Rockman.EXE belongs to Capcom. This fan fiction was created for the Tri-Monthly Contest at Rockman.exe Online. Please do not post this fiction anywhere without the author's permission.


Beloved Brother

By: Meta-Harpya


"What a wonderful day it is, isn't it, boys?"
Haruka's cheerful voice sounded trough the hallway up to the twins' room, a melody that spoke of warm sunlight, a pleasant breeze and packed lunch. It whirled through the house, only disturbing the pillars of dust that danced lazily in the morning silence.
Upstairs, the two boys got ready for school.
"You should better hurry up a little, Netto. We might be late."
One of them was still dressed in his pajamas, sitting on the edge of his bed, rubbing the sleep out of his half closed eyes.
The other one stopped piling his books and turned around.
A yawn replied.
"Come on. Mother won't be pleased with you if she finds out that you are still asleep."
"First, I am not sleeping, second, leave me alone, Saito. I want to sleep."
Saito smiled. It wasn't exactly a smile; merely a twitch of the corners of his mouth, short and emotionless. But his eyes twinkled a little.
It was the same every morning. His younger twin could never get ready in time. His younger twin always forgot something and had to hurry back. His younger twin was the one who always troubled their mother; as if she hadn't enought to do in the household. His younger twin - amused him.
Some people say it was impossible to tell the two apart. But Saito thought different.
There was so much that dind't meet the eye at once, and of course, they looked very much alike. But they werent the same.
The two of them shared the same brown hair, the same chocolate brown eyes, the same name. But Netto had a darker skin, for he spent more time outside playing with his friends that his brother who rather tends to stay in their room, studying. Or reading. He wasn't interested in sports at all. And that was not only due to his sick heart. Books meant life to him. Indeed, he only felt alive somehow if he was able to drown within a perfect world that only novels could display. His mind only felt free if it could roam a vast, mysterious landscape, his spirit was only satisfied if it could join the adventures of some distant hero. He was only happy if he could lose himself.
He sighed, resinged.
"Do as you please, Netto. I will wait downstairs."
And with that, Saito grabbed his bag and left the room, leaving the door open.
"Thanks, brother", Netto mumbled and frowned after his twin, shivering in the sudden draught that rushed through the door, a chilling breeze that had a taste of animosity.

Of course, Netto had to go all alone.
On his way to school he ignored his lateness, drifting away in a rush of thoughts that would not quit occupying his weary mind - weary of the recent lack of sleep.
Every night he had the same dream, every night he couldn't sleep until dawn streched out its grey and freezing fingers to touch the deepest night, pulling it away, announcing the coming day with all its turbidities; a monotonous struggle for existence. For Netto felt inferior to his brother, and more than that - unwanted.
'He always has to be better than me', he thought bitterly and frowned at nowhere.
'And the worst thing - he simply is... but why...'
"Why does he hate me?"
He stopped and stared at the ground as if he could find the answer of answers there, somewhere between the pavement's gabs, hidden underneath the tiny pieces of moss and grass that broke through the monotony of grey.
He stared for a moment, completely lost in the observation of a small black bug that climbed up a blade of grass. It reached the top, swayed for a moment, and fell off all of a sudden. It landed on its back and struggled with its tiny black legs. Netto bent down, about to help the small creature back to its feet when it suddenly turned over and crawled away.
Netto stood up again.
And althought he wouldn't admit it, the bug reminded him much of himself - the helpless creature confronted with a power that was beyond messuration.
In this special case it was the bug and the blade of grass. In his case, it was him - and Saito.
'I don't know exactly when - but I know I will fall down someday. Beaten down by him. Beaten down by his hatred.'
A familiar sound echoed through the morning air - the school's bell. But instead of hurrying up, Netto sighed and leaned himself against a wall, looking up into the sky.
White clouds chased another before the vast blue veil that encircled the world. This day was going to be hot. This day was going to be wonderful. But for Netto, this day was going to be as every other day had been - cold, dark and empty.

