tofsla_fic: (Default)
homsan toft ([personal profile] tofsla_fic) wrote2014-02-21 09:57 am

Far Side (Niou + Yanagi, bonus Niou/Yagyuu)

Prince of Tennis, Niou/Yagyuu - Yanagi, R
5,200 words
Sci-fi AU. Rikkai do what it takes to hold on to power, but external threats may not be all that is concerning some members. Niou & Yanagi friendship fic in intention, hijacked by D1 in practice.
Warning for violence.



Offworld is dangerous at this time of year. It's dangerous any time of the year - a colony of outcasts and criminals, people who just aren't what they seem - but it's the festival for the new year right now and it's a big thing on this damn rock, for all that it means absolutely nothing. Niou threads his way through the crowds, light on his feet, wary as a cat - or maybe a fox. Above him lights dance across the sky in brilliant hanging sheets, a parody of the aurora borealis punctuated by fireworks that flare more brightly up here in the artificial atmosphere than they ever did on earth.

The afterglow is blinding. One more reason to be wary. Their tactician would be pissed off if he was late, and there are plenty of people out there who'd love to hold him up. For several values of the phrase.


He makes it with time enough, though, slipping in over the high walls of the estate - why use the front entrance when the back way is perfectly good? It keeps him in practice, anyway, and it means he gets to see the gardens. Even to his thoroughly cynical mind they're kinda fascinating, life in a place where there shouldn't be a damn thing, full of plants which are chaotic and vibrant and living their lives at speed - as though they know they shouldn't be there and are trying to grow as big and colourful as possible before anyone notices. It's like a metaphor for the entirety of Offworld, carnival-bright hellhole that it is. Knowing Yanagi and Yukimura, the comparison is in no way coincidental. Just one of the things Niou likes about them. There's a sense of humour somewhere in there, and it's thoroughly warped.


The meeting will be the usual room, so he goes straight there, trying to avoid as many cameras as possible. Not getting spotted here is an impossibility, but it's a good game. Anyway; a ground floor window, lit from inside, not quite closed. Voices from inside, and...

Yagyuu is there. He didn't expect that, didn't know Yagyuu was back, but he recognises the voice straight off. It's a useful life skill and a product of considerable... familiarity. It also gives him plenty of time to pretend he knew all along that the guy would be there, that he'd figured out whatever little surprise they were trying to spring on him more than thirty seconds in advance.

"...will always be Niou," Yagyuu is saying. "There's no helping it, I am afraid to say."

He sounds amused, and Niou just barely catches a soft noise, more of a little hum than a laugh, which means Yanagi is amused too - though there's something not quite right there, something more to the conversation. Hmm.

"This is undoubtedly true," Yanagi murmurs. A pause. "He should come inside now, too, if he has listened in enough."

Niou is almost laughing when he swings himself inside, drops to one knee on a bare wooden floor - weirdly tasteful for Offworld, just like the rest of the building.

"Reporting in?" he suggests, fails at the formality Sanada always used to try and beat into them when they were training, grins up at the two men instead and pulls himself to his feet, protocol be damned. "It's fucking hellish out there. Yagyuu's turn next."

"How kind of you, Niou," Yagyuu murmurs. "I am glad to know you missed my presence so much."

"Every moment was agony," Niou assures him, waves lazily after his former watch-partner as Yanagi ushers him firmly into the next room, slides the door shut. He doesn't ask if Niou wants a drink, just pours him a generous measure of what looks and smells like some damn good sake. Warm and deeply alcoholic - and yeah, drinking on duty is more than discouraged, but this is a weird time of year. Yanagi knows it, grants leeway where he thinks it is needed.

Niou knocks the drink back instead of sipping it (a criminal waste of a good drink, Yanagi said the first time Niou did that, but he's given up now), savours the burn of it in his throat and the heat it spreads through his stomach, almost-sighs.

"Even odds for Mizuki or Akutsu," he says, offhand, as though it's nothing much. "Not that I know which'd be worse, anyway. Don't reckon..."

"...that either of them would last ever so long. No. I suspect you are right."

Niou reaches up, flicks the microcamera and datachip out of its holder in his headset, tosses it to Yanagi. "Got a good lot in there. Connections, security, all the rest. Have fun with the data."

