In the Shadows of Utopia

Chapter 13

Four weeks later.

A bullet drilled its way straight through the target’s abdomen, exiting the other side to penetrate the pockmarked tree behind it and—its fury spent—fall to the ground. Another followed, and another. Splinters spiralled lazily onto the grass.

Standing less than halfway down the cleared strip of woodland that served as a range, Kurisu surveyed the resulting pattern gloomily. ‘Honestly, I could defend myself better by throwing you at people,’ she groused. The pistol in her hands wisely gave no reply as she let the empty magazine fall and slotted in the next one, her hands moving in the quick, deft movements that had taken her a week to get down. Effort that was apparently wasted, because she could barely manage a decent spread at ten paces without spending an impractical amount of time aiming. God forbid she ever fire at a moving target.

Of the next clip, half hit the target and the rest went wide or missed it altogether. She sighed.

A polite cough notified her of someone’s presence. ‘The problem is in your arms, you know.’

The voice’s possessor had become quite familiar by now, though Kurisu’s fingers still tightened on the pistol-grip. Doubtless the woman been so careful in announcing her presence because she’d known Kurisu would react in that very way.

Kurisu sighed, and kept her weapon trained on the target. ‘So what’s wrong with my arms?’

‘Oh, they’re too loose. It lets the recoil spoil your aim. Your first shots aren’t bad, but the end of the clip is all over the place. Keep your arms taut enough to stop that, but not so much that they’re shaking.’

The next few bullets were on-target, at least. Lowering the gun, she ejected the second magazine and clicked on the safety cap before turning to look her ‘instructor’ in the eyes.

Eye, actually. All of Kurisu’s effort had not been enough to save the right; half Feyris’ face was covered in gauze and bandages while the ravaged abyss healed beneath and the crown of her head was similarly adorned. Given that she honestly hadn’t expected Feyris to live through the original surgery, let alone the three weeks since the removal of her chip, Kurisu counted it as a pretty good bargain. Even if the former idol’s tresses had been sacrificed to the cause.

On the plus side, the woman was no longer threatening her life, nor trying to seduce her into selling her soul. But Kurisu had stripped away the shining copper armour that protected Feyris from her own thoughts; now that they were no longer adversaries neither of the two could look each other in the eye without difficulty—an outcome Kurisu regarded as entirely perverse.

‘You’ve lost your shadow,’ Kurisu commented neutrally.

‘A temporary separation only,’ Feyris smiled back a moment before they both flinched as another target sprouted a gaping hole. From behind a crack sounded, akin to the snapping of a gargantuan twig. Feyris regarded it fondly. ‘She’s found a hobby.’

‘Right, because what a girl like her needs is to be even more disturbing than she already is,’ Kurisu retorted. ‘Did you know she carries a knife around with her? A freaking butterfly knife!’

‘I … had suspected as much for a while now,’ Feyris admitted. ‘I’d hoped that she would never be in a situation where she’d have to use it, but we both know how that turned out. And since it has come to this, I think that what she needs is as many ways to keep herself safe as we can find, don’t you?’

Not quite agreeing but unwilling to argue, Kurisu nodded.

‘I’m sure the rest of the lab will look out for the girl once they arrive,’ she pointed out. ‘Granted, Itaru refuses to talk to her—although he doesn’t actually leave the room like he does when I walk in—and I can’t speak for Yuki, but I bet the moment Mayuri sees her she’ll think Eiri’s the cutest thing since the Upa craze.’

Feyris’ lips curved up wistfully. ‘That sounds like her. Does Mayuri still play dress-up with people?’

‘See this?’ Kurisu indicated her long hair. It had grown even longer over the past month, and was far more dishevelled than its creator had intended, but it still retained the strange forked structure Mayuri had put it in. ‘Her work. I’m sure it’s from an anime of some kind. Plus… well, she did Hououin Kyouma’s suit.’

Feyris looked as though she had bitten into a lemon, simultaneously annoyed at her failure and castigating herself for caring.

‘Mmm. I suppose I’ll be seeing her in person soon enough. Oh, but please don’t misunderstand me: listening to your stories is all very well and good, Kurisu, but this’ll be a proper reunion. Find out what’s changed… What’s stayed the same… I’m looking forward to it.’

‘This evening, right?’ Kurisu forced herself to sound cheerful at the prospect.

‘Quite so. Yet you sound curiously unenthused,’ Feyris said, her one eye narrowing. ‘Something wrong?’

