Falling from the Moon

A "Please Save My Earth" fanfic

By Natalie Baan


Chapter 13



Sitting on the edge of his bed, Issei stared moodily down at his school bag. There was an hour left until dinner, time he could fill with something useful like homework, but he didn't feel the least bit inclined.

They were really going.

There had been tremendous arguments. Jinpachi in particular had been against the idea; mostly, Issei thought, because it was Shion's idea and there was little love lost between those two at the best of times, but maybe also because, having been fooled in one thing, he was beginning to suspect deception everywhere. He /did/ have a point. Shion, for his part, had made it plain that he didn't give a damn what Jinpachi thought and that he felt he was doing them all a favor by offering the chance to tag along. His superior attitude had only made Jinpachi angrier. Issei cringed at the memory, closing his eyes.


--"I'm not arguing with you, Gyokulan." There was amused tolerance in Shion's voice. "There's nothing to argue about. I'm going. If you don't want to go, then stay here. Isn't that simple enough?"

"No, it isn't!" Jinpachi insisted. "You can't just snap your fingers and say 'Let's go to the moon' like that! The moon dream belongs to all of us, not just you--you can't make a decision on something like this without talking to the rest of us. What if we'd said you shouldn't go?"

"If this was back in our previous lives," Shion smiled, "I'd have gone anyway. And you know it. So I see even less reason to wait for your approval now. Besides, as far as I'm concerned that base, armed and functional, is an immediate threat. As the technical scientist, it's my responsibility. Therefore, I'm going."

"You never did respect authority," Jinpachi said in disgust.

"Whose authority? Yours?" Jinpachi threw a furious and appealing glance toward Hiragi, who appeared lost in thought. "Would you lock me up again, Gyokulan?" Shion added softly, mock-plaintively. "I'm only a kid, you know."

"That's shit, and everybody here knows it. Do you think any of us would be crazy enough to go to the moon with you? How do we know you really plan to blow up the base? Or if you do, that you'll wait until after we leave to do it? How can we trust you to do /anything/ you say?"

"I'm going," Issei said then, before the rage firing through the room could choke him, and he turned his face away so that at least he wouldn't have to see the stunned look that spread over Jinpachi's face. But he could still feel the tension of stress between them, the sudden, subtle crack--

"So am I," Haruhiko whispered.

"Oh, great! Just great!" Jinpachi flung up his hands and stalked into a corner.

"I dunno," Shusulan said thoughtfully, "it's kind of creepy to think about going back. I mean, our /bodies/ from before are up there! That's what I keep thinking about. But on the other hand, it'd be really amazing, wouldn't it? Actually going to the moon...I can't decide." She glanced at Alice. "Mokulen-san?"

"Yes," Alice said, and for a moment Issei thought she was just acknowledging the question, but then he realized that had been her answer instead. Fragile emotions glittered behind the word, feelings of <*sad necessity*> and <*fear*>--feelings that lifted like snowflakes on a surprisingly certain updraft of <*assent.*>

"I'll go," Alice added, very quietly, before lapsing into silence again.

Everyone stared.

Issei couldn't believe what he'd just heard, and from the looks on the others' faces, Shion included, neither could they. That Alice would fall in with their crazy plan so easily, considering how long she'd denied being part of the moon dream at all...it was scarcely believable.

Even sensing the current of her feelings, Issei didn't understand.

"So," Shion remarked, recovering his cool nearly at once, "any more takers?"

"All right, I'm going too." As Shusulan spoke, she gave Issei a pointed look, and he wondered what she was trying to get across to him. He hadn't really been sure what she'd choose to do, but he wasn't too surprised by her decision. She might have held out if only one or two people had wanted to go, but as it got closer to being the whole group going there'd been less of a chance that she'd stay behind. Shusulan had never liked to feel excluded.

And maybe there was some sense of rivalry also, some need to match whatever Mokulen did, whether she realized it consciously or not....

