Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age.

The child is grown, and puts away childish things.

Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Edna St. Vincent Millay


Chapter 9: Legacy for a Better Future.


[?]"Help..."

[?]"Take- ..."

[?]"... Hel-"

[?]"...Help me..."


This is,

My "Black Christmas".

The girl i loved,

The girl that i was supposed to protect,

The girl that i didn't want to lose a second time,

The only thing that made me go on in this rotten world,

Dissolved into nothing.

In front of my eyes,

While asking for my help.


(?)(December 25, ?)(Takeru PoV)


I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can't make your body move fast enough.

My legs seemed to move slower and slower as I fought my way through the panicked crowd, but the sound of the alarm kept blaring relentlessly in my ears,and my HUD flashed the same warning,confirming my worst fears.

[Code: 666]

WARNING

Immediate Evacuation Order

But this was no dream, and, unlike a common nightmare, I wasn't running for my life; I was racing to save something infinitely more precious.

Yuuko-sensei had said that if i were to go,i would have died there,but i didn't care as my own life meant little to me today.

In that moment,for a second,I dared to look at the sky searching for the object of my fears,and luckily the sky was still clear.

I still had time.

Coming out of the dark lane, I was blinded by the brilliant sunlight beating down into the road and the wind blew into me flinging my hair into my eyes and blinding me further.

It was no wonder that I didn't see the wall of flesh until I'd smacked into it.

The spectacle that opened before my eyes could be compared to a circle of hell. The mass of terrorized people filled the road,and they were surging forward like a muddy stream.

Among them,there were crying children and people in search of their missing parents and relatives,old people pushed to the ground and stomped to death by the crowd of people running behind them and people who lost all hope laid on the side of the road.

[Child]"UWAAAAAAA! MOMMY! DADDY! WHERE ARE YOU!"

But still,I forced myself to ignore the cry of help around me and only i dared to run in the direction of the base while facing the wave of people running in the opposite direction.

[Woman]"YOU'RE AN HINDRANCE! MOVE OLD MAN!"

There was no pathway, no crevice between the close pressed bodies but still I pushed against them furiously,fighting the hands that shoved back.

[Man]"IT'S THE END! THIS WORLD IS FINISHED!"

I lost count of how many times I've been hit trying to advance and for every second that i was standing facing the crowd,the risk of falling and getting trampled to death was getting more and more real.

It was impossible for me to dispel the terror of falling. The crowd's weight was inviting me below and i knew that a single slip meant instant death.

Then I shoved a heavy woman out of my way and ran flat-out, head down, paying little attention to anything but the uneven stones beneath my feet. Exclamations of pain followed me as I battled my way through,but I didn't care. I couldn't afford to lose not even a second.

I MUST FACE STRAIGHT AHEAD.


(Flash)


[?]"Help..."

[?]"Take- ..."

[?]"... Hel-"

[?]"...Help me..."


(Flash End)


I MUST FACE STRAIGHT AHEAD.


(Flash)


[?]"Help..."

[?]"Take- ..."

[?]"... Hel-"

[?]"...Help me..."


(Flash End)


I MUST FACE STRAIGHT AHEAD.


(Flash)


[?]"Help..."

[?]"Take- ..."

[?]"... Hel-"

[?]"...Help me..."


(Flash End)


I MUST FACE STRAIGHT AHEAD.


(Flash)


[?]"Help..."

[?]"Take- ..."

[?]"... Hel-"

[?]"...Help me..."


(Flash End)


NO MATTER WHAT, I HAD TO MOVE FORWARD!

The throng jostled around me, spinning me the wrong direction but I kept moving forward,thinking only of that, even though i couldn't run fast enough.

Do not look back,

Do not look back at the past.

There is nothing but darkness and death there.

However...darkness and death were most likely lurking in the future,as well.

At the end of this road.

Inside that lab.

In the countless battle that were awaiting me.

But i couldn't think of that.

Right now my precious friends were waiting for my help.

It was a race against time.

And before long, In front of me,a middle-aged soldier stood in my way and while he signaled me to stop he said [Soldier 1]"You! Where do you think you're going!?"

And before i knew many other soldiers formed a wall and blocked the passage.

[Takeru]"LET ME PASS! I MUST GO THAT WAY!" I shouted desperately.

Then the soldier grabbed me by the collar and he too shouted [Soldier]"TURN BACK...NOW! We can't allow anyone to go ahead from here! The evacuation order has already gone out!"

