Fandom: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni
Length: approx. 6,058 words, one-shot
Character/Pairing: Keiichi, Rika, Keiichi/Mion
Prompts: Written for 31_days, October 17, 2010: brush the summer by.
Warnings: Spoilers for the whole series. And if I’ve gotten canon wrong, oops – I’m mostly sticking to animeverse on this one.
Summary: After all that death and dying, living should be easier. But nothing wraps up the way it does in the movies.
Holy crap, writing for Higurashi is a trippy, bloody experience.
I’ve also found that it’s very hard to shorten a very long, banal recovery process into a few thousand words that’ll sound interesting to read. Oops.
the red tick in your clockwork wake
My name is Maebara Keiichi. Someone is after me.
I don’t know who they are or why they’re after my life.
All I know is that it involves the curse of Oyashiro-sama…
this is not the right time, nor the right place. this is not that world.
instead – )
Wataganashi comes, on the heel of a mass destruction narrowly averted.
Despite previous talk of curses and syndromes and gods, the festival brings a bit of cheer that everyone could so greatly use. So use it they do.
Keiichi walks with the rest of the girls as they banter and laugh – rather, as the girls banter and laugh at him, while he splutters all the more. But it’s okay, because they’ve been through a lot and everyone could use this moment of fresh air. He would do anything to give them that.
Everything that happened just before this flits across his thoughts again. Well, it is a little surreal when he thinks about it. It’s just – it all happened so fast. Like a lifetime of instances packed into a mere week. They just banded together, confronted their fears, and ended it. Like that.
Cleanly, and neatly, like that.
Back in the present, the girls are all laughing and Mion’s pelting him with ammo from a toy gun and Rika’s dancing her special priestess dance and this is what a festival’s meant to be like, all lackadaisical peaceful fun.
(Not sneaking into a sacred storeroom and fearing the repercussions. Not anxiously awaiting the wrath of a god and dying one by one – )
“Hey, tonight was fun, wasn’t it?” Mion laughs, nudging him in the side. Startling him.
He laughs right back.
And Watanagashi goes, with no fear of murder and no burned corpses or blood.
(but the carnage is all still there, though, if you know where to look.)
Keiichi’s dreams started in earnest three weeks afterwards. Dreams of killing his friends –
( - they were just reaching out to you – )
- dreams of dying by their hand –
( - you were just reaching out to them – )
- or by his own.
The first night, he just calls it a nightmare and is done with it. The third night, he’s stuck on the thought of just how real Rena’s blood feels running down his hands – how very warm, how very thick, how very red. If you can feel red, that’s what it would feel like. Horror and fear and dread and I think I just killed her, I think I just –
The sixth night, the image of Mion’s blood-spattered face is starting to burn itself into his eyes, and he’s not sure he can take it any more.
“You okay, Kei-chan?” she asks him the next day, after he looks at her face and pales from the not-memory.
“Yeah.” He manages a grin. “Just tired, is all.”
It’s not like you’re guaranteed an easy happy ending when you win. But when you’re sixteen and riding high on fresh victories and dreams, you don’t even think about details like that.
You don’t even think about the details.
(Head to the wall. Blood to the ground.
Dead, dead, dead. Red and orange and green and dead, dead, dead.
If only they hadn’t come after him. If only they hadn’t tried to kill him first. If only if only –
Too late, his hands are covered in it and he could choke himself on it before it all flows to the floor and you can’t undo what’s been done – )
He gasps when he opens his eyes, and his fingers strangle themselves in the sheets.
The next day is a school day. Complete with bright sun, chirping birds, and a wisp or two of cloud hovering behind the trees.
He trudges through lessons and eats with the club at lunch. Though he laughs and responds to everything they’re saying, he’s still preoccupied, mind wandering from gory image to gory image in a gallery built from days’ worth of nightmares.
He contemplates…mentioning the nightmares, to someone. Mion, maybe. Rena. Or Rika – Rika would have something to say, he feels. They’re all friends; he can tell them anything, right?
But something like this is just so…ridiculous, and. Where would he even begin?
Afternoon classes move at a crawl, and he barely manages to muster up the energy to match the rest of the club members – who knows what Mion and the rest would do to him if they thought he wasn’t giving his all.
For some reason, he smiles at the thought. After all, it’s different than all the other thoughts he’s had lately.
