"This is the decision game." Delta's calm, omniscient voice rings out clearly across the scorchingly hot wind that wafts through the sunny, Nevada desert.
The moment Carlos's hands catch the gun, the decision is made. He knows what Delta wants, and he understands the rest of these complex motives — perhaps, that is why Delta threw the gun in Carlos's hand in the first place. Delta knows that neither Diana nor Sean will be able to do it.
His fingers curl around the butt of the weapon, and he raises it towards the man he called Zero during the Decision Game. His index finger inches towards the trigger, which elicits a slight twitch of the corner of Delta's lips.
"Carlos . . . ?" Akane's voice is hesitant. She grips onto Junpei's hand tightly, while he looks on, silent.
Eric crosses his arms over his chest. "You're going to do it, right? You're going to shoot the bastard?"
"Maybe it's not a good idea to shoot him, Carlos. He does have a lot of information about the terrorist."
"Mira . . . !" Eric exclaims, astonished and awed.
Delta chuckles darkly. "Whether or not Carlos kills me now, you will receive all of the knowledge you need to defeat this terrorist. Regardless, my mother simply must tap into the morphogenetic field, and all of the information will be at her fingertips."
Diana's eyes widen in terror. "M-Me? How will I know what to find?"
"You must seek the memories of another history."
"But how?" she questions softly, her voice trembling and lips quivering as she speaks. When Delta gives her no response, she is forced to turn to Carlos with a pleading look, the sadness and indecisiveness in her eyes making Carlos waiver from pulling the trigger.
But he takes a deep breath and steels his resolve. This is the right choice — hell, this is what Delta wants.
Even though he is fully expecting it, the recoil of the gunshot still takes him by surprise. He grunts as he feels himself pushed by the force of the bullet, but feels guilty because he feels remorse over what he has just done. Carlos's whole life has been about saving the lives of others, and yet, today, he has taken a life — strangely enough, though, it feels like he has saved a life, rather than taken it.
"Carlos!" Akane cries out.
Diana's eyes widen as she sees her son collapse to the ground. "Delta!" she gasps, ready to spring, but Sigma, with his face set into a grim expression, grabs onto her arm and pulls her back.
He crushes her gently to his chest as she begins to sob. He rubs at her back gently, and looks up from his lover to look at Carlos with piercing eyes. "It needed to be done."
"I-I'm sorry, Diana." Carlos doesn't apologize to Sigma, because — judging by the calculating look that takes his face — he seems to have figured it out. Then, he repeats the words he said to Junpei in the timeline where they both sacrificed their lives to have Akane wear the gas mask. "I haven't been a firefighter for ten years to make the wrong choice now. Diana, you may not believe me, but it was what — "
"It was what he wanted."
All is silent for the few moments that Carlos and Diana turn to look at Phi, along with everyone else, many pairs of eyes burning with questions.
"Yes." Sigma nods and relaxes his hold on Diana, who begins to untangle herself from their embraces. "He wanted to SHIFT."
"He . . . w-wanted to SHIFT?"
"Yeah, he wanted to jump to another timeline," Carlos drawls in his subtly southern accent.
"Of course!" Akane realizes, letting go of Junpei's arm. "Mira and Eric showed us that for a non-SHIFTer to be able to successfully SHIFT, there are two conditions that must be met for a non-shifter to SHIFT: first, one must be subjected to a life-threatening situation, and second, must be surrounded by SHIFTers so that morphogenetic resonance will allow the non-SHIFTer to SHIFT."
"And Zero had met those two conditions the moment he threw the gun into Carlos's hands."
"How did Zero know for sure that Carlos would shoot him without being Mind Hacked?" Eric turns to Carlos with accusatory eyes. "And how did you know that he wanted to SHIFT?"
"I . . . just knew."
While he and the others begin to discuss, Phi finds a key of a vehicle in Gab's container, and quietly slips it into her pocket. Then, she asks Carlos if he thinks the old bastard (with no offense intended to her parents) will come back somehow.
He can't say for sure that Delta was successful, nor can he tell to where the old man jumped, but he definitely is certain that he will return.
