Both Ishigami and Kaga were more than excited to see the figure on the other side of the door, leaping at him with reckless abandon, but Miho slumped against the door frame. Jazz appeared behind her, biting her lip as Subaru fought the puppies off to wrap Miho in a tight embrace.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her hair, shoving the foil covered casserole he had in one hand at Jazz.
This time, Miho didn’t cry, even if Subaru did.
“It doesn’t have coriander in it, does it?”
“You love coriander!” he attempted to joke, but the look on Jazz’s face told him he’d made a terrible blunder.
“No,” Miho disagreed quietly. “That’s Seiji.”
“Oh,” Subaru dropped, cringing a second but he had a smile affixed when he finally brought Miho to arm’s length.
“It’s fine,” she smiled back. “Everyone’s in a bit of a tizzy at the moment.”
“Except you,” he noted a little quizzically. “The very picture of calm and collected.”
“How many times has he nearly died?” she asked, turning and heading into the living area with the pups on her heels. “Every other week, really, right?”
Glancing sideways at Jazz, Subaru followed, shrugging awkwardly. It was clear to Jazz that Subaru didn’t have the words, not to comfort Miho, or himself. True, Subaru and Goto always bickered, but their actions had proven time and time again they were best friends.
“Tea? Coffee?” Miho chirped, obviously attempting to change Subaru’s grim expression.
“Yeah,” he answered ambiguously, scrutinising the house’s interior as he trailed Miho and Jazz into the kitchen.
“What happened here?” he replied, only looking more confused. “This place is spotless.”
Another blunder for anyone who knew Goto was a bit on the untidy side.
“Are you suggesting my home is usually a mess?” Miho sniffed.
“Well, no,” he stumbled. “But there’s clean, and then there’s I could eat off the tiles clean.”
“We’ve been keeping busy,” Jazz clarified.
“Because work isn’t enough to keep us occupied apparently,” Miho dropped sarcastically.
“Should you even be wandering around?” he then asked of Jazz, who while obviously pregnant did not seem to be in any discomfort.
“Being pregnant isn’t a disability, you know,” she grunted, then dropped her voice. “Unlike being an idiot.”
“I heard that,” Subaru grated sourly, but his brows lifted when Miho let out a chuckle.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think this comedy routine was for me.”
Both her friends fell silent.
“Oh, cut it out will you?” she huffed, throwing up her hands in annoyance. “Come on, Subaru, you’ve known Seiji far longer than me, so you should know this is bullshit.”
“Um…” he squirmed. “I’ve seen the evidence, Miho, the forensics…”
“Yeah?” she snorted. “You know who saw the evidence for Daisetsu’s ‘death’? The forensics? I did, and we all know how that ended.”
Knowingly, and not very discreetly, Jazz rolled her eyes to Subaru.
“Cut that out,” Miho snapped. “He’s not dead, and that’s all there is to it.”
She left them both standing in the kitchen a little bewildered by her curtness, but Jazz eventually let out a heavy sigh.
“I tried to talk to her about funeral arrangements, but she just shuts me down,” she explained solemnly. “I get where she is coming from, what with Daisetsu’s faked death, but if Captain Ishigami and the whole of Public Safety is sure, then…”
Helplessly, she shrugged.
“She doesn’t want me to comfort her,” she exhaled, her eyes misting over a little, and Subaru drew closer. “I don’t know how to comfort her, and I’ve always known.”
“We just be here,” he said, offering his arms and an awkward but honest hug. “So, when she figures out what she needs, we can be there to give it.”
People came and went, but it was the arrival of Goto’s parents and brother that complicated the situation more. Under any other circumstance, the presence of family might have brought some solace, but Miho was… as Miho was – forward about her opinion.
“I’m not interested in burying an empty casket,” she declared stubbornly.
Haruka looked tearily helpless.
Issei became angry.
“I thought you loved him!” he barked, and Miho’s face darkened in response.
“I love him, present tense,” she snapped. “And it’s because I love him, know him, trust him, that I can’t and won’t believe he’d be stupid enough to get killed.”
“But Miho,” Shinichi beseeched, and in an unusual sign of physical affection he attempted to hug her.
“No, Dad,” she argued.
“You’ve always known his work was dangerous,” Shinichi continued, his tone settling back into something gruffer. “As much as we might want this not to be true, there are things beyond our control, beyond Seiji’s control.”
“You go,” Miho told them, nodding emphatically. “I understand. If you believe this, then you need to find closure, but I will not put another box in the ground.”
