the new world isn’t exactly empty, but it’s still lonely, in a way.
sento has seen the counterparts of his former friends. and they’re better off, he can say that for certain. kazumin’s alive, dogged by the crows, and they tease him just as terribly as sento remembers doing himself. gentoku’s off working hard as always, almost reminding sento of the gentoku he first met - just without the influence of the pandora’s box corrupting him. misora’s smiled more in the few precious hours sento has spent at nascita than he’s seen in months and months, and owner -
it’s strange to see someone with evolt’s face. even if sento knows in the end, they were completely different people, that owner had no control in the matter at all - evolt was good at mimicking. it’s the same smiles, the same cheer, the affection without any of the white-hot bitterness that the memories were twisted with after the fact.
he still searches owner’s eyes for any hint of red when he visits, but the fact that the coffee is actually drinkable usually puts his paranoia at ease.
sento tries not to think about the other him - the other hims , the scientist who he once was, and the musician he now shares a face with. he’s had enough identity crises in the past year to last a lifetime, really, and he’s neither of them in the end. he’s kiryuu sento, built by everyone, built with love and peace. he doesn’t need anything else.
banjou, on the other hand, seems interested in the alternate him’s life. he watches the fights whenever they’re broadcasted - sento considers the other banjou’s natural hair color a stroke of luck, really, so that he doesn’t have to see a clone of banjou on the television.
once, he asked banjou if he was upset that the only banjou kasumi knows is the alternate one. banjou didn’t answer for a while, but in the end, just said “she’s happy” quietly.
even with all the baggage it came with, sometimes, it was just nice to watch the people mill around. a world with a different decade of experiences, without humans acting as weapons of war, without a planet-destroying force out for kicks.
it was peaceful, and sento thought he deserved that after it all.
so there he was, on a bench in the middle of a busy plaza, simply...people-watching. living vicariously, he guesses it could be called.
he’s certainly not expecting someone to sit down next to him.
sento’s certain the girl’s barely in high school, perhaps even younger - fourteen? fifteen? something like that. she’s not looking at him, orange pigtails low on her head and cascading down, and she kicks her legs, even with the cooking apron she has on. some sort of chef, at that young?
“it’s nice, isn’t it?” is she talking to him? sento assumes so - it’s not like she seems to be looking at anyone else in particular. “how peaceful it is.”
“is it not supposed to be?” sento asks back. middle schoolers certainly have a lot going on - even if he doesn’t remember it well. or at all. he was a different person back then, after all - but he doesn’t exactly think “peace” is one of the most important things to them.
“well, i mean, of course it’s supposed to be!” the girl looks sheepish, rubbing the back of her head. “but y’know what i mean! it’s nice that everything’s back to normal.”
that stops sento in his tracks.
the thing with the new world is that it is normal. it’s always been normal. for the past ten years, these people have only known the normal day-to-day life that any earth should have.
she looks at him then, her magenta eyes oddly soft. she smiles slightly.
“you did that, right?”
sento doesn’t respond for a moment - what is he supposed to say to that? as far as he knows, this world doesn’t even know what kamen riders are, so it’s not like he can just say ‘oh, yeah, I was a superhero that saved everyone, they just don’t remember it.’
luckily, the girl seems to notice her bluntness, and her eyes go wide as she stammers something.
“o-oh, did i scare you, or something? i didn’t mean that, really, i promise! it’s just that - i was wondering who did this, a-and, it has to be you, so - !”
she’s flailing a little, and sento notices her necklace slip out from the cover of her pink dress. there’s not much to it, really, just a silver string of beads that looks more like plastic than anything, but sento’s drawn to what they’re attached to.
what looks like a charm of some sort of cake, a rabbit decorated on the top.
there’s something oddly bright about it.
it’s not like this girl can really be an enemy, honestly. she’s young, bright red from her earlier statement, and strangely...bright. it’s like seeing hojo or one of the other riders - there’s a trust there.
