"Tracks"

- A 999 fic by Grezex29

The sunlight beamed down on his face through the windows as they began to take off after the inevitable first car. Junpei knew they were in the second car, he knew it had to be there because there'd been a trail of fresh tracks leading away from the building. With it being real, that meant Aoi was real, and most importantly, so was she.

Akane Kurashiki.

To find her, all he had to do was follow these tracks she had left in order to reach where she was going. It was like following footprints in the snow to reach who was on the other side, or following drips of blood from a stained knife to find a killer. Seven would likely describe it as something along the lines of "follow the trail, find the perp. text book stuff", which seemed to be his line of thinking on a number of things. That thought was just one of the things Junpei had recently been sure of, as he was sure that he would catch up to her. It was just something he could sense, as though he could 'feel' she was okay.

With everything that had occurred during the past few hours, there were a ridiculous amount of things that he should have been feeling: fatigue, frustration, anger, pain, disbelief, sorrow, uncertainty, resentment, betrayal. He stopped and smirked ever so slightly. "Funny", Junpei said quietly to himself "nine again". Just like the number on her bracelet. He'd actually been tempted to take his with him as a reminder of things, but had ultimately decided against it. After all, he reasoned with himself that he wouldn't need something to remember Kanny by when he would see her again and make new memories in the future.

He could still see the tire tracks in front of him stretched far as the eye could see, as if to guide him to the future that he wanted and was so determined to get. Tracks were always proof of the real, proof that she hadn't just disappeared from the world. Naturally, Junpei knew that wasn't true and that she hadn't ceased to be. Her voice was so fresh in his ears, her face so clear in his brain, and the warmth of her body was so recent and real that he knew everything was okay. Just as footprints in the sand or snow mark a person's existence, tracks were simply a marking, a path if you will, telling him the way to their new life.

While the young man wasn't sure why she and Aoi had left ahead of them, he wondered if maybe she was afraid to face him, unsure of what he would think after coming to the realization that she had started it, that she was Zero. But he stopped that line of thinking as quickly as it had begun. She would never be just "Zero" to him, nor would she be "Six" or "June". No matter what had happened, what she had done, and what he'd had to experience, she was still his childhood friend Akane, his Kanny, and he would always be her Jumpy. Sure Lotus, Clover, or the others might be mad at her and Aoi for what happened, but not Junpei. He knew her, he knew that the cold and sinister personality of Zero was how she had to act to survive, and that she was still the same sweet and caring person he knew. There was no need to ask how he knew, because he just did, like he just knew how deep his feelings for her had always run.

Despite what some might think, she wasn't the one to blame, she wasn't the villain in all of this. To him, there were 4 people to blame, and 3 of them lay dead inside of Building Q, while the 4th was tied up and captured in the trunk of their vehicle as it tore through the desert, controlled only by a teenager who had only just begun to discover the joys of horsepower. In Junpei's mind Kanny would always be someone that was an unfortunate victim of Hongou and his associates. She did the only thing she could do in order to survive. Akane wasn't the one that murdered Kubota, Nijisaki, and Musashidou, the one they called Ace was the one who had. She'd needed him to be there for her, to look out for her, and he was, just like the two had always been keeping each other out of trouble when they were young.

*Thump!*

A pothole temporarily broke Junpei's concentration. His train of thought momentarily wandered to see Seven admonishing Clover for not slowing down before catching Hongou give a muffled grunt of pain as his head bounced up and hit the floor. All Lotus seemed to do during this was sigh and roll her eyes and Snake seemed neither surprised nor bothered by the road being treated as if it were a race track. Aoi probably slowed down when they went over the hole on account of knowing the area better.

It had always seemed strange to him. They'd agreed when they were kids that they would find time to meet back at their spot, but when she hadn't shown he hadn't figured out why and eventually it just became a distant memory. Junpei hadn't realized how much he valued what the two of them had shared until she was back in his life again, staring at him in absolute disbelief.

There was another thing that Junpei found that he was beating himself up over, and that was the question of why? Why hadn't he gone and done what he now knew he should've? She had been there with him almost the entire time, and yet even with it crossing his mind, he'd never been able to muster up the strength to say it. There'd been time and opportunity, and when it came down to it, the whole thing shouldn't have been all that hard to do, yet it had proven to be impossible. He had to tell her when he caught up to her, and he could practically see the smile on her face like it was staring back at him through the window. Right at that moment, as his stomach tightened, he wished more than anything that he'd taken the few seconds to say those three words to her: 'I love you'.

"What're you thinking about, Junpei?" Clover's words caught his attention as he saw her looking at him through the rear view mirror with slight concern on her face. Out of all of the people there, she probably understood how he was currently feeling the most. That feeling of despair that the poor girl must have felt when she thought that her brother Snake was dead must have been absolutely horrible. Still, it didn't seem terribly surprising that she would be the one to inquire about it.