Shake it off.
“Hey, what are we going to do today?” Rena asks, voice breaking through his reverie.
“Hmmm.” Mion appears deep in thought. “You know, Irie-sensei might need some help at the next baseball match…so I say, it’s our duty to practice so we can pitch in!”
The girls chatter away, but all Keiichi can hear is the swish of a metal baseball bat through the air, over and over as though the batter was possessed by something more than just fear.
And, he imagines, a sick thud as it makes contact with human flesh and limb. Crunch, as it crushes skull, cartilage, bone.
When they are outside, he picks up a catcher’s mitt instead.
“Kei-chan, you’re not going to bat?”
“But you’re our ace!” Rena chips in.
“Nah, not today. I’ll…just pitch for you guys, all right?”
(Swish, thud, crunch.
Sometimes he doesn’t kill the girls. Sometimes he kills Satoko’s uncle. Sometimes he gets away with it, too. Sometimes he falls into the river. Sometimes, Satoko pushes him. Sometimes, they all push him down.
Sometimes he claws his throat out first.
Sometimes all of it happens all at once.
Always, though, he dies. Always always always always – )
Shake it off, he angrily thinks, and pitches a strike far more forcefully than he’d meant to.
In the early evening, he runs into Rika and Hanyuu in the shopping district.
“Oh, Rika-chan, Hanyuu. Shopping for dinner?”
“Nipah,” the girl replies, beaming and holding up a bag of leeks and ground meat.
“That’s very hardworking of you,” he says. Rika’s the one who knew everything – the one who alerted them to the Tokyo plan, the one who predicted their deaths, the one who banded them together.
The one who despaired that they couldn’t fight fate.
At the time, he thought it was a turn of phrase, being unable to fight ‘fate.’ Being unable to avoid her death and Hinamizawa’s ruin – a fate ordained by such a powerful, shadowy organization that they had no way of countering.
Fate, fate, fate…could ‘fate’ have meant something else? All those moments when she muttered to Hanyuu, when she whispered to herself –
“Do you remember how many times we’ve tried to fight this fate? How many times we’ve failed?”
His head starts to get a little hazy – has Rika talked to herself like that before? Recently? – and it’s like the dreams, more pieces of the not-realities he can’t put together, a rush of blood to the head –
(it’s a lie it’s a lie it’s a lie)
He blinks back to the present, finds the little girl looking at him with an expression too old for eyes so large and full of life.
“Ah, sorry.” He tries to laugh it off, rubbing the back of his head. “I just – haven’t been sleeping well lately, so I’m kind of tired.”
Rika eyes him with a piercing look. “Bad dreams?”
“Yeah, how’d you guess? That’s our little shrine priestess for you, huh?”
A split moment where her eyes shutter and the shadows on her face darken and he feels a shiver –
But he blinks and she’s suddenly ten years old again, all sunshine and cheer. “Mii~”
“…Ah well, it’s no big deal. It’ll go away eventually, I’m sure,” he manages. “I just…Rika, do you…”
She says nothing, and he – he just –
What’s the point?
“…No, never mind.” He shakes his head as though trying to shake off his demons. “I should leave you two to your shopping. See you guys tomorrow!”
Keiichi quickly walks away, eventually breaks into a jog that escalates into a run.
He’s not running from anything. He doesn’t know what he’d be running from. He just…doesn’t know.
(red red blood-hands-red)
And it’s not like he can ask her a damn thing. How can he, when he doesn’t even know how to say it?
After Keiichi abruptly leaves, the two girls walk in silence.
“Hau auu… I’m sorry, Rika,” Hanyuu says, when they’re alone on the road home. “This incarnation would have been the last…I didn’t have the power to stop their memories from – ”
She shakes her head, is ten going on three hundred. “We won, for the first time. We can get through everything else. We can.”
Hanyuu makes the same face at her the entire way home, but gets no reply in return.
It’s not until they make it home and Rika reaches for the door, hand not quite over the handle, that she speaks.
“…I just hoped…that they wouldn’t remember this much. That I wouldn’t have to say anything.”
Her voice is full of something dark and sticky. “What do you believe they will think, if they find out just what they’ve done in all those other worlds?”
