There’s no surprise on her face when she opens the door for Tomomi; she stares at her a little warily, like she’s been expecting her all along.
“Sorry,” Tomomi says. “I was looking for Dojima-san.”
“Ah,” the girl says. “You just missed him. He left in quite a rush. Can I help you with anything?”
Tomomi’s eyes snap back to her face, angular and solemn; she’s never seen anyone quite like her, with her cold grey eyes and pale hair. She wonders if it’s naturally that way, and what it’ll feel like between her fingers. She knows her. She knows her, somehow, a sluggish thought at the back of her mind. “Have we met?”
The girl gazes steadily at Tomomi and frowns a little. “I don’t think so. You are—?”
“Adachi.” She shifts from foot to foot, scuffing her shoes against the ground. “Tomomi Adachi. I’m, er, Dojima-san’s my boss. Partner? Well, um, I’m his lacke—uh, assistant.”
“Shizue Seta,” the girl offers smoothly in response. She doesn’t smile, doesn’t extend a hand, just taps her fingers idly along the back of the door. “He’s my uncle.”
She reminds Tomomi of someone, with the cool intensity of her stare. “Have you got a sister? A brother?”
Seta takes a moment to consider her question; her eyes flick towards the door frame, as though she really has to think about it. When she folds her arms, Tomomi’s eyes are drawn to the insignia on her uniform. Yasogami High. She’s wearing the girls’ blouse with – oddly enough – the boys’ gakuran, a gleaming second-year pin tacked to the houndstooth collar. Her hair is braided slightly irregularly to one side – probably the work of Dojima’s daughter.
“No,” she says at last.
“Ah.” The silence congeals between them, thick as molasses, thick enough for Tomomi to choke on. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Seta replies graciously, and Tomomi almost wants to kick her for the stiff politeness in her voice. She’s all the same as all the other women she knows, meek and malleable and too courteous for their own good; the system’s gotten to her, broken her in so early on and moulded her into ideal housewife material. Tomomi wonders where she’ll be in ten, twenty years time – cooking dinner for a shitfaced drunk husband, maybe, and waiting up as his food cools, long after she’s tucked the children into bed.
God, she hates the fucking system so much.
“New to Inaba?” she presses. “I’ve never seen you around before, which is pretty impossible since this place is so small.”
Seta nods. “My parents travel a lot,” she says by way of explanation. “It happens.”
“So you got shafted to the relatives, huh? Tough.”
Seta smiles for the first time – a thin, brittle thing, small and caustic. “I’m used to it.”
Tomomi shouldn’t be wasting time like this, whiling the minutes away as she chats with Dojima’s niece. He’ll bite her head off when she gets to the station, but that doesn’t really matter at this point – she’ll just say she wanted to drop some case files off, which is partly the truth, anyway. Maybe she should feel guilty, just a little, because she might make Seta late for school. Not that it really matters; it’s just going to be more drumming-in of the same garbage they fed her when she was younger.
“How’re you finding it so far?”
Seta shrugs. “It’s fine, I guess. I came in yesterday, so I haven’t really had an opportunity to explore. It’s pretty different from the city, but it’s nice to be able to see all the stars come out at night.”
“A city girl, huh? Damn, I feel sorry for you, coming to the boonies and all.”
If Seta’s surprised by Tomomi’s frankness, she doesn’t know it. She hums neutrally and glances back – checking the clock, maybe.
“Oh,” Tomomi says, a little belatedly. “I … er, sorry for wasting your time. Enjoy your stay here, I guess? Or as much as you can, anyway.”
“Thank you,” Seta says. “You have a good day.”
Tomomi hopes she’s already shut the door so that she doesn’t see her trip on her loafers on the way to her car; she imagines she can feel Seta’s cold grey eyes boring into the back of her head, but when she turns Seta is already slipping back into the house.
As she leaves, the sound of breaking glass lances through her head – Judgement, the card says, but she think nothing more of it.
Tomomi sees her from time to time over the course of the next few months – always at Junes, always hanging around with that same ragtag pack of Yasogami kids. Seta’s clique grows by the day – at first, it’s just Seta and two other kids; one day there’s the Amagi girl, and then the next month there’s the Tatsumi kid, sticking out like a sore, surly thumb.
Tomomi’s not stupid, contrary to what everyone else likes to think – they’re the same kids that went missing and popped up again like nothing ever happened. Namatame, she reflects sourly, isn’t doing his job very well if they can find their way back out again. She’ll need to work harder on him, prey more mercilessly on all those insecurities and injured male pride after Yamano’s death and Hiiragi’s divorce. It’s a shame that Konishi and Yamano had to die, but it’s all for the greater good—they’re too wrapped up in the system, too indifferent to really see her side of things.
It could also be that those kids are the smartest people in this town and are the only ones who know what’s actually up – not too much of a stretch, considering who’s their ringleader.
They know something. She’s sure of it – and Seta is the one pulling their strings.
Tomomi knows she is danger; she knows that behind the unassuming, almost-insincere smile there is something else. She’s seen Seta’s eyes, cunning and foxlike – they don’t miss a thing. Tomomi itches to get closer to her, to milk her for what she knows. Seta’s a lovely, lovely thing, still young, still impressionable. Maybe if Tomomi gets to her early enough, she can stamp out whatever patriarchal bullshit society’s been forcing down the girl’s throat. There’s still hope for her, yet; it’s a shame to see someone with her intellect and potential go to waste and play wife to philanderers like Namatame.
She’d feel almost threatened by Seta, but for now she’s content to bide her time and watch as they go around playing heroes. Nobody’d believe her. Nobody believes a woman, anyway, and Tomomi knows that from bitter experience. Nobody likes to think a woman’s claims are true, and for that, for each time she’s been disregarded by virtue of being a stupid, vapid bitch, she’s going to make them pay.
It’s exhilarating, to be facing Seta on the playing-field without her knowledge. Tomomi wonder if she’ll ever realise it’s her, if she’ll ever look up at her for daring to break out of the mould and turn all those preconceptions on their heads.
“Seta!” she calls to her from across the lobby; the girl’s head jerks up like a hunted deer’s – no, wait, nothing as skittish; more like a wild animal that’s heard a distant twig snapping beneath a hunter’s boot. “What’re you lot doing here again?”
Seta comes to Tomomi instead of the other way around, crossing the ground with confident, easy steps; her pack trails behind her, wary of fraternising with a cop, perhaps. Tomomi know who they are – it’s not too hard, considering how often she’s see them lately. Satonaka and Amagi hover some distance away, consulting a crinkled shopping list. Tomomi can hear murmured snatches of their conversation –“no, I’m quite sure you should have some Tabasco in curry, won’t it spice up the flavour?” “Oh, how about wasabi?” – and doesn’t fault Seta and Tatsumi for looking green around the gills.
The Hanamura boy trails close behind, like a worried guard dog; she knows his kind, and boys like him – assholes who need to talk shit about others to make themselves feel better. She’s known many like him over the years; they’re like constants in her life, in this stupid world; they’re everywhere to be found, from school to work to strangers in bars leering lewdly at her chest. She wouldn’t be surprised if he’s appointed himself as Seta’s bodyguard – he probably thinks she can’t fend for herself, what a joke. Tomomi’s seen Seta jogging around town, breaking into punishing sprints every block; she’s glimpsed Seta with her hair messily piled on top of her head as she practices kickboxing in Dojima’s yard, light on her feet with her stance tight as a coiled spring. She’d probably punch Hanamura’s lights out with little trouble, Tomomi thinks fondly.