"This is the fourth time in a row that you came too late. Do you have any excuses?"
Mariko stood there like the angel of revenge - angry face, arms crossed in front of her breast, challenging blaze in her eyes.
"But I want to hear a reliable version!"
Netto squirmed. He could hear muffled giggles here and there, and he could almost feel their gazes resting upon him, observing, relentless, waiting for any sign of weakness.
The boy jerked up.
"Eh, well... ah..."
His voice was nothing but a sad stuttering. He couldn't even lift his gaze from the ground. As the giggles increased to laughter, he felt his blood rushing hotly through his face. It got an interesting shade of red.
"We're waiting, Hikari!"
Silence followed. A deadly, breathtaking, humiliating silence. At least for Netto. He felt like he was going to explode.
'I wish the ground would open to swallow me...'
Seconds passed. The pressure on his breast became heavier.
"See... I..."
He trailed off again. How could he tell his teacher that he couldn't get up because he had problems to get enough sleep? How could he tell her that he felt like a living dead? How could he tell her that he... he... he didn't know.
"I am sorry."
Mariko lifted an eyebrow.
"What did you say? I didn't hear you."
Netto repeated his apology, louder this time.
"I am sorry!"
He didn't intend to scream, but it was all he could do apart from whispering. So he screamed, again and again.
"Damn it! I'm sorry, don't you get it? Is it that hard to understand?"
He stood there, termbling all over, his gaze burning holes into the ground.
Mariko took a step back, aghast. She opened her mouth to give him a sharp reply, but nothing came out.
Netto looked up. He was in shock.
"I... I dind't... want to... say this..."
He felt his knees buckling. Did he really just screamed at his mentor? Did he really say those words of irreverence?
"That... that wasn't ... me..."
Mariko snapped out of her speechlessness. She took a deep breath, staring at her disciple with wide eyes full of torn emotions, mainly anger and confusion.
But Hikari Netto didn't hear her. All sound that reached his ears was a sharp roaring noise. It was cold and loud and full of aggression, and ready to deafen him.
Netto lifted his hands, trying to block that noise, but it only increased in sound intensity. At the same time, the room changed its shape. With a sudden snap the world was frozen.
Netto looked up, looked at his teacher. She stood there, her mouth wide open, her eyes grey and expressionless. He looked at his classmates, all frozen in their places. Fear reflected in their faces, and all stared at him saucer eyed. And the world was grey in grey.
The ceiling rushed up, rushed up into unmeasurable heights. The walls streched like strained rubber, and at the same time, they came closer. The ground swelled, moving like a heaving chest that struggled for air, like a sick animal in a feverish dream. And every human being in the room streched like the wall. Their heads became long and thin, their eyes were nothing but long, distorted empty holes of grey and white, their open mouths resembled abysses of devouring pain, like a frozen scream, dammed to endure an eternity of bare dread. Their claw-like hands bulged and bursted with an ugly sound. Blood and pus covered every desk.
A shrill scream dribbed in, slowly, quietly, like a distand echo, slowly increasing in intensity. A drum, no, an army of drums hammered a frantically fast rhythm of fear.
A bang, an empty hall, feet running incredibly fast.
And the world snapped out of its paralysis.

Mariko stared at the open door, and so did everyone else.
"What... what... was that?!"

"My poor dear son!"
Haruka embraced Netto in a warm and comforting hug.
"You look terrible! How do you feel? Did you catch a cold somewhere?"
She felt for a temperature, but there was nothing but cold sweat on his forehead.
His mother cast him a scrutinizing look.
"Anyway, you need to rest. Whatever it is, you should stay at home for some days."
She dragged him up to the twin's room and pulled his vest over his head.
"You'll stay in bed, and I will go down and make some tea. Oh, my poor little darling!"
Netto didn't hear half of it. He even didn't recognize her as his mother. She was just a stranger, and he was just someone else, far away, and lost in his world that wasn't his' at all.

He was asleep when Mariko rang up.
"Hello. This is Mariko. I am Netto's teacher."
Haruka sighed and dabbed her forehead with her apron.
"Oh, good to speak to you. I wonder what happened at school...?"
Silence for a moment. Then Mariko's voice, hesitating.
"You... you mean you don't know either?"
Haruka took a sharp breath in. A frown clouded her calm face.
"What do you mean? My little boy came home, all white in the face and staggering. He could hardly walk!"
Another moment of embarrassing silence.
"I... we... nobody knows why but... your son..."
Mariko cleared her throat.
"He went pale, all of a sudden, and stared into no particular direction, and then, he suddenly screamed - I never heard such a scream before... it still sends shivers down my spine..."
She gulped and regained control of her trembling voice. Confusion sounded in it like a colour - like a sharp yellow with grey and red spots.
"...and then... he turned around and stormed out of the classroom, and out of the building, and away from the schoolyard... It all happened so fast I couldn't ran after him..."
"It's all right", Haruka interrupted, "you don't need to apologize. Nothing happened, and nobody blames you for that."
"But it is my duty to protect my disciples!"
The intensity of Mariko's voice thundered loudly. Haruka held the telephone receiver away from her ear and blinked. She considered to calm the flustered teacher down, but she couldn't find any word that could have had any effect on her right now.
"I am a pedagouge! I am responsible for my proteges! Just imagine what could've happened---!"
The young mother sighed.
"Mariko-san, please calm down! As you can see, he arrived save and unscratched. You don't need to worry anymore. I will take him to the doctor tomorrow, so don't expect him to be at school for at least a few days."
A doubtful snort came from the other end.
"The way he was acting he won't go to school until judgement day."
Mrs. Hikari frowned. The alarming tone of the young teacher's voice had startled her.
"What do you mean?"
A moment of significant hesitation.
Mariko lowered her voice.
"It appeared to me as if he had... a panic attack."
Now it was up to Haruka to reply with stunned silence.

It was a strange world he found himself in.
A vast plateau of a crimson colour, dusty and inrcedibly even. Its verge was veiled in a rush of whirling clouds that flew over the sharp edge like a silent river. The sky was endless, an ocean of cold green, light at the horizon, deep and rich right above his head. The icy wind cut his face with glacial claws, the same claws that steered the flow of violet clouds. Its howling, wailing voice lamented from the waiting abyss, calling for him with a mezemrizing tone. And above it all, a sun hang deep and sick, a huge red glowing ball with a bulging surface of cold fire, a dying star that cast its remaining heat upon the mists to melt them away if they dared to reach up all too high with a flame of distress, a scorching heat that froze time and space. No blades of grass bowed their slender bodies in this wind, no tree withstood this mighty tormentor, this unreal voice that drowned the world within an eternal moan.
Never before had he experienced such an overwhelming emptiness.
Netto shivered. It wasn't only the chilling wind that searched its way through his clothes to envelope his body with paralyzing frostiness. It was the hostility this place emitted. It forced its way through his brain and raged within his mind until nothing but despair was left. This emptiness, this loneliness... this... deadliness.
Netto sank to his knees, pressing his hands hard against his temples. His face was distorted in pain.
"I don't want to be here!"
He screamed at the top of his lungs, but no sound escaped his sore throat.
He began to whimper. Quiet, desperate sobs, forcing their way out, crushing the tiny rest of mind that was left. He was in the tight grip of his nightmare again.

