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The Rinko Mystery - Part 2/2

Author: Sinnatious

Rating: PG-13 for violence

 Echizen Rinko isn’t around very often. But Ryoma thought it had been an unusually long time since he’d last seen his mother. 

Author’s Note: I promise I will compensate you with fluff on the weekend for this.  In case you missed it, here's the first half.  



The knowledge that he maybe, possibly, was sharing the house with a murderer did not give Ryoma any peace of mind. It haunted his every waking moment. Every night he’d jerk awake to the slightest noise, tormented by nightmares of blood and screams and shadows. 
He didn’t know what to do. As much as Ryoma wanted to believe Nanako was off in America trying to convince his mother to come home, the possibility grew in his mind until he was unable to ignore it. It made just as much sense for his father to have given Nanako the tickets to get her out the country so that she stopped asking uncomfortable questions about why her Aunt was working so much. And it made a lot more sense for his father to go to that sort of effort to cover up a crime rather than spare feelings.
It made a lot of sense, but he didn’t want to believe it.
Ryoma hadn’t ever really been afraid before. Not even when Sasabe or Akutsu or any of the other bullies at the tennis courts threatened him. He knew that they could never really do anything serious, and he knew that he could beat them at tennis. He’d never really had any phobias, either. Inui’s juice was scary, sure, but it didn’t provoke the same cold, chilling sensation that ran right from his fingers to the tips of his toes as this thought did. It paralysed him. It made it difficult to talk, difficult to sleep, difficult to breathe.
The sensation was a foreign one, and Ryoma had no idea how to handle it.
He’d perfected his poker face at school. Ryoma was never a terribly expressive person to begin with, so nobody noticed the blank mask he wore to hide the endless dread and fear curling in his stomach. Oishi worried a little over the growing bags under his eyes, and Inui commented on his skittish behaviour, and Tezuka looked concerned when he nearly jumped out of his skin when the captain yelled at him to pay attention, but Ryoma didn’t say anything in response to their concerns. What could he say? ‘Oh, I think my father might have killed my mother, but I’m too scared to ask’? They’d think he was crazy. He didn’t have any proof. As it was, he was half convinced it was his own imagination running away with him. 
Lack of proof didn’t stop his heart thudding in his chest every time he found a messy note written in English from his mother though, or from flinching when he saw that the shoes in the foyer had changed again, or from tensing up when his father so casually spouted yet another lie about his mother coming home to change clothes or leaving early.
He could last, though. It was only another ten days until Nanako came back, and then he could ask her and lay his suspicions to rest. There was probably some boring explanation for it that would make him feel like an idiot for worrying so much.
“I’m home,” he whispered. The house was silent. His father was usually minding the shrine at that time of day.
Ryoma forced himself to relax as he moved about the house. It was okay. Even if his father were a murderer, he reasoned, so long as he continued to feign ignorance, he’d be safe, right? He’d been fine so far.
Right. Definitely. Ryoma forced himself to push his concerns to the back of his mind, and focused on doing laundry and completing homework.
Halfway through his science homework, however, Ryoma realised that something felt off. The house was too quiet.
The house had been too quiet for a long time, but never quite this quiet.
Abandoning his homework, he headed to the door of the room – left propped open so that his cat could come and go as he pleased. 
“…Karupin?” he called out tentatively. It was a little weird that the Himalayan cat hadn’t come to bother him yet. Most days if he didn’t greet him at the door, he’d be rubbing at his legs within an hour, demanding attention. That was probably why the house seemed so lifeless. He hadn’t stowed away in his bag and got lost at his school again, had he?! 
Homework forgotten, Ryoma scoured the house, checking all of Karupin’s favourite hiding places. He even went to the kitchen and shook the box of dried cat food – a sound that was certain to bring his pet running.
Eventually, after looking all over the house and even checking the yard, Ryoma was forced to return to his homework. He didn’t actually remember doing any of it, since he was too busy worrying about his cat’s sudden unexplained absence, but an hour of so later he was finished and left staring blankly out the window.
Around dinnertime, he descended the stairs. His father had obviously returned at some point, and was lying on the ground in the living room, head propped up with one elbow, watching television. He turned slightly when Ryoma entered the room. “I already ate. You can order yourself something if you like.”
Food wasn’t really at the top of his agenda. “Where’s Karupin?” he asked.
Nanjiroh scoffed, flicking through the channels on the television. “How should I know where that damn cat is? I haven’t seen it all day.”
Ryoma’s tongue felt thick in his mouth as he swallowed his response. He shuffled back upstairs.
Karupin’s absence didn’t feel so mysterious all of a sudden.
When the time came for bed, Ryoma locked the door to his room and flicked the light off. He picked up one of his tennis racquets, crawled into the corner and pulled his knees up against his chest. His fingers clenched the handle of his racquet so hard that his knuckles turned white, and he waited for dawn to arrive.
All he had to do was last until Nanako came back, and everything would be okay.

