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A Breach of Trust

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Reigen expected the flinch when he reappeared with the kitchen scissors in hand. He tried for a smile to lighten the tension on Mob’s face, and he jostled the mixing bowl in his other hand in hopes of drawing attention away from the scissors.

“Can’t say I know much about stylish haircuts, Mob. But I sure have a bowl big enough to fit on your head.”

Mob nodded. He sat stiff on one of the dining table chairs, pulled away and marooned between table and pantry. His hands were balled tightly in his lap, lost in the folds of flannel pajama bottoms. He did not shy away though.

After all, the haircut was his idea.

Reigen lowered both the bowl and the scissors. He found himself stalling, reconsidering, just a bit too tired to hide the trepidation from his own face. Sitting for haircuts made him itchy, and Reigen had exceptionally little issue with being overtly, audaciously, irritatingly in people’s personal space. Mob flinched just having anyone in his proximity, and that wasn’t even touching on his terror around sharp objects. To not just tolerate the idea, but to ask for it, made Reigen feel he had missed something. And it made him uneasy.

“Hold up a second, Mob, gotta grab some other things,” Reigen stalled. He shuffled over to the table and set the scissors down – loud and ugly orange at the hilt, visibly spotted with rust along the nicked and time-worn blade. They were practically children’s toys. The mixing bowl, plastic and purple, matched them like a Halloween decoration. It bore thin scratches from the haphazard use of metal utensils. Water stains rimmed the bottom, probably from the bowl being left to dry face up the last time it was washed.

The aroma of coffee beans stole Reigen’s attention, kicked up from the gurgle of the coffee pot he had started once he realized neither he nor Mob were going back to sleep tonight. He leaned into the smell, mentally, letting his eyes close a moment and focusing on the heady warmth. Bitter clean and soft, a thousand miles away from the Mogami house which lingered like spider legs along his skin. He tried to remember that world-away that he and Mob had occupied alone just earlier that night, at the ramen shop and at the Spirits and Such office and here, hours ago, with a cake split between them. He wanted—

“Uh, Reigen?”

“Yes, right away,” Reigen responded. He opened his eyes again, and tried to remember what thing he was going to grab.

Maybe a towel.

He spun in place and rounded the corner, into the hall, stopping at the first door on the left. The bathroom shared a wall with the kitchen, which was a detail Reigen would have minded more if he ever imagined he’d be sharing this apartment with another soul. He flicked the lights on, which stuttered and caught, their clicking and flickering like the timbre of moths against a lamppost. His reflection appeared to his right, trapped in a mirror spattered with toothpaste and water stains and a thin coating of dust except for the place, about chest-level with Reigen, where a handprint had been pressed to the glass.

He stalled there too, lingering on his reflection. He stared back against eyes that were too dull, and a brow that was too tense, and a mouth line too taut to be any good at putting Mob’s nerves at ease. There was a muted sedation weighing like a blanket on his whole body. It had been lingering there ever since he came down from the adrenaline surging his veins at the Mogami house. This was visible too in his reflection, in eyes staring just a bit elsewhere, betraying thoughts too scattered to hold to a task for long.

Reigen dropped his gaze to the sink below. A few loose, shorn bits of hair littered the sink. Mob had said the barrier did it. That he yanked it inward to avoid hitting a cat, and shredded his hair instead.

Mob had thanked him for the fact that the barrier training was working.

Reigen had no idea how to parse this information. It hadn’t made sense when he first came home, finding Mob waiting for him with his hair shorn at a harsh angle, shoulder length, half-obscuring his eyes, and it didn’t make any more sense now that he’d had a bit of time to process it.

The corpse. The rats. The basement the cans the uniform. His mind was too full of sights to make room for much else.

Mob’s explanation for his hair did not make sense if the barrier wasn’t real. But the barrier being real made significantly less sense, because this was a barrier that eviscerated any and all living things that did not so happen to be immensely powerful psychics. And it so happened that Reigen was the farthest thing imaginable from an immensely powerful psychic. The biggest hole in Mob’s story was Reigen himself, who was significantly and audaciously much too alive and breathing to fit the narrative.

Reigen’s thoughts lingered on the Mogami corpse. That barrier was real. The red aggressive gossamer mesh around him. Figuring out what this meant built up a headache behind Reigen’s eyes.

Mogami was a liar. That was true. That was factual. That was something Reigen could hold on to with utter certainty. He’d lied about Tetsuo, and lied about the soup cans, and lied about Mob, and lied to Mob.  He lied to wreak a path of hurt and death in his wake. And Reigen would be damned if he gave a single ounce of weight to a word from that dead man’s mouth.

What was important right now? Right at this exact moment? What was tangibly real and within his reach?

Hair. Towel. Mob.

“…Reigen?”

“Yup! On it! Just in here-- looking for-- grabbing the-- yeah.”

Reigen yanked the towel off the rack. He spun halfway in place before noticing the towel was damp. He dropped it and picked up the other towel. He’d deal with the first towel later. He stepped over it gingerly, then lingered by the mirror, eyes back against himself. He breathed deep, and willed his expression to pull back up that thin smile it needed, buff the dullness from his eyes, ease the tension in his brow.

In a moment he would be exactly who Mob needed right now.

He stepped back out into view, brandishing the towel with far more flourish than necessary.

“Good news, Mob. I remembered an old tidbit from my psychic training. It was from uh— from years and years back when I spent 3 months meditating in the Himalayas. I met an old guru up there who told me—who informed me how that, your psychic humors, like you powers, to get them in balance, you gotta balance your body first. Your body’s a reflection of your powers, so a nice even clean cut, that’ll balance you right up.”

“You trained in the Himalayas?”

“Yup.”

“What was it like there?”

“Cold. Anyway!” Reigen flapped the towel a few times. Liar. And he was a liar too. “Shall we start?”

Mob nodded.

Reigen rounded the table to Mob, draping the towel over Mob’s shoulders. Mob’s hands clasped on to the edges of the towel, grasping on like an anchor. Reigen nabbed another chair from the table, the one he’d sat in earlier with cake in front of him, a whole world away. He spun it around, and sat in it backwards, in front of Mob, and then immediately stood back up realizing he held neither scissors nor bowl in his hands. Bowl. Scissors. Seated. Mob. Reigen flipped the bowl over and dropped it onto Mob’s head. It fit surprisingly well, like a helmet, beneath which two dark eyes watched him, blinking against the itchy prickle of chopped hair.

“That okay?” Reigen asked.

Mob nodded.

