"Around five," he tells me, "which is why you need to get better. This is the opening I've been waiting for, but I don't have long to act."
"Have you decided what you'll do?"
"But you won't tell me." I sip the dark liquid. "You forgot the cream." He reaches into his pocket, pulling out a packet of cream and pouring it into the cup in my hands.
"No I didn't." I narrow my eyes at him, drinking the now sweetened coffee. "You have a temperature of 101, Esther. How much sleep have you been getting lately?"
"Not a lot," I admit.
"Well, just rest for today. You need sleep more than I do."
"I don't know how you survive," I muse, shaking my head. He gets up to go, but I grab his arm to stop him. In the process, coffee splashes over the rim of the cup and onto my lap. I jerk my hand back, hissing in pain. Sighing, he tosses me a towel to clean myself with.
"Could you get me something to eat?" I request, wiping myself up.
"Just because you're sick doesn't mean you incapacitated." He heads to the kitchen anyway. I wait patiently until he returns with a plate of sliced tomatoes.
"You should save the tomatoes," I note, taking a slice and biting into it. Some of the juices stain the blanket over my legs, but I don't pay it any mind. "They're your favorite, aren't they?"
"They aren't just for you," he says, taking one for himself. It's silent as we eat, but not awkward. This happens often enough that I'm used to it.
"You haven't told me how you escaped," I remark. "I think I understand the situation with Sybil now, but how did you get away?" A slight grin appears on his face, so I prepare myself for an outrageous answer.
"I crashed a plane."
"You-!" I can't control my laughter. I have to set down my cup to keep from spilling as giggles wrack my body. "Ah!" My breath catches when pain shoots through my side. I cringe, tensing.
"Whatever stunt you pulled to escape the tower, it worsened your bullet wound," Shogo informs me, grabbing a medical kit from under the coffee table. I lift my shirt to see gauze encasing my torso, fresh blood seeping through it. "It's become deeper and wider. What did you do?"
I watch him take out ointment and a roll of bandages. "I jumped."
He pauses. "From the top floor? A fall like that should have killed you! Do you have any idea how lucky you are that this is all it did?"
"I'm aware," I mutter, knowing that what I did was completely insane. Even if I have researched how to survive things like that, I've never actually done it until now. He moves to sit on the couch, so I move my legs out of the way. "But it still hurts."
"I need to change the bandage. Could you hold your shirt out of the way?" I do as he says and he removes the dirty gauze. As he takes it off, it occurs to me that he put it on me when I was asleep. I turn my face away, recognizing the hot feeling in my face as blush. When he picks up the ointment, I stretch my hand out for it.
"I can do that myself."
"Just drink your coffee," he dismisses me, squeezing it onto his finger. I don't dare pick up the drink for fear of spilling more as he rubs the cold cream on my wound. The mixture of pain, coldness, and nearness is nearly to much for me. I have to bite the inside of my cheek, drawing blood, to keep myself still. My eyes lock shut, but that does nothing but amplify the feeling of his fingers on my skin. I bring them to open, meeting Shogo's amused smirk. He's doing this on purpose!
"Stop teasing the sick and injured," I snap, moving away from his hand. Apparently satisfied with my reaction, he replaces the ointment in the medical kit and finally gets to wrapping the gauze. "Cruel bastard."
"You're just an idiot," he retorts, tying the bandages and putting everything away.
"Am not," I argue, feeling like a child even as I say it.
"Are too." Neither of us says anything after that, going back to snacking. At some point notice that Song has flown into the room and I hold out my finger for her to land on. She flaps over to me and I pet the back of her head.
"Remember when I first got her?" I recall the time clearly. "It was my birthday, so you didn't say anything about it, but I could tell you weren't very happy about me bringing her home. I had been out at the pet store buying feed for Cranberry and overheard some of the employees talking about her. No one would by her because she had brown on her wings. They didn't know why she came like that, since all the others were pure yellow. They didn't know what to do with her. I walked right up to them and told them I'd buy her for the same price as the other canaries. They couldn't believe it. I was only sixteen at the time.
"When you saw her, you just asked if she was my new pet. I could tell you were unhappy because you didn't say anything else about it. You didn't so much as mention her again for the next few weeks. It was only when she started singing that you acknowledged her." I chuckle. "You acted like a spoiled child."
"Well, I didn't approve of you keeping the first one," he points out.
"They would have killed him had I not taken him. Most people don't want anything to do with latent criminals, and that includes the pets that they kept. I happened to hear about him from the news. Snowball, though, I found by searching, so you can blame me for that. After rescuing Cranberry, I figured there had to be more like him. I scoured the Internet and found the cockatoo."
"It would be nice if those two would just whistle tunes like this one." He pets Song's back. "They just won't be quiet sometimes."
"Hey, Shogo, have you ever wanted a pet?" I inquire absently. As far as I know, he's never had one and never shown any interest. The only animal I ever saw in his house was...something I almost want to forget.
"Maybe," he sighs. "I've never really had an interest in a creature that follows blindly. But, maybe. Perhaps I'll get a bird."
I laugh, careful not to move. "I guess it'd be some sort of song bird, wouldn't it. Nothing big and noisy so you could read in peace."
"It wouldn't matter if the bird didn't have vocal cords. It's already difficult reading here with the other two."
