Bell Jar
Spoilers for the Normal/True Endings. Set late Nov, early Dec.

Honestly -- and he'll never admit this out loud, not where Dojima might hear him -- Nanako's abduction was the funniest one of them all. Dragged into a television, packed inside a little box. Adachi can easily imagine the giddy expression that must have been plastered all over Namatame's face when he snatched the girl up. Or the battle cries of Dojima's nephew, charging in with his pack of teenage school delinquents. For delusional saviors on both sides, a child must have been the best treat of them all.

But otherwise, the fact that it was Nanako had nothing to do with it. It's not like Adachi has anything against Dojima, even if Dojima treats him like crap sometimes, like a rookie that scored lowest in the class. It was how everyone reacted to Nanako's kidnapping that was so funny. Everybody flipped out. You'd think they'd been told they caught cancer from not doing their homework, or from being around that stupid bear, or from jumping inside a TV.

Adachi's never been particularly affected by children, though. He's never felt anything for them, not cruelty, not tenderness. Children are like overly yappy dogs or other housepets. He doesn't hate them -- he just doesn't think they're special. People own hamsters too. You aren't expected to revere rats.

And anyway, Adachi has personal reasons to be indifferent towards kids, dating all the way back to when he'd been younger and experimenting. They were the limit that he'd reached early on. Not because of decency. No -- common morality had nothing to do with it.

They were simply too big.

One of Adachi's favorite pastimes in junior high had involved an oversized bell jar. He'd acquired it from the overstock of his school's science department, lugging it home under the lie of having classwork to finish up. When he was bored, he used to catch and put small animals inside. Insects weren't interesting enough, they took too long to use up all the oxygen, and then they just stopped moving and curled up. Larger animals wouldn't fit, and they could knock the bell jar over if they were strong enough. Birds were okay. Kittens were hilarious.

Mice were perfect. Adachi always liked watching them scramble, tapping back at them as they clawed uselessly on the thick glass. They left cloudy smears on the jar where their paws had dipped into the grease sealing the jar's rim. Suffocation slowly ruled out their options for living, until they lay flat and panting, tiny mouths opened with their teeth uselessly bared.

But that had been it. Adachi had thought about humans, but it hadn't gone far. Babies would have been useless, even if he could have jammed them in to fit, turning them lengthwise like sausages. They would have simply waved their chubby hands and turned red, purple, blue. Older children would have never been small enough, even if he lopped off a few parts first -- and then, just think of the mess.

So Adachi had reluctantly put the bell jar away, and had gone on with his life with only occasional fits of nostalgia.

Children have always been tricky for him, though. Everyone else moans and cries when cases involving the underage hit the papers. Adachi just drinks more coffee and looks up movie reviews. He'd had to train himself into the habit of making the appropriate noises, and even then he lags a step behind if he isn't careful. Back when he was first getting the hang of blending into society, he'd fail all the time; he'd say the wrong thing out loud, forget to keep up appearances, forget that people really don't feel comfortable around his honest opinions. People don't want the truth. They just want to interact with facades that make them feel better, all so they don't have to look too closely at the pretenses of their own lives. It's irritating. And it makes it hard for Adachi to find ways to entertain himself.

When Adachi first discovered the power of the television with Mayumi, the irony alone almost killed him laughing. Now, after all these years, he can close up all kinds of people, no matter how big they are. Of course, he could do it himself -- has done it, three times if you count Kubo -- but Adachi isn't stupid. As long as someone else does the work for him, all he has to do is enjoy the ride, and watch as Namatame kidnaps people and Dojima's nephew runs around saving them, like some grand heroic circle-jerk.

And Nanako had been the funniest. Everyone had reacted to that. All you have to do is mention a child, and you can get an entire self-righteous mob together in seconds, united by their warcry of save the children and other ridiculous slogans. It's so easy to manipulate people just by using kids; Adachi should honestly have thought of it before. He really missed out.

The worst slip-up -- the one that he swears led him to reassignment in Inaba -- had been back when he was just getting his foot in the department. He'd been a young cop at the time, half of him resisting conformity, the rest smug and satisfied at how well he'd integrated into the ranks. He didn't want to stay there forever, of course -- just long enough to build up the necessary social connections, pay his price in years to earn seniority, and then move on. Like it or not, there were procedures he had to follow, rules that trapped him and barely let him maneuver.

It had been the middle of summer. The air conditioner was on the fritz again: all the higher-ups were taking advantage of their positions to hide away from their responsibilities by having off-site meetings, or turning out the lights in their offices and pretending they weren't home. Adachi had been thrown some wealthy banker's wife to calm down: a brainless twat who didn't realize that marrying into her position didn't necessarily mean she was elevated past window dressing. The woman's son had wandered off during reports of a string of assault-and-burglaries, and even though the kid was probably just goofing around at a friend's, his mother was convinced he'd been kidnapped.

They had assigned Adachi to take the report. Sweat was crawling down his back and turning his shirt into a sponge. Son missing, he scribbled, as the mother cried into a finely-stitched handkerchief that could probably have paid any ransom twice over, babbling at him about every tiny paranoid fear that jumped into her head. Adachi, whose full attention was being taken up in not writing and probably dead if we're lucky, after the listing, just kept nodding. "Got it."

Her voice sounded strange. "Officer -- "

Instantly, Adachi felt a ping of dread in the back of his throat -- the kind that warned him that he'd just done something unexpected, a certain intonation that he knew to listen for ever since the time his mother had caught him calmly watching the neighbor's dog choke to death on chicken bones. He lowered his pen.