“Alright then.” He tested the scissors in his hands, throwing a few quick snips into the air as though willing a match to catch. Reigen winced. His fingers threaded through the hilt still smarted, still bandaged to hide the deep knife cuts beneath. He ignored it. Reigen hardly trusted himself to cut Mob’s hair- he absolutely did not trust himself to do it with his non-dominant hand. “I’ll be quick about this. Don’t you fret. Just a once around snip.”

Nearly imperceptible, Mob nodded again.

Reigen started with the bangs. He laced the jagged ends of Mob’s shorn hair into the maw of the scissors, pressing them up against the bowl.

And he snipped.

A flurry of hair drifted down over Mob’s face, and in its wake Mob’s eyes sparked with horror. His hand, anchored so tightly to the towel, shot up. He grabbed Reigen’s arm, and through frozen breath he let out a whispered word.

Stop.”

Reigen didn’t have anything witty or comforting to say. He only complied, and lowered the scissors. Mob reached his hands up, lifting the bowl from his head and flipping it upright, lowering it into his lap.

“Sorry, Mr. Reigen. That’s just… kind of too much now.”

“I kinda guessed…”

Reigen lowered the scissors into his lap in mirror. He unthreaded his fingers from them.

Mob glanced up now to meet Reigen’s eyes, and his expression wasn’t full of terror as Reigen had feared. He was white in the face, but determination still burned in his eyes. He was anchored, and solid, and so much more sturdy than Reigen had seen him in all the time he’d been around. Sturdier than Reigen felt inside.

“Maybe… if you could just cut a little less, Reigen.”

“You want me to keep going?”

“Yes.”

Reigen surveyed the cut. Bangs clear from his face, Mob’s eyes were now unhidden. The rest of his hair was still cropped unevenly, jagged and haphazardly shorn to shoulder height.

“A bob, maybe,” Reigen said. “You kinda… already have one. With the home-job you had going on just now. I cleaned up the bangs already, and they’re…. miraculously, kinda even. Mostly. I think. I mean I guess you can thank the bowl for that but. Anyway. Right. The rest of it—I think—if I just—just some off around—just a clean up, I mean. Like just even it out a little? About to your shoulder.” Reigen leaned forward, scissors forgotten on his lap. The back of the chair pressed into his chest, and he leaned a bit further. “A little higher, actually, since this part here in back is above—I mean—just to like here?” Reigen set his hand parallel with the ground, about half an inch above Mob’s shoulder. “Like this?”

Mob nodded. “I think that’s fine. Do it.”

Reigen didn’t.

 “…You uh… you sure you’re fine, Mob? You seem a little uh. I dunno. Different.”

“Great. Fine. I’m fine. I just…” Mob placed the bowl back on the table, and he wove his hands back into the towel. The slight tremor to his body did not escape Reigen’s notice.

“Why uh, why do you want your hair cut, anyhow? Can’t imagine the scissors are any fun to have all up near your face and all. The hair in your face that annoying? Cuz I’ve got like, pins and stuff.”

Mob stared down into his hands, and he unclasped them from the towel over his shoulders. He raised his right hand to his hair, to the diagonal shear where it abruptly ended.

“…Tonight was the first time I was able to control the barrier at all. In four years. I pulled it in. It was hard but I did it. You—uh—having you here to help me—it means a lot. But this was the first time I did something. The first time I couldn’t do nothing. So now it’s that—I want to do more.” He dropped his hand from his cropped hair. “You’re right. I don’t like this. But if I can do this even when it’s hard, then maybe I can do so many other things. It’s not like before when I felt like I couldn’t… couldn’t do anything. I won’t go back to that.”

Mob blinked, as if soaking in his own words. A prick of tears welled at the edge of his eyes. “I really think, if I keep trying now, I’ll go home to my family. It didn’t seem real before. I forgot what it was like to really believe that. That I can make that happen, if I try.”

Reigen nodded. His bravado dropped. Exhaustion settled heavy into his heart.

A small click broke from the kitchen, a punctuation that signaled the end of the gurgling waterfall of noise from the coffee machine. Reigen glanced over, and he found the tiny red light above the coffee pot had flickered on.

Reigen stood up. He loosened the knots that had tightened along his spine from the hunched way he sat. He rounded the table with his eyes set to the cupboard, which he pulled open and snatched the first coffee mug from the front. Small and white with a rim of gray and the tiniest nick missing from the handle. Coffee curled from the spout when Reigen lifted and tilted the pot, warm against his face, dark and rich pooling in the mug. His eyes flickered to the green diodes on the microwave above. 3:05 am. His birthday had ended.

Reigen stopped by the freezer, and he pulled it open, nabbing the plate of half-eaten cake he’d abandoned there earlier in the evening. His fork still sat on the plate, icy to the touch. Maybe it wasn’t his birthday anymore, but that was no reason to give up on good things.

With wafting and dense coffee, and plate of chocolate ice cream cake, Reigen retook his seat across from Mob.

“I’ll grab you another slice if you like, when we’re done, Mob. You didn’t really get to try any.” Reigen set the mug to his lips, and took a sip of too-hot coffee. A warm shiver spread through his body.

Mob said nothing. His eyes had reaffixed to the scissors that Reigen scrounged up from the seat of his chair, just barely not-sat-on. Reigen set the mug down on the table, and leaned in, and aligned the scissors cautiously against the fringe of Mob’s hair just above his left shoulder.

“…Would uh… would it help you if I kept you talking while I trim your hair? That helps me—sometimes—keeping talking—I mean for, not for hair cuts but for other things. Just talking helps. Think that’s how I survived that knife fight, I think. I just didn’t shut up.”

Mob considered this. “I don’t know what to talk about.”

“…Your family, maybe? Can you tell me about them?” Reigen pressed. The question unsettled something deep in the pit of his stomach, but he felt he had a duty to ask. He leaned mentally into the smell of coffee, the promise of cake, and carried on. “I uh, I don’t know anything about them.”

Mob said nothing.

“I mean, you didn’t really wanna tell me about them before because you were afraid of me sending you home with uh… with your barrier and all, yeah? Well, I’m not doing that now, clearly—I think we’ve established that—yeah. I’ve still gotta train you, as your new Shishou. Not sending you home. Just asking. So I know like, who they are, and like… you mentioned your little brother. You seem to really like him. What’s he like?”

Mob remained silent a moment longer.

“He’s the most important person to me.”

“Is he?”

“Yes.”

“Mmm.” Reigen moved closer again, angling the scissors with care now that he no longer had the bowl to guide him. He started at the right shoulder, cautious in his threading of blade to hair. “His name starts with an R, right? You wanna tell me his name?”

