The neighborhood surrounding Pandora had quieted down by the time Misaki and her team reached Matsumoto's car. Rather than hunting down the remnants of EPR, the military was occupied with keeping reporters and camera crews away from the sites of the attacks. One soldier tried to stop the car from exiting the roadblock, but he relented when Matsumoto nearly ran him down.
"We're going to have a hell of a time coming up with a cover story for this," Kouno said, gazing out the window.
"We're not going to cover it up." Misaki was rummaging in her purse for her phone - the security guard had just thrown everything back in as a jumbled mess; she looked up when she felt the eyes of her team on her. "I'll explain everything when we get back to the office," she said, with a significant glance at the still-unconscious Hourai, who had been crammed unceremoniously into the corner of the back seat.
She located her phone at last: sixteen missed calls and messages. They were all from Kanami, her father, and various members of her team. She called Kanami first.
"Misaki!" her friend exclaimed. "Are you alright?"
"Fine; we're heading back to headquarters right now."
"Thank god. Look, it's going to take a while to put the reports together - we saw some pretty insane activity over here."
Misaki sighed. "Yeah, I believe it. Will you have time to come downtown for lunch? Things are going to start happening fast, and we need to get ahead of it. I want to hold a strategic planning meeting as soon as possible - people I know I can trust."
"Of course - I just can't stay away for long."
"Thanks." Misaki hesitated, then asked, "And can you do me one favor?"
"Do you even have to ask?"
She smiled faintly. "Keep an eye on BK-201; let me know if it looks like he's leaving Tokyo."
"Why -" Kanami began, then sighed. "You can tell me later. Yeah, I will."
Misaki didn't like to think that Hei would leave town at all, let alone without telling her; but the way he'd acted at Pandora…there had been no one there to put on a show for. It had just been Misaki.
Shoving thoughts of Hei from her mind, she dialed her father next.
"Misaki," Kirihara Naoya answered on the first ring, his relief evident, "thank god you got out."
"Actually, I didn't. How could you think that I would just leave?"
"EPR's plan didn't work. And fortunately, neither did the Syndicate's. I advise you to stay overseas for an extra week or two, at least until I get things organized over here." She snapped the phone shut.
Saitou cast her a worried glance from the front seat, but wisely none of her team said anything for the rest of the drive
When they reached headquarters, Misaki directed Saitou and Kouno to inter Hourai in one of the temporary holding cells on the ground floor. It wasn't contractor proof, but it should be safe enough for now; she wanted him as close as possible until she had an official statement in her hands.
Ootsuka was waiting when Misaki and Matsumoto stepped off the elevator on the seventh floor. "Chief! We were so worried!" She threw her arms around Misaki, then immediately let go and stepped back, bowing. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean -"
Misaki smiled. "I was a little worried myself for a while; thanks for all your help."
The other woman bowed again, but her smile was brief. "It's all over the news - look."
She gestured to the flat screen television that was mounted in the corner of the conference room. Misaki had been against its installment, and only allowed it to be used for official media. Now it was on and tuned in to one of the national news stations. As they watched, the anchors cut to an amateur video depicting a woman, clearly glowing with synchrotron radiation, blast a tank with fire from the palm of her hand.
"It's been on repeat for the last five minutes," Ootsuka said. "They're discussing whether or not it's genuine. And more videos like it are popping up online."
"Someone from the government's going to shut that down soon," Matsumoto commented.
Ootsuka nodded. "Probably. But thousands of people have already seen it."
Her subordinates both widened their eyes in surprise. "This have anything to do with your strategy meeting?" Matsumoto asked as Saitou and Kouno got off the elevator and joined them in the conference room.
"Yes. First, let me get all of you caught up."
The team took their accustomed places around the conference table while Misaki explained what she and Saitou had learned about the Syndicate prior to last night. Kouno shot Saitou an annoyed glare at the news that he'd been helping Misaki on his own for the past three weeks. Then she played them the recording of Hourai's inadvertent confession.
It was met with a shocked silence; even Saitou appeared taken aback.
"So," Matsumoto asked, "What now?"
