Chapter Three: Sweet Release
The day of the Fall…The day we've been waiting for since Ryoji first warned us of Nyx's coming. Graduation day, which should have been a joyous occasion, was tainted by the thought that today everything would end. I was reluctant to join the rest of my classmates, seeing as I'd never forged a bond with any besides the now useless SEES members. Rather than going to the auditorium and hearing the empty words of the principal and Mitsuru, the valedictorian of the graduating class, I stole away to the roof of the school with Koromaru. It had always been my favorite place to sit and think.
We sat in silence for some time, listening to the warm wind rustling the leaves on the trees and the muffled clapping from within the school. It was such a shame that the world was to end just as it was renewing itself, just as the new green fronds of spring were dominating the cold black frost of winter. I'd love to have lived to see at least one more summer, but of course I couldn't very well ask Nyx to wait a few months.
My thoughts were interrupted by the soft sound of fur brushing against stone as Koromaru shifted his position and scratched at a flea behind his ear. With a pang I realized that he wouldn't be so mangy and flea-ridden if he still lived in the dorm with us…Not that it would even matter in an hour or so.
"What do you think it will be like, Aigis?" the dog asked suddenly. I was surprised; we had always tried to avoid this ominous topic of conversation, but with the time in question so close at hand I suppose there was really nothing else of any consequence to speak of.
I shrugged, my shoulders making a light mechanical clicking noise at the movement. "I really cannot say. No one will be aware of it. Everything will just…Stop."
Koromaru blinked slowly. "It seems so strange that everything can simply stop existing, just like that." he rumbled. "I wish everyone could at least see it coming, somehow."
"Some would say it is better this way. Ignorance is bliss, I have been told."
"What a dumb saying." Koromaru scraped his claws angrily against the stone roof, his red eyes blazing. "Who would ever choose not to know? Who would ever choose not to do everything in his power to stop such a thing?" Of course we both knew the answer to this; it wasn't necessary for me to reply. We both knew what kind of person took the coward's way out.
As the silence fell over us again, I thought back to the incident a few days ago. It had been the first time any of the SEES members really paid me any mind in a long time, and I'd been slightly shaken by it. Of course they didn't know that I had heard every word they said; my hearing is far better than any human's. I heard all about how Junpei couldn't even remember my name, and his dark-haired companion's knowing smile hadn't escaped my notice either as the two boys sized me up. Even Yukari's lukewarm greeting hadn't been enough to span the great divide between us.
Was it true that they really felt nothing when they saw me? Not even the faintest glimmer of memory had survived when he killed Ryoji? I suppose even that is too much to wish for, though I'm always perturbed by the look in his eyes when he looks at me. I've become more and more convinced with every day that he remembers, and chooses to hold it over my head like a coveted prize whenever he sees me. Maybe we just misjudged him all this time, and he had always harbored this cruel nature beneath the cool exterior.
I could faintly hear Mitsuru's words echoing through the auditorium deep below us. The speech was muffled and indistinct, but even the sound of her voice seemed to make my nostalgia that much stronger. Koromaru heard her too, and he stood with a growl, twitching his ears, and started to pace the roof impatiently.
"I just wish we could get it over with." He snapped irritably. "I'm sick of waiting. I'm sick of thinking. If it's really going to happen, I want it to just happen."
I closed my eyes and tilted my head back, wishing for the thousandth that I could feel the warm sun on my face. "Perhaps it will come at any moment. I should begin the process of shutting down."
"Please don't leave me just yet." I was surprised by the desperate whimper Koromaru replied with, and looked over at him questioningly. His ears drooped against his head and his eyes were dull with grief. "I don't want to be alone. I want to be with you to the very end."
Affection swelled up inside me and I knelt beside the furry white dog, putting my arms around him comfortingly. "I won't leave you alone, Koromaru. I'll make sure we're together to the end." I promised. Wagging his tail weakly, Koromaru licked my face and nuzzled me lovingly. For all his human intelligence, he was still a dog, a dog that relished the attention of the ones he loved.
I produced a worn tennis ball from my backpack, and Koromaru's expression brightened to one of almost comical joy. The fact that such a simple thing as a frayed old tennis ball could cheer him up so much brought a smile to my face. We played with the ball often, and it always seemed to help him forget the trouble we face for a time.
"Throw it! Throw it!" The white dog begged, bending into a crouch and waggling his behind in the air playfully. Laughing, I tossed the ball and watched him chase it across the roof and snag it out of the air just before it reached the fence. Koromaru padded back to me and dropped the ball at my feet, then looked up at me expectantly.
I tried to clear my mind as the repetition of throwing and taking back the ball gave me more time to think, but the thoughts wouldn't go away. I couldn't help but wish that the world would end that moment, when Koromaru's eyes were alight with glee and we were enjoying ourselves so much. He was never happier than when we played catch, and I wished his last moment could be as blissful as he was now.
The moment didn't last though, and I was startled out of my thoughts by the bell ringing in the school. The tennis ball bounced out of Koromaru's reach as he too stopped short at the sound. It slipped through the fence and plummeted to earth, landing with a soft pong as it hit the ground far below and ricocheted into the air again. The dog stepped closer to the edge to watch the ball roll through the groups of people leaving the school together. I gripped the fence tightly as I saw a familiar dark head of hair heading towards the school gate along with a hat-clad head and a brunet. Like everyone else, they were off to have fun somewhere, the stress of school forgotten for a time.
"It is coming soon." My voice came as hardly more than a whisper, but Koromaru's keen ears picked it up regardless and he turned his head to me sharply. "In a matter of minutes, it will all end."
Whimpering, Koromaru crept closer to me and pressed his body against my leg, seeking comfort. Without hesitation I sat beside him and pulled his furry white body into my lap and held him close. Though I could feel nothing, somehow I drew comfort from holding the warm living body of the dog. He seemed to feel the same way about me as he made himself comfortable in my lap.
"I love you, Aigis." Koromaru said suddenly. I looked at him sharply. "I love you as much as a dog can love his master. You've always been there for me when I needed you, and you chose to wait out the end of the world with me. I hope we can meet again in the next world…" He rested his head on his paws and closed his eyes.
Stroking his head, I bent over him so my head was resting on his shoulders, nestled softly into his long fur. "I love you too, Koromaru…" I murmured, my voice shaking with emotion. "As much as a robot can love a dog…" I faltered and took a deep breath before continuing. Death was drawing closer, and the world seemed to be fading, as if it were a photograph dulling with the passage of time. "Thank you for being the companion I needed in these last few weeks. I am not certain there is a heaven for robots, but I do hope we meet again someday, somehow."
Koromaru nodded and closed his eyes slowly, a soft sigh escaping his jaws. "I'm sure we will. Someday, somehow."
I did mention that this would be a fairly short story. I hope you enjoyed waiting out the end with Koromaru and Aigis.