Chikage never intended for his director to get involved with one of his missions. The day he brought her back to the dorms after keeping her locked in his old hideout, he swore he would never let her get anywhere close to his life in the organization again. Izumi was meant to live in the light alongside her family, the Mankai Company, and Chikage took it upon himself to dutifully guard them from the eyes of his associates that moved in the shadows. His experience maintaining his dual lifestyles kept him confident that he could protect his theatre company, which made it all the more shocking that he had slipped up and given the enemy leverage to blackmail information out of him.
Hesitant in finding an unmarked CD that one day appeared in his coverup workplace mailbox, he made a quick scan of his surroundings before hiding the disc in his brief case, making sure no one was around as a witness. There were several scenarios that could explain this strange package - perhaps a coworker wanted to pull a prank on him so they could see his usual composed personality become unraveled, or perhaps someone was trying to discretely deliver a less-than-safe-for-work video to another, only to accidentally place it in the wrong mailbox. Being a place of business, immature motives like that weren't all that likely, but people are still people and aren't restricted to professionalism just because of their age. After all, his own roommate and coworker was the perfect example of an adult that didn't abide by the typical Japanese salary man stereotype. Unable to confirm the contents of the disc until he was in a secured environment, Chikage spent his workday only able to hope for such an uneventful explanation.
Putting together any reasonable excuses he could come up with, he was able to leave work earlier than usual and immediately set out for his hideout. He made sure to keep watch of any suspicious individuals who may be tailing him, and checked his phone for any possible alerts from his organization. For now, it was in his best interest to remain calm, at least on the outside, and keep the existence of this disc a secret for now to prevent any unnecessary alarm from others.
Finally arriving at his safe house, Chikage had two main objectives - check the contents of the disc and review his workplace's security footage (which he had made sure to copy on his flashdrive earlier) to find hints about who could have placed the disc in his mailbox to begin with. Using a laptop that was modified to be untraceable to him, Chikage placed the disc inside the CD-drive and anxiously waited for it to load. All that was immediately shown was a single video file with what appeared to be a corrupted name. Worst case scenario grew more likely to him with each passing second, and his suspicions were confirmed once the first image on the video loaded. Several emotions began to well up inside of him as he stared at the footage of an unresponsive Izumi, blindfolded and tied to a chair. Doing his best to maintain focus, he paid close attention to the remainder of the video.
"Chikage Utsuki. Age 26. Currently working as an average businessman at a prestigious company as a coverup for your real profession as a secret agent. We have been watching you for some time. We are greatly impressed with your contributions to your group, and your skills in deception and information gathering are quite the assets to an underground organization," the distorted voice played as the image of Izumi remained on the screen, "We have been foes of yours in the past, but we believe you would be a valuable ally and want you to consider partnering with us."
In such a short time, Chikage had become overloaded with information as thoughts raced through his head. Who sent this message? How long have they been observing him? Where have they taken Izumi? When did they find out about his connection to her? What would be the most optimal resolution to this? The video went on for a short while longer, giving him the timeframe he had to respond and informing him that they will notify him their location after two days have passed.
"Two days." Chikage quietly said to himself.
In just two days, this mysterious organization wanted Chikage to make his decision, and they were holding Izumi hostage as a means of forcing him to join them.
I had been so careful to mask any relation I had with her from my own organization, he thought to himself. Could this other group have witnessed us together somewhere without my knowledge?
For confirmation, he immediately tried to contact Izumi through one of his many burner phones. While he had hoped that by some miracle this was all some elaborate prank or misunderstanding, he was reaffirmed of the direness of the situation when she had not picked up. Retracing conversations with her in his mind, he tried to remember if she mentioned anything about her schedule today. He briefly recalled she would be assisting a friend with their theatre company and would stop by the market to pick up groceries. If she didn't pick up, she could possibly have been busy still working with her friend, but that was unlikely given the footage of her he had seen. Just for good measure, he did a quick search of the contact information for her friend and introduced himself as one of Mankai's actors just checking up on their director. To his dismay, Izumi's friend mentioned that she wasn't able to reach her, either, and that Izumi never showed up to her theatre. He knew it was unlikely that the video was a hoax, but he still couldn't help but feel even more distraught now that another person had confirmed his director's disappearance.
