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have and hold

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The first lungful of air outside the facility is sweet, and the moon hangs huge in the sky. Carlos is, improbably, as alive as he has ever been. He looks down at his hands and wiggles his fingers, and then, satisfied, he looks back at the moon. It’s all real, or at least, it’s real as far as he can tell.

“Well, then,” he says, looking around at the odd assortment of strangers standing with him, all equally improbably alive. What he means is what now?, but he can’t say that out loud.

Junpei and Akane, twenty feet away, are clutching each other’s hands and speaking in Japanese. They’re standing in the exact right spot to be silhouetted against the moon; two dark shapes melding into one.

Carlos hesitates, and then he feels guilty for hesitating. He shoves his hands in his back pockets and takes a step towards them, then five, ten.

“Hey,” he says, and they look up at him in tandem, “are you okay?”

“I –“ Akane says, and then she stops and sucks in a breath, steadies herself, dredges up a smile. “Yes, Carlos. Thank you.”

“You’ll be going home now, won’t you?” Carlos says. “Japan? That’ll be – I mean – I’ve never been.”

There’s a strange dull pain in his chest. He wonders if that’s the phantom feeling of being stabbed in some other timeline. He removes one hand from his pocket and rubs just under his breastbone.

Junpei looks at him with those sharp dark eyes.

“You want to go?” he says.

Carlos laughs. Junpei doesn’t.

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It’s a seven-hour drive to Carlos’ apartment. Junpei drowses across almost the entire length of the back seat. Carlos keeps an eye on him in the rearview mirror, feeling a protective surge of something that must be love.

“When Maria is better,” Akane says from the passenger seat, “we’ll all go to Akihabara. You’ll love it, but Maria will love it even more.”

Her beautiful face is shadowed by the poor light, rendered unknowable. Her eyes watch the road. Carlos has to know.

“Akane,” he says, seized by the question, “is this the world we’re going to get to keep?”

There’s a little pause. When she smiles at him, it dispels all the shadows.

“I think so,” she says. “Isn’t it wonderful?”