“He’s—” Reigen snipped the scissors. Mob suppressed the tiniest wince. “…It’s Ritsu. His name is Ritsu.”

“Ritsu, huh?” Delicately, Reigen shifted the scissors over and gave another snip. “And what’s he like?”

Mob didn’t flinch this time. He stared forward, looking at nothing, consumed in thought. “He’s smart. Really really smart. Way smarter than me. And selfless too. He helped me with my homework every night. Sometimes he’d do my chores for me when I forgot to do them so Mom wouldn’t yell at me.”

“That’s nice of him.” Reigen stood, and nudged his own chair over about a foot, so that when he retook his seat he could better align the next snip. “He sounds like a great kid.”

Mob nodded, and then stopped once he realized any movement of his head interfered with Reigen’s work. “He was always like that. Even when our parents praised him so much, he wasn’t ever selfish or mean.”

“You must be proud of him.”

“Yeah.”

Reigen took the next cut. A gentle flutter of hair trailed from the scissor blades. He shifted over once more. “Is he like you? Like, personality-wise?”

“Not really. No. He’s a lot more outgoing. And really mature. His teachers always love him. He was always really good at school, and sports. And I always thought he was really cool. I wanted to be cool like him. All of that was way cooler to me than having psychic powers. I wouldn’t have cared much about practicing with my powers, except Ritsu really liked when I showed him new tricks. That’s what I liked – making Ritsu happy.”

The next cut came silently. Reigen was more than halfway done, a bit back and behind the left shoulder. He surveyed his work and found nothing too noticeably uneven.

“Does uh… does Ritsu have powers?”

“No. At least, I don’t think so. At least, I hope not. I don’t want him to end up with a barrier like mine.”

“Well, I’ve been a PI for a good number of years now, little more than four at this point. And I’ve never seen any police reports about uh, about a psychic kid hurting anyone with his barrier, so uh—so I think you’re good on that front. Think you can relax there.”

Snip.

“It’s good that I was the one with psychic powers and not Ritsu, I think. It would have been much worse if he had powers instead.”

With the next cut, Mob gave no indication he even felt it.

“Why do you say that?”

“It was better for me to have to disappear.”

Reigen halted, scissors half pressed together.

“Why?”

“Ritsu had a really bright future. He had so many things he was good at that could make him happy. I don’t think I would have been anything special. It’s important to me that Ritsu gets to have that future. I just… hope I didn’t hurt him too bad. I hope he’s okay. I have to believe he’s okay. He’s smart enough to be okay without me.”

“I don’t think you should say that, Mob. About it being good that Mogami took you and not him. It’s not good that Mogami took anyone.”

“…Shishou didn’t take me, though. He was just protecting me.”

“No, he took you. He—” Reigen felt the anger welling up inside him again. He paused, and breathed, and let the clawing feeling loosen. “We… forgetting about him—just—what I mean is that, you’re not less compared to your brother.”

“…I’m still glad it wasn’t him who had to disappear.”

Reigen re-angled the blades, and he took out the next swath of hair. “I bet it would mean a lot to Ritsu, if he could hear that.  I bet uh, I mean you say all these great things about him, but I bet he’d say some similar stuff about you, it sounds like. I bet he admired you too.”

Reigen delivered the last snip of the scissors, feathery wisps of hair falling away from Mob’s left shoulder.

“…He did, actually, you’re right. I never knew why. But it meant a lot to me. Maybe… I’ll ask him, when I see him again. I’ll ask him.”

Reigen unwrapped the towel from Mob’s shoulders. He set it down on the floor for now, caring little for how the shorn bits of hair pooled on the hardwood. He intended to sweep it all up later. For now, Reigen grabbed the hand mirror from the table, and he offered it to Mob.

Mob took it, and he stared at himself. He blinked a few times, as if checking that the bangs above his eyes stayed put, and didn’t drop into his vision. The cropped hair curled in just a fraction near his neck, bringing back a roundness to his face that had been lost with the long braid.

He brushed a lock of hair behind his ear. And in that moment, Reigen was able to see a normal boy, with light in his eyes, and he could almost believe the horrors that had clouded Mob’s eyes when they first met had vanished all together.

“Do uh… do you like it? Should I change anything?” Reigen asked.

Mob shook his head. And he seemed to pause, to linger on the sensation of his hair swishing back and forth. He breathed, and let a small smile come over his face.

“Yeah.” He handed the mirror back to Reigen. “I like it.”

A single bell chime split the air.

It was the announcement of another patron opening the café door. The newcomer and the owner exchanged a few muted words, light and pleasant, specifics lost under the gentle orchestral music playing overhead. He let the door ease shut behind him, and with it the air stirred cold and wet.

The air conditioning in the cafe still cranked even as October had comfortably settled in. Cold collected the moisture from the air and pinned it as condensation along the windows, dripping slowly, artful in the streaks it wrought. There remained enough vapor in the air to cling to necks and clammy hands. Isa was thankful for the heavier jacket she’d grabbed this morning, as well as her long sleeved civilian clothes. Her hands curled around the coffee sleeve, indulging in its radiator warmth, still too hot to drink.

She couldn’t say the same for the boy seated across from her. He looked cold to the bone.

He had no jacket beyond the button-up school uniform. His face was pale, half-obscured beneath messy black hair. His dark eyes were downcast, and his hands wrapped almost aggressively around his hot chocolate – lacking a sleeve to mitigate the heat. It left the insides of his palms a flushed red. His skin was slick, whether from the humidity or his own nerves, Isa could not tell.

Isa considered suggesting they find some seating outside where it would be just a bit warmer at least. Then her ears tuned to the muted plick of water, like rapping fingertips, against the glass. The condensation inside had disguised it, but the skies had opened once more, streaking the outside chairs and metal tables with rain.

At least the weather had thinned the crowds. This shop was generally more popular. The rain must have dissuaded people from leaving their houses, curled and cozier elsewhere, maybe with home-brewed coffee like the sort Tetsuo insisted on. Isa hadn’t been to his house in a while. She wondered how it’d changed. She wondered if it still carried that warm and safe aroma he used to wear.

The boy shifted. His eyes met hers, and Isa was snapped back into reality by the loathing in his gaze. Plicking rain. Kageyama. Ritsu Kageyama.

“How’s your hot chocolate?” Isa asked.

Ritsu didn’t answer immediately. He looked away, and then looked back, his hatred unmistakable.

“Don’t know.”

“I’m a fan of the hot chocolate at this place,” Isa added simply, stirring her coffee in circles. She’d drenched it nearly white with cream and sugar. “They serve it pretty hot though. Let it cool down, or at least blow on it before you try.”

