1. Prologue - The Lovers
2. The Hanged Man
Disclaimer: Ha! As if! Don't be ridiculous! You think I'd have written that 02 epilogue!? Please!
Better Angels of Our Nature
Yamato rubbed his eyes, hoping, maybe even praying, that all the answers that he was certain were contained, somewhere, within the case files spread across his desk would suddenly reveal themselves. But, after countless hours spent reading and rereading, going over and over every little documented detail, Yamato knew it would never be that easy.
He picked up the latest file, pushing the others away so he could have room to focus. Ichijouji Rika. Yamato sighed. What had been the most difficult case of his short career had, recently, become that much more difficult.
Yamato tried to remember how things had even gotten to this point. If he were being honest, he could trace it back to his own father. The older man had been worried that, despite having devoted himself to music and his band through middle school and even high school, Yamato still did not have much to show for his effort.
Add to that that Yamato wasn't exactly stupid. He could understand that the odds that he and they guys would ever have anything to show for all their work, or that they'd ever have the chance to play more than the occasional party or school festival were minimal, at best.
So Yamato allowed himself to be talked into focusing on something more practical. After all, his father had made it all sound so reasonable at the time. It would be just four or five years of college. He could still practice in his spare time, sure, but he would concentrate on earning a degree that could, if nothing else, support him if, when, he decided to refocus his efforts on his dream of being a musician.
Yamato thought about his old guitar, tucked inside a closet in the apartment he rarely saw, still braced in its stand. He couldn't remember the last time he'd even picked it up. Would he remember any of their old set pieces? Unlikely. Certainly not in their entirety. Truthfully, Yamato doubted he would be able to even get the damned thing in tune now.
The bitter part of Yamato wondered if the reason his father had been so insistent that Yamato's passion for his music would withstand the stress of full-time school and eventually a career was precisely because he knew that it could not. In the end, it was Yamato who had been well played.
Still, Yamato could admit that he did not dislike the work he did. Sure, the hours sucked, but the work itself was fascinating. Yamato had quickly discovered a talent for solving tricky cases, thanks to the same persistence that had kept him picking at his guitar for hours on end. It was how he had managed to advance as quickly as he had. Yamato had sat for three service exams in as many years and had aced them all. Then he had been put on a task force charged with hunting down a serial rapist. He had studied the cases intensely, clocked massive amounts of unpaid overtime and eventually worked up a profile that had been instrumental in catching the asshole barely one month later.
That success had led to another opportunity, then another and another until, quite to his own surprise, he had been offered the chance to lead a small group of detectives looking into what had, at the time, been three eerily similar murders that had all occurred in or very near to the Odaiba area.
It had been one of his proudest moments, after saving the Digital World.
But eight months and four more murders later, Yamato, mired in the case from hell, found himself starting to wonder just who it was he had managed to piss off.
And then this one. Ichijouji Rika.
It did not click at first. The almost clockwork regularity of the strangulation murders had everyone in the police force on edge and so Yamato, and his now growing taskforce were usually notified within hours of any potential new cases. Yamato knew these cases better than anyone and so he often took it upon himself to go down to the station in question to pull a copy of the case file and to speak to the detectives working the case.
"This probably isn't one of yours," Detective Sakamoto had warned him over the phone that morning before hedging, "Though the MO… it looks just like that case I pulled three months ago."
When Yamato had questioned why Sakamoto thought this might not be one of the Odaiba serial murder cases, he had been told that, as of then, the evidence seemed to be pointing to the woman's only living son. Yamato agreed that that didn't jive with what they had seen in the previous cases.
The man Yamato believed himself to be looking for was smart, exceptionally smart, and he was a planner. Everything about the seven previous murders said that these were not random acts of violence, crimes of passion or murders of convenience. No, these murders had been designed down to their very last detail.
Yamato's man wasn't stupid enough to murder someone that would be easily traced back to himself, or so Yamato believed.
Still, Yamato wanted to see the actual evidence. He could not afford to leave any stone unturned. The longer this case went unsolved, the more uneasy the public became and the more uneasy the public became, the harder the director's life became. And the harder the director's life became, the more miserable he made Yamato.
Shit really did have a tendency to roll down hill.
