The seconds ticked away, minutes piled up on minutes, and the game was due to begin soon. It was crucial to return to their third class cabins, or run the risk of getting caught here, standing by the grand staircase. Undoubtedly that would lead to others thinking they were the hosts of this mess (which, indeed, Akane and Aoi were.)
But it felt important, somehow, to have one last unhurried moment together. Soon enough, Aoi would have to be acting for nine hours straight. The thought alone made him feel drained.
When the time came, though, Aoi found there was little enough to say. They had pored over the future so many times, that they had completely exhausted their vocabularies. Instead, Aoi found himself grabbing onto Akane's hands and holding tight. Euphoria and trepidation seemed intertwined in her eyes, but she returned his grip steadily. In recent years, somehow the balance had shifted. It felt she had been supporting him as much as he supported her, and Aoi could never decide how he felt about that.
"I feel like some sort of deist god right now," Akane blurted out. "Isn't that strange?"
"What?" Aoi almost laughed. He wondered, not for the first time, how Akane's brain worked the way it did. She seemed to find connections between everything he saw and read. Sometimes he felt like she was speaking a different language from him. "Isn't that the thing where God-"
"Never interferes with His creation, yes."
"I think this is pretty much the opposite of interfering." Aoi couldn't begin to guess where this was going, but Akane would explain herself eventually. She always did.
"Oh, yeah, my metaphor doesn't completely hold water but..." Akane bit her lip. "The theory is that the universe is a bit like a clock. God winds it up, steps back, and lets events unfold as they were designed. And, boy, do I know how this game is supposed to go."
Akane was wearing the faraway, feverish look she always had when discussing philosophies that captivated her. Aoi had always disliked it; it felt like a prelude to her vanishing completely. "Did this God also have an older brother to do all the heavy lifting?"
She blinked, and then grinned. "Is that another way of saying 'I love you Akane, but you're definitely not God?"
Akane was refusing to meet his eyes now. She stared at their intertwined hands, and let out a breath she seemed to have been holding for nine years. "Thank you. Thank you, thank you." And the sudden gratitude clearly wasn't because of his joke.
"Hey, no." He pulled her into a hug. "Don't even worry about it."
The clock struck eight, and it heralded a simultaneous excess and lack of time. And though there were no words adequate for the mission they were about to embark on, this peaceful interlude needed to be acknowledged. Nearly a decade had passed, the two of them had aged into full-fledged adults, but in countless ways they were still children begging for their lives.
Aoi didn't trust in much, be he still had faith in the ingenuity of their designs and their need to survive.