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Katawa Jikan, or The Infinite Loops of Yamaku

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1.1 Masterweaver


The Heart Beats Again

Hospital.

So, logically, another heart attack.

Great.

Hisao let his head sink into the strangely familiar pillow, grumbling quietly. Well, at least he wasn't dead. And when he got out of the hospital, he could hang out with...

...with...

The memories were all... jumbled. Was he out long enough to have brain damage? No... no, they were clear memories, they were just contradictory. He remembered... five different girls, and he had fallen in love with each one, and... there was success, and there was also failure, and there was...

It was like he had lived multiple lives after arriving at Yamaku. Sometimes helping a girl, sometimes... hurting them, without meaning to. But that couldn't be right. Was he misremembering? No... maybe? He remembered Iwanako's letter, and reacted differently in each memory, which...

He forced himself to take a deep, calming breath. It wouldn't be... it could be risky, panicking now. Having his heart flutter, so soon after... whatever happened. All he had to do was look at the date and--

Hisao stared at the calendar on the wall.

Okay... so the hospital hadn't updated the calendar. That... wasn't a problem. All he needed to do was ask a nurse, yes, ask a nurse what the date was. How he got here. Yes...

It was strange. He could remember each life clearly. He could see them almost being... identical. Except for how he acted, which... which girl he helped the most. And... if any of his work had been undone, if it had all been undone--

which was, of course, impossible , the calendar was wrong

--then he had to, somehow, help them all. Which would be tricky...

Of course he wasn't doing it for the more, well, personal memories. Sure those were fun, but that wasn't the point. He had to...

...no... he wanted to help them all. Because he cared about them all. It wasn't an obligation, they would be insulted by that.

Okay... keeping calm. Thinking things through. He hadn't gone back in time, that was impossible. There was the doctor coming now. With a clipboard. He opened the door and smiled. And he asked what the date was.

And Hisao, very calmly, reported the calendar seemed to be off.

And the doctor... said it wasn't.

And explained how he had been brought into the hospital after Iwanako had admitted her love, and... and how he had been diagnosed with arrhythmia.

Exactly as had happened on this day before.

It was very, very fortunate that he was already in the hospital. And that the doctors were expecting fear and denial to trigger another heart attack.


"A boy prone to heart attacks." Isis pinched her brow. "Before the refactoring, he wouldn't even have been considered..."

She tapped through the records on her tablet, quirking a brow. "A minor plurality in timescapes, centered around affection. This branch was probably one of the ones on the edges of the incident... minor damage overall, but enough to require loop treatment. And the best Anchor candidate was this boy. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak..."

Her eyes drifted to the screen, where Hisao was waking again. After a glance at the calendar, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, before grabbing a sketchpad and pencil.

"...then again, there are ways the spirit may strengthen the flesh." Isis nodded thoughtfully. "Hmm. Yes, best to get the affections activated as soon as possible, and arrange visitors as their first fused loop. I doubt a visit from a goddess would be well received in their current state."

With a flick of her fingers, she set up a to-do list and started running through contacts.


New Loop: Katawa Shoujo

Anchor: Hisao Nakai

Admin: Isis


1.2 Drebom


The Artist’s Awakening

Rin was having a bad day.

A few days ago, she had had a very bad, normal day. She woke up, like normal. Emi had helped her get dressed, like normal. She had talked about Hisao to Emi, which should be normal, but Emi didn’t understand what a Hisao was. And then Emi had laughed and said Hisao was a dream.

That had hurt something in Rin. Her heart. Maybe it was like what Hisao felt when his heart didn’t work right. Probably not. In any case, Emi didn’t know Hisao. Hisao wasn’t there. Hisao had never been there, except in Rin’s head, like so many other things. And that hurt.

They had walked to class, passing the wall where her mural wasn’t. The days spent painting it were gone, long ago and never. The calendar on Rin’s wall agreed. It said it wasn’t the day she thought it should be. That by itself wasn’t unheard of, but it had never been so different before.

“I think I want to go back.”

“Back where?”

“To Hisao.”

Emi had laughed again, a bright ringing sound that went stabstabstab. “You can go back to sleep tonight, Rin. Who knows, maybe you really will see your dream boy again.”

“I hope so,” said Rin. Emi didn’t notice when her eyes went all blurry and the tears leaked out. Rin just wiped her face on her shoulder.

The days that followed were familiar, but Rin had dreamed about a lot of things. Maybe she had dreamt this before too. It didn’t mean it had happened.

Rin wanted to be by herself a lot after her dream, so every day she went to the art room after school for lunch. That Wednesday she had curry. It was the same as when she had dreamed about meeting Hisao. Her heart hurt again. It was doing that a lot recently.

Then the door opened, and Hisao came in. They stared at each other for a long moment, and Rin’s heart felt all warm and fluttery. It did that a lot around Hisao, and Rin had decided she liked the feeling. She was very glad she could feel it again. The bad day was suddenly a very, very good day.

Hisao was looking at her, and she was looking back. He seemed to be different, but still Hisao. He wasn’t as sad as he had been the last time they had first met. He had stared again, but it wasn’t in surprise. Probably. That was strange.

Rin wondered what she should do. She knew what she had said the last first time. She had asked about his problem. She didn’t need to now, she already knew. But if she did, would she be able to do it all again?

Rin remembered all the things she had said and done. Asking if Hisao’s problem was in his pants. Painting the mural. The festival, the art club.

The exhibition, and all the sad and uncomfortable stuff that had come with it. She didn’t want to do that again.

Hugging Hisao. Touching him, and him touching her. A hill covered in dandelions. Words with a weird taste.

The feeling inside her heart that everything in the world was alright.

“Hello,” she said, and ate her forkful of curry.

“Hello, I was looking for supplies for the festival stalls. I’m sorry, I didn’t think that anybody else would be here,” Hisao said. The words weren’t quite the same, but Rin was sure they still meant the same thing as last time. She blinked. Then again, a dream was a dream. It wasn’t real, even if it did seem like it. But Hisao was here, and he was saying words with the same meaning as before, so her dream was still right.

Could Rin not do the bad stuff and still do the good stuff? She didn’t know, but she wanted to try.

 “There isn’t,” she said, “that’s why I’m here too.”


Later, after she had asked Hisao if his problem was in his pants and he had gone away with the festival supplies, Rin had gone back to her dorm. Emi had run up to her in the corridor while making an I-don’t-understand face.

“I met a boy today. He’s called Hisao,” Emi said. “How did you know?”

Rin looked at her. “I met him. Today, and the today before today.” Emi made her not-understanding-face even more not understanding, so Rin tried again. “I met him before, but I don’t think he’s met me before.”

Emi stared at her. “What, did you go back in time or something? Seriously, Rin, how did you know about Hisao?”

Rin cocked her head. Go back in time? That sounded nice. She didn't really care about the how's or why's, but that meant that all the good things really did happen. Could happen again.

“I hope so. I want the weird taste again.”

Emi looked at her despairingly. “What?”


1.3 Masterweaver


Unseen Futures

When Lilly woke up, she knew something was wrong. The sheets were a touch more rigid, and the bed much smaller. And her own body was smaller too--not by much, she was only three centimeters shorter and two kilos slimmer--but for somebody who relied so much on their sense of proprioception to get around it was more than a little distressing. She reached out, her fingers grasping the edge of the mattress much sooner than they should have, noting the absence of the warm body she recalled falling asleep next to...

She sat up, brushing the sheets aside. Her toes hit the floor, and again there was a wrongness--the wood wasn't the kind in their bedroom. It was clear she'd been moved in her slumber, which... didn't explain why her body felt wrong, and brought up a number of worrying questions. And yet, even as she rose, even as she warily reached for her cane, something about the room seemed familiar. Incredibly familiar, in fact, she could almost swear she was back in her old bedroom, from when she was staying with Akira. But that couldn't be right, that would mean...

...it would mean...

Lilly scrambled for her desk, hands brushing across the knickknacks of a much younger version of herself. She couldn't find the music box. Had it fallen off? She lowered herself to the ground, poking her hand around the various nooks and crannies that the furniture set up, only to come up blank again, and again, and again. Eventually, she crawled to the center of her room, resting on her knees as her eyes grew damp.

Her memories of what had happened were clear. How she and Hisao had met, and how he had sensed her true self behind the act. The music box he'd bought when they were shopping for Hanako's gifts... the way he'd overexerted herself for her. The worry he'd caused her... the bond they'd shared. It didn't feel like a dream, but... here she was, in her old room.

She could hear her sister moving around downstairs. It... had to be a dream. It couldn't be a dream. There was too much detail, she could remember every touch--but, realistically, what other explanation was there?

Lilly wiped the tears out of her eyes. It wouldn't do to worry Akira over nothing. With a deep, shuddering breath, she grabbed her cane and strapped it to her belt, walking into the kitchen.


Yesterday, things proceeded almost exactly as she had dreamed. To be honest, Lilly didn't notice any differences at all. It was... unnerving. She'd heard of blind prophets, of course, they were such a staple of fantasy and legend, but...

Was she a prophet? And if so, what was she supposed to be prophesying? She considered looking more seriously into shinto over the weekend.

She took a sip of her tea, one ear out for the door. If things were playing on repeat, she could expect it to start creaking right... about... now.

Yes, there it went. And in came his hesitant footsteps. "Hello?"

Lilly frowned--briefly, for a moment, quickly hidden. "Hello there. May I help you?"

"Yeah, sorry for intruding, I'm just a bit lost."

There it was again. Something... off. She went over the memories of her dream even as she spoke. "Care to take a seat?"

"Sure. Thanks."

No hesitation... not like before. And he had greeted her first, when she recalled it the other way.

Had it been a dream...?

She put the teacup down on its saucer. "I take it you're a new student to Yamaku?"

"Yeah, I just transferred in yesterday."

Another hiccup... and something in his tone seemed wrong. Too smooth, too confident... not sauve or cocky, but for a boy who just transferred here, there should have been more nervousness.

A suspicion began to steal over her, vague and undefined and hopeful.

"My name is Lilly Satou. It's a pleasure to meet you, ah...?"

If she hadn't been listening for it, she might not have noticed his brief hesitation. "Hisao. Hisao Nakai."

Did he remember too? Was it some sort of shared dream? "Would you care for a drink?"

"Sure."

She stood, walking over to the shelf where the tea supplies were kept, keeping her breath steady. She had to know. But how could she know? What could she ask that...

...ah.

"Do you know, it's getting harder and harder to find somebody who likes tea?" Her fingers brushed over the selection of tea leaves, picking one in particular. "There's my friend, of course, but sometimes I think she's just humoring me."

"I don't think Hanako would do that."

Lilly smirked. "Perhaps... have you two met?"

"...we go to the same class," Hisao said slowly.

"Making friends so quickly." She poured the water into the teacup. "Almost as if you've... lived this before."

A sharp inhale.

She nodded, putting the pitcher back and reaching for the small spoon. "Alright. So I can understand that you didn't seek me out at the start, because--"

"How many times?"

"...what?"

"How many times have you gone back in time?"

Lilly stopped stirring. "...I've... this is the first time." She didn't turn around. "Is it... not... yours?"

"...this is my fifteenth... repeat? Loop? I don't know what to call this."

"Oh."

For a moment, all she could hear was his soft breathing.

And then she spun around.

"Hisao--"

"Lilly--"

They paused for a moment.

"Hisao," Lilly said slowly, "what is going on?"

"I... I honestly have no idea."


Technically, they should have gone to the library, but at this point there were matters more important than the script.

"Fifteen times... fifteen times." Lilly took another cautious sip of her tea. "All the drama, and then... back."

"Yeah. It was... weird, the first time. Weird, well, every time."

"Well... we did plan to spend our future together," she mused. "I didn't... expect it to be this, over and over again, but--"

"Lilly, what do you remember?"

Hisao's tone held... urgency, curiosity, and a hint of fear. She took a moment to brush her hand against his, gently checking his pulse. "I remember... well, I remember us. You got me a music box when we went shopping for Hanako's gifts... and you ran after me the second time I went to the airport, and you collapsed, and that's... that's when we decided to try to build a life together."

"...And that's all you remember?"

"Well, not everything," Lilly admitted, "but do you want me to talk about everything that happened... last time?"

Hisao sighed. "No, that's not... Lilly. When... the first time I came back to the past, there was... it wasn't just one future."

"I... don't understand."

"I don't know if I was repeating or looping before I remembered it. It's... I remember a future where we get together, Lilly, but I also remember futures where we don't. From before I started repeating. If that makes any sense."

Lilly pulled her hand back, slowly. "...oh."

"...it's... I don't know. It feels like... maybe what happened, back when I had my first heart attack, maybe... maybe I became different Hisaos... and then, suddenly, I was all of them at once? It's confusing for me..."

"In... in these other futures..." Lilly swallowed. "Are we--?"

"We're always friends, at the least," Hisao assured her. "Close friends, sometimes, it's just... there's only one where I end up with you specifically."

Lilly narrowed in on that word. "Specifically?"

"Well, um." Hisao chuckled awkwardly. "There are... some of the futures... I do end up with... others..."

She took a deep breath, grabbing his hand again. "I need you to tell me," she said slowly, "that you did not know about our future in any of these other timelines."

"I didn't," he said firmly. "I swear, each timeline seemed... separate, past a certain point."

"...Okay." His pulse hadn't risen too much when he said that. And it was an immediate response. "Okay," she said again, pulling her hand back. "I'm sorry, I just--"

"No, I understand. I... wouldn't want to do that to anyone."

Lilly took her teacup, sipping from it warily. "So... out of curiosity... who are these other girls? From the other futures?"

"Ah... well, there's only one in each, and... sometimes I end up messing everything up. But..." Hisao took a bracing breath. "Hanako. Rin. Emi. Shizune. Those are... those are the ones."

Lilly considered the list. Hanako, she could understand, Hisao's heart might have been weak but it was compassionate and warm. Shizune made sense too, in a way. Emi and Rin... she had to admit to herself she didn't know them as well as she could have.

"And... are any of them repeating?"

"Not as far as I can tell," Hisao replied. "I mean... I haven't, uh, romanced them since I started this... loop thing. I've checked in on them, helped with... what I helped with in their futures, before I started. Really, they all just need somebody to talk to."

"Yes... I suppose, yes. I did as well..." Lilly took a breath. "Well... I suppose I can't entirely blame you for not wanting to restart our relationship... not with, ah, what all you recall."

"Lilly..." Hisao's voice was soft. "Please, talk to me."

"...I..." Lilly sniffed. "It's just, I... the future we had, it was wonderful, and... and now, even though we both know, it--you have other futures. And what if they start repeating with us? What if... It's not fair to ask you to choose, just because I came first, but at the same time it isn't fair for me to lose you because of--of this! I mean, I know this is horrible, but I could have lost you to death, and that would have made sense. We could have broken up, and that would have made sense--but this, this doesn't make sense, and.... I can't blame you. It's not right to blame you for this, and..."

"Hey." Hisao took her hand. "I... just because I have memories of other futures doesn't mean I've forgotten ours."

"But, but if we choose this, just because I'm first--"

"I... we need to figure out what this loop, this repeat is, first. Find the pattern, the code. After that... after that we can sit down and talk things out, you and me and whoever else is repeating, okay?"

"...okay." Lilly swallowed. "Okay. It... we can work together. To help the others, who, uh, need people to talk to."

"...You'd be willing to do that?"

"Yes. It's not their fault. It's not anybody's fault, as far as I can tell." She managed a trembling smile. "And... who knows? Maybe... maybe we'll be able to figure something out, about all this, before it becomes a problem."


