Huh. This chapter ended up being a lot shorter than I'd initially expected . . .
Anyway, two multichapters coming up. :) The Talent Tournament, a comedy, and Reigning Liars, a Liar Game-universe drama/romance/mystery/etc, which may or may not be posted under a separate account. I'm not sure yet, but I'll announce it on my profile eventually. The former is dedicated to Phantom DLizz, who successfully guessed the murderer's identity (and told me about it beforehand)! And the latter is dedicated to mesmerizedbyceruleaneyes, for being awesome in general. I'm not sure when they'll be posted, but that, too, will be announced on my profile, so check it for updates.
Onto the finale! (And thank you all for following the story this far!)
Hiyoshi applauded, and Yuushi got up and took a mock-bow.
It surprised him how casual he managed to be, despite knowing that a serial killer sat two feet away from him. And yet, the more he thought about it, the less afraid he became—this was Hiyoshi, after all. He was his friend first, and a serial killer second.
"Going back to my suspects, I admit, Kikumaru and Inui were acting rather suspicious. Kikumaru in particular. During the interrogations, he'd almost lost his calm. But why? Unless he was the actual murderer (which I rather doubted), he shouldn't have had a reason to act so oddly. He could've been covering for someone, though. Oishi? Impossible; Oishi took no part in the situation at all.
"The only other person I could think of was Fuji. Inui and Kikumaru had both been stunned by the possibility of Fuji's insanity (which, by the way, was a complete lie on Fuji's part). But even before that, Kikumaru had suspected Fuji. He might have seen Fuji interacting with Niou, or seen Fuji and Niou together just before Niou's murder. So that was it. Fuji was the one that Kikumaru had been covering for.
"Fuji, however, was helping me with the case, even if it didn't seem like it. And besides, Fuji's psychology didn't correspond with the method of murder. Still, when I thought about everything he said—it seemed obvious."
"There's no point in telling you who the murderer is," he replied darkly. "You wouldn't arrest him, unless you figured it out for yourself."
"Isn't it sinister, Oshitari, that the murderer could be anyone? Anyone at all? From his best friend, to my best friend . . . to your best friend."
Anybody could have been the murderer—including Gakuto. In fact, he's as likely to be the murderer as you are, seeing how Niou was such a fan of Hyotei."
"He was pointing to somebody close to me, somebody I would confide in. As I'd eventually lost touch with everybody else, the only two people I could have been substantially attached to were you and Gakuto.
"Gakuto, meanwhile, had absolutely no motive. He'd never known Niou, and his odd behavior had already been explained. That left you." Yuushi looked thoughtful. "Ironic, isn't it, that this is the position we find ourselves in as adults? I admit, I'd always imagined I'd be playing professional tennis, or something along those lines."
"You're not scared? At all?" Hiyoshi asked curiously. "I mean, I could whip out a gun at any second and kill you."
Yuushi acknowledged his statement with a nod. "But you wouldn't," he pointed out. "Based on the motives and methods for your previous methods, there's no way you would've done it."
"You killed Shishido out of pity, after all," Yuushi murmured. "And Choutaro's death had showed no signs of a struggle at all. Inui's death had been a last resort. Niou's was the only one you'd premeditated."
Hiyoshi nodded approvingly. "Pretty good, Oshitari-san. How much do you know, exactly?"
"There's not much to explain," Yuushi said. "It's quite simple, really. Your other murders were all to cover up the first murder. The Russian roulette was only meant as a distraction. A silly, but entertaining sentiment. The only person you'd intended to murder was Niou, and even then, while you intended to kill him, you'd doubted whether you'd actually go through with it, hadn't you?
"I had to make a few calls to Momoshiro and Fuji, but a few check-ups confirmed my theory. About everything—your motives, your reasoning.
"Niou liked mind games. And to him, you were a vulnerable target. So he played the game, assuming there would be no consequences.