"You were a detective when Hell's Gate first appeared, right?" Misaki asked.
He nodded. "Homicide."
"What was it like?"
"A lot like right now. People panicking, confused, trying to make sense of what happened. The government stepped in fast, but they couldn't stop all the gossip. Hell, for those first few months even they didn't know what to make of it. Section Four wasn't formed until nearly a year had gone by; I got pulled for it because I'd seen more than my fair share of contractor activity. There's a lot of cops out there who aren't technically cleared, but still know about contractors, or at least suspect; it was unavoidable in those days. This'll only add to those numbers."
"And a lot of people whose family members just disappeared; people who have been waiting ten years for answers," Misaki said.
"You want to give them those answers now, Chief?"
She sighed. "It was only a matter of time before the truth came out. There's no way we can cover up what happened this morning; people will see that video, and they'll know that the government has been lying to them for the past ten years."
"But we can't tell them the truth!" Kouno exclaimed. "People don't want to know that there are monsters like that out there."
"Then we show them the ones who aren't monsters. EPR, whatever their methods, had noble intentions: equal rights and recognition for contractors. They're changing; they aren't like they were ten years ago. And what about dolls? Don't they deserve to be treated like something better than inanimate objects?"
She surveyed the faces of her team. They knew perfectly well what the more dangerous contractors were capable of; but they were listening. "Hourai was right: if all people see is the violence, they won't hesitate to attempt to destroy them again. But if we show them that reality is more complicated, maybe contractors can actually become a part of society once again."
"How do we even start?" Ootsuka asked quietly.
"We start with the Syndicate. Their main purpose was to wipe contractors and dolls off the face of the earth, and it's likely that they won't stop trying. We need to find out who they are. Maybe we can even reach out to the contractors they employ; what better incentive to turn on your organization than finding out that they tried to destroy you."
Kouno frowned. "That's why you asked Ishizaki to track BK-201? He's probably got some dirt on them, and it sounds like he's definitely not on their side anymore."
"Actually, he's been my confidential informant for the past couple of months," Misaki stated to the wide-eyed amazement of all but Saitou. "He was the source of a lot of my intel. Now that he's openly turned against them…I'm hoping that he'll turn himself in. But I don't know."
She cleared her throat. "Right. Kouno, I want you to search Hourai's office - look for papers, notes, appointments on his calendar, anything that will help us identify more Syndicate members. Ootsuka, keep in touch with Astronomics. I want the reports on my desk as soon as they arrive. In the meantime, start drafting a press release. Don't give too many details, but make it clear that Section Four isn't going to bury the truth. Matsumoto, you're on hospital duty - we need to identify any injured contractors as soon as possible. But no M.E. Saitou, you're with me. The Director should be awake by now. I want to have a talk with him."
Hei watched the hall through the peephole for a solid ten minutes before finally turning back to Yin. She was seated on the edge of one of the hotel room's double beds, one foot delicately dipped in a water-filled ice bucket.
"Anything?" he asked.
Yin shook her head.
"Okay. I'm going to start with Roppongi and hit them one by one from there. Keep your radio on; if there's any sign of trouble we'll change the plan as necessary."
After the chaos at the Gate, the Syndicate would be scrambling to cover up their activities and keep their members hidden; they wouldn't have time to coordinate a manhunt, not in the first twenty-fours at least. Hei planned to take advantage of that window of opportunity as best he could.
First priority had been to get to a safe, temporary hiding place for Yin and himself, so he'd found a moderately-priced hotel not far from Pandora. Money was going to be tight from now on, but the extra cost would be worth the security; if anyone was looking for the two of them, they'd start with known locations and the ask-no-questions type of businesses. Not here. Besides, Yin was exhausted from the events of last night, and he wanted her to be able to get as much rest as possible - it would probably be a long time before they were in a place this comfortable again.
He regretted his rented place more than ever now. When it had collapsed in the contractor attack, he hadn't really cared; it had been a convenience, not a necessity. They could certainly have used it now, though.
Then again, Misaki knew about it. So maybe not.
