Asumu wasn't paying all that much attention to where he was going, honestly. It had been a long day at school and he really should be doing homework but he needed, well, he needed to get away from everyone for a little while.
He loved his mother and Hibiki and everyone at Tachibana's, but sometimes it got a bit overwhelming. Walking idly down a side street, hands in his pockets and staring at the ground, he didn't notice the teenager at the other end of the street who stopped in his tracks.
He did notice when that teenager was suddenly in front of him and grabbing his shoulder.
"Ageha?" the other boy said, eyes widening in apparent shock.
"What?" Asumu tried to get away, but he couldn't. The other boy was incredibly strong. Could he be a makamou? Asumu groped for his phone, wondering if he could call for help.
"How did you...wait, you're not Ageha."
The hand dropped off Asumu's shoulder. "No." Asumu shook his head and let the phone slip back into his pocket. "I'm—wait, did you say Ageha?"
"Yes. You look just like him, but your hair...and you don't feel right."
Asumu blinked several times. "You don't mean Seto Ageha, of course."
The other boy stepped back, looking suspicious, which was rather rich of him, considering he was the one who'd grabbed Asumu. "How do you know his name?"
"You...know Ageha? I mean, know him now?" Asumu's jaw wanted to drop. "But we thought...we were sure he was dead! I need to call my mother!"
Before he could get the phone out of his pocket, that iron grip was holding his wrist. "We need to talk first. This is...complicated."
Asumu nodded. "I know just the place."
Settled in at a low table at Tachibana's, Asumu relaxed, knowing that if something bad happened, Ibuki was downstairs and Akira was working, so they would help him.
"Um, my name is Adachi Asumu," Asumu said. From the still-suspicious look he was getting, he decided if he didn't start this conversation, it wasn't going to go anywhere. "Ageha was, um, is my cousin. I mean, I don't remember him, because we were both little when he disappeared. But my mom still mentions him sometimes."
The way the other boy was staring was a bit creepy. Frowning, he finally inclined his head slightly. "I'm Nogami Makoto. Ageha is..." He paused.
The silence went on until Asumu couldn't take the suspense. "He's what?"
To Asumu's surprise, Nogami gave a little smile, looking much nicer and friendlier. "I'm not really sure. For the moment, we'll say he's my friend."
Asumu didn't know what that meant, but he nodded.
Nogami's smile dropped away. "But I didn't know he had any other family. This...complicates things."
"I don't understand," Asumu said in a small voice. "All I know is that my mother would do just about anything to see her lost nephew."
Nogami frowned again. "Then why didn't she—" He cut his sentence off as his voice started to rise.
Hinaka appeared beside their table, smile fixed in place. "Asumu? Is there a problem?"
Asumu looked at the boy opposite him, then shook his head. "I don't think so. Thank you."
With a worried glance, she retreated.
"I'm sorry," Nogami said with a bowed head. "If you were young, you were not involved."
"Involved in what?"
Nogami took a breath. "I think I need to call in a higher authority."
Asumu was surprised how little time it took this authority, a man named Kiyoi, to appear in the shop. Could Ageha have been living this close to them?
Kiyoi greeted Nogami then turned to Asumu. His polite smile dropped off his face as he stared in shock.
Asumu had to resist the urge to touch his face to make sure it was still there.
"I...I apologize," Kiyoi said. "The resemblance really is quite startling."
"I wouldn't know," Asumu said. "I never saw a picture of him. At least I don't think so."
Kiyoi sat beside Nogami, sliding elegantly into seiza, making Asumu feel awkward by comparison. "Do you know the circumstances of Ageha's disappearance?"
"My mother said her older sister ran away. They got news that she'd had a baby a year or so before I was born. I think my mother may have seen him a few times. Then she couldn't find them." Asumu looked down at the table. "She didn't exactly say he was dead, but I guess I assumed it." When he looked back up, Kiyoi and Nogami were looking at each other. "What?"
Kiyoi sighed. "Ageha did not have a happy childhood. He came to live with me when he was quite young." He spoke slowly, seeming to pick his words carefully.
It was Kiyoi's turn to look down at the table. "I regret that I never investigated further than his parents. Who were unsuitable to care for a child." His quiet, polite voice turned hard as iron and cold as a snowstorm.
Asumu shivered. "I'm sure my mother didn't know."
"Perhaps." Kiyoi took a careful breath and the terrifying aura melted away. "I should have looked further. And not just for Ageha."