“I’m…I’m sorry, Rika…if only I had – ”
“Like I said earlier: don’t be.” She grimaces. “This is something that they shouldn’t know. This…”
Hanyuu can’t even muster up a sound in reply.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry
(What Keiichi doesn’t know: Rena’s dreams started weeks before Watanagashi. Dreams of confronting the woman her father was ready to give so much of his livelihood to, dreams of cleaving her into pieces that would never be found.
What Keiichi doesn’t know: if she hadn’t had that dream, there always would have been the possibility that this scenario would have actually occurred.
What Rika knows: if that murder scenario had happened, if the strict rules governing reality and time hadn’t started to fracture, they never would have won.
What Rika knows: those aren’t the only dreams her friends have had. For Shion, Satoko, Mion – there are so many more where those came from, oh so many more.)
(Keiichi has been looking a little gaunter when he gets to class in the mornings, Rika thinks.
During break, when the rest of the girls have gone to the restroom and he’s laying his head against his desk as though the wood will help drown out the noise, she considers going up to him, explaining everything that’s happened in the roughly not-past 100 years, seeing what else she can do to help.
As if something like that even could.
What is she even supposed to say? We’d actually been repeating this past June over and over, all for the sake of averting a cruel fate? Which only I know anything about and only I remember? Except now that’s obviously not true, isn’t it?
Won’t you believe me?
But then the girls come back and he eases into a slow nonchalance with no cracks at the edges and she knows she has to say something.
After a few weeks, the nightmares become more sporadic, to the point where Keiichi can forget – well, where he can keep from thinking about it on some days.
But for every day like that, there’s another where he wakes up and isn’t entirely sure whether he’s had a dream or not. Where the incessancy of the bad nights automatically repeats the worst images in his mind upon waking, and then it doesn’t even matter if he actually dreamed it or not in the hours before.
At this point, recollection’s close enough to reality that it makes him sick.
He walks home from school with everyone, but Rika, Satoko, and Hanyuu take the first branch in the road, Rena says she’s off to hunt down cute things and vanishes down the next, and Shion has her part-time job, so it’s just him and Mion left in the end.
Keiichi remembers what Shion whispered in his ear that day, and barely refrains from turning a little red. Just barely.
The thought – him and Mion – does not mesh well with the other images running through his mind. Like him and Mion, both dead within hours of the other. Like him, holding a bat, and Mion – god, could he ever do that to her? There’s no way, right?
Why would he even dream up such a thing in the first place? What’s wrong with him?
Mion’s tone is serious; he startles.
“If…if something’s wrong, you’d tell me, right? You know you can tell me anything, right?”
He looks over at her, and she’s looking down at her feet, perhaps out of nervousness and…worry?
“Of course,” is all he can reply with.
“I’m glad.” She smiles. “You’d better remember, all right?”
“Yeah,” he whispers. “Yeah.”
“None of you told me a damn thing!”
Rena is shaking. “You said it didn’t matter. You said it was okay…”
“We apologized, back then,” Mion says. “I’m sorry, Keiichi. Really, you said – ”
“It doesn’t even matter!”
Satoko’s eerily silent and Rika looks at him with eyes that are far too deep and knowing, and he just can’t take it any more and the baseball bat’s in his hands and it’s all too easy –
It’s easier still, when they’re four picture-perfect corpses laying at his feet, drizzled with just the right amounts of red like paint on a splattered canvas. It’s easier when he makes the dreams crumble like this – it’s a stronger image, this one, you know –
(god just stop it stop it STOP IT)
( – He wakes up.
When he’s sliding out of bed after a minute spent calming down and untwisting himself from his sheets, he realizes that he has a new fear: that the dreams will take over and become more than mere dreams.
His palms feel horribly sweaty, and he has to look down just to make sure that that’s all that they are.
This has to stop.)
“Would you believe me no matter what I told you?” Rika says, her back turned to him.
“I would believe you.” They’d believed her before Wataganashi too. So easily, really. Because they were all friends, right? And because they’d all had that feeling – that it was time for the endgame. That they had to finish it. Somehow.
“We believed you,” he says, with more emphasis.
For a moment there is a long stretch of silence, and he swallows, feels sandpaper somewhere under his tongue.
“What if I told you that your dreams…” She pauses. “That your dreams aren’t just dreams?”
His skin starts to prickle with warning.
“I don’t follow,” he manages.
