This fanfic is a spoiler for chapter 183 of the manga. It will likely be rendered divergent from canon by the next chapter, but I had to write it anyway. I wanted to see what I could do with Yako's character after Neuro has cut her loose.
Part 1: Subject
Forcibly ejected from his messy cubicle in the Metro Police's Special Computer Crimes Task Force office after a 36-hour shift with orders to get some sleep, Higuchi stumbled into his dark, cramped apartment after nearly breaking his nose because he forgot to open the door first. He was so tired, he doubted an IV of pure caffeine could keep him awake. Only just managing to kick off his sneakers in the stoop, he fell face-first on his musty futon, his shoulder bag dribbling to the floor, the precious hardware inside cushioned by the soft layer of dirty laundry.
"Nrgh…" Higuchi grunted into his pillow.
"Fhrmmmmmm…" He pulled the pillow over his head, willing the noise to stop.
"EURAGHSFT… WHAT?!" the sleep-deprived hacker howled, pushing himself upright as the soon-to-be-dead idiot outside kept banging on his door as if for dear life. He yanked the door open, desperately wishing he was allowed to carry a handgun.
It took approximately five seconds for his burned-out faculties to recognize the person standing in the doorway, backlit by mind-achingly white streetlamps. "Katsura-?"
Yako pushed past him into the apartment without so much as a "by your leave," pulling the door firmly shut behind her, plunging them once more into deep gloom.
"Um…?" Higuchi blurted as she shuffled off her school shoes and stepped up into his bedroom/kitchenette/home office.
"Higuchi-san, are you positive you can't remember how to make the Electronic Drug?" she asked in tense voice, not even bothering to turn around.
"Uh… if I did, I wouldn't admit it," he replied, befuddled, bewildered, and more than a little flummoxed at the young detective's intrusion into his private sanctum. "Why…?"
"All I want to know is if you can make it or not!" she shouted, whirling on him.
It did not take light to see that she had been crying – her voice was raw with it. He recalled her subdued manner at Sasazuka's funeral; not one tear, but also not one word spoken to another person. She had looked like a zombie, but then, he heard she had actually seen Sicks murder Sasazuka. Having no clue how to approach her, he had let her keep her peace, certain Neuro would shake her out of it when the time came. But now…
"Depends," he said guardedly, not certain if she was going to dissolve into tears or fly at him; he had never seen her so close to breaking, and he really did not like it. "If you let me in on what you and Neuro want to…"
"Neuro." Yako uttered a strangled sound like a cross between a laugh and a sob. "He's got nothing to do with this. Not with me. Not anymore." Her fisted hands flew to her face, her body trembling violently, a wire stretched to its limit.
Higuchi's first instinct was to back away slowly; he had enough trouble dealing with his own emotional issues, so he was hardly qualified to deal with another person's hysterics. But then he reminded himself that this other person was Katsuragi Yako, and he owed her. That, and he had the door at his back, and the damn thing opened inwards. He reached out awkwardly, touching her bony shoulder, intending to mutter some comforting nonsense, but the girl surged forward, slamming him back into the door. Skinny arms wrapped around him so tightly he would have been unsurprised if one or more of his ribs cracked.
"Sssshhhhh…" she hissed into his chest, hot wetness from her cheeks seeping through his shirt. She shivered, hiccupped, buried her face deeper into his chest. Now extremely out-of-sorts, Higuchi did the only logical thing: he put his arms around her, one awkwardly enclosing her tiny waist, the other across her shoulder-blades, fingers twining into her cropped hair.
He could practically hear the analog clock ticking away the minutes that they stood there, wordless, soundless except for Yako's occasional shuddering gasp for breath. He found himself smoothing the downy hairs at the nape of her neck, a soothing gesture he remembered from the odd nursery school attendant too many years ago. Her heart thudded against his body, a hyperactive beat-beat-beat that, if he had been doctor or medic, would have inspired great concern.
Eventually, Yako's shudders subsided, her breathing quieted, and her heartbeat faded to a normal murmur. She peeled herself off of Higuchi, who remained where he was, apprehensive of touching off another episode.
"So…" she began thickly, after a painfully pregnant pause, "can you?"
"I don't know," he said. Taking a deep breath, he added, "What's up, Katsuragi? What do you mean Neuro's got nothing to do with you anymore?"
To his relief, she did not dissolve into another fit of hysterics. "He… I…I quit. Or he threw me out, whichever works for you." She clenched her arms around herself, speaking rapidly in a voice hardly above a whisper: "I saw Sasazuka get shot in the head and I couldn't do anything; I couldn't do anything to keep Oji-s… Honjou-san from committing suicide, I couldn't…!"
