Everything felt wrong … now that was a familiar sensation. Narihisago lay on his back, but this was not the right angle for the cockpit. Too flat. His mind waded through a swampy mire trying to orient himself. Something was bogging that down … thinking, that was the word he was looking for.
Wait … I know my own name … this isn't a dive into a well. Where am I? Why is it so hard to focus?
He tried to rub his forehead. Something stopped his wrist from moving at his side. Odd. He tried the other only to experience the same damn sensation. Something hard encircled his wrists. Cracking open his eyes he stared at the ceiling. This was not his prison cell. It was a ceiling he had never seen before. Lifting his head took effort. That effort triggered a chain reaction. His gut screamed in protest.
Narihisago laid his head back and winced, letting the wave abate before he tried a new tactic. Rolling his head a bit he managed to glance down enough to catch sight of the side rails of a hospital bed. A set of typical chain cuffs locked his left wrist to the railing. Soft, steady beeps emitted from a monitor off to his side. Wrapped in a bandage to keep it in place, an IV punctured his forearm. His nose wrinkled, something wedged beneath it. A nasal cannula … at least he thought that's what that device was called, fed oxygen into his nose. That was an annoying sensation.
Thoughts moved at a snail's pace. No, everything did. When he blinked it took too long.
"Welcome back." That voice came from beside him, out of his field of vision.
He turned his head sluggishly and discovered Momoki sitting in a motorized wheelchair dressed in a hospital wrap shirt and pants. Bandages peeked through the gap in the crossover. His chest? What had happened to him? His color seemed a bit pale.
Narihisago glanced at his own skin tone from beneath the blue hospital shirt sleeve. Shit, I'm really pale too.
"Good to see you awake." Momoki's voice lacked the rigid force it usually had. Softer, almost a rasp. Broken ribs? "The surgeon said it might take a while after the blood transfusion. You'd come too before in post surgery recovery, but that didn't last when the pain meds hit. How you feeling?"
How am I feeling? The wheels turned slowly, a machine without lubricant. He looked around the stark hospital room. His eyes caught the large window … blinds turned so the sunlight poured through. Sunlight! Outside the city spread in a colorful display. The city! Three years had passed on by since he had last seen it. The outside world captivated his attention entirely. It was easy to forget there was anything outside the small cell he was confined to in Kura's maximum security prison. Of course he did glimpse some of the real world through the id wells of the serial killers, but that was filtered, warped, surreal. His own eyes glimpsed reality for the first time in what felt like … forever.
He forced his gaze from the rare sight. The motion shifted his gut. He winced. "Sore … to answer your question. But that makes sense now that I remember what happened."
Momoki relaxed his tight grip on the arms of his wheelchair. "Good, you at least remembered. I was worried when you spaced out there."
He glanced at the window. "The change in view is nice. Though I'm not thrilled with how I got here."
Shifting his eyes to the window, Momoki's smile grew somber.
Narihisago shifted his wrist, annoyed at the tug of the cuffs. He wanted to reach out but they prevented it. With a sigh he aborted the attempt.
"Protocol. Sorry about the restraints."
"Don't be." He shut his eyes. "They're necessary. I can't argue about that. Even I don't know what I'll do when the urge obliterates my ability to reason. Why would you possibly trust me?" Shifting again he hissed at the complaint from his core. "Shit! Almost dying in real life sucks. You worry about the well deaths? Hah, they're nothing. Quick pull like a bandaid and it's over after reorienting. It's not like this … nagging pain. I can't move without making it worse." The pain had one main effect, he was definitely awake now. Though as usual his voice lacked energy. Even to his own ears he sounded drained.
Momoki studied him. "They said you needed to lie still."
"Sound advice. Not so simple in practice. Seems like it was near my diaphragm. Hrm... ouch! Yeah. Definitely near that area." He took a few slow breaths. "You know Momoki, don't think I'll be up to diving for a bit. You better hope the killers keep things to a minimum while I'm down for the count here."
Cracking half a grin, Momoki cupped his ribs, now it was obvious there was a brace around them. "You and me both. I'm set to be here for a while too."
"For once I didn't stand near the safety of the Wellside. Had to get involved in the field. Got a bit messy." Momoki eyed him. "How'd you guess?"
"Raspy breathing. At least that's my id well experience with it."
"You know it's disturbing how frank you are about that."
Narihisago shrugged a shoulder taking care not to jostle his bandaged gut. "You go through it enough and it's no big deal. Now … bleeding out in real life, that's another story. I can't say I liked the feeling of the room shifting … kind of similar to when gravity doesn't obey the right rules. It's disconcerting."
"Wait … you remember losing consciousness?"
"Yeah. So? What of it?"
