Summary: Dystopian, superpowered AU. Ohno discovers a strange creature out in the wastelands. Also, it's the end of the world as he knows it.
Beta: zeerious for the wonderful job; any mistakes left are because I fiddled with it after. ; A ;
Note: Thank you to carrotfreak for your donation! I am so so sorry I took so long, but I hope you like this nonetheless. m(_ _)m♥
36, 37°C, and it's so hot and humid that breathing is a chore. Ohno sucks in a breath laboriously, a lungful of heavy air and smog as he trudged further across his field of treasure trove trash.
He swipes the back of his hand across his forehead slick with sweat, grunting as he hikes over a particularly large fragment of concrete and steel cable. A fairly tedious journey but the abandoned plant is the only place he can get the more vibrant minerals without say, falling into Runaway traps or being eaten alive.
No one else is about. No one else is ever about, even though Ohno never fails to check. It's all about optimism, really, on this half-abandoned mostly ruined Earth. Optimism that tumbles him out of bed in the morning, and optimism that has him scouring the burnt and scalded landscape for jewels that are less and less likely each passing day.
But what would an artist be without subjects to paint, and materials to paint them by?
Pause, and then Ohno's dry chuckle echoes across the barren landscape.
Something catches his eye.
Well, no. Ohno's been aware of that tiny blinking light for a while now.
At first he'd thought it some sort of glint against the photochemical smog, but it's too strong, too adamantly bright and yellow for that. It's a light that blinks with purpose, little flickers of some message Ohno can't quite discern yet, between a 'hello' or a distress signal he isn't really sure.
Come closer, maybe. Ohno sets his basket down and squints, hand up at his eyes to shield from the blue-purple dusk. The way it's angled makes him think it's attached to something bigger, but of what he can't see. Whatever it is is stuck in a rut of debris and sunken chain link fence.
Only one way to find out.
"There is no way you're fitting into my basket," Ohno declares, and even pats the rattan for emphasis.
The body doesn't respond. He'd be more worried if it did.
Less dead, it looks... unreal. Its skin is pale from what he can see under all the grime, unusual because everyone tans now that the atmosphere is shot, varying from natural browns like Ohno or unnatural oranges that photochemicals are known to stain skin. No up down of that skinny chest either, at least, not that Ohno can see under the tatters of his t-shirt.
But from his thin parted lips, the spark grows dim, grows bright, an organic, whimpering heartbeat from an inorganic person.
Ohno's mouth sets into a stubborn line.
For a moment Ohno stands and stares, contemplates cowardly slinking in from the back gate, but the weight on his back is unforgiving. He doubts it'd let him sneak through the next door ruin or scale the rusty back gate fence.
With a sigh, he hefts it higher on his back and walks through the front door.
The doorbells tingle cheerfully, like the smile on Jun's face that slowly slips away as Ohno fully enters the dimly lit cafe. Jun's eyes are wide at first, mouth open with shock, then something else.
"What. Is that." The glass he'd been polishing is set down with an ominous clink. Ohno swallows sheepishly.
It's spread out on Ohno's workshop table, head cushioned by a folded towel. His eyelids remain closed, smudge of dark eyelashes against his pale skin, but for all his curiosity Ohno is glad it is still unconscious.
It's a scary position to be in, when your t-shirt is hiked up and MatsuJun is leaning over you, terrifying with his overcast, intensely serious expression and wild black hair clinging to his skin with sweat. Ohno grimaces as the needle goes in and out, in and out, every stitch perfectly aligned that even Ohno's artist hands cannot follow as perfectly, and the angry red wounds are tugged obediently shut.
Finally Jun leans back, mouth set in a satisfied line. He even rubs at the smug of the boy's cheek with the last remaining clean corner of his rag-slash-handkerchief; Ohno brightens marginally, maybe now Jun will let him keep it.
"There; done!" Jun levels Ohno with a stern look. "But that's all I'm doing, got it?"
Ohno nods hurriedly. "I'll do all the taking care of and cleaning up after him, promise!"
Jun rolls his eyes. "This isn't some toy robot. You're going to -we're going to have to feed it out of our already pitiful supplies and clothe it, and we have no idea what its programming is like -"
Ohno puts a hand on his shoulder. "I've done it all before,"for you, he doesn't say. "And I can do it all again, okay?"
Jun watches him carefully before sighing. "Then I guess I have no choice but to trust you."
Ohno beams, a childish crinkling of his eyes.
First order of business, cleaning up.
A quick muttered apology and then the tatters of his clothes are removed. Ohno scrunches up his nose; there's this horrible stench of bodily fluids, burning and infection. The smell of antiseptic is strong too, sharp at his nostrils and irritating his sinuses. It's a bit discerning.
It's been a long time since it's been legal, not since the Ban of 2140, but Ohno's never one for following rules. Ohno closes his eyes and lets out a quiet exhale. Blue glow around the tips of his fingers and then the air around his hand starts to grow heavy. He can feel it, his element as vapors slowly condensing into a thin layer around his palm. Another exhale, tight control of his breath, and then there is a thick inch of water pulsing against his hand.
"Excuse me," he says softly, just to be polite, then cautiously smoothes down the boy's cheek. The dirt peels off into the water; the skin revealed below is pale, almost white. Curiosity bubbles again, and he sweeps his hand down his chest instead, careful to navigate around the stitches.
