A/N: Procrastination is the bane of my existence. And with that, we shall continue with the story.
"There are two types of pains, one that hurts you and the other that changes you."
Kano swung his legs from where he had perched on the chair, Seto looking gloomily down next to him.
"Do you… do you think Tsubomi will be alright?" the black-haired boy whispered, using her first name instead of the 'code names' that they had come up with.
It's getting late… Kano thought to himself as he gazed at the clock, the seconds ticking by into minutes. Outside, the sun was bleeding its color out into the sky as it slipped below the horizon, staining the air orange.
"I'm worried…" Seto continued. "I've never seen Ayano-nee so fierce… and who knows what that strange girl is up to?"
"Did you read her mind?" Kano asked. The dark-haired boy shook his head.
"No, I didn't get the chance to. And to be honest, I don't know if I want to…" he trailed off. Kano could understand what he meant.
"Mm, well, I guess all we can do is hope for the best…" Although I wish they didn't take Tsu- Kido. Why couldn't I have gone instead? He shoved those thoughts to the side and stood up. "No use moping around, Seto. Let's do a perimeter check once more." He forced a smile on his face, courtesy of his ability. "Ayano trusts us to hold down the fort, right? So we gotta make sure that no one gets in without us knowing!"
"Ah, I'll go tell Marry to help out too!" Seto said, bouncing up. "Three is better than two, right? So let's do this!"
Homura hugged the still body of Kido closer to her as she weaved through the streets, following the lead of Ayano as she half-jogged to her house. Takane trailed behind them, hanging onto her sleeve while partially dragging Haruka.
"What the hell…?" she muttered. "It's like everyone's frozen…"
"They're frozen in time," Homura informed. "Which is why I asked you to hang on." She gritted her teeth as a wave of pain washed over her. Stopping time for this long was taking a toll on her. Luckily, there weren't many people around. It would be hard to explain why there were people unexplainably teleporting from one place to another.
Ayano shot a worried glance at her before looking up. "Here." She quickly opened the door and pulled the two inside. Homura couldn't help but let out a sigh as color bled back into the atmosphere and she sagged.
Seto and Kano were upon them immediately, dragging Kido away while Ayano steadied Homura into a chair.
"Takane, go put Haruka in the bed upstairs. Second room to the left."
Takane nodded wordlessly as she rushed up the steps. Homura sighed as she ran her fingers through her hair.
"It all escalated…" she muttered tiredly. She was extra careful not to accidentally activate her power. No one needed to know how exhausted she was. However, the exhaustion from the wraith battle before her death was catching up to her, and black spots began dancing across her vision.
"You alright?" Ayano murmured to her. Homura gave an inaudible groan and attempted to get up.
"Oh no you don't," Ayano cut in, forcing her back down. "Even a blind man would be able to see you're tired. And…" she looked worriedly at the soul gem that was now dusted with flecks of black.
"I'm fine. Start a lookout. Keep watch. We don't know when the snake will come back…" She found herself struggling to keep her eyes open. "He'll be prepared now… Don't try to fight him… Last time we took him by surprise…" Before she knew it, her eyes fell shut and she spun into unconsciousness.
Ayano barely caught Homura from toppling off the chair. She must be more tired than I thought… She eased her back into the chair before turning around. Back to business, she thought determinedly.
"How's Tsu- Kido?" she asked as she entered the kitchen. Focus. Think of it like a mission… Don't focus on what could go wrong… just focus on what you have to do.
Worried faces greeted her. "We've changed out the bandages," Kano began. "But… I don't think any of us know how to treat something this-…" He abruptly clammed up and looked away.
I sure am glad that Mom taught us all first-aid, Ayano commented sadly. But… what am I supposed to do now? Suddenly she remembered something from Homura's story. "All we can do is wait for now," she muttered quietly. "Come on, guys," she said, addressing the three people still in the room. "Let's move her somewhere comfortabl-"
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.
Ayano froze, eyes darting over to where Homura still sat, even while her thoughts raced a hundred miles per hour. Isthatthesnake?Whatifthat'sthesnake?Whatarewegoingtodo?
