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‘Of course I’m angry; I can’t believe I’m here fighting like this. It’s pathetic.’

*~*

 

In the before it rains.

This is how Nao thinks now, this is the way she defines her – their – life now. In the before, the after and the during the game – the same game which once upon a time had been nothing to her, nothing but a horrible, distant law that she thought, idly, would never affect her at all. She wonders, briefly, if this is how they all feel, all those students who found themselves playing Battle Royale; like the game was something that could never touch them, until one day it did and their lives changed forever.

In the before she never thinks about it, not really, and in the after, it’s all there really is.

The game has become, and rather quickly too, the defining moment of her life; the line that had somehow managed to divide her short life into two very different worlds. Into the before, where they’re innocent, care-free children with their whole life in front of them, and the after, where they are hardened, wounded, survivors, where any future they thought they might have had somehow, inexplicably, slipped through their fingers and disappeared.

In a way it reminds her of the white line Takeuchi spoke of, the one separating the winners from the losers.

They – all of them, every last one except for Shintaro, brave and at the same time so stupid – had crossed that line, all of them taking that step from innocence into survival, without even, truly, thinking about it. It was not as if they had much of a choice, as was clearly proven when Shintaro refused determined to stand for what he believed in. And here they were now, at the end of the story, at the end of that part of their lives, survivors of a dreadful game. Somehow she had done it, somehow she’d survived, not only had she crossed the line but she had, somehow, managed to make it to the end. She is a winner, but in no way at all does she feel like one.

It’s not important anymore, nobody will ask, nobody will truly care.

She wishes she could think of something besides the death of her friends and the fear that she could still die any second.

That is probably why she is currently focusing on the rain of all things.

This is the way it is, in the before it rains, in the after it rains as well, it however does not rain during.

She’s not sure if it means something.

 

*~*

‘See that white line on the floor? There are only two sides in life, the winners and the losers. Anyone who crosses the line…has the guts to be a winner. This is the line that divides good from evil. It’s white or black. There’s nothing in between.’

*~*

 

Somehow it doesn’t actually feel real.

This is what it feels like, like everything that has happened since they stepped of that bus has been nothing but a strange dream; because this can’t be Haruya’s life at all. In some strange way, and he really couldn’t explain this if someone were to care enough to ask, it is almost like he’s stepped outside of his body and is simply watching the story unfold. It’s strange and surreal and wrong and he’s sure he’s not explaining it right, not even to himself, but it’s not like any of it matters anymore.

Later, much, much later, he’ll classify his emotions as shock and denial.

He suspects that the shock is completely natural; he suspects they’re all in shock, because no matter what any of them thought would happen it definitely wasn’t this. Haruya certainly hadn’t, the thought hadn’t even crossed his mind, not after he’d already watched his older sister end up in the game. Not after she came home one day – all bruised and bleeding, in shock and strangely, despite everything, not there.

It had never occurred to him that he too could end up in the games, because his sister already had.

He thought he – and by extension his friends – were safe.

That, he supposes, is just stupidity.

The feeling of denial, well that he really can’t explain, but it’s there, he can feel it, just like he can feel dozens of emotions, none of which he could actually name. It’s almost like, if he just spends the entire time denying this is actually happening to him, to them, then it really isn’t happening – not that that makes any sense, but then nothing does anymore. This is how he deals with it – the guns and the death and the murder and the fear – this is the only way he knows how, by denying anything is happening at all.

He wishes the feelings would last forever, they don’t.

It is, no matter how much he would want to do it, rather hard to deny it is all happening when he watches his friends die one by one. When he stands at one side of the room, staring at Shintaro – always strong, always right, always standing tall – fall down, the first victim of a sensless game (war). The shock too will fade, he knows, because these feelings – no matter how welcome – will not help him at all during the game. Once the game starts, once they’re in those boats, those feelings will be gone and he’ll be left with an instinctual feeling to fight for survival.

In a dangerous situation the human only has two responses: fight or flight.

This is why they actually play.

This is why even after watching friends die and boats explode, as bullets barely miss them, all of them, the survivors, still keep going. It is an instinct, they want to live, to survive, even if they know, deep down, that they have no chance at all.

Because for them there’s only one response, fight, for the other has been taken away.

The shock comes back when he finally makes it to the hide-out only to see his sister staring down at him. He remembers her from the before, before she’d ended up playing the game, she’d been kind, stubborn, quick to be angry but she had loved him, this he knows, more than anything else. Their father, though he loved them, had never really been home, always off to work, and they’d been left with nothing but each other. She used to read him stories and sing him songs, make up strange games to play, their lives were perfect.

And then one day she was gone, gone off on a school trip and ended up in the game.

During those three days, even if he really hadn’t understood what was going on, he’d known something was wrong. He’d known because his father had been home, all worried, staring at the phone as if he was willing it to ring – yet every time it did he almost looked afraid to pick it up – and he hadn’t really understood then, but he understands now. Then she was back, but it wasn’t really her, she was angry and lost, scared and somehow, strangely enough, dead.

Two weeks later she was gone without even a word of goodbye, all she’d left was a pocket knife and a note saying ‘I’m sorry.’

Two months later his father had decided he’d gotten in enough trouble and sent him away to Shikinatorido.

He didn’t keep the pocket knife; he gave it to Shibaki who – in a strange twist of fate – used his sister’s knife to almost kill their teacher.

Years have passed since then and now, finally, they are both in the same place again and a part of him wants to be happy and thrilled but all he can feel is anger and betrayal. Because when he looks at her he no longer thinks of stories and songs but of dead friends and bullets that actually manage to hit him. And it hurts, it hurts that the sister he loves so much could be the one who shot him and is definitely the person who killed some of his friends.

In the end he’s back to shock and denial.

Truthfully he prefers it that way.

 

 

*~*

The thing people fear the most isn’t death, it’s being forgotten.’

*~*

 

 

Their bodies float in the cold water, they color the ground red.

That is, in the end, how Nao will remember her friends and classmates, it is not, in any way, how she wants to remember them but it does not seem as if she has much of a choice. This is the way her life, their lives, are now. The game that has ruined so many lives before has now also ruined theirs. And she can’t tell, can’t remember, how or even when her friends died. Their arrival at the island had been so chaotic that she couldn’t tell what came first.