Mrs. Hikari was busy in the kitchen when Saito came home.
He opened the door quietly and was half way up the stairs when his mother called him back.
"Hello, honey! I didn't notice you came back! How was school like today?"
Saito shrugged his shoulders.
"Like every day, mother, like every day."
He turned around and advanced further up when Haruka called for him again.
"Saito, wait! Your brother doesn't feel so well, so please wait downstairs until he wakes up again."
The thin boy frowned. Doubt flickered in his eyes.
"But - mother, I need to get some books from our room."
"Hm, okay, but please - be quiet!"
"Of course I will."
He watched his mother leave, and frowned. A sudden chill ran down his spine that made his neck hair bristle. He slowly turned his head and looked up to the door that led to his brother's and his own room. It seemed as if a shadow flew from the treshold and creeped down the stairs, right towards him.
He shuddered. His bright brown eyes scanned the floor, peeking through the shadow that wasn't there. But there was a feeling - a feeling as if something was about to happen.
Almost a minute passed before he finally moved his legs.

At the same time, Netto was running.
He was flying from a nameless shadow that haunted him, crying out his name with a hollow voice, cold as ice, hot as smouldering charcoal. It streched out liveless claws, grasping, snatching for his tired legs that hardly obeyed the terrified boy.
'Leave me alone', he thought desperately, 'Go away!'
And all of a sudden, there was a dead branch, here, in this place were nothing ever had grown before. And Netto fell.
His face hit the ground hard. Pain rushed trhough his nose and up into his head. He snorted and pushed himself up very slowly. The coldness of the stone burned his palms.
He alwas got so far. Within a very short time the shadow would be upon him. It would scream at him again, it would whirl him around again, it would press him down to the scorching cold ground again, it would...
He sobbed. He couldn't find the strength to rise up, but he knew he had to. The only way to escape the shadow's menacing wrath was to get up and run. Slowly, he rose, pulling his knees close to his body to support his own weight. Moving like a butterfly that had only just crawled out of its cocoon, he pushed himself up with his arms, cautiously, slow motion-like. Or like a blade of grass that streched when sthe storm was over. But it was yet to come. And then, as he was about to stand up and run again, the shadow came. And crushed him.

Netto woke up with a scream. He was trembling and dripping with sweat. Gasping for air, he sat up and shook his head to clear his vison.
"Where... am I?"
A cold voice came from a dark corner, hovering through the lazy breeze of the late day.
"In your room."
The brunette boy felt a cold shiver running down his back at the tone of this voice.
"... ... ... Saito...?"
A scornful snort came across the room.
"Whom did you expect?"
Netto didn't reply. The angry and annoyed tone of his brother silenced him, as it always did. Instead, he lowered his gaze, staring at his trembling hands.
After a while he became aware of his brother's piercing glance that rested upon him, and he lifted his head.
Saito leaned at his desk and observed him. Netto couldn't find any other word that could have describet that look better. His twin's eyes shimmered in the darkness of his pale face, watching every ever so tiny move his brother made. A fire, burning hidden but intensively bright. Waiting. Patiently waiting for something that Netto didn't know.
After a while it became unbearable.
"Saito - why... are you... sta..."
His brother stirred and pushed himself away from the desk, slowly advancing to his younger twin's bed. His gaze always rested upon Netto's face, searching for something. He didn't blink once.
"Speak, brother, speak."
Netto gulped. His very own brother resembled more a shadow than a human being. Something... menacingly cold came from him, something that was well hidden behind the indifferent mask that was his face.
Saito came closer until he stood right in front of Netto's bed. There he remained, staring down at the sick child. An eternity passed.
The older twin finally closed his eyes and sighed. As he opened them up again, the intense fire was gone. All that was left was an empty space, slowly filling up with pity. His shoulders seemed to sag down a little, his entire face looked somewhat hollow. He wasn't the ferocious shadow anymore. He was a bent shadow of a shadow.
After a moment of hesitation he streched out a slender hand and touched his brother's shoulder briefly with his fingertips.
Netto shivered again. This cold touch was more than he could bear. He jerked back.
"Leave me alone, you demon!"
Saito stiffened and held his breath for a moment before he withdrew his hand.
But instead of going away he looked at the trembling child that sat in its bed, wrapped in its sheet, staring up to him with eyes that were widened in fear.
Saito's gaze became strangely sad.
"I will, if this is what you wish. But if you don't want me to be by your side, why did you call for me?"
He earned a flabbergasted stare from his brother.
"Wha-- what do you mean?"
Saito smirked. The abject look that Netto knew so well reappeared on his twin's pale, haggard face. His cold brown eyes narrowed a little as he passed him yet another scornful look.
"Of course, you can't remember. You were speaking in your sleep. Calling out my name."
"I... did what?"
Netto's voice was nothing but a faint whisper. Something from the depths of his subconsciousness forced its way up to his mind; an image that he had subdued for so long, an image that appeared somewhere within the twisted world of his neverending nightmare: Saito, his brother, Saito, his twin, standing at the edge of the plateau, like a scarecrow in the storm, haggard, motionless, lost. His torn clothes fluttered in the wind, the abyss, a lurking, gaping mouth, waited for him to slip and fall, and the wind was about to throw him into this vast, endless emptiness. He himself was nothing more than a small figure, veiled by the clouds that rushed by, but his presence was overwhelming. He then...
Netto whimpered and pressed one hand against his forehead. There was nothing but a biting, screaming pain that raged inside of his head, a deadly frostiness, a burning heat, a...
Saito watched unmoved as his brother collapsed.
But after a while he bent over him and covered him with his blanket, cautious and slowly as if he was afraid to wake the unconscious child up.