As she panicked, Seto took a deep breath, darted over to the drape-covered window, and peeked through. "It's not the snake," he announced with relief. "But… I think he's wearing the school uniform. Black hair, narrow eyes."
"Shin?" she whispered. The action snapped her back to the present. "Shu- Kano, Seto, could you bring Homura and Kido upstairs to where Haruka and Takane are? Tell them that they should stay there. Marry too. We don't want to explain why we have Haruka here, after all." She gave a nervous chuckle.
The two nodded, Kano lifting Kido up gently while Seto hefted Homura up the steps. Only when they were out of sight did she turn to the door. Slowly, throat tightening and hands shaking, she opened the door.
"Finally," Shintaro griped as they met face-to-face. "You sure took a while."
Ayano smiled -she'd gotten good at that lately- and laughed in what she hoped was an embarrassed way. "I had to sort out a few things. Sorry."
Ayano didn't know if it was because she had seen it before, but she noticed the barest trace of suspicion in his eyes. "So…"
"What are you doing here?" she asked, tilting her head. She didn't need to fake this part; she was genuinely curious as to why he was here.
"Ah, well…" This time he looked a tiny bit embarrassed, although he clearly tried to keep it from showing. "Have you heard?"
"Heard what?" Now she was really curious.
"Apparently someone snuck into the school after hours. There are traces of there being someone on the roof. They don't seem to have done anything, though."
Ayano couldn't stop the flash of alarm that ran through her when she heard that. "And?" she prompted, earning a look and a sigh.
"There was an accident, not too far from here. It was impossible to tell clearly who it was… but…"
Understanding dawned on Ayano. "You were worried about me?" she asked, even as a warm feeling spread in her heart. She couldn't stop herself from smiling briefly before frowning. "I haven't heard of this yet…"
Shintaro looked down on her before stating coldly, "You're being awfully calm about this."
Ayano froze, eyes widening even as she tried to stop herself from showing any reaction. Crap! I messed up! I should have known this would happen!
Ayano knew that Shintaro was bright enough to notice any change in her behavior, no matter how small. But -unlike her- he was not afraid to point it out. It was something she had come to appreciate about him. No matter what it was, if there was something wrong, he would say so- bluntly and without beating around the bush.
Only now, it had backed her into a corner.
"Well-" Just then, there was a loud CRASH, a shriek, and an angry yell that sounded suspiciously like Takane from above.
"...Is that Takane?" Shintaro asked, glaring suspiciously at her. So he had heard as well.
Ayano chuckled nervously, sweating bullets under his scrutinizing gaze. "It's… it's a long, long story…" she sighed. She didn't want to involve him, but she was just so, so tired. She didn't want to lie any more than she had to, and a small part of her desperately wished for him to understand (and maybe even help them with) the danger they had found themselves in.
Now you know what Homura had felt like… a treacherous voice whispered. You know, and yet, you caved in so easily…
Shaking the thought away, she cast her eyes about once again before she gestured for him to come in. As she closed the door, she caught his eyes, now showing slight confusion and disgruntlement.
"What's this about?" he said, but they both knew what he was really implying.
Ayano sighed once again. "To be honest, I'm not sure if you'll believe me… or even if I should tell you, but…" We need you, Ayano added in her mind. I need you. She hated to bring someone else into the fray, hated it, but she needed his genius intellect, his thoughts, his ideas. She couldn't just rely on Homura to make the decisions for her.
(A part of her hated the fact that she was relying on anyone at all. Shouldn't a hero be able to save the day on their own? But, alas, she didn't know what else to do.)
Just get it over with! she scolded herself. Taking a deep breath, she went ahead and spit it out.
Shintaro blinked. "O-oi, slow down…" He blinked again, along with Ayano, the two of them noticing the same thing at the same time.
Her hands were shaking.
