The question is just who's saving whom, here. Written for 31_days, March 28, 2013: I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit. Kougami/Akane. Set probably right after the end of 13. Somewhere. Magical AU-verse of relatively happy rainbows which Urobutcher can't enter, okay? Also yeah Akane's still a bit of a pre-ep11 wide-eyed rookie...but you know, 11 and 13 were - anyway, characterization marches onward. It's messy. Cough handwave. Apologies etc.
"Quantum indeterminacy", to borrow from wikipedia, is the "apparently necessary incompleteness in the description of a physical system." To put it another way, there are no singular, determinate truths or values, and the very attempt at measuring a value affects the result of your measurement. And a bunch of other stuff. Just...quantum mechanics suck and I should have picked a better title, the end.
Life is a series of collisions with the future; it is not the sum of what we have been, but what we yearn to be.
"How do you feel about thought experiments, Inspector Tsunemori?"
He sees the gears in her head whirr with an abrupt screech: Uhm. "Thought experiments?" she manages to say.
Shinya blows cigarette smoke at the skyline, and pauses for a moment. "You were interested in profiling, right?"
"Oh, yes, very much. And the things I learned from Professor Saiga were very useful!"
He chuckles. He knows that somewhere, she's still worried about how Gino could continue to react to these kinds of things, despite that resolute glint in her eyes. "I'm no Professor Saiga, but would you like to practice your profiling skills? I've studied and investigated all sorts of cases. I can tell you basic facts, like from a briefing, and you can tell me what you think - about what the perp's like, what his motives are, how we could catch him. Basically, thought experiments."
She glances at the door back to the corridor leading to the office, like Inspector Ginoza could burst out at any moment.
"While you have your orders, it's good to be able to think on your feet. If you want to." He almost lets the words Dominator and Sibyl's orders and so that you can work even without themfall out of his mouth, then remembers, remembers the dullness in her eyes and her broken mantra, how it made him forget the pain of his own injuries for a moment. "Of course, we'd take it slow - I wouldn't want your crime coefficient jumping recklessly or anything."
Both of them can imagine Gino's reaction. Akane's eyebrows furrow and she gets that look in her eyes; Kougami stares at the skyscrapers and focuses on the nicotine.
"If you're okay with it," Akane says, without a hint of hesitation, "then yes, please, Kougami-san. I would really like to be a better inspector."
"You sure?" he says. And it's funny, 'cause he can still remember the days when thoughts alone were safe enough to have, at least while he was in the university system, but that was then. He was then. She is now, and with it all the consequences.
But this is the only way he can think of to help her right now.
"Really, Kougami-san, you don't have to worry." She smiles; a natural motion that smoothes over the crinkles. "If there's one of all of us that you shouldn't have to worry about, it's me."
He wants to say something, wants not to remember that sliver of time where she had seemed so broken, damn that bastard, but -
"Okay," he says.
And he smiles back.
He did manage to avoid saying, I want to help you channel what you're feeling right now. I want to help you become a better Inspector.
So you don't end up where I did.
"Okay," he says. They've been out investigating a jump in the Area Stress Level of a bustling commercial complex; Masaoka is now walking the shifty guy they found over to the police van, while he walks with the inspector. A very relaxingly routine bust. "A woman has come forth and claims that she thinks someone's stalking her. What do you do?"
"Ah, well..." She pauses. "We didn't go over cases involving stalkers very often in training. The logic was that nowadays, given all of the street scanners we have, their numbers have fallen drastically."
"Training" probably meant a few pamphlets short of a two-day introduction and safety course, so he really hadn't expected anything.
He wonders just what exactly training had entailed for her, since she was the only new recruit that the Bureau had that year - did they just hand her a stack of textbooks and a written exam? A quiz? Actually, given that she's more or less supposed to just stand there while he and other Enforcers point their Dominators at everything, did she even receive any training at all besides a few words and a handshake? His mind mutters something about contingency and for when that one case does happen and what the hell.
He sighs inwardly. It's not her fault. "Well, it's just a thought experiment. Okay, then what do you think? Who could the stalker be? What should we do?"
"The person who reported the stalker - who is it?" she replies.
"Good. In cases of stalking, it's even more important to focus on who the victim is to determine who the culprit is." Their shoes clack against the concrete. "Let's call her Riko. She's an ordinary citizen, female, with an ordinary office job. She's unmarried, but does date. She doesn't know who could be stalking her or why. But she thinks that someone's been watching her, and she's received several printed letters."
"What do they say?"
