Lightning far, far away flared and died out. Electric vehicles rolled down the roads at a controlled speed of 20 km/h. The youthful security guard supervised the schoolchildren of Mitsukihara Middle School as they filed out in an orderly manner out of the gate and into fifty different directions.
His eyes rested for a second on a boy and a girl who seemed to have stopped in place for a second or two, but then a passing bus purred by and his eyes flicked over to the guady advertisement on its side.
The girl stiffened and seemed to snap out of a trance. She turned her head to look at the boy besides her, who sported closely cut hair and the usual blank expression of a first-year schoolboy-
No, what would give the game away in a heartbeat, had the guard been looking, was Gunsou’s tightly clenched fist. The very same hand that had ended Guardsman Railgun’s life mere milliseconds ago in a virtual reality game.
Grasping his arm and tugging him urgently forwards, Mikiseki fought the desperate urge to look around for them: the members of Death Star Galaxy, her friends from the Journalism Club, anybody who displays the telltale signs of just completing Acceleration. When thirty minutes pass in the span of 1.8 seconds in reality, most Burst Linkers often forget what they were doing at that point in time, resulting in the classic expression of disorientation and sometimes, shock.
Mikiseki’s top priority was to leave this area, and whatever trap that DSG had set up for them. Her real identity was in the open now; anything could happen!
Then Gunsou stopped walking.
“Come on, we have to go!” She tugged his arm harder and urged. A few students stared as they walked past and her heart tripped over itself.
Gunsou stared back with empty black eyes. “Where are you taking me?”
“Anywhere but here,” she hissed, “Trust me, we need to go now-”
“You’re turning me into a killer,” Gunsou’s voice jumped an octave, “Why should I follow you anymore?”
Flinging his arms apart violently, he pushed her away and stumbled backwards. Gunsou recovered his balance, but the sleight of hand he pulled by bring his sleeve across his face only made it obvious to Mikiseki. It was painfully obvious he was in tears.
“Don’t look for me!” He cried, “It’s over!”
A dozen students stared slack-jawed as Gunsou turned around and dashed off with incredible speed, leaving a speechless Mikiseki behind. As rain clouds gathered overhead, a red-hair girl blinked twice, slowly nodded her head, and walked calmly to the bus stop. She spoke to no one.
Misawa didn’t speak to Gunsou when she reached home either. Truth be told, she felt that she needed to talk to Gunsou more than he needed her; although her last moments of that catastrophe of a ‘battle’ were of agonising pain, the actions and words of Turquoise Duro were forever imprinted in her mind, replaying themselves over and over again while she searched for meaning in it:
His yellow eyes were plainly leaking tears. He was trembling, and yet his grip remained strong. He opened and closed his mouth repeatedly, as though willing her to lip-read.
Her world had turned black, but her ears weren’t ringing so badly. From somewhere high above her, a familiar, reliable voice had uttered something beyond her belief:
‘I love you.’
From what seemed to be a great distance away, a warm, reliable light then reached out and touched her heart.
It was strange, she wondered, why it had taken him so long to acknowledge it. Was it a guy thing to be silent about their feelings? Was Gunsou embarrassed to openly say he loved her?
Wasn’t the real question, therefore, whether Misawa could be brave enough and reciprocate the honest feelings of the boy whom she has come to see as her brother?
Misawa hated to admit it, but she was scared. And such fears were precisely what sent her running for the sanctuary Gunsou had made for her, keeping her safe from the minutiae of the world. It wasn’t just jealousy she had felt when she saw and heard Gunsou going out with Mikiseki, but a very real fear that she would have to lose something precious.
Caught up in her thoughts, Misawa awoke with a start and realised it was nearly midnight, and she was still in her uniform. Shaking her head to clear her mind, she got up and crept to the bathroom, hoping to not wake Gunsou up. She slid the door open, and-
Gunsou stood with his back to her, his head hung over the sink. The skin of his right hand was red, far redder than any normal colour. The soft squeak of the door seemed to snap him out of his stupor; Gunsou’s eyes darted from side to side with life. They looked up into the mirror and saw Misawa standing there, her jaw falling to the floor-
“Wha- What are you doing?!”
Gunsou’s eyes widened in shock, and in the blink of an eye, turned around to face Misawa and hid his scalded hand innocently behind his back.
“S-Sorry! I should have switched on the light…”
Naturally, Gunsou was the first to break the silence. Holding her breath, Misawa turned her head around and took a peep with her eyes: Gunsou hadn’t moved from his current state.
-I can’t do this! But…
The internal tug-of-war rooted Misawa to the spot for the better half of a minute. Not knowing what else to say, Gunsou stuttered with a few half-hearted explanations and eventually fell silent.
The tiniest sliver of courage entered Misawa’s heart.
