The next evening when the household was awake again, Sugizo and Heath were up looking for their uncle.
“He’s probably in the library working the phone lines. Since we couldn’t find Reita before sunrise, he’s no doubt calling everyone he can think of to have them look out for the boy,” Heath surmised.
“Probably. With Yukihiro and Reita missing now, we’re going to be out searching all night,” Sugizo replied.
“Hopefully, Reita is just holed up somewhere too afraid of Acchan to come home and he’s not in trouble,” the brunette offered. “Yuki is just…I don’t know. I’m not well-acquainted with Morrie-san or Hiro-san, but I feel bad for them,” Heath said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, considering some of what Acchan was telling us about how missing clan members have been done, I couldn’t imagine having a son or grandson missing right now. Speaking of, where the hell is Acchan?” Sugizo asked, the nephews having just looked in the library to no avail.
“Maybe, let’s go see.”
Moving through the house, the two finally reached the sitting room in the newer part of the house and there they finally found their uncle. He was in one of the large recliners, on the phone with his large address book on the table next to him. The two nephews smiled when they saw that he was laid back with Ruki curled up next to him asleep. They waited until he finished his call before speaking.
“Acchan, any news?” Sugizo asked, taking a seat on the couch close by.
Their uncle looked up and just shook his head. “Not a word, but now that it’s dusk we need to go back out again. No word on Yukihiro either, I’m afraid.”
“How’s he doing?” Heath asked, indicating the small blonde attached to his uncle’s side.
“He had a few nightmares last night, so he ended up in bed with me. Poor little pup, he was shaking like a leaf,” Sakurai responded, fondly rubbing the boy’s hair.
“Are you staying here or joining the search?” Sugizo inquired.
“Someone has to stay with Ruki and Aoi, but I really want to get out and help search for Reita and Yuki. Would one of you like to stay here so that I can go?” the older man asked.
“Well sure, we can do that. Which of us do you think the boys would be more comfortable with?” Heath wondered.
“I don’t think it’d matter as long as there’s an adult here. Hey, here’s an idea—ask Hide and Taiji to bring their pups over here and then the both of them can go out and help search,” Sakurai suggested.
Sugizo and Heath exchanged looks.
“Well, I haven’t met Tora and Saga yet, but you know that they most likely won’t be as well behaved as your sons,” Sugizo warned.
“They’ll be fine, I’m sure. We just need to find Reita before anything happens,” Daddy Acchan replied, sounding worried.
Back in their bedroom getting ready for the evening, Sugizo watched Heath putting on his street clothes.
“Is it just me or does Acchan look really good as a dad with a young one?” the auburn-haired man asked, smiling.
“You getting broody? Starting to want one of your own again?” Heath asked.
“I don’t know…I just hate that Acchan never had any biological children of his own. He’s a good dad,” Sugizo replied.
“Is this another excerpt from your ‘Acchan Can Do No Wrong’ book?”
“What? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Uh huh, well…his time in the military took care of him ever being able to father children. Same for a few of his brothers. But listen, now that we’re back home and when everything calms down…I can’t believe I’m saying this…but if you still want a pup or two, I guess we can do that,” Heath said, watching the smile broaden on his mate’s lips. “Hey, if Hide and Taiji can do it, we’ll have no trouble!”
Sugizo laughed and agreed. “Okay, babe…we’ll talk about it.”
It worked out that Sugizo would be the one to stay and babysit all four young ones while everyone else went out and searched the town over for their missing Reita as well as keeping an eye open for Morrie’s Yukihiro. In addition to hanging out with the pups, Sakurai also asked him to mind the phone, taking calls for him and helping to direct search efforts as much as he was able.
Before anyone had left to start searching, there was a knock at the door which Sugizo answered since he was already close by. Slowly cracking the door open at first, the auburn-haired man peeked through and saw a face he hadn’t seen in so many years.
“Tai-chan?” he asked tentatively of the tall man standing on the doorstep.
“Sugi?! Is that you?” the dark man asked, reaching out and pushing the heavy door open further.
“Tai-chan! Finally!” Sugizo exclaimed and threw his arms around his brother in a big hug.
Taiji readily returned the hug with a wide smile on his face. “Damn, it’s been a long time. How’ve you been?”
“Not bad, just glad to be home after so long. It’s so good to see you!”
Sugizo spotted two young ones standing behind his brother looking a little ill at ease.
