Nobuyuki grunted with effort as he repositioned his shoulder, setting it back in the socket and grimacing as the level of pain shifted. His shoulder would heal properly now, but he’d still have to be careful to avoid using that shoulder as much as possible. The ankle would have to be wrapped as soon as he arrived home as well. It was clearly sprained, albeit mildly.
But at least he wasn’t dead, and neither were his friends. Vladimir seemed to be doing as well as could be expected, and they’d carried him into the ambulance a minute ago, bandaged and prepped for the hospital. Viktor had gone in the ambulance with him, after saying a quick goodbye to Nobuyuki and Dante, and giving the former a quick kiss and the latter a firm hug.
Which left only Dante and Nobuyuki and several other members of Dante’s extended family, as well as the black sedan carrying Daisuke. A red sports car pulled in front of the sedan and the driver started waving for Nobuyuki and Dante to get in.
“That’s Ricco,” Dante said, smiling weakly at Nobuyuki. “He’ll be our ride to the hotel.”
Nobuyuki nodded and followed Dante to the car, trying not to limp too much on his injured ankle. Dante noticed anyway and watched Nobuyuki with concern, extending a hand for support to help him into the backseat of the low-riding car.
“Hey, cousin,” Ricco said in greeting. “Isn’t this the guy you rescued Viktor from?”
“Yeah, uh . . .” Dante began quietly, glancing at Nobuyuki nervously. “This is him.”
“Cool,” Ricco replied, laughing. “Man, you make the weirdest friends.”
“Thanks, Ricco,” Dante said with a smirk. “I suppose I do.”
Nobuyuki watched the exchange with amusement, glad to have a distraction from his pain and from worrying about Vladimir and Viktor. He wanted to be with them both, but knew this was just as important, and needed his presence.
Ricco pulled away from the curb, his sports car leading the black sedan through the streets of Vladivostok. Nobuyuki stopped paying attention to the road as he focused inwardly, entering a brief meditative state to aid him in the process of forgetting his momentary worries in the face of the task at hand.
“How are you feeling?” Dante asked, drawing Nobuyuki out of his thoughts. He turned to Nobuyuki and looked him up and down, searching for any other signs of injury.
“I’ll be all right,” Nobuyuki replied with a sigh, forcing the ache in his shoulder out of his mind. “He never cut me, only dislocated my shoulder. It hurts like hell, but I’ve been through it before and I’ll survive. The limp was my own doing. I kicked when I shouldn’t have.”
Dante’s eyes widened a bit at that as he asked, “So, he really wasn’t doing as well as it seemed, huh?”
“Oh, no . . .” Nobuyuki replied with a nervous chuckle. “Daisuke was winning, there’s no question of that. He’s a much better fighter than I am, he just hadn’t gotten me yet. It was only a matter of time, and I’m extremely lucky.”
“I would have never known it,” Dante replied quietly.
“You don’t know a lot about fighting, huh?” Nobuyuki asked.
“Not hand to hand,” Dante replied, shaking his head. “Our family favors firearms over fists.”
Nobuyuki nodded and explained, “It’s a longstanding tradition in Masahiro’s family to learn at least one martial art. All of us do.”
“I’ll keep that in mind if my family ever decides to go to war with yours,” Dante replied with a dry chuckle. Ricco joined in and Nobuyuki finally realized it was a joke altogether.
“You think that’ll ever happen?” Nobuyuki asked when the laughter had subsided.
Dante smirked before looking away thoughtfully. “I doubt it,” he said after a moment. “Unless Masahiro instigates it. My uncle is too well established to consider Masahiro a threat, especially now that they’re allies. He’ll be able to guide Masahiro in the direction of his choosing.”
“My father is not easily guided,” Nobuyuki said, laughing at the absurdity of the thought.
“No, but he’ll see my uncle has every intention of making the partnership mutually beneficial,” Dante replied with a knowing grin. “Masahiro is an intelligent man, that’s certain.”
Nobuyuki nodded. “That he is.”
Dante didn’t say anything else, and Nobuyuki allowed his thoughts to drift elsewhere as they continued their drive through Vladivostok. He thought about his father, waiting for them back at the hotel and ready to receive Daisuke. Masahiro would be pleased Daisuke had finally been apprehended, but Nobuyuki knew there was a dark side to this ending as well.
Nobuyuki glanced over his shoulder to see the sedan was keeping up with them through the traffic. This would be Daisuke’s last ride, though Nobuyuki was curious why Daisuke had even allowed himself to be captured at all. It would have been better for Daisuke, and even for Masahiro, if Nicola had been forced to shoot Daisuke instead of taken him prisoner. The death would have been swift, and Masahiro wouldn’t be forced to look into Daisuke’s eyes and see the betrayal there.
