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The Verge of Tomorrow

Chapter Text

Suoh's file was still on Reisi's home display.

A little orange dot near the bottom of the file icon flagged it as pending.

Pending what, Reisi wasn't sure. If someone asked, he'd have a hard time answering.

Pending investigation? By the time the crime scene people had fought their way through the horde of angry Ashinaka High parents, Suoh's body had been gone. Before leaving the island, Reisi had carried him to an untouched patch of snow beneath half-blackened trees, but when he'd returned to the crater to show the CSIs the spot, the body had been gone. The snow had melted in the meantime, and no footprints remained, but there were no traces of anyone being dragged, either. The final conclusion had been that Suoh's latent Red Aura had incinerated its former master, for unclear reasons.

It was fitting, in a way, for Suoh to leave no corpse at all; HOMRA's slogan had held true in that at least, except for the blood on Reisi's hands.

Orange dot, glowing dimly at him like an accusing eye. Half-heartedly rinsed bloodstains turned a dirty orange with time, didn't they? Pending.

Pending the disappearance of Reisi's guilt? Some days all he could feel was the crack his blade's tip had made through Suoh's ribcage and the warm splatter of Suoh's blood on his sword hand.

He hadn't drawn his sword in the six months since, letting Awashima lead the few sorties they'd had to make. Those stopped being a weekly occurrence, what with HOMRA no longer under the aegis of a King. What was once the Red Clan had become just another shady bunch of miscreants; a headache for the local cops to deal with.

Kusanagi Izumo hadn't been happy when informed that Suoh's funeral would lack any part of Suoh. Awashima's report of their encounter had mentioned an accusation of body theft. The sick puppies in your Science division are experimenting on him, aren't they? Reisi sometimes stopped to wonder what that phrase would have looked like handwritten -- would Awashima's hand have trembled? He couldn't blame Kusanagi; SCEPTER4 had both power and authority to do a thing like that. He could only hope the matter would not drive an even deeper wedge into the already strained friendship between his right hand and Suoh's former one. Enough friendships had ended that December day.

Reisi hadn't gone to the funeral. It had seemed callous for a killer to join the mourners for his victim. No one had witnessed the moment of Suoh's death, but everyone involved understood that the city's survival meant Suoh had died before the Red Sword of Damocles had fallen. No one could -- or would -- know which of the other three Kings had ended Suoh's life, but it was enough for Reisi that he knew.

He visited Suoh's grave often in the dark pre-dawn hours, weaponless. The words he spoke on those occasions disappeared into the graveyard's silence like rocks into a mountain pool.

Things Reisi had never said. That one year we didn't keep in touch was a dark one for me, Suoh.

Feelings he had kept to himself. You're all I want, Suoh.

Wishes only Suoh could have granted. Take my hand, Suoh.

Would it have made a difference if he had said any of that before Suoh's death? Certainly not. If anything, such words would have driven them farther apart. Suoh had never liked letting anyone get too close, even before he had gained the power to burn. The power that had taken the last of him from Reisi.

Still, whenever he stood before Suoh's grave, he wondered -- what if? What if the day they'd met in secret next to the Ashinaka High shrine, the day Suoh had died, had also been the day Reisi let himself move just a little bit closer? If he had turned that bitter stand-off into his own surrender, would it have mattered to Suoh? Would he have tried to continue living, if he'd learned the only secret Reisi had ever kept from him?

It was delusion, of course: Suoh wouldn't have changed his mind. Reisi had been a hindrance before Suoh's plans, and the words he'd spoken and the things he'd done had been mere irritating distractions. And yet the idea that he could have saved Suoh wouldn't leave him, arrogant though it was. He had wanted to matter to Suoh, to matter enough that Suoh wouldn't have gone to his death. At least to matter enough that Suoh would have at least spared Reisi the role of the killing tool.

Now all that remained of Suoh sat in a digital file, pending.

Reisi blinked at the orange dot.

Pending archival? Yes. A slick non-answer that befitted his station. It was a good thing there was nobody at headquarters who would dare ask about Reisi's home screen.

"You should be grateful I didn't drag you by the ear like the ill-mannered brat you are!" Awashima's voice rang out behind Reisi's office door. "Captain, may we enter?"

"Please," Reisi said.

The door admitted a furious-looking Awashima and Fushimi, who appeared even more disgruntled than usual.

"Would you like tea?" Reisi offered, hoping that Awashima at least would decline. There was something uncannily terrible about all the azuki beans she preferred on her sweets.

"Thank you, Captain, but not this time," Awashima said. "We have disconcerting news. Fushimi was snooping through some American satellite footage and found something you need to see immediately. Show the captain, Fushimi."

Fushimi sighed heavily and glared at the carpet. He really was an ill-mannered brat; Reisi had never been sure why he was so fond of Fushimi.

"I swear, I will box your ears if that's what it takes," Awashima snapped. She turned to Reisi. "I caught him trying to erase the evidence, sir."

"Erase it?" Reisi put his elbows on his desk and leaned forward. "It's not against SCEPTER4 regulations to hijack the American satellite feeds. What on earth did you see, Fushimi-kun?"

Fushimi extracted a thumb drive from his pocket and walked across the carpet to hand it to Reisi. "The pictures are on there, sir. All of them were taken between thirteen-thirty and thirteen thirty-six one week ago over London, England."

Reisi plugged the drive into his machine and called up the photos. Good quality, high-resolution shots, not like the stuff available to online mapping enthusiasts. The American feeds used supplementary footage from surveillance cameras for a good three-dimensional overview of each space photographed -- London was as packed with cameras as Shizume City, so the resultant images lacked no detail. No blurred faces here. In the first photo -- a top-view snap of a construction site of some kind -- he could even zoom in to the name on a passing German shepherd dog's collar. What kind of strange individual named such a fierce animal Pooky?

The second photo showed a tall man's legs clad in orange dangling out of the unfinished building's second-floor window, white sandwich wrapping covering his lap. Reisi recognised the left hand gripping the sandwich: the skin over the middle knuckle was waxy and thin, one shade lighter than the rest. That scar. He got that injury on the day we met. New Year's Eve, almost eighteen years ago.

He must have made some sort of noise, for Awashima was at his side instantly. "Captain, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Reisi said, waving her off as he swiped to get to the next image. This one showed the top of the man's head as he leaned out to talk to another construction worker in the street.

Next, a clear partial shot of the man's face as he craned his neck to stare right at the satellite camera's unseen eye. A white hard hat hid the man's hair, but Reisi would know that face among thousands.

Suoh Mikoto.