And save us from the enemy
Save us, God."
Noir: "Salva Nos"
(Translated from Latin by Gatti)
Digital World reunion—"A Silent Life"
Sailing under the stars—"A Bit of Happiness"
Nightmare—"Salva Nos," Fiction version
Brother to brother/Death/True chaos—"Rain and Storm"
Funeral/"I cried too…that day"—"BT"
Track 11: "Salva Nos"
Leaving the adults behind, the two ran for the restroom, Koji struggling to breathe the whole way. Inside, all the stalls were locked, forcing them to knock and check between the cracks in order to find their missing compatriot. Men gave them odd looks—Alice even odder—as they kept searching until finally they located him in the middle stall, holding a knife and bleeding. Quickly, they threw themselves on the door and broke it open, startling Koichi into stopping from cutting himself.
"Get away," he ordered.
"Koichi, what are you doing?" Alice questioned. His neck and wrists were soaked with blood, as though he'd been unsure of how much he needed to lose before he could finally die.
"Koji needs a new heart, and more importantly, the rest of his life force. I'm the only one who can provide both."
"Koichi…" she began in disbelief, trying to wrestle the knife away.
"Hypocrite," Koji accused, his lips and fingertips blue. He was holding onto his left arm tightly and trying to remain conscious despite the pain. "You said that you couldn't live knowing that I gave up my life to save you. Did you ever stop to think about what I felt? Did you?"
"Koji, calm down," Alice reasoned.
"Give it up, Koichi," he ordered. "There's no guarantee anyway that this will help." Pain in his chest soon worsened from a squeezing sensation to a feeling like the cavity was going to burst. He lost his footing and fell forward on them, very quickly approaching Death's gates.
"Someone get help!" Alice cried. "Our friend's having a heart attack! Somebody help!"
Koichi managed to lay Koji on the tile as they waited for someone to come by to help. Already, nurses and paramedics were trying to push him away as they brought in a defibrillator. This wasn't real—it couldn't be. They'd planned to grow up together, facing everything that came with life. Koji couldn't die. This was all some grim fairytale in a storybook or something. It wasn't happening. But even with all of that denial running through his head, Koichi could see that this was no bedtime story, no tragic novel. His brother was dying. He would grow up alone. Koji was trying to say something to comfort him, something soundless that could barely escape his blue lips…
"Koji, please, remember our promise," Koichi whispered as he ignored all attempts to pull him away. "No final words."
Koji nodded in pain just before electrical volts went through his body. He soon lost consciousness after that. Sighs of relief swept the medical personnel, but Koichi couldn't share the sense of liberation. It was a painful dose of reality for him now that he knew that his brother was going to die, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. All of a sudden, he felt very old, as if he'd done all of his growing in those few minutes of terror.
The fear and mounting stress that had been placed on him that day finally took its toll, mixing with blood loss to help him fall into the same dreamless sleep as his brother. It was to be the first and last time he was released from his nightmares.
Tomoko Kimura arrived soon enough to hear the bad news of her younger son's approaching death and her elder son's attempted suicide. Tears and angry shouts filled the lobby, where the adults had chosen to remain in order to avoid disturbing the boys' slumber. Dolphin and Alice tried to play mediator in the midst of all this, but the former Monster Maker could see the toll it was taking on his granddaughter. She was half-asleep and rather exasperated by all the blameless yelling. It was unfair to keep her there.
"Go home, Alice," he advised. "Just go home, get some sleep, and I'll let you know what happens in the morning. If you want, I can have Mr. or Mrs. Katou come to get you…"
"No," she replied. "I'd rather stay. They're my friends, and I don't want to have to leave them right now."
He nodded. "All right. If it makes you feel better, go check up on them. Just let the nurses know before you enter."
Though she tried not to, she yawned and rubbed her eyes as she walked back to her friends' shared room. The doctors had agreed to let Koichi remain in Koji's room in order to keep him from doing anything as crazy as slicing open his arteries and veins again. Alice was pretty certain that Koji's heart attack had scared that out of him, but she supposed it was better to assume the worst. As her grandfather had said in relation to Jeri and the D-Reaper, human emotions and desires were always hard to calculate.
Koichi was out of bed and sitting in a chair at his brother's side when she entered. Donated blood was still dripping into his right hand, and he looked dizzy still from the loss of so much. Both his wrists and his neck were bandaged delicately, though he had to scratch underneath the uncomfortable wrappings around his neck.
