]+By Chronic Guardian+[
Chapter 16: Lullaby for You
Early Sunday morning found the Wild Kat as quiet as ever business-wise, despite the inviting aroma of brewing coffee and baking pastries. Gallery goers and specialist shoppers passed by on their way to bigger destinations, leaving the cafe undisturbed like schools of fish passing by the glass walls of an aquarium.
Inside those glass walls, Amber fought lethargy with her best upbeat selections before dropping right back to neutral with the joys of admissions paperwork. Not quite the fruits of victory she'd been imagining, but it was life. After fighting Rueban so hard on the point, it'd be pretty pathetic to give up now just because she wasn't having fun.
And to think the forms after these ones were even worse… hopefully she would recover from the trauma before it was time for University.
The strong aroma of the house blend snuck up on her and she made a conscious effort not to indulge in the distraction as the chair across from her groaned back across the tile floor. Uncle H. tapped her elbow with a saucer before placing the cup down beyond her paper barricade. He'd already done what he could in moral support, but the paperwork was foreign territory for both of them.
...Not to mention Amber kind of wanted to do this on her own.
"Still stuck?" he asked. Without looking, she could already hear the familiar, understanding smile spreading across his face as he settled in to listen.
She traced the current box with her pen for the umpteenth time and nodded back.
"Still that question about GPA?"
Her mouth twisted in frustration. "What the hell even is a GPA?"
"Whoa!" Uncle chuckled and paused to sip from his own mug, "maybe dial it back, kiddo? You wanna make a proper impression on your new classmates, yeah?"
"Meh..." she mumbled and waved the suggestion off. "Got it covered with at least one of 'em."
"Ah, right. Good ol' Sport Coat McFancypants." Uncle nodded. "Y'know, I betcha he'd pull a few strings if you asked. You got his number? Or you need me to track him down for ya?"
"Rueban's in cram school until sometime this afternoon," she sighed, straightening up to stretch her arms over her head. "No interruptions, please."
Not that Rue would answer if Uncle tried to call. But maybe if it was for her, though...
"Okay, well then maybe…" he paused, then shook his head. "No, 'Phones has his hands full with work these days. Plus, he's back in the school system, so he's taking what he can get in weekend hours. You know he goes to Shibuya High now? Just a little ways down from here."
Amber raised her eyebrows. "Is it for his friends?"
"Can you think of another reason for a stone faced loner to get back in? 'Phones works good outside the system; almost disappointing to see him give some of that up. But the socialization does him good. Helps get him back on the right track."
Amber tapped her pen on the table a few times, waiting for some other foot to drop. She didn't know what, exactly, but that didn't stop the air from getting a little heavier in her lungs. Not by much, she could suppress the feeling if she didn't think about it, but Rueban made her promise to be honest with herself while they were defining the terms of their RG partnership.
After a moment, she gave up on waiting and pushed the issue herself.
"...Is part of that my fault?"
"Hmm?" She could practically hear the curious look in his voice.
"You know," she breathed and fidgeted with her pen, "bringing me back. That cost them all, didn't it?"
There was a beat of silence. Amber almost glanced up to see if she'd accidentally said something wrong, but then Uncle laughed. "Okay, first, since when do you get how this all works?"
"I… remember things. Things from when I was Erased."
"Oh?" Uncle H shifted in his seat and leaned forward so his elbows rested on the fringe of her paperwork. "You know all about yourself, then?"
"All about…?" she paused as the question processed. Not like a memory, though. When she reached back inside herself, she didn't feel familiar pieces coming back. More like she felt something blooming. She felt a great space growing within her, and a strange smallness at her core.
But she also felt the thing she'd actually reached back for, her memories of the Patron; of the realm above the world, and the conversations she'd had there. The thoughts of that time washed deep, like a wave pulling her legs out from under her. Moments had stretched into days and her spirit felt both empty and filled as she communed with her creator, piercing into the depths of her existence.
Leaning hard on the thoughts now like a mental crutch, she breathed in and braced herself for a messy explanation.
"Y-yeah..." she answered haltingly. "I mean, sort of? I know enough, we'll put it that way. I know it cost you something, and that you had to do something you really didn't want to. But it's also more complicated than that, because it wasn't just you and it wasn't just then. If it weren't for Neku, Beat, Shiki, and Rhyme... I wouldn't be here, would I?"
