Chapter 1: Last Message
When Junpei opened his eyes, he was alone in the lounge. Carlos and Aoi were nowhere to be seen- what was going on? He could remember the vote, and he remembered Carlos picking D-team, but after that? Nothing.
A knot of worry formed in his stomach as he searched the lounge- where were they? Why weren’t they here? He was dreading what he was going to see, but forced himself to check the X pass board. On it there were only three names- Diana, Sigma, and Phi.
“So… they really were executed, huh…”
It looked like they’d been betrayed, then. Junpei figured it was either Mira or Eric, but he wasn’t entirely sure which one it would be. Eric didn’t seem like the type to try to kill anyone, but he was also pretty weak in terms of confidence- Junpei had little doubt he’d have gladly betrayed the group if Mira told him to. There was one other option, though… Q. It seemed unlikely, given he was deaf, blind, and mute, yet Junpei didn’t trust him. Perhaps it was a detective’s intuition, but even when they’d first met, something about Q had felt… wrong. Was it possible that he’d somehow managed to make the choice?
Well, it wasn’t impossible, all things considered. If all the messages were pre-recorded, what if Zero had provided Q with a braille tablet? Aoi’d done the same for Light last year, so it wasn’t completely impossible… and if he kept that in mind, then it was fully possible for Q to have made the decision. He was supposed to be the leader of Q-team, after all…
“Well, I can’t stick around here.”
He was letting himself get carried away with theories and distracting himself from his real goal; finding Aoi and Carlos. Even if it had been Q who’d killed D-team, that didn’t mean anything if he was stuck here alone for the rest of his life. No, it was best to head off and look for them now, they could be waiting for him.
With that thought in his mind, Junpei set off to search the ward- but in the end, he found absolutely nothing. It was as if Aoi and Carlos had completely disappeared, leaving him with only his memories and that announcement board telling him that they were probably still alive- and neither of those could be completely trusted.
The last room he’d been searching in was the pantry, and although he wasn’t sure why, it gave him chills. Vague recollections from a timeline he’d never lived through told him that once, things had gotten dangerous for him in a freezer, but the memories were too far off for him to ever access of his own will. No, just leave it to the morphogenetic fields to pick the worst possible time, then he’d be allowed to remember what was bothering him.
He sighed and turned to leave the freezer, intending to get as far from the cold as possible, when…
‘Click, click, click, click…’
Junpei noticed the sound of footsteps too late, turning around in time for the knife to catch him in between his ribs, a clean stab that was undoubtedly going to kill him.
He looked up, but the person he saw wasn’t Aoi or Carlos- it was Mira. That was impossible, he was in Ward C; there was no way to move between the wards… right? Mira was staring at him with a bored expression, not saying a word. Her face was familiar- it was the look of someone who’d killed before and felt nothing while doing it.
It was the same face that Hongou had worn a year ago.
She didn’t even wait for him to collapse to his knees, turning and walking away with a completely neutral expression, as if she’d done nothing more than swat a fly. Junpei didn’t see where Mira had walked off too, but he had to hurry. Even if he was going to die, he had to tell Carlos and Aoi who’d done it… he had to warn them about her.
‘Breathe… breathe, Junpei, keep breathing…’
He could feel the water surrounding him, filling his lungs when he tried to draw in air. It was cold, a stark contrast with the heat of the blood continuing to spill out of his chest.
‘Air, Junpei. You’re in air, you’re not in Building Q. You need to warn Carlos and Aoi, don’t slip yet…’
His movements were heavy and it hurt to breathe- he was drowning but he wasn’t, bleeding out from a stab wound to the back (no, it was the chest). However, he forced himself up into a seated position, pushing his back against one of the metal shelves.
‘In, out… In, out… now think. How am I going to warn them without Mira seeing it…’
Any place that he tried to write a dying message would be painfully obvious, with one exception. It wouldn’t be pleasant, but he didn’t have a choice… he pulled up his shirt a bit, and started clawing at his skin. He’d bit his lip to prevent himself from screaming in pain, and he thought he was going to bite clear through the skin- he could tell why people usually just left writing in blood, this fucking hurt. But even with the pain, he didn’t stop- he was already dead, but if he was lucky this could save Aoi and Carlos.
The message was crude but effective- ‘M I R A’, carved onto his abdomen, below the wound that he was bleeding out from. His last message done, he slumped down against the floor- he’d done all he could, but there was still something important bothering him. That being the problem of how Mira had made it to this ward in the first place.
