“That shocked me.”

The two of them were the only ones left behind..

“I never thought you’d say something like that.”

Alice stood right in front of the shattered window and said.

“Oh? Someone’s eavesdropping.”

Fufu. Ai giggled.

Her words were not just directed at Nein. They could also be directed to the boy with the hellish eyes.

“Mr Alice.”

Ai waved her hand, Come here, come here as he would to a shy dog. The dog, however, seemed to be a wolf and was unwilling to be beckoned.

“I’m fine with standing here…I’ll be leaving right after whatever I say…”

“Mm, you’re saying such things again…I got no choice now. ”

Jumping off the bed and covering herself with a blanket, Ai teetered in the darkness. On the way, she picked up Madame’s lamp and incense stick and sat down next to Alice.

“…Hey, at least sit on the chair.”

“That’s my line. Seriously, it’s my room, so why do I have to sit on the floor…? ”

Ai look out the flame, placed it beneath a kettle, and boiled some water to brew tea. She had noticed recently that incense sticks would become more fragrant when slightly roasted.

She covered herself with the blanket while staring into the flames. After a while, she felt like it was similar to when she was traveling.

“Here you go, Mr. Alice.”

“I’m good…”

“I see. Then you can go home now. If you don’t like it, sit down and have your tea here.”

“….Tch. All right!”

Alice ruffled his head, and sat down with a loud thud.

“Tea ….”

“Yes. Please drink it diluted.”

“Food!”

“Here are some sweets, I don’t eat any more, so you can eat them all.”

“———~!”

It seemed something in the current conversation hurt Alice, and he made no attempts to hide his displeasure as he wolfed down the sweets. He did not seem to be letting out stress by eating, and simply had not eaten in a long while. Ai felt somewhat comforted by his appearance.

“Another one!”

“Yes, yes.”

Finally, Alice drank all the water in the kettle, and burped loudly.

“Have you calmed down?”

“…Yeah.”

“That’s good.”

Ai was a little relieved to see him finally look like his usual self. It seemed Alice too was heavily pressurized by the presence of Nein, and he finally relaxed now that they were alone.

“…Say.”

“Yes?”

“Are you sure you don’t want to revive?”

“You’re still talking about that again?”

Ai licked the tea to wet her tongue. She already had an answer in mind, and it was something she discussed with many.

“Nope. I don’t plan to.”

“Why not?”

“Because once you revive, doesn’t that mean that I’ll have to keep reviving? ”

They say that when there is two, three comes after, but that saying was wrong. Strictly put, there should be infinitity.

Those who had experienced a miracle once would always wish for a second. Those who experienced it twice would wish for a third time, those who experienced it thrice would wish for a fourth until. The miracle would cease to be a miracle and would simply become ordinary.

When that happened, Life and Death would merely be reduced to completely similar concepts.

“I don’t want that. I don’t want Life and Death to be the same thing.”

“Ahh damn it!”

Alice scratched his head as though he was shooing fleas away.

“I don’t care what you want! I don’t like it!”

“That’s not my problem. Do something about it.”

“Damnit!” How could you be so calm!”

It was thanks to Ulla and Tanya. Thanks to them, Ai was able to say those words to Nein.

If only Alice was the same.

“Poor Mr. Alice.”

“Huh!?”

Ai patted his head. His short, hard, spiky hair was like hedgehog spines. His eyes widened, not knowing why he was being pitied.

“You should have looked for me right from the beginning, just like Miss Nein. Things wouldn’t have ended up this weird. Seriously, I wouldn’t know what would have happened if you delayed until past the deadline.”

“Oi, was your three days deadline directed at us?”

“You see? You notice these unimportant parts right away.”

The three-day period was meant as a threat to Alice and Nein, as if to say, ‘If you don’t come back by now, I don’t care what happens next’

“Back on point, Why didn’t you show up in the first place?”

“I told you, didn’t I? Nein ran away! I needed her power to revive you –”

“You were scared.”

With a single slash, Ai severed Alice’s excuses.

“……”

No, Ai herself was probably the same. She was terrified of meeting Alice too..

Nein felt guilty, and was too afraid ‘failure’ to come to see her.

Alice was the same. He felt guilty, and was scared of his change..

“Both you and Miss Nein dared not to meet me. That’s why you two ran away..”

“~Ahhh that’s right!”

The magic bullet that destroyed the world stomped hard. Unable to bear the awkwardness, he raised his voice.

“Really, you’re really an idiot…”

Couldn’t you have met me before you went off deciding on your own?

“I don’t know why you’re like that…you’re acting as if you’re all alone in the world, worrying and deciding for yourself, and you ended up getting to that point,…”

Ai carefully stroked his sandy, coarse hair.

“I don’t know why you’re like this. ”

“…How would I know? It just happened before I realized.”

“You had so many chances to change…but you didn’t. Hmm~, what should I do about this?”

“…Oi.”

A dark energy arose in Alice.

“Don’t tell me you still think there’s still hope for me?”

“What do you mean by ‘still’?”

“…Like, you think I can possibly put down my gun, destroy my despair, and become a normal guy.”

Menace was seeping out from the depths of his eyes.

“Hmmm~well I think the normal people you speak of can’t exactly be found everywhere, but, well, yes.”

“I can’t do that anymore…I’m probably not Alice Color…”

“Yes? What are you talking about?”

“…The fifteen-year-old Alice is nowhere to be found. All that remains now is what’s left of him…”

The soul of a man whose dreams had been stripped away again and again, whose life and death had been repeated so many times, was so exhausted that he could not even remember his original form.

“…Ahh, so this is what you’re talking about. I see, I get it, somehow. I died and lived so many times, so I will probably be worn out into something else. And once I do that, I can never go back…I’ll probably turn to stone someday.”

“But you’re not a rock yet.”

“No, I’m already one…a gunpowder-fired bullet.…oi, Ai.”

The bullet found its target and took aim.

“You told that brat earlier, didn’t you? If you can’t change, that’s okay. You also said it’s fine not to ‘fail’, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then leave me alone, too. I’m just like the Witch after all. I can’t give up…I can’t change.”

Suddenly, a pale glow suddenly seeped out of Alice’s body. The color, which looked like melted silver, easily slipped out of the blanket that covered him and gathered before him.

He was certainly no longer a person, but something else.

 

“I’ll revive you.”

 

Perhaps such an existence was called God after all.

“I’ve made up my mind. I won’t change.”

The God of justice started to disappear after saying those words, without care of what concerns humans might have. His body began to glow again.

“And then I’ll disappear, and we won’t meet again…”

The light was the same color as silver. Alice and the otherworldly power were thus completely merged and indistinguishable.

“See you….”

The magic bullet tried to fly away. But,

“What are you talking about? Of course not, Mr Alice?”

Ai naturally pulled his hand and stopped him.

And there was more. She flipped him over, got him to sit down, and covered him with a blanket.

“Hey, Ai, ugh!”

Ai ignored him. In the meantime, she stuffed tea and sweets into his mouth and pat his head. Ai did not care if he was some bullet or some God. How could she let him go?