The door slammed, Kaga and Ishigami lucky to scoot through with tails intact.
In the bedroom, Miho paced back and forth until her eyes came to rest on the pinstripe suit laid out across the grey duvet.
Haruka had picked it out. Even though there wasn’t a body as such to put in it, she’d felt it symbolic of his professionalism, of his nature, and an important part of letting him go. Kaga and Ishigami, however, thought the suit made perfect bedding, and curled up together to watch their mother scowl.
“What the hell, Miho?” Issei charged, bursting into the room. “Where do you get off talking to Mum like that?”
His eyes were red – he had been crying, but now he was just angry.
“You think you’re hurting? What about us?” he snapped, spittle peppering the air between them.
“He’s not dead, Issei!” Miho shouted, right into his face, then pointed at Goto’s suit. “It’s empty, you see that? EMPTY.”
“Because what’s left of him is locked up in a mortuary!” Issei fired back, not backing down – but that only drew him into striking range.
Redder still, Issei looked absolutely shocked with Miho’s palm print emblazoned across his left cheek.
“Your brother would be heartbroken you’ve so little faith in him,” she hissed, her eyes wild and her tone low, seething. “Go pick a casket, choose music and scripture and flowers to lay at a hollow grave, but do not think for a moment I will partake in such a farce.”
She moved so quickly her puppies didn’t have a chance to catch up. Bursting from the bedroom, she stalked to the front door past a bewildered Shinichi and Haruka and snatched her jacket.
After stomping several blocks, Miho hailed a taxi, glad she left emergency money secured in the inside pocket of her coat. It was enough to get her to Station, where Agasa raised an eyebrow at her in recognition. The death of a police officer, regardless of what department they belonged to, did not remain a secret for very long, and though Agasa might have seen Goto and Miho only a handful of times – if that – Second Unit had raised more than a few glasses in honour of a fallen comrade and a good man.
“Mrs. Goto,” he greeted softly, as Miho sat herself down on a stool at the bar. “What can I get you?”
“Enough whiskey to make it all go away,” she replied, not questioning how he knew her, just tapping the bar with her fingertips expectantly.
Agasa knew well enough when to argue with a customer and when to let them drink. At least if she was there, he could keep an eye on her, call in backup if things got a bit too ugly. He placed the bottle down beside her, though it was only a third full, then a glass.
“Don’t go too overboard,” he warned her softly, and in response she grunted and poured for herself.
As she drank, she muttered, but she was not looking for a response from Agasa or those who came and went.
“Shouldn’t have done that,” she murmured, shaking her head.
Hitting Issei like that – she knew she’d done a bad thing and would have to apologise.
“How can I convince them?” she sighed, staring into her glass but quickly turning her head when she sensed a presence close behind her.
“Convince who of what, Princess?” Baba enquired in his usual happy tone.
“You know what,” she replied dryly, taking another sip as he sat down beside her. “You know everything.”
“It is true I know a lot of things,” he smiled, waving to Agasa before pointing at Miho’s glass. “Not quite everything, though.”
Working with Baba at the agency had proven both a blessing and a curse at times. He had this infuriating way of being jovial no matter what happened, this ability to see the upside in even the darkest of situations. It could be both uplifting and excruciating at the same time. There was also the fact that he had made himself available on and off through Miho’s single years as a physical comfort: the best kind of friend with benefits.
“What are you doing here?” she asked him, still not looking into his face.
She wasn’t sure she could stand to see the sparkle in his eyes or the playfulness on his lips.
“You know this is a police bar, right?” she added.
“I don’t know why I should be concerned,” he smirked. “I’m a law-abiding citizen; besides, I don’t think Detective Ayase meets the height requirement to get in.”
Miho might have snorted, but the air in her lungs was lethargic, morose.
“Come on, Princess,” he crooned, giving her arm a gentle nudge with his, as Agasa put a tumbler down in front of him. “I tracked you down because I thought you’d have given me a call by now.”
“I’ve been a little preoccupied,” she pointed out, emptying her glass and pouring herself another, then one for Baba.
“Yes, yes, funerals – so many little details to plan for,” he agreed, one hand moving in an animated way as he spoke. “Eulogies and floral arrangements and boxes for burial.”
Now, Miho looked at him, her eyes narrowed. But she said nothing, studying him, searching him. What he said was not meant to hurt her; no, he was teasing her because…
“Tell me,” she demanded in a cold hiss, turning her body to his. “Tell me I’m right.”
