No one had seen this coming.
It had been a long, distressing day for everyone. Saving Japan from terrorism was in the job description, yet no one was ever truly prepared for the moment that a nuclear threat arose. This time, all of his agents had lived to see another day. Whether it was through fate or luck or divine intervention, he didn't know.
The same could not be said for everyone. To the entire nation's relief, the terrorist cell had been eliminated, but the victory had been bittersweet. After being reunited with Spider, who was revealed to be Doctor Lisa Shikimura, the young hacker Falcon had been painfully ripped away from her for the final time. The entire team had heard their last conversation through the communications headset, and although none of Third-I could say they were sad to see her go, they felt for the boy.
For some reason, lately Kirishima had been feeling relatively useless. He had unknowingly allowed the terrorist J to carry out his morbid plans, and waiting outside the nuclear plant earlier that day, unable to get in and help Falcon, had been torture. He was supposed to lead his team through the storm and protect civilians, yet ever since he had left on his mission to retrieve J, a decision he had been regretting since the moment he made it, that responsibility had fallen to Hagiwara Taru. He liked to think that had he been in charge, things would have turned out differently, yet he knew that although they were unpleasant, many of the man's decisions had been necessary. However, sitting in the recovery ward of Third-I, he couldn't say that Fujimaru Takagi felt the same.
He didn't understand. How had no one seen this coming? Every agent at Third-I knew the signs. They had all seen them before, fought the same demons. Yet somehow they had all overlooked this.
Kirishima couldn't think up a single excuse. The boy was a genius, there was no doubt about that. Third-I had experienced the boy's skills firsthand, when he had originally hacked their own servers, and again multiple times after that. He had worked alongside Third-I through the Bloody X events, becoming almost part of the team, and they often forgot that he was just a kid that they had forced into this mess. Yet there was always something oh so human, something so undeniably naive about him that set him apart from anyone else Kirishima had ever known.
Fujimaru had been through countless horrifying and hopeless situations, yet at the very last second he always seemed to find a miraculous solution and walk out of it ready to deal with the next crisis. They had all taken that for granted. Kirishima should have known that it was only a matter of time before the boy broke.
Kirishima had gotten the news over six hours ago. After finally securing the nuclear plant, he had sent Fujimaru back to Third-I headquarters. The boy was visibly shaken, but he had been uninjured. Once Kirishima and Kanou's teams had finished clearing the scene, they, too, returned for a debriefing. It was merely procedure after such a mission, but he had returned to something much worse.
Fujimaru Takagi had collapsed.
They had detained him for another three hours. Unable to visit the boy he felt partially responsible for, he sat through the torturous debriefing with the detached calm he had only used once before, when he had been avoiding his dying fiancee. When they finally released him, he had ran down the halls of Third-I, Kanou not far behind him.
"We think it was just his body reacting to the extreme stress he's been under lately. This could also be related to shock, or even an anxiety disorder or PTSD. Once the adrenaline faded, any of these could have made his blood pressure skyrocket like that, and combined with the obvious lack of proper nutrition and sleep, his body couldn't handle the pressure and shut down. We won't really know for sure until he wakes up. I'm sorry, but there's nothing we can do for him right now. We'll just have to wait for his body to recuperate, and only when he is ready will he wake." The on-call doctor had told them, leaving Kirishima feeling completely useless once again.
"I was just leaving Third-I when I met him coming into the lobby. He was being supported by another agent, but I didn't suspect anything. We were speaking, when all of a sudden he started swaying on his feet, and I could see the blood drain from his face. I didn't understand what was happening at first, and then he just passed out." The two agents had joined Otoya, who had been there during the attack, and together they kept vigil. They slowly began to put together the missing pieces of the puzzle, and slowly the guilt grew and grew.
Lying on the stark white sheets of the makeshift-hospital bed, with the heart moniter beeping softly beside him, it was far too easy now to see the illness Fujimaru carried about him. His skin was almost as white as the sheets, and he was sickly thin. He had always been tall and lanky, but he appeared to have lost a lot of weight, his wrists and collarbone jutting out farther than what was natural. His dark hair looked dull and longer than normal, his face too gaunt and cheekbones too defined, dark blue bruising underneath his eyes revealing his recent lack of sleep.