1.4 Drebom


Painting

Rin had gone back in time a few times now, and she was starting to think that it was going to keep happening for a long time. This was both not good and not bad. It wasn’t especially good, because having the same lessons repeatedly was getting boring. On the other hand, for some reason things were always different enough— not in class, but with people, especially Hisao —that she wasn’t getting too bored.

Hisao had not yet acted the quite same way as he had the first time. He still talked to her, but he didn’t encourage her to do the exhibition. He even helped her say no to Mr. Nomiya. That was nice of him.

Hisao was still looking at her with that new sad face sometimes. She had seen him looking like that with a few other people too, like Emi.

Hisao hadn’t said the words again. Not even when they went to see the dandelions. But then, he still made the same sorts of faces, so maybe that was like he was saying them? Rin wasn’t sure if him not actually saying the words was bad or not. She hadn’t said them again either yet. They felt funny when she thought them, though. Like her brain was tasting them, and it thought they were as weird as her tongue did.

“What is it?”

Pulled from her thoughts, Rin looked up. Emi, her face shadowed by the shade of the Worry Tree, was looking over her shoulder in curiosity. They hadn’t done this before, painting under the Worry Tree, but Rin had decided she wanted to and had asked Emi for help moving her supplies. Rin looked back at her canvas and considered it for a moment.

It was a picture of Hisao, his new sad look on one side of his face and the other side smiling. He was standing on a path that arched over and around in a loop, with himself in the background again, although less detailed, and in a few places overhead as well. A long tongue lolled out of the smiling side of his mouth.

“Hisao,” Rin said.

Emi peered closer at the canvas. “ Hisao?” she said, surprised. “That’s Hisao?”

“Yes,” Rin said. “Can’t you tell? I thought it looked a lot like him.”

“He’s green,” said Emi.

Rin tilted her head. “So?”

“That’s…” Emi shook her head. “Never mind. Is it done?”

“Not yet,” said Rin. “So it’s bad luck to talk about it. We shouldn’t have done that. I need some pink. But not too pink. I need some red too.”

Emi obediently measured out some of the pink paint, and under Rin’s instruction mixed in a small amount of red. She only needed three tries to get it right. Then, Rin carefully dabbed the colour onto Hisao’s tongue. A little blob that meant the words 'I love you'.

“There,” she said. “Now it’s done.”


1.5 Masterweaver


Ambition

Shizune was cackling maniacally atop a tank, her sword pointed down the road. She signed one-handed at Misha, who grinned broadly and turned to the watching crowd. "CITIZENS OF JAPAN! TODAY, YOUR NEW EMPRESS TAKES THE THRONE!"

Hisao watched, dumbfounded, as the machine rolled down the road.

"...Lilly? What... what did you do?"

"I... honestly, I don't know," Lilly managed faintly. "I thought I'd convince Shizune to give Misha a chance, and they started dating and... well... I don't know what they talked about, but--"

"YOU GO HON!" Jigiro lifted Hideaki onto his shoulders. "There's your big sister, son, fulfilling her destiny!"

"...that would explain some of this," Lilly mused.

"Sure, but where would they get a tank?" Hisao asked.

"Easier than you might think," Rin informed them, striding by with a ladder strapped to her back and a lamp balanced on her head.


1.6 Masterweaver


Honey or Vinegar?

Hisao considered his options carefully.

"...Kenji, think of it this way. If there is a feminist conspiracy... girls still have to be inducted, right?"

Kenji frowned. "Yeeeeeeees?"

"And to induct them, the conspiracy has to convince new members it's worth their time. That oppressing men is a good thing."

"Okay...?"

"But if the girls find men they like, they won't want to oppress them," Hisao concluded. "That leaves the feminists with less willing recruits and undermines their conspiracy."

"Aaaaaaaah. So by acting all naive and kind, you're undermining their nefarious schemes!"

"Yes," Hisao said, face entirely emotionless. "That's it exactly."

"Well, you fight your way, and I'll fight my way. Good luck!"

Kenji walked down the hall, whistling to himself. Hisao sighed, turning to Lilly. "Yes, that's the easiest way to get him off my back I've discovered."

"If it were anyone else, I would be far more upset than I am, but..." She waved vaguely after the boy. "I get complaints about him every month."

"You know he used to have a girlfriend? Apparently they, uh... got intimate, and then he got tired, and he freaked out about that."

"...I thought that was the result of the hormones."

"Well, apparently he didn't know that. So now there's this whole feminist conspiracy in his head, about all women being sex vampires or something..."

Lilly hummed thoughtfully. "Are we sure he's at Yamaku because he's blind?"


1.7 Drebom


Fingers and Toes

Rin woke up. She was back in her bed again, despite the fact she had only just been walking to her dorm room at the end of the day. Her clock said it was morning, which further suggested time had gone back on itself again.

Rin sat up. Something wasn’t right. She looked down at herself, confused. Rin frowned as she lifted up the sheets to discover that her legs had gone missing. That was…uncomfortable. She had lost some of her Rin-ness. Where had it gone? She wanted it back.

Rin looked from the legs that she didn’t have but should, to the hands that she did have but shouldn’t. They were holding her sheets up for her. That was helpful, but they made her feel uncomfortable too.

“Oh,” she said.

She let go of her sheets and wiggled the fingers. They were long, like worms. Not at all like her toes. She missed her toes. How had this happened?

Then, Rin remembered that she had been born without legs. That was rather worrying. But…she could still remember being born without arms too. Or the fact that she had been born without arms, at least. Rin couldn’t remember her actual birth, of course. Either of them. Had time done something strange again?

Thinking further, Rin remembered a life of having no legs that she was fairly sure she hadn’t actually lived. Definitely time-related strangeness. Rin hoped that it would fix itself. She didn’t think she could do it.

The strange Rin-with-arms memories said she knew an Emi-with-legs-and-no-arms. At least she knew where her missing Rin-ness had gone now. Emi had it. And that meant Rin probably had some of Emi’s Emi-ness in exchange. She hadn’t agreed to that.

Some more prodding of the strange memories helped Rin to understand how to put on the prosthetic legs she found lying beside her bed. They also told her she needed to help the strange Emi to get dressed. It was all very backwards, but at least she somehow remembered how to do it all.

When Hisao came to the art room for his festival supplies a few days later, he looked surprised and stared at her. He hadn’t done that in a while. Clearly, he was as surprised by the Rin-with-no-legs as Rin herself was. Or he just hadn’t seen a girl without legs before yet this time around. Rin was fairly sure that would be Emi, normally. Although, considering Emi’s current level of Rin-ness, that still meant that if Hisao was collecting problems, he would still have both ’no arms’ and ‘no legs’. Good for him.

Rin was just glad he hadn’t seen her a few days earlier. It had taken her a while to figure out how to eat with hands, before she had realized her body knew how all on its own. She had ended up with rice all over her clothes more than once. That would have been embarrassing.

That set the tone for the next few months. Rin would find her body knew how to do things like walk and paint without legs, letting her get through the days without too much trouble, whilst Hisao stared at her from time to time for some reason. Aside from her and Emi's respective limbs, nothing else had seemed to change. Which was nice, because by now Rin was getting quite good at saying 'no' to Mr. Nomiya. If he had changed too, she might have been in trouble.

Despite her newfound ability to use hands, however, Rin still missed her feet. And so, she was very glad when she woke up back in time again and found her Rin-ness intact once more. She looked down at her legs, having awkwardly kicked off the sheets, and smiled.


1.8 Masterweaver


Scarred Timelines

Yamaku had become an interesting place for Lilly. The school layout barely changed, but the student body seemed to... fluctuate, for lack of a better term. Hisao was always there, and the other girls—she suppressed the quick stab of jealousy—were there too. Actually, Hisao’s entire class seemed alike from loop to loop. In fact, everyone he had met before time broke stuck around. It was almost as though he was a walking beacon of stability for them... maybe that was related to why he was the first one to start the time travel mess. Outside of that, though, Lilly had to handle a group that was always... similar, but not identical. And stranger still, she always knew them, even if they hadn't been around the loop before... It was, frankly, mildly disturbing.

It might have influenced her decision to stray closer to Hanako and Shizune over the loops. To say Lilly was quick to adapt would not be exactly true. Time on repeat, after all, was the stuff of fantasy. But after her second loop, which Hisao had told her took place four loops after her first, she’d taken to the situation with something resembling her usual dignity. Admittedly she hadn’t helped out much with Rin or Emi, since they weren’t exactly close enough for her sudden assistance to not seem creepy. At least with Shizune and Hanako, she had enough presence to be able to interject reasonably...

Although she still didn't understand how and why Shizune had gotten a tank and started conquering Japan that one loop.

So it was that today, a day like any other, Lilly arranged to meet Hanako. Entirely by "accident," of course, she didn't want to put too much stress on her friend. She lingered outside the classroom, listening to the students as they poured out.

"...Lilly?"

"Hanako, hello."

"I..." Hanako had a note of surprise in her voice. "...I wasn't expecting you here."

"I'm sorry, did you have anything planned?"

"No." Hanako sighed. "I'm sorry, I just... it's nothing."

Lilly reached out, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Hanako... it clearly is something."

"You... wouldn't believe me," Hanako said. "I'm not even sure..."

She trailed off for a moment. Lily sensed her breath being held, briefly, before being let out.

"I'll try to figure it out myself... okay?"

"Are you--?" Lilly cut herself off. "...of course. But I have to ask, is this a personal problem, or--?"

"No. Yes...? No, it... it isn't, yet."

Yet? What could be...

Oh.

"Let me guess. You have a crush on the new student."

Hanako's shoulders tightened. "How did you--uh... know there was a new student?"

There was a level of disbelief in her tone. A curiosity about something unexpected. Lilly smiled. "Oh, I've met Hisao."

"Really?" Hanako's voice was uncertain. "When... when exactly did you meet him?"

She inhaled, tightening her grasp on Hanako's shoulder. "Tomorrow."

Hanako's breath caught.

"...You've gone back in time too, haven't you?"

There was silence for a moment. And then, "Yes," in that quick tone people used when they remembered Lilly couldn't see their gestures. And then, in a tone of realization, "Too?"


Hanako sat, carefully gripping her cup.

"...You and Hisao."

"Yes."

She took a nervous sip.

"...Does... does Hisao remember--"

Lilly sighed. "Hanako, Hisao... he... we don't know how this happened, but we do know that the time travel hit him first."

"Yes, you said that--"

"And it... affected him, somehow." Lilly bit her lip. "When I started repeating, I remembered one past. And... you remember one past, right? One life before this?"

"Yes." Hanako frowned. "He... he remembers more than one?"

"He... remembers," Lily said slowly, "before he started repeating, more than one. Somewhere around... thirteen, I think, but five are the most important. Every past has him... have his heart attack, come to Yamaku, and then... it starts to change when he arrives."

"Change?"

"The first time he repeated, he remembered many pasts... each one, where he dated and fell in love with a different girl."

Hanako inhaled sharply. "So... the past... that I remember... the one where he and I, um--"

"Got together?" Lilly's smile was sympathetic and sad. "When I started repeating, I remembered the one where he got together with me ."

"You--"

"He told me about the split pasts right away," Lilly assured her. "And I asked him... I made sure he didn't remember any of them while they were happening, that he never knowingly... we agreed," she said slowly, "that we shouldn't continue our relationship with that. Not until we figured out why time is repeating, because... well, that wouldn't be fair to him, or to me, or to you, or to any of the other girls. It's... been a struggle, I'll admit that, but... Hanako, you know I wouldn't ever--"

"No," Hanako interjected quickly, "I know you wouldn't." She rubbed her cup quietly. "Is he... repeating now?"

"He is. I mean... whenever I repeat, he's there too, but apparently, I'm not always there when he does. We think it's because he's at the center of this... whatever this is."

"Right. Lilly, I--"

Hanako cut herself off.

"...Lilly, did you... um... in the past you remember--"

"We were intimate," Lilly said, quietly. "Hisao says, in all the pasts he remembers, he was... with the girl he loved in that past. We haven't... been intimate in the repeats though." She paused. "I'm sorry, I know asking you to abide by a decision made without you--"

"It makes sense," Hanako admitted. "It... it's not fair, and I'm kind of mad at you, but not... at you , exactly. You didn't... I'm angry and confused and sad and confused and worried and confused and..."

"Yes, that was about how I was when Hisao first told me."

"He's seen you naked."

Lilly chuckled blandly. "Hanako, I'm fairly certain you've seen me naked."

Hanako blushed. "That's different, we were... younger. And..." She paused. "Five girls, you said?"

"Yes. You, me, Shizune, and... Emi and Rin, I don't know if you recall them."

"...Rin... she painted that mural, didn't she?"

Lilly nodded. "Yes... from what I hear, it was quite the work of art."

Hanako blinked, opened her mouth to apologize... and then shut it with a hum.

"...It's been a while since I've heard that hum."

"What?"

"The 'I was about to apologize but then I remembered Lilly doesn't mind it when other people mention seeing things so long as they don't flaunt it and she would rather be treated like a normal person' hum."

Hanako looked at the sardonic grin on her face.

"Are you... are you messing with me?"

"Maybe just a little," Lilly allowed. "I... I guess I just... missed you, in a way. With time looping, I--"

"Oh." Hanako nodded. "Right. Right, I... Well, I'm here now. And..."

She took a sip of her drink.

"I don't know what to think about the whole Hisao thing," she admitted. "But whatever else... you were my friend for longer than he was. So... yeah, I'm here now. And... I'll be here every repeat I can."

Lilly's smile turned soft. "...Thank you, Hanako. I really... I really do appreciate it."


1.9 Masterweaver


Reflections

"So... um... do you, by any chance have a sister named Hanako?"

"That depends. Do you have a brother named Hisao?"

"It feels like I lived his life before, if that's what you're asking."

"Oh thank god. Hisao, what's--what's going on?" The boy gestured at himself. "This is--"

"I don't know, Hanako, but I do know that things... change some loops. It's Misaki, by the way."

"What?"

"My name," the girl explained. "It's Misaki this loop."

"...right... and I'm Haruki." He sighed in exasperation. "This is weird. I thought time repeating was weird enough, but suddenly I have--" He cut himself off.

"I'm just as weirded out," Misaki assured him. "I mean, it's almost like that one time Rin had arms and Emi had legs--"

"I'm just supposed to call Lily Nori now? How will she--he--my voice is different, how will my friend recognize me? Or you?"

"...that's an interesting question. We..." Misaki shook her head. "Well, it'll only come up if she's here for this loop. If not, you've got a guy friend to pal around with."

Haruki sighed. "Well... at least it's just us who are confused. We really have to figure out this time thing before... I don't know, Shizune joins us?"

"Don't you mean Shin'ya?"

Haruki gave Misaki a pointed look. "Don't even. This is confusing enough as is!"


Rin contemplated his situation.

He was still Rin. No arms, flexible legs, and a mind that moved in its own patterns. The only thing different was that he was... well, he. But that seemed to be going around everyone. Masami wasn't Emi anymore either, but Hisao was Misaki now. And giving everyone the surprised look he'd given her when she had Emi's Eminess.

Rin rolled these thoughts around in his head, examining them from different angles, and eventually gave his conclusion. "Mirrors still have the same colors." With a shrug, he went back to sketching on his pad.


1.10 Masterweaver


Status Report

"So... here's what we know," Hisao said. "One, we're all looping, or repeating or whatever we want to call it. Two, I can loop alone, but you two can never loop without me. Three..."

He paused.

"...You've had a relationship with both of us before time started repeating," Hanako finished quietly.

"Yes. So... I... I went online and found out that in this one movie, a guy was trapped in a time loop. And to get out, he had to engineer a perfect day. For everyone."

Lilly huffed. "That works for a story , but does it apply to us? There's more than just you in this time loop."

"And there are times things are different," Hanako added, fidgeting awkwardly.