“Hello, Adachi-san,” Seta says measuredly as she draws near. “Grocery-shopping again?”
“Maybe,” Tomomi says. Hanamura stops sizing her up – taking in her rumpled tie and creased pencil skirt, her tights with the ladders crawling across her shins and the ill-fitting blazer – and surveys her with an indifference that makes her blood simmer and rush to her face. She wants to strangle him, and decides there’s ample opportunity for that at other times, if Seta’s gang ever get on her tail. “Gotta take advantage of the weekend bargains, you know.”
Seta smiles at that; it’s not condescending, nor does it betray any kind of emotion; nevertheless, it’s one of the more genuine ones Tomomi’s seen. “Good point. I’ll probably pop by later with Nanako.”
She recalls Dojima’s daughter’s fondness of the place. It’s cute, really. “Why make two trips?”
The quality of Seta’s smile shifts by degrees and her stare grows slightly stony. “We have business to attend to,” she says smoothly. Tomomi squints at her, then at Hanamura’s turned back. He’s suddenly immensely interested in whatever are in his pockets and paces back and forth like a caged beast, glancing at the elevators.
“Business,” Tomomi echoes. “Right. Gee, you kids are here awfully often, aren’t you?”
“Business,” Seta repeats calmly. “Yosuke says they’re short-staffed, so …”
“Well,” Seta says after the pause drags on for too long, “I guess we’ll be seeing you around. Have a good day, Adachi-san.”
She pads away without another word and Tomomi stares after her as she ignores the elevator in favour of taking the stairs. Although there’s a voice whispering in her head about how she should supposedly understand Seta better now, that there’s a bond between them that should have deepened, she feels only bemused as she watches the back of her head.
She’s no closer to understanding Seta at all.
Tomomi doesn’t like getting drunk. She doesn’t like the taste of alcohol, or the burn as it goes down her throat. She doesn’t like the hangovers, or the process of prostrating herself before the ceramic throne and heaving her guts out into the bowl. What she does like, though, is the disinhibition that follows the first few beers, the nihilistic serenity that comes with the liquor in her system, numbing her senses like a narcotic.
She and Dojima are the last few customers to leave the bar; he’s more than just tipsy by then, his necktie looped around his head. Tomomi contemplates using it as a leash and dragging him home, and decides against it. She hasn’t have enough to drink—not when she’s still thinking about the rippling television in her room, and the number of people she wants to shove in. Halfway back to Dojima’s house, she figures another bottle or two of beer at home won’t hurt; it’ll help her to sleep, anyway. When she stops to buy a case from the gas station, the attendant stares at her fixedly, smiling slightly.
“Nice night out, isn’t it,” the attendant says. Tomomi stares blearily back, ignoring Dojima as he sways a little against her. Seta, she decides, was lying about not having siblings. They look like spitting images of one another, with a few years between them.
“D’you know,” she begins, and clears her throat to sound less like she swallowed a cheese grater, “a girl named Shizue Seta?”
The Moel attendant appraises her and shakes his – her? – head. “Can’t say I do.”
“Thanks anyway,” Tomomi says.
“See you around, ma’am.”
It’s hard to navigate back to Dojima’s house with her boss shambling alongside her, leaning against her shoulder. He’s reached that point where he’s oddly cheerful, less preoccupied with dead wives and neglected daughters, distant nieces and cold cases. “Chisatooooo,” he slurs into Tomomi’s ear, and she flinches away from him.
It’s late by the time she reaches his place; Seta opens the door and stares down her nose at the two of them; Tomomi gives her as good an apologetic smile as she can manage and shoulders Dojima. His head nods, once, twice—and Seta sighs.
“Sorry we’re so late,” Tomomi mumbles. “The others got too carried away with the Friday-night festivities.”
“I see,” Seta says curtly, and steps aside, guiding her uncle off of Tomomi’s shoulder. Tomomi kicks off her shoes and follows them in – “sorry, mind if I sit here for a bit? Had to cart him home, you know, couldn’t leave him there, need to take a bit of a breather” – and nearly trips over the bowls of cat kibble by the door. Seta half-turns to stare reproachfully at her as she shepherds her uncle up the stairs; Tomomi ignores her and makes herself at home on their couch, setting the case of beer down beside her.
Seta eventually makes her way down again and slouches next to her into the couch; everybody else is asleep, Tomomi surmises, and Seta’s just waiting to show her out.
“Want a drink?” Tomomi asks, and knocks her ankle against the beers. “Don’t think I can finish one case by myself.”
Seta blinks at her, her mouth curling into a smile, sharp and incredulous. “I’m underage,” she says politely.
“C’mon, Seta, live a little.”
“My uncle will see the bottles in the morning,” she says after a moment’s hesitation. “So no.”
Tomomi sighs. “You’re a good kid, Seta.”
“Thanks. I’ll have to pass, though. How about I take you up on your offer another time, hmm?”
“Okay, no, I take it back.” Tomomi huffs and rubs her cheeks. They’re still red from the alcohol; when she breathes out, she can taste the beer at the back of her mouth. She feels ill.
Seta makes a funny noise at the back of her throat; she rolls her shoulders and stretches, catlike. Tomomi’s ready to call it a night, ready to head back and fall into a drunken stupor on her bed, but the next moment Seta pulls her close, one hand grabbing hold of her tie and twisting it around her knuckles, the other fisted in her hair.
“What,” Tomomi manages before Seta’s mouth is on hers. After a moment’s consideration, Tomomi rests her hands on her shoulders and cards her fingers through Seta’s shower-damp hair. The pressure around her throat builds as Seta pulls distractedly at her necktie; she only lets go when Tomomi breaks the kiss with a curse. “Fuck—hey, what are you doing?”
Seta doesn’t reply, just leans back on her palms and surveys Tomomi from beneath lowered lashes. Tomomi tries not to stare at her lips, at the smooth curves of her collarbones visible above the dip of her v-neck, and instead attempts to studiously record every detail of the winking cat face on the front of her sweater. “I should arrest you for assault of a police officer. Or … or solicitation.”
“You wouldn’t,” Seta says nonchalantly, brushing her thumb against her lower lip; she licks meditatively and Tomomi averts her eyes. “Not if you intended on doing it first, anyway.”
“Who’s to say I was?”
“Intuition. You were looking at me funny. Don’t think I didn’t realise—I’m not dense, Adachi-san, and I don’t usually play around.”
Tomomi tries glowering at her, and finds it only makes her building migraine worsen. “You know what, I’m going home before you make more crazy moves on me.”
“Suit yourself,” Seta says. “Don’t forget the beers, or Uncle will think you’re being a bad influence.”
“It’s not as if you need any help with that,” Tomomi says. “God, if only your uncle knew.”
Seta smirks and runs her tongue along the tops of her teeth. It’s almost obscene. “Don’t you go spreading tales about me, now.”
