Chapter 24

The tea cups rattled as Kokufu set the tray down on the table in his office. The sound and the motion startled Momoki, his cell phone nearly ending up on the floor.

Kokufu held out a freshly poured cup. "Relax. They'll call if anything happens. No news is good news at the moment."

"I know." He sighed, taking the cup, grateful for the warmth. He hadn't noticed how cold his hands were.

Togo took a cup from Kokufu before he took a seat with his own. She nodded after her first sip. "It's not like he hasn't been under before. And this is nothing like the last procedure. Sounds like the hardest part is determining what Araya can take out and what needs to stay permanently. Before you know it, we'll get the call that he's awake."

That was the part that bothered him, not Narihisago waking up—that would be the good part, one step closer to him being whole again. It was the removal of the barrier that logically kept him from diving. Past this surgery they had little reason. Saigo's sessions had reportedly been going well, but the last thing Momoki wanted to do was thrust Narihisago's psyche back into the fire.

That's what he wants … what he needs. Akihito Narihisago has always been a detective. It's in his thought processes, how he functions, it's in his very blood. Leaving him isolated in a cell is not just a waste … it's actually torturing him. Shit, I need to bring that up with Saigo the next time I see the guy. My own guilt is gonna kill me.

"Momoki."

His head snapped up, Togo rested a hand on his knee.

"Your tea is getting cold."

"Sorry." He offered an apologetic glance at Kokufu. Taking several sips he cleared his throat. "So, the plans are after today we'll be taking cases. Which is the real reason you called us both here."

Kokufu glanced up over the rim of his cup. "No. The real reason I called you here today was to keep you from pacing the waiting room and pestering the medical staff."

"I do not—"

Togo laughed into her hand.

"I don't!"

She shook her head, grinning. "You most certainly do, and it's logical. But this makes sense. Everyone has had the chance to recover from the incident now. I'll be curious to see what a difference this makes for Fukuda and Hondomachi. We know Narihisago will be eager to get back into it."

Staring into the tea, Momoki swirled it before he drained the last of it. Setting the cup aside he shook his head. "He won't be the first going in."

Both of them sat up straighter. Kokufu blinked. "Saigo says he is responding well to their sessions. Are you certain it's wise to hold him back?"

He snapped a nod. "I am. The staff needs to find our groove with the other two first. We don't want to set him back just as we get started again."

Kokufu set his cup aside. "Saigo informed me he felt it was time to return him to the cockpit. Having a purpose, a role that contributes in some capacity, is critical for his mental balance. We need to—"

His hands tightened into fists. "We need to remember that he has been healing from serious injuries! How about we see if he can even walk first!"

An uncomfortable silence stretched out.

"I'm sorry." He bowed his head, heat rose to his cheeks. "That wasn't … "

Togo took his hand. "We're all wondering that. After seeing the initial x-ray I'm not certain he will be able to."

"Bridges." Kokufu folded his hands. "We cross them when we come to them. Fine, we'll start the dives with the other two. But we're not going to wait long before we run him again. Narihisago's tough, still we need to make certain he can still pilot Sakaido."

A pit grew in Momoki's chest. That had never occurred to him. What if all of this snapped that connection, what if his abilities were terminated? He'd been taking old, solved cases down to the cell block and Narihisago hadn't even noticed. He had been puzzling through them with Fukuda. What if he'd lost his edge?

The phone rang, Kokufu picked it up immediately. "Yes? … I see … When? … Ok, thanks Doc."

Sitting on the edge of his seat, Momoki held Togo's hand. "Was it … ?"

"Narihisago's out of surgery and awake. He's groggy yet. They want him ambulatory and able to keep something down before he'll be taken back to the cell block later today. Araya was able to take a good deal of the hardware out, but there were some braces and pins he couldn't. How much that will hamper his ability to walk. The incisions need to heal, and it's up to Narihisago to strengthen his limb. He's got a pair of crutches now and will be encouraged to put weight on it incrementally."

"See?" She gently punched his shoulder. "You were worried for nothing. He'll be fine."