Days passed.
Netto stayed at home. He had a high temerature and felt altogether weak. Showing the typical signs of a cold, his mother soon forgot the idea of him having something else than a physical illness - like Mariko indicated - and tried to cure him with the usual medicine - tea, aspirine and quiesence. Saito showed an unusual discretion towards his brother. Though he pretended not to care his behaviour changed slightly; whenever he had to do something in their room he did it as silently as he could, tiptoeing and moving very slowly. Is altogether unemotional face had a worried look on it, and it seemed as if he was more lost in thought than ever before.

Netto recovered slowly. And the more time went by, the more faded the memory of his panic attack he had at school. And he was grateful for that.
Having nothing to do he finally found some time to think - time to think about his situation - and his brother.
Sitting upright in his bed, he embraced his knees and rested his chin on them, gazing at nowhere.
'Why, I wonder. Why can't I find an answer to it?' he thought and frowned. 'Despite he's my brother, he seems to see me as a stranger somehow... he treats me as if I was not only just no-one; he treats me as if I was... a plague. But... why?'
He lifted his head and leaned back, staring at the ceiling. Shadows from outside played hide and seek in the corners.
'What did I do to him? What's his reason to... do that? I never did any harm to him; so why does he do that to me?'
He listened, as if there was something within his head that could give him the answer, but there was nothing but silence. He sighed.
A warm, gentle breeze came through the open window, and along with it came a mixture of different sounds - cars, horns, happy voices of playing children. A dog barked. Someone called out for his child. Another car rushed by, and he heard laughter. Delightful, happy, free. It sounded like sunshine should feel.
Getting aware of his own loneliness, he burried his head between his knees and cried silent tears.

When Mrs. Hikari silently entered the room, Netto was still asleep. She smiled and tiptoed out again when Saito came home. They met on the stairs.
"Hello, honey. How was your day?"
Saito bowed slightly.
"Hello, mother. It was like every day, thank you."
Haruka sighed and smiled.
"Good to hear that."
She approached him and stroke his head. Saito felt the sudden urge to step back, but he stayed where he was, enduring this humiliation. Though he knew his mother expressed her love in that way, he felt abased, for he wasn't sure if her love was real - or just a reflection of her pity. How could he know if the kindlyness he was treated with was nothing but ruth in disguise? He had a sick heart, but it wasn't his fault. It had never been his choice to have such a dangerous handicap. And if anyone showed any sign of friendliness in his presence, he felt offended. The thing that he hated most was being pitied, being viewed as helpless and weak.
He glared at his mother.
"Excuse me, please."
With that he rushed past her and fled up the stairs.
He froze and turned his head, slowly.
"Don't forget your appointment, honey. We're supposed to be at the hospital at four o'clock."
Saito passed her a long, pensive look. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, peering into the darkness that was above her with a worried look on her kind face. Her hands were folded in front of her breast. A beam of the afternoon sun from somewhere behind her touched her slender body and enveloped it with a golden shine. Her light brown hair seemed to be aflame, and the sun painted a soft shadow on her face. There was something in her eyes - a shimmer. She looked like a transcendental apparition. She looked like an angel.
Seeing her like this, his own mother, the incarnation of the deepest and truest love, so intense and strong, and yet, so fragile and lost, Saito felt a stirr within his heart.
"I won't. I will come down within two minutes."
He turned and rushed to his room, wiping away those awkward tears that burned in the corners of his eyes.

The door slid silently open. Fog came crouching in, moving close to the ground like a snake, hissing and searching. It came closer to his bed, engulfing everything within its cold, deadly touch, rising, creeping over his bedsheet, stretching out for him---