[Takeru]"MOVE! …..THAT'S AN ORDER FROM A 1st LIEUTENANT!" I snarled.

And without even waiting for his answer,i grabbed his right wrist with my left hand while grabbing his left shoulder with my right hand. Then I stepped forward with the left foot and I placed it on the outside of his right foot,while pulling his wrist downward close to the body and pushing his shoulder backward to off-balance him. Lastly I raised my right knee,kicked the foot past his right leg and while using the heel of my boot,to make contact with his calf,i swept him to the ground.

All this happened in a split second,and when he realized what was happening he was already on the ground.

[Soldier 1]"Ugh!"

Then,before all the other soldiers could move and try to stop me,I raised my right knee above knee level,while keeping my right leg slightly bent,then,after I shifted my body weight to my left leg to maintain balance,i forcefully drove the cutting edge of my right heel down to the head of the soldier on the ground,while bending my left knee to drop my body weight into the strike.

He immediately lost consciousness,so I closed in to the nearest soldier that was blocking my passage. I bent my right wrist back at a 90-degree angle with the palm facing my opponent and the fingers pointing up,and while keeping the right arm bent and close to the body I extended the hand into a concave position with the fingers slightly spread apart. Then I stepped forward with my left foot toward my opponent,while keeping the right arm bent and close to the side I thrust the palm of my hand directly up under my opponent's chin. At the same time,i rotated the right hip forward to drive the body weight into the attack to increase the power of the strike,and my chin jab traveled up the centerline of the soldier's chest to his chin.

In that moment, another soldier tried to caught me off-guard by throwing a punch directed at my face,but he was too slow,as I stepped forward and to the left at approximately a 45-degree angle,moving in to the outside of his attack. At the same time I raised my left arm and deflected his hand with the meaty portion of my forearm. After that,I left my left arm against my opponent's right arm and I applied pressure against his arm to redirect the strike,and, in the process,i threw him off-balance. In the end I thrust the edge of my right hand forward onto his exposed neck,while rotating the left hip and shoulder forward and the right backward.

Even though I was holding back in fear of hurting them,as time passed I was getting more and more desperate and I was gradually losing my restraint.

[Takeru]"OUT OF MY WAY!" I screamed my lungs out as three soldiers laid unconscious near my feet.

The other soldiers looked at my half-crazed eyes and flinched for a second,before seven of them rushed at me.

I let them surround me,and then time almost stopped as my brain processed every aspect and detail of any given stimulus surrounding me. An overwhelming quantity of information reached my brain,and among them I registered the attacks of the soldiers that encircled me.

Then time regained its natural flow,and I already knew what I had to do.

[Soldier 2]"Raise your hands above your head...NOW!" A soldier behind me barked an order and then pointed a gun at my back.

The guy at my back was clearly poorly trained as he committed a big mistake. That was one of the first lesson that I had received from Marimo-chan and the others. And that was,never point a gun directly against or very close to a person.

So I placed my hands in a submissive posture,with my shoulders even,elbows into the body and palms facing away from me.

Then I made a submissive verbal statement while taking a quick look at him,in order to identify which hand the weapons was in. [Takeru]"Ok...Ok...I understand...I give up."

Suddenly I turned into the soldier with my left foot,pivoting on my right foot while rotating my torso. Then,while keeping my hands up,I used my left forearm to knock the weapon offline,doubling the distance between the weapon and my body,clearing myself from the weapon's line of fire. After that I quickly over hooked the soldier's right arm with my left arm,to trap it in my armpit between my torso and biceps,and lastly I executed a palm strike to his chin.

Immediately after the soldier who pointed a gun at me fainted, and before another soldier to my side could extract his gun,i looked to the right and after I raised my right knee waist-high,I rotated the right hip forward. Then while turning the foot at a 90-degree angle,to maximize the striking surface,i thrust my right foot to the right side toward my opponent and I hit his knee with the cutting edge of my boot.

I heard the sickening snap before he could feel the pain,and,after a second,he released a scream of agony [Soldier 2]" AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAA—!"

His broken knee gave way under his weight and he fell to the ground. Then,while he managed to twist up to reach for his broken knee,i took advantage of their confusion and spurted toward the base.

In that moment,someone fired a shot from behind me and the bullet missed my head by a hair's breadth.

After that,probably the same person who shot spoke the words slowly and precisely [Corporal]"...Shirogane Takeru...this is your last chance...don't move."