She tightened them to fists and pressed them in her lap, but she could feel them shuddering, trembling out of her control. She was scared, and it was only now that she realized that, now that she recognized it and told herself it and forced herself to see it and…
She felt a small weight on her shoulder and immediately attacked it, launching herself forward to the source as she crumbled into Shintaro's body and screamed, only without any sound or any semblance of noise because she couldn't, wouldn't let her siblings see just how weak she was, how terrified she was and… -she was only fifteen! Why did she have to go through this? Why did she have to deal with this? Why was she here? Why couldn't she have been strong enough to prevent this from happening in the first place?
Silent sobs wracked her body as she clung desperately to the now wrinkled white uniform in front of her. Panicked gasps and huffs was the only thing she heard, and even that sounded muffled, out of reach. It was only when she regained her senses did she comprehend the two arms wrapped around her awkwardly. Her breathing gradually slowed until she had finally brought herself out of her hysterics and looked up at the boy.
"Haa… Thanks… Shin…"
He looked away uncomfortably and replied with a gruff, "It was nothing." Ayano couldn't help but smile at his antics and the familiarity of it all.
"Well…" she trailed off. "Where do you want me to start?"
"Mm… How about why Takane is at your house?" he said. "Or why you were the one who answered the door and not your dad?"
"Ah… it's easier to start with the second…" She rubbed her head nervously. "It's really… unbelievable." Oh man, I really sympathize with Homura now, she remarked inwardly. "I promise I'm telling the truth but… Dad was possessed by a snake from another world and is now trying to bring Mom back from the dead…?"
A dazed look came over him. "...Are you joking?"
"Shintaro!" she yelled before sighing. "I guess it's too much to expect you to believe…"
"Eh- no, no, I believe you," he reassured, no doubt thinking about her breakdown not that long ago. "It's just… hard to… process, yeah, that's it. Process." He frowned before adding, "Isn't that a good thing…?"
"Shuuya said the same thing," Ayano giggled, only to turn serious once again. "But no, it's not. See, in order to bring her back, D- the snake is planning on bringing together all of the snakes from the other world and use their power. But… if that happens… everyone with a power will die. Shuuya… Tsubomi… Kousuke… I can't let that happen to them. I can't."
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "They're my adoptive siblings." Which reminded her… "As for why Takane's here, well… it's because the snake was planning to kill her and Haruka so they'd possess snakes as well."
"Wait," Shintaro said, startled eyes gazing at her. "Haruka's here too? And he was going to kill them…?!"
"...Maybe we should take this upstairs," she said, starting to get a little apprehensive. He nodded mutely, and the two headed up the steps.
When Shintaro walked into the room, he certainly didn't expect four pairs of eyes staring at him. He would have flinched back were it not for the fact that one, that would be beyond embarrassing and two, Ayano was immediately telling them to calm down and that he was ok. The four in the room immediately relaxed at that, although two still seemed tense and Takane gave him an uneasy smirk. Only then did he realize the other three occupants, still and unmoving.
A girl with green hair and a purple hoodie, another girl with raven-black hair in some sort of cosplay, and… Haruka.
Just what have I gotten myself into?
Even with all those thoughts racing in his head, he couldn't help but admire the way Ayano had so casually taken charge, immediately calming down the two boys and getting everyone to gather in a circle.
"Alright, our first order of business… introductions," he heard her mutter under her breath. "Guys, this is Shintaro Kisaragi," she began, motioning to him, "and Takane Enomoto." She motioned to Takane. "They're my schoolmates. That," she said, motioning to the black-haired boy, "is Kousuke Seto. And this," she added, motioning to the blond, "is Shuuya Kano. They're my adoptive siblings." Her eyes flitted to the unconscious girl in purple hoodie (wrapped up in bandages, he noticed) and he couldn't help but wonder if this was the 'Tsubomi' she had spoken of earlier. Then her eyes strayed to the raven-haired girl, someone he had never seen in his life (and what was with the cosplay?). I wonder who she is. Regardless, he couldn't dwell on those thoughts, as Ayano was already rushing ahead.
"Finally, this is Marry," she said, motioning to the white-haired girl huddling behind the black-haired boy, Kousuke Seto, if he remembered correctly.
"Now, our second order of business-" and he couldn't help but think of a sci-fi mission, "-are explanations." Here she heaved a protracted sigh. "I… honestly don't know where to start," she admitted.
