Several days passed. Even if Sakura had her own worries, her training course continued. No matter what was going on in her personal affairs, that didn't mean she could slack off.
Even after the events of that day, nothing around Sakura had seemed apparently different. The only difference from before was that Sakura herself was jumpy and extremely on edge. Once, she had actually seriously wondered whether she might be able to somehow sneak home the pistol she used for shooting practise, but came to the conclusion that it was just impossible. A scandal at the institute would turn into a huge issue. Firearms were particularly strictly controlled. If even one were to go missing, it would be discovered within the day. It didn't matter that they would have to go through all of the many people involved with the institute, trainees included; it would take them no time at all for her to be found out.
For the time being, in order to protect herself, Sakura purchased a small survival knife at an outdoor gear shop, keeping it inside the large bag she always kept on her person. She also made sure to walk around with her personal attack alarm in her pocket at all times. It drove her mad to know that she was in danger, but not being able to do any more about it than this. Maybe she would have a nervous breakdown before anyone had the chance to attack.
But Sakura still couldn't decide what she should do next. She hadn't found anyone whose advice she could seek, either. It seemed like if she were to divulge everything to Sumio Kodai in his detention centre and talk it over with him, it would probably stay between them. Despite being a cop, he had used his position and committed crimes in order to bury his own past. It was unthinkable that he might have joined forces with a political power to climb the career ladder or for his own security.
Still, Sakura had already compled her data on criminals and handed it in to her instructor. She told the instructor that she would like to meet with Kodai, but he obstinately enquired as to what she could possibly want to see him for, as she was already done writing up the data, and her request was denied. With no one to open up to, Sakura was isolated.
Finally, the weekend arrived. Sakura holed herself up inside her apartment. She had felt a little relief at not having to go outside, but was still left anxious by the idea of someone trying to force their way in while she was home alone. She considered asking a friend whether she might be able to stay over at their place, but was afraid of getting someone else mixed up in it and gave up on the idea.
In the end, there was no place where Sakura could feel at ease right now. Ever since that morning, she had spent half the day wandering restlessly around her one-room apartment, from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom, unable to settle in one place due to unease and irritation.
As evening began to approach, she finally grew tired of walking circles around her cramped room. The time on the clock was close to six. Now that she thought of it, Sakura realised that she hadn't eaten anything all day. Perhaps due to the nerves and anxiety, thirsty was all she had been, gulping down coffee and cola and water, but feeling no appetite whatsoever. Thanks to all of the drinking, Sakura still had no appetite, but headed to the kitchen, deciding that she should try to eat something anyway. She would be in trouble if she came down with anaemia at a critical moment. She was determined to eat when she was able.
...Or that had been the plan, at least, but she probably didn't even have the proper ingredients. The last time Sakura had visited the supermarket and bought proper food, rather than ready meals and instant products - in other words, meat, vegetables and fish - had been around the start of last week, hadn't it? She opened the fridge and, as expected, all she found inside was margarine, stale cheese, and yoghurt long past its expiration date, along with some plastic bottles of water and cola.
Completely losing her motivation, Sakura filled the kettle with water and put it on. She still had a spaghetti ready meal in the cupboard. Anything would do at this point. As she waited for the kettle to boil, she sat on the living room floor and turned on the TV with the remote control. Perhaps due to her nerves, even the slightest of noise bothered her, and she hadn't put the TV on all day.
The six o'clock news was about to begin. The news reported that the fourth victim in the "Jack the Ripper" case had been identified. As suspected, it had apparently been a 22-year-old woman. The reason why it had taken so long was seemingly because the victim had nothing on her person that would prove her identity, she lived alone and had no family, and no one had reported her missing.
No further victims had been found since then. The investigation had probably hit a wall. That was all the news there was to do with the serial murders. The investigators of the Heinous Crimes Unit must be desperately going about their jobs right about now. They were likely looking into even the smallest of clues or vaguest of testimony, fumbling their way through the investigation.
She changed the channel, and saw that they were showing a special feature on the serial killer Jack the Ripper on another station. They had gone back as far as the very first victim, using a combination of footage from the time of the victim's discovery and stories from the people she had known.
