Trauma Button A Paradox Live Fansite
Hidden Track "MEMORY" (cozmez Chapter)
Be Rewarding One.

A clear and refreshing wind was blowing on the rooftop of an abandoned building. Three boys stood watching the clouds race by in the blue sky. The air was so clear that it was easy to forget they were in the heart of a dirty slum.

"The breeze up here feels nice, doesn't it?" Kanata said, and in response, Shiki nodded his agreement.

"Yeah, I like the atmosphere up here. I wish I'd thought to come here more often," Shiki said, and glanced beside Kanata; following Shiki's eyeline, Kanata turned as well. There stood Nayuta-- not Kanata's phantometal illusion, but the real, actual Nayuta.

"It's great, isn't it?" Nayuta said. "When you're up here, it feels like everything that's happened to you can just be carried away by the breeze. Though I suppose, since I've been more or less bedridden, you two have been through more than I have, right?"

"... yeah, a lot has happened," Shiki said, nodding slowly as though he were chewing on the question. He had been unable to help Nayuta when the metal erosion had become terminal, and had fallen into a deep depression. Afterwards, he had been picked up by Saimon, and then participated in the Paradox Live as part of The Cat's Whiskers. He'd had an encounter with the phantom Nayuta, and though he was deeply upset and blamed himself for Nayuta's death, he had managed to face the past with the support of Saimon, Yohei, and Ryuu.

"... I was weak. And I spent so long running away. But because there were people who supported me, who I was able to form a connection with, I was able to go on rapping. And then... I was finally able to see you again, Nayuta-kun."

"I've been through a lot, too," Kanata said, tracing back his memories as he looked at the sky. "Far as I can remember, I was a real bastard. I got off to a shitty start with SUZAKU from BAE. I even got told off by the Nayuta phantom I had made... even when you weren't around, Nayuta, you kept saving me. ... I act like I'm such hot shit, but the truth is I can't cut it on my own. I've been relying on everyone around me to get by."

The straightforward, boneheaded passion of BAE and their music; Iori, who was helping him to sort out his memories, albeit in a roundabout way; Zen and the other guys from Akan Yatsura who tried their best to support him by being friendly and cheerful, and...

"And Shiki, too. By becoming friends with Nayuta, you've probably helped me out a lot too."

"I... I didn't really do anything, though," Shiki said, but he didn't sound quite as down on himself as he used to. Recognizing this, Kanata cracked a smile.

"Man, while I was out, you guys have both grown up a lot, huh?" Nayuta said with a pout, giving the smiling Kanata and Shiki a pointed, slightly jealous look.

"B-but! I'm really glad that Nayuta-kun is back," Shiki said.

"Yeah... for real. I got something way more important than winning the tournament, and way more valuable than any pile of prize money. Thanks, Nayuta. For coming back home," Kanata said.

"Aah. I'm the one who didn't do anything, I spent the entire time knocked out. There was nothing I could do. But..." Nayuta squinted up at the sun, and then peered over the railing of the rooftop.

Remembering what had happened here in the past, Shiki grew tense.

"It's fine, I'm not gonna do anything," Nayuta muttered with a slightly apologetic smile. "I... maybe it's my punishment that the real me wasn't able to compete alongside Kanata. I worried Kanata, and I made Shiki cry. Back then, I selfishly made a choice that wasn't mine alone to make."

"... Nayuta..." Kanata said quietly, staring at Nayuta's back.

In response, Nayuta turned around with furrowed eyebrows and a smile. "Hey, if I wanted to tell the story of all the trouble I put you through, would the two of you hear me out?"

He turned to face them. Standing before Nayuta was his own mirror image in Kanata, and Shiki gripping his rosary. Gradually, Nayuta began to talk about the past-- the things Kanata didn't know, and the things Shiki didn't know-- the things only Nayuta knew about that day. Standing here in the gentle breeze, Nayuta began to confess his sins.

"So, back then, I..."


The way things began was in a dirty back alley at night.

Nayuta struggled to catch his breath while Kanata desperately pulled him along by the hand as they ran.

"You brats, you ain't getting away from me!" a gruff voice called out from somewhere behind them. Nayuta could see their pursuers out of the corner of his eye-- a group of men, some of them gripping what looked like rusty iron pipes, and they looked like they meant business. Just when it looked like they had hit a dead end, Kanata raised his voice. It was like he knew exactly what Nayuta was thinking.

"It'll be fine. They're too big, they won't be able to follow us if we hide in here," Kanata said, pointing out a hiding spot.

"Yeah, I'm not worried. Kanata is with me, after all."

"Hah... that's right! And I've got Nayuta with me."

"And the two of us together are unbeatable."

They both sucked in their breath squeezed into a gap between two buildings. Nobody else would have been able to follow them into this hiding spot; they only fit because they were so small and scrawny. Hiding under the cover of the slum's darkness, they completely vanished right from under the nose of the adults.

They went as far into the gap as they could, huddling together and trying to catch their breath. Nayuta's hand trembled from fear; Kanata gripped it tightly. As Nayuta squeezed back with all of his strength, his hand stopped shaking, the two of them supporting each other. Soon enough, the men chasing them passed right by their hiding spot. Only once their voices faded away into the distance did Kanata and Nayuta heave a sigh of relief.


"... ngh."

The next thing he knew, Nayuta was looking up at a very familiar ceiling of a dark and shitty apartment. It was probably two or three in the morning by now. Even in the dark it was plain to see that this place was a dump, but even so, Nayuta felt a sense of relief; dump or not, it was still their apartment.


As he tossed and turned under the covers, he felt a tingling pain on his cheeks. This was enough for him to remember what had happened. They had been participating in a Phantom Live. They had won the prize money, but they'd been accosted on the way back home by a losing participant and his entourage of underlings.

"Are you hurt, Nayuta?" a voice from right beside him asked.

He turned his face to look over at him, and was met with Kanata's face close to his own. Even in the low light, Nayuta could make out Kanata's eyebrows knitted in worry.

"Just a little. That dude who hit me was wearing a ring, like some kind of jackass."

"Bastard..." Kanata growled, almost animalistic. The atmosphere quickly turned gentle, however, as Kanata reached out to gently cup Nayuta's cheeks. The warmth of his hand felt nice, and Nayuta lifted his own hands to place them atop Kanata's.

Huddled together on a single narrow futon, they touched each other to prove that they were both still there.

They put their foreheads together, close enough for their breath to intermingle, and spoke in hushed tones like they were telling each other a secret. It probably wasn't necessary, but they still wanted to convey the feeling of secrecy and intimacy between the two of them. They lived in a dump of an apartment in a dangerous slum, where nobody even cared if two unsupervised children were living alone, but they still managed to make it feel like a home.

"Those dudes were fucking losers," Kanata said. "What kind of asshole loses to a kid and tries to take it out on them? Beating up some shitty brat for beating you doesn't mean you didn't get out-rapped by a kid."

Kanata spat out insult after insult, and Nayuta nodded his agreement.

"I guess we hit the mark with our diss," Nayuta said. "I mean, coming at us with a bunch of flashy jewelry that he bought on his parents' dime, writing shallow music in some cushy house, and then he's going to come to us acting like he knows what it's like on the streets? Come on, we would've won with both hands tied behind our back."

A giggle grew into laughter that shook their thin futon. It was just the two of them in a quiet, dark room. Their voices overlapped, their fingers interlaced; they were one. This was a sense of security that only twins could feel-- the same blood, the same voice, the same body heat. It was as if nothing else in the world existed. At moments like this, they felt as if they were invincible.

After a moment, Nayuta slipped his eyes closed. "Ah... we're still cold, and hungry, and everyone around us is still full of shit. But... even so, it's so much better to be free rather than living in that institution."

"Yeah, that fucking place... no, not just that institution. Everywhere we've been up to now has been awful," Kanata said bitterly.

