A/N: Written for the Non Flash Bingo at the AMF, #068 – useful, and for the Minesweeper challenge, "shirt" and "rain".
Two Chain Locks
His shirt was clean and crisp. It felt wrong. But nobody noticed. Everything was the same to them after all. The same time, repeating itself over and over again –
Nobody even noticed it was raining in the middle of winter, when it was too cold to rain, when it should only snow.
Nobody noticed he shouldn't have even been alive, that he'd already died. One year ago? Two? He didn't know.
He wasn't sure he really wanted to know. What mattered was that he was stuck. The whole world was stuck.
He'd gotten an extra year and that was good. He hadn't expected to die. He hadn't been ready to die. But he'd died anyway.
And they'd wished strongly enough to give him this extra time.
That was starting to dim in its value because it had stretched so long, become so thing.
It shouldn't rain in winter. It should only snow.
But, in this pocket of the world, winter hadn't yet come.
Time reset before it could.
Everything had been splattered with blood. His shirt had been soaked in it, and that was the last time it had felt natural. Though he hadn't noticed it until afterwards, that his shirt felt stiff. And his pants. His entire school uniform, really. They felt like they shouldn't be like that.
But he hadn't understood back then. Until he realised. Until he tried to find a way out.
When you notice one thing, the dominoes start falling.
He'd tried to find a way out of the loop. That was the first thing, and the most important one. Finally, he did find a way. And Dee fell with him.
Dee, for whatever reason, floated. She wasn't like him, solid still.
Neither of them had known why until they'd stumbled upon a trigger to the truth.
Then Dee, to an extent, stopped trying to make his wish come true.
He realised towards the end. She had misunderstood. She'd never read the whole article. She'd just remembered falling. She'd thought she was the one who'd died that day. The one who'd become a puddle of blood on the ground. Who'd been granted a proper burial by a Gravekeeper. She'd tried to stop the world from vanishing because she wanted to go on living with him.
He didn't think her knowing the truth would have changed things though. She clung to him, tearily. She was willing to fall even when she did understand, to change things. To save him.
It wouldn't happen. It couldn't happen.
Their classmates' wishes had already made this heavenly hell for him.
The ball went in.
He was supposed to suck at basketball. Now he was perfect. Had perfect aim. Even with the rain making his palms wet and the hoop at well.
It sucked. It sucked all the enjoyment out of it.
He played every time it rained, as though the rain would bring a challenge to him.
Never mind that it was winter outdoors. That it should snow.
It'd probably snow in summer this time round.
They were getting further and further away from the outside world.
How many years had it been now? Fourteen?
When would someone break the cycle? How could someone break the cycle? There must be a way. There must be something –
He couldn't do it. He was a part of the cycle. It had to be an outsider.
So he brought one after another until they exceeded five thousand.
And then there was Ai. Ai who discovered the truth. Set him free.
She hadn't known it all. Like Dee, she'd misunderstood. Dee had led her to misunderstand.
But it was enough. It unlocked that memory he kept on gaining and losing. It set them all straight.
And he truly didn't mind. He showed them the way out. Said his farewells.
He was at peace. And, by sacrificing what remained of himself, he'd save the rest.
That was a good way to die.
And he'd gotten to spend all this extra time with them as well. Inside…and outside.
It was sunny when he saw his grave. The day he'd died, it had been raining. The day they'd left, it was raining as well – just past the spring in the inside bubble of the world. But things had changed so rapidly one could have almost forgotten.
He'd wished to not be forgotten.
Ai, though, had wished he would continue to exist even when that shell keeping him broke apart.
And, so, one sunny day, he looked upon his own grave for the first and, perhaps, last time.
'What now?' Ai was there. And Dee. And Julie. And Scar, holding Cecelia who was reaching for that sun.
'A new shirt,' he replied. Ai's wish hadn't changed the fact that he had died. 'And then an adventure.'
He was going to make use of his third chance. And, hopefully, it wouldn't be like the second where the time had looped, become this twisted thing he could barely remember or forget.
At least the last loop was burned into his memory.
He'd missed the summer. But not the snow.