Every layer of grime removed, Ohno discovers something new; the kittenish curl of his lips, short, blunt fingers - no doubt capable, Ohno can tell from all the strangely shaped calluses.
Concentration he gives every one of his precious art projects, Ohno sets to work.
Clothes discarded and the boy isn't any close to awakening but Ohno still feels as though he has to face the other way when he cleans himself with the same technique. He'd changed the boy's clothes in a similar manner; tugging the fabric over as quickly as possible, resisting the urge to avert his eyes.
The act is reminiscent of cleaning machinery, but it feels too terribly intimate, too oddly personal for this perfunctory task. This body, or machine, exudes humanity, a purposeful construct but at the same time, the twist of human evolution, not far a species from Ohno himself.
There is a bar code carefully branded below his collarbone. Ohno swipes a finger over it, mouthing the symbols like Jun taught him a while back. He expects a serial number or some product name - Ohno suddenly grins.
What Ohno should do is to lay him gently back onto the work table. It's what was done when Jun first came in, wires exposed and a tangle, more Droid than human. But Ohno found that Jun is more Human than most people, so maybe this creature would be different too.
Having said that though, Ohno's room is a mess and the only other place with enough unburied surface to place him is the jumble of sheets, broken mattresses and oddly shaped pillows that make up his bed. He licks his lips absently, but nothing to it. Bed it shall be.
Nino is carefully tucked next to the wall, head propped up by a duck-shaped cushion, thin yellow blanket tossed over him. Ohno climbs in cautiously after him, expression on his face slightly, inanely apologetic, but Nino doesn't react to this invasion of privacy. No more sparks but this time his chest rises and falls, slow and calm. Ohno reaches out a hand, counts each rib that sticks out from that skinny torso, maybe feels a hopeful heartbeat.
"If you wake up while we're like this, don't electrocute me, okay?" Silence means consent, or so he hears, so Ohno closes his eyes and falls to sleep.
It's been a long day.
When Ohno wakes up he is warm. Not the heat normally accompanied by that odd plastic smell when Jun drapes the electric blanket over him, but a more natural sort of warmth. He tilts his head, squinting in the dusty dim of his room, and finds that Nino has turned towards him in the night. Barely a tilt of the head but still he has to grin.
"Good morning, Nino!" he chimes with sleep-rusted glee, and isn't even slightly disappointed when Nino doesn't respond at all.
Jun does greet back however, more cheerful now that he's back behind his counter frying up breakfast. Ohno takes a whiff and grins sheepishly when he smells omelettes, probably thanks to the giant bird Jun had to save him from when it tried to peck his head off.
"Jun-chan, this is really good!" Ohno exclaims with a gleeful spray of gooey yellow.
Jun thwaps him with the roll of kitchen towels but his cheeks are a prideful pink flush.
For all his sourpuss ways, Jun is a good person after all; there is an extra plate of breakfast lying on the counter. Ohno beams gratefully even though Jun-kun stubbornly refuses to turn around and accept it. But his ears are red, so that's good enough.
Ohno takes the dish to his room. He hopes Nino's hungry.
As soon as he enters the room, Ohno steps into a puddle, flash of white light, crackle against his skin.
For a moment the whole world is a light, bright yellow burning dark patches into his vision, hair standing on end, sizzle. Ohno nearly drops the plate but thank God for reflexes borne from post-apocalypse; not a split second and his ions are humming, rearrangement of molecules that has the lightning crashing out of him harmlessly.
"Good morning, Nino!" He beams, putting breakfast down onto the side table. Nino's eyes are wide, guarded, and he inches away as well as he can with the bloodied bandages tight around his ankles.
"Common misconception," Ohno explains, tone as gentle as he can. "Water doesn't actually conduct electricity, you know?"
Carefully he sits himself at the edge of his bed. Nino frowns and scampers back into his corner, but Ohno doesn't let that discourage him.
"Now, shall we talk?"
Nino doesn't respond to any of his questions.
What he does do is more violent, lashing out whenever Ohno approaches, struggling and aggravating the injuries that Ohno tries to treat.
Without the protective layer of pure water over his skin, Ohno can't touch him for fear of blistering by that harsh yellow lightning. If Ohno can't touch him, Ohno can't fix the bandages and plasters that Nino keeps messing up with his desperate behavior.
At the very least, Ohno thinks over the low buzz of irritation, with the yet-healed ankle, Nino is stranded on the bed where he's less likely to concuss himself.
Finally Nino wears himself out, back against the wall, breathing shallow. As gently as he can, Ohno tugs his foot over, careful not to further loosen the bandages around his ankle.
"The only person hurting you is yourself!" Frustration mars his feature as Ohno rubs his sore arm where a spark bit him. "I'm just trying to help."
"I don't need your help!" Words shrill, voice pitched frantically high. There is a sharp pain in his ankle as Nino tries to tug his leg back, searing and biting at his shattered bones that he has to stop. Ohno takes advantage of this ceasefire.
"Good, because I'm tossing you out as soon as you're better, you brat." Wait, ointment first before reapplying bandages? Would Nino stay still long enough for him to get it? Probably not; Ohno snorts and starts winding the cloth neatly around his ankle, mouth on auto-pilot. "Then you can go back to wherever you come from, be their problem instead."