It doesn’t really matter, it never will, even if she wants it to.

Most of the ones who died in the boats died in the blaze of explosions and gunshots. Half of them hadn’t even made it to the island and even less had made it close enough to Nanahara Shuya at all. It had been fast, this she knows, and she hopes, desperately, rather painless. A part of her wonders if the rain, which has been falling since they arrived here, has managed to wash away all the blood or if it has become a permanent part of the island now.

It matters little and it doesn’t make sense, but then nothing does anymore.

She’s not even sure how much time has passed.

At moments it feels like days, months, have passed since they all stepped on that bus, but really it was just yesterday. Their game had, in the end, not even lasted a day, which is some kind of an accomplishment; though not one anyone should be proud of. It did not, she realizes later, rain during the game, for which she is extremely grateful. It had been difficult enough to get up here as it was, she couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like to attempt to make it through the cold rain and the mud. Then again, if she really thinks about it, if it had rained perhaps the Wild Seven wouldn’t have been able to see them and more of them might have survived, or perhaps they would have all frozen to death.

These are the things she’ll never know.

The night before the game they’d snuck out of their rooms, to celebrate the fact that they survived another year (oh, the irony.) She remembers Shugo and Taku rolling through the mud as Shintaro, Haruya and Shibaki took bets on who would win ‘the fight’. She and Asuka had been laughing about stupid things while Kurusawa and Jo had simply been there. That is how she wants to remember them: playing silly games, laughing all the time, being just children. In the end they’d snuck back in their rooms, just a few hours before they were supposed to leave and Shintaro had, rather jokingly, said that they’d all end up ill in bed – and oh god how she wishes they had been too ill to get out of bed.

Kurusawa had joked about being too tired to go on their school trip.

Shintaro had laughed and asked why anyone would not want to go on an all-expense paid trip.

Less than eight hours later Shintaro lay dead and the game began.

San, Ni, Ish

 

*~*

‘What the hell are you guys doing?

Why the hell should we have to fight?’

*~*

 

For as long as he can actually remember Taku has been angry.

It had always, ever since he was a small boy, been an emotion that came quite easily to him, even though at times he could not explain why. There were those, particularly in his old school or among the staff of his parent’s house, that swore he had nothing to be angry about and he supposes, from their point of view, he really didn’t. His parents gave him everything he desired, everything but their love and attention – his father always being too busy with work and playing golf and his mother to busy planning parties, to actually remember they had a son who needed them.

So he’d get angry, start fights, in an attempt to get their attention, even when he shouldn’t really be angry.

In the end he’d been left standing outside of his new school in the pouring rain as his mother drove away, not even contemplating coming inside with him. After that moment they’d send money, so he could buy whatever he wanted, but they never wrote nor did they ever call him, as always everything else was more important than the son they could not control. He wonders if they know, if they’ve been told that he’s playing the game, he wonders if they care or if they’re ignoring it, like they ignore everything else.  He wonders too when the parents of those playing are told: before, after or during? It matters little, he supposes, most will never see their child again, nor will they get to say goodbye, should they wish to do this.

Perhaps they are sitting by the phone, his parents, praying that he comes home.

It matters little, he supposes, the anger that used to take him over completely when he thought of them had long since disappeared and, compared to how he was feeling now, it was nothing.

Strangely enough in a school filled with outcasts and losers, his anger had mostly faded.

It was, he supposes, because they were all angry – and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were those in his class that had more reason to be angry than him but they never showed it – but mostly, mostly it was because of the friendships. For the first time in his life he felt like he had real friends – friends like Shintaro who could calm him with a simple word or Shugo who could make him laugh even when he felt there was nothing to laugh about – and they had changed him. Somehow they had managed to do what his parents had never managed: calm him down and teach him how to hide his anger. At times it reared its ugly head, mostly during their rugby games, but mostly he was calm.

That anger, at the parents who neglected him, was nothing compared to how he felt now.

This time he was justified in his anger – they were all angry, he knew this, how could they not be – and for the first time in months, years, there was nobody to hold him back, nobody to calm him down. Shintaro was long dead, the first of them to fall, a mere boy who had been brave enough to die for what he believed in, even if Taku wished he hadn’t been. And though Shugo lived, which really had been a miracle all in itself, he was severely wounded and nobody had been able to tell if he would live.

Despite all that he had been calm, mostly for Nao’s sake.

She needed him to be calm, to think before he acted, for if he did not he ran the risk of killing her as well. He had to protect her, his friend, even if it was the last thing he did.

After they had finally made it to the hide-out, after they stood face to face with Nanahara Shuya, his anger had really only manifested once. He’d attacked him then, in anger and grief, and the other man hadn’t really fought back – he understood, Taku knew this no matter how hard it was to accept, but it didn’t change all he had done.

It didn’t matter; this is what their life was now.

He had to stay calm, for Shugo had no strength to spare to calm him down, the girls were too afraid and they were all, without a doubt, lost and alone.

All the anger in the world would not help them now.

Nothing could.

 

*~*

‘Really trusting someone it’s a hard thing to do.’

*~*

 

Nao actually understands them.

 

It’s strange and confusing but this is the way it is, she understands them. The Wild Seven who had caused so much pain, who’d killed innocents and ripped apart families – families of people she once knew, for they’re all gone now, and of people she did not. She understands them, despite the fear and pain they caused her and her friends, despite the deaths of her friends. She doesn’t want to, a part of her is horrified by the feeling, because of all they’ve done yet, at the same time, it’s somewhat logical. Somewhere, somehow, they are the same after all. Each and every one of them, chosen by the adults to play Battle Royale, victims all of them, send off to kill until only one is left standing.

They’re the same and, yet, as different from each other as they could be.

Strangely enough - and really in light of all that happened perhaps somewhat ridiculous and unbelievable – she’d never actually seen the video of the Wild Seven. Besides Shiori and Kurusawa – who’d really only seen it by accident – none of them had, but she had known, as they all had, what it was they’d said – and not just because Takeuchi told them. They’d declared a war on all adults, which sounds ridiculous when she thinks about it, and this is how it had ended.