Hearing my name,i slowly turned around and I immediately recognized the one who spoke.

...This guy...He was the soldier that I met the first time that I came here...The one at the gate of Yokohama Base...


(Flash)


[Corporal]"Hey, Shirogane Takeru..."

[Takeru]"What?"

[Takeru]"HEY!?"

[Corporal]"Come with me, and don't struggle..."

[Takeru]"What the hell is this!?"

[Corporal]"The Professor said she didn't know anyone called Shirogane!"


(Flash End)


(Flash)


[Corporal]"...not bad, Shirogane Takeru."

[Takeru]"Eh...?"

[Soldier]"Fight hard enough for all of us, 2nd Lt. Shirogane."

[Corporal]"But no dying out there..."

[Takeru]"..."

[Corporal]"I'm sure there's a reason we met like this. Knowing a few faces...makes this less lonely."


(Flash End)


So,since the Corporal kept his rifle pointed at me,I raised my hands above my head and I begged him [Takeru]"PLEASE! …..PLEASE CORPORAL LET ME PASS! …..OVER THERE...A PERSON I LOVE IS STILL OVER THERE!"

Then for a moment his eyes widened in surprise and after he gave me an incredulous look he said [Corporal]"There are no survivors there..." And then after he shot a glance towards the base he continued [Corporal]"You fool...What were you thinking?...Were you planning to die?"

...There are no survivors there...

...There are no survivors there...

...There are no survivors there...

...There are no survivors there...

...There are no survivors there...

There was a pause as I repeated the words in my head a few times, sifting through them for their real intent. But I couldn't realize what he was telling me. It still didn't make any sense.

I opened my mouth to say something, and then closed it again.

I felt dizzy; it was hard to concentrate.

His words swirled around in my head.

...There are no survivors there...

...There are no survivors there...

...There are no survivors there...

...There are no survivors there...

...There are no survivors there...

I tried to breathe normally. I needed to concentrate, to find a way out of this nightmare.

I stared, uncomprehending, into the Corporal's eyes and he just stared back. His eyes weren't lying,and in them i could glimpse sadness and sympathy towards me.

...He was telling the truth...

[Takeru]"No." My voice was just a whisper now; awareness was beginning to seep through me, trickling like acid through my veins.

AGAIN?

I punched the ground,rebuking myself.

ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT I CAN'T SAVE MY FRIENDS?

AGAIN?

It hurt.

It burned.

It was vexing.

It was bitter.

I found myself crying. Apparently i had broken again another promise that I had made to myself.

And then as i looked into the sky I realized that I was too late, [Takeru]"...Ah...!" From that realization,my whole body went numb. I couldn't feel anything below the neck.

Again...

I couldn't protect what i was meant to protect...

Again...

Then,as i looked again into the blue and cloudless sky,an immense weariness attacked me and I was glad that something was falling from there.

Because i had failed. And for in failing at this,I forfeited any desire to live.

[Takeru]"..."

All of a sudden,the height of the sky made me sad.

Even if i stretched out my hands,it was a distance i couldn't reach.

I remember that i stretched out my hands towards the sky in the same way after Alternative V many years ago. Just before dying.

At least at that time,i knew that somewhere my lover and child were safe...

And in a childish way i hoped that just by stretching my hands,my feelings could reach them.

But now...

Now...

...The only thing that my finger could grasp,was just empty air.

Then as i stood there,waiting to die with an empty look on my face,i remembered a game i've done a long time ago.

It was one of the typical RPG...

You fight the monsters,gain item,raise your level and then you beat the final boss.

Everybody is happy and you become a hero,

And then after saving the world,the protagonist goes back alone to his hometown.

A journey without expectation and in solitude. It makes me sad just by imagining it.

But still if you cut the power supply of the game machine,the story ends.

The happiness,

The victories,

The hardships,

The sorrow,

The pain from the deaths of the comrades,

Are not carried ahead.

However in the reality...

In that moment,all the people around us became still as death. And almost as if called by something,everyone looked at the sky.

The reality continues,

It doesn't end until you die.

The thing you do,

The wounds you receive,

The regret you harbor,

You have to undertake everything.

[Corporal]"It's impossible! ...A G-Bomb...but...it's too soon..." The voice of the Corporal sounded farther away,almost like an echo.

The wounds,they just heal,

They don't disappear.

Even the pain,someday it changes into memory.

[Crowd]"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAA" A second later an ear-deafening scream rose up and all the people began to run all together.