Ryoma scuffed his feet along the sidewalk outside of school. Afternoon practice had finished a while before, but he’d dallied on the grounds for as long as he could, reluctant to go home. He didn’t want to spend any more time alone in that house with his father than necessary. Just in case.
It wasn’t home if you didn’t feel safe there anymore.
Even knowing that the old man was up the shrine for most of the afternoon didn’t help. Just being there made him think of Karupin. His cat wouldn’t run to greet him at the door, or rub against his legs demanding attention, or curl up next to him on his bed at night. He clenched his teeth, determined not to cry, and reminded himself stoically that he didn’t have any proof of what happened to Karupin either.
Two mysterious disappearances were a little hard to ignore, though.
In his roundabout wanderings, Ryoma spied a familiar figure. The captain was sitting at a bus stop, looking deeply immersed in a book. For lack of anything else to do, Ryoma headed over. “Buchou.”
Tezuka glanced up, glasses briefly catching the afternoon sun and nearly blinding him. “Echizen.”
The captain didn’t seem inclined to say anything other than that, so it was up to Ryoma to drive the conversation along. “You’re waiting for the bus?”
Tezuka nodded. “I appear to have just missed the previous one.”
It meant the captain would be waiting a while. That suited Ryoma perfectly. “What are you reading?”
Tezuka just held up the book so he could see. Ryoma squinted at it, but the title wasn’t familiar. The book was impressively thick, though. “What’s it about?”
“It’s a detective novel. Murder mystery, specifically.”
Ryoma briefly felt ill at the thought. Murder mystery. He felt like he was stuck in one of those at the moment. “Heh. Buchou likes that sort of thing?”
The senior placed a bookmark on the page he was on, seeing that his kouhai was intending on sticking around. “It’s my preferred genre of reading, yes.”

"Buchou reads detective novels..." Ryoma mused.  "So, do they help?"


"Do they give you detective skills?" he elaborated.

Tezuka adjusted his glasses.  "I suppose it might improve your critical thinking after a while, but I'm not sure if works of fiction are a good way to learn about a profession.  There are some common elements, though.  In this one they’re currently trying to track down the body.  This particular author has a habit of arranging his clues in such a way that the reader can usually figure out where the body is before the characters."

"The body..." Ryoma repeated.  The words echoed in his head.  "A body.  Yeah, if it were that... there should be a body, right?"

"Echizen?" Tezuka asked, confused.

"But where would he keep it?" he muttered to himself.  If there was a body, the old man had to have kept it nearby - if he'd dumped it in the river or something, someone would have come across it by now.  Thinking about it, there were all sorts of places for his father to hide a body on their property.  They had a pretty large house and garden, and then there was the shrine out the back as well.

"Echizen?" Tezuka repeated, sounding somewhere between startled and worried now.

He wanted to wait until Nanako came home before jumping to conclusions or asking uncomfortable questions, but surely a look around wouldn't hurt?  After all, if he found a body, he'd know for sure, right?

Ryoma didn't really want to find a body.  The thought was too scary to entertain.  But he couldn't handle just sitting around waiting for Nanako to come back from her holiday, either.  Maybe...
He eyed the captain contemplatively.  "Buchou, have you ever tried being a detective for real?"


Ryoma unlocked the door to the house and entered, kicking off his shoes. “I’m home,” he called out in a loud voice. There was no response. His father was up at the shrine, then. That was good – Ryoma had been counting on that. He turned to his guest. “Come on in, Buchou.”
He headed further into the house while Tezuka took off his shoes. His heart clenched when Karupin didn’t come to greet him, but he resolutely pushed the thought from his mind. He had a mission now. 
“We’ll start upstairs first, and work our way down,” he decided. Tezuka just nodded, looking slightly bemused. 
So they started looking. Every cupboard and every crawl space was checked. Ryoma even pulled all the blankets from linen closet to check that nothing was wrapped up in them.
“Shouldn’t it smell, though?” he asked.
“That’s one way to check,” Tezuka agreed. “But if it’s hidden, there’s a lot of ways to cover it up. If it’s somewhere sealed, the smell won’t escape. The smell can be covered up with other odours, too – air fresheners or perfume could disguise it for a while.”
“That common in those books you read?”
Ryoma had invited Tezuka along mostly so that he wouldn’t have to endure the task of searching alone, but the captain possessed all sorts of useful knowledge and ideas thanks to all the crime novels he read. It was actually turning out to be pretty useful. “The ensuite next, then.” In any of the few instances he’d borrowed that bathroom in the past, it reeked of his mother’s perfume.
Tezuka hesitated at the door. “Isn’t that invading your parent’s privacy?”
Ryoma wasn’t particularly comfortable about entering his father’s room either, but there was no point in searching if they didn’t check everywhere. “It’s fine.” He didn’t intend to linger or leave any traces of their presence anyway. His skin prickled as he crossed the threshold into the Master bedroom. 
The whole room had a sort of atmosphere about it that was both enormous and claustrophobic at the same time. Going through the closets in particular made his skin crawl. Invading his parent’s privacy was bad enough when he wasn’t looking for evidence of sinister crimes. His lip briefly curled when he stumbled upon his father’s stash of dirty magazines – it was an impressive stack – but he ploughed on through.
They searched the room quickly. Tezuka looked visibly uncomfortable, but he pointed out all the various places to check that Ryoma missed anyway. The ensuite carried a cloying scent of perfume, but it wasn’t as strong as Ryoma remembered it being, and in any case the adjoined bathroom was barely large enough to move about in, much less hide a body.
Nothing. There was nothing unusual in the room and ensuite whatsoever. 
That was everywhere upstairs. “Downstairs next,” Ryoma declared, grateful to leave his father’s room. He cast a critical eye over it to make sure nothing was out of place, before carefully shutting the door behind him.
The lower level of the house didn’t yield any progress either. Ryoma bit his lip. He should have been relieved by the lack of evidence, but it only made him antsier. 
“The body doesn’t necessarily have to be in one piece,” Tezuka pointed out. “Killers will sometimes cut it into smaller portions and hide the parts.”
Ryoma stared. “That’s sort of morbid, Buchou.”
“Is it?”
He nodded emphatically. “Fuji-senpai and Inui-senpai have been a bad influence on you.”
“Oh.” Tezuka looked a little disappointed by that.
“It’s a good point, though,” he conceded. Having a brainwave, he opened the cupboard under the sink. It was filled with Tupperware tubs and cardboard boxes – all left over from when they’d moved into the house earlier in the year. 
“We’re going to check all of these containers?” Tezuka asked.
Ryoma just pulled out the first one and opened it. Empty. Tezuka’s idea was a good one, no matter how morbid it was. They should check smaller spaces… for smaller bodies. He nearly choked at the thought of his cat, but grit his teeth and kept looking. After a moment, Tezuka started pulling out the boxes and checking them too. It was obvious that the captain thought it something of a game.  Ryoma was okay with that; though he was a little surprised that Tezuka would indulge in something so frivolous with him.

