AN: Constructive criticism is much appreciated.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Atlus. I'd like Atlus a great deal more if they would actually release Trauma Team in Europe. *sigh* (I also don't own the movie mentioned.)
The TV's still on when he walks through the front door. It's Naomi and Alyssa's monthly movie night, which invariably ends with the two of them crashing out on their sofas half way through a film, and him clearing up the mess they've left behind.
Tonight's midway movie is Finding Nemo.
He wasn't there when they fell asleep. He won't be there when they wake up in the morning.
Alyssa's hand hangs off the sofa's edge, precariously close to a glass containing cherryade that will surely stain the carpet. He moves the bowl of popcorn away from where Naomi is likely to place her feet to stand. Tonight's mess isn't so bad. There have been occasions when he's returned home to find chips scattered across the floor and an upturned bowl that's been knocked off the couch by one of them moving in their sleep. He manages to find the TV switch without the use of a light. He's done this often enough to know exactly where it is.
Their movie blankets are upstairs. Naomi's already left them folded on the bed. A year and a half of doing this dance, and they both know the routine. The first movie night, he hunted in every cupboard in the house to find blankets, making more mess than Naomi and Alyssa had in the living room. He knows exactly where the blankets are kept now, but Naomi leaves them out anyway. Tonight, as with every other movie night, he has to shift a sleeping Chloe off the pile. The cat grumbles and moves grudgingly before curling up on the other side of the bed, tail tucked over her nose. He strokes the cat's ears and she begins to purr.
With the folded blankets held to his chest, he makes his way back to the living room, careful to avoid stepping on that one creaky floorboard they still haven't got repaired. He and Naomi have spoken more than a few times about calling a carpenter; they just haven't got around to it yet.
Naomi twitches ever so slightly when he drapes the blue and white flower adorned blanket over her. The corners of her mouth curve upwards, the lull of sleep being the only time she looks truly peaceful. For a few hours a night, she doesn't carry the weight of her crimes or the expulsion from her home on her shoulders. She'll never go back to Japan, she says. What reason does she have to go when she's got everything she needs here? That doesn't stop her from teaching Alyssa a few words of her mother language. They have a funny habit of speaking in words he doesn't understand then giggling afterwards, most likely at his expense. Every time, he laughs along and tells them that one day he's going to figure out what they're saying about him. Now, he never will.
It's the two of them, or him.
They think he's been working late. It's been the perfect alibi, really. Cases often keep in agents in the office into the wee small hours, and Naomi doesn't keep up with the goings-on at CIFM since she went back to surgery. She wasn't going to know the difference.
Upstairs, he throws a few things into a bag. Underwear, soap, deodorant. Toiletries mainly, the bare essentials to see him through the first few days. There's no point in packing many clothes; they're just going to toss him back in to uniform. There was a time when he wore that uniform with pride, when the scratch of the nylon against his skin gave him completion. He had scoffed at Naomi's inability to feel the same. She was only there because her life and her scalpel hinged on them; he truly believed their dogma.
Indoctrination is a powerful thing.
It was always going to come down to this. He knew when he left that he could never completely break free of their clutches. The vines would eventually wrap around his waist and his neck and his feet, pulling him back.
Back out into the hallway and he takes a moment to look at the pictures frames on the wall. There's one of Alyssa blowing out the candles on her cake at her tenth birthday party. Another of Naomi and Alyssa standing in the shadow of Cinderella's Castle on their vacation to Disneyland. It was cold on the day they went, rain had poured when they first arrived at the park. They ran for cover inside a crowded sweet shop, but were the first ones to leave when the rain let up. Their rain-damp hair is sticking to their faces, yet Naomi and Alyssa are still grinning like idiots. He doesn't appear in many of the pictures on the wall; he assumed the role of Chief Photographer.
He won't take any pictures with him, instead committing the images to the deep recesses of his memory. He can't afford to show any weaknesses, and that would certainly qualify as one. Any splinters appear in his façade, and they'll use the pictures of his family to crack them further until it's pulled apart completely.
He doesn't want them to lay eyes on their pictures anyway.
Of course, there's always a chance he's being deceived. That no matter what he says and no matter what he does for them, they'll go after Naomi and Alyssa anyway. He stands more chance of protecting them from the inside, he tells himself.
If he doesn't do as they say, he's not protecting them at all.
It's the two of them, or him.
He supposes he should be thankful they're even giving him a choice. In the sliding scale of traitors, he's right up there at the top of the totem pole. Making his way out, he tries not to think of what he's going back to – the thought of it could make the most hardened of criminals cry for mama. He's heard mumblings of another pathogen, more vicious than GUILT.
Upon reaching the living room door, he takes a final chance to look in at the sleeping figures and the life he's leaving behind. Once he leaves the house he doesn't want to see them again. Seeing them again means they're in danger.
He's about to make his way to the front door when he realises that Alyssa's tired green eyes are staring back at him. She's propped up on her elbow, watching.
As he would do any other time she had woken up in the middle of the night, he makes his way over to her and kneels down. "Did I wake you?"
Alyssa nods, yawning. She rubs her eyes, trying to clear them of sleep.
"I'm sorry," he says, glancing over to the couch where Naomi rests. Alyssa has always been a light sleeper of the two, but he checks anyway. She's still slumbering, a section of dishevelled grey hair falling over her face.
"Where are you going?"
Somehow, he manages to suppress the regretful sigh that builds in his throat. "I have to go back to work," he answers. "You go back to sleep. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Okay." She lays her head on the cushion, closing her eyes and pulling the corner of her pink fluffy blanket to her face.
He sits with Alyssa, waiting for the change in her breathing to tell him that she's drifted back to sleep and wondering if she'll even recall their conversation when she wakes.
Maybe they'll have him for leaving. Maybe they'll feel betrayed. It won't be long before Naomi realises where he's gone. At best, she'll feel duped. At worst, terrified. He just hopes she never has to understand why he did it.
Another few minutes pass before he gathers himself to a stand. He looks down at Naomi again but only for a second. Looking at her or hugging her or kissing her will make it almost too difficult to leave. With the practice he's acquired from previous movie nights, he moves lightly out the living room but manages to put is weight on the faulty floorboard. The creak rings so loudly, he looks back to the living room expecting to see two sets of eyes looking back at him. They're both still asleep.
The harsh winter wind nips at his ears as he closes the front door. He locks it and disengages his key from the chain and posts it through the letterbox, wondering who will be the one to find it in the morning. He'd bet his money on Alyssa, who doesn't seem to understand the concept of a lie-in. He pictures her waking up Naomi to show her what she's found and the confusion spreading across their faces when they realise that he's gone.
He makes his way down the concrete steps to the driveway before getting in the car and driving away.
It's the two of them, or him.