A/N: Practice piece written to ease my mind off my Pokémon Big Bang story. Alternate universes galore. Originally written as segment of alternate universes. I may or may not expand this into future chapters.

I. I don't mind.

She wakes up and he's staring at her.

"Ugh! Why are you so creepy?" Clover asks, hands grabbing at her own elbows protectively.

"Fuck you, that's why," Santa replies, leaning against the wall, playing with a lighter. Clover is fairly certain he doesn't smoke, but she says nothing, just giggles. "What, was I supposed to let you sleeping here all alone? Fine by me—next time I'll do just that."

"Where's my brother?" Clover switches subjects. She knows he's going to win this discussion if she proceeds.

"Snake's investigating the machine room with Junpei and Ace. He told me to take care of you, and since I needed a rest…" He does a half-dismissive gesture towards his right knee, and only now does she notice he's pulled his pants up, revealing the redness consuming a nasty wound. "Got my knee fucked up while running up the stairs," he explains.

"Suits you for being an asshole." But what she means is she's sorry.

"Excuse me? I'm looking after you and instead of gratitude, you call me an asshole? What's wrong with you?" he asks, but he's half-smirking. Clover's half-smirking too, and she almost doesn't notice it, until she starts laughing.

"Whatever, lame-o."

"Lame-o? Really? I just—really? Are you in grade school?"

Clover looks away and pretends the floor is very interesting. "Are we supposed to wait for them?"

"Yes, what does it look like?" He huffs, and adds: "Figures I had to get the moron of the group."

Clover is the better person: she ignores him. She sighs dramatically, takes out her scarf and hands it to him, making sure their hands don't touch. "You can use that to stop the bleeding, if you want."

"Really?" he asks, surprised. "Is this a trick-question? Don't you mind? It's going to stain, you know. Blood is a bitch to get out of clothes—trust me."

"Of course I mind," Clover screeches, "It's my favorite scarf, too. I'm just giving it to you because that way you won't be such a pain in the ass, and you'll stop whining about your stupid knee."

"Bitch," he says, with a hardly-there scowl.

"Prick," she says, with a hardly-there smile.

II. I'm not suspicious.

"I should have known."


"It was obvious."

"What? I'm not suspicious. You should consider this divine retribution," Clover says, staring into his eyes. "By the way, has anyone told you you're pretty when you're bleeding?"

"Yes," he says, sarcastically, "I get that all time from girls."

"I really mean it, too. It's too bad I have to kill you, you know. I rather fancied you, up until you got my brother killed." She's staring at the axe absently. Santa experimentally pulls at the rope binding his wrists.

"What? It wasn't my fault—"

"It was everyone's fault!" she screams, eyes darkening in the dim light of the cabin. "Fuck you. You don't know what it's like to lose a sibling, do you? Fuck you."

"Gladly, if it's with y—" he starts, and stops when he hears steps. Clover gets up from the floor, smiling.

"Well, this is my cue. I got to tell Jumpy about the news. Well, you know how it is, busy life, with what all the people dying and the ships sinking." She shoves the axe down her jacket pocket, presses a kiss against his mouth.

And Santa wants to hate her. He wants to hate her so bad. He wants to hate her, and for a second, he's sure he does, but then she's kissing him, and he is disgusted at himself for complying.

"I'll meet you in another life," Santa says, when she pulls back. "I'll get mine."

"It's only fair," Clover replies with a shrug, and watches him bleed out. The door closes.

III. I do.

There's water at her heels, breaking the icy silence, and Clover can only think about Santa's hand on her wrist. He notices her staring, and introduces the deadly subject of conversation.

"I know I'm handsome," he says off-handedly, with the greatest of sneers on his handsome face, pulling her with him. The gun is on the other hand, menacing in its existence, and Clover isn't sure about anything anymore. They don't stop to chat; he keeps pulling her along. She's already tired of walking through the water, tired of watching her tired reflection stare back from the metal walls.

Santa is not. He doesn't stop to look at her, he doesn't stop to look at himself. His goal is far away, deep down in the guts of the ship, the incinerator. Clover wants to kill him, or maybe she wants to kiss him. The words are almost the same, really, four-letters, half the same and half different, and –

"Fuck you," she finally decides. "Are you going to kill me?