"Hiragi?" Shion asked then with unusual soberness, turning toward the senior scientist, who'd said nothing in all this time. "Last chance. Last ticket to the moon, if anyone's going." He ignored Jinpachi, who was fuming in the background. Anger was pouring from Jinpachi almost physically, fury at being patently snubbed, as if /his/ decision didn't matter at all, and Issei winced. He stared at his hands, knowing that something had to be done for Jinpachi but having no idea what he should do.

"I don't think there's any real question, is there?" Distracted, Issei glanced toward their one-time leader. Hiragi had been gazing at the floor reflectively; now he lifted his eyes, looking around at them all with unfaltering certainty and calm.

"Sahjareem brought the seven of us to KK's moon," Hiragi said. He'd used the homeworld's designation for the Earth, and it gave Issei a strange feeling: a little jolt of discontinuity in this present incarnation. Despite himself, he shivered. "I believe that very strongly. For reasons that we don't understand, we were saved from the war and the destruction of our homeworld to be reborn here. We're the culmination of a trail of fate that ties together this world and that one--and the moon base is the bridge, the stepping stone that lies between them." Hiragi smiled. "I think something much larger than us is at work here. The Keeches-Sahjaliann say that all time happens at once, and that the future leads back into the past--isn't that so, Mokulen? The moon base is both our heritage and our legacy. How can we not go back and claim that past as our own?"

There was a short silence as everyone thought about what Hiragi had said, the effect of which was spoiled for Issei by Jinpachi's sinking feeling and the unimpressed mental snicker that was coming from Shion. He was tired and too wide open after creating the mental link, Issei realized; with an effort he kept from pressing his hands against his temples and instead concentrated on trying to close himself off from inside. He managed to shut the others out finally, just as Hiragi glanced across the room and met Jinpachi's disbelieving gaze. "Looks like you've been outvoted, Gyokulan," Hiragi said mildly. Jinpachi's hands circled in aimless, angry gestures, then clenched into fists.



Issei sighed, opening his eyes. That meeting had been three days ago, but he kept replaying it in his mind, wishing that things could have turned out differently. It was bad enough that he had his own doubts about this excursion--that he started to get anxious every time he thought about going to the moon, all the normal fears about what might go wrong mixing with the awful, persistent feeling that the idea itself was a mistake. But then the whole mess with Jinpachi....

Remembering that, Issei groaned.


--"Jinpachi?" They'd left Hiragi's house together, the two of them the first ones to leave, and as Jinpachi stalked down the sidewalk just ahead of him, Issei tried to think of something cheerful and encouraging to say. "Hey, Jinpachi--"

Jinpachi whirled on him in barely controlled fury. "This whole thing sucks!" he shouted, and Issei flinched. "I just can't /believe/ everyone else is going along with this! After all the crap he's pulled, to trust him to get us to the moon and back--we don't even understand the technology! If something goes wrong, we're totally dependent on him to get us home! And I don't trust him. I've never trusted him!" The last was a lie, Issei suspected. Even through the anger that Jinpachi was radiating, he could feel a flicker of shame at those hard words. Gyokulan /had/ trusted Shion once, a long, long time ago--had trusted and been betrayed.

No wonder the friendship he'd felt for Shion had turned into such poisonous hatred.

"You know," Issei said tentatively, "you didn't have to say that you'd come with us."

Jinpachi snorted, crossing his arms. "Are you kidding?" he muttered. "/Somebody/ sane has to go along on this trip."


Abruptly Jinpachi looked at him, a sharp, sidelong glance. "But you know what I /really/ can't believe?" he said softly, and that unexpected shift in tone made something inside Issei freeze. "You."


Those blue eyes scanned him accusingly and then turned away, Jinpachi's face closing into a mask of stubborn indignation. "How long have you known?" There wasn't any more hiding from the truth, and Issei had to swallow his dread.

"Since...since Rin-kun's accident this summer."

