Chapter 1: 2010/2010 (the youngest son remix)
“Or you could wait for another ten years,” Elizabeth says.
Minako rubs at the chains keeping her tied to the doors. She does miss having a body. She especially misses being able to walk further than five meters in any direction. “What happens if I don’t?”
“Nyx will descend upon humanity again and civilization as we know it will end,” Elizabeth says. “I heard it’ll make a wonderful ice cream flavor.”
“Oh,” she says. That does sound problematic. Best not to. Maybe she’ll find out what the secret ingredient of that weird takoyaki is by the time the ten years are up.
“Do not despair,” Elizabeth says. “I am quite the diligent worker. It would have taken Theo twenty years.”
2010 (the youngest son remix).
“It shouldn’t take very long,” says Theo. “Ten years at the most.”
“… The most?” says Minato. The chains rattle when he scratches his nose, and rattle when his arm falls back to his side.
“My sister really is very rude,” Theo says. “She said it’ll take me twenty years. Just because I’m the youngest doesn’t mean that I am the least capable.” He pouts. And then he adjusts his gloves. And then he fusses with the buttons of his waistcoat.
“… Well,” Minato says, “… You go do that.”
He still doesn’t have a clue who this Theo guy is, but the clothes are a pretty big hint.
Chapter 2: three years
three years. (setting tables.)
Shinjiro never planned for the future. He didn’t think he’d be alive long enough to get one. Now he’s nearly twenty and still in high school. The amount of schoolwork he needs to catch up on and the time he spent in a coma means that he’ll be in high school for at least another year before he can graduate. Fuck that. He’s going to apply to culinary school—but that leader of his would’ve liked to see him get this done first.
His endurance isn’t what it used to be. He can barely run a half mile without getting winded. Walking for longer than an hour knocks him out for the rest of the day. His old coat doesn’t fit him anymore—but screw that, it was all beat up anyway. He doesn’t wear a beanie anymore. Some dumbfuck school regulation.
Never should’ve gone back, he swears to himself as he wraps up the last of the food. It’s her favorite meal—or maybe one of her favorites. It’s something she likes. It’s completely unhealthy and fattening, but ghosts don’t gain weight, anyway.
She’d yell at him if she knew that he was thinking about her weight. She never liked that.
His door bell rings. Shinjiro glares at the door, even though he already knows who’s there.
“What,” he yells, making his way to the door. “Couldn’t wait another five minutes?”
“I’ve been waiting ten,” Akihiko says. “You’ve turned into a real old man now, haven’t you?”
“Tch.” He opens the door. Akihiko’s there, looking sharp. Like a college student. Shinjiro clenches his jaw and says, “Come in.”
Akihiko steps right in without a shred of remorse about intruding. The way he invites himself in, it’s almost like he lives here.
“Koromaru’ll be up in a minute,” Akihiko says. “He’s sniffing around the shrine. You ready?”
“Yeah,” Shinjiro says. “Everyone else ready?”
“Ken can’t make it this year,” Akihiko says. “He’s visiting his great-uncle, the one who’s paying for his education. Mitsuru’s still overseas.”
“More food for everyone else,” Shinjiro says. But it’ll be hard convincing anyone to eat that natto. Ken likes that. Ken has the taste buds of an old geezer. Shinjiro doesn’t mind that the kid’s alive, but they don’t talk much. It’s hard talking to Ken. Ken doesn’t like meeting his eyes.
“You made another picnic basket?” Akihiko says. “You sure got a lot of time on your hands.”
“I’m on spring break,” Shinjiro says. “What else am I supposed to do?”
Akihiko snorts. “Something other than keep house.”
“Shut up.” Shinjiro picks up the picnic basket and gives it to Akihiko. He carries their leader’s meal in his own hands. “Let’s go. Don’t want to keep her waiting.”
“Yeah,” Akihiko says. He makes a fist. For a moment he looks down at the ground, his expression pained.
Shinjiro gives Akihiko a little push and says, “Stop moping around, you idiot.”
But he’s not sure who he’s talking to. Every inch of his little apartment is clean enough to eat off of, even the top of his cabinets. Cleaning is a nice way to keep his mind off of how fucking unfair it is, that he’s alive when she’s not, that he has a future he didn’t think he’d get and she doesn’t—but now’s not time for that. Now’s time to meet the others and pretend like standing up straight doesn’t make his chest ache. Now’s time to be strong.
Chapter 3: three years (PALE HORSE pale rider remix)
three years (PALE HORSE pale rider remix).