Momoki rubbed his chin. "Narihisago, that's not normal."
He rolled his head back to staring at the ceiling. "What about me is normal? Seriously … chalk it up to recalling the deaths within the dives. My memory doesn't check out for that part either—unfortunately."
"I suppose … I just didn't expect it."
"Never had a course to test it by. Hope we don't again." He accidentally shifted and winced. "Ok … I get the picture the pain meds are wearing off."
Momoki pushed the control on his chair and moved closer. "You alright?"
"Yeah, more or less. Just feeling it more. That sucker punched deep."
A high-pitched voice called out from the hallway. "Here it is. Room number 652." The door opened and Hondomachi bounded in gesturing to Momoki. "See? I told you this is where he would be. But you didn't believe me."
Matsuoka rigidly strode in behind her, his left arm still in a sling. He glanced at Narihisago held captive in the bed before hastily averting his eyes. His jaw tight as he grunted.
On the same side of the bed as Momoki, Hondomachi pulled up a chair and smiled. "Momoki you're looking better. When do you get to go home?"
That question unexpectedly stung a bit, Narihisago twisted his wrist in the cuffs.
She caught the motion, and the clear surprise on Momoki's face. "Oh, sorry. I didn't mean to … uhh, hi Narihisago. Good to see you up … err, awake."
"Hey." He muttered, not wanting to look her way for the moment. The pain meds were seriously messing with everything … the protective numbness … pierced. The bitter reminder that once he was stable and released from here it would be back to the monotony of confinement in his cell again, for who knew how long. No … he knew that answer. The rest of his life. He'd only have the precious photographs to cling to. Momoki tried so hard to scrounge up every last one of his family possible … they were a blessing and a bane … a tether and a torturous reminder to an existence he'd been denied. He sought the window once more, desperate to burn that image into his retinas so he would never forget again.
She touched his hand. "Narihisago?"
At the contact he threw a surprised stare her way. She's touching me … on purpose? No one touches me. Hell, the guards even try to avoid it as much as possible.
"I thought you'd want to know. Fukuda hasn't woken up yet. He's still in a coma. They don't know when he'll wake up."
"We're here to visit Momoki." Matsuoka tossed her a glare thrusting a finger at Narihisago. "Why would he care about that? I'm sure all he wanted to do was push him to suicide like he did to those five others."
Narihisago ignored the rebuke, after all that wasn't true. Fukuda had been an annoying neighbor in the cell block, but he'd never felt that uncontrollable urge to dissect his psyche. Instead, Narihisago focused on her words and that peculiar sense of empathy she expressed. "Shame. Considering how much we owe Fukuda for the success. There's no other well I knew of where we could have pulled that deception off. The subconscious doesn't lie."
That earned a lifted eyebrow from Matsuoka.
"I can't believe you thought of that after you heard me with Fukuda." Hondomachi cupped the hole in her forehead. "I wish he could have seen it too."
Holes in their heads, the two of them shared the ability to see the missing pieces. It had been a damn lucky guess that she'd be able to see the cockpit within the fractured world in time. Without her, I couldn't have done it. Without Fukuda, we wouldn't have navigated through the well storms in the first place.
"Lucky for us some of the data automatically recorded in the system." Momoki bowed his head. "Thanks to that I was able to prove my innocence and clear my name. I've been reinstated as Wellside Director, ehh, upon clearance to return to duty, that is. I heard Hayaseura's confession had a lot to do with that. Togo showed me all the data we collected. You two … I just can't believe what transpired in there."
With a bitter smile, Narihisago shook his head. "Shame it doesn't change a damn thing for my case. Sure, we now know, and can even prove that Hayaseura was behind it … that he used Asukai's ability to somehow subconsciously mind-fuck me into pulling that trigger years ago. But I guess it really doesn't matter. The damage is done. It's too ingrained for me to change now."
Momoki rubbed his chin. "Wait a second … I didn't tell you about Kiki Asukai. How did you … "
Twisting in her chair Hondomachi pointed at him. "Oh I bet know! When we were in the well within the well! I ran across Narihisago after he'd been in there for two years. That personal business you mentioned?"
"Damn, you are a sharp one." Narihisago cocked an eyebrow. "Momoki, where did you guys find her? Yeah, in that well I met Kiki Asukai in the hospital. I was recovering from a fist fight I'd goaded the Challenger into before he could get his hands on my Muku. Since in that scenario Momoki used my injuries to argue for a self-defense plea, I got off alright. Took advantage of a do-over and spent a good amount of time off the books hunting down and ending the serial killers that plagued her dreams … or rather nightmares. Now I figured that wasn't a coincidence she looked just like Kearu. It was no vast leap of logic that she is connected."
