A Disruption of Routine
By: Dagas Isa
Disclaimer: I don't own Liar Game, and I'm not using this fanfic to pay off an astronomical debt because I'm definitely not making money on it.
Summary: The Liar Game has ended, and Akiyama intends to remain apart from Nao. It takes an unexpected event to force him to confront the reasons why.
Author's Notes: Oh... hmm...I really don't write things like this that often. So I guess I apologize if it's insensitive or if it's too OOC. I got a bit of a plot bunny, and it wouldn't hop out of my head until I got it down. I hope I've shaped it into something just a little emotional and compelling. Any and all feedback is appreciated.
Daily routines flow in an out. Wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, make lunch. Call the one who will never answer. Leave the house at 9:00 for a 10:00 class. Pet the tortoiseshell cat on the street corner. Buy the newspaper and a can of coffee from the newsstand. Take the train to school. Arrive in the literature classroom at 9:45.
"Kanzaki-san!" The greetings are the same, even if the faces change with every class.
"Imai-san!" Nao turns around.
"We're having a goukon on Friday! Law students this time! Law students! We need another girl to tag along."
The goukons are always there. Is that all the girls at this college worry about? Finding a rich boyfriend to turn into a rich husband. Nao should go along with things for once, but, as always, something stops her.
"Oh Kanzaki-san never goes on those kinds of things." Hayashi-san, another classmate says. "She already has a boyfriend?"
"Oh really? She doesn't say anything about him. Not like Morishita-san, who always talks about her boyfriend."
Nao looks away and blushes. "Not my boyfriend exactly..."
"Oh! Then you should come to the goukon! If he can't make up his mind, then you should find someone who will!"
"It's not like that at all!" Nao shakes her head.
The bell rings, and the professor enters the room. All talks of boyfriends and goukons are mercifully quieted.
Nao believes in the inevitable conclusion. She's only waits for it to happen.
Even at a women's school, men on campus are not too unusual. They're the minority of course, but when a man in casual clothing stops and asks for directions to a certain building, no one thinks twice of pointing him in the correct direction.
But then, no one notices the knife hidden in his jacket. Or that beneath the benign expression, a hollow predatory gleam shines in his eyes.
Akiyama goes through his own daily routine, in the days since the Liar Game ended. Wake up from his cell phone. Ignore the call. Get dressed. Have breakfast. Leave the house at 9:00 to be at work by 9:30.
He wouldn't call himself happy, in the six months since the game ended, but perhaps content. Ordinary. When was the last time he experienced an ordinary life? It was nice. Peaceful.
Perhaps a little boring. And more than a bit empty.
But Akiyama doesn't pay attention to those feelings. Working in a warehouse is a physical job, an exhausting job, but it's honest, and it pays for food and clothes and rent in a crappy room. And the phone bill. It's also the type of job where, in the rare case that his mind wanders towards his past experiences...and a certain someone, he can still get by.
When he can force himself to be completely honest, that's all his daily routine is. He tells himself that it's for her own good. The less connections between him and her outside of the game, the less attention anyone will pay to her. He might be heavily suspect for fraud, but even if he goes to jail, he can save her from that same fate. She's safer without him.
Akiyama will believe this for another two hours. And then, by chance, he'll happen to catch the TV news as he eats lunch.
No one could have predicted that the classical literature class would have a visitor. Things happen so fast, and so suddenly that by the time he comes to his senses, he's already attacked a number of the students. He looks at the face of the student he's just attacked, her eyes widened with terror. He doesn't know her, has never seen her in his entire life, but something in that look forces him to toss aside the knife and run off of campus before it's too late to outrun everything.
The press are the first to arrive, followed by the police, and then the ambulance.
This is by no means a daily routine, and this disruption will echo loudly in the lives of all involved. Even those who are not present.
"An as yet unidentified man carrying a knife entered a classroom of the Hattori Women's College at around 10:45 today. He stabbed five of the students, killing one and seriously injuring three before fleeing. Police are on the scene now--"
Akiyama jerks up from his cup of instant noodles. Women's college... he continues watching the news, even as his trembling hands take the phone from his pocket and search for Nao's number.
"Crazy," one of his coworkers says in between bites of a hamburger. "Looks like some girl's ex-boyfriend went berserk."
"Naa...it's probably an escaped criminal," another says. "Probably insane. To do something like that..."