Nino freezes, his whole body suddenly rigid.
"And if you have nowhere to go," Ohno continues without looking up, "your staying here would greatly depend on your current behavior, y'know?"
Ohno releases him, and Nino pulls his knees to his chest and buries his face into his hands.
Very cautiously, Ohno lowers himself next to Nino. When he isn't electrocuted for his actions, Ohno places an arm around his shoulder, lightly, gently.
Nino lets him, and Ohno finds himself immensely hopeful.
Nino doesn't respond to any of his questions, because Nino doesn't have any answers.
It takes him days to unearth information, how much do you know about yourself? What about our World?
Little and less respectively, Ohno decides on the fifth day to give up on this interrogation. As the sky gets darker, so does Nino's face until a permanent scowl is etched into his features. Ohno doesn't think he likes that look on him.
"If I were more human, I'd remember these things," Nino mutters, pushing his frown into Ohno's Shoulder and dampening his sleeve with quivering breath. "If I were more human, I'd have things to remember."
Ohno ruffles his hair and pulls him closer. A comforting rub down his back, an uneven line; Ohno can feel the knobs of metal - no, the bumps of his spine, the soft of his pale skin, by now Ohno knows Nino is human, more human than the boy wants to let himself believe. Ohno gathers him up, holds him closer.
"Nino is warm," Ohno declares firmly. "And that's good enough for me."
"That's dumb," a sniffle disguised in an awkward cough. Ohno can't help laughing.
"I'm human, I would know."
And finally, Nino smiles for him.
So begins Nino's fascination.
The curves of his muscles, the round of his cheeks or even just the touch of his skin, warm and alive - Nino wants to discover everything about Ohno.
"Maybe it's time to teach you the human concept of personal space," says Ohno absently one day, after he elbows the Nino plastered to his back as he tries to sculpt out of blue sand and water.
As Ohno pulls water from the mixture, hand stretching far, a clear stream arcing into the air, Nino takes the chance to slip into his lap. "But I need to find out more if I'm going to be like you."
"It's not only physical," Ohno mumbles, thinking of Jun, how it first came in, the proud, fierce he - he became. "It's other things too, y'know? Feelings and dreams and memories and -"
Nino seems to wilt with what he considers bad news; Ohno hastily adds -
"You can stay until you make enough memories to call yourself human."
Nino grins half-heartedly and tilts his head up to nuzzle. "Nice save."
Half chuckle pressed into Nino's soft hair. "I meant it though."
"Hey, have you told Jun yet? That I'm staying."
Ohno pauses with a spoonful of Aiba Munchies hovering in front his open mouth.
Nino ducks his head when he sees this. "Right? I don't think Jun wants me to stay either -"
"No, that's not it - "
"It's okay, you don't have to pretend," Nino shovels a spoonful of cereal into his mouth. "I know Jun doesn't like -"
He starts to choke, coughs out his mouthful with a wheeze.
"Actually, I just forgot that most people don't like Aiba Munchies," says Ohno as he thumps Nino hard on the back, "I wonder why though; they taste good to me!"
Ohno widens his eyes pleadingly to maximum capacity, then juts his lower lip out for effect.
Jun says, "No."
And then sulks for the whole day after Nino sticks his tongue out at him, childishly blowing raspberries and hiding behind Ohno when Jun raises a ringed fist.
"See?" Ohno says through a mouthful of shredded wheat and sweeteners. "I told you he'd warm up to the idea eventually."
Nino stares at his bowl of dry (normal) cereal skeptically. Then he has to duck when Jun swats at him with the kitchen rag. "No brats at the table!"
When Jun very discreetly pushes the carton of artificial milk towards Nino, Ohno tosses his hands up in the air victoriously.
The room that Nino is appointed to has an odd contraption in one corner. It used to be Ohno's spare studio but there hadn't been anymore empty rooms without caved in or splintered walls. Nino isn't in any position to complain, but Ohno thinks it's unnecessary that he graces it a large wide margin.
"It's not going to attack you or anything," Ohno says, running a palm over the graceful curves of its heavy wooden frame. Vanish now a faded black, it resembles some elegant beast tamed with age. "Come closer."
Nino presses his lips together, hesitantly inching nearer. "What is it?"
"Oh, I don't know actually." Ohno grins and rubs at the back of his head sheepishly. "I just thought it looked cool."
Nino pulls a face and pokes cautiously at one slim white pedal. The creature whines fitfully at him, a stark, steep note.
"You don't know that!" Nino exclaims, wriggling his way further under Ohno's covers. "It growls at me when you're not looking."
Ohno hums and chucks his chin playfully. "Sorry, I didn't think its one measly row of teeth would scare you."
With a whine, Nino flops onto his side and rolls away, dragging the covers away with him. "Punishment! No blankets for the bully!" His sulk is more of a pout, and it wibbles adorably.
"Nino-chan is surprisingly cute!" Ohno mouths his compliment into Nino's shoulder, and gets elbowed in the stomach for his efforts.
While showering the next day, Ohno finds himself humming to an eccentric tune. It is only when he further drifts from the delicious steam that he realises he's been singing along to a melody, not too far away. Boxers, t-shirt hurriedly tugged on and then Ohno is pattering out the door, following his ears.