He could feel the effect of those words on Jinpachi, an immediate shock like a flame being snuffed out. "That long?" Jinpachi stared into space, unseeing. "You've known about him all this time?" He snapped his head up and glared at Issei, his fire already rekindling. "And you didn't /tell/ me?"

"I...I couldn't...."

"Why the hell not!" Jinpachi grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him once, violently, but the contact was far worse for what it channeled into him: <*rage, anguish, betrayal.*> "/Shit!/ You /knew/ that kid was Shion, you knew he was lying to us, he's probably been crawling over Sakaguchi-san all this time--and you /protected/ him! God, Issei, /why?/" Jinpachi's eyes were pleading, but behind them there was outrage. "Why didn't you /tell/ me?"

"I couldn't!" Jinpachi's anger was twisting inside him, making him almost sick. With an effort he pushed Jinpachi away--shoved him off hard, trying to clear enough mental space so he could think his own thoughts. "I promised! I said that I wouldn't tell...anyone...." He faltered, trailing off into silence. Jinpachi was just standing there, looking at him, and one didn't have to be a telepath to know what he was thinking. The thoughts were written plainly all over his face.

/Why didn't you put me ahead of him?/

/Why didn't you deny him to make me happy?/

/Is a promise to someone like that worth more than me?/

And then, worst of all:

/You /lied/ to me./


Jinpachi didn't say a word, but as the realizations mounting inside him reached a peak, they exploded. Soundless, heatless, intangible, an eruption of the mind--Issei sensed those gathering forces, and then the windows of the cars parked along the sidewalk fractured, their glass cracking into spiderweb patterns as if struck by hammers.

Jinpachi's shoulders slumped, his anger released a little but not the white-hot ache lying at its core. Not even seeming to notice what he'd just done, he glared in miserable fury at Issei. Then he whirled and stormed off down the sidewalk, breaking into a half run as he went, hands clenched into fists.


And when Jinpachi didn't even look back at that cry, it was like a door slamming shut onto Issei's heart.--


<Sahjareem, the lianns always used to say you were a kind goddess. Now I'm not so sure I believe it. You'd think something like that would have been enough for one day.>

<Is this some kind of test for me, Sahjareem? Kami-sama?>

<Oh, gods. Why do things like this have to happen to me?>


--He was still standing on the sidewalk, gazing numbly after Jinpachi, when he heard a cheerful shout in the distance. "/Enju-kun!/" It was Shusulan; the rest of the group must have decided to go home. Somehow he couldn't really bring himself to care. He waited apathetically until her pattering footsteps finally caught up with him. "Hey, stranger," she said from behind his left shoulder. "Long time no see!"

He didn't reply or look at her, but after a second she went on talking. You could always rely on Shusulan to fill any available silence. "So what happened? I'd figured you two'd be at the station already." She stepped up next to him, just visible from the corner of one eye. "And where's Gyokulan?"

Gyokulan--<Jinpachi,> he thought with a piercing stab of pain. The deadness inside him cracked just a little, and he turned aside. Closing his eyes, he tried to tighten up whatever part of himself it was that ached to open wide and cry.

He was afraid that if it did he'd never stop.

There was a brief pause, and then Shusulan said, very quietly, "Oh. Oh, Enju-kun. What happened?" Her voice was utterly serious, a quick shift in attitude. She really hadn't changed at all from before. She rested one hand on his arm, and through the contact he could vaguely sense her concern. "Hey," she said more brusquely when he still didn't answer, "this is me, remember? Talk to me! What's going on?"

"Nothing," Issei said flatly. Then, in the next instant, almost involuntarily: "We had a fight." The admission fell out of him on a little breath, half sob, half exasperated, semi-hysterical laugh: four short words that didn't come close to describing the situation. Shusulan gave a huff of mingled annoyance and sympathy, and Issei immediately wished he hadn't said a thing.

