Disclaimer – I do not own .Hack. I do not live in nor am I associated in any way with the Chiba prefecture of Japan or Ichikawa City. I also do not attend nor have ever been affiliated with the Ichikawa High School, mentioned in this fiction. I own none of it.
A/N – I'll talk later, because I know why you're truly reading this final chapter right now – not to hear my babble.
The ever-present spoiler tag: This fiction covers events in all three games, as well as the backstories of the humans controlling our protagonists, Ryou and Chigusa, who are Haseo and Atoli, respectively.
-Let's Meet Offline-
Last Chapter: The Kindest Truth
A Multi-chapter fanfiction by,
Last Chapter in our tale:
"Maybe you ARE worthless." Ryou's sardonic smirk only amplified his words, cutting Chigusa deep. "Maybe you were RIGHT! MAYBE YOU ARE SCUM! LOOK AT WHAT YOU'RE DOING TO ME! TO YOURSELF!" Ryou's eyes glared daggers into Chigusa, before he spat,
"You disgust me."
Chigusa winced as Ryou slammed her door shut, and cast her gaze to the floor of her room once more.
Ryou slammed the door to his own guest room, falling onto the bed and punching the pillow, hard. 'What in the hell did I do! Why couldn't I have just...?' Ryou repeatedly slammed his fist into the pillow, in frustration. 'Damn it! Why...why am I perpetually such a moron! I screwed up...I went too far...I just...I just ruined my life...her life...'
'I warned you', came a voice from the very recesses of Ryou's mind.
-(Afternoon, the Third Day)-
Ryou simply lay in bed, full of a strange mixture of shame, pain and anger churning within him, all because of his outburst to Chigusa. 'It was just like the Demon Palace arena finals...'
-'You doubt my power?'-
-'Why do all of you keep getting in my way...?'-
-'Get out! Get out of my way! Or I'll eat you alive!'-
-'No...Stop! Stop it! That's enough! Stop it now!'-
After reliving the moment in his mind, Ryou let out a sharp, pained gasp of air. 'I said I'd never let it happen again...' The young man shifted and sat up on the edge of the bed, staring at his sullen reflection in the mirror. 'Yet here we are. Once again, I had to take things too far, and then realize way too late I'm an idiot. She was in no emotional state for that...abuse I put her through. Even if she were...that was sickening. I feel like I raised my fists and...and beat her.' As his thoughts continued to strike him, Ryou spoke out loud, a sudden sick feeling welling up inside him. "Skeith."
No reply. "Damn it, I need someone to talk to, I-"
"You did not come to eat when it was time for dinner, so you'll starve for tonight." That sharp, cracking voice, slapping like a whip across Ryou's surprised expression. The young man's bruised soul flared with pain, which smoldered into a low anger.
"What do you want?" Ryou was not about to hold himself back in this conversation, not with the mood he was in.
"Hah! So you show you really are just an uncouth brat after all." With every word Mrs. Kusaka spoke, Ryou's negative emotions seemed to amplify. It was as if she were a human-incarnate AIDA bug. "What did you say to my daughter? She didn't eat either. Little bitch wouldn't even come out of her room. That's a good thing though, anytime I don't have to look at that...mistake is a better second of my life."
Ryou was practically seething with rage. "She's the best thing you ever had a hand in, and she is not...a bitch. Take it back!"
Mrs. Kusaka's stern expression flickered just a moment, as the woman was quite used to getting her own way, no questions asked or comebacks thrown. "How dare you tell me, in my own house-"
"I...told you...to TAKE IT BACK!" Ryou stood up suddenly, auburn eyes aglow with a whirling blaze of anger. "This is not 'your' house! You are NOT the only person living here! There are two other, living, breathing human beings under this roof who you are NO better than! You control and twist, trying to mold them into something they don't want to be to serve your own ends! A family is about a partnership, not this...this dictatorship you have going on here! And you know what? I think you probably even know the truth of it all...You're the real dirt! You're the scum here! You're the absolute trash, you're the BITCH! You take it out on the two of them because of your inability to swallow your god-damned stuck-up pride and realize you're the one at fault!"
Mrs. Kusaka sat in the doorway, stunned at the sudden, brazen outburst by the young man. Seeing the look on her face, Ryou knew he had struck a chord – several, in fact - and prepared for her whiplash. The comeback, the blow, the threat to call the police, the actual call to the police, whatever she could dish out, he was absolutely ready for-
"I'm the pathetic one, you foolish little boy? What about the person who cast aside my weak, spineless daughter into trash with no want or care for her emotions? That's right- it was you." Mrs. Kusaka backed away and out of sight down the hallway, her pride wounded by her inability to truly match Ryou's outlash.