“Right about?” he poked, obviously enjoying the little game, pushing her because he indeed knew her well enough he knew her limits.
“I will fucking deck you, Mitsunari,” she growled, leaning forward and baring her teeth. “Tell me I am right. He isn’t dead.”
“Hot damn, you’re sexy when you get angry,” he grinned. “You really ought to wear more leather.”
He probably could have dodged, but he didn’t, so when Miho grabbed him by the tie and dragged him off his barstool, he slid off easily.
“Riding crop, too,” Baba added, allowing himself to be dragged to a booth and shoved into it.
“Cut the shit,” she hissed, dropping in opposite him. “Playtime is over.”
“A little birdy told me something fascinating,” he admitted finally, triumphant. “Did you know that DNA identification of burnt bone can be pretty reliable?”
Eyes sharp, Miho brain raced ahead to find Baba’s point before he voiced it.
“In extremely bad cases though, if someone was to use, say, white phosphorus or thermite, for example, bones don’t leave much at all – no nuclear DNA – and even mitochondrial profiles are sporadic in their reliability at best.”
“The gang he infiltrated had access to thermite and white phosphorus?” Miho blinked.
Of course, she knew Public Safety worked dangerous cases chasing really dangerous people, but for criminals to have and use dangerous chemicals like those put a whole new perspective on it.
“Maybe,” Baba mused noncommittally, “but I think the point is more that it’s highly unlikely any remains burned to that extent could be positively identified.”
Miho licked her lips.
She knew better than to ask about Baba’s sources, and knew through experience – even if she didn’t know how – that his information was always accurate.
“Captain Ishigami wouldn’t, he wouldn’t tell me it’s him if he wasn’t sure,” she exhaled to herself. “He wouldn’t accept the death of a subordinate if there was any doubt.”
“You know the guy that well?” Baba posed. “I mean, these Public Safety guys lie for a living, right?”
“To me? About that?” Miho wondered, her throat dry.
Trembling hands took her mobile phone from her pocket.
“That I don’t know the answer to,” he admitted, leaning a little closer to see what Miho was texting. “Going straight to the top, huh?”
“No, Namba’s out of town,” Miho murmured, as she fired off her text message to Liana, “but Captain Ishigami will do.”
“I wouldn’t want to be him,” Baba smirked swirling the drink he hadn’t touched yet. “You have a plan?”
“Yeah,” Miho rumbled, slipping from the barstool and throwing a fist full of money for her drinks on the counter. “I’m going to get really, really angry.”
Rationality still existed, Miho felt it tugging her in the opposite direction to her destination, but she ignored it. Her rage was a blaze bringing warmth back to the numbness of her flesh, and she allowed it to fill her to overflowing before she arrived at the restaurant Liana had unwittingly revealed as the location of Miho’s target.
“Miho?” Liana blinked, as Miho stalked between the tables – definitely a woman on a mission.
“Mrs. Goto,” Ishigami added, seeming surprised but quick to rise to his feet. “Are you alright?”
“Out of respect for our friendship and your personal and professional relationship with Seiji,” Miho began, her tone an ice-pick: cold, pointed, “I’m going to give you the opportunity to step out with me and have this conversation.”
Understandably, Ishigami looked surprised, but Liana appeared downright shocked and both their mouths hung open too long for Miho’s liking.
“Very well,” Miho grunted. “Explain the conviction you have Seiji is dead, when the extreme heat you’ve admitted rendered the remains you found to nothing but bones?”
People looked in the direction of the standing pair as they remained facing one another, though the volume of their voices was not especially loud.
“I’m no scientist, Captain,” Miho went on to fill the void once more, “or a weapon’s expert, but to reach the kind of temperatures needed to reduce human bone to the condition you found them in, in an open space like that warehouse, you’d need some seriously restricted firepower.”
“Where did you get this idea from?” Ishigami asked finally, his expression a good approximation of concerned.
“You mean, how do I know you grossly overstated the certainty of my husband’s death?” she snapped, the crack of a whip that silenced everything else in the restaurant.
“Miho,” Liana whispered, reaching for her hand, but Miho yanked it away.
“Look into his eyes, Liana,” Miho growled, pointing into Ishigami’s face. “Imagine Seiji is telling you your husband is dead, all the while you’re holding evidence it isn’t true in your hand.”
“I know this is very difficult for you,” Ishigami attempted, watching the maitre’d cautiously approach in his peripheral vision. “No one wants Lieut..”