"Honestly... I don't know, I'm just throwing ideas out." Hisao sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Maybe it's aliens just screwing with us. Maybe Iwanako is a witch and she cursed us all. Maybe Kenji's crazy theories about a feminist conspiracy are based on fact--not likely," he admitted quickly, "but at this point we know next to nothing."

Hanako hummed, tapping her fingers on the table. "...have you ever changed anything?"

"Tank Shizune," Lilly deadpanned.

"What?"

"We got Shizune to agree to date Misha one loop," Hisao explained. "End result? She found a tank and took over Japan... somehow."

"O...kay..." Hanako shook her head. "What I was going to say was, maybe there's something that happens. Somebody somewhere presses a time travel button or something, and what we need to do is get them not to press that button."

"Would that explain the loops where things are different?" Lilly asked.

"Maybe? I don't know, it could be quantum... something. Or something." She shook her head. "My point is, maybe if we change things the right way, it'll domino effect down to the secret time laboratory where this all started and... unstart it. So... what can we change?"

Hisao tapped his chin. "...what if... what if I put together a list of everything I learned in the pasts before I started repeating?"

"Yeah, that might work." Hanako frowned. "But, um... does that mean talking about..." She fidgeted for a bit. "You know... you being... intimate?"

For a moment, there was silence.

"...I don't think the fate of the world hinges on how Hisao has sex," Lilly said, face absolutely straight. "If it does, then we are in quite a bit of trouble."


1.11 Masterweaver


An Unexpected Perspective

Lilly had spent most of her life helping others, and repeating time didn't change that very much. The fluidity of her classroom was, ironically enough, a help in that regard--aside from Kenji and his delusions, the majority of class 3-2 would always need a different form of assistance from their representative. Especially the ones who weren't born blind, and there she had experience with Hanako to help guide her. Help and be helped... it fulfilled her, in a way she wasn't sure she needed.

Of course, there was the issue of time repeating now--with Hisao and... Hanako. Her joining them in these time loops had only confirmed what Hisao had suspected, but had also led to an unfair awkwardness. The two of them were friends, after all... friends who had unwittingly slept with the same boy, who himself couldn't be blamed for the situation and was actually very nice and kindhearted. There was a sense that they should be angry--that somebody, somewhere, had violated the unspoken tenets of social bonds and it was pretty likely to be one of them--but the knowledge of time's brokenness somehow made them unsure of who to be angry at.

It didn't help that Hisao's condition could trigger if his heart started pumping too fast. That it was literally possible to kill him by upsetting him too much. What could possibly have been handled with a good session of yelling at each other was instead left to simmer uncertainly, nobody willing to risk openly discussing...

...well.

So, with the awkward not talking everyone was doing, Lilly had decided to befriend the girls she wasn't familiar with. Emi was certainly easy enough--they weren't exactly strangers, they just didn't move in the same circles. Once she got past her casual crudity, Lilly found the girl to be refreshingly direct to be around. True, the moment the conversation turned to deeper subjects, Emi forcefully changed topics, but after what Hisao had mentioned she could understand that. Rin, though...

Rin was an enigma.

She focused on her mural the first week, and that was always awkward enough. There was no way Lilly could be of help here, she couldn't even be assured the buckets of paint were organized, so she tended to avoid the girl entirely at the start of the loop. In fact, it was rare for her to interact with Rin at all--Hisao might sometimes introduce them to each other, but Rin was an artist, in a world of colors and strangely structured sentences, without even hands for Lilly to grasp. It was wrong to think of a person as eldritch, perhaps. But to Lilly, Rin was a pressing example of another world that happened to intersect with hers, a strange creature that gibbered in tongues and whose presence could only be noticed, not comprehended. So being singled out by the girl one day while she was in the library was more than a little disturbing.

"There's something I want you to check out."

She continued running her fingers over braille pages, almost certain Rin wasn't addressing her.

"...I didn't know class representatives switched classes."

Lilly paused, tilting her head up. "I'm sorry?"

"Oh. I thought you were Shizune in Lilly's clothes for a moment there."

It took her a moment to parse Rin's words. "...because I didn't respond to what you said, right?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry, I... thought you were speaking to somebody else."

Rin hummed thoughtfully. "How do you know when somebody is talking to you instead of somebody who isn't you?"

"They usually say my name first."

"Oh, that makes sense." Rin cleared her throat. "So, Lilly, there's something I want you to check out."

"Do you have it with you?"

"Actually, I have it up in my room." For a moment, she was quiet. "I don't know how to lead you there."

"You could grab--ah, right. Hmm. I could grab your sleeve. If you're amiable to that."

And so Rin dragged Lilly out the library and into the dorms. It was a little odd, trusting her fate to a piece of cloth that tugged her along instead of a warm hand. Somehow, though, she suspected it wouldn't be the oddest thing she experienced.

"Okay, here it is." Rin paused. "Oh, right. The painting's in front of you."

Lilly bit back her first reaction. "You want me to check out a painting."

"It would be a real waste if I brought you here for nothing."

"Rin... you know I'm blind, right?"

"Yeah, that's why I want you to check this painting out."

"Blind people can't see," Lilly explained, carefully and very calmly.

"Well, this painting isn't for people who can see."

Lilly considered those words for a moment.

"...do you want me to feel  the painting?" she asked.

"Yes. I thought that was obvious."

"Ah." Lilly exhaled slowly. "For future reference, there are a number of blind individuals who have grown up taunted by those who aren't blind for being unable to see artworks. It might be better to refer to works meant to be felt as a 'tactile... facade,' or something like that."

"Tactile art piece. Okay."

Lilly reached out, gently, running her fingers over the canvas and tracing up to a corner. Her hands trailed along the ridges and grooves she found, noting the waves and spirals they formed. "This is... very... um, impressionistic?"

"You think so?"

"I... don't know much about art," Lilly admitted. "That might be another problem, paint is not really... well, clearly you put effort into making this feel solid, but most blind people who are interested in arts tend to go for audio things. Music and maybe radio drama. I guess a statue might work... I'm sorry, Rin, but this won't attract the attention of the blind community."

"Oh." Rin was quiet for a moment. "Okay... but what do you think about it?"

"Well... it... feels interesting," Lilly admitted. "A lot of curves... and spirals. I... guess it makes me feel relaxed. As though life carries on."

"Alright."

Lilly pulled her hand back. "Well... thank you for making the effort to share your art with me. I really do appreciate the attempt."

"All art is an attempt."

"...That it is," Lilly agreed. "If you'll excuse me..."

She walked out the door sedately, picking up her pace as soon as she was out of earshot.


Rin looked after Lilly, then at the painting of a sun that was also a clock.

"Statues... maybe I should work with clay for a bit."


1.12 Masterweaver


Lowering Shields

Hanako glanced up from her book, sighing as Hisao appeared from around the bookshelves. "Oh."

"I guess you're repeating this time?"

"Yep."

"Okay... do you, uh, need anything?"

She almost opened her mouth, almost made the sarcastic quip--but a thought of Lilly cut her off.

"Hanako?"

"Eh? Oh. Sorry, I..." Hanako shook her head. "I'm... fine, mostly. I think... I think I'll talk with Emi later. Help her out, you know?"

"Yeah, I guess... you'd understand where she was coming from." Hisao winced, rubbing the back of his head. "So... I guess I'll try to mend the gap between Lilly and Shizune... maybe help out Rin--"

"How do you feel about all this?"

"Eh?"

"I mean..." Hanako bit her lip. "Back... before, you were all depressed because of what happened to you. But now you seem... you're working with us. Helping us, and... I haven't heard you say anything about yourself--about what you're going through."

Hisao blinked, staring into the distance for a moment. "I... huh. I haven't, have I? I guess..." He shrugged. "I guess I feel like if I talk about me, I have to... I mean, you know why... you know how I remember different pasts, before time started repeating."

"Yes," Hanako said, glancing away.

"It's just... I feel if I start talking about what I'm going through, I'll have to talk about how I feel about the girls who..." He trailed off for a moment. "I mean, love isn't something you... just forget, you know?"

"I know," Hanako muttered, not quite keeping the anger out of her tone.

Hisao winced. "Hanako, I--"

"So in order to keep us from getting upset, you decide not to bring up what could upset us," she continued. "You decide to play the level-headed, caring man with no actual attachments because you know that talking about other girls will hurt us--but that also means not talking about us, Hisao! That also means keeping whatever you've got going on bottled up! It means..."

She trailed off.

"...Hanako, I... honestly? I don't know what the right thing to do is. I'm not doing this to protect--well, not just to protect you." Hisao let out a low breath. "I... I think I'm doing this to protect myself, too. Because... I don't know how to go forward from here, and..." He held his hands out helplessly. "There should be a talk. I just don't know how to have it, or who to have it with."

She pinched her brow. "Let's start simple, then. How do you feel about all this?"

"...confused. Worried. I... I don't know why this is happening. Helping people, yes, it distracts me from my own issues, but it also makes me feel like I mean something. That my actions aren't just going to be wiped away when this time loop ends..." Hisao leaned against a bookshelf, his expression falling. "At least when you or Lilly remembers, I... I know what I'm doing sticks. That it matters. I want to think... maybe if I keep helping, maybe somehow, whatever caused this will let us live again, you know?"

Hanako swallowed, her anger disintegrating with a pang of guilt as she looked at his exhausted expression. She almost apologized...

...no. It wouldn't help.

Instead, she stood and, after a moment of hesitation, brought him into a gentle hug. "It does matter. Even if it doesn't affect time, you... your actions will impact you, if nobody else. And... I know that Lilly and I, with what happened before, that it's a little awkward between us all, but I want you to know... we're here if you need to talk. And who knows..." She forced herself to keep the thought going. "Maybe... the other girls... will start repeating with us. And we can... all, uh... be friends, or something."

For a moment, Hisao said nothing.

"...This is really getting to you, huh?"

"Yes," Hanako said flatly. "Yes it is. I actually want one of the other girls to start repeating because I can't yell at Lilly, if that makes any sense."

"No, I can get that." Hisao chuckled, returning the hug. "I really am sorry to put you through this. Both of you... all of you... and just you. It's... complicated."

"Don't you dare try to spare me emotional distress or whatever."

"Not going to."

Hanako smiled. "Good."


1.13 Skaz Wolfman


Silent Overture

Hisao was awakened by a frantic hammering on his door. It almost sounded like a jackhammer, both in tempo and volume. ‘Shizune’ he thought as he rolled out of bed and stumbled groggily to the door. He opened his door and the short, blue-haired Student Council President bolted into the room under his arm. Before he could even close the door, she was tugging impatiently on his sleeve in a way that he knew to mean ‘Look at me so I can sign at you!’

He shut the door and turned around, and Shizune immediately launched into a rapid-fire barrage of signing. [Last week we were graduating and now we are back at your first week at Yamaku and no one else seems to remember except me but instead of being all mopey and depressed like you were before you are a social butterfly who talks to everyone even though you still seem a little mopey about something so my best guess is that you remember as well but you have no chill so if this is not freaking you the hell out like it is freaking me out you must understand how this happened so please explain!] she signed.

Unfortunately, very little of that had penetrated Hisao’s half-awake brain. “Coffee, first. Then whatever you’re freaking out about,” he said aloud and signed at her.

Shizune glared at him, but then her eyes widened. Hisao knowing sign language was irrefutable proof of her theory that he remembered the future she had left behind. She just had to be patient, which she figured was only fair since Hisao so often had to be patient with her…

She followed him as they left his room, heading towards the cafeteria.


Hanako and Lilly ran up and found Hisao talking to a very worried and confused looking Misha outside of the Student Council room. It sounded like someone was inside the room, breaking stuff. Hisao turned to face them, and Hanako winced at the bright red marks across the sides of his face. His cheeks looked just a little puffy and swollen, too.

“Hisao, what’s going on? Is Shizune in there?” Hanako asked. She didn’t ask if Shizune had slapped him, because that much seemed obvious. Misha was loud and boisterous, sure, but not violent as far as she knew. Having seen the death glares Shizune sometimes gave Lilly, she had no problem imagining the Student Council President getting physical when she was enraged.

“It’s not like Shizune to resort to property damage when she’s upset,” Lilly remarked.

“Took some doing before she understood,” said Hisao, “But once she did…that is, once I explained the, uh…y’know, the thing with–”

“You and me and her and Hanako and Emi and Rin,” Lilly surmised.

“Yeah…she didn’t take it well,” Hisao said with a wince. “Not sure she believes that it’s not my fault somehow. And I really don’t think she wants to listen to me anymore, so I’ve been explaining things to Misha. She’s the best person I know at getting through to her, besides myself.”

“So it’s…all true?” asked an uncharacteristically quiet Misha. “All the…the going back in time stuff?”

“Afraid so, Misha,” said Lilly. She turned her head in Hisao’s general direction, “If you don’t mind, Hisao, I’d like to speak to Shizune as well.”

Hisao raised an eyebrow. ‘Lilly’s…not exactly one of Shizune’s favorite people, and she’s already in a super bad mood…’

As if she could hear Hisao’s doubts, Lilly spoke again, “Please?”

The sounds of violence coming from in the room ceased.

Hisao sighed, “Well, if you can make her even angrier, I’ll be impressed.” He stepped aside and leaned against the wall. Misha opened the door, and Lilly followed her into the Student Council room before closing the door. Hanako leaned against the wall across from Hisao, and offered him an encouraging smile.

“She’s a tough girl,” Hanako remarked, “She’ll be alright. Once the shock wears off, I’m sure she’ll start brainstorming ways to use this weird time thing to her advantage.”

To her disappointment, Hisao’s frown deepened. “Shizune’s always looking ahead, planning her next move. Caught in a repeating time loop, which we have no idea if or when they’ll ever end, kind of robs her of those grand, future plans. She told me she wants to be a businesswoman and a philanthropist someday. How can she ever do that if she never gets to move on from high school?”

Hanako’s eyes widened a bit. “Damn, that’s a good point. Guess I can’t blame her for getting all worked up…did, um, did she actually…” Hanako trailed off, staring at Hisao’s cheek.

“Smack me? Yeah, twice. Back and forth,” Hisao replied. For some reason, he was smiling. “Funny thing…well, maybe not funny , but…anyways, in the timeline where I sleep with Misha–”

“You what ?!” Hanako gasped.

“Did I not mention that one?” Hisao asked, blinking innocently. Hanako narrowed her eyes at him. “Right, sorry…look, it was a mistake, alright? No question. In all the timelines I remember, it’s the only time I cheated on…any of you, and I regretted it almost immediately. Point being, in that timeline…I didn’t tell Shizune, and I don’t think Misha did either, but things didn’t work out between me and her anyways so I think she suspected it… point being , in that timeline Shizune didn’t slap me for cheating on her. Probably because I never admitted it to her face, so slapping me just now was probably just an impulse she couldn’t reign in. She’ll probably feel bad about it, when she feels better about…everything else.” He sighed wearily.

Hanako popped an eyebrow at that. “You fell in love with five different girls across a dozen timelines, and you only cheated on one of them?”

“I’m not going to say ‘in my defense’ because I don’t think it’s defensible…but while all my relationships had complications, Shizune had the most difficult personality. Well, her or Emi…or Rin…” Hisao trailed off, and Hanako suspected he would be blushing if her cheeks weren’t already bright-red. “No, Rin wasn’t difficult, just hard to understand at times. Many times. Shizune and Emi are definitely the most stubborn girls I…uh, know.”

Hanako actually started giggling. “It’s okay Hisao…I know what you mean.”

Hisao smiled at her. “Thanks…and thanks for not mentioning this,” he pointed at his cheek, “in front of Lilly.”

“I had a sneaking suspicion she’d want to talk to Shizune, figured it’d be better if she weren’t mad,” said Hanako, sitting down against the wall.

