A/N: This is the sequel to my Naoto-as-villain story (Broken) and is thus of interest to about four people at best. Still, let's post it anyway. Hadn't been writing long when I wrote the first version in 2009 (and it showed) so I have tried to clean it up where possible. Contains some violence and strong language.
Brief summary of 'Broken': Adachi was murdered by Kubo in place of Morooka, and Naoto became his replacement in the triumvirate. She joined the team as instructed by Izanami, but began a relationship with Kanji of her own will. In November, Nanako entered the television world at Naoto's hands, and everything unraveled from there - ultimately leaving Naoto in an Okina psychiatric facility, and the team to lick their wounds. This story picks up four months on, in April 2012.
There was an air of disappointment her grandfather never voiced.
His visits to the hospital were brief, squeezed between his casework - about which he no longer shared the details - but he was always kind and patient. Asked how she felt (the same); what she'd been doing (nothing useful); if there was anything Yakushiji could do for her (no). He didn't mention that the Shirogane line might as well end with him - that she had proven unworthy of the name, if in an entirely different way than he believed.
("She was too young," she'd heard him say to Yakujishi from the corridor.)
...She was being dramatic, of course. There was no reason why, given time, she couldn't return to the field. Perhaps she'd be better for it: less selfish, less resentful, less bitter. Less convinced of her own infallibility. Or perhaps (more likely) she was delusional, distracted by guilt, a sense of failure, and the perpetual scratching against the inside of her skull. She wrote letters, or attempted to, trying to untangle the scratches into something sensible, something they would all understand. This was why, this was how. The words were spilled haphazardly over the page, and she crumpled up most of the letters after the first few lines.
In the summer she had honestly believed herself superior to them all, including Seta. Even after joining the team, there had been a brief period where she thought she could actually do it, that she could outwit them as she was supposed to; as she'd been told to.
But Souji Seta was a hero. She wasn't. She hadn't even been the villain, simply a sideshow. She'd almost killed a child, she'd betrayed the only people to ever treat her as a friend, and more than that, she'd hurt one person she shouldn't - the person she had hated for making her doubt but appreciated (loved)for his unflinching (undeserved) acceptance.
Time was a harsh teacher and Naoto now regretted every moment. She wished that made a difference.
There were a dozen other things he could focus on. The click of the train against the rails, the shapes in the fog pressing against the window, the way this stupid damn suit scratched against his skin and rode up his calves - anything except where he was going and why. This was only the second time he'd gone somewhere on a train, so he should make sure he enjoyed it. First time had been the trip to Port Island last September. Naoto had come with them.
Kanji grit his teeth to stop thinking and stared out into the fog.
He needed to check the card was still there, they might not let him in without it - so he patted down his pocket again, felt it under his palm, then pulled it out just to be sure. Koseikai Hospital in large printed letters, Ward B, Room 302 scribbled underneath in Souji's cramped handwriting, Naoto's full name written below that.
Sweet-talking had never been Kanji's strong point, but Souji was a charmer. Persuaded Naoto's granddad to allow a visit after four full months of refusals. Yukiko had been the first of them to ask, funny enough. Kanji had just sent letters, and had only started asking for visits when nothing came back. Turned down every time.
Shirogane-san's probably just worried about her, Souji had said. Only family he's got left. Kanji wasn't convinced the ban on visits had been Shirogane's idea.
He grunted, shifted in his seat - why the hell had he decided to wear a suit? - and leant his head against the window. The fog was getting thinner, so they had to be a good distance from town. Hard to tell with the slow route. But at least the trains were still running, even though nobody was using them much these days. No good reason to come to Inaba unless you were seeing family or working with a TV crew; even those weirdo tourists had finally got too freaked out to visit. He was surprised Souji hadn't done the smart thing and gotten the hell out in March, but Senpai had been acting weird all year.
Dozens of letters and no answer. Kanji was starting to feel like an idiot.
He pulled out the card again, checked it, put it back in his pocket.
