Beginnings are tricky, and endings freak him out. He isn't anywhere near ready for one yet.

He's gotten pretty good at crafting his own reality. He carefully sculpts and molds the contours of his dreams and then brashly chisels away all the ugly bits that don't fit right. They fall right into the palms of his hands, and he discards them on the floor.

He's gotten really, really good at sacrificing others. The North Maiden's screams make him imagine what exploitation would feel like. They had been raw and explicit, like the stuff out of horror films but probably more crystal. The way her mark breaks is like glass shattering too, and it is breathtaking in every possible way. He kind of admires her, so he locks her up in a bird cage, gives her an almost affectionate nickname, and she sings a pretty song and tells him a story before he sleeps.

Fish girl's words are freshwater. They are damp and sweet in the air like ocean breeze kisses, and he breathes in every last inch of them.

"And so," fish girl says, "the adventure of life goes on."

He breathes out a sigh of relief. This could last.

This could be real.

So the day after, he makes sure the world stops again. He decides he likes it better this way. And when the time comes, he convinces himself, all these moments will belong to him, him, and him alone. Everything is that much more infinite in grayscale.

Down below, the Galactic Pretty Boy sparkles and then guns his Tauburn into action. Takuto's so bright that it hurts to watch.

Head does anyway. This too, he decides, will break.

It does, of course. After the sky shatters, color starts to drown the island again. The effect is much more watercolor than acrylic, and there's a tapestry of noise and laughter and movement woven together now.

They are in the middle of eating when the third dimension reanimates. Wako blinks, and Takuto has a fork clenched in hand, standing in the same tensed position he had been in before Zero Time had set. Sugata, naturally, is already calmly and somehow elegantly eating again.

Wako is quick to remember the stacks of food sitting in front of her and eagerly picks up her fork too. Takuto watches her wolf down a full plate and smiles in a sort of way that makes Sugata faintly wary.

Wako, naturally, misses it completely. She takes a forkful of vegetables and piles it onto Takuto's plate.

Takuto stares down at it. It isn't so much that he isn't grateful but, "What's this?"

Wako grins. "Vegetables, of course! I don't really like them, but they're good for you. Plus, Sugata's paying so feel free to eat as much as you want! Sit down and eat already!"

The space lapse from apprivoising still gets to Takuto. He sits down but still looks vaguely confused anyway. "Wait, that last battle—"

Wako swallows before explaining. "I have Sugata's knife and your pocket watch. I've got all the talismans I need, right? And you've got to be hungry too."

Sugata's mouth lifts. "Eat up, freeloader."

Takuto is slightly offended. "Hey! It's not like you earn your own money."

There is more friendly banter, and Keito comes in and takes a seat alone at a table in a distant and discreet corner of the diner. She's not particularly good at keeping her hands to herself, but she still has steady hands, and she eats with small bites and perfect posture. She's waiting for Sugata to look at her.

Head watches all of this from the second floor. He leans over the railing. He knows the trio's storyline too well. It's a pity, he thinks. That none of this will last.

He thinks of impractical paintings of fantastic sunsets and a girl with beautiful hair and the softest eyes he'd ever seen. This is too good to last.

He pretends it does. It will.

Fish girl begins to sing.

It doesn't take long for the sky to shatter again.

He picks up his chisel. If you pretend hard enough, it's actually really, really easy to craft your own reality.

He's always been pretty good at convincing people. He helps start up a group with a stupid mocking name and convinces a whole lot of people to be join. He convinces both himself and the members that this will all be worth it.

"Tell me a story," says Head.

Some things aren't meant to happen. Honest.

They do anyway.

This one starts with another picturesque sunset and brushstrokes cut across a canvas. Her name had been Sora, and she and Ryosuke first meet him at the beach. She's soft, pretty, and willing. He paints her like she's infinity; she shares every inch of her anatomy with him. Skin meets skin, and he makes one of his first decisions somewhere between her legs and nude life drawings. This could have been so much.

This doesn't last.

"Sam killed the girl," says fish girl. "To sail into the shining galaxy, he offered her red blood to the ship's engine."

Everything's different now. This world, Zero Time, everything, is new—it's this awesome space of gaping possibility and clusters of beautifully crystal stars. He shoots them down one at a time, and Sora is already a thing of some distant past that isn't really his anymore. He changes his name. He feels it's an appropriate move.

He apprivoises his first Cybody, and the world is absolutely perfect when it's still and monochrome. He has it at his fingertips, and it's possibly the best feeling ever.

"In the end, what Sam truly loved was not the girl," says fish girl, "but his longing for the world out in the galaxy."

The North Maiden doesn't fall short of exotic, even though she's never left the island before. Or maybe that's why. Sometimes he watches her when she sings or dances or even just sits around like some porcelain doll. There's not much to do in a cage. He never even thinks about painting her.

