circle in the sand

pg-13 | referenced violence

She wished they could drive away in silence.

There was a slight whine coming from the engine, which Aoi said was because they needed some power steering fluid, and that was why the CHECK ENGINE light was on, but it wasn't a major problem. The SUV also said TIRE PRESSURE LOW, but Aoi told her that would make it easier to drive in the desert. More surface area.

Akane didn't know enough about cars to know if he was telling the truth or lying to make her feel better.

There was a wind picking up, throwing sand against the side of the vehicle, in addition to the static sound coming from sand being kicked up and hitting the bottom of the SUV.

She could have shut off the noise from the morphogenetic field, but she chose not to.

It would have been impossible for her to have stayed behind. Jumpy - Junpei - wouldn't have handed her and Aoi over to the police, but she was uncertain about the rest of them. Maybe Masato - Seven - could be convinced to let them go. Light might forgive them. Clover ... perhaps not. Hazuki could go either way once she knew all the details. She could be glad that the people responsible for her children's abduction were to be punished, or angry that they did not just kill them in a straightforward fashion.

Akane did not know where the idea for this Nonary Game originated. Which Akane in which timeline devised it.

Everything for her - this Akane in this timeline - was a loop. The Nonary Game happened because it always had happened and the Akane in the incinerator, in the past, was always saved, because Junpei from her future had always transmitted the information back. There were Akanes in the past who were turned to ash. There were Akanes who died in Building Q when he made the wrong choices, or maybe Akanes who just faded out of existence.

In the worlds where he failed, did she simply disappear?

She had been alive and dead and here but not here and burning alive and shivering in the cold parts of the fake ship. Now she felt solid, for the first time in years.

Anyone but Aoi would have laughed, or thought she was insane, if she had told them sometimes she felt insubstantial. As if her hand might pass through the teacup if she were to reach for it. If Jumpy were to fall down the stairs or step into traffic or be murdered in a dark alley one night, years or days before the Game, her body might disintegrate, atoms flying apart and scattering on the winds.

She never talked to Aoi about it, because it only would have made him sad.

But he knew anyway.

The sun traced a path in the sky from above her head down to the horizon. The moon would be up soon.

She felt solid, but not whole. Junpei was bound to her, a part of her, even after all this time. It didn't matter where he went; he could fly up there to the moon and she would still sense him, feel him in her heart.

Maybe they would meet again. Maybe she wouldn't have to walk away again.

Or maybe if they did, she should.

He knew what she was now, what she had become.

One cannot simply take a life and then return to normal society, pretending to still be human. In this timeline, there were no innocents lost. Of those who died, she would call it justice. Others would say it was vengeance. It was difficult for her to see the distinction.

In different timelines, people who had done no wrong had suffered horrible deaths, and perhaps she could claim their blood wasn't on her hands. This Akane had not killed anyone who had not deserved it. If all things were possible, there were Akanes who were serial killers or had driven after drinking and crashed into children, Akanes who had done unconscionable things, and she could hardly be held responsible for those.

Still, she should feel guilty. Maybe she did. Surely, she did. It was just hard to find under the stress and the fear and the clamor of the field.

Or, perhaps it would be better if she did not. This was only the beginning. This Akane would have more blood on her hands before her light was snuffed out.

He would wait for her. He would look for her. Unless she closed her mind and her heart to him, he would seek her out, even if it destroyed him. And it would, or would come close. Something in the field assured her this was certain.

Was it so wrong, even after everything, to want him? For her heart to ache at the thought of being separated from him for any extended length of time?

He understood, didn't he, why she had to do this? It was self-defense.

But no, it wasn't just that. She would sacrifice her life to save the lives of others. If it the only purpose of the Game had been to ensure her existence, and she knew it would cause people to suffer, she would have allowed herself to cease to be. She would have explored every option, tried to create a Game where no one would die - it was possible for no innocents to die - and fought like hell, but if it were the only option, she would have let herself go.

Those men had caused great harm and would only cause more in the future. They, like Free the Soul, had to be stopped. She and Aoi had saved the lives of their future victims. It ... perhaps this wasn't the perfect ending, but the ends -

"They killed you," Aoi said, his voice shaking. She had forgotten that sometimes she projected too loudly, her thoughts and feelings invading his mind even if he tried to block her.

She pressed her very solid, very warm hand against the glass, feeling the resistance of the amorphous solid. She felt her heart beating in her chest, pushing her blood through arteries, into the capillaries, through the veins, and back again. Her lungs expanded as her stomach protested having gone so long without food. Signs of life.

But ultimately, he was correct.