Hisao slid down onto his bottom as well. “Good call,” he complimented.


Inside the Student Council room, Misha’s eyes widened at the sight of Shizune sitting in a corner of the room with her forehead on her knees. She was breathing heavily, and the room around her was trashed. Filing cabinets and tables tipped over, one chair was in pieces (Misha guessed that Shizune had slammed it against the floor until it splintered), and small objects were strewn about.

“Shizune?” Lilly’s inquiring voice broke the almost-silence, her face tilted towards the sound of her cousin’s labored breathing. It took a second for Misha to realize Lilly was actually addressing her, probably asking how Shizune looked.

“She looks exhausted,” Misha replied.

“So she burned herself out already. That should make this…hmm,” Lilly cut herself off, and made to move forward.

Misha immediately grabbed her hand. “Wait! Careful, there’s…stuff all over the floor.”

Lilly slowly turned her head towards Misha and cocked her head. “I figured there would be. I do have my cane you know,” she pointed out as she started tapping the floor ahead of her with said cane, while carefully sliding her feet across the floor.

“Ah, right, heh-heh,” Misha chuckled nervously. She quickly bounded across the room to Shizune’s side. She very carefully raised her foot and, from a full leg away, poked Shizune’s shoulder. It was a testament to how worn out she was that all she did was turn her head so that her temple was against her knees. Misha dropped into a crouch so she was closer to eye-level with her.

“Hey, Shicchan. Hicchan told me what he told you…so, uh, I guess you’ve had a heck of a morning, huh?” said Misha while signing to Shizune.

Shizune was motionless and stared at her blankly for a moment, weakly raised her limp arms and slowly signed, [Hisao told me a lot of things. Crazy, impossible things. Things I did not like, but could not argue against because we are in the past and there is no way around it. He told me…]

Shizune paused and frowned. [He really told you everything?] she signed.

Misha nodded.

[Even the other timelines?]

Misha got a little pale, but she nodded.

[The one where you and he–]

Shizune abruptly stopped signing when Misha, blushing furiously, nodded vigorously.

[How did he make you believe it? You are kind of gullible, but this whole thing is insane.] Shizune signed.

“I…” Misha’s eyes darted to Lilly, who was only halfway across the room, nudging things out of her way with her cane and cautiously shuffling forth. Silently, Misha signed to Shizune, [He told me he knew…about my…my crush on you.] Her face was even redder than Hisao’s had been, now.

Shizune snorted, and the corner of her mouth twitched a bit. [He mentioned Lilly and Ikezawa sometimes remember the future, too.]

Misha nodded, and signed back [He mentioned that too. I asked if I ever remember, too. He said no.]

[Maybe you will someday…some repeat?] Shizune signed, then shrugged.

Lilly reached them, then, her cane poking one of Shizune’s feet. Shizune, having recovered some energy by now it seemed, flinched this time, lifting her head to look at Lilly. Upon recognizing her cousin, her expression only became more perplexed. “Misha? Shizune?” Lilly inquired, tilting her face in the direction she had last heard Misha’s voice.

“Y-yeah! Shicchan’s sitting right in front of you, Lilly,” said Misha.

Lilly said nothing more. She collapsed her cane and let it hang from its strap around her wrist, got down on her hands and knees, and felt her way towards Shizune. She put one hand on Shizune’s knee, then another on the side of her face. A moment later, she had lurched forward and wrapped both arms around Shizune’s shoulders. “Please, Misha, tell her that for once, I understand how she feels. How strange this all is. And that despite our  differences, I’m here for her right now.”

Misha started to sign to Shizune, but she shook her head; the blue-haired girl closed her eyes and returned Lilly’s hug. She also, quickly, rubbed the moisture building in the corners of her eyes off on Lilly’s shoulders, skewing her glasses in the process.


Several minutes later, Hanako cautiously poked her head into the room. Her eyes widened, and quickly pulled Hisao into the room before shutting the door.

Misha was picking things up around the room, while Shizune and Lilly were sitting face-to-face on the floor. Lilly had her hands on Shizune’s, and Shizune was slowly signing with wide eyes. After a moment, Lilly took her hands off of Shizune’s and signed back . It was slow, hesitant, and twice Shizune took hold of Lilly’s hands and corrected them.

“Um. So, what’s…Misha, what happened?” Hisao asked.

“Weeeeeell~, apparently Lilly’s been learning sign language from…the other mes,” said Misha, “From the, uh…the repeats. Did you know?”

“Can’t say I do. She never mentioned it to me,” Hisao replied. “Huh.”

“Wow, she must have been working on this for a long time,” Hanako remarked.

Hisao smiled, and then joined Misha in tidying up the mess. “I think you were right, Hanako. Shizune’s going to be fine. We’re all going to be fine.”

Hanako nodded, and helped Hisao and Misha, while Lilly and Shizune continued their slow, silent, only somewhat awkward heart-to-heart.


1.14 Masterweaver


Club Confusion

Lilly had tried to warn her about the fluidity of Yamaku's population in these time loops, but [time spin change all kittens] didn't really communicate the concept clearly, so she'd been forced to turn to Misha and ask her help. It took a few tries for Shizune to understand what her cousin was talking about, and she had thought maybe, maybe Lilly was exaggerating. Two or three different students being added or removed every repeat. That made sense, with butterfly theory and all. It couldn't be that bad.

It was that bad.

It was worse than that bad.

Shizune read over the proposals this time. There were the standard clubs: track, debate, art, literature, a smattering of different board game clubs that would really be more efficient if they all poured together, she would have to talk to the people who sent in these papers. Then there were the stranger requests. Fishing club... boats were expensive, and she didn't know the cost of fishing rods. Rocketry club... it sounded pretty cool, but where would they launch their rockets? Belly-dancing club, and that was one she thought would be the strangest... until she turned over the next few pages. Tankery club... assassination club... transhuman modification club?

She looked over the list of activities and flinched. No, this would be bad enough at an ordinary school, but when a good portion of the class was blind or had hypoesthesia or tremors, it would be incredibly idiotic to allow them near anything like surgery. Wait until they could become doctors, she thought.

If they even could become doctors...

Shizune put the paper in the rejected pile with a sigh. There was still some money to spare for another club. She looked through the last through proposals, rolling her eyes at a few of the standard ridiculous ones. The Church of (Insert Anime Character Here) club had chosen to worship some girl named Madoka this time around. No religious organizations allowed, though, to the rejection pile it went. Yoga club, and she could understand why it was a constant proposal... she put that one into the maybes. Programming club...

Hmm.

She looked it over. It seemed a bit different from what she recalled. A lot more technical. The budget seemed around the same, though. Ordinarily, the programming club was rejected mostly to provide funding for other clubs. This time...

Shizune ran the numbers in her head. It would be a pinch, she admitted, and she'd have to push out one of the standard clubs. After a moment, she picked up the debate club proposal, read it over, and put it next to the programming club. Most of the skills seemed to be the same... arguing with a computer was slightly different from arguing with a person, but not too different.

After a moment of hesitation, she nodded and put the debate club in the rejection pile. Certainly nothing too strange could happen from a programming club.

Shizune would be forced to reassess that decision two weeks later, when an AI that Rin wrote started manufacturing centipede-shaped buses.


1.15 Masterweaver


Dusky Secrets

It had been a while since Hisao had a 'manly picnic.' In fact... huh, he hadn't been invited up by Kenji since he started repeating. Then again, this time around all three of the girls remembered things--well, the three that were always remembering--and the other two seemed pretty well into their things. There was some odd tension about them, something he couldn't quite place, so he decided not to hang around. Maybe Kenji only invited him the first time since he seemed lonely. There was, buried underneath all the paranoia and delusion, a kind soul there.

It was just the paranoia and delusion drove most people away.

Still, getting drunk on the roof was a bad idea. Hisao didn't intend to do so again--and he stayed far away from the edge this time. Kenji... Kenji had drained half the bottle, and was rambling on about some chain of events related to women.

"Kenji," Hisao asked in exasperation, "how did you learn all this?"

"Maaaaan. The things I've seen..."

"Were you really around during the industrial revolution?"

"Yeah, man."

Hisao rolled his eyes. "Really."

"Yeeeees." Kenji grinned. "I'm actually very old. Very old, Hisao."

Hisao leaned away from his drunken breath. "Really," he repeated, in the same flat tone.

Kenji stood up, raising a finger. "Yes, Hisao... for you see!"

He ripped off his shirt and sparkled dramatically.

"I AM A VAMPIRE!"

Hisao stared at him for a moment.

"...A VAMPIRE!"

"No, I got that, but I'm not sure why you ripped off your shirt there."

"It's--my skin sparkles," Kenji explained. "Because I'm a vampire."

"Is... that a reference to something? I've never known a vampire myth about sparkling... although you do have some excellent abs," Hisao admitted. "Not that I'm interested. Just... this just seems like a prank."

"Oh but Hisao," Kenji purred, "there is something about you... about the scent of your blood... it just draws me--"

"Aaaaaand you're drunk-proposing me. Sorry, no, whatever this vampire thing is, I'm not interested." Hisao stood, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I'm going to get you back to your bedroom, okay? You sleep off the drunkeness, wash the glitter off your skin, and we'll pretend this never happened."

"Yeeeeeees. The other clans would be upset, if I revealed myself to you..."

"Right. Other clans." Hisao snorted, leading him back down the stairs. "Got it."


"...so yeah, Kenji tried to convince me he was a vampire. Crazy, right?"

Hanako and Shizune shared a look.

"...Hisao," Lilly said gently, "we are vampires this repeat."

For a moment, the boy was silent.

"Run that by me again."

"We are vampires," Hanako reiterated. "Different clans, all three of us, but... yeah, there is a vampire secret society."

Hisao leaned back. "...do you sparkle?"

"No," Lilly said quickly.

Shizune shook her head. [That's just the Volturi line. I'm a Noctuku vampire, Lilly is Malkavian, and Hanako is Kuufukuji.]

"Okay... and if I asked about Rin and Emi--"

"Mabry and Xaio," Hanako replied. "It's... awkward."

Hisao leaned back. "So... how many of the students are vampires?"

[Around one in ten.]

"Thank you, Shizune. And... Kenji mentioned something about my blood?"

Lilly sighed. "For some reason, your blood smells really good. Frankly the only reason we're not jumping you right now is because there are so many other vampires around and it would cause chaos."

"...Oooooookay." Hisao considered for a moment. "Right. I'm just going to lock myself in my room for the rest of the day, then."


1.16 Masterweaver


Communication Issues

"Shizune?" Hanako put a hand on the other girl's shoulder. "Can we talk?"

Shizune turned around, staring at her flatly.

"Right, sorry. Um..." Hanako lifted her hands. [Talk?]

[Can you understand this?]

[Fast talk,] Hanako replied. [Talk again?]

Shizune rolled her eyes. [I can go get Misha--]

Hanako shook her head quickly. [No Misha! Time time talk!]

[Misha knows about the time repeats.]

[Fast talk, talk again?]

Shizune grabbed her wrist and dragged her out of the library.

"He-hey, wait--!" Hanako tried to pull free, but Shizune's grip was iron. "Shizune, this--why am I even talking, you can't hear me--"

Misha glanced up as they entered. "Oh!" [Hello Shizune! I just got finished organizing the club requests.]

Shizune smiled gratefully, putting Hanako into a nearby chair. [Thank you. Can you translate for Hanako? She wants to talk about the time repeats but doesn't know enough sign language to get her point across.]

Misha nodded, her expression growing awkward. "So.... Shizune says you want to talk about the, um, time repeats?"

"Well, yes, but..." Hanako let her hair fall over her eyes. "I didn't really want to, um... involve you. It's sort of a personal question for her, and... this would be awkward." She sighed. "Maybe I should wait until I know more sign language--"

"The best way to practice is through learning! Or... learn is through practicing... sorry, I got that backwards. What is it you wanted to ask?"

"...I just... thought... I think, um, Shizune is avoiding Hisao."

Misha inhaled sharply. "Ah."

"Yeah. I thought... we could talk it out. Or... at least she could rant at me and I'd just watch her hands flail about."

"Shizune's feelings on Hisao are... well, kind of complicated. Especially since..."

Misha trailed off, awkwardly.

"...You know we don't blame you--"

"It's weird, knowing that I--that we did that, except that the only person who remembers is Hisao, and... and that I would hurt Shizune like that, and... yeah, I guess... it's just..." Misha sniffed.

[What are you two talking about?] Shizune asked. [Is this trying to figure out how to say what to say?]

Misha bit her lip. [Hanako was... just worried about you.]

[Really? Tell her I'm fine.]

"Look, I'll drop by later and see if I can teach you more sign language," Misha offered. "You're right, this really is a conversation you two should have without intermediaries."

"Thanks, Misha. And... hey, hang in there, okay?"

Misha smiled sadly. "Sure. I... yeah."

Hanako stood, bowing to her--and to Shizune--before walking out the door. Shizune let out a low breath.

[Right. I really want to know what she actually said, but I guess it's something incredibly awkward, isn't it?]

[Yes.]

[...That's it, just yes, no qualifiers?]

[Trust me, you don't want qualifiers.]


1.17 Skaz Wolfman


Home Stretch

Emi woke up, sat up, and stretched out her upper body, yawning mightily. “Wow, I slept like a rock,” she said to herself. “I can’t remember the last time I slept that soundly.” She smiled serenely and glanced to her side. “I guess that probably has something to do with y–eh?”

Aside from herself, her bed was empty.

Emi crossed her arms and huffed. “Let aint that a fine how-do-you-do…eh, he probably didn’t mean anything by it. Probably just woke up early and got super-nervous about getting caught, or something. Can’t imagine why, it’s not like we get surprise inspections, and the only person who ever comes in here is Rin.”

Emi recalled the time Rin had walked in on her and Hisao, and almost fell off her bed laughing.

“Brrr, it’s cold today,” Emi muttered as she put on her legs. She exited her room and entered Rin’s, gently waking her up and helping her with her morning routine, which was her morning routine.

As soon as she was awake, Rin hopped out of bed and went straight over to stare at her calendar. She muttered something under her breath that Emi didn’t quite catch, but she was pretty sure she had heard the word “hundred”.

“Counting the days until graduation?” she asked her artistic amigo. “Cuz you’re a ways off, if you are.”

“We never graduate,” said Rin, “Not really. We keep curling back.”

“Huh?”

“No…no, not ‘curling’, that’s not the right word. ‘Winding’? No, that’s not it either…”

‘Oh no, she’s looking for a word. She could be at this all day.’

“Hey, c’mon Rin, let’s get you ready for the day, I have to meet Hisao for our morning run,” said Emi, bouncing over to Rin’s bureau and opening a drawer.

“Oh, so you remember things too, now,” Rin observed as Emi helped her out of her nightshirt.

“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean, Ms. Scatterbrained?” asked Emi.

“Don’t know if it means anything,” Rin admitted. “I noticed it happens to all the girls Hisao acts strangely around, eventually, so I think he might be doing it. If he is, I don’t think he knows how, either. ‘Swirling’? Swirls go around and around, but I don’t think that’s right either.”

“Hold on,” said Emi, whirling Rin around to face her. In the process, she got slapped with one of the sleeves of the shirt she had just helped Rin into. “What the hell do you mean by ‘all the girls Hisao acts strangely around’? Strangely how? And which girls?”

Rin blinked at her. “Rewinding? No, no, you can watch something rewind, but this only happens when no one is looking, even if you’re awake.”

“RIN! Focus, please, what other girls has Hisao been acting ‘strangely’ around?” Emi implored.

Rin blinked again. “Uh…me, Lilly Satou, Hanako Ikezawa, Shizune Hakamichi, and you. I wonder if he’s going to do it to anyone else? If he’s the one doing it, that is.”