“You just love to say what you want…you don’t think about how I can agree….”

“Mofugamogu… gulp—.You! What you’re saying is crazy!”

It appeared Alice had a proper upbringing, as he chewed and swallowed the contents before he started spitting words at Ai.

‘Yes? What’s so crazy?”

“You said that if I you can’t change, that’s fine!”

“Yes, I did. But not you, Mr. Alice.”

“Why not!?”

“Huh? Goodness, you don’t know that? You really are an idiot, Mr Alice.”

“Yeah, sure looks like it! I have no idea! If you don’t mind, I’d like to know!”

“Oh dear, I got no choice now.”

Ai had a hand on her forehead as she shook it. She simply did not expect Alice to not notice something that obvious. It was fine if it had been just Nein, but not Alice. Was that not obvious? It was so obvious that she did not need to think about it..

Because…

“Huh?

“… Oi, what’s with the ‘huh’? Wait, are you—”

“P-Please wait a minute. Huh? Huuhhh?”

Ai reeled back her confident expression and tilted  his head. This overly obvious thing that she did not need to think about seemed so illogical on second thought.

“Huh? That’s a little weird. Why? Why? Ehhh~?”

“…Oh, yeah, I forgot you’re such a scatterbrain…”

“Don’t be a sore loser, Mr. Alice, help me think about it! Why am I helpless when it comes to you, Mr. Alice? It’s not right! Do something!”

“Sure~ I’ll take care of it. Rule of thumb, gotta knock a scatterbrain in the head to repair it.”

“No violence!”

“Then no unreasonableness!”

Ehh~? Woah~? Why? Ai covered her forehead in shock. She felt like she was a great fool, and that her confident look just moments ago left her ashamed. She had no idea why she was so confident.”

“…I’m sorry Mr Alice, I was wrong…it looks like you are right this time…”

“No, no, no! You never admitted wrong before, and now you’re doing it!? Are you that devastated!? ”

“Because~~”

“No because!…ahh goodness, seriously. Why do I have to say this …?”

“Eh? Mr. Alice, you know why?”

“Probably.”

Ai was not expecting anything, but Alice said he knew the answer.

“Please tell me!”

“Okay, but don’t get mad at me, alright?”

“Of course!”

“Like hell you won’t…”

Somehow, Alice assumed a position of one who was about to be beaten up as he said,

 

“Isn’t that because you like me?”

 

+

 

“Huh?”

Perhaps as the speed of sound was slow; it took Ai a few seconds to understand the words.

“Like? Me, Mr Alice?”

“Y-yeah.”

“……Like, the kind of like, between, a woman, and, a man?”

“Yeah.”

An eternity of about a second passed.

“Haaaaah!?”

Ai screamed so loud that Celica woke up.

“What are you talking about!? What are you talking about!?”

“Ca-calm down!”

“Are you an idiot!? I mean, you’re an idiot! You’re a big idiot!”

It was a huge commotion. Ai threw everything she could find at Alice.

“How can I possibly l-l-l-li–”

—Like Mr Alice? Ai’s words trailed off midway through. It was very difficult to retort so out loud.

“~!! You idiot! I mean! Stupid!”

“I told you not to get mad!”

“There’s a limit to how much I can control myself!”

Ai truly was glad that she was dead. If she was alive, she would be blushing, and even hyperventilating.

“Are you an idiot!? What are you talking about? There’s a limit to how conceited you can be!”

“No! I told you it hurts! Don’t throw things!”

While Alice had been enduring for a while, he lost his temper when he was hit with the tea table,

 

“”Then why did you kiss me the other day!?”

 

Ai froze up while she carried the cupboard.

‘Ki-kiss?’

“Three days ago!”

“Th-That’s…”

She involuntarily remembered an abominable memory in the back of her mind. Three days ago, I knew that number.

“You woke up after Nein and I battled! You spoke to Nein! And then when the three of us decided to go home!”

“Kya kya kya!!!”

Ai shouted, overpowering his words with a shout.

“N-no, I don’t mean that, alright! It’s a greeting because I got excited! And it’s just the cheek! It’s like a hug!”

“You liar!”

“A-and on this topic, didn’t you do the same too, Mr Alice!> See!? Over here! Here!”

The bangs were brushed back to expose an outstanding forehead. She was referring to the moment the sealed world collapsed. At the very last moment, Alice kissed Ai on the forehead.

“‘Oh yeah I did! So what!!?”

“Straight to the point!? Th-that’s not fair! What’s that about!? ”

“I am not inconsistent in my actions. Don’t compare me with you who act without knowing what you’re thinking of!”

“I-I worry before I act too! But you…you’re horible!”

“I’m not horrible!”

“No! You’re horrible!”

“No! I’m not! That’s because!!”

 

“SHUT UP!!”

 

At that moment,

The bedroom door was slammed open, and appearing there was a fuming Julie, a half-asleep Scar, and a bawling Celica.

“…I would have kept my mouth shut if I could, but I had enough! You’re bothering the neighbors! Shut up!”

“”Yes.””

They instantly hushed their voices and lowered their heads while being scolded.

“Hmph, good that you know…as for you, Alice, I’ll give you another two, three slaps. Look for me later.”

“Eh, why only me…”

“Kiss!”

“Alright.”

Boom! The door was slammed shut, so hard that the snow on the roof fell off.

“……”

“……”

They returned to the window in silence., put away the mess and covered themselves with blankets.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee~…”

Ai cupped her head.

“That’s not real~!”

She had romantic feelings for Alice. Dee too said such a thing, but Ai herself could not believe it. She felt that her feelings at this point were no different from how they were back then. She liked Alice, but not in a ‘fiery’ or ‘passionate’ sense as depicted in the books. This probably was different.

Then why did she kiss him?

…… Huh?”

Resting her chin on her knees, Ai pondered seriously. She felt like she had buttoned wrongly, and that everyone had realized it except for her. She had always been like that.

“…Mr Alice.”

“What?”

“Do I like you, Mr. Alice?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Huh?”

She felt as though the rug was pulled out from beneath her feet.

“Y-You jerk! Didn’t you say such things!?”

“Didn’t I say maybe?”

I can’t believe you…”

She was certain at that moment. She did not like Alice. Instead, she hated him. Yes, that was right, she really hated such people with no sense of delicacy.

And once she thought about it…

“…I feel angry for some reason.”

The devil’s tail grows out of Ai’s rear. A horn grew on her forehead and a temper tantrum in his heart ordered him to lecture this yawning fool next to her. So Ai fought back.

“Hmmph, if you say that I like you because I kissed you, then by that logic, you like me too, don’t you, Mr. Alice ?”

But more counterattacks awaited her.

“Yeah, that’s right..”

This time, Ai was speechless.

“………………Eh?”

“Eh your head. I told you I’m not contradicting myself.”

“……Eh, that means.”

I like you.

Ah, the moon was up. A full moon. Yay.

“Oi.”

