Disclaimer: nope, don't own it

Teaser: Time hears everything and Nicolai bears the consequences

Author's Notes: because, deep down inside, I wanted Nicolai to have a better future. What started out a multi-pieced work was rewritten into a one-shot, stretched out, rewritten again, and finally finished.

A piece of pure 'what if' crack to say the lest. Hope you enjoy it!


/Twist of Time/

"Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow"
-"Dreams", Langston Hughes


Time works in a straight line. A ceaseless river of flowing properties and light. Time is… endless, a cry resonating throughout the universe in its entirety.

Usually.

If one's foot steps onto the destitute lands of the Field of Takamagahara Time will bend. Twist and snap for the visions of one's mind. Time becomes the servant of the man and man becomes the Master.

In this way Time listens, drawing out hidden thoughts and desires that are whispered in the most sacred corners of the minds. It hears them and it answers and Time adjusts the world the fit the images it finds and histories are written and new worlds and alternate Timelines are created.

But Time listens to everything. Everything. Even the smallest thought—a thought deemed insignificant by its thinker—is heard and Time, eager in these plains to please, twists itself to accommodate the thoughts.

Nothing escapes the everywhere ears of Time.

-

She is looking down at him, blinking through her tears to watch him watch her. She wants to cry and beg him to come with her, whatever world she is going to she wants him to come with her.

A hopeless thought because she sees it in the way he looks at her that his mind is already elsewhere. She thinks perhaps it is on the glowing, gaping hole in his chest but she knows it is unlikely.

Alice. He is thinking about Alice because that is all Yuri ever really thinks about.

Karin was second best, if she was anything, and she comes to understand with a deep-bone sadness that it was likely she was never anything to Yuri other than the redhead companion he had acquired. She is no Alice.

And yet, she yearns for him. Yearns in a way that transcends Time. Even as her body feeds itself into the timestream, she cannot stop yearning.

I want to be with you, Yuri, in anyway I can. I want to make you happy. I want to see you again. And her thoughts are loud in her head and she wills Time to hear them, to pick them apart and design for her that world she craves.

But at the very back of her mind, in a though she is unaware of even thinking, something inside her whispers: I wish Nicolai could have had a better future.

The words are drawn out from some dark place in her heart, some place she shut off from herself when Yuri gasped down in pain at his chest, an object of holy properties perturbing from the skin he exposed there.

Yet, she thinks them quietly, tinged with the regret she'll never be able to escape. Because it was to her Nicolai Conrad had called out to as his end approached him in the form of a gloved hand crushing down on his skull. And she had turned away.

Guilt and a strange, uncanny mix of affection created itself a hollow in Karin's head and as her body and soul sang out for Yuri, it called out for Nicolai.

Time heard.

She's fading, dissolving into the open air of dark skies high above the dead and wasted lands of the Asuka Platform. Her body is picked apart molecule by molecule and it is the oddest sensation and she thinks she will never forget it.

Then she is gone and only Yuri is left, turning to face his destiny rather than forget it.

-

When she awakens again eyes that seem vaguely familiar greet her. She opens her mouth to shout his name… only her mind grapples with the blank hollows in her memory.

"Are you alright?" the young man asks in concern, red eyes wide and warm—even though, in the corner of her mind she thinks, they shouldn't be like that—and the hand he places on her shoulder is comforting.

"I think so," she says weakly, surprised that she is weak. What had she been doing? There is only emptiness in her mind. "I'm not… entirely sure."

"I'm Jinpachiro Hyuga," he tells her, helping her into a sitting position. The tiny, crinkled picture he found is slipped into his pocket, entirely forgotten. He looks her over and notices that she is not Japanese. "Ben."

"Ben?" She tastes the name on her tongue, surprised that it feels familiar, but in the way that a distant dream does. A connection within a connection. "I'm Ka—" Pain filters through her fuzzy subconscious and she grips her temples. And then, she remembers. "Anne."

"Anne?"

"It's Ger—" Another hot flash of pain scalding the sides of her face and she remembers again. "It's Russian."

"Russian? How did you get all the way out here?"

"I'm not sure. I can't remember much." Anne accepts the hand Ben offers her and she is wobbly like a newborn on her feet, nearly falling into him after the first teeter. Instead, she digs her heels into the soft ground and holds steady.

