Rite of Spring

Summary: Nao finds a strangely familiar boy, and she and Akiyama discover a connection in their past that goes much deeper than they originally thought.

Disclaimer: Liar Game is the property of Shinobu Kaitani, who actually does interesting and educational things with it, instead of turning it into a cheesy romance story.

Author's notes: Hmm...a multi-part Liar Game fic that's guaranteed to be finished. Check. Total open flirtation going on between Akiyama and Nao. Check. I guess I could talk about all the various shortcomings, but chances are they'll be apparent upon reading. I'm just happy to have written a nice, long fic. =D

Reviews, comments, and criticisms are welcome, as always.

Day One

It's a beautiful spring day when everything begins. Bright, sunny, the first warm day after a week of cold rains. Nao happens to be walking through town, straight from visiting her father, and pretending to live a completely normal and honest life. One where she doesn't have to be on the lookout for invitations and fake lawyers that come out of nowhere.

The sound of breaks squealing makes Nao turn around. And she swears that the kid standing in the crosswalk, looking all dazed and confused, hadn't been there a second ago. At the sound of the car's horn he wakes up.

Reflexively Nao almost runs into the street, at least trying to save the kid from injury. Almost, and then she realizes that the car has stopped in time, the driver sending blasts from her horn into the air.

"Sorry! Sorry!" The kid yells and runs to the corner, tripping on the curb and landing on his face.

"Are you okay?" Nao asks.

"Yeah, I'm fine." The boy brushes off some bits of dirt and asphalt from his pants.

"You sure? No skinned knees or anything."

The boy shakes his head. "I'm sure I can take care of it. If it's a scrape, then there's nothing I can do anyway until I can get home and find antiseptic and band-aids."

"All right, if you're sure about it." Nao watches the little boy for a little bit, waiting for him to head off somewhere, or for an adult to show up. When after several moments, the boy doesn't make any move. Nao walks off in the direction of her apartment.

He follows her.

"Are you lost?"

"I think so." The boy answers. Up close, Nao can't help but have the strangest feeling that this kid looks very, very familiar. She doesn't have any brothers or sisters, or even cousins that she's aware of.

"What's your name?"

"Shinichi."

The name perhaps is the second sign that something weird is going on. Well, third. The kid seemingly appearing from nowhere and the resemblance to Akiyama should have been the first two hints. "Well, Shin-kun, I'm Kanzaki Nao." Nao says, keeping her thoughts to herself. "I'll definitely make sure you get back to where you belong." Calling him Shinichi, the same first name as Akiyama, seems weird to Nao, as though the name—not exactly uncommon—belongs to Akiyama alone.

Shin bows, although he looks hesitant at the shortening of his name. "Nao-san. Please look after me. We should probably go to the nearest police box first and file a report. I'm not sure what they could do in this situation, but that would be the simple thing to do."

Everything seems to be normal, Nao thinks. Even the name Shinichi is common enough that seeing it on a little boy who could play a younger version of Akiyama in the movie of his life, could just be a coincidence. She stands side by side with him, as she listens to Shin as the police officer takes down the name, address and phone number of the missing boy. It's the full name of the little boy that catches her attention.

Last name, Akiyama. First name, Shinichi. On a little boy who looks exactly like Akiyama, and appears to have the same intelligence and temperament as the one who is so familiar to her.

No, no. Nao thinks. That would be impossible. She shakes her head, as though that would clear it.

"I don't know what I can do." The police officer says. "There's no member of the Akiyama family or anybody who knows of Akiyama Shinichi at that phone number. There's no report of missing children. You can go down to that address, but if I recall, they tore down that apartment building years ago."

"There's nothing else you can do?" Nao asks.

"Tell you what. Give me your phone number and address, and if there's anything that comes up, we'll keep in contact with you. I'm sure you could also contact an orphanage or something if you can't look after him."

Nao stiffens. "That shouldn't be necessary, Mr. Police Officer." She writes down her cell phone number, and her address just in case there's a problem with the telephone when they finally find Shin's parents.

"I'm not an orphan at all." Shin says, as they walk away from the police box. "I have a mother. So don't call the orphanage."

She feels a little bad, that her next instinct—actually her first instinct before common sense (and Shin) told her to go to the police—is to call Akiyama-san and see what kind of advice he could give. He'd probably be able to understand what this little boy is going through, since they're so similar. And even if that's not the case, he's a psychologist, so he probably understands children better than she does anyway.