“Ah? Sorry. I wasn’t listening. What were we talking about?”

I’m talking about me liking you.

“…………………”””

“Oi.”

“…………Hya.”

“Hya? What do you mean by ‘Hya’?”

Her throat let out a sound she had never heard before.

“Hya, hyaaaaaa…”

“Ah, oi! Where are you going, Ai!”

Ai ran away, no longer knowing why. She hid her face and covered herself with a blanket as she ran to the other side of the bed.

“Wait, you!”

“Hyaaaa. Hyaaaaah…”

“Let me say something at least!”

Ai fled from the bed to the desk, the desk to the cupboard, and even part of the wall. The only words that came out were hyaa. Her heart, which should have stopped, was beating.

“Why are you running away!?”

“Why are you chasing after me?”

“Isn’t it because you’re running!?”

“Because…because, because~!”

In the end, Ai ended up on her bed. She ducked under the blanket and hid inside, curling up like a dung beetle.

Ai would curl up like a dung beetle under the blankets. Hiyaaaaaaaa…”

“Hey! Get back here! Ai!”

“There’s no such person here! She’s not home! She’s not at home!”

“You idiot Alright, I get it, you idiot!”

Ai was in disbelief. What was going on? What was the situation? this? What is this?

Just a moment ago, she should have had a huge advantage! Alice was suddenly to be a stupid tangerine pumpkin who did not know what he was talking about!!!

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore

“Oi, enough already. I really put in the effort to say this.”

“Hyaa. Hyaaa…!”

“……What, you went to bed after I confessed. Are you trying to tempt me? ”

What is he saying!?

“! Mr Aliceee…ack ack ackGoho! Ugh—”

“Ahh, ahh, ahh! My bad, my bad! Those words were horrible! I apologize, so calm down a little! Okay!? ”

“Ack! Ack! Uehh, ahem!!”

Ai kept coughing even though she did not have to breathe, and her head did not have to be overheated..

“Stupid…Mr Alice’s…stupid…ack…”

“Yes yes I’m an idiot. I’m sorry. You don’t have to say it while coughing like that, I know. Calm down.”

The cause of all this spoke with a kind voice, gently patting her back. Ai was happy with this, and the confusion in her heart cleared in a jiffy.

“…That’s a lie.”

“What?”

“You say you like me, Mr Alice…that’s a lie.”

“Why not? I thought I was pretty blatant about this.”

“Huh? Like what?”

“Like say…I kissed you, as you said, and we held hands, and we lived together…and didn’t we play basketball together?”

“…Does basketball count?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

What should she do? His definition of blatant was completely diffierent…no, perhaps Alice was in the right, no? She did not know. Ai did not know anything.

“So now what? How blatant do you want me to get?”

“Eh, like, a confession…”

“I just did.”

“……Going out on holidays, shopping …”

“We did that a lot before we came here.”

“Giving presents…”

“Birthday.”

“A-And kisses…”

“I did that too. And you kissed me too.”

……Huh?

“B-But! ”

“Woah, you shocked me! ”

“But Mr Alice! I feel it’s different when you do so! Even with all these examples you said, I’m not convinced at all! You didn’t give me that feeling at all.”

“Of course not. I didn’t really want to say this.”

“Ah …”

The denunciations fall away.

“Actually, I really shouldn’t be here.”

Again with that. He was making his own decision again.

He had been suppressing his life all these years, never confessing to the ones he liked, so that he could disappear without leaving any pain in their hearts.

For he sought death.

“…You idiot.”

Ai collapsed onto the soft blanket and mumbled softly. An idiot. Alice was an idiot. And she was an idiot..

“…I’ve been shocked so many times…but this might be the biggest shock today …”

“Sorry about that.”

“Mmm. Why are you so calm? I’ve been suffering.”

“That’s because we have different life experiences. And I’m good at hiding things like this.”

“That’s not something to be proud of.”

“Sorry.”

Ai put her cheeks by the pillow as she listened to Alice’s rambling. She felt like she was listening to a bedtime story. The words were light and soothing.

Suddenly, Alice stroked her forehead. He was exceptionally adept at such timing, but one had to wonder if there was such a skill.

He was really good at such timing.

“…Hey, Mr Alice.”

“Wha?”

“If you really like me…”

Ai hesitated to say everything thereafter, for it sounded like a threat. It sounded like she was taking a hostage and threatening him to do what she said if if he did not want anyone to be killed. Ai felt it was not an appropriate feeling for this. But even so,

 

“Please, stay with me….”

 

Still, Ai said so. She looked into his eyes, trying to sound as pathetic as possible, as if she was begging. She had a blade at his heart, ‘Do as I say’ threatening him.

It did not matter whether it was pretty, or despicable, or whether she had to get dirty all over. That was fine.

“Please don’t go anywhere, stay with me…”

Ai did not know. She never dreamed that deep within that feeling of liking, of love, was something so dirty and sticky. She never realized that the desire to be with someone was made of iron chains, and at the bottom of her affection, flames were swirling.

Ai finally understood why she had never noticed this feeling. Because love, the feeling of desiring the other person, definitely contained some ‘evil’.

“Please change for me. Don’t think of being alone anymore, and take care of yourself. You don’t have to revive me…please don’t be sharp on your own.”

A hand quietly reached out from the cold floor and touched Alice. It was a cold Dead hand.

“…I’m  sorry.”

But still, there were some things that could not be reached.

“‘I like you, and I want to be with you. But …”

Ai nodded quietly. She knew. No matter how much she yearned and liked him, there were some things he could not compromise.

“…I can’t change after all…”

Just as overflowing water would never return to its vessel, a fired bullet could never return to the warm magazine.

No matter how much one yearned for it.

It was just an unfulfilled wish. Just as an adult would harbour hopes for a child, it was at the realm of God, tearing up in nostalgia.

“I tried to change, but I couldn’t. Even if I wanted to change, I couldn’t…so I guess I’ll definitely be such an existence…no matter what you say, Ai, I’ll insist on my own way.”

“…You’re  really hopeless.”

“You said it’s fine.”

Ai smiled. She was rejected, but she did not feel dejected. For she knew that it was something to be achieved, even if love and hatred were betayed. She called it a dream.

“So, Ai, I’ll definitely revive you!”

“I refuse.”

Thus, she should remain at the exact opposite position.

“Why! Did you lie about what you said to Nein?”

“No, those were out of my own beliefs. Not you though, Mr Alice.”

Ai knew. She knew that some beliefs could trump emotions.

But at the same time, there were also emotions that could trump beliefs.

“I don’t know if this feeling is love or what. But, not you.”

“So …why …?”

“I told you I don’t know. ”

“…Say, youuu.”

Alice finally ran out of energy and lowered his head by the bedside dejectedly. Ai found him pitiful and cute, ‘good boy good boy’, patting his head.

“You poor thing, having someone be so clingy to you.”

“…That coming from the person herself…?”

“Really, your wish could have been fulfilled by now.”

