Here it is, the final Moment. Just a brief disclaimer: I do not own the italicised dialogue at the end of this chapter. It originates from #135 and GX_ST's subs of the episode.
Part 7 – Doubt (1593)
It starts as a pressure in the centre of his chest. He is used to this feeling. For years he has wandered with the weight of despair held tight to his battered old heart, and it makes sense to him that it chooses this moment to reassert itself. It is all, he believes, a part of the grieving process. Confronting the pain of loss, and moving beyond it – for the future's sake. It is what the others wanted, the last vain hope they possessed. The two that remain… he and Zone have to keep going. For as long as it takes. He doesn't know if they can succeed or whether their efforts are futile conceits. For a future to even exist, they have to try.
The pressure builds. He does his best to ignore it. It is a vice, a crushing despair, and it will destroy him if he allows it to take control again. He can defeat this. He must.
Strange, though, that his body doesn't want to obey. His hands are shaking with an infirmity of age he has always managed to avoid in the past. The hands that once knew weapons, clawed out victory over hollow victory, dug him out of each new despair… now his hands betray him. Slowly, the pressure in his chest deepens. It smoulders at the edges with the vague surety of pain, but he cannot understand why it feels like the burn is creeping towards his heart. Why does breathing seem so difficult? His vision blurs.
He wonders why he's looking at the ceiling.
But even that fades.
Only the shadows—
they crowd around him - ghosts - mouths moving - faces hidden - eyeless - voiceless
Aporia - yes that is his name - a strange name but it's his - the grooves a distant friction under his fingers - his cane topples to the side - dull clatter - there's nothing now - he can't feel the pain and he's free - no - still chained - still
Aporia. Do not give up. Hear me, Aporia. Listen to me.
Aporia the ghosts whisper and one swims closer - ash-grey eyes - dark hair - concern and the terror of love breaking through her mask of practicality - Ayumi - brilliant Ayumi - she's here - now of all times
him and her against the world
Stay calm. Aporia, you can overcome this. Stay with me.
calm - yes he's calm - calmer than he's been in a lifetime - but Zone are you pleading - you never beg - always in control - Zone - he doesn't understand - why are you so desperate for him to
He opens his eye to a barrier of glass and the steady blip—blip of a heart monitor. It seems that he cannot die. He always wakes up. Is death simply a glorious lie? The spectres of memory are gone now. Gone, save for one who loiters at the side of his soon-to-be coffin. Long red hair and jade-green eyes. The boy, Lucciano, the invention of his guilty despair, come once again at the end of all things.
"Hello," he says, lips attempting a smile. "…Hey, can I call you José?"
"Why are you here?"
"Because I want to be. Because," a small, hesitant laugh, "you need me. You always needed me. Didn't you, José~?"
The rasp of his voice is painful against the silence. "That is not my name."
"I know! Neither is Plácido. But I've given them to you all the same, and you rejected them, just like you rejected this." Lucciano holds up the badge of the dahlia, the same one from weeks ago, from their confrontation under the shadow of the Monument. It drips petals across his casket. Withered tears like flakes of blood. "You didn't know what to believe, so even when your mind insisted I had to be real…
"…but I couldn't possibly be real, could I? I had to be an illusion. Something fake. What, was I your guilt manifest or something? You don't need to answer – your eye tells me everything. You named me, José, like I've named you. But I'll accept your name. If you want me to become Lucciano then I will! Just for you. You saved my life back then. I want to do the same for you, José. I want to save you."
The words pierce his defences with utter sincerity, leaving Aporia to question all he has ever thought about this boy with the jade-green eyes and Ayumi's face. The boy who, in another, happier lifetime, could have been… No. Thinking about that is foolish. That could never be. He has accepted this truth long ago.
"You know, I always wondered. Why dahlias, when they mean 'instability'?" The boy he knows only as Lucciano stares down at his faded, dying flower with the curiosity of one who has never fully grasped the enormity of death. "But I told you right from the start! This was never about instability. Not really. Just because they can mean it doesn't mean they always do…" The sounds of sulky disapproval tumble around the vast chamber, almost like the child has decided to scold him for never daring to protest the dubious phrase.
