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To Hell and Back Again

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Five years after Ororon died, Mitsume showed up on Chiaki’s doorstep and pointed a gun at her head.

Chiaki froze.

“Try it and you’re dead,” Shiro snarled.

Kuro flanked Mitsume on the other side, equally ready to pounce. “You can’t take out all of us at once.”

Mitsume’s eyes flitted left, then right, trying to calculate the most efficient way to do just that.

Chiaki sighed. “Let it go, guys,” she said wearily.

Kuro gave her an incredulous look. Shiro snarled again at the very suggestion.

Guys,” Chiaki said more firmly.

Shiro and Kuro broke out of their attack stances, but both their tails were flicking angrily. They moved to stand behind Chiaki in a sort of solidarity.

Chiaki turned her attention back to Mitsume, who still hadn’t lowered his gun. “It’s been a long time,” she said simply and stepped back to let him into her apartment.

Mitsume’s cold stare wavered for a moment, unnerved but how nonplussed Chiaki was, but he regained his cool almost immediately. “I see you’re still associating with demons. It looks like I’ve come to the right place.”

Chiaki turned her back on him and headed to the kitchen. Shiro and Kuro, after exchanging a confused look, followed.

“Have you come for Othello, then?” Chiaki asked, turning on the kitchen faucet and placing the kettle beneath the stream of water. “Would you like some tea?”

Mitsume, who had never liked being treated as anything other than deadly, snapped, “No, I am not here for a tea party!”

Chiaki snorted, like this was mildly amusing, and put the water on to boil. She turned to lean back against the counter and fixed Mitsume with a blank look. “You finally think you’re ready to kill Othello.” She said it as a statement, not a question.

Mitsume cautiously stepped into the apartment so that he could keep his gun trained on her. “Where is he?”

“Hell,” Chiaki said matter-of-factly.

“And you can take me there?”

“I’m not a demon.”

“No,” Mitsume agreed. “You’re an angel. By my calculations, that means you should have more than enough power to get me to Hell and back.”

Chiaki sighed wearily. “And if you don’t come back?”

Mitsume’s eyes hardened. “I will. Othello has something of mine.” His forehead still twinged even now with the phantom pain of where he’d lost his third eye. “I’m going to take it back.”

“And kill Othello.”

“And kill Othello,” Mitsume agreed. “If I can’t do that much, then I don’t deserve to live anyway.”

Mitsume’s eyes flashed with the first emotion she’d showed since Mitsume had appeared. “Don’t say things like that. Everyone deserves to live.”

“Can you really say that?” Mitsume retorted skeptically. “Can you really not understand what it is to have meaningless existence? For things to get so bad that you’d rather die than keep going on?”

Chiaki’s hands tightened on the countertop behind her. “I don’t believe that killing is the solution, and I never will. If nothing, the events of five years ago taught me even more the importance of life.”

Mitsume snorted. “Whatever. You were always impossible. Just take me to Othello. I don’t have any particular desire to hurt you, so don’t make me.”

Chiaki actually giggled at that, like Mitsume had said something especially amusing.

Faster than the eye could see, Mitsume was upon her, the barrel of his gun now pressed squarely between her eyes. “Don’t mock me,” he growled.

“Hey!” Shiro and Kuro both protested simultaneously.

Don’t,” Mitsume warned and tapped the trigger with his finger.

Shiro and Kuro froze.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” Chiaki said softly into the silence that followed. “I’m sorry if it sounded that way.”

Mitsume hesitated, unsure of what to do in the face of such politeness. Finally, he backed off again, so that Chiaki could breathe, although he kept his gun trained on her all the while.

“I only meant,” Chiaki clarified, “that no one ever makes you hurt anyone. It’s your choice. Not all of us are so lucky.” Her eyes flicked off to the side, in the direction of the tea kettle, and – as if responding to her command – it whistled. She picked it up and began pouring the water into four cups.

“I don’t have time for this,” Mitsume said wearily. “Just take me to Othello, and let’s be done with it.”

“You’ve had five years,” Chiaki retorted. “You can’t wait for an hour and do this like civilized people?”

Mitsume eyed her. “If I agree, you’ll take me?”

Chiaki nodded and offered him a small porcelain cup. There was a chip along the rim, like it had been dropped once but survived. They were all like that, Mitsume supposed.

