The train dips into a tunnel like structure, bars of steel and gray arching overhead – and never comes out again.
It stays dark for a long time, with only the occasional streak of tiny green light that marks out the tracks, the spark and screech as the train surges on. Nino presses his nose to the glass and tries to squint through the black to no avail. In his chest, something flickers eagerly but Nino very firmly swallows down the instinct that would light him up from the inside and
"No lights," comes Ohno's voice softly from over his shoulder. "But there's no point anyway; nothing but nonpotential Earth for the next few miles."
"So long?" Nino furrows his brows. "Why does it take so much time just to go a couple hundred metres down?"
"We're going down on a slant," replies Ohno, shrugging. "Gentle decline so even if the earth does break down around us again, we won't get crushed like the last time."
Last time? but the look on Ohno's face is purposely still, so Nino bites his lip and asks something else instead. "Where are we going?"
"You didn't know?" Ohno squints at him with surprise and amusement. "I drag you half across the world and you only ask now?"
"I thought we were just running away." A flop of his wrist, waving in an aimless sort of way. "Didnt know we had an actual destination in mind."
"Oh. But there's only one place for our type to runaway to - " Ohno sees the deadpanned expression on Ninos face and belatedly remembers his lack of memories. He holds up his hands placatingly, patting the boy when he mellows into a sulk. "Right right. It's got many names over the ages, but its residents just call it the Underground."
"The Underground?" Nino raises an eyebrow. "Because... it's underground? Wow, that's creative."
Ohno ruffles his hair, grinning for a second before his expression turns serious. "This world, beneath the surface? It started as a labyrinth for the Changed to escape and seek refuge in. Then more and more of the new and newer generations evolved, so the Changed, they expanded their tunnels and caves and caverns into the underground domain today."
"Like ghosts beneath their feet. Monsters under their beds?"
"Exactly." Ohno smiles. "They call us creatures from the Underworld. Underclass.
Nino crinkles his nose. "That’s mean."
"Mm. They try to extinguish us every once so often, but after the previous war and all the casualties, they've realised it isn't worth it." The smile on Ohno's face sharpens, just a bit. "They've realised the Changed are here to stay."
Immigration is strict.
Abruptly, punctuated by a large metallic churning, the train grinds to a stop in front of what seems to be a giant cave in blocking the tunnels passage. The passengers clamber off, hurriedly, frantically, but there is also the smug relief as they pull off their hoods and long cloths wound around their necks. Sho and Jun pass despite clearly being cyborgs, because Sho's diplomat papers and Jun's castaway symbol carved over his barcode cannot be denied. Nino on the other hand…
For a moment, Nino is almost caught. The broken shrapnel of his arm sparks at with unfortunate timing, and the guard turns to him, expression twisted ugly.
At once, Ohno insinuates himself between them, stepping in the way of the hand that is reaching for Nino. "He's injured under that, that's all," he tries, but the guard refuses to listen.
Last ditch attempt, Ohno grabs at the burlap sack - Nino's arm - and for a moment Nino can feel like the ghost of a severed limb the shards of his broken bone and casing piercing into Ohno's palm. He gasps, eyes wide, and the guard too, because now the burlap is staining a deep red and both of them watch as a thick droplet falls to the grime of the pavement. When Ohno speaks up - shouts, actually - it is devoid of the pain he should be feeling, and he projects it onto Nino instead, curling protectively around his frame. "I said he was injured!" Ohno hisses, eyebrows knotted together in an uncharacteristic glare. "Those sparks - he's one of us fucking monsters, get it?"
The bright beam of the guard's torch catches Nino's face, and Nino lets his eyes go bright, a gold that sharpens into yellow that is swallowed by a painfully searing white.
"Right," the guard concedes finally. "You may proceed."
Never has Nino seen so much life, stretching across the periphery of his vision, far as the eye can see there are people and pets and animals busy with their lives. The dome overhead looms a solid and confining dark dirt brown, studded with regular rows of bright rectangle lights, but even the endless sky cannot compare.
