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My Boss My Hero- "The Thinker" (1/2) [Apr. 8th, 2014|12:24 am]
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Title: The Thinker
Universe: My Boss My Hero
Theme/Topic: N/A
Rating: PG
Character/Pairing/s: Sakaki Mikio, Manabe Kazuya, Sakaki Makio and Sakaki Kiichi
Spoilers/Warnings: Spoilers through the end of the series.
Word Count: 12,150
Summary: Mikio gets a bodyguard.
Dedication: For annakas’s 2013 Yuletide request! Original post here.
A/N: Wow I totally forgot to put this up here. (Better late than never?)
Disclaimer: No harm or infringement intended.



“I’m sorry, you’d like me to do what?” Mikio asked after a moment of staring at his father and waiting for the old man to burst out laughing at his own preposterous joke.

But his father didn’t do anything of the sort. Instead, he looked back at his youngest son grimly. “I didn’t say I’d like you to. I said you are going to,” Kiichi grunted, using the same authoritative tone he used with his men and Makio. Mikio always thought it was that tone in particular that was responsible for transforming Sakaki Kiichi from his doddling, elderly father to the fearsome boss of the Kantou Sharp Fang. Mikio hated it. It made him automatically want to do the exact opposite of what he was being told because he was incapable of blindly following commands.

There was a reason why the family business had never suited him.

He took a slow breath and tried to regain his bearings. “So what Father is saying is, he’s forcing me.”

Kiichi grunted in the affirmative, though he looked mildly uncomfortable with the mandate himself.

Not for the first time, Mikio began to regret his impulsive attempts to usurp Makio's position as the next boss. It seemed like all his ill-fated campaign accomplished was make their father think Mikio was really interested in joining the family business after all.

That, Mikio thought, was the problem with being the smart one. His brother and his father were too straightforward and simple-minded to even consider that Mikio might have had ulterior motives when he said he wanted to lead the Sharp Fang in Makio’s place. To them, his running for boss meant he truly wanted to be boss, when in all actuality, it had been just another on a long list of small rebellions that Mikio had been quietly engaging in since his mother’s death. A way to keep both his father and his father’s favorite child from getting the things they wanted too easily.

Mother, he thought, would have understood what was really driving him when he tried to beat Makio at his own game. She would have simply laughed at them both and told them to please play a little more fairly with one another.

She had been Mikio’s sole confidant growing up, the one person other than himself who really knew why he did what he did. After her death all of his actions only seemed at best, nonsensical, and at worst, pointlessly malicious to Kiichi and Makio. The only other person who could figure him out was no longer there to do it, leaving Mikio as nothing but a puzzle that no one in the family wanted to try and solve anymore.

On the positive end of things, being alone in the family was something Mikio had learned to deal with fairly gracefully over time, once he realized it also meant he could use his black sheep status to live his life on his own terms, without interference from his father, the Sharp Fang, or Makio.

It seemed like this was no longer the case.

“Father,” Mikio began calmly, but with an edge to his voice that made the animal instincts in Sakaki Kiichi bristle slightly. Mikio could tell because his father’s eyebrows darted high on his forehead in two angry points. “I do not need nor want a bodyguard. School isn’t here. It’s perfectly safe.”

Kiichi bared his teeth. “It’s not safe anywhere anymore, kid. Not for you,” he said, crossing his arms like he thought he could intimidate Mikio into listening. It didn’t particularly work, especially given the fact that Mikio had become taller than his father by the time he turned sixteen.

Mikio sighed. “Please, enlighten me as to why you think that is,” he murmured, trying to sound reasonable even as he felt a flare of rage inside his breast at his father’s posturing, like the man thought Mikio was still just a sullen teenager needing a good scolding, or a simple herd animal like Makio, who would instantly fall in line at the snap of their father’s fingers.

“You ran for boss,” Kiichi said simply. “Everyone knows your face now, you know. The police, other families, rivals, enemies. You took yourself outta hiding, and now you gotta deal with the consequences of who you are.”