A video was shown of the Chief Director sitting on stage and explaining a summary of the case to a group of journalists. Sakura had met him once, at her father's funeral. Beside him sat that creep, Nakategawa. Also visible in the corner of the footage, mostly cut off, she could see Tetsugoro Kusabi. He, who had been a friend of her father, had of course also attended the funeral that January, yet he didn't seem to have changed much at all since she had met him as a child. The face of the Kusabi pictured on-screen now, however, appeared strangely old.
Since the last time Sakura had seen Kusabi's face, he had hunted down and arrested the younger detective he had had great expectations of by his own hand. He must be involved in the investigation of this case, too. Of course he couldn't hide the hints of exhaustion at the case coming to a total standstill. Sakura saw her father in Kusabi's haggard expression.
I should talk to him about it, she decided. Even if Kusabi betrayed her, she would cross that bridge when she came to it. And if she were betrayed by someone her father had considered a friend, that would just mean that they were both terrible judges of character.
Sakura hurriedly made print-outs of the disk, storing them inside a clear plastic folder. She stuffed the folder into a large bag she rarely used, large enough to hold A4 size documents. She hesitated momentarily, slipped the disk back to its spot inside the photo album, and put it away in the closet. Still wearing her jeans and jumper, she donned an olive green nylon hoodie.
I should take the knife and alarm with me, just to be sure.
As she went to dig the alarm out of the pocket of the jacket she had been wearing the day before, the intercom bell chimed. Sakura jumped in shock. She stiffened up, and another chime sounded. Pressing her hand to her still-racing heart, she slowly walked over to the intercom on the wall.
"...Yes?" she said into the receiver cautiously.
"This is Sawaguchi. I'm at the entrance downstairs right now. Maybe I'm a bit early. We agreed on 6:30, right?" she heard him say in a carefree voice. Sakura just now realised that she had completely forgotten about the date they had made that day.
"I-I'm sorry!" she said, reflexively apologising into the receiver.
"Huh? What for?" he said, sounding bewildered.
"I want to cancel our date for today. I'm really sorry!" she blurted, and was met with silence from the other end.
"...Alright. But if it's okay with you, I'd like to at least see your face," Minato said with a sigh, unable to conceal his dejection.
"Okay. I'll be right down."
Sakura lifted up her bag, hurriedly pulling on her favourite sneakers and leaving the apartment. She took the elevator down, and on the other side of the auto-locking glass door she could see Minato, standing in the foyer, looking like he wasn't sure what to do with his lanky frame. He didn't seem particularly dressed up, just like he had perhaps paid a little more attention to his appearance than he had when she had seen him before at the diner. He wore a dark orange jumper under a charcoal grey leather jacket, chinos and brown loafers.
"I'm sorry, I really am."
She apologised as she opened the door and stepped out into the foyer. Minato appeared surprised at her holding a bag and wearing a hoodie.
"What's wrong? Did something urgent come up?"
"Yeah. I've gotta go out right now. There's someone I need to see and speak to as soon as possible."
"...Hmph. Can I ask you something?"
"Is it a guy?"
Sakura burst out laughing at Minato's strangely grave expression. "No! Well, yeah, but not like the sort you're thinking of. He's with the police. He was a friend of my dad... Anyway, sorry about today. I'll make up for it some other time."
As Sakura tried to hurry away, Minato called her back.
"Are you in a hurry? Let me give you a ride, then. Where to?"
Sakura hesitated for a moment.
"I've come all the way here. Might as well make use of me. It's not like I have any plans, now, anyway," Minato said miserably, letting out an exaggerated sigh. Sakura smiled wryly.
"Alright, then. Please."
"Great. I'm parked out front."
The pair left the apartment building side by side.
"I wanna go to Precinct 24 headquarters."
"Area A, right? Got it."
Minato drove off right away. The autumn sunlight dimmed in the blink of an eye, and evening fell. The lights on the street corners were already on. With it being a day off, the route leading to the government district was deserted. Who would spend their day off in a place with nothing to offer but rows of dreary buildings by choice?