Akiyama wants to shout at them to shut up, just so he can watch the news, but he won't let anyone see how shaken the story makes him. He knows the probability that Nao was there is low. Hattori's Women's college is only the most well-known all-girls college in the city, but it's not necessarily the one Nao attends. If it were the case that Nao went to that school, it wouldn't be impossible to think that she didn't have class right now. And that, even if she were in class, the odds were slim that she had been in that particular class.
The wrong place at the wrong time.
He tells himself not to panic as the phone rings thirteen, fourteen times without an answer. Students are forming a crowd outside the building, gathering, crying, hugging. He doesn't recognize Nao's face among the hundred or so students. Akiyama isn't at all comforted by that. After all, the victims would have been taken to the hospital by now.
A sketch of the suspect is shown on the screen, and already Akiyama goes about memorizing the features. Before he can catch himself, he's planning revenge. If Nao is one of those injured, or if she's the dead one, that man is going to regret his birth.
Akiyama tells himself, this is only frustration that he feels. This preemptive rage rising in him stems from frustration, not fear and certainly not from grief. He's spent more than a year of his life fighting the Liar Game Corporation, and partly, at least, he did it to ensure that Nao did not meet the same fate his mother did. Her safety was part of his definition of victory. He simply does not want to lose that victory because of someone completely unpredictable and unrelated.
"Akiyama!" The supervisor calls into the break room, "Get back to work."
Stone-faced, and hiding the monsters of fear and rage that are eating at his brain, Akiyama does exactly what the supervisor says, without saying a single word. He cancels the call, completely aware that Nao hasn't picked up at all.
He's a mess when he returns to work. At least he doesn't operate the heavy machinery, or else even his own keen mind would cause an accident. His labor is manual, almost entirely physical, and now instead of his thoughts wandering and sorting out puzzles of his own devising, they remain entirely on her.
He goes through the reasons that she absolutely cannot answer the phone, and why her face did not appear in the crowd. The camera simply did not catch her. She skipped school that day and went to the movies instead. She left her phone at home. Akiyama can think of many explanations.
Not a single one of them is true. Akiyama knows this. As long as the uncertainty remains, his mind goes to the worst-case scenario.
"Eh. Akiyama is distracted." One of the men comments.
No. Akiyama's mind is intensely focused, just simply not on the task of moving boxes from one place to another. He thinks of the fastest routes to Nao's home or to the closest hospital to the school, and any number of believable excuses that a single man with a criminal record could use to get out of work early. He thinks of the face of the attacker, and all the methods--legal and illegal--that Akiyama can use to make that man pay for Nao's...
He's not going to think of that. Not yet. Akiyama has to tell himself over and over again, that the statistical chance is too low to worry about until he has proof.
"...probably has girl troubles."
"Heh. Quiet guy like him? Can't imagine he has a girl to be troubled about."
The conversation about him continues. Rumors are the farthest thing from his mind, and Akiyama doesn't even react to any implications about girl troubles. Besides, if there's even one thing Akiyama can put his faith into, it's that Nao, when she's all right and she realizes that he's called her, will call him right back. All her behavior points to that fact.
The sudden ringing of his cell-phone. Brings him into the real world. "I have a call." Akiyama says simply, not as a request but as a statement of intent.
Akiyama sits on a crate, far enough away that his conversation cannot be overheard. "Nao!"
"Why you..." No, not Nao. The voice is a little deeper, and too angry to be Nao's. Fukunaga. "Don't you actually look to see who's calling you?"
"No." Akiyama says darkly. He doesn't want to get into this. "Why are you calling?"
"The news, obviously." Fukunaga says.
Akiyama remains silent.
"The stabbing at the all-girls college." She continues in a monotone. "The school Nao goes to." When Akiyama still refuses to say anything, she screams at him, "Did you see anything about it at all?"
"I did." Akiyama says at last. He knows something is up, for Fukunaga to be calling him. "Was there anything about her there?"
"Are you dense? Why the hell would I call you if there wasn't? I'm not fond of the little idiot, but you know, I thought you'd want to know about this, after going through hell with her. Of course she was involved!"
Akiyama almost loses it then. The cellphone just slips out of his hand, to the cement floor below. "Just tell me. Is she okay?"
Fukunaga's voice rises to a shrill peak. "You moron! Did you even bother watching the whole thing?!"
Akiyama has to hold the phone away from his ear, and even then the words echo in his ears. "Just tell me," he repeats, "did anything happen to her?"
