Kasanoda grows up. A story in five vignettes.
1. The Suicide Room
In the end, Kasanoda Ritsu makes it through about two and a half years of veterinary school.
His father has been ill for three or four months by then, and thus it is not really a surprise when he receives the phone call, sprawled over his dorm room bed with a pile of notes to study for the midterm exam. He answers his cell phone and Tetsuya is on the other end -- "Waka..." the other boy begins, and stops -- but that's really all Ritsu needs to know. Within an hour he and his boys are on the highway, and within three he is staring down the front gates of home-for-the-rest-of-his-life.
(He never goes back to the school after that; some of his boys head over to pick up the things he left at the dorm, and Tetsuya takes care of canceling his enrollment. The one or two friends he made must wonder what happened to him, but well, "my dad died so I went to become a yakuza boss" just isn't something you say to people.)
His father is laid out in the back, in a small curtained room. It has been called the Suicide Room for as long as Ritsu can remember. In his father's grandfather's time, three of the boys killed themselves here, in apology for a job that went wrong in the worst way. You can see where they were sitting when they slit themselves open; two or three of the tatami mats are still slightly newer and less yellow than the rest. In his father's father's time, his father's sister -- Ritsu's aunt, or so she would have been, anyway -- killed herself here after she was discovered in the bed of a boy from the Takizawa-gumi. You can still see the scuff marks on the rafter where she hung the noose.
Yakuza are not afraid of death, or not supposed to be, anyway. Death is their ally, their weapon, as outcast and despised as they are, and to be one of the gokudou is to court death as you would court a lover. For the boys of the Kasanoda-gumi, their Suicide Room is not unlucky; it is simply a fact of life -- here is where the dead go -- and Ritsu's father is dead, so that is where he has gone.
Ritsu supposes he'll have to get used to this sort of thing.
There are police at the funeral; yakuza from all over Kantou show up to pay their respects, and Ritsu sits at the front row in the temple surrounded by his boys (their hands are tucked out of sight and their narrowed eyes look everywhere but at the ceremony) and does not cry even a little bit because he can't afford it anymore (if he wants to do the old man proud; if he wants to stay alive).
Tetsuya grips his hand very hard. The third head of the Kasanoda-gumi was nearly as much of a father to Sendou Tetsuya as he was to his own son. Ritsu tries to think of something comforting to say as they are getting up to leave.
"Uh, well... hey... it happens to everybody," he murmurs.
2. The Pistol
He already knows how to hold a gun, but Nishiji has him doing target practice every day now, and no one in the gang will hear talk of him carrying any less than a pistol, an extra clip, and a backup switchblade on his person at all times. (It's an awkward position he's in -- he is the oyabun, but he's known his boys since childhood and grown up listening to their advice; he's not always sure when to let them run the show and when to assert his authority.) His pistol is a small Glock, nine-millimeter rounds, a few hundred grams weighing down the inside of his jacket; Ritsu doesn't know much about guns -- the Kasanoda-gumi are a bakuto gang by tradition and they make their money off dicing and pachinko and whores, not gun-running; so Ritsu can't tell you much about the weapon he wears, save that with it he can tear a hole straight through another man's body from a few paces and he doesn't like it very much.
There is rarely a time when the home of the Kasanoda-gumi is not tense. Their oyabun is twenty years old, a mere baby in a world of ancient giants, raised into the yakuza way but still untried -- Ritsu's boys love him but they have no illusions about him; there is no place for illusions in the life of a gokudou. Business continues to prosper, protection money is collected, Ritsu studies economics textbooks and the ad campaigns of the rival pachinko parlors, and his boys wait for the inevitable arrival of a challenger to the young master's power.
Ritsu kills his first man in the garden behind his house, a young man but still older than him; some upstart from the Sendou-gumi who came with requests, and then came back with threats, and then finally came back with bullets. It's actually a mistake, just the kind of fate-ordained sort of happenstance that Ritsu has come to expect from his life -- he aims for the man's arm but his hand is shaking so hard it takes him a moment to pull the trigger, and in that moment the man has twisted around such that his chest is right between the Glock's sights. Eventually some of the boys come out to clean up the mess, and Tetsuya holds Ritsu's hair back when he goes off to the bathroom to throw up until there's nothing left in his stomach but a trickle of acid.
They return the body to the Sendou-gumi with their condolences. Ritsu's boys keep a tighter guard around him when he goes out. It takes a few days for his throat to stop burning enough that he can actually talk.
After that, sometimes he leaves the gun in his bedside drawer all day, when he thinks no one will notice.
By the time he turns twenty-one, Ritsu has finally begun to feel like he might be getting the hang of this whole thing. Business is booming; their pachinko parlors are full of customers, their bathhouses are full of eager men waiting in line for the services of their beautiful women (but Ritsu doesn't ask after those businesses very often; the thought still makes him blush, just a little). For his birthday, a few of the boys take him out to dinner at the Kasanoda-gumi's favorite restaurant, a classy place in uptown Tokyo with a beautiful view of the city lights. The boys like it because the food is top-quality; Tetsuya likes watching the skyline from their customary table next to the window; Ritsu likes knowing that the cake they're having for dessert was made-to-order for martial arts legend Haninozuka Mitsukuni, and that some of the several thousand yen they're paying for it will go into the pocket of genius businessman Ootori Kyouya, whose restaurant this is. ("The King's Court", it's called. He has a feeling there's a joke he's not getting, but finds it appropriate all the same.)
