Disclaimer: I don't own .hack.
As 'And Here You Are With Me' comes to a close in this final chapter, know I greatly appreciate all of the readers who have given me support and critique, allowing me to improve as a writer. Thank you for reading, and please look for 'Disillusioned' in the near future. It centers on Endrance, and even though Haseo only appears towards the end, I believe you'll like it.
Chapter 10: Welcome to The World
Haseo opened his eyes to the sound of Atoli's voice. "Haseo," Atoli said softly, kindly as Haseo looked up. She seemed relieved, happy. "You're finally safe."
"Hey, Haseo. Sorry about the rough treatment, but it was kind of necessary. But hey, you're safe now. Took forever to find you."
That was Kuhn.
Haseo looked around, and found himself in a very different place than the one he left. It seemed… empty. Even more vacant than the space Epitaphs awakened from. Everything was black, except for the seemingly random blocks that seemed to graph out the floor he was lying on. He drew himself up into a sitting position.
"I'd like to apologize for the delay in rescuing you from your prison. But yours was the hardest to hack into, and then there was the trouble of awakening your mind."
"Yata?" Haseo said out loud. "Yata, you're all right!! Pi'll be happy," he said.
"What do I have to be happy about, again?" Pi said suddenly; she had not been there a moment ago.
Yata looked at him for a moment in confusion, and then nodded in understanding. "Ah, your mirror server was the one in which I went missing after Sakaki took over the Serpent of Lore."
"What are you talking about? And where am I?"
"You'd better give him the whole story, Yata," a girl's voice piped up. It was Saku. "I don't think Haseo's up to figuring it out by himself."
"I would be honored, but I think that Endrance would want to be the one to do it," Yata answered.
"Oh, yeah. Where is our fearless leader?" Kuhn said with a casual smile, looking off. "Is he resting? Don't blame him, not after that."
" 'Our fearless leader'? Endrance?" Haseo said skeptically.
"It's been a crazy three years since you've been gone," Kuhn said. "Oh, Endrance, you're awake! I was just about to completely confuse Haseo, so maybe you'd better update him."
"I suppose that would be best," Endrance said lightly, confidently. He looked the same, but Haseo hardly recognized him.
But Haseo knew that it was his Endrance, really his Endrance, when Endrance reached for his cheek. Haseo looked down, and Endrance pulled away. "I missed you," Endrance said to him quietly.
"I didn't know I was gone," Haseo said then.
"Three years ago," Endrance said to him, "Sakaki unleashed AIDA and it corrupted him to the core; he became its puppet. It corrupted everything. The World… and the real world. Sakaki took those who rebelled against AIDA and we became Lost Ones. But even though we were Lost Ones, our presence in the game was still enough to worry Sakaki, so he found our minds here in The World and trapped us all in AIDA mirror servers."
Haseo shook his head. "No, that's impossible. I've logged off, I've been in the real world."
"The real world… can no longer be called that. It is the realization of Sakaki's ideals, a perfect and soulless place where Moon Tree's teachings are realized in their most twisted way. AIDA infected everyone and everything, because no one could truly escape the connection to the nets. Because of this, AIDA could imitate the real world, effectively trapping all of us."
"I… the Haseo that was in my mirror server was not you. That was how I knew. Mia—Macha—helped me, and I Data Drained myself and escaped into the real World. I found the others, and now we usually stay in the Net Slums, but… we needed to come here to save you. I couldn't find your mirror server at all until not long ago."
"So… all of that—the train station, you abandoning me, everything—that never really happened?"
"Well, it did and it didn't, Haseo. Once I was in your server, I changed what was happening inside. I woke up from my server when… never mind, but it's like awakening your Epitaph, once has to be in a certain frame of mind… I'm sorry, Haseo. I didn't want to hurt you. But… it was the only way. It hurt me as well."
"You don't have to apologize, Endrance," Haseo said softly. "But…you really scared me back there. I'm just… I'm glad to see you again."
"Hey, Zelkova just messaged us," Kuhn said then, interrupting them as he took Atoli's arm. "Endrance, can we go on to the Net Slums?"
Endrance smiled. "Of course. See you soon."
Haseo watched the group disappear through the darkness. "Kuhn and Atoli? Seriously?"
"For quite some time now," Endrance remarked. "Haseo, did you notice something about this World?"
As he said this, he touched Haseo's cheek. Haseo jumped with a start; he felt Endrance's palm as if it were real.
Haseo looked up. "Endrance, you've changed. In a good way. I… I like you this way."
That made Endrance laugh.
"Hey, you're laughing," Haseo pointed out. "And… I know this isn't the real world, but… I'm here with you now," he said. He looked up at Endrance, and sighed, leaning his head into Endrance's shoulder.
"And here you are with me," Endrance answered, wrapping his arms tightly around Haseo. And Haseo knew that this was no illusion. This may have been The World, but this embrace was real.