Chikage considered himself hidden well enough that he could walk right out into society without being recognized as a secret agent. The fact that another group was able to recognize him was alarming in and of itself, but at some point he must have been spotted with Izumi, as well. The guilt he felt for getting her and potentially the rest of his theatre troupe involved in his high risk matters was immense, but this was no time to dwell on his self-pity. He needed to analyze this video and the security footage as quickly as possible so he could formulate a plan to fix this dilemma.
Upon inspecting the video again, which never changed from the scene of Izumi bound to a chair, Chikage could not pinpoint any giveaways that could determine exactly where this took place. The enemy here was thorough in making the room look as empty as possible, aside from the hostage in question. It was a dark room with walls and flooring most likely made of concrete. There were no signs of light from the outside, so it was possible that this was underground. However, the camera never moved away from its position. Izumi herself had no noticeable bruises or cuts on her, and no one else had entered the video. The only sign that it was a recording rather than just a still picture was that Izumi's breathing was apparent. While this gave Chikage some kind of reassurance, there was no confirmation that anything was or was not done to her before or after this video was taken. If anything, her being unconscious in that position at all meant she was either knocked out with brute force or drugged, both of which caused Chikage to grimace knowing that such a thing was done to her.
As for the security footage of his workplace, it revealed even less than the disc. This organization must be pretty commendable to be able to corrupt the data without leaving a single trace back to them. The entire day up until a few minutes before Chikage found the disc were wiped completely. He had a general time frame of when the disc was delivered, but the length was much too broad to track down a culprit.
Chikage tried to think of more potential ways to find them. Could I send in this disc to his organization for a finger print scan? No, he knew there was still a traitor among them, and he couldn't trust anyone with this until their identity was discovered. Maybe I could get in touch with Sakyo and have the yakuza assist with finding Izumi. No, he should get as few people involved as possible. Plus, if Sakyo were to find out Izumi was in the hands of some dangerous group because of Chikage's carelessness, he couldn't guarantee he'd make it out alive from Sakyo's wrath.
Right now, the only trustworthy person he could turn to was...
"It's unlike you to slip up like this, April." Hisoka commented after reviewing the video. Chikage had called him to the hideout after reviewing his options, and Hisoka, being the only person who knew Chikage's real occupation, was made privy to this delicate situation. Normally, Hisoka could be found peacefully sleeping around the dorm, and his exhaustion held no exception for him at this moment. However, the stress of knowing his director has been taken by someone was enough to keep him awake and (to the best of his abilities) with undivided attention.
"I'm well aware of my mistake. I didn't call you over here for a lecture, I need your help figuring out who the sender is and where Izumi has been taken." Chikage retorted, wanting to save Hisoka's reprimands for a better time. He sat on his couch with his crossed fingers propping up his head as Hisoka stood beside him.
"They said they've been watching you for a while. Has anyone else gotten caught up in this?"
"Not that I'm aware of. As you saw, the video only depicts the director, and I haven't received any other threats. If anyone from the theatre was involved in this, I have no doubt one of us would have heard about it by now. I suppose that might be an indication that the enemy won't get involved with them until the deadline. Anyway," Chikage paused the video and adjusted the lighting, "are you able to find anything particular about this location? I've looked over it several times now, and it looks as though they've done a thorough job of making this place as untraceable as possible."
Hisoka leaned in closer to analyze the screen, slowly looking over every section of the frame. He let out a sigh and shook his head. "It's no good. I can't think of a possible location based on this alone. The poor lighting could imply this is somewhere underground, but it could also just happen to be in a room without any windows."
Chikage also sighed. "Yeah, that's the same conclusion I came to. I could give it my best efforts, but I can't confidently say I could find her before the two days are up just based on this video. It might be more productive to take a different approach."
"A different approach...like finding out who's behind this."
Chikage nodded. There was no sense in wasting time on a location with no leads. He should focus on figuring out who's targeting him, as well as a plan for when he confronts them. Getting a clearer picture in his head of what he needs to do now, Chikage felt a little less overwhelmed. He was still nowhere near a secure solution, but at least speaking with Hisoka helped organized his mind. Without wasting a moment, Chikage immediately started putting together a report of potential suspects based on his previous missions.