Ritsu said nothing. His knuckles tightened, whiter, around his drink.

“Here.” Isa nudged her plate over. An untouched chocolate croissant rested on top. “Their chocolate croissants are the best.”

“Stop it,” Ritsu Kageyama finally answered, and his voice was hardly above a whisper. “Stop talking about the chocolate. What do you want…? Just tell me what you want with me, okay?”

“What I want is to talk about why you were in that office building last night. And I’m getting there. Starting off with chocolate talk seemed more generous.”

Ritsu said nothing. Isa let out a small sigh.

“So why were you in that office building?”

“…It was a bet. That’s all.” Ritsu’s eyes stayed low, anchoring himself by his curled grip on his cup, hunched in on himself.

Hands curled around the stair railing. Eyes averted. Powerless, hostile, watching the adults talk while he lingered. Subject to the cold through the open door. How old must he have been then?

“What kind of bet?”

Ritsu shrugged. “Dunno. I got dared to go in, and I did, that’s all.”

“Pretty elaborate dare, considering you knew to cut the power to the security system, and that you managed to scorch the security camera mounted to the ceiling.” Isa took a sip of her coffee. “Which, by the way, that alerts us too. The power-cutting. When the security system goes down, it sends out an automatic alert. This isn’t like in the movies where you can just cut a few cables and invite yourself in.”

“Noted.”

“Why that office building?”

“Dunno. It wasn’t my idea.”

“Whose was it?”

Silence. Isa was used to the ugly teeth-pulling back-and-forth of interrogation. It was a rhythm she fell into almost too easily. Trespassings, car jackings, street robberies, there was always a guilty wound that Isa could find and pick at. Apply pressure, find inconsistencies, threaten consequences.

She looked again at Ritsu: small, and cold, and scared. Fingers wrapped around the banister. Asking if his brother was coming back.

Isa took another sip from her coffee.

“You don’t want to tell me?”

“No.”

“Huh.”

Isa let the silence sit. She was comfortable with it, and she could practically see the way Ritsu’s skin crawled in the quiet that stretched between them.

“Why didn’t you arrest me?” he asked.

“Oh? Are you asking the questions now?”

“Why didn’t you?” Ritsu pressed again.

“Would you prefer I’d arrested you?”

“No. No, I wouldn’t.” Ritsu stared back, more hunted animal than threat. He was testing the waters. “But why didn’t you? I need you to tell me.”

Isa shrugged. “I don’t think I had one single reason. Maybe I didn’t feel right arresting a little kid.”

A pop buckled from Ritsu’s paper mug. He accidentally crushed it with the tightening of his hand. The lid popped, and hot chocolate spilled across his tensed fingers. He let out a hiss and yanked his fingers away, burying his hand in the napkin that came with his hot chocolate. Steam welled up from the cup.

“Are your fingers—”

“They’re fine.” His cheeks were flushed red with embarrassment, and he stowed his hands under the table. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like you pity me. Stop it.”

“Can’t help it. I do pity you.”

Her words set off something in Ritsu. Distress flickered through his eyes, and Isa knew what she’d said something he couldn’t bear to hear. He pushed his seat back. “…I’m leaving now. I’m going home now.”

“No you’re not.” Isa kept her expression blank. “Who dared you to break into that building?”

“Why can’t I leave?”

“Because I said so.”

“Why—”

“Because that’s our deal. I let you go home last night on the condition that you talk with me here today.” Isa picked up the croissant and tore it down the middle. Liquid chocolate oozed from the center, and she placed half of it on the plate holding Ritsu’s drink. “If you don’t like that arrangement, you can come to the station with me right now. Or you can sit down and try this croissant.”

It agonized the boy, but Ritsu sat back down.

Isa took a bite from her half of the croissant. “Now I’ll ask again: Who dared you?”

“It was some kid from another school.”

“What’s his name?”

“Dunno. I was never good with names.”

“You know his name. You’re just lying to me.”

“I’m not.”

“Forget the name, actually, you weren’t even dared to go in.”

“I was.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not lying!”

“Again, wanna take this to the station?”

Ritsu opened his mouth, but no words followed. The fire in his eyes snuffed a fraction, replaced with fear.

“…Why do you think I’m lying?”

“Because I’m really good at figuring out liars. I do this professionally, and I raised four bratty little siblings on my own. Lies don’t get past me. You’re just testing my patience. So tell me the real reason you were in that building, or we’re done here.”

His dark eyes held hers, steadfast, and there was an obvious challenge to his glare. As if he hoped, with enough disdain in his face, Isa may come to revile him too and cast him back out on the street. He had no chance of success there. He was allowed to hate her right now, Isa decided. It was probably good for him. She probably deserved it.

“I was looking for my brother there,” he answered finally. “I was doing your job.”

Isa inspected him over this answer. If it was a lie, it was smart. It played up the guilt in Ritsu’s favor. But Isa really was proud of her ability to suss out liars, and no tell of insincerity showed on Ritsu’s face.

“Why would your brother be there?”

“He’s psychic. You know this. I told you four years ago. And psychics have aura. And there was some aura coming from the building. So I went in.”

“And?”

“And it was just some ghost. It wasn’t him. I was just leaving when you showed up.”

“What kind of ghost?”

Ritsu paused. His glare was probing. “So does this-- Do you believe me this time around then? About psychics and auras and ghosts? Do you believe me now? You didn’t, last time. Not about the park and not about his Shishou. You didn’t listen.”

The image of Mogami’s desiccated corpse flashed through Isa’s mind, unrotted, presumably so ensnarled with curses that it refused to decay, though she hadn’t seen anything of the sort. And her mind lingered longer on the memory of Tetsuo, backed against the wall and prone, eyes locked to the corpse, looking more broken apart than she’d seen him in her entire life.

“You didn’t see… I’m positive. I saw it, Isa. I’m so so positive.”

Ritsu did not know he was the second person in Isa’s recent experiences to break into a building in search of Shigeo Kageyama. Nor did he know the burning hope Isa fostered that Ritsu might know something, anything to clue her in to what happened to Tetsuo that night.

Mogami as a lead started and ended with Ritsu. Ritsu was the one who told them to investigate the dead man in connection to Shigeo’s disappearance four years back. Whatever it was that had happened to Tetsuo, this boy had kicked off the chain.

Isa had no plans to tell Ritsu any of this, lest he realize he held any cards against her.

“Well? Do you believe me?” Ritsu prompted again.

“Let’s say I do. What changes?”