It was that fast approaching ball of shit that Yamato had been thinking about when he'd walked into the Odaiba police station that day and saw Daisuke, all-but shouting at the poor newbie tasked with staffing the front desk. The red-headed man was beyond irate, threatening to climb over the desk and take whatever it was he wanted himself.
At first, Yamato found himself wondering why Daisuke was even there. The Odaiba police station was such a strange place for the younger man to be. In point of fact, it was quite possibly the one place Yamato had never considered he might run into the other keeper of friendship.
But then had it clicked. Ichijouji Rika.
Of course. It was a far from common name. Yamato should have realized it sooner, much sooner. He was so busy rebuking himself over the slip that he failed to notice Daisuke turn away from the desk, his eyes catching Yamato where he still stood, just inside the front door.
"Yamato!" The red headed shouted his name from across the station lobby.
"Oh thank god!" Daisuke sighed, continuing, "Finally, someone with half a brain." He shot a dirty look at the poor policewoman behind the desk before hurrying over to where Yamato still stood. "You have to help," he pleaded.
"What's going on?" Yamato asked, though, truthfully, he already knew the answer.
For a moment, Daisuke seemed lost for words, unsure where to begin. Finally he just said, "Mrs. Ichijouji, Ken's mom..." before trailing off again. Yamato could easily see that the younger man was fighting back his emotions.
After a few deep breaths Daisuke tried again, "It was bad," he told Yamato, "They, you know, the cops brought Ken here this morning." Yamato nodded when the other man did not continue right away. "And—and then..." Daisuke paused again before finishing, "I don't know." Daisuke shot another dirty look towards the desk clerk who was doing her level best to appear desperately busy, "No one" he yelled before turning back to Yamato and continuing in a lower tone, "wants to tell me what's going on!"
Yamato's mind immediately flitted back to what Sakamoto had said over the telephone about the dead woman's son and his own suspicions. But even if sharing such details with the would-be suspect's significant other wasn't unethical, or even just downright stupid, Yamato knew intuitively that that was something he could not bring himself to share with Daisuke.
No, there was only one thing that Yamato understood for certain in that moment. He needed to protect Daisuke. Protect him from what, Yamato was not quite sure. Maybe it was from whatever harsh reality might very well be in the process of playing itself out. Maybe it was from the truth of whom or what Ken really was. Maybe it was from Yamato's own half hopes and half fears. No matter what the actual motive, Yamato could see no reason why he shouldworry or upset the younger man more than absolutely necessary.
This was not an unfamiliar situation for Yamato. Truth was, when they had all been younger, their attentions focused on their fight for the digital world, Yamato had found it easy to delude himself into believing that whatever it was he had felt for Daisuke stemmed from his overdeveloped need to protect all things weaker, younger, more genuine or innocent. That is to say, from the same urge that had often left his real-life little brother feeling more than slightly suffocated.
The same urge that, perhaps all too predictably, had led to his becoming an officer, that allowed him to excel in his work and that had landed him in this difficult position in the first place.
It had taken years for Yamato to come to understand that this, too, was part of the gift, the curse, of the crest of friendship.
By the time he had understood what, exactly, his feelings for Daisuke actually were, the younger man had already moved in with Ken and, much to Yamato's chagrin, that particular door seemed shut, irrevocably.
Still, knowing something wouldn't, couldn't possibly happen had not done much, if anything, to change how he actually felt. Sure, Yamato had done his best to treat Daisuke as only another one of his younger brother's contemporaries. More importantly, he had done his best to treat Ken as if he hadn't purposefully stolen something very valuable right out from underneath Yamato's nose.
But there were times when Yamato feared his true feelings had betrayed themselves. Maybe not in words, but, rather, in a look that lingered too long or a smile too honest. Daisuke may never have noticed, but Yamato was certain that Ken had. More than once he had caught the ex-Kaiser watching him, that annoying little smirk hovering over upturned lips. Invariably, when Yamato would notice, Ken would choose that moment to step closer to Daisuke, a hand lightly brushing over a shoulder or across the small of Daisuke's back, Ken's lips twisted ever-so-slightly into a tiny smile declaring, "Mine," even as he feigned great interest in whatever it happened to be that Daisuke was inevitably in the process of doing or saying.
"Yamato!" Daisuke's rough grip on his arm brought Yamato back to the problem at hand, namely, how to comfort the younger without betraying sworn confidences or his own troubled feelings. Yamato reached down and gently pried loose Daisuke's anxious fingers, allowing himself a quick squeeze of Daisuke's hand, but nothing more.