“So…I assume these two handsome young men are Tora and Saga that I’ve heard so much about?”
“Yep, this is Saga and this is Tora. Boys, this is my little brother, Sugizo,” Taiji said by way of introductions as the boys bowed to the older man.
“Very nice to finally meet you both! Hide-chan has told me all about you. Welcome,” Sugizo said and stood aside while they all filed inside, the boys looking around like they’d never seen a house quite like this one.
“So where’s the king? Is he fit to be tied?” Taiji asked.
Sugizo raised an eyebrow at him and shook his head slightly. “I assume you’re talking about Uncle Acchan?”
“Well, he’s kinda stressed over Reita being missing, naturally. Other than that he’s been fine. Why? Did you have another run-in with him?”
“Not recently. Anyway, I hope he won’t have anything to say about what the boys are wearing. They don’t have traditional clothes—no need for them,” Taiji answered, looking around like he was waiting for someone to appear.
“He won’t. He’s far too preoccupied with finding his son right now,” Sugizo said and paused. “Acchan really is a good guy you know, Tai-chan. He just has a certain way of running things.”
Taiji huffed at that and shook his head slightly.
“He just expects certain things from people, that’s all. Just like Dad did before him and Grandfather before that. Surely you remember that—you’re older than I am, after all,” the auburn-haired brother said.
“We just don’t see eye to eye sometimes, that’s all. Anyway, no arguing tonight—we’re here to help find the kid. Where are the others?”
“In the library going over a map of the city. You head that way and I’ll take Tora and Saga here to meet the younger boys, okay? It really is good to see you, Tai-chan. Will you come hang out with me and Heath some once things calm down?”
Taiji couldn’t help but smile in spite of himself. He really had missed his little brothers. “Definitely. I’ll introduce you guys to the new entertainment district that’s popped up since you’ve been gone. We’ll have a blast!” he said and then turned to the boys. “You two behave yourselves, okay?” he directed, pointing at each of them in turn.
“Yes sir, we will,” Tora said while Saga nodded.
“They’ll be fine. Come on, let me introduce you to Aoi and Ruki. I think they’re in here playing video games,” Sugizo said, leading the boys along the hallway.
“You guys have video games here?” Tora asked, still looking around like he was touring a museum.
“Well, the boys do. Admittedly, I’m a bit too old to understand them, but they seem to like them,” Sugizo answered, smiling.
“This place is huge,” Saga remarked as they kept moving toward the sitting room. “I’d get so lost.”
“Oh, it’s not too bad once you get used to it. It’s kinda laid out in a crescent shape. You just have to know where in the curve you’re heading,” the older man said with a laugh. “It’s widest and oldest in the middle where the front door is and it gets newer the further away you walk…in either direction,” the older man informed them.
“And you’re Tai-chan’s younger brother right?” Tora asked.
Sugizo nodded and smiled. “Yep, he and your dad—wow, that still sounds weird—are both older than I am. Our other brother, Heath, is going out on the search tonight with them. You need to meet him too.”
Just then they reached the sitting room and found Ruki and Aoi inside, all wrapped up in one of their favorite games. Once introductions were made, all four boys seem to hit it off with each other, much to babysitter Sugizo’s relief.
The evening went well with everyone getting to know each other and finding out how everyone had come to be part of this large, extended family known as their clan.
Just before dawn, Sakurai, Imai, Heath, Hide, Taiji, Uruha, and Kai all came piling back into the house, worn out and downhearted. No one had found a trace of either boy, even with Reita’s brothers checking his usual hang out spots and old friends.
“Nothing. Not a motherfucking trace,” Heath said, sitting down heavily in the kitchen where Sugizo was getting him something to drink. “Acchan is just beside himself and I don’t blame him. The boy’s just vanished.”
The auburn-haired man sat down beside him and rubbed his back. “I know you all tried your best. He’ll turn up soon.”
“Sugi, whoever is doing this is brutal. Clan members have been found in pieces…or just piles of ash. We have to find these boys before anything like that happens to them,” Heath said, sounding exasperated. “And that’s not all. I found out tonight that Acchan and Imai think that whoever is responsible for this…was also connected to Dad’s death.”
“What?! Are you serious?”
“Yeah. Acchan didn’t want to tell us that but Uncle Imai let it slip. Sugi…if that’s true and I catch one or more of these bastards…I’ll rip them apart with my bare hands, I swear!” Heath growled.