Daisuke had been Masahiro’s trusted agent for years, long before Nobuyuki had joined the family. There were nearly two decades of loyalty which had been shattered by Daisuke’s choice to betray his father. There was a price to pay for such betrayal, and Masahiro would be the one to hand it out personally, but he would not enjoy it as much as he’d say he would. There would be pain there; there would be an emotional drain lasting for years.
Dante interrupted Nobuyuki’s thoughts as he turned around to look at the sedan again. “You keep looking back there. Are you worried Daisuke’s going to try and escape?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Nobuyuki mumbled.
Dante placed his hand on Nobuyuki’s arm and squeezed it gently. “Trust me, it won’t happen.”
“How can you be so certain?” Nobuyuki asked.
“They’ll kill him if he even twitches,” Dante replied, glancing back at the sedan himself and smirking. “Masahiro made it clear. If Daisuke makes any trouble at all, he’s to be killed, and Masahiro will pay for the cleaning himself.”
Nobuyuki nodded, though Dante’s words brought something to Nobuyuki’s mind which he’d been holding back. “I still can’t believe he didn’t tell me your family was going to be there.”
“He wanted to make sure you weren’t looking over your shoulder and giving us away,” Dante replied, shrugging. “Daisuke might have been tipped off by that.”
“I guess you’re right,” Nobuyuki replied with a sigh.
“Of course I am,” Dante said, earning an incredulous look from Nobuyuki. Dante stuck out his tongue then said smugly, “I’ve been right the whole time. You all owe me.”
Nobuyuki snorted and asked, “How are you going to survive without being a part of this life?”
“Who said I’m not going to take part from time to time?” Dante asked, crossing his arms and staring at Nobuyuki like he’d lost his mind. “Just because I’m retiring doesn’t mean you won’t need me to bail you out sometime in the future. Maybe I’ll just go freelance, when I’m not making delicious coffee.”
Nobuyuki chuckled and said, “You’re crazy.”
“But you love me,” Dante replied, wiggling his eyebrows.
“True,” Nobuyuki said, nodding seriously. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Dante bowed his head slightly as his smile became less playful and sincerer. “I’m honored, and the feeling is mutual.”
“What about Viktor?” Nobuyuki asked.
Without missing a beat, Dante replied, “You two aren’t the same person already?”
Nobuyuki laughed at that and then said suggestively, “Well, I do have some of him inside of me . . .”
Dante shook his head, laughing hard. “You’re terrible. What would your father say?”
“He’d laugh and wink at you, implying you’re next,” Nobuyuki replied, unable to keep himself from snickering at the thought.
Dante blushed and looked away. “All right, this conversation is over.”
“What?” Nobuyuki asked, reaching out and touching Dante’s leg playfully. “Are you getting horny?”
Dante gave Nobuyuki a blank expression and nodded toward the parking garage they’d just pulled into. “No, we’ve arrived,” he said before calmly reaching down and removing Nobuyuki’s hand from his thigh and placing it on its owner’s thigh instead before patting it gently. “It’s time to move on to the next act.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Dante spent a frantic minute calling the driver of the black sedan until he found out they’d simply become separated in traffic. While he paced the concrete beside his cousin’s car, Nobuyuki had gone to meet with the security staff which had been prepared to meet Daisuke, and when Dante was done with the call he found himself alone.
But he wouldn’t be for long, as Masahiro was standing some distance away from his men, leaning on a sturdy cane and waving Dante toward him. Dante knew better than to refuse Masahiro’s beckoning, and so he prepared himself for a formal conversation like all the others he’d had with Masahiro had been.
“Masahiro Sato,” Dante said, bowing low as he neared Masahiro, “it is a pleasure to see you once again.”
Masahiro waved for him to straighten and then move closer, and Dante complied quickly. Once Dante was only a couple of feet away, Masahiro wasted no time in saying with a small smile, “Dante, with the gift I’m told you brought me, you are welcome to my home any time. You have earned your place here.”
“And what about my cousins?” Dante asked, nodding toward Ricco’s car. “Are we all welcome?”
“In time, we will see,” Masahiro replied with a nod, and then said in a casual tone, “thank you, to you and your family, for protecting my son and future son-in-law.”
The easy manner in which Masahiro included Viktor put Dante at ease, and he started to let his formality slip as his roguish grin began to widen across his face. “You already have them married, huh?”
“Having witnessed the look in my son’s eyes when he looked at Viktor, can you blame me?” Masahiro asked with a snort of barely repressed laughter.
Dante found all sense of social propriety fleeing from him as he replied, “If you think that’s something, imagine them right after they’ve made love!”
Masahiro shook his head and raised his hand to stop Dante from saying anything further. “I’d rather not,” he said seriously, though his grin told Dante that Masashiro wasn’t offended by the remark.
“You brought the subject up,” Dante said as his grin bloomed.
“You’re not very formal, are you?” Masahiro asked, his eyebrows raising slightly. “A bit of a rogue, hmm?”
Dante shrugged and said, “You seem to be enjoying it.”