There are splashes of magic too, small magic in the old man’s fingers when he snaps them and his cigarette starts to smoke, the narrowing of a Shopkeeper's eye that has a stray receipt drifting back to him by an unnatural shift of breeze. A boy by the side of the road is desperately trying to start his scooter,
In a surge of impulsiveness, Nino lays his palm where he guess the engine might be, a large smooth curve at the rear of the vehicle. The tingling in his blood - that isn't the excitement of making magic happen in public, no hiding no cover ups no worry - is funneled carefully into the contraption and then, a grumble and a groan, a bright yellow glow, it is humming back to life under him.
Nino grins as the boy gasps and looks up at him with wide eyes; there is no fear but only amazement and awed respect. He isn't the only one who is watching Nino with surprise; the glow had attracted the curious glance from many in the market square and the chatter that runs through the crowd holds no spite. Nino grins even wider, and pats the little boy with flourish as he hops on and scoots off with a cheerful, thankful wave.
When he turns around, Nino finds Ohno sending him a reproving look.
"I forgot to tell you, but we’re sort of overly talented," Ohno tells him with a smidgen of pride that is aimed more at Nino than himself. "So don’t go showing off okay?"
Ohno touches his arm briefly, Nino can’t feel it through the burlap and damage, but he nods. "Okay."
Paradise is a lot smaller than Nino had expected.
In fact, it rather resembles a slight rundown building with occupied by a Chinese restaurant. The gateway is a sliding paper door, tradition of centuries ago except when Nino peeks over Ohno's shoulder and squints a little harder, the screen is of a thin synthetic mesh on skirting boards of cold steel so muddied with dirt it takes on the brown of wood, as are the paper lanterns of rough pressed bark and wind chimes of metal scraps. Cozy almost, if he doesn't look too closely, but the nearest thing he's seen to a house, a home, so Nino leans back and twists the fabric of Ohno's sleeve between nervous fingers.
Ohno , however, rushes inside, eyes bright with anticipation, and is immediately greeted by the old lady at the counter.
"Satoshi!" A swoop and the lady has him in a tight, fond hug, pinching his cheek. "It’s been such a long while! "
"Cha shu ramen!" Ohno chirps in reply. "Oh, and it’s nice to see you again, Aiba-san."
The woman beams and ruffles his hair fondly, her reply lost in the flurry of arms and motherly tsking as she checks Ohno once, then twice over for signs of malnourishment and neglect. When she is finally satisfied, she turns to the Shop and yells, Masaki!; her voice is assented with something Nino cannot recognise.
There is a crash, a bang, and a sound like something tumbling down the stairs –
A tall, lanky man with light brown hair spills into the restaurant, one foot, "Oh."
Nino is all very suspicious; the name Aiba rings a bell, somewhere in his memories the name echoes, and it sounds like a warning siren. And then he remembers why. "You gave me food poisoning!"
The next hour is lost into the stem of what Nino realises is real food, nothing previously freeze dried of canned or air tight in heavy plastic wrap. The sensations are an epiphany on Nino's tongue (real; he'd bitten himself once in a fit of tantrum and not wire and electric had filled his mouth but the metallic tang of blood) and he finds himself devouring his bowl of ramen as though he hadn’t eaten in years.
Around him, Ohno and Aiba and Jun and Sho hold a lively conversation, how are you, what have you been up too, nothing illegal again I hope, happily disjointed by bad jokes and puns and subsequent laughter.
Nino eats his bowl of ramen, even as Sho and Ohno ask for seconds, savoring every last sensation, taste buds alive with rich, delicious flavours. At the end of the meal, each and everyone is stuffed and more satisfied than they've been in what feels like forever.
Sho gives shoots them an apologetic look as he and Jun depart for the night, back through the alley before it gets too dark to find his own front door, but that doesn't change the fact that they managed to escape without heaping to clean and vise up the restaurant. Aiba's mother retires early, so it is up to the man to take charge, directing Ohno and Nino to the wet clothes and mop as he bangs around in the kitchen tidying up.
As soon as the chores are done, Ohno slouches in a booth seat, and Nino tucks himself next to him, head lolling sleepily on his shoulder. It's been a long day; Nino just barely spares the effort to wonder where they would spend the night, what comes next.
"No offence or anything," says Nino with a blatantly suspicious look on his face, "but are you sure this is a good idea?"
Ohno hovers into view and gives him a bright thumbs up. "Don't worry! Aiba's a genius! A miracle worker!"
