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The Atbash Killers

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It was quiet. It always was by this time. Not a deafening silence that suffocated the very life out of the world, but a peaceful quiet. The stillness of sounds only disturbed by soft breathing that was not his own, the distant, soothing tick of a clock as time progressed ever forward, and Iwaizumi’s own thoughts. It was quiet by this time, but never dark. Despite the fact that the sun was hiding its face beyond the horizon and that even the moon was absent, it was still bright enough to see without the lights on. With no curtains to close over the clear, sliding glass door to the balcony and the city beyond it, Tokyo’s ever present lights streamed in, flickering across the room and chasing away shadows. And though the room was never as dark as he liked, it was not the lights that had kept Iwaizumi from being carried away into the dark confines of sleep.

The lights of Tokyo could pierce through the gathering shadows of the night that crept across his bedroom floor, but they could not reach into Iwaizumi’s mind. Those shadows that crept over his thoughts could not be chased away, even by the sunlight that would soon start to peek back over the eastern horizon. They lurked behind his eyes, pressing against his subconscious until his head was pounding and his eyelids felt cold and heavy. Iwaizumi longed to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes, he didn’t see the darkness in his mind. Instead, he saw images of bodies and blood spatter, pale skin and vacant eyes, but it wasn’t the images that bothered him. It was the information behind them.

Yesterday, Iwaizumi and his team, a specialized and experimental K9 detective force, had closed yet another case. A suicide, with all the evidence to back it up. It was a woman in her mid-thirties; unmarried, with no children, a minimum wage job, and no roommate or close family. A perfect life recipe to take away someone’s will to live. She had hung herself from a support beam in her living room, a rolling chair toppled over against the wall behind her, where she had presumably kicked it out from under her. There were no unusual sets of fingerprints, locks of hair, scents, or threatening notes. Nothing to point toward anything but a typical suicide. When they had questioned the people she had known, they had gotten the usual mix of reactions. Ranging from ‘I never thought she would do such a thing!’ and ‘But she seemed so happy!’ to ‘She did seem a little antsy lately…’.

Iwaizumi could feel his face scrunch up in a disgruntled scowl. Despite all the evidence, something didn’t feel right about it, and that last answer had bothered Iwaizumi, maybe more than it should have. No one had said she looked sad or depressed, she didn’t have a history of mental health or family issues. Granted, none of those were necessary to invoke suicide, but their wording created an itch in the back of Iwaizumi’s mind, and he wasn’t sure how to scratch it.

‘She did seem a little antsy lately…’

‘She was jumpier than normal.’

‘She was being kind of secretive when she asked for time off of work.’

Groaning, Iwaizumi ran a hand down his face, rubbing at his eyes as he felt the beginnings of his sleep-deprivation headache forming behind them. The image of her pale body hanging from the ceiling flashed just behind his eyelids, followed by the limp body of a man, laying in a pool of his own blood. Scowling harder, he forced his eyes open as a low rumble resonated from his chest, a near-growl-like sound that didn’t quench the frustration he felt building behind gritted teeth.

It wasn’t only the last case that felt off to Iwaizumi, it had been the past couple cases. Three suicides, two manslaughters, and two accidental deaths. All with undeniable evidence to prove their cause. Seven open-and-shut cases that Iwaizumi just couldn’t seem to close. He hadn’t slept well in weeks, the cases banging pots and pans inside his head until he wanted to burn the files and smash his head against his desk. He hadn’t been this bothered by a case since the one that turned out to be a murder, set up to look like a justifiable homocide, but there had been a glaring hole in the evidence when they had investigated it closer, and there were no such holes in these last cases. Iwaizumi had practically memorized all seven files, reading over them in his spare time, trying to put his mind at ease, but something just wasn’t clicking.

The worst part wasn’t even that he didn’t know what it was, it was that his teammates were satisfied with the answers they had. Every hunch he had ever had while investigating a case had at least resonated with a few of his team members as well, but this time he was alone.

“It's an open-and-shut case Dummy-zumi,” he muttered to himself, jerking upright at the sudden sound of his horrid alarm. Smashing the off button with a little more force than necessary, he swung his legs over the side as he felt the bed dip behind him, another body shifting. A wet nose pressed forcefully into his side, strikingly cold against his bare skin, and a snout dug underneath his arm. He raised his arm obligingly, his conundrum temporarily forgotten, and a large, fluffy face poked itself out from underneath.

Alaska, Iwaizumi’s K9 partner, opened his mouth in a goofy grin, tongue hanging out of one side as he turned his icy blue eyes up to Iwaizumi. The husky was a beautiful dog, though not the typical white and black kind. Alaska was mostly black and tan, with speckles of white coming through on his back and around his muzzle and neck. His entire underbelly and legs were white, with the exception of the black and tan sock-like patterning around his paws, strikingly blue eyes framed by the gorgeous tan color before it gave way to a deep black, only making his bright eyes even more pronounced. Despite his unique look, Alaska was, undoubtedly, a husky. Fluffy, with a cute face and loud personality.

As if to remind Iwaizumi exactly how loud he could be, Alaska began bark-talking, the signature sounds of a husky trying desperately to communicate with their incompetent human companion. Iwaizumi only grinned and roughly petted the dog's head. Forming his hands into claw-like shapes he batted at the sides of Alaska’s face and body, sending the dog into fits as he tried to keep up with which hand was going to attack him before he decided to take out Iwaizumi instead. The two wrestled together on the bed for a few minutes, excited barking and rough laughter betraying how much fun they were having despite the phantom growls and harsh play.

Eventually, Iwaizumi forced himself to his feet, walking over to his closet to retrieve his work clothes as Alaska skidded out of the room, hearing the enticing rustle of his food machine in the kitchen doling out his breakfast.

Iwaizumi never took too much time on his appearance. He didn’t want to look like a slob, but he had never felt the need to spend hours styling his hair or matching his outfits to the latest fads. His hair and clothing were simple, but not boring. He had a variety of ties, mostly in different colors and patterns, some nice button-ups, and black sneakers. Pair those with slacks and a suit-coat and that was as good an office-day outfit as any for Iwaizumi. He slid a pale blue button-up off of its hanger after he finished pulling on grey slacks, black socks sliding along the hardwood floor as he made his way to the bathroom. He pulled his muscular arms into the shirts sleeves, pushing them up past his elbows, and threw a burgundy tie over his shoulder.

He leaned toward the mirror, mussing his relatively tame bed-head before he rubbed his face, pulling at the dark circles under his eyes. Exhaling in loud disapproval, he pressed his hands onto the cold countertop, forehead pushing against the mirror for a moment as he closed his eyes, the itch in his mind rising to the surface again.

“Today’s going to be a long day,”

After combing through his hair once, Iwaizumi ate his usual breakfast of steamed rice and eggs, threw the messy covers of his bed into a relatively made-up look, and suited up Alaska in his K9 police vest.

“Look at you looking all official,” Iwaizumi mused, patting Alaska’s head, “It's almost like you’re a working dog or something.” Alaska made a noise that sounded almost sarcastic before he shoved his nose into Iwaizumi’s bare chest. “Yeah, yeah,” he huffed, standing up, “I know I gotta button up before we leave.”

Iwaizumi always waited until just before he left his apartment to button up his shirt and throw on a suit-coat. He was more a man of comfort than he was of formality, but he knew that a t-shirt wouldn’t cut it with his superiors. A smirk pulled at the edges of his lips as he imagined what kind of furious face Director Ukai would have if he walked into the office in a t-shirt and sweatpants, but as amusing as he found the thought, he knew when imaginary situations should remain imaginary.

Iwaizumi finished suiting up, scowling at the way the tie hugged his throat and how the shirt’s material stretched across his chest and arms. He hated office hours, he’d much rather be out in the field, but every job had paper days. He only wished he didn’t have to suit up to sit in a chair. He clipped on Alaska’s leash and settled his handgun in its holster on the right side of his waistband, covered only by the suit-coat, before he slipped out of his apartment into the dawning day.

* * * *
“Hajime, glad you’re here,” Sawamura Daichi called from his desk inside the rather large office room the team shared.

When they had first started, the room had been organized and almost bland. The office had already been a boring rectangular shape, and the walls were painted a color that was somehow both grey and beige, with six identical desks, three on each side of the wall, evenly spaced. Now, however, the room had more life to it. The walls were still the same grey-beige as before, but now they were littered with posters and pictures and even diplomas. Fairy lights were hung across the back wall in a tangled and haphazard pattern. They had added a black, leather couch, a side and coffee table, and a small basket for dog toys. The couch and side-table were shoved just under the fairy lights while the coffee table sat just in front of the couch, dog beds, squeaky toys, and ropes littered the floor around it. The empty basket sat against the far wall, squished between the couch and side-table, mostly neglected of its duty of holding the toys, and often mistaken for a trashcan.

Daichi sat at his desk, positioned on the left side of the room. They had each adjusted their desk space to how they preferred, and for Daichi, that meant shoving it into the corner of the room. If someone peered in the room just from the door, they’d miss Daichi’s desk completely. Iwaizumi thought that would be suffocating, pressed up against two walls while trying to do paperwork for hours. It did, however, have the advantage of being the farthest from the back of the room, where most of the shenanigans took place.

“You’re here early,” Iwaizumi replied, making his way to his own desk, directly behind Daichi’s. Iwaizumi had turned his desk, pushing the front of it against the wall so he could have room to breathe on either side of him. The position also allowed him to watch for stray projectiles from the back of the room, as that was not an uncommon occurrence.

Iwaizumi set down his bag and unclipped Alaska, who promptly ran to the back of the room. There, the large german shepherd Ross was napping, though not for much longer. He noted the two mugs resting on Daichi’s desk, one already empty and the other more than half-way gone.

“Yeah,” Daichi replied with a small chuckle, “Ross woke up early this morning and dragged me out of bed, the darn dog,” Iwaizumi and Daichi shared a laugh. They both knew how fickle their furry friends could be. One minute they were trained professionals and the next they were grumpy toddlers. It was good that the dogs knew the difference between work and home, but sometimes they used that to their advantage.

“Ah, sorry man,” Iwaizumi sympathized as he pulled off his suit-coat and draped it over the back of his chair. He rolled the sleeves of his shirt back up over his elbows as he sat down, one arm hanging loosely over the back of the chair as he twisted to look at Daichi, “How long you been here?”

“Not too long I don’t think,” Daichi replied, shuffling around so he was sitting backward in his chair, arms folded over the back of it. Iwaizumi raised an eyebrow in disbelief, “What?” the other man asked. Iwaizumi nodded to the two mugs on his desk.

“Not long, huh?” The snark in his voice was sharp but friendly. Daichi glanced back at the mugs and sighed in light amusement.

“Is it that easy to read me?”

“That and the fact you look like trash,” Iwaizumi said, earning a snort from Daichi as he rolled his eyes, “We all know you either function on eight hours of sleep or coffee alone.”

“Today is a coffee alone kind of day,” sang a sweet voice from just outside the office door. The two men looked over as Sugawara Koushi, the precinct's resident secretary, walked in. His usual bright smile and mischievous eyes sitting pretty on his soft features. He was holding two mugs of steaming liquid, some paperwork tucked under his arm, “He was here before they even opened up the doors,” Suga scolded lightly, setting down one mug and a pile of papers on Daich’s desk before scooping up the empty one and making his way over to Iwaizumi. Iwaizumi mumbled a quiet thanks as Suga handed him the mug, leaning past him to deposit some papers onto his desk. He brought the mug to his lips, sipping lightly at the creamy latte. His eyes fluttered closed as the liquid washed over his tongue and he could feel his headache begin to dull.

“The early bird gets the worm.”

“And the second mouse gets the cheese,” Suga retorted, smiling cheekily as he deposited stacks of papers onto the others’ desks, stopping to give Ross and Alaska pets and kisses, before making his way back to them. Daichi grumbled something about old sayings being useless anyway as he finished off his second cup of coffee and started in on his third.

“So, was it just Ross waking you up early that has you steamrolling through mugs of adrenaline?” Iwaizumi asked in between sips of his own coffee, knowing he’d be nursing at least a few more of his own after this to dull his headache and keep his eyes open. Luckily, it wasn’t unusual the past few weeks for Iwaizumi to sport dark circles or drink coffee like a lifeline, so none of them drew attention to his own ragged look.

Daichi sighed heavily, placing the mug back down as he leaned back, elbows resting on the desk behind him. “To tell you the truth, no, it wasn’t just Ross.” Suga, who had exited earlier to deposit Daichi’s two empty mugs in the kitchen, walked back in and pulled up a chair of his own. Taking their collective silence as a push to explain, Daichi continued, “The streets have been really quiet lately. There’s been no scuffles or petty ambushes, not even so much as their usual briberies or underhanded deals,” he said, and the small hope that Iwaizumi held in his heart, that Daichi had been worried about the cases the same way he had, died as he recognized who the other man was referring to.

“Yeah,” Iwaizumi conceded.

The two mob groups, Invisible Castle and Concrete Crime, had been competing for control of Tokyo for over three years now. At first, it had been an all out war, new bodies and robberies every time the police force turned their heads, but they had quieted down quickly, reverting to more sinister and silent tactics. Both leaders were crafty; one rumor was that the leader of the Concrete Crime had actually been the prodigy of Invisible Castle’s leader before they had a falling out. The rumors also said that a section of Invisible Castle’s members broke off and followed the prodigy and that’s why the sudden new mob group had become so powerful so quickly. Iwaizumi didn’t care how either group came to be or who was leading them, he just wished they’d vanish from his city already; however, now that it appeared they almost had, he was more than a little suspicious. He mentally chided himself for spending so much of his time on the open-and-shut cases that he had completely missed the group's collective silence.

“When was the last time either of them did something newsworthy?” he asked, wanting to catch up on his own ignorance.

“Well,” Daichi began, tilting his head to the side in thought, “I think it was a couple weeks ago, back when they had that random shootout.” Iwaizumi nodded into his mug. Normally the two groups built up to something big like a shootout or a car chase, but the weeks leading up to the shootout had only held the usual petty jabs as each tried to find a chink in the others armor, and now they were absent altogether.

“Planning something you think?” Iwaizumi muttered, half lost in his own thoughts.

“Maybe,” Daichi hummed, “Or something has them running.” Suga snorted from his place in the corner and even Iwaizumi had to grin at that. The two most powerful mob groups in Tokyo running? Now that was a thought.

A short rap on the doorframe had the three of them turning to look at Akaashi Keiji, one of the other members of the team, standing in the doorway. His dog, a doberman pinscher named Angel, stood obediently silent by his side. Akaashi was an interesting man in his own respect, but the only word that ever came to mind when Iwaizumi had to describe him and his hound, was ‘pretty’. They each had a sharp yet soft sort of beauty about them that only ever resonated through that one word. The man and his dog both had thin, crisp faces, like someone had turned the sharpening tool on an image editor all the way up, and his eyes were enchanting, glittering softly like they hid a million secrets he would never tell.

Akaashi’s complexion greatly contrasted the other three men in the room. Iwaizumi and Daichi, though around the same height as the other two men, tended to be viewed as shorter because of their physique and personalities. Unlike Akaashi, who was thin and graceful with a mysterious air, or Suga, who was cute and just as elegant as Akaashi with an added sass, Daichi and Iwaizumi were broad and a tad boring. Their shoulders held a certain silent power in them, muscles rippled under their skin, bulging when they crossed their arms or flexed their legs, and paired with their more reserved personalities, they seemed to shrink. That fact bothered Iwaizumi to no end, as he was currently the tallest in the room.

“Keiji!” Suga said with his usual cheer. Standing up from his seat he walked over to the doorway, clapping the other man on the shoulder as he squeezed by, “I’ll go get you your drink.”

“Thank you Suga,” Akaashi responded, his face and tone betrayed no emotion, but they had all long learned to read him and knew when he was genuinely grateful, “Good morning Daichi and Hajime,” he said with a light yawn as he headed toward the back of the room, his own desk situated just behind Iwaizumi’s, and released Angel to join the other dogs.

Despite Akaashi’s monotone personality, his desk was anything but. Its position hadn’t changed much, one side of it still pressed against the wall, facing the door, but now trinkets and small photos littered the desk, his own set of dark purple fairy lights wrapping around the lamp and falling across the front in a bit of a mess. If he had to describe anything as organized chaos, Iwaizumi would have used Akaashi’s desk as a prime example.

“Morning ‘Kaashi,” Daichi said, leaning forward over the back of his seat once again, “We were just talking about how quiet Invisible Castle and Concrete Crime have been these past couple weeks.” Akaashi took his words into consideration as he pulled his chair across the room to join Iwaizumi at his desk.

“They have been, haven’t they?” Iwaizumi nodded at his reply.

“Makes me even more suspicious of them than when they’re building up to something,” he grumbled, placing down his now empty mug and running his fingertips around the rim, scowling down at it.

“No kidding,” Daichi mumbled into his cup before the three of them lapsed into a comfortable silence, reviewing their own thoughts. Only the sounds of Alaska, Ross, and Angel playing in the background broke it.

It was too early for them to be worrying about the rival gangs' silence, and Iwaizumi needed more than one latte in his system to try and puzzle out anything beyond a simple addition problem, much less a complex gang issue. They remained quiet for a while, Iwaizumi had loosened his tie and rested his forehead on the cool wood of his desk, arms wrapped around his head while he waited for Suga to come back. His headache was already beginning to return and he groaned lightly at the oncoming ache. A cool, slim hand pressed against the back of his neck as Akaashi began to massage just under his hairline, relieving some of the pressure that had built up in Iwaizumi’s corded muscles.

“You’re very tense,” Akaashi muttered softly. Iwaizumi only grunted in response.

“Have you been sleeping lately, Hajime?” Daichi asked, and Iwaizumi could see in his mind’s eye the way Daichi’s brows furrowed slightly, the same expression he made when he was concerned but too polite to press for details.

“Nah,” Iwaizumi said finally, muffled slightly by the desk and his arms. He sucked in a sharp breath when Akaashi found a particularly tight knot just above his shoulder. He slowly exhaled, choosing to give in to the unasked question hanging in the air, one that had seemed to continuously appear the more he tried to hide his concern. “The last couple cases have been bothering me for no good reason,” he sighed, mostly out of frustration. He hadn’t brought up his concerns with the rest of them yet, he knew they were baseless, purely instinctual hunches that defied every bit of evidence they had. Iwaizumi began to wonder if his instincts had broken or if he was becoming paranoid. Akaashi hummed thoughtfully next to him and he could hear Daichi shift in his seat.

“What about them bothers you?” Daichi asked finally, having given up on trying to figure out what Iwaizumi’s train of thought could be. Iwaizumi groaned again, this time more reminiscent of the growl-like sound that rumbled from his chest when he was particularly irritated. He sat back up, rolling his head back to stretch out the last of the knots Akaashi had been working on.

“That’s the worst part,” he said when he finished, arms folded behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling, “Nothing stands out as being off about them. They’re easy, open-and-shut cases. All the evidence points toward one solution and one solution alone,” he scowled again, “But no matter how many times I review the files, something’s just not clicking…” Iwaizumi trailed off, letting his doubts hang in the air for a moment before he rubbed his face, leaning forward to hunch over his desk, “ ‘S probably nothing but my imagination.”

“Mm, perhaps,” Akaashi drawled.

“We can look into it,” Daichi said after a moment. Iwaizumi knew Daichi didn’t believe the cases were anything but simple open-and-shuts, so he appreciated the other man’s offer. He grunted his thanks, eyes not leaving his desk.

The room fell quiet again, until they heard the front doors swing open, followed by two loud voices; one practically shouting out something while the other cackled. Bokuto Koutarou and Kuroo Tetsurou had entered the building, and any fleeting hope of calm silence for his headache fled. Iwaizumi glanced at the clock, 6:03 a.m. and those two idiots were already riled up.

Iwaizumi had originally been frustrated by the way Kuroo and Bokuto worked; loud and haphazard, spending more time chatting and playing with the dogs than they did at their desks, until he realized why. Kuroo and Bokuto, while they were two knuckleheaded morons, were also geniuses. They talked about seemingly random things, but it always tied back to the case somehow. They played with the dogs and watched TV so often it looked like they were slacking, but they still managed to get done before anyone else. Iwaizumi thought they might have dumped their work onto Akaashi, but instead, they were the ones helping him. The idiots knew their way around their own brains, when it came to work anyway.

They, unconsciously, used a strategy that combined the rubber-duck technique, used by software engineers, and the procrastination theory. They spoke with each other whenever they found themselves in a rut, not about the issue they were dealing with, but about anything else. While distracted, their brains unraveled the problem behind the scenes, often leading their conversations through unconscious metaphors. If Iwaizumi was honest, they had helped him with his own work more than a few times. They were big, dumb, goofballs that ticked him off with their constant shenanigans, but Iwaizumi wouldn’t trade them for any other teammates.

Bokuto’s dog was the first to enter the room. Peanut was an airedale terrier, dressed in one of Bokuto's old hoodies, wagging his tail as he trotted over to the back of the room, stopping for pets from each of them on the way, as excited to see his friends as his owner always was. Bokuto never put a leash on Peanut unless they were in the field, he insisted that it was a limit to the dogs freedom, which had Iwaizumi rolling his eyes more than the time Bokuto had stubbornly defended the ‘honor of ketchup’ as a fruit smoothie.

Not long after Peanut had joined in on the other dogs game did the rambunctious men find their way into the formerly quiet room.

“Hey! Hey, hey!” Bokuto called, opening his arms as wide as his grin as he bounced into the room, golden eyes alight with excitement despite the early hour.

“You’re late,” Daichi called disapprovingly, but he was smiling in spite of himself, infected by Bokuto’s contagious energy. Kuroo sauntered into the room, his large, black belgian shepherd, Nova, at his hip. He flashed his signature smirk at Daichi.

“Ok, dad,” Daichi scowled at Kuroo’s comment. He hated being called the dad of the team, though Iwaizumi couldn’t argue with the assessment. Daichi was always the one to ultimately keep them all in check. He had quickly stepped up to the plate when they were first organized and got them running smoothly. He took the time to know and understand each of them, built on their strengths and accommodated their weaknesses. Though it didn’t seem like it, Daichi pushed himself the hardest. There wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind who the unofficial leader was, except for Daichi himself.

“ ‘Kaashi!” Bokuto yelled, running over to embrace the other man, drawing out the name in long syllables, “I missed you!” Akaashi politely patted his back, allowing himself to be consumed by Bokuto’s hug.

“We saw each other yesterday, Bo,” he replied simply.

“I know!” Bokuto said, drawing away from Akaashi to stand up to his full height. Despite being only slightly shorter than Bokuto, Iwaizumi couldn’t help but grumble at the height advantage the other had because of his erratically styled hair. Bokuto turned to Iwaizumi, his grin somehow widening, “Hajime! My man!” he spread his arms out, opening his mouth and making an ‘eh?’ sound. Iwaizumi could only sigh, fighting off his own smile as he opened his arms, allowing Bokuto to envelope him in his crushing embrace.

When they first began, Iwaizumi had been entirely opposed to the morning and goodbye hugs that Bokuto insisted on. That was, until they had had a particularly bad field day. They had been unable to save a hostage and that had made Bokuto feel especially down. He blamed himself for the loss, and sunk into one of the deepest depressive moods Iwaizumi had seen him in. He had dragged his feet on the way out, usually perky hair hanging down into his face, sniffling pathetically. When Bokuto had stopped by Iwaizumi’s desk, he had been prepared to chase the normally ecstatic man away again, but the puppy-dog desperate look that Bokuto had given him made Iwaizumi finally cave. The effect had been instantaneous. Bokuto’s hair had perked back up like magic, his eyes and grin widening as he had practically tackled Iwaizumi. His large, muscular arms wrapped around him and pulled Iwaizumi into what he found to be perhaps the best hug he’d ever had. Not that he’d ever admit it. Bokuto’s hugs, while always strong and slightly bone-crushing, held a certain warmth and softness that nobody with his amount of energy should possibly have. After that, Iwaizumi had begrudgingly let Bokuto hug him whenever he made his rounds.

Bokuto released him and bounced over to Daichi, barely giving the other man enough time to adjust himself in the chair before he attacked him, earning a heartfelt ‘oomph’ from Daichi.

“Good to see you too, Bo!” he laughed, briefly returning the hug before Bokuto had torn himself away, attention already averted. The others felt it too. A presence had appeared in the doorway, more felt than heard.

“Ushiwaka!!” Bokuto shouted, as they all turned their attention to the towering, stoic man standing in the doorway. He unclipped his large, brindle pitbull, Athena, who trotted dutifully toward the back of the room.

Ushijima Wakatoshi was simultaneously the most simple and complex man Iwaizumi had ever come into contact with. The man relied on cold, hard logic, trusting the evidence and the facts. He unintentionally belittled Bokuto’s instinctual nature, but he was also willing to throw away every single fact he’d ever learned if his intuition acted up. Iwaizumi, for the longest time, couldn’t figure out how he managed to reach any sort of conclusion. That was, until he heard it from Ushijima’s own lips.

After a frustrating case, Iwaizumi had been angry. An outburst was bubbling beneath his intense scowl, and Ushijima had been the one to break it. He had noted Iwaizumi’s tense and angry demeanor and had told him, very simply, that it was not something to be worked up about. Iwaizumi had snapped at him. He had shoved Ushijima and, very angrily, asked the taller man why he wasn’t worked up, accusing him of being uncaring. Ushijima had stared at him for a moment, with intense and almost offended eyes, before he responded in the same, even tone as before.

‘Because I want to get the job done.’

Iwaizumi still didn’t understand Ushijima, but that simple phrase had resonated with something inside of him. He hadn’t ever accused the other man of being uncaring again.

Ushijima drew himself up to his full height and frowned slightly at the use of the nickname, as he did every time Bokuto spoke to him. Though, he never denied Bokuto’s want for a hug, something that had surprised them all, along with the fact that Ushijima was, despite his professional countenance, almost always late. He was stiff and awkward when Bokuto hugged him, commenting on the inherent pointlessness of it, but he did it anyway. It never failed to bring a smile to the overly enthusiastic man.

