Author: Schermionie PM
A collection of rarepair stories written for the MTNN Rarepairs Challenge. :Chapter 3 - She finally notices that it's no longer a blanket around her shoulders but Sasazuka's arm, and in the blink of an eye she's looked away from Neuro after all.:Rated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Crime - Yako K. & Sasazuka E. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 7,477 - Reviews: 11 - Favs: 7 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 02-20-12 - Published: 01-03-11 - id: 6621727
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Thanks to: KillCupido, WannabeFireFox and Curiously-Insane for reviewing, and double thanks to Evanelle for both reviewing and prompting me to update. You're all wonderful!
This chapter: Sasazuka/Yako/Higuchi
Verse: Anime (set several years after) with a few touch-ups to make it manga-compliant with certain details
A/N: There's a bit of a story behind this one... I started writing it back in 2009 when I hadn't yet read the manga, shortly after I saw something somewhere about how police officers make jokes about crime scenes to make their gruesome jobs easier on them. I don't know whether this it true and can't remember where I got it from, but I do remember knowing from the moment that I saw it that I'd write about it.
So, with that in mind, I set out to write a story with the premise of "What if Neuro was brutally murdered?" (Sorry in advance to Neuro fans.) Originally it was going to be entirely S/Y, but Higuchi somehow managed to find his way into it as well.
Please bear in mind that I don't consider this anywhere near my best work and that I'm aware there must be a million and one inaccuracies in it. Even so, I hope that you enjoy it.
And, as usual, pairing requests are more than welcome. ;)
It's a crime scene and it's not like Yako isn't used to those. Death filled her last years of adolescence, a constant presence well into the years of her early twenties and, until today, she'd suspected beyond even that. Not only does she see it in her days but her nights too, waking up in a sweat as the image of her father's tortured face stuck to the newest victim slowly, slowly, slowly fades from her mind.
It's a crime scene and Neuro was very, very used to those. He was ever with a smile and a joke as they left; she's always found it callous but now she misses it. Still Yako half-expects him to get up, grin in her face and ask her out for a juicy steak, brandishing the bloodied stakes that had purportedly pierced his heart in the early hours of that morning in front of her, determined to make her scream so he could tell everyone that 'Sensei is excited because she's solved the mystery.'
Then they could get out of here and she'd have to watch his 'Evil Play-By-Play' of his brush with death until she felt sick to her stomach. But then she could go home and stuff her face and call Kanae who was always busy but it helped to hear her voice on the answering machine anyway before she went to bed and had the nightmare all over again, but this time her father wouldn't be in it. When she woke up Neuro would be there to slap her out of it and bring her breakfast, and even though it would be a certain type of demon food which eats humans the thought would be there and she could get on with things, her belief in Neuro's immortality reaffirmed.
She'd stopped blindly believing that he would get up ages ago, staring at him now out of duty. If she were to stop, to admit to herself that he was gone, would Neuro move, would he finally wake up with no one to notice when he did - wake up to find her no longer there, already forgetting him, no longer loyal? It's a horrible prospect but Yako can't entirely understand it. Detachment, she thinks vaguely, trying the word out.
"Detachment," she murmurs, staring hard at the blood splatters on his blue suit. If Neuro were alive, she thinks, he'd be too annoyed by that to stay this still.
Her mind runs through the puns he'd make in this situation, well used to his repertoire at this point. How predictable someone becomes after you spend enough time with them, even a demon. But you couldn't have predicted this, some voice in her head tells her - not a whisper, nor a roar. Just a blunt, direct voice that forgives and softens nothing.
She pulls the blanket some blurred, anonymous police officer had given her earlier around her shoulders as it begins to slip down and thinks No, no I couldn't have done.
Such morbid thoughts don't often cross Yako's mind, but maybe in the moments where he'd come closest to it, she'd always figured that, if he had to die, Neuro would die in a blaze of glory, that glint in his eyes as he came up against someone truly worthy to oppose him. He'd have time to see her point out the criminal as he lay dying, but not enough to fight the culprit off in its last ditch attempt to escape fate. Neuro would trust Yako to protect herself at that point, and she wouldn't disappoint him.
Or, as she'd occasionally pictured, Neuro would consume the Ultimate Mystery and spontaneously combust on the spot.