They were born to a whore living in a slum, not even knowing who their father was. There was no love at all between them and their mother. Whenever she had a bad day, she would take it out on them by hitting them; even when she didn't have a bad day, she would hit them just for the hell of it.

She would constantly say things like, with these brats around, no man will come near me, and they cost so damn much to feed and my life would be so much easier if I had just gotten an abortion.

"At least now we can afford to eat ramen every once in a while," Kanata said. "The first time we had ramen, I was shocked, I didn't think anything could taste that good."

"You really like ramen, huh, Kanata?"

"And you like gyoza. And hamburgers, too."

"Mmm. Hamburgers were the only thing she'd ever bring us without us having to ask... even if they were cold by the time we got them."

"And even that much was still more than we still got in that institution."

One day, after spending so long living with a woman they could barely call their mother, "help" had arrived-- though they hadn't asked for it, and didn't want it. Adults in suits took them out of that woman's custody, in accordance with some bullshit government policy. They were taken away and put into a facility that took care of orphaned children. But if under that woman's roof was the worst possible place to live, then this facility was the next runner up.

They were fed nothing but dry bread, flavorless soup, and vegetable scraps. The children living there were all malnourished and depressed. The adults barely did their jobs and lashed out at the kids who made any noise.

There was no place for them to belong in a world run by adults who were all full of shit. They were born into a world that didn't want them.

Compared to all of that, even a small, run-down apartment where they could be alone together was vastly happier.

"... Kanata," Nayuta said, and squeezed Kanata's hand. Kanata laughed and squeezed back. It was warm; it was soft. He could feel Kanata's pulse. He could feel that Kanata was still here with him. "We'll always be together, right?"

"Yeah. We'll always be together."

A happy closed system; the world felt at peace. It felt like time had stopped with just the two of them, having reached a gentle equilibrium.


When Nayuta woke up, Kanata was gone.

The curtains were still closed, but the light that managed to get through the cracks made Nayuta wince. The day was already quite bright; it must have been around noon. Kanata left behind a note on the pillow saying that he would be out for a while.

It seemed like Kanata had been going out alone a lot these days. When he asked about what Kanata was doing, he had gotten brushed off with an unsatisfying non-answer. Even if Kanata didn't say it, though, the fact that new equipment for trackmaking and new sewing supplies kept popping up around the apartment were a pretty good indicator.

If Kanata was just taking on part-time jobs in secret, what did he have to be so evasive about?

Nayuta's thoughts were bitter, but in truth, their material living conditions were getting better, so it was hard to stay mad.

When it comes to keeping secrets, I don't have a lot of room to talk, do I? Nayuta thought to himself.

Nayuta departed from the house himself, chewing on a bit of dry bread. It was so hard that it might have passed for a biscuit of some description[1]>, but for the fact that it didn't have any sugar in it.

He didn't have any work today, so he wanted to take advantage of his free time to go scrounge up some new stage outfits for Kanata - really, he just wanted to see Kanata looking stylish, even without the excuse of stage outfits. To save some money, rather than buy new clothes, he decided to venture out to the edge of the slums. In the border area between their slum and the rest of the city, there lived a rather eccentric old man who was careless with his money. He bought numerous clothes and then threw them away while they were still perfectly usable, so if he was willing to dig, then Nayuta could find plenty of clothes on the cheap. Admittedly, these clothes wouldn't fit them as they were, so Nayuta had made something of a hobby of modifying them to the right length and fit.

This was particularly economical, so Kanata had once asked him why he couldn't just get all of their clothes this way; but Nayuta wouldn't be satisfied unless he had some brand-new things, too. When they first escaped from the institution, Nayuta had been able to express himself freely with fashion for the first time. He had been surprised by how well anything fashionable suited Kanata, and he wanted to spend his entire life enjoying it.

"... hm?"

Nayuta was caught up in his excited thoughts, but he was met with a distressing sight when he rounded a corner.

It was too one-sided to count as a fight, per se; it was more like a mugging. A large, rough-looking man was holding up a small young man by the lapels. The boy was dressed in clothes that looked completely out of place in a slum. He had slightly frizzy chestnut-colored hair and a small body, but rather than being emaciated like Kanata and Nayuta, he simply seemed to have a small build.

Some brat wandered into the slums and got in over his head? Should've been more careful. Not my problem, Nayuta thought and tried to ignore it as he walked by, but then he noticed the face of the thug.

It's that guy.

Nayuta remembered the pain in his face. It was the leader of the rappers who had been giving him and Kanata grief yesterday- the guy who had punched him in the face. Upon realizing this, a wave of anger swept over Nayuta. This guy had put a damper on Nayuta's good mood; he had been all ready to celebrate his victory with Kanata. They would have gotten ramen and gyoza from Raimentei on the way home.

This dude's wide open.

By the time he had that thought, it was already too late to stop himself. Nayuta crept up in the shadows, walking lightly so as not to give himself away, and then kicked the thug in the dick from behind with all his might.


His screams of pain were music to Nayuta's ears, and the sight of him collapsing like a newborn deer was icing on the cake.

"That's for the poor-person cosplay, asshole."

To add insult to injury, Nayuta spit on the man as he writhed in pain on the ground. Nayuta rarely picked fights on his own, but this felt well-deserved. It felt great to bring some shitty adult down a peg. Nayuta took off to continue his errand, feeling satisfied. He'd kicked as hard as a soccer player going for a goal, so the guy was probably going to be down for the count for a while.

After taking a few more alleyways and shortcuts, Nayuta found the place he was looking for. There were plenty of clothes that had been thrown away, and-

"Um, excuse me!"

Nayuta tensed as a voice called out to him from behind, but-

"Oh, it's just you," Nayuta said. Standing there behind him was the boy who had been caught up in the mess with the thug. He was sweaty and out of breath, like he had had to run to keep up with Nayuta. "The hell you think you're doing? You keep hanging out around here, you're gonna be a sitting duck."

"Um, no, it's just-" the boy said.

"Jeeze. Calm down before you try to talk. Are you in some kind of hurry?"

"Um, I, I- I just-"

"You just what?"

"I just wanted, to, to thank you-"

"... huh?" Thank-yous and gratitude were, to Nayuta's mind, something that only really existed between himself and Kanata, so he was a little bit taken aback by this boy thanking him for anything. "... well, whatever. I didn't do it to help you. I just had a bone to pick with that guy."

"Well... you still helped me, so I wanted to give you my thanks properly," the boy said.

"Ha?" Nayuta drawled. What was with this guy? Honestly, it was kind of creepy. Nayuta knew immediately that this was a completely foreign and unfamiliar kind of person. It was the first time he'd ever encountered any kind of polite, amicable person. "Whatever. I already told you I didn't do it for you. Now shut up and get out of my way, I've got to get these clothes back home."

"All of those old clothes...?"

"You got a problem with that?"

"No, no!" the boy said. "I just... maybe I can help! I could maybe help you carry them?"

"The fuck would you do something like that for?"

"To show my gratitude."

"Do you really expect me to buy some bullshit like that?" Nayuta said, immediately on his guard. Was this guy going to follow him home and rob them? Or, maybe, was he going to try and come back later, demanding money and saying that Nayuta owed him one? He ran through the possibilities in his head.

But the boy kept a resolute expression on his face, such that it was hard to believe that he had any potential to be anything but upstanding. He repeated himself, saying, "I... I want to help you! Because I'm... I'm really... I'm really happy that you helped me, so I want to help you, too...!"

Nayuta scoffed. "Nobody spouts corny picture-book lines like that unless they've got ulterior motives. I don't know what your game is, but get out of my way. Go home."

"I- I'm not leaving!"

"Fine. Then if you really want to help, then carry this for me. By yourself. All of it," Nayuta said, gesturing at a large plastic bag that he had filled up with clothes. He knew he was proposing the impossible; there was no way this shrimpy kid was going to be able to carry even half of the bag alone. He knew he was being a dick.

But even so, the boy was undeterred.

"Y... yeah! Got it! You can leave it to me! And, here we... go..."