"I—I'll help you," Ben says, surprised that the words flow from his lips. She's a woman he doesn't know and she's a strange one—what with that outfit—but they're out and he can't stop himself from continuing on. "I'm in the military."

"Oh." Somehow that made sense, and it wasn't even because of his uniform. "Alright."

In the very back of her mind she thinks Nicolai…? But she doesn't think of it in the way a woman remembers her lover and so she drops the name. It doesn't make her feel comfortable and she's left with a tangible feeling of guilt and pity.

Guilt transcends Time, and Time is not quick to forget.

-

In the future, five years after Ben pulls Anne to her feet and walks her to her destiny, Karin's wish touches the fabric of the timeline.

I wish Nicolai could have had a better future.

And Nicolai Conrad is four and shivering and cold and he misses his mother who has passed away in grief and despair and rage—damn that Tsar! You're his son!—and Nicolai remembers and can't forget.

Russian winters are cold, especially cold when you're young and alone and bitter at the world. And even colder when you're hungry.

Nicolai is starving.

His ragged blonde hair covers his jaded eyes as he studies his prey. A tall, stately man slowly walking toward the Winter Place of the Romanov family—damn the Romanovs!—with his dark hair pulled in a slim ponytail behind his robes. He walks passed Nicolai without a second glance but the gold insignia on his priestly robes make Nicolai think that it's worth stealing from him.

The tiny, worn shoes on his feet take him toward the man and this is how it is supposed to happen. He is supposed to chase after the priestly man.

This man is his future.

Only, as his fingers reach out, something happens. The air seems to ripple. Only it isn't the air that ripples. It is Time.

Suddenly, Nicolai is turning and he is instead walking sluggishly toward a cart feet away, hand still outstretched. A red, red apple seems to jump into his hand as he approaches the cart. Trance-like, he turns away with the apple clutched tightly between him fingers.

"Hey!" Someone grabs Nicolai's wrist, hauling his slim body into the air. "Thief!"

Snap. Nicolai's back and he's struggling, throwing his arm out and swinging his legs. The man who holds him tightly is dressed in the coarse wool of a friar and Nicolai's seen him before. He runs the orphanage.

At the same time, the stately man pauses at the sound of the struggle. He goes to turn, his darkly haunting eyes narrowing.

Another man—more of a boy, only a young teenager—runs headlong into the tall man. The man's attention is drawn to the young man as he closes his slender hand over his collar.

"Let me go!" the teenager screams.

"I don't think so," Grigori Rasputin says then and forgets about the disturbance.

And as Nicolai is hauled off to the orphanage he cannot help but think he has escaped a worse fate.

Time is pleased but it is not finished.

-

Anne does not like China. It lacks the quite grace that Japan had offered her. She had made a home there with Ben, and then later with her tiny son Yuri. But Ben had a duty and one she understood well and so she had packed her things and gone with him to the mainland.

She complains but it's mostly good-natured. When she and Ben and Yuri are together she feels safe and warm and whole. Like everything is perfect.

Or almost perfect.

"Momma!" little three-year-old Yuri Hyuga calls, pointing. "What's that?"

Every time she looks at him, Anne is hit with a feeling of gratitude. But even more odd is the knowledge that follows swiftly after. For some reason she feels as if she knows Yuri, knows him more than she can after three years. She has an image of what he will look like when he is an adult. Wild, arrogant, brash, and rude. All the things she should not see. Not yet.

When he was born and Ben showed her the bloody mess that was their son the name Yuri had been expelled from her lips, called forth from the dredges of her mind, jolted to action by her subconscious. And by the time she realized she had uttered the name, Ben had already become fond of it.

Yuri was born and in the strangest way she feels as she has already set his destiny out for him.

"Why don't we go look?" Anne questions softly and holds Yuri as they stride across the dusty Chinese market street. She frowns when she reads the Chinese letters—painted again in English, then again in Russian—that proclaim Orphans.

"Or-ph-an-s," Yuri tests on his tongue.

"What does that mean? Orphans?" Anne demands of the man in the friar's robe.

The friar shrugs, lifting his bony shoulders high into the air. "The American missionaries in China like to adopt orphans and Russia has a lot of them." He glances over at Anne and notices her lack of Asian features. "Are you looking to adopt?"