She hadn't expected him to just... go. Just die without her there - without her there to pay him back for all the times that he had saved her, or at least to simply say 'goodbye'. "Detachment," she says again, urgently, finally getting what she's been missing all along, why she's so different to the majority of the police force. She's always lacked the ability to reel her heart in at a moment's notice, the ability to keep away from the pain of another.
Now, when the pain is truly hers, now that it belongs to her so much that it should feel like the only thing she's ever felt, she can't feel a thing. She's staring at the dead body of a demon who has beaten her up and called her names and torn her from the life she could have had and settled down her vengeful heart and protected her and taught her so much and been there for her to calm her down when she woke up screaming despite never having had a nightmare in his entire life, and she can't feel a thing except the cold. Her mind is working as quickly as it ever has, going through what must have happened, who must have done it and why. It's almost clinical.
Despite knowing that Sasazuka can't hold off the people wanting to take away Neuro's body for examination much longer, Yako can only stare at the bloody corpse of a demon who by all rights shouldn't be dead. Although her mind didn't always let her sleep peacefully, things had been going well at the detective agency.
All those years ago, when she'd suffered enough for her whole family, she had wished that she'd been strong enough to examine her father's body, to look for the clues that Neuro had so easily found. But now that she has the chance, the uninterrupted chance (The first time I've investigated completely alone she thinks, wanting to laugh), to find out what bastard did this, she finds that she can only stare at him and forget time altogether.
Yako no longer thinks that Neuro will wake up and move. She's not (yet) afraid of the consequences this will have on her life. But she is afraid that if she looks away she might never have the chance to look back while he's still around, still real and not some stiff, meaningless body in an eternal coffin. Like with her mother, left there in South Africa by Yako with the promise of reunion, executed before she ever reached Japan's shores and her waiting daughter.
She finally notices that it's no longer a blanket around her shoulders but Sasazuka's arm, and in the blink of an eye she's looked away from Neuro after all. "Come on," he says, his voice gentler than she's ever heard it, "you should go home."
"No," says Yako. "You need me here." At the shake of his head, she notices the stubble on his chin and realises how much time must have gone by since she first clapped eyes on Neuro. The police will be leaving soon, she thinks desperately, and suddenly she remembers her thoughts from earlier. "My agency would like to stake a claim in this case, Sasazuka-san," she assures him, in a last ditch attempt to clear from his mind any thoughts of excluding her from the investigation. "You can't stop us - me from taking a stab at it..."
Sasazuka's eyes widen ever so slightly at her deliberate tone and he looks into her eyes searchingly. There's no doubt that he knows she means what she's saying, but it's not detachment that she hears in his voice when he says, "Well, Yako-san... there is a lot at stake if we don't solve this case."
Even so, it's very hard for her not to smile and say, Good one.
Every police officer reaches a point where they can switch their emotions on and off. Not so much outside of their work, but when at a crime scene there is an unspoken rule among the veterans to keep their distance unless it is absolutely necessary.
Sasazuka Eishi has been in the force long enough to spot this skill in others almost instantly. He's watched officers come and go, rise and fall, and he's noticed that it's not the people who find it easiest to switch themselves off that succeed. It's a skill you have to learn, and if you come into the force with it, always keeping calm and away from the people that you need to understand in order to catch, sooner or later you'll break down or simply fizzle out. It's compassion that can cripple a man, but it's also compassion that will give him the passion and drive to stop the people that he chases. And if you can learn to rule that passion, rather than not have it at all, you will get further in the end.
Eishi learned it fairly quickly, yet his cool façade is still just that: a façade. That's why Yako and Nougami always fascinated him - how different they were, but both wore their hearts on their sleeves in a way that Eishi never could. That compassion of Yako's had never wavered, in the time that they had known each other. That's why when he realises that she's brushing the dead Nougami Neuro's hair away from his battered face not out of frail tenderness but to examine the strange letters - or whatever they are - carved into his head, Eishi feels a cold hand grip his heart.
Shun stands beside him, directing the forensics team as he puts to good use his amazing eye for detail. Eishi, meanwhile, looks at the crime scene as a whole, taking everything in - so many bodies, so much blood - and interprets it in a way that Shun will probably never be able to do. Once they'd got past the first few years of 'pupil' and 'teacher' it had became clear why they were made partners: their abilities complemented one another, just as their attitudes did.
