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the case of yoshi nanase

Chapter Text

The park was the only place of natural greenery to be found in the city.

The automatic lights would come on soon. As it was, the sole illumination came from the setting sun, painting long shadows that stretched like questing fingers across the grass and play equipment and walkways. Despite the advent of darkness, Misane wasn’t too concerned. There were still a few people around, and even if there hadn’t been, well…

She’d come here to be alone, in the first place. So, the less the merrier.

Her fingers were knitted on her lap as she sat, head bowed, mulling over what she’d been told.

Closed off…Hard to read…Do I really come across as untrustworthy…?

The argument with her friend sat coiled in her mind like a rattler, warning her back with aggressive shakes of its tail whenever she tried to get closer and examine the problem. It’d been weighing heavily on her ever since classes had concluded for the day, and she had yet to move from the park bench that she’d taken refuge upon earlier that afternoon.

She…wasn’t quite certain why it bothered her so much. Misane was well aware she could be seen as vapid, what with her usually stoic expression, but actually hearing a person utter it somehow made it far more painful; likely because she did feel. She spent most of her time feeling for those dear to her, and she didn’t have to outwardly show it, did she? A killer pokerface was a crucial component for any investigator, after all.

“Is everything all right, Miss?”

Misane startled—shown only as a small widening of her eyes—lifting her head to look at the owner of the voice at the exact moment the park’s lights blinked on.

The result was that the young man was shrouded in a halo of white. He smiled down at her like an angel, arms loosely folded, his voice soft and smooth and low.

(Despite herself, her heart skipped a beat.)

Misane straightened a bit, shifting her stance so she could see him clearer. She could hardly believe her eyes. She knew exactly who he was.

Yoshi Nanase. The mastermind of the Master Program, and an unparalleled genius. His reputation preceded him. She’d be a poor detective-in-training if she didn’t recognize someone so prominent. His face had been in the news for years ever since the Program was first announced to the public, more famous than any of his collaborators. In interviews he was infamously humble, and in person, he was…

“Is there something I can do to help? I’ll do literally anything.”

…exactly the same as the news streams.

Misane gathered her wits back together, realizing she might’ve just been staring. The knowledge made her cheeks feel warm, but the blush likely wouldn’t show. “No, I’m…I’ll be fine.”

“Saying you’ll ‘be fine’ means you’re not fine right now, I think.” Nanase showed her an apologetic smile right after that statement. “I’m sorry, it’s really not my place to pry, is it? You can ignore me if you’d like. In fact, you absolutely should; it’d be better for the both of us.”

Something about that rubbed her the wrong way. In the interest of not being pointlessly contrary regarding his unexpected kindness, she shifted over on the bench. “Never mind. I actually appreciate you taking the time to ask. If you’d like to help…”

Nanase took the hint and sat down beside her, and something about his pink eyes made her feel as if he was staring straight through her.

“…I wouldn’t mind having someone to talk with,” Misane finished quietly.

“You want someone to talk with? I can do that.” That smile was back.

Misane nodded, knitting her fingers back together on her lap. She was having trouble getting her thoughts organized and was even more troubled by how she couldn’t even fill the silence with small talk because the words were lodged in her throat. Talking about herself was so difficult, even to a complete stranger who she may never speak with again after this evening.

Nanase said, “Did you have a fight with your friend?”

The specific quality of that sentence—your friend, singular—lodged into Misane’s mind just then, as a clue for later. At the moment, she was too distracted to attempt to piece together the case of Yoshi Nanase.

“Yes…but, how did you know?”

“Oh, I just have a gift for reading people!” His tone was positively jovial. “From what I can tell, it looks like a friend problem.”

Misane gave him a scrutinizing stare. “You could decipher that simply from looking at me?”

“Maybe not as simply as you’re thinking? But something along those lines.”

She dropped her gaze back to her folded hands, deciding to let it go for now. “One of my friends told me I can be opaque and, in her own words, ‘positively infuriating’.”

“How so?”

“She said I can be difficult to get a read on in almost any situation, which can be frustrating because she never knows how I feel, or she only knows bits and pieces. But you didn’t have any problems just now, did you?”

“No,” he agreed, pale fingers tapping along his arm. “I could tell at a glance that something was bothering you! But then again, I’m the farthest you can get from ‘normal’, so you really shouldn’t bother comparing me to anyone.”

That could have been taken as arrogant, but all Misane saw on his face was that same deep humility. Or rather, that same deep self-deprecation.

“Why do you say that?”