Along the way, Sakura watched the lights of the showy roadside shops and the figures of the people gathered there as they passed by, like they were in another universe. She, too, should have been spending her weekend night having some carefree fun, just like them. This had been the first time she had agreed to a date with somebody since she had joined the institute. It wasn't that none of her fellow students hadn't asked her, exactly, but Sakura hadn't felt like it.
"You're pretty quiet. What's wrong?" Minato asked, breaking the silence.
"I was just thinking about how much I want to get this over with and deal with this nuisance."
"Something is being a nuisance for you?"
"I wouldn't be going to talk to the police if something wasn't up."
"Well, yeah, I guess. I hope you get it dealt with soon, too."
At the intersection close to the area where the Precinct 24 building would begin to come into view, Minato unexpectedly turned onto the road leading in the opposite direction from the station.
"You're going the wrong way."
"Yeah. ...Do you mind if we take a bit of a detour?"
Sakura looked dubious. "What for?"
"There's something I've been really wanting to show you. Honestly, I wanted to take you there casually after we'd grabbed something to eat today. It'll only take about ten minutes. That's okay, right? It's right over there. We're already here."
Minato stopped the car in front of a building as he spoke. He was right; Precinct 24 was still within walking distance.
"Alright. But really just for ten minutes. Sorry."
Sakura nodded reluctantly, and Minato gave her a happy smile.
"Then let's go."
At Minato's urging, Sakura got out of the car.
"This is the building," he said, and Sakura looked up at it.
It wasn't tall enough to be called a high-rise, but the building was a fairly imposing one, more than ten storeys high, constructed on a large lot.
"We can go inside? It looks shut to me."
"We can. I have the key."
Minato took out a card key, sliding it through a slit beside the front door. The automatic door opened quietly.
"Why would you have something like that?" Sakura asked, confused.
"This place belongs to my family, after all."
Sakura almost made a noise in surprise, but hurriedly suppressed it. He was the son of the people who owned a place like that?
"Your folks are rolling in it!?"
"That's right," Minato said in response to Sakura's query, not seeming particularly shy about it.
"Then what're you doing working at a place where you don't even have time to eat properly!?"
"What do you mean, why? Because it's my job. Whether or not my parents own a building has nothing to do with my job, does it?"
Sakura felt like she sort of understood what he was saying, even if not totally, but he didn't seem to be nothing more than a spoilt little rich brat.
"Did you bring me here to show me this building?"
"No. What part of looking at a building like this would be in any way enjoyable?"
Minato beckoned to Sakura to go inside the opened door.
The main lights in the ceiling of the entrance atrium were off, making it gloomy, but the underfoot lighting and elevator signal light were on.
"It's upstairs. The elevator still works, so we'll be alright."
Still unable to recover from her shock, Sakura followed after Minato. The two got off the elevator on the 15th and highest floor. They walked down the hallway, and Minato opened a heavy iron fire door at the end.
"The emergency stairs?"
"Yeah. They lead up to the roof. We could've used the emergency stairs on the outside, too, but that would involve 15 flights' worth of climbing."
After climbing about a single floor of stairs, there stood a large iron door.
"Isn't it locked?"
Minato ran the card key through the slot beside the door, pushing it open with a loud creak. A gust of cold air suddenly blew inside.
Minato took a step forward, holding the door and turning to Sakura. Sakura did as she was told, stepping out onto the roof.
A strong wind blew on the roof of the tall building, making the hem of her hoodie flutter. As she looked beyond the railings that surrounded the roof, Sakura gasped. Before her spread a view of Area A through to Area C, studding the night skyline like jewels. Right in the centre was the Ward 24 Symbol Tower, beautifully illuminated and glowing magnificently.
"It's pretty, isn't it?" Minato said from right behind her. Sakura nodded, not taking her eyes off of the scenery. "I wanted you to see this, just once."
Sakura turned around. "Thanks."
The lanky Minato's jaw appeared close by, where he could almost brush against her cheek. Sakura looked up at him, but it wasn't Sakura he was watching. His gaze stared straight beyond her, resting upon the Symbol Tower in the middle of the night skyline.