"Things like, 'Dear Riko - Why won't you notice my feelings? I think I've made them quite clear. I watch you every day but you still can't seem to notice - why is that?'"
"...So, there's obviously a romantic component." Akane wrinkles her nose. "And the stalker's...probably a male?"
Shinya gives a slight nod. "Generally speaking, the vast majority of stalking cases - about 90 percent or so - are perpetrated by men in their early 20s to late 30s." Or were, depending on how you looked at it. Two or three cases a year isn't enough for good crime statistics, though if they were to look at all the hue profiles for individuals ordered into therapy due to obsessing over another person...
Akane says nothing for a moment or two, so he offers some more info. "Even after she started to worry about a stalker being around, he kept saying in his letters that he manages to see her every day." She pauses. "So...so either he's lying, or he's in a position to see her every day. At work or near where she lives, or something like that."
"Yes. And - "
He looks up, and Masaoka's head is poking out of the back of the police van.
"Kou, you coming, or - " He peers at them for a second, then eases back into the van. "You know what, nah, go and ride with Inspector Tsunemori. I'll meet you two back at the office." He gives Shinya a smile, one that seems vaguely...roguish.
A vague sound like "wait but" comes from Akane's general direction, but then the door shuts and the van speeds off.
"Uh," Akane says.
Kougami glares at where the van had been. "That old geezer..."
Oh, forget it.
He starts walking towards the car. "So, let's continue. How would you go about finding and apprehending the suspect?"
She'd looked like she was at a flustered loss earlier, but now stands up a bit straighter, or at least tries. "Well..."
After she drops him off, he finds Masaoka standing off to the side of the entrance, looking rather smug.
"Just what was that, old man," Shinya manages.
"Eh?" Masaoka looks at him like he'd just asked why the sky is blue, silly boy. "What was what?"
"Back when we were about to leave with the suspect."
"Oh, that." The guy's got on the most damnably smug face right now, seriously. "I was just letting you ride with the missy, what about it?"
"The van's fine. In fact, it's what we always ride in."
"Hm, well." Masaoka waves away empty air, then looks at him for a moment. "Don't make that face at me, Kou."
"I - " probably am, he realizes, and clamps his mouth shut.
The old man grins. "You're only young once, so enjoy it while you can."
"But it's n- "
"And this old man needs his rest. Later, Kou!"
He glares at the old geezer's receding figure -
(and there is no reason in getting worked up over this, you know.)
- and gives up, pulling out another cigarette.
He thinks he was like her, once, long ago. Could have been, anyway. Sibyl had been more or less implemented, but certain systems hadn't yet been obliterated and people could still remember how things used to be. Not that it mattered to him either way - he got high marks in enough fields that he actually had a damn choice.
He chose psychology. Social psychology, to be precise. The workings of the human mind had always fascinated him, and while things like psychopathology and criminology had their appeals, those fields of study were slowly getting shut down. Not only were people arguing that they had little modern merit given the advent of Sibyl, but quite frankly, the system wasn't sending enough people in those directions at all.
Not a coincidence, though he hadn't really thought about it at the time.
But then came the fateful day that Professor Saiga gave a guest lecture - one so amazing that, as he rose with the other students to give the man a standing ovation, as he headed straight for the lectern after he was finished, Shinya knew that nothing would be the same for him again.
And then, eventually, he entered the Bureau.
Always, and then.
Time moves in one direction, memory in another.
"No, these marks imply hesitation, whereas these - " Kougami pulls up a different set of photographs on his terminal - "indicate strong emotion. Look - the first set has a number of messy, shallow cuts, almost like the hand was shaking, while the second set has far deeper, straighter slashes. And more of them."
"Did you study forensics too?" Akane mumbles. Don't they have the crime drones for that?
"Not much," he says. "But it's good to know the basics, given what we see."
She barely stifles a groan - not because she thinks it's redundant or unnecessary to know these things, but because she feels so woefully untrained, given that she's supposed to be one of the ones in charge.
"Don't worry about it," Kougami says, clearing the screen.
"They stopped giving out actual basic training for new recruits a long, long time ago. If anything, your willingness to even consider learning is a huge improvement."
He shrugs. "Most inspectors are content to hold a leash and stand on the side."
"Ginoza-san doesn't - " and then, she stops, and is glad that the room is currently empty.
Kougami leans back. "I don't blame him for doing things the way he does."
She thinks again about wisdom and idiots and learning from experience, and knows.
He grabs the lighter from his desk and stands up. "Leave the dirty work to us Enforcers."
She shakes her head. "I'll be okay."