Nino eyes Aiba suspiciously, where he is grinning happily and fiddling with a sharp, scary looking instrument. It's with great reluctance that Nino powers down his machinery, but Ohno is still beside him, squeezing his shoulder reassuringly, so Nino doesn't resist. He closes his eyes.
The anestetics kick in quickly and Nino dreams, soft glow filtering through haze even as the lightest of touch skims across his closed eyelids. His hand tingles, Nino imagines it whole again, warm, something like Ohno's scent draws him
The first thing he sees is a head of dark brown hair resting at the edge of his mattress. Nino shifts, trying to reach out, and something sharp and fiery jolts up his arm, past his shoulder, ending in a dull throb at the back of his neck.
“Ow,” says Nino, falling back onto his pillow and wondering what the hell that crazy man did to his arm.
The hair plastered to his forehead with sweat is pushed aside but Nino's only working hand is still gripping at the tender flesh above his newly repaired arm so how – for a moment he is stunned, eyes wide before he remembers Ohno at the side of his bed. Ohno's sitting up now with a leg over his sheets, leaning over him worriedly, spine snapped straight.
Ohno makes to grin and his eyes crinkle anxiously at the corners. "Nino, you're awake," he says, fingering the sheets near his newly repaired arm nervously. "Can you feel your arm?"
"I sort of wish I didn't," Nino answers, an absent quip as he tries to flex his fingers, pins and needles under his skin but sharper, hotter. He immediately takes it back though, when Ohno's expression falls steeply, and the man is already twisting round as though to yell for Aiba.
"Kidding, just kidding," Nino hastens to add. Very carefully, he lifts his hand and places it over Ohno's, pushing all grimace out of his face. It isn't hard despite all that pain; for the first time in a long while, Nino can feel with his left hand the warmth of Ohno's hand, the smooth skin at the back of his palm. He smiles. "It just stings a little, that's all."
Very very carefully, so much so that his arm trembles in effort, Ohno turns his hand around beneath to Nino's to twine their fingers together. “I guess this means he fixed it?”
"Yeah, yeah," Nino concedes grumblingly, "I guess that idiot's smarter than he looks."
The radio cackles to life, and then there is a voice, deadpan and empty. It's a foreign language - no, it is the Up's official language, dry and poignant, lacking the casual slang and personality that Nino didn't know he spoke with. He mouths the words slowly, something at the back of his mind providing him little snippets of vocabulary he hadn't known he knew, translating awkwardly the strange strange tongue.
After a few minutes of frowning and straining his ears, Nino gives up. Over the radio is a litany of names and locations he has never heard of, something burns, another falls. It sounds like social commentary, dry and statistical even though as Nino watches the rest listen and comprehend, their expressions turn more devastated each passing moment.
"What," he snaps finally, and the shrill of his voice surprises himself. There is something tragic in the air that he cannot endure in silence any longer. "What's happening?"
To his surprise, Ohno doesn't answer like he usually does and it feels like Nino's existence has been temporarily put aside. Instead a frown is directed at everyone else, a baleful downturning of his lips. "What is happening?" Ohno echoes, more forced, more demanding.
"War is coming," says Sho carefully, and from a man with such linguistic skill, the stark of his bare words is alarming. Nino turns to him sharply but Ohno keeps staring at the radio as it drones on, casuality listings that have lasted for a good four minutes now. "The people, they are getting anxious."
"Why? When? How?" Ohno frowns, the utter seriousness putting a few years into the creases of his forehead. "How did I miss this?"
Jun shrugs, unsympathetic. "You never wanted to know," he says simply, "so I never told you."
Nino sees the twitch in Ohno's jaw and cuts in quickly. "We want to know now," he says, thin-lipped. "So tell us now."
Sho teaches his first lesson in the cool of his workshop, and there are only two students.
Ohno and Nino look over to Aiba, who's gleefully bouncing in his chair, eager for the lesson to start. And then at Jun, sulking next to Aiba, valiantly trying to keep him still but to little success. Sho rolls his eyes at all of them before snapping out his laser pointer. He nearly skips past the basics but Nino bites his lip and resists snickering at the badly drawn diagrams, so with an exasperated sigh, he begins.