“What changes is you go back to the station and reopen Niisan’s case file with this information I’m telling you. You start looking for a psychic and not just some little kid, like you should have been doing all along, And you find his Shishou.”

“Mogami.”

“Yes.”

“The psychic Keiji Mogami killed himself decades ago.”

“…I already know that. I know that now – that the real Keiji Mogami was some famous psychic who died a long time ago. I’ve read the articles. So Niisan’s shishou was using a fake name when he kidnapped him, I know that. You were the one who told me it was a fake name, remember that? You told me. What does that matter? Find the man who was using that name. That should be obvious. Find that ‘Mogami.’ Find the psychic man who took him.”

Isa did remember telling him. She remembered asking the little boy on the stairs if his brother’s Shishou may have lied about his name. She remembered dismissing the matter of Keiji Mogami all together when Tetsuo came forth with the station legend about the corpse and the barrier and the condemned house at Mogami’s unlisted address, kept out of the public knowledge and boarded up.

That years-old dismissal felt out of place now, having seen the condemned house with her own eyes. There had been no boy there, and no visible barrier to her eyes, but the corpse had been real. And Tetsuo’s reaction had been real…

But maybe Isa was placing too much trust in the man, her steadfast and reliable partner, who’d slipped into unwellness when she wasn’t paying attention.

So Isa said nothing.

And the silence stretched between them, enough to torment Ritsu into speaking again.

“Why…did you give up on him?” he asked, and it wasn’t with the same malice as before. The hatred had drained from his voice, replaced with something that cut Isa far more sharply than blind anger. This was softer, and smaller, and raw with the ache of four years spent without closure. “I’ve wondered all this time. What was the moment when you stopped looking? Mom and Dad never told me. You just stopped. Why?”

Isa tried to remember the moment, and she failed to recall it exactly. The image of the case file was clear enough in her memory. Shigeo’s school picture pinned to the top left of the folder, printed sheets’ worth of information, and personal recounts from his parents and teachers, and thorough reports from those who’d scoured the park. When was the very last time she’d pulled it out onto her desk? When had the well of information completely run dry? What day was that file shut, never to be opened again?

“Answer me,” Ritsu pressed.

“We stopped because there were no more leads.”

“So why didn’t you find more?” He looked up. “Why am I the only one still looking? It’s supposed to be your job. And now I’m getting in trouble for it, by you. It’s your job.”

“You have a right to be angry about your brother. You don’t have a free pass to break into buildings, Kageyama. There’s a difference.”

“Was it that-- Did you—was there something better to do with your time? You just had better cases to look into? You couldn’t be bothered, because at the end of the day you had a family to get home to?” His hand tightened against the edge of the table, and he leaned forward, bridging some of the distance between them. “Was that it? Cuz not me—I don’t—not me. What do I have to go home to in that house?”

“We tried our best on your brother’s case. But we’re not magic. We can’t find what isn’t there.”

“So you’re holding me here, because I AM still here? He’s gone, but I’m still here, so you’d rather spend your time interrogating me instead of finding him? You’re not helping me! You’re not helping anyone! No worse, worse than that. If you make me stop, you’re just making sure there’s no one left looking for him! You’re helping his kidnapper!”

Isa felt the urge to tell the boy – maybe for Tetsuo’s sake more than her own – and let him know they were still trying. But it would be cruel to promise empty things. And if she so much as hinted at knowing the address of the Mogami house, and that it may be a lead, Isa knew well enough that this to the boy would be the next person to break in.

So once again, Isa said nothing.

“How dare you? Just—hold me here and act like YOU’RE in the right? YOU gave up on him.” Ritsu pushed back against the table, chair legs screeching, scalded fingers forgotten. “And you gave up on me. You, personally. You left me there.”

Isa opened her mouth, ready to tell him to sit down, to lower his voice, to calm himself or else face consequences.

She couldn’t do it this time.

Something he’d said burrowed deeper than she realized, something that lashed and lingered. This wasn’t her first dead end case. She could usually see them coming and quietly prepare. She could establish the emotional distance she needed to go home with a clear mind at the end of the day. She could find comfort in the belief that these were always circumstances outside her control, and not failures in her or in the system, which left a family without answers. She could pack the victims and the loved ones away, and cast them off, and trust they would find a way to piece back together the tattered parts of their lives on their own.

You left me there.

She’d done her job. She’d followed protocol to a T. She’d gone above and investigated the Mogami house with Tetsuo. She slept at night comfortable that she had done what was expected of her – more even than that.

But what did protocol mean to that little boy on the stairs?

In a moment of freefall, the image in Isa’s mind dropped out from under her. She no longer felt like someone lenient and kind, working to do good, showing mercy to a boy who deserved a much harsher punishment. Why had she felt so comfortable in the notion that Ritsu Kageyama deserved a punishment for how she’d found him? That it was by her own grace and mercy that she didn’t bring the hammer down harder on the boy she’d abandoned all those years ago? What had made her so unaware, until this moment, of the slick feeling of blood on her complicit hands?

Isa had never bothered to ask herself what made her remember the boy on the stairs so clearly, all these years later.

“…I’m sorry,” she finally said.

Confusion crossed Ritsu’s face a moment, and it passed, replaced with a glower. He sat down, at least, but the fire in his eyes did not waver.

“’I’m sorry.’ Do you think—do you think you’re the first adult to tell me that? Every adult tells me that! Every single damn one. And I see it every time they look at me. They look at me and they think oh that poor little kid, oh that poor fragile boy and it’s on ME to make them feel better. Every time. I have to be the one to say It’s okay and It’s alright. Because no one wants— no one wants to feel guilty for making some poor little brother-less kid sad, huh? But they don’t do anything to fix it! No one takes responsibility!  No one wants to do anything, or find him, or save him! They just want to stare at me with that awful look until I can make them feel better. Giving me an extra day for my homework, having ‘family nights’ with board games, whatever trite, disgusting display of pity they can muster up until I tell them they did well, until I tell them they can stop feeling guilty, that they did it, they met the bare minimum to stop feeling any kind of responsibility, they have permission to stop feeling bad, hoorah! ‘I’m not sad.’ ‘I’m not upset.’ ‘It’s okay.’ Every time. That’s ALWAYS on me. And now you too. You too. I’m sorry’. Did I—do you finally feel a little bit responsible for this?! Finally?! And now you’re like all the other ones, huh? Wanting me to fix it. What do you want me to say? ‘It’s alright.’ ‘I forgive you.’ Well I don’t. I don’t forgive anyone. And I especially don’t forgive you. You said no lies, yeah? So no. No. I don’t forgive you. If you’re actually sorry, then let me leave, and either find my brother, or stay away from me for good.”

