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Even in Death

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“N-No… Junpei… th-this’s gotta be a joke…”

Aoi was staring at the head in the freezer, placed on the middle of a shelf and staring out into the room. It was undeniably Junpei’s head, but that meant that those body parts, all of them- they’d been using Junpei’s body for the puzzle. Aoi couldn’t move, he couldn’t breathe- Why Junpei?

Why Junpei?!

“You… you’ve gotta be kidding me…”

Carlos didn’t look much better off than Aoi, staring at the decapitated head in horror.

“O-out… I have to… w-we have to get out…”

On the floor in the freezer was an axe and a chainsaw- Aoi shuddered at the former as memories of Clover’s rampage pushed their way to the surface, threatening to throw off his already unstable mind. He forced himself to examine the weapons from afar, both lying in a sea of blood- it was enough to make someone want to be sick.

Carlos limply picked up the axe, and Aoi took a step back out of instinct. He didn’t want to relive that pain, once had been enough for him; but it looked like Carlos had other plans. He ran screaming at the door out of the room, doing his best to force the door open but making little progress- likely by virtue of his current mental state.

“Dammit…. Fuck! Fuck this!”

Aoi picked up the chainsaw and started it up, not bothering to wait for Carlos to get out of the way before running at the door. Woodchips battered his face and body but he didn’t care, didn’t care- they needed out of here, now.

Open! Open, damn you! Fucking OPEN!!”

The door didn’t seem to listen, but the chainsaw was doing the work for him, eventually destroying the door enough that they were able to walk through it. Once out, Aoi let the engine slow to a stop: there was no need for it anymore, after all…

He and Carlos walked to the lounge in silence, each of them taking a spot on a couch, unable to talk. Aoi wasn’t even sure what to think- he wanted to cry, he wanted to scream, he wanted to curse whatever cruel god existed solely to fuck with him- and the cumulation of all those emotions was to stare dead into space, unable to express any of them.

I didn’t kill Junpei. I didn’t kill him, but the only other person here… the only other possibility is Carlos. Did he… is it even possible for him? Is he really capable of murder- and one that brutal?’

It didn’t seem right- no, Aoi was missing something, something big. If he could just ask Junpei, that’d solve all their problems right now- but no, Junpei was dead.

“I just… I just wanted that five hundred thousand. I just wanted to save Maria… so I absolutely can’t die here.”

Aoi stared at Carlos- he didn’t look right. It was likely that Carlos was on the same line of thinking that Aoi was: either Carlos was the murderer and trying to figure out how to kill Aoi, or Carlos was also innocent, and they were both about to make a terrible mistake. Carlos’s grip on the fire axe had tightened- it was subtle, but not subtle enough.

“Was that your motive, then? Did you kill Junpei just to make your way out easier?”

“What- No, I didn’t! I didn’t kill Junpei.”

Aoi stood up, chainsaw in hand.

“Carlos, you and I are the only ones in this ward. Unless you have an explanation for this, then it seems to me like you killed him!”

“How can you be so sure; for all I know you killed Junpei, and now you’re gonna kill me!”

Aoi’s face darkened in rage, and he started the chainsaw. He’d wanted to try resolving this peacefully, but for Carlos to even suggest such a thing… unforgivable.

“I. Would. Never. Kill. Junpei. Even if this whole fucking world went insane, even if it was him or the rest of the entire human race, I would never kill Junpei.”

Carlos looked scared- good. That’s what you get, for even considering that it was possible for Aoi to kill Junpei. That would never happen, not in a million years. The chainsaw roared in his hands and he took a step forwards- wait, what was he doing? Was he actually going to try killing Carlos?

Fuck, I’m getting too mad- I need time to think. I need somewhere else to think, somewhere that I can figure things out from…’

His grip on the chainsaw tightened, and he turned towards the hallway that led to control. Once there, he could easily shut off the main lights- that should be distraction enough, then he’d likely have a couple extra minutes to work this out.

“Aoi-“

Carlos called after him but he didn’t stop, not bothering to see if the doors would close behind him. He could tell that the other wasn’t following him, so now was his only real chance…

Alright Aoi, think this through. It’s Junpei we’re talking about- he’s simple, so if he got murdered then he’d probably try to leave a simple message. Something inconspicuous, where it wouldn’t be noticed by his killer, but still close to him… no. No, it couldn’t be possible…’

There were a few body parts in particular Aoi and Carlos had shied away from examining, but the most likely one that Junpei might have done something to was the torso. At the time, it had just seemed like a particularly disgusting replica, but knowing it belonged to Junpei- was it possible he’d left a message on himself? It didn’t seem impossible, Junpei was the type to do whatever he could for other people, even if he had claimed that he’d changed.

Aoi had hated him for nine long years, hated that it was only Junpei who had a chance to save Akane, but once they’d actually met, Aoi had realized it was impossible to hate Junpei. Even when he’d taken the wrong path, even when Akane had been fading before their very eyes, even then he still hadn’t hated Junpei.

“Aoi… promise me that you’ll look after him, okay? When I’m gone?”

“…I promise.”