Kougami cracks a grin. "I still don't want to be in a position where you have to shoot the Dominator, though. Let us take care of that."
Is it because he thinks she's unreliable, or because he thinks he's expendable?
His grin suddenly seems to turn sad and self-deprecating, and he walks out before she can say anything more.
Akane never played make-believe when she was a child. She never watched TV shows with heroes of justice fighting against petty criminals and dark overlords lying somewhere on the spectrum of evil. She never read books or took classes focusing on war and peace and what it all means.
Instead, she had a grandmother who took care of her and raised beautiful flowers, who reminded her to be good to people and to follow her heart.
She'd thought that she could make a difference and be good to people if she joined the Bureau, and that doing so was following her heart.
But she's thought a lot of things, not all of which have been right.
(and she remembers Yuki, just Yuki - Yuki and the blade and all that blood and the useless gunsmoke in her hands wreathing around the mark of her failure and -
she knows - she wants to get better, so that this never happens again.)
One lives with so many bad deeds on one's conscience and some good intentions in one's heart.
Punch, jab, punch, punch.
At some point, one stops thinking about fighting in terms of moves or technique and focuses solely on the sensation and the motion. It all gets boiled down to synapse firings that can't be put into words.
He angles his body just so to avoid a blow from the training drone.
The drone is on the floor when he looks up to see Tsunemori standing at the far end of the room, watching. "Need something, Inspector?"
"Oh." She does a small shuffle, like she wasn't expecting him to notice her. "No, not really."
He picks up the remote and sets up the drone again, though he knocks the difficulty down a level or two. "Ah."
"I was just thinking about the latest case file you gave me."
The drone jabs at him, and misses. "Any progress?"
Punch, punch, block block kick.
"Yes," she says. "I'm still constructing the profile."
"Don't focus too much on the details," he manages.
The drone attempts to lunge at him, and he dodges, strikes back.
She patiently waits while he floors the training drone again. He even leaves it relatively intact this time.
"We just want to figure out who the perpetrator is," he says. "We're not trying to forensically recreate him - to fill in his childhood, his most traumatizing moments, every single gap like that. We don't want to make so many conclusions that we end up making mistakes. We just want to know who he is, what he's likely to do, and how to find him."
"But some of those details would then be necessary," Tsunemori says.
He sighs, and takes a long swig from his water bottle. "What I'm saying is, you only want to know what makes him the perpetrator. You don't want to know everything about him. You don't want to understand everything about him."
(there is a dark marsh, there is an abyss - and you don't want to find out the hard way that you can't make it back out - )
Something shifts in her eyes, but her lips press into a thin line, and she nods.
The number of imaginary cases he throws at her steadily climbs over time - but he hates the look that Gino gives them when they exchange murmurs in the office, like he's co-opting her into a conspiracy that'll swallow her whole.
(Doesn't matter what happens to him any more, anyway.)
For the progress she's making, though, Tsunemori still shows all her classic signs of hesitation when expressing her thoughts on these cases. Trepidation. Even if her self-confidence has been increasing on their actual cases and her determination has hardened, she's still soft around him. Like when she ever so slightly puffs out her cheek at him when he calls her out on a detail that's not quite right - and it's a little endearing, really.
- he lights another cigarette, inhales deeply. He probably needs a new pack soon. Hell, maybe he should stop smoking entirely.
"You're getting soft, Kou-chan," Kagari says one day when the others are all conveniently out.
Shinya looks at him. "Do you want to challenge me to a match again?"
His laugh has a bit of a waver in it. "Oh, no. No."
"It's been a while since the last time we sparred, though. You sure? It's good practice."
"Yeah, well, you know, Kou-chan...I've just, uh, got something to do, and - later!"
Kagari leaves like he's retreating at full yet dignified speed - but then Shinya is left sitting in the office alone, and his freshly-lit cigarette is suddenly nothing but stale acrid ash wreathing around his neck.
The pressure in his head feels ready to burst, and he sighs, goes out to the balcony.
(She'll be there, he knows, and he'll lean on the railing and breathe in fresh air and feel the stress drain away.
She may even smile.)
He is just about to step outside. "Something I can do for you, Gino?"
The man stands firmly in front of his workstation, impeding his earlier plans. "Whatever reason you're trying to influence Inspector Tsunemori for," he says, cold and deliberate, "stop."
Shinya stares back at him, eyes not quite narrowed and arms not quite tense against his chair.
"Are you trying to drag her down?"
"I'm pretty sure," he says, "that being an Inspector still warrants the knowledge of some detective skills."