The first thing he sees is Nino's back, and then behind him, the beast standing on its head. Or maybe this was right side up to begin with - Ohno hadn't expected it capable of balancing on its four spindly legs - an instrument, that's what it was, meant to make magic as Nino presses at the teeth, the pedals, whatever they are in a quick succession, never stuttering his curious rhythm.
Nino. That's where the music is coming from.
Ohno doesn't want to call out, afraid to break the moment or the delicate thread of song that Nino is weaving. He doesn't have to; Nino perks suddenly. Fingers never pausing, he gestures Ohno over with a tilt of his head.
Ohno sits himself next to him on the rickety stool, hands tentatively on his knees, and only after Nino grants him a small smile.
"I can play you something," Nino offers shyly, "if you want."
Warmth blooms inside his chest, gentle but overwhelming, so Ohno grins, a full bodied action that scrunches his face and curls his toes.
"I'd like that," he replies simply. "I'd really like that."
The sky's a deep purple by the time Nino stops playing. By then he's composed arias, stumbled through whimsical melodies, scattered notes into every pocket of air around him.
Ohno looks thoughtful. "Creation is a human thing," he says absently. "Sort of like my art, you know?"
"It wasn't hard," says Nino with a dismissive shrug, even though he's flushed with pride. He stumbles his fingers across the keys, a light, pleased melody. "Steel string over a bridge, sound board, wooden pedals... it's all a matter of physics."
Ohno laughs. "I think it's something else."
Morning ritual is quite frankly a pain in the ass. The protective gel that goes all over the exposed parts of his skin is sticky and uncomfortable, the gloves are chunky and sweaty, and the shoes that prevent him from burning the soles of his feet off when stepping into icky puddles weigh a ton around his ankles.
But Ohno's learnt his lesson from that time he sizzled his hair to a golden crisp and his scalp had itches for days - not an experience he'd like to repeat. And anyway, since Nino had insisted on coming along on his scavenger hunt, this time he has an audience, someone to show the ropes to.
Secretly, Ohno is going to enjoy playing the part of MatsuJun who usually hovers around his shoulder and 'tsk's at him every time he misses a spot. Annoying, yes, but Jun had always taken some sort of sadistic enjoyment watching him fumble with the supplies every morning, so Ohno decides, it's finally his turn.
Satisfied, Ohno crams the odd blue helmet onto his head.
"Nino, just hold on a sec," he calls back from where he's crawled into the mess of the storage room, trying to unearth a pair of boots small enough for Nino. It's a mess in there, all cobwebs and Jun's old kitchenware and his abandoned sculptures. One careless sneeze; dust floods his vision, his lungs, and Ohno collapses in a fit of coughs.
Somewhere behind him, Nino's snickering is loud and clear. If Nino hadn't such a fragile looking parlous, Ohno would have shoved him out sans the safety gear.
"Are you sure we even need all this stuff?" asks Nino with deceptively innocent curiosity. A glance out of the smudged windows shows a mild pink morning light, light green smog, oil slicks not yet spluttering alive. Near peaceful; Nino snorts derisively. "I don't get what's the big deal; why can't I just go outside?"
For about a second, Ohno ignores the brat until he hears the click and creak of the door swinging open.
"Shit, Nino, wait - "
Ohno stands still in the doorway, a hand raised to the light. This time it is pale pink, but more intense in brightness.
There he is, Nino in their bright, dangerous sunlight. Sparks dancing along his edges, his colours fade into the glare soft and cautious, like the way Nino is slowly wandering into the corrosive landscape. Ohno sags back against the doorframe, speechless, as Nino turns back, sheepish smile on his face, gesturing for Ohno to follow.
Angel, Ohno had seen them in rotting picture books, creature of a millennium past, maybe even two. No one has spoken of them in ages, long forgotten part of folklore from before the End of the World.
Ohno wonders if he's willing to believe in angels again.
And then Ohno's stomping after his bionic angel, almost laughing as Nino wobbles and flails as he avoids stepping into anything too acidic. His feet are bare and Ohno marvels every time he catches glimpse of his soles - darkened with grime but not blistered nor peeling from their toxic landscape.
Nino whips around to glare at him when Ohno lets out too loud a chuckle. He straightens quickly from his odd stance atop shifting slabs of cement and pouts at him.
"Oh-chan, stop being an ass and hurry up!" he calls from all the distance of three metres.
"I thought you liked my ass!" Ohno yells back, and is thoroughly pleased with the way Nino's cheeks puff up with indignation but makes no effort to deny it.
As it turns out, Nino's not exactly what one would call an outdoor person, but he does make a valiant effort to enjoy it as Ohno does.
"Oh-chan! It's too hot out!" Nino's whining reaches far. "I'm all sweaty! And tired! Are we done yet?!"
Well, Nino makes an effort.
Still, Ohno can't help the glee that bubbles up from within him, relishing his complaints as another voice out here in the open plains. The bitterness of being alone is still fresh in his mind after all, to look up and see no other living creature on the dying landscape, to straighten with a flourish and an armful of joy in form of new painting minerals – only to find himself smiling stupidly all alone.
