The first time Tetsu crashes at his place, it's on official business.
Neither of them can get the day's case out of their heads. Staying at the office any later isn't happening-- they've got some measure of self-respect-- and Tetsu's house isn't really an option, so they wind up at his apartment. For hours, they talk it out and bicker and theorize, nursing stale coffee and pushing Sumio's cats off the files. For Tetsu, known to hate paperwork about as much as he hates crime, this kind of event is a rarity amongst rarities. But even Tetsugoro Kusabi has his limits. He passes out on the couch well past midnight, a folder upside-down on his chest and a pack of smokes dangling precariously from his sleeping grip. Sumio is too tired himself to wake him up, or even to care; he drapes a spare blanket over him and shuffles away to bed.
In the morning, Tetsu complains. Sumio's couch is too lumpy. The blanket was thin as all hell. Jam wouldn't shut the fuck up and kept meowing in his face at 5 in the morning.
He remembers just as he's succeeded in shooing him out the door: Tetsu, in all the years they've known each other, has never once spent the night at his apartment.
You’d think it would have happened sooner after all this time, but Tetsu insists it hasn’t and he’s also sure, even with his memories still stitching themselves back together and all, that it’s true. It doesn’t really make sense with how closely they’d been working, so the real reason must be beyond him, thinks Sumio to himself. By Tetsu's third stay, he's already making coffee on his own and sullenly nudging Jam and Stycoun away with a gentle (if insistent) foot when the pair wind their way around his ankles. They tolerate him— grudgingly, sure, but they do.
The two of them have always worked in close quarters like this, haven’t they? Having another person in his space at home every once in a while isn't really a bother. Everything just feels... oddly natural, like a more comfortable extension of their broom closet of an office back at HQ. Tetsu working later into the night and occupying his couch sometimes shifts nothing but the location of their partnership.
(And Sumio knows this because that was what came back to him first. Working with Tetsu again, picking right back up where they’d left off, was all very much like walking down some old remembered path and finding under one’s feet the very same bumps and faults in the earth that had always been there, unchanged, since the very first time. He could follow the road in his sleep. He could follow it blind. He could follow it as whoever he is now, several paces in front of Sumio Mondo but only just catching the heels of Sumio Kodai.)
Tetsu simply falls into his life at a different angle now. If the Sumio of the past would have been bothered by it, then that was just too bad.
One morning, he walks into the HCU offices, wearing a borrowed coat that Tetsu had left behind a day before. Sakura looks at him strangely, but doesn't say a word otherwise.
Mikumo does not return to him with any measure of grace.
He doesn't cry. He doesn't wake, screaming, from nightmares of the factory smokestacks; the sickly gray skies of twenty years ago, burnt and acrid with poison fog, don't fill his lungs anymore, they don't choke him in his sleep from the inside out. It’s nothing so dramatic. He’d have preferred that to this, because the memories come to him in waking instead. Sumio Mondo had sealed himself away so tightly that Sumio Kodai, finally reaching back for his own mind, found it still blocked off, the neck of it throttled half-shut-- every day, a little more trickles back, three drops at a time instead of two. It’s agonizingly slow. He hears phantom ringing in his ears. The edges of the forest creep around his peripheral vision. He half expects to turn around one day and find himself there: six years old and numb, like he's suspended a centimeter above the leaves and the dirt. Drip by drip, he feels himself eroding again.
Sumio stops sleeping.
His partner isn't around as often, but when he is, he nearly always spends the night. He never asks questions. He ignores the ones that Sumio asks. Instead, he brings cigarettes, Placebos, and they shoot the shit and smoke far too much and don't say anything important and Tetsu pretends, unconvincingly, that he's an insomniac now, too. And both of them wind up all fucked up by morning, because they've gotten perhaps two hours of rest apiece.
"You have to tell me why I'm not in jail eventually," he tries. It's the third time. Or the fourth.
Tetsu turns to him, sucking on a cigarette, and raises both eyebrows.
"...You're such an asshole."
Tetsu snorts. "There you are, Sumio." He crushes the embers in the center of an ashtray, then pulls the pack out again, shaking two new sticks out.