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with Americans in the past, and I try to make them feel comfortable. The mark of a good businessman is to be able to understand the culture of potential business partners, and learn to play into it,” Masahiro said, inclining his head toward Dante. His eyes then narrowed while his grin remained steady as he added, “However, if you were one of my men, I would have already had you beaten for thinking you could banter with me.”
Dante’s smile faltered but didn’t disappear entirely as he replied, “I’ll keep that in mind and withdraw my application for employment.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” Masahiro said, chuckling. “I must say I find your personality refreshing.”
Dante’s grin disappeared entirely as it was replaced by a look of bewilderment. “But you just said . . .”
“As you are not one of my men, I don’t have to beat you, I can just enjoy your presence,” Masahiro said, chuckling again. His eyes grew more serious as he added, “I see what my son sees in you, and he was right to trust you.”
Dante nodded solemnly as he said, “I’ll do my best to live up to your opinion of me.”
Before Masahiro could respond, his and Dante’s attention was drawn toward the black sedan pulling into the parking garage. The sudden tension in the air was palpable, and Dante surveyed the scene, seeing the grim looks on the faces of the Yakuza who waited for the sedan to park.
Masahiro’s face was blank, but his eyes were dark and brooding, and Dante did not want to be on the receiving end of the wrath hidden just beneath the surface of that gaze. He winced at the edge in Masahiro’s voice as the man said, “I see our guest has arrived. I will meet you upstairs. Nobuyuki will lead you to Daisuke’s new and temporary home.”
Masahiro turned around and walked away just as Nobuyuki came to join them, having just overheard Masahiro mention his name. He looked at Dante with a quizzical expression and asked, “I’ll do what?”
“You’re going to tell us where to take Daisuke,” Dante explained as the doors to the sedan opened and Daisuke was pushed out into view.
“Oh, that’s simple,” Nobuyuki replied, his attention diverted to Daisuke as he was led toward the Yakuza waiting for him. “We’re going to take him to the same room he tortured Alexi in. It will make it easier to intimidate him there.”
“Excellent,” Dante replied.
As Daisuke was handed off to the Yakuza, Nobuyuki turned on his heel and waved everyone, including the Italians, forward. He led the way toward the staircase with Dante at his side, and then started upward, pausing only momentarily to sneer at Daisuke and say, “Right this way, gentlemen. I’m sure Daisuke is eager to reach his new accommodations.”
They continued upward until they reached the fourth floor, with Yakuza guarding the entire path. They had all come to witness Daisuke’s return, and Dante felt the intense hatred in all of their eyes as they stared at their former commander. He wondered for a moment if any of these guardsmen had been loyal to Daisuke during his attempted coup, and if that would change the emotion they felt now, but then realized it likely wouldn’t. Whether they had once served Daisuke or not, he had failed in both his loyalty and his coup, and was a disgrace to everything the Yakuza believed in.
The doors to the fourth floor were already open, and Nobuyuki walked past the two guards posted on either side of them without acknowledging either, though both regarded Daisuke coolly. Dante recognized Satoshi on one side and knew he’d seen the other one before as well, though could not remember his name.
“We’ll take Daisuke from here,” Satoshi said after Dante had passed him, stopping the remainder of the Italians escorting him. “Masahiro Sato thanks you for delivering him to us.”
Dante turned to look at one of his second cousins who was leading the delegation and shrugged slightly. His cousin nodded in understanding and then bowed to Satoshi, quickly giving orders to hand Daisuke over before stepping aside. Satoshi and the other Yakuza who’d been waiting by the doors each took one of Daisuke’s arms and began leading him through the doors. Nobuyuki tapped Dante’s shoulder and nodded him forward, and again took the lead into the brothel.
It was the first time Dante had been in the main chambers of the brothel, and he found it strangely deserted. Only guards were present, and each one stood at attention until Daisuke passed them. Satoshi would slow his pace just enough as they slowed in front of each Yakuza member, and each man turned their back on him and faced the wall until Daisuke had passed.
“What are they doing?” Dante asked quietly.
“They’re showing Daisuke that he is no longer one of them, and will receive no support from them,” Nobuyuki answered just as quietly. “Daisuke is officially exiled from the family.”
Dante nodded and watched the remainder of the Yakuza treat Daisuke in the same manner until they reached the end of the line at a grey door labeled ‘storage’ with a small black placard. Nobuyuki opened the door, revealing a small room befitting the label. In the center of the room was a single chair, sitting beneath a bright light with Masahiro stoically standing behind it. The concrete floor beneath the chair was splattered with dried blood and other substances, and the room smelled of body odor and feces. It didn’t take long for Dante to realize this was the room where they’d kept and tortured Alexi.
Nobuyuki pulled Dante inside when he hesitated at the doorway, and then guided him to the side of the room to make room for Satoshi to lead Daisuke into the room. Satoshi and his companion handled Daisuke roughly, shoving him forward and into the chair, causing him to enter it facing the back of the chair and toward Masahiro, who caught Daisuke’s face in his weathered hands and forcefully lifted his chin to stare him in the eye.
