Missing No. Coda
By Andrew J. Talon
Disclaimer: Atop the Fourth Wall is the property of Louis Lovhaug and Channel Awesome. No copyright infringement is intended, this is a non-profit fanwork. Please support the official release.
Don't ask me, ask my muse.
The air outside was cool and brisk, a nice change from the stuffy interior of the house. Linkara found his seat on the steps leading up to the door, and his eyes found the sky. Stars twinkled above through the light pollution, though this night the comic reviewer had no ire about it. In the houses across the street, the lights of a distant city he saw life. Neighbors arguing next door,, a dog barking, a TV blaring the sounds of a video game being played too loudly, a car passing by on the street with a stranger at the wheel...
It was all life, and a mixture of relief and joy and irritation and fear burbled up out of his mouth in a laugh.
"Ha! Hahahahaha!" He laughed for a long time, guffawing for a minute then chuckling then snickering. He wiped his eyes and breathed deeply, looking down at the crack in the cement of his walkway. A single ant crawled over it, silently navigating the bumpy terrain of the pavement. He watched it for a long while, even as it crawled up onto his shoe.
"I could never crush an ant again after that," a masculine voice spoke nearby. Linkara's head jerked up and he saw someone new. Standing on the walkway to his home stood an older man, perhaps in his seventies, wearing a familiar hat and jacket. Linkara felt his jaw drop, as the old man held open half his jacket to reveal-
"Magic Gun? But you... I'm..." Linkara shook his head. "You're me!"
"Maybe," the old man said with a negligent shrug, closing his jacket up. He walked up to the stoop, and looked up at the door with an expression filled with nostalgia. "Mind if I have a seat? Time travel's a lot rougher on the old than the young."
"Uh, sure, sure!" Linkara said, scooting over. The older version of himself sat down, and rested his hands on his knees with a groan. Despite his gray hair and wrinkles, he was fit and well built. Linkara felt a tad subconscious about his weight next to him, and as thought reading his mind the older Linkara gave him a wry grin.
"Relax. It takes a while to get into a routine, but it'll be well worth the initial pain," Old Linkara advised. He looked out at the street again, perfectly silent, while Linkara got control of the myriad of questions threatening to burst out of him and selected the most pertinent one.
"Why are you here? Is there a crisis we need to resolve? Something I forgot?" Dread filled Linkara. "Is Missing No. back in the future?"
Old Linkara shook his head. "No, no, nothing like that," the time traveler said. "Heh... I remember how fired up I... You are after that." The old man made a face. "Time travel tenses. Always a bother."
"Should I look into that?" Linkara asked. "I mean, since I am going to be time traveling-"
"I said I might be you, son, might," Old Linkara specified. He sighed deeply. "In fact, I'd much prefer you not be me. Remember your Doctor Who: Time isn't quite so linear, when you get to a certain level." The old man rubbed his shoulders, and tightened his jacket around him.
"Well... What are you here for? Why?" Linkara repeatedly. The Old Linkara sighed.
"The truth is... I've been here for a while. In fact, you might say I've been here hundreds of times... Thousands even. Right after Vyce was defeated." The old man looked at Linkara, and despite the man's healthy vigor Linkara was startled when he looked into his face. Really looked.
His wrinkles were all sad ones. On his face were the trails of tears, as though burned into his flesh. The bags under his eyes were heavy and his gaze was unfocused.
"From one of your pasts, or presents, or futures. That's where I'm from. A possible one," the old man said. He said nothing for a while, but he smiled just before a possibility clicked in Linkara's mind.
"You mean... A possible bad one."
"The worst," Old Linkara agreed. "Yes... The worst." He looked up at the sky, and Linkara followed his gaze. "You have no idea how strange it is to see stars. These stars, after so long. And to not hear... Well... Hear that."
The electronic howl of Missing No., even the mere mention of it, sent a shiver down Linkara's spine. The old man did not seem so moved, but only because he had lived with the fear for far longer.
