Hello there. It's been a while since I wrote anything for this fandom, and I don't know where the sudden urge to write something new came from. But come it did, hence this piece here. It's also been a while since I posted anything on , so please do excuse any rustiness that might have seeped into this.
Having said that, on with the story.
Disclaimer: It all belongs to Amano Akira. I do occasionally dream that I own them all, but…that's about as far as it goes—dreaming.
Chapter One: Introductions and Day One
It was a dreary, overcast morning when that dreaded day of the week dawned. The quaint, homely neighbourhood was almost eerily quiet, as though its inhabitants were affected by the lethargy and unvoiced demand for quiet that the weather brought with it—
"Suzuki Kaeri, if you don't get out of bed right now, there won't be any breakfast left for you!"
—though said lethargic peace and quiet was broken by the yell that pierced the still air of the top floor of the modest, four storey apartment complex. When it was followed by the crashing and banging of various kitchen implements—all of it done on purpose—it turned out to be quite a significant amount of noise. So much so, that it was a wonder the neighbours weren't alarmed (or at the very least, annoyed).
The ruckus was paused, only to resume again in the form of a fist pounding against the solid wood of a closed room door. "Come on Kaeri! You're going to get late! And I need to know that you'll be informed enough to handle things when I'm away." The pounding on the door wouldn't stop, "My transport will be arriving in twenty two minutes, and I told you this before you went to sleep last night." If anything, the pounding increased, "Kaeri, please, I need to—"
The door was swung open, making the dark haired man stop in mid-sentence, his clenched fist hanging stupidly in the air for a moment before he lowered it. "Finally," he muttered, as he cast an eye over the rumpled, oversized t shirt and shorts that were supposed to pass off as pyjamas. "Do you know how—"
"—early it is, Ryu-nii?" Yawning into the hand she only just managed to slap over her mouth, Kaeri ran her free hand through her mussed black hair.
"Early? You were supposed to be awake an hour ago, Kaeri," reminded Suzuki Ryu, finding it hard to keep the stern expression on his face as he continued to gaze upon his sister's sleepily confused face.
"Why? It's my morning off, Ryu-nii. You should know by now that I like to sleep in for at least three more hours today."
"...Have you not listened to a word I have been telling you?"
Giving up with a heavy sigh, the taller of the two raised a hand to swat Kaeri's hand off her hair, patting the short strands down in an attempt at making it decent.
"I'm beginning to rethink my decision of leaving you alone with the kids for three weeks," he grumbled, "Yes, Kaeri, I said three weeks. I'm going away for work, remember? And don't look at me like that, I told you about this a month ago and even as recently as last night. If you had listened to me better, you might have remembered."
Now fully awake, Kaeri stared at her brother with wide eyes.
"But—but you said you're leaving in a month," she protested, "that's what you said when you first mentioned it."
"Yes, I did."
"In March, you said."
"What month do you think we're in at the moment?"
"Oh no, don't even try and make me look like the idiot here. It's not March. It can't be March. Not yet. I have three assignments to complete in March, two of the being three thousand word research papers, and I haven't even started them yet, much less thought about handing them in!" Moving away from the door, the nineteen year old hurried further into her room, stumbling over to her desk and grabbing the compact calendar propped up against the wall behind a stack of books, "You probably have your months wro—"
When she trailed off and bothered to offer no explanation, Ryu sighed.
"I take it this means you're doomed where your assignments are concerned?" he queried over the sound of her surprised wail, "Really, Kaeri, you need to give up on traditional calendars. You always forget to flip the page for the next month—though how you manage that is quite beyond me."
"Great. Aikawa-sensei is going to have a field day with me," grumbled the dark haired young woman, before she spun around to face him, "Didn't you say that you need to leave in...twenty two minutes?"
"Ah, now she remembers." Ryu rolled his eyes at the look she sent him, "Yes, I do—and that's seventeen minutes now, actually."
"Are all awake and washed and dressed."
"Do I have to make their lunches?"