"Hmm… Not sure if Rhyme actually—"
"No, not that," she cut in, waving off the false trail. "I mean, yeah, most of them also helped with the second time, but I'm talking about..."
She choked as a lump took up residence in her throat. She wanted to say the words, to get them out in the open. They felt like a bug crawling under her skin, threatening to squeeze her stomach in unless she tore them out by force.
And yet, at the same time, they stood as most lies by omission stand: as a last line of defense against the inconvenience of reality. In the same terrifying way that Rueban had frozen when she confronted him with his death, she felt herself teetering on the edge of something she knew she couldn't come back from once it was said. Right now she could still pretend. After this, the only option left would be to deal with it, to deal with what she was.
Looking across the table, she tried to glance at Uncle's eyes. She couldn't get a clear read behind his shades, but the look on his face as he leaned back and brushed through his hair said enough. "You mean how you first came," he murmured, then shook his head. "Sorry, kiddo. I know you want answers, I just... don't know what to tell ya."
"No, you don't get it," she said, forcing the words out as her jaw started going rigid. "I… asked the Patron. I know how. I just… if the reason I came into this timeline this way was because I'd lost my natural existence, what am I supposed to do when people who were meant to be here gave up a bit of themselves so I could?"
"Well the first time they didn't have a choice," Uncle explained calmly. "From what I understand of it, we were making the best of a bad situation there. O'l Patron kinda has a thing for that, you know? The second time, though..."
Hot tears started forming in her eyes, and she had just enough presence of mind to brush them away and lean back before they started getting all over her paperwork. The feeling came on fast, like she'd just misjudged the depth of the tidal pool she'd only meant to skim through. It wasn't entirely pain, though. It was more like a fuzzy cocktail of hope and despair, fear and anticipation. "They didn't have to, then," she croaked, doing her best to defy the inhibitors. "I know it didn't end up too bad, that you got more help than you thought you would, and that the Patron did more than you planned, but… I still cost them something. And I just… I don't know how I'll even begin to pay that back. How do you take a piece of someone else's existence and not feel guilty about it?"
She hiccuped a sob and finally stopped, hugging her elbows as she tried to pull herself back together. Even with just Uncle in the room, she felt like crawling under the table and just waiting there curled up until Rueban came back. Not that she actually would, of course, but that didn't stop the mental image.
Uncle gave her space, keeping quiet and stroking his chin. Honestly, that was about what she'd expect. It wasn't like he had a precedent to direct her towards, or even an obligation to help, for that matter. They weren't actually related. At this point, he'd be well within his rights to turn her out onto the street once she finished her coffee.
...That she also hadn't paid for.
But he hadn't, and he wouldn't. That wasn't who he was. For whatever reason, he was okay with giving stuff up so a total stranger could have a little peace in her life. It didn't make sense to her head, but it worked well enough for her heart.
He picked up his cup again and smiled. "They knew what they were doing," he said. "Trust me on that one. It's kinda been a process for 'Phones, anyway: learning to put the first good word in the conversation, to change the world for the better."
"Instead of getting changed by it for the worse?" Amber sniffed, but still made herself smile down at her papers. "'The world ends with you', huh?"
"Exactly!" he laughed. "See? Who says you ain't sharp, kiddo?"
"Still stuck on what to do with the moment?"
She held a breath for half a second, weighing the question against her lung capacity, before nodding. "...Yeah."
"Enjoy it," he said with a cheeky tinge edging the simple honesty. She shot him a look, but he just shrugged it off. "Sure, maybe not the thing itself. I get it: life in our circles can get worse than depressing in a hurry. But you can't just wait for the good stuff to find you. You gotta remind yourself there's something worth hanging in there for. You know?"
Amber closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. "...Will it help?"
"I—no, sorry. That came out wrong," she sighed and shook her head. "I know it's supposed to help me, but what about—?"
"Ah! You mean, what about everyone you owe?"
"Yeah," she mumbled. "I meant that."
"Let me ask you, kiddo, you think Rueban owes you a happy ending?"
"Think about it. You helped him out of a jam, right? If he didn't have you, he wouldn't be around. Does that mean now he's supposed to make you happy with the rest of his life?"