"Did we work with a Morishima?"
"Yeah. The reporter? You only met him, I dunno, once, but the whiny little prick wouldn't leave me alone. I'd bet money he was just trying to get into my pants or some shit. Why?"
"Nothing. Something reminded me of him, but I can't figure out what." Meow. "Stop tormenting Jam. He'll bite you."
It's only a passing thought. Not so consequential, as far as sorting out the jumble of memories in his head goes, and of course Tetsu winds up getting scratched, so they leave it at that. His daughter is flying in from America tonight, too, so there's not much more time to mull it over anyway.
It's been hours since Tetsu's headlights have disappeared around the corner of his street. Sumio, staring into an empty refrigerator and apropos of abso-fucking-lutely nothing, finally remembers.
- This guy, he was gay. Fixated on a younger colleague of his... That caused all sorts of trouble, too.
- Come on, he wasn't gay!
- No, he was. I can't understand that, personally.
- You can't?
- Well, anyway. The young guy in question--
Mechanically-- and after a slow, slow blink-- he shuts the fridge door.
Things begin to stick out to him, here and there. Little ones. The way that Tetsu's shoulders settle when he sits down; the wrinkle that forms in his brow when he's thinking intently. He stares at the man's mouth for just a little longer than it would take him to lipread, once, and fuck, he wants to kick himself for it, it never fucking mattered before, why did he need to figure this out now? Sumio can't tell whether Tetsu has noticed that he's noticed, or whether he's pretending that he hasn't noticed, or whether he's just paranoid that it's one or the other or neither or both, now that he's both sleep-deprived and caught in the middle of re-evaluating five-odd years of a partnership.
At least he's distracted.
Akira stops by his apartment one day, with a folder of unfinished paperwork and no Kusabi in tow. (He shouldn't be so disappointed by that, but he is.) Sumio hasn't slept again: Akira's expression is totally unreadable, rather than blank, so it must be obvious. They stare each other down for what feels like an eternity-- a second later and Sumio, on his last nerve, might've snapped. But, unexpectedly, Akira's hands begin to move. Sloppy and uncertain, but with deliberate effort to each movement.
[ Are you okay? ]
Sumio stares at Akira's hands.
Akira's hands hover an inch away from his body, flexing into closed fists and open again, as if he's not sure where to put them. He tries again. [ I've been learning. I don't know when I will speak again. How are my signs? ]
"Your fingers should be a little tighter," replies Sumio, flat, "but they're not bad."
[ Okay. ]
There's a long pause. Sumio, at last, raises his own hands. [ I've only ever signed to one other person.] His mouth twitches into a faint grimace. He can't smile looking back at those memories. Not yet, when he's only just unearthed them. [ It's been a while. ]
Akira's head cants slowly to the side.
"...Just come inside."
Akira, looking past Sumio, signs again-- [ You have cats? ]
Toriko Kusabi is only in Japan for two weeks. Sumio very nearly misses her. Tetsu's evasive when he asks-- she's got too much shit on her plate to say hello today, tomorrow, every day-- but every so often, Sumio catches glimpses of her. She enters a shopping mall, fading into the crowd before he can follow. She rounds a street corner and disappears. She finishes her coffee at a cafe, then strides out a different door just as he makes it inside. (The owner's eyes follow him until he's drained his coffee to the last drop. She's had issues with troublesome men before, did he hear about that incident with the 22-year-old women a couple years back, she just can't be too careful these days--)
Of course she'd wind up finding him instead.
Two days before her flight back, Toriko's at his doorstep, rocking on her heels. Just waiting. Her eyes light up at the sound of his approach, and she beams, all sunlight in the wake of the golden hour. Even if his jaw's dropped halfway to the floor. "It's been a while," she says tentatively. Her smile wanes, and Toriko pauses, smoothing a wrinkle out of her skirt. "Are you settling in all right?"
"How the hell do you know where I live?" he blurts.
"Why were you following me on the island?"
"Okay, so..." she begins--
"Did he put you up to that? Did he put you up to this?"