"She's fine." Fukunaga admits at last. "They just had an interview with her. Stupid girl...she couldn't even keep it together, even though so many people were watching her. No poise at all."
Words can't--won't--describe the relief that washes over Akiyama when he hears Fukunaga tell him. "No poise, huh?" He tries to make light of it, "That sounds like Nao."
"Heh." Fukunaga sounds almost thoughtful. "You were worried, ne?"
What can Akiyama say to that? Of course he was worried, but that's only something he needs to know. He liked it better when no one bothered to try and read him, and he could keep everything bottled safely in the privacy of his mind.
"God...for a genius swindler you are stupid. Really...why the hell haven't you gone to her yet? It's so obvious that you're--"
"Do you have anything worth saying?" Akiyama interrupts. He grew to almost like Fukunaga during the game, but still some people were best dealt with in small doses.
"Would you just admit it? It's pathetic seeing someone as smart as you in denial--"
Akiyama hangs up before Fukunaga can force him to confront any uncomfortable truths. The real reason he's avoided Nao since the end of the Liar Game.. almost half a year ago. He remembers all too well the effect she can have on him, how she shakes him up and calms him down, how he knew her so well... and how she could still surprise him. He remembers how wonderfully uncomfortable he felt around her even as she became the one person he could almost trust, and why, in the end, he chose to turn his back to her.
No matter what he hears from another person. Akiyama won't truly be at peace until he can see her, touch her, make absolutely sure for himself her realness. When framed like that, Akiyama has one truth from today's broken routine that he has to face.
Fukunaga's question was the right one. Why hasn't he gone to her yet?
There is no answer Akiyama's mind can fathom in this sudden clarity. All he can do is wonder how it took so long to figure it out.
"Akiyama, you in a daze?" A crew member calls out, the same one who was speculating earlier about 'girl troubles'.
"No." His mind is made up, and he keeps his poker-face on. Only one person needs to know, and she's not here right now.
When Akiyama knocks on the door of her apartment, nobody answers. But he does hear the shuffling around inside, and all the patience and self-control he's summoned up all day has it's limits.
"Nao! Open up! I know you're home!"
The door opens, not enough to invite Akiyama in, but wide enough to show a pale and shaken Nao. Physically, she might be fine, but Akiyama can only imagine the mental wound that witnessing an act of violence would have on Nao. He's caught between grabbing her and shaking her and grabbing her and embracing her.
"Akiyama-san..." her voice dies away into nothing. Where was that spirit, that toughness that she had grown into? "What are you doing here?"
"What am I doing here? After the news today, and not returning my call?!" Akiyama isn't in control of himself, and he's aware of it, like a distant fact he can't quite remember. "Wouldn't anyone do the same thing?"
Nao opens the door wider, and stands aside. "So...you saw the news? That's why you're here. Come in. I'll make some tea."
Not quite, but close enough. Akiyama nods, and walks inside, searching for something strange. Call it an instinct, but Nao is hiding something. Something, simply, is not adding up. Perhaps its the way that she barely uses her left arm, even as she puts water on to boil, or that she's shaking in a way that speaks of more than mental injury. Perhaps it's that in Nao's neatly kept apartment, a dress lays crumpled on her bed. He vaguely recognizes it. She wore it during a game, Akiyama is almost positive of that.
No, that's not the importance of it. One sleeve, the left one, trails away, ripped and stained.
Nao sees where he looks, and hurries over to take the dress. "I guess it got damaged today." She forces the smile. "I guess I was going to take it apart and see if I could make it into something else..."
Akiyama sees the attempted distraction, and what she tried to hide. "You got hurt, didn't you?" He accuses, as thought it was her fault. "You were one of the ones attacked. Why didn't you call me!"
She keeps her eyes downcast, and says something too soft for Akiyama to hear.
As Nao prepares the cups of tea, she replies, loud enough for him to hear. "I don't know. Between the police..and the news...and the hospital...I wasn't thinking about calls."
Akiyama remembered that habit she had, of apologizing and yet somehow saying something in that apology that could make him confront his own unreasonableness.
"I'm sorry I worried you." Nao continues as she pours the water into tea cups. "I was lucky. Morishita-san and the others were hurt a lot more...they didn't get me too deeply, I just needed a few stitches."