"But there's no way you would've killed Niou just based on that," Yuushi noted. "You're wiser than that. Under normal conditions, you would've lived with it and moved on. But these aren't normal conditions. It might've been your years at Hyotei, or your years under Atobe, having an older brother who always managed to outshine you, having parents who preferred said older brother to yourself, or maybe just insecurities in general—but insecurities can build up, and cause an inferiority complex. It's unconscious, so you wouldn't have noticed it—you acted the way you thought you'd have normally done. But inferiority complexes force the victim to overcompensate. Overcompensation, in the end, doesn't do anything except put stress on the victim. And that caused cognitive dissonance. Basically, you were overcompensating, and sure that it would help you achieve results—and when you failed to meet your expectations, you tried to assure yourself that you were better off without whatever you were hoping to achieve. That's called adaptive preference formation, in psychology. They're all ego-defense mechanisms, but they can only take you so far.
"Eventually, the inferiority complex developed into schizotypal personality disorder. A victim of schizotypal PD usually ends up being socially isolated, with few intimate relationships. They find emotional relationships difficult, and as such, have distorted views about interpersonal relationships. They hold unconventional, peculiar beliefs—or at least, will find them normal. The disorder usually appears around early adulthood.
"Niou, of course, was naturally perceptive. He'd gotten a degree in psychology, I believe—or maybe somebody pointed you out to him. He liked preying on the emotionally vulnerable, and you were a perfect target. Easy to fool, in his opinion. You, like most people, were probably easily drawn to him, weren't you?"
"Hiyoshi," Niou called. "Are you free?"
It was some surprise, to see the former trickster of RikkaiDai standing outside Hyotei's school gates. And why was he calling out to him?
"Niou-san," Hiyoshi acknowledged. "Yes, I have the remainder of the day free. Can I help you?"
Hiyoshi murmured agreement. "He was kind to me," he said, and his voice had an odd note in it. "We met two years ago; he was waiting for me outside Hyotei High School; he just talked about random things, like school, how well I was doing with tennis, things like that. He was an easy person to talk to. After that, he started seeking me out."
"He probably acted the part of the caring older brother," Yuushi said knowingly. "It was an easy enough role for him to play, with his younger brother and all. To be honest, at least in his subconscious, he might have genuinely wanted to get to know you. Malicious as Niou acted, he wasn't entirely coldhearted. And you didn't find this encounter odd, because of the schizotypal PD, possibly.
"So he kept up the act for two years. And then, in your first year of college, and when he dropped out of school to become an actor, he broke off the relationship entirely. Stopped talking to you, stopped emailing, stopped calling, and cut off all communications. Am I right?
"It's unfortunate; the Niou family has lost both sons. Don't you want to give a speech?" Yuushi murmured to Hiyoshi, who was standing stiffly the entire time, his miserable gaze never leaving Niou's coffin.
Hiyoshi shook his head. "I wasn't that close to him," he whispered back, sounding deceptively casual.
"This, of course, came as a shock. You hadn't guessed that this would happen—and you were unsure of what to do. You were already studying criminology, after all. You read mystery novels and horror novels for fun—and with the schizotypal PD, your sense of logic is slightly warped. But I'm sure there was something that was telling you that what you intended to do was wrong—which caused cognitive dissonance.
"You were unsure, so you stayed in the low. You kept secret about your disorder and you kept secret about your relationship with Niou. As far as the public knew, Niou had never met you. But you were dissatisfied; after all, the moment Niou stopped speaking to you, he began to pursue an acting career—and was wildly successful. You weren't interested in the fame—the schizotypal PD discourages social interaction, to an extent—but he did leave you in the dust. That was what bothered you. Maybe it brought your anger and disappointment to new heights. But you hid it well.