It's an age-old tradition, by Offworld standards, which means a handful of years - a long time in a place where most people are too wasted to remember last week. Niou can't remember a year he's been up here when the festival hasn't been an excuse for a quantity of backstabbing which would seem pretty shocking down on earth, at least in most places. That's why Yukimura keeps them around; the enforcers of a rock which barely even has normal law-keeping. Anyone who pretends to power has people like them, but Yukimura has power, and his people are the real thing. If Niou says so himself.


Yagyuu is waiting outside the room when Niou leaves, leaning against the wall - so still that another person might not have spotted him. Niou reaches out easily to tap his shoulder, grins broadly as Yagyuu seems to stir into life again.

"So," he says, "you came back."

"I was always going to."

"You didn't tell me that."

"I am under no obligation to tell you anything." But Yagyuu is smiling, sort-of smirking, just a little. "It was an assignment."

"Go well?"

"I'm standing here. I think that is sufficient answer."

Being angry is an option for Niou right now, but then again, he knows by now the way this place works. Information is pretty well need-to-know, and screwing another operative doesn't qualify you to get privileged information about their missions.

Still, Yagyuu coulda said something. It wouldn't have killed him. Probably.

Unless Sanada found out.

Niou settles for annoyance rather than full-blown rage. He wouldn't give a shit at all if it was anyone other than Yagyuu.

"How are things going up here?" Yagyuu asks. Niou shrugs.

"Tell you back at my place," he says, and drags Yagyuu off through the warren of passages that make up the building. Not that much actual dragging is required.


"It's a weird year," Niou tells Yagyuu when they're there, door sliding smoothly shut behind them, "but maybe not a bad one. Not like the time with Seishun."

Even Yagyuu pulls just a bit of a face at the mention of that, a little downward turn at the corners of his mouth. Yukimura would have lost his power up here, that year, if their attention hadn't been dragged back down to Earth. Bad circumstances, bad luck, and distraction.

It hadn't been pretty.

"If there's another year like that, we're done," Yagyuu murmurs. "But I doubt there will be while Yanagi is watching the situation."

Niou nods a vague agreement, stretches. He's lying across his narrow bed, head turned to watch Yagyuu, considering. "Speaking of Yanagi..."

"Worried that we're plotting your downfall?" Yagyuu says, and that tiny hint of a smile is back. It makes Niou grin almost without thinking, a reflexive response.

"Yeah. I'd better watch my back, huh?"

"I'm wounded that you don't trust us." So perfectly bland and, beneath that, so perfectly amused.

"I don't trust anyone," Niou tells him, though it isn't true. "Shit, Yagyuu. I'm the insane, paranoid one - remember?"

"As though I could forget," Yagyuu says, crosses the space between them and leans in low over Niou, hand splayed on the pillow beside his head for support, breath warm on his lips. "I hear enough about it around the place. Even on Earth, amongst the right circles. You've made quite the impression."

Niou finds himself being studied, very close up, but he doesn't really give a shit - it's more important that Yagyuu is right there, warm and real and every damn thing he remembered.

"Yeah? All bad, I hope?" he says.

Yagyuu kisses him. It might be a desperate bid to stop him talking, but it works for him.

He's half-hard just from watching Yagyuu, anyway. There'd have been hell to pay if it'd turned out he wasn't getting anything more than a nice chat.

"Absolutely terrible," Yagyuu informs him, just about audible.

"Good," Niou shoots back, and then they're kissing again.

Not much danger of this just being a nice chat now, Niou thinks, feeling Yagyuu's hands carefully sliding under the hem of his shirt, pressing firmly against his skin. He'd pretty much assumed they'd have a fucking huge row if Yagyuu ever came back, and that the make-up sex would be appropriately mind-blowing afterwards, but hey - this works too. It kind of figures that they'd just slip back into their own special version of normality, though there's a certain eagerness to Yagyuu's actions that he fancies might not've been there if it hadn't been... hell... months since they last did this.

An hour, maybe, before Yagyuu goes on shift. Enough. There'll be more time later.

It only takes a quick tug, the correct application of force, to bring Yagyuu tumbling down onto the bed with him. "Undo the buttons," Yagyuu tells Niou slightly breathlessly before he can do anything else, and Niou can't help but laugh. He does, however, undo the buttons on Yagyuu's shirt - even when he feels impatient with the damn things. There are some things that Yagyuu, for all his fine qualities, just doesn't take kindly to.

And anyway, damaging Yagyuu's work clothes would only waste more time later. He's learnt that one from experience.

