tallulahgs: (Rothko red)
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[Title] Preparing for a Journey to the Other Side
[Fandom] Battle Royale
[Rating] PG (mention of death/terminal illness)
[Notes/Summary] Shuuya's always kind of believed in life after death.

Mostly Noriko sleeps and Shuuya reads to her. Sometimes her favourite books; sometimes the newspaper, particularly if there's an article on the former Republic of Greater East Asia. Even now, even when Noriko is all skin and bone and raspy breath, she still listens to these stories, and she still smiles the day Shuuya reads the account of the remembrance ceremony for the victims of all the Programs.

Shuuya works hard on being strong and not letting her see how much this is killing him inside, though she has always known him better than he knows himself and she must know, by now, how much he loves her. Once – he hadn’t slept well and hadn’t eaten much and he's holding her hand and he just blurts out, “Oh, god, Nori, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

He wants to bite his tongue out – how the hell could he be making her feel sorry for him when she’s the one with a terminal prognosis and a medication chart as long as his arm? – but she doesn’t crumble in the slightest, of course she doesn’t. She squeezes his hand as hard as she must be able to, and she says, “You’re going to make it work.” She draws a breath. Her voice is thick and tired but she says, “You make it work. For… every kid that died on that island.” The last advice anyone from Shiroiwa gave them. “Like… we always did. I mean it, Shu.”

“I know,” he says, and his own voice is creaky as well, worn out by too many years of overenthusiastic singing. “I know. I just…” He doesn’t say, I just don’t know how to be, without you, but that’s what the truth is. His first fifteen years pre-them, pre-Program, pre-America, happened to a different person.

Only he’d said this to her once, the last part, and she’d said, No. You stayed yourself. I can still see who you always were.

They sit in silence for a moment and then she says, “Can… can I tell you what I’m scared of?”

“You know you can.”

Another breath. “Scared I’ll… wake up. Back on the island. Waiting for you to come find me. And… and this time you won’t be there.” Tears, too bright against her thin, wrinkled skin. “And this will all have been the dream.”

Even now, Shuuya wants to break something hearing how that damn island still haunts her. But he’s used to eating the rage and so he just shakes his head, strokes her fingers: “That’s not going to happen. I’ll always come and find you, you know that. And besides, if you do… if you’re ever back there, you… you stick with Kawada, remember? He’ll see you right. And wait for me.”

“Kawada,” Noriko says, and a smile breaks across her face, “yes, of course.”

“You’ll show up and he’ll see your grey hair and he’ll know. He know he gave you so many years. He’ll be so happy, you be sure and tell him the truth about how old you are, okay?”

Noriko laughs, whispers, “I promise.”

Silence for a while longer. The monitors bleep; outside there are birds singing.

“Keep thinking,” Noriko says at last, “about seeing the others again.”

Shuuya swallows and tries to force his voice into a happy register.

“I reckon they’ll think it’s funny,” he says. “You being old enough to be their grandmother.”

Noriko doesn’t answer. They both know it’s not funny. Now Shuuya’s old enough to know better, he can look back and think how young they all were. He thinks, kids, just kids like he wasn’t even part of it.

“You think they’ll be there?” Noriko says. “I… suppose it doesn’t matter.”

“If there’s anything… anything after, then they’ll come and see you,” Shuuya says.

As long as he can remember, he's kind-of believed that people who die are still... around someplace. His mum and dad are still out there, just not on the same ground as him. And you'd think going through the Program would get it into your head that death's for ever but hasn't he believed, for years, that he's carrying Class B with him, that they're getting to see America through his presence here, that his memory of them means they aren't gone, just not here?

These days, with Noriko ill, their faces are – still in his mind, but they're single frames, photographs. These days, sometimes he catches himself forgetting who they were. Not all of them. Yoshi and Mimura and Kawada and Yukie are as real to him as his parents. But others, they start feeling like they're just people he made up. Or that they disappeared years ago, and then were only ever his memories.

That they died, and they were gone, and that was it.

It's probably true. But he's not ready to believe it, not yet. He can just about – just about – face that he's going to lose Noriko. He's going to keep kidding himself her old classmates will come and meet her on the other side, walk her off with them. He'll keep that faith and then he can believe that she's going to be still around, someplace, as well.

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