had no way of tracking down Lupin, so finding Vuković was his best bet. After the rampage from before, there weren't many places left in the city for the man to stay at. Lupin had done a good job finding and attacking even those that he owned under a different name.

But there was something he hadn't touched. The De Angelis family owned several properties both in the city and outside it. Until the helicopter crash, their name hadn't come up in connection with Lupin, but the information he'd received from Italy made it clear that the De Angelis and Vuković were working together. Lupin just hadn't known that at the time, but he did now.

The chances that Vuković was hiding in a place belonging to his business partners was high, as were the odds that Lupin would strike there any moment now. Zenigata was sure of it. Lupin wouldn't just sit around and leave an insult like the recent explosion go. It was both a matter of his pride and survival – if other criminals saw that he didn't immediately strike back, someone else would try the same.

The list of places to keep an eye on wasn't very long, but it was possible there was more that nobody had discovered yet. His colleague had told him they hadn't yet identified all the companies that the family was using as a front for their business with Vuković. But at least he had something to get him started.

The villa outside the city was still under police surveillance during the day, so he was sure there was nobody of interest there. Within the city, the De Angelis owned two private apartments for holiday use, were renting one office, and had kept a couple of historical buildings that had survived the turmoil of the past hundred years. He'd already visited one of them, actually, back when he'd just arrived in Croatia and had gone to warn every museum and private collector about Lupin.

He tried to recall if there had been anything of interest about the small museum, but he was drawing a blank. Lupin only went after items that were of exceptional value, or had played part in some major, world-changing event. The life and accomplishments of Gaspar De Angelis fell into neither category. He was too mundane.

And yet... It couldn't be a coincidence that so much was happening in this city. Lupin had come here to look for something. There were no obvious targets for him, but only half of his heists ever made any sense.

Zenigata began tapping his finger against his desk to give his thoughts some rhythm. There was so much going on and so much that he didn't understand that if he tried to take it all into account, he'd never get anywhere. If he only focused on what was important, he'd find what he was looking for.

Lupin had come to deliver him a card with the De Angelis coat of arms. Everything else was secondary, and he was beginning to get angry at himself that he'd wasted so much time waiting for something to happen and trying to put all the pieces together. All he had to do was find out what Lupin wanted from the family and get there first.

If it was one of the places on his list, it would be the museum. Maybe Lupin had discovered some secret about Gaspar De Angelis. Maybe the guy had hidden something important and nobody had ever dug it up. Looking into obscure things like that got Lupin more excited than the promise of money.

He glanced at his watch. Half past two in the morning.

“Every sane person is in bed,” he muttered. He'd sent Novak home half an hour ago. Someone in their little team needed to get sleep and stay sharp, and he'd rather not have it be Kostov, just in case. And this way, he could keep an eye on him.

“I'm sure that's where Lupin and Vuković are,” Kostov said.

“Crime doesn't sleep.”

“Well, the law force should. If something happens tomorrow – I mean, today, but –”

“Something will happen within the next few hours.”

Kostov froze in the middle of lifting his mug of coffee to his lips. “Oh? And how do you know that, Inspector?”

Zenigata smiled like he knew something the other didn't and grabbed his hat from the desk.

“Intuition,” he said and put it on his head. Then he got up, walked to the door and gestured for Kostov to follow him.

Kostov cast a sad look at his coffee and took his coat that was hanging over the back of his chair.

“Where are we going?”

“I'll tell you on the way.”

If Kostov was working for Vuković, he'd try to tell him what was going on. Zenigata wanted to have a moment to snoop around and get a feel of the scene before anyone else showed up, but he also needed Kostov on a tight leash for as long as there was any doubt about his loyalty. At this hour, he'd have to get more creative than claiming to call his family if he wanted to inform his employer of anything.

Zenigata insisted that they take a squad car this time. It wasn't exactly subtle, but better that than letting Kostov bring his own car where he could have a gun under the seat. And, if everything went... not according to plan since he didn't have one, but exceptionally well, he might have Lupin in handcuffs and sitting in the backseat before dawn.

“Turn left here,” he said.

The streets were almost empty. There was light in one or two windows whenever they passed a block of flats, and the couple of people he saw loitering around or hurrying down the pavement made Zenigata want to stop the car and ask if everything was okay. Most likely, they were going home from work or a party, but he couldn't help but worry about complete strangers.

He told Kostov to stop the car when they arrived close to the museum. The street was lit, but only on the side that was facing the sea, turning the cobblestone pavement into a path that slithered along the old wall that had once been the city's main protection.

Zenigata stepped out and walked to look out at the sea. Nothing. When Kostov turned off the engine, all he could hear was the wind and the waves.

“If this is a stake-out, standing right under the street lamp is probably not a good idea,” Kostov said.

“We could turn on the emergency lights, and it wouldn't make a difference. Lupin will be here anyway.”

“Here?” Kostov came to stand by his side and peered over the wall to see the dark water below them. “What's he got to do here?”

“That's what we're here to find out.”

Kostov leaned on the wall and draped his hands over it. “And if he does show up? How are we going to catch him? It's just the two of us, and he's got some tough people with him. And if Vuković is still after him...”

“Then we call for backup.” Zenigata wanted to do things by the book, but he'd looked the other way when Novak had contacted a few people she trusted and told them to be ready. If they needed help, they had at least a few allies who wouldn't try to cover things up or sell them out. That might be what made enough of a difference that they lived to write the paperwork about what happened.

“With all due respect, that doesn't sound like much of a plan.”

“It'll work out. If Lupin comes here, his target will be that museum,” Zenigata said and pointed down the street.

“Is there something valuable? Shouldn't we tighten the security?”

Zenigata resisted the urge to snort. If they did that, he was sure everyone on the scene would be in Vuković's pocket. But it wasn't a bad suggestion. He took out his phone and sent Novak a message to tell her where they where and why. She'd said she was a light sleeper, so it should be enough to wake her up.

“The two of us will be enough. Come on. Let's take a closer look.”

***

“Is it alright if I sit down?”

Only one of Vuković and Walker's men had come out of the car, the one who had brought out the prisoners. He gave him no answer, but Goemon assumed he didn't have any objections. They'd probably feel more at ease with him sitting on the ground with his legs crossed. They'd think it made him less dangerous.

He couldn't say he understood what was going on, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. He didn't mind. Lupin had told him to leave, and following that order was enough. There'd never been a time when listening to Lupin had been an act to regret.

The prisoners were moving occasionally on the ground, but Goemon no longer cared about them. They weren't Fujiko and Jigen. Lupin might lie to him to trick him into doing things he'd normally question, but he'd never deceive him into leaving their friends behind. It was too cruel.

There was only one thing that was bothering him. Lupin hadn't told him how he'd solved the riddle of the music box. He'd promised. Goemon felt like he'd been cheated.

Once he was done turning everything over in his head, he'd take care of these men and flee. He knew where Lupin was heading with Walker and Vuković. He'd follow them and do whatever was required of him.

Or... Maybe he'd find Fujiko and Jigen first. Lupin wouldn't have gone with the enemy if he didn't have some kind of a plan. He'd be fine for now. It wouldn't be selfish to seek out the others, to make sure with his own eyes that they were alive, would it? After all, someone had to tell them about the tower.

He glanced at the man who was leaning on the car and having a smoke. They probably thought he wouldn't do anything because it'd be a risk to the prisoners. They'd try to take him by surprise and put him in a position where he'd have to leave himself defenceless if he wanted to protect the people in the bags.

“Can I ask you a question?”

The man turned to look at him. “Yeah?”

“Just out of interest, was it one of you who nearly shot me the other night?” Goemon pulled down the collar of his clothes to show the bandage that Fujiko had wrapped around his upper arm.

“As if one of us was that good a shot.” The man let out a dry chuckle and tossed his cigarette away. “At a close range like this, I bet I could get you, though.”

Interesting. That sounded like this man hadn't seen him fight before. That meant he couldn't have been at the villa when he had stolen the music box. He didn't know what he was up against.

“Well, then,” Goemon said and got back on his feet. “I would like to take my leave. Do you have any objections?”

“What? The agreement was that –”

“That's no longer relevant.”

“Then, you don't care what happens to your friends?” The man pulled a gun from under his jacket and pointed it at the prisoners, his finger on the trigger. “I hear you know some fancy tricks with that sword, but do you think you're fast enough to stop me?”

Goemon knew he wasn't. Protecting himself with his blade was simple enough, but closing the distance between himself and the prisoners in time to stop a bullet was impossible. He hoped that they hadn't grabbed some innocent people off the street to use as their decoy, but he wasn't going to stick around to find out.

“If you kill them, you remove the only reason that you and your comrades are still alive,” he said. He turned around but made it only one step away before the other spoke again.

“You aren't going anywhere.”

Typical. He'd have to waste at least a few minutes taking down these fools. It always happened when he was in a hurry. He had no desire to fight these men, but if they insisted, he had no choice.

“I have given you a fair warning,” he said. He kept walking and drew his blade to show that he was serious.

He was expecting the gunshot, so whirling around and blocking the bullet was no feat, even in the near darkness. Most people thought he needed his eyes for this, so they believed there were a match for him at night, or if they shot him from behind.

There were two cars left, and Goemon sliced them both open to see how many men he was facing. To his great surprise, one was empty and in the other, there was a lone man in the driver's seat, clutching the part of the steering wheel that his blade hat cut off. He had expected more, but maybe their enemy was weaker than they'd thought.

“Where are the rest of you?” he asked.

The man he'd been talking to raised his gun again, but Goemon was out of patience. One slash, and the pistol was in two pieces on the ground. Another, and the man followed with a scream, clinging to his leg that now had a deep gash. Goemon could have cut off the whole thing, but he thought he'd have better luck of getting what he wanted if there was a chance the man wouldn't bleed to death within a minute.

He jumped on the hood of the occupied car and pressed his sword on the throat of the man sitting inside.

“If you care about his life, you will talk. You might have enough time to tend to him and drive him to the city.”

“Uh... I...” The man was trembling and swallowing his words before he could get them out. At first, Goemon thought he was too frightened to be useful, but then he caught the slightest movement of the man's hand sneaking into his pocket. He had to have a gun there and thought Goemon couldn't deflect the bullet when the blade was on his throat.

“Cross your hands between your legs, or I'll cut them off. You must have heard of me. You know I'll do it.”

“Alright, fine! I'll talk! What do you want to know?”

“I already asked a question.”

“There's nobody else.”

“I know Vuković has more men left than you two. I saw them at the villa. He wouldn't come here with this few people if he didn't have something planned.”

Despite his predicament, the man managed a chuckle. “We don't work for him.”

“Then, you're Walker's men?” Goemon hadn't considered that it might make a difference. Weren't they allies? Wouldn't it make more sense if their men joined forces? The only conclusion he could draw from this was that perhaps there was indeed something planned, but not against Lupin. If Walker didn't want Vuković's men around, maybe he was plotting to get rid of him as well.

“Who are the people in the bags? I know they aren't my friends.”

“Our men. Check if you don't believe me.”

Goemon considered it, but decided it didn't matter. He was needed elsewhere. Lupin could be in far greater danger than he thought. He couldn't leave him alone.

He told the man to get out of the car and toss his gun and cell phone in the empty well that stood in front of the abandoned house. Then, he made him do the same with the injured man's phone. Otherwise, they'd contact Walker as soon as he was gone, and that might be enough to seal Lupin's fate.

“I must apologize for changing my mind, but I cannot let you return to the city. I know how to tie the wound so that you won't bleed dry if you keep still,” he said. Killing them would be faster and safer, but he'd rather not slaughter people who couldn't fight back, unless he was getting paid for it.

There was rope in the trunk of one of the cars, so he could make sure the men weren't going anywhere. He'd call the police later.

It was only when he was walking back to the car he and Lupin had stolen that he realized he was in trouble. Lupin had hotwired it with ease, but Goemon didn't have any idea how to do it. He stared at the car, feeling helpless and calculating both how long it'd take him to walk, and how long if he called a cab.

Both would take too long.

He sighed, turned around and began walking back to where he'd left the men.

“Excuse me,” he said, grateful that the night was hiding how red his face was. “I would like to borrow your car.”

It wasn't like they could stop him, but he felt it was polite to ask. One of the cars was still in working condition, even if it was missing its windshield and half the roof. He felt somewhat awkward as he started the engine and hoped that he wouldn't accidentally put the car on reverse or turn it off. It'd be embarrassing if these men realized how bad his driving was.

He felt a little more at ease once he'd taken a turn and made it away from them. He hoped the roads were empty at this hour. If anyone saw him in a wrecked car like this, they might inform the police.

He'd been driving for about ten minutes when his phone began ringing. For a while, he didn't know if he should answer since it was forbidden to drive and talk without a hands-free device. But it might be important, even though he didn't recognise the number. It might be even Lupin if he was using the phone he'd taken from the man by the river.

“Yes?”

“Goemon! Can you talk?”

“Ah, Fujiko! Are you alright? And Jigen?” He almost dropped the phone and had to concentrate on keeping the car on the road when he heard her voice. He yearned to stop the car so that he could lean back with his eyes closed and listen to her, but there was no time for such selfish impulses.

“We're both fine, don't worry. But what about you and Lupin? He's not picking up the phone anymore.”

Goemon gave her a brief explanation of how Lupin had cracked the treasure's location, tried to use it as a bargain chip with Walker, and how he'd gone to look for it with their two enemies. She sounded happy to hear the last bit of information.

“At least someone is still thinking about the treasure,” she said in a chipper voice.

“It was a foolish decision. As soon as he learned that you're fine, he should have told me, and we could have ended this whole matter right there.”

She let out a thoughtful hum. “Perhaps you're right. There's no benefit to going treasure hunting with the enemy. He must be after some sort of stupid revenge. Ugh, if this means something happens to the treasure –”

“That's the least of our concerns at the moment. We have to go and help him.”

“Jigen and I will go to the tower first. You join up with us when you get back to the city, alright?”

“Please be careful.” He wouldn't normally say that. It was obvious. But after all this, knowing that it'd be at least an hour before he was reunited with the others, that if anything went wrong now, he wouldn't be there in time to help, the words refused to stay mere thoughts.

“We will,” she said, and he could picture her amused smile. “Do you want to talk to Jigen before I hang up?”

Of course he did. He had to tell him how happy he was. He wanted to hear him laugh as he asked if he'd seriously been worried about him. Just like last time. He didn't just want it. He needed it.

But then, shame and dread pooled in his stomach. He'd already made such a fool of himself. If he spoke to him now, he might let something humiliating slip, or maybe Jigen would hear it in his voice how glad he was for something as simple as getting to talk to him.

“I'm... I'm fine,” he found himself saying. “I'm getting to a difficult part of the road, so I shouldn't...”

“Right, you aren't so good with cars. I think you're the one who needs to be careful. See you soon!”

He wasn't a coward, Goemon thought as he slipped his phone back into its pouch in his sleeve. He was being considerate. Jigen probably didn't want to talk to him anyway. He had to be worrying about Lupin. Every word Goemon might say to him would nibble at the little time they had to find and help him. He had no right.

Wishing his friends luck, he returned his attention on the road and hoped that tragedy wouldn't await him when he arrived.

Chapter Text

“How's Goemon?” Jigen asked when Fujiko put away the phone.

“He sounded fine. He's driving, so he couldn't talk for long.”

Jigen grunted in agreement. Goemon behind the wheel was always a risk. They should start making him drive more, just in case. He'd take it badly if a heist ever failed because he had to be their emergency driver and messed up.

Then, it crossed his mind that Goemon might have used it as an excuse to avoid talking to him. If so, he didn't want to push him, but it chafed his insides a little. He was trying to be nice and helpful about this. He'd told Goemon that he'd understand if he was mad at him. Now he wished he hadn't because he was going to have to put in the effort of not acting cranky about it. Otherwise he'd look like a fool who couldn't make up his mind.

“And Lupin?”

Fujiko sighed and made a frustrated gesture with her hand. “That idiot has gone solo. He teamed up with Walker and went to look for the treasure with him.”

“Not so fun when someone besides you does that?”

“Hmph. I wouldn't have a problem with it if I could be sure he'll get the treasure. But we both know he's after something else. Like paying them back for almost killing you.”

“It's hardly the first time someone tries to kill me. The only difference is that you let him think I was dead for so long it started looking real.”

“Didn't we already talk about this?”

“Just putting the facts on the table. Don't pull stunts like that if you don't want me to bring them up later.”

“Well, as long as we're talking about ancient facts, didn't this whole thing start because you were broken-hearted enough to walk into an obvious trap?”

Jigen snorted and turned to glare out the window. “Heartbreak had nothing to do with it.”

He'd seen Lupin with other people often enough that it had long since stopped being more than a feeble ache. He'd learned to live with it, even when it was Fujiko.

There was no answer from her, which irritated him a little. He felt like he had to explain himself, even though he knew that this exchange had been nothing but pointless banter. It was just that now that she'd brought the incident up again, it was like she'd made him aware of an old wound that he'd done his best to ignore.

What had made that night different from so many others was Goemon. It hadn't been heartbreak but betrayal. He'd always thought of them as allies against Lupin's insatiable lust. If he couldn't get what he wanted from Lupin, at least he had a friend who'd always have his back when it was time to be brutally honest. Feeling that he'd lost that had shaken his world more than he'd cared to admit.

They gathered whatever supplies they thought they'd need and headed out. Jigen found himself irritated by the lighter weight of the unfamiliar gun and wished he still had his Magnum. He wondered if he'd ever get it back.

Fujiko watched him limp down the stairs. “You sure you can manage?”

“Yeah. Let's just make sure this is over quickly.” In all honesty, he was wondering the same thing. The stiffness and the ache of the beating he'd gotten would only be getting worse.

“Fine. But stick close so I can catch you if you fall. I'll even carry you if you want me to.”

And just like that, he was sure nothing would stop him from walking to and away from this heist on his own two feet. He shot Fujiko a dark look from under his hat to let her know what he thought of her idea, but she didn't seem bothered. If anything, her mouth curved in further amusement, and Jigen realized she was getting under his skin on purpose. She knew that'd give him more strength than any genuine compassion.

And he'd always grumbled that Lupin was putty in her hands.

They stopped a car, and Fujiko convinced the driver that it was an emergency – the way Jigen looked made the story pretty convincing – and as soon as the man put his guard down, they grabbed him and pulled him out.

“Sorry, we need this!” Fujiko called out to him and pulled the door shut when she was inside.

“I bet it's not fun to be stranded in the middle of the night light this,” Jigen said. He was letting her drive.

“Don't tell me you're having second thoughts. About stealing a car?”

“Of course not. I guess I'm just in a sentimental mood.”

She looked at him funnily but didn't say anything. He appreciated it. His head felt like someone was starting to hammer his skull from the inside, and he didn't trust himself with delicate topics. Disoriented like this, and having already unlocked a door that had been tightly shut for years by apologizing to Fujiko, he was worried what else might get out if he wasn't careful.

He leaned back on the seat and let his mind drift as he listened to the purr of the car.

“This isn't the time to take a nap,” Fujiko said.

“Mm-mh.”

He felt her hand shaking his shoulder. “I mean it. Don't fall asleep. Do I have to take you to a doctor?”

“I'm fine,” he growled and pushed her hand away.

“Suit yourself. I'm not going to have time to look after you when we get there. If you're hurt worse than what you're letting on, you're just going to be a burden.”

She was right, or would have been if he'd been planning on teamwork. The others could run after the treasure for all he cared. He'd find Walker and do what he had to. There were only two ways that could end, and he was sure both of them would be pitiful. He didn't want the others there to see him like that.

They reached the older part of town where the tower was. Fujiko parked the car a few streets away, among a number of similar ones where it wouldn't stand out. They'd tried to keep an eye out for suspicious vehicles as they'd arrived since they were sure that Walker and Lupin were already there, but they hadn't seen anything.

It was strange walking to the tower in the middle of the night and recalling how he'd been there with Lupin and Goemon. They passed the bench where they'd had ice cream. There was the old cannon that had drawn his interest and gotten Lupin talking about gold. The street was deserted, but Jigen still felt drawn to the areas where the light of the lampposts didn't reach.

“Funny to think we were standing right here, and the treasure was under our feet the whole time,” he said.

He turned to look at the tower. The door that had been closed and locked when they'd last been there was open. Odd. It was clear Lupin and the others had arrived here first, but he couldn't imagine where they might have gone. The tower wasn't very tall, and if three men had been inside, surely they'd have heard them by now.

“Wait here,” he told Fujiko and took his gun. He pressed himself against the stone wall and listened for another moment, then took a step inside. It was too dark to see, but he could sense there was nobody around.

“Strange. Maybe they – whoa! Shit!”

He stepped on nothing, and for a moment he was sure his heart had stopped. Lupin would never stop laughing if that was the thing that did him in. Just barely, he managed not to drop or fire the gun as he tumbled down a hole in the floor, and was even able to keep his balance by holding onto the rough walls of the passage he'd discovered.

Next, a light was directed at his face and made him shield his eyes. Fujiko was kneeling on the floor and holding a flashlight.

“What happened?”

“What does it look like?”

He was standing on a steep flight of stairs. The first few steps were blocks of stone, but the ones below looked like they had been carved into solid rock. Shitty work all around, and he knew he could count himself lucky he hadn't broken his neck.

Fujiko pointed her light further down the stairs. They could see the beginning of a tunnel. Her eyes were glittering with excitement.

“That's got to be where the treasure is.”

He nodded. Good, she was occupied with the thought of gold. It wouldn't be too hard to get rid of her. In fact, knowing her, she just might run off on her own and leave him behind because he was too slow.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “We should hurry or someone will beat us to it. Let's go!”

She turned the light straight to his face. “I thought you didn't care about the treasure.”

“I never said that.”

“You never had to. I know you. You haven't snapped at me even once that I'm being a greedy tart for wanting the treasure when Lupin is in danger. What stupid thing are you planning?”

“Tch, that's not it. I just don't want to waste time with pointless bickering.”

Fujiko looked thoughtful, and at first Jigen was sure that she'd buy it. Then she gave him one of those little smirks that he hated.

“No, you're definitely planning something. And I can already guess what it is.”

She leaned down to grab his hat, then tossed it unceremoniously out the door.

“Hey! What was that for?”

Jigen ignored the protests of his his ribs as he climbed out of the hole and ran outside. He picked the hat up and put it back on his head with a huff.

“Just what do you –” But then he saw the door to the tower closing and forgot what he'd been about to say. He raced for the entrance, even as he knew he'd be too late, and collided with it just as Fujiko closed it in front of his face. The click of the old lock sounded louder than the bang of the door.

“Fujiko! What the hell? Let me in!”

“No. You're planning to face Walker alone. You're not fit to do that right now.”

“And how is that any of your damn business?”

“It's not, I know. But we can't lose you right now. I don't want to deal with the damage that you'd be leaving behind. Die on some other job, okay?”

Of all the things she could have said, he hadn't expected that. For just a moment, he found no words to fight with her.

“You just sit this one out,” she went on. “I'll save Lupin and get us some gold. I'll buy you a drink later.”

“No! Let me in! Fujiko! Hey!” He banged at the door with his fists and gave it a few angry kicks, but there was nothing else from her. She had to have gone down the steps and into the tunnel.

Well, fuck her. If she thought a door could stop him, she was wrong. He had a gun. All he had to do was shoot the lock open. A sturdy old thing like that would probably take a few rounds, but as long as there was one left for when he found Walker, he'd make it work.

“Just what is all this ruckus? People are trying to –”

Jigen whirled around at the familiar voice, too surprised to even curse under his breath.

“Jigen!”

Shit, it was Zenigata. Of all people, and of all times. Couldn't he have shown up just five minutes later? Jigen felt a sudden, unfamiliar urge to grab his gun and shoot him where it wouldn't kill him, just to get him out of the way for a while. A shoulder or a knee would do it.

But if he did that, he'd never see Lupin smile at him the same way again. With a sigh, he let his hand fall back down after he'd already almost wrapped his fingers around the grip of his gun.

Thankfully, he had another idea. He was by no means the brains of their group, but when it was Zenigata, there was one certain card to play.

Zenigata called out his name again, and then he was already there. The first thing he did was handcuff Jigen's hands behind his back with practised ease. He didn't bother putting up a fight. He was no match for Zenigata with just his fists, even less now that he was hurting all over.

“Hey, careful,” he grumbled and grimaced at how his abused sides felt about having his arms bent back. At least Zenigata was gentler than the guys at the warehouse.

He tested how much he could move his hands. Not a lot. Jigen was no good at getting out of cuffs on his own, but he was pretty sure he could talk Zenigata into letting him go if he chose his words right.

Zenigata circled back in front of him and placed his hands on Jigen's shoulders. Jigen wondered if he was going to shake him, or maybe hit him. It didn't feel like his style, but he got excited easily, and plenty of men discovered their mean streak as soon as there was no fear of getting hit back. After all the humiliations and failures, Jigen thought it'd only be human to take it out on someone.

“What?” he asked when Zenigata wouldn't stop staring at him, and for a while he was sure the inspector would start crying. His mouth turned into a lopsided smirk. “Save that for Lupin.”