"Then tell me what they mean." Aporia phrases it as a statement. Both he and the child know it to be a question.
And Lucciano smiles.
"Faith. 'Good faith', that's what they meant. This was always about faith, A~po~ri~a~," he draws the name out, giggling as it resounds to a melody Aporia cannot hear, "about getting you here to this moment in history… getting you to this place… I'm just the messenger, but you, you're important. And we can't lose you here."
Aporia cannot believe the boy. He knows that this time, he is dying—this time, his eyes will close forever. There is no future. Lucciano, despite his insistence, is nothing but a misguided child. There is no hope. There is no faith. There is nothing but the crush of despair.
"If there's no future then why are you trying so hard to fight it? Go on then. Give up. You'll never be able to change things." The green eyes flash away from him, refusing to gaze upon a man who believes only in despair. Crutches tap out a faint rhythm of movement, the slow shuffle of a foot. The dahlia tumbles from the small pale hand, dashes its petals across the glass roof of his deathbed. "If we don't have faith then what do we have? Hypocrite. You've always had that faith! And I – I – I refuse to accept your world! You're wrong! There's a future. There's always a future. Just because… no, no, I believe! Zone can make it real, I promise… but you can't leave him alone. Would you inflict that despair on him? Would you?"
He does not reply, but fixes the boy with a weary, hopeless stare. The red curtain of hair is blurred around the edges. His eyesight starts to fade once again. What can a dying relic achieve that Zone cannot? The question remains unsaid. He knows the answer: everything. The chamber is still, silent save for the blip—blip signalling his heartbeat (if he listens close then sometimes he hears it falter, slowly condemning him to his fate), the rasp of his breath, each exhalation like a sorrowful sigh, and the trembling catch in Lucciano's voice as he once again attempts communication.
Do you want to know a secret?
The cover slides back – once again, petals scatter into silence – and Lucciano slips a hand through, settles ice-cold fingers at the junction of his neck. A hundred thousand questions blaze in the chasm behind his eyes, a myriad of questions, a single answer promised. Who are you, child, who are you? The boy leans in close. There is a deep solemnity in his expression. How old is he? He can't be older than ten, eleven. He has always been this way, a question mark stretched across an otherwise blank canvas. How, how, how. He is like a ghost, but the fingers touching him are real. They have always been real. Even at that time, in the shadow of the Monument, the icy brush of skin… it had been more than the trickery of longing. It has taken him a long time, far too long, to accept it. But his realisation comes too late to understand the boy's final mystery. Breath tickles across his ear – he'd not realised how claustrophobic the environment of the capsule truly is – and into the silence creeps a single word, soft, an exhalation. A name. Aporia feels doubt, disbelief—hope?—clench his heart (the monitor stutters again), and for the first time in years
Laughter. "I'm just as real as you are."
—like maybe, at the end, he can secure one small success.
As Lucciano disappears (ghostlike) into the dark expanse of time, never to appear before him again, Aporia – José, Plácido, they are the same always the same – finds enough hope for one final resolution. No matter what happens to him now…
…he shall never let Zone suffer that terrible fate.
"My soul exists as three embodiments of despair…!"
Three embodiments of despair?
"…Use this power I possess… use me as your servant!"
Bring back hope… bring back the future… I know you will.
I promise you, Aporia.
Maybe he smiles. Maybe he manages a faint reassurance. He would like to think so.
For the first time in years, Aporia sleeps. This time he never wakes.
…But even death cannot subdue a warrior's soul.
A/N: And with this, the Moments draw to a close. Sixteen days, seven short stories, probably some of the best writing I've ever produced. Thank you all so much for reading this far – at the current reading rate, this will doubtless reach 1,000 hits, making it my fourth most read work on the site. (Keeping in mind that the other three come from much larger fandoms, and have been in existence for 3/4 years, that's rather impressive.)
I'm currently deliberating over adding an apologia ('justification', only not quite—more of an elaboration?) at the end of this Moment, looking at and explaining just why things played out as they did – and, of course, clearing up any areas of confusion. It depends on reader response… or my state of mind.
Please don't forget to take a dahlia on the way out, and let us hope that the Hell Aporia lived through can indeed be averted.