Hi everyone! Here's my piece for Week 4 of Twelve Shots of Summer! This is something of a counterpart, actually, to Never-Ending, a one-shot I had written for TSoS in 2017, and it does reference it a bit, but it can be read as a standalone.
Anyways, here we go!

Drowning Through Time
Twelve Shots of Summer

She watches through his eyes. She recorded everything into his memories. Every time, he fails. Every time, the loop repeats.

Sometimes, he dies on his way home from the amusement park along with the rest of the Mekakushi Dan. Others, he's killed during the hostage takeover at the mall. Rarely, it's in the sinister laboratory under the school…if he manages to get that far.

And then there are the times when he doesn't even make it to eighteen years, where he throws his own life away. Where she's forced to watch as he gives up on the world and everything in it, unable to turn her eyes away from the horrifying sight. And usually, it's all her fault. Those are the times she hates the most.

Ayano isn't sure how much more she can bear. The timeloops have been going on for so long, she'd lost count centuries ago. She isn't even sure if she really is herself, anymore. She had long ago given up her physical humanity, back when she had taken on the role of the Snake of Retaining Eyes, and whenever she speaks to Shintaro, in the few loops where he managed to awaken to her presence, she grows even more sure that she has given up her humanity in spirit as well.

Not that it mattered, she supposes. Nothing much does, anymore.

She watches as he speaks awkwardly to the version of her from this timeloop. Both of them fifteen, without so much of a guess as to what was waiting for them in that grim future.

The Ayano of this timeline smiles shyly, fiddling with her bright red scarf as she chats with Shintaro.

So innocent, Ayano thinks. She wonders what this other version of herself would think, if she knew just how many times her actions had led to countless timelines' downfalls, how many loops she had sabotaged by inadvertently breaking Shintaro's spirit with her eventual death.

Such an irony, really. Everything she has worked towards, everything that she had to sacrifice her own humanity for, was destroyed by none other than, well, herself.

She used to wonder what drove her counterpart to her death. One would think that technically being the same person would mean that she understood. But she doesn't. The timeline that she had originated from is completely different from the ones she has seen, since becoming the Snake of Retaining Eyes.

She, herself, had never been Shintaro's classmate, unlike this one. In fact, she hadn't even made it to middle school. She had dropped out when she was barely out of elementary school, the sight of her parents' deaths fresh in her mind and vengeful resentment towards innocent Mary festering in her heart.

As far as she knew, this Ayano doesn't know Mary. Has never even met the girl. Instead, she is friends with schoolmates Haruka and Takane, the two whom she herself had never gotten the chance to know in her own life. And from what she has gathered, her younger siblings still love this Ayano.

That…is something that she cannot really say for herself. Not since the accident.

This Ayano, that Shintaro encounters in each timeloop, is completely different from her. They might as well be entirely different people.

To be honest, she resents her. Not only is she throwing a wrench in her goal, to end this eternal cycle, but as far as she could tell, this Ayano has everything. Her family loves her. Her friends love her. She gets to go to school and be normal. She gets to spend time with her beloved (in her own timeline, Ayano barely got more than a day).

So…why? Why does this Ayano give it all up?

Her questions are answered in one timeline, when Kano, her foster brother, gives a rough explanation that leaves her furious and hungering for more answers that no one would give.

The fact that this version of Ayano is staking her very existence on the chance to stop the Snake of Clearing Eyes from achieving his goal is, perhaps, far too expected to be surprising (it is exactly what she herself is doing, is it not?). But to think that she is purposefully driving him into a corner, unwittingly giving him the excuse to force Mary to restart each timeloop and keep them trapped in this cycle? There is irony, and then there is cruelty. Never did Ayano think for one moment that her biggest obstacle would be herself.

It is surely her punishment, Ayano thinks to herself, for everything that she had done in her own life. As if giving up her humanity could ever make up for her sins, the grief she had caused.

As much as Ayano hates the Snake of Clearing Eyes, sometimes she supposes that maybe, she hates herself all the more.


She's died again. Ayano watches through Shintaro's tear-filled eyes. She herself feels nothing. This timeloop is likely doomed to fail, anyway. She knows the chain of events like the back of her hand now.

Before the week is out, Shintaro will officially be pulled out of school. By this evening, he'll already be shutting himself in his room.