“Y…you, too?” asked Emi. ‘Oh, calm down!’ she chided herself, ‘Hisao’s not that kind of guy. This is Rin you’re talking to, she could mean anything.’

Unbidden, Rin said, “Skipping? Skipping back? No, no, that’s not it either.”

“Okay, and what do you mean by ‘acting strangely’?” Emi asked.

“Like…a bird who wants to go home, but isn’t sure which nest is his, I think,” Rin said in that tone that Emi knew meant she really wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but was trying her best anyways. Still, her heart started to sink with the weight of the implications of the, admittedly possibly half-cocked, analogy.

“You got close to him, didn’t you?” Rin asked her suddenly, her usually unfocused eyes now intensely focused on hers. “Like…really close. Like puzzle pieces fitting…or, trying to fit together, even though it’s hard sometimes. Hisao and I were close like that, once, before I started remembering. Now he’s distant. He’s still around, and he helps me with things, but he’s kind of not there either, and he’s always trying to help everyone else. The other girls, I mean. I think he feels responsible, which is why I wonder if he is…”

Emi looked down. She was trying not to cry, and not doing a great job. Still, she desperately hoped this was just a classic Rin Tezuka misunderstanding, even though the ‘puzzle pieces’ thing sounded pretty damned unmistakable to her. She opened her mouth to ask, or even to beg, for clarification.

Rin spoke first, however, and her voice sounded rough. Emi’s eyes snapped up, and widened at seeing that Rin suddenly looked as distraught as she felt. “I miss him,” Rin admitted. “He’s still here, but he isn’t…I feel bad, because I pushed him away, once, because I didn’t understand…I didn’t understand anything, and it was confusing, and he was confusing, but…we figured things out, and things were working fine, but then everything went backwards and now he’s so distant…I’ve been meaning to ask him about it, but I’m not sure what words to use…and part of me is worried about what he’ll say.”

Emi couldn’t listen anymore. It hurt too much, so her body took over and did what it did most naturally.

She ran.

Twenty minutes later Miki Miura, who was in the middle of brushing her hair, heard a tapping at her door. Strangely, it was coming from near the bottom of the door, like someone was kicking instead of knocking. One of the Student Council girls bringing her a big package, maybe?

Miki opened the door, slightly taken aback by the sight of Rin Tezuka, the armless redhead from the art club that Emi hung out with. She was standing before her wearing nothing but her underwear and a blouse that only had the top two buttons done. Her eyes bore the telling signs of having been through a crying jag recently, but otherwise her expression was as neutral and unfocused as it usually was.

“I know you’re only half as handy as Emi,” Rin opened up, “But I think that still makes you twice as handy as me. And Emi ran away, and I don’t think I should go after her like this.”


Misha looked up from the construction paper she was cutting to see Hisao slip into the room. He hurried over to Shizune’s desk and nudged her. He started exchanging sign language with her at a rapid pace. Misha had to admit, she was very impressed; she could have sworn he didn’t know JSL earlier today.

[Have you seen Emi or Rin anywhere?] Hisao signed to Shizune. [Emi didn’t run into me earlier, like she usually does, and Rin wasn’t in the art room when I got your supplies, and I haven’t seen either of them anywhere all day!]

[Emi Ibarazaki, from the track team? And Rin Tezuka, the girl that paints the mural for the festival?] Shizune signed back. [No, I haven’t. But why? Wait, are those two part of us? “Your girls” I mean?] Shizune suddenly looked grumpy, and Misha’s eyebrows shot up.

[Shizune, please, I’m worried about them. I know these first few days like the back of my hand; if someone isn’t somewhere at a certain time, it usually means they’ve started remembering, but Hanako and I have already looked all over the school for them and they don’t seem to be anywhere. I’m afraid they might be doing something drastic.]

Shizune made an exaggerated sighing motion, and stood up. [You’re right. I’ll help you look. But the school is too big for one or two people to look for two other students; by the time you find where they were they could be somewhere else. And they could be off-campus at this time, as well.]

[Hanako and Lilly went into town to check The Shanghai and ask around.] Hisao signed.

Shizune turned to Misha, who abruptly stared down at her desk, face burning. Shizune nudged her shoulder. Misha looked back up and blurted out “I wasn’t eavesdropping, Shicchan, honest!”

Shizune raised an eyebrow, and Misha belatedly remembered to sign what she had just said. Shizune just smirked at her and signed, [Sure you weren’t. I’ll explain everything later. For now, go to the office and ask to use the PA to make an announcement: “Emi Ibarazaki and Rin Tezuka are needed for urgent Student Council business, but we can’t seem to find them. Anyone who knows where they have gone should report to the Student Council room.” Once you’ve done that, come back here and wait. If anyone brings you any tips, or if Emi and/or Rin show up themselves, call Hisao. Let me see your phone.]

Shizune entered Hisao’s number in Misha’s contacts and handed it back to her, and they all left the room together.


Not long after, as the sun was starting to set, Shizune exited the girls’ dormitory building. Hisao was waiting for her, looking impatient. As soon as he saw her he started signing frantically, [Misha called while you were in there, Miki Miura told her she saw Rin this morning. She said Rin mentioned needing to talk to Emi about something.]

[Did she mention a location?] Shizune asked, not understanding why Hisao was so excited. This didn’t seem like much of a lead to her.

[No, but it got me thinking of where Rin might take Emi for a talk, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner! The tree!]

Having apparently run out of patience, Hisao didn’t explain any further than that. He just ran off, gesturing for Shizune to follow. She bolted after him.

Before they reached the edge of the campus, however, Hisao’s phone rang again.

“They’re both here!” Misha announced.

On their way to the main building, they saw Lilly and Hanako, who had just gotten back from the town. Feeling that the timing was too good to be mere random chance, Hisao urged them to come along.

‘Somehow, it feels like something is coming to a head,’ he thought.


Rin and Emi were, indeed, waiting for them in the Student Council room. Emi looked upset, Misha looked nervous, and Rin looked…well, like Rin.

“Hisao!” Emi shouted as soon as she saw him, “You two–no, five-timing bastard!”

“It’s not like that!” Hisao, Lilly, and Hanako all said at once.

[Misha, tell Emi that I don’t like it either, but if Hisao’s version of events is to be believed, he isn’t guilty of ever consciously being unfaithful.] Shizune signed to her pink-haired sidekick.

Emi ignored Misha’s secondhand exposition. “Not only have you been messing around with other women, you’ve somehow gotten all of us stuck in a time warp?!” she yelled.

“It’s not really a warp,” Rin spoke up, “More like a…circle…that keeps resetting. Like a broken clock?”

“I can explain…well, not everything. Not much, really, but I can explain some of what’s going on,” said Hisao. “Please, calm down, Emi. I know how–”

“Wait!” Hanako gasped, “How long has Rin been repeating?”

“I…wait, she has?” asked Hisao. He belatedly registered what Rin said a moment ago, and then stared at her. “Rin? How long have you been repeating?”

“I haven’t been repeating,” said Rin, “Things aren’t exactly the same each time. Most things are, and most people are, but you usually aren’t, and sometimes others aren’t, either. Even the one time you acted like you didn’t remember, and you got close to Lilly, that loud guy that lives across the hall from you was really different. He had a stick and said strange words that I’m pretty sure he was making up, and weird things kept happening. He made one of my paintings move.”

“Wait, wait, wait; you remember a time I didn’t remember? I’m the only one who always remembers. How long have you…how many times have you gone back, Rin?” asked Hisao, flabbergasted.

Rin told him. Everyone stared.

“…Hisao…I’ve only–” Lilly started.

“I know,” said Hisao, thunderstruck. “Rin’s been…she must have been the first to start remembering, after me.”

Rin simply shrugged. “If you say so.”

“So? Are you going to explain, then?” Emi asked pointedly.

“I…wish I could explain how or why this is happening,” said Hisao bitterly. “All I know for sure is that one day, it feels like literal centuries ago, I found myself back in that hospital, right after my first heart attack. I remembered different timelines, at least five, and in each one I fell in love with one of you five girls. Everyone here but you, Misha,” he added awkwardly.

“In the one hand, I’m a little insulted, but also relieved that I’m not part of this mess,” Misha admitted, sounding very atypically subdued. “And in the other hand, I feel like I should be freaking out more and calling you all insane…I mean, this is totally crazy, right?”

“Totally fucking crazy,” Hisao agreed wearily. He shuffled over and sagged into a chair, acting as if he had aged decades within seconds, and buried his face in his hands. Emi softened in spite of herself, seeing how stressed he was. The Hisao she knew wasn’t always the most forthcoming person, but he was hardly duplicitous either. He was the kind of guy who naturally leaned towards gentleness, and when he got sharp-tongued you could be sure he was close to his boiling point.

[Misha…] Shizune signed sharply, with a cross expression.

“Oh! Sorry,” Misha yelped before conveying what everyone had said for Shizune’s benefit.

When she was done, Shizune signed [So, Tezuka has been remembering for longer than anyone but Hisao. That’s weird, why didn’t she ever speak up about it?]

“Shicchan wants to know why you haven’t ever said anything to anyone, Rin,” Misha translated.

Rin opened her mouth, but then closed it. She frowned, thoughtfully. Eventually, she said, “I’d rather tell Hisao alone. It’s private.”

With that, Misha immediately stood up and started out of the room. [Misha!] Shizune tried to sign to her, but she was already gone.

“I guess that’s Misha’s way of showing sensitivity,” Hanako remarked, sounding impressed.

“So it would seem she’s more than just the loudest voice in the room,” added Lilly, sounding amused.

Shizune took a step towards Hisao and raised a hand, as if to touch his shoulder, but then stopped. She frowned. Then she prodded his shoulder, and when his sullen face emerged from his hands she signed as quickly as she could, [Not to be a pain in the ass–]

“That’d be new,” Hisao snarked.

[–I can see you’re upset, but Misha just left the room. So I need you to be my ears and voice. What did you just say?]

Hisao chuckled weakly, signing [Don’t worry about it, I was just being an ass.]

Shizune regarded him thoughtfully, and signed [I guess I can’t blame you for that. This nonsense has put a lot of pressure on you.] She stopped, looked deep in intense thought, and continued signing [In hindsight, I haven’t been very helpful in that regard since I started ‘remembering’. I apologize.]

Shizune lowered her hands to her sides and stepped back, signifying she had said her piece. [Thank you, Shizune. That’s a small weight off my chest,] Hisao signed.

Hisao stood up, and walked over to stand in front of Emi. He bowed, deeply. “None of this is my fault, not in any way I can think of…but even so, I’m very sorry I’ve hurt you, Emi. Even unintentionally.”

Emi pouted. “Oh, Hisao…I know you wouldn’t run around behind my back; you worked way too hard to get through to my stubborn ass to be that kind of guy. I just let my emotions run away with me.”

Hisao gave Emi a grateful smile, but she still recognized an inner pain in his eyes. Impulsively, Emi jumped up and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly.

Hisao returned the hug, and she could feel his need in the way he held her, but she could also feel him holding back. He awkwardly patted her back, and then abruptly, though gently, broke the hug.

Emi looked at the other girls. Shizune was staring at her coldly, Hanako looked upset but trying to hold it in, Rin looked fairly unfazed but also more drawn into herself than usual, and Lilly looked the least upset out of them, but most likely because she was so well-composed. She couldn’t see them hug, but surely hearing their words had given her a good enough impression of what they had just exchanged. Hisao looked around the room, saw how the other girls looked, and he had that miserable, pained look on his face again. This time, without so much as a thin veneer of anger for protection, Emi felt the full weight of his torn expression like a punch to her stomach. Hisao, face flushed, nevertheless did the courtesy of telling Shizune what he and Emi had said to each other. Emi presumed he was also apologizing for the hug, but she was actually wrong; Hisao saw no reason to apologize for a hug he hadn’t initiated.

“Brrr,” Emi said, rubbing her arms. “You could make ice in this room.”

Her remark had the intended effect; Hanako looked scandalized, Lilly’s mouth stopped twitching at the corners and her eyebrows shot up, and Rin…well, she looked more engaged with the rest of the room, now, at least. Hisao chuckled dryly. Then he signed what Emi had said, and Shizune raised an eyebrow. To Emi’s surprise, Shizune smiled at her and gave her a thumb-up, as if to say ‘good one!’


1.18 Masterweaver


Gotta Go Fast

Emi stared at herself in the mirror.

"...What the actual... just... what? WHAT?! This is, I can't even, just... what?!"

The reflection that glared back at her in baffled fury was... well, not human. The hands were way too big, the body almost nonexistent, and the round head twice as large as it should have been was covered in orange spikes. It was the eyes, though, that really got to her... or was that eye, singular? They seemed to merge above her tiny black nose.

"I mean," she gestured at the mirror, "this doesn't even--I look like some cheap Sonic expy! AND I'M STILL MISSING MY LEGS! What's the point in being some weird cartoon hedgehog if--why am I even a cheap cartoon hedgehog?!"

"Because everyone is a cheap cartoon animal this loop?" Rin offered.

Emi turned to her, only just then noticing the beak on her friend's face. "Oh. Uh. Wow. Um. Yeah. Okay. That's... yeah. A bird... without, uh..." She considered for a moment. "Wait, does this mean Hisao won't wear pants this time around?"


1.19 Skaz Wolfman


Working Things Out

“So, let me get this straight,” Emi addressed the room again, with Hisao signing her words for Shizune. “For reasons we all can only guess at, everyone in this room keeps bouncing back to the past, to the day we all met Hisao, if what Rin told me is right. Right?”

“Not ‘bouncing’, exactly,” Rin mumbled, shaking her frizzy head. “Bouncing has ‘oomph’; this is more…abrupt?” Rin shrugged, then bounced up and down on the balls of her feet as if to demonstrate her point.

“…riiight. Anyways, if Hisao’s been doing this even longer than Rin, we might all be stuck like this for a very, very long time. Maybe time is broken and things are stuck like this?”

Hisao shivered. “I’ve learned to appreciate Yamaku, but I don’t think any of us want to be stuck here forever.” Shizune rapidly bobbed her head, looking almost nauseous at the concept.

“Rin also said that, except for one time, Hisao has been…aware of the future, I guess? Every time, even though the rest of you aren’t,” Emi continued.

“That’s right,” said Lilly.

“And while Rin has, shockingly, been ‘Aware’ more times than anyone else but me…she still hasn’t been ‘Aware’ nearly as many times as I have,” Hisao added. Again, he looked exhausted just saying this. In spite of themselves, Emi, Shizune, Hanako, and even Rin all exchanged looks of concerns. Lilly aimed a worried look Hisao’s way.

“And, again for reasons none of us have more than wild speculation about…” Emi continued, “Hisao remembers falling in love with all of us, in five separate timelines. If we can believe him, and I assume we all do because while he can certainly be pigheaded, our Hisao is no pig–”

Everyone laughed, in their own way, and the tension in the room loosened a little more.

“–then the first time this happened to him, he remembered all five timelines,” said Emi, “So he never had a chance to pick one of us to be loyal to. From his point of view, we were all First Girl.”

“I mean,” Hisao interjected, “I didn’t get with each of you around the same time in each timeline. So in one sense, I did start going out with some of you sooner than others…but still, the first time I found myself in the past, all five timelines had already happened for me, so…yeah, I’m equally in love with all of you.” He smiled weakly at Emi and said, “Still sure I’m not a greedy little piggy?”

Hisao judiciously decided not to mention the sixth timeline, where he didn’t even survive his first week at Yamaku and thus didn’t get involved with any of them. He tried not to think about it, himself, too much.

Emi sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “And if my memories and what Rin told me she remembers are anything to go by, I’m guessing each of us remembers the timeline where we fell in love with Hisao?”