“Goemon wasn't lying. You're alive.” Zenigata let out a long sigh, and then his fingers dug into Jigen's shoulders. “What were you thinking? I've never seen Lupin so upset! Just what kind of a partner are you? Don't play dead!”

“I wasn't playing dead!”

He hadn't thought he'd be getting a lecture from a man only a little older than him. When was the last time Zenigata had talked to him directly? Had he ever? It was strange to think that he had such a big presence in his life, and yet they probably hadn't exchanged more than five words over the years.

“I don't have time for this. Can you get that door open?” he asked

“And why should I?”

Time to toss that sure winner on the table.

“Because Lupin is behind it, and he's in danger.”

“What?” The anger on Zenigata's face turned into surprise, and he instantly let go of Jigen. He raised his head to glare up at the tower, like he was expecting to see Lupin up there, taunting him. “Lupin! Get down here!”

“That's pointless. He's already below us,” Jigen said and tapped at the ground with his foot. He told Zenigata how Lupin had discovered the location of a hidden treasure and had been taken captive by Vuković who wanted him to hand it over in exchange for all the damage he'd caused earlier. He left Walker out of the story. The fewer people tried to get between them, the better.

“Just what have you lot gotten mixed up with this time?” Zenigata looked more frustrated than angry and began to dig into his pockets. “You know what, never mind. There's no time. You can explain the rest to the guys at the station.”

“What?” Jigen asked. He hadn't considered that Zenigata might send him away. He'd imagined that mentioning Lupin and danger would get the inspector to bulldoze the door open with his own body. Then he'd set him free and they'd run after the others together until he could get away and corner Walker.

“What did you expect? Now that I've gotten one of you, I'm not taking the risk that you'll slip right through my fingers.” Zenigata found his phone and began to search for the correct contact information. “Besides, you look like someone ran over you with a truck. You'd be no help. I'm calling back-up.”

Jigen opened his mouth to argue, but somebody was faster.

“I'm sorry, Inspector, but I can't let you do that.”

A man walked up to them from behind the tower. He was a holding a gun and pointing it at Zenigata. At this distance, he'd blow off half his head if he fired it. Jigen dug at his memory in case he'd seen him before, perhaps on the boat when he'd accepted Vuković's job offer, but he couldn't recall a thing.

That's funny, he thought. Goemon hadn't said anything about anyone but Vuković and Walker being here.

“What's this, Kostov?” Zenigata asked.

Jigen turned to him in surprise. “Huh? You know him?”

“He's a local officer who's here to help me catch Lupin. Or at least I thought he was.”

Kostov lifted his brows. “You don't sound surprised.”

“I've had my suspicions for a while,” Zenigata replied, raising his hands. “I knew it'd be you or Novak, so –”

“And who says it's not us both?”

Zenigata looked startled, then saddened by the possibility. Jigen found himself feeling a little sorry for him. His work was lonely. It was a new start and then a goodbye everywhere he went, and there was always the chance that the people who were supposed to be on his side might be waiting for a chance to stab him in the back and leave him rotting in a gutter.

Kind of like him before he met Lupin.

“If you suspected me, then it was very stupid of you to take me here with you. As long as we remained at the station, there was nothing I could do, but there's nobody to stop me here.”

“It was a risk worth taking if I want this case to go anywhere,” Zenigata said.

“Don't make me laugh. As if a buffoon like you would plan something like that ahead.”

Jigen felt like he was being forgotten. The guy only seemed interested in Zenigata. It made sense, he guessed, since he had his hands cuffed and couldn't put up a fight. Had he been in this situation with Lupin, he would have already bumped his hips into his to remind him that he had a gun there, but he didn't think Zenigata would know what he meant.

“Are you going to kill us?” Zenigata asked.

“Just you for now. I'm tired of acting like a good cop.”

“Are you even on the force in the first place?”

Kostov smiled a little at that. “No. And I don't have a wife or kids, and I'm not from Zagreb. I was placed here just to keep an eye on you and get information on Lupin. The least fruitful job I've had in ages, to be perfectly honest.”

There was no silencer on Kostov's gun, so Jigen didn't think he'd shoot Zenigata here. More likely, he'd push him over the old wall by the sea and let him be crushed on the rocks below. That's what he'd do if he had to kill someone right here, right now. Not classy, but effective.

He tuned out the rest of what the man was saying and eyed him up and down. He was strongly built, but he was sure that if he could knock the gun from him, Zenigata would take care of the rest. Now or never. Once the guy stopped blabbing, it'd be curtains for Zenigata, and then he'd get delivered back to Walker in cuffs.

“This whole charade was just – ”

While his attention was on explaining something to Zenigata, Jigen kicked at a stone on the ground and aimed it at a bench behind them. There was a row of empty soda cans next to it, and they made a horrible clatter as they fell over and scattered around.

He allowed himself a smirk at his good aim but knew he didn't have the time to bask in that. This guy carried himself like a professional and wouldn't be distracted by cheap tricks for more than a second or two.

Jigen threw himself at the man, shoulder first, and knocked him off balance. He couldn't use his hands, so he went right down with him, but Kostov softened his landing a little. He held his breath and hoped that the gun wouldn't go off.

“Hey, what are you doing?” Zenigata yelled, but he was sharp enough to rush to his aid. He stepped on Kostov's arm to force it down and kicked the gun away. At first, Jigen thought it was a stupid thing to do because with a firearm he'd have the man under his control in an instant. But then Zenigata grabbed Kostov by the front of his shirt, pulled him up like he didn't weigh anything, and tossed him over his shoulder.

Damn, Jigen thought. That was better than he'd expected. He wasn't needed, so he remained lying on the cobblestones. Getting up without his hands would have taken some abdominal muscles, and he'd taken too many kicks in them to really want to do it.

“What were you thinking?” came Zenigata's voice a moment later. He stomped over to where he was and glared down at him. “He could have shot you!”

Jigen tried to shrug, but it was hard lying down. “I was pretty sure he wouldn't. They want me alive.”

“That's no guarantee! He could have taken off your shoulder or something.”

“What're you going to do to him?” Jigen strained his neck to see. Kostov was down and had both his hands and feet cuffed. He was struggling to get up, but in that state and without a gun, there was little he could do even if he managed that.

“That's the tough part,” Zenigata said, his voice low with regret. “Maybe he was bluffing, but if Novak is in on this, too... Then there's nobody on the force I can trust. The backup she promised doesn't exist. If I bring Kostov in, they'll just let him go and cover it up.”

“Sounds like you could use an ally.” Jigen tried to remember how Lupin always went about this, but he couldn't think of any obvious tricks. Joining forces with Zenigata was something that Lupin did so effortlessly that it was like they'd been working together for years.

“I've learned to manage on my own. Get up. I'm putting you in the car while I go look for Lupin.”

“What?” Jigen asked in dismay. Had he just been turned down, or hadn't Zenigata even realized what he was suggesting?

He struggled up into a sitting position and glared at Zenigata, made easier by the fact that his hat had fallen off earlier.

“You can't put me in the car with that guy.”

“Don't worry. Those are my special cuffs. Even Lupin wouldn't get out of them.” Zenigata picked up Jigen's hat and put it back on his head.

“It's not him I'm worried about. If he's got pals around, they're going to wait until you're gone before they come and help him. I'm their target, not Lupin. And you said yourself that maybe that other cop is on his side, too. If you want to see me in prison and not at the morgue, you've got to take me with you.”

That was betting on that Zenigata cared whether he lived or not, but Jigen couldn't imagine that he didn't. He doubted he cared about him personally, but his heart was too big to leave anyone to an uncertain fate. Strange thing in a cop.

“Ah.” The troubled look that appeared on Zenigata's face was so sad that Jigen wouldn't have been surprised to hear that he did care. But most likely, he was thinking about what Lupin would do if something went wrong. He'd been there to witness the rampage around the city.

“Alright, I see your point,” Zenigata said. “But I get the feeling that the story you told me before had too many holes in it. What did you not tell me? Why are they after you?”

“Well, what do you think?”

“Oh. Right. Hm.”

Jigen didn't know if the awkward cough was because Zenigata guessed what was going on, or because he was imagining something else. Most of the people who came after him did so because of petty personal reasons, and though he did his best to keep it private, he was sure the ICPO had some details on his file.

“I need my hands free for this,” he said and wriggled his fingers.

Zenigata let out a humorless laugh. “Nice try.”

Well, asking didn't cost anything. Jigen wondered if Lupin would have been able to talk him into letting him free. Perhaps not, considering how much daily effort Zenigata put into tying him up for just half a minute.

“If we get into trouble, I won't be any help like this.”

“That's okay. I'm not that bad of a shot myself.”

Zenigata helped him on his feet without asking. He grabbed the gun that Jigen had on his hip, checked the rounds and made sure the safety was on. Jigen pursed his lips in irritation but said nothing. It wasn't his Magnum, so it didn't really matter. And right now, it was more useful in Zenigata's hands anyway.

***

Lupin had known there'd be problems, but he hadn't figured that the tunnel being so narrow that even one man had trouble walking would be one of them. He was fine, as he was built like a toothpick and was flexible enough to bend his body into almost any position, but his companions were having more issues. If the walls got any closer to each other than this, someone would get stuck.

“Too bad you two are such hunks,” he said and grinned at Vuković over his shoulder. Inside, he couldn't help but be a little worried. He was the first in line, so if something went wrong, he had no way out past the two other men. Good thing he wasn't claustrophobic.

This was the shabbiest treasure stash that he'd seen in years. It hadn't taken much effort to find the secret door on the floor of the tower – because where else could it be? – and the tunnel had clearly been dug in hurry and without resources. For the most part, the passage looked like it was natural and that someone had widened it just enough to make it possible for a person to walk through. Every now and then, they had to grouch or they'd hit their heads.

“I wonder if this was used in wartime in the past, or if they just dug it for the treasure,” he said. Perhaps the latter. He'd read about the tower while doing research on Gaspar De Angelis, but there had been no mention of any tunnels.

“Who cares?” Vuković grumbled. Out of his two companions, he was the only one in a talkative mood. Lupin would have much rather talked with Walker and gotten some more details out of him, especially since all Vuković did was try to convince them to turn back.

The steps carved on the floor could hardly be called that. They were rough and uneven, and they had to go slowly because the floor was wet. Lupin was sure they were below sea level already, which was another item to add to the list of things to worry about.

“Stop,” he said all of a sudden.

“What is it?” Vuković asked.

Lupin pointed the flashlight at his feet. Only he was carrying one, largely because Vuković and Walker both had guns and needed one hand free. But he knew Walker had another flashlight under his jacket so that they wouldn't be left in the dark if he tried to pull something on them.

Which he was going to do, but he wouldn't risk it now. He just wanted to mess with them a little.

“See that crack on the floor? I'd avoid stepping on it if I were you.”

Of course, it was only a normal crack in the stone. But he'd promised Walker and Vuković that he'd guide them through any possible traps, so it was better to give them their money's worth. If he got them nervous, everything would be easier.

“What'll happen if we step on it?” Vuković asked.

“There's a number of possibilities, but my money is on a mechanism that'll flood the tunnel. Something like that is easy to build so close to the sea.”

He could see on Vuković's face that he was calculating whether they'd have time to run back if that happened and that he reached the obvious conclusion. Good thing there wasn't really a trap like that. The tunnel felt like a grave even without the immediate threat of death.

He smiled at the two men, careful to position the light so that there were deep shadows on his face. “Shall we?” And then he hopped over the crack with an exaggerated leap that thankfully didn't end with him slipping on the wet floor and landing on his ass.

Walker didn't hesitate to follow him. Only Vuković stayed back, eyeing the crack on the floor like it was a snake and might bite him. He was the weak link. When the time to cause trouble came, Lupin wouldn't have to do much to push him off balance.

“Well?” Lupin asked and lifted a brow at him.

After one more moment, the man stepped over the crack. He leaned against the wall and let out a relieved sigh when nothing happened. Lupin decided to come up with an even more frightening trap later. A hole with spikes, maybe, or a blade that'd cut your feet off and leave you bleeding to death.

He wondered how much farther the tunnel would go. They'd only been walking for about three hundred metres, though it had felt considerably longer. The air was stale, but it wasn't hard to breathe. He hoped there'd be more room at the end. If not, he'd be in trouble.

All things considered, he was surprised that the two men had gone along with his ideas this long. If all they wanted was to lure Jigen back into their hands, they could have waited for him anywhere. Following him into this tunnel and not turning back even though it had danger written all over it was insanity. Vuković wasn't really a coward. He just had some common sense.

“So, what was your brother really like? Jigen told me he was a snotty brat, but he's not a very good judge of character when it comes to women and children.”

“I don't see how that's any of your business.”

“Hey, no need to get rude. Just making some conversation since I get the feeling we're going to be here for a while.” He'd have to keep Walker talking. Even if he didn't learn anything that'd help him now, he wanted to hear a little more about Tony and what had happened.

It wasn't that Lupin doubted Jigen's story. He wasn't in the habit of lying to make himself look good.

In fact, he was hoping for the opposite. Maybe Jigen was being too hard on himself. Maybe it hadn't really been his fault. Lupin wanted to cling to the chance that maybe he didn't have the blood of a child on his hands. He knew and understood much of Jigen's past. He was far from innocent himself, but this was something that might make him get out of bed in the middle of the night. And Jigen would know why he was gone but never say it.

Maybe he'd decided to trick Walker and Vuković not because he wanted revenge but because he needed some peace of mind. He swallowed to make sure his voice would be even when he spoke again.

“I get that you're mad at Jigen. But honestly, in this line of work, you kind of have to expect to get a bullet to the face, so –”

“Tony wasn't in this line of work!”

Walker's voice almost made Lupin drop the flashlight. In the narrow tunnel and with only darkness within reach, every word was like a roar of thunder right next to his ear.

“But he wanted to be,” Lupin challenged. “Jigen told me he wanted to join your group.”

“He just wanted to show off! Nobody understands the realities of the world when they're fifteen. Jigen had enough years behind him to know that, but he treated a kid like a real threat and killed him.”

“Even a five-year-old is dangerous with a gun. And actually, someone who doesn't know how to use one is even more of a threat if you ask me.”

“To a man who likes to think of himself as the best gunman in the world? Give me a break.”

“And anyway,” Lupin went on, “it was an accident. He didn't mean to hit your brother. The gun blew up when –”

“When Jigen tried to perform that fancy trick of his? I know. We had a coroner look into every detail. I also know that what really caused his death was a bullet to the head after the explosion.”

Lupin heard how Walker stopped. He turned to look over his shoulder.

“Give me even one reason why I don't have the right to do whatever I want with him,” Walker said. He chuckled off-handedly. “In fact, I already have. You were a little too slow. Even if you see him again after this, don't expect it to be in one piece.”

Lupin was glad for the little light they had because he was sure his anger was momentarily splattered all over his face. Jigen was his, he thought, but that wasn't quite right. This wasn't about greed or love or a thief's insulted pride that someone dared to make a grab for treasures that were his and almost succeeded.

Walker had accused him of being just like him many times now. He'd shrugged it off earlier. It had been easy under the vast sky and with Goemon by his side to steady him. Now, he was alone. The unending darkness behind him might just as well have been a mirror.

He wanted these men dead, and even that wasn't enough. They had to suffer first, lose everything and writhe at his feet as they begged for mercy. He wanted them gone from his life so that he wouldn't have to acknowledge what they were saying.

There was a thick tang in his mouth like he'd already tasted blood. Suddenly, he found himself afraid of himself and what he might do if given the chance. Maybe it wasn't blood but bile.

“Hmph. In one piece or not, Jigen doesn't need me to take revenge on his behalf. He can do it himself,” he said.

Fujiko had said he was fine. She wouldn't lie about that. Or... or would she? She might say that to keep him motivated to look for the treasure. But not if something was really wrong, surely. She wouldn't cross that line, no matter how valuable their target.

“We'll see.”

Walker began approaching. Lupin had no choice but to turn around and keep following the tunnel. This was his trap, but now he couldn't help but feel like he was the only one caught in it. Maybe Walker was after the same thing he was. He could kick Jigen around as much as he wanted, but the worst thing he could do to him was to make him watch how his friends got hurt. Now that he knew how important they were to each other, it had to sound like an appetizing addition to his plans.

This had been a terrible idea. He should have asked Goemon what he wanted to do. It would have been something sensible. A swift attack and then retreat. If they'd done that, all four of them would be back together already. Instead, he didn't know if Jigen and Goemon were alright, or if he'd manage to improvise his way out of this one.

Why hadn't he asked him? Goemon's complete faith in him and willingness to follow orders were beautiful, but Lupin was starting to think he'd let them blind him.

He couldn't help but chuckle at himself. He was all alone now. These bastards had even taken away his phone.

“What's so funny?” Walker asked.

“Nothing, nothing.” He couldn't afford to wallow in regrets. He needed every instinct sharp and his mind ready to weave a new plot as soon as he found an opening.

Almost right after he was done thinking that, he noticed that the tunnel was growing wider, and one step later there was suddenly space all around them. He could spread his arms and still didn't reach the wall on either side. It was a relief he hadn't even realized he'd craved. It reminded him of opening the window and taking in a lungful of fresh air after sitting cooped up in a small room with maps, notes, a laptop and Jigen for hours on end.

He pointed his flashlight around to get a few good glimpses of their surroundings. He didn't need more than that to fill in the blanks and get his bearings, but he was sure Walker and Vuković would be lost and helpless. They might not dare take one step forwards if they didn't know where they were going.

He'd been paying attention to the tunnel as they'd walked and knew it was almost entirely straight. If not, he might have just turned off the light, made a dash for the exit and run back out before the other men had the time to turn on their light and come after him. But they had guns, and in that narrow space they'd hit him even in the dark before he reached the tower.

Wait a moment. Exactly to his left, there was something strange. He turned the light away immediately, hoping that the others hadn't noticed it. There was something carved on the wall, but he hadn't had the time to see what.

“Is this where the treasure is supposed to be?” Vuković asked.

“If so, I think it's a very sad place for it,” Lupin said. What they had found was a little cave, high enough for the average man to stand straight and raise his arms. If all three of them stretched out their hands and formed a row with their fingers touching, they just might fill the whole length of the room. There was rubble on the floor, and he'd seen two clay vases in the corner when he'd moved his light around.

If that was where the treasure was... To think that two people had loved each other all their lives from a distance and cherished the memory of one shared summer, only for it all to end up in a dusty, forgotten dump like this. To take anything from this place wouldn't be stealing it but rescuing it.

“So, guys,” he said cheerfully, “time to get our hands dirty. First one to find any sign of treasure has dibs on whatever they want!”

This was usually the time when the goons he tricked went crazy with greed and forgot to be careful. As he watched Walker and Vuković just stand there, doubtful expressions on their face, Lupin couldn't blame them for not leaping into the air with excitement.

“I was sure you were bluffing when you said there was something here,” Walker said.

“Then why did you come along?” Lupin kept the light pointed between himself the other men. If he didn't, they'd always know where he was, but he wouldn't be able to guess their location if they decided to slip into the dark. He doubted Vuković had the guts for anything, but Walker just might.

“Would it surprise you if I said that this was a trap?” Walker asked.

“Oh? You mean you'll just grab the treasure now that you know where it is and kill me? If so, I figured that out a long time ago.”

“Good guess, but not quite.”

“I know. After all the effort you put into getting your hands on Jigen, there's no way you'd play along with this whole thing. Unless, of course...” Lupin smiled and hummed in mock thought.

“Unless what?”

“Unless you don't have him anymore. And I know you don't. Let's be honest with each other here. You're only doing this because you think that Jigen will come here when he hears that you have me.”

The smile had disappeared from Walker's face long before Lupin stopped talking, but anger didn't take its place. Lupin watched him for the slightest sign of trouble, ready to turn off his light and make a run for it. The tunnel back to the tower was a death trap, but if it was his only chance, he'd take it.

After what felt like forever but couldn't have been more than a few seconds, Walker snorted and began to lower his gun.

“He'll come for you. I used to work with him. I know him.”

“Then you should also know that whatever happened with your brother, Jigen didn't do it on purpose.”

“Is that supposed to make a difference? If you're looking for a saint with endless forgiveness, you won't find one in me.” As he spoke, Walker put his gun into a holster under his jacket. He had to be feeling pretty confident about himself, or maybe he thought that Vuković was enough to keep the scale in their favor.

Hardly. Lupin was sure that a loud boo would be enough to make him drop his gun. Might be worth a try if he decided to turn the light off.

“Guess not,” he conceded.

“But I'm curious about something. If you knew we no longer had Jigen, why did you lure us here? What do you get out of letting us see where the treasure is?”

Lupin grimaced and scratched his cheek, feeling a little embarrassed that after all his attempts to talk Walker into giving up his revenge, he was here for the exact same reason. He wasn't above that kind of vengefulness. In some ways, he figured he was, if not worse, at least pettier. He hadn't even lost anyone, and he was still out for blood.

“A thief never reveals all his cards,” he said. He might admit the existence of an ugly spot like that to himself, but to these people? Out of the question.

“How about we get out of here? This place is creeping me out. And the air is getting thinner,” Vuković said.

“You're imagining it,” Walker said.

“We can come back and look for the treasure later. He just admitted that he's got a plan. He wouldn't bring us down here if there wasn't something in it for him. How do we even know that this is his first time here? He could have been here any time after solving the riddle and set a trap for us.”

How Lupin wished that were true. Then there wouldn't be this slimy sense of foreboding in his stomach. But maybe Walker would buy into Vuković's paranoia and agree to leave.

“What do you think he can do? We're the ones with guns, and we have an extra light in case he tries anything with his. There's only one way out of this room. If anyone tries to leave or come in, we can take him out,” Walker said.

“You're making it sound like I walked into my own grave. Give me some credit,” Lupin muttered. He pointed the flashlight at the vases in the corner. “You want to check what's in there?” Maybe if it was something cool, it'd get the pressure off his shoulders for long enough that he could take a few deep breaths, relax and think.

“You do it,” Walker suggested.

The vases looked like they were just standing there. Lupin's gut instinct was usually right about these things, and this time he was sure that sticking his inside wouldn't result in any scratches of poisoned needles or the walls suddenly caving in. Nevertheless, he gave one of them a poke with his foot first.

Nothing happened. Encouraged, he tipped over the vase hard enough to shatter it. There was a rattle as something poured out, and he moved the clay pieces aside to get a look.

“Well, would you look at that,” he said brightly, trying to cover his disappointment with a smile. “Silver coins! Looks like they're Austrian.” He grabbed one and flicked it at Vuković, who failed to catch and had to start hunting for it on the floor.

“Peanuts,” Walker said. He stepped closer and gave the pile of coins a kick, scattering them all over the dark room.

“Is this all?” Vuković asked.

“Doesn't look like there's anything else here,” Lupin said. He hoped the others wouldn't question it. No way would anyone bother hiding a few handfuls of coins in a place like this. There had to be more. This was just another layer of protection meant to discourage anyone who came looking.

“So much for your ancestors' great treasure,” Walker said.

“I never said it'd be valuable!”

Right, Lupin thought. Maria Anna had left the treasure here so that her servants or their children could have it, not her family who'd forced her into an unhappy marriage. There had to be a clue. If he wanted to find it, now was the time because Walker and Vuković were griping at each other.

“Maybe there's something else in the other one,” he said and pointed the light at the remaining vase. As he spoke, he took a few steps back towards the corner where he'd seen the carving on the wall. He fumbled with his hand until he found it and traced his fingers along the surface to read what was there. It didn't spell anything. The shape was random. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe it was just a scratch in the stone.

No. He refused to accept that. Maybe it didn't mean anything, but it could still be a clue. It was all he had. He pressed a little harder, and to his surprise and relief, he felt the stone give in a little. Interesting. He pushed a little more and buried the sound of the stone clicking into place with a cough.

“Maybe the air is getting a little thinner,” he said.

He felt around the hole he'd discovered until his hands met an iron handle. It was firm when he tugged it, and he was sure that he was supposed to push it. That gave him an idea, and he began to move his hand around the wall, dipping his fingers into every hole and crack until he found one that felt like a continuous incision. He followed it long enough to confirm his suspicions and stepped away, closer to the entrance of the tunnel.

His plan was fun. Risky, but fun. Wasn't that his entire life?

“This is a waste of time. There's nothing valuable down here,” Walker said.

“Oh? Then we're going back up again?” Lupin asked. That'd be the easy way out. No need to gamble.

“No,” Walker said, and Lupin could hear the smile in his voice. It promised pain and death, and he wasn't surprised to see that he was pulling his gun out again. “We've spent enough time playing. I want to see what Jigen does when he comes down here and finds your body bleeding out on top of this so called treasure.”

“That's not very original,” Lupin said. He fought against the urge to play with the switch on his flashlight. He couldn't give Walker even the slightest hint that he was about to turn it off. This had to be a surprise.

However, he was the one who got a surprise first. A hand came to rest on his shoulder, and it was so unexpected that he couldn't help but let out a yelp and straighten his back with a shudder. Just for a moment, he was convinced it was Maria Anna's ghost, angry that they'd come to steal her treasure – wouldn't be the strangest thing that had happened to him – but then he felt the hand draw three kanji on his back.