He hasn't actually talked to any of the Host Club in years, not since graduation; but it's good to know they're doing all right. They were okay guys.
...She was an okay girl.
They spend the evening talking; Ritsu doesn't get drunk like a couple of his boys, but his glass of Ootori-recommended white wine seems to settle badly in his stomach, and he glances around feeling a little off-balance and lightheaded as the laughter of a girl a couple tables away rings in his ears. He's just thinking about telling everybody it's time to get up and leave when she walks by, wearing a pink evening dress and a blonde boy hanging off her arm and looking twice as beautiful as he remembers. He doesn't have to say a word; somehow, like magic, she knows he's there -- or perhaps feels the way his gaze is pinned on her, with just about the exact level of intensity that earned him the nickname "Human Blizzard" as a kid -- and slowly, she turns her head.
"...Casanova-kun?" she says, and blinks those big brown eyes at him in confusion as she takes in his rust-red suit and the men fanned around his table and the holster hidden invisible under his jacket (but if anyone can sense it's there, she can).
"Ah, Bossa Nova-kun!" Suou Tamaki proclaims, letting go her elbow to greet him with a verbose soliloquy about that most joyous occasion of reuniting with comrades long and cruelly separated by the lamentable caprice of lady fate. Ootori Kyouya is standing behind him, and walks over to the table to greet Ritsu with a smile, beckoning a waiter to refill the table's complimentary glasses of Swiss mineral water. "A pleasure to see you again, Kasanoda-san. Thank you for your patronage," Kyouya says, looking, as always, like he knows everything.
She greets him with a smile as well, and a "It's been a long time, hasn't it?", and looks at the empty chair next to him (where Tetsuya was sitting a few seconds ago) like she's considering sitting down.
He gives himself three minutes to say hello before he abruptly rises from his seat and tells his boys it's time to be going. He feels her gaze on his back all the way to the door, as Suou's voice alternately consoles her and rambles eloquently about inconsiderate rudeness.
He forgets to pay for their meal, but Kyouya picks up the check for him.
One day, Ritsu forgets his umbrella.
They're calling for thunderstorms today, but he doesn't go back to get it; it's the day he goes to inspect a couple of their bathhouses, and he's in a bit of a hurry to get off the street. The police have been very interested in talking to him recently after a pair of deaths at one of the Kasanoda-gumi's establishments -- Ritsu has nothing to say about it anyway; it isn't his fault a couple idiot members of a rival gang happened to strut arrogantly onto his property without knowing whose territory they were trespassing in -- and anyway, he prefers to get this stuff over with as quickly as possible. Over the years he's developed the ability to watch a naked woman sucking a man off and not feel anything save perhaps a bit of envy, but the look of some of the girls in his clubs makes him uncomfortable in a way he can't quite articulate. (One of his boys is in charge of staffing the places for him; Ritsu decides how much he wants to pay, and his people find the girls. He doesn't know exactly where they come from and he doesn't want to.)
They've built a new 'relaxation area' in the second basement of the bathhouse, a private floor where rich businessmen can pay fortunes to spend an entire day with a beautiful girl living out the fantasy of their choice. It is a couple hours into the visit that Tetsuya finds him here, umbrella in hand and horrified expression on his face, one that only grows deeper as he watches Ritsu inspecting the wall shackles in one of the BDSM playrooms.
"...Oyabun?" His voice is tentative. Ritsu acknowledges the other man with a single glance and a questioning, "Ahh?"
"You.... forgot your umbrella..." Tetsuya thrusts it out in front of him, voice still quiet, hesitant, confused and hoping against hope. "And... by the way, there are some Filipino girls upstairs trying to, uh... escape?"
Everyone in the room seems to freeze at once, eyes turning nervously toward their leader.
"I'm... sure it's... just... some misunderstanding, right?" Tetsuya mumbles, looking profoundly uncomfortable, yet compelled to speak. "If... If they don't want to be here..."
Ritsu looks at Tetsuya, and looks at the ground, and realizes just how hard he's been lying to himself all this time, and decides it's not very honest of him at this late date to go around pretending to be a nice yakuza.
"Go take care of them," he murmurs to one of the boys standing next to him, and the man rushes off with one hand groping around in his jacket front for his gun. Tetsuya stares at Ritsu for a long time, as one of the boys signals to another and the rest of the room quietly empties out.
To be a gokudou is to know that in the end, pragmatism trumps everything.
"I'll, um." Tetsuya's voice is tiny, and when Ritsu summons the nerve to glance up again, there's a look in the other man's eyes that he doesn't recognize.
"I'll be at home," Tetsuya says, and turns around and walks out the door without waiting for him.
It's never the same after that.
5. What Eventually Happened
The Yamaguchi-gumi takes over Ritsu's territory. Ootori Kyouya makes over a billion dollars within fifteen years of graduating college. Sendou Tetsuya is cleared of all criminal charges in exchange for the information he provides. Suou Haruhi decides to go into civil law. A group of boys sit down one evening in the Suicide Room because this gang is theirs and they cannot fathom being anywhere else.
When the police raid the Kasanoda-gumi's manor, at the very bottom of the main safe they find a manila folder with a half-finished application for veterinary school.