"It's okay," Yamato promised the younger man, "I can take care of it. Just sit down. And try to be quite." Yamato hoped his bemused smile would take any sting out of the mild rebuke.
"I'll go back and see what's going on," Yamato continued, promising, "I'll let you know," before tacking on, "Just stay here and don't bother anyone for a minute. Okay?"
Daisuke paused, not outright refusing Yamato's request for patience, but still, Yamato could sense his hesitation.
Yamato sighed, turning so he stood face to face with the younger man. Yamato's hands fell, heavy, on Daisuke's shoulders, pulling the shorter man towards him, even as he leaned in, his head bent down so that their foreheads nearly touched. It was something he'd done often when they were 12 and 15. It had always seemed to draw the younger boy's attention, given him focus and focus was really what Yamato needed from him right now.
"Listen," Yamato's voice was soft, meant only to carry to Daisuke's ears, "This isn't a game. This is serious." Yamato caught Daisuke's dark eyes, staring hard; trying to articulate the gravity of the situation in ways words would never manage. "I'll do what I can," Yamato swore, "But I need you to do what I say and to stay calm, okay?"
Daisuke swallowed roughly. Yamato could not help but notice that he was still in the habit of pursing his lips together when considering his options. Finally, however, the red-headed man nodded his agreement. Yamato smiled, giving Daisuke's shoulders a quick squeeze before stepping back.
"Wait here," Yamato instructed, gesturing with his chin towards a bank of chairs lining the far wall even as he started moving towards a large grey door, "I'll be back as soon as possible," he promised. It took only seconds for the light above the door to flip to green. Yamato quickly made his way in, not daring to glance back at Daisuke, who, experience told him, would still be standing where he had been left, lips pulled inward, as he tried to decide if Yamato's read of the situation could really be trusted.
"Who's that?" Sakamoto's question startled Yamato. He allowed himself a frustrated grunt before turning to the other officer with a frown.
"Complications," Yamato answered before changing the subject, "So you said you had something to show me?"
Sakamoto shrugged. "A little," he hedged, "but not much." Yamato understood what the other officer was saying. Never had Yamato worked cases more frustrating than these had proven to be, cases with facts a plenty but evidence in conspicuous absence.
"But you said you think it may be the son?" Yamato pushed. Sakamoto nodded.
"My gut says yes," Sakamoto admitted before confessing, "Not that I can prove it." He let out an exasperated sigh.
"The kid isn't talking?" Yamato was somewhat surprised to find himself hoping that Ken had been smart enough to shut up, to refuse to say anything that might work against him later, should he be charged.
He was surprised, and then annoyed at his own betrayal of what he had come to believe was justice.
"Oh he talks," Sakamoto explained, "It's just—he never actually says anything." He gave Yamato a wry half-smile.
Later, when re-reading transcripts of Ken's first interview, Yamato would come to truly appreciate just what Sakamoto had been trying to explain to him that day.
No matter what the question, or how it had been put, Ken's responses seemed oddly incomplete. They rarely, if ever, actually explained anything. Ken certainly never volunteered any information.
Yamato had known from personal experience that Ken was more than adept in the art of using words to say nothing and that few, if any people in this world possessed the talent to hold their peace as well as he could. Still, Yamato found himself taken aback at how, even on paper, Ichijouji Ken managed to give off an air of complete imperviousness.
Just reading what the younger man had, or really, had not said was enough to make Yamato want to grind his back teeth. Still, when Yamato found himself thinking back to that day at the station, he couldn't help feeling at least some regret.
Yamato had not hesitated when Sakamoto had offered to take him into the observation room adjacent to where Ken was still being questioned by Sakamoto's partner. As he stood next to the two way mirror in the darkened room, studying the man who had once dreamed of ruling the Digital World, Yamato found himself astonished at just how small he looked, how defeated. There was a genuine sense of misery in his face that even Yamato could not deny.
Yamato had found himself frowning when he realized it was Nakamura in the tight interrogation room with Ken. They had worked a case together about three years back, when Yamato had been fresh out of the academy, and, after that experience, Yamato had decided that he would not wish Nakamura on his worst enemy. Hell, he wasn't even willing wish Nakamura on the Digital Kaiser. The man was an ass, even under the best circumstances.