Akiyama doesn't accept that answer. For one, he does not believe in luck. Only the two cups filled with near-boiling hot liquid that she's holding in both prevent him from touching her. "The attacker--he was Morishita-san's boyfriend--well, her ex-boyfriend. I don't think he wanted to kill anyone, he just snapped. After he attacked Morishita-san, he just went crazy. I was...I was the last one he attacked, and I guess he woke up then, because he only slashed me once on the arm before he stopped and ran away. I was lucky."
That word again. He recognizes that she isn't trying to just convince him, she's trying to convince herself as well. The things Akiyama believes in: preparation, knowledge, and logic could not have saved Nao from that situation any more than luck could have. Akiyama accepts the cup of green tea that she hands to him, even though he doesn't care for the beverage himself. He drinks anyway, just to share the experience with her. Words twist and knot up inside of him, begging to be said, but refusing to come out in anything resembling a coherent manner.
"We both were." Akiyama says, untangling this inelegant mess within him. "I realized something this afternoon. Do you know what it is?"
"What?" Nao looks genuinely curious, still pale, still afraid, but distracted now.
He rewards her with the truth. "I realized that if you had died, I would have destroyed the person who killed you. I would have rotted away in prison, and it wouldn't have meant anything to me because you wouldn't be out there waiting for me. Even now...I want to hurt him for what he did to you."
He doesn't let her answer. The weight that presses on him demands to be released. "I thought that once you were safe, that would be enough for me. If you were alive, and debt-free, and out of prison, I would be satisfied with the results. I think today made me realize my miscalculation."
Nao takes a drink of her tea. "A miscalculation."
The words he wants to say come closer to his lips, but they still haven't arrived yet. He puts his arm around her shoulder, the right one, so he's not touching her wound. Touch is good, comforting. It connects them. It can express what mere words will not. Nao looks up at him, a little shocked "Yeah. One little miscalculation."
Nao curls into his embrace. "A miscalculation..." she muses. She holds her chin in her right hand in an exaggerated posture. "Nope. Akiyama-san rarely makes a mistake, and even when you do...it's not that you made a mistake...it's that you look away, or you don't pay attention. But if you says it's a miscalculation... then hmm...I'd have to believe you."
Damn if Nao isn't perceptive in her own way. She's right of course. He can call it a miscalculation on his part, but really, it's willful ignorance. "When I helped you, I thought, it would only be for a month. Then, I thought, if I got you through the game and brought down the Liar Game, I could make up for some of the sins in my past. I counted on that. What I didn't expect...." He takes a deep breath. "I didn't expect that I would fall in love."
He shakes his head. "I pushed aside that feeling. The most important thing was the situation we faced. I couldn't care about you too much, and in the end, I thought I could leave you behind and start things anew. That was my mistake."
She gazes up at him, her expression strange and unreadable, and then that single, puzzling look splits into a smile. Radiant. Her arm wraps around his back.
"I have a confession too," Nao says at last, "I knew Akiyama-san would try and contact me, eventually."
"Akiyama-san made a promise to me. One of the first ones you ever made to me, do you remember what it was?"
Akiyama has promised Nao so many things, and he's even managed to keep most of them. Yet, the first one? He remembers how he was when he first met Nao. Can a promise that he never meant to keep really apply? "I made a lot of promises to you."
"You promised that you would hear me out," Nao said, "I think, because I had something important to say to you, that you would listen to me eventually. And today, when that Morishita-san's ex came in and started stabbing people. I was so scared that I was going to die, but I had to live, because if I didn't, then you'd never hear that I love you."
"Nao..." he's floored by her confession. "Don't cry." He says at last, but he moves to stroke her hair with his other hand. "It won't do anything to make today better."
She nods against his chest. "You're right. I can't think of anything that could make it any better. So...does this mean we're a couple?"
"What do you think?" He smiles down at her.
Her answer is immediate. "Yes."
"Good." He presses her closer to him.
The next morning, their routine changes drastically. Some of these changes...working around the awkwardness of a sleeping arrangement in a small room, tending to Nao's wound, Akiyama's waking up earlier to get to work on time after getting clothes from his own room, and Nao's need to build up courage just to leave the house will be temporary.
Other changes will become habits, however. Nao abandons "Akiyama-san" and tries out the less formal Shinichi. And then of course, there's the kiss as they part ways. They agree that certainly can become an everyday event.
Answering the phone too...yeah, Akiyama can see doing that now.