And even if i stay here,

Even if i'm not here,

This world will continue to exist.

Then,the Corporal and I jostled in the muddy stream of people and after that,someone pushed me violently away and i hit the side of the road.

[Takeru]"..." As i laid on the roadside,i kept staring at the sky.


(Flash)


[Capt. Isumi]"Hayase...What do you think of him?"

[1st Lt. Hayase]"He's the same as me..."

[Capt. Isumi]"You mean the piloting skills?"

[1st Lt. Hayase]"No...it's not for such a simple reason..."

[Capt. Isumi]"..."

[1st Lt. Hayase]"...People whom their heart is deeply damaged, don't forget that pain through their life. On the outside it seems they overcame it,but wounds inflicted to the heart don't heal..."

[Capt. Isumi]"..."

[1st Lt. Hayase]"...Then to protect those wounds,and to hide their true self,they create huge firm walls. And to conceal the fact that there's a wall there,they pretend to be strong and happy all the time."

[Capt. Isumi]"..."

[1st Lt. Hayase]"...But on the inside...it's as if they are made of glass...one touch,one little shock and they completely shatter..."

[Capt. Isumi]"..."

[1st Lt. Hayase]"...And while I can share the pain for Takayuki's death with Haruka...i have the feeling the he's bearing all his pain by himself...


(Flash End)


You were right 1st Lt. Hayase...

But now the pain that filled my heart was gone,now all that was left was emptiness.

My heart was already dead.

Now i was the same as this ruins.

Although i was just an empty shell, i was walking among the living by mistake.

A ghost who failed to disappear.

But this G-Bomb will correct the mistake.

Therefore,this is the correct ending to my life.

The same as pulling the curtain at the end of a fairy tale.

. . . . . . . . .

...Nevertheless...

Inside my withered heart,a small heat remained.

A small ache comparable to when you cut the tip of the finger with an edged tool.

Something...Even though i didn't knew what it was...


(Flash)


[Sumika]"I'M ONLY ME WHEN I'M WITH YOU AND HAVE MEMORIES OF YOU, TAKERU-CHAN. I CAN ONLY BE ME BECAUSE YOU'RE HERE! THAT'S WHO I AM! AND THAT'S WHAT YOU ARE TO ME, TAKERU-CHAN!"


(Flash End)


Sumika...

Forgive me...

Somewhere in the depths of my heart i still hoped to meet you again,

but instead it went as I told you in my letter.

I couldn't come back to our world, and in the end i die here.

I lived my life defending others,

But now...

...Now,

There's no one left to protect.

And then,as the sun beat down from the exact center point of the sky,an immense light dazzled my eyes and i couldn't see no more.


[1]

. . . . . .

Time passes.

Even when it seems impossible.

Even when each tick of the second hand aches like the pulse of blood behind a bruise.

It passes unevenly,in strange lurches and dragging lulls, but pass it does.

Even for me...

Yes...

Even for me...

Don't you think so too...Takeru-chan?


(Shirogane's House)(Morning)(October 25, 2001)(Takeru PoV)


[Takeru]"Haa...haa...haa..."

I woke with a start,my eyelids popping open wide and gasped. Though it was quite cold, my forehead was damp and even my shirt was drenched in sweat.

Dull gray light, the light of an overcast morning, took the place of the blinding sun in my dream.

Just a dream, I told myself. It was only a dream.

I took a deep breath,to calm myself and then jumped again when my alarm rang loud and true in my left ear. The clock and the little calendar in the corner of the clock's display informed me that today was October 25th 04:00 AM.

It was just a dream, I reminded myself again. Just a dream… but also a terrible nightmare.

I couldn't forget that sense of powerlessness...

The same that i felt after Original Hive...

I flicked on the light beside my bed, waiting for my breathing to slow,with my veins full of adrenaline from the realistic dream. Then,when I went in the bathroom to wash my face, I was almost surprised that the face in the mirror hadn't changed.

I stared at myself, looking for some sign of impending wrinkles in my skin. The only creases were the ones on my forehead, though, and I knew that if I could manage to relax, they would disappear.

I couldn't.

My eyebrows stayed lodged in a worried line over my anxious brown eyes.

[Takeru]"Haaa..." I sighed once and then I struggled to get a grip on myself as I laid again on my bed. That hellish vision was hard to get out of my head.

A new dream, but in essence so much the same as the many others that had plagued me in the past days.