They’d done it to protect, this she knows, but in the end they’d destroyed.

They hadn’t meant to, she knows, but their actions, as understandable as their motives were, had ended up creating a new game. And so they’d turned from victims to creators, from survivors to attackers, and they’d ended up killing the ones they’d sworn to protect. It really is somewhat ironic, she thinks, the way things turned out. This is not what they thought would happen, she knows, but this is what had happened and now they had to live with, live with the knowledge that they had failed and become those they despised so much.

Yet, despite all that happened, no matter how much she’s earned the right, she doesn’t hate them.

She regrets it too, for hate would be easy. It’s not like she lacks a reason, the island is full of them and so are her memories, and yet she can’t. Instead of hating, instead of making everything easier for herself, she understands, she feels for them, a part of her even pities them. Because she knows why they are here, she knows how they came to be and what they went through, if only in theory. They were only here because once upon a time their class had been chosen and their friends had all died, perhaps even by their own hand.

So she doesn’t hate them, she can’t, instead she understands.

But all the understanding in the world won’t change what happened to them, what they did.

Nothing they can say or do will ever be enough.

So she understands, really she does, but it doesn’t help, not at all.

 

*~*

‘We have so many things we’ve never learned and never tried, why are we here fighting a war?’

*~*

 

It’s not until after they escape the island that Nao even thinks about their school.

She wonders, idly, about their exams and grades, about next year and the things they would’ve learned, as if any of that matters at all. All that happened in the before, everything that had been a part of their live, they must now forget, or if not forget at least pretend to. Forget their family, the few they had, and their friends, who must by now know what had happened, and their stuff, none of it matters anymore. Still despite that knowledge once the thought of school enters her mind she can’t banish it, can’t stop thinking about the exams they studied for, can’t stop thinking about the life they should have had.

When, she wonders, are the teachers told? Had Takeuchi known during their exams? Or had he, like all of them, been taken by surprise? And why had they even been chosen? Had it been like all the others a simple draw? Had it been bad luck that got them there on that island? Or had they been chosen, picked out of millions, just because of who they were? They were outcasts, she knows, thrown away, they’d matter to no-one but a handful of people and among them had been those who had lost it all because of Nanahara Shuya. Was that the reason they were chosen?

It matters not, how or even why, they’re here now and nothing will change that.

Perhaps this is the reason why thoughts of school and exams even entered her mind, for it was better, far better, than thinking of all that had happened over the last few days. Beside her, lying in the dark shivering, Shugo stirs, caught in nightmares his fever brought on – though she suspects he, like the rest of them, doesn’t actually need a fever to bring on nightmares. It was a miracle that Shugo had survived at all, she knows, but it was an even bigger miracle that his fever and the infection hadn’t started until after they got off the island.

She thought he died when he got shot, all her fault, but he had lived.

And Kurusawa, angry and calling them all idiots, had been the only one thinking clearly enough to realize that Miki was panicking and she needed someone to get her, not just someone to scream at her. And somehow, though she could never explain how, he’d made it up the island, without further wounds, into the lair of the Wild Seven and beyond though Miki, regretfully, had not. It had been a joint effort, all of them working together to make sure he made it there, to make sure nobody got left behind, even those that before didn’t really care about each other. She wonders if some of them, perhaps even most of them, hadn’t hoped – deep inside where they’d never acknowledge it – that once they got up there the wild seven would save them, had that, after all, not been their objective?

It doesn’t really matter, all that matters is that Shugo is alive and by her side, even if Taku is not.

Kyoko starts to sing, a soft song, meant to calm the baby in her arms and the friend lost in his feverish dreams. It isn’t long before they’re all – beside Haruya who sounds like a drowned cat when he sings – join in and somehow, though she can’t explain how, it calms not just Shugo but all of them. This is what they do now, sing songs, tell strange stories, and pray that the game won’t claim another victim. She wonders if Shugo knows what’s happening, if he’s aware they’re with him, though his best friend is not and may never be again.

Taku might be dead, it is a thought she wishes wouldn’t come and yet she cannot forget it.

He hadn’t said goodbye, hadn’t taken her hand, he’d just left.

He might never come.

The game was over, they were relatively safe, and yet, despite all that it could still claim victims. Shugo could still die; Taku, Shiori, Shibaki and the others might be dead already.

The seven of them might be the only ones left.

She closes her eyes, listening to the soft song, and wills herself to think of schools, tests and graduations they’ll never have.

It’s better that way.

 

*~*

‘We were always a team, but there’s nobody to hold you back now.’

*~*

 

None of them had known what Nanahara Shuya looked like.  

In retrospect that was their biggest problem, and really it was rather worrying, because in the end the sole purpose of the game had been to kill him. Really someone should have shown them at least a picture but then nobody knew who the other Wild Seven were so what did any of it even matter? And really, when Nao thinks about it, shouldn’t the members of the Wild Seven have been somewhat logical? They were after all the survivors of the game and as such someone should have known who they were. She wonders why none of them considered, even for a second, that Haruya’s sister might be one of them, and then she wonders if that had been going through Haruya’s mind as he made his way up the island.

It’s not something she’ll ever ask him and it’s not something he’ll ever tell.

In the end she sees Nanahara Shuya alone only once, which isn’t really that surprising. There was, after all, always someone around him to protect him – logical really since pretty much every adult in the world wanted him dead, not to mention the fact that she and her classmates didn’t exactly have warm and fuzzy feelings for him. And it’s not like she’s ever alone, none of them ever are, except for Shiori who sneaks ofg once and finds a piano of all things – and really what was a piano doing in a place like that anyway? Out of all of them Shiori was the only one to even talk to Nanahara Shuya, but she wouldn’t tell them what they talked about and truthfully none of them had really cared.

She remembers however that before the game she hadn’t really cared about him either way.

She’d felt sorry for her classmates and all those who lost family and friends that day in Tokyo, but truthfully the Wild Seven had never crossed her – their – mind, why would they after all? He had been just a name, just one of the survivors of a ruthless and senseless game who had in the end gone crazy, and really what were they expecting? They send off children, left them alone on an island with the instruction to kill each other until only one was left. It is not as if that survivor wouldn’t be traumatized and quite possibly completely mad. Briefly she wonders what would have happened if he hadn’t survived, if another member of his class had been faster or stronger than him.

