Just as we were seeing off the police cruiser carrying Touko-san, Sousei-san said without a trace of timidity, “Oh, I forgot.”
When I asked, he had forgotten that he had left Tohru Momochi, known as Futodama, in a clump of bushes. That was bad, of course, and so we hurried toward the overgrown bushes, removed from the grounds of Iwato Apartments.
Tohru Momochi, known as Futodama, was still blindfolded, gagged, and tied hand and foot, but he had regained consciousness, and when we came running, he was rolling across the gravel on the ground, groaning.
We freed Futodama from his restraints, and he spoke in a childish voice matching his age. “D-Don’t think you’ll get away with this!” The first words out of his mouth were quite abusive.
“My papa and mama are executives of a foreign company! They’re really important! That awful woman! I’ll ask them to make sure she gets the death penalty!”
He was yelling hysterically, but Futodama’s shrill voice, which had not yet broken, only sounded to me like that of a child throwing a tantrum and asking to be bought a toy.
“Bastard! Where’s our thank you for saving you?”
Sousei-san stormed closer to Futodama, barely restraining himself from striking him.
“Sousei-san! Calm down!”
Flustered, I spread both arms and forced my way between them.
It was not entirely for Futodama’s sake. Rather, it was somewhat for Touko-san’s sake, but it was a fact that we had risked our lives to protect the boy. In particular, Sousei-san’s body had been damaged saving the boy, but he received only abuse in return. It was not unreasonable for him to become enraged.
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about! Why should I thank you? Aren’t you police? It’s the police’s job to protect regular people! I didn’t do anything wrong but something really dangerous happened to me! That’s negligence! I should be saying you’re useless! I’m gonna write all about how the police messed up and bash you on the Internet!”
Even though Futodama appeared scared, some of his confidence leaked through in his tone.
“If you’re my enemy on the Internet! No one can stand up to me, not even the police or politicians!”
He took pride in his influence on the Internet. His gaze was rude and scornful of others and his eyes corrupt. His smile was so vulgar I could not think of it as that of a child.
“Huh? You’re saying you didn’t do anything wrong!? Bastard! Are you serious!? A lot of people died ‘cause of you ‘Five Togakushi Judges’!”
“T-That’s not true! It’s not my fault! All I did was post on the Internet! It’s not like I really shot or stabbed them!”
“I can’t take this anymore! If you don’t get what’s coming out of my mouth, then I’ll have to teach you with my fists!”
“Move! Don’t stop me, Naoto! This brat won’t get it unless he suffers from it!”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I think so too.”
Sousei-san raised his voice in confusion and stopped moving, as if he had not expected me to agree.
In the next moment, a dry sound resounded up into the blue sky. Just then, I had struck the boy with my open palm.
The boy drew back, wearing an expression that said he did not understand why he had been hit.
“It hurt, doesn’t it? It hurt when I hit you? That is ‘pain’.”
I grasped the boy’s shoulders and stared into his eyes.
“Even if it is not with violence, but with words. Even if those words are on the Internet. If they experience something painful, anyone would be hurt. If the people targeted by your words feel pain, there is no difference between their bodies or their hearts.”
Without exception. People hurt others without knowing. There did not exist a single person who had not hurt another in their whole life, from when they were born until now. Unless they had no contact with others, people could not live without hurting other people.
In that case, at the very least, one should at least carry in their heart the pain of having hurt another. And then they should work toward the ideal of never wanting to hurt anyone again, even if it was impossible. That was the eternal struggle imposed upon us humans.
“...Don’t forget the pain in your cheek that you’re feeling now. You must not forget that the slander you carelessly posted hurt someone who really exists, somewhere on the other side of the screen.”
That was all I told him, and then I stood up. “...Let’s go.” Accompanied by Sousei-san, I left behind Futodama and departed that place.
The boy behind me clutched his cheek where he had been struck, still dumbfounded.
“That surprised me! I didn’t think you’d raise a hand against that brat, Naoto!”