An arrogant ass. Worse, a stupid, arrogant ass. One who would never realize when he was being played like a fiddle. And there was no doubt in Yamato's mind just then that Ken had Nakamura dancing to whatever tune he so pleased, judging by which of the men was clearly the more aggravated, anyway.
Sakamoto chuckled, "He thinks he's getting to him." When Yamato looked askance at the other officer, Sakamoto clarified, "Nakamura. He really thinks if he keeps nipping at Ichijouji like that, he'll suddenly crack. But it won't work. I've never interviewed anyone more detached."
Yamato only grunted in answer but could help wondering why, if Sakamoto had the same read on the futility of the situation as he had, hadn't the man stepped in to stop Nakamura before now? Nakamura was his partner after all. Surely, that counted for something.
Was there some reason for continuing this charade past the point of usefulness? If you weren't going to get any more information and you weren't going to be able to charge the man, just cut him loose. Let Daisuke take him home. Give Daisuke at least that much.
Was Ken a murderer? The murderer? Yamato had not allowed himself to even really consider the idea at that point. He had been thinking of the red-headed man who was waiting, scared and angry in the front lobby. The same man who was probably still standing, staring at the door Yamato had entered, hoping, praying that Yamato would not let him down, and that Ken, his lover, would soon be released.
"He's friends with my kid brother." Yamato was shocked to hear himself admit the truth to Sakamoto.
"Who?" Sakamoto asked, confused, "The guy in the lobby?"
"No," Yamato answered before equivocating, "Well, yeah." He paused a second, then sighed, "Both him and..." Yamato used his chin to motion towards the other side of the mirror. He knew that Sakamoto was staring at him, but Yamato refused to turn and meet his gaze.
Finally the second officer turned away, offering a muttered, "Shit."
"Yeah," Yamato answered. Yamato later found himself wondering why Sakamoto had not pointed out the obvious conflict of interest. Maybe it was trust. This was actually the second time Sakamoto had called Yamato about a potential strangulation case. He must have understood what kind for pressure Yamato was under. But then, maybe it was just indifference. Who's to say?
Whatever the reason, Yamato had been glad Sakamoto had not tried to press the point. Instead, he tapped on the glass in front of them both, drawing the attention of Nakamura. After a second more, the odiferous man stood up and, leaving Ken alone, joined them in the dark room.
"Anything?" Sakamoto asked, both he and Yamato ignoring the openly hostile way Nakamura was eyeing Yamato in his sharply pressed NPA uniform.
"No." Nakamura finally admitted, "He may be nothing more than an okama," he opined, "But he's the coldest sonabitch I've ever made."
"You got anything to hold him on?" Yamato questioned, ignoring the pejorative. Just talking to older man left Yamato feeling unclean.
"Other than being a creep-ass mother-fucker?" Nakamura paused, almost daring Yamato to answer. When that became apparent that he wouldn't, Nakamura admitted, "No."
"Release him then." Nakamura stared, slack jawed at is partner's simple statement. Sakamoto just shrugged. "We can't keep him much longer anyway," he reminded the older man. "Cut him loose. We can bring him back in when we get something else."
"Besides," Yamato told them both, "this case just came under taskforce jurisdiction." Yamato did not like to pull rank. In fact, he usually didn't have to. Most detectives were more than happy to hand over any case that contained even a whiff of political quagmire. Still, Yamato knew Nakamura to be the obstinate sort. "Though I'll be more than happy to keep you updated on the case," he promised with false sincerity.
"Whatever," Nakamura grumbled, "Like I give a shit. I've got better things to do than play toddy to some damn administrative policy prick." The words were rude at best, insubordinate in truth, but Yamato let them pass unremarked, especially as Nakamura was already sauntering off to do as he had been told.
"He starts to grow on you after a while," Sakamoto promised, once he was certain that Nakamura was out of earshot. Yamato couldn't help chuckling at the blatantly false statement.
"You ever going to get me those files you promised?" Yamato queried in return, his tone purposefully light.
"Shit! Yeah," Sakamoto grinned, "This way," he motioned leading Yamato away from the interrogation room where Ken still sat, eyes focused straight ahead, hands calmly folded in his lap. Yamato shook his head. What the fuck was he supposed to do now?