Flexing a fist, Matsuoka muttered, "You really are a twisted piece of shit. Even the appearance of a second chance and you still became a serial killer! Did you push them into suicide there too?"
He looked away from the force of that remark. He hadn't even stopped to think of what he'd done … the results had been the same just through a different chain of events. One set as the incarcerated pariah of the force … and one as an outwardly respectable detective proud of his covert operation.
"I knew it! That's a part of you!"
Momoki and Hondomachi stared up at the disgruntled field analyst. The chair slid back as Hondomachi forcefully stood up. "Seriously? You have to start with that again after he was instrumental in saving everyone and getting Kura back? John Walker is locked in an inescapable prison because Narihisago didn't hesitate to dive in even with a bleeding hole in him! And you have no idea, you didn't see the pain in his eyes when he had to tell his wife and daughter goodbye in there."
Momoki gasped a breath before wincing from the irritation it caused. Once he could manage it, he studied Narihisago with trembling eyes. "What? You … ?"
He shut his eyes tight. Tears threatened, but didn't quite come. "Yeah … I kind of got caught up in that well … the uhh time dilation and all. Convinced myself that was reality and this was all a long and terrible dream. Until we ran across each other en route to intercept the Perforator … Fukuda. The well started to break down at that point. But … " his voice trembled, he found it harder to breathe, "I had that time … two years of truly living with them again. Time I had lost … and never thought I'd have again. Until … I had too … but here I never could … say goodbye. There hadn't been a chance. They were taken too fast."
Matsuoka jabbed a finger, "Regulations dictat—"
Narihisago threw Matsuoka a silencing glare. For a brief flicker, from some unknown source he could rarely reach, he managed to summon a bit of fiery spirit. It wouldn't last, so he clung to it like a shipwreck survivor. "Don't go there! And don't give me that crap about procedures. I know why you're still pissed at me and you can stuff it, boy scout. Under the circumstances, you would have gone rogue too."
He glanced as the edge of Matsuoka's jacket shifted and revealed the grip of a service pistol. "Really? So Mr. By-the-damn-book has become a hypocrite. What are you doing with a firearm, field analyst?"
Matsuoka shifted to cover it. "None of your business."
He gave a crooked grin. "You know, I overhear a lot in the cockpit between dives when people forget to turn the mics off—an extremely common occurrence. Besides, back when we were detectives I know you hated my methods. I saw you sulk every time I nailed a case shut. You should be thrilled I am stuck where I am now, out of direct competition with you."
"That's it. It's because once more I'm laying the groundwork you can't. You seriously couldn't stand it."
"What I can't stand is a cold-blooded killer!"
Momoki held up a hand. "Knock it off! Matsuoka, stop riling him up. Narihisago, you're supposed to remain calm."
"Tsss." Narihisago rolled his eyes. But inside he realized how close he'd come to reaching a raw nerve. Docile was better. He didn't want to hurt anyone. The cold numbing wrap insulating him from emotions was better than the searing anguish when he touched them. Only one thing gave him pleasure now … and he knew how much trouble that weakness caused. Momoki was right, at his core he knew he was only supposed to identify the killers … not push them into executing themselves. Which meant Matsuoka was also right … he really was a sick, twisted bastard.
Shaking her head, Hondomachi stuck out her chin at Matsuoka. "It's really pathetic you can't give him credit for what he does to help us out. You've never been in the wells, never experienced what we have. It's far from an easy task. How many killers has he helped you find?"
The field analyst tensed and looked away, schooled by a woman half his age. His voice forced. "You don't understand what he was like as a detective, rookie. You barely know the guy."
"Really?" Hondomachi placed a finger to her lips and smiled. "I've been in two of his id wells."
Narihisago smirked. "I'd say she knows me better than you after that."
That silenced Matsuoka. He turned away grinding his teeth.
"That reminds me." Momoki interrupted, narrowing his eyes at Narihisago. "I wanted to ask you about something … your thoughts on the changes over the years. There was such a drastic difference in the landscapes."
"Wait … you want me to analyze myself? That's cold. Come on, Momoki, you pulled me from regular prison to be a pilot, not one of your analysts. Let's not play with illusions. I'm not a true homicide detective any longer. That ended the moment I unloaded my mag into the Challenger."
"Wrong." He kept his stare level. "I pulled you from rotting in prison because I didn't want to waste your analytical mind. There isn't anyone I know who can rival your intuition." He held up a hand. "Narihisago, I don't tell you everything and yet when we regularly talk in the chamber or interrogation room you're constantly making connections faster than I lay things out, frequently building off what the team deduced in the Wellside while you couldn't have overheard them because you were locked off as Sakaido at that time. No matter your doubts, you still have it in you. So, humor me."