It wouldn't be right. Fish girl is Sora's opposite in every possible way, and that's part of her charm, he supposes. She's something else entirely in the moment. She reminds him of ocean breezes—transient—and he wonders what her kisses will actually taste like.

He asks, once, if she would like it.

Her mouth parts.

"But the galaxy was not some far-off world," says fish girl. "Sam had been living in its brilliance all along. Why did he kill the girl?"

This, too, ends.

He picks up his mask again, calls another Glittering Crux meeting to order, and moves on as if nothing had ever happened. Nothing had, except now the bird cage is empty and his room feels stale now.

He picks up painting again too. He still has a penchant for those sunsets, but he ditches the palette knife and mixes his colors the slow way instead. He's building the sum of his reality slowly and surely.

He'll get it all back, he swears.

Later, he finds Keito. She's Ivrogne today, and her actions are much more brash and real than her class rep persona lets on. She's in nervous anticipation and it shows. He's amused.

She folds her arms and demands, "What is it exactly that you're waiting for?"

His mouth tips up wryly. "The right moment" is the best answer he can give.

He's been waiting his whole life for this, and he won't let anyone take it away from him. This isn't an ending, but a beginning. He's almost done sculpting this phase of his reality.

This is lucid dreaming. He holds his breath and counts to three.

One. The Night Flight drama club puts on a play, and he watches it. It is in all honesty a real work of poetry and he thinks that fish girl should have been here to watch this. This story ends right, he could have told her. She could have learned how to play this pretending game, and maybe she could have stayed on the island.

It's a pity. This could have lasted so much longer.

Two. Keito is trying to fuck Sugata and gets caught in the act this time. She's a stupid lovesick girl who thinks she's letting Sugata play king of the world. She even gushes to him about eternity and attempts to fuck him again with pretty pithy words like that when Sugata confronts her.

She plays right into Head's designs without even knowing it.

Three. Zero Time sets. The sky is lit with firework cosmos.

Head is a million feelings jammed into one body. Every nerve in his system is synced and tensed with anticipation, and his libido is raging. This time it's for real, and he can feel the rhythm of the world pulsating at his fingertips. It is exciting and he is ready to exist in infinity, ready to dictate and transverse space and time as he so pleases. There are a lot of things he has to live for, and even more he had lost and needs to recover.

So he pilots Sinpathy and takes over Samekh. He can feel the synergistic libido spilling through his own veins. He can practically taste the onset of the fifth phase. The curtain of sky behind him is starting to rip but it doesn't matter to him, since he can barely see anything except his own past coming closer and closer. There is a flash of aqua hair. He thrusts, reaches—

This, too, breaks.

He wakes up, cut short of oxygen. His pulse cuts and his eyes sting. There is nothing left but the sound of shattering sky. There's a sense of finality this time, and he knows now he can't get back what he's lost. His nails tear; skin peels red, and the chisel falls to the floor.

The dream is over.

The empty bird cage in his room swings and creaks. Why did he kill the girl?

The paint on his brush is already dried and crusted. It is another thing of that long gone past.

Ryosuke watches him for a while. He's not Head anymore, Reiji's time is up too, and all that's left is the man hidden under the shell. Ryosuke hasn't seen him for a very long time.

This is a man who doesn't know how to live in the present. He throws his whole life away for the sheer idea of the future for the sake of the past, and now he only knows how to cling onto the past. What is lost can never be returned, but he kind of takes his birth name back. All his relationships are in ruins. There is nothing left of this man anymore.

The canvas in front of him is blank.

He presses his dry brush hard against it anyway. "Did you know that dreams can only ever be just that—dreams? It's a shame."

Ryosuke reacts on instinct, but Tokio doesn't even bother to properly address him when he finally steps through the door. He runs a hand over the stiffened bristles instead.

This is despair.

"What happens now?"

There's a stretch of silence, but it doesn't matter much since he's already decided on an answer. He can hazard a guess at what Ryosuke's thinking and not saying too. Smart choice, he has to admit. Tokio scratches at the acrylic on his brush and some of it chips off. Ryosuke recognizes the gesture and closes his eyes. Tokio's crafting and chiseling his reality again, still trapped in the sphere of his dreams.

He tells Ryosuke he's thinking of getting a new name, maybe one that means something along the lines of recapitulation. He asks Ryosuke what he thinks of it.

This is too much.

Beginnings are tricky. He stops at the edge of a cliff in a corner of the island, listens to the roll of water edging against the rocks, and thinks about the play that ends at just the right moment. You are still waiting for your life to begin.

The air is damp and sweet, perfumed with the freshwater words of a girl he had once known. She's not here to sing, and the sky isn't going to break anymore. He picks up his chisel.

He watches it splinter under the crush of the sea.