On the other hand, it did strike him as the only sort of 'pretend' Tezuka would ever play along with. Either way, he was glad for the captain’s presence.
They made it through all of containers stored under the sink, and checked a few more in some other cupboards, but they still didn’t find anything. The house looked to be clean.  Ryoma ran a hand through his hair, glancing out the window.  Checking outside was next, he supposed.
“C’mon, Buchou, the yard is next. We’ll do the back first.” He went to get their shoes. “What clues would there be for outside?” He slid open the door that led to the backyard, and froze.
"Hey, boy, you're home!" Nanjiroh was standing on the wooden patio outside, dressed in his black monk robes as usual.

Ryoma's hand dropped limply from the door, and he could feel the blood drain from his face.  A chill ran down his spine.  "Old man." Had they taken that long? Wasn’t it a bit early for his father to be down from the shrine?

"So disrespectful.  Who's this serious-looking guy?"

The words felt heavy in his mouth. "Tezuka-buchou."

"Ah, so you're the kid-captain," his father exclaimed.  "I hear you're pretty good."

"This is our first time meeting, but I’ve heard a lot about you," Tezuka replied formally, bowing. Nanjiroh waved the formality off.
“So what are you kids up to?”
“We were going to-” Tezuka started to respond, but Ryoma quickly interrupted.

"Actually, Buchou, let me get my racquet bag.  We can play on the street courts."

"But didn't you want to try outside?" Tezuka asked, apparently surprised by his kouhai's sudden switch in interest.

"Nah, it'll turn up on its own.  Karupin can survive without it until it does," he said carefully. Fortunately, Tezuka wasn't the sort of openly display confusion.  "I'll be back later, old man."

Nanjiroh inclined his head in acknowledgement.  "So long as you're back in time for dinner."

Tezuka bowed again.  "It was nice meeting you."

They left the house.  Ryoma kept his expression carefully neutral and his eyes to the front, even though his heart was pounding wildly in his chest.  He could practically feel his father's gaze resting heavily on the back of his neck.  Was he just being paranoid, or did his father suspect?

Tezuka didn't comment at the abrupt change in plans, but he did send a couple of questioning glances between the freshman and the house.  Only once they were a couple of blocks away did he ask, "You didn't want him to know?"

Ryoma tugged his cap down over his eyes, and didn't reply.


He didn’t want to drag Tezuka into things, but Ryoma was still anxious about checking around the outside of the house. He only managed to wait two days before inviting Tezuka over again for another bout of ‘detective’. The captain gave him an odd look this time, but agreed. Maybe he thought that Ryoma was going to plant something for them to ‘find’, or he just thought he was being polite by indulging his kouhai’s childish desires – either way, Ryoma didn’t care. He was too frazzled to care. His nerves were completely shot, and only managing to get a couple of hours sleep a night was wearing him down. 
Ryoma checked the inside of the house first to make sure that his father wasn’t nearby before they started looking around the yard. It was clear. The old man was up at the shrine where he belonged. Ryoma let out a shaky breath at that, and turned to his guest. “So, what should we look for first?”
“Good things to watch out for are things like recently upturned earth, and evidence of digging,” Tezuka recalled. “Suspicious footprints. Miscoloured grass. Anything out of place.”
“You really know a lot about this stuff, don’t you Buchou?”
Tezuka looked faintly embarrassed. “I’ve just read a lot is all.”
Ryoma nodded, and started poking around underneath bushes. “By the way, let me know if you see any sign of Karupin.”
“Karupin?” Tezuka was brushing aside a patch of leaves and inspecting some of the stones lining one of the garden beds. Without his mother and cousin’s tender care, weeds were starting to overgrow the yard.
“My cat. He’s a Himalayan.”
“Ah, the cat that Momoshiro brought here that time,” Tezuka recalled. “He’s missing?”
Ryoma wanted Tezuka to be on the lookout, just in case. “Something like that.”
They checked the yard thoroughly. Ryoma even crawled under the house to check there, but it was dusty and full of spiderwebs and obviously hadn’t been disturbed for years and there was no way his father would have been able to fit in there if even Tezuka couldn’t follow him into the crawlspace. He came out streaked in grime and covered in bits of spiderweb. Tezuka started picking the strands off him gingerly. “We haven’t found anything. Maybe you should go clean up.”
“Yeah,” he agreed reluctantly. The yard was clean, too. Not even a rock was out of place. Had he just wasted their time?
Ryoma was frustrated. It wasn’t like he wanted to find a body – either Karupin’s or his mother’s – but at least if he did the mystery would be solved and the agony of not knowing would be over. But they’d looked everywhere, and hadn’t found a thing.
That wasn’t quite true. They hadn’t looked everywhere.
He glanced in the direction of the shrine. 
They couldn’t check the shrine, though. Not with his father there, minding it throughout the day for his monk friend. 
Ryoma clenched his hands into fists, shivering slightly. “Is something the matter?” Tezuka asked.
“Nothing,” he replied dully. “Thanks for helping out, Buchou.”
“It’s no problem. I hope you find your cat.”
Right. Now Tezuka apparently thought it had all been elaborate ploy to get help looking for his cat. Ryoma didn’t mind, though. And it was sort of true, anyway.
It was only another five days until Nanako came back. He could last that long, right? She’d probably laugh at him for worrying, and bring him news of his mother, and everything would be normal again. Karupin could just be lost. It had happened before.
He saw Tezuka off, and tried very hard not to react at the return of the short blue heels in the foyer.