Nino is new, and although Nino rolls his eyes at his stupid face and his stupid load of rocks, Ohno can only grin even harder at him.
It happens two hours into the trip - the sudden shiver of Nino's slim body before his knees buckle, the world spins.
Before Nino hits the ground, Ohno is already there.
They've wandered out far, Ohno recognises the plot where he first found Nino just over the debris - he doesn't know if he can carry Nino back the entire way. Can't fix him either, the first aid's different from what Ohno knows, Jun's too far away, Ohno wishes now that he'd bothered to learn something, why didn't he -
But Nino's cradling his head in his hands, pitiful whining from the back of his throat. No choice but to try; Ohno abandons his basket and pulls the boy into his arms.
Worry is thick in the pit of his stomach, and as Ohno takes the first step forward, his legs are already shaking.
After the first time, one would think Ohno would have gotten used to carrying Nino's unmoving weight with him back home. But during the first time, Nino hadn't been shivering and wincing at ghost noises Ohno can't for the life of him hear.
Cool, clammy fingers touch the base of his neck, trailing up to his chin; Ohno starts in surprise.
Barely a whisper, his pleas begin rasping from Nino's pale lips. "Don't, don't go," he says, he begs. "They're there, they, please don't go."
"What? What's there?" Ohno asks desperately. "But home's that way. Jun's back home-" and then he sees the column of smoke.
House on fire no time to take in the red gold fire against the sad purple sky. The door splinters as Ohno charges through.
Skin blistering, even the protective film of water simply boils and evaporates. Ohno can't make circulate it fast enough and it's getting too hot to breath but Jun, Jun's still in there -
"Satoshi? Satoshi!" A vice grip wrests him up by his collar and suddenly, Jun is by his side. "What the hell are you - Nino?!"
"So fucking stupid," Nino hisses, but he pulls and drags desperately on Ohno's sleeve, Ohno who clings on to Jun and refuses to let go, and now Nino is leaning against two weights and the door is still so fucking far -
For once Nino is glad he's not human. Sparks crackle and they are almost immediately lost into the blaze and the fire, but Nino can feel the inhuman power coursing through him, electricity down his veins down his circuits, driving his thin thin legs to the limit. Each step is small, but steady, he keeps moving, he has to get them out alive.
Ohno cries out behind him and Nino flinches - fear, this is raw, human fear - so Jun is wrenched out of Ohno's grip and heaved through the doorway. It clips at Jun's arm, tear of half melted synthetic skin but no time, Ohno is
Out the door too, choking and coughing, eyes a nasty aggravated red but they are wide and alive and
The last thing Nino sees as his knees buckle for the second time and the ceiling caves in after him.
Something splinters but Ohno can't let go, can't stop now. Jun is screaming something angry and desperate but Ohno doesn't hear, has to get him out, can't stop now, can’t stop now -
"So fucking stupid," Jun spits out furiously, sardonic echo of Nino's last words, but then his arm - the one still intact - is alongside Ohno's, grasping and tugging with malicious spite.
Ohno is grateful anyway; with one more heave and Nino stumbles out, tumbles out and falls into his awaiting arms.
There is little that can be salvaged from the debris but Jun stomps and rages through the wreckage anyway. It's a much better alternative than sitting there with
Most of the bandages are used to hold together Jun's skin, and tied securely around the burns littering Ohno's arms and back. Ninomiya's arm is broken beyond bandages and painful to look at, a mess of shattered bionic casing and fraying wires. Jun can't fix that sort of damage, and even if he could, he wouldn't. It is that thing's fault this shit happened in the first place,
Sure enough, when Jun returns to their shelter beneath a dune several meters away, Ninomiya’s eyes are open, and Ohno is bent over him, relieved and kind and forgiving.
Slowly, steadily, the desert of dilapidated ruins and sand dunes melt into something more urban. Three hours later and Ohno notices the ground beneath his feet is no longer dirt and toxic little puddles of rainbow slick; there is a path now, of cracked asphalt littered with cigarette stubs and burn marks, but a path all the same.
He glances around him and the buildings are not much more intact, complete with roofs and walls, far from the metal skeleton wreck town that they’ve just left. A glance back – Jun looks up then down again sharply, plodding along sulkily behind them – and he notices for the first time they’ve crossed into the city’s periphery; there is the stark line of bard wire fences and bright yellow warning signs.
Close now, the signs tell him, it’s been a year since he’d chosen self-exile, but he knows that the station is up ahead, if memory serves him rightly. Sure enough, there is the dull outline of structural giants along the horizon, from which wisps of dark smoke are drifting into the sunset sky.
“Just a bit further, okay?” Ohno squeezes the hand he’s tugged over his shoulder, other hand around Nino's thin waist, tracing calm circles into the ratty fabric of his t-shirt.
Nino doesn’t reply, and doesn’t look at him.
At first the wizened old man behind the booth, suspicion further deepening the wrinkles on his forehead, had refused them entry. Suspicious, entirely too suspicious– a half dead, one armed corpse and his human and non-human companions – ossan thins his lips, stubborn behind his glass panel.
With a frustrated snarl, Jun loses his temper.
There is a loud bang, and then a delicate cracking sound as the line of fracture spider-webs across the transparent division, criss-crossing ossan’s petrified face. Frantically, the tickets are pushed into the metal slot, and Ohno swipes them up hastily before the old man gets over his shock.
