It's a place unlike any other - there's a dry mist hanging in the air, limiting his scope of vision to just the mirror in front of him: a long, thin oval lined with gold curls and standing on three lion pawed feet. When he reaches his hand out in front of him he can see the repulsive black mark crawling up his arm beneath the soft red jacket that hides the rest of his sin. He clenches his fist as if tensing the muscles will force the mark to recede but to no avail. And when he can't stand to look at it anymore he slaps at the vacant air, parting the mist, and lets his arms fall back down to his sides, hanging as limp and useless as they did when he felt Maya slip out of consciousness. (Was it yesterday? Or months ago, or years ago? A sin that can't be forgotten; perhaps it matters not when it was committed but how much of the pain continues to haunt you each day.)
He needs to see something other than the mark. He looks up into the mirror and sees himself. Even if no one but him is around to hear it he gasps when he sees what's reflected - someone he can remember being all too well, in his school uniform and flicking the cap of a long-lost lighter. He remembers that the Zippo was his - no, it was Jun's, and Jun had given it to him and he'd kept it close to him at all times, flicking the cap to make that comforting tinny noise whenever he had to break the silence but hadn't a single word to offer. He wants to reach out and take it from his own reflection just to have something to hold on to (with the faint realization that he's sunken so low that he'd steal from himself). But as he's about to lift his hand something stops him.
Soft, warm flesh on his own. Fingers that are smaller, thinner, but just as strong. Tatsuya goes stiff when the little hand grips his own, and when he feels a skinny body unfurl against his back until their spines are aligned, back to back, with a head pressed into the nape of his neck and strands of soft hair gone askew over the collar of Tatsuya's jacket and brushing up against his skin, his entire body has gone rigid. The other figure's fingers entwine with his, and they fit in a way that's too perfect for him to ever forget, as if the more delicate ones were meant for him to hold and protect.
There's an exhale from his humbler shadow. "You remembered, didn't you?" he says in that handsome and haunted timbre.
Jun feels his intent to turn around and he squeezes Tatsuya's hands as hard as he can, to the point where he might crush his bones if Tatsuya fought back.
"Don't turn back," Jun says, calm as ever. There's a seethe of pain on Tatsuya's end but he relaxes at the demand. He wants to speak but more than that he wants to listen, and hear Jun's voice again, no matter what he might have to say; he wants to be near him and feel what it's like to be whole.
"Tatsuya, I've missed you." Tatsuya's grip tightens on Jun's hands. "Things are different without you."
He manages a weak croak. "Different how?"
"Hm." Even if he can't see Jun, he can hear Jun's sad smile. "Mom is nice to me now, and Dad is still here. We spend a lot of time together."
So are you saying you're better off? "Oh." Well, of course he would be.
Jun rubs the back of his head into the spot on Tatsuya's back where it's rested, his sole means of communicating physical love.
"I'm at Kasugayama again, with Michel. I don't really know how that happened..." A chuckle. "But I don't know Michel. He's always busy with his band. Still the same guy, though. And still seeing Hanakoji-san. I'm sure if he were here with us he would say something about the forbidden romance between rival schools."
"I see Lisa around, sometimes," Tatsuya mutters, leaning his own head back on to Jun's. "She's always busy too. Though I guess I never really noticed her before now."
"If you want to see your classmates, you have to actually go to class, Tatsuya," Jun teases.
"You of all people can't lecture me about attendance." Tatsuya almost grins.
"I can now." There's a pause and Jun's tone grows somber. "Maya...she's alive. And working as hard as ever. I don't know her either, but I miss her all the time."
"Me too." Tatsuya's voice is hoarse. The need to whirl around and grab Jun and never let go ever again is dire but Jun has his fingers in an iron grip.
"You could say things are better now, for all of us." Tatsuya's heart could shrivel right there; he knows it's true but that doesn't mean he wants to hear it. Jun senses his misunderstanding and strokes his thumbs over his hands. "But for me...I'm only half. Even if I don't remember you, I know there's something missing, from me. There is a great void in my heart..."
Tatsuya's heart shatters right there. Let me see you, he wants to say, but all that comes out is "Jun...I'm sorry." If he hadn't refused to forget then Jun and the others could have made their peaceful sacrifices, instead of getting left with tender fragments of a life they can't return to.
The Jun of the world they left behind might have broken at Tatsuya's apology, but the stronger person he's become doesn't let him. "I kept my part of the promise," he murmurs. "You have more than just me depending on you now. So even if it hurts to see us, you have to stay away. As much as I want to find you again. I'm always looking for someone whose name and face I don't know, but I know they're out there somewhere. If I find you, you can't let me stay. You know what will happen if I - we - remember too, right?"
Tatsuya nods and swallows the lump in his throat, making a silent vow to protect everyone and to undo the mistakes he's made, even if it means looking his beautiful other half straight in the face and pretending to be a stranger. All he wants now is just one god-given reprieve - a chance to see that face now in this odd foggy place, a chance to kiss it and make up with just one embrace all the time stolen from them and everyone else. "...I know. I promise...I'll protect everyone this time."
Jun smiles and nods too, squeezing his hands again before letting them slip away. "Thank you, Tatsuya..."
Tatsuya panics when he feels Jun's hands sliding out of his own. "Jun --"
"I have to go home now," comes the sad voice from behind him. There's a phantom sound of clinking metal as Jun flicks the cap of his father's lighter. "I'll be waiting for you on the other side."
He knows he shouldn't panic; it's just history repeating itself; he's making the same mistake again but he can't stop himself from whipping around and wrapping his arms around
There's a clank and the solid body of Jun is gone, leaving no trace that he'd ever been there except for a silver Zippo on the ground at Tatsuya's feet. When his arms turn up empty the crushing loneliness returns and Tatsuya sinks to his knees, clutching at his throat with his sin-singed arm and unable to breathe. He manages to pick up the lighter and get one last look at the person he used to be in the mirror - this time, beaming, with Maya peeking over his shoulder, making a bunny with her fingers and grinning in tandem, Lisa clinging at his arm, Eikichi posing and Jun standing with his iris at Tatsuya's side, just close enough for his other self to feel the warmth of his lover without crossing that PDA line. When the scene dissolves he holds the lighter like a lifeline to his chest.
But when he wakes up, his grip is empty except for his pillow, and reaching over to his bedside table and feeling around for the lighter like he used to proves fruitless.