No, not a dream. Surely a memory.

It was a thing that i discovered just recently. Ever since i regained all my memories,i found out that other than the wild mood swings,two other things had changed in me.

The first was that i could perfectly recall any events that happened in my past loops.

The second was that i had more memories than i should have.

So many memories, all of them so colorful and sharp. A hundred places I'd never been,names heard for the first time. But they all seemed vague,almost like they came out of a dream.

And once again Yuuko-sensei's words came back to my mind.


(Flash)


[Yuuko]"As for what happens to the memories sucked out from me, they should be drifting through imaginary space. Just like all the memories i lost every time you went to the other world."

[Yuuko]"We can assume that imaginary space contains countless pieces of causality information like that."

[Yuuko]"Because some causality information leaks out from each world's memories on a daily basis."

[Takeru]"And people who can attract those information were chosen to be part of Unit A-01?"

[Yuuko]"That's right. And unlike when we connect two worlds by force,they can do it regardless of which worlds have high or low causality densities. We say luck,but in terms of the Quantum Causality Theory,it's actually an ability born into every individual which allows them to attract those information."

[Yuuko]"Which means anyone with that "reception" power can pick out causality information from imaginary space and draw it closer to them."


(Flash End)


(Flash)


[Yuuko]"There's someone else with memories of the other world's Shirogane."

[Takeru]"EH!?"

[Yuuko]"Someone who's been in frequent contact with you. Who of course has no clairvoyant or psychic powers to speak of."

[Takeru]"...wh-who?"

[Yuuko]"Me."

[Takeru]"EEEEH!? ...Is that...true...?"

[Yuuko]"It's true. But I only have the most recent and lightest memories."

[Yuuko]"Not that i can remember any of it at will. They entered me as rather latent memories."

[Takeru]"Latent...?"

[Yuuko]"That's because i can't tell whether that memory is from the other world's me and not this world's me. Even though I know theoretically that that's going to happen, I can't easily distinguish between my own memories and the ones i got from her. I'd be able to tell if i could remember them as clearly as the original owner could...but that's theoretically impossible."

[Takeru]"Theoretically impossible...?"

[Yuuko]"That's because my mind lacks all the usual connections. I haven't confirmed it,but Sakaki, Mitsurugi and the others should've received some memories too."

[Takeru]"Eh? ...isn't that ...really bad!?"

[Yuuko]"Not in the slightest."

[Takeru]"Why not?"

[Yuuko]"First, since they can't be connected to original memories from this world,they won't even remember unless just the right circumstances pop up. And even if they do somehow get triggered,that person will probably assume they're just dreaming or imagining things. They don't even know that other possible worlds exist, much less anything about "Your World" in particular. And even if they did know all that, the inability to connect it to anything means that memory won't leave much behind other that a very vague impression."

[Takeru]"I see..."

[Yuuko]"We can't distinguish between original memories and those which flowed in from elsewhere. Fixing one's memory requires noticing those new ones by accident,associating them with others,and filling in the missing information...it should be clear by now,right?"


(Flash End)


I see...so they seem hazy to me because I have to create associations between the new memories and i have to fill the missing information...

...Well at least it's worth a try...

So i closed my eyes and i took a deep breath to prepare myself.

I knew I was stalling a bit. I hated to admit it, but I was afraid.

I would have to explore the violent memories that had made me scream in horror.

With another deep breath, I delved into the memories that frightened me, faced them head-on with my teeth locked together.

I braced myself for the onslaught of the first memory,which,according to the "dream",would be the last memory. The memory of the end.

Then,the memory came. And it was not something that I could ever be prepared for.


(Flash)


It seared with sharp color and ringing sound. Cold on my skin, pain gripping my limbs, burning them. The taste was fiercely metallic in my mouth.

The memory that was not mine was so frighteningly strong and clear that it sliced through my control,overwhelming the detachment; the knowledge that this was just a memory and not me.

Sucked into the hell that was the last minute of my life, I was the other me, and I was laying on the ground.

Everything around me was so dark that I couldn't see.

I couldn't see the ground.

I couldn't see my hands stretched out in front of me.

I tried to hear,but the pulse was so loud behind my ears that it drowned everything else out.

It was so cold. It shouldn't matter to the "present me", but it hurt. I felt cold.

Even the air in my nose was uncomfortable.

Bad.

A bad smell.

For one second, that discomfort pulled me free of the memory. But it was only a second, and then I was dragged in again, and my eyes filled with horrified tears.

