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Karōshi

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Daisuke frowned.

He was standing in the centre of the 3rd underground level of the parking lot when he noticed something he forgot.

The earrings.

He had picked them up from the jeweller at an appointment early this morning on his way to work, a gift for his cousin as small thanks for the last case she had helped him out with her technical expertise.

He checked his watch. 10:04 pm. It could wait until tomorrow. After all, he already bought them, he didn’t necessarily have to gift them to her today. He didn’t have to spend any more time than he already had at his work place.

Contemplating between getting into his car and turning back to retrieve them, he finally decided to better to get it off his mind. So he turned on his heel and headed back to the elevator. What harm would a few more minutes do, after all?

He rounded the corner of the corridor as he fumbled for his key card inside his pocket, wondering for a moment whether this partner had already left by now.

A swipe over the chip reader and the lock opened with its distinctive click that reminded him of duty, familiarity and of camaraderie. Strange how something as simple could change, while staying the same. In the quiet, carpeted hallway that muffled fainter noises, however, it sounded estranged and isolated.

He opened the door, briefly taking note of his partner’s slumped over figure at his desk, – so he didn’t, after all – and walked over to his work space. The jewellery case was inside his compartment, a small box wrapped in gold paper with a neatly tied ribbon. He pocketed it and closed the drawer, stopping for a moment to glance over the partition behind his monitor.

Haru was laying on top of the table, likely passed out from overworking himself again. His head rested next to the keyboard, facing his side. Most of his features were hidden under his light-coloured locks. It was unusually silent.

Daisuke sighed.

He strode towards the door in an unhurried pace. The tapping of his heels on the linoleum floor, an easy staccato to the room’s unexpected stillness, came to a halt at the far end of their desk formation, halfway between the exit and the sleeping detective.

Contemplation. Disregard.

The tappings continued their trajectory towards Katou Haru until they finally stopped, less than a meter away from him. He looked peaceful.

Curiosity.

Judging from the file that was still opened on his desktop, he fell asleep while writing another report from the day before. Though the scion regarded himself diligent and dutiful in his tasks, he found it incredulous that someone would work themselves to this state.

His gaze lingered on the soft, taupe mess of hair that was the back of his partner’s head. One of his arms was placed next to it, the other hung limply below the edge of the desk.

“Katou.”

He didn’t stir.

Really, it was his own fault his back would hurt tomorrow. Daisuke placed a hand on his shoulder, giving him a careful shake. Then another, more pronounced one.

“Inspector.”

Still no reaction.

Waking Katou when he was exhausted always was a laborious task. But something wasn’t right. It was too quiet.

“HEUSC, scan Katou”, he ordered, suddenly observant for any faint movement of breathing that seemed amiss.

The assistant’s smooth voice cut through the silence that had become tense.

“Heart rate at 86 bpm. Low respiratory functions and traces of emesis. No physical trauma or external injury detected…”

Daisuke moved around his partner at once and quickly brushed his bangs away from his face. He carefully reached under his chin, lifting his head a bit to get a better look.

There was a thin crust of dried vomit at the edge of his mouth, and some more pressed to his cheek.

“… My scans show an increase of intracranial pressure that indicate a high probability for an intracerebral or a subarachnoid haemorrhage. Sir, as per protocol, I have taken the liberty to request medical assistance.”

His eyes blew wide the moment he registered what the AI had told him.

Cerebral. Haemorrhage.

In an instant, he reached over Haru’s shoulders, quickly draping the limp, dangling arm over his own neck and heaving him away from the table.

His stomach dropped in the same motion with which he lowered the unconscious form of his partner onto the ground to move him into recovery position.

“HEUSC, monitor Katou’s vitals and update me on any changes”, he directed, a slight tremble in his voice as he worked to remove Haru’s tie.

“… And locate the ambulance dispatched. Clear the traffic for them on the fastest route to our department and unlock the doors when they arrive.”

The affirming reply of his butler missed him, for the words that were replaying in his mind started to take a form on his tongue, filling his mouth like a cloudy ball of cotton as he waited for the paramedics’ arrival.

Cerebral Haemorrhage.

Haru was bleeding into his brain. He could slip into a coma for all he knew, if he hadn’t already.

