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too little too late

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Cause it’s tragedy and it’ll only bring you down,
Now I don’t know what to be without you around.

 

“Shark?”

“Yuuma.”

“Is she ok?”

The heart monitor beeped steadily. The hospital room was white and cream, sterile, and the familiarity made Ryoga faintly ill. He had been here before, in a room just like this one, where the beeping went on unchanging, where his sister lay still as death, until he thought he would lose is mind waiting for the sound to speed up or slow down, for her to just twitch and prove she were alive.

“They don’t know if she’s going to wake up.”

“Oh.”

Yuuma comes closer to him, and puts his hand on Ryoga’s shoulder. He squeezes. The contact makes Ryoga a little dizzy; it’s like coming back to life. Like he’s sat here for so long that he has ceased to exist, and Yuuma has just resurrected him in the flesh, with all his aches and pains.

[Pink. Everything is pink and purple. There is no sun in the sky, there is no grass on the ground, someone is calling out to him —]

Ryoga jumps. What the hell was that, he thinks. Maybe it’s aftershock from before. Yes, that’s it.

“Are you ok?”

Ryoga stares at Rio. Her mouth is slack. Her hair is beginning to look greasy. So is his, for that matter; he hasn’t bothered to go home and shower or eat or sleep in a bed. The house is haunted with Rio’s charm and wit and steely center, all of which are lacking in this comatose version of her that Ryoga has kept company far too often.

“…you should go home, Yuuma.”

“Did you eat anything? I brought snacks.”

There are plastic bags in Yuuma’s hands. Ryoga looks at them, trying to remember what food tastes like, and then he remembers Rio’s first meal, only months ago, god, how she’d devoured every bite of the shitty hospital food like it was the manna of heaven, and he can’t even think of eating. His stomach turns.

[Starsong filters in through the gaps between worlds, and he listens to it. One of the songs is his, but he knows the others — they are dragon’s roars and knight’s blades, they are whirling fists and icy storms —]

Ryoga gasps out loud. He closes his mouth as Yuuma looks oddly at him, and makes himself speak. For a moment he doesn’t recognize his own voice.

“I’m fine.”

Yuuma puts the bags down and kicks them under Ryoga’s chair. “Okay.” He grabs the other chair and drags it over to Rio’s bedside, and he sits down beside Ryoga. Yuuma toys with the hem of his vest, a nervous habit Ryoga never realized he had, and then he remembers that Yuuma normally plays with the Key. But he doesn’t have the Key around his neck, not right now, of course. It’s gone.

“Hi, Shark’s sister! I mean…eh…ehehehe…Rio.” Yuuma rubs the back of his neck. “Don’t be mad!”

Ryoga almost expects Rio to open her eyes, and sit up. Maybe give Yuuma one of her looks, the ones she uses when she feels like being intimidating. “Excuse me?” she’d say. “What did you call me?”

But Rio doesn’t move. Somehow, that disappoints him. He closes his eyes, and makes himself open them. He owes it her to look at her. He owes it to her to suffer with her.

“You should wake up soon, because Shark is lonely without you.” Yuuma says. He nods. “And I’ll handle the Barians! Even without Astral, I…even without him…” Yuuma swallows. Ryoga sees the reflexive twitch of his fingers for a pendant he’s not wearing, and without thinking, Ryoga takes Yuuma’s hand, just to still the movement. Yuuma smiles at him.

“Even without him, I definitely won’t lose! So you don’t have to worry about them. Just get better soon.”

“Yuuma…”

“You’re supposed to talk to them, right? In case they can still hear you?”

“Yeah.” Ryoga remembers this, of course. He’d tried everything, the first time around. But it was hard to remain singularly devoted to Rio’s care, all by himself, with no one to talk to or to distract him, and he’d slipped up, until he went weeks without visiting because looking at her hurt, until he began to wonder if there was any point to his being alive, if Rio would never rejoin him in the waking world.

Thinking of the ‘waking world’ reminds Ryoga of the vision of the ruins, but he forces himself to forget again. Not now, he thinks, I can’t think about that now. I’m just Ryoga, and she’s just Rio, and that’s all there is. All we can be.

