Hikawa Ryoma had seen many things in all his years as a policeman.

He’d lost count of all the times he was called on to resolve hostage situations, and of all the times he’d personally negotiated with the hostage-takers themselves. In his experience, many of them were simply acting out of their frustration and indignation at having their concerns and grievances ignored or swept under the rug, and were easily placated and persuaded to come quietly once they felt their message had been heard and their points clearly made. While Ryoma had also encountered perps who demanded ransom money before letting their hostages go free, they tended to be the exception and not the rule.

Look at all that blood.

He’d overseen more than his share of anti-drug operations, be they buy-busts ops or high-risk raids on drug dens. While most lawmen – Ryoma included – preferred these ops to end in peaceful surrender rather than chaotic shootouts with drug personalities, those perps were often willing to make a fight of it. And unfortunately, it was sometimes his brothers-in-arms who paid the price. However much human rights advocates wanted to believe otherwise, the grim reality was that those drug personalities knew the risks of their trade. Besides, the police could hardly be expected to just let criminals shoot them, could they?

And not a scratch on him?

Every now and then, Ryoma even had to plan and carry out operations against corrupt government officials – and, however much it pained him to do so, crooked cops. They all swore an oath to prioritize the public good over their own personal interests, which meant they had no business enriching themselves at the public’s expense – or worse, inflicting undue harm on the people they were meant to serve. Public service was public trust, after all, and as much as Ryoma hated having to arrest and punish his fellow lawmen in particular, what he hated most of all was how some of them dared to betray – or worse, directly harm – the same people they were supposed to serve and protect.

What IS this boy, anyway?

And it was only because of everything else he’d already seen over his lengthy career that Ryoma managed to remain unfazed by what the boy, Shugo, showed him.

After he, Ryoma, had asked Shugo to explain the bloodstains and bullet holes all over his clothes, the youth responded by asking to borrow the pair of scissors the chief had sitting on his desk. Shugo then ran one of the scissor’s blades back and forth across his thumb until it began to bleed, at which point he wiped the scissors clean on his shirt and replaced it on the table. And finally, he held his palm outward, allowing them to see the wound reseal itself and leave just a minor trickle of blood remaining.

“I wish I could explain this better, but this is all pretty new to me too,” Shugo confessed. “More importantly, you likely wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.”

Ryoma understood where the youth was coming from. Between confronting Taro’s kidnappers, placing his trust in their otherwise-innocent collaborator, and then sharing what was evidently a personal secret of his, Furukawa Shugo had taken all kinds of big risks in the past several hours. But at the same time, thought the veteran policeman, it was in all their interests that they knew just what they were dealing with.

“All the same, try,” he prompted the youth. “What you tell us in this room stays in this room.”

Shugo obliged.

And as Ryoma listened to what may as well be Furukawa Shugo’s superhero – or maybe he’ll end up becoming more of a supervillain, he thought – origin story, he couldn’t help but wonder what else he’d encounter before the time came for him to finally retire from the force.

Shugo told them how a scream had woken him up in the middle of the night last night, and about how he went outside their house to check where it came from. He explained how he, Shugo, intervened in what appeared to be an act of domestic violence, only to end up getting shot in the stomach and the head for his trouble. “And then I heard a voice calling to me, offering me a deal.”

As Shugo was speaking, he observed how both Ryoma and Ayato were leaning in, clearly intrigued at the story being told to them. They were listening attentively and quietly, and it wasn’t as though Shugo didn’t understand their curiosity. From where they were sitting, what they were hearing was something that only happened in anime and manga as far as they knew. For that matter, there were moments where he himself couldn’t help but wonder whether the events of the past two days were real, and that was after he’d taken multiple gunshots all over his body, not to mention come horrifyingly close to losing his right hand.

“Go on,” Ryoma finally said, breaking the silence in the process.

Once again, Shugo obliged. To the best of his ability, he recounted the terms of the deal the spirit had offered him: that he wouldn’t die that night, that he would help the spirit exact the vengeance and dispense the justice that she herself was unable to, and that his life would be forfeit if he failed to deliver on his end of their bargain.

Shugo then told them what he knew so far about the abilities he’d been granted as part of his contract. He told them of how he was granted the ability to induce nightmares and hallucinations, and to heal much, much faster than most. Not only that, he also explained how the spirit helped him distinguish between who was innocent and who was guilty, which was precisely how he knew to leave Ayato unharmed.

