The trains had stopped running, and the station was nearly deserted. Tanaka still moved through it cautiously, as if afraid he might be apprehended.
I'm a cop. What are they going to do, arrest me for loitering? he asked himself, though really he knew he could lose his job over this.
He rode the escalator down and began walking the perimiter of the station. Finally, in a small dirty corner, he found the outline of a door. It looked like an ordinary maintenance door, with a sign on it forbidding access and a lock in the doorknob.
Perhaps he should have gone to his supervisors. They would have opened this door, although they never would have believed him in the first place. Thankfully, he had his secret skill, the one he had perfected after the third time his parents accidentally left the door locked while they went out without them. Tanaka reached into his pocket and withdrew his lockpicks.
The door was surprisingly tough to open. If only for that reason, he began to suspect it wasn't an ordinary door. But Tanaka had practiced with the picks. He had always kept this skill carefully hidden from Ryouta, but he could unlock almost any door. He had often reflected to himself that if he hadn't been caught without his picks during the Nonary Game, the whole thing would have gone much differently.
Finally the door swung open and Tanaka faced a iron stairway, poorly lit and corroded. There was nowhere to go but down. He moved slowly, step by step, telling himself that if he ran he might fall. When he reached about the tenth step, he began hearing it.
in the hills before me at five years old, the perfect green and the city behind
It was a voice in his mind, the voice of a poem, and he needed no one to tell him that it was Ito's voice. He kept going.
resting in the water with nothing to feel
There was a door on the first landing, but Tanaka knew it was the wrong door.
a heart that holds answers to what was never asked
The voice grew louder, melancholic lines filling Tanaka's consciousness. He went down five floors, moving faster and faster, until he reached another door. This one he knew was right. There was no lock, so he pushed it open. A corridor faced him, stretching long into the distance, so far that he couldn't even see the end from here. The walls were white and harsh lighting shone down from overhead. Tanaka began to run, the words in his head. He kept going, panting with exertion and hoping he would know his destination when he found it.
He passed a number of other blank doors, too many to count, until he reached one that was decorated with the kanji for "ending." He was probably under the National Diet Building at this point, in the secret sub-basements that weren't supposed to exist.
The door was unlocked. It led to a small room with blank yellow walls. On the floor lay the body of Ito Kazuya, pale and peaceful. Tanaka's heart pounded until he saw that the boy was breathing. He knelt by him and shook his shoulder.
"Hey, kid, wake up. You're being ridiculous. Game over."
Ito did not respond or shift position.
"Stop being theatrical," said Tanaka sharply, but it didn't help.
He didn't have the strength to carry him all the way up the stairs, and he was worried it wouldn't even help. In fact he was already certain what he should do, yet he wasn't sure it would work. He had to bring Ito back, and he could only think of one way.
Tanaka racked his brain, but all he could come up with was a few lines of "The Narrow Road to Oku." That wouldn't help. It wasn't his story.
Finally he sat near Ito, with his back against the wall, and closed his eyes, remembering the first time he had caught Ryouta stealing.
a sense of betrayal clanging
you are my brother and you are lost
His breathing shallowed as he tried to make pretty words of his life. How many memories did he have? Saving the children?
children taken for pride and for their dismay, madmen move
And his own Nonary Game.
blood surrounds and the hours pass with too much of an ending to bear
she moves with stealth and laughter, anger and life, without knowing me
Damn it, I write worse poetry than a teenager, he thought to himself. But when he opened his eyes, he was somewhere else - a large featureless place, a huge gray floor stretching into the distance with plae light coming from nowhere and no walls but darkness. Facing him was Ito Kazuya, sitting cross-legged with his eyes open.
"You weren't the one who was supposed to come," were the first words out of his mouth.
"Well, excuse me all to hell for trying to save your angsty teenage ass," retorted Tanaka, all pretense at poetry gone. "Who were you expecting?"
"My father," replied Ito. "I wanted that flash drive to go to my father."
"You should have left more specific instructions," said Tanaka. "Why were you so sure he could figure out your little puzzle anyway? That thing fooled the police."
"My father is a computer expert. And he is also a poet."
"Just because he's a poet doesn't mean he wants you to do some kind of dumbass thing like this."
"He is also Emgreen."
Tanaka looked at him in surprise, but remained silent.
"I overheard him telling my mother one night. He was wondering about what he had started, with the websites. "One day it will work," he was telling her. That was about when Emgreen toned everything down and disappeared."
"So you decided to do just the opposite of what your dad would want," said Tanaka.
"There's nothing for my dad but work and the collective unconscious. Now and then he suggests a college for me and then disappears back into his office. I'm surprised he even remembers my name."
"Last I heard your parents were frantic over you. Though I suppose that's your whole point here."
"I left the flash drive as a last resort, in case my dad finally realized he wanted me back." Ito replied. "I'm content to stay here, being my own words of myself, filtering through the mind forever."
"Your body will die eventually," said Tanaka.
"So will yours," replied Ito. "Eventually."
"I'm not leaving here without you," said Tanaka firmly.
"Do you even know how to get back? I don't."
Finally Tanaka felt something like fear. Could he be stuck here, under Tokyo, his body dying as whatever words he had left ascended? Ito might find that lovely and fitting but Tanaka found it disgusting.
He walked to Ito, leaned over, and looked closely into his eyes. "Listen. I don't know a lot but what I do know is that you keep trying. Every time. Poetry is fine and the collective unconscious is probably fine too but the bottom line is that world needs all of us. Someday someone's going to need you and if you're rotting under the Diet Building you're not going to be there. Am I making any damn sense?"
To his surprise, Ito flinched and stared back at him. He looked vulnerable, young. Tanaka told himself to wake up, to get out of this, to bring them both back to the world, but Ito was right - he didn't know how.
Then he heard a voice, a real voice.
"Tanaka-san, if you die on me I will never forgive you. Wake up before I kick you just to see if you're still alive. And you know where I'll kick you!"
This time Tanaka opened his real eyes, back under the Diet Building. He was still propped against the wall. Kashiwabara was standing facing him, arms folded, looking furious. On the floor, Ito was blinking and stirring groggily. He sat up and stared at them.
Tanaka began to laugh and could not stop. Kashiwabara had to reach down and help him off the floor, with Ito staring at them as if they were insane.
"Why did you come? You knew it wasn't safe," he told her.
"After all we've been through together, you can still ask me that?"
He wanted to hug her, to kiss her, to brush her messy hair off her face and look at her as if he had never seen anything like her before. But first they had to leave.
"Are you coming with us, kid?" he asked Ito.
"I... I'll have to face my dad," he said.
He didn't offer Kashiwabara any explanation, but she just shrugged. "You should have thought about that before, you poor tormented soul. Now we're getting the hell out of here, whether anyone else likes it or not."
She marched out the door. Tanaka stood and helped Ito up. "That's Kashiwabara-san," he said. "She's kind of amazing and I suggest you do whatever she says."
Ito only blinked and leaned against Tanaka as they walked out the door to join Kashiwabara for the long walk up down the corridor and up the steps. She walked quickly and offered no further words as they walked. Tanaka watched carefully over Ito and thought to himself. He would be in trouble at work over this, and would probably have to tell Oshiro and the chief at least some of the truth. Ito would probably like to cover this up as much as Tanaka did but he looked like the type who was a lousy liar. Tanaka doubted he would lose his job, since the bottom line was that he had found Ito, but he did not know the future.
Meanwhile, he would bring Ito back to his family. For himself, he needed just a little sleep. When he woke up, he would write Ryouta. Kashiwabara was right, losing family was the wrong way to go.
And later, after careful negotiation, he might offer her that kiss.