“Yeah…”

Alice said listeless. Truth be told, if it was not for Ai being clingy, Alice would have disappeared a month ago, and there should have been many more chances to vanish..

“Prepare yourself.”

She just could not stop grinning away. She really enjoyed having his head in her arms.

“You know, your wish will never come true. And you’ll never be alone. Because I’m here..”

It was the same line she used to say to her father, who was afraid of being alone in the world. But Ai had no guarantees back then, and and nobody could believe her words..

“What now? Don’t you believe me?”

“…No, I’m freaking out because it’s realllllyyy going to happen.”

Alice lifted his head, clearly looking bewildered. Ai still could not help but laugh. This God-like existence was at a loss because a person fell for him..

“Let’s have a match.”

“A match?”

“Yes, which is stronger? Your beliefs or my feelings? It’s a match.”

“…Woah, sounds like I’ll lose.”

“Really? I think it’s pretty close. I might go ‘kyaa’ and all if I meet someone more handsome and has a better personality than you.”

“… Ah?”

“Oh, are you angry? Nfufu! You’re angry~! ”

“…, no, that’s fine.”

“Eh?”

“It’s fine if you can forget about me…as long as it makes you happy ….”

“Ah! Hey! That’s unfair! Foul!”

“Then don’t say such things! You caused my heart to jump just no—!”

“Eh? Your heart jumped?”

“Huh!? What are you saying, you idiot!? Like hell I did!”

“Please don’t contradict yourself in two seconds! Your heart jumped, didn’t it? ”

“Shut up!”

Ai sometimes stood up on the bed, or sat down, or rolled around, or ducked as she teased Alice. On the other hand, Alice sat in one corner of the bed and listened without moving.

They kept talking. They talked about their unbending beliefs. They talked about feelings that could not be erased. It seemed as if a conclusion had already been reached, or not at all.

The topic slowly drifted off, Ai talked about her friends, about how Tanya had gained some weight, about how Ulla’s eyes were black, Alice talked about the last three days, about Nein’s escape to the moon, about being frozen and buried under thousands of years of snow, about seeing his classmates outside on the southern prairie.

It was a moonlit night.

They were finally at peace; Ai’s death and Alice’s sharpness were gradually annealed by the conversation, and the stupid bedtime talk continued on..

It was happiness.

She had lost her life and would start rotting the next day, but she could lift her head proudly and say that she was happy. She felt remorse, but no regret.

She truly felt the ‘me’ and ‘you’ here were the smallest units of life.

“…Mr. Alice.”

The sleepiness finally set in. She did not really need to sleep or feel sleepy, but her eyelids were getting heavier. Perhaps it was the peace of mind that made her feel this way.

“What?”

“Can you please tell me you like me one more time?”

“……”

Ah, he was embarrassed.

Ai knew very well as to what Alice was thinking. He started off a little embarrassed, and then tried to escape by making a joke.

“Hey, Mr Alice.”

But Ai did not want him to do that. She wanted to hear him say that line again. She wanted him to put it into words.

“…I like you.”

Alice actually said so. One had to wonder what feelings caused her to feel this way, but he said so earnestly. Her heart swelled. Her face started to smile on its own.

“Look. Is this okay?

“Fufufu, thank you very much. Ah, but one more time if you can. …”

“What? You should be happy with one.”

“Because you’re so hard to understand, Mr Alice. Please express your attitude better.”

This would not have been a finicky situation to begin with otherwise..

“Hey, Mr. Alice, why and since when do you like me?”

“Why have you been asking me the entire time? Then what about you?”

“I-I don’t know yet, and it’s too early for me to talk about it…”

“Ahh, I see~. So you’re in your own safe zone.”

“I-I can’t help it! I really don’t know! I don’t know about myself…or your feelings. ”

Ai was still insecure. She had been told that Alice liked her, but she still did not know his feelings. For he was too good at hiding his feelings.

“…I still don’t understand why you like me, Mr Alice…hey, why? When did you start liking me? ”

“Ahh…I don’t have a choice…”

Alice probably never thought of it before, let alone speak up. He started to talk about his own feelings.

“It’s probably the last day when you saved me from the sealed city when I wanted to die.”

“…Yes.”

“Looking back, that’s how it all started.”

“…Ehhh~? What now? So it doesn’t matter whoever it is as long as that person saves you? Heh~ oh, I see~ ”

“Maybe…but there’s no one like that who showed up.”

Alice narrowed her eyes and recollected his past.

“For me, I seem to be very focused on becoming ‘this’. I feel alone at the very end. And it’s the same when I’m alive. Even my buddies who played basketball with me were like ‘your skills suck, so why can you keep playing?’.”

“That’s harsh of them.”

“No, they weren’t bullying me or anything. I really was hopelessly untalented at shooting the ball into the hoop. To them, they just found it miraculous. It’s one thing if it’s about ‘the joy of playing a match’, or ‘being popular with girls’, or even ‘the joy of growing up’, but even I found it strange how I could be so passionate about basketball..

Still, it was Alice who could remain so devoted.

“Basically, I’m the kind of guy who’s so obsessed that no one’s able to keep up with eventually. No, that’s not the case, nobody could have kept up with me anyway, because my standards are different. I guess my reasons for playing basketball are different from others to begin with.”

“Mr Alice, why do you like to play basketball?”

“Isn’t it fun chasing bouncing balls around?”

“Well, yes.”

“That’s all.”

“Are you a cat or something…?”

No wonder he could not improve.

“So before I know it, I’m all alone…some guys just look at me with kind looks, saying that this lonely me is one who’s ‘alone and proud’, but these guys admired me for how I was, and weren’t willing to be with me.”

“Ah…”

“Wasn’t this the case at the final moments of the sealed world?”

Indeed, when that world crumbled, they respected Alice’s wishes.. They cried, they suffered, but in the end they did as he said. It was because they were friends and they knew that Alice Color would never waver.

But just as beliefs and feelings were two different things, even Alice had his loneliness. He always concealed them, but he did have a will to live on.

“But you were different.”

Ai only was the one who shattered it.

“Now that I think back to it, you were horrible back then…you dug up the fears I finally managed to bury, and even showed it to me. How much of a demon are you, …?”

“B-Because…”

“And in the end, you even destroyed your own dream just to save me. It’s really stupid…but even so, I’m…a little happy. Back then, I didn’t believe it. I felt that you couldn’t catch up to me one day, and that you’d find your own happiness . That’s what I thought…”

“Fufu. You underestimated me, right? ”

“Yeah. No matter how I shoved you away, you kept leaning over and challenging me. At this point, if I had to be honest, I already lost.”

“Too bad.”

“Haha. Yeah.”

Alice laughed. He did not seem so disappointed.

“It’s just you, Ai.”

This time, he looked a little disappointed.

“I’ve died so many times, reset the world so many times, and yet I’m still me. The only one who followed me and even dragged me along…was you, Ai Astin. You saved me, Alice Color, when even I had given up on myself…”

So,

“I love you, Ai.”

Alice said.

