Welcome to my world . . .
The torture master pushed the door open, peering cautiously inside. “Takahashi-san,” he yelped in surprise. He was so riveted by the hate-filled eyes that swiveled to meet his that he missed the tell-tale hand gestures Yoshi made. The white-haired shinobi simply disappeared, leaving the torture master staring at the swirl of smoke left in his wake.
Shit, shit, shit, Makoto of all people. How the hell am I supposed to hide anything from him? Yoshi reappeared in his own bathroom, still driven by the compulsion to rid himself of any evidence of his recent duties. He flipped the shower to hot and climbed inside, coating a rough sponge with antibacterial soap and scrubbing already red skin. When the hot water ran out he slumped to the shower floor, unwilling to bother moving himself any further.
“Boss, you can’t just sit there,” a stocky brown wolf argued from the doorway. “You’re bleeding, you need to take care of it.”
“It doesn’t matter any more Pi-natsu,” Yoshi whispered. “He saw me, and once one person in the shuudan knows something, everyone does.”
“He, who, saw you, where?” the demon replied in confusion.
“Sasaki Makoto, in the showers, at headquarters.” The elite flopped onto his side and shut his eyes in an attempt to block out the world.
Pi-natsu huffed in exasperation. They weren’t playing Ninja Clue, a real answer would have been helpful. He trotted out into the bedroom, tugged a pillow off the bed and into the bathroom. He nudged snowy strands until the unresponsive man shifted his head onto the pillow before dragging a blanket over the shivering form. Calling the rest of the pack he left them standing guard while he went to look for the source of the problem.
“Hey, you, Sasaki.”
Makoto peered out his door in search of the person calling him, there weren’t many ninja who would bang on his door and then have the balls to run away.
“Down here,” the gruff voice continued. “I have a bone to pick with you.”
“Indeed,” the torture specialist rumbled as he eyed the glaring wolf in surprise, “and it is?”
“I need to know what you did to the boss. He’s bleeding and he won’t take care of it. He’s just laying in the bottom of the shower staring at the wall,” the demon familiar replied, worry apparent in his tone.
“Who’s your boss?” Makoto asked. “I tend to have that effect on people.”
“Takahashi Yoshi. Now what did you do to him?” Pi-natsu demanded with a threatening growl.
“I didn’t do anything to Takahashi-san. I ran into him at headquarters, but we didn’t even speak. He was already upset when I got there,” Makoto defended himself. “I don’t know why you’re blaming me.”
“He said you were the reason he wasn’t getting up. I asked and he said ‘Makoto, the showers, headquarters’. You know, I don’t have a lot to work with here, a little cooperation would be appreciated,” the wolf groused.
“Why don’t I go with you and talk to him,” the interrogator suggested. “Maybe I can figure out what the problem is.” Technically Yoshi was covert ops, even if he did report directly to the Kobayashi no Shuhan, and that made him Makoto’s business. Nevertheless, the torture master had a feeling his attention would not be appreciated.
The demon growled something unintelligible, and they disappeared with a pop of displaced air. Makoto's stomach twisted, his natural paranoia kicking into high gear at traveling under another's power. They appeared just outside the bathroom door, the wolf carefully nosing it open to check before motioning for the interrogator to follow. “Hey boss, I brought Sasaki-san here to straighten things out with you. Please get up.”
The shadow wolf didn’t even attempt to cover himself, much less move. “I’m fine Sasaki-san, I’m sorry Pi-natsu bothered you,” he rasped. “Thank you for humoring him.”
“He said you were bleeding,” the interrogator ventured. “I can assist you now that I’m here.”
“That won’t be necessary,” came the frosty reply. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
“Capable and willing are not the same thing.” Makoto bent down and scooped up the startled figure. Yoshi panicked when hands brushed against his bare flesh and he struggled to push away from the contact.
“Don’t touch me.” He twisted himself out of the interrogator’s arms, landing hard on the bathroom floor. “Please, I’ll do whatever you want.”
“It’s alright,” the torture master whispered as he scooted closer, unwilling to make the mistake of underestimating the damage Yoshi could do if he so chose. He swept an appraising eye over the huddled form, stifling a growl at the sluggishly bleeding whip marks artfully cross-hatching cracked, reddened skin. “Why didn’t you go see Rin when you got back? She would have had someone treat this while you gave her your report.” The interrogator paused before continuing in a barely audible whisper. “How long did they torture you before you escaped?”
“Rin has no desire to see me like this,” the shadow wolf insisted. “You don’t understand.”
“Well then, you need to explain it, or I’ll have her explain it,” the interrogator threatened. “I’m not just going to leave you like this.”