"Huh? What, wait, hold on, you idiot! You're not going to be able to lift it!"

Undeterred by Nayuta's scolding, the boy tried to heave up the bag of abandoned old clothes. However, the bag was full of heavy leather clothes. The boy was struggling under the weight, just as Nayuta predicted he would.

"Whoa- whoa whoa whoa! Ah!"

"The fuck! What's wrong with you, you dipshit?!"

Moving on instinct, Nayuta moved to help support the weight of the bag so the boy wouldn't topple over and be crushed. This was a completely new experience for Nayuta; usually, he was the one who wavered and had to be supported by Kanata. Frankly, he could have lived without the experience, thanks.

Between the two of them, they managed to reach an equilibrium with the bag.

When Nayuta lifted his head to chew the boy out, the boy was looking at him through the plastic bag with an unexpected smile on his face.

"I guess it really is pretty heavy, huh?" the boy said. "I don't know if one person would be able to carry it, but two people might!"

Nayuta stared at the boy without saying anything.

"I-is something wrong?" the boy said. "... u-um... where should we take this?"

"You look like a knockoff Santa Claus right now."

"H-huh? I- is that a bad thing?"

Despite himself, Nayuta laughed. This boy had wanted to help him to pay back Nayuta's unintentional good deed, but he had ended up just needing Nayuta's help all over again anyway. Even so, the boy wore a disarming smile, as if to say that he was only here to help. It was funny.

"If you're going to try to help, then do it right, Knockoff Santa."

"Kn-Knockoff Santa... u-um, my name is Ando Shiki."

"Probably not gonna remember that, but whatever. We've gotta head back into the slums with this stuff. If you get jumped again, I'm just gonna leave you for dead."

"... um, what name should I call you, though?" Shiki said.

"Nayuta. But since you're never gonna see me again, I wouldn't worry about remembering it."

And so the two of them hefted the heavy bag of clothes together. It was more like an incompetent heist than a knockoff Santa Claus.


"Hah... hah..."

"What happened... to all those big claims about how you were gonna help? When you're... so weak?"

"Y-you're out of breath, too, N-nayuta-kun..."

"Sh-shut up... I was... I was gonna come up with a plan, to carry these by myself."

In the end, even with their powers combined, the combination of the sickly Nayuta and the underwhelming Shiki was still pretty weak. There was still a long way to go back to the twins' apartment, but they set the bag down and sat down with it, exhausted.

"Shit," Nayuta said. "If that dude from earlier shows his ugly face again, I won't be able to run."

"I- if that happens, then I'll definitely help you out, Nayuta-kun,"

"How stupid are you?" Nayuta said. "Did you get brain damaged or something when you got hit? You were getting your ass handed to you."

"But... but even so! I'll definitely help!"

It was a completely unconvincing statement. Shiki wasn't a thousandth as reliable as Kanata. His grand claim was completely absurd, but for some reason, Nayuta felt a little bit more at ease.

Back then, Shiki was just a run-of-the-mill ordinary boy, too good-natured and bright-eyed to belong anywhere near this slum. He was honest to a fault and had totally by-the-book morals. He was a total face in the crowd, but to Nayuta, he was a very rare breed. In his short life, he had never before encountered unconditional kindness from anyone but his own twin.

"You said your name was Shiki, right?"

"Yeah. It's written with the kanji for ‘four seasons'."[2]

"Didn't ask, don't care. You live in the city, right? That's a school uniform or whatever that you're wearing, yeah?"

"Um... yeah. I'm in junior high. You and I are probably pretty close in age, right, Nayuta-kun?"

"The hell are you doing in a place like this?" Nayuta said.

"U... um, well..."

"You know what? Since you helped me out with the clothes, I'll give you some free advice. Get out of here and don't come back. You're clumsy, and slow, and a dumbass. You'd be lucky if the worst that happens to you is that you get mugged. You'll probably get killed sooner or later if you stick around."

"That's a horrible thing to say to someone..."

"Yeah, but it's true."

In a way, it was genuinely Nayuta's attempt at returning the favor, but it was also the truth as he saw it. The slums would chew a person like Shiki up and spit him out. It was no place for some kid raised in a cushy environment to go sightseeing. Frankly, it was shocking that he made it long enough to catch up with Nayuta after the matter with the thug was settled. Coming back to these slums without a reason would be a fool's errand. On the other hand, if he thought he could take advantage of the slums, then that would just be infuriating. Therefore, Nayuta told it to him straight.

Shiki turned his eyes up to the sky in thought. Through the narrow gaps in between the abandoned buildings, little slivers of blue sky peeked through, and the clouds drifted past. The sun never shone directly on these alleys.

After a while, Shiki spoke again.

"What happened was, a thug stole my father's keepsake."

"Your dad?" Nayuta said, rolling his eyes. To him, that was a completely unrelatable concept.

"Yeah. It's... a small rosary, about this size," Shiki said, gesturing. "I'd been using it as a good luck charm, but I guess I was making a target of myself by carrying it around... the person who stole it came back to these slums. I guess it might make for a fashionable accessory, so I was thinking, maybe it was being resold somewhere..."

"And it's important to you because it's your dad's keepsake?" Nayuta said.

"Yeah. It's a memento of him."

"Oh, I get it. Your dad's gone now. What about your mom?" Nayuta asked before he had even really thought about it. He was taken by surprise that he apparently cared enough to ask. Shiki smiled sadly after a moment.

"She died, too... in a car accident. Both of them died protecting me."

"... they died protecting their child?" Nayuta said. As far as Nayuta was concerned, his mother was an object of hatred, and he and Kanata never had the faintest clue who their father was, so Nayuta's mind, the idea of a parent going to those lengths to protect their child was about as realistic as fairies and unicorns. Even Kanata still believing in Santa Claus had more weight and reality to it.

But even so, Nayuta understood the importance of family. If Kanata were to die, Nayuta would be inconsolable, and if the only thing that Nayuta had to remember him by had been stolen...

And he had no doubt that Kanata felt the same way.

"So you're all alone, then. You don't have a big brother or anything?"

"No... I'm an only child."

To Nayuta, that sounded like an impossibly sad thing to confess. Having no parents was one thing, but having no siblings either sounded hopeless. But even so, Shiki smiled brightly.

"But it's alright. I was placed in an institution, and I can go to school from there."

"Hah? We got put in an institution, too, but it was a real shithole," Nayuta said.

"I... I mean, I wouldn't say it's amazing," Shiki said, "but I have food to eat, and I can continue going to school. That's why I want to help other people when they help me... since I've been helped out so much by other people in my life."

Nayuta couldn't help but notice the differences between him and Shiki, but he also felt that they had many similarities despite their very different situations.

His whole life, Nayuta had thought of the world in two very distinct groups: himself and Kanata, and everyone else. There was them, and there was everyone but them. In-group and out-group. Nothing else. But, as it turns out, there were lots of other people in the world who had also lost their parents, who got put into institutions- but they were living totally different lives from the one Nayuta was.

Lifting the plastic bag up once more, Nayuta had a lot to think about. Parents giving their lives to protect their child; orphans who don't have siblings; the people who get sent to live in institutions; what kinds of relationships people form with each other.

That's why I want to help other people when they help me... since I've been helped out so much by other people in my life.

Nayuta turned Shiki's words over and over in his head as they trudged through the slums like a pair of knockoff Santa Clauses.


"I'm home."

"Welcome back, Kanata."

In the end, Kanata didn't end up getting home until well into the evening, and Nayuta got home well ahead of him. Kanata had brought with him a paper bag from a hamburger shop. Opening the bag revealed a large double-decker burger.

"Whoa. We're really eating good today."

Though he was hardly complaining, Nayuta wanted to ask if there was a reason for the indulgence. Neither of them was particularly good at saving money; Nayuta spent money on clothes, but Kanata spent money on equipment for trackmaking and on records. The tin cans in their closet that were supposed to be their rainy-day money were always light. Lately, though, Kanata had been spending money much more freely. Their standard of living had definitely seen improvement.