Bur regardless of how she felt about it, the older, vicious matron's words had done a number on Ryou Misaki. 'I am...the one who did those things to Chigusa...' Mrs. Kusaka's final, venomous strike left the young teen speechless. Ryou had to quickly clap a hand to his mouth to stop from vomiting at the sudden surge of sickness that filled him up inside; the knowledge that he had done to his beloved what too many important people had done to her before.
-'Because...you stepped on Atoli's heart.'-
-(Ryou's POV, the following day)-
So that's how it ended.
The next morning, I tried to open Chigusa's door, I tried to get her to let me in so I could talk to her, to make things right. I don't know what was wrong with her in the first place, but I had...most definitely not handled it correctly before. I wanted a chance to talk to her again – to apologize. But it never came. Before I knew it, I was whisked out the front door of the Kusaka's home, into my father's car, and one pathetically long trip later, I was standing back in my room.
It was raining outside. How completely and utterly fitting.
The entire way there, I had continually sent emails, text messages, even tried to call Chigusa over and over. At the end of it all, I had nothing to show for it; she never replied, not once. My father asked me why I was so frantically calling her – I patched up some excuse about how I had left something there. That satisfied him, and left me alone to...
Honestly? To sulk.
The last time I felt like this...was when I first heard Shino was in a coma.
But even then, I had a target to direct my anger at...Tri-edge.
Right now, I had nobody to blame but myself.
Please meet me at Hulle Granz. I really need to talk to somebody.
-(Hulle Granz Cathedral)-
As Haseo pushed open the doors to the cathedral, he saw the black-clad Harvest Cleric already awaiting him. Slowly, the white Rogue made his way beside her, leaning against the railing in front of the pedestal.
"So, you wanted to talk?" The ever-pleasant, serene tone of Shino Nanao's voice echoed in Haseo's ears, already calming him down.
"Yeah...I have a long story for you, Shino. You...you might judge me because of what I did. But I need to tell someone, anyone..."
Haseo spoke for the better part of a half hour detailing the events behind his trip to Ichikawa, why he ended up there with Atoli for so long, and what had transpired on the final day. Shino simply closed her eyes and listened to Haseo speak, pausing for a long moment after he finished the tale.
"So, that's what it is, Shino...I really have fallen for her. And I really messed up – again."
"Haseo," Shino began, "You're forgetting that despite being both an Epitaph-User and a hero of 'The World', you're human." Shino turned to Haseo, smiling gently. "And humans simply...make mistakes. It's not anything to beat yourself up over, so long as you realize you did it and decide to make up for it, even if you make the same mistake once, twice, or a hundred times. As long as it's in your heart to make it right again..."
Haseo mulled over this a moment. His eyes wandered over the landscape of the Lost Ground as he thought intensely on Shino's words. Finally after a few minutes, Shino's soft voice broke into the silence once more.
"Find him. Ask him why you were able to beat Cubia, okay?"
Haseo blinked quickly, then looked over at Shino in surprise. "You say it like it's so simple...we don't know where he is, or-"
Shino cut in. "Did you think about things like that when I was in a coma?"
Haseo's objections were crushed entirely by the weight of Shino's single question, before he gave a light nod. "All right."
"I'll go looking for him...for Ovan."
-(Inverted city, Megin Fi)-
"I hope you find what you're searching for, Haseo!" Zelkova cheerily called to Haseo, waving before he warped back to the Netslum.
"Me too. Thanks for the help getting here..." Walking forward into the beautiful, forbidden city, Haseo's mind flashed to the two times the peaceful place brought him nothing but pain – when Ovan was first lost, and then when Haseo was forced to fight Ovan in their first match.
'Ovan...you always did know the truth. I need to know the truth, now more than ever...'
Haseo entered the inner sanctum, where his match with Ovan had taken place – the room still bore many Tri-Edge scars, the evidence of their epic, hard-fought battle.
"These scars that once were constant, painful reminders of Tri-Edge...and then later, the fact that you were not on my side..." Haseo ran one of his gloved hands over one of the dull red glowing signs. "Even they can be something good, after all. They just remind me of you, now." Haseo turned around, and came face-to-face with rose-tinted glasses.
Ovan's image was faint, and his voice terribly scratched and garbled, but the shock at seeing his long-lost mentor- no, his friend's image was still apparent on Haseo's face. "Ovan..."
"Haseo..." Spoke the warbled voice of the former player. "I will ask you once more: Do you wish to know the truth?"
Haseo gave a short nod. "I always have, haven't I, Ovan? You know that..."
Small traces of a smile danced across the mysterious man's face. "The reason you were able to beat back Cubia, the Anti-Existence, saving 'The World' and humanity from the Third Network Crisis..."
"...Was because you showed up to help us in the end, Ovan."