Her eyebrows knit and she gave Uncle a hard squint. "You think he will?"
"I mean, if he thinks like you."
"Like—? Oh," she stopped short as she finally caught on.
"So," Uncle titled his head forward to give her a frank look over his shades' rims. "Would that actually make you happy?"
"I don't… no," she shook her head. "I don't think so."
"Then why do you think it's what they want?"
Amber sucked in her lower lip, then released it in a slow exhale. Looking back up, she stretched her mouth in a tight line. "So why did they do it?"
"Because now you have the chance to make the world a little better than it was."
"The chance?" Her eyes went wide. Sure, they hadn't ended up giving that much, but for all they knew bringing her back had been set to cost them big. They'd gone in on that offer on a chance?
Uncle just grinned. "If they hadn't done anything they'd never find out, now would they?"
"Yeah, but that's—!"
"I mean… they're betting on the walking leftovers of their worst mistakes. If the pieces that brought me back were made from things they lost, what makes them think that's worth trusting?"
"Because everyone makes mistakes; same as everyone needs a chance. You can't magically make people better, Amber, but you can give them a start. After that, though?" He lifted a hand and demurely dipped his chin. "Who knows? Mileage may vary. But you'll never know if you never let 'em try."
"They gave me the shot of a lifetime," she sighed, spreading her arms over her assembled paperwork. "Literally. I mean, what the—heck am I doing blowing that shot on high school?"
"Eh..." Uncle looked away and took another sip of coffee. "That's where the people are," he said, watching the street. "Maybe it's not life or death, but there's still good that needs working."
Following his gaze, she could see the crowds passing outside. Colors and shapes, shifting and standing still; but also faces and stories, lives and existences beyond her own. A memory stirred against the storm in her stomach and she remembered watching those same crowds a month earlier. She remembered being alone, isolated, safe from the outside world and safe from the truth.
And just like that, the anxious buzz in her heart settled down. She took a free, unshaking breath, and looked back to the man who treated her like his niece. She didn't know where things went from here, but there was something soothing about knowing it wouldn't be like how things had been.
Lifting an earphone to tuck back some stray hair, she looked back at the forms in front of her and lifted her pen again. Curling one hand around her coffee mug, she took a moment to just enjoy the warmth.
"You think they'll like me?"
"Well," he huffed a chuckle and cradled his cup, "that's up to them. For what it's worth, though: you're genuine."
"And… do people like genuine?"
"They can come around to it, yeah. Might be a pinch uncomfortable at times, but it's still good for 'em."
"You think it'll help if I put it down on an application?"
"I mean… Couldn't hurt."
They both laughed. Amber lifted her mug with both hands and smiled into it before taking a sip. She would probably have to wait for Rueban after all before she could finish, but it wasn't such a bad thing to need someone else.
In the meantime, she enjoyed the moment with her uncle.
+[Thanks for Playing]+
-Final Thank Yous for Hybrid!-
Favorites and Follows (In order of date added)
-Kamen Rider Lynx-, 12-27-2012. My longest running reader, there with me from the beginning. Here we are, seven years later. To you, we present the achievement The World Begins With You. It's been a ride, kid. Now go and enjoy another.
-witnessmebeabsolutelyflawless-, 01-07-2013. An oldie but goodie. Miss Crazy Canadian, to you we present the achievement Flawless Attendance. Thanks for believing in me!
-Amulet Misty-, 01-17-2013. A writer unlike any other I've come across, Misty not only made magic happen in her own works, but also inspired probably the best parts of my own. To you, we present the achievement Contagious Champion. Never lose that inspiring spark, kid. You've got what it takes!
-oz-cocoa-, 09-01-2013. No giving up! It meant so much to me that you came back to favorite the story after years of following. To you, we present the achievement Bringer of Chaos, Bringer of Order. Master the world in its whole, and you will know truth.
-Pandae-, 10-13-2013. Even now, years after the fact, I remember your name. Hopefully I haven't let you down too hard. To you, we present the achievement Chain of Memories. When you see this, someday, know that your support meant something!
-Fahiru-, 11-01-2013. You are more of an inspiration than you know. You gave me my first conversation about Rueban and how he's different from Joshua. Thanks for helping me see the worth of my own contributions. To you, we present the achievement A Happy Ending. We have changed this fate!
