Their life is inside a bubble and, at some point, they become aware of that but they can do nothing. Once they learn why the bubble came into being, they can do even less: they can only live their lives inside that bubble and mourn for everything else. But they couldn't escape. They couldn't want to escape because they'd already lost: that happy dream orb had already shattered into a hundred pieces.
They sleep and they dream and they hold on to as many of those pieces as they can. Because if they don't, who will? Too few people know the tale. Too few people care… Care how they continue to live their lives when a god-slayer had descended down to devour them all. Few people cared how many had been devoured, so long as the people they knew and loved endured. For those, it was a war in a faraway country.
For them, it was the tale outside the bubble they now live their lives in.
And they must live their lives within that bubble, because they don't think they care it if it breaks.
Neko still sleeps. Her bubble is the thickest and the smallest of all but they can't blame her. They had a little more, at least. Colours as opposed to only grey. The blue sky. The green sky that goes yellow as winter creeps in.
Or they have a little less. Hatsuna has Takaya and Kana wishes she had someone who'd wait their entire life for a pining her. But she had had someone like that and she hadn't appreciated it, hadn't enjoyed it as much as possible and then lost her in circumstances that meant she couldn't get her back again.
Of course, Hatsuna was right. Kazumi was right. Neko was right. Sacrificing Murakami was unthinkable, considering all the times he'd saved their lives… And even now. But that's not quite true, is it? It was unthinkable for them. Still is unthinkable for them even now that it's a moot point but Murakami feels differently, has always felt differently. How many times has he died because of them and been brought back, either by time rewinding or Hatsuna's powers - powers that she had died herself to gain. And she didn't hesitate to use them. Not once. Not even when she melted and reformed and melted in that endlessly perpetuating cycle of fragile immortality…
Their real selves are so tiny and fragile: those parasites that slept inside the Harnessed but they have god-like powers outside of it that they had to pay too high prices to have at their fingertips, and even use, and yet they use them anyway again and again… Or they did.
This quiet paradise where they don't need to use those powers at all… And if they don't, then they can stay a little longer here, in this quiet life they're no longer accustomed to.
But they can be. If they don't use their powers, and if they're not hunted for what they are - if no-one else alive knows enough to think they're different from other humans… Then they can continue this: their pale, quiet lives without their friends and with too many secrets and parts of themselves they can't touch, and yet what sort of life is that, in the end?
A hollow life with the sound of a ticking clock echoing throughout… Because even if they move only in this little bubble of theirs, they move, and because they move, they age. And because they age, one day the shell they enjoy will crack.
They'll hatch. One day, they'll hatch.
At the beginning, there was the lab.
Then came the opportunity to escape from the lab and they took it with both hands and scattered into the wilderness. It was a strange new world. They remembered little and some, like Neko, remembered nothing at all. They lived far and apart and really only going through the motions from one day to the next because they were living on borrowed time and the pills they had with them would run out, and run out far too soon.
Some chose to hide away and live their last days as quiet days. Others decided to make their final moments meaningful, either by doing all the things they'd dreamed about - all those dreams that had warped along the way - or by making their impressions elsewhere: getting to know other people, saving them, then pushing them away because they knew nothing could ever come out of that.
And that was where Murakami came in. A student about to die and so Neko tried to save him. She succeeded but she'd also attracted his interest: relentless interest that found their hideaway and their makeshift home and all the secrets they'd tried so hard to hide.
And then he decided to throw his own life away and help them and they didn't understand, couldn't understand. Until they did begin to understand, when friends started dying that couldn't be brought back again, when they had to choose between one and another and both of them were too important to at least one of them to make such a decision…
But they had to, and they chose Murakami every time because they'd be dead a hundred times over by then if not for him. And then they all carried the weight of those sacrifices along the way.
And they'd remember the tale Murakami had told them, when explaining why he couldn't just leave Neko and Kana alone. When he told about the girl called Kuroneko with the moles under her arm and the bright eyes staring at the sky. About the aliens she'd believed in, and the ones she claimed she'd seen. About the precarious trip they'd taken to prove that aliens exist and how they'd slipped and fallen off the dam.
Or how, specifically, Murakami had slipped and fallen and Kuroneko had grabbed him, only for gravity to pull them both off the ridge. And how they'd fallen into the ravine below till Murakami's broken body had been dragged up and out and to a hospital and Kuroneko's… to a grave. Or so he was told, and there was a slightly desperate pitch to his voice when he'd say that past bit. Or so he was told. After all, he never saw the body. He only knew what he'd been told. And then Neko - Kuroha Neko - with her similar sounding name and the same appearance but lacking the moles under her arm - had appeared and transferred right into his class and his mind, still trying to move on ten years later, had screeched to a grinding halt.
They tried to laugh about it, back then. Laugh it off. Say they got to see the human side of Murakami when his classmates saw the aloof genius who was practically topping the state. Of course, the look on Murakami's face when Neko had outranked him was quite genuinely funny but that was just a fleeting moment for all. All their happy moments were fleeting moments, even now when they'd wrapped it in plastic and glad wrap and blotted out the rest of the world.
After the lab, there was Murakami, and for a long time there was Murakami and they could feel like humans with him, even when they showed the most monstrous sides of themselves in front of him. He must have had blinders on, they figured, after a bit. Permanent blinders. Maybe it was love, and they were envious if that turned out to be the case because that meant Neko, all Neko. But they also felt sorry for Murakami because the Neko he remembered didn't remember him at all. He was running into walls at every turn but he still couldn't give up. He still couldn't forget. And he never abandoned the rest of them as excess baggage and ran off into the sunset with Neko.
