AN: …I feel so unworthy. This chapter has been collecting
dust on my hard drive forever as my inspiration selfishly abandoned it
and engaged in flighty projects elsewhere. I hope the reviewers of the story
can forgive me for the terrible amount of time it took to get this part done.
^^; You are all wonderful, and I'm so glad you've been putting up with me and
enjoying this story. Thanks to Rinrin-Chikage for
reviewing this for the first time, and thanks to COSE and Masamune
for reviewing again; thanks also to kawaiishinichan
and Suu-Happiness who reviewed chapter two but didn't
get proper name-verification in the 'thanks' section of chapter three.
This part is longer than the other chapters. It doesn't
necessarily make sense, experiments a bit with the strangely stylistic (and
funky scene separators), and might not "fit" with sections 1 through
3 in the way it's written; hopefully, though, it will be enjoyable all the
same. I'm not sure how well I dealt with the conclusion, but hopefully it's
suitably resolved. If I have time, I'm going to try to give the first few parts
of this story a slight makeover, and maybe break this part into more logical
chapter-like chunks; we'll have to see.
Thanks, again, to the people who have read this, reviewed
it, and put up with my turtle-like writing pace. I hope this is to your
It was like a dream; sudden and
swift and so faint that it hardly seemed real, hardly seemed tangible enough to
touch. A moment, one out of eternity, so flitting that
A honestly thought he'd imagined it-
~'I'm coming to see you.'~
been all. His eyes snapped wide open, body suddenly becoming animated with
nervous energy; his breath quickened as his limbs went tense, waiting, hoping
But, of course, there was no more.
Just that tantalizing, unbelievable phrase, hanging in the air like an
Was it real?
coming to see you.'
His mind reached out; desperate, clinging. ~'C!
Are you there? Can you hear me?!'~
No response, no acknowledgement; just
that cold, bitter silence, weighing down upon him like a muffler. His face, so
pale with astonishment, held a look of utmost longing.
need you…'~ The boy's plea rang silently, echoing
his expression with a painful twinge. ~'…C…'~
He almost let himself continue,
shouting out his thoughts in a rushing sea of jumbled feeling - I miss you, I
want you, I hate you, I love you, I need you back...
But something stopped him. A faint,
solitary spark; a gleam of hope, of promise.
coming to see you.'
That was what C had said. That was
what he had promised.
Maybe, just once, it would be
sweeter to savor thoughts left unvoiced; to let his comments ripen until they
could be spoken in person.
[ - - -
half-turned his head at the comment, glancing down at the boy beside him. Ran's eyes were on the ground as they walked; he seemed too
self-conscious to observe the world he'd been shut up from for so long, and
were it not for Gingetsu's presence beside him the
three-leaf might very well have run into something.
going out of your way to do this for me," he clarified. "You didn't need to."
didn't deem this particular comment worthy of a response, so he decided to
remain silent. Ran noticed.
really, you didn't have to…" he fumbled helplessly. "I mean - I know you have
work and all, and this is probably bothersome, so I'm sorry I'm wasting your
silence. Ran looked up.
ridiculous again, aren't I?"
need to apologize."
another pause, then; soft, introspective, mutual. The
two were surrounded by people on all sides, yet the world seemed to stop for a
second; it was nice.
thank you," the boy admitted. "Thanks for coming with me." He cautiously
searched for any hint of expression on the older man's face.
nodded shortly, eyes moving back to the cement-paved road ahead. "It'll be
another fifteen minutes until we get there."
"Oh?" Ran's eyes turned contemplative. "…That's soon."
"Yeah…" Ran's face was mildly troubled. Self-consciously noting the
silence, he let his gaze fall back to the ground.
around them was busy with movement as people rushed back and forth; it was
stuffy, but the air was still chilled by sharp wind. The sky above was dark,
blotted with clouds that gave the streets a heavy sort of atmosphere. Had it
been raining, Ran might have felt a sense of déjà vu. As it was, he felt out of
place in the stale, alien atmosphere and unconsciously, his left hand reached
out to gently grab the edge of Gingetsu's coat. The
older man glanced down in mild surprise, but Ran didn't seem to notice what he
was doing. Gingetsu turned back to the bustling street and pulled him. They
were getting closer.
- [ - -
been required to come to the Facility on a day when none of the assisting
faculty had been present; Gingetsu didn't know how Shuu
had managed the fact, but the building he and Ran stepped into was eerily
silent. The walls were reinforced with dull coats of metal that shined with
hints of reflection as the two moved past them. The floor they walked on rung
with hollow, clanging echoes. It was a good thing that no one was there to
was situated far within this labyrinth, the tunnels of metal that served as a
sort of feeble precaution to prevent three-leaves from escaping. Naturally, it
hadn't worked; a clover of such a level could navigate its way through a maze
merely by reaching out its mind toward the world outside. Ran was doing the
opposite as, still holding Gingetsu's jacket, he
searched for A's presence to lead him within; he'd traveled the path before, so
it wasn't that difficult. Gingetsu watched him with a sort of subtle interest.