"When I met it at last... I had the idea to go back in time," the old Linkara said. "I tried to prevent it from getting a foothold. I even consulted Vyce about it... But that was useless." The old man closed his eyes and trembled. "A hundred times... A thousand... I tried. I tried everything. I got the other Critics together, I warned the governments of earth, I tried every single thing I could think of..." He let out his breath, and his strong frame seemed to deflate with him. "Nothing worked. Nothing at all... And I had seen my friends, my loved ones... All of them be taken again and again and again."
Linkara's mouth stayed tightly shut, his eyes locked onto the face of his older counterpart. The old man closed his eyes, and bowed his head.
"Until I hit upon... I hit upon an idea. The last one I had," he said. "I told myself that it was the right thing to do, the only thing. Seek allies, seek friends, seek help outside our universe, even out of our very time."
"I wish I'd thought of that," Linkara said. The Old Linkara shook his head violently, and gave his younger counterpart a glare that, despite his old and tired stature, was enough to make the younger man's heart catch in his throat.
"No. You don't," Old Linkara said angrily. "You don't." Old Linkara closed his eyes again, regaining his composure with a series of deep breaths. The younger Linkara stayed silent, allowing his elder to pull himself back together.
"You don't... Because if you had, all you would have done is run away," Old Linkara said, disgust in his voice. "Run away because you couldn't... Couldn't take it anymore." He was silent for a long time, and Linkara hesitantly extended a hand to his shoulder.
"So... What? You came here to... To do something so I wouldn't run away?"
Old Linkara laughed. A strange mixture of bitterness and elation was in it, and Linkara wasn't able to sort it out before the old man spoke again.
"No. No... I decided I'd just watch another me suffer through it. I'd look at it from the beginning, and if I saw you were going to do the same thing..." His hand rested on the magic gun hidden by his jacket. Linkara stared at it, shocked. Old Linkara patted his gun twice, before lowering his hand to rest on the pavement. He gripped it, as though reassuring himself it was still there before he continued.
"The thing is..." And here Old Linkara's lip wobbled. "The thing is... You surprised me. You... You did what I could never, ever do. Not in a million years. Not in a million tries. You stood your ground. You talked to it. You..." And here Old Linkara laughed darkly. "You asked it a question, one little question. A question that was it's downfall." He laughed again. "You..." He shook his head, and clasped Linkara's shoulder with a genuine smile, a tear dripping down his cheek. "You did the right thing."
Linkara was silent. He didn't really know what to say, so all he did was nod. Old Linkara nodded again, and gave him a hug.
"You... You know, you've done the one thing I never could do for anyone else. Not after that, and for that, I thank you."
"Wh-What?" Linkara asked softly.
"You gave me hope. Real hope," Old Linkara said with a smile. "And I just... I just wanted you to know that." Very slowly, he pulled himself up to his feet. Linkara stood up, offering a hand but his older counterpart waved him off. "I just wanted you to know that."
"Well, thanks," Linkara said with a smile. "Thank you..." He heard Nineties Kid yell something through the door, and glanced back with a sigh. "That would be Nineties Kid forgetting the rules again." Linkara turned back to his older counterpart, feeling suddenly awkward. "You know... If you wanted, you could come inside. Play with us."
Old Linkara shook his head. "No. I don't think so."
"But... But you should be in there," Linkara said. "I mean... After everything you've lost, everything you've seen... You should be in there!"
"Yes. I should," Old Linkara said, looking significantly at Linkara. "I should."
Linkara stared back at his older counterpart, worrying his lip. He slowly nodded.
"All right... All right. But, you know... If you want to talk, or... Or anything...?"
Old Linkara nodded. "I know where to find you." He looked at the door with a wistful smile. "Take care... Of all of them."
"I will," Linkara promised. He opened the door, walked inside, and closed it behind him. Old Linkara smiled softly, and looked up at the sky.
"We're going home, child," he said softly, patting his gun. "We're going home... A peace has been missing, but now... Now it's back."
A moment later, there wasn't a single trace of the old man left anywhere, save a breeze passing down the street with a familiar brown hat.