“I should probably also tell you that it was Ayato’s idea to personally alert you to what happened,” he added with a glance at the youth in question. “He genuinely didn’t know what he’d gotten himself into, or else she and I would’ve dealt with him the way we did the others.”

Finally, he told them how the spirit compelled him to inflict fear and suffering on those she deemed deserving. At the same time, he also relayed the explanation she gave him about how this was so they could either change their ways, or carry on their present course and then suffer further for it – and that compared to that, simply killing or executing the guilty would be letting them off easy.

Very well said.

Shugo ignored the spirit’s words. As his eyes darted between Ayato and Ryoma, he got the sense that they were still struggling to comprehend what they’d just heard, which was fair. Notwithstanding how Ayato specifically had seen how his companions gun him down, only for him to get back up moments later like nothing had happened, or the firsthand demonstration he’d just given them, Shugo knew he was asking them to believe something that really ought to have been impossible.

“If it helps, chief, I can give your guys my bloody shirt so you can confirm it’s my blood all over it?” he suggested to Ryoma, who had momentarily taken his eyes off the two boys and was tapping away on his smartphone. “If you’ve got a change of clothes I can borrow for at least a week, all the better.”

After remaining silent for a few more seconds, Ryoma finally put his phone away, though his eyes had yet to leave his desk.

“Alright, then,” the chief finally responded. “I’m going out of my way here, but since you two helped get my son back, I think we can work something out. Besides, I had Riku run a quick background check on both of you as soon as Taro fell asleep, and he vouched for both of you.”

“Shugo,” he went on as he addressed the youth in question. Riku tells me you do counselling as an extracurricular activity, and that you’re part of your school’s Peer Counsellors Club?” he prompted, before continuing after the boy nodded in response.

“I don’t suppose you’d mind counselling Taro and looking out for him whenever you can, maybe even once or twice a week if possible? I’ll likely get him professional help too, but he just might be more willing to open up to you after what you did for him.”

“With regard to your other extracurricular activities,” the chief added, “I’ll have to think it over, but I’m sure we can arrive at a mutual understanding. Whether it’s as an intern, independent contractor, or part-time employee, I’ll make sure you’re compensated for your contributions.”

That didn’t sound too bad, thought Shugo. They might have to iron out the specifics of their arrangement, but the arrangement itself definitely seemed like a good deal at face value. “Understood, sir. You can count on me.”

Ryoma nodded approvingly at the youth’s assent, before turning his attention to Ayato.

“And as for you, Ayato? We’ll work something out for you and your sister, too. You two live by yourselves, right?”

“It’s just the two of us, yeah,” Ayato confirmed. “Our parents both died in a car crash, and then our grandparents died in a fire, so I’ve had to work odd jobs to keep Ayaka healthy and both of us alive.”

Ryoma nodded at that. The information matched what Riku had been able to gather, and he had complete confidence in his aide’s information-gathering skills. “It’s just as well, then. We have to assume Asakura and the others know where you live, and that you guys won’t be safe there anymore. Apart from that, I’m not sure moving you in with your relatives would be the best idea until your former associates are taken care of.”

The chief paused for a few moments so his words – particularly the one he’d emphasized – could sink in.

And when he spoke again, it was to make Ayato an offer he couldn’t – and most likely wouldn’t – refuse.

“How does becoming part of my personal staff sound to you?”

Minutes later, after both young men had gone…

“Are you sure about this, chief?” Riku inquired, after his superior had explained the most recent development. “They’re both civilians, and kids at that.”

“It’s unorthodox, but we’ll come up with something,” Ryoma stated simply, holding up the bloody and bullet-ridden shirt Shugo had left behind. “Shugo and his partner aren’t likely to stop, and it’s not like we can stop them either way. And honestly, it’ll be a load off our shoulders to have them out there helping us out, don’t you think?”

“And Ayato? What about him?”

“Assuming Shugo was telling the truth, and I believe he was, Ayato was kept in the dark about what he was getting into,” the chief explained further. “Bringing him and his sister on board lets us keep them close by, and it gives him every reason to stay out of trouble.”

“I’m sure he won’t cause us any problems,” Ryoma concluded, the utmost certainty in his tone leaving no room for argument. “And if he does, then…”

Ryoma looked his aide squarely in the eye. “That’s where you come in, right, Riku?”

Indeed it was, thought the aide.

But even as Riku met his superior’s gaze, he privately prayed that things wouldn’t come to that.

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