“I don’t see why not,” Yoshi retorted. “I out rank you, don’t force me to make it an order.”
“You may out rank me,” Makoto decided, “but as head of covert operations I’m technically your boss. Don’t make me order you.”
“This was my mission. Now do you understand?” Makoto flinched as the meaning hit home. “I’m Rin’s favorite bargaining chip, just like I was Kobayashi-sama’s before her.” Yoshi studied the tile floor, unwilling to meet the torture master’s hard, knowing, eyes.
“How long?” the interrogator demanded. “How long have they been doing this to you?”
“Since I started in covert operations,” came the sullen reply.
“That’s over twenty years. You were just a child.”
“I was never a child.” Yoshi abandoned the last vestiges of his pride and rose to his full height, heedless of his nudity. “Now if you don’t mind, I believe you’ve snooped into my life enough.”
“I mind very much,” Makoto tried to protest. “You’re a talented shinobi, not a common whore.”
“That’s right, I’m a loyal shinobi of Kobayashi shuudan. That means I bow to the will of the Kobayashi no Shuhan and complete the duties I am assigned to the best of my ability,” the shadow wolf whispered, as much to himself as to his unwanted guest.
“At least let me treat your back,” the interrogator said after a long silence. “Then I’ll leave you in peace.”
“It will heal on its own, it always does. Right now I’d just like to be left alone. Oh, and Sasaki-san?”
“I’d appreciate it if you kept this to yourself. I value my privacy, for reasons I’m sure you understand. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Yoshi urged him toward the door. “I’m sure I’ll see you around headquarters. Thank you for your concern, I’m sorry you were disturbed.” With that Makoto found himself standing on the stoop with the door firmly shut, locked and warded behind him.
I’m not just going to let this go Yoshi, you haven’t seen the last of me. With that thought he headed home. Sleep eluded him though, his mind returning to the signs of torture littering the pale body. He finally slipped into restless dreams haunted by the shadow wolf’s surprisingly attractive features in place of some of his recent 'guests'.
* * *
Yoshi rose early the next morning, the clotted wounds on his back peeling free of the sheets with a sickening sound. He staggered into the bathroom, emptying his stomach of its meager contents before stepping into the shower. As he washed he turned the events of the previous night over in his mind, unsure of what his course of action should be.
I don’t want to talk to Makoto, but I don’t want him going to the Shuhan either. The shadow wolf pondered his options while he waited for the kettle to boil. Maybe he’ll just let the whole thing drop.
Yoshi drank his tea and carefully rinsed the fragile cup. Slipping on his sandals, he headed out the door on his way to the cemetery. Once there he searched the stones until he came to a familiar name, stopping and squatting as he addressed his fallen mentor. The shadow wolf wondered, as he always did, if his life would have been different had Oonishi-sama survived. Lighting some incense, he clapped his hands together three times and bowed his head before speaking. “Hello, shishou,” he murmured. “I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I know it's been a while. Nothing's changed, but Makoto saw me at headquarters last night when I got back. I know he wants an explanation, I just don’t have one to give him.” He shook his head as he tried to figure out what his master would have advised. “I guess I should just go check in. See you later.” With that he shuffled off, pretending to talk on his cell phone in order to guarantee his undisturbed passage.
Halfway there a booming voice broke into his thoughts. Oh damn, he's spotted me. Yoshi reluctantly stopped to wait as Watanabe Jun made his way across the street. Jun was known for his unworldly speed, it was pointless to try and evade him. The reclusive Takahashi regarded his self-proclaimed friend with dismay. Jun was loud and emotional . . . and far too likely to realize something was wrong. As much as it pained him to admit it, the boisterous, easy going shinobi was the closest thing he had to a friend here in the enclave.
“My dear friend, where have you been hiding yourself? You haven't come by to train in months.” Jun clapped a heavy hand on the shadow wolf’s back. “It has been far too long since we have engaged in a spar.”
“Not today, Jun.” Yoshi shut his eyes as waves of pain rippled down his spine. “I need to go report in, I'm just back from an assignment. I’ll find you when I’ve got some free time.”
“Yosh, I look forward to it.”
The last Takahashi took a deep breath, standing up straight in hopes of preventing his shirt from sticking to the newly reopened scores on his back. He squared his shoulders and continued toward headquarters, trying his hardest to ignore the sticky trickle working its way down between his shoulder blades.
He soon found himself outside the Kobayashi no Shuhan’s office, shifting from foot to foot as he waited for Rin to summon him. “She’ll see you now Takahashi-san,” the Shuhan's longtime aide announced. “Sorry to make you wait.”