"Since food poisoning is inevitable at some point during the next three weeks, I would like to at least provide them with a decent lunch for today."
"It's a Thursday, of course they have school!"
"I sincerely hope that you don't plan on using that language around them while I'm away."
"Of course not, though I must remind you, you're leaving them with me at your own risk."
"Brilliant, that makes me feel so much better, thank you."
"Is there anything with the school schedules that I need to know about? Any activities or events that I need to get involved in?"
"Not as of yet. I suppose I should warn you that their school gives a week's notice where events or activities that involve family are concerned...so I can't completely rule out your having to go and get involved."
"You're sure you can't take them with you?"
Ryu stared hard at her, his brown eyes narrowed, "Okay, okay, you can't. No need to look at me like that." There was a moment's silence in the room as the two siblings stared at each other.
"Are you sure you can take care of this?" asked Ryu, breaking the strange atmosphere with his query, "It's completely alright if you can't. Even though it's a bit last minute, I'm sure I could find a babysitter somewhere—"
"—What, they grow on trees, do they? To find one and get them here in under ten minutes?"
"I'm serious Kaeri. If you think it's going to be too challenging, all you need to do is tell me. I won't hold it against you or condemn you for it, you know I won't. A babysitter will be completely fine if it has to come down to that."
"And you plan on paying this babysitter with what money, exactly?" Receiving no answer, she smiled in triumph, "Don't do this now Ryu-nii. Really, don't. I'll be fine. The kids will be fine. You'll be fine—heck, everything will be fine. Trust me."
"Of course I trust you," started Ryu, sounding offended as Kaeri laughed at him, "You're sure?"
"If you ask me that one more time, I'm going to tell them that they're allowed to miss school for three weeks."
"Then I'm going to have to give you three weeks' notice to find yourself some other accommodation."
"No need to be so cruel, I was only joking!"
Shaking her head, Kaeri moved forward, grabbing her brother by the elbow and pushing him out of her room and down the corridor. "Didn't you say you need to leave soon?" she asked, as she led him into the kitchen where he had placed his luggage and laptop carrier. Moving over to the fridge, she pulled the door open and surveyed the contents inside it before shutting it and pulling open the door to the freezer above it.
Giving the mound of boxes a quick once-over, she closed the door and turned to look at her brother with her brows raised, "Really, Ryu-nii?" she asked, dryly, "Think I'll kill them or something?"
"You have only tried cooking at four separate times in your life, Kaeri. Might I remind you what happened on all those occasions? Do the words 'hospital' and 'emergency ward' ring any bells?"
"That was a long time ago. I've improved and you know it."
"I—" Raking a hand through his neat dark hair, Ryu allowed yet another sigh to leave his lips, "I...I know. I know that you're grown up now. I know that you can handle this responsibility. I know. But I... Just have the frozen food, will you? It should last you a week, at least. The stuff in the fridge should be eaten up quickly, but the rest can be kept for a while."
Deciding to let it go, Kaeri nodded as she glanced absently around the kitchen while her older companion parroted off a list of procedures she should engage in should anything happen while he was gone. Her eyes landed on the line of framed photos that stood on the ledge of the large windows to her left. Though they were on the other side of the kitchen, she didn't need to be standing in front of them to recognise who and what they were.
Brown eyes softened as they trailed over the photos of two babies, both of them siblings, with light brown hair and the pale, amber eyes that they inherited from their mother.
(Her brother had reached the point in his lecture where he was informing her of where the fire escape was—as if she didn't know that already, what with its large red and white sign)
Looking to the next picture, she smiled at the image of the woman sitting on the bed, holding the aforementioned infants to her. Long blonde hair and almost amber eyes were enough to give away her foreign roots.
Sophia, she thought fondly, staring into the slightly blurred face of her sister in law. She had never met anyone from Sophia's family, both before and after her death, which, given the fond way she had spoken of her younger cousin, was rather odd. If her cousin had been as close as a brother to her, wouldn't he have wanted to play a role in the lives of her children? She was sure that the twins would have loved to know about their mother's family too...