"You're not a hallucination, right?"
"Oh my god." Toriko groans. "You're a really bad host."
"Let me in? We should talk. Just don't tell Dad."
Sumio sticks the key in the lock without further protest. He passes through the doorway, and Toriko's behind him a moment after: it's as if she were waiting to follow him that much more exactly, tracing his path footstep by footstep. And, as it, turns out, Toriko's a lot like her father. She smiles more, and answers even fewer of his questions, but there's a familiar, stubborn resolve in her that Sumio could pick out a mile off: she's still a Kusabi through and through, even without Tetsu's gruff demeanor. Except the cats like her more. Jam and Stycoun, purring like motors, settle dutifully in her lap-- she admits, scratching Stycoun under the chin, that she's known them for years. Probably better than she's ever known him.
"They were pretty rowdy at first. Even if they remembered me, it was still a new house... and Chris really hated them."
"My crocodile. Who do you think watched them while you were gone?"
"...You left my cats with an crocodile."
"Chris is really responsible!"
"That isn't the issue here."
Toriko shrugs. "Well, anyway, there was no way they were going to a shelter. That would've been too sad. Besides, it was only a matter of time before we brought you home."
We. Sumio says nothing. Stycoun rubs his head against Toriko's wrist before he hops off the couch and slinks away, headed for the bowl of cat food in the kitchen.
"Don't fuckin' wave that shit in my face."
"Then give me answers," Sumio retorts sharply, all but brandishing his still-smoldering cigarette at Tetsu. "Why is it that I'm the only person who doesn't know what happened to me?"
"Even I don't know for sure what went down on Lospass, if it makes you feel any better."
"It doesn't. And I don't know why you're even trying." Sumio straightens, stepping back from the railing of his apartment balcony and taking a drag. The night's barely fallen: no street lamps have flickered to life yet, leaving Sumio's face only just distinguishable in the light cast by his apartment behind them. But he's hard-eyed, all feeling shut in tight behind an old, familiar wall. Tetsu turns to watch him dully as the wisps of smoke drift past and dissipate into the air. "Is that the reason you won’t tell me anything?” he continues, cool and accusing. “Because you’re worried about my feelings?“
”Seriously? That’s what you’re pissed off about?”
”You just never gave a damn about how I felt before Yukimura. What makes it different now? Was it that hard to find someone who’d put up with you once I was gone?”
He’s lashing out. He knows he’s doing it and he does it anyway; the anger is easier, picking a stupid fight is easier, than thinking about anything else. But Tetsu doesn't take the bait. He just looks tired. For the first time in a very long time, Tetsu's age actually shows through— and all it does is make Sumio feel worse.
"That make you feel better?"
"Me either, dickhead." Tetsu crushes his cigarette butt on the railing and lets it fall from his fingers, grinding it into ash beneath his heel.
“You’re usually going on about how you’re gonna kill me at this point.”
Tetsu chuckles grimly. “After all I went through to find you? Not a chance.”
Sumio falls silent. Wordlessly, he steps forward to offer him the cigarette in his hand— the last smoke they’ve got between the two of them. Tetsu accepts it without meeting Sumio’s eyes.
”The reason, by the way, isn’t a ‘won’t’. It’s a ‘can’t’.” Tetsu raises Sumio’s cigarette to his lips. “If we don't wait, it'll be all fucked up and you'll go right back into the hole.” A beat. “...Besides, you’re a searcher, aren't you? Might be more fun to work all that shit out yourself when the time comes, instead of waiting on when I can finally tell you.”
Sumio reaches over to take back his cigarette. ”I wouldn’t call that fun.”
”I wouldn’t call a half-smoked cigarette an apology, either.”
”You never apologize to me about anything. Are you going soft?"
“Hmph. Only if you’re going soft in the head.” The street lamps click on at last. Tetsu’s looking up at him with a wry, boyish grin that— that, if he didn’t know any better—
”I’m heading inside,” Tetsu interrupts. His grin's faded. “Getting cold.”