"And then, we received an invitation to Atobe's reunion. It was the perfect opportunity—Niou would be without his bodyguards and without the paparazzi. The entire concept of the reunion would be enough to distract partygoers from any suspicious activity. Nobody would think it odd if you slipped off with someone—after all, everybody here was a former acquaintance of someone else. We were all former rivals; there was nothing odd about wanting to speak to someone else alone. Likewise, this would bring you the attention that you both wanted and feared. But this was perfect! You'd get the attention, and yet nobody would know that it was you. You wouldn't get any credit for it—your identity was unknown. It was like having attention and fame without the consequences."
The party was in full swing.
"Niou-san," Hiyoshi said quietly. "Could I speak to you for a moment?"
The slow smile on Niou's face was predatory. "No problem. It's been a while, hasn't it? Do you want to talk here, or somewhere more private?" He shook a mocking finger at Hiyoshi. "We have secrets to keep, after all."
The reference to their former friendship was infuriating. "There's bound to be an empty room here somewhere. Let's go."
"Maybe you were still doubting yourself at the last minute. You were wondering whether or not to go through with it. But Niou goaded you. He liked to get a rise out of people, and he liked to see their reactions. He wanted to see how far you'd go. But you're not the type of person to do something in a fit of anger. You were livid, yes, but you knew better than to be reckless—you suggested a round of Russian roulette.
"What were the odds? In your opinion, you didn't have much to lose, but there was a cruel, hard satisfaction to be gained from this. That was worth taking the risk for. So you did it, and you won the game."
Hiyoshi interrupted, "It was easy. It was too easy. Have you read that one novel by Agatha Christie—Murder in Mesopotamia?"
"Gakuto probably has," Yuushi commented. "I haven't."
Hiyoshi shrugged. "No matter. But there's a theme in that novel—murder is a habit. It's addicting. Once you get away with it, there's the feeling that you can get away with it again, however many times you need to—and it's such an addicting feeling."
Yuushi nodded. "That's exactly it," he agreed. "And, of course, it boosted your confidence. That's why you didn't hesitate to kill again. I have to admit, I was rather baffled as to why you'd choose to kill Choutaro. He's incredibly nice, after all. He didn't have a single enemy—and you in particular were great friends with him. But then I thought about it a little. Choutaro's death—it hadn't shown any signs of a struggle. It seemed as though he'd died willingly. Because he did. He'd seen you going upstairs with Niou, hadn't he?"
"Ah, Hiyoshi-kun!" Choutaro began to call. Then he noticed a young man with a silver rattail following him, and hesitated. Why were they walking together?
"So Choutaro followed you. I'm not exactly sure why—maybe it was a whim. Do you know?"
"I'm not sure, myself," Hiyoshi admitted.
"But either way, he saw you kill Niou—or at least, he saw you standing in the room with Niou, dead or alive, a gun in his hands. He left before either of you could spot him, but I assume you figured it out, from his odd behavior."
"Actually," Hiyoshi interrupted, "he told me."
Yuushi raised an eyebrow. This, he hadn't guessed. Although, he hadn't exactly guessed that Hiyoshi would explain the situation to him, either. "Oh?" Did it make a difference to the case, or to its outcome?
"He invited me to his house," Hiyoshi explained. "Shishido wasn't home. And then he told me."
Hiyoshi was temporarily speechless. "Why would you tell me that?" he demanded. "What do you expect me to do?"
Choutaro smiled, but it was a difficult smile. "I obviously can't tell Oshitari-san," he pointed out. "He wouldn't convict you. He's too nice to do something like that."
"It wasn't that he was good at reading people, or good with psychology," Hiyoshi murmured, "but that he had faith in people. That's why . . ."
Choutaro seemed miserable, but calmly acceptant. "You're right," he agreed. "There's always a chance I could give you away." He hesitated. "Niou was a good person, you know."
"And there'll probably be more people, in the future. I read once, if you kill once, you'll kill again. Murder is a habit."
"Agatha Christie novel?" Hiyoshi guessed.