"So you had a fight. Why am I /not/ surprised?" she groused. "Like the two of you are ever going have smooth sailing together. Enju-kun, if you're /going/ to pursue a guy who's not only not inclined like that but actually has somebody else he's interested in, you've got to expect to take some lumps! Honestly, you just never learn!--what'd you do, try to kiss him again?"

"No!" Issei jerked his arm away. "Just leave me alone!" He didn't want to talk about this and especially not with Shusulan, who had a way of prying things out of him. Nobody knew about Jinpachi and him, and that was the way it had to be. He'd given his word to Jinpachi that he'd never tell anyone--and a strained knot tightened inside his chest, a confused pain of misery and self-betrayal.

He made a move toward leaving and Shusulan sprang in front of him. Hands balled up on her hips, she scrutinized him narrowly from a very close range. "Enju-kun, you know you're asking for trouble, don't you?" Trying to ignore her, he glared at the sidewalk, but he could feel her shift, heard an intake of breath. "That car--all those other cars--oh jeez, I didn't see that before. Did Gyokulan--but he must have been really angry to use his powers like that. This is starting to get serious." Issei squeezed his eyes closed against the prickle of tears. Damn it, he wasn't going to cry, he wasn't going to give anything else away, he really wasn't--

"It's more than just the same old thing, isn't it?" Shusulan asked suddenly. Her voice was rising, recognition snowballing as she started to put things together, gradually getting closer to the truth. "And what was all that at the meeting earlier? There was something when we were in the mental link; I can feel it in my head, like it's just out of reach, but I can't quite see it. Something about Shion and Gyokulan, something about Shion and you--/Enju-kun!/" Frightened all at once, she grabbed his coat. "You're really worrying me! Tell me what's going on!"

"Stop it! Let go of me!" He yanked himself out of her grip again. "It's none of your business what's going on! Why do you always have to know everything about me--why can't you just let me live my own life!" Desperation clutched at him, the anxiety she was radiating, the pressure of things he wanted to say but couldn't--

"Leave me alone!" he cried, screwing his eyes shut even more tightly. "/Just leave me alone!/"

And as the force of his cry rocked and then released him, he quickly snapped them open again. Stunned, feeling as though he were floating, he looked into Shusulan's face. She stared at him, openmouthed, and for a single astonished flicker her mind was translucent with shock. Then a piercing emotion struck across that clarity, like a meteorite burning against space--


--and vanishing behind the turbulence that rose up in its wake, the clear, sinking pang of something else.

<*He mustn't know.*>

"Fine!" Shusulan shot back. She stamped her foot, her eyes sparkling with irritation and deliberate unconcern. "Just be that way! I'm only trying to be a friend to you--idiot! But if you want to suffer all by yourself, then go right ahead. I won't stop you!" Flipping her hair behind one shoulder, she threw him a haughty glance. "As if I haven't got anything better to do than give you advice on your love life!"

Bewildered, Issei stared at her, trying to grasp that first fleeting reaction. "Shusulan?" She looked at him and grew oddly still--she smiled at him, but that smile froze behind her eyes into too-bright ice, a look that glittered helplessly along minute cracks--

"Hey!" she exclaimed, startling him. "I've gotta go! My mom's going to kill me if I'm late for dinner. I'll see you when we head for the moon base, 'kay?" Turning to leave, she added, the words tossed over her shoulder with a laugh, "It's a date, right?"

"Sh- Shusulan--!"

"See ya!" And there she went, a quick skip down the sidewalk that turned into a jog as she hurried off to catch her train. Issei was left standing alone, gazing after her in stunned dismay--and somehow knowing for certain exactly what that feeling had been.

<Oh...oh, Shusulan.>



Issei groaned again and hitched up to sit at the head of his bed. Wrapping both arms around his knees, he hid his face in them.