Gino ignores the jibe. "Taking her to see Saiga was bad enough."
"I don't recall her having to ask you for permission to go," Shinya replies.
"Of all people, you should know the risks involved. She doesn't."
"She's not a child, Gino."
"Yet she's still young and easily influenced."
The 'by bad and scary men like you' part goes unsaid, but Shinya fills in the blank and snorts anyway. "She is capable of making her own decisions and going about them responsibly. Didn't she already tell you that last time?"
Gino bristles, but says nothing. Shinya suddenly notices that his fingers are itching towards the pocket where his cigarettes are - and god, he could kill for a smoke right now. Talking to Gino does that to him nowadays.
"You of all people should know, Kougami."
(three years ago
three years ago
do youknowwhat I went through when you -)
And suddenly, Shinya is tired and weary.
"If you want, go ahead and look up her crime coefficient every hour if you have to. But if you're that worried about her, maybe you'd also know her a little better by now, too." He shifts so that he's now looking straight at his boss. "She's not you, Gino."
A sharp intake of breath.
It's almost as if a vein is pulsing in the man's forehead, and Shinya wonders if he went a little too far.
"Rest assured, I would never - "
And then Gino stops, closes his eyes, and walks away.
After the door slides shut again, Kagari almost lets out a low whistle. But then Shinya merely gives him a look, Kagari goes back to playing his handheld game console, and silence reigns again, save for the throbbing pressure-pressure-pressure building up in Shinya's head.
To hell with it. He needs a damn cigarette.
To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.
The seasons are changing again, and Akane doesn't know when she lost track of the time or the weather. Life has been nothing but work, and working on these cases under Kougami's stoic stare, and moments snatched somewhere between skylines at dusk and the vending machines.
She's not unhappy with it. If anything, she enjoys the flow of it, has expected the secondhand smoke to permeate throughout the everyday of it all.
(but always, in the back of her mind and over the sensation of smoke - )
"Wrong," Kougami says.
Akane lets out a huge mental groan and sinks into her seat. "Why?"
"You're coming to a conclusion far too soon."
"But - the profile - "
"Is always a work in progress." He casually lights up another cigarette and inhales deeply. "You are never completely and utterly sure that you have identified the suspect down to a T. There are parts of your profile that could always be wrong."
She looks down. She supposes that somewhere along the way in formulating her hypothesis about this murderer, she may have created bits and pieces of theory and cast them down as truth. But -
"Besides," he says, staring her in the eye, "you can't reduce a human down to a few working paragraphs in your head. Or to a few batches of statistics, or analysis or hue readings or anything else. Do that, and any actions or facts that don't match with your profile will always take you by surprise just when you can't afford it."
"Make no mistake," Kougami continues. "Profiling is a great technique. But it's still only a tool, not the road to absolute truth."
She says nothing. The smoke from his cigarette starts to waft around her, but she doesn't so much as wrinkle her nose at the smell.
"...Well. I guess I shouldn't be the one to say those things." He takes another drag.
"What do you mean, Kougami-san?"
"Mmn." He stares at the smoke trails. "I'm a damn hypocrite."
She watches him.
"Following around Sibyl's judgments like they're absolute, the be-all and end-all. Telling you how to think, what to think. I can't seem to live up to it myself."
Well, Sibyl's judgments are absolute, she thinks, but probably not in the way he meant it. Just how much does he regret those three years? How much did he mean it when he said what he did, long ago, about not being a mere hunting dog?
"Sibyl can make its judgments," she says, softly. "But with a Dominator in hand, you have to be the person who knows where to aim the trigger."
"Hm," he says, corners of his mouth turning up ever so slightly. "Just what I'd expect you to say, Inspector Tsunemori."
She says nothing.
"This is why I wasn't worried when you wanted to learn more about profiling. You're just not the type whose hue would stay murky for very long."
"Ah, well." She laughs, and it comes out as shakily as it did in her head.
("Still worried about that coworker of yours, Akane?" Yuki asked, long ago.
"Not...worried. I wouldn't say worried." Akane looked down. She wasn't even sure what it was, herself.
Kaori spoke up. "If you two are so similar - "
"But we're not - "
" - maybe you're afraid that you're more like him than you thought? That you may have a negative trait that you think he has?"
"No, not really - "
"Or are you afraid that you could end up just like him?"
Akane froze for a fraction of a second, then relaxed. "No, I don't think so. I just - don't know how I should deal with him sometimes. That's all."
"Hmmm," Kaori said, but then fell silent.
I don't know how to make sense of him, she didn't say.