There are angry red marks on his fingers, from his rings and from the impact, but Jun rubs them easily away with a triumphant smirk.
The carriage is a tiny little four seater, so much dark red rust and yellowed duct tape patching it up and holding it together that the colours lend a mockery of the older-than-old traditional luxury. Crimson and cold, thinks Jun a bit over-enthusiastically as he tries not to topple off the torn cushion benches; they are painfully lumpy and only wide enough for his torso – his legs dangle awkwardly into the hallway – and maybe a foot away from each other.
Ninomiya is perched on the other, upright because any other way would jar his broken arm (painful) or accidently litter the grimy floor with fragments (inconvenient and highly unsettling). Ohno’s head is pillowed on his lap; the man is sleeping, collapsed with exhaustion, but Ninomiya remains awake, carding his fingers through short brown hair soothingly, every time the train jerks and trips along its electromagnetic tracks.
Their conversation is thus whispered, but no less intense.
“I keep telling you,” Ninomiya hisses angrily, “I don’t know who the hunters were!”
Jun keeps his eyes on Ohno’s sleeping form; it is the only way to stave off the murderous glare and rage coiling unpleasantly within him. “Bull shit,” he manages through clenched teeth, “the fuck should I believe you?”
“I saved your life!” The words die on his lips, a fucking stupid argument -
“You put it in danger in the first place!” – and Jun is not one to leave things unsaid, no matter how stupidly obvious.
“I saved Ohno’s life too,” Ninomiya tries again and it’s cheating, but at the sound of his name, Jun’s eyes flick up at him in a sharp sullen glare.
“Satoshi never should have rescued you in the first place,” he says, spiteful and petty and mean, but he no longer cares. “Too fucking kind, too damned pitying for his own good. He should have just left you there.”
For a moment, Nino’s expression is an ugly, hateful glare, but then it settles into an empty grin, a baring of teeth and a sneer in his eyes. “Don’t act like you’re any better than me,” he says. “You’re not human like him. You’re just the same scrap metal trash like I am, Jun-chan, so fuck off.”
The night ends in a stalemate.
It doesn’t sit easily with either men, but both are too prideful to take anything back, words of compromise in their vocabularies few and incapable.
But it is a challenge he refuses to lose to.
"There's a bug inside you."
Nino looks up sharply but Jun is still reclining on his back, staring up at the ceiling.
“We were made, constructed beings, right? I was made from a human, you were made from a Changed. Expensive stuff. My family -" his lip curls with disgust at them but Jun feigns disinterest. "- wanted some kind of insurance their heir didn't get kidnapped or, hah. Run away."
Nino tries not to snort at the irony. "I don’t remember a family," he says instead. Jun's face does a little frown which he quickly tries to hide, but Nino catches it anyway. "What? What does that mean?"
"Experiment," Jun says with difficulty. "You... You might have been sold."
Everything is silent, and then Nino lets out a sudden bitter curse.
"They think you’re dead," Jun offers. "If they took so long the first time to find you, it’s likely their trackers have a limited transmitting range, especially with all the interference of our shitty atmosphere. Probably never expected escape to be possible. We’ve covered hundreds of miles since; there is little chance they’ll be able to find you again."
Nino mulls quietly. "And if they do?"
"Find you, or catch you?"
"I don’t suppose I want to know."
"I will not let you - "
"I will leave on my own," Nino interrupts, "if it comes to that."
The next morning, Ohno wakes up slow and reluctant to find new aches in his already sore body. At first all he sees is black, even after making sure he's opened his eyes, and then he realizes Nino's leaned over him protective and needy at the same time, too close to see. The boy shifts easily for Ohno to sit up, but clings pitifully to his sleeve, so Ohno dutifully wraps an arm around him and lets him slump against his side.
Day has broken and light filters through the grime of the windows; somewhere in the night Jun had turned around, wild balancing act upon the seat as he faces away from them, and the morning illuminates every curve and contour of his broad back.
Quiet; Ohno sits back to savour it because soon enough the dull beige speakers in the corner will cackle to life and then they will have to step back into the glare of New World.
When it does happen, the voice is dull and listless, slurring in what sounds pike another language all together. But there is only one stop anyway.
"Time to go," Ohno says to himself softly, and then he is surprised when immediately Nino opens his eyes, pointedly averting then away from across the aisle where Jun is pulling himself up.
"Did something happen last night?" he asks curiously.
A look passes between them, a sort of understand, product of a night’s festering.
“No,” says Nino, smiling as wide as he can. “Nothing much.”
Jun echoes his sentiments.
Just barely able to pass as a town, the settlement they pull into consists of three solemn platforms and the makeshift structures that have sprung up around them to shelter the constant stream of runaways, homeless and poor, the stranded.
The only food store is a tiny wooden store with tarp roof and a sign crafted from the North South East West into something more pronounceable. The signs says, "N EWS". At the very least, the platforms loom overhead and provide shade enough for Ohno to shuffle hurriedly over without reattaching his heavy straw hood, for Nino and Jun to forgo their disguises as they trail silently behind them.