It was much the same for Yako and Nougami. The way they solved the mystery had become as much an art as even the most elegant of crimes.
Now that Nougami is dead, Eishi wonders, detachedly, where will Yako go? Will she pick up the shattered pieces as she usually does and put her agency back together again? Will she withdraw altogether, changing profession entirely? Will she join the force?
No. She's too fragile, thinks Eishi, though there's doubt in that thought when Yako opens one of Nougami's blank eyes, staring into it as if she can find the answer in that dead green. She hasn't cried.
"Any ideas?" Shun asks, shaking Eishi out of his drifting, distracting train of thought. The man's usually optimistic expression become a frowns as he notices the direction of his partner's gaze. "She'll be alright, Sempai," he says with an uncharacteristic sigh. "It's hard but, well... we don't really know her, do we? So just... tell me what you've found out. The sooner everyone gets out of here, the better."
Shun had always resented Yako and Nougami's presence at crime scenes, how they had been privy to confidential information. Although not always in the most honest of ways, he had still worked with blood, sweat and tears to get to where he was, but then a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl came along and made all that effort seem pointless. Yako had grown up now and proved herself truly capable, but, Eishi had to remind himself sometimes, so had Shun. He'd always be an otaku but he'd also always be a police officer.
So Eishi gets to work, sharing his thoughts with the others on scene. Respect keeps him away from Yako - or perhaps it's fear: she's so still now - all through that busy morning, and an equally busy afternoon, but eventually circumstances make that impossible. "Sasazuka." Her thin voice sounds from behind him as he goes to leave for a small cigarette break that he hopes will clear his mind. "They want to take the body away, don't they?"
'The body', he notes, not 'Neuro'. "Yes. I've been holding it off..." for you "...until we finish. But they'll need to take it soon, Yako."
She lapses into silence for so long that Eishi contemplates leaving, but eventually she continues. "Could you please hold them off a little longer?" Her voice is soft but firm, not shaky as he'd expected. She hasn't cried.
He wants to tell her that he doesn't have that kind of authority, but just grunts his affirmation because he owes her and she still hasn't turned around and he can't quite bring himself to go any closer. He's never seen Yako like this before and he feels his façade slipping, just a little, when he imagines what her face might be like. Closed off as her mind slowly eats itself. A desolate sort of detachment, something Eishi knows too well.
Countless crime scenes like this one, and it never got any easier to deal with the people left behind.
Yako is now a 'person left behind', so despite desperately needing the cigarette and knowing that he really should not be doing this, Eishi puts a tentative arm around her. Instantly, even though she doesn't react at all, he knows it was the right thing to do. This sensation of his arm around her slim shoulders is new and for a time all-encompassing. Nougami's demise was brutal, and Eishi has no idea how she's stared at his almost-decapitated head for so long without breaking down.
Maybe he was the one who'd needed the hug.
He's not sure what eventually makes her realise that's he still there - maybe some noise that Eishi is unaware of as his mind spins out possible theories, desperately searching for any clues that he has missed. He suspects that the coroners, too, will have trouble determining the cause of death: there are so many injuries sustained, almost as if the killer wanted to make absolutely sure that Nougami was dead. After all, Nougami had had a rather scary ability to survive surely fatal wounds. The killer might have known about it...
"Come on," he hears himself saying to her, even as his mind is elsewhere, "you should go home."
There's a defiance in her tone that he should have expected. "No. You need me here."
He shakes his head, knowing that he really must get her out of here. The worst thing that he could do would be to let her investigate the murders of not just Nougami but the killer's other victims alongside his team, thinking that she could handle it only to have her freak out when they arrested suspects and try to get revenge on her own terms.
He feels her squirming slightly in his arms but finds he can't bring himself to let go. "My agency would like to stake a claim in this case, Sasazuka-san," she says blandly, and he almost misses it. "You can't stop us - me from taking a stab at it."
This time, Eishi doesn't come close to missing the pun. Neither does he miss the way she stiffens, ever so slightly, when she has to correct her wording. Nougami is dead, now, so she will have to solve this case on her own. There's no 'us' anymore - not in the sense she is used to.
