Raikou’s unsure what to do once he enters his apartment. Earlier, it had been so easy to offer the boy his hand, but Raikou has always been better in action than stationary, and now that they’ve arrived at his apartment, the course he ought to take becomes much more difficult to intuit. Locking the door behind him, he turns and looks over the curly-haired boy who is roughed-up, covered in dirt, and staring at him with wide, dark eyes that just saw him murder a man—the man who, if the desperate shouts that brought him to the scene held any truth to them, had killed this boy’s mother.
Gau, Raikou recalls. Of the scant words they exchanged as he led the boy home, his name was the one thing he had asked for.
“Shimizu Raikou,” he had responded with little pomp or circumstance to the boy’s question, delivering it with a neutrality that he had carefully mastered in the four years since he abandoned all pride in the Shimizu name.
“I’m Gau,” the boy had said after a moment’s pause, “Meguro Gau,” and smiled weakly at him. Raikou, feeling it was not the moment for conversation, had simply turned his gaze back to the street ahead of them and led Gau to his home. Now, however, they are standing in the doorway and Raikou is at a loss how best to proceed.
After a moment of awkward silence, Raikou decides first things first, and switches into his slippers before he strides into the interior of his apartment. He unbuckles Shirogamon and places it on the katana rest before moving to the closet. Behind him Gau shuffles to catch up. “Help yourself to the shower,” he says as he hands Gau a towel and nods to the bathroom.
“Thank you, Raikou-san,” Gau says, and Raikou is slightly taken aback by the gratitude he sees in the boy’s eyes. It was a simple enough offer.
He sits on his couch and tries to meditate, finding a calm centre so he can sort out how he wants to deal with this. He’s killed an outsider, and invited another into a world where people say their farewells at the moment they meet. He could turn the boy out, and leave him to figure his own way through all that has just happened, but deep inside he can’t help but want to protect him. In the moment he heard those shouts, he was haunted by the memory of the girl whom he couldn’t protect. Now that he has saved someone, he is filled with relief even as there is a lingering sense of a debt yet owed. He will never save her now, but the boy in not-so-different circumstances deserves an explanation, at least, and maybe a choice.
Eventually he hears the water cease to run, and a few minutes later Gau emerges from the bathroom. His curls have disappeared under the weight of the water and stick smoothly to his neck, but Raikou has a feeling once his hair dries they will spring up again twice as full, like sheep’s wool. It’s an amusing image and he tries to mask his smile in front of his guest. Instead he offers Gau a seat on the couch—convenient because if they sit next to each other, they can avoid meeting eyes if they don’t want to. Raikou may be thankful for that later, given how uncomfortable this conversation might be.
It’s Gau who speaks first in the end, after several moments of fidgeting. “Um,” he begins, and Raikou waits for the next part, anticipating reproach, panicked questions about how, yes, Raikou is a murderer, dyed in blood from head to toe, and maybe fear upon realizing this, although the kid has done a pretty good job so far of maintaining composure. In the end, Gau simply asks, “Who are you?”
Raikou thinks the question is so stupid that he’s not even sure how to respond. The kid cannot have forgotten his name in the fifteen minutes he was in the shower. The twitch in his fingers betrays the impulse to give the boy a swift clip across the head, but he ignores it—fortunately so, as the boy speaks again. “I mean...you carry a sword, and you don’t look like a normal person, and—”
Raikou’s irritability dissipates as he realizes what Gau intended, although what does he mean I don’t look normal? and he doesn’t let him finish. “I am a shinobi,” Raikou says, and tries to pick through what he ought to say next. Gau beats him to it.
“A shinobi!? A real shinobi? That is so...” Gau says, pausing slightly as Raikou catches his eye, frowning slightly at being interrupted, “...wonderful,” he finishes.
Raikou can’t help but laugh a little at that. “Yes, well, the Nabari world is in some ways different from what it used to be—”
“...but it has maintained its existence to this day, continuing on alongside the world of outsiders, concealing its activities so that outsiders stay unaware of it,” Raikou finishes.