“What if I told you,” she continues, voice cutting like ice, “That everything you do or everything that is done to you in your dreams has actually occurred in reality before?”
I can’t believe that, he almost blurts out; instead, settles on, “Is that even possible?”
She turns to face him. “What if I told you that we’ve repeated an endless June for years and years, that in every permutation, Takano Miyo always managed to win? That all of you would eventually die, and I would be gruesomely murdered before the village was destroyed in the end?”
Silence. He remembers that she’s the queen.
Something flickers across the young girl’s face, as though she is calculating more than mere figures and probabilities. He still has nothing to say.
But then Rika’s expression suddenly brightens, and she’s ten years old with a secret all over again. “They’re just dreams, Keiichi. You don’t have to let them mean anything.”
“…Yeah, I know that,” he says with conviction, though it fades away before it can coat his words.
“It’s okay. It’ll be okay.”
“Yeah. I know.”
They won after all, didn’t they?
(What Keiichi doesn’t know: in Shion’s dreams, she slaughters them all in the name of vengeance for a boy who she doesn’t even know is still alive.
What Keiichi doesn’t know: in Satoko’s, there is all that and more, so much more. Confusion and guilt and you can’t help me and this is what I deserve.
What Keiichi would guess, and what Rika knows: for the rest of their group, those dreams are nothing more than fleeting nightmares too vague to really place – or hurt.
What Rika doesn’t know: how to help him.)
Another school day, another club activity.
Another punishment game, and he bears the frilly white tutu in blustering annoyance.
“How long is this going to go on until you guys get bored of this?” he grumbles, pulling at the tulle.
“Silly,” Mion chides. “Instead of asking questions like that, you should figure out how to beat us!”
“But really,” he moans. “Until we go off to college?”
The girls laugh. “You can’t possibly think that we’ll stop our fun then,” Satoko says with pure, sparkling malice.
“Mngh,” he manages.
And thinks about the dreams.
When will they end? This year? Next year? After university? When he’s old and graying? When is it going to stop?
A new, horrifying thought: will it ever stop?
There’s an afternoon when their group disperses after class, and he finds himself walking home with Mion and Rena.
He raises an eyebrow at Mion’s serious tone.
“Have you been taking care of yourself lately? You seem…sort of tired.”
He can’t stop the nervous laugh. “Ah, well, maybe. I just…haven’t been sleeping as well lately.”
Rena tilts her head at him. “Are you getting sick?”
“No, I just.” He doesn’t want to say it, because it’d get her involved and it’s ridiculous anyway, they’re only dreams, but… “I’ve just…been having a few bad dreams lately. That’s all.”
Mion’s face immediately turns three shades closer to ash, and Rena…falls eerily silent.
“Hey, hey.” He laughs it off. “It’s no big deal. Just a few dreams, you know? They’ll pass.”
“What kind of dreams are they?” Mion asks, not quite meeting his eye.
“Just…” He flounders. “You know. Crazy stuff, like all dreams. Nothing real or anything.”
“…Okay,” she replies, and drops the topic. Rena says nothing as well.
He has a faint suspicion, but doesn’t ask.
Before they part at the intersection, Mion whispers it: “You’re not alone, Keiichi.”
He knows he’s not hallucinating this one.
A few days go by; the colors of fall begin to creep in.
He looks in the mirror and thinks his face is not as pale and blood-drained as it seemed to be during the past few weeks.
Blood. The thought of blood still unnerves him.
(it’s only far too red)
It isn’t as though the dreams have stopped. They’ve changed, actually. More permutations of Hinamizawa Syndrome, more deaths. Different scenarios blending into each other as if time and space couldn’t constrain dimensions.
And Rika’s words, like an overlaying echo.
What if I told you that everything in your dreams happened before?
He can’t believe that. Well, he can – he just – was that really…? What happened? Did he really kill someone before?
Had they all killed someone before?
The teacher is drawing geometric applications on the board, and in between her motions in the air and the dusty white lines, he comes to his decision: It doesn’t matter. He needs to know.
(Maybe it will make a difference. Maybe it will help him.)
Maybe it won’t, but at this point, there is nothing to lose.
(Head to the ground, blood to the floor, a dance of reds and blues – )
“I want you to tell me about it,” he tells Rika after class.
The girl looks at him – through him – as though she is evaluating the situation with years and years’ worth of experience that she shouldn’t have.