Nods all around.

“So…now that all of us are together in this absurdity, is…is there a standing arrangement Rin and I should know about? Like…are we…sharing him?” she asked awkwardly, the very question making her feel somewhat uneasy.

No one said anything, at first. Finally, Hanako spoke up. “N-no, no such arrangement exists. We’ve all just…been doing our best not to hurt each other.”

“…oh. So…what do you do when you’re ‘alone’, Hisao? Y’know, all the times no one ‘knows’ anything but you?” Emi asked.

The glassy smile and awkward shrug he gave Emi in reply made her jaw drop. She covered her mouth with one hand. “Oh Hisao. Baby, that is really stupid-sweet of you, but…I mean, that kind of abstinence cannot be healthy for you! I’m surprised you’re not paralyzed from pent-up tension!”

“No kidding,” Lilly muttered darkly.

Emi and Hanako both stared at her. Lilly suddenly blushed furiously and raised a hand to her cheek. “Oh my, I said that aloud, didn’t I? I’m sorry everyone, that was…crude.”

“Uh-uh,” Emi bluntly disagreed, “That was honest. We’re all red-blooded young adults, here. We all have needs. I’m just going to go ahead and assume all of us have memories of sleeping with Hisao. Normally I would exclude Rin from that assumption on the basis that I learned a long time ago not to take anything for granted with her, but I already know from her that even she has ‘intimate recollections’ involving him. Anyone wanna contradict me?”

No one spoke, or moved a muscle.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” said Emi. She folded her arms and continued, “Now, I’m not a hussy and I don’t want to stomp on anyone’s feelings, but I have no intention of going full nun either, and I…I can’t just give up what I have with Hisao, either,” she said passionately. “If you girls’ memories of falling in love with Hisao are anything like mine, I’m pretty sure you all feel the same way about him. This situation is nuts, and totally unfair, but we need to resolve this, immediately. Before one of us fucking explodes.”

Again, no one had anything to say immediately following Emi. By now, the sun had set and it was dark outside. Finally, Shizune started signing, and Hisao translated for her, “You’re not wrong, Ibarazaki, but we’re at an impasse. Lilly, Ikezawa and I, at least, are all disinterested in polyamory, and with Hisao the way he is it would be unfair and even cruel of us to demand he choose one of us. At the same time, despite the distant stance he has taken he’s never shown any interest in forsaking his feelings for any of us, and you were right to think the feeling mutual. There is no obvious solution that doesn’t hurt every one of us with either heartbreak or guilt.”

Emi chewed on that thought. “Well,” she said at length, “If that’s how it is…then, whether we like it or not, the harem set-up is the closest thing we have to a fair solution.”

Predictably, and understandably, no one looked happy with that. Noticing the forlorn look on Hisao’s face, Emi remarked, “Wow, even you, Hisao? Most guys would love to have a harem, that’s why that genre is so popular.”

“I really doubt that, unless most guys are hopelessly gluttonous,” Hisao dryly replied. “The Harem Genre is popular because a lot of guys would love to be that desired. Only a madman, a naïve boy, or an inexhaustible satyromaniac would actually want five girlfriends to spread out his time and energy and…y’know, affections between. Doubly so when the man in question has a weak heart,” Hisao added, tapping his chest significantly.

“…shit, you have a point there. Man, sometimes it really bites that life isn’t more like a cartoon,” Emi muttered.

Once again, silence reigned in the Student Council room. This time, it just stretched on and on, everyone buried deep in his or her own thoughts. After half an hour, Hanako yawned hugely, and then blushed in embarrassment. No one but Emi and Hisao had noticed, but Rin seemed to have nodded off where she was sitting.

“I agree,” said Lilly, “It’s getting late, and it’s obvious none of us are going to figure this out right now. We should reconvene…perhaps not tomorrow, but someday soon. By the end of the week, at least. After Hanako started remembering, Hisao and I agreed that we would wait to see if Shizune, Rin, and Emi started remembering as well, and now that all of us are…well, Emi’s completely right about one thing, at least. We all do need to come to some kind of resolution, or else all of us will be indefinitely miserable and…” she started blushing again, “…cranky.”

“Rin wanted to explain her silence to me privately,” Hisao spoke up. “If it makes everyone feel more comfortable, Shizune can stay to bear witness that nothing happens, I just won’t sign whatever Rin has to say to me.”

Shizune signed, [We have no reason not to trust you, Hisao. And I’m not so voyeuristic as to want to intrude on such a personal exchange.]

Also at the same time, Lilly said “That won’t be necessary, Hisao. We all know you’re trustworthy, and I’m sure Shizune doesn’t want to be an awkward third wheel, anyways.”

Hanako had already staggered drowsily out of the room. Lilly and Shizune followed her lead.

Hisao gave a sudden start when Emi laid her hand on his arm. She smiled up at him, and slowly ran her hand down his arm, saying, “Part of me really wants to spend tonight with you, and…you know, make sure you’re alright, and stuff. I’m not exactly proud of thinking that way, with how things are, but I’m not ashamed to feel that way, either.” Her cheeks were flushed, but not in an embarrassed way, and her eyes were sparkling.

“Emi,” Hisao groaned. She was very close.

Emi sighed, “My mom told me there are times when a woman has to exercise temperance, and I guess this is one of them. Don’t worry, Hisao, I don’t want to make you do anything you’ll regret.”

She wrapped her arms around his ribs and hugged him tightly, and without waiting for him to hug her back she pulled away and started out of the room. “Goodnight, Hisao~”

Hisao spent five minutes catching his breath. ‘I am continually amazed that none of these girls have been the death of me, yet,’ he thought.

When he was confident he would be able to speak to her in coherent sentences, Hisao walked over and gently nudged Rin. She awoke with a start, and stared owlishly at him. Then she yawned and her face relaxed into its customary deadpan expression. She glanced over her shoulder, out the window, and turned back to Hisao. “Evening, Hisao.”

“Hey, Rin. You said you wanted to explain to me, alone, why you never said anything to any of us, about the time repeats? You obviously noticed that we remembered, as well.”

Rin nodded, and said “Loops.”

“…come again?”

“Time loops,” said Rin. “We aren’t repeating time, because repeats are always the same, but we can be different. We aren’t curling, winding, rewinding, skipping, or bouncing through time. We’re looping through time. I found the word in my sleep.”

Hisao smiled and nodded. “Makes sense. Sleep is a good place to find ideas. That’s why everyone else has gone off to bed. But before we follow their lead…why, Rin?” he asked, kneeling in front of her. “You noticed we were acting differently, but you didn’t say anything to us. The others I can understand; you’ve never really been close to anyone in this school, but Emi and me. And Emi wouldn’t have understood until now…but why didn’t you ever say anything to me? You and I got a lot closer than you and Emi ever were.”

Rin nodded her agreement. “When I wasn’t understanding myself, and nothing I was doing made sense to me, really, I felt like I needed to be with just myself to figure myself out. You were distracting me, so I pushed you out of myself. You were also trying to understand me, but you were getting in the way. I needed to be just me, for a while. So I made you go away…and that hurt you.”

Hisao nodded, and waited for her to continue. Rin could usually figure out what she was saying, if you gave her enough time and quiet.

“You looked…I thought you looked like I had felt, Hisao,” she continued. “You seemed lost. Not like before, like you weren’t sure what to do or what to be, but like you didn’t understand what you were. Like everything around you was confusing you. That’s how it seemed to me, anyways. Maybe I mistook a window for a mirror and saw my old self on you.”

“No,” said Hisao softly, “Confused by myself and everything around me…pretty accurate, so far. Go on, Rin, please.”

Rin swallowed, and said in a more brittle voice, “I hurt you by pushing you out, Hisao. I could see that I had hurt you, but I didn’t know how else to figure me out.”

Hisao felt that familiar annoyance creep up, but pushed it down. Berating Rin for restating things wouldn’t help her get the words out.

“I was afraid you would push me back, too, if I tried to figure you out while you were figuring you out. It hurt you a lot, when I did it to you, so I worried it would hurt me a lot if you did it to me. I figured, when you finally figured out what went wrong, you’d come back to me, like I came back to you. You’d reach out to me, not halfway like you have been, but all the way like you used to. Then I’d know that my Hisao was back, and everything was good again.”

Hisao choked, and tears escaped his eyes, and he pulled Rin into a tight hug. He hugged her tightly, not thinking about anything beyond how much they both needed a hug. For her part, Rin returned the hug the best that she could.

Which meant hugging him with her legs, of course.

Hisao’s brain caught on fire, and he became hyperconscious of exactly where all his limbs were in relation to Rin’s body. He focused all of his willpower on not letting any of his limbs stray in any direction until he could think clearly again. It took him a while, but eventually a rhythmic sound drew him out of his hormonal fugue.

It was the sound of Rin very gently not-quite-snoring against his chest, wherein his heart was beating in an oddly fluttery way. After all these years in the ‘time loops’, Hisao had figured out the unique language of his heart. While it was abnormal, the way his heart was beating right now was not dangerous. Not as long as he refrained from dropping Rin and launching into a vigorous spree of jumping jacks, at least.

Hisao carefully stood up, still holding Rin, and exited the room.

Emi was standing, not right outside, but a few feet away from the door. She smiled at him, and Hisao raised an eyebrow. After a brief staring contest in the softly illuminated hallway, she laughed and said, “Don’t worry, I trust you, Hisao. I hung around in case Rin tried to take advantage of your vulnerability. Ya never can be too sure, with her.”

Hisao chuckled at that. “Since you’re both ‘looping’ with us now, you should try to get to know Rin better. It’s frustrating, no lie, but there’s a lot of Rin to get to know. Totally worth the aggravation.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. And ‘looping’?”

“Rin found the word that I’m sure she’s been looking for all day,” Hisao explained.

“Ahhh. That’s good, then. May as well wake her up and put her down, Romeo,” said Emi with an impish grin. “Cuz I can’t carry her to her room, and something tells me it would be a bad idea for you to try to smuggle her into the girls’ dorms.”

Hisao considered Rin’s peaceful sleep-face, and shook his head at Emi while readjusted his hold. “I’ll take my chances. I don’t like waking up girls if I don’t have to.”

“Suit yourself. C’mon, let’s get her to bed then…you sure you can resist jumping into my bed right next door?” Emi asked with an over-the-shoulder smirk as they made their way through the building.

“Emi Ibarazaki, my restraint is as strong as my heart is fragile,” Hisao replied.

And they made their way through the night.


1.20 Tetradrachm


Emi’s Day Off

Clack, clack, clack...

Emi was so glad that running was always fun. Everything else was so boring already, and she had only lived through two time repeats! Hisao had lived through dozens, and even Rin had lived through more than anyone besides Hisao.

Didn’t that technically mean they were older than her, now? Like, a lot older?

Emi frowned as she ran, keeping pace even as the confusing, frustrating thoughts kept distracting her. Usually, she could just shrug them off, or learn to make peace with things when she had to. There wasn’t an easy way to make peace with this crazy time repeat stuff, though.

She didn’t have an easy way to help Hisao, either. Rin was surprisingly content now, happy even, and their usual daily routine and camaraderie was better than ever. But Hisao...

Well, she wanted to comfort him personally, and she knew just how she could do that, but he was keeping everybody at a distance. It stung, and she could see how it hurt the others, too. Rin’s few smiles were directed at him, but so were her frowns.

Gah, she was slowing down. Hastily, she rushed back up to pace. She didn’t have much more time to finish her morning jog...she thought. It was easier to pace herself when Hisao was jogging with her—he always kept track of the time—but he wasn’t at Yamaku yet this time around.

And now she was thinking about the frustrating stuff again. It was practically unavoidable here.

Sometimes she just wanted to race off the track and keep on running, to run out of Yamaku altogether and just keep going. She’d idly thought about it even before time had gone crazy, but now it was a serious pull—she was going stir crazy cooped up here with her worries! But of course she couldn’t do that, or else she’d be later for her first class than she usually was and she’d get into serious trouble.

...in this time repeat.

She didn’t stop running, but suddenly her mind was racing as fast as her legs. If she just ran away for the day, and got in trouble, it wouldn’t matter, would it? Time would repeat and no one would remember! Well, they’d remember for the next month or so, maybe longer, but eventually it wouldn’t matter.

It was going to be at least a few months until she had the freedom to go wherever she wanted. She went to the art supply store with Rin, but that was just a few blocks away. What about downtown, or even farther?

She finished her current loop around the track and then just kept on jogging down the path back to the school. She’d make for the front gate and head straight out; this time of day it was open for commuters.

She grinned. It was exciting to do something different like this! Day in and day out cooped up in the same place, with the exact same classes—she needed this! Hisao needed this too, she realized with a pang. Oh well, maybe when he got here they could do it again together!

Oh, and what about Rin? She’d be upset when Emi wasn’t there for lunch. Well, she’d just have to be back by then. She’d get in less trouble that way, too!

She’d just jog around the town for an hour or two, she decided as she passed through the front gate. She’d seen the town center from the roof of the school before, so at least she had an idea of where things were!


Or at least, she thought she’d had an idea.

She walked around the central square of the town again, utterly confused. None of the shops she’d seen from the roof seemed to be where she’d thought they were. She’d seen them more than once; the cafe was on the right side of the central square, the bookstore was on the left side, and the sportswear store was off a side street!

Or no, wait, wasn’t it on the central square too? She clearly remembered spotting it and talking to Rin about visiting it one lunch...and she also remembered seeing it on the side street, and having the same conversation. What the heck? She stopped altogether, plopping down on a park bench. Was it...was it in a different place each time repeat?

She’d been hoping to get away from the craziness by leaving school, not to make it worse!

She sighed, and glanced at the big clock on the town hall. Was it the town hall? She wasn’t sure. Hell, maybe it was different between time repeats too! It didn’t matter; it said she had twenty minutes till lunch time.

Reluctantly, she got back up and headed towards the school. She was definitely too tired to jog all the way back now. Had she really accomplished anything on this jog? An interesting observation to make to Rin, she guessed. She just didn’t really have time to go do anything that exciting.

Wait, what if she planned, like, a bigger trip? Normally, that would get her in big trouble, but maybe if it was at the very end of a repeat...

She smiled. If she did go somewhere farther, she was totally taking Hisao next time.


1.21 Softly Shadowed, QQ Post


He can watch

"Sooooo, I'm just going to say it. Orgy."

Hisao sighed. "Emi--"

"I mean you don't necessarily have to be there," Emi assured him. "I just thought given that you're somehow at the center of all this for whatever reason, you'd want a bit of a say on how an orgy would go down."

"Look, I don't know how whatever happened happened, and I don't know why I have multiple timelines of memories from before we started looping where each of you girls only have one, but I'm still pretty sane. Trying to juggle so many relationships--"

"Who said anything about relationships?" Emi put her hands on her hips. "I'm just saying, five hot girls and a cute guy having sexy fun together--it's not something I ever expected to even consider happening, but now it's... like we have to do it at least once, just to see if it would work, how we feel about it, you know?"

Hisao leveled a flat look on her. "Do you really think you could convince everyone?"

"Immediately? Not at all. But..." Emi leaned in, smirking. "Would you stop me if I tried?"

"...I have a heart condition," Hisao pointed out. "I don't think I could keep up even if I wanted to."

"That is... admittedly a serious consideration." The girl tapped her chin thoughtfully. "...what if instead of joining in, we just let you watch?"

Hisao rested his head against a nearby wall, trying to hide his blush. "You're still going to have to try to convince everyone."

"Alright, but just so we're clear: Your objections are that you have a heart condition, and it would be next to impossible to convince everyone to join in."

"And that some people actually have emotional ties to sex, so a one-time bang and then bye can actually hurt."