Akaashi stood and rolled his chair back over to his own work space, beginning to flick through the stack of papers Suga had planted on each of their desks. Bokuto bounced over to his desk after receiving his hug from Ushijima.

Bokuto’s desk was an anomaly. It moved practically everywhere and had no apparent permanent place besides the vague area of ‘behind Kuroo’s desk, near the back’. If Akaashi’s desk was organized chaos, then Bokuto’s was something akin to an explosion. There was no method to his madness; he lost things constantly in various places around the room, and there were more snack wrappers on his desk than there were in his trash can (probably because he lost that too). Iwaizumi remembered opening the door to the office one day only to smack into the side of Bokuto’s desk, who had managed to shimmey his way between the space of Ushijima’s desk and the door in the time it took Iwaizumi to pick up lunches from a nearby fast-food restaurant.

Kuroo’s desk, much to Iwaizumi’s surprise, was more reminiscent of Daichi’s and his own than it was of Bokuto’s. It was fairly organized, with a couple of nicknacks and photos, maybe an old snack wrapper shoved in a drawer, but otherwise clean. The only odd thing about Kuroo’s work space was the way it was positioned. Kuroo’s desk was pressed against the wall like Akaashi’s, but instead of facing the door like everyone else, minus Bokuto and Iwaizumi himself, he had turned his desk to face the back of the room. Iwaizumi had asked Kuroo why he had decided to do so after his curiosity had gotten the better of him, but the other man had just flashed a sly grin and winked, content to keep his secret.

Ushijima’s desk, on the other hand, was just as one would expect it to be. It was placed directly in front of the door on the right side of the room, devoid of anything that could possibly personalize his desk, save a singular, small photo of his parents. There were never any wrappers or trash left at his desk, always deposited into the trash can that sat just underneath the desk, one that he emptied every evening. The only thing that Iwaizumi had found odd was that Ushijima had pulled the desk away from the wall, leaving it to sit alone on the open floor. Granted, he didn’t put it in the middle of the room, but there was enough space to walk between the desk and the wall comfortably, and for some reason that gave Iwaizumi chills. It reminded him of a boat without an anchor.

They all greeted each other, less enthusiastically than Bokuto had, before they resigned themselves to their desks. Kuroo always draped himself over Iwaizumi’s shoulders, speaking with him for a moment before he would saunter off to chat with Daichi or Akaashi, or pester Ushijima for blunt, one word responses until he ignored him.

Daichi and Iwaizumi had a comfortable understanding of one another, their own friendship and concern shown through casual conversations and silent nods. Akaashi, in spite of his quiet and seemingly distant nature, was actually more affectionate than Iwaizumi had expected. He knew how to read moods based on the tension in their muscles, and often spent time rubbing slow circles to ease the knots of stress that each of them built up. Everyone, even Ushijima, willingly relaxed into his soothing massages.

Ushijima and Iwaizumi had a mutual respect for one another. They called each other friends and worked well together on assignments, but they hardly ever spoke, which was fine with the both of them. They knew where they stood with one another, and that was good enough.

Just as Kuroo was finally giving in to being ignored by Ushijima, Suga entered the room with a bright smile and a tray of cups and mugs.

“Did anyone order a saving grace?” he asked in a sing-song voice as the room breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Suga made his rounds, dropping off each of their preferred beverages, brewed to perfection by their resident angel. Daichi carefully took his mug from the tray, smiling his thanks to Suga as he began to sip greedily on his fourth cup of flat white. Iwaizumi did the same with his second latte.

“You’re the best, Suga,” he mumbled, half the words echoing strangely into the mug. Suga laughed and patted his shoulder as he went by.

Iwaizumi wasn’t at all surprised to find out that Akaashi’s preferred morning beverage was a masala chai, or that Bokuto, who was strictly denied any source of caffeine, took a liking to the caffeine-free honey milk tea Suga concocted for him. He was, however, surprised by Ushijima and Kuroo’s preferences. Kuroo, who had the biggest sweet tooth out of all of them, craved black coffee; no sweeteners, sugar, or spices added. Ushijima, at first, denied Suga’s request to make them all morning beverages, claiming he didn’t like drinks. Suga, ever determined, had made him a different drink everyday, and Ushijima, always polite, had drunk them. Suga always waited for him to take a sip, gaging his reaction and asking him how it was the moment it touched his tongue. Ushijima always replied with the same, noncommittal grunt.

After days of trying drinks and even learning how to brew new ones, Suga presented Ushijima with something they were sure he was going to hate. A sickeningly sweet, chocolate-y iced coffee, topped with whipped cream and even more chocolate syrup. The man, unlike Kuroo, had never ordered a dessert anytime they had food delivered to the office, he didn’t have any semblance of a sweet tooth, and claimed that sugar was bad for the body. With that in mind, when he had tentatively brought the mug to his lips, he had the whole room’s attention. Iwaizumi was waiting for him to spit it all over his laptop, but instead he froze, eyes lighting up with the same intensity as when he found the solution to a hard case, and within seconds, Ushijima had downed the whole drink and slammed the mug onto his desk. They had all cheered, clapping Suga and Ushijima on the back, laughing like wild kids at someone’s birthday party. Since then, they had always had the same drinks, freshly brewed by Suga for when they arrived. To put it simply, they were all addicted.

After everyone had plucked their drinks from off of the tray, there were only two mugs left. One sweet mocha with caramel drizzle for Suga, and the other a simple cappuccino.

“Where’s Kenma?” Suga asked, tilting his head in Kuroo’s direction.

“Hm?” Kuroo looked up from shuffling through the papers, “Oh, he must have fallen back asleep in the car,” he stood up, reluctantly leaving his bitter coffee on the desk and headed for the door, “I’ll go get him.”

Kenma, their forensic scientist, always tried to catch some extra z’s in the morning, but he was typically inside by the time Suga had his coffee ready. It was strange, Iwaizumi noticed; how smooth everything seemed on the surface, but how rippled it was underneath.

It only took a few minutes before Kuroo was dragging in a very sleepy looking Kenma and plopping him down on the couch. Kenma let the dogs excitedly sniff at him as Suga handed him his coffee. Chuckling, Daichi stood from his seat at the front of the room, turning to the team to address all of them.

“Alright,” he began, clapping his hands together, drawing everyone’s eyes to him, “I know today is more of a boring day; we don’t have any pressing cases, just the clean up, but we should still work just as hard as when we’re out on the field,” his eyes swept across the room, pausing to meet each individual’s eyes. He hesitated when his eyes met Iwaizumi’s, thinking something over before continuing, “And, since we’ll have time to kill, I’d like to review the past few open-and-shut cases.” There were a few confused looks and murmurs, but everyone nodded their agreement. Iwaizumi felt the itch in his mind grow, fingers twitching with the urge to scratch it, but he managed to keep still. He nodded his thanks to Daichi before they all turned to their desks to review the paperwork they’d been given.

Kenma sat at the back of the room for a few minutes, absently sipping his coffee and petting the dogs, before he heaved himself on to his feet and made his way over to his lab.

It was going to be a long day for everyone.

Chapter Text

It had taken hours just to review and verify the paperwork. Iwaizumi’s brain was spinning, pictures and words swimming off the page if he stared at them for too long. He needed sleep. Downing the last of his fourth latte, Iwaizumi set down the mug heavily and leaned back in his chair, groaning as his back cracked. He was tempted to complain he was too old for this.

He glanced at the time, now 10:45 a.m., nearly their lunch break.

Had Kuroo and Bokuto been absent, the room would have been unbearably silent with each individual silently clicking or scribbling away, but with them, it was annoyingly loud. Iwaizumi scowled at them, watching as they stood upon the couch, their previously professional looking attire rumpled. Their shirts were unbuttoned at the top and no longer tucked fully into their slacks. Their ties were now wrapped around their heads, acting as headbands of some sort, and their shoes discarded among the dog toys. Iwaizumi wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the day they’d received a few good chomps. Served them right. They had finished two hours prior and, having abandoned their previous game of pirates, were attempting to make different styles of paper airplanes, which the dogs happily chased and snatched out of the air.

“Whatcha scowling at, Hajime?” Kuroo called from his position on the couch, perched on the arm of it like a cat, carefully folding another piece of paper across his knee.

“Your dumb face, Tetsurou,” Iwaizumi grumbled back at him.

“Aw, you’re just jealous you can’t make a paper airplane as cool as mine,” he teased with his usual smirk, running a hand through his bed-head style hair, which stubbornly refused to be moved out of his face, even with the headband tie.

“That would be true if mine wasn’t way cooler!” Bokuto shouted enthusiastically, “Just watch,” the other man pulled back his arm, crudely designed paper airplane in hand as he closed one eye, tongue stuck out the side of his mouth in concentration as he pointed to the far wall-- His apparent destination. He flung his arm forward with all the power he had, which was a lot, and they watched as the paper airplane made a tight loop before nose-diving straight into the coffee table, not two feet in front of him. Kuroo cackled so hard he fell off the edge of the couch, legs kicking in the air as he wheezed out his awful laughter and Bokuto deflated a bit in disappointment.

Iwaizumi grinned to himself at their stupid antics before he pulled a small pad of paper out from one of his drawers and snatched up a stray pencil. He stood, pushing his chair back, and noticed the burgundy tie he had previously discarded over the back of his chair, now crumpled on the floor. He shrugged to himself, ignoring the tie as he made his way over to Daichi.

“Daichi,” he said, the other man looked up at him as Iwaizumi approached, humming a greeting, “I just finished so now I’m taking orders for lunch.” Though Iwaizumi phrased it as a statement, it was also a question. Was he allowed to leave yet? To be done with the trivial, grueling work?

Daichi smiled and nodded, “Of course,” he glanced back at the papers on his desk, “If you’ll go get everybody else’s order, I should be ready by that time.” Iwaizumi nodded, knowing full well Daichi had been done for the better part of the hour, before making it around the room to collect everyone’s orders, despite already knowing them by heart.

Akaashi favored salads and stir-fries while Bokuto adored barbecued meats. Kuroo, besides his sweet tooth, always wanted grilled fish. Ushijima prefered beef and rice stews, while Daichi ordered ramen. Suga and Iwaizumi always had tofu, though Suga ordered his flaming hot while Iwaizumi prefered his fried. Kenma was the only unusual one. It took at least five minutes of Iwaizumi’s constant pestering and a good cuff on the head before he would say anything besides ‘apple pie’, and what he ordered was always different.

When Iwaizumi walked into Kenma’s forensic lab, he found the smaller man napping, slumped over the metal table in the middle of the room, half hanging off of the stool he was sitting on. The table had photographs and plastic bags with pieces of evidence strewn across it. He was wearing a coral colored hoodie and black jeans, the hood pulled halfway over his head. Both articles of clothing were far too big for him, as Kenma preferred them to be. His face was nestled in the folds of his arms, partially dyed hair falling over his peaceful face. Iwaizumi almost felt bad waking him, but he was eager to get on with his investigation, and Kenma was supposed to be working anyway. As Iwaizumi laid a hand on Kenma’s shoulder to shake him, his eyes snapped open, cat-like gaze shifting up to look at Iwaizumi through heavy-lidded eyes.

“Hajime,” Kenma muttered, voice low and thick from sleep, as he shifted into a more comfortable sitting position on the stool, before laying his head back down, hiding his face in his arms, “If you’ve come for lunch, I don’t want anything,” he said, voice barely audible from beneath his layers.

“Yeah, we do this everyday. And I always win,” Iwaizumi said, more agitated than usual as he shook Kenma, hard enough to make the stool wobble beneath him. Kenma looked up at him with a small pout on his face, silently questioning Iwaizumi about his mood, “Cases have been bothering me,” he said bluntly, hoping to coax an answer out of him quicker than usual, “Now hurry up and order so I can get to the things I actually care about today.”

“Which are?” the younger man questioned indignantly, sitting up and rubbing his eyes with a yawn.

“Reviewing the past seven cases,” Iwaizumi replied, repeating himself. His agitation only grew at Kenma’s slow, seemingly lazy, but obviously calculated movements.

“The open-and-shut ones?” he questioned in feigned ignorance, sinking back into the table as he shuffled some photos around.

“Yes,” Iwaizumi said through gritted teeth. He could tell Kenma was egging him on, a simple revenge for being woken up, but Iwaizumi didn’t appreciate it. Especially since Kenma was supposed to already be reviewing the cases that were the cause of Iwaizumi’s lack of sleep.

There was a long pause, broken only by the shuffle of papers across the table.

“Don’t buy me any food,” Kenma said after a moment, looking down at the mess of photographs and samples. Iwaizumi sighed in aggravation and was about to snap back at him when Kenma cut him off, “Don’t buy me any food, don’t tell Kuro, and I’ll let you help me review the evidence thoroughly.” Kenma turned his intense gaze up to Iwaizumi, “All of it.” Iwaizumi was shocked at first, but before long a grin broke across his features, agitation melting away all at once.

“You’re a manipulative one, aren’t you?” he ruffled Kenma’s hair with one hand, earning him another pout, “You’ve got yourself a deal pudding head.” Kenma sighed lightly, resigned into accepting the nickname the whole precinct had given him because of his half-dyed hair. He had been letting the dye grow out for some time now, and only the ends were still tinted with blonde, the rest a natural deep black.

Iwaizumi left to get the food quickly, eager to get back to work.

* * * *
It didn’t take long to pick up everyone’s food. By the time Iwaizumi had returned, Bokuto and Kuroo had gone back to their desks, ties still wrapped around their foreheads, and Bokuto and his desk had migrated over to Akaashi. Iwaizumi noted that everyone appeared to be finished with the paperwork, assuming that the now absent files had been picked up by Suga. Now they were lazing around, waiting for lunch and the next section of the day's work. They all cheered when Iwaizumi walked in, multiple bags hanging off of his arms, and gathered around the coffee table to snatch up their lunches. Iwaizumi quickly informed Daichi that he was going to review the evidence with Kenma and took the three remaining lunches as he left the room.

He stopped by Suga’s office, dropping off the absurdly spicy tofu to the deceptively sweet man, pausing there for mild conversation, before he made his way to Kenma’s lab. When he entered, Kenma looked up at him from across the metal table, the contents now organized and labeled, and scowled slightly as he spotted the second lunch in Iwaizumi’s hands.

“I thought I said no food,” Kenma grumbled, averting his eyes back to the photographs he had been examining.

“They got my order wrong.” Iwaizumi shrugged as he set down the food on the table, pulling up a stool to sit on. They both knew he was lying, but Kenma pretended to believe him for courtesy's sake. “And I have apple pie,” Iwaizumi smirked as Kenma’s gaze snapped back up to him, eyes suddenly hungry. He chuckled and pushed the second lunch toward the smaller man, an unspoken compromise, “Just eat a little of the real food too.” he said as Kenma snatched up the bag, eyes focused solely on the singular slice of pie. He looked at Iwaizumi for a moment, before he reluctantly set the pie aside and pulled his container of steamed meat buns toward himself, nibbling on them as his eyes drifted back to the photographs and small pieces of evidence collected after the last couple cases.

“Anything unusual so far?” Iwaizumi asked, attempting to not sound too eager. From the way the edge of Kenma’s mouth twitched, he knew he wasn’t successful.

“No,” he droned, eyes drifting almost lazily across the photos, moving the few he had yet to organize into their designated piles, “Not so far.”

Iwaizumi grunted, disappointed, but he resolved himself to begin his own investigation, hands skimming over piles of pictures. There had to be something.

* * * *
There was nothing. The end of the day had come and Iwaizumi and Kenma, and anyone else who popped in to take a look, had found absolutely nothing. The only indication of something remotely strange were small scribbles of the word ‘svok’ in the margins of newspapers, on sticky notes, and in journals at each of the scenes. No one could figure out what it was referencing, chalking it up to either bad handwriting or an acronym meant only for the writer to understand.

Iwaizumi knew they would have dug deeper regarding a repeated word if the circumstances were different, but to everyone else these cases were already closed and they were just cleaning up the loose threads. The strange little word didn’t pique anyone else’s interest, but it made Iwaizumi’s itch agonizing. He wanted to know what connected them, why they had written the same, strange word scribbled around their houses.

He did far too much research that week. Going through a variety of websites, desperately trying to figure out what ‘svok’ could possibly mean. He translated it through every language he could find, looked up any place in the area that started with “s”, expanded that until he had practically searched all of Japan, and he still came out with nothing.

It had been a very long month of him obsessing over these cases, the itch in his mind never fading, but he was ready to stop. It was costing him his sleep, productivity, and focus, and he couldn’t afford to do that to himself or his team members any more. He shut down all his open tabs, put away the files, and took sleeping pills until the thoughts finally subsided. More or less.

It had been nearly a week of forgetting those cases; learning to move past them. Daichi looked more at ease as the circles around Iwaizumi’s eyes began to fade. Akaashi smiled softly when he found less knots in his neck, and Suga complained when he didn’t even finish his second cup. Iwaizumi felt himself relax back into his normal routine. Bokuto’s hugs seemed better (if that were even possible). Kuroo’s sly smirks didn’t irk him as much, and he even found himself appreciating Ushijima’s blunt and unknowingly hilarious one-liners again. It was a good week, and he had plans to make the next week the same, if not better.

The universe had other plans.

He got a call one night as he was laying in bed, waiting for sleep to fall across his too-bright room. He ignored it at first, nearly asleep as it was, but then his phone rang again. He checked the caller this time, Kenma. He rolled his eyes, the pudding head was probably still up gaming and forgot to check that it was too late to be calling people, so he let it ring out again, shifting back into his bed. When it began ringing for a third time, Alaska whined at him.

“Fine,” he rolled over with a huff to answer, “What is it pudding head?” he grumbled through the phone.

“I’d ask if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, but it appears you fell asleep on it instead,” answered a soft voice, sharp with sarcasm.

“You’re the one who woke me up,” he retorted. A lie, he hadn’t yet fallen asleep, but he had been very close, so he felt a right to be a bit agitated, “Now get on with it before I hang up on you.” There was a short pause.

“Do you remember those seven open-and-shut cases?” he asked finally.

Iwaizumi heaved a sigh of exasperation, running a hand down his face and letting it rest over his eyes as he laid back down with a thump. Willing the itch he had managed to finally calm to cease again, but the damage had been done. It was back full force. Still, Iwaizumi knew it was a pointless notion, the hope that swelled in his chest at those words.

“Kenma,” he said tiredly, more exhausted than agitated now, “We’ve been over this. There’s nothing weird about the cases, my intuition was just fritzing out and-”

“Get to the precinct,” Kenma said, cutting him off.

“What?”

“Get to the precinct,” he repeated, “I found something.”

With those final, obscure words, Kenma hung up.

Iwaizumi stared at his phone for a moment, warring with the itch in his mind, before he jumped out of bed. Throwing on a shirt and deciding his baggy sweats from Saturday were good enough, he patted Alaska and practically ran out the door.

Iwaizumi knew the itch would always win in the end.

* * * *
“I don’t think I’ve driven that fast, ever,” he said as he walked into Kenma’s lab, simultaneously tired and buzzing with energy.

“Good to see you, too,” the shorter man replied quietly, shuffling through something for a moment before he turned to Iwaizumi and beckoned him forward with the flick of his wrist.

Iwaizumi stepped up to the computer screen Kenma was looking at, displaying one of the pictures that had been taken at the most recent crime scene. The woman was hanging, suspended by her neck from one of the support beams in her home. Pale skin, blue lips, and vacant eyes staring into nothing.

Iwaizumi felt a tug in the pit of his stomach. Dread. Fear that this wasn’t anything important. That the itch in his mind was contagious and he’d infected Kenma with his incurable curse.

“Kenma, we’ve looked at this picture a thousand times,” Iwaizumi said skeptically, carefully preparing himself to give Kenma a nicer version of his own ‘pull-yourself-together’ pep-talk.

Without replying, Kenma selected a portion of the image, enlarging it. “Look,” he prompted simply.

Iwaizumi leaned forward, observing the slightly fuzzy image for anything significant, and for a moment he couldn’t find anything. Just as he was about to say so, he felt the blood drain from his face. His pulse seemed to all but pause before it came thundering back, blood rushing past his eardrums and heart pounding hard enough that he was sure Kenma could hear it. It was such a small, inconsequential detail, and yet it could mean everything to Iwaizumi and these cases.

“Is that a note in her pocket?” he whispered on bated breath.

“Yep,” Kenma said, looking up at Iwaizumi, “One that wasn’t filed in evidence. At least, not in any of the evidence we have.”

“Crap,” Iwaizumi said with feeling, running a hand through his hair until he paused, a thought occurring to him, “Do we-?”

“Did you brush your hair before you came?”

Iwaizumi startled, “Wha- no, what does that have to do with anything?” he asked, more than surprised by Kenma’s sudden and completely irrelevant question that jarred him worse than his car accident last summer.

“It looks the same as it does when you come to work,” he said simply, shrugging as he returned to the main screen of his computer, clicking idly as if they hadn’t just discovered information that could change the very core of seven different cases from accidental and innocent to outright murder.

“Well yeah,” Iwaizumi said slowly, mind still reeling from the whiplash of switching topics, “I don’t brush my-” too late, he realized where this conversation was headed.

“So you have bedhead?” Kenma said before Iwaizumi could defend himself, a small smile pulling at the edges of his lips as he turned away. He walked casually out of the room, flipping open his phone to one of the less-intense games he played.

“Do not compare me to your rooster-haired friend!” Iwaizumi growled, following him out, but he couldn’t seem to keep any sort of bite in his voice.

“He’s your friend too,”

Iwaizumi rolled his eyes, “Can we just focus? Where are you going anyway?”

“To answer your question,” Kenma said, walking into the detective section of the precinct, passing by Iwaizumi’s team's office.

“I didn’t get to finish asking before I was rudely interrupted,”

“You didn’t have to finish,” Kenma stated, not at all bothered by Iwaizumi’s insult, as he led him into a large office room with six work desks. It wasn’t unlike the room that Iwaizumi shared with his teammates, but home to a different team of detectives in the precinct.

“Yuuji?” Kenma called and there was a bump from under one of the desks, followed by a sharp cry of pain. A man with a dark undercut, the hair on top of his head dyed blonde, popped out from under what Iwaizumi presumed was his desk a moment later, a large grin on his face.

“Kenma!” he called, springing to his full height, barely shorter than Iwaizumi himself, and ran over to tackle Kenma in a tight hug. Kenma released a soft grunt but patted the other man’s back, a soft almost-smile gracing his features for a moment.

“Yuuji, can you get into the room where they keep evidence not currently in use?” Kenma asked after he had been released.

“Oh for sure!” he said excitedly. Iwaizumi was tempted to compare his boisterous and overly-friendly energy to Bokuto, until he caught a flash of metal on his tongue. He scowled slightly, unable to hide his distaste.

“Isn’t that against protocol?” he asked gruffly.

“Oh this thing?” Yuuji asked, sticking out his tongue to display a small silver tongue piercing, oblivious to Iwaizumi’s reaction, “Probably,” he shrugged and grinned again, “But it's not like Ukai’s much of a stickler for the rules as it is! He smokes indoors all the time,” he waved a hand absently through the air before taking another look at Iwaizumi, “I’m Detective Terushima by the way, you can call me Yuuji!”

“Detective Iwaizumi,” he replied, shaking his hand for a moment. Before Iwaizumi could pull back, Terushima held onto him with a surprisingly strong grip and pulled him forward slightly, folding his other hand over Iwaizumi’s arm, tracing the lines of his muscles through his shirt. Stunned, Iwaizumi was frozen for a moment before he flushed slightly, the barest pink on his cheeks as he ripped his arm away from him. “If you’re quite finished,” he said sharply, pitching his voice low to avoid any embarrassed squeaking.

Terushima held up his hands with a grin, “Sorry, sorry,” he said unapologetically, “You have great muscles,” he winked before spinning and walking back to his desk, leaving Iwaizumi grumbling and Kenma stifling a giggle. He grabbed a ring of keys from off of his desk and threw it upwards, snatching it out of the air when it dropped back down and turned to them again, spinning the ring around his finger absently. “Let’s go find your evidence!”

Terushima took them to the back rooms of the precinct, places Iwaizumi never had any need to visit before. Rooms and rooms of filing cabinets and shelves of boxes, filled with endless evidence from past cases; solved, unsolved, and even some ongoing investigations, years and years worth of evidence all stored away neatly. Iwaizumi would hate to be the person who organized this.

“Here we go,” Terushima said with a light bounce, unlocking a filing cabinet drawer and pulling it open to reveal some evidence from the case of the suicide that had been deemed unnecessary to review any further. Among the evidence were the clothes the woman had been wearing in the photograph, folded away neatly. Lucky for them, her family hadn’t requested it returned to them.

Iwaizumi nearly ripped the shirt out of the way, removing the pants from the drawer and scanned the pockets carefully for any signs of a note. He checked twice, running his fingers along the seams.

“I don’t see it,” Iwaizumi said with a curse, shaking the pants like the note would magically appear from its folds. Kenma grabbed the pants from him and started to conduct his own search with nimbler fingers.

“What’re you looking for?” Terushima asked, peering into the filing drawer and carefully pushing the evidence around.

“A note,” Kenma mumbled, focused on his scavenging. Iwaizumi glared at the pants in some lame attempt to intimidate the note out of hiding. His mind was running through all the possible places it could be. Did it fall out at the crime scene? In the transport car? Somewhere in the precinct? Iwaizumi felt his gut twist as he considered a very different possibility. Had the note been taken?

“This one?” Terushima said a moment later, pulling a small slip of paper out of the drawer.

“Yes!” Kenma said with more enthusiasm than Iwaizumi had ever heard from him, snatching it out of his hands and looking at it.

“Where did you find it?” Iwaizumi asked, attempting to refrain from grabbing the note away from Kenma.

“It was wedged in between the panels, probably just went unnoticed,” Terushima said with a shrug, eyes drifting over to look at the note in Kenma’s hands. Iwaizumi nodded gratefully and followed his gaze. He was shocked to see Kenma’s enthusiasm dying as he read over the note.