“Daisuke . . .” Masahiro said, gripping Daisuke’s face tight enough to pierce his skin with his fingernails. “I plan on making this a long and arduous journey to the afterlife for you.” He let go of Daisuke’s face and threw him backward slightly, but then dropped low and swept the legs of the unbalanced chair out to the side, causing it to topple and send Daisuke falling to the floor.
Despite crashing hard against the concrete, Daisuke didn’t make a sound, and Dante found a small shred of respect for him. As much as he hated Daisuke for hurting his friends and directly trying to end his best friend’s life, Daisuke was a warrior, and had an inner strength of will which Dante was not sure he himself possessed. Whatever happened here today, Daisuke would bear it with that same strength, and in the end the world would lose a powerful if misguided soul.
It made Dante feel sick, and though he knew Daisuke deserved his fate, it reminded Dante of every reason he wanted out of the life he’d been trained to live. He was so sick of the violence and the killing; so sick of putting people in danger just because of their association with him.
But then he glanced at Nobuyuki and saw some of those same emotions reflected in his eyes, and realized there was more to the issue. While it was true the violence was ugly, it had at times been necessary for the protection of those Dante cared about. Dante need only look to Nobuyuki’s severed pinky to remember there was sometimes a price to pay in order to save lives, and it wasn’t always pretty.
“What? You have no words for me?” Masahiro asked, reaching down to pick Daisuke up from the floor. Dante hadn’t seen him draw the knife, but Masahiro held a small blade in his hand and drew it under Daisuke’s chin, pressing in enough to draw a thin line of blood. “Not going to plead for your life?” He asked as he pulled the knife away. Even as the first drops of blood fell from Daisuke’s chin and splattered against the floor, Daisuke looked up and met Masahiro’s eyes proudly. Masahiro nodded slowly, his eyes filled with a deep sadness as he said, “Good to see you’ve retained at least some of your honor.”
Masahiro stepped back, his determined scowl diminishing slightly, and Dante wondered for a moment if Masahiro was going to be able to continue in his course of action. Before he could wonder long, however, Nobuyuki stepped in and took hold of Daisuke’s hair, ripping his head back so he could stare Nobuyuki in the eye.
“I took detailed notes of what you did to Alexi, and I intend to do the same to you, Daisuke,” Nobuyuki warned, drawing his own knife and tracing the back of it just underneath Daisuke’s remaining eye. “I also remember that beating you gave me, and trust me, this will be just as bad.”
Nobuyuki let go of Daisuke’s head and shoved him forward again. He bounced back quickly and looked up at Masahiro, an unreadable expression on his face. “If you’re trying to scare me, you don’t. You were never as good at torture as I was, Masahiro.”
Masahiro met Daisuke’s eyes for a moment as a look of complete understanding passed between them, and he gave Daisuke a barely perceptible nod. Dante did a double take as he watched Masahiro’s eyes for a moment and saw an emotion which he would have never expected; gratitude. “As long as I enjoy it,” Masahiro said. The gratitude was gone, but Masahiro’s determination had returned completely. He looked up at Nobuyuki and nodded. “Shall we begin?”
“Dante, I’m sure you don’t want to watch this,” Nobuyuki said, turning a grim frown toward Dante. “Perhaps you should wait for us in the hall?”
“I don’t want to see it, no,” Dante replied, but then turned back to Daisuke and felt a slight unexpected urge to violence. “But before I go, make sure you give him a nice gash across his face for Viktor. The bastard marred our pretty boy’s face.”
Nobuyuki rested his hand on Dante’s shoulder and replied with a firm nod, “You’ve got it.”
Dante stepped into the hall, followed immediately by Satoshi and the other guard. He looked at them, and they looked at him, and none of them seemed entirely sure of what to say to the others. Deciding it was better to put some distance between him and them, he moved back down the hallway and into the main room of the brothel. He began to pace across the wood paneled floor, nervously glancing back toward the storage room every so often.
The guards which had been in the brothel before were now all gone, and the space felt extremely empty. It wasn’t long before the silence started to get to him, and he thought about leaving the brothel for the noise of the casino below. A door opened and closed behind him, interrupting his thoughts as he spun around, looking for the source of the sound. He heard some muffled speaking and started toward it, letting it lead him back to the storeroom where Daisuke was being held.
Another door at the end of the hallway was swinging closed just as he arrived, and the dark suit of a Yakuza guard was all he could see disappearing through it. Only Satoshi remained in the hallway to guard the door to the storage room, and he regarded Dante with a weak smile and a barely perceptible nod before returning his gaze to the wall in front of him. His expression was contemplative, and almost distant, and Dante considered joining him to find out what was on his mind, as much to learn about Satoshi as to end the maddening silence the waiting had put him in.