“It’d take a lot of time to go into. Besides, I really want to help you first.”

Misane hummed in thought. “I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Maybe we should start with introductions?”

“Sure. I’m Yoshi Nanase. Everybody calls me Trash, Pest, Maggot, Spineless, Dust, Plankton, Moron and all sorts of other things, so call me whatever name you like."

She had an incredibly tough time believing anyone would think so lowly of the greatest programming genius of the century, yet he said it with such an enthused and sincere air that she couldn’t help but wonder if it was true. Or worse, they were terms he applied to himself.

Misane frowned a bit, lifting a hand to hide it. If they’d been closer in age, she would have tried to address him with a more casual nickname; as it was, she had no intention of insulting him at least. “It’s nice to meet you, Nanase. I’m Misane. You can call me Misane-chan.”

He arched his eyebrows. “Are you sure? That’s an awfully close—”

Please call me Misane-chan,” she interrupted, firm as rock. She sounded very much like her father laying down an ultimatum, and Nanase complied.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Misane-chan!”

He’d have at least one friend who didn’t call him Trash or Maggot, this way. Somehow just having this little exchange with him was lifting her mood faster than she’d ever anticipated.

“So…I’m glad that someone is able to read me.”

“Are you?”

“It’s nice sometimes to not have to say exactly what you’re thinking.”

“Does that mean you find it a bad thing to express yourself?”

The nature of his questions felt personal. Misane couldn’t put her finger on it, but it was as if he was trying to acquire some understanding of his own.

“No,” she replied, slowly. “But it can be difficult. Having someone who knows you and your quirks without having to explain it…I think that’s what friendship can be.”

Nanase blinked. “Are we friends then, Misane-chan?”

She was caught off-guard again for the second time that night. Misane regarded him, really taking in those kind eyes and that strange, mysterious smile. Yoshi Nanase, famous worldwide, who stopped to talk to a girl in the park because he wanted to help, and nothing more.

“We’re friends. If you don’t mind.”

“I don’t mind at all.”

“…I would send you a friend request, but I see you have it hidden?”

“Oh, I was adjusting my settings earlier when I was altering my BitPhone’s source code, and I forgot to turn it back on. I’ve hardly used it lately…I wonder how long it’s been off?”

True to his word, she got a little ping! on her BitPhone that alerted her to the incoming friend request. She accepted it, and watched as his name was added in, tucked snugly amongst several others.

“Do you have any advice regarding what I should do about my friend?” Misane said after a few moments.

Nanase stroked his chin, his eyes narrowing in calculation. “I think you should tell her exactly what you just told me.”

“You mean how it’s difficult for me to open up?”

“Yes, and then you have to do it anyway! At least once. Showing her how you really feel every now and then should help reassure her that you’re really emotionally invested.”

Misane nodded, taking the advice and filing it away for later. She still couldn’t escape the strangest feeling…something about that response…

She winced, her thoughts interrupted by an incoming message of concern from her father, Toukai. Right. She needed to get home.

“I’m sorry,” she said, standing up. “I have to go. My father is wondering where I am.”

“Of course. That’s expected,” Nanase replied lightly.

Misane hesitated a second, looking at him smiling at her so serenely on the park bench.

“…Nanase.”

“Yes?”

“Can I talk with you again? In person?”

A slight hint of surprise entered his eyes. “I don’t mind. My schedule’s almost always open in the evenings, if you’d like to swing by. What place would be the most convenient for you?”

“Where do you live?”

“Misane-chan can be very forward,” Nanase said with an edge of a teasing smile.

She felt that same warm prickle on her cheeks. Misane gave him a deadpan look though. “The forecast is calling for rain tomorrow,” she said by way of explanation.

He chuckled and told her his address.

“I’d like to help you with what’s bothering you, too.” Misane met his gaze evenly.

His smile took on that peculiar quality again. “You really shouldn’t worry about me.”

But, she did. She found herself wondering about him, this odd young man who would offer her a hand, yet decline any attempts she made to talk to him as though the concept of anyone actually caring was laughable.

Yoshi Nanase was a constant feeling of “not being able to put her finger on it”, and that meant…he was a mystery.

And what else did detectives-in-training like her do, besides try to solve mysteries?

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she answered, her tone leaving no room for argument.

Nanase let out a soft laugh. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

She would learn later that Yoshi Nanase favored heights.

But, before that tidbit of info was given to her, Misane was left wondering if Nanase was the kind of guy to like penthouses. He was a very eligible bachelor after all, with a fancy apartment on the top floor of an extremely tall tower near his job.