After that, she makes it a point to avoid Seta as much as possible. She doesn’t understand how Seta can be so casual about it, how she doesn’t seem to be bothered at all.
“Why don’t you come over for dinner sometime,” Seta says after cornering her at Aiya. Tomomi crunches her peanuts a little more loudly with her back teeth and averts her eyes; she momentarily contemplates making a run for it, and barricading herself in the police station. She thinks about Seta with her small, wolverine smile; Seta, with her cold grey eyes, languid like the stare of a cat. Seta’s face closing into hers. She swallows.
“Uh, no, it’s fine.”
“You shouldn’t be eating instant noodles every day,” Seta says, eyeing her groceries. “It’s not very good for you.”
“It’s my body, I can put whatever junk I want to put into it.”
“You’ll be singing a different tune when you’re forty and your arteries are clogging prematurely.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t intend on sticking around that long.”
Seta’s eyes narrow with surprise. “Oh, really.”
“I want to die young and good-looking and happy,” Tomomi says without thinking. “God, I don’t want to hang around when I’m sad and old and jaded.”
Seta coughs; it sounds suspiciously like, but you’re already jaded, what are you talking about. Tomomi scowls and starts on another handful of peanuts, wishing Seta would just go away.
“Come over,” Seta insists. “I’ll cook something.”
“What? No, you don’t have to—”
“We have to eat every day too, you know,” Seta says. “It’s not as if one person more or less will make that much of a difference.”
It’s not that bad once she’s there, once she plays with Nanako for a while and almost forgets about the fact that they’re sitting uncomfortably close to the couch where she and—
God, she shouldn’t thinking about that. Her hand fumbles with the coin and Nanako watches it rolling across the table. “Was that your trick?”
“No, no, that wasn’t a sleight of hand, that became a slip of hand.” Tomomi eyes the back of Seta’s head as she picks up the coin again and cups it in her palm. Good housewife material, she thinks, and feels sick for contributing to Seta’s descent down that path. She glances across the table at Nanako, engrossed in trying to master a magic trick, then back to Seta.
“Why are you doing this?”
Tomomi gestures at her, at the way she chops radishes and carrots into even slices. “This. Everything. Everything that men expect you to do for them. Cooking, cleaning, looking after people … that sort of thing.”
Seta shrugs. “Living on ramen wasn’t really my thing, and I lived by myself a lot. That,” she says, “and I didn’t want Nanako to be lonely.”
Tomomi ignores the dig. “Is that what you really want to be, though? You’re a smart and diligent kid, Seta, you’d go so far so fast and yet here you are being housewife-in-training. Doesn’t it bother you?”
“No.” Seta brings down the knife with a clean swing, decapitating a fish. It thuds against the chopping-block like an executioner’s axe and she stares at it, running her finger over the back of the handle. If Tomomi cranes her neck, she can see the fish staring at her with dead-seawater eyes, its mouth gaping. “I can be whatever I want to be. I don’t have to do this for anyone; I’m doing this for myself, and because I want to. I’m not playing the good wife now, and I never will. If anyone expects that of me, I’ll shove my fist down their throat.” She shrugs. “It’s that simple. I know what I’m doing, Adachi-san.”
She hopes Nanako didn’t catch the whole exchange. Or maybe she does, because Seta sure can set a pretty good example.
“You’ve got a good head on your shoulders,” Tomomi says. “Don’t you ever let that go.”
Seta smiles and closes her fingers around the handle of the knife. The tendons rise under her skin, down her knuckles and up her wrist; she pulls, and begins gutting the fish. “I’ll keep that in mind, Adachi-san.”
It is late September when Tomomi gets to speak to Seta again. She watches Seta’s pack leaving Junes one day with a satisfied swagger to their walk, and gathers they’ve been successful in their latest venture. She isn’t quite sure how to feel about them saving Shirogane – on one hand, yes, she was just another woman trying to make it in a male-dominated profession, which is all well and good; Tomomi has been in that position once before, back when she’d still been a fresh-faced rookie with too many ideals. On the other, Shirogane’s tactic is shit. Fitting in is overrated. It doesn’t matter, she decides. Eventually, Shirogane will learn there is no point trying to be one of the boys, that the best thing to do is look out for herself and be prepared to tough it and shut everybody else up.
She’s lurking in the around the food court, eyeing her bag of cabbages and multi-packs of cheap ramen and steeling herself for the prospect of another week of kimchi noodle soup when she spots Seta slouched at one of the tables, running her nails up and down the surface of her cello case. She’s glaring at the pile of groceries before her, as though the contents of each plastic bag have grievously wronged her.
Seta catches her eye first and jerks her head in a short, brusque nod. “Oh, hey, Adachi-san.”
Tomomi wonders how she can be so casual when not too long ago they were making out on her boss’s couch in the middle of the night. “Hey yourself. Why’re you out so late?”
“It’s not late. If this were the city, things’d only just be getting started.”
“Hate to break it to you, Seta, but this isn’t the city. Where’re your cro—friends?”
Seta shrugs. “I was grocery shopping. I forgot to buy some things yesterday.” She pointedly ignores the second question, and sips her soda.
“How could you? You’re here every day,” Tomomi says. “What do you even do, host war talks in the food court? Debate climate change in the electronics department? Hold the Inaba miniature United Nations conference in the produce section?”
“Nothing so pedestrian,” Seta says, and narrows her eyes. “Have a seat.”
Tomomi sits and smoothes her skirt; opposite her, Seta crosses and re-crosses her legs, and cradles her chin in her hand. She doesn’t look too hot, Tomomi thinks. “You look beat,” she blurts out instead, and Seta laughs shortly.
“Yeah, well, you’re one to talk. Got a smoke?”
Seta clicks her tongue and extends a hand across the table, waggling her fingers. “C’mon, don’t play coy.”
“I take it back about you being a good kid. If only your friends and uncle could see you now. My, my, Seta, do you really kiss that Hanamura boy with that mouth?”
Seta flushes pink, ever so slightly. Tomomi thinks it strange, how they’ve progressed to playing tonsil hockey and still aren’t on a first-name basis. “None of your business,” Seta snaps at last, and catches the pack of cigarettes and the lighter Tomomi tosses to her. “I can kiss whoever I want to kiss. You’re not my mother.”
“Yes,” Tomomi says ironically, “thank god for that, incest isn’t really my thing,” and beckons for the pack; Seta passes it over and leans back in her seat, taking a deep drag. “I just thought to ask, after – you know. I didn’t know you were straight. What’re you playing at?”
“I never said I was straight,” Seta says, and exhales smoke through her nose. She looks like a dragon about to breathe fire. “You just made assumptions.”
“Can you blame me, after you came on to me like that? Since when were you and Hanamura an item, anyway?”
“We’re not an item,” Seta says with an air of exaggerated patience. “It’s sort of a mutual agreement. Friends with benefits.”
“Wow,” Tomomi whistles between her teeth. “Sounds like someone’s got commitment issues. I bet you anything he doesn’t see it that way. Neither does Kujikawa.”
“Why do you care? Like I said, you aren’t my mother.”
“You’re a smarmy fuck.”
“Ooh, getting familiar now, are we?” Seta smiles, a fishhook curve. “I like it.”