His second priority was to retrieve as many of his weapons caches as he could. There were six total scattered throughout the city; the Syndicate knew about three of them. His team had had a couple of additional safe houses, but there wouldn't be much of anything useful at those. Some food, maybe; if he had time he'd check them out.
Last priority: personal belongings. It would look suspicious to be traveling without a suitcase full of clothes, but clothes could be bought - or stolen - on practically any street corner.
"Keep one eye outside the hotel," Hei continued. "If anything looks suspicious - anything at all - radio and I'll come back right away. In the meantime, do what I told you: put the chain on the door, move a chair in front of it, and hide."
He decided that he'd only imagined that hint of impatience. "You shouldn't have any problems; no one followed us, and anyway it's me they'll be after. They can't track dolls like they can contractors. You'll be okay."
He had just taken two steps back to the door. Pausing, he turned. "What?"
"Tracer." Yin put a hand on the back of her neck.
Of course; that time she had run away, the Syndicate had been able to direct Huang and himself straight to her. They must tag their dolls. He bit back a curse, then returned to her side, seating himself beside her on the mattress.
"Where - here?" Placing his hand over the spot where hers had been, he could sense a faint electrical signal buried beneath her skin. "I can short it out, but I don't know if I can do it without it hurting."
Hei gritted his teeth, and sent the lowest amount of current that he could manage into the deepest layer of her skin. Yin flinched slightly, but otherwise didn't protest. The tiny radio signal faltered, then died. When he removed his hand, a small red welt was already beginning to form.
"I'll get you some ice."
Using a washcloth from the bathroom, Hei made her a cold compress and instructed her on how to use it. Yin pressed it lightly to her neck, wincing at the contract.
"I'm sorry, Yin." Maybe he'd used too much power; he wished that he could have just willed the chip out of existence, like he'd done at the Gate. But that had been a combination of the Gate's influence, the meteor shard, and Bai's knowledge; he doubted that he'd ever be able to do anything like that again.
"Can they find us now?" Yin asked.
Hei answered, even though he had a feeling that she already knew it. "No." He stood up and put on his jacket. "Is there anything at the tobacco shop that you want?"
Yin hesitated, as if in thought, then said, "On the shelf above the cot."
"Just whatever is there?"
Hei placed his hand on the door handle.
His grip tightened. "You heard what Amber said: I'm the only one whose power can cut off access to the Gate. In order to destroy it, the Syndicate has to kill me. They won't stop trying until I'm dead. Misaki will have enough trouble trying to clean up their mess; she doesn't need me putting her life in danger just by being near her."
Yin was in danger as long as she was near him, too, but they would kill her as well just for her association with him. She'd be safest by his side for the time being. He had offered to send her to Misaki's friend - hidden in plain sight - but, to his uncomfortable relief, she had refused.
"Won't you say goodbye?"
"Because she'll want me to stay and help, even knowing the situation. And if she asks…I won't be able to say no." He took a deep breath. "This will probably take a few hours; I'll be back as soon as I can. We need to be out of the city by nightfall." With that, he left the hotel room.
Hourai was conscious again when Misaki and Saitou arrived at the holding cells. Two uniformed officers escorted him to the interrogation room; Misaki insisted that he remain handcuffed. It probably wasn't necessary - his right hand had lost all function after Hei's attack - but she gained no small amount of satisfaction from seeing him chained to the table.
He cast her and Saitou a disgusted look when they entered the room, but otherwise didn't say anything. Saitou set up the video recorder, and Misaki turned on her own voice recorder.
She cut to the chase. "Director Hourai, you're under arrest for the murder of Eric Nishijima as well as conspiracy to commit genocide. I'll prepare a full list of the charges for your lawyer to review. But for now, let's start with the basics. Nishijima was killed in cold blood with your service weapon in front of a dozen witnesses, including myself. And I have no doubt that Pandora's security footage will provide confirmation. There's no getting out of the murder charge."
Hourai didn't respond, so she continued, "But I may be able to offer some leniency in the conspiracy charges - if you give me everything that you know about the Syndicate. Starting with names."
"You want names, Chief Kirihara? How about we start with your own."