Fujiko. She was here. Bless her, provided that they got out of this alive. He couldn't tell her what he was planning, but he reached behind him to grab her hand and give it a squeeze in the dark. She'd know he had something in mind.

“Aaaaahh! This way!” he yelled at the top of his lungs and switched off the light. Fujiko let out a surprised sound but quieted after that as he pulled her away from the tunnel and towards the corner where the carving was. Their steps were nearly silent as years had turned it into an instinct to balance their weight just right, but there was no need to bother. As soon as the light went off, both Walker and Vuković shouted in surprise, and either one of them fired his gun. The noise rang in the room and buried everything else.

Lupin stuck the flashlight between his teeth and reached for the handle. He pushed with all he had, refusing to think about what would happen if he was wrong. After a split second of horrible doubt, he felt the wall give in and begin to move along the incision he'd found earlier. He pushed Fujiko through the small entrance, slipped in behind her and pushed the door shut again, all before he could see any light from the other side.

He leaned against the wall and tried to hear something over the thumping of his heart. Had they noticed? He'd tried to make it sound like they were running back into the tunnel, but if they'd heard something, or if they saw something strange about the wall once they turned their light on, everything was lost.

Walker was yelling profanities and telling Vuković to get back into the tunnel. Not soon after, their voices grew distant and stopped, and Lupin slumped down with relief.

“Phew, that was close,” he said, but his relieved laughter died when a horrible thought squeezed at his throat.

If Fujiko hadn't made her presence known at that exact moment, he would have dashed for the secret door alone, and then she would have been trapped in the tunnel with the enemy.

He swallowed a lump in his throat and reached out for her in the dark.

“Fujiko, Fujiko...”

“What?” She squirmed a little and moved his hands down to her sides but didn't resist when he leaned into her. “What's wrong?”

He shook his head against her shoulder. He couldn't tell her that he'd almost gotten her killed after she'd just been able to get away from those guys. There was no time to dwell on it, so he forced the frightening image away from his mind and focused on just that she was right there, alive and well and warm.

“What's going on here? Where are we?” Fujiko asked, and this time she was using a tone that demanded answers.

Lupin picked up the flashlight and turned it on. They found themselves looking at another tunnel, but this one was much larger and better made. There were bricks on the walls, lined together so systematically that he got the feeling they were facing something much bigger than the way to Maria Anna's trinkets. Crna Stina was an old town. Maybe there was something else under it and Maria Anna had used it as a place to hide her treasure.

“I'm not sure,” he admitted. “And we don't have the time to find out. Those guys will be back on the street soon, and then they'll notice we didn't escape that way.”

“That's not good. Jigen is up there.”

“What?” Lupin scrambled to his feet and gaped at her. “What's he doing there?”

“I locked him out so that he wouldn't come here. You know what he's like. He wants to deal with Walker alone.”

Damn, that was a problem. But at least it meant that he had to be okay if he was fit enough to come here with Fujiko.

“Ugh, what an idiot. Come on, there's got to be another way out of here. Let's find it and go stop him from doing anything stupid.”

Fujiko sighed but followed his lead. “You're one to talk. Coming here alone with those two was the stupidest thing you have done in a long time. What were you thinking?”

“Oh, come on. A guy has to make sure his life stays interesting.”

“And you don't think it's been interesting enough these past few weeks?”

She had him there. He'd need some peace and quiet after this to forget about all the horrible thoughts that had plagued him during their time in Croatia. And everything he'd done when he'd thought Jigen was gone. He wasn't sure he wanted to admit that to her, though. She might think he was growing slow and boring.

“Don't sound so gloomy, Fuji-cakes! I know! When this is all over, we'll come back to these tunnels and see what we can find. You know there's nothing I love more than going treasure hunting with you!”

At first, she didn't say anything, and he was beginning to worry that she could see right through him and guess what he was thinking. But then she leaned closer to press a kiss on his cheek.

“That's what I like to hear,” she said, and he felt so much better.

Chapter Text

“This place is bigger than it looks,” Fujiko said and pointed her flashlight around. The tunnel that had led from the tower to the underground chamber had been a tight fit, but here they didn't have to crouch or worry about getting stuck between the walls. This place was built for a crowd. Their footsteps sounded eerily loud.

“Actually, I think it looks bigger than it is.”

“What do you mean?”

“Crna Stina has been bombed a few times over the years, and they had to rebuild big chunks of it from scratch. If there was something like this under the whole city, it would have been found. I think it's only here in the old district because they haven't done anything big here in centuries.”

Lupin was right. Whatever they had found, it had to be a well-guarded secret. She always did her research before a job, and she hadn't come across even one word about secret tunnels under the city.

“It doesn't look like a burial place,” she said. She'd explored her share of tunnels with bodies lined up on the walls, but so far they hadn't come across any remains. She couldn't say she liked digging through human bones, but if there was something valuable among them, she'd grit her teeth and do it. Or ask Lupin to do it for her.

Lupin let out a sound of agreement. They didn't have time to stick around and try to solve the mystery, but Fujiko couldn't help but keep an eye out for anything suspicious. There was no guarantee that they'd get the chance to come back, and it'd be a shame to leave empty-handed.

“All the buildings around here used to belong to the De Angelis family. Maria Anna must have discovered this place by accident and hidden her treasure somewhere down here,” she said.

“Most likely.”

“And if there was nothing valuable here before that, then it's unlikely there are any traps.”

“Too bad. A trap might open a way out.”

“What, you don't think there is one?” Fujiko pointed her light at the wall and pretended to be examining it, but she was looking at Lupin from the corner of her eye. It was hard to see more than his shape in the dark, but it was enough to tell her how off-balance he was. Normally, he couldn't resist snooping around forgotten places like this and sticking his fingers into every crevice to find what was there. Even if it was nothing valuable, it thrilled him to know that he was the first person to look at something after lifetimes had passed.

Now, he was uncharacteristically tense. All he cared about was getting out.

“Jigen's going to be fine. He has a gun,” she said.

“I'm not worried. I know he can take care of himself.”

That wasn't the problem, Fujiko knew. All four of them had been through so much, together and alone, that one close call wouldn't be enough to throw Lupin off balance like this. The real issue was something else, but she wasn't ready to guess what. He was hard to read when he wanted to keep something to himself.

She thought back to how he'd clung to her after they'd dashed through the secret door. At first, she'd assumed it had been another attempt to cup a feel, maybe not even a conscious one since the rush that came after a near disaster always went straight between his legs. But there had been nothing eager about the way he'd called out her name. He'd been delirious with relief.

She turned that short moment around in her head and tried to sort out what to make of it. It couldn't be just that it had been too close for comfort. They'd been in tighter spots than that. What made this time different was that she'd had no idea what was going on until it was already over. She was usually on top of Lupin's game and had a plan B ready in case something blew up in his face. He knew that. He could trust that she wouldn't be caught in the carnage.

He'd clearly been in the middle of something with Walker and Vuković, and she'd arrived just in time for Lupin to adjust his plans. If she'd been there a second later, she would have had to face them alone while he was sitting behind the wall in safety. There was no doubt in her mind that she could have handled it somehow, and deep down Lupin had to know it, too. But he'd been through so many scares lately that maybe it was starting to take its toll on him.

It wasn't like him to let anyone see the cracks in his defences. He liked to think of himself as the force that bound their group together. He wanted to be larger than life and shine so brightly that the rest of them couldn't help but flock to him. He kept secrets and always tried to be one step ahead of everyone else. Fujiko had thought of it as one of his childish quirks that was easy to use against him, but perhaps it was a flaw that ran much deeper.

If playing the leading role in the play that he wrote and staged himself was what he thought was his main appeal, it had to have shaken him that it was exactly that which had put the rest of them into so much danger this time. And it made her realize something that she should have seen a long time ago. She'd thought that if the relationships within their group changed, it'd be the three of them who had to adjust, learn and make space but that Lupin would stand unaffected in the middle of it. That was how he liked to present himself, and it made her feel like an idiot that this one time, she'd fallen for it.

“Do you know where we're going?” she asked. She knew they'd taken a few turns when the tunnel had brought them to a crossroads or two, but she'd been too busy with her thoughts to pay attention. She felt a flare of annoyance at herself. She was usually better than that.

“Of course.”

“Then where are we going?”

She pointed her light at him just in time to see an annoyed pout on his face before he hid it. He always looked like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar when she caught him lying to her. He hadn't been paying attention, either. And he was definitely supposed to be better than that.

“Let's stop and rest for a moment,” she suggested. She sat down and leaned her back against the wall after making sure there was nothing disgusting on the ground, alive or dead.

“Now? We're in a hurry!”

“We aren't going to accomplish anything by getting lost here. At least we can go back the way we came.”

Fujiko pointed her light in the direction where they'd just come from. They were faint, but she could see their footprints on the floor. Since it was dry enough to be dusty, she guessed they had to have been moving away from the sea the whole time.

“We're also not going to accomplish anything by sitting here and twiddling our thumbs,” Lupin said, but he took a seat by her side anyway. He sighed dejectedly. What usually followed didn't come. No hand climbing along her shoulders to pull her close and no hips pressing against hers. It was nice when he didn't have his mind in the gutter, but that was when it was the hardest to guess what he'd do.

She considered pretending to be scared. It'd give him the chance to be her hero and at least act like he was in charge. She'd done it more times than she could count. It was a good way to smoothen any hurt feelings if she pulled the rug from under him. Men liked feeling strong and needed.

“What's got you so afraid?” she asked instead.

“Huh? I'm not afraid! What are you talking about?”

“Don't get huffy. Is there a reason you don't want to be honest with me?”

“It's not fair to phrase it like that! You're forcing me into defending myself.”

Fujiko opened her mouth to answer, but Lupin was faster.

“If it's the treasure, don't worry. We'll come back here and find it as soon as things calm down. I'm sure you found that secret note about the emerald ring in Maria Anna's diary. We can sell everything else, but I'll give that to you, and then –”

“Lupin! Forget the treasure!”

“That's not very much like you, Fuji-cakes.”

“And it's not like you to be such a coward!”

Lupin grew quiet. He spent a moment playing with the flashlight in his hands.

“Earlier, you asked me what I was thinking when I came here alone. Believe it or not, but I was wondering the exact same thing right before you showed up. There was no good reason. I could have stayed with Goemon. We could have dealt with Walker and his men as soon as we learned that you and Jigen were okay.”

“Then why didn't you? That would have been the most practical option.”

“It's clear you don't understand the rhythm of a man's heart,” Lupin said with a frustrated edge to his voice. “It might have been practical, but you really think I was going to let those two get off that easily? They made me think Jigen was dead, and then they captured you two! They deserve to suffer!”

Fujiko snorted. “That's stupid. And it doesn't look like it went according to your plan.”

“No,” Lupin admitted, mournful. Fujiko heard him swallow.

“Everything is fine, you know,” she reminded him after the silence had been going on for a while.

“Yeah, sure. But I left Goemon behind with the enemy. I almost got myself killed because I wasn't thinking logically. You almost had to face Walker and Vuković alone because of me. And Jigen could be in trouble even as we speak. I'm just thinking, this is a lot of unnecessary trouble.”

“I thought danger was part of the fun for you.”

“It is! Don't think I'm getting old and boring, Fujiko! But if something goes wrong, I don't want it to be my fault! I hate feeling guilty!”

There was such a simple solution to that, she thought. He'd just have to stop keeping secrets from the rest of them. But he'd never. He thought he needed that element of mystery and surprise that kept even his closest friends guessing.

“Idiot,” she said with a shake of her head.

Lupin laughed, but he sounded wrong, like a piece of rusted out machinery. His hand moved closer to hers, and at first she was sure he'd hold it, but he grabbed her flashlight instead.

“We should... save the batteries,” he said and turned it off, then did the same with his. They were left in complete darkness.

Fujiko let out a long sigh. “Honestly, you. It wouldn't hurt you to trust the rest of us a little more. What's the point of surrounding yourself with competent people if you don't?”

There was no answer. Maybe Lupin was sulking.

“Especially now that we're rearranging things a little,” she went on. “You've got to be more open. Otherwise we're just going to end up fighting.”

He still said nothing. It was strange for him to be that long without running his mouth.

“Lupin?” She reached out with her hand and then immediately pulled it back, as if she'd touched fire. His shoulders were trembling, but he wasn't making a sound. In all the years she'd known him, she'd seen him cry only a handful of times.

It was no insult that he wanted to hide it from her. They were alike that way. Genuine tears were such an easy opening for an attack. What bothered her was that they'd ever gotten to this point. She didn't think anything she'd said had been that harsh.

“What's wrong?” She didn't expect him to talk to her now, but she wasn't going to just sit there and pretend she hadn't noticed anything. Their relationship was built on things unsaid or barely implied and the trust in that the other would see through the layers.

She felt around in the dark until she found his hand and locked his fingers with hers.

“We've all seen you in so many pitiful and embarrassing situations. We're all still here. Go ahead and put up a show for the rest of the world, but we don't need it.”

A moment later, she felt his arm sneak across her back and pull her against him. He leaned his chin on her shoulder and shifted a little so that she could sit between his legs. Most people would want to be the one wrapped in a warm hug in situations like this, but if Lupin needed to hold her to feel better, so be it.

That he thought he had to keep her close to feel reassured she was there – or any three of them, really – was laughable, but maybe it was no surprise for someone who'd always had to take what he wanted.

“Remember what Jigen said back at your place?” he asked quietly. “About how he wouldn't have walked into that trap if I'd told him and Goemon about the treasure as soon as we got here?”

“Your problem is that you always want the climax to be a one-man show,” she said.

He snickered, and she rolled her eyes. Typical.

“My father and grandfather didn't share the stage with anyone.”

That was new. He only spoke of his family line when it was to brag about their accomplishments, or to defend their honor by succeeding at something that they hadn't managed to do. There was a lot of pressure on his shoulders to keep the family name infamous, but she had no idea who had put it there. She'd looked into his past many times, but he was too good at hiding his tracks.

Maybe there was nobody there. If he'd grown up with no other connection to his father's family but the name and legacy, it might be that he was the only one in the world who expected him to carry them on.

“They usually worked alone, didn't they? You're already breaking tradition by having a team,” she said.

“I never meant to. Do you remember when it was just you and me?”

“Yes.” And she didn't want to go back to those days. Lupin could still be a handful, but back then he'd been an insufferable dick. Having people close to him had done him so much good that she sometimes wondered if anyone had been there before them. Then again, he'd been much younger, and young men with too much money and self-importance tended to be unbearable.

His chuckle suggested that he was thinking the same thing.

“I just wanted a couple of stooges for a job or two. I thought it'd be an interesting change of pace. It wasn't supposed to be permanent.”

“And look what happened.” She reached up to play with the fingers of the hand that was resting against her arm.

He sighed, his breath warm enough to make her shiver. It was a content sound, and she was sure he was starting to get over whatever dark thought had pushed him over the edge.

“So, are we ready to make a move?” she asked, not willing to sit in the dark for the rest of the night.

“Any time. And actually, I just remembered something.” Lupin shifted, and suddenly there was a bright light coming from his watch. The display had turned digital. Fujiko squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then forced herself to look.

“Is that a map of the town?”

“Mm-hm. It's a bit pointless, though. I mean, obviously it doesn't show where the tunnels go, but I think we can make a few educated guesses.”

“There's not a lot of plumbing in the historic district, right? I looked it up, just in case. Most of the buildings here are as they were over a hundred years ago. Only the ones being used as apartments have had any renovations done.”

“Right, so that means there can't be tunnels in this, this or this area,” Lupin said and pressed a button on his watch to make the map move.

“That doesn't help much.”

“No, but it's a start. And building tunnels is a lot of work. I'm sure they wouldn't have made any that lead to dead ends. So no matter which way we go, we should find something.”

“I know. That was never the problem.”

“Then what was?” Lupin looked confused, or maybe it was just the light of the watch throwing awkward shadows on his face.

“You weren't paying attention to where you were going,” Fujiko said. “And neither was I.”

Lupin turned his eyes back to his watch and began to fiddle with the buttons. It was fancy enough that Fujiko was sure it cost more than an average person's monthly salary, and that was before taking into account the gadgets that Lupin had built inside it. The screen alone, which looked like normal glass but could be used as a digital display, had to be pretty expensive.

“I wonder if we're getting rusty,” Lupin said, still pretending that he was doing something with his watch even though Fujiko could tell it was all for show. “A good thief shouldn't get distracted like that.”

“I know I'm not.”

“You just said otherwise. But it makes me really happy that you worry so much about little ol' me.”

“It's not a sign of getting rusty.” Fujiko began to wriggle away form his hold and got on her feet. She smirked down at Lupin, though she wasn't sure if he could see it in the little light they had.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. You just have to know what's worth getting worried about and what not. Then it's not a distraction. I've got it figured out, and I thought so had you, but I guess I was wrong.”

Lupin let out a doubtful hum but didn't argue. Fujiko wondered if someone had tried to put into his head that he shouldn't get close to anyone if he wanted to be successful. He was so good at being overly romantic and mushy that it sounded laughable at first, but if there was one thing that defined him, it was that he flew from flower to flower.

It crossed her mind, then, that maybe the whole new arrangement that was growing between them was just an extension of that. He had so much freedom to do whatever he wanted when he didn't promise himself to only one person. She didn't doubt that he cared about all of them just as much as about his own life, maybe more, but that wasn't enough to make something like this work long-term.

Next, she wondered about herself and what she was doing in the middle of all this. She liked to think she was more self-aware and knew what she wanted, but she was taking unfamiliar risks here.

Lupin sighed and followed her example of getting up from the floor. “We should leave this for later.”

“You're right. We've wasted enough time. I wonder if Jigen is really okay. He's kind of battered up.”

“There's actually something we can do for him even from here, but he won't like it.” Lupin pressed another button on his watch, and this time a red dot appeared on the screen. Then, he turned off the display so that they were in the dark again.

“What was that?”

“Remember that card I gave Pops earlier? I actually meant it so that we could keep an eye on him, but it works in reverse, too, just in case. If he's paying attention, he should notice it's sending a tracking signal that leads to me. That will bring him straight to this part of town, and maybe he'll arrest those two assholes and solve this whole mess for us.”

“But then the police will discover these tunnels. So much for the treasure!”

“Oh, don't you start, too! I bet Jigen will whine enough because he thinks I don't trust him to deal with this alone.” Lupin turned his flashlight back on and pointed it the way they'd come from, then onwards to the direction they hadn't explored yet.

“I bet Pops is snoring under his paperwork at the station. We probably have some time to check this place out if we hurry. And maybe we'll find the exit, too! Let's go!”

***

Getting the door to the tower open was going to be harder than Jigen had hoped. He'd told Zenigata to shoot the lock, but they'd both immediately seen how hopeless it'd be. The old door and the iron lock were so thick that they'd need something bigger to blow them open. For an exciting moment, Jigen wondered if the old cannon still worked, but they didn't have gunpowder or ammunition for it.

Damn. He should have brought his antitank rifle, but he hadn't thought he'd need that in Croatia.

They didn't want to call for back-up. It might not show up in time, and even if it did, there was the looming danger that they were on Vuković's payroll and picked up here Kostov had left off.

“I've got a squad car. Pretty sturdy. What if we take it and ram the door?” Zenigata suggested.

“Hmm. I'm not sure. Might be worth a try.” Jigen eyed the strip of pavement they'd have to use if they wanted to drive a car into the tower. It probably wasn't enough to get a decent speed going.

“Where's Goemon?” Zenigata asked next.

“On his way here, but it might take some time. And he tends to get lost when he's driving on unfamiliar roads. I wouldn't count on his help for another while.”

“Just when I need the guy who always busts you out of any jam, he's not here.”

Jigen could only agree. He would have much rather been in this situation with Goemon. He wouldn't have to worry that he'd stop him from finding Walker and killing him. Goemon would understand.

Then again, there was nothing noble about what he was going to do. He wasn't defending anyone's honor, not his own and not that of a client, and didn't plan to make amends or give the enemy a fair chance. All he gave a crap about anymore was whether he'd live or die.

The thought of letting Goemon see him at his ugliest should have been a relief. Maybe it'd smudge some of that admiration that had somehow turned into love and put an end to it. Goemon should be there to watch him return from his battle, disappointment growing in his eyes and resignation in his smile as he welcomed him back. It'd be easier for everyone, in the end.

And yet it was anything but a relief. He'd already broken Goemon's heart once. He didn't want to see that look on his face and know that it was his fault again. He wanted... There was no name for the hole he felt when he thought about Goemon and how he said he was fine, pretended he couldn't see Lupin lean into him, and didn't want to talk to him on the phone. It wasn't supposed to be like that.

“Well, can't be helped,” Zenigata muttered, and eyed the tower up and down. “I guess there's only one thing to do.”

“And what's that?”

“I'll climb to the top and open the door from the inside.”

“Did you bring a fire engine with a ladder or something?”

Zenigata snorted at him, and Jigen realized he'd not recognized his sarcasm. Oh, well. They weren't here to socialize.

“A real officer doesn't need a ladder to pursue his criminal,” Zenigata said.

It was Jigen's turn to snort. “What? You're going to climb up with your bare hands?”

Zenigata pulled back the sleeves of his jacket, but it was only for emphasis as he let them fall back to place immediately and marched to the wall.

“Hey, I was kidding!” Jigen said.

“I wasn't! I have to arrest Lupin before they do something to him!”

“Fujiko went after him. He'll be fine.” He was grumbling, but he meant it. Fujiko wouldn't let Lupin die like this. It wasn't a new a realization, exactly. Before, he would have reasoned that she couldn't let her fountain of easy money dry up. She had much more than that to lose, and it no longer felt like there was a gun barrel pressed between his ribs to admit it.

“Maybe. But it doesn't hurt to be careful.”

Jigen watched Zenigata glare at the tower in search of cracks big enough to get his hands and feet into them. It was impossible for almost anyone to go up the wall like that, but Zenigata had surprised him a lot of times with feats that no human should have been able to pull off. Still, he retreated a few steps so that he wouldn't get flattened in case he was better at boasting than climbing.

“You know, if you let me out of the cuffs, I could catch you if you fall,” he said.

Zenigata had already begun climbing and had actually made it some five feet off the ground. It was pretty impressive for a man his size and with that heavy trench coat on him. Maybe this would actually work, Jigen found himself thinking as he watched his progress.

Just as he was beginning to feel hopeful, he heard the door make a click. Someone was unlocking it from the inside.

“Who the hell closed the door?”

Shit, shit, shit, that was Walker. They were coming back. Jigen looked up at Zenigata and almost yelled at him to hide, but he was too high to make it back down again in time, and Walker would have heard him anyway. He almost stumbled over his own feet as he hurried behind the tower, on the side opposite the door, and hoped that they wouldn't find him.

He listened, hopeful that he'd hear Lupin and Fujiko's voices. What the hell had happened down there? If they weren't coming back up with Walker and Vuković, then –

“They can't have gotten far! We have to find them before they disappear on us!”

“But, they...” Vuković fumbled to find his words.

“Yeah? They what?”

“We never saw them in the tunnel! We had light, and it was a straight way. What if they –”

“What, stayed down there? We checked the room, idiot!”

Jigen expected to hear the sound of Walker punching Vuković in the jaw for talking back to him. It never came, but no matter. He'd get what was coming to him eventually, but much more importantly, it sounded like Lupin and Fujiko had made it off just fine. He let out a sigh of relief and leaned against the tower, feeling like his knees might not carry him by themselves. Those two would give him a heart attack one day.

“Call the men who're watching the samurai. Tell them to kill him. I need someone dead tonight!”

There was a moment of near silence, only the wind rattling the windows of the buildings on the other side of the street and making the waves rumble in the dark sea. Jigen wanted to look up and see how Zenigata was doing, but he was worried even the slightest movement would be heard.

“They aren't picking up,” Vuković said.

“What?”

“Something must have gone wrong.”

“Impossible. I brought those men with me from New York. They're the best I have.”

“One of them already let the samurai get away earlier, didn't he?”

“Don't talk to me like that. The only reason any of this happened is because you and your men were so incompetent. You're the ones who let Jigen get away the first time around and failed to do anything about Lupin.”

If he were the kind of guy who got lucky out of the blue, Jigen was sure Walker and Vuković would finish each other off right here. It'd be so much simpler if one of them just got mad enough and went a step too far. But as that was unlikely to happen, he'd be happy enough if they just walked away without noticing him.

“What's that?”

“What's what?”

“Shut up, idiot. Listen.”

Jigen tried to listen, too, but at first he didn't get what Walker meant. Then, he could make out a faint, regular thudding sound, and just as it dawned on him what it was –

Hooooonk!

He nearly jumped out of his skin at the blaring sound that came from the other side of the tower. A string of profanities escaped his mouth, but it didn't matter. After that horrible noise, he could have yelled his throat raw, and they probably wouldn't have paid him any attention.

For a moment, he'd forgotten about Kostov. He was locked up in the squad car, which had felt like a sensible thing to do at first, but now Jigen wished they'd at least knocked him unconscious. Somehow, that piece of shit had crawled his way to the driver's seat and had blasted the horn and probably woken up everyone in the neighbourhood.

