Chapter 1: Carlos Doesn't Pull The Trigger
Carlos did not pull the trigger.
He held the gun in the air, pointed straight for Delta’s head, but he did not fire it. Maybe, deep down, he understood Delta’s ends-justified-the-means methodology. After all, even though he’d gone through some version of hell, he knew the money offered for participating in the experimental front had actually gone through. Did it really matter that countless versions of him were dead, if he could still use the money to help his sister?
Everyone turned to look at him. Before, they’d been staring at Delta, waiting for a hole to appear on his forehead. If they had anything they wanted to say about it, Delta said it first:
“Well, well,” he said, in a more bemused tone than many of his other speeches had been. “How interesting. But it’s of little consequence. I’ve staged my plot to save the world. It’s out of these hands.”
“Give me that!” Eric shouted, diving at Carlos and reaching for the gun. Carlos did his best to keep it out of the other’s grasp -- it was still loaded, and that kind of stupidity was the type that fired bullets in random directions.
Luckily, Mira stepped in. “Eric, stop,” she said tersely. “It’s not your decision.”
Unsurprisingly, Mira’s voice stilled him, and that was that. The only question left was why she even bothered to intervene.
“Well,” some one spoke before anyone else could bring up any new point. They all turned to face her. It was Akane. “I think we’ll be seeing each other again, Delta.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” he said. “I’m awfully old.”
She smirked. “You can’t say you’re giving up on what you attempted to accomplish here. The world still needs saving. Next time we’re doing it my way.”
Delta simply smiled. His eyes darted to Sigma, Diana, and Phi, before fixing back on Akane.
“Life is just… simply unfair,” he said. “Wouldn’t you think?”
To Carlos… Well, he couldn’t fully imagine what she was referring to. He had guesses -- he wasn’t stupid -- but he had his half a million. He had business to attend to. If anyone could save the world, it was that girl. Firefighters weren’t meant to save worlds; they were meant to save individual people. Families. And he had his he needed to save.
Chapter 2: Carlos Pulls The Trigger
Carlos pulls the trigger. Delta isn't the only one hit.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Carlos pulled the trigger.
It was, perhaps, an anti-climatic end to all that they’d been put through. Even knowing the coin toss existed didn’t uncover the memories of it that had been erased. There was no closure to how they actually left the base, and even less so knowing that somewhere, across perhaps several hundred histories, sat several hundred dead Carloses and Junpeis and Akanes, Miras, Erics, Seans, Sigmas, Dianas, Phis, and Gabs.
How many dead Qs were there? Were there any?
He felt dirty. His hands were meant to save lives -- not take them. No matter how justified he really was, no matter how confident he had been in his final decision of the Decision Game, he still felt off.
After all, if Carlos half-decided to shoot Delta, and half-decided not to, who could say Delta didn't resolve the coin flip one way or another?
“Carlos!” Akane shouted. “Why?!”
Carlos didn't have a clean answer, but that didn't keep him from trying. “Well, after everything he put us through….”
It was impossible for him to blame it all on Delta. It was hard enough to accept it might have all been on him.
“He might have had information! How are we supposed to get more information on The Myrmidons?! He could be a part of Free The Soul!”
And by he, she meant the one who’d be responsible for triggering the nuclear war Delta spoke of.
“Did you think for one second about that?”
Carlos couldn't answer, so he just tried his best apologetic look. It was somewhere between a guilty puppy and a sympathetic smile.
“Akane, it's okay,” Junpei said. “You… You can figure it out.” Carlos could see the concern on Junpei's face -- concern he was somehow digging his own grave in an attempt to calm the woman he so obviously cared for. “You’ve got Aoi, and CrashKeys, and you’re…”
He trailed off.
“I know, Junpei,” she said. But it was clear she wasn’t conceding. Instead, she turned on her heel and strode off, away from DCom and everything in it.
Junpei shrunk. There was no stopping her. He flinched, feeling a meaty hand slap his shoulder.
It was Carlos.