The man behind the counter watches them with a disarmingly absent stare, pretty doll eyes dark but glassy and unreadable. The smile he makes as they sit themselves at the counter on rickety stools is polite and bland and insincere. Nino smiles back and while he doesn't trust him one bit, there's the sort of people he can appreciate.
Sudden, loud - a cry echoes from somewhere beneath them. Nino listens with a shudder but Ohno and Jun, they jerk as if stung, familiarity in the disembodied voice.
"That voice," Jun hisses, clutching at Ohno's arm, "it's got to be him!" He jerks out of his mistake, takes one threatening step towards the counter – big mistake.
There is a flash, painfully blinding, and a figure leaps down from above, blocking their exit. Split second – furious glare, a growl – and then the world lights up scalding white and destructive, sparking and whipping from his fingertips. With a shout, Nino is out of his seat, hands outstretched, pupils blown wide.
The lightning enters, pinpoint in the middle of his chest, and rushes out of his everywhere. The air cackles and for a moment it is too bright to see and then – nothing. Scorch marks scar the ground and wisps of smoke rise from Nino's singed clothes, but he is none worse for wear. His attacker stumbles backwards, mouth wide in disbelief. Sharp and cool, Nino grins with a smug cock of his head.
"A Light user, huh? We are might be the same," he says, "but I am better."
Electricity in the air that for once, has nothing to do with Nino. The one with the curly brown hair has his pretty boy face twisted in an ugly glare and Jun matches it with a challenging stare. Nino and lightning boy has each other's movements pinned.
Ohno, however only smiles, crinkling his eyes up and matching Yamashita's steely gaze. "You have a friend of ours, I think," he says, too chirpy for the situation, "won't you let us see him?"
Tegoshi glowers at him, tiny little tremors beneath his feet, but Ohno's polite smile never wavers.
"... Of course." Yamashita speaks up after a pause. "You can never be too carefully, Ohno-san, in times like these." He chuckles, inappropriately carefree as well. "Tegoshi, with me. This way, please."
He disappears into the back room, a careless gesture behind to follow him before the gaudy bead curtain sweeps him out of sight.
"Wait out here, Nino." Ohno pats him absently on the head, and then follows Yamashita through the curtain. Jun and Tegoshi follow after, and then there are only two people left in the store, eyeing each other warily.
"This feels like we got sent out of the room," says Nino with feeling, an attempt to break the tension, "to let the adults talk."
The lightning boy doesn't answer.
"I'm Ninomiya," Nino offers. He lowers his hands and upturns his palms. "Never met another Light user before. You are...?"
"Nishikido Ryo," he answers, a slight twitch at the corner of his mouth. "I have, but you're strong, aren't you?"
"So. Nishiki, was it?"
Nishiki rolls his eyes but doesn't refute it. "Teach me how you did that, senpai," he says instead, "and Ill give you a guided tour, special one time offer only."
"How generous." Nino grins and shakes his hand in agreement.
"– and this is the circuit to the main station conduit." Nishiki swallows as Nino grins sharply, yanking the wires out and digging the raw ends into his palms. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
Nino doesn't reply just yet, his eyes are closed and then there is a spark and then a glow from his small clenched fist. The bulbs behind the plastic casing light up, flashing urgently, a dim buzzing fills the air.
The three chipped plastic stubs that clatter out onto the metal tray are a bit of an anticlimax.
Nishiki's expression says as much, but as soon as Nino's eyes dim back to their usual dark gold, he flashes another triumphant grin. "First class tickets!" he crows delightedly. "How brilliant am I?!"
"Extremely," says Nishiki dutifully and even though his voice is flat, Nino beans and ruffles his hair anyway.
"How many tickets do you want?" he offers generously, despite the fact that his palm is tingling in a slightly worrying manner. "Quick, before the security codes reset."
Nishiki shakes his head. "I don't want to leave Ninomiya-kun," he says, ducking his head sheepishly. "I was a Runaway to begin with, and now I have found my place."
"I'm pretty sure your place could do with being a little less –" Nino flails an arm about, groping for a more polite word. He fails: "– pathetic?"
"The location is unfortunate, yes," replies Nishiki with a laugh, "but it's for the people that I stay."
Nino hums, tugging the folds of his scarf down and pretending not to notice how Nishiki immediately looks to the curtains that Yamashita had disappeared behind. "Brave of you," he says almost to himself. "I wish –"
"Nothing," Nino tells him, and sticks his tongue out for good measure.
When they return, Ohno is spinning idly in a chair that didn't originally allow for spinning; it wobbles and dips and falters, but Ohno stays seated and grinning. Nino is slightly impressed, but mostly annoyed.
"Oh-chan," he says, pressing up along his side, ignoring the way his chair screeches distressingly to a stop. "Have you finished your business yet? This place is creepy, let's go already!"
There is a cough, and then Nino notices an unfamiliar man hovering at one corner. His suit is a mess and missing a sleeve, and his hair is disheavelled but he stands straight and confident all the same, sloping shoulders set in confidence. His hand is on Jun's shoulder but his eyes flick nervously between them. Nino tightens the arm around Ohno's, and can't help glaring suspiciously.
"Nino, this is Sho-chan," Jun intercepts quickly. "He's a friend, he'll be coming with us."
"Oh," Nino frowns. "I didn't get a ticket for you, though."
