Kazuto opened his eyes. From what he could tell, he was laying on his back, staring up at what looked to be a foggy forest that was sparsely populated by jet black trees. He groaned as he sat up, his entire body feeling as though it were made of gelatin. When he did manage to get to his feet, he nearly fell over again when he saw he was standing on thin air.
"Okay," he grunted as he suppressed the urge to vomit. "This is not helping." He shook his head and locked his eyes out to where the horizon should have been as he fished inside his duster pockets. "Oh thank God." He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and his lighter and lit one up, taking a long drag. He regarded his surroundings with a bemused silence, watching as white motes of light lazily drifted between the ashen trunks of the trees and whispers floated on muted breezes that stirred the fog in fantastic shapes. Faintly, he could hear the soft tread of boots off in the fog. His eyes tracked where the sound was coming from as he continued smoking.
From behind one of the trees came a figure. He was fairly tall, and of a thin build. He had dark hair and eyes that matched. He wore a black leather duster and a revolver strapped to his waist on an old fashioned gun belt. He walked towards Kazuto and stopped a few feet away, his hands tucked into his pockets. Kazuto frowned at him around his cigarette.
"You're me," he grumbled at the figure. "So why do you look better than me?"
"Gave up smoking," Mirror Kazuto chuckled. "Asuna was right, it does wonders." Kazuto shrugged.
"Thought it might be my last one, figured what the hell, y'know? Anyway, so what's the deal? You're like my subconscious or something?"
"Something like that," his double replied.
"So, are we dead?"
"Maybe. Depends if those metabolic suppressors we took slow down our system enough for the poison to be processed by our liver before the buildup causes a shut down of the central nervous system." Kazuto nodded slowly.
"Okay, that makes sense. Why are we here, though?"
"We got stuff we need to sort out, obviously."
"Like what?" Mirror Kazuto gave him an aggravated look.
"Like what we're going to do about Asuna if we live."
"Fine, but what is there to do? I mean, it's pretty much cut and dry. I told her how I feel, she doesn't know how she feels. I mean-" He looked down at his boots. "-she didn't say 'I love you' back. I'm a detective for God's sake. How much more of a clue do I need?
"Has it occurred to you that you're also an idiot?" Kazuto looked up at himself, affronted.
"Look," Mirror Kazuto said, rolling his eyes. "How many guys have we hauled in that said they were innocent?"
"And how many were caught literally in the act of doing what they were arrested for?"
"You were surrounded, outnumbered, and already poisoned. She'd lost her gun, gotten captured, was armed with only a knife, and she still charged in after you, and you're going to think just because she didn't say it, she doesn't feel the same way?"
"Oh," Kazuto blinked. "Uh, shit."
"'I'm a detective'," Mirror Kazuto snorted in a mocking falsetto tone.
The motes of light that were floating in the forest around them suddenly brightened in intensity, illuminating the fog in a harsh brilliance. The plane of air Kazuto was standing on vibrated as though struck by an earthquake.
"What's happening?" he shouted. His double stood still as ever, looking around as though nothing were happening.
"Looks like we made it through. Go us."
"But wait," Kazuto called out as his footing continued to erode. "What are we going to do about Asuna?" Mirror Kazuto just smiled and took his left hand out of his pocket and held it up. A bright silver ring sat on his third finger.
"What we've always wanted to do."
Kazuto's footing finally disappeared completely and he plummeted down to the ground, screaming as he hurtled toward the pitch black earth. Just before he was sure he was about to die again, he closed his eyes.
A wracking pain made Kazuto wince.
"Ack," he gurgled. "Urrrk."
"Hey," a muffled female voice said. "You say something?"
"No, why?" another muffled voice answered back. A sudden jolt made another jolt of pain shoot through Kazuto's body.
"Hey watch the stretcher! Show some respect! We got the Shadow in here!" one of the voices admonished.
"I know, I know, I'm sorry. Just a little shaky after seeing all of...that."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. That was a lot of blood. Even more bodies."
"Yeah, but I think what got to me was seeing the captain cry. I never thought I'd see that. It just...isn't right." Kazuto opened his eyes at the mention of Asuna. Flashing lights were fuzzily visible through a gauzy fabric that seemed to be held in place by a zipper that ran from above his head and all the way down to his feet.
Great, he thought. In a body bag.
"I can't believe she still has the strength to keep doing her job after losing him," one of the voices said.
"What do you mean?"
"You haven't heard? They were all over each other at the Mayor's Ball. The entire city's been buzzing over how they're together now. Or…..how they were."
"Oh wow, really? I can't believe she's able to face the press given her state. She looked...bad."
"Hey," Kazuto rasped, feebly pushing at the fabric. "Hey, let me out." He felt the stretcher stop.
"Yeah, I heard that."
"There's no way. The coroner confirmed he was dead." Anger welled up inside Kazuto and galvanized him.
"Either open the damn bag or I'm cutting my way out," he growled louder. The zipper quickly parted and he slowly sat up, grimacing as his body screamed in a fiery pain. He looked up and met the eyes of two terrified paramedics.