“I’ll be right there with you. Catching dad’s killers after all this time would be unreal. We have to get some leads on who’s responsible,” Sugizo replied.
“Agreed. We just have to track them down first. No luck so far,” Heath said dejectedly.
As it was too late for Hide and company to return to their own home, sleeping arrangements were made for the four of them in the main house, but not before Papa Hide inquired about his pups.
“Sugi-chan, please tell me they behaved themselves,” Hide asked, sounding a bit apprehensive.
Sugizo grinned at his brother. “Yes…they were just fine. Hung out with Aoi and Ruki, played games and watched movies and stuff. Seriously, they were no trouble.”
The redhead looked relieved. “Okay, good…I didn’t know if they’d know how to act in a fine house like this. Uncle Acchan doesn’t need any more stress.”
“Well, no he doesn’t, but don’t worry about them. They’re just fine—really nice boys.” He leaned in and whispered, “I’m more concerned about Taiji, to be honest.”
They exchanged looks and then burst out laughing.
“Ummm, yeah…Tai-chan is a little rough around the edges. I can’t see him dealing with Acchan’s house rules for very long,” Hide said, still snickering.
A few hours later, Sakurai’s phone rang and he scrambled to answer it, having lightly dozed off in the recliner. Heath, Sugizo, and Taiji all jumped at the sound from their places on the various couches.
“Yes? Ah, Morrie-san. Any word?” Sakurai asked, returning the chair to its upright position. “You did? Where?! Oh, thank the Maker. Yes. How is he? Mmmm…okay, well… Yes. Yes, it could’ve been much worse. At dusk, yes. We’ll be waiting. Thank you so much, Morrie-san. Sayonara.”
“Uncle Acchan?” Sugizo asked cautiously. “News?”
Sakurai was sitting with his eyes closed, taking a couple of deep breaths as though he were trying to calm himself. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked over at his nephews.
“That was Morrie-san, as you no doubt heard. A couple of his men found Reita…he’s been roughed up and they were barely able to snatch him out of the sun before it was too late, so he’s going to need some care. They’re having to hide out until dusk as they weren’t able to make it home, but they’ll bring him here just as soon as they can travel,” Acchan reported. He sat back in the recliner and sighed a deep, relieved sigh.
“Did Morrie-san say where they found him?” Taiji asked.
“On the beach,” Sakurai replied.
“The beach? That’s miles and miles from here. What in the fuckin’ hell was he doing there?” Taiji wanted to know.
“Considering the state he’s in, he was no doubt taken there by whoever was intent on doing him in. The same ones that’ve been taking out the various clan members for years now, we think. Hopefully we can get some leads from this, but I’m just so happy that Reita will be okay. Still no word yet on Yukihiro, though,” Acchan said, shaking his head.
Sakurai didn’t even bother going to bed after that—he knew trying to sleep would be futile. He stayed up making calls, collecting information and trying to piece together some leads on who was responsible for the destruction of so many banpaia over the last decade or so. The numbers were really adding up once the missing were factored in. Sakurai, Morrie, and Issay even talked about possibly calling a formal council meeting. That hadn’t been done in recent memory—not since the war, anyway.
Daddy Acchan also kept a close eye on the recovering Ruki who was improving, but was still shaky and sore. The swelling around his eye had gone down some, though the eye was bloodshot and the entire side of his face was still bruised. The nightmares had mostly subsided though, something that all of them were thankful for.
As it was getting close to dusk, the household started waking. Everyone was anxious to see Reita when he was brought back by Morrie’s men.
“Where are they?” Kai asked, looking at the clock and peeking through the window from behind the blackout shade.
“They’ll be here,” Acchan said from his armchair. “They have to make it from wherever they hid out and with Reita injured, I’m sure they can’t move very quickly.”
“Damn long ass days. Give me winter anytime when it gets dark by 18:00,” Imai groused and Taiji nodded.
The group didn’t have too much longer to wait however before the door chime sounded and one of the servants went to get the door. Sakurai followed with Imai close behind, ready to greet the visitors from Morrie’s clan and get their missing son back. All four nephews followed toward the door, keeping a proper distance between them and their elders. The kids were told to stay back, quiet, and out of the way. They would get their chance to see Reita very soon.
Once the door was opened, however, it was clear that the little party was not just a few of Morrie’s sons or grandsons. Morrie himself stood in the doorway. Sakurai immediately bowed deeply with Imai, Sugizo, Heath, Hide, and Taiji following suit.