“Didn’t you have something you wanted to tell her?” he asked, smiling gently. Carlos was nice for no reason. In fact, if Junpei had been in Carlos’ situation, he wouldn’t have been nice. Carlos had plenty of reasons not to be nice, and the blond still managed to put on a smile in a way that was inspiring. It was probably a firefighter thing.
“Right,” Junpei said dryly. In his pocket, his hand curled around the ring he’d taken to DCom. Unlike Akane, he hadn’t known of what would transpire inside. He hoped it’d be as good a place as any to tell Akane how he really felt -- how he was determined to stand beside her, through thick and thin, if only she would have him.
He felt stupid, but he knew if he didn’t follow her and keep his thumb on her, she might disappear for nine years. She’d done it before. She even died, or at least he was pretty sure she had.
Junpei nearly had to jog to catch up with her. When Akane decided she wanted to leave, she was gone, and even in this uneven terrain and her heels, she had one helluva power walk.
He moved in front of her. “R-remember? We said-- You said when we got out of this, we’d put it on the right finger. The left. The… You know.”
He pulled out the ring, holding it awkwardly between two fingers and extending his free hand, waiting for her to offer her hand and seal the deal.
Even though this wasn’t the first time he’d proposed, he was nervous. He’d proposed, but not yet in this timeline. He decided to blame his nerves on that.
“Junpei…” she said, staring up at him with those big, beautiful eyes. He swallowed, frozen like a trapped rabbit faced with a hungry fox. Or a bratty kid.
Something inside Junpei broke. There hadn’t been much left that wasn’t broken in one way or another, but now the final piece in the machine of flesh and organs named Junpei was rusted over and doing more harm than good.
“You know I can’t, Junpei…” She pressed her palm into the ring and pushed it towards him. “I have to deal with this, and then I can.”
Neither of them knew how long it would take to ‘deal with this’, or even if this Junpei and this Akane would be around to see it through. And they both knew those unknowns better than anyone present, excluding the corpse.
“Kanny, I want to be there with you,” he said. “I’m not some stupid kid any more. I know what’s going on now, even if I can’t help in like, seeing the future or something, I at least want to be there for you!”
“It’s going to be dangerous, Junpei, and I may well die,” she replied. “And I don’t want you to be there next to me, dying too.”
“We can SHIFT!”
“That’s still one more dead Jumpy I don’t want to be responsible for.” She smiled, but it wasn’t happy. Junpei couldn’t tell if she really was torn, or just faking it to make him feel better. He wanted to believe she really was torn, that even if she left his life again, she’d show up on his doorstep wearing a white dress and a wide grin and throw herself into his arms and they could live the life he’d imagined for them so, so long ago. Back before he was a different person.
“Dammit, Akane, does it even matter what I want?”
He was shouting now, turning his anguish to anger, because that would mean he wouldn’t have to cry in front of her.
“How many fucking times are you going to leave me? I wasted two years trying to track you down and look what that did to me!” He gestured to himself. “I found you after nine years of thinking you were dead, and you left me then, too. I won’t let you do it again!”
Her eyebrows knit into a glare. “You don’t get to tell me what to do with my life. Especially not this, Junpei.”
And she walked, leaving Junpei behind with his ring. He could follow her, he could track down CrashKeys’ base of operation. He could find Aoi Kurashiki and use that link to get to her. It might take years, two more years, but he could do it.
But right now, he just fell to his knees and watched her leave.
It seemed like no matter how much time he spent trying to catch up to her, trying to let her know how much she really meant to him, she didn’t get it. If he could rip his heart, still beating, out of his chest and give it to her, would she even bat an eyelash?
“...Sorry, Junpei,” Carlos said, suddenly behind him. He felt like it was his fault, and they both knew it.
Junpei sighed, standing. “I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. I’m sure this happens in every history. I-I don’t know why…”
He rubbed at his eyes. “Fuck, Carlos. Let’s just get out of this damn desert and… Get a drink or something.”
“Yeah. We can do that.”
Sorry if you were hoping for Junpei/Akane, this is basically why I feel like it'll never work out!