Netto jerked up, gasping for breath. His clammy hands clasped the sheet tightly as if he needed assurance of reality.
Saito stood on the treshold, rooted to the spot. His eyes were twitching, his face was pale.
They both stared at each other, unbelieving. But Saito took a grip of himself before Netto could speak one word.
"Are you crazy?!" he snapped. "Never dare to do that again! Screaming like that!"
His voice sounded harsh but soft at the same time. He gasped for breath like his twin.
Netto stared at him, altogether puzzled.
"Uh, sorry... I wasn't intending to scare y---"
"Just shut up!"
The soft tone was completely gone. His glare spoke of strong wrath. Stong wrath that slowly turned into something else. Netto could read it from his brother's face. It became grey and hollow. His anger slowly turned into pain.
Saito clasped his shirt on the level of his heart.
"Just never do that again, and everything will be fine."
That what sounded like hardly kept temper at first turned out to be suppressed fear. His eyelids fluttered faintly, he staggered back and leaned against the wall, breathing heavily.
Netto gaped at him with horror.
His brother coughed and shook his head.
"I don't ... n-need your help; it's all right..."
He sank into his chair and bent forward, burrying his face in his palms.
"It's okay, it's over..."
For what seemed to be an eternity, Saito's breathing was the only sound in the room. A laboured gasping at first, slowly calming down until it became an even, soft stream of air that heaved his ribcage in a quiet rhythm.
Netto sighed; a tone of relief, breaking the monotonous noise.
"I thought you... I mean... that looked as if--"
Saito made a short, cutting gesture with one hand to silence him.
"Don't speak of it, okay? That wouldn't help, anyway."
"But - Saito, your h--"
Saito's head shot up. Hostility beamed from his narrowed eyes.
"I said, shut up! Just leave me alone!"
Netto's face went sad.
"Sorry, I just wanted to... I..."
His brother glared at him and gritted his teeth.
"No word to anybody."
And he stood up, swaying for a brief moment, and left the room with a firm stride that was obviously forced. The door slammed.
"But... I was.. only... worried...", Netto whispered sadly.

He was on the plateau again. It was all the same; not even the tone of the wind had changed. There was the shadow again, rising from the abyss, hauling itself up from the depths of damnation, like a gigantic serpent, wavering in the storm, hesitating for a moment, as if it had to take aim first; and then, it came - like a flood of darkness and despair, hunting him, haunting him.
And Netto ran.
The world rushed by as he literally flew over the ground, running faster and faster. The whole vast, empty landscape became a single crimson blur, and along with it, the traitorous branch that cast itself in his way, causing him to fall and slither, giving the shadow the advantage to catch up. And it was above him at once, a black, whirling mass of dust, forming a gaping mouth with sharp teeth, and it came down, roaring and unavoidable, about to smash his heart.
And Netto screamed.
A blue flash shot right through the dust demon's enormous neck. It bulged and tossed its head, shrieking in pain and terror, and vanished. Silence sank like a curtain, dense and suffocating.
The boy gasped, blinking confused into the dark green sky that was filled with black doom just a moment ago. But now, there was nothing; even the wind had silenced.
Netto stood up and took a look around.
From the left, a faint whisper came.
Someone was calling his name.
Mesmerized, Netto followed that voice.

On their way to the hospital, no one spoke a word, but Saito felt his mother's restless, concerned gaze resting upon him.
After a while the silence became unbearable. Mrs. Hikari squirmed in her seat and payed less attention to the street than to his son.
"Saito, honey", she began but stopped.
He lifted his head and looked at her, his gaze weary.
She sighed and cast him a sad look.
"You don't look too good, honey... do you feel all right?"
He smiled briefly and rested his head against the window, watching the landcsape that passed by like a rush of green and grey.
"I'm all right, mother. Don't worry."
Haruka frowned but didn't answer. If her son wanted to be left alone, she would better repsect it.

Never before he had been able to remember what came after the blue light.
Netto sat in his bed, shivering. His dream still whirled in his mind, fragments of something that seemed too significant to be forgotten - but he already had. Some parts were already gone, gone into darkness, lost in the depths of his subconsciousness.
Saito, his brother, Saito, his twin, standing at the edge of the plateau, like a scarecrow in the storm, haggard, motionless, lost. His torn clothes fluttered in the wind, the abyss, a lurking, gaping mouth, waited for him to slip and fall, and the wind was about to throw him into this vast, endless emptiness. He himself was nothing more than a small figure, veiled by the clouds that rushed by, but his presence was overwhelming. He then stirred and turned his head, slowly, as if he was frozen through and through, barely able to move at all. His gaze pierced through the veil of violet clouds, clearing a path that unfolded before Netto's feet. Saito beckoned him to come closer , waving his hand like a dying tree would wave his last branch in the storms of time. His ivory skin shimmered in the dying sun, burning with a glacial flame that gave him an unreal look. As Netto approached his brother, struggling trhough the wind that tried to hold him back, he saw Saito's face. It shimmered more than the rest of his body, and suddenly he knew why. Tears flew silently, twinkling like little stars, dripping from his chin like raindrops. Albeit this sign of pain and grief, he smiled. And it was an honest smile, full of emotion, full of love. As Netto had almost reached him his twin lifted both arms as if to welcome him with a warm embrace, but instead, he beckoned Netto to stop moving, as if the violation of a certain distance could harm him. Though Netto expected hatred and coldness, he was touched by an aura of bitter affection. Saito's eyes were sad.
"My brother", he whispered.
The tone of his voice...
But then, everything he could remember was... darkness.
It was lost.
"Oh Saito", he whispered, "what is the meaning of all this...?"