"Not if you're a good girl," Santa immediately replies. It's a vulgar approach, and she knows he wants her to take it the wrong way. Clover breathes, tries to pull her wrist out of his hand. It fails miserably. "Stop moving around. We don't have much time—"

"Why are you doing this? What's the point of killing everyone?" she asks, voice cracking.

"You wouldn't understand," he hisses.

"Try me, dick head—"

"You wouldn't understand! This is justice. This is love's retribution! You wouldn't be able to—"

"I'll lose my brother, too! I thought I lost him, as well—and now—and now you're trying to take him back from me again! You're cruel!" He stops, tightens his hold on her wrist. Clover is sobbing, now. "So don't think I don't understand!"

"You understand?" Santa asks, turning to her. His eyes are wide. "You understand? You don't know anything about what is going on." He's closer, now. "You don't know anything."

There is a pause. Clover makes her move. "I do!" she hisses, and pulls him into a kiss when he smirks at her condescendingly. Santa's fingers tighten so hard, she thinks he's going to break her wrist, but then he pulls away.

"I'm sick of this shit and I'm sick of you," she says, while he's half-shocked, pulling her wrist away and running across the corridor. She hears him call her – Yotsuba! Her real name, how does he know her real name – but she doesn't even stop.

IV. It's true.

The McDonald's is empty. Her wristwatch marks 00:18AM (one plus eight, what a sadistic joke).

"Do you think we'll ever see them again?" Junpei asks. Yotsuba – not Clover – smiles at him, drinking the strawberry milkshake he bought through the straw. Junpei's playing with his burger, setting out the pickles in a neat pile, by the corner of the tray.

"You gonna eat that?" she asks, grabbing at the card box.

"Yes," he reacts defensively, placing protective hands around his food. "I already bought you a milkshake. Don't make grabby hands at my food."

Yotsuba smiles again, setting down her glass. "Yeah, I guess." She stares at it, blankly. "About your question … I don't know. Do you?"

"I do. I hope so, at least," he adds, and chuckles half-heartedly. "Do you think they see us sometimes? Do you think they check up on us?"

Clover tries to scoff, but Yotsuba squelches that urge. She stares at him instead. "Why would they? They don't care about us. If they did, they wouldn't have run away. They would have stayed behind to face their trials." She stabs at her cool milkshake. "They're cowards. I hate cowards."

"Then why do you keep meeting with me?" Junpei asks with a bitter smile.

"Light does not understand," she says haughtily. "Light thinks I'm crazy."

"So you think I'm crazy?"

"Of course I do. You love her, don't you? Don't give me that shit, we're on the same boat," Yotsuba says (and then cringes at the bad pun), rummages through her bag. "Ah, fuck. Do you have a lighter?"

Junpei makes a face. "I don't smoke. Neither should you."

"Keep the bullshit to yourself, buddy."

There is a quiet silence. He slurps on his iced tea.

"You know, sometimes I wonder about Akane, you know. What she's doing. If we're ever going to meet. I'm thinking of becoming a policeman. Get myself acquainted with our case. Now that Hongou Pharmaceuticals is bankrupt—and now that he's in prison—all that's left is to find them."

"That's stupid. They didn't kill anyone, you know."

"It was a crime, Yotsuba. They deserve to be punished. I deserve a finish line to cross," he says, aghast. "You understand."

Was it a crime, Clover wonders. Yotsuba shrugs instead, thinking of sleepless nights and tears in her eyes. "I guess that's true," she says, unconvincingly. Junpei seems pleased.

V. It's for the best.

Yotsuba bumps against him in the subway. "Excuse me," she mutters absently, stealing a simple glance out of the corner of her eye.

The world slows down, and she can't help but to stop and stare. Smack in the middle of the train car, she just … stops and stares. He has not changed. Aoi looks as sharp as ever, and he doesn't even flinch when he notices her staring. People shift and bump into her, making for the exit.

"Santa—" she starts, hurriedly, but then he smiles, sets his hand on her shoulder. His hand feels warm on her bare shoulder, and suddenly she's back on building Q, and he's not setting his hand on her shoulder, but he's shoving a gun into her face instead. She makes to step back, but –

"Clover," Aoi says, pushing stray strands of hair behind her ear. Yotsuba feels her chest expand, feels her eyes widen, feels the sharp tang of disbelief dissipate (because he's actually here, he's actually here), feels the slightest of pricks behind her earlobe—

She wakes up on her bed, smelling of cologne. "It's for the best," she tells herself. There's a tiny scar behind her ear; it lasts a week before vanishing. She cries after she notices it's gone.