“What consequences?” Mikio argued, though part of him conceded that his father, in this instance at least, had a valid point. “I’m not a threat to anyone and I don’t have any enemies that would gain anything by trying to hurt me.” Pause. Smirk. “Unless you think niisan is going to murder me in my sleep for challenging him.”

Kiichi scowled at the mere thought. “Makio’s not the conniving sort,” he said plainly. “He's a guy who doesn’t have it in him to hold a grudge.”

“Not like I do,” Mikio finished for his father, voicing the unsaid implications of the old man's comments. “Niisan isn’t underhanded or nasty like I am.”

Kiichi winced like he’d been physically hit, and Mikio counted it as a point to his victory. “I didn’t mean that. Don’t put words in my mouth,” his father said, though the edge was gone from his voice, replaced with something vaguely like regret.

Mikio just smiled back, but it was insincere. Kiichi knew it, too. The old man sighed and rubbed at his temples with his fingers. “Look, son,” he said, clearly at the edge of his patience, “a boss’s strength is his family.”

Mikio wasn’t sure how to respond to that, given that it seemed apropos to nothing in the argument thus far. The problem with his father and his brother was that their way of thinking was so simple that it was almost hard to anticipate at times. More evolved creatures would never be able to organically create the same types of thought processes as these men simply because they were physically incapable of reasoning on such a base level anymore. It was probably a big chunk of why the other crime families found the Sharp Fang so unpredictable.

“I’m not the boss. How my strength is perceived is irrelevant, ” Mikio said eventually, causing Kiichi to huff in frustration before glancing at the picture of his dead wife that sat on the corner of his desk. It was as if here were praying to it for help. Mikio felt a pang at the thought. Certainly if his mother were here, she’d understand how to speak to him in a way that made sense and didn't feel like a prison sentence.

“What I’m saying is, you’re my blood. You’re Makio’s blood too, kid,” Kiichi began after a long moment of silence. “Blood is strength, but it’s also weakness. Anyone that's an enemy of ours knows you now. And they’ll realize that the best way to hurt us is…” he trailed off suddenly, looking torn between finishing his sentence or not.

“…by hurting the weakest member of our family,” Mikio finished for him. The words came out bitter and quiet, two things that he’d become very good at after many a lonely stint in the hospital, despondent at not being as healthy or strong as his older brother. He felt his lip pull back in a snarl strangely reminiscent of Kiichi’s. “I’m not weak, Father. Not anymore.”

Kiichi scowled. “I didn’t say that. You’re putting words in my mouth again,” he shot back, fists clenching on the desk in front of him as if he wanted to lash out and smack his difficult son upside the head. He never did though, at least not with Mikio. He’d struck Makio a number of times growing up, mostly because Makio could take it, and a little because Makio never really learned otherwise. Mikio sometimes thought another reason was because he also favored their mother more strongly than his brother.

“You’re implying things very strongly,” Mikio countered evenly. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I lived in a foreign country by myself.”

“Apples and oranges, Mikio. You’re not a fighter and you never will be,” Kiichi said. “But that’s okay,” he added quickly. “Part of being smart is knowing how to compensate for your own weaknesses, isn’t it?”

Mikio counted backwards from ten slowly. Rationally, that was true. Emotionally, the constant reminders of his own physical limitations were infuriating. “I’m just going to school, not taking to the streets,” he said, swerving the discussion in another direction. That was always a good idea when his father started to make sense.

Kiichi just shook his head. “Makio was attacked at school.”

“He survived,” Mikio snapped, before thinking. There was some proof in him that he was also his father’s son after all.

Kiichi saw the opening and took the victory. “Yeah, he survived. But you wouldn’t,” he said. “Same as Makio wouldn’t survive if he ever got attacked by math.”

Mikio blinked.

And then couldn’t help it when he chuckled at the sheer ridiculousness of that image, letting out a short, surprised bark of laughter in an otherwise tense situation. He covered his mouth with his hands, but it was too late.

His father grinned at him, laughing much more openly. The tension in the room dissolved, if not completely, then enough that both occupants could at least breathe a little more easily again. “See?” Kiichi grunted, “Even though your father is a stubborn old idiot, he does still know some things better than you.”