Ah well, there's no point thinking about that now, she thought, returning her attention to the photos.
The final picture was the one that her eyes lingered on the longest, for it was the only one that they had of its kind. Everything else had been destroyed in the fire. Whatever was salvageable turned out to be ones of the children, or of Sophia—but there had been only one of the three siblings together.
Kaeri's eyes softened as she took in the three figures with their arms around each other. Standing to the right of the picture was an eighteen year old Ryu—with his at the time spiked hair and funky, ripped clothes; he was clearly still in his rebellious stage at the time it was taken. Next to him, and in the middle of the picture, was her twelve year old self, with the biggest smile on her lips. And standing next to her was a taller young man, taller than even Ryu was right now. He had the same dark hair and brown eyes that she and Ryu had, although his eyes were of a lighter hue of brown than theirs.
"It's hard to believe that it's been seven years already."
Ryu's voice from right next to her caused Kaeri to jump, letting out a badly muffled squeak as she whirled around to glare at him. Her expression sobered, however, when she saw the look on his face; the one that told her where his thoughts were straying to and how that was making him feel.
"Life goes on, I suppose," she murmured, her gaze leaving him to land back on the photo again. "Can you believe that Kei and Aika weren't even born when that picture was taken?" Ryu smiled at that.
"And now they're almost nine years old. Nine." His eyes flicked to the picture next to the one they were staring at, "They look a lot like Sophia, don't they?" Kaeri nodded, recalling her sister in law's lighter colouring that her children had inherited. "I wonder if Onii-san would be horrified to know that you're taking care of his kids for three weeks."
Rolling her eyes, Kaeri punched her brother on the shoulder. Of course he had to return to that topic.
"For the last time, we'll be alright! You should just focus on your work. If you even dare call every four hours or do something equally ridiculous, I will not answer the phone. Just so you know." He sent her a wounded look.
"Every four hours? How bad do you think I am?" As she continued to stare at him, he cleared his throat, "Twice a day? It'll be on the company's tab—I already cleared it with my boss. He understands that you'll be home alone and—" Oh dear lord, he had told his boss about her ineptitude too?
"I'm not going to pick up."
"But it will just be in the morning and in the—"
"...Once a day?"
"In the evening. When I'm free. Time difference might mean that it's at a weird hour though, so—"
"—Why don't you just send me a text, and I'll reply if I'm awake?" He looked like he wanted to argue with her on that, he really did, but he kept his mouth shut, choosing to nod tersely instead. "It's going to be okay, Ryu-nii," assured Kaeri, as convincingly as she could while she nudged him in the ribs, "Don't focus too much on your work though. Take the time to enjoy the sights and sounds of Italy."
"I'll be moving around, baka," retorted Ryu, moving towards the bags he had stood by the counter, "I won't have time to sightsee." Kaeri huffed as she tugged at her oversized t shirt.
"That's what Onii-chansaid too, and what happened? Three years later, he was married to the love of his life who, by the way, he met in Italy on a business trip," she reminded him, only belatedly realising her error when she saw her brother stiffen. "Ryu-nii..."
"A wife is the last thing on my mind right now, imouto, so don't expect too much on that front." Mentally cursing herself for bringing it up in the first place, Kaeri simply nodded, watching as her brother glanced at the clock on the wall. "The car should be here any minute now. You have my number, right? And the places I'll be staying—"
"—Yes, yes, and yes. If anything happens, I'll call Oba-chan first and then you. Stop worrying!" Glancing once more at the photos on the window sill, Ryu turned and stalked out of the kitchen, Kaeri on his heels. He stepped into the living room, coming to a halt as he noticed the two children standing expectantly by the couch. Peering over his shoulder, Kaeri watched as their niece and nephew—twins—stared at their uncle with their hands clasped behind they backs.
"Aren't the two of you supposed to be tidying up your room?" asked Ryu, quirking an eyebrow at them.
"We did," started Aika.
"We wanted to say bye," added Kei, and Ryu sighed, leaving his luggage to crouch in front of the two. He was jumped on rather quickly, and although he had to fight to retain his balance, he managed rather successfully and returned their embrace.