(I don't think I could ever become like him, she didn't think.)
"Sometimes he does the most haphazard things, but he's very good at his job," she settled for.
"Then you could try to learn from him," Kaori said. "Just learn from him. That's all."
"Yeah," Akane said, biting her lip. I've been trying.
Will I catch up one day?)
"Hi, Kagari?" She sets down her tray in front of him.
"It's like I never get to chat with you any more!"
She ignores how he's whining into his hamburger. "But we still see each other almost every day."
"Yeah, but you're always chatting with Kou-chan."
"Eh," she says, spearing some pasta with her fork and not really understanding what that has to do with anything.
He waggles her eyebrows at her - that really is the only way to phrase it - and mumbles something around a mouthful of burger like, "Though both of you should just spit it out already, geez."
"What?" she says, fork paused midair.
He swallows. "Though both of you...just talk about profiling stuff all the time."
She's pretty sure that's not what he said, but - some battles aren't worth picking. "Yeah," she says. "It's interesting to learn about these things, and I hope it makes me a better inspector."
There is silence for a good few moments, and she looks up to find Kagari staring.
"What?" she asks.
"You're not trying to - " His brow furrows and his expression darkens, like when he ridiculed her for being troubled over not knowing what to do with her life. For having the privilege to do so.
(Aren't you so fortunate to even have the choice, like those people of old? I wasn't planning on being mean to you or anything - but I've changed my mind, so I'll ask you again - )
She takes a breath, steadies herself. Waits for him to say something -
I'm sorry, but I'm not sorry -
Then the imminent storm fades from his features, and all is calmness. If anything, all he simply looks now is - worried.
She watches and waits.
"You know, Akane," Kagari says, slowly. "You have your job as an Inspector, and we have our jobs as Enforcers. Why not leave our job to us? No one likes a person who tries too hard."
She senses the false bravado behind that last statement and knows not to take it personally.
He notices, too, and tries again. "Just let us find the criminals, and we'll shoot them. That's all you have to do, Akane-chan."
"I know you guys keep telling me that," she says. "But that's not what I came here to do."
I know everything. I know.
His stare doesn't falter, but neither does hers.
"Well," Kagari says. "I guess you get to make the choice."
Akane smiles. "You don't have to worry. I'll be careful."
"Who said I was worrying?" he scoffs.
She goes back to her dinner.
"Just don't want to imagine you ending up an Enforcer like one of us. Like Kou," he murmurs.
She has the grace to look down as if she didn't hear him, as if she's not used to him being even the tiniest bit serious and thus, perhaps, heard nothing from him at all.
Akane talks quietly with Kougami the day after. About the cases, yet not quite about the cases, not really.
(and she doesn't think about what Kagari said, either - )
Kougami lights up another cigarette, says something darkly humorous while discussing crime statistics that makes her laugh.
It doesn't sound as shaky this time around, and she allows herself to let all of the unnecessary thoughts simply - dissipate, into the dying afternoon.
We can never cease to be ourselves.
Two murders occur within a week in the heart of the city, and Shinya pays close attention at the briefings. Lately it feels like all of their serial murder cases are related to that man, but it doesn't mean there aren't still people who commit crimes independently of his existence.
The more unusual thing is that they still haven't caught him - it could be a she, though it's looking more likely that the perpetrator is a male, given his penchant for female targets in a relatively small radius. But they are getting closer - figuring out patterns in the victimology and his behavior, deducing which paths he must be taking to avoid the sensors.
When they all split up to investigate after the afternoon briefing, Gino's eyes meet his for a brief moment, and narrow. As if he was remembering their last...discussion.
He almost opens his mouth, but has nothing to say.
Then Gino walks out the door, paces measured with perfect precision, and Shinya is left alone in the office. His mind jumps back to their last conversation whether he wants to think about it or not and it hits him all over again, over and over like everything else.
You of all people.
He is not dragging her down with him. He is not. He would never want that, since Akane is -
(three years it's been three years what was the point of leaping headfirst into the abyss are you trying to drag her down with you are youtryingto drag her down with you
you filthy hunting dog
is it only for revenge, or are you lost in the dark, desperately trying not to be alone?)
- better than that. She's better than that. He may be damned in all the ways that matter, but Tsunemori Akane is better than that. And he would never try to change it.
(Shinya got back to the office just as Gino was carefully not-storming out of it. He blinked, but before he could ask what was wrong, his partner turned the corner and was gone.
Inside, Sasayama sat with his hands folded behind him and his devil-may-care attitude painted all over his face. His mouth was still half-twisted in a smirk.