“What does-?” Iwaizumi didn’t finish his question as he shifted to peer over Kenma’s shoulder.

The note was complete gibberish. The only recognizable word on the page was ‘svok’, which Iwaizumi knew meant absolutely nothing. The pit in his stomach twisted again, he wanted to scream.

“You’ve got to be kidding me..” Iwaizumi grumbled, walking over to smack a hand against one of the cabinets, frustration threatening to boil over. It could take forever to decipher something, especially if it wasn’t even anything in the first place. They didn’t even have a coding expert on site.

“What is it?” Terushima asked, walking over to take a look.

“Probably a code of some sort,” Kenma said, “Or just gibberish. Though this part does look like it’s supposed to be an address…” Terushima looked at the note for a moment before his eyes widened comically.

“I know this code!” he said excitedly, taking the slip of paper from Kenma and scanning over the note more intently. Iwaizumi turned back to them, feeling a ray of hope shining through him.

“What code is it?” he asked, arms crossed as he waited impatiently.

“It’s called an atbash cipher,” Terushima explained, looking up at him for a moment, “It’s a really simple code actually, you just reverse the alphabet. ‘A’ becomes ‘Z’ and vice versa. My buddies and I used to use it all the time in high school, we got so good we used it like a second language! It's been a while since then though, so give me a minute to figure this out,” he said, returning to deciphering the message.

Kenma and Iwaizumi waited in pained silence, eager for the reveal. Iwaizumi couldn’t help but feel a bit of pride. If this note really was something important, and not just a poorly coded grocery list, he could be right. He could be right about the cases, at least this one, not just being a normal open-and-shut. He could be on to something big, but he waited for Terushima. Prepared to have his hopes squashed.

“Oh. Oh, wow,” Terushima said after a moment, eyes widening a fraction.

“What?” Iwaizumi and Kenma said in tandem.

“Alrighty, so,” he adjusted his stance, shifting the paper in his hand, “The note says: ‘Our deaths were no accidents, catch them, help us|Basement, NORD bldg., 1-6-11, Kita-Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo’” he looks up at them, gaging their reaction.

“Oh my gosh,” Kenma whispered quietly, looking up at Iwaizumi out of the corners of his eyes, “I thought you were crazy,”

“Hey-” Iwaizumi said in a warning tone, but Kenma continued, a smirk pulling at the edges of his mouth.

“But you were right,”

Iwaizumi took a moment before he smiled down at Kenma, “Yeah,” he said, voice filled with barely restrained pride, “I was.”

After a moment Terushima spoke again, “So, are we gonna keep marvelling at how right you were or…?”

“Right,” Iwaizumi said, shaking his head, “I’ll call Daichi,” he looked at Kenma, “you find what place is at that address,” he nodded to Terushima, “and if you could translate that onto a different sheet of paper,” They both nodded in response before rushing off to fulfill their assignments, the thrill of a case buzzing in their veins.

Iwaizumi pulled out his phone, dialing Daichi’s number as he made his way to a chair to sit down, fighting off a yawn despite his excitement. It took five rings before Daichi picked up, voice thick and gravelly with sleep.

“Hajime? What’s- why are you up? Is something wrong?” behind his sleep-laden response was a layer of concern.

“We need to have an emergency team meeting,”

“Now?” Daichi asked in almost-alarm. Grunting and shuffling, most likely sitting up.

“As soon as we can,” he said, his voice a barely contained shout of enthusiasm, “Kenma, Terushima, and I found something. An encrypted note from the latest suicide claiming that, and I quote, ‘Our deaths were no accidents’. Daichi, ‘our’. She said ‘our’. That means the others are connected.” There was silence on the other side for an agonizingly long moment as Daichi processed the information.

“Alright,” he said, obviously moving around now, “You call Ushijima and Akaashi, I’ll get Kuroo, Suga, and Bokuto. Tell them to meet at the precinct in 20.”

“You got it sir,”

“Don’t-” Daichi began but Iwaizumi had already hung up.

* * * *
Twenty-five minutes later they had all arrived, and some were more dressed than others. Bokuto had appeared to have forgotten a shirt and his hair was hanging down into his eyes. Akaashi and Suga were definitely still in their pajamas, Suga still wrapped up in a blanket. Ushijima was in casual clothes, and Iwaizumi realized belatedly that it was the first time he’d ever seen the other man in anything but a suit. Kuroo’s bedhead was worse than he’d ever seen it, and even Daichi appeared to have had a hard time putting his shirt on the right direction.

“Glad to see none of you went back to sleep,” Iwaizumi said gruffly, unable to hide a smile as he led them all back to the lab where Kenma and Terushima were waiting.

“That’s a lie,” Kuroo said with a yawn, “I definitely fell asleep again.”

“I know,” Daichi grumbled, “I was still on the phone with you.”

“I can’t help it if your voice soothes me to sleep Sa’mura,” he said with a drawl while draping an arm over Daichi’s shoulders. Daichi, too tired to push him off, rolled his eyes as they entered the room.

Everyone found a place to situate themselves. Kuroo still hung off of Daichi’s shoulders as they slumped against the far wall. Akaashi leaned heavily on Bokuto’s shoulder and Suga plopped himself down in a heap in the corner of the room. Ushijima chose to brood in the doorway, and Iwaizumi leaned against the counter next to Kenma and Terushima, facing the others, fingers tapping in anticipation. Sleep may have factored into the overly touchy-feely positions some of them chose, but Iwaizumi was too distracted to read much into it.

“So what’s with this note you found?” Bokuto asked through a yawn, pushing his hair out of his face to look at the three of them expectantly.

Iwaizumi grinned, the itch in his mind both satisfied and insatiable, eager to start acting on the hunch that had plagued him for so many nights.

“A case.”

Chapter Text

After everyone had been briefed on the current situation, and the facts had been double and triple checked, they began scraping together a report to send to Director Ukai. Evidence was pulled from the cases and investigated by each individual thoroughly, new messages were found in the margins of newspapers, on sticky notes, and in journals, all written in the atbash cipher. All the notes said just about the same thing; they and ‘the others’ were in trouble, and ‘they’ had killed them or were after them. Nothing explicitly revealing, but more like a variety of puzzles had been taken apart and scattered conjointly, leaving Iwaizumi and his team to put the pieces together. It was frustrating, to say the least.

Terushima worked with them to decipher all of the messages onto sticky notes that Iwaizumi and the team pinned onto a growing board of connections. There were two words that Terushima had to translate multiple times because they weren't, in fact, words. They were always written by themselves or off to the side of notes, never with any context, and it puzzled the lot of them.

“What does it mean?” Bokuto yelled as he pulled at his hair, staring at the board with wide, prying eyes where ‘Miatos’ and ‘MAO’ had been written, question marks drawn around them. Iwaizumi was wondering the same, a scowl pulling his features taunt as he reviewed the board from afar. It was the only piece of cipher that hadn’t made sense after translation, and the original wasn’t any better. ‘Nrzglh’ and ‘NZL’. Neither sets of letters created an identifiable word, no matter which way you looked at it.

“We don’t know, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi repeated patiently for the fourth time, still wrapped up in his pajamas, owl slippers sliding over the tiled floor with the shifting of his feet, “It will make sense further along the case, I’m sure.”

Iwaizumi admired Akaashi’s confidence. The man had been one of the first to jump on board with the crazy new case their miniscule evidence created, putting forward his full effort at the small tear Iwaizumi had been clawing at. They all had, really. There was no hesitation from any of them, even Terushima, who wasn’t a member of his team, as they joined Iwaizumi on this strange detour through the cases. It made him wonder why he had ever hesitated to share his concern in the first place.

He grimaced and heaved a heavy sigh as he pushed away from the desk he had been leaning on. They had long since moved their operation back into the detective’s office area, allowing Kenma to keep his lab space clear of papers and extra bodies. They had pulled out their bulletin boards to pin pictures and write notes as the evidence for a case mounted, a folder set aside to copy down the information for the director to review, of which Iwaizumi had been put in charge of assembling.

Bokuto and Akaashi were currently fixated on the unknown words, doing extensive research that reminded Iwaizumi of the painful times he spent chasing ‘svok’ around the internet, only to come up empty handed. He could only hope they had better luck. Daichi and Kuroo, on the other hand, had taken on the task of thoroughly scanning the evidence for any other signs of an atbash cipher and piecing together what messages they had. Terushima, the new and unusual addition to their operation, patiently translated the ciphers, calling out new pieces of information when he found them. Ushijima was sitting stiffly at his computer, as he had been doing for the past few hours, jotting down quick notes on the pad of paper next to him. It always threw Iwaizumi for a loop when he watched Ushijima write with his left hand, although it made more sense than when he watched Kuroo switch which hand he used, the ambidextrous bastard.

Iwaizumi approached Ushijima wordlessly, reading over the information he had managed to gather about the victims’ schedules and whether or not they had visited the address outlined in the note. As it turned out, the address was that of a rather popular underground theatre, available for up-and-coming performers to rent out for their shows.

Ushijima acknowledged his presence with a grunt. Iwaizumi waited as the other man wrote down another messy note before turning to him.

“Theatre?” Iwaizumi asked simply.

“No,” Ushijima shook his head, “It didn’t show up on any of their card history, though they could have paid in cash.”

“If that’s the case, we’ll have to ask the workers if they recognize them,” Iwaizumi reasoned, though he wanted to complain about how inconvenient these people were making it for them.

“Actually,” Ushijima rumbled, seemingly pleased with whatever information he was about to impart on Iwaizumi, “They take up names of attendees there. We’ll know exactly which performer they saw and when. As long as they didn’t use a fake name.” Iwaizumi grinned and clapped him on the shoulder.

“That’s perfect, Wakatoshi,” Ushijima acknowledged his thanks with a quick nod, eyes averting to the pad of paper he had been writing on to gather his train of thought, “We’ll have to tell the others. Once we get the go ahead from Ukai we’ll be able to head over and see what exactly they want us to find there.”

He received another nod from Ushijima before the man zoned back in on his work and Iwaizumi went back to his desk to update the folder for Director Ukai. With any luck, they’d have it completed by the time everyone else arrived for work.

* * * *
They did, in fact, have the folder ready, long before it was time for anyone else to clock in. The remaining hours of waiting had been agony. Though, it had been hilarious when Director Ukai arrived to find his K9 Detective force bleary eyed but attentively waiting for his response to the folder they had promptly shoved in his face.

“What the hell are you all doing here?!” he had yelled at them in his own half-asleep, bewildered way, “Did y’all ever go home?!”

The only response he got to his questions was an insistence to read the folder as quickly as he could. They all wanted this case to happen, sleep deprivation be damned.

“What?!” It was then that they all knew they had gotten the case.

Ukai had charged out of his office, folder in hand, not even turned past the first page. It was rather amazing, Iwaizumi remarked to himself, that Ukai had gotten that far before even putting a cigarette in his mouth.

“How the hell did you figure this out?” Ukai had marvelled after being briefed on the building case. He was slumped in his office chair that he had rolled into their room to view the board.

“You can thank Iwaizumi for that,” Daichi said, clapping him heavily on the shoulder with a smile that can only be compared to that of a proud father. Iwaizumi decided very quickly that he hated that, giving him the credit was completely inaccurate.

“Actually,” Iwaizumi huffed, “It was Kenma who found the picture of the note, and Terushima found and deciphered it,” he had hardly anything to do with it at all.

“No,” Kenma said softly from where he was curled up on the couch, eyes closed. Iwaizumi had presumed he had been sleeping, “I only looked because you were worried about it.”

“A fritzing intuition and actual evidence discovery are completely different,” he grumbled, stepping away from Daichi’s clasp to look at the board again with crossed arms, though not all paying attention to it, “Do we have a case?” he asked.

“You have more than a case, son,” Ukai said with a grin, looking over the group of men with a fire in his eyes he couldn’t blame on the smoldering end of a cigarette, “You have a mission.”

A slow grin broke over Iwaizumi’s face as his team cheered and a barrage of hard slaps thumped across his back, chest, and arms. Though he was still convinced it was not his doing that had brought them to this point. He stumbled suddenly at a particularly hard thunk to his back and looked over to see Ushijima standing there, not quite as stoic as usual. Finally, he let out a cheer of his own and turned to slap Ushijima’s arm in return, handing out his own round of aggressive enthusiasm. It may not be his accomplishment, but he couldn’t deny his own excitement.

“Alright, alright!” Ukai called after a moment, attempting to put on his annoyed authority figure voice but only managing a disgruntledly proud grandfather facade, “I get you’re excited, but save that for once you’ve actually solved the case,” he paused, raking his gaze over the now quieted and attentive group of men, eagerness burning in each of them, “This’ll be a tough one,” he admitted, “But you managed to find it in the first place,” he said, another grin spilling through, “So I have no doubts that you’ll get it done, and get it done right! Now get out there and catch these guys!”

There was another round of cheers and hollers as Ukai chuckled and made his way out of the room, “Oh,” he called, pausing in the doorway and looking back at all of them with a glare, “And get some sleep.”

No cheering followed that statement, but they all nodded along, a chorus of yawns echoing through the group as the realization that they were running on virtually no sleep finally caught up to them. With another chuckle, Ukai exited the room.

After the rush of receiving the go-ahead for the new case, they did, in fact, get some sleep. Though, it didn’t come in quite the form Iwaizumi assumed Ukai meant.

Iwaizumi woke slowly, the sounds of soft breathing and even nearby snoring threatening to lure him back to sleep. He forced his eyes open and was met with an unusual sight; darkness. Save for the soft glow of the fairy lights the room was completely dark, and, belatedly, Iwaizumi realized he was not in his apartment. He was not hearing the soft breathing of Alaska or the ticking of a clock, but rather the even breaths of his teammates, and he became suddenly aware of the presence of bodies around him. Iwaizumi shifted experimentally, gaging the other’s depth of sleep around him. No one else stirred and he took that as an incentive to sit up, eyes adjusting quickly to the low light. If someone had to guess by their positioning, they had obviously not planned to fall asleep.

They were all crammed together on the floor in front of the couch, the coffee table having been moved to sit against the wall opposite the bulletin boards. Ushijima looked to be in the most awkward position, his upper body laying on the coffee and neck twisted in a way that was sure to give him a good crick for Akaashi to work out. Suga was curled up not far from him, practically underneath the coffee table, silver hair fanned out against the ground, the soft lighting creating an almost angelic look to him.

Akaashi and Bokuto were laying on the floor next to Ushijima’s legs and were nearly trapping Suga underneath the coffee table. Akaashi was on his side facing Bokuto, who was laying face-down on the floor, snoring softly. One of his arms was draped over Akaashi’s, the other cradling Bokuto’s face off the floor, while his legs remained splayed out behind him. Iwaizumi’s own legs had been facing Bokuto and Akaashi, very nearly tangling in theirs. He eased his legs away from theirs carefully, attempting not to disturb them.

Against the couch sat Daichi and Kuroo. Daichi’s head rested back against the cushioning, mouth slightly ajar, and his arms folded loosely. Kuroo had somehow curled himself into a ball, resting his head on Daichi’s shoulder and the rest of his weight against his side. Iwaizumi wasn’t quite sure how Kuroo hadn’t toppled them over, he may have been skinnier than Daichi, but he wasn’t a light man. Terushima and Kenma were the only ones who looked remotely comfortable. Terushima was laying on his stomach across the couch, arm hanging off the side next to Kuroo, his bent knee dangerously close to Daichi’s head. Kenma was an indecipherable lump of oversized clothes on the ground between Iwaizumi and Kuroo, breathing evenly, and looking as comfortable as Iwaizumi felt in his own bed most nights. Times like this he wondered if Kenma really was a cat.

He looked at his sleeping teammates for a while, his own groggy mind unable to keep track of exactly how long he had been awake now, and the room around him wasn’t helping. It was completely still, save for the rise and fall of his teammates' chests, and with no visible clock in sight it created a perennial space. He was half-tempted to go back to sleep, and he very nearly laid back down before he remembered, most of them had dogs to get back to. With a heart-felt groan he lifted himself to his feet, stretching and yawning loudly as he plodded over to his desk. He heard some of the others stir behind him, a small chorus of yawns and groggy half-words slowly filling the previously quiet work space. A smile tugged its way onto Iwaizumi’s face as he wondered if this counted as their first team sleepover.

A scowl soon chased the thought away. What was he? A school-girl reminiscing on midnight gossip? He scoffed lightly, searching for his keys as the others managed to wake themselves up. For once, Kuroo and Bokuto seemed quiet, and even Terushima’s seemingly boundless energy had come to a near standstill. Iwaizumi was still buzzing from the news of their new case. He could feel the excitement in his bones, but as elated as he was, he couldn’t ignore the exhaustion that had settled over them.

Their goodbyes had been brief and mostly non-verbal as they all shuffled out of the precinct and drove to their respective homes. When he had arrived, Iwaizumi had quickly checked that Alaska had been fed before he crashed onto the bed still clothed, his eyes shutting once before he had fallen into the best non-medicated sleep he had experienced in months.

* * * *
The next day, everyone was early at the precinct.

“Alright,” Daichi began, after they were all impatiently situated at their desks, “Not all of us are going to be able to go to the underground theatre,” there was a collective groan from each of them. They knew this, of course, not everyone was needed to go collect information, but no one was particularly thrilled at the idea of staying behind and continuing to puzzle through the details they had managed to collect.

“I think,” Daichi continued slowly, processing his thoughts, “That we should put it to a vote, or a drawing of sorts,” he said, grabbing an empty container from his desk filled with some sheets of paper, “Everyone gets two pieces of paper. Write down the names of the two people you think should go. You can list yourself if you like, it will be completely anonymous. The two highest votes will be the two individuals with the privilege of investigating the theatre.”

“What are we in, Sa’amura? Grade school?” Kuroo asked sarcastically, a teasing air about him.

“Maybe you are, Kuroo,” Daichi said, voice light with a similar sarcastic lilt as he passed around the sheets of paper. Iwaizumi rolled his eyes as he turned to write down his votes, making a mental note to harass them after they’d gotten a good lead on this case.

The results did and didn’t surprise Iwaizumi. He knew he would be the top elected individual, even when he didn’t vote for himself, but he was surprised that the second person on the roster was none other than Ushijima.

This was turning out to be an interesting case indeed.

* * * *
Thirty minutes later, Iwaizumi and Ushijima were standing outside the entrance of a not-quite-rundown shop, Athena and Alaska standing patiently beside them. They had elected to go undercover in case the place was being watched, but Iwaizumi didn't figure it did much good with the dogs drawing attention to them. Though, he’d never complain about a chance to take Alaska out into the field.

The shop wasn’t quite what Iwaizumi had pictured when he’d been told it was an underground theatre, and a popular one at that. He had imagined something more elegant; maybe a grand entrance, or at least a set of double doors. Instead, they were met with cracked cement, a single glass door, and a faded sign that Iwaizumi presumed had once read the theatre's name.

“Ready?” Iwaizumi asked, and Ushijima nodded his affirmation before he opened the door, activating a small bell, and allowed Iwaizumi and Alaska to enter first. He could already feel people's eyes turning to them, lingering at the sight of their dogs. Normally, Iwaizumi thought the feeling of being watched was unpleasant, but he felt a strange sort of pride whenever it came to Alaska.

With the bell tinkling behind them, Iwaizumi observed the lobby of the theatre. It was leagues more impressive than the entrance had been, and was actually fairly busy for an early morning. The tile underneath their feet was marble textured and freshly cleaned, white and grey swirling together in abstract patterns. The room hosted a high ceiling, intricate light fixtures hanging down to cast the large room in a delicate light. If the room had been empty, he was sure the click of Alaska and Athena's nails on the tile would have echoed.

There was a relatively small, but fancy cafe tucked against the far left wall; plush couches and polished tables and chairs filling the better part of the lobby around it. Ahead of them sat a long reception desk with three professionally dressed employees. Two were typing away at their computers and the other was helping a customer, so Iwaizumi and Ushijima stopped behind them to wait.

Above the reception desk was a large electronic screen, showcasing which performers were on the schedule for the day. The performers varied from dancers to singers to comedians to inspirational speakers, there was even one listed as a miming group. Iwaizumi had to stop himself from browsing the options before he got too distracted. To the right of the desk was the roped entrance to the theatre itself, and Iwaizumi presumed there were a set of stairs behind the closed, black door.

As they waited for the customer ahead of them to finish at the reception desk, one of the other employees stood and unclipped the velvet rope, opening the door for a crowd of people waiting on the other side in a line descending the stairs. With a clipboard held firmly in her grasp, she appeared to be checking off names of individuals as they exited, bidding them a good day as they left or meandered over to the cafe.

When the customer ahead of them finally finished their transaction and left to go wait, the employee smiled and beckoned them forward. Her name tag read ‘Matsuda Sara’.

“Are your dogs here to serve you?” Matsuda asked. It wasn’t an unusual question for them to receive when they weren’t in uniform. Most people assumed that they were support dogs, or just idiots with pets. A familiar look of surprise crossed her face when both Iwaizumi and Ushijima flashed her their badges.

“They are,” Iwaizumi said as he tucked his back into his waistband.

“And you as well,” Ushijima added flatly, to which the girl smiled brightly.

“Of course! What can I do for you today, officers?” she asked cheerily, masking her nervousness.

“We’re here to ask after a couple individuals who may have come here a little over a month or two ago,” Iwaizumi explained, “Seven people, to be exact.”

She nodded dutifully and turned to the worker behind her. “Kubo? Can you please get the records from the last one or two months?”

“Sure thing,” Kubo nodded to her before grabbing a set of keys and heading off across the lobby toward a room labeled ‘employees only’.

“Thank you Eiichi-kun,” Matsuda called after him, eyes lingering on his back for a moment before she refocused on Iwaizumi and his companions with a small blush. “You said you were looking for seven names, yes?”

“Yes,” Iwaizumi confirmed, “Unfortunately, we can’t tell you anything more.”

“Of course,” she nodded again, “If you would like to have a seat or get some coffee while you wait, I’m sure Kubo will be with you in just a moment.”

“Thank you, Matsuda-san,” Iwaizumi and Ushijima gave a small bow before making their way over to a couch. They stopped to let their dogs sniff anything suspicious, but Alaska and Athena seemed mostly unbothered so the two men took a seat on one of the overly-plush cushions. The dogs sat on the floor patiently, watching the room as attentively as their owners were. Iwaizumi kept catching wandering gazes and snippets of conversation. He huffed out a small chuckle after a group of particularly giggly girls not-so-discreetly looked in their direction, whispering to each other.

“Our dogs attract more girls than we do,” he said, amused.

“So it would seem,” Ushijima responded in kind, absently stroking Athena while his piercing gaze drifted across the room.

It only took another minute or two before Kubo walked over to them with two files in hand. Iwaizumi and Ushijima were alerted to his approach by Alaska and Athena, whose ears perked to attention.

“These are from the last two months,” he said, holding them out for the two officers, “The later the date, the lower in the stack,” he explained as Iwaizumi took the files, “Good luck, officers,” he said with a small bow before gliding back over to the reception desk, greeted by an enthusiastic Matsuda.

‘Young love,’ he thought suddenly, then scowled, ‘I know nothing about their relationship or intentions. I shouldn't make assumptions.’

“Do you have the list?” Ushijima asked, pulling him away from his thoughts as he slipped one file out of Iwaizumi’s hands to lay it out on the table in front of them.

“Yeah,” Iwaizumi grunted, pulling the list of seven names out of his pocket and laying it in front of them as he opened his own file, “Write down anything you find,” he said unnecessarily, beginning to skim through his list of names. With an affirmative grunt, Ushijima began his own search.

* * * *
It wasn’t the most exciting information search Iwaizumi had ever been on, but his heart thudded hard in his chest everytime a name came close to being one of their victims. Eventually, Ushijima sat back from his previously slumped position and hummed in a low voice to catch Iwaizumi’s attention.

“It appears,” he said slowly, pointing to the page he had stopped on, “They all came here on the same day," his eyes slid over to meet Iwaizumi's as he continued, voice solemn, "At the same time. To see the same performer.” Iwaizumi’s eyes widened and he leaned over to skim the page. For them to be all in one place was a coincidence, but for them to be all in the same place at the same time? That was a lead. It was a solid connection between the cases.

Sure enough, all seven names were listed on the roster, along with two others Iwaizumi didn’t recognize. It may not have been much of a concern if there were a bunch more people listed with them, but nine was an unusually small number of people for one of these shows, and he didn’t figure that these other two people were there by coincidence. He tapped the paper beside the other two names, which the other man had conveniently starred, and looked up at Ushijima.

“What about these two?” he asked, although he supposed he already knew the answer.

Ushijima’s eyebrows furrowed slightly, “They are either the killers,” he paused for a moment, “or the next targets.” Iwaizumi nodded in agreement.

“What about the performer?”

“Alive.”

“So he’s a suspect and a potential target as well?” Ushijima nodded in reply, “Then we have a couple leads,” Iwaizumi said, a smirk pulling at the side of his lips, “Let’s find out where these people live.”

They rose in tandem, Alaska and Athena following suit as they made their way back over to the reception desk, thankfully devoid of any customers.

“Excuse us,” Iwaizumi said, garnering the attention of the three employees. Ushijima presented the piece of paper they had been reviewing to Matsuda, “If you could please get us the addresses of these two names,” he said, pointing to the names Ushijima had starred on the page, “As well as the performer, that would be a great help.”

“Of course!” Matsuda responded, typing away at her computer for a moment before she frowned, “I’m sorry,” she said, casting them an apologetic look, “It appears that neither of these people paid with a card or have membership with us, which means that we don’t have their addresses on file.”

‘Naturally,’ Iwaizumi grumbled internally.

“But!” she said eagerly, quickly clicking the mouse a couple times before she pulled out a sticky note and scribbled something onto it, presenting it to them a moment later, “I do have the address of the performer they saw!”

Iwaizumi repressed a smile as Ushijima took the note from her, “Thank you very much,” they bowed to them and the employees bowed back before they turned and made their way out of the lobby, leaving the rest of the files for the employees to store away once more.

“What’s it say?” Iwaizumi asked when they made it outside and into their car.