"...It's pretty, isn't it? Don't you think the tower looks just like a Christmas tree?"
For a moment, something lurking within Minato's tone felt off to Sakura.
"Like a Christmas tree? Yeah, it does," she agreed, ignoring it.
"Right? I love this view at night. I feel calm when I come here. The view looks a lot like the scenery of the place where I come from. You remember our old home, don't you? That dark, silent place with the buildings like Christmas trees is our home."
Minato slowly looked down at Sakura. A subtle yet huge change had overtaken his features. It was definitely Minato's own face, but now it was like the face of someone else entirely, a side of him Sakura had not seen before. A smile appeared upon his thin lips. It was an icy cold, merciless smile.
Sakura was instantly lost for words. From the second the words left his mouth, she should have known everything, but she still didn't feel like she properly understood. She didn't want to understand. Still with the cold smile on his face, Minato bent forwards and moved his face closer to Sakura's.
"I thought you of all people would understand. I knew all along. I knew that you were the messiah."
"Messiah? I have no idea what you're talking about," Sakura said, backing away with small steps.
She had to get as far away from this place, from near Minato, as possible. She had to flee. As Sakura wondered whether she had anything on her that she could use as a weapon, she remembered that she had left both the alarm and the knife at home in her hurry to leave. She had gone to switch them from the bag she always used, and just left it there. Kicking herself for leaving herself defenceless like an amateur, however, wasn't going to do her any good now.
Minato suddenly grabbed Sakura by the arm and pulled her towards him, as if knowing what was going through her head.
"You're not gonna go running away from me or anything now, are you?"
"I won't run. Just let go of my arm. You're hurting me."
But Minato didn't let go. Still gripping Sakura's arm with his left hand, he slipped his right hand into his jacket pocket and produced something. He held a small, sharp blade that reflected the light, glinting silver in the moonlight. It was a medical scalpel. Minato pressed its point against the base of Sakura's throat. A shudder ran through her whole body.
"...You killed them all, didn't you? Those four women... And Kana, too."
"Because they were all wrong. I just wanted to be saved. They said they didn't understand. And they tried to run away from me. So I made them into offerings. Offerings for the messiah I knew had to be somewhere out there, watching," Minato said, his voice child-like.
"What do you mean?"
"Because I'm gonna break soon. I had to find them, before I broke. I had to find the messiah. You're gonna save me, aren't you?"
"Break? Why?" Sakura asked calmly, watching for a chance to shake him off.
"There's something inside me that's not me, so I'm always getting confused. I don't know what to do. So I do all kinds of things without knowing about it. I pushed one of the kids in my class in elementary school out of the window. I said it wasn't me, and the kid didn't say it was my fault. He was too scared to say. But I knew what I did, what the me inside me did. That time my dog died, too, I ended up somehow with blood on my hands, but nobody knows about that. It wasn't my fault. Somebody else writes in my diary without me knowing, too. They tell me to do all these things, and they write it in there. But it's not my fault. It's not my fault that I do all these things. It's because I'm broken."
"You're a Kamui copy, aren't you?"
"Yeah. And you're Ayame, right?"
"Did you kill those other women because they were Ayame, too?"
"No! Don't you get it yet? I told you already. They were all wrong. They didn't know about the dark place or the Christmas tree buildings. So they couldn't save me. So they all died."
Minato's speech grew more and more awkward and childish.
"They didn't die. You killed them."
"Killed them? I did...? Oh, right. Why did I kill them...?" Minato murmured, sounding bewildered.
The next moment, there was a sudden shift in his expression. A grief-filled light dwelled within his eyes.
"Run," he said in a strained voice.
The point of the knife pressed against her throat moved away slightly. Sakura didn't pass up the chance. Shaking off his scalpel-holding right hand, she twisted her body around and freed her gripped arm. Now that her body was free, she ran over to the door they had come from, but the iron door was already locked.
Turning around, Sakura saw Minato approaching slowly. She scanned the area. There was a spot in the corner of the roof where the fence cut off, with a low door set into it. Did it lead to the external emergency stairs?