The thought of the shrine continued to bother him, but Ryoma didn’t really know what to do about it. He didn’t dare try to search the area while his father was there – if he did find something… well, he doubted the old man would let him get that far, but if he stumbled across it anyway, who knew how he would react? It just wasn’t safe.
He agonised over it for two days, but comforted himself with the thought that there were only three days until Nanako returned. Ryoma was heartened by the notion. He was sure he could last three more days, even if every day felt like an eternity. 
Although… if his theory was true, that meant Nanako was returning to a dangerous situation. He didn’t want to put his cousin through that. His father might do something stupid if he felt pressured by her return. It probably wasn’t that safe for him, either. Ryoma shivered. He’d feel a little bit better greeting her home if he had a better idea of the situation. 
Ryoma tapped his pen against his notebook idly. He wasn’t making any progress on his homework whatsoever. He glanced outside the window. The sun was starting to set. Several thumps downstairs announced his father’s return to the house. A moment later, the dull blaring of the television reached his ears, muffled through the closed door. He paused.
If he snuck out through the front door, his father probably wouldn’t notice him leaving the house. He could double around to the back and go to the shrine with the old man none the wiser. 
Ryoma hesitated for a few minutes in the grip of nervousness and indecision, before he stood and shuffled to the door. He opened it as silently as possible and tiptoed down the stairs. The television continued to murmur in the background uninterrupted.
He barely allowed himself to breathe until he’d eased out of the house and shut the front door. Letting out a sigh of relief, Ryoma started around the back, being careful to check that the way was clear before stealthily making his way up to the shrine in the twilight.
It only took a couple of minutes to make the trip. He spent a moment looking around, getting orientated. Ryoma didn’t visit the shrine very often, save for the occasional time when a ball on the temporary tennis court his father had set up nearby went wide or when his mother – his heart skipped a beat at the recollection – would send him to fetch the old man. There just wasn’t much there to interest him – the shrine itself, a board for charms, an old dilapidated well, the bell, and not a whole lot else. 
There were plenty of places to hide a body, though. 
Shivering, Ryoma started looking. It was the only place he hadn’t searched yet. He poked around the structure underneath the bell, looking for any patches of recently upturned earth as Tezuka had suggested. It was undisturbed. He checked inside the shrine just in case, but that was empty too.
His eyes landed on the well next.  Slowly, he headed towards it, wincing at the sound of dry grass crackling loudly under his feet.

Taking a deep breath, he placed a hand on the stone.  It was smooth and cold underneath his fingers.  He screwed up his courage and quickly glanced inside.

Nothing.  The bottom of the well was shrouded in darkness.

Ryoma bit his lip.  Thinking about it, the well was the ideal place.  It was old and unused, maintained only for the very occasional visitor to toss in a few coins.  No one drew water from it anymore because the shallow pools that formed at the bottom were stagnant and smelly.  It would even cover up the scent of rotting skin.

He let his hand slip off the cold rock.  He needed to come back with a flashlight.  Just to be sure.  Even if it was only a couple more days until Nanako came back, he didn't think he'd be able to handle another sleepless night of allowing his imagination to cook up horrible scenarios.  And if it did turn out to be the worst scenario, he should probably know, so that she didn't put herself in danger with innocent queries when she returned.
He carefully retraced his steps back to the house in the growing gloom, eased open the front door and slipped inside soundlessly. The television was still going. He hadn’t been missed. Ryoma let out a relieved sigh. He headed into the kitchen next, rifling through the drawers until he found the flashlight.  He checked the batteries, then crept out into the hall. It was almost time for dinner. He wouldn’t be able to look now without being missed.
Reluctantly, Ryoma hid the flashlight in his room and returned to the living room. “Hey, old man, what’s for dinner?” he asked.
Nanjiroh threw him a disinterested glance. “Pizza, I guess. The menu should be on the fridge. Just order another one of whatever you’re having.”
Ryoma went through the motions of ordering robotically, mind firmly fixed on the well at the shrine. Dinner seemed to take forever to arrive. When the doorbell rang he went to answer. No Karupin followed him to the door this time, mewing at the prospect of food.
Dinner was eaten in awkward silence. His father gave him an odd glance a few times – Ryoma usually made a point of complaining about something trivial, to keep up face, but didn’t trust his voice to remain steady that night. Once they were finished eating, his father returned to sitting in front of the TV, and Ryoma retreated to his room.
He waited for half an hour, feet bouncing nervously as he perched on the edge of his bed, cradling the flashlight. Eventually, he couldn’t stand waiting any longer, and snuck to the door, holding his ear against it. By the sounds of it his father was still watching TV, and it didn’t look like he was going anywhere anytime soon.
Ryoma was briefly tempted to wait for a time to go with Tezuka, just in case. He might have missed something in the shrine area, after all. But in the end, he quietly slipped out of his room and headed outside. He could check the well now at the very least. There was no way to be sure of when he’d next get a chance. Just a look. If the well was empty he could still investigate the shrine area more thoroughly with Tezuka later.
The path to the shrine was dark, and the feeble moonlight provided by the crescent moon did little to light his way. Ryoma didn’t dare turn on the flashlight until he was a safe distance from the house, though – there was always the slim chance of his father glancing outside and seeing. After what felt like an eternity he was back at the shrine. It was creepier at night, coloured grey by the moonlight and casting long dark distorted shadows that resembled misshapen monsters.
Ryoma resolutely ignored the distorted dark shapes and headed directly for the well. He took a deep breath, braced himself against the cold, crumbling stone, and pointed the flashlight inside.
The spotlight skidded across the dark damp stone walls in a disorientating fashion. Steadying his hand, Ryoma started directing the beam to the dark depths, eyes straining to pick out details.
There! The light had caught the edge of something. Carefully, Ryoma moved the spotlight backwards, and felt his heart stop.
It was a hand!  A human hand!  The skin was coloured, crumbling, decayed and utterly foul looking, but there was no mistake. He felt vomit threatening to rise in his throat, and he reflexively looked away, not wanting to confront the sickening sight.