"There are three types of humans in the New World," says Sho, "all of which seem to have evolved from the same, original human race. Sort of like, a splitting of paths, fork in the road." He pauses, frowning. "Do you understand?"
"Divergent evolution?" Ohno tries.
"Adaptive radiation?" Nino offers.
"Allopatric speciation!" Aiba crows excitedly and then puffs his chest out proudly when the others turn to stare. "What? I'm a scientist, remember?"
"Me and Ohno," Aiba points to himself and then at the chubby cheeked man with an enthusiastic finger, "we probably evolved in two separate ways because of different selective pressures. Ohno has his super power thing and I, I can't do that but I'm a lot sturdier than the previous breed of humans."
"Aiba-chan and Ohno-kun, they are on opposite poles, see?" Sho puts his laser pointer to good use, outlining the... chart like diagram, badly drawn onto a tarp with powdered minerals.
And then from the ceiling he drags down a giant chart, humanoid but with a cybernetic anatomy.
"And this is what Jun-kun and I am," he declares with flourish. Nino thinks he sees a smidgen of strain in his smile but Sho keeps talking as though nothing is wrong. "Well, specifically, these are the blueprints to my model, but aside from the upgrades the core is basically the same. As soon as the hybrid nervous system was invented, mechanical parts and organs were able to assimilate into human bodies. We are cyborgs, result of anthropogenic evolution to adapt to this New World."
"There are three types of humans in the New World," Sho repeats later on, "but only one is considered as such."
It is quiet then, each lost in their own thoughts, as his words sink in.
Startled, Ohno looks up from his administrations. His hands pause over the fixing of the shutter doors and he turns to face where Nino is ankle deep in wires, trying to spark the city out of hibernation.
"Which side would you choose?" Nino repeats, purposefully vague.
Ohno's expression, as expected, twists into one of confusion. "You?" he tries, flashing him a hopefully smile.
Nino rolls his eyes but smiles back, albeit somewhat tight. "That's not what I meant, Ohno-san."
"Ah, then, whatever side shouldn't matter right?" Ohno taps a finger against his chin thoughtfully. "If we're all the same in the end, it wouldn't even be racism to choose one side, right? We come from the Origin and you are part of all three and Aiba is super evolved and I like Jun and Sho-chan..." He glances at Nino hopefully, eyes wide and expectant.
Nino laughs and shakes his head. "There is no wrong answer, Ohno-san," he tells him, since he hadn't asked a proper question in the first place.
It tastes like a lie. There is a wrong answer; Nino is the wrong answer.
Once they step back out of the safe confines of Sho's basement and into the streets, the world has been set in a new perspective.
The marvel has gone from Nino's eyes and now he can see clearly the wear and tear of the buildings and structures, and of the people. There is a permanent sort of sickly paleness under their skin from the stolen sky and lack of natural sunlight, poisonous or not, beneath the stains of dirt and grime, sweat and toil. What Nino mistook for paradise was actually just short of hell.
"I don't understand," Nino whispers later, draping across Ohno so that his breath tickles his ear. "You were right; we are all the same. We're all human. So why are we fighting?"
There is a long slow exhale above his head, and Ohno tightens his arms around his waist. "It's in our nature, you know? All of us, from the very beginning, to fear and reject what is different from us. And then there is human pride and the fixation on power. It's pretty obvious that if we – the Changed, I mean – are able to survive the toxic of the atmosphere with our powers, we should be left to live there right? And if the 'normal' humans cannot, they should hide down here. But they feel it is their right to live above us even if the light burns their skins and the air is poison to their lungs."
Nino takes a moment to process this. Finally he concludes, "That's stupid, that's really fucking stupid."
Laughing, because that's all he can do, Ohno flips them over and attempts to suffocate him in a giant hug. "Yeah, you're right, of course."
For so long Nino has waited to regain use if his left arm that when the bandages are unwound, he doesn't know how to react.
A few seconds of awe and then he shrieks, "AIBA MASAKI, YOU BASTARD!"
Aiba pokes his head in for a second, long enough for him to register Nino's pissed off expression and Ohno and Jun, doubled over with ill hidden laughter. Very quickly, his head disappears again and he tries to flee but Nino is quicker, split second and he is across the room, hauling Aiba back in by the collar even as the scientist squeals and clings on to Sho-chan. Both get dragged in by Nino's fuming rage.