“I am his WIFE!” she roared, and people at nearby tables flinched at the violence of her retort, the rawness of her emotion. “Difficult is an understatement I will not bear when you know he’s alive.”
“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you t…” the maitre’d interrupted, but the freeze of his jaw when Miho’s eyes fell upon him made it clear he saw death in them.
“Tell me where he is,” Miho demanded on little more than a breath, an imperative she exhaled into Ishigami’s face. “Give me the truth.”
“I can see, Mrs. Goto, the truth is too much for you at present,” Ishigami said evenly, but Liana saw him adjust his glasses – noted and filed it. “Grief is…”
“I will not mourn the living,” Miho snarled, blind to the much larger man who had come to back the maitre’d.
“Ma’am,” came a firmer, warning voice.
Miho tilted her head in some form of acknowledgement but maintained eye contact with Ishigami.
“I will never forget this pain,” she hissed, gaze like razor-wire. “And I will never forget your part in it.”
Before she could be manhandled out of the restaurant, Miho turned on her heels and strode out, to bystanders a vengeful force of wrathful energy.
(GUEST WRITER @BelXsar! Scene RPed)
There was a full moment of silence, then another, and another, before the interior of the restaurant finally started to return to its former activity before the human whirlwind that was Miho Fujisawa Goto had blown in and then just as dramatically swept out. The restaurant staff resumed their former duties, and the other patrons’ gazes went back to their dining companions, while Liana studied her husband with hers, even as he just as studiously avoided it. They had just been contemplating what to have for dessert when Miho had arrived, but it was clear that any appetite for sweets had vanished just as abruptly. With a sidelong glance towards the discarded dessert menus lying on the table, Captain Hideki Ishigami emptied his water glass, then signalled their waiter and coolly asked for the cheque. The bill paid, he got up, and his wife followed him out of the restaurant.
His hand reached out for hers on the street outside, and Liana took it, noting his grasp was on the cool side as usual but his grip a bit tighter. They strode silently, hand in hand, to where their car was parked, and he opened the door for her before sliding into the driver’s seat. As the car pulled into traffic, he still had yet to meet his wife’s gaze which had remained mostly fixed on him all the while.
On the silent drive home, Liana pulled out her phone and tapped a quick text to Jazz Mann Akiwa, hoping their shared friend would update her on what was going on when clearly her husband had no desire to do so.
Ishigami remained silent even as they arrived home. It was after they entered their flat, taken off their shoes, hung up their coats, and he seemed to be heading towards the bathroom, that Liana finally quickened her stride and cut in front of her husband, putting her hand against the wall to block his path.
Enough was enough.
She had given him the appropriate discretion while they had been in public, despite the maelstrom of questions running through her mind. Now, in the privacy of their own home, she could remain silent no longer.
“Hideki,” she said quietly, softly, yet no less firmly. “What is going on?”
Her dark blue eyes sought out his grey ones, intent.
His hand was half-way to his glasses before he actually stopped himself.
“I thought perhaps I would take a shower,” he explained, as if as much was obvious. “I have an early meeting tomorrow and will not have time in the morning.”
If he knew what she was actually getting at – and the man wasn’t a moron, so he knew – there was not a single hint of it in his expression.
Liana tilted her head slightly and gave him a look, one eyebrow raised. “Please don’t insult me, and I won’t return the favor. You know very well what I mean.”
With practised zen, Ishigami’s expression didn’t so much as twitch; still, when he spoke again, there was at least a little emotion in his tone.
“It is understandable Mrs. Goto would not wish to believe Lieutenant Goto is gone,” he explained, “and regrettable her desire seems to have manifested so strongly. You are right to be concerned; I shall organise for a counsellor to touch base with her tomorrow.”
Liana’s eyebrows drew together a little. “As passionate as Miho can be, she’s not a woman prone to hysterics. And I think you appreciate that, Hideki. This is not just a grieving widow deep in denial and going off the deep end. She said something about extreme heat, and remains being reduced to nothing. Which you didn’t deny. You’re deflecting. Whatever it is, I think Miho has proven in the past she can handle it, any truth, rather than a bunch of lies. As Lieutenant Goto’s wife, she deserves that much, at least.”
Responding seemed a little difficult for Ishigami – not because he didn’t know what to say, but because saying it to his inquisitive wife would not be easy.
“You know I cannot discuss an ongoing investigation,” he told her gently, his brows lowering just a little bit.
He wasn’t without empathy.