Ryoma swallowed harshly, wishing he'd waited and brought Tezuka with him on this search as well.  But it was too late to turn back now - he didn't know when he'd next get another chance.  Carefully, he turned back and directed the shaking beam of light upwards.  He had to be sure.  He didn't want to see, he was terrified of seeing, but he had to know.

The light caught a wisp of long, dark hair.

The flashlight slipped through nerveless fingers.  It fell into the well with an echoing crack, and the light winked out of existence.

He'd gone looking for his mother, but that lifeless corpse with glassy eyes at the bottom of the well wasn't her.  It belonged to his beautiful, sweet and thoughtful cousin Nanako.

Ryoma ran away from the shrine blindly, thoughts whirling chaotically in his head. It was Nanako. Nanako wasn’t in America. Nanako was dead.
He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t want to believe it.  Blood was roaring in his ears as he tripped over twigs and stumbled in the darkness, heedless of where he was going. He just had to get away
He didn’t even realise that his hasty flight had carried him back to the house until the back door slid open. His father peered out into the darkness, wreathed by a rectangle of bright light. “Boy, what are you doing out here?”

For a second, everything froze. Ryoma’s mind skidded to a halt, and his breath caught in his throat. It was only through sheer force of will that he relaxed and managed to form an appropriate response. 
“Looking for Karupin,” he replied tightly. “I thought I heard a noise.”
“You still haven’t found that damn cat?”
Ryoma shook his head mutely.
“Che.” His father turned away, then looked back when Ryoma didn’t follow. “What? Hurry up and come inside.”
He didn’t want to. Did his father suspect he knew? He had no reason to. Ryoma willed his limbs to stop shaking and carefully followed him inside.
He was alone in the house with a killer. A serial killer. The fact that it was his father just made it worse. 
Police.  He needed to call the police.  If only he'd called them sooner, if only he'd risked being wrong and looking paranoid, then maybe Nanako and Karupin...

But he hadn't suspected anything was wrong until after Nanako was gone.  And even then, he hadn't wanted to believe.

It was murder.  His father had killed them all.
Nanako wasn’t coming back.
Ryoma carefully made his way to the hallway by the kitchen. 
He couldn't do anything.  If his father even suspected... would he be next?  Was that why Nanako had died?  She'd been worrying about her Aunt quite a lot, even going so far as to suggest she bring lunch to her as nice gesture.  It must have made his father nervous.  Did Nanjiroh set her up with tickets so that no one would miss her presence, and then kill her right before she left?
He couldn't call the police, not where his father could be listening.  But he needed help. His father was just the next room over.  His fingers fumbled with the numbers on the phone's keypad.  He couldn’t waste time looking for the cordless.
He desperately tried to still his shaking fingers as he cradled the receiver to his ear.
The phone rang once.  Rang twice.  Three times.

On the fourth ring, someone finally answered.  "Hello?"

"...Buchou?" he croaked.  His voice wavered uncertainly.

There was a pause, then... "Echizen?  Why are you calling?"
“Where are you?”
“I’m at the sports centre. The one with the ball feeders.”

He father wandered through the hallway into the kitchen, yawning and stretching.  Ryoma's eyes tracked his path, fingers tightening around the phone's cord. Nanjiroh fetched a can of beer from the fridge and headed back into the living room.

"Echizen?  Are you alright?" Tezuka asked when he didn't respond.

"That's why I'm calling," he replied carefully.  He had to make it sound like an ordinary conversation.  "You remember those books?"


"You always figure it out first, don't you, Buchou?" he continued, struggling to keep his voice steady.

"You're talking about the detective novels?" Tezuka guessed.

"I figured it out first this time," he continued. “But now I’ve sort of got a problem.”
That was when Ryoma heard the telltale click of someone picking up the extension.
Tezuka continued unaware of the eavesdropper. “Echizen, you know that I was humouring you, but are you saying… that it was real? You weren’t just looking for your cat?”
“Buchou-” he tried to interrupt.
“Echizen, was there really a body? Are you in danger?”
He was busted. “Get help, Buchou!” He yelled into the phone then threw it aside.
From the receiver, he could still hear Tezuka’s voice calling out. "Echizen... hey, Echizen!"
Ryoma didn’t waste any time. Where, where… he heard thundering footsteps, and panicked. The front door… he wouldn’t make it in time. His father was coming from the back, so he couldn’t go out that way.
The only way out was up. He darted up the stairs with a speed that would have done Kikumaru proud. He ran into his room, slamming the door shut behind him and clicking the lock. In a panic, he dragged a chest of drawers in front of it. He fumbled for his tennis racquet, grabbing it and clutching it like a safety blanket.

The doorknob rattled.  Then... "Oi, boy, open the door!  I want to talk!"

Ryoma shook his head back and forth slowly, retreating further into the corner.  He clutched his tennis racquet protectively against his chest.

"You've got the wrong idea!  I just have to explain-"

He eyeballed the window.  Could he maybe reach the branches of the tree outside and escape that way?  His father might hear him, though, and beat him downstairs.  What could he do?  Was it safer to try and wait it out inside, or better to take a risk by trying to get out through the window?  It was only the second story - if he fell he would survive, but if he hurt himself in the fall could he still get away in time?  Tezuka was nearby.  The sports complex was only seven or so blocks away.  He could probably make it there before his father caught up with enough of a head start.
"It was an accident with your mother!  It's a misunderstanding!"

"What about Nanako?!  What do you call that?!" he yelled back, voice shaking.