Anne nearly opens her mouth to say no, but she merely brushes pass the man with Yuri and approaches the tiny platform where the orphans are showcased.

Only one is left and his shaggy blonde hair covers his face as he curls his knees to his chest. Something inside Anne moves. She looks over at the friar who follows her.

"What is that one's name?" Anne questions, motioning stiffly to the young, blonde boy. "Why hasn't he been adopted?

"He's a wild one," the friar answers. "Doesn't like anyone and lets them know it. Picked him up in Petrograd a month ago. He's about four and he says his name's Nicolai Conrad."

Nicolai…?

For a moment, Anne cannot breathe. She looks back at the boy and her mind pounds hard against the suddenly frigid contours of her skull.

"Is this your first time in the Vatican?"

"Karin, I love you."

"This is Cardinal Nicholas Conrad, sent all the way from the Vatican."

"Ka—Karin!"

Rubbing her suddenly throbbing temples, Anne takes a long stride to the boy. The clutter of her feet against the gravel must have alerted him and he looks up at her with wide, blazingly emerald eyes and the pressure on her chest increases.

But she cannot stop walking toward him.

Nicolai Conrad looks away from her eyes, hunching his shoulders defensively. Anne manages a small smile and leans over the wooden platform to him.

"Hello," she greets with a smile and there is something familiar in their meeting. Something she can't put her finger on except she needs to be here. "I'm Anne Hyuga."

He says nothing, just continues to look away from her with guarded eyes. Jade eyes, she thinks absently, he'll be handsome when he's grown. And smooth and cunning, no doubt. The wonder of seeing all these things in this slip of a boy.

She touches his cheek and wipes away a flick of dirt encrusted there. "You're awfully dirty. Do you want to come home with me and clean up?"

The young boy looks up, moved by the sincere kindness in her voice. He hesitates for a moment before managing a small nod. Anything is better than an orphanage. Anything is better than Russia.

"This is my son, Yuri." She picks him up and holds him to her despite his long whine of protest. "I suppose he's about your age."

"You have funny hair," Yuri announces as he squirms in his mother's arm. "Funny like Momma's."

Instantly, Nicolai throws his chin out and Anne is surprised at how regal he manages to look, caked in dirt and gaunt from hunger. "It's not funny. It's Russian."

"Mama's Russian!" Yuri cries in child simplicity and Nicolai smiles with something that is almost the same, but he's haunted in ways Yuri won't be for years.

"It's true…" Anne frowns and remembers that she can't remember anything about her home of Russia. She only knows that that is where she is from. "Well come on. Let's go home."

She sets Yuri down beside Nicolai and goes to deal with the friar.

"Here!" Yuri thrusts into Nicolai's hand one of his toy soldiers that he always carts around. "You can be Chinese. I'm Japanese because I'm going to win."

"Maybe I don't want to be Chinese," Nicolai says thoughtfully, twirling the metallic man in boyish hands. "Maybe I want to be… Japanese."

"Na-uh!"

Fifteen minutes later, Anne is holding Nicolai and Yuri in each hand and guiding them down the dusty road toward home. It feels weird holding Nicolai's boy hand in her own, but Anne drops the thoughts when she feels his tug.

Nicolai stares up at her with such wide-eyed amazement that Anne thinks she has done the right thing. Who knew what would happen to this boy without her? Anne thinks this was what she was meant to do.

And thinks on it no more.

-

Ben Hyuga is not sure what to make of Nicolai Conrad. He is not sure how to handle the boy. He is not even sure he has gotten the hang of being a father yet.

How is he supposed to handle this boy, with fear and bitterness in his eyes?

But Anne looks at him with such longing that Ben is more than willingly to try. And, truth to be told, there is something inside the boy's jade eyes that makes Ben want to protect and comfort.

He knows that the boy has bore witness to too many atrocities in his young life already.

And now his wiry frame is taunt and posed, ready to run. Ben has requested to speak with the boy privately but he knows Anne is waiting by the stairs listening to every word.

Because he knows that Nicolai is not quite a child—but far from a man—he bends down to knee-level and looks him directly in the eyes. Nicolai's chin is thrust out definitely but there is fear and rage in his eyes.

"You can come or go," Ben tells the boy in a stern voice and earns a shudder from the youth. He presses his hands onto Nicolai's trembling shoulders. "But do you know what I want?"