Misaki folded her arms. "The fact that I worked under you in an official capacity in no way implicates me in your crimes. I've been collecting evidence against the Syndicate for the past month now. Try again."
A muscle twitched in his jaw. "I didn't mean you, Kirihara. I was referring to -"
"My father?" She ignored the roiling in her stomach. "I know. I know about Decade, and I know about Tsukuda Jiro. Tell me something useful."
Hourai deflated the tiniest bit at the discovery that his trump card was completely worthless. "We can discuss terms when my lawyer arrives," he said, some of his usual pride returning.
Misaki hadn't wanted to bring her father into this at all; but she'd expected that line of attack from Hourai, and she refused to let him blackmail her. She would do what she could for her dad - get his story from his own mouth, for starters - but she wasn't going to cover up his involvement, however deep it may be. It would only come back to bite her in the ass later down the road, and she couldn't afford that.
She and Saitou spent the next two hours interviewing Hourai, though he persisted in his silence until his lawyer appeared with a deal already written up.
"I'll see that the prosecutor's office get this," Misaki told them. "That'll be all for today."
"Aren't you going to negotiate any of that?" Saitou asked as they rode the elevator back up to the seventh floor. "He gets away scot-free, and we get practically nothing!"
"We'll prepare our own counter-offer, of course. But it'll be useful to ferret out any Syndicate members in prosecution: they'll want him put away for good with no chance of trading information for a reduced sentence."
"These people really are everywhere, aren't they," Saitou said glumly.
Misaki sighed. "It will be in our best interest to proceed under that assumption, yes." She put a hand against the elevator wall to steady herself as it rose.
"Chief, you okay?"
"Yeah; the stress and lack of sleep are starting to catch up to me, I think." It didn't help that she hadn't eaten in over twelve hours. It was after noon already, and she was starving; but at the same time the thought of eating turned her stomach. Her throat was sore after all of that talking on top of Hourai's attack, but there was nothing she could do about it except keeping moving forward. She'd have time to rest at the end of the day.
The elevator doors opened, and they stepped out onto their floor. No sooner had Misaki entered the main office than Kouno exclaimed, "Chief, check this out!"
The sheet of paper that he showed her was a xeroxed list of the names of primrose species. But this copy had additional notations, in Hourai's hand. Beside about half of the species names, was a person's name. Misaki recognized quite a few of them as belonging to various high level government employees, including Hourai, Tsukuda, and a couple of well-known politicians.
"This is a great start," she said. "Make a copy, then log it as evidence. We need to fill in the blanks - see if you can figure out some kind of code or pattern to the naming scheme. Have you finished searching the office yet? Do that first."
What else, what else? There was so much to do, but Misaki felt like she could hardly focus on even one thing at a time.
The elevator doors opened again; Kanami and Ootsuka stepped out, the latter carrying three large McDonness bags.
"I thought we could eat during the meeting," Ootsuka said.
Misaki nodded her thanks, and everyone moved into the conference room. "How are things looking at Astronomics?" she asked.
Kanami shrugged. She'd pulled her hair back into a sloppy bun and looked as if she might have napped in her clothes. "Not a total mess, but it'll take days to go through all the data. I did take a look at that signal from BK-201, the one that coincided with the peak of the sun spot cycle. It was pretty funky."
"You know that blip of activity from Heaven's War that I showed you, the one that took place during UB-001's time freeze or whatever? It looked almost exactly like that. Definitely BK-201, but completely different from his usual activity pattern."
Misaki started to comment, but Saitou had just opened one of the McDonness bags. The scent of greasy fries hit her like a tidal wave, and for a moment she thought she might throw up. No, she was going to throw up.
"Excuse me," she managed, and hurried from the room.
The ladies' room was right outside the elevator; Misaki made it into a stall just as the dry heaves started. There was nothing in her stomach to bring up, but the retching made her throat ache, and the sour sting of the bile didn't help either. She stood over the toilet bowl for several minutes, heaving uselessly, until the nausea passed.
Kanami was leaning against the counter when Misaki at last staggered weakly to the sink.
"You alright?" she asked as Misaki filled her cupped hands with water to rinse out her mouth.