"Let me speak openly to you", the doctor said and pulled off his glasses to polish them with a tag of his smock.
"Though I normally don't do that - but since your husband is a good friend of mine..."
Haruka and the cardiologist were standing in the hall while Saito was waiting in his mother's car. She knitted her hands and tried to smile. The tone of the man's voice wasn't speaking of good news.
"See, he had this...troubles from birth on; and I don't need to remind you that every try to give therapy to it was to no avail..."
"But - we were told it wouldn't get any worse", Haruka broke in.
The doctor sighed and put his glasses back onto his nose.
"Mrs. Hikari - that is not entirely correct. We told you and your husband that nothing would change - for the moment. And that was at least a year ago." Haruka's eyes widened a little. The fear that lurked in the back of her loving heart suddenly jumped up and crouched trhough her throat, forming an ugly lump that made it hard to breathe.
"Please, doctor, be honest. It is getting worse, isn't it?"
The man paused. But the silence told her more than any long explanation could have told her. She fought down the sudden urge to sob.
"Isn't there any chance to cure his... his---"
"Cardiac insufficiency. One part of the heart doesn't work as well as the other. See, we thought it was just a vavular defect at first - something that could turn out to be very harmless - but it was more than just that. In fact, we aren't sure how---"
He stopped, suddenly, as if he just now became aware to whom he was talking to.
"Well, let me assure you, everything will be taken care of. But please, have an eye on him. He shouldn't be troubled at all. Quiescence - that's what he needs the most."
Mrs. Hikari nodded, confused. Nothing what the doctor told her made any sense. Were they able to help her beloved son or not? She knew he was sick, and she knew that he could die from this illness, even though she never admitted that. Nothing could happen to her children as long as she was there.
She was the mother. She was responsible. And if one of her children would die, it was she who had failed. Not Saito's heart.
Haruka shook the doctor's hand and left the hospital, heading straight for her car.
As she approached it she could see Saito on the front passenger seat. His head leaned against the window, his eyes were closed, his expression relaxed. She could see his teeth through his slightly parted lips. She could see the exhaustion the examination had caused as a shadow beneath his eyes. He looked incredibly fragile.
She stopped and looked, struck by an overwhelming feeling of warmth and motherly love. If there was anything she could contribute to his rescue, then she would do it. Even if it would take her life.

Netto felt well enough to go to school again. It was about time, anyway, for he had missed one and a half week. And tests were just about to be written. He was so nervous when he thought of his class again, his hands were slightly shaking when he got ready to leave. Saito, unusually hectic, paced around the room and scowled at his brother.
"Would you please hurry up?"
Netto frowned at him.
"As if you ever bothered to wait for me", he snarled.
Saito stopped. He simply stood and stared, stared past his brother, into no particular direction. His mouth twitched.
"Netto", he finally said, a sharp tone cutting the uneasy silence, "this is definitely not the time to argue. You know that today is an important day. I don't want to see my brother fail a test, okay?"
Netto smirked.
"Did you understand?"
The younger of the two gave the other one a bitter smile.
"I don't know what your problem is. You know that I will fail, and you know that you will win. Don't worry, you'll be the best - as always."
Saito narrowed his eyes.
"Always? What does that imply?"
Netto chuckled.
"You got me right, brother. Don't try to hide it behind modesty. You - enjoy it when I fall, don't you?"
His voice was cold and hostile. His eyes were burning with bitterness. He was about to lose control over himself. His twin didn't move. His unbelieving gaze burned through Netto's defiant own, as if he was trying to see through a veil that blurred the truth. The truth behind Netto's feelings.
And Netto suddenly became aware of what he had said, of what he had done. He had challenged hiw twin openly. He had shown him his hatred. And now, he was afraid of the possible reaction.
However, Saito didn't react as he was supposed to. Instead, he took a step back, his gaze becoming even sadder. He had lost all of his menacing appearance that Netto feared so much. He wasn't a menacing shadow anymore. He was less than that right now. The more Netto stared, the more his brother seemed to wither. There was not any sign of wrath in his dark, brown eyes, there was no strength tightening his muscles; there was only weakness. It was as if Netto's sudden outbusrt of pent-up fury had taken his brother's mask off. And suddenly he knew that he had been wrong - all the time. It was not him fearing his brother - it was Saito who was living in Netto' shadow - from birth on. He recalled his dream - the fragments that were still visible to his awake mind. The sight of his brother, cast down, defeated, broken. And yet full of an unknown emotion - love. Love for his brother. Netto lifted his hand.
"Sorry, I..."
But Saito beckoned him to silence. He shook his head, smiling slightly.
"It is all right, Netto. You don't need to apologize."
With that, he turned around, grabbed his bag and headed for the door.
"I will wait downstairs."
And this time, he kept his promise.