"Well," Junpei begins, catching the fingers of Akane's left — yes, left (he double-checked this time) — hand with his own, "now that we're out of here . . ." He raises their hands up, and uses his free hand to pull out the diamond ring out of his jeans pocket. "I made a promise, and now it's time to fulfill it."
Diana lets out an, "Aaw," and the others look happy, as well — even Phi cracks a satisfied smile.
He initially planned to kneel, but now, it doesn't feel right to do so. Instead, he takes a deep breath and continues speaking. "Akane, you've put your life on the line, lived through so many histories, fought so hard to save the world, to find a timeline where there would be peace, where there would be me — where we could live together happily. And I — um, well, I can't say that I've done as much as you have," — he sheepishly shrugs — "but, even though we've always been bound by the morphogenetic field, I've spent the past, difficult year searching for you, chasing you."
"Junpei," Akane whispers softly, as tears form in her eyes.
"But now, Akane, we've done it; you're here with me and we can save the world. And now that I've found you, I don't ever want to let you go." He smacks his lips nervously. Be a man, Junpei. "You've always dreamed of wearing a ring on your left finger since elementary school, and now, I have the ring to put on your finger and officially make that dream a reality. Marry me, Kanny."
Akane nods with a teary smile. "Yes," she cries. She giggles as she weeps. "Yes."
The sound of applause, congratulations, and cheers fill the air.
Junpei slides the ring onto her finger and embraces her tightly, swaying their bodies as they hug. They both laugh. "I know it might be a little late to declare this since we're engaged and all, but I love you, Kanny," he whispers against her forehead.
She looks up at him, as she feels his thumb brush away her tears. "Oh, Jumpy, you've always known this, but I love you, too. I've always loved you."
"Jumpy?" an amused Phi comments.
Sigma barks a laugh. "You never declared your love for each other, and yet you, Tenmyouji, still proposed?"
"Hmph." Junpei looks up from Akane to scowl at him. "Yeah, so what? Our love has always run strong through our deep connection with each other in the morphogenetic field." He's bullshitting a bit, but more or less, the morphic fieldset is crucial to their love story.
"You know, guys, they've never kissed, either," Carlos adds teasingly. "I remember that from the timeline that Junpei first proposed."
"Are you joking?!" Sigma cries in disbelief, at the same time Eric exclaims, "You guys haven't even fucking kissed?"
"Not in this timeline, at least," Akane sniffs.
Junpei is surprised to hear so and looks back down at his fiancée. "It will happen when it happens. But, um, we've kissed in other histories? Was this all during the Nonary Game?"
Akane smirks, but the blush stains her cheeks traitorously. "We've kissed and done more than that in other histories, Jumpy. Building Q and elsewhere." Her eyes shift downward and her sly grin becomes shy. Sean is left slightly confused, but the others either blush or whistle or let out some other form of teasing.
His eyes widen and blood rushes to redden his face, and to another part of his anatomy, as he recalls the bed from the second-class cabin in Building Q, and the old fantasies he has had of him and Akane in that bed. He loosens his grip on Akane so that she doesn't feel in front of everyone how strong those fantasies are attacking his mind. "Oh, um, that's . . . good to know."
As everyone laughs, he takes advantage of their distraction. He bites his tongue and uses his free hand that isn't holding Akane's to pinch the side of his thigh, but nothing works. God, go away, go away! Not now, boy! He quickly tries to think of images of the bloody killings he's come upon in his career, the shootings, his grandmother . . .
"Tenmyouji, please, just kiss the girl already! Akane, kiss him! One of you, please! It's killing me!" Sigma pleads, but is bewildered himself as to why he feels exasperation over the fact that the couple have not shared their first kiss together yet.
Talk about pot calling the kettle black. "Look who's talking," Junpei banters back, finally feeling his erection beginning to subside. "Klim, Phi's your and Diana's daughter and is standing right next to you, and yet you haven't even come close to kissing Diana in this timeline!"
Much to Sigma and Diana's chagrin, Junpei, Akane, and the others burst into laughter, even Phi. The embarrassed couple joins in, though, when an innocent Sean expresses his confusion.
Even though she's laughing, Akane can't help the flow of tears that stream down her cheeks. She's just so insanely happy that this is, in fact, the alpha timeline that she has been seeking for so long.