"Why are we here?" Takane piped up. "I mean, you kinda dragged me here without any explanation," she added sardonically.
"Apparently her dad was possessed by a snake from another world and was planning on killing you two," Shintaro spoke up, catching a grateful look from Ayano.
Takane stared at him, mouth open like a goldfish before she apparently realized what she was doing and abruptly snapped it shut. "But what… what if Haruka dies?" Here she gulped a big intake of breath before continuing. "He's not hooked up to the IVs anymore… he's not in the hospital anymore… and he had just suffered from an attack…!"
"I don't know," Ayano interrupted, looking extremely uneasy. "I don't know, but I think he's better off here than back there. Back there, the snake would be able to get to him at any time, whereas here… he at least has all of us watching him." There was an unspoken "I hope," but Shintaro heard it nonetheless.
He didn't know why, but since Ayano looked like she was on the verge of another breakdown, he reached out and grasped her hand. He almost regretted it as Takane looked up, flashed him a devious little smirk, and shot a look right into his eyes. However, Ayano mouthed a quick "thank you" to him.
"Why did Da- the snake try to kill Takane-san?" Seto asked, drawing him away from his thoughts.
"Ah…" Was that a look of dread on her face? "Y-you see…"
There's definitely unease there… he frowned.
Another deep breath, and then, "It's because in order to make contact with the world of the snakes, you have to die on August 15th."
This time Shintaro really did recoil, mind flashing through all the possible scenarios. Takane and Haruka could've died today, the two boys sitting in front of him had already died on this day… That knowledge, it was horrifying.
He suddenly remembered the accident that took Ayano's mother's life and realized, with growing dread, that Ayano's father had been there as well.
And the car accident on the news that had brought him here…
"That's terrible," Takane whispered. "That's… so fucking messed up…"
"Language," Ayano mumbled back, and the pigtailed girl dissolved into near hysterical giggles. Shintaro couldn't blame her; she had just realized that she and her classmate really could have died. The worst part was? It had involved her in a mess that she had never wanted to take part in.
It seemed that both Ayano and the blond- Kano- had the same thought, as they only looked on sadly.
All this doom and gloom… He knew that if Haruka was awake, he would be attempting to clear the air. But he wasn't, and no one else seemed to have any intention on doing just that.
Suck it up, Shintaro! he reprimanded himself before speaking up. "So… about these powers that you mentioned…"
She was eternally grateful to Shintaro. He hadn't said a word about the 'incident' downstairs, and now, when she had needed someone to lean on more than anything, he was there.
He even helped distract everyone from the prior dread and assisted in moving the conversation along, she noted. This can't be easy for him… and yet, he's managing to function, even when he's so far out of his comfort zone. I guess the one good thing about this situation is that he's opened up more, she commented wryly. But I still have a job to do, she reminded herself, looking out at the sea of faces.
"Kano," she began. "Could you demonstrate real quick? Something easy."
The blond smiled at her. In a flash, he held up a small bird in his hand, with his eyes burning a bright red.
"Whoa," Takane said. "Is that-"
"It's not real," Kano stated as he lowered his hand, eyes returning back to normal. "That was an illusion. That's my power, the 'Deceiving Eyes'."
"When people… go to the other world, let's say, there's only one way to go back," Ayano continued. "And that's to be possessed by a snake. The snakes act as a surrogate life for that person, while also granting them powers. It's… it's why, if the snake ends up gathering all the snakes…" she dropped into silence. No words were needed.
"Is… is there any signal for when the powers are activated?" Shintaro asked, eyes filled with worry and… dread?
"Ah, well, I'm not 100% sure if this is for everyone, but I've seen that when the powers are activated, they normally have red eyes."
Shintaro immediately began paling. "Momo," he whispered.
Ayano's eyes widened as she whipped around to face him. "Your sister?"
He nodded, face ashen white and his eyes frozen in front of him. "Ever since she nearly drowned she's always been drawing attention towards her… and sometimes I'd see her eyes turn a bright red… what if the snake comes for her?" Now there was pure panic in his eyes as he turned to her. Ayano could feel that same panic filling her even as a pit of dread began forming in her stomach.