“It’s the address to the performer’s house,” Ushijima replied unhelpfully while starting the car, passing the note over for Iwaizumi to read. Iwaizumi repressed a snarky response and took the note from him.

“Hm, at least he’s in Tokyo. A little far away, but still in Tokyo,” he said, reading over the address, “Suna Rintarou, huh?”

“Apparently he’s an up and coming poet.”

“Never heard of him.”

“I hadn’t until last week,” something in Ushijima’s tone caught Iwaizumi’s attention, “He’s suddenly made it very big.”

“Sudden fame?”

Ushijima nodded then gestured back toward the theatre, “Apparently, that was also the last show he did at that establishment.” Iwaizumi sat back in his seat and furrowed his brows at the road in front of them as Ushijima continued, “I checked the rest of the shows performed by Suna within that month, none of the victims or the two others were there, but it was weeks away from any other shows the poet did. Which was unusual, because he tended to book a showing at least once every two weeks.”

Iwaizumi took a moment to process the information before he started to speak, “Sudden fame, and his last show was to a group of people who are mostly dead now?” he clicked his tongue, “That’s more than a little suspicious,” Ushijima nodded in agreement.

“Well then,” Iwaizumi said slowly. Something big was on the rise, he could almost taste it, “Let’s get back to the precinct and land ourselves a suspect.”

* * * *
The ride back to the precinct had been mostly silent after that. Iwaizumi and Ushijima were left mulling over questions and puzzling out answers, though there was little point to it considering the small amount of evidence they had. Nonetheless, it felt good to have a solid lead.

When they had arrived back at the precinct, they had reported their findings to their eagerly awaiting team, and it was an immediate mess of chaos to figure out who would go get Suna. They ended up playing a speed round of rock-paper-scissors to determine who had the privilege of getting him, in which Bokuto won. Iwaizumi was never sure exactly how the game worked, all he knew is that he hated it, and he’s never won. He was half-suspicious that Akaashi had the whole game rigged, but then again the other man had never won either.

After that, it hadn’t taken long for a warrant to be procured, and Bokuto and Peanut swept out the door to bring in one Suna Rintarou. The waiting was, of course, agony, but when Bokuto stepped through the front doors with a disinterested-looking man, the whole precinct shot to attention.

Suna Rintarou was not at all like Iwaizumi pictured him to be. When Iwaizumi had pictured a poet, he had imagined an intricate and interesting style, something unusual, but as he watched the up-and-coming poet through the two-way mirror, he appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary. His hair was black and looked as though someone had given up halfway through trying to comb it down. His posture was slumped and he appeared to regard everything around him with an impassive air, seemingly unconcerned that he was currently being held in a police interrogation room.

As Iwaizumi and Suga watched him through the glass, Suna let out what had to be his fifth sigh and leaned forward against the table in front of him, resting his head on his arms.

“If we don’t send someone in to interrogate him, he may just fall asleep,” Suga said, standing next to Iwaizumi in the small observation room. It had been nearly twenty minutes since Bokuto had brought him in, but their elected interrogator still wasn’t ready.

“Yeah,” he grunted in response, “What’s taking the knucklehead so long?”

Suga sighed and rolled his eyes, turning away from the glass to lean against the wall, “You know how Kuroo is about his food,”

“Yeah, yeah,” Iwaizumi chuckled, “Bokuto’s gonna steal his fish and his dessert if he takes even one step away from it,” he said in a somewhat mocking tone.

A chuckle sounded from the doorway of the small observation room, “Well,” said Daichi, walking in to stand by Iwaizumi, “He’s not wrong.”

“He almost done?”

“Nearly,” Daichi said with a long sigh, “He’s onto his dessert, but now he’s engaged in a game of chase with Bokuto,”

Iwaizumi groaned in annoyance, “Did you tell them to hurry it up?”

“I tried.”

“Let me guess,” Suga said with a mischievous grin, “Kuroo tried to pull you into the game, and Bokuto was more than happy to let you join, so you had to leave before you started having fun.”

“Just because you can guess everything perfectly doesn’t mean you should,” Daichi grumbled.

“Actually, I just could hear everything from down the hall,” Suga said with a satisfying look, “I’m flattered you think I’m all knowing! But-”

“I did not say ‘all-knowing’-”

“But! Just because Iwaizumi’s lost in his own head doesn’t mean the rest of the precinct couldn’t hear you.”

“Don’t bring me into this,” Iwaizumi retorted, “I’m just focused on the case, like a certain someone should be,” with a huff he turned and left the small observation room, now filled with light laughter, and headed down the hall to drag one rowdy detective to do his job.

Sure enough, when he entered the room, he was immediately met with Bokuto’s loud voice and Kuroo’s obnoxious laughter. The two were in the back of the room, as usual, jumping over dogs, dog toys, and furniture as Kuroo attempted to keep his slice of cake far away from Bokuto’s outstretched arms and grabby hands.

“Kuroo!” Iwaizumi bellowed from the doorway and the two men froze to look over at him with sheepish grins. Bokuto’s face was half squashed by Kuroo’s free arm, the other keeping a plate held up high over his head. Iwaizumi was sure the only reason that the cake had survived so far was because of Kuroo’s long reach.

“Let’s go rooster head, our suspect isn’t going to question himself,”

“Yessir,” Kuroo said, a familiar grin returning to his face before he gave Bokuto one last shove, earning an indignant hoot from the other man, and trotted over to the door.

“Better eat that quick,” Iwaizumi said with a nod to the half-eaten slice of cake as he turned to walk back down the hallway.

“Of course,” Kuroo said, twirling his fork around before beginning to expertly shovel the cake into his face as he followed Iwaizumi back down the hall.

By the time they made it to the observation room, Kuroo had finished his cake and deposited the garbage into a nearby trash bin. Now, he was attempting to do something to his hair, which was only worsening his perpetual bedhead.

“You can’t fix what’s always been horrible,” Iwaizumi said in light amusement as he opened the door to the observation room. Kuroo pouted slightly at the remark as he entered the room, met with more teasing from Suga and Daichi. Bokuto, Akaashi, and Ushijima weren’t far behind so Iwaizumi waited at the door for them, albeit impatiently, and they all crammed themselves into the room.

Fitting all seven of them into the observation room was no small task; nothing too suffocating, but it was still cramped. Iwaizumi was just glad his place near the glass was still unoccupied when he slipped inside. Kuroo shuffled around for a moment, taking a long look at Suna before he turned to Suga.

“Papers?” Kuroo asked with an outstretched hand.

“I think you forgot the ‘please’, but I’ll let it slide,” Suga said cheekily as he handed Kuroo a small folder.

“Go get ‘em, tiger!” Bokuto shouted, slapping Kuroo on the back who squawked indignantly before clapping him right back.

“Of course, bro,” he cast a signature smirk over his shoulder to the rest of them, “Wish me luck!”

“You’ll need it,” Daichi said, clapping him on the shoulder as Kuroo made his way past him.

“Rude, Sa’amura,” he pouted again, and Iwaizumi rolled his eyes, giving him a small shove.

“Oh, just get in there already,” he said gruffly.

“I’m going! I’m going,” Kuroo said before stopping at the interrogation room door.

They all waited silently as Kuroo collected himself and the atmosphere of the room shifted. The mood wasn’t exactly somber, but it was most certainly heavier. The air was now weighed down by duty and responsibility. The lives of people already lost and the ones now at stake hanging over them. There was a time and a place for shenanigans and there was a time and a place for leadership, and despite how often Kuroo spent time messing around the office, Iwaizumi knew the reason he had been elected to their team. He had seen it first hand. His yellow, cat-like eyes hardened, he exuded an aura that was nothing less than powerful, and one gaze was all it took to settle a hard rock of fear into anyone who had anything to hide. He was a force to be reckoned with, but more certainly, it felt like he could see right through anyone. Iwaizumi had no doubts that if this poet had anything to hide, it was about to be laid bare.

With one last deep breath, Kuroo adjusted the folder in his grasp and walked into the room. Suna lifted his head at the sound of the opening door, watching Kuroo with calculating eyes as he took a seat across from him. Kuroo set down the folder on the table between them and a silence stretched across the room for a couple moments, each individual assessing the other.

“I assume I’m supposed to ask what’s in the file,” Suna said finally. Kuroo smiled professionally when he spoke, it was a calculated look that was more an indication of progress than it was of mirth. If Iwaizumi had to guess by the glint in Suna’s eyes, the other man knew exactly what game Kuroo was playing.

“That will certainly be something we get to,” Kuroo leaned back in his chair, comfortable even under the poet’s sharp gaze, “Let’s start with why we brought you in today.”

“Alright,” Suna said carefully. Another moment of silence passed, the two men competing in some silent mental battle, and after a moment, Suna blinked, seemingly surrendering to the higher authority in the room. Kuroo smiled again.

It was a clever tactic, one Iwaizumi had no patience for. Kuroo let the person being interrogated start with the questions, letting them lead, but he was still clearly in charge of the conversation. It let the individual being interviewed speak more, which often led to slip ups when a suspect asked a question that indicated they knew more information than Kuroo had given them. It was effective, and had a near 100 percent success rate, but Iwaizumi, for the life of him, could not figure out how Kuroo did it.

“Why did you bring me here today?” Suna asked dryly.

“I’m glad you asked,” Kuroo said, flashing another rewarding smile, “You see, something was recently uncovered about some cases that puts you in a less-than-ideal position,” There was another moment of silence before Suna spoke again.

“And what is that?”

“Well, I think that brings us to one part of our mystery folder,” Kuroo said casually, as if he was speaking with a buddy over a drink rather than to a potential murder suspect. He leaned forward to flip open the small file with seven pictures, each displaying an image of the now deceased victims, and spun the folder around for Suna to see. Suna’s eyes drifted over each face. After a few moments, he opened his mouth as if to say something before he stopped and leaned in closer to the file.

“I recognize them,” he said finally, “They were the audience for my last show at the theatre. Well, most of them,” he looked up at Kuroo and seemed to repress another sigh, “Did something happen to them?”

“Yes, but we’ll get to that in a minute,” Kuroo said, pleased with the admission, “First, tell me about this show you did.”

Suna sat back in his chair, posture remaining slightly slumped. Iwaizumi searched for any signs of nervousness, but the poet seemed as disinterested as he had when he was first brought into the station.

“Well,” he started, “It was kind of a weird show,” Kuroo nodded, waiting for him to explain, “I haven’t had that small a crowd since I was first starting out, but it was a private show. I got an anonymous letter in the mail asking me to do one last performance at the theatre for a pretty unnecessary sum of money,” he shrugged, “It wasn’t going to hurt me, and their only request, along with the private show, was that I performed one poem they sent me. And that I keep the weird writing the same as it was written.”

“Weird writing?” Kuroo asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah. It was a short poem, but some of the letters were unnecessarily capitalized.”

“Do you still have that poem?”

“Yeah, I kept it,” he reached into his pocket and took out his phone, scrolling through it for a moment before he slid it over the table for Kuroo to see. Kuroo’s eyes skimmed over the screen, face impassive, but Iwaizumi could tell by the way he shifted in his seat that it was something interesting.

“Do you mind if I write this down?”

“Go ahead,” Suna nodded, “Everyone there already has a copy anyway,” Kuroo paused for a moment, pen in hand, and looked up at Suna questioningly. With a small sigh, Suna said, “It’s unheard of, but I like to make programs for my shows so people can keep the words with them in more than just memory, if they want. It always bothered me when people said they wished they could remember exactly what I said, so I figured I’d just give it to them.”

Kuroo hummed thoughtfully as he finished writing the note and passed Suna’s phone back over to him. “And you’d never come into contact with these people before then? Or knew who the sender of the request was?” Suna shook his head and Kuroo nodded, leaving the silence for a moment before he continued, “Tell me more about the timing of the show. Why so far away from your other regularly scheduled ones?”

“Oh,” he rested his arms on the table, his eyes wandering back to the pictures in front of him, “I had actually not planned on doing another show at that establishment. I was scouted by a company that endorses all kinds of performers and offered a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he shrugged again, “So I took it.”

“And the theatre knew this?”

“Yeah,” he nodded, “About three weeks before that, I told them not to expect me again so they could open up another spot for other performers,” Kuroo nodded, waiting as Suna seemed to consider his next words, “Can I ask about what happened to them now?”

“Yes, you can,” Kuroo smiled again, this one with traces of amusement hidden in it, but his face quickly sobered as he looked Suna dead in the eyes, “They were murdered.”

There was a heavy silence that followed his words. Suna’s eyes widened a fraction, the most emotion he had shown since Iwaizumi had seen him, but there was clear surprise and a small amount of horror in his eyes. It wasn’t a practiced expression, evident by the way Suna blinked into the silence, mouth slightly parted as he processed the meaning behind the words. It was a jarring revelation to throw on someone, but Kuroo always was one to opt for a dramatic flare.

“Oh,” was all Suna said for a moment before he managed to school his expression back into a much tighter, impassive look, “I suppose that does put me in a… less-than-ideal position,” he said slowly. By the way he gazed at Kuroo, it was clear he was thinking back on his words, assessing the likelihood that he had criminalized himself.

“Yes, it does,” mused Kuroo, drawing out the moment of anxiety as he reached forward to turn past the pictures to a blank sheet of paper, a sly grin peeking through, “Lucky for you, you’ve not said anything incriminating yet. So all we’ll need for now is a couple of alibis and a fact check on your career progress,” he smiled and held out a pen to the poet across from him, “If everything checks out, you’ll have nothing to worry about,” Suna nodded, his posture visibly relaxing as he took the pen and waited for Kuroo to start with the procedural questions.

* * * *
It was almost disappointing to get the news that Suna was clear. It had taken many hours, but all his alibis were confirmed as solid, putting him far away from any other possible involvement with the cases. As it turned out, Suna had been scouted by a big name company many months ago and had only just drawn up a contract with them to begin his rise to fame.

The poem that Kuroo had gotten from Suna was indeed interesting. Iwaizumi didn’t care what the poem actually said, that type of stuff was all nonsense to him. What he was really interested in was the cipher, and after a while of messing around with it, Terushima found that when each of the capitalized letters were run through the atbash cipher, it gave them a new message.

“But the poem itself is so cool!” Terushima said again, still not managing to focus on the cipher he had translated and refused to show anyone, much to Iwaizumi’s chagrin, “We should have had Suna read it to us when he was here!” he practically whined. Terushima sulked for a moment before he suddenly brightened, a metaphorical lightbulb appearing above his head, “Wait! I bet I can do it! Listen to this,”

With the team’s attention, Terushima stood up on the couch and cleared his throat. Iwaizumi nearly shouted at him to get on with telling them the cipher, but Akaashi put a gentle hand on his arm to stop him. With a sigh, he resigned himself to Terushima’s performance.

With a flourish of his hand, Terushima began reading, “Give up the Space that makes Void the Breathless touch,” he crept his way across the couch, one arm outstretched, “reaching Zero on an Individual’s Vibrance counter, a Zoned Unrest Giving Voice Instead to the Black Lace Flowers that spill Willful Lies over Malicious Grievance,” he jumped and spun to face the other direction, beginning to creep across the leathery surface again as his voice rose, denoting the end of the poem, “picking at One more Vicious Guilt of a GunSlinger’s Vendetta that Nullifies the UnRequited Mutual Want of past ReGrets.”

Kuroo and Bokuto clapped and cheered when Terushima finished his extravagant performance, the rest of them giving him polite applause as he bowed enthusiastically from the couch.

“Alright,” Daichi said with a chuckle, “Wonderfully done, Terushima. Now, the cipher?”

“Right!” he jumped up and plopped himself down on the couch he had previously been traversing, looking at the piece of paper in his grasp, “So we take all the capital letters, g-s-v-b-z etcetera, you get it,” he waved his hand dismissively, “Exchange all the letters, and you get this neat little message,”

He cleared his throat again and Iwaizumi felt the shift in the room. Similar to the moment before Kuroo went in to question Suna, but not quite as heavy. The brief silence between Terushima’s words were sobered, filled with responsibility and duty-bound seriousness, but it was also electric. An unspoken energy ran between them, something deeper than excitement. This was the biggest case any of them had been involved in for some time, and at the risk of sounding macabre, Iwaizumi knew they were addicted to the thrill of a murder investigation. So with everyone’s rapt attention, Terushima read the message off of the sheet of paper.

“They are after you. Don’t let them find it.”

Chapter Text

The group of detectives had been in chaos after the newly revealed message. It wasn’t anything they didn’t already know, but it was proof; solid proof that there had been people after the victims, and that they were still after the two remaining civilians. Not only that, but it was evidence that there may be even more people involved than they had initially anticipated. The information lit a fire beneath the team. It turned up the heat to insufferable levels that only made them work harder, faster; eager for leads and new evidence and suspects. Anything to cool the temperatures.

But the longer they worked and searched, the less information they came up with, and the more leads they lost.

The more leads they lost, the more frustrated they became.

The more their morale dropped.

Iwaizumi and the rest of the team had trudged into work after weeks of vain searching and pointless discoveries. They sat at their desks in heavy silence where they remained for many hours, dull sounds of coffee mugs on wooden surfaces and hardy sighs the only signs of life amidst the suffocating quiet.

He groaned at the paperwork on his desk. Iwaizumi had a headache from lack of sleep, yet again, and the others were looking equally as ragged. Dark bruises hung beneath Akaashi’s eyes and sleep pulled his eyelids lower than usual. Ushijima and Daichi’s clothing weren’t as crisply pressed as they would normally be. Even Bokuto and Kuroo seemed less enthusiastic than usual, their voices filled with sighs and tired tones rather than their usual boisterousness. Suga was more than a little worried about them, tell-tale signs of anxiety creeping in between his doe soft eyes and pouting lip.

And yet, the need for a new break in the case clawed at their minds, pushing them forward through the muck.

‘Maybe the itch really is infectious,’ Iwaizumi thought ruefully, tenderly holding his mug of coffee as he willed the caffeine to replace the lost hours of shut-eye.

He sighed heavily, blowing hot steam into his face as he let his eyes slide shut, trying his best not to growl in annoyance. He knew it was meaningless to get so damn frustrated over this case, but he couldn’t help it. It was just so infuriating; to go through all this trouble and get so revved up only to hit a roadblock, a dead end. Suna was completely in the clear, placed under police protection for the time being, and no one was having any luck locating the two other mysterious audience members, and there weren’t any other clues they could see that would lead them anywhere anytime soon.

It all made his blood boil, just a little.

He could tell the others were getting antsy too. It had been a solid half-a-week since their interrogation with Suna and all the big surprises that this case had brought them. Now, it was slowing down. That was the feeling in a case that Iwaizumi feared the most. It had been a full sail before, but now it felt like an anchor was dragging behind them, just waiting to get caught on the right rock and lock them in place. The longer the anchor dragged, the more he could feel them slow and the more that feeling built; imminent, like dark clouds on the horizon. The feeling of losing leads, of closing the case with finality, of stamping it as unsolved; it burned beneath Iwaizumi’s skin, and he hated every moment of it.

Another harsh puff blew more steaming air into his face and Iwaizumi welcomed the sudden biting cold that came after, clinging to his skin with the light perspiration. Maybe it was a bit premature to be thinking so sorrowfully, but with how dramatic the case had been so far, Iwaizumi wouldn't be surprised if it ended as abruptly as it had begun.

Iwaizumi’s eyes opened slowly, peering to his left at the hunched figure of their unofficial team leader. There had been no starting announcement from Daichi that morning, which was unusual. The man always seemed to have some encouraging words to say to them, excitedly leading them on for another evidence goose-chase, and without it, the mood was a bit somber. Iwaizumi found himself being unable to focus. It was as if the day hadn’t yet started; he was on the cusp of beginning the race, but was still waiting for the whistle to blow.

Right on cue, Daichi’s chair squeaked against the floor as he stood. His back straightening, stiff as a board, and jaw firmly set as he faced them.

“We’re going to take a break,”

His voice rang loud and clear across the mostly silent room. Five pairs of eyes blinked back at him as if they’d somehow heard something wrong.

Take a break?

From the most important case they’d ever been assigned?

“Sorry?” Iwaizumi finally grumbled out, voice much quieter than he intended it to be.

“We’re going to take a break,” Daichi repeated, voice firm and eyes steeled as he looked at his bewildered teammates.

It was silent again for many moments.

“But Daichi!” Bokuto exclaimed, accompanied by the harsh squeaking of his desk chair that nearly toppled to the floor as he stood. His eyes were wide and showcasing every emotion that was running rampant through Iwaizumi’s mind at the moment, “We can’t just quit on this case! We-”

“I didn’t say quit,” Daichi interrupted. His voice was even-toned, eyes hard, and the sharp line of his mouth held no room for discussion, “We’re just taking a break,” he reiterated, “To clear our minds and get some much-needed and well-deserved rest. We’ll be taking on a smaller assignment in the meantime,”

The room was quiet, tense almost.

Iwaizumi wanted to demand they do no such thing. He wanted to make Daichi listen to his reasoning, to see the importance of this case and why they couldn’t stop for anything, but he didn’t move. As much as he wanted this case to go on, he could see Daichi’s point. They weren’t going anywhere; there were no more leads to chase, and sometimes it was better to take a step back than it was to keep pressing forward.

While everyone took a moment to process, eyes focused on Daichi, his gaze was trained on the back wall, almost bracing for backlash. Iwaizumi could see from the stiffness of his stance it was clear he didn’t want to make them stop either; that he was waiting for them to say just that.

The silence persisted.

“Alright,”

Akaashi’s mellow voice broke the air, a great part of the tension dissipating in one cool breath. Daichi nodded back to him.

“That’s probably for the best,” Ushijima said, beginning to set aside the folders that had previously claimed his desk space.

“I don’t really wanna but… if you guys think it’s best, then it’s probably for the best!” Bokuto agreed, still standing behind his desk.

Kuroo hummed, slouching in his chair as he gazed at Daichi under heavy-lidded eyes, “Didn’t take you for a slacker, Sa’amura,” he said with a smirk.

“Kuroo-san,” Akaashi warned, but the jibe seemed to release most of the tension that had built in Daichi’s posture.

“Don’t worry, Akaashi. We all know who the lazy cat around here is,” Daichi said dismissively and Kuroo gasped in mock offense. The air in the room lightened as Bokuto laughed and Akaashi smiled softly from behind a stack of papers. Even Ushijima chuckled lightly with Daichi’s triumphant grin.

“Let’s take five, everybody,” Daichi said, and without much more chatter, everyone except Daichi and Iwaizumi had exited the room.

Iwaizumi heaved a heavy sigh as he turned in his chair to face Daichi, not oblivious to the set up that was happening.

“Alright,” he said, crossing his arms, “Out with it,”

With a quick eye roll, Daichi faced him, “Listen,” he said, eyes forcibly focused on Iwaizumi’s, the rigidity of his posture returning, “I wanted to apologize-”

“And we’re done,” Iwaizumi interrupted, continuing before Daichi could protest, “Don’t apologize unnecessarily,” he said, getting up from his desk with a grunt.

“Hajime,” Daichi sighed, obviously not satisfied with his answer, “I know how much this case means to you and- Hey!” Iwaizumi chuckled as Daichi rubbed the area on his arm where he had punched him.

“Don’t be stupid. If you think I’m gonna hate you ‘cause we’re taking a break in the case then you’re an idiot,” he strode to the door, knocking his shoulder into Daichi’s for good measure, “Man up, or I’ll have to tell Kuroo how pathetic you’re being,”

Daichi groaned behind him and Iwaizumi fought a smile as he turned back to look at him. Daichi looked much lighter, a weight having been lifted off his chest, and he gave Iwaizumi a grimace.

“If you say that, I’ll never hear the end of it,”

Iwaizumi let his smile slip through before he stepped out the door, “That’s the point,”

* * * *
When Daichi had announced they’d be taking a short break from this case due to the lack of new evidence, Iwaizumi couldn’t help the twitch of his eye. He knew it wasn’t permanent. They weren’t tearing down their evidence boards or boxing up their files, but it still made the itch in his mind rear its head in annoyance, demanding attention.

His talk with Daichi had helped. He understood logically why they needed to take a break, and having taken a minute to cool his head afterwards, he felt better. Not completely on board, but better.

Now, he and the rest of the team walked back into the room with a renewed focus. Just because this new assignment wasn’t the case he was willing to dedicate nearly his entire life to, didn’t mean it deserved any less of his commitment. There were still people’s lives on the line.

Everyone seated themselves back in their desks as Daichi took center stage again, noticeably less tense than last time.

“I know I spoke about this briefly with Iwaizumi and Akaashi a while ago,” Daichi said as he began to outline their new assignment, “But the streets have been strangely quiet for a suspiciously long time,”

The world seemed to grind to a halt around Iwaizumi.

He had completely forgotten.

One of the city's biggest issues for law enforcement had always been gang related crime. Now, the two biggest mob groups seemed to have all but gone and disappeared from Tokyo’s streets. Invisible Castle and Concrete Crime were known for their more silent, under-the-table tactics, but there was always a buzz about something they had done among the smaller gangs.

Now there was nothing.

Not a word about them or their latest exploits. It was as if their whole operations had been carefully shut down, but that would be impossible. Their lives revolved around the ability to commit crime and black-market trade, to shut it all down would mean to ruin their entire livelihoods and methods of making money.

Not to mention their pride.

“What’re we gonna do about it, Sa’amura?” Kuroo asked, one hand holding his stubborn fringe out of his face as he slouched in his chair, one foot balancing precariously on the edge of his desk.

“We’ll do some digging,” Daichi replied, “See if there has been anything going on that’s just too buried for us to be able to see at a surface level. And who knows?” Daichi fought a smile, but they could all see the quick quirk of his lips and the glint of his eyes, “Maybe it has something to do with our mysterious murder case.”

Iwaizumi knew a bait when he heard one, especially one so glaringly obvious, but man if he wasn’t one happy fish to take it. So he bit, and from the look in everyone else’s eyes, so did they.