As Dante was about to open his mouth to ask Satoshi a question, he heard the soft footfalls of someone at the other end of the brothel. Turning toward the sound, Dante was pleased to see it was Katsumi who was walking his direction. Her face was an unreadable mask, though it did nothing to diminish her overall beauty. She was as stunning as Dante had seen her to be when they’d first met, and every bit as powerful in her presence.
“Lady Katsumi, what a pleasant surprise to see you here,” Dante said, bowing formally.
“Dante, it has been some time, hasn’t it?” Katsumi replied, bowing her head toward him slightly as a barely perceptible smile creased her lips. “What brings you here?”
“I’m sure you’ve already heard,” Dante replied, nodding toward the store room. “We captured Daisuke less than an hour ago, and brought him here for Masahiro.”
A flash of frantic emotion passed through Katsumi’s expression and eyes for a moment, but then was immediately replaced with her same blank expression from before. “You captured Daisuke?”
“You sound surprised,” Dante said, careful to keep his smile wide and the edge from his voice. Katsumi’s eyes were growing darker by the second, and Dante felt the hairs on the back of his neck slowly rising.
The smile Katsumi gave in response did not reach her eyes. “Only because I was unaware the Italians had such a vested interest in his capture.”
“Of course we do,” Dante replied, forcing his smile to widen further even as he repressed a shudder. “We’re allies now, you know.”
“Another pleasant surprise,” Katsumi said with a nod. “I’m looking forward to seeing more of you, then.”
Dante swallowed hard and replied, “And I, you, Lady Katsumi.”
“Would you like a tour of the brothel while you’re waiting for them to finish? I could make it worth your while,” Katsumi asked with a sudden intensity in her eyes. Those same eyes had once been alluring, and had accentuated the overall beauty of her form, but now that Dante could see deep inside of them, he saw them in a new light. Everything about Katsumi had drawn him in before, because each aspect of her beauty melded with the others and became one complete mesmerizing whole.
As soon as her gaze had darkened, however, he’d begun to trace that darkness back across those interwoven pieces of her soul, and could analyze every piece in a different way. Her graceful walk became an assassin’s gait, the curves of her body were those of a temptress seeking to trap him by his lust. The sakura blossoms which he knew adorned her body were like blood in the snow, telling the tale of those she’d already defeated, and masking the girl tattooed on her back. That same girl who held a dagger between her teeth as she stared at whoever dared to challenge her, promising to destroy them by the sharpness of her tongue and the guile of her words.
But Dante would not be led into that trap, as he remembered the beauty of a plump woman working at a coffee shop. A woman who had met his eyes with a warm smile and graced his ears with the soft sweetness of her laughter. Once, Dante would have taken Katsumi’s offer despite the risk within it, fulfilling his lusts for her dangerous beauty, but he was no longer a victim of that life, and he intended to remain free from it.
“No, thank you,” Dante replied, bowing formally so she would not see the truth in his eyes. “I would have accepted your generous offer before, back when we first met, but I’m afraid I have my sights set on another woman now.”
He finally risked looking up as Katsumi replied with a barely concealed scowl, “A pity, we could have had a lot of fun. I guess now we’ll never know.”
She turned on her heel and walked away, pausing briefly to meet Satoshi’s eyes before turning back to her retreat. Dante watched her go with a profound sense of relief, though he could not completely determine why. As soon as Katsumi left the brothel, Dante turned back to Satoshi and found the same distant look in his eyes as before. There was definitely room for contemplation, and Dante would not take such an opportunity away from Satoshi.
With a sigh, Dante returned to his pacing and tried to push Katsumi from his mind.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Before we begin, there’s something I’d like to ask you,” Masahiro said, turning his back on Daisuke as he stared at the wall. Nobuyuki could still see his father’s face from the angle he was standing at, and he noticed the complex emotions playing out on his face which he was keeping from Daisuke.
Daisuke did not immediately reply, but after several long seconds of silence he decided to be cooperative and ask, “What is that?”
Masahiro turned back toward him, his face returned to a blank mask. “Who was working with you? If you give me names, I will make this quicker.”
“I won’t betray those who were loyal to me,” Daisuke replied with a deep scowl. “I would think you’d know me better than that.”
“And what about those which were disloyal to you?” Masahiro challenged.
“To whom are you referring?” Daisuke asked, chuckling dryly. “Everyone remained loyal to the end. You even killed Haru as he fought for me.”
Nobuyuki winced at the mention of Haru, and was glad Daisuke was facing the other way. He’d hated his own role in Haru’s death, even though it had been necessary. Thankfully, Masahiro retained his own composure and asked, “You expect me to believe you orchestrated this on your own? Someone helped you and has refused to help you now.”
“No, I don’t expect you to believe anything,” Daisuke said with an annoyed grunt. “But I expect you will have to be satisfied with that answer.”
As Masahiro’s face clouded over, Nobuyuki jumped into the interrogation and said, “We know how much you paid the Russians.”