"What, sir?"

"I would like you to stay. Yuri likes you." He smiles at the boy now, willing all his warmth into the expression. "I would like you to stay and be Nicolai Hyuga. What do you think?"

Nicolai looks up, eyes widening, but instead of rage or fear in his irises there is only hope. "I'd like that, sir." And then, in his mind, Nicolai becomes a Hyuga and Russia and the Romanovs are far away.

On the stairs, Anne collapses to her knees and begins to cry softly as Nicolai allows Ben to embrace him. She cries, but she isn't sure why.

Time sighs in ecstasy around Anne and lets the timeline progress as it will.

-

Fastfoward, over twenty years in the future. Nicolai has found a home in China and he is not touched by the wanderlust Yuri is. Though China has become the final resting place of both his mother and father, Nicolai wishes to stay.

He studies the ancient white magick and sends occasional letters to Yuri on his progress. Invitations to both American Harvard and British Oxford have been received and declined. Nicolai is pleased with his place.

Then, Yuri sends him a letter and it reaches him in the start of spring in 1915.

Yuri speaks of a woman, Alice Elliot, and explains that she has died and that he is now residing at a French town called Domremy with a funny old man named Gepetto and a wolf.

Nicolai knows little or nothing of this Alice Elliot but there is something in Yuri's words when he speaks of her that makes Nicolai understand that he had loved her. Perhaps it is because they grew up together as brothers that Nicolai finds it easy to read Yuri. And he understands his brother is in pain.

Without hesitation he packs his things—what little he carries around—and sets out for France. Not even the war can stop him.

And now he is on a train whose last stop shall be Domremy.

It's her hair that catches his attention. It's vibrantly red and reminds him a bit of what his mother's hair used to look like—though it's much too short and somehow Nicolai's memory of Anne's hair is darker.

She's sitting quietly next to a man at least fifteen or sixteen years her senior, her gray eyes darting to her companion every so often. It is probably her outfit that keeps his attention. A serviceable green blazer with a white tunic peeking out under the v-neckline, coupled by matching trousers. A thick cross-dangles down from her neck.

In Nicolai's experience with women—and he likes to claim he has had a number of them—he has never met a woman who willingly wears trousers when a dress is available. And Nicolai imagines a woman of her beauty would look good in a violet dress, to bring out the amethyst in her eyes and the complexion of her fair skin.

Instead, this woman appears to be wearing a uniform of sorts.

None of his concern—right now, his only concern is reaching Yuri—but he is fascinated nonetheless.

Somehow, the young woman must sense his gaze for she turns and meets his eyes once. There is a short pause between them and Nicolai lift one of his brows in a cultured move he has perfected over the years.

The young woman's face heats up and she quickly turns forward. Nicolai gives a low chuckle and settles back down into his seat, occasionally glancing at the girl to see if he can catch her attention again. Then he drifts off…

…and the girl is standing before him when he awakes, hands on her hips and a frown on her pretty lips. Nicolai sits up fully in his seat and smiles at her.

"You've been staring at me," the young woman accuses in a slightly accented, soft voice. Nicolai thinks he vaguely recognizes the accent, though he can't place it.

"Why yes I have," he agrees.

This was not the answer the young woman wants and it is obvious in her frown. "Why?"

"Does one ever need a reason to stare at a pretty woman?"

Another blush, but she surprises him by taking a seat across from him, folding her hands neatly in her lap. "Are you going to Domremy?" she asks.

"Perhaps." There's something about her uniform—another vaguely familiar feature about her—that has him a little on edge. "I mostly go where I feel like going."

"You're a drifter?"

"Not until a month ago." Nicolai smiles, thinking of Yuri's letter. "But I don't mind seeing the sights. And you?"

"I'm on business," she says and offers no more.

For a while they are comfortable to watch the landscape spread out before them without words. Nicolai knows they're close to Domremy now when the rolling hills give away to thick forests. Yuri has mentioned them.

"What's your name?" he asks suddenly, breaking their silence.

"Oh? Um… Karin…"

"Karin." He rolls it on his tongue, teasing out its weight and worth. Then he smiles. "Nice name."

