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How to Play Cards

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It is a funny thing, silence.

It’s deadly quiet, as the name suggests, of course. Quiet enough to hear the blood rush in your ears as Aoi can now.

But at the same time it’s deafening. The blood coursing through his ears, his heart hammering in his chest, each individual breath that blew out through his nose were all devastatingly loud.

He keeps his eyes fixed forward through the dusty windshield wondering what comes next.

He doesn’t look to his right to see Light in the passenger seat, and he doesn’t look down to see his trembling hands.

No. He doesn’t. All he can do is look forward and wait for Akane to emerge from the brown fields of sand.

He’s lost her once before, and he refuses to lose her again. He’s lost everything before and he refuses to lose it again.

He wonders if Light feels the same. Light, sat in his personal darkness listening to the same silence he is.

Aoi’s lost count of the hours of silence they’ve sat through. This won’t be the last one. Maybe eventually they’ll begin to talk, actually talk, rather than the idle small talk they’ve been muddling through before deciding silence was less painful.

But they aren’t talking right now. They’re sitting, waiting, hoping, that their respective younger sisters will magically appear.

Clover won’t appear now, Aoi knows. She disappeared a week ago. It’s what led Light to him on this wild goose chase they’re both in looking for Clover, and eventually, maybe, Akane.

Aoi sighs at the thought of Akane, finally breaking the silence.

He closes his eyes for a moment and thinks of how differently his life might’ve gone if a single action hadn’t set off a chain reaction.

He thinks of how he and Akane could’ve grown up as regular kids with a regular family and friends. They hadn’t grown up regular though. They grew up traumatised and terrified; a teenaged stock broker and a time paradox.

A teenaged stock broker and a time paradox that had grown apart. Nine years with her and now silence. The drive away from Building Q, a year ago, had been silent like now.

They both knew that driving away was never something they wanted to do. There wasn’t much choice though. There was never any choice when it came to Akane’s plans. It was her way. No other option.

For a fleeting second he envies Light. He envies Light with his alive parents and regular sister and he envies the simplicity of a childhood he was robbed of.

He opens his eyes and the sheets of sand are unchanged. He sighs again.

“A penny for your thoughts?” Light breaks the silence for real.

“Seems like a cheap deal to me,” Aoi grumbles and leans against the window, which isn’t as cold as he’d like it to be.

“Then how much do you charge?”

“I’m yet to find out.”

There’s a lot of things he’s yet to find out. Why Akane’s been so distant and why she’s been so desperate to sign up for a mars test site or whatever the hell she had decided to focus on.

Akane didn’t trust him any more, that much was obvious. Of the next to nothing he now knows about his only family, that’s the thing he’s certain of.

Akane doesn’t tell him anything any more. Nothing about Clover’s disappearance which he somehow knows she’s involved with. She had taken her once before so what was to stop her again?

“I was thinkin’ ‘bout Akane.”

“Ah.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s supposed to mean; I should’ve known. She’s the centre point, isn’t she? The sun in which we revolve around.”

Aoi grimaces. He doesn’t want to be a planet. He doesn’t want to be a star, distant from Akane. He wanted to be the brother.

He wanted to be a regular twenty three year old who got drunk on weekends and blacked out. He wanted to do the whole normal thing, like dating and finishing school that he had dropped out of so early on.

Akane wasn’t the sun. She was a black hole. She consumed Aoi’s life and Aoi was powerless to stop her. He had to wait until he had drifted and become nothing.

He wanted so much and he got so little.

“I don’t want her to be the centre point,” he mumbles. “It’s my life. Why the hell is she the main star?”

“Life has dealt you your hand. All you can do now is learn to play cards.” Light twirled a strand of grey hair around his deft fingers. “Make your life your own, Aoi. Nothing is stopping you.”

He appreciated the sentiment but Light was wrong. He couldn’t take off and leave. Not like Akane could. That was the trait that didn’t run in the family. He couldn’t just run away. He was honour bound to Akane, to go along with her insane plans and listen to her ramblings on some obscure topic.

It was his duty to be the brother.

It just wasn’t Akane’s to be the sister.

He thinks back to 2027 and the Nonary Game he set up. He thinks back to the moment in the chapel room where he felt the weight of a golden gun in his hand.

He thinks of an itchy finger on the trigger and the desire to pull it, just to see what would happen.

He wonders what would’ve happened if he killed someone there. He thinks of Gentarou Hongou, lying on the floor and blood blossoming from his chest caused by a still smoking gun.

He relishes in the thought for a moment.

Aoi sits up straighter. It scared him, how easy it would be to take a life. He had done it, however indirectly. But to be the one behind the trigger, to be the one driving the knife.

That was something entirely new.

Something he could do, if he really wanted.

He swallows and hopes he will never have to find out if he is capable.

“Good for me because I am fucking excellent at poker.”

“I’m not.” Light deadpanns

“But I’m sure your boyish good looks, wit and charm all make up for it.” Aoi rolls his eyes. “After all, if you could play cards, you would be the perfect man.”

Something like a smile adorns Light’s lips. “I’ve got to give you a chance, I suppose.”

Aoi laughs at that.

He had missed Light. It had been eighteen years since they had talked properly. They were just kids then, scared and confused, but Aoi knew. He knew in that moment he wouldn’t ever forget Light.

He didn’t have enough memories of his friends. He only had a select few that he held special to him. Those from school had moved on, and Aoi was a stranger to them now.

Light was the only one who remained, really. For that, Aoi’s grateful. Even after learning Aoi abducted him and his sister to close a time paradox by dredging up long since buried traumas, he had stayed.

And stay he shall.

Aoi looks at Light, studying his profile, attempting to burn it into his mind. He can’t help the smile that sneaks onto his face.

Maybe he could get out of the black hole’s radius. Maybe the sun wouldn’t burn him. Maybe he didn’t need to get closer and he didn’t need to drift further away.

His life might not feel like his own, but that doesn’t matter. What mattered wasn’t what he was doing. What mattered was who he was doing those things with.

As he studies Light, he realises two things.

He wanted to do those things with Light. He wanted to try a life that wasn’t spent staring into the void and being sucked into the black hole.

The second and last thing was this, as he smiled his stupid smile at Light who couldn’t see; he might’ve been excellent at playing cards but he needed to work on his poker face.

Good thing Light was blind.