She swiftly evaded the lanky frame of the approaching Minato. He grabbed onto the strap of the bag hanging from her shoulder. Sakura shook the bag fully off and ran.
On the other side of the latticed door was, as she had suspected, an emergency staircase. The narrow, iron spiral stairs were surrounded by a fence, stretching far down below at the height of all 15 storeys. With zero hesitation, Sakura grabbed onto the door and vaulted over it, making her training at the institute feel actually useful.
Sakura ran down the steps with extreme speed. After making it down several flights she checked behind her, but there was no sign that she had been followed. That just terrified Sakura even more. He had the key. If he used the elevator and lay in wait at the bottom, Sakura would be left with nowhere to run. The same could be said of her returning to the roof, however. She would have no choice but to rush past him. Making her mind up in an instant, Sakura continued to run. She made sure to check each door along the way, but, of course, they were all locked.
How far had she descended? Lost in hurrying down the seemingly endless stairs, Sakura had lost her sense of position. She was out of breath, her knees wobbly, and nearly fell on her face several times along the way. Each time she did so she grabbed onto the railing beside her, using it to support her body. She noticed that her palms were cut, leaving bloodstains on the railings where she had gripped them. And still Sakura ran. There was no other way she could survive.
And then it happened, born from a single moment of carelessness. A white plastic carrier bag from a convenience store that had been blown in from somewhere was lying on one of the iron steps. By the time she realised, she had already stepped on it. Her shoe slipped, sending her crashing down about ten steps of the wide staircase. She finally came to a stop on the landing of the floor below, her hips and back slamming against it extremely hard.
The pain running throughout her whole body made it hard to breathe, and Sakura couldn't get up right away. She felt her consciousness drifting. This is bad, she thought hazily. She stretched out her numb fingers forcibly, grabbing onto the railing beside her. She felt a sharp pain in her cut palms as they made contact with it, dragging her finally back to consciousness.
Sakura tried to stand, but seemed to have surpassed her limit long ago, and her legs wouldn't do what she told them to. But still she clung to the railings by her fingers, somehow dragging herself to feet. She had to get out of here. Then, Sakura heard the thing she had feared most of all: someone was coming up the stairs. He approached at a steady pace, one step at a time, not seeming in any particular hurry. Immediately, her hands flew to the emergency door set into the side of the landing. Of course, it was locked.
Perhaps having noticed Sakura moving around, the footsteps grew faster. Sakura desperately dragged along her uncooperative legs, almost crawling up the stairs, trying to get back to where she had come from. Before she could climb more than a few steps, she began to see a figure coming up the spiral stairs from below. She glimpsed the head of a lanky frame, then his shoulders, followed by his torso. As he drew steadily closer, she saw his whole body.
Finally, he came to a stop before Sakura. Having used up all of her strength, still panting, she slumped to the ground midway up the stairs. Sakura looked up at him, glaring with all her might. Minato looked back at her in confusion.
"Why are you running?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"You're Ayame, aren't you? Then I want you to do what you're supposed to do."
"What do you mean?"
"Ayame was raised to oppose Kamui. You can destroy the Kamui inside me, can't you? Do it and save me. Before I break completely..."
"I... I can't do that. I can't do anything about the fact that "Kamui" was planted inside you. You need to have a specialist deal with that. Your mental balance is off, that's all. A specialist doctor can help you get it back to normal, I know it. Let's do that, okay?"
"Specialists? Doctors? They can't do anything. All they do is give a little helping hand to things that will mend themselves anyway. People who get better would get better even if you left them alone. That's why there's no hope for me. I'm gonna break soon. If you leave me alone, I'll just keep breaking. You're the only one who can save me. If you say you don't wanna save me, then I'll..."
He slipped out the small blade.
"Get ahold of yourself! You're not Kamui! You're Minato Sawaguchi, aren't you!? You work really hard at the hospital. You love sweet things, and you listen eagerly to people's stories. You're Minato, not Kamui!" Sakura appealed in a raised voice.
