It wasn’t fair, Masaki thought as he tried to outrun death. Didn’t he deserve to be happy? He’d only just discovered his family (he had a father! A younger sister! He hadn‘t been thrown away; he‘d been loved and wanted and been torn away by random chance). They were so close to stopping DC and the wormhole from connecting, so close to saving Earth and La Guias. Why did he have to die now when everything was in reach?
He had dreamed of a family for as long as he could remember. The elders had been kind but they were no replacement for a mother and father. Billad had been his brother in everything but blood until Masaki had had to kill him to save the Divine Temple. When he’d heard Mizuki’s father (their father) playing his song, the only thing he had from Before, he’d been so full of wonder and hope.
He had a family!
Masaki desperately wanted the chance to find out what it was like to be a part of his family. And now he’d never get it. Fate was often cruel but seemed crueler to him than others.
At least Mizuki and Ken were safe. That was what mattered. Them and Sayori and Lyune would make sure to save everyone.
He screamed as he felt his body begin to compress but the micro black hole devoured it and him in the next instant.
Time acted odd in the places between worlds. An instant was an eternity was an instant. Everything that happened did and didn’t.
A human being can’t perceive the all and nothing. Masaki couldn’t say how long or what happened while he was in the inbetween, only that he had been there.
Heat enveloped him, light chased away the dark, and the sudden return of his senses slammed him into unconsciousness.
He felt disconnected from his body, as if his spirit was floating a few centimeters out of place. Not unlike traveling through dimensions onboard a warrior god. But he didn’t feel in control, didn’t feel much of anything really. His limbs were so numb that his hands and feet were empty voids.
He somehow found the energy to crack his eyes open but couldn‘t see anything. Was it too bright or pitch dark? He couldn’t tell.
There were so many familiar voices overlapping each other he couldn’t make out any of the words but the overall tone was of excitement and relief. Warmth coursed through his chest and nested in his heart. Questions sat on his tongue, too heavy and many to push out, and just the effort of trying to ask them drained what little energy he had. He couldn’t hold on to the tenuous thread of consciousness and quickly slipped back into sleep.
His song greeted Masaki the next time he awoke. The familiar, comforting tune wrapped around him, tugged him up from unconsciousness with gentle insistence. His eyes refused to open so he tried to speak but his tongue sat like a lump in his mouth. A coarse noise escaped his throat for his efforts, and that was enough to alert the player.
The music stopped, and a hand brushed a few wandering strands of hair from his face. It came to rest on his forehead, gentle and warm.
“Get some more rest, Masaki,” his father said. “There’s no hurry. Everything’s fine.”
Masaki sighed and fell back into the black.
The soft beeps of machines was a constant backdrop when he was awake. They were reassuring in a way, letting him know that he was still alive even though his body felt a strangers.
“I can’t see?”
“The doctor’s said that your eyes sustained heavy damage. Something about high pressure? It’s possible that they’ll heal with time but they don’t know for sure,” Sayuri said. She was often by his bedside since she didn’t have any outside obligations to attend to. It was a relief to have someone trusted watching over him. “I could call a nurse in if you wanted ask more questions?”
Masaki carefully shook his head. Even still, a sense of vertigo washed over him from the motion. “It’s fine. I doubt I could stay awake through the explanation.” He could already feel himself slipping back into sleep, his battered body demanding more rest.
La Guias and Earth were safe. His friends, his family were safe. His sight was a small price to pay in comparison to the alternative.
Sayuri said something else but he was already asleep.
“Are you awake, Masaki?”
Ken’s voice drifted through his awareness, almost too softly to be heard. Masaki couldn’t answer, caught in that odd space between sleep and being awake, feeling as if he was dreaming.
Ken sighed, the noise long and heavy. Footsteps by his bedside and then a hand was on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry you got messed up saving Mizuki and me. Thanks man. I’m glad you’re alright.”
The warm weight disappeared but Ken‘s footsteps didn‘t leave the room, and Masaki drifted back to sleep content with his friend nearby.
His leg itched. Masaki rubbed it against the hospital sheets but it didn’t help. Perturbed because he really just wanted to go back to sleep, he reached down to scratch it. His hand patted against the bed sheets but he couldn’t seem to find his leg. A different approach was needed. Masaki placed his hand on his thigh and used that as a guide down. His hand meet the bed before finding his knee.
His leg was missing.
On autopilot, he placed his other hand on his left thigh and moved it down only to met the same results.
Both of his legs were gone.
Masaki wasn’t prone to panicking but he felt himself grow cold. He couldn’t get enough air in his lungs, his thoughts a sudden train wreck. He didn’t hear the shrill alarm over his rapid gasps, his chest so tight that the pain bloated out the awareness of his surroundings. All he could focus on was that a part of his body was gone.
He hadn’t reacted like this when he realized he was blind. Why now, why from this?
A nurse was by his side, saying something he couldn’t hear over the blood rushing in his ears, and then darkness rushed over him.
The next time he awoke, the smell of cigarettes greeted him.
“Masaki. Feeling better?”
“Yes, thank you,” he said by rote. His panic had passed but whatever they had subdued him with left an exhaustion that tugged on his bones. It was only his body that felt weary; oddly, his mind felt razor-sharp with awareness.
Mr. Ando snorted but didn’t call his polite lie out. “The doctor will be in in a few minutes to chat, if you’re up to it. Want me to stay?”
“Please do.” He didn’t want to be alone with a stranger, blind and crippled. For a brief moment his mind was sent back to when DC had captured him: the restraints, the questions, the fear thick in the back of his throat. The memories passed quickly but they still hovered in the forefront of his thoughts.