I'm alone.

It's over.

I've lost everything.

And then the emptiness swallowed me. Cold blew past me like tornado winds and my body was slammed against something that i couldn't identify.

My legs flailed, useless.

My hands gripped the air, clawed through it, searching for anything solid.

And then pain was everywhere.… Pain was everything.

The pain was bewildering.

Exactly that. I was bewildered. I couldn't understand, couldn't make sense of what was happening.

My body tried to reject the pain, and I was sucked again and again into a blackness that cut out whole seconds or maybe even minutes of the agony, making it that much harder to keep up with the memory.

In the end blackness swallowed up the agony, and I was weak with gratitude that the memory had come to this most final of conclusions.

The blackness took all, and I was free.

I took a breath to steady myself but then the memory reared up and engulfed me again.

But this was not the same memory.

This was a memory within a memory; a final memory, like a last gasp of air,yet, somehow, even stronger than the first.

The blackness took all but a single voice.

[?]"...Shirogane-san!"


(Flash End)


Then i came back to my senses.

But i didn't let my mind dwell on the the horror or the questions that arose from the memory; I let the memory carry me along.

I let it run its course, hoping it would led me to the answers i wanted.


(Flash)


In this memory I had just woken up.

I was on a couch tucked under the blankets someone laid out for me,and i could hear someone talking outside the room.

[?]"How bad was it, Kasumi?" The voice of a familiar woman asked softly,and at first i wondered what they were talking about,and if the voice belonged to Yuuko-sensei.

Then Kasumi sighed and with her usual voice devoid of emotion said [Kasumi]"...Real bad."

[?]"Tell me about it. I want to know exactly what happened since when I left."

There was a pause while a cupboard door was closed,but i remained on the couch.

And then Kasumi once again began to talk,but this time her voice was tinged with sadness [Kasumi]"...I've never felt so helpless," Kasumi began slowly. [Kasumi]"...I didn't know what to do. ...That first week...I thought I was going to have to hospitalize him again. ...He wouldn't eat or drink...He wouldn't move. All the doctors were throwing around words like "catatonic", but i didn't let them up to see him. ...I was afraid that he would react badly..."

[?]"He snapped out of it though?"

[Kasumi]"...I had Isumi-san and the others come to talk to him. ...He wouldn't listen to me so i hoped that being with people he knew would help. ...But when they entered inside his room,Hayase-san touched a photo on his desk and he reacted. ...I've never seen him throwing a fit like that. ...He seemed like he was possessed as he started to punch the wall while screaming "Why her and not me!". ...Then,when they restrained him,he finally started crying."

[Kasumi]"...I thought that would be the turning point but..."

Kasumi trailed off. It was hard listening to this, knowing that she was talking about "me" and seeing how much pain I'd caused her.

[?]"But?" The other woman prompted.

[Kasumi]"...He went back into the simulator and started to train once again. He ate,slept and joined the other girls in the PX. He answered when someone asked him a direct question. But he was …empty. His eyes were blank. The fire that he once had in his eyes was...completely gone..."

Kasumi went on in a hopeless tone [Kasumi]"...I...I tried to read his mind...but...but the pain he's feeling...it's not normal...and it...it frightens me to think that he already suffered this kind of pain several times in his past. ...I...I don't know if this time he's going to get over it..." Her voice cracked...


(Flash End)


...And then, i was dragged back in time, to a much, much older memory.


(Flash)


In this blurry early memory i was still a kid,and i was looking at a white house on the top of a hill.

In the eyes of my younger self,the image was so clear and pure that it looked like a castle from a fairy tale.

A residence surrounded by high walls,with trees,flowers and a fountain. Truly a castle from a fairy tale.

Together with that image another one appeared in my mind.

A girl with hair darker than the shadow swaying in the wind and white skin like a refined doll.

That particular image awakened a faint pain in the interior of the chest. It was like a nostalgic feeling but at the same time,it was like if a small,sharp needle of ice had been thrust in my heart.

I saw the whole journey now. Me,the mysterious girl and Sumika growing together and then the separation. A memory so painful that i tried to skip through it,unsuccessfully.


(Flash End)


(Flash)


[?]"TAKERU! WHAT ARE YOU DOING! THE BETA ARE COMING!"

[Takeru]"I know...But Sumika is still inside the school...sorry...but...I have to save her."

[?]"..."

