Author's Notes: …I feel so unworthy. This chapter has been collecting dust on my hard drive forever as my inspiration selfishly abandoned it and engaged in flighty projects elsewhere. I hope the reviewers of the story can forgive me for the terrible amount of time it took to get this part done. ^^; You are all wonderful, and I'm so glad you've been putting up with me and enjoying this story. Thanks to Rinrin-Chikage for reviewing this for the first time, and thanks to COSE and Masamune for reviewing again; thanks also to kawaiishinichan and Suu-Happiness who reviewed chapter two but didn't get proper name-verification in the 'thanks' section of chapter three.
This part is longer than the other chapters. It doesn't necessarily make sense, experiments a bit with the strangely stylistic (and funky scene separators), and might not "fit" with sections 1 through 3 in the way it's written; hopefully, though, it will be enjoyable all the same. I'm not sure how well I dealt with the conclusion, but hopefully it's suitably resolved. If I have time, I'm going to try to give the first few parts of this story a slight makeover, and maybe break this part into more logical chapter-like chunks; we'll have to see.
Thanks, again, to the people who have read this, reviewed it, and put up with my turtle-like writing pace. I hope this is to your satisfaction.
Part IV - Hollow Resolutions
It was like a dream; sudden and swift and so faint that it hardly seemed real, hardly seemed tangible enough to touch. A moment, one out of eternity, so flitting that A honestly thought he’d imagined it-
~‘I’m coming to see you.’~
That had been all. His eyes snapped wide open, body suddenly becoming animated with nervous energy; his breath quickened as his limbs went tense, waiting, hoping for more…
But, of course, there was no more. Just that tantalizing, unbelievable phrase, hanging in the air like an illusion.
Was it real?
‘I’m coming to see you.’
~‘C?!’~ His mind reached out; desperate, clinging. ~‘C! Are you there? Can you hear me?!’~
No response, no acknowledgement; just that cold, bitter silence, weighing down upon him like a muffler. His face, so pale with astonishment, held a look of utmost longing.
~’I need you…’~ The boy’s plea rang silently, echoing his expression with a painful twinge. ~’…C…’~
He almost let himself continue, shouting out his thoughts in a rushing sea of jumbled feeling - I miss you, I want you, I hate you, I love you, I need you back...
But something stopped him. A faint, solitary spark; a gleam of hope, of promise.
‘I’m coming to see you.’
That was what C had said. That was what he had promised.
Maybe, just once, it would be sweeter to savor thoughts left unvoiced; to let his comments ripen until they could be spoken in person.
Gingetsu half-turned his head at the comment, glancing down at the boy beside him. Ran’s eyes were on the ground as they walked; he seemed too self-conscious to observe the world he’d been shut up from for so long, and were it not for Gingetsu’s presence beside him the three-leaf might very well have run into something.
“You’re going out of your way to do this for me,” he clarified. “You didn’t need to.”
Gingetsu didn’t deem this particular comment worthy of a response, so he decided to remain silent. Ran noticed.
“You - really, you didn’t have to…” he fumbled helplessly. “I mean - I know you have work and all, and this is probably bothersome, so I’m sorry I’m wasting your time and…”
Still that silence. Ran looked up.
“…I’m being ridiculous again, aren’t I?”
“Oh.” Pause. “I’m-“
“You don’t need to apologize.”
There was another pause, then; soft, introspective, mutual. The two were surrounded by people on all sides, yet the world seemed to stop for a second; it was nice.
“I mean… thank you,” the boy admitted. “Thanks for coming with me.” He cautiously searched for any hint of expression on the older man’s face.
Gingetsu nodded shortly, eyes moving back to the cement-paved road ahead. “It’ll be another fifteen minutes until we get there.”
“Oh?” Ran’s eyes turned contemplative. “…That’s soon.”
“It’s not very far.”
“Yeah…” Ran’s face was mildly troubled. Self-consciously noting the silence, he let his gaze fall back to the ground.