He just didn’t like commutes, he said.

Misane twirled her thumbs idly as the elevator ticked off numbers, that sense of rising vertigo in her stomach making any steps she dared to take far clumsier than they should’ve been—she elected to stay put instead, watching the world through the glass encasing the lift. The city glimmered in the late afternoon sunlight, silver and metallic blue and brilliant white. Just beyond a great bridge lay the ocean, sparkling like diamonds. What a sight!

…Is what she would’ve thought, if she’d actually been paying attention to the scenery. She was too busy thinking about the man she was going to meet. She didn’t believe for a moment that Nanase meant her any harm, so she wasn’t exactly nervous about talking with some guy eight years older than her. Still, she’d left a note for her father…just in case.

The elevator finished its ascent with a cheery ding!

Nanase’s room was at the end of the corridor. She’d scarcely knocked upon the door before it flashed open, activated remotely via BitPhone, more likely than not. Entering the apartment prompted the door to slide closed again, but she didn’t hear anything alarming like a lock or a bar sliding into place.

In fact, looking around, the apartment was incredibly benign. All of the latest tech was on display, from the InnovativeTouch+ fridge to the Infiniview 2400 projection screens. No programs or streams were on, however, so the visual modules just displayed silent feeds of nature. Birds were in flight, soaring across a never-ending sky, painting the whole room in blue. Everything was bright, clean, and pristine.

Almost…overly so. It barely seemed as though anyone lived here. It felt a bit like a hotel room.

He’s probably rarely home, Misane thought as she finally moved away from the door. She imagined his work must keep him incredibly preoccupied.

“Nanase?” she called, her voice seeming overly loud in the quiet.

“I’m coming! I’m just finishing something up. Help yourself to absolutely anything you might need!”

His voice floated from somewhere to the right, in a closed off room. An intercom interface light winked on the door. Misane blinked, curious, cataloging that detail. A room kept private so frequently that he’d felt the need to install an audio transmitting device on the outside, despite being the only person in the apartment. Interesting.

Misane found a glass and helped herself to some water, sitting down upon a plush teal sofa. It didn’t take long for Nanase to sweep out of the room he’d been sequestered in, the door sealing itself again too quickly for Misane to peek at what was inside.

“I’m really sorry about that. I completely lost track of time, so I wasn’t expecting your arrival so soon!”

“No, I was about ten minutes early. It was my fault. My father’s always been insistent about doing things on time.” And that meant leaving early, in case any complications hit on the road.

“If you’re not bothered by it, neither am I.” Nanase sat down beside her, wearing that calm, knowing smile.

Now that she was actually here, Misane found that she nearly forgot what she’d been meaning to discuss with him. They exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then she decided to get to the point.

“…I wanted to thank you for helping me with my friend. Your advice worked perfectly.”

“Did it? “

She almost wanted to say he sounded coy. “Yes.”

“I’m truly glad! You look much better with a smile than a frown, Misane-chan.”

Misane released her next breath slowly, fingers knitting on her lap. She usually wasn’t one easily flustered by compliments, but Nanase sounded so ridiculously sincere when he said them. “I want to return the favor.”

Nanase arched his eyebrows, a silent prompt.

“You said that you’re not what someone would call ‘normal’, and that it’d take a long time to go into. You also mentioned that you hadn’t used your friend list function at all lately. Is this true?”

“It is. Besides when I added you, Misane-chan.”

Misane gave him a long look. “Are these two things related?”

“In a way?” Nanase laughed lightly. “I appreciate the gesture, but you really shouldn’t concern yourself with me, Misane-chan…”

Her brows furrowed as she shifted a bit to see him head-on, taking in his whole profile, really looking at that slightly-off smile etched onto his face. “I want to.”

Nanase was silent for so long that Misane was afraid she’d offended him. He didn’t appear angry; however, he just brought a hand to his chin and gave her a look so piercing that it was like he was probing her very mind.

“You helped me,” Misane continued, her voice calm despite her internal unease. “If you’re a little…weird, then I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

“You wouldn’t want everyone to be like each other?”

What kind of question was that? Was that some roundabout way of asking if she thought it’d be better if he was like everyone else?

“…That wouldn’t be very interesting,” was all she said in response to that.

Nanase’s smile shifted. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but something changed about it. For better or worse, she couldn’t say.

“I see. Would it make you happy if I told you the truth?”

“Only if you want to share it. We wouldn’t really be friends if you divulged information to me out of a sense of obligation.”