Only a lingering unease with the woman prevented Kurisu from glaring at her. ‘Something wrong? Really?’

‘Yes. Come on, Kurisu, you know you can’t hide things from me.’

Gritting her teeth, Kurisu stared death at the other woman, only to be presented with her back as she turned to lean against a tree. ‘And you know perfectly well why I might not be jumping for joy at the prospect of meeting the wife of the man I nearly beat to death, let alone the woman who interrogated me and decided—incorrectly—that I was trustworthy. For that matter, I pretty much tried to betray every one of them. So yes, I am ‘unenthused’. Surprise, surprise.’

‘I wouldn’t say that you tried to betray them,’ Feyris said quietly, still facing away. ‘You did what you thought could save—’

‘Don’t. Just… don’t. That conversation was fun enough the first time.’

‘Sorry. All I want to say is that I can empathise. Six years, I spent doing something that I knew my friends would have loathed me for, corrupting everything I touched… You’ve seen it for yourself.’

‘Iida?’

‘Eiri. She was the daughter of an old shopkeeper I knew; when I found out he died in the takeover, I went looking for her. Found her in one of our orphanages, adopted her, tried to raise her like he would have wanted—an admirable thing to do, wouldn’t you say? But it all got twisted. My masters were everything to me, you see, and everything I did had to be for them.’

Another gunshot split the air; another bullet impaled the target in the head. ‘Rather than raise Eiri, I ended up grooming her.’

Kurisu let the silence stretch out.

‘If you’re feeling guilty about using people,’ she said eventually, ‘it might help if you were actually honest with them.’

Feyris’ shoulders stiffened.

‘What?’ Kurisu folded her arms even though the other woman couldn’t see. ‘That’s what this conversation was really for, right? You just didn’t want to admit it.’

‘Old habits die hard.’ Still leaning against the tree, Feyris let herself slide to the ground in forced nonchalance, unheeding of the bark scraping against her clothes. Kurisu sat down opposite, cursing the fate that had let her to becoming so many people’s impromptu therapist. Although it did bring with it the satisfaction of finally outmanoeuvring Feyris.

‘You’re obviously not looking forward to seeing the others again. If there’s something you want to get off your chest, just say it.’

‘It’s been six years since I saw them last. Six years that I spent trying to hunt them down. I’ve killed their friends and chipped their allies; I’ve spat on their efforts and their ideals; and I sentenced them to a lifetime of menial labour. The doubt, the pain, the fear they must have felt in all that time, it’s on my head. Also, I tried to seduce Daru,’ she said, a wry note breaking through the uncharacteristic gloom. ‘I barely met his wife, but I can’t imagine that’s going to go down well.’

‘…Don’t you think you’re overreacting a little?’ Kurisu asked as delicately as she could. ‘I mean, the Organisation chipped you. It’s not like you did it on purpose.’

The intensely charismatic, refined woman’s one eye rolled up. ‘Yes, yes, of course they’ll forgive me. For god’s sake, I’m walking around in the middle of a Valkyrie base and nobody bats an eyelash! One glimpse of the bloody socket you left behind and I’m absolved.’

‘So what’s the problem?’

‘Because that isn’t how it works. It’s like… oh, you’ve never had a chip, how can I explain…’ Feyris sighed, rubbing at the eyepatch with one hand. ‘Have you ever been angry, Kurisu? So angry you can barely see straight, so absolutely livid that you can’t keep your mouth shut and out come the most stupid things…’

A face came to mind. Her dad, spiralling in on himself, snarling at her like a wounded dog. The last time she’d seen him. I’m your father, you little bitch!

But the image was displaced by another memory. A recent memory.

Itaru, that night. Half dead with exhaustion, hunger and thirst, heaping every misfortune he’d suffered upon her head. But it wasn’t his anger she was thinking of, oh no, it was the memory of her own fury. Treading down on his wrist, watching him writhe as bones gave way one by one…

‘You do understand,’ Feyris said, watching her face. ‘It’s not somebody else who does those things. You might regret them afterwards, they might seem like something you could never normally do… but it’s you who did them. Only you.’

She lowered her gaze.

‘That’s what it’s like. I’m not the Administrator any more, but she was me. I am responsible for those actions; part of me needs to be held to account for the things I did and there’s nobody who will.’ Feyris shrugged helplessly, more open than Kurisu had ever seen her. ‘You can see why I’m not in the mood for a reunion either.’