"I should have seen it. It's been going on much longer than just these past few weeks. After his father's death, his marks dropped. He decided not to go to University, even though he managed to get accepted, and it had always been his goal. They were tight on money, but I know he could have balanced University and work, yet he still didn't go. Ever since he got that job, he has been working non-stop. He took extra shifts, and would often skip plans he made with Aoi and I. Even though he swore to us he had given up hacking, I knew he hadn't. He loves hacking. He becomes a different person when he is hacking, he becomes the Falcon, and I knew he couldn't give that up. It was strange, though, he was never one to keep secrets from me. Whenever we did see him, he never looked well, but we didn't want to pry. He was dealing with his dad's death in his own way. I guess we never really truly noticed exactly how much weight or sleep he was losing. We should have done something." Otoya told them. "Even once all this started again, he was acting strangely. It wasn't like him to go off on his own like that. The Fujimaru I knew wouldn't have acted so recklessly. He wouldn't have gone to see Spider, he wouldn't have put himself in danger like that, not at the risk of leaving his sister alone."
Kirishima heard the words he left unspoken. He wouldn't have left me here alone. He could see the pain and exhaustion in the other boy's eyes, and was reminded of the fact that not only had Otoya been awake for probably over 30 hours, the boy had also been shot, assaulted, assisted Third-I in catching the terrorists, listened to his best friend risk his life over the comms unit, watch the same friend pass out in front of him and then sit at his bedside alone for six hours.
"Otoya, you should get some sleep." Kirishima told him.
"I can't leave him."
"He's not alone. Kanou and I will be here. We could wake you if anything changes," Kirishima offered, but again the man shook his head.
"It hurts too much to try to sleep," Was all he said, and Kirishima couldn't tell if he meant the wound in his shoulder or the one in his heart.
"How did we miss this?" Kanou asked him quietly, not hiding the desperation in his voice. "Otoya, you can blame yourself all you want, but there was no way you could have known that things would ever get this bad. But we've seen it before, in other agents. Why didn't we see it in him?"
"I don't know, Kanou. I just don't know."
"Dammit, he's just a kid. He's just a stupid kid that got tangled into this whole mess because of us. We used him. Third-I only saw him as a tool, not as a person. I tried to convince Hagiwara not to get him involved this time, but he wouldn't listen to me. I knew something wasn't right from the moment they brought him in to disarm the bomb, but I didn't say anything. I didn't feel that it was my place to say anything, considering what we put him through 2 years ago. He got on his fucking knees in front of me and begged me to bring every one he loved home safely, and I couldn't do a damn thing." Kanou's voice began to rise, but Fujimaru didn't stir, and Otoya merely stared dully at him from across the bed.
"Don't go there. That wasn't your fault and you know it, Kanou. I made him face J again. I used him to try to get J to talk, just like I used him as bait to lure J two years ago, and I probably made all those memories come rushing back for him. I allowed J to get close enough to him that he had a knife pressed to his throat, and he nearly watched J shoot himself. If anyone should have seen this coming, it should have been me. He was defenceless, and he told J to go ahead and shoot him. I should have seen it from that moment, seen that he was hurting. It was something so out of character for him to say, but I never confronted him about it. He's practically been crying out for help this whole time, but nobody heard him. We didn't listen, and we didn't notice what he had been doing to himself, so now we have to deal with the consequences. It's nobody's fault alone, so don't try to take all of the blame yourselves. It was all of our faults, even Fujimaru's, for not speaking up and trusting us, but we can't burden ourselves with the guilt. In a few hours, Fujimaru will need us to be strong, to be there for him like we haven't been." Kirishima said, and in silent agreement they all continued their vigil.
Another hour passed, and eventually Otoya's body slowly slumped with sleep, his head resting awkwardly on the back of the chair. Kirishima knew he would probably hurt when he woke up from sleeping in such a position, but he didn't have the heart to move and risk waking the boy. They had failed Otoya just as much as they had failed Fujimaru, and Kirishima wouldn't begrudge him the much-needed sleep.
When Hagiwara appeared shortly after, Kirishima was glad for the decision. Although they had worked together during the nuclear threat, Otoya had made his disdain for the man quite clear. Kanou had his reasons to despise the man as well, however he said nothing. Hagiwara didn't speak, and he didn't take a seat either, preferring to stand at the edge of the bed and stare silently at the slumbering hacker. Kirishima recognized the look on the man's face, however - he had seen it too much today.
"Hagiwara." The man didn't look at him, but Kirishima knew he was listening. Hagiwara may have been the head of Third-I at the moment, but Kirishima had more experience, and the man knew it. "Don't blame yourself. You did what you had to do to get the job done, and saved countless lives doing it." The man still did not reply.
"But we still failed him. We failed Otoya too, and Aoi, and Haruka. The decisions we've made in the past few weeks are things we all have to come to terms with, but don't wallow in your guilt. Let's learn from this. Next time, we won't fail them." Hagiwara left the room, and silence again reigned, broken only by the sound of their breathing and the faint beeps of the heart moniter.