Mikio sighed. “Fine,” he agreed eventually, though he still wasn’t happy about it. Then his eyes lit up just a little bit, as a thought occurred to him at the last moment. “I agree to your ridiculous and overbearing terms,” he said magnanimously. “But in return, I have one condition.”

His father was instantly wary. “Yeah? What now?”

“I get to choose who protects me,” Mikio said with a challenging glint in his eye. He expected his father to back down at the thought that he would try to steal Makio’s very capable babysitter right out from under his big brother’s nose. Makio would be dead without Kuroi to watch out for him after all, and Mikio was betting on the fact that Makio being their father’s favorite would make the price of Mikio’s obedience too high a price to pay.

But Kiichi surprised him again when he snorted and said, “Done. Let me know who you pick by morning.”

Well then. Perhaps his father was on to his machinations after all. Mikio shook his head and stood to leave without waiting to be dismissed. Kiichi didn’t comment on it, silently watching Mikio exit the office without reprimand.

It seemed like in his old age, Kiichi was learning how to pick his battles. Thankfully, Mikio had long ago learned how to best pick his own as well. At the very least, if he was going to be saddled with an unwanted shadow, he could make it as painful for all parties involved as physically possible.

And he knew exactly how to start.



*****



The next morning, he surprised everyone when he chose Manabe Kazuya as his new babysitter. Taking his older brother’s favorite toy was, he admitted, the second best revenge he could think of for the loss of his favorite strawberry eraser. Some might call it petty, but that eraser had meant the world to him. And sometimes he was petty.

“This is insane, why the hell do I gotta babysit bocchan?” Kazu yowled when he heard the news. It was loud enough to rattle the door to Makio’s chambers. “Who’s gonna make aniki’s afternoon snacks and darn his socks?!”

The answering impact of Makio’s fist coming into contact with his subordinate’s face was loud enough to shake the whole house.

“Do what the boss goddamn tells you to do and stop whining. It’s not manly,” Makio answered. He sounded surprisingly (and perhaps disappointingly) calm about the sudden loss of not only his most loyal underling, but his most competent pudding chef as well.

Mikio waited patiently in the hallway outside Makio’s room as this happened, distantly wondering when his brother started to sound almost mature. He hoped it wasn't a permanent change, given that this whole ordeal wouldn’t be worth all the effort if Makio refused to rise to the bait even a little bit.

There was a beat silence on the other side of the door after that, presumably to allow Kazu enough time to reel from the blow and find his feet again.

“Yes, aniki,” Kazu eventually breathed, voice only wavering slightly.

There was the sound a clap after that, which probably meant Makio had slapped his underling’s shoulder in that companionable way he had with all of the men in his other brotherhood. There were voices then, low and hard for Mikio to hear through the door. Knowing his brother, he was probably giving Kazu woefully inadequate advice on how to handle his troublesome younger sibling. In this family after his mother’s death, Mikio was always considered something to be handled.

He felt a smile curling at the edges of his mouth, but it wasn’t one that was particularly pleasant or joyful.

The door opened a moment later, and he schooled himself into appearing nonchalantly cheerful all over again. “Good morning,” he said, as Makio and Kazu both stood warily on the other side, his brother’s brow furrowed aggressively while an impressive shiner began to bloom along the edge of Kazu’s right eye. Mikio noted that his brother’s desk was piled high with open texts and workbooks, which meant Makio was already in the midst of preparations to return to school in the next few weeks, after some of the scrutiny regarding the end of his recent prison stint died down and he could resume his hunt for the ever elusive high school diploma.

He must really be excited about it, to be up this early in the morning in the summer when he didn’t have to be. Mikio conceded that the brother he had known before his return to school would have spent last night out at the clubs, drinking and flirting with hostesses before coming home in the wee morning hours to collapse into bed until late afternoon.

Mikio would have been impressed with Makio’s diligence if the entirety of his brother’s goal wasn’t such a ridiculously simple thing to him. A high school diploma. That the gang had chosen someone so obviously impaired to lead them still grated on Mikio somewhat, despite the fact that he never really wanted to be boss in the first place.