Mitsuru’s still overseas and Ken can’t make it this year, but everyone else is lively and energetic. Aigis and Yukari are especially friendly. Aigis is working for the Kirijo group as an engineer, and Yukari’s off in a junior college in another city, so the two haven’t seen much of each other lately. They were roommates the year before, and glued at the hip. It was so tiring talking to Yukari that year. It was like she was talking for both her and Aigis.
They pay their respects at the graveyard. It takes less time than they expect. Just a few minutes and it’s done. The others turn to leave. They’re going out for lunch this year, although no one can agree where to. Last year they all went to Wuck’s on Aigis’ request. This year everyone seems to be leaning towards Hagakure.
“Hey, senpai,” says Junpei. “What you loitering around here for? Come on, join the party?”
Akihiko looks up from the plaque. Then he looks around the graveyard: the crosses and the small monuments and the flowers and the portraits. His sister’s here. Shinji’s here. And six feet below, their leader slumbers on…
“You guys go on ahead,” Akihiko says. “I have some more business to take care of here.”
Chapter 4: four years
four years. (an empty fountain.)
In the spring Chidori sometimes takes breaks from her studio to go out and paint from the street. Junpei doesn’t get it, even though Chidori's explained it at least twice to him. Chidori’s a lot more forthright about explaining things now. Apparently going to a junior college and holding a steady job means that he’s no longer an idiot all the time.
They’re not together anymore. He liked her—still does. But it was painful being with her, and they’re always on and then off again. It’s constant whiplash. He doesn’t see her much anymore because every meeting feels like he’s standing at a doorframe, half in and half out. It’s like, Shit, what do I do now?! and on bad days he breaks out in a cold sweat just thinking about seeing her. Man, he might as well just give it all up.
Anyway, she invited him over today, but she’s not in her studio. Junpei would call, but his phone’s busted and his Internet’s been out ever since the rainstorm knocked down a pole in his neighborhood. The Internet café by his apartment is full of MMO gamers and dudes who jack off in their cubes, so like hell he’s checking that place out. The last time he’s heard from her was four days ago, and her plans won’t change that much, right? … Right?
Since she’s not in the studio, she’s on the street or at her home. And if she’s on the street, then she’s probably at Port Island station. He takes it slow and makes his way to the station like he’s got all the time in the world. Chidori’s probably—he doesn’t know. Finding the meaning of life in pigeon feathers. Whatever. He’ll find out when he gets there.
Chidori’s not drawing the pigeons, but she is sitting in front of the vending machines and staring at them with obvious contempt. She’s muttering something at her sketchbook, and her lines look—well, vicious.
“Uh,” Junpei says. “Hey.”
She looks up. Then she looks back at her page. “Oh,” Chidori says. “There you are. Done so soon?”
“Huh?” Junpei says. “Hey, what are you so mad about? I’m the one who got stood up here.”
“Today’s that day, isn’t it?” she says. “The one where you visit her.”
“Oh, fuck,” he says. He kicks at the ground. “Damn it!”
Chidori watches him. Then she says, “Sit here, Junpei.”
He sits. He can hear Yukari’s voice in his head now: Junpei, you moron. She wouldn’t have even been there. Mitsuru’s still abroad and Yukari’s visiting her mother, and Shinjiro’s busy with school and Ken’s on some swimming camp. So it would’ve been a small meeting anyway, just Aigis and Fuuka and Akihiko and him and Koromaru. “I can’t believe I forgot,” he says. He runs a hand through his hair. “Damn it.”
“It’s all right, Junpei,” Chidori says.
“No it’s not!” he says. “Damn it. She was—my best friend, you know? I don’t know what I’d be doing without her.”
Chidori doesn’t even remember Minako—not who she was, not what made her important. And it’s not like Junpei’s going to tell Chidori about the Personae and the Dark Hour and all that spooky stuff. She’s been through enough.
“She’s gone, Junpei,” Chidori says.
“No she’s not,” he says. He almost believes it, until he wonders, Well, what would she be doing now? And then, shit, he can’t think because he knows what she’s doing: she’s probably doing something like playing tennis against Nyx or God or whatever in the afterlife— “She’s not gone, damn it!”
“Junpei,” Chidori says. She puts her hand on his shoulder, and squeezes it. “Yes, she is.”
Chapter 5: five years (MYSTERY FOOD X remix)
five years (MYSTERY FOOD X remix)
The rice balls look pretty good, at least. So does the fried meat and those cute little fruit plates. The vegetables, though—well. And the eggs look a little… dubious. Maybe they can feed them to Koromaru.