“Of course,” Mr. Ando grunted, his rough affection lacing the letters, and Masaki felt more at peace than he had in a long while.
Lyune was seated next to him but half sprawled on his bed, asleep. The strong perfume she preferred gave her identity away even though all he could make out was a blob of yellow. She was going to have an awful kink in her spine if she stayed like that for long. Masaki couldn’t bring himself to wake her.
“I’m sorry, Masaki.”
Ah, not so asleep than.
“No, I was the one that encourage Mizuki to pilot Balcione. She wouldn’t have been there otherwise. You‘re not at fault.”
“Of course it’s my fault. I was acting like a child and you almost died because of it,” Lyune said. Masaki felt the bed sheets go taunt - clenching her hands? “If I’d only accepted Zamjeed in the beginning, if only I wasn’t so caught up in avenging my father with his own creation, you wouldn’t have almost died. You can‘t see! You‘re legs were crushed!”
“I forgive you.”
“I don’t deserve your forgiveness.”
“You do.” Masaki held out his hand and after a moment Lyune grabbed it. “You made mistakes, yes, but you recognize them and did your best to rectify them. You helped saved two worlds. Zamjeed would not have chosen you if you were not steadfast in your convictions.”
“You mean if he wasn’t as stubborn as me,” Lyune said, watery sniffs clinging to the words.
“The earth spirits are well known for their willful nature.”
Lyune‘s giggle was short lived. She sighed and squeezed his hand. “Thank you, Masaki. If I or DC can do anything for you, all you need to do is ask.”
Masaki squeezed back. “Of course.”
It was some time later that Masaki could stay awake long enough to hold the conversation that had been eating him up with questions.
“What happened? I remember Ken and Mizuki and the MBH but after that…”
“We’re not sure.” Sayori offered him an ice chip which he gladly took. His mouth felt like a desert, each word he’d managed to utter sandpaper against his tongue. “Jaifer disappeared after…after you were swallowed by the MBH, and reappeared when Mizuki was being attacked by the Prescions. She found you in his cockpit after fighting them off.”
“Jaifer saved you. That‘s what happened,” Ken said.
“No, the warrior gods don’t interfere without directions from a pilot.” Masaki knew this for fact.
Ken scoffed. “Cybuster saved Mizuki when she was caught in that MBH. Why is this any different?”
“I was piloting Cybuster when we were both swallowed. I had him redirect the energy into a passage back to La Guias to save us both.” Masaki shook his head. “I find it very had to believe that Jaifer would save me of his own will.”
“Then call it a miracle,” Touma said as he walked in, a tray of steaming food in his hands. He placed it on the overbed table before swinging it over Masaki’s lap. “It doesn’t matter how you were saved. You’re alive and that’s enough for me.”
“Well, I guess it really doesn’t matter anyway,” Ken said. Masaki could well imagine the man’s cheery grin his voice shaped. “Director Shu and Saphine were blown away by Cyflash, the universes are saved, DC is currently being turned over to Lyune’s hands, and we‘re all still alive. I’d say that alls well that ends well.”
“Geez Ken, do you really have to be so carefree you dummy?” Mizuki said.
“Hey, who are you calling a dummy, dummy?!”
Laughter filled the room. Masaki felt that warmth again blooming in his chest as he chuckled along.
Most of the others had left after relaying more news (“Nanase‘s trying to recruit people back to DC now that‘s Lyune‘s in charge,” “Izake called to let us know he survived and said that the ‘scales fell from his eyes’ whatever that means,” “Pop’s been all over the news with his exposé, he’s a bit of a celebrity now”), leaving just him and his family.
“Will you go back to La Guias once you‘ve healed?” Mizuki asked out of the blue, rushed enough that it seemed like she had been wanting to ask that question for a while and only just then found the courage to do so.
Masaki turned the question in his head. It had been months since the final fight. His eyesight had improved significantly but only to a point. The copious amount of hairline bone fractures and blood vessel damage throughout his body were slowly but surely healing. He knew he’d physically heal faster in La Guias with the spirits’ help but even they couldn’t bring back what was lost.
Rehabilitation with prosthetic legs were going…not well but not too bad either. The physical therapist assured him that that was the case for everyone who had to relearn how to walk on hinged stilts. It was only a matter of practice. Lyune had promised to have custom, top of the line prosthetics designed for him once the new DC headquarters was up and running but that would be months yet.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” Touma said when the silence grew long.
Masaki shook his head. “No, it’s fine. A part of me wants to. It’s the only home I remember. I know the spirits would guide me back if I asked. But…” He looked out the window. He couldn’t see anything beyond the glass but he knew the ruined landscape that would greet him. Tokyo was a mess, made more pockmarked by Shu’s experiments. La Guias was a pristine landscape in comparison to the mass of twisted metal of his actual homeland.
Touma and he hadn’t talked about what Masaki staying on Earth would mean. Hadn’t had the time or privacy to examine the relationship between them or what it would mean to Mizuki who had never known she had an older brother. He wanted to find out with a painful longing, enough to throw caution into the wind because he deserved this.
“But I want to stay here. I want to get to know my family without the threat of the universes colliding.”
His father smiled, tears thick in his voice as he asked, “You’re sure, Masaki?”
“If you’ll have me.”
Mizuki looked between them, puzzled. “Papa, Masaki, what are you talking about?”
“Mizuki, come sit down,” Touma said. “I have a long, overdue story to tell you.”