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Inertia

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Theme: 23. Preventing Hypothermia, or, “Let Me Apply Some Liquid Heat to Raise Your Core Temperature.”

 

Water, water everywhere. Logic said it had to be water--the temple had been built out over the hurling waves, smelt of salt all over, sticky with sea-spray. Therefore the falling darkness Yohji moved through was water.

The cold was all-enveloping, gnawing through him like frozen meat clutched too hard--nothing colder than meat straight from the freezer. This was like having it slapped all over him and the meat tenderizer rubbed straight into his eyeballs.

He was still on the down--down like a rollercoaster, heart thumping, bubbles replacing the wind in his face. Chunks of the temple fell around him, bounced off him, headed out of his increasingly small field of vision. Was the light fading or was it unconsciousness coming to get him? Things were moving slowly. He didn’t yet feel the need for breath.

One chunk, glistening white, fell into his open hand. He clutched it and went down that much faster.

He thought, Aya has his sister back.

He thought, we stopped them. Whatever they were trying to do--and he still didn’t really understand--it was over.

It was over, and if he caught a larger chunk of temple, he would be over. It would be downhill all the way, and his next breath would be his very last.

He let the white stone tumble away and struck out upwards, just like that. Still not ready for the alternative. He grinned into the salt water, and it stung his lip. He licked at the sting and tasted what might be blood, or might just be more salt water.

On the way up, he caught a flash of red and grabbed for it without thought, or the hesitation that thought might’ve given him. Once he'd caught a handful of Schuldig’s beacon-bright hair and reeled in his unconscious form, it was impossible to let go.

Yohji swam like he was walking with a limp. There was a rhythm to it--reach out, pull the water closer, pause. Readjust his grip on Schuldig. Reach out again. Like this, the shore grew nearer, the vast stretch of blackness that reflected nothing and so was clearly not water. Beyond that, far beyond, the lights of civilization twanged against the tuning fork of the clouded sky.

Yohji’s leg cramped. He lost sensation in his fingers and toes. His heart pounded painfully in the way he’d heard it did at the beginnings of hypothermia--hard work to warm a piece of slowly freezing meat.

When he finally rolled Schuldig’s dead weight free of the waves, for a moment the only part of CPR he could remember was that chest compressions should be done to the beat of Stayin’ Alive, an absurdity he must've picked up on television because it definitely hadn't featured in his training.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, he thought as he checked Schuldig’s throat for obstructions and pulled out the piece of seaweed lodged under his tongue. Been kicked around since I was born. Mouth-to-mouth. It came back. His own hands were so cold that he couldn't tell if Schuldig was cold by comparison. There was probably a lower end to what human fingers could feel, he reasoned, like there were upper notes no man should try to sing.

Schuldig curled in on himself all at once and hurled up water so dark in the night that Yohji thought at first it must be blood.

They looked at each other. Schuldig was shivering visibly, which meant at least he was warmer than Yohji - Yohji had stopped shivering ten yards out from shore. They eased closer together, each barely moving, seeking a warmth neither possessed.

We’ll die here on this beach. Yohji didn’t know whether that was his thought or Schuldig’s. He nodded.

“At least it won’t be on purpose,” he said aloud. Schuldig’s rusty, bubbly laugh was the last thing he heard before he passed out.

***

When he woke, it was to the familiar smell of a hospital. He opened his eyes. Aya’s sister was sitting by his bed in Aya’s orange sweater eating cubes of blue Jell-o. Schuldig was nowhere in sight.

Aya-chan gave him a little wave. “Ran asked me to sit with you,” she said.

Yohji tried to answer, but only croaked. Aya-chan helped him sip some water and fluffed his pillows for him.

“I talked to you,” she said. “Didn’t I? While I was...asleep.”

Yohji swallowed, and then swallowed again. “Thought that was the drugs,” he got out. If the hallucination of Aya’s sister was real--and it surely had been; Aya-chan looked now just as she had then, and Yohji had yet to see a photo of her--what about the rest of them?

“Maybe it was. I couldn’t talk to you again after that.”

“Where’s-- Was anyone brought here with me?”

“No one. Are we missing someone?”

“No,” Yohji said automatically. “No.” If Schuldig wasn’t there when they found him... Had Schwarz come for him? Someone else? Eszett? No way to know. “Ken and Omi?” he said, somewhat belatedly. “They’re all right too?”

“They’re fine. You’re the last one awake. The last one I’ve met, and the first.” She picked at the sleeve of Aya’s sweater and glanced up at him through the fringe of her hair. Her smile was genuine, but brief. “I like my brother’s friends," she said.

“And your brother?”

She shrugged. “He’s not Ran anymore. I guess he can’t be after all this.”

“You know he took your name?”

She nodded and smiled down at her hands. “So he wouldn’t forget.” She looked up suddenly. Her eyes were the same color as Aya’s and every bit as determined. “So you call me Ran, okay? Because I won’t forget either.”

Yohji knew fucked up when he saw it, and he knew stubborn, too. He nodded. “Ran. Got it.”

She smiled at him. “He won’t like it,” she said.

“Nope.”

“I’ll need backup. Are you going to be on my side?”

Schuldig was still out there somewhere, thanks to Yohji. Schuldig was the one who’d taken her from her hospital room. Yohji knew it. Crawford wouldn’t have done it himself. Schuldig would’ve been the one he sent.

“Sure,” he said. “Sure, I’m on your side.”

“Cool. Do you want some of my Jell-o?”

“Can I eat?” Yohji looked at his IV. “How long have I been unconscious?”

“Oh. Well, a couple days. Maybe you shouldn’t start with Jell-o.”

“Not blue, anyway.”

“I’ll get the doctor?”

“Yes.”

The doctor came. Aya, Omi, and Ken came with him. There was a lot of excited talk and laughter that mostly went over Yohji’s head. He felt the shreds of his energy fraying further with every second. His eyes were closing.

“Don’t worry about anything,” Omi said. “I’m taking care of it.” He had ditched the bad clubbing clothes for a plain, black shirt.

Maybe it was that, or maybe it was the sliver Yohji’s world had tightened down to as his lids closed, but he looked a little like Persia. With that thought, Yohji slipped out of his life and into dreams. His dreams were more believable.