Notes: This was originally written for the 2011 Yuletide fanfiction exchange.
The "real" names of Lotus and her daughters came from the question and answer section of the 999 website. I chose the name Tanaka for Seven. All other characters mentioned in the fic, including "Emgreen," were created and named by me.
The title is from the poem "Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
I'd like to thank my beta for so much hard work. And also all the other people, online and off, who gave me help and suggestions for this fic. Any mistakes are entirely my own.
Signaling You Through the Flames
"The chief won't let Tanaka-san work this case. And we all know why."
Usually Tanaka ignored gossip. He was a good cop who did his job, and if someone had another story that was their problem. And this was Oshiro talking. The guy had a big mouth and most people at the station knew enough to ignore him.
"Yeah, anything to do with kids and Tanaka-san goes a little crazy." That was Sakeda, the new detective who had transferred in. Probably kissing up to Oshiro by agreeing. Laughter followed, and Tanaka breathed shallowly so no one would realize he was standing by the door and listening.
"This isn't even a kid. It's a teenage boy who probably ran away with a girl," Oshiro replied. "Kids today meet over the internet and do all kinds of stupid things. He'll be back."
Tanaka had heard about the case when he came in this morning. The parents had come into to their local substation late yesterday night. Their high school aged son had never made it home. They swore that he wasn't the type to just take off, that he was a dutiful son and a good student. The case was now in the hands of the officers here at the prefectural substation. The chief must be wondering about the possible fallout from a kidnapping case, even though they didn't think this was a kidnapping just yet.
"We still have to do our best to investigate," said Sakeda in a properly dutiful tone.
"Are you kidding? He's still a missing person, of course we have to. Plus his father is an executive at a big computer company. But let's not jump to any conclusions. We'll just talk to his friends from school, ask around the neighborhood to see if anyone living there seems suspicious. But I'll bet this isn't the first time he's pulled this kind of stunt. Probably the parents just finally got fed up and came to us."
Tanaka told himself that Oshiro was probably right. A teenager wasn't a young kid, not like the ones he'd dealt with on the boat during the days he wanted to forget. He'd probably come back within a few days, none the worse for wear. And his parents would thank the police even if they hadn't really done anything.
But what if he doesn't, a voice whispered in the back of Tanaka's mind. He tried to push it aside as he went back to his desk and started to work on his reports. That was mechanical, easy. Words went on paper, and didn't require him to remember all the disasters of his past. Not the boat, not his own Nonary Game.
He got through five pages of everything the department thought they needed to know, still sitting at his desk as most of the other detectives left for the day. Oshiro and Takeda were gone too, investigating the kid's disappearance or so Tanaka hoped.
He was one of the only people left in the station when the girl came in. She was in her late teens, tall and conservatively dressed. She approached his desk cautiously.
"May I help you?" Tanaka asked gently.
"I don't want to get in trouble, Inspector," she said, sounding uncertain and almost meek.
"I'm sure you're not in trouble, miss," he replied, though he wasn't sure of any such thing.
"It's not about me. It's about Ito Kazuya."
The missing kid. "The detectives in charge of the case are out. But I can take a message for them. Are you a friend of his? And what is your name?"
The girl bit her lip. "I don't want to give my name," she said. "And I don't know if I would say I'm a close friend of his. But two days ago he gave me this flash drive. He said it was important."
She removed a small, plain flash drive from her pocket and dropped it on the desk.
"He didn't tell me what was on it, but after he disappeared I tried to look. But the drive has a password, so I don't even know what's on it. I know he's in the poetry club at school, so I tried the names of a couple of his favorite poets, but nothing worked."
"I really need your name," Tanaka said, but the girl was already hurrying out of the station. He ran to the front door but she was gone into the crowd on the sidewalk by the time he got there.
If she was so desperate to preserve her anonymity, why hadn't she mailed the drive? Maybe this was urgent, much more important than she had let on. But there was nothing to do now but to wait for Oshiro or Sakeda to come back and give this to them.
For just a moment Tanaka remembered someone who could certainly solve the password problem. But the police computer experts wouldn't have a tough time of it either. Still, he did let his mind dwell on Lotus, just for a minute. He had her real name and phone number, and even her address. She had given them to him that evening in the desert, after the Nonary Game. Tanaka had told himself that he would phone her, just to reassure himself that he wasn't the only one who had gone on with his life after their little nightmare, but he had never done it. He didn't want to forget her, but she probably wanted to forget all of them and everything that had happened.
He still took a moment to remember the look on her face when she realized that the man called Seven had been the one who saved her child. Tanaka carried that moment around when his superiors berated him for caring too much. But maybe talking to Lotus more would have ruined everything. It didn't matter now, anyway. It had been many months since their escape and it was too late.
When Oshiro came in, Tanaka handed the flash drive over to him. He was angry that Tanaka hadn't gotten the girl's name, and even the description Tanaka was able to give didn't make Oshiro happy.
"We didn't have any luck in the Ito family's neighborhood. I was hoping that was a good sign, that he just went away by himself so there was nothing for the neighbors to notice. But now I don't know. I'll hand this over to the computer guys and see what's on it. If it's important, well... I just hope we can find that girl. She didn't even say if she went to the same school?"
"She barely said anything," Tanaka muttered. "And I'm on my way out of here."
Oshiro just nodded, and Tanaka headed out the door. By the time he got home he felt exhausted. He cooked a little ramen and ate it in front of the television. The drama he was watching was a guilty pleasure of his but tonight he just wasn't in the mood for it. His brain was too busy dwelling on what the computer techs were getting from the flash drive. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he was that this was important.
He tried to read a detective novel but couldn't get through that either. If he wasn't thinking about the Ito case he was thinking about Lotus.
Should have known it was a bad idea to remind myself of her, he thought as he finally laid down and tried to sleep. But he couldn't quite push the thoughts away. Instead they led into a fantasy that she was there with him. Nothing lewd, though he was only human. Just Lotus lying there too, her head pillowed on his chest, curled up against him and seeking his warmth.
She would never do that, he reminded himself. Not only because they weren't lovers, nor even friends, but because she probably would never forget herself and relax like that with him.
You don't even know her, really. You could be having this daydream about anybody. That was true. And maybe grown men shouldn't daydream at all, yet he was sure he wasn't the only one. In fact he was nearly positive that he wasn't the only one out there, lonely in the night and thinking about a woman he once knew.
Just as he was falling asleep he thought of the picture of Ito Kazuya, gazing into the camera. It had been an ordinary picture of a teenage boy, but in Tanaka's memory he looked slightly lost, as if waiting for someone to save him.