Minato stood there, frozen to the spot, still gripping the scalpel in his right hand. It was dark, and she couldn't see his face properly.
"You know all about the Shelter Kids Project, don't you?" Minato said abruptly, his voice despondent.
Had his senses come back to him? Although dubious, Sakura forced herself to answer calmly.
"Do the other participants know? Do they know what was planted inside them?"
"I don't think most of them do, no."
"Why do you know?"
"My dad was investigating it. I found the documents."
"...Oh, right. You mentioned your father being a police officer."
"How did you learn about it?"
"My professor at university participated in the project. I found out about it from the university database. It was a coincidence. I was looking up materials for my thesis, and there it was. It was locked, but I broke in, because I was curious. Whatever I look like, I was a great student in whatever I did.
"It was simple curiosity. Of course, by then I had already figured out for myself that I had a dissociative identity. Maybe that's why I ended up in medicine. I planned to go into psychiatry at first. I wanted to learn more about myself. I wanted to do something about it by myself. But when I saw those documents, when I learned what the Primary Shelter Kids Project I participated in had been carrying out, I knew it was all pointless. I mean, of course it was, right? How would I fix a pattern planted in me so strongly by myself?
"After that, my symptoms slowly got worse. I would be talking to someone in a strange place, or wake up and find my legs covered in mud. I was the one who killed those women. I think so. All of them, including your friend. I don't know why I killed them. Honestly, I feel like it was all a dream. It doesn't feel real. How much of it is me, and how much of it isn't? What have I done with my own two hands? It's all fuzzy. This is my limit. ...I'm gonna break soon."
Sakura got up slowly. Her legs finally seemed to be starting to listen to her again.
"That's not true. I went through the same project you did, and I haven't broken yet. I'm anxious, but I know what it is now. I can stand up to it. It was you who told me that. It's okay. Don't give up yet. You can still get treatment. Let's go to the police. We can start over from the beginning."
"I can't. I'm... broken..."
Minato's voice changed as he spoke, becoming strangely high-pitched and shrill.
"I wanna be saved... But I can't be... Everybody runs away from me. They're scared of me. And now you're gonna abandon me, too. Even though you're not like the others, you're Ayame. Why won't you help me?"
Minato slashed his right hand sideways in irritation. Sakura barely managed to evade it, but the point of the sharp scalpel grazed the tip of her nose. Minato quickly grabbed her left shoulder, pressing her against the stairs. She felt him push the cold blade against her throat once more. There was nowhere left to run.
Then, suddenly, a dazzling light shone all around.
"Hold it right there. Drop the weapon," a man's voice yelled.
Sakura looked in its direction, and saw someone slowly climbing the stairs, shining a light on them. The backlighting made it impossible to see who the one holding the light was. She heard the sound of an emergency door opening somewhere above, followed by dozens of footsteps. They were coming towards her. Minato watched, stunned, as the blinding light climbed.
Minato pressed the scalpel tightly to Sakura's neck. She felt pain, and a warm liquid dripping from the base of her throat towards her collarbone. The gradually approaching light stilled.
"Settle down. There's nowhere to run. Settle down and let the woman go. Don't add any more crimes to the list. Drop the weapon and surrender."
The man holding the light spoke desperately, as if trying to distract him. Minato turned his head, looking down expressionlessly at Sakura. Although he was lit up brightly by the light, Sakura didn't know who Minato was right then. Finally, a tear rolled down Minato's cheek as he stared at her. The scalpel moved away from Sakura's neck.
"Minato...? That's right, let's stop this. Throw that away. We have to get out of here. Let's go someplace brighter, together."
Minato shook his head slowly, then placed the sharply-glinting point of the scalpel to his own throat.
The silver blade sank silently into the skin beneath his left ear. Minato slashed his arm across to the right. Fresh blood showered Sakura from above with a gurgling sound. Minato collapsed onto the iron landing, face up. It had all happened right before Sakura's eyes in the space of a second.
"Noooooo!" Sakura shrieked.
As if the scream had been some sort of signal, uniformed police officers flooded towards her from above and below.
"Are you hurt?"
