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Absence

Chapter Text

“Nngh…. Where….?”

When Aoi opened his eyes, the first thing he felt was confusion. It looked like he was outside- but why? Wasn’t the experiment still going on? His body felt very heavy, but he forced himself to sit up and look around- and as he did, unfamiliar faces approached him.

“Mr. Kurashiki? Oh, thank god you’re awake.”

“…huh? What’re you talking about…”

“You… don’t remember?”

“Remember what?”

The people all looked at each other with varying degrees of worry, as though there was something important he was missing. He tried to think about it, but no matter how hard he tried, nothing came to mind…

“Tell us…. What do you remember about the experiment?”

“The experiment? Well, it was going just fine, I think…”

“…”

They started whispering to each other, their hushed tones and worried faces making it clear that something was going on. Frustrated, Aoi forced himself to stand up, ignoring how his entire body felt like lead.

“Did something happen? Where’s everyone else?”

“Oh, um… well…”

“Tell me where they are.”

It was clear something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong, and Aoi needed to know what.

“That’s…” The one speaking sighed, and looked down. “You exited the facility alone… you said that everyone inside had… died. The surveillance footage was interrupted, but it seems like a very bad accident happened.”

“Wh-what?”

Aoi felt his heart stop. Everyone was dead? No, that was impossible- it had to be impossible. He couldn’t be the only survivor, that was horrible-

“You’re… you’re lying, right? You have to be…”

“Unfortunately, we aren’t…”

“Don’t fuck with me! There’s no way that everyone would just die, no accident could be that bad! If something killed all of them, then why didn’t it get me too?”

“C-calm down Mr. Kurashiki, please.”

“You want me to stay calm?

“I understand that this is stressful for you, but there was always a chance of something happening during the experiment-“

“Is this just data to you?”

“No, of course not. We’re already looking into what caused the accident, and what affected our video feed.”

Aoi wasn’t sure why, but he had a feeling that they wouldn’t find out the truth- whatever it was. It was going to stay hidden in the darkness forever now.

It wasn’t the fact that he couldn’t remember the truth that was the worst part, though. The worst part was that of all the people to die, Junpei had been in that group. Aoi hadn’t wanted to see him again for that exact reason, to protect him from this damn experiment… and now he was dead. Just like Akane.

When he thought about it, he could feel what was left of his heart start to break.

“I’m… I’m gonna go. You don’t need me anymore, right?”

“Mr. Kurashiki? No, you’re going to have to undergo some medical examinations before we can release you, just in case-“

“Fine, just get them over with. I want to leave.”

He waited until the person claiming to be a doctor finished their ‘examination’, and then again asked to leave. The staff seemed conflicted, but they had no real reason to keep him- eventually they agreed, and he was driven back to the nearest town.

From there, it was simple getting back to Crash Keys headquarters. He arrived the day later, looking dishevelled and overtired, but nobody in the building said a word to him. They knew better than that- he simply went to his office, locked the door, and started to scream.

DAMMIT, WHAT THE FUCK?! WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED? WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?!

The rooms were relatively soundproofed, although not enough for that outburst; but he didn’t care. He was angry- furious at himself, really- but more than anything, he felt very, very sad. First he hadn’t been able to protect Akane, and now he’d let Junpei die; and he couldn’t even remember how it’d happened. No matter how hard he tried, the memories just wouldn’t come- he wondered how bad they had to be, for his mind to have just blocked them off like that. They had to be pretty traumatic… And that was saying something, considering what he’d been through.

More than anything now, Aoi felt completely and utterly lost.

He supposed in one way, they’d completely their goal. Radical-6 had never escaped, those six billion people were all safe… but did that even matter? Yes, he told himself, the world is more important. He’d known that since the beginning when he’d realized that no matter what, he’d have to keep going, even if Akane died. A handful of lives was a pittance when compared to most of humanity.

But why did it have to be him?

Aoi would give anything for it to be Junpei, or Sigma, or even Phi who was here now. They’d all gotten dragged into this mess because of him and Akane, and because of it, they’d all died. The only people he’d had left, the only ones that he’d still somewhat been able to care for, and now they were dead.

By the time Aoi finally got back to work again, he was completely numb.

Chapter Text

A little more than a year had passed since the Dcom experiment, and despite the world being safe, Aoi didn’t feel anything. He continued work at Crash Keys, he never stopped looking for Brother, but it wasn’t because of any particular drive anymore. He simply did it because he knew that’s what he had to do. His wants and emotions didn’t matter- they’d never mattered. So it was much easier to sacrifice them as well, for the sake of the world.

He would often take long walks as a break from work, wandering aimlessly for hours without any real point. None of his subordinates cared to stop him, and it wasn’t like he had any family left to talk to- he was completely and utterly alone.

