Chapter 21

Narihisago knew this room well. After most dives, once Kura had the serial killer in custody and the processing complete Momoki would have him escorted here for a little one-on-one. Usually that happened pretty quickly.

Usually he hadn't been knocked flat on his ass for several days.

Resting his cuffed hands on the table where they were in full view for the peace of mind of the guards, he stared at the bruise on his arm from the IV. Something to focus on while he waited for Momoki to enter. Something to take his mind off the damn near miss … he hoped that wasn't why he'd been brought here, but if that was the case he was usually taken straight to solitary. Anyway, he truly felt much better, especially after he'd had enough energy to take a damn shower.

The door opened, he didn't look up. Years of incarceration had ingrained him to be as non-threatening as possible. Not that Momoki would misread anything, it was the blasted jumpy guards. Hrm, not that they didn't have a point. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Good morning." That was not the voice he'd been expecting. He slowly shifted his gaze up to find Hondomachi armed with a tablet and the most nauseatingly cheerful mood. "You're looking like you're feeling better. I heard the last couple of days were rough."

He blinked half-lidded eyes. "If I could remember them, but frankly, past the dive … " He lifted a shoulder. "I've been sedated rather thoroughly and don't remember a damn thing." Fortunately a dreamless one. The doc had done something right.

She tapped her cheek and smiled. "Must be why your eyes aren't so tired today. Finally got enough sleep?"

He sighed, impatient to get to the reason for this. "Alright, I know the doctor was mad at Momoki, is that why it's you? Araya won't let him see me yet?"

Confusion creased her eyes. "Uh no. I just thought I'd stop by since you were cleared for visitors and fill you in on what happened. We got Saburo Hase."

"Believe me, I know. He wouldn't shut up." Narihisago bowed his head. "And that lead to a bit of an altercation, which could have ended worse had Soma not intervened."

Cocking her head, she laid the tablet out on the table between them. "Oh yeah. I never thought about the fact you're actually locked up with them. Aren't you."

He rolled his eyes.

She giggled. "Sorry, that was particularly silly of me not to realize. I mean, I don't think of you as anything but a colleague."

That brought him up a short. "You really mean that?"

"Of course." She offered him a bright smile. "You are a brilliant detective, after all."

He was at a loss for words. Certainly Momoki still thought of him as a colleague, albeit a subordinate these days. But he had convinced himself that most of the others in the Wellside, and any others that knew of his existence, thought of him as the pariah he was.

"Anyway, we managed to get to the park in time to stop him mid act from getting Yume Oishi, that woman in the id well. Thought you'd want to know that after they treated a few minor scrapes, she was released from the hospital and is doing … ok. Still a bit shook up and probably won't go jogging again any time soon. But she is alive."

That brought a smile to his face. A genuine one. "I had a feeling something about that last dive was real time."

"Something else kind of cool." She pulled up a photo of the tree in the park. "Look familiar?" A flick of her finger and the well screen grab came up in a side by side.

His eyes darted back and forth, he leaned forward over the tablet. Cherry blossoms. In the midst of racing against a leopard in that sweltering jungle he hadn't had the time to ponder the symbolism of taking refuge under the blossoms. "Life, death, renewal … a reminder to pay attention to the transient nature of life. Huh, what do you know. So, that's how you found her?"

"Yup. The weeping cherry tree you ran to. Without that we never would have guessed which park. Which means you really are amazing to find this critical clue considering how far down this was in the well."

"I just gather the data. It's the Wellside crew that found that."

She crossed her arms. "But we wouldn't have been there on time without you trying to rescue her in the first place."

You. There was no overlooking it. Not Sakaido … but you, as if they were one and the same, inseparable.

The door opened and Momoki walked in throwing a curious glance to Hondomachi. The moment he looked toward Narihisago his eyes fell to the floor. Trying to cover, he cleared his throat. "I didn't quite expect to be beaten to the case discussion. Have you told him everything?"

Hondomachi placed a finger to her lips. "Mmm pretty much."

"Well … I know it won't be everything." Momoki shifted, trying to lift his gaze and failing. At last he took a deep breath and muttered, "I am sorry, Narihisago. I forgot about your condition when you entered that dive. No. That's not even the full truth … I'm sorry for the way I treated you the entire case."

"What are you apologizing for?" Narihisago gestured to the tablet the moment Momoki looked up. He knew he hadn't quite reverted back to the full emotional atrophy. There was still some inflection left to his voice for the moment due to the gradual weening off the painkillers, not as much as right before the dive. He was feeling good, but not that good. "You got the guy in time to save his victim. There is nothing to apologize for."

He inhaled and held it for a moment. "But … my decision left you in critical condition."

"Your decision meant one less death on his list. You know me, Momoki. Don't ever question that again. If time is on the line and precious minutes are needed, I'll be pissed if you pull me. My life is meaningless compared to theirs."

His eyes creased with pain. "Don't say that."

Both his hands came off the table as he pointed with one finger. "That there? That's the pointless guilt talking."

Hondomachi leaned back on her chair, her hand covering the hole in her head. "I don't think either of you really want to talk about this."

Narihisago nodded. "The last thing I want is a shred of wasteful pity."

Slowly, Momoki wandered toward the table, a smile grew at the images of the case file, his hands shifted restlessly at his side. "This was a real piece of work."

"You're telling me." Narihisago leaned back a touch. "Despite not dying in it, that last dive was a brutal grind."