But she isn't running away from it. Maybe I only want her to be fragile, he thinks, looking into her distanced eyes.
He lets her go, regretfully, but she doesn't seem to notice it, waiting on his answer. "Well, Yako-san," he murmurs, because it isn't -chan anymore, "there is a lot at stake if we don't solve this case."
And then her eyes aren't so detached and he thinks Actually, Yako's still a little fragile after all.
But that isn't such a bad thing in their line of work.
Eishi knows how they feel about each other, probably before they do. He sees how much he looks at her when she's absorbed in the work, how reassured she gets when he enters the room and sits beside her. How they quietly leave to get lunch together without conferring. How when she comes in in the morning, smiling as if 'here' is the only place she wants to be, he takes one look at that smile and sees right through it.
Eishi knows they'll probably feel this way before they actually do, too.
Yako's tentative comments when they first discuss the victims' injuries lead them to a lot of investigating on computers, rather than the hands-on policing that he prefers. She's said that the symbols carved on many of the victims' heads avoiding saying 'Neuro' look familiar to her, but that she can't quite remember where they're from. It takes a rather long and tediously confusing discussion about 'popular' culture mainly between Yako, Shun, Higuchi and a few of the interns before Yako hits on an idea, and though it doesn't fit the profile of the killer it's a lead and do they need them.
Yako works almost obsessively with the computer genius on this one, leaving Eishi mainly out of it to get on with other parts of the case and barely any time to check on how she's doing. He can only glance over as he walks past, trying to gauge the genuineness of her expression in a mere second.
Higuchi is also an escapist. He can find escape from his worries with the tapping of a computer's keys, can leave his problems behind if he needs to. And that's what Yako needs right now - escape. Comfort from someone to replace the person that she is now missing. Although it's replaced the place where she used to work, given her something to fill her days, it can't be easy to come here every day and constantly have to prove to people that she's worthy of the responsibilities they've so controversially given her. If even one person were to accept that she is, without question...
Often when he looks at them together he thinks, That should be me. After that first hug he's wanted to comfort her again, wanted to just take her in his arms and let her cry. Tell her that he understands. Tell her that she shouldn't be afraid of her emotions, that ignoring them only leads to bad places.
But Eishi knows what the others, particularly his older colleagues, will say if he does. They've all seen Yako's transition from girl to woman, and while some can't shake the image of her in a schoolgirl outfit and what happens to paedophiles in prison from their minds others are all too happy to see her as her age. Eishi doesn't want that kind of relationship with her, as he finds himself thinking so often. Yet despite that, he can't help but note, before Higuchi had moved in he'd not thought 'Not ever' but 'Not yet'.
So even if he's what's keeping Yako going, Eishi is angry at Higuchi. Resentful. Yako is grieving and she probably has no idea what she wants. At this stage, is it 'right' to start up this kind of relationship? Higuchi's presence by her side is causing gossip, and it's hard because Eishi knows his colleagues would be saying the same worse if he was the one touching her leg like that. If he was the one running his thumb up and down her smooth, barely-touched(?) inner thigh, quickly typing up what he planned to do to her that night before deleting it as someone walked past and her face became even redder than before.
They're barely trying to hide it. And it's none of Eishi's business.
"So, Yako-chan..." he says casually, because she's younger than him and while he respects her as an equal he needs to remind himself of that, "Higuchi's not here."
It seems a weird statement question because they're all aware that he's got the 'flu and probably won't be in for a week or so - but he wants to know what Yako will be doing if she's alone this evening.
"Ah, yes..." murmurs Yako, seeming slightly nervous. They haven't been alone together since the day Nougami died.
After a moment of both of them avoiding eye contact, she seems to catch the question and says, "I'm going to his house to check on him."
"What about dinner?" he asks, letting some of his concern leak through into his voice in a way he's been trying not to do these days. Yako doesn't want to be seen as fragile... but then, she is. Everyone is. "Will you be having it there?"
"Uh, yes, I'll be cooking dinner for us... first I'll be getting ingredients, though." And she glances down at her watch with a look of embarrassment that stirs something up in Eishi that he's been doing his best to ignore. She's just so cute, and she shouldn't be. As she's grown older, her resemblance to his sister has lessened a great deal. That, at least, leaves him feeling a little less guilty about these thoughts - but it doesn't erase the guilt entirely.