“Do you work on your own,” Gau asks, “or do you have a clan? Do they still exist?”
“Yes, they still exist,” Raikou says. Choosing his words carefully, he continues, “I, with Shirogamon, serve the Kairoshuu as a member of the Wakachi.”
“Are the Kairoshuu your clan members?”
Raikou lets his gaze fall to the floor for a moment before finally responding. “No. The Kairoshuu are a group who seek to change the world for the better. I no longer have a clan.”
Perhaps Gau is more perceptive than he first assumed, Raikou thinks as he sees the sympathetic expression on the boy’s face. Gau does not pick up the topic directly, but instead starts speaking about himself. “I grew up without knowing my father. My mother did her best, however, and raised me with all the love in her heart. She had to work really hard though, and often stayed late.”
Raikou looks at him with interest, having a suspicion as to where this is going.
“It was less than a month ago a man broke into her workplace at night, intending to rob it. It seems when he realized someone was there, he murdered her thoughtlessly so that she couldn’t report him. I went to the police conducting the investigation and begged them to catch the man who did it, but they dismissed me, saying there wasn’t enough evidence. At first I believed them, and felt resigned, but when I started searching myself, I encountered several witnesses who said they had seen the man breaking in and could describe him. I brought them to the police to give testimony, but the more I came to them, the more it became clear they weren’t doing anything, and they didn’t intend to. I don’t know whether they were afraid, or paid off by him or his syndicate, or they just didn’t care, but I knew there was going to be no justice for my mother from the system. So I searched even harder, in order to avenge her myself. And today, finally...”
Raikou takes in how Gau’s eyes glitter as he talks, how his fingers curl into his palms in anger, the skin turning white around his knuckles as his words become tenser, and how at the last he gazes at Raikou with unconcealed gratitude.
Although he feels undeserving of such honest admiration, Raikou’s heart is soothed in spite of himself. He has believed all along his sword has the power to save, and finally here is the proof, one tiny existence reclaimed from the capriciousness of life and the senseless violence of society. He gives the boy a small but kindly smile and stands up, walking over to the cupboard. Now they’ve broken the ice, Raikou figures it’s time to be a better host. He can feel Gau’s eyes on him. Raikou shifts some things around until he finally gets at the bag of miso-flavoured corn snacks. Pouring some of the contents into a bowl, he sets it down on the low table and sits back down. Gau, half-starved-looking as his is, looks at Raikou with surprise but doesn’t move.
“Help yourself,” Raikou says, and Gau immediately springs forward, popping a few in his mouth and crunching away at them. Raikou takes a few himself, having neglected to eat anything earlier in the day. They share a companionable silence for a few moments as they eat, before Gau comes out with more questions.
“Are the other shinobi like you too?” Gau says between mouthfuls.
“Like, carrying swords and walking around normal people unseen, fulfilling secret missions,” Gau says, making a vague gesture with his hand.
“We might not be as unseen as you think,” Raikou replies with humour. “Most of us have outside jobs and blend in completely with society. There’re very few places it would even be possible to live without any outside contact in this day and age.”
“Do you have another job?” Gau asks curiously.
“Yes, I work part-time at a traditional manufacturer’s making paper,” Raikou says before reaching for some more corn snacks.
The look in Gau’s eyes seem to stray far off in the realm of imagination at that. “Amazing. You must be so elegant when you’re working.”
Raikou nearly chokes on his food. Coughing it down, he continues, “But not everyone works in such a traditional field. The Kairoshuu have fully embraced modern technology in order to advance. It’s what makes them the strongest power in the Nabari world.”
“Raikou-san,” Gau says, a serious expression taking over his eyes, “the Kairoshuu you’re with–what kind of better world do they want?”