"Not quite. The reason you were even able to get up to that point was because you are truly a kind person, Haseo."
"Me, kind?" Haseo looked away from Ovan. "If I was as kind as you say, I never would have said those things to her...dammit, Ovan, I'm the furthest thing from a kind person..." Haseo glanced up – Ovan, despite Haseo's objections, remained unchanged and resolute. The image of the cyan-colored hero stared at the torn young man before him – refusing his logic, as usual. Just as always, Ovan did not budge. Simply explained away the contradictions, until even Haseo at his most skeptic would believe in him.
"Ah, but you said them with good intentions at heart. You were tired of seeing her live in the same cycle. You wanted her to be able to change. Your heart and your message were pure. You simply allowed your emotions to sweep up and warp your kind message into something different. Just speak what's in your heart, Haseo. The kindest, most bare truth deep inside of yourself."
Haseo stared at the somewhat-ghostly image of Ovan, before laughing lightly. "As usual, you know way too damn much."
Ovan simply smiled, leaving Haseo with one last parting sentence and a reassuring nod before vanishing back into the network.
"Delta, Submissive Tragedy's 1000 Oaks. I got it, Ovan. Thanks."
-(Submissive Tragedy's 1000 Oaks)-
The PC Atoli stood behind the Beast temple, gazing out at the night sky of the simulated area. The moon shone pale, almost illuminating the fair skin and blonde hair of the girl. 'How I wish I could get lost in this game, sometimes...then, perhaps I might be good enough for Haseo...for Ryou...'
Despite being lost in her own thoughts, she heard the noise of a warp login behind her. 'But, that shouldn't be...the only thing there is the Sign-...?' Atoli swung around, fully expecting to see AIDA or some other terrible phenomena that shouldn't be there ready to strike her down.
Instead stood the white rogue that had stolen her heart. Atoli attempted to search his computerized expression, and saw...warmth? Kindness? She spun around, making to log out. "Why...why did you come here?"
It was amazing the depths to which The World could simulate things...Atoli's player felt Haseo- no, Ryou – gently turn her to face him, and grip her character firmly by the hand. "Ovan sent me here."
A faint smile. "That's right. He told me where to find you."
'The kindest, most bare truth...right, Ovan?' Ryou Misaki sighed out loud in real life, ready to put himself on the line again. "Atoli..no, Chigusa." Haseo placed both his hands around Atoli's, lifting her palm to his chest. "You...you belong here. Right here, in my heart. You hurt yourself, and all it does is hurt me. Do you think if you hurt me enough, I'll go away?"
Atoli's gaze went down to the floor – a tear rolling down from the real-life Chigusa's M2D module. "I don't...deserve you. You need better. I'm nothing, I'm-"
The rogue shook his head, a smirk on his face. "I won't go away. If you have to continue hurting me, I'm going to have to stay strong and keep coming back. We fought so hard against AIDA and Cubia to preserve this world, but if I don't have you with me, then I don't get a happy ending. Neither do you." Haseo tugged Atoli closer to him, the two avatars embracing – both players swore they could actually feel the other. "I have faults, so do you. You teach me to slow down, and...enjoy things. And I can teach you the good things about yourself. Why Chigusa Kusaka isn't a bad person – in fact, she's a very beautiful one. I can show you every single reason I love you."
Atoli's character suddenly logged out, vanishing from Ryou's, or rather Haseo's grasp.
"Wh..." Ryou sighed. 'That's...alright. I won't give up.' The teenage boy took off his own M2D, logging Haseo out. That was when he noticed his phone ringing. Quickly, he jumped up, practically leaping onto his bed to grab the phone, left on a bedside table.
Chigusa's sobs rang loud and clear from the other end. "I...had to take off my module..." She admitted with a cracked voice and partial embarrassment.
Ryou's chest felt a weight taken off of it. "So, you..."
Chigusa smiled – she knew he couldn't see it, but she knew just as much she he would feel it. "I told you so long ago...when I'm with you, everything looks beautiful. Even...even me."
-(Two Months Later)-
Chigusa Kusaka couldn't have been happier. Today she had done all of her homework correctly, managed to look her Mother in the eye at breakfast, flash a small smile to her Father, and to top it all off, today was the day he was coming back to visit.
Any online relationship was something to work at – theirs, doubly so because of their deep flaws. Tomonari Kasumi (AKA Kuhn), while happy for the couple (even citing 'about time', a sentiment echoed among various other neo .hackers) jokingly made a bet that "Within a month, Haseo's gonna 'go Skeith' again, and I'm gonna have to rush in, sweep dear Atoli's broken heart off the floor, and-" Nobody quite heard the end of it – a certain Tribal Grappler's hand found itself implanted rather firmly in the Steam Gunner's face, accompanied by a sharp lecture on the finer points of decency in a private chatline.