He noted unconsciously how the boy held himself: the way his footsteps fell on
the cold floors, how his pace seemed to quicken as he led him onward. They were
passing closed doors that, no doubt, contained labs or testing rooms. The air
around them was cool and metallic, hovering deathly-still.
If Ran was
feeling any sort of anticipation or fear, it was difficult to tell; to all
outward appearances, the boy looked the same. He didn't seem tense, and it was
only a guess as to whether his breath was coming quicker. His face wasn't pale.
however, seemed of a different sentiment. Ran's
knuckles were white as his fingers interlocked desperately with the rough piece
of fabric that was Gingetsu's jacket and the imprint
of finger bones protruded from his unnaturally thin hand. It was as if he'd
channeled his anxiety into his fingers. Gingetsu contemplated this for a bit
before his eyes fixated themselves back on the hall.
building was so clean that it looked to have never been used before. There were
no spots, no stains, no dirt on the walls the two passed - no dust, even, to
gather in dark corners or cling to unused handles. They breathed in air that
was sterile and, in some way, stale. Instead of windows, there were lights;
they let off light that was a faded, sickly yellow, a feeble impression of
sunlight that had aged over time. The place was reminiscent of a hospital ward.
From his years working alongside them, Gingetsu had come to conclude that the
Wizards and the scientists under them seemed to have a fanatic obsession with
keeping things (like the labyrinth) clean; it was almost as if they were trying
to purge themselves of the filth that came with their operation. Ironically
enough, the compulsion only amplified the unnaturalness of their work.
Gingetsu nor Ran spoke. The silence in the place was so thick that it wouldn't
be broken; there seemed to be a code of formality that hung in the air,
something that insisted: "keep silent, and don't make a sound."
They walked on.
- - [ -
A sat in
the cage, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head resting on them. He was
caught in a strange in-between phase, trapped between the numbness that had
become a norm and painful, desperate awareness. He'd wrenched his eyes shut, but
his ears were listening.
When a soft
mechanical whirr sounded from the
entrance to the cage, his head snapped up. The door, iron and gilded with
locks, was slowly parting and melting into the walls on either side; he could
only watch, mesmerized, as it slid open and the strange, fluorescent light that
lay beyond flooded the room. It was bright. Having sat in darkness for so long,
he shied his glance away.
A heard footsteps, hesitantly stepping in. He was almost
afraid to look.
banished every trace of hesitation from his mind: it was his voice, kind and uncertain and confused, and A scrambled to his
feet and ran over, arms grappling desperately around the torso of the newcomer
and clutching him tight.
"C, C, C,
C, C…" It seemed like that was the only word he knew. It was the only word he
could say as he pressed his face close, overwhelming himself with his brother's
presence and scent. "Oh… God, C…"
voice he heard was lost, now, filled with sympathy. For him.
He hugged C
you so much," he said; his voice was choked. "They wouldn't let me talk to you…
They didn't let me know where you were…"
"The wizards." The word fell off
his tongue as if it was an insult.
"That wasn't their fault."
"It was their fault," A hissed. "The wizards
didn't want me to find you."
didn't do anything." There was a note of hesitation in the other's voice.
"I was afraid to talk to you."
he repeated, his voice lapsing into the sleepy contentment that showed he
wasn't thinking of what he was saying. "Why would you be afraid?"
me, right?" he asked. "I love you. I love you more than anything."
"…So do I."
promised," A remembered. "You said you loved me the most."
said, pressing his face into the other's chest. It had C's scent, too; a year
had passed, but his brother still had the same smell. He closed his eyes.
you'd come back…" he sighed. "I needed you, C. We're the same. We're part of
Once, C had
said he would never return to the cage, and once A had thought he'd understood;
he couldn't comprehend it now, though. Everything fit here. This was how things were supposed to be.
"A, listen to me… We're locked up because
we're together. If we live apart from each other, we wont
have to go back there ever again."
How could that have made sense?
They were together because they were locked up. If that was the only way they
could see one another… What did cages matter?
sudden reply made him jump back to awareness.
think we're the same."
"…But we are," he insisted slowly.
"We're identical. I'm the only one who knows you, and you're the only one who
can understand me. We're one."
know me?" C's voice was strange.
I do," he replied with surprise.
haven't seen me for a year."
year?" A couldn't comprehend a year. What did a year matter when there was the
present to contend with? "I've been with you my whole life."
It was a
surprising request. Loosening his grasp, A stepped
back and looked up, for the first time, at the person who had entered his cage.
It was then that he realized something.
It wasn't C
he was looking at.
doused him like a bucket of horribly cold water, freezing his blood and
draining the color from his face. He stared.
happen during a year," the other explained, looking sad in a way he couldn't
identify. This person was completely foreign. He was an older man, taller and
stranger and terribly different from the C he'd been expecting; he didn't
belong here. He wasn't the one he'd been waiting for.