"You really think so? Fine." He blinked slowly, recalling the two significant wells. "I wouldn't say it was drastic when you really compare them, actually."
"In three years you went from lightning strikes on the number tiles precisely tracking time intervals utilizing a derivation of pi, insanely accurate according to Wakashika … "
"A constant that is everywhere in the universe, and elemental in the circumference."
He continued, reiterating, " … in three years that changed to a timeless, perpetually desolate desert."
Narihisago nodded. "Well yeah, the symbolism makes sense when you think about it. Line it all up to the events in reality. The first was an active drive, overwhelmed and targeting innocent lives connected to me at seemingly random. Inevitably the fallout would strike every tile and obliterate all I had ever known and loved as collateral damage. The latter was passive and taking any who set foot into it after my years spent incarcerated. The main driving force is wearing down by external elements, at the mercy of the inescapable fate. But the key falls along one other rather difficult to ignore element." He stared Momoki in the eyes. "Not just Kearu, but my corpse present inside both wells. We've found a statistical fraction of killers who manifest themselves in their desire to kill. However, usually alive. In the first I'd been struck by my own lightning bolt, the second a victim to the quick sand … which isn't so quick, actually, since I've experienced that now. There's a sense of poetry to it all. That's really the only surprising part. I didn't think I possessed that much imagination."
Beside him. Hondomachi cracked half a grin, when she opened her mouth to say something, Narihisago held up a hand as much as the handcuff would allow. It clanked as he let his hand fall back to his side.
Momoki scratched his head. Slowly his eyes opened a bit wider, evidence of the revelation.
"Come on. We've known it all along." Narihisago's tone was flat, emotionless again. Even he felt it. "And frankly both explain a lot. Since the day I pulled the trigger I've always felt dead inside. Witnessing that only confirmed my suspicion."
"No. It's not true."
He shook his head. His eyes taking a bit longer to reopen. Things were feeling increasingly heavier. "The subconscious is incapable of truly lying. I've seen the proof with my own eyes … in both as my own conscious identity. As I said before … there's no going back. I have no life within me now … "
Momoki's hands gripped the armrests of his wheelchair. "I refuse to believe that."
Narihisago's eyelids grew heavier, a weight dragging him downward. Even to his ears he heard the strange slurring affecting his speech. "Face it … I'll never make it out of the night." That was an odd thing to say, even to him. Was it from a poem or something? He had been an avid reader before, so it was possible. But there was no chance to explore the thought. His eyes wouldn't reopen as he sunk down into oblivion.
Momoki tried to lean forward and regretted it. The brace around his chest keeping his ribs straight prevented it. Narihisago's rapid decline worried him, the way he'd slurred before blacking out.
The door opened and a nurse walked in with a tray in his hands. He peered at the monitor and grinned. "Right on time. Good. Don't worry. It's just the morphine nailing him. He's on a pretty hefty dose that's supposed to help him sleep. That was intended. You can all stay if you want, I just have a couple of things to do while he's out."
Heaving a sigh of relief, Momoki relaxed back into his wheelchair. "I was worried for a moment."
The nurse tugged the covers down and untied the hospital shirt, laying it open to reveal the thick compression bandages around Narihisago's abdomen. He took a pair of scissors and cut one side letting it fall open. A rubber drainage tube stuck out of the suture a couple finger's width below his sternum. Prepping a syringe with fluid, the nurse hummed a bit before flushing the drainage tube onto a folded wad of bandaging, examining the discharge. "Ahh good, no sign of sepsis so far. He's lucky."
"Mmm hmm. That bullet had quite the trip, but it mostly nicked intestines. Heard that was quite the clean up job in the OR. Another inch or so deeper and he would have been a paraplegic. He's lucky we got him into surgery so quick." The nurse tugged the old bandage out of the way. Another nurse came in and helped redress the incision. They made short work of re-wrapping his abdomen with a fair amount of pressure. Momoki was relieved he wasn't awake for that as they jostled him.
Hondomachi leaned forward, watching the vitals on the screen along with Momoki. They were stable, if a bit subdued now that he was out again. "Hey, how long is he going to be here?"
"Why do you need to know?" Matsuoka remarked.
"Oh, you're still here?" She threw a disinterested look over her shoulder. "Because I care and want to visit. I'm not a child, stop telling me who I can be friends with."
"He's a prisoner."
The nurse politely waited for them to pause before answering as he secured the bandage. "He'll be here at least till that drain comes out. With the depth of the GSW, ehh, it'll be a while. My guess, roughly two weeks before we release him."
Momoki stared at the window. He pushed the lever on his wheelchair over to the pull for the blinds and tugged it all the way up. "Do him a favor. Leave these open for him."