Tetsu claps a hand on his shoulder: it lingers for a moment, then slides off. He mumbles something under his breath that suspiciously sounds like a ‘sorry’, but his lips are out of sight and Sumio can’t trust the clarity of whatever hearing he has left.
Sumio stays on the balcony for one more breath of smoke.
The website-- a online sign language dictionary-- finally loads. Sumio and Tetsu each have a shoulder to peer over as Akira scrolls through it.
"You really can find everything on the internet these days... is there a sign for that? Internet?"
Akira nods. [ Internet. ]
[ He's going to ask about curse words next. Don't teach him, Akira. ]
[ I won't. ]
"The hell you pointing at me f-- wait. What'd you say about me?"
"Nothing," Sumio lies.
"Whatever. Anyway, Big Dick. Can you swear in JSL?"
But later, Tetsu comes to him, spelling out SU-MI-O and [ partner ], because, as he has come to learn, Big Dick can be trusted with pretty much anything.
Toriko promised an email. A week after she lands, it arrives-- dated for six days prior, its contents all garbled and corrupted. He already knows that the silver briefcase lying dormant in the corner of his room couldn't fix it. Sumio writes out an entire reply, but something gnaws at him, dread or intuition or he knows not what. He remembers Tetsu’s words. He deletes his own draft, along with Toriko's email.
Sumio dreams of falling that night. In the morning, his foot tangles in the sheets, and he tumbles face-first to the floor.
Sakura makes the suggestion: dig up an old photo album or two, they might jog some of your memories. Sumio searches every nook and cranny of his apartment and comes up empty. Ultimately, Tetsu finds something first-- tucked somewhere between pages and pages of Toriko, ages eight through ten, is a single photograph. In it, Sumio Kodai is barely twenty-one years old. The Unit 2 office is years neater. His back is partially turned, as if the picture were candid. (It was, he recalls, which is why Tetsu's not in it.) His suit's still a size and a half too big for him, but his mouth's hanging half open in the surprised beginnings of a smile. ("You never bought me a--" "Let's say it's an IOU.")
Once Tetsu is gone, he opens up Catherine for the first time in months.
He should've checked for empty spaces first. There are a handful of spaces in the walls and the floor, all hollowed out with what he's positive to have been Fuyuki's expert hands. Most are empty. As he quietly resets the panels, he remembers that they were largely created to distract. At last, he and Catherine unseal the final, and only true, compartment: within it is a weathered book of old newspaper clippings, bits and pieces of printed public records with notes printed meticulously along the margins. Names. Addresses. Information on police academy enrollment and mandatory screenings. There are photos of the factories, and drawings of a large manor's floor plan, and a 5-page list of phone extensions belonging to the Yukimura building. There are no photos of himself, nor of Hiseki, nor of Fuyuki. The forest is all around him and it's stifling, even as he stares down at it from a bird's eye.
Sumio turns a page.
Suddenly, Riru is staring back.
He doesn't cry. He doesn't wake, screaming, from nightmares of the factory smokestacks, but everything is real again, his memories as crystal-clear in the grip of his mind's eye as they will ever be, and Sumio finds himself wishing every now and then that they weren't. Is this, he wonders, how Sumio Mondo was born? Did he split himself down the middle and escape into the bliss of willful ignorance, wringing his hands over and over around a past that refused to die?
But the HCU is short staffed to begin with, and on top of it all, the politics surrounding Sumio’s return create complication after complication. All of their workloads have nearly doubled. For more than a week, Tetsu and Sumio are trapped for hours in their cramped excuse for an office. It's better than a stake-out, but not by much. Both their fuses grow shorter: Sumio notes, cynically, that the bickering is so familiar that it's almost like he never left. And these days, the work is the only thing that makes him feel any kind of normal.
Sumio Kodai's footsteps are easy to follow in, because he had always positioned them that way. One after the other, he had moved in military-step, marching towards revenge-- and then, abruptly, to nowhere. He can’t remember if he, like Fuyuki and Hiseki, had planned to die after he got there. He isn’t sure if he wants to remember anymore.
He starts to sleep in shifts. It doesn't help. The others notice and do nothing, and he's grateful for it: he's not entirely sure how he'd have taken pity.