"That's..." His father's voice trailed off.  The hallway became silent.

Maybe... maybe his father hadn't actually killed Nanako?  What if it was just a horrible, horrible coincidence?

A second later, something heavy banged loudly against the door.  The drawers rattled.  Ryoma bit his lip.  "DAMN IT BRAT, OPEN UP!"  The door shook again.

His heart thudded in his chest. There was no such thing as coincidences.
Ryoma flinched as the door shook again and again. It sounded like the wood was cracking. The door wasn’t particularly heavy, nor the frame robust. Could it hold out?
After what felt like an eternity, the thudding stopped. Footsteps led away from the door. Ryoma didn’t dare move from the corner, though. 
A minute or two of oppressive silence, then Ryoma heard another sound that sent prickles of fear across his skin: the faint jingle of keys.
The lock clicked, and the handle turned. The door only managed to open a sliver before the drawers blocked it. His father swore, the door shook again, and the drawers scraped half an inch across the floor.
The drawers wouldn’t hold his father back. Nothing in his room would.
It was the window after all.
Frantically, Ryoma scrambled to his feet, shaking fingers fumbling for the hatch on his window. The frame jammed. “Openopenopenopen,” he begged under his breath, putting all of his weight behind it.
He was too slow. It was too late. With a crash, the drawers were shoved aside and light from the hallway spilled into the dark room. Ryoma whirled, eyes automatically darting to an unexpected flash of silver. It took him a moment to process the source, and then another moment to realise what that meant.
His father was holding a knife.  
He hadn’t just gone to get keys – he’d gone to get a knife as well! 
He couldn’t believe it. His father truly meant to kill him to hide his secret.
Breath coming in short, panicked gasps, Ryoma brandished his racquet for lack of any other weapon. “Stay back!” His voice wobbled, and he cursed his own weakness. Still, the reach of his racquet was longer than that of a knife, maybe he could…
Nanjiroh reached out and caught the racquet frame with his hand. With one twist and jerk, it was pulled from his grasp.
He was going to die.
He didn’t want to die. He stared up at his father with wide eyes. The knife gleamed, catching the light from the hallway.
Ryoma glanced towards the door. Tezuka…?
“What?!” Nanjiroh whirled, clearly not expecting to be interrupted. Tezuka darted forward, hand striking at the fist clutching the knife. The blade clattered to the floor as the captain wrestled with his father. He was holding his own impressively well, and even managed to get the old man into something of a lock. The captain learnt judo from his grandfather, Ryoma remembered, though he couldn’t recall where exactly he’d heard that detail. It sounded like something Inui might have spouted at some point.
Ryoma held his breath as his captain tussled with his father. Adrenaline was still surging through his veins. Tezuka might be more skilled, but his father was strong. The captain wouldn’t be able to keep him at bay forever.
Words of warning hovered on his lips, but his throat was closed. He didn’t want to lose anyone else. He couldn’t lose anyone else.
Police sirens wailed in the distance.
Ryoma saw the knife discarded on the floor.  The sharp edge gleamed silver in the moonlight streaming in from his half-open window.

He couldn't take it.  He didn't want to deal with it anymore.  His mother.  Nanako.  Karupin.
Steady fingers wrapped around the hilt of the knife.

His father had his back to him as he pushed Tezuka away, finally breaking the captain's sloppy judo hold.  "You're still just a kid!" he taunted, in the exact same voice he had taunted Ryoma with so many times on the tennis court.

Tezuka tripped backwards over the racquet bag in the corner and slumped to the ground, hands thrown back to keep himself upright and facing Nanjiroh.  He turned his head slightly, then his eyes widened as he caught sight of his kouhai.  His lips mouthed a plea, but no sound emerged.  Ryoma stepped forward.

"What are you-?"  His father's words were cut short with a choked gasp as Ryoma plunged the knife into his back.
It was over. 
It was finally over.

"Echizen!  Echizen!"

Ryoma had slipped off into a daze at some point, so it took him a moment to realize that someone was shaking his shoulders.  Oh, it was the captain.  Blearily, he tried to focus on his face.  It felt dreamlike.  It was just a dream, right?  He hadn't... he hadn't...
There was a body on the floor, lying in a growing pool of blood. Ryoma stared at it.

"Buchou... did I...?"

Tezuka crouched down so that he was looking up at him.  "Listen to me, Echizen.  It was an accident.  He wasn't holding the knife properly, and in the struggle you pulled it away from him and held it out to keep him back.  Then when I called out, he turned around.  He was surprised when he saw me and stumbled backwards into the knife.  You were too shocked to move.  It wasn't your fault."

He frowned.  That wasn't how it happened at all.  "But-"

"I saw it all," Tezuka said seriously.  "I witnessed everything.  It wasn't your fault."
Ryoma was confused, but he nodded silently.
“Are you alright? You’re not injured anywhere?”
Ryoma shook his head. 
"Don’t worry. The police will be here soon."
It was over. He’d lost everything… but he was finally safe again.
Ryoma buried his head in his arms, and finally allowed himself to cry.
Ryuuzaki handed him a cup of hot chocolate.  Ryoma took it and held it in his hands, but didn't drink.  He just stared blankly into space.

"The police called earlier.  They found Rinko's... they found her."

"Where was she?" Ryoma asked dully.

"In the same well as your cousin."  She grimaced.  "The body had degraded a lot in that time, but the autopsy is suggesting that it very well might have just been an accident.  They don't know for sure, but it looked like she might have broken her neck in a shallow fall.  They're going to record that one as an domestic argument ending in a tragic accident."

Ryoma took a sip of the hot chocolate.  "And Nanako...?"