“And?” Daisuke asked, raising an eyebrow as he looked over his shoulder at Nobuyuki.
“You could have never paid them that amount on your own,” Nobuyuki continued, crossing his arms over his chest as he moved in front of Daisuke.
Daisuke rolled his eyes as he turned to face Masahiro and met his gaze. “You already know the answer, Masahiro. Why do you need me to confirm it for you?”
Both Nobuyuki and Daisuke were surprised by Masahiro’s honesty as he sighed and said quietly, “Because I don’t want to believe it.”
Nodding slowly, Daisuke replied neutrally, “I’ve only known you to have two weaknesses, and only one is in this room.”
The remark struck Masahiro as if it were a physical blow, and he took an involuntary step backward. He met Daisuke’s eyes for a moment and shook his head slightly before looking at Nobuyuki and saying, “Nobuyuki. Finish up here. Make sure before we execute him that he knows the price of betraying the Inagawa-kai. I’ll also need something from your room, if you don’t mind.”
Nobuyuki nodded, unable to decipher the complex mix of emotions in his father’s eyes. “Of course not, Father. Please, take whatever you need.”
Masahiro opened the door and stepped out to join Satoshi and Nao in the hallway. The last thing Nobuyuki heard before the door closed was Masahiro asking Nao to follow him upstairs. Once they were cut off from the conversation outside, Daisuke wasted no time in turning his taunting words on Nobuyuki.
“So, he’s leaving you to do his work . . .” he muttered with annoyance. He scowled at Nobuyuki and then spat at his feet. “It’s always you,” he growled.
Nobuyuki looked at the spittle on the concrete floor and then up at Daisuke, determined not to be goaded into violence until he’d received some answers, or until Daisuke refused to give them. “You’ve always hated me, though I never understood why. You were also always loyal, so I don’t understand how you came to betray Masahiro.”
“You expect me to give you answers?” Daisuke scoffed.
“No, but I see no reason not to ask,” Nobuyuki replied with a smirk. “Perhaps I simply want to understand you before you die.”
“Nobuyuki . . .” Daisuke chuckled mirthlessly, meeting Nobuyuki’s eyes with contempt he didn’t bother to conceal. “I’ve wanted to kill you for so long.”
Nobuyuki began pacing the room as he considered how to respond to the question. Though each step sent pain shooting up his leg from his injured ankle, he pushed the pain from his mind and forced himself to focus on the matter in front of him. One detail about their conflict didn’t seem to match up, and he decided that would be the best place to start. “Then why didn’t you kill me in the street?” He asked as he turned toward Daisuke again. “You could have killed me before you were shot, and been executed in the street, avoiding this whole mess.” He lifted the knife and pointed it at Daisuke for a moment and added, “You know how this ends.”
“You don’t understand me at all, Nobuyuki,” Daisuke said, snorting derisively. “I did this all for him. I have never stopped loving my Father, even when I tried to kill him it was out of love for the things he’d taught me.”
“You’ll have to explain that,” Nobuyuki replied.
“No, I don’t, but I will anyway. To think, at the end of it all I’m confessing to you of all people,” Daisuke said, shaking his head ruefully. When he continued speaking there was no denying the rage in his voice, but there was an underlying tone of regret to every word. “Before you came along, things were different. I was the favored son, and I’d earned that place by absolute loyalty to Masahiro and by training hard to become his fiercest protector. I stood by his side through the most brutal of campaigns.” His rage intensified as he scowled up at Nobuyuki and said, “and then you showed up.”
Nobuyuki turned toward Daisuke and kept his expression blank, and his eyes patient as Daisuke continued. “You reminded Masahiro of himself, and that was enough for him to take a liking to you, and eventually make you his son. He put you over me. He began to give you every reward he’d ever promised me.” There was a primal quality to Daisuke’s voice as he added, “You stole my life from me, and he betrayed me by giving it to you.”
Silence overtook the room for a moment as Nobuyuki processed what had been said, but once he’d had a chance to let it settle in he couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re a fool, Daisuke.”
“Am I?” Daisuke snapped. “I have only sought to take what was rightfully mine.”
“You served him for all those years and never realized the truth,” Nobuyuki said with dismay. “When we first realized there was a traitor, I suspected you, and Masahiro refused to even consider you a possibility. He was so convinced of your absolute loyalty . . .” he shook his head and met Daisuke’s gaze with a helpless laugh. “He knew you would never betray him. You called me one of his weaknesses . . . you are every bit his weakness as I am.”
Daisuke was quiet for a moment, but his anger was still strong as he replied, “And this makes me a fool?”
“No,” Nobuyuki said, “you’re a fool because all Masahiro wanted was for you to prove you were more than just loyal. Being the head of the family requires ambition, Daisuke. When I first entered Masahiro’s family, he was using me to generate ambition in you, but instead you were driven by resentment. You didn’t want to become Masahiro’s heir for his position, you wanted it in order to be closer to Masahiro. You resented our closeness.”