‘Is this… why there was a time limit?’
He’d thought it odd when Zero had first brought it up, but he couldn’t imagine why a time limit would be able to change the Wards themselves. That didn’t make sense, it was impossible, and yet somehow it had happened regardless.
‘Shit… it’s no use…’
Junpei didn’t have enough time, and he could feel the water again. He’d managed to force himself to concentrate long enough to leave the message for Carlos and Aoi, but now that he was done there was nothing left holding his mind to this point in time. He was drowning in the frigid water on board the Gigantic, everyone else aboard was dead, and he had no idea who’d killed them all.
“A-Akane… Aoi… Carlos… I’m sorry…”
Everything was muffled and his vision had already left, with his hearing coming soon after. He could still make out echoes of footsteps in the background- they weren’t Mira’s, but there was no voice. He didn’t even have the energy left to try turning his head in a meaningless effort to see who it was, simply laying in place as the last of his consciousness left him. If it was Carlos or Aoi, they’d have to forgive him for falling…
The last thing he could hear was a distant noise- something like a motor, revving up. He didn’t have time to ponder it before the last of what he was faded into nothing, and he was left floating alone in death.
Chapter 2: Suspicion
“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?
“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.
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?”
“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?”
“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…
Aoi’s eyes blinked open, and he looked down at the control panel- he knew where and when he was, it was just seconds before he’d turned off the lights. He followed through with the motion and grabbed the chainsaw- no time to think, he had to reach Carlos in time. Maybe if he was able to sneak up on him before the other was able to make a decision, Carlos would live? There was no guarantee, but it was worth a shot. He started the chainsaw as a just in case, then dashed out of control- he didn’t know how much time was left, but it couldn’t be much.
‘Carlos, I won’t let you die this time.’
His reaction this time was different- no insistence that Aoi should stay back, but rather suspicion and fear in his voice. It wasn’t good, but at the very least he’d managed to get back before Carlos killed himself. The chances were slim to none, but he still had a chance of saving him…
“Aoi? Aoi, just calm down… I won’t hurt you, I just want to know why.”
Carlos had a white knuckle grip on the axe- he was too tense, too suspicious. If they tried to talk now, one of them would die. Aoi, knew that, and yet…
“Carlos, wait. I didn’t kill Junpei.”
He’d gotten behind Carlos so that he could stop him if he tried to kill himself again, but it looked like that was the wrong choice- Carlos’s face was one of pure panic, and he swung the axe wide as he spun around to face Aoi.
He had no time to think about what he was doing before he’d raised the chainsaw, and he felt resistance. Blood and gore sprayed everywhere, and he heard a dull thump- it was Carlos’s forearm, falling to the ground.
“W-wait, no! I-I-“
He dropped the chainsaw and moved forwards, this wasn’t what he wanted. Was he going to kill Carlos this time? He’d tried to prevent Carlos’s death, that was too cruel. His movements were unsteady as he made his way closer to Carlos, trying to apologize, to explain, to do anything that could stop this face-off before it got any worse-
The axe had made contact with his neck before he’d even had time to think, let alone react. It was nicer than when Clover’d killed him- she’d been cruel and emotionless- it hurt, and he was undoubtedly going to die, but it wasn’t torture. Wow, he had to be pretty far gone to consider an axe wound to the neck a nice way to go…
With what was left of Aoi’s vision he could see the horror and regret on Carlos’s face. He had to say something, had to say anything before it was too late…
“Aoi? N-no, I… I didn’t mean…”
“M-Mira…. B-be careful… sh-she killed…”
He tried to finish the sentence, but he had no more air. He could feel Carlos grabbing onto his shoulders, trying to speak to him, but try as he might, he couldn’t form any more words. It was all over for him, now. There wasn’t even any point to jumping- one of them was going to die no matter what, it seemed.
‘Sorry, Akane… I’ll be joining you faster than you wanted, I guess…’
He took one last shuddering exhalation and then stopped, the last thing echoing in his ears were the sounds of Carlos’s horrified screams.
So, this one has a bit of a sad ending- but I mean, that's this entire fragment. It was fun to try writing Aoi for once, and finally we've gotten some insight into his opinions. As things move forwards, he'll actually talk with Junpei, but considering these two we all know that'll be a while.
Much like Akane, I figure Aoi's got to be pretty familiar with SHIFT and esper abilities. Maybe not as well practiced as Akane, considering she spent nine years half-existing, but he's still able to SHIFT should the situation require it.