No one spoke a word on their way to school. But the longer the silence lasted, the uneasier it grew. Netto squirmed and tried to find anything to talk about, but whenever he opened his mouth, a look at Saito was enought to silence him again.
His twin looked unusually downcast. He went slow, staying a little behind Netto, and kept his gaze to the ground. His shoulders were down as if they had to carry a great weight, and his upper body was slightly bent forward. He looked like he could fall over every moment.
But Netto was too occupied with his own thoughts to think about his brother. He felt - different. The sky wasn't grey anymore, the sun wasn't cold; it warmed his skin with gentle fingers, as tender as the wind that stroke his hair. The air was full of smells and noises. The world was full of life and colour. He smiled, altogether contend with his current situation. He was going to see his friends again. He was going to enjoy the rest of this school year. He felt strangely relieved. He even considered to buy a PET and participate in the NetBattle course - something he didn't dare to do before - he had been afarid of the superiority of his brother. None of them owned a PET or a Navi. They were too expensive, and their father, Yuuichirou, didn't want them to have custom Navis - they were not half as good as original Navis. But since none of them really wanted to have one, and their father, the renowned Navi programmer, didn't insist on them owning one, no one ever discussed that topic. Truth was that Saito refused to take care of such a highly developed A.I., and Netto, living in fear of his older twin, didn't ask his father to program him one. Though he really would have liked to own one. Own a Navi. As a partner. As a friend.
It seemed different now. Just one moment had been enought to change everything. Netto felt free, Free enough to even ask for a Navi.
His smile widened.
And then it happened.
A crossing. The lights were green. They stepped onto the road. A car came racing up to them, not paying any heed to the red signal, speeding up even more. Netto heard the thundering motor first. He turned his head. He saw his brother a step behind. In the middle of the street.
Saito stood. He looked up slowly. Looked at his brother. Knowing.
And it happened all at once.
Netto screamed his twin's name. He dashed forward, grabbed Saito's arm and pulled him away, off the street. The car rushed by. A loud horn. Sqealing brakes. The screeching noise of squelched metal, the high, thin sound of shattering glass. Screams. And the deafening certainty of death.
All at once.
Netto sank to his knees, his twin tightly clenched to his chest. He was trembling. All he could hear was his hard breath. All he could feel was his fast heartbeat, almost hurting. But he knew his brother was safe.
A sudden pain at his side forced him to open his eyes and look down. Saito clamped to his waist, his nails dug deep into Netto's flesh. His knuckles were entirely white. He was gasping, hard and loud.
Netto's eyes went wide.
Saito tried to lift his head. His breath became a mere struggle, and his grip grew firmer, almost agonizing strong. Everytime he took a short, sharp breath in he whined quietly. He tried to lift his head but failed.
Netto stared at him with eyes widened by mere horror. Ther world seemed to stop. It lost its colour, it lost its sound. It was frozen to death.
One of his trembling hands reached out to raise Saito's head. His face was white as snow, his teeth bared, almost like a grotesque smile, his eyes were opened wide and hollow, with almost no light reflecting in them. They weren't brown anymore. The were almost grey.
Cold sweat wetted Netto's bloodless palm. A piercing gaze that spoke of utmost agony and fear stabbed his mind. It burned a black hole of dread into his brain. Saito tried to speak. But all he could produce was a hissing, hoarse squeak, dying away, fading like the focus of his eyes.
A scream, loud and clear, cut throught the warm, pleasant morning air.
But it wasn't Saito's voice.

It was a grey and altogether unfriendly day. Dark clouds, almost black, approached from the east, threatening the world with floods of rain and thunder. A chilling wind blew and rushed through the autumn grass. The weeping willows shook their old, golden heads. A rain of leaves came hovering down.
One touched gently the shoulder of the young boy, standing all alone and lost on the graveyard, standing like a sad, bent tree in front of a small stone that marked the grave as the resting place of Hikari Saito.
The wind gained more strength, its bite became more aggressive, but the boy didn't move an inch at all. His scarf fluttered, the leaf got taken away, flying through the misty air, and landed on a small pond not very far away. It glided calmly over the disturbed surface, spinning slowly like the golden remain of something lost and forgotten, the reminiscense of better days.
Netto looked at the small, black stone with his brother's name carved on it. The characters looked neat and beautiful. The work of a master of carving.
Netto frowned.
He felt alone. Until now he never realized how much he had loved his twin. Without him, he felt torn and empty.
He had his memories, but they weren't pleasant at all. Any good memory drowned in a flood of terrifying images, no matter how hard he tried to keep it alive. The more he tried, the worse it got. All he could recall was this appaling day when his brother had his last heart attack. The day that started so promising - and ended in a tragedy.

Netto screamed at the top of his lungs. He couldn't stop screaming. He screamed and screamed until the ambulance arrived and he got sedated.
The way to hospital was like a bad daydream. Netto felt detached from the world. There was only his twin, lying on this white thing, a breathing mask on his white face, and all those white people all around him, and this silly, annoying, beeping noise...
It was all in vain.
A miracle saved him from being overrun by a car.
But no miracle saved him from his weak heart.
Hikari Saito died on the way to hospital.

Netto swallowed his tears that burned in the corners of his eyes.
He began to wonder how his life with Saito could have been like if they wouldn't have seen each others as rivals. The last minutes they shared had been so... indescribable wonderful. Though their last meeting hadn't taken place in reality.