An uncomfortable stretch of nothing built up between them. Words lingered behind Isa’s tongue, rejected one after the other for being nothing more than hollow platitudes, the same empty sentiments that Ritsu had found himself buried beneath for years. She couldn’t say them, not with how selfish it would be for her to add to the pile.

“…That’s fine, actually. You’re right. You don’t have to forgive me. I won’t ask for forgiveness. But I… am being sincere. I’m sorry, I promise.”

Ritsu scoffed. “So can I go then? Because frankly I don’t care what else you have to say if it’s not about you actually finding him.”

“You know I can’t promise you that we’ll find him. But I can tell you, point blank, that none of this is your fault, and none of this is your responsibility.”

Another laugh from Ritsu. “Oh good. Oh thank god. Oh that’s such a relief to hear, I’m sure my brother would be thrilled to know that. He’s been locked up for four years against his will, out there wondering why no one has bothered to save him, but I’m sure he’d be so happy to know that’s because it’s not my responsibility to save him.”

“That’s not what I mean. What I mean is that you don’t have to capitulate to what adults around you are telling you to feel. That’s not your responsibility. You’re allowed to be selfish.”

At this, Ritsu barked. A mania entered his face, tugging his expression into a smile that teetered almost on joyful. Instead it was terribly wrong, coldly unsettling, fierce and vile with the spark of incredulousness that lit in his eyes like a match.

Selfish! I can be selfish!” He slammed his hands down onto the table, hot chocolate and plate and croissant clattering with the force. “You say that like I’m not—like I’m not already— I AM. I am already BEING selfish! I’m being more selfish right now than I’ve ever been in my entire life. Haha! I’m lying to my parents. I’m sneaking out. I’m skipping school. I’m breaking laws. I’m breaking into buildings, don’t you know?” The boy ran his fingers through his hair and held them there, sweeping the mop of black hair from half his face, exposing his pale and clammy skin to the overhanging café lights. “I’m getting into FIGHTS. That’s not what a good little boy does. That’s not what ‘It’s okay, I’m alright, I’m not upset’ Ritsu Kageyama does! That’s not what a SELFLESS PERSON does!”

Isa looked closely, and she saw it now. There was a cakiness to Ritsu’s skin, clotted and thick under the shimmer of sweat. Foundation. And beneath it was the distinct mottled impression of bruises – one thick beneath his jaw, a yellowness under one eye, burst capillaries beneath his nose, one ear distinctly nicked with something sharp. His fingers lingered in his swept-back hair, leaving his face intentionally on display for Isa to scrutinize. The light threw a jaundiced pallor across his skin, making his wide eye, his uncomfortable grin, all the worse.

“And I’m…. making deals with spirits. To use their powers to find my brother. I don’t trust any of them. I shouldn’t. They’re liars and scum and I know that, they’d eat me alive, and I’m letting them because for the first time ever in my life I’M doing what I want. I’m being SELFISH. I’m hurting my parents, and I don’t care. I’m hurting myself and I don’t care. Because I’m all done being selfless. I’m done. I’m DONE.” Ritsu dropped his hands, and he stared down at them. They were shaking. His terrible smile wavered. “I’d so much rather die doing this than go back.”

Isa considered herself a person of few words, but it was unusual for her to find herself with none, helpless in the void of pointless answers spinning up in her mind. So the nothing settled between them again, and Ritsu’s staggered breathing came as the only audible thing between them. As the seconds passed, his vigor drained, and the excitement left his face, and something pale and pensive took its place. He sunk down into his seat, suddenly smaller. He was shaking, or perhaps shivering.

He lowered his head into his hands.

“…Fuck…” he muttered.

The way he sunk smaller, lower, gave Isa the impression of a body slipping below the surface of the water – the end result of one last explosive struggle before succumbing to the pull of the currents beneath.

“Who else knows you’re doing this?”

“No one. …One person.”

“A friend?”

Ritsu grimaced. “No. Not a friend.”

“Why did you tell me?”

“Because you made me angry. And I shouldn’t have. It was stupid. Don’t…. do not tell my parents. If you’re serious about that ‘I’m sorry’ then you can’t tell them.”

Isa held his eye contact. Ritsu’s expression softened with a spark of anxiety.

“…Please,” he added. “If they knew, they… I’d never leave the house again. They—ha—we’d probably move. I bet Mom would quit her job to stay home with me. I’d never leave the house again. Haha. They’d never trust me again…”

What Ritsu was asking of her clashed with Isa’s every gut instinct. His parents ought to be the first to know, to help, to save Ritsu in the way that she couldn’t. They’d want to pull him back above the surface of the water. They were his parents, after all.

“You’ve given them a pretty good reason to not trust you, I think.”

“It’s not like they gave me a choice.”

Isa grabbed for her coffee. She pulled it to her lips. A new thought came to her, a bothersome one, as she tried to summon up the image in her head of Mrs. Kageyama. That memory was fuzzy, much less clear than Ritsu in her head. The same went for Mr. Kageyama. They swam hazily in the melting pot of all old and forgotten cases in Isa’s mind. What had they looked like? What had they acted like? How had they behaved toward their son who was still home, still safe, still with them?

The rest of your life, Ritsu! You’re staying right here for the rest of your life where nothing can ever take you away from me, got it!?

“Ritsu, I have a question…” Isa separated the coffee cup from her lips, just by a fraction. “Maybe it’s more of a hunch than a question. You don’t actually have to answer this one if you don’t want to. But am I right in thinking maybe… when your brother went missing, he wasn’t the only one taken against his will?”

“What does that mean?”

“You said earlier you had nothing to come home to in that house. And you said you’re now lying and sneaking out. Were you ever allowed to go anywhere else before this? After school clubs? Friends’ houses? Cafes?”

“…No,” Ritsu answered simply. “No.”

“Did you just go straight home after school every day?”

“Yes.”

“What did you do on the weekends?”

“Nothing.”

“Before school?”

“Nothing.”

“After school?”

“Homework.”

“What did you enjoy doing?”

Ritsu said nothing. And it was not that he was avoiding the question or coming up with a lie. Isa could read it on his face. It was that nothing came to mind for him. She took another sip of coffee, ruminating on its warmth. She let the steam wafting out spread over her face. The heat was comforting, and felt undeserved against the coldness of the words on her lips.

“…So for the first time since he went missing, you’re sneaking out, you’re lying to your parents, you’re doing things you’re not allowed to. You and your brother both lost your freedom that day, huh?”