Just as Nayuta thought, he must have been picking up part-time jobs on the side. It's far too late to ask about it now, though; if he asked, it would only be fair to tell Kanata about the secrets he had been keeping.

Instead of asking, Nayuta brought up his own outing from today.

"Oh, by the way. I ran into that lame-ass rapper from last night."

He was trying to avoid bringing up any uncomfortable subjects, but this still seemed to worry Kanata.

"... he didn't try anything with you, right?" Kanata said.

"Nah, I caught him with his guard down, so I just got a bit of payback. I kicked him in the dick from behind, and-"

"Don't run off and do anything stupid like that on your own!"

Nayuta was caught off-guard as Kanata suddenly pulled him into a hug. It only took a moment for him to notice that Kanata's arms and shoulders were trembling. Nayuta realized all at once that he had worried Kanata, and he felt sheepish about it.

As far as Nayuta was concerned, he knew that Kanata sneaking around and doing things on his own was for both of their benefits, to make things better for the both of them. Thinking back, whether it was when they were with that woman who didn't deserve to be called a mother or during their time in the institution, Kanata had always been there to protect him. If Kanata hadn't been there, in his corner the entire time, he probably never could have escaped that cattle pen of an institution on his own.

He supposed that was part of why he wanted to fend for himself a little bit, but he hadn't thought about how much it would worry Kanata. He felt like he was acting like a spoiled and bratty little brother.

"I'm sorry, Kanata. I won't do it again," Nayuta said.

"Promise me you won't do anything dangerous when I'm not around."


"You're all I have, Nayuta."

"Yeah. I'm sorry for worrying you."

Kanata said all the time that the only thing he needed was Nayuta, and Nayuta agreed; as long as he had Kanata, that was all that mattered. But it was a different matter entirely when Kanata said that Nayuta was all he had. It sounded so sad.

Now, Nayuta had met one more person. He decided, perhaps he should keep the story of the odd boy he had met to himself.

And so, one by one, Nayuta started keeping more secrets.


Even with all that happened, the two of them continued to live relatively peacefully for a while. If any one thing triggered a change, it was a conversation they had one day in the fall, when the trees on the sides of the roads were starting to change color and drop their leaves.

"Whoa, for fucking real!?" Kanata exclaimed.

Using the left-out futon as a makeshift sofa and still wearing the shabby nightshirt that he had worn to sleep, Kanata was flipping through this month's issue of a magazine that he had stumbled upon. It was a very in-depth, industry-facing magazine for music producers, full of articles on composition and reviews of digital audio software.

Nayuta, who was in the middle of hanging up their laundry, wiped his hands on his apron and peered over Kanata's shoulder to look at the magazine.

"Is something the matter, Kanata?"

"Check this out! This!"

Nayuta looked at what Kanata was pointing out in the magazine. It was an odd black shape covered in colorful buttons. It almost looked like a video game console at first glance.

"Is that a sampler?" Nayuta asked.

"Yeah! From an industry grade manufacturer, the kind that even big professional companies and producers use."

"Huh. You can use it even without hooking it up to a computer. Aren't those things supposed to be super expensive?"

"Yeah, they used to be more expensive," Kanata said. "This is a smaller model, with a lot of the features scaled back, so it's about half the price, but it can still do way much more than a consumer-grade model."

Nayuta took off his threadbare apron and moved closer so he could take a better look at the magazine. It certainly looked like it could do everything you'd need to make a sound that would go toe to toe with professionals.

"... it's still really expensive," Nayuta said frankly as he pressed up against Kanata's back. Even half the price of the original model was still way out of their price range. It would take two hands to count the figures of the price on your fingers. It was the kind of price that was just completely out of the question to people like them. Nayuta draped his arms around Kanata's shoulders, and Kanata patted his hand.

"Yeah, it's still really expensive."

The resignation in Kanata's voice rang in Nayuta's ears. Even if they cut back on all their expenses and saved up for a year or two, it would still be hard to pull the money together, even if the price dropped in that time. They often lived on very slim margins anyway, and there was no guarantee that they would still be living in this apartment in a year's time.

Even so, if they had this sampler, Kanata would have been able to put it to amazing use. Kanata was smarter than people gave him credit for. He was bad at studying, but he was quick to pick up the knowledge he needed to survive, and anything at all to do with hiphop. If he had high-spec equipment for serious music production, instead of the junkers they were using for samplers and making do with off-the-shelf beats, he would be able to showcase all of his talents and strengths to their fullest.

And, more important than any of that, Kanata seemed to be at his happiest when he was rapping.

"You still want it, don't you, Kanata?"

"I can't pretend I don't," Kanata said, "but like, let's be realistic. How many bowls of ramen could we get with that kind of money?"

"... yeah."

"If only Santa could come through, but he never does. It's not like I can say I'm a good kid, after all..."

Before he could think twice about it, Nayuta hugged Kanata tightly from behind, pulling Kanata's back tight against his chest. Then he slid his hand around Kanata's front, and placed it over the left side of his chest. The beating of Kanata's heart echoed his own, pumping in the same rhythm.

"Ah-? Hey, come on, that tickles-" Kanata laughed, thinking that Nayuta was just messing with him.

Their hearts sat at the same place in identical bodies, beating in the same rhythm like stereo speakers. They were twins. Two people sharing the same DNA, the same life; Nayuta wanted to confirm it. They had always shared everything- blood, flesh, tears, joy, misfortune, love. He was certain that they had shared a life, shared a destiny, since before they were born from the same cells.

They're the same, but Kanata had always helped Nayuta more. Nayuta was born just a little later, and perhaps it was because he was the younger brother that Kanata felt he needed to protect him. Nayuta felt the same way as he felt the thrum of the same blood pulsing through Kanata's veins.

That's why I want to help other people when they help me... since I've been helped out so much by other people in my life.

Nayuta remembered Shiki's words. He wasn't sure if he would ever be able to repay all that Kanata had done for him, but if Kanata had found something he was truly passionate about, then Nayuta didn't want him to ever have to hold back on it.

A thought began to well up inside of Nayuta's heart.

If I tried harder, I bet I could make more money.


Little by little, the city was overtaken by the winds of autumn. Ever since the sampler incident, Kanata was going out alone more and more often. It was clear that he was trying to pull together more money.

Spending more time without Kanata around had an effect on Nayuta's life as well.

First and foremost, he met up with Shiki more often. After their first meeting, Shiki had come poking around the slums again. Nayuta told him off and told him to be more careful, but this time, Shiki happened to be able to help him when Nayuta was weak from anemia. They continued to meet up after that day.

One day, Nayuta and Shiki were talking in the corner of an alleyway between a few abandoned buildings, using a bit of rotten wood as a makeshift chair.

"Whoa. That's awesome. Where'd you find this record, Shiki?"

"Haha... I found it at the record store you told me about the other day."

"For real? I mean, it's nice that the prices are cheap, but you've gotta dig through a lot of crap to find anything good."

Ever since he started hanging out with Nayuta more, Shiki had gotten a little more accustomed to the slums. He'd still get totally wrecked if he ever got into a fight, but Nayuta taught him how to carry himself to keep eyes off him, and how to move around in the alleys without drawing attention to himself. These were skills that Nayuta had been forced to learn to survive.

"It's alright, it was fun. It was kind of like a treasure hunt. I kept sneezing from the dust, though."

"Ahaha, for real, that place is a pigsty. I wouldn't have expected them to have anything this good in there."

"If you want to listen to it, I'll let you borrow it, Nayuta-kun."

"You sure about that? Didn't you just buy it?" Nayuta said. "Don't you want to listen to it first?"

"Haha... well, to tell the truth, I kind of just bought it on impulse to show it to you... I got so caught up in the moment that I kind of forgot I don't have a record player, since I live in an institution and all..."