"Shit," he breathes, shifting eagerly as Yagyuu's hand somehow finds its way between his legs, teases at his erection through his clothes. Yagyuu looks entirely too smug about getting a reaction, so Niou has to roll on top of him, pinning him to the bed, and press biting kisses along the length of Yagyuu's collarbone, making sure to leave marks. That's enough to make Yagyuu groan, staring up at Niou with hungry eyes when he pulls away to inspect the results of his efforts.

It is, more or less, all downhill from there. Niou has really, really missed Yagyuu's hand on his cock. He can't replicate the exact way Yagyuu touches him, and imagination is ok but it's a pretty poor substitute for the real thing.

He comes hard, swearing, clutching desperately at whatever parts of Yagyuu he can reach; returns the favour with enthusiasm, sliding down the length of Yagyuu's body to take Yagyuu's cock in his mouth. He could almost get hard all over again just listening to the noises Yagyuu makes like this, even (or maybe especially) with Yagyuu trying to be restrained.

Yagyuu's face post-orgasm is almost always weirdly relaxed. It doesn't last for long but seeing that expression is one of Niou's guiltiest pleasures, the kind that no-one will ever be able to make him admit to.


"So," Niou says, "you're still a bastard. Even if you give really damn good handjobs."

Yagyuu is still lying beside him, looking surprisingly unwilling to move. He chuckles faintly at Niou's words. "You're quite the one to talk."

"I'm just an irritating git. You're the one who didn't tell me where the fuck you were going."

"Ah. I suppose you have a point." Yagyuu props himself up on one elbow, watching Niou carefully. It's vaguely disconcerting, even for Niou, being subjected to the full force of Yagyuu's scrutiny. "But it was a very delicate assignment."

"That we couldn't have worked on together."

"Exactly. It was on Earth, for a start."

Niou scowls for a moment, but it seems like a bit much effort. "I might've taken the job anyway."

"No," Yagyuu says, almost gently. "I know you, Niou. Give me a little credit."

It's a fair point. Niou doesn't argue it.

They've still got a bit of time before Yagyuu has to work, and there are more productive things to do with that time than argue.



Yanagi finds him in his quarters later, when he's officially off-duty and Yagyuu is gone into the perpetual half-darkness of the long Offworld night.

"D'you ever get sick of being up here?" Niou asks him, watches the dance of light across Yanagi's face as another firework bursts outside the window - purple-blue-red, fading down the spectrum and then gone.

"Do you?" Yanagi echoes back, and Niou half-laughs.

"You know the answer."

"And so do you."

"Just making conversation." Niou shrugs, tilts his head back until he can see the sky outside, spreads his hands on the cool metal of the window-frame to balance himself. The sky is so bright that you can barely see the stars through it all. He misses the real sky, kinda, for some reason. He misses a lot of things, or nothing at all - it all depends. When it comes right down to it, this place has a way of just claiming you and never really letting go. "Ever going back?"

"I doubt it. Not permanently."

"But you visit." It's a luxury Yanagi can afford - are a luxury all of them can afford, if they want it.

"Every now and then. Unlike some people."

"Hmm."

"You should."

"I don't give you shit about the way you spend your money," Niou says, grins even though Yanagi is being serious, even though he's being serious too. It's easier to say honest things if he pretends he doesn't mean them.

"That is because I do nothing reprehensible with my money," Yanagi says, serene.

Niou makes a little sound of disbelief, amused. Nothing reprehensible indeed.

"Whatever you say, tactician."

They lapse into silence, Yanagi moving over to the window to look out across the endless city. The fireworks aren't letting up. It'll be days before they do, even though it's nearly the new year now - it drags on, the festival, for as long as people can make it last.

"Niou..."

"Yeah. I know."

If he visited earth, spent a while, unwound, maybe the talk about him would stop. Too long Offworld can drive anyone mad, people claim, though Niou figures that's as much bullshit as anything else people say - whoever people are. He isn't exactly one to do what's expected and he definitely isn't one to do things he doesn't see the need for. Sure, there are things he misses. But they're not the really important things.

He'll go back one day, if he feels like it. There's time. Well, maybe. Until then, people can talk as much as they like. It'll do them good to wonder, watch him to see when he'll snap. They're watching for all the wrong signs, anyway.


"I trust working with Yagyuu won't be a problem," Yanagi says before he leaves.

"Nah." It's never a problem. Even when it looks like they're fighting to the rest of the universe. "We're good."



