Something stirs inside of me. I roll over in bed, searching for my phone. I over-reach and the now too-familiar pain in my wrist causes me to wince. Still, it’s better than before. Four months with the wrist brace and I have to admit there has been improvement. The tendonitis probably would have been better by now if I would lay off on the typing, but between work and my writing binge, who has got time for rest?
I thumb the power switch on my phone. 3am. Good, but also bad. 3am… where exactly? I shine the phone’s light around the room, trying to work out where and when I am. I guess… Germany? There’s a bottle of water on the table. Salziger. I guess I’m in Salzig. Could have fooled me. I turn off the phone’s light and regret my decision not to take a melatonin pill before going to bed. It’s too late to take one now; I’d only sleep through tomorrow’s strategy meeting. I fumble around, trying to find my pillow (I must have thrown it off the bed whilst sleeping).
“C-Cam…?” the voice rings out through the room, clear as day. I resist the urge to scream. Am I having another night terror?
“Who… who’s there?” I call into the blackened room, hastily switching on the light.
Now I know that I’m dreaming. Long purple hair sits gently atop a pink set of pyjamas, a shy face peeking meekly from between the fine strands. A wide purple eye locks its gaze with mine; doe-like and startled.
“Y-you don’t r-remember… me…?” she coos. “O-or should I call you… Crud?”
I rub my eyes. I’m not sure what reality this is, but it’s the one I’m faced with now. No point in trying to fight it, I guess. “Cam is fine. I should have dropped Crud years ago, but fools make must…” I don’t even know if that is a saying, but it’s 3am. I’ll get over it. “So, you’re looking good? What are you today, 27?”
“28 – now.” I look at my phone again. July 10th. I guess she’s right.
“Well then, happy birthday. You haven’t aged a bit,” I say as she blushes away the compliment.
She hasn’t aged a day. I guess to the rest of the world, she’s eighteen. A conveniently legal age. Although, after all the hoo-ha, it probably wouldn’t have mattered, but at the time it felt like it meant something.
“So, to what do I owe this honour? It’s been, what, 7 years? 8?” I’ve lost track of the last time I’ve spoken to Hanako directly.
“A-a little less,” she replies. I turn my eyes to the featureless ceiling, trying to recall a blurry past.
“Oh yeah. There was that time in 2013… or was it ’14? Doesn’t matter.”
“Y-you’re right,” she averts her gaze and smiles her typical quarter-smile, where only the left corner of her lips tilt ever so slightly upwards. I’m a little amazed at the detail with which I can recall this now, and wonder if I’ve ever told anyone about it before.
I take a moment to look her over again. It has been a while, especially in the pyjamas. The dark pink trim on the light pink fabric, loosely covering her thin body as she sits, cross-legged, on the end of my bed. She’s still looking downwards and away, her hair swaying gently. It looks softer than I imagine, or maybe I just have more experience with hair now. Who knows? It’s 3am and these things don’t really matter.
“C-Cam… I n-need to ask you… something…” her stutter seems to be exactly as I remember it; or maybe it has changed with the years?
“Shoot. You’re the one who came here, after all.” I pull myself up and lean against the wooden bedhead. It creaks slightly as it takes my weight. At least I’m still of corporal form. Shit. That’s a pun, isn’t it? I’ve been hanging around my team too much I guess.
“Am… am I… dead?” she looks at me directly, the hair spilling from her face, revealing both of her deep, purple eyes, and her trademark scars; deep crimson and pulled tight across her face. Her face is a mixture of fear and sadness.
“What do you mean?” I ask. “I mean, you’re here, right?”
She shakes her head quickly, but only moves it slightly, causing her hair to ripple. “T-that’s not it.”
“So…?” I try to prompt her into talking.
“Y-yesterday you wanted to… to write me. But you wrote her instead,” she said, pointing towards the doorway. A tall blond woman in combat fatigues was leaning against the doorframe, her hands resting on a futuristic rifle that was slung over her neck.
“Don’t bring me into this,” Kate said. “You know he shot me, right? And is about to blow me up…”
“You’ll be fine, I like you too much to kill you,” I say to the cyborg. “Sorry about Drew though,” I add sheepishly. Her face sours, and she tilts her head in Hanako’s direction.
“She asked you a question,” she chastises me.
I take a deep breath. I know what this is about. “No… you’re not dead. It’s just… I dunno. I guess I’m afraid that I can’t do it right anymore. Do you right,” I rub the back of my neck and try to avoid her gaze, but I can’t. My eyes are drawn back to those fantastically expressive eyes.
“S-so… I am dead… to you?” she pleads.
I shake my head. “That’s not it.”
“B-but you couldn’t… couldn’t read A Runner’s Afternoon.”
I bite my lip before I can tell her that it made me cringe. I wrote ARA2 as a bit of a troll; I’m not sure how I can tell that to her. The first one was ok, but reading the sequel made me doubt my life choices.
“That… that’s different. I wanted to clean it up, but it’s just not something that I can do… right now.”
Hanako’s eyes glaze slightly as tears well up from behind them. “S-so… you just… want someone else…?” she blubbers.
I hang my head in shame. “It’s not like that. You’re still very special to me,” I say as I reach out a hand and place it on her shoulder, the shuddering of her crying transmitted into my arm. I resist the urge to pull her into a hug; it would probably be too much for her… for both of us. “Look, how about this. I’ll write this up, and I’ll put it on delay. When it comes out in a couple of weeks, if it reads like some brony fan-fiction bullshit then we’ll call it quits. But if it makes sense to us both, then I can maybe think about ARA3? Or turn ARA2 into something other than a blatant troll piece and try and translate it in time for Comiket?” I try to bargain with her.
“O-OK,” she replies through tears.
“Are you sure you’ll be able to do that?” Kate says from her position at the door.
“I guess. I should have time,” I reply, my hand still firmly on Hanako’s shoulder.
“I’ll hold you to that. You and I should be done by then, right?”
“I guess. I never really thought about fan fiction for your world, I’ll admit.”
Kate snorted. “Good riddance. Even this is a little too contrived for my tastes.”
“Is it still the 4th wall if it’s only in writing?” I ask her?
Kate shrugs. “I dunno. You’re the one who is supposed to be the author, right? I’ve never had time for movies.”
I turn back to Hanako, patting her gently on the head. Just as I thought, her hair is ultra-fine and incredibly soft. I wonder if her scalp was damaged somehow in the fire. That reminds me; my daughter is almost as old as Hanako was when the fire happened. I’ve gotta look after myself, I guess.
“I promise you, you’re not dead. I don’t think you’ll ever be dead to me. But, by the same token, I’m not the only one who knows you now,” I say, trying to be comforting.
“I… I know. I’ll… I’ll see you in three weeks?” she asks.
“You know it. I mean, I’ve bent time a little here already,” I confess, but I know the story will be better this way. “And maybe after I’m finished with Little Miss Cyborg over here you and I can have one more dance?” I say, trying to smile at Hanako. Kate rolls her eyes in disdain, but I know that she cares for the young girl sitting on my bed.
“S-sure,” Hanako replied. “T-thanks D- I mean Cam.”
“You’re welcome. See you soon.” I blink and the women are gone, the hotel room’s light is off again. I didn’t even touch the switch.
I look at my phone again.
6am. Bugger. May as well get up.