Emi flinched. "Yeaaaaah. Okay, yeah." She considered the ceiling for a moment. "...Still going to try, though."

"Emi--"

"Loooooong term project. Probably not going to happen any time soon."

Hisao began to rap his head against the wall.

"Hmmm... Hanako would probably be the most against it..."


1.22 MaracaRin


Shocked Pink

At some point in the repeats, Hisao had suggested that the girls attempt to contact him after they remember.  He always seemed to have his memories even if the girls didn’t, so it only made sense.

It was always sad, however, having his memories appear without any subsequent calls or messages.

Still, he went through the motions. It had become almost routine at this point: have friends from his “past life” (Hisao internally laughed at the irony) slowly drift away from him, get sent to Yamaku, choose whether or not to introduce himself to his class, and so forth.  Maybe he should do something different this time...?

Eh, I’ll consider it later,  Hisao thought to himself. First, introduction. He started his usual speech.

“Hello! My name is-“

“HICCHAN!”

Everyone’s eyes turned to the interrupting voice. Misha had stood up at her desk, staring and pointing directly at Hisao. Her eyes were wide with disbelief and joy... but laced with a bit of sadness. That would have to be something they talked about. Noticing that the class was focused on the pink-haired loudmouth, Hisao acted quickly, signing to Misha.

[Not now.  I will explain after class, I promise. For now, act normal.]

Misha’s eyes widened to greater sizes, more than Hisao ever thought was humanly possible. Then again, Misha tended to defy logic. Hisao briefly worried that Shizune might have seen him signing, but she seemed to be too absorbed in trying to get Misha to sit down to notice anything. Lucky break.

After Misha had sat down, the class had continued as mostly as normal. However, Hisao knew Misha was impatient, and having her wait for an explanation was not ideal.

...Perhaps “explanation” was a bit too strong of a word.  Hisao didn’t understand what was going on either, but he could at least try to help her.  But first, he needed a time when he could speak with Misha alone.


It took a while, but eventually the opportunity did come. As soon as Shizune was away and there was no one else in sight, Misha started rambling.

“Hicchan, what’s going on? Why are we back in Yamaku? Why doesn’t Shizune remember you? Why doesn’t anyone remember you? What-"

“Misha, calm down.  Breathe.” Hisao tried to comfort the wound-up girl. Her talking slowed, and she grew quiet, looking questioningly at the boy.  He spoke slowly.  “What do you remember?”

Misha thought back. “I remember... you had joined the student council, and eventually you and Shicchan started dating, and I told you how I felt about her and I was sad and you guys tried to help me and I just-“

“Okay, okay.” Hisao cut the girl off before she started rambling again. He cleared his throat, then launched his 'explanation.'  “Misha... for some reason, time has been 'looping', or that’s at least what Rin has decided to name it. We don’t know why or how. I was the first one to remember, and also the one who always remembers. In any given 'loop', Lilly, Hanako, and Shizune, Emi, and Rin can remember, but not always. That’s what we know so far.” He looked back at the girl. “I guess you can remember now too.”

Misha took a moment to process, before speaking up.  “Shicchan is looping? That’s...” she looked sullen for a second, before slipping back into a cheerful facade. “That’s great for you two!~”

Hisao cringed. He always hated having to explain this part.

Misha noticed his expression change immediately.  “What’s... what's wrong, Hicchan? Isn’t it great that you get to spend time with her?” the pink girl questioned.

Hisao sighed.  “Well, uh, you see...” the boy struggled to find the right words. “Um, well..., you remember me dating Shizune, right? She remembers that as well. It makes sense that you would remember it. The thing is, the first time there was a loop, I remembered dating Shizune, yes... but also Rin, Emi, Hanako, and Lilly.  Now I know what it sounds like!” Hisao tried to cover for himself as Misha gained an angry expression.  “But I swear, it was like there was multiple distinct, yet equally real, sets of memories that appeared at the same time.  What’s more, the other girls only remembered the time I spent with them.  So while yes, I am happy to spend time with Shizune, I’m not dating her. I haven’t tried to date any of the girls since I started 'looping'.”

Misha was silent for a second. Then, she put on a flirty look.  “So, why’d you never try to get with me, Hicchan?~” she giggled.

Hisao groaned. “You’ve never been romantically interested in me anyway. Plus...”

“Hicchan?” Misha said worriedly.

“...for every timeline I remember being happy with one of them, there’s one or more timeline where everything is almost the same, but it doesn’t end well. For Shizune... the failure was caused by me taking your offer.”

Misha look confused for a second. “My offer? You mean...” her eyebrows shot up. “When I asked you to comfort me?”

Hisao nodded. “The months after were filled with overwhelming guilt beyond belief. Eventually, it became too much, and everything fell apart.”

There was a momentary silence.

Misha’s mood dropped. “I... caused that?” Her gaze fell, and she wouldn’t look the boy in the eyes.

“No.”

The girl looked up.

“What happened was not your fault," Hisao continued. "I made the choice, the blame is on me.”

“Hicchan, you can’t-“ Misha tried to speak, but was interrupted.

“I have the shame of 7 other failures on my head already. I can deal with it. So don’t have to worry about me. Besides, it seems like we have eternity to get over it, so it won’t be a big deal.”

Misha looked at the boy, concerned.

Hisao didn’t seem to notice, and instead stood up.  “Well, it’s about time we get back to Shizune. You ready, Misha?”

After a second, Misha stood up with a smile on her face.  “Okay!~”


1.23 Masterweaver


Of Ducks and Death

Lilly took a steadying breath, reaching out to knock on the door. "Rin? Are you in there?"

"Yes." The tone wasn't cold, exactly, just unaffected.

"May I come in?"

"Yes." That same, monotone response.

Lilly opened the door, making a careful sweep with her cane before she stepped in. "I apologize in advance if I knock anything over."

"Nothing to knock."

It wasn't hard to make her way over to Rin. A quick tap confirmed that it was the bed she was sitting on, and she gently, carefully, sat down next to her.

"...So... you've been looping for a while now."

"Yes."

"...Were you... was it the looping version of you that, um, asked me to examine that painting a while back?"

"Yes."

Lilly nodded. "Yes, that would explain it. Rin... Rin, I know that your thoughts are on a different motion than the rest of us. And that's okay, you're you, and that's important. It's just... we're in this looping stuff together. And, even with what's going on with us and Hisao... I can't help but worry about you, and Hanako, and everyone who's looping. I know that difficulties communicating might make you want to avoid the rest of us... I avoided Shizune for the longest time, and even now it's not exactly easy. But we noticed you've been more withdrawn then usual--"

"Hisao noticed."

"...Alright, yes, Hisao's the one that noticed. You can talk to him, you know."

"He's not a rubber duck."

Lilly forced herself not to sigh. "I suppose not. He doesn't really squeak, does he?"

"No." At last, there was a tinge of emotion to the voice, a hint of amusement. "He goes all still, like a cat. Good for... for, cuddling, for talking with. But not for talking problems with. Too much of a helper. Help gets in the way of talking to rubber ducks. Do you help people?"

"I... am the representative of my class," Lilly allowed. "I guess I like feeling... needed."

"Hanako would be a good rubber duck."

"...I guess she would," Lilly replied, having no idea what she was even talking about.

"Listen, hum, think. Let me get through the thinking. I've been trying to use the wall as a rubber duck. Doesn't work. Can't picture the face." Rin paused for a moment. "Do you picture faces, when you hear talking?"

"Not really," Lilly admitted. "People are more voices and presence. How they move. What they usually carry. Details like faces, I... I don't have enough for me to really remember. I can feel them, but it's just... a label, like a name. Like you're Rin, and your face is different from everyone else's, but it's not who you are or part of what you do to me--just there."

"That makes sense. You... understand things differently than everyone around you."

"I suppose I do."

"Have you ever died?"

Lilly turned toward Rin. "What? I..."

"I think I died, last loop." The voice was quiet. "I know it wasn't anywhere near where it was supposed to end. I think I took too many pills. I went to sleep, and when I woke up, it was this loop."

"...Oh." Lilly swallowed. "I... didn't realize that was possible."

"Have we been dying every time?" Rin asked. "Is that what this is? Reincarnation?"

"I don't think so... are you... are you okay, emotionally?"

"I don't know. That's why I need a rubber duck."

Lilly, carefully, she wrapped her arms around Rin.

"...This might be better than a rubber duck," the girl admitted.


1.24 Drebom


Recommendation for Misha

It was near the start of a new iteration of the time loop. Misha sat with Hisao and Shizune as usual, working on an assignment that she could probably do in her sleep by now. Hisao was the only other one who remembered everything that had been going on this time around.

Misha glanced across the classroom. Hanako was missing. Not unusual, especially considering that the girl was unaware of the time-loop this time around, but…she sighed to herself.

Misha had never been very close to Hanako before all of this. She had tried to get Hanako more involved in class a few times near the start of the school year, but it had quickly become apparent that Misha’s loud personality was anathema to Hanako. She was timid at the best of the times, and combined with her social anxiety, that meant that a girl like Misha was the last person she wanted to interact with.

Nevertheless, it rankled. They had become friends recently, thanks to the whole time-loop thing. And when she did remember, Hanako, though still not the most confident of girls, was far from the nervous wreck that had slipped out of class earlier that morning. She was more able to hold her own in a conversation, less likely to flee from a stranger, and even her stutter seemed to have subsided.

But when a new loop began, Misha would often see all that whiplash right back into the old Hanako. It was a testament to the power of love in a way, as it showed just how much Hisao had helped Hanako. Not to say that he didn’t do what he could to help her now, of course, but things like that took time. And at the start of a repetition with an unaware Hanako, all of that progress would inevitably go up in smoke. Misha didn’t know how he could stand it. Because even for her, it honestly hurt nowadays to see Hanako like that. Now that she knew how much happier Hanako could be, should be, it just didn’t seem fair. And because of that, Misha couldn't help but want to do something about it.

“Hey, Hicchan?”

Hisao looked up from the sheet of paper he was working on. “Yeah?”

“Are you okay to work alone with Shicchan for a bit?”

“Yeah, why?”

[Are you going somewhere, Misha? Do you feel sick?]

“Ummm…” Misha scratched her head, offering her friends an awkward smile. “I kinda want to check on Hanachan.”

In perfect synch, Hisao and Shizune’s eyes flicked towards Hanako’s empty chair and back. They could be so similar sometimes.

[This is far from the first time Miss Ikezawa has cut class,] said Shizune, brow furrowed. [She will return in time.]

“Hanako likes to have her space,” added Hisao, “You shouldn’t try and intrude on her if she wants to be alone.” There was an intensity in his eyes that made it clear that this was advice to be taken seriously. Misha held up her hands in placation.

“Okay, Hicchan. I’m just a little worried, that’s all.”

“She’ll be fine, I’m sure of it,” said Hisao confidently. Shizune nodded sharply in agreement.

“Okay…” said Misha. Satisfied, Hisao and Shizune returned to the worksheet. After a few moments, Misha sighed to herself, and picked up her pen as well.


In time, the bell rang and everybody went for lunch. Hanako hadn’t returned to class that morning. In fact, going off of Misha’s previous experiences of this exact day, she probably wouldn’t be seen in class again until tomorrow. And despite Hisao’s words, Misha found she just couldn’t ignore the feeling that she ought to at least try and do something .

“Hey, guys?” she said as they got up to leave the cafeteria, tapping Shizune's arm to get her attention. “You can go ahead without me. I need to go and do something real quick.”

Hisao’s eyes narrowed. “Misha…”

“Wahahaha~. I’ll be careful, Hicchan, I promise.” Her laugh was a bit stilted, but she looked into his eyes, trying to convey how serious she was. After a few moments, Hisao’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “Fine. Okay. Just…I mean, don’t…”

Misha cut off his struggle for words calmly. “I know. See you soon~” With that, she waved her hand in farewell and headed quickly in the direction of the library, leaving Hisao to field Shizune’s pointed questions alone.

Slipping inside the library, she cheerfully greeted Yuuko with a wave, and began browsing the shelves, slowly working her way towards Hanako’s corner.

Soon enough, she spotted her quarry. As casually as she could, Misha moved closer and closer along the shelves. When she reached the end of the row Hanako was sitting in, she made a thoughtful hum, trailing her finger over the books on the self. She could see Hanako tensing in the corner of her eye. Well, no turning back now.

Misha took a deep breath, and without looking away from the books spoke in a quiet, calm tone. “Hey, Hanachan? Have you read any good romance books lately? I’m in the mood for one, but I don’t know what to choose.”

There was silence for a long moment. “U-um…” Misha glanced towards Hanako. The other girl was looking up at her, her eyes peeking out cautiously over the top of her book. Misha gave her a calm smile. Please don’t freak out, please don’t freak out…

 After what seemed like an eternity, Hanako raised a shaky hand and pointed towards the other end of the library. “M-Murukami’s…N-Norwegian Wood w-was…pretty good…”

Misha beamed, resisting the urge to fistpump. “Thanks, Hanachan~!” She spun on her heel, and headed in the direction indicated.

“Y-you’re…welcome…” came the quavery voice behind her.

Misha soon located the book in question with little bit of searching and took it to Yuuko to check out, resolving to make sure Hanako saw her reading it in class the next morning. It was a small thing really, but a bit of positive social interaction like this could only help, right? Maybe she could even try asking for another recommendation in a week or so.

Misha smiled to herself. It looked like she had taken the first step to making a friend.


1.25 Tetradrachm


Quizzes and Questions

“I’ll give you about thirty minutes to finish the test. Let me know if you have any questions.”

Hisao looked down at the single sheet of paper and frowned. The questions on this placement test, which he sometimes had to take when he arrived at Yamaku, were always different, but by now he knew the principles behind every question like the back of his hand.

He started to scribble in the answers, his mind elsewhere. His ennui was back in full force recently; despite all the time that had passed and despite how everything was different, it somehow felt like nothing had changed. He was still at Yamaku, still had to go through the same thousand little tasks as always, and if he were unlucky enough to be the only one that remembered the time loops he was completely isolated.

He was even isolated when other people did remember, he considered with a sinking feeling. He’d spend time with whoever remembered and do pretty much whatever they wanted to do, from just hanging out to studying to little dates. But it was always at a bit of a distance, always remembering that there were other people that wanted to be with him, to have him. To love him.

And instead, he pushed them all away, just a little bit.

It was almost natural that he’d have the easiest time hanging out with Misha out of anyone, then; she didn’t love him and want so much from him as the others did. She was just a really good friend, by now, and she was just as comfortable not talking about or thinking about either of their love lives as he was. It was a relief.

Last loop he, Misha, and Rin had remembered, and the three of them had worked on Rin’s latest, rather ambitious mural idea. He and Misha had ended up talking a lot as they helped Rin with her project. Misha was so loud and brash and bright, it was easy to chatter away with her and distract himself for a little while. Rin still wasn’t one for lots of talking, he knew, but he still felt guilty that he hadn’t spoken to Rin as much as he could have because of the awkwardness he felt.

Still, now, after decades had passed from an objective perspective!

He just didn’t know what to do about the overwhelming pressure on him when it came to his loves. He adored them all, but he couldn’t handle it when more than one person remembered. He couldn’t “share” his attentions at the same time. It felt wrong, deep in his gut. And worse, he could always feel the hurt of the others when he expressed his love to one, or at least imagined he did. He felt utterly hopeless, and helpless.

He scratched in the last vector, and idly realized he’d finished the test in less than ten minutes. Back near the beginning of the repeats he had really invested in studying, figuring he could learn enough to really get ahead in life when (if?) time finally progressed. Some of the other loopers still did. Now he didn’t really care anymore, but he still found his studies getting easier and easier each loop, and his knowledge increasing.