A plain clothes officer stooped down in front of Sakura, peering into her face. Still stunned, she looked up mechanically. It was Special Agent Nakategawa. Not a hair was out of place, as always, from his hairstyle to his outfit and the toes of his shoes.
"I'm fine. This isn't my blood," Sakura answered in a murmur.
She felt something drip through her hair, onto her forehead and down her cheek. She reflexively wiped her face with the back of her hand, smelling iron and feeling the sticky tepidness of blood.
"Actually, your neck is cut."
Nakategawa produced a crisply pressed handkerchief and attempted to press it to Sakura's neck. She shook her head and ducked out of the way.
"It'll get all bloody. The smell of blood will never come out."
Nakategawa looked petulant.
"You must be fine if you're capable of sarcasm. Can you stand by yourself?"
Sakura nodded, grabbing onto the railing and slowly getting to her feet. Her fingertips were slick and wet with bright red blood, and she almost lost her balance. She didn't even see the hand outstretched by Nakategawa in support.
Minato's brown loafers lay mere inches away from Sakura's feet. Now they were stained with red liquid, creating a speckled pattern. Sakura took a step towards him as he lay there, surrounded by policemen. A red thread of blood still trickled little by little from the wound in his throat, but he had already gone completely still. His eyelids, beginning to turn pale, were quietly closed. Despite the dark red stains covering it, his face seemed peaceful.
"Let's go. We can get your wound treated over there. We'll get you a change of clothes, too," Nakategawa urged Sakura as she stood frozen.
Sakura's head and upper body were stained all over with Minato's blood.
"Oh, and this. It's yours, isn't it? It was lying on the roof."
The bag he held out was Sakura's, which she had shaken off during the rooftop struggle with Minato. One of the straps was broken. She nodded silently. Nakategawa shouldered the single-strapped bag on his own shoulder.
"Let's just get out of here. Come on."
Sakura did as she was told, climbing the stairs accompanied by Nakategawa. Agents were busily coming and going through the emergency door that still stood flung open.
"Did you look inside the bag?" Sakura asked Nakategawa, suddenly thinking of it.
"No. I would never go looking through a lady's things without good reason," Nakategawa replied, as if such a thing were unthinkable. "Is there something important inside?"
"...No. It doesn't matter anymore."
Nakagawa listened to Sakura's response with a look of suspicion, but pushed the subject no further.
Despite insisting that she was unharmed, Sakura was crammed forcibly into an ambulance that waited at the foot of the building and ferried to the police hospital. After washing off the blood that covered her all over in the staff shower, she changed into some borrowed pyjamas. Her underwear had been bought from a store within the hospital and brought to her by a nurse. Her sneakers were flecked with bloodstains, too, but they were bearable. Her white socks were loose and drenched with sweat, so instead she went barefoot under her sneakers rather than have to put them on.
After a cursory examination, Sakura found that she was covered in more wounds than she had thought. Not only were her hips and back hurt, but her elbows and knees were battered; her palms were scraped; and there were shallow knife wounds to her cheek and neck. Her forehead was also red and swollen, with a bruise emerging and beginning to turn purple. She must have got it during one of her many near tumbles as she was racing down the steps. Gauze had been exaggeratedly applied to her neck and cheek, and alongside the contusion on her forehead, Sakura thought she looked so pitiful that even she couldn't help but laugh.
Arms wrapped around a vinyl bag contained her blood-soaked clothes, Sakura left the exam room. Still with her bag hanging from his shoulder, Nakategawa sat in the waiting room.
"Let's leave the questioning for another day, shall we? The man responsible is dead, after all. One day can't hurt. Go home for today and get plenty of rest. The doctor said the same."
Nakategawa took the large vinyl bag of clothes, wet and heavy, from Sakura. As she stood there wearing nothing but a pair of light hospital pyjamas, he gently wrapped his own coat around her shoulders. It was a raincoat with the logo of a top brand household name sewn casually into the lining. Sakura looked up at Nakategawa, her face vacant.
"...It'll reek of disinfectant."
"Then please have it dry cleaned before you return it."
