Chapter 9

That expression was less than encouraging. In fact, Narihisago wished he was anywhere other than standing in front of Chief Tominaga's desk as the man's nostrils flared with each breath. At his right shoulder Momoki stood with his rumpled and torn jacket hanging awkwardly off his frame, a deep bruise showing through the tear in his once white dress shirt. To his left Shingi hugged himself looking at the floor with bloodshot eyes. Narihisago fared no better, the scent of stale alcohol coming off him and his own attire him the appearance that he had spent the night literally on the barroom floor instead of in lockup alongside everyone else who had swung a fist.

Sure didn't pay to have a badge last night.

"Why," the chief huffed each breath, "were three of my detectives in holding last night?"

For a few heartbeats no one spoke. Scratching his neck, Narihisago sheepishly offered, "We were investigating? Well, Momoki and I were. We just ran into Shingi."

Shingi turned beet red.

"Investigating?" Rolling his fingers, Tominaga lifted an eyebrow. "At a bar?"

"There were some photos on Asato's laptop that showed the bar in question … sir. We thought there might be a chance that it could lead to a contact or a lead."

"Or a brawl."

He held up his hands. "No! Certainly not."

Tominaga wrinkled his nose. "You smell like a barroom floor."

Ducking his head, he muttered, "That's kinda where I ended up when the scuffle broke out."

Momoki gave him a hard stare. "Thanks for the backup."

He shrugged.

"Please tell me you grabbed the napkin with the names." When Narihisago winced, his eyes flared wide. "You left it?"

"When I looked back at the bar it was soaked in alcohol and unreadable. And the guy was pissed about his bar getting trashed I didn't think I could persuade him to write it out again … especially after the uni's had us all surrounded. Didn't seem like the time."

Grabbing his shoulders he shook him. "Do you remember them?"

The weight of that truth pulled his gaze to he floor.

"Shit!"

"Sorry, Momoki. I had more important things to think about in that moment, like not getting nailed by a flying bottle. Maybe if you hadn't been playing sumo wrestler … "

The chief grabbed the sides of his head. "I can't believe this." Slamming a fist on the desk he shouted, "You've embarrassed my division enough! All three of you are dismissed for today. Administrative leave while I deal with the bar owner."

Momoki held out his hands. "But sir, we didn't start anything!"

"You sure as hell didn't help the situation any! Now out!"

Chafed by his thunderous declaration, they turned and slunk out of his office. Out on the department floor, everyone was watching as the trio kept their heads down. Applause broke out. Heat rose to Narihisago's face as he rubbed the back of his neck.

This could have gone a lot better.

~ID~

Rubbing his hair with a towel after his shower, Akihito dodged Muku tearing through the hallway wearing her white and red kitsune mask. "Shhh! No one can see me!" She giggled.

He gave a crooked smile that faded the moment Ayako glared at him from the doorway. "Administrative leave?"

Covering his face with the towel he muttered, "Wrong place, wrong time. It's all a misunderstanding."

She picked up the edge and peeked under it. "And who locked you up in holding all last night?"

He tugged the towel back down to hide the embarrassment.

"Dad! Seriously, you two. You went to follow a lead and got into a fight."

Tugging off the towel he pointed to Funetaro.

He replied from the couch, nursing his bruised side with an ice pack. "I got in the fight, your husband bravely hid under a table."

"Until that table broke under a drunk man, yes."

Ayako's expression thawed, she caressed his cheek. "Awww, poor Aki. Did that hurt?"

He sighed. "I think my pride's more injured from the chief's office and the parade of shame following."

On the couch, Funetaro grumbled, "You weren't in the interrogation room when Dad decided to grill me like an actual perp."

Muku stood behind Akihito hugging his leg and peering through the eye holes of the mask offering him a cheeky grin when he glanced down. "Daddy, no see me!"

That brought a smile to his face. A knock at the door stalled any more discussion. With Muku hanging off his jean shorts, he dragged her toward the door. "Honey, have you seen Muku today? My leg feels so heavy for some reason!" He grinned, opening the door. And the second he looked up, shock replaced it.

Commissioner Momoki removed his hat.

"I uhhh … sir … what are you … you've never … here … my home … "

"Akihito, am I to assume that Funetaro is inside?"

He couldn't say anything, just slid his eyes over to where Funetaro sat on the couch frozen in shock from the voice.

"My apologies for this only being the first time I stopped by your place, Akihito. And I must ask something else." He entered and locked eyes with Ayako and Funetaro. "If we might have some time alone."

Recovering himself a bit, Akihito nodded slowly even as Funetaro's eyes widened. "Hey, uhh, since I have the day off why don't Muku and I go to the park." Grabbing his keys and taking the child's hand, she cheered and pulled back her mask. "I here! Let's go play!"