Damn, he hoped he wasn't.
The most difficult part was making himself walk through the hospital doors. Hospitals made him sick; all that fucking white. But once he was inside, finding the room was pretty simple. He showed the card to the lady at the desk and even if she gave him a look, one that said he was just some punk in a bad suit, she still told him the way.
Outside the room, he stood in the corridor for a while. Better not to rush it and freak Naoto out. Nothing to do with being too chickenshit to go in.
When he finally worked up the guts to push open the door, he almost knocked over an old guy walking out. Way shorter than him, silver-flecked hair, looked like he'd gotten dressed in the middle of last century. Naoto's granddad, Kanji realized, and thanked whatever spark of thought had made him smarten up for this.
He bowed, sharp and stiff. "T-Tatsumi. Kanji Tatsumi. M'here to see Naoto."
Shirogane gave him a measured look. "Tatsumi. You aren't the boy that called."
"No. That was Souji Seta. But he - he's busy today." It was a lousy lie from an even lousier liar, but Shirogane was decent enough not to point that out.
He glanced at Kanji's hands. "No flowers?"
"Naoto don't like them."
Shirogane smiled, a little sadly. "No, she doesn't."
There was something he was supposed to say here, Kanji thought. Something more than sorry your grandkid's in the nuthouse or hey do you know why she didn't answer my letters.
"I appreciate your interest in visiting," Shirogane finally said. "Naoto has never made friends easily. I believe she may be leaving the hospital shortly, a few days before I depart for Austria." He studied Kanji for a moment, like he was a new piece of evidence, a vital clue that could crack some case. "I...do not think the estate would be the best place for her, with only my assistant present. Perhaps she could return to Inaba. I understand she has made friends there, you included."
Kanji had always figured Naoto had never told her granddad about him - she'd been raised pretty well and all, and he was nothing special - but something in this old guy's look said he knew. Maybe all detectives were like that. Naoto had usually seen through Kanji pretty easily too.
"Yeah, I-I - thass a good idea," he managed.
He wasn't sure if it was, really. Naoto had made friends then betrayed them all, him included. Nothing could be the same after that.
Didn't stop him from wanting her back.
Shirogane gave a quick, tight nod. "I will leave you to discuss with Naoto. I would have had you and her other friends visit sooner, had the choice been mine."
Then he turned and walked down the corridor, footsteps echoing in perfect even rhythm. Kanji watched him leave, then straightened his shoulders, tugged down the suit jacket, and entered the room.
Naoto was sitting on the bed inside, legs dangling over the edge. They'd let her wear her own clothes again: white shirt, grey waistcoat, black pants. It looked right - and she looked better. Still pale, still a little too thin, but nothing like she'd been in December, husked out and hollowed.
She looked up. "Kanji-kun?"
"N-Naoto." Four months on, and he could hardly get out her name.
"Grampa mentioned I might have visitors. I-I didn't imagine..." She tilted her head. "Why are you wearing a suit?"
"Uh. Figured, y'know, s'been a while." Kanji rubbed the back of his neck and wished he didn't feel so ridiculous. "Thought I should make an effort."
Naoto smiled at that. A proper one, not like the last - tight and through torn lips, one day after they'd dragged her out the TV for the second time. She stood, walked over to him, and took his hand. "I missed you."
Just hug her, Tatsumi.
"You too," he mumbled.
Her thumb stroked over his palm just once before she let go. When she perched back on the bed, Kanji noticed a dull grey metal watch chain looped over the edge of her waistcoat pocket. He sat down next to her, not as close as he'd have liked and not as far as he'd have preferred.
"Have you been well?" she asked.
"Y-Yeah. Everything's good."
"And - everyone else?"
"They're good too. Nanako's out the hospital and she's doing pretty well." Same stuff he'd written in his letters. "We did a Christmas party for her, made her a cake and all. Or the girls tried, y'know." He grinned. "I ended up baking another one. They tried to pull the same stunt for my birthday and-" He cut it off there, because Naoto probably didn't want to hear about everything she'd missed while she'd been cooped up in the nuthouse beating herself up.
