Rockman.EXE is not mine. Don't sue.
Us After This
Author's Note, January 4, 2003: This is the final chronicle of the tale. I hope everyone enjoyed it - there have been few stories I enjoyed writing as much as this one. Some Author's Notes and thank-yous to follow.
As of the writing of this epilogue, the entire story has been through a final edit, for both continuity, typos and "things that I just didn't like and wanted to re-do." If you spot any errors please drop me an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's been awesome--thanks so much for your support. :)
Stand in the exit way,
And, in the pitch-black, take the light...
It`s not necessary to make it to the end, keep going.
It`s all right if the scenes
Go on one at a time...
~Hikari, Utada Hikaru
The sun was bright and clear above Akihara, a new day for two boys that had been presented with a fresh start.
Hikari Saito was learning to rollerblade.
Upon these children had been conferred a living dream; a second chance. Both had touched death, one more so than any soul should ever have, and returned together.
Saito's lessons were the first of many things on a list that his twin brother had made. Most of the options had been accumulated over a long friendship -- different foods they thought he would enjoy, games, sports, and so on. Skating, in their initial excitement at being together again, had been an obvious first choice.
"Okay!" Saito cried, throwing his arms out for balance. "I think I've got it!"
"Great!" Netto replied enthusiastically. "I knew you'd be good at this!"
Saito grinned, buoyed by his twin's encouragement. Both Hikaris had an innate sense of balance and natural skill that Saito had been able to enjoy both as a human and a Navi. "I love this, it's amazing."
"Glad you're enjoying it." Netto's cheer was quelled just slightly by a question he had been meaning to ask his twin. When Saito finally rolled to a stop and tipped his head back to ajdust their bandanna, Netto wondered idly, "Rock...are you happy?"
The question threw his twin for a loop. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, is this what you want? Being human? What makes you happy?"
"Netto-kun..." Saito wasn't used to the brunette delving into such deep thoughts. "I liked being human, and I like being a Navi. I'm glad to just have had the experience."
"Yes, but don't you feel things differently as a Navi...? You wouldn't want to stay here forever?"
The older twin was quiet. "I was born in this world, but raised in the Net. That's my home now...there are a lot of things I'd like to do, but sometimes you have to make a choice. I'm fine just to visit this world every now and again. I'm content."
He skated in a lazy circle and was just about to attempt some sort of fancy spin but stopped short at the appearance of a grim-looking nurse. "Netto-kun..."
"Suzuki-san! Er, yes?" Netto piped up, unable to wipe the guilty grin from their face.
The nurse sighed. "You're supposed to stay in a wheelchair when you're outside. You know that! And you shouldn't be exerting yourself after being so sick!"
A ripple of disappointment shooting through them both, Saito sulkily withdrew. "But I'm going home today," Netto argued. "How's now any different from this afternoon?"
"You're still under our care," she replied sternly. "When your parents come for you you can do whatever you like."
"Che. Fine, I'm going in..." Netto wanted to voice aloud how easy it would be to simply walk outside, hop on the Metroline, and go home by himself, but he suspected that (although Rockman would find it hilarious) the nurse wouldn't appreciate it. He settled for simply grinning at her, a gesture she felt slightly unnerving.
Suzuki pushed a lock of blond hair behind her ear and sighed. It wasn't the first time someone had found Hikari Netto out of his room and wandering around the hospital. And that smile of his...
She followed the teenager back to his room, watching him carefully. There was something strange about Netto, something she couldn't pinpoint...He often and rapidly switched gears, his moods changing in an instant. His voice dropped suddenly, becoming low and sweet, even when the expression on his face was an almost-manic grin. Some of the other nurses whispered that he sometimes talked to himself when he thought he was alone.
Suzuki suspected multiple personalities, but he had never been tested for any such thing. The others thought it was a result of the extreme trauma the boy had gone through, and he had simply thought of an imaginary friend to talk to and keep him safe.
Often, though, he acted perfectly normal...he would plug his PET into the jacks at the hospital recreation room, and play video games while his Navi perused the Net. Sometimes he would just lie quietly in his hospital bed and talk to the Navi, whose name, Suzuki understood, was Rock.
And then, just as she had decided the kid was normal after all, someone would catch him arguing with his imaginary friend, fiddling with the controls on his heart monitor, or disappearing from his room.
Suzuki felt that things would be much calmer when Hikari Netto went home.
The nurse shooed Netto into his room, and he dropped the unnerving grin and immediately went over to the window. "Hey, Suzuki-san!"
"Can I go down to the rec room?"
Well, if he wasn't going to run off again... "Don't overexert yourself."
She looked at him expectantly, and suddenly he smiled a weary smile. "Thank you."