"Even if it was an accident, he couldn't face his first crime.  I guess he was driven mad with guilt."  Ryuuzaki sighed. "You're lucky.  You shouldn't have been playing detective in a situation like that."
Ryoma didn’t respond. His finger traced the rim of the cup lightly.
There was a knock on the front door. Ryuuzaki smiled at him reassuringly and went to answer it. Ryoma could hear familiar voices in the hallway, but they didn’t really register until they entered the room. “Echizen. You’ve got visitors,” Ryuuzaki said softly.
He glanced up. Tezuka was there, but the real surprise was to see Kaidoh standing next to him. And even more surprising than that was the bundle of white in the Viper’s arms.
“Karupin?” Ryoma whispered in disbelief. “Karupin!”
Kaidoh handed the cat over, looking slightly embarrassed. “I found her near my house about a week ago,” he said gruffly.
“When I overhead Kaidoh talking about it, I remembered you said that your cat had gone missing,” Tezuka added.
Ryoma clutched his cat to his chest, almost unwilling to believe this godsend. He’d been so sure… but Karupin had just run away. Karupin had just run away.
It was too good to be true. 
Karupin mewed softly. Ryoma stroked his fur, relishing the familiar sensation. It was something loved and ordinary. Something familiar. “Thank you, Kaidoh-senpai,” he croaked out.
“It’s nothing,” Kaidoh grunted, face blushing slightly. “Sorry I didn’t realise sooner. But he wasn’t any trouble. He’s a smart cat.”
Ryoma’s fingers stilled in the fur, though, as thoughts suddenly started whirling in his head again.
His father glared at the cat, still cradling his bleeding hand. “You were there.”…
…“How should I know where that damn cat is? I haven’t seen it all day.”…
…"It was an accident with your mother!  It's a misunderstanding!"…
“…it looked like she might have broken her neck in a shallow fall….”
Karupin mewed uncertainly. Ryoma started petting him again.
It didn’t matter. It was all in the past, now. It didn’t change anything at all. “Thanks, Buchou, Kaidoh-senpai,” he repeated, and hugged Karupin just a little tighter.



( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 10th, 2008 06:24 pm (UTC)
Um, wow. That was intense. I kept thinking that it was Ryoma's imagination being overactive, but the thought that Nanjiroh actually did it... LoL -- I guess I should've expected it. :D

And is it bad of me that I'm just glad Karupin is all right?

Edited at 2008-06-10 06:25 pm (UTC)
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:10 am (UTC)
(Honestly, I think I would have been a monster if I offed Karupin too.)
Jun. 10th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
OMG...that really spook me out...I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and very little sound made me jump...so that's why Karupin hated Nanjiroh and kept biting him, such a smart cat. *grin* ...that was sweet of Tezuka to humor Ryoma, but at the end, Tezuka to the rescue *squeal*...Poor Ryoma, he'll probably be paranoid for awhile after this.

Sinn, this is so amazing, such details, tensions, suspension, and the climatic was awesome. ^__^
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:41 am (UTC)
Thank you! (Least there was a little TezRyo interaction to soothe thing, ne?)
Jun. 10th, 2008 07:41 pm (UTC)
IT WAS KARUPIN. :O!! I'm surprised Nanjiroh didn't get rid of Karupin right off the bat.

Oh man, this was so creepy, especially with Nanjiroh's attempts at making Rinko seem like just a busy lawyer. Ryoma going to the well at night? Not very smart! But I have to admit that he was probably going a little crazy with his lack of sleep, so...>__>

Great work with this. Man, I really hope this isn't the last time you write murder mystery-ish fics.

And eeeeee Tezuka to the rescue AGAIN! It's becoming a common theme in your fics, hm? XD
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:12 am (UTC)
TWICE IS NOT COMMON. Three times, and then we can talk. :P

Thanks! But honestly, I'm not sure if I could handle this sort of thing again. XP
Jun. 10th, 2008 07:53 pm (UTC)
Hi, I'm a lurker :3 Wait. What? Karupin didn't... No, can't be. I must be seeing things. Please tell me it's just me. Nanjiroh is the villain. Nanjiroh. Not the fluffy cat.

Anyway. I've been lurking around in your journal for quite a while (and I do feel ashamed for never commenting) and this time the fics just way too awesome to not fangirl over (I have no idea what exactly to flail about so excuse the rather generic praise: OMGASKNDKSMDAWESOME!).

Even though you're not a big fan of the genre, you're really good at writing it. But I can't really tell since I don't like that genre either...

I want you to know that I squeaked when Ryoma went back to the well in the friggin' dark and during the scene that followed! So scaryyy... I have this unfounded fear of the dark. And I still love this story enough to reread it now.

You're awesome <3
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:29 am (UTC)
I shall dub thee anonymous-san.

We'll never know for SURE. >:D

Hee, thanks for delurking, however briefly. It's always a pleasant surprise. Truly, you are the awesome one for reading it even if you also share a distaste for the genre. :)
Jun. 10th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
Holy HELL, that was awesome! And terrifying! Terrifying and awesome!
Jun. 10th, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)
I LOVED IT O_O!!!!!!!!!! It could be interpreted in many ways... but it seems that the general reviewers seem to think that Karupin is at fault..... I don't know.... I mean..... Nanjiroh and the knive and all that..... O_O BUT I LOVED IT ANYWAYS O_O!!!!!!!!!! Will you write more story of this type of genre?????? I hope you do, because it's actually one of my favorite ones ^_^!!!!!!!
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:22 am (UTC)
Interpret however you wish. :)

NO, DEFINITELY NO MORE OF THIS GENRE. ADLSKFJSDALKJFKLJSDFLKJ IT HURT, IT DID. T__T I had to get people in chat to pretty much hold my hand through the second half. Glad you liked it, though.
Jun. 10th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
...Must wait for mind-whirly to stop...
Jun. 10th, 2008 09:44 pm (UTC)
Ok...WOW. That's first. I like stories where you can't really be sure of what's happening until the end. (Well, you can, but there's always that niggling doubt.) At least, it makes sure my attention stays focused on the story.