"Murder in Mesopotamia," Choutaro admitted. They shared a laugh for a few moments, then fell into a silence. Choutaro sighed. "I'm so sorry it has to be this way," he said sincerely, and Hiyoshi never doubted a word.
"Me too," he replied honestly.
"Be careful, okay? Nothing good can come out of it, but I guess it's too late now, right?" Choutaro smiled at him. "And, please take care of Shishido-san. He's going to be awfully torn up about this." He reached for the gun.
"Russian roulette. You've never lost once, have you? He was very willing to cover for you, because he was your best friend," Yuushi mused. "He's very loyal. And so gentle. He might have known about your mentality beforehand, having been so close to you. Maybe that's why he let you off."
"That was the estimated time of Niou's murder," Yuushi pointed out. Choutaro visibly flinched. "Are you certain you didn't see anything, anybody?"
"Nothing," Choutaro said shakily. "Really, I didn't see anything. I'm sorry."
"You didn't have to fake your reaction to his death; you were crying, and you were upset about it; naturally, after the death of one of your best friends, you'd be distressed. In any case, Shishido tried confessing to the murders," Yuushi added. "Before Choutaro's death, that is. It was in vain, of course, but it was a valiant attempt. He saw Choutaro going up the stairs to look for Niou, and he hadn't thought much of it. He tried following them for a while, but gave up on it. But then Niou's death was announced, and Shishido was convinced that Choutaro was the murderer."
"Who was the person you were looking for? To follow him for a few minutes, you must have at least seen the back of his head."
"I didn't see his face," Shishido insisted. "And the stairs were pretty dark, so I didn't see much. But the back of his head . . ." He paused, and something changed in his voice when he said, "I think it was Niou. He was in a white suit, so it must have been Niou. And his hair had a silver tint."
"Choutaro's hair also had a silver tint; that's why his pupils didn't dilate. He wasn't lying—he was just as fervently trying to convince himself of the truth. When Choutaro died, it ended up being all for naught. And he'd already blamed himself about the inheritance issue; because Choutaro's parents weren't pleased with the idea of their prestigious son associating with a commoner, they threatened to cut off Choutaro's inheritance. Choutaro gave it up without a second thought—he didn't want it, and he didn't need it. Still, Shishido felt guilty—everything Choutaro had given up, and in an instant, he was dead. He couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't work.
"Choutaro had wanted you to take care of Shishido," Yuushi continued. "That's why you killed him, isn't it? He would've ruined himself, living on as he did. He couldn't have escaped it, so you shortened it for him and ended it quickly. Your idea of compassion."
He was sleeping so quietly, his breathing so faint. Hiyoshi could see dozens of letters, all complaints, asking why he hadn't gotten back to them, why he'd canceled all those offers, why he'd refused so many commissions.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"In any case, that was why you killed Choutaro (and later killed Shishido, out of pity). Choutaro's presence was a threat; if only accidentally, he could give you away. But—here's the odd part—at the same time you did want to be given away. Maybe it was your subconscious, or maybe it was just your conscience—but you did want to be discovered. Why else would you have assisted me? I noticed, once I solved the case this morning, that you hadn't done a single thing to deter me from the conclusion. Your assistance has helped me plenty. How am I doing so far?"
Hiyoshi smiled wryly. "Very, very well. Go on."
"But having studied both criminology and psychology, you know that there was no way I would've convicted you. If anything, I would've found some excuse to take the suspicion off you; I wouldn't have betrayed a friend and colleague simply because someone told me to. I wouldn't have believed it myself. So letting Choutaro tell me—or letting the information leak to me in any way at all—wouldn't work. At the same time, you couldn't bring yourself to tell me. So the best way, it seemed, was to help me along a little, and let me figure it out for myself.
