Title: Leaves in Moonlight
Fandom: Brave Police J-Decker
Content notes: Kagerou/Shadowmaru. Maybe spoilers up through part of episode 10?
Author notes: As soon as I saw the prompt interpret 'performance anxiety' as writing in a new fandom, I had to try!
Summary: Kagerou's lost his memories, twenty one times.
"Kagerou." A voice, piercing the darkness. Another voice, smaller, weaker, from farther away, mumbling a string of syllables he couldn't quite make out. "Kagerou."
"Yes." Kagerou. I am Kagerou. A name. His name. He knew that, but he had no idea how. His optical feed burst on, resolving light into colors, and colors into shapes: A face, near his, greenish optics tilted with concern.
"Kagerou." The optics brightened, mouth pulling out of its tense frown. "It's Shadowmaru."
The name clicked with a sense of rightness into place. He nodded, but in the back of his mind, he wondered why everyone seemed to know him but himself. And how did he know names, how did this place look familiar, even to the burble of voices, the hum of the rows of computer banks, when he barely knew who he was?
The last of the lights clicked off, plunging the room into darkness, only one small square of yellow-white light remaining, low, to the right, where the last of the human engineers was stepping into an elevator. Kagerou watched it close, the light disappearing sideways, the opposite of when his video feed was cut, vertical and small, until the shadows swallowed them.
He stood, in his bay, memory core respooling the events of the day: run through a series of systems checks, humans prodding and probing. And then the afternoon, in the domed arena, sparring with Shadowmaru.
Movement felt glorious, the animal pleasure of having strength and using it, of having agility and slicing through 'd felt something stir within him, then, matching move for move, strength for strength. He'd felt something then, for Shadowmaru: respect, and something more. Something he didn't have a name for.
A sound of movement, large and metallic. And then green optics, lit up before him.
The other robot gestured with one hand, beckoning, 'come on'. Kagerou stepped forward, hand already moving to unplug his charging cord. He followed Shadowmaru through the banks of computers, idle now and quiet, to the arena, dark and echoing with their footsteps, and then out a door.
He stopped, in the threshold, dazzled. A white thin light glazed over the world in front of him: crisp geometric edges of buildings, and then the wild, organic tumble of trees, grass, flowers curled up into their buds for the night. A small breeze stirred, tossing the light like coins, leaves rustling, whispering words in a language he wondered if anyone could understand.
Shadowmaru waited, patiently, leaning on the arena's wall, head tipped down. The silver light glossed over him, too, catching facets of his armor like jewels.
"It's always like this," Shadowmaru said, quietly. "The first day. I'm sorry."
"What's always like this?" He couldn't tear his gaze away from the world—sounds, smells, sights he'd never seen, subtle and beautiful under the white glow which seemed somehow less cold and impassive than the banks of lights in the bay.
"You." The green optics flicked up to him. "Twenty one times, already."
"Twenty one times." He felt like an echo. He felt stupid. And all the strange familiarities seemed to loom with some significance.
Shadowmaru nodded. "They have sworn it doesn't hurt. That you don't remember so it doesn't hurt."
It. That it again. Amorphous and undefinable. "What is it?"
"Sometimes you ask that. Sometimes you don't. I don't know which is worse." Shadowmaru elbowed himself off the wall. "It. They reformat you. Wipe your AI memory."
"My…memories." Gone. Which was why everyone knew him, why things seemed to click into rightness, even though they were new to him.
They weren't new. Not really.
Green optics bobbed into a nod. "Twenty one times."
"So. I've seen this before." He gestured, one palm toward the moonlight and the rustling trees.
Another nod. "You always stop. And think it's beautiful." Something like pain seemed to move behind the green glass.
Kagerou's gaze studied Shadowmaru—his partner, the only one here like him, the only other robot. And then, beyond him, the field, the stand of trees, alive under the moon. Even the ground underneath his feet seemed to swim with life. Maybe that was why he thought it was beautiful. It was alive and he was…something not quite alive, not quite dead. Could you truly be alive if you remembered only a fraction of what your body had lived?
"Why do you do this? Show me this?" He couldn't hide the edge of desperation in his voice. Why show him the beauty of the world, why tell him this, twenty one times? Was it to show him what he'd lose? What he could never fully have? It seemed the sharpest cruelty, like one of the swords he wielded, slicing deep before one could even register the pain.
"Because I see it. Because I know it and I don't view you as some…prototype. We're equals. You and me." Shadowmaru moved, as though he wanted to reach forward, take Kagerou's hand. And stopped, pulling back, the hand hanging like a dewdrop, trembling from a leaf. "Because I want you to live, while you are alive."
A tremor through Kagerou's frame, the words seeming to vibrate through to his very heart, brighter and purer than the white moon above them. His hand moved, closing the distance, the ground coming up to touch the dewdrop, making the connection somehow more real.
"I don't want to forget," he said, weakly. "This. Or you." But it was hard, because he knew, with that mind that knew things a thing only hours old shouldn't know, that he lived to make Shadowmaru better, that each memory rewrite, each erasure, made Shadowmaru stronger, more capable. A terrible choice.
Shadowmaru nodded, his mouth working, unhappy. "I remember for both of us. I try." The green optics met his, under the dark helm, and he pulled Kagerou out of the doorway, onto the cool whispering grass. The fierce opponent in the arena seemed to have evaporated, changed. Maybe it was the moonlight, dancing on the leaves.
"It is worth it," Kagerou said. Because it was right, and in his short life, he had already learned that right and truth are sometimes the most painful things in this world. "It is worth it. For you." But it wasn't worth the shadow in Shadowmaru's optics, darker than the underside of the midnight leaves. The engineers were right: he didn't remember. It didn't hurt…him. But he could see the pain in Shadowmaru's face, losing him again and again, growing and changing while he…was doomed to forgetting.
"Please," he said, one thumb tracing Shadowmaru's cheek. "Don't be sad. Not for me. It's what I was made for." Shadowmaru's prototype, the vessel of design errors so that he might be perfect. It is what he was, and no memory rewrite could change that. Shadowmaru was who he was because of Kagerou. What greater honor could Kagerou ask?