"Sorry... for all of this." Just a muffled sound, weakened and barely audible, yet enough to make tears fill Higuchi's eyes. Her chest tightened but she smiled, a smile overwhelmed with joy.

"It's my job, after all." Slowly, the shot buried in her thigh make itself known once more. And she reminded herself, despite the pain, this is why she's still here.

Akutagawa-senpai disappeared again. At first it almost drove her into a panic. Then she noticed his coat is also gone. Not kidnapping this time.

Higuchi wonders if this is for better or worse. Probably the latter. Whatever her precious senpai set himself to do, it's not likely to be going shopping. But she should not bother with this. Her concerns would be rebuffed anyway, brushed aside and be called a nuisance.

Before she knew it, however, she was running, gun in hand, towards a dock rumoured to have seen fighting not so long ago.

A few years into Port Mafia and the sight of blood and gore hardly bothers her anymore. Though the state of the quay is one of the worse, among the bloody sites she'd been to.

The blood is flesh and signs of ability users are everywhere. Higuchi learned to recognise trails of Rashoumon long ago, even if she isn't competent enough to identify an unknown ability just from the left over, just yet. Here, at this moment, however, her eyes locked onto the figure clad in black, doubled over and coughing in spasms.

There was blood, but there's no telling whether it is his, or the enemy's.

At least he's alive. She thought even as she approached. On closer inspection, he was clutching his chest, and he was crying.

"Akutagawa-senpai?"

In the syllables between the 'A' and the 'senpai', Rashoumon roared to life and almost had her neck. But it vanished just in time.

A few more coughing fits and he acknowledge her, "Higuchi."

His voice was perfectly still, so cold that she blinked to confirm that those fresh hot tears were real. They were.

"Senpai, the enemy?"

"One dead, the other escaped." He said, standing with difficulty.

"Should we... give pursuit?"

At that, he hesitated.

"No, finishing him now won't change anything. Let's return for now."

"Hai."

Akutagawa wiped the tears away and resume his normal cold demeanor. Higuchi itched to know what bothered her senpai, yet she's uneasy as well. She wasn't supposed to see that. She wasn't even any help to him.

"Senpai, your injuries..."

"Was nothing. We are going back to report."

"Report? Senpai, are you—"

"I didn't come here by my own accord, of course. Even I am not that reckless."

That shut her up. She wanted to tell him he was every bit that reckless, but looking at his grim, tear-stained face, he probably really didn't want to come.

"Do you think," Her normally silent senpai spoke, all of a sudden, "that I have only ever fight those who are weaker than me?"

Silence. Akutagawa-senpai probably forget it already, content not to hear a reply, content to think that the question was never released into open air. Yet Higuchi couldn't bring herself not to answer, because she would not be another one who ignore him.

"Which time frame, in each battle, are you referring to, senpai?" She quietly asked back.

"Why does it matter?"

"By the end of every battle, you /are/ the stronger one. If you are referring just to the end, then the answer is yes."

Akutagawa stopped, without his knowing, without his willingness. His feet just ceased to move as the implication of what she said dawn on him, and Higuchi halted a few steps ahead to look back at him. "Akutagawa-senpai?"

By the end. It was true only by the end. Someone believed I improved, someone actually believed in me.

But maybe she didn't even meant to imply that, he thought. But he also knows that his subordinate isn't stupid, far from being so. Naive, sometimes, but never dim.

They resumed walking.

The words were caught in his throat, like it want to be aired, but wasn't supposed to. He waited, finding dozens of moment he could have said it. Each time he didn't. And the longer the silence lapsed, it was harder to break.

'Thank you.'

He thought, a dozen times, but never voiced.