"You're supposed to be in bed," she informed.
"I woke up and then I couldn't fall back to sleep," he explained. "I feel like somehow all of this is my fault."
"Maybe it is. But who would hold it against you? Certainly not Koji, or your parents, or Satomi, or Grandfather, or me." He didn't make eye contact. "You're the only one who blames you. Now get back in bed and try to sleep. You're supposed to rest now."
"I'm supposed to be growing up alongside my brother like a regular kid. I'm not supposed to have to deal with his death, and right after Grandma's…" He shook his head. "It's getting to be too much."
She sighed and took a seat beside him. They spent a few minutes in silence before she asked, "What was that promise you were talking about back there? You wanted Koji to remember some promise you made. What was it?"
"Not long after we came back from the Digital World, I went to visit my grandmother's grave, and Koji came with me. I told him how her dying words were her asking me to find him. Nothing ever hurt that much, so we promised that when we die, we won't waste our dying breaths on words. It'll be a lot easier on everyone around us if we don't."
Some bit of rationality returned to him, reminding him of the promise Alice had made at the beginning of all this. She wasn't going to let anyone die. Now she had no choice but to break that promise; it was out of her control. And there was another thing to consider: the deaths of her parents. She was in the same boat he was, and he'd completely forgotten.
"Sorry," he apologized. "I forgot that you've lost a lot of people you loved too. I just won't talk about it."
"If you don't, you'll just be living in denial that this is happening. I don't mind remembering, even if it hurts."
"Will I be that way too?" he asked no one. Alice watched him more in empathy than in sympathy before turning her attention to Koji, who was stirring slightly. She nudged Koichi, who was on it in an instant.
"Koji, Koji, are you okay?" Dumb question, but he could at least get some kind of information on his brother's mood. Koji opened his eyes slowly and reached for a thermos of water on the nightstand. Koichi took it and held it up to him so he could drink. When he'd had his full, he opened his mouth to speak.
"Don't, Koji," Koichi informed. "I'm so sorry that this happened. I didn't mean to make you…" He choked on his own words, feeling tears spring from his eyes once more. Koji managed to clasp his hand.
"It's okay," he whispered. "It's not your fault." He closed his eyes and fell back to sleep, giving Koichi at least some of the comfort he needed to do the same.
But the moment he closed his eyes, all he could see was the extreme pallor of his brother's face and the blue tinge of cyanosis that gripped his fingers and lips as he fell forward, his heart bursting apart.
It was December 31, New Year's Eve, part of the most important holiday in Japan. All over the country, people were celebrating and praying for prosperity in the coming year. But for the close friends and family of Koji Minamoto, celebrations were even more elaborate than anywhere else. It was the first and last New Year's they would be able to celebrate together, they knew, so they took full advantage of whatever they could.
The day started out with a surprise visit from Alice and Dolphin, who made a special American-style breakfast for the Minamoto family and Ms. Kimura. No one else was allowed to come anywhere near the kitchen until they finished cooking pancakes for everyone. Later, the other former Legendary Warriors showed up to temporarily kidnap the former Warriors of Darkness and Light in order to take them for a special lunch in the Digital World.
They managed to get a Trailmon for the day and went retracing their steps through the Digital World, avoiding the Continent of Darkness just for the sake of keeping their Trailmon this time. All the while, the six friends shared a plain cheese pizza after having argued on the toppings for nearly an hour. It was a comforting journey to look back on everything they'd seen and done, knowing they'd made a huge difference. All six of them wore the same clothes they'd worn on their adventure, adding to the nostalgia as they looked over familiar landscapes.
"Look there!" Takuya pointed, his mouth still full of pizza. He swallowed before adding, "Isn't that the mountain where we helped those KaratsukiNumemon find their women?"
"I think we ended up causing more problems than we solved," Zoë commented. "Grumblemon managed to find the mountain's Fractal Code."
"Don't remind me," J.P. muttered. "That was the absolute last time I tried an attack strategy like that."
Five teammates laughed light-heartedly at the memory, but Koichi remained quiet. He hadn't been there; he'd been training under Cherubimon during the entire time. He never had the chance to share that memory.
"Koichi, are you okay?" Koji checked while everyone else turned to look at him.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just remembering some things, that's all."
"Well, what did you remember?" Takuya pressed. "Nothing too embarrassing about us?"
"No, it's nothing."