“Morning, Bean Pole,” Makio answered first, rubbing at his head almost sheepishly. When Kazu didn’t move right away, Makio’s lip curled upward into a silent snarl. He pantomimed hitting Kazu again, but stopped short, presumably to spare his younger brother’s more delicate sensibilities.

Kazu winced as if the blow had landed anyway and bowed quickly in response, body tense like a frightened animal’s. “Good morning, bocchan,” he added obediently. Makio nodded along, clearly finding the greeting acceptable, if lackluster.

Mikio pretended not to notice Kazu’s discomfort. “Kazu-kun, my lecture begins at ten. We have to leave in the next fifteen minutes if we’re going to make it on time,” he said with his hands clasped innocently in front of him.

“Yes, sir,” Kazu replied immediately, coming out of his bow at rigid attention. He paused to give Makio one more sideways look of pleading as Mikio turned around and strolled back down the hallway. Makio just grunted at him some more in reply, and soon, Mikio heard the pad of resigned footsteps following slowly behind him.

“I’ll go bring the car around,” Kazu offered after an awkward bit of silence that Mikio pretended not to notice.

Mikio shook his head. “You’ll have to change your clothes first, if you’re going to fit in at the university without stirring up suspicions,” he said, peering down at Kazu’s sharp suit and perfectly knotted tie. “Students are much more casual than the yakuza, unfortunately.”

Kazu swallowed, then looked at Mikio’s pastel striped button down and his white, slim fitting trousers like he expected them to leap off of Mikio’s body and pummel him to death like the vengeful fist of a rival family. It was ridiculous to be more afraid of a style of clothing than the knives of actual thugs who wanted to kill him, but by now, Mikio was very used to the sheer ridiculousness of the men his father housed under this roof.

In fact, some days, making a personal joke out of all that ridiculousness was the only thing that kept him going.

He turned left at the end of the corridor and trotted into his own chambers. “I think,” he told Kazu conversationally over his shoulder, “I might have some clothes from when I was in middle school that will fit you.” Mikio smirked to himself and threw open his closet door.

Back in the hallway, Kazu squawked in righteous indignation. He sounded like a small dog.

It was perfect.

And substantially cheering at that. Makio might not have reacted the way Mikio had wanted him to with regards to this whole bodyguard ordeal, but now, at the very least, he could comfort himself with the possibility that tormenting Manabe Kazuya could be worth some amusement on its own all the same.

His mother always told him he was an optimist like that.



*****



Kazu pulled at the collar of his borrowed canary yellow polo with more force than the old clothes could probably withstand as they arrived onto Keioh’s main campus some thirty minutes later. He also kept glaring suspiciously at the other students like he expected them to pull out concealed weapons at any moment and make an attempt on Mikio’s life in broad daylight with numerous witnesses around.

“Please calm down, Kazu-kun,” Mikio said around his customary smile and a few gracious but simultaneously menacing nods at any poor undergraduate that happened to get caught staring for too long.

Kazu just glared unblinkingly at the other students until they backed away. “I don’t trust these beady-eyed little bastards,” he grunted, still walking like he was a yakuza even though he was dressed like he was going to a country club. “What if they’ve got switchblades hidden in those damn backpacks?” he pointed out, like it was a reasonable concern.

“They’re engineering students, they’d be much more creative than that, I’d imagine,” Mikio hummed back thoughtfully as he turned from the engineering school towards the business school. He lengthened his stride somewhat as he took in the time on his watch. He had a lecture to attend on entrepreneurship basics and then two sections to TA for the same class not long after that. “We’ll be late if we don’t hurry and we still have to make it across campus.”

Kazu scurried to keep up, practically jogging to match pace with Mikio’s longer legs. “Who the hell needs this much space just to study anyway?” Kazu muttered to himself incredulously. “Following aniki to high school was bad enough.”

“Ah, that’s right, you’ve probably never seen a real college campus in your life before. Kazu-kun gave up on education after middle school, didn’t he?” Mikio answered, as he eyed his anxious bodyguard somewhat cruelly. “Speaking of that, I’m curious. Did you stop learning for the same reasons niisan did, or was it because of something else?”