"What the hell is this?!" Nino screeches, waving his arm up and down despite the lingering soreness because it was cover in mirrors, fucking mirrors.
"Nino-chan, don't be mad! I just gave you one of my super Mirrorman arms!"
Nino tries to hit him again, and his arm glints spectacularly bright as he swishes centimeters from Aiba's head.
"It'll make you invisible, Nino-chan!" Aiba ducks behind Sho who balks when the full force of Nino-rage is turned in his direction. "I gave you a super power! It's cool!"
One day a soldier troops through their city. The market crowd parts around him, in parts morbidly curious and terrified. The uniform is in tatters so it is hard to tell, but it doesn't bear the marking colours of any government faction. Not rebel faction nor national army, not friend nor foe, the crowd doesn't know whether to help him out or kill him where he stands. He is bleeding in unsteady drips into the ground. Nino hovers behind the pillar of the nearest stall, suspicious and wary.
The soldier keels suddenly, dropping to his feet. The hood covering his face tumbles down and -
With a sharp gasp, Nino freezes for a split second, and then suddenly his body moves on its own and he is fighting through the crowd. It's easier to dodge hard elbows and stomping feet when he's small, and Nino finds himself kneeling by the soldier's side.
“Nino?” the soldier's eyes widen in surprise, and Nino winces to see how bloodshot they are.
“What are you doing here?” Nino demands. “How did you get here, Nishiki?”
Before he can answer, the crowd breaks out in angry shouts, who is he, why do you know him, and a shoe crashes into the dirt next to Nishiki's head.
"Alright then," Nino mutters. He's small, but metal, so Nishiki is hefted up upon his back, despite the pained grunts. "Best we get away from these people. I know just the place."
Aiba's parents makes little fearful noises at when Nino shows at their doorstep, Nishiki draped over his shoulders, but a quick glance at the hostile smattering of people gathered outside convinces them to let them in first, ask questions later.
Sho is even less pleased to see him.
"That - that's Nishiki!" he squeaks, flinching as though he's about to dive under a table. "He held me hostage for days!"
"Government-dog-san!" Nishiki greets in turn from where he is spread out on the sofa, getting his wounds patched up. Aiba pinches him in the side, but he manages a cocky two fingered salute anyway. "I've been looking for you! There's some news from the surface world you might like to know."
Sho takes his place next to Nishiki, first standing, then slowly sinking to the floor. His eyes are rounded, his mouth agaped, and he is, for lack of better word, stunned. In an erratic but ever-flowing stream, Nishiki speaks of battles won and lost, front lines broken, tides turning. He speaks and speaks and his words churn in the air around them, so of it unclear, meanings lost, but there is one thing they can at least understand: a rebellion has started, and the Changed have stand a fighting chance at victory.
There are so many questions waiting to be asked, now that it's clear they've missed a lot while underground, but Nishiki doesn't stay long enough to answer all of them. Instead, he tosses a radio and transmitter into Aiba's arms, and grins like it'll solve all their problems.
News of the conflicts spreads of wild fire, and panic follows close after of the battles being fought above their heads. A crowd gathers at their door and finally, because the people deserve to know, Nishiki offers to make a sort of public service announcement of sorts. The next day, a small podium has already been set up, testimony of how eager the people are for information.
Nishiki shuffles out into the artificial sunlight the next morning with his all his gear strapped to his back, hood clasped loosely above his shoulders. "I'm leaving right after I'm done," he tells them, "you know, just in case they don't take the news well."
With a snort, Nino slings an arm around his shoulder. "That's your reason, huh?" He grins. "Not that you have anywhere to be, anyone to be with?"
Nishiki grins, sticks his tongue out like how Nino had done once, long ago, and takes to the stage.
TOKIO CONQUERS NEW TOKYO!
Ohno has to laugh at the bold declaration over the radio and Nino digs his chin harder into his shoulder questioningly.
"They're renaming New Tokyo to Tokio," Ohno says, lost in thought, "not like there can be a new New Tokyo anyway. That's just like Naga-nii..."
Nino pokes him in the shoulder, a tiny zap at the tip of his finger from the left over static energy.