* * * *
They spent the next few days intermittently researching recent gang activity and prowling around the streets to see if they could pick up any news, but it was deathly silent. Even their beloved canines couldn’t sniff out anything of interest. The only people making any noise were smaller gangs that hadn’t quite learned the art of being discreet, but they were no more than nuisances.

The smaller gangs only participated in petty theft and muggings, with the occasional planned bank or store robbery that usually landed most of the culprits in jail because the police were already informed. Iwaizumi thanked whatever gods he felt he needed to for the anonymous tips that came in with the smaller groups. None of them were very tight lipped.

When it came to the two larger mob groups however, that was a whole new territory. Their members were loyal, sworn to secrecy, crafty in their own ways, and most of all, near impossible to find if they weren’t working a public job.

‘Or,’ Iwaizumi mused to himself as his team stared awe-struck at the two police officers who had just burst into their room, wide-eyed and breathless as if they had run a mile to get there, ‘If they wanted to be found.’

* * * *
“What?!” Bokuto shouted, not for the first time, “They want us to what?!”

“They want us to meet with them,” Ushijima said, Akaashi having given up on repeating the information to him, still processing it himself. Iwaizumi didn’t blame him, they were all dumbstruck as they stared at the two letters the police officers had delivered to them.

One had been folded neatly, written in almost-cutesy handwriting, and stamped with an official Invisible Castle seal, a dark teal shield emblazoned with a castle, clearly hand-crafted and high quality. The other was slightly crumpled, scrawled onto a sheet of notebook paper with a haphazard Concrete Crime symbol, a nearly black, blue bird rising up, shoved in the corner like an afterthought. The symbol crude, and obviously hand-drawn.

What was more intriguing was that, despite the difference in presentation, both letters said nearly the same thing, just in different words.

“They want us to meet them?” Iwaizumi asked incredulously, “Why on earth would we do that?”

“They say they have information regarding our most recent cases,” Daichi muttered, still working through his own shock.

“And they want us to meet them in threes? Unarmed?” Kuroo scoffed, “This trap smells worse than rotting fish. Could they be any more obvious?”

“It does,” Akaashi said, “They must know we’re desperate for information, but why would they come to us?” He mused, “They’ve never done this before.”

A soft silence lapsed over them as they all fell into their own thoughts.

Akaashi was right. They were desperate for information; desperate, clueless, and frustrated, but they also knew that gangs weren’t to be trusted. Especially not the two largest mob groups of Tokyo. They always had a hidden agenda. There were always strings attached to whatever deals they made, and to get members of the police force caught in their web would give them the upper hand.

They were desperate and clinging to what little evidence they could get their hands on, but they were professional. As tempting as the offer was, none of them would take the chance. For now, all they could focus on was the ‘why’.

“Well,” Daichi said as he grabbed the letters and pinned them to the board, “Now we know they have something to do with this,” he turned back to his team, voice firm as he continued, “We won’t stoop to their level to finish this case. There’s not a mystery we can’t solve if we go about it the right way,” he looked at each one of them, and when his eyes met Iwaizumi’s, he nodded his resolve.

They knew what he meant. They would finish this case the right way, the legal way, as they had done with so many others before this. There was no reason to subject themselves to the mercy of thugs and thieves, but Iwaizumi won’t say he wasn’t tempted to go by himself.

He could meet the gangs, get some information, and deal with the consequences later.

But even if the gangs knew anything, there was no way they’d give it up for free. The price would always be too high for them to pay. From the uneven tapping of Kuroo’s pen, Bokuto’s odd shifting, Akaashi’s sighs, Ushijima’s low hums, and Daichi’s subtle pacing, he was sure the others were having similar thoughts.

“There’s most likely something bigger going on with these gangs than we can see right now,” Daichi said thoughtfully, peering at the two letters pinned onto the board, “Let’s find out their motive for caring about this case so much. It may just be the cause of their inactivity,”

The news should have reinvigorated Iwaizumi, but instead he felt a ball of dread building in his stomach. Gang related activity wasn’t his favorite kind of operation, even though it had been the reason he’d decided to join the police force in the first place.

Past experiences had never really impacted Iwaizumi the way it seemed to everyone else. He always managed to move on with little to no problems; live and let live as they say. But there was one particular memory that left a bad taste in his mouth. One he didn’t like to think about. It made the skin on his arms crawl in disgust and the back of his throat tighten, a reaction he refused to identify as fear. He wasn’t afraid of gangs or their power, they were nothing more than organized crime.

He just wished they would disappear.

Iwaizumi had a hard time focusing for the rest of the day. As he watched the clock tick by, unable to finish his paperwork, he absently wondered how the gangs would react to being stood-up by the police force. He let out a small huff of a laugh, raking his fingers through his hair once before refocusing on his forgotten task.

He supposed they would find out.

* * * *
If they had been actors in a movie, Iwaizumi was sure there would be sirens and flashing red lights, an announcer's voice screaming some unintelligible emergency signal, and papers flying through the air.

But this was real life.

Instead of flashing lights and sirens, the news came to them in the form of hurried footsteps and quiet cursing as the person on the other side tried to jimmy the stubborn door open.

“Bo,” Akaashi said as Ushijima stood to open the door for the struggling individual, “Did you close the door?”

“Huh?” he looked up at Akaashi from his place on the floor, limbs splayed out every-which-way, “Oh, yeah! Why? Are we not supposed to? We normally close the door!”

“I know we do,” Akaashi said, “But the door handle’s been getting stuck, remember?”

“Oh, that’s right!” he smiled sheepishly, “Sorry Akaashi, I forgot,”

“It’s fine,” he reassured.

“Terushima?” Ushijima asked, managing to open the door for the frantic man on the other side.

“Oh thank goodness,” he cried, rushing into the room with two folders in hand, “You guys are not gonna believe this!”

“What is it?!” Bokuto shouted, jumping up off of the floor to scamper over to where Terushima was opening up the folders on Daichi’s desk. The others followed suit, eager to receive a new report.

Each folder was labeled with a symbol. Invisible Castle and Concrete Crime. The symbols quickly caught their attention and they all leaned in, eager to get a look at the contents.

“Guys, I know I’m highly attractive, but give a dude some space,” Terushima chuckled, “I promise you’ll all get to see! It's kind of urgent anyway, so,” he pulled out some paper from the files as everyone backed away, waiting in impatient silence. Bokuto looked excited enough to burst into owl-shaped confetti, bouncing from foot to foot and humming an off-key tune.

After another moment of quickly shuffling through the files, Terushima ran over to the evidence bulletin board and pinned a couple photos to it, before stepping back to gage their reactions.

There were two groups of photos. One set depicted a short man with light brown hair and sharp eyes, and the other an even shorter man, probably a couple years younger, with bright orange hair and soft, brown eyes. Each picture had a time stamp, some were from a couple years ago, showing each individual talking with groups of people or simply walking down the sidewalk.

The other few, however, had the current date's timestamp.

“Who are they?” Kuroo asked, his sharp eyes flitting over every detail of their faces, memorizing them no doubt.

“We don’t know their names. But this one,” Terushima said quickly, pointing to the one with light brown hair and a sour expression, “Is a high ranking member of Invisible Castle, and the other,” he turned his attention to the short redhead, “Is a renowned pickpocket from Concrete Crime,”

“Those are from today?” Iwaizumi asked.

“A couple of them,” Terushima said, all intense eyes and barely contained energy, “From about five minutes ago,”

“Five minutes ago?!” Bokuto shouted, eyes widening comically.

“Yep, so get your gear on! I’ll explain the assignment Ukai has for you. But I wouldn’t recommend taking the dogs with you this time,” he said before practically sprinting toward the changing rooms, the others hot on his tail.

As they shoved on their gear, Terushima explained the situation.

“Get your casual but defensive gear on, boys!” he said, feet swinging beneath him as he sat on a table, “This one’s a stealth mission,” Iwaizumi rolled his eyes as he pulled on a bulletproof vest. ‘Stealth missions’ were less ‘stealth’ and more ‘not immediately identified as a cop’ missions.

Oblivious to Iwaizumi’s inner thoughts, Terushima opened up a file and began to explain the situation.

“As you know, those pictures were from today, but that’s not all! Word on the street is that both gangs are planning something at these two locations. Invisible Castle here and Concrete Crime here,” he said pointing to a map Iwaizumi couldn’t see as he pulled a shirt over his head, adjusting it around the vest, “This is the first news we’ve had from them in a while, and it's a lot of news. These jobs look rushed, far too public for their normal secrecy, but it's news nonetheless. We don’t know exactly what they’re planning, but it's something dire enough to get the gangs to come out of their hibernation. Mission; find them, watch them, and catch them,”

“Anything else?” Daichi asked, finishing with the last of the buttons on his shirt.

“Not much else!” Terushima said, snapping the file shut and setting it on the table for them. He strode to the door, but paused for a moment, “But if you can catch them, then we can interrogate them and all that jazz. It’d probably help with your case, given the letters you got yesterday. Oh!” he stopped again and looked back at them, “And you’ll of course need to split into groups for this. You can decide that amongst yourselves, but do it quickly! The Concrete Crime location is a little bit far, so you’ll need time to get there,”

“Alright,” Daichi said, “How about Iwaizumi, Ushijima, and Akaashi, then myself, Bokuto, and Ku-” he was interrupted by Kuroo cursing loudly.

He cursed again, dropping the bulletproof vest he was about to put on as he ran for the door, “Hold on!” with another string of curses he sprinted down the hallway.

“Kuroo!” Daichi called after him, but he was already gone.

“Go on without us,” Iwaizumi said, “Take Akaashi and head to the Concrete Crime location, you know that area better than I do anyway. Ushijima and I can wait for Kuroo,”

“Thanks, Hajime. Good luck,” Daichi said, casting one last glance down the hallway where Kuroo had disappeared before striding toward the cars, “Let’s go,” Bokuto followed with a holler of excitement, Akaashi not far behind him.

Iwaizumi and Ushijima finished changing and waited for a couple minutes, impatience licking at Iwaizumi like tongues of fire. Just as Ushijima had gone out to start the car and Iwaizumi was getting ready to go find Kuroo and drag him back here to change, he came running into the room, still shirtless.

“What were you doing, moron?!” Iwaizumi asked with a smack to the back of Kuroo’s head.

“Sorry, sorry! I left out some classified paperwork, it’d be a nightmare if someone got a hold of it or if Suga sorted it in with the rest,” Kuroo said, scrambling over to his locker.

“Better hurry up or we’re leaving you here,” Iwaizumi said, walking out to the car without stopping to hear Kuroo’s response.

Ushijima was pulling the car out of the garage when Kuroo had come barreling out the door, long legs flying underneath him as he jumped into the car.

“About time,” Iwaizumi said, clapping him roughly on the arm.

“I can’t believe you took shotgun,” Kuroo whined.

“I can’t believe you took so long, fish for brains,” Iwaizmui retorted with a grin.

“I’ll have you know-”

“That I don’t care about your fish facts?”

“Kuroo,” Ushijima interrupted, “Close the door,”

“Right,” he said quickly, pulling the door closed and buckling himself in, “Let’s get this party started!”

* * * *
The place was certainly not a party.

It was a small, local cafe with minimal lighting, large windows that looked out into the street, and not a lot of customers. Tables and booths lined the walls, the air filled with a comforting scent of coffee and tea, and soft, soothing music drifted in the background. The atmosphere was sleepy, almost lazy. Similar to the first few waking moments in the morning where sleep was still a possibility and reality was a distant dream.

In short, Iwaizumi couldn’t see what a high ranking member of one of the two largest mob groups could possibly want from this place.

Kuroo, Ushijima, and Iwaizumi had shoved themselves into a booth in the corner of the cafe, where the door and the other customers would be visible to them at all times. It had been about fifteen minutes since their arrival and Iwaizumi had to actively keep himself from standing up every time a passerby looked to be entering the cafe.

“Maybe he’s meeting someone?” Kuroo mumbled around a chocolate croissant, eyes never straying far from the door.

“If he was just meeting someone there wouldn’t be this much fuss about it,” Iwaizumi said with a shake of his head, “There’s got to be something else going on here,”

Iwaizumi let his eyes wander around the room.

The cafe wasn’t brimming with customers, which was unusual for the hour. There were the employees, a short woman with round glasses and dark hair sighing over paperwork by the main windows, two men with shorn heads arguing quietly over a game of cards a couple booths away from them, and two college age kids chatting in the corner. Most likely on a date, judging from the blush high on their cheeks and the way their shoulders brushed together when they laughed.

Iwaizumi was walking to the counter, finally giving into the temptation of the pastries on display and Kuroo’s taunts, when the door jingled.

He turned and watched as a familiar figure walked through the door. Short brown hair and sharp, dark brown eyes swept across the room as he entered. Though short, there was an undeniable air of confidence around him that screamed a ‘no nonsense’ attitude. No one seemed to pay him any mind as he strolled over to wait behind Iwaizumi, hands in his pockets.

If Iwaizumi wasn’t professionally trained he was sure he would’ve gone stiff by now, but he calmly ordered his pastry of choice and stepped aside for the shorter man. Looking over at Kuroo and Ushijima, he raised an eyebrow in a silent question. Kuroo shook his head discreetly.

Not yet. They needed to observe him more before they confronted him.

A couple minutes later, Iwaizumi was seated with his pastry and the mob member was smiling and thanking the employees as he grabbed his order.

“Did you catch his name?” Kuroo asked, still munching on his croissant.

“No,” Iwaizumi said, “He showed them a card and they didn’t ask for one,”

“Unusual,” Ushijima said.

The three men sat and watched as the mob member made his way over to the window seats, his destination becoming more obvious with each step.

He stopped in front of the woman with round glasses and leaned in to say something to her, his body blocking her reaction from their view, but she didn’t appear to be too alarmed. After a brief moment he set a plate down in front of her and slid into the seat on the other side of the table, smiling sweetly to her as they began to talk quietly.

The meeting seemed normal enough at first, but the longer the man spoke, the more distressed the woman seemed to become; her eyes morphing into circles as round as her glasses, hands beginning to white-knuckle grip her pen, and her paperwork long forgotten. She began to speak, gathering her papers and glancing around the room, but the man leaned forward and said something while putting one hand on the inside of his coat, still smiling pleasantly. Her eyes widened even more when she looked back at him, frozen in place at the sight of whatever was hidden in his coat. Iwaizumi would guess a gun or knife of some kind. He narrowed his eyes at the scene, fingers twitching with the urge to intervene.

“This is bad,” Kuroo whispered, glancing at Iwaizumi out of the corner of his eye, “You going?”

With a sharp nod, Iwaizumi stood and made his way over to the table.

He made no effort to look as though he was heading in any other direction, but the short man seemed unconcerned as he approached. Or he simply didn’t notice, but Iwaizumi highly doubted that.

Before Iwaizumi could reach the table; however, one of the men with a buzzed head stepped out of the booth in front of him. He wore a sharp frown, eyebrows down-turned enough to wrinkle the skin between them. His under eyes were black and most of his short hair was bleached blonde, save for two stripes of natural brown that circled his head. Anger emanated from every fiber of his being, but he didn’t say anything, content to glare daggers into Iwaizumi’s soul.

Iwaizumi felt another body move behind him, and he looked over his shoulder to see the other man with shorn hair, blue-grey eyes, and a shark tooth grin staring him down.

“What’re you doing, city boy?” he said with a sneer, leaning into Iwaizumi’s personal space.

Iwaizumi had a couple of options. He could play civilian, reveal himself as a cop, or sock one, or both, of them in the face. If he wasn’t a cop, he’d be leaning toward the latter option, but he didn’t want to start an unnecessary fight, especially if these were just two delinquent civilians. He very much doubted it, given their dispositions and obvious defensiveness toward whatever was going down at the other table, but he had to be sure.

He chose the most direct option.

“Detective Iwaizumi from the Tokyo Police Department,” he grunted, looking back at the man with the dark under eyes as he pulled his coat aside to reveal the badge clipped inside of it, “Step aside,”

The man, quite literally, growled at him. Iwaizumi made to walk around him, but before he could make it more than one step, a hand roughly shoved him backward and his back met the cold press of metal.

A gun.

“Yaku!” the man behind him called urgently. The man with short brown hair, Yaku, turning to look at him with an annoyed expression, “Cops,”

The room exploded with movement.

Yaku lunged out of his chair and grabbed the woman by her arm, dragging her out of her seat and towards the door. Iwaizumi heard the clatter of dishes behind him as Kuroo and Ushijima sprang into action, but he couldn’t wait to see much more.

The man behind him was suddenly yanked away and Iwaizumi wasted no time in kicking the angry man in front of him in the gut. The man stumbled backward, but his chest and stomach were hard, padded. A bulletproof vest no doubt, and he recovered quickly.

Both men had their guns out in a matter of seconds, and before Iwaizumi could get a shot off he felt a bullet graze his shoulder. Gritting his teeth against the sting of pain, he ducked behind a booth, peeking over to fire off a couple shots before moving back behind it.

He hissed as another bullet grazed his arm, but felt a small spark of triumph as the other man grunted in pain from one of his shots.

Vaguely, he registered the sound of gunshots behind him, the sound of the others engaging the gang members, and the cries of fear from the civilians as they scrambled for cover.

There was another pained grunt from the other side of the booth, but no shots followed Iwaizumi’s round so he took that as an incentive to move.

He jumped out from his side of the booth and turned the corner. The gang member was crouched on the other side of the booth, face screwed up in pain. The man’s angry eyes met his own briefly before darting over to the pistol on the floor, one of his hands bleeding from being grazed by a bullet.

They moved in tandem. The gang member dove for the gun as Iwaizumi darted forward, one boot smashing on top of the man’s hand, inches away from it. In one swift movement, Iwaizumi kicked the loaded gun against the wall and aimed the barrel of his pistol at the gangster below him.

“Don’t move!” he barked harshly, sweat beading in his hairline and blood trickling down his arms. The gang member was laying on the ground, one hand still crushed under Iwaizumi’s foot with his other wrapped around Iwaizumi’s ankle, glaring daggers up at him.

“Iwaizumi!” Kuroo’s voice called and he spared a glance around the room.

Kuroo and the woman were standing with their backs to the windows, not far from Iwaizumi, with Yaku in front of them. The barrel of Kuroo’s pistol rested against the mob member’s forehead as he raised his hands, barely contained rage brimming behind his eyes.

“All clear,” Ushijima called from behind them, the other gang member crouching on the floor in front of him, the side of his head bleeding as he glared up at the monotone detective.

“Alright,” Iwaizumi breathed, relief spreading through his limbs. His teammates were more or less unharmed, and the woman was safe, he couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.

“Let’s-”

“Get down!” Yaku yelled, falling to the floor. Not moments later, the sound of screeching tires and rapid gunfire exploded through the cafe. He caught a glimpse of a black van with a barely visible logo on its side before shattered glass rained down over them and Iwaizumi dove to the ground, using his arms to shield his head as he hit the floor. Bullets ripped through the cafe and his clothes, pinging off his bulletproof vest and scratching across his arms, glass digging its way into the skin of his arms and legs, some managing to embed themselves in his face. The sound of gunfire persisted for a few moments, accompanied by shattering glass and plates, the ping of metal, and screams of civilians in the corner as Iwaizumi remained curled on the ground.

Then there was silence.

The fading thrum of an engine and the sound of car horns permeated the stiff air for a moment before Iwaizumi pulled himself back to his senses and sprang to his feet, eyes sweeping across the room to his teammates.

Ushijima was standing, mostly saved from the rain of glass, but there were a few new bullet holes in his shirt; any actual damage was blocked by his vest, and aside from a new patch of blood slowly growing on his shirt sleeve he seemed to be fine.

Kuroo was kneeling on the ground, blocked from Iwaizum’s view by an overturned table.

“Kuroo?” he called, swiftly making his way around the wreckage, and he nearly froze at the sight before him.

The woman was lying on the ground in front of Kuroo, bullet holes riddling her body and blood rapidly pooling around her head. Her glassy eyes stared up into nothing, glasses strewn across the floor and broken, and her chest was undeniably unmoving, “Kuroo-”

“She’s dead,” Kuroo croaked, lifting a shaky hand to push back his hair, the other gently closing her now vacant eyes.

Iwaizumi was stunned. Kuroo had never become this emotional over losing victims in the field. He usually managed to hold himself together until they got back to the precinct and-

Then Iwaizumi saw the drip of blood from Kuroo’s torso; noticed the small, secondary pool of dark liquid slowly growing on the floor, and Iwaizumi realized the shaking and croaky voice was not from sadness.

The closer he moved, the more Iwaizumi could see that Kuroo’s body was almost as riddled with bullet holes at the woman’s. His shirt was nearly in tatters and he was bleeding heavily, breathing coming in harsh puffs, his voice raspy, not from sadness, but from pain. His hair was slicked to his forehead in a mixture of sweat and blood, and from the way he had yet to meet Iwaizumi’s eyes, he knew it was bad.

“Kuroo!” Iwaizumi said urgently, kneeling next to him as Kuroo’s arm gave out and he fell to the ground with a sharp cry, “What the hell?! Where’s your vest?!” he shouted, equal parts angry and worried as he gathered as much of the tattered clothing as he could to hold against the heavy bleeding. Kuroo’s eyes fluttered and he wheezed out what Iwaizumi suspected was meant to be a laugh.

“Forgot,” he winced as Iwaizumi pressed down on his wounds, “On my way out,”

“You absolute moronic, idiotic, dumb-”

“Iwaizumi,” Ushijima said calmly, interrupting Iwaizumi before he could let out a string of curses berating Kuroo for his foolishness.

When Iwaizumi turned to look at him, his eyes met the barrel of a gun instead.

“Detective Iwaizumi, huh?” Yaku said, tilting his head, face set in an annoyed grimace. There were a couple cuts on his cheeks, glass cutting up the sides of his sleeves and a no doubt a few bullet wounds from Kuroo and the rapid fire attack.

Iwaizumi glared up at him, eyes darting back to Ushijima who was standing with his hands up, the shark tooth gangster standing behind him with a pistol trained on the back of his head.

“What do you want from us?” Iwaizumi growled.

Yaku smirked at him, “That’s for the boss to decide. Now, get up and drop the gun. Or I’ll have Mad Dog finish off your rooster haired friend here,”

“I’m dying and people are still making fun of my hair,” Kuroo mumbled, words slurring slightly as his eyelids fluttered again, struggling to keep them open.

“Shut up, moron,” Iwaizumi said softly. There was no bite to his voice as he reluctantly released the pressure on Kuroo.

His throat tightened as he watched the blood continue to drain out of him, dropping his gun and rising from the ground with his hands raised, before finally wrenching his gaze away from Kuroo. He wanted to get them wherever the gang members intended to take them as quickly as he could.

He refused to think about the possible outcomes Kuroo’s injuries could have if they took too long.

“Lead ‘em out, Tanaka,” Yaku said over his shoulder.

“Yes, sir,” Tanaka, the shark toothed gangster, said enthusiastically, pushing Ushijima in the direction of the back door, “No funny moves, big guy,”

“Walk,” Yaku said simply, his gun still trained on Iwaizumi. He complied, following Ushijima and Tanaka toward the back door, hands still raised, “You got him, Mad Dog?” Yaku asked, earning a terse nod from the angry, and apparently wordless, gangster. Mad Dog crouched down and lifted Kuroo off the floor, in an impressive feat of strength, before following them out the door and toward a waiting, nondescript van.

Iwaizumi and Ushijima climbed into the back, holding out their hands when Yaku ordered them to, and Tanaka tightened zip ties around their wrists. They didn’t bother restraining Kuroo, plopping him into the seat next to Iwaizumi, his eyelids still fluttering. Iwaizumi gritted his teeth.

Kuroo was never one to wear his feelings on his face, but now Iwaizumi could read him clear as day. The flexing of his jaw and the scrunching of his eyebrows with an accompanying, subtle whine with each exhale said everything Kuroo wouldn’t.

He was in pain. And a lot of it.

Iwaizumi fought back the feeling of his tightening throat at the sight of his bleeding teammate and the closing car door. The glint of pistols in the hands of the gang members across from them made his chest clench and he fought the rage boiling in his stomach, choosing instead to lean his head back against the cool wall of the van.

“Mattsun,” Yaku called to the driver, only a mess of black hair in Iwaizumi’s limited vision, “Let’s get a move on, or we’ll have more than a little trouble on our heels,”

A soft, deep chuckle rumbled from the driver's seat as the car began to roll out onto the street, “I thought we liked trouble,”

“Don’t get smart with me,” Yaku snapped, “There wasn’t supposed to be a shootout today and now our only piece of evidence is dead-”

“Careful,” Mattsun said, glancing over his shoulder, heavy lidded eyes giving him a lazy look, “We’ve got extra ears,”

“Just drive,” Yaku said, sitting back in his seat and turning his gaze to the detectives in front of him.

“At least we didn’t get caught!” Tanaka whooped, patting Mad Dog harshly on the shoulder. Mad Dog only grunted in response, “I can’t wait to tell Nishinoya, he’s gonna be SO jealous!” he hummed, tapping his foot impatiently on the floor.

* * * *
The rest of the car ride was spent in tense silence. At some point during the drive Kuroo’s head had dropped onto Iwaizumi’s shoulder, and Iwaizumi had done his best not to focus on how heavily he was breathing, or how pained he had sounded.

Now, Kuroo was being yanked away with an agonized groan.

“Let’s go,” Yaku said after Mad Dog had hauled Kuroo out of the van, gun still in hand.

Iwaizumi and Ushijima stepped out the van slowly, taking in their surroundings as the mob members shoved them further into the spacious room. Mattsun, the driver, had parked inside of a large building, most likely an empty warehouse of some kind. The walls and floor were grey concrete, well-kept, and their footsteps echoed across the silent room. Mad Dog had laid Kuroo on the floor in the middle of the room and the two detectives hurried over to their teammate, still bleeding and breathing heavily.