"April...you're looking calmer and more determined now," Hisoka began, "but there's still another problem."
Continuing to tap away at his keyboard, Chikage was still listening to Hisoka, albeit less attentively.
"April. The director is going to be missing for two days. The others are going to notice her absence."
Chikage immediately stopped typing. In his fit of panic earlier, he didn't even consider that the theatre members would be suspicious of her sudden disappearance. After all, it's not uncommon for the dorm members to have a meeting with each other when the director is out even slightly later than usual.
Hisoka continued, "The other members are going to be suspicious that the director has disappeared with no sign of contact. They trust you now, but they're all already suspicious of what happened back when you first took away the director for several days. If you're also going to be absent while she's missing, they're only going to suspect you more. Especially Sakyo."
Chikage let out another exasperated sigh and put his fingers to his temple. There's no realistic excuse that could calm them down, especially after the kidnapping stunt he pulled before. Chikage suddenly felt all of his regrets piling up on him at once. How the hell am I supposed to explain this...?
"...I'll come up with something." Hisoka spoke up after a moment of silence between the two. Chikage gave him a skeptical look.
"You're going to come up with something? You don't sound like you even have a plan. Don't go around saying something careless and making this situation worse." Chikage scoffed, irritated by Hisoka's vagueness.
"I don't know what I'm going to tell them, but they trust both of us. I'll reassure them that you and the director are safe and together. I'll also make sure not to let them get involved. You can trust me with this."
The confidence in Hisoka's promise reached Chikage, though he was still slightly doubtful of whatever explanation Hisoka would come up with. Unfortunately, there was no time to waste dwelling even more on a possible explanation. Chikage had chosen to trust Hisoka with this information, so he felt he should follow through with that and believe in him. After taking some time to think about it, he gave Hisoka a nod of confirmation and turned back to his screen. He felt a little better, reassured that Hisoka would take care of the theatre group.
That reassurance was soon washed away, however, as soon as he heard the sound of snoring beside him. Hisoka was now on the floor propped against the side of couch, sleeping away while there were more important things to be doing. I swear...after making such a speech about taking care of the others... Chikage couldn't help but clench his teeth, restraining his urge to violently wake him up.
After some intense shaking, Chikage managed to wake Hisoka up and reminded him to go and speak with the dorm members as soon as possible. As much as Hisoka wanted to be carried back home, Chikage had told him to "carry his own ass home and stop wasting my time."
Hisoka parted from Chikage and somehow managed to drag himself outside, trying his best not to fall asleep on the way home. He was successful in staying awake throughout the whole walk, which took an incredible amount of energy after the taxing amount of worrying he'd just gone through, as well as stirring his head for a good reason why Chikage and Izumi would be gone for a couple of days. As the sun was starting to set, mostly everyone would be back by now, which was good timing as Hisoka had intended to give them the news immediately. Upon entering the dorm, he began to walk towards the lounge, where many of his dorm mates were already hanging out. Homare was the first person to greet him.
"Ah, Hisoka! There you are. It's rather unusual for you to be walking about on your own." Homare remarked, as he was used to seeing Hisoka sleeping somewhere at the dorm at this time of day. Or anytime of the day, really.
Hisoka stood quietly in front of his friends, noticeable trying to say something, but finding difficulty. Tasuku and Azuma seemed to pick up on this and gave each other a concerned look.
"I...have to tell you all something..." Hisoka managed to mumble out. Everyone present in the room started to quiet down, catching on to Hisoka's serious tone. "You see..."
As Hisoka tried to force the words out, he had lost a battle. A certain battle between himself and the irrepressible urge to sleep. The built up exhaustion from the past few hours had finally caught up to him, as he could no longer keep his eyes open. He heard the concerns and panic of his friends fading out as he slowly drifted away.
Somewhere in the city, two people were discussing a particular plot to recruit a particular agent in a dark alley that was not particularly notable. A stack of money was exchanged from one man to the other.
"I appreciate your efforts for recruitment, but don't you think two days is far too long? If this agent is as extraordinary as you say, he should have more than enough time to devise a plot against us." The man paying the sum expressed his concerns.