"Did you say something to Gino?" Shinya asked.
"Ha, just commented on his completely off-base instructions on what we should do for the investigation."
"Don't." Shinya sat down in his chair. "You know his situation."
"Yeah, and? Do you think that lowly of us Enforcers?"
He looked up, and the man's grin was spiked with a bit of arrogance, or perhaps defiance.
"I don't think anything like that," he said.
"If Gino thinks that badly of his old man, or of me, then whatever. Let him stress over it all he wants and ruin his carefully maintained crime coefficient if he wants to."
"You can't really say that your own carefree way of going about life helps keep one's coefficient down, though," Shinya noted.
He grins. "That's that, and this is this."
"Maybe it's your carefree way of tormenting Gino that keeps your coefficient so high."
"Ha!" Sasayama spat out a laugh. "Not like Sibyl would give a damn anyway."
Shinya said nothing, turning to his console.
"Though you know, Kougami."
"You have it, you know. There may be a definition, a judgment, a line that separates you Inspectors from us Enforcers. That's how the system decides it, anyway. But you know...it's more like a gradient. There's the black and the white, and we're swirls of gray."
"You're awfully poetic today," he noted.
"Yeah, leave it to me," Sasayama replied. "But what I'm saying is - I may be the hunting dog, and you may be the one holding the leash - but you've got the instincts, too."
You've got the blood-red eyes. You've got the vicious fangs.
He didn't look up, began to type.
"We're not so different, you and I," Sasayama said, before walking out the doors with his bark of a laugh.
After a few moments of staring at his monitor, Shinya lit up a cigarette.
You could fall into the darkness too, you know,Inspector -
- or perhaps you were already there?)
The mobilization notice from his terminal jars him back to reality, and he heads swiftly towards the garage.
"Kou!" Masaoka calls out to him, perhaps fifty paces behind.
"Is it him?"
"I'd bet on it."
"He's escalating, then," Shinya says as they reach the garage.
"And it's making him sloppy," Masaoka replies.
He has to agree - how else would they be getting an emergency notice this late at night? And sure enough, when they reach the police van, they find that he was flagged by an arbitrary street scanner, which was followed by a spike in the Area Stress Level.
Maybe the perpetrator - Kuribayashi Kousuke, 27, an average office worker, according to the data supplied by the street scanner - had merely been lucky before now, rather than effective.
"Did his victim escape?" Shinya wonders.
"Seems like something went wrong, either way," Masaoka says.
Then Kunizuka and Kagari arrive, and after sharing the bits of information they have, they spend the rest of the ride in silence. Like four standalone hunting dogs each preparing themselves for their prey.
The place they stop at is close to the other crime scenes as well, but it's an inconvenient location - right next to some of the liveliest entertainment blocks, with half-constructed condominiums and lots in the background.
He presses his lips into a thin line.
Gino steps forward. "The suspect triggered the street scanner fifteen minutes ago on the outskirts of the entertainment district, so he can't be far. One witness has reported seeing a man flee while dragging a woman with him, so we should assume that the victim is still alive."
Shinya thinks back to that first case with Akane, and barely suppresses a self-deprecating smirk.
"Kagari and Kunizuka are with me. Kougami and Masaoka are with Inspector Tsunemori. We'll head towards the edge of the entertainment district. Inspector, you'll head towards the development zone."
She nods, eyes heavy and focused.
("You're going out solo?" Shinya asked.
"Hey now, I'm just dealing with some missing high school chick," Sasayama retorted. "Gino said I didn't need any backup on this one."
"Something tells me that she'll need the backup, not you..."
"Hey, Kou! I resent that!"
"I'm just thinking of people's well-being, you know."
"Eh, fine." He smirked anyway. "Back later, then."
"Mmn," Shinya replied -
and that was that.)
Another fifteen minutes go by before his group finally hears a trace of the suspect in one of the last half-built condominiums.
He hears a murmuring of noises - plaintive pleas a female voice, ragged from panic and exhaustion, and short bursts of a harsher, hushed male voice.
Is he being cautious? Is he planning on getting out of this alive, or is he planning on taking someone with him?
Masaoka takes point, Akane follows behind him, and he brings up the rear. After walking several meters to the end of the hallway, Masaoka listens at the doorjamb for a moment, then signals them with a wave of his fingers: Get ready, count of three.
They burst through the door to find a man standing at the window, with a knife to a young woman's throat. Her eyes still have the glint of a frightened, desperate animal, but her whole bearing is that of someone ready to collapse at any moment.
