Wasn’t exactly his favorite. But he hadn’t exactly been sober when he stopped by the store, either.
Scotch was great, beer was good, sake could do in a pinch, but when Junpei stopped by Discount Liquor Mart, he hadn’t wanted to spend too much time there. He could fake being sober for a minute, maybe; any longer than that, and someone might have gotten suspicious and called the cops, even though he wasn’t so reckless as to be driving anywhere. He had walked the five blocks from the shitty motel to the store. But ‘drunk and disorderly’ was still a thing, wasn’t it?
He had grabbed as many tiny bottles as he could from the wooden box sitting on barrels, right in front of the register. The vodka and rum had gone first, and now he was down to wine. He couldn’t stand the taste of red and although he had managed to grab nothing but white, it was too sweet, too warm, and didn’t have enough alcohol in it.
At the restaurant, before, the trembling had started. Then the full-blown shakes. Not like it really mattered. He was supposed to look nervous, scared. The tremors had given his performance a touch of authenticity. When his contact left, he downed three drinks at the bar and went out in search of more. He may have gotten his boss to sign off on this and give him cash for expenses, but he still couldn’t afford to keep drinking there, even if he eschewed top shelf liquors.
He didn’t have to go anywhere else until morning, so it didn’t matter if he spilled some wine on his shirt.
He set seven alarms on his phone. He’d probably sleep through the first two, then hit snooze on the next three, but the two after that should be enough to wake him up. He lay down with the file, facing the wall, still drinking, not caring when drops of wine fell from where his sideways lips weren’t quite making a tight enough seal on the bottle.
With his free hand, he fumbled around on the small night stand for the remote, aiming it behind him and blindly hitting buttons until the television started making noise. Some dumb action movie it sounded like. It would do.
The picture in the file was of a small, sheepish-looking woman. She peered up at the camera through messy, tangled, light brown hair. High school drop-out. Worked as a cashier in a fast food restaurant until she was fired for her drawer coming up short too many times. They thought she was stealing; her poor grades from middle school on made Junpei think she just wasn’t fucking good at math.
The file didn’t say why Mallory Dowling had gotten mixed up with Free the Soul, only that she was listed as working in data entry at one of their locations – the facility organizing something called the Mars Simulation Mission. Maybe his last chance at finding Akane. He had been so close in Seattle, in Auckland.
He drained the small wine bottle and tossed it on the bed. There were two already there, but they were plastic, so there was no satisfying clink of glass against glass.
A scream from the television, and he can’t help but think of Akane.
Everything, anything, he can’t help but think of Akane.
Their fucked-up murder game should have made him immune to the horrific shit he saw in his job. So he had seen Brent, his intestines scattered on the floor because he was mistaken for a drug mule. So he had seen Andrea’s body with her head cut off and missing because they pissed off a mob boss. So he woke up one morning to find said missing head outside his apartment door and he had to scramble to move, because he knew a warning when he saw one.
Why did any of it bother him after all he had seen in all the horrible timelines?
He struggled with the cap of the next bottle. Something would have to be done before he entered the experiment.
Assuming he could get into the experiment.
He had to. If his information was right – although that was a big ‘if’ – then she would be there.
He could get hyronalin on the black market easily. He could get it more cheaply and legally if he just went to a doctor and was officially diagnosed as an alcoholic, even though he wasn’t. Beer cost less than sleeping pills and therapy. He was just self-medicating and had done a little too much of that in recent days.
If he needed a cure for anything, it was Post-Akane Syndrome.
But the hyronalin would make sure he didn’t crave alcohol, or get the shakes or anything. Would let him be in good physical shape to finally … finally what?
Confront her? Confess his love? Junpei still didn’t know.
He was enraptured.
He was enraged.
He had bought a ring.
To get engaged, his head mockingly finished for him. But was that what he really wanted?
His stomach started to ache, and in a panic, he fumbled for a bottle on the nightstand, squinting at the label. He was okay; he hadn’t consumed the wrong thing. This was the one where he had added serifs to the “v” in “vodka”. It wouldn’t kill him if he had been the one to drink it, but finding more on such short notice could be difficult.
Nausea-inducing agent along with a stimulant to make her stomach feel like it was in a vise, to sell his assertion that there was a bomb in his target’s body.
Right out of Akane’s playbook.
She wasn’t the girl he had a childhood crush on back then. She wasn’t the woman he had gone through the Nonary Game with, either. It bothered him how easily she could lie, how well she could pretend to be an innocent.
Because she had to. She had to do it because that was how it happened, except in the timelines where she suffered an agonizing death in the incinerator. She was a victim of fate, not some criminal mastermind.
Or was he just trying to convince himself?
She had played him. Played with him.
She had been –
An alarm startled him; he had confused AM and PM again. After checking the other alarms and seeing the battery was at 15%, he plugged it into the charger with trembling hands, putting a few more scratch marks on the case.
There was a saying, that you should assume everyone you met was a thief. It had always struck him as cynical, but now he saw the truth in it.
She had stolen his heart.
He had given them to her.
Did that make it worse?