"What the hell?" Nayuta said. "How could you accidentally forget something like that?" He laughed while Shiki scratched his head sheepishly. "Well, whatever. I'll bring my record player next time. It's a piece of crap that I got from a junk store, but it'll work."

"I'll look forward to it!" Shiki said. "Oh, by the way. That store was kind of a mess, but it looked like there was a bunch of music equipment. One of the corners was practically like a fully stocked specialty music store."

"Yeah, I heard that the guy who owns that place used to be a rapper, so if you need to pick something up on the cheap, there are worse places to go," Nayuta said. "It's mostly old stuff and antiques, though. It'll do in a pinch if you can't afford something better, or don't have a computer, but you're not going to find anything like a state-of-the-art model straight out of the manufacturer's catalog."

"Are you trying to get a new one, Nayuta-kun?"

"Yeah, I have my eye on this sampler I saw in a magazine. It's a real pro-grade one."

"I see... you've been doing phantom lives, haven't you?"

"I mean, yeah," Nayuta said noncommittally.

"That's really amazing... I know they're getting really popular, but I don't think I could ever do something that intense..."

"It's a way to earn money," Nayuta said. "Nowadays, you can't throw a rock without hitting a music club holding a competition. They don't care if you're a kid, if you show up and have the skills they'll give you the prize money. It pays the bills."

"I still think it's amazing," Shiki says. "I don't think it's the kind of thing just anyone can do on a whim."

"I mostly started doing it because Kanata asked me to. He's the one who wants the equipment and who handles all the songwriting and stuff. We're twins and all, but he's the one who's really got the talent for it."

"But you're the one who makes your stage outfits, right, Nayuta-kun?"

"... yeah, that's right."

"And if you're twins, then you're probably about the same size as your brother, right? Those clothes I helped you carry that one time were all adult sizes, so you must have done a lot of alterations. I think that's really cool, too," Shiki said. "Maybe it's different from your brother's skills, but I think you're really impressive, too, Nayuta-kun."

"Ah, come on, don't blow smoke up my ass like that," Nayuta said, but he was hardly offended.

At this point in time, Shiki wasn't yet as self-deprecating as he would become in the future, but he still didn't have great self-esteem. Even so, if he was impressed by something, he would honestly say so.

Before he met Shiki, Nayuta's world mostly consisted of Kanata. They got lots of applause when they performed at live houses, but Nayuta couldn't help but feel that they were applauding mostly for Kanata's songs and rapping. Nayuta had a weak body and was used to being protected, not praised. That's why Shiki's praise truly made him happy; it felt nice to receive someone else's approval.

"Hey, Shiki. Why don't you start rapping?"

"I already said, I don't think I could possibly get into something that intense..."

"Eh, I think you've got what it takes."

"Huh? Really?"

"I mean, once you listen to a song just one time, you've basically got it down pat. Remember that live recording I let you listen to? You were able to hum it perfectly."

"No, that was nothing special, it was just humming off the top of my head..."

"I think you've got a sense for it," Nayuta said. "You should give it a shot."

"I mean... I'd love to," Shiki said, "but I don't... I couldn't do it alone. Maybe if I had someone else to stand on stage with me."

What if I did music with Shiki?

The thought popped unbidden into Nayuta's head, and the mental image soon followed. Himself, Kanata, and Shiki, working together- Shiki with his gift for music as the MC, on a track made by Kanata, with Nayuta coordinating the outfits...

"... no, it'd never work," Nayuta said out loud.

"Huh?" Shiki said. "Did you say something just now, Nayuta-kun?"


Perhaps it was to be expected that it would feel weird for anything to come in between the two of them. cozmez has to just be them. Just as it would be meaningless without Kanata there, it would be just as meaningless if it were something that wasn't just between the two of them. This was completely non-negotiable and beyond bargaining.

Being with Shiki was fun. But at that moment in time, Nayuta had no interest in doing music outside of the context of cozmez.

But even so.

"Hey, Shiki. Would it be alright if we took a little detour?"

"Um, sure... but where do you have in mind?"

"A secret place."

Nayuta decided that he wanted to show Shiki his favorite place, an old abandoned building. It wasn't like he was trying to give him a consolation prize; rather, he wanted to share something special with Shiki even if rapping with him was going to be a no-go.

Shiki agreed, and so together they headed down an alleyway, and then followed a side path that barely looked like anyone had ever gone down it. At the end of this road less traveled was an abandoned building. Nayuta led a slightly reticent Shiki up the crumbling steps. Shiki was nervous, but when they reached the rooftop, his eyes lit up.


The evening sky was painted with all different colors. The sky was a gradient from crimson up to dark midnight blue, and the stars shone like little beads that had been cast around the sky. They were above anything that would block their view of the sky or of the setting sun that was starting to set behind the line of buildings on the horizon, far beyond the crowded and messy world down below them.

"Well. Here it is. My rooftop. Nice, isn't it?"

"It really is," Shiki said, and Nayuta cracked a satisfied smile.

"When I'm up here," Nayuta said, "I can just look at the sky. I don't have to think about any of the crap down on the surface."


"It's pretty cool at night, too. All the lights in the dark make it look like a crowded dance floor. It's great." Nayuta paused. "Even Kanata doesn't know about this place. It's my secret."

"Really?" Shiki said. He looked shocked. Even at this point, Shiki already knew how important Kanata was to Nayuta, so he wasn't sure that it was okay for him to be privy to this place if even Kanata didn't know about it. "Why would you show this place to me and not him?"

"Hmm," Nayuta said. "I've never really had anyone to talk to besides Kanata up until meeting you. So I suppose I wanted somewhere where just the two of us could talk in private."

"Talk in private...?" Shiki said, but nodded his understanding.

Nayuta hesitated for a moment, and turned to face Shiki with his back to the fence that surrounded the rooftop. The sun had set, and the stars were starting to dot the sky behind him like a backdrop curtain.

"We're a few months out from Christmas. That means we're a few months out from our birthday. But it's not like we ever really celebrate Christmas, or our birthday, or anything like that. It's usually just another shitty cold day."

"Right," Shiki said, just enough to show that he was listening and no more; Nayuta was grateful that he didn't try to pry any deeper.

"But... the thing is," Nayuta said. "Kanata... he still believes in Santa."

"Huh? ... Wait, what!?" Shiki exclaimed.

"Ahah, yeah, I was expecting you'd react that way," Nayuta said. "But I'd probably still believe it, too, if it weren't for those asshole older kids at the shelter who broke it to me. But Kanata still really believes in him."

"... I see," Shiki said.

Shiki considered his own life in the institution he lived at. He supposed it must have been very different from the one Nayuta was talking about. Even though they had done their best to wear Nayuta down and crush his dreams, Kanata still clung to them. Shiki turned this thought over in his head.

"So," Nayuta said. "That's why, this year, I want to be Santa."

He said this, and immediately became self-conscious. He scratched his cheek, and wondered whether or not there wasn't a different way he could have said it, or if he could have dressed it up in a metaphor or something like that. But Shiki didn't laugh at him; he just smiled.

"Nayuta-kun, you just want to protect your brother's heart, don't you?"

Shiki was able, in that moment, to put form to the words that Nayuta hadn't been able to.

"Yeah. Thanks, Shiki."

As he thanked Shiki, Nayuta rubbed his fingertips together to try and get the feeling back in them; they had gone numb. His circulation had gotten worse, and his fingers were shaking a little. It was like the cold was sinking into his very bones.

This was another thing that had been changing for Nayuta recently.


"Hey, hey, is this place for real? It's like a real audio equipment store."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure this is the biggest specialty store in the city. They've even got guitars and other electronic music equipment, I think."

The next day, as though to repay Nayuta for showing him the rooftop, Shiki showed Nayuta around town a little bit. There were only a few places that Nayuta really knew firsthand; discounted clothes outlets, secondhand shops, a few burger places, Raimentei. Places he went with Kanata. He certainly wasn't familiar with the kinds of high-end music stores and electronics stores full of things he could never dream of affording.