Ritsu let out a sad, piteous laugh, and he looked up at her with nothing in his eyes. “No, you’ve got it wrong. Compared to Niisan, what I have is perfect. My parents aren’t kidnappers. Don’t act like they are. They’re hurt. That’s all. Who gives a fuck if I don’t get to play soccer, or join student counsel? Compared to Niisan that’s—”

“Stop saying ‘compared to’. Stop.”

“It’s true.”

“No, that’s fucked up. Is that all you see yourself as? ‘Compared to’ your brother? You—you’re telling me that all this terrible stuff you’re doing now, it’s not even for your own sake. You’re not even sneaking out to drink or party, you’re just hurting yourself to save your brother? Do you even have a concept of yourself outside him?”

“Of course I do, it’s just that compared to Niisan—”

“No ‘compared to.’” He was slipping lower. The light was gone from his eyes. An anchor weight in the form of his brother was tied to his ankle, dragging him down. Isa felt overcome with the desperate need to jump in and cut the rope from him, to save him, before it pulled him to the dark and cold abyss at the bottom. “Forget about your brother, Ritsu. Leave him behind. Let him go. You’ve got your own life that’s worth living. What do you want?”

The snap to Ritsu’s posture, the way his eyes shot wide, came as though Isa had slapped him. It was worse than that, more violent even than if she’d laid a hand on him.

Isa choked on the sip of coffee on her lips, not in reaction to Ritsu’s full-body flinch, but in response to the coffee that had curdled ice cold in her mouth on the next sip. She sputtered, hastily dropping the cup and released her fingers going coldly numb clasped around it. The cup teetered, coffee sluicing from the opening in the lid. But miraculously it settled upright, unspilled. It sat inanimate and radiated its consumptive chill.

Isa stared past it, still coughing. Her eyes settled on the hot chocolate resting on Ritsu’s plate, with the lid popped off and forgotten on the table. She stared at the drink that had scalded Ritsu’s fingers minutes ago, the drink that had been gently wafting with the heady sweet scent of chocolate for their whole conversation like the wick of a lit candle.

It sat now, frozen solid.

He saw it too. His eyes followed hers, and Isa witnessed the calamity set into them. She thought she’d seen the boy pushed past his breaking point already, and knew only now that she’d been wrong about that. The scathing eyes she’d previously seen, the ferocity in his glower, even when he spoke more than he’d meant, it had been with control, and with anger, and with the targeted intention to hurt her.

What she saw now was utter devastation, and a loss of all control, and an agony and surprise that spun the focus out of his eyes, and left his teeth gritted in horror. No calculated anger, no power-play cranking in his mind, just the white fear of hearing something he couldn’t bear to hear – and revealing something he couldn’t bear to reveal.

Isa couldn’t parse it. The bitingly cold cup sitting in front of her. The slick ice, dense to the bottom, which Isa could see peering through the seam in Ritsu’s paper cup – a slit which the expansion of ice had torn straight through.

Ghosts. And cursed corpses. And a missing child, presumably psychic. And a brother left behind.

Ritsu’s right arm shifted sharply, some motion hidden beneath the table, those devastated eyes pinned imploringly on the cup by Isa’s hand. She felt it physically, with a warm spike in the air of a few degrees. Steam drifted back up from the cup again, indistinguishable from how it had looked moments ago before she’d spoken.

Isa caught the same twitch to his arm, and the drink set before Ritsu unfroze itself. Isa understood what would happen the moment before it did, as the top-to-bottom slit in the paper seam was visible only on her side. The hot chocolate spilled loose, funneled as if through a crack in a damn, and a gluttonous puddle of spider rivulets slogged across the table, riding the scars in the wood furnishing. Isa jumped as it spread, hand thrown out for the napkin, just as Ritsu jumped too. A begging “no” escaped his lips as he shot his hand outward.

Isa threw her napkin onto the puddle of chocolate. Its progress halted, and bled up the white linen instead.

For a moment frozen in time, Isa and Ritsu locked eyes. Ritsu’s arm remained outstretched, tense with intent. Isa could almost have mistaken it for the instinctual gesture of someone reacting to the sudden tipping of a glass, were it not for the picture-perfect mirror of the gesture he’d performed when she’d first found him hiding beneath the office stairs. Hand out and brandished, curled as if grasping a weapon, elbow locked.

And she watched the surprise in his face morph into fear as the seconds passed. Isa realized too late how transparent her own expression was, how locked in shock she’d left it for the impossible things she’d witnessed.

“You can’t tell them,” Ritsu said, and it was the most breathlessly disarmed Isa had heard Ritsu all conversation. He dropped his arm, and he backed up, as if terrified of the small distance between them. “I’m begging you. I didn’t mean to. You can’t tell them.”

Isa found herself lost for words once again, so unsettling unused to the feeling of raw indecision, and she settled on the ones that clashed so violently with the view of the world she thought she knew before today.

“You’re psychic,” she said.

And Ritsu didn’t bother trying to lie to her this time.

“Please. Please you can’t tell them.”

“…Your parents… You’re—you’re psychic. How is that… even possible?”

Ritsu’s breathing had picked up to a slow flutter. Isa could feel his dread even trying to answer the question. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. Niisan was. And I am too. I don’t know why. I wish we weren’t. I want him back. It’s why he was taken. I know it. I could be taken to. My parents would never—they can’t know about this—they’d never be able to handle it. They can’t know about any of this but this part, my powers, more than anything— they can’t know that more than anything—because I could be taken too and they. They’d never—I wouldn’t—. You said you wouldn’t tell them, yeah? You promised you wouldn’t. You promised you’re sorry. You can’t tell them. You can’t. You promised you’re sorry. You have to mean that. You can’t. You can’t.”

“I don’t think I ever promised that—”

“—Please—”

“—but I won’t,” Isa whispered, as the only thing she felt she could do. “…Because telling your parents won’t stop you, will it?”

“No.”

“And it won’t help you, will it?”

“No.”

“Because they… I think I get it. You’ve already been betrayed by all the adults who were supposed to be looking out for you? Your parents, and me, and my partner.” Isa searched desperately for the right words to say, for the sentences that would save Ritsu from the path she’d let him set out on. But it was a task too huge for what she knew. She had no sense, and no certainty, and no true idea what Ritsu had done – what he was doing – and she was too much of a stranger to save him in this moment.

“…Yes,” Ritsu replied, uneasy.

So Isa let go, in the moment. She couldn’t pull him back up, she couldn’t save him from the abyss, not yet at least, not right now. She eased down, and let go, and stared at the boy drifting further from her. She swore she’d be back to save him when she could.