Kuhn's joking aside, it was rather clear most of their friends were happy for them. A slight exception was Alkaid, who avoided Haseo and Atoli for a week or two after the 'announcement', and Endrance, whom while happy for the couple, eerily threatened Atoli were she to 'break dear Haseo's heart'.
Chigusa practically skipped down the front steps of her school, seeing him standing there. Nearly that same stance as the very first time she laid eyes on him. His eyes, normally somewhat fierce and brooding on their own, brightened considerably upon sight of her. They came within close proximity of one another – still a little shy, given the circumstances. They had only seen each other three times overall, this occasion marking the fourth.
"We need to get better at this girlfriend-boyfriend stuff." The young man joked.
"Hmm...Better this sort of problem than others, though."
He sighed. "A good point...here." Ryou took Chigusa's hand – clasping both of his hands over it, pressing it to his chest – his heartbeat firmly beating underneath her fingertips the only change in the sensation for the girl. "Remember this?"
She giggled, something Ryou had only elicited from the repressed teenage girl a few times in his visits – every time was like music to his ears, though. "I couldn't forget if I tried."
"Yeah...but hey, won't we be late if we keep flirting around like this?"
The 'meeting', of course, was with their friends online – a rare treat it was to get to interact with the couple actually being in close proximity to one another, something their friends seized upon with glee to embarrass the young teenagers. Specifically, Kuhn. "Good point...How's your Mom?"
"Same as ever. I guess a bit quieter..." Chigusa mused.
Ryou smirked again. "Suppose we need to keep showing her how a real relationship works. I support you, and you support me."
Chigusa beamed up at her boyfriend, laying her head on his arm as they walked. "Someday she'll see...I hope."
A light squeeze to her side came from Ryou's arm, laced protectively around her. "She will, I'm sure of it. And if she doesn't, we won't invite her to the wedding."
Chigusa flushed a little, before slapping Ryou playfully on the arm. "It's just an ingame event..."
Ryou stopped, breaking from his better half and staring at her incredulously. "This is Atoli, Ms. 'Stop-and-walk-in-the-cyber-flowers', saying something is 'just an ingame event'?"
Chigusa stuck out her tongue in reply, walking off in faux-anger, leaving the young gentleman to catch up, laughing.
Somewhere, deep within, the Skeith part of 'Haseo' watched. Perhaps someday soon the young man would be at total peace with himself – those repressed memories that 'Skeith' contained coming back to him, of a time before The World R:2, showing just how interlaced with "The World" Ryou Misaki was. How before 'offline' had merged with 'online' and took something away, the opposite had happened here; In this instance it blessed the two youths with a deep seated affection that was well on its way into blossoming into true love.
Three simple words, yet a set of complexities abound within them.
I love you.
Let's meet offline.
What can I really say, other than it's been a long time coming? I had a myriad of issues with this, ranging from breakdowns to business to simple writer's block. But nonetheless, writing this to completion has taught me things – namely, I am not meant to write multi-chapter stories. In the future, I will fully (or mostly, at least) inscribe a tale before I decide how to best split it into chapters for a release, or either just make it a very long oneshot. I think this is also the end of my attention to the .hack fandom for a while – I do so love it, but there are other things beckoning my inner muse.
Things of note in this chapter were the inclusion of Ovan (my personal favorite character) and Shino. One of my plot points way back when was to bring them in, and have them serve as mentors and guides to Haseo once more. This is, of course, what I went with. I realize however that overall this is perhaps a bit weak and predictable – originally I had no less than four ideas, but by the time I actually came back to finish this narrative, only that one stood out well enough in my mind to write. The benefit of maintaining notes in the future, I suppose. Secondly, the ending. At the time of my writing this author's note, I have yet to go back and proofread – rest assured I shall. I do not know how truly 'strong' of an ending it will turn out to be – in my mind, I feel it might be a letdown in and of itself. Nonetheless, given the sheer amount of time between my immersion in the .hack fandom and this fanfiction coming into form, I must say it's something of a miracle that there IS an ending.
Perhaps, with this completed, I can begin writing in greater frequency – that's a promise I know better than to make now, so let us simply consider it 'within the realm of possibility'.
I do apologize for the time it took in bringing this to completion. I realize that a great many of the people who followed this from the beginning have either forgotten about it or wrote it off as 'perpetually incomplete' a long time ago. I apologize to those of you who might have stuck with it, idly wondering when I would take the time to finish.
There's not much more to say. I hope that, despite its flaws and issues, you the reader can enjoy this journey – whether you've followed it from two years ago 'til now, or if you happened across this and read it in a single night.
Until next we meet,
Take care, dearest reader.