Goddamn, where was he supposed to hide in the few seconds he had before Kostov told Walker that he was right here? There was nowhere to go, except jump down into the sea, and he wasn't crazy enough for that.

He looked up to glare at Zenigata because it was his fault he didn't even have his hands free, but the inspector was no longer in sight. Somehow, he'd made it to the top of the tower. And Jigen had thought that only Lupin might be able to do it. He wondered if Zenigata had known how to pull off stunts like that before he'd started chasing Lupin, or if it was something he'd learned on the job.

But he didn't have time to mull on that for long. Angry shouts and footsteps were approaching, and a sudden need to just get away made him try a desperate dash across the street, even as he knew that he couldn't make it when there were so many lamp poles along the pavement. No shadows for him to hide in.

“Not a single step further, or I'll shoot!”

Jigen froze with a grimace on his face and turned to look back over his shoulder. Vuković was pointing a gun at him, and he wouldn't miss at such a distance. No choice but to force the frustration from his face and turn to look at him with a wry sneer.

“You guys just won't give up, huh?”

“Third time's the charm. This time, you aren't getting away,” Walker said as he joined them, also holding a gun.

Jigen had to swallow his quip about how they just kept letting him escape. The ache all over him was a good reminder that he shouldn't provoke him. And besides, it had been Fujiko to save his ass both times. It was embarrassing.

“What do we do? Put him in the car and proceed as planned?” Vuković asked.

“We can't make the flight anymore, and I don't want to know how long it'd take to arrange another. Every second we waste is a chance for Lupin to come and get him. I'll just kill him here before anything stops me again.”

“Right here? It'll draw attention to us! And since we found your man in that squad car, that inspector has to be around here somewhere.”

Jigen felt torn between whether he wanted Walker to listen to Vuković or not. Sure, this was a risky place to get violent, but what good was it to him? By the time anyone noticed and came to help, he'd be growing cold in a puddle of his own blood. If Walker decided to take him elsewhere, at least the trip there would provide him a chance to run.

Walker made a dismissive sound in his throat. “If he was around, he'd have done something by now.”

That much was likely to be true. Zenigata had probably rushed straight to the tunnel and gone after Lupin the moment he'd gotten into the tower. If Jigen survived this, he'd have to get back at him for cuffing him and leaving him helpless in enemy hands.

“Over here,” Walker said and motioned at him with his gun.

“And what if I don't?”

“We can make you, but it wouldn't be very dignified. Did I beat your pride out of you earlier?”

“If you shoot me, someone will hear it and call the cops.”

“You forget I have one of my men undercover as an officer. He can deal with any trouble until we're long gone. Besides, I never said I'd shoot you.”

“Oh, you want to finish what you started?” It wouldn't be pleasant, but it'd be slow, and right now he had to win some time. It wasn't his style, but he should try to keep Walker talking for as long as possible.

“More than anything else. And now move it,” Walker said.

Vuković grabbed his arm and pulled him across the street and back towards the tower. They'd let Kostov out of the squad car, but he was still handcuffed and unable to be of any use. Jigen couldn't help but smirk down at him as he passed him on the ground.

“I hear you went treasure hunting with Lupin. How did that turn out?” he asked, turning to Walker.

“That's none of your concern.”

“Badly, then, I bet.”

Walker gave him a shove to the back and forced him to stand by the wall that followed the coastline. Jigen recalled his earlier thoughts about how he'd go about killing someone neatly here. Surely Walker wouldn't just push him over?

He realized his apprehension must have shown on his face because Walker chuckled good-heartedly and patted him on the shoulder.

“Don't worry. By the time you end up down there, you'll be dead already.”

“How comforting.”

“It's too bad we're facing west. I'm sure the sun is about to rise, but I don't think you're going to catch even one glimpse of it.”

There were a dozen forlorn things he could have said as reply to make sure that his final words were memorable – “I've never seen much light in my life anyway” might have been good – but Jigen didn't feel up to it. There was something about the thought of dying for his friends that he found wistfully beautiful, which he knew was ridiculous. He supposed it was his way of living with the fact that any job could be his last. But it had to count. Back at the warehouse, resigning to his fate might have taken some heat off Fujiko. Now, he'd just die alone and make no difference.

“There's something I should tell you,” he said. “About Tony, I mean. He didn't deserve what happened. I made a mistake. I'm sor–”

His ears rang with the blow that sent him sprawled on the ground. For a moment, he had trouble breathing from the impact of hitting the pavement badly, and he wasn't sure how he'd get up again.

“Don't you dare,” Walker growled.

“You didn't let me finish. I regret what I did to him. I won't lose any sleep over killing you.”

Walker snorted. “Look at you. Still that arrogant. Not for long.” He turned to look at Vuković. “Take Greg to the car. There should be tools there to get him out of those cuffs. And bring some back with you. Like a hammer.”

“What for?”

Walker placed his shoe on Jigen's knee and forced him to straighten his leg. “I'm going to break his knees so badly that even if someone saves him, he'll never walk again.”

The cringe on Vuković's face was how Jigen felt inside, but he didn't want to let Walker have the satisfaction of seeing it.

“He'll make noise. Someone will hear,” Vuković said.

“Hm, fair enough. Bring the duct tape from the glove compartment, too. I don't need to hear him scream to enjoy this.”

Duct tape was going to hurt like hell if his beard got caught in it. He had bigger things to worry about, but it felt unreal to think that Walker might go through with what he'd said, right here in the open. It was getting close enough to morning that people would show up in the streets soon.

“I guess those plans of killing me over his grave are cancelled, then?” he asked.

“Regrettably, that seems to be the case. You've proven slipperier than I imagined. I'd rather kill you here than not at all.” Walker crouched down by his side and moved his hand up Jigen's shoulder, to his throat and finally to his chin so he could graze his beard with his knuckles.

Jigen shuddered instinctively and turned his head away.

“Oh, you don't like that? Do you wish I was Lupin?” Walker's hand moved to grab his cheeks and force his face back so that he was looking at him.

“Fuck you,” Jigen muttered, his voice muffled.

“I have no idea what he sees in you. Then again...” Walker got up and wiped his hand on his jacket. “Can't say I understand what any man sees in another. By the way, did you know that Lupin is into the samurai as well?”

Jigen couldn't help but laugh, even if it made his ribs ache. “Of course I do. You've got to try better than that if you want to get under my skin.”

“Hmph. It doesn't matter. I prefer being literal when I break people.”

A moment later, Vuković returned with duct tape and a hammer. Looking at it made Jigen shift in unease, but it wasn't until the man sat on his stomach and leaned over him to tape his mouth shut that the urge to bolt got so unbearable it was like there were ants running all over his skin.

That he couldn't talk was the worst of it. He knew that even without the tape, he'd be beyond coherent words in a moment or two, but throwing dry quips at his captors was how he dealt with these situations. Not having that made him completely helpless.

“Where's Greg?” Walker asked. He was weighing the hammer in his hand, having put his gun back inside his jacket.

“I got his hands free. He'll be here when he's done sawing through the chain on his feet.”

Vuković made a move to get up, but Walker gestured for him to stay where he was. “Hold him down.”

“Do I have to? Greg can –”

“No. You.”

Vuković looked like he'd rather have been anywhere else. Jigen wanted to call him a wimp who shouldn't have gotten into this business if he couldn't watch torture. Then his thoughts scattered at the sight of Walker raising the hammer above his head.

Shit, shit, shit. He tried to curse through the tape and squirmed to get away from under Vuković. The man leaned over to press his shoulders down, and he could no longer see what Walker was doing. He couldn't brace himself. Terror that he rarely felt made his heartbeat thunder in his ears as he waited.

A blaring sound rang out, and though it was nothing like the crunch of bones breaking, it took another second before he realized it hadn't come from his knee. A surprised shout from Walker, then a clink as the hammer that had flown form his hand fell to the ground. Vuković's weight moved, and he jumped to his feet.

“Jigen!”

His eyes followed the voice to the top of the tower. Zenigata was there, waving his hat at him to get his attention. He was holding a gun in his hand, and Jigen needed no time to connect the dots. He forced himself off the ground, not even feeling any of the aches he'd complained about earlier.

There was no time to check if Walker or Vuković had been hit, or how badly. Jigen knew there was just one thing that'd save him, and he only had a few moments to do it. He had to get into the tower. If he could kick the door shut behind him and lock it, Walker couldn't get his hands on him.

His feet were a little unsteady under him, and it was hard to run and keep his balance when his hands were tied, but he'd been in trickier situations over the years. The door was right there, still open after Walker and Vuković had come from the tower. Only a few more steps, and there was nobody to stop him. Zenigata had a gun. He'd shoot if Walker or Vuković tried anything.

Zenigata still being around was a surprise. He'd imagined that he had jumped head-first into the tunnel, shrieking Lupin's name. But he couldn't waste a second to question that, so he accepted the bizarre turn of events and kept heading for the door, hearing only the sound of his shoes against the wet cobblestones.

He reached the first step. Then a body collided with him and sent him back to the ground.

It felt like his lungs had stopped working. He couldn't get in enough air through his nose and was sure that he'd suffocate, or throw up and choke on his own bile. He needed to cough and curse, but he could barely let out a grunt of pain at how his shoulder felt about hitting the pavement again.

The hell had that been? He lifted his head to see what had happened, just in time to see Kostov – or Greg, it seemed like – give him a grin just like the one he'd shown him moments earlier before he stepped into the tower, pulled the door shut and locked himself in with Zenigata.

There was another gunshot, followed by a scream. At first, he thought Zenigata had shot Kostov, but then the saw Vuković on the ground, clutching his shoulder around a rapidly spreading spot of red. Jigen turned to look up at the tower where Zenigata was taking aim again, but before he could get rid of Walker as well, he was dragged from view.

Damn. Kostov had reached him. It crossed Jigen's mind that Zenigata had chosen to shoot Vuković when he could have prepared himself for Kostov. He hoped that wouldn't cost the inspector his life, but he didn't have the time to worry about him. Walker was getting closer, and the absolute fury on his face twisted Jigen's stomach.

Vuković's wailing wasn't growing any quieter. “Jimmy, please! Help me! I need –”

“Be quiet! I'm busy! Is this the first time you get shot?” Walker stopped to stand by Jigen's side and glared down at him. “And you! I don't know why a guy like you has this kind of luck, but it's dried up now.”

He reached into his jacket to take out his gun. The torture games were over, Jigen thought as he stared at the barrel with unfamiliar apprehension. He'd been in this situation many times before, but, apart from the days when he'd just started out on his career, this was the first time he could admit to himself that he was scared. He wanted to be with Lupin and the others. Had he been able to talk, he might have begged.

It was so by the book, but now that he was seconds away from his death, he found himself wishing he could take back every single thing he'd said to Goemon after arriving back in Croatia. It was like all the times he'd stood on Lupin's grave and sworn to himself that if he'd only get one more chance, he wouldn't be such a coward again. He was an idiot who always had to be backed into a corner and never learned from it.

He wasn't sure if he could keep his eyes open until the end, so he tilted his head so that if he couldn't, his hat would hide his weakness.

He didn't hear a gunshot. He didn't feel any new pain. There was a strange sensation of being lifted into an upwards position and being held there even though his legs couldn't carry him. It was dark, and at first he thought it was his hat, but then he realized he'd closed his eyes without even thinking about it.

When he opened them, the first thing he could see was Walker, staring dumb-founded at the hand that been holding the gun. Or rather, the bleeding stump where his hand had been.

“My apologies, but this man is irreplaceable to me. I cannot allow you to take him away.”

Jigen craned his neck to look up at Goemon. He had no idea where he'd suddenly appeared from, but he was there, anger marring his face. He was supporting him with his left arm. His fingers were digging into Jigen's side so hard it hurt, but it didn't matter. Goemon's other hand was holding the Zantetsuken between them and Walker. Normally, Jigen thought of the sword as one of the greatest offensive weapons in the world, but now he it felt like it was there to protect.

He'd never thought of himself as the kind of guy who was prone to swooning, but right now he was glad he didn't have to stand. Though they were so close, he wanted to call out to Goemon, but he had no way to voice his gratitude and relief.

Goemon turned to look at him. “Are you alright?” Then, he made an embarrassed sound. “Right, you can't talk. I'm sorry.”

At that point, Walker finally seemed to realize what had happened. He grabbed his wrist with his other hand and screamed. Jigen couldn't help but wince. The voice was different, but he could remember all too well how he'd heard his brother's fear and agony years before.

“Do not worry. I cut your hand with a method that causes minimal bleeding. You won't die,” Goemon said.

“You piece of shit! I'll kill you!” Walker turned to look around for the gun, but it was still in the hand that had fallen to the ground. The sight of it made him take a few staggering steps back until his legs gave in under him, and he collapsed on the pavement.

Goemon let go of Jigen and helped him sit down on the ground. He reached for the tape on Jigen's mouth, and before there was time to turn his head away, he had ripped it away in one swift movement. The scream Jigen let out matched Walker's.

“Fuck!” he swore and doubled over on the ground, eyes stinging.

“Ah! I'm sorry!” Goemon knelt by his side and put a hesitant hand on his back.

Jigen turned to look at him, blinking rapidly to get rid of the tears. “Is my beard okay?”

“More or less. Hold still. I'll free your hands.”

With a few swishes of the Zantetsuken, the cuffs around Jigen's wrists fell into pieces. He immediately reached up to rub his lips and feel around his chin to find any damage, but it seemed Goemon hadn't lied to him.

“Thanks. That was too close,” he said, and he wanted to say so much more, but he wasn't sure what. He got up and stretched his arms to give himself some time.

“I almost didn't make it,” Goemon said, his voice thick. “I'm sorry. If I'd been even a little late, I –”

“But you made it. No sweat.” Jigen chose not to think back to the panic that'd clawed at his insides right before Goemon had arrived.

“Give me your hand.”

“Huh?”

Goemon didn't repeat his question but grabbed Jigen's hand with his and turned it so that his palm was up. Before Jigen could even try to guess what he was after, he'd reached into his sleeve to pull something out.

“I've kept it safe,” Goemon said and put his Magnum into his hand. “A warrior should never be separated from his weapon.”

“A bit melodramatic, isn't it?” Jigen ran his fingers along the barrel of the gun, but he knew the clog in his throat wasn't about getting the revolver back. It was suddenly difficult to look at Goemon. Goemon, who wasn't holding a grudge or expecting anything in return for being a friend even though he wanted it.

For a second, he battled with himself, and then he pulled Goemon into a bear hug. It dragged a strangled sound out of him, but Jigen didn't let him go. His head was spinning, and he wasn't sure if it was the relief of being alive, or that he had Goemon right here when he'd been sure he'd never get the chance to make things right.

He felt Goemon's hands move to his back, hesitant. He was probably confusing the hell out of him. Getting handsy like this was what he did with Lupin whenever they barely made it away with their lives.

He took a breath. He had to say something. If nothing else, then at least a promise that he'd talk to him when this was all over. But the words that left his mouth were something else entirely.

“Oh, shit! I forgot about Zenigata!”

“What about him?”

“He's in the tower with one of their guys! We've got to check if he's still alive!” He'd feel like crap if something had happened to Zenigata while he was feeling mushy over Goemon. The inspector had stayed behind and even tossed away his chances to defend himself, all for his sake. There hadn't been any gunshots, but since Zenigata had been the only one with a gun, that could only be a bad thing.

“Leave it to me. Then, I'll finish my business with this man.”

It took Jigen a moment to understand what Goemon meant. Then he remembered. He'd promised him he'd let him kill Walker. Well, Goemon would just have to be satisfied with a hand. Walker was his problem.

He watched Goemon cut apart the tower door and dash inside. He'd have a few moments to himself. He checked the rounds in his Magnum and sauntered over to where Walker was, still sitting on the ground and clutching his wrist. At first, Jigen thought he was in shock, but when the man raised his face to look at him, his eyes were sharp and clear. Good. He wanted him aware of what was going to happen.

“Looks to me like it's you whose luck ran out first. Funny how these things work, huh?”

Chapter Text

Walker's whole body was shaking. Whether it was from the shock of having his hand cut off or just anger and fear, Jigen couldn't tell. The man's sleeve was drenched red, but there was far less of it than he had expected. Goemon was good at what he did.

He kicked aside both the hand on the ground and the gun in it. Unsettling, but not the worst he'd seen.

“Oh, so that's how it's going to be?” Walker's eyes were fixed on the revolver in Jigen's hand. “You used to offer anyone a fair chance. Man against man. What's the problem? Not so confident in your skills anymore? Or did the years rot away what little honor you had?”

“Like you're one to talk,” Jigen said. He didn't want to get into a pissing contest over who here had the moral high ground. He was exhausted and ready to get ugly just to put this whole thing behind him. Only idiots had fair fights in his line of work, and he didn't feel like being one at the moment. It was something that had helped him sleep a little better at night, but there was no point now. He knew what he'd done, and so did Lupin and the others. There was nothing to hide.

He grabbed Walker's arm – the one with a hand still attached – and pulled him up.

“Come on. Let's not make a mess here.” More like, he didn't want that mess to be the first thing Goemon saw when he came back from the tower. And his Magnum was loud. Someone would call the cops on them, if they hadn't already. Zenigata being around was a problem big enough. They couldn't afford more before they knew where Lupin and Fujiko were.

Walker's struggles to get free were feeble. He was furious, but he seemed to have accepted his fate. It should have gotten Jigen's guard up, but he was too tired to care. Just a little more and it'd be over.

He didn't feel even a little bit guilty. There wasn't much else he could do if he didn't want to keep glancing over his shoulder for the rest of his life. He would have to make peace later, but it wasn't with Walker.

And then there was a stump wrist in his face, and it startled him enough to make him let go and back away with a yelp.

“Y-you have no right! After what you did, you can't –” Walker wasn't even done talking before he'd thrown himself at him, trying to send them both over the ancient wall and to the rocks below. It was a pathetic attempt, and Jigen faced no trouble kicking him off to the ground.

It crossed his mind that maybe he should have thrown him to the sea. Self-defence in the heat of the moment. Less personal than putting a bullet in him. It would have been easier to file away in the overflowing “shit that isn't my fault” category in his mind. But that would have been cheating, just like letting Goemon do this for him.

“Goodbye, asshole,” he said and raised his Magnum. They were so close there was no point in taking aim, but he did so anyway, professionalism kicking in. Straight to the face, and at this distance, he wouldn't need another shot.

The sound rang louder than he'd imagined, and he could have sworn the street under his feet wavered with it. A dull thud as the body hit the ground. Walker's face was still wearing an expression of disbelief and surprise. The back of his head had blown open, and enough blood and brains had spilled out to create splatter on the ground.

Walker's eyes were open and accusing. Jigen wondered if his brother would have looked at him like that in death, too, if he'd still had eyes when he shot him. He tried to return his Magnum to its place on his belt, but even though that flick of the wrist was the most familiar movement in his life, he missed his first try and almost dropped the gun.

He wanted to laugh at himself. He'd killed countless people, some who'd deserved it far less, and now he was letting it get to him? He would have liked to think he was getting soft with age, but at this point he had to wonder if it was too late for him.

It wasn't that he'd killed Walker that was giving him that unsteady feeling. It was that right now, he was regretting that he'd ever told the others the truth about what he'd done to Tony. If he hadn't, he could have said Walker was just another bastard with a grudge. He could have washed his hands and called it a day, like usual. There was a rotten taste on his tongue, and he didn't know if it was because he'd killed a child, or because it had caught up with him after all the years.

He looked at the body on the ground and the blood and gunk under it. There was barely any on him, but the smell made him feel like he had bathed in it. He recalled with sudden clarity what it'd been like to stand before the screaming boy. He remembered his urgent need to silence his mistake. The relief when the gunshot had died out and taken the wailing with it.

His stomach twisted, and he fled to lean over the wall in case he'd throw up. It was a long time since killing had made him gag. Even now, not much came out, and he was left spitting and gasping for breath and feeling terrible about himself. He had to hold onto the railing to keep steady with the way everything was suddenly spinning.

“Are you alright?”

Goemon's voice brought something solid to his world. He covered half his face with his hand and focused on breathing in the wind blowing from the sea.

“Just fine,” he muttered, wishing that Goemon would be more like Lupin and reach out and place a hand on his back. He was craving some kind of contact, assurance that he wanted to be close to him. But Goemon kept his distance, and even though Jigen knew it was his way of being considerate, he couldn't help but feel disappointed.

“How's Zenigata?” he made himself ask.

“He has minor injuries. It's nothing serious.”

“And the other guy? Kostov or whatever?”

“Handcuffed. From the looks of it, not for the first time tonight.” Goemon's hand moved up his arm where Jigen knew the bandage and stitches were. “I wish it had been me to take him down. He didn't give me this injury, but he's the one who almost got me with the rifle.”

Jigen realized he should have figured that out on his own since Goemon had mentioned the mysterious sniper having access to police equipment. Just showed how off balance he'd been that he overlooked big signs like that until they were pointed out to him.

“What happened here? Did he try something?” Goemon asked and pointed the Zantetsuken towards Walker's body. His voice was low with chagrin. Jigen figured he deserved no less.

“I wanted it over with.”

“You said that I could have him.”

Jigen risked a proper look at him. Goemon was glaring at the body. That he was upset about being denied the chance to kill was so absurd that Jigen would have laughed if he hadn't been worried that it'd get him retching again. Goemon didn't get it. He had no idea what was really making him stumble. That alone made him realize that there was at least one thing he could feel good about, and it was that he hadn't let his friend dirty his hands with his problems.

“I changed my mind. He was my mess to deal with.”

“I wanted to be useful to you.”

“You think you weren't? I'd be dead without you.”

Goemon looked like he didn't know what to say. Jigen tried to meet his eyes, but all he accomplished was that Goemon turned to look at the sea to avoid him.

“It goes without question that I'd do anything I can to protect you. All of you. I want to do something more.”

Killing each other's enemies didn't sound all that romantic to Jigen, but he decided not to press the issue and make Goemon mad. Maybe it was some honor-bound conviction he'd never get. It didn't matter. Walker was dead.

Zenigata popped up his head at the top of the tower and called out to them. He was holding onto his hat to keep it from flying away. Seeing him alive and well sent another wave of relief through Jigen, and he was starting to feel like everything might be okay.

“You there! Don't move!” Zenigata yelled, and then he disappeared from sight. A few moments later, he marched out of the tower, half-carrying and half-dragging Kostov. The man had so many handcuffs on him that it was a wonder he could move.

“Hey, are you – Shit, what happened here?” Zenigata let go of Kostov and ran over to Walker's body. He spent a few seconds looking at it and then turned to Jigen. He'd gotten a blow to the face and his right eye was quickly swelling shut, but it made his glare no less intense. “You didn't have to kill him! This is going on your record as murder, and –”

“One more isn't going to make much of a difference, is it?”

Zenigata shut his mouth at that, but he didn't look any happier. Jigen knew he should have thanked him for saving his life earlier, but the moment didn't feel right. With a dead body between them, there was no choice but to fall back into being a cop and a criminal. Maybe he'd send him a bottle of something good later. He was sure Lupin knew how to make it reach him.

“What about Vuković? Is he still alive?” Zenigata asked.

They all turned to look where the man had fallen. He was still there, clutching his shoulder, now silent but still breathing. He was watching them with half-closed eyes.

“Don't touch him,” Zenigata said and stepped to stand between him and them. “I need him alive. He has important information, and bringing him in means too much to someone I know.”

Goemon pushed his blade an inch from its sheath with his thumb and glanced at Jigen. “What do you want to do? This man deceived you and held you captive.”

“I want to find Lupin and Fujiko.”

Maybe he sounded as tired as he felt, or maybe Goemon had suddenly learned to read other people better. He sheathed his sword with a click. Some tension left his shoulders.

“You're right. That's what matters. Do you know where they could be?”

“There's a tunnel in the tower that leads somewhere. Fujiko took off after Lupin there. I'm not sure what happened, but Walker and Vuković didn't get them. Knowing those two, I bet they're fine, but we should take a look.”

“I agree. This is not a good time to get carried away. To the tunnel, then?”

To be honest, Jigen wasn't looking forward to any crawling around in tight spaces or jumping over trapdoors kind of adventures. He wanted to sit down, but he was sure that if he did so, he'd have trouble getting up again. His back was going to kill him the next day.

“I guess we have no choice,” he grumbled.

“You two aren't going anywhere! You're both under arrest,” Zenigata said. He got up from where he'd tried to make Vuković feel more comfortable and searched his coat for more handcuffs, but it seemed he'd run out of them for once. He pointed an accusing finger at Jigen. “Especially you, for killing a man!”

“Two against one. Not much you can do. Give it a rest and take that guy in before he bleeds to death.”

“You might want to count again,” Zenigata said.

“Huh?”

Goemon gave a brief nod towards the corner of the street to their right. At first, Jigen didn't see anything, but then he noticed a shadow move. Someone was there, and it was likely they weren't alone. Shit. Zenigata had mentioned another cop he was working with.