“Done so soon?” Mutou asked with obvious surprise as Hisao pushed up from his chair.

“I think so,” Hisao said quietly. He was utterly sure so, but he wasn’t about to say that.

Mutou took the sheet and read over it with a bit more interest than usual. “This is...this is all completely correct,” he said with surprise. “You just raced through that without a problem.”

“I guess so...” Wow, he wasn’t doing so great with talking today, was he?

“Ah, if you have a minute,” Mutou nearly tripped over his words, “would you mind just trying a few more questions?” He pulled out a slightly yellowed sheet from under the desk.

Well, this was new. Mutou seemed shocked and impressed by his quick time, so maybe this was a more advanced quiz? Maybe he would put him on a more advanced track in science, or something. Hisao had already read the most advanced textbooks on every subject the library had to offer, but at least tutoring would be a new experience.

“Sure, no problem,” Hisao answered, taking the sheet.

Yikes, these were tough. The three questions on the sheet combined advanced principles he hadn’t studied in at least a few objective years in new and confusing ways. But, well, maybe he could puzzle it out.

It was something new. And with that slightly lifting thought, he dug in.


1.26 Masterweaver


Hairdo or Do Not

Misha slumped into the chair next to Shizune.

[What's wrong?]

[I cut my hair last night.]

Shizune quirked an eyebrow. [Really? It looks the same as it did yesterday.]

[Yeah, I know. I cut my hair short, went to bed, and when I woke up it was like this.]

[It could be weirder,] Hisao cut in. [There was one loop where you were literally using your hair as a pair of drills in shop class.]

Misha gaped at him. [Don't make things up! I know we're stuck in these repeats but--]

"Ask Hanako, she was there."

Misha rolled her eyes, turning around. "Hanako, was there ever a repeat where my hair was literally drills?"

"Oh, yeah, that one!" Hanako nodded. "That was a weird one. Emi's prosthetics were actual swords, and apparently my scars were in some runic pattern that let me summon and command youkai."

"...you're messing with me."

"Noooope. Strangest thing, Hisao had goat legs."

[What are we talking about?] Shizune asked.

[These two are trying to convince me there are weird repeats.]

Shizune shook her head. [Well, there was that time when my father was an ocean god for some reason...]


1.27 Tetradrachm


Just Another Checkup

Emi kind of felt bad for the nurse.

First of all, she had to call him “the nurse,” instead of any real name, because it changed every loop! This time around his name was Suzaku Tokugawa, and he liked to crack jokes about being a “health shogun.” He was still the same guy, of course, but his name changed who he was just a little bit. It was weird.

“And you’re sure you haven’t had any aches or pains, or chafing on your legs?” he asked seriously. They were both in his office for one of her daily checkups. “You’ve seriously amped up your schedule, we have to make sure your body can handle it.”

“I’m fine, doc, I promise,” she groaned. She had amped up her running, but that was because her body could take it. Something fishy was going on there—each loop her lap times got just a little bit better, and her endurance improved as well. It was almost like, even though each loop she went back in time, some of the skill and strength she gained from working out regularly carried over.

Just another mystery.

“Well, I’ll be the judge of that,” he said seriously. “And I find you’re not telling the truth...” He bared his teeth. “Off with your head!”

Then they both laughed. It was kind of funny, but it was also weird that it was only funny because she remembered him making jokes like that all the time back when she’d been in PT. Most of her didn’t think of him as the “health shogun,” so it was just weird.

Reluctantly she pulled off her prosthetics and let him examine her legs. They were fine; she knew how to be careful by now, and having him check for what felt like the millionth time was starting to get a little frustrating.

“I guess you’re right,” he said, impressed. “They look fine. I’m glad you’re taking care of yourself now.” He gave a huge grin.

She smiled back, but it was forced. He’d said this to her about a dozen times over the repeats the exact same way. It was frustrating, and sad, because he never changed besides the little things like the name.

She felt like she was growing apart from one of her best friends, and there was nothing she could do about it.


1.28 Masterweaver


[Katwa Shoujo][Shelter]

Revelation

Rin hummed thoughtfully as she dabbed at her easel, spreading the color of realization through the manifestation of the webwork of relationships which had lately enraptured her thoughts. The central glowing essence latticed outward, grasping gently at five of the six paired sparks that themselves were caught in the strange orbit of the clock-shaped sun. A rotating hourglass moved between the sparks and the star, its shadow moving cross each spark but the central one in unpredictable turn, the lattice distorted by such shade. Each spark was its own unique blend of color, but the colors themselves showed similarity; undirected anger, confused sorrow, treacherous hope, and in the bonds reaching out to each other a relieved happiness. She wished she could paint more bonds, but it seemed distant.

She became aware of somebody watching her, a frail breathing behind her shoulder. Far enough to give space, but close enough to communicate attention. Another interested in the image, aware not to interfere in the process. Her eyes turned to the breather, a dark-haired girl who looked as though she had not eaten in years sitting in a wheelchair; the girl smiled apologetically, backing off slightly as Rin examined her.

Her name... was Rin, if the memories of this loop were to be trusted. Yes, Rin Tezuka and Rin Asunaro, both talented artists, and Nomiya often joked they had an unrecognized rivalry. Their artworks both appeared to be gatherings of subjects without focus; one landscapes of strange and wondrous beauty, one items filtered through unclear interpretation. An odd parallel that had not happened before.

She turned back to her artwork, and considered it for a moment. A few strokes put cracks in the hourglass, shaping the light through it unusually in certain directions. It wasn't quite right, but one of the lessons she'd learned early on was that nothing was ever quite right when it came to art. It was good enough.

Rin turned back to Rin, nodding for her to speak.

"It..." Rin took another frail breath. "It is filled with apprehension, and anticipation. Clocks and hourglasses... the loops can be strange, can't they?"

"Yes," said Rin. "They can be."

"...Mmm. I would have expected an image of Yggdrasil, but that's a metaphor anyway."

Rin tilted her head curiously.

"...Yggdrasil? The world tree supercomputer?" Rin leaned back. "The reason for the loops?"

"I... don't know what that is," Rin admitted.

Rin nodded. "Right... so, just to make sure, are you looping? Going back to a certain point in time, again and again?"

"Yes. That is... sometimes it isn't the same--"

"Yes, that's normal. Um. Are you the only one?"

"No," said Rin.

"Right." Rin considered for a moment. "I need to explain things. Could you find everyone else who's looping and... meet me in the library after school?"

"No," Rin said. "But I can tell Hisao, and he can find everyone." She considered for a moment. "Do you want them in the library too?"

"Yes. Everyone who is looping. I'd rather only explain once."


Rin Asunaro looked up from her book as she was approached by a collection of girls and one young man. She gave them a nervous smile. "Hello, I... I guess you're the local loopers, huh?"

"Local?" asked the girl whose legs were metal.

"Right, sorry. I, uh, haven't given the welcome speech before... this is my first time." Rin giggled a little. "It's a big one. Oh, before I begin, is there anything I need to know about? Accommodations, or--"

"I am blind and Shizune is deaf," said the tallest girl.

"Shizune?"

The boy cleared his throat. "Right. I'm Hisao Nakai, and these are... uh..."

"I'm Lilly Sautou," said the blind girl, "and this is my friend Hanako Ikezawa." She put a hand on the shoulder of the shy-looking girl with burn scars up her right side.

"Shiina Mikado," the girl with pink hair offered quickly. "Everyone calls me Misha, though. And this is Shizune Hakamichi," she added, gesturing toward the girl with glasses. "I translate for her."

"Emi Ibarazaki," said the girl with metal legs, nodding toward the one without arms. "You already know Rin... and your name is apparently Rin. That's going to get confusing."

"You can call me Rinny," Rin offered.

"Rinny?"

"Yeah, my dad would..." Rin paused for a moment. "Well... you can call me Rinny."

"...Alright." Hisao nodded. "So... Rinny. Misha is fluent in sign language, and the rest of us have... varying degrees of understanding."

"Okay, so... visuals to a minimum." Rinny nodded for a moment, raising her hands. "So... nothing up my sleeves, nothing between my fingers, nowhere for me to hide anything--"

The sudden appearance of her tablet brought varying levels of surprise from her audience.

"Sorry." She couldn't help but give a small smirk. "Had to get my notes."

Hanako tapped Lilly's arm, whispering something in her ear. An explanation, presumably, given how the girl's expression changed.

"Now then..." Rinny settled into her wheelchair, tapping the screen of her tablet. "I think we should start with Yggdrasil. It's... it's like a big computer that's also a tree. And it runs everything. The sun, the stars, microbiology, magic, every universe we know is a program on Yggdrasil, which exists in more dimensions than we can count. Does that make sense?"

The girls (and the guy, why was he even here?) all gave somewhat confused nods.

"Right. So... it's broken."

"Of course it is," Emi muttered.

"Not completely," Rinny assured them. "The administrators--they're, um, people like Thor and Athena and, basically, any pantheon you can name--they're busy fixing what they can. And while they're doing that, they've put the universes into time loops--that way they can keep on existing without putting too much of a drain on the system."

"And we're caught up in these loops," said Misha, watching Shizune flap her hands. "Why us, though?"

Rinny paused. "Wait, did you ask that, or did Shizune ask that?"

"It was Shizune," the girl admitted. "But I'm curious too."

"Well..." Rinny took a moment to refocus. "Right. See, in order for a world to loop, for a loop to run, it has to have a central Anchor point. And as it turns out, souls are pretty good at that. So whenever a new world is activated, somebody is chosen to anchor it. Usually somebody, anyway, there are a few exceptions... but that's not the point. The point is somebody has to remember, for the loop to work, and being alone..."

She shrunk in on herself.

"...being alone is horrible. It... it can really affect a person. Especially if the world seems to have broken... so, um, yeah. One of you, whoever remembers everything, you're the Anchor, and the rest of you, you're... there to support them, emotionally. Keep them mentally stable. Because if they aren't mentally stable, then the loop itself deteriorates."

She glanced up, noticing all the girls turning to look at the one guy.

"...Mental support, huh?"

The boy rubbed his neck awkwardly. "Emi--"

"No, no," the girl with metal legs held up her hands, "it makes a lot of sense. Of course the best way to support a guy is with care and love--"

"Emi!" snapped Lilly. "That's enough. He didn't expect this."

Rinny held up a hand. "Um... what am I missing?"

"Everyone here--"

"Except me," said Misha.

"--except for Misha," the blind girl conceded, "fell in love with Hisao before we started looping. And he remembers all those timelines."

"Ah." Rinny nodded. "That... I think I've heard of situations like that. Hold on, let me check my notes." She tapped her tablet a couple more times. "Right... ah. Here it is. 'Fractured potentiality: due to the damage to the multiverse, some realities have variable baselines, with outcomes based on a few crucial decisions. These realities are generally backed up in the Hub as video games or visual novels--'"

"The hub?"

Rinny nodded to Hanako. "Yes, the hub. It's... like, different universes have different amounts of damage, and the Hub is the one that's so stable it doesn't need to loop. It's like the trunk of the tree, so... well, um... the admins store backups in the Hub files, which inspire the natives to write fiction that matches up with--"

"Wait, wait, wait." Emi held up her hands. "Fiction? There's... a world where all this, all of us, we're just... what, visual novel characters?"

"And where I'm the star of an anime music video," Rinny confirmed. "Here, let me just put your name into the search engine... ah, here's the TVTropes entry. Good to have that stored, Xiaomom was right. 'Katawa Shoujo, translated as Cripple Girls, is an English-language Bishoujo Game Visual Novel developed by 4 Leaf Studios using the Ren'Py engine. It's also an eroge, though the explicit content is a small part of the overall game and can be disabled if the player so chooses....'"

She trailed off, looking over the entry. "...oh. Hmm. Well, that's... awkward."

"Holy shit," Emi muttered in flat horror. "We're cripple porn."

Everyone else went silent and stared at her.

Shizune raised an eyebrow and poked Misha, who signed a translation for her. Her jaw dropped, and she immediately cuffed Emi upside the back of the head.

"Ow! Okay, I could have worded that differently, but that's what we are!" the runner defended herself. "I'm allowed to freak out at least a little!"

"Uh..." Rinny looked over the article. "It does say that the game treats you all very respectfully, and, um... oh. Hmm. Misha, I... don't think you're on this list?"

"What?" Misha snapped. "Wait... why am I even offended, I'm gay. Of course I wouldn't be on the list--wait, if Shicchan is on the list, then there are pictures of her--"

Shizune's hands were moving too rapidly to understand, her enraged glare communicating her thoughts much more clearly.

"Oh god..." Lilly swallowed. "That... our private moments..."

Emi tried a weak laugh. "Uh, well, at least we know we can still get people hot to trot, right?" She gestured at Hanako. "I mean, who doesn't love the adorable burn victim?"

A strangled, twisted squeak emerged from her throat.

"Oh. Uh. Shit."

Lilly shook herself, putting a gentle hand on her friend. "It's... it's okay, Hanako. It's... uh... well, okay, it's not okay, but we're all in the same boat?"

Hisao slumped into his seat. "Oh god... is this my fault?"

"No," Rinny said firmly. "Absolutely not. You didn't break the multiverse, and you weren't the one that backed up your world in the hub."

"But I was the one who romanced five different girls across thirteen different timelines."

"Well, it may have been the same soul, but it was repeated across thirteen worlds... I... think." Rinny shrugged. "Temporal soul mechanics aren't my strong suit."

"And now there's a world where--girls, I am so sorry, I never meant for it to--"

"Why is everyone so upset?" Rin asked.

Everyone turned to stare at her.

"...because a bunch of strangers have seen us naked?" Lilly replied hesitantly.

"And we've seen a bunch of strangers naked," Rin replied.

"No, we haven't."

"Well, we're fictional in the hub because our backups are stored on it," Rin pointed out. "So what if our fiction is the result of backups of other universes that are looping?"

"I... think it's not entirely how it works," Rinny mused, "but I do know that a lot of what I thought was fictional are actual loops."

"And a lot of what is fictional is used to influence hentai doujinshi," Rin concluded. "So that's a bunch of real people that can be seen naked easily."

Another moment of total silence filled the room as they considered her words.

"...I mean," Rinny mused, "I guess she's not wrong ..."

"Oh god." Misha dragged a hand down her face. "I'm never going to look at 'Nanoha on the planet of squid women' the same way again."

Emi blinked at her. "Sorry, what?!"

"Oh like you haven't looked up weird doujinshi!" Misha snapped.

"I've been too busy getting with real people," Emi countered with a smirk.

"Well guess what, it turns out Nanoha is real--and, okay, probably happily married to Fate, which... kind of..." Misha shook her head. "Look, the point is... I don't know what the point is."

"Maybe we should get back to talking about what you need to learn about the loops," Rinny suggested. "Like, how to ping when you Wake up in a new loop, how to generate a subspace pocket... oh, and an important thing. The Anchor can't be allowed to die."

That caught everyone's attention.

"A loop needs an Anchor to run," she explained. "Could be the local one, or a visiting one. But if all the Anchors in a loop die, the loop crashes. Unless it's a loop with a functional afterlife... so, yeah. If Hisao--you are the Anchor, right?"

"I think so..."

"Right, if Hisao dies, loop crashes, and you go on to the next loop. So... don't let that happen." Rinny nodded firmly. "And... wow. This didn't go the way I expected it at all, huh? Maybe, maybe we can talk about it later. Let's say saturday? That's when we can start talking about things."

"Later is good," Hanako managed. "I... I have so much to think about..."

"We all do," Hisao agreed. "Uh... Saturday."

"My place," Lilly offered. "I can tell Akira I'm having a study group."

"Somebody's going to need to take me there," Rinny pointed out. "Muscular atrophy. But that sounds like a plan. I'm going to need to explain a lot of other things..."