"Come on, you can tell us," Zoë coaxed with a slight glare at Takuya. "And nothing's really too embarrassing with what we've done. Right guys?"
"Yeah," J.P. agreed. "I mean, look at what we've done all this time."
"The cooking incident," Tommy listed, "where Takuya and Koji nearly poisoned Bokomon and Neemon, not to mention each other. Plus half of us couldn't handle our Beast Spirits when we first got them, though Takuya was the only one that actually forgot we were his friends. Then we got tricked by those Toucanmon that time and lost our digivices. Then there was the time—"
"Tommy, I think he gets the point," Takuya interrupted, visibly wincing from his less than spectacular moments now coming to light.
Koichi wanted to make a comment, but everything he could think of was too inappropriate for the time being. He'd always called these people his friends, but how close were they really? His mother was right in saying that he didn't quite fit in with the rest of them. He didn't have any of these memories that they did. He was an outsider, only allowed in their inner circle because his brother was one of their closest friends. When he was gone, where would that leave him?
From what he could tell, Zoë would try to offer comfort when the day finally did come, but he knew he was not going to be able to hear her words. J.P. and Tommy would be a little more cautious, the former out of respect and the latter out of a lack of familiarity with the brothers. Takuya would try to keep the friendship alive, but even he would have to give up eventually. Koichi didn't know any of them. Koji was the only Warrior who'd really made an impact on his life, an impact that was now becoming a festering wound. So to whom did he have to turn?
Alice, of course. Even though she didn't share the romantic feelings he had, she had been the friend he'd needed. And Dolphin was always going to be there to talk to if he needed it. His mother had always been an important person in his life, so there was no reason she wouldn't be in the days to come. And he now had his father and stepmother to lean on, important considering that they were going to need the comfort just as much as he was going to. Visitation rights were now allowed, so he was going to be able to see them from time to time. It would help ease the hurt a little bit. It wasn't much, but it was a start.
He was fortunate to find some traces of his history in other sites along the way, allowing him to join in on the laughter with the others. But that was all he could join in on. He was still an outsider. The story of his life was in the Continent of Darkness and the Human World. It was in his brother, his parents, and his stepmother. It was in Alice and Dolphin. It was in Jeri. It was in him. It all brought a burning question to his mind: "If it was the other way around and I was dying instead of Koji, would the others realize this too?"
He chose not to answer. This was not the day for him to be depressed. It was a day of celebration, of forgetting illnesses and alienations. He continually reminded himself of that in order to enjoy himself. This was the last party the six Warriors would have. It was unfair for him to ruin it, even for himself.
It was later that night when their father brought another surprise to them. He took them to the harbor, where Dolphin was waiting on a rented boat. He tightly knotted ropes to hooks to keep the sail up while the twins stared in complete shock.
"Surprised?" Kousei questioned. "It was something I always wanted to show you two, but when the divorce happened, I gave up on it. The best time and place to see the stars clearest are in winter and on the sea. So Dolphin volunteered to help me with this."
"Anything to get me back on a boat again," he joked. "So come on board. I promise you, this is going to be completely unlike anything you've seen before."
It was hard for them to believe. They'd been to the Digital World and two of its moons, so it seemed like they had seen all of what the world had to offer at their young age. But they were wrong. Never before had they sailed a ship on a cold winter's night, looking up at the sky as they breathed wisps of vapor. The waves lightly splashed the sides of their vessel, rocking them only slightly. The sky was a beautiful blue-violet-black. To call it velvet would be blasphemous. Pinpricks of silver-blue light were scattered all across in delicate patterns of order and chaos both.
"Amazing, isn't it?" Dolphin asked Koji. "The light in those stars burns brightly everyday. But it's not until we reach total darkness that we can see it. Isn't that something?"
Koji apparently thought so. A look of understanding graced his face, as though he'd finally gotten the answer to all of his questions. That understanding settled into serene happiness while Koichi watched. He'd never seen anything like it.
"Are you okay?" Kousei checked.
"Huh?" Koichi responded. "Oh. Yeah. Why?"
"Just asking. You know, Koichi, I don't want for us to lose touch when…when…"
Koichi looked at his father in guilt. Not very long ago, he didn't even want to see this man, much less speak to him. If thing hadn't turned out the way they had, he would have left Kousei in a very lonely condition without either of his sons around.