"You….you were dead," the woman on his left squeaked.
"Didn't take," he grunted. "Need two things. Mints and water."
The other paramedic reached a shaky hand to his bag and pulled out a tin of mints and gingerly held them out to Kazuto. The first quickly scrambled to the back of the ambulance and brought back a water bottle. Kazuto took a quick swig of water and swished it around in his mouth, then spat it out. He then proceeded to open the entire tin of mints and dumped the whole thing in his mouth, crunching on them loudly before gulping down the remainder of the water. He heaved a sigh before handing both things back to their owners.
"Uh, don't mention it," the guy replied. "You should probably lie back down, we need to get you to the hospital. You have a stab wound in your arm, and that cut on your face could get infected pretty easily. It definitely needs stitches." Kazuto swung his legs off the stretcher and lurched onto the ground, staggering his first few steps.
"No time," he panted. "It didn't hit the artery or I would've started bleeding out when you took it out of me. I'll live." He scanned his surroundings. They were still at the docks. "Where's Asuna?"
"Sir," the female paramedic said. "You aren't well. We need to get-" Kazuto turned a baleful gaze on her that made her stop mid-sentence. "She's in front of the warehouses, addressing the press. Scanner lit up when she put out the distress call and the entire city turned up."
Kazuto nodded and trudged off, leaving them there. Every step was agony. It felt as though someone had placed white hot nails beneath his skin and each movement made them shift around and hit each other. He couldn't lift the arm that'd been stabbed, even shifting it around made the pain so bad it made his vision swim. He clenched a hand over it in an attempt to stave away the aching. People around him froze in their tracks, staring at him with dropped jaws and wide eyes. Some tried calling out to him, but he couldn't hear them over the ringing in his ears. He could only think of Asuna's face, gripped with grief as tears spilled down her cheeks.
Never again, he swore to himself as he limped towards the flashing lights gathered at the gate of the warehouse sector. You'll never have to feel that ever again. I promise. His mind filled with images of her. Her smile as she smirked at him. Her eyes as she listened intently to what he said. The sight of her in his bed. I'm done running, Asuna. This shadow is yours now. Where you go, I go. Every step.
He finally reached the front gate and ghosted through the police barricade. He winced as the bright lights from the news stations' production crews glared down onto two lonely figures standing before a semicircle of reporters. He could make out Heathcliffe's back, rigid and mountainous, standing like a proud statue in front of the world. Next to him, he saw her.
She was still dressed in her ruined uniform, sleeves still dyed red. Her hair was mussed, her braid coming loose. He couldn't see her face, but he could hear her voice.
"Tonight, the Aincrad Police Department completed an undercover operation to dismantle a ring of dangerous criminals known as Laughing Coffin," she announced into the crowd of microphones in front of her. "These people were dangerous and are believed to have carried out several murders in Aincrad City in recent weeks and in the past."
He saw her head turn away from the cameras for a brief moment, as the reporters shouted questions and murmured amongst themselves. She continued, her voice wavering.
"Myself and Detective Kazuto Kirigaya discovered their location earlier tonight and went in to make arrests. However, we were ambushed."
He could hear her voice break, making his heart squeeze inside his chest.
"In the ensuing violence, Detective Kirigaya was killed in the line of duty." The press fell silent, everyone regarding her in shock. "It is thanks to his actions that I am alive and here to report the threat is no longer present."
He heard her sniffle as she continued to speak through her tears.
"The people of Aincrad will never forget Detective Kirigaya. He was a good detective and an even better friend. He was loved by all of those around him…" Her voice caught in her throat for a moment. "...Especially so by myself."
"Thank God," Kazuto called out as he stepped into the light. "Really was worried I'd come all this way for nothing." A chorus of gasps rose from the press, who immediately swiveled their cameras to focus on him, but he paid them no attention. His eyes stayed on Asuna.
He watched her back straighten slowly, her head turning hesitantly, as if she were scared to let herself look. She finally turned all the way around and saw him. Her eyes were red from crying and tear tracks streaked down her face. Her petite nose was red from being rubbed at with the balled up handkerchief in her hand.
"How?" she whispered. "How can it be? I felt you go. Felt your heart stop."
"I gave up smoking," Kazuto said, cracking a pained smile. "Someone once told me that it'd do wonders for my health." Asuna choked out a laugh, covering her mouth with one hand as tears welled up in the corners of her eyes.
"I'm going to kick your ass for scaring me like that," she told him. Kazuto shrugged.
"I can't run right now, so better take your chance while you've got it."
She crossed the space between them with brisk steps and took his face into her hands, then leaned in and kissed him deeply. He drank her in, cherishing the feeling of holding her again, wrapping his good arm around her as he kissed back as enthusiastically as he could. He thought he was getting lightheaded as he started seeing stars, but when he opened his eyes, he realized it was just the paparazzi's camera flash.
"Let them look," Asuna hummed with a smile. "We're together now, they can get used to it." Kazuto smiled back at her.
"Yeah, now and forever."