Karin opens her mouth to answer him when her companion walks stiffly up to her side. Nicolai gets his first good look of a man near forty with a tall build, long limbs, and a collected face. He's wearing robes that makes Nicolai think of the church and cardinals, long and white and pristine. The man himself is a handsome one, with a crop of dark hair and casual blue eyes.

"Lieutenant Koenig, we're almost at Domremy." The man looks at Nicolai and then quickly dismisses him, focusing his gaze on the redhead. "We should prepare to disembark."

"Of course, Cardinal Bokzen," Karin agrees and stands, sliding one last look at Nicolai. "I wouldn't go to Domremy," she says and follows the Cardinal out.

Watching her walk away, all Nicolai can thinks is: Lieutenant…?

-

Lieutenant Koenig's warning is unnecessary. Of course, Nicolai has no intention of listening to her, but there is no way for him to get into Domremy when it is completely blocked off by German guards.

Which makes Lieutenant Koenig a German officer.

The irony of it all.

"Sorry. No one's allowed in or out of Domremy," the guard tells Nicolai when he attempts to enter the woods leading to the town. "Be on your way."

He considers taking out his sword—a gold-hilted one he had handcrafted back in China, heavier than rapier and more durable—and merely fighting his way to Yuri.

But there is a whole legion of German soldiers occupying Domremy and Nicolai decides it'll be better if he takes a roundabout way into the village.

With a shrug to the soldier, he walks off.

Lucky, the woods surround the whole of the village and Nicolai doesn't find it difficult to locate a way into the forest without calling the unwanted attention of the German guards.

Halfway into the forest, Nicolai senses Yuri. It's, perhaps, his white magick that allows him to sense the tinge of Yuri's fusion magick. Or perhaps it is because he is just intoned with Yuri's power.

"Hey, Nicolai," a voice calls softly from the woods. "This way."

Nicolai frowns at the thorny bushes that bar his path and glance down at his neatly pressed trousers. With an exasperated sigh—while wishing he had brought a more durable pair of pants—Nicolai ducks into the bushes, pushing aside the briars.

Yuri is already waiting for him, beside a fire. A white wolf is seated at his left and glances up at Nicolai when he approaches.

For a moment, Nicolai has a terrible flash of the wolf charging him and ripping out his throat. But the wolf merely blinks twice and returns to its napping position.

Relieved, Nicolai turns his attention to his brother. "Couldn't have picked a more… clothing friendly place, could you?" He glances once more at his completely ruined trousers.

The man with the Hyuga eyes shrugs and motions Nicolai to take a seat. "I like it here. Besides, none of the soldiers come this far in anyway. Blanca here scares 'em all off."

"I suppose," Nicolai surmises with a crinkle of his nose as he sits beside Yuri, "that you're to blame for the German soldiers occupying Domremy?"

"Yeah. You hear what they're calling me?" Yuri throws his head back and laughs. "The Demon of Domremy."

There is something different about Yuri, Nicolai realizes. He looks so much older than what he remembers. Even though Nicolai is two years older than Yuri, he suddenly feels light-years behind his brother.

So he settles for asking, "How are you?" even though he can guess.

"Alright," Yuri answers on a shrug. "I didn't think you'd bother coming after I sent you that letter. I just wanted to let you know what was going on. Probably would've been better if you hadn't come, what with the soldiers."

"What are you going to do about them, if they're after you?"

"Well, I'm not letting them get the village, that's for sure." A self-mocking smile that makes Yuri seem even older appears on his lips. "I guess I'll charge 'em tomorrow and be done with it."

"I've meet their leader," Nicolai says then, thinking of her pretty red hair and tentative smile. "A Lieutenant Karin Koenig. Pretty woman. I love her hair."

"It doesn't take much for you to think a woman's pretty. I've met her, too."

"Really?"

"Well, she didn't meet me. Remember those fusions I can do?" When Nicolai nods, Yuri lifts his gloved hand to the firelight. "Well I got one more… a god, if you can believe it. Those soldiers were here a few months ago and were causing a racket. I went to take care of them and the redhead would've gotten herself blown up if I hadn't decided to keep her alive. I dumped her on the road and thought she'd stay far away after."

"She's come with a Cardinal." Nicolai feels a smile work its way across his face as he realizes why. "They've come to exorcise you, no doubt. Won't they be surprised when you turn into… your charming self?"

"Charming," Yuri snorts.