‘I didn’t realise so much blended over,’ Kurisu admitted. ‘Though I still think you’re taking too much of it to heart. The metaphor’s all very nice, but the fact remains that you didn’t really have a choice in what you did.’

‘It’s kind of you to say so,’ Feyris said, still staring at her feet. Increasingly uncomfortable, Kurisu tried to leave but was stopped when she spoke again. ‘And isn’t the same true of you?’

‘Eh?’ Kurisu turned back.

‘What I said on the way here was a lie.’ Feyris’ voice was stronger now and she stood up gracefully, her leggings covered in leaves and bits of bark. ‘You never really had a choice in making the time machine. If that stint in the Administration wasn’t my fault, then this world isn’t yours.’

‘I think that would be more comforting if I hadn’t decided to betray everyone anyway. But thanks. And facing the others will probably make you feel better.’ Kurisu smiled a little nostalgically. ‘For all your guilt, Feyris’ reign of terror doesn’t seem to have made them any less lively.’

‘I’ll do that, then. And you should speak to Okabe.’

Kurisu wanted to argue, or just leave in silence, but something about the hesitance in Feyris’ voice hinted that a considerable effort had been required to talk with Kurisu as she had. Not because of the guilt that Feyris had shown her, but something else… Despite the fact that Feyris had been manipulating her into acting as her confessional, Kurisu felt impelled to nod.

Then she left.

Okabe, or Hououin Kyouma, wasn’t hard to find here—every soldier she encountered was happy to point her toward the saviour of the Ban-Etsu expressway; the man who’d destroyed an army with a single Komatsu. The idiot made such a song and dance about his title that she hadn’t realised how much it truly meant to the people out here. Hououin Kyouma was a hero: Chuck Norris and MacGyver and Yui Shōsetsu all rolled into one. And, it had turned out, so was the woman who’d carried him here. Her newfound reputation was useful, in that the Valkyrie were willing to take her word over Itaru’s about the events of the last few months, but even as a scientific prodigy she wasn’t used to receiving this much attention.

In this case, she would try the Byronic young man sitting on a recently-cut stump as he watched fifty men and women do push-ups on the cleared earth of the forest floor. Despite slipping out of their overalls, they were still slick with sweat—the exercise didn’t look all that stringent but the heat of September combined with the natural humidity of a million trees respiring made the smallest exertion a strain here. Kurisu had trained with them often lately, determined to be less physically unprepared, and knew from experience.

‘So you saw him recently,’ she asked.

‘Indeed. About five minutes ago, I believe. He seemed to be in some hurry.’

‘Great. Thanks!’ she said, striding off. An observer would have found her gait most peculiar: a fast walk to catch up with Okabe even as her feet dragged so as not to. It lasted all of two minutes before enough cognitive dissonance built up to trip her and leave her sprawled on the ground. Berating herself for foolishness, it was a moment before Kurisu realised she’d found her target.

And that Feyris’ advice had been given a little late.

The lab members were already here.

An ecstatic Mayuri had got to Okabe first; clasping him gently but firmly in her arms. From the looks of it she was scolding him but her smile was the widest Kurisu had even seen her wear, blinding even at this distance. Okabe just held her in return, saying nothing. His expression was fond, care and worry banished at last.

Not far away, a much more heated reunion was happening: Itaru and Yuki had forsaken any notion of public sensibility in favour of sticking their tongues down each others’ throats. Swaying together, they clung to each other, kissing with such fervour that it seemed like they could make up for a week of lost time in a single nanosecond. Ruka, naturally, was entirely occupied in keeping his hands over Suzuha’s eyes.

None of the new arrivals had seen Kurisu yet, caught up in each other, and nor would they as she watched them from the shadows. Supposing they had, they would have seen a look of peace and acceptance pass over her; an appreciation, as of someone who sees a fine tableau in a museum and derives contentment in the simple fact of its existence.

Feyris herself showed up not long after and Kurisu saw her visibly hesitate before mastering herself and walking over to them as regally as if she’d never had a second thought. The entire lab clustered joyfully around their old friend and Kurisu nodded in satisfaction. They’d earned this moment, all of them, and she’d make sure they had it.

Which meant taking care of a delivery.

It had taken a week for their party of five near-dead travellers to recover enough to apprise their hosts of the situation. Colonel Shoda had promptly sent out a messenger to contact the friends and family they’d left behind and what the Valkyrie had found had been devastation. Iida was gone.