Saito, his brother, Saito, his twin, standing at the edge of the plateau, like a scarecrow in the storm, haggard, motionless, lost. His torn clothes fluttered in the wind, the abyss, a lurking, gaping mouth, waited for him to slip and fall, and the wind was about to throw him into this vast, endless emptiness. He himself was nothing more than a small figure, veiled by the clouds that rushed by, but his presence was overwhelming. He then stirred and turned his head, slowly, as if he was frozen through and through, barely able to move at all. His gaze pierced through the veil of violet clouds, clearing a path that unfolded before Netto's feet. Saito beckoned him to come closer , waving his hand like a dying tree would wave his last branch in the storms of time. His ivory skin shimmered in the dying sun, burning with a glacial flame that gave him an unreal look. As Netto approached his brother, struggling trhough the wind that tried to hold him back, he saw Saito's face. It shimmered more than the rest of his body, and suddenly he knew why. Tears flew silently, twinkling like little stars, dripping from his chin like raindrops. Albeit this sign of pain and grief, he smiled. And it was an honest smile, full of emotion, full of love. As Netto had almost reached him his twin lifted both arms as if to welcome him with a warm embrace, but instead, he beckoned Netto to stop moving, as if the violation of a certain distance could harm him. Though Netto expected hatred and coldness, he was touched by an aura of bitter affection. Saito's eyes were sad.
"My brother", he whispered.
The tone of his voice matched his appearance - it sounded torn and haggard and grey, with a gleam of fleeting vividness and brotherly love.
Netto opened his mouth to answer, to speak, to ask the ultimate question. But no matter how loud he spoke and screamed, it was useless. The wind tore his words away as soon as they passed his frozen lips, ripped apart to fragments that no creature could understand anymore. The abyss roared for its prey.
"Do not fight the wind of time, Netto-kun", Saito whispered with his detached voice.
'The wind of time?'
His brother nodded.
"It is useless to even think of it."
Netto gaped at him. Could he really hear him? But he was only thinking...
"I can hear everything you say with the voice of your mind, for we are twins. Did you forget that?"
'I thought you were the one who forgot that', Netto replied with an unintended tone of sudden bitterness. However, Saito apparently was not angry.
"It looked that way, didn't it? I'm so sorry, Netto-kun."
'Saito... why?'
"Why what, my brother?"
Netto swallowed all of his former fear and thought: 'Why do you hate me?'
Saito didn't reply at once. He seemed to consider his words carefully. But why should he choose to be tactful - when he didn' ever do that before?
"You think I am a demon, don't you, Netto-kun."
The deafening silence of his grave look was reply enough.
Sait dropped his gaze.
"I am sorry, Netto-kun, but... you know the reason. Listen. Do you hear me?"
"Deep within your heart... you knew it all the time."
Saito's face changed. It became less grey and more white, and his eyes were incredibly sad.
'You didn't hate me. You were afraid of me.'
The scarecrow nodded slowly. A melancholic smile parted his lips.
"Yes, brother. I... I could't hate you. You were the opposite of me... you were full of live, full of joy. Of honest joy and love. But I..."
He stopped for a moment. The focus of his eyes went into a world Netto couldn't follow to, but only for a moment.
"I was doomed from birth on. My heart was sick. I was restricted to live a life full of deprivations. I couldn't keep up with you. I felt inferior. But...", he sighed, and his voice regained some of its former strength it had an eternity before, "the last thing I ever wanted was commiseration. It became an obsession to show a strength I never possessed. But I - I didn't want to be pitied. And especially not by you."
Netto breathed out. It was a sigh of understanding.
"And thus you pretended to hate me."
An embarrassed smile, full of remorse.
"Unfortunately, yes. I guess I turned your life into a living nightmare from time to time. Oh, I wish I could undo it; I wish I could atone for my sin..."
Netto realized a slight change in his brother's voice. It became softer, gentler.
"You had life, but I had nothing. You were strong, I was weak."
'No, you weren't', Netto edged in with an unexpected intensity. 'I never told you but... I was always looking up to you. I envied you for your intelligence, your independence. You were everything I ever wished to be, and far from being weak!'
Saito replied nothing at first. His gaze seemed to drown in darkness again. He suddenly started to flicker.
"Thank you..."
He looked up, straight into his brother's eyes.
"I am proud to be your brother, Netto-kun..."
Again, a veil of sorrowfulness clouded his face.
"It doesn't feel right..."
He lifted one hand and stared at his palm while the other one clamped to his ripped shirt, right above his heart.
"It doesn't feel right... to be alive... I shouldn't have... lived..."
He closed his eyes and dropped his head. His arms were hanging loosely at his sides. And suddenly, he disappeared. Slowly fading like a dream, like a misty figure that go torn apart by the wind, like a pillar of smoke, a fleeting sign of transcience.
Netto took a step forward, trying to touch his brother, trying to take hold of the already transparent apparition.
His brother lifted his head and opened his eyes for the last time.
For a brief moment, Netto saw something that couldn't be true. It was just impossible. But it was definitely there, like the wind, like the loneliness, like the dying sun - for a brief moment, Saito's eyes weren't brown anymore. Instead, a bright, multifarious emerald gleam flashed through the dawning darkness. And then, he was gone.

The wind announced his big brother, the storm. The weeping willows now lashed at the clouds with their withered, filigree arms. A howl escaped from the sky.
Netto wrapped his coat tighter to protect himself from the sharp wind. A first raindrop, wet and heavy, splashed down, right upon Saito's stone. Like a tear.
And Netto smiled.
'He lived in fear... for all his life...'
He bent down and touched the carvings with his fingertips.
Hikari Saito.
He stood up and tilted his head back to look at the sky. The multifarious layers of grey and black spoke of heavy rain.
'...I will always remember you...'
A dog barked somewhere. Netto turned his head in irritation. Beyond the graveyard's fence a couple was taking a walk with their dog. They looked very happy the way the cast a look at the sky now and then, laughing and quicking pace, free to run. A warm home awaited them.
This made Netto thought of what awaited him at his own home. Would it ever be the same again - without his brother?
Lost for a moment, he looked at the grave again.
"You always were the stronger one, brother."
The yellow light that somehow escaped the thick wall of clouds drew surrealistic shadows onto the carved stone, giving it an insubstancial look. And as Hikari Netto turned and walked away, the sky opened and shed its autumn tears upon the wailing world.


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