"Yeah," Misaki said after a good gargle and spit. "My stomach just can't handle stress anymore; I must be getting old." She quirked a smile, then caught sight of her reflection in the mirror and sighed. "God, when did I become such a mess?"
"We're all a mess, inside; we just get good at hiding it." Kanami hesitated, then added, "My sister swore by ginger root tea for morning sickness."
"Does it work for nerves, too?"
Kanami didn't answer, but rather cast her a sympathetic look, and suddenly her meaning dawned on Misaki. "Wait, you think I'm - don't be ridiculous, I'm not - I can't -"
Desperately she tried to remember when her last period had been. Hei had been there the first night and helped her with that bookcase; that had been over two months ago, surely she'd had another since then? And all the nausea that she'd been feeling; it was just stress. Morning sickness only happened in the morning, right?
"But, I have an IUD," she protested. "Those things are ninety-nine percent effective and they last for years, that's why I got it!"
"They last five years, max," Kanami said. "When did you get it?"
"In college; when I was dating Kaede." So, five years ago. Now that she was thinking about it, she remembered her doctor saying something about it needing to be replaced at her next appointment; but at the time she hadn't been seeing anyone, so it hadn't been a priority, and anyway she hadn't had time to schedule an appointment.
She buried her face in her hands as she felt her world grind to a sudden halt. "Oh my god, I'm such an idiot…"
Kanami squeezed her shoulder. "You've been a little distracted lately; it's understandable."
"But how did you know?"
"Well, when we went dress shopping, none of the busts in your normal size fit."
"I thought I'd just been eating too much," Misaki muttered.
"Then at the party, you said the scent of the duck was making you feel ill - Misaki, we survived high school and college together, grease is what you crave when you're stressed out. By then it was pretty obvious."
"But, you brought me a glass of wine -"
"The glass I gave you was nonalcoholic; you never even noticed, did you."
"I guess I had other things on my mind," Misaki sighed, and rubbed her forehead tiredly. "I can't deal with this right now. Or ever, really, but especially not now."
"You'll be fine; just breathe."
"I have to tell Hei - or should I? I mean, he should know, but - I haven't even decided what to do yet. Is he even still in town?"
Kanami nodded. "According to the star charts, he's still in the greater Tokyo area. I can feed his description to the doll network if you want; we might be able to locate him."
It was tempting, but… "No. I'm not going to hunt him down like he's some criminal."
"You really think he's going to leave the city?"
Misaki sighed and stared into the sink. "I don't know. We had sort of a huge argument the other night but we haven't really had a chance to talk since then. I'm hoping that he'll come by my place tonight. When I saw him this morning at Pandora, the way he left…I don't know. Kanami, what am I going to do?"
Hei had spent over an hour meticulously packing his and Yin's things in an oversized duffel bag, but now he dumped the entire thing out onto the bed and started sorting through them once more. He shook out each of his shirts and Yin's dresses, then tossed them in a pile to the side. Yin's small stack of CDs and portable player were set carefully in another pile, along with a paperback book that held two train tickets to Kagoshima.
The duffel had a false bottom, lined with a thin sheet of lead. Hei opened that up and removed his bulletproof coat, four masks, and eight knives of various sizes, along with as much miscellaneous tactical gear as he'd been able to fit. It didn't look like much, even all piled together.
Once everything was out, he felt in all the corners and recesses, then turned the bag upside-down and shook it. It wasn't here.
He glanced over at Yin; she was sitting up on the bed where she had been napping. She'd insisted that he sleep first, once he returned from his tour of the safe houses, but he'd kept his rest short so that she could have her turn.
"I think I left something at my apartment; can you check the area?"
Yin scooted to the edge of the bed and dipped her foot in the bucket of water. While she was scouting, Hei began repacking the duffel, double checking the pockets of his clothing.
"It looks clear."
"Okay." He checked the clock on the nightstand. "We still have a couple of hours before we need to be at the station. I'm going to run back."