Daisuke snorted. “And what brings you to that conclusion?”
“You didn’t work alone,” Nobuyuki surmised. “You have someone over you, someone who you listened to. If it were about taking over Masahiro’s position, you wouldn’t have needed anyone above you. If it were about ambition, you could have had me killed long ago and taken my position as heir, but this was never really about me. It was always about being close to the man you adored. That’s why you didn’t kill me on the street. You wanted to see Masahiro one last time; give him one last chance to understand.”
Daisuke’s eyes smoldered as he said through bared teeth, “Are you going to kill me now, Nobuyuki? You haven’t even begun torturing me. What are you waiting for?”
Nobuyuki shook his head and smiled sadly before sliding his knife back up his sleeve. “I’m not going to do it, Daisuke.”
Daisuke’s eyes widened in shock as he asked, “Why not?”
“You tried to kill Masahiro, and for that you will be executed, but it will not be by my hand,” Nobuyuki replied with a determined nod. “As for the torture . . .” he shook his head and started toward the door, forcing Daisuke to crane his neck in order to watch him as Nobuyuki added, “knowing I forgive you should be enough.”
“Bastard! Get back here and kill me!” Daisuke roared as Nobuyuki put his hand on the door handle. “You never could do it, Nobuyuki. You never had the guts to do what needed to be done. You don’t deserve to be in command of this family! You don’t deserve any of this.”
“We all deserve only that which we worked for. What do you deserve, Daisuke?” Nobuyuki asked. He turned the handle and pulled the door open a crack as he turned back to Daisuke and said with a sad smile, “I forgive you, brother. May you die with dignity.”
“Nobuyuki!” Daisuke pleaded as Nobuyuki pulled the door open wide and stepped through it. “Don’t—” The rest of Daisuke’s plea was cut off as Nobuyuki let the door close behind him.
He looked up and saw Satoshi staring at him with wide eyes, and Nobuyuki wondered how much Satoshi had heard. It didn’t matter, his actions wouldn’t have changed with an audience, and it seemed as if Satoshi was just as conflicted by the current situation as Nobuyuki was. With a trembling hand, Nobuyuki reached out and touched Satoshi’s arm gently.
“Please, go in there and watch him. Keep your gun on him and make sure he doesn’t try to escape,” Nobuyuki said quietly. “I can’t go back in there.”
Satoshi nodded and opened the door, stepping inside after sharing another look with Nobuyuki. As soon as the door closed behind Satoshi, Nobuyuki felt his emotions catch up to him. He’d never seen Daisuke in that way before, and it pulled at him in ways which he could have never anticipated.
A gentle hand on his shoulder guided him to turn around, and Nobuyuki turned toward Dante as his eyes welled with tears. “Dante . . .” he whispered, letting go of his emotions as Dante wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close. “Dante, I’m so tired.”
“It’s okay,” Dante whispered as he held Nobuyuki tight and stroked his back gently. “It’s over now. He’s captured, and the others are all right. We’re all right.”
Nobuyuki nodded and patted Dante’s back before pulling away, ashamed at the tears in his eyes as only a teenage boy could be. He appreciated Dante’s compassion, but couldn’t believe he’d allowed his emotions to get the better of him where anyone could see, even if the brothel was still empty.
“Do you feel better?” Dante asked.
“A little,” Nobuyuki sniffed. He then looked up and saw Dante’s look of concern and sighed. “No, that’s a lie. I feel much better. Thank you.”
“Did you get him back?” Dante asked, biting his bottom lip nervously.
“I think I gave him what he deserved,” Nobuyuki said with a smirk, staring at the storage room door.
“I see,” Dante said quietly. “So, what now?”
“We wait to see if the information Daisuke provided us with is correct,” Nobuyuki replied, sighing as he thought about Masahiro. “It’s not over yet.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Grace left Katsumi as soon as she entered her suite. She rushed to her closet, tearing open the doors and immediately withdrawing everything valuable she wanted to take with her. The last thing she withdrew was a small bag which would allow her to carry everything she needed. As she set it on the bed she caught movement from the doorway to her bedroom, stopping dead as she saw Masahiro standing there, his hands behind his back.
“Going somewhere, Katsumi?” Masahiro asked neutrally.
“Masahiro . . .” Katsumi said, forcing a smile. “I thought you’d be with Daisuke. I was just going for a walk into the city.”
“I see.” Masahiro said, nodding slowly as he stepped into the room. He continued to face her as he walked toward the window and glanced out toward the city. “I didn’t want to be the one to torture him. He was like a son to me, almost as much as Nobuyuki is. Even though he tried to kill me, I couldn’t do that to him.” He shook his head and said with dismay, “Executing him will be difficult enough, but I will do what needs to be done.”
“And what are you doing here?” Katsumi asked, slowly regaining her composure. It seemed there might still be a way out of this mess, and she did what she did best, adding a lusty quality to her voice as she glided across the floor toward him. “Did you come to me so I could take your mind off things?”