Within the year, he'll meet Ene, the supposed artificial intelligence who is far more than meets the eye.

Whether he dies soon after that, or later down the line, the chain of events has already begun. This chain of time, that is like a noose constricting her neck. It doesn't matter how much she screams and fights against it.

This is the fate she has sentenced herself to. This is her punishment for having the audacity to believe that they could make things right, that they could end this eternal cycle of tragedy. It is her hubris, hers and her counterpart's, that led them to this damnation.

She, trapped in the mind of the one she loved but couldn't reach, and her, condemned to an infinite world of loneliness in the Heat Haze realm. The two of them burying their feelings and humanity for the sake of a cause that would never come to fruition. Two sides of the same coin, both as foolish and reckless as the other.

She listens to Shintaro crying in the darkness of his room.

Shintaro…I definitely don't deserve your tears, you know?


The clockwork whirs and clicks underneath them, a familiar metallic melody that she had grown used to. The musical rhythm of time itself, playing for them in this space that is only theirs. Not a space for comfort or heartfelt emotions. Those aren't things she is allowed to have. Emotions are something to be stifled and choked.

No, this is a space for cold facts and uncomfortable truths. Where reality would come crashing down on him as he learns the horrifying truth, and she'd play the part of the callous snake that only appears to resemble the girl he loves.

(In fairness, he isn't wrong, when he accuses her of being a fake. The Ayano he knows would never look at him with a frigid smile or such empty eyes. His Ayano is bright and full of life, her smile echoing memories of summer days. She, on the other hand, had long forgotten how to curl her lips in such a gentle expression or believe in things like heroism or friendship. It is for that same reason that she never wears that silly scarf. The red scarf is the symbol of a hero, something she could never be. Sometimes, she wonders when she had forgotten the ideals that she had once sworn by. Maybe she is nothing but the snake he sees in her).

Shintaro stands in front of her. His eyes are wide, watching her. His fingers tremble as he clutches at the hem of his jacket. He seems terrified beyond belief, now that he knows the truth of this tragedy that they are bound to.

Well, it isn't as if she hadn't expected this reaction from him. Anyone would be overwhelmed by centuries worth of memories. And it wasn't like she was much better, being the keeper of those recollections.

She regards him with a curious tilt of the head as she looms over him. She never quite got used to the serpentine form that she takes when speaking to him like this, even if it has been centuries since she had been a real human being.

In the distance, she hears the faint chiming of bells. Their time is almost up.

Ayano takes a deep breath. This is the part you must play. Now, do it well.

She pushes herself to sound urgent. Pretend she has any semblance of hope. At the very least, she should give him some incentive to fight. If not for herself, then for their friends, those kids who don't deserve to be a part of this tragic tale. She owes them that much, at least, she thinks.

"A new timeloop approaches," she tells him. "Now that you remember the secrets of this never-ending tragedy, what will you do?"

It isn't any use asking him, to be honest. She knows him too well. Has been with him far too long not to. This is where he gives up, the knowledge overwhelming him with despair. This would be another failure. Another regret to drown in.

She braces herself for the crushing sense of defeat to overwhelm them both.

But instead he stares at her, determination in his crimson eyes. They seem to burn, blazing with something that she hasn't seen from him in a long time. Her breath catches in her throat.

"I was given this power for a reason. This time, that Clearing Eyes bastard will be the one to pay. I'll make sure that this never-ending summer finishes for good."

As if in response to his words, the bells toll around them, singing their songs of promise. Light fills the room. It's blinding, like the dawn of a new morning. Relief bubbles up in her chest. The crushing weight in her lungs lifts.

For the first time in forever, Ayano breathes. And she smiles.

The prompt for this week was "Stifling".

The reveal at the end of the manga's storyline that the Snake of Retaining Eyes is the Ayano of that particular timeline was quite the shock to me (and also admittedly troubled me, knowing that I specifically had referred to the two of them as being completely different beings when I had written Never-Ending). Ever since then, I've wanted to write something that'd connect with Never-Ending while showing the thoughts of the Ayano who had become the Snake of Retaining Eyes. I think she's someone who'd have a lot of resentment and exhaustion due to her situation. It can't have been easy for her...

Well, that's it for now. Thanks for reading!