As they headed up the escalator, everywhere Nayuta looked was the kind of expensive music equipment he'd only ever seen backstage at venues and clubs. It was practically like an amusement park. Eventually, they got all the way up to the sales floor on the fifth floor, where they looked around at all kinds of equipment organized by manufacturer. Then, there it was.

"That's it! That's the sampler Kanata was looking at!"

"-- huh? Really?" Shiki exclaimed, shocked at the price. Even though Shiki was less poor than Nayuta, it still struck him as very expensive.

"Even you think it's expensive, right?" Nayuta said.

"Yeah, that's still a lot, even if I pooled my money together with yours-"

"What? No, there's no way I was going to ask you to pay for it," Nayuta said, stretching his arms above his head and sighing- but it wasn't a sigh of resignation. Rather, it was one of determination. He had no intention of asking Shiki to help. "I've got to do this. I have to be the one who gives back to Kanata."

"But isn't it going to be really hard to get together this much money...?"

"Well, yeah," Nayuta said, "but I mean, you're the one who said it first, right?" He gave Shiki a very intense look with narrowed eyes, and then his expression shifted to a cheerful smile. "I want to help someone else, since I've been helped so much in my life."

"Nayuta-kun," Shiki said, knowing there was no argument to be made against that.

Nayuta knew that Shiki wouldn't have a comeback to that, and so he continued, despite knowing that maybe that was a bit of a cheap shot. "At any rate, it's fine. To tell the truth, I've had a part-time job for a while now. I'll just ask them to let me take on a bit more so they'll pay me more."

"Oh? I thought you weren't exactly in the best physical condition, though..."

"It's fine. It's the kind of job where it doesn't really matter if you're not in top condition. It's at this kind of hospital place, they're doing tests with Phantometal reactions."

"Is it like... a clinical trial?"

"Yeah, yeah, something like that."

The truth was that Kanata wasn't the only person taking on secret part-time jobs.

One time, when Kanata had started going out on his own more often, Nayuta had tried to follow him. He had ended up losing track of Kanata, but while he was doing that, he ran into a man who offered him pay for a part-time job.

That job was participating in Alter Trigger's clinical trials for Phantometal.

Shiki was somewhat troubled by this; usually, clinical trials are for experimental treatments and drugs that haven't been approved for use yet, and they're still trying to collect data on the effects. It seemed odd that an underage boy like Nayuta was being used as a test subject.

"I don't know if you should be doing that... it might have some really bad effects on your body..." Shiki said, but Nayuta was unperturbed.

"Eh, I'm sure it's fine. After all, if something goes really wrong, then the company will be on the hook for it."

"That's true, but... um, how about I try to get a part time job, too? Then I could-"

"I already told you, didn't I? This is something I've got to do myself," Nayuta said. "I want to earn the money myself, I don't want to have to ask you for handouts. Don't worry. I won't overdo it."

"... Got it," Shiki said. "I promise I won't force you to accept my help, but you have to promise you won't overdo it, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it. ... but I do need to ask for a favor."

"A favor...?"

"Can you help me haul clothes again? I'm not going to be able to buy anything new for a while."

"That's... of course! That's not an imposition at all! I'd be happy to help!"

Nayuta realized something then. Shiki was kind, but it wasn't the sort of kindness that would make him try to protect Nayuta. It was different from the connection he had with Kanata, where he didn't need words to communicate. It wasn't anything like family, but it wasn't a transactional relationship either. It was just about being together, gazing up at the same sky, talking about nothing in particular- just having fun with another person. It was a relationship that didn't need any kind of justification.

Nayuta wondered, idly, if maybe that was what having a friend was. Up to now, he had still been living in a narrow world that only really consisted of himself, Kanata, and maybe Shiki. As such, he wasn't entirely sure where the boundaries lay, or how to let himself rely on other people.

After that day, Nayuta started getting paid more by the runners of the clinical trials.


Time passed and the seasons went with it.

The trees by the side of the road were completely bare now, and the winds that blew were freezing and dry. Kanata and Nayuta were spending less time than ever before together. Nayuta was spending more time hanging out with Shiki, and Kanata was busier than ever with work. This was how they spent their time when they had it, and perhaps this was for the best.

Then along came December 24th, as snowy and cold as every other day that surrounded it. It was the kind of morning where it was cold enough to wake Nayuta up just from the temperature alone, but-


What woke Nayuta up instead was Kanata's voice.

"What's the matter? What're you yelling for?" Nayuta grumbled.

"No, don't be stupid, come on, wake up! Santa! Santa came! He didn't miss us this time!"

Nayuta hummed and turned to look.

Right beside their bed was a large wrapped box; everything was just as Nayuta had set up the night before.

"Whoa, awesome," Nayuta said. "What's in it?"

"Hold on, I'll open it now," Kanata said. He was about to tear into it, but he thought better of it, and turned it over very carefully so as to carefully peel the tape away. Nayuta was struck by how cute Kanata was being, and couldn't help but laugh as Kanata treated the wrapped present like a delicate treasure. As he gingerly peeled back the colorful wrapping paper, he was met with the sight of a sleek and attractive box.

"Holy shit! Is this the sampler!?"

"Whoa, really?" Nayuta said. "That's awesome. Isn't that supposed to be really pro-grade or something?"

"It's more than awesome! Do you even know how much more seriously I can make tracks with this? ... I'm not dreaming, right? Santa really came?"

"Is there any other explanation? It's not like we could ever afford something like that, and it's not like there's anyone but Santa who would go out of their way to get us anything... right?"

"For real... he really came this time..."

"I bet," Nayuta said, "that Santa saw how hard you're working and doing your best. That's why he came."

"... no, no way," Kanata said. "It's not me. It's gotta be because you've been a good kid."

"... aha. Maybe."

Nayuta laughed to himself and lay back down on the futon. If he spent too long looking at how happy Kanata was, he might not be able to stop smiling, and that might give the game away. He'd been doing his best to keep it under wraps since last night. He had gotten Shiki to help him carry it in, and hide it in the back of the closet. The entire time he imagined how happy Kanata would be, and he had to do his best not to smile too.

"What's the matter, Nayuta? You don't seem very happy even though something amazing happened."

"Oh, no, no," Nayuta said dismissively, "I'm just tired because it's still super early."

"Oh, yeah... are you sure you're not getting sick?"

"Come on... I'm fine, it's totally normal to be tired after waking up this early. Come on, lemme go back to sleep for a bit."

He wasn't technically lying. He had to wake up and race against time to get the present all set up after Kanata came back from his outing in the middle of the night. Playing Santa Claus was a real pain in the ass; if Santa were real, Nayuta wouldn't envy his job one bit.

"Okay, okay. Let's mess around with it together when you wake up then, okay?" Kanata conceded.

"Gotcha," Nayuta said, and then Kanata didn't say anything for a moment.

"Shit..." Kanata muttered, and Nayuta, puzzled, pushed himself up to see what was the matter.

No sooner than Nayuta was upright, Kanata pulled him into a tight embrace.

"Is something wrong, Kanata?"

"It's just," Kanata said, "I'm so happy, I don't even know how to express it-"

"So this is what you settled on?" Nayuta teased, but laughed and hugged Kanata back. All of the joy that Kanata was feeling was spilling out of his thin body, making him run as hot as if he had a fever. Nayuta slid his arms around Kanata and held him tightly as though an embrace would calm down his racing heart.

"Hey, Nayuta. Your hands are kinda cold, aren't they?"

"Dumbass. It's because in your excitement you're hogging the blanket. Or are you surprised the apartment is cold on a morning like this?"

"Oh, shit. My bad."

Kanata took hold of Nayuta's cold hands to warm them up, and they wrapped themselves up on their thin futon to go back to sleep together in the afterglow of the festivities. It was as if they were trying to make up for all the time they had spent apart, basking in each other's body heat as much and for as long as they could.