What am I supposed to do now?!
"We- we could bring her here, like Marry…" Seto said.
"Nonono, that won't work- how would we get Kisaragi-san to allow her to stay here?- but we can't just leave her alone…"
"Have all the snakes been gathered yet?" Everyone turned to look at Takane, who semi-flinched under all the stares.
"What do you mean?" Ayano asked, because Momo was in danger, because she might die, because there was too much happening for her to keep up…
"I mean…" Here she paused, looking off to the side before turning back towards them again. "She already has a power right? That means there's no need for the snake to kill her again, right? That means that until all of the snakes are in this world, there's no reason for him to do anything. W-well, that's just what I think, at any rate…"
Ayano blinked. Shintaro blinked. Kano blinked. Seto blinked. Even Marry blinked.
"That… makes a lot of sense," Ayano admitted, feeling her panic recede. "But what…?"
"Well, right now, the best we can do is keep an eye out for her," Takane sighed, running her fingers through her bangs. "But… what are we going to do if the snake comes back?"
The room fell silent. Ayano looked down at her lap and clenched her fists. If the snake comes back? Well, there's only one thing I can think of that we can do… and that is…
Heads snapped toward her direction. She squeezed her eyes shut and flung them open, glaring determinedly at the others.
"There's nothing else we can do, is there? If he comes… that means he's going to try and… finish the job. But we… I… can't allow that. I can't allow that to happen. I won't let you all…" Her voice trembled, so she stopped, took a breath, and continued. "...I won't let you die. Which means there's nothing else for me to do but try and fight him, no matter how pitiful the attempt. No matter how small the difference. Because… at least I tried, right?" She turned a pleading gaze onto the others, eyes wavering and brows tilted backward. "At least I tried to protect you all… and at least I tried not to let him- it- win."
She spotted the others nodding along to her words, Takane's eyes narrowing into that of grim determination, Seto's and Shintaro's eyes matching her. Marry had furrowed her eyes into a look of pure concentration, tightly clenching the sleeve of Seto's shirt as she gazed at her. Kano had looked away, closed his eyes, and flashed- of all things- a grin at her.
"You're right," he smiled. "We're not going to take this lying down. If there's something we can do, we do it."
"I'm not going to just throw away my life like that," Shintaro muttered.
"Hell yeah," Takane nodded. "It'll be pathetic if I just decided to give up when I have so much left to do. If I'm going down, I'm definitely taking my enemies with me."
She couldn't stop her mouth from slowly inching and spreading apart into a smile of her own. Her eyes felt suspiciously warm, and she could almost feel a slight sting just beneath her eyelids.
"T-thanks, everyone…" she whispered. "Thank you all… so much…!"
"...H-hey, Ayano, why are you crying?"
"A-Ayano-neechan? Please don't cry…"
"But how can I stop?" She blinked away the tears and looked up at them. "I'm just… so happy…!"
Because, despite everything, despite all that's going on around us, you all decided to stick with me and listen to me. You all decided to fight for our happiness, together.
And that, I think, is all that I could ever wish for.
A/N: Finally done with this chapter~! I think it's been sitting in my folder for a while now haha. The ending kind of drags a bit, so sorry about that (I was kind of running out of steam at that point QvQ)
The middle of the chappie was fun tho. I love writing character freakouts and internal monologues o3o. It's just, getting in the skin of your character is just so appealing, you know? XD
At any rate, hope you enjoyed and I'll see you next time! (whenever that may be)
P.S. Do you want me to involve Kyubey in this story? I've been debating it for a while now (maybe put him in as a part of a mini-arc?) and I honestly don't really know whether I should or should not. On one hand, it would be an amazing opportunity to really dig into the ramifications of what this story is pretty much about (it is, after all, titled Of Wishes and Wills). On the other hand, the in-universe explanation might get a little 'coincidental' (if you know what I mean), and I might not be able to properly execute my idea/message through my writing.
Well, what do you think? Kyubey or no Kyubey?
(basically do you want Kyubey to fuck up everything or not o3o)