"I'm going with you tomorrow. When you go to face the German soldiers and the Cardinal."

"Don't bother. You just wait with the old man and the wolf."

At the sound of his name, Blanca lifts his head and barks at Yuri. Yuri, apparently used to the sharp growls, ignores him.

"Now, I didn't come all the way to Domremy to sit on the sidelines and watch you fight an army." Nicolai leans back on the palms of his hands, grinning slowly. "Besides, you and I both know you've no skills in negotiation… or talking for that matter. You'll need me."

"Heh." Yuri rolls onto his side, at perfect ease. "You better get some sleep, Nicolai."

So he does.

-

"I have a new appreciation for the ground," Nicolai mutters to himself as the bulky body of Yuri's fusion monster, Amon, crashes through the glass window of the church with Nicolai curled between his shoulder blades.

Thump.

With as much grace as he can manage, Nicolai slides from Amon's shoulders and steadies himself on the marble floors of the church, swearing never again to convince Yuri to let him ride piggyback.

"Show your true self, Demon of Domremy!" a cultured voice calls from in front of Amon-Yuri. Nicolai swipes at the dirt covering his trousers and steps out from behind Yuri as he returns to his normal form.

"You!" Lieutenant Koenig cries when she sees Nicolai. He offers a smile as her gaze darts between himself, Yuri, and her Cardinal friend.

As for Yuri and Cardinal, no one else is present.

"I've been wanting to meet you, Godslayer," Cardinal Bokzen says with a smirk on his well-sculpted face, taking two small steps toward Yuri.

"All those dead soldiers outside… are you the one who killed them?" Yuri asks casually, referring to the bodies of the soldiers both he and Nicolai had seen as they flew to the church.

"That's right," the Cardinal admits without any guilt. "You see, I don't want to leave any witnesses to what is about to happen here."

Lieutenant Koenig's head whips around toward the Cardinal whom she has guided to Domremy. She moves slowly away from him, back toward the corner. Nicolai takes a few casual steps toward her, just a bit concerned, as she seems pale and close to fainting.

"Give me the girl," Yuri says then and stops both Koenig and Nicolai in their tracks.

Girl? Yuri never mentioned to Nicolai a girl. He narrows his eyes at his brother, moving an inch closer to Koenig as she glances between the Cardinal and Yuri, reading the silent exchange in their eyes.

"Wh—what's going on?" Koenig demands and voices Nicolai's own thoughts. He's suddenly wishing he had gone into the church with a bit more knowledge to his brother's motives.

The casual smile is back on the Cardinal's face and Nicolai feels his gut tightening. Not good.

So much is going on around them. A strapping, burly man named Lenny storms in with a tiny imp of child tight in his clutches, following by several of his lackeys. Cardinal Bokzen rants and raves about a group named Sapientes Gladio and Koenig struggles to convince herself that she is on the right side.

"Perhaps," Nicolai suggests when her eyes widen as Lenny complains about a stubborn sergeant, now dead, and shrugging the girl around in his arms like a ragdoll. "You should best consider defecting?"

Cardinal Bokzen then spares Nicolai a glance but he is much more concerned with Yuri as he circles the young man.

And then Lieutenant Koenig decides and raises her gun at the Lenny, her terrified eyes on the girl locked tight in his burly arms. "Cardinal!"

The Cardinal turns his attention to her momentarily and offers her a tired smile. "Pity. You would have made a fine ally. Now you'll die here with the rest of them."

The tiny girl—Yuri had called her Jeanne—snaps awake and struggles violently in Lenny's arms, hands shooting out to claw at his face. Koenig takes her opening, firing two loud shots that resonate in the church as Jeanne races away.

"You!" The Cardinal's righteous rage turns onto Koenig. Nicolai's sword is in hand and ready to defend her but Yuri is much faster and he's there to counterattack Bokzen and give the Cardinal the opening he needs to plunge an oddly shaped instrument straight into his chest.

"W—what the… what the hell is this!" Yuri demands, withering in pain as his chest explodes with a holy light.

As Nicolai watches his adopted brother cry out in pain from the Holy Mistletoe curse a strange feeling covers him.

He is utterly replaceable.


notes: see? Pure crack. But I always wondered what would happen if Karin wished for a better future for Nicolai. I think the guy deserves a better ending, you know?