Tomomi squirms in her seat. Seta’s good – good enough to blindside her when she’s trying to pigeonhole her into an interrogation. “Did you hear? We found Shirogane.”
“Oh.” Seta’s grey eyes flick to the slim cigarette between her fingers, watching as the end burns itself into ash. “That’s good. I’m glad she’s safe.”
“Yes, we were all very relieved. She’s a good kid, Seta.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“You know her, by any chance?”
Seta doesn’t blink. “No. We spoke a few times, but that was the extent of our interaction. I must say, she’s very sharp, isn’t she?”
“Well, she has to be good to make it in our profession.”
“Too bad she’s too preoccupied with trying to fit in, you know? It’s hard being a woman in a field dominated by men. They’re like sharks circling the water, waiting for you to make a single little slip and then they’ll tear you apart. You gotta strike it out for yourself, be so good they can’t drag you down – but even the best of us, it happens to us too. There’s no beating it, you see. This system’s fucked from the inside-out, where all the cards are in your favour if you have a dick.”
“Huh.” Seta’s eyes flick to hers. “You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”
“No shit,” Tomomi mutters. “I was on the fast track and going places before I got landed in the boonies, that’s how good I was. Nasty business going on in that city I was at last, there were crazy cults popping up like pimples on a backside.”
Seta wrinkles her nose. “Charming. Well, that’s one way to put it. Sounds familiar, though – Tatsumi Port Island?”
“None other. You know the place?”
“Yeah, I was there some time ago. I was there for two years, boarding. The last year I was there, weird things happened.” She shrugs. “It was a strange time for everyone. Luckily, I was only at the hospital for a while and they didn’t see fit to check me into a psychiatric ward.” Her smile turns bitter. “And so here I am. My parents didn’t want me getting mixed up with the sorts there, see? They figured sending me to the country to live with my uncle was safer, and look what happens the moment I get here. You just can’t get a break.”
“No kidding,” Tomomi agrees. She chances a glance at the skies – it looks like it’s about to rain. “Goddamn,” she sighs, and sniffs the air. “Looks like a big storm’s coming in. You should get going home, don’t want to get your uncle and cousin worried.”
Seta makes a noise of assent and moves to gather up her things. From the way the contents of her cello case rattle, Tomomi is fairly certain she’s got more than string instruments tucked in there.
“Don’t do anything stupid,” Tomomi says absently, and Seta shoots her a look, sharp and shrewd.
She’s standing in front of the Dojima residence on a cold November evening. The fog curls around her ankles like a particularly persistent cat; she feels too warm and too cold at the same time. It’s been hard to pin Seta down, even at the hospital—every time she goes to visit Nanako and Dojima, Seta’s already gone. Nobody’s heard from her for days.
Her breath puffs out before her, hanging in the still air. She doesn’t know how long she’s been standing in front of the door; she’s two seconds away from hurling rocks at Seta’s window like some illicit lover.
God, did she really think that?
“Seta, you stubborn fuck,” she snarls, and raps smartly on the door. “Hey, I know you’re in there. Open up.”
Tomomi doesn’t know why she bothers visiting. Shizue Seta is dangerous, and will only continue to get in her way as the months drag on. Really, it’d all be better if Seta drowned herself in the bathtub from grief and never came back out.
She feels guilty the instant she has that thought. “Geez,” she mutters, and wonders how she went from wanting to kiss the city girl who reminded her so much of herself in her student days, to cutting up newspaper articles looking for letters to arrange into a death threat, to finally, actively wishing for her to break her neck in Nanako’s dungeon.
She’s about to bang on the door again when it opens; Shizue Seta is a wreck, dark circles lining her pale eyes. She looks like hell frozen over; in the few days since she last saw her, Seta’s given herself a makeover – she’s chopped off her braids, styling her hair into a short, angular bob that only serves to sharpen her features. Oddly enough, she’s wearing glasses, the lens cracked, blood filling in the gaps. She peers blearily at Tomomi and takes off the glasses, hooking them on the neck of her sweater; from the creases lining the side of her face, she probably woke up not too long ago. “Oh, hello, Adachi-san.”
“The fuck?” Tomomi says. “Don’t you oh, hello, Adachi-san me.”
Seta palms roughly at a livid bruise on her cheek, almost dislodging the bandage she tacked on. She shoots Tomomi a filthy look that is fifty shades of fuck you, I do what I want.
“My god, you look like shit.”
“Good to know,” Seta says. Her hair is damp and smells of jasmine. This time, her sweater is patterned with colourful cat silhouettes—cats sleeping, cats fighting, cats playing; a whole menagerie of kittens frolicking on pastel wool. She’s still in her Yasogami skirt, holding a bottle of bleach.
“What’re you doing here?”
Tomomi swallows and shoulders past Seta – nearly putting her foot in a bowl of cat food near the doormat – and steps inside; she holds her breath, not sure of what to expect. The smell of cigarette smoke hangs in the air; she wonders just how many packs Seta burned through. Dojima’s ashtray is stuffed full with burnt-out stubs; matches litter the countertop, some soaking in a bowl of soup stagnating in the sink.
She glances sharply back to Seta as the girl closes the door and stalks in; her clothes hang loose around her body, as though uneasy of getting too close. For a moment, her eyes are drawn to Seta’s wrists but there’s no blood there; the skin is smooth and unmarked, the trail of veins on the undersides of her arms unbroken by scars. Tomomi’s eyes settle on the bottle of bleach and she opens her mouth, then closes it again.
Seta follows her line of sight and laughs harshly. “I’m not that stupid, Adachi-san, if that’s what you’re worried about. As long as Uncle and Nanako are still … still doing all right, I’m not going to do anything other than wait and hope … and do some laundry. I swear,” she adds, and holds out her hands as though she expects Tomomi to slap a pair of handcuffs on around her wrists.
“You shouldn’t blame yourself,” Tomomi says, though her voice sounds like it’s coming from extremely far away. “What happened do them wasn’t your fault.”
“As if you know anything,” Seta sneers, but none of the fight is in her voice. “You know what – suit yourself. Say whatever you like, I don’t even care.”
Tomomi feels guilty for the part she played in breaking Seta; it feels like everything she’s tried to do has fallen on its head instead. God, she’ll never forgive Namatame. She should’ve worked harder to influence him, should’ve worked to ensure Nanako would never end up as collateral damage.
If anything, it’s her fault. Looking down at Seta hunched sullenly against the wall, Tomomi wants to run home. Run home and throw up and then maybe go with Seta to confront Namatame.
“So … uh. I saw those food bowls. You like cats? Or is that … um …”
Seta smiles faintly, but there’s no feeling in the half-hearted twist of her mouth. “Both of us. I like them because … I don’t know, they remind me a little of myself. They were cute little kittens, once, and then they had to learn to be self-sufficient. Cats don’t start out as those smooth, cunning things, you know.”
Aloof little shits, too, Tomomi wants to say. She settles for saying, “well, okay. That counts for good company … I guess.”
Seta snorts and crosses her arms, slouching into herself.
“God, you look like shit,” Tomomi repeats. “Have you even been sleeping? Sit down before you pass out and crack your head open on the floor, I don’t want to explain myself to your uncle.”