“Mattsun’s gone to get the boss,” Yaku said as Iwaizumi and Ushijima struggled to help stop Kuroo’s bleeding, “You’re lucky,” Iwaizumi shot him a glare, “He doesn’t normally come out to meet his captives, much less cops,”

“I couldn’t care less about your stupid boss,” Iwaizumi spat, not bothering to hide the anger in his voice or the venom in his eyes. He was angry, livid, but more than that he was afraid. Iwaizumi had never been captured before. There was no protocol they could follow with a guaranteed win on their end, there was no way to know what these people would want from them. There was no way to know that all three, or any of them, were walking out of this alive.

He could only hope that, whatever it was they wanted, it was over quickly.

Iwaizumi’s throat tightened further at the sound of Kuroo’s weak whimpering, but before Yaku could respond, a door swung open behind Iwaizumi.

“Oh ho ho? What’s this?” sang a sickly sweet voice.

Iwaizumi froze. Eyes trained on Kuroo’s shaking figure.

That voice.

It was older and deeper now, but it was oh so familiar to him. It was the voice filled with disgust for bugs in the summer and whines for warmth in the winter. It was the sound of late night movies and mud-covered adventures. It was a voice screaming for help over the sound of sirens and barked orders. It was the sound of childhood.

It was a voice he never thought he’d hear again.

Chapter Text

Daichi watched as Kuroo’s bare back retreated down the hallway.

“Kuroo!” he shouted, but Kuroo had already swerved into their office room, disappearing in a flurry of long limbs and faint curses. Daichi sighed, knowing he wouldn’t be answering until he had finished whatever it was he needed to do.

“Go on without us,” Iwaizumi said gruffly, turning to Daichi as he did so, “Take Akaashi and head to the Concrete Crime location, you know that area better than I do anyway. Ushijima and I can wait for Kuroo,”

“Thanks, Hajime. Good luck,” Daichi said, casting one last glance down the hallway where Kuroo had disappeared, eyebrows furrowing slightly as he tried not to worry before he began his walk toward the cars, “Let’s go,” he called over his shoulder, Bokuto following with a holler of excitement and Akaashi not far behind.

Daichi walked around to pull the car out, still trying to banish curious concerns about Kuroo from his mind as he stopped in the driveway to let Bokuto and Akaashi hop in.

Daichi thought it was amusing; how if Bokuto was paired with anyone else, he’d have a race and maybe an arm wrestle over who got to sit in the front-seat, or drive the car. However, with Akaashi, he was content to sit in the back with him.

“Akaashi! What do you think Concrete Crime is planning to do?” Bokuto asked as they scooted into the back seat together. Bokuto was practically vibrating with excitement and Akaashi was as mellow as usual.

“I don’t know, Bokuto-san,” Akaashi said quietly as he buckled himself in.

“Aw, Akaashi! Why the ‘Bokuto-san’?” he whined.

Daichi watched in the rearview mirror as Bokuto lowered his head and stuck his lip out in a pout. It was pathetic, and Daichi knew exactly who had taught him to pout like that. The very expression Bokuto was wearing, except on one rooster-haired man, was bored into his brain.

Daichi cleared his throat and tried to ignore the light burning at the back of his neck.

‘I see too much of him,’ he thought, suppressing an eye roll as he turned out into the street.

“My apologies, Bo,” Akaashi said with a small smile.

“It’s okay!” Bokuto cheered, and Daichi chuckled lightly.

It had taken Bokuto ages to convince Akaashi to call him anything but ‘Bokuto-san’. At first it had just been ‘Bokuto’, which he still complained about, but eventually he had managed to push it a little further to ‘Bo’, of which he was very proud. Akaashi still sometimes slipped into his old habit but Bokuto was always quick to correct him. If Daichi had to guess, he would say that Akaashi was as pleased with the nickname as Bokuto, only secretly.

‘I wonder, if I pushed enough, if I could get Kuroo to call me something besides ‘Sa’amura’,’ Daichi thought. He tightened his grip on the wheel and sharply turned his thoughts back to Bokuto and Akaashi as he adjusted the temperature of the car.’

Their relationship was an interesting one, at least, Daichi thought so. Bokuto and Akaashi had met each other at the police academy, where Daichi had met Kuroo and everyone else, but they treated each other more like Kuroo and Kenma did; as if they were childhood best friends who had known each other for years. But it was also different somehow. Their friendship was close and almost-intimate, each showing their affection in their own ways.

Where Bokuto was loud, and energetic, and most definitely a people person, Akaashi was quiet, and low-energy, and reserved. In theory, they wouldn’t make the best pair, but in reality, they fit together like two pieces of a puzzle. Bokuto the push and Akaashi the pull, dancing around each other like waves in an ocean. A perfect harmony.

‘A beautiful friendship. Though… I wonder if it's something more,’ he thought briefly, nearly startling himself, but Daichi shook his head and focused on steering the vehicle, ‘It’s pointless to grasp at straws,’ he chided himself, ‘Especially if those straws are none of your business,’

As Daichi turned his thoughts away from his two companions and towards what awaited them, he began tapping his fingers against the steering wheel. It was a nervous habit he was painfully aware of, but couldn’t stop. Normally he paced instead, but he was sitting in a car with no way to quell the anxieties flitting around inside his brain, so he let the subtle but familiar tune he was thrumming against the leather-clad wheel distract him.

* * * *
It didn’t feel like long before they arrived, the soft lull of the radio and the chatter from Bokuto and Akaashi passing the time rather quickly despite the distance they had to travel.

‘Or maybe it’s just the nerves,’ Daichi thought as he, Bokuto, and Akaashi exited the car.

This area of the city was more familiar to Daichi, having spent a lot of his time here as a college student. It had quaint little shops, nice parks, and less traffic than other parts of the city. It was also a bit closer to the outskirts, which meant it was a little less expensive, and also, sadly, meant there was more crime— at least when the sun had gone down.

Daichi watched the sky slowly changing color as the sun made its way to rest on the horizon, ‘Why would they do something so rushed in the middle of the evening?’ he wondered as they made their way across the street to their assigned location.

It was a small library Daichi had frequented in his college years, dutifully hunched over desks, books, and computers for hours on end. Even presently, he’d still drop by every now and again. He enjoyed the peaceable environment it had, and he could only hope it remained that way. With the newest developments piling in front of them, he doubted it.

With a heavy sigh, Daichi led the way across the street.

The library was exactly as it always was. A quiet atmosphere floating around polished tables and leather couches. The floor was mostly carpeted, a deep navy stretching underneath oak bookshelves, the feet of stressed students agonizing over projects and homework, and citizens meandering through the aisles to peruse books. The walls were a pleasant cream color, neither too plain nor too obtrusively bright. Daichi would have loved to settle down on a cushion with a good book and enjoy the solitude for real, but they had a mission, and he wasn’t about to let his own familiarity with their surroundings dampen his focus.

Before Daichi, Bokuto, and Akaashi could begin to execute their premeditated plan of sitting and observing, there was a shout from the front desk.

“Thief!” a voice cried, one Daichi recognized as the head librarian, “Stop him, he’s a thief!” A flash of orange shot out from behind the counter, a backpack hefted over one shoulder as the familiar face made a dash for the exit.

Without a second thought, Daichi surged forward, clasping his hands around the smaller man’s arms and stopping him dead in his tracks. A surprised yelp emanated from the orange haired fellow, brown eyes going wide as he realized the predicament he had gotten himself into.

“U-uh! Uh!” he managed to stutter out, still too shocked to move, his body rigid as he stared up at Daichi.

“Detective Sawamura Daichi from the Tokyo Police Department,” he said, answering the unasked question he was sure was bubbling just on the tip of the orange haired kid’s tongue, “You’re under arrest,”

“Uh!” the orange haired kid said more urgently, still unable to find his words, but his eyes darted away from Daichi’s, seeking out someone, “T-Tsukishima!!”

There was a growl-like sound from behind Daichi, whether from the man or the sound of the chair moving against the floor, he wasn’t sure, “I knew this wouldn’t go well,”

Daichi didn’t have to turn around to know the familiar click of a cocked gun, but it was quickly followed by two others, Bokuto and Akaashi falling into place behind Daichi, watching his back as he trusted they always would.

“Get the shrimp,” another voice said, another chair sliding against the carpet, “I’ll get the cargo,”

With those words, a chair clattered to the ground near the front of the library, and Daichi turned just in time to see a tall man with light, brown-pink hair dashing out the exit, a man with silver hair with darker tips sprinting after him.

In his short moment of distraction, the kid managed to duck out of his grip, letting his weight drop so quickly that he slipped out of Daichi’s grip like a fish and darted around him to stand by Tsukishima, an unfairly tall blonde with glasses and a sour expression. He was pointing his gun at Akaashi and Bokuto, stock-still, as if assessing what their next move would be.

“We’ll take care of them, Sawamura-san,” Akaashi said, shifting his weight forward as he eyed the tall blonde and his thieving companion, steadily holding his pistol in line, “Make sure the civilian is okay,”

“On it!” without another word, Daichi raced out the doors, gun heavy in his hand and footsteps heavy on the concrete as he charged after the two frantically running men.

Daichi was yards behind them, the gap between them never closing, much to his displeasure. His heart was pounding, and it nearly shot into his throat as he watched in almost slow motion as two pairs of arms shot out of the open door of a black van and grabbed the brown-pink haired man from off the street. The man screamed and thrashed in protest, but it was too late to fight, and he disappeared inside, the screaming coming to an abrupt end.

“No!” roared the silver haired man, picking up speed to no avail.

Daichi slowed to a halt and watched in horror as the van’s door slid shut and peeled away. He was about to check the license plate as it sped past him, when suddenly the flicker of a faint symbol caught his eye. For a moment, he thought it was a trick of the light, but even in the glow of the slowly setting sun, there was no doubt about it.

Faintly pasted on the side of the van was a grey and gold logo with the letters ‘NZL’ dancing in front of him like a taunt.

Daichi was snapped back to the present with a hard, full-body shove that nearly knocked him off his feet, but his opponent had underestimated his stability, even when unfocused.

In one swift movement, Daichi used the momentum to drag his opponent forward, throwing him to the ground with a grunt. By the time the silver haired man had managed to turn on his back, Daichi had already leveled the barrel of his gun toward him, locking him in place.

“Detective Sawamura Daichi of the Tokyo Police Department,” he said for the second time that day.

Before he could say anything further, Akaashi’s voice called from the library entrance, “Daichi,” which caught his attention immediately.

Akaashi only called him ‘Daichi’ in the office, because Daichi had insisted that ‘Sawamura’ had always been too formal for him anyway. But on cases, it was always, always ‘Sawamura-san’.

Daichi’s heart jumped into his throat for the second time that day.

He hadn’t heard any shots fired. He had assumed Akaashi and Bokuto would be alright, especially together, but as Daichi looked up toward the library entrance, the scene spelled a different story.

Akaashi’s face was pinched tight, worry, sweat, and a little bit of blood beading in his brow, trickling down the side of his face. There was an apology in his eyes that Daichi refused to acknowledge, along with the fact that the tall blonde, Tsukishima, was standing with a gun to his teammate’s back.

“Where’s Koutarou?” Daichi asked, his breath hardly willing to leave his lungs.

“He’s inside,” Akaashi said, voice even toned, but from the way his brown creased and how he worried at his bottom lip, Daichi knew better than to assume that he was calm, “He was knocked out. Nothing serious,”

Despite the fact that Akaashi sounded like he was half trying to convince himself of the words, Daichi felt a breath of fresh air push its way into his lungs.

‘Not dead. Not dying. It could be worse,’ he thought.

“I’m going to ask you to put down your gun and step away from Semi,” Tsukishima said, lightly flicking his wrist. The gun, that was still pointing at Akaashi, glinted in the dying light as a smug smile crept it’s way onto his face, “Though, I’m not really asking,”

“Who says I don’t shoot your friend here and now?” Daichi asked, refusing to give up what little power he had over the situation just yet.

‘If I can stall, the local police will get here in time to help,’ he thought grimly.

The smile faltered on Tsukishima’s face for a moment, but he held it firmly in place, tilting his head up arrogantly, “Because you’re a cop,” he said simply, “Cops don’t let their friends die just to kill one measley gang member,”

“Watch it,” the silver haired man, Semi, muttered, still wary of the barrel aimed at his face.

“Put down your gun,” Tsukishima demanded again, finger curling tighter around the trigger of his gun, “Or I’ll paint the street red,”

There was a moment of tense silence before Daichi responded, praying for the sound of distant sirens, but he was met with nothing but traffic.

“Alright,” he conceded, slowly lowering the gun to the ground and kicking it away, strategically out of reach of both him and Semi. He could tell Tsukishima noticed his move by the way he frowned, but he didn’t comment.

Daichi rose back up to his feet, arms raised slightly, “We won’t pursue you if you leave now, without harming anyone,”

Semi laughed as he stood, brushing dust off of his clothing, “Like hell you wouldn’t!”

‘Worth a shot,’ Daichi thought ruefully.

There was a straining sound from the front door of the library as three men, the short orange haired thief, a tall, lanky, silver-haired kid, and a man with a dyed mohawk, attempted to squeeze Bokuto out of the doorway.

It would have been comical in another situation, given the open-mouthed, slightly drooling, and probably snoring Bokuto that was hanging limply from their hands. The little orange kid was red in the face trying to hold his portion.

Akaashi looked almost pained at the scene, grimacing as they accidentally bonked Bokuto’s head in the doorway for the second- nope, third, time.

A ‘tsk’ of irritation emanated from Tsukishima’s mouth as he glared at the three who were still attempting to maneuver the hulk of a man out of the library.

“I said the back door, you idiots!” he practically hissed. Semi just rolled his eyes at their antics and sighed as if this were nothing out of the ordinary.

‘It may not be, for him,’ Daichi thought.

Tsukishima lifted his free hand to his ear and muttered into it irritatedly, “Yamaguchi, you’re going to need to come around front. Yes, now,”

Not a couple seconds later, the rumble of an engine sounded. Daichi watched as, out of a nearby side street, puffed a rickety old garbage bin of a car, a minivan actually, driven by an olive-haired man with the biggest cowlick Daichi had ever seen.

“It’s gonna be a tight fit,” Semi said as he grasped Daichi’s arm and led him toward the car he most certainly did not want to enter.

‘We’re being taken captive by gang members and I’m reluctant to enter the car because it looks like it'll fall apart,’ Daichi scoffed to himself, ‘This situation really isn’t hitting me the way it should,’

Before Daichi, Akaashi, and the gangsters clambered into the car, they watched for a few moments as Hinata, the one with orange hair, Lev, the tall, lanky one, and Yamamoto, the one with a mohawk, shoved Bokuto into the back. It was a tangle of limbs and screeching, and Daichi nearly chuckled, but he was sobered by the sight of Tsukishima’s gun still trained on Akaashi as they entered the car.

They were still being taken captive. Their lives were still on the line, and no matter how friendly they seemed, they still needed to be stopped, because they were criminals.

As if sensing his plummeting mood, Akaashi knocked his knee against Daichi’s as the car began to roll away into the darkening day.

‘It’ll be okay,’

Daichi could only hope that was true.

* * * *
During the ride, which was conveniently concealed when Lev and Hinata had happily shoved cloth bags over Akaashi and Daichi’s respective faces, there was a surprising amount of chatter. Nothing of much importance, but it gave Daichi a good idea of what kind of people they were. If he was completely honest, they didn’t seem like gangsters at all. They acted more like college aged kids, maybe college graduates, still full of life, and hope, and humour, and it made Daichi’s heart ache to know what sort of business they had tangled themselves up in.

‘They could have been normal kids,’

At one point, Bokuto had finally woken up, which relaxed Akaashi a great deal when his voice had suddenly erupted out of the back of the car in a bleary haze.

“Woah! What happened?”

There was scrambling, in which Daichi assumed someone had shoved a bag over Bokuto’s face, if his muffled voice was any indication.

“Oh dang… Did we get captured?” he gasped, “Akaashi!!!!”

“I’m here, Bo,” Akaashi replied soothingly, the raw rasp of his voice breathing unfiltered relief into his tone.

Bokuto cheered, probably knocking someone in the head with a celebratory arm raise by the thunk and ‘agh!’ that sounded after, “What about Daichi?!”

“I’m here too, Bokuto,” he said, mostly amused now, despite their predicament.

“Tha-”

“Alright,” Semi interrupted, yanking the masks off of Akaashi and Daichi’s faces, Lev doing the same to Bokuto in the back, “We’re here,”

Those words held a silent order, and the mood dropped dramatically, even Bokuto’s face becoming serious as they crawled out of the creaky van and into a run-down garage.

No one said a word as they followed Semi through the garage door and into a dimly lit house.

If Daichi had to guess from the condition of the house, he’d say they were somewhere close to the slums of Tokyo. What he could see out of the mostly covered windows were glimpses of ragged houses and overflowing garbage bins.

‘This is probably where most of them grew up,’ Daichi thought grimly as he watched a plastic bag drift past the window, ‘Or something close to it,’

In the dark of the descending sun and the dim lighting of the house, Daichi was almost startled when a tall young man rose from the shadows of the kitchen table, his slate blue eyes glinting menacingly across the room at them.

Daichi had long wondered who the leader of Concrete Crime was, and he had no doubt that they were about to meet with him.

“Bakageyama!” Hinata shouted, bouncing his way over to the taller, menacing man like he didn’t look like he was about to murder everyone in his sight, “We caught three detectives!”

‘Bakageyama’, as Hinata so graciously called him, sputtered and slammed the side of his hand down on Hinata’s head, “Hinataboke! I can see that! I can also see you don’t have our initial target!” he shouted as he smacked Hinata’s head again.

“Ow!!” Hinata whined loudly and a chorus of snickers and sighs sounded from the group of gangsters around them.

‘And with only a few words, the atmosphere lightens,’ Daichi thought.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Bokuto said, picking up on the lightening mood and trying to bolster it while getting down to business, “What’re we all doing here?” he asked happily.

The Concrete Crime leader abandoned his mission of hurting Hinata and turned to them with dark eyes. Daichi was beginning to think that maybe that was just his natural expression.

“My name is Kageyama,” he said stiffly, as if he had rehearsed his whole intro in the mirror before they arrived, “I’m the leader of Concrete Crime, and I have information regarding your latest mystery murder cases,”

“Alright,” Daichi said finally, “We don’t have any choice but to listen, seeing as we’re being held against our will,”

Kageyama glowered slightly and sniffed before sitting down at the table again, “Sit,” he said simply, and the three of them squished their way into the seats on the other side of the table.

“So,” Bokuto began as the silence stretched too long for his liking, “What’s this information that you speak of?”

Kageyama glowered again and turned his head away in a flick of blue-black hair, “I’m not just going to tell you,” he growled.

‘Of course not,’ Daichi grumbled to himself, but he pasted on a polite smile before he began speaking.

“I didn’t expect you would,” Daichi said, leaning on the table good-naturedly, “What is your price for this information? Or just for allowing us to leave?”

“You’re not leaving until you hear the information,” Kageyama said with finality, “But first, I need 80 grand,”

Daichi blanched, “80 grand? And you expect us to pull this out of our pockets?” he couldn’t help the sarcasm that leaked into his voice at the proposal.

‘I’ve been spending too much time with that cat, I’m going to get us killed,’ he thought. Though, it may not be fully right blaming Kuroo for his sass.

“No!” Kageyama said and he folded his arms defensively, “One of you will leave and get the 80 grand. Then I’ll give you the information, and then you can leave,”

“What makes you so sure that the one getting the money won’t come back with an armed force?” Akaashi questioned.

“They’ll have an escort, and a threat over their colleagues' heads if they try anything,” Kageyama warned.

“Very well then,” Daichi said, “Which one of us will be leaving?”

Kageyama looked almost startled by the question, “Uh, you,” he said, mostly uncertain.

“And who will my escorts be?” Daichi asked, feeling more like he was guiding one of his kouhai’s through a research project than he was discussing terms with a criminal mastermind.

“Semi, and Tsukishima,” Kageyama said after a brief pause.

“Shall we be going then?”

Kageyama answered with a curt nod, watching as Daichi rose from his chair and padded over to Semi and Tsukishima.

“I’ll be back,” Daichi said, exchanging glances with Akaashi and Bokuto, who both nodded their affirmations.

“Go get ‘em, Daichi!” Bokuto called enthusiastically, as if he wasn’t leaving his teammates in the hands of a bunch of gangsters with guns and fists to match.

“Sure thing, Bokuto,” Daichi said with a smile.

“Before you go,” Akaashi said, “You may want access to our bank accounts as well. I doubt you have 80 grand lying around,”

‘Sharp as always,’ Daichi thought.

It only took a few moments for them to write down their information and hand their cards to Daichi, who felt immensely guilty for having to take so much money from each of them. He reconciled his restless conscience by determining that he’d take as much as he could from himself first, without breaking his bank, before he would split the rest between Bokuto and Akaashi. They insisted he split it evenly, but he only smiled at them and said something noncommittal that he was sure neither of them believed for a moment.

‘Maybe the precinct will compensate a little,’ he hoped absently as felt the car hitch underneath him.

They had covered his face with a black, cloth bag yet again, but they removed it once they reached the inner city, and Daichi did his best to memorize the turns. When they stopped and got out of the car, Semi and Tsukishima strolled with him to an ATM as casually as they could manage.

“Kageyama’s a little young for his position, don’t you think?” Daichi said as he began the process of withdrawing money as inconspicuously as someone who was about to shove wads of cash in a bag could.

Tsukishima rolled his eyes and clicked his tongue, something Daichi was finding to be his signature sound, “Obviously,”

“You’re not much older than him,” Semi chided, though teasingly. Tsukishima only clicked his tongue again, “But yes, he is. He’s doing an excellent job,” he said, almost defensively.

“I’ll say,” Daichi chuckled good-naturedly, “The police force certainly has a hard time with you guys,”

Semi grinned proudly and chuckled with him, “Well, the kid’s a genius,”

“Socially inept,” Tsukishima said, which earned him a reproachful look from Semi until he added, “But, nonetheless, one of the top two criminal masterminds in Tokyo,”

“Yeah,” Semi said, “And there’s a reason for it. Kid knows what he’s doing,”

“He did train under the Grand King,” Tsukishima said bitterly, like the name was poison on his tongue.

“There really was a fallout between the two gangs?” Daichi asked, his interest piqued.

“Yep,” Semi responded, but didn’t elaborate.

“Is there more to the story than that?”

“Yep,” he said again.

Daichi chuckled as he watched the gradually increasing hole in his bank account that he knew was going hurt for the next few months. Before he could completely break his bank, he switched over to begin draining the life out of Akaashi’s. Hopefully, to a lesser extent.

“I don’t suppose I’m privy to that particular branch of history?”

Semi sighed a bit before he answered, “I don’t know. It's not exactly a secret, but we don’t exactly like to talk about it,”

“Bad enough to bother Kageyema away from even speaking about it?” he asked, casting a glance their way before he switched to Bokuto’s account to get the last of the money.

“Not so much Kageyama,” Semi said.

“I’m not even sure he’s entirely aware of what really happened,” Tsukishima said with a push of his glasses.

“No?” Daichi asked.

“Yeah… poor kid really looked up to him, but I’ve never seen the Grand King hate someone more than he did Kageyama,” Semi said with a shake of his head.

Daichi paused his process of shoving cash into a bag and looked up at them curiously, “Why would he hate Kageyama?”

Semi shrugged and shifted on his feet, “Dunno,”

“I don’t think he needed a reason, other than Kageyama is better,” Tsukishima said.

“Woah, a compliment out of you?” Semi bumped his shoulder into Tsukishima who clicked his tongue again.

“It’s not a compliment. It’s a fact. Kageyama is better, the Grand King just has more resources,” Tsukishima said coldly.

“He does have more resources than we do,” Semi nodded, “But the Grand King has his own brand of genius you shouldn’t discount,”

“Whatever,” Tsukishima huffed.

“So, this ‘Grand King’ kicked Kageyama out?” Daichi asked as he packed up the last of the money, trying to ignore the guilt that came with carving out holes in his friend's finances.

Semi laughed bitterly as they escorted him back to the car, “It was a little more complicated than that, but yes,” he said as he started the engine of the old minivan and began the drive back, “That’s the basic idea,”

After Daichi had situated himself and handed over the bag of money, Tsukishima passed the cloth bag back to Daichi, who groaned at the sight of it.

“Put this on,” he said, no trace of mercy in his tone. Daichi sighed at the idea of suffocating under the bag for twenty more minutes, but complied.

* * * *
The drive back was mostly silent. When they stepped out of the van into the garage, Daichi was not all that surprised to hear loud chatter and booming laughter coming from beyond the door. What surprised Daichi, although maybe it shouldn’t have, was that the noise was most noticeably Bokuto-sounding.

When they entered the house, more lights had been turned on, illuminating the soon-to-be disaster in front of them. Bokuto, Yamamoto, Hinata, and Lev were all gathered in the living room, attempting to balance on each other in an almost-pyramid shape that swayed dramatically every time one of them moved, or laughed, or breathed. Of which they were doing a lot of.

Akaashi and Yamaguchi were standing off to the side. Daichi swore he could see grey hairs and wrinkles appearing on Akaashi as he stared in pensive horror as the leaning tower of chaos nearly fell for what couldn’t be the first time.

“I told you we could do it, Kageyama!” Hinata called from the top of the pile, hand slipping off the side of Lev’s shoulder as he did so.

Daichi, Semi, and Tsukishima walked further into the house as Kageyama appeared from the kitchen.

“You’re not doing it right!” he shouted, “You’re swaying everywhere!”

“I’d like to see you do better, Bakage- wah!!” he yelled as Lev’s foot finally slipped and sent them all tumbling down in a heap.

“Idiots,” Tsukishima muttered before he slipped past Daichi to stand by Yamaguchi’s side.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Bokuto called as his head popped out from underneath the gang members, “You’re back!”

Daichi chuckled as he walked over to help him up, “I am,” he glanced over at Akaashi, who only looked slightly relieved, “What happened here?”

“Oh it was great!” Hinata shouted as he bounced up from the pile, “Bokuto-senpai lifted me with just one arm! It was like ‘urrrg’!” he said, mimicking a curl up.

“And then Bokuto challenged Yamamoto to a strength battle to avenge getting knocked out!” Lev called from the floor, long legs splayed out across the carpet.