“That’s no problem, thank you Junko-san.” The shadow wolf bowed politely before taking another deep breath and following her inside. He strode toward the giant desk inlaid with the symbol of the clan. It was a reminder of why the shuudan was founded. Yoshi stopped abruptly and stood at attention, carefully studying the red-haired woman lounging on the other side of the desk.
Despite the flaming color of her hair, the famous kunoichi Rin was as cold as her name implied. Her power, skill, and calculating intellect had elevated her to the ranks of the legendary, something only a handful of living shinobi had achieved, yet she had squandered her talents, living a life of depravity and spending days on end in an opium stupor. Still, the clan elders had appointed her to this position after Kobayashi-sama's death for, despite her dissolute appearance, she was a shrewd and canny strategist who did not flinch at the necessity of putting her shinobi in harm's way if it benefited the shuudan.
“Ah, Takahashi, I hope your assignment ended successfully?” Rin chuckled from behind her desk. “Join me for sake?”
“No thank you Shuhan-sama,” he replied. “I’m not much of a drinker.”
“You have something for me then?” she continued with a smirk.
“I believe this is what you sent me to retrieve.” Yoshi handed over a crumpled IOU signed by the Shuhan and a small ball of opium.
“Wonderful. I had no idea how I was going to pay that off.” Rin shifted back to recline comfortably in her chair, fixing the rigid figure in front of her with a leer. “Now, about your next assignment.”
“I need a few days to heal.” The shadow wolf tried to protest, hoping to at least delay his departure. “I can’t function like this.”
“I’m sure we can take care of what ails you,” the Shuhan assured him. She stood and circled the elite slowly, reaching out with her ki to sense the wounds hidden beneath his uniform. “Hmm,” she murmured as she swept her hands down Yoshi’s back. “I didn’t know Riyou was so kinky.” She rummaged around on her desk, tossing him a jar of salve with a sadistic chuckle. “This should leave you good as new,” she declared. “Make sure you coat yourself inside. If you need some help I can think of a few people who'd be happy to lend you a hand.” Her hoarse laughter raised the shadow wolf's hackles, his strained smile closer to a snarl. “You really should thank me Takahashi, not everyone gets to be an eternal virgin.”
“Whatever,” he grumbled. “Now, what do you need me to do?”
* * *
Makoto rose early from a restless sleep, his encounter with the shadow wolf triggering memories of his own capture. He raked a hand through his tangled hair, eyes slipping shut as he pondered what he should do about Yoshi. After considering what little he knew, the torture master realized he needed to tread cautiously, opting to find the elusive shinobi and try to get him to talk, rather than approaching the Shuhan with his concerns.
The interrogator was soon striding through the village, intimidating scowl firmly in place. He detoured past the cemetery, knowing Yoshi often visited when he was home, but the clearing was deserted. Makoto paused to run a hand over his family marker, feeling a momentary closeness to the departed whose names he now traced almost absently. He sent up a silent prayer for those who had gone ahead before turning towards headquarters.
He strode into his office, summoning a black-masked operative to follow. “Bring me Takahashi Yoshi.” The figure saluted and vanished, leaving Makoto alone to contemplate what he planned on saying.
He was still deep in thought when the operative returned. “I’m sorry sir, but it appears Takahashi-san has been sent out of town on an assignment. There is no information on where he has gone or when he is expected to return. Is there something else you need?”
“No, that will be all.” Makoto's normally impassive face twisted into a scowl. Great, now I have to go deal with Rin. “I’ll be in the Shuhan’s office,” he growled as he passed his aide on the way upstairs.
“We need to talk,” he declared. “Junko, get lost.” The Shuhan’s assistant quickly complied. Rin could hold her own against the torture master, she had no desire to hang around when he was obviously pissed off.
“What are you doing to Takahashi?” he demanded the moment they were alone. “I saw him last night. Don’t bother to deny it.”
“I’m using one of my shinobi in the way that best suits his talents,” Rin retorted. “What business is it of yours?”
“I hardly think that being used as a whore and a whipping boy suits the talents of someone like Takahashi-san. What made you consider it?”
“I merely continued using him, I didn’t start it,” the kunoichi replied. Her eye fell on the ball of opium, so she started rooting through a drawer in search of her pipe. “What do you remember about Takahashi Ren?”
“I know he committed suicide.”
“Ren was Yoshi’s father. He was warned there would be repercussions when he refused an assassination. Kobayashi-sama decided to use him as a bargaining chip in hopes of mitigating some of the damage. Depression over his new duties most likely influenced his decision to end his own life.” Rin paused when she located her elusive pipe, carefully filling it before snapping her fingers and kindling a small flame. She inhaled deeply, holding the smoke for over a minute. When she opened her mouth the remnant smoke curled out lazily, obscuring her face in a blurry haze.