The world around them was busy with movement as people rushed back and forth; it was stuffy, but the air was still chilled by sharp wind. The sky above was dark, blotted with clouds that gave the streets a heavy sort of atmosphere. Had it been raining, Ran might have felt a sense of déjà vu. As it was, he felt out of place in the stale, alien atmosphere and unconsciously, his left hand reached out to gently grab the edge of Gingetsu’s coat. The older man glanced down in mild surprise, but Ran didn’t seem to notice what he was doing. Gingetsu turned back to the bustling street and pulled him. They were getting closer.
They had been required to come to the Facility on a day when none of the assisting faculty had been present; Gingetsu didn’t know how Shuu had managed the fact, but the building he and Ran stepped into was eerily silent. The walls were reinforced with dull coats of metal that shined with hints of reflection as the two moved past them. The floor they walked on rung with hollow, clanging echoes. It was a good thing that no one was there to hear.
They walked on.
A’s cage was situated far within this labyrinth, the tunnels of metal that served as a sort of feeble precaution to prevent three-leaves from escaping. Naturally, it hadn’t worked; a clover of such a level could navigate its way through a maze merely by reaching out its mind toward the world outside. Ran was doing the opposite as, still holding Gingetsu’s jacket, he searched for A’s presence to lead him within; he’d traveled the path before, so it wasn’t that difficult. Gingetsu watched him with a sort of subtle interest. He noted unconsciously how the boy held himself: the way his footsteps fell on the cold floors, how his pace seemed to quicken as he led him onward. They were passing closed doors that, no doubt, contained labs or testing rooms. The air around them was cool and metallic, hovering deathly-still.
They walked on.
If Ran was feeling any sort of anticipation or fear, it was difficult to tell; to all outward appearances, the boy looked the same. He didn’t seem tense, and it was only a guess as to whether his breath was coming quicker. His face wasn’t pale.
His hand, however, seemed of a different sentiment. Ran’s knuckles were white as his fingers interlocked desperately with the rough piece of fabric that was Gingetsu’s jacket and the imprint of finger bones protruded from his unnaturally thin hand. It was as if he’d channeled his anxiety into his fingers. Gingetsu contemplated this for a bit before his eyes fixated themselves back on the hall.
They walked on.
The building was so clean that it looked to have never been used before. There were no spots, no stains, no dirt on the walls the two passed - no dust, even, to gather in dark corners or cling to unused handles. They breathed in air that was sterile and, in some way, stale. Instead of windows, there were lights; they let off light that was a faded, sickly yellow, a feeble impression of sunlight that had aged over time. The place was reminiscent of a hospital ward. From his years working alongside them, Gingetsu had come to conclude that the Wizards and the scientists under them seemed to have a fanatic obsession with keeping things (like the labyrinth) clean; it was almost as if they were trying to purge themselves of the filth that came with their operation. Ironically enough, the compulsion only amplified the unnaturalness of their work.
Neither Gingetsu nor Ran spoke. The silence in the place was so thick that it wouldn’t be broken; there seemed to be a code of formality that hung in the air, something that insisted: “keep silent, and don’t make a sound.”
They walked on.
A sat in the cage, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head resting on them. He was caught in a strange in-between phase, trapped between the numbness that had become a norm and painful, desperate awareness. He’d wrenched his eyes shut, but his ears were listening.
When a soft mechanical whirr sounded from the entrance to the cage, his head snapped up. The door, iron and gilded with locks, was slowly parting and melting into the walls on either side; he could only watch, mesmerized, as it slid open and the strange, fluorescent light that lay beyond flooded the room. It was bright. Having sat in darkness for so long, he shied his glance away.
A heard footsteps, hesitantly stepping in. He was almost afraid to look.
That banished every trace of hesitation from his mind: it was his voice, kind and uncertain and confused, and A scrambled to his feet and ran over, arms grappling desperately around the torso of the newcomer and clutching him tight.
“C, C, C, C, C…” It seemed like that was the only word he knew. It was the only word he could say as he pressed his face close, overwhelming himself with his brother’s presence and scent. “Oh… God, C…”
“A…” The voice he heard was lost, now, filled with sympathy. For him.
