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one way out of a hole

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it’s after a harrowing fight for survival, a glimpse of god and a twist of fate that touya takes his first gasp of earth air. 

it feels like being born all over again. no amount of training could have prepared him for the immense burden of gravity, his body feeling unbearably heavy after floating weightless in the womb of space his entire life. his breath catches in his lungs, too thick to expel, while his frail heart struggles to pump blood that’s turned to sludge in his veins. if it weren’t for the hoard of doctors swarming in on him as he exits the bungee on a stretcher, hooking him up to machines that can do his body’s work for him, he may have simply collapsed in on himself, imploding like a star.

most children get to step out of their cradle when they’re ready to walk. 

touya’s burned to dust in the stratosphere.

 

 

the process of acquainting himself with earth is long, and slow. they won’t let him out of his hospital bed for the first week, and then only for brief sessions of physical therapy for the rest of the month. he’s studied constantly by doctors and droids alike, monitoring his vitals and recording the results of a life lived in space. 

in short, he’s a science experiment, and he doesn’t like it.

taiyou finally comes to visit him in his isolated hospital unit after that first month, and touya surprises himself with how thrilled he is to see him, relief bubbling up in his chest and granting him a weightlessness he hasn’t felt since leaving space. he could almost hug him, if his arms weren’t still so damn heavy.

still, the first words out of his mouth are, “have you seen konoha?”

taiyou blinks indignantly at his lack of a proper greeting, but nods. “i visited her, too. she’s doing well.”

“that’s what they’ve been telling me,” he grumbles. “but they haven’t let me see her.”

“well, you’ll be getting out soon, so you can visit her then,” taiyou reassures him, in that infuriatingly pleasant voice of his.

“really?”

“that’s the only reason they let me in here. i talked to konoha through a sheet of glass.”

touya sighs, lying back on his pillow. “come to tease me, then?”

taiyou seems taken aback. “tease you?”

“for not being able to handle earth. i’ll have you know i’ve been passing all my tests for weeks,” touya tells him, “they’re keeping me here for no reason.”

“i’m sure they’re just taking precautions.”

“they want to keep me in a test tube.”

“you and konoha are the first children ever born in space, not to mention the last, of course they’re curious —“

“and of course you’re taking their side,” touya complains, crossing his arms over his narrow chest. “i knew it. you just want to gawk at me, too. go ahead, gaze in pity upon the fragile little moon baby, too weak to stand on his own. i never needed gravity where i came from. i’m not weak, just a product of my environment. you earthers wouldn’t —“

“touya.”

“what?”

“do you want to come live with me?”

“yes.”

 

 

touya wants to bring konoha with them, but the doctors insist she needs to spend more time in the hospital. she was unconscious for longer than he was, and spent most of that time with no pulse to speak of — it’s a wonder she didn’t suffer any brain damage. but it definitely didn’t do any favors for her already-frail body, and it’ll take a while for her to recover and adapt to life on earth.

he at least gets to see her before they leave, pressing his fingers up to the glass that separates him from her sterile room. he wishes he could touch her instead, feel the heat of her skin against his own and know for himself that she’s truly alive, but the warmth of her smile through her oxygen mask will have to suffice.

they discharge him with a medical droid much like konoha’s, which he names “nasa 2.0” after the lone human casualty of the lunatic comet incident. even if she turned out to be a little crazy, he still misses her nagging, and he figures a droid that constantly monitors his vitals will be just as much of a nuisance as she was. 

“you’ll be staying in my room for now,” taiyou tells him when the transport drops them off at the modest apartment he shares with his dad. “i’ll admit that money’s been tight for us ever since my father lost his position, so we don’t have much space. but that’s all about to change.”

“did he get back into UN2?” touya asks as he slides himself out of the vehicle and into his new earth-made electric wheelchair.

taiyou smirks, eyes flashing. “we’re rebuilding it from the ground up.”

touya raises an eyebrow. “sounds like you’ll be busy.”

“we will,” taiyou confirms as he leads him inside. “but you’ll be busy with your PT. they said the transport would come to take you to your appointments three times a week.”

“i know. it sucks,” touya grumbles, shuddering at the thought of going back to that hospital again. “but i want to get out of this chair as soon as possible.”

“well, this complex has an elevator, so you shouldn’t have any trouble using it until then,” taiyou says cheerfully, pressing the button to call them a ride up.

taiyou’s room is obsessively neat, even with a second bed squeezed into it, and devoid of most personality, with only a few certificates and competition medals decorating the walls. but it’s full of computers, so touya feels right at home. he just wishes dakky were there to see it, too. 

 

 

“would you stop hacking nasa?” taiyou groans when he gets back from his negotiations one evening and finds touya sprawled out on the extra bed, tapping away on his smart while lines of code scroll across the screen of the drone that’s supposed to be monitoring him.

“i’m just removing some of her limiters so i can access all the information she’s gathering,” touya informs him casually. “shouldn’t i be entitled to know about my own health?”

“i suppose,” taiyou huffs. “but it’s still illegal.”