Perhaps nothing would have happened; perhaps it would have been worse.

It’s not like it matters.

That one time she sees him alone he’s sitting, leaning against a wall, staring at a picture lying in front of him. He doesn’t know she’s there, or he doesn’t care, and for a moment she wonders what he thinks of, if his thoughts are calming him or tormenting him. The picture of his classmates – for that is who the children in the picture must be, the pose makes it kind of obvious – the ones lost and dead on another island far away. It’s a reminder that he too had been caught in this game; he too had been a victim once.

It is the first time she feels sorry for him, the man – boy really – who’d caused all their pain.

She feels sorry for him, for them all really, because once upon a time, not even that long ago, they had been like her and her friends.

She leaves him sitting there, never saying a word, trying to forget everything she now knows.

All of them, his friends and hers, his class and hers, all of them victims.

Somehow.

 

*~*

‘Nobu…Kawada… All you guys. I’m not wrong, am I? I’m fighting, with the best of you right?’

*~*

 

From the moment he stepped off the island guilt had become a part of life.

He doesn’t even really register the feeling anymore and, truly, he prefers not to think of his own guilt. He had been responsible for the death of two people in his own game after all, though one had really been an accident. Instead he prefers to focus on the guilt of the adults who’d done this to him, to all of them, the ones who’d decided that the game was a good idea. At first, in those first few months after escaping, he thought he could learn to live with it, him and Noriko together. But in the end the guilt, and the pain, had become too much for them and they’d returned to Japan, in search of redemption of some sort. Instead they’d found others like them and they’d hoped that together they could make sense of it all. Then the plan that brought them all here had been born.

This wasn’t supposed to happen, those kids weren’t supposed to get caught in the crossfire.

All those kids, innocent just like him and his classmates had once been, lying motionless on the island that had become his refuge. He couldn’t stop thinking about them, those he was supposed to be helping, and this guilt he could not ignore, for these were no longer accidents. But in the end there was nothing he could do for them anymore, they were beyond help, but the survivors were not. He sees it in their eyes anger and blame and sometimes even a little hatred, though less than what he thought he would see. And they deserved it, all that anger and resentment, nobody could deny that. It hadn’t occurred to them, not at all, that this might be the response of the adults to their proclamation – and really considering these were the same people who created Battle Royale in the first place they really should have considered the possibility.

It was too late for that now, too late to save any of them, too late to even help the survivors.

They too were lost now, like he was.

The wounds still felt raw, the pain of losing his friends and classmates had never really gone away, he remembers them still. Yuki and the lighthouse girls he hadn’t been able to help, Nobu who had been the first to go, Mimura who had he’d found just too late and Sugimura who had saved his life only to lose his own; and finally Kawada, so brave, who had saved him and Noriko and almost, almost made it.

The guilt would never fade either.

Not for the friends he couldn’t save nor for the new kids he couldn’t protect.

All he could do was add names and friends to the growing list of people who lost their lives because of the game.

Pain and guilt were all he could feel now.

And that would never change.

 

*~*

‘Think it over, Shintaro. You’ve spend your whole live losing. This is your last chance.’

‘I haven’t lost yet.’

*~*


If Takeuchi had told them everything, Shintaro would have lived.

Or, at the very least, he would have stood a chance, he would have made it to the boats – their arrival on the island had been so chaotic that Taku couldn’t tell if Shintaro would have made it, had he not died before he got the chance to try. If Takeuchi had told them everything, instead of keeping some details to himself, things would (could) have been different. But he hadn’t, for reasons Taku couldn’t understand, instead he had spread out all the details and rules, as if he was taking pleasure in watching them squirm and for the life of him Taku doesn’t understand why.

Had he been ordered to do things a certain way or was he just sadistic?

He’d liked Takeuchi, he’d been eccentric and out of his mind, but he’d been a good enough teacher. There had been something in his voice when he spoke to Shintaro in the end, as if he really wanted him to live, to at least try even if he did not believe. It doesn’t matter in the end; Takeuchi hadn’t told them and Shintaro, brave and kind, had stood up for what he believed in. He’d ignored all their please, of both his girlfriend and his friends, and even the less than kind words from Kurusawa – though a part of Taku acknowledges that that had been his very strange way to get Shintaro across the line.

He wonders what would have happened if they had all been as brave as Shintaro and refused to cross the line. Would it have made a difference? Would they have forced them or simply killed them all and chosen another class? Does what could have been even matter?

This is how it had happened: Shintaro had died for what he believed in and Taku had known he was right.

Even though he wishes that the thought to refuse had never crossed his best friend’s mind.

And he knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that everything would have been different if Takeuchi had just told them all the rules in the beginning, especially the linked collar rule – which really didn’t make any sense at all. Because Taku knows that Shintaro believed that the game was wrong, and of course he was right, and he had believed that standing up and refusing to play the game was the only answer even if it meant his own death. But he would never have condemned someone else, especially not someone who wanted to try and live, he would have argued, spoken out, but in the end he would have crossed the line.

Shintaro was the bravest and best among them.

And after everything Taku still couldn’t get his head around the fact that Shintaro – always so calm – had died and he had somehow survived. If someone would have asked him, before all this happened, he would have told them that out of both of them Shintaro had the best chance of survival. His anger, always close enough to the surface to flare up in a moment’s notice, would have taken over. In the end it had almost happened, it had almost been him who died, for he had almost attacked Takeuchi. It had been Shiori who saved him, the only one fast enough to push him out of the way, the only one out of all of them who’d actually accepted the game – and he really doesn’t know why, he’d never thought to ask and now, that they were finally of the island, it was far too late, for she was dead.

The second he’d hit the ground he’d know, without a doubt, that there really was no choice.

If Takeuchi had just told them all the rules in the beginning, everything would have been different.

But he’d lied and Shintaro had died.

 

*~*

 ~Friends~ Shintaro

‘Thanks for everything.’ ~Nao

*~*

 

Asuka used to write Nao letters.