“Good… you’re not allowed to break this one, or I’ll come back from beyond the grave and haunt you!”

Even though her voice was barely strong enough to be heard, she still managed to force energy and excitement into it. Despite everything, she was still so strong… She was holding onto him loosely as he carried her to the chapel- this would be the last time they’d ever be able to speak.

“Are you… are you upset? That we’re on this timeline?”

“No, I’m not… I was still able to see Jumpy again, and I could spend my last nine hours with you and him… the reason this timeline exists is so that another version of me can live. I’m sad I won’t get to see either of you anymore, but I know that in another world, we’ll all get to be happy together…”

“Yeah… yeah, you’re right.”

“Thank you, Aoi. For everything… please, live your life for you, now. You can forget about what’ll happen on the other timelines, this one should be safe now…”

“Akane, you know I can’t do that…”

“Aoiii…” When she sighed, it was as if she was at full energy again, and not in the process of literally fading from existence. “Fine, but only for a year. Once it hits 2029, I want you to move on. Okay?”

“…Okay.”

“Promise me, Aoi. You have to promise me.”

“I promise, Akane.”

“Thanks, Aoi. I’m glad you’re my brother…”

Aoi’s hands shook as the memories came back, and tears threatened at the corners of his eyes. He’d completely and utterly failed- first Akane, and now Junpei. He should have been more diligent and prevented Junpei from signing up, he could’ve prevented him from ever joining Dcom if he’d just paid more attention- how had everything ended up like this? How could he ever live for himself after messing up this badly?

“Akane… I’m so, so sorry…. I broke our promise. I just… I just hope the two of you can at least forgive me…”

Aoi wasn’t a deeply religious man, but Akane had always believed in a God- if there was a God, then he’d better be taking care of Akane and Junpei both right now. That was the only possible solace he could attempt to seek for himself now, knowing that they’d both died while he’d been unable to do anything. He’d spent ten years of his life planning, working, preparing, but in the end, he had nothing to show for it but a hollow heart and too much blood on his hands.

All of this… all of this was too much for him. Even though he tried so damn hard to be strong, he was still only one person- one person with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Maybe if he’d just talked to Junpei instead of avoiding him, maybe if they’d tried to work together, Aoi could have protected him… but it was too late. Junpei wasn’t anywhere, anymore.

He took a moment to recompose himself- he needed to calm his breathing, to be able to think rationally when he went back to the lounge. He’d let his emotions catch up to him, and in a time like this that wasn’t safe. There was a chance Carlos would be waiting to kill him when he got back to the lounge, so he had to be calm. Be prepared, be calm, be rational. Think this through, Aoi. He started back in the direction of the lounge, but paused for only a moment. Better to be safe than sorry- he started up the chainsaw once more, just in case Carlos was planning to get a surprise attack.

“W-wait! Stay back, don’t come any closer! I’m dangerous, and I might hurt you next.”

Aoi could barely make out Carlos’s face in the dim red of the emergency lighting, but the sound of Carlos’s voice told him everything. Carlos had come to the decision that he was the killer, and he was going to do something about it- shit, no! Aoi dropped the chainsaw and lunged forwards, trying to reach Carlos in time, but it was too late: yet again, someone had died while he’d been unable to do anything. If only… if only he’d been faster…

Carlos’s blood had sprayed all over Aoi, soaking into his skin, hair, and clothes. Despite even that, Aoi ran forwards to grab Carlos- maybe it wouldn’t be too bad, and he’d be able to fix the wound? No, one look at the gash in his neck and it was obvious there was nothing Aoi could do.

“M-Mom… D-dad… I won’t… l-let.. anyone…. d-die……”

Carlos’s voice was rasping, and his eyes were staring at something Aoi couldn’t see. He knew he was crying, but he didn’t care- why had things ended up like this? Why?

“You didn’t do it… dammit, you didn’t kill Junpei…”

It was too late to say anything now, but he kept talking regardless. It was all he could do to make himself feel anything at all.

“I promise… I’ll figure out who it was, and how… oh Carlos, I’m so sorry…”

Aoi laid Carlos’s body gently on the ground and turned away, not able to look at him any longer. He’d steeled himself for what he needed to do next, but that didn’t make things any better… his body felt numb when he entered the pantry, but he knelt down beside where they’d found the Iodine, slid open the door, and gently pulled Junpei’s torso out from the shelf. He felt sick touching it, it felt wrong- but he’d promised. This one, hopefully, he could actually keep…

“Mira? But… how?”

It was scratched into Junpei’s skin, clear as day- ‘M I R A’. How could she have possibly killed Junpei, though? It was impossible for anyone from ward Q to get here, or at least, that’s what should have been true. But it seemed as if the truth wasn’t being kind to him, as he felt a searing pain in his back, not even needing to turn around to know that it was Mira who’d killed him too.

He heard the sound of her footsteps clicking away and Aoi collapsed forwards, unable to support his weight.

‘This ending… it’s all wrong. Everything is wrong, this isn’t how it should have gone… I need to jump.’

It was the perfect opportunity, after all. He had his danger, so all he had to do was reach…