“Doing so could put further lives at risk, and that is the very reason rules and protocols exist.”
“Then she’s not wrong.”
Liana’s words were murmured to herself as much as her reticent husband, said in confirmation more than any triumph. She looked back up at Ishigami. “You don’t have to tell her any details. But can’t you at least indicate you’re still just trying to confirm the identification of the remains, and that it’s still an ‘ongoing investigation’? If you tell her to keep things to herself, she will. She understands the importance of discretion, as much for her husband’s safety as the case itself. Just don’t add to her trauma, Hideki. You know she’s not someone you want on the warpath against you, and that’s what’s going to happen if you keep lying to her and suggesting she’s crazy.”
His wife calling him a liar was something he knew he just had to weather. Despite his absolute devotion to the job, it hurt no less.
“I do not believe she is crazy,” he said carefully. “Grief takes a great many forms and denial can be a natural part of the mourning process.”
This wasn’t anything Liana didn’t already know.
“If I lost you,” he continued, hazarding to raise his hand toward her cheek, “I would not wish to believe it, either; I would do anything to undo it… But I cannot give this to Mrs. Goto, or to you, no matter how much we both want to alleviate her suffering.”
She looked down for a moment, shaking her head briefly before taking a breath and looking back up at her husband.
“Things don’t always have to be zero sum, you know. I believe rules exist for the spirit of such protocol rather that the strict letter of them. You don’t want to compromise an ongoing investigation, I understand that. So does Miho. But in this case, especially for her — and I’m not just saying that because she’s my friend; I think she’s proven herself in situations like this –, I think you can maintain the integrity of the investigation while not having to deceive her at the same time. Rules are a dead and static thing, made by humans to serve the needs of a situation. And by the same token, situations can change, and so we can be flexible to adapt while remaining true to overall protocol. It’s not ‘either or’ in this case, Hideki, you must be able to see that. Things need not be robotic; in fact, I think something as dynamic as a complicated investigation is best served by anything but.”
Her look was beseeching as much as it was resolute. She wanted, needed, him to understand that there was more than one alternative, and indeed, a better one existed than what dead, strict rules dictated.
His hand had reached her cheek, his thumb had been lightly grazing the skin as she spoke, but the moment she’d mentioned his way was ‘robotic’, his arm sank back to his side.
“You are operating under the assumption I do not know how to effectively perform my job,” he stated, and indeed, this time he sounded more mechanical, “that I am intentionally wounding Mrs. Goto. Please do not forget our duty is not without risk – risk Lieutenant Goto has always accepted as a necessary evil in the pursuit of people who want to destroy our way of life (writes a presidential speech). Lieutenant Goto’s death will not be in vain provided the integrity of this investigation is not compromised, and in time, Mrs. Goto’s pain will diminish.”
His stoic mask was now firmly affixed, a sure sign to his wife he had been affronted. It was rare he showed anger, whether he felt it or not; it was far more common for him to shut down.
Which is what he did – and before she could speak again he had stepped away.
“I am going to take a shower now,” he asserted.
“Is that part of the fake eulogy you’re going to give?” she threw at his retreating back before she could stop herself, her sarcastic side finding voice in her frustration.
She almost wanted to throw something at the firmly closing bathroom door, but knew it would accomplish nothing but a momentary childish satisfaction of noise to punctuate her ire. She thought she understood her husband enough to get beyond the “cyborg” persona his colleagues often referred to him as, but now she wondered how much she was really able to understand him in the dire situations when she felt she should most.
She bit her lip, and after only a moment’s thought, grabbed her phone to text a quick thanks to Jazz for what she was able to surmise by now. She followed this with a quick text to Miho:
“I believe you. I’m sorry about him.”
Liana didn’t want to go more into it than that, over what was really essentially not that secure a channel. She hoped her friend understood the “him” was her infuriatingly stubborn husband.
Liana stood halfway between the hallway and her bedroom, wondering whether she should get ready for bed or go to Miho to apologize to and try to comfort, and help, her friend. She doubted if she would get much further with Hideki tonight, though a tenacious part of her wanted to try, as well as to make him understand she was not against him, but trying to help him as well as her friend and Lieutenant Goto. Or if it would be more helpful to the situation as a whole to go to discuss things over with her friend. A chime from her phone alerting her to an incoming text helped make up her mind.
“I’m going to need more ice cream.”
It was Jazz, and no doubt Miho had chowed her way through all available potential sources to cool her ire.
“Will hijack an ice cream van and be right over. Preferences?”