December 18th, 2011
There is a crowded student-housing apartment building on Aoba Drive, not far from Sumaru University. On its eleventh floor, the parade of doors in the hallway stand open. Music blares from stereos. Voices are raised in laughter, teasing conversation. Two days after second-semester final exams, the atmosphere is celebratory, light: the holiday of the New Year is quickly approaching, and there is a feeling of respite for most -- and perhaps creeping dread for a few -- as the building's tenants wait to receive their marks.
One door is closed.
The apartment beyond it is dark. The door muffles the sounds of life in the corridor; the window dampens the sounds of traffic on the street beyond, crusting over slowly with a freezing, spitting precipitation too wet to be snow. The only light and sound come from the tiny kitchen, where harsh flourescents and the rising murmur of boiling water in a pot on the stove's single working burner break the stillness.
Izo stoops to retrieve the cutting board from beneath the sink, reaches for the cleaver in his knife block. He unpackages the trussing twine, used for roasting fowl, and then sets about sharpening the knife edge.
On the far side of the counter is a folder, filled with pictures, newspaper clippings, photographs. Yesterday, he delivered a similar packet to Kyo and Yisa, using its contents to justify his proposal. Similar, but not the same: whereas that folder had represented humanity's ability to redeem itself, and demonstrated the perils of too casually assuming the wickedness of any single soul, this one is its opposite, a testimony to the depths to which mankind can sink, its contents set aside as he unearthed them during his research against the possibility that he might succeed.
And he had. Barely -- but barely was enough.
More than enough.
Setting the sharpener aside, he gently passes the pad of his thumb over the blade, testing.
Masahiko had been disappointed, but this was just another in a long line of similar disappointments, Izo knew...and in any case it was hardly one-sided. They were different people, thought differently about life, about obligation; they had, for reasons of mutual respect, attempted to hash out those differences in the past, each giving the other ample opportunities to change their minds. In the end, neither had been willing. Both had understood why. The means by which they were parting company may have been unexpected, but the eventuality was likely not.
Understanding, even anticipation, did not assuage the sting. The brotherhood had been Izo's life. It had raised him to adulthood, filling the gap left behind by absent and then antagonistic parents. It had shaped everything about him, been the reason he'd lost his sister, the reason he was forced to move to Sumaru in the first place, and everything that had followed -- up to and including this latest of choices -- had precipitated upon his peculiar web of contradictory loyalties, and the invalidation of an oath that he had taken when the world was different, not so complex. When the supernatural hadn't been more than fodder for late-night films. With the opening of these other eyes, all things changed, been skewed, and the door had been irrevocably opened to the bitterness of doubt.
He could take or leave the Kagutsuchi. They weren't his people save by association. But the Yamaguchi-gumi? His second family?
Stirring, he blinks the distance from his eyes, unthreads the cooking twine, and stifles his regrets as he loops it beneath the bony knuckle, tying it off so tightly that it creaks before he knots it.
There isn't any point in dwelling. Done is done.
The Y-G taught him everything he needed to make the choice that he's made. It dirtied his hands in the first place, opening the way forward to accepting that they need to be dirtied again. It taught him about honor. It taught him not to expect anyone to see the good in what he's doing, beneath the tattoos on his skin; to be satisfied by seeing it for himself, knowing it for himself, and letting the world call him what it will. It taught him that, sometimes, you have to take a few steps into the dark to turn on the lights.
The cleaver thunks against the bottom of the pot of boiling water. It sloshes, spits on the red-hot coils of the burner. Ten seconds later, he pulls it out, places his hand on the cutting board, curls his fingers -- all but one -- under his palm, takes a breath, holds it, and brings the knife down in an arc, neatly severing the last knuckle of his smallest finger. Pain rockets up his arm, surprising him: he's been literally skewered by Kyo's fangs twice, and somehow this hurts infinitely more, startling a shout of pain out of him as he drops back against the front of his refrigerator, curled forward over his maimed hand, which he grips tightly in the opposite. Rocked by the impact, a cannister of dry rice tumbles off of the top of the fridge, hits the edge of the counter and bursts open, spraying grains across the cracked linoleum floor; the cleaver tumbles into it, along with a few drops of blood -- not many. Not enough, it seems to Izo, as he shakes with the adrenaline release of what he's just done.
It's only one knuckle. He won't miss it. Not really.
But everything it signifies?
Wrapping his hand in a dish towel and thrusting it into a bag of ice, he reaches into his back pocket and retrieves his phone with trembling fingers to send a text. He needs someone...and there is only one person he can count on; only one person who knows what he's done, and understands why.
-It worked. They agreed.-
-Okay,- she texts back, moments later. -We should talk so I can check on you.-
While he waits, he boxes up the severed tip of his finger, and addresses the package to Irie-sama, tendering his resignation. All the while, the folder on his counter burns in his awareness, waiting. Waiting for him to go through it. To begin marking men for death.
As sharp aches and vicious cramps savage his arm, he thinks to himself, numbly:
At least the first blood on my hands is my own.