Disclaimer: Gatch belongs to Tatsunoko Pro.  I just like making pretty boys angst.

The Way the World Ends

The secret was killing him.

Not like before, not when the secret was killing him literally, each day another step closer to death, but the secret was killing him just as surely as the shrapnel in his brain had.

It wasn’t something you could just come out and say to someone.  “Oh, by the way, Ken, while you and the others thought I was dead, I was really being re-made into a machine whose only purpose is to fight Galactor.”

There were times when Joe wished he could have stayed away, gone his own way to fight Galactor and never seen the others again, never seen Ken again.

But even if the thought hadn’t made his heart ache – still real, still his, even if it was probably assisted now, some piece of cyborg technology helping it beat – there was still the fact that the KNT was still the best (only) defense Earth had against Galactor.  No matter how he felt, he could do so much more with them than alone. And he’d missed them the way one missed a limb.

He’d truly had no idea that just being around them – around Ken – all the time would be so hard.

His gaze was fixed across the bridge of the New God Phoenix, staring at the back of Ken’s helmet and remembering the last Galactor plot they’d somehow foiled.  He and Ken had gone through a squad of goons, just like they always had, but on the other side, Ken had looked at him as if something else had happened, too, something that not only confused but hurt.

That look had driven Joe through the better part of a case of beer, searching for oblivion that just wouldn’t come.


Jun’s quiet voice in his ear made him start, and reluctantly, he pulled his gaze away from Ken.  “Yeah?”

“Are you all right?” she asked softly, head tilted a little to one side.  “You’ve been glaring daggers at Ken this whole time.”

Jun’s eyes were too sympathetic for him to stand and he glanced away again.  “It’s nothing,” he replied curtly.  “Everything’s fine.”

His sharp tone didn’t push her away, though, and he could hear her smile when she spoke again.  “Okay, but you let me know if things change, all right?” And she touched his arm, squeezed it before resuming her seat.

Joe clenched a fist against his knee, carefully out of view.  Oh, Jun, he thought, what would you say if… He shut off that thought, and tried to keep from staring at Ken.

As much as keeping this secret was killing him, he couldn’t help but think that the alternative would be worse.  He didn’t want them to treat him any differently.

There were times when he could forget, when he could just be Joe Asakura, and not think about the fact that he was a cyborg.  He could remember what it was like to be human.  And then there were moments like this, when he did remember, and it made everything else seem like a lie.

The only thing that made him feel real any more was this – protecting the world from Galactor.  So when Ken stood up, planning to infiltrate the base and do some damage inside while the New God Phoenix rocked it from the outside, Joe was ready before Ken could even say “Joe, with me.”

Somehow, it was easier once they’d made it inside, more familiar.  He was able to turn off that part of his brain that did most of the thinking and just react.  A Galactor over there – feather shuriken in his eye before he could even raise his gun.  Another, behind him – fist against his jaw, turning it to pulp.  Spray of bullets – dodge, duck, spin kick and the mook fell, neck broken.

Ken flashed past him in a handspring, feet pointed just so, right under the chin of the next hapless Galactor, snapping his head on the wall behind him.  And then Joe had to stop watching, had to trust that Ken would take care of himself.

Because, Joe thought distantly, turning away, God knows he can.

He almost remembered Dr. Raphael’s order to temper his strength and reaction time… almost.  But it was so much better to just let it all go, all the anger and confusion and hate, let it pour out into his fists and feet, spreading death until his wings dripped with it.

This was it, this was what he was good for, this was why he’d been reborn, remade.  This was when the rest of the world fell away, all the things he regretted, all the things he just couldn’t say, no matter how he wanted to.  This was real.  He was real.

And suddenly, there wasn’t anyone else to fight, just Ken beside him, barely breathing heavily at all.

Without a word, they took off for opposite sides of the control room, planting explosives in any likely spot.  This was what I missed most, I guess, he thought, stretching to reach a bank of computers over his head.  The way that me and Ken just seem to know…

If he’d been paying attention, he would have heard the click of the gun as the Galactor cocked it, no matter how quiet he’d tried to be. As it was, he didn’t even think that any of them were left alive until he heard the shot.

Joe started to spin, searching frantically for Ken, and knew in the wrenching of his gut that if the goon had been aiming at Ken, he’d never be able to…

Then the bullet entered his side – would have been my back, the thought came, if I hadn’t turned – deflected off a reinforced rib and just lodged there.  He grunted at the impact, internal sensors already telling him it wasn’t even worth being worried about, then swept the control room again for the Galactor, intent on revenge.

But it had been the last act of a dying goon; even now the man was falling face first on the floor, gun dropping from dead fingers.


And just like that – just the glimpse of Ken staring at him, eyes wide with shock – everything fell apart.  Joe turned away, head bowed.  He pressed a hand against his side, already knowing he wouldn’t see a drop of his own blood staining his gloves.

There was a line between the way things had to be and the way things were.  Suddenly, Joe felt like it was a chasm, and that he’d leapt across without looking.

June 7, 2009
© randi (K. Shepard), 2009