She grabs hold of Seta’s bony elbow and steers her towards the living room, and sets the bleach on the floor. Seta watches her with hooded eyes, sinking low into the sofa. “You’re not my mother,” she drawls lazily, more out of habit than anything else. “And enough people have stopped by. I don’t want to have to explain myself to everyone.”
“Not even to your boyfriend?” Tomomi snipes. Seta makes a sound like she’s got something stuck in her throat. It sounds like a cat trying to cough up a hairball.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she says. “Geez, will you give it a rest?”
Tomomi closes her eyes and sprawls out across the sofa; after a moment, she nudges Seta in the ribs; Seta winces and slaps her hand away. It stings slightly. Tomomi stares at the shape of her hand in the half-light and then prods Seta, this time on the shoulder.
“Come on, I’ll make you feel better.”
“I’m propositioning you, dumbass.”
“Oh.” Seta blinks. “Gee, I don’t know. That’s the worst proposition I’ve ever heard.”
Tomomi curls her fingers into fists. “Fuck you, I’m tired. You’re not all here. It’ll suffice.”
“I’m sure you’d like to,” Seta says with a trace of her old irony, and pointedly ignores the rest of Tomomi’s statement. “I hope your technique is better than your flirting.”
Without preamble, Seta slides closer to her and sets her lips against Tomomi’s throat and sucks, then scrapes her teeth across the skin. Tomomi jerks against her and leans into the contact despite herself, and slides her hands up under Seta’s shirt.
She stops when her fingertips brush against bandages, wound around what she suspects are recently-healed bones. Seta flinches under her touch and bites down hard on her shoulder, through her shirt and jacket, and pulls Tomomi’s face towards her.
“You sure it’ll be okay?” Tomomi says. “You sure about this?” This meaning boning her boss’s niece, this meaning the scar tissue, rough and ridged under her fingers, this meaning the fact that Seta probably really isn’t all there right now. Lights on but nobody home, Tomomi thinks, god, how apt, and wants to break out into hysterical laughter.
Seta makes the decision for them, standing and pushing Tomomi, hard, against the sofa. Tomomi stares up at her, then tangles her hands in Seta’s hair and pulls her down.
There’s blood in her mouth; she runs her tongue over Seta’s split lip. Seta sighs and works her fingers under Tomomi’s collar, and drags off the tie. The fabric burns against the back of her neck, burns with the friction, with the heat of her own skin. Seta pulls away and nips at her throat; she’s a predator out for blood, Tomomi thinks hazily, as she tries to untangle her arms from her blazer’s sleeves and shakily helps Seta unbutton her shirt.
Seta straddles her and eases her shirt off and rests her hand on her chest, thighs splayed on either side of Tomomi’s hips. When Tomomi slips her hand under Seta’s skirt, she feels so, so cold.
Seta kisses her again, without teeth, and Tomomi can taste the tobacco, dull and smoky. She moves down Seta’s chin, then her jaw, then pauses at her neck and flicks her tongue along the dips of her clavicle. Her hands move to Seta’s back and splay over the ridges of her spine, Tomomi’s palms flush against her shoulderblades. Seta works her sweater off and tosses it; Tomomi closes her eyes and runs her hands over the bandages. If she wanted to, she could overpower Seta, force her down to the floor and crack her ribs with all her weight and momentum. It’d be so, so easy.
She imagines Seta’s fist against her face, her knuckles scraping against her cheekbones. She imagines biting down and grinding, her cuspids against Seta’s wrist, lapping at her pulse, feeling the carpals shift under her skin.
Or maybe it wouldn’t be as easy as she likes. Seta’s built along leaner, harsher lines than she is. Seta spends her time running around in the T.V. world and beats the shit out of monsters with nothing but a lacrosse stick or whatever she’s hiding in that cello case, for fuck’s sake. All Tomomi does is fetch coffee, heft groceries and case files and run away from things – from responsibility, from her troubles, from everything.
If there’s anything she was really good at, it’s running.
“You’ll be fine,” Tomomi says as she dips her fingers under Seta’s waistband; Seta shivers against her and digs her nails into her shoulders. Tomomi isn’t sure who she’s trying to convince – Seta or herself. “Everything will be fine.”
Seta stares down at her; her eyes glaze over, momentarily and Tomomi feels suddenly dizzy. “Yes,” Seta says at last when her gaze refocuses and sharpens. Her voice very soft, like she isn’t even following the shape of the words as they spill out of her mouth and onto Tomomi’s skin. “I suppose it will.”
She knows Seta’s on to her when Magatsu Inaba ripples and shifts at her intrusion. She doesn’t need to turn to know Seta is there, her footfalls soft against the floorboards, muffled by the haze of cigarette smoke.
“So,” Tomomi says, the smoke rising and coiling from her lips, “you came.”
Seta taps her foot idly. She’s got Tomomi’s letter in her hand; the paper is crumpled, worn from folding and re-folding. “You didn’t give me much of a choice.”
“Ah, but you wanted closure, didn’t you?”
“Perhaps.” Seta eyes the noose above Tomomi’s head. She looks better than the last time Tomomi saw her, with her eyes glazed and distant, her face flushed and her hair spilling and pooling behind her head as Tomomi’s hand dips into her, as she keens and then goes quiet, staring past Tomomi’s shoulder. The old calm confidence is back; Tomomi wonders if that vulnerability was a ruse, shucked as easily as a shake sheds its skin.
“I knew it was you. You just sealed your own coffin.”
“Ooooh,” Tomomi says, drawing out the syllables as long as she can. “I’m scared! I’m quaking in my boots! What’re you going to do to me, Seta? You’re powerless. This is my world, and you play by my rules. You have no weapons, no friends to back you up.”
“You wanted to talk,” Seta says flatly. “So talk.”
“You’re a smart kid, Seta. You’ve got the looks and strength to back it up. I like you.” Tomomi holds out the cigarette; Seta breathes in, before passing it back. She sighs; in the plume of smoke she looks paler than death.
“You remind me a lot of myself when I was your age.”
“What I’m saying is, I don’t want to see you go to waste.” Tomomi loops her arm around Seta’s neck and pulls her close, close enough feel her breath. “Big Sis Tomomi wants to look out for you and make sure you don’t make the same mistakes she did. Big Sis Tomomi wants to give you the best future she possibly can, and see you go places she didn’t get to go to.”
She plucks the cigarette from between her lips and winds her other hand through Seta’s hair, and pulls her in for a kiss; Seta doesn’t resist, and inhales as she breathes out and fills Seta with herself, all the smoke and bitterness and wasted potential. Seta’s eyes slide half-shut as she draws Tomomi in; her pretty, pretty face doesn’t change even when she bites, just hard enough to bruise.
“The rest of them … they’ll find it so shocking, won’t they? Bested by a woman. Nobody expects a woman to be capable of things like this. But you did, because it’s in you too, Shizu-chan. Tell me … after seeing my letter, how did it make you feel? Angry? Upset? Betrayed?”
“Disappointed,” Seta mutters.
“I see. So I really did mean nothing to you, after all. Well, whatever. I still got what I wanted—after all, disappointment’s pretty much the same as betrayal … just without the emotional attachment.”