"You'll be good for Kaeri-neechan, won't you?" he asked, burying his face first in Aika's flower scented hair and then in Kei's. When he received no answer, he pulled away to look them in the eye, "You'll be good for Kaeri-neechan, won't you?" he repeated, sternly, before they nodded their little heads quickly, still holding onto him as they mumbled into his shirt. He wondered idly what their would have said if he knew that his children addressed him and Kaeri as though they were their older siblings. Knowing his older brother, he would have been amused. Particularly since the twins knew that the four of them did not share the same parents, just as they knew that both Kaeri and himself were their father's siblings.
Perhaps it was strange, and more than a little messed up, to have their niece and nephew refer to them as siblings, but...it hadn't been something at the forefront of anyone's mind after the events of that day, seven years ago. Besides, it was their aunt who had had looked after the twins in the years following the tragedy—and she had told him that she thought that being called 'Ryu-niichan' and 'Kaeri-neechan' was cute, and that a twelve year old child probably wouldn't appreciate being called an aunt (which, he supposed, was sort of true, since he had been wary of being addressed as 'uncle' whenever the twins started speaking—and he had been twenty years old at the time)
But maybe that was a mistake on our part, he mused, pulling away from the twins so that he could look them in the eye, maybe they would be better behaved for Kaeri if they had grown up associating her with the title of 'aunt'. Although the children were perfectly behaved with him—well, as perfectly behaved as children could be—he knew that the same could not be said for his sister. He did not doubt their love for her, for they truly did love her, but... she was the one who was more susceptible to their quivering, tear-filled 'puppy eyes' and other variations of it, just as she was the one who had trouble staying firm when she was reprimanding them.
Huh, I guess it wouldn't have mattered what they called her, he thought, amused, She'd still be wrapped around their little fingers, aunt or not.
"Okay, okay, as heart warming as this is, Ryu-nii needs to get going," called Kaeri from behind them. Ryu sighed as he caught the pouts the twins sent her over his shoulder, and he gave them a stern look.
"I want the two of you to behave, alright? Kaeri-neechan has a lot of work to do, and you need to look after her just as much as she looks after you." Their eyes widened at the comment, before Kei's head tilted to the side.
"But Kaeri-neechan is a...grownup," he pointed out, causing Ryu to nod.
"And sometimes, even grownups need to be looked after." He leaned forward to whisper conspiratorially, "Between you and me, she needs a lot of looking after." He grinned as he heard the snort from behind him, before he pressed a kiss onto each of the twins' heads. Rising to his feet and brushing the knees of his pressed black slacks, he smiled at Aika, who was tugging onto his trouser leg, "I'll be back before you know it, Aika-chan," he said, patting her head before he moved back to his luggage.
It was a quiet group that made its way to the front door, and Kaeri sighed inwardly as she thought of how best to cheer up a pair of nine year olds, who clearly didn't want to see her brother leave. Stepping into the corridor outside, Ryu glanced back at his sister, his mouth opened, when she cut him off.
"I'll take very good care of them—"
"—and we'll take good care of Kaeri-neechan—"
"—so don't worry, Ryu-niichan!"
Kaeri blinked down at the twins, before nodding.
"Er, yeah, don't worry, Ryu-nii," she mumbled, before she was pulled into a one armed embrace and smothered by her brother's rather nice-smelling shirt. "I'll miss you too, you big oaf, but if you smother me to death right now, I'll come back as a ghost and haunt you for the rest of your life."
She received a swat to the back of her head for that one, and supposed she might have deserved it. Shaking her head, she gave her brother a light shove backwards, "Would you just go already? You're going to miss your flight if you delay for any longer."
"You'll call Oba-chan if something goes wrong?" asked Ryu, one last time, and Kaeri refrained from rolling her eyes at him again.
"For the millionth time, yes, I will."
"And if someone gets ill—"
"—I know where to go."