Kazu flushed from the top of his shaved head to the very bottom of his neck and possibly beyond. “I didn’t flunk out. I just didn’t see the point of going,” he grumped, staring down at the ground. “Grades don't matter outside of school, but strength matters everywhere. So I worked on getting strong instead of trying to be smart.”

Mikio tilted his head down at Kazu in a considering manner. His own experiences at school seemed to be the polar opposite of Kazu’s. Learning was the one thing in his whole life that still mattered. It was the thing he was in control of when everything else was out of his hands, from having to slowly watch his mother waste away to having the last gift she’d ever given him eaten by his oaf of an older brother because it smelled nice. “You didn’t say school wasn’t fun at all, though, Kazu-kun," he pointed out. That might have been uniquely Makio’s problem.

Kazu shrugged one shoulder. “I liked home-ec good enough, I guess,” he admitted after a beat, startling a small chuff of laughter from Mikio when he heard. Makio’s former underling bristled visibly at the sound. “Is something wrong with that?” he asked, barely holding back his anger. The issue must have been one he was teased about back when he'd been in school. Admittedly, Mikio knew a little of what that was like himself.

He cleared his throat. “Of course there’s nothing wrong with home-ec. It explains why Kazu-kun is so good at needlepoint."

Kazu turned slightly pleased at that, though he kept his head ducked towards the floor, like he was trying to convince himself he hated the praise. Mikio wasn’t sure if it was because it wasn’t manly to like home-ec, or if was because Kazu simply didn’t want to enjoy praise from anyone other than Makio. Either option was equally off-putting, and Mikio found himself writing Kazu off as another one of his older brother’s close-minded minions. What a shame.

They arrived at the lecture hall a little while later and slipped in quietly, though Mikio did catch his professor’s disapproving eye for being late when he was supposed to be setting an example for the undergraduates blearily sipping coffee and trying to stay awake in their seats. Mikio smiled back in the way he knew unnerved his professor the most as he settled into the front row, Kazu flopping down in the chair closest to the aisle and putting his feet up to hinder anyone else who might try to sit next to them. He crossed his arms and proceeded to look incredibly unapproachable despite the cheerful disposition of his clothing.

Mikio pulled out his laptop and began taking notes on the lecture that he could expand on in his sections later and hoped to spend the rest of the day professionally ignoring his unwanted shadow. He had no particular interest in Kazu anymore. Which was disappointing of course, but Mikio was used to disappointments by now too.

That said, he couldn’t help but notice when Kazu sat up curiously during the last half of the lecture, as the professor presented a case study on a local catering company that specialized in designer desserts. It might have just been an instance of Kazu taking note of the different kinds of puddings he could go home and make for Makio later, but it was curiosity in learning something new all the same. That, in and of itself, was an unexpected reaction from any one of Makio’s bumbling subordinates.

“Interesting,” Mikio said out loud to himself. One of his fellow TAs, an international student named Choi, turned to give him a strange look. Mikio ignored him professionally and supposed that maybe there was some hope for his new bodyguard after all.



*****



“Damn, who knew you had to know so much about numbers and stuff just to run a bakery,” Kazu murmured at the end of the day, as they drove home together after classes were done.

Mikio nodded. “Of course. But if you know how to use measures and ratios to bake something, then using the same basic skill set to run the business side of things isn’t much different. Just more abstract,” he answered absently.

Kazu stared at him like he was insane. “Abstract?”

“Theoretical,” Mikio amended, somewhat unhelpfully.

“The hell does that mean?” Kazu muttered to himself, and turned his eyes back onto the road.

Mikio didn't care to enlighten him.



*****



“How was school?” Kiichi asked later that night, at one of the many awkward family dinners his father had mandated since Makio’s return to school. Though perhaps it only still seemed awkward to Mikio at this point, if the way Makio was carelessly demolishing his chicken meant anything.

“I had to teach the undergraduates about small business practices in their intro class today,” Mikio said first, pushing around his food on the plate somewhat disinterestedly. “Some of them are smart, but some of them didn’t catch on at all. Their parents must have paid their way into the school.” He eyed Makio as he said this.