She’d loved doing it, despite the fact that they saw each other every day, and Nao had loved getting them. Some were long others short; all of them filled with little anecdotes and longer stories, filled with random thoughts that popped into her head at any given time, things she had just needed to tell her best friend even if the subject itself had already been discussed to death. And Nao would write back, without a fail, letters filled with random thoughts and anecdotes, but in the end Asuka always started it. That had been the way their friendship started, so many years ago, back when she’d been the new kid – completely traumatized after the divorce of her parents and the bullying of her peers.

Asuka had sent her a letter filled with questions starting with ‘What’s your name?’

Ever since that moment they’d been best friends and Nao had been, despite her reservations, pulled into Asuka’s world. They’d done everything together, alongside those friends that ended up in the rugby team, and together they’d become the co-captains of that same team. She’d been the first to know that Asuka and Shintaro were dating, along with every single detail of their relationship, and in the end she’d been the one to hold her after he died as they waited to be lead to their doom.

She still hears her screaming for her, desperate, alone and afraid.

She’d tried to get as close as she could get without jumping out of the boat and swimming towards hers, screaming Asuka’s name. She doesn’t know if she heard her, if she’d known that someone was there for her, but she hopes that she did.

She hopes that at least Asuka heard her voice. 

On their way here, before they’d known where they were going, Asuka had been writing in a small notebook she carried around, filled with random things. Somehow she’d managed to slip it into Nao’s pocket without her noticing; fully aware that at some point Nao would find it. She’d found it, before they fell asleep, but with all that happened Nao had quite forgotten about the notebook and the last letter. She hadn’t thought of it at all, not even when Asuka died, for their survival was all that mattered in that moment.

She’d found it in her pocket that first night in the hide-out.

Somehow it had managed to survive it all, somehow the notebook was still intact and yet, despite that, she hadn’t wanted to read Asuka’s final letter. Mostly because it wasn’t supposed to be, Asuka hadn’t written it with the thought of saying goodbye, it was meant to be one in a chain, there was supposed to be an answer to it. It was a letter written by a friend fully confident that there would be a tomorrow, there would be nothing in it that could comfort her, no deep thoughts, and no goodbye, nothing to cling to.

On their first night off the island she’d finally gathered her courage and read it.

It was, just as she expected it to be, a simple letter, written by just another teenage girl, a collection of memories and stories of her last date with Shintaro – and she hopes that wherever they are they are happy and together – and filled with questions. And those were in the end the worst, the questions. They were not important, they were just silly little things Asuka had wanted to know and, in the grand scheme of things, they were ridiculous.

And yet they hurt the most, for these were the things that, at the end of her life, Asuka had wanted to know.

And now Nao would never, ever, be able to tell her.

In that moment, when she’d finished the letter, she’d cried, finally accepting that her friend was truly gone and this note was the end of their friendship.

When her tears had finally dried she’d closed the notebook and willed herself to forget.

She never would.

 

*~*

‘We don’t really have a choice, do we?’

*~*

 

He still hears Nao scream, he hears them all scream.

In his nightmares, those that plague him now, Shugo never makes it to her in time, in his nightmares they all die on that island and he is left all alone. He knows, in his lucid moments, though those are few and far in-between, that that is not what happened, that though most of them died Nao at least lived – and Haruya and, he hopes, Taku as well. Shugo wishes he could have joined his best friend in his fight, could have gone back with him, but he’d barely been able to stand and the only reason he even made it through the tunnel was because Haruya had helped him.

He’d wanted to go because he’d known that that is exactly what Shintaro would have done.

Shugo is still not sure how he even managed to survive.

He really should have died, there were moments he could still feel the bullet that had penetrated his skin, and the shirt he wore was still stained red because of all the blood he lost. But none of that pain, none of that terror, had even come close to what he felt when his necklace started beeping and he’d known that was the end. Thankfully Miki hadn’t been dead, just in a danger zone, and despite his harsh words earlier Kurusawa had been the only one of them clearheaded enough to get her and save them both.

He never even thanked him.

He’d been wounded and, though a part of him had wanted to tell them to leave him behind – though he knows they would never have done that – there simply had been no time. He doesn’t really remember much about their journey up the mountain, he’d been to focused on staying awake – he knows that Haruya and Taku helped him, while Shibaki and the girls hovered close around him and Kurusawa dragged Miki along – but he doesn’t remember it.

The last thing he remembers, before the darkness finally surrounded him, was Kurusawa falling dead beside him.

His last thoughts had been a strange combination of Taku and Nao are alive and I never even thanked him.

He hoped that Kurusawa had known how grateful he was.

Hours later he’d woken to find the same Wild Seven, who had almost killed him, caring for him. Nao and the girls had been asleep, but the boys had been awake – either watching over the girls, making sure nothing happened to them, or waiting for him to wake, he could not tell. It was Taku – with the help of Shibaki and Haruya – who had explained, sort of, in hushed whispers what had happened.

Somehow, inexplicably, he had survived, though he’s not sure how.

When he’d woken on that bus, which was strangely enough only a short time ago, and seen those necklaces he’d assumed they were all dead. He knew the game after all, or at least he thought he did, and he’d known only one was meant to survive. Yet, somehow, here they were, a handful of them, alive and somehow safe. A part of him wishes he could go back home, back to the brothers who love him, but he knows he never, ever, can. That part of his live is over, there is no going back anymore, from the moment they’d somewhat joined the Wild Seven – as if they’d even had a choice – they had all been doomed.

He hopes they think he’s dead; it would be easier for them. Or, at least, he hopes they lie to themselves.

Just like he does.

 

*~*

‘The best survivors can do is to keep remembering the ones who died. Always and forever.’

*~*

 

The strange thing is, at the end of the day, she’d never meant to cross the line.

Nao had known she’d end up playing the game, she’d known that she’d end up on that island and die there – she really hadn’t expected to survive – but she’d never actually made the decision to cross the line. A part of her had been sure that she would never kill, never take the life of any person, yet she can’t be sure, for how many others had there been in her shoes? How many others had sworn to themselves that they would never kill and then killed those that they should have loved the most?

Takeuchi had talked of that line, separating the winners from the losers and how they had a choice.

Cross the line and die fighting or don’t cross the line and die before the fighting.

What a choice.