“I won’t tell your parents, Ritsu, about what you’re doing, or the breaking and entering, or that you’re psychic. I won’t tell them so long as you can agree to one condition I have.”

Isa could feel the way Ritsu bristled. “…What?”

Isa dropped a hand into her clutch purse, and pulled a single business card from it – white at the center with navy trim, bearing her name, her cell, her email, her work phone, and her home phone in tight cursive ink. She held it between two fingers, and offered it extended across the table to Ritsu.

“Meet with me again. Any time in the next week. Just let me try to help, again. That’s my only condition. Give me one more chance to figure out how to help you. If I hear from you in the next week, then I promise I won’t contact your parents.”

Hesitantly, as though it might sting him, Ritsu took her card. The scowl on his face could not quite hide the relief or the untensing of his brow that had been screwed so tight with worry. His shoulders eased down, then eased lower, near sagging with the immediate onset of exhaustion in the wake of his extreme adrenaline high. It left his eyes dull and his body just a bit unsteady.

Silently, he stowed the card in his pocket. He cast his eyes down to his slightly trembling arm, the one that had been thrown out with such urgency, and he clasped it tight with his left hand to still it.

“Can I… please… leave now? Can I go now?”

“Yes,” Isa answered. She busied herself with mopping the napkin along the table, erasing the evidence of what had transpired between them. “Take the other half of the croissant.”

Gimcrack spun into existence with a sudden swirl of ballooning purple, keeping pace by Ritsu’s left shoulder as Ritsu moved himself one step at a time away from the café vanishing on the horizon behind him. The impending sunset bled with deep pinks and oranges behind the crest of the café, throwing Ritsu’s shadow out in a long swath ahead of him.

“Wow! What a conversation,” Gimcrack chimed. “I just regret not having a tub of popcorn on hand for that.”

Ritsu shot his hand out, explosively violent, just barely skimming Gimcrack who dodged to the right.

“Hey!” Gimcrack shouted.

“WHY didn’t you possess her like I told you to?!” Ritsu yelled back. He flung both shaking hands out, eyes alight with an uncontrolled flame. “I TOLD you to possess her!”

“Hey, hey hey hey hey settle down! Ease on down, champ, it’s not like I didn’t try! I just couldn’t, is all.”

“Couldn’t?!”

“Couldn’t!” Gimcrack spread both spidery arms wide, imploring. “Some people just have a bit more protection around their noggins. That goes without saying for a psychic, but some regular humans have got it too.”

“What does that mean?

“It means I can’t possess her without her permission! Same for you and your best buddy Blondie. It’s just some rotten luck, but you handled it … well not ‘well’, but hey your parents still don’t know! That’s a win!”

Ritsu paused, letting the information sink in. The exhaustion bleeding through his veins swamped out the anger. He just wanted to get home. He just wanted to sleep.

“That lady WAS asking some interesting questions though, don’t you think? You never did answer her.”

Ritsu ignored Gimcrack. He trudged along, one foot in front of the other, feeling exhausted and sick and foolish, counting down the minutes until he’d be home.

“I’ll jog your memory, cuz I’ll be honest I’m itchy for the answer too. Forgetting about your brother, what do you want?”

The question pried at Ritsu’s mind, oozed through all the mental barriers he’d erected and invaded, tainting, stinging. Forgetting about his brother. Forgetting about Mob. Casting his brother off, down, to sink and drown in the dark depths below.

It was an impossible thing to consider. It was too violent and horrendous a concept to wonder what he’d be if he was living his own life for himself, if he gave up on Mob, if he swam upward to see what the shimmering lights through the surface of the water looked like.

Not just horrendous. Terrifying. The depths of this prison, its pressure, held him together and gave him form. It gave him structure and purpose and a path forward. What terrible mess of nothing would he be if he tried to ascend beyond these depths?

So Ritsu shut the thought down. He denied it. He snuffed it out before it could pry him open any further. That woman was wrong. He didn’t need saving. He didn’t need anyone.

“I want my brother found,” Ritsu answered with finality. He took another step forward, and waded willingly deeper into the path ahead of him. “And I want his shishou dead.”

Isa shut her front door behind her. She didn’t both with the lights. She simply kicked her shoes off, and dropped her clutch and keys on the entryway table, and shrugged off her coat, and waited for the weight to leave her chest.

She counted out the seconds. The weight didn’t leave.

Isa moved forward, socked feet moving silently from entryway, past the kitchen, and straight to the bedroom in back, where she eased the door closed, and methodically, numbly rolled the blinds shut over each of the two windows. The amber sunset vanished behind them, leaving her room in a warm wash of slatted light, growing dimmer.

Phone in hand, she lowered herself onto her futon. The screen lit her face, reflected in her eyes as she tapped through her contacts, and let her finger hover above Tetsuo’s name.

She didn’t press it. Instead she scrolled upward and stopped on Haruki’s name. She tapped the little phone icon beside his contact info, and adjusted her eyes to the new darkness of the screen – all black, save for the little image of Haruki at the center, and the hang-up icon beneath it. The grainy ringing stole her focus. She watched the seconds ticking upward on screen beneath Haruki’s still contact photo.

A click.

H-hello? Officer Maki?”

“Hi Ando. I’ll be taking a sick day tomorrow. Just thought I’d give you a heads up.”

You, wh— Wait you’ve never—I don’t think—you’ve never even taken a sick day, have you? What happened? Are you dying?”

“No.”

Did you catch whatever Officer Isari had?”

Isa paused. She lingered on that look of Tetsuo’s, burned into her memory. That utter defeat, that mask of helplessness, the complete devastation that stole through his eyes at the notion that he’d failed to save Shigeo Kageyama from whatever fate had claimed him.

It was like she remembered it differently, now. She felt it so much more clearly in her mind’s eye, that feeling she hadn’t understood until now, of personal responsibility for the destruction of a Kageyama brother’s life.

“Yeah, I think so,” Isa answered. “Take care.”

Isa tapped the End Call button, hearing only the faintest note of protest from Haruki on the other end of the line. Silence washed over her again, and she placed her phone down on the floor. It would die in the night if she didn’t plug it in now.

Isa rolled over, phone forgotten. The light filtering through her blinds had turned crimson now, staining the wall. She stared at it, unmoving, unthinking, unwilling to sink into the thoughts that consumed her. She fought to just focus on the light, and the red, and the blank nothing that spanned the whole wall.

It didn’t work.

So Isa rolled over again, and shut her eyes, and let her thoughts consume her.