Since this is Mitsuru’s first back celebrating with the rest of them in years, Fuuka’s taken on the herculean task of making food for everyone. Yukari thinks it’s a little morbid that the only time they all get together as a group is on the anniversary of their leader’s death, but at least they’re not meeting on March thirty-first at their old dorm. This meeting is in Akihiko’s apartment, since Mitsuru’s things aren’t all back in Japan yet. Otherwise they’d be in her flat in the middle of the city, admiring the view of the ocean.
It’s nice having everyone together again, and it’s even nicer of Mitsuru to bring some wine and juice, because otherwise all they’d have to drink would be tequila. She should’ve known things would go badly: they left Junpei as the only one in charge of drinks. Although, she’s a little worried about the food. Fuuka’s laid out the last dish, a weird looking gelatin slush that’s questionably edible.
“I’m sorry if they’re not very good,” Fuuka says.
“Hey, no prob,” Junpei says. Then he turns to Aigis and says, “Ai-chan, what do you think? You want to taste test?”
“Would you stop that?” Yukari says. “Don’t make Fuuka feel bad just because she can’t—I mean—” Dumb Junpei, messing her up like that. She winces and smacks Junpei on the shoulder. “You know.”
“It’s all right,” Fuuka says. “I know that they don’t look very good, but I followed a step-by-step procedure.” Her confidence deflates a little. “I think.” She looks at the eggs. “I’m going to help set the table.”
Aigis inspects the gelatin. She carefully takes a small spoon, removes a bit, and puts it to her mouth. Her eyes widen. She smiles and says, “Yukari-san, please try some of this.”
“What, is it good?” Yukari says. There’s still a bit of… pudding—is that what it is?—left on the spoon. She brings it to her mouth. She bites. “—urk!”
It’s like taking a bite into some—she can’t even describe it. It’s like her mouth is both on fire and freezing over at the same time.
“Wh—Aigis!” she sputters. “What was that for?”
“Psyche,” Aigis says. She exchanges a high five with Junpei while Yukari drains her wine fluke. She refills her glass, hissing a little to wipe the taste of—whatever that was—from her tongue.
“Yukari, are you all right?” Mitsuru asks from across the room.
“I’m okay,” Yukari says. She meets Aigis and Junpei’s eyes. It seems a little mean, but, well, Mitsuru has been gone for a while. “Hey, senpai,” she says. “Do you want to try some of this pudding?”
Chapter 6: six years
six years. (it doesn’t approach. it appears.)
Mitsuru is fifteen minutes late. Yukari’s at the point where she’s beginning to pluck at the flowers in her bouquet: she’s stood me up, she’s stood me up not, she’s stood me up, she’s stood me up not… She’s not the crazy psycho girl who goes nuts and clubs people to death when they make her mad, she’s not. But she’s been standing in front of her apartment building for the last half hour and with every minute she’s beginning to think that she ought to throw the bouquet off a bridge. It’s not like Mitsuru likes flowers, anyway—or maybe she does. Did she ever say so?
Yukari wishes Junpei were here. At least then she’d be shredding him instead of the flowers.
Two minutes later, she hears the familiar roar of Mitsuru’s motorcycle. Seconds later, Mitsuru pulls up to the curb. She removes her helmet, her red hair falling over her shoulders. Yukari takes two breaths in, the second nearly a gasp. It’s unbelievably sexy. –No, that’s not the point. She’s mad. She’s mad. She’s…
“I’m sorry,” Mitsuru says. “The meeting ran late and the traffic was worse than I expected. I thought I could make it in time, but… of course, I should have anticipated…”
Of course she’s apologizing. For a moment it’s like they’re back in the first few months of SEES, where each revelation brings another apology and another quiet acceptance of blame. Yukari bites her lip and says, “It’s okay, senpai. I know how busy you are.” She looks down at the flowers and says, “Well, these were for you, but I’m not sure how you’re going to take them now.”
“They’re very nice,” Mitsuru says. She parks her motorcycle, shuts off the engine, and takes the flowers in her arms. She brings them to her face and makes a show of breathing in. “Mmm,” she says appreciatively, and gives Yukari a half-lidded gaze that makes Yukari blush. “Very nice.”
“I’ll take them back up to my apartment,” Yukari says. “You can take them with you tomorrow morning.”
“That sounds wonderful,” Mitsuru says. “How is Iori doing?”