"Just..." He started as he tried to figure out how to give an idea without getting too into it. "...Just thinking about June."

After double checking the road again to make sure that they were still heading in the generally right direction and hadn't veered off towards a boulder or off into some random space in the wilderness like an out of control train, Clover gave a slow understanding nod. "You know Junpei, if you ever need to..." She trailed off as she thought it best to temporarily let him be alone with his feelings and at least deal with things in his own way for the time being while she just focused on making sure they got out of the desert safely. His lack of a response wasn't meant to be disrespectful, he was just too deep in thought to answer her.

Junpei must have gone over the scenario a thousand different times in his head by now, like some never-ending cycle; like an ever-spinning fan. Round and round and round it would go, always coming back to her, to why she hadn't even said goodbye, to where she was, when he'd see her, what her motivations were. The Akane he knew would have said goodbye...unless she wanted him to remember her as the way he'd seen her and as the person that she wa-.

No.

In no way was he going to get into the mind-set that she was some kind of monster. He'd already gone over it, he'd already explained to himself why it wasn't true, and there wasn't much reason for him to obsess over it. Besides, she'd looked out for him, and monsters don't look out for anybody but themselves, and that included friends and family members.

It was then that he saw something. Junpei could almost call it a memory of sorts, only it was far too real, and it something that he could actually feel happening in front of him. To top things off though, there was no way that what was going on could possibly have been a memory. It was just flat out impossible for such a thing to have happened.

At least before everything that had occurred in the past 10 and a half hours.

*Fade in*

The sky was blue and shining down as the few clouds in the sky floated overhead as if they didn't have a care in the world. Off in their own little land they went as the weather of another warm and inviting summer day showed its face. Sunlight beamed down onto a small grassy hill, and the two people that occupied it sat looking slightly upwards. They had to be roughly fourteen or fifteen, and both the boy and the girl looked like they were familiar with the area as they acted like they were right at home. Hands clasped together as the girl's head rested softly and peacefully on the boy's right shoulder. She smiled ever so sweetly as he began to gently run his free hand through her hair.

Sure, there was more than just the two of them around, but neither of them seemed to notice or even care. Here and now, this was their moment, and this was their spot. The same spot that they'd gone to and been at time and time again. Nothing else mattered to them. Not what could have happened, not the boys that had killed the poor rabbits, and not the little kids doing their best attempt at soccer in the background. Even the fact that the boy had almost gotten lost twice trying to find his way there didn't really mean a thing to them.

The two of them just sat there as the minutes went by, stuck in some kind of good-natured haze that comes from that point in one's life where even just snuggling is the absolute greatest thing in the world. That kind of feeling where your heart skips a beat, and you feel like even a short time frame just makes up for an extended period of separation. After a little while longer in this position, the teen girl shifted her weight a little bit and giggled slightly before she opened her mouth to speak.

"It's hard to believe isn't it? High school in the fall, and we haven't been here in two years. I missed you, Jumpy."

He looked over at her and thought momentarily. Had it really been two years since they had gotten together and just reminisced about old times? It was a little difficult for him to believe that they would have let each other go that long without staying connected, but there they were, still remembering their spot and each other.

The boy found himself smiling a bit more and he tightened his clasp on her soft hand a little bit more. It was nice for them to be there together like that. Of course, it wouldn't have been nice for him to leave her waiting for an answer. "Yeah...it's been a long two years..." He began as he thought things over.

"I missed you too, Kanny..."

...Junpei found himself finishing the boy's reply out loud to himself as whatever connection had brought him into the scene was abruptly cut off. He slowly looked around as his eyes went back out the window. The tracks still lay there and led them to his destination. As he caught a glimpse of Clover giving him a reassuring smile and the tracks curving around a corner, there was one thing he knew without a shadow of a doubt. Akane would be waiting there at the end of those tracks for him, with her smiling face welcoming him to a new beginning of their friendship and beyond. And no matter where the tracks led him, he would find her.

-end

(Writer's note: When writing this story, I wanted to keep true to the canon as laid out in the interviews. I may not have liked the answer that the writer gave on the question that this story has to do with, but I felt that I should be respectful of it, while still doing something satisfactory. Throughout it, I wanted to find a way to portray hope in the situation, and a hopeless situation at both the same time and about the same subject. We WANT to believe Junpei will find her, and things within it lead us and him to believe that indeed that does happen and will happen, even though deep down we all know the harsh truth and that he's only fooling himself. However, with the scene that he experienced, I was hoping to show that since Junpei's actions would have undoubtedly created a paradox and a split timeline of sorts, while he himself may never find and get to be with Akane, maybe, just maybe the younger version of him would in the other branched past. Of course, the sequel could change a bunch of canonical things and make some things moot.)

Speech identification key:

Bold = Junpei

Italic Bold = Clover

Italics = Akane (scene)