"Don't worry," Sho-san says, "I've got my own special permit. I'm a sort of diplomatic ambassador, see, though I haven't really reported in in a –"
"I wasn't worried, Nino cuts in, lifting his chin in an entirely unimpressed manner. Sho blinks, mouth pursing into a thin perplexed line.
Suddenly, Ohno's hand are clasping firm on each of their shoulders. As they look up cringing, he smiles back down at them. "There there," he coos. "We're all going to be friends, so play nice, got it?"
They have no choice but to agree.
"He smells funny," Nino comments as he watches Ohno struggle to pull out the foldaway bed, perched on his own already assembled and cushioned.
Ohno scrunches up his face in concentration, trying to focus on his words and at the same time, tug off the seal preventing his air mattress from inflating. "He's sort of like you, actually," Ohno says distractedly.
"He is nothing like me," Nino says, quietly, firmly, words like ice. "He's from the government, isn't he?" His words twist in a slight sneer.
Ohno looks up, wiping the sweat of his forehead with the back of his hand. He grunts when Nino elbows him aside, yanking at the rubber tag until it snaps cleanly, a hissing sound as air begins to compress, invisible to the eye but solid to touch. When Ohno flops down, it undulated under his weight slightly, but otherwise Ohno remains several inches above the metal frame.
"Not like that." Ohno pauses thoughtfully. "Well, okay, like that too but he's more metal than you. And you're both as human as I am."
Nino eyes him for a while before his shoulders sag as he gives out a loud sigh. In one fluid motion, he flops back onto his own bed, arms beneath his head. "Ohno-san really is too kind," he says, more to himself.
"Funny, Jun keeps telling me that too." Ohno laughs quietly. "You’ve been talking to him?"
"I don't have to to know that," Nino snorts with a roll of his eyes. He flops onto his side to hide his smile, until Ohno ambles over to join him on his bed. Like this, he can almost convince himself this isn't the end of the world as he knows it at all.
The grim reminder comes just four miles away from their destination. Tremors come from the first carriage, small shockwaves that travel down the linked compartments until they jostle Ohno awake. Balefully the train grumbles to a haltering stop, lurching to stillness as Ohno cracks open a weary eye.
There is something wrong in the air.
Few else are in the train with them but Ohno can sense the low buzz of panicked muttering and fear spreading down the tracks, inaudible but heavily present. Muted cry of a desperate woman behind him, angry whispers and blind accusations.
Carefully, he lifts Nino's arm from around his waist, almost apologetic as the boy shifts and frowns in his sleep when Ohno's warmth leaves him. Ohno strokes his cheek once, twice, before slipping on his leather boots and shuffling out into the corridor.
He sees Sho outside, hair askew, as he slides his cabin door close as gently as possible so as not to make a sound. Jun is probably still sleeping; Ohno taps him on the shoulder silently, then gestures towards the head of the train when he turns around. Sho looks faintly surprised, before it turns to understanding. For a moment he frowns, Ohno knows he is considering asking him to stay out and returns it with a stubborn look of his own, so Sho cannot help but nod and lead the way.
Together they walk cautiously down the train, not a word passing between them because already the air is filled with dim voices from behind closed doors, frantic and intensely frightened to make up for their low numbers. Just before the entrance to the open air platform, there is a tiny tiny girl, no longer young with the dirt in her hair and the grime on her cheeks.
"You don't want to look," she says, so of course, they head straight for the exit, nausea churning low in the pits of their stomachs.
Outside the smells are nauseating, a blend of pollution and rot, the dead and the dying, and coloured with the sharp tang of worn steel.
Road block; Ohno squints harder and realizes it is made of decomposing carcasses. He tries not to look too hard but has to ask the question anyway, "are- are they human?"
Sho looks over with a reluctant grimace when he sees the thin pressed line of Ohno's lips. With a sigh he turns back to the tracks, glimmer of red in his eye as he narrows scope and zooms in. Almost at once there is another streak of red, even faster, and his eyes retreat back to normal.
"Humanoid," Sho reports, a strain of unwillingness in his voice, "but I can't tell what or who they were."
A shot rings out in the distance, low thump of something, some creature falling out of the air, and then a faint cheering, obliviously cruel. Ohno swallows thickly and tastes bile at the back of his throat, as Sho shivers beside him.
"Come on," Ohno grips Sho's arm tightly, herding him back into the cabin. "Come on, we should go back."
He'd intended to slip quietly back in, and if Nino woke up anyway, he'd claim toilet break. But behind Sho's shoulder as he opens the door to his room, Ohno finds Nino in the cabin, seating opposite Jun on the bunk.
"Jun wouldn’t tell me what’s going on," he says, frowning when Ohno doesn’t look him in the eye, hand at the small of his back pushing him back in. "Will you?"
Beside him Sho frowns and frets and mumbles a few false starts, but Ohno keeps his gaze on the ceiling, glazed and lost in thought.
Sho tries, "there's a theory is that the Changed is resultant not of human evolution to adapt, but of degeneration back to their wild, primal selves."
"Conspiracy bullshit!" It is Jun who speaks, and while not a Changed himself, his eyes burn furiously. "It's just a cover up to hunt them and everyone fucking knows it!"
It is the last anyone is willing say.
After that, no one speaks of the incident again.
part two here.