“Oh no! Haha, if you want to hear it, I’ll tell you.”

Misane picked up her half-finished glass of water, sipping it slowly, letting the rush of cold stabilize her thoughts as Nanase dropped quite the bombshell on her.

He explained how he saw the world in numbers. Not just physical things—even the abstract wasn’t safe from his discerning gaze. Thoughts could be converted from numbers into words. People could be broken down into measurements and dimensions. Maybe even space-time itself wasn’t safe from him. Anything he could see could be run through a program of his own creation.

But. The caveat. The stinger.

“I believe the strain will eventually overtax my body, and I will die prematurely.”

He finished that so matter-of-factly. The sky was blue, the grass was green, and Yoshi Nanase was going to die prematurely because he could see the world like it was made out of strings of coding.

Misane was speechless. She placed down her (now empty) glass, twisting her fingers together as she processed what she just heard.

“…And you believe this ability impacted your social relations.”

“I’m certain it has, but it’s probably for the best! I'm pretty worthless, and people don’t tend to hang around me for very long this way.” Nanase stood up, went to the kitchen, and came back with a pitcher of water, refilling Misane’s glass with a frustratingly casual air.

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. They just tend to drift away. It’s how it’s always been.”

Misane’s resolve hardened in that instant. The way he said those words, with that soft tinge to his voice…He was in pain. She was sure of it. He was just so disconnected from it all that didn’t even realize it himself, or worse, thought he deserved it.

“Don’t worry, Misane-chan! I’m fine! It’s not as if I’ll be around for much longer anyway.”

The fact that he might've read her thoughts just now, or had, before, didn't matter to her. 

“Nanase,” Misane interrupted, her sharp tone making him glance up at her in surprise. “I’ve made my decision. I’m not going anywhere.”

There was a case to be solved here, for sure. More importantly, there was a friend in need. Something anyone who knew her would agree upon was that Misane Mikoto was a meddlesome person when it came to helping people; she just couldn't leave a problem alone.

“Ahaha…A lot of people have said that.”

“But those people weren’t me. Would it be all right if I kept coming by to see you?” A pause. “Frequently?”

“Of course. Like I said, I’m usually free in the evenings.”

“When was the last time you ate out?”

She couldn't help but feel gratified by how taken aback he looked at the sudden question. “I usually order in…”

“Tomorrow, we’re going to dinner,” Misane declared, that same tone of finality creeping in. He needed to get out of his apartment and socialize somewhere outside of his job. That was the first step she was deciding upon.

Nanase’s lips twitched with amusement. His smile was kinder, more genuine, though also edged with that teasing tilt again. “Didn’t we only just meet?”

“It’ll be a good way for us to keep getting to know each other. Are you all right with that?”

“If it makes Misane-chan happy,” he chuckled.

“Are you okay with that?” Misane stressed.

Nanase looked puzzled. “Yes? If you’re okay with it.”

But what are you thinking?

Maybe she’d uncovered part of the problem. Yoshi Nanase had little to no opinion about anything and generally just went with the flow. Even during the rare times when he made somewhat snide remarks, he still happily obliged the opposite party.

Maybe a restaurant would be good practice. He had to pick something for himself then, right?

Sighing, Misane took the glass in hand again and sipped it, watching the ice bob up and down, the cold condensation gathering on her hands.

“Nanase?”

“Yes?”

Misane made herself comfortable. His eyes were bright and attentive when they met hers, and she thought that, surely, he was exaggerating—that there was nothing wrong with being a little weird.

After all, maybe she was the weird one for becoming so invested in him, for wanting to pay back his kindness with kindness of her own.

“How was your day?” she asked, mildly, sincerely.

Nanase must’ve found something about that funny, because he laughed again.

“Well…”

(In truth, he just couldn’t remember the last time someone had cared enough to ask.)

Chapter Text

She only realized how little of a difference her attempts to broaden his social circle had been making once he revealed to her what was behind the locked door—and his plans regarding it.

Nanase made no effort to keep this particular secret from her. In his ever obliging way, he met her inquiry with a smile once she asked after it, following a week or so of getting to know him.

“I’m building a time machine.”

(After that, however, getting the truth from him became substantially more difficult.)

Misane’s eyes widened behind her fingers, her usual thoughtful pose startled into something more expressive. She even jumped a bit. “…A time machine?

Nanase chuckled at her reaction. “Yes. Aren’t you interested? I can see that detective’s curiosity in your eyes.”

She watched him eat his second slice of pizza, sighing internally yet again at the infuriating casualness of it all. Misane decided to make small talk as she gathered her thoughts.