"Officer," the woman repeated, staring at him. "My son. Aren't you worried at all about my son?"

"Oh -- oh no!" he blurted, whipping together everything he could remember for typical conversation, mixing it up and shoving it out in a rush. There were things that people said in these kinds of situations; Adachi fumbled for them at random. "I mean, yes! Yes, it's terrible! I can't believe it! Don't worry, ma'am -- we'll find him!"

But he'd spooked her, he knew it. He could tell by the way she didn't seem convinced by his gawkish act, how she eyed him strangely throughout the remainder of the report. He didn't know if it had been her fault that he earned a talking-to later by the Chief, and how much of that had lead him to eventually get reassigned to Inaba, but he's sure it couldn't have helped.

What a bitch.

People freak out so much over kids. Adachi just can't understand the appeal. Being hostile towards children is frowned upon by society; the villains that get classified as the most inhuman are the ones who don't discriminate when it comes to age. Adachi always finds that humorous, how people look the other way when domestic violence quietly puts wives in doctor's chairs and company pressures drive salarymen to suicide, but all it takes is a hand upraised to a child and suddenly a person is irredeemable. They're a real monster then.

Adachi doesn't really get it. Bullying is a well-established tradition in the Japanese school system, and that's kid-on-kid violence. By that criteria, everyone's a criminal by the time they turn twenty.

The whole double standard just reinforces his contempt. Most people are pulled around by their hindbrains, instinctively protecting the young of the species. When it comes to survival, the worst threat is one that threatens the next generation. That's why endangering children is considered so grave a sin: because people, when you get down to it, are basically dumb animals, existing only to fulfill biological habit. They can make up all kinds of noble excuses to fool themselves, but helping a child survive cancer is no more virtuous than making sure your food is properly cooked before you eat it.

He'd never be able to dodge suspicion if he can't fake it, however.

So Adachi learned to wave eagerly to toddlers, just like he learned to smile and look sheepish whenever the subject of girls came up. He learned to be eager and fawning to those higher in rank. He crafted his outer persona well, in his opinion: a little goofy, a little harmless, because people are lenient towards that type, even if they look down on him with the assumption of inferiority.

But Adachi can stomach his own pride. He can let it build up and pack it down, build it up again and pack it down as many times as he has to, until it's a hot coal in his chest, whispering gleefully over and over about how he can keep up the act for as long as it takes. He can keep it up, keep it up, keep going until he gets somewhere better, somewhere he can seriously enjoy himself.

In the meantime, he has the TV.

In the Inaba hospital, months after his transfer, Adachi looks down on the unconscious body of his partner's daughter. He's in her room, unsupervised. His back is to the door, so he doesn't have to pretend to have an expression of devastated concern. His hands are in his pockets, so he doesn't have to debate if clenching them at his sides or waving them around helplessly would be more appropriate.

Namatame -- so predictable, so typical. He must have been ecstatic to think he was saving a little girl.

Now with the prime suspect in custody, Adachi will have to find another way for the game to continue. First he has to make it through -- take advantage of Nanako's illness and Dojima's distraction to pull the right strings, all while playing the role of a devastated partner. The effort's already wearing him down. He's having to pretend to care about Dojima. He's having to pretend to care about Nanako, when all he wants to do is look utterly indifferent and get coffee from the vending machines outside the hospital, bounce around the empty can when he's done and browse the evening news.

He's been trying to remember all the things that people say during these times, and he's getting tired of it; he's getting tired of faking the choked-up voice and trite phrases about tragedy and youth and how Nanako didn't deserve it when really he's starting to wish she would just die already so he could go home and figure out what to make for supper. Except then Adachi would have to drag up the energy to be supportive in grief with Dojima and he just doesn't think that's possible right now. Even he has limits.

He keeps slipping more and caring less, and as Adachi sits on the hard plastic hospital bench, he thinks how ironic it would be if it was a child that exposed him. A child got him sent here. A child is breaking him down.

He hates Inaba. He hates the hicks, the food, the way all the storeowners try to know you by name and greet you like you're their friend, like you're all in it together: one giant lump of mediocrity. Small town life isn't for him. People assume they know you in small towns. People think you're just like them. People think you want to end up like them, grow old and senile like them, inbred and ignorant.

That evening, as Adachi manages to escape home for a shower and change of clothes, he lies on his Inaba bed, in his Inaba apartment, listening to the Inaba noise outside -- the occasional dog bark, bicycle wheels, a late-night bus on its last shift. It's all so different from the chatter of the city. Each sound is like a hammer building a coffin all around him. Inaba is driving him insane.

He's played the game well so far, but now it's more tiresome than fun. The television is on hold until Namatame gets straightened out; it's not helping Adachi's patience to have to go back to the hospital each day.

He rolls over onto his stomach and checks the clock. In a couple more hours, he'll be expected down at the station, putting in another overtime shift because that's what a dedicated police officer is expected to do -- to work themselves to the bone to make sure the bad guys are punished for their crimes. Dedicated officers aren't expected to be sleeping peacefully in their own beds. It doesn't matter how tired Adachi is.

He has to do it. There are expectations.

The expectations are killing him.

Adachi's trapped in a cage of his own performance, of his own self-made facade. He feels imprisoned, left to die in a bottle named Inaba, as helpless and desperate as one of the animals he had toyed with.

To those tiny, pathetic creatures, Adachi had been the hand of the divine. As he pushes himself up to his feet, pulling the curtains shut to block out as much of Inaba as he can, he wonders if there's a god watching him too: implacably, impassively watching him scrabble and die.