“calm down,” sento responds, watching as the girl freezes, her hands still covering her mouth.
the rational response, really, is that she’s simply mistaken him for someone else, someone she must admire. so it’s better to keep the conversation going, and find out who she’s mistaken sento for.
“i’m not scared, either,” he adds. “but i would like to know who you are.”
“oh! oh, right, that.” she laughs a little to herself, and sento notices her fidget with the cake charm. “um…”
she stands up, stretching her arms out as if she’s about to give the world a hug.
“i’m usami ichika! i love sweets, and i’m a second year - er, third year in middle school!” she sits down, staring up at the sky. “well, i would be. kinda working on other things, ehe…”
ichika kicks the ground again, and there’s a wistful look to her. sento’s seen it before, on misora most of all. when she’s missing the early days, that first year with her and sento and owner and no one else.
nostalgia, even tainted with bitterness, is still nostalgia.
“i guess i just wanted to make sure...you weren’t alone,” ichika murmurs, staring at her hands on her knees. “i didn’t want you to be lonely.”
it’s a childish thing. and sento isn’t alone, not with banjou still sticking around against all odds. even if banjou wasn’t there, he wouldn’t be lonely. he knew what he was getting himself into with this.
well, he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be lonely.
“of course i’m not alone!” he says proudly instead, leaning back on the bench. “not all adults are lonely, you know.”
“not that.” her hands curl into themselves tightly.
sento gives her a quizzical look.
“it’s okay. i know i just look like a kid to you.” ichika pauses for a moment, a hand slowly moving up to the cake charm and closing around it. “and it’s probably something you don’t want to talk about, but still...i really want to know.”
a deep breath. ichika doesn’t look at him, but sento can see her hand shake.
“are you happy? with how the world is now?”
there’s a few dozen possibilities running through his head as soon as ichika says the words.
the first is that it’s a misunderstanding, or that she misspoke, even if they seem unlikely with how serious the girl is. the next is that the merger really didn’t work as well as it was supposed to, that sento and banjou’s existences are symptoms of something worse. the next -
he realizes that he’s been tuning ichika out, and she’s mumbling something else. quietly, but it’s still there.
“-i mean, it probably happened for a good reason. like i said, i’m happy everything’s peaceful! it’s just...a world without heroes…”
she rubs at her eyes, even with a smile.
“it hurts, doesn’t it? like they don’t need you.”
“the people don’t exactly like heroes,” sento responds, pushing his thoughts aside. they simmer, as they usually do, and continue to run through other scenarios, but they shouldn’t be his main priority at the moment. he’ll figure it out soon enough, won’t he? “even if you fight for them, fight for that peace, they’ll see the heroes as the sign of trouble. and it’s not exactly like they’re wrong.”
“then do you think it’s better to not have heroes at all?” ichika asks.
that makes sento laugh to himself.
“no, not at all!” ichika looks surprised at his sudden change in attitude, so sento continues. “no matter what, there’s going to be upheaval. the peace will be shattered by the villains, with or without the heroes. heroes appear because the people need them. even if they take the brunt of that hate, heroes fight to restore that peace, because it’s the right thing to do. because the people need them to.”
“...right. it’s because of everyone. that’s why we fight.” ichika moves a little closer, but she still doesn’t meet sento’s eyes. even in close proximity, she looks miles away.
“it’s not like this world doesn’t have heroes, you know. there’s all sorts of heroes on tv.” banjou likes to watch them, sometimes. he, of course, gripes that it seems a lot simpler on tv. sento just laughs and says that’s why they’re working on the scripts together.
ichika doesn’t respond, just smiling, looking at the ground.
a moment too late, sento realizes what she said.
‘ why we fight. ’
“i know,” she starts, slow and careful. “what it’s like. to remake the world. to have people forget things.”
and there it is again. that wistful look, like ichika’s thinking back on memories long gone. it’s a strange, solemn look on a teenager.