Daisuke removed his glove and pressed his fingers into his partner’s wrist to feel a pulse, doing so to ease his own mind more than anything else. His heart leaped into his throat for a second when he detected nothing. He hastily pressed them to the side of his neck.

… There.

Faint and trembling.

He repeatedly brushed back the strains of taupe hair that kept falling over Haru’s motionless features. Closed eyes and lips lightly parted. Oblivious to the world. And he was already so, so pale. There was nothing he could do to help, he knew, other than wait.

Wait and make sure he breathes.

He loosened his own tie, just in case, and ordered his assistant to keep the steps for CPR on standby.

A look to his watch: Quarter past ten. He had left the office ten o’clock sharp. Haru had been up and awake then, typing away at his desk. There was nothing abnormal to his behaviour he could think of, aside from being obviously tired, and pushing a migraine, and– …

His grip tightened around the wrist he didn’t know he was holding again.

Stupid, stubborn idiot!

He should have dragged him along to his car and driven him home.

No one would have found him there.

Then to his specialist. He’ll make sure to set up an appointment later.

If there is a later.

Fifteen minutes. He must have gotten sick shortly after he had left, the crust on his mouth was dry. But the bin at his desk was clean. Must have went to the bathroom.

And then come back.

Meaning he collapsed somewhen within a timeframe of 8 to 10 minutes.

To continue working.

He bit his lip.

“Haru…”

He would later remember this stretch of time as a blur. Barely manageable worry and the frustration of helplessness. And the eternity of each second that passed until, at long last, his head snapped up as he trained his ears on the distant noises of approaching footsteps.

When the first medic stepped through the door, he felt a wave of relieve baptise him as he quickly stepped aside to give them space. Watched them lift his partner’s body onto the gurney. Followed them upstairs. Front seat of the ambulance. Instructed the driver to head straight to Kambe Hospital with the assurance of admission.

“HEUSC, clear the traffic to the hospital. Call Suzue.”

 

🏥

 

He only becomes aware of the waiting area he’s seated in, – square floor tiles. Hard, grey plastic chair – when he feels a soft pressure on his shoulder and the shuffling of a body next to him.

Suzue.

She hands him a paper cup with water from the dispenser. His mouth is dry, but he doesn't feel like drinking. Instead, he listens to her talking, half attentively, half distant. Something about calling the others and speaking to a nurse. CT scan. Hemorrhagic stroke. Endoscopic surgery. The words minimal invasive and considerably lucky stick to him. Ground him. High mortality and risk of recurrence sink to his stomach like a stone to the bottom of a lake. He takes a slow sip.

“… next 30 days will be critical, even if he makes it through surgery. But I’m sure the doctor will explain the prognosis to us in more detail.” She pauses, waiting for his reaction to the gravity of the information she shared.

A light tremor in his hands. Strange, he thinks, as he crumples the empty cup. He doesn’t remember ever having that.

She moves her touch from his shoulder down to his hand, locking her fingers with his. As she leans against his side, her face finally falls and her voice is suddenly very quiet.

“I’m so sorry, Daisuke-sama.”

She was honest and direct with him as ever. And he never settled for anything less than unpolished truths. So she always delivered.

He shoves his free hand into his jacket’s pocket, suddenly reminded of something foreign at its bottom. He takes it out, slowly, and turns it around in his fingers, admiring the unreality of the tiny object.

Suzue watches in perplexion as he slips the box into her palm and gently wraps his hand around it to close.

“I went back to the office to retrieve this. That’s how I found him.”

His voice sounds unusually thin and tired that it surprises him, too. He considers the moment when he stood in the parking lot not more than an hour ago, and what would have happened, had he not decided to turn back on a whim. They would have found him only in the morning.
He almost lost his friend.

Dread trickles from the thought into the fresh pit that forms in his chest and seeps into his gut like water into loam soil. So he looks forward again, and allows himself to focuses on the supporting squeeze of his cousin’s arms wrapping around his biceps, as both of them stare blankly ahead.

It is close to midnight when the door at the end of the hallway swings open and voices and hurried footsteps approach them, an underlying worry apparent in their rhythm.