“All right,” she replies, again with that voice.
Hanyuu silently stands behind them both, simply watching. Gives Rika a look, who in turn tilts her head towards the empty field that doubles as the school’s recess grounds.
They walk over. It’s quiet, and he clenches his fists, if only to get rid of the anxiety. Even if he already knows what she’s going to say.
“Everything I said was true, Keiichi.”
“Prove it.” Those weren’t the words he’d meant to say, but too late; they’ve already come out. “If there’s a way to prove it, I mean.”
Rika stares him down for several moments. Is she contemplating the situation? Considering her options?
“Once, you hallucinated heavily due to Hinamizawa Syndrome and killed Rena and Mion out of paranoia. You used Satoshi’s baseball bat.”
He shivers, because that’s the worst memory, the worst memory by far, and he’ll never forget the not-feel of that bat in his hands as he laid those killing blows –
“Twice – more than twice – you met Shion. You gave the doll from the toy store to Rena, not Mion, and it affected Mion greatly. Once, enough that she snapped and killed most of us. Another, enough that she told Shion about it, who couldn’t handle Satoshi’s disappearance and pressure from her family at the same time and – ”
He shudders, remembering those jarring, almost identical dreams that still differed just so, just enough to –
“ – the times you killed Satoko’s uncle, the times you got away with it, the times the Great Hinamizawa Disaster occurred – ”
No, he remembers all too well, falling from the bridge and being the sole survivor and dying a miserable death; he remembers all too well and stop it stop it stop it –
“The one time we almost succeeded. You tried so hard to save Satoko that you had the whole school and most of the town together behind you. You won the Sonozakis’ support. We learned who the real murderer was and we were so close, but then you were kil-”
“Stop it, Rika.” His hands are trembling. He can feel the truth down his spine, all sour and static and didn’t you say you wanted to know. “Please.”
She refrains. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why you’re the only one remembering everything this strongly. I’m sure that everyone has had the dreams at some point, but… Even if I did know, I…” Bitterly, she clenches her fists and looks away. “I wish I knew how to help you, what to tell you.”
(truth doesn’t set you free.)
He doesn’t understand. “But how do you know?”
She gives him a questioning look.
“I thought…I thought you said that I’m the only one remembering everything like this.” It dawns on him, then. “Unless…”
She gives him an unfazed look.
“I mean, you – did you – remember everything? Every time?” Surely not, he thinks, because that would be – utter hell. But no other answer makes sense.
“Yes,” is all she says.
Beat. He almost forgets to breathe.
“How did you…get through it?” he manages. “Every single summer? Every single death, over and over and over? And all by yourself?”
She looks at the sky, at the girl standing next to them. “Hanyuu was there. I wasn’t completely alone. And…there was no way to stop it. No way to stop.” Her eyes are sharp and piercing. “I had to keep going. There was never another option.”
Pause. He can’t comprehend the enormity of it. “Why did everything keep repeating, over and over again?”
Hanyuu speaks up for the first time. “I wanted everyone to get through it. I wanted…I wanted a happy ending for all of you.”
(We had to keep trying. We just had to.)
“You have to keep going, too, Keiichi,” Rika blurts out. “You just – ” and her voice cracks by a hundred years, just a little. “You just have to.”
“I know,” is what he says.
(No, I don’t, is what he can’t. Just for a brief flicker: I don’t – I don’t know.)
(sometimes winning doesn’t conclude the story.
sometimes, there isn’t even a storyline. no turning point, no plot.
no clean resolution.)
Another day. Rena separated from them at the last intersection, and he and Mion are walking along in silence. He’s dwelling on one of the gore-soaked images in particular today, and just…talks. “They aren’t dreams. They’re nightmares.”
She says nothing.
“They’re kind of…they’re just.” Dreams where I killed you. Dreams where you killed me. “Things that could never…”
He doesn’t know how to tell her. Should he tell her? Would it change anything? Would it make things worse?
Her voice drops on him like an anvil. “Where we all kill each other? Where bad things happen to us, over and over and over?”
“…So, you, too,” he manages.
(Just because I never mentioned them doesn’t mean I don’t have them, too.)
Silence. He kicks a pebble as they’re walking, watches it roll off the dirt road into the grass.