<I really didn't know.>

<How could I not have seen it, though? You'd think I'd have felt something like that ages ago. All the time the two of us have spent talking, but I never realized. I never even imagined Shusulan felt like that.>

<She's right. I am /such/ an idiot.>

Issei rocked back and sat up, knocking his head against the wall. </Shit!/ And every time we'd get together, all we'd ever do is talk about me and Jinpachi. No wonder she'd get so mad. She was trying to make me realize what a fool I was being, and I'd spend the whole time moping and pining after somebody else.>

<It's exactly what Jinpachi used to do with me.>

Issei whacked his head against the wall once more, dismally, then grimaced at the ache. Trying to distract himself, he picked up an earring from the beside table and toyed with it, watching its small silver flash.


<I really don't know what to do.>

<I love you, but you're killing me in pieces every time I see you looking away, longing after her. The first thing you thought of when you found out who Shion was, the thing you were angriest about, was that he'd been spending all this time with Mokulen right under your nose. And you wanted me to have betrayed his trust, just so you could keep the two of them apart.>

<Just so you could feel like you still had a chance at her.>

<It's so unfair.>

<And I'm trying so hard to make you happy! To make you think me instead of her--because you won't have her, Jinpachi, no matter what you do. I know her feelings, and Shion's, and as strong as yours are you don't stand a chance against either one of them. But even in spite of that, you won't let go.>

<You won't let go of Alice--no, of Mokulen.>

<Just like I won't let go of you.>

The realization wrenched at him and he caught his breath. He clamped his mouth shut on the sound, clenching his fist. Something sharp jabbed at him, and he opened his hand, stared at where the earring had bitten into his palm. Four points of the silver star had left faint marks on his skin--four points, like the four-petalled sign of a Keeches-Sahjaliann.

Issei looked at the earring, stricken, then flung it across the room as hard as he could. With a strangled noise, he threw himself down on the mattress. He buried his face in the covers, though he wasn't crying--the ache inside hurt far too much for tears--and wished that the rest of the world would just disappear and leave him alone.


* * * * *


Somewhere in the distance, some time later, the phone rang.


There was a brief silence, broken by the sound of another ring.

"Issei!" his mother shouted from downstairs, probably from the kitchen. "/Telephone!/"

Issei opened his eyes and stared at a shred of fuzz on his blanket. Could he pretend he was sleeping? Or maybe dead? At the moment he felt sort of that way anyhow: mind-numbed and echoingly hollow. The emptiness wasn't such a bad sensation, all things considered. On the other hand, if he decided he was alive and got up then everything was going to come back to him. He'd have to start enduring his miserable existence again and thinking about how he was going to deal with it. He lay without moving, wondering if anything was worth that much effort, and listened disinterestedly as his mother snatched up the phone in the middle of its next ring.

"Issei! It's for you!" she yelled up to him. "It's your friend, Jinpachi-kun."

After a moment, Issei clambered off the bed. He made his way out of his room and down the stairs, feeling paralyzed for wholly different reasons. Jinpachi had been abrupt with him all week at school, speaking to him only when necessary. Was Jinpachi calling now to say it was all right or to tell him that he should just stay away for good? Or maybe, worst of all, was Jinpachi calling about school stuff, something completely unrelated to their situation--and did that mean that he'd have to make the first move toward peace? What should he do? His pulse an anxious pounding in his temples, Issei approached the phone and picked it up. "Hello?"

"/Took/ you long enough," Shion said acidly.

Stunned, Issei brought his other hand up to join the first one on the phone.

"Sorry to disappoint you," that voice continued on, assuming an amused silkiness that made it perfectly plain Shion wasn't the least bit sorry, "but I thought your mom might wonder why you were getting calls from strange eight-year-olds. We have a problem. Are you watching the news?"