Makio slurped at his beer. “Maybe you just gotta teach them a different way,” he suggested, completely missing the barb and opting to be helpful instead. For a yakuza heir, he certainly lacked a general sense of malice. Mikio wondered if his brother would be all right like that once he took over.

Kiichi did catch on however, and sent a sharp look at Mikio before cutting into his Chicken Parmesan with far more dignity than his eldest son.

“How was Manabe-kun?” Kiichi asked next, determined to make this a conversational meal where they talked about their days. Mikio wondered if his father would be as open about sharing his own activities, which were undoubtedly laced with giving someone cement shoes or cutting off someone else’s fingers.

Mikio managed another insincere smile at the thought, his eyes sharply focused on his father. “Kazu-kun was painfully conspicuous. He scared most of my students and nearly tackled one of my coworkers when he bumped into me on the way out of the lecture hall.” He paused to stab into his pasta. “At this rate, he’ll give us away before the week is up and niisan won’t be the only one in this family to have been thrown out of a school.”

“You picked him,” Kiichi reminded his youngest son levelly. “So you brought it on yourself.”

Makio grunted. “You just gotta tell him what you expect from him real firm like. None of that misdirection and stuff you usually do, where you don’t say what you really think or mean,” he pointed out, again with no malice whatsoever. He might as well have been commenting on the weather for how much Mikio’s sniping seemed to affect him.

This was somehow more infuriating to Mikio than his father’s actual reprimands.

“Thank you for the insight, niisan,” Mikio said in clipped tones.

Makio didn’t notice again. “Hey, no problem. Family’s gotta help each other out, right?”

Mikio sighed and pushed his plate forward, appetite gone. “I’ll be upstairs grading papers.”

“This is why you’re so damn skinny, Bean Pole!” Makio called after him, as he stomped up to his room.



*****



“I looked it up,” Kazu said randomly the next morning, on the way to Keioh.

This gave Mikio pause from reading his textbook. He marked his place with his index finger before looking up. “Excuse me?”

“Abstract,” Kazu grunted, looking at him through the rearview mirror of the sedan. He seemed embarrassed and belligerent at once. “And uh, theoretical too.”

“And?” Mikio asked, intrigued.

“I guess, that makes sense,” Kazu allowed after a beat, reluctantly. Then added, “Don’t tell anyone though, yeah?”

Mikio didn’t understand who he would tell or why it would matter, but nodded and turned back to his book. “Of course not.”

Kazu sighed in relief, and for the first time since this whole arrangement began, managed something like a smile. “Great.”

In lieu of responding, Mikio turned to the next page in his reading.



*****



After that, rather than looking at Kazu as a failed attempt at riling his brother’s temper by taking away one of his most loyal subordinates, Mikio looked at his pint-sized bodyguard as more of a pet project. An experiment, even. He wasn’t much of a sociologist by nature, mostly because it wasn’t lucrative or conducive to winning any awards worth mentioning as a field, but he would admit that he was interested in this particular case study because it was personal. And a little because some of Kazu’s reactions to Mikio’s teasing thus far were pleasantly surprising. Mostly, he wanted to know whether the legion of idiots in his father’s employ were idiots because those were the kinds of people attracted to the job as a whole, or if they were simply not living up to their potential because the job itself ridiculed anyone who showed even the slightest bit of intelligence or aptitude for independent thought.

The optimist in him hoped it was the latter, while the realist in him told him it was probably the former, particularly after seeing Makio insistently pull on a door that said “push” until it eventually came off of his hinges fifteen minutes later.

“Kazu-kun,” he said on Friday afternoon, while the two of them were eating a surprisingly delicious homemade lunch outside on the quad, “What did you think of the professor’s lecture today??”

Kazu looked up from pouring Mikio tea. “Didn’t really get it,” he said without hesitation.

Mikio leaned forward on his elbows curiously. “Which part, specifically?” he pushed.

Kazu paused, rice on his chin, and thought very carefully. Mikio could practically hear the gears turning in his head, creaking and groaning after sitting stagnant for so long.