“You know, Mion,” he says, unsure whether to laugh miserably or not, “I think we’ve all had those…dreams. Déjà-vu moments. All those things we feel like we did…” He looks at her. “All those things we might have done.”
“But we didn’t.” The ghost of a bitter smile. “Otherwise, we couldn’t be standing here right now.”
“Not this time, no,” is all he concedes.
She looks at him, and again he gets the feeling that she knows more than he thinks she does. “When it gets really bad, just…tell me. Everything. Just talk to me. Okay?”
Her gaze is strong. Determined.
“Okay,” he says.
(What she doesn’t say: I killed you too.
I killed you, too. Even if it was just a dream.
No, she doesn’t say it.)
“I talked to Mion,” he tells Rika one day, months down the road. “She had a few of the dreams, too.”
“Everyone else does, a little,” she says.
“Are they…ever this bad, for anyone else?” he asks.
“No. Most of it ended after we stopped Takano Miyo. You’re the only one for whom the dreams became worse.” She looks down, as though she’s ashamed.
“Oh. Well, that’s good. I wouldn’t want them to go through this, you know.” He manages to grin.
“…It’s not right.”
“I said, it’s not right.” Rika’s shoulders are shaking. “We’ve been through so much. We won. Why do you have to suffer, even now…?”
“Hey.” He pats her on the head, pretends not to feel her quivering. “It’s not your fault. These things just happen. Once this bad spell passes, it’ll be okay.”
She shakes her head, over and over. “Even if that’s so, it’s still so unfair…”
He manages a laugh. “Hey, hey. If you cry, you’ll make me feel like the bad guy here.”
“I won’t,” she says, and does not look at him.
(Rika doesn’t know how to tell him how those hundred years of summer went by. How at first it affected her just as much as the dreams are affecting him, but how she’d become numb to it over time. How, during some cycles, it just didn’t seem to matter any more. Couldn’t make her feel. Was just another series of deaths. Was nothing she could avoid and nothing she could change, no matter what she did.
How there was nothing she could do. How she was powerless.
How, over time, she could barely remember that feeling of horror upon looking at the bodies, seeing the bleeding weapons in her friends’ hands. How the physical pain of her death was the only thing that held her fast to the endless recursions of time, in some cases.
How she’d never ‘gotten over it’ or ‘made peace with it’; simply felt less and less after the passage of years and years.
How is she supposed to tell him something like that? That the epilogue isn’t as clean as in the books they’ve read? That all he can do is – wait, and bide his time?
She doesn’t know how to tell him that kind of story. Not like this.)
Months go by. The club is as active as ever, and he is never alone.
He starts to wake up without bleeding a sweat, and slowly, he learns to breathe again.
Winter’s coming soon. Keiichi’s surprised, in a way, that time keeps passing. That so much time has passed.
When the dreams first started, he thought he could never live through a week of that. Or a month. Or a season. Without something drastically changing, at the least, or without something clicking firmly into place. It’s not like the images have gone away entirely, but they’re simply…not as intense or as vivid as before.
(He can inhale deeply when he wakes up without feeling some kind of acrid burn in his lungs.)
It’s like the horror has passed, if nothing else.
He wonders if talking to Rika was what helped him. He wonders if he unconsciously resolved it all somewhere, somehow.
He wonders if it was just time.
“I still…” Rika begins to say, one day. “I wish it had never happened this way. I – ”
“No.” He shakes his head. “It’s not your fault. It’s not Hanyuu’s, either.”
She’s about to protest, but he jumps in first. “If anything, I want to thank you. For telling me the truth.”
“Knowing how or why doesn’t make anything better, though,” she says, insisting.
“But I’m still glad you told me anyway.” He looks away, remembers the weight of the bloodied bat in his hands. “I guess I just...still can’t believe it, in a way. That I did that to all of you.”
“That we did all of that to each other.”
He shrugs it off. “Still. That I could just…have done that, I – ”
“No, Keiichi. You had Hinamizawa Syndrome. Things happened. Things that all of us took part in, one way or another. You have nothing to feel ashamed of.”
He pauses. “Then you shouldn’t have anything to be ashamed of, either.”
She gives him a wry, aged look. “Then I guess we both have a ways to go.”
They laugh, and he finds it strange, that this is the first moment where he really feels, We’ll get through this. It’ll all be all right.