Yagyuu comes back bleeding and pissed off. It's not a bad wound - not life-threatening, they tell him. But it's Yagyuu. He shouldn't have got hurt in the first place. Yanagi looks, for one brief instant, as though he's going to swear. Niou does swear. Complications aren't what they need.

Especially not when it's Yagyuu.

"I can do the job," Yagyuu says, aiming for calm but wincing as Niou presses an insistent hand against his side, prodding at the newly applied dressing.

"Don't--"

"You can't do the job," Niou tells him flatly. "You'll slow me the hell down, and then we'll both be dead. Some of us don't wanna die yet."

Fuck. It's not like he doesn't want to work alongside Yagyuu again - there aren't a whole lot of things he wants more. But if Yagyuu is gonna get self-sacrificing, someone's got to shove him back in his place, remind him that there's more than just himself to worry about.

If there's a look that passes between Yanagi and Yagyuu then he misses it, but in hindsight he'll begin to suspect that it was there.

"Niou is correct," Yanagi says, and really that's the end of any arguments. This is work, and what the tactician says is as close to law as they're going to get, short of Yukimura's commandments. "An alternative team will be arranged."

Yagyuu holds his gaze, expression right on the edge of anger although no-one but Niou or Yanagi would be able to tell - and then he subsides, glances away. "Understood."


Marui and Jackal have their own job to do. Kirihara isn't someone Niou figures would get sent out on a sensitive piece of work, not without someone who could really control him, and even then...

There's only one logical combination left. They've never tried it before. Yanagi doesn't, on the whole, go out on the streets.

Still. Interesting thought. It's not like they wouldn't work well together.



Few people actually know what Yanagi looks like. It's the only reason this actually has a hope in hell of working. One of the colony's most powerful figures walking on the streets would be like an invitation to be mobbed by every loser in the place who fancies themselves a better station in life otherwise, and though all they'd be likely to get would be a fucking big shock it'd still be a pain. It'd draw attention, put people on edge. That's why Sanada and Yukimura stay well away these days, though Niou knows they hate it.

Yanagi is still ok for now. No less powerful, but less well-known.

"What do you think?" he murmurs to Niou, barely loud enough to be heard. If he's talking about this here it means no-one is paying attention, and they're sure as hell not bugged. He'd know. Niou trusts to that. He's gotta trust to something. "Of course I have my thoughts, but what would your chosen method be?"

"Which first?" Niou mutters back, lips barely moving. It's a low-level noble talking to his bodyguard, both of them looking wary, as though they'd rather not be out and about. It's nothing unusual, nothing people here haven't seen a hundred times already tonight.

"You tell me."

It's Yanagi's way of checking he's up to speed, checking they're all working as well as they should.

"Mizuki first. He's smarter. He'll smell trouble the moment Akutsu's down."

A small nod. A pass.

"Subtlety for that one. They'll freak out more if the guards don't spot anything until after. Akutsu's lot need more of a boot to the head."

"Good."

"Hey," Niou says, "you only hire the best."


Working with Yanagi is a pleasure; being reminded that this is where he came from, being an operative just like them, and seeing that he hasn't let himself slip just because his involvement these days is more managerial. It's not the same sort of pleasure as working with Yagyuu, but it's damn good. Niou trusts the guy, and his judgement. He doesn't trust many people.

Paranoia is more of an advantage than anything most of the time, in their line of work.



Getting into their first port of call is a matter of stealth and of having the right knowledge, providing just the right distractions and orchestrating the perfect technical malfunctions. Yanagi does most of that beautifully; but not being spotted until he wants to be is one of the things Niou is best at, for all his usually outrageous appearance.


Mizuki is in some ways a rather tragic figure, Niou decides, though not with a great deal of sympathy. His fashion sense is pretty fucking tragic for a start, even by loose Offworld standards - and he'd probably be shot for the shirt he's wearing on certain parts of Earth, if the people who cared about that shit had their way. But there's something about him; he could've been interesting. He has been kinda interesting, in his own small and unpleasant way, even if he did get cut down to size a year or two back by Seishun when their presence Offworld was still strong. He's persisted, which is something Niou can admire in a guy; but turning his attention towards Rikkai and Yukimura's authority is a move which would generally be considered suicidal, so there's probably some poor judgement going on there. The only other explanation he's just too far gone to give a damn, although if either of this year's pretenders is likely to be accused of that it'd be Akutsu. Mizuki just gives the impression of someone pulling at the dragon's tail without checking how big the dragon actually is first.