“…You’re going to make your body weak, eating nothing but pizza.” As the number of empty cartons in his apartment testified.

“Ahaha, you’re right, but I’ve never been very good at cooking.”

“We’re adding cooking lessons to our agenda.”

“Okay.”

(Not for the first time, she wondered why he was so accommodating.)

Misane said after a moment, “Why are you building a time machine, Nanase?”

It would’ve sounded nothing short of ludicrous coming from anyone else, but there wasn’t a problem in the world that Nanase couldn’t solve. If he said he was going to make a time machine, she had the feeling he’d accomplish it—and accomplish it quickly.

“I’m planning on fulfilling my goal of world peace.”

He’d mentioned that before. It was a lofty statement, something a child would write down without even the faintest idea of how to accomplish it. But, once again, if Yoshi Nanase desired it…

“How would a time machine aid you in accomplishing that task?”

“I’m afraid I’ll just have to ask you to trust me that it’s possible.”

Misane frowned at that. It was the first time he’d openly deflected a question of hers. As an extra kicker, he sounded genuinely apologetic, as though it pained him to utter such a thing. She scrutinized him, and he actually balked a bit under her stare.

“I-I’m still working the finer details out,” he explained.

“…Are you planning on harming anyone?”

“Absolutely not! Misane-chan should know me better than that by now.”

She sighed. “I see. That’s reassuring, but your secrecy regarding this isn’t, Nanase.”

He opened his mouth to reply, frowned, and then rolled his sleeve up. She watched him take a pink marker and begin to scrawl a veritable legion of numbers across his skin, all the way from his wrist to his inner elbow. He began to speak again halfway into his sudden task.

“It’s not because I don’t trust you, Misane-chan, it’s just that this is a delicate procedure. Once I’ve solidified things, I’ll be sure to let you know.”

“Hm. Wouldn’t you have already changed the past if you succeeded with your plan?”

“Time-space is more complicated than a simple straight line of cause-effect sequences. I won’t bore you with the details, but I have a theory on that. That’s actually what I’m writing right now.”

Misane peeked at his arm again, wondering how he got something so complicated as temporal theory out of a wall of assorted numeric code. She leaned forward in her usual spot—perched on the right side of Nanase’s sofa—massaging her forehead. This case just got a hundred times more complicated.

“You have a way of exhausting me like no one else can.”

Nanase laughed. “I’ve been told I have a gift for doing that.”

“Will you allow me to see the time machine?”

“When more progress has been made on it, sure!”

There was no point in further pursuing the topic. Nanase clearly had said all he was going to say on the matter. She straightened up, steepling her fingers. “Very well. If that’s the case, I have my own piece of info to share with you.”

He arched his eyebrows, glancing up from his arm and the ink staining it.

“…My father would like me to pass along a warning to you. In his words, ‘no funny business’.”

“Ah, Toukai-san! We’re acquainted. I’ve met him once or twice at security meetings regarding the Master Program.”

“He told me as much. For the record, I don’t believe you mean me any harm. If anything, I’m the one imposing upon you all the time.”

Nanase gave her that smile. The one that made her heart flip despite herself, that made her think of how she’d first met him, with a halo of light behind his head, during a point where she’d desperately needed someone to talk to.

He gave her that smile, and she blushed. Just a bit.

“I enjoy your company, Misane-chan.”

She wondered if he really—

“I mean it,” he added, reading her thoughts, or perhaps just to emphasize his point. She’d never know.

“…I enjoy yours as well, Nanase.”

“Ahaha…” His eyes drifted away from hers.

“I mean it,” she pressed.

His reply was quiet. “I know you do.”

He was sitting here, just like she was. Eating pizza and laughing and breathing.

Misane watched him with sad eyes as he went back to doodling upon his arm.

His heart beat, just like hers.

…It was far too early to give up.

Chapter Text

So, it turned out Nanase’s younger self—Nanashi, then, to distinguish them, though they were one and the same—wasn’t much different from the Nanase she knew. He was earnest and sincere and far too obliging for his own good, with just a hint of cheek that made her want to grab the pillow from his bed and sock him.

But when he smiled at her this time, it was blindingly bright. She tried not to think about the contents of the letter she’d leave him as he said, “I’ll be back, Misane-chan, Big Bro Mikado!”

He rushed out the door with an armful of items he intended to use to befriend the Hackers…

…leaving Misane alone with “Mikado”.