Higuchi braced himself for another attack, but Yako quieted abruptly. "Neuro's solution was to tell me to quit, to live out my cowardly life because I couldn't handle seeing people die in front of me anymore." She paused, laughed lowly, painfully. "And he's right – I blame him, I blame me for getting my friends killed. But I'm not going to let him win; I'm going to make sure Sicks and Sai can't hurt anymore people."
Higuchi stared at her, the outline of her form only now visible through the gloom. She could not possibly be saying that… "And how does me pulling the Electronic Drug from the ether help you do that?"
Yako tilted her head, as if in puzzlement. "Why don't we sit down," she said, and the toneless courtesy, not to mention her apparent belief she had the run of his apartment, threw him for another loop. By the time he got a grip on the sudden veer in the flow of this surreal conversation, Yako had already occupied his futon, leaving him his computer chair. "Please, sit, Higuchi-san."
Choosing to take her polite gesture for what it was worth, Higuchi dropped into the chair, swiveling around to face her. His fingers automatically tapped the keyboard, waking his desktop from hibernation. The lurid glow from the screen filled the room, blanketing them in washed-out blue-white illumination. Yako looked terrible, drained and defeated, but there was a strange light in her otherwise dead eyes. Higuchi toyed with the glasses perched on his forehead, suddenly even less certain of how to deal with the erstwhile high-school detective.
"Sai once used a modified Electronic Drug on me," Yako said, launching right into the conversation as though reading from a static script. "She used it to control me, and also to bring out whatever fighting capabilities I possessed without even knowing, in order to kill Neuro. I want you to modify the Electronic Drug so I can tap into those abilities again. I will use them to fight Sai and Sicks."
Instead of telling her right off the bat she was certifiable (which she was, to announce such a suicidal plan in such a blasé manner), Higuchi gave her a long, hard look. Even if she was being as painfully upright as usual, he could not help but think she was hiding something from him. "Say I can do this, modify the Electronic Drug and make you Neo-Yako, how do you think you're going to find Sicks and Sai, if Neuro and all the police in Japan can't?" he asked, managing to sound quite reasonable, in his opinion. "Also, you can't expect to beat either of them alone with just your bare hands, no matter how much the Electronic Drug amps up your "innate" skills."
"Don't worry, I have an idea how to take care of that," she answered in a tone just short of dismissive, "If Godai-san can't help, I know… other people who can."
"Oh?" Higuchi had not meant to sound so condescending, but Yako's calm confidence was downright grating, not to mention a little eerie, considering her earlier display.
(If that was how he appeared to other people when showing off his computer skills, small wonder his elders got pissed. Not that he was considering adjusting his attitude anytime soon.)
"I think you're better off not getting too involved, Higuchi-san," she said, the raw quality of too many tears shed overtaking her for just a moment, "Just… give me the Drug, and I'll take care of the rest."
Higuchi blinked; was she thinking about him dying in the same way as Sasazuka? Ridiculous. But if so… would it affect her as much, his death? A strange swell of emotion made him look away quickly. To cover it, he typed in his password and began riffling through the various programming files scattered through his harddrive. "Usui's brainwashing was pretty intensive," he mentioned, hardly believing it was his own voice, "but like any computer, bits and pieces of data are left behind, if you look hard enough."
Yako gasped softly, sitting bolt-upright on the bed. "You… you'll help me?" she breathed.
"No promises," Higuchi said, pretending to be fixated on his computer, fingers tapping out a staccato dance on the keyboard. Of course, he was not actually going to help her commit suicide. Of course, when and if he ever resurrected the Electronic Drug, she would come to her senses. Of course, Neuro and Usui and the police would have dealt with the New Bloodline for good by then.
Of course. This was just to keep her calm, give her something to work through until then.
There was nothing to worry about…
The problem was, he decided, that once you got a slave well-trained to the point they actually became a useful tool, it was next to impossible replacing them. Yako… no, that lower being not even worth giving a name to (mainly because even he could not think of an appropriately execrable appellation for her), well, he should be able to find another like her, spineless and open for careful manipulation.
But the time – there was the rub. It took time, that most precious of resources other than daemonic energy, time he did not have, to take scummy clay and make it useful. The papers sprawled across his crimson-lacquered desk went flying with one spasmodic sweep of his arm as he dropped heavily into his chair.
Unbidden, his eyes rested on the small desktop she sometimes used.
(A drunk wobbling down the sidewalk under a certain detective agency's window yelped in fright as a complete PC fell from the sky, dashing magnificently to pieces at his feet.)
He ignored Akane's fretful twitching and steepled his long fingers together, staring blankly out at the night-cloaked building across the way, trying to think…
A/N: Oh yeah, did I mention I am a sneaky Higuchi x Yako shipper?