She hadn’t meant to cross it, hadn’t even made a choice, and she hadn’t even noticed until after Asuka spoke her name. She had known that she’d end up playing the game that she’d go to the island but there was still something horrible about being one of the first to cross the line.

None of them had a choice, not really, even though Shintaro believed they had one.

In the end, after Shintaro had been shot and Kazumi’s necklace had blown, they’d crossed the line together, without waiting for their names to be called.

Once everything had passed, once they’d made it to the hide-out and had been somewhat safe and she’d had time to think about all that happened Nao had realized, with a shock that they were never actually meant to survive. They’d had no chance, not even a little one, and somehow, despite all the rules, she thinks that that was really the whole point. Really why else would they send a group of kids, most of which had no idea how to even hold a weapon, to fight a group of trained snipers? Especially considering that they had no ammo until after they made it on the island and what kind of rule was that?

In the end they were meant to be a distraction, nobody had thought they could really do it.

They’d known that the Wild Seven would focus on them, after discovering about the necklaces, while another group of trained army men made their way up the island. She wonders, briefly, if they would have lived. Had the army men found them first and convinced them to come with them would they have lived? Perhaps more of them would be alive or perhaps they’d all be dead.

They’d failed after all and not all Battle Royale games had winners.

They’d never had a choice nor did they actually stand a chance.

Those are the things Nao knows.

 

*~*

‘One day they’ll all disappear family, friends… But I’ll always be by your side. I can’t do anything for you, but I’ll be there. I promise…’

*~*

 

 

A month after her father died her mother followed.

Shiori had been expecting it really, she’d been ill for so long that it shouldn’t have been a surprise, it shouldn’t have come as a shock, it really shouldn’t have hurt so much, but of course it did. A month before she died, when her father was apparently watching children kill each other, her mother had gotten so ill that she’d broken her father’s number one rule: never disturb him when he’s working. But her mother had been ill and she’d been so sure that was the end that she’d called and he’d spoken of hatred and consequences and other things she didn’t quite understand.

She hadn’t know, hadn’t understood, that that was his final goodbye.

She hated him for that, for thinking that that was the best way to say goodbye to his only daughter, and she’d hated herself for hating him. She’d never cared for him, in the before, or at least she convinced herself she didn’t care for him because he certainly didn’t care about her. It was like she wasn’t there, just another child that he’d never understand and she wonders now what he would have done if she had ended up in the game. Would he have argued? Laughed? Or just watched as she and her classmates fought each other? Does it matter? He’d never tried to get close to her, seemingly content with not having a close relationship until after he realized he’d lost his last chance.

She hadn’t cared for him, she’d hated him and she used to wish he’d go away.

Still she never wanted him to die.

They’d come to tell her the next day, still in their uniforms, all pleasantries and assurances – and she’d wondered then, briefly, if he’d actually done it, like he once said he should do, if he’d actually gone off to kill himself – and she’d stood there, numb. They’d left her with a story of murder and his last painting and an ill mother who died a month later and who never really understood that her daughter’s father was never coming.  After they left, after they’d gone back to their lives and forgot about the girl whose life they’d just changed, she’d spend hours staring at the painting, trying to figure out what it meant. Until one day it dawned on her that it wasn’t her in the middle of the painting – and she’s still not sure why she ever thought it was her.

It was another girl, one she’d never know, that was the center of his world.

It wasn’t until after her mother died and left her all alone that Shiori even tried to find out what had happened and who was really responsible for the death of her father. She thinks, she’s not sure but she thinks that they told her, those uniformed guys who informed her of the death of her father, but she can’t quite remember what it is they said. Nakagawa Noriko, the girl at the center of his world and Nanahara Shuya, the boy who’d murdered him. The moment she learned their names she realized she needed to talk to them, needed to understand what had happened, needed to know what shaped the last moments of her father’s life.

She’d earned it, even if he didn’t want to talk about it; she’d earned the right to know.

He’d murdered her father after all.

It wasn’t really him she needed to talk to though, she wanted to, she wanted to understand why he’d done it, but the one she needed to talk to was the girl, Nakagawa Noriko. She’d been the one in the painting, the one that mattered the most at the end of his life, and she needed to know why. Why was this girl, just a random girl in a class from long ago more important than his own daughter? Why had she not mattered enough to make it in his painting, why was this other girl more important than her? She needed to talk to her, wanted to talk to him, but nobody knew where they were, so she probably never would.

And yet there were so many things she wanted to know.

This is why she crossed the line, this is why she entered the game, and this is why she’s here. It had been simple really, just click on a link and you’ve entered, and she hadn’t understood, not really, what was going to happen. She hadn’t known what it would be like to stand there, to be a part of the game, to have lost all control over your life and to be able to do nothing but watch as your friends – classmates – die all around you. It hadn’t been real, just a possibility, until Shintaro died and Kazumi followed and by then it was too late to turn around.

Shintaro had been her friend, always kind and understanding, always there.

That’s all he was: a nice kid who’d done nothing wrong, except stand up for what he believed was right. And though a part of her was angry that he didn’t want to find Nanahara Shuya she could understand him, and the others in her class, they had no reason to after all. It was then, when she’d heard him argue for their right to choose their own path that she truly understood what she had done. In her search for answers, and quite possibly revenge, she’d offered up the lives of her classmates, the lives of those who had nothing to do with it. It was too late to change that now though.

Shintaro had died for what he believed in, even if he was wrong, even if he was stupid, it was admirable.

Kazumi had just died.

The worst part, at least for her, was that after all that – after dead classmates and broken people – she never even got the answers she needed. For all her bravado, for all her want to talk to him, when she’d finally come face to face with the man (boy) who’d murdered her father she’d been unable to say anything to him. Because all she’d seen was a scared boy who, just like her friends, had become a part of a game without being asked and had somehow, inexplicably, survived. Truthfully she was afraid of his answers. Because now that she’d heard her own teacher reading off lists of names of those that had died she could understand why somebody could get so angry as to want to kill their teacher.

She didn’t want to know why he killed her father, not anymore.

Because she thinks she already knows.

In the end, as she lay dying in his arms she realized there was only one thing she really wanted to know, one thing she wanted to understand. She wanted to know about her, the girl at the center, she wanted to know what kind of person could mean so much to a man like her father. She’d never meet her, she knew that then, and he was all she had. So she’d asked, confident in the knowledge that he would answer her once he knew who she was, he owed her after all.