His eyes remained fixed on his computer as he typed away, though he had to be aware of Misane watching him. She deliberated for a few minutes—idly replying to messages through her BitPhone—before she spoke.

“…Nanase.”

He arched his eyebrows, gaze still fixated on his laptop. “Misane-chan?”

“Can I see the real you?”

That caught his attention. He looked over at her, wearing that mysterious smile of his. She thought it looked a little different, this time—for reasons other than the fact he was wearing a disguise.

“Of course. I just thought it’d be less confusing this way.”

There was a shimmer, same as before, and whatever holographic or cognitive means Nanase used to disguise himself disappeared without a trace. There was the Yoshi Nanase she knew and loved, ever-present smile fixed firmly upon his face.

“The time machine is going to take some more time,” he said without further ado, likely reading her thoughts. “…Pun not intended! I know how to build it, of course, but getting the parts I’ll need isn’t something I can rush much more than I already am.”

“Are you anticipating consequences if we linger in the past too long?”

“Hmm…Not at the present. But I don’t want you to worry, Misane-chan. Everything’s on track. I’ll make sure you get home safely.”

Something twisted in her stomach. A feeling of dread. She slid off the hovering chair she was perched upon, stepping around the (cat-themed) gifts Nanashi left her as she went to take a seat beside him. She steepled her fingers and looked out across the apartment.

It was almost like nothing had changed.

“Nostalgic, isn’t it?” Nanase remarked, resuming his typing.

“Yes.”

The clicking of keys filled the silence between them. The monitors on the wall hummed gently. It was so peaceful that she could almost believe everything that had happened so far had been a dream. No time machines. No Hackers. No barely avoided world-unification schemes.

Just Misane and Nanase. Alone together.

“Why did you say you’ll make sure I get home safely?”

He stopped typing.

“...Nanase?”

“Ahaha…Misane-chan’s smart. You’ll figure out why.”

She studied his face. There was a tension at the edges of his eyes and the corners of his mouth. His expression was as jovial as ever, but Misane…knew him.

The realization approached her with the force and certainty of an avalanche. The longer she looked at him, the more convinced she became.

She knew him.

It took traveling to the past and spending some time with his younger self, but after being around Nanashi so much—and combined with the time she’d already spent with his future self—all the little pieces lined themselves up before her, components of the case falling into place one by one.

“…We changed the past,” she said, slowly. “More importantly...we change you. Of…Of course 'you' won’t be there.”

In his tense expression, she saw just a hint of—

Misane embraced him.

Nanase startled, his laptop tumbling the short distance to the floor as she clung to that familiar white jacket, craning forward to hide her face in his shoulder. She could smell the shampoo he always used and—and here, she almost laughed—the faint scent of all that pizza he kept eating, because he never had time to cook, because he didn’t think he was worth the trouble, because he liked to cook but only with someone else around.

All the tiny little details she knew about him.

All the things he knew about her.

She hoped he took every single one of her wordless feelings right out of her head. She hoped he could read the pain, the sorrow, the frustration.

The care. The kindness. The love.

And then, she spoke anyway; because he may know her—perhaps, better than she knew herself—but Misane thought he needed to hear this spoken in her own voice, framed with her own words, uttered with her own breath, straight from the heart. Unmistakable and present and real.

“I’m going to miss you.”

Nanase was still for so long.

He balked from things like this. Didn’t think he deserved them. Misane pulled him closer in silent argument against those invading thoughts of his. She’d gotten through to Nanashi, but Nanase had had years and years to reinforce this kind of thinking. It would be harder for him to accept.

She was patient.

“What do you mean, ‘you’ll miss me’?” he chuckled. “I’ll be there. He’ll grow into someone better than me. Haha, I suppose I should be saying, ‘I’ will grow, but I think he’s become someone quite unique. I’m looking forward to the new future.”

You changed, Nanase,” she insisted. “You accepted that things changed for you in the past, and in doing so, you changed yourself. He’s Nanase. You’re Nanashi. No matter what name you go by, my feelings are always going to be the same.”

“But if we’re the same person, why are you saying you’ll miss me?”

Misane sighed, allowing herself to lean against his familiar warmth. “Because the ‘you’ in the future won’t be the ‘you’ I know now…but it won’t change anything. I’m looking forward to our future together, Nanashi.”

She jumped a bit as Nanase moved his arm, repositioning her against his shoulder so he could slowly stroke his fingers through her hair. He definitely had programmer fingers, Misane thought. They were slender and pale and completely without scarring or calluses—expected for someone who spent a lot of time indoors, pushing at nothing worse than a few touchpads all day.