This time, the ringing in his ears is real and it hurts like hell. What he takes for Mikumo creeping into his periphery again is actually the three hours of sleep across that many days finally catching up to him, and he feels like he's floating into the dark boughs of the trees when he's really just blacking out at his desk. An hour later, he opens his eyes in time to see Tetsu's chair rapidly swiveling all the way back around.
"Stop cutting corners on the reports," Sumio mutters.
Slowly, Tetsu turns his chair back. "Go home already, idiot."
It takes Sakura to force him, and Tetsu to drive him, but he eventually does. Hours later, Sumio wakes in his own bed. He sits up, squinting blearily at his alarm clock-- the digits 4:24 cast a feeble red glow over his room. And sure enough, the hunch he has is right. When he wanders out of bed, Tetsu is still on his couch. (He's flanked by cats and his mouth's hanging half-open, no doubt snoring, but he's still there.) It's a ridiculous sight, all things considered.
And yet, finally, it occurs to Sumio that it isn't working with Tetsu that has kept him tethered to solid ground all this time. It hasn't been for a while. It's so stupidly, painfully obvious in retrospect that he wants to shake himself, three or maybe even four years ago, for not figuring it out sooner. Tetsu stirs a little. Sumio stands rooted to the spot, as if a single move might wake him, but not even the cats budge as he settles, murmuring something that Sumio can't pick out.
He tears himself away after a long moment. There's still time for a little more rest.
"So what now?" he asks later that morning.
"What do you mean, now?"
Sumio nudges Jam's face away from his cup. "I mean just that. I waited. And now things are going back to... not 'normal', exactly, but what they were before. Should I be expecting something to happen?"
Tetsu hums thoughtfully, then sets his coffee down. "Honestly? I dunno."
"You don't know anything at all?"
"Nope. You think I made it this far by knowing shit?"
Sumio laughs quietly.
"That's one's new," Tetsu remarks, expression skeptical, but smiling in the eyes. The cat tries his luck with Tetsu's coffee; Jam meows, irritated, when he's pushed away from there, too. "But yeah. All I knew was where you were and how to bring you back to the 24th Ward. Everything else, all that political bullshit..." He shrugs.
"I guess I'll just know whatever it is when I see it."
"Yeah. I bet you will."
There's a stillness then as the conversation drops off. These days the company has grown comfortable, even in the quiet. Tetsu stands and begins to shake his coat on, but Sumio begins abruptly again. "So, what do you think's going to happen?"
Tetsu blinks. He's taken aback, frozen halfway through one sleeve, before he stiffly shakes his arm all the way through it. "Honestly? I don't really care what happens anymore. All I know is that you need some peace and quiet to get your head on straight and to keep it there. I don't wanna have to follow you to another goddamn Lospass, I need you here."
It takes a second for the gravity of the statement to dawn on them both, and when it does, the shift in mood's near-instantaneous. Sumio's hands fold tightly around his cup, and his head tilts to the side a little and his eyes settle intently on Tetsu's. Tetsu has rarely withered or backed down in front of him, has never said anything remotely that sentimental before, but damn him, he's really got the nerve to look embarrassed when the words came out of his mouth in the first place.
"...Tetsu, are you--"
"Just-- uh-- hurry up with the coffee. Natsume's girl is a fuckin' hardass. I'm not gonna hear the end of it if we're late again."
They give each other a wide berth that day. It's the most productive-- and quiet-- that they've been in weeks. Akira even asks Tetsu if he's sick once. Unfortunately, it only lasts a few hours.
"Fuck, we both smoke."
"That's your fault, you know."
"Fuck! You're right." Tetsu groans, running a hand over his face and through his hair. "Goddammit."
"I won't make you leave or anything." Sumio inches further down on the bench. "Technically, we're on public property now."
Tetsu hesitates, but he still takes a seat. This time, the silence is uncomfortable, a weight bearing down upon the both of them: Tetsu's fingers fumble over the pack of cigarettes in his pocket, and Sumio sits in silent anticipation, watching his every move, as if daring him to speak first. He doesn't. (He should've guessed.)