“Specifically, bocchan?” he repeated. “I guess I don’t get how those supply and demand pictures work. Looks like he just drew a curvy X on the board every time he was talking about it,” he said. “Oh, and the whole thing about how if you make a company and you lose all the money, someone else can just come in and take it away from you. It’s yours, ain’t it? If you fail at it, then you fail. I mean, who’s the one that’s gonna decide who gets the business after you? Do they just pull someone off the street and give it to them? Who gives them that power in the first place?”

Mikio sipped his tea thoughtfully. “Very good questions,” he said, then reached into his bag and pulled out his computer. He pushed it towards Kazu casually. “I took notes, if you’d like to look at them and see if maybe they were a little more specific to those instances.”

Kazu eyed him warily. “What’s the point?”

Mikio’s answering smile was toothy and genuinely amused. “Well, I have to teach the concepts to the undergraduate students in my section later today. They’re about as confused as you are, I think, so if you could look at them and tell me if they make any sense it would be a great help to me.” Pause. Smirk. “And you’re supposed to be helping me, aren’t you?”

Kazu blinked. “I’m supposed to be keeping you outta trouble,” he said, though he took the computer all the same.

Mikio’s eyes glinted. “Consider this a favor to me that will persuade me to continue to stay out of trouble.”

Kazu hesitated, probably imagining the kinds of trouble Mikio could get into, if he was so inclined to search it out.

Mikio considered it a wise decision when Kazu sighed and flipped open the laptop, pushing his lunch aside as he hunched over Mikio’s typed notes and diagrams.

They ate in quiet after that.



*****



“Read this and tell me what you think,” Mikio told Kazu the following Monday, as they sat down in the lecture hall again. Kazu blinked down at the book Mikio was holding out to him in confusion.

“This ain’t business stuff,” he pointed out, as he took a translation of The Old Man and the Sea from Mikio’s hands.

“My general education requirements say I have to read literature in translation,” Mikio answered disinterestedly. “But I would like someone to discuss the book with before our papers on it are due next week. It would help me out if I could bounce ideas off of you,” he said, the lie coming out as smoothly and easily as the one he’d told the family about wanting to be boss. He’d already read that depressing little American novel during his second year in high school. This time, his motives were purely for science.

Kazu didn’t need to know that, of course. “Uh, I guess I could do that,” he allowed eventually, and flipped open to the first page.



*****



Kazu stormed up to him two mornings later as Mikio dressed for school, the battered Hemingway novel clutched tightly in his hands. “This was the worst!” he decried. He actually looked like he wanted to punch something.

Mikio managed to school his expression into something neutral. “What do you mean, Kazu-kun?” he asked, as he looped his belt through his trousers.

Kazu threw his hands up over his head in distress. “That old man… and that fish… it was all for nothing! What was the damn point?”

“That was the message, I believe,” Mikio said.

Kazu’s eyes blazed. “It’s not like Anikinder at all,” he railed. “Isn’t the hero supposed to win in the end?”

“We want the hero to win in the end, but that’s not always what happens.”

“That’s a fucking sad way to live,” Kazu countered, then crossed his arms.

“It’s called Existentialism,” Mikio explained.

Kazu sighed and spun on his heel, marching out of the room without another counter argument.

“Where are you going?” Mikio called after him, head tilted inquisitively. They had to leave for campus soon.

“To get a damn dictionary,” Kazu muttered. “Sometimes I don’t get what you’re saying at all.”

He stormed off towards the study. It was only once Kazu was completely gone that Mikio allowed himself to close the door to his room and laugh for a full five minutes.

It seemed like yakuza could actually learn, given the right motivation. Unsurprisingly, that motivation was anger.


*****


“How is Manabe-kun working out for you?” his father asked during their next family dinner, while Makio was busy destroying a steak and several glasses of wine.

“He’s fine,” Mikio answered, picking at his potatoes absently. “He disagrees with Existentialism. He likes Campbell and Jung, which we agree makes him a bit of an idealist. I’m curious to see what he has to say about Nietzsche, though I doubt he’d enjoy it very much.”

The looks his father and Makio gave him in response to that were worth waiting an entire lifetime for.



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