“Junpei, that idiot,” Yukari says with a sigh. Where does she even start? He’s a father now, and still a total goofball. He almost named his daughter for a famous baseball player. He took his kid to Shinjiro’s restaurant a few weeks ago and Shinjiro nearly found a good reason to bring out his old axe.
They go up to her apartment arm-in-arm, gossiping about their mutual friends. Mitsuru smells like her usual perfume, something that’s always smelled a bit odd on her: bright and peppy, traces of citrus and mint. Yukari doesn’t remember when Mitsuru started wearing it, but it’s familiar and comforting and with a start she remembers: pushed to the ground, a car speeding into the distance, Minako on top of Yukari, and then helping her up. The skin around Minako’s eyes were milk pale in anger. She looked nearly ready to hit Yukari. –Of course, she was just angry because she was worried. At the time Yukari was too stunned for anything to sink in, but now she remembers walking just behind Minako, the smell of mandarins light and evasive in the summer air.
“Yukari?” Mitsuru says. “Is there something wrong?”
She’ll buy a drink for Minako tonight. Something Minako would have liked. No point in ruining the date by bringing up the dead. They can visit their leader’s grave tomorrow. Anyway, it’ll be easier for them all to meet tomorrow, since they’ll all have the day off. Today she wants Mitsuru all for herself.
“No,” Yukari says. “No, it’s fine.”
Chapter 7: eight years (the dead silence that follows remix)
eight years (the dead silence that follows remix)
Ken swears that Koromaru likes to break leashes just to watch Ken fall flat on his face from the momentum. Koromaru always goes wild when Akihiko’s nearby. It’s nuts. Maybe Akihiko rubs his legs with steaks every morning as part of his training routine.
After Koromaru licks his face, Akihiko goes to help Ken up. “Hey,” he says. “We’re early, huh.”
“Yeah,” Ken says, glad that Akihiko didn’t mention how Ken tripped and fell on his face. He’s grown, but he’s still looking up to Akihiko. He doesn’t remember how tall Shinjiro was, or how tall their leader was. About Akihiko’s height? Slightly taller? The only guys left to compare himself with are Koromaru, Akihiko, and Junpei, and Ken’s at least a bit taller than Junpei. It drives Junpei crazy, too. But that’s the fun part.
Akihiko looks around at the graves. It’s amazing how many people die every year. Ken shivers. He doesn’t like coming here. It’s hard on him. He knows—he knows he’s responsible for one person being here, even if he didn’t kill Shinjiro himself. It’s been eight and a half years since he vowed to atone, but it doesn’t feel like he’s done enough just yet.
“Hey,” Akihiko says. “Since it’s just the three of us, do you want to visit Shinji for a while?”
Ken folds the broken leash into his pocket. “Only for a little bit,” he says.
“That’s fine,” Akihiko says. He pats Koromaru on the head and smiles down at nothing in particular. “He doesn’t like people much, anyway.”
Chapter 8: ten years
ten years (the a-side).
He’s an old dog now. He wasn’t young when he left his post by the monk’s shrine, but he hadn't been like this. He barely remembers the days passing, and it’s been a long time since he’s been able to tell colors and shapes apart well. He feels slow, and the other dogs mock him when he’s on his patrol. Most of the time he spends indoors with Shinjiro, who always makes sure he’s being taken care of.
He’s old, very old, but not so old that he can’t feel the old power in him stirring in him at midnight. It’s a familiar rush, and even though he can’t see and even though his hips ache, he sits up, and then walks. Someone says, “Sssh,” and then giggles and pats his head. It’s a woman wearing gloves, and she smells like nothing he’s ever smelled before; but she isn’t an enemy today, so he pants and wags his tail. She opens the door for him, and he goes. “I have a request for you, Koromaru-san,” the woman says. “Do you accept?”
“Oh, my,” the woman says. “Thank you very much, then. The deadline for this quest is four hours. Will you make it on time, I wonder…? I wish you the best of luck. The gate will be open for you when you get there.”
He can’t run anymore, but he doesn’t have to. The streets are quiet and nearly empty. He’s a dog on a mission. He gets onto the bus and travels on the subway and arrives at the place where they buried her ten years ago. The gate is open like the woman promised. He enters, and finds the right place by memory and by smell. Yes, she’s under there. He digs down as straight as he can manage, down and down and down, with all the strength he has left.
Chapter 9: ten years (the eject, rewind, play remix)
ten years (the eject, rewind, play remix).
Koromaru is gone. Aigis is nearly out the door before she realizes it. Koromaru isn’t as young as he used to be, so she took him into her apartment two years ago. It’s amazing he’s even lived this long. By her estimate, he’s fifteen years old, well into old age. She wishes he would not have to die so soon.