"Wait!" Funetaro pleaded.

With a single backward glance, Akihito shrugged, closing the door behind him as the excited toddler yanked him out the door. At least he was able to escape this, though he felt sorry for Funetaro.

~ID~

Funetaro shifted, trying to back away as his father awkwardly entered the room gesturing for Ayako to take a seat.

He remained standing, staring down, hands fiddling with his hat.

Taking a seat in the now far too quiet without the antics of a toddler apartment, Ayako took Funetaro's hand. He felt her heartbeat racing through the skin of her sweaty palm. Or was the sweat his? He couldn't tell. Maybe it was both of them.

"I had to look up this place because I honestly wasn't sure where you lived, Ayako." That wasn't the booming voice from last night. This wasn't the confident man he was used to seeing.

Funetaro glanced at Ayako and shrugged a shoulder at the strange sight. She looked equally as perplexed.

"Hear me out." He set his hat on the table. "Tradition. Yes … tradition is everything to the Momoki family name. We have been keepers of the peace since the age of the sword handing down the privilege to each generation. We have been a productive family, or tales filled with the legends of great deeds and bringing changes as the ages turned."

Was he blushing?

"That … that is what I have missed. Tradition should not have been everything. I had two wonderful children … " he glanced up and them swiftly back down, "who are now adults that I know next to nothing about it. And it took a son-in-law's frank words to make me realize that. If it isn't too late," he went down onto his knees and did a full bow of supplication, "I would like to apologize and get to know them."

Funetaro forgot to breathe as he witnessed his prostrate father. His first sound was a squeak. Clearing his throat, he shook his head and started again. "I uhh … sure?"

Getting up off the couch, Ayako went to him, pressed her hands against his shoulders and forced him up. She smiled. "It's about time."

He embraced her in a hug. "I hear you know a lot of lullabies."

She furrowed her brow. "Aki!"

He laughed and turned to Funetaro. "Son … I truly want to know, what did you really want to do with your life?"

His jaw hung, a pressure in his chest. There was no ready answer for that. But … the man had asked. That meant everything.

~ID~

The sun poured down through the trees as Muku darted around the park, the streamer of her red and gold scarf tied around her waist to resemble a tail flowing behind her. Her giggled delight emitted from behind the kitsune's clever mask. Trailing behind, Akihito watched her galavanting as she snuck up on the other adults watching their children in the park. The weather was pleasant enough. He wasn't fond of being taken off duty for the day, but he could think of worse ways to spend it than watching Muku play outside.

Birds sang and insects chirruped to the chorus of children laughing.

A group ran up towards Muku she pulled her mask up and put a finger to lips. "Shhh! You no see me!" Pulling it back down she tip toed around the children.

"Wanna play tag?" One of them asked.

"Kay!"

Just like that the impromptu game began. Akihito sat down on the hillside keeping the knot of children in sight as Muku darted around intent on the game.

A familiar young girl wandered through the park looking down at her untied shoe. She held a stack of fliers in her hands.

"Hey." He waved to her.

When she glanced up at him her eyes brightened. "I know you! The officer, right?"

He nodded. "Yeah." His brow furrowed. "Still no luck with … Haru wasn't it?"

At the name, her nose scrunched up and she sniffled.

Still keeping an eye on Muku as she pulled her mask down and 'vanished' from the other children, Akihito heaved a sigh. The case invaded the back of his mind. "I'm sorry she's still missing. Hopefully she'll turn up soon. Tokyo is a pretty big place. She could be anywhere, even with someone who might be taking care of her and trying to find you. Lost things can take a while to find."

"Do you think she's eating enough? Haru is a picky eater."

"Oh, I'm sure she is." The fib felt better than his fear.

The gaggle of children migrated his way, Muku stalking them with her mask pulled up. "Rawr! And I magic you all away because I am not a human. Poof!" She tugged it down. "I am actually a fox! Kitsune magic!"

The children screamed and laughed in delight, using Akihito as a hiding place. He chuckled, lifting his arms as they crawled around and through.

"Kumiko!" The girl with the fliers looked up at the voice calling from across the park. "Come on, Kumiko, we're going home."

She waved. "Bye Mr. officer!"

Akihito waved as she dashed off.

Muku climbed up his shoulders, mask on waving her fingers and making a crackly noise. "Crrroooooosh! Muku makes you vanish!"

"Me?"

"No, Daddy." She pointed to the giggling children. "Them."

"Ahhh, I was gonna say. Who was going to make dinner tonight if you vanished me?"

She pushed up her mask and blinked. "Momma or Uncle Moki."

"But it's my turn. What do you want?"

Throwing her hands in the air she grinned. "Curry!"

"Curry it is." Provided my apartment is still in one piece.