“it’s not the same, not like what you did.” her legs kick back and forth, and she shakes her head. “my friends still remember me, and all that. but it kinda...keeps me out of all this. lets me stay the same, even when i shouldn’t be.”
it’s taken far too long for sento to accept the obvious answer here, just because it shouldn’t be possible. still, if there’s one thing he knows by now, it’s that impossible things are just as likely to happen as anything else.
“you remember the old world.” it’s not a question. it’s just a fact. that’s what she hasn’t wanted to tell him outright.
ichika nods, fidgeting with the charm on her necklace again.
“the world this earth merged with. it’s mine.” she pauses. “it’s ours. we made it.”
not it was mine. ‘it’s mine’.
the part about ‘making’ it comes second.
“so then, you were some sort of hero, too?” it’s odd thinking of the teenager here as a fighter. sento realizes that he doesn’t want to. it was bad enough having people fight at all, but children? it makes him wonder about what the other world was like, and none of the ideas coming to mind are particularly good.
“mm. the legendary warriors, pretty cure. well, uh, i’m technically a legendary patisserie? like, we make sweets, and things, and it helps people with their feelings and hearts…” ichika taps a finger against her chin. “but i mean, we still fight! with everyone’s love.”
“pretty cure, huh?” sento doesn’t recognize the name, but there’s an odd feeling of relief that she isn’t a kamen rider. even if her world had had a rider system created for different means, there’s still a sharp line that shouldn’t be crossed.
there’s a moment where sento has never been more grateful that katsuragi decided to fade away when he did.
“hm, well, i’m not something as interesting as a legendary patisserie,” and ichika gives him such a disbelieving look, it’s almost silly. “just kiryuu sento, a kamen rider, and a genius physicist.” he stresses it like he does with banjou, and ichika blinks for a second, before pouting.
it makes sento laugh, actually. “what’s all that for?”
“you don’t have to rub it in! my grades got better!” she sticks out her tongue, and it feels a lot more genuine than the quietness from before.
two heroes, hiding their secrets with smiles, even if the smiles have become more genuine after everything ended. there are still things unspoken, pushed farther and farther away.
it’d be nice to keep it that way, but sento can’t leave without the answers. the smile on his face becomes a little stiffer, and even though it’s such a minor change, he can tell when ichika notices.
“you said you made the world.” at sento’s words, ichika stiffens again, her eyes darting away. “then, did it end before?”
a slow nod. ichika doesn’t answer, as if she’s willing the conversation to end. sento wants to push more, and the idea that it’s maybe not the best course of action takes a slight backseat to the way he’s piecing together what the pretty cure ichika did.
“you survived it. and you did something else to bring it back. you don’t belong here either, and that’s why you remember it.”
there’s too many gaps, too many vague inconsistencies, but it’s enough that ichika brings her knees to her chest.
“it was gone,” she says, and she’s a million miles away. “the earth was gone. all of it. everything. everyone.”
“every ten minutes,” evolt says, “a section of this country will be destroyed. like this!”
and there’s a hole in the sky, just like in the footage of mars, a black hole. but unlike the footage, sento can see the people desperately fighting to escape it, can hear the way people are screaming, until it becomes static in his ears and he has to focus back on evolt.
“the quicker you get to the top, the more people you’ll save!”
like it’s all a game to him.
sento pulls himself out of the memory, but the static is still there for a moment. even if it had been over a month by now, if he lets himself think about anything too much, it’s like the stitches carefully placed over the wounds rip open.
ichika’s silent again, and sento doesn’t know if he missed anything that she said. he opts to try a place a hand over her own.
it’s easier than saying he understands, even if he only keeps the contact for a moment. ichika looks at him for an even quicker moment, looking much too vulnerable than sento would like any kid to look.
she pulls her hand away before sento can do the same.
“i had to be brave. couldn’t give up.” sento nods, even as he sees her squeeze her eyes shut. she’s shaking, and she really does need someone to comfort her, but sento isn’t the right person. not right now, when he’s feeling the same way. “everyone was supporting me. and i didn’t want to disappear. i didn’t want everyone to disappear.”