“Our leader is a very wise man,” Raikou says with a smile on his face as he gazes ahead at nothing in particular. “Hattori-sama intends to change the world so that conflict will disappear. Outsiders will no longer be hurt by those from the world of Nabari, the innocent will no longer be victims to those who have more power than them, and those who seek justice will obtain it. Although we take up the sword against wrongdoing now, one day he will eliminate all strife, so that we can move forward to a peaceful society. My work as the sole member of the Wakachi is to eliminate those who betray Kairoshuu and our ideals.”
As he finishes, Raikou looks over at the boy and smothers a laugh at the open-mouthed expression on his face. Gau quickly shuts his mouth and looks down at his hands twisted together on his lap. “That’s really amazing,” he mumbles.
“It's work I have a lot of pride in,” Raikou says.
“The Kairoshuu must really be great,” Gau says, although his expression seems to have dampened.
Raikou observes him for a moment before asking the question that had been on his mind since he first invited the boy to follow him. “Do you have a place to return to?”
Gau’s expression only grows thinner, and it seems he will not speak at all until finally he murmurs, “Not really. The landlord decided to evict me a few days ago now that my mother is gone. I was supposed to travel to my aunt’s place in Tsuruoka, but after speaking with her I knew that she didn’t really want me there even if she’s my legal guardian, so I’ve been putting it off. And I was so desperate to find that man I didn’t want to leave, so I’ve just been...”
“Toughing it out, huh?” Raikou says. Gau simply nods in response. Stretching his arms out above his head, Raikou looks at the ceiling before saying, “I can roll out the spare futon for tonight. This really isn’t a place for two people, though.”
“Thank you, Raikou-san!” Gau says, his eagerness all over his face.
Raikou looks at him point-blank before saying, “I don’t suppose you have anything you’re good at?”
“I can make food, and do laundry and clean up and everything like that,” Gau replies. “For now I can definitely take care of things in return for—”
“I didn’t mean housework,” Raikou says, shaking his head. “I suppose you must good at investigating things?” If he’d tracked down his mother’s murderer in under a month when even the police refused to get involved, he must have some talent for compiling information.
“Well, I, yeah, I guess so,” Gau says and blushes slightly. “I’m also good at organizing things, and I’m really good at math too.”
“I can try and work with that,” Raikou says.
A curious expression comes over Gau’s face. Raikou looks up at the ceiling once more as if trying to resolve something before he turns and looks Gau straight in the eye.
“What you want to do from now on is your choice, but there’s really only two ways that I can see. You can leave here and forget that you ever came in contact with the Nabari world. Whether that means you go to your aunt or keep making your own way I don’t really care, and I can’t say whether it’s any safer. The world of Nabari is a kill-or-be-killed kind of society, and whether you’re from the inside or the outside, you can still be caught up in its struggles. But the Kairoshuu are trying to change that.”
“You can leave, or you can stay and join the Kairoshuu with me. No matter how I look at it,” Raikou says, almost as if to himself, “you’re an outsider, you’re weak and you can’t fight to save your own life. But you’re also passionate, determined and you’ve got enough other skills I might be able to plead your case with our leader, if you want. It can be dangerous work sometimes, but if you join us, I, at least, can protect you. It’s your decision.”
Raikou is hardly finished before Gau bows his head deeply and says, “Please let me join the Kairoshuu with you!”
Raikou pauses for a moment, taking in the sincere and anxious expression in front of him, and resolves with a heavy heart that no matter what, he will protect this kid from the irrational violence of the world around them. Maybe in this there is one small way to atone for his failure to save his friend from all those years ago.
“Well, I guess that’s how it is,” Raikou says, lightly resting his hand on Gau’s shoulder. Gau lifts his head, a thankful and excited look in his eyes, and Raikou returns an awkward smile before looking away.
Glancing around the room aimlessly, he notices the empty bowl of snacks, and turns back to Gau, this time with a brighter if less heartfelt smile, and says, “You mentioned you can cook?”
“Yes!” Gau replies eagerly.
“Let’s see what I have in my fridge,” Raikou says and stands up. As he walks he hears another set of footsteps right behind him, and thinks this isn’t all bad.