[Takeru]"Anyway...here...take this. This is the key of my parent's car. They don't need it anymore...so take it and go in Hokkaido. At least there is still safe."

[?]"Takeru...BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU?"

[Takeru]"Wait 10 minutes ...and if i'm not back by then...go without looking back."

[?]"..."

[Takeru]"Sorry for asking you this...but at least i want one of my childhood friends to be safe..."

[?]"...To think that such a foolish man would exist in this world..."

[Takeru]"And also,hereafter, I'm gonna protect you,like you protected me until now."

[?]"...Really...an idiotic man..."

[?]"Fine. It's a promise,I'm letting you hang out with me until the very end,I'll let you protect me but in exchange you don't have to die..."

[Takeru]"Haha...i know. ...See you later...Saeko."


(Flash End)


Time lost meaning. It could have been dawn, it could have been sunset but i kept skimming through the memories,and then as i fast-forwarded through them,one particular memory caught my attention.

I was lying on a hospital bed,connected to a life support machine with Meiya crying by my side.


(Flash)


[Meiya]"...if...you were to die...before me..."

[Meiya]"...if i lose you in this world...I do not know if i could live alone...THAT IS WHAT I FEAR!"

[Meiya]"..."

[Meiya]"...I am...afraid..."

[Meiya]"I am...afraid of...how much I have changed..."

[Meiya]"...You can't die...after making such a frivolous and foolish woman out of me!"

[Meiya]"..."

[Meiya]"IDIOT! IDIOT! IDIOT! YOU UTTER FOOL!"

[Meiya]"..."

[Meiya]"...take responsibility."

[Meiya]"Take responsibility for making me so weak!"

[Meiya]"It is your fault that i have become so weak!"

[Meiya]"The old me would never complain like this!"

[Meiya]"..."

[Meiya]"...please...Takeru."

[Meiya]"You...you must...live..."


(Flash End)


I tried not to feel sad. Instead, I worked harder to focus on the memories. I didn't need to see all of them,i needed to see just the new ones.

I sorted through the pictures that tied to the "final one" but none seemed to be anything more than random images.

I widened my net.

But it seemed as i missed the connections to that memory so I tried another avenue of searching, hoping for clearer responses.

Who was that mysterious girl?

Why i called her "my childhood friend"?

Why they threw a G-Bomb?

What was i doing there?

Who died?

Why i was injured and Why Meiya was crying by my side?

Infinite question popped up in my mind but none of them had a clear answer.

And then I hit a wall.

It was a blank, a nothing. I tried to circle around it, but I couldn't find the edges of the void. It was as if the information I sought had been erased.

Or maybe...As if my brain had sealed that particular memory to protect myself.

Then all of a sudden i heard a familiar voice.

At first the words and the memory were blurred and hazy but then the words came slower and slower, and at first I did not understand why.

Was this a thing i had forgotten?

Lost in the trauma of an almost death?

Was I still sluggish from unconsciousness?

I struggled to think clearly. This sensation was unfamiliar. Was my body sedated? I felt alert enough, but my mind labored unsuccessfully for the answers I wanted.


(Flash)


[?]"..."

[?]"[Black Christmas]."

[?]"That's the name assigned to this tragedy..."


(Flash End)


[Takeru]"Ku...!" a violent headache attacked me. And then anger flashed through me, hot and wild.

I gasped in surprise at the unexpected reaction.

I'd already felt anger and rage in the various battles in which I participated, but this was beyond my ability to anticipate.

In twelve lives, I'd never had an emotion touch me with such force.

I felt the blood pulse through my neck, pounding behind my ears. I gritted my teeth and my hands tightened into fists. And then my fury peaked and I felt it flow through me like a tidal wave of pure power.

My muscles tightened and then,as fast as it came,all of a sudden the anger vanished,leaving me mentally exhausted from the dwelling inside the memories and i fell again into a deep slumber.

. . . . . . .

. . . . . . .

. . . . . . .

[Voice]"...Here I come."

. . . . . . .

[Voice]"...Now, then..."

. . . . . . .

[Voice]"...Hmm...that's quite a cute sleeping face...Hehe."

. . . . . . .

[Takeru]"...Nn."

. . . . . . .

Nnnnn...I wonder what is it...

...From a while ago i have the impression of hearing a voice near me...

...And also i'm feeling strangely cold...as if someone had pulled my blankets...

[Takeru]"..." I opened my eyes but the room was still dark. Apparently i fell asleep again while exploring my memories.