VI. I understand.

"—happens, you run. Just run," Santa says. Clover's leaning against him, grabbing at his shoulder and at hers. "Do you hear me? Clover, fuck—just listen—"

"I am listening," she breathes, staring absently at the floor. "But I don't want to be alone. That maniac's loose around here and I'm not going to—"

"This is not a discussion, it's an order."

She stares at him then, eyes widened. "An order? Well, I have an order to you to, asshole, why don't you shove your scarf up your—"

"Yotsuba," Santa says, breathless, eyebrows jutted down. His hand is in her shoulder (the good one, and he squeezes. She feels a little strange; she blames it on the blood loss. Is the room spinning, or is it just her? Clover shakes her head, and Santa bends over slightly, peering into her eyes. "Do you understand? You need to get out of here if anything happens. I will handle Hongou, not you. Do you understand?"

Clover opens her mouth, and then closes it. Santa's hand is cold and clammy and wet with her blood. He nears, cupping her face, and for a second, she thinks he's actually going to do it, he's actually going to –

"Yes! I understand," she says, stepping back. Santa looks pleased, and he sighs in relief before pointing at the corridor on her left.

"You go through there. We'll meet in the first class cabin, okay? The one in C deck. We'll resume from there." A pause. "I…" He runs his hand through his hair. It stains. "I'll make it up to you."

"I understand," Clover repeats, a little wistfully, and watches him dart through the flooded corridor.

She counts to twenty-seven because she can't wait until thirty, and then goes after him.

VII. I'm sorry.

Tokyo is lights and sound and the smell of oil mixed with that strange, cool scent of after-rain. Yotsuba sits in her favorite park bench, stares at the starry night and wonders about a lot of things. About university, about Light, about Junpei, about Aoi. Especially Aoi.

Her umbrella is sitting beside her, still dripping; the pink plastic expands and shines in the light, when the cars run by. Yotsuba breathes in the smell of damp grass. Her skirt is damp, as well, but she doesn't care.

"Can I sit?"

She doesn't need to see who it is, because the voice is a dead giveaway, but she does it anyway. Just to make sure she isn't dreaming. Aoi stands, a feet from her, cautiously gauging her reaction. Yotsuba's lips part in slow-motion as she inhales. Of course she knows he's there, but it's still unbelievable.

"I don't have much time—"

"Yes. Yes, you can sit." Her voice sounds unusually quiet, and this bothers Yotsuba terribly. She pats at the bench for added measure, taking the umbrella out of the way. Aoi sits. He smells of cologne and of tobacco, and Yotsuba needs to bite her lip to keep from lashing at him. "So, what brings you here?"

"I was passing by," Aoi says, naturally, as though he's commenting on the weather. As though she doesn't know he monitors her every move, as though she doesn't know he and Akane are aware of the number of times she breathes in and out, and at which speed. Yotsuba fails to laugh.

"It's been a while." Seven months, a week and a day (seven plus one plus one—Yotsuba bites on her lip, harder; she wonders if he does it on purpose).

Not that she's counting.

"I suppose it is."

"How have you been?"

"Fine. And you?"


He pulls out a cigarette and Yotsuba is mildly shocked. She doesn't know anyone who smokes; it makes her sick, but she doesn't say anything.

"So," Aoi says, when he's done smoking.

"So," Yotsuba replies. Blandly. The two of them stay there for a minute or two, and she feels stupid when she notices how close their hands are. Santa—not Aoi—brings his hand over her wrist and pulls her into a kiss. He tastes like ash and menthol (and god does Yotsuba hate menthol), but she doesn't pull away. She is incapable of it.

"Yotsuba," Aoi whispers, against her lips. "I'm sorry."

She feels her head spin after that, and it's not because she's madly in love. Yotsuba wakes up in her apartment, propped on the couch. Her wristwatch marks 2:43AM when she checks it. Two plus four plus three, and she feels sick to her stomach (brushes out the feeling of dèja vu).

He always was a great actor, after all.