Chapter 20:



The small black sofa provides a much-needed relief from the cold, despite its dense leather exterior. JC had insisted I sit on the only piece of furniture in the small western-styled apartment while he procured hot tea, and after an hour driving that stuffy old diesel truck, I’d been happy to oblige.Bookmark here

Once we’d made it into town, JC woke, tended to his wounds, and directed me to a quiet residential area uptown. He decided we should ditch the truck and make the three-block trek to his apartment by foot, to which I reluctantly agreed. The biting cold made the walk as miserable as I’d imagined, though JC seemed to be handling it much worse than me. Nonetheless, we reached the quaint apartment complex without spotting a single person or freezing to death, and now I’m sitting in this minimally heated apartment with a small pillow held snug in my lap.Bookmark here

After several minutes JC returns with two cups. His hair is still disheveled, and his face matted with dirt and dried blood. His weathered suit somehow still bears a professional visage, thanks to the polite demeanor he boasts as he hands me my cup before sitting on the floor and sipping his own.Bookmark here

The tea fills my chilled bones with warmth, allowing me to relax and let out a sigh. As I silently watch him through the steam rising from my cup, I wonder how unkempt my hair must look.Bookmark here

“So, how did you know I was driving the truck?” he asks, setting his cup of tea on the small table between us.Bookmark here

Following suit, I look him in the eyes with a small grin. “Your hints aren’t as subtle as you think, you know?”Bookmark here

He chuckles, looking down at his tea. “Well, it wasn’t a guarantee you’d read those comments.”Bookmark here

“But I think you must have known I would,” I mutter, my cheeks slightly reddening. As he glances at me curiously, I avert my eyes. “Anyway, I thought you had to be close by. In Mary’s world, you brought us together. It’s your job, isn’t it? To guide us… that’s why you had to bring her to me this time as well, to shorten our wavelengths.”Bookmark here

“That’s correct,” he answers with a short nod.Bookmark here

“But, how?” I plead, gripping the pant legs of my pajamas. How could you share a wavelength with her, knowing she wants her heart back? And to bring us together despite our differing goals... Is it because she’s not the real Mary?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know about her being fake and what difference that makes,” he replies, tapping his cup with a finger. “It’s like you said, though. I serve as a bridge between you two, and it is my job to bring you together. The last time, I brought Mary to you unknowingly. It was her intuition as well as your interactions in the deep dream world that shortened your wavelength. The dynamic is a bit different this time, but ultimately a carry-over of her world: You both want to see each other— in this case though, you both want the other’s heart…”Bookmark here

I feel a stirring in my chest as he pauses, glancing to check on me as if he’d said something he shouldn’t have. “Well, I suppose I shouldn’t speak for you— it’s just my working assumption, after all. I don’t want to see either of your hearts taken away, for what it’s worth.”Bookmark here

“I’m not sure what I should do,” I respond, holding my head above the teacup and allowing the steam to fog my eyes.Bookmark here

“We’ll get into that in a bit,” he answers. “As I was saying, I provided the bridge for you two to meet. I found her rallying a group of NPCs, apparently protesting the extreme weather as an environmental issue, and convinced her to let me guide them to your mansion. I assume she wouldn’t have been able to meet you face to face if I hadn’t quite literally broken through the wall for her. I shortened your wavelength, using my understanding of both of your desires. However, I do not think you are on the same wavelength yet.”Bookmark here

“We’re not," I mutter, looking up with watery eyes.Bookmark here

“So, you realized...” he answers with a confident smirk. “There’s a deeper meaning to wavelengths than just your physical distance. It’s going to take more than just meeting and talking, I’m sure.”Bookmark here

“That makes sense,” I reply, looking back toward my tea despite the remnants of steam assailing my eyes.Bookmark here

“You’ve probably widened the gap if anything, thanks to the number of times you managed to— well, put her plans on ice.”Bookmark here

I show him an annoyed pout as a reward for his attempt at lightening the mood.Bookmark here

“I mean, especially now after you’ve broken the cycle created in your world,” he follows up while clearing his throat, trying to regain his usual demeanor.Bookmark here

“So, it won’t reset now?” I ask, looking him in the eye.Bookmark here

“As long as you don’t call upon your ice in order to protect your life again, I’d imagine,” he answers plainly. “Your time should flow naturally from now on— we’ll have to make sure it does, actually. That, and we have to bring Mary to the same wavelength as us, like last time.”Bookmark here

“But Mary lost despite that… are you sure that’s what we should do?” I say, my eyes narrowing.Bookmark here

“This world is significantly different, so there’s no telling how it will react, but it’s the only way to get her to stop aiming for your life, isn’t it?” he says, raising a brow. “We can figure out the rest later. For example, how we’re going to deal with this “Princess Apocalypse” business.” His voice trails off as he withdraws his phone and focuses his attention on its LCD screen.Bookmark here

“It’s actually ‘Apocalyptic Princess’,” I mumble before sipping my tea.Bookmark here

“Eh, the other way sounds better,” he says off-handedly as he scrolls furiously through the browser on his smartphone.Bookmark here

“That’s some way to talk to the savior of this world…” I mumble even lower, careful not to let my pout turn into a smile.Bookmark here