He looks in the mirror and doesn’t see a ghost. He wakes up and doesn’t quash the urge to scream.
He sees the day break and feels something. Something lighten. Something relax.
It’s only for a moment, but that moment feels like a miracle.
Spring. It might be summer soon. He doesn’t really know.
He and Mion are sitting on the field, which is deserted on such a Sunday. She’s been his confidante more and more lately, and he doesn’t know when it began. But she took everything in stride – the hundred years of repetition, the gruesome dreams and their descriptions.
“I shouldn’t have told you all this,” he muttered that day. “You don’t need to know.”
“Don’t be an idiot. It’s nothing that I didn’t know on some level. And I don’t want you to bear the burden alone.”
He couldn’t put the feelings he had into words. Even now, he doesn’t know how to describe it.
She shifts and leans back against the tree they’re sitting by, and he notices how very close she is. “I wish there was something I more could do,” she says.
He shakes his head. “It’s fine. It’ll get easier eventually, anyway. It already has.”
He’s not lying. He believes in that future.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty about it, though,” Mion sternly says. It’s a topic that has come up lately with more frequency.
“Why? I killed you. I killed all of you. Even if I didn’t do it…this time, you know? I still…did. Sometime, somewhere.”
“Then by that logic, we all did the same thing. And we should all be rotting in hell for what we did yet didn’t do.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“No, you basically did.”
He doesn’t bother arguing. It would take too much.
They sit in silence for a few moments.
“I forgive you, though.”
Her voice drops to a whisper. “I forgive you, Keiichi, because how could I ever blame you for something like that? When we all could have done the same thing? I know you. I know the kind of person you are. I love you for it. And I just know you would never…do something like that. Not the you that you are now.”
He turns very red – and she’s blushing too – but he doesn’t attempt to move. Except for his hand, which he places on hers.
She almost jumps, and tries to sharply glare at him when his laughter rings out. But it’s contagious, and soon they’re laughing and laughing like they just can’t stop.
“I meant what I said, though,” she says when they’ve calmed down.
His hand is still on top of hers.
Sometimes he relapses, back to a nightmare that has him breaking out in sweat.
Sometimes he doesn’t.
Sometimes he wakes up, stretches, goes to school. Has fun with the club, walks back home, goes to bed.
Wakes up again.
Keeps on going.
(there’s no such thing as instant recovery. only a slow gradation that seeps into the sleeping and the breathing and the living and suddenly, it’s not as heavy any more. suddenly, it’s not as painful any more.
suddenly, it’s closer to okay than what you ever imagined was possible.
that suddenly smooth transition – that’s all you can hope for.
that's all you really want.)
One day, out of what he can only call morbid fascination, he goes to the locker and takes out that metal bat.
There is no blood on the aluminum body. No distinguishing marks except for his name engraved in the end. It’s the bat, and yet…it’s any other bat that a kid would swing around. Just a toy. Just another object.
He gives it a swing.
(blood and broken bones, but not here. not now.)
It’s funny how he still remembers, yet it’s not quite like it used to be.
The next time the club plays baseball, he goes up to bat. Rika gives him a look, and Hanyuu wears that worried expression again.
He catches their eyes and shakes his head. They step back.
He hits a perfect grounder, and he thinks he might’ve heard them cheer.
“I’m glad, Keiichi,” is all the shrine maiden says.
Wataganashi again. Back to where they all started.
Their group has dispersed among the stands – Hanyuu and Rika to prepare for the dance, Satoko to find Dr. Irie, Rena to buy something that she just couldn’t not take home from one of the stands, and Shion to somewhere she wouldn’t say – and he merely stands there, looking in the direction of the shrine. Remembering.
He might have had a dream recently, but it doesn’t seem to bleed him to the bone any more. It doesn’t mean that it’s all faded and gone, or that there isn’t a scar or three, but – he’s begun to accept it. He has to move on.
“You’re too quiet, Keiichi.”
He startles. Mion gives him a little grin.
“Sorry. I was just…remembering.”
She says nothing, merely grips his hand all the tighter.
He grips right back.
It’s not the easy ending they’d believed in, but they’ll live through it all the same. Push forward, move aside, wake up from the dreams and step back from the memories. They have to, and they will.
(You’re not alone, she says.
I know, he says. I know.)
Thanks to Rae for the quick read-through, and thanks for reading.