Either way, it's too bad for him. Niou doesn't feel a whole lot when he slips a wire around the guy's neck, pulls it tight almost before Mizuki realises he's there. He still doesn't feel a whole lot watching Mizuki desperately clawing at his throat, trying to draw breath. Trying to make a sound.

Shit just happens. He'll leave it to someone else to give a damn.

A business card is produced from one pocket with a flourish, placed neatly on the desk with gloved fingers. The Rikkai emblem is clear on the upper face, stark black lines on white card; it's only polite to let people know who called. The grin he flashes at one of the less obvious security cameras in the room is all too knowing, and then he's gone.

Ten, twenty, thirty - forty seconds later, the guards arrive. It's fast, considering the distractions Yanagi had prepared. Some efficiency in the guy's operation, after all.

Yeah. It's too bad - but Mizuki's death was, as Yagyuu might say, already decided.



That just leaves Akutsu.

Akutsu is interesting, if only because he's not the sort of guy you'd even expect to find in this sort of underground political game. Offworld is full of Akutsus, but they're the thugs, the guys who take the orders - though usually reluctantly. This guy, on the other hand - he's taking orders from no-one. They checked that pretty thoroughly.

Maybe he's just trying to alleviate some boredom. Weirder things have happened.

Niou can safely predict that his life is about to become a lot more interesting, if that's the case, although presumably fairly briefly.


They go in through what is more or less the front door, well-armoured under their neat clothing, side by side and looking like they mean business. Even Yanagi can do this; he's Rikkai, even if he's generally too refined for this sort of display. Their methods are tailored to their target and frontal assault is the thing which will give these guys - or rather people who might want to copy them - the greatest pause for thought. Losing at their own game. And they will lose.

Fucking unsubtle, Niou thinks, but effective. And it's some sort of poetic justice, after all - which is probably why Yanagi decided it'd be a good idea in the first place.


It doesn't take long. Akutsu is competent at what he does, but not many of the people around him are. Hell, you can't expect them to be if you're hiring Offworld thugs, and no-one but a thug'd want to sign up for this show. It's not the usual style. That's probably how they got so far. The element of surprise.

Speaking of which...


"Who the fuck are you?" Akutsu snarls, turning, and comes up short at the barrel of Niou's gun against his forehead.

"Those're pretty boring last words, man," Niou says, flashes his teeth - about as close to a smile as an alligator opening its mouth. "Wanna reconsider?"

Akutsu looks like he's going to lunge for Niou, gun or no gun, but Yanagi has had time to get behind him now. The shift in Akutsu's expression has to be the reaction of someone feeling a second gun pressed against his back.

The shock lasts a second, and then he scowls. "Like hell I do. Wh--"

"Alright." Niou's finger tightens on the trigger. "I guess it wouldn't have made much difference anyway."

Yanagi is the one to leave the card this time, placing it delicately on Akutsu's chest - away from the blood so it will stay legible. Attention to detail is important.



"It went well," Niou says, grins across at Yanagi. "Nice." Yanagi isn't Yagyuu but he's efficient and ruthless and Niou has a lot of time for his way of thinking, his methods.

"I wonder," Yanagi says, face tilted up towards the sky, expression thoughtful.

"What?"

The silence stretches for so long that Niou has decided he obviously isn't getting an answer, and then--

"Why do you keep doing this?"

If it was anyone else, Niou would be flippant, say whatever he could think of which was outrageous enough not to sound like the truth - but it's Yanagi, so he thinks about it. "Habit. Gotta do something, I guess. And..."

"And."

"You guys."

Yanagi, and Yukimura, and Yagyuu. Even Kirihara, a bit. Even Sanada.

"A poor reason for murder," Yanagi murmurs, and Niou wonders how distanced from the reality of this sort of life you must become if you stay off the streets - what it must feel like to be abruptly brought back down to ground. Even the three demons of this offworld colony must get tired of this crap sometimes. Or maybe they get tired of it more easily than the rest. They've been running things up here for a long time.

"What other reasons are there?" Niou asks, tone dismissive, question real.

"Idealism. Belief. Justice. Revenge."

"That's better, is it?"

"Not really. Just different."

There's something on Yanagi's mind, though - something about Niou, maybe, rather than about the job. He's sharp enough to read Yanagi that well, even if the man is vastly obscure.


Anyway, if they've done their job right, the show is pretty much over for the year. If they haven't, there's Jackal and Marui. And Kirihara.