The Organisation, surprised and frightened by the mass uprising, yet unwilling to erase a confirmed kill of ‘Hououin Kyouma’, had simply called in reinforcements and wiped the place off the map. Not even ruins remained—the prefabricated town had been folded up and taken away while the corpses had been destroyed along with all the survivors who couldn’t be chipped in a reasonable timeframe. Ruthless, brutal, and it had worked like a charm. The story of Iida had vanished along with its inhabitants.

On seeing that the area was no longer safe, the decision had been made to move the Nostalgia Drive for the second time in its history. Rather than dismantle it, the rest of the lab had simply loaded it into the truck and taken it with them as soon as the Rounders had relaxed security. Kawanuma Base might have been recently established but that only made it more likely to be a secret; if this wasn’t a safe place to keep it, nowhere would be. Not to mention that it would be less vulnerable to politicking—each Valkyrie base remained theoretically independent while united under the same banner. However, the heads of those bases were as diverse in strategy as they were in circumstance and Okabe had once confided to her that they were prone to scheming, convinced that theirs was the only way to save humanity. Colonel Shoda was too blunt for such things.

‘Oi!’ the driver of the truck she’d headed for accosted her as she hopped up into the back. ‘Get the hell out! Nobody but the passengers are allowed in!’

‘Nah, she’s okay,’ one of the soldiers hanging around interjected. Her advocate was a small but muscular redhead whose fiery colour (in an era without dye) made Kurisu’s auburn seem decidedly inadequate.

The driver smiled, puffing up. If he was closer, he would have patted them on the head. ‘Okay, is she? I hate to disappoint you both but ‘okay’ isn’t going to cut it for something this important. Unless she’s the bloody Phoenix in a wig, she’s not getting in. Clear?’

The soldier rolled green eyes. ‘Close enough for the likes of you. That’s Makise Kurisu. She works with Kyouma – saved his life – and trust me if you don’t jump when she says then you’ll have hell to pay later.’

‘Right,’ Kurisu said. Being recognised by someone obviously new in Kawanuma (the soldier had to be, Kurisu hadn’t seen her at meals before) was both humbling and a little frightening. She was still keeping too many secrets to be comfortable with it. ’Yes. Can you help me get it out of the truck, please?’

‘Sure he can. Right?’

That last was directed at the driver, who was looking decidedly sour but grunted in affirmation while keeping up a constant stream of muttered invective. ‘…nobody bothers to tell me anything, oh no, let Shiki get chewed out by the prissy bitch and her guard dog…’

Sure enough, the Nostalgia Drive was there, boxed and nestled in the softest fabrics Mayuri had been able to get her hands on. Probably whatever bits of Kurisu’s old uniform hadn’t been sewn and dyed into Okabe’s costume…

‘Hmm. Not sure that thing’s even cool enough to be called retro,’ the soldier commented, having followed Kurisu in. Obviously the driver’s ego had been thoroughly punctured; he hadn’t even bothered trying to stop her. ‘It’s not even dorky, just… dull. Is that really a time machine?’

‘It had better be,’ Kurisu sighed.

‘Looks heavy enough. Need a hand?’

Kurisu balanced her weight in microwave and electronics on one end of an imaginary scale, the apparently nonexistent secrecy of the Nostalgia Drive on the other, and smiled gratefully.

‘If you wouldn’t mind—’

‘It won’t be necessary.’ A third voice spoke up from just behind the soldier’s ear, barely far back enough to dodge an instinctive headbutt. ‘Though it’s very kind of you to offer, Miss…?

‘Lieutenant Uno. Um… El Tee Uno,’ the soldier mumbled. ‘Not Miss.’

The sudden shyness, that dazzled tone… Kurisu didn’t even bother turning around.

‘Ruka. How nice to see you again,’ she said, not even trying to sound enthusiastic. Between the grudge she still bore from their last meeting and the awkward knowledge that, if anything, the man hadn’t gone hard enough on her, Kurisu found she could barely remain civil.

‘And the same to you,’ he replied easily. ‘Lieutenant, would you mind giving Makise and I a few moments alone? We have private matters to discuss, and since I heard someone disparaging the open-mouthedness of soldiers not a moment ago…’

‘Yup. Can do,’ Uno said, overcompensating her way out of the daze Ruka’s presence tended to invoke. ‘Remember, Lieutenant Uno. Look me up if you want someone to show you around!’

‘Ever the pretty-boy, aren’t you?’ Kurisu said sourly.