December 24th only comes around once a year, and this was by far the best of all of the cold winter days they had experienced in their lives.

Even if his actions had taken him past the point of no return, then at least in that moment, Nayuta had no regrets about any of them.


"It sounds like you made Kanata-kun really happy."

Christmas had come and gone. Up on the rooftop of the abandoned building, a cold, dry wind blew. As he had done so many times, Nayuta met up with Shiki here, and was explaining the results of his shot at playing Santa Claus.

"Yeah. It worked out perfectly. He was thrilled."

"Is that so... I'm really happy for you, Nayuta-kun." Shiki was beaming just as much as Nayuta was. He felt Nayuta's joy as though it was his own. Nayuta thought perhaps that his ability to feel happiness just for someone else's sake was one of Shiki's true talents.

"Frankly," Nayuta said, "it used to be I didn't understand what Santa had to be so damn happy about all the time. Running around in the cold and the dark, handing out presents to kids for nothing in return. But I think I kinda get it now."

"Maybe that's your calling in life, Nayuta-kun," Shiki said.

"Pass. There's no money in being Santa Claus."

Their laughter echoed and was carried away by the wind. As the breeze stopped, Shiki asked a question.

"Hey, Nayuta-kun."


"That part-time job you mentioned... are you still doing it?"

"Oh, that? Uh, yeah."

"Don't you think it might be a good idea to call it quits...?"

To tell the truth, Nayuta thought that might be the case. He had achieved his goal of getting the sampler machine for Kanata. But even so, just because he thought that didn't mean he could actually afford to quit.

Even before he had the mission of getting Kanata the present, he had been using the money to cover the cost of a lot of things- stage outfits, rent, to do laundry, sewing supplies, and even theoretically to save some in the cans in the closet. Life had gotten easier and they could afford so many more things, especially once they had ramped up and started paying him more for more trials. He hadn't even needed to dip into Kanata's money to afford clothes for their performances.

"Not happening," Nayuta said. "It pays too well, and besides that, I don't want to be a burden to Kanata."

"I hardly think Kanata-kun would think of you as a burden..."

"What would you know? You don't know Kanata. You've never met him."

An awkward silence hung between them.

Nayuta frowned; perhaps he had said something that he shouldn't have, but it was too late to take it back now. "... that came out wrong," he said. "I just mean that Kanata has always lived his entire life for my sake. He's given up so much. A sampler is nice, but it's hardly fair if that's all he gets in return."

"So you're going to live your entire life for Kanata-kun's sake?" Shiki said.

"Are you gonna tell me not to?"

"... that's not my place to say," Shiki conceded and he shook his head, but there was still a determined look in his eyes. "But I want to help too."

"I already told you I'm not gonna take your money-"

"It's not about money," Shiki interjected. "I don't want to make light of your pride. But I want to live for your sake too, if only a little, Nayuta-kun."

"... Shiki..."

"So... if you're really, really in trouble, and you've got nowhere else you can turn to, I want you to know you can come to me," Shiki said. "I... I just want you to know that we're friends and I'm here for you, Nayuta-kun..."

"... you're still like this, huh?" Nayuta said and turned away with a dismissive air, but he couldn't stop himself from laughing a moment later. "Got it. If I'm ever really, really fucked... I'll reach out to you, Shiki."

"... yeah!"

"And if that happens, we'll see how much help you can actually be. You don't inspire a whole lot of confidence, after all."

"That's really harsh... but I guess you're right, I'm not exactly the most dependable..."

"Ahahah. Sorry. I'll keep it in mind, though. Can't hurt to ask."

"Promise me, Nayuta-kun."

"Yeah, yeah. I promise, for sure."

Nayuta would end up regretting making and remembering this promise.



Time had passed by with so few incidents that Nayuta had more or less put his promise to Shiki out of his mind.

But it happened one night while he was in their apartment while Kanata was out. Up to that point, most of the changes had happened slowly, so even if Nayuta was feeling a little bit out of sorts, he figured he still had plenty of time. However, the onset was rapid this time.

He had just gotten some clothes to use for stage outfits; if he hemmed them to be the proper length for himself, they would fit Kanata as well. He took out a needle to adjust the hemline, but uncharacteristically, he dropped it, and he realized that the tip of his index finger had gone completely numb.

This was the same finger that he had used in the phantometal trials. He'd been made to wear a solid ring made of phantometal- it was some kind of prototype or another.

When he looked at his finger, rather than the usual pale skin, there was a strange, dull discoloration under his fingernail.

"Um... hm."

Then, something inside his head cracked loudly. Suddenly, he felt awful. Along with the sensation of the sound inside his head, it felt like something was suddenly missing from his memory. His head began to pound. He was hit by a wave of nausea, but he tried to hold it back, fearing that if he threw up, he would lose something else.

He frantically tried to figure out what had gone missing in his mind, but couldn't place it. The only thing he was sure of was that he had forgotten something, but he had no clue what it was. All at once, he felt what it was like to lose some part of himself.

It was terrifying. In a moment, he was struck with the fear that he might lose himself and not even know what he had lost.

"Ah... ah! Ah! Kanata- Kanata!" Nayuta cried out for help.

After a moment of stumbling around and a few deep breaths, the physical symptoms subsided. But it was little comfort; while he no longer felt sick, the thing that had gone missing didn't come back. He had no doubt that he was missing something in his mind.

If he had another attack of seizures like this, would he even survive it?


Just now, when he felt he was at his limit, he had called out for Kanata to help him. But...

How can I let Kanata see me like this?

What if their situations were reversed? If it were Kanata in front of him, his other half suffering and possibly even dying right in front of him...

But even that wasn't the worst part.

What if he accidentally revealed that he had forgotten something in front of Kanata? What if he stopped recognizing Kanata? Or what if the metal consumed his body, until he couldn't move but couldn't even die? Kanata would carry both of their weight on his shoulders. Kanata wouldn't have any time to do hiphop; he would never abandon Nayuta. No matter how much he burdened Kanata, no matter how much of a liability he became, Kanata would continue to support and take care of him.

I don't want Kanata to have to bear my weight.

It wasn't a rational thought, but it still felt insufficient.

I can't... I can't burden him like that.

Nayuta put his head in his hands and trembled violently. He felt something faint inside his ears, like the premonitions of another cracking sound, and he was scared. He was so, so scared. He could only think of one solution, but even that scared him.

That's when he remembered that he still had something he had to fulfill before the end. His friendship with Shiki, and the promise he had made to his friend.


And then, at long last, came that night. The wind was howling.

"Is something the matter, Nayuta-kun? You said you wanted to meet and it was urgent, but..."

Despite the fact that it was on short notice, Shiki had come to the abandoned building's rooftop in a hurry. He was out of breath; he had probably run here.

Even now, Nayuta's brain was starting to grow foggy.

"I'm sorry, Shiki." The first thing out of his mouth was an apology. "I just wanted to make sure I got to see you again."

"Huh?" Shiki looked confused. This was understandable. It was only natural that he'd be caught off guard by Nayuta's sudden request.

"I hadn't given you back your record yet, right? It's right there, I set it beside you."

"Um... is there a reason that you couldn't hand it to me directly, or...?" Shiki said. "... Hey, standing over there is probably dangerous. If the wind kicks up..."

"Then it'll blow me off and I'll fall," Nayuta agreed.


Nayuta was in a bit of a hurry, so he plowed right ahead to say what he had to say. "I'm sorry, Shiki. You were right. I really fucked up-"


Nayuta coughed violently, as though his lungs were already starting to fail. Dammit, just keep it together just a little longer. There are still things I need to say. Nayuta willed his body to cooperate.

"... look at my arm," he said. When he rolled up his sleeve to show Shiki what he meant, Shiki's eyes grew wide at the sight. The dull discoloration that had started under his fingernail had spread up his arm, staining his arm in blotchy, irregular patches.

"It's metal erosion. I can't stop it from spreading. It went from nothing to this bad in no time at all. ... I can't let Kanata see me like this. I can't trouble him like that."