“Well, you just saved my life, but to me, it’s almost a miracle…I’m very happy. I might look this way, but I’m a very simple man. Someone saves me, and I fall for her. ”

“I see, so that’s how it is…”

“Yeah.”

“……Hyaa.”

Ai almost made another weird sound, and escaped to the blanket again.

“Oi, what’s wrong? What’s with you? ”

“Hyah …”

Alice liked her.

She was finally convinced.

“Hey! I’ve said it already! Why don’t you confess too?”

“Con-confess what?”

“Do you like me? Or do you hate me?”

“~~~!”

Alice was truly unfair. He said he liked her, and even talked about his memories,

“Th-that’s not fair!”

“So which one is it, dammit!?”

“!”

Alice went berserk. The blanket was pulled off.

“No! Nooo! Give it back!”

“Ai!”

On the contrary, Alice even breaks the gentleman’s agreement and got onto the bed.

“Hey! Wait, mr Alice! I’m calling for people if you come here! Mr Julie will beat you up good!!”

“Call him.”

“…Huh?”

“If you really hate me, call for him. I’ll relent if you do that.”

Th-That was not fair!

“Ai.”

“Hyah!”

Both hands that were flailing meaninglessly were caught.

“P-Please let go of me!”

“Then why don’t you just shake it off? You have more power than me.”

!” That’s not fair! It’s intimidation!”

“Who started it first? Come on, fess up!”

Ai really hoped that he did not look at her with such a face.

For her heart would stop, and she would be unable to breath.

“—!!”

Ai said,

 

“Hmph! I hate it when you’re like this, Mr Alice!”

 

Aww.

“Let go of me! Please go away!”

No, it was not the case.

Yet the words did not stop, and they flew out of his mouth, directed at Alice.

‘I hate rowdy people!’

“……”

Shouting in the smallest voice possible, Ai did not struggle even with her hands caught, and just continued to reject him verbally.

“‘…Understood. ”

“Ah.”

The flames left her hands.

“…Ssorry for scaring you.”

Alice was seemingly doused in water as he cooled down. He got off the bed, faced outside, and slumped down, his back dejected like a dog that had been scolded.

Ai too was the same. She sank to the bed, cupping her knees.

She blurted out. That was her reply. She felt it was not right, that Alice was not right, that it was too unfair, too despicable. She felt that forceful interrogation was not the way to go..

Then, was she not unfair too?

“……”

Ai was silent. If he was cheating, so was she. He expressed his true feelings, yet she gave an excuse, saying that she did not know, and escaped. It was too despicable of her..

Then, what was the right thing to do?

What was the proper way to communicate her feelings?

“…Mr Alice.”

“…What?”

“Can you turn around and look at me?”

She was certain she felt somewhere. A look of mixed grumpiness and regret looked back at her.

“……”

“……”

They looked at each other. The height difference was different from usual.

“…Sorry. Please turn your head the other way.”

“What now?”

He went back to his original position after all. In such situations, both sides should be able to look at each other, but at this moment, this was the most she could do..

The bed creaked.

“Mr Alice…”

“!”

She inched her legs towards the edge of the bed and hugged him from behind.

“O-Oi.”

“…I beg of you, please don’t talk. I’m already at my limit now…”

She could hear a heartbeat. It was Alice’s.

“…….”

At this moment, Ai was still unsure of her feelings.

She was happy being with Alice. She enjoyed chatting with him. She wanted to be with him him.

As a matter of fact, she felt that she liked him.

But she was unsure if this feeling was love. It was not love at first sight as depicted in the stories, and it did not ‘cause her heart to race’, or ‘get hot all over’.

Thus, time to make a decision.

Just as some people decide and grasp even sadness and love for themselves, she too would have to decide.

Thump, thump, thump. Her heart beat faster and faster. She gulped.

She took a deep breath. Just one line, just one sentence would do.

“……I… like…”

And yet she could not finish the sentence. She was afraid fro some reason. This was the case whenever she tried to reveal her feelings.

But he did it.

“Mr Alice…”

“Hmm?”

So Ai said.

 

“I like, you too…”

 

The heart raced loudly. It was like a reply.

“…Maybe, but… ”

You idiot, you didn’t have to add that. …

Ai shrank like a slug being doused with salt, and leaned against Alice’s shoulder. She felt hopeless, as though she did npot have the courage to do this. She should have asked how Julie and Scar did such things.

“Nn, me too.”

Even so, Alice accepted such a useless Ai. He patted her on the head without roasting or laughing at her.

It was very good timing, and they remained motionless.

“…Fuaaa. ”

Finally exhaling this huge breath, Ai flopped down on the bed.

“Haha, hey, are you alive?”

“No, I’m dead.”

They laughed at this joke that was made in poor taste.

“I’ve never thought so hard in my life…”

“Sorry about that. ”

“Really…fuaahh …”

Alice propped his elbows on the side of the bed.

“I’m a little tired.”

“…Do you need some sleep?”

It was long past midnight.

“…I guess. This might be better.”

It was said that it would be better for the Dead to live as similarly to the previous life as possible to avoid being ‘selfish’. Ai put her feet up in bed and crawled under the blanket.

“…Mr Alice, please get some rest too.”

“In the same bed?”

“‘You idiot… I meant your own room…”

She reached out and touched his cheek.

“…I’ve cleaned it.”

“Thanks for that.”

“…I don’t want you to go away while I’m sleeping. If you like me, stay with me…”

Somehow, Ai felt awfully sleepy. Her body that was already asleep wanted to revert to such a natural state. e.

“Since you say so, what can I do? My fault for liking you.”

Alice smiled.

“I’ll stay with you.”

You liar. With that thought, Ai fell asleep.

 

+

 

Perhaps because she was half human and half Gravekeeper, or perhaps because she had the body of a Dead, the sleeping potion he had put on Ai took a very long time to take effect.

“Now…”

Alice slowly got up before Ai, who slept silently. He could not let Ai know what he was about to do next. If she did, she would not forgive him. She would even hate him.

“…What are you going to do to Ai?

A voice came from behind him. He turned around and saw Nein standing there.

Nothing had happened a moment before, but Alice was not surprised.

“It’s bad manners to eavesdrop,”

“I-I was merely keeping an eye on you in case you do anything wrong!”

“I won’t do anything wrong. In fact, I think you’d like it.”

“…What are you going to do?”

Alice smiled.

“How many times have I said this? I’ll bring her back to life.”

“…That’s not what Ai would want.”

“So what?”

He knew how Ai felt. He also had a love to respect her will.”

But still.

Alice Color would not stop.

“I don’t want anyone else to die because of me… much less Ai Astin… ”

The simmering magma in his heart overflowed. He could not live on like this. Alice just could not give up.

“…What are you going to do? You don’t have the power to revive people, do you…ah, just to say this first, I’m not helping!”

“I know, Witch. Like who’s going to make a wish to you?”

“Ugh.”

Nein, who lived to grant other people’s wishes, showed an awkward face.

“Anyway, how did she die in the first place?”