He hugged C tighter.
“I missed you so much,” he said; his voice was choked. “They wouldn’t let me talk to you… They didn’t let me know where you were…”
“The wizards.” The word fell off his tongue as if it was an insult.
“That wasn’t their fault.”
“It was their fault,” A hissed. “The wizards didn’t want me to find you.”
“A, they didn't do anything." There was a note of hesitation in the other's voice. "I was afraid to talk to you.”
C’s voice was soothing.
“…Afraid?” he repeated, his voice lapsing into the sleepy contentment that showed he wasn’t thinking of what he was saying. “Why would you be afraid?”
“You love me, right?” he asked. “I love you. I love you more than anything.”
“…So do I.”
“We promised,” A remembered. “You said you loved me the most.”
“Right,” he said, pressing his face into the other’s chest. It had C’s scent, too; a year had passed, but his brother still had the same smell. He closed his eyes.
“I knew you’d come back…” he sighed. “I needed you, C. We’re the same. We’re part of one thing.”
Once, C had said he would never return to the cage, and once A had thought he’d understood; he couldn’t comprehend it now, though. Everything fit here. This was how things were supposed to be.
“A, listen to me… We’re locked up because we’re together. If we live apart from each other, we wont have to go back there ever again.”
How could that have made sense? They were together because they were locked up. If that was the only way they could see one another… What did cages matter?
“I don’t think so.”
“What?” The sudden reply made him jump back to awareness.
“I don’t think we’re the same.”
“…But we are,” he insisted slowly. “We’re identical. I’m the only one who knows you, and you’re the only one who can understand me. We’re one.”
“Do you know me?” C’s voice was strange.
“…Of course I do,” he replied with surprise.
“You haven’t seen me for a year.”
“What’s a year?” A couldn’t comprehend a year. What did a year matter when there was the present to contend with? “I’ve been with you my whole life.”
“…A, look at me.”
It was a surprising request. Loosening his grasp, A stepped back and looked up, for the first time, at the person who had entered his cage. It was then that he realized something.
It wasn’t C he was looking at.
The fact doused him like a bucket of horribly cold water, freezing his blood and draining the color from his face. He stared.
“Things happen during a year,” the other explained, looking sad in a way he couldn’t identify. This person was completely foreign. He was an older man, taller and stranger and terribly different from the C he’d been expecting; he didn’t belong here. He wasn’t the one he’d been waiting for.
“You’re not C,” A snarled, stumbling back. “W- who are you?!”
“You’re not C!”
The older man reached out his hand.
“Don’t touch me!” he yelled, shoving him away.
As he watched the man stumble, he didn’t know how he could have confused the two. It was only their voices that were similar- everything else was wrong. He was fragile, like C, but not as delicate; his hair was the same color, but it was chopped painfully short. C wouldn’t have done that. It couldn’t be C that stood in front of him.
His eyes narrowed.
“…Leave me alone…”
“Go away.” A clenched his fists. “I need C.”
“-Don’t try to keep me away from him!”
He’d said he’d come. He’d promised. Why wasn’t he here? Who was this?
The mind-speak came as a shock.
He froze. His eyes widened, disbelieving and knowing full well that the voice he’d heard was impossible for him to be hearing, couldn’t have come back, but…
~’…C?’~ he questioned shakily.
A looked up uneasily, and the man was watching him.
~’I’m here,’~ he said again.
“I change when I’m outside,” C explained. “I grow older.”
~’This is me.’~
“…It’s really you?”
“For a little while,” the other replied. He smiled weakly, and it was C’s smile.
They weren’t so much two people now as they were a combination, a mixture of tightly intertwined limbs and breaths that merged together to form the same scent. Their eyes were closed.
“He’s waiting outside, isn’t he?”
“Him. The one I saw you with before.”
“He’s a two-leaf?”
“Does he take care of you? You’re alright there?”
The other nodded.
“But you still miss me?”
“I still miss you.”
“You just can’t come to see me.” His voice was uncertain.
“…It doesn’t work when we see each other. I’m unhappy, or you’re unhappy…”
“As long as we’re together, we’re trapped.”