I blinked a few times,as my view was still a little blur,and i looked around the room.

However,I have to say that my pillow today is extremely good. Maybe it's because I'm more used to the hard military bed,but this pillow is so warm and squishy...

Warm and squishy?

. . . . . . . . .

[Takeru]"EH!?" I couldn't believe my eyes.

As soon as i looked up,Sumika's face entered in my view.

Moreover,Sumika's sleeping face was surprisingly innocent and pretty,and on top of that,a sweet smell was leaking from her rosy lips in form of sleeper's breathing.

With her red hair tangled and wild around her face,wearing a threadbare t-shirt full of holes with tatty sweatpants, her features relaxed in unconsciousness,her full lips slightly parted,she took my breath away.

It was precisely because of her unkempt appearance that she showed only to me that i could say that she was indeed my Sumika...

That's bad...

As the seconds passed i could feel my heart rate rapidly rising...

[Takeru]"C-calm down Takeru. Regain your presence of mind by counting prime numbers..." I told myself.

1,2,3,5,7,9,11 ... NO GOOD ...I CAN'T CALM DOWN!

[Takeru]"No,wait. I've already saw her naked...why i'm so panicked?"

Even though my words were convincing,i couldn't persuade my heart who kept beating faster and faster.

And above all...her chest was n-e-a-r.

Whenever breathing,her soft swelling moved up and down,captivating my eyes.

...Wait a second...This position...Could it be!?

[Takeru]"I was sleeping with my head on her lap?!"

No...the real question is why i hadn't noticed until now!?

Even though i was still half-asleep,that's way too dense!

[Takeru]"Anyway i have to wake her up...Hey,wake up Sumika!"

[Sumika]"..." Even though i called her,the only response i got from her was her cute sleeper's breathing.

Because i was sleeping in an unnatural position,my body didn't move as i wanted. But still i lightly shook her and again i tried to wake her up [Takeru]"...Sumika!"

[Sumika]"Takeru-chan," Sumika said.

I froze,staring at her unopened eyes.

Had she woken? She looked asleep,yet her voice had been so clear...

She sighed a quiet sigh,and then moved restlessly again,still fast asleep and dreaming.

[Sumika]"Takeru-chan," she mumbled softly.

She was dreaming of me...

And and then she continued [Sumika]"Stay," she sighed. [Sumika]"Don't go. Please...don't leave me."

She was dreaming of me and she wanted me to stay with her,there in her dream.

I gazed at her unconscious face,feeling the love for her settle into every portion of my body while she slept more peacefully now,with a smile on her lips.

I struggled to find words to name the feelings that flooded through me,but I had no words strong enough to hold them. For a long moment, I drowned in them.

When i surfaced, I was not the same man I had been. I loved her,and so I would try to be strong enough to leave her. I knew I wasn't that strong now. I would work on that one. But perhaps i could spend one last day with her.

Then I watched her sleeping until the sun rose behind the eastern clouds,thinking and engraving her face into my memory.


Author's note:

Ciao a tutti! Thank you as always for all who read/reviewed/followed/favorited my story!

A special thanks to P4Nd0RaS and nad destroyer for the advice and for hearing my crazy ideas and grumble!

To Zehel2010...About the rating,well you're right,as that was one of the thing that I was worried about...i think that i'll try to stay T-rated,although it will be difficult...

Talking about the chapter...well it was a flash-intensive chapter...probably you were expecting the triple date,but I thought that,since Takeru is about to go back to the BETA World, it was about time to include some twist/foreshadowing and also as a bonus you get several info/hint about future plots.

I hope that my descriptions were exhaustive enough for you to understand what the hell i was writing about.

Sorry for the info-dump and i know that it may be confusing but it was necessary to understand how Takeru retrieves his memories and why some of them are blurry/hazy/confused.

Also as you've already seen in this chapter,Memories and Causality Information will play a big part in my story,so there will be several part like the one in this chapter,and of course at some point i'll explain why Takeru receives those information/memories.

One last thing about Takeru's thoughts before he "dies". That's obviously a future Takeru who lost everything again and i've highlighted his depressed thoughts to make you readers see the different state of mind between a Takeru who lost all hope and (as you'll see in the next chapters) a Takeru who is about to depart and is full of hope.

Ah...I almost forgot! For the flash in which Takeru is "catatonic" i took the inspiration from the end of TDA 02.

Ok...nothing more to say but See ya guys!