She dies thinking of beautiful paintings, lost fathers and moments that never were.

 

*~*

 

Shuya had never even thought about her.

It was a strange thing really, and admittedly somewhat cruel of him, but she had never even crossed his mind. Not even the possibility of her existence, because he had never actually known that Kitano had a daughter, he’d been his teacher after all and the thought of him having family seemed so strange that it never occurred to him. Considering how it all ended, him killing Kitano and all, it really should have occurred to him, he should have realized that somewhere out there, there would be someone – if not a child then at least parents or siblings – who would have to live with the consequences of his actions.

Then again at the end of it all he’d never thought about the family of his dead classmates either.

Maybe that’s because there was nobody to miss him.

Thinking of her, accepting the possibility of her existence, wouldn’t have changed a thing, he knows this. He would still have shot the man, would still have been the end of his life because he’d sworn that he would protect Noriko. But it might, in some way, have changed what he did after. If he’d realized he would have reached out to her, would have tried to explain it to her because he understands that she must have had so many questions, must have wanted to understand.

But he hadn’t thought of her and now he had to live with that.

Now that he knows, now that he understands that Kitano had a daughter, he realizes that the man had talked to her in the end. He’d gotten up, which had been strange, to pick up the phone and talk to his only daughter. What he said and how he said it still didn’t make sense to him but then he supposes it wouldn’t unless he knew the full story of their lives, something he never would.

She’d never told him who she was or tried to talk to him.

Besides that one strange conversation, that he still hasn’t fully understood, she hadn’t even come near him; just looked at him from afar, as if somehow she was willing him to recognize who she was. Briefly he wonders why she hadn’t tried to talk to him. Had she perhaps not known how to approach him, not known how he would react to the daughter of the teacher that had send him of to his dead, the one he’d murdered? Maybe she’d expected to find someone else, a coldblooded monster and when she’d been faced with what he was, a broken boy, she’d been too confused to approach him? Had she thought, even briefly, that he would harm her just for being his daughter? Maybe she’d thought the words would just be there when she came face to face with him but had found none when the moment actually came.

These are the things about her that he’ll never really know.

In the end all she’d asked, all she’d wanted to know, was who the girl in the painting was, who Nakagawa Noriko was. And though he’d spend all his time trying to make sure that she was no part of this, though he never spoke about her – still doing his best to make sure she survived even if no-one else did – he found he couldn’t ignore the question. Because the girl was dying, because this is all she wanted to know and because this was quite possibly the only girl in the entire world who had the right to ask about the girl in her father’s last painting.

He’d hated Kitano, hated what he did to them, and hated the man who’d killed his best friend.

He’d never considered he could have children.

Now, after he escapes the island, the only one he can think of is the young girl who died in his arms.


*~*

‘I’m sorry…I never…once….called you, my own father, “Dad”.’

*~*

 

 

Later, much later, Nao would swear that it seemed to take forever.

In reality it didn’t take long, not at all, before Shugo got better, though admittedly it took months before he was strong enough to run around again. It didn’t seem, in any way, that Shugo would ever play rugby again, but then which one of them would ever want to? For a while however, a few days, it seemed like he would die, it seemed that – despite the fact that they’d somehow survived and were safe – the game would still claim one last victim.  It seemed strange to think like that but Nao suspects that’s because there’s only supposed to be one survivor, so nobody ever faces something like this.

Later, when they make it to her hiding place, Noriko will tell her about Kawada.

She’d tell her of her good friend who’d made sure she and Shuya survived, who got them off the island, who almost made it but died anyway. And Nao, who’d been so glad they got this far, became afraid that despite him getting better Shugo – or one of the others – would die anyway. A thought that didn’t even make sense, but then nothing had for the last few days so why should this be different? But Shugo had gotten better and they’d all rejoiced, especially when he started to run around again, and nobody mentioned that Taku and Shibaki might be dead already, even if that knowledge was in all their minds.

After they’d gotten to safety and Shugo had recovered they made an inventory of what they owned.

It wasn’t much, it never could be, for all their stuff was still in their bags which – unless they’d been thrown away – could still be found on the bus or scattered across rooms they would never see again. And Nao, despite not wanting to think about it, acknowledges that they’ve probably thrown everything away or, if they can bring up that much compassion, given it to the family that was left behind. All that was left in the end was Asuka’s notebook, Shibaki’s knife and a handful of other stuff nobody really wanted to talk about, stuff they were all amazed could still be found in their pockets even after all the running around.

That was what was left of all their lives; it was nothing, just like she suspects they’re viewed now.

Like nothing.

After they’d done that, a few days or maybe more after, Haruya had somehow made it to a computer and spend some time printing out all the pictures he could find. A long time ago someone, she can’t remember who – and that’s the thing really there are things Nao remembers but could never say who did them or things she can’t remember at all because they didn’t seem important at the time, and really they weren’t not then – made a website. Nao had loved the pictures of her and Asuka and the rugby team picture – they looked so innocent in it, so full of life, like they had a whole future in front of them – and she knew that Taku, when he came back, would be grateful for the pictures of Shintaro.

Later, weeks later when they’re all together again, Haruya would go back to the site only to find it gone.

Someone had deleted it, gotten rid of all the evidence that any of them ever existed. And she wonders, briefly, if this is what they do, if this is how it’s done, if after the game ends and the winner is announced there is someone who spends their time getting rid of all the evidence. Perhaps this is the way for it to end, perhaps this is the only way they can go on, this way they can pretend they had never been there, that they’d never lived. This way they – the government – can pretend like the death toll isn’t high, they can pretend they didn’t ruin lives.

It isn’t fair, not at all, but then nobody promised life would be.    

 

*~*

 

Nao had been afraid she would end up forgetting them.

That one day she’d wake up and her classmates would be nothing but a blur, a memory from long ago, a story she could remember but of which the details had long since faded. She’d never been afraid to forget her friends, because they’d been such a big part of her, but the others, the ones that had been there but had never really been her friends. She doesn’t want to forget them, not any of them because they all deserved to be remembered, but she is afraid she will. Not how it all ended, not the terror and the death, not even the class but the people in it.