“I'll stay and deal with this. You go after Lupin and Fujiko,” he said. It shouldn't get too bad. At most, he'd have to injure someone to get away.

“They can manage. I won't leave you alone again.”

“Look, it's Zenigata. This isn't going to get dangerous. And hey, if I'm caught, it'll be the safest I've been in weeks. They might even patch me up a little before you guys break me out again.” Jigen tried to lighten the mood with a smile and lifted his hat enough for Goemon to get a look at his eyes.

“I'm pretty roughened up, too. If we have to run, I'll just slow you down,” he added.

“Perhaps so, but I am not going. Should it come to that, we will be arrested together.”

Jigen was sure he'd thrown lines like that at people he worked with and thought it made him sound cool. Now he found himself wondering if any of them had ever taken it as the kind of warm devotion he was feeling right now. He cleared his throat. Christ. Had Goemon always said things like that, or was he only now noticing?

“It's been a long night for everyone. Come without a fight. My partner came with back-up. You're surrounded,” Zenigata said.

“Yeah, right. When did you have time to call for back-up?” Jigen asked.

“Before you showed up. I was suspicious of Kostov and sent Novak a message. The people that came with her aren't officially on the force.”

Was that a threat? Jigen knew Zenigata's record wasn't spotless, but he hadn't resorted to any dirty means during the time he'd known him. Bringing in outsiders who didn't have to follow police procedures wasn't his style.

“That's not like you,” he said. “Should I tell Lupin you've gone dirty?”

Zenigata almost fell over in surprise. “Wha – That's not it! The police here is completely corrupt! If anything, we're the clean guys! Besides, you don't get to call me dirty when you're standing in the blood of the man you just killed.”

He didn't say it, but Jigen could hear the follow-up question in his mind. Was Lupin okay with what he'd done? People died on their heists sometimes and it wasn't uncommon that Lupin was the one to pull the trigger. He didn't carry his Walther around as decoration. But he had more reservations about the when and how, and the kind of execution style that Jigen had just pulled – and on a man who was already down, no less – might be too much for him to digest.

He had no better reply than a dismissive snort. To be perfectly honest, he wasn't up for a fight. Zenigata was right about one thing. It had been a long night. He didn't want Goemon to have to carry him if his legs gave in under him. He also didn't want to be the reason Goemon got caught.

“Just go,” he said in a low voice. “It's no big deal. You aren't leaving me to die or anything.”

He put down his Magnum and kicked it towards Zenigata to show Goemon that he really meant it. He'd have to see reason and leave.

The glare Goemon gave him was one of utter irritation. Then, he let out a long sigh and tossed the Zantetsuken at Zenigata's feet.

“Idiot!” Jigen barked.

“You started it.”

Zenigata made no move to pick up either weapon. He was staring at them in stunned silence until he finally remembered how his tongue worked.

“What? Are you surrendering? Just like that?”

“Isn't that what you wanted?” Jigen asked.

“Yeah, but... I didn't think you'd do it. Is this a trick? Is everything okay?”

Jigen tried to shrug, but even that was a little too much for him. “I'm tired. I want to catch some hours of shut-eye in a prison bunk. No need to pay for a room this way.”

Zenigata's indecision didn't last long. As soon as he was sure that there was nothing foul at play, he started giving orders to his people that were surrounding them. In no time, there were a dozen men and women at the scene. One of them went to talk to Zenigata. She had to be the partner he'd mentioned before, Jigen figured.

Soon enough, squad cars and an ambulance arrived. Vuković was rushed inside it to be treated, but Jigen no longer cared about him. He was all too happy to be shoved in the back of a squad car with Goemon. Damn, he wondered if the Croatian police invested in comfy seats or if it was just that he was so exhausted.

Goemon wasn't saying anything. His mouth was still the irritated line from before.

“Are you mad at me or something?” Jigen asked.

“No, but this is embarrassing. Surrendering without a fight. What would my teachers say?”

“Probably the same thing I did. You're an idiot.” Jigen paused to taste different words on his tongue, not sure where he wanted to take the conversation. “I thought your sword was the most important thing in your life.”

“No sentiment is so set in stone that it's above reassessment.”

Jigen swallowed, or tried to. His mouth was dry. He should throw that same line back at Goemon and say that he'd been thinking about what had happened at the bus stop. Or would that be unfair now when his mind was heavy with everything that had happened? What if he no longer felt like this without the headache, when the brunt of Goemon rushing to save his life faded, when he was back with Lupin?

“Thanks. Nice to have some company in the can until Lupin breaks us out.”

He leaned back on the seat. He turned his head so he could watch what was going on outside. They were investigating Walker's body. Zenigata was on the phone with someone. Officers were going back and forth. He'd caused all of it, and Jigen still felt like it had nothing to do with him.

***

Lupin was in a better mood after their short rest, but Fujiko kept an eye on him just in case. He could fake being fine and she wouldn't notice, but if he did that, it meant he was at least fine enough to be in control of himself. She didn't want him to break down when they were in the middle of something because then it was so hard to know what to do with him.

It was a thought that nibbled guiltily at her insides. Lupin was the heart of their group. If he went down, what could the rest of them do? They'd never had to face that question, and she wasn't sure if Jigen and Goemon had given it any thought. Lupin had, that much was a certainty, and the fact that he still kept up that invincible façade had to mean he didn't think much of their chances.

Or... Maybe he didn't want to. He wasn't stupid. He knew he had the best people in the world on his side. Maybe that was why he wanted so badly to make himself irreplaceable. He had to make sure they couldn't get a better deal elsewhere.

He'd been like that the whole time she'd known him, but she couldn't help but wonder if she'd fed that idea he had of himself. The way they played each other was fun and thrilling, but it didn't leave much space for honest vulnerability for either one of them.

Perhaps this was something that they all should learn if they didn't want their new situation to blow up in their hands before it had even found its shape. But now wasn't the time to think about that. She was usually better at turning herself to business-mode, so she was a little unsettled by how much Lupin having a moment of weakness could make her thoughts go around in circles.

The tunnel they were following had forked once since they'd gotten up. They'd chosen the way that seemed to be leading back towards the sea. Fujiko had tried to paint a mental map of their way, and if it was even half-way correct, they had to be moving closer to the street where the tower stood. The ground was getting wet again.

“Hmm. I wonder where Goemon is,” Lupin said. “He should have reached the tower by now, unless he got lost.”

Fujiko moved her hand to her pocket. She had the phone she and Jigen had stolen. It would have been the simplest thing in the world to call Goemon again and ask what he was doing, if he knew anything about Jigen. But she was reluctant to do so.

If word got out about where they were, there was the risk that someone would discover these tunnels and stop them from finding the treasure. Or worse, find it before them. Zenigata would guess this was the reason they'd come to Croatia, and then he'd have his men turn every stone until there were no secrets left. All of this would have been for nothing.

She decided against saying anything. Contacting the others wouldn't help them. They were professionals and could manage on their own a little longer.

Fujiko froze where she was when she realized that something was off in the distance.

“Lupin!”

“What?”

“It's a dead end!”

Lupin pointed his light onwards. There was no mistake about it. All of a sudden, they were looking at a brick wall. It was old enough that there were cracks criss-crossing along the surface, and one kick was enough to make a hole in the old clay.

“It's not really the end,” Lupin said and ran his fingers across the surface. “This wall was added here later. There's something on the other side.”

Fujiko could hear it in his voice that his curiosity was stirring. Now that they were standing right next to a clue, his heart had to be beating faster with the promise of secrets to unveil.

“Do we have anything to crack this open with?” she asked. He was wearing the clothes he'd had on in the little apartment, so maybe he had something useful in his pockets.

“Hm? There should be some putty in the heels of my shoes that we can use to make a plastic explosive.”

“Won't that make this place collapse on us?”

“It's not that strong. And we can make a small one. Here, hold this,” Lupin said and gave his shoe to her. He took off the other one and snapped off the heel to pull out some cord for the fuse. The putty was in the other shoe, and after a quick round of negotiations, Lupin let her finish building the explosive while he used a rock to hammer a hole in the wall.

After some ten minutes, they were ready to give it a try. Lupin had a lighter in his pocket, and once he got the fuse lit, the two of them watched the little spark a safe distance away. It was a weak explosive, as they didn't want to collapse the tunnel, just to weaken the wall enough that they could kick it down.

“Here goes,” Lupin said and pulled her close. In the next instant, the tunnel shook with the force of the blast, and they lost their balance and fell down on the ground. Dust and pebbles rained on them, and for one frightening moment Fujiko was sure that they'd be buried alive.

“Wow, that was a bang! You never do anything half-way, Fuji-cakes!” Lupin pulled her up on her feet and dragged her over to the wall. The explosion hadn't just cracked it some more. It had nearly taken it down, and they had no trouble kicking at the old bricks to make a hole big enough for them to crawl through.

Fujiko wished she had gloves for this kind of dirty work, but it was no time to complain about getting cuts on her hands. At least she'd known in advance that she might be digging around for treasure, so she'd clipped her nails short before they'd left her place in Italy.

“Let me go first,” Lupin said when there was enough space for them to get through. “And if I get caught in a trap, you'll kiss it better, right?”

“Maybe if you find treasure on the other side.”

“I'm feeling pretty good about my chances!”

There were no yelps of pain after Lupin disappeared into the hole. Some other time, Fujiko would have expected him to fake it in an attempt to get a little sympathy from her, but she supposed that under all that surface glee, Lupin's worries were still nibbling at him. There had been other times when he'd been separated from the others with no knowledge of whether they were even still alive, and he always acted like it was no concern to him.

He said it was because he trusted them to take care of themselves. Fujiko was ready to bet that he just hated making himself look vulnerable.

It wasn't that she was feeling all that light-hearted, either. Anything could be awaiting them once they crawled out of the tunnels. She hoped it wouldn't be Jigen's lifeless body.

“Did you find anything?” she asked and began to crawl after him. Lupin had turned off his light, and she couldn't point hers very accurately when she was on all fours, so she couldn't see much of what was ahead of her.

Suddenly, there was light, and Lupin was holding a hairpin with pearls in front of her eyes.

“Voilà! How's this for a treasure, Fuji-cakes?”

“Oh! It's beautiful! Where did you find it?”

Lupin grinned and pointed a finger behind his shoulder. “It was just lying over there with all the other stuff. I guess they thought taking it here and hiding it behind a dead end was enough.” He reached over to put the pin in her hair, right above her ear.

“How much is there?”

“Not so much we can retire, but enough to make it worth our time.”

She made her way past him and saw that he was right. There was a wooden crate in the corner, filled with rings, necklaces and other trinkets, all glittering in the little light they had. She measured it was only a few handfuls, but she'd never expected this treasure to be legendary.

“We found it!”

It was moments like this that she loved the most. She looked at Lupin, and on his face she could see the same exhilaration that was making her heart beat faster. To work seamlessly together with him and to see their efforts rewarded was so satisfying that he sometimes managed to pull her into his world where they did this for fun, not for money. She couldn't afford that kind of sentimentalism.

Her fingers were itching to start sorting through the crate to see everything that was there, but they had more pressing matters at hand. Reluctantly, she turned her light up.

“There's no way out of here.”

“Yeah. I guess it'd have been pretty stupid of them to make an exit right where the treasure is,” Lupin said.

“So we have to go all the way back?”

“Or we can take another turn at one of the crossroads and see where it goes. There was one not far away.”

“Are we leaving the treasure?”

Lupin hummed in thought. “Might be safer. If we take it and find the police waiting for us when we get out of here, we're just going to lose everything.”

It was true enough. Fujiko sighed and cast one last look at the treasure before getting down to crawl back into the main tunnel. Once they were both out, they did their best to cover up the hole they'd created, but if anyone came this way, they'd notice the passage with one glance. They'd just have to be careful not to be seen when they got back in the streets.

It took them only a few minutes to reach the last crossroads they'd passed. They chose the direction they hadn't yet explored and ran down the tunnel as fast as they dared when they could see so little. Not long after, they found themselves looking at another dead end, or so it seemed at first.

Lupin ran his hand over the wall and dug his fingers into the small crevices in it.

“These were made to be climbed.” He gave his flashlight to Fujiko and proceeded to test his words. He had no trouble reaching the ceiling, but that was where he got stuck and cursed under his breath.

“What's wrong?” Fujiko asked.

“I can tell there's a trapdoor here, but there's no way to open it. Either there's something heavy on top, or it's been sealed shut.”

“We still have explosives, right?”

“Yeah, but do we really want to do it? Blowing up the ceiling is kind of riskier than a wall.”

Fujiko made a face at him. “Since when did you become the voice of reason? Come on, let's do it! I'm sick of this place.”

“You could at least sound a little more romantic if you're going to suggest a plan that might lead to us dying together.”

“I don't think that's very romantic.”

They used the rest of the putty to set the ceiling above the stone steps to blow up. Luckily, they had just enough fuse left to give them time to get far enough to avoid getting buried should the tunnel collapse. Fujiko didn't think the risk was real, and they were above sea level, so they didn't have to worry about the tunnel getting flooded either.

Nevertheless, she didn't argue when Lupin put a protective arm around her shoulders as they waited for the explosion. She wanted to ask just what he thought his body on top of hers would accomplish if the tunnel really did cave in, but she couldn't deny that she liked how he had that sort of boyish naivete to him. It was rare in their line of work.

The explosion felt smaller than the last one because they were further away, but when they went to investigate the damage, they saw that it had blown a hole in the ceiling, big enough for a person to climb through without a problem.

“I'll go. Give me some light,” Lupin said. He put the other flashlight between his teeth so that he could show her the way when he was up.

“Be careful. Don't fall on me.”

Lupin disappeared through the hole. Fujiko shielded her eyes from falling gravel.

“This is pretty weird.”

“What do you mean?”

“Come over here,” Lupin said, and his hand came down to motion for her to start climbing. That was odd. It couldn't be a long way up if there was space for him to get on his knees and reach down for her.

Fujiko followed his example and put her flashlight between her teeth, then began to climb. As soon as she poked her head through the hole made by the explosion, she saw what Lupin was talking about. All of a sudden, the old tunnel below her felt like a different world.

The floor, now partly destroyed and covered in rocks and dust, was old, but everything else in the room only stood out by being strangely normal. There were wooden crates in the corner, a shelf full of boxes, tools, and old newspapers, and a bicycle leaning against the wall. When she looked up, she spent a moment marvelling at the electric bulb hanging from the ceiling.

“Where are we?”

“Not sure, but it's got to be a place that the De Angelis at least used to own.” Lupin hit the floor with his heel a few times. “This is hundreds of years old. I bet Maria Anna had it put here to cover that entrance to the tunnels. Lucky us that it's been left untouched all these years or they would have found everything.”

“So the tunnels were an escape route for the family. One way leads to the tower, and those other crossroads we didn't check out to some other places where they might hide from the enemy. A church, maybe.”

Lupin hummed in agreement. “That actually gives me a pretty good idea about where we are. Let's see if I'm right.”

“What about this hole? If anyone comes here –”

“Oh, right. Let's cover it with these crates for now.”

They managed to hide the destruction they'd caused so that if anyone came to the room, they wouldn't immediately notice that part of the floor was missing. The door was unlocked and led to a narrow hallway, stairs and finally an entrance hall – but it took Fujiko a moment to realize it was one. There was a line of display cases along the walls, a piece of armor, and some paintings and tapestries on the walls.

“This is a museum?”

“Yeah, I checked this place out with Jigen and Goemon before all of this started. It's an old De Angelis residence they put to new use.” Lupin's voice was thick with satisfaction, like he was having immense fun seeing all the puzzle pieces come together in his mind.

“We aren't far away from the tower. Let's sneak out and see what's going on,” he went on. He saluted an old man in a large portrait as he walked past it.

There wasn't much of an alarm system, probably because there was nothing of real value on display. They slipped out of a window on the third floor and climbed up to the roof where they had a good view of what was happening around the area. The tower was further down the street, too distant for them to get the details without binoculars, but even from the museum, there was no mistaking the blue and red lights of squad cars. The flashing was almost hypnotic, but then Fujiko felt Lupin grab her arm and squeeze it so that it hurt.

She immediately knew what he was looking at. One of the cars was an ambulance.

They had to get closer to see more. She gestured at him, and he nodded. For people like them, jumping from one roof to another without stumbling or making noise was like breathing. And with the buzz of people and vehicles below, she doubted anyone was even paying attention to what was happening on the other side of the street.

Now they could see the ambulance better. They were just in time to get a good look at the body bag the paramedics were carrying into it. A sense of foreboding nipped at her heart, and she searched the scene for a sign to put her fears at ease. It had to be someone else.

Lupin let out a shaky breath by her side and pointed at one of the squad cars. In the backseat, there were Goemon and Jigen. Fujiko wanted to slump against the roof tiles.

She looked at Lupin, who was fidgeting with himself and trying to keep his grin from splitting his face. His shoulders were shaking with mirth. He had trouble staying quiet. It made her restless, too, to see how much he wanted to laugh and shout and flail. Any second now, he might not be able to keep it all inside.

She reached for his head and turned it her way so that she could kiss him. The only sound he let out was a muffled squeak of surprise, and then he was kissing her back and putting all his energy into it. There was more fumbling and gasping for breath than usual, and the kisses ended up being little more than desperate slobbering over her face because he was incapable of anything beyond that.

He pulled her against his chest and buried his nose into her hair.

“I'm so happy. I'm going to make everything work.”

Not you alone, Fujiko thought. She remembered how dismissive she'd been when Lupin had told her and Jigen that he couldn't do everything by himself. It had been a rare moment of complete honesty for him, and she wished she'd taken his hand then. But so much had changed in only a few days. Back then, she hadn't wanted this to work the way he did.

But those were words for later. They had to start figuring how to get Jigen and Goemon free before Zenigata put them under maximum surveillance. The best way would be while they were being transported to the police station because once there, they would be separated to make escape more difficult.

“We need a distraction,” Lupin said, his mind no doubt busy with similar ideas. “Kind of tricky. They'll cry if we don't bring back their weapons, too, but the two of us can't distract the cops, rescue them, and grab the evidence bags at the same time.”

Fujiko was about to agree, but then she thought of something. She spent a few seconds measuring the two feelings that had weighed her down all night. The scare she'd gotten when she'd seen the body made it easy to choose.

“We don't have to go down there to create a distraction,” she said and pulled out the phone in her pocket.

Lupin's eyes nearly popped out of his head. “What? Fujiko, you –”

She cut him off with a hand to his mouth. “Shh, be quiet. Yeah, I have a phone. And yeah, we could have called Goemon any time to find out what was going on.”

“Then why didn't you?”

“The pros didn't quite outweigh the cons. Now, you take it and call Zenigata. Tell him we're lost in the tunnels and running out of air. Then we watch him rush into that tower with every man available.”

Lupin let out a small laugh. “That's a little cruel. Imagine how he'll feel when he keeps searching but can't find us.”

“You've put him through worse. Just call him again once we're in safety if that matters to you.”

He began punching in the number, then hesitated again. “You know that he'll find the treasure if I tell him about the tunnels, right?”

“How dumb do you think I am? Of course I do.”

“And you don't mind leaving empty-handed?”

“I wouldn't call this empty-handed.”

“Oh, because we're making off with Jigen and Goemon? You have such a soft heart after all, Fuji-cakes!”

“No, I meant this,” Fujiko said and touched the pin that was still in her hair. “And I don't care how much anyone whines. It's mine, and we're not selling it and splitting the profit.”

“Sure, sure, it's all yours. It wouldn't look good on any of us anyway.”

Lupin finished putting in Zenigata's number and called him. Fujiko turned her attention back to the scene. She could see the inspector standing by the car with Goemon and Jigen inside, no doubt intending to glue himself to them to stop them from escaping. The only way to get him away was to make him think he had a chance of catching Lupin.

She watched Zenigata reach into his pocket, and then Lupin was already talking.

“Hello? Pops? Is that you?” Lupin put all his acting skills into his voice and managed to sound so out of breath and pitiful that Fujiko was sure she might have fallen for it, too. “Oh, thank heavens you picked up! Fujiko and I are lost in the tunnels! I don't think we can find the way out before we run out of air, so –”

Lupin didn't even get to finish before Zenigata was moving. He ran inside the tower, and soon over half of the officers on the scene followed him. It probably didn't cross his mind that if the air really was running out, bringing all those people with him would just make it worse.

“I feel a little bad,” Lupin said after he'd finished his performance with a dramatic wheeze for breath.

“I don't. It looks like he's arrested Vuković, and when you add the treasure, he's going to have a lot of good things to put on his report.”

“I hope he gets a bonus. Anyway, you want to get the weapons or those two fools?”

“I can't resist one more chance to rub it into Jigen's face that I saved him.”

They decided to regroup outside town, in a supermarket they'd both noted when doing their research. It'd be brimming with people once the new day dawned, and it'd be a good place to get disguises and steal a car.

With Zenigata gone, there was now an officer guarding Jigen and Goemon. A woman came to say something to him, and he got into the car. Fujiko knew she had to be fast. The quickest way to the police station was the street leading away from the sea, and if she wanted to make it ahead the car in time, she'd have to gamble and move before she knew if that was the route they'd pick.

She ran to the edge of the roof and jumped over the alley between it and the next building, then did the same three more times. There was no other way to get down except to grab a clothes line that was hung over the buildings, yank the other end free and use it to scale down the wall. She made it down and to the street just in time to stumble to the middle of it when the squad car was arriving.

The brakes screeched when the driver swerved to avoid hitting her, and she was glad his reaction was that fast because she hadn't had time to plan this well enough to leap aside if he was slower.

“What the hell do you think you're doing?” the officer asked, getting out of the car to yell at her, and that was his mistake. Fujiko had no trouble kicking his feet from under him and tossing him to the side before getting into the car.

“Missed me?” she asked and grinned over her shoulder as she pulled the door shut and got the car moving again. It wasn't a long way back to the crime scene, and the officer might have a phone, so they didn't have much time to make their escape before someone came after them.

“Fujiko! Where did you come from?” Goemon asked. “And where's Lupin?”

“It's a long story. He'll meet with us soon. Are you both okay?”

“I'm alright. Jigen might require a doctor, but –”

“I'm fine,” Jigen cut him off. He sounded tired, but Fujiko guessed it was only natural after the beating he'd taken.

“Good. We can't look for a clinic with the way things are right now. There's a pharmacy where we're going, so some painkillers will have to do the trick,” she said.

“I see. I'm grateful that you came for us,” Goemon said.

“Don't mention it, but everything would have been easier if you hadn't gotten arrested. We lost the treasure to win you a chance to get away.”

When there was no quip from Jigen, Fujiko glanced at the rear-view mirror to see what he was doing. He was leaning against the window on his side of the car, dozing off.

“Maybe you shouldn't let him sleep. He hit his head earlier,” she said.

“Oh. I'll do my best.”

“If nothing else works, pull at his beard.”

“I think it's already been abused enough for one night.”

Fujiko saw movement in the mirror and looked up. Goemon's hand had shifted, and at first she thought he was going to yank at Jigen's beard to get him awake. But the look on his face was much too solemn for that. She realized that what he really wanted was to brush his beard, and she bit her lip to stop herself from laughing out loud.

He never did it. She saw his hand fall back to his lap where it remained clutching his hakama for the rest of the journey.

Chapter Text

Lupin landed silently on his feet not long after Fujiko had taken off to save Jigen and Goemon on the way to the police station. He kept to the shadows as he got closer to the crime scene. There weren't many officers left after Zenigata had taken most of them underground, but he didn't want to risk it. He was on foot and unarmed.

If Fujiko was successful, word of their escape would reach the crime scene quickly. As soon as that threw more chaos among the police, Lupin would make his move. Nobody would remember the car with the evidence they'd picked up.

He watched the scene, occasionally glancing down at his watch to see how many minutes had passed. Fujiko was effective. If something didn't happen soon, then –

Suddenly, there was shouting, and the remaining officers began to get restless. Success. Lupin felt a warm rush move up towards his throat, and he allowed himself a few seconds to bask in it. But then it was his turn to move. He shrugged off his jacket so that he'd stand out a little less and dashed under one of the cars.

An officer ran past him, and it was the simplest thing in the world to kick his feet from under him so that he stumbled but didn't fall. What did fall was his hat, and Lupin snatched it and rolled away from under the car. With the hat, and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, he just might look like he belonged on the scene for the few moments that he needed.

“Bjedov! What are you doing?”

“I lost my hat!”

“Never mind that! Didn't you hear the order? The prisoners have escaped! Move it! We need to find them before the inspector comes back!”

Lupin glanced at the woman who was barking the orders. She had been by the ambulance the whole time and was now climbing inside as they were closing the back doors. There had to be someone important inside if she'd rather go with the paramedics than try to recapture Jigen and Goemon.

But this was only a fleeting thought. The car that he wanted to check out was right there, and with the chaos that had taken over the scene, nobody even came to stop him when he opened the door and grabbed the plastic bags with the Magnum and the Zantetsuken.

“Welcome back,” he said. “I bet they already miss you.”

He considered snatching the car, too, but he decided that getting away in a squad car would attract too much attention. He'd find something else.