"The news?" Issei answered numbly. His hands tightened on the receiver, clutching it as though it might escape. There was a pause during which he could practically hear Shion gathering up the scant patience of both incarnations, and then the boy replied, very slowly and deliberately:

"Yes. The news. The state of the world today. /Go and look at the TV, Enju-chan!/"

He could hear the sound of the small television set in the kitchen. Inching up to the edge of the doorway, Issei snuck a cautious glance around the corner. His mother was cleaning vegetables energetically in the sink; he couldn't quite see the TV's screen, but he could easily make out the news anchor's brisk, enthusiastic voice:

"--to repeat, an investigation will shortly be underway at Tokyo Tower regarding a strange interference with radio and satellite communications in the vicinity of the tower. It's believed that this interference stems in some way from the recent reconstruction of the tower's structure. Contractor Kasama Hitoshi-san says--"

"They're repeating the story," Shion was saying in his ear. "Do you have the right channel?"

"--visitors can expect the tower's observation decks to remain closed for at least another week, although the surrounding attractions will of course remain open--"


Issei pulled back behind the door frame before his mother could turn around and see him. Leaning against the wall, he stared into space. "Radio interference?" he wondered, and Shion made a rude, exasperated sound.

"Tell me about it! Of all the stupid, /lame/ things that could've possibly gone wrong. They must have rewired something when they were working on the tower, because I know I checked the plans for that--but anyway, that's not important. We've got to step up our schedule. I can delay the rebuilding for a couple of days but not much longer, and as soon as they get in there and start screwing around with the infrastructure all bets on the platform working correctly are off. So if we're going to go at all, it's got to be this weekend."

"This--this weekend?"

"/Enju,/" and there was tautly leashed intensity in that telephone voice, a quivering that Issei couldn't psychically read across the line but that nonetheless spoke of enormous urgency and strain, almost of fear. "Get a /grip./ I'm going to tell Alice tonight. I need you to call the others. Get them organized. We'll have to take stuff--I know the atmospherics and climate control on the base are working, but I can't tell if all the subsystems are. Tell them they can't count on any of the appliances being functional. So bring food, some kind of camping stove if they want any hot stuff--and garden shears." Dry humor touched Shion's voice. "That's important. Bring several pairs."

"Garden--uh, yeah. All right." With an effort, Issei pulled out of his fog at last. "I understand. What else?"

"There's probably more, but I can't think of anything else right now. Anyway, I have to get off the phone. Brainstorm with the others and see what you can come up with, and I'll talk to you again when I can. Hiragi should have some ideas. Oh, and see if anyone else can remember basic electronics. I could use an extra pair of hands."

"Got it," Issei answered crisply. Then he added, "Are you all right?" There was a brief silence on the other end of the line.

"Yeah." The word when it came was quiet, as if weighed down by tiredness or tension. Then Shion seemed to shrug the feeling off and went on more briskly. "So if you need to get in touch with me, just call Alice. And I'll find you tomorrow too, either on your lunch break or after school, in case there's problems. But there'd better not /be/ any problems, Enju-chan!" The threat sounded amused rather than intimidating, as though said with a soft, ironic smile. "I'm counting on you, you know."

There was a click as the line went dead. Issei lowered the phone from his ear and looked at it until it started to beep. Then he laid it down in its cradle. One hand resting on the receiver, he stared at the sideboard, thinking long and deeply about a number of things. Then he picked up the phone once more and began to dial.


* * * * *


Alice lays her knitting aside on the table, her needles twined meticulously about with blue yarn. Leaning back against the couch cushions, she stretches out the kinks in her shoulders and arms. It's getting late, her mother and father have already retreated into the bedroom to watch TV and fall asleep, but she isn't ready to go to bed just yet.

How can she possibly sleep now that the time is so close?

Rising, she walks toward the sliding glass door. The plants have been brought inside against the autumn chill; they form a shimmering wall of leaves on either side of the doorway. She touches the buds of an azalea and feels the plant's bright glimmer of trust.

<*Rich earth under trees,*> the plant tells her. <*Dappled shade. Safe here. Love you.*>

For a plant, it only matters that its requirements are met. As long as the light and soil taste right, it doesn't care if the loam comes from a plastic bag instead of the detritus of a forest. Whether the sunlight falls between branches or the railing of a balcony is inconsequential: the plant doesn't know the difference between "here" and "there."