"Kiyoi." Nogami looked upset.
Kiyoi looked at him. "What if you, all of you, would have been happier—"
"No!" Nogami swallowed. "We're happy now. We're a family."
Asumu tried to stay very still and not breathe too loudly. His instincts said he did not want to interfere. Apparently it wasn't just his instincts, because out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ibuki approaching the table. Asumu tried to wave him off without moving more than his hand. Ibuki slowed, looking concerned. Asumu waved harder. Then he looked up, realizing both Kiyoi and Nogami were staring at him. "Er...I didn't want the waiter to disturb you."
Kiyoi and Nogami looked at Ibuki who...really didn't look like a waiter. Their eyebrows went up in near perfect unison and Asumu felt himself flush. Kiyoi smiled. "Perhaps we could save our discussion for later."
Nogami nodded, looking annoyed.
Ibuki stepped into the back rooms, but Asumu knew he wouldn't go far. "Um, can I call my mother now?"
Kiyoi studied him and Asumu did his best not to squirm. "So like our boy and yet so unlike," he said quietly.
Asumu felt something like a mouse being examined by a snake, but a snake that most likely wasn't looking for dinner. He wondered why he didn't just scream for Ibuki's help and duck under the table. And then he thought about the look on his mother's face if he found his long-lost cousin. "What do you mean?" he managed to ask.
"The face, of course. And the hidden strength reminds me of him."
Kiyoi smiled. "You keep your energy much better contained than Ageha, however."
"Neither good nor bad. It just is."
Nogami looked at Kiyoi. "Will he want to see them? Doesn't he think...?"
"I'm not certain he even realized he had other relatives," Kiyoi said after a moment.
"Can I meet him?" Asumu asked. They both stared at him. "I mean, he can't blame me for whatever happened, right?"
There was a long moment of tension and then Kiyoi said, "I think it would be best. You'll come home with us to meet him."
Ibuki and Hinaka cornered Asumu as he started to follow the other two out the door. "What's going on?" Hinaka asked in a loud whisper.
"It's complicated?" Asumu managed with a weak grin.
"There's something..." Ibuki stared at the man and boy standing by the door. "They're, I don't know what they are. Not makamou. But there's something wrong."
Ibuki and Hinaka stared at him.
"I mean, I don't know what it is, but there's something weird. I don't think they're evil, though, and I need to go with them."
Hinaka was about to argue, but Ibuki must have seen something in Asumu's face, because he shook his head at Hinaka. "You'll call if you need us?"
"You'll call later to let us know you're okay," Hinaka said firmly. "And we'll call you. If we don't hear from you and you don't answer your phone, we're going to call Hibiki."
Asumu smiled and nodded. "Then I'm off," he said in a terrible impression of Hibiki.
The other two smiled politely as he went toward the door.
Asumu trotted along beside the other two, sneaking glances at them. Neither seemed interested in speaking, so Asumu did his best not to blurt anything out due to being nervous. He was surprised when Kiyoi hailed a cab. He'd thought they lived nearby from the speed with which Kiyoi arrived, but he must have not been at home when he got the call.
Asumu stared out the window for the 20 minutes it took to arrive in front of a large western-style house, which had the name "Eternal Moon Mansion" on a plaque on the gate. Kiyoi led the way inside.
Asumu did his best not to stare as he was led into a large dining/sitting room. He heard footsteps and a man who didn't resemble him at all bounded into the room. "Kiyoi, you're b—" He came to a screeching halt and stared at Asumu. "Aaand you brought company. That...isn't Ageha." He didn't sound entirely sure of himself.
"No. This appears to be Ageha's cousin, Adachi Asumu. Adachi, this is Tamura Masakazu. He lives here as well."
"Pleased to meet you," Asumu said.
Tamura managed a sketchy bow before staring at Kiyoi. "Cousin?"
"Masakazu, if you could fetch Ageha. He is in his room, correct?"
"Uh, yes. Yes. I'll just...go get him then." The man backed his way out of the room and could be heard dashing up the steps.
Kiyoi gestured for Asumu to sit in a leather chair. "Could I get you some tea?"
Asumu didn't really want any, but... "Thank you, that would be nice." He found he was wringing his hands and he carefully put them on the arms of the chair and tried to relax.
