The Rice Farmer

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A/N: If you haven't already heard it, I highly recommend that you check out Kōjō no Tsuki. It's a fantastic melody with fantastic lyrics, and there are so many great renditions of it, including one by Thelonious Monk.

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On a sleepy street in the heart of Edinburgh, there lies a tea house that has been in business for over 100 years, despite the sign on the door always proclaiming it closed. It provides a haven for a specific type of traveler: one who journeys, not from place to place, but through time.

Hiroshi hated the tea house with every fiber of his being. That tea house, that stuffy, sloppy, sad little tea house, had ruined everything. His grip tightened on the photograph in his hands. The thought of burning the place to the ground was tempting. Equally tempting the idea of going back in time and erasing the tea house from existence altogether, but Hiroshi didn't want to risk the paradox. Paradoxes could be so messy.

Gentle music played from the record player he had found at one of Mieko's hideouts. Kōjō no Tsuki, or "Moon Over The Ruined Castle," was the name of the song. Hiroshi knew that the only reason Mieko had the record was that it was one of his favorites. Round and round and round the record spun; when the song ended, Hiroshi readjusted the needle and the music started again.

His attention never strayed from the photo in his hands for long. They'd taken it the day Shoma started school. Shoma stared at the camera like a deer in the headlights, hiding behind his older brother and clutching his sleeve. Aoto was trying to stifle a laugh. Hiroshi's long fingers tapped the glass. He was the reason why Aoto was laughing (Hiroshi had been unable to figure out how to work the camera). Behind both boys stood their mother, still wearing her apron. She smiled patiently as she waited for her husband to take the picture. That was the same woman who now has the audacity to try to divorce him after over thirty years of marriage.

Hiroshi tensed at the sound of suppressed footsteps. Looking up, he saw Dr. Ngô standing in the doorway. "Have you managed to get anything out of Zikmund?" he asked.

She shook her head, her gaze falling to the object in Hiroshi's hands. "What's that?" she asked, stepping towards him.

Hiroshi stood up quickly and tucked the frame behind his back. "Was there a reason why you came?"

"Misha sent me," Dr. Ngô said. "He feels that you may be emotionally compromised after the last mission. One of the men told him what happened between you and your son."

"That criminal is not my son," Hiroshi replied. He shoved the picture frame into a drawer and smoothed out the front of his kimono.

"Still, Misha felt that I should inform you that Aoto lived," the scientist continued, her face as collected as always.

Hiroshi paused, and his eyes wavered like a single flame in the breeze. "Do you expect me to be grateful for this information?" he asked softly.

"I don't expect anything from you," Dr. Ngô replied. "I am merely relaying a message. Misha also requested that you stop playing the same song over and over again."

Hiroshi stopped the record abruptly, his eyebrow quirking upwards in annoyance. "Tell Misha that I have more leads," he said, turning his back to her. "This time, hopefully he can provide me a team that won't fail." He picked a pencil from his table and started to fiddle with it, waiting for the scientist to leave. She didn't.

"Is there anything else?" Hiroshi asked sharply.

Dr. Ngô looked at the papers in her hand. "If Hynek Zikmund doesn't give up a lead soon, Misha is going to dispose of him."

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