Someday they might be nothing but victims, one of the many who died in the chaos.

It’s already a part of her life, she remembers them all but she can’t figure out who died when, who went first and how many suffered. Before the island, when she can actually tell who died when, only Asuka stands out, crying out her name in terror – and in the dark of night she can still hear her scream. Asuka was, and always would be, her best friend so it makes somewhat sense, but the others had mattered to, and it seemed so wrong that she couldn’t even tell how they died.

Noriko tells her not to worry, that because of how it all ended she’ll never forget.

She tells her, briefly and only once that she still remembers them, still remembers all of them, even those that hadn’t been nice. She speaks of the crushing feeling – pain and guilt and loss – when her teacher, Kitano – and Nao wonders, idly, if he’s related to Shiori, before she realizes that that doesn’t even matter – read of the names of those that had died. And Nao could remember how she felt that one time that Takeuchi read of the names of those she had once known, so filled with life, and she’s grateful it had only happened once.

Noriko’s kind words help somewhat but they don’t make the feeling go away.

They’re all afraid of that, this she knows, the once who’d been her friends in the before – Haruya and Shugo – and the ones who really hadn’t been her friends but whom she’d at least liked – Risa, Kyoko and Mayu. They looked at her, for some reason, to lead them, as if they thought she knew what to do next – besides waiting for Taku to return – and she thinks part of it is because once upon a time, not even that long ago, they’d elected her class president. It doesn’t matter she supposes, none of them would know what to do and if they wanted to listen to her well it was better than nothing.

All they can do is wait, she tells them, wait and hope that Taku – and perhaps some of the others – will return.

They’ll wait forever, even if they know he’s not coming, because they need to.

One dark night, when the fear of forgetting takes over, she takes out Asuka’s notebook, flips to the last pages – far past Asuka’s last letter for one day Nao will write a response, even if she knows it will never be read – and writes down the names of all her classmates. Next to each name she writes something she knows about them, even if it’s a ridiculous fact, so that even if she one day forgets she can open the notebook and even if she’s forgotten everything else she’ll remember one thing.

It’s not much, it’s not enough, but then nothing will ever be.

Years later, after they’ve rebuilt their lives, Nao will spend weeks writing everything down, they will all write it all down. Everything they can remember, small anecdotes, tests, teachers and fights, everything; they’ll write them down, even if their memories contradict each other. It will be the history, the story; of what the Shikinatorido Junior High School Class 3B had once been, filled with nostalgia and hints of what they could have been. They’ll all be in it, even if it’s a story about several students together, because she refuses to leave someone out, to leave anyone, not even Takeuchi, forgotten.

Kyoko is the one who says they should stop with the memory of getting on the bus.

But Taku, who’d never ever talked of how it all ended, who’d never spoken of how their friends died – except once and only to Haruya who’d wanted to know how his best friend, (and how his sister, but he’d asked Shuya for that story), died – had said they should write down everything down, even the things they didn’t want to remember. Because they deserved it, they deserved to be remembered; even the way they died should not be forgotten. And so they sat, around a campfire, trying to make sense of the chaos that followed, trying to figure out how it all went down.

They didn’t speak of the wild seven, beyond acknowledging that they were there.

 

They didn’t know how, despite the passage of the years they still didn’t know how to even approach that, how to even describe their feelings for any of them, not even Haruya could say how he felt about his sister at the end. She doesn’t hate them, she suspects none of them really do but she’s never asked so she can never be sure, and she’s never – nor will she ever – forgiven them. Not even Shuya who had, at the end, made sure that Taku had survived, not even years later when she counted him, strangely, as her friend.

She, they, know he doesn’t expect forgiveness.

They never speak about it again after they’re done, the pages of the manuscript are hidden away, they’ll never forget but after writing it all down they might be able to move on. It isn’t over, it never will be, the games, despite all that happened, still continue. One would hope that everything that happened would be enough to put a stop to it but nothing ever does, every year a class is chosen, every year one will join them in their hiding place. Nao and the others try to help them, try to guide them through their new lives, but in the end there is not much she, or anyone else, can do about it.

She knows that in the end they – Junior High School Class 3B – are the odd ones out.

They’re the ones who ended up in the game yet aren’t a part of it; they’re the only ones who survived the madness without killing each other. They’d never lost friendships or turned on each other like others did both before and after them.

They’re the lucky ones.

She doesn’t feel that way, not at all.


*~*

‘We’re all here now. We all wanted someone to know.’

*~*

 

 

In the end none of it even mattered.

Not what they had gone through to get here, not what had been done to them, nothing. And that, Nao figures, is the worst part of their story, the worst of everything that happened to them. That crushing knowledge, even if they try to deny it, that it doesn’t matter, that they don’t matter. Not Shintaro, standing up for what he believed in, nor Kazumi, tied to the wrong person; not Asuka, dying in the chaos, nor Kurosawa who had been so broken, so shattered, so destroyed at the end of it all. Not Shiori, who had died defending a cause she probably didn’t even believe in, and definitely not the ones who actually survived,

None of them matter, perhaps they never did.

Because at the end of the day, after all is said and done, nobody is ever going to remember them. They’ll remember Nanahara Shuya and the Wild Seven, they’ll remember Tokyo and the games and the video; they’ll speak of the things the Wild Seven did and the things that had happened to them. They’ll speak of Battle Royale, of how it started, of the classes that played, of the winners that went crazy and started a war against all adults. They’ll speak of bombs and necklaces; they’ll speak of murder and death.

But nobody is ever going to speak of them.

They’re not even going to think about the unfortunate class that got caught in the middle, most of their names lost in the chaos.

Because when it’s all over, when the story has finally ended, they are nothing.

In the end no matter who tells the story, from whichever point of view it will be told, it will still be the same. Whether they tell it – the victims the ones who somehow managed to survive – or the government – who started the entire thing in the first place – or the families that got left behind. Or even the ordinary people who would be told what had happened but never really know. The story would still be the same.

They’d still be nothing.

At the end, when it’s all said and done, she, her classmates and friends, would never be anything more than what they were. Nothing more than an unforeseen consequence. 

Collateral damage.

An (almost) acceptable risk.