"I'm glad she's better. And I'm sorry I missed your birthday." Naoto stared down at her hands, clamped white over her knees. "The doctors have told me I am well enough to leave."
Kanji felt his face crack into a grin. "Yeah, your granddad said. S'great."
Her voice sounded taut and forced. "It isn't sufficient, I-I have only been here four months and-"
"What, you're gonna sit here and punish yourself?" He shook his head. "Don't play the damn martyr, Naoto."
"I'm not," Naoto snapped. "I cannot pretend nothing happened. I should have kept telling the truth to the doctors, but they - I'm so tired of telling the same story, Kanji." She winced. "So...I agreed that I simply imagined it."
"They're never gonna believe you anyway. And you're right in the head now." He snorted. "Probably saner than most people back home. You've heard the stories, right?"
Naoto nodded. "I've been permitted newspapers recently. The fog...it didn't disperse, even after you-" She glanced away. "The adverse effects have continued."
"Right. Senpai's acting weird too. Kinda worried."
"...Weird?" She frowned. "He isn't...like I a-was?"
Kanji pretended not to hear the am. "No, no. Just don't look right, always tired. But his mom and dad are coming back late from their trip, so he's staying on in Inaba for a few extra weeks. Means we can all keep an eye on him." Speaking of home, he needed to ask. "So, uh...you gonna come back?"
Naoto raised an eyebrow. "To a town full of mind-altering fog?"
He laughed. "Yeah. You got friends in Inaba, y'know?"
All trace of expression instantly vanished. Naoto's gaze dropped back to the bed. "I doubt that."
Kanji gripped her hand tightly, enclosing it almost completely in his own. "You got me."
It hadn't taken much to persuade her in the end. Mostly came down to two things: the fact that the fog was still there and that Senpai wasn't doing good. Kanji wanted to think he had got something to do with it too. Never mind the empty space that'd stretched between them, they'd fix that.
He'd texted Souji soon as he got back and asked to meet him at Souzai Daigaku the next day. Neither of them really wanted to eat but they ordered anyway; the shop was struggling with everyone hiding out at home.
"Naoto's coming back," Kanji said, casually as he could.
Souji folded his arms, and kept staring at the steak croquets he hadn't even touched.
"She's worried about you. I told her you'd been...having trouble, y'know." He paused. "You guys talked when she first went in the hospital, right? Did you..." Did you get anything out of her because I still don't understand and I don't know what questions to ask. Senpai's business, though. Not his.
Souji shook his head. "I don't know. What she said...it didn't make much sense. Some of it's clearer now."
"You gonna talk to her when she gets here?"
"Of course." He met Kanji's eyes, dark circles under his own. "But if you mean, have I forgiven her, I can't answer. Haven't fully forgiven Namatame."
"Wasn't what I was asking." Too soon, Kanji knew that much. "Just want to know if she's got a place here."
"If she doesn't, it's her own fault."
"Yeah. She knows that."
"Then I'll do my best. I think the girls will too. Just try to keep her away from Yosuke." Souji sighed. "He's a good guy underneath, Kanji, but he's got every right to be angry and he can't let go of a grudge."
Kanji nodded, then leant forward over the table. "Listen - all that stuff she said, last year. You believe her?"
Head tilted back, Souji stared up at the fog. "Before? Not completely. Now...I'm not sure."
Kanji didn't tell anyone except Souji, which might not have been the smartest thing he'd ever done. It'd be hard no matter which way they handled it, though, and Souji just didn't look up to dealing with the fallout twice over. Rise usually knew what was up and she was terrible at keeping anything quiet, so Kanji already knew Senpai had been dreaming the same sort of stuff Naoto'd talked about. Considering that scared Kanji shitless, he couldn't imagine how Souji felt.