And the ideas of "then" and "now" hold no meaning for it.

Alice straightens and looks at her reflection in the door. Serious and sad, the dark-haired sixteen-year-old gazes back. Going over, she slides that vague mirror aside, and as cold air floods the apartment the plants react with fear, their voices a tiny chorus of panic inside her mind.

"Oh! I'm sorry," she apologizes quickly. She steps out onto the balcony and closes the door. With the draft cut off, it takes only a mental touch to calm the plants, to reassure them that winter isn't coming for them after all, and that their friend and caregiver isn't really leaving. Alice takes another step forward and then leans against the chill metal rail. The balcony seems so empty with all her plants inside.

Shivering, she looks toward the waning moon. Its crescent is a sickle-bladed knife against the dark. It's a slash of light in the night sky like a half-lidded eye, one which, if it sprang open, she might just be drawn into.

Or is it like the mouth of a rabbit hole, leading her back to the world from which she's fallen?

The night stirs oddly. She senses rather than sees movement--she glances up to catch a flickering ghost reverberating away from the building. A small figure blurs into existence, touching down on the roof of a neighboring apartment house, then leaps again, disappearing across the face of the moon.


But the name doesn't fit anymore. The same in so many particulars--that edginess, that dark, defensive cruelty, the unexpected tenderness as surprising as a flower's first blossom--and yet so very different. So young and so high-spirited, as she'd never known him in that previous life. An entirely new person, if only he hadn't been able to remember that other self.


She gazes at where he's vanished, scarcely noticing the cold now, her pulse a racing rhythm that distracts her. What on earth can he be doing out of bed? She's afraid--maybe he's out there because of what they spoke about this evening, that heartbreaking, terrible trip that's almost upon them, that journey to the place of their dreams.

To the moon....

More than anything else, she doesn't want to go back there.

Alice glances at her hands, clasped on the railing, and then sighs softly. She desperately doesn't want to go, not when she's come so far and suffered so much to leave it all behind. /What's important is the future,/ Ogura Jinpachi had said to her once, and she wishes with all the force of two lives that it could be so. But she knows deep down inside herself that there is no forgetting.

Closing her eyes, she brushes light fingertips across her forehead. The marks blooming there are intangible, a faint fourfold blush upon her skin. Ever since they appeared, ever since that day when she'd felt regret and subtle power enfolding her, stirring recognition within her soul, she's dreamed Mokulen's life.

She's not the same person that she once was, but she thinks she understands a little about the forces that bind and guide her.

More, perhaps, than she did up there on the moon.

Alice takes one step away from the rail, then looks up at the moon again. It hangs there alone, as though no small figure had ever passed like a gust of wind before it. To knit the past together with the present, to finish what was merely begun--it's the only way that all of them can be free. Knowing what Mokulen discovered in those last few moments before her death--

Alice accepts.

And besides, she thinks wistfully, Rin would like her to be there.

She wonders what the others must think, though. They're all so determined, so excited to revisit the past. They must believe that she's a silly, indecisive girl, to be always changing her mind like this.

Maybe she is.

Alice smiles fleetingly and then rubs at her arms. It's starting to get very cold. Some tea would be nice. She turns toward the door, telling the plants as she approaches, "It's only me. I'm opening the door again." Reassured, the plants react to the chill not with terror but with interest, a vegetative thrill of stimulation. Closing the door behind herself, she strokes the leaves of a palm, then pats an ivy's tendrils into place. "Now it's time for us all to go to sleep," she says. "I'm going to put the lights out in a few minutes. All right?"

As she starts toward the kitchen to put the kettle on, though, she sees her knitting lying on the table. She picks it up, examining the work. The sweater is almost finished, with just a few more rows and the final touches to be done. She folds it in her arms and lays it aside. For now it'll be too large, but eventually he'll grow into it. And when he outgrows it someday--

She'll make another.

The little clock on the wall chimes half past the hour, and Alice goes into the kitchen to make her tea.


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