-Resh Prince-, 11-23-2013. Hey, hey, Resha! Crazy to be here at the end. Thanks for talking with me about my story. Readers like you kept this ride from staying broken. To you, we present the achievement Builder of Foundations. May your own work prove satisfying.
-What Doesn't Kill Ya-, 01-10-2014. Thanks for taking this ride with me! To you, we present the achievement Hype Train. Thanks for the power boost! Now it's time to pull into the station…
-evanyaphoenix-, 02-20-2014. You who follow from Middle Earth, I salute. To you, we present the achievement Rise From the Ashes. Hopefully this ending was worth the wait.
-She Who Loves Pineapples-, 02-22-2014. Sweet, sour, and perfectly responsive! You, my fruity friend, have given me much food for thought over the production of this tale. Thanks a BILLION for all the care and support you've poured out over the years. To you, we present the achievement Septennial Fruit. This time, the story really is over. ;)
-FlamingBull-, 03-13-2014. A fellow stubborn Taurus? What are the odds! Thanks for hanging around and seeing things through to the end. To you, we present the achievement Burning Resilience. No giving up on them dreams, yeah?
-Hyoxjnn-, 04-17-2014. At one point in time, when I was thinking about what would happen if I met an untimely demise before finishing Hybrid, I considered leaving behind instructions to offer you first dibs on finishing it. And while I'm glad it didn't come to that, I want you to know I still trust you as a friend and writer. Thanks for coming to see us stateside. To you, we offer the achievement Transcender of Time. I look forward to the day your epic length TWEWY story finishes. You got this, X.
-DreamArtfully-, 04-30-2014. Fellow questioner of Sanae's moral character: thanks for making me feel not alone in my sentiments for the epilogue! To you, we present the achievement Live Your Dreams. I'd love to see your take on this fandom sometime!
-FacelessDoll-, 05-24-2014. Been a hot minute since we got started, eh? Your patience over the years has been encouraging. Thanks for reading! To you, we present the achievement Solidarity. Here's lookin' at you, kid.
-Aviantei-, 06-07-2014. remember that time I was a totally entitled jerk and demanded you read my stuff? Yeah… jokes on you. Now you're writing the sequel! :P Thanks for putting up with me over the years. To you, we present the achievement Artistic Musings. See you for SOSS!
-torinokomachi-, 10-11-2014. Now you know the full story of what happened to Amber and Rueban. Were you not entertained? To you, we present the achievement Orz Rly? The updates were slow, but the ending was certain…
-Tomoe Yamagawa-, 03-11-2015. Thanks for believing in this story during one of its slumps, Raz. Crazy to think the Reapers arc would take another three years to finish, but we've made it through now. To you, we present the achievement Second Wind. When things tried to slow down, you helped maintain the momentum. Thanks for that.
-Your Little Ninja-, 10-28-2015. Was this Ruember fluff satisfying for you? I hope so. Thanks for your encouragement! To you, we present the achievement Seen and Heard.
-Soror Curantis-, 06-06-2016. You've grown up hearing me complain about this story. Hopefully this ending lived up to the hype. To you, we present the achievement Sibling Support.
-mageknight14-, 02-09-2017. Here we are, comments still stand: enjoy the moment. Glad to have a TWEWY fan like you along for the ride, even if the end devolved into tropey mushiness. To you, we present the achievement Spellbinder. Now, go make something amazing, eh?
-CrystallizedFerret-, 09-14-2017. I am honored to be one of the rare exceptions to your usual silence! Thank you for taking the time to review and put a few kind words towards this story's conclusion. To you, we present the achievement Composer's Companion. If you're still curious as to what Joshua's talking about, then boy is Muse the story for you~
-abby100198-, 09-26-2017. Sorry for throwing an out of context joke at you earlier, it was a food wishes reference. Incidentally, I wish you all the amazing cookies in the world. To you, we present the achievement Reinforcing Reader. May all your endings be happy.
-RiderLimitBreak-, 04-24-2018. I never got around to properly thanking you for your support in a PM! Sorry, the start of 2018 was just a hurricane of craziness… please know that I still appreciate you and the time you took to enjoy this story. To you, we present the achievement Limit Breaker. Thanks for joining us for the final stretch of the story!