"Don't worry, Dad," he assured. "I'll visit a lot and everything. I'll be sure to." His voice broke as he tried to speak. It was hurting already. He hurriedly wiped tears from his eyes, afraid that someone would find them. His twin walked over to him, and they both resumed staring at the brilliant stars whose light was only dazzling because of the darkness.
When they got home, neither bothered to change before going to bed. It had been a long and exhausting day, so they just collapsed on their beds and fell immediately to sleep. Hours after the boys drifted into their respective subconscious minds, they found themselves on a battlefield. Koji stood on one side with Koichi on the other. Both stared at each other with blank expressions and murderous intentions. It was certainly a nightmare, but Koichi's or Koji's? It was hard to tell.
Koichi ran forward with a curved red sword, the exact blade Duskmon used, while Koji used one of his weapons from his form of Lobomon. He blocked the attack, but barely, receiving a scratch on the side of his head for his near error. He then threw his brother off and attacked, just grazing Koichi's left bicep. Koichi slashed back and locked himself in a deadly sword-to-sword conflict where physical strength alone would determine the victor. They glared at each other as they tried to push the other away. It scared them to no end how much hatred they could see in one another in that moment.
"Is this your dream or mine?" he asked suddenly. His lips did not move at all. It was all in his mind.
"I don't know," Koji replied in the same way. "Maybe it's both of ours."
Their voices and minds were civil, but their bodies were not. In the real world, they could each hear the other's words voice through the quiet bedroom as the battle was fought on the realm of dreams and the planes of reality.
Koichi managed to disarm Koji for the moment, but his brother was quick to regain his weapon and resume the battle. Savagely, they swung their blades, trying desperately to seriously wound or decapitate the other before he could do the same. It was so wrong for them to be doing this, but they could not prevent themselves from fighting. They were not in control of their dream bodies. The nightmare was. The same nightmare that had hunted Koichi from the jungles of his dark heart to the woods of his liberated soul was back and ready to claim its prey. Koji had to share in the consequences.
Koji began to weaken somewhat, and Koichi took full advantage. He put full force behind his attacks, tiring his brother more and more. With each faltering step and lethargic movement, Koichi became more and more worried. Koji should have been able to handle himself in combat like this. What could be wrong?
"Are you all right?" he checked.
"I don't know. It's starting to hurt."
"My arm. And it's hard to breathe."
"Oh God, no. Not this. Not now! Can you wake Satomi or Dad?"
"I'm not sure. I need help now."
But the dream would not let them go. They continued battling, hacking, slicing, and stabbing as they delayed getting Koji help. Another heart attack was coming, and this time, it was not going to be as forgiving.
As though in defiance of his condition, Koji swung madly at Koichi, badly cutting the side of his neck. It made him acutely aware of the bandage he wore in reality and the foolish mistake he'd nearly made to get it. His dreaming form, though, took revenge by slashing at Koji's face, leaving behind a long bloody gash on his cheek. Koji rebounded with a blow to the shoulder with his hilt. In bed, Koichi could feel pain there as he bumped himself against the wall. He swore mildly. The dream was becoming far too realistic. If one of them didn't wake up soon, Koji wouldn't be able to.
"Koji, one of us has to get Dad or Satomi now. I don't know if I can get out of bed. Can you at least try?"
"I don't know. I'll try."
In their room, a half-asleep Koji managed to get to his feet while his dreaming mind raged on. He was not going to be able to continue for much longer. He needed help now.
"Koichi, please, you have to help me," he begged.
"I'm trying. Believe me, Koji, I'm trying."
Within the dream, Koji's battle technique was becoming more and more sluggish. Each attempt to block Koichi's sword was merely a reason for him to keep coming on. Just as in all of his nightmares, Koichi tried frantically to regain control of his body, but he could not. He was just as much a victim to the blows and slashes he delivered. And then, swiftly and suddenly, he plunged his sword into his brother's heart. Koji shouted as he fell.
"Koji!" Koichi cried, jumping out of bed in time to grab his brother as he sank to his knees. He slowly lowered himself into the same position in order to support him in the pre-morning darkness. Koji kept his head against Koichi's shoulder the whole time. "Koji?"
"You…you never told me," he noticed.
"Told you what?"
"What it's like to die."
Koichi choked at his brother's question. He was dying. It was final then. Those words, those words he'd never wanted to hear. His mind searched desperately for a comforting answer, but he had nothing to offer. His temporary death had been unusual, as his soul had literally been torn from his body and put through such torment in Cherubimon's equivalent of Hell. But from somewhere in his heart, words formed and softly tried to ease the pain and fear that was coming into both of them.