After we entrusted Futodama’s care to a nearby policeman, Sousei-san slapped me heartily on the shoulder. It hurt.
“...Was it that unexpected?”
“Guess it was, now that you mention it. I got a better opinion of you now. It’s gonna be good for that brat. And I’m in a better mood too! Serves him right!”
“...That’s right. I did think I did it for his sake. I don’t know how well he’ll take the lesson to heart. However, if he remembers even a little of today’s pain, it was worth playing the villain.”
I smiled at Sousei-san.
“And also, wouldn’t it be easier on him, having a woman like me hit him rather than you, Sousei-san?”
“Hmph! You’re too soft!”
Sousei-san raised his voice and laughed. Then after laughing for a while, he asked me.
“By the way, why did you tell me to leave ‘purple’ back then on the roof?”
When I looked up at him standing beside me, Sousei-san was rubbing his chin with his fingertips as if in puzzlement.
“With my simple thinking, the two left, blue and purple, are usually called ‘ao’ and ‘murasaki’, right? And ‘ao’ means something else. That ‘ao’ is like Touko. She’s Touko Aoi, right? So I felt like cutting the blue one was wrong. But in the end, your judgment was right, Naoto. Why’s that?”
[poor localization effectiveness ahoy. when they were talking about the wires, they always used katakana to write out the English words, so phonetically “blue” and “purple”. Sousei brings up the Japanese equivalent terms, “ao” (blue) and “murasaki” (purple). then he mentions that the blue “ao” (青) can be written another way (蒼). that “ao” is the one used in Touko’s surname, Aoi (蒼井).]
“...To tell the truth, I was also worried about that just before. I believed Kyouhei Hioka was the one who set the bomb. He must have been the one who set up the dummy wires. Kyouhei Hioka loved Touko-san, so it was hard to believe that he would set the bomb so that it couldn’t be disabled without cutting the blue that reminded him of her.”
“But just before the time limit, my eye was caught by the pendant Touko-san wears around her neck. That was what convinced me. By the way, Sousei-san, do you remember what color Touko-san’s pendant is?”
“...Ah, right! It’s purple!”
Sousei-san hit his palm with his fist. “I get it!” Amethyst was the February birthstone. And needless to say, amethysts were purple.
“...No, but. Isn’t that not really a good reason? It’s not a solid reason just ‘cause the pendant’s purple. Back then, don’t you think I would’ve hesitated to cut the wire if you told me your logic?”
Without thinking, I smiled bitterly. It was true that even I would have hesitated if that was my only reason.
“Then I have a question for you. What color do you get if you mix red and blue?”
“Huh? It’s definitely purple, right? Even kids know that stuff.”
“That’s right. Purple. And just as you said before, Sousei-san, purple is commonly known as ‘murasaki’. In other words, ‘murasaki’ is the color you get from mixing ‘ao’ and ‘aka’. And ‘ao’ is also written as the ‘ao’ in Aoi. In addition, ‘aka’ is – also written as ‘hiiro’. You understand now, don’t you–”
“–Purple is the color you get when you combine Touko Aoi’s blue and Kyouhei Hioka’s red.”
[more color play. “aka” (赤) means “red”, also written as “hiiro” (緋色), which is a scarlet shade. Broken down, the first kanji is read “aka” or “hi”, and the second is simply “iro”, meaning “color”. “Hioka” (緋丘) is written using that same “hi”.]
“The color purple was an embodiment of Kyouhei Hioka’s feelings of wanting to be together always. There was no way he would sever their color.”
Sousei-san nodded seriously. “...So that’s it.”
“...Sousei-san. Thank you for trusting me back then.”
I faced Sousei-san and bowed my head.
“You asked me to confirm my reasoning, but at the crucial moment on the roof, you inwardly questioned whether we should really leave purple. Even so, you followed my directions.”
It was the critical moment of a life-or-death situation. Trusting someone in extreme circumstances and acting without hesitation was easier said than done. Moreover, the one he was placing his trust in was me, who had previously betrayed him.