‘People do seem to think so. Well, she doesn’t seem like the kind of person who usually requests my company, but if that’s what she desires…’

Despite having a good rant set up about spying on her conversations, Kurisu found herself derailed.

‘Requests? That’s how you work?’

Ruka nodded, favouring her with a smile that would make any other woman’s heart flutter.

Oh, fine. Any woman.

‘This is a lonely world.’ He raised a hand, watching the thin, dainty fingers flex as though they belonged to someone else. ‘At least there’s something this body’s good for.’

Kurisu’s eyelid twitched. ‘So, did they send you to check up on your work?’

Ruka interrupted her. ‘I came to thank you!’

Something throbbed in her temple. For the second time in five minutes, she found herself blindsided.

‘…eh?’

‘You saved my life!’ Ruka said passionately, clasping her shoulders and getting far too close to her face in so doing.

‘…I did?’

‘Okabe told me that it was all thanks to you they managed to rescue me!’

‘…well, not really all…’

‘I knew it was dangerous, doing what I was doing. Okabe and I agreed long ago that it was best not to come for me if the worst happened. But you tried anyway, even after I tricked you. So, um, thank you very much. It means a lot to me.’

He fiddled with his fingers

Look, I know some pretty weird stuff happened on your trip here, though I haven’t had time to get the specifics yet. But it isn’t important right now. Can we just… start over, as friends?’

Kurisu had frozen, unable to explain that she’d done it for Okabe, not… Looking at Ruka’s heartfelt expression of gratitude, the words withered on the textual vine.

‘…I’d like that.’

The next thing she knew, a pair of arms was wrapped around her and a close-but-not-actually-female form was pressed tightly to her. She hadn’t really been emotionally prepared to do anything more than politely greet the new arrivals, and she certainly hadn’t expected this. But it warmed her anyway.

‘D’aww. If only Mayushii had her camera right now…’

Kurisu’s eyes met Ruka’s equally wide ones. Slowly, they slid to the right.

‘M-Mayuri!’ Kurisu stammered.

‘Well of course, silly! I guess you didn’t know we were here, right? So I had to go looking for you myself. Don’t worry, it was no trouble at all—looks like everyone knows you here, so all I had to do was ask around and voila! Kurisu!’

Mayuri’s eyes narrowed speculatively.

‘Hey, Ruka. Let go of her a second, wouldja?’

‘Why, what—’

‘Too late!’ The small woman released a cry of bloodthirsty glee and attacked, wrapping her arms around the pair’s waists and struggling to lift them into the air.

‘No? Alrighty then, how about this!’ Mayuri tugged backwards instead, with all the weight she could muster. Trying to brace herself, Kurisu realised too late that a crafty foot had been slid between her ankles; all she could do as her legs slid out from under her was close her eyes in resignation.

Both women toppled. Ruka, who’d let go at the critical moment, surveyed them with a face that had been carefully excised of amusement.

‘Mayuri, dear,’ he said patiently. ‘I’m sorry, but do you know what the word ‘antics’ means?’

‘Yup!’

‘It’s not a word that should be associated with a mature woman,’ Ruka scolded.

Mayuri demonstrated said maturity by sticking her tongue out and blowing a raspberry, forcing Ruka to turn away in order to retain his composure.

‘Anyway I came to invite you to the party we’re gonna have, Kurisu!’

Hearing this, Kurisu—emotionally exhausted—decided that discretion was the better part of valour and would form the order of battle for today.

‘That’s very kind of you, sweetie, but I need to get the Nostalgia Drive back to the lab and start running some tests, we really can’t waste time and—’

‘No refusals.’

‘But—’

‘No buts.’

Kurisu began trying to push herself up while Mayuri clung on like a dark limpet.

‘Don’t you want to spend time with us?’ The angle was wrong for deployment of puppy eyes but having Mayuri’s downcast voice delivered directly into her left ear had a similar effect. Worse was when she said, in an entirely serious voice, ‘We missed you.’

Kurisu sagged. ‘I missed you too. Of course. But things are a little bit complicated at the moment and I’d feel better just sitting down with a problem to solve.’

The arms around her shoulders loosened as Mayuri dropped. ‘Complicated how? Did someone do something?’

‘Yes. And that someone was me. I appreciate the thought but like I said, it’s complicated!’

‘Nu-uh. Make it simple for a night, okay? Things can be complicated in the morning.’

Conversation with Mayuri was like being accosted by a tornado: first you see something dark on the horizon, then comes hear a terribly loud noise right before it sucks you up into its wake. She was an unstoppable force of nature.