“We didn’t finish-” Yamamoto tried to say before Hinata interrupted.

“They’re so strong! They’re like ‘wah’ and ‘hrm’ and ‘grah’!”

“And then we started making a pyramid!” Bokuto added happily.

“That,” Daichi laughed, “That sounds great, Bokuto,”

“It was!” he said, “Akaashi wouldn’t join the pyramid though…” he pouted.

“Akaashi?” Daichi said accusingly, “Why ever would you be such a spoilsport?”

“My apologies. I’m sure you’d do much better in my place, Sawamura-san,” Akaashi said, a little light of mischief dancing behind his eyes.

“Hey, yeah! Daichi’s super strong too! We could make an even better pyramid,” Bokuto cheered.

“As much fun as that would be to watch,” Semi said from the kitchen doorway, “We’ve got the money now. It’s time these detectives got their information,”

Bokuto nodded animatedly as he bounced into the kitchen with Hinata and Lev on his heels. Akaashi and Daichi entered soon after, silently thanking Semi. They were tailed by Yamamoto, Tsukishima, and Yamaguchi, who all filed into a small semi-circle around the table. The three detectives took their seats across from Kageyama, the rest of the small room occupied by the other gang members.

“Can I tell them, Kageyama?” Hinata asked from close beside him.

“No! You’ll tell it wrong,” Kageyama said.

“I won’t!” Hinata retorted.

“Shut up!” Kageyama shouted, glaring at Hinata, who only pouted and slinked away to stand by Semi.

With an irritated sigh, he turned back to them, “Concrete Crime had nothing to do with these murders,” he began, his demeanor changing to that of a confident leader, “If we did you wouldn’t be here,”

“If it wasn’t you, then was it Invisible Castle?” Daichi questioned.

“I don’t know,” Kageyama shrugged, “It could have been, but I don’t see how they would benefit. They don’t kill people who owe them,”

“Then it was a third party?” Daichi asked.

Kageyama scowled, “Maybe. I’d rather it was Invisible Castle. A third party means there's someone else out there with the means to kill secretly, and that probably means they have access to other things, too,”

“Which means another competitor,” Akaashi said, and Kageyama nodded.

“Another gang on the rise?” Bokuto asked, leaning forward on his elbows.

“They’re probably trying to show their proficiency at getting rid of threats,” Semi added, “It’s bad for business when people start to fear another gang more. So if they come out and announce themselves, the public will panic, and we’ll seem less harmful in comparison,”

“Why not come out and say it was you then?” Daichi asked.

“Because half of those people were living in Invisible Castle territory when they died,” Kageyama grumbled, as if he’d had this discussion more than once, “It’d start an all out war between us if we said we’d killed people from their turf,”

“That would also be bad for business,” Tsukishima murmured.

“Right,” Daichi said thoughtfully as he processed the new pieces of information, “Do you think the third party are the ones who kidnapped the man you were after?”

“Yes,” Kageyama said, “The only thing we know about them is their logo,” he turned to Yamamoto who handed him a piece of paper, and Kageyama slid it across the table to them. It was a picture of a black van, much like the one Daichi had seen drive away from the library, with a grey and gold ‘NZL’ logo painted faintly on the side.

Akaashi’s eyes widened and Bokuto let out an audible gasp, “That’s-!” he turned to Daichi and Akaashi with wide eyes, “That’s the cipher,” he mock-whispered.

“It is,” Akaashi mumbled as he continued to inspect the image.

“All of the footage around the scenes of the murders had been tampered with, but we managed to find pieces of video a couple blocks out that went unedited. It didn’t tell us much besides what you can see,” Kageyama said, the grueling search they must have gone through to find it weighing heavy in his tone.

“You couldn’t find where they went?” Daichi asked.

“No,” Kageyama said, “But we could find where the victims had gone, before they were victims,” he turned back to Yamamoto, who handed him a stack of papers.

Kageyama laid out the pictures and Daichi’s eyes skimmed over them quickly. Each depicted two of the victims passing files or small boxes to each other in various places, just barely visible to the cameras.

“This one,” Daichi said suddenly, pointing to a tall, brown-pink haired man, “He was the man at the library today,”

“Yep,” Semi said with an aggravated sigh, “He was one of the two remaining people on the list,”

“The list at Suna’s show?” Akaashi asked.

“How did you get that?” Bokuto questioned.

“We have our ways,” Semi said with a cryptic smile, “But yes, the poet’s show. We couldn’t go after the other person because they’re not within our boundaries,”

“That underground theatre isn’t in our boundaries!” Hinata said helpfully.

“That’s different!” Kageyama said.

“We can’t risk a full kidnapping operation in Invisible Castle turf,” Semi explained patiently, “An information run is fine,” Hinata made a sound of realization and nodded vigorously.

“Does Invisible Castle know about the people on the list?” Daichi asked.

“Oh definitely!” Lev said, “One of their guys, Yaku, he’s a shorty, almost caught me! But I managed to get away,”

“I don’t know how,” Tsukishima snarked, followed by a little giggle from Yamaguchi.

“When did you find the names?” Akaashi asked before Lev could retort.

“Yesterday,” Semi said, “We only just managed to find one of them, so we moved in as quickly as we could,”

“That’s why the job was so messy,” Yamamoto said gruffly.

Daichi exchanged a look with Bokuto and Akaashi who nodded their agreement, “Then the same probably happened with Invisible Castle. Let’s hope Iwaizumi’s team had better luck than us,”

“Tell us more about the pictures,” Akaashi said.

Kageyama nodded and sat back in his chair, “They started meeting in twos fairly frequently about four months ago, always passing files and other things between each other,”

“What’s in the files?” Bokuto asked, though none of them expected an answer.

Kageyama shrugged, “We don’t know, but we do know that they all met up with just about every possible file and box they’d had between them all, here,”

Kageyama pushed a picture to the front. It showed all nine individuals talking together around a table inside a small warehouse. Daichi couldn’t tell where they were from the image, but he’d wager it was somewhere outside the city limits. The table, just as Kageyama had said, was covered in papers, files, flash drives, and small boxes.

“What is all of that?” Bokuto wondered aloud.

“Whatever it is, it's probably important,” Daichi said.

“Important enough to warrant murder,” Akaashi said quietly.

“What did they do with all of this?” Daichi asked as he looked back at Kageyama.

“We don’t know that either,” he said sourly, “Yamaguchi only managed to snag this picture as he was out on patrol,”

“By the time I had come back with backup, they were all gone. There also aren’t any cameras in that area, which is probably why they chose it,” Yamaguchi said.

Daichi nodded, “Do you know where the two other individuals lived?” Kageyama made a sound of affirmation, “Can we have their addresses? I’d like to see if we can uncover any of these files in their homes,”

“I doubt you’ll find anything we haven’t, but yeah,” Kageyama said, “Yamamoto?”

“Got it!” the mohawked man said, already squeezing out of the room.

“Is there anything else you can give us?” Akaashi asked.

“No,” Kageyama shook his head, “That’s pretty much all,”

“Yamamoto will come back with their locations, along with lists of cameras, dates, and times, to look at. You can keep all of the photographs,” Semi said as Kageyama got up from his chair, the detectives following suit, “Other than that, there’s nothing else,”

“Hope that was worth 80 grand,” Tsukishima said in lieu of a goodbye.

“Good one,” Yamaguchi said.

“Shut up, Yamaguchi,”

“Sorry, Tsukki,” Yamaguchi giggled cheekily as he followed the tall blonde out of the kitchen, retreating down the hallway into one of the rooms.

A moment later, Yamamoto appeared out of another one of the rooms with a letter, no doubt holding the information they were promised.

‘I really hope this is worth 80 grand,’ Daichi thought as he accepted the letter and followed Semi and the others out to the car, nodding their goodbyes to Kageyama as they passed.

“Bye bye, Bokuto-senpai!” Hinata and Lev shouted in tandem, Hinata waving erratically after them.

“Bye!” Bokuto shouted, waving back to them with an excitable grin.

‘You’d never guess we’d been captured by them,’ Daichi thought in amusement as they loaded into the van for their final cloth bagged ride in the rickety old machine.

* * * *
Semi had let them take off their bags once they hit city limits again, Bokuto chatting idly the whole way. The casual conversation had carried them through the drive, and soon they were rolling to a stop about a block or so away from the library.

“See to it that you catch those guys yeah?” Semi told them as they climbed out onto the sidewalk, “They’re trouble for everybody,” Daichi and Akaashi chuckled lightly and nodded.

“We sure will!” Bokuto said confidently, “Take care!”

Semi laughed, “You too, Bokuto,” he said before driving away.

The three detectives made their way over to the car in relative silence as they allowed their situation to dawn on them. No one but Bokuto had much to say as they drove back to the precinct either, too much new information and relief swirling around their brains.

“This report is going to be hell,” Daichi said as they pulled into the precinct garage, the sun having set long ago, and made their way inside.

“Yes,” Akaashi agreed with a heavy sigh.

“There you are!” Terushima cried as they walked into the precinct, fully outfitted in his uniform, “I was beginning to think we’d need to send a search party after you guys, too!”

“A search party?” Daichi questioned, “Wait, what do you mean ‘us, too’?” he asked as icy tendrils of fear began to wind their way across his chest.

As he began to take notice of the state of the room, Daichi could see other officers running around behind Terushima as they prepared a team to leave, calling out orders and questions.

Terushima looked at them apologetically, his own fear hiding behind his eyes, “There was an incident at the location the others were at, the local officers couldn’t find anyone except the civilians,”

Before Daichi could question him any further, the front doors of the precinct flew open with a bang, drawing the attention of the whole establishment.

Daichi felt his heart drop to his feet at the sight, breath hitching painfully as he struggled to believe his eyes.

The cold tendrils of fear turning into sharp icepicks that stabbed through his lungs.

‘No,’ was all he could think.

Iwaizumi and Ushijima were standing in the doorway, practically carrying a barely conscious, bloodied Kuroo between them.

“Hospital!” Iwaizumi bellowed, “Now!”

Chapter Text

“Oh ho ho? What’s this?” sang a sickly sweet voice.

“Looks like a bundle of cops stumbled into our lair,” crooned another voice, this one unfamiliar and slightly more sinister in tone.

Iwaizumi was frozen.

His eyes were stuck on Kuroo’s shuddering form, heart beating in his ears loud enough to drown out the voice in his head telling him to take deep breaths. Instead, his breath stuttered through his teeth, raking past his throat and chest in icy waves. His lungs ached.

Or maybe that was his heart.

Iwaizumi leaned into Kuroo’s broken body, something hot and sticky soaking through his own shirt and bleeding through the crevices of his fingers. It was red and glaring, staining his skin like a bloody omen. His wrists burned from where the zip tie chafed against his skin. The lights of the warehouse, dim as they were, flashed against his eyes like car headlights. He knew that the roaring of his mind was happening in a fraction of a second, but the world seemed like it was moving too fast.

The echo of footsteps trailing closer to them.

Ushijima’s quiet, urgent whispering.

The draining of Kuroo’s blood.

Iwaizumi’s breathing.

It was all too fast.

‘We’re being held hostage by one of the most powerful mob groups in all of Tokyo,’ he thought, feeling halfway down the road to hysterical. His nerves were fraying at the ends almost as quickly as Kuroo’s face was paling, ‘And I can only watch as his blood drains,’

Oikawa’s voice rang through Iwaizumi’s ears, blinding Iwaizumi’s vision. His voice erased all meaning from the case, the evidence he had once agonized over fading into nothing more than the shell of a memory. Oikawa’s voice striped him of his self-control. It rang through his bones and dragged out the part of him that was still twelve years old. The part that was still helpless in the hands of gang members, the part that was still afraid.

Iwaizumi didn’t need this. He didn’t need the memories that came flooding back with this piece of his past. He didn’t need the emotions and turmoil that came with them. He didn’t need that on top of everything else.

He didn’t need that voice.

Iwaizumi turned without thinking, releasing Kuroo’s wounds and rising to his full height to glare down the ghost that had haunted the dark side of his eyelids since he was twelve years old.

Two tall figures were illuminated by the hall light pouring out beyond the doors they had entered through. Their silhouettes took slow steps toward the group of detectives. Iwaizumi watched as the doors behind them finally closed with a bang, cutting off the external light and plunging them into the dim illumination of the warehouse.

‘He hasn’t changed a bit,’ was Iwaizumi’s first thought.

Oikawa Tooru and his companion stopped a few feet away from Iwaizumi. His brown hair still curled up strangely at the ends, stylishly swept to the side in an effort that Iwaizumi knew took countless hours and hair products. He had the same tall, athletic build that Iwaizumi had secretly envied, the same chestnut brown eyes that he always complained were dull and boring.

Oikawa Tooru was built from the pieces of Iwaizumi’s memory. He was built from fragments of moments when they were three, and five, and seven. Every piece of Oikawa was taken from the twelve year old best friend whose laughter had not yet faded from Iwaizumi’s mind. Whose screams hadn’t either.

Yet, his picture wasn’t complete. There were new pieces of him that Iwaizumi did not recognize. Pieces born and bred in a time without him by his side.

Oikawa’s weight was shifted to one side, hand on his hip, and head tilted back as if to emphasize his height. Or superiority. He looked down on the detectives through thick eyelashes and a wide, flashy smile. Despite his cheerful tone and joyous expression, his eyes were dangerous; burning and powerful, brimming with unspoken confidence and silent challenges.

He may have looked the same, but there was no trace of the sniveling twelve year old Iwaizumi’s memories were so familiar with.

Oikawa’s companion, a tall redhead with spiked hair, and wide, lizard eyes, grinned at them from behind low lids. He arched backward in what looked to be an almost painful position, hands digging into his back. The redhead waggled his eyebrows at Iwaizumi mockingly, and Iwaizumi realized they were waiting for him to reply to their goading.

He felt no better than a rabbit cornered by a pair of wolves.

‘I hope these wolves know a little mercy,’ he thought despairingly.

Ignoring the sharp beating of his heart and the pinching sensation on his wrists, “The leader of Invisible Castle, I presume,” Iwaizumi said finally, drawing on every thread of patience and professionalism he had left in him.

“The one and only,” Oikawa said, flicking his wrist haughtily.

“The Grand King, alright,” his red-haired companion agreed. Iwaizumi couldn’t discern if he was being genuine or snide, not that his sly expression and general mischievous air helped much.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Oikawa said theatrically, false humility dripping off his tongue and grating against Iwaizumi’s already frayed patience.

“Why ever would you not be, My Lord?” the redhead said, flashing another cheap grin in Iwaizumi’s direction, “You even have peasants at your feet to prove it,”

Iwaizumi gritted his teeth against the insult, determined not to be provoked into worsening his already precarious situation, but he could feel his own control slipping with every word they spoke.

‘I may have known him as a boy,’ Iwaizumi thought, ‘But I clearly don’t know him anymore,’ he looked at Oikawa for another moment, silently mourning the boy he would never see again, ‘Not that he seems to remember me anyway,’

He more firmly grasped the voice in his mind that was telling him to keep calm and took a measured breath, saying, “My name is Iwaizumi of the Tokyo Police Department-”

A pair of voices interrupted him, cooing with barely hidden laughter.

“He’s so formal!” Oikawa snickered.

“A real cop indeed!” the redhead guffawed.

The two continued to snicker to one another, speaking as if Iwaizumi wasn’t standing in front of them. As if he and his team weren’t at their complete mercy. As if Kuroo wasn’t dying on the ground behind Iwaizumi while these two gangsters had the gall to laugh at his attempts at diplomacy.

‘No,’ he thought, anger boiling in the pit of his stomach as he watched the two amused men mock-whisper to each other, ‘I really don’t know him at all,’

“What do you want with us?” Iwaizumi snapped, barely suppressing the growl building in the back of his throat.

“So feisty!” Oikawa laughed, waving an aggravatingly careless hand through the air, as if Iwaizumi’s concerns were as easily dismissable as a particularly pesky fly, “We’ll certainly get to that, all in good time,”

“You should tell us a little about yourself,” the red haired man said, “We’re in no rush,”

“I am!” Iwaizumi bellowed, voice ringing powerfully off the walls of the warehouse. He knew such an outburst was bound to have consequences, especially when directed at a powerful gang leader, but his anger was indescribable, “I didn’t get kidnapped by a bunch of sorry gang members to watch my friend bleed out on the floor of a warehouse! So either tell me what it is you want or let! Us! Go!”

Heavy silence fell over the room.

The only sound was the faint drip of water somewhere in the corner of the warehouse. Iwaizumi’s skin burned from the stares of shock coming from the gang members around the room.

Iwaizumi watched as, for the first time, Oikawa’s eyes strayed beyond Iwaizumi and fell on the scene behind him, his smug smile slipping away. Iwaizumi didn’t have to turn around to know that Oikawa would see a perplexingly calm Ushijima doing his best to keep a weakening Kuroo alive; a puddle of dark blood slowly staining the previously spotless floor beneath it.

For another moment, the only sound that filled the room was the dripping water, accompanied by Kuroo’s pained whines and the soft buzzing of the electric lights.

A haunting choir.

“Mattsun,” Oikawa said eventually, slowly turning to look at the tall man with tired eyes and messy, black hair, “Get Noya-chan down here,” with a nod and a quick flash of light, Mattsun disappeared through the hallway doors.

“Tendou-kun, if you would be so kind as to remove their restraints,”

“It would be my pleasure!” Tendou, the tall, red haired man said as he sauntered his way over to Iwaizumi, flipping out a switchblade that Iwaizumi eyed warily, “Don’t look so scared, Bara-kun,” he said quietly, amusement colouring his tone as he sliced through the zip tie, apparently unaffected and unoffended by Iwaizumi’s outburst.

“Mad Dog-chan!” Oikawa huffed, both hands on his hips as he spun on his heel to face the grouchy looking gangster, “Come help carry Detective-kun to Noya-chan’s work room,”

“Nishinoya doesn’t have a work room…” Mad Dog grumbled as he pushed away from the wall to help Ushijima and Iwaizumi carry Kuroo to the only available room in sight.

It was a small, concrete space, vastly undecorated. The walls and floor and ceiling were the same tone of grey as everything else, and it was empty aside from a long metal table that sat in the center.

Iwaizumi tried not to compare it to a morgue.

Oikawa and Tendou followed quietly behind them, silently observing as they gently placed Kuroo onto the long table.

“Kuroo,” Iwaizumi said, gentler than he intended, as he watched the flickering of Kuroo’s eyelids, new pricks of worry stabbing at him, “Hey buddy, can you open your eyes? You gotta stay awake for me for a little while longer, okay?”

A low groan tumbled from Kuroo’s lips, punctuated by a high whine and a cough that spattered blood across his chin. More coughs wracked Kuroo’s body, finally ceasing as he wheezed for breath, a new trail of blood slipping out of the corner of his mouth.

“Yeh…” Kuroo said hoarsely, still not opening his eyes, “ ‘M… here,”

“Yeah, yeah you’re here,” Iwaizumi said, trying to find a hint of relief in hearing Kuroo’s voice, “And you’re gonna stay here. No leaving us yet, you idiot, or I’ll kill you. You understand?”

Kuroo managed a near-silent laugh before a commotion at the door drew Iwaizumi’s attention away.

“Who’s dying?!” a man called from the doorway. He was short with fluffy brown hair that stood tall on his head, the front portion of it dyed blonde. The short man wore a long white coat over his more expensive, stylish clothing choices that all of the gang members seemed to sport. Though the man’s tone was boisterous, his eyes were focused and resolute.

His gaze quickly found Kuroo, brown eyes darkening in concentration as he strode into the room. Mattsun followed behind him, pushing a medical cart, the drawers rattling against each other as it rolled over the concrete. The cart had a variety of tools placed on top, from gauze to tweezers to syringes to things Iwaizumi couldn’t even name and back again.

“Noya-chan!” Oikawa called, voice light and easy, “We have a bit of an issue as you can see. Fix him up while I talk to the two detectives, won’t you?”

“I’m gonna need everyone out of the room, except Matsukawa,” Nishinoya said, already snapping on a pair of latex gloves.

Mattsun, or Matsukawa, sighed, “Why do I get stuck with tool duty?”

“Everybody out!” Nishinoya shouted, Matsukawa ushering them all out of the room while Nishinoya turned his full attention to Kuroo’s wounds.

Iwaizumi was reluctant to let Kuroo out of his sight, but Oikawa’s voice held no room for debate. Their expected hospitality had been exceeded, and they wouldn’t be paying them any more favors.

They followed Oikawa and Tendou back into the main warehouse garage. Their feet were heavy and exhaustion bit at the back of their heels, but they walked without complaint.

‘We’re not out of the wolves den yet,’ Iwaizumi reminded himself, narrowing his eyes and sharpening his mind as they passed the unoccupied pool of blood on the floor, headed toward the doors on the other side.

Oikawa and Tendou led them through the dimly lit warehouse in silence, pushing open the hallway doors and flooding Iwaizumi’s vision with white light. When he managed to see properly again, Iwaizumi and Ushijima were following the two gang members through a long hallway. They were surrounded by pristine white walls and tiled floors, fashionably dressed individuals whisking their way through the halls in a leisurely purposeful manner. Iwaizumi’s thoughts were too preoccupied to pay much mind to the curious glances they garnered.

No one spoke as they made their way down the hall and into a guarded room near the back, the doors shutting behind them and blocking out most of the white light.

The room was large and obviously an office. A polished wood desk with gold furnishings sat stoutly in front of a tall window- no, not a window. Behind the desk were glass doors, and beyond it, a balcony that overlooked the city streets. Inside the room, the only lighting came from the desk lamp, glowing dimly and glinting off the ostentatious, gold decor. The majority of the lighting came from beyond the glass doors. Tokyo was blinking with life, the streets lined with bars, clubs, casinos, and expensive hotels, all flooded with nightlife activity. Iwaizumi had never been to the more expensive districts of Tokyo, but he didn’t doubt that was where they were now.

Oikawa took a seat in the leather rolling chair behind the desk, gesturing with an elegant twirl of his hand for Iwaizumi and Ushijima to sit in the two seats opposite his desk as Tendou sank back into the shadows of the room behind Oikawa.

“I’m sure you’re-”

“Will Kuroo live?” Iwaizumi interrupted.

Oikawa pressed his lips together as he pondered Iwaizumi’s question, the twitch of his eyebrows giving away his irritation at the interruption.

‘Deciding whether or not to answer,’ Iwaizumi realized.

“I can’t promise anything,” Oikawa said carefully, “But Noya-chan is our best medic,”

Iwaizumi nodded after a moment, not entirely satisfied with the answer.

“Now,” Oikawa leaned forward on his elbows, hands clasped together as he observed the two weathered detectives across from him, “Your team is working on a case about some mystery murders, yes?”

“You tried to contact us about them before,” Iwaizumi answered.

“Yes, and you ignored my invitation,” Oikawa pouted, sighing in disbelief, “But, you’re here now, so I can tell you,”

“Why not just write it in the note?”

“That’s no fun!” Oikawa exclaimed, “Besides, if the message were intercepted it wouldn’t go very well for either of us,”

“Intercepted?” Ushijima asked.

“Yes, intercepted. That’s what I said,”

“What do you mean intercepted?” Iwaizumi clarified, “By who?”

“Whom,”

“Excuse me?”

Oikawa sighed and rolled his eyes, “Well, Tobio-kun for one. If he got in on the information that I have, he could find them before I do! I can’t have that,”

“Who is ‘Tobio-kun’?” Ushijima asked, “And who are ‘they’?”

“Tobio-kun is the ‘mob boss’ of Concrete Crime,” Oikawa said, voice dripping with sarcasm, “He’s a poor excuse for a gang leader if you ask me!”

“I didn’t,” Iwaizumi said gruffly, “So you think Concrete Crime is behind the murders?”

“If only! Then I’d have a reason to get rid of the pesky gang,” Oikawa said pettily.

“So it's not Concrete Crime?” Ushijima asked.

“No, that’s what I just said,” Oikawa responded indignantly.

“Who else were you worried about intercepting the information?” Iwaizumi asked.

“Mm,” Oikawa hummed, opening a drawer on his side of the desk and pulling out a file, “That’s where things get interesting,”

Oikawa placed the file on the desk and slid it forward a bit, but when Iwaizumi reached for it, he pulled back.

“Nuh uh uh,” Oikawa tutted, “This is valuable information to your case. I can’t just give it away for free!”

Iwaizumi growled low in his throat, patience worn into non-existence already. If Oikawa didn’t start showing some common decency soon, Iwaizumi was sure he’d strangle him with his bare hands.

“Relax,” Oikawa said, raising his hands slightly, “What I ask for isn’t that difficult!” he smiled, a self-satisfied look plastered across his face, “All I want is the locations to all the minor gangs within Invisible Castle turf,”

Ushijima frowned slightly, “We don’t have access to our databases here,”

“I know that,” Oikawa said exasperatedly, “Just write down what you can remember for now,” he smiled, eyes dark as he looked across the desk at Iwaizumi, “I trust you’ll want to pay me in full after I tell you what I know, Iwa-chan,”

The nickname sent shivers down Iwaizumi’s spine. He searched Oikawa’s eyes for any sign of recognition, of realization, but he was met with the same steady, unaltered gaze as Oikawa peered at him.

“Don’t call me that,” Iwaizumi grumbled after a moment. Oikawa only excitedly pulled out a map and two markers for him and Ushijima to begin working.

* * * *
It wasn’t long before Iwaizumi and Ushijima’s memories ran short, unable to recall anything beyond what they had already written down on the map. When they passed the map back to him, Oikawa didn’t bother to check it before he shoved it into a drawer and eagerly opened up the file he had pulled out earlier.

“Now for the fun part,” he said, “I get to impart on you my wisdom!”

“Then hurry up and enlighten us,” Iwaizumi grunted.

Oikawa turned to look at Tendou, who was still shrouded in darkness, with an offended expression, “Do you hear this insolence?”

“My, my, Bara-kun is certainly eager,” Tendou crooned from the shadows, eyes glinting an unsettling shade of red in the low light.