Well, he did kind of abandon them when he wound up dead trying to help them out, but between them all, they managed to bring him back again. Still, only the first wiped his memory, and Kana remembered that one all too clearly - as well as several which had never occurred but she'd still seen: possibilities until they turned away.
How many times did he die? How many times did they watch him die? How many times did Hatsuna have to melt to bring him back to life? They didn't remember now. Those wounds were there - those painful thoughts - but they were dulled like wrapped within the same fog. And there was fog. Real fog. The only way they could live peaceful lives it seemed, high up in the Observatory. Keep the Witches doped up and out of the human eye and let them make their grave in this out-of-the-way place no-one else ever went. It was almost poetic, almost romantic. They could think about all these painful thoughts without drowning in their sorrow. But they also couldn't drag up those happy times, the times that would have them bursting with joy.
Like the kisses that danced on their lips: Kazumi's once and now Hatsuna alone and they were dim, dark, echoes now in their half-slumber. That particular loss made no difference to Kana. She'd neither seen nor done such a thing herself and she'd tease them in the past but stayed indifferent now. They didn't tease each other anymore. All of that was blunted. All of that was dulled. They danced with the fog and with their memories: memories that were too painful otherwise to bear but they could bear them with the fog. They wanted to bear them with the fog.
For now, anyway. How long before they tired of living like that? How long before even the bearable became unbearable? How long before their reality wasn't worth holding on to anymore?
It's only worth holding onto in the first place because of that time they'd spent with Murakami: that time, after they'd been stripped of their humanity, that they spent being human again.
After the lab, there was school. And, in a way, school was synonymous with Murakami. It was where they'd met him, in the case of Neko. The reason they'd gone, for all of them after a fashion. The something that had seemed so insignificant and yet they'd poured so much effort into. They'd competed with each other, for what might have been the only exams they'd sit, and their only holiday... And now they were on a permanent vacation, tucked away in the Observatory and they'd only really had one club activity amidst all the hiding away they'd done. But at least they'd lived a life outside the Observatory as well. At least they'd gone to school and, very rarely hung out with friends. And they'd gone to the ocean together. They'd studied so hard for those exams so they could go. Kotori had cried so hard when she'd failed until Murakami had caved and gone back on the deal they'd made with him.
And how they'd fought for a longer life so they could see that day, and then gotten greedy afterwards and fought for longer and longer lives... And now look at them. They had long lives. They weren't pressed day by day by the lack of medicine but it was all meaningless. The labs were gone. Vingulf was gone. Hexenjagd was just waiting for the last of the witches to die out and was more than happy to leave them secluded in the Observatory. And Neko and Murakami were gone: one in soul and one in both, and the only thing they could do was watch and wait and what, really, were they waiting for?
Kana described it as a tomb, once, and it was a quaint tomb they'd all locked themselves inside. Some days, they said it was for Neko, after the finale had swallowed Murakami and Kazumi up along with other people they cared far less about. Murakami's father who Murakami said he didn't even recall - and for good reason, for him to fake his own death and the death of one of his children to become the leader of Vingulf and try and play around with Gods... But Makina died, and Murakami's father died too and Murakami... Was he dead, or had he assimilated with Adam after all? And did it really matter, from the perspective of witches who couldn't touch heaven or hell? They'd go to whether other creatures went when they died instead, and maybe that was another reason they hung on.
They could say it was for Neko, to look after her body so her spirit could search for Murakami and they could hope: hope she found him, and maybe hope she'd come back and guide the rest of them as well. But who'd look after all of them then? Did they matter enough to Kogorou for him to keep them all tended to? Did he think they mattered enough to Murakami to sacrifice that as well, after having already sacrificed so much and his nephew as well? Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn't. And wasn't there an easier way than to be slaves to their own bodies even now?
They weren't even human and yet they were still slaves to those bodies. It wasn't fair and no-one was going to answer that conundrum for them now. They'd put a stop to it all. Hexenjagd had stood down out of respect to Murakami - and sometimes, they wished they hadn't, because that would have been an excuse for them. And sometimes they wished Kogorou hadn't pitied them a little bit and took the easy way to changing things and giving them more pills that all went towards the end goal of keeping them alive. It was rather pathetic, really, that they could have five or six pills a day and need nothing else but water and maybe they could only do it because they'd been adjusted so much and the irreplaceable part of them was really the monster inside the Harnessed that could so easily be stomped out - and so easily protected as well.
This is their life now, in fogs and tablets and memories and waiting and meandering and wondering when things will tip one way or another but not willing to tip themselves. It's up to the people around them and it always has been, and maybe that's life in general, life they can't live alone. And maybe the three of them could have managed outside the Observatory as well. Hatsuna, at the very least, has someone still waiting for her, and Kana kind of did as well. As for Neko... Well, she probably qualifies as having taken the steps to meet those precious people in her life. She's looking for Murakami, even if her human body slumbers with them and entertains that same quiet fog.
That is their only purpose, for now: to keep vigil over Neko's body and the memories of their past they share together. They were the memories Kazumi had refused to take. The memories nothing else - including time - had managed to win against. The memories that turned out to be super-human like their magic after all, and yet not like their magic... Because when they'd first met Murakami, they hadn't thought at all he'd be so intricately linked to their fate and the fate of the world. They hadn't thought that about Neko, either. Or themselves. Never put themselves in the shoes of heroes or people who would save the world. After all, they were just a bunch of B-witches and a high school student who should have died in a landslide half a year ago. That was where their story together began and, at that point, not one of them had known -
Not even Kana, who could see the future -
- that it would end up like this, in the end.