Sakura returned home in a police car. Nakategawa had gone back to the crime scene, but had sent a uniformed officer to escort her in his stead. The officer who saw Sakura home stayed with her until she had gone inside her own apartment, turned on the lights and looked around inside.
Once he had left, Sakura locked the now double lock. Now alone, all of the strength suddenly left her body. She dropped the coat on the floor, collapsing into her bed. The sedative she had been given at the hospital appeared to be working, as she was out like a light. She practically fell into sleep, deep and dreamless.
The next day, Sakura headed for Precinct 24 in accordance with her summons for questioning. Nakategawa personally asked her about her relationship with Minato, the circumstances of the day prior, and so on. One of the things she heard during the questioning was that yesterday, around the time Sakura was about to leave with Minato, he had already been wanted by the police. While they had been combing painstakingly through the four previous victims' acquaintances, there had apparently been one name that kept popping up: Minato Sawaguchi.
A policeman out on patrol had spotted Minato's car parked outside of the building, realised that it was a car on the police's wanted list, and radioed it in to HQ. Since the building belonged to Minato's family, they had guessed that he was hiding out there and begun to search it. A policeman standing guard outside had heard Sakura's footsteps and caught sight of her running down the external stairs, and began to climb up from below. There, they had come upon Sakura and Minato.
Sakura answered everything she was asked honestly. She talked about coincidentally meeting Minato at the university hospital; that they had later been reunited at the diner, and promised to see each other again; about leaving together in his car the day before. Sakura did not, however, mention that she had cancelled the date and instead been making for Precinct 24.
"Was that as far as your relationship with him went?"
"You mean you weren't an item?"
"No. We'd only seen each other three times. On the third of those times, he tried to kill me."
Sakura spoke as if it were something that had happened to someone else. She no longer had the determination to publicly expose the details of the Shelter Kids programme.
A few hours later, she was released and left the station. She had never met with Kusabi. Another case had come in, and he was out. What would things be like now if Sakura had met with Kusabi the day earlier and told him everything? If she went public with the details of the project, those around her would probably make a huge stir, but maybe Minato could've been taken in alive.
It was pointless thinking about it now. Sakura had burned all of the print-outs of the data to ashes in her kitchen before heading to be questioned. The disk alone remained, still hidden where it had been all along inside the cover of the photo album. She planned to fix the cover and seal it exactly as it had been before. She couldn't make herself destroy something her father had gone to such pains to find out and leave behind so easily.
The day after her questioning, Sakura began attending the institute again. As soon as the coat she had borrowed came back from the dry cleaner she had sent it back to him, addressed to Precinct 24.
Sakura's daily life went back to normal. Her days were busy, just as they had been. The curriculum grew tougher and tougher at the institute as graduation loomed.
After her neighbour, Chinami, learned of Sakura's misfortune, she had begun making frequent trips to Sakura's apartment, bringing large amounts of food with her. Since hearing that Minato Sawaguchi had been "Jack the Ripper" on the news, Chinami had been horribly depressed. She seemed to believe that it was her fault that Sakura had been attacked, since she had urged her to go on a date with Minato, feeling guilty and constantly apologising to Sakura for it.
"I'm sorry, Sakura. I really am. I was irresponsible telling you go to out with a man like that, and you..."
"Cut that out," Sakura responded to Chinami with a smile as she apologised, her face earnest. "I'm not a little girl anymore. I'm perfectly capable of choosing who to go out on dates with for myself. And it's not like I agreed to a date with him because you encouraged me to, either."
"Well, I suppose. But look, you're covered in bruises. A young, unmarried girl like you... It's so painful to look at..."
Chinami teared up, looking at Sakura's face, where the bruises had grown darker as she had recovered.
"Hey, don't talk like such an old lady. Come on, Chinami. Your mascara will run if you cry."
"Oh, darn it. My tears'll turn black."
Watching Chinami hurry to the bathroom to check herself in the mirror, Sakura smiled. Bit by bit, the wounds in her heart felt like they were healing alongside the ones on her body.
I'm okay. I can manage. I won't break.