"And—" he stopped with a light laugh, "Sorry. I know you'll be fine, and that you'll take good care of them. I just..." Kaeri couldn't help but smile as he trailed off, shrugging in that awkward manner that he had had even as a teenager. Ryu-nii had always been the one that let his actions speak louder than his words. Onii-chan, on the other hand, had been the opposite.
"I know. You're just a big worrywart," she said with a grin. "Take care of yourself and don't do anything I wouldn't do," she added, raising her eyebrows suggestively and earning a snort for her efforts.
With a last farewell, the dark haired young man turned on his heel, dragging his compact suitcase behind him as he moved towards the stairs that would take him downstairs. Kaeri moved out into the corridor as he disappeared from their sight, making her way towards the waist high wall over which she could look down onto the street below. Sure enough, there was a car waiting patiently for her brother, and it didn't take him long to reach it. She could feel Aika and Kei move until they were standing with her, but even when they were standing on their toes, they couldn't see much over the wall (which made Kaeri smile, because it was quite cute to see them trying to look over and—whoa, okay, not so cute when they stumbled around in an attempt to peer over the wall).
Glancing back down, she saw her brother glance up over his shoulder as he was about to step into the car, and she waved at him, asking the twins to at least hold their arms up in the air and wave too. She couldn't see his face clearly, but she supposed that Ru-nii was amused as he waved back before stepping into the car and slamming the door shut behind him.
The remaining members of the Suzuki family stood where they were as a strange silence descended upon them. It would certainly be strange to not see her brother for three weeks. Especially for Kei and Aika, who were glancing at the top of the wall rather despondently.
Okay Kaeri, time to begin operation cheer up the kids.
"Come on, let's go back inside and have breakfast," she said, clapping her hands together and injecting a cheerful note in her voice.
"We had breakfast."
"Ryu-niichan made us breakfast half an hour ago."
"...Okay, then let's get you dressed and ready for—" She stopped at their pointed looks, and it took her a moment to realise they were dressed in their blue and white school uniforms already, "Right. Uh, in that case, let's...let's..."
"We'll go inside so that you can get dressed, Kaeri-neechan," said Aika.
"And have breakfast before you take us to school," added Kei, and the two looked at each other before turning around and heading back inside. Kaeri sighed as she stared after them. She was going to have to get better at this. The last year that she had spent in Tokyo—completing her first year of university there—had created quite a bit of distance between her and the twins, it seemed.
"You're going to get late, Kaeri-neechan."
"And then we'll be late for school."
"Ryu-niichan won't like that."
"Sensei will punish us for being late too."
"We've never been late before."
Oba-chan, I might be calling you sooner than I thought, she thought with an inward groan, as she headed inside to where the twins were standing expectantly. These next three weeks are definitely going to be interesting, she mused as she shut the front door behind her, only to be reprimanded for not locking it behind her.
If only she knew how right she was.
If only she knew what the following weeks had in store for them all.
Meanwhile, in Italy:
The tall, bespectacled man stared at the two men standing across the kitchen, quirking a brow at the rather peculiar expressions on their faces. Alonso and Gilberto weren't usually known for their mischief. Rather, they were two very skilled members of the Family's intelligence network, much to everyone's surprise given their relatively young age. The connections they had, that is to say their sources, were many in number, and varied greatly.
"Is something the matter, boys?" he asked, turning back to the kettle that had just finished boiling. Picking it up, he poured some of the water into the plain teacup that he had already placed two teabags in (they needed to stock up on tea, and he made a mental note to inform the head housekeeper of this later), before adding in two spoons of sugar and a dash of milk from the carton he had pulled out earlier.
He turned around—though he continued to stir his tea—when he received no answer, and it was the tensed shoulders and lowered gazes of the two younger men that told him that something was wrong. "What happened? Is someone hurt?" His eyes narrowed behind their black glasses, "It's not the Di Giorgio mission, is it? Boss will never forgive himself if that foolish Alberto were to get himself killed even after he almost begged him to stay out of this one and recover his health."
The brown haired men shook their heads.