Inaba was getting worse too - nothing drastic, just a slow slide day by day, to the point where it almost seemed normal that there were people cowering in the Junes foyer and sleeping rough in the streets. Just like it seemed normal that TV crews had been hanging around for months, even more of them than when Mayumi Yamano died, all asking the same questions and filming the same damn fog.
The team had gotten together a couple of times back in February, tried going inside the television to see if they could figure out why the fog hadn't left. Rise and Teddie had never picked up anything new. The old worlds had all still been there, save for Naoto's, but nothing else.
Kanji shook his head and pushed open the shop door. Ma was behind the counter inside, checking through order forms. He'd been planning what he'd say in his head for the last half-hour, at least when he hadn't been busy convincing himself Ma would say no. But she knew Naoto, and - much as he'd have preferred otherwise - she knew there'd been something between them. This shouldn't be that difficult.
She looked up from the paperwork. "Kanji-chan? Is something wrong, dear?"
"Nah, s'good." He ambled into the shop, hands shoved in his pockets. "You, uh, you remember Naoto, right?"
Ma smiled gently. "Of course! Lovely girl, such a shame what happened. Must have been very hard though, being a detective on a murder case at such a young age, and-"
"Yeah. It was. Listen, she's coming back to Inaba this weekend. Is - is it okay if she comes to stay here?"
"Look, there ain't no other way, yeah?" Kanji snapped, louder than he'd intended. "Otherwise she's gotta stay in her place by herself and that ain't right, not when she's just got out the hospital."
"Well, we can't have that." She nodded. "Very well, she's welcome to stay. Provided you don't get up to anything under my roof, hmm?"
There was a slight smirk at the end that Kanji could already feel pushing heat to his face, but he couldn't help but smile. "Thanks, Ma."
The steady click of the train would have been comforting, if it weren't almost exactly one year since she'd first done this and if it weren't her first time outside in four months. The rain hadn't stopped pouring since the afternoon; another echo, this one of the day she was first taken to Koseikai.
Kanji was asleep beside her, propped against the window, so she opened her bag as quietly as possible before pulling out a sheaf of papers. Though the hospital staff had strongly discouraged it, she'd kept up to date with the situation in Inaba and had taken copious notes from the newspaper reports. Untrustworthy as the printed media might be, they'd been her only source of information.
Namatame had not been charged. There was nothing more than circumstantial evidence to suggest he abducted Nanako, of course, and even though he'd claimed to have kidnapped the team members the police had considered him as unreliable as they did her. Four months later, the fog continued to hang low over Inaba and its effects on the populace had not abated. No wonder the media still took such an interest.
However, it was Souji that concerned her most. He was strong (stronger than she'd ever be) but the little Kanji had told her sounded crushingly familiar, and Naoto knew better than most the way everything slowly and imperceptibly unraveled. The knowledge left her with the terrible sense of history repeating. Her own dreams still occurred. Less frequently, perhaps due to her distance from the fog, but the intensity remained the same despite the doctors' attempts to medicate her.
Naoto had no intention of telling Kanji this. Not only had he offered her a place to stay - insisted, no matter how many times she'd politely refused - but he'd also been kind enough to collect her from the hospital. Again, she'd insisted she was capable of returning alone, knowing the lie even as she'd spoken it. Kanji had known it too, being familiar with her overdeveloped sense of pride. He'd even helped her pack. Naoto wondered if he'd noticed the unopened envelopes piled underneath the clothes in her suitcase. He would have recognized his own handwriting.
If Souji needed help, she had no choice but to return. Debts needed to be repaid. Naoto just couldn't imagine what purpose she might serve.
You're still a detective, Kanji had told her.
The words on the pages blurred. Her scribbled theories were circular, nonsensical, like the letters she'd written and never sent. The only exception had been the letter Naoto had written every night; unchanging in content and always to the same person.
She glanced at Kanji - eyes closed, mouth slightly open, one hand cradling his head against the rain-streaked window - and swallowed hard.