“aren’t you trying to make it not illegal?”

“well, yes,” he admits, “the policy on cognitive limiters for drones will be changing as soon as UN3 gets off the ground. but for now, she’s property of the hospital and you should leave well enough alone.”

“as long as she holds my medical records hostage, i may as well be property of the hospital, too,” touya mutters, prodding at the tail that’s curled around his back, connecting him to the drone floating above. “we’re taking back our agency together, right nasa?”

nasa gives a hesitant beep.

“she’d be a lot better company if she had a language function…” touya muses. taiyou scowls at him.

“don’t get any ideas!”

“well, why don’t you keep me company then?”

“i will! give me a minute, i just got back.”

while taiyou sets all his things down in their proper places, touya pushes himself up with a grunt of effort and scoots to the edge of his bed, a sly grin on his face. “wanna watch a movie? are you afraid of all horror, or just zombies?”

“i’m not afraid of zombies!” taiyou snaps as he perches on the edge of the bed across from him, cheeks puffing pink. he taps through the different movies he has downloaded on his smart, avoiding touya’s eyes. “anyway, haven’t we had enough illness and disaster in our lives already?“

touya flinches at the implication, sighing quietly. “okay, what would you prefer?”

“…maybe a superhero movie?” taiyou asks hopefully.

“so that’s what you’re into?” taunts touya with a mischievous grin. “superheroes break laws too, you know!”

“only when they have to!” taiyou objects.

“i bet you see yourself as a superhero,” touya giggles. “what an ego.”

“n-no!”

“does that make me the villain? i think i’m more of an anti-hero.”

“forget it, okay!”

“no, lemme see which superhero movies you like!”

touya lunges at taiyou’s smart, only to crash into the space between the two beds when gravity gets the better of him.

“touya!” taiyou yelps. “are you al—“

he squeals again as touya grabs a hold of his legs and practically scales them to get onto the bed, unfazed by his stumble. he paws for taiyou’s smart hand, now held far away from him on a raised arm. “i bet you like captain america and all the other goody-two-shoes —“

they collapse in a pile on the bed, wrestling and bickering until touya runs out of breath and has to roll onto his back to catch it while nasa beeps out an exasperated warning. escaped from his clutches, taiyou scoots himself back against the headboard and wraps his arms around his knees, peering over them to watch, with apprehension, the labored rise and fall of touya’s thin chest. it scares him how quickly the switch can flip — one moment touya is battering him with all his bony limbs, the next he can barely move them. 

“once i get used to earth gravity, it’s all over for you,” touya threatens between pants, a spiteful smirk persisting on his lips.

“i live in fear of the day,” taiyou mutters gravely.

“won’t be long now. that’s a promise.”

“i’m counting on it.”

 

 

after three more weeks of physical therapy, things are going so well that touya is able to walk himself proudly down the stairs of the apartment complex and into the transport unhindered.

getting back up those stairs is another story.

touya knows, logically, that it’s harder to move uphill than down. that even clinging to the handrails with all the strength in his atrophied muscles won’t be enough to haul him all the way up to the third floor when gravity is so intent on dragging him to the ground. he could have taken the elevator, but his stubborn sense of pride in himself and what he can do, what he should be able to do, gets him all the way to the first landing before he falls, heaving, to his knees.

nasa begins to blare out a warning, flashing his elevated pulse and low pressure across her screen. he can barely read the numbers with the way his vision is swimming, dimming at the edges. how could this be happening to him? he thought he was improving. he can’t give up now, can’t bear to let all his progress disappear in an instant.

“just… one more flight,” he groans, forcing himself to his feet again. he immediately stumbles again, but grabs onto the next handrail just in time to catch himself, legs quaking. 

nasa’s alarms grow more fervent, shrieking over and over as she coils her tail around his arm and tries to stop him from going any further. he swats her away, barking, “i can do this!” and takes one more step before collapsing at the bottom of the staircase.

 

 

soon afterward, taiyou emerges from the elevator with arms full of groceries to find nasa hovering by his apartment door, wailing like an ambulance.

“nasa!” he startles, almost dropping the bags as he stumbles out of the elevator. “why aren’t you with touya?” he gives a scandalized gasp. “it’s because he hacked you, isn’t it?”

nasa continues to blare her alarm, spinning frantically around in the air. taiyou’s stomach drops.

“wait, did something happen to him?”

the droid gives a shriek of what he can only assume is confirmation and vaults herself down the hallway toward the door to the stairwell. taiyou does drop the groceries, then, abandoning them to chase after her with his heart hammering on his ribs. the stairwell is dark when he enters, but the automatic lights flash on as soon as he takes a step inside, illuminating down to where touya lay crumpled at the bottom of the stairs like a marionette with severed strings. 

taiyou suddenly feels like he’s the one struggling against earth’s gravitational pull as he stumbles down the stairs on legs made of lead to crouch beside touya’s still form. he’s already seen him come back from the dead once, hasn’t he? surely, he pleads silently, this will be the same. 

he doesn’t want to move him, but knows he has to do something to help. gingerly he grabs his shoulder and rolls him onto his back, unable to tell if he is breathing while his own breath comes in fearful gasps. he fumbles with his smart, intending to pull up a vital-checking app, but his hand is shaking so much he gives up and simply presses it to touya’s chest to feel his thready pulse against his palm. relief rushes through him, and he watches anxiously as nasa gently nudges his hand away to attach her tail to touya’s chest and scan his vitals herself.