Though not as tall and broad as Sakurai, Morrie was still quite formidable-looking. Older than Acchan or Imai by many years, the head of this ally clan stood there in his expensive, embroidered black robes, his large, impossibly dark eyes looking over the representatives of the other clan. He was pale, of course, with cheekbones so sharp they could undoubtedly cut glass. His black and gray hair fell just past his shoulders.
“Morrie-san, I didn’t expect to see you personally. Please, come in,” Sakurai said, standing aside to allow the older man and his companions to enter the house.
“Sakurai-san, good to see you. I wanted to make sure your son was returned to you safely, so I had my driver pick up the boys just as soon as it was feasible,” Morrie said. “Have you met my sons Hyde, Toshiya, and Die? And this is my driver, Koki.”
Acchan nodded his head slightly. “Yes, but it’s been quite a while. Gentlemen, welcome,” he said, bowing to them and then stepping over to get a better look at Reita who was currently being cradled in Toshiya’s strong arms.
“He’s going to need to recuperate, but I think he’s basically okay. He’s just weak right now,” Morrie said.
Sakurai nodded and then took the boy into his own arms, holding him close. “Got yourself into a fix, didn’t you, young one?” he whispered and then placed a kiss on Reita’s forehead.
He looked up at the assembled group in the entrance hallway and gave them a sad smile. “Thank you all so much for bringing him home. We’ve been so worried.”
Imai, who had remained silent to this point, spoke up. “Yes, thank you. We owe you a large debt for saving him.”
Morrie waved his hand in the air as if to dismiss what Imai had said. “Nonsense. You owe us nothing. I know if the situation were reversed, you’d do the same thing,” he said.
“Absolutely,” Sakurai started. “I’m going to go put him to bed and I’ll rejoin you all in just a little while. Imai, please make our guests welcome in the formal sitting room. Sugizo and Heath, please get tea for everyone,” he said, turning and heading for the stairs, still cradling his injured son in his arms.
On the way up the stairs, Reita sensed that it was his dad who held him now. He grasped hold of Sakurai’s haori.
“Dad?” he barely managed to say.
“Yes, son…it’s me. You’re going to be just fine. You’re home now,” Acchan whispered, continuing on his way to Reita’s bedroom.
“I’m so sorry,” the boy said hoarsely.
“Shhhh, don’t talk. There’s time for all that later. Let’s just get you in your own bed where you can rest.”
Once Reita was lying down and Acchan was helping him change into his nightclothes, he looked up at his dad with tears in his eyes. Finally being back home was causing the realization of everything to hit him. He had almost met his end and he knew it—all because he couldn’t control his temper.
“All my fault,” he choked out, the tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Shhh…just rest. I’m so happy you’re home and that you’re going to be okay. Everything else can be worked on, okay?” Sakurai said, inspecting some of the cuts and burns on his boy’s face and body.
“Sorry to intrude, but I thought you might need some help,” Sugizo said from the doorway. “May I come in?”
Acchan nodded. “Yes, I need to clean these cuts and put something on the burns.”
Sugizo grimaced when he saw the damage. “Mmmm, that looks painful. Where do you keep your medical supplies?”
Sakurai told him and together they bandaged Reita up and stayed with him until he fell asleep. Leaving his nephew to look after the boy, Sakurai hurried back downstairs to speak with his visitors.
“So sorry to keep you, Morrie-san. Thank you for waiting.”
“It’s no trouble. My sons and I have been getting reacquainted with Ichiro’s sons and meeting most of your brood. How is Reita?” Morrie asked.
“Asleep. Sugi-san is staying with him at the moment. Again, I don’t know how to properly thank you all for saving him,” Acchan said, looking mainly at Hyde, Toshiya, and Die.
“It was a close thing—we were just telling everyone. If he hadn’t kept calling out like he did, we wouldn’t have found him in time. As it was, he got burned on his face, arms, and hands, but it would’ve been too late in another five minutes or so,” Die reported.
“So he was actually on the beach when you found him?” Acchan asked.
“Not just on the beach. Tied up and staked out, staring into the rising sun,” Hyde responded.
All of Reita’s family winced at that remark, no doubt imagining the scene.
“We want to go back down there tonight and have a good look around. Didn’t have time after we grabbed Reita--the sun was up. But it’s not a busy stretch of beach—it’s not near one of the resorts—so hopefully there’ll be some evidence still around,” Die said.