Did Shiki say something? Nayuta couldn't catch it.

"So I'm going to kill myself."

Shiki was definitely saying something. What was it?

"I'm glad I got to meet you, Shiki. It was fun."

Shiki was speaking, but all Nayuta could hear was the buzzing inside his ears. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. He felt like he should be apologizing. His head was already floating; his vision was starting to blur and he couldn't hear anything.

"Thank you."

Maybe it was inappropriate to say thank you. He owed Shiki an apology.

"I'm so sorry. I'm too weak to do it alone. But I wanted to come back here one last time..."

Somewhere beyond the haze, he thought he could make out Shiki's face.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to put that expression on your face.

There were so many things he wanted to say, and so many things he wanted to thank Shiki for.

When the wind pushed his body, he felt weightless, as though gravity no longer applied to him.


He looked up, and could see the stars twinkling even through the haze in front of his eyes.

"The sky is so pretty."

He was grateful that the last thing he saw was so beautiful. Thank god. He was glad that he could end it in a way that didn't make him a burden on Kanata, and he was glad that he had a friend who could be with him at the end. Even through the throbbing pain in his head, he felt satisfied. At least in the end he got something right.

As though untethered by gravity, he took off from the building and into the air. It felt as though he was leaving everything behind.

He had heard that in your last moments, your life flashes before your eyes. That turned out to be true; in the short time that it took for him to tip over the handrail and begin to fall, the past rushed right in front of him. Every moment was about Kanata. It was all about Kanata. Even in the places in his memory that were starting to be eaten away, it was all about Kanata.

Well, then it was fine. Even if this is the end of the line, if he could hold onto the memory of Kanata in his heart until the very end, then that was what mattered.


... ah.

It was like a switch being flipped. As he began to fall, his vision snapped back into focus at the sound of Shiki's voice. Shiki was there, with an expression that Nayuta had never seen before.

Shiki wasn't the most reliable, but he was never weak. He always met Nayuta with a warm and kind smile. But as Nayuta began to fall, Shiki's face was streaked with tears for the first time. His face was contorted with grief and regret and despair, all spilling out into tears.

I put that look on Shiki's face.

As he began to fall, the last thing that Nayuta saw was not the beautiful night sky, or his memories of love, but rather the bitter consequences of what he had done.

Nayuta began to scream.

In the end, he hadn't actually solved anything.

He couldn't let himself ask for help. He overexerted himself and destroyed his own body. In the end, he still ended up making himself a burden to others. He had just forced his burden upon Shiki instead of Kanata. He had twisted Shiki's warm and kind smile.

What was Shiki going to do now? Would he have to take responsibility for Nayuta's death and live with that burden?

What was Kanata going to do? Was he going to have to face this shitty world all alone?

Nayuta understood it then. This was an ending that left nobody happy.

"... fuck! Fuck! FUCK!"

The sky was retreating and the ground was rushing closer.

I can't die like this. I can't. I can't leave only misery behind.

I have so much I need to apologize for.

I have so much I still need to be thankful for.

Any sense of relief he had felt moments ago was long gone. From the recesses of his foggy, metal-broken mind, he was filled with a singular thought.

I don't want to die. I don't want to die. I can't die like this.

I'm sorry, Kanata. I'm sorry, Shiki. Give me one more chance to apologize. Just one more. Just one more chance. Fuck. There's nothing to stop me. I forfeit everything. I'm going to fall. There's nothing that's going to catch me.

Kanata... I'm sorry, I'm not a good kid after all.

But please. I don't care who. God, the devil- even fucking Santa Claus. If you can answer my wish, I won't ask for a single Christmas present for the rest of my life.

Give me one more chance.

For the sake of my one and only brother, give me one more chance to try again.

For the sake of my precious friend, give me one more chance to apologize.

All I'm asking for is one more chance.


"... and then I already told you what happened after that," Nayuta said. "Alter Trigger picked me up and rushed me to their hospital for treatment. Ironically, the high concentration of metal in my body is probably the only reason I survived the fall."

Nayuta's confessional had run on for quite a while. By the time he was done, the sky had changed color, and the blanket of nighttime had fallen atop the buildings around them.

Nayuta took a deep breath of the cold night air, and continued. "But I think if there was anything that saved me, it was the two of you."

"But I couldn't do anything to help you in the end, Nayuta-kun," Shiki protested. "I couldn't even reach out to stop you. I'm sorry, Nayuta-kun, I--"

"I'm not asking you to apologize!" Nayuta interrupted and shook his head. "Even if you couldn't physically stop me, your heart still reached me."


"I realized that I didn't want to die because you called out to me. Maybe... no, I'm sure that's why I was able to resist the metal erosion that was trying to consume my body," Nayuta said.


"So... thanks. And, I'm sorry," Nayuta said, and bowed his head deeply. It wasn't an extravagant apology, but because they were friends, Shiki could still feel all of the regret that Nayuta was trying to convey to him.

Nayuta continued. "I hurt you, Shiki. And I left you all alone, Kanata. I don't know if an apology is enough to make up for what I did, but... if there's anything I can do, for either of you, please let me know."

Shiki stared at Nayuta for a little while without saying anything. Then, he made eye contact with Kanata, standing beside Nayuta. Kanata didn't say anything either, but his eyes seemed to be saying I'm gonna leave it up to you, Shiki.

Eventually, Shiki found the words to say.

"Then... I know what I want, Nayuta-kun."

"And what's that?"

"I want to face you as a rapper. I want to compete with the real cozmez," Shiki said. Nayuta and Kanata were both struck wordless for a moment, so Shiki continued. "The cozmez that I faced in the Paradox Live... that Nayuta was just an illusion. At first, I was hardly fit to be a rapper. I wouldn't want to have wasted your time. But now-"

Shiki smiled wryly, and lifted his hand as though in invitation to shake it.

"The Cat's Whiskers are amazing, too. I want the real cozmez to be able to stand on stage and go against us."

To show his determination, he balled his outstretched hand into a fist. He was so gentle and unassuming that it wasn't immediately clear that he was issuing a proper challenge.

Kanata and Nayuta exchanged looks, and then Kanata was the first to break the silence with a laugh.

"Ahaha... Nayuta, your friend's got one hell of a personality."

After a moment, Nayuta laughed as well. "No kidding. He's really just that kind of guy. Straightforward to a fault, and surprisingly bold."

"He's a hell of a lot more intimidating than the MC Nanashi I went up against before," Kanata said.

"I always knew Shiki had the makings of a rapper underneath it all. He's always had the balls for it."

"Against a team with that guy on it, we'll really have to pull out all the stops as the real cozmez," Kanata said.

"... guess there's no helping it, huh?" Nayuta said. "Ah, well. Got it. I'll have to really make up for all the time I was asleep."

Both Kanata and Nayuta, twins who shared the same face, reached out and bumped fists against Shiki. This time, they all reached out to each other and their feelings were received.

Shiki couldn't help but be excited. It was a pleasant thrill, not at all like the fear he had felt when he first encountered cozmez at the beginning of the Paradox Live tournament. In this moment, Shiki was facing the real cozmez- not as friends, but as a fellow rapper.

"I've got Nayuta with me, so it's gonna mean something now. Let's show them what we've got."

"It wouldn't mean anything without Kanata by my side. Let's show them what we've got."

As they spoke, they kept their fists bumped against Shiki's. Then they spoke at the same time.

"As long as we're together, we're unbeatable."

The stars above shone much brighter than they ever had before.

[1] Literally by name cites a "rusk", a kind of sweetened hard biscuit made of twice-baked bread, but I've never encountered this word in the wild so I'm adding a footnote about it. Basically he's eating bread so stale it could pass for a twice-baked biscuit, but it isn't sweet.
[2] Nayuta says "Shiki" in katakana, and then Shiki explains that it's "yeah, like spring-summer-autumn-winter, Shiki (which is written with the kanji for 'the four seasons')".