With a yelp, Ohno swats away the offending digit. “I said Tokio! Like on the radio? The crazy bunch of rebels who are trying to spread freedom through mildly violent means?”
Nino makes a small noise of agreement; for a week now most of the information through the airwaves had been centered on this curious group of vagabonds, stomping across the Wastelands, occasionally causing mass mayhem but mostly bringing freedom to several of the Changed colonies up on the surface. "And, and you know them?" Nino asks, suspicion creeping into his tone, "like, personally?"
A small sheepish grin creeps across Ohno's face. "I was once part of them," he said with a shrug, "Ran with them for a couple of months before they started proper, didn't really suit the wild lifestyle, so I drifted off."
"What," Nino deadpans. "You what."
With a sheepish grin, Ohno shrugs and veers the conversation back on track. "New Tokyo was special, one of the summits of the surface world, right? So it's a pretty big deal that they managed to take it over."
"And that other rebel group, a team of uhm, scientists? Called themselves SMAP?" Ohno crinkled his forehead thoughtfully before doing a mental shrug. "Anyway, they've taken over Stigma for a while now, that big pointy building that does weather research. They say that they'll be able to fix the shitty atmosphere, at least enough that the Earth will be more livable again but they've been saying that for years so..."
"Stigma? Tell me more," Nino demands, hungry. Ohno smiles, and does just that.
The conversation draws them in, and they don't notice Sho hovering at the doorway, eyes suspiciously bright.
Gossip and speculation has been spreading like wildfire, even in the dark underground labyrinth. It is like a light, a ray of hope casting its glow along every passage, every corner, whispering of a better future. No one however, knows enough about the surface world. Fortunately, the podium Nishiki used hasn't been dismantled yet.
One sunny afternoon (power surge, the lights gleaming extra strong), Ohno is suddenly dragged into the market place and shoved on stage, and then he stands deer-in-headlights, as a crowd of people stare up at them. From beneath the podium, Sho gives him a cheerful thumbs up.
"Uhm," he says, voice lilted and eyes rounded with confusion, "hello? Do I talk about – war stuff? And uhh," he falters as the crowd stares back in equal bewilderment. "uhh, hi?"
"Hey," a voice suddenly calls out. Ohno whips his head in that direction and there Nino is, grinning at him from the edge of the crowd, "gee, I sure wish someone knew about all that Tokio business that's on the radio so much! If only some experienced soul had been with them once, maybe a friend of theirs even, to tell us what's going on!"
The exaggertation in Nino's voice has Ohno snorting with laughter, and then he is finds himself speaking again, repeating all that he'd told Nino the other way. The crowd looks up to him in awe, and Nino rocks back on his heels, gleeful and proud.
It starts of innoculously enough:
"The world needs to know this!" Jun declares, suddenly young again, optimistic, "Look how much it's helped this community! We're happier and hopeful and if enough people believe in equality, we might actually get something done!
It isn't unusual for Jun to get like this, all impassioned and fired up for justice, and they normally just nod along because there isn't much five men can do against the world, but this time, Aiba perks up,
"Our radio," he says, wonderingly, "we have a transmitter, if we can receive, we can relay as well right?"
And suddenly they have a whole broadcasting station, set up next to their little podium, with a working camera and everything. It is a group effort that pulls the community tightly together. The elders help with writing the speeches and picking out the best information, Aiba had help fixing up the equipment and with the aid of other Light type Changed, Nino powers everything up.
The first screening that goes out is a huge event. No one knows if it's being received because they're broadcasting it out on an empty frequency, but they are hopeful and optimistic and the fact that they are actually doing something has everyone – happy.
Nino's group gets distracted by the lights and sounds, and their power slips away from the generator, but with a sneaky grin, he powers it right back up with his own, strong enough to deal with it by himself and only using them as disguise. Well, that's fine too. One day, Nino thinks as he watches Jun up on the podium, strong features set with determination – he won't have to hide anymore.
It's a bit of an accident that Nino ends up caught on footage, and his presence, half Changed and half government experiment, is a match thrown at dry hay everywhere he is seen by. No one sure which side Nino is on, and then Nino thinks, fuck hiding, if the world insists on watching his every move, then he'll give them something better to look at. At the next broadcast, he stands close enough that he is sure to be on screen – if at the very edge – and then he takes off his cloak. The metallic of his arm gleams and a surge of whispers follows. Jun turns, just enough to catch sight of him. An eyebrow arches at him, and then his lips twist into a smirk. When Jun nods at him before turning back to his speech, it is a sign for the whole world to see, that Nino has been accepted.