“Thank you for believing in me, Misane-chan.”

The gratitude caught her off-guard. She stared at her clasped hands, knowing that if she looked up at him now—now, with his fingers in her hair and the warmth of his body against hers—she’d never be able to get a coherent word out.

“I did say I wouldn’t give up on you.”

“I shouldn’t have underestimated you,” he laughed.

She remembered him saying that no one had ever stuck with him as long as she had. Misane intended to keep this little detail a fact, no matter how many other friends Nanase made.

“…What’s going to happen to you?”

“I’ll disappear. I suspect that it’ll occur during the transit from this time, to ours.”

Misane’s heart twisted. “What if you just stayed in this time?”

“I would still eventually disappear. The best case scenario is that it will occur the moment Nanashi hits the age I was when I first left the unaltered time. It could happen much earlier. I have a theory on that, but I won’t bore you with the details…again!”

An idea entered her head just then. It wouldn’t help Nanase’s situation at all, but perhaps it’d provide some level of comfort. Straightening up a bit, she looked up at his dearly familiar face.

“Nanase, may I borrow a pen?”

He tilted his head to the side. “Sure!”

He passed her a pen with pitch black ink, and Misane balanced it between her fingers. “Roll up your sleeves.”

“I don’t think I have any more room—okay, Misane-chan!”

Her glare caused him to hastily roll up the sleeve on his right arm. Misane bent forward a little and started writing, taking care to retrace her pen strokes to make sure that the dark letters were visible against the neon pink of all the numbers cascading across Nanase’s skin like a waterfall. Once she was satisfied, she returned the pen to him.

Nanase arched an eyebrow as he looked down at her simple message. A soft smile formed, the kind that she’d always associated most with him. “That’s very kind of you to say, Misane-chan.”

“It’ll remain true. No matter where you go from here.”

He chuckled quietly, closing his hand into a fist. “...I guess I really have nothing to lose. Will you roll your sleeve up too?"

Misane obliged, putting her arm out. Taking a vivid pink pen from inside of his jacket, Nanase returned her message in his childish handwriting, all bubble letters and messy O’s.

She stared at the phrase for a long time, her cheeks just as pink as the pen.

“Ahaha. Misane-chan looks cutest when she’s blushing.”

“That’s enough,” she deadpanned, but there was a hint of a smile behind her fingers.

“I hope you smile even more often in the new future.”

The sentiment made her eyes soften. “I’m sure I will, with you there.”

She watched him scoot off the sofa, so he could grab his poor, toppled laptop off the floor. He returned it to his lap, adjusted the screen, and continued whatever he’d been doing before she interrupted him.

Misane went back to leaning against his shoulder.

In the near-perfect silence that followed, she imagined she could hear him saying the trio of words they’d just inscribed upon one another’s skin.

Chapter Text

Misane had been a little selfish in her letter.

The date that she’d requested Nanashi to meet her was very shortly after her return to her proper time. The contents of that message aside (she could scarcely recall it without blushing a bit); she was a little worried about something else.

Or, if she was being truthful, very worried about something else.

From her perspective, she would’ve stepped into the time machine just a few days ago, waking up in her bed as though nothing had happened. Why, exactly, the time machine deposited her into her bed, she didn’t know. Mikado—or rather, Nanase—had declined to comment on how his machine functioned. He simply informed her it would be a one-way trip, and the machine would have a one-time use.

“Is this a theory or a certainty?” Misane inquired.

“A theory. You’ll likely forget about the original, unaltered time…In fact, you may forget time-traveling altogether.” Nanase eyed his past self as he spoke, though he was addressing Misane. His next comment seemed to be for the both of them. “I would keep notes, just in case…at least until you see each other again.”

Nanase was Nanashi, it was true, but she still wanted to remember him as he was now. She wanted to remember the Nanase she first met, and see the person he would become. Forgetting the “original” Nanase—with him disappearing from time like this, too—it felt as if he would die, in a way. Nanashi was similarly a bit perturbed about the situation, and she could see the cogs spinning in his head as he sought a solution.

The Nanase from her time only had this to say. The last words she’d hear him utter before he activated the time machine, one hand closed tightly around hers.

“I’ll see you soon, Misane-chan.”

...She was worried that eight years was a long time.

Eight years was a very long period to hold onto a promise that might disappear forever into temporal space-time. Eight years was a very long stretch for reality to rewrite itself, to create a new era where a few small changes could alter so much.