When I spoke, Sousei-san faced me. “Yeah, well, ‘course I would.” He snorted with laughter. And then he spoke strongly.
“Because it’s important to have a trusting relationship with your partner!”
Needless to say, I laughed.
“...Them too, it would’ve been better if they got into a fight or something at least once.”
Suddenly, Sousei-san wore a serious expression and looked up at the sky as if dazzled.
“I agree with Kyouhei Hioka. If one of my family members died for a stupid reason, I couldn’t stay calm. He knew the reason his sister Kaoru died, and when he saw the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ who caused it living happily, he thought he wanted to kill them himself. So in the beginning, I was really cheering on Kyouhei Hioka.”
That was when I finally understood. Sousei-san had supported Kyouhei Hioka because he held strong feelings for Yuuri-san and his sister Ai-chan.
“But you know, revenge only leaves you feeling empty. If Kyouhei Hioka succeeded in getting his revenge against those ‘Five Togakushi Judges’, and if he thought about what was left for him after that, it would the same choice Touko made. In the end, he would’ve become a demon of revenge and he’d get rid of himself, right? When it was over, there would only be unhappiness left. Especially for the people left behind.”
Sousei-san’s shoulders sagged heavily, and, sympathizing, I shivered.
It was frightening to imagine. If things had not gone well and we had lost Touko-san, it would have been difficult for me to continue on as a detective.
“But what happened was Kyouhei Hioka failed at becoming a demon and messed up his revenge. So a new demon, Touko, was born, and summoned a different kind of unhappiness. It’s a downward spiral: unhappiness just leads to more unhappiness. What went wrong? The Kyouhei siblings and Touko all cared about each other, right? They didn’t wanna cause trouble for each other and they accepted each other, right? So then why did this kind of disaster happen?”
Sousei-san looked down at me. However, all I could do was meet his gaze without giving any response. That was because I saw the loneliness in his eyes and felt that he already had the answer.
“When I thought about it, I got it. Them too, it would’ve been better if they got into a fight or something at least once. If they fought, or got embarrassed, or hurt each other. If you really care about the person, sometimes there are things you have to talk about.”
“There may be some truth to that…”
There were times when one came to mutually understand another through repeated arguments. I would not reveal the identities of those people.
“So what’s important! It’s not what all those random people in society and on the Internet have to say! What’s most important is the moving words of the people near you who care about you!”
Sousei-san strongly sought my agreement. “Isn’t that right? Naoto!”
“That’s right.” I wholeheartedly gave my agreement.
“...If they’d all been a bit more honest, telling each other ‘Trust me’ or ‘I’m with you’, maybe it would’ve turned out different…”
“Yes. I think that surely would have been the case,” I agreed again.
If we had met the living Hioka siblings, would we have been able to save them, the same as we had Touko-san? Though I knew it was unavoidable, though I thought it was impertinent, I was full of disappointment.
Intending to expel those ill thoughts, I took a deep breath and diverted my mood.
“Let’s go back, Sousei-san. Tsuge-san is probably waiting for our report at the station.”
Because there were people who were waiting for us to return alive.
“So why don’t you hurry up and turn into my bike?”
“Who? Whose bike!? Since when has someone as great as me belonged to you? I’m not your servant!”
Though he spoke rudely, Sousei-san obediently changed into a bike. I already knew he was really quite softhearted.
Tsuge-san and Touko-san had both said we made a “good team”. I personally did not feel that way. However, there were not many people like Sousei-san, who did not hesitate to speak his mind.
He was an important person to me . I thought so once again as I gazed at the red streamlined body.
Our heights, appearances, and personalities were completely different, and just as our names indicated, we were exact opposites.
Right – white and black.
I did not understand it. When we first met, I had not thought it was at all possible that I would get along well with Sousei-san, who was arrogant and vigorous, but now that it was over, facets of Sousei-san’s personality not present in my own had been absolutely essential to the resolution of this case.