“it’s hard,” sento replies, but ichika seems to curl up more. he searches for the right words. “you did your best. and you’re here, now.”
“everyone was counting on me. my friends were there with me. but it felt lonely.”
misora, barely holding on, the one who had to bear kazumin’s fate. gentoku fighting in every moment until his last, sento unable to move as the helmet shattered around him. banjou pushing sento away with a ‘thanks’.
yeah, sento knew what it felt like to be alone even with everyone around him.
“and...space is really cold, did you know? really empty. really...quiet.”
so much had happened in a moment. one moment, evolt had turned into his true form. the next, sento was with him, on another world, with alien life. the next,
it had all ended. it was all gone. it was completely gone.
he had watched a genocide happen in a matter of minutes.
and that was what evolt wanted to do to the world.
sento knew that one, too.
“it’s fixed now, though,” ichika says, and her grip on the skirt of her dress loosens. she opens her eyes slowly, but turns away from sento so that he can’t see. “we fixed it. we used everyone’s souls, and we remade the world. and it’s okay. no one remembered.”
“just you,” sento finished.
maybe no world is without its own hell to go through. maybe the world that’s wrong is the one smashed together, the one built from two halves that just so happened to fit together perfectly. a best match.
“i know,” sento responds, staring out into the crowd. “i’m the same.”
“...yeah. you’re alone too, right?” she’s still avoiding him, determined to look at the ground, so sento just listens. “i figured it out. when the world changed. that there was something wrong. your kirakiraru...your soul is different, too. like mine. but you seem happy.”
“this is what i wanted,” he says, and he’s trying to convince himself that he doesn't need to convince himself that it’s the truth. “my friends don’t remember the other world, or kamen riders, or me, or any of it. and that’s good. their lives are better.”
“i don’t understand,” ichika says, but it’s oddly more frustrated than confused. she shakes her head. “i really don’t get it.”
her hands shake as she grabs at her chest, the dress wrinkling around her heart.
“i didn’t lose anyone. it’s not the same. everything was just...so normal, after. like everything that had happened before didn’t exist.” her eyes finally meet sento’s again, and sento sees the small tears she was trying to hide. she’s smiling, a valiant effort to cover it up, but sento knows that he’s still giving her a pitying look, even if he doesn’t mean to. “i couldn’t stay. everyone was going to leave, and i didn’t want to be left behind. i didn’t want to be alone and scared again. i still wanted to help people. so i left, so i wouldn’t be left alone.”
ichika stands up so suddenly that the bench rattles slightly in protest.
“and you’re like me. but you’re strong, and you can stay here, and you don’t want to run away. even though you were already alone. it’s not fair. why are you so much stronger?” her hands ball into fists, and she wipes her eyes. “i’m - i’m supposed to be the senpai, but i’m scared, and lonely, and - and -”
her voice cracks.
“i don’t like it. i don’t like being normal. i wanna be a hero again, and help people, and not be scared anymore. ‘cause i don’t want to sit and think about it and get scared anymore.”
sento stares up at ichika, even though she seems so small in the moment. it’s strange, to have a kid there, crying, overwhelmed with the whole situation - it’s strange to talk about the feeling of being alone at all.
because it aches. the feeling of not being needed. it’s true that the people don’t want heroes, but they need heroes, and it’s nice to have a purpose propelling you on. that even if the whole world feels like it’s crumbling around you, there’s a purpose to it all, that you can do something about it.
sento thinks that’s why the other riders jump into action so quickly. not just because they can, but because they want to. to keep all the reasons that they fight for close to them, so that at a moment's notice they can be what they’re meant to be once more.
it’s the parts outside of that which are harder. trying to create a life from the shattered remains of wars past, even if no one remembers it. even if the world’s at peace, it’s hard to convince himself that it’s going to be okay.
banjou’s much more open about his feelings, about the paranoia, way too defensive about everyone he sees that he recognizes. it’s helpful, because that way sento can pretend he’s fine with the peace, can be the reasonable one out of the two of them.
and if you pretend well enough, you can fool yourself. sento found that out a long time ago.