Lupin tossed away the hat since it'd make him stand out once he slipped into the streets. The sun was rising, and a curious crowd was forming around the crime scene. He disappeared into it, pulling down his sleeves and grabbing his jacket where he'd left it but not putting it back on. He wrapped the weapons in it and skipped down one of the alleys, whistling to himself.

He jumped when the phone he'd taken from Fujiko started ringing in his pocket. The ringtone was a slow ballad, and he had to wonder just what kind of self-respecting mobster picked one like it. He forgot that thought as soon as he glanced at the number. It was Zenigata.

“Sorry, Pops,” he said and let the phone keep ringing. “Not quite safe enough to answer yet. Keep looking for me a little longer.”

As soon as the phone stopped ringing, he turned it silent and slipped it into the hidden breast pocket on the inside of his shirt. He had a feeling that Zenigata would be calling again, and he didn't want that song to follow him everywhere he went.

The city seemed to be basking in golden light by the time he reached the busiest parts of the historic center. He had to navigate carefully in the street to avoid bumping into people who were heading to work. He wanted to stop and breathe in the morning air now that the day hadn't yet turned unbearably hot, to look at all the people who were going on about their lives with no knowledge that he had almost lost so much only a few hours ago. It was bizarre to think that even if his world had fallen apart, the scene he was watching now would have remained unchanged.

Guess I'm not the center of the universe, he thought, trying to find something amusing about it, but he couldn't bring himself to smile. As he stood there by the corner of a bakery that had just opened, listening to the happy chatter and not feeling the sun on his face, he realized something that made him feel like there was a weight tied to his heart.

Out of the four of them, he was the one who'd be the unhappiest alone. He liked to think of himself as an adventurer who picked up everything he wanted like it was ripe fruit, took one bite and tossed the rest away because there was always more around the corner. That was how he'd lived for most of his life. That was how the world saw him.

If it was he who chose to walk away, he was sure he could convince himself that he was happier like that. But if the others left, or if somebody killed them, it'd be something new. In his world, only he got to move on and leave other people with nothing but memories. Nobody did that to him.

He'd told Fujiko and Jigen that he couldn't do this alone. Maybe that had been a mistake. If he couldn't convince them that he knew what he was doing, how long would this last? Fujiko didn't go for bad deals. Jigen had a short fuse and too much pride. Would they leave if they felt he couldn't give them what they wanted?

He let out a sigh. No time to waste moping around. He had to find a car and supplies and go meet the others.

The phone began vibrating against his chest. He ignored it and headed down the street. It might be safer to rent a car rather than steal one. There were enough fake aliases with their own credits cards that he could use. By the time anyone started suspecting anything, they'd be out of the country.

When the phone stopped, there was only a short pause before it started again. Soon, he got so used to it that it felt like nothing more than a faint flutter against his chest.

“Pops, I hope you aren't always like this. Women think desperation is a turn-off,” Lupin muttered, but he felt a small amount of relief whenever another call came. When he was done acquiring a car and had parked it in a quiet street, he finally took out the phone and answered.

“Hey, Po –”

“Lupin! Are you still alive?”

“Would I be taking your call if I wasn't?” He almost let slip that maybe Zenigata should consider a career change if such simple deductions were beyond him, but he decided it'd be mean. There were tears in the poor man's voice.

“Where are you? I can't find you!”

“Are you still down in those tunnels? That's admirable dedication, but stop wasting your time. Fujiko and I got out of there a long time ago.”

“What? But then why – Wait! You tricked me to get me out of the way!”

Lupin couldn't help but laugh, a little more softly than usual. “We had to do something to make you take your eyes off Jigen and Goemon for a while. No hard feelings, right?”

“How dare you! I thought you were in trouble! Next time, I won't try to help!”

All bark and no bite. Zenigata would do this again in a heartbeat no matter how many times he lied to him. He and Jigen had that in common. Lupin didn't usually feel guilty about that – only when he made them cry, and even then his remorse didn't last long. But now, he still remembered the bitter taste of his own tricks being used against him.

“Sorry, Pops. I guess that was a little cruel.”

“And now you're trying to trick me again! But I won't fall for it.”

“Oh?”

“You never mean it when you apologize. You only do it to mock me.”

Lupin supposed he had no right to defend himself, but the resigned tone of Zenigata's voice raised a need to prove that he wasn't all that bad. He had a heart. He didn't pull these stunts because he liked seeing people miserable. He just enjoyed it when there was a reaction to what he did, the bigger the better.

Then, as an afterthought, it crossed his mind how ridiculous it was that they were even talking about apologies. They were a thief and a cop. There wasn't supposed to be room for things like that between them.

“I didn't call you to make fun of you,” he said. “I'm going to lie low for a while, and I don't want you to think that something happened. I'll come back to play when I've taken care of some things. Don't get rusty while you wait.”

“Yeah, right. I don't believe you. You're plotting something. You always are. If you're going to lie low, I'm just going to work twice as hard to find you before you start your next plan!”

“I'll look forward to it,” Lupin said. “But for now, bye –”

“Wait, don't you dare hang up on me yet! Tell me what happened. I don't know half the details of this case.”

“What, you want me to do your job for you?”

There was only the slightest pause. “This case was different. I've never seen any of you like this. Goemon was... He...”

“Goemon was what?”

“Back when we all thought Jigen was dead, I took him out to drink. He was only keeping himself together because he's got guts. Where were you? It was your job to be there!”

Lupin guessed that had to have been when he'd ditched Goemon and taken the quickest flight to Fujiko in Italy. His own comfort had been all that had mattered to him then. Something twisted in his stomach. He had tried to mack on Goemon right after Jigen had turned him down. He'd left him behind because he'd wanted to take care of Walker and Vuković alone. Just a moment ago, he'd worried about Jigen and Fujiko leaving, but Goemon hadn't even been on his mind.

He sank down on the car seat. His eyes were heavy, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he hadn't gotten much sleep that night.

“You know what, Pops? I think you're right about one thing. I'm kind of a dick. I take a lot of things for granted.”

“Huh? What's that? You don't sound okay. If you're having such a hard time, maybe you should consider stopping this and turning yourself in. With good behavior, I bet that you'd get out in maybe fifty years, and then you could still build a new life.”

“Good behavior? You should know me better than that. Anyway, about the case. You got Vuković, right? Just question him. He knows everything.”

“Typical. I have to clean up the mess you made.”

“That's part of your job description, isn't? You should be glad. There's one smuggling ring less in the Mediterranean now.”

“Don't sound so smug. You and Goemon caused a lot of damage in this city.”

“Fixing everything will create jobs. These people should be glad!”

“You insufferable, selfish –”

“Sorry, Pops, but I'm too tired for dirty talk right now. But before I go, thanks for giving me the tip about the helicopter accident. It was a false lead, but I appreciate you'd do something like that for me. Even though you think I'm such a terrible person.”

“Lupin. Lupin, listen –”

“Bye, bye!”

Lupin drew in a deep breath, opened the car window and tossed the phone into a trash can. Hanging onto it was risky in case the goon it belonged to or the police tried to track it. He'd have to buy a new one to replace the phone Walker and Vuković had taken from him when they'd gone into the tunnels. He was pretty sure Goemon still had his, so at least he'd be able to contact the others.

Now, it was time to get supplies for their escape. Then a nap or coffee, depending on how much time he had.

***

They didn't talk much more as they drove. They managed to make it out of the city without being stopped by the police, but they ditched the car by taking it down a narrow country road and hiding it in a barn. It was still some three miles to the supermarket, but walking was the safest option now that the sun was up. There would be people looking for the squad car.

Walking also forced Jigen to stay awake. He was a little unsteady on his feet, but Goemon remained by his side, ready to catch him if he stumbled. Fujiko hoped that they wouldn't have to carry him.

“Lupin is bringing the Zantetsuken,” she said when she noticed Goemon grasp at his side and frown in frustration whenever they heard the sound of a vehicle approaching.

He relaxed at that and cast her a grateful look.

“Thank you. After tonight, I'm indebted to you and him both.”

“Like hell you are,” Jigen muttered.

“Yeah, let's stop keeping count of debts among us, okay?” It was amusing to think about how many times she'd gotten Jigen out of trouble in such a short time, but she didn't want him to think she was planning to cash in on it.

The look Goemon gave her at that was even more grateful. Fujiko thought back to the moment they'd shared in the tiny apartment when she'd returned to Croatia and how he'd confronted her about betraying them whenever it suited her. She liked this adoring look in his eyes, but she wondered how quickly it'd start feeling smothering.

Their progress was slow since there weren't any good places to hide by the road, so for the most part, they had to take detours further away where the police wouldn't immediately spot them. It was almost noon when they arrived at the parking lot of the supermarket. They were all exhausted. Jigen could barely stand, and it was then that Fujiko realized Goemon had at some point of the night ripped open all the stitches that she'd put into his arm.

She was the only one out of them who was in any shape to go to the store. They had a little left of the money she and Jigen had stolen, but it wouldn't get them much. She found herself wanting to buy painkillers, bandages and cigarettes, even though something they could make disguises out of would have taken them much further.

“Wait here. I'll be back soon. Try not to attract too much attention.”

She tried to comb her hair with her fingers to make herself look like she hadn't just crawled out of a garbage can, but she'd been doing too much fighting and running. She was still wearing Lupin's clothes, too, which also made her stand out.

An elderly man with massive, round glasses leaned out of the window of his car as she passed.

“Hey there, cutie! Can you give me some directions?”

Fujiko rolled her eyes and didn't bother to turn around. She took a few more steps towards the store entrance before her tired brain caught up with her and she realized that the man had spoken Japanese. There was no reason for him to do that, except if –

“Lupin?” she asked and walked back. Sure enough, the Zantetsuken was lying on the front seat.

“Did everything go okay? I've been waiting for you for hours,” he said.

“It just took a little longer than planned. Do you have everything?”

“Yeah. I packed you all your own bags so you can get cleaned and into a disguise in the restrooms. Then let's get out of here and quick. They know that we aren't in the tunnels, and we have to get as far away from Crna Stina as we can before they really crack down on us.”

“You already called Zenigata?” Fujiko wished he'd have waited longer, at least long enough until they were out of the country.

Lupin nodded and scrunched up his nose, looking sheepish. “Yeah. Didn't feel right to keep him in the dark for too long. He did me a big favor earlier.”

“Bleeding heart,” Fujiko said and opened the back door to grab the supplies Lupin had prepared for her. “Jigen and Goemon are over there. They need some patching up before we go.”

Since she wasn't injured, Fujiko didn't need a lot of time in the restroom. Lupin had gotten her a long, blonde wig, but on a whim she grabbed a pair of scissors someone had left lying around and cut off her hair right above her chin. It looked uneven and rough, but she felt lighter. It'd make wearing a helmet easier. She was yearning to get on a bike.

To be as careful as possible, she stuffed her hair into her bag and left the restroom with Lupin's wig on, certain to stop and stand around in spots where she was sure there were surveillance cameras. If the police looked at the footage, they'd be searching for a different woman.

For once, Lupin had been practical when choosing clothes for her. She thought she looked ready for a hike in the countryside – long, loose pants that it was easy to run in, a warm, brown shirt with long sleeves and a vest with enough pockets for all kinds of little tricks. He'd provided her with some of those, too, and she had to admire his resourcefulness for getting it all together in only a few hours.

It took longer for the others to come back, both because they had injuries to treat and because they'd put more effort into their outfits. She was sure the old woman walking with a cane was Jigen, and she wondered if he had had any energy left to gripe about his disguise.

Goemon had on a wig that made it look like his hair was barely reaching his ears, and was wearing glasses and a tacky, green flannel shirt. He looked like a complete nerd, and Fujiko couldn't help but question just what their group was supposed to represent.

“If anyone asks, I'm not related to any of you. I'm a hitchhiker,” she said.

“Oh. Me, too,” Goemon said.

“Be more original. You look nothing like one.”

“Then what do I look like?”

“A guy who still lives with his parents and came to help them with the shopping because he has nothing better to do.”

“Well, there we have it. Great backstory for everyone,” Lupin said as he was starting the car.

He'd rented it, he said, so that that worrying they'd be spotted just because the police were looking for a stolen vehicle would be one problem less on their list. They should still split up as soon as they could, leave the country and lie low for a while.

“Haven't been to Toulouse in ages,” Lupin mused. “I wonder if they've still got those pictures of me hanging all over the place. It was a big mess last time.”

“My place in Bari is still safe,” Fujiko said. She hadn't planned to invite the others there again. The apartment wouldn't remain safe for very long if Lupin kept coming and going, but maybe just this once. She didn't want to say goodbye yet.

“Oh? That's awfully generous. But it's a good idea. It's the closest place we know that is secure.”

They made a quick plan to split into two groups as soon as they arrived in Zagreb. Fujiko and Goemon would travel first. If they arrived safely, Lupin and Jigen would follow the next day. It'd be good to get away. The heist had been a disappointment, and Fujiko wanted something new to wash down the bad taste.

She took off the blonde wig and tossed it on the floor with a relieved sigh.

“Oh, nice hair, Fuji-cakes,” Lupin said and spent a moment admiring her in the rear-view mirror. Jigen had to tap his elbow with his cane to make him focus on the road again.

“Thanks. I've wanted to cut it short for a while now. I just need to find a good salon and get it trimmed.”

“I like it rough,” Lupin said.

Fujiko opened the window on her side and tossed out the handfuls of hair she'd cut off in the restroom.

“That seems like a waste,” Goemon said.

“What?” She gave him a curious look. “If you wanted some of my hair, you could have said so at any time.”

“N-no, that's not it! I thought... maybe you could have donated it. Your hair is so beautiful, and I'm sure someone who doesn't have any would be eternally grateful to –”

Fujiko laughed. “And what if someone wearing a wig made out of my hair gets caught up in a crime I committed? They'd become a suspect if my hair was found on the scene. Are you suggesting I should start framing cancer patients? I didn't know you were that devious.”

“Hey,” Jigen croaked from the front sea, “stop bothering him.”

“Just because our backstory says you're his mother, it doesn't mean you need to act like one,” Fujiko said.

“She's not bothering me,” Goemon said, and surprisingly enough, that shut Jigen up. He turned on the radio. She could tell he was sulking. She just didn't know what had crawled up his ass this time.

“Four hours until Zagreb, right? Wake me up after two, and I'll drive,” she said. Now that the immediate danger was over, she could admit that she was exhausted, too. The car Lupin had picked didn't have comfortable seats, but she had learned to get rest whenever she had a chance. She didn't sleep much when she was on a job. Most of the time, it just wasn't safe, considering the men in her line of work.

Goemon shifted. He didn't even look at her, but she guessed what he was trying to convey.

“Your wound is on the other side, right?” she asked and leaned against him.

“Even if it wasn't, I wouldn't mind.”

“But I would. Let's not ruin your arm any further.”

She covered a yawn with the back of her hand and closed her eyes. Someone turned the volume on the radio down, and it didn't take much longer before the hum of the car lulled her into sleep.

***

Zenigata hadn't called Lupin back after he'd hung up on him. Lupin wouldn't pick up again after he'd said what he wanted. It made him glad that it was dark in the tunnels so the officers accompanying him couldn't see the frustration on his face. Lupin was always like that. Once he'd gotten what he was after, he was gone. No thought spared to the fact that maybe Zenigata still had more to say to him, or questions to ask.

“Let's get out of here. They're already gone,” he said.

Just then, an officer came running to him and told him they'd found something. Zenigata couldn't say he wanted to spend another second in the murky belly of the city now that he knew Lupin wasn't there, but he dutifully followed the man to what looked like a wall someone had blown up.

“Take a look at this, Inspector,” the man said, and Zenigata crawled through a hole in the wall to see what the fuss was about.

There was a box with old jewellery, and he felt his spirits rise a little. Now he knew why Lupin had been down here and that he'd left empty-handed. If he couldn't catch him, at least he could take in some satisfaction from the fact that Lupin hadn't gotten what he wanted, either.

Then again, he thought, Lupin had had all the time he needed to grab the treasure. They hadn't even known he was down here, or how to open the secret door in the first chamber before Lupin had called him. He'd left the treasure behind on purpose, and it wasn't hard to guess why. He'd chosen to save his partners instead.

“Let's not touch this before we know what it is,” he said. One look was enough to tell him that this wasn't stolen loot. The jewellery had been here a long time. Some archaeologist could deal with it for all he cared. His job was to wrap up the investigation and find out what the hell had been going on for the past two weeks. He'd drag the truth out of Vuković as soon as they'd patched him up a little.

He called Novak when he was back in the street. As he waited for her to pick up, he waved over an officer and asked him to get him a ride to the station. The sun had risen while he'd been underground, and he covered his eyes with his hat to stop them from stinging. It didn't help much, and he realized he was just exhausted.

“Inspector! How are things over there?”

“Could be better. We –”

“We lost two of the prisoners! I'm so sorry! The officer was distracted for just one moment, and –”

“Hey, hey, calm down. You can tell me all about it when I get there.”

“Aren't you mad? You've wanted to arrest those people for so long.”

“I'll get them next time. Don't worry. This is nothing new,” he said and thought only afterwards that it probably made him sound incompetent. At least it wasn't his fault this time that they'd slipped away. And he didn't feel the usual rage at the thought that another arrest had gone wrong. He wasn't glad that they'd gotten away, but he didn't feel good about bringing them in when they were already beaten and so off balance that they threw their weapons at his feet.

“What about Vuković?” he asked. An officer with a car came to pick him up, and Zenigata couldn't help but think back to when Kostov had given him a ride. He kept the phone on his ear and dug his other hand inside his coat to pull out Lupin's business card.

“They took him to surgery to have the bullet removed. He'll be fine.”

“Let's make sure he can't get away this time,” Zenigata said. He kept turning the card around in his fingers. He still didn't know what the damn thing was really for.

As expected, there was chaos as soon as he made it beyond the public area at the station. It wasn't just that they'd finally caught the man who'd been evading arrest for so long. Zenigata was sure that quite a few people had to be sweating in their uniforms and trying to remember if they'd covered their tracks when taking his bribe money and leaking information.

And, he realized as soon as he caught sight of Novak's distressed face, everyone had liked Kostov. That he wasn't even a real police officer probably hadn't been known by anyone except the top of the food chain. The people at the station had lost a good friend. The police force was one of those fields were you easily grew attached to your colleagues, perhaps even too much so.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

She nodded. He wished he could have pushed some coffee into her hands, but they didn't have the time. He was sure she knew.

“Have you gotten anything out of Kostov?” he asked next. The man had some bruises but nothing that'd stop them from questioning him immediately.

“No, but I've got someone I trust keeping an eye on him. You know, just in case someone tries to keep him from talking.”

“Good. I hope he can tell us something useful.” He organized the questions he had in order of importance. It annoyed him, but he supposed he'd have to focus on the operations in Crna Stina and on getting evidence against Vuković. If Lupin came up, good, but he didn't want to push the issue when others had more at stake.

The chief, sweat running down his face and looking like he needed to go on sick leave, tried to argue that they should prepare the paperwork before talking to Kostov. Zenigata shoved his way past him and told him to get in contact with his superiors at ICPO. It wasn't by the books, but if he relented, he was sure Kostov would disappear, just like the man who'd tried to rob him earlier.

He should stop thinking of him as Kostov, Zenigata decided as he and Novak walked into the interrogation room. The man with those bleak eyes was a different person. Kostov had joked around with everyone, talked about his family, and had a smile and a few sympathetic words ready whenever someone else needed them. Zenigata had been through this before, but it was still hard to ignore the way his stomach turned when the man behind the table smirked at him. The curve of his lips wasn't entirely unfamiliar, and yet so off.

The man welcomed them with a nod but said nothing. Zenigata didn't acknowledge it. This guy was a professional, and he didn't want to give him even the slightest idea that he was in charge. It'd be tough to get anything out of him even like this.

“I won't bother asking for your name. I've told them to send your fingerprints and DNA to the ICPO. We'll have your identity soon.”

“That's assuming I'm in your records.”

“If you're not, we'll put you there. Even if we can't find anything old to charge you with, there's more than enough to keep you locked up for a long time.”

“But I can make it easier on myself if I'm co-operative? Is that where you're going with this?”

“Well...” He hadn't actually planned to offer a deal, at least not this early. If this man was professional enough to have avoided being caught before, he knew what taking a deal would do to his reputation. Vuković would use whatever little resources he had left to make an example out of him, and so would the De Angelis if their business was put in jeopardy.

He glanced at Novak, but she was no help. The way she was glaring at the man on the other side of the table made Zenigata think that she probably wasn't even listening. Maybe he should send her away. He didn't want her to cause a scene and give the man an edge just because she was feeling hurt.

“Betrayal comes easy to you, then? First us, now Vuković,”she said, and Zenigata wanted to cover his face with his hands.

“Sergeant, that's not appropriate!”

“Sorry, Sofija, but you've got it all wrong.”

Novak let out an angered sound and lifted her head in defiance. “You mean to say it doesn't count as betrayal since you were lying to us from the start? To everyone here who helped you settle in and told you –”

“No, about Vuković. I have nothing to do with him.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” Zenigata asked. “You were his contact within the police.” But even as he said so, he realized it didn't make much sense. Vuković had been operating in Crna Stina for years. Everyone had told him Kostov was a recent recruit, fresh from Zagreb only some two weeks before he'd started his Lupin investigation.

He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Let me get this straight. You weren't working for Vuković but the guy we've got in the morgue?”

“Yeah. I know nothing about what's going on locally, or about Vuković's business dealings. I mean, nothing more than I learned when I was acting like a dumb cop. So you can kiss goodbye to me helping you get something on him or the De Angelis.”

He could have been lying, but Zenigata's gut told him that he wasn't. This made everything a little easier on him.

“In that case, you can tell me something about Lupin. Your employer is dead. There's little reason to remain loyal to a memory.”

“Especially a memory that only paid me half of what he promised. I doubt I can get the rest from his organization. They'll be too busy fighting over who becomes the next boss,” the man said. But the way he was looking at him made Zenigata certain that he wouldn't talk for free. He'd have to promise him something.

“If you tell me everything you know about Lupin, I'll make sure you won't be caught up in the Vuković investigation. I'm sure you know there are bad apples among the police here. If they think they can pin some of their own crimes on you, you can bet they will try.”

Novak gave him an outraged look. “You can't be thinking about negotiating with him!”

“He has information that I need. This won't affect your case against Vuković. Sergeant, you can't let your feelings cloud your judgement.”

She looked like she wanted to argue, and Zenigata prepared himself for having her removed from the room. He didn't want to. He'd let his emotions interfere with his work before, so he was in no place to talk down to her. But this was different. She wasn't acting out of concern or fear, just anger and hurt.

Her shoulders slumped. “I know. I'm sorry.”

“Do you think you can continue?”

“I should go. I'll be more useful elsewhere,” she said.

The man let out a laugh after the door had closed after her. Zenigata gave him a dark look.

“What's so funny?”

“Now I finally got a reaction out of her. She was such a bore the whole time I had to work with her.”

There was a lot Zenigata could have said. He could have told him how Novak hadn't wanted to believe him when he'd first brought up the possibility that Kostov was a mole. He could have explained just how much she had valued him. She had grown to like and trust him in such a short time even though she'd been burned by rotten colleagues before. However, he got the feeling this man would have only delighted in that, and he didn't want to spend one more second looking at that sickening smile on his face.

“You can start by telling me about your employer. Who was he and what was he doing here?”

Zenigata already had a hunch after what he'd heard from Jigen, so most of what the man told him came as no surprise. A man with a resume like Jigen's had more enemies than friends, so the idea that one came after him wasn't hard to buy. But some of the details were heavier than he'd thought. Dead kids and torture weren't something he expected to come up in connection with Lupin, and for a brief moment he felt a rush of angry protectiveness at the fact Jigen would drag him into that kind of a world.

Seconds later, he wanted to shake his head at himself. Lupin was no angel. A man couldn't live a life like his without having terrible skeletons in his closet.

Now he had a clear picture of how and why Jigen had disappeared, why Lupin and Goemon had tried to uproot the city, and everything that had happened the previous night. The treasure they'd found in the tunnels had to be Lupin's original reason for coming to Croatia.

“Why did you go undercover as a cop, though? Walker and Vuković were working together. If you wanted information on Lupin's movements, any of the officers Vuković had in his pockets could have provided it,” he said.

“Working together doesn't mean trusting each other. Vuković hated having to get involved in this, and the boss knew that. He put me on the force so that we'd be in the know even if Vuković decided to double-cross us. Besides, it's handy not having to pay for your equipment yourself,” the man said and gestured with his arms like he was aiming a rifle at the wall. “I almost got the samurai, and it would have never been linked to my real name.”

Zenigata decided he knew enough about Lupin's actions in Croatia to report to his superiors. None of this would help him catch him, but at least the past few weeks were no longer a looming, dark hole that he didn't understand.

“One more thing,” he said and took out the business card Lupin had given him. “I know it was one of your people who tried to steal this from me. Why? What makes it important?”

The man shrugged. “I don't know. Vuković heard about it from one of his men and decided he wanted it. I think he was afraid that Lupin had hidden some evidence against the De Angelis on it since it's their family crest and all.”