“You’re the one who was eager to inform us,” Ushijima said matter-of-factly, earning a cackle from Tendou.

“Was not!” Oikawa retorted as his head whipped back around to look at them, his cheeks puffing out childishly.

“Oikawa…” Iwaizumi said with a threatening glare.

“Alright, alright!” he cleared his throat and pulled out a couple sheets of photographic paper, setting them on the desk for Iwaizumi and Ushijima to see, “These are pictures of all of your victims meeting together to pass files, boxes, and other intriguing things to one another. Well, all of your victims and the two others,”

“One other,” Iwaizumi corrected, eyeing the only unfamiliar face in the photos, a tall man with pink-brown hair and thin eyes, as he tried to avoid looking directly at the face of the woman he had seen dead on the floor next to Kuroo.

‘Don’t think about Kuroo,’ he thought with a sharp shake of his head.

“Right,” Oikawa said, “Well, they kept meeting in pairs in mostly-secret places to pass off things to one another. From their positioning, I’d guess they were trying not to be seen by the cameras, but that’s nearly impossible as you can see,”

“And you know where all of this stuff ended up?” Ushijima asked.

“Ugh, no!” Oikawa groaned, “It looks like they finally got smart at some point and started meeting outside the city, or at least in the ghetto areas, where there really aren’t any cameras,”

“What is all of this stuff anyway?” Iwaizumi asked.

“I also don’t know that either,”

“This is all the information you managed to gather?” Iwaizumi said derisively.

“No!” Oikawa retorted, “It’s not all I’ve gathered, it's just all I know about them and their stuff,” he pulled out a couple sheets of copy paper from the file and passed them over to the detectives, “These are call logs from each of the nine poetry attendants,”

“You know about that?” Iwaizumi asked as he glanced over the call logs.

“Of course I know about that!” Oikawa said indignantly, “Unfortunately, so does Tobio-kun. Which was very rude of them, by the way,”

“Mm,” Iwaizumi hummed indifferently, “What are we supposed to be looking for?”

“Here,” Ushijima said, pointing to a recurring server on each of the call logs.

“Yes,” Oikawa conceded, “Each of them received a call from that server on the same day, around the same times, all within an hour or so,”

“Where did the call come from?” Iwaizumi asked.

“Well-”

“You don’t know, do you?”

“Hey!” Oikawa cried, but huffed in defeat, “Well, no. We couldn’t figure it out, the server was too highly encrypted,”

“Encrypted?”

“Yeah,” Oikawa said solemnly, “Not even our best hackers can get past the Secret Service’s firewall,”

Iwaizumi and Ushijima paused, looking up at Oikawa in shock.

“The Secret Service?” Ushijima asked after a moment, eyebrows drawing together, perplexed.

“Yep!” Oikawa said, popping his lips as he leaned back in his chair, pleased to get such a reaction out of them, “Apparently your murderers can hack into the Secret Service’s servers in order to avoid being traced,”

“You’re kidding,” Iwaizumi said.

“I wish,” Oikawa huffed, “But if you can contact the Secret Service-”

“We can get them to trace their hacked signal,” Iwaizumi finished.

“Mhm,” Oikawa said, “Then maybe you can catch those black van, NZL, sneaky bast-”

“Wait, what did you say?” Iwaizumi interrupted.

“What? I wish?”

“No, after that,”

“Oh, sneaky NZL ba-”

“NZL,” Iwaizumi interrupted again, “NZL. Where do you know that from?”

“NZL?” Oikawa asked, puzzled, “It’s all over the black vans that drive around the city. They’ve started appearing more frequently lately, but they don’t ever seem to stop anywhere and I can’t track them without using too many resources,”

“Like the black van that tried to kill us all at the cafe today?” Ushijima asked.

“Yes, like the black van that tried to kill you all at the cafe today,” Oikawa mocked, “Don’t ask me anything else about them though, I’ve told you everything I know! Well, other than they seem to disappear off of traffic cams faster than we can get to them,”

“What is NZL?” Ushijima wondered as he peered at the pictures.

“I thought I just said I don’t know!”

“It was a rhetorical question, idiot,” Iwaizumi said.

“Hmph, well,” Oikawa said, gathering the pictures and papers into the file and sliding it back across to them, “That’s all I have for you regarding the murders,” he looked over his shoulder at Tendou, whom Iwaizumi had almost forgotten was there, “Would you like to watch Waka-kun while I chat with Iwa-chan?”

“Oho, would I,” Tendou said while creeping out of the shadows with a grin. Oikawa rose from his chair, beckoning Iwaizumi to follow him as Tendou plopped down in Oikawa’s leather seat.

“How did you know my name?” Ushijima asked, eyes on Oikawa.

“Oh,” Oikawa said with a sly smile over his shoulder, “I know all about your team,”

Iwaizumi tried not to shiver at what he might be implying, shaking his head instead. “See you, Ushijima,” he said, rising from his seat to join Oikawa near the door.

“And you, Iwaizumi,” Ushijima responded, nodding once.

“It’s just you and me, Waka-chan!” Tendou said animatedly, obviously thrilled at the idea.

“Not yet,” Ushijima pointed out, “They’ve yet to leave,” Tendou’s cackle became muffled as the door shut behind Iwaizumi and Oikawa, and the sound of Tendou’s chatter fading out as Iwaizumi followed Oikawa down the hallway.

They walked in silence, heading farther away from the warehouse garage. The white walled and tiled hallway eventually gave way to polished wood floors and delicately painted walls. The lights weren’t so much dimmer here as they were more yellow in tone, glowing across the hallway like a fire with no flickering. Light music drifted toward them from farther down the hallway, a somber ballad played by a violin and a cello, at least that’s what it sounded like to Iwaizumi’s untrained ear.

They stopped there, where the white light from the hallway no longer reached them and the music wasn’t quite discernable. They leaned against the walls in the warm light and soft music, and Iwaizumi waited for Oikawa to speak. Anticipating a side deal or a threat. Perhaps a message for their Director. Payment for Kuroo’s treatment.

When Oikawa finally spoke, he said something Iwaizumi hadn’t been expecting.

“Been a long time huh, Iwa-chan?”

Iwaizumi didn’t respond for a moment, allowing the realization to sink in as he traced the wooden lines of the floor and the outline of Oikawa’s too-expensive shoes with his eyes.

“You remember?” he asked in lieu of answering.

“Of course I do,”

There was another moment of silence.

“How did you know I would remember?”

Oikawa laughed at that, finally drawing Iwaizumi’s gaze away from the floor. His head was pushed back against the wall, hair drifting over his eyes, flattening against the wall, and teasing the nape of his neck. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open, smiling comfortably. It was different from the practiced way he had curved his lips before. This smile was friendly, unmasked, and most of all familiar.

He looked back at Iwaizumi, full and open like he remembered him to be, “Nobody looks at somebody they’ve never seen before like that, Iwa-chan,”

“Like what?” Iwaizumi asked, forgetting to add the bite to his tone.

Oikawa looked down at the floor, tracing the lines of the wood, “Like they’d heard a ghost,”

Iwaizumi watched him for a moment before turning his attention to the wall across from him. An oil painting was hanging there.

“I had,”

A small snicker left Oikawa’s mouth, “You really thought I was dead, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did, idiot,” Iwaizumi said harshly.

“You’re the idiot,” Oikawa teased, “Why would I-”

“Well, what the hell was I supposed to think?!” Iwaizumi shouted, turning to face Oikawa fully, a hidden rage flaring to life inside of him, “That you and the dozens of other kids that disappeared were still alive?! After hearing the screaming and gunshots and having you wrenched away from me by some big, ugly gang member?!”

Iwaizumi grabbed the front of Oikawa’s shirt and pulled him away from the wall only to slam him back into it again, his own face hovering too-close to Oikawa’s as he shouted, “After seeing your parents dead on the news, I was supposed to assume you were still alive?!”

Oikawa didn’t say anything in response, only staring down into his eyes as Iwaizumi caught his breath. Slowly, Iwaizumi’s grip loosened, hands falling by his sides as he took a step away from Oikawa.

“And when I never heard from you again?” Iwaizumi asked, eyes fixed on Oikawa’s chest, “Was I supposed to hold on to hopeless assumptions then, too?”

Long silence filled the air, the soft, somber ballad drifting in the air between them.

“Did you look for me?” Oikawa asked finally.

“Of course I looked for you, moron,” Iwaizumi said, watching Oikawa’s passive expression, “You were my best friend. Why wouldn’t I have looked for you, you dumba-”

Then a small, smug smile pulled up the corners of Oikawa’s lips.

“Is that why Iwa-chan became a cop?”

Iwaizumi startled for a moment, but only a moment, before he pushed Oikawa into the wall again, smacking the side of his head for good measure, “Crappykawa!”

“Iwa-chan!” Oikawa whined, “You’re going to mess up my hair!”

“Good,” he grunted, turning back to walk down the hallway again, “Twenty years later and it still looks like bananas,”

“So mean!” Oikawa complained, following behind him. The corner of Iwaizumi’s lips twitched as he suppressed a smile.

‘He may be a gang leader,’ he thought, ‘But maybe he’s not so different after all,’

* * * *
It took longer than Iwaizumi would have liked to have Kuroo stable enough to transport.

“We need to get him to the hospital,” Iwaizumi said, looking at Kuroo’s pale, shaking figure. His eyelids fluttered with the effort to keep them open, his breathing still dangerously shallow and uncertain.

Nishinoya had done what he could with his limited resources to patch him up. Kuroo’s bleeding had stopped and the bullets had been removed, but from the amount of blood he had lost, there was no doubt that he’d need a blood transfusion, proper stitches, and enough pain medication to put him to sleep for a few days. Iwaizumi was amazed Kuroo hadn’t passed out by now, but the stubborn cat was determined to stay conscious, even when Nishinoya had been poking and prodding at him without a numbing agent.

Now they were in the car, distinctly not heading in the direction of the nearest hospital.

“No can do,” Yaku said from the driver’s seat, “There’s too many police personnel roaming around hospital areas,”

“We can drop you about a block from your station,” Matsukawa said from where he was cleaning Nishinoya’s tools in the back, the short man closely monitoring Kuroo’s wounds.

“Don’t worry!” Nishinoya piped up, “As long as he doesn’t open up his wounds again, he should make it in time to the hospital,”

“And if they open back up when we have to walk him for a block?” Iwaizumi asked incredulously.

Nishinoya looked up at him with a serious expression, “Run,”

“Thanks,” Iwaizumi said, voice laden with sarcasm.

“You’re welcome!” Nishinoya said, turning his gaze back to Kuroo’s battered form.

Iwaizumi sighed, leaning his head back against the seat as he resolved to wait for the end of the drive. He did his best to push back his worries, refusing to stare at Kuroo any longer. He closed his eyes and thought back to their departure from the warehouse. Saying goodbye to Oikawa had been… strange, to say the least.

“Bye-bye, Iwa-chan!” Oikawa had sung while they loaded Kuroo and everyone else into the car.

“Don’t call me that,” he had grunted back.

“Oh! And don’t forget to give me the rest of the locations,”

Iwaizumi had paused, a thought occurring to him, and he had looked back at Oikawa, puzzled, “How am I supposed to get them to you?”

“I’ll find you, Iwa-chan,” Oikawa had promised with a cryptic smile and a wave before they were gone.

Twenty years had come and gone between them, and yet, despite their vastly different circumstances, it didn’t feel like all that much had changed.

‘He’s still an idiot,’ Iwaizumi huffed, ‘I don’t think much can change,’

“Alright,” Yaku said as he pulled the van to a stop by the curb, “Half-a-block till the station,”

“Half-a-block?” Ushijima questioned.

“Yeah, yeah,” Yaku said dismissively, “It's closer than I’m supposed to get,” he cast a glance to where Kuroo was laying in the back of the car, his eyes softening slightly, “But even those with ugly hair deserve to live,” his expression returned to its usual sternness as he glared them out of the van, “Now hurry it up, or I’ll go back the other half!”

Ushijima and Iwaizumi carefully removed Kuroo from the back, draping his arms over their shoulders as they supported him between them.

“Don’t jostle him too much or his wounds will open up again,” Nishinoya warned.

“Mm,” Matsukawa hummed, “Good luck to ya,” and then the van sped away, leaving Ushijima and Iwaizumi to delicately carry Kuroo back to the precinct.

The walk wasn’t going too badly until Iwaizumi heard the wet slap of a droplet hitting the concrete, heart stopping in his chest as he peered down at the bright red spot on the white pavement.

Iwaizumi’s teeth ground against each other as they ran, heavy, disjointed footsteps jostling them. Every step sent droplets of red spattering across the concrete. Kuroo’s whines turned into cries as vocal agony ripped through his throat.

‘Almost,’ he thought as they reached for the precinct doors. Ushijima and Iwaizumi blew them open, metal rattling against metal as Kuroo sagged in their hold.

Iwaizumi didn’t stop to look who was there, instead pulling in a stinging breath.

“Hospital!” he bellowed, “Now!”

Daichi sprinted across the precinct lobby, calling for Kenma and a car.

Iwaizumi was almost afraid he would bowl them over, but he stopped just in front of them, eyes trained on Kuroo.

“Kuroo- Tetsurou,” Daichi said urgently, “Tetsu, hey, Tet, that’s it, look at me,”

Iwaizumi would never point out the trembling quality Daichi’s voice took as he spoke.

He knew the kind of fear Daichi was experiencing.

“Kuro,” came a soft voice beside Daichi, who moved aside for him, “Kuro, you dummy,” Kenma said as he stepped up to him, eyes wide and searching. Before either of them could say anything more there was a loud honk from behind Iwaizumi.

“Here,” Daichi said as he reached to take Kuroo from them, another officer appearing to assist him, “Go get yourselves cleaned up in the infirmary,” he said almost absently, “Come on, Kenma,”

Iwaizumi watched as Daichi and the other officer, Ennoshita, carried Kuroo to the waiting car. Kenma opened the door for them, Kiyoko waiting at the wheel. Within seconds, they were loaded into the car and peeling out of the driveway, their sirens blaring.

“Iwaizumi,” Akaashi’s gentle voice called from beside him. Iwaizumi turned to see that Bokuto and Terushima were already leading Ushijima over to the infirmary, “Let’s get your wounds seen to,” he prompted, carefully guiding him away from the doors, “Then we can debrief each other,”

Iwaizumi managed a jerky nod in response, refusing to think about the burning behind his eyelids or the knot in his throat.

* * * *
It didn’t take long before both Ushijima and Iwaizumi were cleaned up and Director Ukai was calling their team in for a debriefing.

Iwaizumi, Ushijima, Akaashi, and Bokuto all stood at attention in front of Director Ukai’s desk, painfully aware of the gaping holes Daichi and Kuroo left in their team. Sharp silence hung in the air, no one quite sure who should speak first. The unspoken role had always fallen to Daichi, who began their information rundown, or even Kuroo, who eased the air with a lame joke or a strikingly heartfelt anecdote.

Now, they were left to flounder.

That was, until Ukai cleared his throat and rescued them from their inner scrambling.

“Akaashi, Bokuto,” he began, his voice gravelly and gaze forcefully business-like, worry weighing heavy on his shoulders, “Why don’t you start?”

Akaashi nodded and began to recall the events that had taken place at their assigned location. Iwaizumi was relieved to hear that their library encounter had gone much smoother than his team’s cafe disaster, but frowned as Akaashi described the kidnapping of their final lead.

“The black van had an NZL logo?” Ushijima asked.

“Yes,” Akaashi said, “Bokuto and I did not personally see it, but Daichi did,” he put a file on top of Director Ukai’s desk and opened it for them to see, “Concrete Crime also gave us these images,”

Iwaizumi looked over the pictures inside the file. There were similar images to what Oikawa had provided his team, pairs of people passing files and boxes off to each other, but there were also other images that had been absent from the file Oikawa had given them. A couple depicted black vans with a grey and gold NZL symbol painted faintly on the sides, and another was a grainy shot of all nine victims huddled inside of a small warehouse, presumably all of the files and boxes they had acquired strewn across the table in front of them.

“What is this NZL business?” Ukai asked as he scanned the images.

“Concrete Crime believes that NZL is the third party that murdered the seven victims,” Akaashi responded.

“Invisible Castle said the same,” Ushijima said.

“Third party?” Ukai questioned.

“Yeah,” Bokuto nodded, “Concrete Crime said the murders weren’t them or Invisible Castle because the victims were all killed by the same people, but their bodies were killed in different territories, and if Concrete Crime or Invisible Castle killed in the others territory it could start an all out war!”

“All we know about the third party is their logo, NZL, and that it was a recurring theme amongst the ciphers,” Akaashi said, “We know that the victims were passing files and other things between themselves until they were seen here,” Akaashi pointed to the picture where they were all grouped together, “With, most likely, all of their items. That was the last time they were seen together, or with any of the items,”

“Anything else?” Ukai asked.

“We had to give them 80 grand,” Bokuto added, “I think Daichi paid most of it,”

Director Ukai sighed and rubbed his face, “Alright, I’ll keep that in mind,” he turned to Iwaizumi and Ushijima, “And you boys?”

With a nod and a breath he refused to define as shaky, Iwaizumi explained how their mission had played out.

* * * *
“…and he gave us this,” Iwaizumi said, placing his file next to Akaashi’s, “We got similar pictures of them passing files and back forth, but we also got these,” he pulled out the call logs and laid them out.

“Call logs?” Ukai asked skeptically, “How does that help us?”

“If you compared all of them,” Iwaizumi said, pointing to the recurring server on each log, “You find this server called each victim, all within the same hour,” Iwaizumi looked up at Ukai, “Invisible Castle said that this server runs through the Secret Service, making it untraceable,”

“The Secret Service?” Ukai balked, “You’re telling me, this NZL… thing, hacked into national security servers to send these people calls?”

“Yes sir,” Iwaizumi said, “I would double check that the server is indeed a Secret Service channel, but I don’t doubt that it is,”

Director Ukai remained silent for a while, nodding absently as he processed the new information, “Alright,” he said finally, “I’ll make some calls. The Secret Service will want to close up whatever backdoors NZL used. And we’re sure that these gangs had nothing to do with the murders? That neither of them are behind the NZL operation?”

“The gangs are proud people,” Ushijima responded, “There would be no reason to deny what would only give them power,”

“Even if admitting to these murders would start a war between them, it would only give them more leverage to claim ownership of the crimes,” Akaashi agreed.

“The gangs are actually making themselves look weaker by not admitting to it,” Bokuto added, “ ‘Cause if NZL comes out and claims they murdered all those people, and even managed to fool the cops for a while, they’d get a lot of upward momentum,”

“Unless the new threat is dispatched before it can do so,” Iwaizumi said.

Ukai nodded again, taking another moment to process before he rose from his chair, signifying the end of their meeting, “You’ve all got a lot of research to do,” he said, “But for now, you boys take the rest of the day off and rest up, alright? I mean it,”

The ‘check on your teammates’ order went unsaid, but they all heard it loud and clear. They thanked Director Ukai for his time and filed out of his office and into their own, greeted by their waiting dogs.

“Hey, buddy,” Iwaizumi said to Alaska, running a hand through his fur and trying not to drown in the comforting, familiar feeling the happy husky brought with him, “Good to see you too,”

“Hey, Hajime?” Bokuto called from his desk, now situated in a relatively normal, if crooked, way behind Kuroo’s desk, “I’ve got Nova,” he said, gesturing down to Kuroo’s large, black belgian shepherd who whined at the doorway, waiting for her owner to walk through with the rest of them, “Can you…?” Bokuto didn’t need to finish his question for Iwaizumi to understand.

“Yeah,” Iwaizumi nodded, clipping Alaska into his leash and beginning to make his way over to the large german shepherd who was laying on the couch and eyeing the door, the same as Nova, “C’mon Ross,” Iwaizumi said, clipping Daichi’s leash into his collar, “Let’s go see your dad, huh?” Iwaizumi looked back at his departing teammates, “See you all there?”

“Of course,” Ushijima rumbled, exiting the room with his brindle pit bull, Athena, by his side.

“Drive safely, Iwaizumi,” Akaashi said softly, before both he and Boktuo exited as well.

* * * *
It wasn’t long before they all had arrived at the hospital, with the addition of Terushima, their dogs walking obediently at their sides as they were escorted to Kuroo’s room.

The nurse, who looked more than a little nervous to be escorting a group of police officers, looked at them over her shoulder and said, “He’ll probably be in the middle of an operation, but you are all welcome to wait outside,”

Sure enough, when they arrived at Kuroo’s room Daichi and Kenma were seated outside. Kenma was burying himself in a mobile game, knees tucked to his chest, knuckles white from how hard he was gripping his phone, and his face set more determinedly than usual. Daichi sat beside him, resting his elbows against his knees and clasping his hands tightly in front him, a familiar worried furrow resting between his eyebrows.

“Daichi, Kenma,” Iwaizumi called as they approached, but only Daichi looked up to greet them.

Daichi stood, unclasping his hands, but the furrow didn’t leave, “Guys,” he shook his head at himself, “I’m so sorry. I should have stayed for the debriefing, I didn’t-”

“Don’t,” Iwaizumi interrupted, “We can handle a debriefing. It was more important that you got Kuroo here,”

“I told you,” Kenma said quietly, and the furrow between Daichi’s brows eased slightly as he let out a small chuckle.

Daichi turned his attention to Ross, a smile appearing on his face as he crouched, taking the leash from Iwaizumi and began murmuring to his dog.

They made themselves comfortable as they settled in to wait. Iwaizumi leaned against the wall next to Ushijima, despite his protesting body. Terushima took up post on the other side of the chairs, leaning against the wall next to where Bokuto sat.

“What happened?” Kenma asked amidst the silence, peering over his phone screen with hazy eyes.

“A lot,” Iwaizumi said softly.

There was a beat of silence where Daichi reclined in his chair and Kenma lowered his phone before the others began to recount the events of the day, careful of passing ears.

“They managed to hack the Secret Service?” Daichi asked when they had finished.

“So it seems,” Akaashi said from his seat next to Bokuto and Kenma.

They fell mostly silent after that, the only chatter coming from Bokuto and Terushima as they whispered to each other. Iwaizumi tried not to listen to the idle chatter, all too aware that they were attempting to out-talk their own inner worries, the same as Iwaizumi was trying to out-brood his.

Iwaizumi let himself become lost in his thoughts, reviewing the case and evidence that he had practically memorized, in his mind. He was replaying their time with Invisible Castle when a thought dawned on him.

‘I haven’t told them about Oikawa yet,’

Just then, the door to Kuroo’s hospital room opened. Iwaizumi almost pitied the doctor who suddenly found himself face to face with seven intense gazes, five of which were armed and uniformed K-9 Police Detectives. To the doctors credit, he didn’t seem too fazed by their silent intensity.

“How is he?” Daichi asked, the trepidation clear in his tone. The hallway seemed to shrink, everyone leaning in, as if they could miss the next words that came out of the doctor’s mouth.

“Kuroo Tetsurou will live,”

A breath that Iwaizumi felt he had been holding since seeing Kuroo bleeding on the floor of the cafe finally escaped his lungs. He heard a near-choked laugh of relief escape Daichi and Kenma looked as if an elephant had been lifted off his shoulders. Terushima hollered and Bokuto whooped, hugging Akaashi tightly. Iwaizumi looked at Ushijima, who matched him grin for grin. A brightness that had been absent returned to all of them, and even their dogs could feel it.

“He’s had many stitches and a blood transfusion,” the doctor continued, smiling at their exuberance, “He’ll need to stay in the hospital for a couple of days and remain on bed rest for the better part of a month. He’ll be prescribed pain medication, if his wounds get infected he needs to come in immediately, and even after he’s off of bed rest he shouldn’t do anything more strenuous than walking for a couple of months after that,”

“He’s gonna hate all of that!” Bokuto said happily.

“He sure will,” Daichi agreed with a chuckle.

* * * *
The next couple weeks were supposed to be spent in their office, but Kuroo wouldn’t stop complaining to them over the phone, and then to Director Ukai, so occasionally they would take a field trip to Kuroo’s apartment. Even out-of-commission, Kuroo still pulled his weight. He researched from his semi-permanent place on the bed, sending them information when they couldn’t come, and lifting their spirits when they could.

Iwaizumi would deny it for as long as he lived, but the whole team doted on Kuroo when they were there. They brought him his favorite take-out, made him black coffee, and took him sweets. Daichi even made grilled mackerel when they all stayed past dinner-time once.

Kenma was a permanent fixture in the apartment, acting as Kuroo’s caretaker and bed-rest enforcer. They bickered back and forth when Kuroo wanted to get water for himself, but no matter how long they argued, ultimately Kenma always won.

There were the occasional times that Kenma had to go into work, which he grumbled about under his breath, amusing the rest of them. During those times, Daichi was always the first to offer to look after Kuroo.

It was an easy new cycle to fall into, but as they searched through the new information the gangs had afforded them and did some digging of their own, they continued to hit dead ends. The more dead ends and false leads they came across, the more the itch in Iwaizumi’s mind flared to life again.

They were missing something. Something big. Something that was probably right under their noses.

‘If I could just see what it is,’

* * * *
The better part of three weeks passed and Kuroo returned to working at his desk in the office. Kenma, Daichi, and the rest of them had tried to argue that it was too early for him to be moving, but Kuroo was stubborn when he wanted to be, and so he had begun coming back to precinct.

It was only a couple days after Kuroo began returning to the office that Ukai appeared in their doorway with news.

“I received a message from the Secret Service,” he said, quickly grabbing their full attention, “They inspected the server, and sure enough, someone had managed to patch through,”

“Did they find out who it was? Or where it came from?” Daichi asked.

Ukai shook his head, “The perpetrator cleaned up their tracks too well, if we had caught it earlier the data might still be there, but it’d been too long,”

The team let out a collective sigh of disappointment. Another lost lead.

“But,” Ukai continued, “This case of yours has caught their attention now,” he said ominously.

“What does that mean, Director?” Daichi questioned.

“It means,” Ukai said, “They’re sending down two agents to assist you,”

“Who?” Bokuto asked.

“The Miya twins,”