Either way, it's time to take a break.



"I think you should come with me," Yanagi says later, thoughtful, as they walk in through the deliberately grand gates of the estate - of course Yanagi does not use back entrances, not for his own home. "I have some business on the near side."

"As a bodyguard?"

"Just as a companion, really. As a bodyguard if it makes you feel any better."

Niou shrugs, runs a hand through his hair. It's a weird request, but he can't quite think why he'd refuse. "Sure. I'll check on Yagyuu first."

"He can come too," Yanagi says, smiles a small smile.


When Niou stops by Yagyuu's room he's looking almost suspiciously well, moving too smoothly for someone with a hole in their side. There's no trace of hesitation and no signs of pain on his face. The kind of painkillers Yanagi can afford to give people may be good, but they're not that good.

Niou gives Yagyuu a deeply suspicious look, is greeted with cool blankness in response.

"Your job went well?" Yagyuu asks.

"Sure," Niou says. Shrugs. "But Yanagi's being kinda... anyway, we're taking a trip to the other side. He says you can come."

"Ah," Yagyuu says. Niou wonders what exactly Yagyuu was talking about with Yanagi before he arrived, what significant thing he's missing. "Very well."

There's a new burst of irritation trying to surface somewhere in Niou's mind over this whole fucking secrecy thing, but he'll give them time to come clean. And then he'll get mad.


Niou drives on the high-ways, up above the sprawl of buildings, above the parties which fill almost every street. It isn't too far; they're near the border between the far side and the near, though he hasn't been to the near side in ages. Yanagi sits serene beside him while Yagyuu drifts in one of the back seats, attention somewhere else, and the miles fly past, faster and faster down the straight, empty road hanging in space.

It's when they begin to pass over to the near side that Niou realises what he was forgetting.

The earth seems to rise in front of him in increments, hanging large against the skyline, replacing the faint stars with a spread of blue and grey covered by shifting whorls of cloud. Cynical bastard he may be, but it's enough to make him catch his breath, just for a moment.

"You don't miss it?" Yanagi asks, faintly reproachful, and things begin to make sense in Niou's mind.

Behind them, Yagyuu shifts a bit, comes back from wherever his mind was.

Niou thinks, attention divided between the road and the sky, and thinks some more. He gets what Yanagi is implying, and why, but he doesn't think he agrees. Go home, get out? Maybe Yanagi's trying to save something in him that's already long gone, or just trying to work out if he should be trying. They watch each other all the time, check for signs of trouble, but this is something a bit unusual all the same.

"Nah," he says, grins easily and accelerates a bit more, scenery blurring a long way below them. I've already made my choices.

"If you're sure."

"Yeah." His gaze slides sideways to Yanagi, glances in the mirror to see Yagyuu's face, still trying to be distant but intensely interested. Drifts back to the road and the world. "I'm sure. Is that what this bullshit is all about?"

"Bullshit?" Yanagi asks, but he looks faintly amused. Very faintly.

"You know what I'm talking about," Niou says. Yagyuu being 'injured', Yanagi taking over from him - watching Niou carefully, how he works, probably reading into every damn thing. They're that worried he needs to be controlled like Kirihara?

"Sanada expressed certain concerns," Yanagi offers. "I do not share them entirely, but..."

But you're my friend, and I'm allowed to worry a little.

Sure. Niou can buy that, with relatively good grace. Sanada is fucking uptight, and it's better to deal with anything he's worried about before it gets to crisis point in the guy's mind. He's got nothing to fear if they try to test his loyalty, and as for his sanity... he's never really given a damn what people think, even most of the people he likes. Apart form anything else he has to kind of admire Yagyuu and Yanagi's ability to fool him, test him so that he only realises after the event. Who else could do that? The admiration of a trick well-executed is enough to stop him getting angry; he can give them hell about it later, maybe, if he feels like it.

"I'm working with Yagyuu next time," he says.

"Yes," Yagyuu agrees, out of the blue. Niou catches a flash of a smile in the mirror, feels his heart do something strange in his chest and wonders just when he became this much of a sentimental idiot.

Yanagi sighs slightly, probably a front. "I suppose, if you insist..."

Definitely a front.

"So reluctant," Niou tells him, glances at the time on the dashboard, little green numbers blinking - 00:02. "Hey, happy new year. For whatever the hell it's worth."

"I'm sure," Yagyuu says, "it will be an interesting one."

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