“Hmm.” Zenigata frowned at the card. All it had done was make him certain that De Angelis were involed with Vuković. Could it really be that there was nothing else to it?

“What does it matter at this point anyway? Everything's over. As far as I'm concerned, it's just a business card, and those are only good for keeping track of other people,” the man said.

Perhaps he was right. Zenigata was about to put the card back into his pocket, but then he thought about those words. Maybe he was reaching, but he had kept the card on him the whole time, and Lupin must have known he'd do it. So...

He ripped the card into two. Something fell on the table, so small that he had trouble picking it up with his fingers. It was a microchip. Lupin had been keeping track of him ever since he'd visited him in disguise.

His first thought at that realization was annoyance – because this was something so simple that he should have thought of it earlier, and because it hadn't led anywhere. As far as he knew, Lupin had done nothing with this particular ace.

He put the chip back inside the card where it wouldn't get lost. The tech guys could take a look at it later to find out if it could be of any use, but he doubted it'd bring him anything. Lupin wasn't dumb enough to keep the signal active now that he and his crew were on the run.

“I'll come and talk to you again later,” he said.

Zenigata got up and told the officers by the door to take the suspect to a cell. Novak had said the men could be trusted, so he hoped there wouldn't be another sudden disappearance. At least they'd recorded the conversation, so there was evidence.

“Anything new on Vuković?” he asked when he returned to his desk.

“We can talk to him tomorrow. I should go to the hospital to make sure nothing happens to him there. The De Angelis may want to keep him quiet,” she replied. She said nothing about her outburst in the interrogation room, and Zenigata wasn't sure how to bring it up.

“I've called for back-up from Zagreb. They'll be here soon. You don't have to do everything yourself,” he said.

She laughed. “That's a lot coming from you, Inspector.”

“Looks like Kostov doesn't know anything about –”

“Gregory Jarak.”

“What?”

“That's his real name. There was a file on him after all. There's not much on it, but it says he's an American hitman.” She motioned for him to come over to her computer and take a look. “See? Kostov never existed.”

He felt an urge to grab her shoulder and would have done so if she had been a man. With a woman, it felt inappropriate, somehow, even though she'd opened up to him earlier. Maybe that was him being old-fashioned.

“Can I have a cigarette?” she asked.

“I thought you didn't smoke.”

“I feel like starting today.”

Zenigata hesitated a moment and placed the half-full pack of cigarettes in his pocket onto her outstretched palm. She got on her feet and headed out, and he couldn't help but follow her. He felt like he had to keep an eye on her all of a sudden.

“I know you don't need me to tell you that smoking kills, but... it does,” he said awkwardly. They'd slipped out through the back door and to the parking lot behind the station.

Novak put a cigarette between her lips and made a sound of acknowledgement. Then she realized that she didn't have anything to light it with. She looked at him expectantly, and he gave her his lighter.

“I didn't want you to be right about him,” she said. “I said I'd think about it, but I didn't. I just wanted to believe in him. Pretty dumb since I've been through this so many times already. But now I've finally learned my lesson.”

“Things will change. You got Vuković. And you have people you can trust, right? Kostov wasn't the only one.”

“I know that.”

He watched her light the cigarette, but she took it out of her mouth without inhaling and let it drape between her fingers. She turned her eyes to him.

“Listen to me, feeling sorry for myself even though we finally arrested that man. But Lupin got away, and we even let his accomplices escape. I'm sorry.”

“I already said it's fine. They play in a different league from most criminals. Besides, I gave them the perfect opportunity by taking most of the men to the tunnels with me. If I'd stopped to think, I would have known it was a trick,” Zenigata said. It was embarrassing to recall the way his blood had frozen at the thought that Lupin was trapped and dying. He'd fallen for the same goddamn ruse so many times, and he never learned.

At least this time, Lupin had had the decency to let him know it was all a lie so that he didn't have to miss on sleep until weeks later when his face showed up in grainy security footage or he announced a new crime. It was just another detail in this whole heist that was different from usual. He wondered how things would look like the next time they faced each other.

Novak hummed shortly and finally brought the cigarette up to her lips. She took a lungful, or tried to because she immediately began coughing.

“Awful,” she managed to mutter. She brought the cigarette up to her eyes, glared at it and threw it down at her feet. “You're right. I'm not going to let that asshole drive me into picking up such a nasty habit.”

She tossed the pack of cigarettes back to him, and he felt a little self-conscious as he put it into his pocket.

“Wise decision,” he said. He'd thought about quitting, sometimes, but he'd never tried. Far too many times, coffee and cigarettes had been all he had to keep him going.

“So, what'll happen next? Are you leaving?” Novak asked.

“Soon. I'll stay until the people from Zagreb are here. I have to start figuring out where Lupin is headed.” They'd be hurrying out of the country, so he'd request tightened security at the airports and all seaside towns where big cruise ships docked, but there were so many places to slip away that he doubted he'd catch them.

“I'm glad we had you here. Without you, nothing would have changed,” Novak said.

Lupin deserved a lot of the credit because without him, Zenigata would have never set foot in this city, but he knew better than to say that. There were already enough rumors about him and how he was getting soft. And it was nice to receive recognition every now and then.

“And I'm glad I can depart in good spirits. Sometimes I leave behind nothing but Lupin's destruction.”

He corrected himself mentally. It wasn't just coffee and cigarettes that kept him going when it was hard. It was moments like this when he felt that there was a purpose to what he did, even if it seemed that catching Lupin was hopeless. He'd gotten to see so much change for the better while following him around the globe. For as long as that was a regular thing, he'd never give up, no matter how bad his odds were.

***

Goemon and Fujiko had made it to Italy without any problems. They'd flown to Rome, just in case someone was following them, and taken a train to Bari. Goemon took in every nook and alley as they walked to her apartment and planned three different escape routes in case the police found out where they were staying.

“This place is safe,” Fujiko told him when she was unlocking the door.

“But with all four of us here, for how long?”

In addition to the police, he supposed it was possible the De Angelis might come for them. He should have killed Vuković to stop him from talking when he'd had the chance. The man deserved no better. But he didn't voice that because when Fujiko opened the wooden shutters on the windows and let sunlight in, the living room and its white walls made him feel like it was brighter than outside.

“It'll be fine if you don't do anything stupid. I hope you don't mind staying out of the samurai garb whenever we go outside.”

He did mind, actually, but he guessed he had no right to get fussy and risk exposing Fujiko's safe place. She must have seen the look of disdain on his face because the next thing she did was suggest that they go shopping together so he could pick his clothes himself.

“You should think of it as just another disguise,” she said, and he could tell she was smiling even though she was standing on the balcony and had her back turned to him. He was sure it was the same smile she'd given him when she'd stopped by a small salon to have her hair trimmed in Zagreb and he'd insisted on keeping watch at the door. In the past, he might have been worried she was making fun of him, but it no longer mattered. He just liked it when she smiled at him.

“I'll do whatever you say. You're letting me impose on you,” he said.

“I wouldn't have invited any of you if I didn't want you here.”

Lupin and Jigen were still in Croatia but would join them the following day if everything went according to plan. They'd exchanged brief goodbyes, and Lupin had kissed them both in a way that had made Goemon reluctant to leave.

Fujiko stretched out her arms and let out a long sigh. “I don't know about you, but I don't feel like cooking. Do you want to go out and have a late lunch? We can get something Japanese.”

“Foreigners make a mockery out of our cuisine.”

“You're just a picky eater. I'll take you to a good place.”

She knew the city. He'd trust her judgement. Besides, it was a relief to get outside for a while. Even though they'd only just come in and she'd given him a tour of the place, he was having a hard time getting comfortable. This was not a shared hideout. It was Fujiko's place, and everywhere he looked, there were signs of her having spent time there. Magazines piled up and ready to be thrown away, nice towels in the bathroom, a kitchen cupboard stocked with spices. She was living here, not just using it as a place to sleep and plot while she was on a job. He didn't know what he should have done with himself.

Fujiko showed him around the city and took him through many small alleys where there weren't so many people. They stopped to do some window shopping on the way. While Fujiko was looking at the handbags on display, Goemon observed their reflections in the window. She had slipped her arm under his so she could guide him along. They looked like a couple. It was a weakness on his part, but he couldn't stop staring.

“What is it?” she asked, as if she couldn't guess.

“Nothing. I'm just not used to being in public dressed strangely like this.”

“Strangely? You're wearing a linen shirt and jeans. You look so normal I almost don't recognize you. You'd rather dress up like a samurai and have everyone stare at you?”

“I don't dress up like one. I am one,” he said, irritation creeping to his voice.

She patted his arm soothingly. “Sure, sure. Sorry. I forgot you're as picky about your clothes as your food.”

They spent some more time walking around the streets after they'd eaten. Fujiko knew a little about local history, so she explained the significance of a few statues and important buildings to him when he asked. It made him want to do something nice in return, so he left her sitting in the shade of a large tree in the park they were walking through and went to look for ice cream.

When he was returning, he saw that she was on the phone with someone. She looked displeased and kept tapping against the bench with her finger in rhythm with her words. The call ended just as he reached her, so all he caught was her irritated goodbye to the other person.

“Who was it?”

“Lupin. He and Jigen will take a bit longer getting here,” she said.

“Is something wrong?”

She snorted and took one of the ice cream cones from him. “Jigen's old bones ache so much he doesn't want to get out of bed.”

“I thought his injuries weren't serious.”

“They aren't.”

“You suspect he's faking it? To have time alone with Lupin?” That was.... He wasn't sure what it was, but he didn't like it.

Fujiko shrugged. “No. I get it. I once flew across the road when a car crashed into me when I was riding my bike. I didn't break anything, but moving a muscle was the last thing I wanted to do for over a week.”

“I suppose this means the two of us have more time to admire local landmarks. If that is acceptable to you, of course,” he said.

“Throw in a visit to the beach and I'm game. There's a great place surrounded by cliffs. You'll love it.” She paused, as if thinking something over, and gave him a small grin. “And you can wear your fundoshi if you want. I bet people will just think it's the latest fashion.”

“Don't mock me.”

“You make it too easy. But I was only half-joking. Haven't you seen the way people have been looking at you today? I bet they think you're a model.”

“I thought they were looking at you.”

Fujiko let out a small sound of amusement and reached up to run her fingers through his hair. “You need to be more aware of how gorgeous you are.”

“Well...” Goemon let his voice fade into a low whisper. “I'm not actually supposed to tell you this, but there is a secret technique that I discovered while travelling in China. It's called Enticement of the Swordtail, and it's the ultimate method to throw off your opponent by looking as alluring as possible. If done right, he becomes unable to fight you.”

Fujiko was staring at him like he'd grown a second head. Then she gave him a swat to the head and huffed.

“And now you're mocking me! That's ridiculous!”

“But you believed it for a second.”

“I did not!”

They might have spent longer sitting in the park, but dark clouds were gathering in the sky. The air was so heavy and humid that Goemon thought it might stick to his skin. There'd be thunder at night. He asked Fujiko if she wanted to get back before it'd start raining, and she agreed, saying that her dress was too expensive to let it get wet.

Others had the same idea, so the city center was less crowded than when they'd first passed through it. Fujiko's shoes made a loud click-clack as they hurried along the pavement. It crossed Goemon's mind how nice it'd be if he was wearing a jacket of some kind so that he could drape it over her shoulders in case the rain was faster than them.

Thankfully, they were already at her door when the first drops fell from the sky. Her apartment was shadowy even with the window shutters open. It was such a contrast to earlier that Goemon almost thought they'd come to the wrong place.

Fujiko went to turn on the lamps, one tall one standing in the corner and two smaller ones on the drawer by the door. It brought them enough light to see what they were doing but also made the shadows heavier.

“Sorry. I never had a light attached to the ceiling in the living room,” she said.

“It's atmospheric.”

Goemon sat on the couch and slipped his hand between the cushions. Fujiko had asked him to leave the Zantetsuken at her place when they went out. It made him feel guilty that he had, even though he could see the logic in it. Carrying a sword around would attract the kind of attention they couldn't afford.

Then again, he thought as he pulled the sword partly out of its sheath, perhaps his guilt wasn't due to leaving the Zantetsuken behind. It was due to the relief he felt when he saw that it was exactly where he had left it. There was a part of him that had thought it was possible Fujiko would have someone steal it while he was gone, that their nice day outside had been only a trick to make him careless.

He couldn't decide what was the most deplorable thing – that he had suspected Fujiko, that he was so weak before her that he'd still done what she'd asked, that he was now filled with warm happiness at the day not being sullied by betrayal, or the certainty that he would suspect her again in the future.

“What are you thinking so hard about?” Fujiko asked as she came from the kitchen.

“Love.”

Fujiko was carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses. She put them on the small table in front of the couch.

“That's a tricky topic. You have to be a little more specific,” she said.

“I'm just musing on how love turns people into fools.”

“Well, that's nothing new from you. You've been saying that the whole time I've known you.”

Goemon placed the Zantetsuken on the table where it was within reach should someone attack them. Fujiko followed his movements in silence, and Goemon wondered if she could guess what he was thinking. Normally, he kept the sword by his side and never let go.

“My stance has not changed. Love means showing someone a vulnerable spot, putting a knife in their hands and trusting that they won't stab you. I was taught that it's only a hindrance. I thought I was above it, but these past few days alone have seen my judgement clouded too many times.”

“And therefore?” Fujiko prodded, voice oddly on the edge.

“But,” Goemon corrected her. “Perhaps it is not only a bad thing. I cannot recall the last time I felt so at ease. Maybe it's just my weak heart tricking me into believing that, but –”

Fujiko let out a laugh. “Oh, you had me worried. I thought you were going to say you want to go back to square one and pretend nothing ever happened.” She sounded so relieved that at first, Goemon wasn't sure what to say. He realized he'd been so focused on what he thought and wanted that he hadn't considered her perspective at all.

She had been worried that he might not want her after all. Fujiko, who was the most beautiful and amazing woman he had ever met, who could have anyone, had entertained such silly ideas. It made him realize, much to his shame, how often he forgot that she was just as human as he.

“Is it alright if I kiss you?” he asked.

“You can do that and more.”

Fujiko moved the wine bottle and glasses on the floor in case someone's leg bumped into the table. She always considered everything, Goemon thought. There was air conditioning in the apartment, but he felt like the muggy atmosphere had followed them inside. He wanted out of his clothes.

He reached for her arm and pulled her into his lap. She kissed him first, and he let out a surprised sound at how earnest she was. Her fingers were in his hair, and he felt momentarily lost when he realized he could no longer do the same with her. Instead, he let his hands trace down her sides and to her thighs, but he didn't dare slip them under her skirt. She might think he was going too fast, and maybe she didn't even want to go that far.

After a moment, she stopped and took his face into her hands. She looked him straight into his eyes.

“I thought I said you can do more,” she said. Her breath was hot against his face, and he was overcome with need to make her feel good as quickly as possible, to have her shudder against him.

He grabbed the hem of her skirt, gathered it up in her lap and rubbed along her inner thighs on the way. When she pressed herself closer, he could smell her sweat from when they'd run back to avoid the rain, and there was a pleased hum from her against his ear when his thumb found the right spot. She kissed his neck, and while his hazy mind knew it'd leave a mark, he still craned his head to offer her more.

Chapter Text

The room was nearly silent. A faint hum of people and cars was drifting in from the street. Lupin had opened the window and was sitting by it, leaning out to smoke. It couldn't be out of any desire to be considerate since Jigen was the last person in the world to complain about smoking inside. There were only some ten feet of space between them, but Lupin's back looked distant and lonely.

He'd been blabbing the whole time until they'd said goodbye to Fujiko and Goemon, but all merriness had slipped off his shoulders after that. Normally, Jigen liked the thought that Lupin might feel less of a need for fake smiles around him, but now he was dreading where this might go.

There was a glass of cheap whisky on the nightstand to his left. He eyed it and tried to decide if he wanted it badly enough to bother leaning to his side and reaching out to grab it. Every inch of him ached, and it had only gotten worse as the day progressed. Lupin had had to help him get out of the stockings and dress he'd worn as part of his disguise.

Being so helpless had made him angry enough that he'd refused to put on his own clothes. He'd be lying in bed for the rest of the day anyway, and he could do that in his underwear and hat. There was no air conditioning, and the open window wasn't making the room any less suffocating.

“How are you feeling?” Lupin asked, still leaning out. He flicked away the stub of his cigarette and watched it fall down to the street.

“Like shit.”

Lupin glanced at him over his shoulder. He reached into his pants pocket to grab a pack of cigarettes and took a new one out with his lips. A click of a lighter later, he drew one lungful out of it and walked over to Jigen's bed.

“Here,” he said and put it into his mouth.

“Ugh, this crap. You could've gotten me one of my own.” But Jigen wasn't one to turn down a cigarette. He watched from under his hat how Lupin pulled himself a chair and sat down in silence.

“I'm not going to fall asleep with it. You don't have to keep watch.”

“I'm not.”

“Then what?” Jigen reached out to his left to tap some ash to the floor. He wasn't much of a sight, he knew. Bruises were forming all over his body, and he'd gotten enough kicks to the face for it to swell into something resembling a chunk of mince meat. He doubted Lupin got much out of looking at him.

“Is there going to be more of this in the future?”

Jigen lifted his hat to get a better look at Lupin. His face was unusually serious for him. Jigen was always telling him he was too goofy for his own good, but he'd rather see that dumb smile than these somber eyes. If Lupin judged him, it'd cut deep.

“More of what?”

“Dead children.”

Jigen was glad he had the cigarette in his mouth so he had a few seconds to think over his next words as he emptied his lungs of smoke. Lupin had limits he didn't like to cross. Killing innocent people was one of them. Getting kids hurt was unthinkable. Even if it had been an accident, at least half-way, there was much Jigen could have done to prevent it.

“No,” he said quietly, “but there are a bunch of kids who grew up without a dad and had to see their mother cry.”

“That's one hell of a way to put it. Let's not write poetry about of this.”

“Fine, I've blown out the brains of so many people that I've lost count. I can't even remember all the faces. Mob or not, I'm sure there are guys on that list who didn't deserve it.” This wasn't supposed to be news to Lupin. He knew about his past. Hell, he'd dragged him out of that kind of life in the first place. But maybe he'd never really thought about it. Maybe he'd also fallen for the charade that a high class killer was somehow better.

Jigen was sure that when they'd first started working together, Lupin hadn't meant it to be permanent. It had been something new to try out, kind of like getting an exotic pet on a whim. It must have been exciting to play with the best hired gun in the world and take him away from the people who thought he was theirs. By the time they'd realized how well they worked together and that they were both happier if Jigen stayed after a job, Lupin had probably forgotten how they'd gotten started. He was the center of everything, so Jigen's life before him might just as well not have existed.

“I know that,” Lupin said. He tugged at his hair, a futile gesture that made him seem frustrated since it was barely long enough to grab a hold of. “I know. I'm just trying to sort this out in my head.”

“Having second thoughts?”

“About what?”

Jigen gave Lupin a long look and hoped it was enough to make his point clear. He sure as hell wasn't about to say it. Lupin couldn't dump him over something like this. There was barely anything there to end. But he didn't have the guts to put that option out there, just in case. Now that he'd let himself imagine a future, he didn't know if he could go back to how things had been.

The frown on Lupin's face looked disappointed. He reached closer to take the cigarette from Jigen.

“I'm not that fickle. It's not like my hands are clean, either. I hope nobody ever finds out what I was going to do to Vuković when I thought he'd killed you. It kind of turns my stomach now.”

“Then what's the problem?”

“I know it's childish, but this mess made me wonder if I'm a bad guy, too. I can see where Walker was coming from. I might have done the same. If his target had been someone else, I might have been on his side. Isn't that just damn hypocritical?”

Jigen weighed his next words in his head. If anyone asked, Lupin would always go on about how he took what he wanted, didn't bother to grow attached to anyone or anything, and that the world was for him to play with. He might not have been a vile villain of the type they kept running into, but in most people's opinion, that attitude at least made him a selfish asshole.

He wondered if Lupin's problem wasn't so much that he was working with someone who was scum in any half-respectable person's books, not even that his name could get sullied by association. It might be that he wanted to see himself as a romantic hero who just ended up in sticky situations. Having partners with this much blood on their hands was a reminder that their lives weren't just a game.

As far as Jigen was concerned, Lupin was nothing like the worst scum they'd encountered. He could be ruthless, but he neither enjoyed it nor had he become so numb to it that it didn't keep him up at night. Lupin could claim that he just wanted to have fun with no strings attached, but it wasn't a convincing lie to someone who'd lived by his side for so long. Jigen had seen how fond he could get of the people he met on his travels and how the memory of a happy place brought a tender smile to his face.

“You've got enough flaws to fill a book, but you aren't heartless,” he said and reached out to pat Lupin's knee.

“I don't know about that,” Lupin muttered, gnawing on the cigarette in his mouth until he had to spit it out and wipe at his mouth with his palm. “You should check the news and see what Goemon and I did in Crna Stina. It's not pretty.”

“You're nothing like Jimmy, okay?”

“I wanted him to suffer before he died. I got so blinded by it that I left Goemon behind and walked into a death trap.”

“So, you got a little taken in by your emotions. Happens to everyone. I've known a lot of nasty guys who get off on hurting others. You don't have the stomach for that. You just talk big.” Jigen didn't know how he felt about this turn of the conversation, or what it said about him. Lupin wasn't the one who'd fucked up, and yet he was the one feeling disheartened and guilty.

He sighed. “Look, who's the most upright and honest person that you know?”

“Pops.”

“Yeah. And he doesn't think you're a bad person. So there.”

“He got pretty mad at me on the phone today.”

“Hmph, what do you expect? He was worried. But I bet that he cried into his coffee afterwards because he was so touched you bothered to call and let him know you're okay.” Jigen paused for a moment. “You could make a habit out of that. I know you won't stop pulling stupid tricks on us, but –”

“I'll try to stop.”

“What?”

Lupin laughed a little at the dumbfounded expression that Jigen was sure was on his face. “The couple of days I thought you were gone were a lesson I'm not going to forget for a while. I don't want to put any of you through that again.”

“Ha! I'll believe that when I see it.”

“Hey! I'm serious! You just said I'm not a bad person!”

“Yeah, but you're still a dick.” At least Lupin wasn't a child murderer, but Jigen selfishly didn't want to bring that up again now that the mood was lighter. He doubted it was out of Lupin's mind. It wasn't something that could be ever forgotten or forgiven. He didn't have much choice but to keep proving he was no longer the kind of man who was capable of that type of thing just to save his own hide.

“Give me that,” he said and gestured at the whisky. Lupin had poured it for him earlier but hadn't handed it over. Jigen had thought it was a petty way to get under his skin since he was upset with him, but maybe not. Maybe he just hadn't realized how helpless he was at the moment.

“That bad, huh?” Lupin got up and walked around the bed to get the glass. “He sure did a number on you.”

“I'm just getting old. I could have taken that beating ten years ago.”

Lupin put the glass into his hand. “You're not old.”

“Yeah? Say that again when you're helping me walk to the bathroom tonight.”

“Been there, done that. Can't be any worse than when you drink too much. At least you won't puke all over me this time.” Lupin paused to look at him for a moment. “You know, I can call Fujiko and tell her that we're not coming yet.”

“I'm not that crippled. I can keep playing the old lady.”

“You don't have the legs to wear stockings, so I'd rather wait until you're feeling good enough for another disguise. A uniform of some kind, maybe airport security?”

“That dress goes down to my ankles.”

“Your ankles aren't sexy, either, sorry. Besides, dress-up is fun. You don't complain half as much as you used to.”

“I've become resigned to your bullshit.”

“Oh, that's real romantic. You planning to seduce me tonight?”

“Maybe if I could move,” Jigen said and emptied the glass. The whisky burned his split lips, but it was almost a satisfying feeling. He was a little roughened up, but he was alive. For now, he didn't want anything but to keep thinking about that.

“Another one?” Lupin asked and took the glass from him.

“No, it'll just make me sleepy.”

“How's that a bad thing? You should get some rest.”

Lupin was right. Sleep was the best medicine. He just didn't want to. This moment when all he had to do was lie in bed and watch Lupin was making him more content than anything else in a long time. The following day, they'd have to think about disguises, crossing borders and avoiding the police, and he didn't want to jump straight to that.

Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to stay in Croatia for a while after all. Then again, he should talk to Goemon. That was the one remaining thing that was giving him a headache.

“I made a mess of things with Goemon the other day,” he said.

“You mean when you turned him down?”

“What, he told you?” Jigen hadn't expected that. He'd been certain that Goemon would keep it a secret forever because he was embarrassed, or because he didn't want to drag anyone else into his problems. But he'd told Lupin, almost immediately after it had happened. Were they that much closer than he'd realized? Had he told Fujiko, too?

“Yeah, poor guy. You broke his heart. But I guess that if it was going to happen, this was the best time.”

“What do you mean?”

Lupin's smile was a little crooked. “We were sure you were dead. Right now, I bet he's still so overwhelmed that you're fine that he can't be too upset about rejection. He'll get over it in no time.”

