You needn’t trouble him with this, you know. The burden of knowing…
I know. But we owe it to him to do this.
He’s happy here. After all the suffering…he’s happy here. Doesn’t he have the right to this, at least?
That is not the pact you made with him. This is a false happiness, a fragile illusion. And as such, it cannot last.
Already cracks are beginning to show. I do not need your permission to act.
I shall give it to you anyway. Do as you will – show him what I will not.
No. I refuse to break the illusion for him. I can, but I will not. He breaks it himself, or not at all.
You’ll make the right decision. Won’t you, Shinji?
Shinji slid the cup of noodles past the counter, sparing only a glance at the cashier before passing her a fistful of coins. Late-night ventures like these weren’t uncommon, now that he was in high school – he relished the few inches of independence granted to him.
The door swung open. Shinji brushed snow off his shoulders as his feet sank into wet earth, treading rough ground. It wasn’t as cold as it was the previous night, and he could see beginnings of gray road underneath white sheets.
He heard a jarring sound to his right and spun around. In the middle of the street was a pale-skinned, pale-haired girl, her red eyes blankly fixed on him.
Shinji blinked. The sound played again, softer this time, and the girl wasn’t there anymore. He didn’t feel any shock at it, and was at a loss as to why; was it a trick of the light? But he had imagined her so vividly…
He shrugged and went on his way, clutching the cup in his left hand.
“Say, Kensuke.” said Shinji, sitting on his bed. “Do you wonder what those crosses outside are?”
Kensuke got up. “Are you kidding me, man? All the time.” he said, in the voice he did whenever he was going to launch into a tirade.
“No-one knows anything about them. Not even how they got there.” Kensuke continued. “They were just…there already, for as long as anyone can remember.”
Shinji stared at the ceiling. “Yeah, I know. Strange, isn’t it?”
“Wanna check them out with me this weekend or something?” Kensuke said, almost standing up. Shinji closed his eyes.
“Maybe. But let’s go to bed first – we’ve got class first thing in the morning tomorrow.” Shinji yawned.
Kensuke didn’t lie back down as Shinji did. Instead he peered outside the window for a good while, long after Shinji had fallen asleep.
Shinji looked up to see Hikari Horaki standing above him, leaning against the wall.
“You’re Kensuke Aida’s roommate, right?” she said, looking down at him.
“Yeah, I am. Why?”
“He didn’t show up for class this morning. Any news on that?”
Shinji bit his lip. He swore he knew where Kensuke had gone, but couldn’t seem to recall anything – he thought he’d bumped into his friend this noon, or talked to him on the way to school.
“No, I…no.” he said, looking slightly uneasy.
Hikari lifted an eyebrow. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
Shinji looked at his hands. “I haven’t seen him today. That’s all I know.” It wasn’t all he knew, but he didn’t know how to put how he felt into words…or at least, he didn’t want to.
“Do you always try to hide the things you can’t cope with from everyone else?” came a voice that was neither his nor Hikari’s.
Shinji turned around. Nothing but empty seats behind him. The whispery, mild tone – it was familiar, somehow.
Hikari gave him a flat look. “I’ll ask again. Is there something wrong?”
“No, no, it’s nothing. It’s…nothing.” Shinji said, waving his hand in the air. The voice’s words bit into his skull again - he suppressed a wince.
“Well, I’m not covering for you when you get into trouble over this.” Hikari sighed. Shinji watched as she walked out of the classroom, leaving him alone again amid rows of empty seats.
Shinji groaned. He supposed he’d have to help the others look for Kensuke – he might get into trouble otherwise.
Shinji’s footsteps left deep tracks in the snow. The usual crowd was here, enjoying the same after-school walk he did almost every afternoon. He wasn’t here to do that, though, much to his irritation.
“Ugh, Kensuke’s probably just out roleplaying again.” Shinji rolled his eyes. He’d remembered when Kensuke had missed Biology class entirely to re-enact D-Day. In fairness, Shinji could barely remember anything from that class either – or any of his other classes, now that he thought about it.
He decided to at least give it a token effort. “Kensuke! Kensuke, where are you?” he said. He was half-expecting the boy to sneak up and cover his mouth, whispering something about a “covert ops” mission.
“Kensukeeee. I’ll get in a loooot of trouble if you’re not back home by daaaawn…” Now that Shinji thought about it…now that he thought about it, a lot of people were going missing recently. Not just kids. Adults, too. Were it anyone else, any other of Shinji’s friends, he might’ve gotten worried…but this was Kensuke Aida, the boy famous for getting lost in flights of fancy.
Shinji rolled his eyes. “What a headache.”
While he wasn’t looking, a book collided with his foot. Its presumptive owner had stumbled on the ground a few feet from where he was standing. Grunting, he picked it up.
“Here you go, Sir - ” The slender fingers that took it gave Shinji pause. “Miss. Sorry. Miss.”
“Thanks.” The girl’s voice was half-hearted, unfamiliar…yet he’d heard it before. He watched her arm in shock as she tucked it back into her back.
“And, uh…” she chuckled, flipping a red twin-tail. “…was it really hard to tell?”
Shinji looked up at her face, blue eyes meeting blue eyes for what felt like the first time. The boy immediately felt his breath leave him, both because no, it was far from hard to tell that she was a Miss and that he swore, he’d sworn he’d seen her before…
“Um.” The girl tilted her head; Shinji couldn’t tell if she was amused or annoyed. “Is there something on my face?”