She’s worried. She remembers hearing about how dogs will leave their homes to find somewhere else to die. She calls for him, and searches her apartment. That’s when she finds a note in her refrigerator, which is stocked mostly with food for others, and the occasional treat for herself. Please go to that place. Igor sends his best. –Theo.
The note makes no sense. She’s never met a Theo before. But she has met an Igor.
The gate to the graveyard is open, even though it is not yet opening hours. She enters without fear of being caught, and heads straight to his place. Her mind is whirring at an impossible rate. She fills her head with meaningless calculations (the potential of cold fusion through various means, the rate of decomposition of impossible noble gas compounds, the number of raindrops contained in one rainstorm) to take the edge off of it, but it still digs into her: an impossible hope, an impossible wish.
It can’t be.
It can’t be.
It can’t be…
When she arrives, her eyes are blurred with tears and her cheeks are already red. He is sitting in the middle of a deep hole, cradling Koromaru against his chest.
He looks up at Aigis and smiles.
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” he says.
“This is a dream,” she says.
He shrugs. Koromaru opens his eyes, wags his tail, and barks softly. “I think this is almost the end for him,” Minato says. “We should call the others.”
“I must fetch you some clothes,” Aigis says. “Stay there. I will be back immediately.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he says. He buries his face in Koromaru’s fur. The image is so painfully nostalgic that Aigis almost wishes she had her camera-like capabilities with her again, but those are long gone. She can no more record memories perfectly anymore than she can fire bullets from her fingers. And she loves—likes—being able to feel almost as much as she loves the quiet joy flooding inside her. He meets her eyes and says, “The cherry blossoms are beautiful today, aren’t they?”
Aigis looks up and around. Her tears makes it hard to see anything except pale pink blobs on dark, fuzzy lines against a blue sun. Everything is pink. She once resented spring. No longer.
“You are alive,” she says.
“Mm,” he says. “I am.”
Chapter 10: 2012
2012. (the boys are too refined)
“Hello,” says the grey haired boy.
He’s wearing a strange school uniform. It’s a little old-fashioned. Very countryside-ish. Minako’s never met him before in her life, but she does know that he isn’t supposed to be here.
“Yes,” the boy says when she tells him that. He looks a little sheepish. He looks serious and sincere. Both good qualities in a man. He looks like a real bore. “Margaret-san told me so.”
“What are you doing here?” Minako says.
“A long time ago,” says the boy, “I made a wager. She would kill one thousand people a day. I would create a thousand five thousand to make up for it.”
“Oh?” she says. That sounds very impressive, but she’s the goddamn Messiah. Take that.
“Margaret-san made a special request for number one thousand five hundred today.” He looks her in the eye very earnestly and adds, “It’ll be all right. My wife and I have an agreement.”
He’s a very charismatic fellow, and he seems like a nice boy, and he's apparently married. He’s either going to be a virgin until he’s forty, or is already taken. She winks and says, “I bet you have a lot of girlfriends.”
“Naturally,” he says.
“I feel bad for your wife.”
“She started it first.”
The boys always say that. She smiles at her wrists and adjusts the manacles, but she touches skin instead of metal. She looks down at her feet, and stares. They’re free. She’s free.
“… Oh,” she says. She takes a step away from the door, and then another one and then another. She looks back at the door, and then at the boy with amazement. “How did you—”
“I pulled some strings,” he said.
“Elizabeth-san told me it would take her ten years.”
“Ah,” he says. “Margaret-san told me that her sister likes to exaggerate.”
He’s a charmer and another Fool. She doesn’t even know his name yet, but she has a feeling they’ll get along fine. Judging by his hair, she’ll actually be able to pronounce his name without worrying about stumbling over this syllable or that syllable. She covers her smile with her hand, and takes his arm. He’s warm and solid and human. There’s a touch of something else in him, but he’s human, more human than anything she’s touched in years. She wants to fall into him—or maybe poke his side and see if he’s still there. Maybe he’s weak to piercing attacks. “You’ll have to show me the exit,” she says.
“You smell like—” he begins, and then cuts himself off.
“Death,” he says. He approaches a blue butterfly and lets it perch on his finger. A second later he looks at her meaningfully and says, “I don’t mind it.”
“That’s not a thing to say to a lady,” she says. What a nice butterfly. She’s come to think of them as harbingers of misfortune.
“My wife said that to me, too,” he says.
Poor woman, she thinks, and lets him take her away.