While Kiyoi was working on tea behind him, Nogami sat the couch opposite Asumu. His expression was odd. "Are you going to try and take Ageha away?" he asked, sounding angry.
"Makoto!" Kiyoi spoke sharply from the other side of the room. "Don't be rude to our guest."
Asumu gaped. "I don't...I mean...what?"
Then Kiyoi was there, hand on Nogami's shoulder, looking apologetic. "I apologize. We're a bit on edge over a recent incident."
"My father kidnapped me." Nogami's face went frighteningly blank.
Behind him, Asumu heard footsteps coming into the room. "Baka-kazu's acting weird again, Kiyoi," a cheerful voice said. "What's up?"
Asumu turned, his jaw dropping when he saw the person who'd just entered. Now he could see why the others had stared at him. Ageha's hair was dyed reddish and his face was a tiny bit less round, but otherwise they really looked almost identical.
Ageha took a moment to notice Asumu, but when he did, his expression was equally astonished. "Wh...?"
Asumu stood. "Uh, Ageha? I'm your cousin, Adachi Asumu. I'm really happy to finally meet you."
"Cousin?" Ageha said, his voice almost inaudible.
"Your mother was my mother's older sister. She ran away."
Ageha looked at Nogami and Kiyoi. "Cousin?" He took a few steps forward before suddenly toppling toward the floor. Somehow Nogami was there to catch him.
There was a bustle as Nogami helped him stand and walk toward the sitting area. "Ageha?" he asked.
"I'm okay," Ageha said, a grin starting to spread across his face. "I was just surprised."
"Good. For a minute I was worried that—" He shot a look at Kiyoi and Asumu. "Never mind."
Ageha grinned. "Not that, Makoto. It's nothing like that."
"I'm glad," Kiyoi said from behind Asumu.
With a bound, Ageha jumped to Asumu and hugged him. "Cousin!"
Asumu was shocked at how strong the other boy was. "Ah!" he gasped out.
"Sorry, I was just too excited," Ageha said, letting him go and grinning wider.
Asumu couldn't help smiling back. "I'm happy to meet you. We had no idea..." He trailed off, realizing he didn't quite know what had happened.
Behind them, Kiyoi cleared his throat. "Perhaps we should leave you two alone to get acquainted." It looked like he had to tow Nogami out forcibly.
Ageha sat down and Asumu sat across from him. "I'm sorry to just appear like this," Asumu said, ducking his head. "Nogami thought I was you when he saw me on the street."
"I can see why. We really do look alike."
"Um...are you happy here?" Asumu winced. "I mean, Nogami seemed worried I wanted to take you away and that's not—"
"I'm very happy," Ageha said firmly.
"Oh good." Asumu was relieved he wasn't actually going to have to rescue his cousin. "I live with my mother. She would love to meet you."
Ageha blinked. "I have an aunt," he said. He sounded like he was testing the words for fit. "An aunt and a cousin."
"Well, there are other cousins too, you know. And aunts and uncles."
Ageha stared. "Others?"
"I know you would be welcome. All we really knew was your name, but sometimes I hear someone wish...well, that's why I recognized your name."
Ageha shook his head, but it didn't look like he was saying no, more that he was having trouble processing Asumu's words.
"Um, I go to Jonan High," Asumu said, trying to come up with a lighter topic.
"That's not far from our school. Makoto and my school. Our stupid eldest brother is in college. Although I think he's mostly there for the girls." Ageha rolled his eyes, but he was grinning again.
"You call them brothers."
Ageha's smile faded. "They are. And Kiyoi takes care of us."
"He's like your dad?"
Ageha's grin came back. "More like mom. He's the best cook!"
Asumu couldn't help smiling back. "I'm glad you found a family. My mom will feel the same, I know."
"Uh...what about your dad?" Ageha asked.
"He and my mom are divorced. He has a new family." Asumu shrugged, trying to look casual. "It's my mom and me."
"And your overprotective friends at the sweet shop," Kiyoi said, stepping into the room.
"Huh?" Asumu looked up.
"There are two of them lurking around outside. The, er, waiter you shooed away and a young woman about your age."
With a sigh, Asumu stood. "I'll tell them to go away."
"Mmm." Kiyoi thought for a moment. "Perhaps another day we might invite them in, but if you could assure them we haven't eaten you, I'd appreciate that."
Asumu went to the front door, opened it, and leaned out. "Ibuki! Akira!"