Second, I refuse to analyze those last few lines. Karupin's my fluff ball of love and a good little kitty.

Last, --ha ha, my brain's still whirling-- Tezuka. Righteous Tezuka. Tezuka who makes up a freaking cover story just to protect Ryoma.
(no subject) - sinnatious - Jun. 11th, 2008 10:50 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 10th, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)
I really shouldn't have read this before bed... it freaked me out so much!!!
And the ending even more so...
Did Nanjiroh kill Nanako though?

*shivers all over*
This is a sign of great writing... the fact that right from part one I had chills all over my body, you've been able to deliver the mystery so well!
*bows down to you*
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC)
Indeed, Nanjiroh was Nanako's murderer. Perhaps the ending was too vague? Thought people might prefer to draw some of their own conclusions. ;) Sorry for bedtime scariness! :O
Jun. 10th, 2008 11:20 pm (UTC)


IDEASPAWNAGE. *mumbles to self, mindwhirl* Yes, there's fireblight and yes, that idea too... @.@ mm, and then I could make Nanako useful for once too, yes....

I love you, Sinn-chan.

Will perhaps give a more coherent review once whirling mindy-go-round stops rolling.

Edited at 2008-06-10 11:22 pm (UTC)
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:16 am (UTC)
Awesome. *pokes* What ideas are these? DO SHARE!
(no subject) - iluxia - Jun. 12th, 2008 02:37 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:10 am (UTC)

That was alarmingly creepy. I also don't really like the idea that it was Karupin, since he's such a cute cat. But I don't really get why Nnako was killed, or why Nanjiroh was being creepy weird if it was Karupin.
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
Oh, Nanjiroh wasn't blameless. All it takes is for Karupin to get underfoot, and a little shove, and...

*takes off creepy hat. I've been wearing it too long already*
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:31 am (UTC)
WOOOOOOW. My heart is still pounding and I loved this, it was so extreme and fast and the end I was just waiting oh my God. I was absolutely terrified and so glad Karupin's all right and Tezuka to the rescue EEEEEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeee.

Amazing amazing amazing, I am so in awe of you right now and my brain is still whirring and my heart pounding. WOW.
Jun. 11th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
Terrifying, yet sadly I don't think it would be out of the question. :0 (怖! でも、私がこの境地は不可能と思いまへん。可哀想なや。。。)

Karupin's all right! And buchou... thank goodness for Tezuka. XP Ryoma shouldn't have been playing around, that's true too... but he's a boy. :| Wouldn't know any better. (カルピンが大丈夫です! そして部長。。。手塚とようかた。XP 実に、リョーマが
遊びまへんでした、でも。。。彼は少年ですや。:| いい年をしてまへんや。)

Amazing story! Though now I'll probably lie awake all night. (この話はすぎたおもろい! でもいま、私をまんじりともせずね。。。たぶん。)

Hurray for study-buddies. XD

Jun. 11th, 2008 10:06 am (UTC)
Oh wow am I out of practice! o__o (Sorry for any lost sleep by the way.)

There are too many kanji! It's too hard! XP 多すぎる漢字が有って。難しすぎるよ!

I do plan to learn more kanji before I go to Japan, but I prefer to watch anime instead. Help! (You don't have to hurt me though. That would be bad.)
日本に行く前にもっと漢字を習うよていだ。でも、アニメを見るほうが好きだよ。たすけて! (懲りさなくてもいいだ。それは悪いだ。)

(no subject) - yusahana6323 - Jun. 11th, 2008 03:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sinnatious - Jun. 12th, 2008 10:59 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 11th, 2008 10:00 am (UTC)
SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNN!!!! You're a wonderful, wonderful muse, you know that. You even made me forget about my painfully pushy wisdom tooth for a while.

That aside, you really like having Nanjiroh as the antagonist, don't you? XD

*goes off to spam Twinness' messbox since she deems sleep more important than fandom... today*

Jun. 11th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC)
(She'll soon learn the folly of her ways, I'm sure. :P Good luck! We'll be relying on you.)

That's true about Nanjiroh, but I think I've got it out of my system for now. :) ON TO VILLIFYING YUKIMURA!

(Hope your wisdom tooth gets better soon.)
Jun. 14th, 2008 05:47 am (UTC)
the first part was asdfjkl;

and then.

well. you heard this already, but.




(clearly i cannot thank god since it seems you wrote this yourself...?)
Jun. 14th, 2008 05:48 am (UTC)
back to seramyu~~~ v
Jun. 15th, 2008 04:45 am (UTC)
LOL, wow, Echizen's imagination is pretty wild! HAHAHAH! And you seem to always make Ryoma miserable (homeless(Dispossession), confused/misunderstood(Power of Gosspip), torn/heartbroken(Traditional Ninja Romance), etc... only your one-shots don't have him all angsty-ish hahah) LOL, hahah I just noticed the pattern... but in the end... I can't believe that it was all true... I had thought that it wasn't true till the very end and we found that Nanjiroh killed them...

But awww. I'm soo happy Karupin's ok! HAHAH! ^___^ Detective!Buchou is awesome! Maybe next time you should come up with a detective fic next!heehee, you did pretty good at it! Waaiiii! Hope to see more fics again soon!

~~Hikari Manganji~~
Jun. 15th, 2008 07:29 am (UTC)
Ha ha, that's a pretty easy pattern to explain - long stories about characters that are happy all the way through are usually BORING. ;)

Thanks for reading! Incidentally, I am working on a collab with Tezuka as a detective, though it's not really a mystery. It probably won't be posted for ages, though. -___-;;
(no subject) - ichinonaru - Jun. 15th, 2008 09:02 am (UTC) - Expand
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