Sho is the one who takes him up on this unspoken offer after. For a supposedly clumsy man, Sho-chan catches Nino like a wisp of smoke, appearing at his side silently, hand so light on his arm that by the time he notices, there is no polite way of escaping.
“I just want to talk,” Sho tells him softly, “if you don't mind.”
Nino smiles relexively, and shifts over to make way for him on the porch swing. He watches Sho from the corner of his eye as he fumbles for words, mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. For a long moment, it is quiet. Sho fumbles for words to break the silence.
"I want to put you on television with us," he ends up blurting out. "Nino, you're special, you are a mix of different 'types' of humans, if people saw you then -"
"Okay," Nino interrupts. "Okay, finally you asked, let's do it!"
Surprised, Sho shifts in bewilderment on the balls of his feet, knocking shoulders with him. "Wait, you want to? You want to, all by yourself?" Sho snorts with laughter. "Then what was I so serious for?!"
"You tell me," Nino huffs. He tells Sho, "We are more alike than you think!" and pretends not to notice when Sho grins and settles against his side.
One morning Ohno wakes up to dark hair tickling his cheek and Nino's peacefully sleeping face, as he has done for the past few weeks, warm and content, the rest of the world a far off dream he doesn't quite want to wake to, not now that he has this.
Then he looks out of the window and dirt is falling from the sky.
At first it resembles a careless streak of black at the corner of his eye, Ohno blinks and raises a hand against the sunlight but there it is again. A light smattering of dark brown earth against the window pane, soil a rough coarse texture that very distinctly comes from the upper surface. It shouldn't reach them when they're hidden so far underground.
"The sky is falling," Nino observes quite astutely. "Why is the sky falling?"
Jun shoots him a glare. "This is not the time for jokes, Ninomiya."
Nino matches him with an equally fierce look. "Does it seem like I'm joking?" he demands, one palm wide open and it collects flecks of dirt free floating dirt. "Why is the sky falling?"
At first they do not understand.
The sky is not only falling, it seems to be on the verge of crying. The air is heavy and slowly their sky between the tubes of florescent lights is staining an impossibly dark black. A saturation of water, seeping downwards from the Surface, pushing and straining an even greater weight upon the glass dome above them – at first they do not understand, and then realization hits with a tone of disbelief.
"It - it's raining," Sho says breathlessly.
And it is, raining for the first time in centuries.
Repairs start swiftly, miracle phenomenon or not, especially one that threatens to cave in their cities with all that extra weight and volume upon their glass dome sky.
"Is this even possible?" To Nino, the idea that water would fall from any sort of sky is unimaginable, and now that they were elevated kilometers into the air, Nino's palm on the crane's power conduit lifting them higher still, he finally has time to ask.
With a fond chuckle, Aiba ruffles his hair before turning to the underbelly of the glass dome with a serious glare, surveying the damage before reaching for his tools to seal again the hairline fractures spiderwebbing across the surface. "They say that a long time ago, there were places where it rained every month. And sometimes it even came down as ice!"
"Sounds like what Jun would call fairytales," says Nino with a laugh.
A cheeky grin flits across Aiba's face. "And that is why Jun-pon is now getting what he deserves for being such a cynic."
Simultaneously they turn their heads right, where Jun had been left in charge of the other crane, and of the altophobic Sho and absent-minded Ohno to survey the rest of the damage. His job is, to say the least, not easy.
There is a clang, a Sho-sounding shriek, and then Jun is yelling out his rage.
"Ohno-san, help!" can be made out from his far off cries, and Nino laughs and squints but as far as he can tell, Ohno continues to sit with his back against the dome, eyes closed as he concentrates on the water and shifts it to less fragile areas, oblivious to the chaos around him.
Even after the repairs are done, they can't shake the feeling of imminent collapse. There is rain up on the surface now, they can live in the open. It's a hopeful wish, and a foolish one, so of course Aiba wants to go.