If it hadn’t been for him, we definitely would not have been able to save Touko-san. With that in mind, words of gratitude naturally flowed from me. “I’m glad you’re my partner…” Though of course, I was too embarrassed to say it to his face, so I limited myself to muttering softly so that he wouldn’t hear.
And there were others I could not forget to thank.
I gazed absently across the scarlet streets as we passed. I held my gratitude toward my faraway friends within my heart as the gentle but slightly cold wind brushed against my cheeks.
If there was one difference between Touko-san and me, it was that I wasn’t lonely. At the same time, it was a difference from my former self, who desperately strove alone as a detective.
In a faraway, unfamiliar city, I was inundated with many first meetings with people, experienced hopeless difficulties and vast differences in power, and yet I had fought until the end without giving up, because my precious friends were always within my heart.
I did not want to look bad in front of them. I wanted to see them again. No matter what anyone else thought of me, they would believe in me no matter what. Those thoughts gave me strength.
I would talk about this case with everyone when I returned to that town. And then I would share with them the thoughts and feelings I had during this case. And then I would talk about the wonderful people I met in this city.
“...Ah, right, Naoto.”
Sousei-san’s voice came from the bike.
“You know, Ai won’t shut up about inviting you to Gramps’s house. She says she wants to get to know you. And, well, the case is solved, so how ‘bout tonight? Ah, well, you know, it’s no big deal if you can’t…”
“No, I’ll gladly pay a visit.”
There was no reason for me to decline. There was Ai-chan, of course, but I also wanted to hear about Sousei-san’s everyday life.
“You really care about Ai-chan, don’t you, Sousei-san?”
My expression relaxed and I smiled. He gave off the impression of being a good older brother who would do anything for his sister.
“Huh? No way!” When I spoke, Sousei-san objected immediately.
“Ai’s damn loud and annoying! She doesn’t listen to me and won’t shut up no matter how long I wait! I’ve gotta be the grown-up and take care of her!”
Well then, it seemed Ai-chan was very important to him. Sousei-san was quite arrogant, but she made him think he had to act the adult. I would have to make a stealthy inquiry as to her methods.
“Ah! Talking about Ai made me remember! She told me to go buy the new Tatsumi brand stuffed animal! We’re going to Junes for a bit!”
Saying that, Sousei-san pulled off his specialty, drifting in a showy manner into the lane going in the opposite direction. As usual, his driving was not gentle on his passenger, but I said nothing, in deference to his role as a “doting older brother”.
There was one thing bothering me, and so I spoke up while we were waiting at a traffic signal.
“If you’d like, I’ll go with you to the laboratory where you were born.”
The laboratory itself had been involved in an explosion and perhaps there was nothing left of it. However, it still contained many memories. Memories of someone irreplaceable to Sousei-san.
“...How do you know about that?”
Perhaps due to his great surprise, Sousei-san did not move when the traffic signal turned green, even when the horns of the cars behind us began to blare.
“...Ah, right. Gramps, huh. Damn! Bastard can’t keep his mouth shut!”
Touko-san had said it on the roof of Iwato Apartments.
“The Persona abilities you two received are a result of what you strongly wished for in your hearts, right?”
Extrapolating from that, it was clear why Sousei-san had awakened, not to the combative-type Persona they had originally aimed for, but to one with the “the power to hear the voices left behind by the dead”.
Wasn’t it because he wanted to experience the warmth of his mother once more–?
“...Stupid. I don’t like this. Stop worrying about weird things. You were practically falling over before. Just take it easy for today.”
Sousei-san bluntly ordered, and the bike began to accelerate from a stop.
Upon further reflection, perhaps I had said too much.
“...But you know.”
Sousei-san quietly muttered after the bike had been running for a while.
“...If I feel like it… When I grow up enough that I’m okay with digging up memories of Yuuri… Can I count on you for support?”
I laughed a little and immediately answered.
“A foolish question. Have you forgotten?”
I softly rested my hand on his red body and cried out to the deep red sky.
“We are partners!”
I would grow even stronger.
That was because I knew humans could become stronger just by having several people precious to them.