Shinya gives Akane a sharp glance, but she looks as steady as ever.
"I knew people like you would show up eventually," the man says. Shinya aims the Dominator at him carefully; the automaton voice informs him that the man's crime coefficient is upwards of 300, and adjusts to Lethal Eliminator mode accordingly.
"Kuribayashi Kousuke," Akane says, staring at him down the barrel of her Dominator. "I am Inspector Tsunemori with the MWPSB."
"You don't need to read me the riot act," he says. "I know what's going to happen to me from this point onward."
"Then would you do us the favor of turning yourself in quietly," she asks, though it comes out like a statement, one with more gentleness than he'd deem necessary.
He looks around - not quite like a panicked rat run into a corner, but his bravado is already starting to crack. "I doubt that's possible."
"Then what do you want from this, Kuribayashi-san?" Akane asks him; her eyes are serious and lidded, without exuding a bitter chill. As though she is intent on understanding.
"I've seen enough old movies to know I can't walk away from this," the man says.
A savvy criminal? Shinya finds this oddly refreshing, even as he knows that this will only make negotiations harder.
She gives a small shake of her head, and lowers her weapon. "You would be taken in for mandatory therapy."
"Don't lie. I would be thrown into an isolation facility at best. At worst..." He gestures with the knife in his hand across his hostage's throat, who tenses with a sharp inhale.
"As long as you haven't killed anyone yet, the system may decide favorably for you," Akane says.
Shinya immediately trades a sharp look with Masaoka. Kuribayashi's eyes widen for a split section; there's a flash of sharp, gleaming teeth before his brows furrow, as if deliberating.
Akane looks at him, expression unchanging. "Please, consider it. Allow her to go free, and we can help you."
"How do I know that you won't just shoot me once I do that?" he retorts. Shinya notes for future reference that the Bureau really needs to up its image in a more effective way.
"I promise you that we won't," she says.
The man says nothing. His eyes shift as though he's taking stock of the room they're in once more - the windows, the doors, the three uniformed individuals standing in front of him - and though this may be expectable behavior enough, in that instant Shinya knows that this man would never turn himself in like that.
"All right, then," Kuribayashi says, and Shinya's grip on the Dominator tightens.
"Can you release her?"
He nods, lowers the knife a little. "I'll walk over to you now."
But before Akane can so much as say "put down the knife," Kuribayashi quickly crosses the handful of meters separating them, pushing the woman along and breaking into a dash with the blade ready to stab.
It all happens in a flash. Masaoka has the worst line of fire because of the hostage, Akane begins to raise her Dominator again and grits her teeth -
(she may make it - she may make it - )
But because of that one brief moment of intuition, Shinya had already prepared himself to move. He leaps forward, making a slight spin on his heel so that he's aiming at the man's lower side, a good few centimeters away from the hostage, and - he fires.
Akane's still in the process of raising her Dominator all the way when Kuribayashi's insides splatter all over the floor and the back of the victim, who starts shrieking as though her dam of exhaustion has broken to utter hysteria.
The woman's still about a meter away from them. Akane probably had the time to fire a clean shot, he calculates - he'd simply reacted faster than probably any of them accounted for. But all the same, he would rather keep that responsibility for himself than have her dirty her hands with it.
A glimpse of emotion sweeps across her face before she rushes forward to attend to the woman - it's gone before he can tell just what it means - and Shinya takes a deep breath before notifying Gino through his terminal.
She looks down at her shoes when they stand next to the police van.
"You would have been able to shoot him with the Dominator in time," Shinya says.
Akane looks up, as though startled, but then her gaze goes far away again. "Thank you for saying that."
"You did a good job," he repeats, and hears nothing in reply.
The day after is nothing but writing reports, and summaries, and reported summaries, and he's really never been a fan of bureaucratic paperwork anyway. For all of Sibyl's judgmental ability, it didn't do a thing to reduce the amount of busywork in systems like the MWPSB.
Eventually the others call it a night, one by one, until Masaoka heads out the door with a wave and that stupid hint-hint-wink expression and Shinya realizes he and Akane are the only ones left.
He is on the last three or so paragraphs of his report, but looks up five minutes later to find that he has done nothing except listen to the tepid clack-clack of the keyboard meters away from him. He smiles a little, though he can't help but sigh.
"Almost done?" he asks her.
She peeks over at him. "Not...quite."
"Coffee break, then?"
The clacking comes to a halt. "Yes."
The vending machine glows brightly against the moonlit walls, and he hits a few buttons, tossing her a can before getting one for himself.