She grips Seta’s wrist and pushes her against the wall; Seta breathes out, curls her fingers and shifts her weight—but doesn’t resist, doesn’t attempt to sucker-punch Tomomi in the solar plexus.
“This is a proposition, Seta,” she hisses into the girl’s ear, running her teeth along the cartilage. “I hope you’re getting all this loud and clear. I’m not going to repeat myself.”
CHAOS END _
She watches Seta burn the evidence, burn the letters, burn away every trace of her being there.
“Good girl,” she purrs. Seta shoots her a look that’s pure venom, but then her shoulders relax.
“We had a deal, Adachi,” Seta says, no longer bothering with honorifics. “You say nothing, I’ll say nothing, and we both walk away from this scot-free. If you double-cross me, it’ll be your head on a platter. God help me, I’ll push you in myself.”
She doesn’t doubt Seta. Seta, who had calmly told her she’d been contemplating pushing Namatame in before she suspected Tomomi. Seta with her cold fox eyes, Seta the survivalist. “Besides,” Seta continues, “who d’you think they’re all more likely to believe anyway, Tomomi?”
Tomomi grinds her teeth and itches to wrap her hands around Seta’s throat, to push her thumbs against Seta’s windpipe and tear and tear and tear.
“You’re walking on thin ice here, Shizu-chan,” she says. Seta’s face twists. “Don’t be so sure of yourself. Trust is something so easily broken. Are you sure they’ll stay by your side if I sell you out?”
Seta’s good, but she can’t quite hide the flash of uncertainty in her eyes. “Are you sure you really want to pit yourself against me like this?” she says after a long pause.
Tomomi stares into her eyes. They’re two chameleons, one and the same; they can become anything for anyone. It’s just a matter of who’s more convincing.
It’s too risky.
RESET? Y/N _
“I’m not stupid,” Seta says coldly. “I know what you really think about me. As soon as I agree to anything you’ve said, it’s over.”
“Mm, yes. I’d have been disappointed if you’d agreed to be my sidekick. I’m a little hurt, though.”
Seta’s eyes widen slightly, then narrow, like she’s judging each word. “Liar.”
“I thought our time together meant something, Seta. For you to shoot me down so quickly, so easily, after I came and looked after you … well. I’m so upset now.”
She’s not surprised when Seta laughs; there’s an edge of giddiness to her voice. “You said you had propositions, Adachi. I’m listening. Don’t waste any more of my time.”
BAD END _
It is March and Inaba is bloated with fog; it rolls, poison-yellow through the town.
“Well, Shizu-chan … feeling any regret?”
Seta turns to her and her eyes are the yellow of old gold, bright as coins. She blinks lazily, like a cat, like a crocodile, like the cold-blooded predator her shadow is.
Her hand snakes up Tomomi’s tie and latches at her throat. She squeezes gently with the pads of her fingers and slides Tomomi’s shirt collar down. “I don’t really care,” Seta whispers from between her teeth. Tomomi knows her eyes are yellow as Seta’s, a warning in the fog. She bares her teeth as Seta’s hand grips her chin and forces her head up; Tomomi claws at her in return, carving a stinging panel of red down her back and through her Yasogami jacket. Seta stills, suddenly, and whispers, “Rise.”
Kujikawa walks over from the shop behind Tomomi; Seta’s hand clenches, digging into Tomomi’s hipbone. She catches the look Kujikawa shoots her as she struts past in that tiny gold swimsuit and touches Seta’s hand. “We’ll be waiting for you, senpai,” she says. “See you soon, okay?”
Over Seta’s shoulder, she can see Hanamura looking at her; his narrowed stare is shadow-gold and bright with malice. As she watches, Kujikawa stalks up to him and grabs his shoulder; she presses up close against him. Follows his stare. And leads him away.
“Your pack of lovers is waiting,” Tomomi says. “Are you sure you’re going to throw them away like that?”
She can feel the hum of Seta’s voice against her shoulder. “It doesn’t really matter now. If anything, I’m more their leader now than I was before. Survival of the fittest, as you said. This world is ours. We were the ones marked for success here, weren’t we?”
“You never really gave a shit about anything or anyone, did you? This mustn’t make much of a difference to you.”
“Those kids in Tatsumi Port Island … they had it right. Nyx’s coming was a good thing after all, y’know? Before her arrival, there was Apathy. Everything would be equal. Everyone would be the same. When she descends, though … this world is shit, after all, it’s much better for it to be destroyed.”
“Aah,” Seta says, her eyes slitting shut. “You knew of Strega?”
“In passing,” Tomomi says. “You were Lost too, weren’t you? And you never fully recovered. You were so angry at your family for leaving you behind, so angry because you never got close to anyone when your family kept moving you around, so angry because nobody ever gave much of a shit about you and you tried so hard to mean something to someone. God, you’re hardly better than I am, you’re just a hollow fake doing nothing but pretending.”
Seta laughs. It seems to echo in the silence, in the caverns of their chests. “Maybe.”
RESET? Y/N _
“Do nothing?” Seta murmurs against her neck. “Let Namatame take the fall?”
“It’s as simple as that, Shizu-chan.”
“Time’s a-ticking, Shizu-chan, so make your choice. I’ve gotta give your friends some credit, though. Shirogane is smart. So is Satonaka. They’ll make promising cops and detectives in the future! And now, right now, they’ll figure it out soon enough—unless you act first. Quash their doubts, huh, fearless leader?”
“Ah.” Seta’s head lolls carelessly back against her shoulders. “They won’t end up like you, though.”
“You never know. I was like them once, you know. Bright. Idealistic. Hopeful. You should understand better than most, Seta—when you have a world waiting to watch you fall, you have to shape yourself into something that can take their scrutiny and withstand all the shit life throws at you. Isn’t that why you’re the way you are now? You got sick of it too, didn’t you?”
“Both you propositions are so similar.” Seta cuts in. She pulls away; the ends of her hair brush Tomomi’s chin. “Either way, I end up as your accomplice. An accessory to crime.”
“That’s the beauty of it, though. Either you directly involve yourself with helping me, or you don’t. Action against inaction.”
“I accept neither.”
“Ah, yes. I knew you’d say that.” Tomomi lifts her revolver and thumbs the barrel, lovingly. “Aren’t you afraid I’ll kill you right here, right now? Do a spot of interior decoration with the back of your head? Seeing the same old décor day in day out gets a bit old after a while, don’t you think?”
Seta straightens, and turns back towards where she came. “You wouldn’t kill me,” she says and she sounds so confident, so assured. “Not when that’d be such an easy way out.”
“You sound so certain.” Tomomi levels the gun. Pulls the trigger.
Seta’s expression doesn’t shift; she smiles that slow, snake smile as she stares down the cold, empty barrel.
“I’ll be seeing you,” she says.
When they reach Magatsu Inaba, she takes every opportunity to taunt them. Her world gets to the others soon enough—they’re not cold steel, like Seta; they don’t challenge the world, like Seta. Tomomi likes her, so, so much; it’s a shame they had to meet this way. She tracks their progress through her red-black world, watches as Seta’s sword slices through barriers of police tape wound and the ranks of shadows she directs towards them.