Lacking the strength to resist further, Kurisu nodded assent.

‘Now there’s the party spirit!’ Mayuri clapped her hands and gestured dramatically. ‘Ruka! There a ton of weighty old machinery in that truck; we need a big strong man to carry it to the lab!

‘…I am only one of those things. And that barely.’

‘Kurisu! Show Ruka which bits are ours. He’ll whine a bit, but don’t let him guilt you into things!’

The temperature fell a few degrees as everyone who wasn’t Mayuri shared exactly the same thought.

Lt. Uno had been right—news hopped between soldiers like an impulse through the nervous system, spreading and expanding through the network to trigger a mass contraction. So the party ended up being pretty big news.

At least it took the heat off her. She hadn’t seen Itaru all night, and Yuki had only managed to exchange a hello with her before the movements of the crowd had whirled her away again. She’d seemed perfectly friendly—but then again, Yuki was good at seeming.

When one of the new recruits had pulled out a lovingly-maintained guitar and launched into a passable attempt at some old tunes, she decided that her promise to socialise in no way covered dance and beat a hasty retreat.

And as if it were ordained by fate, she ran slap-bang into Okabe himself.

The man seemed to have aged ten years since Ruka had been kidnapped. Starvation had made him gaunt, hardening his face and hollowing his cheeks, but the true damage went deeper. That glint was gone. The dynamism of his body was lost—where once he’d strutted through life like an actor performing a play of his own design, now he slumped on his crutches and watched the party in silence. In short, he looked like hell.

‘Kurisu. Sweet and gentle as always,’ he said in reply to this.

Yet he’d smiled when he saw her coming. Just for a moment, but…

‘Well, I hate to say it, but you do. Frankly I’m surprised Mayuri let it get this bad. Or did the sheer depth of Hououin Kyouma’s gloom prove too much for her?’

‘I hid.’

‘Of course you did,’ she sighed. ‘Okay, we could have a long and involved discussion where I carefully steer us round to what’s bugging you… but honestly I think I’ve fulfilled my quota of those for today. Any chance we could just skip to the good part?’

‘Thank you, but no. Honestly, I’d rather just wait it out.’

‘Hmm. That’s… probably for the best, considering…’ The next words were difficult, if necessary, but once her mouth opened they fell out fully-formed. ‘Okabe, we need to stop this.’

‘And what, pray tell, is ‘this’?’

‘I like you. And you like me. If this were a different world, and a different time, that’s all that would matter, but…’

‘…here and now, we have a duty.’ Okabe finished. ‘Didn’t you tell me the opposite, before we rescued Ruka? That people could have both?’

‘And look how that turned out.’ Kurisu raised a hand before Okabe could say anything. ‘Let me finish. I need to say this right.’

The clearing was full of noise. Laughter, voices loud in jest and soft in scandal, the stamping of feet; a defiant banner against the future. Kurisu watched them for a time, struck by the fragility of the moment.

‘All of this should have been destroyed,’ she said eventually. ‘Feyris gave me the choice that would determine the fate of humanity, and that was my answer. I chose that way because of you. Because I have feelings for you. I want you to be safe, and happy, and I want the same for all my friends.’

Okabe’s eyes flashed, looking as though it was taking visible effort for him to remain silent.

‘It’s unacceptable,’ Kurisu said simply. ‘The world can’t rest on my selfish emotions, and yet even when there were six billion lives at stake, you outweighed them all. So I have to take you off the scales. From now on, I’m putting humanity first.’

Silence.

‘Um. You can talk now.’

‘What about everything you said before?’ Okabe said with a surprising amount of bitterness. ‘That we shouldn’t have to sacrifice things. That we should do the impossible!’

‘Doing the impossible is impossible. Iida and half the Valkyrie can testify to it. I was naïve, Okabe. Worse, I was wrong.’

He nodded, stiffly. ‘Then there’s nothing else to say, is there? You’ve closed your mind to any words I could speak. See you in the morning, Kurisu. Or should that be Makise, now?’

‘Makise would be better,’ she said, her voice thin as all her conviction drained away.

‘Then goodnight, Makise. It’s been a pleasure.’

Impeded by his crutches, it took Okabe an eternity to leave as Kurisu hid her shaking fists in her pockets. Only when she was sure he was out of sight did she let go. She kicked the nearest prefab hard enough to dent it and, before anyone could comment, fled the shifting, shimmering party lights to find somewhere dark enough to cry.


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