“You’ll let me kill Othello,” Mitsume said more incredulously.

“You won’t kill Othello,” Chiaki said.

“You think Othello will kill me.”

Chiaki looked him straight in the eyes. “I don’t think anyone’s going to die today.” She said it with such conviction that Mitsume wondered just how much her powers had grown over the last five years. Maybe that was why she had laughed earlier; maybe she was so far beyond him now that pointing this gun at her was ridiculous.

“Your tea,” Chiaki finally said patiently.

Mitsume warily lowered his weapon and accepted the cup.

As if taking that as their cue, Shiro and Kuro stalked past Mitsume, their tails snapping agitatedly, to retrieve their own teacups. They stalked right back past Mitsume to sit around a small table.

“Please,” Chiaki gestured, “sit down.”

Mitsume sat.

He couldn’t say for certain that sitting on the floor in this homey little apartment, sipping tea with an angel and two cat demons while he waited to murder the new king of Hell, was the most surreal experience of his life, but it was pretty close. There was something soothing, hypnotic about the whole thing, like time could stretch on forever in this place, with just the steam and the hot tea and Shiro and Kuro’s occasional rude comments.

Finally, however, even this had to end, and Chiaki set down her empty cup. “I can take you now, Mitsume, if you’re ready.”

Mitsume’s name sounded strange when she said it, like it was more real, like it meant something. Mitsume drew his weapon again and nodded.

Shiro and Kuro retreated to the other room. Apparently, Mitsume was no longer deemed a threat. That didn’t make much sense to Mitsume, but then Mitsume thought this whole lot seemed pretty much insane.

“Othello’s the king of Hell now,” Chiaki said needlessly.

“I know that. I’ve studied my target.”

“If he dies, there will be another civil war. This last one has just ended.”

“It’s Hell. They’re used to that sort of thing.”

“No one wants to be used to war.”

“But that’s the way of the world.”

“It doesn’t have to be. If just one person would stop and say, ‘That’s it. I’m ending the cycle of killing.’ Then it could be over. Families could try to rebuild their lives. Demons could learn what peace was for the first time since…” Chiaki wavered. “Since before Ozu, at least.”

Mitsume thought about it, and he didn’t know the last time there had been peace in Hell, either. Maybe there never had been. Maybe that was part of Hell’s very nature. “I have waited five years for my revenge,” he informed her coldly. “I have nothing else.”

“You have nothing else,” she retorted, “because you’ve spent all those years waiting for revenge, instead of really living. It’s an endless cycle.”

And there seemed to be something there, something that Mitsume couldn’t quite grasp. This little apartment, hidden from the cycle of death and vengeance, yet just as wounded by it as the rest of the world. The quiet stretches as they all sipped their tea that seemed like they could last forever but never did. An offer, maybe. An alternative.

“Stop confusing the issue,” Mitsume said angrily, but even he was startled by how much the anger in his voice was tempered by panic. It felt like something at the very core of Mitsume’s being was unraveling, and it left him feeling so stupid that he wanted nothing more than to force anything new aside and cling to the revenge he’d trusted for so long. “Take me to Othello now! You promised.”

“I did,” Chiaki agreed and closed her eyes, and the air twisted around them, and for a second Mitsume thought he could see feathery-white wings appear on Chiaki’s back, but then they were someplace else, an ice-cold palace and…

“Hello, cutie-pie.” Othello’s cheerful, insouciant manner was just as infuriating as Mitsume had remembered it. He gave Mitsume a jaunty wave. “I knew you couldn’t resist me forever…”

“You think he wants to die any less than you?” Chiaki whispered. “You think he hurts any less?”

Mitsume pulled out his gun, took aim, and watched the self-satisfied smile curve Othello’s lips.

Heaven and Hell held their breaths.

Mitsume’s finger wavered on the trigger.

And, once again, the fate of the multiverse was decided by one fragile human choice. Would the cycle of death, war, and vengeance begin anew, or would that dreamy wonderland of tea and warmth that none of the warriors present could conceive of finally materialize for them all?

Mitsume had the obnoxiousness of a demon to taunt him and the words of an angel to soothe him.

Slowly, methodically, he made his choice.