“I don’t understand why you’re so willing to save a world that constantly puts you down,” she says when they arrive; wordlessly, Seta’s group take up careful formation around her. “It’s nothing but a steaming sack of shit. You’re just prolonging the inevitable—humanity’s always wishing for its own downfall.”
“We’d be better off as mindless shadows. No worrying about anything. No troublesome thoughts, no moral compass to hold you back. Isn’t that nice? It’ll be the way things once were—the survival of the fittest. You and me … we’d rank right up there, Seta-chan. Apathy was nice, wasn’t it? You didn’t have to worry about anything. Just surviving, just escaping the shadows in that tower. It’d be the same if we were shadows, too.”
Her words get to the rest of Seta’s team, easily—but Seta herself is so much harder to break, so much harder to cut to the quick.
“You accept all this, everything that I’m saying, don’t you? Because you agree with it.”
“That’s where you’re wrong.” Seta rolls her neck lazily and adjusts her grip on her sword. Ichor stains the blade, viscous and inky. She holds out her hand and swipes; cards fan out before her, and she plucks one out of mid-air. Her friends watch her every move and mould themselves around her, waiting for her word. In the sickly light of Magatsu Inaba, their faces are pale, drawn; they move uneasily, their eyes darting between her and Seta as they palm their weapons. “If you can’t accept views other than your own, it says a lot about you, doesn’t it, Adachi-san?”
Tomomi leers at her; Magatsu Izanagi shifts at the back of her mind; pain pulses in her temples, an accompaniment to the scrape of his claws. Idly, she wonders what she is to Seta’s Judgement, what card represents the concept of Tomomi Adachi in Seta’s world. Behind Seta, a figure flickers and her own persona roars in response.
“All these months getting to know you … maybe I sympathised. Maybe I felt the same way, at times. We’re not too dissimilar, are we? I thought I understood you, and the way you thought.” Seta scrapes her sword against the ground; it screeches against the asphalt and bumps over the cracks in the tar. “Wishing for Apathy and the Fall is not necessarily for the best, Adachi-san. I know that, now.”
Tomomi sighs; her gun feels reassuringly heavy under her palm, the metal warmed by the heat from her fingers. “My, my, Seta. And here I was thinking we had something special.”
Her world is tilting and dissolving, cracking at the edges; through the sickly red-yellow-black that swirls before her eyes, she can just about make out Seta crouching over her.
“Go away,” she tries to say, but it comes out a weak murmur. She hates the faintness of her voice, the wetness of the words as she tries to push them out of her mouth. “I don’t need your fucking sympathy. Go do whatever you want, live however the fuck you want, just leave me here already.”
Seta ignores her and sheathes the sword. “Give me your hand.”
“Fuck you,” Tomomi says. “Fuck off. Get lost. Leave me for the shadows. That’s what I deserve, isn’t it? I can see it on all your faces. You came here to kill me, so … hey, why don’t you—you might as well just get it over and done with. How about it, eh, Seta? Here I am, all laid out for you, nice and neat. Where’ll it be, then? I can roll over too, if it’ll make you feel better, so you don’t have to see my face.”
“You’re a dumbass,” Seta says matter-of-factly, and grabs her wrist. “We’re bringing you back with us, and you are going to play by the rules of the real world, and not this fantasy land where you think you can do whatever you want. Accept responsibility for your actions. After all …” Her voice drops to a whisper; as she hefts Tomomi up and slings her arm around her shoulder, she leans in close, so close the others can’t hear. “We’re not going to kill you. Not when that’d be such an easy way out for you.”
After a moment, Shirogane slips away from the rest of the group and takes up position to Tomomi’s left; she and Seta exchange looks, and steady Tomomi between them.
“You’re a good kid, Shirogane,” Tomomi says. Shirogane looks away. “And a good detective, too. Don’t you let the world get to you, not when you’ve got so much going for you. And whatever you do—trust your instincts. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“Thank you,” she says. “Adachi-san.”
They are silent up until the television spits them back out in the Junes electronics section. She gazes steadily at the officer that answers Shirogane’s call; she manages to keep her head high, to stay composed through the exchange—until she hears about the ambulance and Dojima’s concern.
Seta’s friends avert their eyes when her vision starts to blur; only Seta accompanies her down, lagging alongside the stretcher as the paramedics mill around her.
“I see now,” she says at last. Her voice is hoarse; it doesn’t sound anywhere near as steady as she wills it to. “Why you … you were Judgement. I should have guessed, all along … that you’d be the one to do this. There wasn’t anybody else who could’ve, anyway.”
Seta is silent; she waves away a paramedic who glances towards her, taking in the singed uniform and bruises.
“Before you go, Se—Shizue. What was I to you? You have so many masks. I was probably just someone else who needed to be shown a certain kind of face. Or maybe I didn’t mean anything to you at all.”
“You’re wrong.” She stares at Tomomi; her lips curve slightly as she leans in, close. “We were two Fools, but not quite the same,” she says quietly. Her breath is warm in the dawn chill. “And then you became Lust. Hunger. I didn’t realise how apt it was … until now.”
“Ah,” Tomomi says as the paramedics shut the ambulance doors; she can still make out Seta’s face through the glass, filmy and distorted. “Good, good.”
GOOD END _
It is March; she has a visitor, for the first time in months.
She’s had a lot of time to herself to think, in the past few months. She thinks about the old woman down the hall who kept poking at her, pinching her cheek and saying she was getting too skinny; the elderly lady down by the Samegawa who smiled sadly at her and spoke fondly about her husband, and how much she missed him.
Prison is so lonely.
She’s only slightly surprised to find Dojima sitting there, on the other side of the table. He looks at her sadly, and she’s unable to meet his eyes. “Hey, Dojima-san.”
Her former partner has brought her coffee, in a strange inversion of their old ritual. She sips it as it grows lukewarm, and stares across the table at him twiddling his thumbs.
“I’m … I’m glad you recovered,” she says. “And Nanako-chan. Thank goodness she’s all better now.”
She remembers standing by his bedside in November, wondering if what she did was right, whether it was all worth it. She remembers watching over Nanako when Seta slips out of the hospital under some flimsy pretence, when they both knew full well Seta was going to jump into the Midnight Channel herself and go beat the crap out of more shadows. She’d thought about going to join Seta then, and perhaps letting the shadows take her. She remembers, worse still, Dojima hovering over her the night she’s admitted, staring down at her, hand clenching around his IV stand, before shuffling painfully out. She’d pretended to be asleep, then—it’d been easy through the haze of morphine to feign sleep. Anything would have been better than seeing the look on his face.
“Good to see you getting some of your colour back, too,” he says.
Tomomi looks down. “Also … I’m, um, I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too.” Tomomi wants to shut her ears, to not have to listen to what he’s saying, but he’s still talking. “If you were having troubles … you could’ve told me, you know.” He sounds so disappointed, so betrayed—and it hurts more than when she was goading Seta in that bedroom. “You shouldn’t have—”
“Ended up like this? Yeah, I know.”
Dojima stirs his coffee, but doesn’t drink it. “Shizue went back this morning.”
“Ah.” The coffee grows more bitter in her mouth; when she swallows, it settles heavily in her stomach, like a film of oil. “I hope she takes care.”
“She told me to pass this to you.”