"The last we heard from Alberto, they were engaged in surveillance," reassured Gilberto, "The Di Giorgio seem to have called for a full meeting with its members, so he and Luca are trying to find out what it could be about."
Nothing good, I bet, thought the spectacled man.
"Good. But once they get back, do tell Alberto to come and see me. It appears that we need to have the talk about recklessness again." Gilberto nodded, though he looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Alright, boys, what is it then?" He placed the teaspoon he had been using in the sink, "Sometime today would be of great assistance, since I'm sure the boss would appreciate some help with the paperwork."
He watched as they exchanged a quick glance, and was about to urge them to speak up once more, when Alonso shuffled forward.
"We think we might have found something that you would want to know about," he said, rather cryptically.
"And what would that be?" asked the bespectacled man, leaning against the kitchen counter and taking a tentative sip of his tea (hmm, it needs more milk...)
The two younger men exchanged another quick glance while he set about adding more milk to his tea.
"It's about Signorina Bartelli." He stiffened as he placed the carton of milk back down and reached for the cup of tea again.
"We think...we think we know where she might have gone," added Gilberto, and both he and Alonso found themselves looking at their older companion when they heard the dull thud, followed by a shrill clatter as the freshly brewed cup of tea fell from the dark haired man's hand, hitting first the clean kitchen counter, before rolling off an smashing onto the ground in an explosion of tea and white shards.
The two younger men stood where they were, not quite knowing what to do, until their companion turned around. His face had paled only very slightly, and, other than that, there was no visible sign of whatever he was feeling at the moment.
If they ignored the broken teacup, that was.
"What did you say?"
Gilberto and Alonso exchanged another brief look, before turning their attention back towards their senior.
"We think we may know where Signorina Bartelli went when she disappeared thirteen years ago," murmured Alonso, his voice subdued. "We don't know the exact address, but we were able to narrow it down to a general area. Finding out anything more will take some more time, but...but we weren't sure if we should look into the matter further without informing you of it first."
"We may not have been around when Signorina Bartelli was here, but from what we have heard from Bono and Ivan, she was someone who was important to the Boss, and to the previous boss and to Signora Cavallone. We didn't want to—to stir anything up after all these years, so we were—"
"—We thought we'd tell you what we know and then ask you how we should proceed," finished Alfonso, looking wary, "We didn't mean to offend you, Romario, we just thought—" Romario held his hand up, palm facing outward, and quickly silenced the stammering pair.
"Alright," he said, his voice eerily calm, "Alright, calm down Alfonso, Gilberto." He fixed them with a stern glance, "I want you to start from the beginning and tell me what you think you have found. From the beginning."
Exchanging slightly worried glances, the pair nodded, looking warily at the older man. "There is no need to be alarmed, I would just like to hear what you have to say," assured Romario as best as he could without giving away the strange mixture of emotions—ones that had long since been locked up—that were beginning to stir in his gut.
He gestured towards the table at the other corner of the kitchen, "Come, let's sit down for this conversation."
Heaven only knew that he'd need to sit down—and the boss—! He did not want to know how he was supposed to approach their goofy, pure-hearted boss with any news on this particular part of his past. Not when he had stopped believing that he would ever see her again.
Then again, he thought, watching as Gilberto and Alberto settled down at the table, once I have heard what they have to say, I can decide whether or not he needs to know about it at all. After all these years without any information on her whereabouts, I doubt we could have found a lead now...
How was that for the first chapter? It was a bit lengthy, I know, and I do apologise for that. I have a habit of uploading long chapters, it seems. I know there was no Dino in this chapter, but fear not, for his time is very near (i.e. next chapter). This chapter was just to set the scene, and introduce various characters, i.e. the Suzuki family.
I am aware that a lot of this is going to be AU, at least where the Cavallone family history is concerned since I am making most of it up, but I hope no one minds it too much at this stage.
Anyway, that's it for this chapter. Hope it was a somewhat enjoyable read, and any comments, tips, corrections—anything at all—will be gratefully and gracefully accepted!
Till next time,