-CitizenOfHedwigpolis-, 06-11-2018. Thank you for your support, Owl Girl! Hopefully you found something worthwhile within these chapters. To you, we present the achievement Keen Eyes. Keep your eyes open, hope still flies!
-Solphage-, 11-04-2018. You joined right before the big final push. Woo! Did you enjoy the whirlwind? Did things end where you hoped they would? Whatever the case, to you, we present the achievement of Final Gear. Thanks for believing, even when the monster of a Reaper's finale was yet to be published.
-tokkiKANA-, 01-18-2019. Thank you for joining us for the Outsiders Arc and beyond! I hope wading through my OC tales ended up being rewarding once we finally got back to the main cast. To you, we present the achievement Best Bunny.
-heavenly connection-, 01-30-2019. For the record, I really did try to say thank you earlier and I feel awful that I didn't realize it until three or four chapters later. I appreciate not only that you've hung around, but also your involvement in the TWEWY community as a whole. Thanks for enjoying this little corner of the world with us! To you, we present the achievement Producer's Protege. Isn't it wonderful?
-Eeveefan13-, 04-14-2019. Thanks for joining the fun! Now that the story is finished, I hope you found some passages worth remembering. Sure, maybe not fantastic enough for your quote wall, but still good enough to take with you. To you, we present the achievement Next Evolution. Good luck with your own endeavors! You've got this, kid.
-Kurapikachu-, 04-22-2019(?) or 05-18-2019. I choose you! Or, at least, I think I do. Were you the mystery patron behind all those unsigned reviews? To you, we present the achievement Bolt from the Blue. Keep on surprising people with your awesomeness!
-Wolfcub-, 04-25-2019. Thanks for being someone who won't abandon stories! Look, we get to put the "complete" sticker on this one. You can too! Looking forward to the day you can join the club with pride. To you, we present the achievement Dogmatic Diligence. Hang in there! There is light at the end of the tunnel.
-Fintendoo-, 05-27-2019. I guess you already knew how certain parts of this would play out, considering I see Muse in your favorites, but hopefully it was still satisfying to read. Thanks for coming along! To you, we present the achievement -La Fin-. Now let's both go enjoy the next part when it comes out, eh?
I would also like to thank the good people of Sauce Project, specifically Airhead259 and EeveeGen9988, for their support on this project and dialogue over the years. Airy, I wasn't as succinct as you, but I hope you still got something out of this. Eevee, for years I looked at your fic lengths and thought "Man, I'll never be able to make something that long". Now here we are: 300K club. Highest of fives! Thanks for being inspiring in your dedication to your craft.
And finally: You! Thanks for joining, dear reader. I'm proud of you for reading through such a terribly long story. Thank you for sharing this experience with me.
-While "Lullaby for You" was always planned as the final chapter, the original outline had it as chapter 14 as a small homage to Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
-In one of the first outlines of Hybrid, Amber stayed Erased. CG ultimately stepped back from this decision because it felt there was more than enough room for those kind of feelings in From the Underground Up.
-The first draft of the final chapter was written with Amber and Rueban. CG switched it to Amber and Sanae to make a better bookend for the first chapter and lend a little more authority to Amber's conversational partner.
-Although this is the first canon appearance of Pokoni's family name, the name itself was originally decided upon during drafts of "State of Play", where Pokoni almost acted as Rueban's Tin Pin protoge before the scope of the fic was scrapped and reframed for production time purposes.
-With the multiverse being a very real part of TWEWY canon, CG always thought it would be cool to weave together different parts of the fanon as a nod to the shared nature of the literary thread. That said, he feels Deck: J0KER better expresses the sentiment.
-While CG wasn't planning on breaking up the Reaper's Finale into three chapters, an unintentional side effect is that Amber returns in Chapter 31, the reverse numbering of Chapter 13, in which she originally disappeared.
-Certain pieces of Hybrid post-canon were actually cemented in pieces like Muse and Faded Lines and Future Signs before decisions were made in the main document. Considering how much CG waffles on plot points, this was probably for the best.
-A few leftover narrative bonus courses were requested by the amazing Aviantei. If these don't appear in this fic by the end of today (October 18th, 2019), they will be available in mini collection of their own.