"That was also why you let Fuji be—he had the same intentions and the same goal as you, after all. He was helping you, whether he meant to or not. Because Fuji also understood psychology—and he understood that there was no way I'd convict you if I didn't understand it fully. He didn't want me to make a rash decision. Inui, however, hadn't grasped that concept yet—he was going to tell me that you were the murderer, when you intercepted him.
"You were already in the area, after all. Finding him was purely chance—you hadn't realized that he intended to tell me that you were the murderer. When you met up with him, though, you noticed his hostility. Maybe he even confronted you about it."
"It's over, Hiyoshi," Inui said warily. "I'm going to Oshitari."
He was rather perturbed when he got no reaction from the younger man.
"It was easy enough—you were by the river, after all. There weren't many people, and it was a secluded area. There was a brief struggle, but I'm sure you had gloves on—that's why we couldn't find any fingerprints. And then you shot him. It was easy to flee the scene; all you had to do was take another secluded route. You stayed hidden for a while, and waited for a call from your superiors. It was suspicious how you'd gotten to the scene of the crime so quickly—after all, you could have called your superiors and asked for help, but that would've only drawn you more attention.
"You hadn't imagined that Fuji would be there—and you were already aware that Fuji knew you were the murderer. Still, he didn't know why you'd chosen to kill Inui instead of him; his words were addressed to you, not me."
"Inui called out to me, and by the time I got there, the shot had already been fired. He was alone." He took a deep breath and put a hand to his chest. "Wasn't I supposed to be next? Aren't I the one meddling around?"
"In regards to Inui's murder, though—you couldn't really pull off a Russian roulette with someone unwilling, so you resorted to the only means you could. Still, a bullet to the head—you insisted on the symbolism. The Russian roulette, in the end, wasn't anything but a distraction, wasn't it? It seemed justified—using fate to determine the consequences of your actions. You won the Russian roulette, time after time. With Niou, with Choutaro—you'd probably spun the gun with Shishido, too."
Yuushi looked expectantly at Hiyoshi, who smiled knowingly and replied, "So, what should we do?"
"The right thing to do would be to turn you in," Yuushi acknowledged. "It'd be a difficult situation to go through—court, conviction—and the dishonor it'd bring your family. Making this public is the right thing to do, but it's also a terrible thing to do."
"Then what are you going to do?" Hiyoshi inquired. "It's up to you."
Yuushi supposed that bringing his family into the picture was a harsh reminder—honor, after all, meant a great deal. If anything, Hiyoshi had retained an extent of his morals. He sighed; there was no way out. "I could make up a cover for you," he said at last. "Leave it up to fate. You know what I mean."
"I leave it in your reliable hands," Hiyoshi said, only half-sarcastic. His façade was falling apart. He reached into his bag and pulled out a twelve-shot revolver. "You sure you want to do this? You're playing for keeps. No second chances."
This is the first time I'm seeing this, Yuushi thought, as he nodded. It could be the last. What all his other victims saw, thought, and felt—I'm seeing it, too.
The smile on Hiyoshi's face was frightening, bordering on maniacal, and yet Yuushi couldn't bring himself to hate the person who'd killed two of his best friends.
Five deaths. One of them would be the sixth.
The gun pointed to Yuushi, and he reached for it hesitantly, bringing the muzzle to the side of his head. He had to have faith—Hiyoshi had helped him along, had helped him this far. He had to win, if only to return the favor.
"Take a deep breath," Hiyoshi advised, and Yuushi would've been calmed, if Hiyoshi's tone hadn't been mildly sadistic, a touch amused. "Count to three . . . and shoot."
His confidence wavered. What would he do if he lost? Gakuto—he'd promised Gakuto that he'd return before eight.
He didn't want to die.
He couldn't afford to be a coward.
He'd gotten this far.
So he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.
A soft click sounded, and Yuushi breathed a sigh of relief.
He set the pistol down, and Hiyoshi reached for it next.
"Gakuto told me he'd be praying for us both," Yuushi said softly. "I'll be praying for you, too."