There was a moment of startled silence before they emerged from the bushes on either side of the house. "Um..." Ibuki said, his face slightly red.
"You can tell everyone I'm fine." Asumu turned at the sound of footsteps behind him. Kiyoi looked resigned and Ageha was beaming. "What...?"
Ageha yanked the door out of his hands and bounced onto the porch. "Hi! I'm his cousin! He just came to see me!"
Neither Ibuki nor Akira was given to strong facial expressions, but even they spent a moment in near shock as they looked at Asumu and Ageha together.
"Cousin," Ibuki said faintly. "I'll just go tell the others."
"Thank you for your concern," Asumu said, bowing low.
Akira smiled at him over her shoulder as she and Ibuki went through the gate. For the millionth time, Asumu realized he needed to talk to her about why she was training to be an oni. (Even if he'd absolutely chicken out for the millionth time.)
"Ooooh," Ageha said, throwing an arm around his shoulder. "She's cute."
"What? No!" Asumu flailed. "No. She's not, I mean, she is, but it's not like that."
"Uh-huh." Ageha didn't sound convinced. "I'm gonna love having someone else around to tease."
Asumu blushed and ducked his head.
"I hope you realize that we can't keep him," Kiyoi said with a smile.
"But I can borrow him, right?"
Out of the corner of his eye, Asumu saw Nogami leaning against the staircase railing, arms crossed and frowning. He looked away, but nearly fell over when Ageha let go him to bound over to Nogami.
"Makoto! You brought me a cousin!" Ageha grabbed Nogami and spun him in a circle; Nogami's expression of startlement and dismay was epic. "Thank you, it's the best present ever!"
"I..." Released, Nogami staggered a step, looking at Kiyoi and Asumu. "You're welcome?"
Asumu smiled. It was clear his cousin wasn't lying and he really was very happy here. Tamura jogged down the steps, looking amused at the antics below him.
A ringing cell phone stopped everyone as they patted their pockets, trying to figure out whose it was. The others looked worried when it proved to be Kiyoi's and Asumu stared after him, surprised as he disappeared into a room and shut the door firmly behind him.
"Um," Ageha said, grabbing Asumu's arm. "Maybe it's time for you to go home."
"Are you going to come see my mother?"
"Absolutely. Just, probably not today."
Tamura was staring at the door Kiyoi had gone through and Nogami was visibly anxious as well.
"What's going on?" It took Asumu most of his small store of courage to ask, but he thought Hibiki would be proud of him. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong," Nogami said.
"We just have some things to do tonight." Ageha gave him another hug. "I promise we'll be in touch."
Asumu dug in his heels, metaphorically at least. Literally, Ageha was significantly stronger than he looked and was towing him back toward the door. "Wait. What's going on? If there's a problem, I...well, I know people who can help."
Kiyoi came out of the room, his frown pronounced on his placid face. He opened his mouth then closed it when he saw Asumu still there. "Um..."
"Was it Mister?" Tamura asked.
"Yes. I'm afraid we'll definitely be busy tonight."
As they neared the door, Asumu thought maybe he could get a picture of Ageha to take to his mother. Surely that would make her happy too. So he fumbled once again in his pocket for his phone as Ageha mumbled some apologies and promises to call.
The door opening behind him, Asumu held up his phone in Ageha's face. "Just one picture," he said, snapping it before anyone could react.
There was a long moment of absolute silence as everyone froze.
"Um," Asumu asked hesitantly. "Why do none of you appear in this picture?"
Tamura and Nogami sighed, slumping against each other, while Ageha's mouth opened and closed like a slow-moving fish.
"I suppose you're going to have to come back in," Kiyoi said eventually. "This conversation is definitely not for the front steps."
Everyone looked at him as he fiddled with his glasses. "Really?" Ageha asked.
Kiyoi studied Asumu for a long moment, although what he was looking for or at was debatable. But Asumu hadn't dealt with the oni and the various members of Takeshi for this long for nothing. He was shy, yes, and a bit afraid, but he had nothing to be ashamed of. He licked his lips and met Kiyoi's look as firmly as he could.
"I think if you're going to associate with your cousin, it might be for the best." Kiyoi smiled suddenly. "Also, Mister had some interesting things to say about your friends from the restaurant. I think we both have a lot to talk about."
Now being towed back toward the living room, Asumu blinked in surprise and a little concern. Somehow he suspected his life was about to get a lot more interesting.