“But I’m not unhappy.”
The other didn’t respond.
“C, you’re not unhappy either, are you? Not now?”
“…I don’t know.”
“What do you mean?” he asked lazily.
“I just don’t know, A…”
“It’s not like it’s a hard question,” he pointed out.
“…I guess not.”
“Come on,” he coaxed him. “You’re not unhappy, are you? Tell me.”
“Talk to me, C,” he pressed. Every moment of hesitation made him more and more awake.
It came, finally, as a mumble:
“…I’m not unhappy.”
But C’s tone held no conviction.
A’s eyes narrowed.
“Why are you lying to me?” he demanded. “What’s so complicated about it?”
“I- that wasn’t a lie…”
“How could you be unhappy?” His voice had grown sharp. “What’s wrong?”
“-What’s so good about things out there?” he pressed. “Out there, you’ll die!”
At that word, ‘die,’ A was suddenly shot through with a hollow feeling.
-The floor of the delicately crafted prison was spattered with bloodstains-
“I’ll kill myself before I let you kill again.”
-couldn’t starve himself, couldn’t make himself bleed enough-
“…If I make you go back, you’ll die.”
-blood stains, he mused ironically, from all three clovers-
“…It’s better than living forever,” C quietly replied.
-without his brother there to share forever with him, the only thing that seemed welcome to the boy now was-
“Better than forever?” he repeated, hollowly. “I wouldn’t know.” His glance fell.
There was a pause.
“…I’m leaving now, A.”
He nodded mutely.
“I’ll miss you.”
A couldn’t watch his brother as he left, the doors closing behind him and cutting off the light from the hall.
‘…What was that?’
He didn’t know.
Gingetsu noticed the way that Ran kept his eyes on the ground as he came out of the metal doors. He saw how his hands were clutched tightly on the hems of his sleeves, how his feet nudged their way across the floor instead of striding. He watched him make his way over, wordless, and stop as he waited for instruction.
Gingetsu knew better than to say anything. He nodded shortly, watching Ran for a second more before turning back to the corridor they’d come from; it lay, waiting, a maze of metal mirrors. He paused, almost contemplating whether to ask Ran if he wanted to talk about it? – but he decided it wasn’t a thing he should interfere in. Instead, he reached out a hand, offering it as a sort of familiar land in the darkness. Ran took it, and he noted dully how the boy’s thin hand felt in his own.
He took the first step, and Ran followed.
They walked back.
-- s – a – m – i – s – h – i --
It was almost funny, but A could almost imagine he heard someone singing.
The voice was the kind of sound that seemed to disappear if he focused too closely; it drifted in the air, humming with a sort of melancholy lilt.
C was gone.
C had been gone for seconds, minutes, hours – some amount of time that seemed to waver in impossible intervals, going from just a second back to days. He really couldn't tell. He wasn't quite sure how to feel about it.
The same, one, together
He was lonely. It was strange, though, because it wasn't the same kind of loneliness as before; it was sad, and unfulfilling, and empty and chilling and scary-
-but it wasn't as possessive of him as it had been. He wasn't sure what the change was.
The voice intermixed with his thoughts, filling him with its rich note. The singer, he decided, was a woman. She sounded sad.
One goes one forever
He thought about what C had said. About eternity, and death, and everything he'd ever talked about.
"It's better than living forever," he'd said just now.
But the other- sang the voice
Was he right?
A wasn't sure.
-a shallow reflection
A part of him didn't want to think about the question. He didn't want to see C dying, or living forever, or anything like that; he didn't want to think about what an eternity would really be like. A year had been bad enough.
What happens, sang the woman, when there is no sky?
She did have a nice voice. Idly resting his head on folded arms, he spread himself out on the ground.
He was feeling sleepy, he realized. His thoughts were coming slowly, sluggish enough that it was getting difficult to continue an idea in his mind.
~'…C…'~ he said drowsily.
His eyelids were feeling heavier.
He stopped in mid-thought as his eyes fell shut and he went limp.
Return to Archive | previous