"I can't lie to you, Koji. It hurt. There's first this terrible, unending pain spreading all throughout your body until finally you feel numb. Then all the light disappears and you're left in darkness, listening to your heartbeat and breathing as they slowly stop." Koji seemed a lot calmer now. Was it over? Or was it just getting worse? He didn't know; he just continued on. "But the darkness, you're not alone in it. Everyone you've ever loved is with you whether they're dead or alive. You just feel it. And then…" He paused for a second, remembering a particular image Cherubimon had shown him of Koji standing in front of a sun or perhaps surrounded by it. "Then there's a bright light. It's something calming, something that keeps you from feeling the pain and fear. I wasn't allowed near it, but you'll probably be."
There was a moment of silence between them as both tried to come to terms with what was finally happening. It was goodbye. One was going to have to grow up alone and the other wasn't going to have the chance. One would be permanently locked in memory while the other would have to fight to retain those memories without pain. Then finally, spurred by that thought, Koji spoke up.
"Koichi, that day. When we found you in the hospital…"
"I cried too…that day."
"What are you saying?" He could feel something soaking his shoulder, though he wasn't sure if the last reserves of the former Light Warrior's life force were dripping into him with these new tears. His brother would not explain as he cried. All the sound that came from him was merely his breathing, until that too finally ceased.
"Koji?" Koichi called, but the body in his arms was completely limp and unresponsive. But the pain didn't feel as bad as he'd expected. A part of him was gone, yet still…
He wasn't sure what happened next, but somehow he managed to get dressed in a black sweater and pants and sat in the living room on the couch. Somewhere in between, he told his father and Satomi what had happened, and sometime after that, he'd called Alice. He knew only that because of the crying upstairs and the phone calls going out to random relatives and friends. He was locked in the true chaos Koji had never been able to escape, and it was far worse than the D-Reaper's twisted interpretation of order. The light was gone, and only darkness remained. But this darkness had no stars or comfort. It was not even evil. It was empty. Void of everything.
Yet somewhere in the midst of all that darkness, a single figure in white came through. Her pale features and hair seemed to radiate light while her white sweater and skirt floated on dark winds. She placed her arm around him and let him mourn quietly, tearlessly. How could he even dare to cry when Koji's tears had started the whole problem to begin with?
The funeral was immediate. There was no time to embalm the body or set it ablaze. Such Earth practices of burial were considered barbaric by the Spirits of the Legendary Warriors, who had agreed to handle the burial precession for Koji in the Digital World. His body was wrapped in a plain white sheet woven of the finest silk in the Digital World, and he was placed in a small trench in the ground in the forest of the Village of Flame, the same place where he'd first evolved. A glass headstone served as a marker. This was going to serve as the proper burial method for all of the human Legendary Warriors when the time came for them to die.
The attendants were few in comparison to how many might have come if they could. Tomoko Kimura, Kousei and Satomi Minamoto, and Rob McCoy stood to one side while the ten Spirits, Takuya Kanbara, Zoë Orimoto, J.P. Shibayama, and Tommy Himi stood on the other. Koichi Kimura felt as though he was directly in the middle, even with Alice McCoy's comforting hand on his shoulder. Still, he could not cry, even though everyone else had given into tears long ago. It felt impossible for him, somehow, to cry. When Koji's Fractal Code merged with that of the Digital World, he could only maintain shaky breathing in order to display his sorrow.
The guests finally began to dwindle down, the other four kids offering their condolences to Koichi while the Spirits took into consideration his need to mourn in private. Everyone else, with the exception of Alice, settled farther back in order to give Koichi some final time to be with his brother. It was only at that moment that Koichi really noticed what Alice was wearing. While everyone else was dressed in black, which had unofficially become the color of mourning when Japan came in contact with the western world, she wore white—the nation's original mourning color. She honestly couldn't have known the custom, as bad as she was with all of Japan's traditions. It must have been her own mourning color, since she always wore black to begin with.
"You knew it all along," he commented. "You knew Koji was going to die."
"I had a suspicion," she admitted. "I looked up some information on the American Heart Association website when I started noticing some of his symptoms. But I tried to tell myself that it was all a coincidence. In the end, I couldn't hide from it."