Kirishima didn't know how much more time passed before the boy's heart rate began to climb, and he slowly began to stir. A minute went by in tense silence, Kanou and Kirishima silently agreeing not to wake Otoya yet, until Fujimaru's eyes slowly opened. They watched him blink slowly before awareness visibly dawned on his face.
The heart moniter skyrocketed. Kirishima watched Fujimaru look around quickly in confusion, his eyes not settling on anything in particular. He didn't even appear to notice them in the room in his panic, which unsettled them. They watched in confusion as the boy panicked for a moment, unsure of what to do. Fujimaru's breathing quickly grew more laboured and he began to move around restlessly. It was when the boy brought his hand to his nose that Kirishima finally realized what he was thinking.
"Fujimaru," Kirishima said softly. The boy didn't appear to hear him. "Fujimaru, Fujimaru, it's Kirishima, Fujimaru look at me!" He said loudly, taking a bold step towards the bed.
"Where am I? What's wrong with me?" Fujimaru asked quietly, recognization finally flickering on his face, but the panic in his voice was unmistakable.
"Fujimaru, nothing's wrong with you. You're in the med bay at headquarters. You collapsed earlier, but you're okay now. It's not Bloody X, you're fine. Just calm down, everything's okay." Kirishima spoke softly and assuredly, ignoring the flashes in the corner of his eye that told him Otoya had woken up.
"Fujmaru!" Otoya cried, all traces of weariness gone as he sprung up from the chair and closer to his friend.
"Otoya... I remember, the lobby... did I faint?" Fujmaru murmured, realization dawning on his face as the memories returned. The heart moniter slowly returned to a normal, rhythmic pace.
Suddenly the doctor returned, and Kirishima and Kanou stepped out to give Fujimaru some privacy. They waited in the hall a few minutes until the doctor exited.
"His vitals are good, and there doesn't appear to be any lasting damage. I'll be keeping him here overnight for observation, but I told him that he can go home tomorrow, as long as he takes care of himself. Gets proper rest, eats regularly, things like that. He should definitely avoid stressful situations for the time being." Throwing a meaningful glance towards the two men, the doctor walked off.
"Let's leave him to Otoya for a bit. The two of them have been through a lot," Kirishima suggested, and Kanou reluctantly agreed. "He doesn't need us there to remind him of everything he's lost" went unspoken.
Kirishima returned to his desk to finish the proper paperwork after the morning's events, but even that could not keep him occupied for long, and soon his thoughts drifted back to the boy. It was strange, but he felt an attachment to the kid. He couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something about the teenager that made him worry about him.
He quickly found himself back in the med bay. He didn't hear any voices, so he walked in quietly. What he saw quickly brought a small smile to his face. Otoya had fallen asleep, half on top of Fujimaru's legs, but he looked so peaceful there.
"Kirishima?" He looked up, surprised that Fujimaru was still awake.
"Fujimaru, you should be resting too. It's been a long day for you."
"I know. I just can't sleep." I see their faces behind my eyelids.
There was a long moment of awkward silence.
"You really scared everybody today, huh?" I was worried about you.
"I'm sorry. It wasn't my intention." I didn't think anyone cared.
"Otoya here was by your side the whole time."
"I know. He's a good friend."
"Kirishima, don't. I already know what you're going to say. It was stupid. I was reckless. I didn't take care of my body properly, and I ran into that nuclear plant without thinking. It won't happen again."
"That wasn't what I was going to say. I was going to tell you that I'm glad you're alright. But you don't have to keep this all to yourself, Fujimaru. You can talk to me. Or, if you're not comfortable, talk to Otoya. Don't keep all your emotions bottled inside. There are people here who care about you and would be willing to do anything you asked. I'm just sorry I didn't notice earlier. I should have paid more attention to your well-being." I should have protected you.
"Kirishima, it isn't your fault. It was mine. I know that now. I have Otoya, and Haruka, so I won't make the same mistake again." Fujimaru tried to smile reassuringly, but it was fake and they both knew it.
There wasn't much else to say. Tomorrow Fujimaru would return to his sister, Otoya would return to his grandfather, and Kirishima would have to watch them go. Eventually the Third-I agents would stop tailing them, and he would never see them again. Kirishima knew the realities of the situation. Fujimaru would never recover, none of them would. They would just survive each day trying to forget and trying to move on, but those kinds of memories never truly go away.
Eventually Kirishima left, driving home in silence. He tossed his keys on the counter, not bothering to turn on the lights. There was no point in illuminating an empty house, no reason to cast shadows over broken picture frames.