"Er...you're welcome." Unsettled, she backed out of the room and fled back to the nurses' station. That kid...
"I think you scared her."
"I was just thanking her..."
"Che, you're too formal." Netto yawned and took out his PET. "So, did you want to go on the Net?"
Saito shivered, rubbing their arms a bit. "Sure. I think I've had my fun."
Saito released control of the computer and linked out of Netto's body and back to his PET, leaving his twin standing alone by the window. The jumpsuited Navi stretched on the screen. "That still feels weird."
"Not half as weird as it feels for me," Netto joked. "Did you enable the security systems before you left?"
"I did," Rockman confirmed. "No one can get into those networks but me." Now that all the raw data had been removed, the heart monitor was being used for its original purpose again. The systems Saito had mapped during his time there were still intact however, and the Navi could access them at anytime and integrate himself into the computer as before by simply plugging-in.
"Good." Netto smiled faintly. "Let's go to the recreation room, then, and--" He was cut off by a ringing sound from his PET.
"It's an e-mail, Netto-kun," Rockman told his brother. "Looks like I got back just in time."
"Okay, open it, then."
Hikari Yuuichirou's face appeared on the icon, and Rockman read aloud. "Netto, we're coming over to pick you up now. Get all your things together, all right? From Papa."
"Now? All right!" Netto ran to his bedside and picked up his backpack, tossing in pajamas, skates and the other items on the bedside table.
"Netto-kun, how are we planning to explain me...?"
"Well, Mama'd probably have a heart attack if she knew the whole story...Papa said he only told her a few things when I was unconscious. I don't know if he told her you were me all that time...but, if we're gonna do this often she should know..."
"And I'm going to have to tell Papa how we got me out of the computer."
"Yeah, last he saw of you, that weird default program was in control...
Rockman hesitated. "Maybe I should tell them through you, then, if..." He sounded as though he were nervous to suggest it.
"Is that a suggestion or a request? Come on, Rock, I said you could come in here anytime. Actually, it'll be easier to believe that way. Just don't stop talking all of a sudden and expect me to save you."
"I wouldn't!" Rockman defended himself weakly, an unmistakable grin on his face.
Netto extended the PET cord, lifted up his shirt, and plugged it into the panel on his chest. "Plug-in...Rockman.EXE, transmission!"
Rockman linked out of the PET and settled in the computer systems, the networks now so familiar to him that his apprehension melted away. "Ready," he said in Netto's voice.
Netto smiled and zipped the bag shut, laying his PET on the bed. "Now, I hope you have some sort of a plan in mind, because I--"
"--Netto!" The younger twin turned as his mother flew through the door, enfolding him in a tight hug. "I'm so glad to see you up and about!"
"Mama!" Netto hugged her back, nodding to his father as he entered behind her.
"Ready to go home, are we?" Yuuichirou joked.
"Definitely," Netto groaned. "I'm so sick of this hospital!"
He slung his backpack over his shoulder and picked up the PET off the bed, realizing too late that he should have carried it in his bag. His father smiled. "Oh, Netto! How's Rockman doing? Is he starting to adapt to your personality yet?"
"Is something else wrong with Rockman?" Haruka looked between her husband and son. "Nobody said anything about it."
"Er, that is..."
"That's your cue," Netto told his twin.
"Right..." Saito cleared his throat, not bothering to disguise the change in intonation between their voices. "Well, we were able to retrieve the lost personality data, actually..."
"I explained already that he was destroyed by a virus, Mama, but I didn't mention that I reprogrammed him using only partial backups...some of his data was corrupted." Yuuichirou chose his words carefully.
"It was integrated into my heart monitor," Saito interrupted, tapping his chest. "After the virus destroyed--" Saito took a deep breath, trying to avoid referring to himself in the third-person."--the Navi program, it got mistakenly stored in this computer."
Yuuichirou gave Saito a strange look, as if wondering why he was explaining that part of the story. "Yes...I told her about Rockman's data being stranded in there. But...You were able to retrieve the personality program? How? Emdee said he got everything that was in there."
"He didn't know where to look. The monitor stopped working," Saito confessed. "We had to plug the new Rockman into it to find the problem...all the security systems I'd put in were interfering with the monitor's operation. Those systems were directly linked to the missing data. It was so deep in the system that it was barely recognizable."
Yuuichirou looked surprised. "You got all of it back? Then, Rock is back to normal?"
"I wouldn't say 'normal'," Netto uttered, his first words since Saito had taken over.
"The new Rockman disabled the security systems--" Saito was still loathe to think of the default-programmed Navi as 'himself' "--and downloaded the data. And...we were able to keep all the biomechanical networks open."
"What use would you have for those?" Yuuchirou held out his hand for Netto's PET. "Here, let me talk to Rockman."