“We can't hide here forever, right?” Aiba bounces in his seat, leaning over his ramen to beam at them hopefully. "We should go to the Surface, no, we have to go to the Surface!"
And no one can argue with that.
Jun and Sho will be the first to leave. Their dates are set together, th faces of the famous rebel programme working as partners, Jun with his striking face and fiery determination, Sho with his speeches brilliant both in their content and his smooth, clear delivery. Their bags are packed days in advance, and even then they are too busy with preparations for the peace summit to spend time with the rest. Aiba is scheduled to leave soon after, first class ride straight to Stigma, the forefront of technological advances, to lend his expertises.
That leaves Ohno and Nino. They'll leave eventually, to meet up with Sho and Aiba and Jun, but it feels as though they are being left to behind. The need to do something builds and sloshes over rims until finally –
Ohno jerks up suddenly, dislodging Nino from where he was lounging atop his stomach. "I've got it!" he cries, "Quick, gather the rest around the dining table!" Nino catches sight of Ohno's grin, brighter and more alive than he normally ever is, decides that questions can come later, and scampers off to get the rest.
"I have the perfect solution!” Ohno shouts, barging in a few minutes later.
"We had a problem?" Jun asks bewildered.
Gasping, Ohno shoots him a mildly scandalised look.
"We're being seperated," Nino informs him helpfully, "just for a bit but you know, we'll still be apart."
Ohno beams at him proudly and from behind his back, whips out a palm sized plastic stencil. He holds it up to them, and his smile grows impossibly wider. Even in the dull kitchen light, its shaped is clear – the kanji for Arashi is cut out in smooth elegant strokes.
"Arashi," Ohno announces, "that's us! It's symbolic, and – and you guys get it right?! It's us, we're Arashi."
And they do get it, the storm that brought rain and life to the old wastelands, spreading further and stronger than ever. It's them, their voices spreading out through the airwaves, promising peace, giving hope to Earth's scattered populations. Nino is first to cheer, a sudden whoop of delight that has the others joining in in quick succession.
"Got it, Riida!" Aiba laughs. "I want one, I definitely want one!"
"Oi, calm down!" Jun chuckles and slaps his arm playfully. "Arashi is you, and the rest of us, we'll all get one.
“How are we going to get these done?” Sho asks, eyes gleaming.
A crackle and they turn to Nino, who has a smile like sunshine and energy sparking off the tips of his fingers.
“Oh no,” Sho says, abruptly wary, backing up against the window.
“Oh yes!” Nino declares, and decides that Sho will go first.
On air, they listen to their radio programme all the time. Sho-chan's voic is distinct and soon, it carries a reputation all on its own. He speaks more often than Jun, smooth and clear and sure, a constant, cool stream of encouragement, this war will not peak, there is only uphill from here. On the flickering screens they sometimes catch sight of Jun's steely stare and Sho's picture perfect grin. Aiba pops up sometimes too, raw footage of him making his rounds about casualty camps to patch up all sorts of humans, the very poster boy of harmony. Their tattoos are stark and vibrant on their shoulders, the coloured inks seared bright and clear even on the dusty screens. Nino curls into Ohno's side, a finger tapping against the cracky old device, at once ansty and feeding it power at the same time.
"We're leaving early tomorrow," Nino mumbles, "to meet up with them again. We should sleep early tonight."
Ohno hums but neither of them make a move to switch of the radio.
"And if we sleep, the faster time will pass, and the faster we'll see them again," Nino tries again.
"... Sho-chan's all grown up, hasn't he? All of them has,” Ohno says instead, quietly so he doesn't interrupt the gentle lull of Sho's voice. He wouldn't have drowned him out no matter how loudly he yells; the other houses are always quiet at these times, Sho's programme on each and every one of them, blending together into a thrum around their settlement. “Did you know? They're starting to believe us. They're starting to put down their weapons.”
“I don't know what they were like before, how would I know if he's grown up or not?” Nino tries for dismissive but there is no hiding the way his voice is pitched low too, a pride colouring it for his friends. “He's government based but clearly for the Changed. Oh-chan, we – we might actually stand a chance.”
“No doubt about it,” Ohno replies. The smile that plays on his lips is secretive, and Nino tries to steal it, seals his mouth over his, and believes in him.