"No one could," an unexpected voice interrupted. Alice turned in surprise to see Jeri walking toward them. Koichi didn't turn.
"Just go, Jeri. I don't need you making me feel worse," he pleaded.
"I'm not here to make you feel any worse than you do," she replied. "I'm here to pay my respects." She wore a simple dark blue kimono with a pink obi belt. "You're not the only one affected, you know."
"You seem a lot bolder than the last time we met," Alice observed.
"I've lost a lot of people too," she answered. "I lost my mother, I lost Leomon, I lost my friends—I even lost my sanity. So I hate it when people act as though nobody else can understand pain. Because I certainly know it."
"Jeri, I have a question," he began after a silence. "With all you've gone through, did you ever wonder what happens to people who've died? Koji asked me once, and I could only answer what I'd been through."
She sighed. "I don't know. My father said that a part of them always remains with us, and that's something I've always felt in me. I suppose you feel that too, with the bond you and Koji had."
"Actually…" He drifted off, remembering the feeling he had when Koji had died. "It wasn't like our bonds were broken or anything. It was more like they were stretched. I don't know how to describe it."
"You know, I've had a lot of time to think about death and everything after my parents died," Alice added. "And with my heretic beliefs, I have my own theories." Both Koichi and Jeri turned to look at her. "I don't believe there's any true evil, so I don't believe there is a Hell. Or a Heaven for that matter. Life is all a dream that we can't wake from until we die, and once we do, we just have to wait for everyone else to wake up. And you just know someone when you find them. It doesn't matter how much they've aged or stayed the same; you just know. But that's just my belief."
Koichi nodded. It was yet another comforting idea from his friend. He personally didn't enjoy his belief of reincarnation until attaining spiritual nirvana. It would be wrong for Koji to be reborn just to live another hell again. And that night on the boat, when he finally understood that the darkness had a purpose to enhance the light, he definitely looked as though he'd found nirvana. So what happened next? Did he become a kami like he believed happened to his ancestors? Or did he simply "wake up"? He fought desperately to hide his tears as he stood there contemplating this.
"It really helps if you cry," Jeri advised. "I didn't allow myself to, and look what I let myself become."
"I can't… It just doesn't seem right. Koji died because of his tears. I shouldn't remember him by crying."
"Koichi, he showed his emotion freely that day," Alice explained. "It must have been very hard for him. If he could show that much emotion when he thought you were dead, don't you think you owe it to him to do the same?"
"She's right," Jeri agreed. "There are just some things you owe your loved ones. I owed Leomon my right to shape my own destiny rather than let it shape me. You owe it to Koji to cry and show the same gift he gave you."
Koichi's breath caught in his throat. Koji's last words—not his dying words—had been "I cried too…that day." "I cried too." He had been saying all along that it was all right for Koichi to cry like this. It was not going to offend him at all.
So he finally broke down, sobbing into Alice's shoulder while Jeri watched on. The nightmares would continue even worse now that Koji had died. But at least he knew he had the rest of his family and Dolphin, Alice, and even Jeri to turn to when he struggled in fear in the middle of the night. And someday, he too would wake up and tell Koji everything that had happened. After all, that's what brothers were for.
At least, that's what he thought.
Before anything else happens, this fic is not in any way related to Raven Nightstrider's incredible "Half of My Soul," though it undoubtedly may contain some inspiration.
There is no attempt to press any one religion over another, again. All are shown as neutral and as best as I could write them. Koichi's question over what would happen if the roles were reversed had two sources of inspiration: The Sh33p's "Regret" and the Digimon 02 episode "Genesis of Evil," where Ken asks the same: if anyone would mourn him if he died instead of Sam. The lack of association between Koichi and the other DigiDestined didn't escape the my notice, so I included that in there. It was inspired by The Sh33p's beautiful Karl- and Thomas-centric introspect fic "Regret." The final two sentences in this were also subconsciously inspired by that story.
Major thanks to Kelly for pointing out the Japanese mourning color and whatever site she found it on, though I can't seem to remember where it was. Again.
One last thing: the comment from Koji about it "not being your fault," came from Sydney's brother Jacob in The Pretender. From the many drafts this has gone through, that's the only thing that stayed the same.
Not a lot of romance, but that's not what I wanted considering that I'm lousy at writing it. Anyway, leave intelligent remarks if you want to review. And, yes, this fic is over. But you never know what else I'll think of writing. Till the next!