~ID~

Narihisago lay in his bed, even though it was dark in the cell block, out of the corner of his eyes he caught the pair of crutches leaning against the headboard. Beneath the bandages, inside the supposed walking boot, his foot ached, the incisions hurt. A constant reminder of Itoh's betrayal.

How very close he had come to being detached permanently, unable to do any good in the world. If the yakuza had gotten their hands on him …

A strange sensation, like the world wobbling, spilled over him. He blinked and when he opened his eyes he no longer lay down. He was standing in that endless void beneath the impossible sky.

Kiki stood in front of him with a timid smile. "You're wide open tonight."

He shrugged. "After effects of anesthesia."

"They did it today? Great news. You must be mostly healed, Akihito." She stole a glance down at his bare feet.

Here they were both whole, unblemished. He wiggled his toes and watched the water dance. "Yeah, seems much as it's going to be."

A warm hand pressed against his chest, gentle and soft. He both craved it and dreaded the contact in the same nerve impulse. That true connection, a facsimile of human contact in this mental imagery. But that was the fall short—this wasn't reality. And yet in a strange way it was, an indelible state that shouldn't be possible.

She smiled, casting her eyes up to him, stealing his train of thought. "You are calmer now. Stabler. The storm within you has calmed."

"Of course it has, the lightning stopped."

"That's not what I mean. Even in the desert the wind blew, the vulture circled. But now your presence is more like this." She gestured toward the endless glassy body of water. "Your reflection is clear."

Huh. So the shrink really is helping. Who knew.

"The killers are still out there. Many more have entered the field while the Kura has laid dormant. No pilots have been diving to put an end to their slaughters." She shivered.

He embraced her. She wasn't cold, but goosebumps covered what flesh was exposed. He lifted her chin. "Soon now. Momoki promised me after the surgery I'd get to run again." That phrase, he winced at how unfortunate it was. He doubted he would ever actually physically run again.

Not that he was allowed to in the prison block.

"I've missed all of you. It's been so lonely."

Closing his eyes for a moment, he took a deep breath. "Kiki … I need to ask you a favor … to retrieve something from my memories."

Her eyes trembled. "You told me not to."

"I know what I said … " He forced a smile. "But it turns out I was wrong. So … if you could, I want you to find a certain memory. I need to see it … I need to see the truth, not what I warped it to. Can you do that?"

She nodded hesitantly. "What do you want to see?"

"Not what I want. What I need." One more breath, out slow and steady. He locked eyes with her and concentrated.

His old apartment materialized around him, the rays of morning light shimmered though the window down on the figure in the bed.

Ayako, her eyes puffy from shed tears, the pillow damp. Not asleep, she hadn't been getting out of bed til the afternoon in those days after Muku's death. Her days had been empty while his had been a frantic chase. He watched himself getting prepared for work, tucking the gun in the holster … a gleam in his eyes, one that didn't belong to him. That was it!

Akihito's head bowed at the sight, a tear trembled, threatening to spill over.

In a long plummet it dropped down, splitting his reflection in the water in distorting ripples.

I should have known …

~ID~

Soma and Hagashi stood on either side of him, staying close. Now putting weight on the aching foot Narihisago's speed had dropped significantly. He had a pair of crutches, leaning on them heavily and huffing each breath on the long walk down the hallway, every other step was more or less and awkward dragging motion. Un-cuffed, which was unusual, but he couldn't use the crutches if they did cuff him. They hadn't told him, but he knew where they were headed.

Hours ago they had taken Fukuda from his cell. His first dive since the disastrous days. Still, it seemed rather odd they'd call for him too. Unless this would just be a test run in an old well, which was possible.

"Take it easy." Soma matched his shuffled pace. "No rush."

"Not much of a choice," he panted. "This is what I got if I'm walking on it … huh, if this even qualifies as walking."

The idea of him doing anything hostile in this condition was laughable. Without the crutch he'd topple over. The foot wouldn't take his full weight yet, maybe half—at most.

At long last they rounded the corner into the cockpit chamber. He glanced up to find all three cockpits. Fukuda sat in one with his hands cuffed and a guard at his side.