"Do you want me to help you?" he asks, the renewed flatness of his voice acting as the mask it was always intended to. He wonders if she sees through it like she sees through so many people; he wonders if that's what he wants, because he knows he will probably never be able to tell her his secrets outright. "You look tired, so I can help you with the shopping."
"I..." she says hesitantly. "...That's a kind offer, Eishi."
"It won't be any trouble. I won't stay, either, just come in quickly."
"Well... if it's no trouble. Higuchi will be glad to see you."
Eishi wonders whether that's true. Men have a sense of territory, and if the signals he's been getting from Higuchi lately are anything to go by, the territory around Yako is well defined - and well guarded. He imagines things will be very awkward, so of course he wouldn't insist on staying... and yet, he doesn't see how he could possibly not go, even if only briefly. The thought barely even flits through his mind, because Yako's hesitant smile like she's afraid to let him in eclipses everything else. Yako eclipses everything else.
And that thought - that she is so important to him - fills his mind even as they go shopping and he sees Yako buy food item after food item, and they have to get two of the largest trolleys, and he really doesn't see how they're going to manage to carry this back.
And that thought - that he's not as important to her as she is to him - distracts him as they do manage to cram everything into bags and then carry them between them, and when the journey is too short again and then when they arrive at Higuchi's flat and he sees signs that Yako's been staying there sometimes and it pierces through his heart that this might not just be a phase for them. That actually, it's not wrong at all because they might really be in love.
And if he's honest with himself, he can't even count the number of nights that he's lain awake, trying to convince himself that love can never be wrong - no matter who you fall for.
"Thanks for all your help, Eishi," Yako says genuinely. She looks like she wants to reach out and touch him but that she can't quite initiate it; and under Higuchi's watchful eyes, neither can he. So they stand there awkwardly until he insists on helping her unpack.
Under the rustling of the plastic carrier bags - the tension is stifling and no one's speaking loudly - Yako asks him whether he'll be free for lunch or dinner soon, because next time, she'd like to pay.
He almost misses what she's saying, but he's not one of the best police officers in the department for nothing, so he does notice the implication that he's paying for this time. The playful smile tugging at the corners of her alluring mouth tell him that she's joking, though, and oh, how he's missed that side of her.
This isn't like the last jokes he'd heard her make, either - those ones beside the maimed and twisted body of a man once so vigorous and bright.
This is a joke that can actually make him smile back - just a little bit.
(And damn, if his mask's not just slipping. It's shattering.)
The months pass and the sensation dies down. Other crimes are committed and solved and Yako realises that, in the scheme of things, her and Neuro's Detective Agency was always such a fragile thing. It could have died at any moment - it just so happened that one of them had first.
Some nights she doesn't really believe Neuro is dead. He was a demon, and 'demon' means the impossible. It means surviving bullets to the head and walking on the ceiling and solving crimes that have stayed unsolved for centuries, as they'd taken to doing for practice's sake before . . .
Some nights she wakes up screaming and feels the ghost of the cold slap on her face that she is used to and she thinks, He's not dead. But then she realises that it's just a cool cloth and a soothing hand that strokes her face, and though she'd always hated the violence and this comfort is just what she needs, she finds herself missing the rough treatment. It's the warm, slow descent back into sleep that marks her early mornings now, rather than the sharp wake-up call from old.
It means that she's less irritated from sleep-deprivation, but she never quite manages to shake away the nightmares. They cling to her skin and sometimes Yako finds herself staring straight ahead, listless. More than once it's caused her to miss her stop.
Eishi and Ishigaki know why, as does Higuchi - obviously. At their weekly lunches Yako fends off Eishi's questions lightly, talking about what she's doing now instead. Once she gets into the force they'll be working in different areas, and Yako will no longer have anything to do with the investigation into Neuro's death. Eishi has promised to keep her posted, but every time he does she sees in his eyes the question Why are you running away? And Why do you not seem to care anymore?