That was supposed to sound comforting, Jigen knew. Lupin was telling him not to feel guilty. It was only making everything worse. Just how messed up was he that the thought of Goemon moving on made his chest heavy? He had no right to feel that way after he'd hurt him. It might be better to let this go and pretend he'd never entertained thoughts of anything else.

He recalled the feelings that had overcome him when Goemon had come to his aid and surrendered his sword just to stay by his side. Could he really claim they were anything but relief that he was alive? He'd seen countless women throw themselves at any man who rescued them. Was he no better? If he made even one wrong move, he'd hurt Goemon so much more than he already had.

“So, you two are at thing, right?” he asked.

“I think so,” Lupin said carefully. “He kind of told me that he loved me, but he was pretty drunk, so I'm not sure if it counts, or if he even remembers. Oh, and we had a passionate kiss right in front of Walker and his men. That was great!”

Jigen made a face. “How an asshole like you has so many people flocking to him, I'll never understand.”

“Hey, you can't judge! You're one of them!”

“Another thing I don't get is how you deal with it. How does a guy waltz around with three people and make it work?”

Lupin had sounded so confident last time that Jigen expected him to throw him a cheap line about how it was the simplest thing in the world. He had a lot of love to give, he'd say, and the rest of them could feel reassured that he had everything under control. He always had an ace up his sleeve when it came to their heists, so why not when it was this?

Instead, Lupin just laughed. “I don't know! This is actually the first time I'm doing something like this long-term. It's a little scary. I can't just walk away if it goes wrong. Normally, I come to you guys if I burn my fingers, but this time I won't have anywhere to go.”

“I thought you had things figured out.”

“I just act that way. You should know that by now.” Lupin was still holding the glass and began to move it from one hand to another. “When I was in the tunnels with Fujiko, I realized how close I had come to making a mess of everything. I wish I could say I'm not going to make a mess of this, too, but you know how things are. It will be a spectacular mess. And I'm worried about you.”

“Huh? Me? Why?”

“If I'm into three people but you're only into me, it's not a very good balance. I don't want to see you sulk and slam doors because you feel you're giving more than you're getting back.”

“Hey, I'm not that childish.”

Lupin snorted at the back of his throat and gave him a look with raised brows. Fine. He did a lot of that when Fujiko was around. But he wanted to think he wouldn't have to anymore. He'd been angry with his situation and his own lack of guts to do anything about it, and he'd taken it out on her. Blaming her had made him feel like it wasn't one bit his fault he was unhappy. She didn't feel so much like a threat anymore.

“I've talked to Fujiko,” he said. “We'll try to get along. You don't have to figure this out alone.”

“She told me the same thing when we were down there. That's what I wanted to hear from you two when we were in Italy.”

That seemed like forever ago, even though it had only been two days. So much had happened that Jigen had a hard time remembering how everything had felt back then. Even his frustration with Fujiko, which had been a steady companion for years, felt distant now.

“I'll call her,” Lupin went on. “I'll tell her we're coming later. There's time. We'll be out of commission until you're back on your feet anyway.”

“Just one day. I need to talk to Goemon.”

“Oh, I don't know. Getting to spend some time alone with Fujiko might be exactly what he needs.”

Jigen was glad that Lupin wasn't expecting him to respond to his toothy grin in kind because the idea that Goemon might get over him that quickly and find comfort in Fujiko's arms rattled him. It wasn't her fault, he had to remind himself. He'd had his chance, served on a silver platter, and thinking about how he'd botched it made him nauseous.

“Guess I should get some sleep after all,” he said.

“Yeah, we need you back in shape. I'll go get us some food while you nap, okay? You need anything else?”

“Cigarettes.”

“You've got a full pack!”

“Yeah, but there's nothing else to do but smoke.”

“You're not smoking that much in this room. I have to sleep here, too. I'll buy you a crosswords book or something.”

Lupin took his wallet from the pocket of his jacket but left the garment hanging over the foot of the bed where he'd tossed it earlier. It was too hot to wear it, and the color made him stand out in a crowd. Zenigata was still in Croatia, and the last thing they needed was to be spotted while they were trying to lie low.

“Is it okay if I borrow your hat?”

“What?”

Lupin took the hat without waiting for permission and put it on his head. He tipped it with his fingers so that it wasn't covering his face the way Jigen preferred.

“It goes well with the black shirt, doesn't it? It's a bit unusual to wear a hat these days, and I figure this way people will remember the hat and not my face in case anyone comes asking.”

“Sure, whatever.” And it did go well with Lupin's shirt. He was dressed in all dark now, other than his yellow tie. The hat was enough to make him look like a different person, and though Jigen was normally protective of it, he found he didn't mind seeing it on Lupin.

“Don't forget the cigarettes!” he called out as Lupin was leaving.

“I'm not getting you any!” was the response after the door had already clicked shut. But when he came back, it was with both the cigarettes and the crosswords, and he'd even thrown a couple of men's fitness magazines on top.

“I don't get what you see in guys like this,” he said as he was flipping through one of them. “I wouldn't want to sleep with someone who can crush my head with his fist. Or does that just make it more exciting? Kind of like how I think it's fun when I'm not always sure what Fujiko is plotting?”

Jigen figured it was a good thing he was eating because otherwise he would have snapped that it was nothing like that. The brief moment he used to chew and swallow was enough for him to recall some of his exes who had been a mistake from the start, and he decided to tread carefully. He didn't want to step into a trap where Lupin could call him out on the hypocrisy of complaining about Fujiko when he had enough terrible guys in his past to make a pattern.

“And I don't get what you see in big tits, so I guess we're even,” he said and shoved a forkful of pasta into his mouth to avoid having to say more.

There were two beds in their room, and Lupin pushed them together. It was hot enough that Jigen didn't want anyone clinging to him. Lupin looked a little miffed about that, but for once he didn't try to whine to get what he wanted and didn't close the space between them.

“But if you get cold, just wake me up. I'll keep you warm any time you want!” he said.

Jigen was pretty sure it'd be over seventy degrees even at night, but he grunted an affirmative answer and covered his face with his hat. He'd shared a bed with Lupin before and knew how bothersome it was. He'd probably wake up with his limbs tangled in his anyway.

He was usually good at falling asleep anywhere and any time, but now he spent at least a few hours lying awake. It would have been easy to say it was his injuries bothering him, but that wasn't it. His thoughts turned back to everything that had happened and what Walker had said to him. He'd never forget that, or the disgust he'd felt at himself upon hearing it. He couldn't afford to. If he did, he'd just slip right back to the mindset where there was always an honorable excuse for any terrible thing he did.

Jigen listened to the steady breathing by his side. Lupin wouldn't forget it either. That he wasn't pushing him away even after knowing he'd stepped over one of the hardest limits he had was almost overwhelming. If Lupin hadn't barged into his life, who knew where he'd even be and how much lower he would have sunk?

Probably at least six feet, he mused. He turned the thought over in his head for a while and shifted as much as his tired body let him so that he could be closer to Lupin. He thought he was asleep, but then he felt him move his arm to give him space.

“Chilly night after all?” Lupin muttered.

“Not really. Just felt like it.”

Lupin hummed sleepily against him. At that moment, it was the most reassuring sound in the world.

***

The first thing Fujiko realized when she woke up was that she was alone in bed. She thought nothing of it. There was light coming in through the curtains, and Goemon wasn't one to lie around after dawn. She hoped she'd be able to introduce him to that luxury one day.

She curled up under the covers for one more moment to enjoy the feeling of contentment. The silk was smooth and cool even though it was summer. At first, Goemon had been hesitant to join her in bed because he wasn't used to such extravagance. Fujiko didn't know if he'd been worried that it'd make him soft, or that he'd ruin the sheets just by touching them.

After a while, she decided to go see what he was up to. She draped a bathrobe over her shoulders but didn't bother covering herself more. If she was lucky, she'd get a scandalized sputter out of him. The night before, he'd been embarrassed that she'd chosen to sleep naked even though he'd already seen and touched everything.

“Goemon?” she called out as she walked into the living room. There was no reply. He wasn't meditating on the balcony. The kitchen was empty, too. Had he gone out? Maybe he wanted to train in private.

So much for a nice morning together, she thought and reached to open the fridge. She stopped when she realized that there was a note stuck to it with one of the cat magnets she'd collected over time. She snorted as she took it. Just like him to leave a message even if he was only going out for a bit.

Her smile dropped when she began reading the note.

I apologize for leaving so abruptly, but I didn't want to wake you. There is something I must do in Japan. I will be back when I'm ready. I made some breakfast. I hope it is to your liking.

She looked over to the counter. There was a bowl with a plate on top of it to keep the contents warm. When she looked inside, she saw that it was just plain rice. Furthermore, it had gotten cold. Just how long had it been sitting there?

Fujiko slammed the plate back on the bowl so that it made a loud clink. Typical. Goemon always came and went as he pleased. Just like she did, so she couldn't get too mad, but she'd been looking forward to spending the day with him. She'd wanted to take him to the beach.

“What's so important anyway?” she muttered and got some orange juice from the fridge. If the previous night hadn't happened, she might have thought he was running away. Surely he wouldn't. Maybe he just wanted a little time to sort everything out.

She tried not to feel disappointed. Goemon was the type who needed space. Maybe she should have taken his feelings into consideration a little more. She'd focused so much on whether there was anything salvageable in the mess she and Jigen were knee-deep in that she'd forgotten she wasn't standing on steady ground with Goemon, either.

“Oh, well,” she said with a sigh and tore the message into pieces that she tossed into the trash. She ate a little of the rice Goemon had left behind. It'd be a shame to throw it all away after he'd made it for her.

She didn't know what time Lupin and Jigen would be arriving, but she was sure they didn't need a key to get in. She filled a bag with everything she'd need on the beach and decided to spend a great morning by herself before it got unbearably hot. It was too long since she'd had time on her own, and she'd more than deserved it.

There were plenty of people on the beach when she arrived, but she was lucky enough to find a spot under a beach umbrella where she could spread her towel. She paid to have it for the day and settled down with a book.

The spot she'd picked was a little to the side, away from the bar and rental shops. She'd have to drag all her things with her if she wanted to go buy something, or leave them behind and risk someone stealing them. She weighed the two choices for a while. If she needed anything, she was sure she could ask some passing hunk to do her a favor and run to the bar for her. The only problem was that then he'd expect her to spend time with him in return, and she wasn't in the mood.

Kids were a better idea, she thought, watching a group of boys and girls run into the water. She'd give them some ice cream money if they got her a bottle of juice when she got thirsty.

After a while, she dug into her bag to take out a bottle of sunblock. She burned easily, so she should have put some on even before leaving her apartment, but she hated doing it herself and getting her hands sticky.

She snapped open the cap, but then she got an idea. She posed with the bottle, stuck out her tongue, took a photo of herself, and sent it to Goemon.

If you hadn't left, you could be doing this.

She hoped he'd reply. He always turned off his phone when he wanted to be alone, but after everything that they'd just been through, maybe he wouldn't. He couldn't have forgotten that she'd called him to let him know Jigen was alive. It was important that they could contact him.

Fujiko ended up spending a longer time out than she'd planned. After she got bored of lying on the sand, she picked up her things and went to have lunch at a small restaurant she liked. She walked past many of the places she'd visited with Goemon the day before and tried not to get irritated that he still hadn't sent a reply.

Her apartment was empty when she returned. The keys made a terrible, rattling sound when she tossed them on the kitchen counter. She opened the doors to the balcony to let in the noise from the street.

She took a shower to get rid of the sand that had gotten into her hair and spent an hour checking her various e-mail accounts and websites to see if there was anything worth her attention work-wise. There was going to be an interesting auction in Caracas in a month. A collector she sometimes worked for was asking if she knew anything about a painting that had gotten lost in World War II. A friend was offering to trade her some information. None of it was pressing, but she promised to look into the painting when her vacation ended.

And when would that be? Her fingers froze in the middle of typing the message. They hadn't discussed how long they'd be staying at her place. It wasn't unusual that they spent a week together after a heist, but any longer than that was pushing everyone's limit. And this was her place. She had no interest in starting a household with anyone.

The painting job would be an excuse to kick the guys out if they didn't realize when it was time to leave. She had a hunch about where to start looking, and she'd have to fly to Shanghai for that. Maybe she'd ask Goemon if he wanted to come with her.

It was already getting dark outside when there was a knock at her door, then a familiar voice calling out her name. It was Lupin, and she hurried to let him in before he had time to announce to the whole neighborhood who she was.

“That's not my name around here,” she said and pulled him into the apartment.

“You never gave me another,” he said. He pressed a quick kiss on her cheek before she even knew what he was doing. “Wow, it's nice to be back! I love this place!”

Jigen was there, too. He didn't bother greeting her but started peeling off the disguise he was in with such haste that Fujiko couldn't help but wonder what his problem was. She'd seen him in more embarrassing get-ups than a granny, so it couldn't be that.

“Easy there,” Lupin said and went to help him.

“Where's Goemon?” Jigen asked.

“He's gone.”

Lupin and Jigen froze in the middle of trying to get Jigen's arms out of his blazer.

Jigen had a stunned look in his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“He went to Japan. He left a note saying he had something to take care of.”

“Couldn't you have stopped him?”

“How?”

“I don't know. Could've shed some fake tears or something.”

“Oh? So it's okay to be manipulative when it's something you want?”

“Tch.”

She felt like there was a headache coming. Not five minutes into this, and she and Jigen were bickering. Maybe this wasn't meant to work. Maybe the only reason they'd even made it this far was because they hadn't been sure if they'd live to see the next day. It was easy to promise so much when you thought you were that close to dying.

“Behave,” Lupin said and gave Jigen a whack to the back of his head. Then he turned to her and said, “He's just cranky because he's sore all over.”

“That's not my fault,” Fujiko said.

“I know, I know,” Lupin said soothingly, put his hand on her shoulder and began to guide her towards the kitchen. He asked her what she'd been up to all day, when Goemon had left and if he'd given her any more details, and what she'd like to have for dinner. Anything she named, he'd cook for her, he promised.

She didn't feel like having anything in particular, but she didn't let her disinterest show. He was trying to save the mood. She could still remember her concern when she'd realized he was crying in the dark, and she didn't want to give him pointless reasons to feel down.

“We bought chicken yesterday. We can do something with it,” she said. “But don't burn my pot this time, okay?”

“Maybe you should stay and keep an eye on me?”

“I wasn't planning to go anywhere.” Yeah, like she'd go to the living room to hang out with Jigen when he was in a bad mood. At the same time, this was her place, and she hated the thought that she'd have to hide in the kitchen to avoid his whims.

Lupin said he'd make chicken parmesan and asked if she'd be kind enough to cut the vegetables for the side dish. She had nothing better to do, so she got to work, and slowly felt the tension leave her shoulders with the steady chop of the knife. Lupin was humming to himself as he was dipping the chicken in flour and bread crumbs. It was hard to stay mad when he was happy.

“That was fast,” he said when she was done.

“I'm pretty good with knives.”

She didn't want her hands to smell like red onions for the rest of the evening, so she went to wash them in the bathroom. Jigen was on the couch and didn't move as she passed. She didn't bother looking at him twice, disappointment bubbling back to the surface. Right, she'd almost forgotten that he was here, too.

We're exactly where we started, she thought and rubbed soap into her hands.

At first, she didn't hear the knock at the door because of the running water. It was louder the second time. She grabbed a towel to dry her hands and so that she'd have something to shoo Lupin out with. But then she remembered that she hadn't locked the door. Lupin would see it as an invitation to walk in without asking first.

“Can't you wait?” she asked.

Jigen had a weak stomach, but he never learned to watch what he ate. She hoped he hadn't stuffed himself with something that didn't agree with him. It might be amusing to watch his misery for a while, but not when it in was her bathroom.

“I want to talk to you.”

“In here? Don't be ridiculous.”

She put away the towel and went to open the door. He was standing right outside it, and it gave him a bump to the forehead when she pushed it open. He was usually more careful than that. She watched in confused concern as he stumbled backwards and muttered curses under his breath.

“You could say something when you're coming out,” he said.

“Well, you could not stand outside the door like some creep.”

He made an unimpressed face at her, but it was quickly gone. For a moment, it looked like he didn't know what to do next, but then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He offered her one, and she wanted to laugh. Such a one-track mind. He probably couldn't have a heart to heart without a smoke.

“No thanks. Not before dinner,” she said. “So, what did you want to say?”

“Look, I'm sorry. I don't want to fight.”

“Oh? Could have fooled me.”

“I'm not mad at you. I'm just mad.” He paused to put a cigarette into his mouth. He didn't light it, but Fujiko could tell that he really, really wanted to. He was fingering the lighter in his pocket.

“I wanted to talk to Goemon,” he said when it became clear that she wasn't going to ask what was bugging him.

“That's it? Phones exist, you know.”

“I still don't have a new one. And besides –”

“You can borrow mine if you'd like.”

“No, thanks. I'll wait until he gets back.”

“Suit yourself. I doubt he'd take your call anyway. Look, I sent him this photo this morning, and he still hasn't replied.” She pulled up the picture she'd taken of herself on the beach and showed it to him. He glared at the photo for a while, long enough that she started to feel weirded out.

“If you're that into it, ask nicely and maybe I'll send it to you when you get a new phone,” she said.

“Don't make me laugh. I'm just thinking, he had things pretty good here. Why did he leave?”

Fujiko shrugged, about to make a quip about how they had no way of understanding how Goemon's mind worked sometimes. But then she caught a glimpse of Jigen's eyes under his hat, and she was struck by how sad he looked.

“He'll be back,” she said.

“I know. I'm just wondering if it's because of me that he left.”

Fujiko's tongue felt like it was stuck to the roof of her mouth. She hadn't thought of that. Now that she did, it was like a bucket of icy water had been turned over on her head. Was everything that Jigen got involved with going to turn out like this?

“I don't know. You'll have to ask him when he gets back.”

“Did he say when that'll be?”

“No. But his note didn't sound like he was trying to get away from anything. He just had something to do. Maybe some gig he'd agreed to even before we went to Croatia.”

Jigen didn't look convinced. She grabbed his arm and started to push him towards the kitchen.

“Go see how far Lupin is with dinner,” she suggested.

She watched him wobble away. Once he was gone, she sent Goemon a message and asked him to forget everything else and just come back. She wouldn't let him nurse his problems alone, especially if they were Jigen's fault.

***

The following day, Lupin went to buy Jigen a new phone. It was scorching, and Fujiko felt like she was swimming in sweat even when she kept in the shade in her living room and didn't move a muscle. When he asked her if she wanted to come with him, her answer was an instant no.

“Bring us some ice cream from the corner shop when you get back!” she called out from the balcony when he was already walking down the street. He didn't turn back, but he raised his arm and wriggled his fingers to let her know he'd heard her.

She walked back to the living room, fanning herself with the hem of her skirt. Jigen was sprawled on the couch. He'd been considerate enough to spread the covers he'd used at night on top of it. It was because he was sure she'd make him pay for having it dry-cleaned if he sweated a bucket all over it, he'd said.

She could have told him that she and Goemon had already made a mess on the couch so it didn't matter, but she didn't. The satisfied grin on his face as he thought that he'd done something nice was juvenile, but better that than however he'd react to her words.

Goemon hadn't replied. By now, she was sure he had seen the messages. It was making her restless. He could have at least said he was fine or given an estimate on when he was coming back. The more time passed, the more she thought he was avoiding them.

“You awake?” she asked. It was peaceful, but she was constantly on edge. She felt like a guest at her own place, like she had to be mindful of what she did. It was just her and Jigen, and she was surprised how awkward it was to just exist in the same room with him when there was no Lupin and no imminent danger to keep them busy.

“Mm.” Jigen hadn't done anything all day. He was covered in purple splotches where Walker had kicked him. Fujiko thought it was a revolting sight, but she couldn't blame him for not wanting to squirm inside a shirt until he felt a little better.

It was cooler on the floor, so she settled there with her laptop. The painting job refused to leave her mind, so she bookmarked a couple of potential articles for later reading and began to make arrangements. It was a research job, so it shouldn't get too dangerous. A friend flew regularly between Europe and China. Maybe she'd be able to get a ride.

“When do you think you'll be out of here? Two weeks is my absolute limit,” she said.

“I'll leave as soon as I don't need painkillers to move.”

“You have to be somewhere?”

Lupin had said he had no new job in mind for the time being, and Jigen didn't often work solo anymore. After what had happened with Vuković, he'd probably think twice before accepting any offers.

“I might go home for a bit.”

She looked up. “Home? East Coast?”

“Yeah.”

“To do what? Showing your face there right now is asking for trouble.”

“You think I don't know?”

“Then don't go. I didn't help you out that many times just so that you can get into the same mess with Walker's cronies.” She kept on writing her message, the sound of her quick typing all they could hear. Then she added, “I bet Lupin doesn't want you to go. And it's such an empty, performative gesture anyway. It doesn't change anything.”

“What are you getting so mad about? It's got nothing to do with you.”

“I wish it didn't. When you get into trouble, Lupin and Goemon will be in trouble, too. And then I will be in trouble. I'm planning a job. I don't have time for another round of this.”

“You won't have to help me out again.”

“That's what you say now. Your tab won't be open forever.”

“Look, I'm not as dumb as you think. I'm not going to take flowers to the kid's grave or anything like that,” Jigen said. “I just want to look around some familiar places and think. That's all.”

“Hmph. Sentimental oaf.”

“Don't you ever go to Japan just to unbend? Where exactly are you from anyway?”

“Not telling. And I doubt you'd know the place anyway.” It was a boring, dying town with nothing going for it – no industry and no history to attract tourists. The kind of place that everyone wanted to escape. She recalled the murky bar that she'd always lingered around when she'd been looking for her father because it was the only place where anything happened, and how they'd shooed her away every time until she learned to make herself look old enough not to stand out.

If she ever took anyone there, it'd be Goemon. He wouldn't make bored faces and complain about how the small convenience store didn't have exactly what he wanted. He'd know that even if she acted like she couldn't wait to leave again, there was something important there for her.

She snorted at herself. Maybe she was a little sentimental, too.

After a while, she pushed away her laptop and turned over on her back, enjoying the feeling of the cool floor tiles against her skin. She wanted a drink. It was still early, so juice would do. She dragged herself to the kitchen, dropped a couple of ice cubes into two glasses before filling them, and brought them back to the living room.

“Hey,” she said and gave Jigen a nudge with her bare foot. “Just so you stay hydrated.”

“Thanks. Didn't think there'd be a day when anyone feels the need to remind me to drink.”

“You're depressing,” she said. “Are you lying on the remote?”

“It's on the floor. Why bother? Everything's in Italian.” But he sat up to sip his drink and watch her zap through the channels.

“I've got a few Sky channels with dual audio.” She spoke pretty good Italian, and she almost made a comment about how learning languages might not be a bad idea for an international thief. But to be fair, Jigen already spoke two, and both well enough that she couldn't guess which one was his first.

“What're you looking for?” he asked. She could hear the apprehension in his voice. He probably thought it'd be fashion and make-up shows. Not a bad guess since she liked both, but there was little the average show on them offered her. She was a pro.

“Home deco.” She flipped the channels until she found one. It was an Italian show, so there were no other language options available, but Jigen said it wasn't a problem. Fujiko didn't know if he was even watching the show since he had his hat on.

“What's he crying about?” he asked when one of the guests started having a tantrum.

“He wanted a solid oak floor, but his wife thinks it's too expensive,” Fujiko said. She played with the remote in her hand. She hated these shows that focused more on scripted melodrama than actually showing what was done to the house. Lately in particular, there had been more than enough drama and arguments in her own life.

“Yeah? How much does something like that cost?”

“This one's about 30 bucks a square foot.”

“The hell? Who pays that much?”

“Your suits cost at least five hundred a piece and you wear them once or twice on average before someone shoots holes into them. A good floor lasts for generations.”

“So? Even if I was ever going to have kids, you think they'd be happy I spent a fortune to get them some good flooring? Shit, that guy's an idiot.”

“Sure, but just because he's acting like a spoiled toddler. The flooring he wants is among the best on the market, and the price is a little down from the usual. It's not unreasonable.”

“Didn't know you liked floors so much.”

“Well, secret passageways and treasure stashes are usually under them, so that got me interested.”

That drew a good-hearted chuckle out of Jigen. “You should just quit being a thief and start your own business. You sound more passionate about this than stealing.”

“Don't try to butter me up. You'd never get a discount.”

“Whatever. Like I'm ever settling down.”

Fujiko raised her arms above her head and stretched them. “Who said anything about settling down? It's nice to have a little nest like this.”

Jigen didn't argue with that. They watched the show for a little longer, but once it became clear the wife would change her mind and pay for the flooring as a surprise to her husband, they decided to switch the channel.

Lupin returned some half an hour later, carrying so many bags that he had trouble getting the door open on his own.

“Phew, it's boiling out there! I need a shower,” he declared and dropped everything to the floor.

“What did you buy?” Fujiko asked.

“You said you wanted ice cream.”

“Not this much! Who's going to eat all this?”

“Goemon, duh. He loves it.”