Hondomachi sat in another one, waving her left hand. She was out of the cast and the sling. "Hey, long time no see!"

He blinked and offered a half smile. "Ok, what's with the party?"

Leaning forward, Fukuda held up his cuffed hands. "What's the deal? He gets a pass but I don't? I mean, not even here?"

Soma kept at Narihisago's side easing him into the cockpit. "It's only for right now because he can't use his crutches while cuffed."

Scowling, Fukuda snorted a breath as the cuffs were now unlocked. "Still, no fair."

Setting the pair of crutches aside, next the cockpit, Narihisago suggested nonchalantly, "You want a shattered foot, you can get a free pass to go about un-cuffed. But I don't recommend it."

"Alright. Let's get down to business." Momoki's voice broke over the speaker. "Hondomachi and Fukuda have both been in this new well and it's posing a difficult task that can't be done with just two."

Raising his eyes to the ceiling, Narihisago mused. "Really? That's got to be something."

"Trust me," Hondomachi held up a hand, "it's a real doozy!"

For her to say that, this had to be a trick and a half. "Ok, thus the third wheel."

"This is going to be a live test to see how things translate. We're not certain whether Sakaido will have a form of Narihisago's injury."

"That would be funny." Fukuda blurted out. "Doubt he'd have a crutch in there to stand with. So Sakaido just topples over and has to crawl like a baby."

"It doesn't work that way, though. You don't have your hole. I doubt I would be lame." Narihisago scowled at his renewed laughter. "You think it's so funny … "

"All I have to do is remind you who you are and the wound appears."

Sitting forward, he growled, "You do, that happens—you're carrying my ass around the well!"

"Fukuda, I want you to tell Narihisago who he is."

All eyes darted to the ceiling, Fukuda blurted out, "Say what?"

"Uhhhh, Inspector Momoki?" Hondomachi held up a finger. "Is that really wise?"

"Yes. We're not going to waste time messing with sequence. You two figured it out. And we need Narihisago's full intellect with this one. If we're wrong, and the injury transfers, we can pull and re-inject. Ideally, we can't wait for the amnesiac part of Sakaido to play catch up. So, that's an order, Fukuda. Right away. Am I understood?"

Fukuda crossed his arms, practically pouting in the cockpit.

Sterner, Momoki barked, "Am. I. Understood?"

"Yeah yeah … I hear yah."

"Good. We're ready up here. Narihisago, you good to go?"

He lay back in the cockpit, taking a few breaths to steady himself. Opening his eyes he stared at the screen lowering into place. "Roger."

"Glad to hear your voice again."

He cracked a slow smile. "Back in the saddle."

"Alright, inject Hijiriido, Anaido, and Sakaido." …

The strange filtration pattern ran its course, stripping his memory away before he opened his eyes to a blurry world. He rubbed his eyes with this knuckles and rose to his feet. Standing up he stared all around him.

What the heck is with this place? Where am I? Who am I?

His gaze caught a girl strangled by piano wire and it struck him like jolt of electricity.

Kearu! Her name is Kearu, and by knowing that I know I am Sakaido. I am a Brilliant Detective. My task is to solve her mur—

A long fingered hand clamped on his shoulder. He spun and looked up at a blue-haired man. "Welcome back, Akihito Narihisago."

That was a bucket of ice cold water as his memories returned in a torrential flood. He staggered backward, doubling over and holding his head.

"Haha! Look, Hondomachi! He's still standing. Shit, that's a relief. Looks like I don't have to piggy-back you after all."

"Good thing too." Hijiriido grinned wickedly, "He'll need to move for this well if we're gonna break that pain in the ass code. And by the way, Anaido," she poked his chest hard enough to make him wince, "it's Miyo Hijiriido in here!"

Narihisago forced Sakaido to grin as he stomped his left foot to discover it was painless. "Alright, we're on the other side. What do I need to do?"

Anaido thrust a hand over his shoulder three times. "Hope you're good with music."

Confidence faded. He swallowed as a chill ran down his spine. We're fucked.


to be continued with a new case file!