"One last game," Hiyoshi said, a wild grin on his face. "One more game of Russian roulette. It's a great way to go, Yuushi, I'll grant you that!" He sounded as if he were restraining laughter, and pointed the muzzle to his head, none too gently. "Four games of Russian roulette, and I've yet to lose a single one. Are you afraid, Oshitari?"
Are you? Yuushi wanted to ask. "It wasn't your fault. You weren't sane—you'll be forgiven. And at Hyotei, at the police force, on the tennis team . . . we were all so proud of you."
"We're playing for keeps," Hiyoshi repeated. "No second chances. It's just as well."
"Your family won't be dishonored," Yuushi continued. "I'll find a way to pin the blame on someone else—someone anonymous, nonexistent. You'll die a hero."
"What makes you so sure you'll win?"
"I wish I'd gotten to know you sooner. You were an invaluable help."
"I'm going to miss you," Yuushi whispered.
The gun swung back, and Hiyoshi's lips swung upward into a smile.
The bang seemed muted. Yuushi could feel his eyes widening, tearing, and he brought a hand to his lips. "Goodbye."
Scientifically speaking, there was no way Hiyoshi could've said anything—he would've died instantly. But Yuushi was certain, absolutely certain, that he'd heard a brief, quiet "thank you."
It was easy enough to cover for Hiyoshi's death.
"We got a confession from the murderer," Yuushi said flatly. "But Hiyoshi and the murderer—unnamed—shot simultaneously. The murderer was trying to escape, and when Hiyoshi shot, the murderer's body fell into the river, along with the gun."
So Hiyoshi died a hero. His family was honored by the city, and likewise, they mourned for Hiyoshi's martyred death.
If only they knew, Yuushi mused. They'd feel much, much more guilty.
Yuushi tossed the gun as far into the Tokyo Bay as possible. It was the end, after all—erasing all the evidence. It was finally over.
He returned home around seven, annoyed with the reporters and the paperwork. There'd probably be more to deal with tomorrow, but for the moment, he didn't want to think about it. Gakuto had waited for him at home the entire day, and when Yuushi opened the door, he found the redhead sitting on the sofa, still watching the same show he'd been that morning, a bowl of popcorn by his side. Vibrant, alive.
With something akin to relief, Yuushi stumbled through the doorway, and into the house. Gakuto tilted his head to look up at Yuushi, who gave a wan smile. "I saw the news report," Gakuto said. "You covered for Hiyoshi pretty nicely. Are you sure they won't suspect anything?"
"How did you know?" Yuushi sat down next to him. "That he was the murderer, I mean."
Gakuto shrugged. "He told me, kind of."
". . . oh?"
"He told me to work it out with you," Gakuto replied. "He told me he wouldn't be able to help us anymore after this whole thing was over. He said this was going to be his last tribute." His voice cracked. "A final gift to his senpai-tachi. It wasn't too hard to figure it out, after that."
Hiyoshi shook his head knowingly. "It's okay," he said. "It's a present. For my senpai-tachi."
Hiyoshi had told Yuushi that, too, hadn't he?
Yuushi took a shaky breath and pulled Gakuto closer. "Gaku."
A last gift for his seniors.
"I love you," he murmured.
Gakuto's expression softened. He, who hated fancy expressions, purple prose, and frequent displays of affection, said, "Love you, too." He pressed himself to Yuushi, who broke into a soft smile and pulled him as close as he could.
Let it be said that I was this close to making this whole thing a dream sequence, or writing an epilogue (and a sequel, maybe) in which Yuushi sees Niou alive and walking, and realizes that Hiyoshi died for nothing, or something like that. "Stationary Roulette," anyone? ;) But I'm not masochistic—I'm ending it here, haha.
It's over! Sigh; well, it was fun while it lasted. Kudos to anyone who figured out the entire plot, and do look forward to the two stories I mentioned in the first author's note—see you soon!