"That's what you've got the woman for. I've been keeping a watch on April for nearly a month now that I've found where he works publicly. He's always been careful not to lead a trail back to wherever he's hiding, but I've seen him several times with that woman during his breaks." The confident man chuckled to himself and looked at the picture he had taken of Chikage smiling fondly towards the woman that they had now taken hostage. "Now that we've got her, we can use her as bait to force April into doing whatever we want. The two days will be just long enough to give him hope, but as long as you're the one in control of that woman's life, April won't be able to do a thing."
The now-a-bit-wealthier man walked off, but not before making one last remark to his companion.
"This will be the end of my involvement in this recruitment. Can't have my organization know I have ties with the enemy. You know, gotta play it safe and all. Give it some time before contacting me again, would ya?" The man turned back around and left.
The other man scoffed and started heading back to his own base. He took out the ID card he had stolen from his hostage earlier in the day and briefly studied it.
"Izumi Tachibana, huh." He put the card back in his pocket and continued on his way.
A few hours had passed since Chikage had his discussion with Hisoka. He had tirelessly reviewed through his organizations former clients, adversaries, and anything he could find suspicious about his current coworkers.
- this group prioritizes a different skill set than mine - this group has no need for a Japan-based agent - this group has never been the type to resort to involving innocents - this group wouldn't benefit from any intel I can provide -
Endlessly sorting through information and reasoning why someone would want to recruit specifically him was not typically a task that would wear down an exceptional agent like him, but knowing that Izumi's safety was in jeopardy had made the search especially draining. Chikage had no choice but to pull his eyes away from his screen before his brain blew a fuse. Leaning back on his sofa stretching out, he stared at the ceiling and tried to collect his thoughts.
The more time I take recharging, the less time I have to rescue the director.
He took a deep breath and set his fingers back on his keyboard, readying himself to get back to work. Except, his fingers would not move as he wanted them to. Thoughts of Izumi clouded his mind, preventing him from keeping focus. All he could do was hold his head in his hand, grimacing while thinking about Izumi's well-being.
How long had it been since he fell for her? Not even Chikage was aware of his feelings until just a little while ago. After his kidnapping incident where he spent an excessive amount of alone time with her, he began to see positive qualities in her that he wasn't used to seeing in other woman. What began as feelings of disgust eventually bloomed into fondness. At first, he thought it was simply because of her similarities to August, although she definitely lacked the skills to be as good of an agent as him. Still, despite not being a complete 1:1 with August, Chikage believed he must have found her exceptional among woman due to those shared traits. Her obsession with curry paired with his love for spiciness surely also played a part in that. As the days passed and they went on more outings together, his feelings had become much stronger for her, falling harder each moment until his emotions overflowed in his heart and finally forced him to notice.
When Izumi spent time with Sakyo sharing an irreplicable bond of childhood friendship, Chikage couldn't help but feel a slight tinge of jealousy in his chest. When Masumi and Kazunari would practically hover over Izumi, making it no secret that they were madly in love with her, he felt the urge to pull them away. When Azuma would sensually flirt with her, Chikage felt almost possessive, wanting to be the only man who could make her flustered like that. Hell, just seeing her talking with Omi and Tsumugi caused discomfort to stir in his heart, knowing that they would be better men for her than he could ever be. These thoughts of jealousy floating around in his head were enough to make him feel embarrassed, despite knowing there's no one around to see him upset over a woman who doesn't even know his true feelings.
What the hell am I doing? I don't have the luxury to sit around daydreaming. If my feelings mean anything, then I need to focus on saving her.
Chikage positioned himself over his laptop once more, this time fully committed to searching for his beloved director. He started to tap away, only to suddenly be interrupted by of his cellphones ringing. Upon recognizing the caller number, he sighed to himself and, for the second time that day, had to repress the violent urge to give hell to Hisoka.
He knew it would be difficult to explain this situation to the others, and he didn't blame Hisoka for not keeping everyone calm. This was ultimately caused by Chikage's decision to involve himself with the theatre company, and he knew that. Still, he was really relying on Hisoka to at least make part of this easier on him. Chikage decided letting his phone ring for too long while Sakyo was calling was probably not in his best interest, and reluctantly answered the phone. Chikage wasn't able to get a full word out before being interrupted by a hostile Sakyo, however.
"You better have a good explanation for this, Utsuki. Just what the hell is going on?"