Misaki spent the rest of the afternoon putting out fires. She manned Hourai's personal line herself, and was able to add to a growing list of suspected Syndicate members merely by the way they immediately hung up after hearing that he had been arrested. Everyone else who called, however, called to demand answers regarding Pandora's unauthorized and unprecedented show of force; not to mention the other chiefs and superintendents who wanted to know what Section Four planned to do about the public's exposure to contractors.
And they did have a plan. It was still shaky at best, but Kanami and her team had ironed out the most significant steps in moving forward. As soon as they'd adjourned, Misaki had called Kaede to bring him in as well. He hadn't liked her ideas at all; but he agreed on their necessity. He was going to be vital in bringing Intelligence around.
Misaki couldn't remember ever being so busy in her life as she was just in those few hours; yet beneath every conversation and every phone call, her mind was entirely focused on two little pink bars.
The empty box for the test was still in her purse; Kanami had run out after lunch and picked it up for her, swearing that Misaki would attract far too much attention in the pharmacy with all those bruises around her neck. She'd used both of the test strips; after all, one positive could have just been a mistake. But the second had shown those pink stripes as well, and Kanami had convinced her that buying a second kit wouldn't change anything.
"Yes, ma'am," Misaki said into the phone. "At eight tomorrow morning. I'll be delivering the statement myself." She hung up before the reporter could get another question in - how had the press even gotten the Director's number? - and took off her glasses. If she held her eyelids down with her fingers, the dryness went away just the tiniest bit faster. But as soon as her eyes closed, those little pink bars appeared behind her lids.
The phone rang again.
God damn it. Without opening her eyes, Misaki yanked the cord out of the jack. The phone went silent, and she buried her face in her arms on Hourai's desk.
It wasn't until Ootsuka was shaking her awake that she even realized she'd fallen asleep.
"What is it?" she asked blearily, feeling blindly for her glasses.
"We decided to take the rest of the evening in shifts," Ootsuka said. "We drew straws; you got the first break."
Misaki masked her annoyance by taking her time adjusting her frames. She was about to protest that she would take the last break when the view from the window caught her eye: it was close to sunset.
"There was something that I needed to take care of at home," she conceded with a sigh. "Alright; but call me if anything important comes up, no matter what."
As Hei walked through his neighborhood one last time, he paid close attention to the details. Mr. Itou had set his trash bags out a day early again; Louis had posted a notice stating that he was trying to sell a guitar amp on the telephone pole outside of the Higuchi house. That would be gone within a few days - Miyake considered such things to be litter, and had made it her personal mission to keep the street clean. Itou would be finding another politely-worded threat in his mailbox soon, if it wasn't there already.
He tried to tell himself that it was just part of his normal surveillance, but even he wasn't that good of a liar. He was going to miss it here.
The alley behind the Oyama apartment building was empty. Hei turned down it, walking casually, until he reached the large tree that was outside his former bedroom window. He'd always loved climbing trees, and this one wasn't even a challenge; he was up it in no time at all and peering into the empty apartment. The window was cracked the exact same way that he'd left it; it didn't look like his landlady had had a chance to clean yet. Balancing precariously on a slender branch, he leaned out, opened the window, and slipped through.
Once in, he checked the closet and bathroom for any assassins who might be lying in ambush. But it was clear. Satisfied, Hei headed straight for the kitchen and pulled open the drawer by the sink. He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw that his feathered charm was still there, right where he had left it.
He pocketed the charm, then turned to go - and froze when someone knocked on the door.
Misaki knocked again, but there was still no answer in apartment 201. She jiggled the door handle; locked.
"Can I help you, Miss?" someone called from the courtyard below. Misaki leaned over the railing to see an old woman holding a broom and looking up at her. Misaki recognized her as the landlady.
"Yes, maybe," she answered, and stepped lightly down the stairs. "I'm Chief Kirihara, Public Security Bureau. I believe we met some months ago, Mrs…?"
"That's right, I remember," the woman said. "About poor Miss Haraguchi. Call me Misuzu, everyone does. What can I do for you now - none of my other tenants in trouble, are they?"
Misaki couldn't help but smile; the look in the old woman's eye suggested that the police would be the least of her tenants' worries should they stir up any problems. "No, nothing like that. I just need to speak with the man in apartment 201. Li, I think."