Alice asks, pointing to the heart.

“That’s….”

“Yeah. I killed her.”

Nein fel silent. Alice took the opportunity to rip off the blanket and put his hand on the corpse’s chest.

“Wait! Hey, you!”

“I knew it.”

“What do you mean, ‘I knew it’? You pervert!”

“It was the bullet back then that stopped Ai’s heart.”

“???”

Alice moved aside, “Touch it” and prompted Nein to touch. There was a hard block at the heart, within the gap between the fifth and sixth ribs.

“What’s so odd about that?”

“It’s obviously odd. That bullet was my everything. But Ai blocked it, and changed me to my current self. So what is this bullet?”

“…Huh?”

“I knew it, Ai failed to catch it. That’s why she lost his life, and I couldn’t regenerate completely.”

“S-So you’re saying the bullet in her chest is part of you too?”

“No, if anything, that’s my main body.”

Kneeling on the bed, he put his hand on Ai’s chest. He focused his will on the stopped heart and the silver bullet on the other side of it.

Buzzer Beater. He recalled the feeling of that moment, the warmth with which Ai received me, and he would do it all over again.

“Alright Buzzer Beater, wake up. Let’s continue where we left off.”

Alice whispered. A silvery light filled the room, as if crushed silver had melted. The light immediately and violently illuminated everything, filling Nein’s vision.

“Wait! What are you doing!?”

“Continuing on from where I left off. I’m going to end this bullet that couldn’t hit the target and kept flying in the air!”

“You don’t mean…”

“Yeah!”

And so the end began.

 

“I’ll give my bullet to Ai.”

 

The light went rampant. Dreams were shattered.

“Stop!”

“Shut up!”

“This isn’t what Ai wants!”

“Still!”

Still,

Alice could not bear it.

“I can’t! Let this happen! ”

Alice cried. He bawled like a child.

“Do-Do you want to die!?”

Of course. How could he be unscathed after killing someone and wanting this person to revive? The power of the magic bullet came from himself.

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, then a heart for a heart.

“No! It’s one thing if you die! Do you know what you’re becoming!?”

Nein could only watch. She granted all wishes, and she could not prevent anyone’s wish from coming true. Even if it belongs to her enemy Alice.

“~! Ai won’t forgive you!”

“I know!”

“She’s going to break up with you! She’ll say she hates people like you!”

“But still!”

He saw her smile. He saw her skip around. She usually looked happy, sometimes dejected. He heard her voice call for his name.

He knew Ai Astin, who was more dazzling than the sun, gentler than the moon, warm like a flame.

But eventually, the smile would harden, the feet that ran everywhere would rot away, and the heart would become thirsty and ‘selfish’.

And he could not endure the fact that he was the cause of it.

Will he die if he did it? No, or even worse? So what? It was already Hell for him. If he could not, his mind would simply die first.

So this was just selfishness. It’s an imposition in the name of love. He knew very well. Ai did not want this, and did not want him to be like this. No, it was a selfish assumption. She would probably say, “It can’t be helped,” and eventually forgive him. He should stop using her as an excuse. Ultimately, it was just Alice who could not forgive his own ‘selfishness’.

“But I still want her to live…”

Why? Alice wondered. How did it come to this? He initially started off feeling happy about living, that just chasing a bouncing ball was fun, but before he knew it, the landscape had changed, and he ended up all alone.

He had no idea what went wrong. Was he wrong in stopping Ai? Was it when he tried to protect the town from Madame? When he tried to free his classmates? He did not think his sentiments were wrong. Then were his methods wrong? Was it wrong to choose self-sacrifice? But what else could he have chosen? Or is it wrong to think that way?

It was the same at this moment. Alice just wanted Ai to live. He was so fatally mistaken.

“That’s enough, … as long as you’re alive, that’s all that matters…”

The light then began to reach Ai’s physical body. As if in resonance, light also emanated from inside the body, revealing the shape of a bullet within.. But that light immediately changed shape, and became a mass the size of a fist.

The bullet began to pulse. At the same time, the light began to subside. Boom, boom, something disappears inside Alice. It was the familiar sensation of death.

“For that, I’m willing to be ‘selfish’.”

Then the light converged and Alice’s heart began to beat.

 

Goodbye.

His final words to her were a farewell.

 

+

 

Thud, thud, Alice slowly went down the stairs. Thud, how tedious and unbearable was it? His mind and body were not moving well. It took him at least ten minutes to get down to the first floor.

“…You’re leaving?”

It seemed this day was one where he was often called from behind. Alice wanted to slip out of the back door, but he did not react. He was in no mood for that..

Julie was waiting for him.

“Seriously, didn’t I tell you to meet me later…?”

“Old man…”

Julie apparently did not mind the cold and waited in the hallway that was unheated.

“I didn’t know you were awake…”

“Coming from you after all the fuss you caused?”

“…Sorry, I just couldn’t face you after all this time.”

“Again with that. It’s going to be tougher from now onWhen you apologize, apologize right away.”

“…I know, I know, but …”

That means you don’t understand.

Alice was frankly depressed after being told something so typical of his elders. At this moment, he still felt guilty for being dishonest.

“Hmph. It’s rare to see you this obedient.”

Bak bak! Julie slapped him on the back as he typically would.

“Looks like you got hit enough. I’ll let you off the hook for today.”

“Ha ha… thanks …”

“‘Mm…but what’s with you?”

Julie pointed to Alice’s chest. Apparently, the pep talk was also an opportunity to check on him. Julie was very shrewd when it came to such matters.

“Hmm? Ahh, this?”

Alice pried open of his shirt to reveal his chest. The chest was dented.

“…You don’t have a heart?”

“Good observation.”

“…But that’s weird, you look like you’re alive though?”

Julie tilted his head.

“I don’t really get this either. I’m not sure about this, but I’m definitely alive.”

“Even though you don’t have a heart?”

‘No, it’s not that I don’t have it. I gave it to Ai after all.”

“??? I don’t get it.”

“I know this is just a theory I have, but it seems that not only “death” changed fifteen years ago, but also ‘life’. Now that I think about it, it’s to be expected.”

Since death had changed, life too would have been affected. In a very difficult way to understand that.

“For example, if a person’s head works but his body does not, can you really say that he is alive? Conversely, what about someone whose head is the only thing dead?”

In the past, those who straddled the line between life and death would immediately fall to the side of death, and the line would be drawn. In this changed world however, the line was wide and thick, and people could even have the space to wander on it.

That was where Alice was.

I’m now at a state where I can’t say that I’m alive or dead. I don’t know if I’m a suspect at large, but it seems like people will be sent back to this safety net.”

“Hmmm…I don’t know what that is, But in other words, you’re alive?”

“Well, that’s the way it is.”

“Oh, yeah! That’s good!”

Julie finally smiled, apparently worried about that.

“Well, when you started talking about giving your heart to her, I really wondered if anything would happen. If that’s what you meant, no problem! Good job!”