"What a great success though." Hondomachi narrowed her eyes. "I know! That's what we need. A celebratory drink."

Narihisago lifted a finger, the gesture looking odd with his cuffed hands. "Uhh, Hondomachi, you do know there's a huge problem with that idea."

Momoki's face fell into his palm. "No alcohol permitted in the cell blocks."

She started for a moment. "No drinking? Ever? Bummer."

"Tell me about it." Narihisago slumped. "It's been over three years since I've had a drop. Not that I was a heavy drinker."

"No kidding." Momoki snorted a laugh. "You were the lightweight of the force. I never knew that extent til the night we placed Drunken I Spy."

Clearing his throat, Narihisago cocked an eyebrow. "Drunken I Spy Tag, which was why we got in so much trouble. Ugh, I only remember parts of that night. Oh, and how angry Matsuoka was afterward."

At the mention of his name, Hondomachi leaned forward eagerly. "Do tell."

"Narihisago, you don't remember much because you were completely sloshed by the time we left the bar. We'd been celebrating the closing of a case, don't even remember which one. But, I do remember it was your suggestion to add the tag element."

"Oh yeah, that was my stupid idea … to guess you had to touch the object. I dunno, it seemed so simple at the time. I never imagined it would have gotten quite so competitively out of hand." He snickered. "Matsuoka was the one who went out on that construction crane!"

"That was your damn clue that led him up there. You could have told him he was wrong." Momoki hung his head. "The chief spent the next week clearing up all the trespassing charges of that drunken escapade."

"Matsuoka claimed he was abducted in the office."

"Really? Well you had the gall to try and claim that couldn't have been you because the tie was the wrong color. You were still wearing the same one!"

"Hey, give me a break, I'd had a hangover. I wasn't exactly quick-witted at the time. We wouldn't have had half of those charges if Shingi hadn't been filming it. The only sober one in the bunch, and he had to hand it over to the chief."

"That's cause he was forced to."

He stared at the ceiling and laughed. "A week's demotion to beat duty. Never thought we'd be wearing that uniform again. Was lucky it still fit. We got off easy when you think about it."

"And you never drank that much again."

"Wasn't because of the temp demotion. Ayako made me sleep on the couch." A bit of heat burned on his cheeks. "I had to hand it to her, she wanted to make certain I learned that lesson—she made sure to be extra loud the next morning. That was the only day she used the coffee grinder."

"Your wife wasn't the only upset spouse."

Narihisago narrowed an eye. "Momoki, I just thought about this … do you ever think that's one of the reasons Matsuoka's still so tetchy with me?"

Momoki rubbed his chin. "Maybe. He was really pissed about that. Groused about it for weeks because the video kept circulating with you laughing in the background like a hyena as he hung from the crane groping for that flag. The look on his face when you told him he was wrong. What was it you'd said?"

"If I remember it correctly, 'Nice try, Sherlock, but this isn't capture the flag.' I think the reason we got in trouble for that one was he ripped their safety flag."

Dissolved into all out laughter, Hondomachi nearly hiccuped as she managed to get out a question, "I have to see that! Is that footage still around somewhere?"

In unison they replied firmly, "No."

There was something about her presence. Even as she whined to Momoki about not being to able to see the video of them being young, stupid drunk off-duty detectives, she had an uplifting energy that Narihisago felt starved for. He couldn't even find the words, so he just sat there and savored the moment. His interactions were usually just business and not much more. Never a nostalgic skip down memory lane.

He smiled, able to forget for a while the cuffs that kept this from being anything close to normal. For a brief moment he could pretend there were no barriers. Relaxed and fully engaged. They were just co-workers hanging out after a tough case … like he used to do … once upon a time.

Out of the blue it struck like a flame searing behind his eyes. The room blotted out of existence as a blinding flash replaced it. He tasted fear to the vision of a knife stabbing down. An agonized scream rent the air, drowning out their voices. Droplets of blood hung twisting in mid air as the blade dragged back for another strike.

Disoriented, he felt his own body curl forward, forehead falling into his hands. The echo of his strained whimpers seemed so very distant, and yet he felt them leave his own throat.

Momoki's panicked voice reached him. "What's going on? We need a medic."

"No!" Narihisago gasped, forcing his eyes open. The wretched wave already passing. He released the death grip on head. "No. Don't … they've never been able to affect these … I told you the barrier was critical."

He knelt nearby, eyes creased with worry. "Hallucinations?"

He shuddered, still fighting the double reality. The scream he had heard before … Momoki was the reality. He clung to the voice. "They never stopped … once it all started … they came. Again and again and again! I had them buffered … until … until they dented it. The painkillers … the sedatives. Sedatives make it worse, allowed it in. Harder to fight, harder to know what's tangible." Narihisago opened his eyes and gazed at the worried pair of visitors. "It's passing now."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's not like you could ever do anything. But … I tried." He hunched over the cuffs. "Back in those days it was so difficult to get anything out that made sense. I could hardly make sense of my own thoughts, so of course I couldn't reach you. The only refuge from the chaotic madness was numbness. The barrier."

Momoki straightened. "You did it to yourself? You made the choice to embrace apathy. Why?"

"I hope you never have reason enough to understand." Narihisago closed his eyes. "What options does a wolf in an abandoned leg trap have? To linger and die … or to chew his own leg off to relieve the agony? The sacrifice was essential … for survival."