With that, Nao takes out her cell-phone and succumbs to the horrible desire to ask Akiyama for help in finding a way out of her predicament.

*

When Nao calls Akiyama, he's in the middle of work. Funny how it can be a long week even by Wednesday. Doubly funny how a master's degree in psychology can't making getting along with one's boss and co-workers any easier. So, in his defense, when Nao calls him asking about child psychology and advice of all things—he's not in a receptive frame of mind.

"Nao, psychology has several subfields. An expert in social or criminal psychology may not necessarily know anything child psychology. The two are about as far apart in their concerns and areas of interest as you're likely to find in the field. And a knowledge of concepts in child psychology does not lead to being good with children." This last part, though Akiyama is loath to admit it, applies to him. He spent exactly one session in the child psychology lab, only to have at least half the children he worked with run out of the room screaming.

"Akiyama-san, he's about 10 years old, and he seems really smart...so maybe it doesn't have to be child psychology. You wouldn't even have to be good with children..."

"Sorry. I'm busy right now. If you really need my help for something important, I'll be there for you, but I really can't help you baby-sit."

"I'm not asking you to baby-sit. I just need some suggestions. Please."

"Sorry, Nao." He disconnects, and turns the ringer off, in case she persists.

However, Akiyama almost immediately regrets hanging up on Nao. Not because he wants to be roped into helping her look after a ten-year-old, but because she actually sounded panicked about her . Of course, he can't just call her right back. Tomorrow, he thinks, he'll just happen to be in her neighborhood and decide by chance to check in on her. Make sure that everything between her school, her father, and the Liar Game isn't overwhelming her.

And if she just happens to have problems with a ten-year-old that just happens to require his assistance, then he supposes that's something that can't be helped.

He just hopes that the kid doesn't run away from him screaming.

*

Shin knows something is not quite right with his situation. The cars on the street look totally different. The apartment building, the one that he knew was perfectly upright and standing when he left that morning, is torn down into nothing but a footprint. No one he knew had the type of tiny phone that Nao carried, but everyone here did.

At the police booth, he had taken a glimpse at the report the officer had been obligated to fill out. The month and the day were correct, but the year was eighteen years in the future. He should be old. Probably doing something cool with telescopes or microscopes, maybe going to the U.S. or Switzerland to do research on particle physics.

Shin wonders, if this is really time travel, if he and Nao could find his future self some how. In fact, Shin guesses that it was his future self who brought him to this time anyway to give away the secret of time travel, or at least point him down the right path.

"So what are you going to do, Nao-san?" He says, turning away from the site of their old apartment. It was cold in the winter, and a little damp sometimes, Shin thinks. But it was a nice place.

"I know another person named Akiyama." Nao says, at last. "He might know something about this situation. He seemed like he was in a bad mood today, but I'll try again tomorrow and see if he'll come over."

"Akiyama isn't really a rare last name. So he's probably not related to me."

"No, probably not." Nao agrees out loud, and technically, it's not even a lie.

They return to Nao's little apartment, smaller even than the place he grew up in, but bright and cheerful. Books are everywhere, some novels and manga, but also some college level textbooks. His own homework is...where? Probably wherever he left his backpack before time traveling. At least he can get some studying in before he goes home.

She cooks him dinner, just some rice and soup, but more than his mother usually does.

This is a nice life, Shin thinks, as he drifts off to sleep. Sure he wants to see his mother again, but having someone like Nao to take care of him wouldn't be horrible either.

Pain. Shin dreams of immense pain. The shouting of a woman, the exhausted face of his mother turning to a broken, beaten shadow.

"Mom! Mom!" Shin calls out to the ether. No answer at all. She's gone.

"Shin-kun!" Nao calls out. He knows it's not his mother, because she always uses his full name. Not this Shin-kun that Nao seems to insist on calling him. He's in her cheerful, spotless apartment. There's no pain here, and with Nao around, he's not lonely at all.

He shakes his head. "I think I just had a bad dream. Nao-san. That's all."

"That's good. We'll find your mother soon, I promise."

But in his head, the wheels of Shin's thought process turn. Maybe, he thinks, he doesn't want to go back.