“Haha, thanks…”

Julie’s attitude that all was well as long as he was alive was both comforting and unsettling at the same time. There are people who were alive, but were in Hell.

So this old man has a peeping interest, he thought. And to think he said that the commotion woke him up. This bear of an old man.

“Well, I should be going now…”

“Going…where? ”

“For now, I’ll just head west on the Continent Highway…to any port town and seek out for information.”

“What information?”

As expected, he had to explain this after all…

“A way to revive.”

Julie stopped moving.

“…Eh, isn’t Ai revived already?”‘

“No, she’s still dead. She’s the opposite of me. She got her heart back, and there’s a heart beating, but ‘she’s dead even though she looks alive’. Maybe there’ll will be a Gravekeeper who’ll pop by to bury her. Please take care of her then.”

“……”

“”What’s with that face? Don’t worry. It’s not like I don’t have any idea…

“No, that’s fine. I’m not referring to that…”

Julie sighed, seemingly unsure as to what he should say,

 

‘You’re leaving Ai?’

“…What’s with you, old man? Where’s your usual overprotectveness? It’s refreshing to get rid of the bad kid, right?”

“You idiot. That’s just my test. If you can’t overcome such an obstacle, how’s that even love? When I had my first wife, her dad chased me with a hunting rifle.”

“Don’t carry on that tradition…”

“The fact is, the old you wasn’t a suitable partner for Ai.”

“……”

Alice could not make a sound.

“But it’s different now, isn’t it? You got the resolve at leats. Do you still have to go? ”

“Yeah…”

“I guess Ai will naturally get angry and not agree with your actions, but she’s not going to dig out her heart and go all ‘I’m returning this’, right? Maybe …probably…most likely.”

“But still, I’m going.”

“…I see.”

Julie probably had plenty to say, but he swallowed his words.

“I get it. Then get going…but take this with you.”

A silver light flies toward his nose. A light impact hit his right hand.

“What’s this?”

It’s a key to the west guard house. There’s equipment and stuff there, and a motorbike. Use them as to please..”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s all right. I’ll be merciless and pretend you stole it though.”

“Ha, ha, please do…thanks.”

“… Yeah.”

A hug. A man’s hug, A man hugging another man hard, slapping him on the back..

“…It’s way too obvious to go by the front door. Leave by the back…”

“All right, take care of Ai for me. …”

“I’ll do it without you telling me.”

Alice opened the door, and it was dimly lit. Dawn was already near.

 

“Alice!”

 

Julie shouted from inside the house.

“At least stay alive! It would make a big difference to a fool like you!”

That was the hardest part.

Alice darted off into the darkness.

Beneath the stairs he skipped past.

“Kya!”

“…Woah, who’s hiding here…wait, Dee? ”

This time, it was completely unexpected. Dee Ensy was sitting on the hedge at the bottom of the stairs.

“What are you doing here …?”

He could understand why Julie was waiting in the doorway, but he had no idea why Dee had to wait here..

Until I saw those tears.

“Hic! Why are you here, Alice…”

“Wait, you don’t have to run.”

The moment she saw his face, with the corners of his eyes swollen, Alice figured out what was going on.

…What’s with the ‘use the back door’, that old man….

“…You’ve been snooping too…?”

“Wh-what could I do? I came home and there was no one there…I went upstairs and saw Uncle there…so.”

“I’m not blaming you. Don’t mind.”

He was in no mood to think about how many were spying on him..

Morning was near. It would dawn in a few moments. There was a hint of morning glow in the east, and the dogs were howling for no reason.

For some reason, the two of them spent a long time in silence. No, in fact, it was short enough to be an instant, but Alice felt that it was dozens of minutes long. Dee most likely felt the same. If there had to be a reason, it would be because the vast amount of time that had stopped between them had already begun to flow.

‘B-But I’m glad, Alice.  You two got your feelings too!”

With a smile on her tear-stained face, Dee began.

“‘You know, I never doubted that Ai liked Alice! But I wasn’t sure if Alice liked Ai!”

Tears fell. They melted the snow and froze again.

“I was like Ai! I didn’t think you would fall in love with someone, Alice! That’s why I couldn’t even confess! I thought for sure I would be rejected! I mean, I didn’t even think Alice would like anyone!”

“Dee.”

“Even though you could get through to Ai! I didn’t think your feelings would ever reach each other! That’s why I was relieved! I thought we could remain in this vague state forever! It’s just a misunderstanding on my part!”

“Dee!”

Alice hugged Dee. He knew he did not have the right to do so, but he did.

“I’m sorry…”

“Ah!”

Only the two of them knew how many meanings there were in that apology.

The story of Alice Color and Dee Ensy, born together, raised together, learned friendship and love, and then killed each other, had reached an end.

 

“U, uuuuu.”

 

Dee cried. No matter how many tears she shed, they never dried up.

“I should be one…saying sorry…I-I…hadn’t looked at you properly, Alice…when I overheard you, I realized…I…I…I…”

“It’s fine I was horrible too. …”

If it had been just Alice and Dee here, and not Ghost or Magic Bullet, this might have turned out differently.

But it was like counting the years of a dead child, and there was nothing they could do.

“I’m sorry…I’m really sorry…you really felt painful, right? Lonely? But I…I…I didn’t notice it at all, and I say it’s just you, Alice…that’s why I couldn’t…and I gave up…”

“You’re not wrong. That’s me, I really believed this about myself before I met her. I felt I was cool for being a loner..”

“Yep…you were cool …”

“Haha, thanks ….”

Dee distanced herself.

“…But are you still living? She discovered such an important part about you, and you’re still leaving her…”

“…Yeah.”

“…I’m sure you’ll go back to how you were, without Ai…”

“Even so, I’m going.”

“I see…”

Dee did not try to stop him any further.

“…Take this.”

“What’s this?”

“A signature by the Mayor of Ostia and the Ghost, I guess it’s still useful in some places. Though if used in the wrong places, people may end up hating you…”

“That’s good enough. Thanks.”

“Nn…”

He could not remain for long. Morning was near.

“Bye bye, Alice.”

“Yeah, bye bye.”

It was a parting word they had said umpteenth time, but this was decisively different form the past.

 

“Bye bye, Alice…”

 

Even when his back was out of sight, Dee repeated the words.

 

“Yo Alice, you’re up early.”

A stranger who was out shoveling snow said.

“Ah, young Alice. Just in time. Please have some of these freshly cooked food.”

An unfamiliar old woman who had opened a stall gave him a steamed bun.

“Big bro Alice! What’s going on!? You’re out early in the morning.”

“Just some stuff” He said to the security guard who was clearly older than him, and entered the guard room. It was still early, and a few men were resting inside. All of them looked at him and spoke to him in a friendly manner, “Anything you need?” “I’ll help.” “Just tell us what you want.”.

“Sorry, please pretend that you didn’t see it..”

Alice stole two pistols and 150 bullets from the armory and packed them in a sack that he had stolen as well. Also, he brought along some dried food in case of emergency, a blanket, and even a jacket worn by the man before him.