C," A snarled, stumbling back. "W- who are you?!"
man reached out his hand.
touch me!" he yelled, shoving him away.
watched the man stumble, he didn't know how he could have confused the two. It
was only their voices that were similar- everything else was wrong. He was
fragile, like C, but not as delicate; his hair was the same color, but it was
chopped painfully short. C wouldn't have done that. It couldn't be C that stood
in front of him.
A clenched his fists. "I need C."
to keep me away from him!"
he'd come. He'd promised. Why wasn't
he here? Who was this?
mind-speak came as a shock.
His eyes widened, disbelieving and knowing full well that the voice he'd heard
was impossible for him to be hearing, couldn't have come back, but…
A looked up uneasily, and the man
was watching him.
~'I'm here,'~ he said again.
when I'm outside," C explained. "I grow older."
~'This is me.'~
little while," the other replied. He smiled weakly, and it was C's smile.
- - - -]
weren't so much two people now as they were a combination, a mixture of tightly
intertwined limbs and breaths that merged together to form the same scent.
Their eyes were closed.
waiting outside, isn't he?"
one I saw you with before."
take care of you? You're alright there?"
still miss me?"
can't come to see me." His voice was uncertain.
doesn't work when we see each other. I'm unhappy, or you're unhappy…"
"As long as we're together, we're trapped."
"But I'm not unhappy."
not unhappy either, are you? Not now?"
you mean?" he asked lazily.
don't know, A…"
like it's a hard question," he pointed out.
he coaxed him. "You're not unhappy, are you? Tell me."
me, C," he pressed. Every moment of hesitation made him more and more awake.
finally, as a mumble:
tone held no conviction.
you lying to me?" he demanded. "What's so complicated about it?"
wasn't a lie…"
you be unhappy?" His voice had grown sharp. "What's wrong?"
good about things out there?" he pressed. "Out there, you'll die!"
word, 'die,' A was suddenly shot through with a hollow feeling.
-The floor of the delicately crafted prison
was spattered with bloodstains-
"I'll kill myself before I let you kill again."
starve himself, couldn't make himself bleed enough-
"…If I make you go back, you'll
stains, he mused ironically, from all three clovers-
"…It's better than living
forever," C quietly replied.
brother there to share forever with him, the only thing that seemed welcome to
the boy now was-
than forever?" he repeated, hollowly. "I wouldn't know." His glance fell.
There was a
leaving now, A."
watch his brother as he left, the doors closing behind him and cutting off the
light from the hall.
'…What was that?'
He didn't know.
noticed the way that Ran kept his eyes on the ground as he came out of the
metal doors. He saw how his hands were clutched tightly on the hems of his
sleeves, how his feet nudged their way across the floor instead of striding. He
watched him make his way over, wordless, and stop as he waited for instruction.
knew better than to say anything. He nodded shortly, watching Ran for a second
more before turning back to the corridor they'd come from; it lay, waiting, a
maze of metal mirrors. He paused, almost contemplating whether to ask Ran if he
wanted to talk about it? – but he decided it wasn't a
thing he should interfere in. Instead, he reached out a hand, offering it as a
sort of familiar land in the darkness. Ran took it, and he noted dully how the
boy's thin hand felt in his own.
He took the
first step, and Ran followed.
They walked back.
-- s – a – m – i – s – h – i --
almost funny, but A could almost imagine he heard someone singing.
was the kind of sound that seemed to disappear if he focused too closely; it drifted
in the air, humming with a sort of melancholy lilt.
C was gone.
C had been
gone for seconds, minutes, hours – some amount of time that seemed to waver in
impossible intervals, going from just a second back to days. He really couldn't
tell. He wasn't quite sure how to feel about it.
same, one, together
lonely. It was strange, though, because it wasn't the same kind of loneliness
as before; it was sad, and unfulfilling, and empty and chilling and scary-
-but it wasn't
as possessive of him as it had been. He wasn't sure what the change was.
voice intermixed with his thoughts, filling him with its rich note. The singer,
he decided, was a woman. She sounded sad.
thought about what C had said. About eternity, and death, and everything he'd
ever talked about.
better than living forever," he'd said just now.
other- sang the voice
part of him didn't want to think about the question. He didn't want to see C
dying, or living forever, or anything like that; he didn't want to think about
what an eternity would really be like. A year had been bad enough.
happens, sang the woman, when there is no sky?
did have a nice voice. Idly resting his head on folded arms, he spread himself
out on the ground.
was feeling sleepy, he realized. His thoughts were coming slowly, sluggish
enough that it was getting difficult to continue an idea in his mind.
he said drowsily.
eyelids were feeling heavier.
stopped in mid-thought as his eyes fell shut and he went limp.