“I know from the records that his next assignment was supposed to be a father and son duo.” She stopped short at the expression on the normally stoic interrogator’s face. “What?”
“That’s sick. Yoshi couldn’t have been more than seven or eight.”
“He was nine,” Rin noted. “But the head of the Oonishi clan took him in after his father's suicide, so Kobayashi-sama decided not to push the issue. After Oonishi-sama’s death and our conflict with the Iwagashi, our shuudan was weak. Kobayashi-sama felt it was best to re-institute the practice with Ren's son. It’s amazing what someone will pay for a night with the infamous shadow wolf.”
“Our existence is no longer threatened. What’s your excuse?” The torture master loomed over her, hands clenching into fists.
“I have . . . expenses,” she retorted. “It’s not like I’m risking his life. Besides, he probably enjoys it. He's been doing it for years without any complaints.”
“I hardly think that means he wants to be on the receiving end of some pervert’s advances. Do the clan heads know?”
“It’s none of their business,” Rin insisted. “And if you don’t back off you’ll find yourself in the same boat.”
“I’d like to see you try,” the interrogator countered. “Where is Yoshi now?”
“He’s gone to Kanegawa. There's a Yakuza there who has agreed to give us some of his race horses and wipe out my personal debt in exchange for a couple weeks with Takahashi.”
“Just like that. He was in no shape to go anywhere,” Makoto seethed. “I thought he’d been tortured.”
“I healed him before I let him go, obviously. No one wants to pay a premium for damaged merchandise. I’m not heartless,” the Shuhan protested when the torture master fixed her with a ferocious glare. “There are rules. He can’t be killed or permanently mutilated, a shinobi medic needs to be on call to treat any serious injuries, and, of course, he can’t be exposed to any infectious diseases.”
“Oh, wonderful, that way you can drag out his misery,” Makoto muttered. “He’s a human being, Rin, it would be wrong to treat an animal the way you’re treating him.”
“Takahashi won’t appreciate you getting involved,” she pointed out. “In the end all you’ll do is make a dangerous enemy.”
“I’ll take that chance. This isn’t over.” With that he swept out of her office, banging the door behind him. No one knew what had transpired, but judging from the look on the interrogator’s face it wasn’t good. Seasoned assassins fled at the sight of a grim Makoto muttering to himself as he stormed back to his desk.
As he passed through reception he motioned for several waiting shinobi to follow. Once inside his office he penned a note to the outlying sentries, requesting he be notified the moment Yoshi returned. He then wrote to the clan leaders, requesting a private meeting to discuss 'rumors of disturbing practices'. That should tickle their interest. I don’t want to take any chances on some of them deciding not to show. I need them all on my side.
Once the black op had sped off to deliver his requests Makoto leaned back in his chair, wondering where Yoshi was at that moment and if he was alright. No point in worrying about it now. He sat up and dug into the pile of paperwork in his in-box while he waited for responses to his letters to start trickling in.
At least it’s late enough that everyone should be gone, the shadow wolf concluded as he slipped into headquarters. He headed for the locker room, his only desire to scrub off the taint of his latest assignment. The last Takahashi warily checked the entire area, scanning for nearby ki, before quickly disrobing and getting into the shower.
None of this was unusual behavior for the reclusive shinobi, but tonight his reasons were different. He turned the water as hot as it would go, scrubbing his skin vigorously with a brush until it was red and raw. His agonized whimpers dissolved into anguished sobs barely hidden by the rushing water.
I am shinobi, I must master my emotions. The words kept running through Yoshi’s brain, but tonight he couldn’t seem to summon his usual control. He dropped to his knees, hot water searing his back as hot tears seared his soul.
* * *
Makoto stood and stretched, releasing the tension that built up during his last interrogation. His most recent 'guest' had taken longer than usual to break. All he wanted was to fall into bed and sleep for eight hours. Better clean up first. His face twisted into a rueful smirk as he glanced down at his gore streaked form. He pulled out some spare clothes and headed to the locker room to clean up, anxious to spare himself the mess at home. Once inside the interrogator stripped, concluding after a quick appraisal that his clothes weren’t worth salvaging. That decided he dropped them in the incinerator bin, grabbed a towel, and headed for the showers.
His steps slowed as he approached the door. Someone inside was screaming in agony, their ki flaring wildly in response. Maybe I shouldn't go in. His hands unconsciously balled into fists as the voice rose to a broken howl. He stretched out his senses, hoping to get an idea of just who he was dealing with and why they were so out of control. He was surprised to find that, even in distress, whoever it was still managed to keep their identity hidden. Fuck it. I’m head of covert operations. I need to know if something is wrong with one of my men.