[The throne is too wide for just him, so she joins him sometimes. They can see everything from up there, keep watch over their whole empty world.]

We can’t be Barians. I don’t want to be a Barian. Because the Barians are monsters, and because Yuuma…

Yuuma is still sitting there, watching Ryoga watch Rio. They’re still holding hands.

“You should go home,” Ryoga repeats, and he pulls his hand away. “It’s late.”

“Do you wanna come over? You could get some sleep. And Baa-chan can feed you.”

Home, where Yuuma still has a family. His sister will be there, no doubt, to yell at him about being irresponsible. There will be food in the fridge, and someone to listen if Yuuma yells “I’m back!” as he comes through the front door. Ryoga’s house is empty, and there’s nothing to eat and no one to worry about him and the idea that Yuuma has those things makes Ryoga’s heart race. He’s not going there, to be reminded that even if he plays house with Yuuma to ease the loneliness Rio will be alone until he finds a way to wake her up.

“I’m fine.”

Yuuma stands up, and he pats Ryoga on the head before he leaves, the automated doors whooshing shut behind him. Ryoga slumps; he’s so tired, and sleeping in the plastic chairs has given him cricks in his neck he might never lose, and —

[He is falling. Someone is laughing, someone he hates more than anything, and rages sparks up through his gems, lights his eyes, but it’s too late — ]

The doors slide open again. The sound jolts Ryoga out of his vision, back to reality, away from the swoop in his stomach from the fall. Yuuma comes back in, this time with two pillows and two sleeping bags. He lays them out on the floors, and fluffs the pillows.

“We used to sneak in and camp when my dad got injured,” Yuuma explains. He unzips one of the sleeping bags, and waits. Ryoga imagines a smaller, younger Yuuma curled up on the floor beside his father’s bed, waiting for him to come home, and remembers that after his parents died he and Rio would lie in his mom and dad’s bed together, under the covers, holding onto each other. It felt as though if they stayed there, where their parents had slept, they might come home and everything could return to normal.

When Ryoga doesn’t move, Yuuma comes over. He kisses Ryoga on the forehead.

“Go to sleep, Shark,” he says, and he drags Ryoga over to the unzipped sleeping bag and makes him get in. It’s warm, and as soon as Ryoga’s head hits the pillow he feels exhausted. His eyelids are suddenly too heavy to hold open. Beside him, there’s rustling as Yuuma crawls into his own sleeping bag and rolls over until he bumps into Ryoga.

Ryoga listens to him breathe. He listens to Yuuma’s breathing and Rio’s heart, the steady sounds keeping him grounded, until they blur together in his mind. He falls asleep, but then he starts to dream…

…and it is Ryoga Kamishiro who falls asleep…

…but it is Nasch who wakes up.

+++++

Yuuma wakes with a yawn. He stretches, and rubs at his eyes. He starts to call out for Astral.

Astral isn’t there, though. And when Yuuma rolls over, neither is Shark. The sleeping bag has been rolled up neatly, the pillow set on top. Maybe he’s gone to the bathroom, or for food, or —

Rio is gone, too.

“Oh, no!” Yuuma rushes outside, into the hallway, as if he’ll catch the Barians (who else would take them) out there. But there’s nothing out of the ordinary there, just nurses and doctors milling around. He goes back into the room to search for clues, but there is no sign of a struggle. Surely Shark would have put up a fight! Unless they threatened his sister, in which case Yuuma needs to find him soon.

He leaves the hospital, dialing Kaito on the way — Kaito will know what to do — and as he turns the corner, he doesn’t see the shadow in the alleyway, the figure in purple that watches him keenly as he sprints down the sidewalk. The sun is shining, but Nasch doesn’t let it touch him. Unobservant as Yuuma is, he might still see.

“Are you ready?” Merag asks behind him. Her voice doesn’t betray her, but Nasch can still tell she’s in pain. After all, they are twins, a matched set, and he is in pain.

He isn’t ready, but that doesn’t matter. Nasch turns away from where the sun is shining, from where the bright colors of Yuuma’s vest are vanishing into the crowd.

Thank you, Yuuma.

“Let’s go,” he says, and Merag takes his arm. And then they dissolve into starlight, into sparks, and they are elsewhere.