Why am I beating around the bush!?
And before she could stop herself, Misawa burst out, “Why are you hurting yourself?”
From what she could see from the slump of his shoulders, she feared she had been too harsh. Gunsou sighed explosively and lowered his head:
“I deserve it, don’t I?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve… I’ve killed,” he said, holding up his ruddy hand and stretching the tortured skin, “Even though it’s Brain Burst… It felt so real! You know it, don’t you?”
But Mirage Zealot was different, Misawa reasoned to herself. She fired her weapon knowing she would save Gunsou from a killing blow.
“I just want to take responsibility,” Gunsou whispered, “It just feels right, this way-”
Misawa walked up behind Gunsou and took ahold of his scalded hand. “Blaming yourself like this is the wrong kind of responsibility,” she said, “Because you…you…”
Lifting his head, Misawa realised Gunsou’s eyes were just as red as his hand. Dried tear tracks on his cheeks were visible in the soft light of the bathroom.
“You were… You were strong. You are strong. And today, you used that strength to help me.”
A lump formed in Misawa’s throat as she looked Gunsou straight in the eye.
“I think that was really brave of you, Nii-san.”
Gunsou thought his ears had deceived him for a second. Did Misawa just call him her brother? Nii-san? Perhaps she had merely stumbled over a word or two-
“Well, say something!”
Misawa blushed apple-red as she glanced away for a second. “Am I supposed to say everything? That’s not fair, isn’t it?”
Awkward silence settled comfortably in between the two young teenagers. Too comfortable, Gunsou thought. If I don’t say anything, it’ll just be business as usual. And that isn’t what I really want… is it?
Finding himself at an utter loss of words to express himself, Gunsou sucked in a breath of courage and wiped his remaining tears. Then, as Misawa looked at him bemusedly, he took a step forwards to close the distance between them- and gently, slowly, brought Misawa into a hug.
She wasn’t fully prepared and stiffened unfamiliarly. Biting his lip, it took all of Gunsou’s willpower and conviction in his feelings to not release her immediately. If Brain Burst was going to take her away from him, then at least he should let her know this.
He needed her to see that she was precious to him. She is and always will be someone who grew up with him, shaped his life, and gave him meaning. While other kids had looked forwards to games and television shows with their friends when they finished school, Gunsou had looked forward to cooking for Misawa while she did her homework.
At some point in time, Gunsou had shut his eyes, which had filled with more tears, streamed down, and wet Misawa’s uniform. But a pleasant warmth, too, had encircled Gunsou’s waist and back: Misawa’s slender arms held him close, her hair gently tickling his neck and head.
Finally, Gunsou understood something about reality and its virtual counterpart: that the distance between two people in either reality is no different from the other. All that matters is if they dared close the distance, reach out to their loved one and conveyed their feelings.
So, was that what Misawa meant by doing more with Brain Burst?
Gunsou and Misawa made no mention of Brain Burst any more that night.
The Tired Boy: Kihara Gunsou
My life after that day picked up considerably.
Mikiseki apologized to me in private, formally inviting me to join The Journalism Club. But…activities in the Track & Field team burn a lot of my weekday evenings, so I had to politely decline. Nevertheless, when Ryoutarou expressed his gratitude for my assistance, I accepted it without hesitation.
I continue to see Guardsman Railgun’s name on the Matching List every now and then. But I steer clear of his name and duel once every two or three days, or maybe if I’m particularly bored. Every match made the day longer by thirty minutes or so, and I found out – the hard way – that my body clock goes haywire after two or three duels. It’s the perception of time being the same whether I’m Accelerated or not, versus the actual flow of time. It will take time to get used to this.
With a more regular schedule, I managed to recover my class placing by the next test, and brushed off my slip in ranking as ‘being occupied with Mikiseki.’ The revelation that I and her are no longer an item died down within a week afterwards.
Perhaps the thing that I feel happiest about, however, was when I realized that I’m speaking to Misawa more and more often. It wasn’t just about school or our homework, but also a wide range of topics, from accusations that the latest World Cup had been rigged to how fashionable was a particular new model of Neuro Linkers.
My mornings aren’t cold anymore. It’s got nothing to do with the fact that I bought a new, thicker comforter last week; every morning, I’ll wake up earlier than her and find that her hand has somehow made its way up to grasp mine in hers. When I squeeze her hand gently, she’ll wake up with a smile as bright as the rising sun itself.
It doesn’t just seem so – everything else is better when I’m happy. And it was only due to expressing that which I had kept within myself, that I’ve become at ease with myself.
Brain Burst is such an intricate game that all I know about it now may be a drop in the ocean. I still don’t know a millimetre about Accel World.
But I know myself better, and that’s the thing that matters more.
Mirishira Accel World