“Might want to put that idea in the deep-freeze for now, your highness,” he says, blinking intensely at whatever he’s reading. “The sun may have peeked through the clouds when you put that song out, but it’s past midnight now and tons of people are freezing to death throughout the country. If Mary’s world is any indication, the NPC’s are going to catch on that you have something to do with the change, despite being the ‘god’ of this changed world. Not to mention Mary’s group… It looks like they’re already assembling their pitchforks, claiming some sort of man-made environmental crisis as the cause. It’s just an excuse to blame things on the Shibutani Group— namely, on its newly ascended daughter, which just happens to have been identified as the net idol Shiburei.”Bookmark here

My eyes widen at his words as I grasp the situation. “What should I do to stop it? I’m not consciously doing anything, so—”Bookmark here

“The question is, do we focus on aiding this world of yours, or bringing Mary to our side?” he mutters, holding his chin with one hand while continuing to look at his phone. “Or maybe we can accomplish both…”Bookmark here

"How?” I ask, lips trembling. “What are you thinking?”Bookmark here

“If your music was able to cause such a stir, perhaps we could get the public together, and bring them to your side all at once…”Bookmark here

“Hmm?” I ask, thinking about his earlier hints. “Oh, your comment did mention playing with The Blinking Owl, but why?”Bookmark here

“I’m not sure,” he says, still glued to his phone. “I just… after seeing what happened when you released the new video, I had a feeling something big like that could make a miracle happen for all that are watching you.”Bookmark here

“A miracle for those watching me?” I mumble, dumbstruck. “The thought of so many people relying on me is just…”Bookmark here

“A lot for a sickly, inexperienced wealthy girl, isn’t it?” he says softly, finally looking up from the screen, the white light illuminating an expression softer than his voice. “But maybe this is part of the key to winning this game of Aku’s. He wouldn’t just give his power to anybody, after all. I think it makes sense for him to want you to prove yourself as a worthy leader, truly deserving of the power of a god.”Bookmark here

“That’s… not something you mentioned before,” I stammer, unable to mask my nerves.Bookmark here

“It could be… that I’m starting to remember something important,” he responds with nearly identical hesitance, his expression shifting to something more distant. “I just think… he has very high expectations for us, I suppose.”Bookmark here

“Well…” I raise my voice with some courage upon reading his labored expression. “It’s a good thing one of us is the prophetic son of god while the other is an actual god… We should be fine as long as the son of god isn’t too busy prophesying on the internet.” I crack a poorly manufactured smile, at which he stares dumbly before finally letting out a hearty laugh.Bookmark here

“I’m supposed to be the one helping you, aren’t I?” he says, wiping the corners of his dirt-matted eyes.Bookmark here

My forced smile breaks into a genuine one as I hold the small pillow close to my chest. “Support should be a two-way street, you know?”Bookmark here

“Right, right,” he replies, having regained his upright attitude. “Which is why you’re going to show your support for all of your subjects— I mean, your fans, by playing a joint show with the famed band, The Blinking Owl. Once I send this text, it’s a done deal for tomorrow.”Bookmark here

“Wait... how did you...” I inquire, stunned as I watch his finger slowly fall onto the screen.Bookmark here

“Well, I actually spent some time as a professional agent before this,” he answers with a smirk as he presses down on the touch screen. “It’s a little fuzzy, but the model I managed was a real piece of work.”Bookmark here

“I can’t imagine you being anything less than scary to work with," I quip, grinning.Bookmark here

“That aside, we should study up on the songs they play on set nowadays, and then get you some rest.” He stubbornly changes the subject, and gets up. Still fiddling with his phone, he slumps down against the base of the sofa, his back brushing against my cold legs.Bookmark here

I nearly jerk my legs away due to the sudden shock, but the warmth he radiates curbs my skittish tendencies. The cold still hasn’t bothered me much, but even more than the tea, his body heat still serves as a genuine comfort.Bookmark here

We spend the next hour huddled closely, watching music videos of the band I’ll apparently be performing with tomorrow. The joy we share in relearning the unforgettable upbeat songs helps to calm my nerves. Before long, we begin watching through the same videos a third time, and JC props the phone up against his unfinished cup of tea before folding his arms in a relaxed position.Bookmark here

“Say, JC…” I whisper, the day’s stress taking its toll and rendering me sleepier by the second. “I clearly remember your countless comments supporting me, so I’m fairly certain we shared that interaction in our real lives, but… to what extent did we all know each other?”Bookmark here

“That’s a question I’d love to find the answer to, myself,” he replies, the interest showing in his voice despite sharing in my weariness. “I’m not sure… how much of what I’m remembering is true…” His voice trails off, nearing an inaudible murmur. “I wish… the truth wasn’t so cruel.”Bookmark here

“Huh?” I crane my neck, hoping to hear him better- however, he doesn’t repeat himself. “About that owl,” I continue, my rambling words commanded by delirious thoughts. “Was that some strange way of finding me before we were on the same wavelength…?”Bookmark here

Silence follows, coupled only by his rhythmic breaths. Feeling as peaceful as I had when I’d fallen asleep next to Mary on the train, I follow him into a deep sleep— certain it will be a dreamless one.Bookmark here

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