-Speaking of today, this finale chapter is being posted on the seventh anniversary of the initial posting. Who knew seven days would stretch into seven years?
-The first Hybrid fan art debuted on January 10th, 2015, posted by Aviantei on deviantArt.
-Alternate titles considered for chapters 30 and 31 included "As the Curtain Falls" and "In the Daylight".
-The seven missing bonus courses that make up chapter 30 were actually just a happy coincidence. Their numbering was only vaguely planned. However, once the framework was realized, CG did intentionally run them backwards (greatest to least) as the story moved back towards a conclusion and earlier storylines met their bookends.
-Speaking of bookends, while one might be tempted to blame this narrative obsession on George Lucas ("You make it rhyme, like poetry!"), CG was actually drawing more inspiration from Yu Aida's Gunslinger Girl series.
-As of this writing, Hybrid is the third longest TWEWY story on fan fiction dot net, falling behind 0er0's The World Ends With You Too by a small margin and BrDPirateMan's She Comes And Goes As She Pleases by a significantly larger margin.
-Player's Arc + Epilogue Soundtrack and Themes-
OP1: "Ship to Wreck" by Florence + The Machine, from How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
OP2: "Wake Myself Again" by MAN WITH A MISSION, from Tales of Purefly
ED1: "A Town in Blue" by ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, from BEST HIT AKG
ED2: "Bring Me to Life" by Evanesence, from Anywhere But Home
Player's Epilogue: "Hybrid -New born-" by Nulie Nurly, from Subarashiki Kono Sekai + The World Ends With You
True Epilogue: "Lullaby for You" by Jyongri, from Lullaby for You
Amber Hanekoma: "Starry Moonless Night" by Kumi Tanioka, from Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, "Out of Sleep" by Coeur de Pirate, from Child of Light, "Against a Sea of Troubles" by Five Iron Frenzy, from Engine of a Million Plots, "These Frail Hands" by Brave Saint Saturn, from Antimeridian
Rueban Kiryu: "Take Me Under" by MAN WITH A MISSION, from Chasing the Horizon, "I Fell Away" by Brave Saint Saturn, from The Light of Things Hoped For, "Most Likely to Succeed" by Five Iron Frenzy, from Our Newest Album Ever!
Kyasako Mininaka: "Shiroi Ichigo" by Yuasa Kaori & Namiki Noriko, from Rurouni Kenshin Songs Vol. 1, "Everything is Nice and Fine" by The Blasting Company, from Over the Garden Wall, "Heart Still Beats" by Brave Saint Saturn, from The Light of Things Hoped For
Ayane Tajima: "Not an Angel" by Tsuneo Imahora, from Trigun: First Donuts, "New Years Eve" by Five Iron Frenzy, from The End is Near, "Resistor" by Brave Saint Saturn, from So Far From Home
Pokoni Hitsuragi: "HEAVEN'S DRIVE" by L'arc~En~Ciel, from ark, "Metal Rules" by Five Iron Frenzy, from Cheeses, "Kokoro no Hadeka" by Yuji Ueda, from Rurouni Kenshin Songs Vol. 1
Getotsu Tezano: "Trouble" by Imagine Dragons, from Smoke and Mirrors, "To Start a Fire" by Five Iron Frenzy, from Engine of a Million Plots, "A Game of Chess" by Attila and Dave Project, from Illuminated
...CG's Closure: "Every Single Memory" by RIOTxRYKER, from Finding Paradise, "Collapsible Lung" by Relient K, from Collapsible Lung,
-Master Document and Final Stats-
Page Count: 597 (Including Deleted Scenes and Notes: 633)
Word Count: 347,934 (Including Deleted Scenes and Notes: 366,529)
Character Count: 1,970,727 (Including Deleted Scenes and Notes: 2,076,037)
Favorite Count: 23
Follow Count: 25
Most Viewed Chapter (Per Arc): Players: Guardian(256) Reapers: Support(152) Outsiders: Redeemer(59)
Least Viewed Chapter: (Per Arc): Players:Composer(168) Reapers:Artist Part 2(19) Outsiders: Seeker(20)
Total Views: 5,388
Covers Used: 5
Spin-Offs Spawned: 4
Tables Flipped: Over 9,000 (More realistically: 1)
Time Elapsed: 7 Years