Ken was no longer in the interrogation room when Yamato stuck his head in to check two hours later. Nor was Daisuke anywhere to be seen as Yamato made his way through the lobby. Yamato concluded that Nakamura must have actually done as he had been asked, and allowed the dark-haired man to leave, and to that, Yamato could admit that he was glad. He could also admit, if only to himself, that he was mildly disappointed that he had not gotten a second chance to speak with Daisuke.
Not that Yamato had had time to dwell on the idea in that moment. His focus had shifted almost immediately to the nearly empty banker's box that contained what little evidence the two station detectives had managed to gather. Now his duty was to get it back to the taskforce's makeshift headquarters so that they could begin going over each and every piece with a fine toothed comb.
Of course the most important information was likely to come with the autopsy results and those wouldn't be back for at least another two days. Still, there was work to be done and Yamato had long since learned that work was, far and away, the best remedy for personal feelings.
That was how he had found himself in the here and now, nearly a month later, alone, Ichijouji Rika's file spread open in front of him, all the other officers having left for home or bars or life hours earlier.
Yamato tucked the transcript from Ken's first interview back into the file and reached for the record of his second. There wasn't much to differentiate the two beyond the name of the officer conducting the interview.
Yamato knew without looking that the same could be said for the third and the fourth and even the fifth interview.
No matter how many times they had brought the dark haired man in, no matter what they had used to try and push him off balance, to rattle him, to unnerve or trap him, there had never been even the smallest sliver of new information. Rather, by the third interview, all Ken would say was that he couldn't really remember anything that had happened that terrible morning. Nothing was solid, nothing was certain; his only memories were of a dense gray fog, obscuring everything.
One could suggest that there was a hint of innocence in the way that Ken's story had never changed. But then, that was because there had never really been any story to begin with.
Yamato slammed the folder shut again with an irritated growl.
At first, Yamato had attempted to keep Ken's case separate from the other strangulation murders, both in his own mind and in the minds of the other taskforce members. It was just too tempting to hope that they finally had a name and a face to go with the ever mounting number of heretofore unsolved cases.
Yamato had to be certain that they fit the case to the facts and not the facts to the case. It was the only way he could live with himself. It was the only way he'd ever be able to face Daisuke.
It was only after Yamato had proven to himself that Ken could have possibly committed his mother's murder that he allowed himself to wonder if, just maybe, Ken could have also committed the others.
Of course, deciding one way or the other was proving difficult. Mostly because of the fact that by then, more than half a year had passed since the first strangulation murder. And even if the murders had not occurred in a thronging city in the middle of the night, any potential alibi would be difficult to prove or disprove after such a length of time.
Was Ken's involvement outside the realm of possibility? Hell no. Yamato was firm in that. Was it outside the realm of probability? That was a bit more uncertain.
Yamato was startled by the sudden ringing of the telephone three desks over. With a sigh, he pushed back from his desk and walking over, picked it up on the fourth ring with a clipped, "OSM taskforce, Ishida speaking."
"Heh," came the answer from the other end, "I thought you might still be there." Yamato glanced up at the clock hanging above the giant whiteboard across the room. Shit! Almost three a.m. When had it gotten so late?
"This is Sakamoto," the caller continued, "We had a call-in about two hours ago and...well... when I got here, I thought maybe you might want to come have a look?" Something about the other man's tone disturbed Yamato. He wouldn't be calling this late unless it was really something unsettling. Yamato looked up at the clock again with a sigh. It was much too late to try and requisition a car and even if he were to leave left right now, there was no way he'd make the last train. Damn it!
Of course, there was always the option of a taxi, but... "You think it's one of mine?" Yamato pressed. If he was going to pay out of pocket for a taxi ride across Tokyo at three in the morning, he wanted to make damn sure it would be worth his time.
"It's your guy's MO," Sakamoto answered, though something about the way he said it made Yamato think that there was more to the story. When Yamato didn't respond immediately, Sakamoto continued, hedging, "Look, I'm not 100% here," he admitted, "It's weird. Everything about the scene, my gut, it all says, we're looking at the same creep, only..."
"Only what?" Yamato pressed when Sakamoto trailed off yet again.
"Only," a sigh filtered down through the late-night line followed by another long pause, then, "Only this time, it looks like he's decided to leave us two."
And suddenly, Yamato's world began to spin.