"French vanilla?" she says.
He thinks back to the last time he saw her make that choice at the vending machine. "Did I make a mistake?"
"Ah, no..." She looks sheepish. "I've just been trying it black lately, that's all."
He looks down at his own can of black coffee, then pops the tab as he strolls onto the balcony. She follows.
They drink in silence for a while.
"That was quite the maneuver you pulled off last night," he says.
"...Ah," she says. They'd chatted briefly about some of the details for their reports, but otherwise hadn't discussed it at all.
"Don't worry," he says. "You thought on your feet and used his arrogance to your advantage. You handled it well."
She lets out a breath. "I wasn't sure."
"I don't know if I could have spoken to him like that." He looks down and smiles. "You wouldn't have been able to manage something like that when you first started out as an Inspector."
She says nothing.
"Well, my spine's grateful that it didn't come to that again, at least."
She looks up, almost glares at him, and then lets her expression drop again.
He lights a cigarette and breathes in, simply stands for a few moments. "You don't need to be the one to pull that trigger. You may as well leave me some of my job to do, you know."
"I did well at the shooting range, during training for the Bureau," she says.
He believes her - after all, that shot did hit him square in the spine. Even if he's still the only person she's ever shot. "At the very least, you'll be able to shoot me should you think it necessary as an Inspector."
Her expression hardens. "I aim to do more than hold the Enforcers' leashes."
Shinya takes another inhale of nicotine, then breathes out. The smoke drifts along his view of the skyline, shrouding everything in a carcinogenic haze.
"I guess that's it, then."
"What?" she asks.
"The training cases. We're done with them."
She looks at him questioningly; he can still remember a time where she would have said something like, Did I do something wrong?
"You're a strong profiler now. You don't need me to mentor you any more. All you can do now is hone your skills further, on your own."
"But - "
"Believe me, Tsunemori. We addressed all the main things that you needed to learn." He smiles. "Professor Saiga would be impressed."
He doesn't want Akane to beat herself up over Yuki any more - if only he hadn't gotten hit just before, if only - but thinks about his own ghosts and the man behind it all and decides that he has no right to say anything.
(I want you to know how much this helped - not just you, but - myself.)
After a long moment, she looks up again, and her eyes retain that new determination of hers.
He smiles, and takes one last drag of his cigarette before it burns out.
If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.
When Akane arrives for the second shift the next day, barely getting there on time, only Kagari is there.
"Yo, Akane-chan," he waves.
She checks the roster; Kougami's supposed to be here as well. She goes to her desk - her report's been filed, everything that needs to be done is done, so she'll have the time to work on another one of their imaginary cases -
Except he put an end to that, didn't he.
Akane thinks about the conversation they had last night, and a strange sense of loss hits her - like something between them has inexorably ended, for reasons she can't explain. He's still here, after all, working with her, and -
"Akane-chan, are you okay?"
She blinks. "Yes, I - where's Kougami-san?"
"Oh, Kou-chan? He should be here already, but - "
Without thinking, she walks out of the office, leaving Kagari to blink at empty air before smiling to himself and grabbing another handful of jellybeans.
(She hadn't made a mistake, when choosing to work at the Bureau. She's sure of that now. Despite everything -
It hadn't been a mistake. She will do what needs to be done.)
Akane's not quite out of breath when she makes it to the balcony, and feels the tension leave her shoulders when he sees Kougami leaning against the railing, jacket ruffled by the breeze.
"Tsunemori?" he murmurs when she steps through the glass doors.
She doesn't say anything - doesn't know why she came here, really, or why it felt so urgent moments ago.
"Is something wrong?" he asks.
She shakes her head. "I just...was wondering where you were."
He arches an eyebrow. "Why, did something happen?"
"No, nothing. I just - " She looks down.
(everything's still the same, isn't it?)
"...I wanted to see you."
He does that little inhale-exhale of his - and then, he smiles.
(we're still standing here, right now.)
And she breathes.
This is all we need, you know.
Quotes, sourced (and yes, they are nearly all purposefully from authors name-dropped in Psycho-Pass - also geez some of them fail at being quotable):
I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit. - Oscar Wilde
Life is a series of collisions with the future; it is not the sum of what we have been, but what we yearn to be. - José Ortega y Gasset
Time moves in one direction, memory in another. - William Gibson
One lives with so many bad deeds on one's conscience and some good intentions in one's heart. - John Dewey
To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. - Fredrich Nietzsche
We can never cease to be ourselves. - Joseph Conrad
If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life. - Oscar Wilde