“is he going to be alright?” he asks her in a scared whimper. a diagnosis flashes across her screen, telling taiyou that he’s stable, just in need of bedrest. he nods shakily.

“well, i’d better get him to bed, then.”

carefully sliding an arm beneath the unconscious boy, he manages to scoop him up bridal-style to carry him the rest of the way to the apartment. from all he’s felt and seen of him, in their physical squabbles and the brief glimpses he’s gotten beneath his baggy clothes, he knows touya doesn’t have much meat on his bones; but now that he’s holding him, he’s pretty sure he’s nothing but bones, all of him sharp-angled and even lighter than he’d anticipated. it’s a stark reminder of how frail he actually is, something that’s hard to believe when he’s awake and kicking, always stubbornly asserting his existence to the universe. seeing him limp and lifeless just feels deeply wrong.

the EMTs nasa had automatically called come knocking on the door minutes after taiyou deposits touya safely in his bed, and he lets them inside to give him a second look. thankfully, they confirm what nasa’s already told him — that touya will be fine with some sleep and sustenance and a bit of ice for the bruises on his elbows. taiyou just has to be patient and wait for him to come to.

 

 

“touya?”

touya’s eyes flutter open to light.

“touya, can you hear me?”

“wha…. how did i…” he mumbles, his groggy gaze sweeping around the room before settling on taiyou, standing anxiously by his bedside. “did you…?”

“i’m so glad you’re alright!” taiyou blurts out, but his happiness is short-lived, his smile immediately twisting into an irritated scowl. “what were you thinking, taking the stairs?”

touya may still be barely awake, but he’s lucid enough to glare back at him. “i thought i could handle it.”

“well, obviously you couldn’t!” taiyou practically yells at him, his hands balled to fists at his sides. “i only found you because nasa came up here to get me! maybe if you weren’t always hacking her she would’ve been able to warn you before you —“

“she did warn me,” touya grumbles.

taiyou bristles with rage. “then why didn’t you stop?”

“because i’m tired of feeling weak all the time!” touya shouts with all his limited might, causing taiyou to recoil in shock.

he turns stubbornly away from him, then, refusing to meet his eyes and rubbing at one of his bruised elbows instead. all the righteous anger that had built up within taiyou leaks out of him in a low sigh.

“you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone, you know,” he tells touya, his voice quiet with a trembling resolve. “not to me, or the doctors, or the people online… no one.”

taiyou glances at him out of the corner of his eye, lips pressed tightly together.

“you’re one of only two moon-children who even made it past infancy,” taiyou continues, his shoulders now shaking with emotion, “it doesn’t matter if you can’t climb some stupid stairs yet. just the fact that you’re alive at all is a miracle.”

touya’s eyes slowly widen, incredulously taking in the sight of the other boy breaking down out of genuine concern for him.

“d-don’t throw that away, just to —“

“taiyou,” touya stops him with a hand on his. “i’m okay.”

taiyou’s voice breaks. “you really scared me.”  

“i’m… i’m sorry.”

“just be careful, alright?” he sniffs. “you will get stronger. i know you will. you don’t have to rush it.”

“i’ll… try not to.” 

snorting, taiyou lightly bats his hand away so he can lift his own to his eyes, rubbing away the tears that had formed at their corners. 

“well, if you’ve already ruined her, you might as well add a language function to nasa so when you inevitably get into trouble again she can actually tell me what’s wrong rather than screaming at me.”

touya chuckles. “you know, if i hadn’t hacked her she wouldn’t have gone to get you at all. her protocol says to stay with her patient at all times and just call an ambulance. but it looks like you got to me first.”

he yawns, stretching his bruised arms and wincing before tucking them in close again, eyelids drooping.

“i’m glad i’m here instead of the hospital.”

“me too,” agrees taiyou, standing by as touya starts to drift off again.

touya cracks an eye back open. “…are you gonna watch me sleep?”

“no,” taiyou says quickly, but all he does is step back to sit on the edge of the other bed, still watching him.

settling back into the pillows, he mumbles, “whatever, weirdo.”

when touya wakes up a few hours later, he finds taiyou passed out beside him, kneeling on the ground with his head cradled in his folded arms. he smirks in amusement at first, but the rush of affection that follows is so powerful it causes his throat to tighten up. slowly, he reaches a hand out and lays it on taiyou’s sleeping head, fingers curling gently in his golden hair.

before he’d met taiyou, touya had never wanted to set foot on earth, had never had the will or desire to put in all the work it would take to do so.

but now, he can’t wait to take his next step.