Aoi followed his usual route, wandering listlessly down the sidewalk, when he saw something different. Two people, pushing an object he didn’t recognize, both of whom were supposed to be dead- Aoi blinked, then shook his head. They had to be illusions.

Still, if he had to be hallucinating, it would’ve been much nicer to imagine Junpei or Akane, instead of Sigma and Diana…

He sighed and continued walking, about to turn away, when he felt a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. He turned to look- it was Sigma. Somehow, he was actually physically touching him- that was impossible.

Right?

“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?!”

“…?”

“Are you not going to say something?”

“You’re dead.”

That clearly wasn’t the answer either of them had been expecting. They both looked closer, as if trying to understand what he’d said, but they couldn’t make sense of it.

“The hell are you talking about? You left us behind!

Aoi hardly reacted when Sigma grabbed hold of the front of his shirt, his arms shaking lifelessly as he was pulled forwards.

“What are you talking about?”

“You got Carlos to vote for Q-team, then you got Junpei and Carlos killed, and then you walked right out without a second thought! Did you even think about us once?!

“What are you talking about?”

He repeated his question with the same tone of voice, and Diana started looking at him with worry. After a moment of whispering to Sigma, she finally spoke up.

“Aoi… don’t you remember? The game?

He blinked slowly. For some reason, the word game felt as though there were faint echoes of a memory behind it, as though with just the right push, he might be able to remember something- but then the feeling passed.

“No.”

“N-None of it? Not the vote, or the teams, or… anything?

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“O-oh…”

They started whispering more, so Aoi ignored them and looked at the object Diana’d been pushing. A moment of inspection revealed it to be a stroller- inside, tightly bundled up, were two very small babies.

He raised an eyebrow in spite of himself- when had they had kids? Or more accurately, how had they had kids if they’d died?

“Aoi? Are you telling us… the complete truth? You genuinely don’t remember anything?

He nodded. What reason would he have to lie? He’d tried so hard to remember for so long, there was no way he’d lie about that.

“But then… why? Why did you forget?”

“Diana… the bracelets.”

Something about that word, and the way that Sigma said it, stirred something at the back of his mind. What was it? What about the bracelets reminded him of something?

“The memory drug… you think he got injected?”

“If he’s telling the truth, then it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“I suppose…”

“Bracelet… Sigma, can you describe it for me?”

He felt this close to actually remembering something. Why did ‘bracelet’ sound so familiar? It wasn’t like with the nonary game, this was something else- something worse.

“It was black, mostly metal with a red LED display, and there were needles on the undersi-“

“Fuck.”

Aoi started blinking rapidly, as the fog started to clear. This wasn’t him remembering, not in the normal way- he was pulling information from the morphogenetic fields, and he did not like what he was seeing. The three members of C-team, locked in control. The fire extinguisher starting up and not stopping, their breathing getting heavy as the carbon dioxide started to suffocate them. The sight of Junpei, struggling to breathe but forcing himself to smile, as he placed the oxygen mask on Aoi’s face. The weight of Junpei’s body, and the emptiness he felt as the Dcom staff injected him with the memory drug.

Aoi wished he’d never remembered anything.

“Dammit… no… is that.. really what happened? Fuck, that’s… fuck!

It was all he could really say to this. Junpei was dead, all to save Aoi’s life, and he hadn’t even been able to remember it. Just what sort of a person was he? To forget all that?

“D-did you just remember?”

“…yeah…”

His voice was soft, but it was all he could manage at this point. He almost wished he hadn’t remembered, not knowing had been far nicer than knowing this.

“You don’t look that good…”

“I’m fine.”

Diana played with her hands nervously, but Sigma only sighed.

“You must think we’re idiots if you think we’d believe that.”

“You don’t need to worry about me.”

“It’s not worry. I’m just telling you there’s no way in hell I’d believe that you’re fine, you look like a ghost.”

Aoi gave a cold, barking laugh- that was ironic.

“Says the one who came back from the dead…”

“Listen, Aoi-“

“No. I’m done. Sorry Sigma, but we’re never going to see each other again.”

“You idiot, what are you saying?”

Aoi didn’t respond, only turning and walking away. It was unfortunate that Sigma was in this city, but it wasn’t the only place that he could run Crash Keys from. He had plenty of options- he’d pick one, and never see them again.

A part of him knew that all he was doing was running away, that doing this wouldn’t help him in the least- but he didn’t care enough to stop running. He’d forget about Sigma and Diana, about Dcom, about the decision game, everything. All he’d hold onto now was his job, and the memories of Junpei’s death.

The person who’d once been Aoi Kurashiki didn’t matter. He’d never mattered.

And now, he was gone- just like everyone else.