Misuzu's expression sobered. "I'm sorry, but he's not here anymore; left this morning, in fact."
"Is that so?" Misaki said, struggling to keep the disappointment out of her voice.
"Yep. Didn't leave an address; didn't even leave the rent he owed. Just dropped off his key and this note; found them under my door." She fished around in her apron pocket, then pulled out a small key along with a scrap of paper.
Misaki took the paper. It was just the torn off corner of some flyer or other. Written in a cramped hand was the message, I'm sorry. "Can I see the apartment?" she managed to ask, slipping the paper into her pocket.
"Sure. Come on up."
Misuzu led the way up the stairs, back to Hei's former apartment, talking as they walked. "It was all so sudden; maybe he got into some trouble, I don't know. He seemed like such a good kid. And he was a good tenant. At least he was until he skipped out on me." She unlocked the door and pushed it open for Misaki. "Well, here it is. Didn't leave a mess behind; like I said - good kid."
Misaki nodded. "I'd like to look around for a minute, if you don't mind."
The landlady shrugged. "Help yourself; I'll be downstairs if you need anything."
The apartment wasn't much different from the couple of times Misaki had been there before. Hei hadn't had any furniture of his own, and he'd lived tidily. Yet the room now felt so cold and empty. She peeked inside the refrigerator: just an unopened bottle of beer. It must have been a gift from one of his neighbors; Misaki couldn't picture Hei ever buying a beer for himself except as part of a disguise. The closet was empty as well, containing nothing but a rolled up futon.
Well, coming here had been a long shot, anyway. It would be one of the first places that the Syndicate would look. She'd just had to see it for herself. There was still a chance that he might stop by her place once the sun went down. Maybe.
More than anything, she wanted to talk with him. She still had no idea what she was going to do about - about those pink bars; she had no idea what Hei would want to do. But he deserved to know, whatever her decision ended up being.
Misaki crossed the bedroom floor to the window. Beyond the leafy branches of a tree, the Gate was clearly visible, the golden light from the sunset flowing across the surface of the surrounding wall. A massive hole, as if a giant had swung his fist at the top of the wall, gaped open. At least the fires had been put out by now.
She sighed, her gazing trailing down to the concrete-bound river. Someone was crossing the bridge, heading away from the apartment building. Someone in a green windbreaker.
Misaki's heart leapt into her throat. She pushed away from the window and rushed out the door and down the stairs, nearly tripping in her haste. Misuzu called a question to her, but she didn't hear it. She just kept running. Across the bridge; past the closed and shuttered tobacco shop. She turned the corner; he was there, just up ahead.
Hei hunched his shoulders at the sound of her voice, and his pace quickened as he rounded another corner.
Misaki flew around the corner, just yards behind him - and stopped. The street ahead of her was empty.
Her chest heaved with the exertion; she stood still, trying to catch her breath, and scanned the rows of houses and little gardens. She was completely alone.
Her hand closed around the little scrap of paper in her pocket. Could she really do this, alone?
Then her phone rang. Misaki let go of the paper to pull it out. "What is it?" she answered.
"Chief, I'm sorry," Ootsuka said. "It's the superintendent - he's on his way down."
"I'll be right there."
Misaki cast one last look down the deserted street, and inhaled deeply. One day at a time; that was all she could do. And when that was too hard, she'd just have to take it one hour at a time. She turned and jogged back to her car.
A/N: Before you ask: yes, that was the last chapter. *tear* Also before you ask: yes, I will be writing a sequel!
For those of you who read the original epilogue - I made some slight changes of the ending; but this is exactly how I always envisioned the story going when it first showed up in my head a few years ago. I left them out at first because at the time I had no intention of continuing to write it, and I didn't want to leave everyone hanging. But I just can't seem to stop writing Hei/Misaki, and 250k words later, here we are...
It might be a couple of months before I start posting the sequel; in the meantime, there will probably be the occasional one-off story. And maybe I'll even get back to writing Into the Dark Night. I will finish it, I swear.
Much thanks to all my readers, old and new alike; extra special thanks to everyone who has taken the time to review!