He took so much, and they did not complain, “Another secret? It’s fine. We’ve been with you for a long while.” They had no intention of stopping them..

“Thanks.”

But Alice knew nothing about them. Not their names, not their faces.

The same was true of those who spoke to them in a friendly manner back at the town. They knew Alice and adored him, but that was the trust built up by the old Alice Color..

Having had his memory reset so many times, it was common for him to be treated like a brother by strangers. But he just could not get used to it. The heroic Alice Color they described was different from him.

It was no wonder, for they did not match to begin with.

What they saw was Alice who gave up his own life to save his classmates. That ‘real hero’ who hid his fears, acted as a hero, and even believed himself to be one..

That Alice was not this Alice. This person’s name was probably a monster..

“But then again…the real me…isn’t around anymore, either.”

He chose a motorbike. It was the worst situation for him as he had to ride on the snowy path, and so he wanted one that was light and had a firm grip. Also, one that had a sled. Alice filled it with gas, lifted the stand, and slowly pushed the bike. The crew did not notice anything unusual until the last minute.

He started the engine and let it warm up. Dawn was almost breaking. He pushed the bike onto the road..

“I don’t remember…what kind of guy…I used to be…”

The overflowed water could never be regained again, and the shattered dishes would not mend. A fired bullet too would never return to its magazine..

Whether they hit or miss, they were destined to shatter and scatter.

He felt heavy. He was cold. He was hungry. Thinking about it, he had not slept in a long while.

“I’m being extravagant, really. … I’m such a …

But that fellow called God certainly really loved his irony, and actually let a hero who could somehow fool himself to meet an extraordinary one.

She, too, was a hero, a hero as great as he was. If not for him, she might have fulfilled her tremendous dream.

Their meeting was the best of times and the worst of times. The dream was shattered and fell to the ground.

The bullet that missed its mark was destined to rot there.

But Ai was different. She stood her ground.

And she reached out her hand to Alice.

And yet…

“Why can’t I … change …?”

His breath was white. He had an increasing urge to cry.

The snow was harsh. His feet were heavy.

“I didn’t even think…of changing…”

Abandoning the people who loved him as a hero, and even the one who loved him as a person, Alice could not stop.

He did not want to stop.

This probably was where the biggest problem was. Just as one could not wake up a person that was awake, or put a sleeping person to sleep, he could not stop being himself..

Alice would become more Alice, just as the old Alice Color became Buzzer Beater, and Buzzer Beater became Magic Bullet, and surely, he would lose his name one day.

He was looking forward to that day.

“Yo Alice, you going away?”

Someone he did not know called out to him again.

“Shut up…”

“Wh-what’s with that greeting…it’s snowy out here. Be careful..”

He wanted to go somewhere else where nobody knew him, and die at a place where nobody would bother him.

He wanted to die alone in silence, by the sea.

He wanted to become a bullet, a dream with a direction. There was too much stuff attached to this body, like a sword with many blades. Once it stabbed in, it would not split, and would cling onto his body, not letting go.

And yet, there was someone who said she liked him.

There was someone who understood and accepted him as a person and as a hero.

…Someone…like him…

“Ah, Mr Alice, are you going out?”

Again. Someone called his name again.

“Shut up already…don’t talk to me when you don’t know anything…”

“Oh dear, you’re in a bad mood.”

Alice walked past silently and ignored this place. The bike was heavy, and even though it was winter, he was sweating all over just by pushing.

“We’ll be out of town if we keep going. Where are you going to?”

This certainly was a persistent person.”

“…I’ll go anyway…even to the sea…”

“That’s tough.”

“…Enough already. Don’t follow me. …”

“My my, I’m not following you. We just happen to be on the same road. I’d rather you didn’t follow me, Mr Alice.”

 

At this moment, finally.

 

Alice realized that something was amiss.

 

He looked up. The morning sun begins to rise behind him.

 

“Woah!”

The sun emerged from the top of the hills, and shone upon the earth. The microscopic ice crystals, less than a micron in size, were instantly seared away and turned to dew.

“It’s morning!”

Then Alice looked up.

“It’s pretty.”

The world was being reborn. The surface of the lake was stark white, and the white rabbits that had fully grown their winter coats were hopping around. The smoke from the furnaces were thicker, and people were all looking at the sun, which had not appeared in a long time.

“Right, Mr Alice?”

Standing in front of him was Ai.

Ai, dressed to the point of being bubbly, with an oversized furry coat, was snivelling due to the cold. She squinted her eyes at the morning sun.

Her hair was shining golden. Her eyes were moist wet with green.

And her breath was pure white and warm,

“…Ai.”

Alice had the urge to weep.

“…You’ve…revived?”

“No no, what makes you say that? I haven’t come back to life. I’m pretty much in the same state as Mr Kiriko.”

“Ahh…I see. …”

This puffy penguin-like fellow frowned.

“What’s wrong with you? You’ve been spacing out for a while.”.

“……Oi, what are you doing here?”

Alice spoke harshly..

“Erm, actually, I found out in my room that someone forgot something, so I thought of returning it.”

“Oh?”

Alice straddled the bike as the engine warmed up sufficiently.

“That’s quite an idiot. Have you found him?”

“Yep. I found him.”

A sparkle full of life spoke up, ready to abandoned its life.

“Mr Alice, I’m giving you back your heart. I don’t want it.”

“I refuse.”

Brrrrrrrrrr, And the wind blew past. The air was like a rapid-fire gunshot; Alice had her hands on the grips of her bike, and Ai took a running stance.

“Then I don’t have a choice.”

“Huh?”

The moment the tension reached its peak, Ai quickly took a step back.

“Maybe some other time?”

“…Hey, could that be …?”

“Ah, don’t get me wrong. This is a coincidence. We just happen to be on the same road…alright. ”

“…Hey, by what coincidence are you riding on my tandem seat?”

“I guess it’s called ‘inevitability’ …”

“Like hell it is! Get off!”

“Whoa! Whoa! Kya-kyaa! Ahahaha~!!”

Alice shook the bike from side to side, but Ai was enjoying it.

“It’s useless, Mr Alice”

It was the biggest smile she had shown.

“You’re a hundred years too young to run away from me!”

“Ha, then I’ll spend a hundred years running away with it!”

“Ah! That’s a lie! Two hundred…five hundred…no! You’re a thousand years too early!”

“That’s way too long.”

“Not really. I guess it’ll just be a moment.”

Ai hugged the back before her. Her body was warm and soft.

“…So we’re going to stay together until then…”

“……”

“Alright?”

“…Like hell I know!”

“Ah, you’re embarrassed again.”

“Shut up! Watch your tongue!”

“Ah, wait, I still got stuff to say—seriously! You’re always like this, Mr Alice!”

And then they started moving.

Out of the heavenly town, into the white wilderness, and back on the road again.

 

“Where are you going!?”

“I don’t know!!”

 

They left their endings to each other.

Without knowing a single thing about the future.

 

Ai and Alice set their sights on tomorrow.

 

 

END

 

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