“it’s okay,” sento starts out, trying to defuse the situation before ichika’s emotions overflow and he really does start thinking too hard about everything he’s been working hard to push down after the advent of the new world. but he stops, still, and ichika’s words from before sink in.
“i guess i just wanted to make sure...you weren’t alone.”
even with loneliness threatening to overcome her, she wanted to help someone else, first. and that’s what makes the tears look so wrong on her, really - the fact that sento can absolutely tell that a smile comes more naturally to her.
sento stands up and places a hand on ichika’s head, smiling at her.
“you know, you don’t need to cry. you’re still a hero, after all.”
ichika wipes her eyes once more, staring up at sento.
“you wanted to help, right?” ichika nods vigorously. “well, that’s the most important thing of being a hero, right? bringing smiles back to everyone’s faces. at least, that’s the part I like.”
“y-yeah.” a sniff. she’s still fighting hard not to let more tears show, and a slow, small smile parts her face. “that’s the part I like, too.”
“and that includes yourself, too,” sento emphasized, poking ichika on the forehead. “you know, it’s hard to make people smile if you’re unable to make yourself smile. you kept that bottled up for a while, right?”
“...been six months since i left.”
there’s a pout, and ichika frowns.
“...you’re the same, though.” sento raises an eyebrow at that.
“really? i’m the responsible adult here, you know. i’m doing just fine.”
“you’re not. keep staring off into space.” ichika crosses her arms. “you’re just as bad as me. you got me to talk, but you kept being silent.”
there’s a moment when the smile freezes on sento’s face, when he thinks of the height of the original war against hokuto, where all he did was stay silent and think - but he pushes it aside again, and just laughs a little.
“hm? there’s not much to talk about. i mean, banjou - my sidekick and i are working on a podcast with it all, anyway, so there’s no need to tell it right now -”
ichika stands on her tiptoes and flicks him in the forehead.
sento draws back, blinking in surprise, and ichika’s fidgeting again, looking quite grumpy. she sits back down on the bench, kicking her legs a little, and sighs.
“maybe part of being an adult is being all stubborn and secretive. but i don’t think that’s fair.” she sighs again, but the tension is gone from her. “what happened to the world wasn’t that long ago. so...you don’t have to talk about it. but, um...i just want to ask one thing. and you have to answer it truthfully, okay?”
“fine, fine.” sento sits himself back down. “ask away.”
“you have to be honest.” ichika stares at him, as if she’s looking for anything that would give away a lie. “are you happy? with what happened?”
a loaded question.
theoretically? of course he should be happy. It was really the best outcome of all available options - banjou and him are safe (and alive! that’s a miracle in itself, honestly), they even found each other again. the others are living the lives they meant to have, without ten years of some alien influence corrupting them. misora got to grow up, and have a proper dad. kazumin’s friends are still alive, and he didn’t lose himself to a war. gentoku’s father is alive, and he was never influenced by the pandora’s box. evolt never existed, and will never return.
it’s exactly what he wanted.
so sento says that, leaving out the too-personal details.
“this is the right outcome. it’s exactly what should have happened, and everyone’s better off.”
but ichika frowns. it’s a different frown from before, where the last one was with an indignance to it, this one simply seems...sad.
“that’s not what i asked,” she says, quietly. “i asked if you were happy.”
theoretically, he should be.
is sento happy?
ichika kept asking him if he was lonely. and sento knew that the new world was lonely, in a way. in a way . but it was fine, and he was perfectly happy, even if him and banjou were out of their depth, picking up the pieces of a life no one remembered, living with a lifetime of hell built up over ten years, unable to talk to anyone else about it -
“if i let myself be selfish about it? i don’t think so.”
ichika just nodded.
for a moment, all they had was a long, peaceful, silence.
and it wasn’t lonely, this time.
“you know, you look like a bunny when your hair sticks up like that.”
“the more accurate term would be rabbit. and you look like one too, with your pigtails!”
“then we’re bunnies together, then!”