Tomomi watches as Dojima slides the letter across the table. It bulges in odd places, but it’s still sealed. She glances up at Dojima, but he’s already turning to leave.
“Take care of yourself,” he says, and slings the jacket over his shoulder.
She doesn’t blame him for leaving so quickly.
That night, she cuts open the envelope and unfolds the letter. An origami crane spills out of it, wave patterns printed across its folded wings; on the accompanying slip of paper, there’s only one line.
From one Fool to another—may you one day find your World.
RESET? Y/N _
It is New Years’ Eve and she is dreaming.
There is fog and mist, and endless rain; a person strides through, and holds out a hand. “I hope you enjoy your stay in Inaba,” someone says. “May you find the World you were looking for here.”
The fog is too thick, too dense, but she can make out a face. It smiles, and for a wild moment she thinks it’s Seta, come to haunt her. The cold, expressionless eyes are the same, as is the sharp curve of the mouth—but it’s not—
She jerks awake as thunder rolls through the skies. It’s pouring with rain outside. It is one in the morning, and though she’s still shaking from the memory of a cold hand in hers, of lightning humming through her veins, she reaches for a pen, and begins to write.
It is the middle of February and this time Seta is sitting across the table from her.
“Hello, Adachi-san,” she says. “I hope you’ve been keeping well. Happy Valentines, by the way.”
“Cut the chit-chat,” Tomomi says. She likes the sharpness of her voice, the cold businesslike edge to it; she likes the way it makes Seta’s eyes narrow and makes her sit straighter in her chair. “I’m sure you were surprised to get my letter all of a sudden.”
“Not really,” Seta replies. “Not when I’m not done with you yet.”
“Surely you felt the same. You know what I mean.”
“… yeah.” Tomomi shifts in her seat and stares down at her handcuffs. “I guess I do.”
“So … you had something to tell me?”
“I had a lot of time to think. Prison does that to you. But—hear me out here. Don’t you think something was out of place? How the three of us – you, me, and Namatame – had our powers, even without facing our shadows?”
“Yes.” Seta leans forward and rests her chin on her fingers. “I thought at first maybe it was because of our experiences in Tatsumi Port Island … but maybe that wasn’t the only thing.”
“But that wasn’t it,” Tomomi says. “This was more than just coincidental. What were the chances, Seta? Think about it, you’ve got the brains to figure it out. What’s the probability of all these things happening? You and me, experiencing the same things in Tatsumi Port Island and being trapped in the same tower; you and me, transferring to Inaba. Namatame’s affair becoming public, Hiiragi divorcing him, and then him slinking back to his hometown. The murders. The Midnight Channel. Personas and entering T.V.s. What’re the odds of all of these things happening at the same time, Seta? What’re the odds of them all happening at the same place?”
“Things don’t add up, Seta. This is all too perfect to just be a coincidence. There’s more at work here than just simple fate.”
Seta doesn’t respond; she’s too preoccupied with scratching away at the wood-grain of the table, working her thumbnail into the whorls.
“What I’m saying, Seta, is this. Go and reach out to that truth you guys have been sniffing at all year. Finish this whole thing, so that we can move on. Or … you can choose to ignore me.” She shrugs. “It’s just my word—the ramblings of a delusional fallen cop, no?” She knows from the gleam in Seta’s eyes that she has considered this even before she came to visit. “The ravings of a crazy broad who’s lost all the security in her life. It doesn’t matter, either way, I guess.”
Seta finally looks up; she smiles, and it’s the same one that Tomomi saw near the start of the year – a sharp grin like the smile of a cat with the cream. “Thanks for telling me all this, Adachi-san.”
Before she leaves, she takes off her wristwatch, and passes it to Tomomi. Tomomi stares at it, and absently wonders what the hell Seta expects her to do with it.
“Thanks? I guess. God, don’t start being sentimental now, I’m gonna fucking cry.”
“No you’re not.” Seta smoothes down her skirt and tucks her chair back under the table. “Think about it as a way to mark down the hours, to count down the days until you find that World you were looking for—one that doesn’t come at the expense of anyone.”
Seta turns to go; Tomomi rummages in her pocket and finds something smooth and cold and round. “Hey, Seta, catch,” she says, and tosses. Seta snatches it out of mid-air and opens her palm, then holds it out quizzically. “What’s this?”
“A little souvenir, so that you’ll remember me and the good times we had.” It’s the fake coin she used for her magic tricks, the little sleights of hand that were leading up to the real thing. Seta eyes it, and pockets it.
“Thank you for everything, Adachi-san,” she says again.
“Stop thanking me for shit, god,” Tomomi snaps, but there’s no true feeling in it. She watches Seta go, striding away back down the hall. She used to think that Seta was her shadow, and maybe, just maybe, she was Seta’s—that they were two Fools with no reflections, who could do nothing but reflect one another. She used to think they were like an ouroboros—there were too many similarities between them, and she couldn’t say for sure that she knew where Shizue Seta ended and Tomomi Adachi began—not when they were almost the same thing.
The warden taps her shoulder; Tomomi doesn’t look back as she’s led away back to her cell.
TRUE END _
She’s dreaming again and it’s the same place as before, mist and emptiness and a bone-deep chill. Seta’s sprawled at her feet, face-down on the floor.
“Well, that’s a nice inversion of roles,” she says out loud. “I could definitely live with this.”
She contemplates nudging Seta with the toe of her shoe, but decides against it in favour of leaning over Seta’s head and prodding her.
“Hey, wake up.”
Seta moans and tries to bat her hand away. She misses, and Tomomi jabs harder, before settling for pinching Seta, hard, on the forearm.
“Ow—fuck, stop it!”
Seta pushes herself upright and glares balefully at her. “What’re you doing here?”
“I don’t really know. It’s my dream, isn’t it? I can be wherever I want, that’s what.”
Seta frowns. “I was—this isn’t a dream.”
“Yeah, whatever helps you sleep at night.” Tomomi hunkers down and flattens her skirt against her knees. It’s nice that she doesn’t look like a convict in her dreams. “What’re you doing sleeping, Seta? This isn’t naptime. Aren’t you supposed to be pursuing the truth?”
“I … was. I am,” Seta says slowly, and rubs her eyes. “What … I thought … everyone … I was … are you dead?”
“How should I know?”
“… we were fighting,” Seta murmurs, doubtfully. “There was a … a goddess. She was … she said this was all for the better.”
“Is it, though?”
“Whose rules is she playing by? Didn’t you say we had to play by the rules of the real world?”
“Don’t you start losing all your conviction, Seta! You put me away for a reason, didn’t you?”
Seta laughs shortly. “Yeah. Yes, we did.”
“So go on. Finish that fight. Finish what you started. Otherwise I’m going to haunt you.”
She watches as Seta gets to her feet and squares her shoulders, and takes off the glasses. Spectral cards orbit her, and when she reaches for them, they gather in her hand. Tomomi plucks one out of the air; she can feel its heat between her fingers, its power whispering through her. She flips it over, and Magatsu Izanagi stares back at her. That explains why she hasn’t been hearing him, why she’s been sleeping far better in the past few months than she has been the whole year. She passes the card to Seta and Seta takes it, her fingers brushing against Tomomi’s.