The elder twin sighed and handed the PET to his father. "You already are."
Yuuichirou took the device and regarded the blank screen, realization setting in. "Wait--the biomechanical...?" He looked up, locking eyes with his sons. "You're still in there?"
Saito nodded slowly. "We both are."
"He's only borrowing it for a while, though," Netto explained. "There's so much he could do with a human body that he couldn't with a Navi's."
"Oh my God." Haruka raised her hands to her mouth, finally realizing what had happened. "Rock...?"
Saito blushed. "Yes, Mama."
"Two of you--you're both okay! Oh, I'm so happy!" She gathered him into another tight hug, and Saito sighed in relief.
"I'm proud of you," Yuuichirou said simply, joining his wife in the embrace.
Saito smiled widely. "Thanks...I...I'm glad..." He sunk into her arms, breathing the scent of her perfume.
Netto fell silent, content to watch the scene from the eyes they shared. This was his brother's moment now, and that made him happy. Netto realized with a start that this must have been one of the most exciting things that had ever happened to the Navi. To walk among the people he could only watch longingly for years...
Now that the gift was being given freely, Netto was only too happy to provide. Rock had saved them all, had saved him over and over again. He had this life because of Saito. It was only fair that he share it.
Suddenly choked with emotion, Netto whispered his thoughts aloud. "Rock...Saito-niisan...thank you..."
"Me? I should be thanking you." Saito pulled back a bit with a smile, unfamiliar emotion flooding through him. "For letting me...have all this..."
"It's happiness," Netto said suddenly, as Saito was raising a hand to brush back his bangs.
"What?" Saito looked up.
"That emotion. You're almost crying, 'big' brother." Netto grinned inside himself, the expression mirroring the one his twin wore.
Saito laughed and swiped a hand across his eyes, suddenly handing control of their movement back to the younger boy. "Netto-kun, I am not!"
"Whatever you say!" Netto smirked and glanced over at the mirror on the bedside table, catching sight of himself and his parents in the glass. Maybe like this, they could both be happy. "We made our choices, Niisan. But you're welcome here," he laid one hand over his heart, "anytime. Not as Operator and Navi, but siblings."
The youngest Hikari recalled something Saito had said to him during the battle with Gospel. "Remember? We were once the same person. And then we were brothers..."
"You were right," he whispered aloud. "This is what we both want."
"...and more than that...friends."
Shi: Hours of torment later, it's finished. I swear, I must have gone through every sappy song on my playlist ten times by the time I got those last five lines out.
I have--big surprise--a few people to thank here, and a few things to say. Obviously, the gang from the WPP classroom, first and foremost Gaia-chan and her muses, who edited this monster of a fic, put up with my constant spamming of it, and was just generally there when I needed someone. :) Also way up there are Cyber and Goldenrody, who actually read this thing and supported me with reviews. Thanks for the help, you guys tolerated the floods too, not to mention supplied me with tons of inspiring music. ^_~ (Large sections were written only while listening to Ready Go! and Heartbreak Every Moment.) Pin, you're reading chapter 4 or 5 right now, I know, so you get a mention (but not a pic :P). Thanks for your support.
Marisa, I spent hours listening to Hikari and Simple and Clean on repeat while writing this epilogue. (It's still on. -.-) I know we used a quote from it for 'This Is Your Life,' as well, but I couldn't think of any song more fitting. Thank you, and Aria, you too, for your comments and for just being there. :)
Some fanart was drawn too, one from Lizeth and one by SpicyMarmalade. I really appreciate that, guys, great for inspiration and nice eye-candy too. :P Beautiful job, thank you so much. *glomps*
To the reviewers - you keep me going. (Sometimes I swear the reviews are the *only* thing that keep me going.) I couldn't possibly name you all, but some kept coming back chapter after chapter with comments. Misty, Lizeth, Cyber, Goldy, TFRiD Queen, Navi-Zero, Aria, Marisa, and more... I appreciate it, I really do. Thanks a million.
Seki - You had to hit me with inspiration all the way up to the last chapter, didn't you? Maybe G's to blame. Someday we'll just set you two loose and see what kind of havoc you can make into a fanfic.
Seki: I thought you could do it on your own this time around.
Shi: Che, I bet you were out with Duo again...
Seki: Yeah, well, where were YOU during that unfinished Christmas fic?
Shi: Shut up...I don't want to talk about that... -.-
Please, feel free to e-mail me with any comments, or just click that 'submit review' button down there. This is the closing act, guys...I want to know what you thought. At 26000 words I broke a few personal records. :) I can safely say that this fic brought out a side of my imagination I hadn't seen since Death Becomes Him, and it would take something impressive to see another that I enjoyed writing as much as this.
Finally, to all the readers who made it all the way through...thank you so much.