Yoshi Nanase valued himself. Yoshi Nanase had friends. Yoshi Nanase had a promise to keep, a girl to meet on a certain day in the year 2230.

A few beats of a butterfly’s wings could cause a hurricane across the sea, as the saying went.

And so:

The park was the only place of natural greenery to be found in the city.

The automatic lights would come on soon. As it was, the sole illumination came from the setting sun, painting long shadows that stretched like questing fingers across the grass and play equipment and walkways. Despite the advent of darkness, Misane wasn’t too concerned. There were still a few people around, and even if there hadn’t been, well…

She’d come here to meet a friend, and would wait however long it took.

Her fingers were knitted on her lap as she sat, head bowed, mulling over what she’d been told.

He promised he’d meet me here. He promised.

Misane was prone to taking action when a problem presented itself. Unfortunately, this wasn’t something she could investigate, or pick apart, or interrogate others about. All she had to do was wait.

(It was the longest wait of her life.)

As time continued to pass, she became uncharacteristically anxious. Misane resisted the urge to pace, twisting her fingers in her lap, too distracted to read anything from her BitPhone or otherwise try to pass time with games, sightseeing, and the like. She was afraid to start the action of looking around, because if she did, she’d probably never stop; she’d end up looking utterly ridiculous, like a paranoid animal, head whipping every which way.

Patience was an important virtue for a detective, she told herself.

But this time? This one instance? She felt like she was going to burst out of her skin. What if he’d forgotten about her? What if he’d changed his mind and his feelings after eight years? What if he couldn’t make it, or didn’t care anymore, or—

“…I didn’t forget about you, Misane-chan.”

Misane startled—shown only as a small widening of her eyes—lifting her head to look at the owner of the voice at the exact moment the park’s lights blinked on.

The result was that the young man was shrouded in a halo of white. He smiled down at her like an angel, arms loosely folded, his voice soft and smooth and low.

(Despite herself, her heart skipped a beat.)

Misane straightened a bit, shifting her stance so she could see him clearer. She could hardly believe her eyes. She knew exactly who he was.

“…Nanashi?”

“Sorry I’m late!” He scratched his cheek. “I think I came in from the opposite end of the park, so I ended up searching all over the other side before I thought—”

Misane interrupted him with a rare show of emotion—a vigorous hug. She'd been giving him a lot of those, lately, but no one deserved one more. Her arms went around his waist and she was hit with the startling, vertigo feeling of nostalgia and confusion both, because she’d grown used to Nanashi being around her own height, but he was so tall now…or, had always been. She squeezed him with all the strength she had, and to her shock, he wrapped his arms around her and embraced her right back.

They stood like that for what felt like forever, sharing each other’s familiar warmth and presence. She heard Nanashi let out this great, contented sigh.

“I was worried too, actually. I was afraid Misane-chan would forget about me.” The admittance was said matter-of-factly, but there was something vulnerable creeping behind the words.

“That would never happen, Nanashi.”

They pulled apart, and Nanashi gave her this goofy smile that looked out of place on his older self’s face. She supposed she’d have to get used to it. It was different…but good different. Having to gaze up to meet his eyes, or the fact that he actually grabbed her hand without needing an invitation—

That was new. She’d have to get used to it. This slightly-more-forward Nanashi.

“I haven’t gone by Nanashi in a while,” he admitted with a sheepish chuckle. “It’s just Nanase now.”

“Nanase.”

He quirked an eyebrow at her at that utterance of his name, but Misane just hid her smile with the fingers of her free hand, turning a bit away from him. Her heart couldn't stop pounding. Was that something he could tell just from looking at her, too?

He’d waited eight years for her. Followed her letter’s request to the T, all in the name of preserving this future with minimal complications. And here they were, together once more; Nanase and Nanashi and Nanase again. Nanase and Misane.

(They’d have to wait some more for their age gap to not be so alarming, but that seemed like a trivial thing.)

“Can I give you my reply now?”

“…What do you mean?”

His eyes lit up with nervous excitement, and she retrieved her hand from his grip so she could fold her arms defensively.

“…That won’t be necessary. I think I know what you’re about to say.”

“But I’ve waited eight years to tell you, Misane-chan!”

With his newfound confidence came the ability and willingness to tease her. She was one hundred percent certain he was pulling that puppy-dog eyes look on purpose.

Yoshi Nanase, she decided in that moment, was an absolute headache in any timeline.

Nanase suddenly laughed, and Misane shot him a look.

And that…

(She couldn’t stay mad at him for long, though.)

…is the truth of this case.