Masahiro’s head swiveled back toward her as he showed her the items he’d been holding behind his back. A sakazuki cup and a half-empty bottle of sake. “I thought this might be the right time for a cup of sake. I need something stronger than the wine in my collection.”
Katsumi nodded and reached for the sake to pour it for them, then her hand stopped and began to tremble as she recognized the bottle. It was the same one she’d given him; the same one he’d told her he’d given away. “That’s . . .” She said, looking up at Masahiro’s eyes curiously.
“Yes, it is,” Masahiro replied. He stepped toward her nightstand and set the cup down and then began pouring sake into it. Once the sake was half full, Masahiro handed the cup to Katsumi and said, “Here, drink.”
Katsumi took the cup and froze, uncertain what to do. While the sake had never been poisoned by her, there was no telling if Masahiro hadn’t done something to it. But then she realized she was being silly if she thought Masahiro would poison her, even if he did suspect she was behind the coup. Poison wasn’t Masahiro’s style, even if he did find it appropriately retributive. Raising the cup of sake to her lips, she drank it as if it were an official sakazuki ceremony, finishing it off before looking at Masahiro expectantly.
“Do you remember when we first met at that teahouse in Osaka?” Masahiro asked as he took the cup back from her.
“Of course,” Katsumi replied, smiling at the pleasant memory of the day they’d met. It was the same day Masahiro had invited her to come work for him, starting her on the path to become the most powerful woman in the Inagawa-kai. It was what had led to her ambition of one day leading the family, or at least Masahiro’s branch of it.
“I remember every detail,” Masahiro said, eyes filled with emotion as they locked onto hers. “I remember the way you crossed the room with grace unmatched by any woman I’d ever laid eyes upon. I remember the dignity in your expression, and the cunning eyes behind the mask of white make-up. I remember the way you set the tea in front of me with quick and graceful precision.”
“Yes,” Katsumi replied, nodding fondly. “I remember all of that.”
“And then you must also remember how I returned the tea to you and told you I could not drink lemon in my tea, because I was allergic,” Masahiro said, letting the unspoken accusation hang in the air.
Katsumi froze as she realized Masahiro knew everything. He knew she’d convinced Daisuke to betray him, that Daisuke had hired the Russians at her direction, and that she was trying to overthrow him. He reached up to her hair, feigning confusion as her hand slid toward the chopstick holding her hair pinned. There was a small blade hidden inside the chopstick, and it was now her only chance of getting out of here alive. “Masahiro, I—” she began, hoping to distract him with her words long enough to draw her dagger.
Masahiro dropped the sake and cup, the sound of breaking glass echoing through the room as he pounced on her, gripping her wrist and forcing her down to the bed. Staring down at her with eyes filled with betrayal he growled, “You tried to poison me, Katsumi. The night of the attack, you wanted me weak and helpless so the assassin would have an easy target. You were the one who hired the Russians, not Daisuke.”
“No, I—” Katsumi began, but Masahiro roared in anger, cutting her off completely.
“You dare lie to me?” Masahiro growled. He leaned forward menacingly, putting his face up next to her ear as he whispered, “Get out. Leave this city forever. If I ever see you again, I will kill you. If you ever set foot in Vladivostok again, I’ll make sure you are hunted down. I’ll make sure you never do business with the Inagawa-kai again.”
He threw her against the bed again and then stepped away, leaving her in a crumpled mess on the bedspread. She sat up, thinking to plead one more time for Masahiro to listen to her lies. “Masahiro . . .” she whispered.
Masahiro rounded on her, a knife in his hands drawn from some secret place in his clothing. His eyes burned with rage and fire, and she was taken aback by the intensity of the stare alone. “Leave or I kill you now!” Masahiro roared, and then continued more calmly. “You have one choice, Katsumi. Leave.”
Katsumi nodded and hurried to gather her things together, knowing she was out of chances. Masahiro watched her the whole time with no change in his fury, his blade gripped tightly in his hand. It was over, every ambition she’d ever had was now gone, but at least she would get out alive.
She rushed to the door where she found several Yakuza waiting for her, and leading them was Nao, the new second-in-command of Masahiro’s security forces. He met her with a look of profound disgust as he said, “We will escort you out of the hotel, Katsumi. If you make any sudden moves, we’ll kill you. Do not test us.”
Katsumi nodded and Masahiro watched them go, an intense sadness taking hold over his body. Over such a short time he’d lost the love of his life and one of his sons, both who had betrayed him for their own personal gain. Although he had won the day, he felt lower than he ever had before. He eyed the knife in his hand and wondered what pain could possibly be worse than what he was feeling then.As soon as the thought crossed his mind, he tossed the blade aside, watching it crash against the broken shards of the sake bottle. The room still smelled like Katsumi, though the smell of the sake was beginning to permeate everything, drowning out the floral scent as it helped him realize his pain, too, would pass.
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