"Yeah, true enough." I lean my against the cushion, dropping my hand as Song hops off and onto the blanket. Look at us. Here we are, a wanted mass murderer and his childhood friend, sitting at home chatting about birds before we attempt to take down the governing system that's been in effect since we were small. It reminds me of the bird man, a criminal from long before Sybil. He was taken to the highest security prison in America, called Alcatraz. He was a genius, rarely causing trouble himself and instead provoking the other prisoners to riot. To keep him appeased, they let him keep birds. The similarities are undeniable, but I doubt he was nearly as handsome as the mastermind before me.
We're two people hunted by the law, always in danger of being caught, always in danger of dying, always in danger of making just one wrong move and ruining everything. And yet, look at us. If you were to take a picture of us and show it to someone, they'd think we're nothing but ordinary people. It's weird how a day, an hour can change from one to the next. It's like, one minute you're running for your life, and the next you're relaxing in comfort, talking like nothing happened. It's amazing how easily we can adapt to these changes without struggle. I smile, unable to keep the amusement from my face.
"Esther, why do you keep me around?" I look up at Shogo, confused. "You asked me before, so now I'm asking you. Why do you keep me around?" His face doesn't show a hint of the worry I had while asking the question. If I were to guess, I'd say he already knows the answer. He just wants to hear me say it.
"Because why not?" I yawn. This earns a grin from him. There's so much more than that, but if I were to come out and say that I like him, this little existence of ours would be over. Even if he's likely already conscious of my emotions, it's an unspoken rule that I must never voice it. "And don't answer that, it's a rhetorical question."
"Humans are inclined to hide. Even those who fight instead of flee, they'll hide from themselves what they don't want others to know."
"Sometimes I forget that I'm the therapist here." Speaking of which, "Hey, can you get my headgear? I can't take a day off from work if I can still man a computer."He brings it to me and I set up the controls to log on. As I do so, he grabs a jacket. "Where are you going?"
"Work. There's someone I need to see." I don't question him any farther, watching him leave. Once the door clicks shut behind him, I turn on the equipment and log in.
When I open my eyes, I'm in a small, private tent like that of a fortune teller's. The space is kept dim, with lavender scented candles lit to create a calming atmosphere. Outside, I can hear the faint murmur of the people in the server. Perhaps the best way to describe this word I've set up is a chat room. There are practically infinite tables where people can sit down and talk with each other. The point is to ask about how to exact revenge. I can't help everyone that comes in, so not only are there other therapists I've invited to help out, but people help each other. What I do is wander from table to table and pick people who look like they're seriously struggling and take them back to my tent. I've never had a person leave my tent discontent.
I poke at my fangs with my tongue, annoyed. I really wish I could get rid of these. With a flourish of leathery wings, I stand from my chair and float out of the dwelling. Almost instantly, I notice a floating coin separate from the rest.
"You seem troubled," I approach him. I found out soon after discovering Akane's character's Lemonade Candy that this is Inspector Ginoza's avatar. He's one of the people I least expected to encounter here. "Would you like to come to my tent and speak with me?" My voice is automated to come out silky smooth and heavy, almost like a hypnotist's. Everything I designed to make my server the pinnacle of comfort.
"Yes, I came here to see you." I guide him back, taking a seat. I have to withhold a chuckle when his floating coin avatar leaps up onto the chair across from me. "I want to tell you I'm not here for revenge. I discovered you're an anonymous therapist who doesn't ever interact with her patients in reality, so I thought that maybe you could help me."
"I understand. I shall do my best to assist you," I accept, bowing my head to him.
"In my line of work, it's a given that people will possibly become latent criminals. It's particularly stressful and known for raising people's psycho passes, but I would prefer you not ask as to what it is."
"Go on," I prompt.
"Recently I've been going to see a therapist in the real world. My psycho pass has been raising, and I'm afraid I will follow the path of a previous colleague of mine. Although he suggested me for intense therapy, I just cannot afford to take a break from my job right now. Is there any advice you could give to me?"
"I see..." I ponder. It's quite possible he can't take time off due to Shogo's activity, and also due to Kaguri's disappearance. Unfortunately, I feel that if Kaguri discovered Sybil's true form while in the basement, he's gone for good. "That is most troublesome if you cannot take the therapy. What is it about your job that has been causing you to stress recently? Surely if it's happened to a friend of your in the past, you've been able to keep your hue clear for this long. What has changed?"
"A lot, actually. I can't disclose the details, but we have a new subject and two of us are missing."
Two? I knew Kaguri was missing, but who else? The only two I didn't see the other day were Akane and Kougami. So that means it was one of them?
"It sounds as if you need to take a step back. It would be excellent if you could take time off, but since you can't, try to look at things from a different angle. If you don't think you can, surely there is a coworker of yours that you can entrust yourself to. I don't mean to burden them, but try actually working together instead of separately. It should reduce stress on the both of you, overall. As for your missing companions, there will be time to worry about them. In this situation, it's best to keep your emotions and work in their own respective worlds. Again, I will say that if you can take a break for any length of time, that is your best option. Even without the therapy, I believe it would help you recover and highly encourage it. This has been helpful, I hope?"
"It has. Thank you for your time."
When Ginoza leaves the tent, I don't budge. Not only is the inspector's crime coefficient trembling, but another person is missing. It can't be Akane, because he accepted my advice on teaming up with a colleague, so that means it's Kougami. Kougami's missing? When did this happen? There wasn't any sign of it when I checked the reports yesterday. I know for a fact he didn't go down into the basement. He came up and fought Shogo, and was likely treated for his wounds afterwards. So if that's not how he vanished, what happened? Did he do it of his own will? He's a very obstinate personality, so would that be surprising?
Well, I guess I know what Shogo and I will be talking about when he gets home.