The fact is, Yako does care. That's why she's becoming a police officer at all, why she's continuing down the path that Neuro had alternately pushed and dragged her along. But investigating Neuro's death - it would be too much. Too much for someone like her, to detach herself from the situation enough to be of use. She'd already contributed everything that she could, those first few months, given all that she had. Now all Yako wants to do is settle down and move on: and she's already started to. To undo all of that progress for the sake of showing the police force that she has the ability to put her feelings aside completely... foolish. Only an amoeba would do that, and she's at 'gerbil' level now.
Except for the nights when Higuchi holds her close, Yako spends much of her time mourning her contact-friendly years at the Detective Agency. Neuro had hurt her, but he could be gentle. Without him, she lives a life at arm's length, distanced from her colleagues, the only people she ever really interacts with (because once again Kanae struggles to find time for her; even the answering machine message has changed, becoming strong and serious, so unlike the silly message of before that had reminded Yako of the days when Kanae always had the time).
She gets the sense that this man has a lot on his mind about her, that he wants her to talk to him. But how can she pour out her heart to the closed-off, detached Sasazuka? How can she get through Sasazuka's own defences, surpass the gap between her and the world that has approached as quickly as the end of her teenage years? Except he's 'Eishi', now. That hug he gave her hasn't been repeated, even when she's nearly broken down in front of him, but it's changed their relationship forever.
Sasazuka is 'Eishi' but Higuchi is not quite 'Yuuya'. They share most nights together and she's connected with him in a way that she never has with anyone else, but Higuchi hasn't seen her at her worst. He still can't bring her out of herself like Eishi did that day, giving her what she'd needed for years without even needing to be asked.
So even if she doesn't quite want to know anymore, Yako listens to Eishi as he tells her everything of the investigation, everything that they have painstakingly pieced together about Neuro and the others - because other people met their death that day, not just Neuro. She wants to make light and remark on the 'painstaking' bit but she can't because she doesn't even know those people, barely knows their stories and who they left behind.
So instead she eats and eats and eats, barely noticing how fascinated Eishi seems by it except to note his horror at the racking-up bill which, this week, he is paying. Yako doesn't remember when she started to eat this much and has no one to ask, but she thinks that it was probably around the time she started blaming her misdeeds on their cat, Jam. Eating was a good diversion when she had to fend off things she would rather not talk about, and she'd quickly grown to love it even despite her mother's deadly cooking.
After she has fended off Eishi's questions and eaten him into a pauper's grave she takes her leave, not looking back as she leaves the cafe. And when she gets home she'll clean up or re-decorate or garden or do something, waiting for Higuchi's arrival. And if he comes back late, which he often does, then her urge to punch him in the face as she finally sees him is, she likes to think, just her channelling old friends, not because she's been worrying about him not coming back at all.
Then when she's cooked them a dinner that he always says looks too much (but they finish it anyway) they curl down on the rug in front of the fire and he shows her silly things on Youtube that he found when he was supposed to be working, and when even he gets bored of staring at a screen and starts staring at her instead, well, they're in a comfortable place anyway.
It's evenings like this that allow them to just forget. Eishi's questions, even when not voiced aloud, make her remember everything, make her remember standing in that one place and staring forward like their investigation is doing now. Whilst Eishi wants to know her Higuchi is content with just being beside her, trusting that Yako will talk when she feels ready to. She supposes he does enough spying on people at work to be less impatient about knowing other things.
At some point or another she gets curious and asks him to teach her how to hack. As she gets better and better at it, and passes the examination to get into the police force, she thinks with a smile that she is 'evolving' again at last. It takes her half an hour of looking up animals online before she realises that not instantly knowing what animal is directly above gerbils in intelligence would probably make her 'de-evolve' in Neuro's eyes, had he been around.
When Eishi asks her what is wrong, somehow seeing through her fake calmness, she suddenly wants to scream at him. But as she sits there, trying to calm down enough to answer, he simply... takes her hand. His impassive face never changes - but his eyes do.
They're quiet now, and so is the screaming in her head.
Yako doesn't know how she'll feel about either of them before she does. It's only when the feelings are there, entrenched deep inside of her, inescapably real, that she figures things out, that she realises there's no mistaking the emotions whirling around in her heart.
It's only when he holds her close and she can't even speak - only cling back.
It's only when he kisses her - and they shouldn't but she can't stop, can't help it.
It's only then that she realises that she loves both of them.
Only then that she realises that she needs both of them.