“I’ll be glad to send some of my boys with you to search. Maybe we can find something to tell us who’s doing this,” Acchan said to Morrie.
“So nothing yet concerning Yuki?” Hide asked, sounding sympathetic.
Morrie just sighed heavily and shook his head. “He’s just vanished.”
Many of the men in the room lowered their heads at that. They knew that the longer he was missing, the less chance they had of getting him back.
“Come on…it’s okay, I promise. See? He and Dad are friends,” Aoi said from the doorway, trying to persuade a reticent Ruki to come in and meet everyone. It seems that the sight of Morrie had spooked the young one.
Sakurai turned and saw the boy holding onto the doorframe, looking timid.
“Ruki…come here, son.”
The small blonde looked at his dad and then looked over at his uncles all sitting there and decided to trust Aoi’s judgement. He slowly padded over to the side of Acchan’s chair, keeping a close eye on the strangers that sat nearby.
Hyde smiled at him and asked Acchan, “Who’s the pup?”
“This is my youngest son, Ruki,” the older man responded, to which Ruki shyly waved at everyone.
“What happened to your face, little one?” Hyde asked, leaning forward in his seat.
Ruki reached up and covered the side of his face with his hand, looking at his dad.
“Reita. This is the fight that caused Reita to bolt from the house and led to him getting grabbed,” Acchan replied. “But he’s healing well.”
“Wow…Reita’s too big to be fighting with him, isn’t he?” Toshiya asked and then looked at the blonde. “How old are you, Ruki?”
“Nineteen. I’m just small.”
“Listen, there’s nothing wrong with being small,” Hyde said. “And I should know.”
He stood up and stepped over in front of Ruki so that the blonde could see that he was only two or three inches taller.
“Hey! You’re my size!” Ruki said, the surprise clearly evident on his face. “I thought I was the only runt!”
Die and Toshiya couldn’t help but laugh though they made a valiant effort.
Ruki looked confused. “What’s so funny?”
Toshiya managed to quit giggling long enough to tell him. “Nobody gets away with calling Haido a runt. Kyo either, for that matter--that’s our brother--but it seems you’re allowed.”
“Learn that the hard way, did ya?” Uruha asked, bemused.
“Yup, sure did. Haido here climbed me like a tree and beat me in the face,” Toshiya replied, shaking his head.
“And Kyo has done pretty much the same thing to me. Mean little badger when he’s riled,” Die said, chuckling. “And you can’t get them off of you either. Like a possessed backpack with teeth…”
All of the boys had a laugh at that, but it gave Sakurai an idea.
“That actually makes a good point. Haido-san, what would you say to teaching little Ruki here some defense techniques once he’s healed? You and maybe Kyo as well would be the perfect ones to do it.”
“Yeah, sure. I’d be glad to,” Hyde replied to Acchan. “Would you like that?” he asked, turning to Ruki.
Ruki gave a little smile and nodded. “That would be great, thank you.”
The blonde could tell that even though Hyde was close to his size, he was much older and seemed quite sure of himself. That self-confidence was something that Ruki envied.
Once he and Aoi had left the room, Morrie gave Sakurai a serious look.
“Sakurai-san, are you certain he’s nineteen? He looks and acts much younger. I know you wouldn’t turn a child…”
That was one of the hard and fast rules of their clans—you never turn a child unless there is absolutely no choice and you need to save them. Though sometimes, it was thought that it was better to let them die than to subject them to life as an eternal child.
Sakurai raised an eyebrow at the older man and paused a few moments before answering.
“Yes, I’m certain and no, I wouldn’t turn a child. Surely you know me better than that, Morrie-san.”
He turned and looked back to make sure that Ruki wasn’t somewhere behind him listening.
“He has some emotional problems that stem from his difficult childhood. I think he tends to act more childlike when he feels he needs more attention or as a defense mechanism. He had to survive by his wits for quite a while out on the streets, so I think he just went with what worked. He told me that people were kinder to him when they thought he was a child, so he pretended to be one.”
Morrie nodded. “I see. Forgive the question, Sakurai-san—I didn’t mean to accuse you of anything. I’m just stressed.”
“Don’t give it a second thought. I know you and your family are quite worried about Yukihiro-san. Again, if there’s anything my family can do to help, don’t hesitate to ask,” Sakurai replied.
They all sat together and talked for quite a while longer, discussing what they needed to do to try and keep their clans safe.