"What are we doing, Tetsu?"
"Ask me about politics again instead."
Tetsu groans. He hunches forward, hands clasped around the his cigarettes, and closes his eyes. "...Fine," he replies at last, straightening up again. "Whatever you want it to be is what we're doing."
"You mean that."
"And I don't really wanna talk about it anymore, so if you could j-- uh, okay? Su--"
Sumio leans across Tetsu, the tip of his nose brushing against his cheek; his lips move slow, but insistent, against his partner's until he kisses him back. Tetsu's fingers tangle themselves in Sumio's hair like they were always meant to be there, and, without words, with little more than a sigh, they understand everything they need to for just a little while.
"I actually didn't smoke at all today. I just know what time your breaks are, so I waited out there until you showed up."
"God dammit, you're good."
Things don't change all that much. He still doesn't get as much sleep as he'd like, and in dreams Mikumo still returns to him, pieces of shadow and noise that roll around in his skull, over and over, now smooth like dark, polished stones. He smokes less. Eventually, they find other things to do when Sumio gets restless.
A silver briefcase lies dormant in the corner of his room. Her presence gnaws at him, some residual sense of dread or intuition or he knows not what. The weight of his bed shifts, and suddenly Tetsu's pressing a kiss between his shoulder blades, because even a failed attempt at rest is better than sitting up at night and staring the past in the eyes.
He's grateful. Some nights, he even dreams of nothing.
He deletes the first blank email. There's a chainmail virus going around again, and he isn't about to take any chances. Then two more emails from the throwaway address arrive, and then three, and then twenty. Some are garbled. Three or four have the name of some chatroom he's never been to in the subject. But there are only nineteen messages, in reality: mixed in with the repeats is one from another sender, and that one does turn out to be the virus.
He'd have wrecked his computer himself if the virus hadn't taken care of it already.
Thank God they can count on Akira.
>/: is old man wedge still trying to protect you?
>/: who does he think he is, some kind of knight in shining armor? lol
>: who is this?
>/: a friend of a friend
>/: i'm also the final mystery
>/: for the time being anyway
Sumio, seated at Akira's computer, turns to look at both of the men standing behind him. Akira's just as clueless as him, but Tetsu nods, expression utterly sober.
>: what do you want?
>/: it's not about what i want. it's about you. it's always been about you
>/: we're just here to lead the way
>/: all of us
>: ok. then lead me.
>/: my pleasure. go on, searcher
>/: i know you have her with you
>/: jack on in
The silver briefcase opens. Sumio moves with a practiced reflex, selecting the jack, inputting his birthday, all as simply as he'd done before. There's a chime, and a click like a lock being opened... and, without warning, Catherine cracks, metal snapping and twisting, fiber ripping and plastic splintering shards that spill straight into the hollow casing of a now-ordinary case.
He picks past the broken pieces with trembling fingers. Within Catherine's heart-- as has always been within her heart-- a single eye glows silver.
>/: good night, mondo
/ has left the chatroom.
They get rid of it. They get rid of her. Sumio doesn't care to ask how, or why, or what good an empty briefcase will do. The only thing he wants now is peace, and quiet, and for the two agents who pick the entire package up from Akira's place to stop staring at him like they've seen a ghost.
Everything is done now. All the threads have interwoven. He should feel better about it, but he doesn't. Maybe, Sumio wonders, doubting himself at every turn, he's only fooling himself: biding time, clutching at a thing resembling happiness for as long as he can get that feeling to last. Because Sumio Kodai was the fluke all along. Sumio Mondo was born far away from the 24th Ward, born manyfold and born to wait, a piece of a piece of a piece of a whole consciousness never meant to escape his island. Never to be adopted. Never to have a childhood surrounded by the woods of Mikumo 77. Never to have that all ripped from his hands, his hearing stolen, never to mourn and never to long for revenge when he never should've had anything to miss to begin with.
Tetsu still grounds him, but he can't always ground him. There are problems that Tetsugoro Kusabi doesn't know how to and shouldn't have to fix. He's already done more than enough for Sumio without that. Maybe sometime he'll feel like he deserves it.
"Hey," says Sakura, out of the blue. "Right before the HCU took me on, you told me something interesting."
"When was that?"
"I interviewed you for an assignment... and then, for a murder case. I had to get clearance and everything. It wasn't exactly simple to get a conversation with you, much less three of them."
Sumio closes his eyes to think. He recalls long days, quiet days, his mind so idle he could feel it numbing by the minute. Tetsu, at least once every week, frowning tightly at him from behind a thick wall of plexiglass. And then, a two-month eternity later, Sakura Natsume bearing a folder filled with paper questionnaires. He opens his eyes once more. "...I remember now."
"I've been meaning to bring it up for ages, but you know how busy things get around here with so few of us. I was waiting for a night when we were both working late." She pauses to shuffle her stack of papers together. "Anyway, you said I needed to focus on the darkness within myself. That was the only way to understand what goes through the mind of a criminal."
"I did say that. I'd still stand by it now."
"Mm. And then..." Sakura trails off.
"Your darkness, Sumio." Sakura looks up. "You chose to destroy it-- to kill those memories of your past-- and to destroy yourself, rather than to allow yourself to be rotted away by that darkness."
Sumio says nothing.
"If I asked you how you were doing these days, you wouldn't be honest with me, would you?"
He smiles grimly. "That's very straightforward of you, isn't it?"
"I'm a very straightforward person. Also, I actually care about you."
Sakura falls silent. Graciously, she's given him a minute to digest that while she files more paperwork away. Her words are measured, when she begins again. "...I still dream about the Shelters all the time. Even now. They actually got worse, once I'd seen them again. To tell you the truth, I can't tell whether I've gotten less anxious, or whether I've simply gotten accustomed to what that anxiety feels like. I'm sure Akira feels the same way. I don't really know how Tetsu feels, though. You'd probably know that better than me."
Apparently, something about that answer has caught her off-guard. Sakura shakes her head, rather than risking a reply to that, and continues.
"What I'm trying to say is that we're all still here, Sumio. We've already opened up Pandora's box: every bit of pain that was held inside... it's already been set free. But there's always that last bit of hope remaining at the very bottom. No matter how many of your demons you've let loose."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I looked my darkness in the eyes. Because I recognized her, I was able to push her back. ... Her name was Ayame."
Sumio stares back. The expression on Sakura's face doesn't waver in the slightest.
"I believe in that hope. Whether or not you do is up to you to decide."
"...I should head home."
Sakura doesn't argue; she only smiles. "Good night, Sumio. I'll see you tomorrow."
[ Are you okay? ]
Sumio furrows his brow, and signs [ sakura? ], the flower. Akira looks sheepish, which means that he's guessed right.
"I don't know if you have the vocabulary for my answer yet." Sumio, seeing Akira's frown, adds, [ Soon, it will be yes. I hope. ]
Akira signs [ Good! ] so enthusiastically that he can't help the grin.
The memories cling to him, in sleep or in waking, no matter what he does to distract himself from them and from his awareness of Sumio Mondo. There are airplanes in his dreams now too, an island crackling and buzzing with electricity, but Sumio Kodai, every day, reclaims his own mind a little bit better.
With Tetsu, nothing has changed. He nearly always spends the night when he's around. One cold night, he actually starts to talk about a 20-year-old case and his old gun, now Sumio's, that quivered in his hand as he watched men rip themselves apart for power. But even Tetsugoro Kusabi has his limits. Instead, he lets Sumio talk. He nods off in the middle of it sometimes-- Sumio is the insomniac, not him. But it matters that he tries.
"Hey," Sumio says. "I just remembered a saying. 'The sun and rain keep flowers alive.' Have you heard it before, Tetsu?"
Tetsu shifts, the sheets rustling with him. "That pretty-sounding nonsense? Nope."
"Okay. I'll tell you what it means later."
"Tell me whatever you want," he yawns. "Just tell me in the morning."
The long day of Sumio Mondo has ended, and a new day for Sumio Kodai has started.